The Secret Life of Doug White

Posted by Doug White under Personal

I watched a good, sweet and sentimental movie today called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Without giving away too much, the movie centered on a man named Walter Mitty who spent a lot of his life daydreaming about adventures and what happens when he stopped daydreaming and started living his life for real.

I went with my oldest daughter – who is sixteen going on twenty – and a young lady who has been a part of the family for years now.  The two of them were absolutely enthralled with the show and talked about what the show made them feel.  The urge to travel and explore the world and make sure they aren’t missing out on life was a common thread of the conversation home.

I get that.  When I was around their age, I couldn’t wait until I had left the nest and explore the world and find my place in it.  I joined the Marine Corps and every chance I could, I travelled.

I took a trip with a girlfriend of mine to Washington D.C. to visit my best friend.  We spent a day wandering the city that I remember with great fondness.  I travelled to Middletown, New York with my closest friend in the Marines so we could visit his friends and the place he grew up.

In my last year in the Corps I was ordered to go to Okinawa, Japan.  I actually didn’t want to go at first.  It was too far from everything I knew.  It turned out to be one of the best years I spent in the Marine Corps.  I met several great people and I saw a country that was small and yet filled with such intense beauty.  It is a year that will stay with me until the day I die.

When I got out of the Marine Corps, I went home to Rapid City, South Dakota and started college.  I took time again to travel once more – this time to Bismarck, North Dakota.  I had a pen pal while I was in the Marines and I travelled to see her and her friends.  It was a lot of fun and I met some really neat people, who I never saw again.  But the memory of it still makes me smile.

I then met my wife to be that fall and within the year we were married.  From there, I have stayed within six hours of my home town.  Some might say that once I married, the adventure of my youth was over.  I would heartily disagree.  The adventure took on a whole other dimension.

I watched the most beautiful woman willingly decide to walk down an aisle and willingly decide to spend the rest of her life with a guy like me.  I watched the most beautiful woman in the world give birth to the two most beautiful babies God ever put on this earth.  I watched my oldest daughter warm up a room with her smile and her laugh opened up a whole world of possibilities of joy into my life.  I watched my youngest barrel into a room with a sense of humor that made me realize that if she only knew how funny she was, the world would be in for a ride like nothing anyone has seen.

I watched my oldest rush off to her first day of kindergarten without so much of a glance back to her mom and dad.  I remember going for a walk at that lunch that day wondering at what point did that little five year old ball of energy get her hooks so deeply into my heart.

Every night when my youngest was young, I watched as she would crawl into my chair and sit with me and only then would she go to sleep.  I would kiss her on the forehead and again wonder how it is that I could love another person so deeply as I loved her, her sister and her mother.

I watched as my girls wanted me in everything they were a part of.  Christmas concerts, school plays, basketball games, movies, trips to the pool.  I watched as they grew and realized that they didn’t need their dad so much.  And while that sometimes is tough to take, I realize that too is part of this adventure I’m on.

Because while they both are trying to be independent and grown up, there are still days where my youngest will come to me and ask me to pray with her because something is bothering her or she can’t sleep or whatever.  And every once in a while my oldest will surprise me like when she sits down beside me on a couch to watch a show and leans her head on my shoulder.  They’re small moments of affection that I will always cherish.

To these two and to the girl I like to call our “college transplant”, this may seem boring.  This may not seem like an adventure to them at all.  To me it is everything.

I’m watching one lady – who while she isn’t technically ours, really is – blossom from a young girl who had a hard time interacting with others into someone who is an extremely self-sufficient young woman who I have no doubt will move onto great things.

I’m watching a child who has spent sixteen years of her life in a state of perpetual motion finding her focus.  Her love of music is something that pours out of her soul.  And when I watch her deep in the midst of that love, it is something that makes me almost numb with awe.

I’m watching another child who takes on the academic world with a fierce determination that is inspiring of someone so young.  Yet still so shy, she has taken steps to open herself up into new things and open her heart up to those around her.  She’s still so young and her path is undecided but I know it will be filled with lots of wonderful moments and adventures of her own.

I’m watching the woman I love taking these three under her wings, guiding them, nurturing them and every once in awhile smacking them in the head when they take missteps and I’m beyond excited to be on this trip with her.

My adventures in my twenties were exciting and different and wonderful.  As I hit my mid-40’s all I can say is that the adventures of day-to-day life with these people are never boring and never dull.  They are what I live for.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thirty one words.  Individually they seem rather harmless.  Two of them, put together cause many great concern.  The totality of them together, spoken of free will should provoke feelings of patriotism and love of country.  Yet, they seem destined to cause continued controversy in this wonderful country of ours.

Recently, the town I live in, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has come under national scrutiny because of these thirty-one words.  Before all this happened, the policy in this city was that grade school kids would say the Pledge each morning.  There was no policy to require Middle School kids to do it, but they were doing it.  High school kids have not done it for a very long time. 

Veterans had come before the school board and made a request that high school kids be required to say the Pledge.  The school board voted and declined to make this a requirement.  However, this was misreported, not just at a city level, but at a national one.  The report that had been given was that they changed the rule and that high school kids were no longer being required to say the Pledge.  This is not true.  They never were required to begin with.

The national news that picked this up and continued to misrepresent it at first was Fox News.  Now, I’m a conservative and I have watched Fox News off and on.  I tend to be dubious when liberals say Fox News is nothing but lies.  However, in all fairness, Fox News screwed up.  They ended up admitting this later on, but not before the damage was done.

What happened?  Well, apparently there were many people who are so patriotic and upset about the fact that the high school kids aren’t being forced to say a Pledge, they contacted members of the school board anonymously and issued death threats to them.  I say patriotic with a sense of sarcasm.  There is nothing patriotic with the issuing of death threats against people you disagree with.  None.  No excuse for it.  There is nothing that can be said that will make me think otherwise.

I’ve been giving this whole Pledge controversy some thought this week.  I personally, have no objection to the pledge.  Both my kids grew up in this school system and have said it every day while they were in grade school and middle school.  I think that’s fine.  I don’t object to it and I don’t object to the words “under God” in it either.

I also don’t object to not forcing the high school kids to do so either.  Since all this happened, the school system has done a survey and it appears a majority of the people who responded said they’d like to have high school kids say the Pledge.  Ok, fine, I don’t object to that either.  As long as it isn’t forced upon them.

Here’s where I tend to stray in my personal beliefs and some of hard core conservative or religious people.  We live in a huge melting pot of a society.  We are one of the few countries that has a wide variety of races, religious beliefs, etc interacting with each other on a daily basis.  Because of that, we have to be very careful about imposing what seems like a good thing to us for religious or other reasons that may violate another person’s perception of those same beliefs.

We have atheists in this country people.  It’s a fact.  There are people who don’t believe in God.  I am saddened by this, I personally don’t understand how you can look at the beauty of this world and not see the hand of God in it, but it’s a fact.  People don’t believe in Him.

We have people who do believe in Him, but in a different way than you might.  We have people, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who find it a violation of their beliefs to pledge allegiance to anything other than God.  It’s a different belief.  I don’t share it, but I can certainly respect it.

For this country to work, we have to be understanding of those differences.  I am constantly amazed by the people who think that we should put God into our schools.  I ask them, “Which one?” and since most people I know are Christian, I get, “The only one.  God.”  (For the record, I also believe He’s the only one.)  I follow that with, “Ok, say we then ignore all the people who don’t believe, or believe in Buddha, or Mohammed or those other Gods, which Christian faith do we bring in?  Catholicism?  Baptist?  Pentecostal?  Jehovah’s Witness?  Mormon?”

Most of the time, there isn’t a good answer to that.  I might occasionally get a “Well, all of them,” at which point I would argue that the school’s job is not to teach about every religion.  That’s not its place.  That should be done at home.

But ultimately, I am perfectly fine with religion being kept out of public schools.  It enables us to teach non-spiritual things in a manner that prevents an imposition of one or more people’s beliefs on others that simply do not share it.

The Pledge, while not exactly the same, is similar.  The Pledge, at its core, is simply about being a united group of people, pledging their allegiance to the flag and what it stands for.  That I stand firmly behind.  The phrase “under God” does not overtly concern me in this context, there’s more to those two words than “imposing faith” onto someone as some believe.

So, I would be fine with making time for the Pledge.  But only, if those who have an objection to saying it are allowed to refrain from doing so.  In fact, the Supreme Court has even ruled on this, and they have stated we can’t force anyone to say this Pledge.  But making time for it for those who want to is something I would not object to.

What I do object to though is the level of hate that was brought towards people who don’t agree with the idea of having the Pledge in the high school.  Their behavior was un-American.  If you don’t like a decision being made, find a legitimate way to fight it.  Issuing death threats from behind the anonymity of a telephone is not only un-American, it’s cowardly.

The last seven words of the Pledge state: indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. As the years go by, the word “indivisible” has been sorely tested in this country.  We are more and more a divided nation.  But those last six words have for the most part still rung true.  Liberty and justice for all, in a country of such varied beliefs can only come through an understanding of each other and NOT by the level of hate seen in my city the last few weeks.

We can do better than that.  Sioux Falls is a phenomenal city and a typical American one.  Let’s not let the cowardly behavior of a select few divide us and take away liberty and justice for everyone.    

Once A Marine

Posted by Doug White under Military, Personal

I spent the flight goofing around, joking around with others in my same predicament.  I’m sure all of us were wondering in the back of our minds what we got ourselves into.  I’m also fairly certain none of us were fully prepared to find that answer out.

We arrived at the airport and found our way to the man who would get us to our final destination.  He immediately had us sit cross-legged with our hands on our knees facing forward.  “Sitting at attention” if you will.  I heard a young boy from somewhere ask, “Mommy, what are they doing?”  Again, I’m sure none of us could answer that question.

We were directed onto a bus which drove for what seemed like hours.  It was raining outside, which was a perfect match for my mood.  I was becoming uncertain of myself, sitting in the quiet with all these boys.  Yes, all of us were boys.  We were a long way from being men.

We pulled up and came to a stop near a large building.  I couldn’t see much because of the rain.  We waited, yet again.  I would learn very fast that waiting is a common thing to do in this new adventure I was going into.

Finally, a man came into the bus and in a deep voice that resonated throughout said, “My name is Drill Sergeant Smith  , you are now the property of the United States Marine Corps!  The first and last words out of your mouth will be sir!  Do you understand me?”

As you might imagine, the voices in the bus replied back meekly, “Sir, yes, sir.”

Again, the booming voice, “I SAID, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”  “SIR, YES, SIR!” was the more confident, or maybe more terrified reply.

We were ushered into the building where one of the first things they did was shave our hair completely off.  Then we were moved into a room where we were given uniforms.

This is where I did my first stupid thing of many while I was in boot camp.  I had been told previously that when we got here that the drill instructors yelling at us would not brook us wasting time.  “So when you’re changing from civilian clothes to your uniform, don’t go slow.  Rip off the clothes and be done with it.”

I did just that.  The problem was I was wearing a shirt that buttoned all the way down the middle.  I like to imagine I looked like Clark Kent as I grabbed that shirt from the middle and ripped it open.  What I really looked like was an idiot as my shirt buttons popped off the shirt all over the floor.

The next several days are a blur to me.  The first several days you are put into a “processing platoon” so you can get all your shots and paperwork done.  Finally you are delivered to your drill instructors who will take you from there.

We were brought into an open squad bay and told to sit – at attention again.  Three men walked in front of us.  The senior drill instructor was in the middle with two junior drill instructors at his side.  The senior drill instructor spoke for several minutes in a very relaxed voice – which I now know was only to lull us into a false sense of security.

When he wrapped up his monologue, he concluded with seven words that should bring fear into any person’s heart: “Drill Instructors, They are all yours.”

The roar from these two men was deafening.  They were everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  They yelled for us to do something and then were mad because we were doing it wrong.  Within moments we were out in a sandpit by the barracks, doing bends and thrusts, sit-ups, push-ups until I felt like I would throw up.

If you’re curious what a bend and thrust is, imagine yourself standing up.  You then bend down until you are in a squatting position and then you put your hands on the ground and thrust your legs out as far as you can behind you, ending in what looks like a pushup.  Then you stand back up and repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.

I had been there a few weeks when I found out that I had made a serious error.  It’s not easy to admit, but I went through a kind of depression because I was away from home.  I’d never been away from home this long and the sadness I felt upon missing my family combined with the mental stress I was going through was causing me to kind of withdraw.  So I was not performing up to par.

In the Marines, there is no such thing as sub-par.  I was brought into my Senior Drill Instructor’s office and informed that I was being transferred to another platoon that was just starting.  I was going to have to start over.

It took a lot out of me but I think that what the Senior Drill Instructor did that day was force me to grow up.  I wasn’t going to slide through boot camp just because I missed my family.  I had to shape up.

Now if this was a TV show, the star (i.e. me) would be seen not only improving, but going to the head of the pack.  This wasn’t reality TV.  I wasn’t at the head of the pack, but I was no longer at the end of it either.  I can honestly say, with some pride, that I gave the best of myself for the remaining weeks I was in San Diego.  It may not have been the best the Corps has ever seen, but it was the best I had.

The new drill instructors were just as tough as the old drill instructors.  One of them, Staff Sergeant Turner was the one we spent the most time with and probably the one I feared the most.  I know that’s how they train them, but I think he liked the fact we were all afraid of him.

I can remember one time; many of us had been asking if we could call home.  So he had us out marching and he marched us over to a telephone booth.  He walked over to it, put a quarter in it and made a call.  He then looked at us and said, “There’s your f**king phone call!” and then marched us back.

There was another drill instructor that was in charge of us who ended up losing his job.  He had been yelling at one of us for some reason or another and was right near the guy’s ear when he bit it.  He ended up being reduced in rank and losing his drill instructor position.

I ended up having to tell them that this same drill instructor had gone over the top with me as well.  It was early on and I was guarding the barracks.  One of the weapon racks was unlocked and I hadn’t thought to check it.  He came in and noticed it.  I was standing behind two foot lockers stacked on top of each other and he walked over to me and kicked one of those foot lockers into my chest.

Looking back on some of the stories now, I can laugh and see the humor in what they were doing.

There was one time when I was on guard duty again and the Senior Drill Instructor came into the barracks and ordered me to go downstairs and get some papers from the Senior Drill Instructor of that platoon.  I ran down stairs and reported in.  Before I could tell him what I was asked to get he yelled at me to get out of his barracks.  I complied and ran back upstairs at which point my Senior Drill Instructor yelled at me to go back downstairs and get the papers.  This went on for a little while, me being the little yo-yo toy for two bored Senior Drill Instructors.

There was another time when we had moved to the barracks where we were going to be for a while during our rifle training.  There were three platoons together and so the drill instructors were torturing us and enjoying the fact they could torture recruits that weren’t in their platoons.

I mentioned previously that I feared Staff Sergeant Turner.  That was true, but I was TERRIFIED of the drill instructor that had me at this moment.  He had me up against a wall bending down with my arms out.  He got in my face and yelled, “Lower!  I said LOWER!”

I then made a fatal flaw.  Through clenched teeth, I said, “I can’t.” For those that haven’t served in the Marines, the flaw was two-fold.  During boot camp, you NEVER refer to yourself as “I”.  It is always “this recruit”.  The other flaw was saying that I couldn’t do something.

That was all it took.  He got close to my ear and started whispering, “I?  I???  What’s wrong, recruit?  Do you need your mommy?”

“Sir, no sir!” I replied.

“No I think you do, recruit!  Call out to your mommy!” he whispered again.

“Sir, no sir!” I tried again.

“I TOLD YOU TO CALL FOR YOUR MOMMY!” he roared in my ear. So there I was, back against the wall, arms out trembling and now going, “Mommy!  Mommy!”

One of my proudest moments of boot camp was during our time at Mount Mother.  It’s called Mount Mother in polite company; an extra word is added to it around not-so-polite company.  We climbed what seemed like Mount Everest to me with full backpacks and then we camped for a week with no shower and then back up Mount Mother we went.

I was exhausted.  I wanted to quit, but I wasn’t going to.  I looked over at another guy who looked like he was going to quit.  I walked over and stood behind him and told him that I wasn’t going to let him quit.  Between the two us, we were making it up that hill.

I’m proud of that moment because I think it was the first time I “got it”.  I realized it wasn’t about me, it was about the platoon.  It’s a small moment in my time in boot camp but one I’m pleased with.

Towards the end of boot camp, something happened that to this day I still find very strange.  We were going through our “guard duty” training where a group of us would stand on guard over an area for the night – in shifts.

We were all outside cleaning our weapons and I was told I was the first one to stand guard.  Oddly though, I was given our Platoon Leader’s weapon to use.  What that meant then was that weapon was going to be the sole weapon used for the entire night.  Each guard would give the weapon to the next guard as he was relieved.

I came into the barracks the next day from somewhere and saw all the other guys that stood guard that night in the back of the barracks doing various exercises with a drill instructor yelling at them.  The drill instructor saw me and yelled at me to get over there and join them.

I found out that the weapon we used had apparently had sand dumped in it.  That was bad enough, but the fact that it was the Platoon Leader’s was worse because now it had to be re-cleaned prior to the Platoon Leader competing with other Platoon Leaders the next day.

The drill instructor said he was going to keep us there until one of us admitted we did it.  What turned out to happen is that ALL OF US admitted to doing it, even though I knew I didn’t do it.   The drill instructor was supposedly unconvinced of the veracity of any of our admissions.  Eventually he let us go.  To this day, I have no idea if the weapon had been vandalized as we were told and if it was who did it.

Eventually the day came for us to graduate.  I will tell you that there have been several things in my life that I’m proud of.  The day I graduated high school.  The day I married.  The birth of both of my kids.  The day I became a black belt in TaeKwonDo and then the day I earned my second degree black belt.

The day I graduated boot camp is right there at the top of that list.  I’m not sure if it had more effect because I was put back or what I felt that day was what every Marine feels.  All I know is that I had accomplished something that a rare group of people can claim do have done.  I was – and still am – a Marine.

The next three and a half years were a roller coaster of experiences for me.  There were times I hated it.  There were times I couldn’t wait to be done.  However, there are just as many where I was filled with a sense of wonder at what I was.  Who I was.

The United States Marine Corps made me a man.  They drug me kicking and screaming into it at times, but they got me there.  I do not believe I would be the man I am today if not for my time in the Marine Corps.  I am proud to be a Marine.