Unfortunately for my lovely roommates, I will never be converted to apathy regarding the military. In the combined branches of the United States military forces I have found my “militant muse” (to plagiarize William Dean Howells’ castigation of Kipling’s fascination with war). Here forth lies a brief chronology of my ever-increasing infatuation with the adherents of “Duty, Honor, Country” (Lesson One: this triumvirate of words happens to be the West Point motto).
Age seven: I accompany my father and mother on board a recently docked British destroyer in the harbor of Portsmouth, N.H. Tall, elegant officers of Her Majesty’s Navy ply us with toast, fried tomatoes and sausages during a formal breakfast. The captain barks at a subordinate in a white cap. I am enchanted. I, too, want a uniform.
Age 14: My incredibly handsome, 6’5” cousin Eddie escorts my family around Washington, D.C. during the weekend of the National Gay Liberation parade. He is a member of the United States Honor Guard—an elite unit of the Marines. As my father mutters about the stupidity of the “feds and the pols” (the U.S. government being his archfiend), Eddie guides me through the crowds of drag queens in his full dress uniform. I am in love.
High school: A mild infatuation with all things in uniform ensues.
Freshman year: I start dating an FM executive who fancies himself a Marxist of sorts. I begin to convert myself to angry liberalism peppered with snide remarks regarding the wealthy, the established, the nationalist, the patriotic. I caress my Dover edition of Theory of the Leisure Class and use phrases such as “pecuniary emulation” and “consumer consciousness.” I think Juliet Schor (czarina of “Shop ’Til You Drop”) embodies the ideal human. I adhere to Harvard liberalism and hatred of the military. However, after the break-up with said executive, my true affections and affiliations surface rapidly.
Summer 2000: I meet three foul-mouthed men in a bar in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. They are the most muscular and tattooed individuals in recent history. Of course, they emerge as former members of the U.S. Air Force and the Marines. After drinking copious Cusqueñas, they divulge information regarding their work with the U.S. Geological Survey, mapping the topography of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Later, it occurs to me that operatives of the CIA often work in a three-person group with a native guide and a small plane. “Well,” I think, “that’s one lifestyle I might be convinced to imitate.”
Summer 2001: I travel to Nicaragua to work for an NGO. Somehow, I finagle myself into a party at the ambassador’s residence. There, I meet the members of a congressional committee and, more importantly, their military escorts. Impeccably mannered, neatly dressed, well-spoken military men and women flood the patio while the congressmen swill rum punch. A naval attaché takes me under her wing and introduces me to all the “right people” as I marvel at her grace, strength, presence and poise. Later in the summer, I wait by the side of the road for a bus back to La Paz Centro from Managua. As a van full of U.S. Marines drive by, they slow and salute their fellow American (me!) through the windows. I glow for weeks, despite the Marines’ clear ploy for female attention.
September of senior year: I go to Daedalus with my aforementioned roommate, Tasha, and a boy from the 12th floor of Mather named Michael T. Peller ’02 who resembles a very nice teddy bear. A coterie of young Marines in full dress blues hover near the bar. I can barely contain my excitement and am too nervous to talk to any of them even though bets involving much beer are proffered.
Later that month: I meet with recruiters from the Army and the Navy. I decide that the corporal from the former is too preoccupied with the merits of the M-16, but the naval officer very nearly convinces me to sign the dotted line. Eschewing straight enlistment, I begin searching for federal jobs at the Pentagon.
November: I purchase a toy F-14 at the Discovery Channel Store for $2.50. It now protects the papers on my desk.
December: Dunster House resident Rylan M. Hamilton ’02 describes his ensuing naval career and his hope to attend Officer Candidate School in Pensacola post-commencement. Ah, Rylan, you have my eternal respect and admiration—especially considering your Surface Warfare choice. You have gone a long way since the days of boozing in Canaday with the indefatigable Karl W. Staser ’02 (a once-upon-a-time ROTC candidate).
Early March: I arrive home from a party at 3 a.m. I write the following e-mail to my roommates.
Date: Sat, 2 Mar 2002 02:58:53 -0500 (EST)
From: Frances G Tilney