Veterans’ Reflections: The Value of Military Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2010 — David Fike got the urge to serve ear­ly, but his father insist­ed that he think about the deci­sion thor­ough­ly and per­haps con­sid­er an offi­cer can­di­date pro­gram, rather than run­ning to enlist in the Army Air Corps in 1944.

Veterans Day
David Fike, a Kore­an War vet­er­an, pos­es for a pho­to dur­ing an inter­view at Alexan­dria (Va.) Nation­al Ceme­tery, Sept. 11, 2010.
DoD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class William Sel­by
Click to enlarge

He joined the V-12 Navy Col­lege Train­ing Pro­gram, an ROTC cousin designed to sup­ple­ment the Navy and Marine Corps with com­mis­sioned offi­cers dur­ing World War II.

Fike served in that pro­gram as an appren­tice sea­man from 1944 to 1946 – he nev­er attend­ed basic train­ing because the war had end­ed – then returned home to attend pre-med cours­es at Dart­mouth Uni­ver­si­ty.

“After I grad­u­at­ed with [a bach­e­lor of arts] degree as a civil­ian, I worked as a chemist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin,” he said.

He was there when the Kore­an War start­ed in 1950. Fike was in reserve deferred sta­tus until his senior year of law school; it was then that he received his draft notice. “I went up to the Navy who had giv­en me the ben­e­fit of three years in col­lege, gratis, and I attempt­ed to return to the Navy,” he said. “Of course, there are rules and restric­tions with those who have received their draft notice. As they’re telling me this, sit­ting there is a Marine Corps recruiter, who beck­oned me over.”

Three weeks lat­er, Fike was in charge of a group of Marine recruits on a train from Chica­go to San Diego. He attend­ed basic train­ing there and was sent to Quan­ti­co, Va., for fur­ther train­ing. There, he was select­ed to attend the Basic School and become a sec­ond lieu­tenant. He also attend­ed fire school and artillery train­ing.

“I final­ly arrived in Korea when it was peter­ing down to an artilleryman’s war, and I was assigned to the 4th Bat­tal­ion of the 11th Marines,” he said.

When he left Korea, he took com­mand of a fir­ing bat­tery – he had opt­ed for a year’s exten­sion after the war end­ed. After con­duct­ing a vari­ety of oper­a­tions with his fir­ing bat­tery, Fike left the Corps as a first lieu­tenant. The day he left the ser­vice, he got a let­ter inform­ing him that he had made the list for pro­mo­tion to cap­tain, but he nev­er was offi­cial­ly pro­mot­ed.

Like many of his fel­low for­mer ser­vice­mem­bers, Fike reflect­ed humbly about his time in uni­form. He said he shouldn’t take too much cred­it for any medals or com­men­da­tions he earned, as he wasn’t doing any­thing except what was asked of him.

“I’m quite sure on intro­spec­tion … [that] I wasn’t doing any­thing oth­er than required,” he said.

Fike said today’s Marine Corps still teach­es the same val­ues he learned when he was in uni­form, even if the skills they learn are very dif­fer­ent. His two sons each served four-year enlist­ments in the Corps, he not­ed, so he knows to some degree how much it’s changed, and how much has remained the same.

He said he nev­er expect­ed to see Marines doing entire­ly land-based oper­a­tions, nor did he expect to see the way war has evolved, from the clear uni­formed-mil­i­tary-ver­sus-uni­formed-mil­i­tary wars of the past to the more ambigu­ous oper­a­tions going on now.

“The Marine Corps is a good place for young men to go if they want to grow up fast, and hope­ful­ly won’t get killed in the process,” he said. “It’s a tough row to hoe, and I do not envy any­one in terms of the type of war they’re fight­ing.”

(“Vet­er­ans’ Reflec­tions” is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries of men and women who served their coun­try in World War II, the Kore­an War, the Viet­nam War, oper­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day con­flicts. They will be post­ed through­out Novem­ber in hon­or of Vet­er­ans Day.)

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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