'Something You Don't Know': Reflecting On The Complex Legacy Of Military Service
When Scott Morningstar graduated high school, he knew college wasn’t what he was looking for. He got a steady job bending tubes, but it wasn't much of a career.
“It paid well, but it was pretty dirty. It wasn’t going anywhere,” he said. “I was working with people who had been bending tubes for 25 years, and it was really clear I could grow old and die doing this job.”
His family suggested joining the military instead.
He told his recruiter he didn’t want to travel, or spend time at sea. The recruiter assured him there were plenty of jobs in the Marines that didn’t involve going overseas or being on a ship.
But right after boot camp, he found himself on a ship for months at a time.
“Not only did I wind up on a ship, I wound up on a ship at sea for 96 days,” he said. “We didn’t see land.”
As a second six-month deployment at sea wrapped up, the first Gulf War began. Morningstar was deployed to Saudia Arabia, where he spent seven months before his stint in the military came to an end.
“I was deployed 21 months out of the four years I was enlisted,” he said.
Like many veterans, he had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life. His first marriage fell apart within six months of his return. He worked for years to address symptoms of PTSD that lingered long after his service.
That work caught the attention of Ronni Zuckerman, who met Morningstar at a dog park years after he'd left the military.
"I think it was your willingness to identify some of the challenges you were experiencing and make changes that allowed me to hang in there with you when I had concerns," Zuckerman told Morningstar. "I mentioned to you when I first met you, you were a bit of a fixer-upper. You needed a little bit of work, but here we are 25 years later going strong."
Three decades on from the Gulf War, Morningstar’s attitude toward his time in the military is complex. It doesn’t sit well with him when people thank him for his service.
“It just doesn’t feel right,” he said. “If they wanted to thank me for my service, they would make sure that fewer people had to serve. That would be a great thank you.“
The reflex to thank veterans feels, to Morningstar, perfunctory; a social nicety that glosses over the reality of war.
"I don't know how you can express appreciation for something you don't know," he said. "You don't know what I did, what I've been through, the character of my service, so I don't know how you can thank me for it if you don't know me. Maybe just talk to me about it."
Working in Marine supply logistics paved the way for Morningstar to launch a successful career in computer systems administration, but military service is not a path he’d recommend to his sons.
“I think I want them to know they don’t have to do it. I feel like I've done it for our family and it can skip a generation just fine,” he said. “I definitely encourage them not to talk to recruiters.”
This conversation was produced by North Carolina Public Radio WUNC as part of StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative, and made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.