DD 214

There are anniversaries, and there are milestones. In the last month or so I’ve noted a couple of them. In December, I celebrated 50 years since my return from Vietnam. In January I celebrated 20 years since I met Lillian, my “current wife,” as Dean Meyer likes to say.

Today is another of those red-letter days. Fifty years ago today I stood on the deck of the U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier USS Oriskany for the last time and saluted the flag flying high up on the island above the flight deck, where I had stood duty hundreds of times during flight operations in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Then I walked off the ship with a DD 214 in my hand, my “Discharge Paper.” I was a Civilian, with a capital “C,” for the first time in nearly four years. You veterans know that DD 214 is the most valuable piece of paper we ever got. For me, it got me a college education, a low-interest loan for a house in the country, and as I grew old, some medical benefits, thanks to something called the GI Bill, enacted by the United States Congress, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, while our country was still at war.

Millions of us have benefited from the GI Bill. If I become feeble in my old age, they might even have a room for me in the Old Soldier’s Home, with a whole bunch of other old salty dogs. Could even be a room beside my old friend Dick Dobson, who says the living there is pretty good. Oh, the stories we’ll tell.

DD 214. Honorable discharge from the United States Navy. February 15, 1972. If you take a look, you’ll see that I only served three years, nine months and ten days of my four-year hitch. That’s because the Navy had a policy of letting you out a little early, up to three months, if you were planning to go back to college after your service. They called it an “Early Out.” My old friend Dr. Paul Larsen, Dean of the College back in Dickinson, North Dakota, fixed that up for me, sending me in the mail another valuable document, an admission letter to Spring Quarter 1972 at Dickinson State College. Dang, I wish I had saved that too.

So fifty years ago today I was heading home, where I would resume classes after a four-year hiatus, looking forward to a part-time job as a wedding and portrait photographer for Buzz Osborn at Osborn’s Studio in Dickinson (thanks to my Navy photography training and experience) and a GI Bill check in the mail each month to pay the way.

DD 214. That valuable, and now somewhat faded and frayed, piece of paper has traveled with me over a lot of miles, and it has been stashed in a lot of filing cabinets—a treasured memento. I’m guessing just about every veteran still has theirs.

Just last week I visited a new doctor, and he noted that the Veterans Administration was helping me to pay my medical bills. He was a friendly fellow, much younger than me, and he struck up a conversation, learning I had been in the Navy during the Vietnam years. Then he innocently asked me what I thought was a pretty foolish question: “Did you enjoy your time in the Navy?”

That’s not a question anyone should ever ask a Vietnam veteran. There’s a reason the Veterans Administration is helping veterans pay for their medical bills late in life. Something went awry during their time in service, something that likely changed the course of their life at some point after their discharge, something that was definitely not enjoyable. 

But that’s water under the bridge. None of us who got those DD 214’s 50 years ago could possibly have imagined we’d still be around to celebrate this milestone. Hooray for us, and for all the others who are celebrating with me today. Let’s have a beer. Or two, or three, like we did on that night 50 years ago. And let’s think about what comes next, not about what has gone by. Because we’re still here. Ain’t that something?

7 thoughts on “DD 214

  1. Ah, fifty years ago. I went to start my car and there was ice all around it. NEED I explain? I found myself almost totally under the car, just my head sticking out. Now that was a struggle to get out of that predicament, and also one I have tried very hard not to repeat over fifty years too! HA! Enjoy!


  2. Interesting perspective on the DD214.(Defense Department form 214). My entire ARMY work life was spent in Personnel Management handling thousands of DD-214s and had no idea of the reverence they carried to individuals. The 214 was a yellow, 4 sided, heavy paper form filled with tiny boxes and odd abbreviations describing you and your military life history. This was in late 1960s and the military was just starting to tinker with computers. It was a mystery but not a secret. I processed a handful of “Do not divert” arrivals (very high IQ + lots of specialized training).

    Beyond that, it did nothing except tell the reader your IQ, education, home state, education level, skills, training, physical fitness, religion, promotion history, marital status, NoK ( next of kin- it was a war zone and shit happens)

    That makes Jim’s perception of the importance of DD 214 so interesting. I told many new arrivals to make and keep a separate copy of their DD214-your history document. If lost, the Pentagon could re construct a copy but no one would be pleased and you would have a very miserable disruption and delay of pay, leave, “early outs, travel or discharge orders.

    I let the Army keep my duplicate copy but I still have my original DD214…someplace.

    Sent from my iPad



  3. Yeah Jim, I have a DD 214

    The DD 214 and other military records have 1 thing I didn’t like. The SSN.

    Classes, shipping orders, graduations, awards & citations. All have the SSN.

    One guy who had the most Army awards was actor Audie Murphy. Audie was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


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