I always anticipate what each new day will bring to me. It’s like waiting on a gift.
Last week, I had a friend call and ask me if I would drive her to her grandson’s graduation from the Joint Anacostia Bolling military base near Washington, D.C.
I remembered Kalin Thomas as a young lad many years ago staying with his grandparents, Phyllis and Linn, as well as his Aunt Rose and Uncle Hank, who lived up the road from me.
Kalin was a short curly-haired kid from California. He had his share of ups and downs, like many of us, and followed a path that I’m sure wasn’t easy for a kid.
While working in the prison business, I saw how the lives of many kids ended up when they had no moral compass or caring adults to guide them along life’s journey.
I often wondered how this young boy would grow up.
Last Wednesday, I found out just how Kalin was doing with his travels.
Kalin had decided to enlist in the United States Navy after high school and had recently completed his basic training on the Great Lakes. He then transferred to the Bolling Military Base, which is a joint military reservation where both Air Force and Navy personnel train.
Kalin had been selected to become a member of the Navy ceremonial honor guard. These elite Navy personnel will serve as honor guards for military funerals at Arlington. Kalin’s assignment will last for two years at this location and then he will be off for other distant places on a Navy ship.
When we arrived at the base, we were happily greeted at the visitors center by Kalin and a few of his buddies. He hopped into our vehicle and we went on the grand tour of the base before his anticipated graduation from his advanced training.
He took us to his barracks, told us about his military regimen and was very happy to see his visitors. He asked if we were hungry and escorted us to the mess hall, where he treated us to lunch.
The little kid was no longer little. At 18, he had grown to more than 6 feet tall and weighed a strapping 180 pounds. All muscle and no fat.
As I looked around, I was surprised about how tall all the Navy trainees appeared to be and reflected on John Paul Jones, the father of the Navy.
I remembered reading Evan Thomas’ book on Jones and how President Theodore Roosevelt, in 1905, had sent 500 U.S. Navy men to retrieve the body of Jones from an unmarked grave in Paris and return him to America as a hero. Each of those 500 men stood 6 feet or taller.
As I sat in a chair next to Kalin’s proud relatives, I was amazed, too, at the height of these modern Navy trainees. Males and females alike towered in formation.
I was most pleased and humbled to be among them.
As Kalin and his graduating peers marched to the front of the formation, I was most proud of him and thought of the many difficult days he must have traveled to reach this special place.
His uniform was immaculate; his attention to detail meticulous; and his discipline something worthy of praise.
His appearance and courteous behavior were also noteworthy.
As we continued our visit, I snapped a picture of Kalin standing tall during his graduation ceremony. I wished inwardly that all young Americans could travel this same path.
I also reflected on my own military journey in 1966, when I enlisted in the United States Army. Times have changed a lot since 1966, but attending Kalin’s military graduation made me very proud to be an American.
Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.