This Veteran’s Life: Brand New Babysitter

Friday, November 3, 2017

My son came from Geneva to visit with me a couple of weeks ago which prompted me into thinking of traditions and legacies concerning military service in my family.  My father enlisted in the Navy during WWII but never deployed overseas.  His orders were to report to San Francisco to await transport to the Pacific where he would ultimately command LST’s landing Marines on beachheads.  While he lay in his bunk two men in civilian suits came in and asked him if he was Chad Raseman. He showed his ID and they said get some civilian clothes and come with us.  They gave him a form that allowed him to fly (almost unheard of during the war) to the east coast to get to Oak Ridge, Tennessee where he would get further instructions. My father was a chemical engineer and the Manhattan Project needed people like him to help develop the atomic bomb that would end the war with Japan. He loved sailing and the water in general so joining the Navy was an easy and natural choice for him.  He stayed in the reserves after he earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Cornell and was happy to go on cruises on board destroyers and other Navy ships until one day the Navy asked him to turn in his papers as he was too old for the rank he held.  He loved serving his country in the Navy and hoped I and my brother would follow suit. While growing up with this brand new babysitter called the television set, I would watch in awe the series “Victory at Sea” where ships would sail into steep waves with their bows crashing down into the wave and then miraculously coming back up to prepare to crash into the next huge wave.  If it was a North Atlantic crossing in the middle of winter, there would be sailors with ropes tied around their waists whose job it was to chip ice off of the structure so that the accumulated weight wouldn’t put the ship in jeopardy.  That, quite honestly, looked like the last thing I would ever want to do in my life.  Ever.  So at the tender age of 8 years old I firmly decided that the Navy wasn’t for me.  No way José

Instead, at 18, I enlisted in the Army.  Most of you know my stories about my multiple tours in Vietnam and my one year in Korea so I’ll let it go there.  But I will add that not once during my three years, eight months, four days and ten hours in the Army did I ever wish I was on a Navy ship in the middle of winter crossing the North Atlantic chipping ice off of the ship so that it wouldn’t sink with the extra weight.  Not even a scintilla of once.  The bottom line was that no matter what was happening to me on the ground, I was on the ground.

When my son Sébastien was born in Montreuil-sous-Bois, a suburb of Paris, I rushed to the American embassy with his birth certificate and registered him as an American citizen.  It was explained to me that with a French mother and an American father Sébastien would enjoy dual citizenship until he was 18 years old.  If he was drafted by the French military and served he would lose his American citizenship.  If he joined the American military he would lose his French citizenship.  That was pretty cut and dry and seemed logical to me.

One day in 2002, Sébastien told me he was joining the Army.  The American Army.  He’d been living in the States since the age of two and pretty much fell off the French military radar, and besides we weren’t quite sure if France had a military draft anymore.  There had been a mandatory two year service for men only and then through the family grapevine we heard it was now down to 6 months and then we heard nothing further.  Like me, Sébastien had barely squeaked by in high school and was kind of being a bum in Boston trying to get gigs for his fledgling rock ‘n roll band.  Rent was expensive as were all of the other vagaries of living away from your parents so he got a job as a waiter at Bertucci’s in Cambridge so that he and his six roommates could make ends meet.  Band gigs were few and far between so one day he decided that a viable escape would be to join the Army.  He went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood (Fort Lost in the Woods as it’s affectionately known in the Army) in Missouri.  His intelligence training was at Fort Huachuca in Arizona and then he was sent to Kaiserslautern in Germany where he discovered this wonderful event called Oktoberfest.  He would have gladly spent all of his time tasting German beers but reality dope-slapped him into Iraq.  After his tour, he was sent back to Germany for a breather and then sent to Afghanistan.  All in all Sébastien spent eight years active duty in the Army and now lives and works in Geneva, Switzerland, with his three sons. With his service, my dad’s service, and mine, I guess the three Raseman men compiled about 20 years of military service in four different wars. Maybe five wars if you count my service in Korea which some people still consider a war zone. I think, and I hope, that I can speak for my father and my son by saying hell yes, we’d do it again. Except if it involves chipping ice off of a Navy vessel in the North Atlantic.

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Mr. Kim Raseman, USA ‘67-‘71

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