JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — DD 214

There are anniversaries, and there are milestones. In the past 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 U.S. Navy. Feb. 15, 1972. If you take a look, you’ll see that I only served three years, nine months and 10 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, N.D., 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 50 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 this past 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?

5 thoughts on “JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — DD 214”

  • Naomi Dunavan February 15, 2022 at 10:39 am

    Hi Jim, Naomi Dunavan here. My husband of 57 years, Jim Dunavan, carries his DD 214 papers with him wherever he goes. He was in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1963 and spent 2 years in Japan working with Rear Admiral A. J. Hill, who had 33 ships under his command. Jim Dunavan was a member of Grand Forks’ Exchange Club for many years before it disbanded due to lack of membership. There was a Fuglie who was a member and Jim is wondering if he is kin to you? Keep writing. Our best to you.

    1. Jim Fuglie February 15, 2022 at 12:23 pm

      Well, Naomi, that makes him pretty old! Glad he’s still here too. Yeah, there were some second and third cousins named Fuglie wandering around western Minnesota, still are I guess. I know a few of them, but not many. Best to you and JIm. Anchor’s Aweigh!

  • Al Aamodt February 15, 2022 at 11:39 am

    Agreed Jim…that DD214 was and is a big deal. And like you, it helped me pay for my education, got me into a house and removes some of the bite from medical bills-particularly prescription drugs. I had a credit card sized copy of my ’14 that I carried with me as an ID, when I first got home, since I needed to get a new Minnesota driver’s license and that took some time, in those days. And there was this bouncer at The Flame in Fargo. My guess a WWII vet, a Drill Sargent type. He hassled me every time I walked in that bar (which was often) about my ID. I told him about the driver’s license deal, and why I used my ’14. He was having none of it. He simply refused to accept the fact I was a (Vietnam) vet and was over 21. But it is a point of pride, to a degree, we made it home. More than 58-thousand of our brothers and sisters didn’t. And while I also agree about looking ahead and not back, I believe it’s crucial we are remembered, not so much for our “service”, but for the time we lost–productive, life exploring time. And, I believe we need we need to look back and ahead, to continue to fight for our brothers and sisters and their families, battling the effects of Agent Orange. If we don’t, who will?

    1. Jim Fuglie February 15, 2022 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks for the note Al. Yep, we left a lot of friends over there. Glad you and I are still here.

  • Lillian Bachmeier February 16, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    I enjoyed your article. The GI bill to go to college did great things for America. Remember what Garrison Keillor said, “This guy went to college on the GI bill, bought his first home with GI financing, and another with FHA mortgage,, used the veteran’s health services, the unions to increase his wages, then, moved to management and then the suburbs and became a Republican.” (He said it better than I’m telling it.)


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