My very first radio job was in Twentynine Palms, California, which is home to one of the largest Marine Corps Bases. Being there wasn’t my first introduction to the military though. My father served in the Army. He was a quiet man for the most part, but when he got to talking about his days in the Army, especially when he was stationed out in Germany, you couldn’t get him to shut up. The bond a man shares with his fellow comrade as I learned from my late dad, is unforgettable.
Growing up in Los Angeles it was a very different lifestyle than living out in 29 Palms. I had visited Palm Springs a zillion times, but I never ventured up into the high valley. The desert is exactly that… your surrounded by mountains, dirt, cactuses, and military families everywhere. This town thrived off the military. Very different from the glitz and glam of Hollywood and the beaches I grew up on just two hours away down the highway.
Naturally the boys would leave the military base and you would have a chance to mingle with them around town. I met so many different Marines and their families at radio events we hosted including a boy I started dating. When the Gulf War broke out he was sent away with no goodbye, and like so many he was barely 18. That next morning when I woke up and drove to work, the town was like a ghost town. Nobody on the road and you could sense the overwhelming scared feelings from the families left behind. An erie feeling I will never forget. How do you go on the radio and be the happy go lucky DJ that I am in that moment. It was tough. At 19 I was too young to grasp it all, but I clued in rather quickly to this new reality. Many of my friends that I graduated high school with were also sent away to Operation Desert Storm. I felt like I grew up fast in that moment realizing people I knew were on the front lines ready to give their life for our country.
As the war grew intense and this military town grew empty, I was let go from my full-time on air shift and downsized to just weekends. The town was losing money from the lack of bodies living there, and radio like many businesses was hit. Fast forward to almost a year later, the first round of Marines were returning back to the base and the town threw a BIG welcome home party. I had gathered with military families and friends to welcome back those soldiers lucky enough to return home. The long winding road up the mountain to reach 29 Palms had people lined up for miles! Everyone holding an American flag, and little ones ready to meet their loved ones again. I think that’s what hit me the most. The wife and kids who have been left all alone with the fear they may never see them again. I was just there to be there to show my gratitude for their service. I’ll never forget the screams of the soldiers with their heads out the window just waving to all the people waiting for them….. tears everywhere. I have a lot of pictures from that day but I could only find this one in a hurry this morning.
On that day I learned so much. It was an overwhelming experience in a beautiful way. They were a lot of Marines who had no family or friends there at all to greet them. My girlfriend and I found a group of soldiers and we ended up hanging out and partying with them all night. I know what you might be thinking…lol nothing funny went on. It was a genuine situation. I remember this one Marine just wanted a hug and talked about how scared he was and how he thought he was gonna die. We sat there for a good while as he just cried in my arms. The stories I heard that night and there after still weigh heavy on my mind. A very close friend of mine from high school committed suicide when he returned home from the Gulf War. It was a shock to our community. David was an all around great guy, top student, popular with everybody, star soccer player. He had lots of potential, but the effects of that war damaged him.
On Veteran’s Day, I will never forget my short time on air in Twentynine Palms, California and the beautiful people and families I met. Thank you to every veteran who has served our country. Veteran’s Day is a day to reflect on the service and sacrifice all the brave men and women gave to us. I can’t thank you enough, and I’ll never forget those brave soldiers I met from Operation Desert Storm.