“Section 23a of your Form DD-214 lists your military occupational specialty as ‘EXP,’ the letter from the VA said. “That occupation does not exist. Therefore, we conclude that your paperwork is fraudulent, you are not a veteran, and your benefits should be curtailed, if not denied outright.”

Naturally, I was dismayed that my benefits might be curtailed. I was not surprised, as the VA assumes that everything a veteran tells them is a lie, unless the veteran can prove otherwise. In that spirit, I tell my story, confident that it will confirm that my naval service was legit.

First off, “EXP” stands for “Expendable.” Upon completion of boot camp, I was deemed too incompetent to do anything but bail water out of the derelict barges the Navy uses for target practice on the high seas. The men who do this work die, hence the label. Yes, it would be more humane to patch the hulls so they wouldn’t sink before the shells hit them, but America has done such an excellent job getting people into college that no one knows how to patch hulls anymore. Which was good for me, as I wasn’t able to get into college and had nowhere else to go. Therefore, I reported to the destroyer USS Sisyphus and found myself bailing water from a World War II era hulk.

There is a picture on the internet that is believed to be a promotional poster for the film “The Caine Mutiny.” Not so! If you find the picture, I am the pale dot between the target and the barge’s starboard side. Being scared out of my mind, I was throwing up, as the destroyer’s crew screamed, “Hey, dummy! Throw up over the side! You are sinking under the weight of your vomit!” Sure enough, the first gunshot sailed over the target, severing the tow cable and setting me adrift. Being Expendable, the Navy left me to die.

I lapsed into depression, as I realized that the intactness of my corpse would testify to my failure as an Expendable. I prayed that scavengers would scatter my bits far and wide, hiding my shame. Seagulls, lost penguins, even scuba diving rats would have been welcome. Damn my luck! I had to settle for dolphins who kept the barge afloat, left fish on the deck and only occasionally tried to hump my leg.

After three weeks, I screamed, “Stop pushing me toward the latitudes where the people live and let me die! And would it kill you to conjure up a pizza? I’m sick of tuna!” One of the dolphins pointed with his nose. I looked behind me. Well. Instead of doing what I said, those smartassed dolphins had left me off the coast of Italy. I tossed the kelp draping me over my left shoulder like a fancy stole, turned on my heel, and marched onto the beach. “Where is the nearest Pizza Hut?” I asked. “I am famished.”

This obvious tall tale leaves no doubt that I was in the Navy. Only a man who spent years ironing military creases into his underwear when he wasn’t standing at parade rest in front of whatever fancy plaque or garbage can that needed guarding would become bored enough to make this story up. Ask any veteran if he didn’t invent a few exciting scenarios to fill the hours, and he will regale you with stories. None of them will be truthful about military life. The stuff that isn’t too painful to relate is too boring to remember.

But what did “EXP” actually stand for, you ask? Damned if I know. You’ll have to ask the clerk on the USS Sisyphus.

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Back to Poetry Gallery

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.



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