Whenever I meet a Marine veteran, I like to tell him about my last two years in the Navy. That’s when I served on a commodore’s staff in the amphibious Navy and we would take Marines to the Mediterranean on six-month deployments and relive D-day landings at all of the important World War II sites.
Toward the end of my second and last cruise, several of us had a chance to take a group trip from a port in Italy to Munich. We went by train, of course, from Italy through the Brenner Pass in the Alps, through Austria and on to Germany. (I was hoping they’d rename the pass in my honor, but that hasn’t happened yet and we’re nearly 50 years out from my trip.)
I was one naïve sailor. At the time there was a rule that you were not allowed to bring civilian clothes on a ship—so I didn’t. But when we boarded the train for Munich, all in uniform, it wasn’t long before everyone in our group was in civvies. There were two exceptions—me and a Marine.
It was really no big deal until we got to the border checkpoint at Austria. A border guard walking through the train said that military were not allowed in Austria and that the Marine had to remove his blouse. The result would be a guy in khaki trousers and a T-shirt, which is not military uniform.
Sitting next to the Marine, I immediately offered to take off my jumper.
The guard shook his head no.
“Military only,” he said.
I was crestfallen. I wasn’t military.
Then again, why would anyone in landlocked Austria consider the Navy military?