Navy veteran recalls life lessons, serving with others
Mary Beth Sallee
Jobe Publishing Reporter
As a young man growing up in Edmonson County during the 80s, Bryan Duvall said there wasn’t always a lot of excitement happening at that time.
Bryan knew he wanted to work right out of high school, but wasn’t sure of just what to do. He had also never done much traveling far from home.
“We had been to Nashville to Opryland,” Bryan said. “That’s the farthest away I had been from Bee Springs.”
But that all changed when Bryan joined the Navy in 1986 at the age of 18.
“…The military had come and talked to us at high school,” Bryan said. “The military seemed like the thing that I could get some training, get paid for it, and grow up a little bit and see what I wanted to do in life.”
Training for Bryan took place in Great Lakes, Illinois. It was his home for the next 12 weeks.
“It was scary,” Bryan said. “…They put us in one big room with 84 people from about every state in the United States. It was a big shock.”
Joining Bryan at boot camp was his buddy Wayne Harp. The friends joined the Navy together via the buddy system.
“If you went in on the buddy system, they would keep you together through boot camp,” Bryan explained. “If we’d of had the same job description, they’d of kept us together. But he got into gas turbans, and…what I was was a fireman. That was engineering on a ship.”
After completing his 12 weeks at Great Lakes, Bryan was stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola and was on board the USS Lexington, AVT 16. He was a Machinist Mate, 3rd Class and one of his jobs included making fresh water when his crew was out at sea.
“The ship I was on was a training ship,” Bryan said. “We were a non-combat ship…We just trained pilots how to land on a carrier. We would go out for two weeks (on the ship), and we’d be back in for two weeks. We done that all year long. We’d train pilots out of Pensacola, Florida and out of Brownsville, Texas.”
While Bryan did not see combat, he certainly experienced times of trial when a fire would occur on the ship. But there was one incident of tragedy, Bryan stated, that has stuck with him for over three decades.
“We had a plane hit the ship one day, and it came down on a whole flight crew and set the flight deck of the ship on fire,” Bryan said. “It killed 13 people and injured dozens of people, and we all had to respond to take care of it.”
“That’s the first time I ever had to take care of somebody I know,” Bryan continued. “A lot of the people that I helped and some of them that got killed, and I knew them…That one really stuck with me because I was just a kid.”
It was during that tragedy that everyone joined together to help one another, but this was nothing new for Bryan and his crew out at sea. It mattered not the color of one’s skin or one’s beliefs. Everyone had each others’ backs.
“I was with people from every state all the time, white people, black people, Chinese, Filipinos,” Bryan said. “And everybody got along, even though their cultures were different. Everybody got along, and it was interesting to see how people celebrated their holidays that we didn’t’ have and how they celebrated the holidays that we all had from different parts of the country.”
“In the end, every job we had on the ship, we all depended on each other,” Bryan added. “When you get out on the ocean, you have no one else you can depend on but each other.”
However, Bryan stated that this type of camaraderie – except in a military setting – seems like a thing of the past.
“Well, right now it kind of makes me ashamed of the parties and of the American people,” Bryan said of today’s turmoil. “Because I know people get frustrated. I know they don’t think things are fair, which sometimes they’re not. But there’s other ways of getting your word out or making sure people understand you than killing somebody or burning something down. That don’t do anything for anybody.”
“If you have a problem, there’s somebody or some system in your county or in your state that can help you if you’ll just look instead of getting mad and blowing up,” Bryan continued. “I used to be real hot headed in school…And the military taught me how to stop and think before I do anything.”
Bryan said the military also taught him many other life lessons, including being prepared to help others and receiving help for yourself as well.
“If you get somewhere in life – and it don’t matter what you’re doing – if you get somewhere in life, somebody has helped you somewhere,” Bryan said. “You might have known about it, you might not have known about it, but somebody helped you. And it would be a good thing if you were to help people if you could.”
Bryan’s enlistment in the Navy was four years of active duty from 1986 until 1990 and four years of reserves.
“That just puts you on standby in case something happens,” Bryan explained. “They can call you back.”
During his time in Pensacola, Bryan worked for a well company drilling water wells, and his wife worked as a teacher. Nevertheless, their hearts were always in Edmonson County.
“I could get another job up here, and she could do her teaching here,” Bryan said. “We wanted to get back home to family. So, she got the job up here, and we sold our house and moved back here.”
Joining the military has provided Bryan with many opportunities through the years, and he believes that the military would be beneficial for all Americans in receiving training and finding a job.
“It’s helped me out in the job that I have now,” he said. “I work for the Army Corp of Engineers now. I’ve got 24 years in (20 with them, 4 with the Navy).”
“It’s also life training about other people, and when you get in there you can go to college,” Bryan added. “You can go in the military and let them pay for your school…They pay you while you’re there. They feed you while you’re there. They give you a bed to sleep in. They pay for all your medical expenses. If you get married, they take care of your family, too…They really take care of their people, no matter what branch of the service it is.”
Today as a veteran himself, Bryan would like others to know how important it is to never forget those who served their country.
“If anybody knows a veteran or they see somebody in a uniform of the armed services, go up and shake their hand,” Bryan said. “Thank them. It’s not gonna hurt their feelings. You’re not gonna make them mad. Let them know you care about them. Because there’s a whole lot of people who have died to give us the rights that we have right now. Don’t ever forget your veterans.”
And like countless other veterans, when Bryan was asked if he’d join the Navy and do it all over again, there was absolutely no hesitation.
“Yes, ma’am. I sure would,” Bryan said. “I’ve had a lot of good friends in my time in the military, and I have nothing but good things to say about the military.”
To Bryan Duvall and other veterans of Edmonson County, we thank you for your service to our great nation.