This story originally appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of the Community. For your connection to the latest news and sports, call 270-384-9454 for a subscription.
Tony Rush can still remember how he would push his way through the rows of people lining the streets of Friendsville, Md. each year on Veterans Day. As a young boy, he just wanted to get a glimpse of the soldiers marching down the street in their uniforms. He remembers the crowds cheering, the flags waving.
One day, he thought, they would be cheering for him.
“I can remember every soldier marching down the street in that small little town,” said Rush, now 79 years of age. “I felt Veterans Day was an honor. Today, I don’t think people appreciate that like we used to. It is not for everyone, but I can’t say anything bad about my time in the service.”
Rush left home at the age of 18, a family practice started by his father. Rush’s dad believed when children reached a certain age they left home and started working. So, Rush hitchhiked his way to Washington, D.C. when his time came. He got a job, ate a lot of White Castle burgers because they were cheap, and decided to join the Navy in 1962.
Military service fit Rush’s needs. The smart, sometimes “wild” young man, said he found direction, focus and discipline. He went to San Diego for boot camp and after a couple of weeks he was sent to electronics school, which eventually led to Rush working as a sonar man on a submarine.
After graduating from sonar school in New London, Conn., he was put on a nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. George Washington. The sub was based near Scotland, so Rush and his crew would leave Connecticut to serve on the vessel for three months at a time. Another crew would relieve them every 90 days.
Rush served four years in the military, retiring in 1966, before the Vietnam War engulfed the country. Retirement didn’t come as a shock for those who knew Rush; he just said it was time.
“I wanted to settle down and it was just time to do it,” Rush said. “I didn’t think about getting married, but I wanted to settle down because I was a little wild. I do miss being in the service, but I miss the guys most.”
Rush said he is able to meet up with most of the guys he served with, that are still physically able, at annual reunions around the country. He said there are a lot of stories told when they gather.
“I kind of have a bad look on Veterans Day now,” said Rush, recounting how he and other veterans of the time were treated by some of the public.
“There are so many people out there today that had the opportunity to go in the service and didn’t take it. It was so important in my life, and it made me what I am. I respect anyone that has served. But I think our country has gone downhill since we stopped the draft. I don’t know if there is a lot of pride in our country anymore.”
If Friendsville officials would ever call to see if Rush would like to be part of the town’s next Veterans Day celebration, would he be interested?
“If Friendsville had a Veterans Day celebration, I would go to that immediately,” Rush said. “I would be there, and I would love it.”