A Soldier's Wife
By George Kulas, Army, Marines
Writing Type: Prose
By George Kulas
My sergeant major handed me a scrap of paper with the number 667 written on it. He shook my hand and said, "Congratulations, you made the E-9 list."
I felt like I was on top of the world. All the hard work and sacrifice had finally paid off. I had made it to the top; E-9 (sergeant major) was the goal I had been striving for during most of my career.
I immediately called my wife with the good news. She told me how happy she was. She said all the correspondence courses, schools, perfect scores on physical training tests and evaluation reports finally paid off for me.
It wasn't until I hung up the phone that I realized I forgot to thank her. I called her back and said, "Honey, I want to thank you for all you've done for me. The stripes are as much yours as mine."
She said, "Don't thank me. You did all the work." She didn't realize how much she had done, and I was beginning to realize how much I had taken her for granted all those years.
My wife was born and raised in Plymouth, a small Wisconsin town. She was her parents’ youngest daughter, and they hoped she would be the one to stay near home and help them in their older years. I robbed her and them of that; when she was 20 years old, we were married and off to Okinawa.
I had enlisted in the Army as a private after being out of the Marine Corps for three years. I had served on Okinawa after a tour in Vietnam, so I knew what to expect. My wife had never been farther from home than Illinois and hadn't planned on leaving Wisconsin, but she loved me and wanted to be with me.
We lived in a small one-bedroom shack in Sobe, Okinawa. We couldn't live in government quarters because I was not on a command-sponsored tour. I loved my job, participated in numerous sports, made soldier of the month/quarter, and was promoted several times ahead of schedule. I spent numerous hours at night completing correspondence courses to learn more about my job and the Army, as well as to collect more promotion points. I was enjoying myself, and my future looked bright.
What was my wife doing all this time? Doing what I took for granted. We didn't have a washing machine, so she washed our clothes by hand in 100-degree heat inside our shack. The windows were kept open, allowing many of the local creatures to enter freely, keeping my wife busy playing bug-zapper.
We didn't have an automobile, so my wife made many trips on foot to the exchange and commissary, lugging the goods back home. Although our stove was only a hot plate, the meals she made beat the mess hall. I'd come home every evening to a home cooked meal. Having worked all day in an air-conditioned office, I was still full of vigor and vitality. I couldn't understand why my wife was always tired. Looking back now, I can't believe she didn't leave; I am fortunate that she didn't.
After 18 months we finally left Okinawa. My wife endured many other hardships during the next 16 years. She came along when I was assigned to Korea on a one-year hardship tour, not just once but twice. There she didn't even have commissary or exchange privileges, and our living conditions on the economy were no better than on Okinawa.
She made my tours a great deal easier. I could put all my energy into my job and always had her to come home to at night. She cried whenever I had to depart for a new assignment without her, once with tears flowing asking, "Why do we have to live like this?" I don't remember how I answered, but I know because we lived like that, today we can better appreciate and value our American way of life.
When I retired in July 1990 we went back to Wisconsin, and then, like they always wished, my wife’s parents had her to care for them. I owed her that much and more. All the stripes, medals, certificates and honors were just as much hers as mine.
A plaque I gave her when I retired was a small token of my appreciation for all she had done: "To my wonderful wife, in appreciation for the love and support you provided me throughout my military career; I couldn't have done it without you. I love you."