Life Was Simpler When I Carried a Duffel Bag

by Sergeant Major (Ret) George S. Kulas

I remember when I started out in the military and life seemed simple. Everything I owned could be carried in my duffel bag. When it was time to move on, my fatigues, underwear, socks, boots, shoes, hats, etc. were all packed into the duffel bag, which was then locked with a padlock. I guess I didn't want anyone stealing any of my stuff.

Of course, if a thief wanted to, he could have simply picked up the bag and stolen all of me.

Upon arriving at my new location, I took everything out of the duffel bag and placed the contents in a footlocker or wall locker in my area of the barracks, tent or hooch. Sometimes I had a cot to sleep on, sometimes a bunk, and sometimes the ground. But it was my area, my home.

Only two items I considered luxuries never entered my duffel bag; I wore them almost constantly.

One was a "gold" Marine Corps ring I bought at the base exchange immediately after I had completed boot camp. I only took the ring off to clean it, and my finger, of that green stuff. Then it looked good again for a few days.

Unfortunately a corpsman had to cut it off after I caught it on a gate while jumping off a deuce-a-half, (2 1/2 -ton truck), at Dong Ha, South Vietnam. The mishap ripped off half my finger, but fortunately I still have both the finger and the ring.

The other luxury item was a Seiko chronograph watch I saved for in Vietnam and bought on R&R in Tokyo. It was useful for timing myself when I ran, and it held up at incredible water depths. Even though I didn't swim, it was an interesting feature to brag about. The watch looked sharp and impressive with its large face and numerous buttons and dials.

I remember vividly the night I lost it in a poker game on Okinawa. I had a full house and thought I was a sure winner, but the hustler raised 10 bucks; I only had five. He said my watch would cover the bet. He turned over four 3s; I turned over the watch, and a lot of pride. It was a long time before I could afford to buy another Seiko, longer before I played poker.

How things change.

Now I'm retired from the military; I have a job that pays well, and my wife also has a paying job. I have a home, two cars, and more possessions than I ever thought I would have. What is troubling is that all the possessions I have now don't seem to be enough. There always seems to be something I still want.

I still have the duffel bag. It is filled with softballs and bats. As a coach I lug it to a weekly game in the summer.

I guess I have come a long way from when all I owned were necessities, a watch and a ring. But I often wish I could pack up my duffel bag and go back--back to when life was simple and clear.

It was the best time of my life.