Several weeks ago, at American Legion Hall 257 in Vineyard Haven, we honored two World War II warriors from the Greatest Generation who had died: paratrooper Ted Morgan and Marine Gene Defelice. After expressing thoughtful homage, several of us sat around talking about our armed forces experiences that we carried into civilian life. Those who served in the Navy, Coast Guard or Marines smiled, and talked wistfully about their gig line boot camp experience. As an army GI, the gig line was unknown to me. We World War II GIs just took basic training.

According to the veterans, the gig line is the term describing the proper way to wear your uniform. More pointedly, the gig line refers to the alignment of the seam of the uniform shirt, and uniform trouser fly-seam, and buckle. In order to be properly dressed, these three uniform areas must align to form a straight line down the front of your uniform. The word gig refers to the penalty you pay for being dressed inappropriately.

Many other veterans have carried their experiences into civilian life.

Richard A. Marotto, an Army veteran, kept the routine of bunk bedding. “I now make my bed with the military corners I learned in the Army. I don’t though, have a sergeant dropping a quarter to check the tightness of my sheets,” he said.

Thanks to the Army, veteran Jo Ann Murphy said she now makes her bed at home every morning.

George Singfield served in the Air Force on Guam. When he became a teacher, his military Saturday morning inspections and proper uniform dress had taught him to dress professionally: jacket, tie to his belt, high socks, and shined shoes.

Navy veteran Duane M. Jackson tried to teach his four-year-old son how to organize his underwear and socks by treating his drawer as a sea chest. His wife thought he was crazy.

George H. Siegel, a member of the World War II Army ASTP program, had poor posture. In civilian life, he forced himself to stand taller as he recalled his sergeants demands that he “stand tall.”

Army veteran Howard Kight, when camping with his family, lined his sons up and policed the area before leaving. If perchance a cigarette was found, the boys had to field strip it. He also had his sons doing push-ups for any misbehaviors.

Edward (Ted) Hoagland credits the Army with making him even more organized and exposing him to people from different backgrounds. Further, he said the experience of talking with Army officers helped him relate to policemen.

Robin V. Bagwell, a former Air Force medic, conscientiously makes sure her nursing and civilian clothing is always neat and clean and appropriate to the social situation. If she is not 15 minutes early for a meeting, she considers herself late. Robin also brought up her children with the classic four points taught in the military: prior planning, prevent, piss-poor, and performance.

A friend’s wife told me her husband, a former Navy guy, still rolls his clothing when packing for a trip. Bart Cook, a former Army paratrooper, learned attention to detail, confidence, and discipline. One of the habits he kept is tucking his shoelaces into his boots when worn or in the closet.

Marine James M. Hagerty, never asks anyone to do anything he would not do and holds himself to high personal standards to provide a model for emulation.

Bob Falkenburg and I, from our deep-rooted Army practices, upon leaving our homes make sure that all our buttons are buttoned. When keeping an appointment, we “hurry up and wait” — arriving early.

Army veteran Robert Tankard also makes sure he is buttoned up, with shoes shined to a mirror upon leaving his home.

Former Army Bird Col. Eleanor A. Morad now quickly identifies and fights sexism. Former Coast Guardsman Bill McGrath still believes in “we or I did it” when things go well and “I am responsible.” when things don’t go well.

He considers the gig line, beyond just looking sharp, as an alignment of duty, honor, and country through the entire chain of command, civilian and military. 

Bruce R. McNamee served in the Navy and Army. After working on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower in the northern Atlantic Ocean, he learned that despite being cold, wet and tired (or hot, wet and tired in the Mediterranean Sea) that he could still get the job done, something he could not have imagined as a pampered high schooler prior to enlistment. He also reported that he did bring a couple of not-so favorable traits from the military back to civilian life, including the Navy boot camp chow hall mantra: take what you want, eat what you take. “Thirty years later, I still feel compelled to clean off all the food on every plate I find in front of me,” he said.

Former Army engineer Bryan Giles is delighted that veterans can now salute the flag instead of placing hand over heart. Me too.

Despite all the sometimes-crazy questionable gigs, tasks, indignities and experiences, some of which were horrible and deadly, most of us endured and matured. For a myriad of reasons, the Armed Forces experience was a positive, formative period in a substantial number of veterans’ lives.

As veterans, our armed forces experiences and GI Bill, where available, helped us become contributing members of our society

Herbert Foster is an Edgartown library trustee, professor emeritus at SUNY/Buffalo, and author. He served with HQ Company, 34th Inf. Regt., 24th ID in the occupation of Japan.