Written by Bryan Finnigan
“Wait in the library while I get my binder….”
Dana C. Hunton is a retired U.S. Military Captain and when he tells you to do something I would suggest doing it. Retirement may have taken a little bite out of his bark but Mr. Hunton still carries himself with authority, a posture of respect sculpted from 30 years of military service. Years he proudly carries around with him in story and mementos.
I was waiting patiently (as ordered) in the library when Mr. Hunton appeared. He marched right up to me and presented a heavy blue binder filled with numerous awards and accolades he had earned during his time in the military. From letters of commendation to notes of appreciation from President George W. Bush each page in this massive collection of accomplishments represents a lifetime of hard work and perseverance.
“As soon as I turned 18 I joined the Army. This would have been in 1950. The Korean War was over by that time so I didn’t see any fighting
– thank goodness. I did a 3 year tour over in Germany and was sent home. Once I was back in the States I realized that there was nothing for me here so I enlisted again and knew I was going to stay in the military.”
Out of all the accomplishments Mr. Hunton has attained throughout his life it’s a degree in business from the University of Maryland that holds a special place for him. The boy from Fort Fairfield Maine who struggled in school and “quit the eighth grade” went on to meet a personal challenge; attaining a higher education.
“The school I was in wasn’t for me. I couldn’t focus for some reason. It was in Germany that I found out that the military would provide me with an education. Wherever in the world I was going to be stationed I could take classes through the Army. So I did. All my extra time was spent studying until I got a college degree. Once I got in there I got ambitious and couldn’t stop.”
And the ambition and focus wasn’t just limited to book studies. His leadership skills were rewarded during a tour in Vietnam where he was awarded the Bronze Star as well as the Cross of Gallantry for “..heroism in the face of enemy fire.”
“We were pumping sand out of the water to build a landing strip when we were attacked. I had the situation under control quickly and we saved a barge worth 4 million dollars. I didn’t lose a single man during that fight. I’m no hero, but it’s nice to get the awards.”
I spent about an hour going over Mr. Hunton’s binder and noticed throughout his collection were reminders of a part of his life that we hadn’t yet talked about, his wife Mickie. A picture and degree from beauty school were the only windows I had into the life of his partner of many years.
“It’s been about a year since she died. I’m not sure. I don’t think about the date, it’s too hard. She was the only one I truly loved….. memories are fun..if they’re good ones. These are all memories I’m proud of.”
At this point we both agreed that the allergies were exceptionally strong this year and was causing our eyes to water. Much like someone who has seen battle, some stories tell themselves if you listen close enough to the silence.
After a long career in the Army Mr. Hunton decided it was time to settle down in the states. But that didn’t keep him away from the military life. He continued to support the armed forces and worked out of San Diego for the Navy as a civilian where he quickly worked his way up to GS10, one of the highest ranks a civilian can achieve in the Navy.
“The Government has been really good to me. It gave me a lot of opportunities. Of course I had to work my butt off for what I’ve accomplished but the opportunity was there. I would recommend the military for anyone who wants to get ahead. But you’ve got to do it yourself.”
The spine on Mr. Hunton’s binder was worn. Tattered from frequently opening up the past for a visit. He holds it close like a close friend. A friend that has been with him through it all. That’s why I was surprised and honored when he suddenly handed it over to me.
“Here, take it if you want to. I’ve never let anyone take it before. Take your time and look it over. Just bring it back later.”
And when Dana C. Hunton tells you to do something….you do it.
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