College freshmen have been known to get homesick, as for some it is their first long-distance experience away from friends and family. But there is a group of people who travel even further from what they know and go longer without seeing their loved ones: military personnel.
However, servicemen and women are in good company because their fellow soldiers are in that same boat of unfamiliarity. Through those similar circumstances, a lifelong friendship developed between one Vietnam veteran and his fellow sailor.
When Bob Schlachter graduated from a New Jersey high school in 1971, he wasn’t off to college. He was headed to the U.S. Navy to serve his country in the Vietnam War.
Schlachter went through basic training with two friends from his hometown, but because each wanted to pursue different careers within the military, they went their separate ways after graduating from boot camp. He also said many of the men he went through basic training alongside were from New York or New Jersey.
“It made you feel, with the protesting of the military at that time in our country, it made us all probably feel more at ease, relaxed,” he said.
Schlachter was assigned as a boiler technician to the USS Biddle, a guided-missile cruiser he said was populated by about 500 enlisted men and officers. He said developing friendships with those aboard his ship happened almost instantaneously just by way of performing daily duties.
The shipmate he’s kept in touch with to this day is Jay Musicant.
“We look out for each other, we want the best for each other,” Schlachter said. “If one has a problem, we’re there. We don’t ask if you want help, we’re there, and it’s welcomed.”
When a young Schlachter got to his station, a guy came up to him and said “I heard you’re from New Jersey, where at?”
Schlachter shrugged it off, assuming the man wouldn’t have heard of his small New Jersey town. That assumption was wrong. The sailor, Musicant, was from a neighboring town that competed against Schlachter’s high school in sports. The two men even had the same job of boiler technician.
“In case you were suffering from say homesickness, that made you a little closer because you were like family to them,” he said of his shipmates. “You lived in the same place, you liked the same things. It made it a lot easier.”