John Paul King has over 40 years experience in the U.S. Navy; 20 of which he has also spent as a Milton resident with his wife Virginia, and will pull from his knowledge in the field to deliver this year’s key note address at Milton’s Annual Memorial Day Observance.
Taking a look at the man behind the speech, King’s story of service is one that can be broken up into two parts.
With family influence, King always knew he would have a career in the military.
“My father was a World War II vet; he fought in Africa and Italy and was wounded in the Battle of Monte Cassino,” explained King, a Goshen, Connecticut native. “So I always had that sense of duty [and] family obligation to serve in the military."
Combined with this sense of duty, King’s grandfather, who he described as being “literally the old man and the sea” sparked King’s love of the ocean from a very early age.
These two passions compelled King to enroll in the naval R.O.T.C program in 1967 during his undergraduate years at Ohio State University.
“Three classes a week and a weekly 2-hour drill,” King said of the program.
Upon graduation, King was assigned submarine duty in New London, CT on the U.S.S. Jallao. Spending eighteen months on the submersible ship from 1972 to 1974, King respected how the vessel operated independently and was in the hands of the crew.
“It was rigorous work. If I was at watch at three o’clock in the morning, I’d be responsible for the lives of 85 men."
King received his navy scuba diving certificate in the summer of 1974 and was later stationed on the U.S.S Grayback in Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines. King traveled the world with his fleet during the mid seventies, hopping from ports in Japan, Korea, Thailand and even Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii.
When King was assigned to work as a weapons officer on a ballistic nuclear submarine in 1978, however, he declined the order because he had always been against nuclear machines. He viewed the new technology as “a waste of one’s abilities as an officer” and decided to return to civilian life.
Fast forward ten years to 1988 when King rejoined the naval reserve, once again answering an internal call of duty.
After spending time as a Chief Warrant Officer overseeing a support hospital in Taunton, MA, the army saw that King’s specialties in engineering, management and electrical production were not being optimally used.
In July of 2004, at age 55, King again became mobilized for active duty. This time his destination would be Iraq.
“The fact that I was called at age 55 demonstrates the need for more professionals in our country’s army,” said King. “I’m concerned that 3 percent of the population is bearing the cost of fighting America’s wars."
In January of 2005, King was dropped at the site of his new occupation. Describing the scene, King reminisces on clutching four duffel bags of everything he owned in “pitch black darkness” and hopping out of a helicopter whose propellers did not even slow down enough to hover gently. With, “the enemy right on the other side of the wall” King and another comrade found the base and got settled in for work.
King would serve on the engineer brigade of the 42nd infantry division, stationed in Tikrit, North Central Iraq, home to 6 percent of the entire world’s oil supply. It was also a central battle ground for the Sunni/Shia conflict and colorfully nicknamed the “Sunni Triangle."
His time in Iraq involved dodging roadside IED’s (improvised explosive devices) on a daily basis, negotiating with corrupt sheiks about property and building a public health clinic for the townspeople. “Just a typical day in the office,” joked King.
Although King witnessed and shared stories of pain, he only realized the struggle that a soldier’s family faced until after he returned home from his tour in Decemeber 2005.
“I never realized what Ginny, my wife, went through back home waiting. I could never really tell her where I was and sometimes I wouldn’t be able to correspond with her for three or four days at a time,” he explained. “Say I emailed her in the morning, because of the time difference, I might already be hurt or dead by the time she read it in the afternoon.”
Along with the gift of returning home, in June 2007, King received a Bronze Star for Service in a Combat Zone, a belated award for his continued merit, service and bravery. Such qualities for which King was awarded will be the topics of his Memorial Day speech.
“There are oil tax breaks worth millions of dollars but still we have an underfunded veteran’s administration” King said. “We have to stop looking at our society as individuals and start looking at it as a whole. We’re all in it together."
To hear more of King’s musings on inspiration and action, attend the annual Memorial Day Observance Ceremony this Monday, May 28. The exercises will begin at 9:30 a.m. at and a parade will proceed to where King will give his keynote speech.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the reason for John Paul King's Bronze Star. The error has been corrected. We apologize for the mistake.