Thirty years ago -- give or take a deployment workup period or two -- the Colonel was deployed, along with a couple thousand of his closest friends, to the edge of the Empire as a centurion of the Republic.
Twice, at the end of the decade of Reagan, as a part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit capable of executing ship-to-shore "special operations" at the drop of a hat, the Colonel and a couple thousand of his closest friends went through a fever-pitched preparation phase and then deployed for six months to the Mediterranean area of operations aboard amphibious ships of the greatest navy the world has ever seen.
The Colonel is convinced, beyond a shadow of doubt in his military mind, that the capabilities and commitment of he and a couple thousand of his closest friends not only maintained peace in the region, but so unnerved the Soviet Union that it collapsed.
Think the Colonel is kidding? He kids thee not.
The Colonel, with a couple thousand of his closest friends, sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Med at the end of October, 1989. Two weeks later, the Berlin Wall fell.
Coincidence? The Colonel doesn't believe in coincidences!
Look, it's crystal clear to the Colonel -- and, he ain't all that smart -- that there are two reasons the Soviet Union collapsed: blue jeans and the Colonel (along with a couple thousand of his closest friends).
Blue jeans, you ask?
Yes. Blue jeans.
The government stores in Moscow didn't sell 'em. The Muscovites wanted 'em. Statist socialism failed to satisfy the people's wants.
Blue jeans, the Colonel, and a couple thousand of the Colonel's closest friends -- someday the history books will get it right.
So..., having trained -- hard and effectively -- for every contingency on the spectrum of military operations, ranging from supplying woeful waifs with MRE gum to marching on Moscow through a battlefield macro-aggressed with nuclear fallout and lethal chemical agents, and... finding neither woeful waifs nor need for seizing Moscow, the Colonel and a couple thousand of his closest friends did the thing that Marines do second most best...
They pulled liberty.
For those not acquainted with the term, "pulled liberty" is a nautical term for having gone ashore to engage in unmilitary conduct both naughty and nice.
The Colonel did the latter, of course...
That's his story and he's sticking to it. He is also thankful that this was a couple decades before the ubiquitous cell phone camera.
With peace breaking out all over the place -- as it always did whenever the Colonel was in an operational command -- the Colonel had no choice but to act like a tourist.
Oh sure, the Colonel, and a couple thousand of his closest friends, still conducted frequent bouts of training for military operations, but Southern Europe was their oyster.
And, there just weren't that many tourists getting in the way in those days.
From the Costa del Sol, to Provence, to the Riviera, to Roma, Napoli, and the Amalfi Coast, to Mount Carmel, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and dozens of points in between, the Colonel -- with Uncle Sam as his travel agent -- sight-saw the extent of the Roman Empire.
For their coincidental 40th wedding anniversary and 60th birthdays, the Colonel and the Comely and Kind-hearted Miss Brenda recreated the Colonel's Mediterranean travels earlier this year -- with just the Colonel's best friend this time.
The sights were the same, with one exception -- thousands and thousands of tourists.
Where 30 years ago -- give or take a deployment work-up period or two -- the Colonel had the Piazza dei Miracoli and the leaning tower of Pisa nearly all to his lonesome around which to wander mouth-agape, this summer the Colonel and the Comely and Kind-hearted Miss Brenda stood shoulder to shoulder with thousands of tourists jostling for the obligatory photo shot with the tower in the background.
Where 30 years ago -- give or take a deployment work-up period or two -- the Colonel sat nearly alone on the Spanish Steps, this summer the Colonel had to point them out to the Comely and Kind-hearted Miss Brenda shoulder to shoulder with thousands of tourists from behind a security fence.
Nearly everywhere in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, the experience was the same -- thousands upon thousands of tourists jostling for a position from which to momentarily see a sight.
The Colonel, who has a back-pack crammed full of life's disappointments, was..., well..., disappointed.
He's sorry that the Comely and Kind-hearted Miss Brenda didn't get to see the Med like the Colonel got to, but the check is in that box -- not going back.
At any rate, the Colonel hopes that the thousands upon thousands of tourists sight-seeing in great selfie-snapping, sweaty packs appreciate that their ability to do so is attributable to a couple of thousand of the Colonel's closest friends sweating under their packs and scaring the Soviets into collapse.
They probably have no idea.