Veterans Day just passed and it continues to hold a special place in my heart. I grew up in a small farming town in Northeast Ohio, surrounded by men and women who had proudly served their country.

My father was commander of the local American Legion and Memorial Day was, at that time, more recognized than Veterans Day, was always spent going to all of the local town’s parades. The members of the American Legion, representing all the services, would lead the procession and carry the flag through the small town. Folks would leap to their feet to salute the flag and honor their country and the veterans, living and dead. They would fire their guns for the 21-gun salute at the town’s cemetery. The Legion’s members would then continue on to the other much smaller local cemeteries that wouldn’t see a parade or a band. They would march, and guns would be fired for men and women who served their countries, buried in that place, gone but not be forgotten.

I joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school heading off to find adventures far from the farm. My father, who had served during World War II, was so proud of me. I was not ready to attend college and knew there was a much bigger world out there. I took the oath at the federal building in Cleveland and was immediately taken to the airport. My first flight ever was to Orlando, Florida to boot camp. I still don’t remember much of the flight except people all around me smoking. It was a different time then.

The military was good to me and, I like to think I was good for it. I served four years of active duty as a hospital corpsman, never seeing foreign bases. I joined the Navy in September and my father died in January of a heart attack. I asked for and received orders to remain at the hospital in Great Lakes, north of Chicago, to be close to home. I returned to Ohio to attend college on the GI bill and served in the reserves. While I served in peace times, the men and women with whom I had the honor of serving, worked hard to stay prepared to protect and defend.

Fast forward to 2014. My son was graduating from high school and my mother-in-law that had lived with us for 10 years was moving to her other son’s house. I found that I had time to start a business. I looked at many different businesses and companies, but happened upon a travel company called CruiseOne. Travel agency franchises were available to be home-based or storefront. They provide the training, tools, and support to make you successful. I did lots of research and couldn’t find anything except positive reviews about this company that was owned by World Travel Holdings. While the purchase price was not exorbitant, they were running a veteran’s contest (Vetrepreneur) where they were awarding five franchises free to former military service people. Their philosophy was that if a person was willing to serve and lay down their lives for a country, what better person could you have as part of your organization?

I reached out to CruiseOne and was lucky enough to find a company representative that was extraordinary at her job. The contest was ending in two weeks and there was lots of work to be done. I wrote a business plan, financials, reference sheets, background checks, and filled out much more paperwork. I don’t remember the number of people that entered the contest that year, but it seems like 200 to 250 applicants. After a vetting and interview process, I was lucky enough to be awarded a CruiseOne franchise. My days of being a travel agent started with another plane flight to Florida for training.

Travel is my love and my passion. There is so much to learn and do each day. Helping folks plan their annual vacation, honeymoon, or last-minute getaway is always fun. I was lucky enough to have Mary Jane Santos, former county library director, come on board as an associate in 2016. Her love of travel and her intelligence as well as her mad computer skills have added much to my agency. CruiseOne went through a name change in 2016 to Dream Vacations to reflect that we sold more than cruises. I was able to honor my past service by naming my agency Anchor and Away Travel. I named it that to reflect that we can love where we come from and love to travel also.

The year following my dad’s death, I was asked to put the flowers on my hometown’s Veterans’ Memorial statue. I marched in uniform with the guys my dad had marched with the previous year.

Reflecting back, I now realize how lucky I was to have served the country with the generations of fellow service members. What an honor and privilege.

By Marci DeWitt

Contributing Columnist

Marci DeWitt owns a local travel agency, Anchor and Away Travel, a Dream Vacations franchise. She can be reached by email at [email protected]