A brief but successful Naval career defined Vietnam War veteran Austin Seay's life of adventure and giving back.
In 1965, the then-25-year-old junior grade lieutenant was a gunnery officer aboard the USS McMorris, a destroyer.
"We sailed under the cover of darkness from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in late May or early June of 1965, bound for South Vietnam," Seay, now 80, said, describing the mission that defined his military career.
"Operation Market Time was a 1,200-mile blockade of the South Vietnamese coast to keep munitions from coming down from the north to be picked up by the Viet Cong," he said.
Name: Austin Seay
Branch of military: Navy
Years of service: 1965-1970
During the operation, Seay and company were involved in four different gunfire support measures with the Viet Cong, altercations which Seay still remembers vividly.
"In one particular case, the barrel on the forward gun mount — because we fired so many rounds out there — the paint started to blister and then it turned black and the smoke was everywhere," Seay recalled with teary eyes, describing standing on the deck during a frenzy of gunfire.
"You've never seen such a smoking in all your life when you start blasting away like that," he said. "There will be a lot of other things that I remember in my lifetime, but I will always remember that."
Seay was deployed once more in 1967 on a destroyer serving as a plane guard in the South China Sea. Later, he did fleet training for the Navy, ending his career in Cuba.
After Cuba, Seay retired from the Navy, went to business school and began a decades-long international business career throughout which he would live in 10 different countries on six continents.
In the '90s, Seay, working for commercial fleet company Tidewater, returned to Vietnam on business.
"One of the things that struck me on that drive into Hanoi, was I was going through the same rice paddies with the levees that the United States bombers had been taking out all those years before," Seay remembered.
"And one of the funny questions that they asked me, which I was prepared for, was 'have you ever been to Vietnam before,'" he remembered from a conversation with a business associate. "So I said, 'Oh no, but it certainly is a beautiful country and I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to be here.'"
After weathering two hurricanes, including Katrina, at their home in New Orleans, Seay moved to Chattanooga, where he and his wife Geraldine, live in their Hixson home surrounded by relics of their travels.
In his retirement, Seay, the father of two adult children — a daughter who married a retired Navy commander and a son who followed his footsteps in business school — stays busy as a member of the Rotary Club of Chattanooga, the Sons of the American Revolution, and serves as the statewide Eagle Scout Committee chairman, to share his experience and sense of adventure.
"It's important to me as a former Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout at 15 and a member of the Order of the Arrow to give back," he said. "And it's to be able to share some of what I have experienced in this life."
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.