American Automobile Association fleet dispatcher Robert Perry doesn’t get to stay home on Veterans Day, but that’s fine. He wouldn’t take the day off if someone gave it to him.
“Even on my days off, I’ll come in and work maybe five or six hours a day,” he said Monday. “I’m here to help them out.”
Perry has been with AAA for 23 years, sending help to drivers who call from the scenes of crashes and breakdowns. It’s hard, constant work, and it’s more vital than ever as winter approaches.
But he’s used to it, he said. Before he signed on with AAA, Perry spent 20 years in the Navy. Military service at sea was a family tradition.
“My dad was World War II, my oldest brothers were right around before the Vietnam War and all of that, and then me,” he said.
His two decades in service would take him to Beirut aboard the USS Bowen, which in 1983 defended Marines caught in the the ongoing Lebanese Civil War. Two hundred forty-one Americans died in a terrorist attack on Marine barracks before the Bowen arrived.
“Every time I talk about it, it hurts,” he said. “‘cause I know if we had been there before they bombed the barracks, we could have probably made a difference.”
In 1991, he traveled to the Philippines in the USS Arkansas, which helped evacuate military personnel and their families from Clark Air Force Base during the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
The process was nonstop: “Put them on a ship, run 300 miles down the coast line to some little island where they had an airport. (We) dropped them off there, came back, picked up another batch. Did that for about four days."
He retired in 1994 with the rank of Chief Petty Officer and got a job with AAA, which provided another outlet for his desire to help others and his willingness to show up during a crisis. Just like in the military, he said, there’s no room for complaining or delaying a task.
“When it's cold, wet outside, rainy, snowing, and that person wants that battery in that car at 20 below zero, you’ve got to stay and put the battery in at 20 below zero,” he said. "I'm not going to leave you, even if I can't get the tire off your car, I'm not going to leave you until somebody else comes and tows your car."
That always-present, always-willing helpfulness is something he feels toward his fellow veterans, too. Ultimately, the Navy and AAA are similar for him because they provide a network of support, even in the worst moments.
"There will be somebody there for you,” he said. “No matter what."