TOPEKA (KSNT) – Retired Navy veteran Ed Rathke served in the U.S. military for more than a decade. As a young graduate, he didn’t know what he wanted for his life but says enlisting gave him the ultimate sense of purpose.

“I have no regrets about going in the navy,” Rathke said. “It was very, very good for me.”

He turned to a Navy recruiter for guidance in 1971 and never looked back.

“The education and the directions it gave me were something I was able to use my entire professional career,” Rathke said.

He spent the next four years serving in the Navy, working aboard the USS Durham, an assault cargo ship.

“I did firefighting, I did welding, I did pipefitting and carpentry work,” Rathke said.

His service took him all over the western pacific…from Okinawa, Guam, Taiwan, and South Vietnam. It was Vietnam that was the most impactful for the young sailor; he remembers the chaos of evacuating women and children from the trenches of war.

“Just the panic in their faces, the desperation of them trying to get on our ship from their little boats because they were overloaded,” Rathke said. “In many cases, they were handing us their children before themselves.”

After his time in Vietnam, Rathke’s call to service wasn’t over. He joined the Navy Reserves in San Diego and served for seven more years. He was assigned to the battleship Missouri and served on the reserve crew for the USS Bagley.

While he didn’t know where his military journey would take him, looking back years later he says the impact of his service is now clear.

“It’s not until sometimes years later that you realize you made a difference,” Rathke said.

Today, giving back during retirement continues his sense of mission. He’s heavily involved in the American Legion, and the All Veterans Memorial in Emporia and is also a member of the VFW.