Mike Blanc was sitting at the kitchen table in 2005, when daughter Evian asked if he’d graduated from college.
“I was surprised by the question,’’ he said.
He figured if his kids didn’t know that he earned his degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1978, they probably didn’t know a lot of details about his U.S. Marine Corps career, either.
Things like his “high and tight” haircut or his best friend in basic training, his first ride on a naval vessel and life at Boot Camp Bravo, his engineer company in Okinawa, Japan.
Blanc decided to shore up their knowledge by creating a 100-page book for his seven children. It’s called “Our Dad Was a Marine.’’
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It chronicles his time in the Corps, sharing photos from when he was stationed in places such as Okinawa and New Orleans. He was commissioned in 1978 and retired in 1998.
It doubles as a baby book, with lots of pictures as his brood with first wife Danne began to grow. Evian was born in Virginia, Buck and Baker in Okinawa, Kiley and Mallory in New Orleans, and then Susanne and Molly Kate back at Okinawa.
Blanc now lives in Oakland, Nebraska, where both he and second wife Karen grew up. Their blended family has 10 adult children and lots and lots of grandchildren.
“All the kids have heard most of the stories,’’ he said. “Many have been repeated many times over.’’
Blanc was influenced by the stories of his own dad. Finding the Navy tales of Dr. Harold Blanc intriguing, he decided he wanted to be like the character “Goose’’ in the Tom Cruise movie “Top Gun.’’
There was just one problem — his eyes weren’t sharp enough. So his training switched from aviation to being a combat engineer. His first tour was in Okinawa, and he steadily rose through the ranks.
He finished his career as a squadron operations officer in Southern California. Although the Gulf War occurred during his tenure, he never saw action.
“It was ironic that I spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and never got to go to a combat zone,’’ he said.
He still enjoys speaking to students about his experiences, especially on Veterans Day.
But it’s not just a speech. Last year, before he spoke at Tekamah Herman, he went to the school a month ahead of time and asked the choir if it would be willing to work on some chants for his appearance. Those cadences are called “jodies.’’
“On the day I gave my speech, they were my platoon, and we did a few ‘jodies,’ ’’ he said. “It was really a lot of fun.’’
Blanc speaks about the freedoms we enjoy as Americans and how they are taken for granted. As an example, he asked a student for her cellphone and then stomped on it. It was something he had arranged beforehand.
“A lot don’t understand freedoms but understand a phone being taken away,’’ he said. “You try to pry a kid’s phone away and you are going to get a fight.’’
Blanc, 63, also talks about people who had an impact on his career, including his father and his scoutmaster, Walter Horn, who helped him become an Eagle Scout.
The third person he’ll often mention is Dale Hansen. Blanc happened to notice a plaque commemorating the Nebraska farmer hanging on the wall at Wisner-Pilger High School.
Hansen earned the Congressional Medal of Honor after his death. The camp where Blanc was stationed in Okinawa was named after him.
“Hansen, an ordinary Nebraska kid who did extraordinary things,’’ Blanc says.
Blanc isn’t active in his local veterans organization because most of them share experiences from a different war. But he won’t forget his service to his country, and that’s why he still speaks about it today.
“I committed 20 years of my life to it,’’ he said. “It’s important to continue to do my part.’’