An individual’s relationship with the United States military can be complicated, mirrored and magnified in the nation’s own morally- and politically-entwined struggle.
Many join the military to serve.
Some, to escape.
Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton’s parents, Johnie and Magdeline (who goes by “Max”), serve in the Marine Corps. They worked their way up to high-ranking positions, and now stay in the U.S. after previous stints abroad. To see it from the outside, the two thrived in the Marines. Enlisting created opportunity.
“My parents, they grew up in Chicago, and had poor families, poor upbringings, poor neighborhoods,” Hamilton said. “They thought the military was their only way out.”
Johnie was a football star in high school, said Hamilton.
“He didn’t have any money, his family didn’t have any money. He thought the military was his only way to go.”
And Max was a track and volleyball star, said Hamilton.
“She thought that the military was her only way out, you know, just so she could get some type of income at the time, because she had my sister when she was 16.”
The military got Hamilton’s parents where they are today — lifted out of tough circumstances.
Yet they didn’t want their children to be a part of it.
“My parents, they always told me they wanted me to stay away from that route,” Hamilton said. “Because they know what they had to go through. They told me (that) I just need to go to school, and if football works out, if it doesn’t work out, I just need to always get my grades right and get my diploma, get my degree. And they didn’t want me to ever, ever set foot in a service academy.
“They didn’t want me to think, just because maybe football isn’t working out, that maybe I have to go to the military … They just wanted me to know there are other options.”
Strong words from Hamilton, who is as candid as they come at just 20 years old. And at first glance, his words seem like negative ones, too.
But really, they’re just complicated — like families.
For example, his mother, who is also a breast cancer survivor, sends Hamilton uplifting words on Twitter every day. They mean a lot to him, and help him go about his day-to-day business.
But still ...
“She gets on me more than anybody I know,” he said. “She takes any of my negative situations and makes me feel even worse about them. Those Tweets have always helped me. I always take them to heart.”
His dad, on the other hand, is the most positive person Hamilton knows.
“He tells me no matter what situation you’re in, you still just gotta go through things,” he said. “He’s always balanced out my mom, you know.”
Complicated, see, but balanced, too.
The elder Hamiltons served, and still do — for over 20 years apiece. They made sure to let their children know the hardships they faced, from boot camp to the countless hours and sleepless nights and days served trying to make ends meet for a young family. DaeSean respects that, while staying at arms length from the life his parents chose.
The most visible example of this is his hair. The receiver has long hair that’s cut tight on the sides, while the top locks are carefully pulled and tousled into his would-be casual specifications of “I woke up like this.”
While he was under his parents’ roof, he had a military cut.
“The majority of my life, I did (have a ‘high-and-tight’),” he said, grinning, just before the end of fall camp. “But as soon as I got to college I ran away from the fades, the box cuts, things like that.”
Hamilton is adamantly, strongly and unapologetically not his parents. But he knows they struggled so he could get there.
Still, there’s balance. Hamilton’s parents are as excited as anybody for Military Appreciation Day at Beaver Stadium when Penn State kicks off against Army West Point on Saturday. They have the game circled on their calendars, he said.
“I’ve basically had a military appreciation life,” he said. “And my parents, they just taught me a lot of that.”