Like many Americans, Michele O'Neal found herself joining the military after the 9/11 attacks.
Fact box: Memorial Day
- Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was initiated to honor soldiers who died during the American Civil War.
- Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving; Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.
- It typically marks the start of the summer, while Labor Day marks its end.
O'Neal had wanted to enlist previously, but after graduating high school at age 17 — and no longer needing her parents' permission — she walked into a recruiting office, signed up and shipped off the next day to become a Navy corpsman.
"It was a whirlwind but I'm the type of person that likes to take chances. I like to take risks, because that's what you need to do in life sometimes," she said, "and it was probably the best decision I've ever made."
After the Navy, O'Neal became a licensed vocational nurse and worked in hospice care for several years. Her supervisor eventually encouraged her to go back to school and O'Neal — in a second leap of faith — enrolled in West Coast University's LVN to BSN program.
O'Neal, who lives in San Diego, said she often reflects on her time in the Navy and had no regrets about joining.
"Being in the military makes you a more confident person, because you have to take on those leadership roles, and be independent, be accountable," she said.