This article was written for an Advanced Reporting class assignment for the University of South Florida. It’s an “oral history project” of a Tampa resident, produced along with a 15-minute audio interview.
By Adam Hardy
TAMPA, Fla. — Warner “Mac” McIver, 81, grips the sides of a pastel pink armchair and lets out a contagious, hearty cackle. He recalls all the times his wife, Jeenie, beat him in putt-putt golf outside their apartment at John Knox Village, a state-of-the-art retirement community and medical facility in Tampa, Florida.
Jeenie sits to his right, quietly knitting with a smile on her face.
“I’m in debt to her for so much money,” McIver says. “A quarter for the winner, and she’ll make a couple bucks every afternoon.”
Golf is McIver’s favorite sport. It’s how he met Jeenie in 1995, but in 2006, McIver had colorectal cancer surgery. He has to wear a colostomy bag that affects his game. He’s had to slow down since then but still plays with Jeenie on the putting green during the winter.
But within the community, McIver remains very active. He volunteers at John Knox’s marketing office and speaks at events, church services and funerals for veterans.
In his free time he enjoys red wine, outlaw country music, old western movies and reading. He is subscribed to three daily newspapers — The Wall Street Journal, Tampa Bay Times and The Tampa Tribune — and reads at least one chapter of historical non-fiction each night.
His book shelf is crammed with books on generals, especially George S. Patton, and presidents, especially Ronald Reagan. He reads books about wars and compares the historical perspective with the military perspective. He’s read extensively on almost every major American war.
“I haven’t got much on Korea or Vietnam,” McIver says. “I pretty well know a lot about some of that, that I don’t need to read about it.”
Because he lived it.
He grew up during the Korean War and enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1952. For 31 years, he traveled the country as a Marine. He graduated college as a Marine. Married as a Marine. Fought as a Marine.
He’s lived in Wisconsin, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, California, Hawaii and Florida. His favorite place was San Diego back in the 1960s.
He hates the traffic there now.
McIver survived the Vietnam War, a helicopter copter crash, the death of his first wife, Emphysema and cancer. But he is not a victim. And he’s not bitter.
After all of that, he upholds a romantic outlook on life.
“Whether it’s choosing a place to live, choosing a career, choosing a mate …” he says. “Always do what your heart tells you, not your head.”
“If you ask me if I’d live my life all over again — not change one thing — the answer is yes,” he says.
That holds especially true in regards to the Marines. It taught him commitment.
“That word, to me, is the most important word in the English language,” he says. “It can be used for everything.”
To McIver, a lack of commitment leads to a lack of accountability, which causes a domino effect. Many of Generation X and Millennials’ problems stem from this, he says.
Quoting Ronald Regan loosely, he says America used to be a “shining city upon a hill.” But that light has dwindled over the course of his life.
“We need to get back to that,” he says.
McIver clicks his tongue to emphasize his point. He reaches for his merlot, leans back and takes a swill.
“But that doesn’t bother me. Every generation is going to be different,” he says. “You cannot go back and try to compare it. … You cannot go forward and say ‘this is what it’ll be like in 40 years from now,’ because you have no idea what it will be like 40 years from now.”
He believes the most important thing is to seize the day to give yourself a better future. So when you look back at your life, you know you did the right thing.
“Because if you don’t do it,” he says. “There are no do-overs.”