Today we honor those who have blessed our country with their service. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice, but all have placed themselves second, after country. The military life is inherently one of discipline and self denial. Some see horrors, and some simply apply themselves to the grinding needs of a massive nation, flawed but majestic. We thank them all.
I have a special veteran in my life, and today I will indulge my love and respect for him by posting his pictures- some from his World War II duty, and some from his life thereafter. He was a 19 year old kid when he took to the skies and learned to navigate a B-17. It took him 50 years before he spoke of his service with any detail.
I was a confrontational kid, and I used to rant about Vietnam, and Nixon, and a bunch of other things in my youth. How Dad must have blanched when I said harsh things about the country he served when he was young. He did not engage about Vietnam, he simply stated that if he ever saw me in an anti-war demonstration on campus, via TV or the papers, he would figure I was not devoting time to my studies, and he would stop sending tuition. Enough said.
As he grew older, he was a little more forthcoming about the rigors of day flights over Germany. He wintered in Pompano Beach, and every year the B-17s would fly in for tours. He was so proud to show us the cramped quarters they shared, the lack of insulation, the gaping chute of a bomb bay that men had to drop their bombs from. The turret and the tail were tiny spaces; he was glad that his 6 feet of height kept him from ever inhabiting that space. He wanted to be a pilot, but was too young to be trained in time for action. He settled for navigator, and flew through the training, anxious to "end the war". He said the worst thing he ever saw was a panic stricken soldier jump out of the bomb bay, thinking that flak had penetrated the aircraft. The area was so small that the airmen often slipped off their chutes. They limped back to England banged up, and one man short.
A few years ago, Dad was able to take an Honor Flight to visit the WWII Memorial, and among his possessions at death were dozens of photographs from that day. Most of them had his finger over the lens, but I am adding a few here, because it was such a gift for him, to see his service recognized so grandly in our Capitol. He lived his life facing forward, but for this special day, he was proud to look back.
He met Senator Dole that day, as the Senator was kind enough to greet the Honor Flight participants. Dad was touched by this gesture. The week before he died, he read Dole's autobiography, One Soldier's Story.
True to form, he then recited passages from memory, ameliorating any urgency for us to read it. My sister Jenny plowed through it on her visit with him, and her last talks with him were about the days of his service. He was at peace with his life, and it was a bonus that he was allowed to participate in the securing of freedom in the world.
All military personnel- in the Coast Guard, National Guard, Army, Navy and Air Force- forsake control of their lives to be part of a larger world order. Today we thank them. Forever we thank them.