An old friend happened by last week. We were in the Air Force together 43 years ago. We reminisced about those days and our lives since. He’s retired now; he and his wife were on a tour of Texas. Later it hit me that it was nearly Veterans Day. We used to call it Armistice Day. Our small town had a parade with marching band, majorettes prancing, twirling batons in glittering costumes and white boots. The bass drum made my tummy thump. It was all heroes and bravery, and the flag. In 1972 I was drafted into the Air Force. We were at war in Vietnam. As a flight surgeon I flew in combat aircraft that cost the taxpayer six million dollars apiece. I learned about military chain of command and mission. My squadron was made up of smart, educated, technologically sharp young men with quick wits and gallows humor. They’d seen combat and flown missions with names like Wild Weasel, fast FAC, Owl FAC and some were members of the Gulf of Tonkin Swim Club.We strafed and bombed New Mexico, me banging my helmet on the plexiglass canopy as we rolled in on a target. My G-suit grabbed my legs and bladder as I breathed stinky oxygen through a neoprene mask and listened to crisply structured conversation in my rubber earphones. Often I heard terms like “augered-in”, ”dinged in”, “barrier engagement” and “foamed runway”. These were glibly tossed off over coffee and cigarettes. These were Warriors.
After the “Roll-back” in 1974 I never again inhaled JP-4 in the morning, or watched the sun rise as I sat hands-up at the arm/de-arm station. I returned to civilian life. Unlike my father‘s generation, returning from World War II, we were not seen as heroes. Some had a tough time reintegrating into society.
Now 43 years later I have a different feeling when the drums go by. Having seen our flag flying on a pole far away from home, and I realize that our life in this wonderful democratic country was bought for a great price. We’ve been given the right to vote by guys who put their lives on the line for us. Bravery means something deeper to me than it once did. Occasionally I’ve been thanked for my service. I nearly cried, remembering the many who never came back, or didn’t come back whole. I’m still alive with four limbs in a loving family and a job
Think about those who are celebrated every November 11, and say a little prayer.