Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day

Basic Training photo

Veterans Day is fast becoming my favorite holiday.  I love the attention the nation gives to veterans, which is quite different today than from the Vietnam era.  I'm proud to be a veteran, though I don't feel I have done anything significant.  I think most of my military friends feel the same way.  It's a quiet profession.  Few civilians actually know what it is you do.  Nevertheless, we did a job for little pay for many years, and it's great to feel appreciated.

I served in the US Air Force.  I joined during my senior year of high school and graduated early.  I could have gone to college on a scholarship, but I had plans to see the world!  I spent 6 weeks at basic training in very hot summery Texas, then 8 more weeks at Denver.  My first posting was to Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.  I found it on a road atlas.  Then I cried.  Tumbleweed and desert for miles.  My job was chosen based on aptitude.  I had done really well on the entry exam, so I was told I could choose any job, but a wise recruiter (much wiser than me) suggested I go into electronics where I had a minimal score to get into the field.  I'd get a bonus, and I'm pretty sure he did too.  There weren't many women in that field.  I found out I'd be working on F-111 aircraft.  I had never been interested in electronics or aircraft, but I've always approached life with a certain curiosity, as I did with this endeavor.  This was 1980 and women working in "men's jobs" were few.  I learned that we wouldn't have to wear skirts and blue uniforms that women just a few years earlier had been forced to wear.  We could wear the same green fatigues that the men wore. I was now just one of the guys.

Nothing can really prepare a young woman for what happens when you join a force of mostly men. First there's so much attention.  Then you become one of the guys.  Once you're considered a sister, nothing is off limits- farting, belching, lewd stories. I heard it all.  Some of those "brothers" are still good friends today. I did eventually see quite a bit of the world while in uniform.  Both of my kids were born in military hospitals where I paid only for my meals.  Everything else was covered. My college education was mostly free. It was a good deal.

I went on to have a 21 year career- most of it active duty, but I retired as an officer with the Air Force reserve in 2001.  I met a lot of great people.  Some of them died doing what they signed up to do.  A few committed suicide.  Many are growing old,  still full of great stories about the past...which tend to get a little more embellished each year. Divorce is very common.  Of all the military couples I know, just a handful are still married to the first spouse.  I'm no exception.  The sacrifices are great.  There were a couple years where I saw my husband for 3 months.  It's not an easy life, and that's why it's refreshing to see so much community support now.  We needed it.  They still need it.

This morning I attended the annual Veterans Day service at the local Veterans Hospital.  It's always a moving occasion.  This year was no exception.  The speaker had been a refuge from Sri Lanka and went on to join the service, become an American citizen, and now works at the Veterans Hospital.  He said in spite of America having its problems, it is still the greatest place on earth, in his opinion.  That's good to hear.  Sometimes I think we all get stuck in the political rhetoric and forget that there's  a lot of good stuff going on here.
Roshandran Mahendran- guest speaker from the VA, but originally from Sri Lanka
The color guard from the American Legion was amazing, in spite of all of them being 70+ years old...and those are the youngest men.  I do wonder if young veterans will ever fill their shoes.  It has always been an old person's organization in my mind.   They not only posted the flags, but they did a 21 gun salute (which is actually 7 guys doing 3 shots of the gun each) and played taps to honor the dead.

There was a cute little boy who led the pledge of allegiance.  That took some courage!  He did a great job! The band was also rousing and fun.  They played the typical band marches one considers patriotic, as well as the service anthems from each branch while members of that branch stood up for applause and recognition.  There's something about those military bonds that are never severed.  You always feel like family.  Everyone who spoke today talked about it.

After the ceremony, I drove over to Wood Cemetery on the VA grounds.  It's always a good reminder about the sacrifices made in the name of service to our country.   I like to walk the grounds and read the headstones and thank them for their sacrifices.


I spent the day feeling appreciated.  Starbucks gave me a free coffee.  Applebee's bought me lunch.  The Harley Davidson Museum invited me in for a free admission.  Dinner is on California Pizza Kitchen.  How lucky am I to have so much given to me?!  Happy Veteran's Day to all who have served!
Starbucks had free coffee

The military sidecar was popular during WWII

One of the military bikes at the HD Museum

They have this photo machine that takes your very own "deer in the headlights" photo

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