There is one particular Memorial Day during my "North Central Airline" days that stands out in my memory. It is both a painful and a heartwarming memory.
In the late 60's and early 70's we transported many soldiers coming back from Viet Nam. It was a time of turmoil for our country, with many people against that war. Now- I hate war! I'm not sure that many people love war. But I had loved ones and fellow class mates over there. Some were never coming back. So- my heart went out to each and every soldier.
On this particular Memorial Day- I was sitting at my gate, waiting for my airplane to come in. I was headed to Chicago. A soldier came to the gate, walking with a cane and a heavy limp. He sat down with a weary sigh, and I wondered how long he'd been traveling. As I approached him to speak with him, a group of college age kids began booing him and chanting anti-war slogans! I couldn't believe it! But there they were in all their righteous indignation, treating this poor soldier like the scum of the Earth. The soldier broke down, weeping! And my heart broke!
I opened my mouth to defend him, but before I could utter a sound an elderly man stood up- and yelled "Cut IT Out!" He proceeded to remind these kids that this young man was drafted- by his country! The elderly man had the presences of a Drill Sargent, because the crowd of young people went silent.
The man then opened his shirt! Oh My! We all stood aghast! He had two scars, one from chest to belly button, and one crossing his abdomen. We all gawked at the scars while he told of being in World War II, of loosing his friends, some dying in his arms, and of being wounded. He then pointed to the young soldier and asked him- "Did you loose anyone over there?" The soldier nodded his head, weeping again. "And you were wounded?" The soldier raised his pant leg to expose a artificial leg.
Then something happened to the young people- like a light going on in their heads. One girl came over with a flower and gave it to the soldier- then gave him a hug. Some of them murmured apologies.
The aircraft came in- a 580 Turbo Prop- people deplaned, I got on, and then the passengers, including the young soldier and the elderly gentleman. The gentleman asked if I'd arrange to let him sit next to the young soldier, which I did. I don't know what all they talked about, but that young soldier actually laughed a couple of times.
When they deplaned in Chicago, I hugged them both. I couldn't help myself. The elderly man said he'd stay with the soldier until he caught the next flight out, which was a relief to me. I was dreading what he'd have to go through in an airport the size of O'Hare!
Thank God we no longer treat our Military this way! Those were dark dark days, creating untold agony for those soldiers coming home. But God Bless the angel in the form of the World War II vet-and his commanding presence!
To all who serve and have served that have perished - and also for the loved ones we have lost, this Memorial Day is for you.
The World War II Vet's actions remind us all that an act of charity- of Love, if you will, can create a life time memory. It did for me, and I'm sure for that young wounded soldier. So let's not wait until folks are gone to show reverence and respect. Let's tell our family members, our beloved friends - even our neighbors how much they mean to us!