May 30, 2012
I arose early and showered, thinking of the busy day that was ahead. My mind swam with the importance of the day and as I finished dressing, I got my wake up call from my close friend and veteran brother, Zin who was already on his way to the diner.
Zin and I ate a hasty breakfast and drove down to the heroes memorial for the unveiling of our fallen Airman, Justin Wilkens. I had seen his grandfather the day before and knew he wanted to be there but had to be able to park close enough. I was happy to see that he was there and was able to sit on the bench to watch. We took position in the rear and watched as Justin's parents and brother arrived and took their place.
Afterwards, we helped put up the flags on the bridge and then walked up to the Honor court which is the corner of Wall and Oregon where the flags of the four fallen soldiers from Bend are placed. Zin and I were the first to arrive and I told him of what the corner used to look like when I was a kid. The barber shop where I recalled my family sitting out in the car while my dad got his hair cut. For entertainment, my mom would have us put out ping pong balls on the sidewalk and watch what people would do with them as they passed.
Justin's parents, Jim and Sharon arrived and took their position. I watched as they placed the flag of their beloved son in it's holder. Dick, who led the ceremony took photos with Zin and I at their side. Afterwards, I talked with Sharon about the other children and then gave both of them a hug and told them I loved them. I could feel the tears and not wanting them to see, I spun and walked away. Zin caught up with me as I walked at a brisk pace back to our rig. "I can only imagine how they are feeling", I commented and we walked back in silence.
We then drove to the park down by the Old Mill to present the colors for the reading of the names of all of the fallen from the still on going conflict in the Middle East. I told Zin that he needed to lead us on our first time adventure into Color Guard. I was to be the reserve but we were missing one person, so I joined in. After Dick's prodding, I was given the American flag to lead our rag tag crew. Five crusty old vets led by another retired Gunny Sargent lined up to begin the event. David, our retired British Officer who was to perform his sword ceremony noticed two men blowing off the sidewalks across the park. He marched across the field in his kilted uniform and they obliged him. I have grown fond of my friendship with this good man who holds honor high on his agenda.
As we lined up, we noticed that not very many were around, only a couple people were there to watch. One of the guys quipped, "Where is the media". I looked at him and said, "We are not here for them.". "Your right.", he returned. Zin lead us and we marched in and placed the flags, five old vets....two with canes....out of step....but proud to honor. I noticed later that the TV did show up after we left but our flags showed proudly on their program, the stitching for the Band of Brothers can be seen on the side of the American flag that I placed.
We all drove back to the diner and met in the back room. I changed into one of my Hawaiian shirts not wanting to get my white dress shirt dirty if I ended up working. The diner was quiet and we all agreed to go down to the home where our good friend, Bob Maxwell, was in therapy from his surgery of the week before. We all sat with Bob in the dining room at a large table. I struck up a conversation with my friend, Rob who cannot speak but has a small devise that allows him to type out his side of the speak. I admired him as his hands flew over the keyboard at his determination to not let his impairment get him down. Another buddy, Mark showed up and he told us of how he was putting up flags at the cemetery and ran across a stone of an old friend and veteran buddy that he was not aware that had passed on. It seems that the friend was almost killed in Vietnam and upon his return had great trouble with his PTSD. His anger got so bad, that his actions led the tight community to ostracise him to the point that he had left. I could tell that Mark felt hurt over that fact that they had not tried to understand and deal with that. We are so much more aware of those things nowadays.
Judy called from the diner and asked for help so Zin and I jumped into his rig and returned. Trinity was helping out in the waitress station and Judy was helping out the greeter so Zin and jumped in to help where ever we were needed, bussing tables and pouring coffee. We worked through the line not losing a customer and I felt good that all seemed happy.
Soon it became time for Zin and I to get to our next event, the laying of the wreaths at the Memorial Gardens. We ate another hasty meal, grabbed our wreath, and headed out. Arriving at the spot, Zin donned his honor guard gear as I got the wreath out. I found Lauren (one of the original Band of Brothers and First wave Iwo Jima) and asked him to lay the wreath. I gave the wreath to Ray (another of the original) to assist them. "What are you going to do", Ray asked. "Watch", I smiled.
I found many friends and walked around talking to them as we waited for the ceremony to begin. I stood next to Roy, a friend and retired Captain (A Navy Pilot from WWII) as we watched. As the jet flew over, we were at attention and saluting but could not resist tilting our heads back to watch. Later I walked up with Roy and were first in line to plant our poppies. I stood off to the side and chatted with another brother, Jack as the line continued. My phone vibrated a call from my grandson, Jay, who was up in Portland with his Lacrosse team playing in a tourney. An excited grandson told me of how they had placed third in the large Northwest tourney. After the call, I found Jack talking with Bob Shaw and we all talked as we waited for the line to diminish.
We all watched as Zin and the other honor guard fired their 21 gun salute. I looked at all of the guard and felt good that I could call all of them friend. The past few years have really grown a bond for my veteran brothers. We all stood and saluted as taps rose mournfally from the lone trumpeter. I fought the tears and noticed others doing the same as the sad song rang out. The TV station ran an article in the evening showing the event. Our wreath (held in Ray's arms, his name showing behind it) was a part of it as was the honor guard with Zin in the center, his height and red Marine colors showing out.
Later, Zin and I waited as another brother, Terry who had left his gear in the truck was interviewed by the bulletin.
Both of us tired from the day, he drove back to the diner to drop me off. I told him that I was going home to take a nap to give me energy to run to poker tourney that night. He said that he was going to do the same and if he did not make it to the tourney, it would be because he did not wake up. I laid down on the couch and fell off waking only when my daughter and grandson arrived. It was just in time to head out for the tourney.
I played well for a while but was knocked out on a bad read (my straight beaten by a flush). I talked with another vet buddy who struggles with his own PTSD while we watched the tourney finish. I had asked him earlier how he was and he told me that he struggled with this day. I could tell he wanted to talk so we chatted about life and family.
I went home, 15 hours after the day had started and crawled off to bed only to awaken three hours later with all of the thoughts of the day. A day that all veteran's hold high. While many enjoy the long and often first good weekend of the year to play, we should all remember the ultimate sacrifice that has been given, giving them the ability to live the way that they do. We should equally honor and support the broken families that are left behind. May God be with them all.