November 11, 2009

Because Rough Men Stand Ready

The following is a guest post from my sister, known to you in the comments as DawgMom.

Recently my husband and I attended the 82nd Airborne Convention in Indianapolis. There were retired paratroopers, active duty paratroopers, wounded paratroopers, paratroopers who looked like they didn't shave yet, old paratroopers … you get the picture. We didn't know exactly what to expect, this being our first convention, but I knew the beer and the stories would flow freely.

I've never laughed so hard and so long. And cried some, too. The guys we were with had not seen each other in years. It was amazing how quickly they fell into the camaraderie of their glory days. They had a bond that would stay with them all their lives. Of course, the stories abounded and since most of them were laced with initials standing for weapons, divisions, equipment, ranks, and myriad mind-numbing combinations of such, my attention wandered and I started studying people.

The old guys broke my heart. There were proud old warriors from WWII! Imagine that, something we read about in books and see in movies. They hobbled along, still with a saunter in their gait, moving up close to each other, rheumy eyes gazing into the same. They would wrap their arms around each other and nod, almost touching foreheads in long moments of silence. When the flag passed by, they slowly got to their feet and saluted, their posture erect, their arms straight.

Even after all these years they still moved as a unit

Then there were the guys who were in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. They are from my era. Now here were some hard drinkers. They were watchful, with heavy, lidded eyes and could be very still, almost eerily so. A lot of smokers. There was a whole table of the Golden Brigade from Vietnam. They made a special toast each year, and each year the table got smaller.

The young guys had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Some were going back the next week. So full of energy, they bounced in and out of the hospitality suites, always searching, alert for the next excitement. They were strong and vital and just so damn young, their faces unlined and shining with life. They called the men "Sir" and the ladies "Ma'am." They trailed behind the storytellers and hung on every word, their eyes avid with fascination.

But it was to my husband's group that my heart belonged. These men had been to war, had relied on each other for their very lives. They had been in Panama, Honduras, and Desert Storm. They were cocky and smooth and arrogant and sure of themselves. They had an easy banter and ready laugh and loved each other without end. I watched them move through the crowd with that innate paratrooper swagger that I knew so well. These guys were so attuned to each other, even after all these years they still moved as a unit.

One night during a ceremony, I looked around the room. These men, these soldiers, loved their country and their flag unabashedly and with all their heart. They would defend either, without question, with honor. And as I gazed up at my husband as he stood ramrod straight and stock still, I knew that this man, here beside me, would give his very life for me.

And there, is my heart.

In observance of Veterans' Day, fly your flag. And if you will, please observe the Armistice Day tradition: two minutes of silence at 11:11 a.m.

Posted by: Michael Rittenhouse at 01:06 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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