I’m married to an Air Force Veteran.
Colonel John “Buck” Owens flew combat missions in Iraq. He commanded hundreds of Airmen and led a twelve ship of F-16s on a four month combat mission to Iraq. He mentored and trained young men and women for a career in the military. He taught young people to fly for five years.
So I know the sacrifice that goes with military service. Not only did he serve, but his whole family served with him.
We followed him everywhere he was stationed. Our children changed schools every two to three years. (One went to four different high schools)
We had to do without him when he was deployed for months at the time. I had to hold down the home front on many occasions while he fought in a war or went for training or went to school or went on temporary assignments.
Our youngest had to get to know his daddy all over again. He was a baby when his daddy deployed and a toddler when he returned. It’s heartbreaking when a child hides from his own father because he doesn’t know him.
I had to re-invent myself every time we moved. New friends, new social organizations, new houses, etc. And living overseas made it more difficult to adjust. It was the same for the children.
We had to live with temporary furniture while all our belongings moved around the world on ships and airplanes. We were only allowed to ship 1,000 pounds of baggage by air to get us by until our household belongings arrived. That’s for a family of five. It’s the bare necessities.
The money we were allotted for expenses while living in temporary housing and hotels was never enough. We always spent money out of our own pocket.
Sometimes furniture is damaged—beyond repair. I know people whose shipping container was dropped into the ocean by the crane loading it on the ship. I know people who opened the cargo truck to find their belongings soaking wet. The container sat outside during a storm and the container leaked. Someone stowed away in our van as it crossed the ocean to Hawaii and the soot from the smoke stacks was smeared all over the interior of our brand new vehicle. I know someone else who had a stow away that left gallon jugs of urine and feces in their vehicle. The vehicle had to be stripped bare and the insides rebuilt.
Then, there’s the anxiety of your loved one in combat. And the anxiety of your loved one flying an aircraft every day that goes 700 miles per hour. There’s the fear of your loved one being held in an enemy prison camp. The fear they might not come home.
And when I think I have it bad, well . . . I know others who’ve lost their loved one.
I know a family that their military member paid the ultimate price with his life and then his body was taken hostage by the enemy. His body was not returned for seven years. His children were grown by the time he came home. His twin girls were only a few months old when he left. They buried a man they didn’t know other than in pictures or what their mother told them about him. He lost his life because he turned his F-16 around and went back to assist soldiers on the ground who were trapped. He flew low, bombed the enemy, and saved many lives that day. And those men, whose lives he saved, went back and searched for his body and attempted to get him back.
I know a young woman whose husband crashed his aircraft three weeks before she gave birth to their daughter.
I am the daughter of a veteran.
Carlos Byrd Simmons served five years in the Pacific during World War II. He fought in every battle of the Pacific. He came home a changed man after serving as a gunner and walking through the dead after major battles. He once said he didn’t hunt because he had shot a gun enough in his life. He was very proud of his service.
I am the sister-in-law of a veteran.
Lt. Col. J.K. Taylor served twenty years in the United States Marine Corp and served in Vietnam three times. A decorated warrior. One who suffered an injury. One who lost his best friend to a mine.
I am the niece of veterans.
My Uncle Alex Simmons served in Korea. My Uncle Henry Simmons served in the Pacific near my father. They met up once. We have pictures of them together in an Army Camp. Arms around each other’s neck, shirtless, dog tags hanging around their necks, and cigarettes dangling from their mouths. Despite their surroundings, they had smiles on their faces.
I am the step-daughter of a veteran.
Ninety-four-year-old Jack Corbett served in the Navy and was an eyewitness to the sinking of USS The Underhill. He was on the deck of PCC 804 and was summoned to rescue the survivors. He pulled charred men from the water and comforted the dying. He still gets tears in his eyes when he talks about the dead men. He was 20 years old.
And with all this sacrifice, every single one of these people are proud they served. Despite the time spent away from the family—despite the hardships—they would do it all again.
In September 2002, I stood on the edge of the Aviano Air Base runway in the wee hours of the morning; the sun still hidden and the runway illuminated by the small blue lights lining the edge. The wind was up and the night air was chilly. I pulled my coat tighter as I listened to the engines of the F-16s firing up in the hangar. One by one, after walking the perimeter of their planes, the pilots of 510th Fighter Squadron, known as “The Buzzards”, eased their powerful jets along the tarmac and lined up for take-off. Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Mike Fantini slowly taxied to the edge of the runway with his second in command Lt. Col. John Owens close behind him. The two of them were leading a twelve ship squadron of F-16s on a combat mission to Iraq during the second Gulf War.
A young lieutenant, Ronnie Hawkins, had just arrived on base for duty and would not deploy with the rest of the squadron. It was killing him to stay behind. As the engines revved up in preparation for take-off, Lt. Hawkins stepped to the side of the runway in full view of the pilot in the cockpit. He held a large American flag. He propped the pole on one leg with his left hand so the flag whipped in the night wind and raised his right in a salute. Lt. Col Fantini saluted back, held up his hand in the Buzzard claw sign, signaling “Buzzard’s Rule” and raced down the runway. A large spotlight illuminated the grass where I stood and gave a backlight to Old Glory as she bellowed in the cold air. In a couple of minutes, Lt. Col. Owens advanced, saluted, held up his claw, and followed his commander into the night. They were gone in a minute with only their afterburner glowing behind them. One-by-one, the squadron pilots followed until the sounds of their engines could not be heard.
That is the sound of freedom, folks.