General Smith tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out the window. Two Spanish fighter jets had come along side our U.S. Army executive jet, and I could see a couple more outside his window across the aisle. It was the spring of 1985, and we were headed for a USEUCOM meeting at 17th Air Force Headquarters on Torrejon Air Base near Madrid.
It had been a quiet flight from the Army Air Base at HqUSAREUR in Heidelberg, so I had been dozing most of the way, as had my boss sitting nearby. We were the only passengers, so had run out of conversation long before we reached the Pyrenees.
General Smith had been informed by the pilot that the Spanish military was conducting a state ceremony rehearsal and had given permission for the jets to practice their escort duties. When we taxied to a stop on the runway at Torrejon, a contingent of military personnel rolled a red carpet to our gangplank and an honor guard flying U.S. and Spanish colors led by a distinguished civilian and a Spanish general out to greet us. They and General Smith exchanged salutes and handshakes, and together the two generals and I, with a Spanish civilian escort, trooped the line of a battalion of infantry soldiers, then paused for a twenty-one howitzer salute and the playing of two national anthems by a military band.
Back at the tarmac, two U.S. State Department limousines drove from behind the line to where we awaited them. A senior member of the U.S. Embassy staff stepped smartly out of the lead car and opened the doors for us to board. He joined us , and the other car followed us to the Air Force Headquarters building. All along the way, I could see security guards – Spanish, American, and civilian. American flags were flying at nearly every intersection.
Four days later, this whole ceremony would be repeated, this time in full-dress uniform and top hat, because President Reagan was making a state visit to Madrid, and Ike and I just happened to be a convenient air-borne arrival to serve as a live rehearsal cast.
Needless to say, for our trip back to the tarmac next afternoon, we rode in an Air Force sedan with a driver, courtesy of the Torrejon Base Commander. But we both enjoyed our taste of what it’s like to arrive in Presidential style.
–Allen Dale Olson
Although she was never saluted, never received a service ribbon, a promotion, nor honored at a Hail-and-Farewell, she was the reason all these things did happen to my dad. Even after being warned about dating a “Fly Boy,” my mom married my dad but only after she waited a year for him to return from Korea. She not only married my dad, she sacrificed her dreams for him, our family and his career.
I don’t remember a lot about when my dad left for Viet Nam, but I do remember my mom trying to make life for my brothers and I as normal as possible while he was gone. When he returned, we moved to Germany and that, I remember! I think my mom wanted our life in Germany to be as NOT normal, meaning different than life in the US, as possible. She wanted us to experience all that living in a foreign country could offer. Mom made sure we tried to speak the language, ate local food, attended cultural events and travelled as often as possible.
When we returned to the United States, dad went back to school for a graduate degree and it seemed we moved every summer for a few years. During our elementary school years, mom became our “first teacher.” Not knowing where we were going to school, mom insisted we spent time every summer preparing for the following school year by completing grade-level workbooks. Some of my fondest memories are my mom taking us to the library every Saturday morning with a large stack of books. She would let my brothers and I each choose a few books to check out for the week and the following Saturday we would return those books and check out more.
With all of our PCSs (Permanent Changes of Station), it was mom’s job to supervise the packing and unpacking. She had moving day down to a science. She had her clipboard ready when the moving truck pulled up and had told each of us kids our jobs for the day. I remember our jobs included putting stickers on boxes, labelling contents with a marker, and making sure the movers had water and snacks. When we arrived at our new base, she acted as the traffic cop making sure all the boxes got to the proper room. As an adult, I have moved quite a few times myself, but my moves never went as smoothly as when my mom was in charge.
In addition to orchestrating all the moves, doing all the shopping, cooking all the meals, cleaning the house and overseeing my brothers and my schoolwork, mom was also very involved in the Officers Wives’ Club in all the bases we were stationed. I remember when we were stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, the general’s wife had my mom constantly involved in one project after another. Mom never said “No” when asked to help, especially if the project benefitted children.
by Debby Stinemetz Caulfield
When I was fourteen, I moved into the Marine Barracks and fell in love with many handsome Marines. My father was the commanding officer of the Marine Barracks, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Our quarters were literally one end of the barracks. On the other side of my bedroom wall was “the head” where I could hear the Marines showering at reveille. Our front yard was the parade ground and our backyard was the servicing area for the mess and laundry. There was also a brig. There was no better place for a coming-of-age young woman to be where opportunities for flirting abounded, if kept out of the Colonel’s watchful eye. My younger brother and sister developed friendships with the off duty Marines too, riding skateboards together down the back service road.
Sometimes our Marine friends moved away and we never heard of them again. But some came back in the form of bad news as our father would tell us at the dinner table that our friend Lurch or Tom or Bob had been killed in action in Vietnam. It wasn’t just the Marines at our barracks home who were dying. My father, being the senior Marine in Maine, was tasked with officially notifying the families of Marines killed in Vietnam. I’d wait for my father to come home and see the emotion on his face, as he’d tell of fathers fainting in his arms or mothers screaming inconsolably.
We moved out of the Marine Barracks and my father moved to Vietnam. We continued to get more stories of Marines dying as my father shared his experiences as the commanding officer of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in Danang.
Before I was 18 years old and started developing any political sense and ideology about wars, I had become keenly aware that war and service to country is about death. This is what I think about on Memorial Day.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
My mom met and married my dad in 1954 between the time he joined the army and got out and when he went back in the army in 1955 after I was born (in Orlando, Florida). Shortly after a brother and sister coming along and moving to three more states Alabama, Texas, and South Dakota, Dad got orders for Munich, Germany. Before Mom and we kids could move there, though, Dad had to go ahead of us and spend six or seven months there until military housing became available. During that time period, Dad moved us to a small town called Apopka down near Orlando so that Mom could be near family. Mom didn’t drive and was more comfortable knowing she had family nearby who she could also rely on for transportation when she needed it.
Anyway, time went by and also the six or seven months and Mom and her three doorsteps (she referred to us when we were little as her three doorsteps) were on a military air transportation plane leaving Philadelphia across the Atlantic Ocean for Munich. Brother, sister, and I all three started elementary school in Munich. After Dad’s time was up in Munich, we (the whole family this time) left Bremerhaven, Germany on a military transport ship heading for Brooklyn, New York. Took nine days! I was eight years old then, so Mom was 28 (20 years difference in our ages).
From that time on, we moved all over the country and during that time Dad serving in Vietnam twice and Korea again (which incidentally brought Mom and us three kids back to Orlando each time). When he retired in 1973 after spending a year in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, we moved to where I am now…the Mississippi coast. I was only 17 then, and now looking back, I wonder how so much adventure could be packed into so little time. My dad made a lot of sacrifices, and my mom was behind him every step of the way. Her sacrifices were as great as his. Times were not easy for an enlisted man and his wife trying to stretch a dollar. So, just like all other military families, I suppose I could write a book about my childhood journey. Mom is gone now, so is Dad and also their other two “doorsteps”, but it is comfortable just knowing their legacies will always carry on.
My mother came from a tobacco farm in the hills of Kentucky with a High School education. She was a clean slate and had to learn everything. Her first meal to my Dad at Lackland was a hamburger, raw it turned out. My dad choked it down while she cried. He left and came back with a cook book.
She learned, moving, packing going overseas, having us kids. However she became my Superhero at Offutt. Dad had left to go to Germany to find us housing for our next PCS so she and my younger brother and I were staying in a small cheap apartment that had a pool. I invited my friends from Wherry housing, two brothers and my best friend a Black teenager. We changed into our swim suits and jumped in. A young girl about our age leaped out and ran off.
Later that evening the manager came by and told me that all guests had to be approved in advance. I was puzzled, not so my mother, rising up like a grizzly protecting her cubs she stalked over to the manager and told him in no uncertain terms that we were going to invite whoever we wanted be they black, brown, or purple! Furthermore if he tried to pull any of this racist crap on us she’d be happy to call the Base Legal Office, as she picked up the phone, She said, “I’d be happy to put not only this run-down apartment off limits but every property the owner has be it housing, entertainment, or retail”. “So what will it be?” As she brandished the phone. The manager apologized and backed away. My friends and I enjoyed the pool almost every day.
The final steps in joining my Dad overseas strained my superhero. She had to sell the car, arrange for us to get to the airport, send the rest of our stuff overseas. My Dad has arranged our flight, but God laughs at well-made plans.
The flight from Omaha to Chicago was fine. However, there was a strike in London so our flight to Philly and then to London and Frankfurt was out. The help desk arranged us to fly Lufthansa from New York to Frankfurt, and we had to change airports in NY. My mother, clearly at the end of her rope turned to me and cried, “John, What’s a Lufthansa!!” She had visions of WWI biplanes. I explained what it was, gathered up Davey, and our luggage and followed her. We arrived at JFK late, she sent me off on a food run, I found one hot dog stand, bought his last two hot dogs and predictably she went without, we two boys inhaled the dogs. The plane ride was yet more stress for her, we all were separated.
They woke us up for breakfast, my brother is a terrible traveler, worse at waking up, after being fed OJ, he promptly threw up all over the man and the empty seat next to him. As it was a full flight the gentleman, a well-dressed German was stuck smelling OJ and hot dog My mom silently chuckled that she wasn’t next to Davey for once.
Surprisingly, Dad was there waiting for us despite the air mixup.
As Dad drove us to our new house on the autobahn, we just stared, seriously jet-lagged. Once home, he proudly showed off our washer and drier, after informing that the drainage tube needed to go into the bathtub, he showed mom his large pile of dirty clothes and headed out to work. Davey hit the sack, Mom started on Dad’s laundry, putting the hose in the bathtub, I tried to get my room in order. Soon we heard a frenzied banging on our door, both Mom and I rushed to it only to find ourselves wading in dirty water. The hose had of course flipped out of the bathtub without being secured, something my Dad forgot to mention. Our Landlord was screaming “Was ist los!” Apparently he was in the bathroom when the water started dripping on his head.
Not the best first meeting for my Mom but she managed, like always, she managed.
John Paul Jones
By Circe Olson Woessner
It is day three of teleworking from home, and day bazillion in the pre-or apocalyptic reality we find ourselves in. “Social distancing” is a new word that everyone knows and practices – – unless you’ve taken a devil-may-care attitude about this whole “hoax disease.” As we stay at home, we shake our heads at the images of young people frolicking on the beaches or having parties. Nero plays the violin as Rome burns. Look at Italy! Look at Italy!
A lot of people are scared and acting out – – I have heard of fights right here in our local supermarket—Really? Come on, for Pete’s sake! People are hording supplies and stocking up on ammo in “case of wide-spread panic.”
False information and far-fetched conspiracy theory opinions are being shared on social media as the gospel truth. People are sending along chain messages, and offering advice on really weird ways to prevent getting sick. Forwarded emails from unknown “experts” are adding to the chaos. Memes and weird jokes are byproducts of how some people react to stress—and some of them are really, really funny – – unless you have someone who is elderly in your family, or who is sick, or someone who has, God forbid, recently died from COVID-19.
What messages are we sending to our children, who look for us to be calm in a time of crisis? What are we telling the elderly or immune compromised? Are we modeling desired behavior?
If someone coughs, or sneezes, we glare at them – – why are you doing that– are you sick? At the supermarket, we scan other people, looking for signs of disease on them. Why are you coming up my aisle? Wait till I’m done here! Shoppers are furtive, dashing through the aisles grabbing things as if it’s the end of the world.
Maybe it is.
Life as we know it has changed over the past few weeks. Our dog has taken to sleeping with us, something forbidden up until a few weeks ago when he decided he preferred our bed to his. We laughed nervously saying, “well if something happens to us, at least he can eat us from the comfort of the bed.” Not very funny, but humor has taken an extremely dark turn these days…
Our society is self-isolated (another new word that everyone knows) and our workdays are very different than they were even a week ago. My extended family is keeping running shopping lists, knowing that it will be very hard to find the items we want, and while we will not succumb to hoarding, we understand that food shopping has become a scavenger hunt.
I feel I’m living in one of those science fiction movies or a really bad dream I can’t wake up from. This is no way to live. However; think of the alternative! Several months ago, this was a rhetorical question, but now, the alternative is hitting closer to home. And it’s not so hypothetical.
… Just stop….breathe…Live in this particular moment. Take stock in your blessings right now.
In New Mexico the sun is shining, the trees are beginning to bud, and if you can slow your racing heartbeat, you can hear the birds sing. if you’re like me, and live near I-40, you can hear the hum of the interstate, of trucks bringing needed supplies to communities all across this country. The National Guard is setting up hospital tents; Airmen are stocking shelves at the Kirtland Air Force Base Commissary. Babies are being born; people are getting married. Life is still going on.
Over and over, I am drawn to the quote attributed to Mr. Rogers after 911. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
And it’s very true. The military is calling up retired healthcare workers to join the fight against Covid-19. Federal employees are teleworking, ensuring that the nation doesn’t grind to a halt. Emergency responders and military are rotating personnel to ensure there are enough healthy team members to respond to a national emergency or health crisis.
Stores are trying to accommodate the massive amount of shoppers panic buying, and setting up designated shopping times for people who are vulnerable. Utility companies are suspending disconnections and overdue accounts. Workers are pulling longer shifts to accommodate the requirements needed to get us through this crisis.
Impromptu support groups are starting on Facebook. Younger people are offering to run errands for older people. People are passing along local resources and information on store inventories and discounted places.
Neighbors are checking in on their neighbors; recently unemployed people are offering childcare services so that frontline staff who have to work, can get to their jobs at hospitals, supermarkets, emergency response centers, etc.
Even while under lockdown, the human spirit is strong. Individuals – – common, everyday people – – are lifting the spirits of their fellow human being by leading them exercise sessions as they watch from balconies. A military spouse in Germany serenaded her fellow base dwellers with her own funny versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber hits. A friend is reading poetry selections on Skype. Symphonies and theater companies are performing concerts or plays and streaming them free to the public. Companies are offering free educational products to parents who suddenly find themselves homeschooling their kids. (I tried to homeschool my son when he was nine and it didn’t end well for either of us– so hats off to every homeschool parent out there now trying to figure it out!) I’ve joined an online writer’s group with complete strangers from all over the world, and we are enjoying the creative company.
Last night, I watched a short YouTube video called “Isolated St. Patrick’s Day Parade” where people around the world, through the miracle of technology, were able to play one song from their homes—in Spain , the US, Ireland, the UK and Australia– in harmony and in sync. It was lovely and appropriately wonderful for a very unusual St. Patrick’s Day.
When this is all said and done, I’m hoping we have learned lessons as a society and can make our world safer, friendlier and better.
I never signed up to be dealing with COVID-19, but since I must, I have choices: I can panic and be mean and small, or I can take this lemon that I was given and make a big, beautiful meringue pie.
I choose the pie.
Please us your story to: firstname.lastname@example.org