An Airman started his day by unloading a plane at Dover Air Force Base. It had just arrived from Vietnam and was filled with body bags. That was the worst duty at Dover in those days, but it was nothing compared to the duty of the dead American soldiers returning from halfway around the world.
The Airman felt like getting drunk when he finished with the bodies so he headed for a bar in town. He never considered the late-night walk back to the base while he was drinking and trying to forget.
He was about halfway back and starting to sober up when a car stopped and offered a ride. The driver took the Airman to a diner and bought him an early breakfast before dropping him off at the base.
That Airman was my father. He never could remember the name of the guy who gave him a ride and a meal on that long-ago night, but he never forgot what the man did.
My father never passed anyone in the military without at least shaking their hand and thanking them. He gave rides and bought meals, but never felt like it was enough.
He died nearly 10 years ago, but he’ll always be with me. I never pass anyone in uniform without extending a hand. It is my honor and the honor of my father.
I meet so many soldiers and see his face in all of them. I only hope they never come home through Dover Air Force Base.
I have included a couple of stories about soldiers at Yankee Stadium that were originally published on Yankees For Justice. These are just two of several million people that we owe everything – or at least a handshake and a thank you – on this Veterans’ Day and every day.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
A Soldier’s Story
Brian peered over the crowd at the players’ gate outside Yankee Stadium last night. He wore standard-issue military fatigues and clenched a baseball in his left hand.
“Thanks,” I said offering my hand.
Brian shook and smiled.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Oklahoma City,” Brian said. “I come from a family of Yankees fans that goes back to Mickey Mantle and Bobby Murcer, but this is my first time here. It’s the first time anyone in my family has been to Yankee Stadium.
“I’m stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany,” he continued. “I’m on my way home for a couple of weeks before I have to head back to Iraq. I just had to stop and see a game. I want to get this ball signed for my father. He’d really like that.”
“You can move to the other side of the fence,” I offered. “The players always sign for soldiers, especially Johnny Damon.”
“How do I get over there?” Brian asked.
We walked toward East 157th Street along Ruppert Avenue and appealed to the good nature of the police.
The cops nodded Brian through.
“Thanks,” he said.
Then he turned and waved at me.
“Thank you for helping me out.”
No, Brian. Thank you.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Off The Island
Justin arrived at Yankee Stadium in full uniform. He walked proudly through the tunnel and got his first look at the field.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m finally here.”
His father placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You earned it,” he said.
Justin is a week off of Parris Island. He is a United States Marine and proud of it. His father is proud, too.
“I bought these tickets awhile ago,” his father said. “I surprised him when he got home from basic training.
“He’s a good kid,” his father continued. “He always tries to do what’s right. I didn’t want him to join, but there was no stopping him. He used to look at my Marine photos when he was little and that’s probably where it started.”
Justin doesn’t know where he’s going next. He might be headed to Iraq or maybe Afghanistan.
“But I’m here tonight,” he said. “Nothing else matters right now.”
Justin put an arm around his father.