Hand Salute!

He had just come home, having completed a tour of duty in some location that did not exist, as far as the public was concerned. Vietnam was in the newspapers, on television, the people protesting the war in 'Nam, the political situation was thick with tension.

Having been a graduate of Lakewood High School, he knew he was about to be drafted, so he enlisted in the United States Air Force. He went though basic training at Lackland AFB, to technical school, also at Lackland AFB, then home for a 30 day leave. His orders were, at the end of that 30 day leave, to report to an allied country for further training, and then more training after that.

The training continued. The first orders were stamped with a classification, and he was ordered to a remote location. He carried out his duties to the best of his ability, not only because he was ordered to, but because it would be life-saving. Then, fellow "operators" were assigned elsewhere. He lost touch with everyone he grew to know, as brothers in arms know a "love" for each other that earthly words seem meaningless to utter.

The assignments were carried out without fanfare, quietly. Thoughts were constant, of home, family, friends, moral issues, and he prayed. On this particular occasion, movement was seen far off, where there shouldn't have been movement. Then other indications of movement occurred slightly to the left, and to the right of center, the first movement.

A finger on the trigger, eyes focused looking through the cross-hairs at a distance some 1400+ meters off. Which movement must be stopped? A quiet call to some unknown voice, verifying if the movements should be friend or foe. Answer: "No friendlies in the area." Back to the scope. Again, which target? Training kicks in, and the thought, "Help me", and then with slow deliberate squeeze of the trigger, a fairly quiet "pop" was heard. Putting the crosshairs on the left, the cross-hairs on the distant movement, and again, "pop".

Several additional movements in the area. Call for that unknown voice. Reply, "Air support not available at this time, will notify you when available". Click. A memory of the laughing in the L Room, another memory of a girl in particular, back to the cross-hairs. Perspiration dripping into his eyes, clouding his vision. Muscles tensing, especially along his neck and back. Pictures of his mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, teachers, his car, his street, football games, pizza and pepsi. A glint of reflection from the sun on something shining, moving toward him. Training. Good training. Refocusing on training. This time, 1200+ meters, moral issues creep in, but training takes over.
A prayer, only a few words, but back to the task. Then a roar comes upon the location, Three F-4 Phantoms diving from the clouds, and the area lights up with flames, tracer fire, and the ground shook with sounds of blasts from the F-4s. Pandemonium breaks loose where the movement was seen. Feeling the heat from the napalm, almost burning hot, but not hot enough to cause injury, and the roar of the F-4s flying away, one tilting his wings in recognition. Then silence. Total silence, as though time had stopped.

The movements had ceased. A scratchy voice came over with directions to exit the area.

Fast forward. Arrived at Cleveland Hopkins, in dress blues, family waiting at the gate.

Tears abounded. He appreciated his family like never before.

That night, a football game was on, so driving over to Bunts, a spot opens up. He parked his car, and proudly wearing his dress blues, spit-shined boots, beret smartly worn, he approached his former band director. He was greeted and asked, "Would you like to play the Star Spangled Banner on your horn?". Yes he would. Going back to the car, a big smile on his face. Taking out his coveted horn from the trunk, he walks back to the field, climbs a white platform and thinking of all that had been, played the song with a tone that rang out across the stadium. Not one mistake. Every note precise. At the end, snapping the horn to the "ready position" as he remembered from marching band days, seemingly ages ago, loosening his right hand, snapping a razor sharp salute to the flag. Holding it for a few seconds, tears running down his cheeks. He's home.

Wait, where are the applause? He heard applause every football game before. That silence, that is not supposed to be here? Why the silence?. Then "boos" from the seats. Items thrown at him, a semi-full can of pop hits him in the side of the face. What is happening? There wasn't any training for this. No voice to call, why is this happening?

He goes to the car, drives home wondering how that surreal scene came about.

Turning on the television, something he had not seen while over "there", people were doing that to many of his fellow vets, active duty personnel, all over the country.

Vile names, and signs. He took off his uniform, which he wore with such pride, folded it as trained, and put it away. It was to stay packed away, hidden along with the memories.

Fast forward again. He sits at his computer, awake all night thinking of those times.

Thinking of where his "band of brothers" might be. Their names would never be recorded in public. His duties would never be recognized. That doesn't matter.

What seemed to matter most, was on Memorial Day, when he was a kid, parades were on every channel, while only 3 channels nonetheless, parades, floats, dominated television all day from the signing on, with the the american indian in the test pattern, to the Star-Spangled Banner at the signing off at the end of the broadcast day. But today, no where near that amount, yet all the lives that were lost from his father's days in the U.S. Army during World War II to this very day, over in the mid-east. Silence at the computer.

Standing up, going onto the front porch, he snaps that same trained salute, smartly, index finger touching his eyebrow, elbow positioned correctly, holding that salute for a few moments, and a prayer for those he remembered, and those he long forgot.

He hears in his distant memory the command, and he slowly brings his right hand down to his side where it was supposed to be, standing at attention.

This time only one tear, but a prayer along with that one tear.

He sits down and types a little story, and the day commences.

He opens his trunk, sees that uniform, and the exact set of BDU's he wore during that event, still folded per regs. Puts them on, but without rank or collar insignia.

He smiles, slips on his boots, spit-shined from long ago, gives them a swipe with a cloth and he decides he'll wear that for today. Even if he stays home, he "knows", yes, he "knows".

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 10:52 PM, 05.30.2012