The RRR returns to the narrative of Youngest Son's graduation... Thursday night turned to early morning. I'd set my travel alarm clock and as always woke up a few minutes before it rang. False dawn was glowing in the east and birds were singing in the woods. I walked down the path to the shower room. A slow moving rattle snake slithered quietly away from the camp and towards the tangle of forest by the creek. I watched him with some concern, having little Jelly to think about back at the tent. But he continued sluggishly east minding his own business, that business likely involving a mouse or prairie dog. So I minded my business, that being showering.
Back in camp my daughter-in-law was up grooming to go watch her husband graduate. We left Jelly and d-in-law's friend sleeping quietly and drove to the air base as the sun rose behind us. We stopped at a WhataBurger for breakfast. WhataBurger is a Texas institution, a sort of cowboy McDonald's. The workers are always friendly, the food always tastes homemade. We had breakfast burritos and strong coffee. Then drove to Lackland's visiting area. We boarded a bus that delivered us to the parade ground. This being South Texas, the bleachers had roofs to keep off the sun. We found seats as close to where son would stand as possible. Then I went to the bus stop to wait on Jelly and friend. The Air Force wisely had a concession area open and I bought a cup of good military coffee. "As black as sin, as strong as temptation and as bitter as remorse." to quote Raymond Chandler. At the very last of the last minutes, friend and Jelly rushed up. I took them to our seats.
I could not help but compare the situation to my graduation from Army basic in 1970. For 300+ airmen there were over 1000 spectators. At mine, perhaps 3 dozen. The formalities began with the leaders of the training unit marching onto the field. Then each "flight" of airmen marching in formation. My son was in one of the honor flights, so he was carrying one of the state flags. Following tradition hundreds of years old, the training leaders delivered their flights to the squadron commander. She accepted their salutes, then stepped up to the microphone and led the hundreds of airmen in a repeat of their oath of enlistment:
"I,___________________________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
Those strong young voices boomed across the parade ground. The squadron commander came to attention and saluted them. They snapped back her salute and as they did a huge Air Force plane roared low over the field and banked away in it's salute. It was dramatic. I have goose bumps as I write this. When the ceremony was over, once again we found him. Everyone hugged and hugged and he was ours until afternoon. I watched them together remembering another home coming and hug 35 years before. I got off the plane at night in South Dakota, newly home from war, feeling like I was walking on eggshells. I walked down the portable stairway that had been pushed up to the plane and peered into the darkness to see if anyone was waiting. Out of the darkness ran the future Mrs. RRR. She threw her arms around me and we hugged and hugged.
We walked around the parade ground and looked at the old planes on display. Several I walked up to and patted. Old friends. Comrades in arms. A couple I owe my life to. Then we went to the BX (Base Exchange) to do some shopping and drove to a park for a noon picnic. And talked and talked and talked and just reveled in being together again. All too soon we had to take him back to the barracks. But the Air Force had arranged that we could meet again that evening at a Minor League baseball game. The San Antonio Missions never had a more enthusiastic crowd. Minor League ball is what baseball used to be in America and should still be. And we talked and talked. It was so GOOD to just be with him. At last it was time for the Airmen to get on the buses and return to duty. We went back to the camp ground. The ladies went to bed in the tent and I walked up to the phone again to tell Mrs. RRR all about it.
Then I walked around the sleeping camp, listening to the night sounds and praying, "Please dear God, keep him safe. Protect his comrades, confuse his enemies." I crawled into my tent and watched the stars twinkle through the trees and prayed some more.
And one more day was done.