The River Rat Ranger Rises From The Ashes
Good morning... Ranger Readers... It is in the wee hours of the morning in the center of North America and the RRR sits down to bring his blog back to life. What has happened in the days since May 8th when I last wrote? At that time youngest son was in Air Force Basic Training in Lackland AFB, Texas. Each day the energy and creativity I'd expended on this blog went into writing him a snail mail letter. I sent photocopies of his favorite cartoon (Get Fuzzy) and also some of mine. I enclosed essays on the military, poems, and news items. And he continued with the carefully induced stress that the military puts on a new man to see if he's the quality needed to serve his country.
I had one major victory during that time. The most feared week of Air Force Basic is Warrior Week where the young airmen go out in the woods and serve as infantry. He reported to his wife that Warrior Week was a cakewalk after trips down the river with me. Dad's training was not in vain.
At the end of his training I packed my camping gear into the Green Hornet and sat off for Central Texas. My first stop was at Youngest Daughter's in Dallas. She was "great with child" expecting Grandchild #6, her #2 at any time. Her husband greeted me and showed me to a bed I collapsed in after the long haul down from Iowa through Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas. The next morning I awoke to the sound of my granddaughter chattering away to Mommy. After a delicious breakfast we walked down to a shopping area where I bought a few more supplies for the rest of the trip. Then it was off to San Antonio, the home of Lackland Air Force Base.
First I stopped at the campground and sat up my tent and one for my guests... Youngest Son's wife, her best friend, and another beloved Granddaughter. I called the AFB and found what documentation I would need to register the Green Hornet on the base and after numerous phone calls and noble assistance from the friendly hosts at the San Antonio Kampground of America and their fax machine I was able to make my presence at Lackland legal. After registering as a visitor I returned to the KOA, and after calling Mrs. RRR and telling her of my progress made supper on my little Coleman stove and slept till the birds sang in the trees.
That morning was Thursday. I drove to the Air Base and attended the orientation class for family members there to observe the graduation. I looked at the other fathers. So many were veterans. Men who knew the face of war and knew that their sons and daughters could possibly be graduating to go fight in the current one. We carried a mixture of pride and grimness. The first order of the day was a chance to watch the airmen do their final exercise run of their training. As the picture shows, we lined the sides of the street. We cheered the young men and women on as they pushed themselves through the heat of this final day. I yelled myself hoarse. And remembered being another young man on similar runs 36 years before. The years had slipped through my fingers like sand.
After the runners returned to their barracks I met Youngest Son's Wife and daughter and their friend. They had arrived in time to watch the run also. They followed me back to the KOA to inspect their new quarters and I cooked us all lunch. Then we went back to the AFB to at last get to meet my son. This was at the Retreat formation. Each day on every American military base, the flag is taken down and ceremonially folded and guarded till it is raised the next morning. We watched as the several hundred airmen marched in formation and faced the flag. They played "Taps" as the flag was taken down. There are words to "Taps".
Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the sky,
All is still,
God is nigh.
Tears in my eyes I watched them fold the flag. It's adorned so many coffins. It will adorn so many more. Someday Taps will be played for me and the flag will be taken off my coffin and ceremonially folded and a soldier or veteran will take it to Mrs. RRR and salute her and give it to her. Tradition. History.
But today wasn't sorrow, it was celebration. The ceremony over, we were free to find our soldier among the hundreds there and greet him. I found him first and ran up to him and stopped. He was newly fit, newly mature, very confident, very proud. We looked into each others eyes as he stood at attention. Then he saluted me. I returned his salute and we embraced.