Remember always: Freedom is not freePublished 10:40am Thursday, November 7, 2013
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We took in the Lincoln Memorial at sunset, posing for pictures on marble steps that look out across the National Mall. Not so far away we found Danny Day Entrican’s name on the wall of Vietnam vets, but by then dark was falling fast, and I was determined to see one more sight. Couldn’t leave Washington, D.C., just couldn’t, without visiting the Korean War Veterans Memorial for my father, who probably never would.
Back in 1951, when war was being waged in Korea, Dad was a 20-year-old Co-Lin student expecting a letter from Uncle Sam. So he signed up – all 133 pounds of him – with the Air Force, dragging his friend (and future brother-in-law) along with him to a recruiting office at Hawkins Field in Jackson. Together they survived six weeks of basic training in July heat at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
One of my dad’s biggest memories of that immersion into the military involves inoculations. “There must have been 500 of us lined up on a field when the guy in front of me fainted,” he recalls, “so the medics just bent down and stuck both of his shoulders while he laid was laid out. Never fazed them. I had to step over him to get mine.”
Afterward Dad was sent to Wisconsin, where he and a bunch of other privates were assigned to KP (kitchen patrol), and Dad was given the glamorous job of peeling potatoes – pile after pile of them. Evidently he managed to eat a few of them himself, because he gained some 50 pounds before driving back home through four states worth of Highway 51 to marry my mom during a week-long furlough.
Eventually Dad got on a plane headed north, and a guy who had seen snow twice in his life landed at a Strategic Air Command base near the polar ice cap in Thule, Greenland.
With relations with Russia as icy as the terrain, the location was pretty prime, so the bombers and fighter pilots there went through piles of potatoes, too. Dad made staff sergeant and supervised about 10 guys on their cooking shift. That is, unless phase winds were blowing. “No one left the barracks on those days,” he tells, adding that “sea rations had to suffice.”
I’ve noticed he often speaks of his time near there in terms of daylight. I guess seeing the sun go down in November and missing it until February can really affect how you see a calendar, especially when it stretches out to a year away from your bride. He also remembers the sight of Eskimos on sleds and Bob Hope on stage.
And he laughs (now) of three days of attempted take-offs before his return home. “Weather conditions,” he says, remembering how the guys back on the base found the whole thing extremely amusing.
As a child I enjoyed leafing through the scrapbook of black and white photos from his service years. My mother had penned notes under each one in her curling cursive: “Working the officer’s club.” … “Turkey for Christmas” … “Jumpsuits in large and extra large only – Ha!”
It’s only natural for the movies to focus on more-visible war heroes, but as Monday comes and our nation seeks to honor its patriots, I’ll thank my dad for the job he did behind the scenes so the guys in combat gear could do theirs. From the ones fueling the planes, to the ones fueling the pilots, it was all important.
So for the veterans who are reading this, thank you for your service and your sacrifice. And those memorials in D.C. – well, I hope you get to visit them some day if you haven’t. While you’re there, be sure to notice the quote, inlaid in silver, at the memorial I visited for my dad. Its four words – freedom is not free – surely pack a punch, and nobody understands them better than you.
Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.