Thanks, veterans: Freedom is not free

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bought my dad a Veteran’s Day card this year, first time ever. The note I wrote inside tells the why: “Dear Dad, I have a whole new respect for those who serve in our military, now that your grandson is one of them.”

Funny how that works. His (and our) favorite Marine is spending the holiday at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, learning how to use the M203 grenade launcher. My guess, though, is Son No. 3’s thoughts will be on veterans back home he got to know by listening to Super Talk’s “True American Heroes.” Their stories, and the one below, are part of what compelled him toward the recruiter’s office.

Back in 1951, when war was being waged in Korea, my dad was a 20-year-old Co-Lin student expecting a letter from Uncle Sam. He signed up – all 133 pounds of him – with the Air Force, dragging his friend (and future brother-in-law) along with him. Together they survived six weeks of basic training in July heat at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base.

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One of my dad’s biggest memories of that immersion into the military involves inoculations. “Five hundred of us were lined up on a field when the guy in front of me fainted,” he recalls. “The medics just bent down and stuck both of his shoulders while he 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 50 pounds before driving back home through four states worth of Highway 51 to marry my mom during a week-long furlough.

Eventually the young airman 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 — unless phase winds were blowing, that is. “No one left the barracks on those days,” he tells.

I’ve noticed Dad often speaks of his time in Thule in terms of daylight. I guess watching 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 very amusing.

As a child I enjoyed leafing through a scrapbook of black and white photos from his enlisted years. My mother had penned notes under each one in her curling cursive: “Working the officer’s club”. . . “Turkey for Christmas” . . .  “Jumpsuits in extra-large only – Ha!”

Thankfully, my dad’s war story had a happy ending, which continues even now with events like Wesson Attendance Center’s Veterans Day celebration, where he and others will get the celebrity treatment today. He’ll get my card, too, which includes an expression of gratitude for those who rose up against the threat of communism in Korea, and all the other threats to the United States through the years. “Yours was a generation who understood the great value of America’s freedoms,” I wrote him. “Let’s pray our nation will return to God and be able to keep them.”

And to all the other veterans who are reading this, thank you for your service and your sacrifice. (That would include Mr. Manuel, who last week told me that when he returned from Vietnam, his job applications were tossed if he listed his Army experience.)  I hope you get to visit the memorials in D.C. someday, if you haven’t. While you’re there, be sure to notice the quote, inlaid in silver, at the one 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