Freedom's Torch  

Posted by Brock Booher

I didn’t really want to go to the Veteran’s Day celebration at our local high school. I always considered Veteran’s Day was for men and women who bled and sacrificed, not for some spoiled jet jockey that spent the war buzzing officer’s clubs and wearing Tom Cruise glasses. My youngest son is in AFJROTC (Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps for all you civilian types) and he insisted I attend because he was helping out with the event. So, I went.

I showed up with my Ray Bans and my fighter-pilot jacket covered in multiple cool patches that would surely turn the heads of anyone important or knowledgeable. I was taken back as I strolled into the football stadium and saw the layout. The school had done the place up real nice with a large decorated stage, VIP seating, and displays from each of the armed services. They even had some civil-war cannons. I was directed to the veteran seating area at the base of the stage – it must have been the patches.

I took my seat behind a bunch of old guys with VFW hats and khaki uniforms. They nodded and smiled. A guy with a Vietnam patch and a walker shuffled on to the field and sat down behind me. I remembered why I didn’t like coming to these things. I always felt guilty for all the times I complained about my cushy time in the Air Force.

The guy behind me was named Paul. He had been injured in a vehicle accident and was left disabled because of it. He had a twinkle in his eye and as he told his story he punctuated the difficult parts with laughter. “You have to laugh and keep your sense of humor,” he said. “What else can you do?”

Grow bitter and become cynical, I thought to myself as I smiled back.

“I feel out of place,” I told Paul. “All the veteran’s I saw at Veteran’s Day celebrations growing up had beards, an American-flag bandana, and rode loud Harley motorcycles.” He laughed.

The program began with fanfare and they introduced the veteran’s from WWII and the Korean War by name. All the guys in front of me got introduced. Two of them had been eyewitnesses to the famous flag raising on Iwo Jima. Several of them had liberated concentration camps from the tyranny of the Nazis. A few more had been in the heat of battle on the Korean peninsula. I hid behind my Tom Cruise Ray Bans and pretended to be somebody important in the presence of heroes.

You can’t have a good military-related event without three things – the colors, pyrotechnics, and speeches. This event had all three in just the right amount.

The flags from each of the different branches of services were posted ceremoniously on stage one at a time. Next the Patriot Guard Riders roared into the stadium on their motorcycles with flags waving behind them. Several of them had beards and American-flag bandanas on their heads. Then skydivers with the POW/MIA flag, the Arizona flag, and United States flag dropped in from overhead and nailed their target in the middle of the football field. It was amazing to see Old Glory’s colors against a clear blue sky as the last skydiver came to earth. At last, the color guard formed from multiple ROTC units posted the colors to a rousing rendition of the national anthem, punctuated by fireworks. I was thankful for the dark sunglasses that hid the tears in my eyes as they beheld the majestic symbol of freedom and the rule of law.

The first time the fireworks went off during the program it surprised me. I teased the city councilman sitting next to me that getting approval from the city for the pyrotechnics must have been difficult. He just grinned, and then the civil war cannons went off. I was so close I felt the shock wave from the blasts. He spoke. I think he said, “We’ll approve anything for Veterans,” but my ears were still ringing. It seemed so real I was worried that some of the other members in the audience might have flashbacks, but from the grins on everyone’s faces it was clear that all of us soldiers loved watching things blow up.

Then the speeches began. I thought at first that I would end up playing with my new smart phone during some long-winded delivery of an overstated politician, but I never pulled the phone from my pocket. Each speech was short, passionate, and delivered with sincerity. From the politicians to the war heroes, the words were inspiring and reminded me why I joined the military in the first place. I was inspired once again by the greatness of the common man in our great country, or maybe I should say that I was inspired by how the common man in a country such as ours can aspire to and achieve greatness.

Being a former Air Force pilot, I feel that no military celebration should be without a flyby, and I was not disappointed. Towards the end of the program, a two ship of F-16’s from Luke AFB came roaring overhead just as they fired off a series of fireworks. (Let's see Unmanned Aerospace Vehicles do that!) The cannons roared again to accentuate the roar of jet engines. I never grow tired of the sound of jet noise – the sound of freedom.

As the event wrapped up, the Principal invited the students in the stands to come down and shake veteran’s hands before returning to class. It was an unexpected treat to have those young men and women reach out to me and thank me for my service. I took the opportunity to thank them, and the other veteran’s, for inviting me to the best Veteran’s Day ceremony I had ever attended.

I guess my attitude that day was similar to the attitude of most veterans when their country called them into military service. I was reluctant to go, but I went anyway, mostly out of a sense of duty. Once I got to my post, I was inspired by our flag and everything it represents. I enjoyed the red glare of rockets, and bombs bursting in air. I felt the camaraderie of my peers, no matter the era or difficulty of service. I felt sadness for those who never returned to celebrate the day with us. I was glad I had served, and I was hopeful that the rising generation would pick up freedom’s torch and carry it forward.

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 11, 2010 at Thursday, November 11, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

2 comments

Great Brock! I was proud to be there with you on that day. The generation pics here of you and my dad and you and Carson are inspiring as your words are. I thank you for your part and service in providing the freedoms I enjoy everyday.
P.S. Your Maverick glasses look cool!

November 19, 2010 at 9:39 AM
Russ Douglass  

Hi Brock

great story

interesting that the Viet Nam conflict is one our nation and world would like to 'sweep under the rug'

I know what you mean about our national anthem and flag, I still get 'choked up'

here in Kalamazoo the city and the school system had no celebrations - they 'left it to' the National Guard in Battle Creek

oh well

again, great story !!!!

Uncle Russ

February 15, 2011 at 7:34 AM

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