Welcome Home, Heroes—The American Way
The KC-135 Strato-Tanker is a workhorse that possesses a beauty born of utility, strength, versatility and ingenuity; whatever the military needs it to do it delivers fuel to the fight. So as we watched one of them turning final approach onto the runway at Grissom Airforce Base outside of Peru, Indiana Sunday morning there was something almost surreal about its graceful-but-lumbering visage in the gray of pre-storm.
I hadn’t been on a military base in decades before Sunday, but the sound, smell and feel of the place was unmistakable, although a large portion of the place was inactive—mothballed—as they say, while the more modern buildings, hangars, administration, etc., were abuzz with the momentary homecoming of the refueling tanker that carried our beloved heroes back from someplace in the Middle East.
Probably fifty, maybe sixty folks stood in the enormous doorway of the hangar that would greet the big bird once all was finished for the day, and as we began to feel the first drops of the promised rain, the moment when the side door opened facing the throng erased that storm.
A uniformed Airforce gentleman waved us on and in seconds the tarmac was full of people, already cheering, hooting and whistling as each group’s hero deplaned. I was the guest of the Henry family, friends and clients for many years, and Jeff found himself immediately overwhelmed as all those faces beamed at him. Leading the pack was a little blond headed bundle of energy about two years old who, whether he got the whole picture or not, was mission bent on racing to Jeff’s waiting hugs. And just like that the tears drowned out the rain drops, he was swarmed all around by hugs and kisses, and the joyful ritual of American military tradition and pride filled the air. You see, these folks had been on combat missions every day all day and into the evening, refueling combat aircraft to keep them in the fight. A scant 8 hours in bed and they were back in the air again, irrespective of fatigue and the constant threat of enemy contact.
They came from north central Indiana mostly, a refueling wing that has been in existence for decades at this point; times without number they have loaded up and headed off into the night to parts unknown, doing whatever it takes to keep our warfighters fighting the enemy wherever he may be hiding.
The complaints are few, the notoriety nonexistent but the rewards plenty for these devoted patriots. And the families of these people are a special breed too, having to be ready to have plans upended, babies born without their dads for a while, graduations missed and the comforts and joys of home gone in a few hours at best. Instead it’s off to who knows where, doing the bidding of our Airforce as it tends to its many missions and responsibilities—in this case, keeping our aircraft in the air and in the fight.
Over what has now been centuries of the brave dropping everything to answer the call of their country in the most dangerous of times, some things just never change.
Not the commitment, not the love of country, not the zeal with which they address each challenge. And not the pangs of loneliness as they hurdle through black night skies, not the moments of reality when they must perform without error, flawlessly, at times based more on feel, skill and intuition than on the marvels of military technology. But no matter what, from Lexington and Concord to Normandy, the sands of Middle Eastern deserts or the frozen tundra of the Chosin Reservoir, they always answer the call and do their utmost in service to their homeland.
I will not soon forget the joy and celebration that I was honored to share with such wonderful people, and seeing it anew and up close I am renewed in spirit and rededicated in every way to embracing, loving and in whatever small way may be open to me, to standing strong for our American experiment in liberty, this unique product of God’s wisdom, our United States of America.