Today is Memorial Day. My grandfather served in the navy in WWII. Pawpaw was part of the Pacific fleet, and my grandmother's house is full of china figurines that he sent her while he was there. They all have "Made in Occupied Japan" stamped on the bottom.
Paw paw used to tell a funny story about the first time he walked onto a ship after enlisting in the navy. All the guys were pretty young, he said, and as they set sail, he noticed one of them losing his lunch over the side of the boat. They guy's friend, standing next to him, looked on disapprovingly. "Heave!" he said. "Heave, damn you! I wanted to join the army, but NO!"
My grandmother's brothers served as well. Uncle Joyce was a paratrooper, and Uncle James was in the army. Miraculously, they all survived.
I think today might be a good day to tell you about the tour I took of the Air National Guard base in Flowood last week. The base employs some 1,500 people, with maybe 400 of those serving full-time at any given moment.
The base owns eight C-17 planes. These are large cargo planes, state-of-the-art, and each one of them is worth about $220 million. The base routinely makes the route from Flowood to Germany to Afghanistan to Iraq and back again. They take supplies over, and they bring wounded soldiers back for treatment. The base was called upon by the federal government in 2005 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and then for Operation Enduring Freedom. Since then, they have transported nearly 30,000 wounded soldiers home. Not only that, but soldiers in their care have a 94% survival rate due to the high quality of medical expertise that these servicemen and women provide in flight.
The people on the base have also been called on to help with natural disasters in the United States. Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, and Ike - they were there to help.
We got to tour one of these giant planes, and it was pretty dang impressive. We crawled up into the wheel wells, where you could stand totally straight, because the wheels are so big. Then, we walked into the cargo area. Two of the officers responsible for securing the plane's cargo (they call them loadmasters) were there to explain how all the pulleys and straps and winches worked together to keep the cargo from shifting and throwing the plane off balance.
We saw the tiny kitchen, and we even got to sit in the cockpit and examine all the knobs, throttles, switches and dials. A pilot was there to show us how it all worked (and probably to make sure we didn't push the red button!).
I've been thinking alot about those guys (and gals) this week - Lt. Mitias, Major McGee (flight nurse), the loadmasters.
We had a big barbecue tonight and invited alot of people over. Friends, family, there were a bunch of cute little kids running around and alot of laughing. We made hamburgers and fries and coleslaw and baked beans, and we topped it all off with hot fudge sundaes. We swung little people in the hammock. We drew with sidewalk chalk and drank cold IBC root beer and walked down to the pier to see the water.
And the very reason that I could enjoy a night like tonight is that those folks over at the base (and others like them) are willing to lay it on the line for me and for the way we live in this country.