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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veterans Day: The Late Warrior & an Early Story

Veterans Day is tomorrow, and I wanted to share two unrelated events that happened to my family yesterday.
My wife, Gen, is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy. Normally, she leaves at about 7:20 a.m., takes the short drive over to Pearl Harbor and then struggles to find parking. Wednesday was no different, but after circling her block several times, she found a spot several minutes from her office. Parking, she set off for her first meeting of the morning.
Coffee and lunch bag in hand, she was about to enter her building when a strong voice called out.
Gen turned and came face-to-face with an elderly gentleman wearing a beret covered with military pins. (He’d later identify himself as retired U.S. Marine Master Sergeant James M. “Gunner Jack” Jackson.)
“Yes, sir, how can I help?”
“Commander, are you by any chance leaving by the Makalapa Gate?”
Looking down at her coffee and lunch bag, she opened her mouth, but then noticed the large suitcase next to the man whom (she would later discover) spent twenty-seven years in the Marine Corps – after serving in the Merchant Marines during WWII.
She stepped away from the door and introduced herself.
“Sir, where do you need to go?”
“Well, I have to get off base and onto a bus to the airport, but I screwed up the times, and now I’m late,” said the former Marine with still-piercing brown eyes, who served as a gunner on the AC-130 “Spectre” Gunships.
Source: http://spectre-association.org/afghanistan.htm
“Let me make a quick call, and, sir, no worries. I’ll give you a lift.”
“You can? You will? Thank you! I’ve no idea when the bus comes, but at least I’ll be there when it does.”
“There’s no need for a bus. I’ll get you over to the airport – it’s close – and it’s my pleasure. It would be an honor.”
The two chatted during the short drive until, with a final shake of her hand, “Gunner Jack” grabbed his suitcase, leaned on a cane, (his nickname carved in the wood,) and made his way into the terminal, now well on schedule.
Meanwhile, I was the one who was now late. My wife called as I scrambled to bring the boy’s over to their regular story time at the base (Hickam) library.
I got goose bumps as she told me about this old warrior, who’d travelled from his home in Korea for a doctor’s appointment at Tripler Army Medical Center.
“I feel blessed I was given this opportunity to help out – especially to someone who served our country for so long,” Gen said. “And guess what – when I got back on base, I immediately found a prime parking spot next to my office...”
Laughing, I hung up and jumped out of the minivan, unstrapped the kids and made it to story time where all three guest readers were veterans.
Mitzi Austen, a regular, was in the Navy, where she met her future husband, also a Navy veteran. “Miss Austen” as she is affectionately known to the kids, read “Hero Dad” by Melinda Hardin, while retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, Bill Pigott, read “My Sailor Dad” by Ross Mackenzie.
Retired U.S. Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant Dave Burnett finished the session by reading “A Salute To Our Heroes: U.S. Marines” by U.S. Marine Capt. Brandon Barnett to the group of about thirty kids and fifteen adults.
“Kids, this picture here is an illustration of when the young men and women complete Boot Camp and are called ‘Marines’ for the first time,” said MgySgt Burnett, pointing to one page.
“However, they are er, called, er, several other things before that.”
The theme was clear and while the kids seemed to enjoy hearing the veterans read, it also hit home to at least one dad who said he enjoyed all three books.
“I teared up a little as each dealt with deployment issues and ‘Daddy being away on a long trip’ – that was a bit emotional,” he said, standing near a Christmas tree decorated with homemade “Thank You” notes and black and white pictures of smiling Navy sailors. “But, then, there were the welcome home pages – and that’s what it’s all about when you’re away: Getting the job done – right – and coming home to your family.”
Reflecting on Freedom
On a personal note: To all who serve(d) to defend my right to free speech: A sincere mahalo – and my family and I send best wishes to you and yours for a happy and peaceful Veterans Day.


Kitty said...

That was a lovely thing your wife did for that Marine.

My Uncle Henry was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. He served in the Pacific during WWII. Like most vets I've known who saw action, he didn't want to talk about his war experiences. He was just happy to live the last half of his life in Hawaii.

Sarah Tokeley said...

That was a good thing your wife did. My respects to her.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could hug everyone who has helped our country or fought for it, because of them I'm free today.

Thanks for your post, and your wife really sounds like a great person for giving of her time.

Ara Grigorian said...

You and your wife are amazing people. All my gratitude to you and your family for the service. Thank you my friend.

Mark Koopmans said...

Kitty: Sounds like your Uncle Henry was typical of the Greatest Generation - and perhaps a bit smarter than most. Imagine spending half your life in paradise!

Sarah: On her behalf, thanks and I know she appreciates your comments!

Mel: You are so right, and I would be at your right shoulder if we could figure a way to give all our service members a simple hug. (I'll do what I can and give my wife a hug from Sarah:) By the way, I am very lucky my wife chose me, as has to put up with me and my musings. Therefore, I'm already starting the paperwork on the Sainthood thing :)

Ara: My "bluddy." Do I owe you some money - you are always too kind with your comments:)

To all the above: Gen is pretty much a quiet and shy person, but as I said earlier, she is *so* appreciative of all your comments and best wishes. Mahalo and cheers:)

Steve formerly of Titusville now in Mt Hope said...

Thanks for sharing this Mark, it made my day. I could picture Gen's encounter as if I were there as a silent observer.

Laura Pauling said...

Wonderful story! Brought tears. I'm sure it was an honor for your wife to meet this man. I love hearing stories of older veterans. Nice to meet you!

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