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Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017

Honoring our Veterans

Posted Tuesday, November 15, 2011, at 12:18 PM

We buried my Uncle Bill two weeks ago.

Then a few days later, before I put the coffee on, a dear friend phoned to say that her husband had died in the early morning hours.

He was my friend too. Both Uncle Bill and my deceased friend have been a part of my life forever, it seems.

It is strange that they are gone. There's an emptiness, a hurt, a sadness.

Two deaths, two departures from this life. Both were honored with military funerals. There was the 21 gun salute, playing of taps, and the folding of the American flag. So sad but so symbolic of their military careers.

Uncle Bill was in the Army Air Force during World War 2. He was a B-25 tail gunner and flew 50 wartime missions over Germany, the Balkans and northern Italy.

My friend John served for 35 years in the Arkansas Army National Guard.

His funeral was held two days before Veteran's Day.

The two funerals were one week apart.

Last Friday on Veteran's Day, I attended a ceremony at the Piggott courthouse to honor all veterans.

It was sponsored by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and VFW Auxiliary. A wreath was placed at the Veterans Memorial in front of the courthouse.

It is fitting that we honor our veterans who have served our country well.

My husband, too, served during the Korean and Vietnam War. He was part of a flight crew that flew missions over war zones. His job as a boom operator was to refuel B-52 bombers and jet fighters in midair.

It has occurred to me that many civilians don't comprehend the sacrifices the soldiers make while serving their country at home and abroad.

It isn't an easy life for the one serving, or the family that supports the military member.

My husband used to say that the serviceman isn't appreciated unless there's a war going on.

But my husband and others like him trained and trained during war and peacetime. He was always ready, on alert.

There were many periods when he kept his B-4 bag packed with underclothes, shaving kit, and essentials. There might not be time to stop and pack a bag because he could be called out to fly a mission, at a moment's notice. Often, he didn't know if he was on a practice or a real mission until after the plane was airborne.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, his B-4 bag stood ready for fourteen days.

The October crisis was a major confrontation between the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States.

We were in the highest state of readiness ever. It was the closest the world ever came to nuclear war.

Soviet field commanders in Cuba were prepared to use battlefield nuclear weapons to defend the island if it was invaded by America.

It was a tense time for military personnel, their families and leaders of the world.

All those years and years of training were about to be put into action.

There was a collective sigh when we were informed that Pres. John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev had reached agreement and war was averted.

During the Vietnam War, my husband flew many missions over Vietnam. He would be gone for several months at a time, leaving me behind to care for our children and to run the household.

We often lived in base housing surrounded by other military families. Military life wasn't an easy life with all the restrictions, moves from base to base, with no permanent residence.

My heart goes out to the young military families during the War of Iraq and Afghanistan. Many young soldiers have served three or more tours of duty since the wars began.

I belong to an organization called Gold Star Wives of America. I read on our website the sad stories of some of these young widows who are coping with the deaths of their soldier husbands.

It is a heartbreaking adjustment to make; to lose a soulmate to war.

Yes, Veteran's Day is officially over, but let's honor our soldiers, living or dead, all year long.

And their families.

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From these hills
By Peggy Johnson
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