Wednesday

A Strange Place for a Party

I heard the music before I saw the dancers. Swing music. Nineteen fourties’ big band. The kind that makes you want to dance, even if you don’t know how. 

It was a most unlikely place, really, for the jitterbug, but there they were, moving so fast their skirts spun one way while their bodies spun the other. Tall men with slicked-back hair held on for dear life, suns to their orbiting partners, as the trumpet set the tempo. 


Feeble feet in wheelchairs tapped along with the beat, and canes kept muffled time. Eyes dimmed by cataracts and old age smiled timelessly, watched the fun and remembered the glory days. Snow white hair and spotted scalps cushioned service hats decorated with ribbons and pins that glittered nobly in the fluorescent light. Hunched backs and sloped shoulders sat straighter, younger, remembering a time when their feet marched faster than they could dance. 

It was Veterans’ Day at Ronald Regan National Airport. Seventy-five World War II veterans and their Honor Flight escorts from Kansas City, Missouri crowded into the cramped quarters of Gate 38 and had a party. A well-deserved party, complete with red, white, and blue balloons and guests. 

Like mice following the Pied Piper, fellow passengers gravitated toward the happy sounds spilling out into the concourse. A warm welcome sucked them into the melee, and before long they were shaking hands and smiling, no longer strangers. 

“Thank you for your service,” said one young man to a wheel-chair ensconced warrior. He was barely old enough to shave, but old enough to wear a rank of his own on his camouflaged arm. 

“And thank you for yours,” the solemn-faced veteran responded as their eyes met. Something flickered between them—a knowing that defied words and spanned generations. 

“My father and two uncles are here,” a proud escort said when he saw the camera in my hand. “They were 18- and 20-years-old when they joined up in 1943. . . you can do the math. They’re humble men, quiet heroes, but this means a lot.” 

He offered to introduce me, to draw me in to the party as a belated guest, but I hung back. 

It was happy ground, but it was holy, too. Too holy to dance upon. A sense of awkward debt pressed hard on my heart and made me squirm with unworthiness. I didn’t want to hear the men’s stories because I already knew them. 

In 1944, the Battle of Kohima along with the simultaneous Battle of Imphal was the turning point in the Burma Campaign. Kohima has a large cemetery for the Allied war dead, compatriots of these men. The epitaph carved on the memorial of the 2nd British Division says it all: 

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, 
“For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.” 

Their boarding call, like the headlights of returning parents, put a quick end to the festivities. Helpful escorts pushed the tired vets into a wheelchair convoy while the less feeble among them fell into step like tired infantry in their wake. 

A final boarding call, and then they were gone. How many of them would sleep on the 8 o’clock flight across five states and a time zone, I wondered? Would they dream of the faces of their fallen comrades and hear the faint strains of a trumpet reveille? Or would they dream of our faces—shamed by their heroism and humbled by their sacrifice? 

"Thank you for your service," I whispered, as the door closed, and all that was left was the echo of a trumpet and red, white, and blue balloons waving softly. 

As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free. His truth is marching on. 

 "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2).

 





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3 comments:

  1. What manner of quiet integrity and character can be wrought in the lap of freedom. These precious men and every volunteer military (wo)man are both evidence and ambassadors of said freedom. And, yes, it is holy, the kind that puts a lump of patriotism in your throat and gratitude in your gut.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a beautiful post in tribute to those who served.

    ReplyDelete
  3. For my Dad and all the other veterans, thanks.

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