Bittersweet Sixteen

I think most of us remember where we were that morning.

Regardless of where we were when it happened, collectively, I think it’s appropriate to assume that five minutes later we were all super glued in horror to our televisions as we watched what became the slow collapse of the symbols of our international presence in the global community.

Those towers may also have been a big part of our sense of security and imperviousness to some degree, too.

Our Big Sticks, if you will.

Well, this morning at work, we will – of course – honor the memory of this day.  At 5:46, the entire airport will observe a moment of silence.  A fairly humbling moment in my airport work environment, given the co-opted weapons of that day.

As always, on this anniversary, I will be a bit dis-eased with the notion of air travel…more so than normal.  I’m glad that I won’t be getting on a plane this morning.

But, while it makes me simultaneously humble and proud to acknowledge this day in our nation’s history, last night at work something happened that made me even more proud.

I was in our C concourse store and a newer associate asked what all the hubbub was around the gate right outside our store.  He’d cocked his head toward the sea of people basically blocking off the entire concourse and I responded, “It’s probably just a bunch of Southwest Airlines customers demonstrating that they’ve forgotten what they learned in second grade.”  I was referring, of course, to Southwest’s unassigned seating, which – try as they might to instill organization into carnival seating – regularly produces similar results throughout the day.

“Oh.  I was just wondering, since there’s a bunch of uniforms and security…and bagpipes…”, he said in an explanation that just kinda ended in silence versus a period.

My first thought was, “Bagpipes!”

But then I explained to him the airport Color Guard, which I thought only Alaska Airlines did and had been discontinued.  Maybe Southwest picked up the practice.

Then I went and joined the perimeter of the crowd, because in my near-year working here, I hadn’t yet seen the entire process unfold and thought I’d missed my chance.  Oftentimes, there’s a state senator on hand, if they happen to be in town…and congress is in recess.

No such luck, as far as I could see.  And I would have loved to tell Merkley that I appreciate his service.  But this moment was about other people’s service to our country.

The military, airport police and TSA reps were all assembled with the Color Guard around the exit from the jetway onto the concourse.

There was the bagpiper.

A swelling crowd of people.

Of course, a passerby choosing me to inquire as to the goings on.  As if she doesn’t understand OEG.  Or, that I have a pleasant countenance and demeanor.

As if.

But, I tell her and she says, “Oh, that’s wonderful!  My husband fought in Vietnam.”  I replied that we all knew the welcome home that had been received by him at the time and that it was a shame.

She wandered off and started taking pictures as the bagpipes played and the Color Guard came to attention.

And the applause began.

And continued.

And built, with no crescendo in sight.

It was a little like the applause between the “last song” and the encore at a concert.

Finally, the vets started to appear.  In full wheelchair regalia.

You gotta remember that these old guys are being honored for a war that ended anywhere from 50-75 years ago, depending on the vet.  These guys definitely looked like WWII vets.  There were women being wheeled off, too.  I was not entirely sure whether maybe they were WACs or military spouses, but either way, they also served and sacrificed.

I was super impressed by one old dog who was high diving people as he was wheeled by.  I was still smiling at his spirit when an octogenarian gal came – literally – sashaying off the jetway and onto the concourse.  All smiles and short dance bursts and arms waving.

People were still clapping.

And filming,

And tearing up.

Even me.

And I was proud to be an American.

I was so engrossed in watching the procession that I didn’t get any great pix, but here’s a few I snapped as the event ended.

That guy in the Duck gear was the husband of the woman I spoke to before the vets deplaned.  I went over to him, shook his hand and thanked him for his service.

Before congratulating him on his team’s sound thrashing of Nebraska, of course.

Bittersweet Sixteen

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