posted on January 14, 2011 13:54
My 11-year-old son and I attended the 2010 Joint Services Open House and Airshow at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland from May 14–16. We had attended our first airshow together in 2008, but missed last year’s event because I was deployed overseas as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. This year’s event had special meaning for me because it was the first military-themed event that I was attending with my son following my return home.
We munched on hot dogs and pretzels, and cooled ourselves with frozen icees as we gazed at the colorful spectacle that has come to be known as the air show. The U.S. Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team, and the many military and civilian aircraft performed to the amazement of the tens of thousands of spectators on the ground. We walked through various aircraft on static display, including an AC-130 gunship known as “Spooky” that flew during the Vietnam War. The highlight of my son’s and my day, of course, were the Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team.
The open house and airshow provided my son and me with memorable moments that we will cherish for a long time. For my son, the airshow was a place where he could marvel at the aerial acrobatics of the Blue Angels, experience the thrill of flight in a simulator, and bounce up and down on a trampoline while supported by a harness that was connected to what looked like a giant rubber band.
As I watched my son’s wide-eyed expression during the Blue Angels show, I was easily reminded of my own childhood. When I was in grade school in the 1960s, my father, a Korean War-era Navy veteran, took my siblings and me on a tour of Norfolk Naval Station. From a little guy’s perspective, seeing the huge submarines and aircraft carriers was an awesome sight to behold. My son was logging memories of his own with the sight of the Navy F/A 18 Hornets streaking across a clear, blue sky.
Initially, there was no plan on my part to join the Navy. I went to college following graduation from high school. The Vietnam War was coming to an end and I was content to complete my studies in journalism and look forward to a career as a writer, not a Sailor. But my studies took a backseat to my college social life and I soon found myself struggling to stay academically afloat. In the spring of 1979, I decided to take a short break from college and dropped out.
While escorting my elderly aunt to a mall in Salisbury, Md., I thought about my life and realized that I was at a crossroads. I was feeling somewhat depressed and unaccomplished following my premature exit from college. I wondered if I had done the right thing, since I didn’t have a job or money. But destiny was about to intervene and my situation was about to change. A chance encounter with a Navy recruiter at the mall led me to enlist in the Navy.
As a Navy journalist and photographer, I served everywhere from the South Pacific islands to the South Pole, and all stops in between. Following my first enlistment, I returned to college with newfound confidence and energy, and I graduated with a degree in English/journalism. From that moment more than 30 years ago, I can look back on an naval career that also included service with the U.S. Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm.
Over the course of the day, I wondered quietly to myself what my son will do when he comes to his own crossroads in life. Whether or not he decides to join the military, I only hope that he logs many experiences--just like his father and grandfather before him.