Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I reckon this is the first column I’ve ever produced with just one word as the title, but I believe that is enough for what I want to say in these few paragraphs. This is another one of those weeks where it will be important for you to conjure up your own memories as we ponder a few thoughts about men and women who have worn the uniform of United State military forces.

Alice and I were over at Maxwell Air Force Base last week. Seems like every airman who came in the BX had some type of badge on his uniform.

I noticed one captain who was sporting what looked like pilot wings, but there was something funny looking about them.

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When I asked, he said the air force was issuing badges and wings to everybody so nobody would feel left out. He was a communicator…not a pilot.

Uniforms were quite easy to read when I hung up mine some years back. You recognized badges as meaning something as they had to be earned. Badges and patches such as Airborne, Special Forces, Ranger, Aviator, Pathfinder, Jungle Expert, and for infantrymen engaged in combat with the enemy, the coveted Combat Infantryman Badge.

That was when a beret meant something. The hard charging rangers were issued the distinctive Black Beret, and the highly trained Special Forces wore the Green Beret. Now, everybody wears a beret of some sort. But, although I was proud to wear the Green Beret, a beret is a useless piece of headgear. Give me a jungle cap anytime.

But, I have digressed. I want to talk a moment about soldiers and their dedication. Have you ever witnessed the funeral of an aged veteran, and before the funeral began, there was an old man shuffling up the aisle and stopping in front of the coffin.

You didn’t pay much attention, but then that feeble gent came to attention and snapped a salute to his fallen comrade.

He then shuffled back to his seat. For a moment, you can imagine the physically fit and fully alert soldier that old man must have been 50 or 60 years before, and you smile and feel warm inside…and sorta protected.

If you have been at a graveside service with military honors for a deceased veteran, can you think of a more moving or touching moment than the firing of three volleys, followed by mournful playing of Taps, and especially if those Taps were from one bugle on a hill or in the woods, and echoed by a second bugle on another hillside and then the presentation of that trifolded red, white and blue banner to the widow or child of the fallen hero.

A soldier is someone who once wrote a blank check to the government of America, pledging his or her sweat, dedication, loyalty, blood and even life for the preservation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the people of this country, most of whom have never and will never put on a uniform and write that check.

Can you understand one of your neighbors, who seems a little eccentric sometimes, who gets up every morning, raises an American flag, observes a moment of silence…alone, comes to attention, salutes and then walks back into his house?

That veteran is thinking about that meaningful ritual done so many times when he was in uniform, and thinking about every car stopping, and all activity ceasing on a military base when the cannon goes off, and Taps are played over the base or post as the flag is lowered during retreat, and ever civilian stands straight and ever soldier renders the hand salute. That is a feeling of belonging to something grand.

There are soldiers who have served in peacetime or in war, been stationed in Mississippi or Vietnam, have held job assignments such cook or clerk or maybe jumped from perfectly good airplanes…but they are veterans…all, and proud of it.

They stand a little straighter than most…especially when they hear the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

Just look around at a ball game.

You can tell. Smile a little when you recognize one of those old codgers, imagine what he might have been up to when in uniform, and if you get the chance…respect him.

God bless America and those who have and are protecting Her.

Tom Boggs is a columnist for the Demopolis Times.