When I was a little girl, Armed Forces Day (always the third Saturday in May) was a Very Big Deal.
My dad was a career officer in the U.S. Army Airborne Rangers, and since we were usually living on one post or another, this was a huge holiday.
It featured lots of special events for families, military parades (not at all the same as the fun civilian ones that march down main streets), demonstrations of fighting equipment and techniques, and so on.
My favorite Armed Forces Days were when we lived on Okinawa (now a part of Japan).
We were stationed at Ft. Buckner Army Base in the days when the American military presence in Vietnam was unknown to most and officially advisory only (although I had a little friend who, one morning, had vanished from Miss Masick’s third grade classroom. We never heard from or spoke of her again – an unwritten rule of military life at that time. I found out years later her dad had been killed on a secret mission in that faraway Southeast Asian country no one had ever heard of).
Still, though, as a youngster, I loved all the Armed Forces Day hoopla.
Admittedly, the dress parades could be tedious, as we sat in the review stands and watched the battalions march crisply back and forth across sweltering football-sized fields for hours, saluting their commanders.
Once that was behind us, though, the fun began. My favorite was climbing — one? — two? — twenty? stories up to the paratrooper training platform, hitching up, screaming, “Airborne!” at the top of my lungs, and then jumping off, riding a zip line down to the ground at breakneck speed.
I am not sure how my mother lived through this, year after year.
One time, we got to see a big demonstration of this new thing called judo. It was very impressive! And another time, they featured war dogs, who were put through their fierce paces, taking down a well-padded man with a knife as easily as our cocker spaniels would fetch a tennis ball.
We got to crawl through tanks, marvel at bazooka and flame-thrower demonstrations, and of course the highlight was watching fighter jet shows from nearby Kadina Air Force Base, and then hundreds of jumping paratroopers filling the sky with their chutes. One of them, usually, was my daddy.
I am a long, long way now from my tomboy days when I would have loved nothing better than to be a black beret Ranger.
But I live very near one of the recurring military destinations of my childhood, Ft. Bragg. I am married to the son of a Marine general who spent much of his life in nearby Cherry Point.
And I never forget the thousands who are in harm’s way every day. Every year, I honor the warriors and their families who serve our country.
To the women and men in the armed services and to your courageous families, thank you, for your service and sacrifice. We owe you a debt that can never be repaid.
May you and yours be kept safe from all harm to mind, body, and spirit.
And may the day come when all vestiges of war are obsolete, and instead, peace, justice, wisdom, and prosperity take command.