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Ritual Rekindles Memories of Life on Base

The echoing roar stopped us in our tracks.

Like everyone else in the parking lot of Fairchild Air Force Base Commissary, we craned our necks and watched the Thunderbirds practicing for SkyFest. It was the Friday before the air show and we were thrilled to get a sneak peek at the six F-16C Fighting Falcons soaring through the blue skies and darting in and out of fluffy white clouds.

I’ve spent a lot of time at Fairchild, beginning at birth. My dad served 24 years in the Air Force. My oldest brother and I were born at the base hospital. My second brother was born at a base in Montana and my sister in the Philippines.

After several moves, we returned to Washington when I was 5, and we always did our grocery shopping at Fairchild. Even after Dad retired and we lived in Ritzville and then Moses Lake, we drove to the base to stock our pantry.

I remember the old commissary that seemed more like a dimly-lit warehouse than a grocery store. Mom bought “GI bread” in its plain wrapper and Circus Peanut Butter that came in tall plastic jars.

I lived in terror that my friends would discover my sandwiches weren’t made from Jif and Wonder Bread. Still, that would’ve been better than them seeing the bologna in our refrigerator that came in a huge hunk. My dad hacked off crooked slices and when I’d decline a sandwich, he’d fry it up in a pan for breakfast.

Oh, to have a thinly sliced Oscar Meyer, Bologna, with pre-sliced American cheese sandwich in my Barbie lunchbox!

We didn’t just grocery shop at Fairchild. There were doctor visits, dental checkups and trailer rentals.

Yep, Fairchild has an Outdoor Recreation Center where active duty and retired military personnel can rent tents, trailers and everything you need for a family camping trip.

That is everything except a dad who can put up a tent and back a trailer into a campsite. Dad was not an outdoorsy kind of guy, so while mom “helped” (mainly by laughing hysterically) my siblings and I usually just pretended we were with another family.

Of course, I married a military man. Derek served 23 years in the Washington National Guard which turned out to be providential. Without our monthly trips to the commissary, our budget would have buckled under the strain of feeding four growing boys.

Nowadays, with just one kid at home, our trips to Fairchild are far less frequent, but our recent visit complete with thundering jets overhead was something special. We finished our shopping at 5 p.m. If you’re familiar with military life you know what that means.

As we were loading our groceries into the car “Retreat” began to play through loudspeakers across the base. The tune signals the end of the official duty day and is followed by the “Star-Spangled Banner” and the lowering of the flag.

The piping bugle call echoed and everyone, whether in uniform or not, stopped what they were doing and faced the nearest flag. All vehicles stopped. Those in uniform stood at parade rest, and the rest of us put our hands over our hearts.

It’s a beautiful thing to see a bustling military base come to a standstill. To watch older retired folks, young civilian grocery baggers, and men and women in uniform, united for a few moments of respect and reflection.

May is military appreciation month and we’re heading into Memorial Day weekend. Today, I’ve got “Retreat” set to play on my phone. At 5 p.m. I plan to stand and let my workday worries go. I’ll be thinking about the men and women in uniform across the world who are doing the same thing.

And I don’t have to be on a military base to feel profoundly thankful for their service.

Sam Hval places a pinwheel on his grandfather’s grave at Washington State Veteran’s Cemetery.
War Bonds

My Veterans

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That’s my dad in his airman’s uniform just hanging around in the mid 1950’s, long before I was born.

He joined the Air Force in the waning days of WWll and shook the dust of Luxora, Arkansas, off his feet, returning only briefly before being summoned back to duty by the advent of the Korean War.

I was born at Fairchild Air Force Base and by the time I was 5 had lived on Guam and in California before Dad decided to retire back in Spokane, Washington. I learned to stand at attention and salute the flag before I could walk.

Dad was proud of his two-plus decades of Air Force service. His love of God and country anchored our family and his passing in 1994 left a void in my heart that cannot be filled.

daddy

So, of course I fell in love with a man in uniform!

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I met my husband just after he graduated from flight school. He served in the Washington Army National Guard for 23 years– most of our married life. He’s duties took him to Panama and to Honduras, but he loved flying and mentoring other young pilots.

dereks-legion-of-merit

My love for my father and for my husband gave me deep empathy and added insight when I begin to tell the stories of WWll soldiers, sailors, pilots and corpsmen.

I understood duty, courage, leadership and self-sacrifice because I’ve lived with it all my life.

Today I honor my father, Tom Burnett and my husband, Derek Hval.

Of all the veterans I’ve met, these are the two I love the most and their stories have made my own story so much richer.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

War Bonds

Santa and War Bonds

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This weekend I had my first book signing event on a military base. The folks at Fairchild AFB were great to work with and as you can see I had a great location at the Base Exchange entrance.

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Santa was also there just a few feet away.

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This was the real deal. Turns out authors top his nice list! And Santa tops mine. Another author was doing a signing nearby. He told us that teenage his granddaughter had recently died in a horrible car accident. A scholarship fund had been established in her name. They wanted to have Santa attend the fundraiser, but were told he’d charge $100 per hour.

This Santa took the author’s card and said, “Let me know the day and time of next year’s event and I’ll be there. No charge.”

Now that’s the Christmas spirit.

Speaking of,  books make great presents! Wrap up a copy of War Bonds today:-) Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Independent booksellers nationwide.