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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

War Bonds Hero Dies on Memorial Day Weekend

War Bonds Louie Anderson

On Sunday, May 27, Louie Anderson slipped the bonds of Earth and flew to be with his beloved Barb.

He and Barbara enjoyed 71 years of marriage and because they lived close to my home, I got to spend quite a bit of time with them.

The photo below watched over me from my filing cabinet as I wrote War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

Louis and flight crew 1944 low res

It shows Louie and his flight crew looking impossibly young and irrepressibly confident. Their 22-year-old leader, first pilot Louis Anderson sits on his haunches in the front row, far left. The photo was snapped as the 10 young men prepared to depart for Chelveston, England. It was May 1944 and the crew of the G-model Flying Fortress eagerly anticipated getting their licks in against the enemy.

Thirty-five missions later, Louis returned home, having lost only one of his original crew. Amazing because he said, “There was only one mission that we didn’t get shot at.”

Below is an excerpt from their chapter, “Keeping Time.”

“A ship in our left wing got hit,” Louis said. He and his men watched in dismay as the ball turret gunner fell from his turret and hung suspended by his foot. Many B-17 crew members considered the ball turret the worst position on the aircraft. The gunner was confined in a sphere fastened to the underside of the plane.

Louis cleared his throat. “I had to explain to the fellows that he was no longer with us.” After 45 seconds the gunner fell from the aircraft.

“We had quite a bit of difficulty talking the crew into getting back in the plane to fly a mission the next day,” he continued. “We had to have several conferences with the chaplain to explain that the gunner hadn’t been hanging there, suffering.”

When Barbara died in November, Louie’s already declining health, worsened.

He just wanted to be with her.

And he got his wish, but not before he was awarded a special Quilt of Valor made by the quilting group at Fairwood Retirement Community. Barbara was an avid quilter and she would be delighted to know of Louie’s gift.
He received the quilt, Saturday. He passed away Sunday.

And on Memorial Day I will be thinking of them both.

War Bonds with the Andersons at Fairwood

 

 

War Bonds

The thrill ain’t gone

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Even a year after publication, it’s still a thrill to be asked to sign a stack of books! So grateful readers and booksellers are valuing War Bonds and the stories shared within.

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A recent reading at a local Barnes & Noble prompted a slew of interest and phone calls, so I was delighted to stop in and sign more copies.

As we head into Memorial Day weekend I’m even more conscious of the privilege I’ve had in being allowed to share these stories before they were lost.

I feel like “thankful” should be part of my signature.

War Bonds

What Memorial Day Really Means

10422185_893106567394638_6786212745801728891_n[1]For our family Memorial Day has always meant more than a three-day weekend. The holiday used to be called Decoration Day and that’s what we still honor. We deocrate the graves of my father and father-in-law and pause to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country.

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Of the men I interviewed for this 2007 story, only two remain.
I’m forever grateful for being able to share their stories.
“We all lost friends at Pearl Harbor,” Daves said. “We don’t need Memorial Day. We remember our friends – every day.”
For those who have no graves to visit– who don’t have family members who served their country- please tell your children what this day really means and allow yourself to be grateful for those who paid the price for your three-day weekend.