So...this happened tonight. I had a good day...a bit busy, with different projects, but a very good day. A little while ago I had to drive into town to pick something up and stopped off at the grocery store for a few odds 'n ends before heading home.
While in the checkout, the very nice lady there asked me if I had a husband in the military or did I see service. I absolutely, completely blanked on why she was asking me that. Sometimes I am wearing a t-shirt or something from a base I have been on..people respond to that...but I really, totally just wondered why she wanted to know that.
I told her I was not married, but that I was a GS-15 with the Air Force. She smiled and helped me bag up the few things I had picked up then said, "I gave you the verteran's discount".
Oh my God...I just stood there blinking my eyes at her. It was as if I was a deer in the headlights, then I remembered - November 11, veterans day! This morning I changed my Facebook to a red poppy icon to honor veterans. My grandfather fought in WWI, and was in the calvary. He looked after 7 horses in France. One of my great uncles was there too. His name was Woody and he had been gassed. I met him a few times, but he was just a scarecrow of a person from his experience. My God...
One of my great aunts was a pilot during WWII. Women did not fight, however, she and her crew flew bombers over the North Atlantic to the English, Canadian and American pilots waiting there for them in England. My father tried to enlist, he did, however was told that they had enough. Too funny, but true. This was in Canada, and, there were enough Canadians in the war. He wanted to be a pilot as well.
I tried to stop her...I did my best to explain that although I flew with crews and stayed on bases, I was a civilian...but she just smiled and said it was done. It would have taken me too long to explain to her why I would do all of that and still be a civilian, especially since there were several people in line behind me waiting to pay and go home, so I thank her profusely and left.
I have tremendous respect for people who serve in the military. These are folks who have to give up so much and often end up in crappy places or with odd commanding officers or companions. They can't just go away. These people need to adapt to their surroundings but also, be prepared to lay their life down. I'm not sure I could do that.
When I fly with a crew, I carry a rank (that GS-15, which is Government Service, rank 15...in other words, the civilian equivalent of a Colonel), I have orders cut for me from the museum division of the Pentagon and I become part of whatever crew I am attached to. I have not done this in a while because of the huge time commitment (I could be gone up to a month on a mission), but I would join a crew and document what they did. I would sketch them, photograph them, interview them, all kinds of things. The end result would be a painting which I would create for the National Archives.
Sometimes I had planes in my paintings, but they were not the stars. There are enough beauty photos and paintings of aircraft out there. I did paintings that told a story, about the people. It has always been a remarkable privelege for me to fly with these crews and spend time on all of these bases around the world with some terrific people. I am a very fortunate person. My paintings were always focused on the people I was with.
This is me, standing on the frozen Ross Sea with some of the crew of the 22nd Airlift Squadron at McMurdo in the South Pole. I have a marvelous story to write out soon, involving them, James Cameron and a teddy bear. It is priceless...but, back to what happened tonight.
Here is the link to me at the Air Force
Driving home, I thought about what happened. These guys would have laughed it off. I know them. For me though, it felt like I had been given something I did not earn. Granted, I have spent a lot of hours of planes, stayed in some fairly funky digs on some of these bases, but, I could leave whenever I wanted and if the country went to war while I was out there flying around, their first duty was to protect me. They would land somewhere safe if they were called into the fight, and, different folks in the military would see I made it home.
Thank you nice lady at the grocery store. Although I am a civilian, even though you thought I had been in the military, just the fact that you and your store felt so moved by the people who are actually in the military that you would do that, I will accept it as a tribute to them.
Thank you to all of the people who serve. You are loved and appreciated!