Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reflections on Memorial Day

Our picture on front page of the Fairbanks newspaper
Tuesday, May 22, my husband, Bob, and I celebrated 51 years since we graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with our bachelor of arts degrees. Since he minored in military science (ROTC), he also received his commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army that day. We got married a few weeks later.

Bob received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the
United States Army on May 22, 1967
The Vietnam War was at its height. Expecting him to be sent immediately to the war zone after additional training, we were thrilled when he received orders to go to Germany. After a year there (1968), the orders I'd been dreading came through. After attending another training school, he was being sent to Vietnam.

I burst into tears at the news. Of course, when I married Bob, I knew he planned to make the Army a career.

"This is what I signed up for," he said.That didn't make me feel better, though. All I  could see was the long, empty year ahead.

My friends told me to pray that he wouldn't have to go, but I couldn't. I knew he had to go.

Six months later, the day before our second wedding anniversary, we kissed goodbye at the airport in Anchorage, Alaska, where I would live while he was gone.

It was a long year! We'd never even dreamed then of the internet, FaceTime, or Skype. All we had was what we now call "snail mail." At least we didn't have to use stamps with APO addresses. Before he left, we'd promised to write to each other every day. And we did. That promise even saved his life. Looking back, we realized that even though we were separated, we grew closer together as we wrote our deepest thoughts and feelings.
Bob in Vietnam in 1969-70
Bob experienced many close calls, which I wrote about in a previous blog post, A Vietnam Veterans Memories. He took satisfaction in knowing I was safe at home while he was gone, but I was nearly killed in a serious car accident in Alaska a few months after he left. I still suffer from damage done to my neck.

We met in Hawaii for R & R in February. Saying goodbye that time was almost harder. Finally, he arrived home safe and sound on May 30, Memorial Day, 1970, the only officer from his advisory unit to come home alive. A year later, Memorial Day was changed from May 30 to the last Monday of May, but we still celebrate his safe return every year.

After his experiences in Vietnam, Bob began to feel the Lord leading him to go into the ministry. After 22 years of pastoring, Bob began having breathing problems. The Friday before Memorial
Day, he had a heart catheterization. He needed a triple bypass surgery, which was scheduled for the  day after Memorial Day--exactly 30 years after returning home safely from Vietnam.

We thank God for the amazing advancements in medical science that saved his life this time. In open heart surgery, they stop your heart and essentially bring you from death back to life over the next few days.

Eventually, he had to have a second open heart surgery to replace his mitral valve and later had a  defibrillator implanted. The VA has determined that his heart disease and diabetes is a direct result of exposure to Agent Orange in the fields of Vietnam, so they now provide his health care. And we now live just two miles from Castle Point VA Hospital. Isn't it amazing how God directs our paths and places us right where we need to be even before we realize it?

NOTE: You may have noticed that I didn't post a blog last week. The mobile home park along the I-84 corridor where we live took a direct hit from a macroburst with wind speeds of 110 mph, part of a huge storm system that spawned several tornadoes too in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York State.

Common sight throughout our area since macroburst on May 15.
This is a road near us that we travel frequently.
Courtesy Central Hudson

Common sight in our area since macroburst on May 15
The National Weather Service describes a macroburst as a thunderstorm downdraft affecting an area at least 2.5 miles wide with peak winds lasting 5 to 20 minutes. The macroburst is a straight-line wind phenomena not associated with rotation used to differentiate from tornadic winds. Macrobursts can produce as much if not more damage as tornadoes due to the size and scope of a macroburst.

Our power was knocked out from Tuesday afternoon to Friday night, and we had no internet, cable, or landline telephone until Sunday evening. Schools were closed for the rest of that week. Many homes were damaged by falling trees.

The storm was scary, but all we lost was the contents of our freezer and refrigerator due to the power outage. With so many trees down across roadways and no traffic lights working, traffic just crawled for several days. We read that 191 electric poles were destroyed and had to be replaced. We continue to hear the buzz of chainsaws and tree shredders.

Repairing the storm damage
A power substation very close to the school where our son teaches in the Town of Newburgh was destroyed by a tornado, so Newburgh was without power too. Additional tornadoes touched down in the Town of Wappingers, in Putnam County to our south, and in Saugerties to our north. One man driving home from work in Sullivan County to our west took a photograph of a tornado in the distance only to discover when he arrived home that it had destroyed his house.

Work crews are still cleaning up around the area, removing huge toppled trees. Homes in our park will require thousands of dollars in repairs. God certainly protected us, for which we are truly grateful.

We personally have much to be thankful for this Memorial Day as we remember those who gave their all for their country. And Bob recalls the faces and lives of his comrades in arms who didn't make it back.

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