By Andy Weddington
Friday, 25 December 2009 Christmas
It's Christmas. So, a light true story from a few days ago.
There's an old locker room saying, "If you can't be an athlete then be an athletic supporter."
I don't know of any like-flavored sarcastic quip that addresses those who serve in the military and the wannabes. If you are aware of one please let me know.
A few Commentaries ago I wrote about frauds who staked claim to military service and whose despicable behavior went so far as to wearing a uniform adorned with prestigious decorations for valor in combat. One man in particular, previously exposed and noted in the Commentary, lives in Palms Springs, CA. An update on him--a couple of weeks ago he pled guilty in federal court and will be sentenced in March. He faces a maximum of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine--a fairly hefty price to pay for going beyond mere talk. One down with many to go.
Recently I ran into a talker.
I spent several hours last Friday and Monday past in two major airports--PHX and CLT. That would be airport code for Sky Harbor in Phoenix, AZ and Charlotte Douglas in Charlotte, NC.
As has been a familiar sight for most of this decade, there were scads of military personnel--easily identified by their uniforms--on the move in the airports. And it was a joy to see how well the public treated them. Nice. But then again why should the military not be treated with some degree of reverence--they are making it possible for society at-large to go about life carefree in relative safety. Yet it's odd many in the country (most notably the chucklehead left) are still oblivious to the correlation between our remarkable military and our envious way of life. Some will just never get it.
Anyway, one airline, when boarding passengers, actually invited military--active and retired--to board at their leisure along with the "special" passengers--those holding platinum, gold, silver, copper, and stainless steel status. Nice. Oh, and that invite included walking to the left of the silly floor sign directing passage for "special" boarders from the peons who would later move right of the sign during general boarding. My opinion, the sign is among the dumber things an airlines does to denote hierarchy amongst the passengers.
In the past I had not paid much attention that boarding by "zone"--as printed on the boarding pass--has nothing whatsoever to do with efficiently loading--rear to front and window to aisle--the aircraft. In reality, "zones"--the lower numbers--are merely code for those holding platinum, gold, silver, copper, and stainless steel status to have dibs on overhead bin space--to stow their two carry-on(s) and coats. The majority of these folks scoff at stowing personal items under the seat in front of them even when flight attendants suggest it to make bin space for other passengers. Bottom line: If you are "Zone 4" (aka: peon) on a full flight, and among the last to board with a roll-on, chances are pretty good you are screwed for cabin storage space. But that's another story.
When boarding in CLT destined for PHX on Monday my seat was toward the front, port side (for the nautically challenged that's left side), and in the middle. My wife drew the middle seat directly behind me (since we booked travel at the last minute adjacent seats were not available).
As I politely disturbed the gent (one of the privileged early boarders holding precious metal status)--my age or a little younger--occupying the aisle seat he commented, "Well, I've not seen one of those in a while." He was referring to my drab green nylon, across-the-top zippering helmet bag commonly issued to military aviators. Mine given to me more than 25 years ago by my brother--who flew jets for the Marine Corps and the Navy.
After settling in my seat I casually commented he must be military. He said, "Started at 'Canoe U.' and retired after twenty-five years." I offered congratulations and commented it must not have been easy while not bothering to mention my service.
On occasion I have heard the U. S. Naval Academy referred to as "Canoe U." or "The Boat School" so I asked what class he was in. He said he did not go to the Academy that he was Navy--enlisted--and finished up as an Air Force pilot flying C-5s. Odd.
"To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful." Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965)
Something about the way he spoke told me his story, an atypical career path for sure, was possible but not probable. Not to mention he made reference to the Naval Academy but did not attend. And then there was the matter of his personal appearance--not just heavy but grossly overweight. Yet another sign something was not quite right. This guy's yarn was not passing the "sniff test."
It just so happened his Navy comment caught my wife's attention and she leaned forward and asked his rating. He seemed surprised and said something about aviation but did not offer any specifics. Nor did he make mention of any rank or duty stations--something military people are proud of and are usually inclined to mention early in a conversation. Yet more oddities from the fellow seated to my starboard--who was spilling into my seat.
He then went on to say he served seventeen years in the Navy before being selected for an Air Force pilot training program. By now readers with a military background are chuckling. Now for those of you reading that are not familiar with the military his story is not adding up--at all. Among a host of other variables, the age factor is in play.
Our small talk continued with my wife mentioning her Navy background and I offered I was a retired Marine. He kept the conversation going so I decided to ask a few particulars about his service. After all, with Navy and Air Force vets in my family perhaps we have some acquaintances in common.
But he now wanted to change the subject. He was uncomfortable so I quit talking. After a few awkward moments of silence, and without a word, he donned a headset and started reading a book. He did not say another word to me the rest of the more than four hours of flight. Not even a parting farewell. Peculiar.
After returning home I phoned a few friends (all military background) to catch up on missed calls and mentioned my encounter on the airplane. To a man, they laughed with a tinge of disgust. Their conclusion the same as mine--his story was impossible.
The guy was a wannabe--an "athletic supporter." He had not counted on sitting near a Marine colonel or Navy captain. The odds were certainly against it.
I don't know if he served in the military or not. Perhaps--long ago. Frankly, I suspect not. But I do know he did not serve seventeen years enlisted in one branch inter-service transfer to another branch (first having to complete some sort of officers candidate school) and then enter pilot training.
Nor did he recently retire. His obesity alone confirmed that impossibility.
With one war wrapping up and another heating up maybe he felt some personal inadequacy, shortcoming or void in life. Who knows.
Though a wannabe, and to his credit, he did not claim any battlefield wounds or to have earned the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star, or Distinguished Flying Cross. That was refreshing. But then again maybe that was coming next had we kept our military service secret. We'll never know. And I am glad.
Having worn a uniform for nearly 27 years there is something distasteful about anyone who falsely claims military service. For little do the imposters have any appreciation for the intestinal fortitude it takes to take the initial step to serve. Much less the never-ending personal sacrifices and family hardships faced along the way--whether serving at home or forward deployed, and whether for four or forty years.
As for my seat mate to PHX, I doubt having his credibility innocently challenged will deter him from continuing his charade. But, I bet he is more careful in the future to whom he tries to feed his baloney--which he unexpectedly had to eat on Monday.
If traveling through airports this holiday season--anytime for that matter--and you have some time between flights and see someone in uniform sitting alone take a seat near them and strike up a conversation--mostly listen. For our brethren in uniform have a refreshing perspective and interesting tales--chances are you will leave recharged. Don't forget to thank them for their service.
To those who have legitimately worn and are presently wearing a military uniform--who intimately understand Duty. Honor. Country.--thank you for your service. It's indeed a privilege to be counted amongst your ranks.
To all, Merry Christmas!