By Andy Weddington
Wednesday, 03 October 2018
I still can't shake the Nebraska off of me. Andrew Rannells
Never did I imagine living in Nebraska.
Big Red country.
And red country.
The culture. The people. Here they call it "Nebraska Nice!"
Nice. Yes, it's nice. And a lot more than that.
The last Sunday in September a group of 135 female veterans gathered in Omaha for the first ever of its kind "Honor Flight" to Washington, D. C.
There's plenty on the Internet if you want to research and learn more. So, for the purpose of this commentary I'll refrain from all the background, behind the scenes work, and program and trip particulars.
For to attempt, I'd slight. And especially to the incredible quilters I'd not want to do that. Look them up, too - a beautiful homemade quilt gifted to each veteran. They were stunning!
Suffice to say it was a First Class operation - from sign in Sunday afternoon to Welcome Home at Eppley Airfield Monday night to an enormous cheering crowd - that required a Herculean effort by hundreds if not thousands in support.
About a hour before the return flight landed I had chance to meet and speak with the flight's brainchild, Bill Williams. I do not know if he's a veteran. But he reminded me of a quiet field marshal who had every detail on his radar and under control. His wife, Evonne, flew with the veterans. [Bill and Evonne have organized previous trips for male veterans. I forget if this one was 9 or 10.]
First of its kind
To be present beginning Sunday afternoon my good fortune.
Remarkable women I met - service in war going back to World War II. The oldest 98 - a nurse in the South Pacific theater.
A few of the younger women were accompanied by service dogs. I listened to some stories. A prayer for them. To watch the disciplined dogs work amidst hundreds of strangers and noise was quite something. Calm. It is rather peculiar to think of an animal in terms of being professional but that's the word that keeps coming to mind. Their training apparent in their discipline.
Loretta Swit (Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Hoolihan, U. S. Army on the TV program M*A*S*H) was there. As guest of honor, she met with the veterans (others too) for photos, spoke at dinner, and fell in early the next morning to fly with the veterans.
There was a few minutes to meet and speak with her. From appearance to demeanor, in a word: polished. Her memorable comment to me, "I love Marines!"
Too there was time to visit with a number of the women including some not veterans but program volunteers.
One stuck out. Basically a peer, she told me her dad was a Marine and had fought his way out of the Chosin Reservoir. I have a friend whose dad led Marines in that fight. And have read most everything written about it. Brutal winter conditions and brutal combat.
She beamed remembering him and telling me how proud he was to be a Marine and likewise she to be the daughter of a Marine. Language, she said, sometimes got colorful when he spoke about being a recruit and his DIs and fighting in Korea.
With mention of knowing something about recruit training, I told her Marines had a saying but I was hesitant to share it with a woman just met for a little salty language.
Smiling, she said, "Ah, go ahead."
Well, it goes like this, "Your heart may belong to God but your ass now belongs to the Marine Corps." She burst into laughter. Her eyes sparkled - "You sound like my dad!"
Patriots - 135 female veterans with their quilt(s)
A traveling display honoring Nebraskans killed in the line of duty graced the lobby.
Every one of them I looked at.
I photographed the Marines.
Where do we get such people?
Below is a squad's worth of Marines. Their photos large for ease of reading. Take a few seconds on each - name, home town, date of death and cause noted. Pay respects. Think about their families; lives changed.
Those men I never met. But Marines - they are my brothers.
I do not know for how long we'll live in Nebraska but nor will I, thankfully, ever be able to shake the Nebraska off of me.
Semper Fidelis, Marines.
Semper Fidelis, Ladies.