I was born and raised in Tennessee – the Volunteer State, as it is appropriately nicknamed because Tennesseeans volunteered in huge numbers for the War of 1812, The Spanish/American War, and the Civil War. Tennessee is truly a state of mighty men and women who serve and have served their country well, alongside so many other brave men and women from other states. Many of these soldiers have given their lives or suffered injuries in order to protect our rights and freedoms and the rights and freedoms of others from faraway lands.
I watched my own brother, uncles, friends, and cousins volunteer for the service, many going on to fight in wars, and several giving their lives. There is one in particular I can never forget on special occasions such as Veterans Day.
It was early fall of 1968 in Tennessee, and the trees adorning the Smoky Mountains were dressed in gorgeous fall foliage in hues of orange, red, and yellow. My husband and I were both students at the University of Tennessee, and he went straight to work after classes. One evening as I was waiting for him to come home from work while busily entertaining my five-month-old, as well as my mother and brother who had stopped by for a visit. Ironically, I was speaking to my pilot brother about his helicopter training when the phone rang – it was my best friend in the world, Becky. Becky had a toddler and was expecting her second child with her husband, Benny. Sounding perfectly normal, she simply stated, “Benny is dead, Beth.” Shocked and unable to comprehend, I asked again what she meant, and the same horrible words came out of her mouth.
Benny had bravely fought in the Vietnam war as a helicopter pilot and was fortunate enough to come came back home safe and sound at the end of his tour. This particular day, he had been on a training mission with a student when the tail rotor disengaged, sending his helicopter into an unstoppable tailspin. Both Benny and his trainee were killed upon impact. These two brave, dutiful young men were gone in a flash, leaving the rest of us behind to grieve and to help the surviving family members in any way we could.
Six months later, my beautiful Goddaughter was born, without a father to see what a gift she was. Benny wasn’t around to be a husband or a dad to his toddler son, but to this day, the entire family and everyone who loved Benny honors his memory on Veterans Day and every other day of the year as well.
To all of our brave veterans, past and present, God bless you and thank you so much for your service to your country – to all of us.