Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Sun, Dec. 15

U.S. will win: You can see it in their eyes

My work on the railroad takes me to the Southeast mostly. This past Friday afternoon I had a six-hour layover in Atlanta, Ga. I spent the better part of the afternoon and evening in terminal "D" waiting for my delayed trip to Phoenix in "Sojourner's Café".

It was there I noticed a lot of young men and women in uniform. It struck me right away what railway stations all over the country must have looked like during World War II. The lounge was over half-filled with desert - camouflaged young people. I saw a huge mix of unit shoulder patches I recognized, some I didn't.

The faces were so young. Was I that young when I was in the Army? I looked deeper covertly over my drink into the eyes of some soldiers. I felt like a voyeur. Just under the bravado I saw the trepidation and the uncertainty, but I also saw determination. I had been there before and could identify.

The hostess then sat three soldiers at my table. The establishment was quite crowded, and the three salesmen I was sitting with had just left. We introduced ourselves, and then they said where they were from. Meguel was a specialist fourth class from Luzon, Philippines; Josh, a corporal, was from Seattle, Wash.; and Janet was a private first class from North Carolina. We made small talk for a while … weather, sports, NASCAR, the Olympics, my job with the railroad, things like that.

Then we talked about where they were going. All were heading for Iraq. I concluded that their money wasn't any good at Sojourner's and bought another round. For Meguel and Janet, this was their second time in "The Sandbox." It was Josh's first tour. We talked about life in the Army now, how it was in my day a million years ago in 1983, and what their future plans are. Not a one of them was older than 21. It made me feel old.

It also brought out a flood of emotions that I didn't think I was capable of anymore. They're kids! They can't go there! But again I thought; this is our future, sitting right there at this table with me.

They didn't have a doubt in their minds about where they were going or why. Just ironclad resolve. It must have been the same resolve the men had in Washington's first Continental Army at Valley Forge. Or Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett at the Alamo. The Brothers in Blue and Gray at Antietam and Gettysburg. The Doughboys in Belleau Wood. My father at Omaha Beach, my cousin at Khe Sahn. Myself at Port Salinas airport on Grenada. Did I actually have that mettle when I was their age? All of a sudden I was proud. So damn proud.

I started to tear up and they asked me what was wrong. "Nothing," I said and laughed as I palmed a napkin to daub my eyes. I shook all their hands as they left. I wished them well as they walked away. I'll probably never see those three young soldiers again, but I pray they come home again to have a good life as I've had. To be able to grow old and have a family some day.

No matter what your political leanings are, stop and think about Meguel, Josh and Janet. They're out there fighting for all of us. No thinking about it, just doing what needs doing so we can sit fat, dumb and happy watching our reality TV and worrying about our "carb" intake, being self-centered and thinking only of ourselves.

How many of you would trade places with them right now? I know myself I'd give anything to be right beside them today. I hope and pray they're safe tonight while I'm safe in my home.

Tonight, say a prayer for our men and women in uniform. They're out there doing a job none of us would want to do thousands of miles from home and loved ones. They do it gladly and unselfishly.

Next time you see someone in uniform, thank him or her. It's not their fault there's a war on. They didn't start it, but God knows they'll finish it from the fortitude I saw in those young eyes Friday. Hank Williams Jr. sung it, and I saw it. America will survive!

(Tom Wolfenden has lived in Chino Valley for the past 7 years and is a contractor who operates a shoulder ballast machine.)

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