Veterans Day 2013: Thanks Dad, Mom and Families

USAA, the military insurance company, has sort of backed into the theme of this post, almost by accident it seems, but in part because what they’re saying is true. When they have a dependent talk about “mine having been earned” through the service of another, they’re really onto something there I think most Americans tend to forget.

Lt. Col. Bernard D. Claxton, USAF-Retired

Lt. Col. Bernard D. Claxton, USAF-Retired

It’s Veterans Day 2013 and this is my annual tribute to the service and sacrifice my father, Lt. Col. Bernard D. Claxton, USAF-Retired, gave to our country from April 1968 until some time in 1993. In that span of time, the US Air Force, and particularly the Strategic Air Command, moved us from one corner of the country to the next, and then back, and then to another corner and back, and then….

Dad flew T-38s in training in Laredo, then progressed to B-52s at Castle Air Force Base, the 644th Bomb Squadron at KI Sawyer AFB and over in Southeast Asia, including Anderson AFB on Guam and Utapoa, Thailand. He also flew in the 20th Special Operations Squadron in Hueys in Nam in an elite helicopter group.

I didn’t know it until much later in life, but we almost lost dad on Huey a mission in Nam in December 1971. Tragically, one of his crew members didn’t make it that day and it’s something our family is mindful of more and more every December now that we kids know more and more about what happened. You see, in a military family, the war stories almost NEVER get told voluntarily and only upon inquiry do you get any sort of details.

But my appreciation for Dad’s dedication to our country makes me proud to this day. The Star Spangled Banner is one of those tunes that stirs a passion in me I cannot describe and I never clap at the end of it. Protocol actually says you’re not supposed to, and for me, hearing the tune runs deep to my core.

Spouses and Dependents

But here today I also want to pay tribute to whom we seldom hear about on Veterans Day and that’s the spouses of soldiers and their dependents.

In the movie The Right Stuff, Trudy and a couple of the other test pilot wives are talking in the living room at Edwards AFB in California while discussing “Keeping an even strain” and one of them says, “The Air Force owes me for this. I expect them to make good” on the sacrifices she and the kids have made.

Sadly, it seems that seldom ever happens. I mean, yes, I treasure the life I had as an Air Force brat, but it was hard on us, too.

We sacrificed a steady home life. In Michigan, Dad was on alert crews and gone for a week at a time, ready to get the Go Code and go. Mom raised five of us, not by herself, but there were times when it was by herself because of alert and TDYs to SEA.

We traveled from one base housing to the next. If you’ve never seen base housing, even for officers, it’s not the best of digs. It’s a couple rooms, a kitchen, a bath or two. The housing area in Northern Michigan I’ve long heard it said was designed by an architectural firm in Florida.  What does that tell you? At KI we had an average of about 200 inches of snow a year. How much snow do they get in Florida?

My mom, Cindy Claxton, was able to earn her nursing degree when the five of us got old enough to be more self-sufficient. She did 20 years herself thereafter working in the VA Hospital in Montgomery. In that time, she worked mostly nights working to provide healthcare to those who had been of military service to America. That’s a great feat for a mom of five kids and one that goes largely unsung.

In my 48 years of life, I’ve lived in about 35 different homes and housing units. Most military. I’ve got good friends who I have been able to reconnect with via the miracle of Facebook who for years I’ve wondered about and missed. It’s been hard to be getting uprooted all the time. How many others do you know who went to at least five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools?

When I was at Auburn my freshman year, I was in doing a newspaper interview with President James Martin. As I was packing up to leave afterward he said, “You’re a military kid, aren’t you?” I checked the length of my jeans (No, I wasn’t “Flooding”), looked for anything on my shirt that might give it away, and said, “Yes, how’d you know?”  His reply: “I don’t get many freshman in here asking me about the budget.”

So it has helped me in my confidence. I have no problem getting to know or meet anyone. I’ve been practicing that every few months for most of my life. But I also long for the stability that my peers had when they were civilians and we would pass in and back out of their lives time and again.

I’m proud of the service to our country offered by my dad, but encourage you this Veteran’s Day to also seek out and thank the spouses and dependents who also “served” with them. Sometimes we didn’t go voluntarily–drafted by birth, as it were. But we are a part of what has made this country great and special as well. And we’re some of the ones who tear up at the sound of the national anthem in remembrance of the sacrifices that have been made on more levels than one.

Thank you Vets, service members, spouses and dependents all….

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