It was just an ordinary fall morning putting in my usual mileage walking around the track nearby my house.
The manicured grounds which used to hold the local county fair in the summer were re-imagined decades ago into Fairgrounds Park, paving a pathway encircling the outer edges of the grounds for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and dogs on a leash, with softball fields, a playground, an event pavilion and a skate park soon to open, each taking their place on the remaining acreage of the park.
Oh, the miles of memories I’ve made enjoying the fresh air of the mornings along this neighborhood track, with peace and tranquility sensed within the stillness of the hour.
Once pushing my toddler daughter in her stroller with her older brother crowding his sister for a place to rest his tired legs, now years later re-creating memories with her daughters and my youngest granddaughters thankfully in a two-seater model after driving their brother to school.
Nothing was out of the ordinary that crisp October morning at Fairgrounds Park.
The leaves were changing into their brilliant October colors as expected, those brushstrokes of harvest painted onto the naked canvas of fall, the season which ushers in those angora sweaters, campfires, high school football games and yes, the holidays.
Nothing was out of the ordinary as I smiled and bid good morning to walkers passing the opposite direction of me in the other lane.
While walkers and runners opt to trade the peace and tranquility for music in their ears, somehow, they return the gesture after translating their morning greeting from my lips.
After completing my first ¾ of a mile lap around the park, I noticed something out of the ordinary in a walker which took me another lap before I had the courage to stop this military veteran still full of strength and vigor, to thank him for his service.
As a military mother proud of the flag and her son serving his country as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army, an officer who has taken an oath to defend the red, white and blue, I was eager to hear his story.
Proud to be an American as his shirt devotedly states, the smile on this Air Force veteran was proud to share his more than ordinary service with me.
His name is Richard Burke, an Airman First Class who served the Air Force branch of the military with honor during the years 1959 thru 1963, ending his service right before the United States first entered the Vietnam War.
Richard put in his time at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana for the first two years of his service and Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico (now closed) for the same amount of time, serving alongside a team who evaluated flight crews for the KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refulers and B-52 Stratofortress bombers.
Speaking so freely and proudly, I have no doubt there is a book written in Richard which I could have listened for hours his recounted pages in the military, who selflessly read from one of his coveted chapters honoring his superior from Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, a full-bird Colonel who once served in WWII and later impacted the soldier’s life standing before me.
Richard narrated with passion and love for his Colonel, who in WWII, flew B17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers for the entire twenty-five missions allowed, when during one mission or another, his entire crew including his co-pilot sitting right beside him lost their lives in these military operations.
The full-bird Colonel received a silver cross for his twenty-five missions, while his crew received their gold star status.
“Just didn’t seem fair”, this Airman First Class remembered.
I noticed Richard smiling and shaking hands with another walker a few steps earlier, sharing stories with a soldier who deployed to Vietnam right after Richard’s time in the service had ended; details only a veteran would understand.
How interesting, as the latest book I’ve been reading is written by a soldier who gave a great sacrifice for this country while serving in Vietnam.
Airman First Class Burke left our time on the track by honoring my military son and his service to this country.
Veterans honoring veterans…
Something more than ordinary that October morning at Fairgrounds Park.