I believe I mentioned that there was an airshow in town last weekend...
While "W" was soaring above the clouds and the smoke, Z-boy and I went exploring the other aircraft on display. Far and away, his favorite was the Vietnam-era Huey helicopter - one of the first to roll off the line. The display was manned by vets and it was HANDS ON, which meant that children were swarming all over the thing. They got to try on helmets and flak jackets and hold movie-prop guns and talk over the headsets. One little boy was sitting in the pilot's chair wearing the helmet, and one of the vets picked up the passenger-seat helmet, moved just out of view, and starting saying "MayDay, MayDay!" into the microphone. The boy's eyes popped open wide and he said in a loud whisper to his dad - "Somebody's calling for HELP!"
Z-boy took great delight in dressing up and pretending to shoot the mounted gun or to look out over the jungles in search of "Charlie".
I talked with one of the vets about the display. Everytime they take it out, it comes back with about $150 worth of damage that needs to be fixed, but they feel it's important for people to not only be able to look, but to touch. Feel. Remember. He has his personal photo album on a table in the shade of the helicopter's tail and I thumb through it while Z-boy plays. Sleeping in a bunk covered with mosquito netting. USO shows. Buddy pictures. Tanks. Guns. Helicopters. War. I was too young to really understand what was happening when this man was fighting in Vietnam. I remember things like MIA flags, and POW bracelets, and the occasional folded flag on someone's shelf. My uncle went, and his cousin went. The both came back changed men, but I was too young to notice.
As I thumbed through this man's life, I realized how young these men were. Barely out of boyhood and expected to do this enormous job, before they'd had a life yet. As you know, a lot of them didn't come home. And some of the ones who did never got over the scars of going. And others embrace their service, their tours, and keep the memories of the most important thing they ever did alive by visiting cities and towns with the equipment of their youth and pass on stories of that time so that we might never forget.
And I looked up at my son playing soldier on this bright sunny Saturday afternoon with real helmets and real flak jackets and real helicopters and recognized fear. I prayed that I would never see my son in such accoutrements in a real-life situation. That I would never see him go off to war, perhaps never to return, or to return so changed that he wouldn't be the same person.
Ironically, Sunday night was the season finale of "Brothers and Sisters". And the mother frantically went to the airport to say goodbye to her son as he left for Iraq. I cried. Wars do end, but there's always another one waiting around the corner.
Before I was a mother, I thought I knew what fear was, but I didn't. I know now. The face of fear is my son's.