TITLE: Do You Remember?
By Ruth Neilson
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A one hundred and fifty member band dressed in sharp patriotic uniforms, stood at attention, every eye focused, taking in the banner-draped platform. One of the banners was a brilliant yellow, standing in stark relief against the black backdrop. The other was patriotic in theme. On the right shoulder of each navy blue jacket, a yellow ribbon was proudly pinned. Their stark white shoes were spotless, at least as spotless as they could be thanks to the famous Alabama red clay. The white pants were pristine except for a thin pink stain encircling the hem, also a gift from the mud of blessed state of ‘Bama.
In practiced unison, the band vigilantly watched for the signal to place their instruments to their lips. It came, and singularly, they took a breath and held it, waiting for the precise moment to release it. The baton was raised and dropped. The trumpets let loose a fanfare fit to greet royalty as the flag was raised. One by one, the rest of the sections began to join in, all the way down to the clarinet section, myself included. As we played The Star Spangled Banner, I couldn’t help but wonder who the young hero was receiving this homecoming. My gaze drifted from the director to the platform and then fell upon a young man, dressed in a starched white navy uniform. He barely looked old enough to be in the armed services, but as I continued to study him, I knew he was the one all this was for.
I found my gaze drifting from the young man to the crowd. I found my mother and another band parent standing side by side, both of them having teary-eyed looks on their faces. I understood why, this brought memories of my childhood to mind, as it must have brought them memories of not knowing what was going to happen to their husbands. I soon found myself lost in my memories...
My family had just moved back to Germany to join my dad who had gone ahead eighteen months earlier. We had barely redefined ourselves as a family when he got his orders. Daddy was going to Operation Desert Shield/Storm. My brother and I didn’t know that, all we knew was that daddy was going to go TDY (temporary duty) and “play war in the giant sandbox” for a little while. Other people’s moms and dads were going, as well. When they left, yellow ribbons began to go up on every spot people thought to hang them. Sometimes those ribbons were replaced with another color that no one really wanted to see-black.
Soon, National Guard showed up everywhere, in our schools, on the street corners, in our stores, but they were there to protect us so we didn’t really mind. There were bomb drills at school, just in case something was to happen. The other kids my age and I were told to be nice to the guys who were carrying the big guns and their dogs because they were here to protect us. The ribbons remained up, standing as a constant vigil in the sleepy military town of Pattonville.
Early one morning, I awoke to the reflection of the television on my door and snuck out to see what was going on. Momma was watching the news and looked as if she was either crying or was about to. That was when I knew that Daddy wasn’t just playing ‘war’. He was doing something much more. He was being my hero.
Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, but they finally did come home. Soon the yellow ribbons were replaced with something else, yellow bows on the front doors. Families began to place signs in windows and along the roadside, welcoming the men and women home. Early one Saturday morning, I heard a faint pounding on my door. Curious, I climbed out of bed and went to investigate. There stood a family friend, putting a nail in the door and then hanging a yellow bow on it. I knew that he was coming home...
I blinked and barely caught the baton dropping again for us to play. I was totally lost when the Star Spangled Banner ended and Anchors Aweigh began. I glanced back at the young man standing there in his starched white uniform and noticed the embarrassed look on his face for the first time. The young man didn’t see himself as a hero, not for surviving the attack on the U.S.S. Cole.
No, heroes were his companions who had perished in the attack. He was just doing his job-the not so simple task of protecting freedom.
As one, the band continued to play. ...Anchors Aweigh, my boys, Anchors Aweigh... I couldn’t help but to wonder about the other people that were still out there, not receiving recognition for what they were doing. Was there a yellow ribbon for them?
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