7652 Fletcher Avenue and delivered by Dr. Barry M. Mayberry sounded more like a verse in a Dr. Seuss book than a location of birth. Being the only Air Force brat in the midst of an Army hospital, it set the stage for the rest of my life for not quite belonging wherever I was.
My first physical memory is standing at a 20 foot razor and barbed wire fence in Katterback, Germany, thinking that there were a slew of German soldiers and German shepherds on the other side of the fence. Hey, I didn’t know that WWII was over. We had one American military television channel and all it played was Hogan’s Heroes reruns and MASH. My view of what was “outside the wire” was one built only by Hollywood and not from reality.
I remember getting into a blue Air Force truck for the first time on our way back to the states being confused because every other truck I had ever seen was camouflaged.
Post Card Received from my father June, 1984:Hope you boys are getting all your work done around the house for mom. Sure wish I could be there for your first baseball games. Just do your best, no matter how good your team is, even if they are losing; play where the coach wants you.
I have been trying to get a jack to bring home. If I get one it sure will enjoy chasing you and Niki around the yard. Help mom and have a happy birthday. Love, Dad.
There must have been a class during basic training that taught active duty personnel how to write a form letter to their kids when on tour or TDY (Temporary Duty Yonder). They all followed the template of:
- Hope your well/feeling better
- Weather here is hot/cold/unbearable
- You wouldn’t believe the size of _____ here, and they eat a lot of ______
- Sorry I missed your birthday/first day of _____/first ______game
- Be good for mom
- Do your homework/chores
- Don’t fight/hit/mess with your brother/sister
- Eat your vegetables, there are starving children here in ____________
- Take your vitamins (okay, that one never happened, but it would have if my dad was Hulk Hogan)
Whenever my dad returned from a simple one month trip from even the most benign places like Salt Lake City, there would be this re-entry into the family that was more complicated than a shuttle landing. When you are a little kid and your parent is gone for 1/2 of your short life, the re-assimilation process can be extremely difficult. Since mom became the general at home while he was gone, a power and rule struggle would ensue and you had to relearn each time what it was to be a fully functional family.
One thing about my dad’s trips out of town and overseas, was that there was never really a question that he was going to return. He always blasted home like Santa with German gummy bears, live Maine lobster or Italian swords. There is an entire military kid generation out there since 9/11 that has had to worry about the return of their parents; I can’t even fathom that since we were blessed with decades of peace. Granted, there was always the threat of the Cold War, but it can’t compare to the fear of a new tour of duty possibly being your parent’s last.
I had civilian friends that lived and breathed GI Joe. I on the other hand cared more about the Muppets than I did about Sergeant Slaughter; I think that fact that I carried around a Scooter doll instead of Duke should have been my first clue that I was not meant to be in the military.
As I got older, I had been carrying around a small level of guilt in the fact that my grandfather served during WWII and my father served during Vietnam and all I ever did was serve myself.
As I reflect on a memorial for a fallen SEAL that I knew from a previous life (college), I recall those actions he portrayed before BUD/S and DEVGRU training. As displayed by Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the movie Fight Club, you don’t get to know someone really well until you go on a road trip or get into a fight with someone. He saved me from getting beat by his own friends once and also finished a fight that I had started sacrificing himself before I got pummeled and arrested.
Upon his graduation, we embarked on a road trip to Alabama. A few years after this road trip, I let him know that I learned from him that the effects of tequila and Ripped Fuel can artificially make you “Cowboy Up.” He and his wife had indicated that they learned from me how to dip your fork in salad dressing to save calories. He saved lives, I saved them from calories. Upon returning to Kansas City after watching the NWMSU Bearcats win their first national championship, I asked him what he was going to do now that college was over. He said, “You know, I can’t see myself sitting at a desk.”
When my father retired from the military, he was given a flag that was flown at the White House and a plaque that read, “Home is where the Air Force sends you.” There were some 15 subsequent houses that hung below the plaque showing all of the places he was stationed. As I got older, put down roots, and started my own family, my view had changed that home is where your family is. As I matured even more and realized the need to put God at the center of our lives, I now realize that home is with God and in a place where life does not end. We were not meant to live in this world.
With the untimely passing of 30 service men and 1 dog, there are family, friends, and teammates all over our country that are now laying their warriors to rest. I pray that all of those affected by this tragedy are comforted that these men gave their lives for God and country. As a man that was meant to sit at a desk, I am thankful that there are people out there that God made to be willing to fight. I wasn’t born with the ability to naturally “Cowboy Up,” but I am thankful that some of us were.
I had been praying for months for a way to give back to a military family. I still don’t know the correct way to thank someone who has served their country. I am happy to have had the privilege to know at least one hero in my life; the one thing that was more impressive than his military commendations was his passion to live for Christ and Country.
If you are reading this and are compelled to give something back to a family that has given the ultimate sacrifice, please send a check or money order to:
The Matthew Mason Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 3100, Maryfield, VA 22119.
Or, see the following site for other ways to honor those in the Afghan attack:
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13 NIV