We called him, “The Colonel.” His real name was Bill Meux. 6′ 4″. Steely gray eyes. As a child he looked like a mountain to me and his hair seemed to be as black as Superman’s.
Dad was a combat pilot in three fighting wars: WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The walls in his office were covered with black and white photos of B17s, C124s and smiling young men in flight suits, many of them friends he lost along the way.
Every morning at 5:00am, before he did anything, he did a workout called the 5BX. Pushups, sit-ups–oh, and jumping jacks. When he was home, we would hear that familiar sound of him doing jumping jacks upstairs.
He was tough. I saw him cry one time. He was watching a movie about a group prisoners of war, Bridge on the River Kwai with David Niven.
The Colonel wasn’t home often–and when he was, he wasn’t really present. He was only at home in his military community, in service of his country. On a base, in the cockpit–on a tour of duty. For a time he had an office job at the Pentagon and he was miserable. So, he called in favors and for a final tour in Vietnam.
Dad passed away in December of 2008. At his funeral ceremony of military honors, the minister described the situation that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. Lives saved, air craft on fire, an impossible landing. The Colonel never said a word about it. He never talked about any of his missions.
I thought I knew all about being a part of a military family; but that day I experienced a new level of understanding. Watching the flag as it was removed from the casket and carefully folded by the honor guard with white gloves, it was as though time stood still. With every fold, I felt who he was.
I understood how much this pilot loved his county. I understood the sacrifices he made. I understood the sacrifices we made as a military family.
After the service I received a box of medals and a few photos of military aircraft. That’s it. No sweet mementos or personal items. There was a time in my life I would have felt jealous of those planes and medals because they knew Dad more than I knew him. But instead, I researched them, cherished them. Each of them a story of bravery never told.
This and every Memorial Day I look at the medals to honor those stories; and from time to time I read the Pilot’s Prayer that was read at his service.
…while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
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