My son is obsessed with World War II. He knows every tank. He has read up on all the battles. He can name every plane that flew. So naturally, when the Northern Illinois Airshow strolled into town, we had to go.
It was a beautiful day and before we even got through the gates, our necks hurt from staring up at the six skydivers that started the show. Each jumper proudly flew a flag; one American flag, one for the Navy, one for the Marines, one for the Air Force, one for the Army, and one for POWs.
“Look, mom! They all have the flags for people who fight for America. This is awesome!” My son was mesmerized.
We got through gates and stopped with everyone around us to put our hands over our hearts as the National Anthem came over the loudspeaker. It was a child’s voice, a beautiful voice. My kids both looked at me. I could see they were more than impressed that a child was starting this whole thing off. I raised my eyebrows and nodded as if to say, “Yes. That’s a kid singing the National Anthem.” When the song was over, both of my children looked at me for permission to walk forward. I gave an approving nod and we headed in.
We made our way through the crowd and took a seat on ground as close to the action as we could. It was perfect. We went to where the crowd thinned out, and sat on the ground next to an elderly man in a wheelchair who was with his family.
The announcer asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence for all those lost in battle. The kids looked up at me and I nodded putting my finger over my mouth. We stood silent for a moment and then the action started.
The planes took off right in front of us, and when the pilots came in from their performance or got ready to board, they were just feet away. It was absolutely awesome.
As we got comfortable, I noticed my son looking at the man in the wheelchair. He had an Air Force hat on and it was clear he was a Veteran. As the planes came and went, I could see my son watching the man’s reaction. Thinking about him. Where he served. What he did in World War II. As each plane came whizzing by, he would take a moment to check the reaction of the Veteran next to him.
The man was stoic, reflective, and quiet.
One of the pilots was going through the crowd taking pictures and signing program books. I told my children to head over to get an autograph and meet him. As they got up, my son stopped by the man in wheelchair and whispered something in his ear. The man was moved to tears.
“Dad, what’s wrong?” his daughter asked.
“That young man just thanked me for my service.” he said.
“Oh my goodness. How sweet.” the woman said. Then she went over to my son, bent down, looked him in the eyes and said, “Thank you. That was very nice of you to remember what my father did.”
I watched all of this happening and was speechless. I was overcome with emotion. I could see my son was emotional too. I could see he was trying not to cry, blinking away tears, taking deep breaths as he stood in line to get an autograph from the pilot.
When he came back and took a seat beside me I said, “That was so nice of you to show your gratitude to that man for serving our country.” He bit his lip and nodded still holding back his emotion. “It’s ok to be emotional. It makes me cry too.” I told him.
And with that, I hugged him and he fell into my chest and we cried.
We didn’t know this man’s story. We didn’t know all he had seen during the war, or what the specifics of his service were. We just knew that he was brave enough and selfless enough to fight for us, even before we were born. Even though he had never met us. And for my son, who is just ten years old, to recognize this- I was so proud.
This is why we stand and put our hands over our hearts. This is why we take off our hats. This is why we observe moments of silence; because there are no words to express our gratitude for the sacrifice and bravery of those who serve our country.
We will always be thankful and we will never forget.