Saturday, June 16, 2012

Satin and Ripples

Devildog has a friend who is a member of the Navy League. For the last 20 years, the Navy League has marked the commemoration of the World War II battle at Midway Island. There is extensive fundraising involved to cover the costs of the event. The ticket prices don't even cover the entire cost. They rely on donations and sponsorships to make it happen. Devildog's friend sponsored a table at last year's event, and invited us to it. I got dressed up in a formal I'd worn to a Marine Corps Birthday Ball 13 years earlier (yes it still fit) and we had a great time. I was also humbled and amazed by the stories of true heroism, and real surviving at is most intense level. So, of course, this year I wanted to go again. First of all, I love dressing up and second - what better reason than honoring these heroes? I started dress shopping almost 2 months beforehand and was coming up bust. I couldn't afford much, and then there are fit issues, made worse by what has amounted to a longer recovery than I expected from a motorcycle accident. After trying on probably 50 dresses, I finally found a dress on cheaper than anything I was finding even in the local second-hand stores. It arrived in the nick of time, but the hot pink shoes I was thinking I could wear didn't work. So I had to search for shoes that fit my paltry budget, AND my not so dainty feet. It took several days, and trying on about 30 pairs of shoes before I found something that fit both my budget and my feet, and didn't clash with the dress. I think I'm just going to start shopping now for next year's dress. I find things more easily when I'm not pressed for time and the really good deals are going to be available later in the year, more so than at the peak of prom shopping season. Then you add the task of accessories, and I was about to go crazy with my perfectionism complicated by the budget. I have found items that hopefully will be able to use for a few years. My aunt Rita accidentally left some things at my house back in 2005 when she was here for my mother's funeral, and I took the liberty of wearing a bracelet she left behind. I figured that she wouldn't mind, and it was kind of like having a connection to my family's military roots present as well. My mother's father, three half brothers, and two nephews served in some capacity. My father spent a few years as an Army orderly at the end of WWII, with his iron stomach and hardy Irish immunity, in the sick wards with guys who "drank the water" as my dad puts it. My husband, his father, grandfather, and a slew of other relatives on his side served in the military. Needless to say, there is a strong connection for us to this event, and why we feel compelled to go.
This year marked the 70th anniversary of that battle, occurring 6 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was promised to be a big deal, and indeed it was.
At each table is seated a veteran who fought at the battle on Midway Island, was a former Prisoner of War, or is a wounded warrior of more recent military conflict. During the evening, each branch is honored and all over the room those who have served in any military capacity rise as the Navy Band plays a service song medley. Then things move on to honoring the veterans from Midway. These guys are now in their 90s for the most part. At this year's event was a 99 year old retired Rear Admiral, plus a Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam. Most of the ones in attendance are still ambulatory, have their wits about them, and will flirt with anyone they can - because they can.
This year's Midway Veterans, keynote speaker, and nearby base commanders.
(Photo: J. Vargo)

This year our Wounded Warrior was Stephen & his wife Kimberly. I didn't get much of his story, as it's still a raw and ongoing situation for them. But he was injured in "The Sandbox" as it's become known, and is now working as a funeral director. They're expecting their first child, and they can't wait to finally meet him.
Last year, the honoree at our table was Captain Richard Stratton. He was a POW for 2,551 days. This year's bio that was read to us was not nearly as interesting as last year's. As it was told to us, he and other POWs in Vietnam were forced to be part of propaganda videos stating that they were being well taken care of, when in fact, it was everything otherwise. In one of the videos the then-Lt. Commander was forced to make, he was reading the script, and out of sight of the captors but caught on film, he extended the middle fingers of both hands. At that point, I understood why a bunch of ruffians from the softball team got seated with this particular veteran. He lives near the commissary where Devildog works (too bad the leadership makes it a sucktacular experience), and Capt. Stratton makes a point to find reason to tease Devildog any time he's in the store.
Also at this year's event was photographer William "Bill" Roy. He was on the Yorktown (CV-5) at Midway. He was capturing images of the battle when the Yorktown was hit, and began to sink. The abandon ship order came, and Bill stuffed as many film canisters as he could into his life vest and jumped into the water. He was picked up by another ship, and captured images of the Yorktown as it sank in the Pacific Ocean. Those images have been used in numerous publications over the years. Mr. Roy was snapping pictures of the displays just seconds before Devildog asked to have his picture taken with Mr. Roy.
I am looking forward to going again next year, and again enjoying an evening of delicious dinner, gratitude, humility, stories of heroism, and making a new friend. I have told several other people about this event, and I'm hoping that there is some result to my efforts to get word out about the Navy League's endeavor to honor those who have served and continue to serve in the military. I didn't know about it till last year, and it was the largest-attended event last year. This year, the event had 830 in attendance, which is a new record. It is a small note in the history books, and I was able to be part of it. But those being honored are a far bigger and more important part of history. At the time though, they were just simply doing their jobs, and doing what had to be done to survive, and never imagined their actions in those single moments would carry the major impact it has. It just goes to show how in an instant, one minor decision you make could have some serious ripple effect that reaches farther than anyone ever truly knows.

So, if you can't find, or can't get to a Midway Dinner near you, find your nearest Navy League auxiliary, and consider a donation to help them make these events across the country possible. Sponsor a table, sponsor the hotel accommodations for one of the veterans, sponsor the tickets for an honoree, or any portion of the expense it takes to commemorate a battle that turned the tables on World War II, honors the aging members of The Greatest Generation and their contributions to it, as well as giving credence and honor to those who served in Vietnam, Korea, and the Middle East. These Midway Vets are around 90 years old or older, and the simplest "thank you" makes them smile. Imagine their pride swelling as a room full of people give them a standing ovation, grateful for their presence on that day in history, and in that room.  For some, this year's dinner will be their last, as their health fails, and their bodies expire in the circle of life.


Raevyn said...

What an amazing experience! Now I toddle off to see if I can find a similar event in my area to start planning for next year!

Feisty Irish Wench said...

Raevyn, if only this were like crackbook or the Rav, and I could just click a lil button-y thing and show some love for it. I'd love to know what you find out in your search.