I recently had the honor to work with newly minted United States Air Force brigadier generals at Joint Base Andrews in Washington D.C. on the power of storytelling. I was never in the service, but married into a storied USAF family.
The following story, which I shared with the generals, about the amazing events that unfolded for our family after 9/11, are best captured through Michele’s recollection written on September 25, 2011.
I Talked to My Dad About the War
Mine is a convoluted story of war and peace, love and loss, winning and losing, of America and its struggles as it continues its fight for freedom, of a family shaped and reshaped by these efforts, and of the ties that bind both a family and a nation.
To tell a part of the story would be simpler, but the slightly extended version delves deeper, provides a brief history, and allows a fuller understanding and appreciation of my compelling need to share this story, especially with the tragic events occurring in America today.
Born in 1921 to a Nazarene evangelist and school teacher mother, my father was a baseball, basketball and football star growing up in Bethany, Oklahoma. The brother of New York Yankee pitcher, Allie Reynolds, dad joined the Army Air Force in 1942. In the early 1950’s our family of six lived in a little hotel off base in Chaumont, France.
My dad, Capt. Jim Reynolds, had distinguished himself as a pilot serving our country flying fighter jets in combat in both WWII and Korea.
He was now an officer in the Statue of Liberty Wing, leading the aerobatic team, the “Skyblazers” (the predecessors of today’s Thunderbirds), all over Europe.
He was the first American pilot to be awarded the Medaille L’Aeronautique by the French government. These years were the highlight of his career. Our family was expanded to include a fifth child, a fourth daughter, before we were to leave France.
Following Europe, our family was stationed stateside in Oklahoma and then Arizona where dad was an instructor pilot. The Vietnam war was in its early stages and in 1963 Dad was there as a liaison officer to the 5th Vietnam Infantry Division, and ultimately flew 75 combat missions. Driving into Saigon on a rainy night, his back was broken and his spinal cord badly injured in a jeep accident. Thankfully he survived, but was forced to retire, confined to a wheelchair, never to walk or fly again.
Sadly, that was not to be the end of that perilous war and its direct effect on our family. My only brother, James Stephen Reynolds, Jr., a beautiful 19 year old, enlisted in the United States Marine Corp., was sent to Vietnam in 1969, and was there just 20 days when he was killed on the front lines.
The price we pay…
When my brother’s personal belongings were returned to us from Vietnam, the following prayer, which he had hand-typed, copied from a book before leaving for Nam, author anonymous, was found in his wallet:
Give us, Lord, a bit o’ sun,
A bit o’ work and a bit o’ fun;
Give us in all the struggle and sputter
Our daily bread and a bit o’ butter;
Give us health, our keep to make,
An’ a bit to spare for others’ sake,
Give us, too, a bit of song
And a tale, and a book to help us along.
Give us, Lord, a chance to be
Our goodly best, brave, wise and free,
Our goodly best for ourselves and others
Till all men learn to live as brothers.
An incredible prayer, left to us by a fallen soldier. If we could only learn to really live as brothers…
As a retiree, we got to enjoy our dad being with us for another 27 years. Now Major James S. Reynolds USAF (Ret.), he served on the Arizona Vietnam Veterans Memorial Board, which in November, 1985, recognized more than 100,000 Arizonans that served in the armed forces, with a statue erected near the State Capitol.
“The Fallen Warrior,” the bronze statue, is a poignant and enduring tribute to the men and women who served and fought, who were wounded and disabled, who were prisoners and missing in action, and who gave their lives fighting for the freedom that our great nation stands for.
Relative to that occasion, then Congressman John McCain said, “The 10th anniversary of the fall of Saigon brings back many memories. For me, those memories are of my friends who went to Vietnam to fight and never returned. This anniversary reaffirms my belief that never again should we send our young men to fight and die unless the goal is victory.”
Also in November, 1985, my dad was enshrined into the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame for his service to our country. He was a very special man, my dad, my patriot…now gone for 14 years this month, and one that I still have very personal conversations with…
Which brings me to the present day, post terrorist attacks on our nation. The unspeakable horror which has fallen on American soil. The killing of thousands of innocent men, women and children does more than shatter the foundation on which humanity stands, it has affected the nation in ways formerly thought unimaginable.
So last week I was having a heartfelt discussion with my father as he was flying free and fast up there in the endless heavens, talking about the horrible situation the United States is in.
Thinking about the strong patriotism being exhibited as Americans united behind the values of freedom and dignity. Wondering what is going to happen. Worrying about my own friends with children being deployed. We pray for being brave, wise and free…proudly displaying the outward signs of this…the many flags.
Wanting and needing a sign to have hope…
The following day after this conversation with my long dead father, I walked into a little store, with the unusual name of Tuesday Morning. (Unfortunately, now there’s a Tuesday morning in history that we will never forget, September 11, 2001.)
I went into the toy aisle hoping to nab a potential bargain on Lego’s for my own sons’ Christmas. When out of the corner of my eye I spied a little metal airplane with familiar red, white and blue stars and stripes.
I picked it up, not believing my own eyes. This was the “Skyblazers” F-86 Sabre jet plane which my father flew in the 1950’s.
It was a four-and-a-half inch, exact replica of the paint job that my dad had designed nearly a half-century ago, reproduced down to the tiniest detail, including my father’s name painted beneath the cockpit!
The other amazing fact is that I have since called every Tuesday Morning store in Arizona looking for more planes to get for my family, but there were no more in the entire state. I had inadvertently come upon the only one available here.
What it represented, I believe, was that this was a truly amazing sign, an answer from God and my father, that they are with us as we try to understand and endure what is going on in America right now.
It gave me hope that through the struggles we face to regain and rebuild our country and our feelings of security and peace, we can and will prevail as the leaders in the world. We can come out of this knowing that we will do whatever it takes to maintain the covenants that we, as a Nation, hold dear.
We must be brave and keep our faith strong.
Of course my own prayer is for world peace…to prevail with liberty and justice for all.
– Michele Howell