My first real airplane flight, or the one that counts in my book, was on Valentine’s Day 1984.
The reason it counts is that it is the first one I can remember. I’m sure an aircraft or two were involved in getting me and my mother back from Alaska, where I was born, but since I was only 9 months old at the time it didn’t really register in my consciousness.
Not that I recall much about that trip in 1984, either, but a few memories still linger like dimly glowing embers in a distant fire.
I do recall that I was on my way from Knoxville, Tenn. to basic training in Fort Sill, Okla. The Delta gate attendant must have felt a little sorry for me, because it was the one and only time I’ve ever been upgraded to first class. At the time I didn’t know enough to enjoy the ride. I was too anxious and excited, contemplating the experience that was unfolding before me.
Although I had lived outside of my parent’s home for more than a year, this was the first time I was going to be completely out of my element, among strangers, having to figure out everything for myself.
I remember that I was silently terrified, hoping I had made the right decision to enlist in the Army, but also thinking that I had jumped into something that I knew I couldn’t really handle.
It was a long time ago, but these memories and old emotions are with me because my oldest son, Jacob, is traveling today to begin his enlistment in the US. Navy.
As he goes, I understand the boy I have known for these 19 years will be gone for good. I guess by trying to recall how I felt on that plane ride to Oklahoma, I hope will in some way put me in the seat next to him as he flies to Chicago.
He’s smarter than I was at his age. Even though I scored well enough on military tests to qualify for just about any job, I chose the first thing that would get me into jump school and the 82nd Airborne Division. Knowing how to direct artillery fire, however, doesn’t translate well in civilian life.
Jacob chose the Navy and the nuclear power school – one of the most demanding training programs in the military, period. When he completes that training, however, I know he will be able to set his sights on anything he wants. I’m sure he is up to the task before him, but I hope he knows it, too. I was also once that scared teenager, unsure of what I could do or how I would make it through.
We all have our rites of passage, those experiences that set apart our childhood from our adult life. It is hard now to really remenber myself clearly before my military experience. It changed me in ways I discover even to this day.
Good luck to you my son. I’m more proud of you than you can imagine. I will miss the boy who went away, but I look forward to welcoming the man who will return.