Nine-eleven reawakened military pride

Published 12:27 am Saturday, January 16, 2016

It was not long before that horrible day, 9/11, when my husband and I visited the Soldiers Center at Fort Rucker to apply for our new military identification cards. A smiling military clerk behind a counter directed us to take a number to await our turn. Plenty of other grey heads filled the chairs all over the room. I heard a civilian employee say that there had been a steady stream of retirees in and out of the office all day. I did not take much notice of an elderly gentleman as I slipped into the chair next to him.

We had just completed our grocery shopping at the commissary. I was preoccupied with thoughts of the two ice chests loaded with frozen food we left in the car. I hoped our wait would not be too long.

Three clerks, tucked in booths, issued the new cards. When one couple came out, another entered and the ones with the next number advanced near the booth entrance. When the number of the man sitting beside me came up, a younger man approached him, helped him up, took his arm, and walked with him to one of the waiting chairs. On the way, the old fellow stopped and bent down to hug a woman’s neck. It was obvious that several people in the crowd knew him.

“How old is Mr. Brown now?” the female clerk at the counter asked. By that time, I had figured out his escort was his son. I thought I heard him reply, “Ninety-nine.” I could not let that go by—my antenna from years as a newspaper reporter was vibrating. “Excuse me,” I said. “Did you say ninety –nine?” He nodded. I also learned that he had entered the navy in 1922. He retired in 1946.

Like me, some of the others in the room seemed a little stunned. Conversation hummed. Someone said that Mr. Brown had been the sole survivor on a ship that had gone down during his naval service. The woman he stopped to hug said she had known him all her life. She told us that not too long ago he had undergone throat surgery. “That’s why his voice is a little weak,” she explained.

By that time, the retired naval chief petty officer and his son had moved on to one of the booths to fill out the paper work for his new ID card. Our paths did not cross any more, but I thought of him a few days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on our nation when patriotism was at fever pitch. I felt honored to have been in the presence of the oldest military retiree I knew of.

Upon reflecting, I realize I should have felt just as honored and proud as I looked around me in that waiting room among those retired military folks. They, too, had spent years protecting our country’s liberty. Nine-eleven had just reawakened us to treasure that liberty.

Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.