The theme of Hook ’13 was the return of the POWs from Nam forty years prior.
Both Hook ’13 Saturday morning panels were extraordinary.
The POW one was powerful. All the panelists were long timers, including the longest timer, Everett Alvarez. Two points the ex-prisoners made really stuck. Number one, forgiveness.
One of them said, “That day in ’73, before boarding the bus to the airport to fly home, I stopped, looked back at the prison, and thought, I forgive you.”
And that was before the question about Hanoi Jane Fonda came up.
The second point concerned the reception the POWs received after returning home. One said he didn’t know what to expect. A round of courts-martial for my friends, maybe. All of them had violated the Code of Conduct. Most had divulged more than name, rank, etc. But they were welcomed as heroes. One of them said, “We got the welcome all of you should have gotten.”
That blew my socks off.
Nobody spit spit on me, but you can be spit on by thoughts and words and deeds. It always rankled that the ex-POWs got the hero treatment, and the way I looked at it, I got spit.
I walked out after the morning sessions with a couple of revelations. For forty years I’d been a moral pissant wallowing in petty jealousy. I was going to have to forgive myself for that. The other thing, listening to those men describe their experiences in prison and after their return, I concluded they deserved their hero welcome. All of them lived through much tougher situations than I did, and they came out the other side better Americans, better patriots, better servicemen, better Christians, and better men than me.
Each ex-POW deserved the welcome he got a lot more than I deserved the welcome I didn’t get.
God bless them, each and every one.
The dinner Saturday night was something far removed from what I’d seen in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I heard a woman talking about the atmosphere filling the dining room. “Wholesome,” she described it. I thought it was that, and more, it was professional as all get out. The CNO delivered a good message that fit into that professional, wholesome atmosphere just perfectly. People attended to his words.
On Sunday, we went to church, and then we hit the road for San Rafael, California, to visit Number Six. With Reno and Mr. Ascuaga’s Nugget in the rear view, I told the Squeeze about how the POW presentation made me feel.
“Why, that’s fairly close to mature sounding.”
Whoa. For a lot of years—maybe it was the first thing she said after I do— she said, “You act just like the kids!” Well, I knew not to hope for going all the way grown up status in her mind, but I hoped I might move up to like middle of the pack maybe.
So I asked, hopefully, “Does that mean you won’t call me Number Seven anymore?”
“Hah!” she said.
Oh, well, maybe I’ll snarf a little more maturity at Tailhook 2014.
“Maybe next year I’ll score a Dove bar.”
“Hah!” she said.
I was mature enough to know that was a good time to shut up.
As it turned out, I did not make Hook ’14. I had a medical procedure, which I am mature enough to know you don’t want to hear about.
So I am looking forward to Hook ’15.