Sunday, September 11, 2011

Two Great Americans

On this tenth anniversary of the most terrible day in our nation’s recent history, lots of people are reflecting on patriotic themes, mourning our losses, and expressing gratitude for our blessings. Many turn their thoughts to heroic figures, both famous and nameless. I haven’t shared anything on this topic because I prefer to handle it with solitary contemplation, but I’d now like to write about two remarkable men Celeste and I had the honor of seeing yesterday.

My employer, the Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing, held its annual family picnic yesterday. It’s a way of giving thanks to our spouses, kids, parents, and friends for their great sacrifices and support. This year, we enjoyed a special treat: country-western star Neal McCoy and his band came to Hill Air Force Base and put on a concert for us.

The quintessential entertainer
I’ve seen a lot of live shows from all kinds of performers, but Neal was hands-down the most entertaining of them all. If you want to see how showmanship is done, go see him, preferably in a small, intimate setting like what we had. He didn’t just sing, he entertained the crowd from the minute he stepped on stage until the minute he left. He performed several of his old hits, including “Wink,” “No Doubt About It,” and “The City Put the Country Back in Me,” plus a brand new song that’s soon to be released on his upcoming album, and even a hip-hop remix of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. (You’ll just have to trust me that this one was a lot of fun.) I’m not a big country music fan, but as of yesterday, I’m a new Neal McCoy fan.

Halvorsen in 1948
Later that evening, we went to the base chapel to hear retired Colonel Gail Halvorsen speak. Gail is the pilot who got the idea to drop chocolate bars and gum with tiny parachutes to children on the ground during the Berlin airlift, earning him the nickname “Berlin candy bomber.”

He gave us a beautiful speech that was equal parts historical narrative and religious sermon, both entertaining and inspiring. His physical vigor belies his age of 90 years, and his mind likewise remains very sharp. Decades after he deserved to enter a relaxing retirement, he still travels extensively, sharing his story with people around the world, especially youth and military audiences.

Not the best picture of me or Celeste, but Gail looks great

After Gail's remarks, we got to chat face to face with him, and we even got a picture. This is a wonderful man, a true American hero, and the best speaker I’ve heard lately.

Far from feeling somber on this anniversary, we feel privileged to have heard from these two great Americans.

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