It is always moving to see families coming from all over the United States to see their progeny graduating from basic training at Fort Benning. Not just the ceremonies, but in the restaurants and shopping malls around Columbus. I got a taste of what it means to those families and their military service members last weekend when I went to San Antonio, TX to see my grandson Ben graduate from U.S. Air Force basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. I was there with my son Rick, daughter-in-law Marian, grandson Christopher and his wife Kristen.
Not only did Ben go through the basic training course, but on top of that, he played first trumpet in the 323rd Training Squadron Drum and Bugle Corps. When he introduced me to the lt. colonel commanding the 323rd, he told him, “That’s my granddad. He was a drum major of an Army Band.” The colonel said, “Well, this must be really special for you, even if he only did it for 8 weeks.” Indeed it was. I was a full-time bandsman, but, even if he was only in an Air Force band for 8 weeks, we can both say we were in American military bands. Ben is now at Sheppard Air Force Base at Wichita Falls, TX, where he is in training to be an ordnance supply and maintenance technician.
For someone who was a young boy during World War II, the graduation ceremony was quite impressive. Surrounding the graduation pareade grounds were the great fighters and bombers of that time. Among those historic war birds was a P-51 “Mustang” – Ben’s training squadron is called the Mustangs, and there is a mural of a Mustang on his barrack’s wall – and there was a P-38 fighter, and a B-29 bomber, a B-17 “Flying Fortress,” a B-24 “Liberator,” and the transport work horse of World War II, the C-47.
You take all of that, add the 323rd Drum and Bugle Corps playing “The Air Force Anthem,” you know, the one that starts with “Off we go into the wild blue yonder,” and “America the Beautiful,” an Air Force general welcoming the new Airmen into the “most powerful air force in history,” and the 600 graduates and their instructors passing in review, and you get a lot of cheering in the stands from moms and dads, sisters and brothers, granddads and grandmothers, and even aunts and uncles. (I met a lady from California who had come to see her nephew graduate.) You also get a lot of moist eyes, including mine.