Brand new Airman Ben McMichael standing in front of the Alamo at San Antonio, TX. We had just left a small theater that showed a movie about the history of the Alamo. During the introduction the volunteer docent looked at Ben and thanked him for his service to his country which caused everyone in the audience to applaud. Then, on the way to the van a man walked up to Ben, shook his hand, and thanked him for his service.
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.
The 323rd Training Squadron Drum and Bugle Corps marching and playing for the 323rd graduation ceremony, Lackland U.S. Air Force Base, San Antonio, TX..
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.
P-51 "Mustang" World War II fighter.
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.
Me and Ben following the 323rd Training Squadron Retreat and Coin Ceremony. Even though family were allowed to come over and talk with the graduating airmen, the drum and bugle corps members had to stay in formation. Why? Don't ask me.
After the Retreat and Coin ceremony was over, we went to a base store where Ben bought a coin just like the one he was given by the Mustang association, put it in the palm of his hand, and shook hands with me leaving the coin in my hand. It's the most valuable coin I will ever have.
Ben and his proud dad, my son Rick.