Wear Your Wings
Khuk Khak, Thailand - I was a relative greenhorn, only in-country for a few weeks when I asked my mentor, David, “How do I get a set of those wings?” that I had seen some of the older medics wearing.
He said with half-laugh, “You gotta fly 600 hours, six months, or get shot down twice, whichever comes first.”
Up at Duc Pho and Hill 411, I earned my wings in four months.
“Wake up,” the First Sergeant said, rousting me out of the rack. I’d been flying the night before, up past 2. a.m., and was allowed to skip morning formation. “You’re getting some awards,” he added.
The Pilots were down on the right, receiving Silver Stars and DFC’s and Air Medals, with the commander coming down the line, pinning that stuff on while the first sergeant read the citations. A lot of guys know what I’m talking about here. Some of you women, too.
I can’t remember what else I got that day, but when he handed me my wings, I was swooning, like, I don’t know how to put it into words…on a joy meter with ‘childbirth’ and ‘grandkids’ being at the top, it could run a close second to getting married.
Anyway, I was proud. Not for fighting communism or being an American citizen, just then, but because I EARNED them.
I earned them, and I was alive to receive them, thankful to have lived through all the shit between, my fright and horror to humans I’d seen, compressed, recessed, and suppressed to ghastly cob-webbed crypts in the mind mausoleum.
But just then, the wings were real. Real metal in my palm. I was real. The commander’s eyes were real. His handshake, real.
So, today, I don’t wear any of that other stuff. I received a purple heart in the hospital, from a General, pinned on my pillow, just like in the movies. The star, the cross, the DFC, the CMB I never wear. Never have. Maybe someday I’ll put ‘em on for a pow-wow grand entry, or in a parade, just for show, y’know. But the wings, I’m proud of ‘em. I wear ‘em every day.