I’m not really sure how it happened, but I’m an Earl Grey with heavy bergamot kind of guy. Do you know the flavor? Sort of a fruity citrus. I’d always been a coffee type – Marine aviator, early morning black tar suitable only for chunks carved with your survival knife. The kind that stains even the hardest of porcelain or teeth whether you’re deep in the guts of an aircraft carrier or somewhere shivering in a dirt bunker. The only way I’d ever start a day meant coffee, black and thick.
What the heck happened?
I suppose now, the big boys will probably track me down and beat me up. True, it’s been many long years since I flew the dawn patrol – pleasant or scary memories notwithstanding, but since I’ve turned in my goggles and neck scarf for a keyboard, my tastes changed. Early mornings, are still just that, even if not as early as before. My adventure comes from tapping finger tips and long glances out a dark window remembering. That beats chipping ice off rotor blades and waiting for the engine to heat syrup-thick, Mil Spec 23699 anytime.
I’ll be the first to admit when those days popped up in my rearview mirror, I breathed easier. Maybe a helicopter pilot’s subconscious just knows he’s really doing something unnatural in the air, very much against mother nature’s strict instructions to her offspring. Rotorheads wait for bad things to happen, unlike a fixed wing guy. Heck, his airplane is meant to fly, with wings and all. Just like a paper airplane, they’re meant to float back to earth when it gets quiet too soon. If he’s got stubby little wings so he can go fast, they gave him an ejection seat, for goodness’ sake. But helicopters? When stuff goes to sh*t, we’re in a simonized brick heading for a not-so-pleasant reunion with our roots.
That’s just the way it is…was…and I accepted it. I signed up after all.
So why all the grousing now? Not complaints, really. I do sleep at night and usually in a dry, warm spot. Far fewer midnight sweats knowing a mission waited only hours away. Besides, I’m a big boy and can generally separate the dream-state from the waking.
Now, there’s a whole new generation out there. They’ve got funny colored medals, and have young, bright shining boy and girl faces. Go figure. I’m a dinosaur, and I love my aviator niece but that’s not my beef. When I came up, we knew who the last generation was. We idolized them. A few of us were lucky enough to fly with the youngest of them. They were heroes. The greatest generation, right? The ones who broke the sound barrier, pushed the envelope, left the earth in a spam can. Some were even shot down and drifted in the Pacific until they died or got lucky enough to be spotted by a PBY.
We’re in the in-between guys, and I don’t think this new group of youngsters know, or cares to know who we were. We did after all, lose the war. Maybe they’re embarrassed for us. We’re not, because we didn’t lose, in our own minds, anyway. But to the rest of world, we did.
Maybe that’s why this is all so poignant. Maybe after this many years, it’s why coffee lost its meaning. Maybe the tea is perfumed, but it is the boys and girls who brave the night and struggle against the bad guys that once defined us. Now, those same fanatics define them.
Our struggle wasn’t meant to turn out like that.
So, I give our new generation its due. America loves them, and they should. In twenty or thirty years, if they’re lucky enough to still be around, the generation of today can share with the follow-on folks, their kids and their neighbor’s kids. They can tell their story and we can appreciate why we owe them our lives, our hearts, and our gratitude for keeping at bay a world of terrorists and bad actors.
But the in-betweeners of my years? Nope. We’re just the one’s soaking up the VA dollars with broken bodies, agent orange and bad teeth. The country’s words of gratitude to my generation today, the last to lose a war, the first to come home to the jeers and scourges of our countrymen is too little and too late.
So, I tell myself to grow a set, Buttercup. And, to pass the tea. We were never our generation’s super heroes anyway. And besides, coffee’s bad for you.