Monday, November 12, 2012

Meeting a Hero

Had I realized that yesterday was actually Veteran’s Day, I would have posted this then. But since my reading audience is significantly lower on Sundays and Veteran’s Day is observed today (no mail, public buildings are not open, etc), I have no problem posting it today.

Last Friday, I had the distinct privilege to visit the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall. A smaller version of the wall in Washington D.C., it contains the names of every soldier who was killed or reported missing in action during the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Although this is the second time that the wall has come to town in the past five years, it was the first time I have been able to see it in-person.

It was very moving to walk by and read the names, and see the memorials and tributes that others had left at the base of the wall. I saw several who wore ball caps proclaiming them “World War II vet” or “Vietnam vet – Purple Heart”. If I hadn’t feared that I would interrupt a private moment as they viewed the wall that bore the names of their fallen brothers in arms, I have no doubt that I would have taken the opportunity to shake their hands and thank them for their service.

The wall is displayed outside the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum. There is one room off the main part of the museum that has had a different display every time I’ve been. Presently, they have a Vietnam memorial, of sorts, set up, with gear and equipment that was used in the battlefield on display; photos of soldiers with smiles on their faces, despite the desolate conditions that they faced; poems and messages from those who lost loved ones in the fighting. On one wall of the room, names of every one from our area that served during the conflict are displayed.

One of the display cases in the museum is devoted to Major Ronnie Griggs, US Army, retired. During his service in Vietnam (two tours), he was shot down four times and injured three times, earning three Purple Heart medals. Major Griggs was decorated for valor 10 times, and was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star by the Vietnamese government for risking his life to rescue two Vietnamese girls who were drowning in a river.

I’ve read through this display before, but, having just seen the memorial wall outside, it especially hit home this time. After viewing some other displays in the museum, we left. And who was standing outside as we walked back to our vehicle? None other than American hero Major Ronnie D. Griggs himself.

I wasn’t surprised to see him there, as I had read that he was an active volunteer at the museum. He wore his “Purple Heart” ball cap, and was speaking to other veterans in attendance.

I had decided earlier that, if I ever ran into him, I wanted to have my picture taken with Major Griggs. This was the perfect opportunity. After a few minutes, his conversation appeared to have ended, so I approached him and asked for a photo.

His response: “Absolutely”. He actually seemed kind of surprised by my request, but we had our picture made by a memorial statue outside the museum, beneath the flags of the military’s five branches.

Cropped myself out of this one for privacy purposes.
I’ve met professional athletes, star collegiate players, some of my favorite musicians, and other ‘famous folks’, but this experience was by far the best ever. I can’t say how honored I was to be able to shake Major Griggs’ hand and say “thank you”.

Sarah Moore, a Missouri softball player, posted this on Facebook yesterday, and I felt it was a fitting close to this post: "Happy Veterans Day... A day to appreciate all of our soldiers and what they have done for our country. They have taught us what bravery, pride, and leadership is. Where we would be today without them is almost impossible for me to imagine... Big thanks to all our troops, God Bless!"

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