It was 1966. I just graduated from high school in June, and 12 days later was in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on basic training. At age 17, I enlisted for four years in a military intelligence unit known as the U.S. Army Security Agency. After eight weeks of basic training, I was transferred to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for a second eight weeks to undergo training in my military professional specialty, which was a cryptographic / teletype operator. After training, I received orders for the 508th USASA Group in Seoul, South Korea. In January of the following year, I left McCord Air Force Base in Seattle, Washington, on my way to Kim Air Force Base in Korea.

My headquarters transferred me to the 226th USASA Operational Unit on Kanhva-do Island, which was the most remote assignment in the unit. From the site of the operation on the mountain we could see the DMZ.

Shortly after my work on the island I received word that my father had died. The commander of my company gave me the opportunity to leave the country that night, which I did. He also said that at the McCord Air Force base there will be a Red Cross representative who will give me a plane ticket back and forth. Returning to Kim Air Force Base, I bordered on the military C-141 Starlifter. After stops in Japan and Alaska we returned to McCord Air Force Base. There was a Red Cross representative and I got my ticket from him. This time the price was $ 145, which I had to return to the army from my salary.

I had to take a city bus to Si-Tak airport, and it was midnight. With my orders for emergency leave, the ticket office representative said that whoever has these orders should speak up. I did so, and she said, “Where are you going, soldier?” I said, “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” She said she would call and detain my plane in advance.

I ran to the plane and boarded, although the plane looked full and I didn’t know where I would sit for the next five hours until I arrived in Philadelphia. The flight attendant told me to sit in first grade where there were still places.

That’s when I noticed that there was a high-ranking US Army officer sitting there. He was what we call a “full bird” in military service. The brigadier general had only one rank. At first I felt very restless. He started a conversation with me and reassured me, although at the time I was just a private E-2. I explained to him that I was flying because my father had died and he said it was the same reason he was there. When we arrived in Philadelphia, we both parted and said goodbye.

I returned to Korea to finish my tour and then received an order for Asmara – then part of Ethiopia – for an 18-month tour. After that, I returned to the states and finished the draft in Warrenton, Virginia.

Looking back, I will never forget the “full bird” I met in flight over America, and the way he treated me like his son. Such memories are stored not only for a moment, but for a lifetime.

May God bless and save America.

The author lives in Denver.

If you know an interesting story, please write it in 600 words or less and send Mary Ellen Wright, LNP Editorial Office, Mailbox 1328, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 17608-1328, by email features@lnpnews.com. Please provide your phone number and the name of the city in which you live.

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