Jim Amidon — I grew up not so much in a military household, but in a family with a long military history. My grandfather fought in France in World War I. My father, Jim Sr., served in occupied Germany just after World War II. My oldest brother, Bill, enlisted in the Army during my senior year of high school, and another older brother, Steve, enlisted a few years after that.
Veterans Day has always been special in my family. Patriotic and proud, we were raised to hang a flag in front of the house, sing National Anthem with pride, and remember the veterans who fought and those who died so that we could enjoy the freedoms we often take for granted.
My daughter Sammie’s school had a Veterans Day celebration this morning. All of the fourth graders were asked to invite a veteran from their family or a friend to take part.
Sammie couldn’t invite my brothers, both of whom live in Alaska, and my father simply couldn’t make the trip from Florida.
So Sammie asked Tom Runge, Wabash Director of Alumni Affairs and my friend, to join her at Hoover School today. Tom, Class of 1971, had a long and illustrious career as a pilot and squadron leader in the United States Air Force. He happily agreed to come as Sammie’s “uncle” to the Hoover celebration… even though he had to change plans for his trip to Evansville for an alumni event tonight.
See pictures from the Veterans Day Celebration here.
Tom wore his flight suit and leather bomber jacket. He walked proudly into the school with his helmet, oxygen mask, and a picture of the jets he used to fly.
The cafeteria was crowded with fourth graders and veterans. I was told that it was the largest group of veterans ever to attend the annual event — maybe 40 total.
The veterans represented at least six decades of service in combat and peacetime. There were men and women from all of the branches of our military — helicopter and jet pilots, a Navy SEAL, infantrymen, cooks, and commanders.
After about 200 fourth graders sang a series of patriotic songs, all of the vets were given a few minutes to introduce themselves and talk about their experience in the military. Some fought back tears as they remembered their good friends lost in the line of duty.
One very young man has spent his military career searching for hidden bombs in the deserts of the Middle East — and he has to go back again in nine months. I’m not sure the students fully understood what that meant — it sent shivers up my spine, and I could see the pain on the faces of the other veterans, who hung on that soldier’s every word.
At the conclusion of the program, the veterans spread out across the cafeteria so all the students could meet them. Tom Runge had a very long line of kids who wanted to meet him — and to try on that helmet and oxygen mask.
It was a really proud moment for my daughter and me. That Tom took the time out of a very busy schedule in one of his busiest weeks of the year is simply remarkable — but not nearly as remarkable as his service to his country and to Wabash College. We’re fortunate to have men like Tom in our ranks — as alumni of the College and citizens of this country.