I was witness to one of the most moving things I have seen in a long time, in terms of being American and of being patriotic. I was flying from Birmingham, AL yesterday on Southwest Airlines, making my way home after a horrendous business trip in which I crashed my rental car within an hour of arriving–I’m fine, and so is the driver who hit me.
At Birmingham, the Southwest gate area occupies something of a rotunda, with 5 or 6 gates spaced out around a circular building. My flight was set to leave from a gate on one side of the rotunda. As I sat waiting for my plane to board, I heard applause begin on the other side of the rotunda. At first I thought there must have been a celebrity coming through the termianl but as I stood up, I realized that the people at the gate directly across from me were clapping for soldiers who were deplaning from a flight that had just arrived. In fact, there were a couple of dozen people giving the soldiers a standing ovation. As I watched, more and more people stood to honor the soldiers until soon, nearly everyone in the rotunda was on their feet, applauding and cheering for the men who were trying as best they could to get out of the limelight. The sound was unbelievable–the air quaked with the rhythmic clashing of the applause.
Soon, another place arrived carrying more soldiers, and the ritual played out again. And again. And again. It didn’t matter if it was a group of 20 soldiers ambling stonefaced through our midst or just one single boy slinking shyly out of view–each and every one of them got a standing ovation from 1000 travelers who had never met them before but who were moved to voice their gratitude and their joy that the men would be home for the holidays.
My only regeret in the whole thing was that my children weren’t there to see it. That is the America where I want them to live, and where I hope they will grow up. I want them to feel comfortable reaching out to soldiers and to police officers and to fire fighters to say “Thank you. I appreciate what you do for me and my family every day.” I want them to think of our military men as heroes, not as villians. I wish they had been there.
To the people of Birmingham, or at least to the people who were passing through there yesterday, I say “Thank you,” and also “I am proud of you.” Yesterday, you were all great patriots. I hope you will be tomorrow, too. Because you have inspired me, I know I will.
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