Julie Anne Rhodes with mom in 1968

He smiled as our eyes met, a handsome young air force pilot looking resplendent in his uniform. I know the military look is “in” this year, but I’d never taken particular notice of men in uniform before, except for the horror tinged awe I felt as a child watching the soldiers go off to Vietnam.

Tatjana and Julie Anne Rhodes, 1988

As I took my seat I couldn’t help thinking how young he looked – younger than my own daughter. I couldn’t begin to imagine the unthinkable. My uncle served in Korea before I was born, but other than that none of my family or close friends have served in the armed services.

Once the plane began to circle Des Moines, I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. It felt good to be home, and I was looking forward to seeing my parents and their anxiously awaiting open arms. Considering how I left as young as possible, and spent most of my adult life avoiding my home town, this too struck me as odd.
Happy to be home with mom and dad
Then the pilot announced we would be landing shortly, but would everyone please remain seated until a special serviceman left the plane first. I turned to look at him, and heard him say “there they are” as he swallowed deeply. My eyes followed his gaze to the group of people and a hearse waiting on the tarmac that he was referring to. Then it hit me – the uniform that had caught my eye was his dress uniform. He was escorting his best friend home on what should have been the friend’s 21st birthday.
Unlike the usual shoving, heaving race to deplane, we all sat perfectly still with tears streaming down our faces as we watched the dead soldier’s mother throw her arms around the young air force pilot, leaning into him to keep from collapsing. All of us unwitting voyeurs into their private grief. I am now, no longer able to feel removed from the tremendous sacrifice of war. We watched as he saluted the casket being removed from the plane, then in deafening silence, I too deplaned – with the image of that brave soldier and grieving mother emblazoned across my heart forever.
Tatjana and Julie Anne Rhodes
Instead of a recipe today, all I can offer (as cliche and naive as it may sound) is a heart felt recipe for hope. If we could all just feel beyond our own families, and care as much about the daughters and sons of all families universally – there will come a day that mothers won’t have to grieve the loss of their brave children. Let there be peace on earth.
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