At the northwest corner of the food court inside Atlanta’s CNN center, a small bronze plaque attests to the valor of First Lieutenant Gary C. Jones, United States Army, killed in action in the Republic of Vietnam, February 9, 1968. According to the inscription, Lieutenant Jones was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.
At the base of the wall these words are carved in stone:
“To those who fight for it, Life has a flavor the protected never know.”
I had taken a plane to Atlanta over the Memorial Day weekend to attend a professional conference. As I waited in the departure lounge at the airport near my home, I noticed a number of military personnel sauntering down the concourse. They were dressed in camouflage Army fatigues and combat boots. All of them carried massive packs on their shoulders. Several walked hand in hand with significant others: wives or girlfriends, I supposed.
One military couple ambled more slowly than the rest. The man carried a small boy in his arms. Periodically, he would lift the child high into the air, then pretend to drop him down without letting go. The boy giggled in delight at each of these maneuvers. As they approached the gate, I could see that the boy, who looked to be about a year and a half old, was dressed in pajamas bearing colorful prints of lions, giraffes and bears. The mother walked along close by her husband’s shoulder.
They stood beside a bank of chairs. The mother offered the little boy some whipped cream from her coffee on the end of a drinking straw. He accepted it gladly, opening his mouth in anticipation of another treat.
Finally it was time to say goodbye. The couple hugged each other holding the boy between them. When the woman pulled away, I could see her red-rimmed eyes. She reached out for the boy, he fell easily into her arms, and she proceeded to walk back down the long corridor with the boy looking at his father over her shoulder. The man watched them go, and I watched the man watching them. Finally he turned away, seemingly unable to maintain his composure.
Later at the Atlanta airport, I saw this same man huddled with his comrades-at-arms, studying an electronic flight status board. Two commercial pilots strode by in uniform carrying overnight bags in their hands. As they passed by the servicemen, one of the pilots reached up to touch the brim of his own hat and said, “God bless you fellows in your service.” The soldiers looked at them and grunted an unintelligible reply.
On the wall at the northwest corner of Atlanta’s CNN building near the plaque commemorating the personal sacrifice of LT Gary C. Jones, a wooden frame houses these words:
“War drew us from our homeland in the sunlit springtime of our youth. Those who did not come back remain in perpetual springtime—forever young—and a part of them is with us always.”