It was a normally busy day at the San Jose International Airport. Lines were forming at the Starbuck’s counter. Cellular telephones kept travelers in touch with loved ones and friends. Slices of heated and reheated pizza fed hungry travelers. Every few minutes intercom voices shouted out instructions from muffled speakers above.
Nervous travelers asked one another if they were in the correct line for the correct flight. Mothers with young children were assisted onboard waiting planes. Children pressed their noses against the thick glass enclosing the terminal, watching the sleek planes taking off and landing on this clear day in northern California.
A young married couple nervously held hands as they awaited their flight. A grey haired pair fidgeted with their carry-on bags as they stood in a long line waiting to board a flight to Phoenix.
An airport attendant calmed an elderly woman as he propelled her wheel chair towards gate five. He leaned closer to her ear and said, “We’ll be there shortly, ma’am, you’ll have plenty of time.” The frail, frightened woman reached around and patted the strong, black hand pushing the wheel chair and said, “Thank you so much, young man.” She reached in her worn purse, pulled out some dollar bills and tried to hand them to her new friend. His eyes narrowed and glowed. He said, “No thanks ma’am, it’s my pleasure to help you. You just have a nice trip, ya hear.”
The lines were forming for the hour and a half flight to San Diego. Last minute cell phone calls were made. Reading materials for the short flight were readied. Two teenagers quickly swallowed their hot dogs and washed them down with bubbly drinks.
The intercom announcement was made notifying those in line that the plane they were to board would be landing shortly and boarding would begin in 20-minutes.
Everyone in line squeezed a bit closer together anticipating boarding. The plane landed and pulled into its space at gate six. The double doors opened and the arriving passengers walked out and quickly scanned the crowd for familiar faces.
The exiting passengers flowed through the double doors. From the rear of the emptying plane walked four uniformed U.S. Marines. The four young men wore their uniforms proudly. Their posture was erect. Boots shined. Belts tight against their slim waists. Behind them came two more Marines similarly dressed, bolt upright and proud.
The six young men had their hair immaculately groomed, topped with their caps squared and true. All heads in the lines snapped towards the Marines. Husbands gently elbowed wives, nodding their heads toward the impressive young men. Prideful smiles appeared on the faces in line. Walking before them were six of America’s finest youth.
The six Marines walked purposefully passed the lines right and left of them. They felt the hundreds of focused eyes on them and walked even taller and prouder.
Each Marine carried a neatly prepared duffel bag in his left hand. The six young men, each no more than 21-years old, didn’t try, but walked in step.
A teenage girl glued her eyes on one of the young men, her heart beating a bit faster.
The gentle black man pushing the elderly woman in the wheelchair spotted the Marines as they approached and slowed her progress so the Marines could pass. As the six crossed their path the black man offered, “Bless you and thanks. God bless you.” Each Marine nodded his thanks.
A middle aged couple walking to their gate noticed the six Marines and stopped in their tracks. They stood still as the six walked past them. The husband straightened his back and lessened the strain on his belt as he turned to watch the six young men walk by. His wife made a fist and placed it under her chin. Her lips pursed and tears came quickly to her eyes. She moved closer to her husband, laid her head on his shoulder as he put his arm around her. She said, “My God, my God, I hope they never have to go to war.” The husband pulled his wife of 30-years closer to him and said, “They’re such fine looking young men. I pray for them and their families.”
A silence ran through the terminal as the six Marines marched by. The reality of war became somehow closer to everyone. Off in the corner of the terminal, away from the lines, an elderly man, slightly bent over, stood quietly, as he observed the Marines walking through the crowds. A sadness filled his eyes as he felt a heaviness in his chest. His thoughts returned to a time in Vietnam as he watched the young Marines pass. The old man’s thoughts relapsed to the mud, the screaming bullets, the exploding bombs, the agonized cries of pain around him. Once again he saw the grey faces of the fallen young men on the ground.
The old man’s lips moved only slightly as he kept repeating, “Damn, damn, damn!”