My closest connection to our military is to my father, Frank and my brother, Greg.
They are both buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
A year after my brother Greg was killed in a military jet crash near Ellington
Air Force Base outside Houston, my sister Kathy wrote the following Veterans Day
meditation. It was published on Veterans Day 1981 in the Houston
Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times and several other newspapers
Who Will Remember The Heroes of Peace?
A Veterans Day Meditation
by Kathleen Simpson
Veterans Day 1981
The vast Texas sky was cloudless, silent. An Indian summer sun baked the rows of
small white crosses. The honor guard dressed in Air Force blue raised the flag
above the casket of the young pilot. Five times the jolt of rifles cracked the
air. The bugler raised the trumpet to his lips. On the breeze the strains of
"Taps" lingered, faltered, breathlessly faded away. From the widow and the
mother, from the sisters and the brother, from the small sea of blue-dressed men
and women, there was not a whimper to hear, not a sigh.
Suddenly the silence shattered. Thundering toward the grave of the young pilot,
four Phantom fighter jets screamed across the sky. Once they circled low over
the rows of small white crosses, over the small blue human sea. Racing again
toward the grave site, one plane broke the formation, thrust its steely nose
straight up into the sun and vanished.
It is a farewell reserved for heroes. For combat aces and high ranking officers
of distinguished career, the acrobats of the air fly by. But the young pilot,
who was my brother, had never flown into battle. His prayer was that he would
never fly to kill. Educated in the classroom of war, he abhorred the lesson that
the innocent are the ultimate victims of the bomb and the sword. When he flew an
F-101 jet fighter of the Texas Air National Guard on October 22, 1980, he
believed in his mission to protect the innocent with his quicksilver wings of
But the winged horse my brother rode that day was destined to be a Pegasus of
power and peril. Seconds after he lifted the huge machine into the air from
Ellington Air Force Base, an explosion ripped part of the tail from the plane.
On the ground below him a crowded subdivision lay in the path of the flaming,
flailing craft. A horrified witness reported: "The jet banked steeply to the
left, went into a steep climb and then fell into the open field. It looked to me
like the pilot intentionally turned away to avoid hitting those houses."
In the last 60 seconds of his life, my brother's only thought must have been of
the innocent people living in the innocent safety of their homes below him. The
airplane burned into the dust of a pasture just 500 yards away from those homes.
The investigators retrieved his helmet from the crash. They bequeathed it to his
widow, who keeps it for their small son. Sleep well, brother Greg; your prayer
is answered. Never will you fly to kill.
Sifting still through the wreckage of my grief, I wonder. On the day of the
Armistice of the first global war - the war that Woodrow Wilson called the war
to end all wars - I wonder about the price that the governments of this century
have elected to pay in the purchase of peace.
I wonder about all the brave young warriors of this peace, men and women proud
of their mission, honored by their duty to safeguard our shores. Do their
spouses sleep soundly while they fly through the night? Do the children play
fearlessly in the schoolyard as their fathers or mothers crawl into the missile
hole at day? Who will remember the heroes of this peace?
A few feet from where my brother now rests, another pilot sleeps. This man, our
father, also abhorred violence and war. But as a young man my father saw havoc
in the skies above Europe. Dreams of the innocent, the faceless victims of the
bombs that fell from his plane, haunted his sleep every night he lived.
Dreamless now, father and son together sleep. The old veteran of war shares the
soil of liberty with the young veteran of peace.
Today, the 11th day of November, at the 11th hour in the morning, flags fall to
half-staff across the country in honor of the nation's veterans. The statesmen
lay huge floral wreaths at the monuments of the nameless soldiers. The widows
crown the crosses of their loved ones with garlands from their gardens. Silence
falls for a moment over the burial grounds of the warriors.
Then cannon volley and bugles blare. It is festival time in the graveyard. The
5-year-old son of my dead brother cheers as the mighty Phantom jets scream their
power across the sky. He delights in the pageant of the parade marching by. His
mother takes his small hand in hers when she cries. What will she tell him when
he asks her why?
Thank you, Greg