As the picture of six of New York’s finest slowly parading the tattered American Flag to mid-court before Monday night’s national championship game crossed the television screen I elbowed Irish, sitting next to me at the bar and said, “ Hey look, there’s the flag.” Irish, of course, is my close friend Pat Rainey, Commander, soon to be Captain in the U.S. Navy who has just returned from a record setting six months plus deployment aboard the Aircraft Carrier Theodore Roosevelt.
The always-pleasant Irish stared intently at the screen and quickly traveled in his mind a half a world away, to somewhere in the Arabian Sea before he turned to me and said, “You know, it still smells like soot.” It seems the famous Old Glory from the World Trade Center had been delivered to the Roosevelt to be flown as a symbol of just what they were there for. As the Operations Officer (OPSO) on board, Pat was there when the flag arrived from the States and was unpacked. It flew on the Roosevelt, at Camp Rhino and other spots where Americans, like my friend Pat, were fighting the war on terror.
It got me wondering how weird it must be for Pat to sit and watch a sporting event where the guy sitting next to him, in this case me, thinks the outcome is important, only because he hasn’t seen the real important stuff, like, well fighting for freedom. But then again, that’s what the men and women who are on the front lines know they’re there for: so that all of us can continue to live the lives we have and to have the freedom we enjoy. Stuff we take for granted like going to ball games and rooting on our favorite teams. I’m standing there feeling patriotic as they walk the flag out and they guy standing next to me is recalling what the flag smells like? How different have our lives been the last six months?
When we were driving around catching up, Pat was amazed and very gratified to see all of the American Flags on the backs of cars. His daily run took him down a street were each house flew the Flag, which he said really brought home, right in front of him, the reason he’s been doing the work he’s been doing the last six months. He noticed right away that the flags on the Maryland uniforms Monday night were bigger than the one’s on Indiana’s. (Yet another reason, I told him, to root for the Terps).
I woke Pat from a sound sleep with a phone call on the morning of September 11th, telling him to turn on his television, knowing his life was about to be changed dramatically and I wouldn’t be seeing him for a while. And through the exchange of emails and a couple of phone calls during the deployment, I could tell he was busy and focused on what he was doing. We’d laugh occasionally about how different things were for the two of us; I’m going to ball games, he’s going to Afghanistan. Security concerns kept our correspondence light and mainly about what was going on here. That was fine with me, filling him in on the everyday things, portraying a sense of normalcy here at home.
We’ve crowned a college football champion, played the World Series and the Super Bowl and finished the college basketball season since September 11th, hopefully with a little better understanding of how those things, big as they are, fit into the scheme of things and the bigger picture..
So I guess the whole point of this commentary is to say thanks. Thanks to Pat and those like him who didn’t see the Diamondbacks or Hurricanes or Patriots win because they were off making sure we could see the Diamondbacks, Hurricanes, Patriots and yes, the Terrapins win.
So thanks Pat, I’m glad guys like you were there, and I’m glad you’re home