I wrote this column in 2004 and think it is appropriate to remember with Veteran’s Day November 11.
A number of years ago Judy and I were on a U.S. Airways plane in Orlando waiting to leave the gate. A young Marine sat down in front of us. He may have been on his way home for a few precious days leave with his girlfriend, wife or family before heading to Iraq. Or maybe he was going to a new duty station. It doesn’t matter.
The flight attendant was standing beside us pointing down at the Marine rolling her eyes and pointing towards him. He didn’t see her. She held up two fingers motioning to a flight attendant in First Class seating and gave an affirmative headshake. She bent down to the young Marine.
“How about you moving to First Class, Marine” she said. “We have two extra seats.”
He gathered his bulky carry-on and along with another Marine sitting behind us headed for two First Class seats.
That’s great I thought. I turned to Judy and mentioned that was a wonderful gesture. It made me feel good as a veteran to see a young man in uniform treated special. Many military in the 60’s wouldn’t have been treated that way.
Veteran’s Day is Saturday. President Eisenhower called on Americans in 1954 to remember the sacrifices and honor all servicemen and women. Fourteen years ago almost to this day, I was fortunate to hear a Vietnam veteran tell his story during a Johnson City Lions Club media luncheon.
His name is Randy Kington. He is from Morristown, a local boy. When it came time for him to speak he wheeled himself out in front of the group and began telling his story about Vietnam. He moved his wheelchair only a few feet in front of me. I looked at his useless legs. I looked at his shoes. I wondered what it would be like to spend my life in a wheelchair. I guess most of us have thought about that at one time. I riveted my eyes on his, enthralled by his story.
He shared how he had kept his emotions and war experiences hidden away for years. He couldn’t tell his wife or family. It was too painful and like most veterans who have seen horrible war and combat, was unable to share his experiences. It was only after 34 years and a talk with his old commander that Randy Kington was able to open the floodgate of emotions. He said he was never able to cry. He cried for days after letting his emotions come to the surface. His book, “What a Life, How the Vietnam War Affected One Marine,” is the outpouring of his early life, becoming a Marine, his battle wounds and life in a wheelchair. I bought his book and read it the day after his talk.
He told us about the day he almost died but found life at the same time. Randy was a radio operator for his Lieutenant. They were fighting a battle that would become known as the most intense three hours of the Vietnam War in 1966.
“I was shot by a NVA regular. The bullet hit me in the left front of my neck. I was knocked up into the air. It felt like a mule kick. I was floating in slow motion. I was never more frightened at any time of my life than at that moment. I was going to die, or worse I was already dead. My first thought was that I had used up all of my chances to be right with God. I was slowly floating toward hell because that’s where I thought I deserved to be. In desperation, I silently screamed, “Please God, don’t let my mama go through burying me! She won’t be able to handle that. Please save my soul.” A few moments later I hit the ground very hard. Stunned, I looked up into the beautiful blue sky and knew that I had just received two miracles from heaven. I was alive and my soul was saved.”
Randy Kington shared his story. Many of us that day bought his book. He was awarded ten ribbons and five medals. After retirement from the Marine Corps, Kington earned a BS, Master of Accountancy, and a CPA. He taught college accounting, was a tax partner in a large CPA firm, and later owned his own CPA firm. He has a wife and two sons and is now retired and lives in Naples, Florida and Morristown.
And after checking his website today, Randy still has a busy speaking schedule around the country. That was good to see since it has been 13 years since he was here.
He says the Vietnam War won’t be over until the last veteran has passed away.