Thursday, November 22, 2001

Giving thanks for those who serve

Prayers, pride follow military

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sometimes, the ones we are most thankful for are the ones farthest from the family's Thanksgiving table.

        They are sons and husbands, daughters and wives, servicemen and women on military bases, on ships at sea, in jet planes circling the globe. They are the ones serving the nation so the rest of us can stop for a moment to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day.

        They are young men like Chief Petty Officer Anthony Stradtman, who began steaming toward the Persian Gulf on board the USS John C. Stennis. He left a wife in port in San Diego to face another holiday season alone and a father back in Batavia with a heart full of pride.

        They are like 25-year-old Seaman Troy Graham of Greenhills, who studies by correspondence to be a minister and conducts Bible studies for his shipmates on the USS Kitty Hawk, halfway around the world in the Arabian Sea.

        Or 28-year-old Airman Christopher Hoar, stationed at Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany. He will be enjoying a potluck Thanksgiving feast with Air Force “family” on base — a break from the daily military routine, but nothing like the holidays at home.

        Ask them all why they are doing what they are doing in such perilous times, and they will give you a variety of reasons — to earn money for college, to learn a skill, to see things and go places, to find out whether or not they had in them what it takes.

        And because they love their country.

[photo] Theodore Stradtman of Batavia is a Vietnam-era veteran and the father of Anthony Stradtman, a Navy chief petty officer.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        A few weeks ago, Theodore Stradtman, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran and father of the 31-year-old chief petty officer on board the Stennis, sent his son an e-mail. He suggested that he had done his duty to his country and maybe he might want to think about retiring from the Navy when his current enlistment runs out.

        No, his son replied.

        “I've watched people of foreign nations fed by the hand of America; I've watched their homes get rebuilt by the hand of America,” he said. “I've seen America stand beside those whose rights and liberties were being oppressed and I've seen America alone for what she thought was right, when no other nation would.

        “I joined the Navy to be part of those hands, those that offer food and supplies, those that offer freedom and liberties, those that wipe the dirt from our knees as we get up after a fight and those that deliver the crushing blow.

        “I'm here because I want to be. I think I knew it all along growing up.”

        His father, thousands of miles away, leaning over a computer screen, cried when he saw those words flash on the screen.

        “I can't begin to tell you how proud I am to have a son like that,” Mr. Stradtman said.

        It is the same pride felt by the Rev. Richard L. Fisher, pastor emeritus of the Clifton Avenue Church of the Nazarene, when he receives an e-mail or a letter at his Clifton parsonage from Seaman Graham onboard the USS Kitty Hawk in the Arabian Sea.

        He is not the 25-year-old sailor's father, but, because Seaman Graham's parents are deceased, he calls himself the young man's “adoptive father, unofficially.” He serves as mentor and inspiration for the young man's plan to become a minister.

        Not long after Seaman Graham's mother died about a year ago, the Rev. Mr. Fisher said he wrote his young friend and told him that he could file as a “hardship case” and leave the Navy, come back home to Cincinnati and work with him at the church.

        “He wrote back a while later saying that he had prayed about it a lot, but said that, in the end, he made a commitment to the Navy and his country, and couldn't walk away from it,” the Rev. Mr. Fisher said. “It showed a lot of character.”

        Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Rev. Mr. Fisher received another e-mail from Seaman Graham, one sent before the aircraft carrier's commander began limiting e-mail communications while the Kitty Hawk was in a war zone.

        “I believe the Lord is happy with me for doing this,” Seaman Graham wrote his mentor. “There is no doubt in my mind that I am making a difference for my country.”

        Airman Hoar, an electrical maintenance man on Ramstein Air Base in Germany, feels much the same way.

        After graduating from Oak Hills High School, he worked for six years in a job he really didn't like before joining the Air Force — mainly to reap the benefits of the GI Bill and a free college education.

        Now, he says, he may stay. And even if he doesn't, “I'm a lot better off for the experience,” he said.

        The 28-year-old airman would rather be home for the holidays — with his father in Cheviot or his mother in Mason — but that is not going to happen this year.

        Ramstein is home base for the 86th Airlift Wing. Every day, C-17 cargo planes take off from there delivering food — a million and a half meals so far — to Afghan people.

        That means tight security on the base; all stateside leaves are canceled.

        But Airman Hoar said he will enjoy his unit's potluck Thanksgiving dinner; and possibly slip away to Dublin, Ireland, for a few days — as long as he can get back to Ramstein quickly if he is needed.

        “There is a feeling of being far away from home for the holidays, away from your family, that makes you kind of homesick,” Airman Hoar said. “But this is where I am. And these people here are my family, too.”


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