Large Man Chronicles
November 11th, 2009
Silver Linings, Tragic Beauty…Remembering Our Veterans
Last month I went to a service at Arlington National Cemetery for the parents of one of my best friends from high school. After the service I went to my friend’s home, I joined him and another of our high school buddies over cigars and a few drinks… and (thankfully) even some laughs. My friend, Kirk, is a great guy – one of the funniest people you will ever meet. His sisters were the object of many a crush when we were all in high school…30 years later these women are still beautiful. This is a great American family and my heart just ached for their loss.
My friend described to us the silver linings that he had been able to find since the tragic passing of his parents. It was good to see, good to hear. I love this dude; I love a lot of the people who attended the service with me. I was sandwiched in between two homecoming queens from my high school. I stood next to the men that stood with me the day I got married. We all saw and spoke to friends that we had not seen in years. We all wish we could have gathered under different circumstances.
Deep reflection will usually haunt my days after things like this. This time it was more so than usual. The events of the day, October 6th 2009, the things that I saw and heard were very powerful and so moving to me – tragic and beautiful. I asked Kirk if he would mind if I wrote a story about the day. He flattered me with his response. I hope with all my heart I convey it well.
My friend’s parents, Jack and Adele Kightlinger, were laid to rest after a car accident took them from us in early September. They were laid to rest in a field of honor because of their service to our country: Jack, for his 22 years in the U.S. Army, and being a combat veteran of the Korean War, and Adele, as a loved one that waited for her soldier to come home. They were both 77 years old when we lost them, they were both from a small town in PA, and they had been together since they were in 8th grade. They were a great American love story… we’ll get to that in a minute or two.
Arlington National Cemetery
Like most people in our country, I had never been to a service at Arlington National Cemetery before. The terms “place of honor”, and “hallowed ground” are often heard, but I believe seldom understood. Go and you’ll understand. Stand amidst these rolling hills and stare at the sea of white markers…almost 300,000 Christian crosses, Stars of David, Crescent & Stars of our Muslim service men…Hindu, Sikh, Mormon…every faith, and every walk of life has been laid to rest here in this hallowed ground; this field of honor.
When the chaplain spoke at the service, and he mentioned how my friends parents “answered the call of their nation” it started making sense to me. When the rifles cracked, and I saw the flag being folded and presented to the children “On behalf of a grateful nation”, my heart ached with sadness and soared with pride at the same moment. It was then that I understood. As I stood there with the children and grandchildren of Jack and Adele Kightlinger, I was one of them, we all were. We were all proud Americans that were touched by those who served our country.
I stood with pride and stared at all these white markers, small in stature yet enormous in meaning. These markers are eternal monuments to the heroes that answered the call, and to their friends and their families, and to you and me. This place of Honor, this hallowed ground honors us all. I look forward to a time when my children can understand these concepts and I can take them there and (hopefully) explain to them what it all means. I hope they will be able to understand the pride that accompanies sacrifice. The images of that day, October 6th 2009, will be permanently etched in my memory.
A Love Story…
After Jack served his country in the Army, he spent the next thirty years serving his country (and the world) as a White House photographer. From President Lyndon Johnson to President Ronald Reagan, Jack Kightlinger captured the history of our country’s highest office one snapshot at a time. Obviously a career like that is not a 9 to 5 gig. It was not unusual for Jack to be away from home for 20 days at a time – sometimes longer, sometimes over holidays. I know a little about what it takes to make that happen. Mostly, it takes a special partner. Almost always, it takes a woman. Adele served her country (and the world) as the wife and partner of a man who chronicled history. She raised three cool kids, she kept a warm and welcoming home (I know – I had been there), and she built a solid family, and she did it all with one hand behind her back. Adele Kightlinger was a cool, tough, chick.
Jack Kightlinger discovered this cool chick in Jr. High School. Adele Elway sat in front by the pencil sharpener in one of Jack’s 8th grade classrooms. After a conversation or two, Jack became a little desperate for Adele’s attention. Necessity is the mother of invention, and Adele became a necessity to Jack. Just about every day, he gathered all the pencils of his buddies sitting in the general area of his desk, marched up to the front of the room and sharpened pencils to a surgical precision point so he could rap with the cool, cute chick. Some pencils probably had to be sharpened twice. Now THAT is game my friends…add the fact that young Jack was in 8th grade when he devised the plan, makes it that much more impressive. Jack got Adele’s undivided attention for 8 to 12 minutes every day in the guise of performing needed service for his buddies.
Love was born; possibly in front of a pencil sharpener in the small town of Meadville, PA. True love. Love that survived the peer pressure of high school, the distance of college, the horrors of war, and a career that sometimes kept them apart for weeks at a time. Jack and Adele were together for the rest of their lives. For the next 60 plus years their hearts were together. One love for two lives.
I think about this over and over again, and I marvel at the beauty. I wish I knew more – the pencil sharpener story – charming as it is, is just one of what has to be thousands of fascinating little moments in this love story.
What touches me most can only be explained by how I relate to that kind of love. I can honestly say that I’ve been in love 5 times in my life. Five times in my life, I thought that I met the person that I could spend the rest of my life with. Obviously, 4 times I was wrong. Love can be complicated. Four times after investing my heart and soul into a love that I hoped would last forever, I woke up and faced a morning…the beginning of a new day, wondering how I would be able to cope with losing that love. I know that I’m not the only person that’s ever faced one of these mornings, most of us have.
BUT…Jack and Adele and never did. Never. They got it right the first time, and their love survived it all. War, work, life…even death was not stronger than their love. They never had to wonder how they would cope.
On the afternoon of Monday September 14th 2009 Jack Kightlinger passed away due to injuries incurred from a car accident. Adele was with Jack in the car, although she was injured, the injuries did not appear to be life threatening. But, very early on Tuesday September 15th 2009, well before the light of a new day ever touched her eyes, before she ever had to wonder what she would do without him… Adele joined Jack , due to complications from the same accident. More likely it was due to complications of one true love. Tragic and beautiful.
THAT…is a love story.
I hope on this day, November 11th 2009, you will take a moment or two and think about the sacrifices that come with service to our country. I hope that you will think about the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters that are in harm’s way because they believe that this country’s safety and ideals are worth protecting. I hope with all my heart you will remember the ones that came before, the ones that gave the ultimate sacrifice, and the ones that would have…ones like Jack and Adele Kightlinger. They are all heroes.
I also hope that if you see someone in uniform today, or any day, you’ll say “Thank you for your service”. There is someone out there that loves them, and wants them home safe and sound. We all do.
Thank you for reading…until next time,
The Large Man