South Charlotte

Remembering soldiers' sacrifices

Memorial Day is a lot of things.

It is a day to kick off summer with barbecues. It's a day to fly the American flag. For many, it's a day off from work.

Most importantly, it is a day dedicated to remembering soldiers who died serving our country.

So I met with a veteran to hear his story.

Jack Driggers, who lives in Indian Trail, spent nearly 20 years in the Air Force before retiring. He entered the military at age 20 so he could do something with his life and travel to other places.

He recalls the Gulf War and the hot, dry desert in Saudi Arabia, where you could see for miles. He lost 50 pounds in six months, due to the heat and small quantities of food that included camel meat, green peas and rice.

He recalls thinking, "The planes are taking off, and I might not live (through) tonight" when U.S. troops began bombing missions from Saudi Arabia: Fellow airmen flew out and never came back.

Jack has several medals and ribbons, and photographs spanning two decades of life in the military. He also has many memories, both good and bad. In Sicily, he loved the pizza with calamari.

But when Indian Trail gets a lot of rain, Driggers recalls the foxholes filling with water. The smell of smoke reminds him of the base burning pit.

At 51, he struggles with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Gulf War Syndrome, in addition to the aches and pains of injuries to his back and both shoulders.

"No one comes back from war the same," he said. Frustration with the slow process within the Veterans Administration is evident, and yet Driggers shows love for his country and a great sense of patriotism.

"You want to know the worst thing about being in the service? Missing seeing my nephews and nieces growing up," Driggers said.

"The best thing was that I helped make sure they could grow up at all."

So on this Memorial Day, as you fly your flag (and I hope you will), Jack has a few ideas as to how to help veterans:

Write your congressman to support bills that help veterans.

Remember that "even though they've come home, the soldiers are having a tough time."

Hire veterans in the workforce when you have the opportunity.

Write letters to soldiers overseas; they are very much appreciated.

Listen to the stories veterans have to tell: "Once they are gone, they're silent."

Last summer, as I waited in Charlotte/Douglas International Airport for my flight to board, I noticed a serviceman in full camouflage near me. I overheard an airline employee ask him for his ticket because a passenger had anonymously upgraded the soldier's ticket to first class. What a quiet tribute.

Every Memorial Day, I put an American flag out by my mailbox - my usual routine.

This year will be a little different.

I'll put the flag out, but I will think about foxholes that fill up with rainwater, crews that fly out in the night and never return and the intense desert heat.

And I will be thankful that I can sleep peacefully at night, knowing soldiers are out there to protect us.