May 15th…“WERE ONE OF YOUR SIBLINGS IN THE MILITARY? SHARE WHAT YOU FELT AND WHAT YOU KNEW ABOUT THEIR SERVING OUR NATION.”
Adulation for my big brother, Lowell, came easily for me. Being eleven years my senior, he was my automatic hero and I shadowed him adoringly as I watched big brother’s every move in my growing up years.
After his 1961 Kiester High School graduation, The United States Air Force captured Lowell’s attention and my hero left our family and farm and aimed his sights at Basic Training Camp to learn the ways of that “sky high” branch of military service. I had been so used to having brother near me in those little boy days. All I had to do was step outside the house and listen to where work was happening and BINGO, there he’d be. Now, as the days lengthened into weeks and months, I missed my young father figure very deeply. At that time, in my young life of about 7 years of age, I’ll admit that I was more focused on the cool, kid-impressing amenities that came along with Lowell’s life in The Air Force. His daily duties and life, under the tutelage of Uncle Sam, were a complete mystery to me.
For a time, during his military service, our handsome sibling was stationed in Alaska at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks. Down in the “Lower 48”, we were happy for his assignment at that base, because it put him just a day’s journey from our father’s sister and family that lived in Palmer. Having extended family like that, relatively nearby, made brother’s stay in the frozen north more bearable, I’m sure.
Lowell has always held that he’s not much of a letter writer. In the wake of that statement, though, brother found another way to keep in touch with our family back in Minnesota. One day, our country mailman had rolled down our gravel road and delivered a pretty good sized box for us. The return address was from all the way up north in Alaska. It was from our wonderful brother, Lowell!!! Inside we found, what was known in those days as, a reel to reel tape recorder. There were two round reels inside. An empty plastic reel and another plastic reel that had what’s known as “magnetic tape” on it. The reel full of tape was threaded through the recorder “heads” of the machine itself, and onto the empty take-up reel. When we pushed the PLAY button, we could hear big brother’s voice that had come all the way down from Alaska for us to enjoy!! After we’d enjoy hearing his stories a few times, then we, in turn, would talk into and record our voices to be sent back to Alaska for him to enjoy hearing from us “back home”.
That magic contraption was the very first tape recorder that I had ever laid my little boy eyes on. To me, it was amazing how my dear brother’s voice was “captured” inside that magnetic tape all the way from Alaska and played so I could hear him as if he were in the same room with us!!! The occasion, around the Dining Room table, of our family recording messages to Lowell was the first time I had ever heard my own voice from outside my body, so to speak. When our parents played back the tape of what we had just recorded, I asked, “WHO’S THAT???” With simultaneous giggle n smile, Mom and Dad responded, “That’s YOU!” I was absolutely incredulous as I protested, “Unh Uhhhh, no way, THAT’s not me!!” Mom and Dad confirmed that that was how my voice sounded to them and that what I had heard truly WAS my voice. I remember vividly being appalled at the nasally drivel that came out of my mouth that was called my voice!!!
Another blessing to us, from our brother’s time in The Air Force, was when he sent me and my sister our very own “Dog Tags” on a chain. You see, “Dog Tags”, in those days were worn by ever serviceman to easily identify him to his superior officers or medical staff. When I opened that gift, I felt like I was “king of the hill” and, in my childish ways, now considered myself a tiny military man, of sorts. Lowell had the custom-made metal tags stamped with our name, address (Kiester, Minn), phone number (Axtel 4-3415), our relationship to him (Brother) and his title for me at the bottom (The Big Man)!!! Now, over a half century later, I still have that gift in my collection and treasure it dearly.
Whenever our handsome brother was granted leave, he’d come home for a well-deserved rest and recuperation with family. We were all so deeply impressed with that sharp-looking blue Air Force uniform that he wore so proudly. I was especially impressed by the gleaming, sparkling dress shoes Lowell would wear with that uniform!! Brother talked about spending hours and hours doing what was called a “spit polish” on those shoes to make them resemble black mirrors on his feet that caught reflections of the people passing by as they admired them. I was “hooked” and began to try to emulate Lowell’s shine on all my shoes. To this day, although it’s kinda cheating, I enjoy wearing patent leather dress shoes when I can. They always remind me of those youthful days and my adoration, coupled with emulation, for my big brother’s life experience back then.
To this day, our wonderful brother sings the praises of his time in Uncle Sam’s United States Air Force. On numerous occasions, Lowell has shared with me the following, “Heyyy, I enjoyed the whole experience of the Air Force! They gave me food, clothes, a roof over my head and money in my pocket, AND, I enjoyed being able to travel as I was assigned from base to base. Heck!, what more could a guy ask for??!!” Yet, as the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:1 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Our father had sustained some farm-related injuries that necessitated asking the military for a family hardship discharge for big brother so that he could come home to assist Dad with running our farm until he could heal up from his injuries. After returning home from the service, Lowell met a young lady and married, thus starting a new chapter of a civilian life for him. I know, from our many conversations, that big brother, had life dealt differently with him, would have enjoyed staying in the Air Force for his 20 year career choice. Thank you Lord, for the Air Force hero of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.