When sitting down to write this I asked my family, “Where do I begin?” My husband, the less funny one, said, “At the beginning”. My son, the class clown, said, “It was a dark and stormy night”. Writer's Digest described this sentence as "the literary posterchild for bad story starters."
|Jennifer with her baby brother, Jon 2017|
That’s how I became the older and, if you ask Jon, the bossier sister. I like to think that I was, at an early age, setting Jon up for his military career. In the military you do what you’re told, when you’re told, how you’re told, and you don’t argue or else. That was pretty much what it was like having me for an older (OKAY FINE AND BOSSIER) sister. I really think after all these years Jon owes me a “Thank You” for paving the road which the Air Force has led him down. If I have taught you nothing else, Jon, I have taught you how to deal with leadership under pressure.
|Jon's Enlistment Photo 18 years old|
Ahhh, life lessons. Like when you are a young airman stationed in England and you decide to get your nipples, BOTH OF THEM, pierced. And, then infection sets in. By the way, for a small fee, I have photographic proof of that life lesson. The biggest life lesson though, for those close to Jon, was not one he needed to learn, but one he taught us. At least it’s one I learned. Without doing anything but being himself he taught those around him to never be afraid to be who you are on the inside, to stand up for what you believe in even if it makes you unpopular, to maintain your integrity, and above all else…not to pierce shit that shouldn’t be pierced!
The second time I held my breath was for roughly six months in 2006 when Jon was sent to Iraq. While I was hopeful he would return home safely, I was scared to death he wouldn’t. For those who don’t remember, the US led a coalition into Iraq to topple the government of Saddam Hussein. Just a few months before he shipped out our Mother had passed away. Now, not all of you know about our Mother’s owl collection. And, by collection I mean obsession. Owls were her thing. And, while Jon was on the base in Iraq he was followed by a single white owl. His comrades caught sight of the owl, but never while walking with Jon. The owl never flew around him in the company of others. It is our family’s firm belief that Jon was being protected by that majestic white owl. Was it Mom protecting her baby? I like to think so. When Jon FINALLY returned home safe and sound, my first thought was to take a deep breath. My second thought was to call mom.
|Ken, Dad (middle), Jon in their enlistment photos|
We lost our dad in 1997 and I wish he could have witnessed Jon climb the ranks from Airman Basic to Technical Sergeant. Jon’s career in the military was preceeded by our Grandfather fighting in the Spanish-American war and our Father fighting in the Korean war. They would have been so proud of you, Jon. Tonight our oldest brother, Ken, a former Marine, is here to stand in for the military generations gone. Ken, thank you for your service.
|Jon with three siblings 2017|
Jon, myself, and all our siblings were raised by quiet and unassuming parents. They didn’t teach us to get out there to see what the world had to offer, climb ladders, or be the one to change the world. This did not make them bad parents, but sometimes it did limit what we thought we could make for ourselves. Not Jon. Jon left our sleepy-little town when he was 18 years old. He traveled through Europe and the US to see what the world had to offer.
Through hard work, determination, and maybe a couple of failed PT Tests he climbed the ranks from Airman Basic, Airman 1st Class, Seinor Airman, Staff Sergeant, and finally retiring this year as a Technical Sergeant. I like to think he earned Staff Sergeant from all those years of learning how to boss like a boss from me. Those titles may not mean much to us civilians, but to a kid who wasn’t taught to reach for the moon he sure managed to land amongst the stars.
Jon is too humble to believe he changed the world. But, for every one of us in this room tonight our world has been changed for the better since that dark and stormy night. Jon, look around…every single person here tonight is here because of your love, friendship, and kindness. Although the open bar might have kept them all here, they will always be at your side. You absolutely HAVE changed the world. The world is safer thanks to your dedication to the Air Force. The world is kinder through your actions to those less fortunate. And the world is more generous because of that big ol’ heart of yours. You still have more changes to make, but as you go on from here don’t ever change who you are.
Finally, let all of us join together by raising our glasses to Jon. Here’s to one hell of a career, soon to be one hell of a night, and always to one hell of a guy!! As they say in the Air Force, “Aim High…Fly-Fight-Win”.