Where Was I . . . 

When it comes to veterans, we often hear about their alarming suicide rates, high incidences of homelessness, and how prevalent post-traumatic stress disorder is among them, and rightly so because too many veterans suffer from those maladies. But there is another side to veterans that no one that I know of keeps track of and that is the number of veterans who freely stand in the breech for us, protecting and serving long after their tour of duty or military career ends. It’s a phenomenon that I’d like to call Post Military Service Disposition or PMSD. 

I just finished reading the remarkable book, The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett Graff. The book is an oral history and an in-depth chronology of what happened during the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in the words of the people who experienced that day. I can’t recommend it enough. Though many of us lived through that infamous day, I guarantee you that you did not know all of the things the author brings to the page in this book that should serve as a reminder of what this country suffered and lost on that day. 

For instance, after the World Trade Centers collapsed, there was a rush of people who ran to the river in lower Manhattan to escape the carnage and destruction. Overwhelmed, the Coast Guard sounded the alarm asking for assistance and scores of water taxis, barges, ferries and other private vessels answered the call –making it the largest civilian water evacuation ever—even greater than the Dunkirk rescue in World War II.  

Throughout the book there are numerous tales of heroism, but what struck me was how many of these everyday heroes had prior military experience. Though they don’t get much attention, civilians with prior military experience time-after-time have responded in a crisis admirably, many times putting their own life in danger. For instance, in 2015 a terrorist attack on a Paris train was thwarted by three Americans, two of whom were veterans. In 2015, Army veteran Chris Mintz took seven bullets while trying to protect students when a gunman opened fire at an Oregon community college. In October 2018, Patrick Shields an Army veteran who still serves in the National Guard apprehended a shooter after he opened fire at a high school football game in Tennessee.  In December 2018, an Altoona Marine veteran and bartender took down a wouldbe robber. The search on the internet goes on and on, but you get the picture.       

Why do so many heroes have prior military experience? I believe it comes down to training. In the military, you are trained to see a problem, step up, and fix it. You are also trained to protect each other and to offer yourself for a higher cause.  

While I’m not in favor of compulsory military service, I don’t think we’d be harmed as a society if we included some of the training tactics or ethos employed by the military in our schools. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if more people had PMSD? 

Bless all our veterans! 

By Janice Lane Palko 


Show Me the Way to Go Home 

I grew up reading the late humor writer Erma Bombeck, and she authored a book in 1991 called When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home. I wish she were alive to today to ask her: Where do you go when you look worse than your passport photo?

Last month my husband, two grown sons and I headed for what some have called “a trip of a lifetime,” but I refuse to call it that because it implies it was a oneanddone, and I want to go back. Anyway, we headed to Rome for three days and then a Mediterranean cruise. I prepped for months, and on departure day, I thought I looked Rome-ready. Italians embrace a concept known as bella figura, meaning beautiful figure or presenting your best image to the worldSo, I did my best to live up totheir sartorial standards. I had applied my fake tan, gotten my hair cut, had a pedicuregot some press-on nails because gel nails often weaken my own nails, and on departure day, I donned my chic cheetah-print palazzo pants, black sweater and glitzy gold jewelryMy oldest son said I looked like Karen Hill from Goodfellaswhich I wasn’t sure was good or bad. But what I do know is that it was all down hill from there.  

Tomb of St. Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine. She was a Christian and influenced Constantine to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Our guide, Vincenzo, made us take the picture because he said without her, Christians may have been persecuted into extinction. See how powerful women are!

My press-on nails didn’t make it through the security check at Pittsburgh International, so on the plane, I plucked off the six that remained. While shuttling my luggage, a bag shifted chipping my pedicure and hitting my instep. I didn’t think about that until logging 10 miles on our first full day in Rome and my right foot swelled and looked a bit like an elephant foot. But the trip was incredible, besides Rome, we visited Florence, Nice, Monaco, Palma Majorca, Barcelona and Naples. I sweated off my fake tan in on the beach in Majorca, but other than being pale and gimpy, things looked pretty good—I had budgeted my wardrobe so that I had one clean outfit left to don to fly home. 

We had to be off the ship by 7 a.m., so I was too lazy to put on makeup or curl my hair. What did I care? By that evening, we’d be back in Pittsburgh. Too make room in my suitcase, I ditched my deodorant, which had crumbled, and pitched the squished tube of toothpaste, thinking what use could that little bit left in the tube do me? Don’t ever tempt the toothpaste gods! 

Although our flight leaving Rome for Montreal was a bit delayed, we had an empty plane allowing us to stretch out and in my case elevate my elephant limb and watch movies, but we missed our connecting flight to Toronto. The airline put us on a later flight that got us into Toronto with only minutes to spare before our flight left for Pittsburgh. We passed through Canadian customs and then a kind airport employee tried to help us get through U.S. customs. He collected all our passports and had my oldest son process us through the automated kiosks while we stripped off shoes, belts, watches and Fitbits to pass through security.  

Unfortunately, my husband’s shoe got trapped in the conveyor belt for a few moments, and after doing our best O.J. Simpson dash through the terminal sans shoes and accessories to the gate, they wouldn’t let us on the flight because our bags were still on the plane from Montreal and the U.S. Border inspectors didn’t want to retrieve and clear them. This necessitated us going back through Canadian customs and being put up in a Toronto hotel overnight. 

By the time we settled in, it was 12:30 a.m. eastern time, but by our Roman-adjusted body clock it was 6:30 a.m. and we’d been up more than 24 hours.  We had to get up three hours later for our flight to Pittsburgh.  

The girl who had cultivated her bella figurawas flying home with teeth that felt like they had a velvet covering because I had no toothpaste, a swollen elephant foot and major bed head while wearing dirty clothes and smelling of Old Spice. Since I had no deodorant, I used my husband’s (Manly, yes. But I like it too!) 

By this time, I looked, smelled, and felt worse than my passport photo, and I don’t know what Erma would have prescribed, but I did the only thing that felt natural. I brushed my teeth, took a shower and headed for my bed! 

By Janice Lane Palko