When you read one of my columns you are looking into my mind as much as two months before the column saw print. I normally have as many as three columns in various stages of writing, reflecting and editing before I submit them. This column is a rare exception. I am writing it six days before the expected publication date of September 5th.
America said goodbye to two prominent citizens in August—singer Aretha Franklin and Senator John McCain. Both were honored with high visibility funerals celebrating their lives and contributions. Both had some meaning for me. Since I never actually met either Aretha Franklin or John McCain I have no personal experiences to recount. But each affected me in some small way and changed me for the better, in my view.
My last Air Force assignment was Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. It was a good assignment and one I enjoyed, but my first wife chose not to join me there, and so I served without her or our son, and I missed them.
Living alone I found some comfort in music, and I acquired several record albums, one of which was a collection of Aretha Franklin’s best-known songs. The album quickly became one of my favorites and several of the songs on it stand out. One was “Respect,” something of an anthem, another was “I Say A Little Prayer.” These songs touched my heart. Her death from pancreatic cancer reminded me of what her music meant and still means to me years later.
I don’t like to get into politics and I won’t where Senator McCain is concerned, but having served in Vietnam, the prisoners of war were very much on my mind. Like many Americans I prayed for their eventual return home. As an active Air Force officer, I volunteered to be a family escort during Project Homecoming in 1973, before I went to Guam.
While working with Air Force POW returnees and families, I learned a great deal about what they went through. I was never part of the debriefing process, but I knew about the isolation, torture, and uncertainty they faced. When I became aware of former Navy POW and Senator McCain I had an instant empathy with him. I knew something about what he went through, and I respected how he grew beyond it.
Many wonderful things and memories were shared during the time of grieving and saying goodbye to these two Americans, who were so different yet both prominent and iconic. We lost a little something with each of them, but we had so much more that we could keep that can be a source of strength and hope.
Much of what Aretha sang about was hope and optimism, and much of what McCain was about was serving his fellow Americans. We honor them best by following their best examples.
God keep them and rest their souls. WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.