By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
The Effingham Memorial Day speaker on Monday told how she, as a veteran, has an unforgettable perspective of 9/11 and other incidents from the War on Terror.
In 2001, Robin L. Schultze was a senior Air Force nurse with the White House medical unit. She was with Air Force One in Sarasota, Florida, when President George W. Bush received word of the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. She was aboard the President’s plane as that terrible day played out as the key members of the federal government were in harm’s way for several hours. For too long, nightmare after nightmare situation seemed to play out.
“I was with President Bush in Sarasota, Florida, on 9/11 and was the Air Force One nurse that day. It was horrific,” the now-retired Air Force colonel recalled before dozens of local veterans, their loved ones and civilian observers during the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Oakridge Cemetery in Effingham.
Before that fateful September day ended, Schultze joined hands with other medical care personnel assigned to the President’s team.
“We prayed for our country. We prayed for our President. We prayed for the families of those lost that day. And we prayed for the men and women that we knew were heading into harm’s way, some of which would never come home.”
In 1998, she was stationed at a military hospital in Germany when al-Qaida terrorists bombed United States embassies in Africa.
“We received most of those casualties, local nationals and Americans,” she said.
She was a critical care air transport nurse for carrying the wounded back from combat situations in the Middle East. Those were long flights at 30,000 feet back to the hospital in Germany.
Schultze also shared stories of veterans surviving near-death scenarios. She remembered a badly-burned soldier awaking on one of the transport flights and later crying tears of joy that someone was caring for him after what he had gone through.
Col. Schultze reminded those at Oakridge Cemetery that Memorial Day has its origins from after the Civil War. Some of the earliest Memorial Day ceremonies were observed in Illinois during that time as a way to honor soldiers and sailors who gave their lives for their country.
“General John A. Logan declared the day a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers,” Shultze explained.
The date of the holiday was set for May 30 each year to avoid conflict with remembrance of any Civil War battles, and by the end of May, flowers across the country would be in bloom.
Until World War I, the holiday was better known as Decoration Day and connected more to the Civil War.
It was a time for not only honoring war dead, but also loved ones who had passed away peacefully. Even today, Memorial Day is known for leaving boutiques or other tokens of loving memory at grave sites.
After World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to include honors for all America’s war dead, Schultze said. Then in 1968, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that would eventually change the dates for observing Memorial Day.
Schultze said the holiday is now associated more with being the first weekend of summer as a time for family cookouts and the Indianapolis 500.
“And less so about what we are here for today. That is to honor our war dead,” she said.
That is why many veterans lobby the federal government to change Memorial Day back to May 30. More than 1.2 million men and women have given their lives in America’s wars and military operations. They are what Memorial Day is all about.
“These men and women gave and continue to give the last full measure of devotion. They honored us with that devotion and today we honor them for their sacrifice,” Schultze said.
Veterans are the “historians of our military,” she said, as well as resources on our culture and helping to better understanding our military from the past and today.
“Those who never served sometimes don’t want to hear these stories. Or if they do, they don’t know how to ask. Many veterans don’t want to talk about these stories. But I urge you to ask. Gently. But ask,” she said.
She urged all veterans present to express what they know and feel. She said there is value to all their stories, but she knows some cannot open up about what they went through.
Pastor John Hollis said his father, a World War II veteran, did not share his stories until John was in his fifties. But he is glad he did and his closing prayer called for remembrance and honor for all veterans, especially those who gave their all for all of us.