09/23/11 — Kindred heroes

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Kindred heroes

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 23, 2011 1:46 PM

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1st Lt. Gregory Wyman thanks Vietnam veteran Jack Lloyd for his service. Several dozen airmen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base spent several hours at the Durham VA Medical Center Thursday.

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333rd Fighter Squadron Capt. Jason Watkins talks with Vietnam veteran Walter Perry. Perry, who retired from the Air Force in 1973, logged 4,700 hours as a B-52 electronic warfare officer.

DURHAM -- A brief conversation with a young Air Force captain took Walter Perry back more than 40 years.

And in his mind -- if only for those few moments -- he was back on the flight line approaching his beloved B-52.

His body was stronger than the one now confined to a wheelchair.

The thrill of taking to the skies was, once again, a reality rather than a distant memory.

So when 333rd Fighter Squadron Capt. Jason Watkins got ready to leave his side, the retired airman looked up with a smile.

"Thank you for what you're doing," Perry said. "We say a prayer for you every night."

And moments after the veteran returned to the moment, he acknowledged just how therapeutic it had been to hear stories from a member of his nation's modern-day fighting force.

"It's so nice that these boys came out today," he said. "It's a real treat."

Watkins was one of several dozen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base who spent the better part of their Thursday at the Durham VA Medical Center.

But an experience that was, in part, created as an opportunity for the airmen to say thank you to those men and women whose legacy they are charged with preserving turned into something far more meaningful each time a hand was extended toward one of them.

Like when retired Marine Glenn Henderson told Tech. Sgt. Elaina Leonard that she, too, is a hero.

"The moment you're a vet, this country owes you," he said.

Or when Navy veteran Amy States talked about just what it means to her to see so many continue to volunteer to fight for the cause of freedom.

"I love them so much," she said. "They're our future."

But perhaps the most powerful moment, one that left many of the Goldsboro-based airmen who witnessed it "humbled," unfolded at the conclusion of a consultation they were invited to sit in on.

Jack Lloyd, they had just learned, lost his leg in Vietnam.

And even after all these years, he was still learning how to get by on a prosthetic limb.

So the airmen were taken aback when, before he was wheeled out of the room, the man asked to shake hands with each who had showed up to listen to his plight.

"Thank you for your service," Staff Sgt. Anette Diamond said, smiling at the man reaching toward her.

"No, thank you," he replied, before turning his focus to the next in line. "Thank you for yours."