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Military & Veterans' Issues

Commentary: Worries Dissolve Briefly For Many As Thunderbirds Captivate San Antonio

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Joey Palacios |Texas Public Radio
Thunderbirds fly next to the Tower of Americas in San Antonio.

On May 13, the United States Air Force Thunderbirds squadron soared though San Antonio skies in an aerial salute to all those working on the front lines against the coronavirus. Many delighted at the spectacle. Some not so much.  Texas Public Radio commentator Yvette Benavides offers these thoughts.

Operation America Strong — even the name boasts something not everyone is feeling during this devastating global pandemic.  But this week, the celebrated Thunderbirds from the United States Air Force offered a coast-to-coast expression of gratitude to essential workers — health care professionals and first responders, military members, and all those who continue to labor during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Thunderbirds have always held Texans in their thrall.  How many of us of a certain age recall being carted off in the family car by fathers on a mission to get to one air show or another where we would crane our necks in the South Texas sun for a fleeting look skyward at the majestic flying machines, marveling at the concision and precision of the formations?  It all seemed very magical.

This week’s Thunderbird flyover — and the celebration of it — might seem incongruous with the irremediable problems that have befallen our city during the pandemic.  But the show went on.

Wednesday afternoon, from my window, I saw one neighbor in her front yard. Her elderly father, a military veteran, followed at a distance behind her. His gait is slow these days as his back surgery has been postponed because of the pandemic.  But on this afternoon he spoke animatedly; his words seemed to propel him forward.  Two doors down, I saw another neighbor, her kids in shorts trailing behind her, playing, running behind trees while she shaded her eyes with her palm and looked up in the air.  Soon the entire block was full of my neighbors looking up at the sky. Children jumped up and down. One dad held a baby and pointed up at the clouds.  The shrill squeals of the children rose up in the sunny stillness. 

Back at my desk, I realized, I’d missed the storied Thunderbirds. I never saw the silver brilliance of them, their perfection, because I was too busy looking at my neighbors — people I really hadn’t seen looking so happy for a very long time, so focused, oblivious to the grey clouds of worry about the pandemic and its attendant woes — all the anxiety that hovers over us every other moment of our lives.  But not this moment — when everyone was looking up as if in prayer—focused for now on a brilliant horizon. Worries, for now, dissolved, replaced by a joyful communal gratitude. 

Yvette Benavides is a Texas Public Radio contributor. She teaches creative writing at Our Lady of the University. She is the co-author of the book San Antonio 365.