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Doin’ the Charleston

Edmund Marsh

I WROTE RECENTLY about my wife’s lifelong love of traveling, and of my resolve to get in step with her as she resumes her rambles. To that end, earlier this summer, I drove our family to Charleston, South Carolina, to attend the retirement ceremony for my cousin Chris, and to see a bit of the city, to boot.

As our departure time approached, we learned that the original schedule for retirement day had been altered. Chris advised my wife that he understood if we wanted to change our plans. She assured him she wouldn’t miss an event that got her stay-at-home family—my daughter and me—to travel somewhere, anywhere, and especially to Charleston. She’s enamored of the city, but for years has been unsuccessful at enticing me to accompany her there for a tour. Chris’s big day was just the lure to get me out of the house and into the car.

After a morning drive from our home near Atlanta, we began our Charleston excursion with a tour of the U.S.S. Yorktown, a World War II-era aircraft carrier resting permanently at Patriots Point. We explored the ship from engine room to captain’s chair, including a stroll on the flight deck to investigate the variety of aircraft on display. Along the way, we tried to imagine the sailors and naval aviators at work in dangerous locations far removed from the quiet of Charleston Harbor.

The next day was devoted to helping Chris and his friend Matt say so long to the United States Air Force in a dual retirement ceremony. Their lives have been intertwined for years. They graduated college together and were commissioned as Air Force officers on the same day. After spending much of their 22 years of active and reserve service together, they were now sharing their retirement date. They even fly for the same commercial airline.

Retirement day for the two friends began with a final flight down the South Carolina coast, accompanied by a hand-picked crew of Air Force comrades. Back on the ground at Joint Base Charleston, family and friends stood on the flightline to watch the men maneuver their C-17 for a last flyover as military pilots. After they landed and following the traditional drenching of the pilots with ice water, all were invited aboard to see this remarkable aircraft.

Inside the plane, faces were beaming, including those of the retiring pilots. I knew Chris was looking forward to retirement from the Air Force, but he told me his feelings were “bittersweet.” Later, at the actual ceremony, I caught a glimpse of what he meant. As their service records were recounted, it dawned on me that these men were part of history. They’d risked their lives to save the lives of others while participating in a long list of military and humanitarian missions.

Some of the missions were secret, but one made the headlines. In August 2021, the reservists of Charleston’s 701st Airlift Squadron of C-17s played a big role in the U.S. effort to move Afghan refugees out of harm’s way. Tens of thousands of lives were saved, and one life breathed her first breath aboard an airplane in flight from Kabul to Qatar. My family had the opportunity to speak with Leah, the C-17 loadmaster who helped deliver the baby girl. As she recounted the evacuation, my thoughts again turned to the serious nature of the jobs that military men and women take in stride as part of their workday.

Even in civilian life, tough work is often easier when the load is shared among friends. Demanding jobs that help others can also bring great satisfaction. Research shows that camaraderie and sense of purpose are the two aspects of the work world that retirees miss the most. Research also shows this is especially true for military veterans, who are particularly vulnerable to feelings of loss after separating from organizations where collaboration, teamwork and trust sometimes mean life or death. I hope Chris’s and Matt’s tenure as reservists, with one foot in the Air Force and the other in the mundane world the rest of us occupy, helps ease their transition.

On our final morning in Charleston, the Marsh family sallied forth from the visitor center on a four-mile jaunt that looped down King Street to White Point Gardens, then around the Battery and Rainbow Row.  Along the way, the ladies window-shopped Louis Vuitton, Gucci and other high-end stores, while I reminded them that the best sights were still ahead. The real draw for us all was the distinctive Charleston architecture, with beautiful gardens nestled between homes that date from as early as the mid-18th century.

To prepare for the drive home after our stroll, we had planned to lunch at highly recommended Hyman’s Seafood, but opted instead for tasty Thai food served directly across Meeting Street from the iconic restaurant. No matter. I’ll add great Charleston seafood to my list of reasons to revisit this charming city.

Ed Marsh is a physical therapist who lives and works in a small community near Atlanta. He likes to spend time with his church, with his family and in his garden thinking about retirement. His favorite question to ask a young person is, “Are you saving for retirement?” Check out Ed’s earlier articles.

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