By: Jamie Collins

Greetings, TPS Nation! Today, we’re sharing a special tribute in honor of Veterans Day. We felt compelled to step a bit outside of the paralegal realm for a day to share a very personal, heartfelt post in honor of those who serve.

When I was eleven years old, I used to walk down the streets of Stuttgart, Germany on an American army base, holding my father’s hand. Nearly all of my childhood memories invoke a clear mental image in my mind of my father wearing that olive green flight suit bearing his name, embossed and stitched in black letters on that nametag proudly affixed to the front of it, along with all of those other patches lining the arms, my favorite of which were the small, black bars that lined the top of his sleeve. I candidly admit that at the time, I didn’t understand what it meant to have a pilot as a father. I didn’t really understand what it would mean in life to be a pilot’s daughter.

I didn’t fully understand the significance of his chosen profession or its role in helping to assure freedom for the rest of us. I didn’t realize that wearing that uniform meant that he could, at any time, be called into war if there ever was one, because there hadn’t been one for so long, the thought never crept into my mind. All I knew is my dad flew helicopters, and I was his daughter.

I wasn’t really aware of the tremendous respect that existed between my father and any military member he saluted when they passed us by on that sidewalk, and he quickly dropped my hand to offer a proper salute.

I didn’t realize what it truly meant on the rare occasions when I overheard my father mention that he had done two separate tours in a war torn place called Vietnam. As a Cobra pilot, he strapped himself into two-man gunships and flew them into the horizon, often into hot zones, to rain fire down upon the fields where it was needed, providing relief and much needed cover and support for those walking hell on earth among the rice patty fields and green backdrop of a place called ‘nam.

As my father walked along side me throughout my childhood, I didn’t realize that he had an emotional scar etched deeply upon his heart from losing his best friend, a fellow pilot, shortly after that young pilot, “Mac’s” 21st birthday. It turns out the celebration was just a few nights before Mac’s gunship was shot out of the sky. I never saw that scar hiding beneath daddy’s smile. I didn’t realize. It never showed.

Walking down that sidewalk at the age of eleven, I had no clue that my father had previously been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism in battle. To me he was just “daddy.” It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I had the opportunity to read the following words in an e-mail from my aunt:

“For heroism while participating in aerial flight evidenced by voluntary actions above and beyond the call of duty: Warrant Officer Paye distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions in aerial flight, while acting as an aircraft commander of a Cobra gunship scrambled to aid two besieged outposts and an ambushed supply convoy, in the Republic of Vietnam. Warrant Officer Paye arrived on station and found he could only obtain 500 feet of altitude because of low cloud cover. Despite this handicap he decided to engage the enemy positions. As he began his attack he immediately came under intense automatic weapons fire from numerous locations. Warrant Officer Paye continued his attack until all of the enemy positions had been silenced. His heroic actions were in keeping with the highest military traditions and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”

I didn’t know how lucky I was to have a father who returned from war, to meet his future wife and start a family, so I could one day hold his hand and walk down that sidewalk all those years later. My father had returned, but so many others hadn’t. I didn’t realize what so many others had lost – a chance at life, a family, happiness, opportunity, and a chance to walk around smiling, with a small scar etched upon their hearts, living life.

I didn’t realize when I used to play with all of the zippers which intricately lined my father’s green flight suit, that one day my own little boy would be the one tugging at those same zippers that lined his arms. For starters, I never realized I would have a son, much less a father who would still proudly be pulling himself into that same beautiful, olive green flight suit at the ripe age of sixty-something (all these years later) to help bring light and life to others by becoming involved with a very special veteran’s group called American Huey 369.

I never realized I would have the opportunity to watch him fly a Huey helicopter for the first time since Vietnam. Neither did he. Smiling proudly as he landed at the “moving wall” in our own hometown of Indianapolis, as a grown man, still wearing that same olive green flight suit. I didn’t realize that tears would flood my eyes and stream down my face, tears of pride, reliving a small piece of my childhood, as I watched him and the crew step off of that chopper, striding toward us, holding their helmets beside them and beaming with pride, as my husband, son, and I looked on. It seems I had forgotten…I was a pilot’s daughter. I had forgotten what that flight suit looked like. I had forgotten how well my father wore it, with pride.

I didn’t realize that one day, I would sit in the same stands of Lambeau Field, where daddy once sat through “The Ice Bowl” in his hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin, all those years ago with his brothers, just attempting to stay warm and avoid frostbite while watching the Packers play a game that would make history. I never knew I would watch him gallantly live a dream, as he flew the whirling blades of that Huey up and over the top of a packed stadium during a flyover of LZ Lambo as a tribute to all of his brothers in arms – those living, and gone, but never forgotten. There I sat – a pilot’s daughter.

I didn’t realize that I would one day have an opportunity to sit inside that same Huey, as my dad flew it. Like something out of a movie, we buzzed along cornfields, as the air whipped back wildly back against our faces, flapping our clothing, and tugging at our hearts, because for a brief moment, we felt what it would be like to be on that Huey in Vietnam. I never realized what it must have felt like for him and others to strap themselves into gunships and Hueys, not knowing if they’d ever land it again. I didn’t realize “fly boys” are a proud and rare breed who would tempt fate any day of the week when called to fly; any time, any place, to help anyone.

I didn’t realize that I would get to watch my dad deeply impact the lives of veterans and their family members just by being there, supporting them, talking with them, telling stories, laughing and crying with them, and often flying over the graves of fallen military brothers to pay them tribute, in many ways helping to heal the small, invisible scars left upon the hearts of those remaining, which lay dormant and undetected, hiding behind their smiles. I didn’t realize how proud I would be to look into my dad’s face, as I walked down the sidewalk a grown woman, to realize that so easily, fate could have turned out a different way. Yet, here I sit, typing these words…a pilot’s daughter.

I am a pilot’s daughter.

I didn’t realize what that meant. Today I do.

Proudly ,
A Pilot’s Daughter

To all veterans and those who serve – We salute you.