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     PatriotA person who loves and strongly supports or fights for his or her country.  Merriam Webster Dictionary

In the early morning fog, a young glider pilot squinted in an attempt to see the huge C-47 transport plane up ahead.

He knew it was there – some 300 feet of 1-inch taut nylon rope was evidence of that – and he could also hear the hammering of the tow ship’s noisy engines in stark contrast to his glider plane trailing quietly behind.

Suddenly, the pilot felt a dip, a release, and he knew his craft was on its own, far too soon if the mission from England to France was to be completed. A brief moment of alarm. What went wrong? Did the rope break or had the towing mechanism failed?  Those questions, never answered with certainty for the pilot, were irrelevant to the problem at hand.

High above the English Channel, his glider carrying troops and equipment, the pilot conferred quickly with the co-pilot: Were they closer to France or England? Should they continue on course, or turn back?

The pilot, Robert M. Winjum, 20, from Watertown, banked the craft and headed back toward England, where he made a safe landing in a field that luckily did not contain a network of poles and cables that often were in place to deter enemy aircraft.

Glider pilots, who played a key role in the Allies’ victory over Germany and the Axis, were spotlighted in January 2007 by Congress “honoring the heroic service and sacrifice of the 6,500 glider pilots of the United States Army Air Force during World War II.”

Only a few hundred of those pilots are alive today, and on June 17 its ranks lost Bob “Doc” Winjum, an optometrist who passed away at age 91, more than 70 years after his service in WWII.

He was a patriot, and one of the links in an unbroken chain of patriots dating back to the Revolutionary War.  Without them, there would be no Independence Day, no Constitution, no July 4 parades, and Old Glory would be but a faded footnote in history.

The ranks of World War II veterans, such as my father-in-law Bob Winjum, are thinning rapidly. Independence Day is a perfect time to reflect on the long, long line of those who have served their country — from the days of Gen. Washington to today.

     Raise the flag, light the bottle rockets, fire up the grill, tip a cold one.

And remember.

June 29, 2016