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Military ball remembers and pays respect to those fallen at war in Iraq

Everyone at the 58th annual military ball stared at the empty table in the front of the room. It symbolized those who could not and may never be with them again.

On Veteran’s Day the men and women of the BGSU Army, Air Force and ROTC programs raised their glasses in honor of their fallen comrades, those prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Air Force Cadet Ben Malone began to describe the meaning behind the empty table.

The table was set for one, to display the frailty of a lone prisoner against his oppressors. There were four caps representing each branch of the military, a single rose for the families and loved ones of the missing, a lemon to remind everyone of “their bitter fate” and a candle for hope – the hope these men and women would safely return home.

“They are gone, but never forgotten,” said Malone.

The ball included special military drills from the Air Force and Army.

Approximately 300 people toasted the flag, the president of the United States, the military chiefs of staff and the veterans for whom the ball was commemorated.

It was with this in mind that the cadets listened to former Vietnam veteran, Air Force Lt. Col. Jon Bisher, a retired B-52 bomber pilot.

Bisher addressed the parents and significant others in attendance.

“You wonder why he or she wants to do this. You’re not sure what drives them. It is a passion, a calling, fervor. Try to go with it. Try to understand it,” he said.

To explain this “call to military life,” Bisher told the story of his final return home from Vietnam.

“It was like entering a black hole. We had launched over a 300-foot cliff, at night, in a storm, over a threshold,” he said as he remembered the beginning of his flight.

As he described looking over at his sleeping co-pilot, Bisher said “in the low red light he looked more like a boy than a steely-eyed killer.”

He recalled the co-pilot became alert as their plane was refueled. He recalled the dawn breaking and trying to avoid going directly into the sun. As the pilots maneuvered the plane to block the sunlight, the radio cracked and the two men saw the coastline.

After more than 100 flights during the Vietnam Conflict, Bisher and his co-pilot had tears in their eyes.

“Vietnam was over for us. Most were not as fortunate as we to see their homeland again,” Bisher said.

Army Lt. Col Brett Bonnell, could relate. He recently served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and both he and his wife Diane served in the first Gulf War.

“It struck me how this man who had flown hundreds of combat missions in Vietnam and not shed a tear, but returning home in his B-52, the view of the California shoreline brought him to tears,” Bonnell said.

Bonnell said he has often felt that way as he longs to see his loved ones – his wife and 10-year-old daughter Sarah. He keeps returning though.

“The military is a higher calling, not about self. It’s about country; my ability to lead soldiers, educate soldiers and care for them,” Bonnell said.

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