By Chris Manson
Welcome to a new semi-regular Beachcomber feature titled “Thanks for Your Service” (though I’m open to suggestions for a less worn-out title). I had been planning to do short features on area veterans for some time now, but kept putting it off until (1) I started taking frequent advantage of my American Legion membership by hitting the bar at the Fort Walton Beach post, and (2) George Williams called me about a special surprise event they were doing Wednesday, Feb. 6 at the post, which happily coincided with BLT day.
Read on, and if you know someone that should be featured in this section, hit me up at email@example.com.
“We’re celebrating an American hero,” Gordo Scott, the second vice-commander of American Legion Post 235 in Fort Walton Beach, tells me when I arrive. Air Force pararescue specialist Aaron Farrior (Chief Master Sergeant, Ret.), the guest of honor, isn’t here yet.
Mr. Farrior has been led to believe that today’s event is a fundraising meeting and that he needed to dress up a little.
“I’ve known him over 25 years,” Mr. Scott says, adding that Mr. Farrior’s decorations include four Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star. “He’s as sharp as a tack, but his body’s failing…but he’ll have some more giddyup in his step today.”
A “Thank You Very Much” card is being passed around among Legion members, as well as several young active duty airmen stationed at nearby Hurlburt Field.
When Mr. Farrior arrives with George Williams, everyone takes their seats—that delicious BLT and potato salad (and, later, Wild Turkey OTR) will have to wait. At the podium, Mr. Scott recognizes a handful of Silver Star winners (“Recipients!” someone in the crowd of around 50 interjects), but not Mr. Farrior.
“Did I miss anyone?” Mr. Scott asks.
“I’ve got some of that shit, too!” says Mr. Farrior. Soon, the cat’s out of the duffel bag, and Mr. Scott reads several letters from Mr. Farrior’s fellow veterans that were unable to attend. The 26-year veteran is given a standing ovation and presented with a lovely award—not your usual plaque (which he probably has a ton of already), but an engraved bottle of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select.
I forget to ask the bartender for a glass of ice before I make my way over to Mr. Farrior’s table and grab a photo of him with pals Ray Bourque and Mr. Williams.
“We buddied around for the last 35 years,” says Mr. Williams. “Now it’s just us.” The two hang out a lot, and “everywhere we go, (Aaron) wins the Oldest in Attendance award.”
Mr. Farrior’s nearly three decades on active duty include tours of Africa, Spain, and Vietnam (three tours). I notice a lot of well-wishers coming up to the table, so I best make it quick. I ask the one question that’s been nagging at me since the speeches ended.
“What kind of beer is that?”
Mr. Farrior, who turns 84 this June, takes a swig from his frosty mug. “Budweiser! I’m from St. Louis. I don’t drink that light shit.”