A DAY WITH MR. DAY
By Jim Spiri
June 19, 2008
Every now and then something or someone really profound comes across my path. I’m never exactly sure how it is that certain events unfold before my very eyes resulting in a precious memory that I must share with those who enjoy reading what I have to write. This past weekend I was asked to accompany a certain man visiting New Mexico. He would arrive in El Paso, which is 300-miles south of where I live in Albuquerque. His plane would land at 0930 in the morning on Saturday, June 14th. He would be departing the same day at 1612 hrs, (4:12 pm). I would spend six hours with him. It would take me five hours drive down, and five hours drive back. It would take about 25-gallons of fuel @ $4 per gallon. I said, “yes, I’ll be glad to assist”, and on my way I went.
Late in the evening on Thursday, June 12, I received an email notifying me that a Mr. Bud Day would be arriving in El Paso and if I had the time would I be able to escort him to Las Cruces, NM, where he was to give a speech lasting 30-minutes. I recognized the name and immediately knew that what I was about to embark upon was a blessing that had for some reason been handed to me. Retired Col. Bud Day, 83-years old, congressional medal of honor recipient, veteran of WW2, Korea and Viet Nam, former POW for nearly six years in Hanoi, cell mate of John McCain needed someone to escort him. The day I spent with Mr. (Col.) Bud Day, was a day I shall never, ever forget. Never before have I been so humbled and honored to meet such a person as Bud Day.
For the record, I must explain a little history in my life. Some of you know already, that I grew up under the direction of my step-father who was a US Navy F-4 fighter pilot with VF-121, and in later years worked extensively on the LEM (lunar excursion module) as well as the Space Shuttle. So during my years of growing up, especially between the years of 1965-73, ( from ages 10-17) I developed a strong interest in current events encouraged by my step father. The most talked about issue during that time frame in my home was the war in Viet Nam and specifically the fate of POW’s held in captivity in North Viet Nam. I have mentioned before in previous writings, that my step father told me to stay home from school when the POW’s were being released from Hanoi in March of 1973. He insisted that I should see on television the men coming home and that I would never forget that day. He was absolutely correct.
Thirty-five years later, at 53-years old, with a life that has been full of more experiences than I ever imagined one person could contain, I am brought front and center in the presence of a man who was among those I watched walk of one of those planes as I glared at an old black and white television wondering what each man was thinking at that precise moment. On this father’s day weekend in June, 2008, I would have that question and many, many others answered. It was a good day with Mr. Day.
Bud Day arrived right on time. I had met him briefly this past January in South Carolina on the USS Yorktown where I was photographing a campaign event for the John McCain campaign during this years primary. At that time, I did not have the opportunity to converse at length with him. But, on this day, that would all change. I had known the verse for years, “be ready in or out of season”, and today, I was ready. As the passengers came down the escalator, I peered over each and every one. Soon, I recognized the small in stature, elderly man coming down the aisle. He stepped off the escalator, I extended my right hand and greeted him. “Mr. Day..?”, I said in the most professional voice I could muster up. He replied, “yes, how are you today..?” “Fine sir. How was your flight..?” And we began to chat a bit as we walked towards the exit. I immediately noticed he had no luggage, no bag, nothing. I inquired as to if we need to get to baggage claim and he responded by telling me, he has everything he needs. That amounted to himself and his ticket. I smiled and thought to myself, just exactly how I like to travel. Simply. This day was good.
We found our way to the car and in short order we would be heading north for about an hours drive to Las Cruces where Mr. Day was scheduled to give a short speech on behalf of his good friend, John McCain. Mr. Day was acting as, what is called in campaign terms, a surrogate, which means basically when McCain cannot be present for one reason or another at an important event, someone in his place, someone he trusts, is sent and speaks on his behalf. This event was the Republican state convention for New Mexico. This was the day delegates would be selected to attend the national convention later this summer. Although this event on this day would be full of some dramatic situations that seem to transpire in such things, the speaker of the day would be Mr. Day, and he would bring an aura of soberness to the rowdy crowd.
By the time we arrived at the site, I had found myself and Mr. Day speaking openly and candidly about many, many things. It was now about 1100 hrs which gave us about 2 ½ hours to wait around and drink some coffee. The event was held at Onate High School which is on the plains of San Augustine, in southern New Mexico, in a town called Las Cruces, with a back drop of the Organ Mountains, a majestic site for eyes to see. I had grown up in this town, but had not lived there for the past 32-years. I had left long ago but found it so ironic this day to be there in such a manner. Things had come full circle, once again.
As we sat at the table in the cafeteria of the high school, we talked at length about everything under the sun. I learned about him and he learned about me and for the first time in a while, I felt at peace with everything that had transpired in my life over the years. This man, who had been through more experiences than anyone I had ever met, understood my feelings on anything and everything I mentioned to him. We talked about all my comrades of the recent year that I had the privilege of being with. I told him of the Marines of Golf Company, 2/6 in Fallujah, the Soldiers of 2/7 Cav in Mosul, the soldiers of 1/40 Cav outside of Baghdad at FOB Falcon, my son Jimmy, a Warrant Officer and helicopter pilot of 2/227th 1st Cav in Taji, and of my son, 2nd Lt. Jesse James Spiri, USMC, deceased. I told him how I have felt out of place since returning this time, but on this day, I finally felt at home in the place where I had grown up as a child being in his presence. It was a sober day. It was father’s day weekend, one of the hardest days of the year for me. For there is always one call that does not come anymore for me, and I no longer can make the same call.
Bud Day proceeded to tell me of his grandson, a Marine, who was severely injured in 2004 in Anbar province in Iraq. I explained to him that it was quite possible that I was present during his grandson being loaded onto a C-141 at Balad, where I assisted in the loading of thousands upon thousands of wounded warriors for two years. Mr. Day continued to tell me of many of his extraordinary experiences over the course of his 83-years, from his time as a small child growing up in Iowa, to his military service, to his 59-year marriage to his lovely wife Doris, to his four lovely children, and to his relationship with John McCain. I came to realize that we had much in common. It was a remarkable day.
By now it was around 1230 hrs and the event had not broke for lunch yet which was to be served in the cafeteria where we were sitting drinking coffee. Soon the crowd inside the auditorium would have to come and eat and would be flooding our area rapidly. At this time, some media people had found out that Mr. Day was in house and wanted to interview him. He complied with their request, but I, with instructions to care for Mr. Day, took over the responsibility of keeping it brief for we were on a time schedule. So for a brief moment in time, I got to “allow” the press to grill congressional medal of honor winner, Col. Bud Day (ret), and I wondered how it would fare. But as I listened to this spry warrior handle these local press folks, I was grinning ear to ear inside my being, watching and listening to him speak the truth. It was now a fun day.
After about 15-minutes of this “press interrogation” of Mr. Day, I closed the interview down and explained that we have to eat now and get on with our schedule. Of course, I received that, “who the hell are you look” from one of the press members, but on this day, me being in a blue suit with an American flag tie, and my long hair hanging over my collar, and being in charge of the well being of one of America’s finest, no one even dared question my directions. The interview finished, everyone shook hands, and Mr. Day and I proceeded to get our lunch before the crowd came rushing in. By 1340 hrs the crowd was finishing up eating and were told to gather back in the auditorium to hear the guest speaker give his talk. Bud and I made our way to the auditorium and to the podium. At this point I took a chair and sat on the stage behind the curtain and at 1345 hrs exactly, Col. Day was introduced to the crowd. The crowd had been a bit restless from the morning session. These things just happen at these sort of things. But once Mr. Day began to speak, a silence fell upon the crowd as they listened to this simple man explain many profound things and of his relationship with a man named John McCain.
As I listened from my vantage point on the chair behind the curtain, I realized that on this day I was hearing a piece of American history first hand. I heard every word he spoke to the audience and watched while no one else could see me. For the past few hours I had been listening and sharing with Bud Day the realities of life. For some reason, this opportunity had been given to me. Now, I was listening to him speak to the audience for 30-minutes, a condensed version of what I had just heard. Even so, it was extremely profound, so much so, that I cannot in any way explain it adequately in this writing. But suffice it to say, the crowd was enamored with his speaking and on many occasions gave him a resounding round of applause. He had sobered the crowd. For a brief moment in time, everyone was on the same page. Bud Day has a way of making that happen.
Our departure time had to be no later than between 2:15 pm and 2:20 pm, in order to make the one hour journey back to the El Paso airport to catch his flight on time. I had been charged with making sure no hiccups occur along the way. I looked at my watch and it was 2:13 pm. Bud was still speaking. Yet, I knew not to worry. At exactly 2:15pm he completed his talk. He walked over to me and told me he was ready to depart. I knew he was a man that was always right on time. The car had been pulled up front for us, and we exited the back of the stage and made our way to the car. Two people had been waiting back stage to meet him, and he signed copies of a book he had written that they had brought in hopes of meeting him. I was able to take that photo for them.
As we drove away and headed for the airport in El Paso, Bud and I talked more and more about lots and lots of things. So much so, that there is no way I can convey it all here in this writing. But be assured, on this day, I conversed with a man who has known much suffering and had done many, many things that only few of us can even begin to comprehend, and has come out of it on the other side with a reservoirs of life-imparting words to those that want to hear. We arrived at the airport and I escorted him to the waiting area and I got him one more cup of coffee. It was time to leave. I didn’t want to leave, but it was time. Just before I left, Mr. Bud Day came up to me and gave me an embrace and told me thank you. I could hardly speak. All I could say was, “thank you Col. Bud Day”. I then left. I was most blessed on this day.
This was the day I spent with Mr. Bud Day. A simple, but extremely profound American patriot. I shall never forget this day or Mr. Day.
For those of you that would like to know more about the life of Col. Bud Day, I highly suggest reading his autobiography titled, “Duty, Honor, Country”.
A DAY WITH MR. DAY