A medal for grandma

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
I was thousands of miles away when my grandmother Margaret Jeske died on March 17, 1993. It was the same day I was bringing my wife Bobbi and our new three-day-old daughter Ivy home from the hospital.

At the time, I was stationed at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal. I'd been in the Air Force for just over a year and I can recall how elated I'd felt at the birth of my daughter. I was looking forward to all the things new parents enjoy -- dirty diapers, high chairs and all that goes with it. I was totally oblivious to what was happening to my grandmother back in my hometown of Wakefield, Mich.

It took a couple of weeks before I heard the news of my grandmother's death. My mother, being a new grandmother herself, had trouble getting the news to me so she wrote a letter, which took its time to get to me.

When I read the letter, at first, I was a little angry because the event had already passed. I wasn't given the choice whether or not to go home and see my grandmother before she died. But in my mother's words, she said to "enjoy your new daughter" because "grandma is in a better place." I still have that letter, but the thing I remember most is my mother saying my grandmother learned of my daughter's birth before she died and was happy to hear the news.

It was like Grandma Jeske to be happy about such events. My daughter became her third great-granddaughter before she died. It was also notable because she always seemed to take an interest in my life and what I was doing even though she had seven other grandchildren to keep track of along with three other great-grandchildren. In addition, her health for many years was failing her. If I remember right, for 10 years she had doctors telling her she had six months to live. For her to make it to age 73 proved to me how tough a woman she was.

I also remember before her death when she came to see me at my wedding in June 1992. She said how nice I looked in my new Air Force service dress and that she hadn't seen a man in his "service uniform" in years. Other family members told me that when I wasn't there, she'd tell others how proud she was to have a grandson in "the service."

Now I'll fast forward you to March 17, 2009. My daughter Ivy was three days past her 16th birthday and I was on stage in Grace Peterson Hall in the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center on Fort Dix - my wife Bobbi looking on. I was standing at attention next to my commander in my "service uniform" waiting to be awarded the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal for the first time.

The MSM is a big deal if you think about it. According to the Air Force Personnel Center, this decoration was established by Executive Order 11448 on Jan. 16, 1969. The medal "may be awarded to any member of the armed forces of the United States who distinguishes themselves by either outstanding achievement or meritorious service to the United States. The award was established as the counterpart of the Bronze Star Medal for the recognition of meritorious noncombatant service."

So there I am on stage. For some unexplained reason, while I was standing there before all of my fellow wingmen of the Expeditionary Center, my knees were shaking. They were shaking and shimmering, but I don't think it was noticeable to those in the audience. It was almost to a point where I thought I would have to get off stage. But then, just before the citation was read, it all stopped. I think it was at this moment when Grandma Jeske was with me.

I believe my grandma was there because as they started reading the citation, I started thinking about her just out of the blue. My eyes were focused straight ahead as they should be, but my mind was recalling the two dates - March 17, 1993, and March 17, 2009. Then my mind thought about grandma and what she would think if she saw all of this. It was rather heart-warming and still is.

Receiving the medal was an honor in and of itself, but it was extra special for me to be able to relate it to a date that reminds me of my grandmother.

The medal also reminds me that even though it's a form of recognizing success, it's also a way for us to remember that such success is only possible because of those who serve in silence -- our wingmen at home.

So that's why I have to say "thanks" to my grandma. If it weren't for people like her throughout my life, where would I be? Grandma, this medal is for you.