Thank You For Your Service: Sister Gertrude and the Legend of the Blushing Airborne Ranger

This is an excerpt of the speech given at a luncheon at Donald Mooney Enterprises on June 24th 2016.  I have opted to record it for posterity to remind Captain William Eskridge just how damn awesome we were in our youth–or embarrass  him with the telling. Take your pick!!

Airborne!! All the Way!! Sir!!

Rangers Lead the Way!!

Willing and Able! Mass the fire!!

Hardcore Harry




I sometimes suspect that younger veterans think I am telling tall tales when I tell them that folks didn’t always thank every veteran they meet for their service. Thirty-three years ago, when I was a young 21-year old combat-wounded veteran, the vast majority of people I would meet somehow seemed more interested in “other” concerns of a more personal nature. At  first, I didn’t know what to think of it? Eventually, it became so predictable that it became second nature to respond with the cursory pat answer that satisfied their overriding sense of curiosity. It started with my sister, Robin, asking the doctors in ICU. It reached its apex when a Catholic nun named Sister Gertrude, who was at least all of 80-plus years old, tottered up to my bed on Ward 43C in Beach Pavilion at Fort Sam Houston and introduced herself.


“Hello,” she says shaking my hand.  “My name is Sister Gertrude.”

“How are your testicles?”

Somehow, I managed to stammer out an answer, in my thoroughly embarrassed state, that satisfied her.


“Bless you!” she says, patting me on the hand. She then turns  to the bed adjoining mine. There was then First Lieutenant Bill Eskridge from the Second Ranger Battalion, who had lost his right leg at Calvigny Barracks, during the third day of operations of Operation Urgent Fury.

Bill ...Ranger photo


She asks Bill the same question, in front of all of our friends and family and God.

I don’t recall ever seeing that shade of red on a blushing Airborne Ranger before…

I am also certain that I must have  at least equaled its hue in my previous attempts at a response!!


Again, satisfied with our horrifyingly awkward responses. She thanks us and leaves.

Yet,  the legend and single-minded bravery of this plucky, frail,  and tottering nun has never died!

We both knew right then that we had witnessed an un-daunting courage that neither of us had, or,  would ever, possess!!


Thank you for your service. What does it mean? Personally, I am not always sure about the expression. Indeed, sometimes, I find the phrase inherently uncomfortable and vague. I suppose that this has to do with the fact that most individuals using the phrase are blissfully unaware of the true nature of the object for which they are thanking us for. In some ways, looking back,  the overwhelming comical, carnal curiosity in one’s testes has a genuineness often missing in today’s perfunctory addressing of combat veterans. Because, in asking there is provided  an answer with either in the negative or affirmative that everyone can relate. There, is either loss or joy. Everything is simplified. Everything is related.


“Thank you for your testes, young man!”

“You’re welcome. Glad to oblige!”


Not likely to start a trend, I am afraid.


THAT age has thankfully passed!










Published in: on June 24, 2016 at 9:58 pm  Comments (1)  


Today is my birthday. I have always thought it fortuitous that I was born on June fifth. After all, it was 66 years ago on June 5th that the Allied Airborne forces took to the air to kick off Operation Neptune, the airborne phase of the D-Day landings. As a veteran of the 82nd Airborne and a field artilleryman I have always had a special place in my heart for paratroopers and artillerymen—especially airborne artillerymen! There is an old artillerymens’ saying that: “Artillery lends dignity to what otherwise might be an unruly brawl.” We are considered the “King of Battle.” Sure the Infantry—the Queen of Battle—takes ground. We artillerymen make sure they hold to it!

The first commander of the 82nd Airborne’s Division Artillery was none other than the great Maxwell Taylor. Maxwell Taylor would go on to command the 101st Airborne in D-Day and the remainder of World War II. We troopers of the 82nd Airborne like to point out that before Maxwell Taylor ever donned the uniform of the “Screaming Eagles” he wore the double “A” of the “All Americans!!!”

My birthday present today was a tattoo. Amazing as it sounds, although I did manage to pick up a tattoo or two during my time in the Airborne; I never managed to find an airborne tattoo that I liked. The off the shelf tats in the off base parlors just did not speak to me. I wanted something meaningful and today, nearly 26 years after I got out of the Army I finally found one that I like. My wife and daughter actually designed this one for me. It is a combination of my airborne artillery regiment’s unit crest and the wings from this year’s Airborne Amputee event that was sponsored by TMC Orthopedic in Houston this last May first and second.

 I like it. It is unique, and it certainly has a great deal of meaning for me. I have always been fond of the sentiment expressed in the regiment’s motto: LOYALTY. It is one word yet it carries with it connotations that cut all the way across ever tradition near and dear to the military:Duty, Honor, Country—SAME THING!

The wings, aside from their obvious connection to parachuting, symbolize the hope that organizations like TMC Orthopedic and its charity Limbs of Love offer to amputees like myself. I had never dreamed even a few months ago that I would ever be offered the chance to walk again yet here I am. It is astonishingly humbling. I have decided that even if it were to turn out that is was all for naught, I am better for having tried my best. There are simply some offers in life that you cannot turn your back on. Thank you TMC and The Amputee and Prosthetic Center for giving me this chance again. I vow to give my utmost toward this endevour and prove that your trust in my abilities was not unfounded.


Lastly, I will close by admitting that my loving wife, Ginny,  has long conceded that the Airborne will always be my first love. Therefore, the heart is indeed a symbol of the affection that I hold for the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment.  Thank you for understanding, dear!


Hardcore Harry