Regina Ann Schuler Studwell, Ed.D. -Family Category National Essay Contest, DAR
This is the story of an American family. A blended family, that is, father with three children, mother with three children, and one child of their own. We met and married in Tucker, GA. Al was a Family Practice Physician; taking out tonsils, delivering babies, making hospital and house calls and working long, long hours. Regina was a Registered Nurse. Back in the day, (I love that phrase, it places us squarely in a time frame) my husband Al and I were both home at the same time. He then announced "we’d be making a change in our lives. We’re going in the Air Force," he continued "you'll love military families. They’re the salt of the earth." Al had been in the US Army after college to secure the GI Bill for his medical college costs. He knew military life.
The USAF recruiters interviewed us and told us the Air Force needed doctors as the Vietnam era docs were getting out of the service for private practice. They assured us they could station us almost anywhere we wanted to go. We agonized over this decision but came up with California, Hawaii, Spain or Japan. We would be packed out by Christmas.
As we drove into Plattsburgh AFB in upstate NY, a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base, we were in the midst of the first snowfall; 40 inches that January. Plattsburgh, NY is just miles from the Canadian border and just 60 miles from Montreal.
I threw myself into fitting in with the other wives. I joined the Officers' Wives Club, was elected Secretary of the organization, took the kids sledding, skiing, and ice skating. All this was far from the Atlanta, GA home we came from. I went back to school. It occurred to me working as an RN wouldn’t happen. The towns near military bases hired hometown girls to work. They all knew our time on station was only about three years. We settled into what became a fulfilling and satisfying life.
After three years we moved overseas. We spent three years in Okinawa, Japan and two years at Incirlik AFB in Turkey. My husband received several promotions. He was now Colonel Studwell, a certified Flight Surgeon and a Hospital Commander. The USAF base located in the Middle East gave us the opportunity for travel. Our best visits were to the Holy Land, Egypt and brief visits to France, Germany and England.
Sunday morning, October 23, 1983, we were getting ready for Chapel when Al received a phone call from the Wing Commander, Col. Gordon Clauser. His message was, "Al, there’s trouble in Beirut, go down and get those guys." This was the terrorist attack on the US Marine Corps barracks by the airport in Beirut. The terrorists killed 241 that day, 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and 3 Soldiers. The terrorists managed to decimate the entire first floor of the barracks that housed the Medics. This meant the wounded had no one to care for them.
Al changed into his flight suit, grabbed his medical bag, and without a word started down the hall. I broke out of my trance, started to follow him, and the thought entered my mind – I might never see this man again. I took off my bedroom slipper and threw it at his receding back. I yelled, "Don’t you dare do something stupid and get killed." I then burst into tears. He came back, gave me a quick, hard hug, and a kiss. Then he turned and left.
I never saw him for another week or more. Later we would find he had personally left the airplane when it landed at the Beirut airport. Al was the first physician in attendance that day and he evacuated 24 critically wounded on his aircraft to Ramstein AFB, Germany. One Marine died in flight.
We finished Al's 20 year USAF commitment and retired back home in Atlanta. During Al's career, he lost an eye on active duty, suffered bone and arthritis problems, and had more than 20 major surgeries. The VA considers him 90% disabled, but you’d never know it. He managers to pretty much have a good life.
Twenty-five years after the Beirut bombing, I saw a write up in the Atlanta Journal Constitution saying there would be a local meeting of Beirut Marines. I called the number listed and received a great welcome and an invitation to come to Camp LeJeune, NC for a get together of the survivors. We went.
It was a remarkable evening. We met up with the pilot of Al’s aircraft, Capt. Joe Bunker. He had to siphon gasoline from the planes parked on the Beirut tarmac to get back home with the wounded. The USMC Commander, Col. Tim Geraghty met Al that evening. He had a message for Al. The mother of the young Marine who died on Al's aircraft asked the Colonel if he ever met the doctor on the aircraft who brought her son home. If so, please thank him. Even though her son died, she knew where he was. Well, that did if for Al. He started to sob. He'd been carrying his grief over losing that Marine for twenty-five years.
The Marines found out that Al was missed when they gave the flight crew stationed in Germany medals for bravery and heroism in Beirut. Al, being stationed in Turkey, fell through the cracks. They did something about it. The pilot had a friend in his home state of Wisconsin, Congressman Paul Ryan. A lot of activity went on and 28 years after the fact, Al received his Medal during a great ceremony at Dobbins AFB in Marietta, GA on June 5, 2011, with family and friends present.
I quote from the Meritorious Achievement Medal:
"Col. Studwell demonstrated stellar clinical skills as he led the team that saved the lives of the 23 remaining Marines which contributed immeasurably to this hazardous and historic mission."
The pilot, then Cpt. Joe Bunker, concluded "today we honor a fellow military member with an award that is 27 years overdue. More importantly, we are here to remember the 241 service members who lost their lives." Many of the Marines injured in Beirut came to show their gratitude. Col. Tim Tarchick, Wing Commander of the 94th Airlift Wing at Dobbins AFB, Marietta, GA said, "this Award is a big deal authorized by the President of the United States. I am pleased to be standing before a silent Warrior – one who paved the way for people in uniform, particularly in the medical field."
Who am I? I AM A MILITARY WIFE. Now, Al and I sit and watch NASCAR on television to see the beginning ceremony: The prayer, the fireworks, the singing of the National Anthem, and best of all, the Fly-Over and presentation of the Colors. We fly our Flag at home.
Again, I know who I am. I am an American Patriot.