We were a pretty special group. We had no idea at the time, but looking back on those awkward, amazing, adolescent days through the telescope of faulty but fond memory, it's easy to see that something beyond us was working around and through us.
The one distinguishing feature about all of us was that we were sons and daughters of military men. Well, para-military at least--hard for me to assign full military status to the Air Force, to which many of us were "dependents." What brought us together in the same geographic space was the fact that our fathers were stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, either at Howard Air Force Base, Fort Kobbe, Albrook Air Force Base, or Fort Clayton. We came from families originally formed in every corner of the country and the globe. The Canal Zone was for all of us just the latest stop on a trail of world-wide wandering from military base to military base. We had not grown up with each other since infancy, but quickly bonded as if we had been life-long friends. We were thrust abruptly together for a brief moment in time, and just as abruptly split asunder.
What brought the core group of us together was the labor of love of a young missionary by the name of Jane Downs. I don't believe her church had sent her to Panama to minister to American kids specifically, but that quickly became her calling, as far as we were concerned. Her Tuesday afternoon Bible study was the proximate event to which we were originally drawn, like so many wayward moths to the light of The Truth.
I have, shamefully, lost track of many of that special group. But, the ones I am still in touch with fill me with pride at their accomplishments. At least six of that group went into the military out of high school, either enlisting or getting commissions via the Air Force Academy or ROTC. One of us went into the ministry out of college. Ironically, he is now the only one of us still on active duty in the military, having gone into the Army Reserve as a chaplain and now ministering to war-wearied soldiers and families at Fort Stewart. I know where the prettiest girl and best mother in the group is today--she shares my bed.
Wish I knew where some of the guys like Reuben, Ricky, and Jeff are today. Don't think I have heard from them since the regular-occurring military-ordered diaspora swirled through our midst at the end of that remarkable time, scattering us like dust from a whirlwind. I last saw Dan, then a pilot for Delta, in Atlanta 16 years ago. Mike, the Army Chaplain, stays in touch. I last saw brothers Joe and Tom at Parris Island the day five years ago that Tom's son became a Marine. A year before that, Joe and I collided, literally, two colonels in a bunker in Seoul, having not seen or heard from each other in over a decade.
A part of me wants to begin a search, find them all, and bring them together again. Another part of me fears that special group won't seem so special upon our reunion. Would we have anything in common, now? Would we quickly tire of the game of "remember when" and grow quiet with the realization that the great gulf of time separating us from the jungles of Panama prevents us from really knowing each other?
It's a risk. But, one worth taking.