Dillon Hughes will serve his country in the US Coast Guard. He leaves for boot camp tomorrow and when he does, he will leave behind the idealistic dreams and plans of his youth. When he returns home a couple months from now, he will have changed. His well-trained body will stand taller and move more crisply and with purpose and any remnants of his boyhood will be gone. He will be more responsible, organized and confident than the boy his heart-broken mother will tearfully cling to when they say goodbye. His dad will feel a sense of pride mixed with grave concern but he will proudly bid him well as fathers do. This is his son, his flesh and blood, and they are best buddies. He will stoically put his arm around his wife and pull her tight, giving her a safe place to fall apart as he stands quiet and strong, and just as heartbroken.
Dillon chose the US Coast Guard because it is the branch of our military that is most suited to his skills and desires. If you are clinging to life in unforgiving seas and out of time, he is the sort of man you would want coming to save you. He is smart and courageous. He doesn’t cut corners, and he lacks the ability to quit at anything. If saving you is possible, Dillon Hughes will get it done. That is the young man that Jim and Lisa Hughes have raised and the boy I have known since he was five.
I recall way back then that I was going through a tough spot in life. I was working in Florida for a magazine and stopped by to visit the family. Dillon knew I was sad and it bothered him because even at five, he cared. Before I left, he handed me one of his favorite toys. It was a red foam-rubber sword. He told me that if I ever got sad again that I could pull out the sword and it would remind me that he was my friend and that he cared. For a couple years I looked at that sword a lot more than I care to admit, and he was right, it helped. I still have it and keep it in a very special place. That is the kind of stuff Dillon Hughes is made of.
I took him for lunch the other day to wish him well before he left. I sat and listened to him talk about what lay ahead and felt immensely proud of him. I will miss him and will think of him far too often. Yet I feel good for the other young men and women he will serve with as he will be a great friend and shipmate, and if the time comes for him to be tested, an incredible hero. They will be safer and more effective because Dillon is on their team.
His mom probably still wishes he worked in a pillow factory ten steps from her own back door. As I ponder the enormity of the challenge and risks ahead of him, I see her point. But Jim and Liza spent their lives preparing him to live an exceptional life and now it’s his turn to carry the torch and make the world a better place.
If you have served or are serving; thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you have sent your children off to serve, then thank you for raising a great American. Please say a prayer for Dillon and his shipmates.
God Bless our young men and women and God Bless America.