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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Two travel notes

As I entered RDU Airport on Monday, I saw several soldiers in dress uniform (the relatively new Army Blue). Soldiers in combat digital camouflage are a common sight here because Fort Bragg is not far away, but except for parades and other ceremonial occasions, one doesn't see dress uniforms often.

My curiosity rose ten-fold when I passed a Major General, also in dress uniform. He was elderly and couldn't have been on active duty.

Half an hour later, I was waiting at my gate when there was an announcement from the adjacent gate. We were told that the casket of a fallen soldier was about to be loaded on that aircraft and that an honor guard would be present. About 400 people at the end of the concourse, I guess, stood in silence for several minutes as the honor guard -- all the soldiers I had seen in dress uniform, led by the MGEN -- rendered its respect. A staff sergeant would accompany the body to its destination.

It was a touching moment, and it reminded me that in addition to the hundreds of billions of dollars that our military intervention in the Middle East has cost, we continue to lose lives of young Americans as well.

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Later in the week I had the opportunity to visit downtown New Orleans, my first trip there since Katrina. New Orleans has particular significance for me; during my long years of childhood illness I was hospitalized at Oschner. Leading my British colleagues along the riverfront, up Canal Street, and through the French Quarter I was relieved to see no obvious signs of Katrina. Of course, the French had built on the only high ground in the area. The lower and far less prosperous New Orleans East has never recovered.

I wouldn't say that Canal Street and the French Quarter were deserted, but neither were they full. It was a weeknight and perhaps no major convention was in town. The Louis Armstrong airport was quiet too. Residents of the area have had to deal with Katrina, then the recession, then the BP oil spill. Lord, have mercy.