The Aviator's Toast
They line up, one by one, at the front of the banquet hall with their friends and family watching proud. The "wingers"—thirty-one men and women of the marines, navy, and coast guard dressed in their finest uniforms standing tall and beautiful. The wings indicating that they are now not just helicopter pilots in training but aviators were only pinned on to their breasts an hour ago and glint in the flashes of a hundred parents' cameras. It is time for the toast and they are all grinning like fools in their pride and relief.
"Here's to the Onwings who flew with us even after we almost killed them." The room laughs. The beers are raised, and everyone drinks as one by one the wingers step forward and make their toasts.
"Here's to the Commanding Officers—"
"Here's to the friends and family—"
"Here's to the marine corps—to the navy—to the coast guard—to those who have gone before—"
"Here's to the United States of America."
"Here's to the right answer to the big question," he toasts, his face turning red but his smile filled with excitement as he steps forward out of the line of officers but never raises his beer. Instead he keeps walking with purpose straight to her table, straight to her seat, and pulls out a white velvet box. He kneels in front of her in his perfectly white uniform, the handsome officer and a gentleman.
His face is filled with hope and fear, and an expression of delight at the way he has surprised her—her eyes are growing moist with unshed tears. The way he has surprised everyone.
"Will you marry me?" he asks her. How can she say no when the crowd is hooting and hollering and his voice is so earnest and she loves him more than anything else?
So she says yes.
And the whole room cheers as the rings fits onto her finger. The right answer to the big question. When he steps back into the line his eyes never leave her. Never once. And the fear is gone from his face so that there is nothing left but joy. Because he knows: years from now when her children ask her what it means to earn wings liker their father, what it's like to have your uniform pinned with pride, she will tell them that it is beautiful. And that the best part is the aviator's toast.