Class Of 1964 USAF Academy


Remarks by Mariana Richie

U.S. Air Force Academy Class Of 1964's 50th Reunion
September 5, 2014
Colorado Springs, Colorado

These remarks were made by Mariana following her husband's (Steve Ritchie) address to the class upon our visit to the SEA Pavilion.

It is such an honor to address the Class of '64 when I feel that any one of you deserve to be speaking more than I. Steve refers to you as Superstars, but you are Super Heroes to me.

At first sight I am just Steve Ritchie's little wife, but beyond that I am the oppressed that you rescued and the American who fights alongside you to keep our freedom from slipping through our fingers.

I come from Romania, a communist Romania, and an oppressed Romania. While American children learned to love and trust, we learned to hate, trust no one, & control every word we said because our lives depended on it. While American children were taking field trips learning about their Nation's history, we were prisoners in our own country. We had to wait in line for hours, sometimes even days for a piece of bread.

Communists believed in spreading the wealth. This paralyzed the economy because the rich didn't want to work as most of it was taken away from them. The poor didn't want to work because they were getting something for nothing.

The communists were overspending and the economy was in shambles. They tried to fix it by throwing even more money at the problem. When I asked a teacher "How do you spend your way out of debt?" I was told to shut up and obey. Obeying was never one of my "strengths".

Guns were illegal because unarmed people are easier to control and oppress.

We weren't allowed to move from one city to another or get married without government approval.

Knowing that my grandfather was a priest, I was threatened with all kinds of things for going to church. That made me go to church even more. And it wasn't courage, it was despair !! I wanted to provoke them so they would finally kill me and end it all. There comes a point when you're so desperate that you look fear in the eye and say: "I just don't care!"

We weren't allowed to say "Merry Christmas", only "Happy Holidays". We had to call the Christmas Trees, Holiday Trees.

The social healthcare killed many. One of my first memories as a child was holding the hand of a dying man who was a neighbor and a friend. My grandmother was crying, saying that there was nothing more we could do for him but help him die. I can still feel his hand getting cold and stiff in mine, and I remember thinking how quickly it happened. The look of death in his eyes still haunts me to this day. All he needed was a simple surgery which here is an outpatient procedure. When I asked my grandmother how old I was when that happened, she said I was 5 years old. He was the first of many. We grew up watching people rot in misery and playing around their coffins.

It was like living with a plastic bag over your head. We could see, but hardly breathe. We heard that it was much better out there somewhere, in America, and that made things even more unbearable.

I had a picture of the American flag from a foreign magazine smuggled into the country. Sometimes I'd take it out and stare at it dreaming of America, of what it would be like to be free, to walk in Central Park, to taste a hamburger. I made the mistake of taking it to school and was caught. I managed to hide the flag before the teacher could find it. I refused to surrender it in spite of the threats, because I knew it would be destroyed. I could afford to lose my life, but I couldn't afford to live without the hope that the American Flag gave to me.

As a little girl, I didn't dream of Prince Charming coming on a white horse to carry me off to his castle. I knew I needed more than that. I needed someone who would march into hell for a heavenly cause, our freedom, someone who would run where the brave dare not go and fight our worst enemy, someone who would right the unrightable wrong that was done to us. I knew I needed an American fighter pilot. I finally found him in Steve. However, before we met, I did not hear one good thing about him. They talked about him as if he were a bad outlaw.

Through all this madness when we felt forgotten even by God, there was one constant hope that kept us going. The hope that American troops would come to blow us up, blow up every brick, every board, and every stone until there was nothing left standing. You see, I was part of a system so evil, so corrupt that I felt even I wasn't worth saving.

And we would have given the Americans anything in exchange for our freedom: all the gold in the mountains, all the oil in Southern Romania, our hearts and souls. The oppressed understand better than anyone that the rescuers have to do whatever they have to do in order to free them and they are the last to judge.

In spite of what you might hear and see on TV, you are NOT hated all over the world, but loved by millions of people who are hoping that you'll go to rescue them next.

By the time I came to American I was numb. I wasn't dead, but I've never been alive either. That's what oppression does to you: it kills the spirit first and only after that it takes away your life.

We came through New York where we spent one night. It was the first time we felt safe in our entire lives. We came to America with a bag of clothes, didn't speak English and didn't have a penny in our pockets, yet we were happy to simply be free.

You took me in when nobody else wanted me, when I was an outcast in my own country. You taught me the meaning of new words like: kindness, happiness, joy, and honor. You gave me a home and a second chance to life!

Here in America I learned what it is like to be loved and accepted for who I am.

Kind Americans suggested that there was government financial help for low income people. We refused it. It wasn't pride, but gratitude! We were so grateful for being allowed to be a small part of the most amazing country in the world that we just wanted to give back, not take.

I was amazed to see the wealth surrounding us everywhere: the fancy cars, the fancy jewelry, the spectacular steel, marble and glass sky scrapers, the expensive clothes and the abundance of food. There was never one ounce of bitterness or jealously because I didn't have any of it. I was proud to be a part of a nation that could make such wondrous things. It was also a promise that some day I could have all that. And now I do !!!!

I know that in your darkest moments you are wondering: "Was it is all worthwhile "? I am here to tell you, IT IS WORTHWHILE, IT DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!!! Millions of people are free today, thanks to YOU!

I'd like to set the record straight about Vietnam. Your fighting our worst enemy in Vietnam gave us hope that someone was doing something about it. We've all heard that Vietnam was in vain, that American soldiers died for nothing. That couldn't be further from the truth. With every move Americans made in Vietnam, we behind the Iron Curtain felt the Soviet grip lose its strength, giving us time to breathe and stay alive. Because you made the Soviets spread themselves too thin and kept them busy in Vietnam, they lost track of us. There's no more Evil Empire, thanks to YOU!

The world is a better place because of YOU, because you fought and sacrificed for it! America IS the greatest country in the world because YOU are the only ones who risk your lives for other people's freedom, people you don't even know and, for the most part, will never know.

I'd like to put a face to the oppressed people all over the world and, in their name, say "Thank You" for your sacrifice, for EVERYTHING you've done to free us.

God Bless You and God Bless America!!!!!

Mariana Ritchie

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