a hand-up, our military defenders and their loved ones

  

 

Armed services personnel and their families were the focus of today’s Oprah. Guests included 2 servicemen, one wounded in war, and their families, a mother whose soldier son was killed in action, retired TV anchor Tom Brokaw, renowned journalist Bob Woodward, and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Brokaw brokered the deal with Oprah to produce the show. He asked that recognition be shown those, a meager one percent of the American population, upon whom the rest of us depend for protection. Those who appeared with Brokaw agreed that the men and women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those continuing to do so, along with their loved ones who remain behind managing their lives as best they can, MUST register more substantively within the American psyche. They cannot be dismissed as statistics on the news, or given a pat on the back in the airport and forgotten.

Oprah admitted that she too was ignorant about the extent to which the current wars have impacted those serving, and their families. Until yesterday she, and very likely most of her viewing audience, in studio and at home, couldn’t put faces to those defending our freedom. In fact, Oprah indicated that she knew no one serving in the military. Nonetheless that doesn’t excuse us from reaching out to those who put themselves in harm’s way for our sakes, and their families who are without their loved ones, struggling to make ends meet, or feeling alone and isolated.

It’s obvious from what I’ve witnessed firsthand as well as on TV, that military households maintain the same attitude as those who serve. Wives and children “keep a stiff upper lip,
 and keep on going. Many of them, unaware as to when their family member might be returning home. And probably most of them dreading the possibility that person may not make it back to them. How they wrap their minds around the ever present “what if” that must occupy the furthest corners of their minds, I don’t know.

One of my nieces, Danielle, is a military wife caring for several young children, 4 or 5 of them, if my memory serves me correctly. Her husband is a career soldier, having seen 3 tours, beginning in Iraq and ending in Afghanistan. Loretto evidently demonstrated great leadership skills for he is now teaching at West Point Military Academy in upstate New York. From what I know, he has willingly gone to war, while my niece has handled life at home. But not only has she done fine, she seems to have thrived.

Leaving Hawaii and an extended close knit family to live on the mainland, didn’t seem to upset Danielle. In fact she loved the independence she acquired. Raising her children without the safety net of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, did not deter her from creating a community among new friends. She shared babysitting services with others, gathered with them socially over home-cooked meals and outdoor barbecues. When the family returned to Hawaii for a few years, Danielle got her nursing degree. Upon moving yet again for her husband’s West Point appointment, she found work as a pediatric nurse while her children are in school. God bless my niece’s stamina for tackling the unknown with a young brood, and her obvious resilience in making a home for all of them, regardless where that might be. I would wish the same for all wives and moms, military and non-military alike.

Having raised our awareness of the plight of military families, Mrs. Obama recommends that Americans can reach out to them in big and small ways. Educators can seek out and offer support to those students who have parents serving. Health practitioners can offer affordable care to returning vets in need of counseling, or physical healing. My chiropractor, for example, displays a notice in her window inviting vets in for a free session. How cool is that?! Neighbors can help military moms by giving them a break from children, meal preparation, or an invitation to coffee and an opportunity to vent. When Danielle happened to be living in the same city where I lived with my daughter while she was training for her ballet career, we prepared a lavish Thanksgiving dinner. Memories of that day remain vividly etched in our minds and hearts. It was a loving, family celebration.

In a post from 12/6/10, “good samaritan #8” Michael Reagan has found a way to “give back.”

The website, www.fallenheroesproject.org puts those wishing to “bring a loved one home,” in touch with the artist. It also allows those touched by Michael Reagan’s humanitarian service, to make donations toward his singular effort. Besides donating his labor, Reagan also makes a gift of the materials. I’m certain he’s  also included the silent tears he’s shed, as a bonus.

In trying to do my small part in the effort to reach out, I would like to offer words of solace to those in need of comfort. I understand that I might have a gift for writing, so if you know of anyone suffering emotional scars as a result of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, or their family members, I would welcome the opportunity to email brief notes that might provide respite from their pain.

we can all do something…however small…hugmamma. 

 

good samaritan #8

“Evening Magazine,” Western Washington’s entertainment show highlighting events, people and places, featured artist Michael Reagan. The lumps in our throats, my daughter’s and mine, did not dissipate until the piece on him was done. For 35 years Reagan made his living as an artist, but when he was asked to do his first fallen vet portrait, life changed. Explaining what he was about to do, he told his wife he now knew his purpose. And so Reagan committed his talent as an artist, to keeping the memory alive for the loved ones of those stricken in battle.

This evening’s edition of “Evening Magazine” showed the artist sketching a portrait of Darryl Kole, from a photograph sent by his mom, Kim. An only child, Darryl enlisted after graduating from high school. He immediately re-enlisted for a second tour in Iraq, when his first tour of service was over. He subsequently lost his life to an IED, “improvised explosive device” or roadside bomb. A handsome, young man, full of laughter and life, as depicted in a photo showing him held high on the shoulders of his army buddies. My heart ached for Darryl’s mom.

It took 5 hours to complete the portrait. When the Kole family arrived at Michael Reagan’s home to take possession of their son’s likeness, mom and artist hugged, but not like strangers. Tears flowed. My daughter and I even choked up. Reagan’s gift, for he charges nothing for his work, is an immeasurable act of love. “Returning” these deceased servicemen to their loved ones, is all the recompense he wants. In the process, Reagan has been served as well, for he has been able to work his way back from his years of wartime service in Vietnam. In fact, he feels a twinge of guilt in finding therapeutic relief from what he does. I’m sure the families of the fallen, would allow Reagan his well-deserved “kickback.”

The website, www.fallenheroesproject.org, puts those wishing to “bring a loved one home,” in touch with the artist. It also allows those touched by Michael Reagan’s humanitarian service, to make donations toward his singular effort. Besides donating his labor, Reagan also makes a gift of the materials. I’m certain he’s  also included the silent tears he’s shed, as a bonus.

for an artist who gives away his talent… and his heart, huge hugs…hugmamma.

giving thanks to our vets

It’s a good thing we’re annually reminded to pay homage to those who serve our country. It’s like Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. If we were left to our own preoccupied lives, we would probably procrastinate, or forget completely. Of course we don’t mean to disrespect soldiers, moms or dads, it’s just that life happens, or so we say.

I’m a mom; I like all the accolades that come my way on one pre-designated day. I’m sure I’m not the only one. And hey, I can take the day off if I like. But that never happens, unless I’m sick in bed. Otherwise, I’m FIXING the bed, feeding and walking pets, preparing a meal or two, with the accompanying prep work and cleanup. Then there’s the never-ending-picking-up-after.

Nonetheless, I get to be remembered for all that I do, on ONE particular day. I think that makes the remaining 364 days bearable, almost. After 40 years of marriage, I have to give it some thought. The secret is, I’ve learned to “cut corners,” lots of them. But I digress.

So while the 22 million veterans in our country would love to be thought of more often than once a year, I’m certain they’re happy to take a “collective bow” on Veteran’s Day. Several stories came to my attention, which told of individuals, or communities, who found ways to thank vets. They reminded me of the time I flew to visit my daughter.

On the flight were several soldiers. One in particular caught my attention. He was without a leg, and he was traveling with his wife. They looked to be my daughter’s age, early 20’s. Not knowing their story, I could only imagine what lay ahead of them. I don’t think they were ever far from my thoughts, throughout the entire flight. 

How do you thank these stoic men and women? They never look directly into your eyes, keeping to themselves as they are surely in the habit of doing, unless with their comrades in arms. More than humble, soldiers seem to be “invisible,” unless performing their duty. If they speak, their words are barely audible. They rarely seem to smile. Their minds appear to be elsewhere. But where? Are they imagining themselves at home with loved ones, or in a remote area of Afghanistan, bullets flying all around them? How do you pierce that impenetrable veneer to offer thanks? I tried.

As the couple ambled along in front of me, enroute to baggage claim, I rummaged through my wallet. Pulling out $60, I ran ahead to catch up with the young soldier and his wife. Stopping, they turned toward me, their faces, question marks. Smiling, I expressed my gratitude for his service, while my hand reached out offering the money, inviting them to have a meal at my expense. Without hesitation, he, and his wife, in their soft-spoken, Southern drawls, refused my gift. I think he mumbled something like, “It’s my job, ma’am.” The memory of that moment, even now, fills my eyes with tears. Although the young soldier looked vulnerable in his wheelchair,  his resolute manner spoke volumes about his pride in his uniform, and in his duty to his country, my country, our country. They thanked me, and quietly moved along, to pick up the pieces of their lives.

I received an email telling of a similar circumstance, where a passenger was on a flight with a group of soldiers. As the flight attendant walked through coach class taking meal orders, the man overheard one soldier ask another if he was buying the sandwich offered. Both decided, while they were hungry, they couldn’t afford the expense. Looking around at the others in the group, the passenger noticed none of the other soldiers were buying meals. The man went in search of the flight attendant, offering her $50 for the soldiers’ meals. She thanked him profusely. Other travelers who noticed what the man had done, offered him cash as their contribution. When the flight landed he gave the $75 he’d received, to the soldiers, to buy more sandwiches as they awaited their connection.

On the evening news was a story of vets helping vets in Milwaukee. “Guitars for Vets” teaches guitar lessons for free. Upon completion of 6 lessons, a student receives a donated guitar, or can purchase one at a discounted price. Eight hundred guitars have been distributed thus far. Begun by a vet, turned teacher, the program has literally been the “sound of healing,” for its participants. “A new band of brothers,” these former soldiers are finding therapeutic help in their interactions with one another.

On the local news, the incredulous story was told of a soldier who returned from service in Afghanistan, to find that his home had burned to the ground, his relatives having died in the fire. Amazing support from his community brought forth volunteers who rebuilt the home, with $40,000 donated in materials and labor.

Also on the news, two young boys were shown speaking to their military father via “Skype.” They were totally surprised when he appeared behind them, in the classroom. Crawling all over their dad, as he crouched down to embrace them in a bear hug, it was apparent that the youngsters had made as enormous a sacrifice as their soldier dad.

Vets, and their families, teach us to sacrifice, gracefully, in service to others. And so I’d like to take this opportunity to honor my own relatives, a brother who served in the Korean War, and another who fought in Vietnam, a nephew who served several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who now teaches at West Point, and another nephew who serves in the navy on the aircraft carrier, The USS Abraham Lincoln.

for all who serve unselfishly, and their loved ones, huge hugs…hugmamma.

president bush, “citizen”

Was pleasantly surprised to see the human side of President George W. Bush on Oprah’s talk show yesterday. I didn’t follow his comings and goings while he lived in the White House, so I can’t say I had any inkling what he was really like, personally. Professionally, I saw what the mainstream media offered 24/7. As we all know, much is taken out of context, to support whatever viewpoint is being touted. And, of course, he wasn’t “my man,” although I did vote him into office (like others who thought he might do a good job…hmmm), so I wasn’t inclined to follow George W.’s every move.

Relaxed, congenial, smiling broadly and freely, citizen Bush looked like someone I’d vote for all over again. (Except now I know better.) I guess all Presidents stop aging at lightning speed, once their terms are over. Then they seem to drop 5-10 years off their appearances. Yes, even Clinton, with his full head of white hair. Maybe it’s the strict diet he’s been on, no meat, no dairy, only grains, fruits, and a little fish.

Both Clinton and George W. had their “moments,” which will be a major part of their political legacies, Monica Lewinsky, and the Iraq War which contributed to a near-Depression. As the years advance, such remembrances recede into the corners of our minds, where “cobwebs” form and other memories replace them. That is until some incident stirs up the media, causing them to troll the “archives,” digging up the dirt once more, causing another frenzy. That seems to be the way of the world, our human world.

Life has a way of moving forward, even after major strife, President Clinton faced impeachment proceedings, and in the aftermath of Katrina, President Bush faced unfavorable rhetoric for his failure to respond quickly. Now that both are “ordinary” citizens, we celebrate personal events with them, Chelsea’s recent marriage, and the familial love of the Bush family, as seen on video during Oprah’s interview.

In the “heat of the moment,” I too was angry with these Presidents for their failure to perform their jobs as I, and others, expected. But now I can appreciate them as men with loved ones, subject to human frailties, having done their best with what talents, and shortcomings they brought to the Presidency, Clinton’s womanizing and his stepfather’s alcoholism, and Bush’s alcoholic past. Perhaps we’ll be as generous, when we reflect upon President Obama’s time in office. I’m getting a head start, I already am.

bush gave oprah a huge hug; i do the same for him, and other presidents, past and present, huge hugs for their service…hugmamma.