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.

children, “clean slates”

A favorite saying has been that “Children are clean slates, upon which adults leave their chalk-mark.” Although babies are most likely born with individual personalities, it’s also very likely that adults influence their development to a great degree. Our passions and prejudices are passed along directly, or through osmosis. We are human, so it’s impossible to guarantee perfection when raising children. Nonetheless, we should make a concerted effort to guard against leaving a legacy of negativism to future generations. Easier said than done.

Change is inevitable; life isn’t stagnant. But while we can’t stop change, we can  control its direction. Viewing life through a baby’s eyes, it would seem only natural that he or she would want a pleasant environment in which to grow and  flourish. It’s not far-fetched to think that adults would agree.

Unfortunately, life has had a head start, our world seems already “set in stone.” War is waging all around us. Battles are being fought on every front: rich vs. poor, liberals vs. conservatives, Wall Street vs. Main Street, blacks vs. whites, Muslims vs. Christians, U.S. citizens vs. illegal immigrants; big businesses vs. small businesses. On the front line fighting are the stockholders, politicians, consumers, lobbyists, NAACP, Ku Klux Klan, “skinheads,” religious fanatics, families, farmers, pharmaceuticals, health insurance companies.

The fallout from our self-inflicted war is its negative impact upon our society, particularly our children. Many fear they will be saddled with our trillion-dollar national debt; I fear they’re already saddled with a psyche of distrust and dislike for anyone and anything, alien to the world in which they’ve been raised.

Children are “killing” children, as in the case of Tyler Clementi’s suicide brought about because his college roommate and a friend posted pictures on YouTube, revealing that Clementi was gay. Obviously the instigators grew up with a certain mind-set, and felt certain their revelation would be well received by millions having the same mind-set. That way of thinking, “us against them,” has been generations in the making, passed along without thought of the consequences to the most vulnerable among us, our children.

When we become adults I wish we could remember how it was growing up as children. Rose, a black girl at the orphanage where my mom worked, was forever picked on because she was mentally slow, stuttered, and built like an Amazon. With nowhere to go when she graduated from high school, my mom brought Rose into our home for a couple of years, to share what little we had. Another orphan, Fuji, was teased because he was slightly built and had effeminate tendencies. And I can remember telling “white lies” in elementary school to cover up being poor, wanting desperately to be accepted by others. How did we children know that being black, disabled, gay and poor were qualities that set us apart, like lepers, like outcasts? Why did our perpetrators know they could victimize us, and not be punished by the adults? It’s no wonder we grow up doing what was done to us, or by us, as children. Can the cycle ever be broken? I hope so.

I’m still trying to “wrap my brain around” the Human Rights Campaign. While I can’t identify with gays in their perception of life, I know in my gut that they are human beings deserving of the same respect that I demand for myself. Knowing several gay men, I’m aware of their incredible talent for business, and commitment to doing their utmost in their positions, most of them in management. Perhaps because they feel they have to prove their worth above and beyond their straight peers, gays are sensitive to their surroundings and those who cohabit them. Granted, there are those who are jerks, just like there are straights who are jerks. I avoid both, not because they’re gay or straight, but because their personalities don’t coalesce with mine. Period.

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not an easy undertaking, not because it CAN’T be done, but because of society’s pervasive mind-set. Get rid of the mind-set, and I don’t see a problem. As children, weren’t we told to “get along with others?” I don’t remember being told only to play with “straight” boys and girls.

One of my best childhood guy friends, Michael, was very fashion conscious, seemed like one of the girls during sleepovers, eagerly joined in learning new dance steps, and was as heartbroken as me when my boyfriend and I broke up. My brothers referred to Michael as a “mahu,” (Hawaiian for “gay”), but that didn’t deter me from having him as a close friend. My mom thought he was a great friend, my girlfriends liked him, and my other guy friends, sports jocks, liked him as well. In fact Michael wasn’t gay for he had a serious crush on a mutual friend, who felt badly that she couldn’t return his feelings.

I couldn’t imagine the world without the gay men I know, and about whom I care. They’re like me in all the ways that matter. They love, they feel, they bleed. Why wouldn’t I let them defend me by serving our country? Their sexual preference seems to be the only obstacle to military duty. Delete that, and it seems a “no-brainer.” But eliminating historical prejudices, especially ones based upon subjective interpretations of the Bible, seems an impossibility. My one voice can’t “move mountains,” but as Gandhi said “Everything you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s important you do it anyway, because no onelse will.”

For me, those discussed in Eve Conant’s Newsweek article “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,”  are the faces of the Human Rights Campaign, gays who want to serve and, perhaps, die for our country.

Joseph Rocha had always wanted to be in the military. He enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday, trained to become a handler working with explosive-sniffing dogs, and found himself part of a small, specialized unit in Bahrain. Banned by law from discussing his sexual orientation, he had a hard time explaining to his peers why he didn’t party with them, or even join their bawdy conversations. He became an outcast. Fellow sailors ridiculed him for being gay. At one point they locked him in a dog kennel. Another time they forced him to eat dog food. In 2007 he was discharged after signing a document admitting his homosexuality. But if “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed–as many expect will happen in the coming year–Rocha says he wants to serve again. “You never lose that sense of duty and service and love for country,” says the second-generation Mexican-American from Sacramento, Calif., who will graduate from the University of San Diego this spring. “It’s a unique and beautiful thing most of us feel we were robbed of and would take the first chance to have it back.” …

Lissa Young, 48,…A West Point grad from a military family–her father was a fighter pilot–Young had an exceptional 16-year military career before she was outed in 2002. At that time, she was a Chinook pilot and West Point instructor who had just been selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel. …

To fly commercial planes, Young needed new training, but her financial security–including her retirement benefits–disappeared the day she was discharged. She was in her 40s with $50,000 to her name and no job experience outside the military. … she was hired by Raytheon as a salesperson for air traffic-control systems in the Middle East. But she felt awkward in the corporate world. …She…made her way to Harvard.

Now Young is on the verge of getting her doctorate in education, still hoping to teach at West Point as a civilian if she can’t rejoin the military. As a cadet at West Point, she was the first female to serve as a deputy brigade commander, and she returned later becoming a full-fledged instructor. ‘I’m a product of West Point,’ she says ‘They molded me, I took an oath to dedicate my life to leading soldiers.’ …being in the Army and serving isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.’ She would love to fly again, and if allowed back in, wants to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. …

Bleu Copas, 34, joined the Army after the attacks of September 11. ‘I thought it was the honorable thing to do,’ says the native of Johnson City, Tenn. But after almost four years in the service, the then-sergeant–and fluent Arabic speaker–was anonymously outed. …He accepted an honorable discharge. ‘My commander told me he didn’t want to do this, that I was one of his best leaders,’ …Despite what happened, he says he wants to return ‘for the same reason I signed up in the first place: to serve my country.’

The Army invested a lot of time and money in Copas before it dumped him. He spent 18 months in intensive Arabic training in Monterey, Calif., and had top-secret clearance for handling sensitive documents. These days he works a desk job at the Department of Veterans Affairs back home, helping soldiers transition to civilian life. He doesn’t feel comfortable in a suit and tie, and he’s forgetting his Arabic. ‘It’s very rusty now; I don’t have a lot of use for it in northeast Tennessee.’ He says he’s not bitter, but it’s clear he’d like a change. ‘I’ve been told I’m too forgiving; maybe that plays a role. But if there are new opportunities, I just want to take them.’

After 9/11 ousted gay vets felt hopeful they would be recalled to service. ‘These were high-performing people who knew the nation was in need and couldn’t imagine the military wouldn’t want them,’ says Bridget Wilson, a San Diego lawyer who has represented gay and lesbian soldiers for decades. Yet pilots, linguists, and trained gunners watched from the sidelines as the military loosened restrictions on high-school dropouts and former drug users to boost recruitment for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘It really made us crazy when they waived convicted felons into service,’ Wilson recalls.” 

If my daughter were to go to war, I’d want her fighting alongside soldiers who are the best in their fields. But I don’t anticipate having to worry about my child going to combat, so I’ll leave it to the parents of children who might one day decide to enlist. Would it be better that they be caught in a hailstorm of fire with trained soldiers, gays and “straights?” Or all “straights,” some having been drug addicts or felons before joining? I’m not saying they can’t change, but what’s their proven track record? 

just my opinion…hugmamma.

memories, thanks for

Being the youngest of 9, I grew up not knowing most of my older brothers and sisters for they’d left home at an early age, to make their own way in the world. They all succeeded according to their own individual talents and circumstances. I can remember moments when we interacted. But for the most part, we’ve remained separated by land, sea and a lifetime of experiences. We’re in touch from time to time, and we all wish only the best for one another. And I’m happy for that. I don’t regret what was or wasn’t, what might or might not be, what is, is good. I have unique memories of each sibling, for which I’m thankful. 

  • The eldest, Richard, died of a heart attack in his 50’s. I first met him a couple of years earlier, when I was a college freshman. I was told he looked most like my father, whom I don’t remember since he died when I was one. Upon meeting me, Richard exclaimed that I looked like a Miss Hawaii. So of course, he scored major points with me. At least I had that moment to cherish, when he was gone.
  • Stanley, a brother of few words, is the one I know least. Attractive, gentle and quiet describes him best.
  • Ruby, my oldest sister was like Stanley in demeanor, and being only a year apart, they were inseparable growing up. When I was older, I remember summers with her family in Honolulu, and when I was in college she lent a much-welcomed, helping hand.
  • May, a career secretary for the Air Force, was a great source of financial help to my mom throughout my childhood years. I summered with her family in Honolulu as well. She began a tradition of sending me birthday and holiday cards bearing coins which were inserted into slots. These were always a great source of delight for me, and a very special treat.
  • Bud has always been a charmer, a great flirt with the women. His happy-go-lucky manner is how I know him best.
  • Ben had been adopted by a childless couple when he was a toddler. I think I knew of him before we met, when I was in high school. In the ensuing years, he and I have become very well acquainted, trading barbs, laughs and hugs, via emails, blogs, and sometimes, in person.
  • Lucy is a devoted wife, mother and grandmother. Holding her pom-poms when she was a high school cheer leader was every kid sister’s thrill. It was mine.
  • Edward and I were the last 2 to leave home, being the youngest. Our shared experiences are probably the foundation for our lingering closeness. I understand him the best of all my siblings, and congratulate him for what he has accomplished in spite of the many obstacles he had to overcome, and for being the consummate family man, proud of his son and daughter.

cherished memories are worth their weight in gold, unlike the metal, they never lose their preciousness…hugmamma.