a book…a movie…life

War and Peace. 

Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, posed in costum...

Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, posed in costume, while filming War and Peace. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sadly I neither read the book, nor was I able to sit through the epic film starring Audrey Hepburn, her husband at the time…Mel Ferrer, and Henry Fonda.

Despite this failing, I know one thing for sure. Peace is preferable to war.

College students during the Vietnam War, my husband and his brother, along with thousands of other students, were registered in a nationwide draft lottery. Fortunately, both had high numbers which, in the end, kept them from having to serve.

Family and friends mouthed a collective sigh of relief.

Two of my brothers weren’t so fortunate. One served in the Korean War; another was drafted into the Vietnam War.

I never learned about the war fought in Korea. My brother, so much older than me, had long since moved out on his own. We saw one another from time to time, but our chats were limited to the weather and other pleasantries.

By contrast, my brother Ed, just a few years older than me and still at home when I was growing up, shared horror stories about his stint in Vietnam.

The worst was when his buddy was blown to smithereens…within inches of my brother.

Long after he returned home, married, and had children, Ed continued to sleep with a gun under his pillow.

He’d awaken to nightmares, sweating in the dark as he recalled the horrible war years.

A Marine at Vietnam Memorial on 4th July 2002

A Marine at Vietnam Memorial on 4th July 2002 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I toured the Vietnam Wall with Ed when it was first built. My husband and I happened to be visiting with my brother and his family at the time.

In those days there was no end to the controversy that swirled around The Wall’s selection as the nation’s memorial to the Vietnam War. Even my brother weighed in, favoring a more traditional monument. Perhaps something more typically representative of soldiers.

So I watched in wonder, as my brother underwent a quiet transformation…standing just inches from The Wall.

Tears welled in my eyes as Ed gently fingered the names of men with whom he had served…soldiers who had died for our country…young men in their prime.

Standing steadfast, my brother wiped a tear from his cheek.

This is what I know of war.

Information relayed from one who was there.  Second-hand, but nonetheless…powerful.

I am for peace.

I am for working with others to ensure a world in which we can live side by side, with respect for our differences.

I am for life…quality of life.

I am for equality…of persons…and nations.

I am for sharing in the bounty of this earth…as well as in its preservation.

I am for helping to shoulder the burdens of the less fortunate.

I am for all of us…being One Nation Under God.

…for no man is an island…unto himself.

………hugmamma.

Vietnam War Memorial

Vietnam War Memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Good Samaritan #6

Normally I write about “good Samaritans” who go unrecognized by the larger viewing audience. Unlike those acknowledged for their good deeds in the national media, local “heroes” are never seen beyond their community, region or state. But I decided to make an exception with Staff Sergeant Robert Miller who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama today. I had a change of heart because he was 24 years old, the same age as my daughter. I could imagine myself in his parents’ shoes, but would I really want to?

Miller died on January 25, 2008, far from the comforts of home and the loving arms of his parents and 7 siblings. But on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, he spent his days and nights in the company of another “family.” Fellow Green Berets, and Afghani  soldiers who shared a life in common, but one that bordered on death. And so it is not surprising that Miller died, so his “brothers” could live. The youngest member of his squad, he was fearless.

On a mission to find high-value enemy insurgents, Miller’s team of eight elite American soldiers and 15 Afghan troops were moving along a rocky, snow-covered trail when the first shots rang out. Miller’s captain was injured almost immediately.

As the squad took cover Robert realized they were badly outnumbered from above. Rather than retreat to safer ground he ran directly at the enemy, killing numerous militants and providing his men with the cover they needed to escape.

His parents were told he saved the lives of 22 men, seven of them fellow members of the US Army Special Forces.

‘As they got near the structure there was ambush, they were attacked by over 100 insurgents–they had hidden behind boulders, it was a very intense situation,’ his mother Maureen Miller said …

His father Phil Miller was proud of what his son had done.

‘He essentially stayed in the kill zone to keep control of the situation and allowed everybody else to get out of the kill zone and basically gave them a chance to reorganize and regroup,’ he said. …

He died holding his rifle, firing until it ran out of ammunition. He had thrown his last grenade and fought for 25 minutes after having been shot twice in the shoulder and ribs.

Sgt. Nick McGarry was one of the men he saved that day.

‘I would see him go to another place, attack that area, attack another area, attack another area. I can honestly say, if he wouldn’t have done that, we probably would have gotten flanked and a lot more people would have died,’ he said.

Members of his unit said there were so many bullets hitting the ground around him that the dust kicked up made him invisible, but he kept firing until the end.

My husband and I were college students when we started dating in the late 60’s. The Vietnam War was underway, and so was the lottery system which recruited young men into military service. It was a nail-biting time, as we waited to see if my husband’s low number would be called. We were grateful that he escaped recruitment, because he would most certainly have seen battle in Vietnam.

Unfortunately my brother Ed wasn’t as lucky. He served in Vietnam for a couple of years as a radio dispatcher. I vaguely remember the horror stories he related about his wartime experiences. I do recall that a good buddy was blown to pieces before my brother’s eyes, and that he slept with a pistol beneath his pillow, a habit he carried over into civilian life. As though it were yesterday, I can see my brother searching the names on the Wall, Vietnam’s Memorial to fallen soldiers, looking for his deceased comrades. Ed enlisted as a young man “wet behind the ears,” but he returned home a survivor of war, barely hanging onto his sanity.

I’m grateful for my brother’s life, despite the scars that have been forever imprinted upon his psyche. The love of family and long-time friends, and 40+ years working for the same employer, has helped my brother resume a normal life. I wish Sergeant Robert Miller might have returned home to his family; I wish they could have helped him “pick up the pieces” of his life.

Where do 24 year olds find the courage to make decisions which belie their young age? How do 24 year olds decide between life and death? How do 24 year olds choose death? We who love them unconditionally can influence their decision, by showing them that death is all about life.

for brave young people, huge hugs…hugmamma.