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Friday, May 13, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

Memorial Day has traditionally been celebrated as the beginning of Summer. No, not the actual date summer begins, but the official day when the seasonal holidays start and the barbecues begin, beaches open, playgrounds are filled with children, parks, lakes and pools ring with the laughter and mirth of kids and adults alike. The sweet smoky smell of hot dogs, hamburgers and even marshmallows over a fire waft through the air, an odor that beckons each and every one of us to childhood memories no matter our age.

But wait, somehow, in all of the fun and frivolity, many seem to have forgotten the solemnity and sacred meaning of Memorial Day. What it should mean to every American. Memorial Day is a day set aside each year to remember the fallen warriors of our country; those who made the ultimate sacrifice to give each of us freedom, and the ability to reach out for the American Dream. No, they didn't give you the American Dream, you have to work for that yourself. But they gave their lives to assure you had the freedom to reach out for it, free from oppression, tyranny and grave injustice as is the case in so many other countries.

It doesn't matter whether you call it a war, police action, or what name you pin on combat. Or any other action that places our military men and women in harms way to defend freedom. Men and women gave all so that we might live free. They didn't do it for fame or glory, or a medal to pin on their uniform. Medals usually came too late to shine in a parade; many were laid on rows of caskets at ceremonies in such places as Arlington and Fort Rosecrans. The Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Coast Guardsman, Air Forceman or Merchant Marine never saw the glint of the Silver Star or Purple Heart or other medal in the sun as it laid upon his casket. But the family knew the bravery that he or she displayed many days or weeks or months before this day came to pass.

Most of our fallen warriors did come home, to be interred in their beloved country near family and loved ones. But many didn't and are buried on foreign shores in huge cemeteries, marked by simple crosses and markers, the only remnants of fierce battles, where Americans shed their blood to give freedom to others in a foreign land. They didn't know the people, but knew freedom was as important to them as it is to us. Freedom, the one thing that is perhaps as much important as life itself.

In my humble opinion, the three most important things are life, love and freedom. Without them life is just a bleak and somewhat hopeless experience. With perseverance and luck, many find love, but it takes a very special person willing to lay it all on the line to fight for your freedom. When you realize the warrior doesn't know you, or the individuals they are fighting for in most cases, it makes it even more impressive that they are willing to sacrifice all for others, to give them a chance at a better life.

On this Memorial Day, I will remember my brothers who have fallen in Vietnam, as well as all those who have fallen before, and after, in every war and conflict. I will remember those who have been ravaged by the remnants of war, and who have died as a result of service-connected injuries and illnesses, those who never appear in casualty rolls, but who are casualties just the same.

And some special prayers to several brothers who are very close in my heart today and always will be. Rest well my brothers; we'll all be crossing the bar to join you some day.

And, just in case anyone ever forgets:


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans

Here it is, almost Memorial Day, 2011, and about 45 years since some of us came home from 'Nam to face a country full of hostilities. No bands, no parties, no big group welcomes, not even cities or towns flying flags to say thank you. Other than family and close friends, there was no "welcome home." Even then, many never confided much to family or friends, because this just wasn't a popular war. No sense discussing it with people who would never understand anyway.

Vietnam Vets returned in ones, two and threes to the cities and towns across America, still filled with misery over what they had seen and felt a continent away. Little time to re-integrate into society, many were thrust back into civilian life to wend their own way through a system that had damn near discarded them, now that their active duty was over.

Bearing the scars of war, internally, externally or both came at a terrible price. Sure, the external scars were lots easier to see. Those could be treated, and maybe even healed a bit over time. But what about the scars that couldn't be seen? The suicide rate and divorce rates for Vietnam Vets has been publicized to be higher than the national averages. I don't believe all the data because every study seems skewed based on different data sets. But I do know that a major reason is because nobody thought much about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and how to treat it effectively. The "get over it" logic and the macho willingness to "hide it deep" gave way to the inability to keep it bottled up, and it manifested itself in numerous ways, none good. The DOD was putting people back in civilian life without adequate medical screening, the VA didn't have adequate mental health programs to diagnose and treat PTSD, and many veterans found it shameful to admit they had a problem. As a result, a good number turned to drugs and alcohol to mask their actual illness, a disease which should have fallen on the shoulders of the military and the VA to treat effectively.

You can't blame the warriors for turning to solace wherever they found it. When your mind is ravaged, nobody is helping, and red tape is wrapping around your every move, the vices are said to cut the pain and dull the senses. To each his or her own I suppose!

Things have turned the corner for the newer veterans of the latest wars and conflicts. Better diagnosis and treatments, which helps us all. Some Vietnam Vets still feel left out in the cold, as the newer vets are pushed to the front of the line, while the older vets remain queued somewhere awaiting adjudication of their cases, benefits and, sometimes I am told, treatments. That is patently unfair. While we all wish the newest breed of warrior the best in their quest for fairness in obtaining their just benefits, the "front of the line" logic has many of the older vets concerned that as they get older, their conditions will worsen before they receive the benefits they are due. I can't argue with that logic either. Many with conditions related to Agent Orange have died before the VA finally admitted that AO was a cause of their illness. Didn't help them any to have that found posthumously. The 1991 Persian Gulf Vets were hearing the same about Depleted Uranium and Gulf War Syndrome/Illness. It took until 2008 for that to be admitted as an issue!

In any case, I want to wish all my brothers and sisters a very hearty


and thank you for your service. And to all vets and active duty out there, thank you for your service as well. You and I know where the real American spirit is. And it isn't in Washington or in a newsroom or Hollywood stage. It's in the heart of every American service man and woman and their families.

God Bless and Be Safe.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day

On this special Sunday in May, we pay tribute and homage to Mother's everywhere, especially to our own.

Mom's are someone very special, and we only get one to go around. Sometimes children  who lose a parent for whatever reason get lucky, and get a stepmother to help carry the burden, or a foster mother who cares for them, and in them embodies a special love that you won't just find anywhere else.

My mother was a very special person. A brilliant woman, the granddaughter of a Nova Scotia fisherman and a Scottish immigrant, and the daughter of a Maine ship builder and his French Canadian spouse, she worked her way through nursing school in the 1920's when you worked long hours at a hospital to pay your way through school, then slept a few hours and went back to class, and then did it all over again. She worked continuously throughout her life, taking time off to have three children and stay with us during our early years. She was nurturing, caring, and always made sure we were clean, bathed, fed and had good manners.

My mother was the disciplinarian in the house, although it was Dad who put the Fear of God into us if we did wrong. I suppose we'd be just as afraid to offend Mom and make her sad as we would to incur the wrath of Dad. Part of what makes Mom's so special. Mom was the one to yell if I tore my new trousers, yet she would set dutifully to mend them as close to new as she could. Mom was the one who bought the clothes for the kids; Dad bought the toys and the fun stuff. I retrospect, I guess we'd have had toys, but been cold, without the concerted efforts of Mom and Dad together.

My Mom retired from nursing at age 59, having suffered a cerebral thrombosis (blood clot in the brain) about 8 years before. At age 67 Mom began showing signs of what was called Senile Dementia, although we now know for certain that Mom had Alzheimer's Disease. Alzheimer's hadn't even been known at that time; older people who exhibited memory lapses, started forgetting every day important habits were just tagged as having senile dementia, but the symptoms were all classic Alzheimer's when described today. Over the next 4 years Mom declined gradually.

At age 71, Mom died not knowing where she was or why she was there. Alzheimer's had stripped her of her life and her dignity. And nobody could even understand the disease that had taken her down that path. Actually. Mom died from complications of Alzheimer's, congestive heart failure.  I still see that small, frail, old lady, holding my arm, and somehow knowing that we were both surely wondering where my mother had gone.

You only get one Mother. Cherish her, love her, be good to her, make her proud of you and the accomplishments you make in life. She helped set the stage for your future. Go out there and be a star. That's all she ever wanted for you, to be a quality person, to have a good life and to excel in all you do. Nothing more and nothing less.

The best gift you will give to your Mother, on this, or any Mother's Day, is love and respect, and being the best person you can be. Because whether she's here to see you, or has passed on, that's all she ever wanted.

To all the Mother's out there:

God Bless