Omaha, Utah, Sainte-Mère-Église


(view from one of the myriad of German bunkers that covered the Normandy coastline /
Julie Cook / 2018)

Several years ago, one Sunday afternoon I found myself flipping through the television
channels in hopes of finding something of interest.
I stopped on what was obviously a dated war movie.
Yet having never seen the movie, I knew immediately what it was…
It was the 1962 film The Longest Day.
A big screen depiction of the lead up to and the event of
the Invasion of Normandy…D-Day.

The movie starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Richard Burton along with a host of
other big name stars of the day.

Despite not particularly wanting to watch a war film on this particular sunny Sunday afternoon, I
hunkered in, none the less, ready to endure a long afternoon watching a long film about
about a truly significant long day.

My purpose here is not to retell the historical events of that infamous day now 74 years ago.
but rather to offer a glimpse into what was and what is.

Our day for the D-Day tour couldn’t have been much worse.

As I noted in a post from the other day…there was rain, lots of rain…blowing wind and
bitter wet cold.

And yet the peaceful ebbing ocean that greeted us this day,
was anything but peaceful 74 years ago


(a parasilor enjoys the surf that was once red from the blood lost by those
soilders who never got to shore)

Rain blew sideways, winds gusted 35 to 40 MPH, umbrellas turned upward and a Patagonia
rain jacket that hails as an H2No…proved to be no match as I might as well
have been wearing a paper bag.

But the weather didn’t seem to matter on this particular September day as it seemed
almost fitting.
I knew that the weather on this northwestern coast of France, a coast right off the
often chaotic English Channel is famous for its squalls and unpredictability.

A predicament that proved crucial 74 years ago as the Allied forces needed a window to open.

During the course of our tour, I learned that the movie The Longest Day,
along with other similar movies such as Saving Private Ryan, are actually more movie
than truth.

John Wayne’s character was not the pivotal commanding officer that decisive day but because
John Wayne demanded the most airtime, his character came across as such.
The true leader of the offensive that day was a mere blip in the movie.

And the real tale of the Ryan brothers was not what Tom Hanks offered us as viewers…
And the currently hanging mock paratrooper who perpetually dangles from the bell tower
of Sainte-Mère-Église did not actually fall on that side of the tower at all.
Today’s manikin hangs from its current wall because it simply offers a better view
for visitors arriving into town.

John Steele, the unfortunate soldier whose parachute got hung up on the church tower, in the tiny
village of Sainte-Mère-Église survived his predicament but unfortunately went deaf
that fateful night—
It was the night that he, along with hundreds of parachuters jumped on a moonless night
out of hundreds of planes sent behind enemy lines just prior to the following day’s
infamous landing.

It just so happened that a fire had broken out in town and the church bells were ringing…
endlessly ringing alerting the villagers and occupying Germans that there was a fire and
that all available hands were needed to assist in putting out the fire.
Steele, having been shot in the foot, had to “play” dead so the Germans would not continue
shooting at him.
He hung for hours beside those ringing bells.

Other soldiers fell into the trees, getting tangled up in the limbs…many broke bones
and suffered traumatic punture wounds…
those lucky enough not to be shot while falling from the sky, hunkered in to fight.

Many who were shot as they helplessly floated in the night sky were killed long before
even hitting the ground.

One soldier that fell into this particular tree worked frantically to cut himself loose
from his shute, cutting off his thumb in the process.
Once he fell free to the ground, bleeding profusely, he managed to
get to a secure location in order to engage the enemy

Bullet holes remain in the rod iron fencing around a home once occupied by the
German commanding officer of the occupying army.
The scars of a small village which are the remaining physical reminders of
a battle fought so long ago.

From Utah Beach, we climbed down, in and around the now chared bunkers.
Soldiers who managed to survive the intial assualt after storming the beachhead
and then scaled the rocky cliffs, tossed grenades into the bunkers or used flamethrowers
to render the giant guns, used to fire at the Allied Naval ships just off the coast,
inoperable…


(one of the large guns remains in its bunker/ Julie Cook / 2018)


(the stone base where one of the “big” guns was once postioned)


(the hedgehog, that giant steel x shapped barrier, is origianl)

These particular beachheads were chosen in part due to the fact that the sand is
extremely dense and compactable.
Not a soft fluffy sort of sand but rather a hard packed sand, hard enough to allow
heavy equipment to be brought ashore.

Beachgoers today continue finding remnants of that fateful day.

What appears to be a grassy covered dip in the landscape is actually a bomb crater…
the shoreline is covered with such craters…

Sheep have been brought in to assist with ground maintenance as mowers cannot traverse
the pockmarked landscape

Bunkers and beaches have been transformed and are now somber memorials…

Eventually, we moved inward, driving a few miles from the beaches,
making our way to a tiny village and its cafe Cafe J. Phillippe….a cafe
that once greeted war-weary soldiers just as it greeted us this cold wet afternoon.

Mike holds a photograph of Allied troops making their way to this same village.
Stopping just as we did for a needed bite to eat…
the cafe remains just as it did 74 years ago–preserved and frozen in time…

Following our late lunch, we made our way to the final leg of our day which seemed most
fitting as it was indeed the final leg for upwards of 9400 men and women.

Yes, there are actually four servicewomen buried here in the cemetery.

The trees that line the cemetery are all capped off at the top…cut off as a purposeful
and visual reminder of all the fallen whose lives were cut short.

As visitors to the cemetery, we noticed that the names on all of the markers appeared
to be turned around as if backwards— facing away from arriving visitors.
However, we were told that there was a purpose here as well… all 9,387 markers face west…
as in they face home…a homeland that these brave men and women would never see again.

Seeing a sea of impeccably white and neatly aligned stars and crosses standing in silent
attention, each turned so as to face the United States which was nearly 5000 miles away
was almost more than my heart could bear.

Oddly the number of the buried in the cemetery continues to fluctuate.

Modern technology now allows for DNA testing on remains that are still being discovered.
As well as for those bodies that, for all these years, have gone unnamed and unknown.
The families of those Americans now being identified are afforded the option to either bring
home their loved one or to allow them to remain in France…buried in the American Cemetery.

The United States has vowed that they will identify all unknown soldiers buried in France.
Thus the number of buried now changes yearly with the latest body
receiving honors this past summer.

There is even one soldier from WWI who is actually buried in this WWII cemetery.

President Theodore Roosevelt, cousin to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had 4 sons.
All four sons served in WWI. The youngest son, Quentin, was a WWI flying ace who was shot
in the head during a dogfight and whose plane eventually crashed.
Two other sons suffered serious injuries during the war but
it was Quentin who remaind behind as he was buried in Belgium.

Years later his older brother Teddy Jr, who was at this time a grown man with a successful
business and political career was also a soldier.
Teddy Jr was actually a brigadier general.

By 1944 Teddy Jr. was in poor health suffering from both a serious heart condition and
crippling arthritis.
Knowing of the impending invasion, Teddy Jr. requested to be assigned as a
leading commander.
Yet due to his health, his initial request was denied.
Undeterred, he petitioned the high command and was allowed to serve as leading commander.

Teddy Jr. bravely lead the assault on Omaha Beach.
Four days later, Brig Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr died from a massive heart attack.

The Roosevelt family was asked if they would like for Teddy Jr’s body to be brought home for
burial at Arlington—however knowing that Teddy would want to remain with his men,
he was buried in France.
The family then asked if Quentin could be exhumed from his grave in Belgium and moved to be
beside his brother.
The request was granted.

And so when I hear of the stupidity, yes stupidity, about over-payed Football players, athletes,
and even now cheerleaders, who are all wanting to kneel during the singing of our National Anthem…
claiming that the flag of the United States does not represent them…
I am incensed.

Those kneeling individuals such as Colin Kaepernick, who is the poster face for
all things disrespectful, are no heroes.
It is not a risk to life to kneel rather than stand at the start of a ballgame.

He and his ilk are certainly entitled to their feelings and thoughts…
Kaepernick may even speak out and state his peace as to why he feels the flag does
not represent him or who he is—and who he is is a young man of mixed heritage
who happened to have been adopted as a child and reared and raised by a white family
who afforded him all the privileges and comforts of a middle-class family life…
He attended and played football on scholarship at UNLV–in part because that was the
only school, as reported by his mom, who would give him a scholarship.

And yet the irony in all of this is found in the lives and eventual death of those
young men from a previous and different generation who were actually the ones who
stormed those Norman beaches…
They were fearful and nervous as to what awaited them on that fateful June day in 1944—

Young men…some who prayed, some who smoked, some who whimpered through tears
and those who sat stoically before they were given the call to charge…

They raced into the sea which turned red with their blood, racing into a hail of
machine gun fire, grenades, and bombs blasting all around them…
they did so for the likes of Colin Kaepernick and his NIKE sea
of followers…they did so as well as for you and me…for those of us who are humbled
by their bravery and for those of us who prefer to show disdain for the same flag these
young men proudly carried and quickly died under…

https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/normandy-american-cemetery#.W8j6f6eZP2Q

every piece of every puzzle has a place…

“Do you ever feel like life is pushing us toward something,
some greater purpose?”

Spencer Stone

Clint Eastwood said it was just a story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
And he was right.

And whereas the majority of the movie 15:17 to Paris is basically the lead-up backstory
to the real-life terror attack which unfolded that fateful August evening in 2015 aboard
a Thalys train bound for Paris…
The movie, the story, is more or less, a finished puzzle.

Rather it’s the pieces to this completed puzzle that’s really what’s important.
And these pieces are the lives of three boys who grew up to be in the right place
at the right time…not by odds but by Divine direction.

And if you doubt that, think of each incidence during the courses of the lives of three boys–
think of their ups and downs, their directions, their troubles, and failures.
Think of their lifelong friendship, think of the coming together of each
individual puzzle piece which could only fit together one way, and one way only.

Terror events that end happily…meaning that the bad guys are apprehended,
and where there may be wounded– no one dies…The setting rather is an uncrowded train
full of individuals on holiday or simply commuters and is not a crowded concert hall,
not a crowded street, not a large office building…
these events readily fade more rapidly versus the larger and more televised terror melees
which we live with for years.

Such is a reason as to why telling this story is important.

The movie has received less than stellar reviews.

Clint Eastwood, as director, is taking a lot of heat for producing what is being
perceived as an uncharacteristically poor performing film.
His choice to use the actual boys, who are indeed the real-life heroes,
is being seen as a near catastrophic move for the making or breaking of the film…
which is being seen, more or less, as breaking.

Whereas Eastwood had cast Tom Hanks in the role of Sully Sullenberger in his movie
about the pilot who successfully ‘crash’ landed a fully loaded passenger plane
on the Hudson River, a choice which most critics saw as genius,
here he opted to use nonactors.
A less than genius move so say the critics.

Yes, the movie is a little slow.
Yes, the boys are a little stiff—but they aren’t actors…
A little fact I actually found welcoming.

The flow of the tale is a little awkward bouncing between present and past, past and present.
But you know, I didn’t want to see an actor’s portrayal of this story, I wanted the real deal.
I didn’t want Hollywood, I wanted the nitty gritty of the actual, not the glamorized fictional.

Now we all know I loved the movie the Darkest Hour—but there were many liberties taken
with the historical truth in that film.
Scenes that were totally fictional, cloyingly sentimental which played directly to
the viewer’s emotions.

15:17 to Paris was just what it was…real, raw and unpolished.

However it was what played out in each one of these boys lives,
from the first day they met in junior high, down to what lead each one of them to be on
that particular train on that particular evening of that particular year…
which was the catalyst for preventing a horrendous catastrophe.

The pieces of the puzzle were put into motion long before August 21, 2015.

It’s the details of these three boys lives, the hand of God, which rested on each of them,
the prayers and faith of parents which all catapulted them, leading them to that particular
train coming out of Amsterdam taking them to Paris,
a city they had been very reluctant to visit.

Each puzzle piece as seen by the nonbeliever, the jaded and skeptic would simply
be seen as coincidental.

Coincidence that Stone did not make his hoped-for area of focus with the Pararescue team
due to a lack of depth perception.
This leads him rather reluctantly and begrudgingly to take coursework in paramedics…
of which came into play as he held his hand deep in the neck on the bleeding carotid artery
of the shooting victim on the train, keeping this man alive versus his bleeding out.

A life of failures, slamming closed doors, knocks and hard licks all preparing each
ordinary boy, now grown man, pushing them toward the extraordinary.

Extraordinary by the ordinary, something Eastwood reminds each of us in the sharing
of this real-life story with the real-life individuals involved.
Nothing fancy, nothing glamorous, nothing high tech nor over the top.

This has been an important reminder for me which I suspect will be an important
reminder for many of us.

This is not a Hollywood type of movie.
This is not an Oscar would-be movie.
I doubt Eastwood considered such or perhaps didn’t care about such when wanting to
remind us of the whats and whys when it comes to the making of an ordinary puzzle piece.
Puzzle pieces that have each been pre-ordained to fit together.

Or at least that’s how I see it.

May each of us who are indeed ordinary step up to the extraordinary when we are so called.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13

who doesn’t love a good mystery, but does it really matter….

“History is much more the product of chaos than of conspiracy”
―Zbigniew Brzeziński

Whenever you’re faced with an explanation of what’s going on in Washington,
the choice between incompetence and conspiracy,
always choose incompetence.

Charles Krauthammer


(vintage wartime child’s lead figure of General Montgomery with a leash around the
Führer’s neck/Julie Cook 2017)

Ever so many years, those various agencies and governmental offices in charge of all
things covert and of all things hidden begin to release aged documents…
declassifying that which was once considered “top secret.”
As somehow time works her magic and renders that which was held sacred
as to now being considered ‘non est dignum’, or no longer of worth.

The most recent and tantalizing declassification has been the Kennedy files.

Ever since that fateful November Dallas day when a young president was gunned down,
mystery and intrigue swirled in the wake of a Nation’s grief.

Did Oswald or didn’t Oswald act alone?
Was it the Soviets?
Khrushchev?
The KGB?
Cheka?
Cuba?
Castro?
The Mob?
Hoover?
The CIA?
Jimmy Hoffa?
The Republicans
The Protestants….

On and on goes the swirling madness of whodunit, what ifs and conspiracy…
all of which plays out in the vivid human imagination.

And just this very day, I caught an interesting little questionable news worthy
tidbit…of another story of declassification and some old CIA dossiers…

It seems that as late as 1955, ten years following the fall of the German Reich,
the CIA was chasing credible leads that Hitler was actually alive and maybe
not so well, living first in Colombia, then moving on the Argentina.

Our history tells us that as the Russians stormed into Berlin, Hitler,
along with his long time companion and most recent bride of one day Eva Braun,
hunkered down in an underground Berlin bunker digesting cyanid capsules with Hitler
then making certain things would end by shooting himself in the head.

According to Wikipedia…
In accordance with Hitler’s prior instructions, that afternoon their remains were carried up the stairs through the bunker’s emergency exit, doused in petrol, and set alight in the Reich Chancellery garden outside the bunker. Records in the Soviet archives show that their burnt remains were recovered and interred in successive locations until 1970, when they were again exhumed, cremated, and the ashes scattered.

Accounts differ as to the cause of death; one version stated that he died by poison only and another view claimed he died by a self-inflicted gunshot while biting down on a cyanide capsule. Contemporary historians have rejected these accounts as being either Soviet propaganda or an attempted compromise in order to reconcile the different conclusions.
One eyewitness stated that Hitler’s corpse showed signs of having been shot through the mouth, but this has been proven unlikely. There is also controversy regarding the authenticity of skull and jaw fragments that were recovered.
In 2009, American researchers performed DNA tests on a skull that Soviet officials had long believed to be that of Hitler. The tests and examination revealed that the skull was actually that of a woman less than 40 years old. The recovered jaw fragments were not tested

When the Soviet soldiers advanced on Berlin, they were like a pack of wild
hungry and exhausted dogs—their enthusiasm for having crushed their mortal enemy would border on delirium.

Sections of their soot scrawled graffiti, along with holes made by grenades,
still remain on display in the rebuilt German Reichstag.

I find it hard to imagine that as triumphant as those Soviet soldiers were feeling
as they marched upon that city and finding the remains of Hitler, they would
somehow temper their enthusiasm for a hasty and impromptu burial as if some sort
of common sense suddenly prevailed and they found it important to hide the remains of madness lest any sort of shrine would eventually emerge.

I would think rather that there would be pictures taken, as soldiers would in macabre fashion, parade the now deceased and desecrated remains as some sort of trophy
and confirmation of victory….rather than the tale that the Soviets ferried off the remains, sealing them away.
This as we recall how the Italians who, finally rid of Mussolini, strung his body up
in the Piazzale Loreto for public display and desecration…
why would we expect the Soviet soldiers to show any more restraint?

So without a body, our imaginations have been left to wander and wonder all
these many years…

But what of it?

What does it matter all these many years later knowing that Hitler, who would now
be long dead, had run away?
Should we be surprised that a maniacal lunatic who was already cowering in a fortified bunker, wouldn’t consider escape? Would he be so daring enough of a coward to
have actually committed suicide or would he have run and hid if given the opportunity?

What of a president who was shot to death as our democracy played on…

Does some sort of new hidden truth change our lives or change our fate or the fate
of those gone before us?

The German Reich was over, the war soon ending with two bombs being dropped on Japan…
A president was dead as a vice president was sworn in as an assassin was soon
gunned down himself.

Our lives went forward as history turned another page.

And so man, with his most vivid imagination, races forward….
or races backward depending on who you ask.

Was the landing on the moon real?
What happens when you play a Beatles album in reverse?
Did the Holocaust really happen?
Was Jack the Ripper the Queen’s own physician?
Was it a Hillary body double?

On and on goes the often ludicrous speculations of what was, what could be
and what might have been…

But one thing remains certain…
That there is only one Truth that matters.
One Truth that stands the test of time.
One Truth that speaks to each of us consistently.

As C.S. Lewis again reminds us about the greatest
‘what if’ posed by man when he ponders the actuality that Jesus was who He claimed
to be…that of the Son of God as well as our risen Savior…..

“…He would either be a lunatic —
on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg —
or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice.
Either this man was, and is, the Son of God,
or else a madman or something worse.
You can shut him up for a fool,
you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or
you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God…”

I myself choose to fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God…
as His word is truly the only Word I believe as fact…
man may speculate on everything else in his world, but the one Truth remains…
Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior….

“You are from below; I am from above.
You are of this world; I am not of this world.
I told you that you would die in your sins;
if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”

John 8:23-24

http://www.foxnews.com/science/2017/11/02/hitler-wwii-escape-investigated-by-cia-bombshell-document-reveals.html

when righteousness perseveres

“Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God.
For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility,
righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help?”

C.S. Lewis

“Righteousness acts never in its own interest,
but in the interest of fellow men.”

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

_93137447_58e1e3fe-46b3-4be9-8d86-0c9b82c5045f
(The Rev. Samuel Leighton Green)

Say what you will about battles, conflicts and wars…
…such that there is no such thing as a just war.

And that may very well be true…

For historians still question the necessity of such wars as WWI
yet concede to the fundamental importance and necessity of WWII.

Yet both wars were some of humankind’s bloodiest conflicts…
with each resulting in a catastrophically global loss of life.

While at the same time each war has helped to shape the world, for both good and bad,
as you and I know it today.

And as is the case with history…
importance becomes more real, more relevant and more personal when it is
picked apart and examined individually…
by each single person after person, after person…
for it is in the details of each participant that we begin to see things
more narrowly verses that of a generic and sweeping panoramic view of
the statistical and numerical.

The following link is to a story found on the BBC regarding
the Reverend Samuel Leighton Green.
Green was one of a special group of men who served during the brutal
trench warfare of WWI.

As a member of the clergy, he was exempt from the mandatory draft,
yet volunteered anyway as he knew someone would have to tend to those
“fighting lads” spiritual needs.

Green also felt a moralistic sense of justification to the war’s necessity.

He served with the “blasphemous and foul-mouthed” 1/4th (City of London)
Battalion–the Royal Fusiliers.

Green served alongside this brave group of men throughout the duration of the war.

Green was awarded the Military Cross not once but twice for his bravery under fire.

It would behoove us to uncover more of these stories of such selfless souls…
those brave men and women who remain a part of the “Constant” to which mankind so
clings during the chaotic…

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-norfolk-37377025

Christmas 1914

“There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter;
day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood,
and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain.
Who would imagine, as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another,
that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature,
all members of the same human society?
Who would recognize brothers,
whose Father is in Heaven?”

Pope Benedict XV

christmas-truce-wikicommons
(an artist’s impression taken form The Illustrated London News, January 1915 of British and German soldiers during the Christmas truce of 1914)

War is a funny thing.
As in it is an age old oddity.
An ugly, devastating oddity.

Since his fall from grace,
man has been engaged in a constant state of struggle.
Battling and fighting a war within himself as he wages war against all others.
Living in a constant state of destruction…
Conquering, defending, killing, invading, taking…

And yet within man’s duality of his nature…that connection between light and dark…
of both right and wrong,
of both love and hate,
of give and take,
of fair and unfair
of peace and war…
all of which seems to leave him no choice but to create a balance within the chaos
of some sense of fairness or rightness…
as if war should be, could be, conducted fairly or even oddly, justly,
Man continues to yearn for the light, the upright, the hopeful…

As man feels his way through the never ending darkness, he has learned to set parameters.
He creates rules.
Rules of engagement.
Rules of war.
Rules set by the Geneva Convention.
Rules stating that nations are to fight fairly,
as if to say…fight by the rules.

Yet all of this seems to be grossly oxymoronic…
as if war, fighting, maiming and killing could ever be fair,
or just, or right, or proper….

Yet on Christmas Day 1914 man’s conflict and inner struggle with this duality
of his imperfect balance, oddly righted itself…

That in the midst of death and insanity, the arrival of Christmas,
the coming and eventual arrival of the child whose birth brings both the gift of
hope and peace to not merely a few but rather to all mankind,
brought balance, albeit briefly, to man’s seemingly unending inner conflict…

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for
the celebration of Christmas.
The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire,
but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.

Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols
to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers
even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day,
some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the
Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues.
At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick,
but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands
with the enemy soldiers.
The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs.
There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a
good-natured game of soccer.

Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task:
the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s
land between the lines.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war
in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of
chivalry between enemies in warfare.
It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by
officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof,
however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons,
the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

During World War I, the soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate on the battlefield,
but even a world war could not destory the Christmas spirit.

History.com

“Hark the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born king.”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

Charles Wesley

remembrances

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time,
and your government when it deserves it.

Mark Twain

DSCN3224
(the flag I fly at home / Julie Cook / 2015)

Today Americans will pause in order to celebrate Memorial Day.

A day many assume was put on the calendar in order to mark the unofficial start of summer.

It’s a day for day’s off…
for family gatherings,
for picnics,
for cookouts,
for ballgames…
and basic idyllic enjoyment.

However it would behoove us, on this unofficial day of all things festive,
to recall the original intent of Memorial Day…

Originally it was not a day set aside to commemorate the opening of the seasonal door to summer…
rather it was a day set aside for Americans to remember the thousands of lives lost,
as well as the thousands of bodies forever broken, during America’s darkest days of the Civil War.

It was originally referred to as Decoration Day.

Over the years, Memorial Day has taken on a life of its own.
It has become a day of celebration, an excuse for a party, a shift in the seasons, …

Yet as we celebrate, we must also remember…

We remember the countless numbers of men and woman who have served
and continue to serve in our armed forces.

We remember the lives taken.
The sacrifices made.
The limbs lost.
The souls shattered
The minds altered.
The hearts broken
And the children who have grown up and continue growing up never
knowing the parent who was called to offer the ultimate gift
to their fellow man.

So as you work in the yard,
fire up that grill,
play in the surf,
build that sand castle,
watch that ball game,
sip that lemonade,
eat that hot dog,
and just enjoy a special moment to be lazy…
Offer up a thank you…
to those men and woman who have given, and continue giving, their all…
allowing you to say “hello summertime”

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.

Luke 9:24

Day is done, gone the sun…

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

(lyrics from In My Life
attributed to John Lennon)

DSCN2988
(my father-n-law, 1942–An enlisted man who eventually was charged with the care of B-52s / stationed in England during much of the war)

I don’t know if you have ever attended the funeral service for either a current or perhaps long passed member of our armed forces….

I had not.

Oh I had seen the countless individual tributes as well as the way too soon and excruciatingly painful farewells endured by families across this great Nation of ours…those funerals and services caught in the headlines or in the papers, or in the news…victims of the countless wars and conflicts which have plagued this land of ours…
or perhaps they were merely the victims of the ambiguous passage of time…

Those solomon yet heart wrenching ceremonies where the smartly dressed and impeccably precise service members slowly and resolutely perform the age old necessary, yet painfully dreaded, task—
the final task afforded all members of the service…

That being the final overseeing and demonstrative act of respect freely given to one of their own.

It matters not whether these current young men and woman of service know the person for whom they have come as acting military representatives.
It matters not if they know the grieving families.
What matters is that they come…

As the two young Airmen waited, at full attention and salute, that already hot Spring Sunday afternoon..
waiting at the freshly dug deep hole, in the heavy red Georgia clay…
waiting with a fixed anticipation for the approaching casket of their comrade…
the silence was palpable, broken only by the muffled sniffles offered by those falling tears.

Slowly and painstakingly borne on the shoulders of grandsons, who are now the same age if not older of this once proud soldier, is a man who was simply known to them as “Papa.”
They knew he fought, but that was all.
His generation was not one to dwell on what had been…
There were not the stories of exploits or adventure..
merely that a job had been done…
that was all.

Many volunteered long before our Nation was involved.
Perhaps they sensed it would not be long…
that the all-call would soon be sounded.
The choice had not been for a career of service..
Life simply had worked out that way.

They went with no expectations…
They had learned from the prior war, the war touted to end all wars,
that glamour was not to be found in the battles of man.
Men had returned home, if they returned at all, broken.

They simply knew that now, at this crossroads of time,
that it was merely a matter of right verses wrong, good verses bad.
They went to make things right.

Today we have lost that sense of right verses wrong, good verses bad…
as we so often find ourselves drowning in the details.
The lines are blurred as the sides are skewed.
The distinctions between the good verses the bad have been lost.
We no longer seem to know our direction nor purpose or of that which is of
right or wrong.

This is not to say that war and fighting are just or right.
No war is just.
Yet it is in the end goal in which justice lies.
Freedom verses tyranny
Democracy verses oppression

They were not perfect individuals.
They were young, energetic yet flawed…
but they were ready and equally willing…
To do what was not particularly wanted or desired,
but rather to do that which was needed and necessary.

This was a time before the knowledge of PTSD or of the aftermath of trauma to the psyche.
These men and woman saw things, smelled things, heard things, did things…
that would haunt them for a lifetime.
Just as those who who have gone on since…have equally suffered,
Yet it was with this generation that those secrets were to remain..
to be held silently close and not to be freely divulged.

It was rarely spoken of once it was all over.
A job had to be done,
it was done,
and now it was over…
that was that….

They came home, often broken within,
but went on with life without looking back.
Lives grew, families grew…
as lessons were lost with time…

The two young Airmen this warm April Sunday afternoon had come to do their job,
their duty.
After the final Amen was breathlessly whispered…
Silently, yet in precise mirrored rhythm,
a flag was removed from a lone casket.

Over and over, tightly folded,
pure white gloves meticulously went about their task.
Creases were reverently straightened as a final salute was offered.
A lone solider turns then kneels with flag held tightly to his chest.

He kneels before my husband, a living mirror of the man now in the casket.
“On behalf of the President of the Untied States…”

It matters not of ones political affiliation.
It matters not whether one voted for said president…
What matters is that a timeless act is playing out…
That others may see and know of the sacrifices made by those who have gone before.

War is now mocked while our soldiers belittled.
Respect is withheld…
As a Nation now turns upon itself.

The number of the grateful who can understand are shrinking
as the number of those who served shrinks ever still.
Selflessly, patriotically, willingly…
they gave, he gave,
they served, he served.

There are those who will now say that patriotism is a lie
There is no justice in defense.
And there are no answers to be found in aggression.

But had this generation not acted as they had…
Had this generation, this greatest of all generations, not risen to
an anticipated need…
Our lives, both yours and mine, would be vastly different today…

With trembling heart, yet resolute acceptance, a son’s hands receives the flag
so lovingly offered.
Received and accepted on behalf of a man who had not been perfect,
who had not been proud but
who simply did what he thought was right for those of us who
he had no idea would reap the reward of his “gift”
A gift he never considered to be a gift.

His gift, his legacy, his memory will continue on…
through the lives of both his children as well as grandchildren.
Whereas the life of a once breathing and living human being…
that of a soldier, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a businessman, is now silenced…
His gift to all us continues on…

It is to be found not only in the aching hearts of a family
who remains broken, picking up the pieces…
yet rather it remains, as it is found, in a meticulously folded piece of cloth.
A piece of cloth he was so very proud to fly.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

Thanks and praise, for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

Sun has set, shadows come,
Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
Always true to the promise that they made.

While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.