November 11

“You don’t need to see this; really no one needs to see this.”

My dad understood the intrinsic truth in these words when speaking of war. The scenes of war are rather stark, very incomprehensible to understand. A frontline, combat medic in Korea, a chief OR technician in Vietnam,  dad had seen many badly wounded men and worse. Fortunately, he did not suffer from the stressors that others experienced. He hoped this piece of advice would send me in a different direction. It did for a short time.

after Korea: the medics of Troop Dispensary #3 (Camp Carson, circa mid-1950s)

Military service is not always about war, or being far from home. It can be serving here at home, or in an allied nation. The experience can be a good one, traveling to places one normally would not have a chance to visit. The friendships and camaraderie can be enduring, with the ability to resume it in a fraction of a second. By the same token, military life is not for everyone. It is regimented. It can be nomadic at times. It can be difficult at times. It can take a toll on the family.

There are a variety reasons for those who enter military service. They would be the last to call themselves patriots or keepers of the peace. Instead, they would call themselves ordinary men or women doing a job. Heroes, not really. Warriors, not really. Thank you for your service, not important. It is the hardest, but the best job around.

waiting for the ride: off the coast of SoCal on a pre-deployment NSW exercise (Jan 1990)

The piece of advice I have given to my daughters regarding military service: “You don’t need to do this; we’ve seen enough for the family.”


September 11th: Forgotten Stories

It seems like yesterday when so much had changed.

Many of us had seen the images. Each were horrific. The falling man. The falling woman. The collapsing towers. Black smoke pouring from the Pentagon. A smoldering Pennsylvania field. They were all seared into our memory.

In the years since, those images and the countless stories are slowly fading away. It is normal to let the painful memories fade. And, soon they will be forgotten stories though we’ll say, “I will never forget”. The time will come when the only remembering will be done by those families that suffered the losses directly.

These stories need not be forgotten if we choose to remember. To remember the horror. To remember the falling man and the falling woman. To remember the many that perished that day.

Yet in the tragedy of the day, we saw America at her absolute best. We need to remember the countless rescues. To remember the arduous and somber recovery effort at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. To remember the building of the Freedom Tower (1 WTC) and the rebuilding at the Pentagon. While some would call the many actions of the day heroic, to a man, to a woman, they would say, “No, it wasn’t. I was simply doing my job when it counted.”

Why we should remember? It was our worst day. It was our best day.

A pair of stories of why we should remember, and why it matters.


Independence Day

The moment was sobering for the 56 delegates gathered together. By ratifying, then signing, the document before them, each one knew they were risking all. Life, liberty, family and fortune. They were ordinary men called to a greatness larger than themselves, and with extraordinarily high stakes. Yet, John Adams said this was a day that should be celebrated with parades, bonfires, fireworks and general merriment. Nowhere else could it be found where a people have asserted their freedom, working and self-governing for the common good.

fireworks display: a sparkler fountain (Utah – July 04 2016)

Taking Adams’ advice, celebrate well – whether in your own backyard, at a parade, watching a fireworks display, or firing your own fireworks (where allowed). The politics of the moment can be set aside for a day.

a golden sunrise: this is America (Texas, May 2017)

To all our friends across America, and those defending her in far off lands, may you have a Happy Fourth!

Washington: Enduring Wisdom

“[No man has the] right to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to study it. . . . Thus substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair argument.”

 – Abraham Lincoln, “Cooper Union Address,” 1860

Gilbert Stuart “Lansdowne” portrait
image courtesy of Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

In his farewell address to the nation, George Washington warned against faction (better known as partisanship) and sectionalism. Dividing into factions and sections, while natural, would tear at the political fabric of America. A populist would use those divisions to deprive the people of their power and place it in the hands of a few, unjust men. Further, it would undermine the common ground needed in which we can agree on those principles and matters that unite us as a people and a nation.

This mattered to Washington: We are a nation that is more than an idea, more than a dream, but where all things become possible. For this to be realized, her people must stand fast against the internal divisions and foreign meddling that would naturally follow. It would require her people to be aware and engaged. Failing to do so, we fail ourselves and we fail our nation.

A  little more than eighty years later, America was facing her greatest test as the nation divided along the factional and sectional lines. The institution of slavery had become so pernicious, the constitutional process was becoming inconsequential. In his address at Cooper Union, Abraham Lincoln plainly stated [people] will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.”

Though a devastating civil war ensued, had Lincoln failed to state his case at Cooper Union, America would have become the failed experiment in self-governance. America would fracture along the factional and sectional lines Washington had warned many years before.

In the here and now, many have their own interpretation of America – choosing to believe what they want to believe and dismissing the rest as romanticized nonsense. They choose to believe America was never about an idea, was never about a dream. It is contrary to what every founding father believed what America was and could be, and they believed it regardless of their personal politics. Washington was content to serve one term as president. Democratic-Republican Jefferson and Federalist Madison made a joint appeal to Washington, asking him to serve a second term. They believed if there was no second term, America would die in her infancy.

Shortly after the inauguration a few weeks ago, actor Sam Waterston, penned an opinion editorial in which he rightly notes how lying has become a daily constancy and danger. “The great issue of today is lying — constant lying in public. Lying is the ally of faction … it is the greater danger. Yes, the word is lying — not negotiation, salesmanship, bluster, attention-getting, delusion, deception, braggadocio, exaggeration, bullying, alternative facts, or any other euphemism.”

Waterston warned of the corrosive nature of lying: “… the frequency of his lying, Trump has revealed a truth we have avoided confronting: Like partisanship, regular and habitual lying is an existential threat to us, to our institutions, our memories, our understanding of now and of the future, to the great American democratic experiment, … It blurs the truth, subverts trust, interferes with thought, and destroys clarity. It drives us to distraction.”

Washington’s warning, advice and wisdom in his farewell address remains relevant today as it did in 1797. Lincoln’s Cooper Union address remains relevant today as it did in 1860.

It becomes a matter of our willingness to listen and heed the wisdom.


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Inauguration Day

Many, including myself, hadn’t given him a chance to win. Not in the primaries, and certainly not in the general election. He would certainly self-destruct. And, he came close on more than a few occasions. He used his bluster, denials and penchant for insults to distract. His serious character flaws did not matter. His lack of knowledge did not matter. Furthering the polarization in our politics did not matter.

Today, he is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. While many bemoaned his election, he now occupies the singularly most powerful office. His proposals, vision and direction should be subject to the utmost scrutiny. He should be held more accountable by virtue of the power of his office. He should not be given a free pass just because he is the president. I have serious misgivings of his abilities to execute the duties of the office he now assumes. I have serious misgivings of his ability to be president for all Americans, particularly those who did not vote for him.

Though I personally disliked the politics and policies of President Obama, I still find him to be an interesting person. Similarly for President Clinton. Both President Bushes (41 & 43), I like very much. While you may disagree with the policies of these presidents, the one certainty that can be taken away is they tried their best, gave their best, for this nation. I do not know if the new president will do his best for this nation. I do know he is not an individual I would want to visit or socialize with. He is crass, crude, impolite and more – the very characteristics we urge our children not to learn and possess.

Some have suggested his election would reorder the status quo. The elite and the media will come to heel. The original intent of the Constitution will be restored. While he espouses these notions, he does not quite understand the federalist concepts of our representative republic. He believes he can do whatever he chooses.

He will soon find out America did not lose her greatness, and is found residing in her people. It is reflected in our values, our decency and our promise. We are far from the perfect nation but we strive to be a better nation each day through hard work, taking care of our families, and doing what is right.

America will be fine, because she is in our hands and not his.

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November 11

It is a word that is used much too often to describe those who are, or have been, in military service. The word is “hero”.

Occasionally, my dad and I have been both described as such. We prefer not to be called “heroes”. It is not who we are, nor does it describe our actions. While we did a few things that were called above and beyond, we would simply describe our actions as doing our jobs. Those who are heroes are ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things in the most difficult of circumstances. Yet, they do not wish to be called heroes.

If one was to walk into my home, or my dad’s home, one would see it as any other home. Modestly decorated, very comfortable and much lived in. There are no display cases, no photos from our respective careers to be seen.

In my dad’s home, two certificates from his Army career hang on the wall. One is from his service with the 1st Medical Battalion from the 1st ID in Vietnam. The second is a “Certificate of Appreciation” issued in Summer 2001. The Bush Administration still felt too little recognition and appreciation was given to those who served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and wanted to make clear, once and for all, they were appreciated and valued by a grateful nation. The special recognition was much appreciated, especially by myself and my mom. Shortly after receiving the certificate and a few mementoes, the attacks of September 11th occurred. Later, we learned only certain servicemembers received the certificates of appreciation.

In my home, no certificates are displayed. One would not know I had served. Both Laurie and Andrea have suggested I should hang something on the wall. “It doesn’t need to be prominent,” they say. As a whole, it is not a big deal.

My dad and I, a simple acknowledgement is good enough.

Fifteen Years Later

“Jack, pick up sweetie, can you hear me? Okay. I just want to tell you, there’s a little problem with the plane. I’m fine. I’m totally fine. I just want to tell you how much I love you.”

Lauren Grandcolas, passenger on United 93
in a voice message left for her husband


A most poignant message.

In the years since that bright, sunny morning, it remains as such. It is something that stays with you, or so you would think. The cynics would either say the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stole it away, or belittle the words. It is probably more accurate to say remembering what had happened that day, and the many who died, is quickly fading away. The emotions are not as frayed, and what happened no longer shocks. Besides, how long should we mourn for those who were lost?

A writer friend, Beth, living on Long Island, had written on this sense in the days leading to the anniversary in 2007. She said in the days after September 11th, it hurt plenty. The smell of death, thoroughly saturated in the smoke, wafting over her neighborhood was a daily reminder. Her husband, on a business trip to the Midwest, was stranded due to the ground stop in air traffic. He came home by renting a car. A neighbor, down the street, had died in the collapse of the North Tower. While Beth and others had prepared meals for their neighbor’s family, it felt very surreal. No one knew what to say.

Beth was reluctant to write another September 11th remembrance piece. She wrote in the days before, what else could be said that hadn’t been said already. The loss, the sadness, the emptiness, the despair. It was writing about the stages of grief. Nonetheless, Beth chose to write another remembrance of September 11th. “If I didn’t,” she began, “it would say I am comfortable my neighbor died on that day. That I am comfortable his wife became a widow, his young children became fatherless. It would say I am comfortable with evil. We should not be comfortable with any of this, whether it is now, or on the fifteenth anniversary or the fiftieth.

It was meant to shock. It was meant to be ugly. It was meant to demoralize. It was meant to divide. It was meant to create fear. It was meant to be a long, never-ending nightmare. The families that lost on September 11th, they are the ones living that long, never-ending nightmare. It is a nightmare we cannot comprehend nor imagine. We cannot know the depth of their grief. And, we will not know when their grief will end.

For the rest of us, our task is relatively easy. It is to remember. Always. If we fail, we fail ourselves. If we forget, September 11th will no longer be a tragic day when so much changed.



The “Never Forget” graphic was originally offered without cost by HDWallpapers Catalog. The site no longer exists but the graphic is readily available on the web.