Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stand

    The past few weeks I haven’t posted any new stories not that I haven’t been writing but they’ve all been a bit depressing or angry, so I ignored them and pressed on with life. 

    Tuesday (Oct. 8) was the end of a stressful several days, I had been doing battle with an obstinate 500 pound Angus calf we had gotten the weekend before.  Within 15 minutes of stepping off the trailer she ran through the fence, bolting off into the woods.  I spent a few days climbing through the brush and thickets trying to drive her back to the pen (she wasn’t having any part of that).  My daily romps through the woods and overgrown fields during my search resulted in several thorn related scrapes and a massive case of chigger bites (my chigger bites had chigger bites).  Finally after a few days I got a call from the neighboring dairy farm, the calf showed up at their place and was hold up with their cattle (that was a relief).  She stayed there for a couple of days to calm down then back on the trailer and back home.  This time instead of letting her have full run of the field I kept her confined in a stall hoping she would get use to me feeding and watering her at the same time each day, so she would trust and come to me. 
    This brings me back to Tuesday afternoon, I had been working on the fence for a few hours at a steady pace, reinforcing it so I wouldn’t have a replay of Bonnies escape (my youngest girl named the calf Bonnie after Bonnie and Clyde… because she’s on the run and hard to catch).  When I came in the house to get ready for work my wife Sally asked if I had heard anything on the 1 Million Vet March… I really hadn’t been paying any attention to anything on the news or twitter for several days so I pull it up on the computer, there I found the call for Vet’s to march on DC and to open the Veteran’s Memorials on Sunday, October 13th.  At first I thought to myself, I’d sure like to go and be a part of that but… I have to work, I have to get the fence fixed up, I have a thousand things to do…
    Yes, I had a thousand excuses but for the next hour the call nagged at me, an old military saying kept running through my mind and twisting deep in my gut, Service Before Self, Service Before Self, Service Before Self, it had been many years since I had that feeling.  I asked Sally “Ya want to go to DC?” Without hesitation she said “YES!” (I think she had already started packing).  I still had to get a few things taken care of.  That night at work I told my Supervisor I’d need a few days off and why (I knew they would be shorthanded, he knew they would be shorthanded) again without hesitation the answer was “YES! GO! I only slept a couple of hours each of the next few days, working on the fence through the day then 11 hour shifts through the night by Thursday afternoon the pasture was secured and I let the calf out of the stall.  She pushed at the fence in a few places then settled down and began to graze, one problem out of the way.  Working through Thursday night some thoughts of what the weekend may hold crept up, not all of the thoughts were comforting but I had to brush them aside because deep inside I knew I had no choice… Service Before Self.

    We left our small Southern Indiana community at noon on Friday, Sally drove the first half while I tried to catch a bit of sleep when we hit the hills of West Virginia the radio started losing reception so I pulled out my phone to see if Glenn Becks podcast would download, it did.  We got some good news (or bad news depending on how you look at it) Mr. Beck was going to be at the Capitol Lawn on Saturday morning and he was asking for a day of service, asking for people to clean (pick up trash) along the National Mall from the Capital lawn to the Washington Monument.  With the rain now dumping down we didn’t expect to get to our daughters place in DC until after 1 A.M., another night of little sleep… again Service Before Self.
    After a couple of hours of sleep we jumped on the train headed for the Capital, a light misty rain surrounded us as we walked up out of the station.  I was thinking this is going to be a bit miserable, I’m tired, most likely I’m going to be soaked by the end of the day and am I really going to make a difference… People were already gathering on the lawn around a small fenced off podium, as I got closer I could pick out Michelle Bachmann, Mike Lee and Glenn Beck.  As if staged the misty rain faded as each stepped to the microphone delivering words of inspiration and hope for our nation.  I found myself revived by their words, ready to walk a simple path that day and possibly a harder path the next.  The words that started this journey echoed as I walked along the grass of the National Mall picking up beer cans, water bottles, cigarette butts and candy wrappers, Service Before Self.
    I don’t know how long I had walked, an hour or two maybe I found myself at the fence surrounding the Washington Monument.  I looked back towards the Capital building in the distance noticing how it looked small now, it seemed as though only moments had passed but now I stood holding a bag of trash, I had done something that others may have felt was beneath them but I felt proud, I felt the same pride of any job well done.  My wife and daughter were standing on the walkway that circled the monument and led to the World War II Memorial waiting for me to join them.  We strolled along discussing some of the stranger items we had found, a few coins, a pile of plastic tags and a set of windshield wipers to name a few.  As we topped the slight hill we were looking down on the World War II Memorial, a simple circular design of stone, grass, water and bronze… semi-circle pillars, slabs, steps and ramps… something given by a free people to honor the ones who had given of themselves to restore and protect that same freedom.  All being held hostage at the discretion of one petty little man, a man that could never understand Service Before Self.
 
    We walked closer looking at the barricades still surrounding this gift of remembrance, this place given as thankful acknowledgment to a generation that sacrificed much, this sanctuary for those and to those who had walked the walk in units like the 82nd Airborne, the Bloody 100th, The Big Red 1, the men that stormed the beaches of Normandy, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the ones who battled a bitter enemy and the bitter cold in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, the airmen that flew daylight bombing raids over Germany with no fighter cover, served on the USS Indianapolis, the Arizona, the over 12,000 Americans stranded to endure the horrors at the hands of enemy forces on the island of Bataan and countless others.  I felt a tightening in my throat, a queasiness in my stomach, like others had already done I stepped around the barricade and walked down the ramp. No one tried to stop me, no one question me… that may have been a good thing because the anger began to boil.  I stood silently between the pillars just looking and watching the people walk around then I started to walk to the pond in the center, water has always had a calming effect on me, something I needed.  Standing on the edge of the lower step looking into the glass smooth water I noticed a small piece of plastic floating along the edge, stooping down I picked it out of the water.  I began walking along the lower step circling the pond scanning the ground to the left and the pond to the right… a cigarette butt here, a candy wrapper there, a glob of gum stuck in the corner, all picked up, a heaping hand-full by the time I walked all the way around this little pond.  This time it wasn’t because of Service Before Self, I cleaned this area for myself.
It had been a long day and my daughter had to go to work in a few hour so we headed back to the train station.  We stopped off for a late lunch, my daughter went to work and my son-in-law drove me and Sally to the local Catholic Church for evening mass, the perfect end to an emotional but productive day.

    On Sunday morning I was up just before sunrise, Sally was already dressed and packing a small backpack.  I started the day as I normally do, coffee, smoke, the news… it takes me a bit to spool up, then a shower and dressed.  We decided to drive to the memorial so we could take extra drinks, rain suits if needed and a meeting place if we split up.  Pulling into DC we parked on the street just off to the side of the Memorial, I was only yards and moments away from Standing In Defiance of a bloated and unprincipled bureaucracy.  The call had gone out (as reported in The Washington Free Beacon) National Park Service rangers and park police were ordered to “Make Life Difficult” for visitors.  Let’s see, I’ve had jet fuel blasted in my face while I struggled to seal a leak on a center wing tank.  I wore a charcoal lined chemical warfare suite for days on end in the hot Texas sun… just for practice.  I laid in a puddle of “Blue Water” in the cargo bay of a Med-Evac C-9A in subzero weather fixing the aircraft toilet so the patients onboard weren’t inconvenienced.  Were the National Park Service rangers and park police really going to be able to “Make Life Difficult” for me?

    A few hundred people had already gathered, the barricades were being laid in a pile off to the side, all but two, two were left standing, on them were large photos of the men left to die in Benghazi Libya.
 
 
I looked around for a park ranger, none… the park police, not a sign.  I walked to the other side of the crowd, there they were, a hand full of park police were standing a few hundred yards away.  I wondered, where were the brazen brave officers that faced down 80, 90 year-old-men only days before.  The officers that would refuse the frail old men as they shuffled along the barricades, frail old men that rolled up to a closed entrance.  Where are the armed officers, now the grounds were being breached by a rag tag group of Vets, Bikers and Truckers… a rag tag group joined by family, joined by factory workers, joined by Joe six-pack. 
    The crowd continued to build and high profile speakers began to arrive Sarah Palin, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz… again words of inspiration and words of hope.  After Mrs. Palin finished speaking she turned to shake the hands and thank the people standing behind her, my wife Sally was standing right there… it really made her day to shake hands with Mrs. Palin.  Soon bikers and truckers began driving along the road that passed the memorial, engines revving and horns blasting and flags waving.  The crowd cheered and clapped but it wasn’t long before the DC Metro Police pulled up to block the road putting a halt to the drive-by (The police stayed in their vehicles). 
Myself, I’m not real comfortable standing in a crowd but I was just a few feet behind Sally, as I listened I scanned the crowd there was one heckler but a few guys standing shoulder to shoulder walked him out of ear-shot.  There were a few others that just didn’t carry themselves right, military guys can pick each other out in a crowd, the head held high, shoulders back, the steely eyed gaze… a few just didn’t have any of the tells.  Other than the few everyone met me with a smile, a hand-shake, a hand on the shoulder… I met old friends…for the first time is the best I can describe it.

    I overheard some of the organizers talking, they said “The other memorials were open (the blockades removed), all except the Lincoln Memorial”.  I looked downrange I could see a small line of people standing at the foot of the steps, the rails still in place.  The comment was also heard by others, it was repeated through the crowd, the move started, we strolled past the lake separating the WWII Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial (The Wall).  There was a line backed up past the entrance to the reflective smooth black stone panels that held the names of those lost in Vietnam, looking sleek and strong but inviting to the thousands of hands caressing it in remembrance of family and friends lost.  We walked past the people huddled around the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Three Soldiers statue, every one quiet, solemn and respectful.
    Now we were only yards from the Lincoln Memorial, the barricades were being drug away.  I hurriedly walked up to the steps only a few barricades remained in-place.  One of the last were being held by two Park Police Officers as determined Vets, Bikers, Truckers etc… grabbed at the rail the Officers initially seemed to tighten their grip, then I saw the power we possessed.  One scruffy old Vietnam era looking man pointed his crooked finger in the face of one of the young Officers and said “LET GO!” they both released the rail and scampered away.  I walked up the steps to the mid-level, I looked at the crowd forming above me on the top steps then I turned and looked back to the World War II Memorial as far as I could see, Free People were walking along and enjoying what belongs to them…
These were not servants or slaves beholden to a dictator or a master, being told where they can go… OR CAN’T!  I felt a tightness in my throat, a bit of a tear welled up, not out of sadness or anger but of joy and pride.  It was there upon a step I did stand, by myself and with thousands. 

The TOMCAT

The order to “Make Life Difficult” makes me wonder, in a year or two if President Stompy Feet wants to apply pressure to political opponents in Congress, instead of blocking parks could he be calling Health and Human Services and block the public’s access to insulin, maybe heart medication, possibly surgeries.  Do you really think that would be beneath him?  After persecuting 80, 90 year-old Vets…  
Special Thanks to the Officers of the DC Metro Police.  I made a special effort to smile and greet each of them I passed, every single one of them came back with at least a smile and a knowing nod.  They could teach the Park Police a thing or two.

7 comments:

  1. I have no words for this one Thomas. Only tears. I love you guys. Thank you.

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  2. Mr. Rachford's Ire.October 22, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    @rachford59ACS from Twitter. This is the best writing you have ever done my friend. I will pass this on to any and all the people I can. Being a Vet. it moved my greatly. Be safe.

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  3. So close to inspiring...but you fell short when you mentioned your heroes. I know you don't get it, but Glen Beck is a born-again Mormon--the worst kind! Pathetic. Michele Bachmann is a disgrace to thinking people everywhere. Sarah Palin...must I??

    SERVICE BEFORE SELF. Brilliant!

    SICK POOR AMERICANS WITH NO HEALTH CARE BEFORE SELF.

    Then, I will be impressed with your writing--which is getting better.

    The country you served is a Democracy...one side had chosen to not vote when they don't like the forgone conclusion. That isn't democracy...THAT IS STOMPING YOUR FEET.

    Is it wrong that I relate to Bonnie more than anyone else in this story? lol

    RUN BONNIE RUN!!

    :)

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  4. Thank you for this moving account, your service, and efforts in daily life. I am quite touched by your description. Prayers for you.

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  5. Thank you for sharing a very inspiring experience!

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  6. Well Done... Isn't it telling, that one man can speak for so many?

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    Replies
    1. It means so much more when you read the story "STAND" from a vet such as yourself. I walk the WALL every time I visit DC.

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