Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Celebration of Life

Its summer.  I know thats obvious, especially the last couple days in Iowa when temps and head indeces are over the top.  Yesterday, for instance, I took some time to go to the annual J & P Cycles Open House. After all, whats 40 miles to a biker right?  By the time I got home I felt like the Thanksgiving Turkey in the deep fryer.  If I could have I would have rode darn near naked back home, but thats just not right.  There would be too many scarred eyeballs out there if they ever looked at my hide in the buff!

I did get a chance to shake hands with a legend yesterday.  Arlen Ness, custom bike builder and pretty much everything motorcycle, Arlen took time to be a part of the Open House yesterday.  As luck would have it, I shook his hand, thanked him generously for coming, and tried to let him cool off a bit, for as hot as it was outside, it was even worse inside.  He took it in stride, however, and took as many breaks as he could.  I have read about his motorcycles since my navy days, and some of his designs are just breathtaking.  His son, Cory, was there as well, and has become a master custom bike builder in his own right.  Both men were extremely generous with the crowds, and showed a lot of patience dealing with the heat.  If only I were that patient!!!

A couple weeks ago my wife and I celebrated an anniversary.  June 13th to be exact.  For some folks its another year and maybe another day to remember, but for us this marked our 25th year of marriage.  It is a big milestone for us, in part because we have had those who felt our marriage would not last, in part because we have made a number of mistakes in our marriage which might cause ordinary folks to go screaming for medication, and in part because even we had our doubts from time to time.  Our resolve and our dedication to each other won out, and it has given us newfound admiration and love for each other.  We will celebrate this year with more love and devotion, but we celebrate cautiously optimistic for our future.  We have had many downs and not many ups, but through it all we have remained steadfastly devoted to each other and to our lives as a couple.  In this day and age, 25 years seems to be a rare accomplishment.  I hope that others can find the same love Mary and I share, for it is indeed a true gift from God!

Stay Cool folks - Have a Happy Fourth of July, and may we honor our independence safely!!!

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Stone

It has been a few months since I really posted anything. Work, work, and more work, and when I’m done, let’s work some more. All work and no play syndrome, so to speak. And then when you think you might have some time to kill, up pops that dreaded “hunny do” list. Unfortunately, I am only skilled at a certain number of things, but some of those hunnydos are a bit out of my league. In all fairness, though, I enjoy a challenge because I get to learn something from each task.

Last weekend was Memorial Day. In the last several years I have come to the realization that some Americans think this is just another cause to drink beyond reason. The smell of BBQ grills light the senses, too, and for many it’s a day off much needed from the daily grind. For me as a veteran, however, Memorial Weekend is that time to honor those who have given their sacrifice in pursuit of freedom. This year is no exception. As a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, it is an almost daily ritual of honoring those who served or are serving, and giving of our time unselfishly in support of those who defend our freedoms as Americans. I was asked why I give my time to such a cause when “someone else can always do that”, and to that I replied “Because it’s ok to protest the actions of our government, but don’t ever forget those who pay the ultimate price”.

Two men from Iowa who have died in Afghanistan this year I have paid honor to. The first is a 53 year old command sergeant major from a little torn called Reinbeck. John LaBorde, age 53, passed away from non combat related injuries at the Kandahar Airfield April 10th. Attending his funeral were about 40 of the Patriot Guard Riders. I had done military funerals before, but this one seemed a bit different to me. Now I am a civilian, and it felt like I was outside looking in. For the family, just having someone pay honor and respect to their loved one means so much, even if it is for a brief instant. Every family member took time to thank each of the PGR riders personally. Several of the military officers also took time out to thank each of us. It was an amazing show of respect and honor and I truly believe that the family of CSM LaBorde felt comforted by the presence of so many who stood at their side that day.

The second was a Marine, Lance Corporal Josh Davis from Perry, Iowa. In my book, Josh Davis was only 19 and a child, but died as a hero on May 8 from injuries suffered in a gunfight with an enemy position who ambushed his patrol. Two Marines died in that gunfight, but Josh was able to save several others in his unit drawing enemy fire away from his fellow Marines. I left for his funeral on a Saturday morning early. It was still a bit cool that day, but when I got to Perry, I was not alone. Over 200 Patriot Guard Riders had showed up to pay honor to this young man. Unfortunately, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a rogue extremist group from Topeka, Kansas, also had a presence choosing to protest the funeral and dishonor the memory of this fallen Marine. It made me sick to my stomach to even see these people. Fortunately, as I discovered later, you have to love the ingenuity of small town police officers!

It took one whole day to complete this ride, or “mission” as these are referred to by the Patriot Guard. Most of the membership is made up of former vets, American Legion folks, military riders, and folks who are dedicated to making a difference by honoring our military men and women. We assembled a few blocks from the high school, where LCpl Davis funeral service would be held. We prayed for the family, our safety, and we prayed for the family of this Marine. At the end of our briefing, we all mounted up, and began our procession to the high school. I must say that anyone who has ever stood in the middle of 200 motorcycles starting all at once knows it can be a breathtaking sensation. As we left, however, we saw the protestors, and I felt almost sad for these folks. To me, their protest spat in the face of every life given for our freedoms we enjoy, but, I also remember that they have their right to their voice. As we got to the high school, we formed our flag line, and the sight of flags along our route was simply incredible. It was truly a day to honor this young man.

As the funeral ended, we began our escort of the procession to the Iowa Veterans Cemetery about 30 miles away. We rode under an enormous American Flag hoisted over our route with cranes, and as we proceeded out of town, I was simply amazed at the outpouring of support for this Marine. At the south end of town, we rode past the protest we had seen earlier, but as I said before, the ingenuity of the small town police was quite evident, because as we rode by, I was greeted by a street full of American Flag holders essentially blocking the protest group from the view of the family. Apparently, the police had granted the protest group with one area to hold their protest, but had positioned members of the public wielding the American Flag in front of the group. And not only were they in front of the protest group, they were holding their flags high so that there was no mistaking their mission.  If I make it back to Perry, I might stop by the police department just to say THANKS!

We proceeded south out of Perry, escorting the funeral to the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter, Iowa. Along the route we would pass through three small Iowa communities, and much to my surprise, the entire route through each of these communities was lined with men, women, and children all paying respect and honor to our procession. Fire, police, and ambulance members all saluting the escort, children waving their flags and saluting this Marine. It was one incredible sight, and I will not forget the respect that these communities paid to this family and this Marine.

When we arrived at the burial site, the Patriot Guard Riders formed up a flag line leading to the burial plot. With all the motorcycles present, it formed a perfect nest for which the family found protection and comfort. At the end of the funeral, it had begun to cloud up, but as I left the cemetery, I felt saddened for the loss of this young man. LCpl Davis was only 19. He had graduated high school just one year earlier, and in fact, was old enough to be my son. He died much too young, in service to his country, but for which the reasons just do not seem as clear. As I rode home, I questioned whether this Marine’s life was necessary in the pursuit of those enemies of freedom. I question the motives of our government in even being in Afghanistan, or any Third World country for that matter. At age 19, I believe LCpl Davis was just too young, and I hope that we can bring our military home soon.

I was watching a documentary film on TV during the Memorial weekend holiday. It was a film about those heroes buried in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery. It showed the families of many of these recent war dead still grieving, still mourning their loss. There was one woman, the wife of a dead Marine who passed out stones to students visiting the cemetery for the first time. She instructed each of them to leave the stone on the top of a grave marker they had visited. The stone was a sign to that family that someone had paid honor to their loved one. I have never been to Arlington National Cemetery, but this struck a real chord for me. How much better we would all feel if we left a “stone” honoring a friend, a family member, a loved one. Maybe not the physical “stone” but to have some positive effect on someone can leave that indelible mark, or “stone” in each of our lives would mean so much. Whether it’s a family member, a neighbor, a coworker, even a brother or sister can mean so much, and have that “positive” feeling that makes us who we are.

To each of you, I hope I can leave my own “stone”. Huah.