To encourage and fortify relationships between military service members, veterans, their families, their friends, and their Country; to nurture the path of communication for everyone, ensuring that no one is alone or left behind; and proving that we have not, are not, and will never forget the nobility of their sacrifices.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Showing Thanks

Today I took my boys to three cemeteries to honor the Veterans laid to rest there; my boys placed flags by the headstones. I was planning on taking them anyway, but now that my oldest is a Cub Scout we were able to take part in the event with them.

I had my first visit to a cemetery when I was 7, to bury my best friend, my companion, my Grandfather. Even then I remember looking at the headstones wondering about the stories of the men and women laid to rest there.

It only took 15 minutes for my 4.5 year old to become board and start with the "I'm hungry. I'm thirsty. I'm cold. I'm hot. I want to go home." I closed my eyes counting to 10 to restore my patience when it occurred to me; he had no idea why we were in the cemetery and what we were doing. I knelt down in front of my son, "Do you know why we are here?" He shook his head no, so I explained.

"Memorial day is a day of remembrance of those who fought in our Armed Forces to keep us safe. By placing flags at their graves we are saying, 'I remember what you did for me.' We are showing them respect. We are showing them we care." His eyes widened as he looked over the cemetery at all the flags that had already been placed. He looked up at me in earnest and said, "I want to help. I need to say thank you."

After the explanation of our purpose, he was focused, looking for any sign on a head stone that indicated the person resting there was in the Armed Forces. There was no more complaining or whining; only a single minded focus to say thank you to the hundreds of men who fought for our Country.

This goes to show even a mere child can "get it." I encourage you to take the time to explain it to them. Visit a cemetery. Let them see the flags proudly flapping in the wind. Let the children say Thank You. Let them see YOU say Thank You.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Companion to Honor

Doc was singing when I first met him, if I remember correctly. He was always singing. I'd just arrived in my new unit's office and was removing the porn I'd found on the government computer. I'd been in the Marines for about 3.5 years, and Doc had been in the Navy for about the same. He came crashing in singing some unknown R&B piece, tossed down his backpack, and looked around at the new faces.

“Who the hell are you guys?”

We were the new instructors sent to the unit, we explained, and introduced ourselves. He shook our hands briefly and cordially, welcomed us, and returned to rummaging in his pack. A moment later, he had wandered off. I learned later that he was always like this; he never sat still.

Part of it was a continual desire to improve himself. When he wasn't buried in a medical text for his job, he was studying for college classes, which he took online and at a local college. In fact, he'd nearly finished his Bachelor's degree before he came off of active duty. While some might describe him as a flake, it's more accurate to say that he was involved in a myriad of occupational, academic, and social activities and he had to organize his time carefully. His cellphone voicemail greeting even indicated this:

“This is Doc. Leave a clear, concise, grammatically correct message at the tone.” If you didn't, he wouldn't call you back. He might not have called you back anyway. He was busy.

Despite being constantly stretched thin, Doc never allowed it to diminish his attitude. Without exception, he was cheerful, 100% present, and ready at a moment's notice to throw in a humorous remark that would send us all into gales of laughter. At times, he seemed too funny to know his job, but it was a misassuption.

When he taught his medical classes, it was evident that he not only knew his profession, but knew more than most anybody of his rank or position, and excelled at explaining it to others. After seeing him instruct, we never doubted his medical knowledge again. But even his teaching was hilarious to watch. Flamboyant, to say the least.

While extremely intelligent and articulate, Doc tended to stutter; both in private conversation and in front of an audience. You could tell that he knew exactly what he was trying to say, but that his mouth had a hard time articulating the words. He'd stumble over a phrase, stutter a couple times, get visibly irritated, then spit it out with force. He grew even more annoyed when we all buried our faces in our hands and tried not to laugh (unsuccessfully). He never let it slow him down, and he would invariably get us back somehow. My “punishment” one day was driving several miles around Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with a rainbow-colored “Gay Pride” vanity license plate taped to my back bumper. When I found it, I pulled it off in horror.

In 2007, Doc was on a small team of dozen Marines and Sailors sent to Iraq to train Iraqi soldiers, police, and army recruits. It was his second tour doing this, so many of us looked up to him for guidance, advice on working with a radically-different culture, and the subtle nuances of instruction. He stuttered in those classrooms, too. Regardless, the Iraqi students always listened with rapt attention. They even liked it when he sang, which seemed to be a baseline activity whenever he wasn't speaking.

On the firing ranges, surrounded by hundreds of recruits who spoke not a word of English, Doc commanded their attention, their respect, and their friendship, working with them individually to perfect their marksmanship, congratulating them when they shot superbly, and providing encouragement when they needed to improve. He had a knack for getting along with people. Whereas most of us focus on differences and disagreements, Doc searched for reasons to like them. Aside from the stuttering, he'd have made a fine spokesman for any organization.

With our team being as small as it was in Iraq, it was easy for work responsibilities and even chores to totally overwhelm us. Doc, however, always pitched in where he could. While technically just our senior medical guy, he routinely instructed in infantry tactics (which he knew thoroughly), foreign weapons, marksmanship, and a host of other classes that were presumably far outside his area of expertise. If some of us had projects that kept us working late, he never turned down our requests for assistance. For a time, he even awoke early to go running with me – in the cold, in the dark, with the shrieks of hyenas occasionally disrupting the quiet. He'd still go work out later, too. Frankly, the only time he stopped moving was to eat, which for us was always an event.

Marines usually grab some sort of slop, pretend it's food, swallow it, and go back to work (or sleep). Our team, however, “broke bread.” It was the only period of the day when we were all in one location and not consumed with responsibilities. Doc was always the life of the party. Knowing that I disliked people who chewed with their mouths open, he'd sit right across from me and do just that. Then somebody would slap him in the head with a hotdog and he'd start yelling. Then our laughter would drown out the yelling. More than once we were nearly kicked out of chow halls. Only our commanding officer's senior rank prevented it happening.

Our commander said this about Doc's personality: “He was always ready to speak confidently on matters which, in his own mind, he had resolved in full.”

Far more than a coworker, Doc was a son to those older than him, and a brother to his peers. Each of us, on multiple occasions, confided in him, sought his advice, or even vented. Despite being on the move constantly, he would stop, give you his undivided attention, and help you. If people were his calling, loving them was his gift. He was the glue that bound us all together.

During that tour in 2007, insurgents detonated a carbomb directly outside of our base, with disastrous results. The wounded and dead were immediately evacuated onto base where Doc was among the first responders to begin medical treatment. Surrounded by dozens of wounded, screaming Iraqis, including children, women and the elderly, he moved swiftly to help those he could, assigned others to assist him, and created order in an absolutely devastating situation. More than 40 were killed that day and perhaps 60 others injured. I am firmly convinced that many of the injured survived entirely because of Doc's skilled, methodical care. Barking orders, speaking through interpreters, and moving patients, he never stuttered. There was work to be done.

Doc finished his service to his brothers and his country in 2008, but maintained contact with nearly all of us. We weren't professional responsibilities in his mind, but friends – our relationships cemented in a single oath, tragedy, and key involvement in an historic war.

Whenever I was in his area, he'd offer me a free place to sleep, feed me, and introduce me to his neighbors and friends. Whatever he had, he offered freely. I know many others kept in contact with him, too. Occasionally he'd drive long hours to visit some of us. Yet even then, he was constantly busy.

Soon after leaving the Navy, Doc finished his degree and began not only working full time, but also studying for a graduate degree. When that was done, he began studying to become a Physician's Assistant (PA). He not only enjoyed medicine, but he had a genuine desire to help people. His whole attitude was one of giving.

I visited Doc a few months back, staying at his place for free, as usual. Another friend, between jobs and apartments, was also visiting long-term. Doc, always benevolent, had seen the need and simply taken him in. Since he was getting ready to start in PA school, Doc had moved to a smaller apartment, taken steps to save his money, and prepare for the financial strain of his additional schooling. But he'd figured it all out. He remained enthusiastic about his studies, confident he could manage the money, and looked forward to starting in the fall.

Three weeks ago, under circumstances that none of us will ever fully grasp, Doc took his own life. A man who had invested his life in giving to others, who would drop anything to come to the aid of hundreds of friends and brothers, refused to let us help him – something we would have done without hesitation. His death leaves a void in all of our lives.

His memorial service – one of at at least three – was this past weekend. Marines, Soldiers and Sailors, some active, some former and some retired, men accustomed to burying friends, wept as we honored yet another who fell too young. He was supposed to grow old and do great things. We often forget that while national service brings the highest of honor, its close companion is immeasurable grief.

The roughly 5,500 combat dead of Iraq and Afghanistan frequently and rightfully command national attention, extensive news coverage and hometown memorials, but we ignore the more than 20,000 who have fallen to inner wars with demons the likes of which the living cannot comprehend.

I have a mental image of the ranks with whom I've served since 2003. There are now more holes than I can count. Some 46 dead and more than 200 wounded one tour alone, six dead and a dozen wounded another, a dozen more since I left the Marines, and still another dozen dead from self-inflicted wounds in the past three years alone. They have been replaced with little marble crosses in cemeteries around the country, or urns, or inconspicuous granite markers and weathered miniature flags. Their memorials are wholly insufficient.

Nearly 600,000 men and women have given their lives for this country, and an untold number more have taken their own lives soon after serving (at a rate of 17-20 a day). To lower a flag to half mast on Memorial Day morning (til noon) seems almost a mockery of all that they have offered and all that has been taken from them. But I don't know what else to do, besides grieve for an untold number of companions. Will you have a barbeque this weekend and celebrate the beginning of summer, or will you remember the journey of sacrifice, honor and grief that brought us where we are?

Godspeed, Doc, and may we see you in the morning.

Copyright © 2010, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved


There is no shortage of souls to remember this Memorial Day. I myself have a list. Some are people I knew, and some are people I know only from the stories of my friends. I think about those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and their families often. You should too. If by some lucky chance you don't know anyone who has died, you can see a list here, and get to know a little bit about those who died for you, courtesy of The Daily Price Of Freedom at David 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

John William Finn, Oldest Medal Of Honor Recipient, Dies at 100

John William Finn was stationed on Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu, Hawaii on December 7th, 1941. After the Japanese attack began he manned a .50 Caliber machine gun in an open position to take careful aim at the Japanese attack planes.  He received 21 distinct wounds during two hours of manning his position.
"I got that gun and I started shooting at Jap planes," Finn said in a 2009 interview. "I was out there shooting the Jap planes and just every so often I was a target for some," he said, "in some cases, I could see [the Japanese pilots'] faces."
 Collier, Peter (2006). Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty 
 After receiving medical care he went back to work arming the remaining American planes. I would say this is a True American, but according to his own words from Collier,
"That damned hero stuff is a bunch crap, I guess. [...] You gotta understand that there's all kinds of heroes, but they never get a chance to be in a hero's position."
 Here is his Medal Of Honor Citation
Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy. Place and date: Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Territory of Hawaii, 7 December 1941. Entered service at: California. Born: 23 July 1909, Los Angeles, Calif. Citation: For extraordinary heroism distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lt. Finn promptly secured and manned a .50-caliber machinegun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machinegun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy's fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Hope For The Future?

For those of you who don't know this is my son. He is 6.5 years old. Since he is mine, he is of course the smartest 6.5 year old out there. He accompanied me to the post office to mail some letters. The postal worker and I began talking. Somehow the conversation turned to protests in which one of us (I don't remember who) mentioned people burning the flag. At this point my son immediately snapped out of his own personal thoughts faster than if I had announced free ice cream for everyone and said, "Wait... people burn the Flag? My Flag? The one I say the Pledge Allegiance to everyday?" 

I am not writing this story to get into the validity of burning the Flag, I am writing this to show the pride of a 6.5 year old boy who already refers to the American Flag as his flag. He is ready to defend his flag however he deems necessary. When your 6.5 that means a fist to the face (yes I asked.)  Even though as his mother I am not supposed to condone violence and hitting I have to admit, I do not think I could punish him for defending the American Flag.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to Observe Memorial Day

USMC81 has very good points on How to Observe Memorial Day and why it should be observed on his blog. I have reposted his list, but you should read his full article here.

How to Observe Memorial Day:

  • by visiting cemeteries and placing flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes.
  • by visiting memorials.
  • by flying the U.S. Flag at half-staff until noon.
  • by flying the 'POW/MIA Flag' as well (Section 1082 of the 1998 Defense Authorization Act).
  • by participating in a "National Moment of Remembrance": at 3 p.m. to pause and think upon the true meaning of the day, and for Taps to be played.
  • by renewing a pledge to aid the widows, widowers, and orphans of our fallen dead, and to aid the disabled veterans.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ben Shaw- Combat Journalist and Friend

I want to inform all of you, that you will have the honor of reading the writing of my friend Ben Shaw. I have asked him to be a guest here on Words For Warriors. Why would I do that? Who is Ben? Well Ben is the guy who spent time in Iraq as Marine Infantry in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. He went back to Iraq in 2009 as a Combat Journalist and only recently returned from a stint with his pen and camera from Afghanistan. It was his following post, which I think should be standard reading for friends and family of loved ones coming home, that I thought he would add a dimension to this blog that I could never fathom. When he does write, please give him a warm welcome and tell him what you think.

The First Week Home

If you are just coming out of a combat zone (specifically from combat arms), you are about to encounter a wave of emotions, thoughts and dreams for which we are all unprepared.  Some of them will make perfect sense considering the environment you just left, but most will bother you. A few may even scare you.  While virtually none of the generalizations listed below help overcome these sensations, perhaps knowing about them in advance will help eliminate confusion or the feeling that you’ve lost control.  At the very least, take some comfort knowing that you’re not the only one who has encountered this.  Millions before you have, and future generations will as well. The first few days are definitely the most chaotic. Read More....

Monday, May 24, 2010

Book Drawing for Sebastian Junger's New Book "WAR"

If you would like the opportunity to read this book, then I suggest you head on over to The Kitchen Dispatch and enter into the drawing. The names will be drawn randomly at 9 am Tuesday the 25th, so hurry up.

Bleeding Red

What color do our Men and Women in the Armed Forces bleed for us? The answer is red. In Honor of their sacrifice a grassroots organization has started Red Shirt Fridays.  There are 52 Friday's in a year (unless of course it's a leap year, then it's 53) which is just a really good beginning to letting our Armed Forces know we care.  We support them.  We have not forgotten them.

I expect everyone to wear a red shirt on every Friday. If you don't own a red shirt, Red Shirt Fridays Organization has partnered up with a company that makes them, inexpensive, and all profits go to support the troops. There are other sites out as well who make Red Friday Shirts, no excuses.  Make it happen at your school, office, and in your family.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Never Enough

When a soul that has touched your heart dies, it leaves a scar.  Much like when two teenagers carve into a picnic table, the scar leaves a mark saying, “I was here.  I was loved.”  The scar is not visible to the naked eye, but is forever embedded into the fabric of your soul.  At first the numbness kicks in.  You think about what needs to be done.  Who needs to be contacted?  What arrangements need to be made?  Then, when you’re alone, and it’s quiet, it hits you.  You will never again hear their voice, touch their skin, see their smile, be mad at them for not replacing the toilet paper roll when they were the last one to use it. 

And you cry.

Perhaps as you cry, you look at a picture.  You remember their warmth, laughter, intelligence, and stubbornness.  You realize then, there will never be enough.

Never enough pictures of them for you to look at.  Never enough memory to hold all of the stories they told you, all the advice they gave. You look at your pictures, a few cards, maybe some clothes’, and you think, “This is not enough.” 

That is when the “Not Fair” part of your brain kicks in.  It’s not fair that they died.  It’s not fair that other people have their loved ones, and you don’t have yours.  It’s not fair when you look at their favorite sweatshirt and know they will never wear it again.  It’s not fair when the phone rings and the little voice in your head thinks it’s your loved one, only for it to be a solicitor to which you go off the handle on, because you don’t want anyone to know you were foolish enough to expect a call from a dead person. 

Soon you’re angry.  You’re angry the person had the nerve to die.  That they left you here without them.  How exactly are we supposed to go on without them?  You yell or snap at friends who have the nerve to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Really? They are sorry for what exactly? They are sorry someone you loved died? Or they are sorry that you’re hurting because someone you loved died.  Because being sorry doesn’t take away the fact you still have time with your loved one, and I don’t.  How exactly does saying sorry mend the torrential hole in the heart caused by this death?  Oh wait…. It doesn’t.

Eventually you feel guilty.  Guilty that you didn’t spend enough time with them when they were here.  Guilty that you wouldn’t eat at their favorite restaurant… one more time.  Guilty that you yelled at them when they forgot to take the garbage out.  Guilty that maybe you didn’t listen enough, care enough, love them enough, laugh enough, that you didn’t do everything you could at the end.  You feel guilty that you weren’t enough, when they needed you most.

Everyone at some time will experience death carving scars on their souls.  Everyone will have empty holes in their hearts in the shape of their loved one.  How does one get through such pain? Through Honor.  Honoring the memory of their loved one.  Telling stories, remembering, laughing, and loving.  Sometimes honor hurts, but eventually it gets easier. 

May 31st is Memorial Day, a day which should be reserved for honor, in all of its definitions.  A day for everyone- civilian, military, immigrants, ALL UNITED STATES CITIZENS no matter how new to this world, or how experienced in age, should honor those brave men and women who fought for our country, and died.  I can guarantee their families wish for more pictures, more memories, more smiles, more laughter, more hugs, more kisses than what they have, so honor them, and their sacrifices for you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Welcome Home

"My Marine Master Jedi" and his men will be coming home after a long 9 months of showing Afghanistan their type hospitality while traveling the country. Perhaps there will be a few Taliban sleeping a little better when they leave the country next week, but I doubt it.  Mostly I am writing this post to yell out a big "WELCOME HOME" and I can't hardly wait to get a big bear hug and chat with you over that beer I promised to buy you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

National Military Appreciation Month

You have just been informed May is National Military Appreciation Month. What does that mean? It means the whole month of May is for the Military, not just Memorial Day.  Your job is to show your appreciation to everyone who protects your rights. You can do this many ways, by making sure your flag flies proud in front of your home and business everyday. You can write a letter to a soldier. (You can give it to me, or I can help you with an address.) You can donate to some of the best charities ever that help the deployed, the wounded, or their families. (See my favorites to the right.) Just make sure you do something. As the saying goes, FREEDOM ISN'T FREE.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Never Forgotten

It is important we never forget, that we honor every Warrior we have, for we were lucky to have them. So read it, and honor them.
Never Forgotten: The Vietnam War Memorial Grows by Six

Kid Wisdom

Anyone who has spent anytime with children knows they are full of little bits of wisdom you can't find anywhere else. Here is an example from my son Aidan,
"Mom, when we send letters, pictures, and packages to the soldiers fighting the bad guys, are we doing Santa's work? Would that make our love that we put in the packages the magic?"
Normally Aidan makes me laugh with his wisdom, but this one made me teary eyed. He might be in the body of a 4.5 year old, but sometimes I think he is much much older. It is this kind of wisdom that makes me wonder what kind of man he will be. No matter what he does, I am already one of the world's proudest moms.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Words For Warriors Supporter

I would like to send a special Thanks to Elise's from Elise's Barber Shop on 724 Main Street. She has only been in business about a week and has still found time not only to support our Relay For Life effort, but also support our troops, and help me support them.  The front windows in Elise's shop are filled with framed photo's of Susanville's fine men and woman who either have or, are serving our Country. Elise offered me full use of her windows, indefinitely to support Words For Warriors and help me raise donations for postage. I am so eternality grateful I almost busted out with a little dance right in her shop. Below is a picture of her shop, decorated for Paint The Town Purple.  I encourage everyone in the Susanville area who needs a Barber to visit Elise. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
The shop is filled with American Pride and Support, of all kinds.
Thank You Elise.

Relay For Life "Paint The Town Purple"

This year Susanville participated in Paint The Town Purple in an effort to recognize and celebrate those who have fight cancer and celebrate life. As a fundraiser the Words For Warriors Linked team decorated businesses for a donation.  We had 10 businesses and raised over $300 for Relay.  As glad as I am to have raised the money, it was a lot of fun too. Here are a few pictures for your enjoyment.
The purple ribbons, moons, stars, and fight back image are difficult to see, but there.

The Pet Store had several windows decorated. There again difficult to see, but there.
Forest Office Products another fine business showing there support. 
A big thank you to everyone who participated this year!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Words For Warriors Linked Fundraiser for Relay For Life

Greetings Everyone~
I just wanted to give a giant THANK YOU to everyone who helped out today at the Children's Fair to support our Team. We raised $131.50 today.  We got some fantastic artwork from the children to send downrange.  We got several kid decorated Luminaria's to Honor those Warriors of Cancer. It was even sunny today... no snow. Here are a few pictures of the festivities.
Here is the booth right after we set up, with two tables covered in paper for kids to draw pictures and write notes to our Warriors. 
This little boy came to the Children's Fair ready for action.

He is a proud First Grader and spent almost an hour on his drawing of a boat, complete with good guys and a flag.

This little One year old was one of our youngest artists who's dad helped her draw hearts at her request.