Matthew Snyder joined the Marines in 2003.
He didn't have to. He wanted to. We do have an all volunteer military.
His family was so proud of him. As all of us should be.
On March 3, 2006, Matthew's dad got the knock on the door that no military family wants.
Matthew had been killed in Iraq.
I remember the day we heard about Pete. I remember the pain. The shock.
I remember the screams from Missy, Ali, Sadie and Zac when I had to call them.
I remember my dad losing his breath when I called him.
The world was spinning out of control. It was like the worst dream you've ever had, except you never wake up.
No one wants to bury their child.
And Al Snyder is no different from any other parent that has lost a child.
"He was a hero and the love of my life", said Al.
At Matthew's funeral, the sewer rats from Westboro Baptist Church showed up to spew their insane evil.
Al couldn't stand it.
So he sued Fred Phelps and the church. And he won.
Fred and his group have appealed the case. It has been upheld once, and overturned once, and now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
Earlier this week the appeals court that overturned the verdict ordered Al Snyder to pay over $16,000 of court costs for Westboro Baptist Church. As though Al and his family haven't been thru enough, this was the ultimate slap in the face.
You may well have read the story. You may well have seen Al on any number of network news programs this week.
I sent Al an email earlier in the week. Told him our family had stood in his family's shoes, and we loved them and supported them.
This morning, my cell phone rang and I didn't recognize the number. Came close to not answering, but I did.
"I'm looking for Alan Burks."
"You found him. How can I help you?"
"Alan, this is Al Snyder. Matthew Snyder's dad. I have received over 10,000 emails this week. I intend to respond to everyone in time. Somehow, God led me to yours. And I just felt the need to call."
A new friend, a new brother, a new bond made in that instant.
I wept. I got chills.
We talked for about 15 minutes. We shared what only folks who are in the Gold Star Family club can share.
In the midst of all he's going thru, he took the time to call and encourage me.
He gave me his number and said to call anytime I need to talk. And he really meant it.
And I said the same to him.
I don't know where or how or when, but I will hug that sweet man's neck one day.
I rode my motorcycle out to spend time with Pete this afternoon.
I think he winked at me when I asked him how he and Matthew were doing.
Pete and Matthew are now together and now their dads are together.
What a club.
Godspeed Al Snyder.
God, bless Fred Phelps and bring him to salvation and sanity. And in the meantime, please give him a serious legal ass whuppin'.