Monday, May 31, 2010

Decoration Day

We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

-George Orwell

May 30, 1868 was declared Decoration Day by the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Army veterans.

The first observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery. Maj. General John Logan declared that on that day the graves of fallen Union and Confederate soldiers should be decorated with flowers to honor their sacrifices.

By the end of the 19th century, the day had come to be known as Memorial Day. It was only after World War I that the day was expanded to include those that had died in all American wars.

Memorial Day wasn't declared a national holiday by Congress until 1971.

Like many of you, Memorial Day meant the beginning of summer and a cookout with friends and family for most of my life. I was too stupid, naive, shallow and selfish to recognize why the day had been set apart.

Now, I have a much different view.

So tomorrow, I will spend the morning honoring those that have given all. And I will visit the grave of my son and we will decorate it to recognize his service and sacrifice.

But in the afternoon, our family will have a barbecue. And it won't be a time of mourning. Or sadness.

It will be a time of celebration of life that those fallen brave men and women before us would want to be celebrated.

The men and women that died on the battlefield would want us to start summer with a bang.

They were willing to die so that we can enjoy such things.

They wanted to come home and do the same.

All that they would ask is that the nation acknowledge their shared sacrifice to enable us to enjoy such a day.

For fools like me, I wish there was a law requiring each of us to visit and decorate the grave of a fallen soldier on Memorial Day. To understand the cost of freedom. To appreciate why we have what we have.

And then the law should read that at one set hour (like 7 eastern, 6 central, 5 mountain, 4 pacific), we should all sing the National Anthem together in their honor.

And only then, let the rib sucking, steak savoring, hot dog eating, hamburger chewing begin with gusto.

Rest well at Fiddler's Green, you brave souls.

We will meet again in Heaven.

Know that your service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

In fact, it will be decorated with flowers.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Woman's Memorial Day

"It is not of the dead alone that we think on this day.

There are those still living whose sex forbade them to offer their lives, but who gave instead their happiness.

Which of us has not been lifted above himself by the sight of one of those lovely, lonely women, around whom the wand of sorrow has traced its excluding circle--set apart, even when surrounded by loving friends who would fain bring back joy to their lives?

I think of one whom the poor of a great city know as their benefactress and friend. I think of one who has lived not less greatly in the midst of her children, to whom she has taught such lessons as may not be heard elsewhere from mortal lips. The story of these and her sisters we must pass in reverent silence.

All that may be said has been said by one of their own sex---

But when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.
Then did I check the tears of useless passion,
weaned my young soul from yearning after thine
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine."

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Memorial Day Speech, May 30, 1884

To all of the wives, mothers, sisters, fiances, soulmates and friends, may you find strength and peace this Memorial Day. And everyday.

Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for sharing your very best.

You are as much heroes as those whom you have lost.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Whither Iraq

"To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate. One may fall-at the beginning of the charge or at the top of the earthworks; but in no other way can he reach the rewards of victory."

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Memorial Day Speech, May 20, 1884

President Obama quoted Holmes last week as he addressed the graduates at West Point.

President Obama also said this to those soon to be commissioned officers. "... this is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant."

This is the same man who on October 22, 2002 said in front of a few hundred anti-war demonstrators at Chicago Plaza, "I don't oppose all wars." Obama said, "What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war..."

Time will tell which Barack Obama was correct.

I am as confused about the war in Iraq as anyone.

Was it good strategy?

Was it worth it?

Was it a dumb war?

Experience is a tough teacher. First you get the answer, then you get the lesson. And we don't have the answer yet.

What I do have is some insight you might not have on the situation in Iraq.

I have friends who are there right now. Men on their second and third deployment.

Here is an excerpt from an email from one of them in the last few days.

"A couple of things that are somewhat exciting is about a week ago my Brigade Commander was flying from a base from the North part of the Area of Operation when his wing man had mechanical problems and had to make an emergency landing in the desert.

The helicopter that was having problems was a UH-60 Black Hawk. The helicopter that the Brigade Commander was flying in was a UH-47 Chinook. No passengers were flying in the Black Hawk when it had to make an emergency landing.

When they landed the pilots and crew chief loaded up on the Chinook and continued their flight pattern back. Our Charlie Battery is our farthest perimeter to the North and one of their platoons was quickly spun up as the quick reactionary force that went to go secure the helicopter on the ground.

Eventually a couple of mechanics flew out to the landing site and was able to fix the Black Hawk in which the pilots were able to fly it back.

What was pretty cool about the story was that while that platoon was out there securing the site a Sheik and some Iraqis went out to them with some food to give to the troops. That was a small gesture from them to us that they support us and we have that continued friendship."

That is one reality that you won't hear from any other news source.

What does it mean?

I don't know. But I think that Sheik is like the Sheik that sought me out last April.

Last April when I was in Iraq, a Sheik wanted to meet me. Due to logistics, it never happened.

He had lost his son and his brother in an attack on him. The Sheik had been the target. Why? Because he was a good man. One that longed for peace in Iraq. And one that saw the U.S. as a force of good willing to fight evil.

The Sheik wanted to meet someone else that had lost a son in the Iraq War. Some day, I hope to meet him and come to understand better what this is all about.

From another veteran of Iraq, this excerpt from an email this week. He was the Captain of Pete's troop and one of the first on the scene that day.

"I fly over the spot where Pete was killed at least once a week. Never loses its impact on me. And I see his name every time I walk in or out of division headquarters. There are huge placques in the entrance hall with the names of those that were taken, broken down by year. Pete is toward the bottom of the 2007 boards. I say good morning and good night to him everyday.

So far we've only put two names on the 2010 board. Progress is real, no matter what the press may want to say. This is still a dangerous place but I truly believe we are going to get this sorted out soon and end this with dignity and honor."

Until there is evidence to the contrary, I'm going to listen to the folks with boots on the ground in Iraq. Which includes the U.S. military and the Iraqis. And not the evening news.

Which gives me hope. And peace.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Losing love

Losing a love is decimating.

You begin to question everything.

It has happened to me several times.

And what I have learned is that I have to wait on God.

Because God is love. If you don't know God, you don't know love.

He has a plan.

There are many days that I don't care for the plan.

That's because I'm on my time.

But I am learning painfully and slowly that if I will wait on Him, He will take care of me and bit by bit reveal the plan to me.

God is eternal. Eternal is a concept none of us can really understand.

If you are eternal, there is no concept of time.

I have learned that I am not in control of anything.

I have learned that any and all blessings that have come my way have been of Him. And some of those blessings have not been happy things.

I have for years been a "Lord, bless my mess" kind of man.

He doesn't hear that prayer.

I have learned to open my mind, my heart, my arms, my hands every morning and say to Him, "Lord, I can't wait for the surprise you have in store for me today".

A thousand times in the past few years He has provided when there was no possible way.

I don't like alot of the things that have happened to me. But I'm learning to appreciate that He is in control and is teaching me to let Him run the show.

There are amazingly wonderful things happening in my little life.

The love of grandchildren. The flowering of my grown children. The simple sweet love of my 8 year old daughter who loves me in spite of my flaws.

And I think God may well have introduced me to my soulmate.

She is much too good for me. But, for some odd reason, she seems to like me.

All I've ever wanted is what all of us ever wanted.

To find someone that will love us unconditionally.

Jesus, or Yeshua, is the example.

I had given up hope.

He hasn't, and never will.

He is hope.

And she is the evidence of things unseen, and the proof of things hoped for.

Lord, thank you for my life.

If she is it, make it clear.

And please, Lord, don't let me screw it up.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Neosporin breath

I'm a 55 year old knucklehead with an 8 year old daughter.

And four grown kids.

Yes, I know the math.

Yes, I know the issues.

Just please allow me to share the joy of what an 8 year old girl is all about.

On Saturday, we went to her riding lesson at Palos Verdes Stables.

If you've never driven south of Los Angeles into PV, you've missed something.

It is a magic place.

Years ago, the rich folk found it.

It is near the Pacific.

The air, the trees, the flora are all different there.

And in the middle of it is horse country.

Sandy loam.

And today, it is run by women.

Reedy, salty, earthy blonde women that love horses and dogs. And each other. And their husbands and boyfriends.

It is estrogen heaven.

As sports bars are to men, this place is to women.

It's all about the horses. And the discipline. And the life of brushing, and sweeping out, and feeding, and caring, and learning.

My peanut loves it. She is learning to ride English. Which I learned watching her means the rider actually exercises and works. I thought it was the horse that did all the work. Once again, I'm wrong. Which is ok, so long as I learn.

On Sunday, it was father-daughter dance night with the girl scouts.

Much more time was spent getting buffed than was spent dancing. Maybe one go round with pops and she and they were done. It was a classic generational learning session.

Every current song was well known by the 8-10 year old girls. They danced together. They conga lined together.

When "Play That Funky Music White Boy" came over the speakers, all the girls sat down. The dads all had their white man overbite ready to go, with nobody to dance with.

Soon, she realized this wasn't all that much fun. And her high heels hurt her feet.

She had two hot dogs. As did I plus a cold cheeseburger.

We took what I'm sure will be a classic picture with the photographer of, "I really don't want to be here".

All she wanted was to go home and relax and snuggle.

So we did. And then she asked if I wanted a back rub.

Of course I did.

So she starts the program. She walks on my back. She massages me with her strong little hands.

Then starts the "process". As a female, she somehow knows that special herbs and oils are required.

So as I lay prone, she starts rubbing something on my back.

"Peanut, what is that?"

"Neosporin, daddy. It will make your back feel better."

"Where did you get Neosporin?"

"It's in your shaving kit. And I'm going to use this old toothbrush to massage it into your back."

It was the most loving and lovely massage.

And my back is germ free.

And after brushing my teeth this morning, I can tell you that Neosporin mixed with Colgate leaves you with a hint of Vicks Vaporub breath with a minty finish.

And the knowledge that one little girl loves you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Store That Love Built

The Store That Love Built:
12 Jan 2008
By CH (CPT) Bryan Smith 4/2SCR USA

“Greater love hath no man then this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. On November 14, 2007, 2LT Peter H. Burks gave his life for his friends, the men of 4th Platoon, Palehorse troop 4th Squadron 2nd Calvary Regiment. His family, fiancée and friends were stunned and grieved by the news of Peter’s death. As a chaplain, I expected this response from those who knew Peter so well. It was what happened next that neither I nor the men of Palehorse troop could have ever imagined. Peter’s family, his mom, Mrs. Jackie Merck, his dad, Mr. Alan Burks, and fiancée, Miss Melissa Haddad, fought their way through their own personal grief and rallied an entire community to support our troops. We began to receive care packages in the mail from people in Texas, from towns and communities I had never heard of before, towns like McKinney, Frisco, Duncanville, Celina and Garland. And the packages kept on coming. It wasn’t long we had received over two hundred care packages for our Soldiers. As I prayed and thought about how I could best honor the memory of Peter and show my appreciation to all those people in Texas whose cards and gifts kept coming in, it hit my mind that I should open a country store in Pete’s honor. So with the support of my Commander, LTC Antonio Aguto Jr., we celebrated the grand opening of the “Peter Burks Country Store” at Forward Operating Base Prosperity here in Baghdad on Christmas Eve 2007. Two hundred and twenty five Soldiers came by in two hours and picked up food, clothing, hygiene and gift items from the store at absolutely no cost. We also gave out several door prizes that people had sent us such as: Xbox controllers, CD’s, DVD’s and CD players. We continue to open the store twice a week and Soldiers can come by and get whatever they want for free. As I think now of the store, the sacrifice and the love that 2Lt Peter Burks had for his men and the kindness of some people in Texas, I can’t help but weep. The Peter Burks store truly is the store that love built.

Pete's regiment is in the process of deploying again. We don't know where, but we know it must be a hot spot. They call in the Cavalry when all hell breaks loose.

As this regiment of 5,000 brave men and women head into battle, the Peter Burks Country Store deploys with them.

We need your help to stock it. With love.

There are two ways you can help.

1. You, your church or synagogue or mosque, your company, your neighborhood, your kid's school can collect goods that we will ship. Here's what they want. Really complicated stuff:

-Salty snacks (pistachios, peanuts, Spicy Cheetohs, etc.)

-Healthy snacks (Clif Bars, Powerbars, etc.)

-White socks

-Red Vines and Gummi Bears

-Powdered Gatorade packs (to put in their Camelback water pouches to get them thru 125 degree days with 80 pounds of body armor on)

-Hand sanitizer (since showers aren't readily available)

-DVDs, CDs, Xbox consoles and games and controllers (yep, they are still kids)

-Handwritten letters from you and your family

-Playing cards

-Beef jerky

-Toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, eye drops, swabs

-Anything non-perishable, shippable and that would tickle a scared 18 year old and let them know somebody cares

Contact me at and we will figure out how to get it picked up and shipped.

2. Cash

Our largest expense is postage. That's the only way to ship into a war zone. You can go to to to learn more and donate via PayPal or check.

To date, with your help, we have shipped over 7 tons of care packages into Iraq and Afghanistan.

With your help again, more tons of love will be on their way.

We will start shipments in early June.

These 5,000 will know that somebody in America cares about their sacrifice based on what you do.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A different kind of Mothers Day

Below is a note I just received from a Gold Star family support group.

It is self-explanatory.

It is heartbreaking.

And, it provides a chance to be part of a miracle.

Since my Mom isn't here for me to give her a hug, I'm heading to the post office to send Mrs. Koch some love.

Thanks for anything you can do.


Dear Friends of Christine Koch,

It is with overwhelming sadness that I be the one to inform you of a tragedy that has befallen the Koch family. As you all know, two years ago Christine and Bill Koch were informed that their beloved son, Stephen gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the United States Army over in Afghanistan. This morning, Friday May 7, 2010, there was another knock at the door; they were informed of the untimely death of their oldest daughter, Lynne.

I have been in contact with Christine and was given permission to alert you all of this unfortunate tragedy. Arrangements are not yet finalized.

David Lussier and I, along with Ron Dixon, the Commander of American Legion Post 25, and Nancy O’Rorke, Ron’s fiancé and Christine’s closest friend, are working together to help Christine and Bill and their other son, Billy, with the unfortunate task of raising the funds to help them bury their daughter properly. The family has been hit hard in recent months with unexpected financial matters; therefore, we ask that you find it in your hearts to send $1.00 in a sympathy card to help them bury their daughter properly. Christine has been there for our troops no matter what and today she is grieving the loss of yet another child – how much more can one mother endure.

In anticipation of your willingness to help the Koch family, I have obtained some vital information which is as follows:

Please do not send flowers, instead send Christine a card of encouragement and if you can, enclose $1.00 or more if you have it to let her know she is not grieving alone. This family has given enough and now its time to ask you all to search your hearts to help a Mother who is need of burying another child.

Cards and donations are being accepted via the American Legion. All donations will be used to help the family deal with this tragedy in private. Send your note, card and donation to:

Joyce Kilmer American Legion Post 25
Attn: Commander Ron Dixon
PO Box 173
Milltown, NJ 08850

If there is anyone out there who wishes to donate more or do something special for Christine, please contact Commander Ron Dixon directly at 732-404-7445 (this number is shared with direct permission from Mr. Dixon) Checks should be made payable to the Joyce Kilmer American Legion Post 25 – memo note: Koch Family

On behalf of David Lussier and myself, we thank you all for supporting our beloved Christine and her family in their hour of need. Please pray for their family to be strong and allow God to give them the strength to endure this terrible tragedy.

Betty Kilbride and David Lussier

Saturday, May 8, 2010

This goofy little blog

I'm an alpha male in a numeric world.

Meaning, words mean more to me than numbers.

Writing is an extension of thinking.

I'm Scotch Irish by descent.

And Scotch Irish folk are prone to verbal sharing.

Jokes. Stories. An inherent interest in other people. Because our ancestors were stuck on these cold, rainy outposts and strangers brought a chance to tell old stories new and the possibility of learning something.

I started writing this thing for two reasons.

First and foremost, to leave a written history of my thoughts for my children.

I was inspired by my maternal grandfather. As Irish as a McLarin can be.

He scribbled poems, stories, thoughts and stored them in what he called his "mellow box".

According to my Mom and my sweet aunts, Papa John would often go to that box and wallow in the good and sad thoughts he had written for only his consumption.

Oh, how I wish I had that box. I would know so much more about my family and me.

On my dad's side, there are great stories. My great-great grandmother was a Cherokee. One of my distant aunts was born at home during a battle in the Civil War as a Union cannonball came thru the house.

Sadly, these great stories aren't written down, and I wasn't astute enough to get them recorded when Big Papa and Momie were alive.

So, I hope this written record will provide my children and their children some history and some idea of what a knucklehead their dad, grandpa, great-grandpa and so on was.

Secondly, I am continually inspired by the words of my oldest son, Peter.

On his tombstone in Melissa, Texas are his words. "I want to foment change in this world."

Pete isn't physically here to do it. But his spirit drives me to ask, question and search for truth that can make a difference.

To date, their have been over 40,000 visits to this little mellow box.

Many repeat customers. And many new folks from around the world.

United Kingdom. Canada. Iraq. Iran. Slovenia. Russia. Norway. Singapore. China and Hong Kong. Australia. Ireland. Afghanistan. Iceland. Italy. Japan. Switzerland. Finland. France. Spain. Brazil. Turkey. Netherlands. Norway. Israel. Ukraine. Mexico. Belgium. New Zealand. Kuwait. Poland. Sweden. Poland. Vietnam. Kenya.

79 countries to date. And all 50 of the United States of America.

This world wide interweb thing is apparently catching on.

Dear reader, if you've gotten this far, I thank you. And I hope something in this combination of writing and typing has been worthwhile for you.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Roadman

I've been selling stuff all my life.

Newspaper route. Fuller Brush salesman. Magazine space sales rep. Mens retail clothing salesman.

In college, I had the good fortune to have an excellent job. Campus Marketing Rep for Gallo wine.

The University of Georgia held the esteemed position of highest beer consumption per capita in the nation. Gallo wine decided they wanted some of that money.

So I got hired to promote Carlo Rossi jug wine to the Dawg Nation.

After college, I have sold to the masses via advertising and global marketing programs.

But I've discovered that nothing I've done compares to The Roadman.

The person that loads up their car with samples, dreams and bills to pay and hits the road to call on accounts one-on-one. That is real selling.

Hours of windshield time. Hours of lonely driving thru the American countryside.

Keeping track of mileage for taxes. Weeks away from home. Cheap hotels. Fast food eaten in the car.

The Roadman doesn't mind being called a peddler. He knows what he does. He likes what he does. He's proud of his ability to turn no into yes.

I've had the privilege of working with a number of these engines of industry. Nothing happens in business until somebody sells something.

They are independent businessmen. And their bread and butter customer is an independent businessman.

Sadly, with the homogenizing of America by national retail chains, The Roadman is a dying breed.

Last week, I had the opportunity to make a sales call with a Roadman.

Ten hours of driving in one day for a one hour sales call.

It was worth it because the appointment was in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Bentonville is to The Roadman as Augusta is to golf.

This Roadman made his bones and millions selling womens and girls clothing.

Dresses, suits, and blouses by the truckload.

At one time, it was bras. He credits his success in this venture to his "tittie friendly hands".

His biggest hit was "jerk em up pants". A womens polyester pant with an elastic waistband.

He sold them till the world was flat with them. At about $3.50 wholesale. Bet your mom owned several pair.

As we departed that morning, he explained the rules to me.

One stop to tee-tee per five hours. No stopping for food.

We ate a one pound bag of pretzels on the way up. And another on the way back.

We laughed about our ankles swelling due to all the salt. Somewhere around Checotah, Oklahoma on the way back, our mouths were so puckered we had to stop for something to drink. Right next to the road sign that proudly proclaimed Checotah as the home of Carrie Underwood.

The Roadman learns to be efficient. The Roadman learns the best time of day for calling on customers.

Like late Friday afternoon. Most sales folks have called it a week. Many a fortune has been made by calling on that last customer at 5pm on Friday.

The Roadman knows where the best cheap Italian food is in Ooltewah, Tennessee.

The Roadman knows the high school mascot names in small towns. Like the Atoka (Oklahoma) Wampus Cats. And before political correctness came around, the Pekin (Illinois) Chinks.

Twitter, Facebook, Woot, Ebay and other internet tools are changing how we communicate and do business.

Sadly, so little of it is face to face. Person to person. Relationships. Trust.

Here's to The Roadman.

May your souls find rest. May your perseverance inspire us. May we never forget the art of selling.

May we long remember it was merchants like you who helped Sam Walton find the items that turned a one store operation into the world's largest corporation.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Twin sons of different mothers

At the University of Georgia, I met Allen Burks.

He spells his first name different than me, but other than that, we have led amazingly similar lives.

We had never met, even though we grew up less than 20 miles apart.

In 1978, odd things began to happen.

We were both advertising majors in the School of Journalism.

We were to graduate at the same time.

And the way we met was eerie. Our phone numbers in Athens, Georgia were the same except his number ended in 3587 and mine ended in 3857. He got calls for me and vice versa.

After lots of phone calls from folks that were as confused as we were, we called each other and arranged to meet. And have been fast friends ever since.

His dad owned Martin Burks Chevrolet across from the farmers market south of Atlanta.

That was good for me. He always had a running automobile.

On several occasions, my VW would blowout a valve or one of the $5 retreads I would buy from the junkyards on 138 between Monroe and Conyers. Allen would always come get me and give me a ride home.

After graduating, we lived close to each other again in the leafy suburbs south of Atlanta.

Many a Saturday night, I would get a call from the Clayton County jail from one of the guys in the service department that needed bailing out because they'd had too much fun honky tonkin'.

Folks were still confusing us for each other.

Since they only got one phone call, I would call Allen and let him know one of his folks needed help.

We both got married. And we both got crapped on.

But we both had wonderful kids from those failed marriages, and thankfully have close loving relationships with our children.

Our dream jobs got cut short for reasons out of our control. GM shut the dealership that his dad and he had built when GM hit the wall. I worked for a public company that decided to sell to a private equity group, and the PE boys were convinced that all of the management group had to go.

Today was unusual for me. I had this odd emotional overload. I missed my mom who passed away 8 years ago. And I got scared thinking of the day that my sweet pops won't be here. (Although at 84 he is healthier and more active than me. Perhaps I'm the one that won't be here.)

Tonight I learned that Allen's mom went home to be with our Lord. His dad has been waiting for her for a couple of years.

I hurt for my brother.

I feel the pain and I'm back to missing my Mom like 8 years ago. The scab just got ripped off.

My brother, I love you and miss you. And I wish I could lift your burden. But it's a passage we must go thru.

Thankfully, Allen has found a great new love and is moving on in life.

Oh, how I hope the day comes that I find true love and my brother and I can be in the same boat again.

We'll take that boat all over Lake Spivey and be thankful for the lives we've shared.