Unfinished Lives

by LTC(P) Zolton Krompecher

We live in an age where some confuse heroes with entertainers, role models for charlatans, but remembering Americans who died young places perspective in sharper relief.

As a boy, I spent afternoons dashing around the neighborhood playing “Army” with friends. Tree forts became castles, bushes hideouts and passing cars were tanks to be avoided at all costs. Somewhere in our minds we were aware of Vietnam, but our neighborhood sheltered us until two names came to personify the war: Corporal Frank Miller and LT James Francis O’Laughlin.

Frank was the uncle of my best friend while James O ‘Laughlin was the father of another classmate. Both Soldiers died in Vietnam. Each represented a link to my hometown of Athens, Ohio. Every Memorial Day, I thought of them. Decades later, I visited the Wall in Washington and etched their names.

Iraq and Afghanistan are my generations’ wars. One autumn day I took a phone call and was told my friend Dave was killed in Iraq. I was to escort him home. I reflected on our time together in the Special Forces. Fighting was the melody he danced to, and Dave knew the steps well, but he had a clean heart, too. Ever the consummate warrior-scholar, Dave was a well-read Green Beret who knew his craft but also helped local children wherever he served. I remember how he set his jaw in grim determination when challenged. Life can shift in an instant: I suppose that is the same look he had on the day the desert sun boiled and he made his fateful decision. There was no manual instructing me what to say when his wife threw herself onto his casket. The whole experience skinned my insides.

Some nights I stare at the stars and think of Bill, Laura, Ted, Justin (who grew up in Coal Grove, Ohio just down the river) and Drew. They were the brave ones willing to lay it on the line when things got rough and now remain eternally young, preserved in the minds of those who knew them best.

When visiting their graves, I don’t blunt emotions or debate the logic behind the wars in which they fought…that is for other venues. What I see are patches of grass containing dreams of what might have been—Daddy/Daughter dances, games of catch, first days of school, walks down the aisle, and reunions. Their unfinished lives moor me to the past while whispering the warning not to allow life to grow stale. The cemetery becomes a confessional where secrets to my friends leak out of my mouth and the past becomes grafted with the present, if but for a moment. But what of graves with no names and few visitors?

Just off to the right of the Fort Myer entrance to Arlington Cemetery stands a stone with a simple epigraph reading:

#8067

Unknown

U.S.

Soldier

Behind this grave is number 8429. Behind that stone is 8443. Flanked on both sides are others. Who knew these brave souls “Known but to God”? 8067 is buried in one of the Civil War sections. Did this Soldier know my Great-Great-Uncle Eli who joined the Union at eighteen, saw action at Shiloh and Corinth and died soon after? I can only wonder.

I used to make it to a cemetery every Memorial Day but now visit on my own time. Instead, I try to make my friends’ sacrifices worthwhile by evaluating my relationships with others and occupying the in-betweens of my life by doing better.

Each one of us has the capacity to make a difference: surprising our children at school lunch; calling an old friend with whom we’ve lost contact; inviting a neighbor or clergy member over for dinner; visiting an assisted living home to listen to stories of a way of life which disappear with each breath; or taking off work to spend the day with a spouse. Maybe it’s a simple “Hello” to someone who least expects it. Showing kindness and empathy to fellow Americans—even those with whom we disagree—is the least we can do for Frank Miller, James O’Laughlin, Soldier #8067 and others who left behind unfinished lives.

And so what’s the cost? A moment of our time, that’s all. And what some wouldn’t give for a moment.

 

 

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A Veteran Died Today

by Unattributed      (Originally published May 25th, 2016)

He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion,
Telling stories of the past.

Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.

And ‘tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew where of he spoke.

But we’ll hear his tales no longer,
For ol’ Joe has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer
For a Veteran died today.

He won’t be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.

He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won’t note his passing,
‘Tho a Veteran died today.

When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell of their life stories
From the time that they were young,
But the passing of a Veteran
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?

The politician’s stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.

While the ordinary Veteran,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And perhaps a pension, small.

It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some cop-out,
With his ever-waffling stand?

Or would you want a Veteran
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Veteran,
Who would fight until the end.

He was just a common Veteran,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his likes again.

For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Veteran’s part,
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor
While he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage
At the ending of his days.

Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:

“OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING,
A VETERAN DIED TODAY.”

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MAN FOR OTHERS

by Stalwart 2.      (Originally published May 18th, 2016)

LCDR Erik Kristensen, in his life and in his service to our country, meant many things to many people. He was a sailor, a SEAL, a hero. He was a teacher, a mentor, a son, a friend. And for the men of Eye Street, he was – and still is – a role model. The small, but poignant memorial so aptly located in a basement rotunda through which nearly every one of a thousand boys’ age fourteen to eighteen-year-old walk by each day, serves as a solemn reminder of his sacrifice. Its location is important; while the familiar is often glassed over by complacency and forgotten in repetition, the ever present placement of such an example of service in constant view of the privileged sons of Washington provides young men at their most impressionable with the example of one of their own who valued others more than himself.

Prior to his service, Erik attended and graduated from Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. and the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He was an avid competitor, playing football and lacrosse at Gonzaga and earning a varsity letter on the Academy’s crew team. After graduation, he continued to compete, working towards a graduate degree and eventually joining the Navy’s elite as a member of SEAL Team 10. He was the kind of man others strive to be – ambitious in his goals and determined in achieving them, all the while staying true to his values. He is the kind of man to be admired by generations which follow; the kind of man we have a responsibility to hold in high esteem among our youth.

LCDR Kristensen was tragically killed in action on 28 June 2005, shot down in a helicopter among fifteen other Special Forces operators from the Army and Navy. Always a man for others, LCDR Kristensen had volunteered to lead the expedition on a rescue mission to save four fellow SEAL members who had been pinned under enemy fire. His selflessness – his sacrifice – is indicative of the man he was, and acts as testament to the parents, friends, teachers, friends, and environment that shaped him.

This author did not have the pleasure of meeting Erik, instead only knowing him through the connections of a shared school and a common belief in the value of service before self. These connections are not unique, either, but are shared by countless members of the generations that followed Erik. His memory is an inspirational one, his memorial an impetus for betterment. He is the role model we passed on our way to and from class each day; his name the one spoken in admiration with wonder; his shared history with our own a point of pride. To us, Erik is the epitome of selflessness, of service, and of sacrifice. To all, he is a man for others. LCDR Kristensen will continue to inspire the young men of Eye Street and beyond to seek a career in service – to honor his legacy, we owe him our best.

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Special Soldier, Better Man

 

COL John M. McHugh, United States Army (KIA)

by Guardian 6       (Originally published May 22, 2016)

While deployed to Iraq, about ten months through my tour in May 2010, pictures of a significant Vehicle Based Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) came across my screen while reviewing the daily theater intelligence brief. This attack had occurred in Kabul, Afghanistan. In all, five US troops were killed along with 17 civilians and over 40 wounded in this attack. At that moment, I did not know that a friend and colleague from the US Army War College (AWC), one of my classmates, had been killed. Ten months earlier I was graduating from AWC where I had first met John in the fall of 2009.

While we didn’t have any classes together or share the same seminar group, John and I kept the same physical training routine hitting the gym early getting our work outs in before class. AWC was relaxed for Army standards and officers were on their own schedules to meet physical standards. During this time, John and I got to know each other a bit, went on some long runs together and shared the Army War College experience as classmates. We both had young boys too for our mid -40’s ages helping to keep us young in spirit and often putting life in perspective. John and his wife had five children total, and one of his son’s was already serving in the Army. Another commonality we would soon share.

It was clear to me early on what a class act John was. He loved the Army, loved his family and loved life. John was very bright and inquisitive and pursued knowledge. I remember John asking thoughtful questions of guest speakers when the class would attend in mass to hear from a warfighter, a Combatant Commander or a speaker from one of our government agencies. Some colonels asked questions to showcase their experiences, some colonels asked questions to hear themselves talk and some colonels liked John asked questions to learn and gain knowledge. When John stood up to ask a question, one knew there was something to be learned, gained from both the question and the answer.

When John and his team of soldiers left Ft. Leavenworth for this mission, they knew there was risk but they expected to come home. There is always risk for deployed soldiers, especially in a warzone. Their families worried and prayed for their safe return, like they always do. COL John McHugh, LTC Paul Bartz, LTC Thomas Belkofer, SSG Richard Tieman and SPC Joshua Tomlinson were undoubtedly focused on their mission to defeat the enemy through enhance pre-deployment training better preparing US forces by capturing real-time lessons learned and incorporating these lessons into their training at Ft. Leavenworth.

John and his soldiers were killed a few short days after arriving in Afghanistan serving their country, executing their mission in support of the war effort  and making all of us that knew them proud, saddened and humbled by their loss; and their families sacrifice that endures today, tomorrow and every Memorial Day. For Colonel McHugh’s family, and all the families that have lost a loved one in war, Memorial Day endures 365/24/7. We should honor them and share their legacy with family and friends, and keep them all in our prayers.

 

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“I Wanted to Earn the Right to be an American”

(Originally published May 18, 2016)

by Blackjack Pershing

Recently I had the privilege of meeting a recent recipient of the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest recognition for gallantry in times of war. Florent Groberg was born in France to a French Algerian mother and never knew his natural father. He was lucky in that a man named Groberg met and married his mother, adopted Flo and moved his family to the United States, giving them an existence that most in the world still envy.

While looking for a speaker on veteran’s employment Flo’s name popped up on Linkedin at just the right time; he is working with Linkedin on veteran transition issues. In a very short time I was reminded about all that we owe our veterans in a powerful way by Flo.

Flo told his life story to an audience of business professionals. It was highly personal. He shared his early memories of France, moving here and knowing no English. Experiencing the knowledge that one of his mother’s nephews killed himself in a terrorist attack. Experiencing 911 here in the US and being motivated to fight for his country. It was then, as he chose to join ROTC, that he learned that in order to get clearances he would have to renounce his French citizenship. And then he made that statement with which this piece is titled: “I wanted to earn the right to be an American.” The room I was in fell silent. He eye-balled us. In one simple sentence so many thoughts came rushing in. When do we hear this now? When are we reminded just how precious life in this part of the planet under our set of ideals is? We are subjected to an ongoing onslaught of grievance and very very little about our obligations, our responsibilities, our stewardship of this country. Flo said volumes in a very short sentence. I am keeping this about Flo so I will not follow all of the rabbit trails that the aforementioned grievance culture can dredge up.

Flo threw himself on a suicide bomber in order to save the men he was working with and the VIP’s he was charged with protecting. Four of those men died; others were seriously injured, including Flo who spent three years convalescing. Flo’s messages were profound and inspiring. He spoke of resilience first and foremost. Knowing many had it worse than he did and many never came back, he still struggled with survivor’s guilt. A visit from Travis Mills, a quadruple amputee and war veteran finally snapped Flo out of his anger. He developed a new mission to help veterans make their transition from the military as effectively as possible.

Florent Groberg is America at its best. An immigrant. Heroic. Funny. Responsible. Idealistic. Tough as nails. An Army Infantry Airborne Ranger. I am proud to know him even though he’s a cubs fan.

Flo talked at length about needing to learn with humility from the senior enlisted men that reported to him. He talked about the application of these principles to civilian life and how humility is an essential part of leadership. He spoke of the unique attributes of veterans of the service and how they add value for employers. Message received, Flo, message received. This old veteran will do everything he can to continue to share it. Hooah!

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The Greatest Generation

by CDR (R) US Navy

During this special Memorial Day Weekend, let’s take some time to reflect on the greatest generation this nation has ever been blessed to have. The greatest generation that defeated the Axis of evil of Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan.

The entire country rallied around freedom. Those who could serve, mostly younger than than those reading this article today, stood in line to enlist and to fight for freedom. From North Africa to Anzio, to Normandy and Iwo Jima, they proudly stood by their fellow soldiers, airmen and sailors in arms to keep our country safe. Those at home made the American war machine invincible. Mothers continued to raise our children. Seniors and children alike were part of the effort to ensure liberty prevailed. Rations and black-outs were the norm in the homeland, as well as long days producing the food and goods to keep the American war-machine going to ultimately prevail.

Those of the greatest generation that fought overseas, most of us have fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers who were part of that effort, were selfless. Again, they were selfless. They wanted to come back home. They dreamed of coming back home. They talked about coming back home. But they were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to keep freedom alive. In those times you deployed until you were killed, critically injured, or the war was over.

We have to take a moment to pay our respect for those that gave the ultimate sacrifice that allows us to enjoy the freedom we have today in this great county. Politics aside, we have a democracy which was saved by those in the greatest generation. Let’s pay our respects. Let’s remember freedom is not free but paid for by service of special Americans. Those before us and those that come after us, including our children. Let’s keep America safe. Let’s all do our part.

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Airline Pilot

by Airline Pilot
My lead flight attendant came to me and said, “We have an H.R. on this flight.” (H.R. stands for human remains.)
“Are they military?” I asked.

‘Yes’, she said.

‘Is there an escort?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I’ve al ready assigned him a seat’.

‘Would you please tell him to come to the Flight Deck. You can board him early,” I said…

A short while later a young army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldie r.

The escorts of these fallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us. ‘My soldier is on his way back to Virginia ,’ he said. He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no words.

I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no. I told him that he had the toughest job in the military, and that I appreciated the work that he does for the families of our fallen soldiers. The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand. He left the Flight Deck to find his seat.

We completed our preflight checks, pushed back and performed an uneventful departure. About 30 minutes into our flight, I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin.
‘I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying, is also on board’, she said. She then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and 2-year old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was upset because they were unable to see the container that the soldier was in before we left.

We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia . The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane.

I could hear the desperation in the flight attendants voice when she asked me if there was anything I could do. ‘I’m on it’, I said. I told her that I would get back to her.

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of e-mail like messages. I decided to bypass this system and contact my flight dispatcher directly on a secondary radio. There is a radio operator in the operations control center who connects you to the telephone of t he dispatcher. I was in direct contact with the dispatcher. I explained the situation I had on board with the family and what it was the family wanted. He said he understood and that he would get back to me.

Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family. I sent a text message asking for an update. I saved the return message from the dispatcher and the following is the text:

‘Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is policy on this now, and I had to check on a few things. Upon your arrival a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft. The team will escort the family to the ramp and plane side. A van will be used to load the remains with a secondary van for the family.

The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal, where the remains can be seen on the ramp. It is a private area for the family only. When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home.

Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks.

I sent a message back, telling flight control thanks for a good job. I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to pass on to the father. The lead flight attendant was very thankful and told me, ‘You have no idea how much this will mean to them.’

Things started getting busy for the descent, approach and landing . After landing, we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The ramp is huge with 15 gates on either side of the alleyway. It is always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us.

‘There is a team in place to meet the aircraft’, we were told. It looked like it was all coming together, then I realized that once we turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate, I a sked the copilot to tell the ramp controller, we were going to stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers. He did that and the ramp controller said, ‘Take your time.’

I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake. I pushed the public address button and said: ‘Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking: I have stopped short of our gate to make a special announcement. We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect. His name is Private XXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private XXXXXX s under your feet in the cargo hold. Escorting him today is A rmy Sergeant XXXXXX. Also, on board are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you.’

We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our shutdown procedures. A couple of minutes later I opened the cockpit door. I found the two forward flight attendants crying, something you just do not see. I was told that after we came to a stop, every passenger on the aircraft stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit the aircraft.

When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later, more passengers joined in and soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words of ‘God Bless You’, I’m sorry, thank you, be proud, and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.

Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the announcement I had made. They were just words, I told them, I could say them over and over again, but nothing I say will bring back that brave soldier.

I respectfully ask that all of you reflect on this event and the sacrifices that millions of our men and women have made to ensure our freedom and safety in these United States of AMERICA .

Foot note:

I know everyone who reads this will have tears in their eyes, including me.

They die for me and mine and you and yours and deserve our honor and respect.

Prayer Request:

When you receive this, please stop for a moment and say a prayer for our troops around the world… Share with others. Do not let it stop with you. Of all the gifts you could give a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and others deployed in harm’s way, prayer is the very best one.

GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS!!!

Thank you all who have served, or are serving. We Will not forget!!!!

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Reflections

By PMWalt2

Yesteday, I had a bunch of Marines who served with me years ago contact me via Facebook.

These were guys I led in the very early 80s and called me Lieutenant. I was a tank platoon commander and they were my Marines. They were a great group of young men, Marines who like me were probably not as mature as we would be after our “float” across the pond, a float which would take us to Grenada and Beirut. Chatting with a few of them recently brought back memories of how proud I was of each and every one of them … then, as now.   We entered the crucible of combat and experienced pretty much everything that went with it.

Those chats reminded me of the importance of something I remember each year at this time of year, one particular event from decades ago.

One late afternoon on a non-descript January afternoon in 1984, things began to heat up and I took a section of tanks from our maintenance area to our firing positions east of the Beirut airport. I recall rounding a curve and making a quick decision to head to the right firing position which would mean the trailing tank led by Lance Corporal Rich Delgado to take the position to my left.

As we were turning into our positions, we drove into a barrage of either 122 or 152 mm rockets. Both of us were heads up out of the turret as all hell broke loose.

As we settled into our firing positions I got the call on the radio, “Delgado is hit, we need doc”. A piece of shrapnel nailed him in the neck as we were getting into firing position.

I made a medevac call and my doc (corpsman) and one of his buddies (another doc) ran from an adjacent bunker about 125 yards away to Delgado’s tank. Both got knocked down at least once with more incoming rockets, but both got to his tank unscathed. The docs got him stable and were able to medevac out of there in an Amtrak.  Later that night we heard Rich was stable on the USS Tripoli. The next day I got the word he was evacuated to Germany.

I saw Rich Delgado once more when we got back and were all at Camp Lejeune. He was still hurting and was going to be discharged.   I was so happy to see him and glad to see him. He was a Lance Corporal, an E-3, who was given a tank and three other Marines to lead … he was a solid leader, great Marine, and a great person.

Three or four years later, it doesn’t matter, I was a tank company commander at 29 Palms California and I ran into to my tank mechanic, Pollard, from that float years before. I was now a Captain and my Pollard now a sergeant. He asked me if I heard about “Delgado”.   Not knowing, I asked what he knew.

Sgt Pollard told me that Rich had passed a few years previously when undergoing surgery to repair the damage to his neck that January day in 1984.   Not knowing what to say, I recall feeling very sad and a bit hollow.

This Memorial Day, lift a glass and say a prayer for all of the Rich Delgado out there. I know I will, just as I have these past 30 plus years.

By the way, the event I recall from decades ago wasn’t the firefight in January ’84, it was learning of Rich Delgado’s passing.

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Don

by Marine1948

It’s 0447 hours here in Northwestern Massachusetts and as I look across the street I see the lights on in the dwelling of a silent hero.

Don is an old “China Marine”. He enlisted in the Corps in 1937 with duty on the Asian Mainland.

His enlistment should have been up in December of 1941 and then Pearl Harbor. All were told that their enlistments would be extended indefinitely.

Throughout the next 4 years Don slugged through campaigns in the Pacific on islands with the infamous names recorded in the annals of the Corps: Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima all with the 3rd Marine Division.

Don returned to his hometown in 1945 and went to work immediately. Met a woman and married her and raised his children. Still ever the duty bound man, he served with the town’s volunteer fire department and forest wardens until time caught up.

I came to know him probably at some point in the 70s. And as fate would have it, I moved in across the street from him the early 80s. Strange that 34 years have passed so quickly.

To say that I have been in awe of this man seems so inadequate. I have observed him through this many years do things that a man half his age couldn’t accomplish.

You see, Don will be 96 next month. Here is someone who has cut his grass, shoveled snow and so many tasks I can’t recall. And he still does! When the humidity is so high that even nature’s creatures don’t stir, he cuts the grass fully clothed. When the wind chill would scare an Eskimo, the snow is removed. And not uncommon for him to use his snow blower to help much younger neighbors.

He stands tall and straight. His hearing and eyesight remain intact. Ah, he still has a full set of his own teeth. Amazing!

There is the common denominator that we possess, that being MARINE. It is a bond that never leaves us. No matter the era from which we rose.

A common greeting is, “Do ya think we still could make it through Parris Island?” And the chuckles come.

I look at him and think that he is 5 years my dad’s senior, also a WWII man.

Don gave up his driver’s license a few months ago, as he said, “It’s time.” Now I observe him after he cuts his grass sitting in the backyard in a chair looking at the sky. I can only imagine the thoughts.

Don doesn’t ask much, but every now and then I bring him a package of Oreos, an enjoyment of his. It seems so small and insignificant for someone of his stature. But it brings a smile and a thank you.

On the holidays that are appropriate for the display, I put out my Marine Corps flag and then watch across the street, sure enough, Don follows suit.

Someday Don will enter Valhalla and the Valkyries will bring him the nightly feast joined by and in brotherhood by all other warriors.

I salute you, Don. Semper Fi! And God bless you and America.

“marine1948” Bishop, HG Jr
Sgt., USMC, 2322500 1967-forever

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