Barbecuing & Memory Sharing
Sharing meals and sharing memories have one thing in common: whenever you move either activity OUTDOORS -- where family, friends, and neighbors can join in together -- it instantly becomes the centerpiece of a happy family tradition...
Barbecuing and Memory Sharing

Veterans Day, 2008

    Yesterday was Veterans Day.  

    And, once again, I'm sorry to say that I was sorely disappointed (but not surprised). 

    Why?  Well, because I decided to conduct a bit of informal research, which consisted of my driving around the neighborhoods of my town yesterday evening and noting the kinds of outdoor decorations that folks had (or - more likely - had NOT) placed on display to honor our veterans in observance of such a sacred national holiday.

    I set out after dinner (around 7:00 PM).  Being November, it was already quite dark out.  After driving over 15 miles of suburban streets, here is the grand total:

  • 9 U.S. Flags (two miniatures, six flown properly, one haphazardly tied to a stick)
  • 6 magnetic "yellow ribbon" car magnets

    Not a single properly illuminated flag.  Sadly, in each instance the U.S. Colors were left in the dark.  

    Nor were there any veteran-related displays or decorations whatsoever.  

    Of course, I guess that an actual illuminated picture or image of a hometown military veteran was too much to expect.  However, I did see quite a few expensive illuminated Thanksgiving decorations though (and even an early Christmas display!...see picture).  

    Is it any wonder that there is such a crying need for the VeteranShield Project?

                                                                

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    I also spent some time yesterday afternoon finishing up a pet project that I've been working on.  

    As a young Marine recruit, I was drilled to memorize and recite the
Rifleman's Creed.  Borrowing heavily from that tradition, here's an updated Guardian Creed that I've created for the VeteranShield Project:

                                                                   My Veteran 
                                               (The Creed of the VeteranShield Guardian)

    This is my Veteran.  There are many like him or her, but this one is mine.

    My Veteran served our nation with honor.  It is my honor to serve the memory of my Veteran.  I must honor my Veteran as I honor my own life.  I will...

    Without my remembrance, my Veteran is left faceless and forgotten in the past.  Without the memory of my Veteran, I am left without heritage or hope for the future.  Therefore, I must save the memories of my Veteran.  I must shield the memories of my Veteran.  I must share the memories of my Veteran.  I will...

    We know that what counts as lasting remembrance are not the parades, the ceremonies, the speeches, or even the museums and memorials.  We know that it is only the precious personal stories of our Veterans, saved and shared, that count.  Our families and communities must remember our Veterans' stories, so that our Veterans will live forever.  We will remember...

    Our Veteran's stories are ones of sacrifice and service, in the defense of freedom and democracy, often at the greatest possible cost.  As a testament of my love, respect and gratitude, I will strive to fully understand and retell my Veteran's story.  I will learn of the names, the dates, the deployments, the units, the locations, the battles, the wounds, the deaths, the hopes, the fears, the mistakes, the regrets, the successes, the friendships, the humor, the loneliness, the homesickness, the boredom, the pain, the pride, the valor, the suffering, the striving, the courage.  I will...

    My VeteranShield is a priceless heirloom, because I have filled it with the cherished images and words of my Veteran.  I will proudly and publicly display it whenever appropriate, and thereby share the story of my Veteran within my community.  I will ever guard it against the ravages of vandals, thieves, weather and damage.  I will keep it clean and polished, even as I am clean and polished.  As the years pass, we will become part of each other.  We will...

    Before God I swear this creed.  My VeteranShield and I are the defenders of my Veteran's memory.  We are the masters of remembrance.  We are the Guardians of our country's honor.

    So be it, until the end of time...

A Salute to Kodak: "Keep Me, Protect Me, Share Me... and I Will Live Forever"

    I've always admired the Kodak company.  Like most boomers, I grew up with them; looking back, there really is no other photography company that comes to mind during the 50's, 60's and 70's.  Back in the day, "Kodak" was the word printed on the back of the family snapshots taken by almost every American.

    Today, of course, the advent of digital photography has made the number of supplier choices practically endless.  And that's a good thing.  Still, Kodak remains a powerful force to be reckoned with.  They've recently rolled out some amazing new
hi-speed, hi-resolution digital scanners and mobile scanning services that look very promising.  If you've ever spent a lost weekend (or two) at home trying to use a flat-bed scanner to slowly and painstakingly scan a shoebox full of old photos onto your hard drive, then you can certainly appreciate what incredible time savers such modern equipment and services can be.

    Another reason I have a soft place for Kodak is because of my fond memories of their television ads from my youth.  Believe it or not, those early "
Kodak Moment" smaltz-fests even surpassed the 60-second tear-jerkers from the long-distance phone companies (having witnessed my mom's usual reaction, I suspect that Kleenex co-sponsored all of 'em).  However, the Kodak ads were always tasteful and well done, and usually designed to make any parent immediately grab their camera (Instamatic, natch) and quickly burn off a roll or twenty of Kodachrome before their child got even one minute older.  

    The most famous Kodak commercial, of course, was the unforgettable "
Turn Around".  If you really want to see an old Marine bawl and blubber (naw, you don't), just sit me down with a scrapbook of my now-grown daughters when they were small and make me listen to the original song (written and performed by the incomparable Harry Belafonte).  Trust me when I say: It ain't pretty.

    However, there is an incredibly inspiring Kodak promotional video that is less well-known (below).  For me, this video perfectly captures the spirit behind
The VeteranShield Project

(NOTE: the full video is a little over 6 minutes long, and worth every second.   However, there's also a
shortened version.)

Keep Me, Protect Me, Share Me... and I Will Live Forever.



Pretty amazing, eh?

Someday, I'd love to work with the Kodak folks to produce a similar video promoting The VeteranShield Project.  And, even though I like Kodak's original title, I now think a better title for a Kodak/VeteranShield video would be: Save Me, Shield Me, Share Me... and I Will Live Forever...

                                                                Kodak...BOOYAH!

The VeteranShield Story: In The Beginning...(Part 1)

 

The first part of this story begins in late 2005, with the discovery of an old footlocker…


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    I was visiting my widowed aunt, Ulla-Britt Withrow, in Scottsdale, Arizona; we were at the home she had shared for many years with my late Uncle Bob.  While there, Ulla-Britt asked me to help her move several heavy items that were stored in the garage.

    The crusty, dusty old footlocker didn’t look like much.  As I heaved it out into the sunlight, my aunt casually remarked, “You might want to look through that… I believe it contains a lot of interesting stuff from when your uncle was flying during the war.”

    
As it turned out, “interesting” didn’t begin to cover it.  I’m afraid I was a terrible houseguest for the remainder of that weekend, as I spent the next two days totally immersed in poring over the amazing details of Capt. Robert Withrow’s service during WWII, as revealed to me through his many wartime photos, journals, logbooks, official orders, letters, papers, and souvenirs.  I soon set up camp next to that scarred old footlocker with my trusty laptop, furiously Googling in each new fact I uncovered.  My online sleuthing eventually led me to the website of an amateur historian in Utah, Mr. Thomas Ensminger (the son of a former tail-gunner in my uncle’s outfit), who has painstakingly compiled a fascinating history of that unit’s secret exploits in Europe during WWII; it even contains a photo of my uncle!

    While I was carefully scanning all of the fragile materials onto my hard drive and burning a digital CD copy to send off to my new friend Tom in Utah, several conclusions slowly began to dawn on me.  Mainly, that those irreplaceable historical materials had been in real danger of:


  • Never being seen by anyone outside our family again (except for my aunt).
  • Never being found or — upon my aunt’s passing — simply thrown away.
  • Eventually being lost forever to age and decomposition.

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    The second part of this story occurred several months later, when I happened to come across the blog of a gentleman by the name of Bob Parsons.  Mr. Parsons is the founder and CEO of GoDaddy.com, the largest and most successful domain registrar on the web.  He is also a prior-service Marine who was wounded in Vietnam, and has written movingly about his experiences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    Like U.S. veterans from all conflicts, Bob had come home from Vietnam and tried to quickly put his wartime experiences behind him and get on with his life.  On the surface, he was quite successful, as he eventually created a software company that —
through sheer persistence and hard work — made him a multi-millionaire (long before he established GoDaddy.com).  However, many years later, he unexpectedly began to suffer from episodes of PTSD.

    Luckily, with the aid of a retired Navy psychologist, Bob Parsons was able to find the help he needed to deal with his situation.  In his own words:

"With his assistance, I developed four truths that I needed to get through my head in order to deal with PTSD.  Those four truths, which I remind myself of to this very day, are:

  1. Life is not fair.
  2. What happened back then means nothing today.
  3. Nobody owes me anything because of what I went through in Viet Nam.
  4. Nobody cares about what happened to me back in Viet Nam.

I realize that the above truths are pretty cold and hard.  But PTSD is a cold and hard disease.  I have no idea how PTSD is treated today, but those four truths, as I came to know them, sure worked for me.  I'm not sure if those truths — which helped me deal with PTSD — will work for those who are serving in our armed forces during the current conflict.  But they were necessary for me.

Subsequent to my visits with the psychologist, I took some time off and put down on paper what I remembered about the war. I mostly wrote about my first night in the bush, and my last. Plenty happened during those two nights. Although this writing was only 20 or so pages, it took me several days to complete it. After I was finished, I gave a copy to each of my children and to my wife at the time. Each of them told me the same thing after reading it — "I had no idea."

Writing about what happened was a healing experience for me. It allowed me to unload what I experienced, and to stand back and look at it. I was able to see it outside of — and not part of — myself. I realized that I did experience and deal with quite a bit, and there was no wonder that it came back to trouble me.

After visiting with the psychologist and writing about my Viet Nam experiences, PTSD (for the most part) became manageable for me. It has never gone completely away, but I now know how to deal with it. It's no longer the problem it once was for me."
    
    When I read Bob Parson's four truths I was floored.  As a fellow prior-service Marine who served during the Viet Nam era, I understood perfectly well how bad things were in our country at that time; like the Korean conflict before it, there were no parades for returning Viet Nam vets (to say the least).  I’ve long known that PTSD is a powerful disease, and that its sufferers must develop realistic coping mechanisms in order to function.  But, these days, I absolutely refuse to believe that U.S. veterans  - combat veterans, no less - need to go through their days telling themselves that today's American public really doesn’t care or appreciate what happened to them all those years ago.  Frankly, I was heartsick to think that such a miserable situation might still exist for any U.S. veteran.

Following more research, I also reached two more conclusions.  That is, all of our veterans from all wars, and all veterans’ families, need and deserve a way to:

  • Be publicly and personally honored, recognized, and remembered for their sacrifice and service in the most meaningful way possible, each and every Memorial Day.  The best way to accomplish this would be through the creation and use of a custom-made, illuminated, outdoor photographic display in front of their homes.
  • Be encouraged to write about their service-related experiences in a Veterans Journal, and to have a safe, yet prominent, place to store that journal — where it won’t be lost or overlooked — for future generations.

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    The third and final chapter of this story took place several months later, when I finished reading the amazing book Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley.  If you’re an American, please read this book.

    For those that haven’t (yet): James is the son of John Bradley who, until his death in 1996, was the last remaining survivor of the six Marines shown in the iconic photo of the flag raising atop Mt. Suribachi, on the Pacific hell-hole known as Iwo Jima.  James Bradley has written an extremely well researched book about the lives of all six of the men who happened to raise the flag that day, an act which resulted in “The Photograph”: a 1/400th of a second in time frozen forever as the most recognized, the most reproduced, image in the history of photography.

    Amazingly, his family never spoke about The Photograph while James was growing up; there wasn’t even a single image of it in the Bradley home.  That was because his humble and honorable father — struggling for his own peace of mind in the only way he knew — insisted on shutting out any conversation on the subject of Iwo Jima, even among family and friends.

    The one time that the young son broched the subject with his father — after hearing his third-grade teacher tell the class that his father was a hero — John Bradley gently sat his boy down and told him: "I want you to always remember something.  The heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn't come back." 

    Following his father's death, and while conducting research for the book, James learned from his mother that his dad had wept at night, in his sleep, for the first four years following his return home from the war.

    James Bradley later discovered one of the main reasons for his father’s silent tears.  John Bradley’s best friend in the Marines, Ralph "Iggy" Ignatowski, had been captured and tortured to death in a horrendous manner by the Japanese.  As the company medic, it was his father’s job to deal with what remained of Iggy’s body after three days of brutal torture.  James Bradley feels certain that the shock his young father must have experienced added greatly to his near-total silence, for the rest of his life, regarding his memories of the war.

    This silence was so complete that it wasn’t until after his father had passed that his family first learned that John Bradley had been awarded the Navy Cross — second only to the Medal of Honor — following the Battle of Iwo Jima.  Incredibly, he had never even mentioned it, not even to his wife.

    I learned a lot from my reading of Flags of Our Fathers.  Mainly, that survivor guilt is an extremely strong and potent emotion, and it can be so overpowering that the sufferer is in real danger of being overwhelmed.  Often, the result is an unhealthy response to simply “stuff” the emotions down.  Instead, returning combat veterans need pro-active tools to fight back against the insidious nature of survivor guilt in a way that provides purpose and healing, by giving them the means to:

  • Publicly and personally pay tribute to their fellow buddies and comrades in arms who didn’t return — each Memorial Day for the rest of their lives — through the creation and display of a custom-made, illuminated photographic memorial in front of their homes. 

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James Bradley’s book was a true revelation to me.  The fact is, I had asked myself many of the same questions that he brings up in Flags of Our Fathers:  What was the reason my relative was so silent about his wartime service?  Why didn’t my uncle share some of those incredible stories with us during his lifetime?  Why did he consign all those fantastic photos to that dark, dank footlocker? 


It was very puzzling and frustrating to me, particularly since I had always considered our personal relationship to be rather special.  Not only were Bob and my father close as brothers; I’d also enjoyed an easygoing and unique bond with my uncle.  And, perhaps because Bob had never had any children of his own, he lavished a lot of attention on us kids whenever our family came to visit him and my aunt in Arizona during our youth.  Of course, my Dad had told me that Bob had “flown bombers in the war”, but I don’t think that even he was aware of exactly what all his little brother had experienced.
    

Later, while I was in the service, I took leave to accept the gracious invitation of my aunt and uncle to visit their beautiful home for a stay that lasted over a week.  Several years later, I paid another lengthy visit, this time with my wife and children.  At no time did I ever see even a single photo on display that related to Bob’s wartime exploits; a stranger visiting that house would have found no clue as to the amazing service which the homeowner had given to his country. 


Perhaps my uncle, like John Bradley and Bob Parsons, had his own deeply personal reasons for not wanting to bring up the past.


Now, I’ll never know.

What wouldn’t I give today to be able to spend even a single afternoon with my uncle, asking him to describe the details behind the photos from that old footlocker?  The fact that we never had those conversations is a regret that I’ll live with for the rest of my life.  One of the main goals of the VeteranShield Project is to provide a means for veteran families to avoid experiencing similar regrets in the future.

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Well, that's the "why" behind the ideas that led up to the creation of the VeteranShield.  In coming weeks I'll discuss the "how" part of "The VeteranShield Story", and provide updates on the continued progress of The VeteranShield Project...