Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Dear Jane

Jane, it has been thirty-three years since you shocked us with your visit to North Vietnam.

By this time, those of us in the military were accustomed to Americans voicing their opinions on the Vietnam War. That’s why we’re a great country. We can argue and have major disagreements, yet live next door to each other.

However, for some reason that was a mystery to us at the time, you chose to visit the capital of the nation we were at war with, taking their side on everything, and besmirching the character and patriotism of the American fighting man. Did it bother us that Jane Fonda, daughter of Henry Fonda, a movie star in your own right, and the darling of the media, would side with the enemy? Yes, it did, but only because it didn’t make sense.

We all understand the 60s were a turbulent time in our country. Fine. We dealt with it. I was living in Alameda in the late 1960s. I could be in Berkeley in ten minutes, and Haight-Ashbury in fifteen. I drove to these places to personally witness the hippies in the counter-culture movement and the anti-American propaganda. As I walked around these now historic areas, I remember thinking that as Americans we have the right to protest peacefully.

In 1969 I enlisted in the Marine Corps to fight against an enemy of our nation that I believed was harmful to democracy and all freedom-loving people. It was Communism we were fighting, and North Vietnam was Communist. They were planning to take over South Vietnam, with or without our intervention. The South Vietnamese asked that we not let this happen.

I signed my name on the dotted line at the Marine Corps Recruiting Office in Oakland. The day my parents dropped me off at the Induction Center, I was immediately confronted on the sidewalk by anti-war protesters who assumed I was being drafted. “Hey, man, you don’t have to go. We’ll get you a good lawyer!” one zealous protester assured me. Since he was blocking my path to the door, I simply said, “I volunteered. Move!” He looked stunned as he stared at me in disbelief, moving aside so I could pass.

Later, while I was attending Aviation Electronics School in Jacksonville, Florida, the movie, “Tribes,” came out. We heard this was a movie about a Marine recruit going through boot camp. Only this recruit was able to out-smart the Drill Instructors (DIs). This made us all laugh! So several of my Marine buddies and I decided to watch the movie. We laughed ourselves sick. We knew there was no way some Hindu guy wearing silk robes was going to join the Marine Corps and then convert the whole training platoon in the art of meditation, thus opposing the demands of the DIs. That is simply not ever going to happen. If you had been a Marine, you’d know what I was talking about. Since you never were, I wouldn’t expect you to appreciate the humor.

Let me put it like this: You bend to the will of the DI, or you break. But not the other way around.

It was in 1972 that I was in Da Nang, South Vietnam, fixing jet airplanes so we could bomb the enemy. You were then in Hanoi. I remember when word got around the base that you were “up north,” cavorting with the enemy. We looked at each other in surprise, never dreaming you would take such an open opposition to our military and our country. So when you spoke your treasonous drivel over Radio Hanoi, you immediately became known to us as “Hanoi Jane.”

Over the years we Vietnam veterans wondered if you would ever apologize to the military in particular, and the American people as a whole, for your actions. I don’t recall exactly when but I think it was around 2000, I read a column by Cal Thomas saying you had become a Christian. A real born-again Christian. I was, understandably, skeptical, yet pleased. But coming from a highly respected media person and professing Christian as Cal Thomas, I had to consider that just maybe it was true. I remember telling my wife that if this was a true conversion experience, you would eventually offer a sincere apology to the Vietnam veterans. The apology would have nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of the Vietnam War. Instead, it would have to do with your offensive attitude and traitorous behavior toward those who were willing to lay down their lives for you and every other American regardless of race, religion, or political beliefs.

But now I see in the news that you are back to the old, worn-out, anti-war motif. And you are planning a bus tour next spring. You have the right to do so. But do not impugn the courage, valor, and patriotism of today’s men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America. Like the veterans before them, they would willingly lay down their lives for you. They will perform their duties in truly exemplary fashion regardless of your protests against the President, the Commander in Chief. My nephew, a Marine, has just returned to Iraq for a second tour. As my oldest daughter said the other day, “I feel safer here knowing he’s there.”

There are a few of us Vietnam veterans who still wear the uniform. Some of us have even fought most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re proud to do so, and would do it again. There are so many prior service members that I know who would jump at the chance to go into harms way for our country that it would make your head spin.

Whether you ever apologize to the Vietnam vets won’t keep any of us awake at night. We hope you do, but we’re not holding our breath.

More disturbing yet is the fact that you seem to have abandoned the Christian faith you so fervently embraced five years ago. Instead, Cal Thomas writes that you now believe in universalism: that is to say, all religions lead to God. Jesus does not give us that option. He declared that he was the only way to God, period.

What your beliefs are about war, conservatives, Republicans, George W. Bush, or anything else is, in the long run, irrelevant. But what you believe about God, and his son, Jesus, is, in the long run, a matter of life and death.

Choose Jesus. Choose life!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

P.C. Paranoia

They’re watching me!

How did I ever allow it to get to this point? It was all so subtle. Honestly, I never saw it coming.

Of course, I’m referring to the invasion of computers, more commonly known today as a PC, which means “personal computer.” Here I am at my desk at home staring at this technological wonder that only a few years ago wasn’t even a thought. Now, I can’t go through a day without sitting down in front of this harsh taskmaster. It has an eerie resemblance to the Sirens calling out to Hercules, nearly driving him mad. My computer whispers of such wonderful things! You’ve got mail! Yes! That’s it! There’s an all important message waiting for me and I must be prepared to reply immediately. Or, there’s that web site I’ve been wanting to check out that promises such wonderful deals. Just think of the money I could save!

My computer sits patiently atop my desk where it crowds what used to be my writing space. Other than signing my signature, the only other time I write anything with a pen on paper is my sermons. These I write out in longhand every week in preparation for each Sunday’s services. It’s my final holdout to a bygone era. The computer, none-the-less, beckons to me of how much more I could do with my sermons if I would only succumb, bowing before the god of technological wizardry. Why, I could use the Power Point program, dazzling the congregation with appropriately placed quotes, scripture references, cartoons, or pictures as I preach from flawlessly printed sermon notes with enlarged print aiding my slowly deteriorating vision.

One of the collaborators of the computer is the printer. This tool is integral to any use of the PC. Printers today are not content with merely printing incredibly precise documents that make it impossible to tell the difference with the original. No, these wonders also collate, staple, bind, fax, scan and any number of other tasks all built into an amazingly small gizmo that nearly rivals Kinko’s.

What awes me the most about the advent of the PC is the enormous amount of information available simply by typing in a couple of words, whereupon you can spend the next several hours researching any number of web sites that offer a plethora of facts and figures on your topic of choice.

Since I’m an avowed history junkie, I can research to my heart’s desire! To borrow from the old Yellow Pages ad: Let your fingers do the walking!

I admit it. I’m hooked on using the PC. I have been able to locate long-lost friends; and have also been contacted by others looking for me. It’s easy to stay in touch with folks through e-mail. I enjoy reading some of the best columnists and writers in the world who are a couple of keyboard clicks away.

But it’s the lights that worry me.

I’m looking at four pieces of computer equipment on my desk and they all have soft-green lights, some of which blink rhythmically, and others erratically. The rest stay on continuously. My laptop has a constant soft-green light indicating it has power and is on. There’s also the same colored light indicating my Numbers Lock is on, and my Capital Letters Lock is on, and my Scroll Lock is on. My All-in-One printer has the same soft-green light indicating the power is on. And whether I’m using it to Copy, Scan, or Fax, each one offers the same green light. My wireless router has numerous such lights. Most are soft-green. The exception is an amber light indicating the line is not in use. Then there’s the Cable Modem with four soft-green lights. Two are constantly on, and two are intermittent, one of which is spasmodically blinking with an urgency that makes me wonder.

Why soft-green? Why not different colors? Aha! This color is easy on the eye! That’s it! Or maybe not. It could be that this benign color is really an advanced communication system used by little green men in flying saucers who are monitoring our activity from outer space. Surely our government would know! Or maybe they’ve been taken over and are actually part of the plot! Could this be a cosmic version of George Orwell’s book, “1984”?

O relief! I just discovered that my Wireless Optical Mouse has a red light! Well, now I feel better.

Hold the phone! Why is it red? And why is it not visible unless you turn it over? Wait! My cordless phone base also has a red light! Are these two in collusion? Are they in cahoots with the forces behind the soft-green lights? Or are they working against each other? Is the human race merely pawns in a pending inter-galactic Armageddon?

I think I’ll stay home today. It’s not that I’m paranoid or anything, but even in the small town of Ripon there are traffic signals. And we all know they always have green and red lights.

You can’t be too safe.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Stand

I was doing some research this past week for my historical novel about my great grandfather who served in the Civil War. I remember reading that the first Medal of Honor (MOH) was given during this conflict.

There are any number of web sites to get lost in having to do with the Civil War (or any war, for that matter). On this particular day I was deeply engrossed in reviewing the list of recipients for the Medal of Honor. Beside each name was a brief description of the battle action and the act of valor this individual performed. Though I was not specifically looking for it, I noticed there were a number of blacks who were awarded the MOH. Five to be exact. Some 180,000 blacks served in the Union Army.

What was most curious to me was the single act of bravery that seemed to warrant the Medal of Honor. It was either taking up the American flag from a fallen color bearer, or capturing the colors of the enemy forces. The man chosen to carry the colors had to be especially courageous. Charging into the fray meant he had to be out front using both hands to hoist the flag above the smoke, dust and din of the battlefield so the troops would know where to rally. It also meant he could not use a weapon, thus exposing himself as an easy target. Countless numbers of men fell under the barrage of enemy fire.

As a kid, we used to get together in the neighborhood and play “Capture the Flag.” This was actually a kid’s game that was similar to what was experienced on a battlefield. The whole idea was to keep the opposing team from capturing your flag, while you planned how you could capture their flag. It was great exercise, and for young boys needing to always burn up energy, it was made to order.

When a flag was captured, the victors would stand and cheer for their side, whooping it up, thumping their chests, standing tall. It was as if the fate of the whole human race was being decided on this one pitched battle. In actual combat, the fortunes of nations could well depend on who captured whose flag and was standing when it was all said and done.

I see in the Bible that the Apostle Paul instructs us in how to prepare for spiritual warfare. In Ephesians chapter six he writes that we are to “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then.”

Notice how many times Paul instructs us to stand. Four times he admonishes us to take our stand with and for God.

Today there are some so opposed to any faith, but particularly the Christian faith, that such belief is held up to ridicule in the public eye by the media, television, and radio, not to mention various politicians and Hollywood types. At times in the arena of life, standing firm for the faith can leave you bruised and battered. But for the one who stands at the end, holding high the Lord’s colors, is the victor.

The best part is that in Christ we are already victorious. He has captured the devil’s flag! We win.

So cheer up! As the scripture says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Remember! In Christ, nothing can separate you from the love of God.

So hold your banner high for all to see. You won’t receive a Medal of Honor for living a life of faith. But you will receive a crown in glory where you have been storing up “treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy, nor thieves break in and steal.”

When Jesus is your Lord, you stand victorious!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Here's a Tip

I’ve been promising to write an article on the subject of tipping for some time now. My daughters (both are food servers – what we used to call waitresses) have been pressing me for some time to write about the paucity of tipping on the part of church-goers.

I learned a great deal about tipping from my step-father who was a corporate executive. His rule of thumb concerning tipping centered on the quality of service. If the service was okay - ten percent. If it was pretty good - fifteen percent. If it was really good - twenty percent.

So early on I began observing the way my step-father would treat the waiter/waitresses, and then how much he left as a tip, what is commonly referred to as a gratuity today. Pop (that’s what my brother and I called him) had a wonderful ability of making a person feel as though they were the most important item on his agenda. He spoke to everyone in considerate, respectful tones. When food servers responded well to this, a tip exceeding their expectations was forth-coming.

I have attempted to follow his example over the years. I don’t know how food servers regard my tipping abilities – I’ll leave that for them to determine. But my daughters who have grown up watching me just as I watched Pop, nod approvingly when I leave a tip. I sometimes will ask them what they think would be an appropriate amount.

Perhaps because my girls have been waiting tables for a number of years, I have become acquainted with many people in this industry, including restaurant owners. The message I continue to hear is – church-goers are the worst tippers, and the rudest, most demanding of customers.

I’m always uncomfortable when I hear this. Food servers are often high school or college students new to the work-world, trying to make their way through school. Or they are single moms trying to keep body and soul together.

My girls were home this past Saturday morning for one of my world-famous breakfasts. I made my “Killer Pancakes,” so named many years ago by my sister-in-law, Maggie. We had fresh strawberries and Cool Whip to go on top. Or you could have had blueberry, boysenberry, or maple syrup as your choices of topping. I grind my own coffee beans, so there was lots of freshly brewed coffee. I also invited a writer friend, Lynne and her daughter to join us. We had work to do on our respective writing projects after breakfast.

Lynne mentioned a time when she was a teen-ager working as a waitress. One Sunday afternoon, when all the church folks began arriving after services, the other servers looked at her and said, “Here come people like you. You take care of them.”

Why this reaction? Because, as a whole, church-goers are notoriously poor tippers. Why are church-goers labeled with this image across the board? I don’t know the answer. I wish I had an answer.

Typically, church-goers show a disdain toward people working at so plebian a job as a food server. They treat them as virtual slaves, making continual demands, often having the manager “comp” the meal because of all the complaints. Comping a meal is when a restaurant manager picks up the tab for your meal – thus it becomes a complimentary meal – also called FREE. It is less costly, so the thinking goes, they’d rather comp the meal, as to have dissatisfied customers out in the community complaining about their restaurant.

Dear Church-Goers: Here’s something to remember when you eat out this Sunday.
• Food servers are made in the image of God, just like you are. Therefore, they have incomparable value. Treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve.
• Why they are working on Sunday, the Sabbath, is their business, not yours. Your “Tsk, tsk,” attitude hardly makes them feel welcome in your church, or any church. If you were so concerned about keeping the fourth commandment, you’d be eating food prepared at home beforehand.
• Food servers share their tips with: 1) bussers – the invisible folks who clean off the table after you leave, preparing it for the next diners. 2) cooks – the folks you never see who slave over hot stoves valiantly creating flavorful meals, desperately hoping you’ll enjoy their efforts. 3) hostesses – the folks who run the show while you are there, who smile benignly while listening to your criticisms. 4) bartenders – in those restaurants that have a bar.
• Food servers normally are paid minimum wage. Therefore, your tip can make a significant difference, particularly when remembering they share their tips (see above).
• If there are two of you and you spend $50.00, your tip will be different than ten people at a table spending $50.00. Why? Because of the number of people being served. It should be obvious, but it takes a lot more effort to look after ten diners, than it does two; for instance orchestrating meals so they are all served at the same time. This is why so many restaurants have gone to adding an automatic 15% gratuity for large parties.
• If you have difficulties figuring out the math, just double the tax or consult your cellular phone. Many cell phones have tip calculators in the tool section.

And this final thought. There is a verse of scripture you might want to remember: “In humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:3-5.

Do I think all church-goers are like this? No. But enough of them are to taint all of us. I do know this: this unfortunate perception of church-goers being poor tippers can be changed. It’s up to you.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Thanks for the Thanks

Last week I was called on to assist in making a call on one of our military families. The son had died while serving at a base on the East Coast. The family lives here on the West Coast and needed to be officially notified. This is done by what we call a CACO Team. CACO is the acronym for Casualty Assistance Calls Officer. This team consists of a naval officer or a senior enlisted person who is trained in the process of dealing with all the matters surrounding the death of a military member, and a chaplain.

The common misperception is that families are notified by a telephone call when their loved one in the military has died or has been killed. During WWII the means of notifying families was with a telegram (remember those?). This was still the means used through Korea and early Vietnam. Then we got smart and began an official program where families are notified in person by uniformed personnel sent to the home of the next of kin. This is a face-to-face meeting with the family. With today's rapid means of communication (e-mail, cell phones, etc) families can find out unofficially by well-meaning military friends of the deceased, so it is expedient that the families be notified as quickly as possible through official channels. This way we can answer the many questions a family has about their loved one.

So after being notified we had a CACO, I put on my "summer whites" uniform and headed north to hook up with the CACO officer, a Navy Chief, in Sacramento. Since I was in desperate need of a haircut, I swung into downtown Ripon to see if I could have my locks shorn quickly. I knew it was unlikely, but I figured it was worth a try. Both barbershops on Main Street were full. I decided to jump on the freeway, figuring to stop along the way. I pulled into Lodi (as in "Stuck in Lodi Again"). I found a barbershop not far from the freeway, so walked in. There was one person having a haircut, and a couple of lady barbers with no customers. Perfect! A few minutes later another man came in for a haircut and was seated next to me. He saw my uniform and commented that he'd served in the Navy in the late '50s. We enjoyed chatting about our different experiences in the Navy. I walked to the register to pay, only to have the lady barber tell me it was being paid for by the man I'd been talking with. I looked over at him seated in the chair and said "Thank you." He nodded, and I left.

Once in Sacramento, I stopped at a Burger King where I was to meet the Chief. Two men were seated near where I was. One man was wearing a Polo shirt with the California Highway Patrol logo on the left breast. He said, "Excuse me. I just want to say, 'Thanks for your service.'" I shook their hand and said, "You're welcome." Back out in the parking lot, I had several more people walk by and say, "Thank you." One man stopped next to me before exiting the parking lot. He just wanted to tell me of his father's service in Vietnam, something he was obviously very proud of. Before driving off, he shook my hand, and said, "Thank you."

Later, the Chief and I stopped for lunch at Carl's, Jr. Wearing the summer white uniform really stands out, so the Chief and I took seats at the back of the diner. Didn't matter. One man walked back to shake our hand and said, "I didn't want you to get away before I had a chance to say, 'Thanks for your service.'"

This was quite an experience for us. Both the Chief and I are Vietnam Vets. Being from that era and having fought in that war, we're never sure what to expect when we encounter civilians. It was most heartwarming!

The next day I was back at my church in Ripon in my normal pastor's attire: white shirt, sport coat, and tie. While I was out running some errands I knew my car needed a bath, so I drove into a car wash in Modesto. There was a guy/gal team prepping all the cars before they rolled through the enclosed washer. As they scrubbed my car before sending me on in, the gal told her male workmate that he should take good care of me because I was a Marine Officer. He asked her how she knew that. She pointed to the decal on my windshield that says "Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base," and has a blue strip signifying that the owner is an officer. I asked her if she had served. She said she'd spent four years in the Navy. I then explained that I was indeed an officer, but that I was in the Navy, serving with the Marines. She smiled in understanding, so as I was rolling up the window, she said, "Thanks. You take care, sir."

It's hard for me to know what to say at this point. Total strangers who see the uniform make an effort to express their appreciation. It would seem that the uniform is a symbol of all that is good and decent about America. This is a fact that the enemies of freedom simply do not understand. The men and women who wear this uniform, be it Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, or Coast Guard, do so because they are proud to serve and defend the American people. Since 9-11, no one has joined the armed forces to get college money. They joined to fight terrorists threatening the security and very existence of our nation.

So, on behalf of all who serve, let me say, "Thank you," for all your "Thank yous." It is an honor to serve you.

Psalm for the Day