Marines.Together We Served

Friday, December 30, 2005

Food Fight

It really doesn’t make sense.

Think about it! Why is it that when I was seventeen I could sit down to a meal of healthy proportions and inhale the entire repast only to resurface asking for more? Today, forty years later, I slowly eat a bowl of cold cereal (Rice Krispies and Total combined), and I’m full. But not just full. I actually feel like I’ve eaten too much.

Now, lest you think I may be consuming a large bowl of cereal, I assure you it is not the case. It is the standard kitchen variety bowl. The amount of cereal I pour into said bowl does not even reach the edge after I add milk.

I know all the arguments regarding this state of the body, factoring in age, and the function of metabolism, youthful energy, still growing, having the world by the tail, etc. But at a time in my life when I can actually sit down and enjoy a meal, I come away disappointed simply because I can’t even finish what’s on my plate.

As I was growing up, eating everything on your plate was an inviolable rule of life. One look from my mother told me all I needed to know about the penalty for such a breech of the rules. On those few occasions when I asked why I had to eat all my beets and/or asparagus, I was met with this rejoinder: “Think of all the starving children in China.” For the life of me, I could not figure out what starving children in China had to do with whether or not I ate everything on my plate. In my childish thinking I would have been delighted to have shared my beets, asparagus and liver with them.

The reason given for this rule requiring all food on the plate to be consumed was blamed on Scottish heritage. It sounded good at the time, but in recent years I’ve done some genealogical research and can’t positively find any Scottish ancestry. Hmmmmm. My family comes from the British Isles, ‘tis true. But they’re from England and Wales, not Scotland and Ireland. Now, it has been my distinct pleasure to travel to these storied lands. They are rich in history, and are beautiful to the eye. However, the “fine cuisine gene” never made it into the Anglo-Saxon line. Pity. Having sampled British cooking, losing weight in those far off lands would be a snap.

I love to eat Mexican food, and I have my favorite restaurant that I frequent almost weekly. I can eat lots of their home-made tortilla chips and dip, but I’m discovering I can’t eat all of the lunch that follows. Typically, I would order a burrito supreme. Once entering the restaurant, I have to begin calculating what I can reasonably consume. If I’m particularly hungry, I can either scarf down lots of the chips and order a small lunch (for instance a chili relleno from the “a la carte” portion of the menu); or I can eat a few of the chips and go for the big burrito. But it no longer matters. I come away feeling grossly overfed.

You’re probably thinking I should eat slower which will digest my food better. Ha! Gotcha! If there’s one thing I am guilty of, it’s eating slowly – too slowly. You see, I was taught to enjoy my food, so I have always eaten slowly. And if that wasn’t enough, when I completed Marine Corps boot camp, I swore then and there that I would never eat fast again. And I haven’t. I eat so slowly that I should be skinny. My mother and I have a race at the dinner table to see who will finish their meal last.

So this body that once processed food effortlessly now rebels and laughs at my attempts to exercise enough to battle the bulge areas of my torso. If I threaten to take stringent, draconian measures to subject my body to a more disciplined life style, I’m reminded that if the body thinks it’s being denied food, it will take what food does come in and turn it into – fat. This is the body’s survival mode.

I’ll be experiencing withdrawals shortly. All the rich foods from Thanksgiving through Christmas will go away: Eggnog, Russian Tea Cakes, chocolate fudge, mounds of mashed potatoes, baked ham and gravy, pumpkin pie, etc.

Now understand that I am not making any resolutions. I don’t do resolutions. They’re not worth the paper they’re written on.

So here’ the dilemma – I’m in a food fight: On the one hand, I can’t eat the amount of food I once could take in with ease; and on the other, the decreased amount of food I do consume works against me.

I’m not sure what to do – but after writing this article, I’m feeling a bit hungry. Perhaps this candy bar from my Christmas stocking will do the trick......

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Simple Question

Who will stop the terrorists?

As we come into 2006 the battle against Islamo-facists continues. With impunity, these reprobates and their hate-filled religious perversion continue to spread fear by intimidation around the globe. Have you considered how many places these guys raise their devious heads? Well, besides Afghanistan and Iraq, let’s try Saudi Arabia. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. President Bush pulled our military out of this Arab nation for many reasons, one of which is the Saudi royal family cannot control the terrorists within their own borders.

How about the terrorist activities that have been foisted upon the peoples of Indonesia? You may need to grab your world map to refresh your memory as to where this string of islands is located. “But aren’t they all Muslims down there?” you ask. No. And those island regions of Indonesia which do not embrace radical Islam are being systematically targeted. Two Christian girls were walking to school recently when they were accosted by several radical Muslim men who publicly beheaded the girls for being infidels.

Then there’s Australia. That’s right – the land “Down Under.” Australian girls and women are being continuously harassed by roving bands of young Muslim men who believe they have the right to conduct themselves in so ungentlemanly a fashion because these women are unbelievers. Such thinking, in their minds, validates their unseemly behavior. These clowns trail these women down the street making every imaginary ugly comment that comes to their demented minds. Others, emboldened by their successes, make advances on the women with unwanted touching and insults. These incidents are not isolated cases, but have become endemic. The authorities don’t seem to know how to get a handle on this unwelcome behavior. Where’s Crocodile Dundee when you need him?

Militant Muslims are arousing concerns in Japan. Again, don’t be surprised. Whenever the world community attempts to placate miscreants, we always wind up having to come along and slap them back down. In our previous century the world community had to bring force against Germany twice and Japan once. Now that we’re well into the 21st Century, who will stop the terrorists?

Of course, we have seen in the past couple of months Muslim renegades rampaging across Europe, stunning the alarmed yet complacent leaders of France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and the like. Even Russia is wrestling with this problem within their borders. After much hand-wringing and assurances that the military would not be used to stop the rioting, the leaders of these once great nations have been thoroughly cowed by a band of hooligans. And all that nonsense about these displaced Muslims not being allowed equal status in their adopted European countries is a bunch of hooey. My family and I moved to Europe forty-five years ago where we spent the next three years – one year in Paris and two years in Norway. Believe me, these countries, France in particular, were so open and accepting of others, including their often deviant behavior, it’s no wonder they have found themselves with unwanted residents in their midst. Who will stop the terrorists?

That erstwhile boxing promoter and gadfly, Don King, made a surprisingly erudite comment not long ago regarding terrorists and terrorism. “Terrorism anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere,” he said. Having been in the fight game for as long as he has, he knows a thing or two about people who are a threat to others, and who attempt to cause fear through intimidation. Whatever you may think of Don King, he’s got this right. So let me ask you again: Who will stop the terrorists?

Listen carefully. These are not disadvantaged people. They are not singled out for harassment while living in Western nations, including America. They simply have a different, and may I add, deadly, world view. Their intent is the elimination and extermination of Israel and all Jews everywhere, and all non-Muslims who do not embrace their distorted brand of Islam.

While our men and women in uniform are battling these maniacal vermin on the other side of the world, they are expecting that we here in America will not allow them to take root and destroy the very foundation of our great nation.

Who will stop the terrorists? Will you? Will you support and defend the ideals and principles that have made America a great and powerful country? Will you engage in the political process to ensure we have elected representatives who will take our issues and concerns to Congress? Taking time to vote when opportunity is given is one of the best ways to defeat terrorists. That’s one of the reasons we’re winning in Iraq and around the world. It’s tough to defeat the ballot box when the people have spoken. Iraq has recently learned this wonderful truth.

President Bush said it best on November 19, 2001. This statement alone sums up the ultimate demise of these malefactors, “Terrorists have no home in any faith. Evil has no holy days.”

Even if the rest of the world should capitulate to these radical terrorists, we must not. If we do not shoulder the burden of stopping the terrorists, who will?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bush Wins!

Not the president.

I’m actually referring to the recent Heisman Trophy winner, USC running back sensation, Reggie Bush. Saturday evening the results of the balloting for this prestigious award were tabulated with the clear winner being Bush.

I found myself intrigued by this young man’s story. His mother didn’t want him to play football because she didn’t think he was big enough. This kid’s talent is so awesome that I can think of only one other running back in my lifetime that was so elusive a runner, the former Detroit Lions great, Barry Sanders.

Football is a game I truly enjoy. But more than the on-field dramatics of great players and great teams, I’m fascinated by the off-the-field stories of lives that have battled against the odds – and won. I’m referring to young men who chose to do something constructive with their lives and would not allow negative circumstances or troubling home conditions determine the direction for their lives.

In a day and age when humility is a rare find among pampered athletes, particularly in professional sports, I was most gratified to see this young man show humility - genuine humility - on Saturday night. There he sat with the two other contenders for the trophy, both deserving of the award on their own merit. In spite of a media that had already crowned Bush as the next Heisman Trophy winner, when the announcement was made, young Mr. Bush bowed his head as the room of elites erupted in applause. I can’t say for certain, but it seemed to me Reggie was fighting back tears.

Reggie Bush stood to his feet while being congratulated by the runners-up, Matt Leinart and Vince Young. He then walked over to his mother to give her a long embrace, followed by his stepfather, and brother. Once he walked up on the platform he immediately began to shake hands with all the previous winners of the coveted trophy. The moderator had to retrieve him so they could come to the podium and make the official presentation. If he had a prepared speech, I believe it was abandoned. He truly looked like a man who couldn’t believe he was being so honored. It was at this point that Reggie Bush captured my emotional interest.

Among the many folks he thanked for helping him and supporting him along the way, including his coaches and his pastor, it’s the words he said about his mother that really stuck. He thanked her for being a godly woman. Are there any greater words of praise that he could have said? I couldn’t help but think of the passage of scripture in Proverbs 31 where the godly woman is extolled. Among the virtues described for the woman of noble character is this: “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”

For his stepfather, Lamar Griffin, Reggie simply said, “You took me in at the age of two. . .” Reggie teared up at that point, stepping back from the microphone to collect himself. The camera switched to a shot of his stepfather seated in the audience. Tears in his eyes, Mr. Griffin mouthed the words to his stepson, “I love you.” It was at that point that tears were finding their way down my cheeks!

Lest you think Bush is another pampered college football player, consider what he was doing while waiting for the evenings events to begin. He was in a back office connected to the internet where he was printing out notes for three exams this week which he would then study until the Heisman Trophy ceremony began. When asked about this, he said, "They (the exams) start on Wednesday when I get back. Sports psychology, and on Thursday, I've got two political science exams: one on the presidency, one on black politics."

Reggie has another year of school before he can graduate. I suspect the NFL will throw some wild dollar figures at him to entice him to leave school early so he can be drafted into the NFL this spring. I hope he takes the same approach as his teammate and last year’s Heisman winner, Matt Leinart, who turned down turning pro in order to finish his education.

It will be with great interest that I will be watching to see what decisions this young man makes. This much I can tell you: whether he turns pro before finishing school, or waits till after he graduates, or decides not to play ball at all, with a strong, supportive family, he’s a winner.

Moms and Dads, let me ask you. What would your children say about the impact you have had on their lives?

When family comes first, everybody wins!

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Merry Christmas Blessing

I have the solution!

With all the hubbub over the banning of employees of certain department stores and businesses, saying, “Merry Christmas,” I would like to offer some thoughts on this and a solution.

Much ink and air-time in the media has been produced in bemoaning the anti-Christmas policies enacted by Target, Walgreens, and other stores. This “Scroogesque” philosophy should really come as no surprise to anyone who is a student of history. Since the founding of our nation there have always been certain people who decry the Christian bases upon which our country was established. This is often referred to as the “Judeo-Christian Ethic.” This means the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and basic laws of the land were formed with the Bible as the backdrop.

So then why is the salutation, “Merry Christmas,” so offensive to some?
Here’s my thought on this. Human nature is at war with God. That’s what our sin nature does. We rebel; we object; we resist; we curse; we do what we want. Bottom line - we sin. We seriously object to being told what to do. Having to admit we are opposed to God portrays us as bad guys. Christians are folks who have come to grips with their own sinful nature. They have experienced God’s love and forgiveness. This is called “grace.” Grace is receiving something we do not deserve – God’s love, forgiveness, and heaven. In fact, we deserve his worst – condemnation, judgment, and hell.

Listening on the radio, I just heard there are Jewish and Muslim groups in America that are calling for an end to all the politically correct nonsense. They are saying it’s okay to say “Merry Christmas.” Good for them!

But understand this – Christmas is about hope. When Christ came into the world, he came to reconcile us to God. That’s hope! So try this on for size. Next time you’re out in the stores, say, “Happy Hope.” This may sound strange to your ears, and to the ears of the one you were addressing, but that’s okay. When you are asked what you mean by “Happy Hope,” tell them the story of Jesus, the Son of God, who came into the world to reunite us with God the Father.

I suspect that the continued attempt to denigrate and eliminate Christmas and all things Christian, will backfire. PC talk has about run its course. People are fed up with the nonsense.

So when I say “Merry Christmas” to you, understand that it is a blessing I wish for you. I want you to be at peace with God. I want you to know this same Jesus who loved me enough to die for me, because he died for you, too.

This is why Christians say, “Merry Christmas.” And this is why Christian ministers preach God’s word. It is full of hope and grace – something we all need. They simply want you to know the truth that God loves you. All the hysteria over the removal of Christ from Christmas will never change, nor could it diminish this profound truth.

So, from me to you, let me wish you the blessing of a “Merry Christmas.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bachen' It

It’s rather pathetic, really.

Here I sit at home wondering what I’m going to eat for dinner.

It’s not like I couldn’t drive to a local restaurant, or swing through a fast food joint. I’m even a fair cook, but I’m not sure I want to expend the time and energy necessary to put a meal together. You see, my wife, Isaura, is on a trip to Israel.

A couple of months ago, her brother Tony called and invited her to go on this trip with him. He’s a dairyman in Utah. The dairymen association he belongs to takes their members to Israel occasionally to attend workshops to learn the methods developed by Israeli dairymen. Apparently, Israel produces more milk from their cows than anywhere else in the world.

So Isaura asked me what I thought. Should she go? My answer was simple. Of course! It’s not every day you have such an opportunity, especially when you can go with your brother. She left for Utah November 16, and returns to Sacramento International Airport November 28. This is why I’m bachen’ it.

It’s not like I’m alone. My ninety-year-old mother lives with us and is a wonderful cook. However, she had knee replacement surgery in October. There’s been a physical therapist coming to the house to work with her for the past several weeks. She’s doing great, but her knee is still causing some pain as she adjusts, and she tires quickly, especially after her therapy sessions. So she’s in no frame of mind to throw some hash together either.

Our daughters, Laura and Jenny, live in Turlock. When they come home it’s usually on Saturday morning for one of my big waffle breakfasts. So, no help from that quarter. In fact, they’re coming over for Thanksgiving breakfast, prepared by yours truly. My sister, Joy, lives in Clovis, so she’s no help.

I was a bachelor for a number of years. Good thing, too. I was hardly the “marrying kind,” until after I had accepted Christ as my Savior at age twenty-four. Isaura and I met at San Jose State University in 1975. We were married the following June after I had graduated. My typical diet in those bachelor days was to consume a can of soup, and a sandwich, my favorite was and still is peanut butter and jelly. I’d make BLTs, and tuna, but usually I indulged in whatever was easiest at the moment. I was always coming and going, rarely spending time in my apartment except to study and sleep.

As I write this article, Isaura is about half-way through her trip. My mother and I look at each other with the unspoken question: What shall we eat tonight? We’ve nearly wiped out the canned soup stash. I bought more bread for sandwiches last night, and another box of cold cereal, along with replenishing our milk supply.

But there’s good news! My secretary, Gayle, has invited my mother and me over for Thanksgiving dinner. She told my mom that she’d be sure to send us home with plenty of left-over turkey and stuffing. Phew! At least this won’t be my last column for the Ripon Record!

On the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

This is ironic, because I’m always the one taking off for parts unknown. On such junkets I eat out in restaurants, and I sleep in hotel beds. Now the shoe’s on the other foot, and I’m having to think about what I’m going to eat. Not to mention - my bed is awfully big!

Even in my temporary bachelor status, God cares about me, and provides. So, mom and I will survive while my wife is on the other side of the world. But, she can’t get home soon enough.

Bachen’ it is for the birds!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bolton Who?

Remember this name?

You don’t? Well, John R. Bolton is President Bush’s choice to be the United States Representative to the United Nations. Remember now?

Let me ask you: Have you heard or read anything about this man since his confirmation in August? Neither have I.

I’ve been wondering what happened to him. After all, the opponents to his appointment screeched and wailed that he was a right-wing war-monger who would run roughshod over the rest of the United Nations representatives, alienating the United States from the world community. He was described as brash, arrogant, and a man who actually spoke harshly once to a poor performing subordinate. Wow. We certainly don’t want to have someone who only treats people with kid gloves, and molly-coddles those who do not do their job. Some of the best learning experiences I’ve had were when I was corrected by a boss, or, while in the Marine Corps, by a Drill Instructor, affectionately know as a DI.

I remember as a kid in the ‘50s a school project to help raise money for the newly formed UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) project. It was important to me as a kid to be involved in helping other kids who were obviously poor and in great need of assistance. But, I have to tell you, that even though I made the school field trips (that’s what they were called) from my home in New York State to the United Nations building in New York City, over the years I have found it difficult to see what relevance the United Nations has on the world stage. Add to that, inept leadership from people whose own countries are typically in a shambles, and I find myself wondering why we are involved in this organization at all.

Please don’t think this to be arrogance on my part. It isn’t. The picture that has emerged in my understanding of the world, is of a United Nations that is without a rudder. They have no clearly defined purpose or mission.

When countries cry out for assistance, they are either ignored, as in the case of the Sudan, or they are determined to require a military presence.

That means the dreaded United States is asked to step in with our military might and gain control of an out-of-control situation.

Look, for instance, at the mess in Bosnia a few years back. This Eastern European country was involved in a civil war, each side attempting to exterminate the other. No European nation wanted to touch this mess that was taking place in their own back yard. President Clinton, when called upon, would only commit to an aerial assault, but no significant troop strength on the ground. At best it was a holding action. But it was the United States that was called by the United Nations. Ditto Kuwait in 1991. And Liberia in 2003.

Can you imagine, for example, a scenario where a European nation arrives on American shores to clean up a mess that was in our own back yard? This is why we developed the Monroe Doctrine, lo, these one hundred and eighty-two years ago. Here is the gist of the Monroe Doctrine: “Essentially, the United States was informing the powers of the Old World that the American continents were no longer open to European colonization, and that any effort to extend European political influence into the New World would be considered by the United States ‘as dangerous to our peace and safety.’ The United States would not interfere in European wars or internal affairs, and expected Europe to stay out of American affairs.” (Source: US Information on the Internet)

This is why President John F. Kennedy sent our Navy to stop Russian ships from bringing missiles into Cuba in the early ‘60s, threatening the safety and security of our nation. This was known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.”

JFK, rightly so, was acting on the Monroe Doctrine. No nation, in other words, could come into any part of either North or South America and enforce their will on another nation - at least not without incurring the wrath of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 was written and enforced at a time when many European nations were aggressively expanding their territories around the globe. The major players in this imperialism were France, England, Spain and Russia. Other nations had the will, but not the means. What this all meant was, our still young, fledgling nation, having fought off the British in the Revolutionary War, and then again in the War of 1812, was willing to take the necessary steps to prevent any European nation from flexing its muscle on the American Continents.

Many of the nations in the world would like to see a weakened American position in the United Nations leading to a repeal of the Monroe Doctrine. This would be very dangerous for the United States and all other countries in the Americas. This is one reason why our nation needs strong leadership in the White House and in the United Nations.

That John Bolton is a tough customer to deal with makes me smile. He knows his history, and will be standing up for your interests and mine in the halls of the United Nations. Those other national representatives know this, and realize that a weakened United States world position is not likely to occur any time soon.

In this instance, no news from the United Nations, is good news.

Hurrah for Mr. Bolton!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


I just returned from my annual pilgrimage with my daughters to Hume Lake Christian Camp’s Father/Daughter Retreat. While there I was approached by a friend I see every year. He wanted to talk about the War on Terrorism. You see, he was having some doubts. So we talked. He’s much better now. The following is some of what I shared with him.

There is indeed progress in the Global War on Terrorism, what we call in the military, GWOT.

I’m very aware of the fact that the MSM (Main Stream Media, a misnomer if ever there was one) has reported mostly negative stories about America’s efforts to push back against the terrorists who have one purpose: rule by intimidation, or kill those who do not bow in subjection to their radically religious insanity. Repeatedly, Americans, specifically our military men and women, are portrayed in the media as the aggressors, bringing death and destruction on hapless, peaceful residents of far-away countries. So let me explain a few things for your edification.

First – America did not start this war. Islamic fanatics did. For the past several decades these terrorists have attempted to “beard the lion,” if you will. That is to say, they have sought to provoke the United States into a war they believe we cannot win. One thing they seriously misjudged was the resolve with which America would not only defend herself, but just how hard we would strike back. You see, these terrorists believe that we are soft and weak. They didn’t think we would stand up to them, let alone come after them with a vengeance. Surprise!

Second – A serious flaw in their thinking is that because we have so much of the world’s goods, and by any measure, are the wealthiest people to ever to occupy planet earth, we would be fearful of losing our material assets. Wrong! The reason America has such wealth is due to hard work and perseverance. Consider the generosity of the American people. While in the process of rescuing our own people from the ravages of successive hurricanes, we were sending relief supplies and military aid to a earthquake shattered region of Pakistan.

Third – The American military is the best trained and thoroughly equipped military in the world. The terrorists know they cannot stand against such well-trained soldiers. Terrorists operate mostly from emotion, whereas our military sets emotion aside in order to accomplish the stated mission. The one who fights from emotion, though unpredictable in his behavior, will exhaust himself and eventually make a fatal mistake. The one who fights with emotions under control will think clearly and overcome the adversary sooner or later. For instance, when you watch Islamists yelling and cheering in the streets, shooting their guns in the air (Where do they think those bullets are going?), shaking their fists and chanting their Anti-American slogans, the American military gives a collective yawn. They are unimpressed. Why? Because it’s all emotionally driven for show. I’ll take one Marine anytime against all the fist-shakers in the world.

Fourth – There is a growing shift, a change in the way people think, not only in the Middle East, but around the globe. Afghanistan is free from the rule of the murderous Taliban, and is emerging as a democratic state. Pakistan under President Musharraf, is actively hunting down terrorists in general, and Osama bin Laden in particular. Iraq is making great strides in shedding itself of the long tyranny of Saddam Hussein. Egypt held its first ever free elections since Hosni Mubarak took the reigns twenty-four years ago. Libya has voluntarily surrendered all efforts to make nuclear weapons. Lebanon told the Syrians to go home and leave their country alone. And now, Jordan has let terrorists know that coming into their country and killing other Muslims is not going to be tolerated, all of which spells the doom of the failed Islamic extremists.

There was an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor on November 10th. It was entitled, “Qatar opens doors to first church in 14 centuries.” This short article may seem like no big deal, much ado about nothing. But, let me tell you this – for a conservative Muslim nation such as Qatar (Pronounced: “cutter” or “gutter.” Both are correct.) to not only allow a church building to be built within their borders, but to have the land donated by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, is raising eyebrows all over the world.

Now add to this, the fact that churches in Baghdad are open once again, as are synagogues. Did you know, for instance, that there are thirty-seven synagogues in Baghdad alone?

The evidence that any country is making progress will be seen in the exercise of religious freedom. This is happening everywhere. It is having a wonderful affect, not only where American soldiers set foot, but in places we might least expect. Keep watching.

Ain’t it grand!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

No Bull

It was late May of 1975.

I had met Isaura about five weeks earlier at San Jose State University where we were both attending. I was completing my bachelor’s degree after having served four years in the Marine Corps, and Isaura was recently transferred from Merced Junior College.

We met on a warm spring day at the chapel on campus. I had been invited to attend a Bible study with some friends, and Isaura was coming to the chapel to spend time in prayer. The rest, as they say, is history.

So shortly after we began dating, we drove to Alameda one weekend where my parents lived so I could introduce her. It was a delightful visit, topped off with my father taking me aside and saying, “Don’t let this one get away!”

A few weeks later we made plans to drive to her family’s home in Dos Palos, located in the California Central Valley, where they had settled after emigrating from Portugal. Feeling really good about how this relationship was coming together, I looked forward to meeting her (large) family. We had the choice of driving in my classic 1966 Volvo P1800, or her 1972 Ford Pinto. Actually, it was no choice at all. After all, I have my pride.

There we were cruising along in the Volvo enjoying the countryside, when the reverie was interrupted by Isaura informing me that her father had never liked any guy she’d brought home. “No problem,” I thought. Then she said, “He’s always wanted me to marry someone who is rich and Portuguese.” Oops! I didn’t qualify on either of those two criteria. The rest of the drive had me praying for God’s wisdom in knowing how to best handle this situation. One thing I determined at that moment: No matter how long it took, I was going to wait until I had her father’s approval.

We arrived at her home in time for dinner which is a major event. Her father and two brothers worked the dairy where they lived. Plus she has three sisters. Isaura is the oldest, so I figured I might have to win over some of the family members. Her mother was most gracious to me. I still like to tell her she’s my favorite mother-in-law. She’ll look at me and say, “I’m your only mother-in-law.” To which I reply, “I know, but you’re still my favorite.”

Her father was another story. He was polite, but that was as far as it went. Later, after dinner, Isaura and I were sitting in the living room. Her mom was in the kitchen preparing the endless meals for a large family. In through the back door barges her father, obviously not happy, muttering something about “vacas.” I knew that was cows in Portuguese, so I asked her what the problem was. She said the cows had escaped from the corral and were scattered all over the field. It was time for the evening milking. I told her to ask her father if I could be of any help (He does not speak English). As he came back down the hall after waking her brothers to come and help, she asked him if I could help. I heard his reply and waited for Isaura to give me the translation. She sat there quietly, saying nothing. Curious, I asked her what he’d said. She replied, “Well, let’s see. It goes something like this: ‘Don’t bother the city boy.’” City boy? I wasn’t going to take that sitting down!

I followed her brothers out to the back porch where we slipped on rubber work boots. I was out the door first, startled by the bright spot lights that illuminated the barnyard area. Knowing the cows were not there, I turned right and headed into the field. It was quite dark, and I hadn’t allowed my eyes to adjust from the lights. I went face first into the dirt. I picked myself up, having learned a valuable lesson. Fields have furrows. I brushed myself off and continued into the field.

I had no idea what I was going to do, but a thought came to mind, either from something I’d heard or read, that if you can get the cow that is furthest from the barn to begin moving back that direction, all the rest of the bovines will fall right in line. So I kept traipsing through the field until I located the last cow. Standing at a respectful distance I looked at this four-legged milk machine and said in my most authoritative Marine voice, “Get back to the barn!’

I felt really stupid. This cow just stood there, chewing her cud, staring at me with mild interest. Not knowing how to proceed, I said, “Lord, I need some help here, please!” Casting aside my dignity, I looked at this cow again, repeating my previous command. I stood there with no other alternatives, when to my complete surprise, Miss Bossy slowly turns around and begins her trek back to the milking barn. I followed at a distance. Sure enough, each cow fell right into line. The cows were milked and everyone was happy.

Well, let me tell you, Isaura’s father couldn’t get over this turn of events. He couldn’t say enough good things about me after this.

A year later we were married.

I still don’t know if cows will naturally fall in line that way. Regardless, God had mercy on this “city boy,” knowing I would need a life-mate like Isaura. He used a cow to allow me to gain favor with my future father-in-law.

And that’s no bull.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Let's Remember

We are at war.

As a nation we established our legal system and social order on the basic teachings of the Bible. Several principles emerged that have stood our country in good stead for better than two hundred years. First, there was the basic premise that we are united together as Americans; therefore we would stand shoulder-to-shoulder in support and defense of our fledgling nation. Second, we implemented the principle of the Golden Rule: Do for others what you would have them do for you. And third, we would consider others and their needs before our own. All these concepts have to do with being a servant.

“A servant?” you ask. Yes! This one trait alone set us apart as unique from the rest of the nations. We have always been ready to serve others, even at personal setback and loss. When another nation was in trouble, they turned to the United States. We would restore the natural order of things, or at least attempt to thwart the evil doers, often times at significant cost both in money and lives. Let me offer an example.

Much hew and cry, and no end of hand-wringing, has been on public display over the announcement that we have reached the 2000 mark in the number of dead American military members since we began the war in Iraq two and a half years ago. Each one of those American lives is precious and irreplaceable. As a Navy chaplain, it has been my great honor and great sorrow to lay to rest some of these patriots.

Now consider this: Sixty years ago, on a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, more than 6,000 Marines died battling an entrenched Japanese force on the black, sandy beach of Iwo Jima, known as “Sulfur Island” in Japanese. This was not six thousand dead in two and a half years. This was in FOUR DAYS! And that was just to secure a toe-hold on the beach. The rest of the ten-square-mile island still needed to be wrested from the enemy. Why was this island needed? To secure the airfield in the middle of this island; an airfield Japanese planes used to attack our Navy ships with impunity. Once we conquered Iwo Jima, an effort that took about seven weeks, we were then able to use this island airfield to attack mainland Japan. It was a critical battle against Imperialist Japan. How ironic that several decades later we would return this island to the Japanese.

Let me ask you. Would we as Americans stand for such losses today? Would we have fair reporting from the media? Would FDR’s motives be roundly criticized by partisan senators and congressmen on Capital Hill? Would the Cindy Sheehan’s of the world be protesting the war and the deaths of their sons on Main Street, U.S.A.?

Consider Corporal Jeff Starr, a Marine on his third tour in Iraq. He left a message for his girlfriend on his computer in the event that he was killed. This is what he said. “I don't regret going. Everybody dies, but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq. It's not to me. I'm here helping these people so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom. Now this is my mark.” He died in an attack last April.

May I remind you that we are in a War on Terrorism? It is expedient that we stand firm in this fight. If the United States were to withdraw from Iraq tomorrow, these Islamic terrorists would not stop their merciless slaughter of freedom-loving people. We were attacked by them on 9-11. Remember?

The men and women of our military are servants. They serve us as Americans by protecting us from the wolf at the door. And they serve the world by taking the fight to an enemy that would otherwise rule by intimidation.

Next Friday, November 11, is Veteran’s Day. Please offer a prayer for our military. Then remember September 11 – and thank a veteran.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Two Cups of Coffee

Got a minute?

In our high-speed, fast-lane lives, we often forget to enjoy life’s more pleasant moments. Before you rush off to your next appointment, stop and give this story some serious thought.

This past Sunday I shared this story in my sermon. My wife commented on it afterward, encouraging me to share it through my column. Enjoy!

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "
I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things---God, your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else---the small stuff.

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18 holes of golf. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the garbage disposal. Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked," he said. "It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."

So, what are you doing with your life? What’s really important to you? What are you filling your life with?

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll have to admit that the things that make your life fulfilling are the relationships you make and keep.

And, hey, when you’re next in town, stop by for a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sixteen Again

I’m in love!

No, no, not that! I’m happily married, lo, these past twenty-nine years. I’m talking about old classic automobiles, and, especially “hot rods.”

Growing up in the 50s, I used to attend car shows with my dad. They would display all the latest proto-type cars, many of which were extremely futuristic. But I always wandered over to the hot rods with their white wall tires, chopped bodies, and flames down the side. We’re talking “American Graffiti” here!

This past Saturday, Ripon held its annual “Main Street Days.” This is a slice of Americana not to be missed. The last four years has seen the addition of a car show to the event, and I’ll admit, it is my favorite part. Just walking down the middle of Main Street, from Ripon Elementary to Deegan’s Funeral Home, is a walk down memory lane. I overheard one lady comment that she remembers riding in some of those cars when they were new.

I missed the first two years they had the car show because of my being activated for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom I & II. Last year was my first chance to experience this renewed love affair with the oldies. I’m talking about 1920s T-Buckets, ’32 Deuce Coupes (my personal favorite), all the way to the ’55, ’56, and especially the ’57 Chevy classic. Lots of chrome; white wall tires; unbelievable paint jobs; huge power plants (hemi engines); loud pipes; did I mention flames?; and fuzzy dice. No, it’s not Heaven, but you can see it from there!

The Chamber of Commerce asked me to be one of the judges for the car show, plus picking out the car to receive the plaque from the Ripon Ministerial Association. As president of the Association I had the following phrase put on the Ministerial plaque: “This car is truly divine.” So, Rev. Glen Shirk, pastor of Ripon Grace and treasurer for the Association, joined me for the walk among the cars. So many beautiful machines! I knew we were going to have a hard time picking a car for our Ministerial plaque because so many cars would be worthy recipients. Then we saw Rick Van Unen’s ’32 hot rod and it was all over. We looked at each other and nodded in agreement. Rick’s car would be our choice.

Rick was standing nearby, not knowing I was one of the judges. He yelled over to me, “Hey Chuck! They say you can’t ever be sixteen again. But after you’ve ridden in this baby, you’ll feel like you’re sixteen again.”

Sounded like both a challenge and an invitation to me. I called Rick on Sunday morning to see if he was available after church to take me for a ride in his hot rod. We met that afternoon and drove all over Ripon, the wind blowing in my hair! To use a more modern phrase today, “It was a rush!”

Rick and I share being former Marines and Vietnam vets. As a tribute to his time in the Corps, Rick had a vanity plate put on his hot rod: NAM 1966.

I have never owned a hot rod. But if I were ever to get one, I’d be looking for something like Rick’s ’32 Deuce.

Did I feel sixteen again after riding in Rick’s car? Oh, yeah! It was truly divine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Battle Lines Drawn

As I was researching this week on the historical novel I’m writing I ran across a touching, yet tragic story that took place on a Civil War battle field.

It was December of 1862, following the Battle of Fredericksburg. Men assigned to burial details from both the Union and Confederate forces emerged onto the bloody battle field with the grim task of burying their dead. One man from each company of the 8th Ohio came out under a flag of truce to join the Rebels of the 16th Mississippi. When these soldiers returned to their respective camps that evening, it was reported that the men were “full of stories of how they had passed the day . . .,” and all had “parted on good terms and bade one another a sincere goodbye” (The Civil War Infantryman, by Gregory A. Coco, Thomas Publications, 1996).

Here were men-in-arms pitched in feverish battle. Yet they were friends and relatives only a few short months before, many having served in the U.S. military together, now separated in the bloodiest, costliest war in fatalities and injuries our nation has ever experienced (623,000 killed, and 471,000 wounded). The foul business of war, any war, but particularly a civil war, has a long-term effect.

So, recently I was out of town for eleven days on military business when the issue of a psychic coming to our community took center stage. I came home on the weekend for about twenty-four hours before heading back to New Orleans to finish my assignment. Despite doing a funeral for a ninety-three year old saint from my church who had been a missionary in India and a school teacher, plus preaching Sunday morning, I managed to get a quick look at the Ripon Record. I saw the article about the psychic coming as a guest of the Friends of the Ripon Memorial Library. I remember seeing the part about communicating with deceased loved one, and thinking, “When I get back, I’ll need to look into this.” Little did I realize what a fire storm was about to hit our town.

While in New Orleans that week I received phone calls from individuals in the community who were expressing various concerns: The Mayor has cancelled the psychic! The newspaper (Ripon Record) got it all wrong! First Amendment rights are being violated! ad nauseum. Then when I arrived home it seemed like this was the only story on everyone’s mind. I scanned the newspapers in our area, including the Letters to the Editor.

I determined to check with the people involved before I said anything. You see, I know most of the key players in this drama, working with them in various capacities for several years. I am a committee member of the Friends of the Ripon Memorial Library, and have enjoyed a very pleasant working relationship with Brigitte Long, the director. I also know Chuck Winn, Ripon’s Mayor, and have always been impressed with his reasoned approach to solving matters. I serve, or have served on different committees for the city, and am pleased to do so. Then, of course, I know Joe Franscella, the editor of the Ripon Record. We have had an excellent working relationship since I arrived in Ripon in 1998.

So after speaking at some length with these friends, allow me to offer my take on what has happened.
• The Mayor, Chuck Winn, did not cancel the psychic’s speaking engagement. What he did do was act on behalf of the citizenry, believing that using city tax dollars in support of a program that brought someone in to communicate with the dead was inappropriate. The library was certainly free to have the psychic come. The reason she did not come was because the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library cancelled it.
• The accusation that the Mayor “threatened” in a phone conversation with the director of the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library to withhold funds may or may not have happened. I was not privy to the conversation. What I can say is this: 1) As the elected mayor of our city, the mayor is well within his legal rights to act in accordance with his office. 2) The Mayor cannot arbitrarily make unilateral decisions. He can only recommend to the rest of the City Council, who then must vote yea or nay. And 3) In my dealings with the Mayor he has always demonstrated a calm, thoughtful demeanor. It would be out of character for him to huff and puff in a threatening manner.
• I personally read the news item which the Ripon Record received from the County. It states very explicitly that the psychic was going to “offer attendees a chance to communicate with deceased loved ones.” Joe Franscella did not change or manipulate the article for sensationalistic affect.

One final thought. It was said that evangelical Christian ministers raised an objection to having a psychic come to our community in a public setting to communicate with the dead. Though I was not here when this hit the fan, I would have been one of those who would have objected. Why? Because the Bible gives very clear instruction when it comes to psychics and communicating with the dead. As a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, I take seriously the teaching of God’s word.

Case in point:
• In the book of Deuteronomy chapter 18 verses 10-12, it says, “Let no one be found among you . . . who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord . . .”

As a minister I have an obligation to speak out against such things, and as long as the Lord gives me breath, I will continue to do so.

So, I say, thank you Mr. Mayor for your efforts to protect the inappropriate use of city tax dollars.

Residents of Ripon, please remember that we are neighbors, you and I. Be careful in choosing your battles. For once the battle lines are drawn and the words are spoken we may at some point need to call for a truce to recover the injured, only to walk away realizing we really do care about each other.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Are You a No Man?

It was a year ago this month that the leadership of my church unanimously agreed to engage in the 40 Days of Purpose campaign. I’d heard of it, but it had come along about the time I was being recalled to active duty. I was a bit preoccupied the next two years.

So for the past twelve months we’ve been preparing for this major campaign which draws heavily upon the time and energy of any church leadership. I have some wonderful people who have accepted the challenge to be involved in something bigger than themselves.

Pastor Rick Warren wrote an excellent book entitled, “The Purpose Driven Life.” From this evolved the 40 Days of Purpose campaign. It addresses one major question that every living person has asked at some time in their life: What on earth am I here for?

This is an excellent question, and one that should be seriously considered. Simplistic answers satisfy no one. But this is a question that strikes at the very core of man’s longing. Why am I here? Does it really matter? Does anyone even care?

The atheist, Bertrand Russell, said, “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” The Russian novelist, Andrei Bitov, grew up under Communist rule. He had an encounter with God one day while riding the metro in St. Petersburg. His conclusion: “Without God, life makes no sense.”

Many through the ages have endeavored to answer the riddle of man’s existence. Essayist and philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, said, “The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder – a waif, a nothing, a no man.”

Interestingly, it was President Abraham Lincoln who made the obvious statement about man’s questioned existence when he said, “Surely God would not have created such a being as a man to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.”

So then, why on earth are you here? Can you answer this question satisfactorily? Rick Warren states that man exists for five clear reasons:
1. Worship – You were Planned for God’s Pleasure
2. Fellowship – You were Formed for God’s Family
3. Discipleship – You were Created to Become like Christ
4. Ministry – You were Shaped for Serving God
5. Evangelism – You were Made for a Mission

All of these reasons for our existence are to be experienced in community. That community is God’s church.

Many people distance themselves from God and the church because they have been hurt deeply by someone, or a specific event in their lives. One thing Rick Warren said that rang with me is, “God never wastes a hurt.” What hurts are there in your life that God wants to use, and thereby bring healing to you?

In my seven years as the pastor of the Ripon Free Methodist Church, I cannot remember one time when the church has been this excited about anything. A major part of the 40 Days of Purpose campaign is the development of and involvement in small groups. This is where the community aspect of our reasons for existence comes into focus. The feedback I have been getting throughout the first week has been nothing short of exhilarating. Barely one week into this 40 Day campaign and my wife is already suggesting to me that we plan to do this again next year.

You were not meant to be a “no man.” God created you for a purpose. The primary purpose is to be in relationship with him. He already knows everything about you. He now invites you to get to know him. Care to take the challenge?

Look around. I’m certain there’s a church engaged in the 40 Days of Purpose campaign in your community. If not, they soon will be. Get involved.

You are on course to meet God.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

It's Just Stuff

If I heard this once, I heard it a dozen times during my time in New Orleans last week.

I was visiting the Marines who are part of the 4th MAW (Marine Aircraft Wing) currently headquartered in Marietta, Georgia. These reservists are spread out between Marietta and New Orleans, all trying to assist those who have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

At the start of the week, everyone was acutely aware of the growing threat on the horizon imposed by Hurricane Rita. Everyone was paying attention to the weather developments in the Gulf of Mexico wondering if Rita was going to run right up behind Katrina. Hurricanes were no longer just a threat to Florida and the Keys, or the Caribbean Islands.

I flew to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans on Monday to check on our 4th MAW Marines and found in them what I expected. They were helping assist those who were in more dire need than themselves. I also made contact with a number of chaplains not only with the Navy, but the Army, Air Force, the National and Air National Guard, all coordinating efforts to help those less fortunate. On Wednesday I was asked to spend the day at the largest FEMA Disaster Relief Center. They specifically wanted a military chaplain in uniform (camouflage utilities is what I was wearing) to be present. It seems that some of the people they were trying to process for assistance were so emotionally overwrought that they would break down in tears.

The FEMA folks were located in a Bingo Hall in the town of Boutte, Saint Charles Parrish, about fifteen miles from New Orleans. When I arrived I saw a long line of people standing patiently under a canopied walkway, waiting to be allowed inside where they would be seen by one of a number of agencies. FEMA, Red Cross, the phone company, something called Blue Tarp, and the Small Businessmen’s Association were all on hand and had been since the storm hit. I hadn’t heard that through the news media.

So, sizing up the situation, I began to look after the workers first, since many of them had lost everything as well. Here they were helping others. One young lady worked tirelessly, always with a big smile. I learned she was what we call a “military brat.” That is to say, her dad (or mom) was active duty military while she was growing up. Though her apartment survived the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, looters got in before she was able to retrieve her stuff. They wiped her out. To watch her, knowing what I now knew, was inspirational.

Another man, perhaps late 60s, came in, saw me and said, “You’re a chaplain?” I assured him that I was. He then made this most unusual pronouncement: “Hurricane Katrina is the best thing that ever happened to me!” I said, “Really!” waiting for an explanation that I knew he was going to provide. He said, “You see, my wife and I had to leave New Orleans because of Katrina. Our home is now gone. We hadn’t been to church in thirty years. Never had time for God. I was always too busy. As a result, we went back to church, rededicated our lives to Jesus Christ, and were baptized. Now I’m at peace even though all our stuff is gone. Praise the Lord!” Then he hugged me. The peace on his face was evidence enough of a changed heart.

I started thinking about Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

So many people in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and now Texas, have had all their earthly possessions destroyed, or stolen, that they’ve learned life is far more precious than the stuff we acquire. It’s all about relationships – specifically, family. And above all, God.

I have often shared with people this truth: You never see a u-haul truck following behind a hearse. It’s just stuff, and you won’t be taking it with you.

Where are you storing your treasure?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Georgia on My Mind

I took the red-eye Tuesday night. I can sleep anywhere, anytime. But I’ve got to tell you, this trip took the starch out of me!

The reason I was taking this trip was to have the opportunity to introduce myself to my new command: the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing. Their headquarters is in New Orleans. However, due to Hurricane Katrina they have temporarily relocated at the Atlanta Naval Air Station in Marietta, Georgia. Thus, my sojourn to the Deep South.

This is also an opportunity for me to provide ministry to the Marines who have been displaced while helping rescue others. They are fully engaged in recovery throughout the Gulf region, but particularly New Orleans.

I boarded the Delta Airlines flight in Sacramento fully prepared to sleep all the way to Atlanta. There was a loud group of folks returning from some raucous affair, but that didn’t even faze me. I was asleep before the plane lifted off. I woke about two hours into the flight, munched on some airline snacks, drank a cup of Coke (This IS an Atlanta-based airline!), and went back to sleep.

We arrived ahead of schedule, so by the time I picked up my luggage and obtained my rental car, it was seven-thirty in the morning. I drove north toward Marietta going right through the heart of downtown Atlanta just ahead of the morning commute traffic. I was hungry so pulled in to a Waffle House. It was about now that I was feeling as though a truck had run me over. My brain was in the buzz mode. I slumped into a booth. The waitress came over and said, “Can I get you some coffee, sweetie?” Coffee? You bet! Bring it on. So after a ham & cheese omelet with a side order of grits and butter, plus a waffle, all washed down with copious amounts of hot coffee, I felt like I might make it till noon.

You’ve got to love the Southern way of talking. A few years ago I was on a military trip to Memphis. I stopped to wander around a Cracker Barrel store (If you’ve never been in one of these, you haven’t lived!) looking to pick up some small gift for the family. I saw a pink T-shirt with silver sequins spelling out the letters GRITS across the front. There was a matching hat to go with it. Below the letters was written the meaning of this acronym: Girls Raised in the South. This I absolutely had to get for my Texas born-and-raised mother.

I’ll never forget my Grandmother Roots. She spent her whole life in East Texas. During her visits when I was a little boy, she’d sit on the couch, glance in my direction, and with a big smile, say, “Chahles Rahbuht, cum’ohn ovuh an’ sidohn Grandmamma’s kneh.” Translation: Charles Robert, come on over and sit on Grandmother’s knee.” Of course I would do as she asked, whereupon she would plant one of her big, wet kisses on my face. You gotta love it!

Today, I had lunch with my friend, Joe Harden. He lives in Marietta very near the base. We go back to 1969 when we were both Marine recruits in San Diego. He figured, correctly, that I would want to have Southern cooking. We ate fried chicken and hush puppies, fried okra, creamed corn, all the while reminiscing about our early days in the Marines.

On Monday I will be visiting our 4th MAW Marines in New Orleans who are involved in the on-going recovery efforts.

Even though these Marines have been relocated with their families, many losing all their earthly goods, their attitude is nothing less than an inspiration to me. I spoke with one sergeant and his wife who were on base picking up some items for their family of four. This man is originally from Columbia. After coming to the United States, he joined the Marine Corps, married his Puerto Rican-born wife, and began a life together. They saved their money to buy their first home. Last year they found a house in Slidell, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans. In July they bought a brand new living room set. They haven’t even made their first payment yet. It’s all gone now. He’s waiting to go back to see if there is anything salvageable. But their attitude is great! They and their two young sons are healthy and safe. The boys are registered in school and they’re now in a new apartment in Marietta. No hint of discontent. No complaining. They’re just moving on with life.

The American spirit is indomitable. It’s truly refreshing.

I’ll share more next week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Real Americans

Amidst all the politicizing, camera-hogging, pontificating, blame-casting, excuse-making, and Bush-bashing, real Americans step up to the plate and answer the call when their fellow citizens are in trouble.

Once again we have been subjected to some of the most awful accusations and diatribes imaginable spewed out of the mouths of politicians, movie actors, rappers and other brainless Neanderthals. For these folks, the whole world is a stage, upon which they reveal themselves to be a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Where’s the love?

Let me tell you where the real love is – it’s something that resides deep in the heart and soul of Americans like embers that only need to be stirred for the fire to leap back to flame. Last Sunday, a young lady in our congregation whose name is Amber asked me if she could make an announcement to the congregation. She told us she was planning to leave for Houston, Texas on Thursday to assist with the relief effort. Could we help her with some things she could take down?

We received any number of coloring books, games, playing cards, children’s books, and a host of other items over the next several days for Amanda to carry down. Only problem is she’d need an old-fashioned shipping trunk to carry all the stuff. She had informed us that she was only taking one suitcase. Ha!

Ellen, who is in charge of our social activities and is one excellent cook, told me she’d love to go down and help organize feeding these displaced people. She and her husband raised their own children plus a number of adopted children. I’ve forgotten just how many. She laments that she cannot go and help due to health conditions.

I ran into Sharon at the gas station yesterday. She doesn’t attend our church, but asked if we were taking an offering to help in the relief effort. I assured her we were, and in fact, had taken a collection the previous Sunday, September 7. She said she figured as much and wanted to make a contribution.

My friend and fellow-Marine, Dave, asked if he could use his skills as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). I looked at him and sadly shook my head no. You see, Dave is a Vietnam Vet, who, due to wounds and injuries, must move around now with a walker. This is a man with three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, and the Navy Cross. He’s in his early fifties. And he’s someone you would want in a time of crisis. His broken body simply won’t allow him to be involved in this rescue effort.

I could tell you of others but you get the idea. You could probably add to this list yourself. In fact, you’d probably want to go yourself if you could.

The truth of the matter is that so many Americans have stepped up that the organizers of the rescue efforts are having to now turn people away. Not to worry, though. It is predicted that the recovery period will go on for months. More people will be needed as others are required to return home to their jobs and families.

I was spending the day on Friday at the Navy/Marine Corps Reserve Center in Alameda where my command is located. I was visiting the Commanding Officer, Commander Lisa Avila, and the Executive Officer, LCDR Brian Week. I asked what was being done by our reservists regarding Hurricane Katrina. They told me the phones have been ringing off the hook from reservists wanting to know how they could be used in the relief effort. Could they get orders to the Gulf?

These are my kind of Americans! No hand-wringing. No finger-pointing. No excuse-making. Just normal folks who know how to get things done. And if they can’t go themselves, they’ll at least make a monetary contribution. Or they’ll ship supplies to the affected area. And they’ll pray.

I can’t help but think of what Jesus said in John 15:12-13. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Real Americans know this truth. They love their neighbor, regardless of race, creed or national origin. This has been my experience everywhere I travel in this great land of ours.

Do the nay-sayers bother me? Not really. After my initial desire to reach through the TV screen and grab some mealy-mouthed no-account by the throat, I remember that they do not represent Americans, real Americans I have been privileged to know.

America is great because her people are great.

God bless America!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Devastation in Dixie

Like many of you, I sat watching my television screen as multiple pictures of total devastation were flashed before my eyes. A sense of helplessness began to overwhelm me. Can’t we do something? Is anybody doing anything?

For most of us the effects of Hurricane Katrina will be the images in living color on the pages of magazines such as Life, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, etc. Some photo-journalist will no doubt receive an award for the picture that “says it all,” capturing for the rest of us the essence of the whole experience.

We will continue to hear the refrain that not enough is being done. Many have, and will continue to take political advantage of this crisis. Shame on them. The American people will ignore them. Instead, Americans will figure out ways to be helpful. The amount of money that will be given by the average citizen in this country may never be known. But I can assure you of this – it will be a staggering amount. And this will be above and beyond the amount of taxpayer money the federal and state governments will throw at this relief effort.

As typically occurs in such instances, the media focuses on the really bad stuff. Besides the catastrophic destruction of New Orleans, and the coastlines of Mississippi and Alabama, we are subjected to the wanton disregard for personal property, hearing that the police are powerless, or incapable of preventing wholesale looting and vandalism (as if the hurricanes destructive forces were not enough!). Rapes occurring in locations re-designated as places of refuge from the storm. Food and water availability is slow in coming. Hospitals are without power, and the generators are not designed to operate continuously. Bodies are floating in the streets. Gun-toting residents are roaming certain neighborhoods. Diseases, such as typhoid, may become epidemic.

Then there’s the cry for the National Guard. Where are they? We have tens of thousands of our military in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we can’t protect the streets of New Orleans. We can drop food packages all over Afghanistan, but what about our fellow Americans in Dixie who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Or even if they will have a next meal?

The nay-sayers will be in full voice for months to come after this is finally stabilized. Are there things we could have done differently? Done better? Of course. That is always the case. But let’s remember – our nation has never had to deal with such a monumental act of natural devastation as we have just experienced with Hurricane Katrina. Should we have been better prepared? Yes. And there will be much beating of the breast over what could have been done, should have been done and would have been done, if only . . .

The National Red Cross, and a host of private agencies, will work round the clock in seemingly tireless efforts to aid their fellow citizens. They will need much more financial support from us to carry out their mission. And they will get it. That’s how we are as Americans. We help each other.

Cities and towns that have been a part of the American lexicon may soon be part of our history. Biloxi, Mississippi, is one example. This city was devastated by Hurricane Camille in 1969. Will they be able to come together and rebuild yet again? And what about New Orleans? What will be left of this historic city? Already there are those in government suggesting that to rebuild a city that is below sea level is not wise. With levees built to keep back the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchetrain, aren’t they just asking for trouble?

Then there will be those who will cast a downward glance at the apparent decadent lifestyle evidenced in New Orleans and say something like, “Serves them right,” or “God has brought his judgment on their sinful living.”

Before any of you go too far in thinking this way, I’d like to remind you that I have been to New Orleans numerous times in my responsibilities as a Navy Chaplain. Our headquarters for the Marine Forces Reserve, and Naval Reserve Forces are, or I should say, were located there. I have walked those streets. I have witnessed the debauched life lived by some, but most are God-fearing, family folks who happen to live in New Orleans.

I also remember it was the testimony of an evangelist from New Orleans that God used to bring me to faith in Christ. That was thirty-three years ago tomorrow.

Jesus was able to take my sin-sick soul and reclaim it for himself through the witness of one of his ministers from New Orleans. I’m confident he will be at work bringing about his desired purposes in the midst of this devastation. It won’t make the evening news, but it will change lives for eternity.

Please pray with me for our southern neighbors.

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


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.