Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Politician or Patriot?

I was absolutely fascinated by two separate articles in the past few days.

The first article I read caught my eye because of the headline. “Outrage: The Funeral Crasher.” Seeing the words “funeral crasher” definitely had my interest. As a civilian pastor and as a Navy Chaplain, officiating at funerals is a responsibility of the highest order, and it is an honor to assist families in what ranks as one of the most difficult moments in life.

Apparently, according to several news stories I read, Lt Governor Catherine Baker Knoll of Pennsylvania, took it upon herself to attend the funeral of a Marine Staff Sergeant, killed in Iraq just two weeks ago. Lt Gov Knoll was not invited to the funeral service. The family was unaware she was even coming. Arriving late, Mrs. Knoll sat next to a family member of the thirty-two year old Marine. Turning to the woman, she mentioned that our government does not support this war, gave the shocked family member her card, and departed.

After much hue and cry from Pennsylvanians, particularly military members past and present from around the nation, Governor Ed Rendell issued a letter of apology to the family over the weekend. Then came a letter from Lt Gov Knoll to the family of the fallen Marine expressing how saddened she was that her actions were misunderstood. Misunderstood? Excuse me, ma’am, but you had no business expressing your personal political views on the current War on Terrorism at a funeral of a warrior killed in battle, or on any other issue, for that matter. Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong words.

As for the comment that our government doesn’t support this war, let’s see if I have this straight. You might have been thinking the government of Pennsylvania. But then there is no indication of a lack of support for the war being mouthed by your boss, the governor. And surely, you can’t be referring to the United States government. President Bush is committed to this War on Terrorism, and Congress, for all its rancor, is backing him. Now, if you’re talking about the French government under President Jacques Chirac, or the German government under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, then you are absolutely correct. Those governments do not support our efforts in this war. Though ironically, Chirac’s anti-US position softened considerably last week when the newly elected president of Iraq, Ghazi al-Yawer, came to Paris for a visit with the French leader. How I would have enjoyed listening to their closed-door conversations!

The second article I read that was of great interest came from a British newspaper, The London Telegraph. The British press has not exactly been supportive of this war. The reporter did a special report on the response of the Iraqi people to the persistent bombings that have killed some twenty-five thousand of their countrymen. His headline says it all: “Defiantly, they ignore the bombs and queue to join the Iraqi army.”

Ever since I was in Iraq immediately following the take-over of Baghdad, I have periodically written about the Iraqi people simply wanting an opportunity to establish themselves as a free nation. They now have that opportunity with our military there to take out the insurgents, help rebuild the expanding infrastructure of the nation, and provide training for their police, military, and security personnel.

One young army recruit, Ali Hamza, had this to say: "It might be chaotic but I'm not afraid because I am willing to join the army and that has many dangers anyway. Also, in the new army people are respected."

Wafaa Aumran does not believe the responsibility should be entirely shouldered by the men. She wanted to join the army because it was the responsibility of Iraq's women to work alongside men "in order to save our country". She said, "I don't expect there to be any difference between me and the men especially when we go out on missions. I have taken all the security precautions I can - you cannot stay in a position that you are afraid to ever move."

The article concludes with this. Major Abdul Qadir, 40, the intelligence officer for the 1st Bn 1st Brigade of the Iraq National Guard, said soldiers living outside the barracks had received letters and leaflets from terror groups warning them that they would be assassinated. The officer, who wore American combat fatigues after traveling to work in civilian clothes, said: "If we are not going to serve our country then who is going to serve it for the future? The US will leave and then we will be left on our own."

What a contrast between the anti-war position taken by certain politicians in our country, like Lt Gov Knoll, and the level-headed approach to rebuilding their country as exemplified by these members of the Iraqi Army.

We are Americans. We dare not let these folks down.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Jugs and Jerseys

Summer is always full of sporting events.

In particular, there is the All-Star game in Major League Baseball, with the American League once again dominating the National League. There is the conclusion of the NBA playoffs with the San Antonia Spurs taking home the prize. Football lovers can’t wait for the beginning of pre-season football in the NFL. There is, of course, the PGA British Open, held this year at the “Old Course,” in Saint Andrews, Scotland. And by this time next week, we will know the results of the torturous Tour de France annual cycling race. And there’s Wimbledon where the best in tennis match their skills.

It was a sad moment last Friday as the cameras gave full coverage to a departing Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer to play the game. The matches over the last several decades between Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, and Gary Player were nothing if not spellbinding. To see Jack stop atop the Swilken Bridge on the 18th hole at Saint Andrews brought tears to my eyes. I’m soft that way. I didn’t want to see Jack go. He was the consummate gentleman, treating everyone with kindness and respect.

I was struck by Jack’s comments after the final round. One reporter asked him what Jack thought his legacy in golf might be. His reply was wonderful. He dismissed his legacy in golf. He’d leave that for others to determine. His most important legacy was to his family. He felt if he’d not left the proper legacy with his kids and grandkids, golf would mean nothing.

It’s in fact true that Jack purposefully played fifteen or so golf tournaments a year so he could be home with his wife and kids. Other professional golfers are in tournaments every weekend. Many have suffered in their family life while pursuing a prize. This prize may be a jug, as in the Claret Jug at Saint Andrews; or a silver bowl; or some other expensive trinket that my wife refers to as “dust collectors.”

Tiger Woods, the best player in golf today, continues to march toward greatness, winning his tenth Major Championship. He won the British Open going away on Sunday, holding high the Claret Jug, sealing it with the required kiss for the cameras and posterity. Jack Nicklaus is Tiger’s idol. So, as Tiger racks up the Major Tournament wins in his quest to beat Jack’s record of 18 Majors, I would like to encourage Tiger to emulate Jack’s family life as well. The twenty-nine year old Tiger was married in the last year or so. I hope he understands the importance of a legacy to his new family. I was encouraged by the young man’s comments after his victory. He looked into the TV cameras and spoke personally to his ailing father, “I just want to say, ‘Dad, I love you and thank you.’”

The incredible feats of America’s Lance Armstrong in his quest to win an unprecedented seventh Tour de France is almost a done deal. With one week to go, ending in Paris this Sunday, the best cyclist ever is poised for greatness. Virtually owning the coveted “Yellow Jersey,” he is ahead in the race and continues to spread the gap between himself and his rivals. Barring a disaster, he’s a shoe-in for the victory lap around the Champs Elysees on Sunday. I really want to see Lance win his last race. But I can’t help but feel some sadness for him. He has endured and overcome so much, particularly with his battle against testicular cancer. Yet, his first marriage fell apart.

People strive for greatness, for a goal, a prize, recognition, or simply to be the best at something. Too often this is achieved at the expense of family, leaving a legacy of failure and regret.

You may not strive for jugs or jerseys, but you will leave a legacy. How do you want to be remembered?

Be like Jack. Build a lasting family.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Clock (Part Two)

After Isaura and I were married and set up house, we then began the process of selecting the best place in our home for my grandmother’s clock, a wedding gift we highly treasured. Once this was determined, she then told me about her grandmother’s clock.

Years before my wife and her family immigrated to the United States in 1966 from the Azores Islands, Portugal, she had spent many happy days with her maternal grandparents. As a little girl she was always involved with her grandmother’s many acts of charity in the community. One fond memory was after church on Sundays she would make home deliveries of food prepared by her grandmother to families that were poor. With a basket stuffed with freshly made food on her arm she would make the trek to the home of a family in need.

Among these many rich experiences, nothing intrigued her as much as the mantle clock her grandmother had in the home. The ritual of watching her grandmother wind the clock was nearly a religious experience. She would even attempt to wind it herself when her grandmother was not looking.

Years later, after her grandfather passed away and her family had made their home in America, her Uncle John, oldest son and protector of the family, unexpectedly died of a heart attack. In grief and alone in the Azores, Isaura’s grandmother got rid of most everything before joining my wife’s family in California. My wife said she often wondered what had become of her grandmother’s clock.

Fast forward to 1992. We find ourselves stationed in Rota, Spain where I’m serving as a Navy chaplain at the Naval Station. I had specifically requested orders to Europe so my wife might once again be near her birthplace, and so our daughters and I could see where she was born.

After a year in Rota, we made plans to fly to the island of Tercera, the Azores. Once there, we would catch a flight to my wife’s home island of San Miguel. My wife is a woman of prayer. So, before we left, my wife asked the Lord if it would be possible to find her grandmother’s clock. Not very likely to happen since Isaura had last seen it in 1966. The clock left the possession of her grandmother before 1970. We simply had no idea where it could be. If it was to be found, God would have to lead us to it.

We arrived in the capital city of Ponte Delgado, San Miguel and settled into our hotel room. We then began to make contact with relatives who were mostly distant cousins and the like, people my wife had not seen in twenty-six years. They insisted we stay with them, so the next morning we left the hotel and lodged with a cousin for the remainder of our five days.

I had taken it upon myself to be the chief cameraman on this trip. With my reliable Pentax K1000, and a Sony Camcorder purchased just for this trip, I was ready to go. Everywhere my wife went I followed dutifully behind with a camera attached to my face.

We were wandering around her village of Arifes when she saw a lady leaning on her window sill talking to a neighbor. Isaura informed me that the lady in the window was a relative from her father’s side of the family. After the neighbor walked on, my wife approached the lady in the window, identifying herself. It took a minute or so before the woman realized who it was. Throwing her arms in the air in surprise, she hurried to the front door and ushered us in. We had a delightful visit, but she wouldn’t let us go until we agreed to come back the next evening for dinner. She was going to invite all of her kids and grandkids so everyone could meet the relative from America.

The next evening was a fun, but a chaotic affair: Kids running everywhere, people talking loudly, everyone wanting the latest news on family members now living in the United States. We eventually asked pardon to leave, whereupon the lady said we first had to have a tour of the house. This is customary in Portugal, so I dutifully followed as we went from room to room. At the top of the stairs we turned into the guest room that looked as though no one had stayed there in a very long time. I’m thinking, “Big deal! A guest room.” Then I realized Isaura had stopped dead in her tracks. She was staring at something on the dresser. Slowly she turned and looked at me, mouthing the words, “That’s my grandmother’s clock!”

Well, let me tell you! My wife hardly slept a wink that night thinking about that clock sitting there unused in a guest room that was equally unused. I, too, was lying in bed wondering how much money we could offer this lady. I knew how much it meant to Isaura, so I was willing to pony up.

The next morning Isaura took me to visit the small elementary school she attended in the late-50s. The head mistress of the school was the lady we’d had dinner with the evening before. She proceeded to give us a walking tour of the school and grounds (four classrooms and a play yard!). With the camcorder rolling, I realized my wife was working up the nerve to ask the lady about her grandmother’s clock. She began by saying she would very much like to have it and would be willing to pay her for it. The lady cut her off, saying, “Nonsense! I was thinking just last night after you left that you should have this clock. After all, it was your grandmother’s clock. I want to give it to you.”

There was much hugging and crying. All the while I’m getting this special moment on film, but not without difficulty myself! I had tears running down my own face!

As we left the island of San Miguel to make our way back to Rota, the clock was sitting in a bag safely between my wife’s feet on the airplane. Every so often I’d see her look down into the bag to make sure the clock was there. Content that it really was there and in her possession, she would once again rest.

This clock continues to occupy a prominent place in our home along with my grandmother’s clock.

The clock itself has no value apart from sentimental attachment. But it was important to my wife, therefore it was important to God. God cared enough to lead us to this clock three decades later.

If God cares about a clock, how much do you think he cares about you?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Clock (Part One)

The year was 1958 and I was ten years old.

My grandmother was seventy. She’d been a widow for seven years and was now moving out of her grand old home in Concord, Massachusetts and moving in with us. I was delighted!

At that time we lived in Mount Kisco, New York, a bedroom community to New York City both then, as well as now. People who worked in the City commuted by train. Once you were in the City you traveled by subway or taxi. That’s simply how it was done. Cars were impossible, even in the 50s. Parking in the City? Ridiculous!

The oldest grandkids began calling our grandmother “Bambi” for some reason that is lost to me. I can only surmise that because she was a dear lady and fun to be around, coupled with the movie of the same name coming out during that time (1942), they latched onto the nickname “Bambi.”

Of all the many wondrous items that Bambi had, there were two that I absolutely loved. First was her 1940 Plymouth convertible. She’d had it since it was new and had only driven it from Boston to New York a few times. That was before the Interstate system was set up which was during the Eisenhower administration.

The second item she had that really caught my fancy was an old mantle clock that chimed on the hour and the half-hour. It was very comforting to hear this clock tick-tock, especially at night when everyone had gone to bed. The rhythmic sound of the pendulum offered a steadiness in what were my formative years.

Her clock was very old. Bambi was born in 1888. Her parents died when she was very small, so she was raised by her grandparents. They had purchased the clock sometime around the 1820s. It is the kind which you wind once a week. First you wind the spring for the pendulum movement; then you wind another spring for the chime. It’ll operate for eight days before it needs to be rewound.

The clock was one of those constants in my life. You could count on it to keep running. Whether we won our baseball game or not, the clock was there. Whether I had a good day at school or not, the clock was there. Whether I managed to avoid the neighborhood bully or not, the clock was there. Kids need to have things in their lives that do not change – things that can be relied upon.

Shortly after Bambi moved in with us, I became the “Keeper of the Clock.” It was my job to wind it each week, and to see to it that the time was correct. If the clock time was a little slow or a little fast, a slight twist of the weight screw at the bottom of the pendulum would make the needed correction.

I remember standing and admiring the clock one day, enjoying its peaceful sound, when Bambi walked by. She stopped to share the moment with me. I then took a bold step and said, “Bambi, I sure would like to have this clock some day.” She simply smiled.

I say this was a bold step because I was raised to never ask for something, especially if it belonged to someone else.

We moved around a lot, including three years in Europe before I went off to college and then the Marine Corps. In 1975, Isaura and I met at San Jose State University. We set our wedding date for June 5, 1976.

When our special day arrived, Bambi, who was now eighty-seven, was in fine form, dancing and celebrating the marriage of her youngest grandson. Between my family and Isaura’s huge Portuguese family, and then our wonderful church family, we were well supplied in wedding gifts. But the one gift that meant more to me than anything else was Bambi’s clock. She had remembered, and passed the clock on to me for safe keeping.

Today, Bambi’s clock sits atop a curio cabinet in my home. It has traveled with us all over the world. Each time we’ve moved, the first things I do is set up the clock. I remain the “Keeper of the Clock.”

As for the 1940 Plymouth convertible, Bambi gave that to me also. Sadly, just before I received my driver’s license, the car was destroyed in a fire.

When I returned home last August from my two years of active duty, the first thing I did was reset Bambi’s clock. Just hearing it again is soothing and brings great comfort after being exposed to the ravages of war.

I know I won’t be taking anything with me when I go to Heaven, but if I could, I’d take Bambi’s clock.