Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What a Blast!

             Yesterday I was able to follow up on an invitation to go skeet shooting with a friend. A couple of months ago we had made a date for this outing where we were to be joined by my friend’s son and grandson. I had to back out at the time because of my sister-in-law’s passing.

I was up early, which is my habit, fully prepared to meet Ralph at the designated time of 7:00. However, there was one small interruption. I received a text at 6:00 from my oldest daughter, Laura, reminding me that her sister, Jenny, our youngest, was going to be interviewed on Good Morning Sacramento, a TV program for the early-risers and commuters. Jenny and her business partner, Chris, have just opened a new shop in Turlock, named Rustic Roots. It is one of those cute little shops that has antiques and older items for the home or workplace. It has everything from homemade soaps to specialty made chandeliers.

Just as the news channel came on they announced they would be interviewing the owners of Rustic Roots. Knowing something about broadcasting, I had the distinct impression this story was coming much later in the program. Sure enough – forty-five minutes later the story on Rustic Roots was aired. It was exciting to see Jenny and Chris in their new shop. Hopefully this will bring them more business, which has already been excellent from the grand opening just two weeks ago. I dutifully recorded the news program, and took pictures of the TV screen during the interview. I then raced out the door arriving at Ralph’s farm at 7:02. Bless his heart; he had brewed a couple of cups of coffee for the two of us!

We loaded up Ralph’s pickup truck and made sure the trailer towing the ATV was secure. For the uninitiated, ATV is the acronym for All Terrain Vehicle. We drove for at least an hour arriving at Camanche Hills Hunting Preserve, which is a private hunters/shooters club. Not long after, son David and grandson Will rolled in next to us. We four hearty souls then entered the restaurant on the club grounds and enjoyed more coffee and a great breakfast. As you might expect in a shooters club restaurant, the walls were totally covered with the heads of large animals, as well as small animals and birds. I ordered the pancake, bacon, eggs combo. When I asked Doris, the waitress, to toss in a second pancake, she gave me that look that says, “You’re not from around here, are you?” She pleasantly informed me that one pancake would probably be all I would want, but if perchance, I changed my mind, she’d bring me a second pancake. Wise woman! The one pancake nearly filled the entire platter!

After eating we assured Doris we’d be back for lunch and to hold our tab. We then paid for our round of shooting before loading up our shotguns in the ATV and heading for the first of ten stations. Skeet shooting is a form of trapshooting in which clay targets are thrown from traps to simulate birds in flight and are shot at from different stations. This particular course also included simulations of rabbits and rats just to add to the overall challenge.

I’m quite familiar with guns and the handling of weapons, but the only time I ever handled and fired a shotgun was during some anti-terrorism training. I had never shot skeet before, so I was attempting to soak it all in. Each of us was provided 10 shotgun shells for each station, times the 10 stations would equal 100 rounds fired per person. We had our choice of either a twelve gauge or twenty gauge shotgun. Being unfamiliar with shotguns in general, and even more unfamiliar with skeet shooting, I was on a steep learning curve. The term used in shooting skeet is “sweep.” You hold the butt of the gun tight against your shoulder while smoothly swinging (sweeping) the gun barrel in the pattern you anticipate the clay target (often called a “clay pigeon”) coming into your view. The added challenge is that there are always two clay targets every time. They are staggered so that they come seconds apart. The idea is that you shoot the first target quickly enough so that you have sufficient enough time to sweep in on the second clay target and blow it into little pieces, as well.

Admittedly, early on it was rough going getting the hang of it, but I gradually warmed up to the whole thing and actually missed only one clay target out of my last twenty. It was a fun time and following a sumptuous lunch, we all loaded up our stuff and went our separate ways.

It was a fun day. I guess you could say – We had a blast!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tebow Time?

              Admittedly, I am a fan of Tim Tebow. You remember him, right? The charismatic young quarterback who led the University of Florida to two national football championships. He was also selected for the coveted college football honor – the Heisman Trophy.

Tebow became popular for bringing his teams back from defeat in what became known as “Tebow Time.” He did it repeatedly with Florida, and then with the Denver Broncos.

Many football analysts pooh-poohed his chances of ever having a successful career in the National Football League (NFL). He was picked up in the first round of the draft by the Denver Broncos. He understood that he would be the backup quarterback behind Kyle Orton. The opening five games in the 2011 season were mostly a disaster for the Broncos. They lost four and won one before Orton suffered an injury, giving Tebow an opportunity few quarterbacks have experienced.

With eleven games left in the season, Tebow rallied the Broncos to seven wins and four loses. It wasn’t a great season overall, but it was an astounding accomplishment when you consider where the Broncos started. Tebow, a young inexperienced NFL quarterback, motivated his team, as well as a world-wide audience, by taking the Broncos into the play-offs. He then led them to a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers for their first play-off win since 2005.

Tebow’s future in the NFL looked promising. But Broncos’ owner John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback himself, did not see Tebow as a fit for the team. So he was picked up by the New York Jets in a trade. The next season was a waste of this young man’s talent and development. He was rarely used in what can only be called a dismal season for the Jets. He was released earlier this year to seek an opportunity to be picked up by another team.

Tebow, born Timothy Richard Tebow, has become something of a lightning rod over two things in his life: First, he is exceptionally popular. Tebow wore number 15 on his jersey for the Broncos, the same number he wore in college. He set an NFL Draft record for jersey sales and continued to have the top selling jersey through the 2010 season. Also, he created the instantly popular “Tebowing,” an action where Tebow would kneel on one knee, place his elbow on his knee, with his head bowed on his fist in an attitude of prayer and thanksgiving.

The second reason for his garnering so much attention, both positive and negative, is his openly vocal Christian witness. He makes no bones about where he stands. This goes back to his college days, and even earlier. But his popularity at Florida provided him a platform to speak boldly about his faith. He popularized the message, John 3:16, on his face black, which prompted millions of Internet searches for the beloved verse from the Bible: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” When other college students took their two-week Spring Break down in the islands of the Caribbean, or Florida, Tebow would fly to the Philippines where he worked with children in an orphanage.

This past week Tebow was picked up by the New England Patriots, a championship caliber team under what is clearly a legendary Hall of Fame coach in Bill Belichick. The Tebow naysayers are claiming that Tebow won’t amount to anything even under a coach like Belichick. As a life-long Patriots fan, I have to believe that Belichick has a plan as to how to best utilize this young man. It will be interesting to watch.

His parents were missionaries when Tebow was born in the Philippines. He grew up loving Jesus and has made a significant difference in the lives of many people by sharing his faith and being philanthropic. “Tebow envisioned a foundation to give back to others during his college career, and he, along with other University of Florida students, created First and 15, raising funds for Uncle Dick's Orphanage in the Philippines, founded by his father's nonprofit association, the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. He also raised money for Shands Hospital pediatric cancer center in Gainesville and a Disney trip for disadvantaged children. Upon graduation from the University of Florida, Tebow launched the Tim Tebow Foundation in January 2010. A hospital is being built in the Philippines to provide specific medical care for conditions that can be treated by surgery. Ground-breaking began in 2012. In 2013 Tim Tebow was designated a Great Floridian by Florida Governor Rick Scott in recognition of his ‘major contributions to the progress and welfare’ of Florida.

So, love him or not, it will be very interesting to see if the next few years become “Tebow Time” again.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Country

              I’m not sure just how to begin this article other than I have been struggling with this issue for several years. To put it simply, “What in the world is happening to my country?”

A growing concern based upon a government run amok is very disturbing. In an attempt to keep up with all the scandals coming out of Washington DC, I admit that my head is spinning. Of the many stories emerging about government overreach and abuse, we are being treated to a litany of activities that are in clear violation of our laws – namely, the U.S. Constitution.

It probably became an unsettling issue for me when the current administration pushed hard for The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which was signed into law on March 23, 2010. It has been euphemistically called “Obamacare.” Then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Congress needed to pass the bill before they could read the bill. What?! The promises of this bill for all Americans is grandiose, and at the same time frightening in the scope of its reach into our lives. The early talk of “Death Panels” was quickly pooh-poohed as being the ridiculous scare tactics of conservatives. Now we are three years removed from the passage of this bill (a bill I took the time to read in its entirety in 2009), and it’s showing evidence of having government officials making decisions regarding what health procedures you would be authorized to have. An overriding concern with this universal healthcare bill is the requirement for all Americans to be covered. The laws of the United States say that we the people cannot be forced to be a part of such a policy if we choose not to.

The 2nd amendment came under attack after a number of violent shooting incidents took place across our land. Remember your U.S. Government class from high school? The 2nd amendment says, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” There has been a certain hysteria associated with guns and gun ownership. The opponents of gun rights paint anyone with a gun as a potential homicidal killer. They particularly like to point the finger of accusation at former military personnel – especially if you are a combat vet. The desire on the part of the anti-gun crowd is such that they immediately label a shooting suspect as having formerly served in the military. Later, when a background check is actually conducted, it is frequently discovered that the person never served in the military. I had some firsthand experience with this back in 1989 while stationed at Naval Communication Station in Stockton, California. A man drove to an elementary school in Stockton and began shooting children and teachers on the playground before turning the gun on himself. My wife and I unknowingly drove by the school within minutes of the shooting, but we quickly cleared out of the area because emergency vehicles were racing in from all directions. I turned on my car radio to catch the news. Sure enough, the shooter was 24 years old and a Vietnam veteran. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! This was 1989! Vietnam ended in 1975, and our last combat troops left Vietnam in January of 1973. Do the math. This guy was born in 1964!

Millions of Americans own guns legally and have no intention of using them for anything except for their designated purpose which is determined by the individual: hunting, collecting, or self-defense.

The Founding Fathers understood only too well the need for both a well-regulated militia for the security of a free state, and the need for individuals to have the right to keep and bear arms. Back in England they were not allowed such freedoms. Few people argue against the need for a militia (or what we today call “the military”) to defend our nation against enemies. The problem comes with personal possession and ownership of guns. Individual ownership of guns makes our nation virtually impossible to conquer by foreign enemies. Any country that would want to make the attempt knows full well that we are a well-defended people. If our own government should succeed in disarming the populace, we would be virtually defenseless against enemies both foreign and domestic. And that’s why the 2nd amendment states unequivocally that this right is not to be infringed – meaning no one is to encroach upon the right in a way that violates stated law or the rights of another individual.

This simply cannot be allowed. The Constitution is not to be tampered with – period.

I will continue this train of thought in future articles.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Memorial Day Reflections

             I was invited this year by American Legion Post 263 out of Escalon to speak at their Memorial Day ceremony held at Burwood Cemetery. I was particularly pleased to see a large number of young children there with their families. They will be the ones to remember into the future the importance of Memorial Day.

What follows is the speech I presented on Memorial Day.

Good Morning!

And it is a good morning – because of those who have gone before us. It’s a good morning because our decision to gather here this morning is just one part of the freedoms that have been provided for us by heroes past. It’s a good morning because America is still the land of heroes proved. It’s a good morning because America is still the land of the free because of the brave.

On a day like Memorial Day it can be overwhelming when you stop and consider all the men and women who have gone before us. And of that number of Americans who have gone before us there is a small percentage who took up arms to defend our liberty and freedom. Of that number an even smaller percentage laid down their lives for our freedom.

Growing up in New England I used to ride my bike a few blocks from my house to a small cemetery. It was cool because there were gravel drives that meandered through the plots. I was only interested in setting my bike on the gravel and then jamming my peddle down for a quick take-off. If I did it right, I would shoot gravel all over the place.

On those rare occasions I would stop my gravel-scattering and look at some of the tombstones. Being New England, there were some old dates on these grave markers. Some were so worn that the information was hard to read. I used to wonder who that person had been. Some of the plots were no longer kept up. Did anyone come and visit them anymore? Were family still coming to lay flowers? Did anyone remember that they ever lived?

That’s what we’re doing here this morning – Remembering. Remembering those who laid down their lives so we could live ours. We are in their debt.

This morning at 7:00 a Boy Scout troop from Tracy went to the cemetery in their town and laid flowers by each gravesite of a fallen hero, and then read that person’s name aloud with a salute. I spoke to the Scout Master, who explained that ceremonies are often held in honor of the Unknown Soldier. This was different. They wanted to make sure that every known soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, Coast Guardsman, or merchant marine would be clearly remembered.

Yesterday at Woodward Park in Manteca, I was involved in the “Not Forgotten” ceremony. They reenacted what is done when a Marine has died in battle. They perform a roll-call, calling the person’s name aloud three times – Michael Anderson – Michael Anderson – Michael Anderson. When the individual does not roger up, the Marine’s rifle is then stuck into the ground, bayonet-end down. Then the boots are placed in front of the rifle. The helmet is placed on top of the rifle butt, with the Marine’s dog tags dangling from the top.

Thirty years ago I officiated at a funeral for a Marine veteran of World War I right here in this cemetery. I was pastoring a church in Fresno, and I was still a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve. The next month I was commissioned a chaplain in the United States Navy. I admit, I don’t recall the location of the grave, nor do I recall the gentleman’s name.

Today there are 6,665 names on the wall of those who have died for our country since 9-11. They all have family, friends, and others who knew and loved them. They will be remembered for many years to come. Will future generations remember beyond that? I pray to God that they will.

But I want you to know this most of all. Your life is never forgotten. In fact, your name is always known – on into eternity – by God who loves you and values you more than you can ever know. Your name is ever on his heart and lips. You are precious in his sight. And even after all the graves are grown over and the tombstones are cracked and broken, God still loves you.

Jesus said these amazing words: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Those we remember here today loved their country, loved their families, and loved their friends, and willingly and lovingly laid down their lives for you and me.

God honors such sacrifice and, trust me, it will never be forgotten. Never!