The Last Word: Honor Guard Revisited
During the early days of the Gulf War, I was a contributing columnist for a small, hometown newspaper. My father, who retired after a career in the Navy, had recently passed away. As Veteran’s Day approached I wanted my column to reflect an appreciation for, not only his service to his country, but to those young men and women, leaving for the Gulf War, who were in my eyes, the ‘kids’ next door.
Our small town had numerous WWII, Korean War, and Viet Nam veterans, as well. Many had returned to their families and farms to pick up where they left off. Many more returned home transformed by war, forever haunted by the specter of PTSD. Some sadly, were the service men and women returning to their families wrapped in the very Stars and Stripes they swore to protect.
Writing became the catharsis to move me forward my own grief process. More than that, it became the seeds to a lifetime writing theme that continues to unfold the evidence story after story how only Heaven can make beauty from ashes. Writing gave birth to a voice I didn’t know I had. Finding that voice was so deliciously transparent, it had to be shared. The poem, Call Me Freedom, was born of the desire to let our American flag speak for itself.
Somewhere in our small town, was a kitchen filling up with warmth from an old fashioned stove. Scattered across countertops, Cranberry-Chocolate Chip cookies cooled, her soldier’s favorite. A military mom was working on a care package heading for the Middle East. It would be filled with fresh baked cookies to share, notes, a hometown newspaper, pictures, and cards of encouragement from friends. She knew its arrival might barely make it in time for the holidays. As she packed it up, she prayed for her son’s safe return home.
Now, fast-forward half way around the world to the fiery deserts of the Middle East to meet a soldier, desperately homesick, and wondering why on earth he had signed up for this. He prayed. He thought perhaps his prayer would be lost in the gazillion grains of sand outside his tent. Perhaps the prayer had fallen onto the desk of a God with too many more important prayers to answer. The soldier remained bound by fear and homesickness.
A few days later the care package arrived from home. Its contents refreshed his spirit like a tall glass of sweet tea on all the scorching hot days of summer wrapped into one. That day, he drank in news from home, shared the coveted cookies with his trench-mates and cut out an inconspicuous newspaper column that ended with a poem. He read it again and again. He acknowledged the distance between author and audience, and then tucked it in his wallet. The hint of a smile slid across his war-torn face.
The soldier would carry those words for the next two years until he returned stateside. It became his talisman. He said he took that as his sign from Heaven that he would get out of this alive. War brings boots to life in term ‘promise talking, faith walking’. It was a wisdom-filled phrase that resonated from his hometown Sunday school class about God’s faithfulness. Semper Fidelis. No coincidence there.
When he returned stateside, he sought me out to let me know just how catalytic both the timing and the words of the column and song were to his war-torn spirit. It answered the question he had asked. Why did I sign up for this? It also answered his unasked question, is God really out there? Why would one soldier matter in the grand scheme of things?
I was overwhelmed and humbled by the exactness of the audience I had sought. A modern day drummer girl thanking this soldier with the only gift I had to give. My pen. I tucked his story away knowing someday I would have an opportunity to share the impact a single individual can have on one another, and the positive domino effect that births from it.
Today in 2017, it is sad, but true, that so many of our vets still return to a system that continues in its brokenness to have more roadblocks than a bandit-laden, mountain pass in Pakistan. We can spend the time paralyzed in our shame and excuses, or as Gandhi put it so eloquently, we can be that change we want to see in this world. What does that look like?
The change you can make can be as loud and resonating as protecting the funding these veterans needs with your vote. Don’t kid yourself, look around you after this week’s elections and prepare yourself for a tsunami of empowered voters in 2018. Voting has volume. Truth will not be silenced.
However, change can be a quiet, whispering, healing wake. One that comforts a perfect stranger, a veteran you don’t know, in a short note, or card to your local VA hospital, reminding the them how grateful you are for their service.
Both strategies go a long way in being the conduit of a blessing to someone you may never meet. Want to change things? Get off your ass. Be that change.
“Rumpa pum pum, sweet soldier. Rumpa pum pum.”
Call Me Freedom!
My name is many things to many people. Some of whom commit themselves to protect and defend me. Call Me Freedom! I am as fragile as life itself, and yet, the power I render is nearly indestructible! Call Me Freedom! I call onto you to serve, to honor, to obey. I beckon unto you, all in the name of the Peacekeeper! Call Me Freedom!
Wrap yourselves in my colors! Post them high above you! Let the sight of them inspire you onward from rice paddies that go nowhere, to the endless, scorching sands of a world away. Call Me Freedom!
Keep the memory of those who have given their lives in my name, vivid in your mind. As vivid as my colors, red, white and blue, that wave from shore to shore.
Call Me Freedom!
Hear me people! I am ageless! I am priceless!
And I will hear you when you call My name!
I Am Freedom!