October 3, 2011

Reflections on a Veteran, Part II

Previously posted is Caitlin's middle school level award-winning essay, and Jessica's high school level award-winning essay is as follows:

Reflections on a Veteran
Jessica, age 16, at Daley Plaza in
Chicago after reading her essay
"My best friend is graduating this weekend at the age of 18. I am so close to her that I feel like the two years separating us are only on paper, and do not really exist. It is almost impossible for me to imagine that nearly 65 years ago, young men her age, and even younger were preparing to land on far off islands to fight a war that had inspired them so much that they left their families and educations behind. One such person was Cpl. Jim Kelly of the 5th Marine Division who, among other things, was present for every moment of the Iwo Jima battle.
"As I interviewed Mr. Kelly, I could barely open my mouth to ask the next question because I was so taken aback. I have known him for many years as a kind and humorous man who belonged to the Marine Corps League in our town. It struck me that this man quietly walked among us, enjoying a relatively simple life, yet he had such an incredible story.
"He told me many things – some shocking, some funny, some heartbreaking … and some haunting. He recounted all of this in a very relaxed and accepting way, but he seemed angered and disillusioned at the lack of appreciation and awareness that my generation has for those who have served our country. He believes we are disconnected from what he and his fellow servicemen went through because it this history – his history – is taught as an impersonal and distant event. I understood what Mr. Kelly meant because anything I ever learned about Iwo Jima in school was from a brief description at the end of a World War II chapter in my history book. It was merely information to memorize temporarily in order to score well on the next test. There is a completely different side of the story – the reality – that isn’t written in a textbook.
"I believe this troubles Mr. Kelly because we are the young people for whom he was fighting, for our freedom to attend school and to receive a quality education, which is the key to achieving any dream a person can imagine.
"World War II veterans are now 85 to 90 years old, and they will not be around forever. They have endless stories to share with us that will teach my generation the kind of lessons that can never be printed in a history book. The owners of these invaluable lessons are all around us. All they need is someone to truly listen to their wisdom, appreciate their dedication, and exhibit the qualities they fought to uphold so many years ago. 'Think what we built for you,' Mr. Kelly said, 'and don’t take it for granted.'
"In a couple of years, it will be me who will be graduating at the age of 18. I will begin life anew, independent in a world filled with possibilities, filled with dreams that I have the freedom to realize because of the selfless service of men like Mr. Kelly. I will begin this new life with a dedication to uphold honor and justice, and a determination to make the world a better place for future generations. By following the example set by these veterans, I will have the inspiration to work toward great things, perhaps things great enough for a high-school student to want to interview me when I am 90 years old."

October 2, 2011

Reflections on a Veteran, Part I

My daughters each submitted an essay last year to the State of Illinois' "Reflections on A Veteran" competition through the Secretary of State's office. Both of them were honored by being selected as the winning essay in their respective grade levels and was then invited to read their essays at the Constitution Day ceremony in Chicago Sept. 14.

Here is Caitlin's middle school level award-winning entry, with Jessica's to follow in a second post:

Reflections on a Veteran
Caitlin, age 14, at Daley Plaza in
Chicago after reading her essay
"Growing up surrounded by veterans certainly has impacted my life in a number of ways. I have a greater appreciation for the sacrifices made by veterans. Their willingness to serve their country allows me to have the freedom that I do today.

"In a civilian’s eyes, veterans are the definition of heroes. Their courage and determination allows us to pursue our dreams and achieve our goals because of the rights they have defended.

"In a veteran’s eyes, however, it is only a matter of right and wrong. The right thing to do is to honor their country.

"Being raised to have the upmost respect for those who serve, I can’t imagine my life if not for veterans. I’ve learned to show my gratitude openly and often. My interview with Tom Henderson, a World War II veteran, only reinforced those beliefs.

"I have known Mr. Henderson for many years now, but in this interview I saw another, deeper side of him, full of memories of the war, reflections and appreciation of fellow veterans. It was meaningful to me to know what experiences he has had and to see how much he, and other veterans, have given to their communities and their country.

"In times of war, the general population’s feeling is shock. Everything changes in the world around us, and there is confusion and hesitation. Veterans take initiative and respond. There are no doubts, no regrets. The responsibility to respect and, therefore, defend this country is clear.

"Every night, I am able to go to sleep knowing that I am safe and at home. However, for these veterans who were miles away from home, every day was a day of survival. They always had to be ready and do what they were told to do promptly. I can’t imagine the kind of pressure and fear they must have felt in that kind of situation. Just hearing about it made me thankful for my life and what is so often taken for granted.

"Constantly depending on others fighting alongside of them, strong friendships are formed. One story that specifically stood out for me during the interview was about a close friend of Mr. Henderson’s. His buddy had accidently shot himself and was buried. His body was then exhumed and moved twice. Mr. Henderson and some others who served with him did not know where their friend’s final resting place was. After research was done many years later, the gravesite was finally located. Simply knowing where his friend’s grave was located was enough to bring closure and peace to a painful memory.

"After being so brave and honorable, they return home. Glad to be reunited with family and friends, but also struggling to find jobs to support themselves. Although they may be home, the repercussions and aftermath from the war leave shortages of just about everything. Through all of the conflicts following the war, their service doesn’t stop when the war does, but rather continues through organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. A night doesn’t go by when they don’t think of an event or a memory from all those years ago, far away from home.

"I was particularly impressed by Mr. Henderson’s great sense of respect for his country, his community, and the people around him."

April 5, 2011

Study the signs to quit smoking

I smoked Winston or Marlboro
cigarettes for nearly 35 years.
In a recent Q&A e-mail profile in the Champaign-Urbana (IL) News-Gazette, I was asked about my bad habits. I have more than my share, but the one I chose to tell was my unsavory habit of bumming cigarettes from people who still smoke.
Smoking is no longer always socially acceptable. People from whom I bum cigarettes were pleased I didn’t mention their names in the profile. And I received a LinkedIn message from an Iowa man who attends the Roger Ebert Film Festival, telling me he’d be back this year — he’d always pull out his Marlboros when he saw me coming.
“Looking forward to some movies,” he wrote. “Sorry to say that I quit smoking cigarettes, though!”
All of which made me think I should quit bumming cigarettes and tell those of you who still smoke a version of how I was able to give up regular smoking years ago. Here goes:
The house was quiet, an inner peace kind of quiet. The man I’d come to see stood and looked at me with a half-smile on his face. His deep blue eyes sparkled like deep, cold mountain lake water. The tanned skin stretched tightly over his high cheekbones.
“So you are hopelessly addicted to that noxious and evil killer weed, tobacco?” he asked quietly. His voice had only the slightest touch of pity.
"Yes, sir,” I said.
“Nicotine, of course, is a poisonous alkaloid, the chief active ingredient in tobacco that causes cancer, emphysema and heart disease,” he said. “If you want to kill yourself, there are better ways.
“Come for my advice only if you are interested in living. And if you are interested in living, quit smoking. You will enjoy living more; you will not have as many headaches; your food will taste better; and you may live longer. You will certainly smell better while you are alive.” He paused and gestured for me to speak.
“You are kind,” I said. “I believe what you say. But I cannot quit. I have tried everything and found nothing that works.”
“Do not say you cannot quit,” he said. “There is nothing in this world that you cannot do, if it is within reach. You know in your heart what you can and cannot do. You must believe that you can achieve anything you are willing to work for.”
“I’m willing, sir. But I have tried every ritual under the sun—"
“Your ritualistic, puerile efforts under the sun are worthless,” he said.
“But what can I do?”
“If you are truly serious and believe, you will look at the Debowelled Man of Signs. He will tell you when to quit. Each constellation of the Zodiac controls parts of the body. If the sign is above the knee, you cannot quit, no matter how much you try. You will experience pain and possess the foulest of moods until you return to the evil killer weed, tobacco.”
“But, sir, how do I find out when the sign is right?” I asked.
“The sign will go down to the knee soon. It will continue down through the legs and feet and for five days when it will return to the head. You will have only those five days to quit.”
“You have told me when. Will you tell me how?”
“Like a man,” he said simply. ”You throw your cigarettes away and forget about them.”
The next week passed quickly. Before I knew it, the sign was in the knees. When the sign reached the feet, I sat smoking frantically. When the package was empty, I bummed a cigarette. But with the sign in the feet, I thought it was worth a try and swore I’d quit. Two days later, I went back to the one who had told me about the signs.
“The time has come in which the sign is below the knee will soon be past,” he said, meeting me at the door with arms folded.
“I know. But I have quit the evil weed.”
“That is good, but the time of danger is not past. You much wait two weeks from when you have cast the evil killer weed aside to be sure.”
“I want to make sure I am successful in quitting the evil killer weed.”
“You will be successful this time, my son,” he said and put his hand on my shoulder. His blue eyes seemed to look though me. “And when you have it made it two weeks tell someone who might like to know that the sign must be below the knee if they want to quit smoking.”
The sign must be below the knee if you want to quit smoking. If that doesn’t work, try betting another smoker a thousand dollars you can quit longer that he can. That’s sure to work.

April 4, 2011

Two Marines reconnect after 65 years

Just before I left for the 65th Anniversary Iwo Jima Reunion and Symposium in Arlington, Va., last February, I received a particularly intriguing e-mail from John Butler, son of LtCol. John Butler, commanding officer of 1/27 who was killed on Iwo Jima on March 5, 1945. 
The e-mail was a story of two Marines who had found each other after 65 years, both thinking the other hadn’t made it off the island alive. Both were in John’s father’s First Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, both in C Company, one a rifle platoon sergeant (who had been a paramarine), the other a machine gun section leader (who had been a Marine Raider) in GySgt. John Basilone’s platoon, the Medal of Honor recipient who was killed on Iwo Jima and was featured in the recent Hanks-Spielberg mini series, The Pacific.
As a result of a chance encounter, the two buddies who shook hands as they embarked on their amtracs for the ride to Red Beach Two reconnected all those years later. One man was Clarence Rea, the rifle platoon sergeant, the other man was Clinton Watters, the machine gun section leader.
“He was wounded early on,” Rea had written. “I received information that he had died from wounds. At a party in Los Angeles last Saturday night (Feb.13, 2010) for my grandson, my nephew walked up to me and said he had a fishing friend in Orange Country whose name was Mark Watters. The friend mentioned that his dad had been on Iwo.”
Rea’s nephew recalled a photo his uncle had showed him of five Marines (one of whom was Basilone) and recalled the name of Watters as one of the men. Mark Watters reportedly called his father in Medford, Ore., and asked him if he knew Clarence Rea. His dad reportedly replied, “Yes. Where the heck is he?”
During the party, the nephew tapped his uncle on the shoulder and handed him a piece of paper with Watters’ e-mail, address and phone number and told him to call when he got home. Which he did on Monday morning.
“The tears rolled on this end,” Rea had written in the e-mail. “I could not believe this, and I still can hardly believe it. We talked for an hour and a half and have been in contact almost daily since. What a reunion."
Watters, who was Basilone’s best man at his wedding to Marine Sgt. Lena Riggi before they left Camp Pendleton for Camp Tarawa on the island of Hawaii, was originally with Basilone in 1/7 on Samoa but was in the hospital with jaundice when the battalion left for Guadalcanal where Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor. Watters was reassigned to the 2nd Marine Division and later hooked up with the 3rd Raider Battalion and fought on Bouganville before joining 1/27 for the Iwo Jima campaign.
“We (Watters and Rea) had been good friends and buddies all through the forming of the Fifth Marine Division at Camp Pendleton,” Rea had written. “Clint was wounded a few days before I was on Iwo Jima. He was taken to the hospital on Guam and then back to the States to a hospital on the East Coast.
“When I was wounded on March 3, I was taken to the hospital on Guam, too. I was there a little longer than usual, arguing to save my arm, which was going to be amputated. It was here that I was told that Clint had died.”
From Guam, Rea was shipped to Aiea Heights Naval Hospital in Hawaii and then back to the States to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, Calif., where he had “experimental work done on (his) arm and saved it. Rea said he was in the hospital for a year and a half, Waters said he was in one for six months.
“All these years, I thought he had perished,” Rea said. “I did not sleep most of last night (after they talked on the phone) I was so elated to know he was still with us. I will really believe it when I see him again.”
After they had reconnected, they planned a reunion in Northern California that took in Vacaville and “what a wonderful reunion!” Rea later wrote. “We spoke of many of our old friends that we lost. After 65 years we both look the same, although Clint is still the better looking Marine!”
Watters wrote in an e-mail to note “that it was almost 65 years to the day that we last greeted each other while boarding the landing craft to land on Iwo on Feb. 19. Another item we have learned since getting back together is that we have the same birth dates, only a year apart. Clarence is the old man.”
“What a joy to re-connect,” Rea told me later at his home in Grover Beach, Calif.