Tuesday, November 11, 2014


My thanks to William Turner, my dad, and Barry Lewis, my father-in-law, both passed. 

Thanks to Tim Lewis and Phil Lewis and Joel Lewis and Greg Lewis, my brothers-in-law. Thanks to Warner, Vern, Ervin, Leonard, Gordon and Glen Fahlgren, my mom's uncles, and to their brother Carl, who wanted to go to war but the military said, "No."

I thank you on this Veterans Day for your service, for this freedom you gained and held, for time diverted from the course of your lives, that I may write at this moment and look out upon the peaceful warm fall afternoon outside my window, the neighbor's elm tree slowly glowing to orange flame.

My thanks can never be enough.

Thanks to Buddy Butler, my next-door neighbor in childhood, and his siblings, and his dad, Bill Butler, who sometimes addressed my dad over the fence as "Sergeant." Thanks to Lou Marzio down street of my childhood, and some of his children. Heck, thanks to most of the dads on the street where I lived as a kid, most of the dads who ran the Little League, many of the dads and moms of our Air Force town.

Thanks to Wayne Singleton, my friend from high school, who showed me more of my hometown than I could have ever known otherwise, through the lens of his camera. Thanks to John Bingle, one of my best friends in high school, and to his dad, whom I never met but who — long story short — brought us together.

Thanks to Jim Washburn, high school classmate and college roomie for a while. Jim is the last person I would have figured to join the military, though now I realize his relentless high energy and bright outlook would serve him well as a Marine Corps officer.

And thanks to Rita Lane and Pat and Mike Mahoney. Thanks to Sonia Fry. Thanks to Lance Daniels, an officer who became a teacher who called to duty in Iraq in the middle of a school year, there on a Friday, gone the next Monday. All those I knew from high school who served, thank you.

Thanks to the swimmers I know, in person and in the virtual realm that feels like in person: Coast Guard helicopter pilot Doug Bogle, my swim buddy until he moved; Dan Simonelli and Rob Dumouchel and Floyd Fisk, and Cathy Harrington's son, and Cathy Harrington for always reminding me never to forget. Thanks to Nick Alaga, who runs Will Swim for Food, efforts for which help too many veterans who go hungry despite what they've done for our country.

We swim free but mindfully because of you.

Because of the many swimmers from United Kingdom I have met virtually, I am awash in red poppies and the welling passion to remember veterans. Right now, this day, the last of 888,246 ceramic poppies were planted around the Tower of London, each poppy marking what the BBC described as the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died during World War I.

The poppies, created by sculptor Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, appear to gush from a turret of the tower, and cascade into the empty moat around it, befitting the title of the sculpture, from an anonymous World War I soldier's poem, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

The breadth of remembrance by my UK swimming cohorts moves me, and I thank them for bringing the poppies into my view.

Thanks to Dale Stradford, my son's Scoutmaster when Liam joined the Boy Scout Troop. Dale served in Bosnia and had to hand off Scouting duties to us other parents, and hope for the best. Thanks to Peggy Stradford, a Scout leader and doer of immeasurable tasks while also serving as an Army officer. Thanks to Harold Keim and Ted Nishio, who brought their readiness to helping the Scouts go. Thanks to Alex Eccleston, whose father served before him, and whose father served before him, and so on.

Thanks to Shane Barnes, flying helicopters for the Army. Though I know of some of my children's classmates who are in ROTC, I'm not sure about any others who joined the military.

Thanks to those whom I've forgotten and should not forget. I mean no malice, just ignorance and failure of memory. I can't think of a Veteran I know who has introduced him- or herself that way, or who has talked much about it.

Long ago I interviewed a city park maintenance worker in the city where I worked as a newspaper. During the Korean War he was a prisoner of war, and he agreed to recount his horrific tale, 30 years later, for a story. When the interview finished, he said it was the first time he had talked about his time in torture and imprisonment; he had never even told his wife.

I owe you the front of the line, all of you, coffee anytime you want it, beer on me. We owe you good jobs, the best of health care for the rest of your lives, without any fight or fear. We owe you that much, and we owe you so much more. Our policy should be that if you serve in our military, you deserve the best our country can offer you for your gift of sacrifice.

How I wish my saying so made it so.

Thank you, on this Veterans Day.
Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red
The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.
As the tears of mine fell to the ground
To sleep with the flowers of red
As any be dead
My children see and work through fields of my
Own with corn and wheat,
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from my love.
It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell. to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around
And the rain so thick with black thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more
I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time to go over,
I may not come back
So sleep, kiss the boys for me

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