Posts Tagged ‘military


Memorial Day

So, it’s Memorial Day. And you’re probably being bombarded by people telling you to remember the men and women who have served — and continue to serve — our country in order to ensure our ability to enjoy our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. So, this really won’t be a blog about that. This blog entry will probably be a little more selfish — it will be about how those who serve/have served have affected my life — directly and indirectly.

For those who have reading since I first started blogging on myspace years ago, my family has been involved with the military for a long, long time. If the records we’ve traced back are accurate, parts of my family have served since the War of 1812. We have pictures of one of my great-great-grandfathers who served in the Union army during the Civil War — not once, but twice. (He was captured initially, traded in a prisoner exchange, discharged and re-enlisted.) One of his brothers served in taming the West, and his unit was the first in after Little Bighorn. My Uncle Fred died during the invasion of Normandy, and is buried in France. My Uncle Joe was awarded for actions on board a ship that torpedoed during the Normandy invasion, and he apparently saved the lives of more than 30 others. My father is a retired Marine who served during the Cuban Missile crisis, and was the last man out of his unit before it shipped to Vietnam. I had 2 uncles serve in Vietnam — both lived, but my Uncle Frank, who served 2 tours there, committed suicide from the severe post-traumatic stress that he could no longer bear. (My family still doesn’t like to talk about that, and getting information about Frank is like pulling teeth.) And there are many others that I know I’m missing … my Slovak grandfather (Merchant Marines), my Uncle Kenny (Navy), my Aunt Dora (Woman’s Air Corps), and Bernie, the grandfather of my nephews, who was a Korean War veteran and served as a DI at Parris Island.

And there are my friends — the people who helped shaped my life. Most of them are Marines. There’s the Marine Sgt. who doesn’t like to be mentioned on the Web, so I keep him anonymous. But I’ve learned my persistence and gung-ho “let’s do this” attitude from him. There’s a former Captain who I went to college with who helped keep me focused by leading by example. There’s countless others — Gulf War vets and those that served in peace-time — that I am friends with now. I’m truly blessed to have them around. All of my friends that went to Iraq and Afghanistan have come back (physically) in one piece, including all the people who I played Warcraft with — and there were a lot of them.  However, not everyone has been so lucky.

My friend Doug recently received news that his brother was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Reading his Facebook feed regarding his brother’s death, and the people who showed up at his funeral to honor his memory, has been an eye-opener.

Another friend of a friend had her son severely wounded in Afghanistan. I think I met her once briefly before he enlisted — I was walking in to my friend’s home as she was leaving, but you can read her blog about her daily struggle to help her son here.

But her story opens another door to Memorial Day. We always talk about the pain we endure when we lose a serviceman or woman who we know, and their sacrifice for the rest of us … but there are so many that come back permanently wounded. The Gulf War alone has seen tens of thousands of our servicemen and women come back as amputees. Brain injured. Blind. Mentally scarred. And yet, a lot of them still manage to find a way to inspire or affect our lives in positive way by the example they put forth.

Today in the Trib, there is a story about another veteran — Jeremy Feldbusch — well, his story is on internet lockdown today, but I’m sure it’ll be available soon. Read it if you get the chance. This man, despite being blinded and having brain damage, continues to live his life as normally as possible. He hunts. He rides a bike. He volunteers to help other wounded veterans through the Wounded Warrior project. If his story doesn’t inspire you to be better than what you are, I really don’t know what will.

So to the men and women who serve: I know in your minds, you’re simply doing your job — what you’ve been trained to do. And likely, you’re focused on completing your mission while doing your best to keep the men and women you serve with alive. But in the larger scheme, your actions and sacrifices — whether it be judged in lives, quality of life, or just time away from your loved ones while deployed — will always be remembered. Your actions, service and stories affect us all, now and always.

Thank you.


More reasons to love Western PA, Vol. 2

Like many things done by the Bush administration, if you bring up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you can almost immediately separate your audience into 2 camps — with neither side budging. And with that in mind, I’m trying to not bring up my political views when I write anymore — not because I don’t have an opinion, but because I’m finding there are few people who actually want to discuss ideas and concerns. When I read political stuff, instead of inviting discussion, it rapidly devolves into rhetoric, which means either A) No one really understands the question or B) No one is listening. It’s all party line followed by party line followed by party line.

But when it comes to the subject of the wars, I’ll always take a stand. Being a person who has had many fantastic friends (and family) who have served in the military, when it comes to “choosing a side,” so to speak, I choose to stand on the side of the soldier — regardless of my feelings about why they were sent there. The soldier doesn’t get to pick what his mission will be — the politicians decide where they will be sent, and the soldier carries out that decision. That’s his job, no matter his feelings about it. So if anyone is going to incur my wrath and anger, it’ll be the politicians that voted for the soldier to go. (Read: I’m voting against your ass if you voted to send them there.)

So when I read stories about people spending their time and money to make sure those troops don’t feel forgotten, well, it does my heart well. I mean, yeah, you tend to read about that stuff on a national level, and you see that there are groups dedicated to doing that, so it doesn’t really seem to mean much. I mean, sometimes you don’t think about it because you figure, “Eh, someone’s got that covered.” But then you find out that a group from Arnold has sent weekly packages for the past 5 years to troops in Iraq, and man, I can’t tell you how proud that makes me.

The “Sam” who Van Wagenen referred to is Sam Lombardo, owner of Sam’s Pop Shop in Arnold who organized Cookies for Our Troops roughly five years ago.

Since its inception, Cookies for Our Troops has raised and spent more than $200,000 in sending care packages to troops serving overseas.

Lombardo said the group mails packages on a weekly basis.

Now, I guess what really impresses me about this is that Arnold isn’t really what you’d call an “affluent” community. It’s not really even near any affluent communities. Arnold is where Irish grandma (and other relatives lived), so I’m familiar with it. Like many of Pennsylvania’s steel/river towns, when the mills closed, the town hit rough times and never recovered. It’s had its share of problems — from the mass exodus after the mills closed to the drugs and the element that goes with it flowing in afterward — it’s a one-two combo that has devastated many communities. They’ve been fighting to rescue their community  for years, and will be for years to come.

So to find out people that folks there are knitting helmet liners for our troops and that girl scouts are stuffing Christmas stockings for the troops — I mean, holy smokes, that says something. I can’t fully express myself in the way that I want to here, but that “I may not have much, but I’ll give you what I can” mentality is just overwhelming to me. I mean, sure, anyone can write a check — I’m sure those donations are needed and make a difference — but to think of someone sitting at home, knitting these liners for troops serving — I mean, that’s someone adding a personal touch to their support. Or put another way — there’s support and then there’s support. For me, when I lived down south, I would get money from mom every now and then, and I was grateful. But when Italian grandma would send me her homemade cookies, I would almost tear up. When it comes to being reminded of home, there is that big of a difference. I can’t imagine what receiving anything with a personal touch would mean to the folks serving over there.

Sometimes, unique requests make their way to Lombardo. His group has shipped a snow cone machine, for instance. And Cookies for Our Troops has a running freezer-popsicle campaign.

“I have to be the freezer pop king of Baghdad,” Lombardo quipped.

And this quote made me laugh. I mean, this is almost a typical Western Pennsylvania gesture — lend a hand and throw out a joke as you do it — freezer pops to guys serving in the desert  — that’s simply awesome.

It’s great to realize that despite what we’ve seen in the media regarding the war (the protests, the marches etc), there’s still groups of people out there thinking about the guy on the ground. And one of those groups is right here, in Western Pennsylvania. Sure, we may catch flak here and there for “being stuck in the 1950s,” but you know, I’m not necessarily convinced that that’s always a bad thing. If we’re one of those pockets that has retained some of those “old-time values” that a lot of the country seems to have forgotten, I’ll take the trade off.

Good on ya!

Good on ya!

So, to the Sam Lombardo, the folks of Sam’s Pop & Beer Shop and all the folks that support and contributed to their campaign, this beer’s for you. Keep it up. I think the next time I’m down that way, I’m gonna have to stop by and make a donation — cause while I may not be able to knit, I can take the time to show my support, too.

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