Monday, August 3, 2009

Starting out Memorial Day

This is an email I sent out on May 24, 2009:

I have a bit of a funny story from last night to tell and then one hell of an emotional story from today to share with you.

With it being Memorial Day weekend, our radar is up even more so in making sure to look out for veterans. Last night we went out to eat and Taylor noticed 2 men sitting at a table and one had on a veteran hat. She went over, held out her hand to shake his and thanked him for his service. He just sat there and looked at her. She, thinking he might be hard of hearing, said out louder THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. He got this profoundly strange look on his face and said back to her, 'I am sorry, I am not a waiter and I don't work here'.

The look on Taylor's face was about the funniest I have ever seen! It obviously didn't register with him what she was thanking him for, but when he said that back to her, it didn't register to her what he was saying. Finally, she pointed at his hat and asked him if he REALLY served! She was serious, but I about spit out my pop because it was so funny! It all of the sudden came to him what she was thanking him for and he just laughed and hung his head down and shook it back and forth. It was just comical to watch, why he thought she thought he was a waiter, we will never know!

A bit later, another veteran came in and sat down at a table across from the other vets. I got up and gave each table gift cards we had to help pay for their meals. As we were leaving, the older vet came up to our table and thanked us for his meal. He told us that had never happened to him before. He kept saying how appreciative he was that a stranger would do that for him. I told him it was us who was appreciative and it just stuck in my mind and heart, a small gesture turned out to be something more then a small gesture.

Today, we went to a fund raiser for the WWll Honor Flights that Taylor has helped get money for, the group that flew her out to DC with them last year. It was at a small airport and it was a 'fly in' all you can eat pancake breakfast. They had there the 369. She is a Viet Nam veteran medical Huey. She has been lovingly restored back to original condition.

One of the guys that has been instrumental in getting her off the ground just so happens to be someone I went to school with. He is Army and flies the big bad boys of attack helicopters. Anyways, he was the pilot today and both Taylor and Tanner got the chance to go up. Taylor has a Viet Nam friend who was a crew chief on the Huey and he hasn't been up in one since he got back home, in 1968, and he got to go up with them as well.

They went up, with the doors open while flying and came back around and did a low fast fly over. I have to say, standing on the ground seeing that fly at you, not just hearing the THUMP THUMP THUMP but FEELING it, well it was a pretty amazing thing to see and feel. However, it was what happened after they landed that was by far the most emotional thing that has happened in awhile.

Dick got off the Huey and the emotions got the best of him. He broke down and cried. It wasn't just your normal cry though. You veterans know the cry I am talking about. It came from his very core. Taylor wrapped her little arms around him and I think for a minute, she was actually supporting him up. The only thing he could get out between the sobs was a guttural OH GOD, over and over again.

We just let him cry, we hugged him, but we let him cry. After several minutes of non stop sobbing, he was able to compose himself a bit to turn around and look at the Huey, rotors still turning. You could feel the power of it and the whirl of it was almost deafening. He then said something that hit us all standing around him. He started to cry again, and then he said 'all those boys we took out of the jungle, all those boys that never made it to be a dad or a grandpa' He then lost it again.

By now, several of the crew were surrounding him and they were all hugging and most were crying. A pain only they can share and only they know. While we were witnessing intense pain, we also knew we were witnessing intense healing as well. It was then, that we were able to step in and hug each one and say to each one WELCOME HOME. Dick said it was something he couldn't ever describe in words, but what he did say was that while he was up in the air, time stopped and he was transported back. He could feel, smell and every other sense there is, it is exactly what it was like for him before. Then the intense pain of knowing NOW what he lived through, what he saw, what he did, it was just almost to much. The pain of all his brothers that never made it back, it all came to a head for him, so many things he held back and held down, he had no control over. It overflowed his protective gait he said.

We just listened, crying, but listened. Then, he smiled. He said he never got a welcome home. In fact, he got just the opposite and it was very ugly. Since then, he has been told several times welcome home, and it was nice to hear. But today, as he stepped off that Huey, transported back into time, we were there to welcome him home and he said that was the first time he FELT it.

So, last night and today started off our Memorial weekend. A time to laugh, a time to feel pain, a time to reflect and be thankful for those that made it and for those that didn't, a time to witness healing.

Memorial Day

Once again, Taylor was given the amazing honor of marching with over 18 of her hometown's veterans for Memorial Day. The majority of them being WWll heroes. Taylor stood shoulder to shoulder with these great men, marching in step with them, and saluted with them. Once we got to the cemetery, she was the chosen one this year to lay the wreath at the memorial. She did an outstanding job and we are so very proud of her!

These men just love her and are always so happy to have her walk with them. They are just as proud of her as she is of them. We know that in a few years, many of them won't be with us any longer and that is what makes these times she is with them so special. These men have given her life time memories of being with them and them accepting her as one of them. God Bless our veterans!

Living History

To those of you that know WWll veterans, a plea is sent to you from Taylor. DON'T WASTE TIME! Don't put off talking to them, don't put off visiting them, don't put off letting them know you care and that you are so thankful for them. Time is running out and it is running out fast.

We are so blessed to have so many WWll veterans in Taylor's life. They bring so much to her, and she brings so much to them. There is an understanding between them and most always, are in awe of each other!
Take a look at this picture, these are just a few of her friends. But these friends ARE America's history, it is because of them and how and where and when they fought, we have the country we do today.

Between these 3 men, they fought at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Cape Gloucester, Chosin Reservoir and there are over SIX Purple Hearts between these 3 men. They are a blessing to this country and especially to my Gunny, Taylor Batten.

Marcus Luttrell

How do you meet someone that has a story that so incredible and so beyond comprehension? I still don't know how to do it, Taylor, she just walks right up, sticks her hand out and introduces herself. That is exactly what she did when she met Marcus Luttrell.

For those of you that have had your head in the sand and have never heard of Marcus Luttrell, we say, shame on you! Marcus has a book written about him and his Navy Seal team, called Lone Survivor. I highly recommend this for any and everyone to read.

The story is horrific, sad, amazing, uplifting in that it shows you that no matter...there is hope and survival, but it left me mad. Mad as hell. It made us mad in that our country has sent some amazing young men and women into war and then slaps such restrictions on them. It is those very restrictions that caused the death of Marcus's team, his best friends. They followed the 'rules' knowing full well they were signing their death warrants.

Marcus survived, how he did will always be a mystery. But he did. He now goes all over the country speaking of what happened. I don't know how he does it. Same goes with Taylor though, I don't know how she does the things she does either. I guess, it is only something that true warriors like Marcus, Lt. Col. Maxwell, Taylor and any other wounded, will understand what keeps them going and motivated.

In meeting Marcus, Taylor gave a firm hand shake and looked him in the eyes and he looked back at her. After hearing some of her story and her struggles, his face softened and he looked deep at her and told her that she could get through anything. He then asked her if she knew it. She shook her head yes, and he told her he could tell she knew what he was talking about, then pulled her in for a hug.

Once they were done talking, I witnessed his face harden again. My heart broke in watching this. I once again was able to see from the outside a bonding, a bonding that only she and Marcus know of. A bonding that only the wounded know of. It is something I will never know, something I will never feel. It is amazing when you see it happen, but so incredibly sad in WHY it is happening.

I will not tell more of Marcus's story in hopes that if you don't know it, you will go read it yourself. Then you will never forget it, I assure you that, you won't forget what he went through to be able to stand there and give my daughter a hug. You won't forget those of his team that were lost because of our 'rules' of engagement.

Sturgis and Three Rivers parades

Taylor put out a call for patriotism for 2 local parades, the Michigan Week parade in Sturgis and the Water Festival parade in Three Rivers.

Taylor wanted to have people walk with her, carrying an American flag. We also had banners made up, the message was simple but to the point SUPPORTING OUR TROOPS AND VETERANS.

Sturgis weather was rainy. It called for a slight chance of rain and that slight chance of rain turned out to be ALL rain! But we had people show up and many of them all said the same thing, our troops go through much more then this! Taylor's goal was for 100 walkers, while she didn't get 100, it was pretty close and those that did show up, made up for those that didn't!

Three Rivers weather, well that was a different story. It was HOT and HUMID and just down right miserable. The showing was a bit less then the Sturgis parade, but the reception we got in Three Rivers was almost more then you could take! Almost the whole route people stood and clapped and cheered. It was amazing, as you passed people, you could almost pick out all the veterans in the crowd. Standing tall, holding their hands over their hearts, some saluting as we walked by. Many of these were from the WWll era and it was emotional for many of us.

Taylor would like to make sure that those that took the time to show up and walk with her, it meant so much. Thank you for your support once again.