Thursday, July 28, 2011

"My Love for You is Deathless...."

Many of the early battles of the Civil War were fought 150 years ago, including the first Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run, if you prefer).  It was a time of intense struggle for our country and its citizens.  Today, many of us (including my Happy Cousin) honor those who lived and died during that period by reenacting the time period and the battles.  The PBS series on the Civil War opened that history, and it's stories, up to all of us.  I love that series.  I think it's because I love the human stories that make up history.  One of the stories brought to the public in that series was the story of Major Sullivan Ballou.

Major Ballou was a Union soldier who fought with the 2d Rhode Island Regiment in the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run).  He was mortally wounded there, on July 28th, 150 years ago.  He died a few days later.  The battle was a bloody one, with over 3,500 dead and wounded, and over 1000 missing or captured.  The night before the battle, Major Ballou wrote a letter to his wife.  It was this letter, this story, that Ken Burns used in his PBS series to demonstrate the cost of the war and the internal struggle that a soldier goes through before battle. 

The famous letter is exquisitely written, and it's words touch our hearts even today.  The emotions Major Ballou describes are so poignant; perhaps because they are so real, perhaps because for anyone who has a loved one serving today....they are so timely. 

Read it for yourself.  Here's the letter:

My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days -- perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure -- and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done.
If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter.
I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing -- perfectly willing -- to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows -- when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children -- is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?
I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.
I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles I have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us.
I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me -- perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been!
How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.
As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood.
Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters.
Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them.
O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Great Dogs!

If there really are such things as "dog people" and "cat people," then I'm definitely a "dog person."  I love dogs.  All types of dogs; big dogs, small dogs, furry dogs, skinny dogs.  I just love dogs.  Dogs keep your feet warm at night.  Dogs want to go with you when you go anywhere.  Dogs love you without condition.  Dogs are the definition of a best friend. 

We have a great dog, Bella.  She's a mix of Australian Sheppard and Border Collie.  We found her at the pound and rescued her.  She's the smartest dog I've ever met.  She loves to go.  Anywhere.  It doesn't matter if we're hiking or riding horses, she's right there with us.  She loves to ride in the back of the Razr (a side-by-side 4-wheeler, for those who don't know).  We take her just about everywhere we go.  She's a very polite dog.  She's also protective.  When anyone stops at our house, or comes in our yard, she'll come rushing through the doggie door to tell us someone's there.  She doesn't bark, much, but she'll tell us anyway.  When my horses got out, she kept coming in to let me know.  It just took me a bit to figure out what she was trying to tell me.  When we're travelling, she always stays between me and any stranger....which is sometimes frustrating because she'll watch the stranger instead of taking care of "business."  She's a great dog! 

So, when I read this story by Cpl Jeff Drew about "Willy Pete," I was touched by his dedication and loyalty....but then that's what dogs are about.  Here's the story (with a hat tip to Lynnis):

Afghan dog fights like a Marine

Posted by regionalcommandsouthwest on July 11, 2011
Story and photo by Cpl. Jeff Drew

COMBAT OUTPOST CASTLE, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan - "Willy Pete" and Marines with Company D, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), rest before going out on a recent patrol. Willy has gone on more than 30 combat patrols in the last 60 days.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE PAYNE, Helmand province, Afghanistan – He defends Marines and sailors with love and tenacity, protecting them as any Marine would protect a brother-in-arms. He is the epitome of man’s best friend, shielding service members from the enemy while providing companionship and camaraderie. His name is Willy Pete, and he’s a warrior, a protector, a friend. He’s also a dog.
Company D, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), arrived in the Khan Neshin District in the summer of 2009 for a seven-month deployment and established a coalition presence in the Southwest part of Afghanistan. The LAR Marines pushed west to gain a firm position in a town called Qal’ah-ye Now, where they found two dogs in a compound they began using as a patrol base.
The dogs were beaten and malnourished. One of them was pregnant and the Marines named her Sandy; the other dog was small and frail, and the Marines fittingly named him Scraggles. The company adopted the two dogs, who accepted the Marines as family. Sandy soon had her litter of puppies, one of which would be named Willy Pete. All the puppies went to local residents to protect their farms and herd livestock, but Willy had a different opportunity – he went to the Marines of Company D for companionship.

Scraggles and Sandy grew fond of the Marines in Qal’ah-ye Now and began to protect the patrol base, keeping unwanted dogs and suspicious people away. Willy began to demonstrate the same protective traits of his mother as he grew. He also learned how to patrol with the Marines, what a patrol formation was, and how to react when they came in contact with the enemy. Willy has gone through three complete combat rotations since then as each LAR unit has taken charge of the area in the past two years.
The veteran dog usually takes the lead when the Marines go on patrol now. He stays in front until the Marines pass through the bazaar outside the combat outpost. Local residents often look up in recognition of the dog, who seems to fancy himself a Marine. Willy relocates to a new position once he establishes a clear path for the Marines and begins moving from one side of the patrol to the other, warning Marines of anyone’s approach with a quick bark or a low growl.

The many stray dogs in the area tend to be very aggressive and travel in packs. Marines routinely spot Willy scrapping with a pack of wild dogs that approach his Marines.
“I had my squad on a local security patrol in Kala Shureh – we refer to the town as ‘Dog Town’ because of the large amount of wild dogs in the area,” said Sgt. Joshua Davis, an Auburn, Maine, native and squad leader with Weapons Platoon, 2nd LAR. “All of the dogs were overly aggressive and tried to stop the patrol’s movement by intimidating the Marines. Willy Pete single handily fought off five wild dogs to protect them. After Willy engaged the dogs, my squad was able to push through the village to complete our patrol.”

Willy also remains an integral part of security when the Marines and sailors return to the patrol base. He tours the grounds with the sergeant of the guard, chasing stray dogs out of friendly lines and warning the watch standers if anyone approaches the outpost.
The Marines said they appreciate Willy’s dedication, as he provides them companionship and demonstrates his loyalty each day by returning to the fight.
“Willy never walks in the other direction or tries to hide when he sees a squad heading out for a patrol,” said Lance Cpl. Philip Bulford, an Alabaster, Ala., native and mortar gunner with the company. “I believe that Willy believes it’s his duty and an honor to protect us from what may lie ahead.”

Willy bears the scars from the explosion of an improvised explosive device and a gunshot wound from an enemy insurgent due to his relentless enthusiasm and unyielding vigor to protect the Marines. Still, his loyalty to the Marines is unrelenting.
“He is a proven veteran and a wounded warrior,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony J. Eichler, a Pittsburgh native and the platoon sergeant for Weapons Platoon. “Willy is always tirelessly watching over what I would assume he considers ‘his’ Marines. He is a friend of all Marines, and he works hard every day on patrol and for the security of [the outpost]. He’s been knocked down a few times, but continues on with the mission just like any Marine would be expected to do.”

Sunday, July 3, 2011

4th of July Weekend

I went to church today.  That, in and of itself wasn't so unusual; I go to church just about every Sunday.  But today was something pretty special.  First of all, it was the first Sunday of the month, which meant it was the Sunday reserved for members of the congregation to bear their testimonies.  The members of my church congregation are pretty eloquent when publicly expressing their love for their Savior.  Fast and Testimony meeting at our Ward is always filled with the Lord's Spirit, as the members of the congregation publicly express their gratitude for blessings and their belief in the Gospel. 

What made this Sunday a bit different was the number of people who attended today's services.  I live in a very small town, in a very rural county.  My church's congregation draws its membership from two very small towns, one with a population of 191, and the other with a population of  171.  Today, we had just over 500 people join our services.  Most of the people were visitors to the area, who had come to enjoy our natural resources (we may not have a lot a people, but we have a National Park and two National Forests within a 10 mile radius) or who were visiting family for the 4th of July weekend.  Some of these visitors also were moved to publicly declare their testimonies, as were some of the "locals."  It was extremely special to hear heartfelt thanks and declarations of belief.  It was interesting that so many of the visitors talked about how special this place is.  How they felt "renewed" by coming here.  How they came back year after year.  How they felt closer to our Heavenly Father here. 

It was interesting, because that's exactly how I feel.  I am so lucky to live here.  There is such natural beauty in the land around this place.  It reminds me, every day, of the greatness of our Creator.  Of course, the people here are part of what makes this place so special.  They are "real" here.  They know what is important:  family, friends, freedom, the land, and the Gospel. 

It was also pretty special to hear the voices of that many people raised in song.  Because it is the 4th of July weekend, our chorister chose "The Star Spangled Banner" as the opening hymn.  (Yes, it's in our official hymn book.)  For a long time now, I tend to tear up when our National Anthem is sung.  I don't know why, it just happens.  It was a real problem when I was on active duty, wearing a uniform, and was rendering a salute during the Anthem.  Trying to wipe a tear away while at attention is not easy.  Anyway, I still tear up.  Today was no different.  As the extended congregation of 500-plus voices sang this wonderful song, I cried.  I cried for those families who have lost loved ones, who gave their lives for our Nation.  I cried for those families who are not able to have BBQ, go to the lake, or go camping this weekend, because their loved one is serving overseas.  I cried for the beauty of the song and the love I hold for this Nation.  I especially cried during the third verse of the hymn: 

Oh thus be it ever, where free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and war's desolation
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Promise the pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust!"
And the star spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

I wish that everyone could have the chance to sing all the verses of our National Anthem on this 4th of July weekend.  Perhaps we'd all remember....and shed at least one tear.