SUPERWOMAN

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Today on her 88th birthday my precious mother has happy memories beyond counting, but few so fond or fun as Sophomore year of high school, 1944, when she was a star cheerleader for P.S.DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware! Thank God for our photographs, however faded. Of her vast collection there is hardly one that makes her beam like that one.

And of the many fading photos in my own collection there is hardly one that makes me prouder than the one snapped by my little boy, Van, on a trip to the most popular spot on the planet at this time of year, Rockefeller Center, N.Y.C. Trusty little disposable in his hand, only steps away from the world’s most famous Christmas tree, the boy became more fascinated with this and managed to capture this incredible image of power, a 15 foot bronze Atlas holding the globe before one of the world’s greatest cathedrals.

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Little did that little boy realize  what a meditation he was making and how the symbol of REAL POWER was somewhere hiding round the heart of it – in a tiny cross, the Power of Love.

In 1965 i began to build a mighty Rock n Roll record collection. At first it was a simple matter of finding 20 CocaCola bottles for their 2 cent deposits. Later on, shoveling, raking leaves, and mowing got me my 33’s. But, one of my very first purchases was Mick Jagger’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is, Baby.” And, baby! would that song go far…to tell the story of our lives. Little did that little boy realize what a lesson on True Power was in that simple song. Even littler did i realize that there would be none in my life, nor in the lives of those around me, who would give a clearer, purer example of it than those ladies running around us day and night, our MOTHERS!! They are the ones who took their directions from the ONE WHO AGREED to go POWER-LESS for LOVE. “That’s how strong my love is” – that’s how strong anyone really is, according to that gauge – no other.

At P.S. DuPont they called my mother “Midget,” or just “Midge,” as she was so tiny. But so is a stick of DYNAMITE! i proudly offer this photo of myself (and dear nephew, Ryan) with her, to let you see – that if i am a grand 5’4″, imagine the stature of this SUPERWOMAN!!!

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Since there was no money to be made in her funnest, fondest profession, she also mastered shorthand and stenography, but when i look back over her 88 years, i see that it was MIDGE THE DYNAMITE CHEERLEADER who always stood out. After only a couple secretarial years, she quickly moved into the mode of MOTHER, creating us just about every two years, and so she offered that POWER OF LOVE in the cheering on of 8 children…and their children and their children’s children. If LOVE be the gauge of true strength, then here was a pint-sized Atlas. “That’s How Strong” my MOM is, as mighty as LOVE ITSELF! So did she cheer-lead each and every one, rooting for us in every victory and every defeat, no matter how trivial or how profound, always letting us know the one important thing – YOU ARE LOVED. She lived never for herself, only for the team.

Leave it to my mom, as i shared this tribute with her, to have me “not dare forget” so many other supermoms i had (she says they were each other’s power-sources.) She didn’t need to remind me of Millie Peltz or Doris Iorii, of  Mary Kok or Betty Malone, of Ann Eckrich, Anne Masci, Joann Thomson or Catherine Schneider – to name just a few. These troops would never stop arriving by my side, mothers unlimited – like Guardian Angels wherever i went in life! None quite as tiny as my little momma, mind you, but all sharing the Super Strength of the Muscle that really matters, the Heart.  “That’s how strong my love is, baby;” as Strong as Love is, that’s as Strong as we are, no more.

So, you had it your way, Mom, a CHEERLEADER THROUGH AND THROUGH!  And as Dad – and that OTHER RALPH KRAMDEN guy – would say, “Baby, you’re the Greatest!”

Happy 88th…and here’s to many more…Rah Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah!!!

TRUE RELIGION IN THE P.F.FLYER

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Though i can’t believe it has truly happened, today i officially became eligible for retirement! Where did the years go?! But, ya know what? i think i’ll take it.

My extremities loaded with arthritis, slowly creeping inward, recently diagnosed with my “piece of the pie” of cancer, and having taken more trips to the ER this year than in all 61 before it put together – trips because of fleeting breath, YES, i will take it, Uncle Sammy!

Don’t get me wrong. i do not think the end is near. Actually, overall i feel mighty good. But, boy! Now is when i need my P.F.Flyers! Back in the ’50s they made me “run faster and jump higher” than i thought possible – or so they said, and i believed them. And Belief probably made me REALLY do it! Belief can do the most wonderful things.

But so can it do the most horrendous of things! That great songwriter, John Mayer, pretty much sums it up, “We’re never gonna win the world. We’re never gonna stop the war. We’re never gonna beat this, if Belief is what we’re fighting for.” It is one of the reasons why so many have lost their faith, this fact that so much horror has been unleashed in the name of religion, so many terrible deeds have been done in the name of God!!

P.F.Flyers were the hottest shoes when i was a kid. Then, they faded in the competition…til they resurrected as New Balance. But in recent times we have seen the newest and Best P.F.Flyer of them all appear…in the Name of POPE FRANCIS!

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On Fire with the “Foolish Love” of God…Faster…Stronger…More Fearless than any before him…Flying out to the ends of the earth, no matter the threat, no matter the danger…with smile and laughter lighting his path through the darkness! Riding the Wind of the Spirit!

This week will be his toughest mission yet, tough enough – let no one be naive – that unless some flock of angels huddle around him and overhead, it could honestly be his last mission!!! But he is bound and determined as “the People’s Pope” to address that sad and severe suspicion of “religion” despite so many heinous acts done throughout history in its name. He will keep crying and calling out “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” That was NOT GOD! Nor was it GOD’s WILL! God is GOOD, and His Will is Love…then, now, and always.”

The original meaning of P.F. was “posture foundation.” These shoes would help us stand straight and tall, walk better, run faster, etc.etc. And from Day One that the Spirit planted him on the World Stage, Francis has tried to teach us how to walk – more so, to dance – the Dance of the Gospel, the Dance of God’s Love. Very simply the Dance is the Will of God, and who described that Will more perfectly – or practically – than the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, when he said in one of his awesome, down-to-earth sermons: Do All the Good you can                                                                                                    By All the means you can                                                                                                   In All the ways you can                                                                                                     In All the places you can                                                                                                    At All the times you can                                                                                                   To All the people you can                                                                                                  As Long As Ever You Can!

This is the great motivator of Pope Francis…what calls him right into the fires of Africa! Surely they will call him other “PF” names, like “Papa dei Folli,” Pope of Fools. To me he is the great return of the little bird in the PF i learned back when i was strutting in my Flyers, the Persian Fable of the bird who loved his forest, which had caught on fire. So much did he love her that he kept flying to a river nearby, and picking up droplets in his beak, he flew back and forth in his effort to quench the blaze which now swallowed mountains. An onlooking frog called the bird a crazy fool, but the bird, just before the fire took him, answered, “I love my forest. I have to try.”

So, this People’s Pope, even if it costs his own life, so loves the human race and so believes in its intrinsic goodness that he feels he has no other choice but to go. “Thy Will Be Done” is his “silly song and dance,” the “Dance of the Crazy Love.” This is True Religion and the P.F.Flyer whom i will follow wherever he roams…

 

THE OTHER SIDE OF RUDY

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This is blog number 40 for me, 40 chapters of my life. Of them all the most popular – OF COURSE – was the one about my dog, Rudy, and his pure, unconditional, God-like love, the perfect model of faithfulness!

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SIDE OF RUDY??!!

What about his “human” side, his “Me” side? What about a little while ago, while our backs were turned, how he devoured a just baked pumpkin-banana bread, quicker than you could say its name!?

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What about the time he wore that nifty disguise just to sneak in on Molly’s after-school snack? And how about the time he got up on the table and ate half of MY ALL-CHOCOLATE BIRTHDAY CAKE, this creature who, we were warned, would surely die if he ever gets chocolate.? What did Poor Rudy do? He laughed at death!12249905_910676045680359_6015226336668014622_n

Have you ever invited a beagle to the family summer barbecue? Now THAT’S WHAT I”M TALKING ABOUT!!! Reminding me and everyone present of their oh so human weaknesses, bad habits and entanglements…You’ve just gotta love him…throw him another hotdog. You’ve been there!!!!!1043903_484288294985805_892945294_n (1)

And, hey! what about all of those “accidental” aftermaths of all these indiscretions…left in all the most unlikely places…SURPRISE! SURPRISE!!!

But worst of all – i can swear that after some of these evil deeds, i have seen a smirk on his face, especially now that he’s ancient, as if to say, “HEY! Sonny boy, I challenge you. Can you LOVE like I love?” He is trading places, reversing the roles, giving me a turn at God-hood. Oh, i was so good at it the day i saved his little abused butt, but from that day hence, beagle howl after beagle howl, fresh sock after fresh sock shocked by slippery puddle, bags of sour gummies vacuumed down and vengeance taken for whoever left them out, i have had the divinity in me drop and drop and drop. Oh, i do what i have to do – as if i had a choice?!?! – i’ve been out in 100 rain or snowstorms to untangle the beast, but God, i was not happy!!! Rarely since Day One did i get my Rudy’s A+ at Mercy. Mine were many a near F at God-Love!

It’s like that book i mentioned in a previous post, “Thank You For Being Such a Pain,” Mark Rosen’s wonderful guide to learning how to let the annoying ones in our everyday lives make us into better persons. So my beloved “Snoopy!” Rudy is QUITE THE LOVER, but what about his other side? He sure does challenge the God-in-me to come forth.

 

PASADENA TO PEGUYVILLE/A Lesson in ThanksLiving

1117151913As the holidays approach, and i go into the stores with their mountains worth of anything and everything we need, my heart keeps skipping off to Peguyville! Let me explain…

Every Labor Day throughout much of my life i spent a good part of my day glued to the television, following the dynamo, Jerry Lewis, in his ongoing battle against Muscular Dystrophy. i even went there one year, when he brought his telethon to New York City. There i met John and Yoko among many other celebrities who came to help Jerry and “Jerry’s Kids.”

But in recent years i fell in love with a different Gerry – and “Gerry’s Kids.” All that it took was a ten minute viewing of just one of the dozens of films by this ex-Hollywood-producer and ex-atheist, Gerry Straub, who in finding NEW EYES of FAITH found with them, through them, thousands of the world’s poor. i have written of Gerry in previous blogs.

His two saints who helped to open his eyes, Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi, told him LOUD n CLEAR that “If you’re out to find God, you simply need to find and serve the poor.” Quite easy, in a way, as the poor are everywhere; NO ONE HAS AN EXCUSE! But, Gerry, he went and found the poorest of the poor, made films about them to identify their location for all the world to see – and fell so in love with them that he has finally settled down with them, trading Pasadena, California, for Peguyville, Haiti, the poorest place in the Western Hemisphere.

Like i said, Gerry and his Kids shook my very soul from the first moment we met. i will never be the same! Tell me, when was the last time you had chills up your spine while nibbling on a Saltine or a Ritz cracker? It happens to me all the time, since i followed Gerry through his lens into the bush of Africa. The Landrover stopped just in time before running over a “lump” in the road. Getting out for a look, Gerry found SAM, a seven year old only a tad bigger than his camera, weighing less than 20 pounds. Polio and malnutrition had left him there, just feet away from his little sister, Esther, in the same or worse state.

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When Gerry looked up AT ME from these two perfect images of Jesus, and he asked ME, “WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?”, he left me with a haunt that has never left me. But then, just when i thought i was cooked, out of the bush appears Jane, the older sister. She had just hiked who knows how many miles to and from the closest waterhole, bringing water to bathe and refresh her babies – perhaps before they die. Babies, yes, for she is now their mother, although did i mention Jane’s age? She was a wise, old 8! Gerry and team watched as she bathed, carried, and placed her siblings under a clean blanket. Then, thrilled to have some crackers from the visitors, she fed them until they were coming back to life. Only after that did she treat herself to one.

Really!! When was the last time you were covered in goosebumps while eating, say, a grape? It happens to my buddy, Gerry, and me all the time.

Gerry took care of those angels, saw that they were in good hands, then moved on…and on…and on…until Haiti. There he was so captivated that he just had to stay. Thousands upon thousands of children tug at his heart and soul every day, and so he has decided to open Santa Chiara’s Center to care for them, even though this means saying Goodbye to Hollywood forever and truly living by the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us TODAY our daily bread…”

Gerry and his Kids, Sam, Esther, Jane, kids all over the globe, and especially the Haitians, many of whom are just called “Baby,” as they never even got the dignity of a name, they have been all instructing me in the Wondrous Art of ThanksLiving. They have invited me at any time to go and join them, and i wish that i could. Until i can, half my heart lies in Peguyville. i will work to help them from far away and to spread their message of Great Joy with so little. i will tremble as i nibble a Ritz, and for me every day will be Thanksgiving Day – thanks to Gerry Straub!

ThanksGiving can never be enough; it must be ThanksLiving, or nothing!

Gerry has a wonderful website, named after the common greeting of St. Francis. paxetbonumcomm.org:  Here you can read more of this wonderful man’s journey, purchase some of his many books or films, or make a contribution to THE KIDS. Please do! This is a charity where every penny will go immediately to work.

THE MOTH

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This blog is not about this particular moth. It happens to be the only moth picture i ever took. But CHECK IT OUT! True Story! I bet you didn’t know that moths drink coffee. You can see the ring in the spoon and the moth’s long tongue. It actually drank all of the coffee there as we watched. And you were wondering why moths fly around like maniacs!!??

But REALLY this is a most serious blog about this seriously annoying creature!

A friend of mine, knowing that i like to tell stories, told me recently that there is a special club in Manhattan devoted totally to storytelling. You can go and listen to – or tell – them. And it’s called “the Moth.” The founder apparently comes from Georgia where he remembers hot summer nights where people used to sit out on the porch and tell stories all night. There were at least some breezes – and always some moths flying around the lights. When i heard about it, i immediately wrote down this story. Maybe i’ll go there someday.

i’ll say, YO! ALL MY FELLOW MOTH-ERS, You and i seem to be made for each other, as i could actually say that, in a way, the Singlemost Important Story of my Most StoryFull Life is about a Moth.

No one can ever say that i didn’t give “the religious life” a really good try. Twenty plus years with the Cappuccinos! But Destiny wanted me elsewhere. Take one look at my son and daughter, and try to tell me
that they weren’t meant to be!!?? Clearly, in the long run, in the great canvas, it’s all the same, be i Father Mike the Monk or Father Mike the Dad. It is all the same, if you know the Secret. And that Secret, believe it or not, was delivered to me by the Moth. Looking back over my 62 years on this earth, i cannot think of a more profound experience, even as simple – and UGLY – as my teacher was.

Yes, how curious that the model for greatness to me should be the moth, repulsive at first sight. But that is how it has been since that night about 35 years ago when – then as a priest – i took a little retreat in a hermitage which we seminarians had built under the able direction of one jack-of-all-trades named Father Marcellus. We built it in the forest valley of our seminary property in Sussex County, New Jersey, for the Little Brothers of Jesus, followers of holy man, Charles de Foucauld. But we used it also ourselves to seek peace and direction from God in the great silence. The place is now a Buddhist Temple, and the hermitage still there.

Woody Allen used to say very emphatically that there is nothing noisier or more frightening than a trip to those great outdoors, away from his peaceful, sacred Manhattan. The sounds and the sights of wooded creatures, great or small – and the dreaded Moth in particular – left the “Woodman” trembling and sleepless. And yes, it is true, that this is a stew that takes getting used to, or even acquiring the slightest taste for. i had come to relish the whole experience, with the one exception of the moth (and maybe mosquito).

Inside that little hermitage there was a tiny chapel, and so, when i said Mass, Jesus Himself had come to spend some wonderful time just with me. Unfortunately, He had to share it also with a moth, a gross, aggravating creature which was floating around my candle-lights. “You stupid little monster” were the words i was using most frequently about him, as he went in my ears and climbed up my hair and sat on my nose all night long. “Lord,” i begged, “tell him to leave us alone.” The only response i heard from Him was “Love your enemy. Seek the Good in all.” i tried and tried to be patient, that is, not to slap him down and smash him to smithereens.

It was around 3 A.M. that we finally caught a break. Or should i say that i witnessed the very best example of anyone of what this life is all about, when that pesty moth actually decided to take a dive right into the heart of the candle flame and was consumed. Nothing i could have been reading in any of my holy books could have taught me better. None of the people i had seen up til then – or since then – people coming mighty close to
sainthood, went so far as that simple creature of God, who so loves the Light that he could not stand to be apart from it.  He gave his life for it, he became one with it. How many of us are so attracted to the Light, or so in love with Love, that we are ready to spend ourselves completely for Love Alone, seeking nothing, not one tiny thing, but Love?!

And as long as one learns to live selflessly, Live for Love, it doesn’t matter whether he is a Pope or a pop, the President or the penniless migrant worker. Few, if any, ever reach the pinnacle of Brother Moth.

i post this blog on this ONE MORE SADDER THAN SAD DAY in our world, when the darkness of EVIL has again raised its ugly head and attacked savagely, senselessly, and insanely those who simply LOVE THE LIGHT, THE LIGHT OF LOVE, the Light of Life, the Light of Freedom. My heart breaks for the victims and for their families. My heart aches for our children who must keep seeing these atrocious acts and living more and more in fear. i know, however, that we moths, we LIGHT-LOVERS, will KEEP ON KEEPING ON, keep LIVING and LOVING no matter how many times the beasts attack. We will never give up HOPE.

To Life. L’Chaim!! Vive La France!

DARE BE LITTLE

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All of the talk this week of VETERANS, those truly noble servants of humanity,tempts me to add a lovin thought of another kind, different in many ways but so similar in many others, the VETS of the Classroom. i am thinking especially of people like Mr. John Burns, who in his 32nd year of humble service is finally on the verge of receiving his well-deserved “medal of honor,” Retirement. But to find the proper “medal” for him and his noble colleagues, i must reach back to the life i once lived, friarhood.

When i left home in 1968 to enter a seminary of St. Francis, i was attracted especially by his idea of “friars minor,” that is, that they were all “just little brothers” to each other and to every creature, human and otherwise. It was his translation of the Great Challenge of Jesus Christ, that if anyone wanted to be GREAT in life, he or she must DARE BE LITTLE.

Small wonder that, even at my age of fourteen, something struck me as odd, when i immediately heard everyone calling the friars who were in charge of each friary (“house of brothers”) by a whole different name. Some hideous word, which to me seemed so out of place, they were calling these men “the Superiors!”  Many times i would see these “superiors,” men who also bore the title of holy priesthood, treating their “little
brothers” pretty darn rotten! It became an instant dilemma in my life. Sadly, i would discover over time that it was just what was wrong with my whole Church in general, this quest for Power. No one who follows Jesus can ever feel superior!

There is a little graveyard in our city, where i love to go and sit. It belongs to these very Capuchin Friars, to
whom i once upon a time belonged. It is so amazing to wander through and stop at every little headstone, wondering over the names before me. Wave on wave of memory comes over me, some bad ones, yes, but infinitely more good ones, reminding me how privileged i was to know them. Often i will chat with this one or that.

The “medal of honor” i found in the greatest little story, which involved three of the men who now rest there. It had to do with Jesus’ clear and certain command: Be little! It had to do with Bro. Matthew DiFamio over
there, truly a little ball of wonder. He had been the cook for our small army at the seminary for so many years,
day after day after day. Brother had actually served in General Patton’s Army on the Western Front, and it
was while on the ship returning to America that he reflected on all that he had seen – and LOST – and he decided to offer his life to God. He never felt a call to priesthood, but he wanted to serve in any way that God saw fit for him as a “little brother” of St. Francis.

The friar who most recently joined this sacred company in the graveyard was Father Jude Duffy, one of my lifelong heroes. He told me way back at the start, when i was going through my grave shock about “superiority” about that dear little man behind the pots and pans, Bro. Matt, and about a certain friar who felt like he was far superior to little Matt. They were living together, just the two of them, in a friary far away from the rest. i opt here not to give the third man’s name, as he did have his wonderful side, which i wish to see preserved. It was just that he had fallen into that common – yet gross – misconception of his place in the family of the Church. i can see how easily it can happen. Having been a priest myself, i felt the feeling of power
running through me. This Fr. Jude was such a wise man with such a great heart. He, too, was a priest, but never the kind to lord it over. Jude Duffy was a “master of littleness” in the great tradition of St. Francis. So, he
went to visit the two friars, hoping to promote peace through a little understanding. He knew how horribly little Matthew had been suffering. He also knew something about Bro. Matthew that not many others knew. Soldier DiFamio had been one of George Patton’s best marksmen. So, on his diplomatic visit Fr. Jude asked Bro. Matthew to go get the rifle that was in the friary. It was wide open country there, suitable for hunting, and there was a barn on the property far enough from the friary that one could barely make out the weather-vane on top. Bro. Jude challenged Bro. Matt to hit the vane, which made the “superior” laugh his head off! But,
when Matthew hit the vane with the first shot, the superior understood that there were other ways that his head might come off! Oh, everyone who knew Bro. Matt knew he would never do such a thing. But, Bro. Jude wanted to remind this “superior” that there is just so much abuse that each man can bear. LOL! In the end it was Matthew’s superiority that counted, his talent with a gun. No one who follows Francis of Assisi or Jesus Christ should ever feel superior to another. The word should not even be in one’s vocabulary, except perhaps when used by another in describing some “superior love” or some amazing ability the person has, almost like a superman for being humble or little. Fr. Jude and Bro. Matthew were both “superior servants,” and i imagine now they are laughing their heads off in heaven over that day. And i like to imagine Brother Matthew’s “superior” there, on his knees, now serving Matthew some tea.

Look at me, back with the great Veterans, Matthew from the U.S.Army and Jude from the U.S. Navy, and the lessons they learned and passed on. And so from them back to John Burns and his “comrades in battle” in many a classroom. i can honestly say that i found that greatest challenge of Christ picked up and carried by these men and women, my teachers and the teachers of my children, just as well, if not better, than many a friar or priest. Look at my Molly’s favorite teacher. Why, he has a wing-span that could wrap around our whole family (little people that we are!) One of the biggest guys we ever met! Yet, his true Greatness has not been in his physical prowess but in his daily abilities, or at least his willingness or eagerness (toward those who did not accept his gifts), to LEARN WITH the children in his care. What Jesus meant by “the Greatness of Littleness,” humble and self-effacing, always ready and willing to bend, as low as he must, to reach a kid that may be lost. By a daily mindset of NOT BEING SUPERIOR, such a man proves himself to be an exceptional, magnificent, shall i say “Superior” human, he who would never think of having the title as his own.

These Veterans certainly deserve their “medals of honor” as well.

DAY OF HEROES/NOVEMBER 11

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It is November 14, 1965.
You are a 20 year old kid, and you are critically wounded
and dying in a jungle somewhere in the Central Highlands of
Vietnam. Your unit is outnumbered 8-1 and the enemy fire is
so intense from 100 yards away, that your commanding officer
has ordered the MedEvac helicopters to stop coming in. It’s
just too dangerous.

You’re lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns, and
you know you’re not getting out. Your family is 12,000 miles
away, and you’ll never see them  again. As your world starts
to fade in and out, you know this is the day.

Then – over all that horrible noise – you faintly hear the
sweet sound of a helicopter. You look up to see a Huey coming
in. But, it can’t be real because it has no MedEvac markings
on it. It must be a hallucination…or a dream…Then, all of
a sudden you see Captain Ed Freeman, who is coming in for you.
He’s not MedEvac, so it’s not his job, but he heard the radio
call and decided he’s flying his Huey down – right into that
machine gun fire anyway. Even after the MedEvacs were ordered
not to come.   He’s coming anyway.

He drops it in and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they
load three of you at a time on board. Then he flies you up and
out through the gunfire to the doctors and nurses and safety –
AND INTO NEW LIFE! You WILL be with your family again –

and you WILL make your
OWN family some day, thanks to Captain Ed.

And you are only one of them!  After that, Captain Ed kept going back…
13 more times!!! Until all the wounded were out.  No one knew
until the mission was over that the Captain had been hit four
times in the legs and left  arm. But, he did it. He took 29 of
you and your buddies out of the jungle that day.

Medal of Honor Recipient, Captain Ed Freeman, U.S. Air Force,
died recently of Parkinson’s Disease in Boise, Idaho, at the
age of 80. May God Bless and Rest His Soul.1109151241

ON MY OWN SON’S 20th BIRTHDAY i CAME UPON THIS INCREDIBLE – BUT TRUE STORY! What an honor to be born on such a day…in such a Land of the Free and Home of the Brave! Happy Birthday, Van!!!