The Broad Brush

The idea of painting with a broad brush is nothing new. Whether one is speaking of cars, watermelons, or movie genres, humans are prone to praise or condemn without specificity. For example, “Fords make the best pick up on the road” is a claim one can hear in television commercials and the local honky-tonk. Of course, Chevrolet fans may take exception to the comment, but who cares what they think? After all, those guys had any sense they’d all be driving Dodge Rams.

There! I managed to use a broad brush and insult at least two groups of male truck owners and women who own trucks. Of course, it is likely, except for a close friend who worships his F250, most people will see that first paragraph for what it is, a way to get your attention and hopefully make you chuckle. However, there is nothing funny about the reality inspiring this piece.

Painting with a broad brush is just a common human trait until it becomes a way of labeling others. Then it rapidly begins to shift to something else, stereotyping, bias, even prejudice. When you or I use the broad brush to label, describe, or denigrate a group of people, our comments’ impact is normally limited to friends and associates. On the other hand, public figures, personalities, politicians, and the media’s use of broad terms and accusations are a bit more concerning.

For example, the item inspiring this piece was a headline or banner for a news story when I opened my home page. The banner read, “Police Stop Black Man While Jogging.” The immediate assumption one makes reading that is some “cop” was harassing a person of color. As it turns out, the incident may have been an overreaction on the part of several ICE Agents.

The problem, however, is the misuse of the term police. The word police is used as a broad brush today, covering all law enforcement personnel, whether they are police officers or not.

Now, you may be thinking I am the ultimate hairsplitter with this bull hockey. That is your right, but ICE agents are not police officers. Neither are FBI agents, DEA agents, or any of the plethora of NCIS agents portrayed on television today.

Police officers are the men and women who patrol our streets, investigate accidents, and respond to missing persons’ calls. They handle domestic disturbances, welfare checks, and take theft reports, along with many other activities. Yes, they might stop a jogger of any skin, tone if the person matched a suspect description, seemed suspicious in some other way, or created a safety hazard.

For the record, in this case, if the story was accurate, the ICE agents may have been pushing the limits of probable cause in stopping the jogger. The fact they did not detain him, even though he was reportedly uncooperative, may indicate the stop was not appropriate. It may also suggest they made a mistake and realized it after questioning the individual. Still, the headline’s wording and tone made any reader quickly assume “they” did it again. “They” harassed some poor guy because of his skin color. That generalization is unfair and unsafe.

I could stop at this point. I could, but another story caught my eye when I opened my browser the morning I first planned on posting this piece. A headline and the story which followed implied “law enforcement” has an inappropriate relationship with right-wing extremists. In reality, the report covered one sheriff’s actions in Michigan. It appears the Sherriff has some form of relationship with a band of yahoos arrested for plotting to kidnap the governor of Michigan.

The story also claimed the Michigan sheriff was a member of a questionable sheriff’s association. The article alleged the association is a right-wing extremist group itself. If it is as far out there as the article implied, it is a bit concerning, but one should keep in mind, more than 3,000 sheriffs are serving in the United States at this time. Of that number, only 161 are allegedly members of the organization.

Even indirectly accusing all sheriffs, much less the rest of law enforcement, of being in bed with extremists is a bit much. If a bigoted right-wing crazy is elected sheriff, it is because most of his or her constituency shares at least some of those views.

Here is the bottom line. Using the term police in a headline accusing a specific department, agency, or officer of misconduct is a form of broad-brush thinking and finger-pointing bordering on stereotyping and bigotry.

Law enforcement entities are not all “police,” and they do not all have the same mission and authority. ICE agents, for instance, do not meet you at grandma’s house to see if grandma is okay. FBI agents do not investigate automobile accidents. DEA agents do not respond to missing persons’ calls.

Sheriffs and their deputies perform many duties similar to police chiefs and their officers, but there is one significant difference. Sheriffs are normally elected officials, answering only to the voters.

Equating these individuals, offices, or designations with the hundreds of thousands of men and women serving as police officers in the United States shows ignorance, prejudice, or both.

Police chiefs and the officers they manage answer to the mayors, city managers, city councils, and the citizens of the municipalities in which they work. They are the ones who respond to your home when someone is peeping in your window. They respond when someone steals your kid’s bicycle.

The vast majority of police officers have no more respect for extremists of any sort than those victimized by said extremists. In fact, police officers are often the targets of the miscreants with whom they are being compared.

© – 2020

Posted in Uncategorized, Ethics, Civility, Law Enforcement, Daily Life, Leadership, Police | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Far East Frisco?

More years ago than I care to count, a rugby teammate and I traveled to the Austin Rugby Tournament. This tournament was the highlight of the Texas rugby season for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons was the location. Austin is the state Capital, but more importantly, it was the party Capital of Texas.

Sadly, this piece is not about Texas rugby’s love of Austin or partying. This is about Austin’s geographic and societal dysphoria. Somewhere in the relatively recent past, probably the 1960s and early ’70s, Austin began to drift west culturally. By that, I do not mean West Texas. In some ways, Austin began to feel more like California than Texas.

The shift was partly due to the influx of former Californians. Whether they migrated to Central Texas to attend UT, or simply found a kindred vibe in the hemp haze floating around the city, they poured into town like lemmings running across the tundra. As their numbers increased, cultural changes began to emerge. Today, Austin is, in some ways, a landlocked eastern extension of San Francisco.

As luck would have it, there was a 7-11 within in few blocks of exiting 35. Pulling up to the store, we noticed a sad-looking character sitting on the curb in front of the door. As you can probably surmise, he was not simply taking a break; he was panhandling. My teammate looked over at me with a puzzled look on his face and asked, “You think there’s one at every 7-11 here?”

Though I did not recognize it at the time, the young teammate mentioned above noticed an early sign of this shift. His observation came after we rolled into Austin on a Friday afternoon. After driving 220 miles or so on the always under construction IH35, we needed a pitstop.

At first, I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. He was dead serious. Keep in mind; he was a college student in his first year away from home. Besides, a panhandler planted in front of a convenience store was not common in north Texas. In fact, you didn’t see guys and gals with their hands out working street corners, parking lots, or other locations much anywhere in Texas in those days.

After assuring my young friend that was not the case, we took care of business. We hit the restroom, grabbed some sodas, and headed to the tournament venue, Zilker Park. Zilker was another reason ruggers liked this tournament.

The park was immediately adjacent to Town Lake. There were some great little restaurants and bars within walking distance, and it was a prime jogging and sunbathing area for UT coeds. What more could a couple of hundred rugby players want from a tournament location?

Since the trip and question mentioned above, Austin shifted even further west, politically, and socially. As with cities in California, the relatively moderate climate, location, and left-leaning political structure made Austin more attractive. Wealthy movie stars, high tech entrepreneurs, transients, and a semi-permanent street population found the place irresistible.

Today, as with San Francisco, the homeless are everywhere it seems.* Despite the best efforts of churches and charities, and more recently, the government, people are panhandling all over town. Of course, some of these needy people are not homeless or destitute. Some are opportunists, taking advantage of charitable people. Panhandling is their job, and it provides a pretty good, tax-free income in some cases.

When I visit Austin these days, it reminds me of my last visit to San Francisco. There, people sleep on the streets, block doorways to businesses, and take care of their pitstop business almost publicly. Sadly, the local politicians in Austin are not satisfied with attracting people in need, and the super-wealthy who like Texas for its tax structure.

Recently, the movers and shakers controlling Austin took another step toward joining the crowd working to make Austin an extension of California. The city government decided to modify ordinances addressing certain behaviors by transients, homeless, and panhandlers. As one might expect, the changes caused concern within some segments of the population. As with any such modification, some concerns are legitimate, and some are chicken-little warnings.

Whatever the reality, the changes make Austin more attractive to those engaging in this behavior. The changes also make it more difficult for law enforcement to control the behavior of those who violate or push the envelope on these ordinances. These moves make it more difficult for businesses to operate and for the residents who wish to live in a civilized environment.

Sadly, the story does not end there. The Austin City Council voted earlier this year to cut the police department budget by 33 percent. The council seems to have two goals.

One is to change the way the department hires and trains officers for law enforcement duties. The other is to establish a new form of public safety department, not focused on enforcement. If this keeps up, the only difference between Austin, San Francisco, and Los Angeles will be the Golden Gate Bridge and Hollywood.**

*Critics of the last sentence will be quick to pooh-pooh such statements. They will claim there are only a few hundred living on the streets at any one time, but counting transients and the homeless is more difficult than counting Trump voters in a blue state.

**The pictures in this piece came from both Austin and San Francisco.

© – 2020

Posted in Daily Life, Law Enforcement, Leadership, Police, Political Extremes, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Root of the Problem

Some mornings you wake up and wonder, “How did we find ourselves in this mess?” Depending on who you are, your circumstances, and quality of your sleep the night before, the question could concern your job, your marriage, or the team formerly known as the Redskins.

Okay, that last item was just a cheap shot at a group of people more worried about sponsorship than fans. Still, the way some people are handling situations such as renaming a football team is indicative of the problem to which the title above alludes. Common sense and reason are being hammered down by ignorance and an educational system that lost its way decades ago. Take the item below for instance.

Images courtesy of Pixabay

The statement was a comment in response to a post expressing concerns about the government’s tactics in addressing the pandemic. The person authoring the comment above makes a valid point concerning the amount of government intervention in our daily lives. The last sentence is an unwitting admission to the acceptance of the path this country is spiraling down at the moment, in large part due to the way of thinking expressed in the illustration.

We do not have a right to expect the government to do its job. We have an obligation to see the government does its job and does that job without interfering unnecessarily in our lives. Instead, we have become a land in which many people, such as the commenter above, believe we need the government to save us.

When we begin to look to the government to save us, we are just a few steps away from being China or Russia. The government is supposed to follow the will of the people. Unfortunately, in some cases, people begin to support government dictates, usually due to scare tactics by those in support of government control. Still, the idea that big brother can save us is insane.

By its very nature, government is controlling, intrusive, and smothering. It is the essence of a necessary evil, and as history shows it eventually becomes so oppressive and controlling all hell breaks loose. Thankfully, I will probably not live long enough to see things descend completely into conflict and chaos, but I fear my children and grandchildren will.

If they do it will be because of people such as the one quoted here who does not understand the difference between a right and a responsibility. It is not the government’s right to tell us how to live, it is our role to see the government does not overstep its bounds. The Constitution states “We the people,” not, we the government!


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Traditionally Speaking: Of Kneeling and Protests

Traditionally Speaking” discussed traditions or standard practices being threatened or modified by the coronavirus crisis.  There, I noted traditions often take centuries to evolve, though some forces may cause shifts more quickly. At the time, it seemed comments by highly placed health officials, and so-called experts might change time-honored practices or traditions. Here, I want to bring up a sensitive topic that I hoped had been laid to rest. Apparently, it has not, and since it involves traditions, I am commenting.

Before going any farther, let’s make one thing clear. Athletes, professional, amateur, current, or former have the right to protest in any peaceful way they would like. On the other hand, employers, fans, or whatever, have the right to be upset, supportive, or comatose. Employers can tell their employees to keep their causes off the field or court, fans can decide to buy tickets or not, etc. Those matters are not the point of this piece.

The point here is simple. Colin Kaepernick received some bad advice in 2016 when he triggered the kneeling in protest controversy. Kneeling is a tradition with meaning, and that meaning has nothing to do with protesting an unjust system. Additionally, one should wonder why, if protesting was so important, did he agree to take a knee? 

The short answer to that last question is he was being roasted for sitting during the national anthem. Accordingly, when a former pro reached out to him and suggested taking a knee, they both thought it might be seen as less confrontational. That certainly was an inaccurate assessment of the situation, which brings me to the point of this piece.

The explanation given for changing to kneeling clearly shows a lack of understanding of what kneeling signifies. Of course, the response to Kaepernick’s actions indicates a general misunderstanding of the act as well.

For the record, kneeling is less confrontational than some other actions one could take. For instance,  two of the United State’s black athletes stood on the podium with black-gloved fists raised in protest at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.  For those who witnessed it, that protest would be hard to forget. Their action was an act of protest, rebellion, whatever one wants to call it. Kneeling is not such an act.

That fact was lost on Kaepernick and the man who suggested kneeling.  If you do not understand that read the friend’s comments during an interview over the matter. He mentioned several reasons he suggested kneeling and why it was respectful, which he hoped might mitigate the anger toward their protests.

For the record, kneeling is an act of submission. Yes, through that act of submission, one is showing respect, but take the examples the advisor used. He said people knelt when being knighted, they knelt when proposing, and they knelt in prayer.  Those are all acts of submission, as well as respect. 

One kneels when being knighted because one is, by accepting the title, pledging fealty to the king or queen. When one kneels to propose, the suitor is promising to submit to the future spouse, until “death do us part.” Finally, when kneeling in prayer, one is submitting to God’s will or at least recognizing and acknowledging God’s superiority. 

In defending Kaepernick, some have used the example of Reverend Martin Luther King taking a knee during his crusade for civil rights. As far as I knew at the time and know now, Dr. King was kneeling in prayer on those moments. Dr. King was asking God to help bring about change in this country.  In that case, Rev. King’s kneeling was the ultimate act of submission to God’s will.

If Kaepernick, or anyone else, wishes to protest during the playing of the national anthem, they should have the courage of their convictions. Either take a seat in protest, stand with a back to the flag, or raise a fist as did the original athletes to protest during the national anthem. Do not go down on your knees, unless you are praying, and I can find no evidence Kaepernick ever claimed he was kneeling prayer.

© -2020

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The De-escalation Myth

The word of the moment for the last few weeks has been de-escalation. From so-called experts to so-called journalists, to former Navy Seals transitioning into experts on everything, de-escalation is the key. It is the key to avoiding more officer-involved shootings, more assaults on officers, assaults by officers, and riot control. If police officers had more and better training at de-escalation, the world would be a much safer place.

As I write this, the most polite term that comes to mind concerning this assertion is hogwash! Of course, I probably should not use the term hogwash. Someone might feel it was subtly offensive, but the other word that comes to mind is not fit for polite company. Here is the problem.

De-escalation only works up to a point. Does that mean officers should not receive such training, absolutely not. Many officers do receive such training. If not formally, they learn it through field training and experience. No police chief, sheriff, or director of public safety wants officers working the street who think the only way to handle a problem is with force.

Critics of law enforcement training claim street cops need more training in this area of handling conflict. One can debate that issue from now until the cows come home, but here is the bottom line. Unless the de-escalation effort results in the subject to the techniques being allowed to remain free, it will not work. If the end result of the de-escalation exercise results in an arrest or detention, the process was likely an exercise in futility.

Yes, all the training the officer receives, all the work the officer or officers do to defuse a situation will be for naught if the suspect needs to be taken into custody. When the officer says, “You’re being placed under arrest,” or “You’ll need to come with me,” the odds are the suspect’s adrenaline level will go through the roof, and the battle will be joined.

One of the latest police officer-involved shootings in the news as this is being written is a prime example of the problem. Available video shows a very cordial, even jovial at times, exchange involving the officers and the subject. The suspect submits to tests, answers questions, and seems to be cooperating. Yep, everything was fine until the officers tried to make the arrest. Then it hit the fan, and the result was another horrible headline, a tragic death, the burning of a business, riots in the street, and officers charged with serious crimes.

It is possible to deal with a rational or at least somewhat reasonable subject without an arrest becoming a brawl or worse. The problem is there are no magic words or actions that will guarantee that result. As any officer with significant street experience can tell you. A fully cooperative or entirely calmed down individual can go nuts when he or she is told they are under arrest. Even after they have submitted to being handcuffed, individuals have suddenly become violent.

Someone who has never experienced the situation cannot imagine how much damage can take place, even after someone is cuffed. My introduction to this fact was early in my career and involved a 100-pound, handcuffed woman. Since it was not her first rodeo, she was not horribly uncooperative, even when she was arrested. Then, she decided she was not getting into the squad car.

Keep in mind, she was “restrained” as the law allowed and policy required. Luckily, for her and me, my partner was a 6′ 4″200-pound plus officer who showed a great deal of restraint. The young woman had already attempted to assault me and was stoned or intoxicated, it was hard to know which. Again, the restraint practiced by the other officer was vital in keeping this situation from getting completely out of hand.

By restraint, I am not speaking of his mannerisms or attitude. I am saying it took two of us to get the suspect into the back of the unit. Then he physically restrained her, keeping her pinned down in the back seat to keep her from injuring herself or damaging the vehicle. Thankfully, we were only a few minutes from the PD running Code 3, and damage to everyone and the unit was minimal.

Humans do the craziest things when the consequences of their actions confront them. That is why one hears of prisoners committing suicide while in police custody. That is why a wholly cooperative and rational seeming individual will attack two armed police officers during a domestic violence call. When the officers tell the complaining party their spouse is going to jail for beating them, the victim often becomes the threat. Which brings us back to the myth that de-escalation or heaven forbid, social worker intervention, will prevent the problems being experienced today.

The problems with the call for more de-escalation training are twofold. First, it can be complicated to deal with some subjects in any manner. The “officers need more training” crowd have cited de-escalation as the cure for bad situations. One claim is suspects will cooperate or be controlled until backups can reach the scene. That may or may not be the case, but there is another problem.

The longer officers are on the scene, the more likely something else will go wrong. The more officers who respond to the call, the higher the likelihood someone will over-react. Also, in some cases, there is not enough time or assistance, and you’re back at square one.

The other problem is apparent de-escalation can lead to something like the Atlanta debacle. The suspect is calm, and the officers think things are under control. Then, all hell breaks loose, and everyone over-reacts. The offender suddenly feels he’s been misled, the officers suddenly think they screwed up. A driving-under-the-influence arrest turns into an officer-involved shooting.

De-escalation techniques and training are great when they work. The idea they are the answer to what ails our society and the relationship between law enforcement and some communities is a myth, at best!


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Who’d A Thunk It?

Some may find the title of this piece a bit much. On the other hand, one or two of you may still have a sense of humor.  If so, that may be your most significant personal asset in the future, if 2020 is any indication. 

As for the title, it refers to a prediction first espoused by a Russian in 1998.  His prediction, which he repeated multiple times, concerned the end of the United States as we know it. According to the good professor, the United States would split into six separate entities, with each coming under the influence or control of other countries or political entities.  Sounds crazy, right?  It seems even more insane as he predicted it would happen by 2010, and as late as 2009 was predicting the looming end of the United States of America.  He was wrong about 2010.

On the other hand, he may not have been entirely out in the left-field if 2020 is any indication.  This year is, to say the least unusual. We may rapidly, historically speaking, be approaching a crisis that could make the professor’s prediction become a reality.

The country is more divided today than at any time in its history.  One could argue that is not true because the Revolutionary War and the Civil War both divided the country. To some degree, such an argument is valid, but the difference is immense.  In both of the wars cited, the country split into two primary factions. Today, as the professor predicted, the country is divided into multiple factions or constituencies, if you prefer. 

Even as I write this, I know many who read it will consider it the musings of a fool or troll. Be that as it may, the media today is filled with anecdotal evidence lending credibility to the professor’s predictions. From the ever-growing tension over immigration to the increasing influence of hostile forces within the country, the professor’s predictions grow increasingly worrisome.

As many have noted, some of the unrest in the country this year resembles scenes from third world countries. Countries having uncontrollable elements in their populations and ineffective governments.  Here, we now have local governments abandoning their responsibility by essentially surrendering control of their cities to outside agitators.

In one case, so far, the local government handed a portion of their city over to armed anarchists, ordering the police to withdraw. One might expect that to happen in some areas of the middle east, central Africa, or South America.  It is not something one would expect in the United States, yet it has happened, at least on a small scale. 

One could blow off that last paragraph as hyperbole or an overreaction.  I hope it is a bit of one or the other. Still, the reality is many major cities have areas that are semi-autonomous in some ways already.  Yes, many of these areas are traditionally considered tourist spots, or local ethnic favorites.  Yet, in some instances, they may have become controlled, or at least heavily influenced, by loosely knit or highly organized gangs or criminal organizations. Still, the local governments at least pretended they were in control, even if they were paid to look the other way.

Today, some local governments are either bowing to public pressure or trying to find a way to justify bowing to public pressure in major cities across the country. Some cities are threatening to “defund” police departments. Others claim to be contemplating turning control of neighborhoods over to local citizen groups, which would “police” the areas.

Yes, many of the public statements and threats by public officials are likely political pandering. The individuals making such statements know they cannot throw the legal system into the garbage dump and return to the days of vigilantes and the citizen posse.  Unfortunately, they may find it more challenging to control the outcome of their rhetoric than in the past.

Real anarchists have funding and support beyond anything seen in this country in the past. Also, the crises of 2020 have community leaders, not politicians, seeking to restore normalcy at any cost. They are willing to sell their souls to see their businesses return to profitability, playing directly into the anarchist’s plans. Recently, one such incident involved a well-known chef and restauranteur. He stood in front of his upscale restaurant, essentially pledging his support to the chaos makers if they’d leave his customers alone.

The communist professor may be right. Only his time-table may have been overly optimistic.  The Divided States of America may be just around the corner.

P.S. Should anyone think my thoughts are overly alarmist, consider this. Recent coverage of the latest tragedy in Atlanta included statements from the community indicating some would support bringing the Black Panthers back. Now there is an idea that should give everyone pause.

 © – 2020

Posted in Civility, Daily Life, Ethics, Law Enforcement, Leadership, Police, Political Extremes, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Promise Kept

I was introduced to a song, “After the War,” several years ago. The song is moving, especially to those who lost someone in Vietnam. It may be even more moving for those who visited the Vietnam memorial to find their loved one’s name. For me, it turned out to be the harbinger of a special event yet to come. You see, I met someone in 2016 who could almost be the person about which this song was written. 

Our meeting was one of those “coincidences” or “God taps” in a way. The guy was seeking information on my brother. David died in Vietnam, and this fellow was asking about him. His first inquiry was to my sister-in-law. She listed information about David on, and the guy saw it. When he reached out, she was concerned and let me know a complete stranger inquired about David.  

Initially, I thought it might be a scam.  So, I decided to do a bit of investigating. After all, issues of stolen valor, stolen identity, and fraud using the names of the deceased are not that uncommon. As it turned out, the gentleman’s motives were well-intentioned and appropriate. So, I gave him all of the information he needed to help honor my brother’s memory on the Virtual Vietnam Memorial Wall.

Later, we had the opportunity to meet and share stories about David. It was something unexpected and very meaningful in ways one could hardly imagine. To this day, we continue to stay in touch, and hopefully, we will be able to meet again in the future. 

Today, in this short piece, I just wanted to acknowledge Robert and others who faced the same circumstances. I can only imagine what it would have been like to serve and fight by someone’s side by side, only to have your superiors send you in different directions. Of course, you’d tell each other the day would come when you could meet again, hopefully under more peaceful circumstances.

You’d part thinking about the future reunion and all the stories you could share. You’d carry those thoughts and memories waiting for the day your service was completed. Of course, reality sets in at some point, and promises made are not kept for one reason or another. That reality does not include finding your old friend, but it does include your memories of times past.

Finally, you come to the point in life where you need to remember those days from your youth. You need to travel back to those years in memory at least, and you want to pay your respects to those who never came home. There, at The Wall, you are retracing steps in your mind. You find the names of those you lost, and remember the promise you couldn’t keep. Then, almost as if by the hand of fate, you find a name you did not expect. A promise has been fulfilled, though not as you expected.

If you’ve not taken the time to watch any of the other videos this Memorial Day week, watch this one. While doing so, remember the tens of thousands of soldiers over the years who made promises to reunite with friends only to find that impossible. It was not impossible because they didn’t want to reconnect. It was not impossible because they forgot their promise. It was impossible because the buddy they sought never made it home. 

After The War*

*This links to a video of the song being performed at the Vietnam Memorial in 1991:


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More Than a Name

David Charles Marshall Jackson was his name.  The poor kid was named after his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. That’s the price one pays for being the second son whose older brother was not stuck with any ancestral names. You get them all, at least in the Ballard-Jackson clan in 1947. Yet, regardless of the reason for our names, we are each more than a name, at least we can be. 

In David’s case, he did his best to stand out as something other than the vessel carrying the remembrances of others. And, he was lucky in a way.  By the time he was born, we’d already been through the saga of nicknames or diminutive names with my given name. If that little battle had not been fought before his arrival, he’d have been known as little Davy or little Charley for the rest of his life. Our great-grandfather’s no-nonsense demeanor David was David from birth. 

Names matter, in ways beyond simple identification and differentiation. Several studies have indicated names can affect everything from how you appear to where you live and your occupation. Still, the primary purpose of a name is identification. Think of a first-grade teacher riding herd on a dozen or so little girls and boys. Without names, the teacher would be calling out something such as, “Hey! You, the little boy in the back left corner of the room in the red shirt.” Instead, the teacher can say, “David, can you read the first line in on the board?”

Yet, we are much more than a name. For example, at this moment, if someone googled my first and last name, they might find a former professional basketball player. They could find some academic types, as my given name and surname seem to have pushed many people into research, teaching, and writing, me included. This brings me to the point of this piece.

According to the Vietnam Memorial Fund, there are 58,320 names on the memorial. Of course, there are thousands, tens of thousands more names in cemeteries, other monuments, and government records of service-related deaths. In each case, the thing to remember is whether the name helped shape a person’s life or not. Each person represented on a memorial, lying in a grave or simply recorded in a record somewhere, was more than a name. He or she was a child, brother, sister, husband, father, wife, mother, or a combination of these characteristics.

More Than a Name on a Wall

© – 2020

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The Wall of Names

Monday I posted “Of Memorials and Remembrances.” It was intended to be a reminder that Memorial Day is not simply another holiday.  While I normally write something for Memorial Day, this piece was triggered by someone’s attempt at being current and sociable. It was the manager at the fitness center, and as I was leaving her parting remarks were “Happy Memorial Day.” I know she meant well, but it was a bit off the mark.

To be fair, the individual in question knows very little about me. She sees me on the treadmill, using some machines, and yakking it up with the early morning workout group. Additionally, she likely has no clue about the meaning of this particular day.

To me, her comment was the equivalent of telling someone, “Happy Wake.” A wake, visitation, or memorial service is held to acknowledge a lost life. They may be pleasant, and they may include the telling of amusing anecdotes about the deceased. Laughs may occur.  However, Memorial Day is an annual wake for the tens of thousands who died defending the United States.  It is not, in an overall sense, a “happy” occasion.

Certainly, we, as a society, have turned Memorial Day into a party. That is not because it should be a party. Instead, it is because our leaders decided a three-day weekend was more important than a stand-alone day of remembrance. Yes, there are those who place flags, flowers and wreaths on graves.  Yes, there are speeches, and organized activities to salve some of the pain felt by those whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice. Sadly, for most people it seems the day is set aside to guzzle beer, grill burgers, and act foolishly at the pool or beach.

For me, and tens of thousands of others it is a day to remember our brothers, sisters, fathers, uncles, aunts, grandparent, and others who died in places most people never heard of much less visited. For my generation especially, it is the day to remember the roughly 50,000* names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. Those 50,000 names are there to memorialize the life of someone’s family member who gave his or her last breath to make it possible for people to celebrate holidays, memorial days, and a beautiful sunrise. 

For a taste of what so many feel on Memorial Days and other days of honoring and remembering fallen heroes, click on the link below. Listen and watch an homage to those whose only reward for dying was being remembered and having their name on that wall. 

50,000 Names

* The official count today is 58,320. Also, the video is great, but first 1:20 is without music. FF to 1:25 and to hear the song.

© – 2020

Posted in Patriotism, Veterans, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Of Memorial and Remembrance

I have been hard-pressed not to editorialize over Memorial Day this year. Instead, let me say simply, it is a holiday with a disputed history, and an often misunderstood focus.
Currently, we designate the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. For more than a century, that was not the case. It was celebrated on May 30, without regard for the day of the week. Now, the date changes annually, and the reason for the holiday is a bit obscure to many.

For people like me, there is no confusion. Memorial Day is not the unofficial first day of summer. It is not the day the swimming pools traditionally open and is not a celebration of all who served in the military. It is the day we honor those who died in military service. It is the day to remember those making the ultimate sacrifice so you and I could swim, grill, look forward to sunburns and time at the lake. Happily, as with all issues of this nature, there are reasons to enjoy the holiday.

First, most people have a three-day weekend. A weekend that will let them take a break from reality and relax. Of course, for some this year, the Monday of a three day weekend is just another Monday. They’ve been on seven-day weekends since March. Still, it is a holiday weekend, and Monday morning is not necessarily a return to the grind morning.

For people like me, it is the beginning of time for remembering and honoring those we lost. It is also time to remember the cost of those losses. For me and some others, this time of remembrance lasts all week, or at least until the 30th.

One way to honor and remember those making the ultimate sacrifice is through music. Over the years, I’ve found several songs that do just that. Here, I want to share a song that may not have been written to memorialize fallen members of the armed services. Yet, in many ways, it does.[1]

As the song makes clear, we all live and die, and we should strive to live life to the fullest. Sadly, many of us fail to push the envelope and make memories that will stay with us to the end. Most of the men and women we celebrate and remember on Memorial Day lost their opportunity to sample all life has to offer.

If Memorial Day means more to you than hot dogs, beer and pool time, click the link below, and check back in later, there may be more to come.

Not Every Man Lives

[1] Watch the entire video. The Memorial Day connection takes a minute to show.

© – 2020

Posted in Holidays, Patriotism, Veterans, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment