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Whatever rings Mel's bells

Archive for July, 2011

Arron’s Retirement

I had the immense honor of being asked to sing at my friend Arron Sterling’s navy retirement yesterday.  Not only did he hire Tuck and I to sing for his reception, but he asked me to sing the national anthem for the actual ceremony!

Now, I always love to sing the national anthem.  Every time I do, I feel like I’m part of something much bigger than myself.  It’s kind of like my own little form of national service.  Silly, I know, but there you have it.

And it was so flattering that he asked me!  The man’s a Lieutenant Commander, for heaven’s sake, he probably knows a dozen people who could do it.  He asked me.  Damn!  Did that make me blush?  Oh yes, it made me blush.  Right down to the tips of my toes.

So I cleared my calendar for the day, got all gussied up in something appropriate to the occasion, even shaved my legs, and took a nice leisurely drive up to Indian Island.  And it was a fantastic day for a drive.  Took one wrong turn because I didn’t read the directions carefully enough, but I recognized my mistake right away, flipped Rizzo back around, and got headed the right direction.  Got there with plenty of time to spare.

I do love military retirements.  I’ve attended several, and I gotta tell you, I cry every time at two points.  First, there’s a ceremony called “Old Glory.”  Several servicemembers stand in a line, representing the ranks previously held by the retiree.  The lowest ranking person holds an American flag, and they pass the flag from one person to the next, all along the line.  Each person moves slowly and deliberately, saluting before receiving the flag, then saluting again after passing the flag to the next person; it’s a very regimented and precise sequence.  The retiree him or herself is the last person in line, and when he or she takes the flag, he or she can then present it to a parent or spouse, or someone else very special to them.  The entire time the flag is being passed, the following poem is read:

I am the flag of the United States of America
My name is Old Glory.

I fly atop the world’s tallest buildings.
I stand watch in America’s halls of justice.
I fly majestically over great institutes of learning.
I stand guard with the greatest military power in the world.
Look up! And see me!

I stand for peace, honor, truth, and justice.
I stand for freedom.
I am confident . . . I am arrogant.
I am proud.

When I am flown with my fellow banners,
my head is a little higher,
my colors a little truer.

I bow to no one.
I am recognized all over the world.
I am worshipped.
I am saluted.
I am respected.
I am revered. I am loved.
And I am feared.

I have fought every battle of every war for more than 200 years…
Gettysburg, Shilo, Appomatox, San Juan Hill, the trenches of France,
the Argonne Forest, Anzio, Rome, the beaches of Normandy,
the deserts of Africa, the cane fields of the Philippines,
the rice paddies and jungles of Guam, Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Vietnam,
and a score of places long forgotten by all but those who were with me.

I was there!

I led my soldiers.
I followed them.
I watched over them…
They loved me.

I was on a small hill in Iwo Jima.
I was dirty, battle-worn and tired,
but my soldiers cheered me,
and I was proud.

I have been soiled, burned, torn and trampled on the streets of countries
I have helped set free.
It does not hurt . . . for I am invincible.
I have been soiled, burned, torn and trampled on the streets of my country,
and when it is by those with whom I have served in battle . . . it hurts.
But I shall overcome . . . for I am strong.

I have slipped the bonds of Earth
and stand watch over the uncharted new frontiers of space
from my vantage point on the moon.

I have been a silent witness to all of America’s finest hours.
But my finest hour comes
when I am torn into strips to be used for bandages
for my wounded comrades on the field of battle.
when I fly at half mast to honor my soldiers…
and when I lie in the trembling arms
of a grieving mother at the graveside of her fallen son.

I am proud.
My name is Old Glory.

Dear God . . . Long may I wave!

I read recently that this was written in 1983, which I found surprising because I always thought it was a much older tradition.  All I know is that I cry every time I hear it.  (Well, I cry when it’s done well.  I’ve heard MCs who didn’t know what they were doing, and a butchered reading doesn’t always bring up tears.)  The other part that always gets me is when they read “The Watch.”  Again, visualize me weeping like a baby.  A sad, angry baby.  (For those of you who aren’t Firefly fans, that’s a quote.)

Aye mates,
For many years, this Sailor stood the watch …
While some of us lay about our bunks at night,
This Sailor stood the watch.

While others of us were attending schools,
This Sailor stood the watch.

And yes, even before many of us were born,
This Sailor stood the watch.

As our families watched the storm clouds of war,
brewing on the horizons of history,
He stood the watch.

This Sailor looked ashore and saw his family …
Often needing his guidance but he knew he must stay,
Because he had the watch.

For many years he has stood the watch,
So that we and our countrymen could sleep soundly, in safety,
knowing that a Sailor would stand the watch.

Today, we are here to say “Shipmate, the watch stands relieved.
Relieved by those you have led, trained and guided.
Shipmate, you now stand relieved, We have the watch.”

Again, with the right person reading it, this is a huge tearjerker for me.  Yes, I get sappy when I think of everything that is given by those who serve.  It’s not just the lives they lay down, it’s not just the ones who died on our behalf.  (Though how the word “just” could ever be applied to that kind of sacrifice, I don’t know.)  Like anything else one does, the willingness to give over a long period of time is just as significant a sacrifice – holding fast, day in and day out, while all the little costs add up.

A life given in service to the military is just that – a life given in service.  I’m too selfish to do that.  I freely admit it.  I want to do my own thing with my life.  I don’t even want to work for a corporation, or anybody else for that matter, because I’d rather be accountable to myself.  I enjoy self-employment, because I can make all the decisions myself.  I am amazed and wonderstruck and incredulous at the many men and women I know, and the many more I’ll never know, who have given five or ten or twenty – or in Arron’s case, 28 – years of their lives to defend us.

And then, after all that, they don’t even get the national anthem at their ceremony.  Yep, that’s right folks, the sad, sorry truth is that when the time came yesterday for the MC to announce me, he skipped a line and went right past.  Poor Arron, I felt so bad for him.  I felt pissed for myself too, you understand, but really, for me it was an opportunity to be there for a friend, and to honor the nation that is my home and those who ensure its (and my) safety.  For Arron, it was the culmination of his entire career, the ending point of his life as it’s been and the beginning of his life as it will be.  He deserved fewer glitches, IMHO.

But of course, at the end of the day, he was still retired, and we had an awesome party later on.  At which, of course, he let me sing the anthem.

It wasn’t fairy-tale quality, but it was still a happy ending.

Extended absence

Yes, I know I’ve been gone for a while.  I’ve been losing my mind, trying to get this business off the ground, and I haven’t taken the time to update you all here.  So please accept my apologies.

I’m actually running out the door in a few minutes, heading for CASH class.  It’s week 7 – we’re almost done – and tonight we’re working on our business plans.  I was aiming for about 30 pages…  Think it’s going to turn out closer to 40 or so.  We’ll see.  Tomorrow I’m singing the national anthem for the Bluejackets, then jetting to family dinner.  It was my turn to cook, but daMama traded with me.

Albert’s dad is supposed to be coming up soon to visit, so that’ll be awesome.  Still waiting to hear about Tuck and Jan’s house and find out when my partner is leaving me.  X-(  I shouldn’t complain, it’s been a great 16 months!  I started playing Frontierville on Facebook…  Don’t really know why, I just decided one day that I would.  Stupid game is addicting.  But it makes for a good mental break when I hit the wall on legitimate projects.

Anyhoo, I’ll try to keep the blog updated more regularly.  What the point of an empty blog is, I really don’t know!