Friday, May 27, 2011

Salute to a fallen hero

Tom Shepherd grew up two blocks from me on a street that resembled the ski jump at Lake Placid.  As kids we'd walk our bikes to the top of this launching pad because peddling up this gigantic slope was impossible.  Once on top of Orchard Street, we'd free wheel it down this precipice - probably reaching speeds faster than our dads drove their old clunkers - and slam on the braks just before hitting Main Street at the bottom.  The thrilling speed and dangerous climax gave us highs one never attained from drugs.  Our hometown had many steep streets, but this one was great because it lacked curves.

When we turned eight, Tom and I became charter members of our Midget League team, the Dodgers, and Tom's dad coached us weenies.  The village just completed building the ballpark over a large lot that once housed a coal dump and before every practice or game, all the kids had to scour the field for chunks of coal to throw over the fence.  At the age of eight, many of the kids couldn't reach the fence.  The Dodgers never clinched the championship during our four-year stretch, but we won our share of contests, and more importantly, we had fun.  Murray, Tom's dad, made sure of that.  I came to respect the man and in later life realized the value of many of his lessons.

Tom and his younger brother, Joe, remained casual friends through the teen years, but I lost track of Tom after high school.  When I wheeled back into town for our fiftieth class reunion, I asked about Tom at the Saturday night dinner.  The girl I questioned led me to a display table with the names of deceased classmates.  I was shocked at the number - over thirty.  Then I saw a special exhibit about Thomas Christ Shepherd, Sr.  I recognized his picture immediately because he looked like the same friend and classmate I knew for so many years.  He had the same boyish face and devilish grin, but this time he wore an Army uniform decorated with a chest full of medals.

Tom was killed in South Viet Nam during his second tour of duty.  In reading the tribute, I noted he reached the rank of Sergeant First Class.  Imagining my playful friend as a tough combat-hardened sergeant directing young men in war was difficult.

His first tour in Vietnam was served with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong River Delta.  Tom was the recipient of the Silver Star for bravery after he successfully rescued General William Westmoreland's son-in-law at Khe Sahn, Vietnam.  The Silver Star is awarded for valor in the face of the enemy.  It's the 3rd highest decoration of the armed services awarded for heroism.

Among Tom's other awards were the Paratrooper badge as well as the Gallantry Cross, Order of Gallantry. The Paratrooper Badge is worn by parachute-trained soldiers that are dropped to the battlefield from the air allowing them to be positioned in areas not accessible by land - a forced entry technique used to enter the theater of war. The Gallantry Cross, Order of Gallantry, is awarded for going above and beyond the call of duty for valor in combat.

My childhood friend who used to races bikes down Orchard Street - my teenage friend who raced cars down Main Street - now a fallen hero.  I sat in my wheelchair awhile recalling various images of Tom.  My classmate, recognizing my need for privacy, slowly moved away.  Remaining a few minutes longer,  making sure no one saw me, I gave Tom and all those who gave their ultimate for this country a heartfelt salute.  Tom, I salute you and thank you.

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This Memorial Day you may want to join me in sending a care package to a soldier overseas. It only costs $25 to send one courtesy of the USO. Each package is filled with useful items like lip balm, toothpaste, shampoo and playing cards...and sometimes a nonperishable treat that's hard to come by in Iraq and Afghanistan--chewing gum. For more information, follow this link to

Friday, May 13, 2011

Memorial Day

Three stars hung in our window
During the Second World War
I was still too young to know
What these stars were for

I oft stared at this window
I couldn’t stop my gaze
I knew these stars were special
Strange feelings they did raise

Then one day my mom explained
The meaning of the three
I’ll never forget the loving way
She spoke these words to me

The first star is your daddy
He’s sailing on the sea
He had to leave us for a while
To keep our nation free

Brother Bob is the second star
Shrapnel scarred his back
It happened while in Europe
Amidst a plane attack

The third is your brother, Bill
He flies the skies above
His duty is dropping bombs
Safekeeping those he loves

Be proud of these three my son
They had to go and fight
These stars serve our country
To stop our freedom’s flight

In this war for freedom
Some will have to fall
So when you pray for these three stars
Son, pray for warriors all

My age is now called senior
But through all my years
I’ve never forgotten mom’s kind words
As well, her telling tears

Now I see that window empty
Soon to the stars I’ll roam
Brothers, sisters, mom and dad
We’ll all be coming home


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May Day

May Day, May Day! To some that's a wonderful time to dance around a Maypole and celebrate spring, but to others it's the ultimate cry for help.  In this instance, it's a little of both.

In the spirit of the Spring Fairy, Gal Friday (GF) drove me to the mall so I could purchase some new duds...hopefully, somewhat brighter than my normal khaki and other earth tones.  So this is a celebration of spring, right?  This is a good thing, right?  OK, I'm ready to let the moths out of my wallet; go for the gusto and grab the brass ring. The only requirement I mention to Gal Friday is I buy American.  One would think this wasn't asking too much.  One would think not!

Willing to enhance my wardrobe with a color infusion that would make any peacock proud,  I wheel to the men's department of an American department store; GF is beaming.  She coaxes me over to a display of short sleeve summer pullover shirts that dazzle the eyes.  I used to refer to them as golf shirts, but I don't know if that's politically correct anymore.  They've got pink, white, a bright red, a brighter yellow and the brightest royal blue I've ever seen on any color chart.  That's just the first shelf.  The lower one houses some shirts of green, turquoise, peach and some color I don't know how to describe.  This place looks like an explosion in a fireworks factory.  However, undeterred, she began a relentless "oohs and aahs, wouldn't you look good in this?"  Knowing I don't look particularly good in anything, I mumble something like "yes, if the lights are out."   Of course, not wanting to dampen her enthusiasm, I mumbled softly enough so her delicate ears didn't hear.  Sometimes I'm not as dumb as I look -- sometimes.

Without delay, she heads for the cherry red shirt.  I'm thinking red badge of courage or maybe the scarlet A.  She points out it's an American company label.  I casually ask, "Does the label say made in America?"  Her rejoinder is like questioning my lineage, "If it's an American brand, I would think it's made in this country."  She didn't complete the sentence with "you fool", but the implication hung in the air.

Being a kind, considerate and patient person, she begrudgingly checked out the label...made in Pakistan.  Hmm.  Next she grabbed the yellow one that reminded me of one of those atrocious bright yellow cars now whirling along our highways.  You don't need headlights to see them at night...made in Cambodia.  One of GF's eyebrows begins to rise.

She doesn't grab the royal blue garment, but instead, handles it like it has scales...made in Egypt.  I figure at least we're getting closer to home.  Regardless, up goes eyebrow number two.  I notice her jaw tighten while picking up the white shirt...made in Bangladesh.  At this point, Gal Friday is not too happy and, to be honest, even Ed, the cynic, is a little surprised.

Disgusted with the reality of shirt manufacturing, she leads me to the section of shorts.  We used to call these Bermuda shorts, but again, I'm a little gun shy about committing a political boo-boo, or much worse, a fashion faux pas so I'll just call them shorts.  While I chose a nondescript pair of khakis, she selects a pair of plaid pants that remind me of some old golf slacks of the Sixties.  The only thing missing is a white patent leather belt.  The khaki shorts...made in Viet Nam and the multi-colored plaid ones...made in India.

Just so you know, I'm not going to go bananas now, but does this really make sense?  Four shirts and two pair of shorts by American manufacturers made in six foreign countries doesn't seem logical.  Now I'm certainly not an economic advisor, but wouldn't it be nice if these items were made between the Atlantic and Pacific in our good ole US of A?  Oh, I know about free trade and world markets, but I've seen the real devastation of unemployment in the textile industry first hand.  I've witnessed the closing of mills that absolutely shut down small mill villages and tore families apart.  It breaks my heart to ride through ghost towns that two decades ago flourished.  The people of these mills were proud of their finished products and. if you noticed, they had reason to be.  Garments fit with consistency; colors didn't fade like today's; their looms gave us better quality cloth.  In general, the American textile workers gave us a superior product. 

Unemployment is a dangerous thing.  When people don't work, they don't buy.  Unemployment causes our governments to grant more to entitlement programs.  People who are homeless and jobless often turn to crime by necessity, which also means more money spent on non-productive services.  All these factors work against improving our gross national product, which, in turn, ends up pushing our national debt to unbelievable proportions. 

It's true some giant companies manufacture their goods cheaper using off shore labor, but the end product is also of cheaper quality.  Who are these American companies going to sell their products to if people can't afford to buy them?  Most civilized nations place embargoes on American products shrinking our foreign markets.  Many old line companies in our country are now gone since we opened the floodgates.  Don't let anyone kid you, recession is a direct result of unemployment.  Many politicians and economists candy coat the situation and expound on all kinds of consequential factors, but the principal reason we are in trouble as a nation is due to unemployment.  Of course, greed runs a close second.

So the next time you wander into the store to buy something, check to see if it's made in America.