Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fred A. - Texas

“Life is unjust and this is what makes it so beautiful. Every day is a gift. Be brave and take hold of it.” 
            - Garrison Keillor

Fred has lived an adventurous life. His family came from incredibly humble beginnings, but they shined through it all. Below, you can read a bit of how Fred faced life with bravery and found victory and beauty despite injustice.

~ Claire

My dad was born about 1871 in Lebanon. My dad came to this country with his family about 1891 when he was about 20 years old. He was a peddler who peddled dry goods out of the back of a wagon or a carriage. Sometimes he would just go on horseback as he traveled through the country. That’s how he spent most of his life until about 1905.

Since my dad was much older (he was 59 when I was born), he was not nearly as active while I was growing up as he had been when he was as a younger person. His character is still what resonates with all of us as a family. He was very fair. He would not criticize anybody and he wouldn’t lose his temper. He didn’t ever use a curse word against anybody, even in talking third person. You never would hear him put anybody down that bad. That’s what we all just marveled at because of all the difficulties he must have had as an immigrant. He was a person of honesty; he believed that your name was everything.

Education was the highest on his list of things he wished he had, or could have done. He really pushed us hard on that, “Get an education. It’s something nobody can cheat you out of or take away from you. And it helps you deal with life and responsibility.” Of his eight children, six of us got college degrees on our own hook. We were family-supported on the little stuff, but we all went to college on either borrowed money or scholarships.

We had a guy in our town who had played football and was paralyzed from the waist down from a football injury. That young man’s father had a business across the street from my father, so my dad saw him lots in times in a wheelchair and said to us, “No. I’m not going to let you play football.”

Finally my older sisters and older brothers intervened and said, “It’s a chance to get a college education, Pop. You always said education is the biggest thing. We can’t afford to go any other way except on a scholarship. We either make it academically or we make it on the football field.”

I started playing football when I was a freshman in high school. They were smart enough not to put us up with the big, heavier boys and get hurt. Back in those days, they used common sense instead of regulations. I had played with my brother and our neighbors. I was always a good receiver, but some of the other stuff I was not good at until I got some real legitimate training. I was captain of the football team, and I was on the football team for three years. I earned my letter as a sophomore; I was the only sophomore who earned a letter that year.
We won the state championship in high school and then I got scholarship offers to about three or four colleges. LSU had always been my choice. I went over with the quarterback from my high school team, and we were roommates our freshman year and we played on the freshman football team together. I went into LSU for summer school and stayed till the middle of the following spring.

My oldest brother Moses had always wanted to go to West Point, but could not get an appointment because of political reasons. Our senators and congressmen checked their records, and my dad had never made any political contributions or played any politics. The word got back to us, like it always does in rural communities, that our senator made a statement that was just typical of the times and of Mississippi. “I ain’t never going to give no appointment to no damn Arab!”

Several years later, Moses made the first contact for me to go to West Point. When he was at Ole Miss as a Company Commander in the ROTC, a professor of Military Science and Tactics was a classmate of Earl Blaik, the coach at West Point. The professor wrote to Blaik and told him about me, “Would you be interested in a kid from a small town in Mississippi?” Blaik said, “You know the procedure. Get him in the pipeline.”

I left LSU early, in the middle of the spring semester, and came home because my dad’s health was failing. I knew that if I went off to West Point I wouldn’t ever see him alive again. I talked it over with the family and came home and spent the last three or four months of his life there.

I had had a discussion with my dad. I wasn’t real sure that I wanted to go on through with going to West Point. With the stuff that you could read about those four years, and being away from home – the first year you get no leave at all except when you went on official duty. You didn’t get to come home on Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, or even if somebody died in the family. You didn’t get to come home at all that first year. I just didn’t know whether I wanted to put up with that kind of stuff. And the Korean War broke out ten days before I was supposed to report for duty. All the news up in that part of the country said that any West Pointers who had just graduated and were on leave were supposed to get off of leave and come back to report for duty. It was just like when we were going into World War II. It was tough times.

My dad told me, “Look, I kept you and your brothers off of that football field all these years. You pressured me, and kept on, and begged saying that the only way you could get a college education was with a football scholarship. Think back to all of the times I did not go to the ball games because I was afraid I’d see you hurt. Then you go and you win the state championship! You’re the captain of the team! You’re telling me after going and getting a scholarship, and going to a good prep school at LSU, you’re not going to go and take this appointment?! You do what you want, but you’d be a very big disappointment to me if you didn’t go.” Everybody needs a dad with wisdom like that!

My dad passed away two weeks before I had to report to West Point. It wasn’t unexpected, but it still was a real shock. Pop had always been the stable guy in the family. I’m sure it was just devastating to my mother.

I had a real tough first two or three days when I got off to West Point. I was no different from 100 other guys that were candidates to come up and play football for Army. And my first night away from home, a big thunderstorm came rolling through the mountains. It was a display of lightning like you can’t believe! And I thought I had seen some real ones down in Mississippi. It thundered and lightninged, and it never quit! I just knew I had made a bad mistake, but I had to hang in there.

I had a good time as a freshman at West Point. I hadn’t made my reputation as a football player up there yet. I thought I was good enough to be first team, but the coach didn’t think so. I got up to West Point and they favored all the kids from the northeast: from New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and so forth. But the next year when the politics were out of it, they were looking for team players and I made first team offense and defense. I felt real good about that.

It was an accomplishment just to get through West Point. We lost 25% of our class through attrition. They always told us, “Nobody gets in who is not qualified. Everybody who gets in is qualified to meet all of the curriculum and finish. It’s just a matter of applying yourself and being determined to finish.” All of them who got kicked out, except for medical reasons, just didn’t have the determination to stick it out. As I’ve gotten older over the years, I’ve come to believe that I think that was true. They were not lying to us. Looking back on the people that I knew who dropped out, most of them had better grades than I did but they just couldn’t stand the routine and the “lack of freedom”.

I did feel a sense of accomplishment with my graduation. Everybody in the whole hall could just pop their buttons off, we were all so excited to graduate. I was just glad to get out of there! But I took it all in.

I would like to say to my family and my friends, don’t try to change all those other people around you. Just change yourself, or your attitude, and things will take care of themselves. You will have disappointments. You will be treated unfairly. You will not win the lottery. You could be the best athlete in the world, and the coach will still play his son ahead of you. There are just some things you cannot change. Just be yourself, and then think about how you can be a better citizen or a better person.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Rene G. - Texas

"What greater aspiration and challenge are there for a mother than the hope of raising a great son or daughter?"
Rose Kennedy

Rene is the second oldest in a family of 14 children. He and his family worked hard through difficult life circumstances. But through it all, they worked together. Rene's only mission was to help his family, and that mission took him all the way across the world. 

~ Claire

I had a total of fourteen siblings. My sister Francis was the first one born in our family. We call her Frankie. Then the first boy was born next. His name was Eliodoro. He passed away the same day he was born.

Then I was next. Francis was three years older than me.

Next was Arnulfo, Arnold, Sylvia and Armando.

David was born after Armando. He passed away when he was about one year old. I was about twelve years old; I was just barely getting into my teen years. It was a difficult time. We were living in a very, very small house. My dad could barely find work, and the house was always cold. I think that’s one of the reasons why David caught pneumonia, because we didn’t have any heat in the house. At that time all I wanted was heat. So I said to myself, “Whatever it takes to maintain a good house and be able to have all that, that’s what I’m going to do.” David’s passing was very difficult on my mother. He was the second of the children that had passed away. I really don’t remember her coping with it. She was a strong woman who realized and knew that she still had other children to take care of. Even if she was grieving, which I could see, a lot of times she wouldn’t show it.

Eliazar was born next, then Linda, Mary, Eddie, Melissa Jean (she also was born and died on the same day), and finally Jessie.

We lived in a very, very small house. It was about as big as a sitting room. It was just a square house, but actually it was just a room, that’s it. All the boys slept together and all the girls slept together on the floor. You would just grab blankets because if it got cold and you didn’t have a blanket it was tough luck.

There was a kitchen area where my mom would cook, but it was just a kerosene stove and that was it. We didn’t have indoor plumbing. We always had to go to the pump outside to get water. It was one of the big old pumps and we had to go out there to get all the water that we needed. We all took turns going to get the water. Whoever Mom or Dad told to go get water went to go get it. There were no specific chores for us; we just did it all. If our parents told us to do something, we did it.

I was around 12 years old when my dad decided that he wanted to follow the crops. He bought an old ’53 GMC two and a half ton truck, which was an old battery-delivery truck. He converted that and took all of the shelving out of it, which left just the box. That was our mode of transportation from state to state. We travelled from Texas to just about any state with the whole family in the back of that truck. Wherever the work was, that’s where we would end up. We would do field work: picking strawberries, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, anything.

The kids did all that work also, with my parents. We were always being pulled out of school because we traveled and did all of that migrant work with my parents. When we got to a certain place, there would be living quarters, or barracks, there that the farmers would put up for the workers to live in, and that’s where we stayed. From town to town, we went to a different school. We learned never to make friends with anybody because we were going to be gone in a few months. We went immediately from school to grab something to eat, then to go work in the fields until 8:00 at night or as long as there was daylight. We did that from the time I was 12 until I was about 16, maybe 17. I left school when I was in 10th grade. I just dropped out. I helped to bring in some money for the family. I felt it was a responsibility. I thought, “Why go to school when I can work all day and help my dad?” So that’s what I did.

The very first time I left home was when I enlisted into the Army. I had just turned 18. I enlisted for the pay, for the money. I knew that if I enlisted and was in the Army, whatever money I earned I could send back home, which is what I did for the three years I was there. I wasn’t really nervous to enlist; I just went up there and did it. Of course, that was during the Vietnam era, so I had a feeling that I might be going there.

When I left for the Army was my first time I had ever got on a plane. Now that was nerve-wracking! I thought the plane could come down at any minute! I got to Fort Bliss for basic training, and that was an eye-opening experience when I got to the camp. I remember that I actually thought that I was dreaming because I had never had a bed of my own with my own sheets, my own blanket, my own pillow. I thought, “Man, this is something else! I’ve got to be dreaming! Look at this, it’s all mine!” We got three hot meals a day. I couldn’t believe that! I thought that was good, until the next day when we had to get up – it wasn’t a dream after that! It was training. The drill instructors hollered at you from the time you got up until the time you went to bed. But it was an experience that I won’t forget because it was my first time away by myself.

I was in Vietnam for three years. I was assigned as the driver for the Pay Master, who was in charge of finances. Even though the troops were up in the de-militarized zone, they had to get paid. I would take the Pay Master from the base camp, where we were, up into the battlefield to pay the guys. We always had to drive in convoy with all the gunships and everything. I made several trips up into the DMZ, but one particular day I had an omen; I had a feeling something was going to happen. That morning, when I was preparing my Jeep with the guns and everything, my staff sergeant comes out. Then we started the convoy and headed up into the DMZ. Like I said, I had this feeling. And, sure enough, we got attacked. As soon as the first mortar round hit, I guess I lost it. They tell you in training, of course, that you should never leave your position. Well, I did. I just pulled out and sped on up to the head of the line, which was a crazy thing to do. The Major that I had with me was freaked out also. I think he was grateful. He didn’t know what to do or say. Several ships were damaged and a couple of guys were killed. I knew them just by name. It was a horrible experience. Part of the deal was that even though we had gunships and everything, you felt responsible for whatever happened. It was just a bad experience. But I made it through there. We got up there and paid the guys, and then the Major flew back on a helicopter. He said, “I’m not driving with you. You get back whenever you can.” I thought I was going to get disciplined, that I was going to be court-marshaled, because I did something wrong.

I got back, and the Major’s plan was to take me off that Jeep. He didn’t want me as a driver anymore. He found me a position to stay in the back, in the finance office. He basically made me a clerk. I didn’t know what I was doing, but as long as I didn’t have to go into the battlefield, I was happy.

While I was in the Army, I lived on six dollars a month. Six dollars was all I needed. That’s all I kept; everything else was sent home. I wrote back and forth with my mother. Like any mother, she was worried about me while I was in Vietnam, but I just wanted to be sending money home.

Some of the happiest times that I can remember growing up were just playing with my brothers and sisters. I miss that time. We would just go out and play and be rambunctious. It was just a happy time even though our lifestyle was hard.

But I learned from my mom to be helpful, to be nice and respectful. That was drilled into us, to constantly respect our elders no matter what. And I learned about hard work from my dad. If you want something, you’ve got to work for it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Frank M. - Texas

Frank has quite possibly the most impressive resume of anyone I've ever personally met: Valedictorian of his high school class, Valedictorian of his class at West Point, two Masters Degrees from MIT, and a PhD from Southwestern Seminary, ya know, just to name a few. (Wow!!) But what's most striking about him is his humility. Frank is a gentle, wise man who is known more for the way he loves those around him than for the accomplishments listed on his resume. I was completely honored to sit down and chat with him.  Below, you will find a story about his times, good and bad, while he was at West Point. 

~ Claire

While I was at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, I got an appointment to West Point from Senator Richard Russell. He was a friend of both my father and my mother. My grandfather had been a probate judge in Georgia, and I’m sure the Senator was friends with my family because of that.

I didn’t know anything about West Point. It had never been mentioned to me as a possibility when I was in high school because even my high school counselors knew nothing about it. Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis had been football heroes in 1945, and I would listen to the Army games on the radio. But that’s all I had ever heard about West Point. I didn’t know anything about it till I went to the prep school at Stewart Air Force Base. Then I found out more about it than I wanted to know.

Frank at Air Force Basic Training

They shipped me to Stewart Air Force Base in New York for West Point Prep School. I was there at the Prep school for almost a year, from October till I had to be at West Point on July 5th.

My experiences there were interesting. We were in New York so when we had weekend leave we could go down to New York City. We got to see a lot down there. I always contribute each year to the U.S.O. because they had a U.S.O. place in New York City where you could go in for one dollar and get a cot and spend the night there, as many nights as you wanted to spend there, for one dollar a night. It was pretty close to downtown, and you could see anything you wanted to see in New York City: the plays, Broadway, Greenwich Village, all the hot spots. The most interesting time was when we were on the show The $64,000 Question. One of my friends got on it. He said, “I’ll split the winnings with you,” but he didn’t win much.

When I came home on leave from prep school, before going to West Point, that’s when I met my wife, Nancy. I had a friend named Spug (his real name was Earnest, but we all called him Spug). He introduced me to Nancy. I was kind of reluctant to go with her at first because Spug’s reputation was not real good for the kind of ladies that he would like to go with. But I was pleasantly surprised because she was just… It was love at first sight. What Spug had in mind, though, was that we would pick Nancy up along with another gal, and then we would switch. He had tried to date Nancy before, but Nancy’s dad wasn’t having anything to do with Spug. He thought we were going to switch, but I said, “No, I’m not switching with you. I got the one I want right here!” We went to the drive-in movie and had a good time together. I don’t even remember what movie we saw because my mind wasn’t on the movie.

Nancy was just great. When I finally had to go to West Point, it was hard to leave her. She wrote me a letter after I left. I wrote her back and told her that I had lost a quarter to a friend because she had written to me. I had bet my friend that she wouldn’t write to me, but she did. I was always bashful around girls at that age. When I wrote her back I told her, “I meant what I said on the phone last night.” I had told her that I loved her, even then, but I wasn’t going to say that in the letter. I just wrote about the things that were happening on the train, how there were nine of us going to West Point at the same time, things like that. That was the kind of letter I wrote. Later on, I wrote it differently but that first time I didn’t want to say too much because I really didn’t know how she felt. We continued to exchange letters; I’ve got a carton full of letters that we wrote while I was in West Point.

Frank receives the Star Award

My mother died in January of my first year at West Point, when I was 20. She had an addiction to codeine, which she started using because of migraine headaches. Her doctor got her kind of hooked on the codeine. Back home, there was this place that I never would have allowed them to put her in if I had been home. It was supposedly a place where she would go and they would cure her, one of those rehab centers. I’m sure what happened was that they restrained her and she had a heart attack when she was in there. I don’t know that for a fact because I wasn’t there, but the only thing that I can think of was that they restrained her and that’s what killed her. The American Red Cross had got ahold of me up in New York, told me what had happened, and flew me home. I cried all the way home on the plane. I always contribute to the Red Cross and the U.S.O. because of the ways that they were there for me. Nancy never met my mom, but she was at her funeral.

Frank and his mom

My time at West Point varied: there were good times and there were bad times. We had to pull guard duty on the weekend when we wanted to go on weekend leave. That was not good. When you dated up there, we called it “dragging”. We had to figure out what we could do and what we couldn’t do. We couldn’t just stand around and kiss; one of the rules was that you could not have a show of affection. At one place, below the plain at West Point, there was a path that went underneath there and up the Hudson River. It was called Trophy Point. Right below Trophy Point, there was a little path with a rock on it called Kissing Rock. We could go down there and kiss, but that was the only place you could go.

Frank and Nancy

I finally convinced Nancy to move up to New York my junior year in 1953. In the fall of 1953, during my senior year at West Point, Nancy and I went to the Ring Hop where we got our rings. I was glad that my time there was almost over. February 21, 1954 we announced our engagement, but that was just a formality; I had really proposed to her a long time before that. I had proposed to her in 1951 and gave her a ring, my mom’s old wedding ring because that was all that I had. We were at Nancy’s mom and dad’s house. I just got down on my knees and asked her, “Would you marry me?” and gave her the ring. She said yes. It was such a happy day for me.

Frank graduates Valedictorian of his class at West Point

Pop was all in favor of Nancy and I getting married. He loved Nancy. Pop came up for my graduation. I graduated first in my class at West Point. That felt pretty good. I graduated on the 8th, then Pop, Nancy and I drove back to Georgia, and Nancy and I got married ten days after graduation, on the 18th

Frank and Nancy's wedding

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Carol D. - Texas

“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being "in love" which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”  
 Louis de Berni√®res, Corelli's Mandolin

Below you will find an excerpt from Carol's Interview.  She and her husband John just celebrated 50 years of marriage. They have so much to look back on and cherish, but they are looking forward to much more to come.

~ Claire

John and I had known of each other since I was six or seven years old because my mother took me to church where John and his family attended. His parents used to come by and pick my mother and me and some of my other siblings up to take us to church. John was our song leader, so I saw him there every week. I knew John was a really nice person.

The year I turned 14, John gave me my first birthday present from him. It was a sweater, a gold mohair sweater that itched me to death. But I hung onto it for a long time.

John and I went to the movies together a lot. We came to Dallas and saw Ben Hur; that was my first time to ever go out of our little community on a date. I thought it was amazing and fun. We still love watching movies together.

We got engaged on December 22. John came over to my house and had already talked to my dad. He had wrapped my ring and put it under the tree. He gave it to me and I opened it up. Then, he got it and put it on my finger and asked me to marry him.

We found out that we were expecting our first child in 1968. We had been married for almost six years by then and I had been wanting a baby ever since the first year we had been married. Every month I would think, “Oh, I hope I’m pregnant!”

The day that our first child was born was a very happy day for us. I loved life with a baby. Our first year with Amy was a nice, wonderful year for us.

I wanted another baby because I didn’t want Amy to grow up without a sibling. We found out we were expecting another child in August, right around our ninth anniversary.

We had another daughter, and we named her Lori. We loved both of our girls dearly. My mother loved being a grandmother, too. She loved little girls, particularly, because she liked to sew for them. She made me beautiful clothes, and she made Amy and Lori beautiful clothes.

John is a real good dad. He loves Amy and Lori. He is a hands-on dad, especially when the girls were little. He changed diapers and got up in the middle of the night with them to feed them. I would lay the girls’ clothes out on Sunday and he would get them dressed.

I think both of the girls have evolved into beautiful young women from the inside out. They have some strong convictions that I hope we instilled in them as children. They are very caring and very generous. We are a very close family.

I believe that God brought us through the trials that we’ve had along the way. Every family has trials, and I believe our strong faith has helped us cope with that and get through those difficulties. They say that marriage is 50/50, but I think it’s more 100/100. Each person has to give 100%. You’ve got to forgive, and you’ve got to learn to say, “Please forgive me.” I think that’s something that we should instill in our children at a very early age, to say, “Please forgive me.” Those three words are very important.