I Won’t Forget

BC Editor’s Note:  The following is reprinted with permission for the Boot Campaign, by a young teenage girl who contemplates the cost of deployment.  

By Katherine Boynton

I won’t forget
I write him a tear-stained letter. I’m so sorry.
I sit on my bed legs crossed, shoulders slumped, crying with my mom when the revelation of I can’t live without him hit me.
Grabbing old notebook paper and whatever pen I could find, I start to write the most vulnerable letter of my life.
My understanding, my love, my sympathy are all at zero. I’ve forgotten all the things he sacrifices day to day to allow me to grow. To allow me to have the best opportunities he can.
I don’t like living with him, and I hate the arguments of “I don’t get it!” as we battle over math homework.
I don’t like accepting his rules. . .or his reasons.
I feel like he doesn’t trust me. I’ve never been the rebellious one.
But have I earned his trust? Or am I just not the rebellious one because he never gives me the chance?
Thoughts rush through my mind as I hear the news of his deployment.
Thoughts of worry, unease – and even relief.
His character, his heart, his desire to do the best by me…
Why did I forget…? How did I forget…?
Will I ever forget again?
***
He. Is. Gone…
I miss him. I love him. I want him here. I can’t stand living without a dad. I’m supposed to pick up the slack? When is there time?
I hear the kids at school say stupid things as I pass through the hall. Saying that their sacrifices mean nothing, that they amount to nothing. Saying the American flag is a joke.
Why would they say those things? They just don’t get it.
I cry to my mom. She’s the only one close who gets it.
A few try, but they fail.
***
It’s my brother’s turn.
One loved one gone. Another?
I’m alone at my house. The phone rings.
“Douglas!”
“I’m calling to let you know I’m not dead.”
“Whaaaat?” I. Am. Dazed. “Is someone?”
“Yes,” in a you-should-have-known type of way. But I hear the agony in his voice.
Someone close.
“Are you hurt?”
“No. Just tell Mom.”
I hear him swallowing the lump in his throat as he says it.
***
I sit in my room. Light off.
Maybe when I wake up life will be better…
It could have been him. Either of them.
What if my brother was in the crash? What if he never comes home? What if my dad never comes home?
***
It’s today! I. Am. Nervous.
The buses come at 12. I want to see him! To wrap him in my arms!
We wait the longest hour of my life.
Finally! My heart skips every other beat.
I see him through the window. He comes off the bus, I’m the first to break down, first to cry.
I shove my face in his chest. And cry.
“I love you, Dad!”
I won’t forget.

For more articles by Katy and other military children, please visit www.abackpackjournalist.com.

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Close as Strangers

By Boot Girl Myra with Special Guest Mindy Sue

To what lengths, or heights would you go for a complete stranger?  Would you come to the rescue of someone on the side of the road?  Perhaps you’d give some spare change to the person in front of you at the grocery store who is 5 cents short on their bill.  Maybe you are one of those families who takes great joy in buying the food for the car behind you in the drive-thru lane.  How about jumping out of a plane?  Mmmm, yeah, right.

Let me introduce you to Mindy Sue Rawlinson.  She is completely THAT girl.  The one who would jump out of a plane in honor of someone she’s never met.  It’s not like she didn’t know JT, but it was through email communication only, and it was very short-lived, in a very tragic way.  Mindy struck up a friendship through mutual friends with Jon Tumilson, an active-duty Navy SEAL who was KIA on August 6th in Afghanistan.  There had been less than 30 days of communication between them at the time of his death.   A famous quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., “it’s not the quantity but the quality of one’s life that matters most”, is well-applied for Mindy’s story.  In less than 30 days it was the quality of a friendship that became life-changing, not the amount of time spent together, because there wasn’t any. The quality of their conversation challenged Mindy to do something about her bucket list not just talk about it.

In her own words, and as a means to process acute grief for her new friend, Mindy wrote this email to JT after learning of his death:

I want to say thank you for all that you’ve done. You died doing what you believed in. You died doing what you loved. And most of all, you died fighting for all of the “freedom you loved so much” (couldn’t have said it better myself). You were the type of man most men strive to be. What you accomplished in your 35 years is much more than 10 men combined do over a lifetime. You’ve inspired me to continue to live my life fully. I plan on taking full advantage of the freedoms that you so gracefully ensured we have here in the United States. I also promise you that I’ll do all the things I talked about in my emails…I will run that marathon. I will sky dive again. I will go to Italy. I will get some “east coast culture up in me”. I’ll also make sure to eat a LOT of pumpkin pie in honor of you this holiday season.  But one thing I promise I WON’T do is forget you.

You’ve inspired me to be an honorable, driven woman who will not settle for anything less. I’ve tried to figure out why I “met” you and what I am supposed to take from this … not sure I have an answer yet. But, maybe it’s just that…to always strive to be the best and appreciate every moment I have (with all those that I love).

After a few months of restlessness, Mindy decided it was time to make good on one of those promises in hopes it would not only honor JT, but help her cope with the confused feelings of grief for a friend whom she’d never met.  She put on some dog tags she purchased from JT’s sister Joy, who had them made for people who wanted to honor her brother.  She also put on some combat boots she’d bought from the Boot Campaign,  got in a plane and began her ascent into the wild blue yonder.

Grief can be cathartic at times.  This would be one of those times.  Mindy went on her dive in tandem with the sky-diving instructor, also an unknown to her.  He too was grieving that day, and his dive was to honor his parents who had passed away.  Just imagine: complete strangers, grieving together, one for the loss of love from a lifetime spent together, the other for none.

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Those Who Remain

By Boot Girl Myra with guest blogger John Vanatten

In a recent chat during our weekly radio show on toginet.com, one of our friends up in the Chicago area joined in on the conversation.  We talked about the affect military service has on the families left behind and he agreed to let me publish his observations as they are spot-on.

Photo courtesy US.gov

Young men and women stand at a cross road in life when they make a decision to voluntarily raise their right hand and take the Oath of Enlistment. They promise to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, to Obey the Officers appointed over them, and begin a forever life changing adventure.

They go off to Basic Training, Boot Camp, whatever their selected branch calls the first level of school. While there, the cadre indoctrinates them into the proud and honorable path they have chosen, they bond with their new brothers and sisters in arms. Some volunteer further, Airborne School, Ranger School, BUDS, rising up to greater challenges.  They become tighter with their peers and leaders than they’ve ever been with their family and friends back on the block.

As soldiers, we come to know that we will go where others fear to go and do what others have failed to do. As all of this grows, our families, mothers, fathers, sister, brother, husband, wife sit home and wonder. Our loved ones haven’t been indoctrinated, they haven’t bonded with fellow warriors, they are still the same loving, innocent earthlings that we left behind.

When we’re down range with our Unit we lean on each other, we laugh, cry, joke, and console each other. It’s hard for us to reach out to our families at home, it may break the concentration needed to survive, we may not want to hear about the note on the farm being late or how the bank called about the truck payment. Not because we don’t care, but we can’t change it from a forgotten Fire Base outside of Kabul.

At home, our families watch us on the news, hear about us on the radio, but haven’t been trained to understand what we’re doing. No one carried them through the ranks as they developed. Terms like esprit de corp, selfless service, and Duty, Honor, Country are simply flamboyant phrases, not the watch words and call to arms that they are to their loved one overseas. When I returned the pain I saw in my ma’s eyes was something I pray I never have to see again.  The years of waiting, of praying that the chaplain wouldn’t one day ring the bell out front,  took its toll on her; even though I come from a warrior family.

Today, gratefully, my service time has ended, I give back by working with young returning warriors, offering what I can to families left behind while their loved ones do what our Nation asks of them.

Editors Note: John has spent the last few weeks gathering 40+ friends to join him at the Boot Campaign’s Boot Bash, in Chicago on Oct. 21 at Joes Bar on Weed Street featuring Randy Wells and Stoney LaRue.  If you are in the area, stop by and thank a soldier!

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While You Can

By Boot Girl Myra

Many of my long-time friends would describe me as quirky with a funky style. Some days I like that, other days I secretly wonder if that’s just a nice way of saying I’m really weird. At any rate, one of the holidays on the calendar that I love most is Veteran’s Day, which may raise an eye-brow or two.  It is however, totally in line with the fact I do march to the beat of a different drum.

So, think about it. Veteran’s Day is one of the few holidays we celebrate someone real or still walking among us, we give without expecting anything in return and costs virtually nothing. What I love, unlike many holidays, is it’s not about entertaining or impressing but about appreciating others who gave us the freedom to celebrate all other holidays. It takes the focus off me and puts it on the people who deserve my attention.

Veteran’s Day is only a month away on November 11th. Have you made your plans to honor a veteran yet? If you’re not sure if this is your thing or not, check out these links.  I hope they inspire you to make a plan for Veteran’s Day and say “Thank you for serving”, while you can.

http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/war.casualties/index.html

https://bootcampaign.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/voices-cry-out-in-oil-leak/

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Driving Votes

By Boot Girl Myra

When was the last time a newspaper headline stopped you in your tracks? It did for me yesterday, and 36 hours later I’m still thinking about it. One of the headlines in The New York Times, for Monday, September 26, 2011 read:

Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote

Candidacy is Permitted

Measured Progress is Hailed, but Driving Ban Still Stands

My heart leapt for joy, thankful these women were finally granted the freedom to have an opinion on national leadership issues. It’s 2011, afterall. But then my heart sank as I read the final caption, “Measured Progress is Hailed, but Driving Ban Still Stands”. Soooooo, women can vote but can’t drive to get there? Nice. Or perhaps, how convenient? It’s as if they are told “we will let you vote but you can’t drive there”.

These things are such simple aspects of our freedom. They go unnoticed on a daily basis for most of us. The reality is there are very progressive countries in this world, many of whom are our allies, who don’t allow their citizens certain basic freedoms.

Think about the women who influenced your life. Can you imagine them not having the right to drive you to your soccer games, doctor’s visits, the birthday party across town, vacations, fast-food drive-thru, and drive-in movie theatres? If you live in a town like mine, where there are virtually no sidewalks, getting from A-B is impossible for my children (all girls) without driving. I’m wondering if that’s why the emphasis in many countries to have a boy is so critical. Not only is he the heir to the family estate, but he is the driver, the only one they can depend on to get around. My husband knows all about driving women around in cars, he is the lone man in a house full of girls. Even the dog is a girl – and HE picked her! Maybe that is why this headline struck a particularly raw nerve for me. I see how adversely it would affect our family dynamics if it were illegal for 4 out of 5 of us to drive.

This morning when I left the house, I rolled the windows down and felt the breeze of freedom wafting through my van affectionately known as the “Jack Wagon”. It is the vehicle in which 2 of my daughters learned to drive. It has it’s fair share of dents and dings from years and years of shuttling children to points as far as Florida and Arizona. I was in complete and utter gratitude for my “inalienable right” to drive. Which gives me cause to hope that the leading measure our Saudi sisters should get to decide, the first time they vote, will be FOR the freedom to drive.

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9-12, 13, 14 I Remember Them Well

By Boot Girl Myra

Do you remember where you were on 9-12-2001, or how about the 13th, 14th or 15th?   I was in the same place as 9-11, 2001; dazed, confused and emotionally overloaded with television images.  The other night, as the 10th Anniversary of September 11, 2001 came to a close, I was reminded of the words to a song that seem very apropos. Remember Bette Midler’s song the Rose? The last phrase of the song rings true for me, perhaps to you too when reflecting on the last 10 years.

Remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies a seed, that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes a rose.

It’s been a bitter winter. The impact one day had on our lives 10 years ago will be remembered forever. When we awoke to the twisted scene of destruction on the morning of September 12, 2001 our resolve to turn something meant for evil into good started.  I spent the days following 9-11, 2001 pondering my responsibility as an American and wished to be part of it’s healing process. Whatever that meant, I didn’t know other than to be united with my fellow countrymen no matter our differences.  That kind of resolve happened over and over by millions of people in the days  and years to come.  It’s part of the American spirit.  We might be knocked to our knees but we won’t roll over and be controlled by hatred.

That scene of destruction is now a beautiful picture of what our lives can become when we turn the effects of hatred into something usable and valuable.  It became the fertilizer for new beginnings, which weren’t always easy and often were extremely emotional. But we kept working toward the day when, while still full of grief for what happened, this formidable landmark became a symbol of hope and healing.

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A Mom’s Story

Bobbie Anne, creator of the BlogWithMom  website was a young mom on the day of 9-11-2001.  She sent the Boot Campaign her reflections and what many young parents faced as they considered their children dealing with a future post 9-11.  

By Bobbie Anne

I will never forget September 11, 2001. My son was almost fifteen months old and attended a mother’s day out program at a local church in Shreveport, Louisiana. My day went as usual, running as many errands as possible before the 3 pm pick-up. When I got to school that afternoon, everyone was talking about the World Trade Center, hijackings and terrorists. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It started as an ordinary day and I was supposed to hear about the playground, what he ate from his lunch box and about his new friends, not about terrorists!

I called my husband and went straight home to turn on the news and then I saw it. Everything I had heard the teachers speak of, but worse than I could imagine. I just stood in my living room in disbelief as I watched the tragedy unfold in front of me. I saw images on the news I never expected to see burned into my mind so I will never forget. It was like watching a tragic movie, how could this be happening? What about these people that were trapped inside this horrible dream? What about the children that were left without parents and the husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents knowing they would never see their loved ones again. The last minute phone calls made to say their goodbyes and to express their love, I can’t begin to imagine how those people must have felt.

I started taping the news and collected all the newspapers over the next few days. I wanted my child to experience this as I had, when he got older. I wanted him to see this and hear it, rather than read about it in a text book at school years down the road. So many brave people lost their lives on this tragic day. So many families were affected by this event. For the days that followed, I can remember the panic I experienced in leaving the house, the thoughts of this happening again. As time went on, I began to feel safe again until the first anniversary of 9-11 rolled around. Should I let my family leave the house? Should my husband go to work? Where would the next terrorist target be? Were we safe in Louisiana? What high traffic area could be a target in my town? Should my family ever ride on an airplane again? These thoughts continued over the next few anniversary dates, but gradually lessened as no similar instances took place.

It has been ten years since the tragedy of 9-11 and I still find myself looking at the calendar and wondering where my family will be on that day. Will we be together  or will everyone be at work and school? The fear of flying always lingers in the back of my mind. Luckily we are accustomed to taking vacations in the van.

Thank God that our military is here to keep us safe. They continue to fight for our country so that we may have freedoms that sadly, most people take for granted. Military families go without in order to make the United States a safer place to live. Many spouses and children are separated from their loved ones for long periods of time while they serve our country. Sadly, many do not make it back home, and families lose loved ones while they are protecting the U.S. from the unthinkable actions that occur on a daily basis outside of the U.S.  I hope in reading my story, people will continue to keep the memory of September 11, 2001 alive and to remember what our military does for us on a daily basis.

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Current Events From My Dorm Room

A newly minted freshman in college on September 11, 2001; our guest writer remembers the day from his perspective as a young man on the cusp of the “best years of life”.

By Will Knous, Managing Editor of BSCENE Magazine

People say that college is for discovering yourself, for finding out what you like, who you like. Worry about why you like those things later on; during college you’re just supposed to develop. The world is the way it is, then you travel off somewhere and waste inordinate amounts of your parents’ money, and prepare yourself to enter the world intellectually, socially and otherwise. I went off to school, at 18, with this paradigm planted firmly in mind.

It was during my freshman year at Texas A&M that a few highly motivated and terribly misguided men flew planes into World Trade Center Towers One and Two. It was a Tuesday morning, and everyone remembers that. I’d tumbled out of my loft too late for breakfast and trudged to my early class and back to my dorm, unremarkably.

I was in bed, watching “The Wonder Years” when Mike, the guy across the hall, literally kicked in my door, shouting. “Can you even believe this?” he yelled in my general direction. He had his cell phone in one hand, his room phone in the other, and I don’t think he was looking for much of an answer from me. “Turn on the news,” he shouted. “I can’t believe this!” Then he was gone as abruptly as he’d come.

I switched the channel over to CNN to the live feed of a smoking building. Before I could catch up to what I was seeing or what the voiceover was telling me, the Towers absorbed an airplane. It simply disappeared into the side of the skyscraper. Fire and smoke and glass and steel blew out the windows on the other side. What the hell is happening?

That day I watched a lot more television. I saw people jump out of hundredth floor windows, having made their choice to fall rather than burn up. Clean cut men in uniforms and women in bright sweaters speculated with a perfect ‘cable-news-tragedy’ balance of perkiness and somber tone. But that Tuesday no one really knew what was going on, or what was coming next year/month/day/hour. I didn’t have the faintest idea. I was certain, though, the world I was going to come back into was damn sure not the one I’d left.

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