Do I Make You Proud?

Dear Daniel,

I received permission from one of the book authors for the Tualatin VFW to reprint or repost these (5) entries onto their websites and/or newsletters.  I copied them all below this e-mail just to make it easier.  They go in order.

 

The author only asked that the tag at the end of each entry be included which highlights the book title, publisher, and authors. I am considered a “contributor” rather than an author.

 

My reference in the book is:  Donna A. Tallman is a Blue Star Daughter from Oregon.

 

Thanks for all your help!

Donna.

 

Beginning at the End

 

By Donna A. Tallman

 

Where is John F. Kennedy’s grave?  What do OEF and OIF mean on a headstone?  Where’s the bathroom?  Who’s the oldest dead person buried here?

 

A woman, who has answered the same questions for more than a lifetime, sits at a kiosk in the middle of the Arlington National Cemetery Visitor’s Center patiently answering every question as if it’s the first time she has heard it.  People scramble about, filling water bottles, snagging tourist trinkets from the gift shop, and taking pictures…lots of pictures.

 

I take none.  I’m not here to capture or preserve history; I’m here to experience it.  Shortly after returning from our tour of duty in Spain in 1968, my family and I went to Arlington.   We made the traditional loop up to the Kennedy graves where I saw carved in stone the reality of Senator Kennedy’s assassination.  That was almost forty years ago, and I have returned now as an adult, a grown up Air Force brat, a mother of three young men; a patriot.

 

A squad of uniformed military cadets enters through the southern door.  The sea of people suddenly parts and the corridor opens before the squad.  The cadets walk smartly, heads up high, heels clicking on the highly polished floor, not one wrinkle among them.  The squad never breaks stride in their cadence; nor bead of sweat on their brows, despite summer’s oppressive heat.  A holy hush follows them.  They have come to Arlington to begin at the end.

 

In search of my own pilgrimage through America’s history, I leave the majority of tourists behind and turn toward today’s history found in Section 60.  This section has been set aside for the soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

 

As I walk the empty access road, I am immediately engulfed by silence.  Except for a lone gardener, I see no one.  On this visit, I want to do more than travel through Arlington.  I was not raised to be an American “tourist,” who enjoys the benefits of liberty but lives disconnected from the soldiers who have secured it.  I want a commission.

 

Lord, make me an ambassador of hope to the soldiers who serve on the front lines of America’s wars and to their families who await their safe return.

 

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, `plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  Jeremiah 29:11  (NIV)

*This devotion is an excerpt from Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009), co-authored by Jocelyn Green, Jane Hampton Cook, and John Croushorn.

 

 

Free Because of Sacrifice

by Donna Tallman

Step by determined step I walk on through Arlington Cemetery.  A car passes on my left, then another and another. The procession of mourners drives by in slow motion making its way to the grave site. A color guard stands at attention near a freshly dug grave. A bugler waits for his call, and a squad of seven riflemen stands across the field for their moment of tribute. Cicadas hum just below the surface of unspeakable grief.

I hurry under a tree, not suitably dressed for a funeral nor invited by the family; but here by circumstance in my nation’s field of honor. He is my soldier. 

Beautiful in its simplicity, the military funeral proceeds with expected precision.  A minister addresses the young crowd of mourners. The flag covering the soldier’s coffin is folded and given to today’s grieving widow whose two restless toddlers squirm next to her. She bows her head in anguished respect – uncertain the nation is truly grateful for her sacrifice, but so very proud of the hero her husband is. The riflemen give a twenty-one gun salute matched by twenty-one unexpected echoes from another burial in progress on the cemetery grounds. The shots of honor reverberate back and forth across the valley as if to emphasize the sobering cost of freedom.

The cicadas pick up their song again whirring louder and louder until I feel them pounding in my ears. Looking up through the tree, I see that a helicopter has joined their cacophony giving tribute to this fallen hero. The bugler closes with the mournful notes of “Taps,” hanging onto the last note until it slowly dissolves into history. 

The crowd disperses while I wait under the tree. Stillness returns. Slowly, I begin to walk the uniform rows of gravestones. The magnitude of what we have asked of our soldiers and the grief these families are going through comes quickly into focus. I realize that for the first time ever, I am standing in the graveyard of a war in progress.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”

(John 15:13).

Prayer: Father, remind me that liberty never travels without its companion, sacrifice, and that sacrifice never travels without love. When I am tempted to forget the sacrifices of others on my behalf, remind me that even You paid the ultimate price for my freedom – the life of your only Son because You loved me.

*This devotion is an excerpt from Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009), co-authored by Jocelyn Green, Jane Hampton Cook, and John Croushorn.

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday’s Widow

by Donna A. Tallman

A caisson rides by and I leave to follow it to the next funeral. Just across the road a sign reads, “Section 61.”  It is a massive parcel of uncultivated dirt growing only two lone trees. As I wonder why an empty lot sits nearby, the top of the Washington Monument peeks above the small rise holding its breath, waiting for my realization.

“O God, the next war!”

I steady myself as waves of grief overtake me. Before I know it, I have taken out my camera, and am taking pictures so I never forget their sacrifice. I walk by the headstones of many highly decorated service members. There is a middle-age grandmother, a Marine who loves the Boston Red Sox, a team of five soldiers, and a grave marker for a Muslim. I stop to pray for these families and weep for their loss.

The cadre of mourners attending the earlier service has mostly disappeared. In its place a non-organized yet subconsciously synchronized, convoy of mini vans arrives.  A woman gets out of her van, grabs a blanket, lawn chair, and a jug of water before slamming the door. Mounted on the back of her car is a sticker that reads, “Half my heart in Heaven.”  Another mini van arrives, and another. Each van carries a single woman armed with grief and memories.

Her home has betrayed her. It is no longer full of the life and hope of her husband’s return, so she escapes to Arlington to reflect. The widow comes to say the things that she cannot say at home . . . to utter aloud the unspeakable agony of her heart. Surrounded by a field of dead strangers, the widow now feels more at home in a cemetery than she does in her own house. She is tired. She is lonely. She is broken.

In the waning afternoon hours of what has become a typical day, the widow lies face down over her husband’s grave aching to hold and be held. She whispers a prayer of surrender, and asks for the strength for just one more day. Despite the challenges she knows await her, yesterday’s widow rises to conquer her own battle…the battle for her future.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak”  (Isaiah 40:29).

Lord, when I have expended all that I have, remind me that your resources are limitless and you eagerly desire to add your strength to my faith.

*This devotion is an excerpt from Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009), co-authored by Jocelyn Green, Jane Hampton Cook, and John Croushorn.

 

The Great Equalizer

by Donna Tallman

Gently and quietly he clicks the door shut on his sedan so that even the breeze is unruffled. He deliberately walks toward the oldest row of graves in Section 60. His perfect posture looks military-trained, while the lines on his face mark him Vietnam era. Always focused forward, the eyes of the man in his sixties hone in on one of the markers at the far end. Finally, he reaches the right one and slowly kneels in the grass. The grieving father bows his head.

Some have said that hospital waiting rooms are the great equalizers of life – that injury and sickness recognize no social class, no ethnic divide, and no age category. All are equally at risk. Cemeteries are even more equalizing than waiting rooms. None recovers here.

The father does not tarry long at his son’s grave. He’s not really here to visit him. Instead, he has come to care for the living. While no one else dares interrupt a widow’s vigil out of respect for her grief, the father does. This tender, caring man can approach where others never should. He is a fellow sufferer, a tempest traveler…one who knows first hand the cost of war.

The father begins his rounds of visitation to the daughters he has adopted in the graveyard. He knows each one by name and checks on their welfare. Over the months they have all visited Arlington to grieve alone together; this unlikely group has grown from being intimate strangers among the tombstones, to caretakers of one another’s sorrow.

While he knows that he cannot bring his son home from Afghanistan, the father seeks to heal the history death attempts to write in each of their hearts. Rising above his own agony, he reaches out to care for those around him, and in the process, finds refuge for his own soul.

Yes, Arlington is a graveyard, a place of the dead. It is also a showcase for valor, a field of honor for America’s most courageous soldiers. And for those knit together by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Arlington is a place of healing from war’s ultimate sacrifice.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Prayer: When life’s raging tempest threatens to break my heart and my spirit, would you, oh Lord, step in with Your authority and restore calm to the churning waves around me? Deliver me and bind up any wounds incurred by my sojourn here on earth.

*This devotion is an excerpt from Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009), co-authored by Jocelyn Green, Jane Hampton Cook, and John Croushorn.

Do I Make You Proud?

by Donna Tallman

An Army soldier approaches the row ahead of mine. I try to maintain my composure as to not disturb his expression of grief, but my tears come faster than I can breathe. The soldier kneels to pray. After a moment, he stands, salutes, and puts something on top of the grave marker. The soldier leaves quietly, returns; then leaves again. I stand motionless and uncertain sensing he may want to talk, but hesitant to interrupt. He comes one more time, so I join him.

“Was he a friend of yours?” I ask.

“Yes Ma’am, he was.”

“Would you tell me about your friend?”

He and the corporal were close friends. They served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldier before me had been deployed overseas six times, and was struggling with the loss of many friends. I met him saluting his friend who died in 2005, but he was here for another friend whose graveside service I just witnessed. That friend was a medic, trained to work on injured soldiers while in transit on helicopters.

“Ah, the helicopter fly-over was for him.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“What can we do for you?”

“Bring us home, Ma’am. Please, bring us all the way home.”

We stand together in silence for a long time – two total strangers connected by the intimacy of honor. His countenance is beautiful. In spite of his grief, in spite of the horror he has seen, he is beautiful. As soon as he leaves, I regret not getting his name.  I wish I’d been able to listen to his story. I wished I’d prayed with him. I wish I’d prayed for his healing.  I also wish I had told him how proud I am of him and the many sacrifices he’s made for my freedom. How I wish I had told him . . . but I didn’t.

Several minutes later, I pick up the piece of metal he left on top of his friend’s gravestone. It is a dog tag. It has an American flag on one side and on the other, the words to Joshua 1:9.

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that this soldier has confronted terrorism first-hand so that I never have to. Bring rest to his spirit, Lord, and remove any terror that has taken up residence in his heart.

*This devotion is an excerpt from Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009), co-authored by Jocelyn Green, Jane Hampton Cook, and John Croushorn.

 

 

   

 

   

 

 

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