I have created this blog to hopefully inspire average, everyday Americans to do their part in supporting our troops by being “An American Worth Dying For.” If you are new to the site, please read oldest to newest.
Monday, March 30, 2009
The overwhelming response to this story that I received from across the country was the inspiration for this blog.
Nicholas Riccardi did a wonderful job writing this story. Read and enjoy.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Today is a day of irony for me. I don't always pay attention to the weather forecast but something told me today to listen when they said a blizzard is coming. I spent the morning making sure the animals had food and shelter. Unless you have experienced the blinding snow and howling winds it is hard to fully appreciate Mother Nature's wrath. Within minutes, in whiteout conditions, you could find yourself lost in your own backyard. In the old days folks tied a rope from the barn to the house so they could find their way after tending the animals.
I have a young boy in my life I call my "grandson." My son Nate dated his mother for a couple years. They have since broken up, but I love little Ezekiel, EZ for short, like he is my own. I make it a point to spend as much time with him as I can. Today I was asked to pick him up at preschool.
On the way home I decided perhaps we better go by the store and pick up some candles in case the power went out. While visiting about the weather with the clerk, he told me today was the anniversary of the Towner Bus Tragedy. I didn't realize that others were aware of the tragedy that happened in 1931, 33 years before I was born.
My mother was 7 years old when it happened and it made quite an impression on her. As a child she told us many times about the tragedy and showed us newspaper articles about it. We visited the memorial to the victims. When my son was in elementary school his class was visited by Ms. Georgene Pearson, author of "A Light in the Window," a book about the tragedy.
Here is the version of the tragedy from the Holly, Colorado Historical Society:
"In the frigid winter of 1931, a March blizzard trapped 20 children on a school bus between the rural Colorado towns of Holly and Towner, near the Kansas border. Five children died from exposure, as did the bus driver, Carl Miller.
The makeshift bus, a 1929 Chevy truck with a homemade wooden topper on the back and two wooden benches inside, had no heater. Two of the back windows were broken and patched with cardboard.
Miller was taking the children home when the gray skies turned so white he couldn't see the hood. The bus hit a ditch and became wedged. Snow poured through one window. Miller couldn't get the engine to turn over again. He started a fire in the lid of a milk can, but the damp textbooks and benches were poor fuel.
The temperature dipped to 20 below zero, and 70-mph winds persisted.
Miller tried to keep the children moving to prevent hypothermia, but a 13-year-old girl froze to death after 24 hours on the bus. Like many of the children, she wore no coat that day.
Desperate, Miller struck out on foot. Searchers later found his frozen body in a field.
"His hands torn from clinging to barbed wire fences to guide his way, his hat and overcoat gone, and his suit coat unbuttoned, the body of Carl Miller, driver of the ill-fated Towner school bus, was found lying in a field three miles from where he had started to go for help," the Rocky Mountain News reported.
The remaining children would see a second and then a third classmate expire before rescuers finally arrived, 33 grueling hours after the bus had plunged into the ditch. Two more children succumbed after the rescue."
So it is ironic today that 78 years later on the same date, another blizzard rages through the eastern Colorado plains.
I am grateful today that I have my children, and loved ones safe by my side. But I will never forget the sacrifice of Mr. Carl Miller. It is a reminder to me of the responsibility school bus drivers take when they get behind the wheel with our most vulnerable young citizens. So on this 78th anniversary of the Towner Bus Tragedy, I will take this opportunity to ask you all to salute the school bus drivers of America.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Ever so gently I’ll pull this carriage.
My task is no burden for the honor is great.
With courage and pride he died for his country,
So with dignity and grace, I will carry him home.
With each strike of my massive hooves
His soul will soar in the heavens above.
In the years to come may you remember this day,
With memories of a giant black horse,
That gently bore your hero to his final rest
Down the lane, slowly I’ll go.
Times weren't always good, especially in the early days of Wellington Carriage. One day after paying $230 to have Mike shod, I called my sister, Kathy Schmidtke, very discouraged. I said to her, "Kath, I've paid all this money for these horseshoes and they are just sitting in a pile." "Can you figure out a way I can make money with them?"
A few days later she called me back and said, "This won't make you any money, but here is what you need to do." She went on to tell me that she had written a poem from Mike's perspective. I needed to print and laminate the poem, paint the horseshoes black and present them to the families after a service.
Well, I did it and they went over like wildfire. Next thing I knew, I was out of horseshoes, but the families went away from the service with a keepsake of the day. As the number of funerals we did increased, I knew I had to find some other way to present this touching poem to the families.
I came up with the idea of printing a picture of the coach and poem, personalizing it with the name and years of birth and death of the person, framing it and presenting that to the families. That too, has been met with tremendous response. Even though I include at least a dozen extra copies, many times, I receive requests for more.
In 2005, when I began honoring America's fallen troops, I changed a few lines of the poem to represent the pride and courage which these brave men and women exhibited in dying for this country.
Thus, I feel the poem above sums up exactly why we do what we do.
Copyright 2009 Lorraine Melgosa
Monday, March 23, 2009
Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret.
I was just two years old in 1966 when my oldest brother John brought home the 33 rpm album, The Ballad of the Green Beret by SSgt Barry Sadler. The album became a family favorite. My brother Barney was so taken by it, he had to have a Green Beret uniform and a Green Beret GI Joe.
I was too young at the time to understand that there was a war going on. Even as I got older, I didn't comprehend that hundreds of thousands of Americans were fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. I just thought it was a really neat song.
Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret.
For four decades the ballad was played in our family home. As recently as a few years ago I walked into my mother's house to find her playing the music. One of my siblings had purchased it in CD form for her. I borrowed the CD and took it home for my kids to listen to.
Trained to live off nature's land
Trained in combat, hand-to-hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage peak from the Green Beret.
SSG Mark Maierson, United States Army, Special Forces, a Green Beret, died March 13, 2009 during a training exercise in Florida. Today I had the honor of escorting the casket of this brave young man during his services at Fort Logan National Cemetery.
The Ballad of the Green Beret became more than just a song to me. I watched helplessly as his brave comrades struggled to contain their emotions as they carried the casket of their fallen brother. I knew that was a battle they could never train for, but "courage peak from the Green Beret."
Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her his last request.
Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret.
To his parents, I would like to say, "He was one of America's best, he won the Green Beret."
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I should have given up the day Barney asked me to help him take promotional pictures at a local cemetery. That was the first time I led Mike, or should I say, Mike led me. He drug me in circles around headstones, my feet barely touching the ground.
In spite of that auspicious start I was there for that first funeral and every one thereafter.
There I was with a hearse, a trailer, and a horse I couldn’t lead. I wanted to give up the day I got the call for a funeral and couldn’t find anyone to help me with it. Instead I went out to the corral and said to Mike, “I’ll make a deal with you. I will feed you and take care of you forever if you will take care of me at this funeral today.” It was then that I came to understand how knights in medieval times could ride those noble Percheron horses in to battle and face death without fear.
I could write a book about Mike. But for today I will just tell you that Mike and I became like one over the course of the next thirteen years. Together we buried babies and children, school teachers, policemen, family, dignitaries, senators and lots of royalty. Well, they weren’t really royalty, just common folk whose families said we honored them like royalty.
Through wind and rain, blizzards and scorching sun, Mike and I were there. He would shelter me from the elements and I would keep the flies away from him.
I always said when Mike retired, I would retire. I didn’t count on him dying so soon. That is when I finally looked back and realized how far we’d come. Over 500 funerals in 125 different cities and towns spread across five states. I wanted to give up then, but Mike wouldn't let me because he had already chosen his replacement, his beloved Lady, another noble Percheron in whom I know Mike’s spirit lives on.
I shouldn’t be standing here with Lady today, surrounded by Marines, saluting a flag. Not just any flag, but one draped over a casket.
I still have the letter, postmarked 1994, from the director of the same National Cemetery we are standing in today.
“In reference to your inquiry about the possibility of using your horse drawn coach for services within the ---- ----- National Cemetery, I am sorry to inform you but is has been determined that this service would be inappropriate for a national cemetery operation. Thank you for the opportunity to evaluate your service.”
In a phone call appealing the decision, I argued, “Doesn’t a GI deserve the same dignity and respect afforded a Commander in Chief?”
Give us a call, they said, if you ever have a request from a veteran and we may reconsider. Very soon the first request came from a veteran’s family. The powers that be reconsidered and decided maybe it would be appropriate to allow a traditional casket escort. Dozens of times thereafter, Mike pulled that hearse, with its cargo of flag draped caskets, through sections of countless white headstones of soldiers from a different era.
That was before 9/11, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Today, as I stand among these Marines, I feel the significance of this final journey. For it is I, who will take this young hero away from his loved ones to the place where he will forever rest.
Hand over heart, I hide my tears as the Marines lift the casket and the stars and stripes disappear into the coach. I know now, why fate wouldn't let me give up.
I offer the coach seat to the family. Perhaps if they can share this ride it will ease their pain for a fleeting moment and briefly distract them from the harsh reality that will soon set in.
I urge Lady forward. “Slow as you go, Lady, maybe we can buy these parents a few more precious minutes with their son.”
Copyright 2009 Lorraine Melgosa
Monday, March 9, 2009
Seventh grade, 5th hour study hall in the library, sitting with my friends, laughing about the dumb things kids laugh about. I thought I was really cool, even though I was kind of an ugly duckling with long straight hair and braces. It didn't matther that I was kind of a tomboy, cowboy boots and shirts with snaps instead of buttons, country before it was cool. I had personality, a great sense of humor and connections, so I got to hang with the "in crowd."
There I was, 5th hour study hall in the library, sitting at a table with all my cool buddies when in walked my big brother. Now my big brother, he really did have it all; personality, sense of humor, a macho guy with a soft heart and good looks. Girls loved him, guys loved him, a few of the teachers even liked him. Charisma just wafted off him.
I really thought it was neat when my big brother, three grades my senior, called me out in the hall. That is until I saw his angry expression.
“Why is Mary Jane sitting over there by herself?” he demanded.
Let me explain about Mary Jane. When she was a little girl, I guess her dad didn’t like her much. In fact, he hated her so much he threw her on the bed, doused her with gasoline and lit her on fire. Needless to say, Mary Jane had lots of scars, and, we thought, not much personality. She pretty much kept to herself which was fine by me and the crowd I hung with.
As my brother waited impatiently, I gave him that innocent, stupid look that came so easy to me back then and replied intelligently, “I dunno.”
“I’ll tell you why she’s sitting by herself,” he said. “She’s sitting by herself because you aren’t sitting with her."
Then he threatened me. My big brother whom I idolized and who didn’t have a mean bone in his body, threatened me! He proceeded to tell me that if he ever walked in to a room again that Mary Jane and I were both in and she was sitting alone, he would beat the holy crap out of me. He used a little different language, but you get my point.
From that day forward I sat with Mary Jane during 5th hour study hall. We didn’t talk much. I pretty much watched her stare at the clock for fifty minutes. I guess her scars said it all.
I got some funny looks from my friends and took a bit of ribbing. Looking back now, it was worth it.
Nobody knows why things happen, why we are put in a certain place, at a certain time. But things always seem to happen for a reason. Certainly, my big brother, nor I, could foresee that Mary Jane would get burned again. But she did. The school year was just about over, when Mary Jane’s big brother was killed in a car wreck. Her big brother, the one she idolized. He was the one and only subject she ever did talk about. Another cruel twist of fate ripped her life apart again.
Being the loner she was, Mary Jane wouldn’t let anyone close. She asked only for me. So I spent a very long night by her bed, quietly holding her hand. Like usual she didn’t say much, her sobs said it all. I was grateful for the lack of conversation, because I had no words that could make her feel better. And I was grateful for my big brother, who had taught me that no one should ever have to face this world alone.
I’ve lost track of Mary Jane over the years. My hair is short now, almost salt and pepper. I only wear boots when my work dictates it. My big brother is still here, the lesson, still there. And the scars, they will never go away.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
I didn’t actually bury him. I just had the honor of carrying him to his grave in my antique horse-drawn hearse. You see, I own and operate Wellington Carriage Company. For the past four years we have been donating our service for soldiers killed in action.
At the time, he was the second American hero I had the honor to serve in such a way. The first was Staff Sergeant Justin Vasquez. I didn’t know Chad Maynard, but I had known Justin Vasquez since he was a young boy. I watched him grow from a scrawny pup to a charismatic, hard working waiter and then to an Army Staff Sergeant.