The Soldiers’ Love

The following poem was in part delivered  in my presentation before the West University Rotary Club on November 11, 2010. I modified parts of this but the central theme remains intact. It is my wish that you understand the sincerity with which this piece was written.

Harry

The Soldiers’ Love

By Harry Shaw

 

More than kisses, letters mingle souls.” John Donne

Soldiers’ Love:

The soft tender embrace of a beloved,

The first wail of their newborn child,

Home and family.

Soldiers’ Love:

Angels on our shoulders,

The silent prayers of wives and mothers,

Coming home.

Soldiers Love:

The passing of the colors,

The singing of anthems sweet,

Duty to God and country.

Soldiers Love:

Marching to the sound of the guns,

The sergeant barking orders,

Chaplains on the line.

This Soldier Loves:

The shining copper pans left on the counter,

Remembering my mother’s kitchen,

The book of Love Poems by John Donne that sits on the shelf.

Farewell to a Soldier Loved:

The last words uttered by the fallen,.

Not wanting to say goodbye,

The crack of the rifles at the playing of taps.

The Soldier Loved:

Loyalty,

Service above self,

Honor.

The Soldier Loved and Remembered:

The hallowed green grass of Arlington,

Rows of white marble

An emptiness in my heart.

Sergeant Sean Luketina

Some days are indelibly burned into your memory. For me, one of those days is June 30th. Today is the day that Sergeant Sean Luketina died. I did not know Sean before Operation Urgent Fury; but, there has not been a day that has passed that I have not thought of him.

I live near the ocean. I find that the massive expanse of the sea helps me to put everything in perspective. Today Hurricane Alex is bearing down on the Gulf Coast south of where me and my family have made our home. In a strange way I find the immense power of a hurricane calmly reassuring. It helps me to feel small. I know too well what it is like to get caught up in the whirlwinds of life and the storms that churn in the Gulf of Mexico offer an affirmation of proportion in all things.

James Taylor sings the song “Walking Man” that I have never been able to get out of my head for many, many years. It is only now that I am beginning just now to add meaning to the last part of the opening refrain:

 Moving in silent desperation

Keeping an eye on the holy land

A hypothetical destination

Say, Who is this walking man?

 Who is this walking man? I am: a husband; the father who dotes on his daughter; always the paratrooper; eyes on the sky wishing to fly…again; a college graduate; a font of trivial knowledge; a teacher, sometimes the muse; always the seeker of truth; and I am the survivor of tragedy unspeakable.

Sean and I were wounded side by side in the misdirected air strike that took my legs. Sean was evacuated immediately as it was determined that he had the best chance of surviving. Me? If you ask Jean-luc Nash he will tell you that they really didn’t know where to start. I was a perfect mess.

It was a month later that Sean went into the coma. He was suffering from uremic poisoning and it was during the operation that the doctors at Walter Reed removed his legs that he went into the coma from which he would never awake. It was shortly after that that I got a letter from his mother. She told me about her son who had also lost his legs. She was looking for answers. She did not know that Sean and I had been shot in the same incident. I am not sure she found comfort in the truth that I wrote her. I can only hope that she did.

I visited Sean’s grave in Arlington in 1994 on the tenth anniversary of his death. I did not know that his mother had chosen to be buried with her son. It was a touching display of motherly devotion and this sight on the green fields of Arlington haunts me to this day:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He died one day shy of his 24th birthday.

Who is this walking man?

I am the keeper of memories of fallen heroes.

Rest in peace my brother.

Hardcore Harry

Notes To My Daughter

I wrote the following piece when my daughter Lucie was three years old. My wife and I had been out that night attending a minor league baseball game. The game had gone into extra innings and we had arrived home late that night. I was particularly taken with the sight of my daughter asleep on our bed. It was obvious that she had tried to wait up for us.

I have been particularly blessed by being retired from the military that I have been able to be the “stay-at-home-dad” and number one playmate for our youngest. As a parent, I have also been our daughter’s first teacher—a role I do not take lightly in the least as Lucie, on top of being incredibly imaginative and creative, is also insanely smart! It can be tough sometimes keeping up with a child genius. I try always to be honest in my answers and offer on the spot comments on her insights and observations. I figure by the time she is twelve or so she will reverse our roles and be teaching me!

I wrote this four years ago. I have kept the hand written notes safe for inclusion in an anthology I had planned. I like referring to it now and then as a sort of “time capsule” of how things were in that time in our lives. I figure this is as good a place as any to put this down officially as today is Father’s Day! Enjoy!

 

 

NOTES TO MY DAUGHTER

You were asleep when I came home.

A brown plastic cow, a story book, and a hairbrush were there hidden under my pillow to remind me of your intentions. I was not there tonight to brush your wispy blond hair before bed and read you your bed time story.

The muse visits me in the echo of your infectious laughter. It speaks to me in you tiny voice and invites me to write down these simple truths.

I remember the giant mulberry tree where I used to sit and count the clouds in the sky and the multi-colored cattle in the fields and wonder what my life would be like when I was older.

While sometimes it seems you have always been in the world, your three year old wondrous playful visions remind me that your dreams are being made by you with your cracktoothed games that never cease to amaze me.

Today I’ll be the lion and you will be the lion catcher daddy.”

A brief chase, a blanket net, a defiant roar, muffled giggles and the ever-fearsome lion has been captured!

A hug and gallons of tickles, followed by breathless laughter as we both stare up at the ceiling and pick out imaginary shapes in the applied textures.

Here dad, hold my bear. He will keep you company while I set the table for our very special tea party.”

The tea is served and now we must be: Two spotted frogs, sitting on a log, catching tasty flies. YUM! YUM!”

I laugh at the crazy tyranny as I am forced to eat a raisin which really is a “tasty fly.” My play director has insisted this is so!

Giant soapy bubbles borne on a south wind, and a vision of you as you shriek and chase them across the front yard.

Next, we have a bucket of chalk and a, “Let’s see how many shapes we can make!”

A game of hopscotch.

The sun is really hot in the afternoon sky. Red-faced and dripping with sweat you inform me how good a glass of chocolate milk tastes—especially after a game of hopscotch!

But wait!

First we must play cowboys on the lowest hanging branch of the biggest mesquite tree in the neighborhood that just so happens to live in our front yard!

Afterwards we count the clouds in the sky. A jet takes off from the nearby naval air station and we watch it dreamily.

I cannot remember ever being so free as I am right here, right now.

A dog-eared cloud reminds you of your big black Briard sheepdog who waits patiently inside the house. We know she waits ready to lick the sweet-salty joyous perspiration from our faces with a wet-nosed doggie exuberance!

It is no accident why children and puppies are among the most special of God’s gifts. With both, everything happens as if for the first time you do a thing!!

A cow, a cloud, a tea party, jumping, laughing, playing: You are here to remind us that some things remain and that it is only when we get older do we tire of a thing.

You sleep.

I count your breaths. Yes, there seems to be a little bit of a cold coming on for you wee one.

I fall asleep and I dream again.

I dream of a field of the greenest grasses. It is covered by a heard of brown plastic cows.

The cows are chasing giant soapy bubbles.

I remember these! They were borne on that South wind.

We chase the bubbles again.

Your golden hair shines in the sun as we run. We laugh.

When I wake, there you are!

Good morning honey.”

Good morning Daddy”

Are you hungry?”

She nods.

I carry my daughter to the kitchen to make waffles.

What adventures will we have today my little munchkin?”

She giggles and buries her head into my shoulder.

Slowly…

Slowly, she peeks out from under her blanket where she is hiding and smiles tenderly. It is then that you know that you could never tire of this!

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 5:42 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

How’s Your Ischial Tuberosity?

My darling wife has brought it to my attention on numerous occasions these last couple weeks that I have not been writing as much as I should in my blog. Incidentally, I was not aware that the word nag was of Scandinavian origin. Think about it. It was the persistent action of the womenfolk back in Scandinavia that led to one of the greatest invasions in all of history!! What probably started out with a blond, vivacious, buxom, Scandinavian goddess, we’ll call her Helga, complaining that her man, Thor, had left his chain mail and sword on the kitchen table again and why is it he could never pick the lid up on the slit trench??? So it was with the shrill echo of the lovely Helga still ringing in his ears reminding poor Thor that the thatch roof needed repairing, and that they were about to run out of moose burgers, that the Vikings set off to engage in an all out war of conquest. (The Viking’s must have looked to the sanctuary of the longship much like Homer Simpson eyes a box of glazed donuts!) Helga was to eventually be bought off with a few shiny trinkets of booty from far away lands and Thor was able to get a group of monks in a monastery write a revisionist history—in exchange for their lives–that covered up Thor’s shortcomings as a husband!

This last week marked my first full week of physical therapy. Slowly along the way I am being re-introduced to the peculiar language of the physical therapist. One of my favorite questions is: “How is your is your ischial tuberosity?” Or, “Is your prosthesis bearing weight on your tuberosity?” No doubt some of my more curious readers were sent scampering away toward yonder bookshelf upon reading that—we’ll call this category reader the more distinguished scholars amongst us: that being the reader who has books that they actually read; books that do more than prop up the shorter leg of the kitchen table that the darling wife with her persistent ministrations caused the reader to “fix” himself rather than call a skilled tradesman. Never underestimate the value of a feeling of self-sufficiency however sad or misplaced!!

Now, that the rest of you lazy bastages have finished looking up the words on Google we can continue!

The ischial tuberosity is quite a common set of protrusions that will be instantly familiar with anyone who has ridden a horse for any length of time. Being “saddle sore” and having a pain in your ischial tuberosity are the same thing! Now there are a great many feelings and sensations that accompany a person such as myself who has not walked in 26+ years that are pretty dang cool: shopping for shoes, standing, and, taking first steps. Trust me when I tell you that remembering that you have an ischial tuberosity IS NOT ONE OF THESE SUPER-DOOPER COOL BEANS (RE)DISCOVERIES!!!

So there I was a saddle sore trooper and nary a horse in sight! It was then that I remembered that I had just turned 48 and thought that this kind of physical endeavor would have been easier 20 some years ago had only the technology been available. It was then that I remind myself that if it were easy then everybody would do it and dang if I can’t help the challenge!!

After all of this, a funny thing happened Thursday afternoon. It was while standing up on my C Legs that I knew right then and there that this was actually going to happen! It was then that balance didn’t seem all that hard a thing to achieve and for the first time I was able to stand without powering through with my upper body. Up until then walking again was something I had imagined in my mind. It was then something I knew with the rest of my body.

My wife Ginny was there too, smiling. For now she didn’t care that my underwear drawer was full of assorted books, half finished journals, and the odd box or ten of ammunition. “Stand up straight! Look straight ahead! Quit looking at your shoes! One more!”

I love her!

 

Hardcore Harry

LOYALTY

Today is my birthday. I have always thought it fortuitous that I was born on June fifth. After all, it was 66 years ago on June 5th that the Allied Airborne forces took to the air to kick off Operation Neptune, the airborne phase of the D-Day landings. As a veteran of the 82nd Airborne and a field artilleryman I have always had a special place in my heart for paratroopers and artillerymen—especially airborne artillerymen! There is an old artillerymens’ saying that: “Artillery lends dignity to what otherwise might be an unruly brawl.” We are considered the “King of Battle.” Sure the Infantry—the Queen of Battle—takes ground. We artillerymen make sure they hold to it!

The first commander of the 82nd Airborne’s Division Artillery was none other than the great Maxwell Taylor. Maxwell Taylor would go on to command the 101st Airborne in D-Day and the remainder of World War II. We troopers of the 82nd Airborne like to point out that before Maxwell Taylor ever donned the uniform of the “Screaming Eagles” he wore the double “A” of the “All Americans!!!”

My birthday present today was a tattoo. Amazing as it sounds, although I did manage to pick up a tattoo or two during my time in the Airborne; I never managed to find an airborne tattoo that I liked. The off the shelf tats in the off base parlors just did not speak to me. I wanted something meaningful and today, nearly 26 years after I got out of the Army I finally found one that I like. My wife and daughter actually designed this one for me. It is a combination of my airborne artillery regiment’s unit crest and the wings from this year’s Airborne Amputee event that was sponsored by TMC Orthopedic in Houston this last May first and second.

 I like it. It is unique, and it certainly has a great deal of meaning for me. I have always been fond of the sentiment expressed in the regiment’s motto: LOYALTY. It is one word yet it carries with it connotations that cut all the way across ever tradition near and dear to the military:Duty, Honor, Country—SAME THING!

The wings, aside from their obvious connection to parachuting, symbolize the hope that organizations like TMC Orthopedic and its charity Limbs of Love offer to amputees like myself. I had never dreamed even a few months ago that I would ever be offered the chance to walk again yet here I am. It is astonishingly humbling. I have decided that even if it were to turn out that is was all for naught, I am better for having tried my best. There are simply some offers in life that you cannot turn your back on. Thank you TMC and The Amputee and Prosthetic Center for giving me this chance again. I vow to give my utmost toward this endevour and prove that your trust in my abilities was not unfounded.

 

Lastly, I will close by admitting that my loving wife, Ginny,  has long conceded that the Airborne will always be my first love. Therefore, the heart is indeed a symbol of the affection that I hold for the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment.  Thank you for understanding, dear!

Airborne!

Hardcore Harry

You’re In the Army Now!

I imagine that being married to a teacher is a lot like being drafted into the Army. Since I volunteered for every post I ever served at, those of you not married to a teacher are just going to have to take my word for it! My job description reads like a modern day, “Jack of All Trades!” I have served as a guest lecturer on many occasions—my favorite duty is teaching pre-kindergarten kids on board airplane procedures and jump commands of the Airborne. Nothing is quite so entertaining as seeing a bunch of four year olds doing the “Airborne Shuffle” and hearing them count to four while waiting for their chute to open! Teaching them how to properly shout a “Hooah” and stomp their feet in a military fashion is quite a lot of fun too!!

I have other duties as well. I am the class carpenter. I don’t believe there has ever been a summer vacation that has ever passed that I have not been called up from my “Inactive Reserve” status and brought in to make something or other for my wife’s classroom. Since this usually requires the judicious application of power tools and the production of massive piles of sawdust I find this duty to be a great deal of fun. If the project requires the purchase of yet more power tools it is even better!! You would be amazed how often you can misplace something as necessary as a chuck key for a drill. It seems every time I go to a hardware store I have to buy another one. Perhaps they hide with all the socks that everyone in the family loses??!! I don’t know. Even power tools can be “misplaced” from time to time. I know I have at least three routers and three jig saws—just in case! And since summer vacation is fast approaching I am ever hopeful that any new project will require a trip to the hardware store. I have been trying to figure out how I can work in the purchase of a thickness planer, band saw and stationary drill press but alas my fair spouse has resisted my best entreaties for these items. The fact that I could also use these to build the boat I have been wanting to build all these years could have something to do with her un-natural reluctance to green light these items. I remain ever optimistic however!!

Another of my classroom duties is class pumpkin carver for Halloween. Now, this rates high up there as far as a “Guy” chore. Where else can you use sharp knives and stab things,be a hero in the process and not get arrested!!!??? In fact it is darn near the perfect Man-skill! Here I am carving a “Ghost Cat” jack-o-lantern this past Halloween.

There is one activity that is thrust on us poor defenseless spouses of teachers and that is anything involving cutting things out with scissors.

“Oh Lord please help the poor husbands of teachers we humbly pray!”

Cutting stuff out for your espousa is pretty much the equivalent of peeling potatoes for KP in the Army. It is not a place you want to find yourself! Now, since my loving wife took off all of this last week—the week before the end of school mind you—to be there for me in Houston for my first steps I am now paying for my sins. My penance is cutting stuff out with scissors—lots and lots of stuff. Oh my! To think that there could possibly be so many items of interest to cut out and laminate for a Pre-K class!!! Now, I have heard some folks bandy about words like “hero” and “inspirational” but really I am just a lowly “Draftee” with a pair of scissors helping my wife make sure that everything is in order for graduation day! It is times like these that I long for the relative calm of the battlefield. Give me a clear field of fire and an advancing enemy any day over a pile of pictures, artwork, and a pair of scissors!!!!

Hardcore Harry

MAKE IT HAPPEN–MAKE IT REAL

There is a sign that hangs in my house that has a great deal of significance. It reads, “MAKE IT HAPPEN.” My wife and I bought the sign at the Buc-ees just outside of Houston on Highway 59 on May 10th after the initial assessment at the Amputee and Prosthetic Center. It has become the mantra which drives me forward in my goal to walk again. The phrase is also engraved on the back of a Saint Michael’s Medallion I wear, a gift from my wife Ginny. Saint Michael is the patron saint of paratroopers for those of you who are not in the know!

During the events of the last week, the phrase “Make it Happen” has served me well. The attention the event generated in the television media was exiting but it is important to keep everything in perspective and in proportion. Even now, it is hard to comprehend just where everything fits. I had an idea beforehand of the level of commitment that the folks at TMC Orthopedics and the Amputee and Prosthetic Center had to the amputee community. What I had not realized until later in the week was the degree that they had mobilized on my behalf. It was extremely humbling to find out that the turn around on my new legs had never before been achieved. It was only seventy-two hours from first fitting to final product. In order for this to happen it took a great many unnamed dedicated and professional individuals giving their all to see that my legs were ready on time. I am deeply moved by the level of effort that everyone put forward on my behalf. From Joe Sansone the CEO of TMC Orthopedic to the technicians at the Amputee and Prosthetic Center, you all simply rock! It was with a heavy heart that we left Houston this week for our journey home, we have made new friends and acquired a new branch of our family so to speak!

Getting the legs was the easy part, learning to use them is where the real work for me begins. This is where the sense of perspective and proportion will come in handy. It occurred to me that the catchwords, “Make It Happen” that have carried me thus far on this journey need a re-clarification of sorts to bring them up to date. Now it is time for me to make real on my dreams to walk again. Cameras and reporters do not make things like this happen. These happen because of what is in your heart. The path before me is clear and my success or failure is all up to me from here on.

MAKE IT HAPPEN—MAKE IT REAL!

Hardcore Harry