I grew up in Beaufort, SC on the ocean, where my grandfather owned the only bakery in town. My dad and I would drive a green delivery truck filled with donuts, brownies, pecan pies, etc. – fresh and delectable – to the marines on Parris Island. The aura and other-worldliness of a military base was striking to me as a boy … so different from the informality of MY life off the base, except for those brief exciting rides. It made me feel good to know that actual marines would be munching on delicious treats from my grandfather … treats that I’d personally helped to deliver.
Well, that’s as close to military service as I ever came. I got a medical deferment (required back then to avoid the draft) … officially because of flat feet, but really because I was torn and scared as I struggled with my impulses as a young and tormented gay man … who didn’t wish to be “different” in that way but was.
I’ve admired – then and now — everyone who serves. And I will always feel humbled and indebted, having performed no military service at all.
What gives me satisfaction, though — as puny as it may be – is that my friendship with words has enabled me, in a small way, to help CELEBRATE and HONOR our military.
When I got a call for my speechwriting help from a former marine, Dr. Richard Jadick, I readily gave him a significant discount from my normal corporate fees for clients like ExxonMobil, Roche Pharmaceuticals, etc. It was a tiny way to express my respect.
What I soon learned was that Rich Jadick was not just a former military man but actually a bona fide HERO. He was a military physician in Iraq during the war. To quote his commanding officer in the NEWSWEEK cover story about him at the time, “I have never seen a doctor display the courage and bravery that Rich did during Fallujah.” It is estimated that – because of the innovative thinking put into action – 30 our men came home ALIVE. His story – in the book, ON CALL IN HELL – now inspires audiences who book him as a speaker. The letters praising his speeches to a Novartis sales force, University of North Carolina, TEDx talk, etc. are deservedly glowing.
As it happens, a choral song I wrote with distinguished composer-conductor, Jim Papoulis is called “To Those Who Came Before Us”. My lyrics are a tribute not only to those who have served our country for centuries in U.S. history, but also to ALL of the ancestors we wish to remember – like my father, Sam, and my mother, Lucille.
My father was in the army, meeting my mother when she helped host a dance for Jewish military men in Atlanta. Many years later, it was her dad’s donuts I was helping deliver.
When I wrote the song, though, I was also thinking about the many stories I’d heard of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives … and then memories of them created by my own life’s experience. I concluded as I finished the lyrics that they were meant for EVERYONE who has come before us.
Here’s the chorus:
To those who came before us
To all who led the way
May the memories we hold
Give us wisdom for today
To those who came before us
We can still hear your voice
The echoes of your stories
Are living on in me
Now my song helps promote The Independence Fund with volunteers who, in very meaningful ways, support severely injured military veterans.
A young student in Texas, Anita Riddle Schmidt, used my song in a creative school assignment: to create a video honoring a personal hero. The video she made honors her uncle, Command Sergeant Major Sergio Riddle, for his service.
As I often say, because it’s the truth, I have virtually no mechanical skills at all. (I’d likely hurt myself just trying to hang a picture on the wall.) But Words seem to be my friends. So when I’m not writing speeches for executives, improving their PowerPoints or coaching them privately or in workshops on how to better communicate on-stage, I’m still writing … more lyrics.
Lyrics are what led me to another military-supportive friend, 1985’s Miss America, Sharlene Wells Hawkes.
My friendship with Sharlene came about from my having written what is now the state anthem of Virginia. Professor James (“Bud”) Robertson and his wife, Betty, approached me to create lyrics for the classic American folksong, “Oh, Shenandoah” and the result was “Our Great Virginia”.
Bud and Betty have become dear friends and, because of them, I met another wonderful friend – Miss America 1979, Kylene Barker McNeill. Through Kylene I met Sharlene.
For many years now, Sharlene has worked to help veterans and their families. In 2015, she was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, to the Defense Advisory Committee for Women in the Services (DACOWITS).
In 2016, she began serving as executive vice president of Story Rock Electronic Publishing, and as president of its military division: Remember My Service. This worthy organization produces historical records for military personnel … capturing for all time for future generations an individual’s service to his or her country.
Like Rich Jadick, Sharlene has become a friend. And although I’ve never worn a uniform nor marched in military drills, I consider it an honor to do my own small bit to make the world aware of these distinguished individuals and the work they do.
My father – who served in the Army – would be proud that I know these two who are so dedicated to our military heritage. Just thinking about Dad makes me want to reminisce over coffee and a fresh donut.