The Lakota tribe using smudging in their Spiritual ceremonies. This consists of lighting Sage, Cedar, and/or Sweetgrass on fire, reducing it to a smolder, and causing the smoke to waft over the individual that requested the ceremony. I found this Smudging Ceremony prayer on Facebook (credit: thesmartwitch). It speaks to me.
May your hands be cleansed, that they may create beautiful things. May your feet be cleansed, that they might take you to the place you most need to be. May your heart be cleansed, that you might hear its messages clearly. May your throat be cleansed, that you might speak rightly when words are needed. May your eyes be cleansed, that you might see the signs and wonders of the world. May this person and space be washed clean, by the smoke of these fragrant plants. And, may that same smoke carry our prayers, spiraling, to the heavens.
I did not know Chief Kyle. I read his book with awe, but I had never met the Chief. I was aware that he lived in North Texas and hoped to meet him someday. So it was with great sadness that I learned of his death at the hands of a fellow Veteran. Throughout the week that followed his death, I checked the North Texas Patriot Guard Riders website numerous times as I was sure we would be invited to stand in honor of the Chief.
The first PGR Mission was for Chad Littlefield. Chad was a close friend of Chris, and although he was not a Veteran, was working with Chris to help any Veteran who was suffering as a result of service to the Nation. When we posted the Mission, we immediately drew criticism as the PGR normally does not honor non-Veterans. But, we felt that as Chad was serving a Brother whom was suffering, that was good enough. On a beautiful, clear North Texas day, over 1,000 mourners passed by 152 Patriot Guard Riders...Stand Tall and Silent. We led the procession to Chad's place of final rest...and honored him with our Flag Line. It was the very least we could do.
Monday morning, I rode to work with a bag packed and a hotel reservation in Waxahachie. The one motel in Midlothian was booked solid that night...and I suspect that it is not booked solid very often. I had arranged with my supervisor that I would leave the Data Center at 10 AM, so as to arrive at Cowboys Stadium no later than 10:30. I also had the blessing of my wife for the time that I was planning on being away...she is amazing in her support of my PGR mission. When I arrived at the stadium, there was a large number of riders already there. I parked my bike, then reported to the Mission Ride Captain as all Ride Captains are supposed to. He asked me to assist with parking the arriving riders. On the way to my post, I shook a lot of hands and hugged many PGR members. My Brother Jon had brought his daughter Ava to the mission...and I hugged her as well...I suspect that she was not too crazy about all the hugs from the many old bikers that hugged her...but she accepted them with grace. After all the bikes were parked, I then took half the riders to the staging point at the mouth of the tunnel, that leads to the field level of the stadium. At that point, we were "wanded" by stadium security folks...a pointless procedure that we submitted to with humor. Soon after, the SEAL Daddy Rear Admiral Sean Prybus, walked between our 2 lines and shook the hand of every PGR member. There were over 450 PGR members on the line...so he was a little surprised at our numbers. He stated that he had worked with us in the past and that he appreciated that we were "always there". We proceeded into the stadium and after some delay proceeded onto the field with our flags. The 2 hour service was moving, and quite humbling. I happened to be the last PGR member to exit the field, and followed our members to the post-mission brief.
I rode with our Deputy State Captain and a couple of fellow Ride Captains to supper...then to Waxahachie. The La Quinta desk clerk was very gracious, allowing me to park my bike under the entry awning, as the morning was forecasted to bring rain with the arrival of the sun. I went to bed early as I wanted to be at the staging area as close to 4 AM as possible.
The morning brought the forecast rain and the temperature was in the lower 40s. I had packed all of the proper gear to ride in those conditions, so after packing my bike and donning my cold and rain gear, I departed the hotel in a steady rain. (To be continued...)
While at Fort Benning, Georgia this Christmas...I had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with Gavin. Gavin is an Armor Platoon Sergeant and a Veteran of a tour in Iraq. He is a longtime friend of my son-in-law, and hails from the same town in Indiana as Chris.
I presented him with a Texas PGR Challenge Coin and he responded with a number of coins that he had designed during a previous assignment. It seems that he was a General's Aide and a Personal Protective Staff member for that General. The coins were awesome and are displayed proudly on my "shrine" in our home's entryway.
What happened next was completely unexpected, and very moving. Gavin told me that he had something special for me, and sprang up off the couch to get it. When he returned, he had an American Flag in a small triangular flag display case. I immediately noticed that it was smaller than a Burial Flag, and there was small brass plate on the bottom of the case.
FLOWN IN HONOR OF CPL. ZACHARY R. ENDSLEY JULY 23, 2007 FOB LANE AFGHANISTAN
Gavin's demeanor had changed, and he haltingly began to speak.
When my best friend was killed in Afghanistan, as soon as we got back to the Forward Operating Base, I saw this flag waving and immediately took it down and saved it.
I was floored. Speechless. And, very humbled. I asked Gavin to tell me about Zachary's service and the circumstances of his death. His eyes were filled with tears, and he softly spoke.
He was killed during an ambush...he was a great Soldier and one of my best friends. We had a pretty rough deployment. I have kept this flag since his death, and now I want you to have it. I believe you will take good care of it and treat it with the respect it deserves.
I asked him if he was sure, as I could clearly see how much the flag meant to him.
Yes, I am sure. I know that you and Susanne will always honor and display the flag. Your PGR service and other Veteran's Support activities tell me that this flag will be in good hands.
I accepted the flag and it now occupies a place of honor in our home. And when we cross over to the next life, the flag will go to our Grandson, Kaleb Peeples. That way, it stays in the family and will always be cared for...and Corporal Zachary R. Endsley's sacrifice will not be forgotten!
Thank you, Gavin...for your service to this Nation...and your trust in us!
It is a little strange how a car can make a man go weak in the knees. I am a motorcycle rider. With few exceptions, ('57 Chevys, '63 Spit-window Corvettes, and the C5/C6 Corvettes) cars have never really interested me. Hell, since 1989 I have been a pickup truck driver.
All of that came to an abrupt end...2 weeks ago. My son (the BMW 300ci and BMW R1100 dude) dragged me to Cars and Coffee, the ad-hoc car show staged at Classic BMW (first Saturday of each month). We had drooled over the assorted Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and other high-end exotica...and marveled at the other cars of every other make imaginable. It is truly amazing what comes out of garages in North Texas! 5 acres of automotive nirvana...
My son dragged me to the pre-owned lot so I could drive a representative BMW sedan, and compare it to the type of car that I have bought for my wife, the last 2 purchases. She drives a 2004 Lexus LS-430, an awesome car. I drove a 535i and it was very nice...the handling amazing. I also drove a 650ci convertible, just for kicks.
We were just about to leave, and walked around the corner of the sales office, when I saw her. I swear to you, I went weak in the knees! Her siren song drew me in...and I was smitten. She is a 2004 645ci Dinan coupe. She had only 54K miles when I met her. Her original owner upgraded her 330 hp engine with lots of Dinan performance mods and change the rear-end gearing to 3.45 ratios. I resisted her for 2 days...then succumbed and drove her. It was all over but the struggle to figure out how to afford her. Her original owner had spent about 90 thousand bucks buying and upgrading her. I purchased her for a song! No door dings, one wear spot on her black leather interior....she looks new. I am still giddy every time I see her...and driving her is amazing!
I know, I know...she will be expensive to work on, tires ridiculous to replace...but she is worth it, so far.
It is silly to love a car...but there you have it.
As I turned onto the road leading to the motorcycle parking area, he fixed a stare on my bike and I. I parked my bike, pulled off my helmet and gloves, then completed my ritual by sliding the windshield cover on.
I looked around and saw him striding towards me, hardhat in hand.
It was a walk that a Veteran recognizes.
"What is this Patriot Guard deal?"
I smiled, then launched into the short version, a recitation that never gets old. As I was telling him about our mission, his face melted into the look I have come to know so well. He asked me a few questions, and then provided me the opening I was looking for.
Where did you serve, sir?
I, well, I was over there.
He gestured West...you can probably guess how far West he meant.
Are you a VietNam Vet?
Yes, I was there.
I shook his hand, pulling him in for the "Veteran's Hug".
Welcome Home, Brother! Job well-done! Thank you for your service, and keeping this Nation Free!
When we drew apart, his eyes were filled with tears. They are tears born of service in an unpopular war, abuse by a public that blamed the Warrior for the war. They are tears from a pain that I cannot begin to imagine. A pain that hovers close to the surface...and runs very deep.
I gave him my PGR card, and of course extended an invitation to check us out...and join us if he wished.
I hope he does, as it is the next step in a long, overdue healing process...that may have begun today.
On Veteran's Day 2009, I led 15 Patriot Guard Riders to Bells Elementary School in Bells, Texas. The Student Council there invites Veterans from the surrounding area to a celebration every year. I was honored to be a guest speaker 3 years ago and have attended the celebration every year since then.
The program is Student planned and led, with speeches, songs, and essays honoring Veterans and service to the nation. This year the guest speaker spoke about what it meant to be a Hero. He quoted a Warrior (whom I cannot find) who, when called a Hero, said "I am not a Hero, but I served in the company of Heroes". In the Bells Elementary gymnasium, there were Vets from every war from World War II to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every Armed Service was represented...including one that does not exist today, the US Army Air Corps. As the Students sang to us and called us Heroes, I understood completely what that Warrior meant. Nothing that I did in the service of this nation was heroic...but I served, and continue to serve, in the company of Heroes.
It was a day that was long in coming. I am proud of William's decision to join the military. I was not as happy with his Army Reserve choice, but it is his choice...and given the rest of his career plan, the Army Reserve is probably the best choice for him. He enlisted in February, and has drilled twice with his unit...I think that his drill experience has him questioning his choice a little bit, but that is to be expected. He did not know what he did not know.
I resolved to make this summer the best that I could, and make some good memories for us. I believe I succeeded. He got a 2003 VFR 800, we took a great motorcycle trip to ride the 3 Twisted Sisters, and generally had a great time hanging out together.
Our relationship for the last couple of years has transitioned and I am pleased to tell you that he calls me his best friend. I have not had to "father" him much lately, and have concentrated on being the best friend I could be. My father tells me how much he envies my relationship with William. I am blessed that my son loves me and does not mind showing it...even in front of his friends.
All of this brings me to this week. William shipped out to Basic Combat Training on Tuesday morning. My pride in him was tempered by my selfish sadness that he was leaving me for the next 6 months. I tried to be happy for him, acknowledging that he is doing what all sons do at this age. He must leave the nest and fly on his own, and hopefully prove that I have provided him the tools necessary to succeed. My confidence is fairly high, but you always wonder just a little....don't you? Anyway, I was not completely successful in hiding my true feelings from him as he boarded the bus that took him to the airport. I completely failed at my goal of not crying in the car after he left. Of course, his mother did not help much as her sniffles provided just the right catalyst for me to weaken.
The Army does Basic a bit differently than the Air Force...so his first week is "In-processing". He starts Basic Combat Training on Tuesday, July 28th. Hopefully, he will graduate with the rest of his company about the 3rd week of September. We are planning to attend his graduation, after which he goes to Fort Bragg to attend his Advanced Individual Training at the JFK School of Special Warfare.
I am looking forward to the changes that Basic Training brings. I believe William will be a great Soldier...he is stronger than he realizes, both physically and mentally. But still,
Last night was my Son's end-of-school Jazz Band Concert. Bittersweet does not come close to describing what could be the last time I ever hear him play. He has played the Bass Trombone for 3 years, in the world's largest marching band. He has been in the top band in his high school for the last 2 years, along with the top orchestra, All-Region Band for the last 2 years, and finally the Jazz Band. In his high school, Jazz Band is strictly extra-curricular, and voluntary. They rehearse twice a week in the evening. I am proudest of his accomplishments in Jazz Band, not only for his musical growth, but because he did it for the love of his music.
So, last evening he was phenomenal! Bass Trombone is usually an instrument that you cannot pick out individually...it is a "background" instrument. But in Jazz, it can stand out. Last night, the Bass Trombone really shone. He just rocked! At the conclusion of the performance, I went to hug him and congratulate him on his performance...as I always do...you see, my High School Senior Son will still hug his Father in front of his friends. A little boy walked up and thanked him for his performance. A future Bass Trombone player, perhaps?
Right after that encounter, a gentleman walked up to shake my Son's hand...and stated that he was the "heart of the band" and told him how much he appreciated my Son's performance. You should have seen my Son's face!
As you can tell, I am very proud of my Son. His future plans do not include musical performance, so I may never hear him perform in public again. But his band experiences have provided him with growth beyond music. Leadership, teamwork, personal achievement, dedication to his craft...all vital skills that he will use in the military. And, all taught very effectively in the band.
The Lakota Sioux have a story about the original teachings that Wakan Tanka (Great Mystery, Great Spirit, Creator...God) caused to be delivered to the People. They are, in no particular order; There is a God, it is not me... What I give away, I keep; What I keep, I lose...Love the People. These 3 teachings are all that was needed for the "Old Ones" to stay on the "Red Path" and live the life that Spirit wanted for us all.
As I studied the major religions of the world, I found a remarkable similarity in their core teachings. All of them, the pre-Christians, the Celts, the Druids...all of the "Old Ones" appeared to receive the same teachings...albeit with different names and slightly different objects. I pondered that for a time...but finally this thought came to me. I believe that Wakan Tanka is a perfect being, and is the Creator. When Wakan Tanka was ready to teach his People the lessons necessary for us to sit by His side...How else would he teach the People. He sent his Spirit Helpers (Angels is one analogy for them) appearing in a form each tribe would recognize, using their language and objects. That would be the "perfect" way.
So, what happened to this perfect, core spirituality? The Lakota, along with other Indigenous Peoples around the world, did not change their original spirituality. They still pray to Wankan Tanka, Tunkashila (the spirit that walked among us as a man), and all of our Spirit Helpers. You may recognize this "Trinity"...It seems to be very close to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit...indeed, I believe they are all the same. Just different names and language.
However, many groups around the world added layers of other stuff around the spiritual core teachings...Layers that seem to be labeled Jealousy, Greed, Control, Perversion, Hatred...I could go on, but you get the picture. I believe that when each group wrapped enough of this "stuff" around it, and had what they desired...they called it Religion.
For me, and no judgment is intended here for it is not for me to judge...Religion gets in the way of my spiritual journey. Those awful layers are barriers between Wakan Tanka and me. I believe that my relationship is with Wakan Tanka alone...No one can tell me how to take this journey, and no one can keep me from Him.
Please do not see this as some kind of evangelism, for we are not commanded to do that. Just as someone cannot instruct me, I cannot instruct anyone on his or her spiritual journey.
To close this post, I would like to share one remarkable thing about me. For 35 years, between the ages of 15 and 50, I was an Agnostic. I was not a lazy Agnostic, but quite studied. I attended the Nazarene, Southern Baptist, and Methodist churches...and even studied Judaism for a time...but they all stopped making sense to me. I decided that there must be something greater than humankind in the universe, but I stopped believing in a higher power that had any affect on day-to-day life on this backwater planet. All of that changed, a couple of years ago...in a most simple and holy place. Since that single event, I have "shut up and listened" and Wakan Tanka speaks to me, as I believe he speaks to all of us.
US Army SSG Jeremy Bessa was a Special Forces Communications NCO. He was killed by a cowardly, illegal under the International Laws of Armed Conflict, IED in Afghanistan. He leaves behind a Wife and Son.
SSG Bessa had been a "Green Beret" since March of 2007. His path to Special Forces qualification was a very difficult one, most who attempt it fail. I was honored to ride for him and his family this morning.
Over 50 Patriot Guard Riders staged in Addison this morning, to render SSG Bessa honors and to show our appreciation and respect to his family. I had not ridden a PGR mission since August, much to long a time. The Addison Fire Department had 2 of their ladder trucks extend ladders, from which a huge American Flag was suspended. The Kalitta Air Charters Falcon jet taxied under the flag and past the assembled PGR line. SSG Bessa's casket was offloaded and carried to the waiting hearse...while we rendered honors.
The procession formed, and it was a sight to behold. Law Enforcement, both State and Local, cleared a path for the procession. All along the way from Addison to North Dallas, I was again struck by the number of people who stopped what they were doing to honor SSG Bessa. Military Veterans holding a salute, non-Vets with hands over hearts, lined the curbs on Northwest Highway. I noticed one gentleman, almost hidden on his front porch, standing at rigid attention with salute proudly held.
With honors a final time, we ended our escort mission and prepared for his funeral service and interment. Once again, PGR members "Stood Tall and Silent" for this Warrior and his family. It was our honor to escort SSG Bessa home.