Brian Williams: Truth or Consequences

While at a funeral this past week, I met a lady who is a psychiatrist at the VA in Oklahoma City.  When I learned where she is employed, I said:  I receive most of my healthcare at the VA in Wichita.  She asked me:  “Did you serve during Viet Nam?”

I never give just a “yes” or “no” answer when I am asked this question.  My standard reply is:  “I served during Viet Nam, but not in Viet Nam.”

I am careful to make this distinction because of something called “stolen valor.”  This is unethical behavior that makes false claims about a person’s military service or the wearing of unauthorized and unearned medals.

Stolen valor has been in the news because of false claims made by Brian Williams who claimed fan RPG hit the helicopter he was in while in Iraq in 2003. Not only did Williams tell this lie, he has stayed true to it.  His fraudulent claim has raised the dandruff of Tom Brokaw who has called on NBC to fire Williams.

Mr. Williams’ quest for fame has left him labeled as a mythomane. This lie has tarnished all the truths he has told and questioned the essence of his integrity. The problem with lies, even the white ones, is that they eventually leave you blind to the brilliant colors of truth.

People who perpetuate a lie remind me of what Solomon said in the Proverbs:  “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

The tall tales told by Brian Williams may dock the tail of his career.

Six Years Ago Today

4-july_1100030757012814-intSix years ago today, I had the honor of speaking at a Flag Day Ceremony. Since today is Flag Day, I thought I’d share the speech I gave on June 14, 2008 . . .

We gather here this 14th day of June to honor the emblem of our country. This is the day set aside to honor the stars and stripes that decorate the banner we recognize as a flag of freedom.

This flag defines patriotism, and S]several days ago I received an email from Becky Demo that addresses this subject:
“A veteran – whether active duty, retired, national guard, or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America”, for an amount of “up to and including my life.”

That email is more than rhyme and cheap rhetoric to people like Jim and Becky, and their son Jason who has served several tours in Iraq and to those of us who call ourselves veterans. To us it is more than mere sentiment—It speaks of sacrifice!

Henry Ward Beecher spoke of this sacrifice: If anyone asks me the meaning of our flag, I say to him – it means just what Concord and Lexington meant; what Bunker Hill meant; which was, in short, the rising up of a valiant young people against an old tyranny to establish the most momentous doctrine that the world had ever known – the right of men to their own selves and to their liberties. Our Flag carries American ideas, American history and American feelings. Beginning with the Colonies, and coming down to our time, in its sacred heraldry, in its glorious insignia, it has gathered and stored chiefly this supreme idea: divine right of liberty in man. Every color means liberty; every thread means liberty; every form of star and beam or stripe of light means liberty – not lawlessness, but organized, institutional liberty – liberty through law, and laws for liberty!

I can recall my four years of service in the Air Force, and each evening when the colors were retired and taps was sounded; and, almost without fail, these memories bring goose-bumps with them. I love everything this flag symbolizes, and the words of Wilbur D. Nesbit capture the essence of my feelings for the flag.
He wrote: Your Flag and My Flag—

Your flag and my flag,
And how it flies today
In your land and my land
And half a world away!
Rose-red and blood-red
The stripes forever gleam;
Snow-white and soul-white –
The good forefathers’ dream;
Sky-blue and true-blue, with stars to gleam aright –
The gloried guidon of the day, a shelter through the night.

I find it interesting that one of the first things we teach our toddlers is parade etiquette. We teach them to hold the flag in their tiny hands and to proudly wave it. Jared Gomez, a young cousin of mine and a former El Dorado toddler, has grown into manhood as a marine. As I speak, Jared is about to depart for a third tour of combat. It is the sacrifice of young men and women like him who define the significance of the Flag and give meaning to the word patriotism. They grow-up to serve our nation, to defend it and to take the chance of returning home in a flag covered casket having made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the cherished virtue called freedom.

When speaking of rights and duties associated with freedom, Calvin Coolidge said:
We do honor to the stars and stripes as the emblem of our country and the symbol of all that our patriotism means.
We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth. It represents our peace and security, our civil and political liberty, our freedom of religious worship, our family, our friends, our home. We see it in the great multitude of blessings, of rights and privileges that make up our country.
But when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights, we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done. A yearly contemplation of our flag strengthens and purifies the national conscience.

On this Flag Day, June 14, 2008, we stand here to pay tribute, to honor old glory, and to offer our gratitude to those who have fought and died for this country. This flag should serve to remind us of our obligation to preserve the freedom that is ours today. It is a freedom that did not come cheaply, and it is a freedom that will only be maintained if the present generation and the ones to follow are willing to pay its price.

When Freedom Gets Personal

To some freedom is thought of in terms of the number 07-04 or a specific date on the calendar—July 4th.  There are politicians who try to balance the wishes of their constituents and measure freedom in dollar$, but the cost of freedom cannot be measured in terms of military budgets, tanks, jets, or ships.  The true cost of freedom must consider the human spirit and the willingness to sacrifice.

The hidden costs of freedom are outside of the awareness of the public in general because they have never lived the military life.  When their children were born, the father was not fighting terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan.  For most families, parents are present to join in the celebration of the major life cycle events such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and marriages.  This is not the case for military families when one or both parents are deployed.  Then, there is the ultimate cost of freedom that is seen in the flag-draped caskets of heroes that return home to be met by their heart-broken family.

As I write this column, my heart goes out to the family of Hal Neukirch, Jr.  Young Hal was serving in Afghanistan when he was stricken by a deadly enemy in a form of brain cancer known as Glioblastoma Multiforme.  The request of Hal Jr. is to leave his hospital bed in Texas, and to come back to El Dorado to spend his last days in the place he has called home.

I ask you to join me in helping the Neukirch’s bring their son back to Kansas.  Due to Hal’s condition, an air ambulance must be used at a cost of $15,000.  An account has been set up at Intrust Bank, 100 S. Main, El Dorado, KS 67042. If each of us will give a little, we can make a big difference in the life of this wonderful family.  Please make your check payable to the Hal Neukirch Jr. Benefit Fund.