Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I vividly remember a picture on my Grandmother's wall.  As a young lad, it always fascinated me.   It was an image of a set of footprints in the sand.  Just one lone set.  And they traveled a journey to nowhere in particular.  Yes, my Grandmother left me a memory that I will never forget.  Probably, because it had some deep meaning that I didn't truly understand....yet someday, hoped I would.  Here they are:

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.  Scenes from my life flashed across the sky.  In each, I noticed footprints in the sand.  Sometimes, there were two sets of footprints, other times there was only one.

During the lowest times of my life I could see only one set of footprints so I said, "Lord, you promised me that you would walk with me always.  Why, when I have needed you most, would you leave me?"

The Lord replied, "My precious child.  I love you and would never leave you.  The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."  -Mary Stevenson

When you feel all alone........

My journey of realizing the  truth of  those set of footprints has been a long one.  There have been times where I've been hurt and longed for God.  I've yelled.  I've cursed.  I tried being distant.... as if that would get me anywhere.  If there was anything I could do to show my disappointment in God, I tried.  Yet he didn't go anywhere.

It was these words that impacted me most. Finally.  And I might add, just in time.   I am with you.  I Am With You.  I AM WITH YOU.  Heaven's bells continually peal with that promise of My presence.  Some people never hear those bells because their minds are earthbound and their hearts are closed to me.  Others hear the bells only once or twice in their lifetimes, in rare moments of seeking Me above all else.  My desire is that My "sheep" hear My voice continually, for I am the ever-present Shepherd.

These words are the perfect potion.  They speak truth and they can, if soaked in, take the load off.  I can't help but think of our soldiers who return from War.  They suffer from PTSD and they feel like they 're in life by themselves.  But they don't have to be.  And neither do you.  Any of us can be the benefactors of God's ways and knowing .....I AM WITH YOU.



Thursday, October 25, 2012


Imagine're getting ready for work in the early morning and three men in uniform approach your home.  The three, a lieutenant commander, a doctor and a chief petty officer stand at attention as the petty officer knocks.  You open the door and the officer says, " I have some news for you about your boys".  "Which one"? you respond.  "I'm sorry", he replies.  "All Five".

You stand in shock as the officer explains the loss of your five boys.  Yes, not one, not two, or three or four, but all FIVE.  The day was January 12, 1943....almost two months after the ship they served on was sunk by a Japanese torpedo. You, Tom Sullivan and your wife, Alleta, of Waterloo, Iowa,  will forever have your lives changed. Gone are all five of your sons::

1.  George Thomas Sullivan, 27, Gunner's Mate Second Class
2.  Francis "Frank" Henry Sullivan, 26, Coxswain
3.  Joseph, "Joe" Eugen Sullivan, 24, Seaman Second Class
4.  Madison, "Matt" Abel Sullivan, 23, Seaman Second Class
5.  Albert, "Al" Leo Sullivan, 20, Seaman Second Class

We are fast approaching the anniversary of the Sullivans deaths.  November 13th will mark 69 years since the fateful  day the USS Juneau was sunk in World War II.  Not only was the Juneau hit by a Japanese torpedo, but twice.  After first taking a hit in a battle at the Naval Battle at Guadalcanal and forced to withdraw, the cruiser was sent to the depths near the Solomon Islands.  Initially some 100 survived the attack, but a Senior Officer in the Region, Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, doubted anyone could still be alive.  Rather than have the other ships in the area respond, Hoover chose to protect the remaining ships in the area from the Japanese submarine that had done in the Juneau.  Hoover radioed a US B-17 bomber to respond and report any survivors.  The B-17 saw survivors but under orders not to break radio silence they did not report their findings until several hours later.  Their findings went unnoticed in paperwork until several days later when it was realized a search had never been mounted.

Painting at Freedom Rock near Greenfield, Iowa

8 days after the sinking, ten survivors were found.  8 Days!!!  "Survivors reported that Frank, Joe and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day and George survived for four or five days suffering from delirium as a result of the loss of his brothers.  He went over the side of the raft he occupied and was never seen or heard from again.  Security required that the Navy not reveal the loss of the Juneau or the other ships in the area as not to provide information to the enemy.  Letters from the Sullivan sons stopped arriving at the home and the parents grew worried".

So there he is.....Standing.....somehow.......picture Tom Sullivan as he is told of his five sons deaths.  There are few, very few who could ever relate to that.  How could you?   The days, the months and the years after had to have been a blur.  How could they not be?

Several paragraphs from the book "The Sullivans", explains:  " News of the deaths of all five brothers became a rallying point for the war effort, with posters and speeches honoring their sacrifice.  Extensive newspaper and radio coverage of the incident made the loss of the brothers a national story, producing " a wave of humility and sympathy".  A sister, Genevieve, enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Specialist (Recruiter) Third Class and with her parents, visited more than 200 hundred manufacturing plants and shipyards encouraging employees to work harder to produce weapons for the Navy so the war could come to an end sooner.  "By January 1944, the three surviving Sullivans had spoken to over a million workers in sixty-five cities and reached millions of others over the radio".   President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to the family in this manner:

" Dear Mrs. Sullivan:

The knowledge that your five gallant sons are missing in action, against the enemy, inspired me to write you this personal message.  I realize full well there is little I can say to assuage your grief..........

Last March, you, Mrs. Sullivan, were designated to sponsor a ship of the Navy in recognition of your patriotism and that of your sons.  I am to understand that you are, now, even more determined to carry on as
as a sponsor.  This evidence of unselfishness and courage serves as a real inspiration for me, as I am sure it will for all Americans.  Such acts of fate and fortitude in the face of tragedy convince me of the indomitable spirit and will of our people.  I send you my deepest sympathy in your hour of trial and pray that in Almighty God, you will find a comfort and help that only He can bring".

Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt

FYI...The Sullivans weren't the only brother-sailor combination on board the Juneau.  There were at least thirty pairs of brothers on board.

Now.  imagine the parents of the other brother-sailor combinations  as they answered the knock on their doors that morning.......and then the parents who felt the loss of a single child.  As President Roosevelt said, "I send you my deepest sympathy in your hour of trial and pray that in Almighty God, you will find a comfort and help that only He can bring".  Amen.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Today is a milestone of sorts for "My Father's Voice".  It's our 200th post.  MFV began almost two years ago after I penned a letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register concerning the deployment of our son, Kristopher, to Afghanistan.  It seems like 20 years ago rather than two.  So much has happened, yet it some respects, some things have stayed the same.  We're still sending troops into harm's way and the Middle East appears to be as volatile as ever.  For that reason,  I'm going to repost my first writing about the deployment process.  No doubt there is some family about to face the same issues ours did.  Perhaps the words I pass along will help those AND will also enable others to see what living in the military world is all about.    


A tear drop hit my pillow last night as I lay awake …..followed moments later by a second and a third.  The last one was a long, streaming one, which I think had a more profound significance than the others.    Certainly this was the one that forced me to choke back a real melt down.

It has been two and a half months since I had really let my emotions come forth.  It was tough saying goodbye to my oldest son, Kristopher, that day at the Boone campus.  He along with some 100 other National Guardsman boarded 4 busses and headed off to Camp Shelby in Mississippi.  It was a day unlike any other I had known.  Families being stretched to the greatest of emotional lengths.  Some said goodbye to husbands, others to wives,  son and daughters.   There were young spouses no doubt left with the responsibility of trying to  explain what was going on and why mommy or daddy was leaving on a bus with a whole lot of other people.  Another young lady,  looking to give birth within a month or so, tried to hold back tears.  She wasn’t doing a very good job, but who was I to talk.  Yet, looking around me, I could only think of how each of our lives would become different.  Yes, our tears were real that day……..

Last night though, my tears were different.  They were bigger and they came out of nowhere.   And they were  much different than the ones back on July 30th.   And they are different again today as I try to put my feelings down with words that don’t do justice.  Justice for me, my family and all the other men and women and their friends and families who are experiencing their loved one deploying to Afghanistan.  Today, when my son leaves, and in the following weeks more than 3,000 Iowa Guardsman will be leaving our safe shores to DEPLOY.  Not train, but deploy.

 What does deploy mean? I had to look it up to make sure.  Google had a short definition which stated, “to move into a position of readiness or availability.”   Okay…that makes sense.  Yet, I feel there is one important word that was  left out.  REAL.  There will be Real bullets and a Real enemy for REAL.  And it’s all for Real life and real death in a region that I‘m still trying to get my mind wrapped around.  Is Afghanistan all that important?   Are we fighting on level terms?  Those questions alone are enough to make a person tear up.

Is the question, "Where are we going next?"

So as you can see,  my tears have been different.  They were a “safe” tear when I knew my son was here in our country preparing for his duty.   Now, it’s the furthest thing from that.  Safe tears  have been replaced by  scared tears, followed by proud tears followed by scared tears.

It goes without saying, that I have come to a greater appreciation for our military and our country through this whole deployment process.   Men and women have taken to their responsibility and  are making all Iowans proud.  I won’t kid you, it’s going to be a long 9 months.   What do my future tears hold in store for me?  Will it be for someone who has a solider wounded?  Or will it be for one killed in action?  I can’t even think of going there.

It has been said that tears are good for the soul.  It’s our reaction to an experience.  It has an awful lot to do with living, I think.   If you’ve seldom let your emotions or experiences taken you there, then today, think about those whose lives will be challenged from every angle possible.   An old sixties song, “96 Tears” sure comes to mind right now.  “Cry, cry, cry…96 tears, tears for the warm hearted, 96 tears.”  How many tears do I have left?  I don’t really know, but  I do know this.   The shortest and sweetest verse in the Bible is…. ‘‘Jesus wept.”   Puts it all in perspective, don’t you think?



Friday, October 12, 2012


It's only thirty some miles from where I live.  Hardly a long trek.  That's why it's hard to comprehend any  reasons its taken me so long to get there.  But last weekend I finally did.

It weighs some 56 tons and is roughly 12 feet tall.  It's about a mile and a half off of Interstate 80 at exit 86 (about 35 miles from Des Moines) among the cornfields of Iowa.  And it's one huge, huge focal point for what our troops preserve for us each and every day.  Freedom.  And appropriately it's called by that same name, Freedom Rock.

Notice the telephone pole over my left shoulder on the  "Huey" side

For years, the rock served as a graffiti piece.  Something vandals used to pen their mindless dribble and sayings.  That was until 1999 when a nineteen year-old from nearby Greenfield by the name of Ray "Bubba" Sorensen came to the rescue.

"It was around Memorial Day when I was driving past the rock when I wondered what it would be like if I actually took the time to go out there and paint it.  And so I painted it with the flag raising from Iwo Jima.  I got a huge response from it that I kept painting it. And I've been painting it with tributes to Veterans on Memorial Day".

Thirteen years later, Sorensen's still at it.  He usually begins his process each year by putting scenes on a blank canvas.  And then the process begins.  Each side of the rock save one has a coat of white paint and awaits a new theme.

The Huey helicopter is the only thing that stays the same.  "It always stays because it has the ashes of 30 different Vietnam Veterans mixed into the paint and I add more ashes every year", said Sorenson.  "People send their ashes and bone fragments so they can paint them into the rock.  Now that is something.  That is so sentimental", said Mike Smith of Mason City.

A tribute to brothers fighting for freedom

This year, Sorensen was finally able to place the faces of the Five Sullivan Brothers that gave their lives for our country.  All five were aboard the USS Juneau when their ship was sunk in November of 1942.  The Brothers,  George, 27; Frank, 26; Joe, 24; Matt, 23 and Al, 20 were natives of Waterloo, Iowa.

Throughout the years, Sorensen has featured such pieces as Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta,  George Washington crossing of the Deleware, America's response to the September 11 terrorist attack and on and on and on......  Each year, there is tremendous excitement to see the new unveiling and each year the crowds keep coming back.

Only once.  Just once, has the Rock been vandalized.  Sorensen's 60 year anniversary tribute to Veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack was defaced weeks after it was completed.  But the perpetrator got a punch in the mouth from a Vietnam War veteran for his trouble and his work has gone untouched ever since.  How appropriate.  

A must see?  No doubt.  And you couldn't  find a better buy.  It doesn't cost a cent, it's free.



Thursday, October 4, 2012


Today's blog is courtesy of Emily Walsh, a Community Outreach Blogger for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.  Thank you Emily for passing on this information to us all.......

While military deployments are obviously fraught with risks to life and limb, other health conditions disproportionately affect those who serve, as well. Most common of these are:


This is not such a surprise. The Veteran’s Administration reports that post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most common reasons that veterans seek treatment. Many of them witnessed a brutal reality when deployed during combat. Facing PTSD head-on and treating it with the help of a mental health professional improves quality of life for returning veterans.

Help is there.......

Before being aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure, it was common for troops to spend a lot of time around the substance. Once upon a time, the military routinely relied on asbestos due to its fireproof nature. Decades later, veterans still present with a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma (what is mesothelioma?). It soon became apparent that asbestos was the leading culprit in the development of mesothelioma cancer. While no longer used by the military, veterans continue dealing with the reality of mesothelioma. Even today, veterans are being diagnosed with mesothelioma from long ago exposure to asbestos. This is because the symptoms may take decades to surface. Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis. The options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or any combination thereof.

Respiratory Illness

The deployment of over two million troops since September 11, 2001 has led to a rapid increase in the number of military members being diagnosed with several respiratory conditions. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans faced exposure to environmental toxins, which led to illnesses such as bronchiolitis and asthma. Troops who never had any prior lung problems are being hit the hardest by respiratory consequences of deployment. Some researchers have pinpointed similar symptoms present in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. This group of symptoms is called Iraq-Afghanistan War lung injury. Exposure to dust, smoke from burn pits, aerosol chemicals, shock waves caused by bomb blasts, airborne toxins, mold and exhaust fumes all contribute to the development of such a lung disease. Studies show that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans develop lung problems at seven times the rate of any other veteran group. Veterans of Iraq and/or Afghanistan should visit their primary care physician as soon as any symptoms, like shortness of breath or the feeling of congestion, present themselves. Only with a thorough examination of the symptoms can an effective treatment protocol be developed.

Again, thank you Emily for passing on this valuable information.  So much of what you talk about has to do with our soldiers responding to their needs regarding their health.  Hopefully we've prompted someone to take the BIG first step to recovery.