Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hi Rich!

Not even Karen has seen mine and Greg's vacation shots of this fantastic memorial we saw at Arlington National Cemetery in May 2006. I wanted to share them with you as well as any of our readers who may be interested. And really, I couldn't think of a better place to begin than with this amazing memorial.

It really is one to be proud of, but too, we know it can't touch who all of you really are.

Thank you, LT. Windham for your continued and valuable service.

Let the photos begin. Number one please!

Did you know the world famous USMC Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery was sculpted by a former SEABEE, Felix de Weldon, who also sculpted the SEABEE Memorial at Arlington?

For more, click here.

Seabees Memorial 2

These words, can you read them or should I write them? Let me know and I'll enlist a better pair of eyes than mine. And In Memoriam of U.S. Navy SEABEES Killed in action in Iraq

On April 30, 2004
· Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason B. Dwelley
· Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher M. Dickerson

On May 2, 2004
· Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael C. Anderson
· Petty Officer 2nd Class Trace W. Dossett
· Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott R. McHugh
· Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald A. Ginter

All members ofNaval Mobile ConstructionBattalion FourteenNaval Air Station,Jacksonville, Fl.

May God rest their Souls and watch over the loved ones and shipmates they left behind.


Click here for Navy Seabees who've most recently given their lives.

Seabees Memorial 3

The words to this prayer, can you find them out?

Seabees Memorial 4

Can you believe how much it glows? Look, you can see images across the street in the lower left hand corner.

Seabees Memorial 5

Here's the "Can Do" bee that Karen and I think is so cute!

Seabees Memorial 6

1 of 3 deployment sites

Seabees Memorial 7

2 of 3

Seabees Memorial 8

The final photo of the list of deployments

Seabees Memorial 9

Click here for Photo of the Week at Arlington

Seabees Memorial 10

Getting The Visa and Our Mission

I hope to post a story each day about my experiences in Iraq as a journalist.

The Iraqi diplomatic corps kept a low profile in Kuwait, and when I finally met with the Iraqi consul, I understood why. We spoke on the phone the day before our meeting, and when I arrived at the embassy, the consul offered a handshake with a right hand that was, I thought, deformed. Later, while talking about the war in Iraq, he told me the insurgents had tried to assassinate him twice while he was in Baghdad because he supported the Americans. The attack left his right hand crippled. A similar fate, he warned, awaited me if I insisted on going to the beleaguered capital.

It wasn’t easy finding the Iraqi embassy. Officials in the U.S. embassy weren’t even aware that Iraq had an embassy in Kuwait. The embassy compounds of other countries were formidable, with guards and security checkpoints. Not so with the Iraqis. Their embassy wasn’t marked with anything that would identify it as such. The villa appeared to be just another home in that affluent section of Kuwait.

After roaming the neighborhood for over an hour with an Arab cab driver who communicated with me through grunts and hand gestures, we saw the address on the large home. I suppose that the Iraqis weren’t anxious to announce their presence in a country they had invaded in 1990. But I couldn’t understand the lack of security, given the assassination attempts on the consul.

The Iraqi consul told me during our phone conversation what to bring so that I could apply for a visa. It wasn’t much – a letter, two pictures and $40 – but there wasn’t any guarantee I would be allowed to enter the country. The consul would send the application to Baghdad for approval, but he told me he would do what he could to get it approved. When I told him I was going to Iraq no matter the danger, he shook his head and said, "You journalists."

We talked for two hours. He quickly established his support for the Bush administration and told me that in a couple of years, the Iraqis will thank the Americans for toppling Saddam’s regime. The news, he said, wasn’t presented in a perspective that would clearly explain to Americans the worsening war in Iraq.

"Yes, it’s true that people are being killed in Baghdad and other parts of the country," he said. "But you have to consider that maybe yesterday 30 people died in Baghdad, and maybe today 40 people will be killed. But under Saddam, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people were killed daily. When we put a shovel in the ground, we didn’t know if we were going to find oil or bones."

As an American who was critical of the mistakes Paul Bremmer and Donald Rumsfeld made during the first year of the war, I offered my doubts to the consul about the Iraqis thanking us in two years or 20.

"Look," he said. "The country has to go through this tough time, and the Americans don’t understand it. Without the Americans in Iraq, the country would be a hundred times worse. This violence will pass after the factions settle their vendettas."

The consul told me that the American lack of understanding of the Arab culture causes us to panic when we see Iraqis killing Iraqis. Some of the vendettas are decades old – family against family, tribe against tribe, and they have to be settled before there can be peace.

"It will pass," he assured me.

The consul told me the American invasion of Iraq has improved life in Iraq, but the Western media offers a conflicting story.

"The Western journalists focus on the sensational," he said. "Yes, it’s true that there are still problems with electricity in Baghdad, but you’re not told that under Saddam, only Baghdad and Fallujah had reliable electricity. The northern and southern parts of the country didn’t have any service. Now all of the country has electricity. Maybe it’s not on 24 hours, but they have it. It will get better."

Looking back on that conversation, I realize the consul must have thought I was a lunatic. I was an American in a part of the world hostile to Americans, and I didn’t know anyone. I arrived in Kuwait and immediately began a campaign to enter Iraq to write about the war, but I don’t speak Arabic, and I didn’t have the support of a major news organization. My organization was comprised of Greg, De’on and me. There would be no knowledgeable drivers to transport me and no security guards to protect me. I had no one in place to translate for me.

Other journalists representing large print and broadcast enterprises had access to funds that bought them safety. I would rely on God and Aaron for protection, a divine force that went into action each time I was in danger. Greg and De’on joked that they were the rear support of our venture, but no one could have asked for better or more dedicated service. Their constant prayers ensured my safety, and I knew that Aaron was, once again, engaged in battle. I couldn’t see him, but I felt him. Always.

Perhaps the consul saw the steadiness of my resolve to enter a country where over a hundred journalists had already been killed, and that’s why he helped me get the visa. I don’t know. I do know that while I might have appeared to be an ill-prepared journalist wearing rose-colored glasses, I was part of a mission that was, in fact, two years in the planning. But those plans weren’t my doing, or Greg or De’on’s. It was Aaron who, in his new Heavenly role, became the planner, the general.

We didn’t question the direction we were going, as wild as the plan seemed to be. We still don’t question it or the roles we are to play. God reveals His plan to us in bits. Too much information would only confuse us and cause us to make mistakes. So it’s one step at a time, one day at a time.

We’re still marching to that beat. Who knows how many legions of angels are now under Aaron’s command.

Merry Christmas to Tony!
Made You Look.

Virgie Bell's View

Christmas came early to us this year and as I have stated over and over: I have been a very good girl. One day around Thanksgiving Lisa was here and all of the sudden there arose such a clatter I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter and what to my wondering eyes should appear? A tiny starved kitten.... Yes, Jerry and I are now the proud and adoring owners of Tony Thomas. He has cost us a bundle so far, and even now, we still can be found in the aisle of merchandise marked Pet Food, Supplies and Toys.
Tony came to adopt us in a strange and wonderful way. He must have sensed Lisa was here because she is such a sucker for stray dogs and cats. De'on has received three dogs in her adult life from the adoption service of Lisa’s Animal Homes for Pets. I had my new hearing aids in when Lisa looked out of the kitchen and yelled, "You have a kitten!" Out the door she ran with me at her heels, and under her car’s front wheels was this little kitten. He was starved and infested with fleas and mites. Tony was on his last life. I really think he was on about his eighth-and-a-half-life. Lisa dropped down on her knees, and of course, Tony came right up to her. One side of his whiskers was burnt nearly all the way off. He had escaped from Kitty Hell into Kitty Heaven.

The last thing I wanted was to own a pet. Oh, we have a gold fish outside and tropical fish inside which I considered enough ... I certainly didn't look to have a kitten adopt us but we were picked out anyway. Tony is now well fed, deloused, his own record of shots and a whole list of feline accessories. He is the owner of his own condo, wool carpet over heating pad and house with four inch foam padding topped with sherling carpet. He has his supply of the best food from the veterinarians and a pick up and delivery service by Judy's Pet Grooming and Boarding. He is picked up and delivered by Lisa’s Pet Chauffer, Inc.

Tony was named by me, his adoring mother. I named him after Tony the Tiger, first of all because he is Grrreaaat, and second because of his tiger color and stripes. When Daddy Jerry came in he was thrilled with this new addition to our family. I believe in his heart he had hoped to become a father to a stray pet but he had been hesitant to mention it to me. He knew I had taken the “works forever birth control for animals” and he longed in silence for about fifteen years. When I saw this helpless, burned, starved member of the throw away society, I knew that the time had come to give him this living gift and affirmed that I would try my very best to turn this home into a heaven for this small little creature created by God.

Tony has been a big help to Jerry around his new home. Greg and Jerry were putting up a new door to the patio and here was Greg running the electric drill while six-foot-three Jerry devoted himself to holding and stroking Tony in order to assure the small creature that he was safe forever of past abuse. Tony has been diligent in helping Jerry rake leaves in the yard and is looking forward to helping his daddy pick up pecans in the back yard. For now, Tony just chases stray pecans all over the patio. I think he wants to make sure none escape from us unshelled. Unlike De’on’s most hateful cat and Lisa’s stuck up feline, Tony has been endowed by his creator with the most loving purring motor and outgoing personality. Indeed, he is the proud owner of a Christmas tree that contains 2000 twinkling lights for his enjoyment. He has already received a pick-up load of cat toys for The Discriminating Cat. Jerry carried him to the last expensive check up and the vet told Jerry that Tony was in perfect health except maybe getting a little too fat...Needless to say I am overdoing the feeding of both Jerry and Tony Thomas. Anyway, the three of us wish a perfect and blessed Christmas to everyone who reads this blog and we SUPPORT THE TROOPS!

To Our Readers

We're all working on posts, well, except for Kayla. She's at rehearsal for her ballet recital tomorrow. She is so beautiful when she dances. Someday, maybe soon, I will write a narrative called "The Dance" and it will be about Little Pretty and Aaron.

Right now, Mom is working on a cute post, Steve on Iraq, and I'm jumping back and forth between Disney, the mighty Seabees and Guadalcanal.

And maybe a little something creative as well. Oops I get a permanent tonight over here at my house. Everyone should have someone who comes to their house, much thanks to Lisa. One day I'll tell the story of the ups and downs of being Lisa's "model" all through Cosmetology school. Man, that's a lonnnggg school!

Greg tried to take a picture of Hen and Isaac after they got home from Judy's Pet Salon. Lisa works there, grooming our four-legged babies. But anywyay, they looked so cute in their Christmas bandanas. But they went to corners and sulked when we got the camera out, so....

The first time Hen got a bandana, it bothered him so much I wanted to take it off, but I wanted Greg to see him first. It turned out I couldn't wait that long though because Hennessy wouldn't go through the pet door with it. He looked back and forth between me and the pet door as if to say, "It won't fit!" So I took it off.

Remember our babies when they were young and how they hated all that extra fabric, caps, bibs and what not? That's Hen. And I also can throw myself into that category. I looked like a toddler with too many clothes on when Panama was invaded. I had my M-16, 2 water canteens, 3 or 4 fully loaded 30-round magazines, a flak jacket, the little thingy you wear with all the other thingies on it, bandages, that kind of thing. I couldn't even get up into the hummer without literally holding on and pulling myself up.

It was miserable. I couldn't even walk.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

1. Greg, me, Aaron and Kaika 1995 or '96

2. Zach and Granny 1979 or 80. It's hard for me to tell babies ages anymore. I'm going with '80. Zach was born in August of '79.

Merry Christmas to Our Troops

Who loves you?
Gunz Up does, that's for sure!

Ghosts of Christmases Past

1. Me and Lisa. 1994-95 maybe. 2. Dennis & MeMa

Merry Christmas to Sadie and Bonray

With love from Auntie.

Christmas -- Military Style

"Santa Claus" talks with a group of hospital patients in 1970 during the Bob Hope Christmas Show in Vietnam.

Sweet Dreams

Father God, in the precious name of Jesus, thank you so much for the beautiful sunset tonight. You bring tears to my eyes with your soft brush.
Made You Look.

Ghosts of Christmases Past: Happy...

not so much so....

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Well, Ms. Hairdresser, I guess I've been wrong on a couple of years here. See, my hair is different in each of these two.

So, #1. Me, Aaron, and Lisa--1982

#2. Zach, Aaron, Karen and me--can this really be 1983? The kids are in warm clothes, but maybe this isn't Christmas at all in the bottom photo, but yes, your bird is certainly upside down. Nice deco, Little One!

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Remember the caps from Asgrow that Uncle Bennie gave everybody?

Ghosts of Christmases Past

1. Aaron and Whitney, and mmm, nice legs! (not really, they're mine:)

2. Uncle Bennie, MeMa, and Aunt Linda Gay

Ghosts of Christmases Past

1. Shawna and Kayla. What year? 2.Kaika and Aaron 1993 or 94.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Merry Christmas to ...

...Uncle Lonnie and Aunt Arlene.

We appreciate you and wish you and your family the best that Christmas has to offer.

De'on & Greg

December Sacrifices for Our Freedoms, for Iraq's Freedom

Gunz Up
Most Humbly


I have no other helper than you

no other father, no other support
I pray to you
only You can help me

my present misery is too great
despair grips me

and I am at my wit's end
I am sunk in the depths
and I cannot pull myself up or out

if it is Your will
help me out of this misery

let me know that You are stronger
than all misery and
all enemies

O Lord,
if I come through this
please let the experience
contribute to my
and my brothers blessing

You will not forsake me
this I know


from Prayers I Love
Text Copyright of David Redding (C) 1978

Christmas at Arlington

Rest easy, sleep well my brothers.
Know the line has held,
your job is done.
Rest easy, sleep well.
Others have taken up where you fell, the line has held.
Peace, peace, and farewell...

Readers may be interested to know that these wreaths -- some 5,000 -- are donated by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine. The owner, Merrill Worcester, not only provides the wreaths, but covers the trucking expense as well. He's done this since 1992. A wonderful guy. Also, most years, groups of Maine school kids combine an educational trip to DC with this event to help out. Making this even more remarkable is the fact that Harrington is in one the poorest parts of the state.

Shared with us by Aaron's Aunt Karen

LT. Richard Windham, USN

This is Karen's brother, Richard. Gunz Up will be doing a special on the Seabees in general and Rich's unit in particular. They haven't been back from Iraq very long.

You Two Look Wonderful!

At the bottom of this post is a Christmas card I got yesterday. It was great to see this photo! I haven't seen them since Aaron's OIF 1 Homecoming Party.

Below is Lt. Col.(R) Lonnie D. McCurry and his better half. Uncle Lonnie is the Marine whose battles I'm covering in "Blood Is Thicker Than Water" series.

What I'd like to do is run the timelines of both the 4/12 Marines, 3rd Marine Division that Uncle Lonnie belonged to along with 2/1 Marines, 1st Marine Division (Aaron's Bn.) during the battles Uncle Lonnie fought and those Aaron fought. Aaron's unit was at Guadalcanal when 4/12 was at Bougainville. I think I've covered Bougainville about as well as I can right now. I apologize for copying and pasting so much material in rather than forming my own report or narrative, but there is just so much to cover. It'd be like a term paper for each battle, so I figure for those of you who are really interested, I'd just gather information from the experts instead of giving you my limited take on world events.

However, the personal stories, I can do something with that. That is something I can set my hand to and bring to life, so Uncle Lonnie or Aunt Arlene, if there's something like that you don't mind sharing with our readers, I would love you to email or snail mail them to me. Poignant, fearful, funny, dangerous, personal thoughts ... anything you don't mind sharing, and if you do mind, then I understand and respect that as well. I know many don't talk much about their war experiences, but still, so many of us want those personal moments. Facts will always be here, but experience is the pearl. I want to capture that, for that is the true beauty and life long sorrow of war.

My deepest respect for those who've experienced both. I can't imagine that anyone wouldn't be touched in some way by war. Just to be on alert is wearing on both the troops and their families. War, well, mine in Panama doesn't even touch those of WWII, Vietnam, and those since. Even then, it's lonely at Christmas, and Uncle Lonnie was overseas for two years before returning to the states.

Please remember our troops and veterans this time of year.

Merry Christmas to me, Greg, and Steve

From Jerry and Virgie, or in my case, Mom. Mom picks out neat Christmas cards. Our Gunz Up Christmas banner, the one with the little boy sleeping, is the card she sent me last year.

Merry Christmas, My Friend

‘Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one-bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live.

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.

I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.

Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.

I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

by Lance Corporal James Schmidt, USMC

Follow Me!

Have you heard this before?

Moment of Inspiration with Duke Duvall.

Click on the title for The Legend of the Candy Cane.

The Fighting Seabees

De'on's work on the Seabees is just one of the ways she honors our military. Without our warriors, we wouldn't have a country, and without the Seabees we wouldn't have the freedom we enjoy today. While reading De'on's writings about the Seabees, I thought about the movie "The Fighting Seabees," the World War II movie John Wayne made. Now you know that if the Duke did a movie about the Seabees, then they're a rockin' group of men! The Duke only made movies about heroes. I wish I could have found a larger pic of the movie poster. If you haven't seen the movie, rent it. It's one of my favorite WWII movies. Rock On, Seabees.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

To Virgie Bell

Hope you feel spunky soon, Mom.

Sand and Rubble

I'm ready to write about Iraq. In the weeks since my return, I've tortured myself with a conflict that kept my experiences tossed around and aloft in the updraft caused by uncertainty. Uncertainty about how best to write those experiences.

I could easily write them as straight news, void of the voice of a man who thought he had seen enough of the horrors manufactured by evil people. But the destruction of life I saw deserved more. Iraq changed me, and it's taken a few weeks for that change to move through every cell in my body, for every neuron to learn to fire differently. It's a significant change.

I'm amazed at how much torture the human body and mind can sustain, how hard they fight to keep working even when subjected to all that hell can throw at it. If I've returned from Iraq with one certainty, it is that hell exists, and it has a master. Because I know that, I'm even more convinced that God is always present -- no matter how dark the night.

I saw ordinary people doing extraordinary things in Iraq, but that has been happening there since the days of the Old Testament. This isn't the first war that has stirred the desert sands of Iraq, but it might be the beginning of the last. I transported a smidgin of that sand to the United States where it rests in the serenity of De'on and Greg's living room. That Iraqi sand embraces a few pieces of rubble, all that remains of the building in Fallujah where Aaron fought the insurgents with heroism.

Today, I realized that sand is my strongest bond with Aaron. I scooped it from the site where his blood spilled so that others could live. I scooped it a few minutes before other insurgents arrived at the same place where Marines fought valiantly April 26, 2004. Without a weapon, I wasn't able to engage the insurgents as Aaron and his Marine brothers did. It didn't matter. My mission was to get the sand and rubble back to Aaron's mother, and he had my back.

I thought today of the sand and rubble I retrieved from Fallujah, and, later, my jumbled memories of the Middle East stopped swirling and came to rest in the arena of my mind. The dust settled, exposing clearly the events I was having difficulty describing. I can now examine them at leisure, replaying them and fast-forwarding them as needed.

I didn't just bring back any sand and rubble. I brought back sand and rubble drenched in a history that spans thousands of years. It is the history of the Garden of Eden, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and of Mesopotamia. Aaron's blood soaked into that sand, covering grains that for thousands of years have absorbed the blood of other warriors.

I want to squeeze the stories out of that sand.


Our loving Lord, we thank Thee for Thy marvellous keeping power.

THERE is no miracle so wonderul as the miracle of a soul being kept by my power. Forces of evil batter and storm, but are powerless. Tempests rage unavailingly.

It is like a cool garden with sweet flowers and bees and butterflies and trees and playing fountains set in the midst of a mighty roaring city. Try to see your lives as that.

Not only as calm and unmoved, but as breathing fragrance, expressing beauty. Expect storms. Know this--you cannot be united in your great friendship and bond to do My work, and in your great Love for Me, and not excite the envy, hatred and malice of all whom you meet who are not on My side.

Where does the enemy attack? The fortress, the stronghold, not the desert waste.

from God Calling 2002 Barnes and Noble

Merry Christmas Zach, Jess, and Weston

Nomi loves you, Weston.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

I look really full of Christmas cheer in 1979, huh? And someone has stuck a bow on Zach's head.

Merry Christmas Sisters!
Made You Look.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

With her nieces...

1. Lisa, me, Tonya, and Aunt Linda Gay in 1981. I know because I was pregnant with Aaron, who was born July 1, 1982.
Where's the mistletoe?

2. MeMa getting a Christmas kiss from Dennis

Thank You

Merry Christmas Veterans

HAPPY 13TH ANNIVERSARY Greg and De'on. Look at Ike standing behind me and Greg at the Capitol! We were so proud when he wanted his picture taken with us! May 2006.
Made You Look.

Merry Christmas Aaron & Steve
Made You Look.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Aaron at Lisa & Roy's Christmas 2003.

This sweatshirt is the same one I gave Steve the last minute at the airport. Steve wore it in Fallujah and coming back when he was robbed before crossing into Kuwait.

Merry Christmas Mom & Jerry
Made You Look.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

1. Mom (Virgie Bell) and Jerry. Not sure about the year.
2. My glass of tea, Kaika, Zach and Aaron. 1994

Merry Christmas, Kayla. This jeep is from Greg.
Made You Look.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Cretia and Zach are having a hard time keeping their eyes open! 1982 on the first photo and not sure on the 2nd.