Archive for October, 2010

Three, Two, One…….Done

October 19, 2010

Time does not forgive, nor is it lenient as we progress through each day. Time moves forward relentless in its unique way. Time has pushed me forward 4 days from that finish in Rockland, Maine, on a stormy Friday morning when the winds blew and the rain pummeled a small group of us as we ran slowly towards the shore. It has taken me 4 days to come up with the words and to remember………………..

My son is a great  man. He works hard and raises 2 children on his own at the young age of 26. I admire and respect his devotion and dedication to his son and daughter. His path in this world could have taken him in many different directions and the one he is on today with me, will lead him to the placing of  the 3rd flag.  He reads the name of Marine 2nd Lieutenant Therrell Childers who was 30 years old. I watch my son. His face his hidden under his hat. The rain runs down his nose. Around us, all are quiet as he  places it in the ground next to a small aspen tree. He places his hand over his heart and I salute. That could have been his name there on that flag. I am fortunate that it wasn’t. We are linked in this moment together and I see that it means so much to him to do this for a Marine who is gone, to have a connection.

Now there are only 2 miles left and time seems to be moving even faster. The wind picks up, the rain falls harder as we make our way through the neighborhood to a spot on the corner where the one ways begin in downtown. The wheels on this stroller have seen the entire country. They have rolled from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Columbia River Gorge, the mountains of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. They have carried these last 2 flags across the stifling heat and never ending expanse of the Midwest. How many revolutions? That is one statistic I have not determined. Through the rolling, colorful hills of New York, Vermont and Maine. Through snow, wind and rain. Through dirt, gravel and pavement and now just a short mile to their final destination, a small boat ramp in a small harbor.

My daughter is a great woman. She is only 20 and yet, is wise beyond her years with wit and intelligence and beauty to match. Like her brother, her path in life brought her to Maine to run 6 miles with her dad and plant her connection, Marine Captain Ryan Beaupre who was 30 years old. The roads divide here and we stop. Under a large Maple tree she place his flag. She is alone. Her black rain jacket whips in the wind, its hood is pulled tightly around her auburn hair and blue eyes. His name is read and she places her hand over her heart and I salute from a few yards away. She pauses then and I look at her and it is a moment frozen in my mind. Her hands are clenched up under her chin and tears are streaming down her cheeks. Her body is shaking and she sobs. She cries for this Marine, for a soul in heaven,  for eyes that can only watch from above. For the freedoms in life he has afforded her. She stands alone and her connection is buried in her thoughts now. Thoughts and emotion that are only hers but are reflected in those tears.

I move on and in this last mile to the last few yards, to the last few feet, to the moment I touch the water I am still not alone. The presence I have felt from the start of this run is now almost gone however , it lingers over me and I know Major Jay Aubin is watching and smiling.  As eyes watched from above, as names were remembered, they took their spot along the roads of America to watch over and protect their mile until there was only one. I salute the heavens. I am done.

In time, as I reflect on what has transpired,  the value and meaning of these last 6 months will become even more apparent to me. I discovered that impossible is only a word and that the heart can surpass so many boundaries. I discovered that we are a strong country when being strong is the only option we have. That despite what we hear and read and see we are the greatest country in the world with the greatest people. I saw it in the faces of America. From store clerks to Veterans to schoolchildren and farmers and highway workers. The people I came in contact with added so much to my life and to the memory of the flags that were carried. The wall is complete now. It spans our great land and even though the permanence of a small flag may be blown away by winds and weather in time, the permanence of the moment it was placed, the honor bestowed upon that spot will remain forever……….

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One Fall Day……..

October 11, 2010

Fall in Maine, like many of the New England states, is an extremely colorful affair. The maples burst in brilliant reds and orange and yellow. Leaves tumble and swirl and find a final resting place on the ground turning it into an animated assortment of beautiful piles.  St. Johns Street is a quiet street in a quiet town called Skowhegan. A town famous for its shoe mills and a few years ago, the filming of the movie, Empire Falls. It is also a town that bears the ghost of a little boy. On this street I stand alone and stare at the 2 story cream colored house sitting across the lot from where I am staying. I close my eyes and hear the laughter of boys back in the mid-70s. They are playing football. In the huddle they draw a play in the dirt that was once green grass now worn down by endless games throughout the summer. They range in age from 8 to 16. It is a time when the neighborhoods were tight in this town. A time when everyones doors were open and most of the time their refrigerators too. Grandma T., lives in the house I am staying in. On Saturdays she would bake cookies and pies and cream puffs. The boys would partake in these delicacies. The little boy who was 8 at the time would follow his siblings and devour many a baked good from Grandma T., but only under one condition and it involved drinking a glass of milk with their cookie or cream puff or pie or cake. Back to the game of football they go. The little boy, with his baggy Levis and red and white Dukes of Hazard t-shirt lines up next to the ball. The play begins and a mad scramble begins….

The cream colored house sits alone. It is bordered by trees whose shade is welcome in the summer.  Second story windows have white blinds pulled closed to keep the afternoon sun out. The tin roof glistens.  It has a steep pitch so that the winter snows will slide off. It is snow that would be shoveled off the porch steps by the little boy even though he would struggle at times with the weight of the wet snow and an over-sized shovel.  He worked hard doing that and in the summer mowing the grass. In time he would grow bigger and stronger and more athletic.

Back to the game……..a pass is thrown, caught and then the ball pops loose and squirts along the ground right to the little boy who scoops it up and runs……he runs as fast as he can…this is his chance, his glory……he darts left then right then back. He stops and starts and fools the older boys with his quickness.  He only needs to get past the maple tree. With a final 8 year old burst of speed and a brilliant move he breaks the imaginary line in an imaginary stadium and scores in front of a hundred thousand imaginary people. Yes, yes, yes.

I open my eyes and look at this yard. The wind blows softly and whispers to me. The home I am looking at and the yard where this game was played is the home of a little boy named Jay Thomas Aubin.

I will be placing the very last flag at the waters edge in Rockland, Maine. It is the flag of Major Jay Thomas Aubin.  He died in the pre-dawn hours of March 21st 2003 on the border of Iraq, piloting a helicopter. He would be one of 6 to die that first day of the war but there is no glory in being number one when it is only for numbers sake. I chose to place him last because finishing in Maine I felt it appropriate.

As I look at his home, his street, his yard, I see him as a young boy. I feel the exuberance of his life, I feel the tremendous potential in his future, I feel his presence. Grandma T., remembers him fondly as she does most boys from the neighborhood. Jay Aubin would become a great man.  A great father with 2 children and the rare breed of Marine who rose up through the enlisted ranks and then became an officer. Grandma T., remembers his smile.  As I stand here alone, the sun pours through these remarkable colored trees and I feel the warmth of that smile from the blue sky above.

Yes Jay Aubin you are not forgotten,  I traveled across this country, running the miles with you and so many others and we will play a football game in the heavens one day……..

Winding Roads and Winding Down….

October 8, 2010

As I run these last few miles through the northeast, history has unfolded before me. In many places there are plaques and signs depicting old meeting halls or courthouses or homes of prominent citizens. Vermont has been warm and welcoming and its people so gracious. Near St. Johnsbury the Academy cross country team joins me as we approach town and head for the city park. It is there that I see a small crowd of people gathered. They are there to honor those from Vermont that have died in Iraq or Afghanistan and I am told, to see this guy pushing a stroller and planting flags. I am often put on the spot for speaking so what I say is often what immediately passes through my mind in no random order. In the background a lonely bagpipe plays as the names are read. It is a sobering sound. That night I would spend the evening with the family of 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Fortin. His parents and grandparents and sister gush with the love and memory they have of their Joseph. His widow and I talk alone and she tells me what she remembers most and misses is his smile. Maybe we should all smile more because if we do then we will leave those we touch with a warm memory and a picture frozen in time. At the Waterford School I am greeted by 150 children (kindergarten through 6th grade) they have formed a corridor of flags and tiny bodies for me to walk through. Such a pleasure to see those excited little faces waving their flags. After a short talk from the top of a picnic table, I follow the colors of the leaves and head for New Hampshire and am greeted at the border at the Connecticut River, by a small group of well wishers. On into Bethlehem and at a small ice cream store named Rennells, I meet Maryanne whose son was the 4000 fatality. I placed his flag in Dayton, WA back in May and ironically, my stroller bears the names of two Iwo Jima Veterans who had signed it way back when I passed through their town. We chat briefly and Maryanne makes me the best banana split I have ever had….fact. I have but 2 nights in New Hampshire and my last is in the town of Gorham. Mount Washington looms nearby shrouded in fog and a light rain is my companion for most of the afternoon. Roy is a kind, gracious man and a gentle New Englander. His health is fragile but perhaps this visit has given him a lift to carry him a few more years. We go to dinner at the Legion Hall, a small, quiet affair with his family. Chicken pot pie, steaming and piled high, blurs my vision. It is no wonder I have only lost 3 pounds in these past 5 months. I leave knowing well that in a few short miles I will cross the Maine border, my final state, knowing that Rockland and my last flag is very, very close. The attention has grown. Legion riders, Sheriff escorts and numerous vehicles lead me to Bethel, Maine. People are standing along the road. Bethel lost one of their own, Army Private Tyler Smith who was only 22 years old. A grandfather stands off to the side and he motions me over. He had lost his grandson and had driven a good 5 hours to see me and give me a picture and a copy of his grandsons dog tags. This is what this week has been like. Much like the past few months but more intense and more frequent are these random visits. The miles and roads are winding down. There are but a hundred and fifty left and then the Atlantic will lie before me and the winds from heaven will carry the voices of those who are there, watching and smiling and the sun will warm us all with their love from above because they truly know, a country has not forgotten……