hero

My nephew, Riley Birky is a man who has a big heart. He truly cares about the people around him, and while he is not always able to do anything to fix the problems his friends might have, that certainly doesn’t keep him from having a deep desire to help if he can. Sometimes, I think that carrying around the…almost burden of having such a big heart can be hard on the guy who has said big heart. When they are unable to change the outcome they tend to carry the weight of it, as if it were their failure. It isn’t, of course, but it is how they tend to feel. Nevertheless, Riley has a good group of buddies, and they have good times together.

Riley has grown into a good man, who lives on his own now, and works to support himself. He is a responsible worker, who is well liked. He is working for a fencing company, as an installer. Riley has never been afraid of hard work, and has done a variety of heavy duty jobs in his lifetime. As an adult, he has proven himself to be capable and reliable. I think he will do well in whatever job he does or career he chooses.

Riley loves his mom, my sister-in-law, Rachel Schulenberg very much. She has been supportive of him all his life, and he has nothing but respect for her. Oh, they have their disagreements, but when it comes right down to it, his mom is his hero, as well as his biggest cheerleader. He knows that he can always count on her to be there for him…even if that means encouraging him do the right things. In reality, that is what most kids want to do anyway.

Riley has a dog that he loves very much. Nala is an American Bully Pitbull Terrier. Nala came to Riley as a puppy, but she is growing like a weed. She has a beautiful, soft brown coat that is very shiny. She loves Riley very much, and the feeling is mutual. Riley has always had a heart for dogs, and Nala is Riley’s baby girl. Their companionship makes both of them very happy. Today is Riley’s birthday. Happy birthday Riley!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

In a war, there are many heroes…some whose acts of courage and selflessness were so amazing that many felt they needed to receive a different medal…one that paid homage to the incredible things they did. Often these medals were even given posthumously because the brave act of the hero, cost the recipients their lives. Before 1861, no such medal existed. President Abraham Lincoln didn’t think that was right. There were many brave soldiers, and while not all brave acts would qualify for the medal of honor, the most self sacrificing of them would…the ones who set aside their own safety to protect the lives of others.

For that reason, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a measure calling for the awarding of a US Army Medal of Honor, in the name of Congress, “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection.” The previous December, Lincoln had approved a provision creating a US Navy Medal of Valor, which was the basis of the Army Medal of Honor created by Congress on July 12, 1862. War puts men and women into situations whereby the only choices are kill or be killed. That can be a scary proposition. These soldiers do not do what they do in order to receive a medal. In fact, a medal rarely crosses their minds at all. The first US Army soldiers to receive what would become the nation’s highest military honor were six members of a Union raiding party who in 1862 penetrated deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1863, the Medal of Honor was made a permanent military decoration available to all members, including commissioned officers, of the US military. It is conferred upon those who have distinguished themselves in actual combat at risk of life beyond the call of duty. Since its creation, during the Civil War, more than 3,400 men and one woman, Dr Mary Walker, have received the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in US military conflict. These people gave whatever it took to perform their duties. They were the best of the best, and the medal of honor was the best honor we could bestow on them. Of course, in Lincoln’s time, there was no air force, so that medal came later, as did the medals from the other branches of service, including the Coast Guard.

When we think of heroes during the Nazi years, we think mostly of men, but there were a few women who were real heroes too. One such woman, Sophia Magdalena Scholl, who was born on May 9, 1921, was a German student, who was also a serious anti-Nazi political activist. She was active within the White Rose non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany. Scholl was the fourth of six children born to Magdalena (Müller) and liberal politician and ardent Nazi critic Robert Scholl. Her father was the mayor of her hometown of Forchtenberg am Kocher in the Free People’s State of Württemberg, at the time of her birth.

Scholl was brought up in the Lutheran church. She entered junior or grade school at the age of seven, and was considered an intelligent child who learned easily. Her childhood was a happy and carefree one. In 1930, the family moved to Ludwigsburg and then two years later to Ulm where her father had a business consulting office. These were definitely the best years of her life.

In 1932, after Scholl started attending a secondary school for girls, at the age of twelve, she chose to join the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls), as did most of her classmates. It was as common as joining the girl scouts was in the United States. Her initial enthusiasm gradually gave way to criticism. She was aware of the dissenting political views of her father, friends, and some teachers. Even her own brother Hans, who once eagerly participated in the Hitler Youth program, became entirely disillusioned with the Nazi Party. Sophia was quickly learning of the horrors of Hitler and his Nazi regime. Political attitude had become an essential criterion in her choice of friends. The arrest of her brothers and friends in 1937 for participating in the German Youth Movement left a strong impression on her.

In 1943, with the Nazi movement in full swing, Sophia and her brother, Hans were at the University of Munich distributing anti-war leaflets when they were arrested and charged with high treason. Of course, handing out anti-war leaflets in the United States would never be considered cause for a high treason conviction, but then Sophia and her brother did not live in the United States. In the People’s Court before Judge Roland Freisler on 22 February 1943, Scholl was recorded as saying these words, “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.” There was no testimony allowed for the defendants; this was their only defense. The brother and sister were subsequently convicted of the high treason charges, and as a result, were executed by guillotine on February 22, 1943. Since the 1970s, Scholl has been extensively commemorated for her anti-Nazi resistance work.

Recently, I found out that I am related to Audie Murphy, who was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers in World War II. As it turns out, he is my 7th cousin 3 times removed, on my dad’s side of the family. We share the same grandfather, Thomas Fuller, who is my 9th great grandfather, and Audie’s 7th great grandfather. Audie became an actor in 1948 and 1969, during which time he was beloved by many people, including my parents. I think they would have been very excited to find out that he was actually related to them, but then I guess they already know it by now. While his acting was impressive, it was his military career that always impressed my parents.

Audie Leon Murphy, was born on June 20, 1925 to Josie Bell Killian and Emmett Berry Murphy in Kingston, Texas. He was born into a large family of sharecroppers. Before long, his father abandoned them, and then his mother died when he was a teenager. Murphy left school in fifth grade to pick cotton and find other work to help support his family. He was a skilled rifleman, and hunting became a necessity for putting food on the table.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Murphy’s decided that he wanted to help, but he was too young. His older sister helped him to falsify documentation about his birthdate in order to meet the minimum-age requirement for enlisting in the military, because he was only 16 at the time. He was turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps, so he enlisted in the Army. He first saw action in the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. Then, in 1944 he participated in the Battle of Anzio, the liberation of Rome, and the invasion of southern France. Murphy fought at Montélimar and led his men on a successful assault at the L’Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October. He received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. Murphy received the Medal of Honor for valor that he demonstrated at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.

After his acting career ended, Murphy, like many actors without work, experienced money problems, but still, he refused offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials, because he did not want to set a bad example. He never let Hollywood take away his high moral standards. Murphy died in a plane crash in Virginia in 1971, shortly before his 46th birthday. Such a sad ending to an amazing life. He was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His grave is one of the most visited sites in the cemetery.

Molly BrownIt’s strange…how often society prefers old money to new money. Maybe these days it’s not as common, but in the late 1800s, it was a little bit more common. That was the world Margaret Tobin grew up in. Who is Margaret Tobin, you might ask. Well, we didn’t really remember her as Margaret Tobin, but rather as Molly Brown…or more likely as The Unsinkable Molly Brown. That’s because on this day April 15, 1912, Molly Brown not only survived the sinking of the Titanic, but she heroically saved other people in the water, and kept the people in the lifeboat calm with her stories of life in the west.

Molly was born the daughter of an impoverished ditch-digger. As a teenager, Molly went West to join her brother, who was working in the booming silver mining town of Leadville, Colorado. While there, the manager of a local silver mine, James J Brown, noticed her, and they fell in love. The couple married in 1886, and a short time later, James Brown discovered a large deposit of gold. They quickly became very wealthy. They moved to Denver, and tried unsuccessfully to take what should have been their rightful place in society, but the high society of the time…old money, just weren’t prepared to let these unstart, new money people with little social grooming into their ranks. Apparently Molly was a little too flamboyant for the stuffy, old money high society people. She was a little too much for her husband too, because they soon separated, and with her estranged husband’s financial support, Molly was able to live comfortably…for a time anyway…until most of the money ran out.

Molly left Denver and decided to travel. The Eastern elite, didn’t seem to mind Molly’s flamboyance, and soon accepted her as one of them. Socially prominent eastern families like the Astors and Vanderbilts prized her frank western manners and her thrilling stories of frontier life. It was her friendship with these people that brought her to the Titanic, on that fateful trip, but it was Molly herself and her heroic ways that brought her fame, even though Der Untergang der Titanicshe obviously wasn’t the only woman who survived the sinking. After the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink, Brown was tossed into a lifeboat. She took command of the little boat and helped rescue a drowning sailor and other victims. To keep spirits up, she regaled the anxious survivors with stories of her life in the Old West. One the newspapers heard of her heroics, she gained national fame. She was dubbed “the unsinkable Mrs. Brown” and she became an international heroine. Before very long though, the money ran out, and she faded into obscurity, dying a woman of modest means in New York City in 1932. It was the Broadway musical that would revive her claim to fame, and change her title to The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Memorial Day Honor RollOur country has been involved in so many wars in its relatively short history, protecting both our freedom and many other countries from the oppression imposed by so many evil dictators and nations. Some people don’t think the United States should be the guardian of the nations, but when push comes to shove, the United States is always the one they call to come in and save them. In all reality, the only countries who wish we would just stay out of things, are the ones who have overstepped their boundaries, and are trying to do evil in the helpless nations they have occupied.

Of course, no military machine can function without the sacrifice in time and lives of people. Military men and women who are willing to make that sacrifice are a rare breed indeed. True, in years past there was a draft, but even then, there were those who volunteered, like my dad and many others. They saw a need, and knew that they had to answer the call to duty.

Over the course of the major wars the United States has been involved in beginning at World War I, we have lost a total of 619,300 men and women. That is an astounding number of people. Fighting evil is a costly business, both in money, and more importantly in the lives we have lost. Nevertheless, if we allow evil to prevail, we are in a far worse position. That is something every soldier knows all too well. It is what brings them to the point of making the decision to serve…to fight, and give their lives if necessary. It isn’t that they don’t know what they are getting into, because they do. They know that as a soldier, they will be taking the Page1ultimate chance with their life, and they know that they may lose their life. And yet they serve. That is the picture of a true hero.

There are those who condemn our soldiers for their sacrifice, those who protest, and scream hate at them, but what they don’t really understand is that their very right to protest, scream, and even hate, comes from the fight our soldiers have waged to protect that very freedom. It is a tough job, and often thankless, but they fight because they can see what is right and what is wrong. It is wrong for anyone to steal the freedoms of another human being, and it is wrong for them to try to force their will on others. Soldiers have the vision to see this, and even when hate is aimed at them, they will fight for the rights of those who hate. Yes, soldiers are a rare breed, and they are heroes. They deserve our respect, and they deserve the honor and respect that this day is all about. Happy Memorial Day!! Be sure to thank a Veteran today.

Caryl ReedWhen I asked my niece, Andrea Beach about her thoughts on her mom, my sister, Caryl Reed, her first words were…”She is my hero!” During her children’s childhood, Caryl spent a lot of time as a single mom, while her ex-husband was in the Navy and often away on cruises for as much as a year at a time. Sometimes they were able to come home and spend that year here in Casper, but as the kids got older, moving from school to school wasn’t always easy, so she stayed in Oak Harbor, Washington, and later, Idaho Falls, Idaho. It was a big job, but one she did well, according to Andrea. Having one parent deployed is a tough situation to deal with for a kid, but it is one that was made less difficult for Andrea by her hero…her mom.

Young AndreaAndrea says that she is so impressed with her mother’s faith and her walk with God. She is Andrea’s inspiration and role model. Caryl has, as have we all, been raised in the church, and our walk with the Lord is the guiding light of our lives. We would not want to walk this Earth without God in our lives, because to walk without God is to truly walk alone.

Andrea told about the kind of role model her mother was. To Andrea, Caryl seemed a lot like Mary Poppins, because she was so sweet and pure. She always found a respectable way to handle situations, refusing to resort to things like cussing. Once when Andrea was being picked on, Caryl told her to tell those people to “keep their minds out of the gutter”, to which Andrea said, “That’s just what I told them.” Apparently, Caryl had mentioned that people should keep their minds out of the gutter before. That was part of the upbringing So Happymy sisters and I received from our parents. Cussing was not allowed in our home, and isn’t a part of our lives now either. Like our parents, we all feel like there are ways of expressing ourselves without resorting to cussing…and they were right. I still don’t think cussing is a necessary part of communication.

Caryl is blessed to be married to her best friend and the love of her life, Mike Reed. Andrea says, “They are madly in love and they are a perfect fit.” I think that is such a true statement. In her tribute, Andrea also correctly stated that Caryl “would do anything for her family and those she loves.” And that is a true statement too. Today is Caryl’s birthday. Happy birthday Caryl!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Shirley and Uncle JimLong before our nation would find itself fighting to keep the right to bear arms, and long before people felt a serious need to teach their kids about guns at an early age, my Uncle Jim Wolfe was teaching his then two year old daughter, my cousin Shirley how to handle a gun. Much of her memory of that early time came from pictures of the process, but sadly those pictures were lost in a fire, and so live only in Shirley’s memory now. She remembers the picture showing a two year old Shirley standing in front of her dad, who squatted down to better match her size, and he was helping her hold the gun. I’m sure he began teaching her to shoot it then or very shortly thereafter, because from her earliest memory clear through adulthood, she remembers guns being a part of her life. By the time Shirley was old enough to hunt, she was an excellent shot, and the two of them very much enjoyed hunting together.

Hunting was not the only sport they enjoyed together though. Uncle Jim loved to fish, and taught Shirley to fish, build a campfire, and keep it going. Cooking those fish was a skill learned from her mother, however. Aunt Ruth had a way of cooking fish that was a family favorite, and if you wanted the whole family to like the fish, that was how you cooked them.

Shirley tells me that her dad taught her how to ride a horse, which surprised me a little, because her mom was an excellent horsewoman, who had even raced some. The she said that her mom helped with that, and it all made sense. If Shirley is anything like me, and most kids for that matter, she tended to learn easier from one parent than from the other. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love them the same, but your learning style just seems to fit better with one than it does the other. As for Shirley, she got the best training that both could give and ended up being a pretty good horsewoman herself.

Uncle Jim and Shirley were in many ways, inseparable. She would do whatever he was doing, just to spend more time with her dad. That is the way many girls are…daddy’s girls, and since I was much the same myself, I can totally understand. They worked on cars together, much like my daughter, Amy Royce, but the big difference there is that Shirley really got into it and loved doing it, while Amy just loved to watch her daddy.

Uncle Jim told Shirley that he knew the girl he would marry, long before he met her, because he kept dreaming of her. He just couldn’t see her face. When he came home from the war, he went to Twin Falls, Idaho, because Uncle Jim, Larry, and Shirleyhe knew some people there. It so happened that the people he knew were Aunt Ruth’s cousins, who introduced them. He recognized Aunt Ruth before she even turned around. She was the woman in his dreams. It was love at first sight, and the rest is history. They were married for 46½ years before she passed away. Their love was meant to be.

Uncle Jim taught Shirley to dance by letting her stand on his feet, something I remember doing with my dad, although not to learn to dance. For Shirley though, the love of dancing continued all her life. She even danced on his feet while he was dancing with her mom…now that is a sight I would like to have seen. Shirley’s memories of her dad could go on and on, because they are far too numerous to name here, but suffice it to say that he was in every way, her hero. He made her life and the lives of the family, mine included, loads of fun. As his life wound down, I know it was hard for Shirley to see him in the weakened, forgetful state he was in, but she can always take comfort in the fact that his was a life well lived, and he is now in Heaven dancing with the girl of his dreams again…but waiting for that little one who likes to dance on his feet.

Jeff AtkinsonYesterday, I attended the funeral of Casper firefighter, Captain Jeffrey Atkinson. The service was beautiful and filled with all the pomp and circumstance befitting a hero. The ceremony included bag pipes, the Shriner’s Calliope Band, the sounding of the last bell, and the presentation of the helmet, badge, and flag to his widow, Kristen and his sons Eddie and Christopf. There were tributes about his bravery, his humor, and his caring ways. He was a firefighter, but more than that he was a husband, father, son, brother, nephew, uncle, cousin, and friend. His family loved him so much, and now cancer had taken him from them. It was a terribly sad time for a lot of people, in the firefighting community and the entire city too.

As I sat there listening to the ceremony, my mind drifted back over the last nine years, and my own encounters with Jeff and the other firefighters. As a caregiver for my parents and my in-laws over the past nine years, there have been more occasions than I care to think about when I would have to call for an ambulance for my loved ones. As most of you know, the fire department is often the first responder on those occasions. Since my husband Bob had been the fire department mechanic for many years, the firefighters knew me, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They weren’t just there because they knew Bob and me, they were there because they care about the people of Casper…or anyone in need.

Jeff and a number of other firefighters came to my rescue on more occasions than I want to think back on. In nine years of caregiving, there have been dozens of times when I had no other choice but to seek help in emergency situations. The firefighters and ambulance personnel were always professional, caring, and gentle with my parents and in-laws, but the firemen always seemed to look beyond just the patient. They saw me…standing there in the middle of it all, trying desperately to stay in control of my emotions long enough to be able to give them the information they needed in order to help their patient…my loved one.

At the time of those calls, I didn’t know if my loved one was going to make it through this. I felt like I was falling into a bottomless pit. Those were the worst moments of my life, and they saw me at my absolute worst. It didn’t matter to them. They saw that I was scared and trying desperately to hold myself together. It was at that point, as the EMTs were taking my loved one out to the ambulance that the firefighters turned their attention to me, asking if I was ok. Of course, that was the breaking point for me, and the tears flowed. Several of the firefighters, including Jeff took it upon themselves to give me the hug I really needed, and the encouragement to go forward and make my way to the hospital to give the information needed to the hospital staff too. I don’t think I could have made it without that hug. A hug might seem like such a small thing, but when your parents are sick and you have to be the one to make all the decisions about their care, it can feel so overwhelming. I felt lost and alone. They showed me that I wasn’t alone after all. With Jeff’s passing, the city of Casper has lost a great firefighter.

Hard Working ManMy dad was a hard working man, really from the time he was a kid. He helped out on the farm when he was a young man, then when he moved to California at 17 years of age, he did the work of a grown man, while he was still the age of a boy. That work ethic was something he learned growing up and it never left him. Through World War II and beyond as he moved around the country, while deciding where he wanted to live, he always had a job. He believed that work, any kind of work was a noble undertaking, and he did every job to the best of his ability.

When I was a little girl, he was working at a job that took him out of town sometimes. I really hated that particular job. I didn’t want my daddy to leave to go out of town all the time. It wasn’t that I was so young that I didn’t remember him when he got back, because I did, it was that I missed him so much that I could hardly stand it. I just didn’t think daddies should go out of town. He was supposed to be at home, with his family. I can’t say that the years have changed my opinion on that idea either, although I do understand that sometimes men have to go out of town for work. That is just the way things are sometimes. I just didn’t understand that as a child.

One time after Dad left to go out of town, I got sick. My stomach ached, and I just didn’t feel well, in general. Mom put me to bed and took care of me, as you would expect a mommy to do, and since it was nothing serious, there was no need to go to the doctor. We figured it was just a flu bug, and it would go away in a couple of days…and so it did, but not in the way you would expect. It was the strangest thing, but the minute my daddy got home, everything was fine, and I had not been faking illness either. This was similar, I suppose to being homesick, grandpa spencer050only in reverse. I wanted my daddy home so badly that I felt homesick for him. I was so happy when he came home. Everything was right again. Our family was all together again.

Dad was always the hero to his daughters. We knew that no matter what happened, Dad could fix it. That was just the way it always was. Dad was a problem solver, and his presence in our lives always made us feel stable and complete. We were always Daddy’s Girls…all of us, including Mom. And he always made us feel like we were his princesses. I guess that was why having him gone, out of town for work, or now, in Heaven, makes this world feel like something just isn’t right. And it isn’t, because my daddy isn’t here, and I miss him terribly. Today, my dad would have been 90 years old. Happy birthday in Heaven Dad. We love and miss you very much, and we can’t wait to see you again.

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