To the Colors

By Gary DeBoard

A little less than 2 weeks ago more than a third of our country, some 111 million people, watched what has undoubtedly become America’s new past time, football. The Superbowl has quickly evolved into a national holiday that is not actually a national holiday. The pomp and circumstance of the game itself is magnitudes of order bigger than any other sporting event in the world with the exception of the Olympics. But as big as the festivities are, some things very honorably remain the same.
One of my favorite parts about American sports is the one thing they all have in common. No matter the age, sport, or venue, the most unique and indelible thing is done before every game- the singing of the national anthem. Seared into the consciousness of every American sports goer are those most inspiring words, “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Being someone who deeply loves and appreciates the history behind those words, I find that one of the most noble things we Americans still do is stand, remove our hats, and in silence, ponder those words as we gaze upon our flag as Francis Scott Key once did in a very different situation.
It was two years after the War of 1812 had begun. The fighting between the still fledgling patriots of America and the established british army was not going well for the Americans. The capitol city had been taken and itself lay in burned ruins. On Great Britain’s march through Washington they moved to capture the great American city of Baltimore. At a pivotal point during the Battle of Baltimore, the British bombarded Fort McHenry during a rainy night in 1814. Key was prisoner on a British ship after learning of the bombardment plans. He watched from that ship as the night continually erupted in fire and explosion as the British unmercifully pounded the American strong hold. Key was sure that the American flag flying over the fort would be changed out for the British Union Jack by the morning- the sign of American defeat. But as dawn revealed night’s secrets, he was shocked to find the flag still flying, though torn and tattered. He would start his poem aboard the british ship and later finish it in a hotel room. Within months, it would be recognized as the Star Spangled Banner.
One can almost see and hear the vivid sights and sounds that Key wrote down, “…the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air..” The words themselves not only inspire, but serve as a historical record of what actually happened. The dawn revealed that we had held.

Today at a museum in Washington DC you can still gaze on the same flag that gave Key his moment of brilliant inspiration. Amazingly, almost unthinkably, you can still see the tatters, holes, and dirt from a different time. The flag itself unashamedly bares the marks of war. One could stand there for hours, look upon its worn threads and still not grasp the immensity of the sight before them.

But if like me you long for an America who would see that flag with a kind of pride and sense of nobility that actually made a difference, then you, like me were encouraged to see at least for a moment, 70,000 people stand to their feet and 111 million more listen in silence as those words were sung in all their splendor as our flag waved high. Truly, God bless America.

#73

By: Gary DeBoard

A little more than a month ago, for the 73rd time, America quietly remembered Pearl Harbor Day. 73 long years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood before an emergency joint session of Congress and the nation to proclaim one of the most memorable, awful, and terrifying sentences that has ever been uttered in an official capacity, “Yesterday, December 7th 1941, a day that will live in infamy, The United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked…”

It’s difficult for those of us not alive during the 2nd world war to fully comprehend the context of such a statement. Today, when we talk of wars, we think of them as being over before they start. Though much bravery, heroism, and sacrifice was necessary, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and the like were never seen as a clear and present threat to our own neighborhoods and families. But in 1941, it was a much different equation. The axis of evil had long been bulging with terrifying muscle under the crazed leadership of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Empire of Japan. America, seeking to avoid a conflict that would inextricably change its history for either good or ill, now had no choice but to defend its borders. Think of this, America was not dispatching itself to protect its interest or democracy around the world, America was dispatching itself for its very right to exist.

Japan immediately feared what it had awakened. The Japanese admiral Yamamoto himself said, “A military man can scarcely pride himself on having ‘smitten a sleeping enemy’…since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack.” And a counterattack it was. Not only from distant battlefields, but from American factories, families and the collective spirit of a nation with a most determined pose. America wakened in the most mighty way.

In the commendable line of sacrifices our country has made in the name of true freedom around the  world for us and others, our fighting in WW2 was among the finest examples. And though the sacrifice was great and the hour was sad, it would serve as yet another defining hour in the history of our still relatively fledgling nation.

And yet some reading this might find an overtly romanticized, pro-American author who sees through rose colored glasses and is the very definition of the idiom that says history is written by the victor. To this I would say that you may have a point. War and nation building is a messy business that often operates in the gray, waiting for the far off future to justify its means. Being the leader of the free world means that we live in a country that will always be scrutinized and analyzed (and rightly so) for its decisions, actions, and course for the future. And certainly our actions have not always been commendable (sometimes quite dishonorably the opposite) and our decisions have not always been the right ones. But those very good points aside, the indisputable truth is that the high ideal of America has always been exceptional. Yes, I used the word “exceptional.” I’m not alone in that sentiment, our leaders, both Democrat and Republican would agree. It was Kennedy who said,

“Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill—constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities..”

And of course Reagan spoke all his life about a shining city on a hill, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

And then Clinton said, “America remains the indispensable nation…”

After 9/11 Bush 43 said, “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world and no one will keep that light from shining.” It’s not so much a philosophical idea as it is a distinctly American reality.

So how does Pearl Harbor Day fit into all this? Simply put- when called upon to defend the ideas of freedom and liberty, America stood up and was counted even if it was out of necessity. It reminded itself of the sacredness- and cost of a free land without tyranny or affliction. It was most impressive, if it only lasted for what seemed, all these years later, like seconds. Those seconds must endure in our memory and convictions lest the tree of liberty require refreshment. Another generation has to understand the vitality of America today, that ideal of a shining city on hill, tried and true for the world to consider. It must be worth our thoughts, our efforts and our convictions. For the city always must shine from the inside out.

Author Q&A Part 2

Picking up where we left off last week, the author of “Single Harness” is answering some questions that I (Gary) put to him. His answers are fascinating and give us just a little better glimpse into the mind of our author. Feel free to leave your own question or two in the comment section below for Millard to answer!

Me: Some of the stories you tell almost read like Hollywood movie scripts. Without saying too much (and for the people who haven’t yet read the book), give us some insight into what you actually did.

Millard: Guess the simple answer is that the 18 of us…all volunteers…were selected,  trained, and given opportunities to go help certain people around the world, and maybe because of the intensity of those missions we didn’t exactly stay at home back here at home.

Me: Obviously many of the things you did and places you went are things you’ll never be able to fully divulge, but were their ever times you thought that coming home was not going to be an option?

Millard: Even if we thought about it, it didn’t matter. And I don’t mean that to be dramatic. It’s just that every person who saw what we saw and knew what we knew would want to go back…wherever they could make a difference. And making that difference is the most private thing there is. It’s not for anyone else outside your team to understand. And it’s not for any other reason than just: you can do it and it needs to be done.

Me: It’s been said of those who have known “war” intimately that coming home is difficult and that a part of yourself stays on that “battlefield”. Is this something you can relate to, or is the feeling different entirely?

Millard: In the introduction to Single Harness I said who the real heroes are, and at the top of the list are the soldiers who follow orders into a pitched battle knowing the odds are against them. That has to be a horror that movies, no matter how hard they try, can never re-create, and that live in those minds forever. Our experience was entirely different: certainly intense, but quiet, personal, controlled by us as much as possible. We lost 14 of our 18 on missions over the years, and 2 more to residuals of those missions later on, and that’s tough, but we often got to see immediate results first hand and to know we’d made a difference. Entirely different.

Me: In your book you talk a lot about places of solitude- the mysterious “park” you grew up at and the wilderness of the Beartooth Mountains to name just a few. In a world where solitude is often seen as a negative word, what draws you to the solitude of these places?

Millard: Don’t know that I can explain that one at all. Maybe it’s growing up there, or later learning how incredible it is to be out there all day every day seeing and listening and seeing even more…over every ridge and around every bend in a river…that makes it so special. Guess it’s a challenge, but with experience it just gets to be the best part of your life. A few weeks ago I got to hike up north of the Lamar Valley in the northeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park, and stayed out that night curled up out of the wind. Woke up the next morning as it was just lightning up and was covered in light dry snow. About a 2 hour hike back to the car, and I sure didn’t want to go back. It can only be a negative if you haven’t done it. Imaginations are not good teachers.

Me: How have your experiences shaped you and your views of life?

Millard: I have no idea. Can’t imagine life without them. I know we are capable of accomplishing terrific things…much more than I have. And I believe the most important part of our life is the honor with which we live it. But that is probably my Dad and my Granddad talking and has little to do with my experiences. Like I said before, it’s the people in your life that make the difference.

Me: For people who read your book and long for even half the life experiences you’ve had, what would you say to those people?

Millard: Very few people would want most of those experiences, but they may have things that are important to them to accomplish. I grew up in a tiny town in Indiana, and that should be proof enough that anything is possible.

Author Q&A Part 1

One of the usual comments we hear about Single Harness goes a little something like this, “The book was fantastic, but it left me wanting more!” In fact virtually every person has a sentiment much like this when they read the book. So to briefly satisfy our curiosities and appetites for more, I (Gary) recently put some questions to our author, Millard Gregory, about the book from his very own unique perspective.

Me: At its core, what is this book about?

Millard: From the comments I’ve had from many who’ve read the book I may be the worst person to answer that question. To me it’s just a collection of things that happened over the years…combined with a few unique situations that only seem unique looking back. They seemed normal at the time.

Me: In your own mind, why did you write this book?

Millard: I didn’t think of it as a book at all, but there were 2 reasons I wrote it: First. and I included this in the book: one night late last year I went to bed just after 3am and my wife put her arm over me and this cat who’s life she saved 2 or 3 years before climbed up on my side and laid down on me…purring. The contrast of that moment at 68 years old and the 24 years from 1966 to 1990 was inescapable and I sat up and wrote what had happened on the back of a Speedway gas receipt I still have; and Second: looking at that receipt the next day I thought of my old Colonel…now in his 80s and retired for years…and for some reason thought that although he knew the details of our missions out of the country I might be able to surprise him with a few things we did back here. The surprise was that he wasn’t too surprised at all.It only became a book after a few close friends read the manuscript and they all said I had to publish it.

Me: If you got to choose what people took away from the book, what would it be?

Millard: Everyone seems to focus on a different story or sentence and the great honor is hearing what that part meant to them and why. Although it wasn’t planned, if it helps people re-remember the interesting things they’ve done that are easy to forget as our lives move on…that would be the best.

Me: “Single Harness”, the title of the book, is not a phrase often seen. What was your rationale behind this title?

Millard: It was one of those things you hear at a particular moment and never forget. In my case it was at the end of my recruiting meeting with the Top Sergeant and the Captain who said they “Didn’t think I’d pull good in double harness” and that they had a different path for me to consider. That did change everything, and looking back made “Single Harness” seem like a good title.

Me: Over your lifetime you have had astounding, almost unbelievable success in so many of your endeavors. What is your secret?

Millard: There is no secret, and it’s the same for most everyone when they think about it: from my parents, to the short time I got to spend with my Grandfather, to my Grandmother who worked in her garden etc up to 96, to the family friend who filled out an employment form listing my age as 2 years older than I was at the time which got me an adult summer job while still in high school and the money to go to college, to the Top Sergeant who asked me to come back, to the true gentleman who hired me to travel a territory, to the acquaintance who invited me to the join the club in Palm Beach, to the friend with all the manufacturing experience who’d already joined my company when I decided to start a factory…and on and on. It’s the people we meet, and get to know, and learn from that make it all happen.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the interview next week!

Moments to Memories

“It was all very impressive and was over in what seemed like seconds”

-Quote from Single Harness

By: Gary DeBoard

I once heard a story of an ambitious young man whose dream was to build a company that produced world class children’s entertainment complete with characters and original story lines much like Walt Disney World. In fact, this man’s model in life and business was Walt Disney himself. It was audacious and quite frankly absurd, as most dreams are. But besides an obvious talent for his craft, this man had that “something” that few men do. As fanciful and generic as the dream sounded, he had a chance. A chance to make it big. And not just big, but massive.

It started as many of these stories do- one guy with a dream in some small room in the middle of relatively nowhere with no money. But the passion for the dream was contagious and before long there were multiple people working toward this dream. For awhile it was difficult. There were victories and defeats, and the defeats were resounding and large. But after a time, the victories became a little bigger than the defeats. And then, inextricably, it happened. The preverbal fly wheel started to turn. Momentum was on his side and the defeats were no where to be found. He amassed wealth, power, influence, notoriety, and success. His dream was no longer fanciful fiction but an intriguing story of an ambitious man that looked oddly like Walt Disney in his younger years.

But as the convincing ocean wave builds mightily only to mysteriously duck under the water to never be seen again, so the dream that once seemed so promising and even successful was gone. Bad business and shady partners were its doom.  In his commentary on the aftermath of his now failed dream, years removed, you could still hear the longing for what was in his words and voice. Though broken hearted he still remembered fondly the groundswell of success. He marveled at how impressive it all was, for a time, and remarked how quickly it seemed to end.

Whether we’ll accept it or not, in hindsight this is always how life works. Have you ever heard an older person remark how slow their life seemed to move when they reminisce? Or have you ever heard the empty nest parent, in their most serious moment, wish they had less time with their kids? As hard as we try, we can’t slow it down. And we do try, though foolish as it is. Why is it that we struggle so much to accept finality? Why is it that we cannot be content with what was, even as fleeting as it was. Why must we always grasp for more when what we had was almost always enough? These questions move us to the heart of our insecurities and true selves. Yet the answers are not absent or non-existent. They are there to be found, but they must be sought out. Until we figure out those answers, let us be mindful of the moment and the phase of life in which we find ourselves. Because in what will seem like seconds, those impressive moments will be but a memory.

Lost in Wonder

By: Gary DeBoard

It was a “once in a lifetime” kind of trip. You know- those trips that you’ll spend the rest of your life talking about, re-hashing, and always wishing you could do again. The plan was that 4 bachelors and a rather large dog would rent a van, drive west, and climb mountains. What greater, more Hemingwayesque week could possibly be had among friends? On the highlight reel of the trip, there were 3 pillars that will forever live not only in the annals of our memories, but surely in our children’s memories as well.

The first pillar was the comedy relief. Beside the bachelors there was the dog. This very large dog belonged on a snow covered mountain somewhere far north. But as it happened, he was in our small van. The dog was the curious kind who was by no means self conscious or given to vanity. And I remember that it was the taste of his floating hair in my mouth, the smell of his soured hide in my nose, and the feel of his thick drool on my arm that made me eternally less susceptible to ever own a dog or include it with me in a car. It was a stop in the Badlands of South Dakota that would be an unforgettable catalyst to these feelings. As Grandma’s do, one of ours sent fudge for our long trip. Dog’s are not allowed in the Badlands so he stayed behind as we explored. We came back to find our pan of fudge curiously empty. You see, the dog had helped himself.

Now the drive from the Badlands to Mount Rushmore is not more than 90 minutes. And it took less time than that for us to discover that the fudge had not agreed with the animal. It was the smell first. What could such an oder possibly be? It was unexplainable really until one of us made the truly horrifying discovery of regurgitated peanut butter fudge. Now when you come up the road to Mount Rushmore there is a tight left bend where you can pull off and clearly see the monument for the first time. And it was there where, along with gallon jugs of water we attempted, in vain, to clean up a mess that could never really be cleaned. We endured that odor for the duration of that trip. And for the rest of my life I (and any other occupier of that rented van) will never forget that smell as I gazed up and saw for the first time our presidents etched in stone.

The second and more serious pillar was the Beartooth Mountains. This Montanan gem is one of the most beautiful and serene (mostly) places in the world. The plan was to park at a lonely trailhead, hike up to a mountain lake for the night, and hike even higher the day following. It was mid May, still very much in the winter months at the mountain altitude. The hike up to the lake was breathtaking. Postcard views that engendered larger than life musings. As we reached our destination and set up camp, a storm began to form. A soft wind at first and then not so soft at last. The following morning was overtaken by hike halting rain. Undeterred, the four bachelors pressed on. At some point the air turned cold and the falling rain slowed and turned white. Evidently not only had it had been a difficult winter but we were the first to brave that trail for the season. In many spots it was all but in-passable due the to fallen trees and overgrowth. But we were bachelors, we would not be turned back by the world and it’s road blocks. So we forged on. By the evening, wet snow was falling at a steady pace. So camp was made once more and we huddled around a small fire seeking warmth and dry socks. After a make shift meal, we turned in under a wet and unperceivable sky. The next morning was one of the most interesting juxtapositions of my life. Unzipping the tent we found a world turned white. 10 inches of snow had fallen overnight and it was still falling at a veraciously accumulating pace. Seeing our path permanently block the night before, this new devilry was too much. We decided to marathon hike back to the trailhead for the sake of our limbs, fingers, and toes. And at some point between waking up and walking out, it happened. I saw the mountain. The picture will forever be itched in my mind- an ominous mountain on top of a mountain that was inconceivably bigger than anything I had ever seen, covered in limitless lonely pines with the haze of falling snow in the foreground. All of it together painted a mysterious and powerful picture. This all in front of me, impossible to miss. The only feeling I could feel was a fearful awe of the God that had created such a thing. For a precious moment I was lost in wonder.

The third and final pillar took place on a lonely South Dakota highway in the dark of the night. The day had been long and I was but a passenger in the van. So with heavy eyes, I took the opportunity to doze off into the night. A short time later I was awakened by the slowing inertia of the car as it veered off an exit and pulled over on a road that was all but uninhabited. At first it took me a moment to understand why everyone had stepped out of the van. In the front seat looking to my right and left in the now empty van, I stopped and looked out and up. What I saw was shocking. I stepped out of the van, looked up and instantly I once again felt so small . For in the sky above I saw the stars as I had never seen them before. I gazed in awe as I beheld more stars than I had seen in my lifetime combined. It was as if the map of the universe had been rolled out before my eyes and I was gazing at all it’s hidden secrets. And like the mountain, in that precious moment, I was lost in wonder.

Now looking back at that trip that will be talked about and re-hashed for many more years to come, I find myself still thinking about those moments. Almost forcing myself to remember them. Because in our lives their are precious few moments when we stop and really capture the wonder of what we see, where we are, or even who we’re with. The travesty of our incredibly advanced modern society is that so many people have lost the wonder. Lost the ability to see the deeper things of life that can only really be seen when we stop to look, and ponder the questions the moment creates. For me, those moments on the mountain and on the side of that desolate highway rightly helped to put into perspective my small existence and relatively unimportant contribution to the world. And that’s good, because the absence of those things help me to see other infinitely more important things.  Don’t ever lose the wonder. And if you have, fight hard to get it back.

All Ripples Travel

“It was a good game that may even have served a purpose.”

-Quote from, “Single Harness”

You never know in life the things that will make a difference. You never know how one thing will affect another and then another even still. The most minute detail or experience could likely have a profound impact on one’s ability to be a person they never would have been had it not been for that seemingly insignificant moment.

We see these moments and experiences scattered through history in the lives of those who have accomplished the most astounding things. One of those such lives was Walt Disney. This man behind the mouse grew up in the very American town of Marceline, Missouri, with the very American job of a paper route. And it was in these moments of the hardest kind of work, in the coldest kind of winters that Walt Disney learned the value and necessity of hard work regardless of the circumstances. This would be a value and a trait that would later loom large in his relentless pursuit of the most iconic company in the history of the modern age.

Then there was the late Silicon Valley founder, Steve Jobs. In his initial moment of profound insight, his father would come home and teach him how to take apart and put together radios and TV’s. These quintessential moments would later lead him to not just influence culture, but create it. The touchscreen wonder in your pocket and the tablet you are likely reading this on right now are all a direct result of a seemingly insignificant moment in a garage 50 years ago.

There was also the great communicator, Ronald Reagan. Fresh out of college, Reagan decided to interview for a radio broadcast job at a university in Iowa. Little did he know, this was the first domino out of many that would fall to lead him to places no one ever thought he would go- all the way to the presidency of the United States. And not just any president, but one of the most significant and important in our nation’s history. Yet it was the insignificant radio job that would, among many other things, provide him the experience and opportunity to ultimately possess the most important job in the world.

These people and their stories are worth remembering if for no other reason than they remind us that the big things in life don’t “just happen”. Instead, the big things require the little things. And it’s the little things that in hindsight, are the most mysterious of all. What if Walt never had the paper route? What if Jobs rode his bike instead of being in the garage? What if Reagan never took the job? Of course we can’t know the answers to those questions and for the sake of our psyche it’s probably best we don’t even ask. But it’s slightly comforting knowing that maybe, just maybe that fairly insignificant thing you’ll do tomorrow might just serve a purpose.