Friday, November 11, 2011

Honor and Duty

Today, November 11, is set aside to pay tribute to those valiant Americans who have served their country in times of war.  In my family, the military is an honored tradition.  I have chosen to honor here only those family members whom I have known personally.  Many have served whom I did not know personally. 

To every man or woman who has served our country, I offer heartfelt appreciation for your sacrifice.  Our country can only remain great as long as there are men and women who are willing to make the sacrifices you have made.  Thank you for showing us the way to patriotism and honor by your commitment and service.

All gave some...........some gave all........may we never forget.

Ralph Fentress Newland
11 Jun 1915 - 13 Feb 1998
European Theater, World War II
The Battle of the Bulge
U.S. Army

Uncle Buster was how I knew this quiet man.  He never spoke of his service.  By research, I discovered he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received many honors for his gallantry and sacrifice in the face of extreme danger.  I will never forget Uncle Buster or the way he quietly went about his every day life. 

After returning from Europe, he married and moved to Flint, MI.  There he became a plumbers apprentice and earned entry into the union.  He worked there until his retirement.  Upon retirement, he and Aunt Mayena moved back to Tennessee, where both lived out the remainder of their lives. 

Van Patterson McDonald
4 Nov 1932 - 20 Sept 2011
Sharp Shooter Team Leader
Post-Korean War Era
U.S. Army
 This is my Daddy.  I honestly never knew how proud he was of his service to our country or how much he valued it until the very last days of his life.  Prior to being called home, Daddy made very specific requests regarding how his Memorial Flag should be cared for and respected.  He was buried with military honors.  I have never felt quite so honored as when the soldier placed that flag in my hands at the graveside ceremony.  It is a moment in my life I will never forget.

Daddy led a sharp shooter team (now known as sniper squads) in Germany and was offered a promotion to Sergeant and an entire squadron if he would re-enlist.  He chose not to do so and return home to Tennessee and the farm where his family lived.  He was notified of possible deployment to South Vietnam in February of 1957.  He and Momma had planned to marry that month, but delayed their wedding until they knew if he would be deployed.  They waited until March with no definite word from the military.  They decided to go ahead with the wedding.  Thankfully, he was never deployed.

Brian Keith Eppers
19 Mary 1980 -
Operation Iraqi Freedom
U.S. Army

Brian (my nephew-in-love) enlisted in the Army after 9/11 with full knowledge that he would be deployed.  He trained as a Medic and was deployed to Iraq in early 2005.  He spent nearly a year there and returned home just before Christmas in December of that year. 

I will never forget the look on his face, or that of his children, as they saw him for the first time when he returned home.  Pure joy and absolute love shone from the face of Brian, my niece Katie and their children Alix and Jaden, as the kids ran across the parking lot to see their Daddy for the first time in almost a year. 

Brian continues to serve with the U.S. Army as a Medical NCO, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Civil Support Team member.  To say we are proud of him is a gross understatement.

Caleb McDonald Watkins
6 Mar 1991 -
Military Police
U.S. Army
TN Army National Guard
 This dashing young man is my youngest nephew.  He graduated from the U.S. Army AIT training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO on Oct 20 of this year.  He is now an official member of the TN Army National Guard as a Military Policeman. 

What roads lie ahead for Caleb, we do not know.  He has so many plans for his future, realizing that the Army has first claim on his time and commitment.  I cannot tell you how proud we were to stand in that auditorium and see him walk across that stage to receive the Top Gun award for his entire platoon! 

Where he will go from here, only God knows.  I have every confidence he will make his mark in this world; a mark for his God and his country.

Endure suffering along with me,
as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life,
for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.

2 Timothy 2: 3-4

Friday, November 4, 2011

His First Birthday in Heaven

Daddy and Momma
March 23, 1997
40-yr. Vow Renewal Ceremony
Brints Chapel Baptist Church

It was a chilled and frosty November morning on November 4, 1932.  My Maw and Paw McDonald hadn't gotten much sleep the night prior.  Maw had labored hard to give birth to a bouncing, healthy baby boy during the wee hours of the morning.  That baby boy was my Daddy, Van Patterson McDonald.  He always told us Maw named him after a cowboy.  I was never sure just who that cowboy was, but it brought Daddy happiness to tell the story and that is all that mattered to me.

Daddy was the second of four sons born to Maw and Paw.  His older brother, Troy, was born on Feb. 8, 1931 and had lived for less than 24 hours.  When Maw found herself pregnant again almost exactly one year later, she was thrilled.  When Daddy was born healthy, she was beyond thankful and joyful to have her child growing and happy.

By the time Daddy turned 10, Paw had bought the farm where Daddy would spend the remainder of his days.  His only time away from the farm was the 2 years he was in the Army from 1953-1955.  He loved the farm and farm life.  It was his dream to own his own land, grow crops and animals and a family.  His dream never materialized as he would have wanted, but he did live it in a small way.

A couple of years after he and Momma married, they moved in to a small 4 room house Daddy and Paw had built on the farm and they started to raise a family, cows, pigs and a couple of horses and some chickens.  He didn't have crops because there was no time for crops after tending to his animals and working at his factory job.  He had a large vegetable garden and a truck patch and that was enough to satisfy him.

The years passed and his family grew and came to include sons-in-love and eventually grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When Momma was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and her heath began to fail, Daddy gave up everything he enjoyed to devote himself completely to caring for Momma.  He sold his cows and stopped growing his vegetables when it became evident that Momma needed him to be by her side almost 24 hours a day.

He was completely devoted to Momma and rarely left her side.  His own health began to decline, but he remained vigilant at Mommas side.  He let us come in and help with household chores and drive Momma to her doctor's appointments.  I don't think we really understood then why he did that.   We came to understand that those times were the only time he had to restore himself and have time for a break.

When Momma went home to be with Jesus in April, 2006, Daddy was devastated.  He stayed at their home for the remainder of that year, but became sicker with each passing month.  His doctor became concerned that he would die soon if he didn't find a way to overcome the grief.  He moved from their home to live with my middle sister and her family for about the next year.

My youngest sister and her husband bought the family farm in 2008 and Daddy moved back to the house to live with them.  They both had health issues and he would spend time with my other sister while health issues were attended to.  I was living with my mother-in-love and then was taking care of my terminally ill husband.  My husband went home to be with Jesus in January, 2009.  For the first year, I was in no shape to care for myself, much less anyone else.

In March, 2010, I finally came back to my own home to live.  Daddy came to live with me in June, 2010 and remained with me until the morning he went to be with Jesus on Sept. 20, 2011.  It was my joy to take care of him and have him with me for those last 15 months of his life.  I will be forever thankful to have had the opportunity to give back to him a small portion of the caring he had given me since the day of my birth.

So, today Daddy would have been 79.  What joy to know he now walks the streets of heaven with our Lord, Momma and our baby sister, as well as other loved ones who have already gone home with the Lord. 

Happy Birthday in Heaven Daddy.  I love you so much more than I ever realized while you were here with me.  I am so thankful God made you my Daddy and for the love you gave me all the days of your life after I came into it.  I am thankful you are at rest and no longer sick and suffering.  You are now eternally well and at peace.  Praise the Lord!