Freedom Beat Across America: In Search of America's Heartbeat

Archive for the tag “road trip”

Dottie’s thoughts about war

(In August of 2011, four American women set out to search for the heartbeat of the country.  Dottie wanted to search for history, from the Civil War to today.  Melissa wanted to meet with the young and old who serve in the military, and speak to their families about what it’s like to be a part of something so big, yet so personal.  Genie wanted to test the difference between the wars of her sons and grandchildren and those of her own generation.  And Skylar, being eleven, wanted to see the America she’d never seen before.)

Again, this is not exactly a guest blog.  This is Dottie finally finding out where she stashed the journal she kept on our trip across the country.  We enjoyed revisiting our trip and thought you might also:

Aug 12, 2011  Clarksville, Tennessee

Arrived about 1 pm.  We will be here two days, three nights.  On Aug 14 we will interview several wives of deployed soldiers about the life of the military wife – those that are left behind to keep the home fires burning, their stress of child-rearing problems, of having to take care of everything and what their men are like when they come home after a mission.

Aug 13, 2011  Clarksville (in the am)

The second day in Clarksville, and Genie and Renee are trying to line up some military wives to interview.  They are finding it is not an easy task.  The CO [commanding officer] is not giving an order to anyone, but there is a strong suggestion that it wouldn’t be a good idea.

Renee being persuasive

What we offered was the option of complete anonymity.  That way we wouldn’t jeopardize their’s or their spouse’s security.  One of the things I find interesting in our quest is that speaking to anyone that is remotely associated with the media is approached with extreme caution.  This is because of the media’s lack of integrity and negative reporting.  I watched a news program the other day after the recent helicopter being shot down [August 6th, Afghanistan] and resulting in the death of thirty people [30 American troops, 8 Afghan soldiers].  In their news coverage, they revealed the families’ home town, their names, and virtually any information that would be needed should someone or an organization want retaliation.

The other side is, I find it hard to accept that what is asked of the men and women who often make the ultimate sacrifice, that their families must also make sacrifices.  They too are asked to deal with the kind of stress often associated with a person going through a divorce, at each deployment.  The spouse who remains at home must step into the role of a single parent.  They take care of the household and everything that goes with it.  Then when the deployed spouse comes home, it is difficult for the “visiting” spouse to pick up where they left off.  In the case of men coming home, the decision-making and discipline of the household is expected to revert back to him, causing conflicts within the family.  The very things we fight for as a nation are split asunder.  Freedom of speech.  The right to pursue a happy life with those we choose to love, and raise a family and preserve the sanctity of home.

It all comes down to family, doesn't it?


More from Dottie’s Journal

More from Dottie — remembering the adventures of the four broads as they drove across the southern U.S. in the summer of 2011:

August 7th, 2011

We arrived in Boswell, Oklahoma to meet up with Don “Pappy” Papin.  He is State Captain for the Patriot Guard [Riders](OK).  He was a wealth of information.  (unlike the publicity-shunning members in Oklahoma City)

On Monday we met up with three others in the Guard.  They are “Chief”, “Judge”, and “Leatherneck”.  (even here we met with the reluctance of the Patriot Guard Riders to have any light shine on them rather than on the veterans they seek to honor. So I am not giving the real names that Dottie recorded in her journal.   However:

(Three of the four were veterans themselves)  Pappy was an Air Force Airman 1st Class.  “Chief” was a Navy Seaman (of course), and “Leatherneck” was a corporal in the Marines (natch — name’s kinda a giveaway) until he lost a leg and knee in Viet Nam.  Judge was a civilian Patriot (just wanting to do something for the kids coming home).

The Dixie Café in Boswell was host to our breakfast and after explaining that we would not alter what was said, the men agreed to our recorded interview.   Don gave us a DVD with mission footage [that he said] we may use. (in the documentary which is still in production at this time)

August 10th:

Corsicana, Texas

We visited the Pearce Museum at Navarro College campus in Corsicana.  Pearce Civil War Museum is an interactive museum featuring firsthand accounts of the Civil War, through letters, diaries and journals from civilians and soldiers of that time period.

As we drove up to the front of the building, out front was a retired Air Force fighter plane.  The building, red brick with a porticoed front, reminded me of the front of Monticello (Tom Jefferson’s place, which we actually didn’t get to see this trip, so I have to take her word for it!)  [There was also] a bronze statue of an American Indian making an offering to the Great Spirit, a preview of the Western-themed art exhibit waiting inside.

The foyer was a dome with stained glass discs of Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, Isaac Newton and the German responsible for rockets.  (We think she meant Wernher von Braun, but don’t hold us to it.)

The building houses the museum and planetarium.  Behind the receptionist’s desk was a wall of glass bricks with frosted scenes depicting an astronomer and the solar system.

We waited for the museum administrator to see if we could have permission to take pictures or video record inside the museum.  We met with the Director, and she explained that it was bad timing since they were installing a new exhibit.  She explained that there could not be any photography or video recording in the museum and in the art gallery.  We were given free admittance (appreciated deeply!) and fell in with a tour group and went along as a curator gave a very informative tour to us and about five others.

After the tour I spoke with [the director] again, and she agreed to provide us with a DVD with film clips from the Civil War footage they have, some stills, copies of letters and information with full permission for use in our documentary.  (Unfortunately, to date we haven’t received any of it and she has never returned our phone calls or emails.  Dottie thinks perhaps she got a “no” from above.  Personally, I’m thinking ‘outa sight, outa mind’.  It happens.  Too bad – we were very excited by her promises, and would have featured the museum prominently in the documentary.)

Dottie’s thoughts in Oklahoma City

Continuing with Dottie’s rediscovered journal of our Freedom Beat trip across America in search of America’s heartbeat (again, any errors in transcription are mine):

August 5, 2011
Today we hoped to make it to Oklahoma City and meet up with Don “Pappy” Papin, Oklahoma Captain of the Patriot Guard.

waiting . . .

Pappy's colors

He was busy with other members of the Guard, meeting a disabled veteran at the airport. Instead, we met up with Ride Captain Pam Tate. Pam came to our hotel and despite her very busy schedule and her having to get up very early the next day, we went out for a late dinner to get to know one another.
The Patriot Guard is careful who they talk to. Their whole mission is to provide service to veterans in any way that is needed. They shy away from any recognition that takes the focus away from those that serve their country and often make the ultimate sacrifice.

August 6, 2011
This morning (Saturday) we went to the YMCA-sponsored welcome center at Will Rogers Airport. We were greeted by Millie, a kind of house-mom.
The USO usually sponsors the airport Welcome Centers. Will Rogers and the Anchorage, Alaska, airports are both too small for the USO to sponsor, so the YMCA sponsors them both. It is set up as a place where the military men and women can relax in between flights and in some cases, when they first get home and can meet their family.
I was saddened to be told by Millie that thieves had broken in two times during the previous week and stole two flat-screen TV’s, one a 50″, and an Xbox with all the games and controller. There was also an amplifier for the guitars that lined up against the wall. I think to do something like that is the lowest of the low.
While sitting in the Welcome Home Center, I looked around at the people in the two large rooms. Mothers and fathers, girlfriends and wives. The center provides a place to visit with their families during flight layovers, or prior to deployment flights. One young soldier was sound asleep, laying on a couch with a blanket pulled over him. A sleep so serene, one without the worry. He was comfortable knowing he could sleep without worrying he would be killed in his sleep. Another young man stretched out with his head in a young woman’s lap. A young wife waiting for her young man to be deployed. Worried if this would be the last time they would see each other.
I got to meet with Zorro, a two-year-old registered rough collie. Zorro’s assistant and agent is Renee Leach. As a certified therapy dog, Zorro works with autistic children, visits with Alzheimers patients. He has been coming into the Welcome Center for several months to visit with the young men and women that often are missing their own loving companions. Zorro has a whole repertoire of tricks as well as being friendly and spending some quiet time with an aching heart. Renee said it is just one way to let the troops know that they are appreciated, and it is so very little to give when compared to what the troops have given. Renee and Zorro work with HALO, Humans Animal Link Oklahoma.

Another Broad Heard From!

This is not exactly a guest blog.  This is Dottie finally finding out where she stashed the journal she kept on our trip across the country.  We enjoyed revisiting our trip and thought you might also.

Well, hello Dottie! You're lookin' swell, Dottie

(The words are hers.  Any mistakes in transcription are mine)

August 4, 2011
We started out at a Verizon store, replacing my phone that seemed to have vanished. I think the “minutemen” and their quality control were off. [Does that date us? Anybody else remember the “Minutemen” episode of Twilight Zone?] I am willing to bet that it will turn up sometime along the way. [Never did!]

Too many . . . too many

Next we ventured to the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Found out several things. One: after 9/11, it is evident that anything that is related to “National” ownership, i.e. the people, has more constrictions for the sake of security and the privacy of, say family visiting a grave. We hadn’t known that before we could get pictures and film footage, we needed permission. Not knowing this and not seeing any posted restrictions, we proceeded to the gravesites with our cameras and were promptly interrupted by cemetery security. A trip to the Administrator’s office, a bit of explaining and some paperwork, and we were on our way again.

A bit fuzzy. The camera person was weepy.

Next stop, Angel Fire, NM. We wanted to go to the Viet Nam memorial there. The only one in America dedicated solely to Viet Nam, it started as a privately-owned shrine for a lost son. It now belongs to the people of the United States. [Actually, it’s a New Mexico State Park now, but why quibble?] It was a bit of a chore driving-wise to get there, but well worth it. A visit there will bring some tears of remembrance and an education to those grandchildren of the ones that lived it.
Next was Eagle Nest where we visited a quaint restaurant and got to visit a 1920’s brothel. The building was built from stolen railroad ties and even though the beds are gone, some of the original “fixins” are still there, including the original wallpaper. And it is reported to be haunted.
We then pushed on into Raton to spend the night. [After a quick dip into Colorado]  We hope to make it to Oklahoma City tomorrow to meet up with Don Papin, Oklahoma Captain of the Patriot Guard.

Days 7& 8!

Dottie and Sally

Spent the weekend with family and good friends (either-or-both). Saturday we arrived in Durant, Texas, and had lunch with Dottie’s son, Thomas. Then we went on to a tiny town, where the only store is a Dollar General that sells groceries and anything else you can name. We descended on Don “Pappy” Papin and his wife Sally. All of us immediately got a crush on Pappy, who is six-foot-something with a deep voice and a twinkly eye. We also fell in love with the two bitches – not to be confused with “broads”, folks, I’m talking about a pair of female dogs. Ushia is a sleek and gentle blonde German Afghan hound who immediately made me think of Celine Dion. Lure-lang is a puff-ball Pomeranian who made sure we all knew when anyone went in or out of the door. Who knew such a noise could come out of something the size of a racing lure? Pappy was the only male in a house chuck-full of females, and he seemed to alternate between being a bull in a herd of heifers, and the proverbial long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Pappy is state captain of the Oklahoma Patriot Guard Riders. He talked to us for hours and gave us many insights into how the PGR works and what their mission is. With reservations and cautions, he arranged for us to have breakfast Sunday morning with three of his compadres. Like Pappy, they avoid publicity, preferring to have the cameras and attention on the veterans themselves. But they allowed us to film them for our documentary, and the four of us broads, plus Sally, sat around the table reveling in everything they had to say.
“Leatherneck” is, of course, a Marine vet. He came back from Viet Nam with a wooden leg and one knee-replacement and is more than able to empathize with our military today who come home in much different condition than they left. Among other patriotic and worthy causes, Leatherneck is a member of BACA, “Bikers Against Child Abuse”.

Leatherneck's colors

Just Talkin'

“Chief” is a Navy vet, soft-spoken but expressive. I believe he would’ve been happy to sit quietly and let the others speak, but when we asked what drew him to Patriot Guard, his answers were eloquent and moving.
“Judge” doesn’t have a military background himself but his family has a military history. He feels deeply that veterans deserve much more than they are getting, and wants to do whatever he can to honor, assist and protect them and their families.

Chief's colors

Pappy taught me a lot about the MIA (Missing In America) which tries to find the remains of vets who had no family to claim them.  MIA makes sure they get buried with full honors, and there is no one there but the people of MIA.  Doesn’t matter — they’ve honored a forgotten vet.

There was so much we learned from them, so many notes taken, that it cannot be fitted into one post, but I will be referring back to it throughout our trip. And of course much of it will be a part of our documentary.

Pappy's colors

After we left on Sunday morning, we again saw more of Texas than we’d planned, or at least more of Dallas, since I had trouble spotting the separate signs for the highways. Thank heaven we stopped at a Cracker Barrel and checked the maps over meat loaf, or we’d probably be in Mexico by now. Actually, Melissa seemed quite happy to do a complete circuit of the city and get plenty of skyline photos. Skylar put her earphones on and did whatever with those pad-things kids have today. For once I was happy to see a kid zone out.
I have to say they are real boyscouts in Texas; I mean, really prepared. We spotted a large store with a big sign that said “Condoms to Go”. Next came a billboard extorting us to forgo pornography, which was — intentionally, I’d bet — right next to a store selling adult videos. I guess there’s nothing wrong with covering all the angles.

Time to take off

Day Six — Privacy? What Privacy?

Heading for Hugs

So far we’d indulged ourselves in rather nice motel rooms, mainly because they were right off the highway and we were too tired to shop around. Actually, we weren’t all that impressed by some of them. They were nice enough; I don’t mean they were bad, just nothing really impressive. So we decided to try something on a lower financial tier. Even though it was a Friday night, pretty Virginia at the desk was able to give us a room that was, on most levels, pretty close to a couple we paid twice as much for. I didn’t realize until we checked in that they didn’t have a pool, but Melissa bravely substituted long walks for therapy in the pool. In this heat, bless her heart. And we had to hunt up a wastebasket. Virginia said one had come up missing, and she’d been borrowing from one room to another. Pretty bad when you don’t have an expense account for one wastebasket. Oh, and when we moved in we discovered there’s no door on the john. So we will know each other very well by the end of this trip. Skylar is mortified, of course, at her age.
By nine o’clock Saturday morning we’d followed Pam Tate’s directions to the YMCA Military Welcome Center just outside the terminal in Will Rogers World Airport, which is a hub for other destinations for the military. She couldn’t be with us right away because the Patriot Guard Riders had been asked to help welcome a triple amputee who was coming home. It was a private family affair, so we took a hint and stayed away. When we got to the door of the center, we found it had a serious lock on it. We got someone’s attention and were welcomed in and introduced ourselves. Millie, who was womaning the front desk, explained that just the week before someone had gotten through the regular locks after hours and stolen a fifty-inch flat-screen TV, another flat-screen in the mess room, and the X-box and all the equipment that went with it. These were all donated items, folks. Donated to be used by our military, kids far from home, waiting for a flight to God knows where, or just in off a flight, tired and waiting for a bus to base. As Millie said, how do you go back to the people who donated these items and say, “Gee, ya got any more?”

Waiting. And waiting.

When a flight was due, we followed the PGR over to the proper gate and talked to some of the military kids coming and going. I say “kids” deliberately. Melissa met a seventeen-year-old who had just finished her basic training and was now going home to finish her last year of high school before being deployed. These are the things that break our hearts on this trip. As Melissa says, some kids go to summer camp. This one went to boot camp.

Then Melissa proudly did flag duty while Skylar and I took pictures of the waiting families and then the troops coming in. The PGR is strict – they do not bother anyone, they do not even offer to shake hands or in any way bring attention to themselves. They simply stand with flags at attention, applaud each service member as they pass to their waiting loved ones and say quietly, “Welcome home”. As Pam Tate says, “It’s not about us, it’s about them.”
“People join to bring the patriotism back where it needs to be,” she said. “It died with Viet Nam. And many of our members are Viet Nam vets who joined because they want to make sure what happened to them never happens again.”
After an emotionally exhausting day, we came back to the room and collapsed in front of the boob tube. And nobody cared by then about lack of privacy. It does seem trivial compared to what our kids go through to ensure our freedom to travel around in safety and comfort.

catching a nap

baby Sterling was born premature while Dad was still deployed

We’re makin’ a movie!

the Freedom Beat Bus

The eventual purpose of this road trip is to produce a film documentary. People have asked us to make a statement about why we want to cover this particular subject. After some thought, here’s mine:
I am of the Viet Nam generation. I didn’t protest the war – by the time I took a breath from raising children and started considering what the government was doing over there, it was over. For my second husband, however, it was never over. He never forgot being called a “baby-killer” when he came home. I don’t believe any of my generation begrudges the young ones their welcome-home parades, but I think there will always be a tinge of bitterness over the difference in people’s attitudes. Over what our husbands and brothers missed out on.
When my son returned from Desert Storm, I was thrilled to watch his town give a parade, and even more thrilled to see the tears in his tough man’s eyes. My other son has served a lifetime in the Army Special Forces, an outfit that discourages public recognition, and yet I’ve seen the pride in his eyes too. I could not be more proud and want to meet other moms and their soldier children.
Have there always been victory parades? Or were there other wars where veterans were vilified, or simply ignored and forgotten as soon as possible? Are we the only country that has a love-hate relationship with our military? Wanting to honor the young ones for their sacrifices, and yet unable to ignore that ingrained American fear of a military strong enough to threaten our civilian executive, legislative or judiciary?
My father told stories of the days of WWII and Korea when he and his buddies in uniform could stick out a thumb and be given rides to wherever they wanted to go. But, my father would add in wonder, it was safe back then. It never occurred to anyone that it wasn’t. He wouldn’t do it now, no matter how much the American public waves the flag. Has the trust gone? Was it ever really there?
In 1962 John Steinbeck stood witness as scores of people lined an Alabama street to scream insults and threats at a tiny black girl who dared attend a “white” school. And his question was, where are the people on the other side? Her defenders, the common people who believed that she had every right to attend a particular school in the same peace and honor as any other child in that town? Why aren’t they out there too, being just as vocal?
As I watched the Patriot Guard use their bodies to shield a family from the “free speech” of hate-filled religious homophobics, I wondered: Why aren’t there more defenders? Where are the ones who believe in the decency of allowing a family to bury their child in peace and honor? Why aren’t they out there too? And why was the Patriot Guard even there to begin with? How did a group that tends to be looked on as a fringe “biker” mob end up being the only people to literally stand between a grieving family and those who sought to turn that grief into horror?
I’d like to explore these questions and see if it isn’t time we all tried to answer them.

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