The idea came to me after watching a great film a few years back, and in it they spoke of the Oklahoma City Survivor Tree.
According to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum website this tree is an American Elm, which stood firm during one of the worst attacks America has ever seen. It states this tree once provided shade in the downtown parking lot, and now it means much more. Folks all over journey to see this tree, and be reminded that even in the worst of times something beautiful survives.
We did the same with the National September 11 Memorial, to honor the survival of another tree.
Recently I was part of a historical dedication to yet another elm tree that survived the course of four centuries before being struck down.
The historian said this and a 600 -year -old black walnut tree were his favorite trees in the world. He noted they are like humans.
I can agree with this concept.
Aren’t we all survivor trees? When I travel along the roadways I look for those trees, the ones that stand alone in a field or near a structure. I think of how many storms tried to knock them down and how much the tree has seen.
I think we all should take time to appreciate survivor trees, and to allow them to inspire us to enjoy the freedom so many have sacrificed for.
America is filled with survivor trees, and maybe one day we will realize that we as human beings are capable of showing just as much strength and courage as these keepers of time.
My hope is you never look at a tree again and think it is just a tree, but to embrace what poets, authors, film makers, and historians have for years. Trees are something we use for shelter, and something we climb. After all it was Robert Frost who once wrote about his carefree youth, saying one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
As summer winds down, and fall approaches around the bend it is time to reflect on the beauty around us.
On what was meant to be a simple drive to Barcelona Harbor to take in the sun and fresh lake water became so much more.
I noticed a very old lighthouse resting on the hill.
A nice talk with one of the harbor staff members led me to a brief story of it’s history.
The lighthouse itself was built, along with the lighthouse keepers home in 1828. It was erected by the Federal Government in 1829.
The Lakeside B&B was originally built in 1830 for the Underground Railroad. The home had a secret tunnel in the basement , which emptied out under the lighthouse buried deep under the hill.
This allowed slaves to be taken across the 27 mile stretch of Lake Erie to Canada.
Now the home that gave so many people a safe harbor is a lovely B&B, and the lighthouse that offered it’s guiding light across the dark waters is a stone structure of hope. It offers us a glimpse of history and reminds us that in this seemingly dark world light does prevail and freedom continues to ring.
Barcelona Harbor had felt like a special place since the moment I set foot on her shores, and now I understand why. It truly is a safe harbor … a refuge for the lost.
When I look at these pictures or stand by these profound structures I will remember the stories, and I will imagine how those slaves must of felt seeing that beacon of light, and the door opening at the bottom of a hill to offer them shelter in the storm.
Before he was a husband, a father, a grandfather,and a carpenter he was part of what is known today as the greatest generation.
Donald M. Willis joined the thousands of other young soldiers in the journey to bring back their countries freedom in the second great war known as World War II.
He was trained in Camp Upton, New York and Camp Eustis, Virginia, before sailing across the choppy ocean waters to Germany, where he feared he would have to fight his own family.
The 18 – year- old from Wellsville, NY came from German lineage. He thought he may still have cousins who lived over there, and told his commander this on the boat ride over. His commander told him ‘Believe me son, when they start shooting at you, you will shoot back.’
This was the story I heard growing up about my grandfather and his war. He had come from a long line of patriots, so maybe he felt it was his duty to be part of the ranks. Although he was drafted like many others in that time period it always seemed like he was proud to be part of this journey with his fellows.
Every year our country honors these men for their sacrifice, along with all those before and after them. I have been wanting to honor my grandpa’s story for a long time now. Recently I got my hands on some of his war letters to his family. In them he talks about the “frozen tundra” of the Upton Camp; the eagerness to be a pilot and the every day routines of training.
Most of these letters are to his mother to ease her mind her oldest son was well and staying out of trouble.
They haven’t made any films about my grandfather, or honored him in any legions, but whenever I see anything to do with World War II I stand proud and call it grandpa’s war. We honor him as his family, and we know the stories. We tell these stories to others in hopes of keeping them alive.
Donald M. Willis didn’t belong to the world, and that is quite alright. He belonged to those who loved him and those who fought beside him; he belonged to those fellows in his barracks who were just as honored as he was to fight for the country they all loved; he belonged to the stories we tell ourselves.
For the sake of his privacy I can’t publicize all 600 pages of his thoughts on the war, family, friends, and my grandma Jean. However, I can give pieces of it to those who wish to know another person of the greatest generation.
While in training to be a radio operator, Don worries about his little brother Fredrick getting a job; his father working very hard at the plant; his aunts and uncles and cousins; he even talks about the pride he takes in the special duties he performs for his platoon.
“Our platoon is always the first one to fall out in the morning,” he writes proudly to his mother. “I wish dad could have come down to see me, but it would have been difficult.”
“I get along fine with the fellows in my barracks,” he continues to write to his mother.” After I get out of here I will make some girl a nice husband.”
That girl was Verna Jean Church. After he was honorably discharged in April 1946 he came home to marry his sweetheart he lovingly called Jeanie. They had seven beautiful children, and he had two other beautiful girls from his second marriage many years later.
Don was a church goer and a big band player. He loved the heartbeat in music.
“I have a chance to go to church every Sunday, but they are just general services. I don’t like those too well,” he writes. “This morning I was playing my Touette for the fellows, and the sergeant heard me. He asked me to come in his room and play for him. He said he knew some of the fellows in the band and he could get me in OK.”
Willis fought at the Rhineland and East Europe Battles, as well as being stationed in Japan at the end of the war. He received the American Theater Ribbon, two bronze stars, Victory Medal, and Good Conduct Medal.
Grandpa’s story may never be a movie, or spoken out to giant crowds by his fellow comrades on Memorial Day Parades, but that is OK. He passed away on June 4, 2002 and there was a 21 gun salute. There was a flag draped over his coffin and folded by two veterans. This was his ‘thank you for your service’ from his fellow soldiers.
This is my way of honoring his memory and being the keeper of his stories.
If you notice mostly all sports films are about a true story … they tell us not only the story about how the team won, but also what the team lost.
I often cover stories which involve sports in some way. Every time I hear a student talk about their love for the game, a coach fight to have his team keep their identity, and a school that believes sports are the lifeblood of their community I think of these beautiful films about football, baseball, soccer, basketball, hockey and so forth.
The best sports film ever made is “We Are Marshall.” This film is about so much more than football. It is a heartbreaking story about a town in West Virginia that lost so much on a day none of them have forgotten in the 1970s.
When I think of “We Are Marshall” I think of growing up in various small towns where if this happened to them we would have been just as destroyed.
“In the middle of Hunington, West Virginia there is a river, next to this river there is a steel mill, And next to this steel mill, there is a school… In the middle of this school, there is a fountain. Each year on the exact same day, at the exact same hour … the water to this fountain is turned off. In this moment once every year …throughout the town, throughout the school … time stands still,” Annie~ opening quote.
“Those were not welcome days, we buried sons, brothers, mothers, fathers, fiances… clocks ticked but time did not pass. The sun rose and the sun set, but the shadows remained. When once there was sound … now there was silence. What once was whole… now is shattered,” Annie.
Some of the most beautiful quotes from a sports related film are in this movie. I am not what you call a major sports fan, but that is what makes these films so powerful. You don’t have to love football to love “We Are Marshall.” You don’t have to understand football to understand “We Are Marshall.”
I think about a town, next to a river, in West Virginia, and how once every year they still honor a group of college students, families, friends, pillars of the community, and how they still shout out “We Are Marshall” over 40 years later.
It is stories like this one that make us believe sports are more than just a game. They are about honoring the fallen. They are about rising up from the ashes of a shattered town and grabbing glory. They are about heart.
The town is hurting and a coach from another town picks up the phone and offers to help it heal. Rivals of the team honor them by putting their name on their helmets. This film is a symbol of coming together for those who are in pain, and offering them a helping hand.
The President of Marshall University asks the coach why he called; when it is clear he is not from Marshall.
“When I heard about what happened and your situation, the only thing I could think about was the four of them. I thought about how much they meant to me, about how bad it would hurt if I was to loose them. Then I thought about a team …and a school… and a town … that’s gotta be hurting real bad … and I thought hell… maybe I can help,” Coach Jack.
There are moments in this country when we all come together. We rise up and become heroes. We lend a helping hand. We offer a shoulder to cry on. We feel the pain, love, suffering, defeat, and strength of a community … the community becomes our community. The brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters, sons, and daughters become ours.
I think that is the true power of a film like “We Are Marshall.”