"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Saturday, March 10, 2012

C David Ramsey: A Job Well Done

It's rare when I put a second blog on in one day, but this blog is one I couldn't put off for another day.  You'll see why ... thank you, Dave. ~CJ

There are times when something special happens that gives all of us a shot of energy, boosting our faith in mankind. God knows, as we read the daily headlines, it completely drains every ounce of faith we have in humanity. From the political unrest, the unending wars, we have allowed ourselves to enter all the way down to the local senseless killings in our own hometowns.
Often I find myself turning off the 10:00 o’clock news and saying to the hell with it, I’m going to bed. Then I find myself turning and tossing with those headlines rolling like thunder through my mind.
But then there are times we are allowed to witness something that’s like a cold drink of water on a hot day. For some unknown reason, I have this strange habit of reading between the lines of a conversation, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together before the story unfolds. My dear wife gets aggravated with me when we're watching a movie, telling me to be quiet.
Over the past few weeks I have watched such a story unfold in a Facebook group I joined a few months back. This group is made up of veterans and widows from the Vietnam War. A few weeks ago someone asked the veterans to write about the most traumatic event they saw while in country.

Several shocking things were written that would cause some serious nightmares. This room is not used for brag sessions, just stories only a war veteran would know plus, be mindful, talking about those horrors reduces the pent up stress that’s hidden deep in the soul a Veteran.

One of the stories shared in this group was very gruesome. I couldn’t help but notice the anxiety building as this man wrote out his story. Misspelled words, no spacing, and I could see his hands tremble as he typed.
He tells about a precious Brother dying in his arms plus, he himself was severely wounded during the battle. He listens as his dying Brother asks him to contact his family. He holds the lifeless body all night, refusing to let him go. I have no idea how a dying solder ignores his own pain to remember his family. This speaks highly of this brave man. Somewhere, “No Greater Love” comes to my mind.

Imagine, night after night, carrying this request in your heart for over forty years, knowing one day you must carry out that mission. I’m sure I could have come up with a thousand reasons to satisfy my conscience to let this mission pass. Carrying this request in your heart for over forty years was an awesome burden, knowing one day you must man up to your responsibility.
Now let’s complicate this mission with cancer. Like so many Veterans of Vietnam, through the use of Agent Orange, cancer strikes. It has with Larry. Drained of energy plus the pain of cancer, still he knows that request of years gone by must be fulfilled. He will travel over five hundred miles to stand at the grave of his fallen brother as he meets the family and shares only some of that awful event.

Larry used wisdom as he searched for the correct words, so he would not cause greater pain to this family. They listen very close as Larry talked of that awful day. Finally, after all those years, Larry Hansen stood at the grave, fulfilling the charge given by this fellow solder on a battlefield in Vietnam.

Being from the old south, I am often reminded of songs with the stories I have witnessed in life. This old song comes to mind when I think about Larry Hansen:

“I saw this wayward traveler, in tattered garments clad
And struggling up the mountain, it seemed that he was sad
His back was laden heavy, his strength was almost gone
But he shouted as he journeyed, "Deliverance will come!"

Then palms of victory, crowns of glory
Palms of victory, I shall wear.”

Job well done Larry Hansen.

C David Ramsey

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Larry Hansen: Facing Fear, Finding Courage

We all have an inner voice, our own personal whisper from God, maybe even the universe. All we have to do is listen, and feel, and sense it with an open heart. Sometimes it whispers of intuition or precognition. Other times, it whispers a remembrance, that we carry with us for a long time.

Everyone loves a story with a happy ending. It gives us a sense of hope, a sense that something bigger is going on than what we can see or imagine. This is one of those stories and it's beginning and end, span forty-five years. It's a story about brotherhood, love and loyalty, but most of all, courage. I'm only the writer who brings it to you. The story belongs to my friend, Vietnam veteran, Larry Hansen:

Larry Hansen:
Hey brothers, I need your input. Robert, my friend, and I landed in country on November 23, 1967. On July 9, of '68, my best friend died in my arms. Before he died, he asked me to go see his sisters, and two brothers. I was to tell them what happened.

When I came home, I started out for their parish in Louisiana, several times. Each time, I talked myself out of it. What would I say? How would I explain me being alive?

I was a terrible drunk in those early days. No drug could pass me by. Time grew and the promise I made from the past has landed to bite me in the ass. Somehow Robert's youngest sister has located me and she wants answers. I'm afraid! I was awake and crying all last night, remembering that horrible day. Now I have to go through that hell all over again. I will not tell them how he suffered for thirty minutes in pain.

All I want to know is, by agreeing to go see them, will it end the loss? Will it ease their pain? Will it bring some ending to my hell of remembering that day, every July? Thanks brothers for your time. It's not a new story, and I aint the only one to live it. I've feared this day, and I thought time would lessen their need to search. I do think I'll tell them that no Marine ever loved his family, country, and God more than Robert did. Thanks for being here.

John Wagner:
Hang in there Larry, and do whatever is best for you. Robert wouldn't want you to do anything that would bring you more pain.

Dave Ramsey:
Larry, I think it will be hell at first but you have walked in hell for years with this hanging over you. The family will thank you for what you do and so would Robert. I think it will be good to tell them he was your friend and how you cared for him till the end. In war some live, some don't, you have nothing to be ashamed of Brother. Mount up and finish the job. You will do just fine. Semper Fi.

Doug Meyer:
I ve been in touch for years with my friend's older sister. We met a few years back. We both cried, and some kinda healing happened to her that day. And it was good. We stay in touch to this day. And the coolest thing was, I saw Tom in her eyes, in her facial being. It was a powerful thing. But of course, some things were never mentioned. She just happened to know what questions to not ask. Good Luck Brother.

Patrick Flynn:
Hi Larry. That's a hard one for sure. I was in the Vietnam War, two tours, not by choice. Anyway, three weeks before I got shot in my leg, a broken ankle, my friend was killed and at the time I was shot I was a door gunner. When I found out he was dead I cried my eyes out. I knew a Colonel I worked with a lot and asked him since this was my close friend, would it be okay to deliver his letter in person to his mom and dad.

He said, "Paddy are you up to doing this?"

I said, "Yes Sir, because he would want me do that for him and his Parents."

I got home the next day. I stayed with mom and dad. I asked dad, "Can I use your car?" He never asked why. I put my uniform on and went to their house with my leg in a cast. In my head I knew what to do. I have to say it was the longest drive. It was really only about 30 minutes, but it seemed like an hour. I went to their driveway, opened the car door and smoked about five cigs before I walked up to the door. His mom looked at me and we both started crying . She already knew. I told her things we did in country and how he would always be my best friend.

I know sometimes closure is best. I am still friends with his family. His mom and dad are both dead now. I'd do it all over again. I should have been dead too I'm sure. I know my mission now is to help other Vets. I was drunk for a long time, but I've been sober now for seven years. In your heart Larry, you know what's best. You don't have get into details unless you want to.

Larry Hanson:
Brothers, thanks for the lift. I spent a couple hours on the horn talking to Robert's younger sister. She has a way of making a body feel at ease. Funny, but she's just as he discribed her to be. They are coming up here next month. God, I wished it were done.

Well, the only thing to do is square my shit away, and lock an load. The thing that hurts the most is that I let Robert down. Being "better late than never", just don't cut the mustard. Putting it off for 44 years has one problem. It's closure for his sisters and brothers, but it's too late for his mother.

Robert trusted me to do a job, and I pussied out. Now, the one and most important person that I should have been up front with passed on. What a coward I am. So damn concerned about hiding, staying drunk for twenty years had its price. I just can't help knowing that I failed as Robert's bro.

Today, I have a lot of owning up, apologizing for me, and hoping they will forgive and understand. Back home in the hills of Tennessee my ol' mamaw would say. " If'n your gonna dance, you gotta pay the piper." Well she's right about that. Again, all we got at times like this is each other. Or as Billy Joel sang, "We held on to each other, as brother to brother." Thanks you've all been top notch.

CJ Heck:
You didn't fail anyone, Larry. You're not a coward, and you did not let Robert down. Survivors guilt is a heavy burden. We do what we can do; we face what we can face, and we bury the rest, thinking that it will stay buried. Then, years later it comes up to bite us in the you-know-what.  When we bury it, the only person we're letting down is ourselves.  What's helped me more than anything is the veterans who contributed to my blog, and those I've met through VIETNAM VETS. The key to healing, the key to recovery, is through each other and through sharing, whether it's talking, or writing the words on paper and seeing them there.

Dave Ramsey:
Most of us vets are like an old '56 Chevy, banged up, uses too much gas and oil, plus it smokes like crazy, still, we can't let it go. It has too many memories. We find ourself sitting in the worn out seat all by ourself with a ton of memories that only we know. Truth be known, if we would send it to the body shop for a make over it will fetch a price greater than any Lexus. It's value would skyrocket.

With a little help from their friends a Veteran would be the same way. A war veteran is the most valuable thing in America. We served our country in a time of need and came out a little banged up, but we came out. Our hair may be gray, we don't run as fast but, by God, we're here, standing tall.

Jerry Lamb:
It will be a tough pill to swallow and you already have swallowed your share. It was suggested to me a long time ago that, "This too shall pass", along with, "One day at A Time". My thoughts along with all those who read your posting will be with you at this time! Welcome Home Brother! And Remember, Only You can tell the Family How Brave He Was!

Larry Hansen:
CJ, Dave, I want to thank you for the words of widom. Maybe, just maybe, the trust we instilled in each other really is strong. Funny after all the years have gone by, I know that I don't stand alone. In the broader picture I couldn't find that safety area. I fought everybody every step I took. What I couldn't deal with I just walked away from.

CJ, I threw away 3 good marriages with my eyes shut, and pitching with both arms. Ten years ago, I crawled out from the bottle, and have not looked back. Today I will have a few beers, but no more whiskey.
Thanks Dave for getting me out. You have no idea just what your words have meant to me. Stay tight. CJ I do so want to express my deepest words of comfort for your loss. It seems we have our cherished ones with us, but for a short time. Hold on to the memories, they will get you through the rough times. They have me, now more so than then. Love you all! Gotta go to the VA. It's treatment day, and the radiation waits for no one.

CJ Heck:
Thank you, Larry. I also thank everyone else for not booting me out of the group because I'm not a veteran. I want you to know that it helps, being here, talking with you, listening to you, and if I can give anything back, even be a sounding board, I'm here if you need me. In trying to find people who served with Doug, even on the day he was KIA, I used to be frustrated no one would talk to me, but now I understand WHY. Listening to you men talk about how hard it is to do exactly that has opened my eyes. Now I can wait patiently until these men are ready to talk to "Doc"s widow. Thank you all for that.

Dave Ramsey:
As far as I'm concerned a widow is very much a part of any Veterans Group. I can only imagine the knock on the door ...then facing the life ahead with the never ending pain. The love I have for my wife is great. I could never stand to see her hurt. My wife keeps our life in balance with her tenderness. I guess you can say she's the heart, I'm the ass. Anyway, she calls me that sometimes, but she's forgiven.

Patrick Flynn:
I am married to the love my life. I am not sure why she stayed with me 38 years. Her name is Anna Marie and I love her very much. I am blessed.

CJ Heck:
She is blessed, too, Patrick.

Patrick Flynn:
Thank you. CJ Heck I say you're welcome in my group anytime. Thanks for caring. I hope you find who you looking for. God Bless you.

Larry Hansen:
CJ , welcome to our piece of hell they call "the world". I'm rather tired out, must be the radiation. Its a long slow road, and it leads to your typical combat veteran. Your slowly working your way out of "the newbie". It's our protective shield, sort of seeing what your made of. From where I sit, you'll do. Soon it'll be, "Hey, whats going on?" Trust, mutual respect, and your heart is all thats required. Yes, CJ, I believe you're doing just fine. We all love and respect you, for the cut of the cloth.

Your search has brought you almost full circle. That you have a true heart in your quest not to let your "Doc" fade away. In that quest you found that little piece off in a small corner of this world. To me and others what you began was a journey into the true Docs, whether they were called Doc, Corpsman, or medic.
They were a very special people to us. Someone who we could confide in and, no, it won't go anywhere else. He tended our wounds, gave us his all. Even if that all was to lay down his life. They were life savers! 

We all have our Doc, and thanks to all your efforts we remember them through yours. Hun, you ARE one of the people who is genuine. Bless you for your giving of yourself to us. It is a far better world for me anyway that you traveled the road that led to us. "When you are tired lay upon my bed, and I will give you peace. When you're hungry and thirsty then sit. I shall share my meager meal with you. Come drink for the water is mountain stream cold. When the load your carrying gets to be a burden, you need not worry. Your back is covered too by any and all. Bless your loving devoted heart, and soul CJ Heck. You are a Florence nightingale. Love ya.

Patrick Flynn: 
I would like to invite all to join another great group, called Veterans of Vietnam and Other Wars. We are 64 strong and need more. And Larry, I know, my friend. Please call 1-800-273-8255 and press #1 for veterans. I am always here for you guys and include women in our lives. Don't forget our families and friends suffer too. You know, for a lot of years I thought my name was asshole, so I always said, "That's MR. Asshole." I found I was not an asshole. I have PTSD.

Philip L. Richards:
Larry, I feel the pain, but look at the load you have carried all these years. It is tiring and debilitating. I try to live a simple life and by only a few rules. Consider how you would want to be treated if you were on the other side. The answer is in front of you. I sense you too are a simple-minded man and I believe you will find peace during this portion of your journey through life. Just a few to share with you: Truth is relative to what the other is willing to believe. Actions speak louder than words. The golden rule with infinite facets that help lead the way. I hope you find some peace and God be with you.

Ann Proffitt:
Larry, I am praying for you and for all the Nam vets. God bless you and I hope you get better. X

Larry Hansen:
I promised you that when I spoke to Robert's family I'd tell you. Well, I left early Tuesday for Norman, Oklahoma, thanks to my nephew, and a cesna. I met Robert's three sisters and a brother. I explained about his death, but not in great detail. It brought them to tears, but also closure.

I apologized for taking 43 years to do this. I went on to explain about my being a coward and not fulfilling my promise. They understood, which did make me feel better. At the cemetery the family left me alone with Robert. While I sat there, a strange thing happened. I caught the strong scent of peppermint candy, like what he used to eat. As I talked about that day so long ago, I began to cry. It was then that I had a feeling of not being alone. A feeling of calm came over me then, and I felt his presense. For some reason I understand now that his death wasn't my fault. Thanks to all who encouraged me to go through with this. I found peace at last after all these years. I'll never forget my best friend. Rest in peace bro, I shall never forget you. Thank you all!

[A Personal Note:  What I've learned through Larry's story is this:  A person is not a coward, if they are afraid.  It's all about facing our fear and finding the courage to do something that's difficult.  

When soldiers go to war, they have to overcome tremendous fear.  They do this by replacing the fear with tremendous courage.  When they return home, that same fear is still buried, where it festers for years, surfacing through night terrors and PTSD.  

The healing can only begin when those fears are faced, again with tremendous courage.  What then comes is acceptance, a renewed feeling of self-worth, and a realization that the fear does not own us -- it brings us peace.]

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

C David Ramsey: Rosetta Stone, We Need You!

Should anyone from the Pentagon be spying on this blog I beg you, please read the entire story ...

When I went to P I MCRD in SC, the first thing on the agenda was to hump most riki-tic to get our heads high and tight. In route, we passed several sand crabs looking at us because we were a cluster fuck.

After we got our new GI, we shipped our civvies back home. There I stood with boocoo gear. I was so FUBAR I didn’t know what to do. It was zero-dark-thirty, and I was sure the DI would tell us what the SOP would be before taps. There I stood, the FNG totally in DTFE, but our head DI did feed us the scoop. He was a lifer and had just got pushed up to top.

When we arrived at the hooch, we met three wonderful DI’s with good looking campaign hats pulled down to their eyes. Each of these nice Marines made it a point to get in our face, screaming to inform us we were maggots. Maybe they thought we were hard of hearing.

Finally one of the maggots asked if he could use the bathroom. It took the DI over an hour to instruct us that the Marine Corp had no bathrooms. It was called a head. Well, if you were indoors it’s a head. If you were outdoors it’s called a honey bucket. The poor recruit who asked about the bathroom had to stand against the bulkhead till it ran down his leg. The rest of us kept it zipped, both mouth and pants.

Finally we were ordered to get in formation to hump it to the scarf-n-barf. The DI informed us that if we were lucky, we would get a nice dose of SOS and a cup of bug juice. So we put the piss pots on our grapes and cut a chogie a few klicks down the road.

When we arrived, the DI informed all us lard buckets the Marine Corp didn’t serve pogey bait. He also told us if we get it, we better lick it. The Marines didn’t appreciate wasting food. I couldn’t tell if it was SOS or 4 skins on toast, but believe it or not, the chow wasn’t that bad -- it sure wasn’t the gut wagon I expected.

That afternoon in sunny PI we learned the Marine Corp was very religious, because the DI told us to give our hearts to Jesus because our ass belonged to the Marines. We were also advised they would not tolerate any broke dicks. If we got injured, we were to suck it up. Can I get a hoo-ahh? HOO-AHH, SIR! I think that means Heard Understand Acknowledge, yeah that’s it.

The remainder of the day was pretty much just mass confusion on our part. Everything we did was just a skosh messed up with the Di’s screaming real loud. But we did march down to the armory to get our M16’s and duty belts.

When we returned to the barracks, those nice DI’s taught us the difference between a rifle and a gun. They told us to grab our crotch with our left hand and hold the rifle with our right hand. Then we would shout as we held on tight to both, “This is my rifle, this is my gun, this is for killing, this is for fun. Soon it started to hurt.

Much later that night we had to get into our fart sacks, because we had a long day ahead tomorrow.

Can you see where this is going? You have just gone through the first day of Boot Camp with all the new language a recruit must learn. Lost is not the word. I think it would be money well spent if the Pentagon would hire Rosetta Stone to teach this new language prior to military service. Maybe that young man/woman wouldn’t stand there lost in the translation wondering what the DI was talking about.

At Ease Maggots! Smoke 'em if you got 'em. Field Stripe Your Butts. Don’t you eye ball me, scum bag!

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Old Veteran

by C David Ramsey

Its grown quiet at the old house. The kids have all gone back home. The old Veteran sits in his rocker and smiles as he thinks of his beautiful grandkids. He tried but could never keep up as they ran from room to room that afternoon. At times it became too loud but he said nothing, because they were having fun. 

He lives alone now and he often thinks of his beautiful wife of many years. He recalls the many happy days they had together. It makes him smile as he lives in that lonely old house.

He looks down at the old wooden box he made many years ago out in his barn. He reaches over, picks it up, and the memories start to flow. Every time the grandkids come over, they have to see that box. They plead for the Old Veteran to tell those old war stories. He protects the grandkids though, and never tells all the facts of what that old box could reveal.

As he opens the old box and again sees all the faded medals, his mind travels far back in time. He’s old, but he still remembers all the horror that distinguished him as a young man in a far away country. He sits there quietly, hoping none of his family will ever experience the pain that earned him these honors.

He will never forget his brave friend that died so gallantly by his side that miserable night. It all becomes real once again in his mind. The old Veteran holds the box tight in his hands. He sits there and remembers each day that brought his platoon into that jungle valley.

Walking through those thick vines as darkness overtook the day was a memory that will never be erased. Listening for any small sound that could save their lives, knowing it will be even worse when the darkness comes. He had never been trained for this, nothing could teach you not to fear. He looked to his brothers for comfort, but only saw the same fear in their eyes, as well.

The darkness had brought them to a small clearing that lay just ahead. He remembers stopping just short of the clearing. Battle wisdom had taught his platoon not to enter a killing field at night. He watched as they settled in, with weapon in hand. No one would sleep that night, because that day had brought them deep inside an unknown territory.

Quietly they opened some rations and started to eat. Suddenly, someone saw something up ahead in the clearing. It was the dim shape of someone carrying a weapon. They waited with caution, ready to light up the night with fire. Everyone in the platoon knew not to fire on just one person. He had been sent ahead as a scout for the many that followed. They watched as the lone VC vanished back into the thick black jungle.

The old Veteran held one of his medals, feeling the cold brass where it attached to a soft silk ribbon. He wiped away a small tear from the corner of his eye as he returned the medal to the box.

He made his way to the bedroom where he again hid the old box on the shelf in his closet. The Veteran then returned to sit in the quiet, thinking now of his grandkids, and wishing his wife was still alive to be with him. Maybe tonight his dreams will be of better days, but it was very doubtful. He closed his eyes and rocked softly as the night closed in.

Sleep well tonight my brave Veteran, sleep well.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Keep Firearms Out of the Reach of Children

By David Ramsey

Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, it didn’t take our squadron long to realize we weren’t in Kansan anymore, and nowhere near the Land Oz. The Wizard left as soon as the shooting started and I can’t blame him.

It had been one of those super hot days at Da Nang, and the brass wanted everything done in double time. Maybe the heat was getting to the officers as they stood around giving orders to us -- the workers.

We finally got through the day and we were looking forward to the evening and some well deserved rest. Sometimes those hard cots we slept in were comfortable, but only sometimes. 

Everything went into slow motion as we sat around that evening. We had built our own bar inside the compound.  Somehow one of the gunny sergeants was able to keep us supplied with ten cent beer that he got somewhere. No one ever asked how, or where, he got the stuff.   Sometimes it’s best not to know.

We downed our limit of beer. I think it was three maybe four per night. The generator would soon be turned off so everyone started to stretch out for the night. Soon everyone was drifting off into a deep sleep, disturbed only by the few snorers in those French huts. 

That night our sleep would be interrupted. The guards just outside came running through, kicking our bunks, and telling us to get up and get outside between the buildings. Everyone was trying to find their clothes, grabbing their rifles and ammo, and all while in the dark. Some ran outside with only their skivvies (underwear for those who forgot) with their M16s in hand. 

We soon heard the mortar rounds going over and landing a short distance away. I looked at my watch.  It was 3:30 in the morning. I often wondered if the VC ever slept. If they were going to do that to us, at least they could have done it in the heat of the day, not when we were sleeping. No, they had to wait until we went to sleep. 

As we hunkered between the buildings that night, Jessie, my friend, whispered that he had left his rifle back at the armory, inside the hanger. I tried to tell him it would be okay, he could take my sidearm if things got any hotter. No, come hell or high water, Jessie had to have his own rifle. We caught a delay with the incoming so we started to run to the hanger, two long dark miles away. 

I don’t recall how many times we fell on our mid-night run, but we were a mess by the time we got over there. It wasn’t any calmer over there, either, rounds were going off like crazy. Going inside the armory there was an old saloon-type half door, spring loaded to keep it closed. We were in a hurry to get his rifle, so we must have hit the door hard enough to keep it caught open. 

As Jessie was loading his weapon, plus grabbing a few extra magazines, the door snapped closed, making a loud bang. I spun around on my heels as I pulled the trigger on that M16 -- of course it was on full auto. In the blink of an eye, I emptied that gun. The door was shredded, the window was blown out, and there were holes all over the wall. 

I must admit I was scared to death. I turned around to say something to Jessie but he was on the floor in a fetal position. Oh my God, I thought, I shot Jessie! I stood there terrified and speechless. As I gained some control I screamed out his name. Jessie looked up and said, "Are you hit?" 

"No," I said, "are you??  I tried to explain but I was getting out only half the words. Jessie grabbed his rifle from the floor and I put a fresh magazine in mine and we hit the trail running. 

When we got back to Dogpatch, the mortars had stopped.  We were able to rejoin our men without anyone knowing we had temporary deserted. Jessie and I both agreed, we didn’t need to tell anyone about that night. I will leave you with this, if you have a 19 year old kid running around your house, lock up your guns. Both can be dangerous to have around.

C David Ramsey

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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