Uniformed Humor……

After careful consideration of the statute of limitations, I thought I would end the year with an expose’ of a few, not all, of my less than stellar moments while piloting a Highway Patrol cruiser around our streets and highways. Highway Patrol officers work hard to set an example for civilian motorists, however we fall victim to failures, foibles and lapses of consciousness just like anyone else who drives as many miles as we do. Road officers work hard to erase these misadventures from our mental library, but have to smile when our adventures surface in our slowly degrading memories. I thought I might share a few anecdotes with my readers.

As I recall, it was late on a summer night in Lafayette county and traffic was unusually light as I worked westbound relying on the venerable Speedgun 8 to check the speeds of eastbound travelers. Soon enough, I checked a motorist at well over the posted limit, cut through the median and initiated the stop. The car stopped just beyond a guardrail and I walked up to find a hysterical lady, bemoaning her bad luck at being caught and guaranteeing to me that her husband was going to disown her if she was ticketed. I was unmoved by her theatrics and issued her a summons, which she was able to sign, still sobbing and pleading. Our custom was to wait until the motorist safely returned to the highway before we pulled back into traffic, but some ten minutes later there we sat, her wringing her hands and me growing impatient. Suspecting that my presence was aggravating her anguish, I placed my car in reverse and aggressively backed away to gain clearance to pull around her and depart. In my haste, I backed into the guardrail and crumpled the quarter panel on my cruiser. I drove around the lady, exited the highway and examined the damage. Now, in my day, every road officer was friends with a good body man, who could help you through these situations, and I adjourned to the local police station and called “my body man” and arrangements were made to begin repairs on the cruiser the next morning. We straightened the panel, painted it, and I was on the road that afternoon as if nothing had happened. “Unreported body damage” was frowned upon by our commanders, but this one got by without me admitting to an act of carelessness.

Speaking of backing a car. I was the the zone commander (a Sergeant) in Cass and Bates county, when the officers on duty, including myself, adjourned to the scale house to finish and bundle the end of the month reports for relay to the office. I had pulled on the closed scale ramp and the other two officers had pulled onto the ramp behind me, parked one behind the other with little room between the cars. We were busy with the paperwork when radio called and indicated that a fatal traffic accident had occurred some twenty or so miles south of us. We immediately exited the building and climbed into our cruisers. I was busy on the radio, placed my car in reverse and backed solidly into the officer’s car behind me, pushing it into the third officers car behind him. All three of us exited our cars and the astonished officers looked at me silently, unable to suppress their smiles. I was not amused and asked them pointedly if we were going to the wreck or just hang around the scale house for awhile. They quickly backed away and started to the wreck, no damage having been done to our cruisers. I am sure the officers enjoyed a hearty laugh or two at my expense as time wore on, but were kind enough to not remind me of my less than superior situational reasoning….

On another occasion, I had driven to a town in the zone to pick up a probationary officer that I was field training. It was a miserable day, with bone chilling cold and fresh snow to contend with, as we turned onto the interstate to begin our day. I had just finished an in depth discourse on the nuances of patrolling on partially ice covered roadways when we were called and dispatched to a serious accident across the county on the interstate we were currently on. I sped up, and again increased my speed when radio notified us the accident was now a fatality and the road partially blocked. At a speed that was as fast as a wet road would allow, I drove the big cruiser onto solid black ice, forgetting the lecture I had delivered moments before on the dangers of rapidly changing road conditions. The cruiser bobbled just a little before rotating 360 degrees and shooting down a steep embankment and into a snow drift along the outer road. We were quite the contrast, with my crimson face and his ashen white face sitting in snow door window deep. I calmly looked at the rookie and emphatically stated, “that is NOT how you do it”. As luck would have it, a wrecker on the highway saw our thrill ride down the embankment, circled around and pulled us out of the snow within a matter of minutes. The young officer went on to become a very fine trooper and likely never forgot my lesson in what not to do on a questionable stretch of road. Other officers in the zone rewarded my Joey Chitwood performance with a nicely lettered sign along the interstate with an arrow pointing down the embankment and my badge number prominently displayed. Troopers are notorious for reminding each other of shortcomings and mistakes…..As a side note, the accident we were called to was the result of much the same circumstance as my misadventure, further cementing the lessons learned into our memories!

While there were many more humorous situations in my career, none of them are seared into my memory as clearly as an attempt at humor gone bad. I had just finished a quick sandwich at a busy cafe located at a major intersection of the interstate and a state numbered route. It was early in the afternoon before a major summer holiday, and a highway department crew was throwing shovels of hot asphalt mix into a hole or two on the road in front of this cafe. I recognized the crew and knew that one of the maintenance guys was particularly “jumpy” or “goosey” as we liked to say. He was preoccupied with his job when I idled up behind him and touched the siren, ever so briefly. The startled worker responded by throwing the shovel he was holding, full of hot mix, into the roadway and into the side of a beautiful Buick 225 that was passing by. Damn the bad luck. The driver of the Buick, pulled into the lot and approached the stunned worker with his arms crossed, clearly ready to imitate Mt. Vesuvius, when I exited my cruiser and interceded. I candidly explained this incident was the result of sick humor and told him what had happened. His anger faded into a broad smile as he asked me what was next. I was not particularly interested in spending quality time in front of the Captain explaining this incident and offered to pay for the damage to this car out of my pocket, if he would agree to such an arrangement. He did so. We exchanged information and I sent him a check after receiving the bill from this wonderful gentleman from Iowa. It turns out there were police officers in his family……

As we leave 2017 behind, a tumultuous year for our men and women in uniform, please take a minute to reflect on their role in our great society. These folks are charged with the responsibility of navigating the edges of human behavior, whether it be unspeakable tragedy or incredible good fortune. These folks, and I must include all of the emergency services here, begin each day full of hope tempered by dread at what my be in store for them as they leave their driveway. In closing, also remember they are human beings, who will readily trade humor for tragedy every chance they get.

Happy New Year!

The Wind on My Fists………

It is bone chilling cold outside, with wind chills headed to record lows for this part of the country and I am thinking about this past year on my Harley. A little arthritis, a new lens prescription and a loss of some strength in my surgically repaired thumb all combine to remind me that I am on the downhill slide from those magic years when I was a Centurion charged with the responsibility of leveling the playing field for the folks in my little piece of the world. Occasionally, I am asked why I ride a motorcycle, particularly as I get closer to the age of 70. It is a fair question. Let’s jump in…….

Motorcycles are honest. By that I mean there is no anonymity when you are astride the iron horse. Mistakes and poor judgement are oh so obvious to those around you in their climate controlled steel cages. The stakes for miscalculations on a motorcycle are high, a very good incentive to maintain situational awareness and alertness. Situational awareness and alertness have served me well through my years in the military and patrol uniform.

Motorcycles challenge you physically. It is imperative you maintain a measured degree of physical fitness if you are going to horse around a 700 pound motorcycle. Drop your guard and park a motorcycle on a slight downhill grade and the reward is bulging eyeballs and the beginning of a hernia as you strain to push it backwards. Depending on the height of your bike, the balancing act at a stop light can be a challenge. Dexterity is required to manipulate the controls that require both hands and feet, often simultaneously, to keep the the machine in motion and upright. When I returned to cycling, after a long hiatus, the focus at the gym shifted from “toning” to strength conditioning. This never a bad thing.

Motorcycles eliminate distractions. You do not ride a motorcycle and enjoy a nice double shot, vanilla latte, while chatting on the cellphone, all the while impervious to the heat, cold or precipitation outside of your car or truck. You are able to enjoy the multi-sensory experience of the open road and concentrate on riding defensively through the countryside. Have you ever driven cross country in a car and arrived in a daze not remembering much if anything about the trip? This seldom happens on a motorcycle as you do not have the luxury of disengaging your brain. You see things that car drivers do not.

Motorcycles attract an interesting and entertaining subset of Americana. I have met some of the nicest folks who share a passion for riding. Motorcyclists back their well known hands down wave with an interest in their fellow cyclists, seldom passing a bike on the side of the road without turning around and offering assistance. After acquiring my first Harley a few years back, I stopped for fuel and could not get the fuel cap off. The mechanic at the shop where I took delivery was a gorilla, and had put some effort into securing the gas cap tightly on my machine. [Remember, I have arthritic thumbs!]. Two fellow riders soon stopped at the pumps and seeing my distress, ambled over to where I was standing. I explained the situation and one of these fellows, himself a hulk of a man, unscrewed the cap with considerable effort. I suspect the strongest bond between fellow cyclists is their degree of risk adversity. If you are totally risk adverse, motorcycles are not for you. Timidity and under confidence will get you hurt and the ride will be less than memorable. On the other hand over confidence will also prematurely end your motorcycle experience.

Motorcycles are exhilarating. The wind on your fists and the breeze on your knees are refreshing. The “new leather” scent in your family conveyance is replaced with the smell of freshly turned soil and the smoke from every BBQ joint you ride by. You quickly learn to avoid road killed critters, especially unfortunate skunks, as you are up close and personal with the aroma released in their demise. You welcome the smell of a freshly mowed lawn and revel in the wonderful odor of a freshly cut hayfield. Acceleration through the gears and the resulting wind in your face is enchanting as the g-force settles you into the saddle. The symmetry of clutching, shifting and finding your spot on the open road is satisfying in ways that few experience in their automobile.

Motorcycling forges an uneasy truce with the elements. Weather shapes your wardrobe. Leather, the beautiful synthetics available today, heated jackets and gloves, various baklava’s, scarves, heated socks and a variety of functional footwear must be considered when saddling up. It is like hiking, admittedly at a little faster pace. Personally, I wear reflective vests, another consideration as they add a layer of clothing on very hot days. Technology today has given us various “cool” jackets that actually circulate cold water through them for rides in super hot conditions. You become far more aware of this thing called weather.

Finally, I enjoy maintaining vehicles. This affliction dates back to my high school years during which I often washed my car daily, a habit I carried into my years on the Patrol. Motorcycles are intricate but relatively small and I enjoy washing, waxing and tinkering around with them. Today my bike is resting under a dust cover in our garage, ready for the next good riding day. I do not have the mechanical aptitude to go much beyond washing, waxing and detailing the motor equipment under my care, but I derive much satisfaction in those duties. There is a lot of chrome on these things, and road grime can find it’s way into the damndest places……….

These are the reasons I ride. Come to think of it………I am ready for spring!

The Real Greatest Gift of All……..

Christmas is upon us. For most folks in America, Christmas is a special time of the year when we set aside self indulgence and go about the business of selecting gifts for those we are closest to. Christians, and other historians recount the journey of three wise men to the birthplace of Jesus where they brought gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold. In today’s terms, this visit would have been from three US Senators bearing money and a couple of bottles of cologne, who would likely leave with the title to the stable and thoughts of somehow regulating the safety of the manger. My, how times have changed. Most folks who participate in this most Christian holiday spend a great deal of their time running about frantically, attempting to procure the perfect gift for those of interest, a nearly impossible task for my generation. You see, if we are to be honest, we have virtually everything we need, most things we want and many things that are evidence of excess in our lives. Mr. Bezos and his minions at Amazon absolutely adore this time of the year, knowing full well that in America, convenience sells, and what can be more convenient than traveling 10 feet or so from your reading chair to the porch to see what the good folks at UPS have deposited after ringing the doorbell that is still chiming as they kick their gift bearing chariot into gear for the next home. Likely as not, the bauble falls into the want category…..

Jeff is a marketing genius, but has yet to find a way to deliver the single gift that ensures that we can appreciate and enjoy the many things we have. The gift that I am speaking about is the gift of good health. Although the medical profession is making great strides in protecting us from the myriad of maladies that exist, there are no guarantees. Over time, even rolling pins and anvils wear down and so it is no surprise that, as we age, stuff breaks, vision fails, hearing becomes less reliable and we all begin ingesting various chemicals and concoctions to keep us operating at some degree of “normalcy”. If we are lucky, the broken part can be repaired, replaced or removed by a skilled surgeon, thus freeing us from the unpleasant effects of the malady. Unfortunately, for many, medical science is limited to providing some form of relief from the pain and a plan to manage a problem that cannot be entirely eliminated by chemistry and sharp instruments. Folks in this position are not interested in a visit from the Senators carrying cologne and money, and in many cases would be more than willing to start over, covered in enough clothing to insure modesty, and forgoing every earthly possession they have.

Just this week, I visited with several old friends, folks who I have grown older with over a very long time. For my younger readers, yes, older folks do talk about health or a lack thereof, a lot. Trust me when I suggest your time to shift focus away from the latest big bertha driver to the arthritis that relegates it to a garage sale is coming. One of my friends is a caregiver to his wife who is in the grips of the Emperor of Maladies, cancer. They are working hard to keep the malignancy from gaining ground. These two are the picture of energy, intelligence and the enjoyment of life. Even so, they would deeply appreciate opening a gift this Christmas and finding an end to the constant specter of cancer that dominates their time. Another friend, himself an incredibly active fellow who has many interests, suffers from a particularly aggravating, and painful condition that limits his mobility. While he is managing this malady well, it takes a toll. I gave him a bottle of fine single malt scotch, cleverly deducing that enough of this stuff would temporarily take his mind off the pain in his leg. Those familiar with my past musings know that I do not like scotch, thinking it entirely suitable only for medicinal purposes and not much else. He loves the stuff, which may be a symptom of something more serious than pain in his leg. Two weeks ago, I delivered a eulogy for a friend who went from diagnosis to the peace of death in a matter of three weeks. He did not have much time to dwell on his fight with cancer before the Master stepped in and called the fight…..

My point is this. After the gifts are opened and everyone is basking in the glow of accomplishment at having delivered something truly useful and appreciated to someone else, I encourage you to sit back and reflect for just a moment on this great gift. If you are laughing and enjoying the moment pain free and reasonably healthy, you have awakened to the wonderful gift of good health. A wise old gentleman, who happened to own a casino in Missouri, once told me that he had enough money to burn a wet mule, but was himself dying of cancer, and didn’t care about the money anymore. He said that without good health, you have nothing. He died four months later, and I will never forget his wisdom.

If you are able to enjoy this sunset, pain free and healthy, good for you. You are the beneficiary of the greatest gift of all!

Merry Christmas.


Let’s Hear It for the Mechanics…

I have always enjoyed tinkering with things. Things that rely on gasoline, diesel fuel or electricity to operate have always fascinated me. Unfortunately, my aptitude with these things is alarmingly low, thus I develop relationships with the folks who can diagnose problems and fix them……mechanics. This lack of mechanical inclination was, perhaps, my Achilles’ tendon during my years on the road as a highway patrolman. With hat perfectly squared and the countenance of someone who has arrived to save the day, I have stood too many times with a hapless motorist, staring down into an engine compartment and being forced to utter, sheepishly, ” I haven’t a clue, but can call someone to help us out.” Mechanics or technicians, as they are called today, are under appreciated and often taken for granted. It is time we acknowledge their rather significant contribution to our existence.

When I was a kid, I delighted in taking things apart. Unfortunately, my delight in removing a screw here or a spring there, turned into remorse when I was faced with the prospect of reassembling what it was that I took apart. This unfortunate inclination resulted in my bicycles being in a state of perpetual disrepair and led me to the use of wood as a medium for what little creativity I possessed. Unfortunately, the shaping, cutting and preparation of wood requires at least a basic understanding of rather complicated tools. Viola, new friends in the business of “fixing” these tools. Just this week, I watched a young craftsman, framing a nearby house, disassemble a pneumatic nail gun, right out of the box, and remove a spring which he felt improved the performance of the gun. He reassembled the gun with the precision of a Navy Seal working on a rifle blindfolded, as they often do in training. I was mystified.

My history includes a time when financial considerations required that I rely on a very used, old, Ford Courier as my chariot to freedom. This truck developed a tendency to not start easily and run exceedingly rough when you could get the little Nippon devil to turn over. I took it to a friend, a crackerjack mechanic named Scott, who was then a marine mechanic at a dealership near home. Scott examined the old truck and quickly determined it needed a carburetor kit. I located the kit and delivered it to Scott who opened the box and discovered the instructions were written in Japanese. No problem he said, opening a can of beer and grabbing a screwdriver. He tore the old carburetor down and began replacing parts as if he had done this a thousand times (he likely had), hooked up the linkage and the truck never ran better. Admittedly, we had a few parts left over, but Scott assured me that we didn’t need them. I have watched Scott, working on a piece of heavy equipment, rely on an electrical schematic that was utterly incomprehensible to all but a nuclear submarine electrician, find and fix the problem. A can of cold beer is all that he needs to clarify his thought processes!

Another friend, a truly multi-talented fellow highway patrolman named Lee, also possessed a mechanical aptitude that bordered on wizardry. Lee was in his element when managing the entire highway patrol budget, carefully navigating the various cost centers and money movement inherent to state government. This same gentleman tore down a big outboard engine, repaired a cracked block, and reassembled it, resulting in a smooth running engine. As a kid, he and his brothers were faced with a V8 automobile engine that was broken in such a way that two cylinders were not functioning. He stuffed the broken cylinders with fence posts and they drove the car, which “ran a little rough” for quite a while longer! Lee was an avionics technician in the military, adding yet another dimension to his existence. I will be the first to tell you that when dealing with police radios, my skill set was limited to turning the thing on or off, with perhaps a little knowledge necessary to finding the right channel, handling the squelch and volume knob. When queried by one of our amazing radio technicians as to what was wrong when I brought one in, I was quick to point out that it wasn’t working, the limit of my diagnostic ability.

The photograph that is accompanying this piece is of the battery setup in our recently acquired RV. I took this picture in response to the manufacturer’s advisory to remove the batteries during cold weather and place them on a charger to maintain them. I opened the battery box and was reminded that I certainly had the wherewithal to remove the batteries, but would surely burn the coach up trying to reinstall them. This picture is my schematic and I will be ready when the time comes. Even so, I carefully arranged the wires so they would be in close proximity to the proper poles on the battery when I reinstalled them.

My hat is off to the mechanics and technicians of our world. Their aptitude is really what keeps America running. Never mind the efforts of the wizards of Wall Street, attorneys and business people who garner all of the attention. Mechanics are the truly gifted souls that make a difference…….especially to challenged folks like me……and probably many of my readers.

Mr. Rove Was Only Part of the Story……

This past Wednesday evening, Sharon and I along with our dear friends Dick and Jacquie Burlingame from the Lake of the Ozarks were fortunate to score tickets to see Mr. Karl Rove speak at the College of the Ozarks, near Branson, Mo. Mr. Rove, a Republican strategist, commentator, and noted author was to speak about the media and politics in todays’s America. Mr. Rove did not disappoint, however; he also did not talk about the media! While Mr. Rove was the star attraction on this beautiful Ozarks fall evening, the real attraction was this beautiful educational gem and the students that attend. More about Mr. Rove later, first let’s talk about “Hard Work U” and the students privileged to attend this terrific school.

After being bombarded with scenes from our own University of Missouri where fragile students cling to flagpoles because they somehow feel threatened by the world they are preparing to enter, it was wonderfully refreshing to see young men and women move confidently about this campus with a purpose. As might be expected, the presentation was heavily attended by hundreds upon hundreds of well dressed, appropriately groomed and eager students. These young people were polite and exceedingly respectful, reflecting perhaps, the Christian education they were receiving here. For those who may not know, there is no tuition at this College, rather students are required to work on campus 15 hours per week in a job normally performed by salaried and hourly workers. They may be found in the kitchen, dining halls, or just about anywhere that needs an application of human energy and service. It is a unique and obviously enormously successful concept.

The college band performed flawlessly before Mr. Rove spoke and was backed by a terrific choir as they led the National Anthem and other renderings that reeked of patriotism and unity. When the colors were presented by a ROTC honor guard the audience, to a person, stood silently with hand over hearts in respect for the flag and what it represents. The pride in America was palpable and tremendously gratifying. Among the honorees on the stage was a retired Marine four star general, who could not stifle a slight smile reflecting his appreciation for the America he fought for over a lifetime of service. The night belonged to a student body that instilled confidence in the future of this Republic, guaranteed by their belief in the core values that are under constant attack in other notable institutions of higher education. The four of us came away profoundly impressed by our experiences this night.

About Mr. Rove. To our surprise, Mr. Rove delivered a refreshingly non-partisan message of hope and confidence in the future of America. He described Washington D.C. as a mess, but assured the audience this was nothing new as he regaled us with story after story about the rancor and division that has existed in our government since this country’s inception. His recall of dates, times and history reflected his genius, background and unique understanding of the legislative and governing process. He reminded us that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were candidates who had the lowest approval ratings, going into the election, that America has ever seen. His overriding theme was that America is the greatest nation on the face of the earth and that we always find a way to save the day, in spite of the horribly divisive politics that seem to prevail in this age. It was a perfect reminder of what we are capable of, delivered in a place where optimism trumps pessimism decisively.

We came away refreshed. Our optimism in the future of America seems guaranteed by the energy and enthusiasm of a student body that reflects a belief in God, Country and what is right. I came away convinced that, in this place, there would be no cowering in a corner when presented with the inevitable challenges that life presents to us on a daily basis. Instead, these young, hard working people will set about solving the problem with a generous application of hard work and principle. After all, their efforts are being closely monitored by a God they believe in and trust deeply. We’re going to be okay America, our future is in good hands.

Good Morning Colonel, It is Veteran’s Day…..

It is time for our usual Veteran’s Day visit and there are many things happening in this great Republic that you fought so hard to guarantee.  I trust you are resting well among your fellow veterans in that special place in heaven reserved for those who have given their lives so that we may continue to live in the greatest country on this planet.  America has come to recognize that a veteran’s contribution may be a few short years or a lifetime, and is worthy of acknowledgement on this special day.  I know full well your preference for brevity in the delivery of a briefing, so, sir, let’s get to it.   

This morning, while enjoying  breakfast courtesy of a local eatery, I noticed what seemed like a dramatic increase in the number of female veterans in the crowd.  Women are increasingly involved in military roles that were, just a few years ago, reserved for the masculine gender.  They are serving in line combat roles, and are doing exceedingly well, to include flying some of America’s latest fighter jets.  Although not directly related to a military role, your grand-daughter is doing an excellent job as a Highway Patrol officer, something unheard of in your day!  I am confident these ladies would meet your very exacting expectations.

This year has seen new highs in patriotism as well as new lows.  We have elected a President who is doing precisely what we wanted him to do, but he has not engendered universal support, as a result of his style and public demeanor.  He is a tremendous advocate for military strength, thus serving notice to the rest of the world that America will not be bullied. I suspect you would not be a fan of his blustery style, as I recall clearly your preference for moving in closely and quietly guaranteeing to your adversaries their total destruction in an encounter.  I believe your advice to me was that talk is no substitute for action, and that too much talk was usually counter-productive.  As you know sir, the past Administration was all talk, something you loathed.  In keeping with your philosophy of quickly closing with an adversary and dominating them, the essence of your favorite sport, football, I have unsettling news.  The game is in decline.  The game, as we know it, is facing two obstacles.  First, we are now discovering that participants in this grand sport are destroying the parts of their brains that control behavior and emotion.  The NFL has long covered up the destructive aspects of repetitive head injury, and many folks who are in a position to influence the future of the game are rethinking their positions.  Secondly, Colonel, there is this business of kneeling during the National Anthem, allegedly protesting some great social injustice.  The participants in this disrespectful ritual argue that it is a response to police brutality, or a comment made by a team owner, black oppression and racial inequality.  Before you ask, sir, I too have no idea what the relationship is between respect for the flag and National Anthem and these perceived social issues.  It is good that you and I are spared from the spectacle of you tearing through the stands, climbing onto the field and attempting to beat the hell out of one of these morons with his own helmet that he is using as a chair during the Anthem.  I remember your position on such matters, which was simply “death before dishonor”.  Eternity is a long time, sir, probably not enough time to figure this stuff out.

The state of our military, today, is excellent.  I can report with absolute certainty that our armed services are populated with exemplary folks.  They fight hard and clearly understand the stakes involved in a stint in one of our services.  They, like us,  trust our national leadership to carefully consider the mission at hand.  Through a better education than we enjoyed in our generations, they understand that history has a way of redefining the merit of our action in a conflict.  Exceptions, of course, exist to my blanket endorsement of the folks in our military.  A soldier deserted his post in combat, attempted to collaborate with the enemy, and was rescued from his predicament after the enemy turned on him.  He subsequently pled guilty to desertion and was then freed with no confinement.  The Army is now deliberating as to whether he should receive back pay for the time he was AWOL.  No sir, I do not have any idea what in the hell is going on.  I know, it is the death before dishonor thing again.  You should also know that a veteran sniper is in hot water for allegedly peeing on the corpse of an enemy combatant that he just shot to death on the battlefield. Some General, somewhere, says this was disrespectful to the dead combatant, as if shooting him dead was respectful in some way!  I am smiling too, sir….”

Today, Colonel, many people will visit the cemetery where you rest among your troops.  I will be there sometime next summer to visit and again reflect upon our relatively short time together. Meanwhile, thank you for your leadership and unmatched patriotism.

Today, dad, is your day.

The Truth about Robert E. Lee

America is faced with yet another polarizing issue in the destruction of statues and monuments that honor the great men of the Civil War.  The arguments for and against this phenomenon are mostly visceral, lacking a strong factual base, and often reflecting precious little reasoning.  This summer, Sharon and I visited Lexington, Va.,  the home of Robert E. Lee and the legendary general Stonewall Jackson, both buried here.  I am offering a short, factual glimpse into the life of Robert E. Lee, so that folks on both sides of the destruction rage can react with other than hatred and dismissal.

Robert E. Lee was an honorable man, with an impeccable background and education.   The current debate often ignores the General’s true identity, which some may find surprising.  Lee was, first and foremost, an accomplished Army officer.  He was deeply torn over his loyalty to both the Union and his home state of Virginia, declining an offer from Abraham Lincoln to command the Union Army, a position that he deeply wanted.  He correctly predicted, upon his acceptance of command of the Confederate Army, that America was going to pass through a “terrible ordeal”.  The General understood war, once saying,  “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it”.  He was a consummate fighting general, but executed war from a tactical perspective while avoiding the hatred that soon consumed both armies.

Robert E. Lee, although a slave owner, described slavery as a “moral and political evil”. The day after Mr. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, the General freed his family slaves.  Shortly after the war’s end, the General gave an interview during which he strongly condemned the assination of President Lincoln and stated flatly that some of the best men in the South had long sought an end to slavery.  Indeed the General, who was not taken to offhand commentary, remarked, “I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished”.  The historian, Jay Winik, notes the war’s official end at Appomattox failed to stop the hostilities, the scope of which still threatened the sanctity of the union.  Jefferson Davis, on the run, called upon southerners to take the fight to the hills, guerilla style, and continue the cause.  General Lee soundly rejected this call to guerilla warfare, a point he made emphatically at Appomattox.  He was a revered and trusted leader in the south and his call for a return to normalcy was likely instrumental in avoiding the creation of two countries after the end of the war. General Grant, in response to the character and humility of General Lee, rejected any and all calls for charges of treason on the part of General Lee. 

To those who advocate the destruction of the statues and monuments related to the war, they may have an ally in the General, who declined an invitation to participate in a ceremonial meeting at Gettysburg, some years after the wars end.  The General is quoted as saying, “I think it wiser…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”  

Robert E. Lee was a gentleman and certainly a scholar.  Like many fine men of that era, he chose to be on the losing side of history as a result of strong loyalties to their home states.  The General understood both sides of the issue, a characteristic we see lacking today in the visceral reaction to the destruction of the concrete and bronze reminders of our history.  The history and character of this great man deserves far more consideration than is currently being accorded him as elements of our society seek to erase him from our past.

Is that too much to ask?  I think not.