By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
A couple of weeks ago on the Tennessee Valley Spotlight, I was discussing with my my co-hosts Tony Llewellyn and Rex Davis the fact that even though we are not “runnin’ with the Big Dogs” when it comes to being powerful members of the media, nonetheless we have what I feel is a sacred duty to do our best to be accurate and fair with all that we do, even when we are giving our opinion on the air, in print, or in social media. This is especially important when the lives of our brave warriors are on the line, as was the case during the Vietnam War. As is true with every other part of life, it is important to “let the story be the story,” even when there is good, bad, ugly or at the very least, controversial content.

February will mark the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, which historians agree was the point at which the war in Vietnam bogged down badly and began to be lost in the court of public opinion, especially on college campuses. Central to that shift away from supporting our troops was an op-ed which was aired by the venerable CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite himself. He had just made a trip to Vietnam to get the “boots on the ground” aspect of the Tet Offensive, as well as its aftermath. Ostensibly, his purpose as a veteran newsman was to get it right, and tell the truth.

However, that is not what happened; and I don’t think it’s irresponsible to say that Walter’s now irrefutably documented speaking-out-of-both-sides-of-his-mouth resulted in slaughtering the morale of our soldiers, and perhaps insured the torture and possible death of those who were really boots on the ground, our troops.

What in the world am I talking about? Well, 50 years after the fact, a dusty piece of footage has been found of the first statement which was filmed of Cronkite’s broadcast right after the U.S. victory during Tet. What was actually broadcast later though, was the complete opposite, and even President Lyndon Johnson reportedly reacted by saying, “If I have lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” The truth is that perhaps LBJ would not have “lost middle America,” and Jane Fonda would not have been able to do her worst, if the original clip had been shown.

What Cronkite said on February 28, 1968, after he got back to the States was, “Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we’d like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet Offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Viet Cong did not win by a knockout but neither did we.” He then advanced the narrative that now the war was at a stalemate, could not be won, that our soldiers would leave their post “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” What would be waiting for those “honorable people” when they got home were people like I used to be, people who thought they were not only not in any way honorable, but that they were “baby killers.”

Now contrast “Uncle Walter’s” previous statements with the following, which was filmed on February 13 while Cronkite was still in Vietnam, and which was recently found by accident: “First and simplest, the Viet Cong suffered a military defeat,” he reported. “Its missions proved suicidal. If they had intended to stay in the cities as a negotiating point, they failed at that. The Vietnamese army reacted better than even its most ardent supporters had anticipated. There were no defections from its rank, as the Viet Cong apparently had expected. And the people did not rise to support the Viet Cong, as they were also believed to have expected.”
So, which was true, why was the second piece the one we all heard, and why does it matter?

Perhaps Brent Bozell, founder of Media Research Center can shed the most light on the subject: “Walter Cronkite’s partisanship in his ‘news’ coverage of the Vietnam war is not just a matter of speculation. It is not just a matter of fact. It is celebrated fact by those closest to the newsman. Leslie Midgley was Cronkite’s long-time producer and in his book, How Many Words Do You Want, he recounts how he turned ‘America’s Most Trusted Newsman’ against the war and concludes they were doing ‘the true work of the Lord.’ In journalism the only thing worse than bias is the false denial of bias. Cronkite and company were guilty of that until the bitter end.”

Clearly fake news is nothing new, and it is extraordinarily uncomfortable to face what can happen when it goes unchallenged, even if it’s 50 years later.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
I grew up in the shadow of the United States Public Health Hospital system. From 1953 until 1970, my grandmother was the Executive Housekeeper at the USPH hospital in Seattle, and she ran a tight ship. The hospital had 16 stories, and was originally built to care for Marines. I promise you, all 16 of those stories were “spit-n-shine” with Kentucky-born-and-bred Mary McAuliffe White at the helm. When I became aware that a VA Hospital urgent care center in New Hampshire had been shut down because of a bed bug infestation, I must admit I thought of my “Grammy.” This would have never happened on her watch, even if she had had to go after the bugs herself, bug by bug, and bed by bed.

Having lived in more than one third-world situation, I know firsthand that infestations can occur even in places where hygiene and maintenance are good. But, last I checked, New Hampshire is not a third-world or even a second-world location; it is a first-world scenario experiencing third-world problems, and our veterans are getting the really short end of the stick.

It was the New Hampshire Public Radio affiliate that announced that the clinic was closed after bed bugs were found out in the waiting room. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the little critters were also in an examining room. The facility was located in the city of Manchester, N.H.

In true “pass-the-buck” style, the hospital director, a man by the name of Al Montoya, said that the situation couldn’t be considered “an emergency,” and the patients were transferred to another facility to be treated. As of this writing, no comment had been made to the VA by the hospital’s pest control service. While Mr. Montoya might have been technically correct as to what constitutes an emergency, the idea of bed bugs being anywhere near our vets makes me see red.

When I was in Iraq, we were living in tents, and let me tell you, Vector Control was completely on top of keeping us pest free in a combat zone. We weren’t even supposed to pour out old coffee on the gravel for two reasons: one was that someone was worried about the rocks getting stained (I kid you not), but more importantly, the sugar and creamer in old coffee could cause fly infestations. Speaking of flies in New Hampshire, back in July of 2017, the Boston Globe wrote an article alleging that the operating room at the Manchester facility was infested with flies, and that surgical instruments were used that had not been sterilized. There was another generalized accusation that patients were not being treated properly.

The Manchester clinic is the only VA facility in the entire state, and my question is, how hard can it be to keep one clinic bed bug free? May the task force that has been assigned “to investigate and recommend changes” be with the vets. And, may my Grammy not be rolling over in her grave.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Rishi Sharma is barely 20 years old, and since graduating from high school, he has made it his “ten year plan” to interview every remaining WWII veteran possible and capture their story before they pass. Approximately 500 members of the Greatest Generation die every day, and while they have been famous for not talking much about their battlefield experiences, now that they are facing their own mortality they are ready to talk. And Rishi is ready to listen and record.

Rishi is a second generation American, the son of immigrants from India. The fire in his belly with regard to WWII vets was lit when he was a junior in high school, and although he was already quite interested in their stories, it was having the chance to interview Lyle Bouck, one of the heroes of the Battle of the Bulge that got him started on his quest to interview at least one vet per day.

Rishi’s parents are not exactly thrilled. He has put off going to college, building a career, as well as pursuing any dating relationship, and this was not what they had in mind for their son when they came to the States. Rishi’s peers don’t get it, either. Many of them don’t even know what WWII was about, where it was fought, or who the major players were. “Kids my age have absolutely no idea what it was like for these men,” he says. “They are more concerned about what the Kardashians are wearing.”

But the vets get it, and here they are, face to face with a pony-tailed kid who says of their legacy, “What good is what they had to go through if we don’t learn from it?” Sharma seriously doubts that there will ever be another Greatest Generation, due to the fact that they went from having to be tough during the Great Depression straight into having to be tougher on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima. It was also a time of clear-sighted morality and commitment. “It was good versus evil,” he said, and he believes that without apology.

Rishi enters the warriors’ presence with a Canon camera, a tri-pod, and respect. He donates the DVD of the interview to each vet as a gift, and some interviews have ended up in museums. He searches out vets’ locations all over the country and most often finds them in senior care facilities. While many times I am not a big fan of crowd-source funding, this is something I can get behind, and I hope Athens Now will consider backing him in his quest of preserving one of the greatest stories ever told.

The success of Rishi’s business plan, the amount raised to date, and the media attention he has received has made his parents slightly more supportive of his unusual passion. As of this month, Rishi has raised more than $130,000 for his project, the majority of which is used to fund his ability to quickly get to the vets, eat, shower, sleep, and move on. He started out by riding his bike to talk to local vets, borrowed his parents’ car for a road trip, and now is criss-crossing the country, knowing he can’t get to everyone but determined to try.

“I am doing this until the last one passes away,” Sharma says. “Each interview helps me get closer to understanding what combat was like in the worst war the world has ever seen. You talk to them and take that load off,” he says. “They no longer need to worry about the war. They can die in peace.” If you wish to give an unusual gift this holiday, consider going to to help Rishi honor our aged brave ones. The clock is ticking.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
For several years Athens Now has discussed the spiritual assault on our troops through examples of the restriction of their religious liberties in such places as the United States Air Force Academy, the removal of Bibles from MWR (Morale, Welfare Recreation) hotel nightstands, the forbidding of praying in Jesus’ name, and the oxymoronic ordination of “atheist chaplains.”

There is good news, though, of a pushback that unsurprisingly has the Marines running point on the op. General Robert B. Neller, who is the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, had the following to say to his “Leathernecks”:
“Fitness is a vital part of being a United States Marine. Although we all understand the importance of being physically fit, it is also important to remember the other three aspects of overall fitness: spiritual, mental, and social. All of these aspects are essential to the well-being of each individual Marine and Sailor, and our Corps as a whole…

Research indicates that spiritual fitness plays a key role in resiliency, in our ability to grow, develop, recover, heal, and adapt. Regardless of individual philosophy or beliefs, spiritual well-being makes us better warriors and people of character capable of making good choices on and off duty…

By attending to spiritual fitness with the same rigor given to physical, social and mental fitness, Marines and Sailors can become and remain the honorable warriors and model citizens our Nation expects…”

What? Where is Mikey Weinstein (not to be confused with the nefarious Harvey) when you need him to be a whistleblower or watchdog protecting our troops from religion, which Marx calls the “opiate of the masses”? Well, predictably, Mikey didn’t stay silent for long. His response to the General was:

“This is nothing more than a Trojan Horse for fundamentalist Christians to proselytize to a captive audience.”

The point that Mikey is missing is that General Neller has an endgame that is steadfastly secular: “Spiritual well-being makes us better warriors and people of character capable of making good choices on and off duty.” He didn’t say how, he just said that it does, and Mikey has no leverage because it is up to the individual to figure out what that means for him or her.

The Marine’s most senior enlisted leader, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green is part of the pushback. On November 27, he made it clear that an aspect of spiritual fitness has to do with resolving differences and coming to the place where they will lay down their lives for each other on the battlefield. He also said that in his 34-year career he had never seen a Marine refuse to participate when a chaplain uttered some of the most comforting words on earth: “Let us pray.” He also had this to say:

“We set aside all of those differences to go forward and be willing to die for the very people that we love, for the nation, the Constitution and the flag that we honor,” said Green. “That’s the unique thing.”

Green had been called upon to address leaders from all of the branches to clarify the concept of spiritual fitness, with the great irony being that at the end of the day, spiritual things, be they fitness or anything else, just can’t be clarified through the use of one’s noggin. However, he did say this:

“Well, if you believe in God, yeah, we’re talking about that. But we’re really talking about that spirit regardless of where we come from.

We truly understand that’s an opportunity to dedicate ourselves to the soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine, Coast Guardsmen, National Guardsmen to our left and to our right – to say, ‘If you’re down on the battlefield, I’m coming to get you,’” he said.
That, ladies and gentlemen is what it means to be Semper Fidelis, always faithful, and if the Corps has anything to do with it, no one is going to take that away from our Leathernecks or any other service member, ever.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Hardly a day goes by without me talking, thinking, or reading about neuroscience, the relatively new and ever-burgeoning study of everything squishy residing between our ears. It has become my passion, along with helping people build every aspect of their health, and the more I learn, the more I understand myself and others, particularly soldiers. It is because of the understanding of neuroplasticity, the fact that we can literally, physically change our brains for the better, that I have more hope than ever for PTSD sufferers, particularly those who have seen combat. And, the great gift is, that if it was the battlefields of Omaha Beach, Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans or the Middle East wars, it doesn’t matter, you can still grow a new brain and recover from whatever you have seen or done. You can also stop apologizing for missing the fellow soldiers with whom you experienced what have come to be called “high-ordeal moments.”

There has been a recent discovery that has added a positive new twist on what makes our “fearfully and wonderfully made” brains all the more so, and it is right on time for the holidays. This understanding has explained some things to me about my own brain, and by extension I am hoping it will help those who have served as well as their families during this holiday season.

By way of explanation, I devoted an entire chapter in my book, A Ballad For Baghdad, to a discussion on celebrating holidays in a combat zone. The chapter is called “Have Yourself A Merry Little…” and in it I clumsily try to explain why the holidays I celebrated in Iraq between 2004-2007 are my all-time favorites. In no way do I mean that I would trade them for holidays with my family, it’s just that now I have learned that there was something extra physically going on in my brain while in-theatre, and beginning to explore it has made me much more comfortable inside my own skin…and brain.

It turns out that there are several factors that go into making memories, and it is the combination of celebration as well as struggle, and the neuro-chemicals of both when combined with the electrical system in our brains that make the most powerful memories and bonds. It is explained in more detail in a book written by Chip and Dan Heath entitled, The Power Of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. You might want to put this on your wish or gift list.

We all remember things that are peak events, such as our wedding day or the births of our children. We also remember pushing through that last barrier, whether it was the end zone, the long bomb basket with no time on the clock, breaking the tape or hitting “send” as we uploaded our last assignment. What happens is that in a combat zone people are often times intensely experiencing both things at the same time, and the brain is treated to a double dose of chemicals that serve to create the “Band of Brothers.” If spouses and family members can get comfortable with the fact that their loved ones’ brains were bathed in creative juices that were designed by their Maker to help and not harm, to inspire and not isolate, then the jealousy that oftentimes hits those who “weren’t there” can be redirected in to understanding as well as building a whole new and unique set of memories. Eric Barker puts it this way:

“Anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas found that groups that went through “high-ordeals” bonded far more than those that went through “low-ordeals.” Struggling together made people closer. This is why fraternities haze. Why soldiers feel like they are kin.”

I used to feel a little crazy or guilty for wishing I could be teleported for a few hours each holiday back into the Great Sandbox, but not anymore. Now I know that my brain was doing exactly what it was designed to do by the One who loves me the most, and I am grateful to the Heath boys for telling me why. Happy Thanksgiving, and may your holidays and your brains be immersed in healing, gratitude, and true Light.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Since 2009, we as the American people have been “treated” to one of the strangest cases of desertion/kidnapping/prisoner exchange/collaboration with the enemy/and who knows what else in the form of the Bowe Bergdahl case. First he claimed to have been kidnapped, then it looked like he had deserted his base, then that he had been “flipped” by the enemy, then his dad gave a weird speech in a Rose Garden ceremony that almost seemed Bowe’s father was sympathetic to the enemy. Then Bowe went back to work for a while, then he vanished from the news cycle, and then all of a sudden he was pleading out for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Strangeness begets strangeness.

It needs to be remembered that soldiers were severely injured and/or lost their lives while looking for Bowe, and all the interviews I have seen have indicated that those who returned from the search and rescue detail believe Bowe is guilty of treason. For them, a desertion conviction may very well seem light weight. It is also disturbing that we gave up 5 jihadists for Bowe, and while I question if that was wise, there may be one ray of light coming forth all these years later, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

To add to the strangeness of this adventure are Bowe’s comments about himself. Interestingly, there are over 25 hours of interviews with him that are on film, something that would have made me nervous if I were his JAG lawyer. And then there’s the blog, wherein he talks about his motives for leaving his post.

“I was trying to prove to myself, I was trying to prove to the world, to anybody who used to know me … I was capable of being what I appeared to be,” Bergdahl says. “I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world I was the real thing.”

Ok, I don’t know what he means by that, or what led him to completely change his tune and plead guilty. I do know that he has had problems that caused him to be rejected by the Coast Guard, and unfortunately, the stereotypical statement that the Army will take anybody looks like it wants to be true. So what is the one blessing that has come out of this mess?

It is this: human intel, one of the most important components of any campaign, and apparently, Bowe is a veritable treasure trove of the stuff, and his years of living with the enemy are finally going to be put to good use. He is able to give great detail with regard to a number of important factors such as teaching our soldiers how to survive being confined in small places. Bowe was able to make detailed sketches of the cage in which he lived, and a replica has been made for training. Basically, S.E.R.E. Training , which means Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape has been able to be updated, which is enormously helpful. Understanding how the enemy works is important, and I am glad that something good is coming out of this, one of the oddest cases in the history of American military justice.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
We have been involved as a country for several months now in various controversies about the national anthem, kneeling, protesting, the NFL, and the latest proof that our 1st Amendment protected freedom of expression is alive and well in America is broadcast on radio and TV day to day. In America, we are free to protest, and our soldiers, first responders, law enforcement officers and officers of the court see to it that peaceful protest is protected. There is nothing new about this, and it is one of the things that makes the American Experiment so amazing.

However, suppression of patriotic expression took on a new twist this past week when a Georgia surgeon aboard a Delta flight from Philly to Atlanta, which was also transporting one of the bodies of the 4 soldiers recently killed in Niger, was told she could not join other passengers in singing the Star Spangled Banner in his honor. The name of the fallen was Staff Sgt Dustin Wright, and the name of the physician who wanted to honor him by singing the national anthem with fellow passengers is Dr. Pamela Gaudry. Dr. Pamela is from Savannah. She and her fellow would-be singers were told that other passengers from other countries who might be on board could be made “uncomfortable.”

“I couldn’t put up with that,” Gaudry told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. “I wouldn’t be offended if I was in their country.”

Not one to make trouble or a scene, she decided to be quiet until she got off the plane, but she had time to think about what happened while she rested her head on the seatback in front of her. As soon as she de-planed, she recorded a six-and-a-half-minute video on her phone and put it on Facebook. Just three days ago there were more than 778,000 views.

What is so odd about this incident is that the pilot announced over the loudspeaker at the beginning of the flight that Dustin’s body was on board, and there was a virtual groundswell amongst the passengers in response. Dr. Gaudry began asking other passengers if they could join together in singing the national anthem, and they enthusiastically agreed. I have been on flights when soldiers were honored, and there was never any concern about anything or anyone but the brave who were on board.

They started to sing, and then the chief flight attendant came back to Dr. Gaudry’s seat, knelt down, and told her that it was “against company policy to do what you are doing.” As recorded in her viral video, Gaudry later went on to ask the flight attendant, “The national anthem? And there’s a soldier onboard?” The flight attendant reiterated that they could not sing the national anthem, and that it was against company policy. One of the most poignant parts of her “recorded confession” was when Pamela said, “I just did the most uncourageous thing in my life today.”

Anthony Black, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Delta, declined to comment on the specifics of Dr. Gaudry’s incident, but he did say, “There is not a policy about singing the national anthem, period.”
What is Delta policy is that it is not allowed to release the identity of a fallen soldier to other passengers during the course of the flight, and that makes sense from an operational security standpoint. You never know who is on board, or their possible connection to the deceased.

With regard to her video, Dr. Gaudry said, “If it instigates a spiritual and patriotic feeling in this country, I’m thrilled.” She added, “I’m not real thrilled with the attention to myself.” It seems that the theme of this edition of Athens Now is doing the right thing and suffering the consequences, and what I particularly appreciate is that though she caved a bit in the moment, she re-thought her position and let everyone know the good, the bad and the ugly of what had just happened. In my opinion, that shows true courage, even if it came in the form of a second chance. In my book, Gaudry has guts.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
There is a brouhaha brewing over a confusing statement written on the inside crown of a West Point Cadet’s dress cover which states, “Communism will win.” A young Army soldier-turned-officer by the name of Spenser Rapone, who served honorably in Afghanistan and then graduated from the Academy in 2016, felt that it was important to express himself politically, and he is understandably in hot water. The slogan is bad enough, but wait, there’s more.

Here is what stands out to me. First, there is huge store put in the care of one’s dress uniform, especially for something as important as graduation. Spit and polish for the shoes, creases that are so sharp they could double as weapons and cut you, and brass that shines like gold on your cover’s medallion, your buttons, and your buckle. Soldiers spend hours getting ready for such a special occasion. In a word, you just don’t vandalize your cover, or officer’s hat. I don’t care if you used a permanent Sharpie to write the preamble to the Constitution on the inside of your cap, you are out of line, and I am glad someone is calling him on it.

Secondly, as West Point officer in your dress uniform, you carry yourself with proper decorum and grace. A fist, something that as a socialist I used to make fairly often more than 45 years ago, began to be used in 1917 by all manner of groups whose ideologies are not consistent with those of an American military officer. The Black Panthers used the fist, white supremacists used it, along with Mexican revolutionaries, Chinese government officials, the Communist Party of pre-WWII Germany, US Olympic Athletes in the 1968 Mexico City games, and others. I can’t tell you what is going on in this kid’s head and heart, all I know is that when I pulled the kind of stuff he has, I hated America, and I certainly could not make a pretense of taking an oath that I would defend the Constitution “from all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Maybe he can.

Spenser either does not know the true history of communism, or he secretly agrees with the actions of the nations that have killed many times more than the Japanese and the Nazis combined. You can’t have it both ways. It is estimated that in Russia alone, from 1917 until present day, the communist system has killed more than 61,000,000, and with their brethren in other countries committing “democide,” the number is close to 94,000,000. “Communism will win?” That’s your hope, US Army 2nd Lt. Rapone?

Enter Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is so disturbed by the lack of action on the part of West Point that he is calling for Spenser’s censure or dismissal. Here is a portion of his letter to them:
“It is extremely concerning that someone who so often expressed such hostile views towards the United States’ system of government was able to obtain a commission,” he wrote. “(His) revolutionary ideas were harbored long before he was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant. Were West Point administrators or faculty aware of his views and behavior?”

Good question, Senator Rubio. I hope we get our answer sooner than later.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Floridian Air National Guard Senior Airmen Michael Davis and Lauren Durham were all set to get married on the beach this weekend. Everything was ready—the dream dress, the venue, the cake, the music, the wedding party, the guests, and the minister. However, Irma decided she would invade, and these two, who had been sweethearts since they were right out of high school, had to cancel their wedding because duty had not just called, it howled through the wind and waves of a hurricane. They had to mobilize with their fellow ANG members for disaster response, and reported to the Convention Center in Orlando. Their deployment was going to be indefinite, so they informed their families and friends that for the time being, Irma had nixed their nuptials.

However, while hanging in the hangar this past Sunday morning, and eating breakfast with their buddies, an idea began to emerge: “Why not get married today?” At first it seemed like a crazy, hare-brained far-fetched joke at best, and then there came that point of decision and intention that can only be summed up with a “Yeah, let’s.” Everyone then sprang into action. They set up chairs, and the wedding canopy was a rack of rubber rescue boats. Other “decorative details” included rescue vehicles, and just in case the bride or groom fainted, there was a bevy of paramedics on board. (That, of course, was only a joke and highly unlikely.)

The bride and groom wore matching uniforms, their only option. The difference was that Michael had on a “tux shirt,” one of those black T-shirts that are designed to look like the front of a tuxedo, which had been miraculously produced by his buddies in spite of the fact that all the stores in Orlando were closed. The bride also wore no makeup, nor wowed the crowd withan elaborate hairdo, but somehow someone found some orange flowers and made a bouquet for her. The couple’s best friend happened to be a notary public, and he officiated.

Now, a cake was another matter entirely. When I was in Iraq and we had to avoid population dense environments such as the D-Facs (which is Armyspeak for Dining Facility, formerly known as Chow Halls or Mess Halls) due to a large increase in the threat level, one learned that certain MREs, (Meal, Ready-to-eat) had specific trade-offs. The vegetarian burrito MREs, while not the meal of choice for a steak-and-potatoes kind of guy, had real-live M&Ms in the package, and they were often the first to be pirated off of the pallet on which the MREs were stacked. Michael and Lauren decided that the Skittles in their MREs would have to do, and that was going to be the wedding cake, at least for now.

As much fun as I had imagining this totally impromptu celebration, what got to me, as it always does, was the attitude of the newlyweds. It never crossed the minds of either Michael or Lauren to try to get out of their duty because of their wedding.
“Service before self,” Michael said, “and it will be a great story to tell our kids one day.” I hope that when the waters recede, they get to have the wedding of their dreams, should they still want it. Mazel tov, dear Airmen, and thank you for your service!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Yvonne Dempsey
On Monday, August 28, the citizens of Athens gathered at the Alabama Veterans Museum to welcome a patriotic French lady who has devoted many years to honoring the sacrifice of American soldiers. Madame Jocelyne Papelard-Brescia lovingly cares for the graves of American soldiers buried in France and strives to “perpetuate their memory and honor their sacrifices.”

It was France’s Marquis de Lafayette who so bravely fought alongside Gen. George Washington against the British in the American Revolution. He and the French naval forces were instrumental in the British surrender at Yorktown and winning the war. Lafayette was hailed a hero during his visit to the states in 1824. He is buried in Paris under soil from Bunker Hill. When the U. S. entered WWI, his grave was the first place that Gen. Pershing visited.

America, in return, sent her military to France in WWI and WWII. She lost many brave men on foreign soil, never to return home. France is the final resting place for thousands of America’s sons. Many heartbroken families have been left to grieve from afar, unable to visit the graves of their loved ones. However, these soldiers’ sacrifices have not been forgotten thanks to the efforts of Jocelyne.

Jocelyne began her mission with two soldiers by placing flowers on their graves, praying, and researching to discover more about the American soldiers; she has since then personally ‘adopted’ many more. In a Sunday morning edition of a local newspaper, Jocelyne told about her mission and urged others to join her in honoring these Americans and adopting them. The response was immediate and in 2014, the U. S. Memory Grand Est France Association was formed to “pay tribute to the American soldiers dead and missing.” She is responsible for the adoption of 1700 soldiers’ graves.

As president of the organization, Jocelyne is dedicated to remembering these American soldiers through events, memorial dedications, and ceremonies. She works to ensure that French students are taught about the great sacrifices of the American soldiers. Through Jocelyne’s tireless research, she is able to link stories and put faces to the soldiers lying in the graves. Each one has a place in her heart. “These are my boys. They are my pride and joy.”

Jocelyne has worked to provide funds to 16 families to visit their loved one’s graves and attend events in their honor. She travels extensively throughout our country visiting soldiers’ families, attending events, and doing research. When Jocelyne visited our city, she was accompanied by the Thornton family, an Alabama family whose loved one’s grave was adopted by Jocelyne. From here she will be traveling to South Carolina and several other states to meet families, attend events, and research her “boys.”

While in Athens, Jocelyne got a good dose of Southern hospitality and good food. Jerry Barksdale told her, “You can’t leave Athens without eating some fried catfish.” So several of us headed to catfish Cabin. And here is where the story gets really good and you know that God was in charge.

I sat directly across from Jocelyne and enjoyed talking with her. Jerry was seated to her left and encouraged her to try the fried catfish filets. She enjoyed the hushpuppies, which she had never eaten before. Mary Winn, co-owner, came by our table to talk with us. Sandy Thompson, Al. Veterans Museum director, introduced Jocelyne to her, telling Mary about her. Mary couldn’t believe it; she had an uncle buried in France! And at Epinal, the very cemetery where Jocelyne’s boys are!

When Mary showed us a picture of her uncle, Joseph Graham, a surprised Jocelyne cried out, “I know him! I know him!” She told Mary that she knows exactly where he’s buried. Needless to say, it was quite an emotional revelation. Jocelyne remembers the superintendent of the cemetery, Mr. Anderson, showing her Joseph’s picture and telling her of his family’s visit 4 years ago. We could only marvel at how wonderfully God works in our lives. There are no coincidences. God has it all figured out. He enabled Jocelyne to travel from France to our small town of Athens where she unexpectedly met a family member of one of her American soldiers. Now she has her own story to tell.
By: Yvonne Dempsey