Dead Soldiers’ Day

I forgot an appointment the other day — just completely forgot about it. The woman I was supposed to meet called when it was too late for me to even make an attempt to show. I apologized profusely but I felt horrible. It was nothing against her, I had just totally forgotten about our meeting.
In the scope of daily life, there are few things worse than standing somebody up. The forgotten person is forced to simply wait, and wait, and wait, feeling awkwardly alone and not knowing if the other person is late or not coming at all.
After my friend’s call I checked the calendar on my iPhone and — nothing. I’d never added the appointment to my calendar. That’s why I’d forgotten it. If it had been on my calendar I would have remembered it. I rarely forget to do the things I write on calendar.
I think that’s why, as a culture, we set aside days to commemorate important things. We know that if we put those things on the calendar, they will become more real to us and we won’t forget them. And a holiday — a day away from work and school — is an even more obvious reminder that the reason is important. But then something happens. The holiday becomes the reason and then the reason gets lost. Maybe, in the case of Memorial Day, it’s because the name is somewhat vague and flowery. Maybe if we called it “Dead Soldiers’ Day,” we be jarred into contemplation.
If you’d asked me a couple of years ago, during one of my husband’s deployments, what Memorial Day meant I’d have rattled off an impromptu speech a politician would have been proud to give. But now … now that my husband has been home for awhile, I have to search my brain a bit to answer that question. It’s just not as real to me anymore. There are names of lost friends I could list, one of whom died on Memorial Day 2005, but even with that connection I confess I spent much of this week thinking more about our family fun plans than about the reason for the four day weekend.
But it’s Dead Soldiers’ Day, and Dead Marines’, Dead Sailors’ and Dead Airmans’ Day. It’s on the calendar. It’s a day for us to pause, step away from our busy-ness, be still and think of them, the boys and girls who lost their lives so that we could go on with ours. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grill hamburgers and go to the beach — we should, life goes on — but those boys and girls didn’t die for hamburgers. They died for freedom, for their buddies and for a firmer grasp on peace. And may God bless them, and their families, for that.


The press releases are piling up in my inbox because I’ve been too busy to pass the info along. Well, pile no more! Or something like that… here are some of the most interesting press releases I’ve received in the last week or so:
2nd Year for Blue Star Museums
NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman and Blue Star Families Chairman Kathy Roth-Douquet announced the second annual launch of Blue Star Museums, a partnership with more than 1,300 museums across America to offer free admission to all active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2011. The complete list of participating museums is available at
This year, more than 1,324 (and counting) museums in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa are taking part in the initiative, including more than 500 new museums this year. Museums are welcome to join Blue Star Museums throughout the summer.

Patriotic Discover Card design contest
As part of its ongoing support of military families, Discover is offering its fans the opportunity to design a new patriotic-themed Discover card starting Memorial Day, May 30. Fans will vote on submitted designs and ultimately decide the winning card design that will appear on Discover’s patriotic-themed card. To enter the contest, fans must use Discover’s digital drawing tool, “Graffiti” at and submit by June 12.
 For every ten votes received on contest entries and for every submitted design, Discover pledges to make a $1 donation (up to $125,000), to Operation Homefront, an organization that provides assistance to families of service members and wounded warriors. Discover cardmembers and fans will also have the opportunity to donate to Operation Homefront if they choose.
The contest opens for design entry submissions via beginning Memorial Day (May 30) through June 12. Starting June 13 fans can vote for their favorite card design through June 24, leading up to the winning design announcement on the 4th of July.

Eddie Money donates all proceeds from new song to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund
Eddie Money and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund have announced a partnership between the legendary rock star and the not-for-profit organization that supports the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and their families. 
Eddie’s new single, “One More Soldier Coming Home” – which goes on sale on Tuesday, May 24 – is a tribute to our men and women in uniform who have lost their lives while serving the United States.  It will be available beginning May 24 at and through all other major digital distributors, with 100% of the proceeds it generates going directly to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

National Memorial Day Parade
As America approaches the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, THE NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY PARADE will devote a very special segment to remembering the heroes of that day. The parade will also include a tribute to the Special Operations tactical teams that are currently leading the fight in Afghanistan, a commemoration of the Centennial of Naval Aviation, and recognitions of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War II and the 20th anniversary of the Gulf War. Special guests will include musical performers, celebrity veterans and supporters of the military, including Pat Sajak, Gary Sinise, Buzz Aldrin, and Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan. Hosts Major Garrett, Leeann Tweeden and Alyse Zwick will call the action of THE NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY PARADE for Military Channel’s viewers. Additionally school marching bands from across the country and military bands will provide patriotic music throughout the parade as they march through the streets of our nation’s capital.
THE NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY PARADE will air live on Monday, May 30 from 2-4 PM ET on the Military Channel.

Collecting Veteran’s Stories (TWS) is the largest military heritage website for U.S. service members to reconnect with lost comrades and record their service as a lasting legacy. While sites like Facebook make headlines, TWS, created by and for service members, is quietly making an invaluable impact. TWS includes profiles of more than 1.2 million veterans and active service members from the Air force, Army, Coastguard, Marines and Navy. With more than 2.5 million photos, the website has one of the largest collections of visual military memoirs in existence.
Veterans can create and share a visual history of their service from boot camp to retirement, including medal ribbons, badges, photos, and stories (see an example here). Families and loved ones can also create Remembrance Profiles of those who fell in combat in Vietnam, the War on Terror (OIF and OEF), or any other conflict. TWS is not only a military site connecting veterans across the United States – it is a living, breathing memorial to our nation’s service members.

Children of fighter pilots, and soldiers, and Marines, and …

When my sister’s first son was born she and her husband vowed to not let their child play with violent toys.
That’s a parenting trend very few military moms would even bother to consider. It’s not that we think violent toys are good, per se, it’s more just like, oh, what’s the point?
I mean, I could be very attentive and assertive and make absolutely certain that no Nerf guns or plastic swords cross the threshhold of my home, but why? That’d be like saying: “No, son, you cannot shoot your sister with a plastic dart. Violence is wrong. Now let’s all kiss Daddy goodbye so he can go and kill some bad guys.”
Ours is a different reality than other peoples, one filled with reveilles and retreats and displays of military might at festivals and parades. Last year my husband and I took our then five-year-old to see some training that involved helicopters doing pretty cool stuff and … our little boy yawned. Literally yawned, and then he ran off to chase some blackbirds, because the blackbirds were more interesting to him. In our world he sees helicopters all the time, but birds? Not so much.
I started thinking about all of this recently after a friend gave me a copy of eulogy author Pat Conroy read at his father’s funeral. Conroy’s father was Marine Col. Don Conroy, a fighter pilot, who liked to refer to himself as “The Great Santini.” Pat Conroy wrote a book about his father and a movie, “The Great Santini,” was also based on the book and Don Conroy’s life. It’s a beautifully written eulogy, but also something I think many of us can relate to. You can read the full eulogy below.
By the way, my sister and her husband gave up on the no-violent-toys rule around the time their son turned three. They realized that he kept pretending his other toys — trucks, blocks, balls, even teddy bears — were weapons.

Col Don Conroy’s Eulogy, by his son, Pat Conroy

The children of fighter pilots tell different stories than other kids do. None of our fathers can write a will or sell a life insurance policy or fill out a prescription or administer a flu shot or explain what a poet meant. We tell of fathers who land on aircraft carriers at pitch-black night with the wind howling out of the China Sea.

Our fathers wiped out aircraft batteries in the Philippines and set Japanese soldiers on fire when they made the mistake of trying to overwhelm our troops on the ground.
Your Dads ran the barber shops and worked at the post office and delivered the packages on time and sold the cars, while our Dads were blowing up fuel depots near Seoul, were providing extraordinarily courageous close air support to the beleaguered Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and who once turned the Naktong River red with blood of a retreating North Korean battalion.
We tell of men who made widows of the wives of our nations’ enemies and who made orphans out of all their children.
You don’t like war or violence? Or napalm? Or rockets? Or cannons or death rained down from the sky?
Then let’s talk about your fathers, not ours. When we talk about the aviators who raised us and the Marines who loved us, we can look you in the eye and say "you would not like to have been America’s enemies when our fathers passed overhead".
We were raised by the men who made the United States of America the safest country on earth in the bloodiest century in all recorded history.
Our fathers made sacred those strange, singing names of battlefields across the Pacific: Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh and a thousand more. We grew up attending the funerals of Marines slain in these battles.
Your fathers made communities like Beaufort decent and prosperous and functional; our fathers made the world safe for democracy.
We have gathered here today to celebrate the amazing and storied life of Col. Donald Conroy who modestly called himself by his nomdeguerre, The Great Santini.
There should be no sorrow at this funeral because The Great Santini lived life at full throttle, moved always in the fast lanes, gunned every engine, teetered on every edge, seized every moment and shook it like a terrier shaking a rat.
He did not know what moderation was or where you’d go to look for it. Donald Conroy is the only person I have ever known whose self-esteem was absolutely unassailable. There was not one thing about himself that my father did not like, nor was there one thing about himself that he would change. He simply adored the man he was and walked with perfect confidence through every encounter in his life. Dad wished everyone could be just like him.
His stubbornness was an art form. The Great Santini did what he did, when he wanted to do it, and woe to the man who got in his way. Once I introduced my father before he gave a speech to an Atlanta audience. I said at the end of the introduction, "My father decided to go into the Marine Corps on the day he discovered his IQ was the temperature of this room".
My father rose to the podium, stared down at the audience, and said without skipping a beat, "My God, it’s hot in here! It must be at least 180 degrees".
Here is how my father appeared to me as a boy. He came from a race of giants and demi-gods from a mythical land known as Chicago. He married the most beautiful girl ever to come crawling out of the poor and lowborn south, and there were times when I thought we were being raised by Zeus and Athena.
After Happy Hour my father would drive his car home at a hundred miles an hour to see his wife and seven children. He would get out of his car, a strapping flight jacketed matinee idol, and walk toward his house, his knuckles dragging along the ground, his shoes stepping on and killing small animals in his slouching amble toward the home place.
My sister, Carol, stationed at the door, would call out, "Godzilla’s home!" and we seven children would scamper toward the door to watch his entry.
The door would be flung open and the strongest Marine aviator on earth would shout, "Stand by for a fighter pilot!"
He would then line his seven kids up against the wall and say,
"Who’s the greatest of them all?"
"You are, O Great Santini, you are."
"Who knows all, sees all, and hears all?"
"You do, O Great Santini, you do."
We were not in the middle of a normal childhood, yet none of us were sure since it was the only childhood we would ever have.
For all we knew other men were coming home and shouting to their families, "Stand by for a pharmacist," or "Stand by for a chiropractor".
In the old, bewildered world of children we knew we were in the presence of a fabulous, overwhelming personality; but had no idea we were being raised by a genius of his own myth-making.
My mother always told me that my father had reminded her of Rhett Butler on the day they met and everyone who ever knew our mother conjured up the lovely, coquettish image of Scarlet O’Hara.
Let me give you my father the warrior in full battle array. The Great Santini is catapulted off the deck of the aircraft carrier, Sicily. His Black Sheep squadron is the first to reach the Korean Theater and American ground troops had been getting torn up by North Korean regulars.
Let me do it in his voice: "We didn’t even have a map of Korea. Not zip. We just headed toward the sound of artillery firing along the Naktong River. They told us to keep the North Koreans on their side of the Naktong. Air power hadn’t been a factor until we got there that day. I radioed to Bill Lundin I was his wingman. ‘There they are. Let’s go get’em.’ So we did."
I was interviewing Dad so I asked, "how do you know you got them?"
"Easy," The Great Santini said. "They were running – it’s a good sign when you see the enemy running.
There was another good sign."
"What was that, Dad?"
"They were on fire."
This is the world in which my father lived deeply. I had no knowledge of it as a child.
When I was writing the book “The Great Santini”, they told me at Headquarters Marines that Don Conroy was at one time one of the most decorated aviators in the Marine Corps. I did not know he had won a single medal. When his children gathered together to write his obituary, not one of us knew of any medal he had won, but he had won a slew of them.
When he flew back toward the carrier that day, he received a call from an Army Colonel on the ground who had witnessed the route of the North Koreans across the river. "Could you go pass over the troops fifty miles south of here? They’ve been catching hell for a week or more. It’d do them good to know you flyboys are around."
He flew those fifty miles and came over a mountain and saw a thousand troops lumbered down in foxholes. He and Bill Lundin went in low so these troops could read the insignias and know the American aviators had entered the fray.
My father said, "Thousands of guys came screaming out of their foxholes, son. It sounded like a world series game. I got goose pimples in the cockpit. Get goose pimples telling it forty-eight years later. I dipped my wings, waved to the guys. The roar they let out. I hear it now. I hear it now."
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, my mother took me out to the air station where we watched Dad’s squadron scramble on the runway on their bases at Roosevelt Road and Guantanamo.
In the car as we watched the A-4’s take off, my mother began to say the rosary.
"You praying for Dad and his men, Mom?" I asked her.
"No, son. I’m praying for the repose of the souls of the Cuban pilots they’re going to kill."
Later I would ask my father what his squadron’s mission was during the Missile Crisis.
"To clear the air of MIGS over Cuba," he said.
"You think you could’ve done it?"
The Great Santini answered, "There wouldn’t have been a bluebird flying over that island, son."
Now let us turn to the literary of The Great Santini.
Some of you may have heard that I had some serious reservations about my father’s child-rearing practices. When The Great Santini came out, the book roared through my family like a nuclear device. My father hated it; my grandparents hated it; my aunts and uncles hated it; my cousins who adore my father thought I was a psychopath for writing it; and rumor has it that my mother gave it to the judge in her divorce case and said, "It’s all there. Everything you need to know."
What changed my father’s mind was when Hollywood entered the picture and wanted to make a movie of it. This is when my father said, "What a shame John Wayne is dead. Now there was a man. Only he could’ve gotten my incredible virility across to the American people."
Orion Pictures did me a favor and sent my father a telegram; "Dear Col. Conroy: We have selected the actor to play you in the coming film. He wants to come to Atlanta to interview you. His name is Truman Capote."
But my father took well to Hollywood and its Byzantine, unspeakable ways. When his movie came out, he began reading Variety on a daily basis. He called the movie a classic the first month of its existence. He claimed that he had a place in the history of film. In February of the following year, he burst into my apartment in Atlanta, as excited as I have ever seen him, and screamed, "Son, you and I were nominated for Academy Awards last night. Your mother didn’t get squat".
Ladies and gentlemen-You are attending the funeral of the most famous Marine that ever lived. Dad’s life had grandeur, majesty and sweep. We were all caught in the middle of living lives much paler and less daring than The Great Santini’s. His was a high stepping, damn-the torpedoes kind of life, and the stick was always set at high throttle. There is not another Marine alive who has not heard of The Great Santini. There’s not a fighter pilot alive who does not lift his glass whenever Don Conroy’s name is mentioned and give the fighter pilot toast: "Hurrah for the next man to die".
One day last summer, my father asked me to drive him over to Beaufort National Cemetery. He wanted to make sure there were no administrative foul-ups about his plot. I could think of more pleasurable ways to spend the afternoon, but Dad brought new eloquence to the word stubborn. We went into the office and a pretty black woman said that everything was squared away.
My father said, "It’ll be the second time I’ve been buried in this cemetery." The woman and I both looked strangely at Dad. Then he explained, "You ever catch the flick "The Great Santini? That was me they planted at the end of the movie."
All of you will be part of a very special event today. You will be witnessing the actual burial that has already been filmed in fictional setting. This has never happened in world history. You will be present in a scene that was acted out in film in 1979. You will be in the same town and the same cemetery. Only The Great Santini himself will be different.
In his last weeks my father told me, "I was always your best subject, son. Your career took a nose dive after “The Great Santini” came out". He had become so media savvy that during his last illness he told me not to schedule his funeral on the same day as the Seinfeld Farewell. The Colonel thought it would hold down the crowd. The Colonel’s death was front-page news across the country. CNN announced his passing on the evening news all around the world.
Don Conroy was a simple man and an American hero. His wit was remarkable; his intelligence frightening; and his sophistication next to none. He was a man’s man and I would bet he hadn’t spend a thousand dollars in his whole life on his wardrobe. He lived out his whole retirement in a two-room efficiency in the Darlington Apartment in Atlanta. He claimed he never spent over a dollar on any piece of furniture he owned. You would believe him if you saw the furniture. Dad bought a season ticket for himself to Six Flags Over Georgia and would often go there alone to enjoy the rides and hear the children squeal with pleasure. He was a beer drinker who thought wine was for Frenchmen or effete social climbers like his children.
Ah! His children. Here is how God gets a Marine Corps fighter pilot. He sends him seven squirrelly, mealy-mouth children who march in peace demonstrations, wear Birkenstocks, flirt with vegetarianism, invite cross-dressers to dinner and vote for candidates that Dad would line up and shoot. If my father knew how many tears his children had shed since his death, he would be mortally ashamed of us all and begin yelling that he should’ve been tougher on us all, knocked us into better shape – that he certainly didn’t mean to raise a passel of kids so weak and tacky they would cry at his death. Don Conroy was the best uncle I ever saw, the best brother, the best grandfather, the best friend-and my God, what a father. After my mother divorced him and The Great Santini was published, Don Conroy had the best second act I ever saw. He never was simply a father. This was The Great Santini.
It is time to leave you, Dad. From Carol and Mike and Kathy and Jim and Tim and especially from Tom. Your kids wanted to especially thank Katy and Bobby and Willie Harvey who cared for you heroically. Let us leave you and say goodbye, Dad, with the passwords that bind all Marines and their wives and their children forever. The Corps was always the most important thing.
Semper Fi, Dad
Semper Fi, O Great Santini.

Free Membership in May

One of the hidden hassles of being in a military family is figuring out what to do with your kids. It takes months, years even, to know a city well enough to ferret out the best day cares and baby sitters. But military families move, on average, every two to three years, making it very difficult for us to find quality, reliable childcare, so this announcement from should be one that is well-received:
Throughout the month of May, military families will be able to access all of’s services for free. This means that not only can military families use the service to find good childcare providers, but they can also use it to advertise themselves as care providers — a great way for some military spouses to pick up some extra money.
I recently met a representative from at the Milblogging Conference and learned a little from her about the new Military page of’s website. The military page is devote the unique family care needs of military families. Visitors can receive news, learn the stories of other military families, look for caregiving job opportunities and connect with local babysitters, nannies, special needs care, senior home care, pet sitters, tutors and housekeepers through a national network of caregivers.
Also, in honor of the Month of the Military Child, last month awarded military spouse Becky Palmer a check for over $12,000 to cover the cost of her family’s childcare for the next year. The prize was presented at Operation Shower: Red White and Coo, a dream baby shower for 40 military moms-to-be at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Families in need of caregivers can search by ZIP code, service and pay rate to find high-quality care providers in their area. gives families access to detailed background check reports and recorded reference interviews, adding a layer of confidence and security when making important decisions regarding personal family care needs.
A personal testimony: My neighbor, a professional nanny and babysitter (yes, I hit the neighbor jackpot!), is listed on and I’m one of her references. I have talked on the phone with probably a dozen parents who were interested in hiring my neighbor and I’ve been very impressed with the service. If I didn’t already live next door to a professional babysitter, I would definitely use to help me find someone to watch my kids.

Press Release of the Day

I get dozens of press releases everyday, mostly along the themes of parenting, marriage and the military. Sometimes they are useful, sometimes I instantly hit “delete”. But sometimes they make me laugh out loud. Like this one:
“May is Pregnancy Awareness Month!”
What, as opposed to the other 11 months, when it’s cool to not be aware of PREGNANCY? Aside from the oblivious teenagers on Maury Povich, I think pregnant women tend to be aware of pregnancy without needing a public relations campaign. I’m basing that theory on my own two pregnancies, which were anything but elusive.
Still, folks, it’s Pregnancy Awareness Month so go, um, check your uterus’.