Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Scout’s Honor

Honor: honesty and integrity in one’s beliefs and actions. — BSA Pledge
Lt. General E.G. “Buck” Shuler is Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Mighty Eighth Museum and he is my childhood friend. I am a captive audience as the General leads us on a tour of the museum, speaks of significant fighter planes or points to a photo of a celebrated WWII Ace. My friend wears a crown of white hair these days, but it only takes a blink for me to remember him as the redheaded boy he was when we were kids.
At fifteen, maybe sixteen-years-old, Buck’s tall, lanky body is erect. He holds his chin high as the Scout Master pins a red, white and blue BSA medal over my his heart. Having earned his twenty-first merit badge, he is being elevated to Eagle Scout, future leader, a man who will one day make a difference in the world.
The expressions I see on the faces of his parents reflect the pride they feel in their son’s early accomplishments. They know how difficult it was for him to earn merit badges while juggling schoolwork, football and an active student’s social life. They raised their son to be unafraid of challenges gave him a caring heart and are proud of their endowments.
Someone in the group behind me sneezes and I am quickly brought back to the here and now as my old friend tells us about the gallant Mighty Eighth aviators who have served our country since I was two-years-old. Proud and happy to credit his compatriots, Buck pointedly shies away from mentioning his own, not insignificant contributions.
Buck Shuler, outstanding graduate of The Citadel and former Commander of the Eighth Air Force, was first a Boy Scout. It occurs to me that his early training cemented and honed his sense of commitment. Perhaps his early training brought him to leadership positions at The Citadel and then continued to guide him toward an illustrious military career. For sure, the BSA Motto remained with him as a reminder to do his best, to do his duty to God and country and to help others.
This former Boy Scout flew 107 combat missions over North Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam and Laos while I was tucking two baby boys safely into bed each night. My son’s first day in kindergarten occurred the day Buck was deployed to Taegu Air Base, South Korea in answer to the USS Pueblo crisis.
In summer, my children and I meandered the South Carolina beaches in search of shark’s teeth while my friend flew F-4C combat support missions in the Korean demilitarized zone. He defended my family and me while I looked for shells, went to parties and took freedom for granted.
I remained safe at home reading books or nagging my husband for squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle while General Shuler initiated the first air attack on Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf.
Because of his strong determination, strength of character and knowledge, it is now possible for people who have taken peace for granted in the past — people like me — to honor the brave men and women who serve in our stead.
General Buck Shuler would be the last one to say that he was a key player in the formation of the Mighty Eighth Air Museum, but he was. And he took on that responsibility even after retiring from the Air Force. He did so for one reason: to honor those who did not take peace for granted.
My friend deserved the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster he received, the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with five Oak Leaf Clusters, and his Air Force Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. He more than earned the Republic of Korea’s Order of National Security Merit Cheonsu Medal, as well as thirteen other decorations and ribbons.
If, however, all of the medals, citations and awards presented to this honorable man should somehow disappear never to be seen again by the naked eye, I suspect one badge would remain stamped forever on his brain. That would be a red, white and blue BSA Eagle Scout medal, pinned over his heart in 1952, faded from his many years of service. Because of his early training, other future leaders have learned from him what it means to make a difference in the world.
General E. G. “Buck” Shuler, Eagle Scout, still soars like an eagle. Scout’s Honor.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hope Cometh in the Morning

I eagerly await the last hard freeze of the season when the cold, hard earth wakes up and leaps into spring with blooms that proclaim rebirth. It is then that I throw off my overcoat and wander around outside, astonished at the beauty surrounding me.
I was under-astonished years ago when I lived out West. Southern California is overrun with palm trees and bougainvillea and the hills are alive with the blooms of Magnolias. There are Oaks almost as tall and droopy as if they were grown in Charleston. What California doesn’t have, and what I missed the most, were Dogwood trees.
What a shock to discover I was living in a state totally lacking the beauty of a four-cornered, white flowering tree that presents itself each spring in order to remind us of what Easter is all about.
There are no lightning bugs out there, either. On warm summer nights, I gazed out my window in hopes of seeing a lightning bug flicker across the dark sky but it didn't happen. California kids actually go through childhood without ever housing lightning bugs in a Dukes Mayonnaise jar with holes punched in the top.
As the spring seasonal changes began to move toward Easter, I felt emotionally compromised, aching for azaleas and dogwoods mixed with yellow daffodils. My soul longed for a glimpse of the flowers and trees of the South Carolina Low Country.
The exhibition of colorful  azaleas and roses at the Edisto Gardens in Orangeburg where I grew up presented a living painting that surpasses my ability to describe. Monet would have loved it. Every shade, hue and color in the Azalea spectrum was surrounded by countless dogwood trees, robust with dramatic blossoms. It was impressive.
Every Easter, church choirs in the area came together to sing at the Sunrise Service held in the midst of the burgeoning gardens. The flowers, discerning their role in the planned program, managed to slash through the fog of early morning light to deliver hope to those of us waiting for the sunrise.
I was always cold arriving at the gardens, even wearing three layers of clothes underneath my choir robe. Folks not in the choir were also dressed in layers as they moved quietly up the hill hoping to find the best perch on which to listen to the music and hear the message of hope. I remember watching them gather together in the dark, greeting one another with a hug or a handshake and always a smile.
What a magnificent sight it was when the sun came up. Standing with other choir members on the slight incline we called a hill, I looked out at a spring bouquet of flowers that stretched over a two-mile radius, a never-ending mural. It was the official nod that welcomed in the new season, rich with the birth of flowers as colorful as Easter Eggs sprouting from grass as green as shamrocks.
We sang, “Up From The Grave He Arose,” “In The Garden,” “On a Hill Far Away,” and other familiar Easter hymns. Friends and neighbors in our little town welcomed Easter as the sun crept up slowly, yawning itself into the newborn day — God’s other gift to humankind.
So there you have it — the reason I look forward to the last cold snap, the final week of shivers, socks and sweaters. I’ll probably fret about the bulbs I’ve put in the ground and I’ll definitely need to pray for the survival of the already stressed out hydrangeas I bought on sale and planted in the back yard.
I will need to rely on what I learned during those cold Easter Sunrise Services when I was a kid. I will have to depend on my early conditioning to fill me once again with faith that our garden, as well as our world, will once again burst into bloom. When I look for the flicker of lightening bugs outside my window I will know that when the morning comes, I will wake to azaleas, dogwoods and yellow daffodils.