Today is Veterans Day and I am so grateful for you who have served.

My dad served a few years in the U.S. Army in the 1st Infantry Division, but his time ended shortly before he would have got shipped off to Vietnam. I remember his old Army jacket with the iconic Big Red One patch that he is so proud of.

My brother was an Army reservist and I have a brother-in-law who served in the Marines and the National Guard.

I never served in the military myself, but I am so thankful for those who have and those who do.

Reading history reminds me about the sacrifices made for not just our freedom but what we have done for other countries. Of course, our allies across the globe also sacrificed for us, especially after 9/11.

It’s a little thing but I always try to thank folks I see in uniform or those wearing military caps showing the branches in which they served.

What else can I do?

Donating money or time to veteran groups is a good way to pay back. Remembering those on Veterans Day or Memorial Day is also important.

This past spring, I attended my city’s Memorial Day event at city hall. Seeing military vets that were, old, young, men, women and people of all different races and ethnicities, was a great reminder of who made these sacrifices.

It’s these two holidays – Veterans Day and Memorial Day – that remind us what so many have forgotten.

Our freedom relies on the sacrifices of so many people. Our military veterans served, fought, bled and died together, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender.

A melting pot of sacrifice.

This sacrifice should humble those today who seek to divide us and pit one against another.

I get caught up in political arguments like lot of people, but many of those arguments are not hills worth dying on.

Freedom, however, is worth dying for, and our veterans are the ones who paid the price.

I can read every history book in the world and not know what it was like for real.

When “Saving Private Ryan” came out, I remember watching in the theater with my fingernails dug into the chair arm as the soldiers stormed Omaha Beach with bullets tearing bone and flesh. Just the sound of the gunfire, explosions and screams of agony was overwhelming.

Later, I heard a reporter ask a veteran of that battle if the scene was similar to the real-life experience. And the veteran responded with something like, “Well, if someone ran through the theater shooting at me, that would have been similar.”

I heard that and realized I have little to offer but gratitude.

As someone who didn’t serve, I have nothing profound to say.

Only, “Thank you.” 

It’s World Series month, so it’s time for me to have traumatic flashbacks to my horrific years in Little League.

My brother’s tee-ball team went undefeated and got its picture in the local newspaper.

My team went 1-14.

I played during the pre-participation-trophy era. Those were the good old days. If you didn’t win first place, you didn’t get a trophy. (The way it should be, by the way).

Back then, if you stunk, you didn’t play much.

I could run, throw and field like nobody’s business.

But hitting?

Forget it.

That was a problem because nothing mattered if you couldn’t hit. Back then, they didn’t care about hurt feelings or self-esteem. If you couldn’t hit, you were relegated to playing two innings a game in right field, a ghost town where few balls were hit.

Not being able to hit was humiliating. Throw a beachball over the plate and I’d still miss. Everyone tried to help. Coaches, my dad and even my brother, who was a stud pitcher and hitter.

It wasn’t happening. But I survived.

In fact, years later, I returned to my old Little League field, helping my manager-brother coach his son’s team.

In today’s Little League, every kid plays and even if you aren’t in the field, you still get to bat.

Also, parents are worse than when I was young. Back then, you didn’t complain to a coach about your son’s playing time.

Not ever.

Now? My goodness. The sense of entitlement is crazy.

Despite it all, coaching was both more fun and more frustrating than playing.

I was our bench coach/scorekeeper. The problem was my brother had nicknames for every player on every team he ever coached.

So, when I wrote the line-up for the first game – to give to the opposing scorekeeper – I was baffled.

I didn’t know any of our kid’s actual names!

My brother’s murderer’s row included: Thunder, Lightning, Wheels, Cobra, Mamba, Beep-Beep, Sizzle, Hollywood, Shifty, Vac Man, Tie Rod, and Turbo, among others.

I eventually remembered their real names and they were a great group of kids for the most part. There were also some funny moments.

Like this one boy who was an ADHD poster child. We put him in right field, the safest place for him. But once a fly ball went his way, he started spinning like a top, nowhere close to the ball.

And the kid nicknamed Wheels? Ironically, he ran like he had a flat tire.

My nephew, Teddy (aka Tebow) pitched and played first base. In one of my proudest moments as his uncle, he once threw a two-hitter in a playoff game with double-digit strikeouts.

His claim to fame is that he stole more bases than anyone on the team, despite not being fast. It was a mystery. They just couldn’t throw him out.

Vac Man was famous for losing or forgetting something at every game or practice. A glove, a hat, catcher’s equipment, a bat. He seemed ok with it. His dad? Not so much.

Another kid rarely got on base. So, the first time he got a double, he ran to second – and kept going – not realizing he had to stop.

I know. Bad coaching.

Eventually, we took this group of characters to the championship against our chief rival.

A rough game. The team played flat early and my brother was smoking mad. I mean, he had the bulging eyes going and his face was nearly purple. At one point, he went to the mound, gathered the team and started barking at them. They kind of leaned away like he was some crazy person on a subway.

The only thing I heard was his closing line when he snapped, “Dig it?!” like a blown piston.

At one point, one of our best players and hitters came to bat at a critical time. But when he got to the plate, he was on the wrong side. He decided, in the championship game, to switch hit. My brother’s jaw fell to the baseline.

Turns out the kid’s grandpa told him to try it.

What can you do?

Needless to say, we came up a little short in that game.

Still, coaching was a wonderful experience.

Today, many of the kids are doing well. My nephew’s in college and Beep-Beep is running track at a university. Thunder went on to play high school ball and Shifty played high school football on a top Michigan team.

True story: I heard Sizzle is an up-and-coming rapper on YouTube. (Sadly, he doesn’t rap under “Sizzle.”)

Could be worse. He could be a journalist.

Lighten up, Francis!

September 30, 2021

It’s one of the many funny scenes in the ’80s-era Bill Murray comedy “Stripes.”

Murray’s character John Winger, a slacker with no direction, and his buddy decide on a whim to join the Army.

Of course, boot camp is a nightmare for them.

The hardnosed Sgt. Hulka makes Winger’s life miserable – and vice versa.

In one scene. Hulka, played by Warren Oates, brings the platoon together so each of them can share a little bit about themselves.

During the discussion, the character Francis, a total nutjob, insists that the platoon members refer to him as “Psycho.” If anyone calls him Francis, he says, “I’ll kill you.”

He mentions several other rules regarding how he wants to be treated, warning everyone if they don’t follow his rules, “I’ll kill you.”

When he’s done, Hulka immediately says, “Lighten up, Francis.”

Beautiful!

Today, we live in a society where far too many people are like Francis – angry and miserable and they want to take it out on everyone else. Government officials and mainstream media members are only making the situation worse. Meanwhile, social media is “Call of Duty” but with unlimited ammo.

A person used to try and persuade others to their point of view. Now we’re trying to beat each other into submission – or we demonize those who differ from us.

Government has given up on persuasion altogether and now focuses on coercion and encourages private business to do the same.

The worst part is the leaders who lecture us don’t follow the rules themselves – then they wonder why people push back. And none of them are accountable.

When was the last time a federal bureaucrat was fired?

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

This reminds me of a marriage class I took in church once. There were lots of good tips, but one sticks with me today.

The concept is “disrespectful judgment.”

The idea in marriage – or any relationship, really – is that sometimes we don’t like what our spouse says or does and we immediately assume bad motives.

We may just completely misunderstand why our spouse has said or done something. That’s a disrespectful judgment. My wife and I use it to this day when we feel like the other has misunderstood us.

In society today, we use disrespectful judgments all the time. Someone cuts me off in traffic and I assume they’ve done it on purpose, though they may have simply not seen my car. People disagree on a government policy, and someone accuses the other person of being stupid, even if they have a good reason for their position.

Bottom line, we need more grace. We need more humility. We need to hold our tongues. As the Bible states, “…be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...”

Or as Sgt. Hulka said.

“Lighten up, Francis.”