I REMEMBER ...

... as a child, my grandfather telling my brother and me about his time in WWII. I probably didn't pay attention then, but I do now. I remember his trunk that held his Army uniform and various "memorabilia" from his service, and his Purple Heart, which hung on his wall up to his death.

... voting in mock elections in school, as early as the sixth grade. I couldn't wait until I was big and old enough to vote, and I had a crazy notion that I would grow up to be President.

... writing an essay for the Optimist Club when I was in the 8th grade. The topic was "Freedom : A Right or a Privilege". I still have my certificate of participation, but unfortunately don't have a copy of my essay.

... when Desert Storm went from being a conflict I wasn't too concerned with to a full-scale war that had me scared. I remember hearing a plane fly over the junior high school, and worrying that the Iraqis were going to bomb us; the plane was probably just one of many flying to, or from, DFW airport.

... my junior year in high school, when a gentleman came to the Honors World History class and spoke to us of his part in dropping the bomb on Nagasaki. I remember the aerial photos he took more than I remember his words; wish I remembered more.

... my junior year in high school, when the choir teacher (also assistant band director) asked each of us to write the words to the Star-Spangled Banner. I remember being only one of two in this choir (about twenty of us) who knew all the words, and that I was the only one able to spell "Francis Scott Key" properly.

... voting in my first presidential election [in 1996]. I also remember taking a friend to the voting polls. She is of opposite opinions political-wise than am I, but she (being a first-generation American whose family came from Africa) was the first person from her family to not only go to college, but also to vote. I was, and still am, proud of her.

... my third year in college, giving a speech in my speech lab (lecture was separate). I wrote about how we, as Americans, take our rights for granted ... I gave examples, showed what we could do to help keep our freedoms, et cetera. Of the entire class, teacher included, only the Dutch guy paid attention and seemed to care.

... early 1998, when I adopted my first Vietnam War MIA. I remember adopting the others, too, and crying at their stories. I haven't looked back since.

... my month-long student exchange trip to Germany. I remember the massive cemetery in Hamburg, filled mostly with young men who died during the second World War. I remember the various cathedrals, mainly one in Luebeck, that had been bombed, and viewing photos of the restoration. I remember visiting the Amsterdam building where the Frank family, et al, hid away in, and also the visit to Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp at which Margot and Anne Frank died; I visited it on Anne's birthday. Even though the Germans were our enemy, the cemetery made me sad; I barely held it together at Bergen-Belsen.

... writing, in November 2000, a column for the university newspaper, about my involvement in the POW/MIA cause and how, after much delay (this was the week before elections), the then-editor-in-chief decided that, after Veterans Day, this issue is no longer relevant. My best friend, Andy, a journalism major, chose me as his subject for a "character profile" he had to write for one of his classes; it was his retaliation of sorts for my article not making it.

... election night 2000. Staying up until 0100 (at least) with my fellow College Republicans, watching the election results with other Republicans. I remember being happy, mad, elated, furious, and yet grateful that we, as a nation, can have elections.

... Veterans Day 2000. I was in Waxahachie (TX), my HS alma mater, for the unveiling of the Ellis County Veterans Memorial. The mother and family of Timothy Guana, who was killed aboard the USS Cole, was there. Then-Governor Bush was supposed to be there, but this was four days after the election. Guana's name was etched into the panel of "peace time casualties" just in time for the unveiling.

... Memorial Day 2001. Less than half an hour after meeting the local VVA members/officers for the first time, I was adopted by the post. I remember being greeted by an elderly black man, whom I later learned was a POW during the Korean War. I knew then that I was welcomed in Texarkana's veterans community.

... my trip with my dad to Washington, D.C. and Virginia, taken the week after Memorial Day 2001. I remember touring the Pentagon, and paying my respects at Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima memorial. I remember touring Gettysburg, and later Appomattox. I remember sobbing as I made rubbings of the names of my adoptees, informing people about Dr. Eleanor Ardel Vietti at the Nurses Memorial, and taking gobs of photographs at the Korean Memorial.

... the September 11th attacks. I remember my grandpa coming next door and telling me about the attacks. I remember thinking he was kidding, but how stupid that was to think. I remember being stunned at what had happened, not believing it had happened, yet believing that it [such horror] was possible, and, as bad as it sounds, inevitable. I remember my grandma telling my grandpa to get his shotgun and get ready to go. I remember, even now, the increased activity at Barksdale AF Base, which resulted in many military fly-overs around here.

... 11 April, 2002. I failed my audition for the game show Jeopardy!, but had a most pleasant surprise in the form of an e-mail from the twin brother of my adopted Marine, 1Lt. Ron Forrester. I continue to be blessed by being in communication with him and his younger brother.

... Memorial Day 2002. Talked with Mr. Johnson, the Korean War ex-POW, again. Was invited by the VVA to participate in The Moving Wall ceremonies when the Wall comes to Texarkana in September. I remember taking along a photo of one of my adoptees, and sharing his story with old and young alike. I remember that these guys are the heroes, not the movie star or rapper, or even the over-paid sports star.

... the week-end of 6 September to 8 September 2002, when the "Vietnam Wall Experience" was in town. I remember the stories shared by those who were there, the tears shed by those who weren't, and the power that even this wall had. I remember closing ceremonies, when we all gathered at The Wall to sing "God Bless The USA". My left hand was held by a three-war Vet and my right by a two-war Vet. I remember crying more than ever before when listening to that song, because I was looking at 58,229 names engraved on a wall.

... an article on the 9th of September 2002, which was a closing summary of the The Wall's stay. The closing paragraph informed me, and all readers, that dues had been paid to make me a life member of the Associates of the Vietnam Veterans of America. This is one of the greatest honors ever bestowed upon me.

... learning that the crash site for the Jolly Green 23 had been found. I laughed, and I cried, and I prayed for the families of the crew members, all who had perished on 09 June 1968. The pilot of the JG23 was Lt. Jack Rittichier, USCG, one of my adopted heroes.

... returning to Washington, D.C. in October of 2003 to attend the funeral of Lt. Jack Rittichier. Meeting the family, spending time with them, rooming with my friend Janet, and presenting my POW bracelet for Jack to his brother Dave, meeting and talking with one of the "Black Hawk Down" guys, and being made an honorary member of the USCG are just a few of the precious memories that will stay with me for life.

... that Freedom IS NOT Free.