Saturday, December 31, 2005

Postcard from Paradise

Okay, I took a big leap off this healing journey that I am on and left the country for the holidays, or Christmas, whatever sentiment makes you happy. I was looking for some time off, some downtime to figure out what happened in 2005, try to figure out what's in store for 2006. I *know* I'll never be able to make sense out of what happened in 2004, but that is not anything I can change. Ken's never coming home and I miss him ALOT!

Mexico in late December is definitely a place to go to try to forget about your troubles and think warm thoughts. I am grateful for the friends in my life. And that includes friends I have not met (I know you are out there) I am grateful that I live in the good old U S of A, but thanks to this administration, it is hasn't been too easy to be proud of what our country stands for these days. It's kind of like a recalcitrant child. You love them because they are your child, but sometimes you sure don't like them very much.

I was in a part of Mexico where the shoreline is not really meant for strolling, but the pounding of the surf and watching the waves is kind of comforting in a mindless way. I find when I am at home, that going to the beach and yelling at the waves, at God, at the sky, or whoever and whatever will listen to my pain sometimes helps. No one can really hear me, but I know God can. I don't know the answer to "Why?" and I'm not likely to find out, at least not in this lifetime. In Mexico, those waves beckoned for me. I wanted to scream and cry at the shoreline just like at home, but it was too foreboding this time. I knew if I ventured near the waves that I just might not stop....crying.... or I just might not stop. It was fear that kept the sorrow inside this time. No worries for me, I know the sorrow is there just waiting and maybe someday, I will feel safe enough to let it out. Or maybe it's a control issue. Sorrow so close to the surface is toxic, I think.

Palm trees swaying in the breeze, the sound of mariachis in the distance, blue-blue skies without a cloud in sight, the blazing sun and a midnight sky full of stars and a full all sounds idyllic. I was able to clear my mind, do some reading and get lots of sleep.

Christmas will never be the same. The thing is Christmas was the last
time I saw Ken back in 2002. I remember the excitement of that homecoming. We knew that a deployment to Iraq was likely. He was about ready to graduate from Officers Advanced Basic and then head off to Germany and his first post as a young Lt. I knew that Germany was Army code for "one step closer to the desert". I *knew* Ken was going to Iraq and to war, but we didn't talk about it. We just spent time together as a family; Ken's cousins, aunts, grandparents and me. We gambled in Reno, we relived all the family traditions we have gathered through the years. We opened our Christmas stockings and our gifts. If only I knew it was the last time we would have together. There are so many memories of that Christmas and then the next one from Iraq when Ken sent me a photo of him in a Santa cap. In photos from Iraq, Ken generally had a smile on his face. He always seemed to make the best of things, regardless. So many smiles, so many memories.

I found that it's easy to run away from home for the holidays but it isn't that easy to get away from this new normal that is my life.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Fighting for Democracy

Right after 9/11, GW said terrorists won't change American way of life . The terrorists are standing back laughing their asses off while GW is doing his own fine job of turning the American way of life upside down! I guess he's going for that happy way of life that he invisions behind his rose-colored glasses. The problem is, he hasn't asked any of us if we share the same vision. HEY GW!!! We don't! The outrageous tax cuts for the wealthy especially during a time of war and offset with budget cuts in education, healthcare, transportation, law enforcement support, and on and on and on does not represent the good old U S of A that the majority of the country wants.

GW is coloring outside the lines once again as he tells us "The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties," Bush said. "And that is exactly what I will continue to do, so long as I'm the president of the United States." Except there is one BIG fat problem here. He is playing fast and free with his Presidential powers given under the Constitution. He does that again and again, and when he uses his interpretation, we are losing the liberties that so many people have fought and died for.

This isn't the first time that this administration has played fast and free with the rules. The Geneva Convention has fallen out of favor in this White House and resulted in the mess at Abu Ghraib. Who suffered for that failure? The lowest level soldiers are the ones doing time for the disgraceful behavior we saw at the prison. Where are the top brass who either gave a wink and a nod or turned their backs when they knew the behavior was happening? And all the while Rumsfeld who is in charge of everyone in the Dept of Defense whistles away this and that problem as if they don't exist and he certainly accepts no culpability.

GW made no apologies for approving the illegal eavesdroppping. In fact, he had had harsh words for those who revealed the program to the media saying they acted improperly and illegally. One question please! How do you spell P-l-a-m-e? Improper and illegal doesn't only apply to those who disagree with the president.

It seems to me that the citizens of the US are having a harder time keeping democracy in our country than the Iraqi's who are being handed democracy on a silver platter. GW says that the domestic spying that he has authorized more than 30 times is critical to saving American lives and he has no intention of stopping the practice.

I think the whole world is turned upside down- I know mine is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Victory in Iraq

It's not that I believe or don't believe that GW's plan will achieve victory in Iraq, I'm just not sure what victory is and I think he likes it like that.

The dictionary describes "victory" as:

Defeat of an enemy or opponent.
Success in a struggle against difficulties or an obstacle.
The state of having triumphed.

In a recent poll, 55 percent said they did not believe Bush has a plan that will achieve victory for the United States in Iraq; 41 percent thought he did. So, I'm standing with the majority once again.

This administration seems to have a hard time with using the actual dictionary terms as we know them. The Bush-speak definitions for victory and noble cause and patriotism are just so darned ambiguous and elusive.

M'thinks this emperor has no clothes. GW seems to think if he tells a story over and over and over again that we will believe him. The good news is, not many are fooled by his rhetoric and he is going to have to change the course rather than stay on his disastrous course. And there are signs that this is happening. While his "Victory in Iraq" speech of last week didn't reveal anything new, he is opening his kimono just a tad, even if it took using the words of a former Duke University political scientist who now works for the National Security Council. Peter Feaver and others presented this premise to the administration that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believed it would ultimately succeed.

Howard Dean compared the war in Iraq to Vietnam and said, "The idea that the United States is going to win the war in Iraq is just plain wrong." Those comments drew immediate fire from Republicans. In an interview with WOAI-AM in San Antonio, Dean criticized what he called President Bush's "permanent commitment to a failed strategy" while saying, "We need to be out of there and take the targets off our troops back." Dean recalled that the strategy to stay the course in Vietnam cost thousands more lives to be lost.

"Things did not always go as planned"? Duh! Come on, GW, that might be the understatement of the year. Things didn't go as planned, 2151 Americans dead, 15,000+ injured to say nothing of the unknown number of Iraqi casualties and all you can say is "Things didn't go as planned? Sheesh! It doesn' t sound like you care much at all. You say things didn't go as planned and 2151 families get to spend the rest of our lives with a hole in our hearts. Don't be so casual about it.

GW *is* responsible for this mess he got us into. He said he was responsible, but for what? Responsible for how messed up it is in Iraq? Sorry that he didn't get away with knowingly using false information? He *knew* when he used the intelligence 2 years ago- WHAT TOOK SO LONG TO ADMIT THAT THE INFORMATION WAS FALSE when we knew it all along!

"The American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power" GW said, speaking of Saddam. Ok, let's go with that, Saddam was evil, Saddam was a bad man, but does his being out of power make America a safer place? I don't feel safer and I suspect I stand with the majority on this, too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

It's easy to forget about the soldiers...

That's what a female disc jockey said this afternoon on the radio after she played the song "A Soldier's Silent Night" "It's easy to forget about the soldiers, so you should take pause and think about them during the holidays", she said. At first glance it probably sounds thoughtful, but I found her comment offensive and sadly true and it stabbed me in the heart.

It *is* easy for people to forget about the soldiers and their families. The soldiers serving and the families of servicemembers who have been killed in Iraq are making the biggest sacrifice during this time of war and we can neither forget nor would we choose to.

I won't be hanging a stocking again this year and likely never again. Without Ken's stocking, mine would look kind of lonely and it is just another reminder that he and I will never celebrate Christmas or any other occasion together ever again. Were it not for people like me and other Gold Star family members speaking out, it might be easy to forget about the soldiers all the time.

When we speak out, we touch people's heart and maybe their conscience. You can see it in an audience's eyes when they "get it", if they hadn't already gotten it before they heard us speak. Sometimes we see tears and sadness and sometimes we see anger, but always people leave having been touched by the war and our words. That is important because before the 2004 pesidential election, too many people said "I haven't been touched by the war, so I'll be voting on gays, guns or god (you choose)". If people haven't been touched by the war, then it is easy to forget about the soldiers and then it is easy to forget that there really is a war going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We know this administration hasn't been touched by the war because they refuse to acknowlege details and deaths and sacrifices. But, the reason so many people haven’t been touched is because this administration doesn’t want us to see the human cost of this war. They won’t let us see the flag draped caskets as they return to America, as if there are none.

The reason we haven’t been touched is that this administration refuses to acknowledge the financial costs of this war. They say they can’t possibly calculate the costs of the war so they cannot include it in a regular budget- there are too many unknowns. Instead, they submit one supplemental budget after another. They think we aren’t smart enough to see how much money is being spent. They thought we wouldn’t be touched by the war because the fiscal 2005 budget for the Dept of Veterans Affairs was based on outdated assumptions from 2002- 1 full year before the war began and before we had any idea the casualties and injuries would be so devastating. Sadly, they were off by about 2.6 BILLION dollars. Oops- let’s ask Congress for more money- it’s easy!

GW has not attended a single funeral for any of the service members who have been killed. He meets with families of soldiers’ families who have been killed, but only those hand selected to insure they agree with his policies. He has not gone to Dover AFB to honor those soldiers he returns to their families in a flag covered casket. Rumsfeld couldn’t be bothered to sign condolence letters to the 1st 1300 families- a machine signed those letters. I have one of those letters and do I feel special!

Does this sound like an administration that has any emotional involvement in this war? This administration has not been touched by this war. But I have and
I'm feeling a bit testy these days; I'm sure you understand.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Iraqi Forces standing up.....or down....or up.......

The administration tells us that the Iraqi Forces are increasingly able to stand on their own. Rumsfeld is equally optimistic. But I'm not buying it. They say that my son and 2135 others died for a noble cause. They won't tell me what the noble cause is, so I don't believe it. One of the reasons they have given for us to be in Iraq is to bring democracy to that part of the world. I worry, actually, I'm pretty sure that it won't be the brand of democracy that GW has been dreaming of. Nope, Santa's elves won't be delivering a pretty package of democracy to Iraq this year, probably not even next year or for 12 more years. This year GW is getting coal and so is the American public.

The training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a big "setback" in the last six months, with the army and other forces being increasingly used to settle scores and make other political gains, Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer said Monday. My son was killed in An Najaf, Iraq back in May 2004. Najaf is a holy city, home of the Imam Ali shrine, a religious destination. Najaf was turned over to the Iraqi people in September 2005. It was a huge victory that lasted all of 2 months. When peace broke out in Najaf, it wasn't supposed to be a haven for Muqtada al Sadr's militia that has infiltrated the Iraqi forces and made the city a place of corruption, undemocratic institutions, persistent violence and stalled reconstruction. Would Ken and his unit, who fought so hard to bring freedom to the city of Najaf, feel like they accomplished a noble cause? Was he in Iraq to help thugs like Muqtada al Sadr build their brand of politics in Iraq? I'm pretty sure he wasn't there to provide cover while locals settle generational scores.

GW insists that the citizens of Najaf are "gaining a personal stake in a peaceful future". Not so fast, cowboy. And when only 100 out of 700 of the police on the city payroll in Sumarra even bother to show up for work on any given day, that's nothing to brag about.

For all the arguments about the progress made in Iraq, has the U.S. government actually relinquished sovereignty to the Iraqi government? Maybe a better question is, does our administration intend to? Members of the administration don't talk about the plans for up to 14 "enduring" bases in Iraq, but they don't deny them, either. "Enduring bases" is military speak for long-term encampments that could house as many as 100,000 troops for an undefined period of time. That doesn't sound like an exit plan to me.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Imagine Living Life in Peace

The song "Imagine" was on a John Lennon album released in 1971. I had just graduated from high school and had my whole life ahead of me. John's wish for peace seemed like a lofty goal that year while the Viet Nam war was still being fought. But it touched our generation and the song is just as popular today as it was 34 years ago.

Fast forward to 1980. I had been married and was divorced. I was a single mom raising my son in the SF Bay area. I was taking some college classes to complete my degree. That December night, 25 years ago today, on my way home from school, I heard the news that John Lennon had been murdered. I remember the overwhelming feeling of sadness. John seemed to have finally gotten to that place in his life where he seemed happy and settled. He & Yoko had the rest of their lives together to share in that peace. My generation was faced with yet another loss of a symbol for hope and peace. JFK, MLK, RFK and now this?

Fast forward to 2005. Today, is the 25th anniversary of the day John Lennon was killed. This is the kind of day where most people can tell you where they were, what they were doing when they heard the news. Days like this always make me look back at my life and see how far I have come. My son, Ken grew up, he graduated from college and he had his whole life ahead of him. He was serving our country in the Army and was sent to Iraq to fight this president's war. Today, Lt Ken Ballard is dead because of the war and I have an overwhelming feeling of sadness every day.

Wikiepedia says, the song, "Imagine" is often used as a celebration of peace. I imagine that if John Lennon were alive today, he would be standing with us questioning and protesting the US involvement in Iraq. I am guessing that he is looking down on us even now.

This holiday season consider doing something out of your comfort zone to speak out to bring an end to this war. Make a resolution in the new year to write a letter, make a phone call to let your legislators know that you want an end to the fighting. Can there be a better holiday gift?

You may say I'm a dreamer,but I'm not the only one,I hope some day you'll join us, And the world will live as one. We can hope!

John, we miss you and your spirit. You are not forgotten.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bing Crosby Crooning

My friend, Annette wrote this. She's right, you know.

Bing Crosby crooning, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” every 15 minutes in malls and elevators and grocery stores is bringing some Americans to tears this season. Yet most people go about their shopping, buying, wrapping, cooking and partying with hardly a thought for these fellow citizens or our troops suffering far from home. For 2,000+ families of casualties counted and many more uncounted, being all together for Christmas is something that will never happen again. Thousands more are struggling to help their maimed veterans find some hope in the holiday season. Still thousands more families are going through the holiday motions while their hearts and minds are tortured with worry for their loved ones still serving in harm’s way.

All many of these families ask is that America take pause and remember. When your feet hurt from shopping, think of our troops who have lost legs and arms. When you’re stressed about friends and families visiting, remember our soldiers who have not seen their families for many long months. When you struggle to find presents for your children, think of the parents who will never buy their sons or daughters another present. As you gather to celebrate familiar cultural and family traditions, think of those serving in a foreign, often hostile environment. When greeting cards arrive with dreamy angels proclaiming “Peace on Earth”, take a moment to consider what you personally and we as a nation have done to make that a reality.

By all means, enjoy this season of love and peace. At some point in your preparations and festivities, take a moment to remember that throughout our country and far across the globe, many families are not able to share in the joy. It’s very hard to think of war and death and pain at such a happy time, but this is when it is needed the most. When you make your new year’s resolutions, think about what you can do to support our troops 2006. Resolve to take some kind of action to end the war, bring them home. Make that commitment to them as they have laid their lives on the line for you.

Annette Pritchard
Aunt of PFC William Ramirez, KIA Baghdad 2/04

Two Wolves: A Cherokee Tale

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

His grandfather answered "The one you feed the most."

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Dover Test- flunking fast

I've been having a hard few weeks. I am going to guess that it is the holidays. I get Thanksgiving, my birthday- 3 days before Christmas, Christmas and New Years in about 5 weeks time. These ready made milestone days are really tough to take. They are so, well, scheduled and I think the anticipation of those days doesn't make it any easier.

My niece reminded me today that I haven't written here about my struggle to get a photo of Ken's flag covered casket being returned to Dover AFB. The day that we were notified of Ken's death, I told myself I would make sure he received all the honors and money that he deserved (easier said than done, I found).

That first day, May 31, 2004, Memorial Day, after I was told the awful news, I asked for a photo of Ken's flag covered casket as it was returned to Dover AFB, Delaware, the mortuary for the Department of Defense. Dover is where all soldiers are processed before they are returned home. I wanted to see Ken's casket being treated with the dignity and respect that he had earned. My request was refused, they told me "it is against regulations" and "it is to protect the privacy of the families" (oh, okay, the families....)

I told them that I am a mother and I want the picture of my son's body being treated with dignity and respect. They still told me "No". Eery time I spoke to someone from the Army that week, regardless of why they were contacting me, I asked for the photos, and time and time again, I was told no. I never got a photograph of Ken's body as it was honored at Dover. Rebecca Carr from the Cox News Service captured my story nicely
Pentagon denies mother's plea for photo in March 2005.

An Army factoid you may not know- it takes about 7 days from the date of death for the body to be returned home. They had plenty of time to find someone to bend the regulations, but they didn't.

I found this website tonite, (full disclosure- you may want to grab the kleenex now, before you watch) This is a poignant presentation of photos of soldiers who dies in Iraq, the plane arriving at Dover, the honor ceremonies...all of the photos I wanted to see of Ken. You see, even if, or maybe especially that he is dead, these are still memories of his life.

There is controversy to seeing these pictures, of course. Only 700 photographs have been released by the Department of Defense from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Both times photos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information request/ lawsuit. By releasing the photographs, the DOD concedes that the photos belong in the public domain. The 2nd release of photos in April, 2005, the DOD redacted many of the photos to remove identification of many of the honor guards. Because they were "forced" to release the photographs, it is possible that Dover is no longer documenting the honor ceremonies by taking photographs. We will have lost this part of our military history if that is true.

They call them "Honor" guards for a reason. They are the soldiers who HONOR my son and his comrades. They are honored to be chosen to participate in these ceremonies. We honor the remains that return from wars long ago, but we hide these young men and women as they make their final journey home as if there are none.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, explains the Dover Test this way:

The Dover test is an informal test and a journalistic phrase to describe whether the general population of the United States is supporting the participation of the United States in a war or other military action by the public reaction to returning war casualties. The test is usually used to support a partisan position concerning the United States government's actions than to actually determine the level of public support for the war.

We are flunking the Dover test badly . 48% of the general population thinks GW has handled the war in Iraq poorly. His numbers are free falling and he is still in denial.

There are good people who continue to work to get those images released from the Department of Defense and I thank them. Beyond, the obvious personal reasons of seeing Ken being honored, Ralph Begleiter from the University of Delaware shares my reasons for wanting the photos. This country needs to see the bodies being returned home every night on the evening news. They need to be reminded of the human cost of this war. And if it ruins their dinner, well, welcome to my world!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The American people stand behind you

GW didn't tell us anything new this morning.

GW asked for patience. We have given him nearly 1000 days of patience. He acts as if this speech is being given prior to the invasion, but 1000 days and 2110 soldiers is enough time and enough US deaths to prove that his little war isn't going according to plan. Oops, I forgot, there was never a plan and the Strategy for Iraq isn't one either.

Setting a timetable would NOT give aid and comfort to the enemy, it would NOT encourage terrorists. It WOULD give a strong message to the Iraqi people that it is time for them to take charge of their country. A timetable will say that the US will be a supporting role, but if it is democracy they want, then they have to earn it the hard way like we have. Democracy isn't something you can wrap up like a Christmas gift, put a pretty bow on top and present it to someone, let alone a sovreign country. The US has been working on Democracy for over 200 years and we don't have it right yet, not that we aren't working hard, but we're not there yet.

GW said "we should not fear the debate in Washington". Why does he? When he says people who question the policies in Iraq are "irresponsible" and "unpatriotic" that dosn't seem like he welcomes an open debate to me. But an open debate has begun, the President has gotten the message that a majority of the country doesn't think the war is going well or that we should even have gone in in the first place.

And while we cuss and discuss and have no plan, soldiers are dying every single day.

GW did get one thing right today when he said "The American people stand behind you" referring to the troops. We do, we really do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Arlington West, Santa Barbara

Pardon me if I stepped away for a few days. Had to step off the treadmill, get set in my mind things that needed to be done and things that have been done. This journey I am on begs for that kind of attention on occasion.

My sister & I stopped by Arlington West in Santa Barbara on our way home from a week in Los Angeles. If you've ever been to Santa Barbara, you know that this part of the world is God's country for it's beauty. On a beach at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara there is a group of fine people, the Veterans For Peace, who honor the son's & daughter's of this country who have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Every Sunday for more than 2 years now, these new friends of ours count the number of war dead and place a corresponding number of white crosses on the beach.

For some, Arlington West is an unwelcome reminder of the real world while escaping to this magical place. For some this beach is a destination, for others an accidental discovery. For me it is a destination- a place of love and devotion. The Veterans for Peace, Santa Barbara Chapter 54 started this project back in November 2003 with 304 crosses. My first visit was Veteran's Day, 2004 when there were 1177 crosses, and this week, there were 2108 white crosses. The human cost of the war, the empty lives....

I always look forward to catching up with my new friends, Michael, Rod, Carolyn, Tom, Nancy, Stephen and others. They have new stories to tell about some of the visitors, some of the family members who have come to honor their loved ones. They tell of buddies who come to pay last respects here at this because they continued fighting while their comrade returned home under cover of an American flag.

A name and the circumstances of the death are placed on each cross and they are presented alphabetically, so it is easy to find a particular name. Row by precision row, just as if this were the "real" Arlington cemetary. When a cross is visited, it is moved up front and is marked with a sticker. Nancy, one of the VFP volunteers has taken the job of resident florist. Local florists donate flowers and Nancy is always able to come up with gorgeous arrangements for each visited cross. Some families leave mementos, stuffed animals, photographs . I left one of Ken's dog tags and a photo on my first visit. There are now 14 rows of crosses or 30% who have been visited. 2 crosses moved into those rows with my visit, Sgt David W Johnson, son of Michelle & Steve DeFord, my friends from Oregon and PFC Darius Jennings, son of Elaine Johnson of South Carolina. I took a few minutes with David and Darius' cross and told them that their mom's missed them alot. I saw lots of other names that are way too familiar by now- Erik, Patrick, Sherwood, David, Nick, Travis, Mike, Adam, Jeramy, Kyle, Wes, Jonathan....and that list keeps getting longer.

A new addition to AW is a life size sand sculpture of 2 soldiers. At first, I thought it was 2 people sitting on the beach. I didn't catch the name of the sculptor, but I am grateful for this amazing piece of art.

So, if you are in the neighborhood, stop by Stearns Wharf on a Sunday and spend some time remembering those young men and women who are never coming home. There will be plenty of love and hugs waiting for you as you are overwhelmed with the magnitude of it all.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter just doesn't feel the same to me anymore and I miss that.

When the book, The Goblet of Fire was released back in 2003, I stood in line at midnight with nieces and nephews; we just couldn't stand the excitement anticipating reading that big fat book- who could? we heard it was the longest book in the series- so many adventures ot look forward to! It was like Christmas Eve, or even better. We-just-could-not-wait! My niece and I had a sleepover that night. We should have been catching up on old times but we just had to read a few chapters of this new book.

The 4th movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban was released on June 4, 2004. I had planned on going to the midnite viewing as I had all previous releases of Harry Potter movies. But on May 31, 2004, my life was turned upside down when I was notified that my only child was killed in Iraq. Seeing a movie that week was just nowhere on my radar. Seeing any movie these days mostly feels like too much effort.

When life hands you this kind of card, it shouldn't surprise you how it affects you, how your life changes. But how things sneak up on you and you find how your life has changed, that is the scary and surprising part. Why would one not be able to see a silly movie? Because Ken always laughed at me when he knew I would be standing in line at midnite to see Harry Potter! "MA, he would say- you are crazy" "I know I am, but I am your mother" I would answer and we would laugh together. I miss that.

I was going to the airport sometime last year and I just started crying- I knew I would never go to the airport and pick up Ken again. I walk around a department store this holiday season and see something that Ken would have thought was so cool, but sadly, I have no one to buy for. I miss seeing his eyes light up at Christmas.

No, going to the movies and watching Harry Potter doesn't feel the same anymore, but mostly I miss Ken.

Speaking Out....for AFSC

I was honored to speak at the AFSC peace event in San Francisco on October 27, 2005

"Remember the Draft? From Vietnam to Iraq: Honoring Resistance Then and Now."

I find myself in San Francisco tonight. These last few months have been very interesting for me. I spent time down in Crawford, Texas [the site of Cindy Sheehan's peace camp]. My reasons for going to Crawford were many and they were complex. I wanted to go down and find out what my other Gold Star family friends were doing and meet some other ones, because whether it's a look or finishing a sentence, only we know what that loss is.

So, I went down there, and I found the stories that weren't being told, and there were many of them. But, for those of you who did go to Crawford and those of you that read about it, you knew there was a certain magic in being there.

My mom called the night before I left for Crawford -- my mother, the neoconservative -- and she said, "Well, we're really worried about you."
I said, "What for?"
She said, "Well, we just think you might be being influenced by some people." And I wanted to say, "Stop listening to Russ Limbaugh." But, I knew where this was coming from. Then she said, "Well, we just think you are going to fall in with the wrong people."

And I'm thinking, "I'm 51 years old; you raised me. You really think someone could influence me if I really didn't believe this?"

But, I looked around this evening [at an AFSC event honoring war resistance], as I looked around Crawford, and I found out that I am in really, really good company and I appreciate the company. I appreciate you walking with us.

It's very hard for Gold Star families to get up here and talk about the loss of our only children, of our nephew, our niece. For me it was my son. Lt. Ken Ballard was my only child. He was 26 years old when he was killed.

He left for Iraq the day after Mother's Day, 2003. That was my Mother's Day present that year. He told me we'd make up for it next year; we'd go to a ball game, we'd go to the beach. That's usually how we'd spend Mother's Day, but that never happened.

Ken was in Iraq for 384 days. He had already turned in his weapons and was ready to come home when fighting broke out again and they extended his tour for 120 days.

On Memorial Day, I received word that my only child was killed in a war that I never supported. My son was a fourth-generation Army officer and I was proud of him serving his country. He volunteered to go, as so many people remind me. As I said, I am proud of his service to this country, but I am not proud of our administration, who use their patriotism to go invade a sovereign country in an illegal invasion.

The impact to me is that I don't get any grandchildren. I don't get to plan a wedding. And these "dog tags" that I wear, that my son wore, were given to me when they gave me his body. This is all I have left.

So, one year ago, this week, I buried my son in Arlington and I looked down at his grave and I said, "If I don't speak, how will people know what it feels like to be a Gold Star mother, to walk this path?" And I decided that Ken did his job for our country, despite what the mission was; but it was time for me to do my job, and to let people know that I wasn't going to let any more families go through this than I had to.

One year ago today, the number of American causalities was 1,100, and as we know this week, we passed 2,000. Today, the number was 2,006. It doesn't stop.

The family of the 2006th service member doesn't care about a number. When they heard their awful news, they probably never even heard, "I regret to inform you..." Because they knew when they saw who was at the door what the news was. Every nightmare they had about their loved ones had just come true. Every prayer for their safety on this earth will never be answered, and every deal they made was off.

Their new world is black and white; it's turned upside-down. Those family members screamed, and didn't recognize the pain coming from a place they never knew existed. They screamed again, and it was their soul leaving their body. This is their new normal.

Two thousand isn't the magic number, and neither is soldier number eleven, or soldier number 812, as my son was. These are just the numbers representing the lives that ended way too soon. And they represent their family and friends, who have been left behind. They signify the many unfulfilled promises and unfinished lives.

The president's numbers are at an all-time low, and he continues to insist that the best way to honor the sacrifices of the fallen is to complete the mission. He said that again, and again, and again, hoping that we will believe the lies that led to this war. I say, do not honor the sacrifice of my son, that he made to this country, don't honor that sacrifice by killing one more person. Please honor his sacrifice with the truth.

Tell us what the noble cause is. Tell us honestly why this administration took this country and our men and women into an invasion of a sovereign country. Tell us when we can bring our troops home and tell us when torture became acceptable.

There are no "weapons of mass destruction." There is no end in sight to this war that so many of us questioned. There is no exit plan, just as there was never a plan to manage the peace that we were promised would come in short order.

There is nothing to suggest that this war is going to end any time soon and the killing continues -- 2006, 2007, 2008. Yesterday, Senator John McCain said that it's not right to use the death toll for "political" purposes. So, I wonder why it is "political" to participate in a peace vigil to honor and remember our men and women who are dying in a war so far away and in a war that is wrong. What is "political" is to hide the human cost of this war by not allowing us to see flag-covered caskets coming home, by not openly publishing the number of dead and wounded on either side, and to not mourn as a country the loss of these precious lives.

And when did peace become wrong? As long as the human costs are hidden, this country cannot begin to heal. The mother's voices will end this war, they have to; and the father's can too, but it's mostly the mothers they will listen to.

When I speak out against this ugly war, and when I tell you what it feels like to lose an only child in a war I didn't support, brought to us by an administration that doesn't care enough about my son or his compatriots to provide them with adequate equipment and resources, I am called a "traitor" and "unpatriotic." I am disrespecting my son's service, I am told.

As surely as they believe what they say to me, I do not accept this judgment. I do have a noble cause. Imagine, for one minute, my sense of peace knowing that my speaking out might end the war one day earlier and possibly save the life of one of the pro-Bush, pro-war families. Their loved ones will come home because I raised my voice to question this war.

When I read about "Eyes Wide Open" when it began back in 2004, I thought that was a perfect way to honor the sons and daughters of this country who died in Iraq. Ken was still alive -- and who knew.

From the first connection I made with AFSC nearly one year ago, I knew I had found a safe place. Every person I worked with, embraced me and welcomed me as family. In San Francisco, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Illinois, the exhibit of "Eyes Wide Open" was the way to show the human cost of war, and we did just that. We touched an awful lot of lives along the way, and they continue to do that.

AFSC says, "We seek to understand and address the root causes of poverty, injustice and war. We hope to act with courage and vision in taking initiatives that may not be popular." Everyone who is here this evening understands what that means. Sometimes we may not feel very courageous when we do what we do, but speaking for these values sometimes means swimming upstream. As we do, we find ourselves in good company. It has always been an honor to work with AFSC. I appreciate the opportunity to talk. Thank you for letting me talk about my son. It's my favorite subject. Thank you very much.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Good news & bad news

Rep. John Murtha is my hero today! I woke up to the news "It's time to bring them home," said Rep. John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, choking back tears during remarks to reporters. "Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty." Rep Murtha gets it. If you heard him talk about the young soldier who was denied a Purple Heart because friendly fire caused his injuries, then you know he gets it. Rep Murtha has cried for the loss of my son and the 2083 American soldiers that have been killed as a result of this war in Iraq. He knows the human cost of this war. 60% of the people in this country know the same.

And 14 time zones away, GW's smirk translates into any language, even in South Korea where he is calling war critics "irresponsible" and "playing politics". Okay, I half agree with him . This playing politics stuff is just wrong, I don't care if you are a democrat or a republican or if you are red or blue, this war is wrong. Note the tense? Let's not have a discussion of what *was*. Let's try and put our finest minds together and stop the killing. Let's figure out an exit strategy that most people can agree with. Bring our men and women home from Iraq. Rep Murtha says "Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty." He is right, of course.

But let's get back to the "irresponsible" Americans. GW once said "I don't read books, I read people" . George, it's time to start reading the people of this country, listen to them. They are not happy with the way things are going in Iraq. They are not happy that there is no exit strategy and they are not happy with your condescending attitude towards those of us who disagree with you. It *is* patriotic to question our leaders when we believe we are being taken in a direction that is not right. The #2 guy in this country, Dick Cheney, was furious when he heard Chuck Hagel say it is patriotic to question the president's actions- Cheney said Hagel's comments were reprehensible. Cheney called Democrats "opportunists" who were peddling "cynical and pernicious falsehoods" to gain political advantage while U.S. soldiers died in Iraq. Oh puhlease! Don't hide behind those brave soldiers. Quick, Dick, how many American soldiers have been killed in Iraq? I know, you don't know THAT number!

This administration doesn't get it. They are not listening to the American public. This president seems to have forgotten that he works for us. One year ago he was telling us he had a mandate, he had plenty of political capital to spend after the election. I don't think so- this presidency is nearing bankruptcy with his current level of support. I only hope that GW gets it before he bankrupts this country, both fiscally and emotionally.

And thank God for men like John Murtha!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rush or Bush?

Don't know who's higher up in the Hall of Shame today- Rush Limbaugh or GW? I'd say it's a tie, but I'll let you decide.

Rush Limbaugh has started an "
Adopt a Soldier" campaign. Let's look at it from Operation Truth's viewpoint, who does get it right, of course. As they say, this is a tasteless marketing ploy and doesn't support the soldiers. When you adopt a soldier through Rush, you will be sending them Rush's newsletter for one year. Wow! That's what I want in my stocking this year, Santa! Instead, why not donate money to purchase some of the new personal armor so that the families don't have to buy equipment for their soldiers or they don't have to take it out of their oh, so precious paycheck. If this administration wants our men & women to go in and fight an immoral war for them, they should well be providing adequate protection. Now, let me ask this- who is supporting the troops? And ladies & gentlemen, PLEASE turn off Rush Limbaugh's radio show- he really doesn't have this country's best interest in mind; he's just looking to line his pockets.

Seems like GW is on some kind of a offensive tirade against those of us who question the reasons for this war in Iraq. He calls us "irresponsible" and says
"They spoke the truth then and they're speaking politics now". George, George, George. We counted on intelligence from *your* administration, from your peeps, to tell us and them the truth. We counted on our congressional leaders having the same access to intelligence that the administration had. We have all learned alot in these past 3 years. So, GW, stop lying and stop trying to convince us that things in Iraq are going well. They are not! And no matter how many times you say it, we aren't going to believe you.

What would be irresponsible would be to let this President "stay the course" and to continue to let him support the troops as he has without proper body armor and properly armored vehicles. What was irresponsible was for this President to use Veteran's Day to avoid the truth of his misue of the intelligence that was available to him. What he did not do on Veteran's Day was HONOR the Veterans of this country!

Yep, and GW's pal, Rumsfeld is standing right by his side. At a press conference,
he accused administration critics of re-writing the history of the Iraq conflict. Isn't that just the way these guys work? Smoke and mirrors- get the story off of *themselves*. Secretary, just write on the blackboard 100 times, "I will not lie to the American people" and oh yeah, a lie of omission is still a lie, if you're wondering.

****2072 is the number of American casualties in Iraq today...6 of those families have not been notified yet. They have no clue how their world is about to change.****

Monday, November 14, 2005

November 14, 2005- The Beginning

This blog has been a long time coming....there is always so much going on, going here, going there. If I have a spot to leave my thoughts, then perhaps I will be more timely.

I know that people care about what I am doing, speaking out about this war. I know that at least 69% of the people in this country think that we shouldn't have gone to war, surely not THIS war. And mostly I know that when I speak out, I speak for so many and I also know I do not speak for all Gold Star families.

I would say I would like to start at the beginning, but, really, when would that be? May 30, 2004? That awful day that Ken was killed? Too much has happened since then, so let's just start with last week, Veteran's Day, 2005.

There were lots of opportunities to speak out last week. I also had opportunities to honor Ken. I did both. I don't see a contradiction in that, although some do. That's their problem, not mine. A Gold Star mom friend of mine had posted this link on one of my groups first thing Wednesday morning. Take a look at it. I cried and cried for the lost lives, the lost dreams... and so sad to see all of those faces. I also got angry and told myself "No mercy to the lying liars!"

Cupertino, CA
Colin Powell was scheduled to speak at the Speaker's Forum at DeAnza College in Cupertino, CA. On Wednesday, a group of people, some of the "Crawford 12,000" organized the first of several events related to Powell's appearance. Speak Outs, protests and a war tribunal were all on the agenda. It was good to see some of the people who I hadn't seen since the rally in DC in September. There were representatives from Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW), MFSO and others like Ann, a retired Army Col and diplomat, Dolores, mother of Erik and a Gold Star Mom and the Ditch Witches from Crawford. I was introduced to the President of the college, Brian Murphy, who was very supportive of the events planned and each of us.

Sean, IVAW spoke about his time in Iraq and at Crawford. We watched a short clip from Crawford, about both camps.

Anne, MFSO & Blue Star Mom, spoke about her son's 3rd tour of duty in Iraq, at 600 days and counting. I spoke about my experiences at Crawford and as a Gold Star Mom. I like speaking about Ken, although it is hard to stand up and bring him back to life. It would really be a lot easier to just sit at home with my covers pulled over my head, but I just can't DO that! They told me I made them cry. Honestly, I like it when that happens, then I know *they* are touched by the war. I had to leave to attend an event in Hayward, so I left when some of the Crawford group sang a song that was written about the son's and daughter's who had been killed in this war. I missed hearing Cindy Sheehan speak. (A book Cindy wrote has just been released, it has a photo of Ken's cross from Crawford and as she gave me a copy of the book, she pointed that out to me)

Hayward, CA
I hurried over to Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward to speak on a panel with the Social Justice club from the school. A woman from Pax Christi, a dad whose son, an alumni of Moreau is serving in Iraq and I were on the panel. Attendance at the assembly was not required and half of the gym was filled. These young men and women were pretty dialed into what we were speaking about and they acted interested. At the end, they opened up for questions. One young man, Kip, spoke to me and empathized about the loss of my, BUT he told me that I was disrespecting my son. I think that most of the students felt that Kip had disrespected me by making the comment. I answered him like this. I told him he could not imagine the feelings to lose my son this way and I appreciated his comments about that. I also told him that he didn't hurt my feelings because I had already been called a traitor, treasonous, and unpatriotic. I told him that other had accused me of disrepecting my son and yes, my son volunteered to serve his country and I was proud of that. I then told him that the people who disrespected my son are the people who sent my son to an illegal invasion of a sovereign country.

Cupertino, CA
zip, zip, back across the DeAnza College. Protests were scheduled for the evening outside of Flint Center as people arrived to her Colin Powell speak. That night there were probably near 100 protesters from different groups aroudn the Bay. We were loud and we got our point across, that those who were attending this speakers forum were going in to hear a war criminal speak. Many attendees ignored us and many flashed us the peace sign. It was very peaceful and there were no problems that night.

I was given a ticket to the event, so we went in. No worries.

The head of the speaker's forum spoke first to the mostly white, mostly affluent attendees. He referred to a comment that Tom Wolffe allegedly made "If you are ever feeling down or depressed, go to K-mart; you will be the best looking person there." He then said, "you will also be the richest person there, too" I'm not sure why he made those comments, but they were offensive, arrogant and just rude.

I had planned to disrupt Colin Powell's speech, but the "right" opportunity never came up for me. I was with Mary Ellen, one of the Ditch Witches and Ann, who did stand up and spoke out. We had been assured by the President of the college that no one was to be kicked out if they tried to disrupt the speech. We would be asked if we wanted to leave or sit down and be quiet. It made the decision to *try* to speak out and easy one. I don't particularly want to be arrested, at least not at this time.

Colin Powell was offensive. People had asked us "Why Colin Powell?" "He is so nice" I disagree. Out of all of the members of this administration, his actions were perhaps the most egregious. We trusted him, we waited for him to say that things were as bad as Bush and Company were telling us. We waited for him to tell the truth! He went to the UN and he lied just like the others. So, his fake mea culpa when he appeared on national TV to say that his speech at the UN was a "blot on his record" HA, he just said it, he didn't mean it. He's just a lying liar. He told us in his speech at DeAnza College that we must "stay the course" and we must continue to fight the war on terror. He also said that he heard about the protesters outside. He said he empathized with those who had lost a child (yeah, right!) but that maybe we should be protesting the insurgents in Iraq (Hey, Colin, maybe if we hadn't invaded a sovereign country, maybe we wouldn't have provided such a ripe environment to train these insurgents!) I was sickened! I was also saddened to hear that he and his wife had welcomed their 3rd grandchild the night before. And what about the grandbabies that I will never have? He doesn't have a clue how this war is affecting the military families and he, General Powell, of all people should! Colin Powell has not shed a tear for my son or any of the others, just like everyone else in this administration. Shame, shame!

A War Tribunal for Colin Powell was scheduled for Thursday at the college with a great group of people who were experts in their field.

Palo Alto, CA
"For What Noble Cause" was the name of the event at a Baptist church in Palo Alto. Nick, a Gold Star Uncle and I were scheduled to speak as well as others, including representatives from First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, West Bay Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Congregation Kol Emeth, American Muslim Voice, Palo Alto Friends Meeting, Iraq Veteran, Veterans Administration Chaplain,and Multi Faith Voices for Peace & Justice.

THAT was a tough evening. While veryone was caring and welcoming; letters
were read from soldiers at war. From the civil war, WWII, and Viet Nam. I read Ken's last letter to me- it arrived after he was killed. I hadn't read the letter in a long while, so it was very very hard to read and I think it was hard for people to hear, too.

As we were closing the evening, the young man from American Muslim Voices asked his mom to come back
and talk to me. He told her he needed to give me a hug. What a loving gesture! Someone is raising him well!

San Jose, CA

I had been working on Stories of the Fallen since the mid summer. 7 Gold Star Families from the greater Bay Area who had lost loved ones in the Iraq War worked with the Digital Clubhouse Network to tell the stories of our sons, our nephews. It wasn't about politics, it was about the boys. We premiered our digital stories to a pretty full house at the Montgomery Theater in San Jose right after the Veteran's Day parade on Friday. We were joined by family and friends and it was a remarkable experience. I am so pleased that some of my friends could join me, too.

Here is what I said at my opening comments:

"They would probably not think of themselves as heroes, they were just doing their jobs. They were there for there buddies and their job was to make sure that each and every one made it home. That was their community. This afternoon we are joined by our community as we honor & pay tribute to 7 of our nation's best.

However you feel about the war, and believe me, these families politics cover the spectrum. But this project was never about politics, it was about our little boys who grew up to be strong men. Men who believed in America and who volunteered to serve their country. We will forever be grateful and proud of their service and we will never forget them. We ask the same of you."

The videos will be posted on the Digital Clubhouse Network website. I'll let you know when they are available.

McCormick's & Schicks in SJ hosted the Gold Star Families for dinner after the event. It was a generous offer and a good time was had by all who attended.

Murfreesboro, TN
I took the red eye to Tennessee Friday night to honor Ken. I was going to Ken's Alma Mater, MTSU in Murfreesboro to present one of Ken's desert camouflage uniforms to the Military Science Department at the college. I wanted it as a historical commemoration of Ken's service to the country and as a reminder to those who walked through Forrest Hall. Ken's friend, Mike, who is a Blackhawk crewmember took care of the framing (Buford helped, too, I hear).

I met with Buford and his wife, Amanda and Stephanie for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Buford is on his 2 weeks leave from Iraq. I think he has a love/hate relationship with Iraq as many soldiers do, but that's my opinion. I couldn't figure out if he really knew what the mission is. Stephanie is still in, the Reserves, I think. She is trying to figure out what to do with her life. Mike was sick and couldn't make it to breakfast. I was disappointed because Mike has been the best about keeping in touch with me out of ALL of Ken's friends. He's a good man. I had wanted to meet his wife and their 2 children. The youngest was born days before Ken was killed and Mike left home to attend Ken's memorial in California. I know he should have been at home for his infant son, but he also needed to be in CA to honor Ken.

We all went over to the Military Science department for the Veteran's salute. I was glad to see Mike & his wife were able to join us, too. Ken's friend, Adrian was also there with his 4 month old son.

A LTC, John, from
Carry The Flame, Rolling Thunder had carried a photo of Ken across the country, from CA to DC last Memorial Day. Before the ride, we discovered that Ken's & John's lives had many parallels. Both attended MTSU, both had majors of International relations and both went on to serve into he Army. This is one of the many examples I have found this year when there really are no coincidences. I told John he really HAD to be the one to ride with Ken's photo. And he did. We met up in DC at Rolling Thunder for the ride through DC. Mysisters and I were all able to ride on the back of a motorcycle as part of the event. At MTSU on Saturday at the Veteran's event, I presented a montage of photos that John had sent me from the journey. I also included *the* photo that John carried. It will hang in the Military Science building.

Ken's LTC was there to accept the uniform. He gave a short speech but sadly couldn't even remember the day Ken was killed. We are hoping that he will honor our request to hang the uniform in the hallway at Forrest Hall.

The thing that struck me was that after the presentation only 2 people came up to me to shake my hand or offer any kind of condolence. These were veterans of every war. These were alumnus of the school that Ken attended. These were people who should have had some kind of compassion and there was nothing like that. These people who know the sacrifices from the soldiers and from their families. I don't want to compare, but I will....I am used to standing ovations and hugs and tears when I speak out against the war. Those people understand the sacrifice, they stand in line to pay their respects after I speak. And these people at this Veteran's event, were less than welcoming. I don't get it. I just don't get it.

Marina's is Ken's favorite restaurant in M-boro. I'm glad Mike remembered that. I went to dinner with Mike and his family, his inlaws and his 2 boys on Saturday night. I think it was kind of awkward for the inlaws. They are my age, of course and there had to be some kind of feeling that they have their daughter and son-in-law and I don't. Mike's m-i-l expressed condolences to me. I appreciate it when people do that. As good as dinner was, this was where Ken & I had met some of his friends on an earlier visit and it is where he wanted both sides of his family to join him for lunch during his graduation weekend. The last time I was there, so was Ken, and it was a very happy occasion.

I spent a good part of Sunday with one of Ken's favorite professor, Anne. It is easy to figure out why they had such a complementary relationship. I think they both learned from each other. I am grateful that she made the time to tell me "Ken stories".

I am glad that Ken's friends were able to spend some time with me, too. It would have been a very lonely time alone on the campus.

The flight back from TN was long; head winds turned what should have been a 4 hour flight into 6 very long hours. I had a middle seat, lucky me. My seatmates were kind- both of them on their way to SJ for the same convention. They listened to me talk about Ken and I think they silently thanked somebody for the goodness of their children and families and that all of them were together, even if not for this week. I believe they were touched by the war tonight.

It will be good to sleep in my own bed tonite- it always is. Welcome Back, welcome Home!