Category Archives: Patriotism

Hal “Pop” Oldham

Sometimes something or somebody just pops into your head and it just takes up residency there until you figure out why the thought came to you at all. This morning as I awoke, my stepfather, Hal “Pop” Oldham was on my mind. He passed away in 2002. I wondered why he was there. Why now? I did the quick math and I realized that today is the 13th anniversary of his passing.
Hal was special to me. I loved that man. I had had a dysfunctional relationship with my own father going back to my earliest days. Fortunately, we had a reconciliation and worked out our issues before his death in 1983. All has been forgiven.
My mom was a single mom for many years and often worked a couple of jobs at a time so I could have a good life. We were poor as church mice but I never really knew that. At some point, when I was 13 or 14, Hal came into my life at a time when a boy needed a strong male role model in his life.
One of his great gifts was that he listened to me. At that age, there are just some things a boy can’t talk to his mother about. Hal was there. I could never repay him for the time, attention and the mentally stimulating conversations we had at the dinner table. At our house on Lincoln St, it was common for us to put on the beautiful music and light a couple of candles at dinner time. It created a soothing atmosphere. After dinner and the dishes were cleared, Hal & I would have long conversations about current and world events, politics, the stock market—pretty much whatever came to mind. I learned a lot from him. He certainly was one of those few people who have had the largest impact on my life.
I had the most precious experience of spending 11 days with him before he died. As I sat by his hospital bed, we had some wonderful and priceless conversations. We laughed. We cried. These were precious, poignant, private moments. We reflected on his life. He opened up to me like he never had before. We talked about what he did during WW II, his early home life, his love of the law (He nearly became a lawyer) and how he became a Chef.
We talked about everything. It was surreal at times. He spent a lot of time apologizing to me for the things he didn’t do for me when I was growing up. He wished he could have done more. I stopped him and told him that he didn’t owe me any apology. If anything, I owe him. I thanked him for everything he ever did for me. He helped to mold me into the person that I am. We talked about my mom and the love we both had for her. He deeply loved my mom. I know that.
I remember sitting in that hospital room and talking about his limited future and what would come next. We planned his memorial service and funeral service much like you discuss this weekend’s pot luck social. He loved the sea and wanted to be cremated and dispersed at sea by the Navy. I arranged for that to happen. I would not trade those 11 days for anything I have experienced in the world.
I received the call from the doctor that he had passed away quietly in his sleep. As much as I felt the loss, I was relieved to know his suffering was over. A memorial service was set up in Laconia at the funeral. What follows is the eulogy I delivered at his memorial service in 2002. I share that with you now.

Norma and Hal Oldham  July 23 1993 My Mom, Norma and Hal “Pop” Oldham

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Star& Stripes Forever–What You Didn’t Know

The 4th of July is one of my absolute favorite holidays of the entire year. I have so many great memories associated with our nation’s birthday. Not the least of which is the music. As I sit here composing this piece I am listening and being inspired by the music of John Phillip Sousa blaring at full tilt. Marches are supposed to be loud, right?

I learned to play the trombone when I was in the 7th grade. Nah, I wasn’t very good. What I lacked in talent I more than made up for it in enthusiasm. We played a lot of marches in the marching band at Laconia High School. I loved playing our school fight song, the second stanza of ‘Our Director’. It was rousing and outright fun to play. I never got tired of playing it. Rah, rah for old Laconia…

Without a doubt, my favorite song to play was the ‘Stars & Stripes Forever.’ That, in my estimation, is the greatest march ever written. To this day, I vividly remember playing that wonderful march while standing on the football field at the University of New Hampshire at halftime with about 9 other high school bands. I can still hear the piccolos cutting through that bombastic lower brass & trombones in the final stanza. I can still feel the chills it gave me to be a part of that. To this day, I often get choked up when I hear that final stanza. It is an emotion-filled song for me, personally. That song represents America to me. I hope they play it at my funeral when that time comes.

John Phillip Souza stated in his autobiography, Marching Along, he wrote that he composed the march on Christmas Day in 1896. He composed the march in his head while on a ship on his way home from Europe. He committed the notes to paper on arrival in the United States. It was first performed at Willow Grove Park, just outside Philadelphia, on May 14, 1897, and was regarded a huge success.

I bet you didn’t know Souza wrote lyrics for the song. As of 1987, as deemed by Congress, “The Stars & Stripes Forever” is the national march of the United States of America. Enjoy. Happy 4th of July! God Bless America!

 

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A 9/11 Reflection

  Who among us doesn’t remember exactly where we were and what we were doing the moment we heard of the unfolding national tragedy on 9/11?  I had been diagnosed with diabetes just a week or two before and was scheduled for my first diabetes education class that morning. As I drove to pick my wife up at her workplace I was listening to Sam & Bob on KVET. I retired from broadcasting just a month and half before while working with the morning duo.

   As I recall Bob broke up their conversation with the news that apparently a small commuter airliner had crashed into the World Trade Center. I knew they had access to the news channels in the studio and could watch what was going on. I told my wife about what had just happened when she got in the car. As we drove toward the training site a second plane shot through the other tower. You knew in that instant, this was no accident. At the moment, I had no desire to attend any classes. I wanted to get to a TV and see what was happening. Having worked in the media and been involved with several big stories over the years, I wanted to know more about what was going on. It’s just something that gets in your blood, I suppose.

   When we arrived at the site we were taken into a classroom. The TV was on CNN I think. There were the images that would be seared into our psyches forever.  While we waited for the other attendees the first tower came down in a surrealistic plummeting cloud. I leaned over to my wife and said, “They just killed at least a thousand people.” I knew there was no way that massive structure could come down that way and not kill or injure scores of people. The class was held and I must admit it was extremely hard to concentrate. All I could visualize were the images of Tower Two collapsing and the smoke pouring out of the Pentagon.

When the class was over, we went directly home and were immersed in the endless media coverage. The heartbreak and the looks of anguish on the people’s faces were riveting and such that it penetrated my soul. I knew and I suspect you knew too; somehow the world had been changed and would be a different place forever.  The memory for me remains vivid to this day. The only good thing that came of that day was the way the American people regardless of race, creed, or political philosophy pulled together in an enormous feeling of common identity, purpose & pride.  Eleven years later, I often wonder where those feelings went.

Tuesday, 9/11 was a horribly black day for countless thousands of families and this country as a whole. I know I shall never forget that day. As a country, I pray we never forget.

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Every Last One a Living Breathing Person

As we celebrate another Memorial Day, I do so this year with a heavier investment. Growing up in Laconia, NH, I vividly remember marching every year in the Memorial Day parade down Main Street, turning right onto Court Street and quickly veering off the left onto Academy Street. We marched under the stately old oak trees to the Union Cemetery where words were spoken, a 21 gun salute was delivered and Taps was played. There was always something profoundly moving about that scene.

That parade was a part of my life from the time I was 8 or 9 years old until I left for the U.S. Navy in 1966. I marched first with my pack of fellow Cub Scouts. Later, I would march as a patrol leader in Troop 249 with the Boy Scouts. My last three appearances found me in the front row as a trombone player in the Laconia High School band. Throughout those years I think I understood something about patriotism. After all, my father had fought in the Battle of the Bulge before being critically wounded after crossing the Rhine River. My future step father fought in the Pacific and was in on the major island invasions like Iwo Jima & Okinawa. I was also a real student of history. I marveled at the stories of men named Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Pershing & Washington.

I knew my country was something extraordinary. It was something I accepted as fact–unquestioned. It was extraordinary then; it is still today.  When I think about this day and reflect on what it really means I am gripped by a powerful emotion. America has fought many wars since the American Revolution. No matter the war, real men & women gave the ultimate price of their own flesh & blood—their own individual spirit. Every one of those lives was a real, breathing, honest-to-God living person with a family who loved them. Most went off to a strange place they may have never heard of before to face an enemy and never came home. I saw a picture today that I thought was emblematic of how real this concept is and I’m sharing it with you.

 

Each a living breathing person

Like many of you, I too served in the military. I dare say most of us who served never thought that we were really doing anything special. We were just doing our jobs. We were serving our country—doing our ‘service.’ But collectively, in retrospect, it took each of us doing our jobs to maintain freedom for our country. Irrespective of whatever your job was or where you performed it; it was a silent commitment we all made. We banded together and carried out our various individual missions. Most of us got to come home but there those among us who would not get that opportunity. It is them we remember today. I humbly say thank you to my comrades for your sacrifice. To my fellow veteran’s…thank you too.

As I stated earlier, this Memorial Day I am more heavily invested in remembering this day in a special light. This is the first Memorial Day that I have a son in the military. I could not be prouder of that young man. I went through a thought process when I joined the military. I remember how much I thought about it at the time and making that commitment to an idea bigger than I was. Now, my son has made a similar decision. I dare say, I shouldn’t wear a shirt today with buttons. They’d only pop off my chest. Where do these wonderful young people come from but our own homes?

This is a great country and I understand why. When my daughter, Whitney was born 29 years ago, I remember holding her in my arms and looking into her eyes and thinking to myself, “Look at that tiny life here in my arms. I now understand why men WILL go off to war—to do whatever is necessary to keep this precious little life safe from all harm.”  I had a similar thought four years later when my son, Tyler was born. I have been blessed so many times by God in my life–more than I ever deserved. My children are the best blessing of all of them. Now, my son has become a man of his own mind and decided to serve his country. He is one of the real, breathing, honest-to-God living persons with a family who loves him. That young man is now MY hero. I look up to him.

So as we enjoy our grilled steaks, burgers & beer today. I’ll be sharing my celebration with those persons who gave us the freedom to speak our minds and live our lives in a manner we choose. They made that possible. Just as it was when I was that kid standing in the Union Cemetery trying to understand; I now completely ‘’get it.’ It is a thought not just for today but everyday our flag waves above this extraordinary country. I have been told, the flag waves not because of the wind but because of those who have given their last breath for their country. I am deeply grateful. I am profoundly humbled.

Happy Memorial Day, 2012.

 

 

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What the 4th of July Means to Me

 I first posted this story last year but have been asked to repost for this 4th of July. I hope you enjoy it.

  During my senior year at Laconia High School, I, like my other classmates had to write a term paper. Truth be told, I began this particular paper during my junior year to fulfill a similar requirement for that year’s class. It wasn’t long into the project before I realized I had bitten off more than I could do in one year. So I quickly banged out a term paper on ‘Hurricanes.’ Having been through a few in my young life, I found the subject matter fascinating. I continued to work on the main project throughout the summer prior to my senior year.

  Come my senior year, I was already fully engrossed in the subject matter. My treatise was centered on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I wanted to know the personal price that each signer paid for signing that document. My paper was simply called, ‘The Price.’ Understand, there were no books on that subject matter at that time. It was all, pretty much, original research. Although that is not the subject matter of this piece I will tell you these were remarkable men and the prices they paid individually were dear.

   The American Revolution is one of my favorite periods of American History. I have read many books and biographies of the people and times. Resilience and perseverance are two words that immediately come to mind to describe the players on that stage. Courage doesn’t begin to describe them.

  One of my favorite holidays all year has always been the 4th of July. Like most folks, I love the fireworks, family gatherings, cookouts, hamburgers, hot dogs, a cold beer and apple pie. It’s not the 4th of July without hearing Sousa’s ‘Stars & Stripes Forever.’ Throw in a Red Sox game too. I also like to take time to gaze upon some of Norman Rockwell’s stirring paintings too. Yet that is not what I love and admire most.

   If you look back at those 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence you see a collection of men who were the right men at the right place at the right time.  Think about it. These were landowners, lawyers, merchants, physicians, ministers and well-educated self-made men. Men who stood to sacrifice virtually everything they held dear. They put it all on the line.

   The process of deciding what to put into the declaration was a contentious one from beginning to end. It was oppressively hot and the meetings were held behind closed windows and doors in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I have stood in the very room where the negotiations took place. The room is relatively small. As I recall, at no point were all the delegates present at the same time. I doubt they could all sit in that room at the same time. There just wasn’t that much room. The flies were a constant source of distraction. It was extremely uncomfortable but yet they pressed on until an agreement and Jefferson’s wording was approved. It was a momentous document. Nothing like it had ever been written before.

    Sometimes it is easy to look back at those individuals and think of them as people who lived in a time we really cannot understand or relate to. We learned about them in school but probably never really thought of them as ‘real’ people. Consciously, we know they were real but they are so far removed from our lives, it’s hard to relate to them. As I look back at that collection of actual living breathing men, I begin to appreciate even more what they did, how they went about it and how incredibly dangerous that process was. Yet undaunted, they pushed forward to make a statement for a people.  Some started off dead set against Independence while others, like John Adams, could see no other path. Benjamin Franklin was already an old man. He long surpassed the average life expectation of the day. There were struggles within the struggle. This was hard work. Everything was on the line for them.

   Had they been caught, hanging was an automatic sentence; not to mention other indignities including nothing short of drawn and quartering. Many of these men lost their personal fortunes, families and properties. One even escaped the British out the back door in his night shirt and lived in a cave with a dog for an extended period of time.  One of their wives, already near death was captured and put on a prison ship. She was fed through a key hole by her fellow prisoners. These were extraordinary individuals. How many of us today would do that?

   I have always felt this country was formed through none other than the grace of God. I believe, he saw to it that we had those 56 courageous individuals at the right place at the right time. In many ways this whole event was so improbable that it defies all logic. I believe it happened because GOD had his hand in it and gave his blessing.   For me it is the single most remarkable event in our history. None of us would be so fortunate to live in this country today had this event not happened. There is one other oddity about this event that has always fascinated me. In the years after the declaration was signed, the Revolutionary War fought and the Constitution ratified, John Adams & Thomas Jefferson became estranged for many years but after both had served as President, they began to correspond with each other again near the end of their lives.

  They had tremendous respect for each other. On July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day, sometime near four in the morning, Thomas Jefferson passed away at Monticello.  Later that afternoon in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams awoke on his death bed. Among his last words were, “Jefferson survives.” He passed near 6:20 that evening thinking that Jefferson was still alive. Two of the most important players in the design and delivery of that document, died the same day, fifty years to the day.  For me that is one of the most amazing quirks of American History.

   Yes, the 4th of July means so much more to me than parades, patriotic music & speeches. It is something I feel deep in my heart. I have been so proud to grow up and live my life as an American. Again, I feel blessed by GOD as if granted with a gift. I am an American. I love my country. I love her history and I love ‘Old Glory’ too.  It is one of the greatest stories told on earth.

   Are we perfect? No, not by a long shot. I think one of the reasons that Americans get criticized so often around the world is because we have a very well defined vision of who we are and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve  what must be done even if sometimes our backs are pushed to the wall before we act. Our American character should never be doubted. It goes all the way back to 56 men of vision & courage in Philadelphia in 1776. They set the original course for us. Thank you God for those 56 lives that helped us become a nation.  Happy 4th of July.

Tweed Scott is a retired broadcaster, author & professional speaker. His book Texas in Her Own Words is a peek into the Texas psyche and explains why Texans are the way they are.  It is a 3-time national award-winner. It’s available at

http://www.tweedscott.com/index_files/Page347.htm

His second book, an E-book, ‘Tex-A-Tude”  is available for ONLY $3 at:  http://www.tweedscott.com/index_files/Page434.htm

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