In the 15 years since the terrorist attacks in New York City, northern Virginia and Shanksville, PA, many stories—real and unreal—have been told. Over the years, we’ve been intrigued and inspired by stories of heroic actions, strange “coincidences” that kept people from going to work that day, conspiracy theories and miraculous tales of survival.
Perhaps one of the most amazing stories is the one behind the iconic photo of three firefighters raising the American flag among the ruins of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. What most people don’t know about that flag was that it disappeared just hours after it was put in place, only to be found more than a decade later and nearly three thousand miles from where that famed photo was taken.
On September 11, 2001, the three firefighters from Brooklyn—George Johnson, Dan McWilliams and Billy Eisengrein—could never have known what their spontaneous display of patriotism would mean to the nation. What was their private tribute to honor all of those whose final resting place was a multi-story pile of steel and cement would become an indelible scene that is now etched onto the collective memory of Americans of a tragic day long ago. So moving was the photo, it was immediately compared to another momentous flag-raising in American history—the one at Iwo Jima during World War II. The photograph earned a Pulitzer Prize and inspired many artists and was captured on a US postage stamp.
The firefighters didn’t know that as they paid their respects and showed their love of country, photographer Thomas E. Franklin was standing nearby and took the photo late that afternoon for the New Jersey newspaper that he worked for at the time. It appeared in papers all over the world the next day.
Oddly enough, the flag didn’t belong to any of the fire departments working at Ground Zero. McWilliams had taken it off of a yacht that was docked nearby on the Hudson River—a vessel called Star of America that was owned by a woman named Shirley Dreifus. He had sawed off the yardarm holding the flag and the three found a pole to display it about 20 feet off the ground. It disappeared late that night, and no one knew who took it. It was assumed that the city took possession of it, and a flag owned by the city and believed to be the flag from the photo was signed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Governor George Pataki.
That flag made its rounds all over the world. It was flown at New York City Hall, Yankee Stadium and aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. After its many adventures, the original owner of the Ground Zero flag—Ms. Dreifus—decided to officially turn it over to the city. That’s when she noticed that the flag she thought came from her yacht was actually a different size than the one she had. She even started a website in an effort to recover her lost flag. CNN also aired a documentary in 2013 about the mystery of the lost Ground Zero flag. It was during this filming where video evidence was found that confirmed the flag’s disappearance took place the night of 9/11/01 around 11 p.m.
Flash forward to the fall of 2014 when author, history buff and host of the History Channel’s “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” enters the picture. He did a story about the missing flag on the show’s first episode, offering a $10,000 reward to the person who had it to turn it in. A few days later, a man who said he was a Marine named Brian turned it in to a fire station in Everett, Washington–more than 2800 miles from Ground Zero. That news just came out this week because Brian’s flag had to undergo rigorous testing to verify that it had in fact been the one from Ground Zero. After almost two years of experts conducting their research, it passed every test.
According to a report in the Everett Herald, Brian did not give the firefighters his last name when he turned the flag in and didn’t want the reward money. He reportedly had gotten the flag from an unnamed worker with the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, who had gotten it from one of the 9/11 widows.
Police in Everett have released a composite sketch of the big-hearted Marine named Brian and hope he comes forward to tell the rest of the story of the Ground Zero Flag. The flag was found as mysteriously as it disappeared 15 years ago and now takes its rightful place at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York just in time for Sunday’s anniversary remembrance.
The History Channel will be airing another special on Sunday night (“America’s 9/11 Flag: Rise From the Ashes”) hosted by Meltzer and will give all the details on the Ground Zero flag’s strange journey that took it across the country and how the experts were able to verify its authenticity as the flag raised by those three resolute firefighters 15 years ago.
As we celebrate the 240th birthday of the U.S.A., we’re standing on the brink of another presidential election, terrorist threats now loom regularly here and abroad, and many feel like there’s no reason to trust that God’s got this anymore. Have the American people—as a whole—declared their independence from what our Founding Fathers often referred to as “Divine Providence”?
Recently, Nashville singer and songwriter Stephanie Layne took a few minutes to answer some questions about a song she co-wrote titled “One Nation Over God” that talks about this very idea of our nation being much different than what the Founders had in mind in 1776.
Liberty Bell Blog: How did “One Nation Over God” come about?
Stephanie Layne: Heading into a presidential election year, we were discussing the political and moral climate in which we found ourselves. When we got around to throwing out potential song ideas, I said, “What do you think about One Nation Over God”? It was one of those rare moments when there was no hesitation for any of us. That’s the song we wanted to write! There are a lot of people in this country who have a growing sense of loss, sadness, and even outrage that the fundamental ideals upon which this country was founded and became a great nation have slowly eroded– and now are even being brazenly cast aside. We wanted to take a stand with Americans who believe we are headed down the wrong path. This song is our way of letting our voice be heard, but is also offered in the hope of stirring the voices of so many in this country who want to speak up and stand up for the ideals and values that have characterized America for almost two and a half centuries.
LBB: Who was involved with you in writing this song?
SL: Debbie Hall, Jason Wyatt, and Monte King, all Nashville songwriters. I’ve been writing with these great friends and songwriters for years.
LBB: What kind of reception has the song gotten so far?
SL: “One Nation Over God” resonated so much with the message of North Carolina Congressional candidate Chris Hardin’s movement that he adopted the song as an official campaign to rally supporters. Sadly, he recently lost in the primary.
LBB: There’s one part where it says “under-educated, making choices we can’t take back” that really stuck with me…I’d be interested to hear what inspired that part?
SL: We were concerned about some of the bad choices our government has made that could jeopardize the safety and security of American citizens. Also the school systems are not up to the standards of other countries. Many Americans are uninformed, being taught political correctness and socialistic ideas rather than hitting on math and history, and especially ignorant of the U.S. Constitution.
LBB: What do you hope will happen with this song?
SL: This song is my ministry. Our goal is to make people think and understand that morally, spiritually, and ethically we’re headed down the wrong path…that we need to get back to being a country that is One Nation Under God. We would love a commercial country or Christian cut. To hear it on the radio as a number one single would be an amazing dream come true. The song has been pitched to Franklin Graham, Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity, Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, Chris Tomlin, Darryl Worley, and Andy Griggs.
LBB: Any plans for a video?
SL: U.S. Congressional candidate Chris Hardin made a campaign YouTube video in his hometown that has received almost 9K views. Jason Wyatt’s church in Texas made a lyric video that has received almost 8K views. We have plans to produce our Official “One Nation Over God” music video in the near future.
LBB: Will you be performing it this summer anywhere?
SL: I will be performing it at the National Day of the Cowboy in Humboldt, Kansas this month (July 22-23). RFD-TV show “Best of America by Horseback” will be on location and filming the event. Horse enthusiasts from all over the country will ride the trails and enjoy western music from Del Shields—co-host of the show—and as I said I’ll be there too.
LBB: Is there anything else you would want readers to know?
SL: “One Nation Over God” is available on all worldwide digital distribution companies–iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play, etc. Also, there are two versions of the song. The male version was sung by my co-writer Jason Wyatt, with my harmonies. I recorded the song on my newly-released album, Eclectic.
NOTE: Stephanie Layne’s music is available at www.stephanielayne.com, all worldwide digital distribution companies, and—if you’re in the Nashville area—the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Store. Visit the “One Nation Over God” Official Website at www.OneNationOverGodSong.com.
Thanks to Stephanie and the other writers of this moving song for your hard work and inspiration. I encourage everyone to check it out, download it and share it. Have a Happy & Safe Independence Day!
Some women veterans of World War II who had been denied burial in Arlington National Cemetery are now allowed that honor. Earlier this week, Congress passed a bill permitting female pilots—known as WASPS—the high honor of being buried in what really is sacred ground.
According to Stars and Stripes, members of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots have been working to right this wrong since the Army last year reinterpreted a law from the 1970s that banned them from Arlington burials as a way to deal with the increasingly limited space there. These brave Fly Girls were trained pilots who transported combat aircraft from 1942-1944, but were not considered active-duty service members at the time.
Thank goodness that was remedied, and the WASPS have since been given the Congressional Gold Medal and veteran benefits for their service. They stepped into roles outside of the norm for women, and should be recognized for that. This really has nothing to do with the controversy over women in combat roles. I don’t personally believe that’s the proper role for women, but they do have a place if they choose to have one within the military.
I once knew a guy who was a veteran who used to refer to female Marines as “WOMAN Marines”. But he said it with a certain amount of disdain in his voice as if their service was somehow less than his own. I got the impression he didn’t see them as fellow Marines who just happened to be female. It’s like the ignorant boss who looks down on his secretary without getting a clue that she (or he for that matter) makes his job easier (if he or she is good at what they do).
I give that above example just as a way to explain that all veterans—male and female—have given something of themselves to preserve the ideas of the American experiment. They just do it in different ways. Most gave at least some of their time in their youth, their innocence; some lost limbs, sanity or relationships…others gave their lives. Even those who served in situations where they weren’t in danger should have our gratitude so long as they did it with honor.
There’s a sign outside of a veterans’ hospital in the area I grew up in that has this statement: “The price of freedom is visible here.” It can’t be said too often that freedom isn’t free—it always costs someone something. That’s true if we’re talking about the freedom we have within our nation, and the freedom we need within ourselves.
Today is Good Friday. Many Christians remember an even greater sacrifice that was made for all people of all times by the only One who could have made it. It wasn’t to save men from the clutches of an evil dictator or repressive government, but to save people from ourselves and the consequences of the sin we were all born into. Jesus died once for all of us to save us from an eternity apart from Him.
It didn’t take an act of Congress to do it…we just need to believe it.
A couple of days before Halloween, I went into a grocery store and noticed they already had snowflakes painted on their windows. The frost is barely on the pumpkin before snowmen and colored lights greet us at every turn.
But wait—isn’t there another pretty important holiday in there somewhere? The one with the guys in funny black hats with big buckles on them—you remember—the Pilgrims. What about those cute turkeys made out of hand prints? Somewhere between feasting on candy corn at the end of October and the feasting on everything else at the end of the year, lies another feast. This feast, in the earlier days of our country, had nothing to do with parades, football, food…and certainly not shopping.
Like so many things in history, this day has a colorful—and at least at one point in time—a controversial story. A feast wasn’t always part of the day…just the opposite, in fact.
When the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation first celebrated, it was after a treacherous beginning in this new land. Many of them had not survived that first winter of 1620 due to illness, exposure and hunger—and a disastrous experiment with socialism. The Patuxet Indians had once inhabited the same area, but had been wiped out by a plague. There was, however, a lone survivor of the Patuxets named Squanto, who had been captured by an English explorer in the early 1600’s and taken to England where he learned to speak English. Captain John Smith took him back to New England in 1614, but he again was captured and sold into slavery in Spain.
As Divine Providence would have it, Squanto was then bought and rescued by some local friars in Spain who introduced him to Christianity. He ended up back in his homeland by 1619 to find his people were gone. Squanto adopted a new tribe, the Wampanoag Indians, and this was the tribe the Pilgrims partnered with to learn to make their way in a new environment. Chief Massasoit introduced them to Squanto, due to Squanto’s ability to speak English well. He was able to help the Pilgrims adjust, and Plymouth Governor William Bradford credited Squanto as being “an instrument of God” in helping the Pilgrims.
By the time the harvest of 1621 rolled around, things were much better, so Governor Bradford declared a day of Thanksgiving to give God His due for a successful harvest and for their friendship with the Wampanoag Indians. On that day Chief Massasoit and 90 of his men feasted with the Pilgrims on the fruit of the land. They enjoyed such delicacies as deer, eels (yuck!), fish, berries, popcorn and yes—turkey.
It wasn’t until 1863, when our young nation was in the midst of a civil war that President Abraham Lincoln established that the last Thursday of November should be set aside as a day of thanksgiving and fasting—not feasting—to humble ourselves and seek the face of God for direction and repentance. That’s quite a difference from today’s Thanksgiving. The holiday remained on that last Thursday for quite some time— until 1939, in fact.
It was then that Progressive Democrat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (during his 3rd term in office) decided that there needed to be more time for shopping in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so bowing to complaints from retailers, he moved it to the 3rd Thursday. Leave it to a Progressive to take the focus off of thanking God for His many blessings to shopping and commercialism. It’s interesting how the Republicans are always the ones that are said to be focused on money and gain, while the Democrats (in the minds of some) are for “the little guy”.
Back when President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving, so many people were against it that the new day became known as the “Democrat Thanksgiving”, while the traditional 4th Thursday was referred to as the “Republican Thanksgiving”. Some states refused to celebrate it on the new date, while some followed suit. This confusion continued until 1941 when Congress declared that Thanksgiving should fall on the 4th Thursday of November.
So, I guess we can blame President Roosevelt for the insanity that became Black Friday, and the evolution of that in recent years to stores opening earlier and earlier to where many of them are not even closed at all on Thanksgiving Day.
If we really want to do this Thanksgiving thing right, we’ll take the feasting and thanksgiving of the Pilgrims and mix it with the prayer and humility of Lincoln’s time. Bringing these things into our own traditions would make us less likely to bypass this wonderful holiday. If anything, it can prepare us for the joyful celebration of Christmas and Christ’s birth to close out the old year, and usher in New Year’s Day with a new hope for the future.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
It’s no wonder why some parents are reluctant to send their children away to college these days. College campuses are full of absolute chaos, as evidenced by the Yale Halloween costume controversy and the Missouri racial issues that resulted in the president of that school stepping down. College students seem mad all the time…angry at every perceived injustice. Students– aided by their left-wing professors and a 24/7 news cycle that feeds on the hash-tag-fight-of-the-day– are in a battle for everything.
Just a day after we remembered the service of our nation’s veterans, students across the nation walked out of classes to have their #MillionStudentMarch. They demanded to have a free education (because it’s a human right, don’t you know?), as well as a $15 minimum wage and student loan forgiveness. It was a collective large-scale temper tantrum with capitalism and traditional American ways being targeted for their “unfairness” and “injustice”.
One of the organizers, Keely Mullen, a student at Northeastern University, was interviewed on Fox by Neil Cavuto and it’s both painful and satisfying to watch. Mullen suggested that all these demands could be met if the “one percent” would just pay more taxes. When Cavuto calmly questioned her as to whether she or any of her peers would want 90 or 100 percent of their income confiscated through taxes once they become established, she hemmed and hawed and seemed pretty flabbergasted.
Mullen is a Marxist and is no stranger to far-left causes, so you would think she’d be better able to explain why she feels like things are so unfair for her and her fellow students. Lost in the coverage of the Million Student March is that she herself is part of the one percent whom she claims is “hoarding all the wealth” which causes so much distress for college students. Her LinkedIn profile picture shows her up on a stage with a bullhorn and she describes herself as a “student pursuing opportunities in community organizing and anti-racism advocacy work”. She’s majoring in political science and Sociology, so she’s probably had more than enough opportunities to have the idea of “white guilt” drummed into her, along with all the usual anti-capitalist, anti-American garbage.
Northeastern charges around $45,000 a year for tuition, so Mullen can look forward to a pretty hefty debt load once she’s finally finished with her four years of studying community organizing and interning with the ACLU. She complained to Cavuto about how high tuition was and that it’s just not fair that students here in the US have to actually pay for a college education when other countries give it to their citizens for free. Well, Keely- other nations also tax their citizens into lifestyles that you and your friends would find very hard to live in. You may also want to stop and think for a minute: Why do so many of them forego their free educations in their home countries to come to American universities?
I’d just like to know who twisted her arm and forced her to go to an expensive school, and major in two areas that almost guarantee unemployment after graduating? It’s not like she didn’t know going in what the cost would be—and why should her debt be forgiven? Many of us have had to struggle to pay off student loans years after our diplomas expired. She may want to think about the reasons why college is so expensive—high salaries paid to professors who can never be fired due to tenure; or the fact that the government is now in charge of student loans, so the higher the tuition, the more money that needs to be borrowed, and therefore more money rolling into the hands of the government. I’m sure she never gives a thought to those things when she’s out with her bullhorn making demands of her fellow Americans.
But in this country…at least for now…she has the right to speak. She has that right because of the First Amendment to the Constitution that so many people gave their lives to defend over the course of our history. One young active duty Marine had a different opinion on what the students were doing on college campuses this week, and took to social media to set them straight. Tweeting a selfie, dressed in fatigues and carrying a full load on his back, James Erickson said this: “I wanted money for school, so I marched too…#millionstudentmarch This one was about 25 miles…”
He didn’t even need a bullhorn.
How do you celebrate Veterans’ Day without those pesky displays of patriotism? Just ask the powers that be at Seattle Pacific University. In an effort to refrain from offending anyone…hmmm…it was announced that the Christian school would not have the presentation of the colors or the reciting of The Pledge of Allegiance during their chapel this week when they hold their Veterans’ Day remembrance.
After this news came out last Friday in the conservative student-run website The College Fix, the school—one day later—reversed their decision and now the Veterans’ Day service at the chapel will include The Pledge and presentation of the colors. The SPU Military & Veteran Support Group launched a Facebook campaign to get the word out about their school’s stance that “a few people” would be made “uncomfortable” if The Pledge were recited during a Christian service.
Of course, that makes no sense at all, given that our nation as founded began as a place where people (the Pilgrims) escaped to so that they could specifically practice Christianity and where they would be free to read the Bible without having to go through the Church of England (the King) and accept whatever interpretation came down from him. So, reciting The Pledge, especially during a Veterans’ Day service, would be entirely appropriate at a Christian university.
But that involves knowing history. Today’s college campuses are more interested in ridiculous speech codes and protecting students from “micro-aggressions”. Instead of being hotbeds of new and diverse thinking, most college campuses today are run by far-left professors and administrators who believe the only people that it’s okay to offend are Christians…and apparently the military. Many campuses today are filled with children in adult bodies who feel threatened and “uncomfortable” if they encounter beliefs that challenge their own.
The Constitution—when taught at all— is presented as a “living, breathing document” that should change with the times and be molded to the whims of whomever is in power. Students don’t learn any longer that our Constitution was meant to be a firm foundation of eternal truths upon which the strongest most influential nation in world history was built.
To even introduce the idea that displays of patriotism are inappropriate on Veterans’ Day—at a Christian university, no less—is a little ominous. People in a free society should expect that at some point, they may encounter something that will offend them. The chapel service at Seattle Pacific isn’t even mandatory for students, so anyone who thinks they would be offended by what happens there could just not show up.
But that would be too easy. It’s much better (in the minds of some) to strip away every patriotic vestige from true American holidays for everyone else…and give a slap in the face to those who served our country in the process.
An Oregon couple recently found out what the going price is for dissent when “love wins”. Apparently it’s about six figures: $135,000 to be exact, as well as barring them from talking about their case publicly. Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa declined to participate in a same sex “marriage” by supplying a wedding cake to 2 lesbians who had been regular customers, due to their belief in traditional or Biblical marriage.
The couple has until Monday, July 13th to come up with the entire amount or arrange a payment. The Klein’s bakery has since closed (they operate out of their home now), and Aaron took a job as a garbage collector in order to support his family. He stated, “Basically, the state of Oregon is saying we can kick you out of your house and make you homeless. They have no qualms about the fact that they’re doing this to my five kids as well.”
The incident goes back to early 2013 when the lesbian couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, asked if the Kleins would provide a cake for their upcoming “wedding”. The Kleins refused and supposedly “quoted Leviticus” to them. Instead of just looking for another bakery—surely there were others—the offended ones complained to Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). They waited several months to make their complaint to the agency which not only investigates human rights and discrimination cases, they also prosecute and judge them.
So here you have, as National Review writer David French says, an organization run by un-elected bureaucrats with little or no in-depth knowledge of the Constitution, deciding Constitutional matters. “In the administrative agencies of the deep state,” says French, “a single, highly ideological entity can function as rule maker, investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, and enforcer”. French has followed this story at length and the implications it has for future religious liberty and other First Amendment issues across the nation since virtually every state has an agency like BOLI. French has described the close ties BOLI (via its commissioner Brad Avakian) has with pro-LGBT organizations in Oregon. Avakian, who ordered the Kleins to pay the money and not speak publicly, was making public comments about the couple before they ever appeared before him.
Some impartial judge. The Kleins never stood a chance. Avakian seems to be just another political hack with too much power that he plans to use to punish those he sees as enemies. As for the lesbian couple, they claimed that because the Kleins refused to bake their “wedding” cake, they suffered emotional damages that included (but were not limited to): “acute loss of confidence,” “doubt,” “excessive sleep,” “loss of sleep,” “impaired digestion”, “pale and sick at home after work,” “resumption of smoking habit,” “shock,” “stunned,” “surprise,” “uncertainty,” “weight gain” and “worry.”
This reminds me of the atheists who complained that the now-famous Cross at Ground Zero gave them indigestion. Not that I’m comparing lesbians to atheists, it’s just that it seems too easy in our lawsuit-crazed society to bring charges against people with whom you disagree—claiming maladies that are common to most people for any number of reasons. Why did the lesbian couple wait several months after not getting their cake to file their complaint against the Kleins? Could they have been preparing for the media attention that they had to know would come from a case like this? Are they looking to make a huge sum of money? Why do the Kleins have to pay them while they are still appealing BOLI’s decision? What’s going on in Oregon?
This case raises more questions than answers and it won’t be going away anytime soon. Last Wednesday, Aaron Klein, ignoring the gag order, said in an interview with The Blaze Radio, “I think every Christian better get ready for this because with the Supreme Court ruling, we’re going to have issues.” He said they never intended to discriminate against anyone (they had served this couple on previous occasions)—they just wanted to live out their faith.
Where’s the love now? If love had really won on June 26th, the gay community would have gotten to work to mend fences and heal the open wounds with those who disagree with them. Instead, there was more in-your-face, we-won-you-lost-so-get-over-it attitudes expressed throughout social media and elsewhere.
If love had won, the gay community (a very tiny minority of the American population) would have been working to change hearts towards their cause, not forcing acceptance onto the majority by conjuring up phony lawsuits and complaints to get courts and regulatory agencies to do their bidding.
Since when, in America, do we all have to believe everything exactly the same, or risk our livelihoods, financial futures and good names if our beliefs differ from that of the hashtag of the moment?
With tomorrow being Memorial Day, it’s important that we all take the time sometime during the course of this weekend to remember those who have given their lives in defense of freedom. While it’s a good idea to appreciate all veterans for their service every day—and we have Veterans’ Day in November as well–Memorial Day is a particular time to salute the ones who never made it home.
One of those was Special Operations Chief Aaron Vaughn, a Navy SEAL who was highly decorated for his service during his many deployments around the world—including several to Afghanistan and Iraq. He was among 30 servicemen killed in action in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011 when his CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down. He left behind a wife and two very young children—his youngest, a daughter, was just 8 weeks old at the time of his death. She’ll never remember being held by him or get the chance to walk down the aisle with him by her side on her wedding day.
Such is the case with thousands of children whose parents (usually their fathers) are taken away as they bravely defend our freedom in foreign lands. As a way to honor SOC Vaughn, his family started a non-profit organization that reaches out to these fatherless children in a meaningful way. Operation 300 holds camps in Florida for children who lost their dads in war. For a few days, the widows can meet with other widows while the kids go and have extreme adventures with mentors—men who provide them with guidance and memorable adventures such as riding horses, archery, shooting guns, sailing and surfing. According to the family, Aaron was fun and adventurous, and these are the kinds of things he would have loved doing himself. He was also a man of deep faith, who knew from the time he was a little boy that he wanted to be a Navy SEAL, and these camps give the kids more than just a chance to have fun. The camps give them the opportunity to create memories with men of integrity.
Operation 300 Founder and President, Tara Vaughn Baldwin (Aaron’s sister) said, “It is only fitting that to honor him, we give kids who have lost so much the opportunity to live like Aaron…if only for a short time.”
The organization has big dreams for the future. They are hoping to buy property of their own in order to establish a permanent home for Operation 300. They hold at least 4 camps each year, which benefit about 100 children, and all expenses for the children of these fallen heroes and their mothers are paid for by the organization. If you feel inclined to do so, donations can be made here.
“Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends.” -John 15:13
It’s a long way from the dusty battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the crystalline waters of Lake Clark in the mountains of Alaska. But every summer since 2012, hundreds of current and former members of the military and their spouses make their way there through Operation Heal Our Patriots, a ministry of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse.
Many of these veterans arrive at Samaritan Lodge dealing with the aftermath of their service to our nation—wounded in their bodies, minds and spirits. The stress of learning to adjust to civilian life with their families and dealing with new physical limitations caused by injuries puts a strain on military couples. Many of them don’t make it. The ministry began as a way to reach out to these battle-weary soldiers and their spouses and help them refocus on building and maintaining strong marriages. Some couples, on the verge of divorce, find a new love for each other as they spend a week experiencing the natural beauty of Alaska and attending Bible-based marriage enrichment classes. Retired military chaplains are on staff to encourage and pray with attendees. Operation Heal Our Patriot marriage retreats often end with vow renewals for many of the couples, as well as baptisms for those who are either re-dedicating their lives to Jesus Christ or finding Him for the first time.
One couple who found respite during their time in Alaska is Army Staff Sergeant Juan Montealvo and his wife Tanya. A few days before Christmas in 2004, Montealvo was on a mission to deliver school supplies to Iraqi children in Mosul when a bomb planted by insurgents exploded near his vehicle. He survived that and several other explosions during his three combat tours to Iraq, and when he came home for good in 2010, Tanya noticed he wasn’t quite himself. Montealvo was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and went through physical and speech therapy. Tanya became his care-giver, and the strain of adapting to their new normal was something they never prepared themselves to handle.
When Tanya heard about Operation Heal Our Patriots, she believed it was an answer to their prayers and said, “Our souls, our spirits, our minds needed this to reset…I’m ready for a new beginning with my husband, walking along with Jesus.”
The ministry doesn’t end once these families leave Alaska, however. Ongoing outreach helps them to find a church or military chaplain in their local communities so they can develop a strong network of support. Reunions are also held at the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in North Carolina so that participants can make new friendships and renew those they made in the Alaskan wilderness. All of this—including travel to Alaska—is free to the couples and is made possible by donations to Samaritan’s Purse/ Operation Heal Our Patriots.
This ministry is open to all current and former veterans who have served since September 11, 2001. Interested couples can go to the Samaritan’s Purse website to fill out an application. If you’d like to help send these brave American heroes to Lake Clark next summer, please consider making a donation on the website. What better way to say “thank you” to them this Veterans Day?
***NOTE: The following letter to President Obama was written by Billy and Karen Vaughn, parents of Aaron Carson Vaughn of SEAL Team VI who was killed in action in Afghanistan on 8/6/11. It was originally published on WorldTribune.com 2 weeks ago and is re-printed here with the Vaughns’ permission. Learn more about their story at www.forourson.us.
After finally choosing to view the barbaric, on-camera beheading by ISIS of freelance war correspondent James Foley, I have been left with a level of rage known only to those of us who have sacrificed unspeakable offerings on the altar of world peace.
My offering was my only son — Aaron Carson Vaughn. Aaron was a member of SEAL Team VI. He was killed in action when a CH47D Chinook, carrying thirty Americans and eight Afghans was shot down in the Tangi River Valley of Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011.
Many times over the past three years, I have been asked what drove my son to choose his particular career. What made him want to be a Navy SEAL? My answer is simple.
Aaron Vaughn was a man who possessed the courage to acknowledge evil. And evil, once truly acknowledged, demands response. Perhaps this is why so few are willing to look it in the eye. It is much simpler — much safer — to look the other way.
That is, unless you are the leader of the Free World.
As Commander-in-Chief, your actions — or lack thereof — Mr. President, cost lives. As you bumble about in your golf cart, slapping on a happy face and fist-pounding your buddies, your cowardly lack of leadership has left a gaping hole — not only in America’s security — but the security of the entire globe. Your message has come across loud and clear, sir: You are not up to this job. You know it. We know it. The world knows it.
Please vacate the people’s house and allow a man or woman of courage and substance to seize the reigns of this out-of-control thug-fest and regain the balance we, America, have provided throughout our great history.
Thanks to your “leadership” from whatever multi-million dollar vacation you happen to be on at any given moment, the world is in chaos. What’s been gained, you’ve lost. What’s been lost, you’ve decimated. You’ve demolished our ability to hold the trust of allies. You’ve made a mockery of the title “President.” And you’ve betrayed the nation for which my son and over 1.3 million others have sacrificed their very lives.
But this should come as no surprise, since your wife uttered a vile statement on Feb. 18, 2008, during the primary campaign — one that speaks volumes of your true convictions. “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country,” she said.
I am sure my deceased son thanks you for that, Mrs. Obama. Oh, and you’re welcome.
Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such despair and such growing fear that the world’s last best hope, America, has finally been dismantled. Perhaps the better word is transformed — fundamentally transformed. Come to think of it, it’s become difficult — if not impossible — to believe things haven’t gone exactly as you planned, Mr. President.
Amazingly, in five short years, your administration has lurched from one disaster to another. You spearheaded the ambitious rush to end the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan — with no plan on how to do so effectively. Also, the release of “the Taliban five” in exchange for one American — without consulting Congress — is on your shoulders.
You have been at the helm during unprecedented national security leaks — including, but not limited to the outing of SEAL Team VI on the Bin laden raid, the outing of the Pakistani doctor who provided the intelligence for that raid, the outing of Afghanistan’s CIA station chief, and the outing of your personal “kill list” to make you look tough. In addition, 75 percent of American deaths in Afghanistan and 83 percent of Americans-wounded-in-action have occurred on your watch, according to icasualties.org.
And now, we have this recent, heinous event: the beheading of an American citizen by a barbaric organization you foolishly referred to as “the JV team” in your statements to the New Yorker magazine in January.
You, sir, are the JV team. It’s time for you to step down and allow a true leader to restore our honor and protect our sons and daughters.
America has always been exceptional. And she will be again. You, Mr. President, are a bump in our road.