My friend Bobby served as a Marine in Vietnam, and he told me something about his experience there that really got my attention. He said his assignment was doing electrical work on airplanes-which is not necessarily a front lines assignment. But there was a war going on all around them. So, when there was enemy activity, every soldier was trained to grab their weapon, take their position, and be prepared to fight. Their bottom line assignment was summed up in four words, "every Marine - a rifle."
I used to tell our kids, "You don't have to go to a party. Carry the party inside you wherever you go!" Our five-year-old grandson never heard that, but I think he got the idea. He could find a way to enjoy himself in just about any situation, with friends or alone, with his toys, or better yet as far as he was concerned, with just like the everyday stuff he found. I remember he and I were in my study, a few rooms away from the living room where his three-year-old brother and his Mommy were. Little brother decided to check out what big brother and I were doing, and big brother had an idea. His brother could be a messenger. So our five-year-old started writing little messages to his mother, which he then rolled up and dispatched his little brother to deliver. Mommy got the idea, and so she would write back an answer to every message. The shuttle went back and forth three times, I think. Big brother then wrote another message, but this time the messenger didn't show up. He had clocked out. So the message never got delivered.
"Good morning, Mr. Phelps." If you were a fan of the old school classic TV series, "Mission: Impossible," you would know those words always began a riveting adventure. Jim Phelps was the head of all the Mission Impossible Force before all the big movies, you know. He would listen to this tape, outlining this assignment that seemed, well, impossible. Key word-seemed. And even in more modern times when it's not a tape anymore, and when it's Tom Cruise who's doing Mission: Impossible, it's still sort of the same idea. You begin building a team of specialists, you concoct this elaborate, perfectly-timed plan to do what couldn't be done, and every time they got it done.
There's a stretch of the Outer Banks of North Carolina that's known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" because hundreds of ships have been lost there over the centuries. So it was there that something called the United States Life-Saving Service was born. They established these white frame buildings called life-saving stations like seven miles apart along the very treacherous parts of the coast. The Life-Saving Service was actually a spawning ground for heroes. In one case, for example, this ship was in distress with four men staying alive by just hanging onto this mast for dear life. Six of the seven men from the closest station went out into a storm that could very well consume them - after they left a verbal will with the man who was left running the station. Twenty-two hours without food or sleep. Well, they finally brought back those four stranded men, and then they collapsed on the beach in exhaustion. It was incredible heroism. I mean, that was the norm for the men of the life-saving stations.
I first learned about the United States Life-Saving Service years ago on a family vacation. We got to see a life-saving station that actually has been preserved at a strategic point along the Atlantic coastline. There used to be a lot of them. In some areas, they were like just seven miles apart, you know, along the coast. Each one was staffed by a seven-man crew. I'm going to tell you, these guys were ultimate heroes in every sense of the word! When a ship was in distress near their assigned area, they'd go out into the surf, out into the storm, even a hurricane to try to rescue the people on board. They lived their motto: "You have to go out. You don't have to come back." They saved countless lives who otherwise would have been lost.
Our friends Marv and Annie were with us at a convention in Chicago. They're from Denver; I was in my hometown. Annie's doctor had let her make the trip to Chicago even if she was eight months pregnant. Well, we had a reception our first night at the convention downtown. I jokingly told her, "Hey, if the baby decides to come tonight, just call our room. This is my city, girl. I'll take care of everything!" Yeah, well, it didn't turn out to be a joke. The call came in the middle of the night, and minutes later we had a lady in hard labor in our back seat. Oh, my goodness! I thought we'd have time to get out to our obstetrician in the suburbs. Not a chance! I had no idea where downtown hospitals were. I never needed one. Oh, boy! I finally found one - a veterans' hospital. No maternity ward! Well, eventually I found a hospital with great facilities - just in time. Today we all laugh about it, but it's certainly not one of my proudest moments.
Sometimes these commercials crack me up. You know, the weight loss commercials, you've got this eating program, and this movie star type lady comes up and says, "I lost 50 pounds. You could look like me." I don't want to look like her. Oh, and then they've got the guy's version of it. Yeah. Oh, and then the pharmaceutical commercials - all the drugs. Yeah. And you see these happy people coasting through life, jogging, out running, biking, and then the last two-thirds of the commercial come along and tell you of the many ways you might die by taking that drug. But the point is, they all tell you all these great things that will happen to you if you buy their product.
Ted's an ex-Marine. I guess once a Marine, always a Marine. Right? You know - halls of Montezuma, shores of Tripoli, and semper fi. Since his days in the Corps, Ted's gone on to become very successful in business, but he keeps getting invited back to talk to Marine recruits as an inspirational speaker. And in the process, he tells them about a rescuer who came for him in the Marines and saved him - Jesus Christ. And I love what he tells them - "One thing about Marines - we always go back for our own, and that's why I'm here today. I'm going back for my own."
It's the Christmas season, and everywhere you go these days you see those brown trucks-it's UPS running everywhere, delivering Christmas surprises to people. Those UPS drivers work really hard this time of year. I mean, they get a lot of long hours to get everything where it's supposed to be in time for Christmas. I expect they sleep pretty well at night. Even though they have a big job, at least they don't have to go out and buy all those packages. Their job is just to deliver what someone else has paid for.
It was one of the most compelling television documentaries I think I've seen. It aired on an anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The stories of rescuers and survivors, told first-person, literally took the viewer into what that day felt like for the people who really lived it. One story I just can't shake was told by this British young woman who worked in a brokerage firm high up in Tower Two. She recalled with remarkable composure the confusion in her office on whether or not to evacuate the building. She's alive today because she made the right decision. But many of her coworkers never made it out. She actually broke down for the first time as she talked about her good friend in the office. All she could say was, "I keep thinking, 'I should have asked him to go with me.' I can't get that out of my mind."