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I love, I laugh; as a mother, a girlfriend, a daughter, a sibling, a friend. I change. I volunteer. I make a difference. I make things happen. I get lazy; then way to high strung. I stay up all night, and pay the next day. I piss people off. I make people love. I believe in fate. and karma. I laugh at myself. I've even been called an "angel"... more than once. I've been rocked to my core by angels among us. I am a journalist for our small town newspapers, including the Muskego Chronicle, the Hales Corners Citizen, and the Franklin Citizen; I love writing for our chicken-soup-for-the-small-town-soul publications! I am right where I want to be. I am 34, and proud of my age (every birthday is another gift); the greatest thing I have done is contribute the beauty that my clone-like daughter Sophia has to offer. She is my legacy. I am a total mama’s girl; always have been, always will be. I have a Black-Irish bond (unbreakable) with my siblings. I am comfortable in my own skin. I have never been insecure, not once. I love people; but prefer kids to adults. I am not the least bit judgmental; but can hold a grudge to my grave. I follow my heart more than my head. Intentionally.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Boy with the Heart of a Hometown Hero

I am fortunate enough to have been raised in this area when population was minuscule compared to current times. We knew our neighbors, and I had particular fondness for one busy little eight year old boy, who won the hearts of the everyone within our ‘country mile’.

His name is Robert Anderson JR or ‘little Bobby’ a/k/a ‘Bobby JR, as I know him, but he is not so little anymore. He is a tall, strapping U.S. Marine who returned from Iraq after a five month tour serving our country, on August 23.

If his name sounds familiar, you may remember a tribute article in the Chronicle for ‘Muskego Military’ for Memorial Day. I asked my editor in advance to allow me to cover the holiday, a topic I have great respect for. Thankfully he agreed to my project, and the first person I thought of was ‘little Bobby’ because I had heard he was in Iraq. I immediately contacted his family who I have known most of my life.

Years ago there was a group up us that consisted of about 20 and we all had horses. On any given weekend we all got together to go riding, and frequently cook out at one farm or another. We were a tight knit crew, through the good, the bad and the ugly. One of the farms belonged to friend, Robert Anderson SR, Bobby JR’s dad, and naturally nicknamed ‘big Bob’. The nicknames to differentiate the “Bob’s’ was necessary because one thing was for sure, where you would find one, you would find the other. The father and son team were inseparable for as long as I can remember. So it came as no surprise that Bobby JR is quick to proclaim his father is his best friend in adult life and his personal hero. Or that Bob SR tried to re-enlist as a Marine to go to Iraq with his son, and said, “I wish I could be there fighting by his side.” And that is how we were blessed enough to get to know this very special young man.

Through the Memorial Day correspondences, via email from Iraq, Bobby JR said something to me, off the cuff, in passing that hit me like the proverbial Mack truck of emotions. He said;

“I wanted to be Marine as a child. I always wanted to be like my father, strong, intelligent, and brave. I would run around in his cammies shouting Marine Corps hymns every day when I was a boy. I am sure you probably seen me a few times.”

In the blink of an eye, I had a tearful flashback of exactly that. I DID remember and I could picture the chipper, helpful young man, pretending he was a Marine in a shirt that hung to his knees. My own Mother, our neighbor and friend Sue, and myself were the matriarchs of this group, so we took the darling boy under our wing with a protective adoration. He was one of those kids you loved to have around and it was clear to all of us that he had a passionate heart that would lead him to great things, and we were right.

But time passed, and it was time for me to grow up and when I moved to Florida for college, Bobby JR was only about 13 or 14, and in my minds eye he remains that way. So when I learned what he has done, and who he has become since then makes me proud beyond expression, but at the same time is a little bittersweet. The little boy I once knew is a Marine, a husband, a hometown hero, and a father.

There is something very unique about his venture into fatherhood. You may recall the story about little Ariana, born while Bobby JR was station in Hawaii, weighing only 1 lb. 6 oz. and on life support for the first 6 months of her life.

On the day of Bobby JR’s return from Iraq, the now 2year old Ariana, seemed to be as healthy and active as most other children her age. She also has a new role in life as a big sister. And while waiting for her daddy to step off the plane, she expressed an outward pride for the ‘baby’ she shares a double stroller with, all the while sitting in the front seat smiling and waving a small American flag as if she understood more than you may expect from a toddler. She knew we were waiting for daddy, she knew he has been waiting to see her, and she knew her baby brother was a big deal too.

Alexander James Anderson was born on 5/2/08., Weighing in at a healthy 8 lbs. 14oz's. On the day of Bobby JR’s return, Alex, now 6 months old, has yet to meet his father. Sophia, mom to Alex and Ariana, and wife of bobby JR, wears her emotions on her sleeve, yet somehow maintains decorum and cares for her two young children. She has become accustomed to the life of a military wife, but makes it clear she is counting the seconds to begin life as a civilian family. Nevertheless she is proud of her husband, and equally nervous. Baby Alex peeks over Sophia’s shoulder and smiles at me. It chilled me to the bone. His haunting smile illuminates his face and he takes on an identical replica of his father as if he were cloned.

The fox company return was a volcanic eruption of emotion. All but two made it back, so while the return and reunions were an onslaught of tears of happiness, at the same time a sorrowful ambience hung heavy in the air for the fallen heroes. I know the fox company and their families will never forget the two soldiers who gave their life for freedom.

The military base at Mitchell where they returned was secured and closed to the adoring public, who lined the surrounding streets hours before the return with sign and banners. I rode in with the family. Whether it was persistence on my behalf, luck, or the heavens were smiling down on me, it didn’t matter. I was there to witness nothing less than raw human emotion, and I was overcome by the love I was surrounded with. It sucks you in like quick sand.

When the band began to play as the plane landed, I placed my self about 8 feet from Sophia, Alex and Ariana, to be sure I wouldn’t miss the reunion, but far enough to remain in the background. She put on lip-gloss as the men step off the plane, and I found it endearing that she seems unaware of her timeless beauty. She scans the crowd, and from her side, I am able to see her eyes bounce searching for her husband, behind appropriate “Jackie-O’ style sunglasses. The gates open and the loved ones run with urgency, like a scene from the Oklahoma land rush. Sophia walks and looks through a crowd of tears, shrills and flailing arms, I stay near. I couldn’t help but snap random photos as I follow. She finds him, and there it was; all that I expected and more. A case where pictures speak a thousand words, I took well over 100, which say what I am unable to verbalize. Wow…

Speechless, I shrunk back to a spot against the building to let the family catch up. It was the only spot not invading a reunion. An older man sporting an American legion shirt stood next to me, arms folded, shaking his head in disbelief and said out loud the same thing I was thinking, “WOW” and nothing else. No one else was within earshot, so I acknowledged him. I said, “What a feeling… What an honor to be able to witness.” His eyes continue to scan the crowd and absorb it all, without looking at me he replied in a soft, emotional voice.

“It is an honor and a privilege to witness. You have to see it to believe it. The funny thing is, no matter who you talk to, it is the same story over and over, throughout history. This is the stuff fairy tales are made of,” he said.

I tried to catch his focused glare to show my smile of agreement because I couldn’t find words to say it better, but I was just a voice of agreement, and that’s perfect with me.

The day concluded, but as the sun set that Saturday evening, I thought about what an honor and privilege this was indeed. The people and their faces, but moreover the feeling of this experience will not be something I will soon forget. I will remember in my heart and my head forever. I owe all my humble gratitude to Bobby JR, and his family.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Fox Company! Welcome home! Oo-Rah!

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