Legacy Love Letter (Personal Statement for Celebration of Life)

To my family and friends,

I know that a personal statement from me during this celebration of life is unusual, but I have a few things that I still want you all to hear. I’ve asked Diane to share an excerpt of my Words of Wisdom book with you.

This past year has been a difficult one for all of us. My illness has made me look at life differently. As I write this, I am still fighting. I have a few more punches left to pull on this cancer, but I also know I might not have much time left to spend with my family and friends. My illness has been hard on my loved ones, especially my two daughters.

I wish I had more time. I would venture to say that everyone who faces the end of their life would wish for that. One day, we come to realize that life just blew by us like a flash, and we ask ourselves, how did I get here so fast?

I’m a senior citizen. All my years are behind me. I’m shuffling like many older people. I have that shuffle. I look in the mirror, and I see my Grandpa, and I wonder how I got here so fast. I’ll tell you how I got here so fast. I ran through life. I didn’t take the time to look at all the beauty that surrounded me. I was too busy. I had a goal. I was running. But now, in my final days, I have a lot of time to look at the beauty that surrounds me: the beautiful blue sky, the greenery, the shrubs, the squirrels, the chipmunks, and the most beautiful birds you ever saw.

I found my journey through life with many successes and many failures, but I never got discouraged. I always picked myself up and marched on. In the end, I find my greatest joy not so much in any of the material things I dreamed about, acquired, or lost, but my greatest joy has been my family and my relationships. I have two beautiful daughters and three grandchildren. I have a wife that loves me dearly.  I have so many wonderful friends and family surrounding me with love. All of that is so much more important to me than anything I ever acquired. Material things simply do not matter at this point in life.

I know in my life I was caught up in my work. There were no limits to work when there was a dollar to be made—Saturdays, Sundays, holidays—it didn’t matter. And, looking back, if I could change one thing, I would change that. You definitely need a balance. You cannot be in two places. You cannot serve your family and your children when you are always working.

I have a strong faith. My grandfather made sure that I grew up a Catholic boy. I grew up in my grandfather’s house, and every Sunday and every holy day at six o’clock in the morning, we were at mass at St. Charles Church in Woburn.

I didn’t understand a lot of what the priests said. Masses were said in Latin, but I knew back then of spirituality. I knew of God. Through my life, like many of us—we’re so busy, we’re running—we turn to God when we find ourselves in trouble of some sort—be it financial or medical or whenever we’re up against it—that’s when we turn to God. I’ve done that.

As I’ve run into a wall here or there, my daily pursuit of happiness and material things, I turned to God only when I stumbled. It wasn’t until I became ill that I truly opened my heart to God. My world had collapsed around me and little by little, God picked up the pieces of the mess I made in my life. Piece by piece, He put it all back together for me. There is no doubt in my mind when you open your heart to receive God, there’s an inner peace that comes with it. I never knew that peace in my entire life. To know God is to know peace, truly.

I hope that my friends and family approach life by enjoying every single day. Don’t take anything for granted. I would hope that they acquire or reach their dreams, and that they find happiness. I hope that they will not get caught up in this materialistic world we live in. Most importantly, I want them to love God and to know His eternal love.

It’s amazing what you can do if you open your heart and appreciate the things we take for granted. Look around at the beauty. Just take it all in because one day, it’s no longer there for you. You’re too sick to appreciate it. So far, every new day to me is not just a gift, it’s a miracle. Every day is a miracle to me, and I’m caught up in it.

I truly ran from the get-go. I ran through life. I accomplished many of the things that I wanted to accomplish. I fell many times, but had the courage to get back up and keep running to the finish line. I’d like to be remembered as someone who gave it a good effort and was a fairly decent person. I would like to be remembered as a person who loved his family deeply, as someone who never quit, who had a good relationship with God, who was willing to go out of his way to help others when they were in need.

When I let God into my heart, I felt like I accomplished everything I wanted to do. I got “there”, and I found peace. I’m still at peace, and I love you all until the end of time.

My Military Service: An Excerpt from My Words of Wisdom Book

I was proud of my years in the military, and I was proud that I was able to serve. I aspired to go to college, but my family couldn’t afford it. The assistance wasn’t that great back then. I figured I could get some type of an education in the military. When I came out, I went in a different direction and finally made a career in the electrical field as an electrician.

I served in the U.S. Army from February 1963 to February 1966. I wasn’t drafted; I volunteered. After basic training, I was stationed at Red Stone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, for my military schooling. Right after that, orders were cut. Half of my company went to Vietnam and the other half, including me, was shipped over to Korea to a Nike guided missile site .

I served thirteen months there, up near the Korean DMZ . In Korea, my company was called the 226 Ordinance Detachment, and we supported a Nike radar site. The site was armed with Nike Hercules missiles. Those long-range missiles were trained on China. We were always on alert because of the escalation of the Vietnam War and China’s influence on that war. It was very interesting at times—frightening to think we were on the brink of war.

After my tour of duty in Korea (around 1965), I was stationed at White Sands Missile Range in White Sands, New Mexico. I was part of an anti-tank division. We fired guided missiles that would take out opposing tanks. While we were in New Mexico, we worked in the desert for eighteen months and got very proficient at mastering the maneuverability of battlefield tanks. We even used to chase rabbits out in the desert with one of the company tanks.

To practice, the gun turret would be removed from a tank. Then, we’d rig a big canvas with crosshairs on it and run it down range. We’d run the target tank back and forth—radio controlled—and track it with radar. The gunner in the stationary tank would track until he was ready to fire. That missile would come out of the gun turret and drop down like it was going to hit the ground, and then the radar would bring it right up and guide it to the canvas target, usually a direct hit at the crosshairs.

That Nike technology is ancient now. Now, they’re laser guided; everything can be done by drone. You don’t even need to be in harm’s way. It was just so interesting for a young man to be involved with weaponry like that. Most missiles were test-fired right at the missile range in White Sands, New Mexico.

I served in the military in the early years of the Vietnam War. Since I was sent to Korea, I did not find myself in country in Vietnam to be faced with the decisions that those men and women had to face. If you’re not actually faced with “kill or be killed”, you don’t know what that decision is like. We found ourselves in the hills of Korea with guided missiles trained on different areas of Vietnam and China, at the ready, on standby, but we were at a safe distance. Those young boys in Vietnam were faced daily with having to make decisions to kill another person or be killed themselves. I don’t think I could speak to how I would have done it. I’d like to think that I would have served my country and done what was necessary at the time. As I was being discharged in February of ‘66, the U.S. shipped hundreds of thousands of troops into Vietnam to continue the effort, and my tour was over.

I believe my time in the military transformed me from a young man into an adult. The realities of war, the lives lost, my friends that perished in the war all opened my eyes to something we didn’t think could ever happen again after the Korean War.
I’ve come to realize that there’s always another war. We don’t seem to ever learn how to live in peace. I concluded that, as long as mankind inhabits this planet, there’ll always be another war. They cannot accept different cultures, different beliefs, or different colors of people’s skin. We still haven’t learned how to live in peace with our neighbors.

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