A Cherished Tradition

Silver TapsA recent post on Twitter announcing the first Silver Taps ceremony of the semester at Texas A&M University brought back vivid memories of my first exposure to this cherished tradition. It was fifty years ago and I can still recall every detail of that night.

I was a freshman in the Corps of Cadets at the time just learning what it means to be an Aggie. I was frankly overwhelmed by the solemnity of fellow students gathering in silence to honor and remember other Aggies who had passed away the previous month. It impressed upon me that I was a part of something enduring, a spirit of fellowship and family that would last a lifetime.

A&M alumni reading this will understand exactly what I’m talking about. Others, those of you who read my posts but have no reference to go by, may appreciate a brief summary of the event.

On the morning of the ceremony the names of the dead are posted at the base of the flagpole outside the Academic building. The flag is then flown at half-mast throughout the day, and at 10:15 PM the lights on campus are extinguished. It is eerily dark and quiet. The firing squad from an elite unit known as the Ross Volunteers marches into position. They fire a 21-gun salute at 10:30 PM – the discharge of the guns is accompanied by the collective intake of breath throughout the student body as the sound of the guns pierces the silence. Six buglers atop the dome of the Academic building sound the mournful notes of a special orchestration of taps that has been passed down from bugler to bugler since 1898. These are the only sounds you hear. Taps is played three times; once to the North, once to the South, and once to the West. It is never played toward the East… the sun will never rise again on the departed. When the last note has been played no words are spoken. The students disperse returning to their dorms, apartments or homes to remember, to reflect, and to pray. – Excerpt from my memoir, Silver Taps.

 

Cognitive Hope

Completed Book CoverAlmost 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form. My father succumbed to its insidious progression. He passed away July 31, 2006.

Following his death I wrote my book Silver Taps, an attempt to come to grips with his passing and a  reflection on our relationship and the disease. It’s important to recognize that Alzheimer’s affects not only the individual but family members and friends who provide support and also struggle to understand and cope with the loss of a loved one’s cognition (see my previous post Sixth Leading Cause of Death,  dated March 15, 2017.)

As of today there is no cure for the disease, and the number of cases is expected to triple by 2050. Drug trials have shown promise in the past, but up until recently that promise has failed to materialize. The individual affected by the loss of memory knows what is happening but is unable to do anything about it, while caretakers are also faced with the certainty that in spite of their efforts the individual will eventually be unable to do anything on their own and may even forget even their closest relations. Multiple health related complications are common and they almost always result in death.

However, a new discovery provides hope. The drug is not FDA approved and much more testing is required, however, the Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment is encouraged by the initial study. 856 patients from the United States, Europe and Japan were involved in the clinical trial.

For the first time a drug has shown the ability to clear plaque from the brain and actually improve cognition. This is a potential milestone in the efforts to eventually find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Having experienced the pain of loss of someone who was a pillar of strength within my family before the onset of this disease, I continue to advocate for continued research leading to a cure. “Hope,” in this instance, is the expectation of success in finding a remedy that will impact anyone affected by Alzheimer’s. I can’t change my experience, but I continue to hold onto that hope and encourage others experiencing similar circumstances to be optimistic.

 

 

Another Mass Shooting

 

The deaths of seventeen people at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day has again ignited debate in this country over what, if anything, can be done to end or at least impact the number of mass shootings in the United States. The debate focuses on the Constitutional right to bear arms guaranteed in the 2nd Amendment, the power of the National Rifle Association, what constitutes reasonable gun control measures, the need to address mental health issues and access to guns by the mentally challenged, and how to improve communications between law enforcement and social service organizations that may have prior knowledge of attack planning or indications that someone might carry out such an attack.

In the aftermath of this latest mass shooting social media is once again abuzz with prayers from the faithful for healing, comfort, and peace for the victims and their families. These are followed by dismissal of those prayers as ineffective or a waste of time by secularists. There are similar camps and arguments over access to military assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks and their ownership by ordinary citizens, with both sides of the divide ensconced in their positions. There are calls for Congress to arbitrate the discord and act, not along Party lines, but in response to the public outrage that demands that something be done. Sadly we have seen this all before and are very likely to go down this road again, again, and again.

Perhaps we’ll witness a different outcome this time. The teenage survivors of this shooting are determined to make this tragedy a turning point in the debate. A March for Our Lives demonstration is scheduled for March 24th in Washington, D.C.

There is, however, another factor that underlies the cyclical nature of these mass shootings and our response to them. I wrote about it previously in this blog (April 18, 2017) in the context of my reaction to the death of my father, but I believe it to be applicable to this discourse.

Though any loss is tragic, my feelings and reactions are directly proportional to how well I knew the deceased. I do not feel the same in the presence of strangers nor, I believe does anyone; we distance ourselves. We may be horrified by the brutality or enormity of it in case of wars or natural disasters [or mass shootings], we may empathize and find it sad that he or she is no longer with us, but we immunize ourselves and continue on without much further thought or reaction. – Excerpt from Silver Taps.

We must force ourselves to get past this human tendency. We need to identify with the parent who lost a child, to the sibling who lost a brother or sister, to the relative who lost a family member, to the teacher who lost a student or colleague, to the individual who lost a close friend. Their pain and anguish over these sudden deaths must become our pain and anguish. We must put ourselves in the mindset that this might have happened to me or someone I love. Otherwise our defense mechanisms will keep us from being invested over any length of time and once again  we’ll move on… until the next mass shooting.

 

The Roots of Evil

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To date I have used this forum to promote discussion of my books Silver Taps and Palo Duro. However, a blog should also serve to engage readers’ interest in upcoming publications. Later this year I hope to release my next book, Tarnished Brass, which looks at America’s involvement in the brutal civil war fought in the small Central American country of El Salvador from 1980-1992, and the aftermath of that conflict to include the origins of the violent street gang MS-13.

The timeliness of this upcoming release coincides with recent news coverage and comments by the President and the U.S. Attorney General highlighting the growing threat posed by this organization.

Mostly made up of Salvadoran nationals who illegally entered the United States and settled in Los Angeles, California, MS-13 engages in a broad range of criminal activity characterized by extreme violence toward rival street gangs and those caught in the crossfire. The savagery of their attacks is the principal reason the organization has become the focus of Justice Department efforts to incarcerate or deport its members.

The gang’s mobility within the United States has resulted in increased violence not only in Los Angeles, but in the southeastern, central, and northeastern sectors of our country. Additionally, El Salvador remains one of the most dangerous places in all of Central America with the violence that characterized a war ravaged nation supplanted and exceeded by the violence perpetrated by MS-13 gang members.

Thoughts on Veterans Day

Veterans Day will be celebrated this coming Saturday, November 11th. I’ll be thinking of my father, CW4 Gerald L. Knight, U.S. Army, whose 30 years of distinguished service included several of America’s wars; WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and set me on the path to my own military career.

Dad died at age 89 from a heart attack and complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, and his passing led me to write my first book, Silver Taps, which honors his memory. He was and will always be my hero.

Though that first book was a very personal memoir, my genre of preference is historical fiction. As a student of history (I would not presume to call myself a historian) our understanding of the significance of the holiday is important.

The November 11th date traces back to the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 when an armistice with Germany ended hostilities and brought about the end of WWI, “the war to end all wars.” President Woodrow Wilson declared the date Armistice Day in 1919 and it was designated a national holiday in 1938. Subsequent wars resulted in the name being changed in 1954 to ensure that all who served in the military were honored for their patriotism.

So take a moment on Saturday to not only remember our past, but to honor the men and women who continue to wear the uniform. It is only through their dedication and sacrifice that we maintain our national identity, our individual freedoms, and our standing within the international community.

 

 

 

 

Sit & Sign

IMG_2197If you reside in the San Antonio area or are visiting from out of town, please stop by the Pearl on Saturday, October 21, at 11:00 AM, and come into the Twig Book Shop. They will be hosting me at a book signing featuring both my books Silver Taps and Palo Duro.

The event is scheduled in conjunction with the weekly Farmers Market which offers live entertainment, food trucks, produce for sale by growers from the surrounding area, and an open area where kids and even Fido can play or everyone can picnic. So, come and enjoy the day with the entire family.

I hope to see you there!

The Twig Book Shop is located at 306 Pear Parkway, Suite 106, San Antonio, Texas, 78215, off Highway 281 South.

Full Military Honors

Very few ceremonies are as poignant and gut wrenching as a military funeral, especially when the deceased is the recipient of full military honors. The solemnity of the occasion is underscored by the service men and women in their dress uniforms that comprise the escort platoon. Their bearing and actions bespeak deep respect and silent thanks for the selfless service and sacrifice rendered in times of war and peace in defense of our country. A horse-drawn caisson transports the remains to the grave site. An American flag is draped over the coffin with the blue field of stars at the head and the red and white stripes covering the length of the casket. All horses are saddled, but those on the right are riderless, harkening back to the days when horses were used to haul ammunition and provisions to the battlefield. A military band provides patriotic music. A rifle detail fires three volleys signifying duty, honor, country. Finally, the mournful notes of “Taps” are played by a lone bugler.

 

For anyone who isn’t aware, Taps was sounded for the first time in July 1862 during the Civil War. Subsequently words were put with the music. According to the official Arlington National Cemetery website the first were “Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep.” As the years went on many more versions were created, but there are no official words to the music.

This is one rendering – excerpt from Silver Taps:

Day is done, gone the sun,

From the hills, from the lake,

From the sky.

All is well, safely rest,

God is nigh.

Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,

May the soldier or sailor,

God keep.

On the land or the deep, 

Safe in sleep.

Love, good night, Must thou go,

When the day, And the night

Need thee so?

All is well. Speedeth all

To their rest.

Fades the light; And afar

Goeth day, And the stars 

Shineth bright,

Fare thee well; Day has gone,

Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,

“Neath the sun, ‘Neath the stars,

‘Neath the sky,

As we go, This we know,

               God is nigh.             

This post is in loving memory of a very dear friend and brother-in-arms, Fred Roderick Wilson, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army,  laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, October 3, 2017.