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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Branson Veterans Week a Success

Veterans Week 2009 is history. I'm finally recovered from the excitement, hours of talking, the book launch, the US Army Freedom Team Salute awards, the Branson Stars & Flags Book Awards, long days, picture-taking for the Bugle, and all the wonderful events.

I understand why veterans love to return year after year. They visit with old friends and make new ones. That, in a nutshell, is what Veterans Week is all about. Each year I look for friends to return and I meet new people that I know I'll be looking for next year.

I have many Branson folks to thank for helping me with my little piece of the week. Bob Nichols, who produced the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, took time out of his busy schedule to help me make arrangements for the Book Awards during the Opening Show. Eight authors came from across the country to receive their awards. Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys and Eddie and Connie Beesley presented the awards. It was great.

Sgt Major (R) Mike Dudley and Sgt Major JoAnn Schneider of the US Army Freedom Team Salute kindly included me in their recognitions throughout the week. We're already thinking about next year.

Ernie Bradley and members of the Branson Veterans Task Force and Women Veterans Committee worked tirelessly to make the week a healing and enjoyable experience for all veterans.

It was a privilege to work with Tim Davis of the Greatest Generations Foundation and Sue Head at the College of the Ozarks in planning the WWII Mini-Reunion. The foundation and college partnered earlier this year to send students with veterans when they visited the battle sites of their youth.

Chuck and Mary Schantag once again hosted the Military Gala at the Chateau, and introduced the members of the Sharon Rogers Band. Les Brown Jr. made the day for the band members by joining us for dinner. He charmed them with USO stories from his dad's day and from his own tours. I promise to post a photo later.

Marlyce Stockinger gave me the privilege of taking photos for the US Marine Corps Birthday Ball. For the second year, I was so awe-struck it was hard to focus on photography.

Jim Alexander once again traveled all the way from Portland, OR to take pictures. You'll see the results in the spring issue of the Bugle.

Nancy Smith is producing a photo CD of the week. Check it out on https://www.bransonstarsandflags.com/.

If you didn't make it this year, plan on next year. If you were here, we'll be looking for you again. It's the people that make the week - our veterans and Branson folks.

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving Day is gone for another year. Black Friday too. Today is my quiet time to reflect on the people, places and things that are on my thanks-giving radar.

As I reminisce about this year, I think of all the people I've worked with who have made my job easier and more enjoyable, and have enriched my life with their enthusiasm and willingness to make things happen.

I think of old friends and new - from high school to the last few days. With so many obligations and distractions, it's easy to lose track of all the people who have helped create the person I am today. It never ends. In the past couple of days, I've talked to my best friends, heard from good friends, and met new ones. Life doesn't get any better than that. Each one has brightened my life.

My mother often told me the importance of a friendly smile. I've learned how right she was. I remember times when someone smiled at me at a moment when I needed it.

I think about Branson and the people I've met here over the last 15 years. They are fine people, dedicated to making our community better and creating wonderful memories for our visitors. Several of us share our Panera's "office."

I'm homesick for the Texas Gulf Coast. We'll head there right after Christmas. My Texas friends share my love of nature and God's critters. It's a writer's and photographer's dream world - almost a time in fantasy land.

Kansas City will always be close to my heart. My sons grew up on the Missouri side, my grandsons are now growing up on the Kansas side. Each has its own flavor.

I want to visit Colorado Springs again - my home during high school, college and early marriage. It holds a place in my heart filled with many emotions, from all the confusions of growing up to falling in love. My life then was piano practice, studying, reading and family. Not a lot has changed except I don't practice the piano anymore.

I've spent the last seven years with two groups of people who are truly an inspiration to me: the survivors of the Sunchon Tunnel Massacre and the members of the Sharon Rogers Band. Researching and writing a book is a multi-year project. Interviewing the people involved is a fascinating look into another person's life. It's educational, interesting and most often an intimate process. I wouldn't trade the experience or the people for anything. I'm truly thankful for the opportunity to tell those stories. 2010 is the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War and of the massacre. We're planning another reunion of the survivors. We launched The Sharon Rogers Band during Veterans Week. Two band members, a dancer and their pilot came to Branson for the week. They are all charming, interesting and far more energetic than me - and they're all in their 80s.

These are only a few of my life components - the list is long and I'm grateful for that.

Most of all, I thank God for all the opportunities He's offered to me. I know I missed the cue on many of them, but I've grabbed some great ones.

I thank Him for a husband who understands my crazy lifestyle - and shares it all with me. I'm thankful for my sons, daughter-in -law, and three grandsons. I have two brothers whose frequent calls brighten my days - and nieces and nephews who always cheer me on.

Can life get much better than all this? My wish for anyone who reads this is that your list of blessings is as long or longer than mine! God Bless!