Happy Veteran’s Day, Pop

Happy Veteran’s Day Dad!


first cav

I want to take a minute and honor my dad, the Rev. Keith Leap.  I have a pretty keen memory, and it reaches far into my past.  So one of my earliest memories is of my dad taking me fishing the day before he shipped out to Vietnam.  Dad was a company clerk with the 1st Cavalry Division, Airmobile.  He was in country in 1968.  There, he was in constant peril from small arms fire, rocket and mortar attacks and all the other endless ways that a war zone can end one’s life.  He was young, and thin as a rail. I can see the photos in my mind, although I don’t have any of them. But what I remember vividly is that day fishing at Twin Lakes in Huntington, WV.  I seem to recall that it was foggy, and that because I was three, most of our fishing consisted of me dropping a line into the grassy shallows next to our feet.  We never caught anything. We’re both, quite frankly, pretty abysmal outdoorsmen.  But he took the time before leaving.  That sticks. When he returned, thank God, he was posted at Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA.  We lived there a time and I loved the military feel of the place.  I remember the commissary, where there were dioramas of POWs in fake grass huts over the freezer section.  And I remember the PX, where (in that time in history) a boy could find the coolest toy guns ever, from toy belt fed machine guns to toy bazookas.  We took our guns seriously back then! I had a little uniform, with a 1st Cavalry unit patch and my name.  It was the old olive drab, and I had a helmet and a wood and steel bolt-action toy rifle with a real fake bullet in the breach.  I was the baddest of the bad!  But only because I was trying to emulate my hero. I have had an adventurous life.  I have flown to car crash scenes in a medical helicopter.  I have opened the chests of those with wounds to the heart. I have traveled the world, and I have been a consultant on WMD for the DoD.  I have married and loved a dream of a woman, and raised four children to be his grandchildren.  And yet, so much of my adventure was my attempt to equal my father’s courage and service. I was in the Air National Guard for a number of years.  I was a flight surgeon, in fact, with an F-16 squadron in Indiana.  And on the night that Desert Storm began, I was rocking babies in the nursery, an intern desperately frustrated that there was an honest to God war and I couldn’t be there.  Not that war is good.  But a man wants to match his father.  When veterans stand in church, I am always a little slow to stand.  My service cost me so little.  His could well have cost his life.  That’s why we went fishing that misty WV morning, a day so full of  import that a boy little more than a toddler still remembers it at 51. Dad ultimately became a much beloved pastor, now retired.  War did not end for him, it just became the war for the soul of man, the war eternal, of which our temporal and frequent outbreaks of international blood-letting are merely the consequence.  And for that I honor him as well.  Having been a church attending Christian for most of my adult life, I suspect that enemy fire is easier to bear than the bitter attitudes, stubbornness and outright cruelty that can emanate from so-called Christian church members. So here’s to you, Pop.  Happy Veteran’s Day. Veteran of war, veteran of fatherhood, faithful husband, committed pastor and longtime lover of Foghorn Leghorn. I say, I say, I say, You da’ man! Love you, Ed

Which Veteran’s Are We Celebrating, exactly?

IMG_2009 (1)

I found this advertisement recently.  It was a very kind attempt to honor veterans by giving them free haircuts.  I have intentionally blacked the name and address of the salon.  I mean no ill will.  It’s just an observation.  However, there’s a problem with this flier. It jumped out at me instantly.  Maybe because I played with lots of toy soldiers as a child.  Perhaps because I’ve watched a large number of war movies.

Or it could simply be because I am passionate about history.

What’s the problem?  I mean, someone made a very colorful hand-bill and then found the word soldier, or veteran or something like that and pasted the image as homage.

Many of you have already figured it out.

It appears to be a drawing of Russian Red Army soldier.  Not an American soldier.

Not that Russians or Commies don’t have veterans that they honor.  That’s their business.  But here, an image of an American veteran, past or present, might have been a wee bit more appropriate.

It’s little things like this that remind me that history matters and that all too many Americans don’t really pay attention to it.

Happy Veteran’s Day, ladies and gentlemen!  Thank you for standing for freedom.


Pause and remember our real bounty. My Greenville News Thanksgiving column.



The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest. The Puritan settlers of Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts, declared a day of thanks in the fall of 1621 because they had a very good year. So much so that they took several days off to celebrate. There are scant written records of that day, but from what we have, it’s apparent that they were thrilled to have plenty of crops, as well as Indian corn, water-fowl, turkey, local sea-food and whatever else nature could provide.

It was not without precedent. It was an old European tradition (an old human tradition) to celebrate the harvest. From the descriptions, they celebrated it in a way we in the South could respect. They prayed and then ate…and ate. They also hunted and practiced with their assault rifles…that is, muskets. (Just like us Southern Baptists!)

And they had their friends over; in fact, some 90 Wampanoag Indians with their Chief Massasoit, who brought the venison. They stayed three days, eating with their fair-skinned neighbors. The bounty was so great, in fact, that the Pilgrims wrote letters to relatives in England, describing it.

The Puritan Pilgrims understood the power of Thanksgiving. They understood that it was an important thing, a thing of perspective. Given that they were ‘right wing religious nuts with guns,’ they took seriously the injunction to give thanks to God for their bounty.

It’s all too easy for us to associate their Thanksgiving with ours. First of all, theirs was a very specific, intentional act. Ours is a national holiday, and has been since 1941. One that we easily take it for granted. In the big picture, our national bounty is so great that Thanksgiving can become just another holiday we struggle to understand, just another time of family stress when we try to do too much and launch ourselves into the frenzy of more mindless bounty at Christmas.

Keep in mind, however, that the Pilgrims lived on the very edge of a vast, unknown continent, thousands of miles across the Atlantic from the things they had always known. Their close neighbors were starvation and disease. One bad harvest could end the colony. One case of pneumonia, one infected wound or childbirth gone bad, and a new grave would be necessary.

There were no hospitals, and there were no shopping centers. An i-Phone search for ‘nearest Supermarket’ would have yielded ‘no search results.’ Starbucks? 350 years away. Luxury was what they created. At any moment, their native friends could have swept them from the earth. They faced potential catastrophe in America and oppression back home. Rock and a hard place, devil and the deep blue sea. But they were thankful.

We can learn so much. In the midst of our political and cultural battles, we should step back. Yes, there is hunger in America. But we have, without doubt, the tools and the bounty to solve it if we choose. Yes, there is political dissent; and then some. But despite the dramatic changes of the recent election, guess what didn’t happen? No bombs at polling places. No one rounded up and executed, body tossed in a ditch because of their political views or ethnicity. Yes, we have various divisions along religious, philosophical, and racial lines…even along lines of sexuality. But guess what? We don’t put our opponents into camps or prisons. (We do say mean things on social media, though.)

Some people understand. Those who survive terrible diseases, or those who know they won’t, but have to view life as a gift they have already opened and enjoyed as much as possible. Those whose families had trouble, but who came through intact. Those who endured war and came home to their loved ones. Those who served in places of hunger and sickness around the world, and saw what it was like to fly home to a city with food, shelter and clean water literally everywhere.

As we think about Thanksgiving this year, and begin to give thanks, we should pause to remember our bounty. Not the theoretical bounty of the ‘horn of plenty’ on our tables, but the bounty of life, every single day in our modern, richly endowed nation. For all it’s problems, it’s pretty amazing. And for the great gift of perspective. Because as the Pilgrims knew so well, true Thanksgiving is understood best at the junction of profound struggle with breathless gratitude.