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The Way It Was... and now it isn't

Americans have a fine history of isolationism.  It goes right back to Plymouth Rock and right up to Pearl harbor.  The original George W(ashington) remarked it in his farewell address.

“The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.”

The United States did not want to participate in WWI and maybe would not have participated in WWII if it wasn’t for Pearl Harbor. How would the European map have looked had we not intervened? All that isolationism was over and done with when World War II ended. We started our advance to be a World Player and never looked back.

You know I could care less what a crack head in Chicago does or what a housewife in Portland thinks or what violence is perpetrated by a gang in South Central –but that is naivete. It matters not a whit to me what Chinese investment strategies are or the state of upheaval in Tunisia — but I should pay attention and I don’t. We are all inexorably connected these days. It is the Global Way of things that will be. Would be it that I could disappear on 20 acres of land in Far West Texas and not be beholden to another man or be affected by the vagaries of foreign rulers. We are all connected one way or another, six degrees of separation and all that.

When I was part of Corporate America, I still managed to expose the family to the joys of small town Texas living. My daily commute was a horrendous 68 mile grind one way from the Blackland Prairie of North Texas down through the heart of the DFW Metroplex. I left every morning around 5am and returned every evening after 7pm. The family enjoyed the benefits of living and working in a small town of less than 2500 people.  It was well worth my small sacrifice.

My daughter was the one who thrived in that small town environment. 6 years of school in a town where everybody knew everybody else. During those years it was a constant stream of teenagers in and out of the house. I was part and parcel to hordes of hungry teenagers, I listened to every day drama that seemed weighty enough to bring down nations, I laughed when regaled with the latest hysterically funny stories and I went to all the football games.

Cait and Lani -- Prom night

As Cait grew older, the circle of friends became smaller and stronger and the common refrain I heard was “What are we gonna do after High School?” So Cait and I made the rounds of universities, just giving them a look see but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. The core group of 7 — 3 boys and 4 girls — struggled with the weight of the world settling heavy on their small shoulders.  Of course the world would not wait and the group split.  2 of the girls decided they would stick around town and ‘try’ Community College .  Three boys and one girl decided the military was the best route.  Such is the way of small towns.

Cait decided she would join the Air Force and follow in the foot steps of her much adored big brother.  Two of the other young men followed suit.   They washed out pretty damned quick  as any branch of the military tests the mettle of young kids from small towns.  Many of them have never been away from home to speak of and the military is just too much brain shock for them to endure.  Those two young men have no further bearing on tonight’s story.

The third young man,  Alex,  is the reason for writing on this chill January evening.  I was compelled to write this and had absolutely no choice in the matter. Sometimes it just happens to me in that fashion.

Alex was the boy that the dad always gave his daughter grudging approval to date.  As I saw it, he talked constantly and seldom said anything.  He was the kid that always followed too close on my heels and laughed too loud.  I would just shake my head and grin.  It was hard not to like this kid who always had a smile on his face.    Alex was the kid who showed up at midnight when I pulled in with a loaded U Haul full of furniture to unload.  For all of my perception of valid flaws,  Alex was unerringly true and loyal to his friends.  Some people take a lifetime to learn this; some people never do.  Alex mastered it before he could  vote.  Gotta hand it to that kid.

Alex Clay Morales

Alex joined the military too, the Marines of all things.  I remember thinking to myself   ‘I am going to hate it when that kid washes out.  There is NO way he will make it.’     Well, thank goodness I am not responsible for predicting the future of the world as we know it.  Alex not only made it through Basic,  he passed with flying colors.  He excelled at it, he lived and breathed it.  He did well enough that his first posting was to Washington, DC as a member of the Special Guards.  The way I understand it the Special Guards are the ones you see at attention beside the White House portico and on the lawn when the President gets on or off that helicopter.  They also serve as Special Detail when there is burying to be done at Arlington National Cemetery.

So as with all things, life went on and the months passed.  I would hear tidbits from Cait regarding her high school friends.   For the first year or two, the ties to home and the life that had went before were strong.  The kids were living as much in the old life as they were in their new life.  Old friends were still important but time erodes everything and as the months passed I chronicled the passage into the new world they were making for themselves.  It was the metamorphosis of the butterfly and I enjoyed watching these kids unfold their wings.

Alex in DC

Alex in DC

Cait was stationed in the Azores Islands in late summer 2007 when she received word Alex had been killed in a motorcycle accident outside his base in Quantico,VA. She made immediate plans to return to North Texas for his funeral.   There was no way around it,   she would not entertain any other option.

The joy of seeing her after many months separated was overshadowed at every turn by the reason for her visit.   There is an overpowering sense of injustice when children are taken too early.  We rail at a malevolent God and question the reason for such a senseless  loss.

Alex C. Morales  1986 – 2007

Lance Corporal Alex C. Morales attended Denison schools and graduated from Denison High School in 2005, where he participated in the band and was a member of the photo journalism team. Alex followed his dream and enlisted in the Marines before graduation. At the time of his death he was assigned as a member of the Special Guards Unit, stationed in Washington D.C. Alex’s kind heart left an impression on everyone who met him. He was preceded in death by his grandfather, Raul Morales. Alex was killed in a motorcycle accident outside of his base in Quantico, Virginia at age 20.

I have never been in the military.   I understand it is customary for a member of the military to accompany the remains to their final resting place.  If a military funeral is requested, local active duty or retired military personnel step forward to serve as the Honor Guard.  Here in Texas, the Patriot Guard Riders also arrive to honor the fallen in many cases.  They were in attendance at Alex’s funeral as well, made even more relevant by the fact that Alex and his family has been lifelong motorcycle enthusiasts.

Alex was not escorted from Washington to Sherman, TX by one individual serviceman.  Since the Special Guards serve Honor Guard duty at the National Cemetery in Arlington,  the entire squad escorted Alex on his final trip with a Captain in charge.   At the church on that sweltering August day,   I remember the sharp lines and lean faces of this Marine Honor Guard detachment as they buried one of their own.   They stood as they had stood countless times  by the casket of a fallen warrior,  they moved with practiced measured tread and time honored ceremony that stretches back to the beginning of our country.  I watched these young men perform flawlessly under the blast of a noonday sun that was sending the temps well north of 100 degrees.   It was the softness of their eyes that betrayed them.  The perfect dress blues,  the precision of movement — all practiced without emotion.   The eyes gave it all way– today they laid one of their own to rest in the heat cracked black clay of North Texas.

I left my daughter’s side after the riflemen had fired the final salute.  ‘Hey Marine’ I called to one of the young men who was policing the area for spent shell casings.  ‘Can I have one of

No caption is adequate for this picture.

those cases?’  His white gloved hand stretched out to me with a brass casing between his fingers.  I returned to my daughters side  and pressed the spent shell casing into her hand.  I felt helpless to do anything else or anything more.

Today I went to Denton to do some gun trading. I had spoken to Mike last night to set the deal up and as it happens so many times, I made mention of the fact that my kids are active duty military.  When you are trading guns and such,  you rarely complete the transaction without some visiting back and forth.  Toward the end of our chat he said ‘ make sure and thank your kids for their service.’   I asked Mike if he had ever served and he said no.  ‘Even so’, he said, ‘I try to honor our military members.  I ride with the Patriot Guard Riders. ‘

‘Is that so?  I see y’all on TV alot but I did see the Patriot Guard in person  at a funeral in Sherman about 3 years ago.  It was hot as blazes.’

Mike got a funny look on his face and said ‘ Was it a young Marine that got killed on a motorcycle?

‘Yes, his name was Alex Morales’ and I watched the recognition wash over his face.

‘I was there.  I remember how hot it was.  I also remember the crack Honor Guard that attended his remains.  They were from Arlington National right?’

‘Yes Mike,  Alex was one of their members and they honored him by giving him a full military escort start to finish.’

Mike said   ‘ I have been to countless military funerals over the last 8 years and I have never seen one that compared to that.   That Honor Guard was flawless.  Our group has never been so impressed as they were that day. We talked about it for weeks after.’

We soon made our good byes and went separate ways but my mind was reeling.   Through a sequence of seemingly random events,  I had arrived at a place today with a person I thought a total stranger,  a person who shared no past history with me or mine at all.  At least that is what I had believed 20 minutes earlier.

It made me feel just real damned small is what it did.   We bluff and bluster,  seemingly in control of our little slice of life.   In reality,  every one of us is connected with invisible threads to every other human on this planet.   My life  does hinge on the actions of others — however seemingly remote  they may be from my everyday life… their actions unfettered by my indifference as well.  All I got to say is I better get my karma in order.

End Note: Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin from the Greatest Stories – Live cd.   Even with a new world order hitting me square between the eyes, I will not relinquish some of the best old rock and roll ever written.

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10 comments to The Way It Was… and now it isn’t

  • Joel

    Nice post, Andy.

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  • Don

    Absolutely incredible post! The story of bringing up your children in rural America was great. Then you morphed into the story of LCPL Morales, wow! Maybe you ought to give up shoving dirt and start writing.

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  • Andrew

    Your daughter is an amazing woman. I’ve never been more in love with someone in my entire life.

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  • Tracy

    It saddens my heart to find this article. I knew alex- I went to school in Durant, I believe it was our senior yr and his recruiter gave Alex my number. We went on a few dates and talked on the phone quite a bit for a few months. I don’t know what made me think of him tonight but this is the last thing I expected to find. I can’t remember now why we lost touch but I’m glad I have the memories I have of him. This was a very neat story and im glad i found it and not just an obituary. RIP Alex

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  • jenny

    As i do every year on this date i search for Alex on Google to see what people have to say about him. I knew of Cait but didn’t know her till after finding out about Alex’s wreck. Alex was one of my best friends growing up. My mom has a sandstone rock in her flower bed that Alex scratched his name into more then 10 years ago. This story gave me goosebumps. And the picture of his headstone I believe is one I took. As always on this day I am off to the cemetery to visit him. Again thank you for warming my heart today.

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    • admin

      I hope you don’t mind me using the picture.

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  • Rachel Morales

    Thank you so much for writing this. I didn’t know Cait very well as I was four years older then her and Alex and of course, couldn’t be bothered with the going-ons of my lil’bro. Hindsight sure is 20/20. I have to say though, she has never lost touch with me. She is always right there and it makes me feel so secure because I know how much Alex loved her, she’s my little piece of him. I hope that makes sense. Having gone through basic and AIT for the Army myself, I thought that surely he wouldn’t survive the Marines, but it seemed like because Cait believed he could do it, then he was going to do it.

    My daughter was born just a few short weeks after Alex passed…but it’s kinda crazy. She knows him. When my dad bought our house in Tulsa, we set up a room with his bed, his clothes, his pictures…guess where she sleeps. She talks about Uncle Alex all the time like he’s right there with her. She wants his truck. It’s crazy.

    I apologize for digressing. It is so good to know that in this crazy hateful war-torn world that some people still care. I love your family. You have an amazing daughter.

    Thank you

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    • Christi "Chapman" McLain

      I know Alex from elementary school. I lived next door to him & his family for 6 years. I remember both him & Rachel setting up a lemonade stand in front of their house…& making it on the front page of the newpaper. This is so sad to hear (I know this is way late) but I just learned of this. It seems he turned out to be an outstanding young man taken way too fast. RIP

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  • Larry

    I remember reading this shortly after your posting it. Proud of our service members. I did not serve, intended to join as my Dad did, but Viet Nam was roaring along and I witnessed it through Walter Cronkite’s nightly news throughout my Jr and High school years, thus I lost interest to join. However now, all 6 of my seven brother n laws served, three of whom in war zones, both my son n laws are active Navy, one w/ 17 years and the other w/ 4. I have had the privilege to observe on several occasions while visiting w/ Command senior chief son n law at various posts, retirement ceremonies, flag ceremonies, funerals, etc., the commitment it takes to properly service this great nation, and watched the precision and zeal of pride that is a predominate feature of these warriors. Seeing the brotherhood in arms, even on base golf courses where at noon the whole base stops when colors are announced. We need to honor, and appreciate these Men and Women. Amen

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