It is unfortunately easy these days to get to the point where you don't think much of people as a whole. The 4th of July reminded me yesterday that such is not true, and that there are so many good people out there it isn't funny. It's damn near enough to make you cry at the good and good people that exist.
Meet Mark Dolfini and friends. Mark has been taking one day a week to go to different locations around the Lafayette area since Memorial Day, to raise funds and supplies for Soldiers' Angels Germany. You can read a good profile at Greta's, if you haven't already. Most of those days have broken $1,000.00 in donations, the slowest day bringing in more than $500 in cash donations. For July 4th, Mark decided to stand for 24 hours at the intersection of Highway 26 and Creasy Lane -- a major traffic hub in the area. His simple standing bloomed into so much more.
It was decided that a small ceremony would be held as part of it, with a few simple statements and a bugler to play taps. A number of people heard about this, and decided a bit more was needed. A local business had already donated the use of a crane with a large flag. Just before 1000 hours, two Lafayette Fire Department ladder trucks arrived, and the garrison flag you see in the first picture went up as well. Flags appeared behind small speakers' podium as well. There ended up being two buglers, and the echoing taps they did put dust in a lot of eyes. Darned dust, it was bad yesterday.
They were not the first thing to appear either. When Mark started at midnight, other Marines showed up. Two in particular stood out to me, as both are -- I suspect -- at least into their 70s. These men stayed most of the night, and then were back after a couple of hours to do more. Contrary to popular belief, Marines do have to make pit stops, especially when other veterans and friends are making sure they stay hydrated. When that happened, these two gentlemen formed the core of a group that stood in for Mark. One of them disappeared for a bit around 1330 hours, and returned with hot dogs, hamburgers, sides, and desserts for all from a nearby grocery deli.
They were not alone. A member of the Air Force, in the area on leave, pulled out his uniform and joined in for a couple of hours. A member of the Army also on leave in the area did the same. They stood with a brother in arms for all those who could not stand, and stayed in the sweltering heat in honor of them.
The young lady in the center showed up early, wanting to come out and -- I believe -- present Mark with a donation and a flag. She talked with him, then stayed. She didn't want attention, and it took a bit of work to get her to stand up near Mark during the ceremony. Before leaving, she broke her reticence and hit Mark with a powerful hug and, I suspect, a tear or two. That hug brought out the same in all who saw it. Darned dust.
One gentleman who stopped by knew how to make an entrance. He had gone to work nearby and saw what was going on, so when he got off work he went home, got his truck, and came by for a bit. So many people driving by changed lanes, turned, and came in to visit. I can't tell you how many children had their picture taken with Mark, or how many families or groups came by. I also can't tell you how many came up simply to say thanks, or how many small children came up with a dollar in their hands (or how many adults came up with one or more $20s).
One lady was a typical representative of those who stopped by. She came up, said she had no real connection to the military, but while crying, simply said thanks. Thanks to those who have served, and thanks to those who are serving. Nearly all gave money, and more than a few found out what was needed for Landstuhl and went to nearby businesses in the shopping center and bought items they then brought over to the collection point. Darned dust was bad, kept getting in people's eyes.
The ceremony at 1100 was short, sweet, and poignant. Echoing Taps was the finish all expected, but not long after a B-17 did a flyover and in fact came back again later and banked overhead. Turns out that one of the older Marines had made a suggestion to someone, and the plane had appeared.
The honking in support was almost continuous for a while, and people who could not stop often shouted out their thanks as they drove by. One couple risked life and limb to pull to the side near the intersection, and run over to make a donation. If something negative was shouted or said, I never heard it. A crowd stayed around for a while, and a core group stayed even longer. Special thanks to State Representative Randy Truitt, not only for being there, but who's staff brought out one of their tents and set it up to give a small bit of shade to those who stayed and those who needed a break from standing with Mark. Even better in some ways, they also brought a cooler of fresh-made sports drink that was much appreciated.
As for Mark, my hat's off to him. We talked him into a break at one point after the ceremony, and went into a nearby store to cool off. In the air conditioning of the store, you could literally see the heat radiating off his dress blues. That store also sent out a bottle of cold sports drink to Mark and those from the other services to help deal with the heat. We dealt with some afternoon rain, and regretfully, because of a situation at home, I had to leave at 1800. Mark made it to midnight, and has now had a bit of rest. I hope he has a bit more, and stays in the cool today for he deserves it.
To see a small part of the day, check out this video from the local television station.
If you really want to see the spirit that is America and Independence Day, take part in or do something like this. It restores your faith in humanity, and it reaffirms your faith in the spirit that is America.