“SPEECH! SPEECH!” by Tony Casson

Last week was a busy one, at least by the standards of my prison life. In addition to the “Mock Job Fair” that I attended on Wednesday morning, I have a 10 week spiritual transformation class on Mondays for 2 hours each week in the chapel, and I spend another 2 hours on Wednesday afternoons in the chapel involved in independent Christian studies. I am learning there are some incredible things to read, speakers to listen to, and points to ponder. More on those endeavors later, because I am certainly discovering many “spiritual bread crumbs” to follow in all of that material and that significant part of my life is worthy of an article of its own at a future date.

Last week was also unique in that I gave not one, but TWO speeches for Toastmasters. The first was on Tuesday night at our regularly scheduled meeting. I won’t print the text from that one here, but it followed pretty closely an article for these Chronicles that was written some time ago by Steve Marshall and myself titled “When I Get Out Of Prison I’m Going Straight”. While the title sounds serious, the article and subsequent speech were most definitely not, and a good time was had by the audience listening to me verbalize what Steve and I had written.

The second one was given on Friday in the chapel as a part of our Veteran’s Day speech contest. It was also based on a previous article that I had written in June of 2012 titled “I Am Grateful, Too”. Unlike the Tuesday speech, this one WAS serious and I would like to share that one with you now:

 “THE SACRIFICE OF SERVICE”

Outside of the small town of Menlo, Iowa there is a very large boulder which has been transformed into a canvas by a local artist by the name of Ray “Bubba” Sorenson. The boulder has become known as “Freedom Rock” due to the patriotic images painted on it by “Bubba” each year. Those images have included a flag, the various seals of the different branches of the armed forces, fighter jets, people in uniform, warships, and other symbols that pay tribute to the men and women who make sacrifices in service to this country.

In May of 2012, one of the panels on “Freedom Rock” contained an inscription which read:

“They lost legs, and I walk.

They lost minds, and I think.

Sometimes they lost lives, and I live.

I am grateful.”

Since the establishment of this great nation, over 40 million American men and women have served in the armed forces of the United States of America. Each and every one of them has sacrificed in their service, some of them in ways most of us would find difficult to comprehend.

The service of over 2 million of those men and women resulted in the supreme sacrifice of their lives. An almost equal number were physically wounded in the performance of their duties, and untold millions more were wounded in a different way: Many carry on their hearts, and in their minds, the permanent scars of those images of horror that comprise the very nature of war.

Millions of others were fortunate enough to have served during times of peace; many escaped injury or death while serving during times of war; others were spared the visual atrocities which are a part of man’s inhumanity to man; and still others served in positions of support that were out of harm’s way.

Be that as it may, each group that has been mentioned has earned the acknowledgement and gratitude of the entire nation. There is sacrifice in service to one’s country no matter which branch of the armed forces one belongs, where one’s service is performed, or whether that sacrifice was made during times of war or times of peace.

Today, I would like to introduce you to just ONE of those 40 million men and women. His name is Taylor Morris and he was 23 years old when I ‘met’ him on the front page of the Des Moines Register in May of 2012. It was in that article I first learned of “Bubba” Sorenson and his “Freedom Rock”. The “I Am Grateful” inscription was a tribute to young Taylor.

The article was accompanied by 3 photographs, one of which showed a smiling Taylor shaking the hand of his proudly beaming father, Dan, on the day Taylor graduated after receiving Naval training to be an explosive ordinance technician. The other 2 photos were taken after Taylor returned to the United States following an explosion in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. That explosion miraculously spared Taylor’s major organs, but he lost his right leg at the knee, his left leg at mid-thigh, his right arm at the wrist, and his left arm at the elbow. The photos showed Taylor recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., working with his therapists.  He was learning how to hold a water bottle, and how to sit up.

I will never forget the look on Taylor’s face as he looked up at his therapist with the water bottle in his mouth, steadied by his bandaged arms, and as he re-learned the seemingly simple act of sitting up. I felt sorry for him, but as I read further, the article stated Taylor was determined to live a full life and he refused to allow this accident to defeat him. I reflected on the inscription on “Freedom Rock” and I felt an overwhelming feeling of gratitude wash over me. The sacrifice made by the young man pictured before me fell into the category of being difficult for most of us to comprehend.

The first tears that came to my eyes were the tears of a father as I tried to imagine that it was my own son lying there. The next tears that came were tears of shame. I wanted to wrap my arms around the young man in those pictures and beg him for his forgiveness. I wanted to THANK him for his sacrifice and PROMISE him that I would never again live my life or act in a manner that was not worthy of his sacrifice and the sacrifice of all his brothers and sisters. Those who sacrifice ANYTHING in service to their country have a right to expect nothing less from those they serve.

It was many months before I heard anything further about Taylor Morris, and it was another picture on the front page of the Des Moines Register that caught my eye before I even saw his name. THIS one showed a smiling, triumphant Taylor Morris, surrounded by family, friends, and supporters, with his fiancé on one side and his smiling father on the other, as they all walked down the main street of Taylor’s hometown. Taylor had prosthetics on both arms and both legs and he walked with the confidence and pride of a man who has overcome diversity which would have plunged lesser individuals into deep depression.

The tears came to my eyes again, only this time they were tears of joy for Taylor’s victory over his sacrifice in service to the United States of America; his service to all of us who enjoy freedom because of Taylor and the millions of other men and women who have sacrificed in service, and continue to sacrifice DAILY so that we can all sleep safely in our beds. To Taylor, and to each and every individual who has made even the smallest of sacrifices in service to the citizens of this country, I can only offer my humble and sincere gratitude, and ask that you all join me in doing so.

I pray that one day we will no longer require ANY sacrifice from our children, but until that day arrives, I will pray that each and every citizen of this country lives his or her life in a manner that is worthy of those sacrifices that are made in service.

~~~~#~~~~

As always, I thank you all for your time. May God bless you and your families, and if there are any veterans reading these words…..Thank you. Thank you very, very much!

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