I Salute You: What You Didn't See

There are so many things I'd like to tell you about my days at Pacific Coast Christian Academy. The stories are so rich, so incredibly heartbreaking at times, and encompass some of the most beautiful, truly indescribable, moments of my life.  Someday, when the kids are old enough to grant me their permission and old enough to look at their life through the eyes of an adult, I hope to tell you some of these stories.  I hope I can find the words.

There are some that are equally as beautiful that I am free to tell and I believe this one is worth telling.

I know this is a blog...where you read...and I'm supposed to spend the time writing this all out, and you're supposed to take the time to read it, but it is much better explained if you watch something first.  It's a video clip of a school's musical that I directed, "I Salute You."  What an amazing night.  But please, you must see this:




Here is what you may have seen:

  • A video in the background.
  • Some narrators.
  • Some soloists.
  • 70-some-odd K-8th graders singing all together on one stage, at one time.
  • A left-handed salute.
  • A little girl pulling something out of another girl's hair.
  • A picture of a soldier or a memorial that made you remember.
  • Maybe you pictured the service men and women standing as the applause took over the sound of the those 70+ little singers.  If you were one of those service men or women, I hope you heard a room full of grateful Americans.
But there was something you didn't see.

I didn't get to see any of the service men and women stand.  I didn't get to see the standing ovation they received.  I didn't get to see the tears or the looks of gratitude on the audience's faces,  but I got the best view in the house!!!

First, a little background.  How would you explain this song to a child?  How do you explain a World War, a tyrant, or a terrorist?  How do you explain sacrifice?  That was my challenge.  I wanted to make this real to them.  Not scary, but real.  I didn't just want them to sing about being grateful, I wanted them to feel it.  Sounds easy, until you realize that the kids only heard the first 10 seconds of what you just said and you were just warming up!

I started with vocabulary.

"Johnny, what is a distant land?"

"Somewhere far away like Canada or Texas," little Johnny replies.

"Oh, yes.  That is far away!  Did you know there are places so far away that right now it's their bedtime and they are already in their pajamas sleeping?"  (Kids gasp and look at each other, trying to see if their friend believes it so they know if they should believe it, too.)

"Did you know that there are soldiers that had to say goodbye and go to a distant land?"  And there we have the first line of our song and we learn it and sing it.  "Saying goodbye for a distant land."

"What's a limb?" I ask.

"It's like, a part of a tree," someone answers.

"Yes, that is true.  Did you know it also means something else?  What do you think, Sally?"

"Like a lemon?" (pronounced: lim-in or limb-in.  Get it?)

"Hmmmm.... not exactly, but good idea!  Put your arms out.  Look at your legs.  Those are your limbs.  Did you know that some soldiers don't die (dramatic pause) but when they come home they don't have all of their limbs?"  And there is another line.  "Giving up life and limb and home and family."

Takes awhile, but when the kids learn the song, they know what they are singing about.  And yet, sacrifice is such an abstract idea for the little ones and not much of a reality for the older ones just yet.  HOW DO I HELP THEM GET IT?

These songs were not easy.  They were written for adults to sing, not kids.  I had to do some arranging here and there, but these kids had to work HARD!  The words were big, the notes were long, the pitches got real low and real high.  They had never worked so hard before and I am still proud of them!

About a week before the big night, the Junior High teacher said to me, "They don't get it.  I keep trying to tell my kids but they just don't get it."

I wrote to some soldiers I knew.  One gave me some suggestions and another sent us a letter.  It was beautiful.  Although this post is getting quite long, I want to share it with you.  It's not only worth the read, it's from a soldier's heart.  I ask you, in honor of those who have vowed to give their life to defend your freedom, that you read it in its entirety.

The fact that America has been blessed with our freedom for over 235 years is solely due to God’s divine providence and the liberty he has bestowed on our people.  One quote I read a few years into my 22-year career as a Marine was from Thomas Jefferson.

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. -- Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Throughout my time in the Corps I have made many relationships, friendships, and life changing experiences.  None was more important than when I trusted the Lord as my personal Savior on 11 Nov 1990; between the Marine Corps Birthday and Veteran’s Day.  I bring this up in relation with the quote I earlier mentioned, before I only knew liberty as a citizen of the greatest nation in the world.  After salvation I realized the true Liberty, which Christ has provided to my country and me…only if the people ask and seek his face.

Another significant event that the Lord has blessed me with is the terrific woman He has allowed me to call my friend and wife for over 18 years.  She has been my faithful companion, sounding board, and steadfast partner in my career as a Marine.  Along the way she has provided three beautiful children Cody, Ethan and Rylee.   Robyn, as well as the kids, has spent holidays, birthdays, and many other of life’s moments alone…and the kids away from their Dad…because I was off training, participating, fighting in what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the “Tree of Liberty”. They’ve experienced moving from place to place throughout the United States to Overseas, seven times.  It’s been difficult saying “See you later” to friends, making new friends, learning new cultures and experiencing financial hardships with setting up a new home. It has not always been easy, but they have always kept a positive attitude and faced new experience with help from the Lord.  PCCA had a significant part in their lives while we were there from 2004-2006.  Rylee and Ethan, at Little Lamb’s; Cody 2nd and 3rd Grade; and Robyn was able to teach 1st and 2nd.  The friends we made while there will always be recalled in fond memory, as we look at our family pictures taken while living in Salinas.  We truly enjoyed living there and having your ministry a part of our daily lives.  

My career has taken me from Australia to Somalia, from peacetime operations to wartime operations, from times of joy to times of sorrow.  Some of the friends I’ve made along the way will not return home to their loved ones.  Their wives, children, mother, father, brother and sisters will never see them again because their blood was shed for that “Tree of Liberty”.  But, I do know, FOR A FACT, any Marine who gives his life on the field of battle is honored to go before those tyrants who want to challenge our liberties and our way of life.  Knowing their sacrifices, for God, Country, Corps will provide the protective cover for our way of life to proceed in eventual peace.  No veteran will ever say we thirst for war, just like they will never say; war will never happen.  Freedom, Liberty, Our Way of Life in America is a lighthouse for those in the world and will constantly be challenged by those tyrants who choose to oppress the weak in mind and spirit.   

It’s those things, which called me to service and continue to stoke the fire I have, as a Marine.  I whole-heartedly believe--and I have personally seen, the worst in the world and the best in the world--that America is the greatest country in the world.  This is a testament to our founding fathers and their recognition of God Almighty.

I sincerely appreciate the time and sacrifice you have made in preparation for this program.  I salute you for your efforts, and I pray it’s a successful opportunity to both show appreciation to our troops, as well as a moment to reflect on the goodness of Christ in our lives and his hand of protection he has on our Country.  
 Semper Fidelis, 
 Major Michael M. Farrell
Josh 1:8

 The big night was on a chapel day at school.  I couldn't wait to read this letter to the kids!  Major Farrell's wife worked as a teacher at our school a few years before.  Many of the children remembered her and many others remembered her children, which were also their classmates.  This would be perfect!

In the meantime, the Junior High teacher, Mrs. Morgan prepared a video she had found.  It was a beautiful video about veterans and patriotism.  Very touching, especially after reading them the letter.

I'm having a hard time putting into words what that moment was like.  The teachers were all in tears.  The children were solemn.  I'm not sure if they still quite understood, but seeing their teachers' reactions made them take note and it made them sing with power!

It carried over that night onto the stage.  They were a-maz-ing!  Right now I could go on and on about these kids.  But, while you can't really know just how good they were by watching the video, you can see that these kids didn't just get up there and do this half-heartedly.  They did it with energy and enthusiasm and they did it at each and every program, all 16 of them that we did over the 8 years I was there.  They made me so incredibly proud!

But this night was unlike any other.  I got to see what you didn't see.  In fact, it's impossible to see in this video, even though I know what to look for.

While each branch of the armed forces was called and our brave soldiers stood, I had a front row view of the children.  Zachariah called out the first branch of the armed forces.

"United States Army!"

They stopped watching me.  They looked out as dozens of soldiers rose to their feet.

"United States Navy!"

They looked out at the veterans who defended their freedom.

"United States Coast Guard!"

 They saw teachers, brothers, uncles, and total strangers stand.

One by one, as each branch of the armed forces was called, they watched and sang and in that moment I saw what you didn't see.

Their eyes widened and brightened at the same time.  They smiled in a way that I have never, ever seen them smile.  I'd never seen even my own children before or since with that look on their face.  It was the face of gratitude and awe.  It was the light of realization with the jubilant sound of gratefulness in their voices, even in a solemn moment.  They didn't cry.  Most of the audience was in tears, but these children smiled.  I don't think there could ever be a more appropriate response for those innocent of sacrifice and the horrors of war.  So pure, so true, and so humbling.

They got it!  They truly got it and I got to see it!

In a moment, somehow, the abstract became concrete.  It filled them with pride to be an American and to give back to these soldiers in some small way.

They were propelled out of self for a moment, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

And I saw it!  I saw what you couldn't see.  I saw what couldn't be captured on camera.  I saw that moment and I will treasure it for as long as I live.

I hope these children remember it.  Even if the little ones don't remember much of that night, I hope that the moment is stored away in their minds and in their hearts, even if it fades from their memory.  I hope that as they grow into adulthood, they will not take for granted the sacrifices made.  I hope they always honor those who paid the price of freedom for them.

I hope that those of you who have served our country as a member of the armed forces feel my heart.  I want to thank you.  May I always honor you by honoring my country and using my freedom as a means to advance her.  May I represent the United States of America in a way worthy of your sacrifice and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

I salute you.

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