Hero Training School

My grandfather, Frank E. Fields landed on D-Day, June 6 1944, at Utah Beach in Normandy.  He died before I was born and therefore has always been a ‘mythical’ figure for me.  He did some pretty heroic things as a soldier in the 4th Infantry Division, earning the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.  Family lore has it that he was even recommended for the Medal of Honor.

Frank E Fields, WWII Era Photograph

Frank E Fields, circa 1943

For a long time, I internally mourned that I had never gotten to meet this ‘great American’ who gave me his name (I’ve always loved this poem by Edgar A. Guest).  Then, one day I read this:

If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. – John 14:7 (NIV)

I realized that, although, I had never met Frank, I had most assuredly met his son (my father), Jim.  And I knew a LOT about Jim!

  • How his faith in God shaped his decisions and actions
  • How patient he was when his son forgot the tent stakes forcing them to spend the night in a boat on an island in the Clinch River.
  • How he had many great ideas but had a hard time implementing them (Visionary!)
  • How important family history was to him

In fact, in observing Frank, Jim had spent 22 years in ‘Hero Training School’…and I’m fortunate to be spending my 39th year observing my Dad.  As a kid, he was certainly my hero.  Classic teenager attitude plus my parents divorce led to a period where I was sure that he was my ‘anti-hero’ but a loving wife and fatherhood has made Dad’s heroism much more clear to me.

So, parents, how about you?  You’re a hero to your kids whether you feel that way or not.  In fact, your kids are in ‘Hero Training School’ right now.  One day both you (and they) will wake up to see how similar you are.  Will they be thankful for that similarity or despise it?


Suresnes American Cemetery

During my (currently frequent) travels, my family (well, at least one son) likes to see pictures of the things that I’m doing/visiting.  I usually try to post 2 or 3 pictures at the end of the day on facebook along with a creative sentence or two.  For a recent visit to the French Air and Space museum, a facebook post was more than enough.  However, it would be a great disservice to the place I visited today if I thought a pithy sentence (or two) would suffice.

Suresens American Cemetery  is the final resting place of 1541 Americans that died during the First World War and the place of rememberence for another 974 whose bodies were lost at sea.  In addition, 24 soldiers “known but to God” from the Second World War are buried there.  The cemetery is on a beautiful hill overlooking Paris.

(Note: just click on the pictures for more detail)

Suresnes American Cemetery

Suresnes American Cemetery

Despite my many visits to Paris since 2003, I hadn’t yet visited.  So, on this weekend between work meetings, I decided to find it.  .  I tried on Saturday but, unfortunately, I left later than planned and I didn’t realize that there were two ways to get there from my hotel…the 1.5h way and the 25 min way. :-/

Sunday morning was as beautiful as Saturday so I left my hotel planning to arrive between 9 and 10 (most overseas American cemeteries are open 9-5 , 363 days per year) .  I got there around 9:40 and apparently surprised the receptionist as she hurried to put on her lipstick as I walked in the door of the visitors center.  I had read on the Internet that this cemetery was not visited often and I would have to agree.  I saw no one during my almost hour there and just a few names in the visitors log from the past few days.

Suresnes American Cemetery with Eiffel Tower in the background

Suresnes American Cemetery with Eiffel Tower in the background

When I visit these sacred plots of American soil in Europe, I feel personally obligated to walk in front of each grave and say the person’s name aloud (even though I’ve never had/taken the time).  I guess I believe that a small act of remembrance shows my appreciation and that the person didn’t die in vain…Europe and the United States are still free because of their sacrifice.

During this trip, here are a few of the folks I visited with/things I saw:

Lewis Sol. Seligman and Hugh Stanley Lawwill – YMCA Secretaries who died in 1919 and 1918 respectively.  Lawwill died 2 days after the war ended and Seligman over 7 months later.  Since their roles were not on the front line, it’s possible they died from the Spanish Flu
Hugh Stanley Lawwill - Secretary YMCA

Hugh Stanley Lawwill – Secretary YMCA

Lewis Sol. Seligman - Secretary YMCA

Lewis Sol. Seligman – Secretary YMCA













Henry Howard Houston Woodward who flew with the Lafayette Flying Corps and was decorated by the French government is interred beside Henry Howard Houston.  I can’t find any indication they were related.
Henry Howard Houston Woodward and Henry Howard Houston

Henry Howard Houston Woodward and Henry Howard Houston

Dorothy K. Cromwell and Gladys Cromwell came to France to work for the American Red Cross and both died the same day.  Apparently, the twin sisters were overwhelmed by what they had seen and committed suicide 2 months after the end of the war
Dorothy and Gladys Cromwell

Dorothy and Gladys Cromwell

I thought that the plot for the 24 unknowns from the Second World War was interesting
24 Unknown Soldiers from the Second World War

24 Unknown Soldiers from the Second World War

 until I walked down the hill and saw it from another perspective.  A cross made of 24 crosses.
24 Unknown Soldiers from the Second World War

24 Unknown Soldiers from the Second World War

This may sound strange but this is at least the second time I’ve been at a cemetery and, just as I got ready to take a picture, the flag unfurled.
O say can you see...

O say can you see…

The number of Americans killed in the First World War seems huge until you realize that, in the Second World War, over 360,000 FROM JUST ONE COUNTRY lost their lives.
American Deaths in the First and Second World Wars

American Deaths in the First and Second World Wars

One estimate I saw was that 60 MILLION people died worldwide (2.5% of the world’s population).  That’s just staggering.

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming


In Paris and want to go?
Get on the T2 line (if you’re in downtown Paris, take Metro line 1 to La Defense, then look for the T2 signs.   Note that you’ll need a ticket that is slightly more expensive than your classic Metro ticket (mine was 2.65 Euros I believe).  Take T2 in the direction of Pont de Versailles and get off at Suresnes-Longchamp.  Take a left off the train and then your first right.

Suresnes-Longchamp Train Station

Suresnes-Longchamp Train Station

Get on Rue CLUSERET (note, it’s shaped like a curvy lightning bolt) and hike to the top of the hill.  If nothing else, the hill will make you appreciate the terrain!

When you get to this sign, you take a right and in about 2 minutes walk, the cemetery will be on your left.

Almost there, just take a right here!

Almost there, just take a right here!

When you’re done at the cemetery, cross the street to this wonderful overlook of Paris…

Panoramic View of Paris

Panoramic View of Paris

…a view that you can take in thanks to the American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and nurses who rest peacefully here.

From Vision to Reality – A Different Perspective

A visionary imagines, a builder implements, and a maintainer improves performance.  Thanks to Jeff White for the heads up on this cartoon showing three similar roles.


Faith, Hope, and Love

Heroes at Home

Recently, I’ve been writing about heroism.  We often identify with them because we see in them the character qualities that we would like to see in ourselves.  Little boys who dream of being a fire fighter and little girls who dream of being a ‘mama’ are just reflecting their desire to be like those who seem heroic to them.  However, as we get older, unless forced, we don’t do much that seems heroic to us.  That can cause people (especially men) to compensate by identifying with those who seem ‘more’ heroic (i.e. professional athletes and teams).

As a Tennesseean, I've watched and respected Peyton Manning since 1994.

As a Tennesseean, I’ve watched and respected Peyton Manning since 1994.

Our everyday lives may seem ‘unheroic’ but there are some questions you can ask yourself in pursuit of ‘personal heroism’:

1) What are you fighting for?  Whoa!  When’s the last time you asked yourself that?  If your immediate, internal answer includes the word ‘my’ then take a closer look.  Heroes are fighting for a cause; a big picture, life changing, thing.  If you’re fighting for something as small as your comfort or your rights, you probably don’t feel very heroic.  I know that when I am just focused on my needs I get miserable pretty quick.  I often have to remind myself that I am trying to fight for my wife and our marriage, my childrens’ future as productive and caring adults, and the future of my company which provides jobs to thousands of people.  You?

2) Who are your enemies?  If you’re a soldier or athlete, that can be a simple question…the other guys.  For the rest of us, who are we fighting?  When my ‘rights’ to sleep in, sit on the couch and watch football, or do what I want to do are trampled on, it’s easy for me to think that my enemies live right under my roof!  That can cause some colossal and frustrating fights.  When I realize that my main enemy is most likely me and my sense of self-entitlement, I have an internal battle to focus on.

3) How do you fight?  Heroes control their emotions and my biggest fight can be to react to what I perceive as battles with love.  That frustrating co-worker?  They’re going through a tough time at home.  If I jump all over them in an argument, I haven’t gained a friend, I’ve created an enemy.  The same goes with my family.  My son who’s feeling inadequate to do a school project needs love, not a drill sergeant…even if my tendency is drill sergeant.

When you feel like a traitor to yourself or others, assess the situation and answer these questions.  In fact, just one question might set you on the path to some pretty heroic actions.  Which question would that be for you?

Image courtesy nfl.si.com

The Heart of a Hero

I recently finished reading The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara.  It’s historical fiction based on the D-Day landings and subsequent battles in northwest France.  The book led me to think a little more about Heroes.

GIs coming ashore in Normandy, France – June 1944

1) Heroes aren’t usually on the side with all of the firepower.  When the 1st and 29th Divisions landed at Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944, those men were given the immediate choice of heroism (up the cliff) or cowardice (stay huddled at the bottom). It’s hard to be heroic when you’re expected to win.  However when you are evenly matched or especially an underdog, conditions are ripe for heroism.

2) Heroes take care of the helpless.  The Allies knew that the French civilians in and around Normandy didn’t ask to be in the middle of an enormous military operation.  In addition, they had been under the unkind rule of the Nazis for almost 4 years.  So, the soldiers (mostly) took special care not to raid civilian farms, instead eating K and C rations until they were almost repulsed by them.  As mentioned in the cinematic masterpiece Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

3) Heroes don’t gain that status by the use of brute force.   When presented with a strong enemy position, the airborne troops who landed in the early hours of D-Day couldn’t succeed with a direct frontal assault.  They had to look for soft spots in the enemy line or try to get around the end of the enemy positions.  Throwing yourself in front of any problem…be it a tank or a cranky infant is just a good way to get rolled over (or puked on).

“So what?”, you might say.  I’m not fighting a war or even eating bad food.  Well, are you in a position at work where a decision has the support of management but you know that the results could be disastrous?  How about in your town…are you helping those around you who don’t have adequate food or clothing…or maybe just need a friend?  Is your status at home (as a spouse or parent) based on the power you have to get your way or on the work you do to help others?

If you’re in any of those situations, I think the conditions are right for YOU to be a hero.  So how heroic do you feel?  Is there someone around you that you can be a hero to today?

Image courtesy http://www.history.army.mil/images/reference/normandy/pics/SC320901.JPG

Three Characteristics of Ordinary Heroes

A recent business trip gave me the opportunity to watch a couple of movies I’ve wanted to see for a while.  42 is the story of how Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947.  I followed that up with Captain America, a comic-book adaptation about how an ‘average guy’ became a superhero during the Second World War.

As I watched these two films, one based on reality and the other based on fantasy, I thought a lot about what it means to be a hero.  I was reminded of some real heroes in my family tree.  For example, my grandfather Frank landed at Utah Beach in the first 5 minutes of D-Day.  My ‘grandfathers-in-law’ Bob and Bill were injured during the WWII Italy and Normandy campaigns respectively.  These men kept the heroic things they had done and seen mostly to themselves because ‘it was what we had to do.’  They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

With that in mind, I’d like to give you three things that I think help define heroes…those who get a movie and those who just deserve one.

John Richardson (left) and Frank Fields were members of the 4th Infantry Division / 8th Regiment Company G.  This picture is believed to have been taken in Germany in 1945.

John Richardson (left) and Frank Fields were members of the 4th Infantry Division / 8th Regiment Company G. This picture is believed to have been taken in Germany in 1945.

1) Heroes rarely start out intending to be one.  They aren’t looking for fame, fortune, or fun.  In fact, one thing that makes them heroic is the fact that they think that what they are doing is nothing special.  For me, adults and children who are fighting diseases like cancer are also heroes because…

2) Heroes are willing to die for a cause.  Soldiers, police officers, fire fighters…they risk their lives every day to protect others.  They place the value of others’ lives above their own.  That selfless attitude attracts others to them and their professions.  That attractiveness comes in part because…

3) Heroes control their emotions.  Bad things happen to all of us but what determines how we respond?  Planes strike the World Trade Center and New York’s first responders head toward the disaster, not away…even though all logic plus the fear they were feeling told them to run the other way.  Thousands of soldiers boarded boats to cross the English Channel so they could run toward the well-armed strongholds where the Nazis had built modern day castles in expectation of an invasion.  Heroes are able to do the exact opposite of what their emotions tell them to do.

Do any of these characteristics of heroes resonate for you?  If so, who have you seen them in?

Death of a Teenager : Houston, You Have No More Problems

In November, my family suffered a shocking loss.  My cousin, Houston St. John, died at 17 years old.  Houston’s Dad and my Mom are 2 of 13 siblings born to Rev. E.C. and Lovell St. John.  With such a large extended family, we’ve seen our share of drama, divorce, and distance but not much death…especially this young.


As the oldest grandchild, I honestly didn’t spend much time with Houston as he was 21 years younger than me and lived half a country away.  However, I do have a few strong memories to share:

Cleveland, Tennessee – It was Christmas time in 1999 or 2000 and Houston was 3 or 4 years old.  We were at our Grandmother’s house and Houston had recently discovered the Christian singer Carman.  His parents (and, I assume, very patient brother) had endured the whole trip from Kansas to Tennessee watching a ‘live’ concert movie .  Houston spent most of the holiday running between rooms expertly mimicking Carman’s moves.  At the time, it was good for laughs but we had no idea that it was a precursor to…

Clermont-Ferrand, France – It was my turn to have a small child in the house.  Houston had moved from Carmen to Elvis and had recently staged a show at his church where he performed songs and danced.  My older son watched that movie over and over from around age 2 to age 5, impressed with a performer that he didn’t know was a relative.

Cleveland, Tennessee – In June of 2011, we came together as a family to celebrate the life of our matriarch, Lovell St. John.  Houston and I hadn’t seen each other many times since the ‘Carmen Christmas’ but we enjoyed catching up and sharing our high school choral experiences (his a little more recent than mine).  At Lovell’s funeral, we sang What a Lovely Name which, for reasons only understood by preacher’s kids who grew up moving between Virginia and Kentucky understand, is the ‘official’ St. John song.  Houston was an excellent singer but he was a little frustrated because he didn’t know all of the words.  I assured him that he needed to learn it as we would be singing it at many future family gatherings.  How little did I know…

Greenville, South Carolina – On the evening of November 5 my wife was getting one last run in before I left for 10 days and I was getting dinner on the table for our kids.  My Mom called with the news that Houston had died that afternoon in a car accident.  What a shock.  It took a few minutes for me to process it and then tell my sons.  It was pretty hard for them to grasp…much as it was for me when my Great Grandfather and Great Uncle died when I was near their age.  Several days after the event, I was still asking myself, “Is he really dead?”

Houston had a relatively short life, but a big impact.  Over 1300 people attended his memorial service and there are over 10,000 hits on his memorial page.  2014 will be a year of difficult ‘firsts’ for Houston’s family but I think everyone who knew him can take comfort in both the great memories he left and the “huge family reunion with the Master” that we believe Houston will one day be attending.

Four Of The Worst Things About Business Travel

For the second day in a row, I was up at 4 am.  Was it a noise outside, a cold child, or, (perish the thought!) my alarm clock?  Nope, it was just my friend, Mr. Jet Lag (not to be confused with Mr. Jet Li).  I spent 10 days traveling and once back in my ‘home’ time zone, my internal clock was adjusting…just a little too slowly for me.

I’m truly thankful for every opportunity to see the world and the other benefits of business travel but, in the aftermath of my most recent trip, let’s look at a few numbers:

November 6-16 – 11 days/10 nights
19,767  miles flown
7 different beds (including 2 seats in coach)
5 different hotels
3 countries (US, France, and India)
1 week aftermath of jet lag

It makes me tired just to think about it…almost a month after the trip!  So, with that in mind, let me list my four worst things about business travel.

I am not known for my adventurous eating.  In fact, it took me a couple of years of visiting France to expand my repertoire to include ‘classic’ French food (foie gras, weird smelling cheese – yes, please, but escargot, most things including fish – non, merci).  Therefore, adding Thailand, China, and India to my countries visited list induced gastrointestinal consternation upon my arrival. I keep it simple…chicken and rice, folks, chicken and rice.

A salty rice crispy treat with peppers and cashews

One dish from a lunch with Chinese colleagues: a salty rice crispy treat with peppers and cashews – just a taste, please

After waking up to find a bedbug crawling on me at a hotel in the 7th arrondissement of Paris in 2006 (ewwwwww!), hotels are not my friend.  I usually check the mattress before doing anything else and keep my clothes in the suitcase if at all possible.

I can soldier on through about a week of jet lag using the “Dave Dewease rule” of business travel.  Dave, a former colleague, espoused the benefits of walking around the town you were in (often Paris for us) until about 11 pm, going to sleep at midnight, and getting up at 6 am.  This works quite well for about a week (especially when you throw in a 2 or 3 mile run first thing in the morning).  However, all great tactics aside, after about a week of travel, I just want to collapse!  The return home can also be a challenge.  Being ready for bed at 6 pm for a week does not engender family togetherness.

Airplanes are simultaneously great and awful.  Although I love the silence at 30,000 feet, it’s a 50/50 proposition on whether I get a decent night’s sleep or not.  Food is hit or miss as well.  The indian curry veggie wrap that KLM recently served me was pretty bad stuff but the ice cream that Air France serves in the middle of the flight is good stuff.  I always have a Lara Bar or two,  just in case.

So, what “bugs” you the most about travel?

Four Of The Best Things About Business Travel

Next up, a couple of posts for those of you who think ‘Wow, a chance to see the world for free…sleeping in nice hotels, eating in restaurants every night…business travel must be great!’  It certainly can be but, from where I sit (or sat (recently in seat 41A in the next to last row of coach for 10 hours)), business travel has its share of issues too. Today, let’s talk about the good stuff.

To begin with, yes, I have gotten the chance to go some cool places for work.  The list includes France, the UK, Belgium, Mexico, Brazil, India, Thailand, China…I kind of feel like that song I’ve Been Everywhere (although I most certainly haven’t!).

Storefronts in India

During my most recent trip to France and India, I definitely had the benefits of:

Appreciating Home
Ahhh, the joys of brushing your teeth with tap water, cold milk from the fridge, lots of hugs, and having a conversation with your wife longer than 5 minutes.  Nice.

Unique Experiences
I saw Indians playing cricket in a dusty field at dawn, enjoyed fall on a 6 mile run in our ‘French hometown’ on a Saturday, and feared for my life as our taxi navigated around cows at 40 mph.  All memorable things I would have missed in good old Greenville, SC.

Developing Relationships with Colleagues
I got to wander the Chennai airport while looking for the Indian equivalent of milk and cookies (so so) and have an impromptu business meeting in the Bangalore airport ‘executive lounge’ (success!). It was a good opportunity to work with people outside the ‘standard’ work environment.

Time to Myself
Yes, the holy grail of all parents can be found at 30,000 feet. I read, watched movies, and napped at will. I have even had time to write for a couple of hours (which I usually do around 5:30 am). It was admittedly a nice break.

And you, what do you think are (or would be) the benefits of traveling for business?

Football Program Maintainers – Nick Saban

Today’s post is the last in a series on the three types of change resources in the world of football.   So far, we’ve talked about a Builder (Urban Meyer) and a Visionary ( Darrel “Mouse” Davis).  Today we’ll be talking about a very successful Maintainer.

Maintainers typically like being ‘experts.’  Although they don’t often get much publicity, Maintainers are key to the stability of every organization.  They excel at doing the same thing, the same way every time…and that’s what University of Alabama coach Nick Saban does.  His teams win football games (and championships) almost every year.

NickSaban_LSU-AL-07t (1)

Saban’s detailed plan for winning is affectionately called “The Process” around the university’s Tuscaloosa home and it encompasses everything from his players summer workouts to what he eats for breakfast (Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies thank you very much).  Saban wants things done the same way (HIS way) every time with the belief that if everyone does their job correctly, they will be successful.

Saban’s (some would say maniacal) need to control the details doesn’t mean that he’s not open to new ideas.  He was an early adopter of academic advisers and sports psychiatrists to help his teams be successful in less obvious facets of the game.

Maintainers can get a bad rap for wanting to ‘keep the process going’.  However, Saban shows us that doing the right things year after year can produce some pretty impressive results.

Photo credit: Wikipedia