Monday, August 30, 2004

Peace In Our Time

I was torn watching last year's showdown between Alabama and Tennessee. It was an odd, disconcerting feeling.

Tennessee is Alabama's most-hated opponent, especially since it was revealed that Tennessee's head coach, Phil Fulmer, was a secret witness for the NCAA's investigation of Alabama -- an investigation that resulted in Alabama being put on probation and came dangerously close to handing down college football's death penalty for the Crimson Tide program.

I know what you hardcore Bama fans are thinking: How could any fan of Alabama be torn when it comes to Tennessee?! If I haven't alienated you already, read on.

His name is Robert Peace.

Robert Peace played middle linebacker for Tennessee.

Robert Peace had 16 tackles in Tennessee's FIVE-overtime win against Alabama.

Robert Peace twice stopped Alabama from scoring in the final overtime.

Yes, I know. That's enough to make him Public Enemy #1 in Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer land, enough to get me run out of state on a rail .. and enough for a lot of Bama fans to close their browser window at this point, if they haven't already done so.

But for you Bama fans that are still with me . . .

Robert Peace is also the grandson* of the late Joe Raymond Peace, Sr. and Joe Raymond Peace, Sr. was one of the winningest head coaches in the history of Louisiana high school football.

He was also my high school football coach. And he was our Bear Bryant.

Each year around this time my thoughts always go back to those Autumn days. To the teams that won game after game after game. And to the coach who led those teams to victory.

In early August before the start of pre-season training, each player would get a postcard from Coach Peace: "Report for practice at 4 p.m." It was not an invitation.

Those practices were grueling in the high heat and humidity of central Louisiana. The grass was full of stickers and the clover full of honeybees. To add to the misery, cotton patches bordered two sides of the football field and at times the air was heavy with the sickeningly sweet smell of cotton poison.

If a player wasn't in shape by the start of training, he would be before the first full scrimmage or else he would be off the team. We were a small team that did not have the luxury of losing players, but Coach Peace had high standards. Still, we never lost many players -- owing mainly to pride. Nobody wanted to be known as a quitter -- especially one who quit on Coach Peace.

Because we were a small team, a lot of players did triple duty: offense, defense and special teams. We were not even the strongest or most-skilled team. But we were disciplined, mentally and physically tough, well-led and feared nothing save letting Coach Peace down.

1975 was Coach Peace's last year coaching football. He had coached for 28 years by that point and had amassed over 200 victories. I will never forget the 200th victory and neither will anyone who was affiliated with the football team that year.

The last time I saw Coach Peace was in the Spring of 1991. I was just back from Desert Storm and visiting my parents while on leave. In order to counter the effects of my mother's supreme southern cooking, I ran daily down the lake road and back, a mostly straight stretch of road that runs for about a mile and ends at the lake.

On this day, as I neared the cattle guard about a quarter of a mile down the road, I noticed his pickup truck parked on a nearby turnroad. And sure enough, in the distance, I saw Coach Peace returning from the lake, walking at a fast pace. He had recently suffered a heart attack and regularly walked as part of his rehabilitation.

When our paths crossed we both stopped and chatted for awhile. He told me how proud he was of me and my brothers, asked about Army life (he was a veteran) and wished me luck in the future.

I didn't know then that it would be the last time I'd see Coach Peace. He died on an Autumn day in 1992. At the time, I was back in Southwest Asia -- on an emergency deployment to Kuwait -- and was not able to attend his funeral.

I've often thought of our final meeting. Had I known, I would have had more to say.

I would have told him that I didn't personally know another person who had so positively influenced as many young people as he did.

I would have told him that any success I enjoyed in the Army was due in large measure to him.

I would have thanked him for what he instilled in us: discipline, perseverance, teamwork, tenacity, and confidence -- which built pride -- which shaped character -- which mastered fear -- which led to victory.

And yes, I would have told him that I loved him, that we all loved him.

I can see him now on the practice field barking commands of encouragement, walking the sidelines of the playing field, his lucky tie loosened, his eyes filled with fire, his heart filled with love of the game and love of his team.

To those who were fortunate enough to have played for him, Coach Peace is a natural part of our Autumn memories.

And we miss him still.


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* Robert's dad, Joe Raymond Peace, Jr., was a standout in high school and college and was drafted by the Houston Oilers. He later coached at Northwestern State University, then Louisiana Tech University, where he successfully led that program from Div I-AA to Div I-A. Robert's mother is Carolyn Ferguson Peace, sister of Pro football legend, Joe Ferguson.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Red State Democrats

When Democrat Edwin Edwards was running for Louisiana governor in 1983, he said that the only way he'd lose is if he were caught in bed with a live boy or dead girl. (He beat Republican Governor Dave Treen 2 to 1).

John Kerry's campaign staff seem to share the silver-haired cajun's confidence. They would be well-advised to temper their enthusiasm. Put down the coffee and drink some water.

Kerry's poll numbers are going down. President Bush's are going up and that's before the Republican National Convention. Is this the beginning of a Kerry campaign meltdown? It sure looks like it.

Consider this. Kerry got zero post-convention bounce -- nada, zilch. The Old Media treated it as something to be expected: the country is evenly split, all voters have already made up their minds, yada yada. The truth is that it was a stunningly poor showing.

Now as questions are raised about his Vietnam war service and as details emerge about his anti-war activity, his poll numbers are headed south. It would be easy to say that those issues, alone, have caused his problems, but that's not the whole story.

Kerry was never the favorite among Democratic voters. He's not very likeable, not down to earth. He's about as inspiring as Pat Paulsen, but his résumé looked better than the other Dem candidates: war veteran, long-time U.S. Senator, deep pockets.

Howard Dean may have stoked the passion of the Lefties, but his résumé wasn't exactly awe-inspiring -- governor of Vermont. (You are probably saying, "Yeah, but the only thing on Bill Clinton's résumé was governor of Arkansas, even worse and look what he did." Point. But Bill Clinton is the Elvis of politics. Howard Dean is just an angry little man).

Anybody But Bush? No. Anybody Who We Think Can Beat Bush. Yes.

So John Kerry is da man! Hardly. Who the Dems really want is Bill Clinton, but Elvis has left the building and they've been in a funk ever since.

Indeed, John Kerry is making them feel even funkier. He is inept on the national stage. His nuanced positions are not inspiring. His flip-flops are fodder for late night comedians and the RNC. He has replaced "Triangulation" with "Boomerangulation". Everything he says comes right back at him.

Now enter the Swift Boat Veterans For The Truth with their new book Unfit For Command and their devastating ads. The Lefties can shout "liars" until they are blue in the face. It will not help.

As a result of the Swifties' efforts, John Kerry has backed off his "Seared-In-His-Memory-Christmas-In-Cambodia" claim and has finally admitted that he received his first Purple Heart not as a result of enemy fire, but as a result of his own fire. He fired an M-79 grenade at nothing in particular. There were no enemy about. The grenade hit a rock on shore and a small fragment from the ricochet lodged in his arm. It was removed with tweezers.

The Swifties are mad as hell -- mostly about Kerry's anti-war activities. In Kerry's testimony before the U.S. Senate in 1971, he used a broad brush to paint all who served and were currently serving in Vietnam as war criminals. Already one Swiftie ad features a P.O.W. stating that Kerry gave the enemy for free what the P.O.W.s took torture to avoid saying. Powerful message and utterly devastating.

The only way John Kerry can control the damage to his campaign is to hold a press conference complete with a Questions & Answers segment and try to make right. He needs to convincingly apologize for his 1971 Senate testimony and take as many questions as necessary to explain the medals fiasco. And he needs to release his FULL military records at least a day before the press conference.

If he doesn't do something like the above, he is toast. On the other hand, if he can pull it off and make good about Vietnam and help the country put it behind us (where it was before he pulled it to the forefront with all his chest thumping), he's still got a fighting chance, but not much of one.

And here's why: President Bush.

We are at war with a fanatical enemy determined to destroy us. President Bush is responding in a common sense fashion: Destroy them before they destroy us. Go it alone if we must, but keep sending them to Allah for as long as it takes to secure our great nation.

This is no time for playing pattycakes at the U.N. Quite a lot of them hate us anyway. This is a time for action. Unilateral if we must. Pre-emptive as needed. You're either with us or you are with the terrorists. If you're with us, but don't want to help, then stay out of our way -- for we will let no one stand between us and the security of our nation and the continuance of our way of life.

This is what resonates with the majority of the American people and they trust President Bush to stay the course.

John Kerry and the national Democrats don't understand this, but a lot of the registered Democrats out in the Red states do. They don't want nuance. They want action. When it comes to the survival of our nation, they don't see shades of gray. They see black and white.

The 1980s saw the Reagan Democrats. In the months and years since 9/11, the Bush Democrats have been quietly gathering.

That will be a very difficult thing for John Kerry to overcome.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Chads n Dimples

The last few days have been pretty hectic around here, but I did manage to stand up my Electoral College website.

It started out as a place family and friends could go to get information -- kids with homework assignments and like that. It's still pretty much that way, although I've surprised myself with the amount of information I've collected.

So why visit my site on the Electoral College? Hmmmmm. Because I predict the results for 2004.

In fact, I am so good at predicting results that I correctly called the 2000 election -- right down to the debacle in Florida. I predicted the vote would be close enough to kick in Florida's recount law and that chads would hang, ballots would dimple, that W would win and Gore would sue.

I remember Halloween of 2000 sitting at my computer. I remember what it was like to be doubted by pundits and pollsters, and have the governor of Florida telling the American people that I couldn't know; the chads would not hang, the ballots would not dimple. I have that memory which is seared -- seared -- in me . . .

Oh well. Never mind.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Rolling Thunder

The thunder is rolling in. I remember when I was a boy my father used to say that it sounded like artillery. There'd be heat lightning and thunder in the distance and he'd say how much it reminded him of artillery bombardments. Years later I watched as artillery pounded our enemy. My first thought was one of gratitude for not being on the receiving end of THAT. My next thought was how much it looked and sounded like thunder and lightning. Now is that coming full circle or what?

Speaking of coming full circle, John Kerry's testimony before the U.S. Senate way back in 1971 is now being used against him in a devastating ad by a group known as Swift Boat Veterans For The Truth. They are laying a pretty good barrage on Kerry. Fire for effect, Swifties!

I won't comment on the actions of Kerry in Vietnam. I wasn't there. It was before my time. Besides, a group of Vietnam veterans are saying all that needs to be said.

The Swift Boat Veterans, the folks who were best positioned to observe Kerry in combat, are casting doubt on the veracity of the senator's war stories. This is as it should be for he sold them down the river (no pun intended) and not only them but hundreds of thousands of other veterans who served in Vietnam. I'm glad the Swifties are finally having their day in the sun while setting the record straight. While doing so they've enlightened me, and I'm sure many others, on an aspect of that war that I had not given much thought.. Riverine Operations.

The more I read about the men who served on swift boats and patrol boats, the more my admiration for them grows. It hurts to think they have had the painful memory of Kerry's treacherous (traitorous might be too strong a word, but it's the thought that counts) anti-war actions seared into their souls for the past 35 years as they quietly went about their lives. Welcome home, Swifties! God bless you.

I will comment on the unseemliness of John Kerry constantly bragging about his combat medals and exploits. Combat veterans just don't do that. They might share their experiences with fellow veterans on those rare occasions when they attend a reunion of their combat unit. They might even tell their families about what they went through .. the Cliff Notes version. If they're still on active duty, leading troops as an Officer or Noncommissioned Officer, they'll most likely tell some war stories in the form of lessons learned in combat. But what you will rarely see a combat veteran do is speak about his experience publicly, much less brag about it or try to use it for political gain. Kerry has done that in spades.

I'm reminded of the many times I've run across combat veterans and wouldn't have known had I not asked them straight out. You know the ones? The old guys down at the barbershop. The young guy that fixes your flat at the local service station, the leathery skin roofer who spends so much of his time exposed to the sun, the nurse in ICU, the bankteller...

They have stories that will make you laugh, cry and want to sing "God Bless America" .. if you'll take the time to coax it out of them and listen closely and try not to ask too many questions. Almost without exception, they'll move the spotlight off themselves and, instead, sing the praises of their buddies.

Combat taught them a kind of humility that most people will never know.

About The Monk

I grew up in a small town in Louisiana. It is considerably smaller today.