June 28, 2012
I live in a small town in the middle of a highly populated part of the country outside San Francisco but as I said, we’re a small town. Our town center is as wide as the three streets that run parallel to one another and in the very center of our town is the Veteran’s Hall.
The biggest event of the year in our town is the Fourth of July Parade. People begin setting up their lawn chairs along the 1.4 mile route the day before at 6:00 p.m. They use to set them up a couple days in advance until the city council put down an official kabash on the whole thing. So at 6:00 p.m. the citizenry of Danville heads out to mark off big squares on the side walk using bright-colored tape and with chalk scrawl “Happy July 4th! Reserved for the Smithers Family.” By dusk on July 3rd there’s not an empty spot on any curb in our entire town and every year we walk into town late in the evening so I can take photos and make fun of the crazy people in our small town who are so hardcore about their Fourth of July Parade even though on the Fourth of July I try not to let on to how quaint and touching I find it all to be or that at every parade my nose stings and my eyes water when the veterans now sporting gray hair (if any hair at all) and ample bellies march by following behind a flag that perhaps means more to them than I will ever understand.
It is within this little corner of patriotism, Americana, and small town life that our town’s folks came together last week in front of the Veteran’s Hall to honor the life and sacrifice of one of our own. LCpl Joshua “Chachi” Corral USMC had grown up in Danville and two years ago graduated from the high school at the south end of town. He was 19 years old and had been deployed in Afghanistan for 73 days when he was killed in action on November 18, 2011.
And so we came together; the residents of Danville, Chachi’s family and friends, a legion of veterans, high school classmates of Chachi’s who are themselves currently serving in the military, and 15-20 Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Weapons division who had traveled from a great distance to honor this young man they had fought along side. Together we sang the National Anthem and recited the Pledge of Allegiance with hands held over our hearts as the colors were presented. We listened to speeches spoken in voices that would at times break with emotion and through it all each of us, at least for a time, became lost in our own thoughts.
At the conclusion of the morning’s program before we walked en masse to the nearby park for a celebration, a memorial to the fallen was dedicated outside the Veteran’s Hall. Chachi’s name is the first on the memorial and I hope and pray his name stands alone for a very long time.
All that happened last Saturday was poignant enough but it’s all the more so when you know more of the story of this young Marine and his family. For you see, several days before his death Chachi spoke with his parents on the phone. He told them they were in a tough fight and a dangerous conflict lay ahead of them. And then, this 19 year old, no longer a boy but only just a man Marine asked his parents that if he didn’t make it home they would do something to take care of his men in the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Weapons division along with the rest of his fellow Marines.
And since his death Chachi parents, family, and friends have been doing just that by beginning a non-profit organization called the Semper Fi Foundation. The stated mission of the foundation is three-fold:
* To provide financial support for severely wounded Marines and their families.
* To create public awareness of the service and sacrifice of our current honorable generation.
* To Inspire and give communities tools needed to honor and build support for their local heroes.
Over the past months as I’ve come to learn about Chachi and his family and their efforts to honor both their son’s memory and his selfless concern for his fellow Marines, I’ve been reminded of my brother Randy and his continual concern for others living with ALS and how he encouraged us time and time again to do what we could to focus on helping others even as ALS ravaged his own body. It’s always been my feeling that the word hero is often overused and misapplied. Clearly, Chachi was and will remain a hero because he joined the Marines to serve his country and in doing so knowingly put himself in harm’s way in the active hope that he might make a difference in the lives of others. That has hero written all over it. And I make no apology for applying the word hero to my brother for while he never chose to have ALS; it was a battle he was thrown in and in the course of that battle that he fought with dignity and courage, his concern wasn’t for himself alone but for others confronting the same enemy. More than once Randy expressed words along the lines of “I hope after I’m gone our family continues to help others with ALS.”
Semper Fi Foundation. Sweet Hope Cookies. Both started for no other reason than to honor the life of a loved one and their selfless, compassionate last request.
So beyond the obvious reason that a young man died in battle, I feel a personal and overlapping connection to Chachi and his family and why with only a few days away from all the parades, celebration, and hoopla that comes with the Fourth of July, I’d ask you to consider making a donation to the Semper Fi Foundation so they can continue to fulfill this one Marine’s last request before his death. And if a financial gift isn’t possible for you at this time, may I encourage you take a few minutes between now and July 4th to give the gift of gratitude to a veteran or active service man or woman by saying thank you for your service. The appreciation of one citizen and one nation can go along way to comforting some of the wounds of battle.
Oh wait. I almost forgot. This is a cookie blog so here are some cookies I donated to last Saturday’s Memorial Dedication and Celebration. What a small thing to do for such a huge sacrifice.
God bless America.
And God help us to live into our freedom with hearts and lives of compassion, peace, and justice for all within and outside of our boundaries.