My dearest Austin,
As you prepare to go to war, I would like, as your father-in-law, to give you some advice. I do so out of my love for you, but with no confidence that I can give you any insights into what you will face and feel over the coming months.
You are going where I have never gone.
I have known long separation from home and family, but my service was religious and in peace. I faced no mortal enemy, and I knew nothing of danger. You, on the other hand, will leave your country and your bride behind, and spend most of the next year in very difficult conditions amongst a people who want to kill you.
You will do this in a situation of uncertainty, for a nation only blindly finding its way forward, and under rules and commanders who sometimes may make no sense at all. As you wrestle with the what of your deployment, you may also question the why.
All of this, from the boredom to the danger, will play out in the context of an alien world thousands of miles from your home and culture, and in the shadow of the hard separation from your wife and her love.
You are right to be nervous and apprehensive. You are even justified to be afraid.
You are a teen-ager, and our country has asked you to be a man, a giant among men, an infantryman and a paratrooper, a defender of liberty on distant shores.
I do not know what you will face, but I do know some principles of life, and I would like to recommend them to you. I have faced hardships, and I would like to tell you how I have endured them. I believe I know what you must do to return from your combat tour better for the experience.
The first is to stay true to your faith.
Be a Christian soldier.
Say your prayers, every day. In moments of joy, sorrow, uncertainty or fear, cry out in your heart for God’s comfort and guidance. Ask him to lead you, let him be your friend and companion when you feel totally alone.
Don’t be sanctimonious, and you needn’t be perfect, but you need to remember who you are, and what you have been called to do. You are to be a light of the world, an example to your friends and a comforter to those around you.
Say your prayers, every day. And read the scriptures on a regular basis. Ask God to make himself known to you, and to send you his spirit through his word.
Do that, and you will never march alone.
Do that, and in even the darkest of moments you will have hope and help.
Be helpful to the soldiers around you. Set a good example for them, as a soldier and as a man. Take care of them and protect them, so that together you all may come home to your families when your duty is done.
When you are tired and afraid, when the burden grows heavy, know that it is heavy for them as well, and when you feel the worst, they will need you the most. In helping them with their problems, you will find comfort and relief for your own problems.
Remember that your service is noble. You are an American soldier, the representative of a free people and an inspired Constitution. You are in the United States Army and that is a big deal. You are standing on a foundation built from the honor and achievements of more than 200 years of soldiering. Live up to that heritage and don’t let it down.
Be brave, and know that bravery isn’t the absence of fear, it is the absence of inaction. A brave man acts when others can’t. He follows his training, he upholds his ethics, he lifts high the flag of freedom. He does what needs to be done. You are as capable of doing your duty as any American who has ever worn the uniform.
Remember that honor is found not in what you are asked to do, but in how you do what you are asked to do. No task is minor or insignificant, if you do it to the best of your ability.
Stay close to your wife back home. Write her and Skype her and keep her picture and her memory close to your heart. She is why you fight. She is proud of you. She is part of you. You are defending her, and your folks back at home and the children you will one day father.
Stay close to your nation. Be open to the love of country and patriotism that will become clearer and more central to your service as you look back on the duty you are about to do.
You are going to war in order to serve God, family and country. You are the defender of all three.
Keep a journal and take lots of pictures, take care of your gun and your feet, and don’t trust anybody who doesn’t have US ARMY embroidered above his heart. Be hyper vigilant and continually assess every situation you’re in. Always have a play in mind, a defensive and offensive move, in case something bad comes down. Don’t turn your back on anybody, and if you have to fight, fight like hell.
And know that God has your back.
And so do I.
I will pray for you every day, as will many who know your name, and countless other Americans who will pray for all who, like you, are in harm’s way.
I love you, I believe in you, I respect you.
I am honored to have you in my family, I am proud to be your father-in-law.
Now God bless you, and do good.
And come home when your duty is done, to live out your long life in peace.
With my love, your father-in-law,
David Ammerman is a holy warrior.
At the beginning of this month, he went up to the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes outside Francis of Assisi Church in Auburn, New York, and started pounding the hell out of it.
He had a hammer and he went after the Blessed Virgin’s head and face and hands.
When he was done, her hands were gone, her face was irreparable, she was destroyed.
He admitted his crime to police, and told them why he did it. According to the authorities, he said he did it because he couldn’t stand the fact that Catholics were praying to the statue.
He’s not Catholic.
And though Catholics would probably point out that they don’t actually pray to statues, David Ammerman believes they do and he wasn’t going to stand for it.
He disagreed with someone else’s religion, and he used violence and criminal conduct to try to stop them.
He’s been charged with felony criminal mischief.
Which is a great start, but a woefully inadequate finish.
A man disagrees with a religion, so he violently attacks an object of veneration at a place of worship.
Isn’t that a hate crime?
Isn’t that a bias crime?
Shouldn’t this be on the national news? Shouldn’t somebody from the civil rights division of the Justice Department be flying in from Washington? Shouldn’t the police or the district attorney have charged this guy with something more than industrial-strength vandalism?
Let me repeat: A man disagrees with a religion, so he violently attacks an object of veneration at a place of worship.
He is accused of committing a felony crime motivated completely by religious antipathy.
And he gets criminal mischief.
Which is a pretty good illustration of another double standard in the era of political correctness.
Let’s take this same crime and change the sign over the door. Instead of happening at a Catholic church, let’s pretend this happened at a Jewish synagogue.
Let’s say someone thought Judaism was a false religion and they committed a similar attack upon a Jewish place of worship. What if they broke in and destroyed the congregation’s Torah.
It’d have “hate crime” written all over it.
Ditto if someone broke into a mosque and vandalized it, or went into a Buddhist temple and smashed the Buddha.
If either of those things happened, it would be a national news story. Al Jazeera would be editorializing about it.
And the government would be all over it.
The federal and state governments would get into it and you could be sure charges would be brought.
The same is true if some act of vandalism was committed against a black church.
All those reactions to a crime against a place of worship would be firm and sure – as they should be.
A crime against a mosque is a hate crime. A crime against a synagogue is a hate crime.
And so is an attack against a church.
Sadly, the double standard of political correctness ignores that latter fact. The inequality of political correctness is that it ignores bias crimes against anyone other than minorities.
Catholicism has been the largest religious denomination in America since the 1860s. Catholics combine with Protestants to make Christianity America’s majority religion. Catholics are square in the center of America’s mainstream.
And consequently they get short shrift.
We’ve bought into the lie that bigotry can only be manifest by social majorities and that the bigotries of minorities are somehow justified, and steadfastly ignored.
Not that David Ammerman is a minority.
Other than the fact that only a tiny minority of people in the United States would discriminate on the basis of religion, much less take a violent act based on opposition to the peaceful faith of another.
The first crime against the people of St. Francis of Assisi Parish was that a bigot took a hammer to their statue. The second crime against the people of St. Francis of Assisi parish was that the criminal justice system and the law of the land failed to protect them or properly characterize the crime committed against them.
It wasn’t criminal mischief, it was religious bigotry.
And it should be denounced as such.
Certainly, the offended parish may choose to forgive – that is its prerogative. But the broken law must still be addressed, and so must the hateful motive of religious bigotry.
A hate crime was committed.
And nobody cares.
And that’s another hate crime of its own.
I shaved Saturday.
I stood before the mirror in a motel a thousand miles from home and I lathered my face. All of my face. And I dragged the rusty travel razor across it until I was clean shaven.
It was the first time since January 3, 1985.
A streak I had expected to continue the rest of my life came to an end just shy of 29 years in. The constant of my adult life, facial hair, is gone.
It’s a metaphor.
It’s a sign.
It was a move I contemplated for about 30 seconds, a rationale I conceived and executed, and now it is done.
On January 3, 1985, I reported for Advanced Individual Training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. I had graduated from Basic Training the week before Christmas and after a holiday exodus at my wife’s parents I caught a bus and reported back to duty.
It was in the student barracks, I think it was Bravo Company, and as we loitered through the day expecting the rigors of basic to return at any moment, we new students instead found ourselves in a surprisingly relaxed environment. We were people, and treated like people, and other than something to report to in the morning and something to report to in the evening, and some school in between, our lives were pretty much our own.
Heck, some of the students were wandering around in civilian clothes.
And some of them had mustaches.
And I grabbed the first one of those and asked him exactly what was going on. He told me that the standard was nothing more nor less than the Army regulation and when the cadre finally showed up I asked a genial-looking sergeant what that standard was.
In layman’s terms, it couldn’t extend beyond the corner of the
mouth, and it couldn’t look like Hitler’s. Other than that, you are good.
So I never shaved again.
By the end of the week I had a mustache, and for all the years since I’ve had it or something like it.
When I got out of the Army, I experimented with beards, which have come back since for the occasional deer season. The defining look, however, has been a goatee. About 1990, or a couple of years after, I grew a goatee. When I’d grown up, goatees were for beatniks or guys trying to look like the devil. They were an odd and unseen style.
But they came in, at first with Hispanic guys and black guys, and I grew mine. I was a newspaper columnist then, and I wrote about it, and it was what the young guys were doing.
Over the years, those young guys have aged, I have aged, and the goatee is now the signature of the middle-aged man. They were red or black when they came in, and have mostly grown salt-and-pepper or white since. They are the style of the grandfathers, in a way that DAs or flattops were a generation or two ago.
The mustache went with Burt Reynolds, the goatee has grown long in the tooth, and now the young guys are influenced by Hugh Jackman.
But facial hair for me has not really been about style or look. It has been about manhood, about the fact that if you can you do, and that men have facial hair because men have facial hair. It has also been a connection for me to that distant day when I was a private in the Army.
And my streak has been important to me. Streaks are always important to me. Continuity and familiarity count to me. I crave stability in a world and a life that are innately and inescapably unstable. And I’ve had facial hair because I have facial hair, because it’s just my way. Because since that day long ago when Army regulations gave me the power to choose for myself, I’ve chosen for myself. It’s as much a part of me as where I was raised and how I came to be me.
My daughter the soldier remarked several months ago that she had never seen me clean shaven. None of my children had seen me clean shaven. My wife had not seen me clean shaven. My daughter had suggested some sort of a wager, where the stakes would be my goatee.
The wager didn’t come to pass, but as six of us were sharing a motel room outside Fort Benning this weekend – one of them my son-in-law, just a couple of weeks away from a deployment to Afghanistan – the idea came to me.
Literally, in front of the mirror, taking my turn in the bathroom. It came to me to shave, until he got back, to retire my whiskers as a nod to my daughter and my son-in-law for their service. To satisfy her curiosity, to respect the danger he will face.
As kind of an odd thing that maybe only a man with whiskers could understand. And even then, only the rare man.
I walked out and they shrieked.
My adult daughters said they loved it. But they are gracious and courteous, and they would say that no matter what. My little son Robbie, on the trip with me, said he didn’t notice a difference. My wife is uncertain and my second son, Jack, says he hates it.
I’m reminded that I don’t have any lips, and that I don’t have a very good shaving technique, but other than that I don’t notice or care much about it. I feel sick and sad that I broke my streak, but I’m glad that I did it.
I started growing my whiskers on January 3, 1985, while a private in the Army. I grew them until November 23, 2013. I will shave until my son-in-law comes back from the war.
And then I will give up shaving for a while.