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Prologue:
Early November 1991 near the Suwannee River in Hamilton County Florida.
He hunted this land all his life and knew every road, trail and landmark and while he was sitting in his deer stand he heard the cry for help echoing off the Ole Suwannee River. Keith sat real still listening hard to see if his ears were telling him the truth, then he heard it again. He was only about 50 yards from the river, and the echo made it hard to pin point where it came from. But there it was again, “Please stop, somebody help me!”
Climbing down from the stand, he eased down to the river bank. Listening hard for any sound he decided to go down river thinking that it may have come from that direction. About 150 yards later he saw movement on a rocky cliff ahead of him. Years of hunting taught him how to move silently through the woods and he did so now moving deeper inland to approach the cliff from the north. He heard men voices now and a young woman whimpering. Keith got down on his knees in the canopy forest and slowly crawled closer to the sounds. At ground level, the air was hot, damp and very still even in November. It was quite dark with the sunlight being absorbed by the triple canopy above him. His hunter’s instincts were working at full mental capacity as he eased forward to a clump of palmettos.
He slowly looked over the top of the bushes and saw a man sitting with his back to a tree with a gun in his hand. Another man was on his knees holding the arms of a young girl on the ground. He was laughing while another man was straddle the girl. The girl’s pleas for the man to let her go only made them laugh harder.
The girl turned her head in Keith’s direction. He dropped his head and thought, “I know that girl!” For a few seconds he didn’t know what to do. He had no law enforcement experience, nor was he ever in the military, and in fact had never been in a fight of any kind. A quiet and peaceful man all his life he was shaking with fear. He looked up again and saw what was about to happen to the girl. He knew that he could never let that happen. His first thought was to warn the man that he would shoot if he didn’t get off the girl, but anger took over and he lifted his rifle and aimed at the man’s head that was straddle the girl and pulled the trigger.

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My Friend, Ray

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
He was standing in the field with his son looking out over the crop that he had put his life into. The hopes and dreams, he had for this year’s crop, was that it would not be as the last few the drought left drying in the fields. But it was not to be. The prayers that he sent up to heaven for his crops were unanswered. As all farmers the livelihood of his family depended on crops that he could take to market.
His son looked up to the man that was his hero and role model, the very essence of his existence with tears in his eyes and said, “Daddy, why won’t God let it rain?”
“Son, I don’t know why, but we are going to serve Him no matter what happens to us.”
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and for reasons that appeal to the individual. I have a list of those myself. It was no accident that Ray Burnett happens to be one of them. You see, God in His infinite mercy brought me to a permanent landing in Ray’s neighborhood. That in itself brought Ray into my life. And knowing the above story from long ago has resonated with me for the last 40+ years. I watched a man walk tall when most would have stumbled and fell. A more humbler man I have never known. A man whose family was once the ‘Farm Family of the Year,’ a man that showed that very family, neighbors and community how to overcome adversity with dignity and grace.
However, he was not going to be denied the ‘Abundant life’ promised by his Savior. He remained a farmer but on a smaller scale and even became a Correctional Officer. He took that same spirit and integrity to work with him. Ray was respected and well liked by the Administration, his supervisors, peers and inmates and was simply known as ‘Sarge.’
But nothing was more important than his God, his wife, Rita, his sons and their families and his church. Church treasure for decades, (till the end), as well as song leader, Sunday School teacher and Deacon, it was as much part of his life as breathing. The legend he leaves behind in his three sons is frankly legendary, something that few families see. Uncle I.T. would have been proud, because he did get a handle on them.
In his last days he showed us how to leave this world with dignity. Surrounded by an army of family and friends to the end he told everyone good bye and that he would see us again one day. He was witnessing to the very last. You wouldn’t have been around him long before learning that ‘God so love the world.’
His last thoughts were on his wife and soulmate for the last 64 years, but anxious to be on his way and start walking the streets of gold with the One that would be taking him there.
As for me…I think about a couple of song chorus’ to describe what this man among men meant to me:
Did you ever know that you’re my hero?
You’re everything I wish I could be.
I could fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.
Thank you for giving to the Lord
I am a life that was changed
Thank you for giving to the Lord
I am so glad you gave.
It has been said, “No one can become a peacemaker until he has found peace himself.” For my friend, he has found peace in his valley. Godspeed, my dear friend…

America The Great

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “America was never that great.” The man doesn’t know our history. This country has overcome so much in our 242 years. Why in the world do you think people want to immigrate to our country anyway they can. They apparently don’t think their country is so great. Cuomo took a good campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” to make a mockery of because he had no idea what President Trump was getting at. In the last decade our country has suffered on the world stage. We were bad mouthed by our own leaders when they visited other countries. President Trump is keeping that promise by letting the world know we are great and they will no longer take advantage of us. But you can depend on us as you always have in your time of need. That is making America great again. The last decade is just another chapter in our history that we have had to overcome. From Wars, Slavery, Assassination, Depression, Corruption, Persecution, etc. we have overcome them all in our history.

Below is a couple of foreigners that saw greatness in America:

Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America, written a long time ago, in it he wrote; “Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention, I sought for the key to the greatness and the genius of America in her harbors … in her fertile fields and boundless forests … in her public school system and institutions of learning … in her democratic Congress and in her matchless constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits a flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian Television Commentator wrote in 1973
“The Americans” The United States dollar took another pounding on German, French and British exchanges this morning, hitting the lowest point ever known in West Germany.
It has declined there by 41% since 1971 and this Canadian thinks it is time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous and possibly the least-appreciated people in all the earth.
As long as sixty years ago, when I first started to read newspapers, I read of floods on the Yellow River and the Yangtse. Who rushed in with men and money to help?
The Americans did.
They have helped control floods on the Nile, the Amazon, the Ganges and the Niger. Today, the rich bottom land of the Mississippi is under water and no foreign land has sent a dollar to help.
Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy, were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of those countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.
When the franc was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. I was there. I saw it.
When distant cities are hit by earthquakes, it is the United States that hurries into help… Managua Nicaragua is one of the most recent examples. So far this spring, 59 American communities have been flattened by tornadoes. Nobody has helped. The Marshall Plan .. the Truman Policy .. all pumped billions upon billions of dollars into discouraged countries. Now, newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent war-mongering Americans. I’d like to see one of those countries that is gloating over the erosion of the United States dollar build its own airplanes. Come on… let’s hear it!
Does any other country in the world have a plane to equal the Boeing Jumbo Jet, the Lockheed Tristar or the Douglas 107? If so, why don’t they fly them? Why do all international lines except Russia fly American planes? Why does no other land on earth even consider putting a man or women on the moon? You talk about Japanese technocracy and you get radios. You talk about German technocracy and you get automobiles. You talk about American technocracy and you find men on the moon, not once, but several times … and safely home again. You talk about scandals and the Americans put theirs right in the store window for everyone to look at. Even the draft dodgers are not pursued and hounded. They are here on our streets, most of them … unless they are breaking Canadian laws are getting American dollars from Ma and Pa at home to spend here. When the Americans get out of this bind … as they will… who could blame them if they said, ‘The hell with the rest of the world’. Let someone else buy the Israel bonds, let someone else build or repair foreign dams or design foreign buildings that won’t shake apart in earthquakes.
When the railways of France, Germany and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both are still broke. I can name to you 5,000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble?
I don’t think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake. Our neighbors have faced it alone and I am one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them kicked around. They will come out of this thing with their flag high. And when they do, they are entitled to thumb their nose at the lands that are gloating over their present troubles. I hope Canada is not one of these. But there are many smug, self-righteous Canadians.
And finally, the American Red Cross was told at its 48th Annual meeting in New Orleans this morning that it was broke. This year’s disasters, with the year less than half-over… has taken it all and nobody…but nobody… has helped.”

But there is a dark cloud on our horizon and it is Socialism. If the far left takes this country that far, then America will cease to be great!

Frank

Frank, “Go rest high on that mountain, your work on earth is done.” Vince Gill didn’t know my friend, Frank Smith, when he wrote that song, but if there ever was a song written for someone that song was written for Frank.
I first met Frank, when we were getting ready to build the work camp at Hamilton Correctional Institution. He was in that first graduating class of officers for that work camp. The warden, Rob Cason, told me to seek out any officers in that class that had construction experience to assist in the construction of the camp. Frank was one of those that raised his hand. That begin nearly three decades of friendship between us. Frank worked as both a security officer, rising to the rank of sergeant and every position for maintenance and construction for Region Two for the Florida Department of Corrections. A better man never served as Maintenance & Construction Officer as Frank. His skills and ability in those trades were at the top that field. Even though we competed for the same positions during our time with DOC, we were as close as brothers. He served under me twice and I under him twice. Never once did we have a disagreement. Never!
I was there the day he was demoted back down to officer for purely political reasons, which brought shame on the Region, and I was there the day the new Regional Director, Mark Redd, brought him back to build Suwannee Correctional Institution. No one was as angry as me for what they did to him, but Frank held to a higher standard than I did. He never held a grudge. I will never forget the lesson from that teachable moment. That servant leadership attitude put him right back on top again.
Vince wrote, “I know your life on earth was troubled and only you could know the pain.” There again, this was Frank, losing Claire, his wife, to cancer while building Suwannee was as hard as it gets.  He could never overcome that loss.  I watch his health deteriorate over the years to the point that retirement was the only option for him. Only those of us close to him knew of his struggles. Because of that we know he is at peace now.
“Go rest high on that mountain Son, your work on earth is done. Go to heaven a-shoutin’ Love for the Father and the Son. Good bye my friend, go with God Speed.

The Bucket List

Ok, being a writer, everyone expects a story when you’ve been, seen and have done something different.  For our 50th wedding anniversary, BJ and I took a trip up to Maine and back.  While I have stories in mind, I just need to check off some items on my bucket list.  Ever since the movie, “The Bucket List,” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out, everyone has created a list.  We were no different, so here is my list of completed ones on this trip and the ones still to do, listed at the end.

 

CHECKED!

1.                  Mount Airy NC. The Real Mayberry USA.  (Nice)

2.                 Gettysburg Battleground.  (Take the bus tour!)

3.                 Lancaster County PA.  Amish Country. (Highly recommend, one of our favorites!)

4.                Hershey Factory Tour. (So so)

5.                 Travel New England States.  (Outstanding)

6.                Stay at Boothbay Harbor Maine.  (Can’t wait to do it again.)

7.                 Visit L.L. Bean Stores in Freeport Maine.  (Wow!)

8.                Visit Acadia National Park, Maine.  (Cadillac Mountain was great)

9.                Eat Lobster at Bar Harbor Maine. (First & last, give me shrimp any day).

10.            Buy Maple Syrup in Vermont.  ($70 Worth?)

11.              Get BJ on a boat at Niagara Falls.  (Frighten, soaked and froze her all most to death.)

12.             Let BJ drive through Cleveland Ohio. (Ha!)

13.             Tour the Ark Encounter in Kentucky.  (No words to describe this beautiful creation!  A must see.) 

As you can see I have trimmed my list down somewhat, but here are just some of ones left to do.

 

NOT CHECKED YET:

1.                  Visit the Creation Museum near the Ark Encounter.

2.                 Fly one more time with my longtime friend and service buddy, Randy Sizemore.  (The greatest Chinook Helicopter Pilot in the world.)

3.                 Zip line across the Grand Canyon.  (At the widest point, while eating a Hershey Bar.  With BJ of course.)

4.                Hike the Appalachian Trail. (The whole long way!)

5.                 Canoe the Suwannee from the Okefenokee Swamp to the Gulf of Mexico.

6.                Catch a 10+ pound bass with my brother, Irv at Lake Blackshear.

7.                 Retire December 29th 2016.

8.                Write a Best-Selling Novel.

9.                In progress is to continue to watch my kids and grandkids become great citizens of this great country that I love so much…

 

Remembering 911 Again!

 

What are you guys looking at?

There was a crowd around the TV in the lobby at the headquarters for the Florida Department of Corrections in Tallahassee, as I walked in.  On the screen I could see a burning building, and ask what was going on.  Someone told me a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers in New York City.  Someone else said it was an airliner.  Another said that they thought it was terrorists. Remembering the bombing in 93, I said that they sure don’t like that building, and I sure hope it was an empty plane.  Little did I know!

I was on a task force to develop a special tool cart, and procedures for the inmates to use on the prison compound to perform minor maintenance.  Security had changed over the last dozen years regarding inmate tool usage, but the need for inmate labor remained and we needed some guidelines to operate with.  We tried to get started, but the talk kept coming back to the World Trade Center.  It wasn’t long before someone walked in and said that a second plane had crashed into the second tower. We left to find a TV.  Word came down that they were worried about the safety of Governor Bush, the president’s brother, and we all may have to leave.  Rumors were flying.  Then the towers fell and our hearts sank to our stomachs.

How can anyone forget that day?  Our country has had a few of those kinds of days and it is a shame, (Remember December 7, 1941?).  I for one believe we are the greatest country in the world, and do not understand the hatred. There is nothing you can tell me that will change that.  Sure we have made our mistakes.  We have been involved in wars and places that maybe we shouldn’t have.  I have often questioned my two tours in Vietnam, but I have no doubt that I would do it all over again.  Such is my loyalty to this great country.

So, I woke up this morning thinking how I’m lucky to be an American.  In this world of instant info on the internet, people who truly seek freedom, know that by what they read, that we are truly blessed, and they long for the same opportunity.  The ones that trash our country don’t count.  Rather than wanting the freedom to pursue the American Dream, they would rather just take ours away.  I will not however, give them any more thought, but rather reflect on why I love this country, our Constitution, our flag, and our national anthem.

This country has rushed to the aid of nearly every country on earth in their time of need, yet we are still hated. I simply cannot wrap my brain around that.  Sure, some of it has been misguided and we are paying for that today.  However, that aid has done more good than bad.  I said that I would not dwell on the haters, so I will just pray that someday that will change, so that my children and their kids will know a time of real peace. Surely God has blessed us and it is up to us to be worthy of that blessing. Thank you God for my America…

David Butler

September 11, 2016

 

 

You need to understand that having come from a graduating class of 501 graduates where I knew maybe a third of the people, that Jennings Class of 64 was somewhat different.  I don’t remember just how many graduates the class had, but the number 25 comes to mind.  I’ve only attended a few of my own class reunions, but I don’t remember any that I’ve missed in the last 50 years of BJ’s Class of 64.   So, this year I tagged along as usual to her reunion.  This one, like the last one was at Wayne and Wanda Frier’s Hunting Lodge, a beautiful camp in the back woods of Hamilton County.  To give you an idea of the number of graduates there, I believe there were more deer heads mounted on the walls than former classmates there.  If you count the three bobcats, then I’m sure there were.  After all it was a hunting lodge and Wayne, (also a 64 classmate), and his son’s Matt and Todd have been busy counting coup.

It was after 5:30 when brother-in-law, (also a graduate), Robert and I arrived. BJ had gone earlier to help with the preparations.  Lavon was frying fish with Everal’s help.  Donald was cooking the puppies, since Lavon only cooks fish, (only fish).  Robert jumped right in and held the pan for Donald, while I joined Wayne Hurst at the picnic table.  Now normally I’m a conversation hog but after a stiff reminder from the woman that God gave me that this was their reunion and for me to join in only if invited, I kind of just stood around and observed everything.  Over the years I have developed the skill of observation into a real talent.  Waiting at the front of Walmart for BJ to exit will do that to you.  Anyway, mindful of BJ’s warning I just observed, and it was a thing to see.  There are families and family reunions where there was little love shown much less respect for each other.  However, these guys really liked one another.  Regardless of the time between meetings, it was if it was yesterday.  The bond there was unbreakable.  The camaraderie and lifelong friendships was evident even to a newcomer.  I know that to be true, as I have watched it for 50 years.  I understand that kind of bond as I see it in my own family.

And having fun? They had fun.  Now, I’m not around Sybil that much, but she and BJ are full of it.  Fun that is, in case you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking.  They played a game of who remembers what or who.  Questions like who was your first grade teacher.  On the men side, Lavon jumped on a couple of teacher questions quite quickly.  If fact from an outsiders thinking, I thought he probably remembered the cloakroom as much as he did the teacher.  At least that is how I remember certain teachers.   However, in the game it was the ladies’ memories that was the victor.  Then again, what can you expect at threescore and ten years old in we men anyway.  Since I mention the age words I must reflect on how the old bodies were still fit with a few minor exceptions.

From my observation the “Remember when’s” dominated the conversations and that is the expected norm at any reunion and should be.  I had dedicated my last years here in documenting such, so that my kids and grandkids, etc. can enjoy them in later years.  The Jennings Class of 1964 is worth remembering and I for one am glad to be part of it even if it’s by being married to one of them.  Wayne and Wanda were gracious hosts and made us feel like family.  It really was a great time.  And for my school teacher wife and school teacher, Sybil, I “ain’t” going to change any thang…