Monday, November 14, 2011

Do Salute brought to life by John Ricki Weber

 My hubby and I were invited to a grand opening on Veterans Day. We were informed that it was going to be an event where John would be unveiling his new organization's name and mission that will honor our veterans in the "greatest country in the world".

I found out that John created this event (with a little help from his very supportive parents). He raised the monkey for snacks and refreshments by doing odd jobs around the neighborhood (raking leaves, mowing lawns, and shoveling snow). He invited veterans from every war possible. He also invited the Wisconsin Administrator of Veterans Benefits. Getting both sides of the coin in the same room and acknowledging that more needs to be done.

But I may be getting ahead of myself. Because of the timing of this event, I ended up having a date weekend with my hubby. I believe that this was a great way to start it off.

We started off the event with some socializing (I felt a little out of place because these people have huge stories to tell and all I have is my three kids to talk about). I did really enjoy watching everyone interact with each other and see how the room parted and came back together in new shapes. I love people watching. There were flyers and business cards at the welcome table. There were drinks and snack bags with his organizations name on it. There were two tables up front by the podium filled with memorials. (You will have to forgive the pictures, forgot my camera again.) And around the room were hung some patriotic embellished wreaths…his latest project.



He started off the program with everyone saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I sat in the back of the room and was speechless over this site. All the veterans at perfect salute, no matter the age or condition, saying the Pledge. It made me feel honored to be an American.

Followed by his nephew Phoenix saying the Lord’s Prayer. Which is fantastic because he just turned four and he starts it by saying “My Father…” and he calls it the Big Prayer.

Next, we were asked to sing God Bless America. It was another one of those speechless moments that made me feel honored to be an American. These men sang with passion every word of that song. You could just hear and feel what those words must have meant to them and should mean to all of us.

Then John began to speak. He has only been in this country for three years. He came knowing maybe 5 words of English. Listening to him speak about how passionate he is for this country and the people who have fought for it…makes you want to do more and be more. Makes you wonder how much better your life and our country could be if we all could tap into his power and his passion.

John shared with us that he had only been in the US for two months when he got to celebrate his first American holiday…Veterans Day. He wore his Boy Scout uniform that had no patches on as of yet. He met one of his mentors at this event, Clifford Sabtake. He was a Purple Heart recipient and saw something in John (and John in him) that made them fast friends. Clifford had told John that he had fought for the flag and would do it all over again. Clifford was also very impressed by John’s accomplishment of having memorized the Preamble by the following Veterans Day and that John showed that he understood it.

During John’s speech, he would take moments to recognize and salute the veterans from each possible war (I say possible because there are some wars that a veteran would not be possible for). This moment, he saluted the Korean Veterans. I just about started to cry looking at these men. My grandpa that has passed was one of these men. My dad told me the one and only story that Grandpa ever shared about the war and it sticks with me. It’s short, so excuse me to share it. Grandpa and another man had the duty to guard a train the one night. They would pass by each other halfway around the train and back again on the other side. The one time, his partner didn’t show. When Grandpa went to investigate, he found the man stuck to the train with a knife. I was one train loop away from not existing.

Anyway, back to the event. The next story John shared with us was meeting Brigadier General Mark E Anderson. They met at a Boy Scout Jamboree in Oshkosh. This man made such an impact on John there that he would think of him at times and wonder what the Brigadier General would do in such a situation. He made John wonder if he could be a man like the Brigadier General; “to remain grass-rooted and be able to mentor some young boy as you did.”

The Brigadier General got a chance to respond. He shared with us that if our young people would act half of how John does, our country will be in great hands. He also shared his thought that if you put on a uniform, you are a hero. And he finished with telling John that now that he is an Eagle Scout, that he gets to step into those mentor shoes.

John has a passion to become a soldier some day and to be able to lead men to do great things. I believe that he is already doing that, only he is creating great men by his leading.

John shared his version of his adoption story. He was adopted at the age of twelve after having lived at the orphanage for 6 years. He started the story off with a sentence that included, “making a promise and keeping a promise”. As an orphan, I can only imagine how hard it would be to believe promises. The Webers got to bring John home for a week before they adopted him; that was in January and he was adopted in June. This started John on the path that these people really meant what they said. The day he was adopted, the case worker told him that he no longer had the eyes of an orphan. John shared that orphans only dream in black and white (I’m guessing that it makes it less real and easier to handle)and he said, “now I dream in red, white, and blue”. A cheer rose from the crowd because you can see it in him. John shared with us that he knew that his parents loved him from the moment they cried. He shared that it wasn’t an easy road at the beginning because he had to learn how to be a family and they had to learn how to be parents to a child who has been through so much in his short years.

John held a moment of silence for all of our fallen soldiers and shared some stories about a few of the fallen who have touched his life. He said, “I realized our flag is a living symbol of what our country stands for.”
John shared that he feels like it’s his mission in life to be a friend to all veterans and raise awareness of all veterans’ issues. He has been sharing this message to many schools and has been talking on their level and asking them to respect their veterans more and to embrace the freedoms that they grew up with that he never had until now. He has inspired many of the youth in our area by the talks he has given because he is so real and true and kids can see that (adults too). John has also spoken at Bible Studies, Youth Groups, and other Veterans Assemblies.

John shared his Eagle Scout project. He raised $2000 for 50 quality flags to fly at local homes and businesses that needed one. I’m not sure that our flag was worn out enough to need one, the hubby tends to keep up with that. But I do believe that we were meant to fly one of those flags. We were meant to meet this young man and his family. We were meant to get swept up in his mission and find a way to do our part in it. Which is part of the reason I write this. If I can share his message to 10 people that don’t know him and his passion, then I have helped.

Mr. Bryce Luchterhand from Senator Kohl’s office spoke for a moment. He shared some words from the Senator, as well as some of his own. The two sentences that I pulled from it were, “John honors the soldiers and their families.” And, “If our youth would hold John as a role model, our country would definitely be on the straight and narrow path.”
John shared some more personal stories about his brother who is still living in Russia. He shared how his brother told him not to mess this up because he had a good thing happening here. He shared that his bother protected him the best that he could and how he feels some remorse about being the one adopted after all that his brother did for him.

John shared how his mother, Brenda Weber, changed his thought process. After many nights of waking up in a panic from some past memory that was haunting him, his mom told him (while holding her Bible) that they were going to work on changing his thoughts. She told him that if they work together on filling his mind with good thoughts, memories and deeds that the bad ones would have to fall out. It worked and they found a way to conquer those hard memories so that they wouldn’t be able to control him so much. It’s still an ongoing process (as I’m sure you all can relate to). But he is journaling and talking and sharing and life is getting better and better every day. (This coming from a teenager, bet you wish your teenager talked a little more like this.)

John told us how he believed that his new family had healing powers. He said that his mom told him, “that’s what being loved unconditionally does.” John wishes to give the same kind of love and support to the veterans. He said that his life in Russia was a very difficult life lesson learned. John also shared that he gets renewed for each flag that he holds and that he is very thankful to Todd Zunker for teaching him the proper way to handle and fold the flag.

John thanked his parents, “My parents have served me in my life in so many different ways.” I immediately pictured Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the last super. I pray that just one of my children say something like that about me some day.

John then recited the poem he had written and read at his Eagle Scout ceremony; it was just as powerful the second time.
I fly every day since I became an American citizen
with freedom that completely surrounds me
I flew with freedom under my wings
I flew with freedom over my wings
freedom that knows no harsh words
freedom that welcomes my very best to be as strong as I can be
freedom when I wake up
freedom is what I bring to each project or task I take on
freedom in my gratitude to our older veterans
freedom in the proud but aching hearts that need healing
My freedom because our soldiers that I have not met but are fighting in Afghanistan
freedom for those somber but proud American hearts of our Gold Star families
freedom for those lonely POW-MIA soldiers whose dream is to finally come home
freedom because of every honorable veteran who has served the greatest country in the world
freedom for so many proud American citizens and politicians
freedom for the Boy Scouts who are so close to my heart
freedom, oh sweet freedom, that allows me to practice and grow in my own faith
freedom, sweet lyrics and melodies whispered to me all the time and I am forever grateful for my friend FREEDOM
And may God continue and may God bless the United States of America
-This was quoted from his Eagle Scout speech. He did shorten it up for the Veterans celebration.-

John followed this moving poem with some words from Kenneth Grant, the Administrator of Veterans Benefits. A few things that I pulled away from him was how impressed he admitted he was with John’s spirit and passion. Mr. Grant shared that he thinks he has one of the greatest jobs in the world, the ability to serve our veterans. He gave us a sobering fact that there will be over 1 million new veterans from Iraqi Freedom, 32000 from Wisconsin alone. That the biggest job ahead of us now is to help them readjust to civilian life. (Which I hear is a really hard thing to do.)Mr. Grant asked that we live up to our responsibility to our veterans. He presented John a certificate on behalf of the Veterans Association for starting this organization.
John held a candle lighting ceremony for our POW-MIAs. I think the most powerful sentence from this was, “it’s not fun being the one left behind and forgotten about.”


John finished his portion of the evening asking us to, “watch out for me because my role in the United States is not yet known.”

His mom, Brenda Weber, then got up and shared a few extremely emotion filled words and told everyone about John’s latest project of 100Wreaths for 100 Veterans. Two local wreath makers have offered to create patriotic wreaths to be handed out to local veterans and their families. It’s kind of like bringing a little bit of Christmas joy to those who may need the boost.

She shared with us that John has been invited to speak on a national tv show out in California. I loved the idea that his idea born in Wisconsin has made its way all the way to California already.

Two last things that impacted me from this event.

The first was some students from Ringle Elementary heard about the event and came out to hand out cards handmade by the third and fourth graders. They were all done up in crayon and were beautiful.

The last was a great sentence. Knowing that elections are just around the corner, John’s mom added that they want to “make sure it’s not political, only patriotic.”

There is a lot more to come from this young man. I feel honored to be in the loop and to be able to witness every step of the way. Watch out for this young man, he is destined for great things.

And lastly, I need to apologize for my photos. Reminder to self...bring camera everywhere.

PS...John read this and told me it was like reliving the day. He also told me that in his speech he said that his parents saved him, not served. I'm not changing the entire article for that correction because I like the sentiment that I got out of it by hearing it wrong. I also like the way he actually said it which is why I add it here.