My Top Ten Reads of 2021

So you know what lies ahead, this is 2021’s list:

  1. The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D. (2016)
  2. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (2006)
  3. The Forever War by Dexter Filkins (2006)
  4. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2005)
  5. Wonder Works by Angus Fletcher (2021)
  6. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (2019)
  7. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (2020)
  8. Tecumseh and the Prophet by Peter Cozzens (2020)
  9. Under Jerusalem by Andrew Lawler (2021)
  10. Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

I used most of my “leisure” time in 2021 completing the first draft of my most ambitious project yet: Valley of Wolves, the sequel to my Gypsy Spy novel. Even so, I still managed to enjoy thirty-four tomes from other authors. If you are in the mood to break away from streaming by breaking open a book, this list contains titles worthy of your time and attention.

This year’s list features inspiring neuroscience, sweeping history, on-the-ground views of the war on terror, third world hope, Shawnee courage, classic science fiction, dystopian mastery, and social commentary par excellence. In the past, I have listed my recommendations in the order they were read. I’m breaking from that tradition this year. Though all ten are worthy reads, I’ve stacked the most impactful at the front. Also, I’ve added the publication year next to the author’s name.

Happy New Year, everyone!

The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D. (2016)

This book on neuroplasticity and the innovative therapies used to engage it to prompt the brain to repair itself brought me to tears time and again—tears of joy, amazement, and praise. It is a narrative of the impacts of the avant-garde neuroplastic therapies and the results they have engendered for patients who were given hopeless prognoses. In highlighting neuroplasticity, Doidge exposes the wonders of the Creator’s wiring. From the truth that our cells run on light to the revelation that the ear can reset the brain, I was reminded time and again that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

If you have suffered from any neurological set back (chemo brain, traumatic brain injury, concussion, etc.) or are close to any who have, this book will not only give you hope but ideas as well. From people born with half a brain to severely autistic children, the author highlights therapies that have energized the marvelous brain to function as designed. Read this book. You will be amazed.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (2006)

When the Taliban surged to take over Afghanistan during the current administration’s precipitous withdrawal despite U.S. efforts over more than twenty years to neuter them, I was made painfully aware of my ignorance regarding them. Deciding to remedy my problem, I did a library search on the subject of the Taliban and this little jewel popped up as a suggestion.

It’s not about the Taliban.

It is, however, about one man’s journey to improve the lives of many in areas controlled by the Taliban and others like them. The full title of the work is Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a time. Greg Mortenson was a mountain climber who after a failed attempt to reach the summit of Pakistan’s K2 mountain, got separated from his guide and wound up in an impoverished, remote mountain village and promised to build them a school as a thanks for his rescue. To call what follows next “awe inspiring” would be an understatement. Mortenson’s journey is a testament to what one person committed to the betterment of others can accomplish.

The most profound quote from the work comes from Mortenson’s mouth. “In times of war,” he said, “you often hear leaders—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—saying, ‘God is on our side.’ But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows, and orphans.”

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins (2006)

This was the other title Overdrive suggested I should read. I am returning the favor. Strap on a flak jacket, tighten your helmet, and read this book. Imagine Saving Private Ryan or American Sniper or Apocalypse Now except you’re not an officer or a soldier. You’re just a brave (or foolish) soul without rifle or side arm running through a war zone with a bunch of Marines. Yikes!

This book is front row seat to a confusing and catastrophic conflict. Filkins brings the reader into the offices of officials—U. S., Afghani, and Iraqi—and asks hard questions with no clear answers. But most of all, he takes the reader along for the civilian and grunt view of war. It reads at times like stream of consciousness reporting. His battle fatigue is apparent as the narrative unfolds. Following are some of my favorite lines from the work:

“I went to the Moshin Mosque to remind myself of what I didn’t know.”

“Iraq was filled with people like Yacob Yusef. They weren’t survivors as much as they were leftovers. The ruined by-products of terrible times.”

“For many Iraqis, the typical nineteen-year-old army corporal from South Dakota was not a youthful innocent carrying America’s goodwill; he was a terrifying combination of firepower and ignorance.”

Dexter Filkins

“There wasn’t any point in sentimentalizing the kids; they were trained killers, after all. They could hit a guy at five hundred yards or cut his throat from ear-to-ear. And they didn’t ask a lot of questions. They had faith, they did what they were told and they killed people.”

“…however many Iraqis opposed them before the Americans came into [Abu Shakur], dozens and dozens more did by the time they left. The Americans were making enemies faster than they could kill them.”

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2005)

If you think I was inspired to read this biography because it inspired the mega-hit Broadway musical that Disney ultimately streamed on its nascent platform, well then, you’d be right.

I watched Hamilton expecting not to like it. I failed. Miserably. I read Alexander Hamilton expecting to learn more about the founding of the National Bank and instead found him at the founding of that and just about everything else one can think of when one thinks, “American.”

My review of the work in my reading journal is uncharacteristically concise and short.

Wow, just wow.

Larum Reading Journal

But Chernow’s sweeping view of Hamilton’s life and times deserves more. Though I was blessed with an extraordinary American History teacher in high school, he gave short shrift to Hamilton. I had no idea how instrumental he was in the founding our nation.

Following are some lengthy quotes from Chernow’s masterful work.

“If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft. No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America’s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together.”

“Hamilton was an exuberant genius who performed at a fiendish pace and must have produced the maximum number of words that a human being can scratch out in forty-nine years.”

“Hamilton’s besetting fear was that American democracy would be spoiled by demagogues who would mouth populist shibboleths to conceal their despotism. George Clinton, Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr all came to incarnate that dread for Hamilton.”

“Hamilton was an American prophet without peer. No other founding father straddled both these revolutions [political and economic]—and only Franklin even came close—and therein lay Hamilton’s novelty and greatness. He was the clear-eyed apostle of America’s economic future, setting forth a vision that many found enthralling, others unsettling, but that would ultimately prevail. He stood squarely on the modern side of a historical divide that seemed to separate him from the other founders. Small wonder he aroused such fear and confusion.”

Last but far from least, Chernow includes Hamilton’s confession on his deathbed:

“I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

alexander hamilton

Wonder Works: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature by Angus Fletcher (2021)

Angus Fletcher is a PhD with dual degrees in neuroscience and literature. Yeah, if I met this guy at a party, I’d probably say, “You had me at hello.”

This work combines two subjects I am fascinated with: story science and neuroscience. The author not only takes us through literature’s innovative history, he explains how the rhetorical devices work on the brain. Fletcher’s writing is exquisite and he practices the devices he highlights throughout the tome. He hooked me early on with this literary and neural view of courage:

“… to Old French and Latin wordsmiths, courage wasn’t a stoic virtue or a rational choice. It was a feeling that collided with the terror that rushed through our veins in times of danger, counterbalancing one emotion with another, and rousing us with the psychological desire to hold our ground.

[This] insight has been extended by modern neuroscience. The neural origins of courage start deep in the primordial center of our brain, where there sits, ensconced upon a drop-shaped double throne, the coward despot known as our amygdala. As soon as our amygdala senses danger, it panics.”

Courage blooms with the addition of another ingredient. I would finish the thought, but you would do better to be brave and read the book.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell (2019)

If you know me, you know I love Malcolm Gladwell. I consider him to be one of the most articulate thinkers of our times. In this work, Malcolm (I’ve read so many of his books—and took his MasterClass on writing and listened to all his podcasts—that I think I of myself as being on a first-name basis with him) begins with Sandra Bland, moves into spy rings, exposes truth-default theory and the cost of suspicion, looks at suicide and coupling, moves to crime and policing, and returns to Sandra Bland and the tragedy of strangers misunderstanding one another.

Masterful!

Some favorite bits:

From the Author’s Note: “Sometimes the best conversation between strangers allow the stranger to remain a stranger.”

I write spy novels. Malcolm has this to say about spies: “The issue with spies is not that there is something brilliant about them. It is that there is something wrong with us.”

While explaining myopia theory, he provides these insights about inebriation: “When you are drunk, your understanding of your true self changes…Alcohol isn’t an agent of revelation. It is an agent of transformation.”

And what of the role of benefit of the doubt regarding strangers and familiars alike? Malcolm drops this jewel: “To assume the best about another is the trait that has created modern society. Those occasions when our trusting nature gets violated are tragic. But the alternative—to abandon trust as a defense against predation and deception—is worse.”

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (2020)

The prequel to The Hunger Games, the story centers on Coriolanus Snow, the villain of the original trilogy. In my humble opinion, no one succeeds at making the anti-hero likeable quite like Stephen R. Donaldson. Collins comes close. I wonder if she ever considered making Lucy Gray the protagonist, though it’s understandable why she chose Snow. If she didn’t do as well as Donaldson in making the villain likeable, she definitely beat George Lucas at the task of showing us the early life of the tyrant. The songs and mockingjays steal the show. I have no idea how many were original compositions, but all were placed well and had meaning.

My favorite lines:

“The cabbage began to boil, filling the kitchen with the smell of poverty.”

“Staring up at the towering rows of seats made him feel diminished to the point of insignificance. A raindrop in a flood, a pebble in an avalanche.”

“Sejanus appeared in another brand-new suit, with a rumpled little woman in an expensive flowered dress on his arm. It didn’t matter. You could put a turnip in a ball gown and it would still beg to be mashed.”

“‘Then be kind, Coryo,’ she snapped. ‘And try not to look down on people who had to choose between death and disgrace.’”

Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation by Peter Cozzens (2020)

If you like me only knew the name Tecumseh because of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, it may interest you to know that his father gave him the name because he admired the Shawnee chieftan.

I confess to a woefully ignorance of serious native North American history, which is one of the reasons this book intrigued me. Dealing with the years leading up to and following the War of 1812, it provides insights to the dealings and cultures of the tribes of the Old Northwest along with highlighting a period of American History I am unfamiliar with. Though the Prophet is the vehicle of the tale, Tecumseh is the hero―a leader all admired. The British, the Americans (the Long Knives in Shawnee parlance), and the various tribes held him in the highest esteem. Histories of noble courage lift us all and this is such a history. Their dream was hopeless, but they fought for their hope nonetheless.

Under Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World’s Most Contested City by Andrew Lawler (2021)

As a history of archaeology in the holy city, it is a vivid illustration of the different world views that clash above ground. If nothing else, in searching for the remains of Herod’s temple, the archeologists have thus far proven Jesus’ words to be true when he said, “there will not be left here one stone upon another.”

Two quotes prove the poignancy and difficulty of the subject matter. The first comes from Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann who in 1937 said, “There are now two sorts of countries in the world, those that want to expel the Jews and those that don’t want to admit them.”

Later in the book, this observation is made: “A dozen years before the Soviets built the Berlin Wall, Jerusalem became the world’s most divided city.”

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

A story as old as I am, Dune remains for me the masterpiece of the genre. I consider the original trilogy to be science fiction’s equivalent to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in stature and influence. I’m not prone to reading the same fiction book twice. This is perhaps my fifth reading of Dune in the past forty years. It was like visiting an old friend.

I make much of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s and Stephen King’s influences on my writing style, but Herbert’s Dune left its stamp on my voice, something I had not recognized until this reading. Shamelessly head hopping and introspective, its style guided my writing of Gypsy Spy.

If you are a fan of the book and haven’t seen the newest film adaptation, I highly recommend it. If you haven’t read the book, well then, you are in for a classic treat.

My Top Ten Reads of 2017

This year’s top ten comes to you from a deeper data set than the previous two years. Though writing still occupied much of my time this year, I still managed to read my way through twenty tomes. The ten (plus one) below are the ones I enjoyed the most. With the exception of the plus one, below are my reviews of them in the order that I read them.

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller has been preaching for the better part of the past 40 years plus and this book clearly demonstrates the passion of his faith and the wisdom of his age. In the introduction of the book, Keller identifies three levels of ministering the Word: informal one-on-one conversations (Level 1), counseling and teaching individuals and small groups (Level 2), and pulpit ministry (Level 3). Though he aims this work primarily at those involved in Level 2 and Level 3 Word ministry, I can think of no Christian communicators who would not benefit from the insights in this excellent work.

He sets the foundation of the work well on the only foundation that can hold the true weight of Word ministry: the accomplished work of Christ. Keller recounts reviewing two sermons from Mark 5 on Jesus’s healing of the demoniac. The first one pointed to Jesus as the demoniac’s deliverer and invited the hearers to bring their problems to Jesus for resolution. The second one more faithfully presented the Gospel for it gave the reason why Jesus could free the naked, bound, banished, and tortured man. He was able to do so because He would take the man’s place. He would be bound, stripped naked, tortured, and banished before God in our place. This is just one of many illustrations through which Keller brings home not only the absolute necessity of the message being centered on Christ, but also how to bring it home.

Subsequent sections and chapters deal with how we communicate Christ to our culture, to the late modern mind, and to the heart of the listeners so that the sword of the Spirit finds its mark and exposes all to their need for Jesus. In short, this book is a treasure trove and a great encouragement to all who are intent on sharing the Gospel effectively.

Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America by James E. Mitchell, PhD., with Bill Harlow

It seems that no film or TV show involving spies, terrorists, torture, or behavioral modification has been without a “waterboarding” scene or an allusion to the practice. James Mitchell is a bona fide expert in the field and everything you have seen is fiction. This book is educational, enlightening, and heartbreaking.

Politicians have warped the realities of war since before Athens was a city-state. After the CIA black sites and enhanced interrogations had kept us safe for almost a decade after 9/11, they lined up to paint a necessity of war (gaining actionable intelligence) as an atrocity on mankind and a stain on America’s moral fabric. But their labeling of the techniques that were approved by the Justice Department and used in the enhanced interrogation program as torture is like school administrators calling a sixth-grader’s fumbled kiss rape.

This book is a must read for those who want a “behind the walling wall” view of how Osama bin Laden and many of his lieutenants were found, apprehended, and brought to justice.

The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins by Robert B. Baer

I dabble in the fiction of what Robert Baer lived. A recipient of the Career Intelligence Medal, Baer brings his uniquely qualified observations on what makes for truly effective assassination operations. His 21 laws are the chapter titles in the book and could be a viral-worthy Pinterest post in their own right. (A couple of my favorites are Law #1: The Bastard Has to Deserve It and Law #19: Always Have an Encore in Your Pocket.)

Although it is a mix of memoir and political science musings, it comes off like a first-person, hard-boiled detective novel except the detective is a self-deprecating operative with a deep philosophical bent. Baer’s proverbial similes add plenty of spice to the text, some even sending me to my reference tools. If one wants to know what the morass of the Middle East looks like from the ground level of the CIA, this book is for you.

I purchased this book at Barnes & Noble along with Enhanced Interrogation as research material for my next Gypsy Spy novel (see Law #19 above). When I handed the cashier my educator’s discount card, he asked me, “With these books, should I be worried about what school you are teaching in?” Deadpan, I replied, “Homeschooler.” My comment didn’t seem to ease his concerns at all.

The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost—from Ancient Greece to Iraq by Victor Davis Hanson

Themistocles, Belisarius, Sherman, Ridgway, and Petraeus viewed through Hansen’s keen historical eye and explained in his always masterful use of ink. It is a thrilling ride through history showing the common principles of what it takes to lead others out of hopelessness when the opposition is intent on your defeat and your life and culture hang in the balance. The author carves a story arc from sea battles in ancient Greece to the modern counterinsurgency in Iraq and skillfully demonstrates that the character and skills required to save a lost cause have not changed in millennia. An informative, engaging, enlightening, and entertaining read. Hansen does not disappoint.

Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Be sure to read this one cover to cover as even the end notes have gems in them. Though some of the subject matter covered was familiar to me (SMART goals, Lean thinking, team dynamics), Duhigg offers history on the genesis of these standard productivity tools as well as a host of new insights. His skill in weaving them together through the stories of people and organizations that have been improved through their implementation is on full display and highly enjoyable. Not to be missed is the Appendix where the author shares his own application of this productivity tool box to the writing process. If you liked The Power of Habit, you will not be disappointed by this book.

America’s Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies by George Friedman

Friedman is the founder of Stratfor, arguably one of the most authoritative geopolitical intelligence platforms in the private sector. Borrowed from a friend’s bookcase in June of 2017, I found myself wishing I had known about it when it was published back in 2004 as I read it. Considering that in the year of its publication it was a near-event reflection on 9/11 and a fair piece of highly educated prognostication on how the War on Terror might progress, it proves the measure of prestige that Stratfor and Friedman hold in intelligence circles. Page 339 from the conclusion is highly insightful. “The weakness of the U.S. is not our soldiers, nor their numbers, but the vast distance that separates American leaders from those who fight … To them, the soldiers are alien, people they have never met and don’t understand. When the children of leaders stay home, the leaders think about war in unfortunate ways.” And this: “Either the U.S. will withdraw [we did] from the Islamic world, creating a vacuum to be filled by the Caliphate [which ISIS did], or Al Qaeda will be crushed and the spirit that gave rise to it will be defeated [it has not been].”

Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend by Ravi Zacharias, Author and General Editor

Ravi Zacharias is a treasure and his team brings a wealth of apologetic experience to the page. This book, written for popular consumption (as opposed to an academic audience), centers on the relational-reality model of apologetics. As Zacharias writes, “All reality is ultimately defined by the Holy Trinity, God who is a Being in relationship.” It is this insight and approach that I most appreciated in this work. Having read many apologetic books, mostly from the scientific or philosophical perspectives, this work from multiple authors and disciplines was very enlightening and encouraging. If you are a Christian seeking to grow in your presentation skills of the Gospel or a person curious about the claims of Christianity and its relevance to the modern world, I highly recommend this book.

A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg

I have a genius older brother who commented when I told him about reading this book, “Doudna is brilliant. She and her lab are involved in Nobel Prize worthy work.” I can think of no higher accolade than that. Though authored by two scientists on the forefront of CRISPR technology, it is told primarily through Doudna’s perspective. A Crack in Creation is the scariest book I have read since Regenesis by George Church. Unlike Church, whose hubris and trans-human intentions are on full display in Regenesis, Doudna’s humble and wise humanity shines through her prose.

Church observed that the 1990s were still the Stone Age of genetic engineering and that the state of the art had moved into the Industrial Age when he wrote his book published in 2012. Doudna published her paper on CRISPR applications for gene editing in Science in June of 2012. If 2011 was the Industrial Age of genetic engineering, 2017 is well into the Information Age. We have moved on from genetic engineering to gene editing.

One of the authors’ most chilling (and telling) statements is that “what used to require years of work in a sophisticated biology laboratory can now be performed in days by a high school student.” (p. 113) They state that a CRISPR lab can be set up for just $2,000. What is scary about this? CRISPR can make gene edits that are heritable. The age is upon us, exciting and chilling. Genome beware, Tinkering-man is coming for you!

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

An excellent book and affirming in an odd way. Based upon what Grossman documents, I got much of the psychological cost of killing right in Gypsy Spy. At least 12 dog-eared pages and multiple underlinings give evidence to my engagement with the book. The author has a fascination with Freud, but that can be forgiven. He doesn’t make any faith claims, but he is Biblically literate. He knows the difference between killing and murder and this book is on killing.

The history, psychology, and current social implications all combine to make for a very worthwhile tome. His section on killing in Vietnam made me appreciate even more what all the veterans of that war have had to suffer because of our treatment of them and the cause they served.

Heartening to all should be the revelation that despite the decrepit condition the human race is in and the awful instances of mass shootings at home and barbarism by our enemies abroad, mankind isn’t naturally predisposed to killing. It takes a lot to get someone to the point where he or she will kill another person.

Grossman quotes Swank and Marchand’s WWII study that noted that only 2% of combat soldiers exhibited “aggressive psychopathic” tendencies. He goes on to clarify that a more accurate conclusion of their finding would be that there is a “2% of the male population that, if pushed or given a legitimate reason, will kill without regret or remorse.” He later drops this jewel of an observation regarding this rare 2%: “Whether called sociopaths, sheepdogs, warriors, or heroes, they are there, they are a distinct minority, and in times of danger a nation needs them desperately.”

Fascinate, Revised and Updated: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist by Sally Hogshead

When we worked together, my brother often said, “You know me, I ride for the brand.” His comment, born from our love of the Western and the reality of our step-father’s livelihood is a strong reminder of what we mean when we talk about branding. In the days before ear tags, cattle had their flesh seared with the indelible mark of their owner’s identity. Our modern use of “brand” derives from the Middle English use of a torch. Burning wood heats iron and a branding-iron imprints identity. As Sally Hogshead so aptly demonstrates, we all carry a fire—corporately and individually—that is our brand. Her gift is a replicable method for identifying and leveraging one’s brand effectively and affordably.

If the reader is familiar with any of the various personality type inventories such as Myers-Briggs, DISC, or OCEAN then the sense of this work will be even that much more apparent. Hogshead has identified seven archetypes of brand advantage and illustrates how and why they work to draw the public’s attention. She then moves into how these can be used in a combination of ways for tactical gains in changing circumstances without a loss of central value or identity.

Reading this work fired my imagination, has reignited my personal author branding message, and has inspired deep conversations on marketing and branding in the company I work for. Whether we recognize it or not, most of us are involved in the business of marketing. Fascinate provides great tools to increase the impact and effectiveness of those efforts.

And … [drum roll] … the promised Plus One:

Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca

Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing is a singularly stellar personal and literary accomplishment for the author. Isabel Fonseca put herself in circumstances few would willingly venture into, gained access to a closed society dominated by men and mother-in-laws, and reported her findings with literary elegance and beauty. I first read this book over 20 years ago. It stands the test of time. It is vital reading for anyone who wants insight into the Roma.

War Stories

I heard them first as a boy; young enough to wonder, too young to understand. They come to you unrefined, simply and how they were first impressed upon my mind.

Grandpa Kelly traced his finger over the grainy picture in the book and pointed to a face that vaguely looked like his. “That’s me,” he said with a slight smile. But he wore no smile in the picture. Neither did his companions in the landing craft. It was D-Day and they looked somber. The smell of vomit was what he remembered most. Over 400,000 United States service men and women lost their lives during World War II. I am grateful my Grandpa Kelly wasn’t one of them.

Stories of my uncle’s experience during the Korean War drifted through the family. He was a minesweeper and not fond of the job. He went AWOL. He turned himself in. He made it out alive. Over 33,000 United States service men and women died in combat in the three years of our involvement. I’m glad my uncle wasn’t one of them.

Three of my brothers served during the Vietnam War. They were all volunteers. Only two of them made it to the theater; something the third never truly forgave them for. Only one came back whole. I remember Franklin lacing up the leather braces on his forearms, the funny way the meat on his arm moved under scarred skin. Years later I learned that the magazine of his M-16 took a round of enemy fire while he was on patrol and the weapon blew apart in his arms. He took another bullet in the heel as he crawled his way out of the rice patty. It took many months for his body to heal; many years for his mind. The smell of putrid decay is the memory that troubles him the most. Over 50,000 United States service men and women lost their lives in that conflict. I’m glad that none of my brothers did.

Today, friends and family serve on the front lines of the American War on Terror. They have lost friends, comrades, and brothers-in-arms. I’ve stood at many a funeral and dug graves not a few. I’ve eulogized and preached, comforted and buried. But gratefully, I’ve never been called on to stand strong while taps played long for a departed loved one.

To all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation and to their families that offered them up, I owe undying gratefulness. You didn’t come home. But my family has. And because of you and them, there was a land of the free to come home to. Thank you.