Proud to be an American

11 Feb

Anyone who has sang those words with any kind of passion, knows that it is easy to let the emotion overtake you.  I can remember several times trying to choke out some of the heartfelt words, and as I was watching last night’s episode of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which we DVR’d so it was on as “background noise” while reading for class, I realized two things: One, it was not the best show to have on if I wanted to get any reading done, and two, the words of this song were playing in my heart and head and I knew there was something special about this family. 

I don’t know about you, but I think EM:HE is one of the best shows on TV, and I inevitably need a tissue before each episode is over.  The recent show was no different.  I should mention that I didn’t even make it through the first five minutes without getting a little teary-eyed.  Ty and the gang (minus Paul, my favorite) were in Kansas to help another very deserving family.  (Yes Ty did an incredibly corny opening as ‘Dorothy’!)  I am glad I do not have the job of deciding which families are chosen and which are not, because if it were up to me, I would choose them all.  Almost every video has its heartbreaking moments and we are left with no doubt that this particular family, or that one, deserves and needs a miracle.  I think they get more than that though; I think they also get hope.  One of the greatest parts about watching the show is that we as an audience are also part of that experience.  We find hope in every person who shows up to serve and give of themselves to complete strangers.  We are reminded that there is still room for our fellow neighbor in a society where most of us don’t know who lives next door, that there are still hearts that are open in a world that breaks so many,  and that there is still love and connection in a world that leaves many alone and broken.  There is hope when just one person reaches out to another who is hurting.  That is why hope is so powerful with this ‘show.’  Instead of just one person, we get to see hundreds of people reaching out and offering hope.  Let’s meet the family.

 Daniel Gilyeat is a single dad of four children between the ages of 4 and 9.  That alone makes him a hero in my book, but Daniel is also a decorated member of the Marines with more than an incredible story.  He has incredible hope. 

Daniel joined the U.S. Marine Corps twelve years ago, and served his first tour in Irag in 2003.  He returned home to a wife and four young kids, and money was tight, but Daniel was a dad who just wanted to provide for his family.  As a very proud Marine, one of his mottos is “You don’t quit.  When you fall, you get right back up.”  So when he was asked to return to Irag for a second tour of duty, it wasn’t just his desire to serve this country that made him say yes, it was his desire to serve his family and his “don’t quit” spirit even more.  He was assigned a team and in charge of the dangerous task of finding and disarming bombs.  On July 3, 2005, while on a routine mission in Fallujah, the truck that he and four other soldiers were in, struck an anti-tank mine on the road.  His first thought was of his team as he yelled for them to get out of the truck.  He then realized his pant leg was shredded, which he knew was not good, but it wasn’t until he dropped out the vehicle and watched as his buddy removed his foot, without his leg, from the truck that he realized how bad it was.  The medical team lost Daniel twice as they rushed him to the hospital, where they were not able to save his leg.  As an amputee, Daniel went through the process of anger, doubts, and pain, but he did not quit.  There’s that spirit again.  He knew he had to stay strong and “stop feeling sorry for himself” because his kids needed him. 

After being discharged and returning to the U.S., Daniel received a prosthetic leg and learned to walk and use it in just 27 days.  As if he wasn’t busy enough learning to walk again, Daniel used his recovery time to visit other wounded soldiers and their families offering them love, support, and encouragement.  And get this, his visits moved and encouraged him so much, that his dream, yes dream, is to continue to visit hopsitals, soldiers, and their families and remind them of hope.  He extends hope, “By letting them know there is life after tragedies.  No matter what it is, there is a silver lining in everything.  You just have to find something positive somewhere.”  He found his inspiring treasure in the lives of his kids.  Oh, there is a little more.

Exactly a year to the day of his accident, July 3, 2006, his wife signed divorce papers and left.  His explanation, “I know she was just overwhelmed with it all.”  Are you kidding me?  She was overwhelmed?  Talk about a man who not only understands love, this guy lives it. 

So enter ABC, and this life changing, hope offering show.  We have a genuine American, no scratch that; a genuine life hero:  Newly single dad, one leg normal, one leg titanium (and one for running, martial arts, tai chi, skiing, …), four beautiful, adoring children, Alexis, 9, Victoria, 7, Danny, 5, Nick, 4, and one very old, not going to last another winter house.  All this and he has served two tours of duty with honor, has been highly honored, lives for his kids, and his dream is to give others the chance to find a silver lining.  I believe they qualify.  Oh, here are Daniel’s requests, “If I could get a new roof, or a new foundation, or anything, I’d be extremely grateful.”  New roof: check.  New walls, check:  New foundation, in more ways than one, check.  Giving us all a new perspective on tragedy and hope, check and check.  Heck, I think Ty should give this guy a plane so he can fly around the country throwing these seeds of hope along the way! 

Well, with all this said, (and I do apologize for the length, but come on, this guy deserves a book) I know the next time I sing God Bless America, (which may be after I click publish) I will picture Daniel’s face and be grateful that I am free, for “I won’t forget the men (and women) who died and gave that right to me.”  I will gladly stand up next to you and you and you, and anyone willing to stand, and I will be proud to live in a country with such people as Daniel, where we are free to dream of hope and even more free to make hope a reality for everyone. 

Daniel’s kids have called him a hero, as many moms and dads have been called.  However, Alexis, his nine year old daughter said it best, “He’s not just a Marine hero.  He’s a hero to all of us.”  I think she’s got it.    

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