Happy (belated) Birthday America!
Of course, I think of my brother-in-law, Brian, on every patriotic holiday. Actually, I remember him everyday, but red, white, and blue holidays are special.
MSgt Brian McAnulty was killed in Iraq on December 11, 2006. He was a lifelong Marine. His funeral celebrated his military service. He touched a lot of people and had a wonderful influence on his fellow Marines.
Until the day Brian came home in a casket, I'd never seen him in his uniform. There had been pictures, but when he visited he never wore his dress blues or camouflage. Brian was a Marine through and through, but I'll always remember him as a great storyteller.
One of my favorite stories was about a young Marine who reported to Brian. The Marine was deathly afraid of squirrels. Yes, deathly. The kid would rather jump off a cliff than face a squirrel. And the Marine had good reason. He'd been attacked by the small beasts on three occasions. (Guess it's like being struck by lightening...)
I wish I could remember all the details. But on a training mission in the mountains of California, the young Marine tried to rid the West Coast of the little buggers and Brian had to subdue the rampage. (No animals were seriously hurt in the telling of this story.)
Brian told us stories from his time in Paraguay, Iraq (Desert Storm), Korea, and Burundi. Places my family will never visit. He could describe the landscape and the conditions he endured. He could paint colorful pictures of the people (maybe not the most ordinary people you'd ever meet, but the typical crew Brian used to find). And he could make your mouth clamp shut with descriptions of the local cuisine.
Brian had his own voice. It contained a lot of four letter words and slang. (This could be a military thing, because my dad has a similar voice when talking about Vietnam.) He had a great sense of pace, humor, action, and suspense. He could draw a crowd and keep them hanging on until the last word.
To my knowledge, Brian never took a writing course. Storytelling was one of his many natural gifts. I wished he'd taken a class. Not to stifle his natural voice or correct his language, but so we'd have a few of his stories to read after he was gone.