I never grow tired of stories from those who’ve served in our Armed Forces.
As a young newspaper reporter, I met one of the last surviving veterans of WWI. Though 90 years had shriveled his frame, he stood tall and proud as I took his photo next to an American flag.
On another occasion, I interviewed one of the few surviving crew members of the U.S.S Indianapolis, the last American ship sunk by enemy forces in WWII. He recalled with vivid detail four days floating at sea until rescuers arrived.
And as a child, I listened intently as my father and uncle relived their war experiences from the Army and Navy, respectively. Though serving in a foreign land may not have been the optimal way to spend their youth, they never regretted the role they played in defending our nation’s freedoms.
I’ve met a good share veterans from my own generation as well – men and women who’ve served in numerous capacities, for many different reasons. Some, like me, were stateside in the Reserves, fortunate to have stayed out of harm’s way. Others weren’t so lucky – separated from their families for many months and by thousands of miles to serve our nation’s call.
As part of our 30 Days of Thanks, American Family recognized veterans for their service. We were pleased to hear from numerous people who have worn the uniform. Here are just a few comments we received:
- “I served in the Korean War on the front lines from late Feb 1951 until Dec 31, 1951, A VERY cold place – much like Minnesota – and we had no overshoes or winter sleeping bags....Brrr.”
- Sometimes we’re all forgotten about, and what we give up for our country. Family, health and life.”
- "I am a veteran – 4 years active duty, Security Forces USAF. I show my appreciation to Veterans everyday by acknowledging them when I see or meet them."
- "Yes, I am a Veteran of WWII – one of the few still alive. I was a medic and worked in a large Veteran's hospital as a surgical tech, so I saw the terrible results of war. I also lost some of friends I trained with."
- "Having served 21 years myself, I thank God everyday for these young men and women who keep us safe today. We must never forget however, all our veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam and all the other victories forged by our gallant men and women in uniform."
Thank you to all those who took the time write. And thank you everyone who has served in the Armed Forces – in war, in peace, at home and overseas. We live the results of your service every day.
P.S.: Want to thank a veteran? Leave a comment, or head to our Facebook page and post a message on our Wall.
Imagine being told you have cancer. Just when you think it’s all behind you, imagine being told you have it again.
That’s the story of my 13-year fight with breast cancer.
It started innocently enough. During a routine physical, my doctor found a lump. She was worried and insisted on a mammogram.
The mammogram looked suspicious, so I had a biopsy. The news came back that I had breast cancer. Treatment for me was a mastectomy. Fortunately, my tumor was isolated, so I didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy. I did, however, have reconstructive surgery.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a support group, because I couldn’t identify with people there. Many were mad at their doctors and the medical profession. I wasn’t. My doctor found the lump – she didn’t put it there! Also, most support group members were married with children. I’m not married and don’t have children, so we couldn’t relate to each other. I wanted those things too, but I felt like “damaged merchandise.” It took me a long time before I could even watch a commercial with a baby in it!
In 2004, I celebrated five years without cancer! I learned the five-year mark means you’re practically home free. It was a bittersweet milestone. A few months before, I lost my brother in a car accident. Now, I didn’t have one of my best friends to celebrate with. Later that year, I was diagnosed with depression.
Fast forward six years. I noticed a bump below my breast I hadn’t seen before. I saw my doctor who thought it might be fatty tissue. It didn’t go away and became red. My doctor sent me to a surgeon for a second opinion. The surgeon said she’d remove it, but wanted to run some tests. Two MRIs, three biopsies, about six ultrasounds and a PET scan later, I was told that I had breast cancer again. The surgeon said it was already at Stage 3. I know that’s not good, but I wasn’t ready to give up my fight!
Since then, I’ve been receiving a form of chemo that’s non-toxic. I recently had surgery to remove the tumor and started taking yet another medicine.
I’ve tolerated treatment fairly well. Unless you know me personally or saw my name on a “Race for the Cure” poster, you wouldn’t even know I’m sick. I could be the person sitting next to you, your neighbor or your best friend.
My fight continues. I want researchers to find a cure. I need them to find a cure! Not only for the women currently fighting this dreadful disease, but for those who unfortunately will follow in our footsteps. I want to see my munchkins (my friends’ children) grow up and graduate from high school. I want to be one of the first out on the dance floor at their weddings.
I’m not giving up – I want to celebrate life!
When giving a tour of my vegetable patch, I call myself a lazy gardener. It usually gets a laugh, but more important, it gets people’s attention. Here are three of my top tips to decrease work, increase fun and grow more vegetables.
Garden beds. I like raised garden beds, and they can be simple or complex, all serve the same purpose. Garden beds can be reinforced (made of scrap lumber six to eight inches tall), or simply unreinforced (mounded up soil). Beds can be built before planting or after harvest (for the next season). Some benefits include:
- Easy access for planting, weeding and harvest
- Creates a physical barrier so you aren’t tempted to trod on plants or compress soil
- Soil amendments such as compost and mulch stay in the garden and out of the path where not needed
Don’t step on your plants. One of the reasons I like garden beds is it not only keeps weeds out, they also help to keep my size 9’s out of my garden. If you’ve worked hard to build loose soil, the last thing you want to do is compact it. Trodding too close can:
- Damage fragile roots
- Compact soil, reducing water penetration
- Break off branches, flowers or fruit
Mulch your garden. Speaking of mulch, a heavy layer of leaf or seedless hay mulch is very good for your garden. Heavy means a good two inches of hay mulch “slabs,” or a good inch of partially rotted leaves. Mulch is the organic gardener’s friend too:
- Maintains consistent moisture (less watering)
- Reduces weeds (less weeding)
- Reduces erosion (good for the soil)
- Breaks down, adding fertility (also good for the soil)
- NOTE: avoid wood chips around annual plants, decomposition uses up nitrogen.
Editor's note: If you garden, consider taking the American Family Insurance Pledge to Plant a Row to Fight Hunger. Go to our Facebook page, take the pledge to plant a row of vegetables in your home or community garden. When they're ripe, donate them to your local food bank. For every pledge received, American Family will donate $1 to Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity.
Ever since I was a little boy, I dreamed of becoming a Madison firefighter.
Growing up, I was mesmerized by the stories my great-uncle, Mel Troia, told about his experiences as a Madison firefighter. It wasn’t hard to picture myself riding fire trucks, fighting the flames and most of all – helping people. As a firefighter, I’d save people’s homes, their possessions and even their lives!
First though, I had to grow up and prove I was firefighter material.
I was raised by a single Mom who worked three jobs to support us. She wanted to give me a good life and she led by example. She showed me no matter what your dream is, with hard work and dedication, you can reach it. Armed with her guidance, I was convinced my dream was always within reach. I didn’t realize though, that along the road to achieving my dreams, I’d have some bumps to contend with.
As a high school student, I attended a career day and met recruiters from the Madison Fire Department. That sealed it for me – I knew from that point on I wanted to become a Madison firefighter.
After high school, I enrolled in the Fire Science program at Madison College and landed an internship at the Maple Bluff Fire Department. My goal quickly became a passion.
I admit I didn’t have the world’s best background. I had some trouble in high school and my initial applications to MFD were turned down. I was also a single father of two wonderful kids. Like my mother did for me, I had to support them. Fortunately, I was able to find work in construction which allowed me to support my kids but I was away from home a lot and missed them desperately.
My goal of being in the MFD was now even stronger. My kids were the extra motivation I needed. I turned to the lessons my Mom taught me and applied again. A rigorous physical agility test and interview designed to reveal one’s core identity and character were my chance to prove who I really was, rather than be shadowed by a few questionable events in my past.
I’ll never forget the day when Chief Steve Davis called to offer me the opportunity to become a Madison firefighter. I couldn’t believe it. I called my Mom first and could barely keep it together. The proudest moment for me though, was when my 11-year-old son, Garrett, pinned my MFD badge on my uniform at the Madison Fire Academy commencement ceremony this past January. I did it! I reached my dream.
Although the road had a few bumps along the way, I never lost sight of my dream. With hard work, determination and dedication I reached it. If I can, you can. Your dream is out there. Don’t ever stop trying to get it.
Editor’s note: This is part of a Dream Protectors blog feature called Stories From DreamBank, which showcases real-life dreams from visitors to the American Family Insurance DreamBank in Madison, Wis. Visit DreamBank on the Square or online at www.amfam.com/DreamBank.
I’m getting into the gardening game, and I’m a little nervous. I’ve signed up for a 10x10 garden plot in our American Family Insurance community garden.
It’s a little intimidating because we’ve got some very talented home gardeners around here. They’re talking about straw bale gardens and raised bed gardens. Josh Feyen on our social media team even has a blog about urban gardening – and he just planted an orchard in his small, urban front yard!
Me? I’ve had a few tomato plants around the yard. A few herbs. Some ailing blueberry bushes. But this is the first time I’m plotting out a garden.
My family loves the farm-fresh produce we can get in the summer, and we bike each summer Saturday up to the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison, Wis. So it’s natural for us to expand our own gardening effort.
Having our own garden is also going to be a way for us to give back to the community. Local food pantries want donations of fresh produce, and we’ll share some of our garden’s bounty with them.
Over the next several weeks, American Family Insurance is working to raise awareness of the opportunity to donate produce through our Pledge to Plant a Row effort on Facebook. We’re asking people to take that pledge, set aside a row of produce and donate it to a local food bank. For every pledge made between now and June 20, we’ll donate $1 to Feeding America, up to $5,000.
This is part of our ongoing effort to help fight hunger in our communities and help raise awareness of this important issue. It builds on last fall’s effort to support the National FFA Organization’s Rally to Fight Hunger, which was backed by more than 20,000 of our Facebook fans and funded 50,000 prepackaged meals.
Whether you’re a veteran gardener or just getting started, I hope you’ll join us in this pledge, and connect with us on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing information about supporting local food pantries, statistics on the impact hunger has in our communities, and ways for you to help.