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Welcome, friends! 

My new friend, Pat

Photo by Vicki Guingon
On vacation last week, my friend Vicki and I happened on Pat's Lunch, a tiny speck of an old-timey place at the Jersey shore. The sign advertising lobster rolls and she-crab soup drew us in.

The place had no tables -- it could have fit only one or two anyway. The curved counter wrapped around a commercial oven, fridge and freezer. And welcoming us from behind the counter was Pat himself.

Pat Tirotta is 91 years old, a fact that he told us proudly several times. Though he was born in Philadelphia, he has been in the restaurant business at the shore since he married his sweetheart in the aftermath of World War II. His father-in-law set him up with a restaurant, and later Pat bought this tiny luncheonette.

"The lines used to stretch out the door," Pat said. "No one makes soups and lobster roll like I do."

No one much comes to Pat's Diner anymore. It's on a forgotten stretch of road and isn't the kind of place many people, especially people who buy vacation homes on this toney island, would consider entering.

And that's too bad. Because along with the lobster and crab, Pat serves up stories from his time in the military. He served in the North African desert under Gen. Patton. On D-Day, he landed at Normandy on Omaha Beach. He and three of his buddies were ordered to take out a sniper. They scrambled across the beach and up the hillside and, amid the barrage of enemy fire, did their job. Only two of them survived.

Pat was wounded, but he's a remarkably healthy 91-year-old. Still on his feet, still working. He put away money for his kids' education, then his grandkids and now his great-grandkids.

I'd like to say thanks, Pat. Thanks for the lobster roll and she-crab soup. Thanks for supporting many generations with your hard work. And thanks most of all for your military service.  Read More 
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A glimpse of military life

Recently, I received a lovely note from Debby, a woman who appreciated the stories in my book, because she said they provide a glimpse into the lives of military families that few people ever see. Only 1 percent of Americans serve in the military, she says, so it's only natural that her world is not everyone's world. But she wishes it weren't so.

Debby sent me a few of the e-mails she has written while her husband has been deployed. I want to share one with you (with her permission!), because I was so touched by her words, which convey both great emotion and great restraint. I think the pictures she paints will give you another valuable glimpse into this world.

"184 days. That’s how long it’s been since our family all stood together in a cramped office at a National Guard armory to say goodbye to Bill as he headed off to war. It was one of the most devastating and emotional moments our family has ever experienced.

Before he left, Bill told us, “Remember, each day that passes is one day closer to my coming home.” That thought has helped me find goodness and value in even the most challenging of days. Now, with six months down, we are officially halfway through this deployment adventure!

Bill’s mission has officially transitioned from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn. (Personally I think that sounds too much like a laundry detergent!) Bill and his troops are busier than ever managing the logistics for operations in Southern Iraq. Yet I am constantly having to explain that Bill’s unit has not pulled out and that troops are still there serving in harm’s way.

On August 31, Bill experienced firsthand a highly classified maneuver -- Operation Commander Surprise. Secretly, I had been communicating with his unit to arrange a surprise party for his birthday. The kids and I shipped over party decorations, banners and balloons as well as drink mixes, homemade cookies, cakes and brownies, candy, dried fruit and nuts and other treats. With the help of a sneaky Executive Officer and First Sergeant, the mission was a complete success.

We use e-mail and Skype to communicate. I have noticed that Bill sometimes has a hard time transitioning from "Soldier" to "Dad" mode. During one call he actually barked, "AT EASE!" when the kids were excitedly talking at the same time. Mel and Doug both stopped in their tracks, looked at each other and burst out laughing.

Bill is an assistant scoutmaster in Doug’s Boy Scout troop, and he was really missing the boys. So, I took my laptop to the meeting one night. We set up a Skype call and Bill interacted with the scouts, congratulating the new patrol leaders, moving his webcam around to give the boys a “tour” of his CHU (containerized housing unit), fielding questions and watching a flag ceremony.

One thing that tears at my heart is that Bill has had to miss many "firsts" in our kids’ lives. I snap a photo or grab a video clip, but it’s not the same. This past month was filled with many of these firsts. After eight years of Little League, Doug was tapped to be lead-off batter in a game (he hit a double!) and in the next game he got to pitch for the first time. Meanwhile, Mel went to her first high school dance. Much to her mortification, Bill considered having a video chat before the couple left for the evening. But Doug saved the day when he declared, "Don’t worry, dad, I got your back!"

With humor and determination, our family continues to meet the challenge of deployment. None of this would be possible without the support of our family and friends. We appreciate all the kind words of encouragement, and all the packages you have sent to Bill. Each card, box and note brings him a little closer to home, if only for a moment. Thanks again for your support and prayers."  Read More 
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