Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Corporal Earl J. Heckel, W W I I DAV Hero

Earl James Heckel, one of 10 children of the second generation of Heckel German immigrants that moved to Northern Wisconsin, had grown up on the family’s dairy farm, which was still operational until just a few years ago. At the age of 20 and six months prior to the Pearl Harbor invasion, Jim’s desire to serve his country took precedent over everything. He enlisted in the Army.

While the chores of running a large dairy farm were continually never ending and constant, the family also had to contend with some of the strong winters dished out in such northern climes. Despite the wicked winter weather and tough chores required to help his family run a successful dairy, nothing could have prepared him for what he was about to experience during the next decade, and for that matter, his entire life.

Many war hero stories begin this way. Corporate Earl James Heckel is my hero, my best friend and also the best dad—ever.

After training and basic boot camp, dad furthered his training post boot-camp specializing in heavy munitions, specifically manning a 30 caliber machine gun. He also trained new recruits. At the time of his training, plans were being created to strike with one of history’s largest recorded invasion; The Normandy Invasion coded “Operation Overlord.” Being trained as a 30 caliber machine gunner, he knew he would be the enemy’s first target to take out. He trained knowing this. In fact, prior to his deployment to Normandy, he recalls his Sergeant stating to the entire platoon, “Men, you will either return home wounded or dead. There is nothing in between.”

His division was one of the first to be deployed in the Normandy Invasion, Utah Beach. History records the massive carnage of this pivotal battle. Dad was one of the few ‘lucky ones’ (albeit that word still is hard to use with the balance of what is to be said) and did not lose his life in the volumes of skirmishes, battles and chaotic mayhem of carnage on that dreadful day of June 6, 1944. On the second day invasion, however, his right leg was hit by a German “potato masher” hand grenade that rendered him helpless on the battle field. Adding to the complications, he was then taken prisoner. Within the chaotic melee, the Geneva Convention was being ignored as the enemy raised their riffles to kill some of their prisoners, of which dad was summarily lined up. A German Chaplin halted the firing squad and later dad and another Wisconsin soldier helped to escape back to safe lines.

After over a month in the hospital he was re-assigned back to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. The US was on the attack with dad manning the 30 caliber machine gun, which was a prime enemy target. Dad manned the machine gun until being hit by a heavy artillery shell, rendering him almost dead. This hit drove deep into his left leg and also created more damage to his already wounded right leg. He incurred many broken bones, shrapnel and significant flesh wounds. He was then jeeped back to a field hospital where he would spend at least a few weeks until he eventually ended up in a hospitals in France and then England. Finally he was returned to the States for more surgeries and intensive care, ultimately ending up at the Mayo General Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois. He would undergo more surgeries resulting in having to spend over a month in a full body cast, twice.

Dad recovered over a period of many months of surgeries, rehab and specialized care but there was only so much that could be done with his broken and nerve mangled legs. During his stay at the Mayo Hospital in Galesburg, he met his life-mate, Shirley Ann Dudgeon. Aftermath...

To this day over hundreds of pieces of small of small shrapnel still can be found in his legs, arms and upper torso. My hero was awarded the following decorations:

Bronze Star Medal: Department of the Army Orders; 26-Feb-1952,

Two Purple Hearts: General Orders 8; 15-Jul-1944/26-Feb-1952,

First Oak-Leaf Cluster to the Purple Hearts: General Orders 53, 7-Nov-1944,

Good Conduct Medal Clasp with Two Loops,

American Defense Service Medal,

American Campaign Medal,

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Bronze Arrowhead for the invasion of Normandy, 6-Jun-1944 and three Bronze Star Service Stars for the Normandy, Northern France and Rhineland Campaigns,

World War II Victory Medal,

Distinguished Unit Emblem Medal and

The Infantry Badge Medal.

While growing up with my hero, I cannot recall ever hearing him complain as he hid the pain and dreadful memories of his dedication, service and honor for our country. Truly there can be no argument about his patriotism, valor and personal sacrifice that he gave such that we can live in a free country.

I love you, dad.

You are my hero…for eternity.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Sick People of Uganda

Just this past month, we returned from Uganda. On each of the trips we’ve made to Uganda (UG), we have always seen sick people, people that are dying and deplorable poverty. Just like Bono challenges us (para-phrased), “…a person’s ability to live should not be dependent on where they were born.” And the converse, for 1st world people is also true, “…it not our ‘fault’ that we were born in a much more civilized, wealthy and organized society.” It’s not our ‘fault’ that we do not have to fetch impure water for half of our waking hours, only to become deathly sick as a result of drinking impure (even boiled) water. What we *do* with *how* we've been blessed is the real challenge or us all.

I took ill halfway through our 3 week trip. I had sever vomiting and lower intestinal issues like I’ve never experienced before. At the peak of my sickness, I probably vomited / had severe diarrhea for over 3 days, not being able to eat or keep anything in my belly. The fortuitous God-orchestrated situation was that we had just moved from ‘the bush’ to Hoima, where our motel had indoor plumbing, which was a huge deal. We were only hours out of the bush. Had I acquired this viral sicknesss whilst in the bush, it would have been extremely more complex.

As it turns out, staying at the Crown Hotel located less than 6 blocks from our newly opened Think Humanity Community Clinic (THCHC), I was promptly greeted early in the morning with both one of our doctors along with one of our Registered Nurse. The hotel room was quickly transformed into a make-shift in-patient sick-room, equipped even with IV drip stands hanging from the wall light fixtures.

Dr. Gift and Nurse Jane were at my side for one full day administering the needed IV to replace my energy as well as helping to relieve and eliminate this awful virus. Blood tests were also ran and the diagnosis was that I had some sort of ‘contamination’ virus. How it was obtained is still a mystery to us all as we are/were extremely consistent keeping our hands sanitized and doing the needful.

As I slowly returned to good health, I was astonished at some of the learnings from this dreadful experience and how extremely positive I view it now. Allow me to share with you some of the learnings that I experienced over these few days…

1) A true team is not dependant on simply one person. Share leadership keeps centered on what it needs to do and carries on despite the potential to make reactive decisions (in this case, just leaving back for the States). The TH Team carried on its needed duties whilst I was being cared for. Share leadership works in TH.

2) During the time laying on my back and recovering, I was blessed to have the time to listen to Jane and Dr. Gift. I was able to have a long and intimate discussion with them regarding what we need to be doing to make the THCHC THE model clinic in UG.

3) Most importantly, this illness taught me a glimpse of how many of the Africans live—being sick—on a daily basis, and in most cases with zero medical attention. They simply cannot afford expensively managed health clinic. The THCHC targets that over 50% of all patients simply cannot afford to pay. And they get the same exact treatment as those that pay their entire invoice. Rather than have my resources, many sick people simply live with their pain and in many cases, simply die. By the way, my total bill came up to less than $75!

4) And finally, I learned that the evil one does not want to make our trips easy, painless and simple to run. As TH grows, we will continue to have huge problems, but trusting God to be ‘in the details,’ is much the challenge!

In retrospect, I’d not recommend the process of ‘getting sick’ to personally witness how the THCHC is something that God is all over, and it is now my firm conviction that He wants us there even more than ever. This was not clear even less than 8 weeks ago. Now the puzzle pieces are starting to take shape, our mission is becoming clearer by the day and our patience, trust and ‘relaxing in His arms,’ takes courage and tons of un-conditional Trust.

I am challenged, now more than ever, to dig deeper, to not just be a survivor, but to be a conqueror and to live with my Godfidence coming directly from God—not TH, not CR and clearly not my day job.

“Character is what it takes to stop you!”

Thanks for listening…