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By Lt. Col. Mark Weber. Ballantine Books. 240 pages. $25
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Deployment to a battle-forward area creates a need to have family discussions. Among those items discussed are the management of the family during your absence, and what will happen if you don’t return. Lt. Col. Mark Weber faced just such a discussion when Gen. David Petraeus “invited” Weber to become part of his team in Afghanistan.
While preparing for his trip to Afghanistan, Weber discovered he had stage 4 cancer. He faced a battle far different from any he had experienced before — or any for which he was trained. “Tell My Sons” is a collection of letters to his three young sons intended to help them understand Weber’s life and to know the many issues he would not likely be able to discuss with them as they reached maturity.
Early in the book, Weber talks about his plan of action to deal with the cancer, and he writes, “With the surgery, I might die soon, they said; without the surgery, I would die soon.”
Fortunately for the Weber sons and for others who will benefit from this book, Weber thought not of a soldier’s words of encouragement. He chose to identify the theme of each chapter by excerpting phrases from what is, arguably, one of the greatest accomplishments of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s career — his farewell speech to the Corps of Cadets at West Point.
Here is sampling of those inspirational phrases:
“… Strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.” “… Not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge.…” “… The sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what’s next, and the joy and inspiration of life.”
In crafting this book of instructions for his boys, Weber has created a blueprint for parenthood that transcends its purpose.
Weber understands that providing for children exceeds an ability to provide home and hearth and money for dates and college. He demonstrates the leadership and imagination expected of a field grade officer.
Weber recounts the positive effect of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at his all-male Catholic school. The lessons he learned in that program set him on a course of responsibility, leadership, thoughtful consideration of others and other guidelines that are apparent in “Tell My Sons.”
Weber’s JROTC instructors focused on those lessons and “ were quick to humble any student who expressed romantic thoughts about the life of a soldier.”
Those lessons certainly instructed the composition of this collection of letters.
This book is a living example of the courage needed to face the rigors of combat and the rigors of life. There is no pathos in this book. There is nobility and the kind of courage we all need to face the challenges that find us and challenge us every day.
And Weber’s personal battle, like war, has had some unexpected turns. Radical surgery followed by a long recuperation, followed by a recurrence of cancer and then chemo therapy that poisoned his liver. Despair mixed with hope.
During a game of Risk with his sons, one boy was about to suffer the humiliation of defeat. He wanted to quit. Dad’s response: “ Losing didn’t need to be shameful, but quitting would be, and it wasn’t going to happen as long as I was at the table.”
Members of the Weber family know the scope and frequency of their challenges. However, we do not always have the certain knowledge of the challenges we will face. We learn from Mark Weber the satisfaction of facing those challenges rather than hoping they will go away.
“Tell My Sons” is certainly an apt guide book for parents, which was its initial purpose, but it is also a guide book for anyone’s life.
Few of us will stand a post on foreign soil or lead soldiers into battle. We may never know the soldier’s need to maintain a calm demeanor and sense of humor in the face of death, but Weber’s story about war against an enemy within his body shows the need to “ face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; then learn to stand up in the storm .”
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