MARY DUTY
Board of Contributors

Sunday December 25, 2011     
 
 
Turn back the clock to Nov. 29: The Blue Star Mothers’ local chapter and VFW Post 6008 needed about $4,000 to mail off care packages, cards and notes that we had collected for our troops abroad. Neither group had the funds.

Something had to be done and done quickly.

That’s when countless Central Texans stepped up. Magical things happened.

The next day, a news crew from KWTX-TV visited my classroom at Tennyson Middle School to talk with students. As it is written, sometimes it is that little children lead the way. The kids on the evening news that night talked of the importance to our troops of gifts and messages from home. The Tribune Herald ran an editorial the next day summoning help. And KXXV-TV kept the story going. The message was clear: Troops would not get Christmas packages without the community’s help.

At about 10:30 that first night, I got a Facebook message from a fellow teacher who is part of a VFW motorcycle group from Gatesville. Riders there pledged $1,000.  The next day, a sweet couple from Speegleville drove into town and dropped off a substantial check. A man who donated the first $20 during our 2006 effort to send care packages came by this time with a big hug and a bigger check.

For the next three days, people of every stripe and color came by VFW Post 6008 and Poppa Rollo’s Pizza and gave what they could so our troops would not be left out come Christmas morning.

A friend of mine recently laid off from her job came up to me and handed me money. Through my tears, I looked at her hard. I asked her if she was sure. Her voice broke a little as she told me that she wished she had more. In that moment she redefined generosity and selfless giving. Countless others who left no name gave from that place deep in the heart.

In two days, Tennyson students organized a fundraiser, garnering $323. Students at China Spring ISD collected money. They brought a huge bag of change and bills totalling over $200. Woody’s Wrecker Service gave a significant donation.

The second day, Claude Ervin of Waco Scottish Rite Bodies called and made a proposal. He said that if we could raise the first half needed, his organization would match it. By Thursday, less than 48 hours after the news got out, we counted what we had. I called Mr. Ervin. Thanks to the Scottish Rite and the kind folks of Central Texas, we knew the troops would have their Christmas after all.

We are now busy writing thank-you notes for all those who gave checks or left names. But so many of you left cash; we’ll never know who you are. We hope that you read this and know how important your donation was, no matter how large or small. From the little kid with pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to the grand men of the Scottish Rite, and everyone in between, the thanks of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines go out to you.

One thing is sure. Something very special happened in Central Texas those three days in early December. In a time of deep economic recession and tremendous anxiety, people who we will never know stepped up to help people they will probably never meet.

Some of you may have been that lonely soldier at Christmas long ago. Some of you may have had an empty place at the table on Christmas morning. Whoever you are, allow me to convey the thanks of many a tired and lonely service person who will spend this holiday ever vigilant, watching and waiting, making sure that the world we wake up in is safe and secure. Take a moment and remember all those serving. Say a prayer for their families and loved ones back home. Join us in a prayer for peace this Christmas Day.

Mary Duty, chairwoman of the humanities department at Tennyson Middle School, is president of the Blue Star Mothers of America’s Heart of Texas Chapter. Her son, Caleb, served two tours of duty in Iraq with the Marines in 2006 and 2008.

       
 
 

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Mary Duty, Trib Board of Contributors: Are we sunshine patriots?

MARY DUTY
Board of Contributors

 
 
In many ways, we hold ourselves responsible for the Robinson Planning and Zoning Committee’s denial of our request for a veterans benefit in the city of Robinson. We failed to get our message out in a way that made our neighbors on Hillside Drive feel safe. We simply could not imagine anyone in this community saying no to a veterans event.

My son Caleb, a Marine Corps veteran who completed two tours of duty in Iraq, set out to transform a 121-acre plot of land on Hillside Drive in Robinson into a venue for festivals, camping and outdoor community events. His chief goal: Hold a three-day music festival during Memorial Day weekend and donate the proceeds to local veterans groups.

We sent letters to our neighbors, leaving phone numbers so that we could answer any questions they might have about the proposed event. Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation and rumor made its way around the community. By the time the hearings began, there were so many “what ifs” that we had no way to address all of the concerns.

Many residents had visions of a ’60s-styled Woodstock-type event. Many were fearful of young people committing felony crimes while attending this benefit. One neighbor spoke of children trespassing and abusing farm animals. We are still not sure how to counter such fears.

Part of our failure to get the benefit approved is probably because of the nature of the permitting process itself. It was suggested the language of the permit be broad, so as to allow for planning events we might want to hold in the future. So, on the advice of city planners, we produced an application that was worded broadly and met all the requirements of fire safety, public safety and traffic safety according to the city of Robinson. Both city fire and police chiefs testified to the committee that the city was ready to handle the potential size of our proposed benefit.

Our intention was to mount only one or two events each year — and on property that has been in our family since the mid-1950s. (And, yes, one of my husband’s ancestors settled this area back in 1849 — well before most folks did!)

What we did not expect was the unified opposition of our neighbors on Robinson’s Hillside Drive.

Resident after resident came to the podium and prefaced his or her remarks with glowing praise for the service and sacrifice of the veterans in attendance at the meeting. Many spoke of loved ones who served in the military. At least one of those opposed to the fundraiser belonged to a Gold Star family. After thanking the veterans for their service, they spoke of their fears of losing their peace and quiet, potential vandalism and crime.

One of our neighbors spoke of the freedoms that she enjoyed living on Hillside Drive. She spoke of the lovely sunsets, the peace and quiet and the joys of raising her grandchildren in the country. She turned to the veterans in attendance and pleaded her case to them: “Please don’t take away my freedom.”

We humbly remind our neighbor that the freedoms she enjoys today were paid for through the service and sacrifice of all of our veterans.

The final decision is up to the Robinson City Council, which will meet to consider the permit at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

In military training, troops are taught that it is noble and good to sacrifice temporary creature comforts for a greater cause. We got this idea in part from Thomas Paine. He warned of the summer soldiers and sunshine patriots, those who would shrink from service when it was inconvenient. But he reminds us that “he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” 

We will not be the sunshine patriot. We have a plan to provide that love and thanks to our veterans that Paine spoke of. We know that somewhere there is a community that will embrace the idea that it is good to return a favor to young men and women who have given so much to us.

Mary Duty, chairwoman of the humanities department at Tennyson Middle School, is president of the Blue Star Mothers of America’s Heart of Texas Chapter. Her son, Caleb, served two tours of duty in Iraq with the Marines in 2006 and 2008.

Military mothers never surrender

MARY DUTY Guest column

Saturday February 27, 2010

The average deployment of a U.S. Marine is seven months. Gestation for a human baby is nine months. The Blue Star Mothers have been working on a Wounded Warrior Blood Drive for nearly eight months.

Our blood drive set for this weekend was cancelled a week ago by Robertson Blood Center officials at Fort Hood. Their site visit, normally done early in the approval process, was not done till eight days before the event. Posters had been sent out, radio interviews had been done.

We have done a blood drive for the military before. We know the rules. We were told the blood drive had to be on military or federal property. A couple of years ago we could have used our VFW or American Legion Halls, but current policy no longer allows that. We asked our local military reserve units and the VA Regional Office to help, but they had no space, and post-9/11 security concerns made some properties off limits.

Thanks to the efforts of Baylor professor Janet Bagby, a Marine Mom, we worked with Baylor University as a possible site. We learned any school with an ROTC program can be a site for a blood drive. So Baylor’s Law School, we finally and joyfully decided, was our site — until officials then suddenly ruled it too small to hold the drive. Dashed again!

The Wounded Warrior Blood Program administered by the Robertson Blood Center at Fort Hood provides blood for our troops. That’s why the Blue Star Mothers planned a drive in Central Texas. We only do it once or twice a year because we recognize the vital nature of blood donation and know that our own communities need constant blood supplies for accident victims and surgeries.

Getting blood to our troops is too important to allow miscommunication and missed inspection deadlines to get in the way. Robertson Blood Center and Blue Star Mothers of America have a joint mission of providing life-saving blood to our soldiers.

Bullets are flying as I write this. The need for blood is now.

It’s been said of the war on terror that the military went to war and the country went to the mall. The Wounded Warrior Blood Drive is one way to show tangible support for our troops. We are persistent. We may look harmless, but each of us raised a Marine, an airman, a soldier, a sailor.

We have high hopes we can finally get some site approved, that we can do what we set out to do so many months ago — provide life-saving blood to those who chose to serve us far from home.

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Editorial Comments
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By Regina Dennis

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Sunday January 1, 2012

A Robinson Marine found a home for his joint music festival and veterans fundraiser, but he had to move the show to a neighboring county.

Caleb Duty, an Iraq war veteran, will hold the Moonlight Music Festival at Bosque Bottoms Park in Meridian, about 45 miles from Waco, during Memorial Day weekend, May 25-26.

Proceeds from the festival will be donated to a residential therapy program for post-traumatic stress disorder at the Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as well as to local veterans’ support groups, Duty said.

Caleb Duty’s original proposal to host a festival on his family’s Robinson property met fierce resistance from neighbors.

He originally wanted to host the festival and fundraiser at his family’s 121-acre homestead in Robinson. But the idea drew sharp opposition from his neighbors on Hilltop Drive, who were concerned about noise, trash dumping, increased traffic along the winding road, and police and fire protection during the festival.

Robinson City Council in November voted down a permit to allow the festival, and potentially other community events during the next five years.

Soon after the council’s decision, Bosque County Judge Cole Word contacted Duty and invited him to consider Bosque Bottoms Park for the event.

“I really just want to let everybody know that I found a new spot, and I’m appreciative of Meridian for inviting me,” Duty said.

“It’s been nothing but open arms since I’ve been there. People have just been happy to help.”

Meridian is no stranger to music festivals. The town was home to an annual fest more than a decade ago that was produced by Larry Joe Taylor, who also runs the Texas Music Festival in Stephenville that inspired Duty’s plans.

“It’s weird having to go outsource to a different county to make this work,” he said. “But a place that wants something like this and used to have something like this, I’ll work there with them until my neighbors (embrace the idea).”

Raise awareness

Mary Duty, Caleb’s mother and president of the Heart of Texas Blue Star Mothers of America, said she is glad to see her son continue pushing for the festival. She hopes it will help raise awareness about PTSD and the challenges veterans face when they return from war.

“It’s a matter of explaining to people what you’re trying to do, and then the people show up,” Mary Duty said. “It’s a good cause, and if the cause is pure and the motives are good, you’ll never go wrong.”

Caleb Duty is holding a press conference Tuesday at the park to announce performers for the event. He already has started working with Meridian Police Officer Chris Blanton, who is helping coordinate sheriff, fire and emergency medical responders. They also visited with Meridian city staff, the chamber of commerce and other leaders to make sure the festival doesn’t create a burden for the town.

Duty plans to donate funds to the city of Meridian, just as he had intended to contribute to Robinson’s police and fire departments.

Duty said there’s no love lost for his neighbors and Robinson city officials about the permit decision. While he wishes he would have been able to use his own land for the festival, he said he’s simply happy to have a venue for it.

If Meridian residents are pleased with the festival’s execution, Duty plans to make Bosque Bottoms Park the permanent home for the Moonlight Music Festival. But he hasn’t ruled out appealing to Robinson again for a different event on his land.

“If they enjoy it, it’ll stay there,” Caleb Duty said. “I would love to one day in the future run two events, the original one I wanted to do at my house, and then keep Meridian’s event shaped and small enough that the town still loves it and appreciates it.”

rdennis@wacotrib.com

757-5755
By Regina Dennis

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Sunday January 1, 2012

A Robinson Marine found a home for his joint music festival and veterans fundraiser, but he had to move the show to a neighboring county.

Caleb Duty, an Iraq war veteran, will hold the Moonlight Music Festival at Bosque Bottoms Park in Meridian, about 45 miles from Waco, during Memorial Day weekend, May 25-26.

Proceeds from the festival will be donated to a residential therapy program for post-traumatic stress disorder at the Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as well as to local veterans’ support groups, Duty said.

Caleb Duty’s original proposal to host a festival on his family’s Robinson property met fierce resistance from neighbors.

He originally wanted to host the festival and fundraiser at his family’s 121-acre homestead in Robinson. But the idea drew sharp opposition from his neighbors on Hilltop Drive, who were concerned about noise, trash dumping, increased traffic along the winding road, and police and fire protection during the festival.

Robinson City Council in November voted down a permit to allow the festival, and potentially other community events during the next five years.

Soon after the council’s decision, Bosque County Judge Cole Word contacted Duty and invited him to consider Bosque Bottoms Park for the event.

“I really just want to let everybody know that I found a new spot, and I’m appreciative of Meridian for inviting me,” Duty said.

“It’s been nothing but open arms since I’ve been there. People have just been happy to help.”

Meridian is no stranger to music festivals. The town was home to an annual fest more than a decade ago that was produced by Larry Joe Taylor, who also runs the Texas Music Festival in Stephenville that inspired Duty’s plans.

“It’s weird having to go outsource to a different county to make this work,” he said. “But a place that wants something like this and used to have something like this, I’ll work there with them until my neighbors (embrace the idea).”

Raise awareness

Mary Duty, Caleb’s mother and president of the Heart of Texas Blue Star Mothers of America, said she is glad to see her son continue pushing for the festival. She hopes it will help raise awareness about PTSD and the challenges veterans face when they return from war.

“It’s a matter of explaining to people what you’re trying to do, and then the people show up,” Mary Duty said. “It’s a good cause, and if the cause is pure and the motives are good, you’ll never go wrong.”

Caleb Duty is holding a press conference Tuesday at the park to announce performers for the event. He already has started working with Meridian Police Officer Chris Blanton, who is helping coordinate sheriff, fire and emergency medical responders. They also visited with Meridian city staff, the chamber of commerce and other leaders to make sure the festival doesn’t create a burden for the town.

Duty plans to donate funds to the city of Meridian, just as he had intended to contribute to Robinson’s police and fire departments.

Duty said there’s no love lost for his neighbors and Robinson city officials about the permit decision. While he wishes he would have been able to use his own land for the festival, he said he’s simply happy to have a venue for it.

If Meridian residents are pleased with the festival’s execution, Duty plans to make Bosque Bottoms Park the permanent home for the Moonlight Music Festival. But he hasn’t ruled out appealing to Robinson again for a different event on his land.

“If they enjoy it, it’ll stay there,” Caleb Duty said. “I would love to one day in the future run two events, the original one I wanted to do at my house, and then keep Meridian’s event shaped and small enough that the town still loves it and appreciates it.”

rdennis@wacotrib.com

757-5755

EDITORIAL: Celebrating one local veteran’s cause

Monday January 9, 2012

Those who cherish music, the entrepreneurial spirit and the general welfare of veterans from wars old and new will take immense satisfaction in the announcement that former Marine Caleb Duty will hold his Moonlight Music Festival at Bosque Bottoms Park in Meridian this spring. It appears that even country music entertainer and songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, of Waco, could be involved in the doings, slated for May 25-26.

We’d have a hard time imagining a more picturesque setting in our area, even if it is 45 miles northwest of Waco. Proceeds from the festival reportedly will be donated to a residential therapy program for post-traumatic stress disorder at the Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center plus local veterans’ support groups.

Duty, who grew up in Waco and served two tours of duty in Iraq, figured in one of the sadder moments in 2011 annals when he got swept up in a controversy in the city of Robinson about plans to mount just such a festival on the Duty family’s 121-acre spread on the outskirts of town. In the end, after two stormy meetings at City Hall involving plenty of citizen outrage, the town council killed the proposed permit.

Bosque County Judge Cole Word rode to the rescue, inviting Duty and his Waco-based family to consider Bosque Bottoms Park. Besides music, the festival will include a classic car show, horseshoe tournament and a barbecue cookoff to qualify regional cooks for the National Championship Barbecue Cookoff, held the fourth weekend of October also in Meridian.

Anyone who can even imagine the trials and tribulations that military personnel face in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan can’t help but celebrate that Duty is realizing both a dream and a debt of honor.

One final point about the good citizens of Robinson whose protests precipitated the Robinson City Council’s decision to kill Duty’s proposed permit. From our attendance at the council meeting, it was obvious the permit under consideration was not for one individual festival benefiting veterans but to set aside the Duty land as a venue for occasional other events over a period of time. That’s what most neighbors protested.

In any case, no one should label Robinson folks or the town council as anything less than patriotic. City leaders there have even invited Duty to return when the permit is more narrowly and specifically defined, which seems reasonable. Meanwhile, we encourage one and all to attend Duty’s festival in May, if only to see what one local veteran is capable of back home in Texas.

Just in Case…..

Posted: November 29, 2010 in Editorial Comments

 

This was written in 2007, when I really wanted to write something else, and John Young encouraged me to write about this experience.  I have never regretted putting this to paper.

 

Mary Duty, guest column: Just in case it’s goodbye

Friday, September 14, 2007

I tell people that having a child deploy to a war zone is like childbirth.

The first time you read all of the books and talk to people who have been there. The second time, knowing exactly what is coming, you find yourself fighting fear, anxiety and pure dread.

Our son Caleb is a Marine and about to redeploy to Iraq.

During Caleb’s first tour, he was involved in community policing and relationship- building in a small town in the al-Anbar province. It was rough going at first. His batallion lost 15 fine young men to IEDs, suicide bombers and snipers.  However, Caleb met many wonderful, hardworking Iraqis who were anxious to get their lives back together, and their kids back in school. His unit was good at its job. After several months there, when the bad guys planted IEDs in the road that they used to drive into town, the locals turned the bad guys in and made them dig up the explosives. 

His stateside time is almost over, with a last weekend with family that was an extraordinary experience. Caleb told us all goodbye. We got a chance to tell him goodbye, too.  He gave us no choice but to embrace the moment that could be our last together. Just in case.

The night was dark. The bonfire was roaring. The music was playing loud from one of the pickup trucks parked on the edge of the clearing. Friends mingled.  Some have been buddies since kindergarten.  Boy Scout friends were there.  Some were fellow Marines. Even Patches, Caleb’s dog, made it.

As the time came for Caleb to leave, he went to his truck and punched in a song.

The soft, sweet melody of a fiddle filled the night air. Then the country rhythms of Tracy Lawrence’s “If I Don’t Make it Back” hit us all like a runaway freight train.

As we started listening, one sister begged him to change the song.  But Caleb wanted us to hear it.  He went around the party, shaking hands and hugging. We were all trapped in this experience hearing words we did not want to hear, saying things that we did not want to say. But we had to, just in case.

At one point, we all gathered in a circle. Shoulder to shoulder, like in a football huddle, Caleb, his brothers and sisters and I gathered.  Silently we stood, drinking in the moment. Each prayed for Caleb in his or her own way.  I know that I asked for angels to watch over him and his comrades. And I prayed for God’s peace for Caleb and his brothers and sisters. Just in case. 

When our hearts were full, Caleb put his hand in the huddle, and one by one we laid our hands over and under his. Trapped in our embrace, he led us in shouting, “1-2-3 Duty!”

We broke the huddle, wiped our tears and finished saying our goodbyes.

At the tender age of 20, Caleb taught us all a lesson many never learn. The first time you go to war it is done with flags and banners and blind optimism. The second time you know that there is a chance that you might not be coming back. You live each day like you mean it.

Thank you, Son, for helping us say goodbye like we mean it.  Just in case. 

May God keep you until we see each other again.

Mary Duty is a Waco school teacher and co-owner of Poppa Rollos Pizza.

Wounded Warrior Blood Drives

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Editorial Comments
This piece was written about a year and a half ago.  We had had a real problem with scheduling a Wounded Warrior Blood Drive, and our congressman, Chet Edwards helped us get things rolling with the VA hospital in Waco.  The photo below is a drive held at the National Guard Armory.

Organizers of the Wounded Warrior BLood Drive 2010

Dear Editors:

The average deployment of a United States Marine is 7 months.  The gestation period for a human baby is 9 months.  We found that It sometimes takes 8 or more months to plan a Wounded Warrior Blood Drive. 

The Wounded Warrior Blood Program helps provide blood for our troops because a lot of troops can’t donate because of going overseas.  We call on civilians, families, and others want to help by rolling up their sleeves.  We only do it once or twice a year because we recognize the vital nature of blood donation and know that our own communities need constant blood supplies for accident victims, surgeries, etc.

It’s been said of the War on Teror that the military went to war and the country went to the mall.  The Wounded Warrior Blood Drive is one way to really show support and to help connect the public to the efforts of our young men and women.

Our blood drive that was 8 months in the making was cancelled last Friday by the Robertson Blood Center officials at Ft. Hood.   The site visit that normally happens early in the date approval process was not done until 8 days before the event.  Posters had been generated and sent out, radio interviews had been done.  When we got the word last Friday, we had no choice but to get the word out that we would not be having the Wounded Warrior Blood Drive after all.   Our journey started over 7 months ago.  We originally had our first blood drive for the troops at the Texas National Guard building.  Because the hall that we used was not climate controlled, it was suggested that we go to another climate controlled facility.   We were told that the blood drive had to be in a military or federal property.  A couple of years ago, we could have used our VFW and American Legion Halls, but current policy does not allow use those places.  We asked our local military reserve units and the VA Regional Offices but they had very little space, and post 911 security concerns made them unable to help us.   In mid December we started working with Baylor University as a possible site for a blood drive.  Any school that has an JROTC program can be a potential site for a blood drive.  That process took us to the events of last Friday.

We are working with the officials at the Robertson Blood Center to find out what went wrong so that this sort of thing does not happen again.  Getting much needed blood to our troops is too important to have rules and procedures get in the way of the Blue Star Mothers mission of organizing a community wide Wounded Warrior Blood Drive.

A Wounded Warrior Blood Drive is a very special event.  Groups like the Blue Star Mothers and other sponsors from our community hold these drives once or twice a year to collect blood to be used by our wounded troops that are recuperating here at home, and sent to our field hospitals in the war zone.  These blood drives serve two purposes.  One is to collect life saving blood that helps our precious wounded troops.  The other purpose is to provide an opportunity for all of our citizens to give.  There is no more selfless a gift than the gift of life that blood brings to a wounded soldier.  It gives our organization a chance to remind folks that we are at war and that there is something we can all do to connect with our servicemen and women.

We are a persistent bunch.  Mothers of men and women in the military tend to be.  We may look harmless, but we raised a Marine….an Airman….a soldier…..a Sailor.  Our commitment to them is timeless. 

We have an appointment March 5 to visit with the acting Adminstrator at the VA Regional Hospital.  We have high hopes that this meeting will provide a location so that we can do what we set out to do so many months ago.