I'm sure many of you are just like me and wonder what the last 40 or so days mean. I'm sure many of you found it difficult to focus on your life because your mind kept returning to Ben and his family.
I think that today and at this time that we should think of three things...the sadness we feel on Ben's passing, the celebration of his life and accomplishments, and the reflection on what we should take from this experience. So today let's think about our memories of Ben, the outcomes of this event and perhaps how we should live our lives to honor Ben.
During this week and especially last night during visitation I made it a point to talk with both relatives and friends of Ben's and have them share their best memories of Ben...
Ben's Aunt Jean remembers how Ben was about his hair. How particular he was about having each hair in place. What's really funny about that is that Ben had really short hair but he could certainly fuss over it. She also remembered that has a little boy when she would ask him how he was he would stand at attention and close his eyes as if to hide from her.
Uncle Ronnie remembers Ben and his super hero games. Ben loved to play the hero. It didn't matter if it was Superman, Batman or Dick Tracy. Ben played the hero and he became the character. When he played the game he wouldn't answer to Ben...he would only answer to "hey Superman" or "hey Batman".
Ben's cousin Abby remembers how very ticklish Ben was and how he would squirm.
Ben's Aunt LaDonna remembers the wonderful time her family had with Ben at the beach crabbing and fishing.
Amy & Sam talked about a lot of things they remembered. One night they all went to a party that started out as just a party but became a "hat" party. Everyone had to where a special hat. After all the hats were given out Ben wound up with a safari hat and from that night forward picked up the nickname "Safari".
Sam remembered working on Ben's car to install a new stereo. Sam was under the dash and yelled out to Ben to hand him a tool. There was no response. He yelled again. Still no response so he pulled himself out of the car and looked over at Ben and he was sound asleep in the chair holding the tool.
Amy also talked about the time Ben called one night to see what they were doing and said he wanted to come over. "Fine", she says, we'll be waiting". "I'll be right over", was Ben's response...After an hour Ben still had not arrived...Two hours and no Ben...After almost three hours he shows up, looks at Amy and says..."How's my hair look?" He'd been working on his hair for almost 3 hours so it was just right.
Lauren and Lindsay said they most fondly remember trying to teach Ben how to Polka at Brandi's wedding in January. They worked on it all night. They also remember that during the wedding rehearsal dinner they played the sound track from Austin Powers, one of Ben's favorite movies, and he played the "air guitar" and danced around with them.
One of my fondest memories is playing the Quiet Game. When Ben and Amy and Brandi and Graham were just little shavers and would get too noisy their Grandpa Duke would get them together and say, "let's play the Quiet Game". When he said that it was time for everyone to see who could remain the quietest the longest. After a few minutes they would start to giggle and gradually Brandi, Amy and Graham would make a noise and be out of the game. But not Ben. He never uttered a sound. Never flinched. When the other kids got tired of waiting for Ben to stop playing the game they would try to tickle him and make funny faces to get him to laugh. It didn't matter what they did he would never submit to them until he was ready to stop playing. He always was and forever will be the undisputed champion of the Quiet Game.
Jennifer is a cadet a Virginia Military Institute and she met Ben at camp in Ft. Knox. She remembers how quiet Ben was and went to great lengths to get to know him and become his friend...and she is here with us today.
Master Sergeant Jackson commented last night that Ben was single minded in his effort. He always strived to be the best no matter what he was involved with.
Lt. Col. Reed said that Ben epitomized the qualities of a successful office candidate and was destined to be a success in the program despite any obstacles that were in his way and we all knew there were a few.
Ben's Uncle John A. related a special story to me...he said it had been a while since he had seen Ben and the family had come to Vicksburg for a visit. On seeing John A. Ben pulled up his shirt and revealed a ripped, muscular abdomen and pointed to it and said "Six Pack". He then looked at John A.'s ample stomach, pointed to it and said, "Keg!".
I think everyone here knows the special bond that Ben had with his Mom and Dad and Amy and Sam and what they've been through in the last 40 or so days. Amy and Ben were a special brother and sister. I don't think I ever saw them fight about anything. And it is important to note that Sam and Ben had a special relationship. Not brother to brother-in-law but much more like brothers.
To quote Ben's Dad, Scott..."Ben went to a lot of trouble to get us together and accomplish something". Perhaps none of will know for sure. But let's ask ourselves, "What are the outcomes of this event? What have we witnessed as a result of this experience?"
First of all...the power of family and friends to mobilize and come together.
This brought a family together that had not seen some of the members for many years.
It joined two different families together and created some lasting friendships.
It created some life-changing moments...prompting significant direction changes in several individuals.
We all learned about the power of the ROTC and the wonderful young men and women who serve as Cadets and Officers in this fine organization.
We witnessed the heroic efforts of the medical personnel at Brooke Army Medical Center as they did everything in their power plus more to save Ben. And we know that through their work Ben's case will produce some new knowledge that will enable them to help others.
At the request of Ben's Dad the Texas Burn Survivors Society will get their own web site to help get the message out about their mission.
More burn kids will get to go to burn camp because the family wants memorials in Ben's name to go to Camp Candy Lady to help these young burn survivors.
And the family also wants to help the University of Houston ROTC program by establishing a memorial scholarship fund in Ben's name to help other cadets who need some assistance to live out their dreams just the way Ben was working to live out his. We don't yet know how to do this or where the money will come from. But we know that if we work at it the way Ben would that we will get it done.
You know...in many respects Ben was just a regular, average guy. He wasn't the biggest, tallest or fastest athlete. He was not a star on the football team, but he made the team and played the game. Like all of us, he had his quirks and faults. But unlike most of us Ben was a very focused, hard working, persistent guy with a strong desire to do or be the best he could possibly be.
It didn't matter if it was the games he played as a little kid like super hero or the quiet game...he always gave it his best and he always won. Or his desire to make the football team despite the obstacles that were put in his was early on. And yet he made it. Or his desire to be the best at Army Camp this past summer. He never wanted you to cut him any slack. He continuously demonstrated the qualities of honor, leadership, dedication, devotion, strength and hard work.
Maintain your memories of Ben. Cherish them. Celebrate his life. Incorporate his qualities into your own life so that each of you can have an impact on other's lives the way Ben has had an impact on each of us. God Speed, Ben.