Thanksgiving special: No greater love

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This year has been difficult. So many lost their jobs, homes and said final goodbyes to loved ones who are no longer with us.   You have to wonder why do bad things happen to so many good people.

I am no different.

I’ve been at the deathbed of friends who left earth way too early and felt the pain of children who lost their fathers, and mothers who lost their children. My dad – a U.S. Marine passed away a year ago about this time and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.

Kenneth Paul Maier Dec. 30, 1926 -Nov. 13, 2014.
Kenneth Paul Maier
Dec. 30, 1926 -Nov. 13, 2014.

I blame God at times. I blame myself and others, and anyone else who seems to get in the way. I wonder selfishly at times does anyone have anything to be thankful for this year.

Is Thanksgiving just another marketing holiday full of food, football and shopping sprees? Or is there something more to this day?

That brings me back to about several years ago when I was managing The Baltimore Examiner newspaper and similar thoughts were running through my mind. I would find the answer to what I had to be thankful for by figuring out what to publish on turkey day.

Yes, an editor’s dilemma or even a radio producer’s challenge is Thanksgiving Day coverage.

What do you actually publish on Thanksgiving? People don’t read the newspaper on Thanksgiving. They are too busy. They aren’t watching the news. They are watching football, and clipping out coupons for an early start on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. The rest of the paper is going to be tossed out – discarded along with the turkey bones.

What do we publish that will have impact?

I was sitting with one of my good friends and the best copy editor I know – Michael Marlow – at one of my favorite lunch places – Werners in Baltimore (made famous by Barry Levinson in some of his films and sadly now it’s gone) when we started discussing Thanksgiving Day coverage for the paper in 2007. Michael  ordered his usual tomato soup and I selected a turkey salad sandwich. We started throwing around ideas as we often did back in those early days of  The Examiner.

We always looked for something different – something outside the box – and that included even the way that we approached stories. For example, when we wanted to cover the Orioles – we wanted our reporters to sit with the fans – something that broke tradition and upset some writers who wanted to be more like the legacy chains. That way, they could experience the environment, the atmosphere and get a feel for the game. How could we do that for Thanksgiving?

I wanted to put out a paper that you couldn’t throw out. That you couldn’t use to wrap up the garbage or line a bird cage.  Then it occurred to me.

The cover that we put together for Thanksgiving Day in 2007.
The cover that we put together for Thanksgiving Day in 2007.

Let’s do something for the troops and their families. Let’s run a spread on the front page of all the photos of Marylanders who gave the ultimate sacrifice – (when we published 88 gave their life since the war on terror began in 2001.) We would call it – No Greater Love.

But this has been done before, but mostly near the end of the year. What would make it different? We reached out to families and asked them to write letters to their sons and daughters as if they were still alive today and sitting at the Thanksgiving table. One mother, Robyn wrote me a letter that she would have given to her son Marine Lance Cpl. Norman W. Anderson III, 21 of Parkton, if she could have.

In a letter that brought so many tears, she wrote passionately about her love for her son and thanked him for being a part of her life.  “You, my son, are a hero’s hero,” she wrote.

Her son was killed in combat in Karabilah Iraq  in Octobter 2005. He was one of 4,300 troops who died between 2001 to 2007. The pain still fresh in her memory, she still set a place at Thanksgiving dinner and still hangs a Christmas stocking for her son.

Reading this letter today reminded me what Thanksgiving is really about. Maybe through death, God knocks on the living doors of so many lives, or maybe death reminds us to reflect on what we have and not what we don’t.

I found the letter this week in my stacks of old clippings and journalism files. I read it again and once again I teared up. The letter was so moving when we first shared the letter to Examiner readers, that it spawned a series of family members to write similar letters and we produced those stories throughout the year.

But this letter is what I hope readers of Los Angeles Post-Examiner share on Facebook, Twitter – read out loud, stick on your refrigerator and spread it around. It’s a letter that I’d like to publish every year at this time and encourage others to do the same. It’s the “Dear Virginia,” letter that you read to your children at Christmas time.  But this one you read at a sermon in church, or temple and to your family at the Thanksgiving table.

As I read it again I realized that no matter how your year has gone, no matter how much pain, adversity, or loss you have endured, you can know this – Yes, there really is a Thanksgiving – thanks to people like Marine Lance Cpl. Norman W. Anderson III.

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Hey Norm,

As usual I am missing you more every day. I find myself still waiting for those damn Marines to come back to the house and tell us the terrible mistake they made, and you were found in a a hospital in Iraq, recovering from your injuries. Maybe tomorrow.

Cpl. Norman W. Anderson III

Life is so different without you here. Not a day goes by that I don’t shed a tear for you. Some days there are more tears than others, and I wonder really, am I crying for you, or more for me? A light went out in my life when you left this earth. Don’t get me wrong. I have so many wonderful people and events in my life, but no one or nothing can replace you and what you brought to my life.

There are days that I think I would trade places with other people in a heartbeat, but then I stop and think no way, because I wouldn’t give up the 21 amazing years I had with you. As I go through life and meet so many people, I become even more aware of just how special you were, and still are. Even in your passing, you continue to inspire people. Wow! How lucky am I to be your mom. Thanks, Norm.

Your sister’s family continues to grow. You would have so much fun with Ashten now. He just turned 4 last weekend and what joy he brings to us. Norm, he asks about you and the “bad guys” that killed Uncle Norm. I don’t hold back. I share about you with him every chance I get. It’s an important that he remembers you and understands what you sacrificed for him and all of us.

The holidays are coming up, and once again the place-setting will be set for you at Thanksgiving., the stocking will be hung for you at Christmas, and we will get together and laugh and cry, as we share all of our memories of you. And what absolutely wonderful memories you left us with.

Norm, I am so very, very proud of you. I know from the moment you were born what a special person you were. I just didn’t realize the impression you would leave in so many lives. You gave your life to save your fellow Marines, and there is no higher sacrifice one can make. You, my son are a hero’s here.

I love you with every part of my being and know that one day we will be together again. Continue to keep watch over us and hold us close.


Your proud Mom