I had this great idea for a location while we were working on the video project for Barry’s new song, “Welcome Home”. Medicine Lodge, Kansas is the home of the most impressive Veteran’s Memorial I had ever seen. A long black shiny wall filled with the names of our heroes from all of our wars run the length of the north end of this immaculately kept area of reverence.
I needed four elements to come together for a brief window of time to complete the vision in my mind for this video; Bear, which is a no-brainer of course, since he wrote and sings the song; one current military personnel; a Vietnam Veteran; and our cinematographer Bill Van Wyhe.
I began with my least path of resistance after my own husband. My brother Robert, who lives in Denver, served in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War. So I called him up –
“Hey, Brother Bob! Sister Vic here. How’d ya like to be in a music video?”
“Oh, no,” He groaned. “What now Smuck? How much is this going to cost me?”
“Oh come on! You’re retired! Besides, I need you to help me out. Remember, I’m your only baby sister!”
“Yeah, you’ve been playing that card all my life!”
I ignored that last comment.
At least he didn’t say no immediately and hang up on me. After a few more minutes of quilt-laden persuasion, I had his commitment. Good! I checked off “actual Vietnam Veteran” from my list. Now I had to work on getting a present day soldier, so I started making phone calls and asking around with our acquaintances.
Bekki Friesen, a good friend of ours, came up with the winning warrior for me, after I tried with no success with the guys at the recruiting centers for the Air Force, Army and Marines. After several weeks of jumping through authorities’ hoops of phone calls and emails, (even having to go as far as communicating with their Hollywood branch), United States Air Force Captain Adrian Peppers was finally given permission to be filmed in uniform for our video. Yea! Thank you Jesus!
Tuesday, May 24th was circled on the calendar for the one and only date that would work for all of the parties involved. From Colorado – Brother Bob and his wife Trish. From Kansas – Capt. Peppers and his young son from Wichita; Bill from Liberal; and Bear and I from Eureka. Our scheduled shooting time was 7:30pm, so we were meeting at the Memorial in Medicine Lodge at 7:00pm for a walk-through.
I began praying earnestly for good weather so we could capture some great footage for the film . . . but God had different plans! I don’t know why He doesn’t listen to me sometimes.
That evening everyone was on time and the dress rehearsal went off great. Literally four blocks away up the street from our location was a bar & grill that I offered to buy everyone supper at while we waited for the bright sun to start sitting in the clear blue sky.
After we placed our orders and we were waiting for our food to arrive, I noticed that suddenly the sunlight had disappeared from the front windows! The weather application on my phone went off for a tornado warning for Dodge City, KS some 100 miles away! That is where Bob and Trish had their motorhome parked and where Bear and I were going to spend the night with his mother!
“Billy Bijou! (my nickname for him), Come with me outside quickly!” I ordered him as I jumped off of my high top stool and bounded for the door.
The dark sky above us swirled with ugly black clouds in a circular motion complete with lightning flashes so frequent it looked like the paparazzi at a movie premier. Rain was beginning to hit the sidewalk in sporadic sprinkles. My weather app went off again and a text message this time:“Tornado warning in this area til 8:00pm CDT. Take shelter now. Check local media. NWS.”
“Are you kidding me?! This can’t be happening!” I yell at the Heavens. Bill was quiet. I think he was afraid to get between me and God.
“Bill, look! The sky is clear in the west! This storm is moving north, so maybe it will move out of here soon! Go grab Bear, Brother Bob, and Adrian to go film what you can right now! There is no second chance for this! I’ll stay here with Trish and bring our meals down to you when they are delivered to the table, ok?”
“Aye, aye, my General!” Bill says with a fake French sounding accent as he snaps a salute and clicks his heels together. He turns to run back into the eating establishment to gather the men. The rounded-up men rush into their vehicles and pull out to go back down to the wall. I return to where Trish has been holding down the fort, but I don’t have to wait too long before Bill shows back up at our table. I shoot him a puzzled look like what the heck? He quickly defends himself –
“We can’t do it! It started raining too hard! But I think if we wait a few more minutes this will move out of here!” I frown and look at my watch. Nuts! We are going to be running out of daylight at this rate! The small group of men find their seats again and begin to devour the food that just arrived in time.
After about fifteen minutes, Bill signals his group with a “let’s go” and the males hustle out the front door again. Once more, I remain behind with Trish so we can finish eating our meals and I can take care of the bill and tip.
Once that is done, we step outside to the sidewalk under the awning of the business. I can’t believe what I see. . . the storm has backed up instead of moving north! A downpour of heavy rain is pounding us with bellows of loud thunder and dangerous lightning! I slump with disbelief. “Seriously God?”
I scowl and shake my head in defiance.
Again my phone goes off with another tornado warning, only this time is it extended to 8:30pm, which it almost is that time now. “Great! Why not? All I wanted was to have some nice weather for some lousy couple of hours and . . .” . Suddenly Bill and Bear come running up the pavement and take cover under the awning with Trish and I.
“We got it! We got it!” Bill starts shouting excitedly. “It was perfect! There was a break in the storm just long enough for me to get it all done! I instructed Adrian to walk slowly by the wall looking for a name, and then stop and salute . .”
“Wait! Excuse me Bill! Where is Adrian right now?” I ask holding up my hand like a stop sign.
“Oh, he and his son are headed for their home . . . “
“And Brother Bob?” I interrupt looking around for my older sibling who should be with them.
“He took off a long time ago to head back to Dodge! In fact, I filmed him first and as soon as we were done, he jumped on his Harley and told us he was retracing his route back the same way he came down here! On Hwy. 83 . . . north.” Bill emphasizes as he points that direction into the deep dark heart of the storm! My mouth drops open as I look at those storm clouds. I swallow hard briefly. I feel responsible. He was doing this for me. I’m the one was asked him to come here in the first place. And now he is out there somewhere in this weather!
However, at this same piece of information, my sister-in-law standing beside me goes totally “postal” with fear and concern over her husband traveling into very obvious tornado activity. I abruptly stop Bill from continuing his conversation with me . . .
“Crap! Let’s go NOW people! Bye Bill and thank you! I’ll talk to you later!”
Bear and I jump into the front seat of Reno (white Chevy truck) while Trish climbs into the back seat. We start towards the direction of total blackness on the lone highway out into the open prairie. Almost instantly we are pelted by whipping winds and wicked hail stones. Some of them would hit so hard against the windshield or the roof of the vehicle, we feared that they would crash through. Trish is on her cell phone desperately calling Brother Bob. No answer.
By now my phone is going off again with another updated tornado warning for our area until 9:00pm. I catch Barry’s attention and make a circular motion with my index finger representing a tornado and then point upwards meaning “HERE!”
As If on cue, we both lean forward and start searching the threatening clouds watching for a funnel to drop down on us. To the west, we see an ominous wall cloud with a little finger (unformed twister) dangling on the horizon. Of course we are praying hard for our protection and to find my stupid older brother safe and sound. We pass several tornado spotters’ vehicles on the side of the road when Trish’s phone gets an incoming call.
It’s Brother Bob.
After a few words that I can’t print here, Trish relays to us that he is safe and has taken shelter at the nearby town of Sawyer.
“Whew! Thank you Jesus! Now just have him stay put until the Calvary arrives. Oh, and by the way LORD, sorry I got so defensive back there praying for good weather. Thanks for letting Bill get everything on camera, okay? No hard feelings, right?”
We pull into the deserted town of tiny Sawyer. Lightning and thunder dance around us but at the moment the rain has let up into a harmless sprinkle. Our headlights reflect off of a large motorcycle parked on the sidewalk under a short metal awning of a local shop that has been closed for decades.
The glow of a cigar lights up my brother’s big ol’ grin on his face as he calls out to us “HOLA!”
Forget the tornadoes.
I’m going to finish him off once Trish gets through with him!