A Hero Comes Home

This week’s Bronze Star ceremony honoring retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown was a wonderful and very moving experience. The outpouring of positive sentiment has been overwhelming. Skip and his wife Cheryl and their friends are very pleased. The ‘only in Delray’ reception is why Skip took the rare step of bypassing a ceremony in Washington D.C. to accept the medal–45 years after his service in Vietnam- in Delray Beach. I was honored beyond words to pin the medal on his chest and we send heartfelt thanks to all those who have served and sacrificed for our great nation. Many of you who were unable to make it have sent messages asking for the transcripts of the remarks from the event. I will ask Skip to share his when he settles in back in Alabama. Meantime, there was a great piece on Channel 5 and in the Palm Beach Post on the event. Here’s a link to the WPTV piece: http://www.wptv.com/news/region-s-palm-beach-county/delray-beach/retired-delray-policeman-awarded-bronze-star-45-years-after-vietnam?utm_content=bufferc5c4b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 I hope the above link works…I’m not much very good with technology. If all else fails,  go to WPTV’s website or facebook page to see the story.

My remarks are below. Special thanks to Old School Square, Rob Steele, Melissa Carter, Peggy Murphy, the Honor Guard at Atlantic High, Sarah Crane and Maria Bollan for your invaluable assistance.

 

This is a very special occasion. And I’m glad we can share it here in Delray Beach at Old School Square.

I’d like to offer a special welcome to Skip’s wife Cheryl, city officials, police officers, firefighters and retirees, our wonderful Honor Guard from Atlantic High School and the veterans in the audience. If you are serving– or have served– in our armed forces can you please raise your hand…let’s give them a round of applause… Thank you for your service to our great nation.

Heroism is an overused word.

We talk about heroic athletes and heroic efforts in everyday life—and while acts of kindness and bravery are magnificent and should be recognized—I’m afraid we throw around the word hero so often that it’s meaning can get lost.

I want us to focus on that word this afternoon as we honor a very special man.

A true hero is somebody who exhibits remarkable bravery and shows great courage and strength of character. It’s somebody who is willing to put it all on the line for a cause, a country, a person or something they believe in.

So when I think of the word hero, I think of my friend Skip Brown.

 

Being a hero is his DNA.

It’s who he is.

And so while I’m in awe of Skip’s achievements— I’m not surprised by them.

Sacrifice…service….bravery…selflessness…are the traits of heroes. It’s the stuff that people like Skip are made of.

He is a rare breed. And I wish there were more like him….

 

 

Friendships come in many forms and Skip and I have an interesting relationship. On paper we don’t match up.

Skip is older than me.  Much older…

He’s from the Midwest . I’m from New York.

We have different faiths, different political beliefs and different personalities.

But somehow it all works.  Always has. We are friends in the truest sense of that word.

He’s the big brother I never had, the man I would call –and have called –when I found myself in trouble.

We have been to some very dark places together and he has helped me and many others surface more than once when we thought we might drown. Skip is always there for his friends and the members of his team—which is why he is a Bronze Star winner.

We have also experienced great triumphs and there is no better person to celebrate with than my brother Skip Brown.

When I needed a confidence boost he was there to provide it and if I strayed from my path he was there to return me to the straight and narrow–just like a big brother would. I mention this, because he has performed this very important service for many of us in this community. And we are blessed as a result….this is a man with a very big heart.

The Bronze Star is awarded for acts of valor—but I think there’s also a Bronze Star set of values that enable people like Skip Brown to do what they do in combat and in civilian life. So what are those values?

Skip values leadership.

He values honor and respect.

He values service and he is passionate about community; especially this community.

Skip and I have had many talks over the years–usually in the wee hours of the morning–usually in my driveway. Usually with a dog nearby.

Our conversations have covered the waterfront. And over time we grew close.

But while we talked about a lot of things…. I never pushed him, nor did he volunteer much, on the subject of Vietnam.

Until recently.

He shared his thoughts on the phone and in long emails. He wrote about his experiences and told me that what he saw in Vietnam impacted every facet of his life.

And I realized he was coming to terms with a war he never quite finished either fighting or thinking about.

So I know the stories. Not all of them….but a few important ones. I have heard about the pain and so have others who are close to Skip.

But while the information was always hard to hear and to comprehend——it was important that I know…it’s important that we all know about service, honor…sacrifice and commitment.

Skip has always been a big gruff guy…but he has always had a big huge heart.

And as he has gotten older…I’ve noticed that his conversations are now full of love and affection.

No more holding back.

No more guessing where you stood.

He told many of us that he loved us– and why.

He was giving himself a gift—because it’s important to tell the people you love how you feel–but he was also giving us a gift.

The biggest gift of all.

Because when a hero opens up his heart and soul to you…you listen and you learn…and you become better because of it.

 

So here we are.

Many of you here today are the ones nearest and dearest to Skip.  A few of you are new faces and it’s good that you are here to witness something very special and very rare.

It’s special…because this is a good man, who has given much to his country, his city, his wife Cheryl, his family and his friends…

It was important to Skip that he return home to receive his Bronze Star– and Delray is home.

It was here that Skip distinguished himself as a police officer. First on the road –in a very different and far more dangerous Delray—a place where guns, knives, and rocks were on display night after night.

Then as a K-9 officer with two amazing dogs– Rambo and Olk —who ran down bad guys while on duty and toured schools and community events on their days off.

And finally as the department’s volunteer coordinator under the leadership of Chief Overman and Chief Schroeder—both of whom are here today and are very special men.

Skip built a colossus of a program.

1,300 volunteers at its height. Many members of the greatest generation—the men and women who served our nation in World War II.

They would run through walls for Skip and this city. And he would do the same for them and they knew it.

Skip and the volunteers were here for us after 9/11 when we discovered many of the terrorists had been living among us and we were scared. They eased our minds and provided comfort and security.

Skip reached into every nook and cranny of this city forming bonds and patrols everywhere you could imagine.

When his troops took ill– and when they passed –he was there for them and their families. Always a rock. Always a hero.

It did not go unnoticed.

And so I am glad that his valor in Vietman did not go unnoticed either.—even if it took 45 years and the efforts of a commanding officer who would not rest until this oversight was addressed.

The Bronze Star is special indeed.

Rare too.

It is awarded to soldiers who distinguish themselves with acts of heroism in combat.

Skip came as close to death as you can possibly can– and he survived to live a life of service.

He provides an example for all of us. Every day that we wake up can be a good day. It can be a day of service, a day of giving back and a day of helping others.

Delray Beach is fortunate that Skip Brown survived that ambush all those years ago.

Because without him and his lovely wife Cheryl— Delray would have been a far different place.

It’s often said that nobody is irreplaceable. I suppose that’s true in a narrow sense. Life does go on —with or without us.

But I choose to look at life another way. Life wouldn’t be as good or as meaningful without people like Skip Brown. You can’t replace people like him. They broke the mold when they made him.

Great people are game changers. They literally bend and shape their corner of the world during the time we have them…into  something  better….

 

And we are thankful for them.

The best warriors are those who are willing to risk it all for a cause.

Skip’s cause was God, country, Delray and the people and animals he has taken care of his whole life. If there’s another life I’d like to come back as one of Skip and Cheryl’s pets. Seriously.  Yesterday he called me from a dog friendly restaurant on the Intracoastal where he was treating his pups to lunch…it’s a good life.

And if there’s a heaven—and I believe there is…I hope it includes tequila under the stars in my driveway  talking to Skip about making our corner of the universe a better place, with a golden retriever and a K-9 at our side—just like the good old days we had in Delray Beach.

Skip Brown…on behalf of your colonel, a grateful nation, your squad –many of whom did not make it– active duty soldiers, veterans and their families, the more than 58,000 names on the wall …. a grateful city and from me…no longer that young man in the driveway—but still very much your brother … congratulations on your bronze star. Well done..my friend. We love you. Very much.

Ladies and gentlemen…bronze star winner Skip Brown.

 

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