Memorial Day 2022: Broken Promises

Last night or tonight, somewhere in America, a peaceful night of sleep is disrupted by a nightmare.

This unwanted intruder is courtesy of a broken promise.

Before reporting to dangerous military duty, a wife, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a friend looked their husband, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend in the eye and said: “Promise me that you will be careful, and promise me that you will come back.”

No matter where America has sent its military personnel into perilous conflicts, sadly, the coming back part of the promise has been broken too frequently.

War breaks promises.

Soldiers, sailors, aviators die.

No matter the depth of training, quality of equipment, and individual skills—war breaks promises.

I am certain that my grandparents, Charley and Izetta Pike, had that conversation with their oldest son, Boyd.

During World War II, Boyd was a sailor on the destroyer, the USS Simms. Boyd did not come back to Greensboro, North Carolina as promised. His body disappeared into the Coral Sea after the Simms was attacked by Japanese war planes.

The Pikes were God fearing, church going people.

I wonder how my grandparents felt about God when they were notified that Boyd had perished.

Without question, my grandparents would have held on to these words from Psalm 91 verse 11: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

They like other families were counting on those angels to guard their sons and daughters. But, war breaks promises, and God’s angels.
Years after Boyd’s passing, my father revealed a nightmare where he could hear Boyd desperately calling for his help. I don’t think my father ever forgot that helpless agony.

When a family loses a loved one to military duty, the agony never leaves.

My friend, Mike Cross, served our country in the Vietnam War as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. Mike rarely speaks about his tour of duty in Vietnam. I respect his silence.

At some point during our friendship, Mike gave me a small paperback book—A Paratrooper’s Faith.

This book started out as a “pocket-size notebook” that had been put together by the father of George Bowler Tullidge III, Sergeant of 507th Parachute Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division.

George’s father had filled the notebook with “poems, excerpts, and Bible verses.” The family’s hope was that the book might help George in combating the mental fatigue of his duty.

On June 8, 1944 during the invasion of France, twenty year old George Tullidge broke his promise to his family in Staunton, Virginia.

Near St. Mere Eglise, France, allied troops needed to secure the main road. This road came under attack.
George responded by setting up a light machine gun and holding off the enemy. Though wounded during this attack, George refused to withdraw until the position was secured.(Descriptive extract regarding George Tullidge’s Bronze Star Medal)

In December of 2021, my wife and I attended her nephew’s wedding in Hawaii.

While in Honolulu, we made two significant stops—Pearl Harbor and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Each site carries a quiet, honored dignity on the shoulders of their meticulous grounds.

The perfection of the displays and the calm beauty of the landscape are well removed from the hostile environments that created these memorials.

While walking the grounds of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, I came across the following quote on a plaque. The words are attributed to a Chaplain from the 6th Marine Division at a cemetery in Okinawa in 1945:

“This is not a bivouac of the dead. It is a colony of heaven. And some part of us all is buried here.”

From the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific December 2021 photo Bill Pike

Those words, reaffirmed for me a simple truth— we can never forget the sacrifices buried in Memorial Day.

We must vow to always remember the men and women who broke their promises for our freedom.

American flag at dawn on the coast of Duck, North Carolina photo by Bill Pike

Recycling the Beach Boys, Again

On April 28, I know you were anxiously awaiting this press release from Capitol Records to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Beach Boys:

To kick off the yearlong celebration and provide the perfect summer soundtrack, Capitol Records and UMe will release a newly remastered and expanded edition of The Beach Boys career-spanning greatest hits collection, Sounds Of Summer: The Very Best Of The Beach Boys, on June 17. Originally released in 2003, the album soared to no. 16 in the US and stayed on the chart for 104 weeks. Now certified 4x platinum for sales of nearly four and a half million albums, the collection has been updated in both number of songs and audio quality, expanding the original 30-track best of with 50 more of the band’s most beloved songs for a total of 80 tracks that span their earliest hits to deeper fan-favorite cuts and from their 1962 debut album, Surfin’ Safari through to 1989’s Still Cruisin’.

I know where you will be on June 17. You will be at your local record store waiting for an employee to unlock the door so you can rush in and be the first in your neighborhood to make this purchase.

There could be a slight problem with you making the trip to your local record store. Depending upon where you live, your community might not have a local record store anymore. Of course that is another story too— how independent record stores and bookstores manage to stay open.
But, before we go any further, I must confess. I am a long time fan of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. I have disclosed this before in other post about the Beach Boys.

In someways, I guess it is sad that a 68 year old man still keeps up with these now ancient singers, songwriters, and musicians. Yet, there is something about the music created by the Beach Boys that tugs at my old heart and sometimes moistens my eyes.

This isn’t the first time that Capitol Records has recycled the hit records of the Beach Boys. The first was on July 5, 1966 when Capitol released Best of The Beach Boys.

That album contained twelve songs and not all of the songs were top ten hits. The album appeared two months after the release of the Pet Sounds album. Some speculate that Capitol quickly compiled this album to counter the lackluster sales of Pet Sounds.

Eight years later on June 24, 1974, Capitol released Endless Summer a double album of greatest hits. Four months later this album hit number one on the album sales charts.

Since 1974 to the present, a wide range of greatest hits albums have been released in America and around the world. Some have been very successful in their sales. I’m sure this makes record company executives and the Beach Boys happy.

But to be truthful with you, this eighty song release to celebrate the band’s 60th anniversary is a disappointment. I believe Capitol Records missed an opportunity to focus on the band’s live in concert recordings.

Despite all of the ups and downs the Beach Boys experienced in their sixty years of work, there’s been one constant—they have always toured.

In the lean years from 1967 to 1969, when their record sales fell into a deep ocean trench, touring saved them. This was especially true when they played in Great Britain and Europe.

All that touring forced Al, Mike, Dennis, Carl, and Bruce to really work at their musicianship. And it necessitated adding other competent musicians to more fully capture the studio recordings in a concert setting.

From 1970 -1975, the Beach Boys gradually became a hot in concert band. Rolling Stone magazine at the end of 1974 proclaimed the Beach Boys their band of the year. This was an affirmation of how strong the group’s concert performances had become.

Clearly, Capitol Records would have plenty of concert material to pull from the well stocked vaults of the Beach Boys. Over the years, fans have been treated to some unreleased live recordings being a part of compilations and box sets that have been released.

You can hear how the band’s concert sound evolved with those recordings.

From the first live album Beach Boys Concert in 1964, we hear the screams from the audience, the nervous tightness of the band, and the silly banter of Mike Love

The 1970 Live In London captures a fuller sound with the addition of a horn section and keyboards. And this recording also captures the adoration of the audience, and the bold a cappella performance of “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring.”

In 1973, the double album offering The Beach Boys In Concert captures a balance of the band’s oldies with their new songs, plus a few songs rarely performed in concert. If you doubt the band was cherished in America, listen to the audience’s reaction when Carl Wilson sings the opening “I” to “Good Vibrations.”

And, I’ll toss in one more live album—“Good Timin’” Live at Knebworth.” This concert in England was recorded in 1980, but was not released until 2003. This performance was captured on film too. The concert is noteworthy in that the three Wilson brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl were all present as were Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston. Song selections for this concert were predictable.

I’m sure archivist Mark Linett and Alan Boyd have found in the vaults plenty of live recordings to sift through.

An example of this took place over the last few years when to protect copyrights, Capitol Records released several live recordings and studio sessions from the mid to late sixties. This included Lei’d In Hawaii concert recordings.

And yes, the Beach Boys 2012 50th Anniversary Tour did birth a live album capturing forty one songs from the fifty song set. However, I will stubbornly hang on to the premise that the live recordings from the 1970s are better.

Linett and Boyd’s work from the Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions included a sprinkling of live tracks that really showcased how strong the band’s concert performances were in the early 1970s. It is remarkable how the group performed the very beautiful and complicated song “Surf’s Up” in concert.

For me, my favorite years as a fan were from 1970-75. I thought the group was at their best in the studio and in concert. I will never forget seeing the Beach Boys concert in November of 1972 at Appalachian State University.

The architect of their resurgence in the early 1970s was their manager, Jack Rieley.

Before the start of the show, Mr. Rieley introduced the band by gently telling the audience that the concert would be in two sets. He asked that all requests be held until the end of the second set. Then, he would call each band member by name, and ask the audience to welcome the Beach Boys.

That concert was fifty years ago. The performance has never left my gray matter. That night, the Beach Boys were exceptional, and the audience could feel the passion of their performance.

So, Capitol Records, thanks, but I will not be among the purchasers of this June 17 release. My old ears probably can’t detect any enhancements from new technology tweaks in the remixing of the songs. Plus, I know I have all of the songs featured in this release.

And I’ll agitate Capitol executives a bit further. You should have used Bruce Johnston’s “Endless Harmony” to close out the eighty songs, not “California Feeling.”

But, if it makes you feel any better, I was excited to read in the press release that Mr. Linett and Mr. Boyd have been readying for a fall 2022 release archival sessions featuring two more Beach Boys’ albums: Carl and the Passions “So Tough” from 1972 and Holland from 1973.

You can put me down for a pre-order on that set.

And finally, if you’ve never been a fan of the Beach Boys, this eighty song compilation would be worth adding to your record collection. The endurance of their sound, the legendary vocals, the songwriting, the production, and musicianship are captured here.

Who knows maybe these songs will touch your heart and moisten your eyes too.

Staging and photo of album covers by Elizabeth Pike

Hey God, mothers aren’t suppose to die at 39.

On the morning of Friday, April 22, the text message came to me—“Keri Marston is at home in hospice.”

Saturday morning, April 23, another text appeared—“Keri passed away last night.”

I responded to the first text with—“boo!”

With the second text, I responded—“Long talk with God coming up, this isn’t acceptable.”

Of course, this is all courtesy of our dearly beloved friend—cancer.

I had the privilege of working with Keri at our church. She was our communication specialist.

We, our staff, and our congregation benefitted from her expertise. In fact, anyone who worked with Keri within the realm of church communication learned and grew because of her set of skills.

But more importantly, anyone who encountered Keri gained more than communication competency.

Keri’s more was grounded in a sincere desire to give of herself for the betterment of others. That all came from her heart, and her capacity to connect with people. Keri’s heart was both passion and compassion for people.

We eventually lost Keri to her home church. There she continued to make a difference in helping the church grow and touching the lives of the congregation.

On the morning of Thursday, April 28, I and two other staff members from our church attended the funeral service for Keri.

The service was perfection. The music, the selected scriptures, and the words of the speakers captured and celebrated Keri’s short life. Mothers are not supposed to die at 39.

I was touched that Keri’s two school age daughters shared their hearts about their mother. This was tough duty. Keri would have been proud. In their own unique way, each daughter captured their mother.

Even in their emotional pain, Rachel and Rebecca made us laugh. They spent so much time at the church with their mother that the girls considered themselves to be a part of the Shady Grove staff. I’m sure Keri knew that humor too as both of her parents are Methodist ministers.

Perhaps, you recall the hurricane scene in the movie, Forrest Gump. Forrest, and his friend, Lieutenant Dan, are attempting to ride out the storm on Forrest’s shrimp boat. The storm is fierce. Their survival is uncertain.

In the height of the storm, on the deck of the shrimper with wind, waves, and rain crashing around him, Lieutenant Dan, decides to confront God. He curses God, and shouts out to God: “It’s time for a showdown, you and me.”

I’m sorry God, but right now, at this very moment, I feel like Lieutenant Dan—“It’s time for a showdown.”

Keri’s funeral had a very polite tone, but I’d wager every heart in that sanctuary was asking the same question my heart is asking—“How in the world could God let this happen?”

I wonder what pastors are thinking during a funeral service like Keri’s.

I wonder if they are thinking—“Thanks God, you just made my job tougher. I have a whole sanctuary full of people who believe in you, your words, and yet, one of your pillars is gone. These people want to know why you didn’t intervene, why didn’t you stop this cancer, and guess what God, I’m right there with them.”

1 Thessalonians 5 verse 17 states: “pray without ceasing.” What do you think we have been doing since Keri was diagnosed with cancer? I want to know, are my prayers and the people I pray for worth the time?

Were you in that sanctuary on Thursday morning? Did you hear the tears from Keri’s youngest daughter? Did you see the grim faces of Keri’s parents as they recessed out of the Sanctuary?

Hebrews 11:6 reads: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek them.”

Are you telling me and everyone who knew Keri that she didn’t have faith? That is absurd, and you know it. How is cancer a reward for having faith?

And then there is one of my favorite verses from the Bible, Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

How does this verse apply to Keri? Where was her welfare, her future, her hope? Cancer wasn’t a good plan for Keri, nor is it for anyone else. God, what were you thinking?

And the real crusher for me is in Matthew 9 verses 20-22: “ Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.”

One single touch of his cloak, and instantly this woman is made well!! Keri had faith. How come she had no touch of his cloak?

Look God, you’ve known me a long, long time. Yes, by my name, there is a substantial list of black marks on your checklist documenting my wrongs. Despite that list, I must tell you, I’m not the only person down here who is asking these frustrating questions.

Yes, I am happy that Keri is no longer being battered by that vile cancer.

But, God, I have another question for you—how can Keri’s life in heaven as an angel be worry free as she looks down upon her daughters on earth?

How will their father, Chris, attempt to nurture their daughters without the presence of his wife and their mother?

And God while I’m in the whining mode, I’ll take a poke at our own thinking here on earth—the money angle.

Consider the following:
James Webb telescope cost $10 billion dollars
New York Mets pitcher, Max Scherzer’s contract $43 million
Three private citizens paid $55 million a piece to spend eight days in space

Elon Musk purchases Twitter for $44 billion

University of Virginia Athletics Department announced that a former athlete has pledged $40 million dollars

I know individuals have the freedom to do what they want with their pennies. But, I wonder if we might be closer to knocking cancer out if our spare change thinking was better?

This past Christmas, our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, gave her mother an Amazon Echo Dot. The Echo Dot resides in the kitchen. I’ve enjoyed asking Alexa to play a variety of songs while prepping a meal or cleaning up dishes.

The other morning, Alexa played “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.” The song written by Allan Robert and Doris Fisher was recorded in 1944 by the Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald. The song is based on a line in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “Rainy Day.”

The lyrics to the opening verse appealed to me:
Into each life some rain must fall
But too much is falling in mine
Into each heart some tears must fall
But some day the sun will shine

When a person and their family are dealing with cancer, they must feel like the weariness of the rain never stops.

And I know for Keri’s family and friends tears are still falling in their hearts.

Those tears are likely to linger for a long, long, long time.

But in losses like this, we have a responsibility, and that is to help the family to hang on until the day that the sun will shine.

And despite my anger at you God, deep in my heart, I know at some point the sun will shine for Keri’s family.

Sunrise Cape Newagen, Maine photo by Bill Pike

Letter: Work together to tackle what ails our schools

Honored to have this letter published in the May 4, 2022 edition of the Roanoke Times.

Dear Editor,

Before the 2021 governor’s race in Virginia, our public schools already produced headlines for the news media.

Accreditation, safety, equity, funding, morale, race, and deteriorating buildings could attain front page coverage in any region.

For two years, COVID-19 added to the headlines as schools faced multiple challenges. Academic and social recovery from the pandemic is on-going. Catching students up is a daunting task.

Truthfully, our public schools have always faced challenges. With little hesitation, society looks to our schools to solve problems that students, their families, and our communities face. Often, these impactful intrusions are beyond a school’s control.

I wonder why researchers, policymakers, politicians, and educational leaders fail to study more carefully data in those habitual cycles that are beyond a school’s control?

Fixing the challenges in our schools lies in breaking vicious cycles in economic deprivation, housing, employment, mental health, and perhaps the most important— parenting.

Even in normal circumstances, parenting is stressful. I can only imagine the demands a single parent faces in an unstable environment.

Is their a solution?


Is it possible for Virginia to tackle the virulent cycles that impact schools as a collective team rather than individual silos?

Could Virginia recruit practical thinkers from nonprofits, established agencies in social services, health, and justice, school systems(including students/parents), and academia to confront these malignant cycles and frame a workable template for a feasible fix?

Consider how rapidly a vaccine was developed to combat COVID-19.

Why can’t Virginia have the same urgency to solve these longstanding disruptive cycles that impact our schools?

Perhaps, our political leaders feel this urgency is better served in the recently implemented “tip line” to tattle on teachers.

Sadly, a “tip line” doesn’t solve problems.

It only widens our divide.

Bill Pike

Henrico County, Virginia