Brenden Foster Dies

I have no doubt Brenden was greeted by God with the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.”

What an amazing child.

May we all follow his lead…


Giving Thanks for the Men and Women of the US Armed Forces

For ten years, I flew throughout the world working as a Flight Attendant. For five of those years, much of my life was spent flying MACs and CAMs in and out of “hot spots” in the world. Panama, Africa, the Middle East, South America, Central America, Turkey, Athens, Europe…if American troops needed to be somewhere or return from somewhere, the airline I worked for most often carried them to and fro.

I express my thanks to God every day for the brave men and women who serve in the military, but today, as we approach Thanksgiving, I dedicate this space and this time to them. Please take the time to watch this wonderful video and say an extra prayer of Thanksgiving for the men and women who have served in the past, are serving today, and will be serving in the future. God bless and protect them all.

The Voice / Imagine sung by Sam Harris

Photography by Corporal Jayel Aheram

Please join Sam Harris on as he welcomes Corporal Aheram as his guest this Friday, November 28th.

For more information, please visit

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Voters Approve of Protecting Open Space

The following appeared in The New York Times. Looks like protecting open space with public money is important to the voters!


A Resounding Vote for Open Space

Published: November 18, 2008

Almost unnoticed in the election results was some very good news for the environment — and for land preservation in particular. Despite the financial crisis, voters made it clear that they want to increase spending on preserving open land, even at the cost of higher taxes.

Across the nation, voters approved $7.3 billion in new spending for parks and open-space preservation. Sixty-two of the 87 referendums to acquire or otherwise protect open space were approved. And the support came in rural, Republican areas, as well as in those that lean toward the Democrats.

California and Florida said yes to more than $700 million in new spending on open space. In Minnesota, voters increased the sales tax by three-eights of a cent to generate $5.5 billion over the next 25 years for land preservation and environmental protection. It was the largest open-space state referendum in the nation’s history.

Despite especially tough economic times, New Jersey voters showed that they feel strongly about acquiring open space before it is all eaten up by strip malls and McMansions. The state is reeling from high property taxes, unemployment and a budget deficit. But voters still approved 14 of 22 county and municipal referendums to increase or extend property taxes dedicated to acquiring or preserving open space.

These votes are an explicit rebuke to President Bush, who failed miserably to honor his 2000 campaign promise to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the government’s main vehicle for buying open space. They should give Congress a strong push to approve a public lands measure that, among other things, would grant permanent wilderness protection to two million acres of public land.

We had hoped that Congress would approve the legislation in the current lame-duck session. On Monday, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, withdrew it from the calendar after Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, threatened to filibuster the bill. Mr. Coburn called it a waste of money and an unnecessary expansion of federal control over public lands.

Mr. Reid said the Senate needed to focus on the economic crisis, but he promised to bring the measure up for immediate action early next year.

Old business tends to get lost in the early days of a new Congress, especially when there is a new administration. Come January, we will remind Mr. Reid of his promise and of the voters’ clear commitment to preserving open spaces.

A Veterans Day Tribute: The Comfort of a Gifted Generation

A Veterans Day Tribute
by Penny Ronning
(Written November 10, 2007)

Today as I think of tomorrow’s significance I realize I was born into a “gifted” generation. History tends to define generations by their response to war. For those of us born during the Vietnam War, we’ve never experienced a military draft. The human rights, the freedoms we’ve experienced our entire lives were gifted to us. I wonder, what have we done with these gifts? Are we prepared to “pay it forward” as previous generations did for us? How will my generation be defined?

Tom Brokaw writes of the “Greatest Generation” and if I were to have met no one else from that generation other than a man by the name of Ben Steele, I would still agree with Mr. Brokaw’s assessment. Surely, a man such as Ben Steele would have to come from the “Greatest Generation.”

Benjamin Charles Steele was born November 17, 1917 to ranchers in Roundup, Montana. At the age of 24 and in the middle of the Second World War, Ben was living one of the things his generation would become known for – victory. But, you see, you have to know Ben to know that he tells the story somewhat differently. But that’s where the story takes another twist because to know Ben IS to know victory.

Ben was a member of the Army Air Corp’s 19th Bomb Group and in late 1941 they found themselves stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines. While many of the soldiers at Clark Field may have been dreaming of their loved ones back home on Christmas Day in 1941, orders were coming down that would change their lives forever. It was that day they were ordered to Bataan.

As the Japanese were zeroing in on General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters in Corregidor, the United States government was deciding that America could not fight two fronts at the same time. Hitler would come first and then the Japanese. In March of 1942, General MacArthur was ordered out of the Philippines and to Australia. With this decision came consequences unimaginable to the thousands of American soldiers left stranded in the Philippines. Already in a dire situation, for the next three and a half years, no supplies, no ammunition, no fuel, no food, no clothing, no help was sent to these American soldiers from the United Sstates government. As one person said, “No Momma, No Papa, No Uncle Sam.”

With no changes of clothing or boots, food rations almost nonexistent, no ammunition coming to replace what had been used, no additional military help, and virtually no medicine to aid the sick and injured, these brave soldiers held the battle front at Bataan for nearly 4 months.

April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.

At that time in Japanese culture, to be a prisoner of war was to be one of the lowest creatures on earth deserving of no respect. To be a guard of these POW’s was considered to be the lowest level of rank within the Japanese military. Quentin Tarantino could not come up with anything as bloody and as horrifying as to how these Japanese soldiers were desensitized to the humanity of a prisoner of war. During World War II the mortality rate in German POW camps was 1.1%, but in Japanese POW camps the death rate was a shocking 38%.

For 9 days, in 100-degree heat with almost equal humidity, no hat, less than 2 cups of rice each day, and no water, Ben walked 60 miles shoulder to shoulder, body to body, among the 11,796 American, 66,000 Filipino, and 1,000 Chinese Filipino prisoners of war on what would become known later as the Bataan Death March. This nightmare of a march would leave a death trail of an estimated 3,000 Americans and 12,000 Filipinos. Those that survived, including Ben, were crammed sick body upon sick body in waiting railroad cars to be taken to Camp O’Donnell and then later to Cabanatuan, Japan, or other POW Camps. (Cabanatuan was the largest POW camp on foreign soil; 9,000 people lived there; 3,000 Americans died there.)

In June of 1942, Ben was selected as one of 325 men from Camp O’Donnell to be assigned to a Japanese work project known as the Tayabas Road Detail. With no shelter, virtually no food and no water, these men worked in the jungle day and night. Ben was only one of 50 to survive.

Survive, that he did. However, the worst and the worst yet were yet to come.

The harshness of the Tayabas Road Detail met its match in Ben Steele. Beri beri, malaria, blood poisoning, pneumonia, and dysentery all raged within Ben’s body. For the next eighteen months he continued to define this “Greatest Generation” while he interned in Bilibid Prison. In the midst of circumstances more horrible than I want to close my eyes to try to imagine, Ben began to draw the realities of what his mind had recorded.

Sometimes we discover gifts God has given us only when the hottest of heat is applied to our lives — kind of like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

In Bilibid, something more powerful than the combination of beri beri, malaria, blood poisoning, pneumonia, and dysentery was at work within Ben. Something more powerful than the fear of death was growing inside of him. What was this all-powerful thing? It was the desire to honor. After all, Ben is from the “Greatest Generation” and that is what they taught the world – honor.

With no formal art training, Ben began to draw on whatever scraps of paper he could find images of what his eyes had seen and his mind worked overtime to process. These drawings were Ben’s way to honor his fallen comrades and record his experiences. At risk of death if discovered, Ben continued to pay tribute by secretly drawing the bravery of each soldier facing the most horrific of human cruelty. Sadly, all but two of Ben’s drawings were lost on a transport ship.

But Ben’s story of victory continues. And if you remember, the worst yet was yet to come.

Most Americans may not remember being taught about the Hell Ships of World War II. I certainly didn’t. The appropriately named Hell Ships transported prisoners of war from the islands in the Pacific to Japan or other destinations to work as forced labor. These prisoners were crammed, once again, sick body on top of sick body into cargo compartments located at the very bottoms of these ships. One bucket of rice and one bucket of dirty, salty, fish water would be lowered to the prisoners once a day. Because each bucket contained only enough for one ration per man in the compartments, when a prisoner would die the others would keep his body among them for as long as they could stand so the rations would not be cut back.

As in the Death March, the railroad cars, the POW camps, the Tayabas Road Detail, and Bilibid Prison, the dead bodies began to pile up. Only now in the lowest compartments of these Hell Ships, there was no access to fresh air. This truly was Hell. But this is a story about victory and Hell has no place there.

Ben survived what he describes as the worst experience of all and went on to serve three months in a hard labor coal mining camp in Japan before the Japanese surrendered and the war was over. Upon Ben’s return to the United States, he made his way through the lines with all of the other prisoners of war reporting back in with the military. When he reached one of the desks, he was asked how many days he was a prisoner of war. Ben replied with the exact number. Not long after that Ben received a check in the mail from the United States government — $1.00 for each day he was a prisoner of war. Skills Ben learned while growing up on a ranch were put to use during his time in action in the Philippines. These skills saved the lives of many of his fellow soldiers and earned Ben the Silver Star. Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, this heroic medal has still never been presented to him.

Ben and his beautiful wife Shirley settled in Billings, Montana and raised a family. Ben became and retired as a professor of art from Eastern Montana College, now known as Montana State University – Billings. He also recreated his drawings that were lost on the transport ship. His drawings and original oil paintings can be seen at the Montana Museum of Art and Culture on the campus of the University of Montana and online at

I once heard Ben say that the Americans fighting in the Philippines didn’t win a victory over the Japanese because they were forced to surrender. Funny thing that word victory, we often think of a military victory as one country winning a battle against another. Perhaps that’s where we lose sight of what makes up a collective generation. It’s individual human lives, each with meaning and each with purpose. Merriam-Webster defines victory as 1: the overcoming of an enemy or antagonist and 2: success in a struggle or endeavor against odds or difficulties. By both definitions, I believe, the collective individuals that survived those three and a half years in the Philippines achieved the victory for all of those left behind. Each survivor and each life lost has meaning and purpose. After all, this was the “Greatest Generation” and they taught the world the meaning of honor.

So, today as I think of tomorrow’s significance I wonder as collective individuals how are we defining our generation? Do we stand at attention with our hands over our hearts when we see our flag being raised? Do we teach our children that freedom is never free? When we drive by a cemetery filled with white tombstones do we acknowledge the lives given so that we may live out our human rights? Do we speak up for equality and justice and liberty for all? Do we hold strong as individuals in our own country what others fought and died for in other countries?

I ask these questions of myself because like many of you, I am entering into the second half of my life and I believe that our lives are defined by our actions not our intentions; and that our generation will be defined by our collective individual actions. Will the world be a better place because my generation lived?

To those that have served in the military, fought in a war, are healing from injuries received in a war, or are now fighting in a war – THANK YOU. I am humbled to think of how different your life is from mine. With all of my heart – THANK YOU. To those that I know personally, my grandfather Sigurd Ronning and his brother Paul, both immigrants from Norway served in the American Army (while in the Army my grandfather helped build the Pacific Coast Highway); my own uncles that fought in World War II (Edwin and Leon, the Pacific fleet; Mike and Maurice, Europe; Glen, wounded in Iwo Jima; Andy, Army Air Corp; and George, bomber pilot both in WWII and the Korean War); to my friends Leonard Dahl, who fought in the Pacific in World War II and Eddie Boehm, Africa, WWII; to my friend Al Feldstein, Special Services artist, WWII; to my Dad’s cousin Orville Graslie, the Pacific WWII; to my Dad, who served in the Army; to Ken Fisher, who served with my Dad; to Lawrence Brotzel, Marines; to Jesse Hammer, Marines; to my uncle Harold, Army; to Captain Dale Dye, 3 tours in Vietnam; to Dale Shack, Vietnam war hero; to Sam McKechnie who bravely served as a medic in both the Korean War and in Vietnam; to Bill Hebert, Navy; to  Robin Chadderdon, retired Air Force; to Casey J. Porter, who served his 2nd tour in Iraq through Stop-Loss; to Jon Griffin, Coast Guard; to Abenayaa Lane, Army; to Ed Saunders, retired Army, Persian Gulf War; to Creed Spencer, Persian Gulf War; to those who fought and served in Iraq and Afghanistan and to those that are currently doing so; to all of the pilots who were veterans I flew with while I was a flight attendant; to all of the soldiers, SEALS, and military personnel that were passengers on the Military Airlift Commands and Civil Airlift Movements on which I worked as a flight attendant; to all of my relatives and friends and to all of your relatives and friends that have served in the military; and to Ben Steele:




My soul is heavy with the knowledge that my generation has been given a gift. It is my hope that we will be defined as a generation that used the gifts of education, science, communication, technology, finances, travel,  media, journalism, freedom of speech, the right to vote, and the power of prayer among many others to further the cause of human rights and to leave this world a better place because we lived. It is my hope that the generations that come after us will feel the desire to say thank you.

Ben Steele, November 17, 2016 – September 25, 2016


Suggested viewing:

The Great Raid, a film by John Dahl. The director’s cut is the version to watch. Included with the director’s cut DVD is additional material that is life impacting; at least it was for me.

Change Has Come

From my friend, author Lutishia Lovely:

It all started at a dinner party. That’s where I met Valarie Kaur, a fiery, Sikh American whose passion for positive change matches my own. She’d produced a film, Divided We Fall ( about life for diverse America in general and Sikh Americans in particular in the aftermath of 9/11. We began talking about our country, its problems and possibilities. That rambling and lively conversation during the course of a wonderful evening sparked a lifelong friendship, and my beginnings in politicking for Barack Hussein Obama.

Valarie had been a precinct captain for Obama during the primary and after receiving an email from her requesting volunteers, I found myself, along with thousands perhaps millions of others, phone canvassing for Obama from the privacy and comfort of my home. The campaign’s astute use of the internet made it as easy as the click of a mouse to log on, get a caller list, and join the process. I called citizens across the country, and was encouraged and inspired as I talked to, at that time, Clinton, Obama and McCain supporters. What struck me was not how different we were, depending on our political preference, but what we shared in common: a desire for change, a right to our ideals, and the American flag.

From that first phone call in late 2007 until election night, I engaged in the political process: phone calls, knocking on doors, talking to friends and fellow citizens about why I felt Barack offered positive change that transcended politics. I believed then and know now that what was happening was not a campaign, but a movement: a response to the collective consciousness’s desire to see the glass half full instead of half empty, to believe that we can turn poverty to prosperity, hate to love, enemies to allies, “no we can’t” to “yes we can”. Words can’t express my gratitude in participating in the TX elections, winning a small, suburban, heavily Republican community called Pflugerville for Obama and helping him to win the very important caucus vote in that state. Words can’t describe being at the Democratic Convention, and at Invesco Field, as a microcosm of America: every race, age, religious affiliation, military branch, and socio-economic background imaginable came together with a shared sense of purpose. Not a campaign but a movement…to change the world. Eighty-five thousand strong, with millions watching, we shared the historic moment when our next president accepted the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America.

Millions of us across America continued to campaign for change until the last possible moment. My final push was at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Los Angeles, at a mega phone bank where hundreds of us dialed frantically to secure swing state voters. I made my last call at 6:00 pm PST, which was 7:00 in Colorado, the time their polls closed. Afterwards I followed the sound of cheering and screaming, which led me to the hotel lobby where the state-by-state results were coming in. Vermont was first, then Maine, New Hampshire, etc. Pennsylvania: a big one. Ohio…oh my. Can this be real? Yes, it’s really happening. At 7:59 Obama had 207 electoral votes. We knew he’d win, but I wanted to see a Virginia/Florida security blanket before I celebrated.

The last poll closed at 8:00 PST and we counted down a momentous election day: 10, 9, 8…3, 2, 1! And then something happened that I didn’t expect: the announcement that leapt onto the MSNBC screen: Barack Obama Elected President. That’s when life became a high from which I’ve yet to come down. Change has come to America, and to the world.

I am an American who has African, Native American and European blood flowing through my veins, with friends of almost every ethnicity spread across almost every continent. Under the cover of darkness, my great-great-grandparents used cloth to muffle their horse’s hooves and fled slavery in South Carolina. They settled in Arkansas and continued to struggle against racism and economic disadvantage. One day a White man called my great-grandfather the n-word. It was the wrong day to do so. After enduring this and other indignities his entire life, he’d had enough. A fight broke out between the two men and when it was over, the White man died as a result of his injuries. A posse came looking for my great-grandfather and he ran to save his family from harm. They never saw him again.

My grandparents were sharecroppers, and while my grandmother didn’t have a college education, she had common sense. So when the landowner kept promising to upon his death, give them the land that they farmed for a pittance, my grandmother insisted the promise be put in writing. As a result, more than one hundred acres of rich Arkansas soil is now our inheritance. (We got more than forty acres, but we’re still waiting for the mule. 🙂 My mother pulled us from working to middle-class America by getting first an associates, then two bachelors and finally a masters degree in the areas of nursing and social work. My father, who never finished high school because he had to help work the farm, told me that I could go anywhere, and could be anything. And I have. I am the person Barack speaks of when he talks about the parent that didn’t achieve their dream, but believed if they worked hard, their kid could.

In short, I am an embodiment of the American dream; one who is standing on the shoulders of the people who’ve come before me. I’ve seen much of the world, its warts and its wonders, and continue to do so now in the blessed position of full-time, published author. All because millions of people before me of every religion, age and race believed the words President-Elect Obama has once again made our positive mantra: a new message for a new day…yes we can. And today, November 5th, a day after the earth has shifted into a positive paradigm, I am grateful to have witnessed this firsthand, to have been a part of creating a world as it should be, and to participate in a democracy that is unparalleled. Last night, when a woman began singing the national anthem and the television station went to commercial, thousands of us at the Hyatt Regency continued singing. With hands over hearts and tears in eyes, we embraced America as it should be: …the land of the free, and the home of the brave. Yes.

If you are on my mailing list, that means you are my friend. So whether you voted for McCain or Obama, I love you. And I ask that you consider this woo-woo vibe to usher in a brighter tomorrow, for all of us. I ask you to believe in yourself and this country’s ability to make the dream of peace and prosperity for all a reality. I ask that you embrace this one simple word…YES. I ask you to believe in the world as it should be, divinely ordered and permanently perfect as Spirit ordains.

PS: A photo album of my journey with Barack can be viewed at:

It’s a NEW Day!

It IS a new day and the world is singing and dancing with us!

FINALLY, once again!

My heart continues to be overwhelmed with emotion.

The past 4 days I have found myself in such a state of euphoria that I can’t seem to stop dancing and smiling and dancing some more and smiling even harder! This must be how the Suffragettes felt in 1920 and how the Civil Rights Activists felt in 1964. For the moment, just for the moment, I want to continue to bask in this amazing sense of possibility, of hope, of all that can be because now we know — we KNOW all that can be CAN BE!

My desire is for the United States of America to continue to move forward rather than just move on. Once my basking is manageable (hopefully it will never be done), I look forward to working with each of you, whether it is side by side in person or side by side by State or country by country, to continue that move forward. The election was only the beginning to all that we can achieve together. Let’s work to keep all the doors open that we opened, let’s back our new President like the world has never seen our country back one before, let’s continue to make history.

It’s a NEW day!

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