Monday, October 14, 2013

I Met Eric Poe on Friday

Do you think it strange that I met a man on the day of his interment?  I began to get a sense of the man at his mortuary visitation the night before.  He was resplendent in his dress uniform.  It is the way of Marines.

The next day, the Marine Corps honor guard, spit polished and creased, performed their duties with a solemnity that honored the passing of a warrior, one of their own. Seven rifles spoke as one. The crack of each volley quickly followed with the loading of another rifle round and then another volley. The American flag, removed from the casket, was folded with painstaking precision in preparation for the presentation to the widow. 

Last Friday, Gunnery Sergeant Brian Eric Poe, USMC, Ret., was eulogized at his services held at the Airman’s Chapel, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Later that day he was laid to rest with full military honors at Miramar National Cemetery.

GySgt Poe, Eric to the world except for the military that insisted upon using his first given name of Brian, played the French Horn traveling the world with the Marine Corps Band for 22 years. He also competed both nationally and internationally on the Marine Corps shooting team.

I had the honor of participating as one of the motorcyclists who escorted Gunny on his last ride.  I rode to offer support for Mala, Eric’s wife. She and I met when we worked together for a number of years on a route safety motorcycle team for a national breast cancer walk. Eric fully supported Mala’s participation in this important charity work. 

I was aware that Eric was a former Marine but knew scant more of him.  It stands to reason that Eric was a quality person.  After all, Mala chose him as the love of her life.  By all accounts, he returned her love in spades. At his wake, the descriptions of his love for Mala and his fellow man were numerous and palpable. The passion, joy and heart wrenching anguish, whether signed or audibly spoken, engulfed and washed over the listener compelling recognition of this man’s humanity.

During the chapel service, Alan Poe delivered a commanding tribute to his brother. Alan recounted that if you knew Eric in one of the many facets of his life, there was a good chance that he called you “brother,” a sign of his respect for you.  Eric, it seems, had many extended brothers and sisters.

In addition to the Marine Corps Band, Eric played in the Marine Corps Brass Quintet.  Trombonist and fellow quintet member GySgt Adam Pezdek was best friends with Eric. Adam recounted a trip that the brass quintet took wherein they played a CD by Canadian Brass that included a track entitled, “Quintet” by Michael Kamen. Adam said that they kept coming back to “Quintet” replaying the CD selection over and over despite the fact that none of these tough Marines wanted the others to see that the piece moved him to tears.  Eric requested of Adam that “Quintet” be played at the forthcoming chapel service, and it was performed by Adam and the other four members of the Marine Corps Brass Quintet. 

During the performance of Eric’s beloved “Quintet,” I was in a highly suggestible condition.  That is my excuse for the tears that slid down my cheeks. Others were seen dabbing at their eyes. Later when I confessed to Adam, he said that he had tears too.

I have a soft spot for our combat warriors and especially one who played a brass musical instrument.  In my youth, I played the French Horn and the trumpet so I was immediately drawn to Eric.  Unfortunately, that was last Friday. I really wish that I’d met him earlier and had the opportunity to earn his respect and thereby be called brother by him.

Gunnery Sergeant Brian Eric Poe was more than an outstanding representative of the Marine Corps. He was more than a man’s man. He was more than a man of excellence. He was a faithful, loving husband, talented musician and a brother to everyone.

I believe that a statement in the funeral program must be true, “Brian Eric Poe was an example of the best of America.”

Rest in peace, Brother! You have loved and been loved in return.

(There is a link in the body of this blog to a performance of “Quintet” by Canadian Brass or use this address
After listening to “Quintet” open a second browser and play again the music that Eric so loved as a background to rereading this blog.  Perhaps you too will feel a connection with Eric.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Mid-February, 2008.

Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, California.

We, civilian sheepdogs, often journey to majestic Death Valley to re-cement relationships spanning decades.  This time it was a long weekend riding off-highway dual sport motorcycles. My god, what a weekend!

Our group enjoys a special kinship with military warriors.  Have you ever heard of warriors referred to as sheepdogs?  Well, probably not. Put succinctly, sheepdogs run towards the gunfire and sheep run away from it. Three sequential photos taken in Iraq illuminate the notion.  An American soldier was walking through an Iraqi village when something happens; perhaps it is a bomb explosion or maybe gunshots.  Whatever happened, the soldier continues to stride forward purposefully while the Iraqi crowd flees in pandemonium in the opposite direction.

During the Vietnam War, an American colonel postulated the concept that humans are sheep, sheepdogs and wolves.  Sheep symbolize the majority of humans. Wolves predate upon the sheep, and the sheepdogs, both military and civilian, protect the sheep from the wolves.

My buddy Russ announced that he was packing a 5 foot by 3 foot American flag to display and thereby honor military sheepdogs should an American military jet fly nearby. That fired-up everyone’s enthusiasm.  Russ’ plan was a fine token of appreciation for our military sheepdog brethren. And, the plan was not far-fetched since military jets routinely fly the Panamint Valley skirting the western edge of Death Valley National Park. The valley is part of the military’s Special Use Airspace Complex.

For several days we negotiated dirt/gravel byways occasionally clogged with snow. The roads did their best to topple us if we slowed too much allowing the front wheel to plow and lose steerage. It is as if someone kicked the wheels right out from under you.  One second you’re upright, and the next you are down, or struggling to keep the motorcycle from pitching you head over heels.  Through all of that, we failed to spot a close military jet.

Homeward bound, two pick-up trucks loaded with motorcycles, we headed southbound through the Panamint Valley. The Panamint Mountain Range, home of Ballarat, the former mining town and now virtual ghost town, and Barker Ranch where Charlie Manson once hung out, graces the eastern flank of the valley with Telescope Peak rising to 11,049 feet. Clear, dry and tranquil it was. No wind. No birds flying.  Maybe a lizard hunkered under a bush or skittered about. We were tired and mellow.  Russ drove and I relaxed.

Suddenly, blasting over the mountains and dropping into valley, coming northbound toward us like the birds of prey they are, two Fighting Falcons, fast and low.  Dwight and Tim stopped ahead of us.  Russ stopped.  Bailing out from the shotgun side, I struggled to deploy Russ’ flag. The lead F-16 passed just to our west.  I’m not sure that I got the flag out in time for the lead pilot to see it. But three seconds later, Ol’ Glory was fully displayed for the Wingman.  He came straight up the road directly at us a mere 500 feet over our heads. If you have not had a close-up experience with a low flying military jet, let me tell you this, it is an incredible sight and sound to behold.

Russ and I were still high-fiving when both birds banked to an eastbound and then a southbound heading. Two black specks rocketing down the valley, back the way they came. When the leading jet turned westbound toward our partners, I realized that they were going to come around for another pass. I envision the radio conversation that might have occurred between the pilots.

Wingman to Leader: “Did you see those guys holding up Ol’ Glory?  Let’s go around.”

Leader to Wingman: “Roger. There are two stopped vehicles about a mile apart. I’ll take the first, and you take the second.”

Wingman to Leader: “Roger that.”

Lead jet buzzed Dwight and Tim, climbed out of the valley, and departed away to the southwest. Seconds later, Wingman turned northbound and descended this time to about 100 feet off the deck thundering up the road directly at us. Russ and I, holding Ol’ Glory stretched out between us, were head-on eye-ball to eye-ball with Wingman piloting his fifty foot bird with a thirty-two foot wing span and weighing up to 42,000 pounds.

Wingman’s first fly-by was routine.  But, not this time.  Now, it was personal.  Wingman did not know that we were fellow sheepdogs but he certainly recognized the respect that we accorded to him.  There was a connection between a pilot and two patriots standing steadfast in the desert. My feet were anchored to the ground like I had grown roots. Destiny deemed that I had no other function than to stand there with Ol’ Glory. It was as if we and Wingman were engaged in an intertwining dance, playing integral parts in the same play; a mutual salute. We were one. The tension was intoxicating.

The Fighting Falcon’s maximum speed at sea level is 915 mph.  I don’t know what speed Wingman was doing, but he was cooking. Whooom, he passed over us and immediately pulled a high-g ascent as straight up as an F-16 can do, propelled by the flaming jet engine. A barrel roll and Wingman was gone as fast as he arrived leaving us with the mist and smell of jet fuel and a memory of a lifetime. The tension released and Russ and I went nuts, like a couple of kids. When we regained our composure, it was so quiet.

Saddling up and continuing toward home, the desert and mountains once again paned by giving testament to their endurance, as if frozen in time but not. We drove mostly in silence for quite awhile.  I was absorbed in my thoughts; I suppose that Russ was too.

That is the way it happened when we said, “Thank You.” And, they said, “You are Welcome.”

Uu-ah, Sheepdog!  Hunt the wolf.