Facebook Can Be A Good Thing

I’ll say right up front, when it comes to Facebook or any of the other “social media,” I have always been cautiously optimistic about their redeeming values. I generally do not put things on Facebook; but I do get email alerts from people who have, I guess, put me down as someone to alert about “important” postings.

But still, in general, I find most of the alerts to be fairly meaningless and most of the time the delete button is my off switch.

However, my perspective changed somewhat when I got an email Facebook alert recently from a woman whose husband was killed on October 23, 1983 in the terrorist attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut. Apparently someone had made an offhand comment about her being on Facebook a lot talking about her son and it got back to her. 

For the first time, I cheered the use of Facebook because she proceeded, with much dignity and poise (something rare on Facebook, IMHO), to inform those who choose to use this social platform to send barbs and uninformed opinions instead of positive messages.

She explained that when her husband--the love of her life and her best friend--was killed in 1983, her son was an infant barely eight months old. Her husband, a 29-year-old Navy surgeon, had only met his son briefly when he was born because he was deployed to Beirut soon after. When his son was born, his father came out of the delivery room and told family members, “He is perfect.”

He was scheduled to be home in November or December after six months serving with other Marines and sailors who were peacekeepers in Beirut, trying to act as a buffer between warring factions, trying to give peace a chance.

Unfortunately, he went home in a flag-draped coffin due to the actions of Islamic terrorists backed by Iran through their proxy in Beirut, a group called Hezbollah. This group bombed the barracks where about 400 men slept on a quiet Sunday morning, 6:20 a.m. The suicide bomber drove a delivery truck filled with gas-enhanced military explosives through guard posts and into the four-story building, bringing it down to a story and one-half of concrete, steel and massive casualties; 241 killed, scores more injured.

The surgeon’s wife explained that she was left with the memory of her husband and the reality of being a widow with an infant son. She told anyone who read the post about how that boy became the center of her world. The boy who looked so much like her husband grew up to be a wonderful, loving son who was a source of strength to her.

She told about times when she was feeling overwhelmed, or sad, and the boy would do or say something that would give her hope for the future. As he grew up she told him about his father, about how he died and about how proud he would have been of his son. So the son came to know his father through her stories, and through letters his dad had written to his mother while he was in Beirut. His mother would read him those letters, so his dad talked to him in his own words.

The proud wife and mother, who never re-married, made no apologies for mentioning her son a lot on Facebook; in fact, she vowed to do it more in the future because he was a son to be proud of.

Two years ago, on the 30th anniversary of the Beirut bombing, I had the opportunity to meet the young man, her son, and I understood her pride.

He was the spitting image of his dad; a warm, winning smile, a bright and positive outlook on life and a confidence that radiated. He was the guest speaker at a banquet for about 800 family members, veterans and fellow service members of the 270 servicemen who had been killed during the U.S. involvement in Beirut between 1982-84. They were in Jacksonville, N.C. for the 30th annual remembrance of the bombing.

The young man was now 30 years old and the new father of a 6-month old son who bore the first name of his paternal grandfather and the middle name of his dad. It was ironic that this young man was now about the age his father had been when he died and that he now had a son the same age he had been at the time of his dad’s death.

The theme of his talk was “Survivor to Fighter.” He passionately told how he and his mother struggled with the loss of their father and husband but how it also drew them together. He described how the loss of his father eventually made him realize that it was a part of his life and a part of what made him who he is. 

In part, he said, “The person I am today is so inextricably linked to the loss of my father that it is impossible to imagine the person I would be without that loss. I would be just like everyone else. On October 23, my father was stolen from my life. On October 23, your friends and loved ones were stolen from your lives. But unknowingly what those evil people gave to us that day was the opportunity to evolve. They gave us the opportunity to stare hardship in the face, accept the burden and overcome the obstacle. They gave us the chance to become fighters; empowered with the will to succeed and the caution to take nothing for granted. And they gave us the platform to stand before others and testify to that journey in the hope that it may equip them along their own way.”

The rest of his 20-some-minute speech was filled with the same awe-inspiring messages. At the end he received a standing ovation that brought tears to his eyes, and to his mother’s.

So, yeah, this lady is proud of her son and she’s not afraid to tell anybody, anywhere, over any platform, social network or communication device … and so she should.

In a broader sense, his talk made me realize that we are all products of our experiences, good and bad.  We’ve all had measures of joy and sadness, wins and losses, good and evil in our lives.

Ultimately, the measure of our character is how we handle it all and especially how we handle the bad, the negative, the hardships. It’s usually easy to handle joy; it’s not so easy to deal with sadness.

I’ve thought about this young man’s words many times over the past couple of years. I re-read his speech from time to time because it reminds me that there are many different forms of adversity in life. It’s how we handle the adversity that defines the measure of a man or woman.

I think the young man’s dad would be very, very proud.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.