Angels, Miracles & Dogs – A Veterans’ Day Salute

12 Nov

I had the distinct honor and privilege of entertaining American troops, their families and veterans for over 15 years on military bases all over the world with the theatrical production, “Letters From The Front.” FtSill-standOI lived in billeting along side them and I was “adopted” into their military family. So I can say from experience that we are blessed to the nth degree to have so many wonderful people who are willing to dedicate their lives to preserving our freedoms here in America. And it’s not just those who join and train to become a soldier, a sailor, an airman or a marine. It’s also the families who wait and pray for their safe return who serve.

Today’s blog is dedicated to all who serve and who have served – here and abroad. I know I said that this blog is based on three premises: angels are real, you can live as if everything is a miracle and there is a good reason that “dog” is God spelled backwards. But, stick with me on this story, a true one at that, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

My story takes place in Germany in 1997. We were half way through our American military base tour in Europe that year, traveling on a bus, pulling our gear behind us in a trailer and setting up where ever they had the space to accommodate us. We arrived in Ansbach to find that the only place we could set up was a gym, complete with windows lining the top of the walls, next to the ceiling. Not the ideal place, but that’s all they had, so that’s what where we set up our show.

By this point we had been touring for several years and we were able to adapt to just about any situation. What we never got accustomed to was how deeply “Letters From The Front” affected our audiences. Every night, from the moment, our leading lady, Della Cole, stepped on stage as the character Katharine Hartgrove, until she and her co-star took their curtain-calls, our military audiences were captivated by the show. After all, it was their story we were telling. Katharine waiting at home for word of her son, Mark, who was fighting in Desert Storm, was something they all could personally relate to. It was even more intense for our overseas audiences who were either just returning from or preparing for deployment. Or they were a family member waiting — waiting for a loved one to be deployed or to return.

In 1997 two of the world’s hot spots were Kosovo and Bosnia.  Both places were rough assignments for our troops. We knew that Ansbach was a jumping off point for deployment to these areas, but that’s about all we knew. The show at the Katterbach Gym started promptly at 7:00 pm on October 29th. The sun was well above the horizon, which meant light was streaming in from the windows at top of the gym. There was nothing we could do about it, so we tried not to pay any attention to it. The creaking of the bleachers was very distracting, but the audience didn’t seem to mind. I could see people leaning forward to hear every word of the show.

In Act III, Katharine discovers that her son is missing in action. It happens suddenly, in the middle of a humorous scene and the audience doesn’t expect it. It’s quite jolting. Then, after a sleepless night, Katharine tries to cope with the knowledge that her son’s life is truly in imminent danger. She does what countless military moms have done throughout history, she drops to her knees and prays for the life of her son.

As the prayer scene began that night we could all hear a distant droning sound. At first we thought Della’s wireless mike was picking up something, which happened occasionally since there is no shortage of RF on military bases. But no, this was real and it got louder quickly.

On stage Katharine lifts her face toward heaven and prays, “I’ve been told that light, the true light, the light that illuminates our hearts and minds comes from you. How I need that light now!”

As if on cue, lights descended from the night sky, flashing through the windows at the top of the gym. On stage Katharine continued praying from the depths of her soul, kneeling as if at an altar, “Won’t you please let my son live?  He’s a flower that’s just come into bloom…”

The loud rumbling sound from outside intensified and became a distinctive thump-thump-thump. The lights from above grew brighter and flashed across Katharine’s face as she looked upward, raising her voice in prayer. “He’s a lily of the field.  Let him grow. Please God, just let him grow.”

By now, everyone in the gym knew what was happening. Helicopters were landing outside, bringing soldiers back from Kosovo and Bosnia. Loved ones were returning home safely from a war zone. In the play, after Katharine finishes her prayer, her son Mark calls — he’s safe too — safe like the real men and women who just arrived outside of our make-shift theatre.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including ours. We didn’t know if life was imitating art or art was imitating life, we all felt so connected, so joyful.

As soon as the show was over we all went running to the back of the gym to watch our soldiers disembark from the helicopters. Noses of loved ones were pressed against windows trying to catch a glimpse of a familiar face. The soldiers would have to be officially checked-in before they could throw their arms around those they loved.

Load-out is never quiet. It was quiet that night. Each of us were lost in our own thoughts about what we had witnessed and been privileged to be a part of. The air we were moving through, the entire place we were working in felt sacred.

We moved on from Ansbach the following day, on to more bases, to perform more shows and have more adventures. There were better, slicker performances of “Letters From The Front” to come and we visited places that were much more spectacular than Ansbach.  But, none were more memorable or touched us so deeply than the night Katharine prayed for the life of her son as helicopters landed right outside the theatre, the gym.

Angels come in many forms. Perhaps that night the angels were helicopter pilots. What about miracles? I can tell you, the air was filled with miracles that night. It was palpable.

And there is a good reason that “dog” is God spelled backwards. Because if you can’t find a dog in a story, it doesn’t matter, because you can always find God in one.

If you’ve visited my blog before, you know that I have invited each of you to join me in smiling our way back to better times. Today’s blog, was by nature, a serious subject.Enduring Freedom Don’t forget to tell the veterans in your life how much you appreciate their service to our country. And, the next time you see someone in uniform, put your hand out and say “Thank you for serving your country. We appreciate you.” You won’t believe how much it will mean to them. Trust me on this one – that’s when you’ll get your smile!


Marsha Roberts

Author of “Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer”


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