SUNDAY, JUNE 30, 2002 - ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
Golden Pen Award
Each Sunday The Orange Register recognizes a letter that
eloquently expresses a viewpoint or engenders a debate on a
topic of public interest. Today's winner is Ann Baker, a real-estate
agent who lives in Huntington Beach.
It was our normal Thursday morning business meeting at our
real-estate office. No big deal. Before the meeting we hung
around the bagel table, as usual, with our coffee. He stood
aside, looking a little shy and awkward and very young, a new
face in a room full of extroverted salespeople. An average looking
guy, maybe 5 feet 8 inches. A clean-cut, sweet-faced kid. I
went over to chat with him. Maybe he was a new salesman?
He said he was just back from Kabul, Afghanistan. A Marine.
Our office (and a local school) had been supportive by sending
letters to him and other troops, which he had posted on the
American Embassy door in Kabul. He stood guard there for four
months and was shot at daily.
He had come to our office to thank us for our support, for
all the letters during those scary times. I couldn't believe
my ears. He wanted to thank us? We should be thanking him. But
how? How can I ever show him my appreciation?
At the end of the sales meeting, he stepped quietly forward,
no incredible hulk. As a matter of fact, he looked for all the
world 15 years old to me. (The older I get, the younger they
This young Marine, this clean-faced boy, had no qualms stepping
up to the plate and dodging bullets so that I might enjoy the
freedom to live my peaceful life in the land of the free. No
matter the risk. Suddenly the most stressful concerns of my
life seemed as nothing, my complacency flew right out the window
with his every word. Somewhere, somehow, he had taken the words
honor, courage and commitment into his very soul and laid his
life on the line daily for me and us. A man of principle. He
wants to do it. Relishes it. And he came to thank us? For a
few letters? I fought back the tears as he spoke so briefly
He walked forward to our manager and placed a properly folded
American flag in his hands. It had flown over the Embassy. He
said thanks again. You could hear a pin drop. As I looked around
I saw red faces everywhere fighting back the tears.
In a heartbeat, my disillusionment with young people today
quickly vanished. In ordinary homes, in ordinary towns, kids
like him are growing up proud to be an American and willing
to die for it. Wow. We'll frame the flag and put it in the lobby.
He only came to my office once, for just a few minutes. But
I realize I rubbed shoulders with greatness in the flesh and
in the twinkling of an eye my life is forever changed. His name
is Michael Mendez, a corporal in the USMC. We are a great nation.
We know because the makings of it walked into my office that
Ann Baker Huntington Beach