Calling Old Friends on Patriots Day… and Remembering


… I thought it might be nice to do a re-post on a blog entry I did at this time last year… Enjoy… and Never Forget.

I called Lee Ielpi today, just like I’ve done for the better part of a decade. I can’t really remember how I first met Lee… but his story is one you’ll never forget.

Lee Ielpi is a quiet hero. He knows heartache and tragedy better than most. He’s witnessed the unimaginable with his own eyes.

Through it all he has helped maintain the real and relevant part of the 9/11 story while also remaining one of the most solid and squared away individuals I know.

If you happened to be in the area of southern Manhattan today, chances are you’d make it a point to visit the 9/11 Memorial. Some call it “Ground Zero”. The Memorial does an incredible, albeit sobering, job of telling what happened at 1 World Trade Center on that day.

The Memorial is as much a museum as it is a Memorial. As you descend under the rebuilt streets of Manhattan you’re gradually surrounded by the sights, sounds and even smells of our generation’s day that will live in infamy.

You begin to hear the voices of firefighters calling for more support equipment. You hear New York Police Department officers requesting backup and emergency equipment. Knowing the final result, you begin to ponder how strong their commitment was to their mission.

You consider how heartbroken they must have been when their initial efforts to save lives and property would seem to have been in vain… for whatever period of time that realization may have been.

As you delve further into the Memorial, you witness some of the scenes and voices of tragedy as people, innocent victims, in the Twin Towers begin to realize their fate.

In and amongst the voices are steel beams that appear to have been twisted like spaghetti as the building fell. There are fire trucks, crushed almost beyond recognition, which were left abandoned by teams of lifesavers who were never able to return to the place where the trucks were parked.

If you’re like me, when you visit the 9/11 Memorial, it’s about that point in the “tour” that you begin to remind yourself that this was an event which occurred a long time ago. It becomes a little too overwhelming and you want to remind yourself you can walk away. You remember, almost like waking up from a bad dream, that the scenes you’re seeing and voices you’re hearing are from a bygone era, envisioned and enacted by very evil individuals.

You remember that you’ll walk out the door of the Memorial in a few minutes, probably with a tear in your eye, hopefully into a glorious Manhattan afternoon… and you may even begin to ponder where your evening meal might be.

You’d remind yourself of your Freedom.

For Lee Ielpi, and many others like him, the nightmare of 9/11 can’t be left behind by simply walking out the doors of the Memorial, however.

Jonathan Ielpi was in the middle of a shift on the morning of 9/11/2001. He was a Firefighter in Squad 288 of the FDNY Special Operations Command located in Queens, NY. Major incidents and Hazardous Material events were their specialty. Jonathan and Squad 288 were the tip of the spear for the FDNY and people of NYC.

From l. to r.: Brendan Ielpi, Lee Ielpi, Jonathan Ielpi and Jonathan’s two boys Andrew (in front) and Austin (held by Jonathan).

Chances are Jonathan heard the Boeing 757 come in low over southern Manhattan, as most everyone in New York City did that day.

When the call came in to Squad 288 the report was that a twin engine aircraft had flown into the World Trade Center. Jonathan suited up. He and his team knew there was work to be done.

I’m sure the scene, on that crisp and clear September morning, looking up at the Twin Towers, must have been more than Jonathan could fathom. Regardless, Squad 288 launched into action without hesitation and hurled themselves into the melee before them.

Then, at 9:59, the South tower fell.

We can only speculate if any of the team members had any idea of the magnitude of the situation. There are survivors who can tell the story, but a total of 9 lives were lost on 9/11 from Squad 288 alone.

No one could have imagined the towers would actually fall. The unimaginable day just got inifinitely worse.

If you’ve seen any of the videos of the aftermath of the towers falling, you’ve experienced some part of the deafening silence that enveloped the area afterwards. You may have also noticed the continuous chirps that sounded from beyond the haze and remnants of paper that swirled in the air.

Each of those chirps was a firefighter’s alarm that automatically goes off when the firefighter doesn’t move for a brief period of time. One of those chirps was the alarm that had been connected to Jonathan’s tank and equipment.

Lee Ielpi, who was in the waning years of his firefighting service on September 11th, rolled onto the scene, in a support role, about 30 minutes after the second tower had fallen.

It was no longer his job to drag hose and don the turnout gear. Those jobs were for the kids in the service. The kids like his son Jonathan.

As any Dad would do, and as the reality of the situation began to set in, Lee began to wonder about Jonathan’s location. Ofcourse it wasn’t a time to lose focus on the task at hand, but Lee began to worry. As a result of his years of experience, he quickly realized that things may quickly get untenable.

Only moments later he was told Jonathan was gone.

When you meet Lee Ielpi today, he’s a face of peace and contentment. When I spoke to him today, he thanked me for the call. We asked each other about family and shared a tear for loved ones gone home.

He reminded me that he was now a Florida resident and that I needed to come visit. And, as he always does, he invited me to come to The 9/11 Tribute Center sometime soon.

The Tribute Center is across the street from the 9/11 Memorial. It’s a private effort and is supported by selfless giving. The Tribute Center is Lee’s tribute to his fallen son, and many other families who have stories similar to the Ielpi family’s.

As we chatted, Lee mentioned, with a smile “in his voice” that the Center had recently expanded to over 3 times its original size. He said they had officially changed the name and now referred to it as a museum.

You can find out more about Lee Ielpi’s vision which became a reality here.

As was Lee’s vision, many years ago, on any given day, in and amongst the throngs of people venturing into the 9/11 Memorial, you can find the Tribute Center open, eagerly welcoming visitors to come in and hear “the rest of the story” firsthand.

The Tribute Center does not employ many people. Most of the people you find there are volunteers. They’re not just any volunteers, either. At Lee’s behest, if you want to volunteer there, you must have had some direct impact to you or your Family on 9/11. You’ll only find family members or First Responders there volunteering. They help to finish telling the story of what happened, to them, on September 11, 2001.

The Mission of the Tribute Center is to honor and remember the lives lost on that day. No one can help us remember better than those who felt it, saw it and were impacted by it themselves. The Tribute Center is the true personal side of 9/11.

And with that… I’ll wrap up my post.

It’s one of heartache but happiness. You hear both when you talk to Lee. It’s easy for the rest of us to say we’ll never forget. Lee doesn’t have a choice and yet he knows he’s blessed and won’t hesitate to tell you that.

His therapy is honoring those who did NOT die in vain in the first battle of the War on Terror… and what a therapist he is for the rest of the world.

If you’re lucky you can catch Lee at the Tribute Center sometime soon. If you don’t find Lee, you can still find plenty of other volunteers willing to share their stories. You can also see Jonathan’s turnout gear, just the way it was found, months after 9/11/2001, lovingly displayed as only a father can do.


Let us always remember. Let us never forget.

What a Blessing

This is what it looked like as we visited Calafell, Spain with Bucky Kennedy and his family. We traveled to Spain to talk to kids about Jesus. We barely spoke their language, we hardly knew a thing about them, but, by the end of week, over 30 of the 200 we spent time with came to know Jesus.

In case you haven’t been to Spain lately, I imagine it’s a vastly different place than the Spain that funded Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the “New World” in 1492. Its exposure to 21st Century cultural issues seems to have been expedited much more so than even ours has been here in the US.

Their society is definitely European and it strikes me that, generally, they want to blend in, rather than maintain a specific heritage.

The monetary system is based on the Euro. Their culture seems to have been “blended” into one of cultural diversity. Kids and teenagers are exposed to issues, any and all, that have traditionally been reserved for more mature adult minds. Poverty is broad, yet opportunity still exists for those who acquiesce to social norms.

My pastor asked if I thought Spain could be qualified as a “Post-Christian” society and I responded that I could see that as a reasonable perspective.

To clarify, I found a good explanation on Wikipedia:

“Postchristianity[1] is the loss of the primacy of the Christian worldview in political affairs, especially in the Global North where Christianity had previously flourished, in favor of alternative worldviews such as secularism or nationalism.[2] It includes personal world views, ideologies, religious movements or societies that are no longer rooted in the language and assumptions of Christianity, at least explicitly, although they had previously been in an environment of ubiquitous Christianity (i.e. Christendom).”

All that being said, my family and I were eager to arrive in Spain, along with Bucky Kennedy and his family.

As we settled into a summer camp routine of singing, devotionals, small groups and getting to know others who were there and assisting like we were, we began to see kids who were thirsty for “what else” this life has to offer and what purpose they could fulfill.

As I spent time with these kids, I heard stories of other kids, their friends, who didn’t seem to know, or care, about God. I heard about kids who had many, many distractions and whose attention was easily turned away from the Bible and Jesus.

When he spoke, Bucky had a translator. Juan Marcos had the monumental task of translating “North Georgian” English into Espanol. I told Juan Marcos I’d be praying for him before Bucky’s first speaking opportunity. On that occasion, Juan Marcos had to inform Bucky that there was no translation for the term “squashing a bug”. Regardless, Juan Marcos stuck with Bucky all week and did an incredible job.

Now don’t be fooled, we had free time. Serving “On Mission” in a First World country, bordered on the south by the Mediterranean Sea, isn’t especially difficult.

Regardless, we had plenty of time to share the love of Jesus with the kids at camp, and we took advantage of that at every opportunity.

It was probably on the third night in Calafell, at camp, that it hit me. As much as I might have set out to do my best to tell a few kids from Spain, Portugal, Italy and other countries about Jesus, they were blessing me even more.

There was that song… I knew the words in my language… but I knew only some of the words in theirs. By the third night, the kids knew all the words.

Regardless of all the stuff, the “cosas” they had to deal with in their world, they were singing. Regardless of the questions they had asked me, they were singing. Regardless of the poverty some of them had told me about, they were singing. Regardless of the questions and distractions, and how fast their society wanted them to deal with adult issues that they aren’t prepared for, they were singing… and smiling… and what a blessing it was.

God is good and His plan is perfect. That is what I believe. I’m not perfect, far from it, but God is opening my eyes a little more all the time, and what a blessing it is.

My family and I will continue to pray for the kids we spent a week with in Calafell, Spain. We’ll pray they now know, or will continue to grow in, the love of Jesus.

Our prayers will be that they bless others and share the love we have shared for and with them. We’ll pray that Spain, and all of the other countries that were represented at camp, will soon become a “Modern-Christian” society (if that’s a thing) once again. We’ll pray that, because, life with the God we know is a blessing in this world and His gift of Heaven is worth everything we can give… and then some.

Now that we’re home I realize that He just reminded us of that, and blessed us, yet again.

People in elected office should respect their constituents… and their neighbors

It’s been said: “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice!”

So the Georgia primary is upon us and some candidates are making a name for themselves. Some are making good impressions, some are getting scared by the polls and trying a Hail Mary. Others, who apparently are just not good neighbors, are having their stories told in public.

To that end… I present Georgia State Rep. Dan Gasaway.

In full disclosure, Dan and I used to be friends. We went to high school together. He hasn’t spoken to me in years, after some issues with property he was trying to sell that I’m happy to explain but won’t bore you with here.

Regardless, the last time I saw him, I stuck out my hand, asked him how he was, and he looked at me, smiled, and said “take care”. He then turned around and walked away. He didn’t offer a gentlemen’s handshake in return. I truly have no animosity towards him, but I also don’t think he needs to be a State Representative.

More recently, Ken and Stacy Giles have experienced some of the same kind of personality traits from Dan. Stacy tells her story below, while being interviewed on a Banks County talk radio show. Along with the audio is video of Dan pouring composting, steaming chicken remnants on the Giles property line. It’s unbelievable video, and all totally real.

So I think I’ll just let the video speak for itself. It’s hard to add much to it.

Needless to say, I’m voting for Dan’s opponent, Chris Erwin. They call them “Representatives” for a reason. I want to be represented properly in the Georgia State House.

Go the extra Half Mile and stay at The Farm

Amy and I just had the amazing opportunity to spend the weekend at Half Mile Farm, one of the properties of the Old Edwards Inn, in Highlands, NC. In short- What a blessing. You need to go!

First of all- I prefer rustic over fancy. My standards aren’t impossibly out of reach when it comes to being comfortable. On the other hand, I know a unique and special place when I find it. This place is definitely all of the above.

The Farm sits on 14 acres, complete with fishing pond, called Apple Lake (poles provided), walking trails to walk off the carbs from the chef prepared quiche breakfast and tree frogs that seem to start on cue around sunset.

The Farm claims to be a Bed and Breakfast style Inn, but it’s truly much more than that. With a recently completed bar and hors d’ouvres at sunset, you’ll quickly find that it’s nothing short of ideal.

The Main building at The Farm has a number of rooms that boast courtyard or woodland views. Of particular interest to folks that might choose these rooms is the Old Edwards Inn’s all encompassing “Zero Tolerance” Noise Policy. From their website:

“To support a peaceful, sleep-friendly environment for guests, all properties of Old Edwards maintain a zero-tolerance noise policy. If there is a noise complaint from another guest, you will be issued a warning. If there is a second noise complaint, you will be evicted from the premises without a refund.”

Believe me, I wouldn’t want to be on their bad list!

For those that wouldn’t mind spending an extra nickel (my Dad always said that for a nickel more you can go first class) then The Farm has several incredible cabins that are only a short walk down the hill.

The second you walk in the door of any of the cabins, you’ll know you’re stepping back in time while still having access to all the creature comforts of a 21st Century home.

The barn wood that was used to build the cabins was actually taken from locations all over the southeast.

The cabin building project was started back in 2004 and it took over two years to complete them all. The effort was masterminded by several different entities who put a masterful touch on the property. Ronny Bolton, a Real Estate Developer from Aiken, SC, Todd Blair of Atlanta and David Grant Howard, President and Founder of Historic Lumber in Greenville, TN all came together for the project.

The Team’s vision is evident in their successful result of a perfect blend of nature and history. Mixed among the rhododendrons and hemlocks are the historic and rustic cabins that, if they could talk, would tell stories of families and frontiers from early 19th Century Mountain living.

From the cabin construction Team’s website regarding one of the cabin’s history:

“The v-notching at the corners is characteristic of the construction technique attributed to the Scottish and Irish that settled (in Kentucky in the early 1800s), however the Earnest name has a distinctly German origin. The Scotch, Irish, and Germans fled Europe by the tens of thousands and entered the United States predominantly through the port of Philadelphia. They came across and down the Great Wagon Road of Pennsylvania, south through central and western Virginia to Long Island in Tennessee (now Kingsport) and then into Kentucky, following the Wilderness Road to the interior of the state. The Earnest House is built in the architectural style of the early houses of the Valley of Virginia which often combined log, half timber, which you see in the middle section of the building, and stone. There were few, if any, architects, so as each generation added what was needed to meet the needs of the family, a rambling mix of styles and construction technologies actually became the wondering architecture of that region that we see today. It is unlike any in this country.”

It’s apparent through their study of the history of the buildings that their commitment to reconstructing, while not re-shaping, history was of prime interest.

To say that Half Mile Farm is a special place is an understatement. Its ideal mix of history, nature, service and comfort is truly immeasurable. If you can find an open weekend, and if they have an extra room (or cabin), you should go. I hope to see you there soon!

It’s time to Build for Devon!

It’s been a little while since I’ve slowed down to pass along a few thoughts. Regardless, Life rolls on, and blessings have been happening every day!

So you may know the story of Devon Gales. First and foremost- what a great kid. I’ve written about him before. You probably know his story. If you don’t, you can check out his story on our website here:

Build For Devon

Update: through a great partnership with the incredible people at WSB radio, and specifically fellow Bulldog Ashley Frasca, we’ve begun a strong lead-up to the UGA spring G Day football game on April 21. Additionally, we have tailgates with Devon lined up for G Day:

UGA will also have announcements and pictures for Devon on the big screen during the G Day game, as well.

Bottom line- we need your help. Please please please consider helping us build a house for Devon. Whatever you’re doing right now- stop and take a minute to make a difference. The Gales deserve the help, it’s honestly a blessing to know them, and Devon, who has smiled through the adversity, would be blessed with suitable housing to help him prepare for his next chapter in life.

Thanks in advance for your help!

So this is what Glory is like.

It’s early in the morning, January 2, 2018. The golden sun has yet to rise above the San Gabriel mountains to pour its orange glow onto the streets of Pasadena, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica or Orange County, California. Regardless, Georgians all over the country, and tens of thousands in California, are waking up, asking if it was real… and rejoicing that it was. The Dawgs have won the Rose Bowl. Pinch… yep, it’s real.

I attended the University of Georgia. I was fortunate (in several ways) to graduate, in 1988, after 4 years in Athens. I then received a “slot” for pilot training and a Commission in the United States Air Force. What a blessing that time was.

When I started at UGA in 1984 some of the glory days had just occurred. I had just missed it, but the glory could still be felt on campus, and surely, we thought, there was more glory soon to come.

Herschel Walker was still on campus during my time at UGA. He wasn’t playing college football by then, however. I chatted with him a couple of times as we walked to class. I was in awe and he was gracious and friendly enough to spend some time talking with a lowly freshman.

It’s a little known fact that Herschel went back to Georgia to finish his degree. He traded the thunder and glory of Sanford Stadium for the peace and quiet of the majestic oaks of Old College. Not necessarily by choice, mind you, but definitely out of an obligation and commitment to finish what he had started. Just like Coach Dooley had wanted.

Gone were the “Walker, My Dawg” t-shirts from just a few years before and “Life after Glory” had begun to set in. He was back on Athens keeping a promise made. All because he was, and is, a Damn Good Dawg.

On a side note- the Savannah Historical Society has Coach Dooley’s day planner from the late 70s. If you go visit, you’ll see it opened to a page, quite appropriately, where the Coach had scribbled “go to Wrightsville to meet the Walker family” or something to that affect. What a visit that must have been. Glory. But… All of that was a long time ago.

So, needless to say, it’s been a long road back to glory for Georgia and our Dawgs.

Dooley, Goff, Donnan, Richt. They’ve all coached from the heart and out of a commitment to the school they love. There’s no question about that. They all had varying levels of success, however, and none have ever seemed to reach the level of the Modern Era UGA Glory of the early 80s.

As a result, those of us who cheer our alma mater have had varying levels of frustration, over the last 35 (plus) years, as we have pined for Glory, once again.

But College Football is big business. Really big. It’s not about heart or love, right? It’s all about going through the motions and showing up on time for the ESPN interview, right? Wrong. So wrong.

I get it that coaches and staff have to move around and that sometimes their allegiances need to shift like the gears on the buses running the North-South route on campus.

I get it that team chemistry is something that can’t be calculated or, many times, duplicated. I get it that sometimes a recruiting year is good… and sometimes not. I get it.

But, when it’s all said and done, I truly believe that team, sports, football, chemistry, etc is as much about Home and Roots and “Raisin'” and Staying Grounded in Faith and doing things for others rather than yourself as it is about business, allegiance to a job and just showing up on time. And that’s what seems to be different about the 2017 version of the University of Georgia football team, its Coaches and its staff. Glory, Glory.

I’ve watched a lot of UGA football but I never played in college. I know I’m not alone in being a Grandstand Coach and that there are plenty of legends who are much more knowledgeable of the game than me.

I also don’t know all of the coaches and players… but I know a few, and I’ve watched them grow as the games have unfolded. As a result, I feel like I know the heart and commitment that the team and staff have. The selfless commitment to others. The commitment to integrity. The commitment to chopping wood. The commitment to winning. The commitment to Attacking the Day. The commitment to Throwdown Thursday.

It’s all of that which makes it fun to have watched this season unfold.

I’ll admit that over the years I’ve grown used to us beating ourselves. I’ve grown used to conservative calls on third and long… or even 1st and ten for that matter. I’ll even admit to resigning myself to some of that old-time defeatism as our Dawgs fought through the first half of the 2018 Rose Bowl. But then… Glory.

This year’s team, it seems, has turned a corner. You could try to point to a person that brought about that new direction… maybe he wears a visor. Maybe he wears a certain number. Maybe it’s even a few people who you could argue have made that happen. I’d submit, however, that it takes more than that. Much more.

One, two or three people can’t change a mindset. It takes buy-in for that to happen. It takes “want to” from the rest of the team to get to the National Championship game. It takes talent committed to excellence to compete against a team that “beat the dog crap” out of you only a few weeks before.

It takes a fan base thirsty for just a little more, willing to travel to South Bend or even cross country, by any and all means available, in hopes of catching a glimpse… or maybe even being a part of that thing… called Glory. And then, when you see it, you grab it… fleeting as it is… and you revel in the moment. And you wake up pinching yourself.

So here we are. On the threshold of a National Championship game. And we’re in it. It brings tears to my eyes to even type it. Glory.

It’s everything people talk about in sports. It’s right before our eyes. It’s on the backs of jerseys with the letters Chubb, Michel, Eason, Cleveland, Blankenship, Fromm, Swift, Wims, L. Carter, that other guy, the one with the visor , and so many, many more. Each name with its own story on this path. Knowing that those names have created a bond, between themselves, a bond that will last a lifetime. A bond that only combat veterans and Championship sports teams can truly relate to. The bond that only comes from self-sacrifice and commitment to excellence.

It’s knowing that those names will be talked about for a long, long time. They’ll be typed into record books and emblazoned in bronze. Regardless of what happens on January 8th, 2018, what has happened already is legendary.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I realize that many people, inside and outside of Georgia, could care less about Georgia football. I also realize that there are pressing issues in the world that need “fixin'”. Regardless, this is timeless to many. Many that I know and many that I call friend.

It very possibly may be a “once in a lifetime” thing. I certainly hope not… but, who knows!

So…

Glory is all around us. It is, I believe, ahead, as well. Life, in some of its most mundane forms, can go on a week from today. For now, however, the Glory unfolding before our eyes is truly a sight to behold. It makes us smile… it’s a tie that binds. It’s success, focused like a laser and in its purest form. Seeing victory and success is life at its best. And when it’s your Alma Mater, it’s truly inexplicable.

Go, Dawgs. On to Glory.

What do you do when you pass a Vietnam Veteran?


We see them regularly. Many don’t hesitate to wear a baseball hat with their unit insignia or just simply “Vietnam”. They were awarded Medals of Valor, Distinguished Flying Crosses and Purple Hearts. They served honorably. They came home quietly. 

When you see someone who served in Vietnam, what’s your response? Do you ponder their service and the things they saw? Do you tell them “Thanks”? This isn’t a guilt trip… but if you don’t, you should, at a minimum.

As you may know, PBS put together an excellent, and mostly unbiased, documentary of the Vietnam war. It’s a 10 part series and runs over 18 hours long. It’s not something you’d want to “binge watch” like some Netflix shows these days, but it’s well worth taking some or all of it in.

I’ll admit to not having watched the full series, not even really close to it, but I’ve watched enough to remember some of the history about Vietnam, the lessons it taught our military and the rift it caused in our country. In short- it was a difficult time.


At the center of that difficult time were those who served in a war that most just wanted to forget about. To say that Vietnam veterans weren’t treated fairly is an extreme understatement. They served, they fought, many died and many more came home with both visible and less-than-visible scars.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, no one really knew much about post traumatic stress disorder. Back then they most certainly wouldn’t talk about it. So they didn’t.

Today, when a military member returns from a high stress mission, they’re told to “talk it out”. The military does a slightly better job of dealing with the issues of PTSD today but there’s still a lot of improving that can be done. Some of this improvement is a direct response to how Vietnam veterans, and previous battled hardened veterans in general, have handled their post war stress. So, for even more reasons, Vietnam era vets have paid an additional price. 

Regardless, when veterans from Vietnam came home they not only were ignored by a society that just wanted the war to end but they were also forced to essentially bury the fairly ugly part of their life that had just happened. That must not have been easy at all. 

So why bring that up? Because it’s not too late.

Many of these wonderful men and women are in the prime of their life today. They have aged but they have managed. Most have sons and daughters with successful careers. Some of these vets are pondering retirement. Some wear baseball hats showing their service. Some don’t.

So what do you do when you realize you’re in the midst of one of these truly unsung heroes of American History? I’d suggest that you not just tell them thanks. That’s a good good start… but do one better… SHOW them you’re thankful for their service.

Buy their lunch. Pay for their coffee. You don’t event have to tell them you’re doing it, if you don’t want to. I’ve found it’s really fun to watch a reaction when someone realizes their meal is paid for but they don’t know who paid it!

I ask that you consider doing it now because it didn’t happen when they came home. Do it now and make them smile… I promise it will make you smile, too. 

All veterans deserve honor and appreciation. Especially these vets, especially now. 

On humor, being Southern and Dabo Swinney…

So the last couple of weeks around my house have been somewhat tumultuous. From a stomach virus that limited any of my intake for 5 days to a tropical storm that knocked down 16 huuuuuge hardwoods in my yard… it’s been interesting. We’ve smiled and worked through it and, I believe, ultimately we can always get a little happier every day. 

As I’ve pondered my next blog, beginning with reviewing some of my previous, I’ve decided it’s time to lighten up a little. I like to consider myself humorous. I love to laugh, as we all inherently do, and my wife Amy also has a funny and dry sense of humor as well.

So… time to laugh a little. I have no idea how… or when… but that’s a new twist for this month-or-so old blog. 

I started thinking about humorous Southerners and I thought of some of Lewis Grizzard’s musings.

For those of you who may not be familiar, Lewis was one of those guys who people just wanted to be around, or so I imagine. I wish I could have met him. He easily made people laugh and he smiled at life in general. He didn’t let the challenges of his day bog him down in divisiveness. We could certainly use more Lewis Grizzard today!

I’m sure you can still find most of his 25 published books on Amazon, even today. Unfortunately he died in 1994 after open heart surgery, at the early age of 47, due to complications. 

Regardless, he left us untimely classics with titles like, “Chili Dawgs Always Bark at Night”, “Don’t sit under the Grits Tree with anyone else but me” and “When my Love returns from then Ladies Room, will I be too old to care?”

When you see those titles, and think about what some of the topics he must touch on inside the cover, One’s first thought is, “who could even think up those kind of ideas… much less put them into words?” Grizzard was legendary at it and there will never be anyone else like him, for sure.

To me, there are just certain legends, in my lifetime, that have made living a little better. 

Among them- Grizzard wth his writings and humor, Larry Munson with his legendary calls on Bulldog Saturdays and Captain Herb Emory and his vision for helping Georgians navigate a never ending nightmare of traffic challenges while always doing his part to remind listeners of the more important things in life.

Capt. Herb and me a few years ago…

These guys are just legends, all made from similar molds in their own rite. 

The lesson they all leave us with, in my opinion, is that you have to make your own way and it’s just easier when you smile. 

From their lives we can learn that we have to build our own style and it doesn’t need to fit a certain mold. As a matter of fact, I believe these gentlemen show us that dreaming, taking the path less traveled and smiling a lot along the way makes for a more enjoyable journey through life. Thanks, men. We appreciate the lesson. 

So plan on more humor, as I find more topics to expound upon. It ain’t fancy, but it’s not meant to be. Laughter, and Brussel sprouts, are things we could all use more of. 

I saw the video of Dabo Swinney (included below) this morning. Apparently it’s almost a year old. I have no idea what the question was that got him on this point, but he’s spot on. You need to listen… and we all need to hear what he says. There’s a difference, you know, between listening and hearing.

So… listen… and hear:


Dabo Swinney with a little wisdom…

It’s too bad he likes orange so much… if he keeps these kind of comments up, he could be added to my list above… still a little too early to tell, though. 

There’s one other cool video that Dabo found himself in the middle of… which is worthy of passing along:

Aren’t you that Famous Guy?


So, smile a little, or a lot. Laugh a little, or a lot, and let’s not be so serious!

As all of these guys have shown us, there’s a lot of life to live… and we owe it to all of them to live it to the fullest! 

Have a great day! God Bless!

Calling Old Friends on Patriot’s Day… and Remembering


I called Lee Ielpi today, just like I’ve done for the better part of a decade. I can’t really remember how I first met Lee… but his story is one you’ll never forget.

Lee Ielpi is a quiet hero. He knows heartache and tragedy better than most. He’s witnessed the unimaginable with his own eyes. Through it all, however, he has helped maintain the real and relevant part of the 9/11 story while also remaining one of the most solid and squared away individuals I know.

If you happened to be in the area of southern Manhattan today, chances are you’d make it a point to visit the 9/11 Memorial. Some call it “Ground Zero”. The Memorial does an incredible, albeit sobering, job of telling what happened at 1 World Trade Center on that day.

The Memorial is as much a museum as it is a Memorial. As you descend under the rebuilt streets of Manhattan you’re gradually surrounded by the sights, sounds and even smells of our generation’s day that will live in infamy.

You begin to hear the voices of firefighters calling for more support equipment. You hear New York Police Department officers requesting backup and emergency equipment. Knowing the final result, you begin to ponder how strong their commitment was to their mission. You consider how heartbroken they must have been when their initial efforts to save lives and property would seem to have been in vain… for whatever period of time that realization may have been.

As you delve further into the Memorial, you witness some of the scenes and voices of tragedy as people, innocent victims, in the Twin Towers begin to realize their fate.

In and amongst the voices are steel beams that appear to have been twisted like spaghetti as the building fell. There are fire trucks, crushed almost beyond recognition, which were left abandoned by teams of lifesavers who were never able to return to the place where the trucks were parked.

If you’re like me, when you visit the 9/11 Memorial, it’s about that point in the “tour” that you begin to remind yourself that this was an event which occurred a long time ago. It becomes a little too overwhelming and you want to remind yourself you can walk away. You remember, almost like waking up from a bad dream, that the scenes you’re seeing and voices you’re hearing are from a bygone era, envisioned and enacted by very evil individuals.

You remember that you’ll walk out the door of the Memorial in a few minutes, hopefully into a glorious Manhattan afternoon… and you may even begin to ponder where your evening meal might be. You remind yourself of your Freedom.

For Lee Ielpi, and many others like him, the nightmare of 9/11 can’t be left behind by simply walking out the doors of the Memorial, however.

Jonathan Ielpi was in the middle of a shift on the morning of 9/11/2001. He was a Firefighter in Squad 288 of the FDNY Special Operations Command located in Queens, NY. Major incidents and Hazardous Material events were their specialty. Jonathan and Squad 288 were the tip of the spear for the FDNY and people of NYC.

From l. to r.: Brendan Ielpi, Lee Ielpi, Jonathan Ielpi and Jonathan’s two boys Andrew (in front) and Austin (held by Jonathan).

Chances are Jonathan heard the 757 come in low over southern Manhattan, as most everyone in New York City did that day.

When the call came in to Squad 288 the report was that a twin engine aircraft had flown into the World Trade Center. Jonathan suited up. He and his team knew there was work to be done.

I’m sure the scene, on that crisp and clear September morning, looking up at the Twin Towers, must have been more than Jonathan could fathom. Regardless, Squad 288 launched into action without hesitation.

And then, at 9:59 the South tower fell.

We can only speculate if any of the team members had any idea of the magnitude of the situation. There are survivors who can tell the story, but a total of 9 lives were lost on 9/11 from Squad 288 alone.

No one could have imagined the towers would actually fall. The unimaginable day just got inifinitely worse.

If you’ve seen any of the videos of the aftermath of the towers falling, you’ve experienced some part of the deafening silence that enveloped the area afterwards. You may have also noticed the continuous chirps that sounded from beyond the haze and remnants of paper that swirled in the air. Each of those chirps was a firefighter’s alarm that automatically goes off when the firefighter doesn’t move for a period of time. One of those chirps was the alarm that had been connected to Jonathan’s tank and equipment.

Lee Ielpi, who was in the waning years of his firefighting service on September 11th, rolled onto the scene, in a support role, about 30 minutes after the second tower had fallen.

It was no longer his job to drag hose and don the turnout gear. Those jobs were for the kids in the service. The kids like his son Jonathan.

As any Dad would do, and as the reality of the situation began to set in, Lee began to wonder about Jonathan’s location. Ofcourse it wasn’t a time to lose focus on the task at hand, but Lee began to worry. As a result of his years of experience, he quickly realized that things may quickly get untenable.

Only moments later he realized Jonathan was gone.

When you meet Lee Ielpi today, he’s a face of peace and contentment. When I spoke to him today, he thanked me for the call. We asked each other about family and shared a tear for loved ones gone home.

He reminded me that he was now a Florida resident and that I needed to come visit. And, as he always does, he invited me to come to The 9/11 Tribute Center sometime soon.

The Tribute Center is across the street from the 9/11 Memorial. It’s a private effort and is supported by selfless giving. The Tribute Center is Lee’s tribute to his fallen son, and many other families who have stories similar to the Ielpi family’s.

As we chatted, Lee mentioned, with a smile “in his voice” that the Center had recently expanded to over 3 times its original size. He said they had officially changed the name and now referred to it as a museum.

You can find out more about Lee Ielpi’s vision which became a reality here.

As was Lee’s vision, many years ago, on any given day, in and amongst the throngs of people venturing into the 9/11 Memorial, you can find the Tribute Center open, eagerly welcoming visitors to come in and hear “the rest of the story” firsthand.

The Tribute Center does not employ many people. Most of the people you find there are volunteers. They’re not just any volunteers, either. At Lee’s behest, if you want to volunteer there, you must have had some direct impact to you or your Family on 9/11. You’ll only find family members or First Responders there volunteering. They help to finish telling the story of what happened, to them, on September 11, 2001.

The Mission of the Tribute Center is to honor and remember the lives lost on that day. No one can help us remember better than those who felt it, saw it and were impacted by it themselves.

The Tribute Center is the true personal side of 9/11.

And with that… I’ll wrap up my story. It’s one of heartache but happiness. You hear both when you talk to Lee. It’s easy for the rest of us to say we’ll never forget. Lee doesn’t have a choice and yet he knows he’s blessed and won’t hesitate to tell you that.

His therapy is honoring those who did NOT die in vain in the first battle of the War on Terror… and what a therapist he is for the rest of the world.

If you’re lucky you can catch Lee at the Tribute Center sometime soon. If you don’t find Lee, you can still find plenty of other volunteers willing to share their stories. You can also see Jonathan’s turnout gear, just the way it was found, months after 9/11, lovingly displayed as only a father can do.


Let us always remember. Let us never forget.