My lovely wife, Lisa, and I found ourselves at home alone Friday night. I tried but honestly couldn’t remember the last such Friday evening. We built a fire in our backyard fire pit and roasted marshmallows and talked. We even sang a few campfire songs. Well, I mostly sang, and Lisa mostly rolled her eyes, but still. It was a nice evening. Try it sometime. It’s good for your soul.
After Lisa had gone inside, I sat and stared into the embers of what remained of the fire, thinking about the hundreds of nights I had spent staring into the embers of hundreds of campfires. One particular such night kept floating across the rivers of my memory.
It was a warm night in the North Georgia mountains. Camp Rainey Mountain. Northeast Georgia Council. BSA. My son, Jackson, was on his first Boy Scout summer camp. I was along as an assistant Scoutmaster. We had enjoyed a typically full and fun day, and the Scouts were all bedded down. Three or four adults, of which I was one, found ourselves sitting around the campfire, swilling bad coffee and swapping stories.
It would turn out to be one of the most fortuitous nights of my very blessed life, because I made a new friend that night. Will Coleman. And when Will Coleman is your friend, you have a friend for life. A good friend. And a good friend is more precious than gold.
Will Coleman is a living anomaly. He stands more than 6 feet tall, which delights him because of his Chinese ancestry on his mother’s side. He is a warrior — a career Army officer who retired as a full colonel — but has a gentle spirit that belies his career choice. He served his country in two wars and never flinched, no matter where his orders took him. Back at home he was a loving father and community leader, active in whatever his children were active in, whether it be Scouting, church or high school band. He and his beautiful wife, Carol, were the type people that made our community so appealing for so long.
Will Coleman, I soon learned, would do anything to help anybody, and he sought out opportunities. He never waited to be asked.
He found out, once, that I was taking a group of my students to Washington, D.C., for fall break. He was stationed at the Pentagon at the time and insisted on meeting us at one of his favorite restaurants and treating the entire group to some of the best pizza any of us had ever had. Then he surprised us by telling us that he had arranged a special tour of the Pentagon the next day. Never mind that it was a mere 13 months after 9/11 and the Pentagon was closed to the public.
Will had juice. We toured the Pentagon and happened to run into Donald Rumsfeld, who was not amused at our presence, but that’s another story for another day.
Speaking of 9/11. Will and I have a special connection. Will’s son, Lee, happened to be in my current issues class on that horrible day, and when the plane flew into the Pentagon, we were watching on television. Lee calmly asked to see me in the hall and told me that the plane had hit the building precisely at his dad’s office. He said he knew that because of a commemorative tree that was just outside the spot of the attack. We immediately set out to try and locate Will, which we finally did, after an anxious hour.
He had been unexpectedly sent to Fort McPherson that morning for an impromptu meeting and was safe. Lee had been absolutely right about the location of the strike, and Will’s officemate did not survive the attack. We communicate every year on 9/11.
Will and Carol left our community a few years back and moved to Charleston, where he immediately became the Number One ambassador in the Holy City for his alma mater, The Citadel, hosting students and giving of himself 24/7/365, just as he has always done.
Will has juice at The Citadel, too. The first time Huck’s Tours went there we were running late for the Friday parade. A young cadet stopped us at the entrance to the school and correctly informed us that buses were not allowed in that area of the campus for parade. I did as I had been told and informed the cadet that Will Coleman was expecting us.
The barricades were removed immediately, and our bus was escorted to the very edge of the Parade Ground. We were met and escorted across the field to special seats, in front of the reviewing stand, and then the parade began.
Will Coleman has helped me in so many ways, and I always tell him, if I can ever do anything for you, let me know. Will never ever ever asks anyone to do anything for him. He always always always does everything he can for others.
But now we can all help Will Coleman. For a couple of years now Will has been battling a nasty and deadly type of leukemia. He has had a bone marrow transplant and is fighting for his life at Hollings Cancer Center at the University of South Carolina Medical Center in Charleston. He turned 60 on Tuesday. We need for him to celebrate a lot more birthdays.
Will believes in the power of prayer, and I do, too, so I am asking you to please pray for Will’s healing and recovery. Please pray for Will. I love Will Coleman. I know that God loves Will Coleman. Today I am asking you to love him, too.