Every so often, I get a phone call from a particular Chattanoogan, someone you may know. In fact, if you're an elected leader, he's probably calling you, too.
Each call begins the same way.
"Hey, Brother Cook," the voice says. "This is Brother Bush."
He calls to encourage. To educate. Most of all, he calls to remind me get involved and help someone.
"We're all in this together," Brother Bush likes to say.
Brother Bush is Harold Bush and, in this city, he's many things: an African American elder, a community leader, a two-tour U.S. Marine during Vietnam.
Most of all?
"I'm a citizen," he said.
A citizen in the fullest sense. Bush is walking democracy; he protests the wrong and marches for the right. He helps folks vote. Find work. Stay positive. Gives special care to single moms and young men who are facing hard times.
"We're supposed to be our brother and sisters' keepers," Bush said. "We're not supposed to run away from combat operations. We're supposed to run towards them. See something, do something."
(Wait till you see what happens when you call him.)
This Veterans Day column was meant to honor him as a veteran of overseas wars who still fights a domestic war against cruelty and indifference. But Brother Bush? He shook his head. He wants this column to focus on someone else.
"Law enforcement," he said. "First responders firefighters, dispatchers."
These are the everyday veterans, Bush says, that deserve attention.
"Let's drop me," he said. "Say something about everyday folks who do the leg work for justice and humanity."
First responders often step into areas no one else goes, performing this sacrificial role of unconditional service for the collective whole.
That's our work as humans. We can all be first responders, Bush says.
"My policy has been for years to reach out to every male I can," Bush said, "especially African American males."
Some days, I miss his call, so I ring him back.
His voice mail answers.
Ninety-one seconds long, it's unlike any other voice message I've heard.
As a tribute to American veterans and first responders, here are the voice mail words of Harold "Brother" Bush:
Thank you for calling.
Please leave a detailed message.
Let's all help anyone we can wherever we can.
Make our communities and world a better place.
Stay accurately informed, vote intelligently and responsibly.
Accurately informed, vote intelligently and responsibly.
Reach out to anyone that is challenged when you can.
Help them. You could very well be in their position.
Take care of your health, of course, and by all means, honor our seniors and our ancestors.
We do that by becoming successful and helpful.
Practice a healthy lifestyle and urge others to do the same.
Generational, generational, generational building.
It's up to us.
Vote intelligently and responsibly, realizing those in political offices make the laws that we all must live by.
Thank you again.
We're all in this together.
* * *
Van Booth came home from the war to another war.
Suicide. Depression. Trauma that won't die.
Booth, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant from Huntsville, Alabama, suffered. Other vets — his friends — suffered. Booth had to do something.
He became the legwork of justice and humanity.
In February, Booth started walking across America, starting in California and headed for South Carolina, some 3,000 miles away.
Booth began walking as a way to honor traumatized and suicidal veterans. He calls it: Walking for Life.
He also carries a string-less guitar; every 500 miles, he adds a new string on it.
"The string-less guitar, meaning a silent guitar, represents the soldiers and veterans who aren't here anymore," Booth told Huntsville's WZDK.
This week, Booth is walking into Chattanooga.
"We are trying to get as many veterans as possible to come," said Bobbie Allison-Standefer. "Walk with him across Market Street Bridge."
On Wednesday at 1 p.m., area vets and supporters can meet at the Chattanooga Lifestyle Center on Market Street, then walk Booth to a planned celebration at Edley's Barbeque, which is open to the public. (It lasts until 8 p.m.).
"We really want to show Van how much people care here," Standefer said.
Standefer runs Freedom Sings USA, formerly part of Operation Song, a beautiful nonprofit made up of vets and Nashville songwriters, like Steve Dean and Don Goodman, two of Music City's finest.
Meeting every Wednesday morning at the Lifestyle Center — and every other Thursday evening at Eastgate — the group allows veterans to tell their stories to musicians, who then craft their words into songs.
Booth once drove up from Huntsville for a class. Dean and Goodman eventually wrote his theme song,"I Walk For Them."
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Because we're all in this together.
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.