Why should I buy from you if I don’t know who you are?

The traffic arteries of the Internet get more clogged every day. How many new websites do you think debut every day? Ten thousand, maybe? And all are clamoring for attention for their brands. For every new brand, there are thousands more companies hawking the same wares. So how does any one of them get heard above the clamor?

Getting heard is important. But communicating a great brand personality that engages your target audience is vital.

Getting heard is important. But communicating a great brand personality that engages your target audience is vital.

Probably not by repeatedly touting their products or showing pictures of them (or their building or plant) on social media. Everyone makes products. Many the same as other companies.

So the question remains: How does your business get noticed in a good way, and cultivate customers that are actually going to buy?

What's your brand personality?

Do I know you?

By letting the world know who you are. Not what you do, but the ethics, values, philosophy and personality of your brand. As Simon Sinek, creator of “Start With the Why” (see him on YouTube), explains, Apple could be seen as just another technology company, but Apple/Mac users are ferociously loyal to the brand. How come?

Not because of what they make, entirely. Because of the “why” of their brand. The Apple brand image is unique. Sleek. Well-designed. Geared to help you do what you want and need to do effortlessly, with style. And even with fun. That’s why so many Apple users would never think of buying a device from any other company. Apple cultivates brand loyalty through the way they communicate and through the careful, exquisitely simple design of their products. They enhance your life as they help you get things done.

i-love-appleWhat other technology company can claim the absolute love and devotion of Apple fans? None. And that’s by design. In more than one way. No other company can claim the territory in the public’s mind and heart that Apple owns. Wouldn’t you love to be able to say that about your brand and your products?

If you’re not able to interact with prospects personally, you must bring them into your fold through advertising and marketing, probably through social media. You won’t do it only by promoting your products. Let them know, like Apple did, that you not only understand their challenges but can help meet them in a smooth, easy way. And also that you are trustworthy and reliable. Testimonials can help there.

If your brand doesn’t have an intriguing, appealing brand personality and brand promise, what makes a prospect choose you over many other similar companies?

Your brand personality is complex.

Your brand personality encompasses emotional, ethical, philosophical aspects of your company. The “you” prospects get to know.

Discovering and communicating your brand personality and promise takes some research and some soul-searching. Few business owners have the objectivity to do it on their own. Successful ones know when to call in experienced professionals to help them carve out a distinctive niche for their brand in cyberspace, and how to develop a social media program that works to build business.

Know what you do well, and when to call in a specialist to help you with your brand personality and promise. What you pay that specialist will repay you multiple times. You’ll be noticed in a good way by your strategically chosen target audience—people who want to buy from a company just like you. You’ll benefit from increased awareness and better sales. And isn’t selling what you’re in business to do?

Freelance Writer Files: Use These Words Correctly and Look Good

Yeah, you're looking good.

Yeah, you’re looking good.

There are 30 good examples, so take a look.

Better still, if you’re not sure how to convey your advertising or marketing message properly, call on a professional writer to help you out. :-)

Freelance Writer Files: Penetration alone is not enough.

Let’s say you’re an advertiser who has learned you have 65% penetration of your advertising message among your target audience. Great! That means nearly two-thirds of your potential buyers/clients can remember your message. You’ve reached your advertising goal, so you’re done!

Well, not quite. Great penetration is… great. But there’s another vital factor that will mean the difference between the success and failure of your campaign, long-term. It is… ahem…Stick with it!

Sticking to your message!

Any advertising person with some experience can tell you that long before an advertiser’s message “wears out” among the target audience, the marketing manager of the client company will get all antsy and order the message changed. At that point, if the ad agency (or advertising person) is honest with the marketing manager, the only honorable thing to do is to tell him or her to get the ants out of his or her pants and stick with the successful message.

Q: If you have determined that 65% of your target audience can remember your message, why in the heck would you change it?
A: You wouldn’t.

If you don’t stick to it, you’re wasting well-spent advertising dollars, and you risk losing the 65% penetration you’ve so carefully built. How smart is that?

Check this out: Over a certain period of time, you’ll probably find that only half the original percent of your “penetrated” audience remembers your message (about 32%). But wait a minute. You’ll also discover that while you’ve lost 32% of the original group, another new group of about 32% now remembers your message. New audience members have restored your original 65% penetration level.

Of course, we assume you have a great message, targeted correctly to the audience you want, and that you spend enough to get the word out widely. But here’s the point:

If you have a message that works, DON’T CHANGE IT, even if you get so bored with it you have to cover your eyes and ears and say “LALALALA!” to block it out every time it comes around. Remember, although you’re sick of it, a new audience is just now discovering it. And responding to it.

Caveat: That doesn’t mean that you can’t ever change the execution of your message. That initial ad featuring a penguin on roller skates may eventually get stale. So, though you may find different ways of delivering the same message to the same audience, if you stick to the USP, you should be okay. But you don’t want to tinker too much with success.

So what can you do to relieve your own boredom with your winning campaign?

Try adding different media. If you’re in one women’s magazine, for example, try adding another one with a similar demographic.
Try adding e-mail marketing, if you have a relevant list.
Try adding direct mail to your target audience, if it’s appropriate. Unless you’re a national advertiser, this would be within a geographic area where you sell.
Try a newspaper insert, preferably in a special issue devoted to a subject your target audience is interested in (example: health care, elder care, gardening, winter meals, sports).
Try adding radio spots. As a radio producer, I recommend that you have them professionally written, voiced and produced. But if your budget is limited, generally, local stations will give you script, talent and production in exchange for your paid advertising time. Just be sure the station reaches the right target audience.
Use your message on your Web site and your Facebook page, preferably accompanied by coupons, special offers, contests, or other ways to engage users with your product or service. Provide a way for interested users to sign up for email newsletters or offers.

To sum up, once your message reaches maximum penetration, keep on sending it. And change the messenger, if you like, but don’t shoot the message!

Freelance Writer Files: Live Fearlessly?

I may be late to the party in criticizing Blue Cross Blue Shield’s new theme line, “Live Fearless.” But I am now jumping in with both feet. Someone asked me a few weeks ago if it bothered me, and it didn’t, at the time. I replied, “Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should” sounds better than if the writer had used the rather stilted, “Winston Tastes Good, As a Cigarette Should.”livefearless_banner_home

Now I’ve been exposed to the BCBS theme in print and on TV, and it’s starting to bother me, like an itchy sweater. There are two reasons it gets to me.

Reason 1: The obvious grammatical abuse

Reason 2: The thought behind that little sentence. Think about it. What do they mean when they encourage you to “Live Fearlessly?” Go bungee jumping? Go skiing in unmarked areas? Drive at 120 mph on the highway? Walk down dark alleys in shifty parts of town?

Are they encouraging their policy-holders to do dangerous things and get hurt, so they have to use their health insurance?

“Live Fearless(ly)” sounds okay, until you start thinking about it. Actually, it sounds as if it should be for a brand of outdoor wear, like The North Face. Maybe a home security system. Or maybe a brand of flaming-hot picante sauce.

As the theme of a health insurer, “Live Fearlessly” sounds all wrong to me. Better, perhaps, would be “Live Confident(ly),” since if you have health insurance, you’re confident you won’t go broke because of monstrous medical bills.

Or maybe I just think about these things too much. But what do you expect of a lifelong copywriter?

Freelance Writer Files: USP spells “success”

Whether you advertise your business online, in print or via video, the marketing basics still apply. One of the foundational building blocks of an effective marketing message is still a great USP. Do you have one?

USP stands for “unique selling proposition.” It pays to understand what each word in that phrase means.

Unique: one of a kind. In constructing your USP, identify what you do or offer that no other company can (or does) talk about offering.

Say you’re a donut shop. You compete with a lot of donut shops. But you could be unique in that you guarantee the donut your customer buys will always be less than one hour old. That means “fresh.” And fresh could be worth driving a little farther for.

Mmm! Really fresh donuts!

Selling: The unique statement must sell. In other words, your unique statement must promise something that is relevant and desirable to your target audience (You have targeted your audience, haven’t you? “Everybody” is not a target audience. More on that later.). It must be compelling enough that people will stop buying the other company’s product or service or donut and start buying yours. Conversions are pretty tough, so be sure you’re talking about a unique difference that has real drawing power.

Proposition: a proposal. The proposition must state that if you buy the product or service, then you will get (compelling advantage to target audience).

So, to sum up, a USP is a unique statement only you can make about your product or service, a statement that is compelling (selling) enough to draw customers away from another company’s product or service, and it must be formulated as a clear proposition or proposal.

Here’s a USP for our donut shop: If you buy Auntie Jane’s Donuts, you will always get a fresh donut that’s no more than one hour old.

Now, of course, that’s not literally your advertising copy. That’s the promise behind your advertising. It’s the touchstone you will keep in mind as you write creative ads, brochures, signs and Web copy for Auntie Jane’s Donuts. You won’t go off-track and say Auntie Jane’s Donuts will help you grow hair on your bald head or something. The rationale behind all your communications is your USP.

Now for that target audience thing. When you ask people what their company’s target audience is, some will say, “Everyone.” Everyone in the universe? World? Country? State? County? City? Well, no. Even if you narrow it down to a city, there are a lot of people in the city who either won’t care about your product or service or are just not customers for it.

“Everybody loves my fresh donuts!” Auntie Jane protests. Not everybody, ma’am. Not people who would have to drive 20 miles to get your donuts before work in the morning. Not people who have no say over the donuts they eat, like children. Not people who are being careful about their calories and carbs. And not people who (until they hear your USP) are satisfied with the not-so-fresh donuts they buy at the corner convenience store.

So who is your target audience? Let’s guess. Probably adults (at least 18, so they have some disposable income) living within a ten-mile radius of your store, who are not health nuts. Thinking a little more deeply, how about office managers at businesses within your ten-mile radius who buy donuts on Friday mornings or for special meetings? Why not target them, since they buy dozens instead of singles?

How do you reach these people? Well, you can get a list of those office managers (and residents of nearby zip codes) and send them either e-mail coupons or flyers offering discounts. “13 to a Dozen of the Freshest Donuts in Town! For the price of 10!” You can draw them to your website with paid Web ads. You can advertise promotions on your Facebook page. You can offer deals via window posters. You can have people sign up for your website blog, so they can get coupons. The possibilities are practically endless!

But the crucial thing is the strength of your unique selling proposition. Do your brainwork and come up with a compelling one, target your audience, keep up your product or service quality, make it easy and pleasant for people to do business with you, and you should succeed.

Remember, USP can also stand for “U Should Prosper!”

Freelance Writer Files: Eight Grammar Mistakes You Should Never Make Again

Here’s a good, brief article I came across today on Open Forum. I’m pasting in part of it AND giving you the link. Not trying to fool you into thinking I wrote it. Just wanted you to have the info. Here goes:


Affect vs. effect. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is that “affect” means “to influence.” So if you’re going to influence something, you will affect it. If it’s the result of something, it’s an effect.

Impact. Impact is a noun, not a verb. A plane can crash on impact. You can have an impact on something. But you cannot impact something. (When you are tempted to use “impact” as a verb, use “affect” instead; see #1

Their, they’re and there. You’d think everyone would have learned this rule in fourth grade, but it’s a very common mistake. Use “there” when referring to a location, “their” to indicate possession, and “they’re” when you mean to say “they are.”

Care less. The dismissive “I could care less” is incorrect. If you could care less about it, then you’re saying you could care less about the topic, and you’ve lost the impact you meant to have. To use this phrase correctly, insert the word “not” after the word “could,” as in, “I could not care less.”

Irregardless. This word doesn’t exist. The word you should use is “regardless.”

Your and you’re. Another mistake you’ll often see in people’s social media profiles or other content they create is the incorrect us of “your” and “you’re.” If you mean to say “you are,” the correct word is “you’re.” Use “your” when referring to something that belongs to “you,” as in “your business.”

Fewer vs. less. Another common mistake, “less” refers to quantity and “fewer” to a number. For instance, Facebook has fewer than 5,000 employees, but I got less sleep than you last night.

Quotation marks. Among the great debates, people ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside or outside of quotation marks. Let’s set the record straight. The period and the comma always go inside quotation marks. The dash, the semicolon, the exclamation mark and the question mark go inside when they apply to the quoted matter (if it’s not the entire sentence) but outside when they apply to the whole sentence.

People make so many grammar mistakes today that The Elements of Style is on its fourth edition. If you keep a copy of it on your desk and practice your craft, you’ll never have to worry about the grammar police paying you a visit.

Freelance Writer Files: How to Get Personal in Direct Mail (and Why You Should)

Direct mail can be a bother to the recipient, destined for a quick trip to the recycle bin. Or it can be a welcome message from a potential friend: read, understood, targeted to the recipient’s needs, and acted upon. The difference? You. So how do you stand out? By getting personal in your letters and other communications.

You are here.

You are here.

What I mean is revealing some things about yourself, the business owner. How did you get your start in the business? What were your dreams and aspirations when you started your business? What have you done to realize those dreams and aspirations? What have you learned along the way? And most important of all, what have you done to create a better experience and a better value for your customers?

There’s an adage in business that before you work with a person or company, you must “know, like, and trust” them. You can’t shake hands with a person via direct mail, but you can share insights into who you are, how you run your business, and what you’ve done to make doing business with you a better experience than s/he would have with another company.

If all you focus on in your direct mail letter is features and benefits, without a hint of personality or personal values, you sound like all your competitors, unless you are in a completely unique line of work. Few companies are.

Knowing you is good. How do you get to “like and trust?” Liking a person has to do with knowing something of his or her character, sense of humor, and values, doesn’t it? So in your direct mail and phone follow-ups, be sure to offer a peek into those aspects of you. And if you have other people calling prospects for you, be sure they “know, like and trust” you, too. So they can fill the prospects in on what type of person you are, and how that can help you serve their needs better than a personality-challenged, faceless company can.

The Old Redhead made friends over the airwaves.

The Old Redhead made friends over the airwaves.

In your direct mail letters, your personality should shine through. Write your letters as if you’re writing to one person, not a whole universe. Back in the old radio days, Arthur Godfrey made a name for himself, and transformed radio, by talking as if to “just you” at home. Until then, announcers had spoken as if from a mountaintop, to the world at large. How impersonal! You’re not the world, you’re you, with special tastes, issues and needs. Direct mail should speak to “you.”

Think of your business as but one in a crowd of other businesses. Look at the crowd the way your prospect does. Remember how when you go to a party, you look around to see if there’s someone you already know? It’s the same with businesses. The party is the whole crowd of businesses you’re competing with. If a prospect sees you and feels s/he knows you already, you’re one step ahead.

Freelance Writer Files: Decline to Whine!

You say things haven’t been going so well in your business? You say your kid got a D in all of his classes and may not graduate? You say you got a flat tire on the way here? And your bunion is killing you?

Please care about my problem.

Please care about my problem.

Guess what? Nobody wants to hear about it. Especially strangers you just met at a networking event or party. I know, it’s sad to think people don’t care about your problems. They’re more likely to back away from you slowly, as if from a hissing cobra, than try to help (as if they could in any of those situations).

Let’s say you just heard some bad news before your entrance to a party. Do you appear at the door looking like someone just licked all the red off your lollypop? No. You shake it off and smile! You put your problems on the back burner for awhile and express an interest in other people.

What fun!

What fun!

Once you’re in, don’t take the first opportunity to steer the conversation toward your latest catastrophe. Ask someone about what they’ve been doing that’s fun lately. Their enthusiasm in describing their hiking vacation or backyard barbecue with the family or trip to Disney World will bring your spirits right up.

Know what? Even if you’re not going to a networking event or party, nine times out of ten, you can’t do anything about whatever you’re whining about. If you could, you’d stop whining and do it, wouldn’t you?

Well, here’s a proactive approach to something you might be able to do something about: If you have a car problem, go to someone who knows what might be ailing your car, and then, go ahead and get it fixed. Charge it if you must, but at least you’ll quit whining about your car-tastrophe and switch to an exciting new whine: your credit card bill!

I probably was too hasty in saying absolutely nobody wants to hear you whining. There are people who are professionally trained to listen to whining and help the whiners get past the problems. They are called counselors, social workers, psychologists, and psychotherapists. In their absence, or if you can’t afford one of them, a very good friend who really knows you and isn’t afraid to kick you in your rear might be the best substitute.

Your true friends care.

Your true friends care.

This friend can remind you of when you went through something similar before, and how you were able to handle it successfully. Or remind you how smart you are, and express faith that you’ll figure it out. Or even suggest some solutions you hadn’t thought of.

Anyway, next time you hear yourself whining, think of how John Wayne would have sounded whining. You’re at least as strong as the Duke. And the very idea of it should get you laughing. Which is the first step out of your whiny mood.

Moral: If you want to be happier, more popular and more successful, decline to whine!

Freelance Writer Files: Brochure Success Made Simple

What do you do with brochures that come in the mail? Toss them into File 13, or “the circular file?” Yep. That’s what most people do. So they’re in the trash before they’re read.

Is your brochure in here?

Is your brochure in here?

If your business creates brochures, you know they cost a pretty penny to produce. There’s the fee for the writer, fee for the designer, printing, the mail list, postage, personnel to handle getting them ready to mail, and so on. That’s a lot of cost for what then amounts to recyclable material.

But there are secrets to how you can grab your potential customers’ attention long enough to get your brochure read – and acted on. Here are a few:

• Know thy customer.
It seems obvious, but don’t ever buy a mail list without sizing up your current customers and looking for other potential customers like them. Know their characteristics, what businesses they’re in, what size they are, and finally, what problem you help those customers solve. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not ready to do any type of advertising, including brochures.

• Make your brochure action-oriented.
To save your brochure from the recycle bin, first grab the recipient’s attention with a cover design and headline that he or she can relate to; something his or her business needs. Once you’ve twanged their “need” string, they’ll probably read the copy inside, understand you’ve got what they need, and take the action you ask them to take to get on-board with you. Maybe that’s calling a toll-free number, returning a card for more information, or going to a certain page on your website or a splash page with information about your service that they need.

See, it’s not enough to get them to read your brochure or save it for later. You want them to take action right now! It’s now or never with direct mail.

• Focus on “you,” not “we.”
Don’t “we” on your prospective customers. In other words, they don’t care about your statement that “we” have 234 trucks and a 34,000-foot warehouse. They care about themselves, and how you can help their business. Bragging about yourself in a brochure is a big no-no. You’re asking the reader to connect the dots between what you have to what he or she needs. Too much work. Do the work for them. Tell them how you can help their business right now! And make sure to tell them how to reach you right now.

• Talk about benefits, not features.
Your company may have a lot of admirable features, like warehouse floors so clean you could eat off them, or a cadre of sales people ready to help you 24/7. But how do you translate those into benefits for the customer? If a customer is looking for a completely rat-free warehouse, maybe the clean floors are appealing. And having sales people available 24/7 is okay, but what if you positioned it as a team of problem-solvers who can respond to any emergency situation you have, any time of night or day? For instance, if you have a building maintenance company, and a water heater blows at 2:00 in the morning, isn’t it great to know your customer can call your company for emergency service? That’s a benefit.

• Create a compelling brochure cover.
Did you know you only have about five seconds to save your brochure from the recycle bin? Yup. We’re all busy, and we get a lot of mail. Make sure that headline goes right to the heart of a big concern your reader has and offers a solution to it.

By the way, please don’t write or design any of your sales materials, including your website, yourself (or let your computer-savvy teenager do it) to save money. Hire a professional writer and designer. When your materials look professional, so does your company.

• Let subheads tell the story in brief.
Most people scan headlines and subheads before deciding whether they want to read the text in between. Short, pithy subheads that tell enough of the story to draw the reader in are good. So are bullet points. Keep body text to a minimum. You don’t want to tell them absolutely everything you do in this brochure. That’s a sales person’s job. You only want them to know you can solve a specific problem they have, and then make it easy for them to call, visit your website, or send in a postcard for more information.

• Build in a ticking clock.

Do it now!

Do it now!

Why should your prospect call or send in that card or go to that website right NOW? Because the longer they wait, the smaller the chance they’ll respond to you. Emphasize they need to act NOW. Offer a time-limited discount on a service, a free demonstration of your service in the next week, a free gift to the first 25 people who call to meet with a sales person, a notice that prior to raising your fees next week, you’re letting them in on your old prices this week.

• Make contact information impossible to miss.
Your phone number, website address, and physical address (if relevant) should be easy to find, rendered in large type, in a different color, or done in any way that will allow people to find it easily. In the Western world, we read from left to right and top to bottom. So the lower right-hand corner is a fine place to put this information. But ask the designer for a couple of different versions, and see which seems to pop best.

• Include a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
If your prospect has any qualms about hiring you because she or he doesn’t know you, put them at ease by saying, “Look, try us out, and if you’re not completely satisfied, we will return 100% of your money.” Then there’s no harm in trying you, is there? When you visit with them, have with you a contract that says you also will pay for any damages to their facility, lost work time, or whatever is appropriate for your business.

keep-up• Keep up the good work.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Once it was said that a person had to see an ad in the newspaper 10 times before he or she actually read it. I’d say that was a poor ad, since it obviously didn’t address the reader’s (or non-reader’s, in this case) urgent problems.

But even if your brochure is a strong piece, you don’t just mail it and sit by the phone, waiting for the calls to come flooding in. You continue to send your carefully selected prospects different, on-strategy brochures or post cards on a regular basis, maybe once every four to six weeks. Then, after a few have been mailed, you follow up with phone calls. You’ll find out if the brochure hit the mark with potential customers or not. If so, you may have some new customers. If not, you may either want to delete some customers from your mail list or hone your message to make a greater impact.

• Don’t be discouraged.
They say a 2% response to a direct mail campaign is good. I think you can up the odds by being relevant, using creative design and cogent headlines and subheads, and repeating mailings at regular intervals, then following up with phone calls. After all, these customers will need to give their business to someone, so why not you?

Freelance Writer Files: Thoughts on Memorial Day from Stoney Broke

I just found this on my computer, a piece written by an alter ego of mine named Stoney Broke. It’s a little late, but maybe not too late.

Reflections on Memorial Day
by Stoney Broke

Stoney Broke, yer cowboy journalist, out here at the best dude ranch on the Kansas prairie. Felt moved to say a few words here on Memorial Day, a day for reflection if there ever was one.

This day, I’ve been thinking about a boy who sat at the back of my English class in high school. His name was Robert. The boy was so shy he never raised his hand. Sometimes, the teacher would ask him a question, and he would lower his head and endure the 15 or so seconds of charged silence, his face the shade of a radish, before the teacher finally called on someone else. I never saw him talk to anybody, or anybody except the teacher talk to him. He moved in a bubble of silence around the hallways, neither knowing or being known by anybody.

Robert drew a low number in the draft lottery and was shipped off to Vietnam. Within two weeks, we heard he’d been killed. A kid like that, well, he never shoulda been sent. You don’t take a scared kid like that, put a gun in his hand, send him to a foreign land and tell him to kill. For all the fight there was in him, they’d just as well taken him out back and shot him to save him the agony of training. Poor Robert. Rest in peace.

My business partner here at the dude ranch, Carl, he went off to the Vietnam War, too. There was talk around of guys skedaddlin’ off north of the border or enrollin’ in college before they could be called up. But Carl just wasn’t made that way. He said America’d done plenty for him and his family, and he was gonna try and repay it by volunteerin’ for the Army. His fiancee, Lorene, cried and bawled somethin’ terrible as she waved goodbye to him at the Kansas City airport.

Carl wasn’t much for writin’ letters, so we didn’t hear all the details of his Vietnam duty. He did write that every guy in his hooch except him was doin’ heroin. Their entertainment of an evening was to fill the hooch with marijuana smoke and watch the giant roaches get stoned and skitter up and down the walls and across the floor like maniacs. He’d write something funny or curious to Lorene once in awhile, but nothing disturbing. He didn’t want to worry her or his mom, dad and sisters.

Me, I didn’t go to Vietnam. When the Army docs saw I had two steel rods in my spine from breakin’ it during my brief teenaged rodeo career, they said, “Go on home.” I said, “I’ll do that, thank ya.” But I watched the news footage on TV and heard the stories from guys comin’ home, and I thought, “Who woulda thought hell was an Asian jungle?”

Carl got banged up a tad and picked up a nasty parasite, but he came home after his year basically in one piece. Protesters at the San Francisco Airport gave Carl and the other returning soldiers a cruel welcome. They screamed, “Murderer! Baby-killer!” Carl looked straight ahead as he fought his way through the crowds to Lorene. The way he hugged her, he’d like to squeezed all the air out of her.

He and Lorene had a weddin’, and before long, they had a baby on the way. Then Carl’s dad died when a son-of-a-bitch stallion he was tryin’ to break kicked his skull in. So the ranch went to Carl to take care of. He was doin’ a very efficient job of it, too, until the baby came. When Carl held the baby and looked into his eyes for the first time, Lorene said the blood drained out of Carl’s face, and he handed the baby back to her quick, but careful, like it was a bomb.

Lorene found him awhile later out by the corral, both hands grippin’ the top rail, just starin’ into space. When she asked him what was wrong, he never even looked at her. Just kept starin’ and said, “He knows. He knows what I done over there.”

Back then, nobody knew much about post-traumatic stress syndrome. In WWI, it was called “shell shock.” In later wars, I don’t know if it was called anything. After the Vietnam War, the vets were said to have the “thousand-yard stare,” like Carl had that night. Lorene persuaded Carl to talk things over with his pastor and go to the VA to see a shrink. Gradually, over the years, he seemed to come to himself again. He no longer saw judgment in his son’s eyes, but innocence and joy. He loved that boy, Carl, Jr., fiercely. It was like the little boy showed him there was life, and it was good. Lorene was the soul of patience with him. And he healed, mostly, though the scars still showed from time to time.

Robert sacrificed his life. Carl sacrificed his peace of mind. Their families sacrificed the happiness of being with their loved ones, whole and healthy. Every person who has served in every war has sacrificed because his or her country required it, for good cause or questionable cause. No matter. Every veteran who has served in wartime deserves our thanks, our respect, and our honor this day. Let’s honor them by doing all we can to make peace, not war. If you’ve a mind to pray for peace, do that. If you’ve a mind to march for it, then do that. At the very least, remember peace. Remember what it felt like. So you can recognize the feeling when it comes again, someday. Let’s hope. Yes, let’s hope.