A Trip To Arlington: RIP LTC Michael Amidei
I never actually met LTC Michael Amidei, but tomorrow I am headed out to his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington is always a weird experience for me. Being the final resting place of men I served with, some guys I knew very well, it’s always sad to know that you are surrounded by loss. But at the same time, the place is so immaculate that it fills me with pride, despite the problems with the Administration of the Cemetery that come to light from time to time. For me there is almost a sense of belonging as I walk through the rows of our honored dead. And I will visit my fallen friends, like SSG B., a soldier who took his own life a few years ago. I served with him in Bosnia, and a more humorous, more gregarious man I have never met.
The weather at Arlington always seems to be right, no matter what it is. If it is warm and sunny, I always think, “this is as it should be.” And when it is rainy I think, “well, that is somehow appropriate.” Granted, I understand that makes no sense. But regardless of service, what you did, how much valor you displayed or anything else, those of us who have worn the uniform have done so in the sun, and in the rain. For some reason that no meteorologist could ever divine, it always seemed to rain every time I went to the range for weapons qualifications. But, good weather or poor, I was always happy to be out in it, though at the time that often took some reminding.
Nonetheless, tomorrow looks to be of the rainy variety. But LTC Michael Amidei, a man who will go to his everlasting rest there tomorrow, was used to the cold and the rain. And he strove to make sure that men and women who didn’t want to have to brave the elements knew that they had somewhere to go.
BELLEAIR — Even in sunny Florida, temperatures nearly every winter plunge below 40 degrees. Homeless men, women and children are stuck in the cold.
With each cold spell, the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless employed its best strategy: It called Michael Amidei.
Chances were, the retired Army lieutenant colonel already knew about the approaching freeze. He had talked to meteorologists as temperatures fell and contacted television stations to ask the public for food, blankets and clothes.
On those frigid nights, Mr. Amidei drove between St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs until 4 or 5 a.m., making sure all the cold shelters had the supplies they needed. He worked just as hard on other projects for the homeless, and was a founder of St. Petersburg's first tent city.
Mr. Amidei, who coordinated the coalition's cold shelter program and chaired its faith-based committee, died Tuesday of liver disease. He was 68. He also volunteered in efforts to prevent AIDS and domestic violence.
Like I sais earlier, I didn’t actually know that man, and that is a shame. I have, however, become friends with his son, also named Mike, and look forward to standing beside him as his father is memorialized tomorrow.
LTC Amidei served the Army for 21 years, but he knew that when his military service ended, so did his obligation of service to his fellow man begin.
"He was a volunteer who probably worked 60 hours a week," said Sarah Snyder, executive director of the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless. Through contacts he had developed, Mr. Amidei could quickly amass shelter volunteers and enlist public support.
"Whenever there was an issue that had to do with homelessness, I could call Michael and say, 'Can you help?' and he always said yes and did."
Mr. Amidei also founded Faith, Love and Spiritual Healing (FLASH), the HIV ministry of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Clearwater.
He was always on call. "If we were out to dinner with our family, he took the call," said Linda Amidei, his wife. "It didn't matter. Sometimes someone had just gotten out of jail. They needed food and resources. He would always take the call."
Mr. Amidei also coordinated Tools for Schools, a program engineered by the coalition that delivered up to 1,000 backpacks to schoolchildren; a program through FLASH that delivered socks and underwear; and worked with a national food co-op.
He coordinated an art sale for the Haven domestic violence shelter in north Pinellas, where Linda Amidei served as director, and served as local chairman for World AIDS Day.
"He had a lot of confidence," his wife said. "If he was interested, he thought everybody else ought to be interested, too, and he wasn't shy about telling them why."
Her husband, she added, was "hard to say no to."
So, I will out tomorrow, and there will be no posts. I will be honoring a man who served not 21 years in the Army, but 68 years to helping his fellow man. And I hope and pray that his son, and his wife find the solace that LTC Amidei sought to bring to others.
Mr. Amidei grew up in Springfield, Ill., and Memphis. He was drafted into the Army in 1967 after he had graduated from what is now the University of Memphis. After a three-year hitch in Germany, the Army lured him back, this time as a captain in Vietnam.
He served a total of 21 years, retiring in the late 1980s as a lieutenant colonel. He began his local volunteer work not long after moving to the area in 1990.
In late 2006, Mr. Amidei and other leaders raised money for tents for the homeless. The first tent city, located on Fourth Avenue N under a St. Petersburg overpass, seemed like a success. Then the city declared the camp a code violation and evicted its residents.
Mr. Amidei was saddened by the demise of the camp, but encouraged by the subsequent development of the Pinellas Hope shelter.
"One of the most important things … is that the homeless are people," said Duggan Cooley, the chief executive of Religious Community Services and president of the board of Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless. "The work is hard, but I think Michael knew that if you keep going, it will get done."
And look up SSG B when you get where you are going, I bet you two could find some trouble to get into, or some people to help get out of trouble.