We laid my friend and brother Sonny’s remains to rest in the national cemetery in Fayetteville, AR on Monday, December 7. I wanted to write about this to have closing for those of you who have been praying for Sonny, Rose and his family, as well as to inspire you with love and hope in the relationships you have here on earth. Christ gave us a new commandment in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” So often, we let the busyness of the day become weeks and months and years before we realize that time has passed and relationships have been put on the back burner. They are precious. Water them. Feed them. Hold them dear.
The large group of folks attending Sonny’s service mostly knew him from his adulthood and professional career, retiring as Commander of the Arkansas State Highway Patrol. I was the one who knew him in the development years that led to the man he became. I’d like to share with you the context of my remarks at his service, which were extemporaneous:
“My name is Bill Wilson. As I look around this room, I can say that I have known Les Braunns longer than anyone here. I knew him as Sonny. We met in the basement of Wayland Community Church, in the village of Wayland, Ohio when we were four years old. Two shy boys who wouldn’t speak to anyone, but we spoke to each other. That meeting was the beginning of a lifelong adventure for Sonny and Billy. We did all the things young boys do, making good use of the 100 acre farm of my parents—riding horses, making tree forts, playing cowboys and Indians, civil war, World War II, camping out, backyard football–you name it. In all of these adventures, we sought to be on the right side of things. We were the good guys, the heroes. It wasn’t all just make-believe games. We talked about the deep things of life as well, even as kids.
“And that transferred to our adult lives. The pastors and others today who have spoken about Les, have all mentioned his love for others and his family—Rose, Wendy, Bryan, Jeffrey—he loved you so much; his integrity; his honorable character. These qualities just didn’t happen. They were all parts of his upbringing. How his parents raised him. The influence of my parents. The talks we had around the campfires. Along about the time when we were 10 or 11 years old, we learned of Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code. He wrote them in the 1940s. It was a code of conduct on how to live your life—things like never shooting first, treating others well and with respect, telling the truth, keeping clean thoughts and speech, being a hard worker and a patriot.
“Sonny and I liked that, but as young boys do, we wanted to have our own code, our own principles for life. We decided on four principles: Love, Truth, Honor, Justice. These four principles for life informed us as men. We figured that Love was the greatest of the principles. The Bible says that Love conquers all. We believe it. And without Love, there is no Truth. Without Truth there can be no Honor. And without Honor, there can be no Justice. You can see how Sonny kept them by how he lived his life. Now as we grew up, life came at us. I remember getting up about 4:00 in the morning and driving to his house. He was leaving for the Air Force. We said our goodbyes and I got in the car to drive back home. I don’t know how I got home that morning, as I was crying all the way. I knew that at that moment our lives were going to change forever.
“And change they did. Our professional careers took different paths. We didn’t see each other for long lengths of time. We were sitting in the sun at the edge of his garage three weeks ago talking about it. We wished that we had lived closer together; that our families could have been closer—seeing life in the rear-view mirror is a perfect 20-20 vision. But I told Sonny that no matter where I was at, or what was happening, or what time of the day it was—even 2 in the morning—I knew that I could count on him if I needed him. And he knew that for me as well. It wasn’t something that I thought, or hoped about. I knew it. That’s the type of relationship we had. We were more than brothers.”