2020/2021

PHIL

This photo says more than anything I could ever write about the year 2020

Phil is one of the millions of Front Line heroes, around the world, risking their lives to fight for our safety, to help bring back the normalcy we had less than a year ago.

Phil is a medic in England, but he represents, in my belief,

Medics, First Responders, Essential Workers, Teachers, etc.

in every county.

Truly, a united world wide fight.

And these Phils have families

Loved ones.

Some who work also on the Front Line.

Some who stay back

and support their Front Line Heroes.

This photo of Phil was taken by his loving and supporting wife, Fraggle, a professional photographer, who captures amazing art in her photos. More of her art can be seen in her WP Blog: https://fragglerocking.org/

This is what she wrote to accompany her photo:

‘Our year has been coloured by Phil working on the front line coping with the Covid procedures in his Operating Theatres and having a horrendous time being dressed up in Hazmat gear that steams your glasses up, is uncomfortable, hot, hard to do your job in and generally is a nightmare. I’ve tried to support him, make home a sanctuary and listen to his woes and tribulations when he needs to get things off his chest. So this is the shot I did to sum up the year.’

Please don’t let the work of the Phils go in vain.

STAY SAFE

OBEY THE ADVICE OF MEDICAL SCIENTISTS

The sooner we all strive to do our part to overcome this plague

the sooner we will get back to normal lives.

And the sooner we will have a

HAPPY NEW YEAR

2021

And that is a wrap for a year we wish had not been one we will never forget.

MEN OF THE USS WARD

Even the open sea had adopted the Sunday morning calm of the towns that outlined the clover-leaf shaped harbor. The glow from the lights of Saturday night had dimmed several hours before. Now the only lights were those needed by the people who were going to church and those who were working the Sunday shifts.

On board the USS Ward an easiness had replaced the uncertainty of the night, the first night of the Ward’s task, patrolling the mouth of the harbor…the first night under the new captain..the first night the young crew felt they were part of the actual Navy.

When he felt comfortable with how it went that day, Lt. William Outerbridge had decided it was time for him to go to bed. He was tired. The hectic last couple of days had had drained him. Arriving on board of the Ward on the 5th, taking command, and setting out to sea duty on the 6th.

Outerbridge had his first command of a ship…albeit it he only had been in the Navy a scant fourteen years. He went to bed that first night, content and confident that he was capable of his new appointment. His ship handled well in this it’s first day of patrol duty…albeit it was old. His crew proved they were competent and more than willing…albeit, they were young in both years and experience.

The destroyer USS Ward had been built in just 17 days in the early days of WWI. She saw action in both the Pacific and Atlantic. At the end of the war, she was put in dry-dock until she was recommissioned and refurbished in January of 41, and then sent to the Pacific to be commanded by Outerbridge and crewed by the 47th Division of the Naval Reserve, called to active duty in January of 41.

Almost all of the crew were from St. Paul, Minnesota, the home of the 47th Reserves. St. Paul, an unlikely home for a naval reserve is the furthest city from any ocean in the U.S.. The men’s training had been mostly in the classroom, a little on the Mississippi River, and two weeks each summer on the Great Lakes. It wasn’t until they were activated that they experienced the taste of salt water.

They were raw and eager to learn. They were also young. Children of the Depression. Aged and steeled in the hollow life of the economic catastrophe. Russell Reetz, for instance, 24, tried to find decent work while in high school and after graduation; but each job he managed to find, crumbled shortly after. Some like Richard Thill were still in high school when they were activated.

They joined the reserves because it gave them a little money and a social club. A short meeting once a week followed by a few beers and penny-ante poker. Even the yearly two- week summer camp was an enjoyable respite from their daily lives. As the world war grew and the drums calling for the U.S. entry grew louder the reservists took their training with a much more serious attitude; but still the thought of protecting the Great Lakes seemed a better option than being sent overseas. Hence the call-up and the realization they were in the Navy proper, woke them out of their dream of easy sailing.

Still in all, it was a regular paycheck and a huge break from the breadlines of the Depression. Their life so far had been one of hard times and served them well in their new lives. They attacked the work with the zeal of one unwrapping a much wanted present. Having a job makes a person walk tall.

Sunday morning- 12/7/1941: At 0342 A.M. the USS Condor, in the open sea outside Pearl, experienced a wake that was deemed by the ship’s deck officer to be caused by a small periscope, possibly that of a mini-sub that Japan was known to use. The Ward, which was the closest to the harbor mouth, was notified.

Lt. Outerbridge called General Quarters and pinging began hoping to find the sub, but to no avail.

At 0458 A.M. the harbor’s torpedo safety net was opened to allow a number of small ships entrance, among them the SS Antares, which was towing a target into port. At 0630 at PBY plane spotted the submarine following the Antares and notified the Ward.

At 0635 AM., a lookout on the Ward spotted the periscope. Lt. Outerbridge, covered in a kimono robe, gave orders to attack. Since the vessel had not requested entrance to the harbor, Outerbridge’s order was justified by International Law. When the Ward got within range, the ship’s #1gun fired a shot…the First Shot of the USA in WWII. It missed high.

At once the men on #3 gun fired a second shot, lower and aft of the periscope. There was an eruption of water, black smoke, and the periscope laid over as it sank into the depths.

Outerbridge ordered the Ward to go to the spot and four depth charges were dropped to make certain.

Not only had these citizen sailors fired the First Shot, they also scored the First Victory in the War

These acts of war was radioed at once to both the Naval HQ of Pearl, under the command of Admiral Husband Kimmel, and the Military HQ of Pearl, under the command of Lt. General Walter Scott.

SNAFU! Busy lines, missed connections, the ongoing ‘feud’ between Kimmel and Scott, and the fact Kimmel wanted better confirmation such an incident did occur, all combined to nothing being done until it was too late.

At 0755 A.M., an hour and twenty minutes after the Ward entered the US into WWII, Kimmel’s confirmation was answered in spades. The gates of Hell opened in the form of 383 Japanese bombers and fighters in two waves of destruction.

Kimmel had believed that such an attack would be on Wake Island not Pearl and had taken no extra precautions to protect Pearl. The stubbornness of General Short in demanding that all the ships in the harbor be packed together in one section, made it much easier to attack them.

Within two hours, 18 ships were sunk or damaged…2402 US sailors, soldiers, and marines were killed…another 1247 hospitalized. As well as a large number of civilians killled or wounded.

The Day that Lives in Infamy. The next day the U.S. made it’s long awaited entrance into WWII a formality.

Three days after the attack, U.S. ships were allowed to enter the harbor. The Ward was the first…the first to see the carnage, the horror, experience the smell of death. And it all stuck with the men of the Ward for the rest of their lives.

Lt. Outerbridge was presented with the Navy Cross for his actions taken prior to and during the attack. The men of the Ward were given a pat on the back for their actions. While they were given credit for firing the First Shot, there was a reluctance from the War Department Brass to accept the ‘story’ they sunk the Japanese min-sub. After all these men were young reservists who ‘probably had a vivid and wishful imagination… something to tell the girls back home’.

Ten days after the attack, both Admiral Kimmel and General Short were relieved of command, demoted, and fast-tracked on their way out altogether. Both barely avoiding court martial.

The Ward was re-outfitted into a ‘fast’ destroyer with better armament and sent for duty in the Pacific where it engaged in fighting and transporting. In mid 1943 the men of the Ward were replaced as was Lt. Outerbridge. Most of the civilian sailors were sent states side to a much safer way of life. Outerbridge was assigned to a desk in D.C. until he was given command of the destroyer O’Brien just prior to D-Day. His first assignment, station the ship off the coast of Normandy and shell the German defenses. His next, do the same at Cherbourgh.

From ETO,the O’Brien was sent to the Pacific. Both the O’Brien and the Ward were engaged in the battle of Leyte Gulf. December 7, 1944, exactly 3 years to the day of the Ward’s great achievement at Pearl Harbor, she came under attack by Japanese kamikazes. One struck the Ward mid-ship. The ‘new’ men of the Ward abandoned ship and were all picked up by Outerbridge’s O’Brien.

After rescuing the crew of the Ward, Outerbridge was ordered to open fire on the Ward and sink her. In 1957 William Outerbridge retired as a much decorated Rear Admiral. In 2017, the remains of the Ward were found.

(A Little Aside)…In January of 43, while given shore leave from the Ward, Russell Reetz stood in my grandfolks’ living room and married my Aunt Loretta. I was a shy five year old who was fascinated by this tall stranger dressed in a navy outfit. Little did I realize at the time just how good of friends we would become.

Those civilian sailors, those men of the Ward, were discharged in the fall of 1945. All with a chest full of medals. For the most part they went home to St. Paul where they took advantage of the GI Bill, got training for good jobs, got GI loans for houses, and settled into everyday postwar living. One thing though held them together, the USS Ward on 12/7/41. They formed a brotherhood and called it the First Shot Naval Vets.

Damn if their feat of sinking that submarine was not officially recognized, they knew the truth and told the story to whoever wanted to hear it, schools, organizations, the media. In 1958, the group managed to get the #1 gun from the Ward and have it set on the State Capitol Grounds as a monument to commemorate the reservists from St. Paul firing the First Shot in WWII.

In 2000 a feeble attempt to find the mini-sub was undertaken for a National Geographic documentary emceed by Tom Brokaw. My uncle, Russell Reetz and Will Lehner, a shipmate on the Ward, were included in the search, along with Japanese veterans of the min-sub’s mother-ship. During the search Russ was heard loud and clear shouting that they were looking in the wrong location. They were a good 5 miles off. Nobody listened and the search was finally called off.

Uncle Russ figured they had no intention of actually finding the sub seeing as how the two Japanese vets would be greatly embarrassed.

In 2002, a probe by the University of Hawaii proved without a doubt the Ward had indeed sunk that min-sub as they said. They found the sub and there with the hole in it’s side just as the men of the Ward said, in the location where the men wanted the search to occur. It took 61 years but the men of the Ward got the credit they deserved.

Russell Reetz had his daughter, Cindy, write a letter to the admiral that was vocally opposed to the thought that a shell from the Ward could have penetrated the sub enough to sink it. The admiral sent back a letter with a left-handed apology, stating he was glad to see ‘miracles can happen’.

Uncle Russ died in November of 2004. He contracted pneumonia while sitting in the light rain in Washington D.C. at the dedication of the WWII Monument. He is buried along with a number of his fellow Ward shipmates in Fort Snelling Veterans’ Cemetery.

With the death a few months ago of Dick Thill, the baby of the group, all those civilian sailors, those young reservists, these Men of the USS Ward have left us…having earned a special place in our history.

We thank them and salute them, on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor… along with all the men of Pearl Harbor Attack, and the entire “Greatest Generation’.

AND THAT IS A WRAP FOR TODAY

STAY SAFE

11th Day of The 11th Month

440px-In_Flanders_Fields_(1921)_page_1

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

            First part of the poem written one hundred years ago by Dr. John McCrea after he presided over the death of a friend killed at the Second Battle of Ypes, site of the first use of gas in the war history calls The First World War.

The seeds of this conflict, one of the deadliest ever, went back centuries; but gained speed in a series of events and alliances begun in 1882, with the trigger, killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria occurring in June of 1914. When it finally ended it had caused the deaths of nine million combatants and seven million civilians and restructured boundaries in both Europe and the Middle East and dragged warfare into modern times.

It started for the most with  centuries-old methods of war, such as using the horse for both transportation and warfare; but quickly changed into a war of man-made machines powered by the combustible engine on the land, the sea, and a new battleground, the air. And this new method of warfare introduced yet another reason for nations waging war, Oil.

One thing that didn’t change was the reliance on the foot soldier, the doughboy, the mud slogging, trench fighter. And this war was indeed a war of trenches, miles of trenches. For the most part, these men in all wars are unsung; but sometimes one becomes a hero, a household name like the man from the hills of Tennesse, Alvin York of the 82 Division. Largely because of York’s heroics, his division, the 82nd was chosen to be the first airborne division in the US Army.

This war also brought to light the need to bring medicine and medical techniques into modern times. More deaths occurred because of tetanus and infection than from actual battle wounds. The studies of Pasteur and Lister became the Bible for the new medical structure and monies that would never have been allotted for the civilian populations were made available for new medicines to combat the main causes of death in this war.

The war spawned a variety of poems, songs, paintings etc.. It is the source of two of the strongest anti-war works of art, Remarque’s novel ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and Lewis Milestone’s faithful movie of the novel.

The Christmas Truces especially in 1914 have been used in movies and stage plays. The one I am most familiar with is ALL IS CALM:THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914. We put it  on stage at the Minneapolis Pantages in 2008, and it has been done during every Christmas season since. On Christmas Eve 1914 the sounds of Christmas hymns are heard coming from both the German trenches and the British trenches. Soon the soldiers come out of the trenches and the combatants meet in No-Man’s Land where they exchange Christmas greetings, food and beverages, and join with each other in singing the songs of Christmas. These truces were wide spread that Christmas even on the Eastern Front between a group of German and Russian soldiers.

At first the war had a variety of names depending on what countries were fighting each other. As more countries entered into the battle these names were melded into The World War/ The Great War. After the Armistice The World War/The Great War was given a subtitle: The War To End All Wars.

The Armistice was signed at 5 AM, November 11, 1918. The cease fire took place six hours later, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The time had a good ring to it and was easy to remember. There was also a political/military motive behind the delay in the cease fire. The delay gave the Allies a chance to gain better ground in case the Cease Fire didn’t last. That last day of fighting resulted in over 2,500 additional deaths. For all practical purposes it was the end of the war, but peace wasn’t officially ratified until 1/10/1920.

The victors had no mercy for the losers and dictated harsh edicts that changed the world. Boundaries were changed. New countries were created with no respect for the differences in the peoples in these countries. Overlooked was the ethnic differences, the differences in language and especially religions. It was a hastily drawn up with the main purpose to cripple the countries that could pose problems to the Allies as respect to economic progress and to colonial expansion. These ‘written in the sand’ changes still, almost a century later, remain one of the biggest sources of wars, horrific and genocidal, both external and civil, in the world.

November 11th was called Armistice Day, a legal holiday, in most countries that were on the ‘winning’ side. Later the name was changed to Remembrance Day in many of those countries. In 1954 it became known as Veterans Day in the U.S.A.

VERDUN-OSSUAIRE_DE_DOUAUMONT5

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

It wasn’t long before the subtitle, The War To End All Wars became as ludicrous as the phrase uttered in almost all conflicts, ‘They’ll be home by Christmas’.

And events that started just twenty years later caused a name change. The Great War was dropped, and The World War had to be renamed The First World War because another war with the usual suspects, some like Japan and Italy changing sides, combined to fight The Second World War, which was not The War To End All Wars either in spite of the fact the war ended with destroying two large cities with the first use of atomic bombs. Such destruction, we were told, would end war forever. No country would ever start a war with the threat of the mushroom cloud hanging over their head. Another premise that proved false.

Early one morning Frank Glick was driving to work and saw this Bald Eagle sitting on a gravestone in the Fort Snelling National Veterans’ Cemetery. Luckily he managed to take this picture.

Eagle at Ft Snelling

The cemetery sits on a high bluff overlooking beautiful valley where the Minnesota River flows into the Mississippi River. At funerals in the cemetery, sometimes there is an Honor Guard firing off a salute, sometimes planes fly in formation; but almost always there is a Bald Eagle flying  above the ceremony. The sight never fails to bring lumps in the throats of teary eyes mourners.

The cemetery and the nearby Veterans’ Hospital are both running out of room. And this sad situation is occurring in all our Veterans cemetery and hospitals across our land.

Our lawmakers always seems to find the monies for overrides on government contracts to develop a new weapons system, and monies to pay for the exorbitant salaries and profits for the private contractors, like Chaney’s Haliburton, that have slithered into our defense budgets ever since Viet Nam.

And yet when it comes to helping our veterans, these patriotic lawmakers vote down request after request stating no money is available. Our veterans hospital are for the most part outdated and understaffed. These patriots lawmakers, many of whom took deferments to avoid service, fought the idea that Agent Orange used by us in Nam was responsible for  veterans’  medicals problems like cancer, and they continue to avoid the epidemic of mental problems of our veterans who fought in our questionable conflicts ever since WWII. And the list goes on and on.

The best way to thank our vets for ‘THEIR SERVICE’ is to demand that we honor our commitments to them for sacrificing so much so much ‘to protect our freedoms’ and our ‘need’ to be the policemen for the world.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow  

In our present day treatment of our veterans, we have broken faith, not only with those that died but also with those that lived.

Flanders Field

To all my fellow vets, Vaya Con Dios.

This is a reblog from 2016

Spoke PAUL NEWMAN

Celebrity endorsements or protests of political figures or views exploded during the Viet Nam Conflict. Nothing like what is going on the 2020 presidential race, but something totally unseen in the US before then.

Before WWII there was the Isolationist Movement with Charles Lindbergh as the figurehead; but after Pearl Harbor, the movement disappeared. Even Lindbergh volunteered to fight for the Allies. Turned down by the Army Air Corps, he was hired as a civilian advisor. Countless celebrities expressed their views by action, entering the War via draft or volunteering. Their actions better than words.

The Korean Conflict, America’s Forgotten War, received little media attention, let alone public concern. The American Legion and the VFW took a lot of soul searching and time before they accepted the fact that the participants were actual foreign war veterans and could become members. The US and the other countries involved did so under the auspices of the UN because of the Domino Theory, fear that if the Communists weren’t stopped in Korea, they would hit Japan next. The biggest Celeb attention came from the TV show M.A.S.H. filmed years later.

And then came Viet Nam. A civil war of words and protests broke out. Household names, personified by John Wayne on the right and Jane Fonda on the left, voiced their opinions on the involvement like never before. One side used the Domino Effect and patriotism, ‘My Country Right Or Wrong’, as the base of their arguments. The other pointed out that it was a Civil War fought to end French Imperialism and has nothing to do with the US. In short, we were involved in an unjust war.

Did the dueling names have any influence with their public views? Perhaps. The US involvement continued in spite of government lies and illegal acts, and the Draft was changed to add a numbering system; and finally our government yelled ‘Uncle’ and withdrew. Today the Communist country of Viet Nam is a prime trading partner of the US.

Did their views harm the careers of the endorsers? Well, in spite of history proving him wrong, the career of the outspoken John Wayne actually got a much needed boost; that and the fact that he finally learned how to act instead of just being the Duke over and over. It also gave him another military-hero movie to proclaim his patriotic spirit and remind people of his bravery in WWII…films.

Jane Fonda’s career nose-dived; not because of her protesting per se, but it’s extreme. She went into the capital, Hanoi, of the enemy our military was fighting. She cavorted in her photo-ops just a few miles from where American POWs, American heroes, were encaged. Her actions were not only in poor taste, they bordered on treason. It took many years and a lot of exercise tapes before she regained a career as the excellent actress she was prior and still is.

The Viet Nam draft was geared toward the lower middle class and minorities. Those of wealth and fame were passed over by the local Draft Boards. The most notable exception was Mohammad Ali, the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World.

Ali was vocal in his refusal to fight in Viet Nam on religious and civil rights grounds. He said he did not believe a man should kill another man. He also asked why should he shoot brown people who never did him any harm when nothing is being done in his own country to protect the rights of dark skinned citizens from civil abuse. He was found guilty of refusing the decision of his draft board, and the government of the United States stripped him of his World boxing title. He didn’t lose it like he won it, in the ring. It was a World title but the US, and the US alone, took the title from him. To hell with the rest of the world.

The US Supreme Court, by an 8 to 0, vote over-ruled the guilty decision. Ali, a few years later, won back his World Title the way he first earned it, in the boxing ring.

There were no celebs fighting Viet Nam at the time but many of the veterans of the fighting became famous afterwards…men like Oliver Stone and Kris Kristofferson saw action and translated their experience into movies and music.

Some, like ex-VP John Kerry, went and fought in Nam, earned a chestful of medals, came home and then protested the war.

Student deferments were one way of avoiding the draft. Some like ex-Pres Bill Clinton used the deferments in the right way. He finished near the top of his class in Columbia, did two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and finished near the head of the class in Yale law school.

Others needed a little help. Ex-VP Dick Cheney, a hawk who pushed for our attacking Iraq and Afghanistan among other things, lost his deferment when he flunked out of Yale. Faced with a One- A physical, he quickly entered the U of Wyoming and managed to keep up enough grades to avoid the draft.

Money and pull also helped. Wayne LaPierre, of NRA fame, was in trouble until his rich daddy found a doctor who stated that Wayne had a nervous condition. This phobia would prevent him from ...wait for it.. ever firing a gun.

When it looked like ex-VP Dan Quail was about to be drafted, his father managed to get him in the Indiana National Guard HQ, even though this perfect refuge was full at the time.

Ex-Pres H.W. Bush, a true WWII hero, had no sons drafted. His one son, ex-Pres George W. Bush, a true war hawk who was responsible for our invading 2 innocent countries that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack on the US, managed to avoid real military service through pull. He got into the air wing of the Texas National Guard and was trained as a jet fighter pilot. His lack of good aptitude and his poor attendance would have 86ed most other trainees, but he managed to receive millions of dollars worth of training; and He would have saw action if Texas ever was under attack but…

Oh, also he skipped out of the last several months of his service requirement to work in a senate election race in Alabama. Still he was given an honorable discharge.

Many avoided the draft by pretending insanity. The rocker/NRA poster boy/reality TV hunter, Ted Nugget tells the most disgusting story of how he ‘fooled’ the docs about to give him his physical. It’s on the net but if you have a weak stomach I would suggest not reading it.

And some like ex-mayor, Guiliani, avoided it under never-explained-circumstances. But then so much he does is impossible to explain.

Europe was one refuge for draft dodgers. Sylvester Stallion, who like John Wayne, is an actor who fought a lot of battles…in films only. He didn’t bother to report to his draft board when he turned 18 and went to be a ski instructor in the Alps instead. While his fellow Americans were being shot at, Stallion was enjoying himself earning his nickname, The Italian Stallion. And bragged about it. But unlike another well known draft dodger who fought the battle of avoiding VD and bragged about it, Stallion never called those who did fight ‘Losers”.

Mitt Romney, who backed every war except the one he have had to see action in, took advantage of slow draft board and went to Europe on a Mormon door-knocking mission.

Although almost 100,000 American males went to Canada to escape the draft and or deserted the service itself, there no celebs among them.

ExPres Jimmy Carter, a US Naval Academy grad, who served seven years in active service, five of which were in submarines, and who left the service only because his father died and he had to go back to the family business, ran for the presidency vowing to pardon all Viet Nam era draft dodgers. And always true to his word, Carter pardoned them all on the day after he took the oath of office. Carter was a one term president. Many vets said they voted against him because of his pardoning the draft dodgers. Wonder how many of these same vets voted for Trump.

Only about half of exiles choose to return to the US where a military record or lack of one meant a great deal in obtaining work. Government work, and some private employers, gave preference to military veterans. If a man had no military history employers wanted to know why. If a man had been in the military, the need for proof of an honorable discharge was required. The thought of a draft dodger getting elected to public office was out of the question…or so we thought.

Does it help? It certainly can’t hurt as long as the celeb that is doing the endorsing is a little higher than a has-been D-Lister, or an organization such as the Taliban.

Is it fair? I’ll defer that question to Paul Newman, outstanding actor/idol, and such a strong advocate of liberal politics and politicians that he made the FBI Enemies List in the Viet Nam Era.

When I was in charge of the stage of Northrop Auditorium early 60s, several times a week prominent speaker was booked for a free noon- speaking engagement. No tickets. No ushers.

The speakers were from all fields, but in those days, the ones that spoke out against Viet Nam involvement and the one pro-Civil Rights were the most popular; but none so popular as a symposium consisting of two pro Viet Nam advocates and two anti Viet Nam Advocates, one of the later was Paul Newman, and a moderator.

Unlike the usual audience of less than a thousand, this one was standing-room -only on the main floor with young ‘ladies’ elbowing their way up the aisles to get closer to the stage, and the balcony was almost half full also. At least 4,000.

It was a well informed and interesting hour, even if most of the audience only listened when Paul Newman spoke. When it wasn’t his turn to speak, he sat listening intently, all the while chewing on his gum. Paul Newman Cool.

I and my student crew had constructed a TV ‘studio’ backstage for a Paul Newman press interview after I pulled the stage curtain shut. Everything went well until one of the TV reporters asked him if he didn’t think it was fair that a famous celebrity like Newman should get involved in something as important as the Viet Nam War. People might agree with him only because he’s a movie star.

I swear the temperature rose ten degrees. Those famous blue eyes blazed. He took out his gum and threw it in a waste basket. He stood up… and Paul Newman spoke.

I can’t quote him verbatim but I can relate the gist of his speech: I am an American man with the right of Freedom of Speech. I am a father with a son that I hope will never have to fight in a war as unjust as this one. I am not a black man, but I am part Jewish and know that we must fight for Civil Rights and condemn the racial and religious hatred that persists in this country.

I am an actor and most people will listen more to me than to a truck driver or farmer, or even a clergyman. Not only is it fair for me to make my views public, it is my obligation. Whether or not they listen and believe in my viewpoint is immaterial. At least I might have opened the door to a different side of the argument than what they are use to listening to. And if I am just singing to the choir I am letting them know that I agree with the songs they are singing.

Thus spoke Paul Newman.

(A little aside from the topic.)

Many of the young ladies in the audience were not interested in going to their next class. They wanted to hang around Northrop to get a glimpse or better yet an autograph of Paul Newman. When one of my student crew was locking up the main auditorium a young lady whispered him aside. She offered him five bucks if he would get the gum that Paul Newman was chewing on. He dug it out of the trash can and sold it to her. Then he and another crew member got a couple packs of gum and after chewing a stick, would offer it in a very discreet manner to a waiting fan. I heard later they started asking ten bucks but dropped it down to five if a phone number came with it. I often wonder what happened to those two bandits. Probably became Social Media zillionaires.)

I purposely tried to avoid any mention of ‘he-whose-name-must-not-be-mentioned’ before, even though he is the most famous draft-dodger at this time, because he is beyond being just a chicken-hawk draft dodger. The way he speaks about veterans, their families, the fact he has done nothing about his good friend, Putin, paying on bounty to the Taliban to kill American military, the fact that both Putin and the Taliban are endorsing him… how can anyone who served vote for such a treasonous person is beyond me. Commander-In-Chief!

And how anybody can vote for a hate-filled who backs the would-be-nazis that are coming out of the sewer at his instigation. Lock Him, (and his friends),Up.

Or vote for one who sees over 200,000 deaths of citizens he swore to protect with the phrase, ‘It is what it is’. As one who moves from bleach injections as a cure to killing off the weak and old ones in the herd. ‘They are what they are’!!!

Enough! Please!

Wrap it.

Stay Safe.

And pray that the sun will shine again.

Oh! P.S. If you are offered a deal on an old wad of chewing gum purported to have been Paul Newman’s, don’t bite, it might be a scam.

A BRAVE LAD

P.F.C. Giles walked into HQ and asked if he could talk to the Colonel. Giles had the day off because he had just finished a field op with one of the line companies. He was a telegraph operator and from what I heard, he was a good one. I didn’t know much else about him. I remember a while back he was on a battalion jump with me. That was his cherry jump. That’s what they call the first jump after the five jumps in jump school. It is the first jump you make fully equipped and have to exit with a crowd. He had made another jump on that field op.

When I asked him what he wanted to see the Old Man about. He said,softly, that it was personal.

His talk with the Colonel took about a half hour and when he walked out of HQ he told Sgt Major Simpson and me the Colonel wanted to see us.

‘Close the door,’ the Old Man said, when we walked in, ‘And what I tell you will go no further. Understood?’

‘Yes, Sir.’ He motioned us to sit down.

“Sgt Major, I want you to see Giles gets to Repo Depot as soon as he gets packed. And then do what you when somebody is discharged. And Corporal, make out the necessary forms for a Medical Discharge.’

‘What’s should I put down as the reason?’ I asked.

‘Didn’t look sick to me,’ Sgt Simpson observed.

The Old Man held up a finger. ‘Hold off on the reason for now. I got to touch base with a friend in Division Personnel. I don’t want that kid demonized with a Dishonorable or a Mental discharge’, he said angrily. He stared at the door and then added in a calm voice, ‘That lad has a lot of backbone. A lot of balls. He is a brave lad. A brave lad.’

Neither Simpson or I said anything.

‘To tell his CO what he told me…He risked a lot. Risked getting ridiculed by some of the men. Risked getting beat up. Risked getting a Dishonorable Discharge. Maybe even stockade time.’

We waited as the Colonel lit a cigarette. I know Simpson was an anxious for the Old Man to tell us what he was talking about. as I was.

‘Took a brave lad to stand right there and tell me he is a homosexual…’

‘He’s a que…’ Simpson blurted out.

‘Let’s use the term “gay”, sergeant.’ the colonel interrupted, ‘It sounds better.’

‘Excuse me, Sir,’ Simpson apologized. ‘It just surprised me. He sure don’t look like a… gay.’

‘I won’t ask you, sergeant, just what a gay is suppose to look like.’

The Sergeant Major it would be best to keep still.

‘The lad just stood there and told me he was homosexual. Flat out told me he was gay.

‘He said he had hoped somehow being in the Army would put his feelings on the back burner, but he said that isn’t the case. He wants out. He know just by admitting his homosexuality will get him kicked out. He said at least in civilian life there are some people who understand.’

‘Like his family,’ I said.

The Old Man shook his head no. He told why Giles said he joined up and volunteered airborne in the first place. Seems like his father rode him pretty hard when he learned his son was gay. There’s another son and he’s in the 101st Airborne and the father always threw that in Giles’ face.’

‘Guess he showed the old bastard,’ Sgt Simpson said. ‘He got the balls to jump just like his brother.’ Then he asked,’ Is the brother gay too?’

‘I don’t know, sergeant,’ the Colonel answered. ‘Probably not.’

Then the Colonel held up his finger again. ‘You just gave me an idea, Sergeant,’ he said. ‘There’s just the two boys in the family and the other one just re-upped for another six. Giles mentioned his father has arthritis and is worried he won’t be able to work much longer. Don, forget the Medical Discharge. We’ll make it a Hardship Discharge instead. Be better for him.’

‘Too bad we have to lose a man like Giles,’ The Old Man said as Simpson and I stood up. ‘Took a brave lad to do what he did today. The Army can always use a brave lad like him.’

‘Maybe some day, Sir,’ I said, ‘The Army won’t kick out brave lads on account of them being gay.’ And we the office.

Simpson pulled me in his office and closed the door. ‘You don’t really think they will ever let homosexuals in the Army just like any body else.’

‘When you joined up did you ever think you’d be in the same outfit as blacks?’

‘No, but…Simpson stammered. ‘I mean…Could you serve with somebody you know is a homosexual?’

‘Well,’ I answered, ‘It’s like old Sergeant Estes said when he let me buy him a beer, ”Never held it against you for being a Yankee.I found out I can get along with just about any body…even a Yankee. Unless he of course he would to marry my sister.”

Master Sergeant Simpson frowned and shook his head. ‘You know, Don, sometimes, you just don’t make any sense at all.’

It took a long time after my saying some day they might not discriminate against gays 

But not in my wildest dream  I never imagined women would be jumping out of planes

and serving right along side men

in the 82nd 

And that’s a wrap for the day after the US Supreme Court ruled that

Equal Employment Rights

apply also to

LGBTQ

STAY SAFE: And let’s hope today’s discovery of a common steroid might be the cure for the Virus

PREJUDICE & ME & THE ARMY

“It’s going to take a long time, and it’s going to take white people admitting what we did was pretty damned bad.” – Greg Iles – 2017 National Writers Series interview

There wasn’t many blacks in my ‘class’ at basic training in Fort Collins, Colorado. The two officers in charge were white. The rest of the cadre were black. Nice guys. Even the group of Texans who enrolled together dropped their initial snide remarks about blacks and accepted them as their instructors.

It was my next Army stop, Signal School, Fort Gordon, Georgia where I was introduced to the world of prejudice.

There weren’t many blacks in my ‘class’ in Signal School either and all the instructors were white. We had quite a bit of freedom and could go off base on the weekends. Two of my new friends, Chicago 1 and Chicago 2 managed to buy a car and the three of us along with three others took off on a Friday night to spend a wild weekend in Augusta. Never made it.

On the famous Tobacco Road right before we almost got past the endless shacks and lean-to’s of the share-croppers, and were not too far from the famous and very exclusive Augusta Golf Course where the Masters is played yearly, we got t-boned. Too much moonshine and the driver speeding along a gravel road that intersected the highway didn’t stop. Good thing we were packed inside a well built DeSoto. None of us got hurt but the boys from Chicago told us all to complain about factitious aches and pains. They thought they struck it rich. Whiplash! Whiplash!

We had to report to the Augusta Court House on Monday to give our accounts of what happened. When we walked in far down the lobby was a wall with a fancy words about truth and justice. When we walked to the elevator I noticed a drinking fountain marked Whites, and one across the lobby marked Coloreds. Welcome to Jim Crow country you naive young Yankee.

The two Chicagos had a rude surprise also. Not from the separation of races, in fact one of them commented how he wished Chicago had the same thing, but from the laugh of the cop when they asked if they could get the name of the driver’s insurance company. Insurance! That ole redneck didn’t even have license plates… let alone insurance.

The term colored isn’t used anymore. It is a reminder of the South of Jim Crow. But in those days it was the term whites used a lot. We would never think of called a person a Black; even though we used the term Negro, which is Latin for black. The ‘n’ word derived from Negro was used a lot by whites and blacks.

There was big time prejudice in and around Fort Bragg, North Carolina, my next and last stop in the Army. Racial hatred was as much a way of life in that neck of the woods as displaying the Confederate Flag. Bragg was named after a Confederate War general and slave owner. Yankees ranked second on the South’s hate list. Even though a large percentage of paratroopers were good old boys, troopers were hated because it was paratroopers that Eisenhower used to force integration in the Little Rock schools.

Cities and towns were divided into the White section and the Colored section and getting caught in the wrong section was not something anyone wanted to do.

Ft. Bragg and the adjoining Pope Air Base, is the largest military base in the NATO countries. It is an open installation so anyone can drive on or off it without going through MP secured gates. In addition to the 82nd Airborne Division, it was the home of Green Berets, and numerous ‘Leg’ outfits. A leg is a slang word used by paratroopers to signify anyone not a paratrooper.

And if a trooper did anything that attracted the Law’s attention, he better hope it was 82nd MP’s, brothers-in-arms, that he had to deal with. Leg MP’s had a real burr in their saddle when it came to ‘bad- ass paratroopers’. And then their was the civilian police!!! Best bet for a white yankee like me was to talk with a southern accent, yes sir, no sir, sorry sir, and pray. For a black trooper, leg, or civilian, keep quite and pray and pray hard.

One payday night a few of us from HQ’s Company were about to walk in to a pizza place incop Fayetteville when we heard a shot from across the street. Someone was on the ground and a uniformed town cop was running into a phone booth, chased by an ever growing crowd. It didn’t take long for police, MP’s and an ambulance to cart away the victim and the shooter. It took a general from the post to calm down the protesters.

The first newspaper release was that a Fayetteville cop shot an armed and dangerous soldier and a mob tried to harm the cop. The solder’s gun wasn’t found because someone in the mob took if from the scene.

Another story came out stating that there was nothing to the rumor that the victim, a Latino sergeant, had angered the cop by moving in with the cop’s ex-wife. And that the witnesses who said there was the perp didn’t have a gun were just trouble makers trying to stir up another protest. And that was the official police report, accepted and case closed. Protests!

An order was issued by the Army that any more protests would result in Fayetteville being declared off limits to all military personnel. That settled tempers down.

The sergeant recovered in six weeks and was given a medical discharge. The cop was given a two week suspension, with pay, and was transferred up the hill to a big buck part of the city. Don’t know what happened with the ex-wife.

And then there was the black unemployed ex-con who robbed a small on-post bank. He was caught he next day when he tried to buy a new convertible…with cash. His first night in the county jail, he thought he died and went to heaven when he discovered the cell door wasn’t locked. He did die when he stepped outside and was shot dead by the two jailers. One of the jailers said that as he brought back the black to the cell, after making him dump his honey pot, the phone rang and in his haste to answer it, he must not have locked the cell door. Nuf said. Case closed.

If I had read the newspaper much in those years, I probably would have heard of many more those kind of happenings; but if the Army wanted GI’s to read newspapers they would have made them handy.

It was a little over ten years since President Truman had forced the integration of the US Military. Whites and Blacks were still in the process of working and living together. There was stories of racial problems on the main post in Bragg, but not in the 82nd.

In the 82nd, any prejudice remained under the surface. We were an esprit de corp outfit and we were brothers-in-arms.

It made no difference what color the man was who packed the chute you jumped with…Only that it was packed right. When you were hooked up waiting to jump, you checked everything that you could see. The man behind you checked the rest as you did to the man in front of you. Again colors no difference. Our lives depending on our brothers-in-arms in war and peace.

When I was transferred to Headquarters Company, I no longer lived in a barracks room. I lived in a two- man room. Headquarters Company had it’s privileges.. My first room mate was a Black, Lil Roy. We got along good. Friends. The only thing that bothered me was his bad sounding phonograph and his endless supply of Little Richard 45’s. On and on and on. For a joke I bought him a 45 of Pat Boone singing Tutti Fruitti. We played it once and then left it in the Day Room soanyone who wanted it could take it.

Roy and I would catch the bus into Fayetteville, sit together in the bus, and at the stop we would part ways. I went into the main downtown and he went down the hill to the black downtown. After he got discharged I realized not only did I miss him, I missed hearing Little Richard, which I cured by a trip to the record shop. Music knows no prejudice…but it does have boundaries.

Duke Ellington came to town. He was one of my favorites. He played the NCO club in Bragg. I wasn’t allowed because I was only a corporal. He played the Officers’ club in Bragg. Again, I wasn’t allowed, no brass on my shoulders. His next gig, and last around Fayetteville, was a black college. No whites allowed. Damn prejudice. Once again I found some relief in the record store in town. It sold a lot of music by Ellington and other black musicians, even if blacks weren’t allowed in the store.

When I went back into civilian life and worked various jobs, I was shocked to realize just how much prejudice there was against blacks and minorities existed in the North. Wake up to the real world, you naive young man from Mendota.

There were protest marches in the 60’s. But nothing compared to today’s world wide protests. There was Martin Luther King, activist, leader, and martyr, whose speeches are honored as keystones in the fight for Civil Rights. But nothing stirred the world like the three words, I can’t breath’.

That and the eight minutes, forty six seconds of watching a cold calculated murderer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. George Floyd might not have been a saint, but he is a martyr. It is said that the blood of martyrs was the seed of Christianity. We can only pray that the blood of Earl and the other martyrs sacrificed on the altar of hate are the seeds that brings an end to hatred. Maybe this time.

What thrills me most in today’s protests is the young, young around the world, that have either never been taught to hate or have seen the wrong in such teachings.

I could write volumes on the prejudice I have encountered in my 80 plus years, and maybe I will write some of the tidbits in another post; but for now, I would like to just thank all the people who never taught me how to hate. I wish everybody could have non-teachers like I had.

Oh, and as far as White Privilege is concerned, I am all for it. I’ve been beat up by police on three occasions in my life; and without White Privilege, I might have ended up dead in any one of them.

I just wish White Privilege was granted to everyone regardless of their skin color.

And I would like to wrap this up with the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein in South Pacific:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Stay Safe and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.

PREJUDICE & ME & MENDOTA

Back in the days when we were protesting for Civil Rights and an end to our involvement in Viet Nam, Dick Gregory, black comedian, leading activist in both movements, came to Minneapolis. During a press conference he was asked how Minneapolis compared to other major cities as far as racial discrimination against blacks was concerned.

He said he found very little black prejudice compared to other cities; but before Minneapolitans had to chance to take bows, he explained why. He observed there were so many Indians in Minnesota that were the brunt of prejudice, white folks didn’t have time to bother with the small black population.

There wasn’t any prejudice against Indians in the village/township of Mendota where my roots were. Mendota was a settlement across the river from Minneapolis and St. Paul, older than both. Outside of a few outsiders like my dad, who married into it, we were descendants of French/Canadians or Mendota Sioux or a mix of both. No bona fide Mendota resident had to go back too many generations to find a common ancestor with any other bona fide Mendota resident.

There were some inhabitants that people did not like; but it wasn’t prejudice because they might have Indian blood, it was because they were jerks.

From the time I was a toddler, one of my best friends was Fred La Batte, grandpa’s hired hand. He claimed to be 100% Mendota Sioux; and when questioned why he had a French name, he always answered, because his Sioux name was too hard to spell. I enjoyed being around Fred and I learned a lot from him, including a few English and French words that I found out the hard way to never use within my mom’s hearing distance.

When I acted up and Fred told me to stop it, I stopped. Not to would cause him to shake his finger at me warn me what would happen if kept misbehaving. He would put me in a gunny sack and take me to Chicago. When I asked him about Chicago he told me it was a place worse than even Minneapolis. Yes sir, I obeyed Fred.

Fred also taught me a lot about horses. Come time to cultivate the corn, Fred would hitch Dick, grandpa’s sorrel gelding to the one-row cultivator. Many a hot summer day you would see Dick still hitched to the cultivator munching on the grass in the ditch by the highway. No sign of Fred because Fred had flagged down a ride to Huber’s for a couple cold beers. When I asked Fred how he got the horse to just stand there for such a long time and not go anyplace or turn around and eat the corn stalks, Fred said he warned the horse if he misbehaved he’d get a gunny sack over his eyes and…

and, and, you’ll take him to Chicago. Right, Fred?’

You learn real good, little Donny.’

The first lesson I received in prejudice was from Mrs. Benson, who taught all eight grades in the one-room schoolhouse I went to. Now even though she was a Lutheran Swede from Minneapolis, we all liked her, students and parents both. She only taught us one year because her husband got polio and required her help at home.

(Polio was the first pandemic that I lived through. We survived because the politicians united and left finding the cure and vaccine to the medical experts, like Dr. Jonas Salk.)

Mrs. Benson’s teaching of prejudice was straight forward. She said that we should accept or reject people as individuals and not because of culture or color…Prejudice was wrong. Prejudice was stupid. Prejudice hurt both the person it was directed against and the person who directed it.

In addition to her talking about it, she gave us a list of books that would teach us more about prejudice.

We were to pick out a book, read it, and then stand in front of the room and tell the rest of the students what we learned about prejudice from the book. She eliminated the first three grades as far as reading a book was concerned; but they could tell us about prejudice they had witnessed, or comment on what they heard. The lesson was in the first hour of class when someone was ready to speak.

After she finished laying out the groundwork, she handed note books she had purchased with her own money and told us we were to keep a record of what we were learning about prejudice, starting with what she had said that morning.

Now any questions?

About six hands went up.

 ‘Mrs. Benson, how do you spell ‘prejudice’? 

I reread Huckleberry Finn from the school’s library, which had about two hundred books in it and which I had already finished reading all of them. I gave my report on the relationship between Huck and Jim, the runaway ex-slave about five days into the project. I was the first to make a report.

So to keep me actively involved in the project, Mrs. Benson lent me her personal copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Now that really showed me a world unlike the one grew up in. I read it twice before I gave my report.

Mrs. Benson suggested I read yet another book. She gave me some suggestions but this time I went out on my own read my dad’s copy of The Vanishing American by Zane Grey. I had heard it a radio program once. Since she wasn’t aware of the story, she consulted with her husband, who was a Zane Grey fan. When he told her it was a tale about the loss of Indian culture and of love between  a Navajo man, a white woman.

Mrs. Benson suggested that she and I talk over my report before I gave it. She wanted to make sure her project on racial prejudice did not turn into a sex education class. She didn’t have to worry. I concentrated on the prejudice and loss of the native culture, not the mushy love stuff. I also tied in a lot of things that Fred LaBatte had told me, like why he had a French last name.

( Today the Navajo nation is vanishing, not the culture, the people. They are hardest hit segment of the killer virus in America. In the early days of the virus, those days the president assured us not to worry, within a couple weeks the few virus cases in the US would disappear, a prominent Navajo leader died and people came from all over the Navajo reservation, the largest reservation in the US. The lack of early knowledge and prevention, the arid harsh land, the abject poverty, the scarcity of medical facilities, and the total disregard of the Federal government have fueled the virus wildfire and the vanishing of the Navajo is another type of genocide that has permeated the our nation since the first day Anglos set foot in New England.)

So my growing up in Mendota and my education from Mrs. Benson, pretty much laid down the foundation of my feelings about racial prejudice. I never had much experience with blacks those early years , except for playing against some in sports. Then I went in in the Army!

Oops! What started out as one blog post has gotten away from me. Par for the course. I will close out this post and will continue my experience in prejudice in the Army, deep in the heart of Dixie, in another post.

I will close out this with a quotations I was introduced to last week in one of my favorite blogs:

Playamart – Zeebra Designs A blog of beautiful art, great photos, and fine prose by Lisa, a talented Mississippian now living in Ecuador.

 Blacks and Native Americans share one thing. Native Americans had their land stolen, and their culture systematically crushed. Blacks – it’s the opposite; they were stolen from their land, and they had their culture systematically crushed. We can’t begin to imagine what it takes to come back from that…” – Greg Iles – excerpt from 2017/National Writers Series interview –

And that’s a wrap for today. Stay Safe

ANOTHER SNOW/ANOTHER RIDE

Back in the day: Another snow. Another ride-on-my-thumb.

This happened about a year before the previous snow/hitchhiking story. I was heading back to Fort Bragg from Washington D.C., my favorite city to visit on a three day pass. There was so much to see and do, and for fifty cents you could get a bed in the YMCA. You could hitch it in six, seven hours.

This time it was special. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom.

I had spent most my full day walking around the Tidal Basin, taking in the sights and fragrances of the trees and monuments and the Basin itself. There weren’t as many monuments as there are now. There was Jefferson Memorial, which was worth the walk all in itself, and several smaller monuments. The F.D.R. and Martin Luther King memorials would come years later. And a half mile across the park the Washington Monument could easily be seen.

The Basin is a pure reflective mirror. No matter where I walked around it that day, I could see the cherry blossoms and the Washington Monument, shimmering in the waters.

I finished off the day by walking across the park and revisited the monuments on the National Mall. I never left D.C. without a visit to the Mall.

I always walked tall when I was in D.C., but that day I think I walked even taller. So proud to be wearing the uniform of the 82nd Airborne, the All American Division. So proud to be doing my part, albeit a very small part, in protecting the grandeur of this country.

By the time I got back to the cafeteria at the Y I was too tired to prolong the day. That and the fact there was talk about some snow might be coming in the next afternoon, a rarity in D.C..

I had ordered a big breakfast in a pancake house by the highway out of the city when the snow started falling. Back home we would call it a dusting. In D.C. they thought it was a blizzard. Some of the other customers wolfed down their food and hurried out the door. By the time my food arrived, the highway looked like it was an evening-going-home traffic jam. My waitress commented on how the city empties when it snows.

‘Yeah,’ I replied, trying to show wisdom beyond my age. ‘And cause a jam-up and silly accidents. If some of them would wait and follow when the first ones cleared out…’

‘They’re afraid they might get called back to their desks. Most are paid by the month and getting out early won’t be deducted from their paychecks,’ she said as she refilled my coffee cup. ‘It those of us who work by the hour that get their pay docked if we leave early.’ She gave a quick glance to the stern faced older woman sitting behind the cash register.

‘I dig it,’ I said with a smile. The highway was still bumper-to-bumper, too close to stop if they had to. A lot of slipping and sliding. I decided to take my own advice and stay put until things calmed down a bit.

On the next refill I told my waitress my decision. She agreed with me. I ordered a piece of apple pie. She agreed with that also, and suggested warming it up a little and putting a scoop of ice cream on top. I agreed with that.

A customer went out and left his newspaper. She brought it over to me. When I decided things had settled down a little out on the highway, I asked her for the check. She hadn’t bothered to charge me for the pie. I left a big tip. The woman that handled the register gave me my change, thanked me and ordered me to have a good day. Since she never once bothered to look me in the face, I didn’t think she cared what kind of day I would have. My waitress mouthed a silent thank you. I believed her.

I got a ride right away. ‘I’m not going too far, only to Arlington; but it will at least get you away from some of this traffic,’ the woman said as she opened the passenger door. With a voice like that…

As I got in and was surprised, pleasantly, to see she her looks matched her voice. By the time I had settled in the seat and shut the door, I did as any red-blooded, lonesome nineteen year old GI would do. I fell in love at first sight, even if she was a little older than me. She tried talking to me but I didn’t reply. I just looked at her and smiled.

‘I’ll turn this down a little,’ she said, reaching over to the volume dial on the radio. She thought I didn’t answer because of the music. It was classical music. I hadn’t even realized it had been on. She had the perfect 10-4 hand grip on the wheel and I could see her left hand. There was a wedding ring. Bummer.

‘Mozart,’ she said. ‘It helps ease the tension of this kind of driving. Do you like Mozart?’

‘Ho, ah,’ I said, hesitantly, ‘He…Yeah, I like him a lot.’ I hoped we could change the topic. The only classical music I knew about was the William Tell Overture that opens and closes every Lone Ranger program. ‘It looks like you know what you are doing driving in the slush,’ I blurted out.

‘I haven’t had to for a long time, but I come originally from upstate New York, a lot of driving in real snowstorm,’ she said. ‘I guess it’s like they say about riding a bike, once you do it, you never forget.’

I agreed. ‘You’re keeping a nice distance, pumping the brake…’

Just then, a dehorn that was passing us started to slide into our lane. She managed to handle the situation like a pro. She held back until he got his car under control. His near miss didn’t teach him any thing. He quickly jerked out of our lane and sped into the passing lane.

‘Too bad there isn’t some way to control the other drivers,’ she said.

Everything was going smoothly until she had to drive over a big clump of snow that had come loose from somebody’s wheel well. The steering wheel spun free of her grip momentarily and the car headed for the left ditch. I thought we had it, but she pulled out of it in time.

‘It’ll be better when you get on the cut-off to Arlington,’ I said.

She looked at me and smiled. ‘Oh, we passed that a while back.’

I looked over at her. ‘Why?’ You said you were going to Arlington. Look!’ I pointed to a car in the ditch. It was the joker that was in such a big hurry.

‘Well, he’s one I don’t have to worry about,’ she said.

‘You should be off this highway. Where are we going?’

‘We are just a ways from Fort Myers. There’s a shelter there and a car can pull off and pick up hitchhikers. Your chances of getting a quick ride are much better there,’ she explained.

‘And your chances of getting in an accident are also much better now,’ I argued. ‘A good deed is one thing, but is it worth it in this kind of weather?’

Well,’ she said softly, ‘My husband is stationed in South Korea right now. I would hope that if he was out in a snow storm needing a ride, someone would pick him up.’

I didn’t stick out my thumb until she turned around and headed back to Arlington. I waved and she answered with her car horn.

I thought to myself that there is a very lucky GI over in Frozen Chosen with an angel waiting for him to hurry home. Be it sunshine or bad weather.

The snow was letting up and I hoped that that it had no bad effect on the cherry blossoms. It sure had had a good effect on me. And now when I see where someone had made an angel in the snow or I smell the fragrance of cherry blossoms, I think back to that ride-on-my-thumb.

 

 

STAY SAFE AND OBEY THE RULES

SPRING WILL ARRIVE SOON

RIDING MY THUMB IN THE SNOW

Back in the day when a man in uniform could thumb a ride anywhere:

That heavy snow we just had on Easter Sunday reminded me of another spring holiday snow storm. That one was on Holy Saturday many years ago.

I was heading home from Ft. Bragg to spend a week with my folks. One of guy in the outfit had posted he was going to Chicago. Another trooper and myself answered the post.

I had the backseat all to myself. The two Chicago boys took turns driving and keeping each other awake. I was sleeping good when they started raising their voices above the music on the radio. It took me a bit to realize they were arguing over who came from the toughest neighborhood in the city. The stories grew larger and larger; by the time they left me off at the highway that bypassed Chicago, you would think they both were remnants of Al Capone’s mob.

Next ride got me though Madison, WI.. That’s when the snow started. It was the wet, slushy snow that often makes April the ‘cruelest month’. Luckily a car stopped before I got too wet. The driver was about 30, nice smile, friendly voice. Seeing I was shivering, he turned the heater on high in spite of the fact he was wearing a black turtle-neck sweater. He asked where I was heading and when I told him, he apologized because he was only going a little past Tomah.

Usually the price you pay for hitching a ride is you have to listen to the driver talking, telling you things he would not tell to many other people; but you were a stranger and his story would go no further. Kind of like a confession. But not this driver. He got more out of me than I was use to telling anyone.

I started to doze off so I suggested that he could turn the heat down. He did so with pleasure, beads of sweat were on his forehead. But it didn’t help me much. The slip-slapping of the wiper blades sang me back to sleep.

I woke in a hurry when he started swearing. The blades were losing the battle with the snow but not enough that I see we were in trouble. The car was heading for one ditch and then he swung it back towards the other. It was facing the opposite direction when he finally got it under control enough to pull onto the shoulder. He made the Sign of the Cross and took some very deep breathes.

I cut loose. I called him names that would make a paratrooper blush. And I finished by yelling, ‘You dumb @#@%$#@, I know I told you I was in a hurry, hoping to go to Easter Mass with my folks; but I ain’t that much of a hurry to get killed trying to do it.’

Apology time for both of us.

‘I got thinking about tomorrow,’ he said, ‘And didn’t realize I was going too fast for the conditions. Thank God, there wasn’t any other cars around.’

‘Yeah, thank God! Well,’ I said in a softer voice, ‘It happens. I shouldn’t have had no call to swear at you like that.’ The last thing I wanted was to have him give me the boot in that snowstorm.

He laughed as he pulled a pulled a Uey and back on track. ‘Don’t sweat it, Don. I’m the padre at Camp McCoy up ahead. Heard a lot worse, believe me.’

‘Oh, no!’ I said, ‘You’re a priest! Jeez…Boy, now I really got to get home in time to go to Confession.’

Well,’ he said, ‘I can take some pressure off you.’ He reached under the front seat and pulled out a stole. ‘Always keep one handy in case of an emergency.’ He placed it around his neck. He must have read my mind. ‘Don’t worry’, he said, ‘A car is as good as a confessional.’

I hesitated at first and then begun, ‘Bless me, Father…’ After the first few words, the rest came easy.’

I hoped he wasn’t the kind of priest that closed his eyes when he was hearing a confession.

So, riding in a car, in the middle of a snow storm, going to Confession. A first and only time for me.

The padre left me off at the entrance to Camp McCoy. Nice bench, a sheltered roof. First car stopped. A top of the line Chevy convertible. The driver was a little older than me. Big man, but soft features. I had to do a double take when I saw his backseat. There were boxes of LP records, a stereo phonograph, TV set, a few books and lots of magazines on the floor, Down Beat’s, Playboy’s, probably a Penthouse or two hiding in the stack . He took a nice homburg hat off the seat, flipped it in the back and invited me in.

After trading names and where-you’re-goings, the driver took over the conversation. His name was Paul and he was going back home, which was only a few miles from my home. He had spent the last three years working in Milwaukee. He said the pay wasn’t bad but he hated every minute of working in that office and living in that city; especially after he got a “Dear Paul’ letter from his girlfriend, who had vowed she would wait for him to get established and then they would get married. He didn’t have a job waiting for him, but he was sure he’d find one in the Twin Cities. In the meantime he could live with his folks…And maybe look up some girls he went to school with.

Fancy car, nice clothes, and I imagined he had quite a few romantic albums in his collection would help him find a new girlfriend, fast. Until then, there was always his collection of Playboys, if he managed to hide them from his mother.

His blues story was boring; but I did like the part about him driving me right to my parents’ home, so I made like a bartender expecting a nice tip does and pretended to listen intently. The snow was getting heavier. Instead of driving out of it, it seemed to be we were driving into the heart of it.

I was sure happy when we came over the hill and could see the river and the Hudson Bridge that crossed into Minnesota in the distance. Home was the next stop. Again, I was wrong. As soon as we got got into the river valley, Paul pulled off into the main street of downtown Hudson.

‘I have to buy a new tie for tomorrow,’ he explained, as he got into the jam of cars doing last minute shopping. ‘All mine need dry cleaning.’

Yeah, good luck finding a place to park, I thought to myself.

No problem for Paul. He just double parked in front of a very busy department store. ‘Drive around,’ he said, as he reached for his hat, ‘Meet you back here in a half hour.’ He opened the door and got out. I slide into the driver’s seat and pulled out before one of those irate horn-blowers behind me decided to get really mad.

I turned around the block and headed back to the truck stop we had passed on the highway. Switched on the radio and settled back and enjoyed driving this fine automobile. Sure beat the Jeep I drove back at Bragg. My first inclination when I parked in the big lot, was to go inside and get a cup of coffee; but I had second thoughts about leaving the car unoccupied with a back seat full of expensive goods.

And then it dawned on me. Now, to say I was tempted would be pushing, but I sure was doing some day dreaming.

That damn Paul! That damn stupid Paul! Handing over his fancy car loaded with thousands of dollars of things that anyone could fence. I thought how this kind of money compared to Army pay. I watched the cars heading east and thought how close I could get to Chicago by the time he got tired of waiting and decided to call the cops on me. I thought about those two would-be gangsters I could look up… But like I said, it was a day dream, a would-be author’s kicking around ideas for a story. I wasn’t stupid and I sure wasn’t a thief.

I timed it as close as a half hour as I could. I had no more stopped in front of the store when Paul came running out and jumped in the passenger seat. The chorus of horns started up again. I pulled away as soon as Paul closed the car door and headed back to the highway.

‘Not much of a selection,’ he said, ‘But I got one I liked anyway.’ He pulled out a tie out of one bag and showed me.

I stopped the car just before pulling out on the highway. I turned to him and cut loose with the same kind of language I had used on the priest.

I told him he was a @##@$$#@# fool to turn his life savings to a perfect stranger. How did he know I wouldn’t just up and steal the car and everything in it. How did he know…

He gave me a smile and a doughnut he pulled from a second bag. ‘It’s Easter Time, Don. Nobody steals at Easter.’

The doughnut was good. His logic was…

I drove to my folk’s home and Paul and I wished each other a Happy Easter. It was still snowing as I ran into the house. Went right in because that was back in the day we left our door unlocked and nobody ever stole anything… especially at Easter Time.

I would like to wish everybody Happy Holidays in this time of Holy Days for all. Belated or predated. In sunshine or snow.

GLUCKICHER OSTERTAG

(Happy Easter Day)

May we all celebrate the Holy Days of April in the way we use to. Please stay safe. Obey the rules. Remember the lives you may save maybe the lives of those you love the most.

PRAYER TODAY/GONE TOMORROW?

There’s a wartime saying, ‘There are no atheists in a foxhole.’ Since we are hunkered down in our ‘foxholes’ in today’s war, it seems appropriate for the times. While prayer/religion is not the same in lives as it was 60, 70 years ago, I imagine that in the last couple months, it has taken a rapid rise in popularity.

If for no other reason than the one W.C. Fields used when on his deathbed a friend walked in and caught Fields reading a Bible. Surprised, the friend asked if Fields had gotten religion. Fields answered, ‘Just looking for loopholes.’

Religion has been a hub in the lives of Mankind since before they warmed their hands over a fire. It comes in all shapes and sizes…From a simple Thank You looking at your baby sleeping in the crib, to a lengthy pilgrimage that culminates in an elaborate ritual.

We have reached a point in this war where even the biggest scientific naysayer, the President of the U.S.A., has accepted that this is not a political hoax that will evaporate by April 1st and by Easter we will be back to normal. We must listen to the medical scientists, hunker down, wash hands, and practice social distance. The later directive has evolved into everyone who is not in the Front Lines of this war should stay within the confines of their homes.

And even with this life-preserving quarantine, ordered by almost all the state governors, 14 refused to declare any type of shut down, people ignored it in the name of prayer/religion, especially in states where Trump reigns supreme. One gov said she would not obey that ‘Draconian’ law. One woman declared that nothing can happen to her because she has been washed with the blood of Christ. A preacher said if grocery stores can be open, churches can also.

Last Sunday a church in Louisiana played to a SRO crowd in spite of a state directive outlawing it. Louisiana is a hot spot already because the celebration of Mardi Gras was too ‘important’ to be canceled, and the Federal Government had not told them to shut down. Louisiana is one of the states that rejects the government’s recent suggestion to shut down.

Criticized, the Louisiana pastor declared that the next Sunday he would send out 27 buses to pick up and transport people to his service.

In Florida, a megachurch pastor held services in spite of a local ban against it. He was arrested and jailed, released on a $500.00 bail. $500.00 bucks…Not even a drop in a KFC bucket they pass around in his church instead of collection baskets.

He vowed to continue and to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. Only the case will have to wait a long tine because the Court is closed due to the Virus.

In this war we have a multitude of media services on the Internet, the TV, and the radio. The faithful who think their prayers will not be heard unless they are said in a congratulation in a certain building should be call the faithless…Not enough faith in their God to think he demands a certain ritual and place to be heard.

If your pastor makes such demands, perhaps you should stay home, obey the rules, and come the light again, turn to the Yellow Pages under Churches and play Pin-The-Tail-On-The Donkey for a new place of worship.

Human sacrifice did not prevent the Aztecs from the wrath of Cortez and his gold seekers. On-line, TV, even radio preachers have ways of getting your money…PayPal, personal checks etc.. The difference is those methods of payment are harder to skim off the top like buckets of cash collected in person. First count on the collection buckets is their #1 perp.

Prior to when the Federal Government and Fox hinted that we might be in for some problems from the Virus, there were many innocents who attended funerals. Here’s three documented disasters.

In tiny, rural Martin county, Minnesota they packed the church to say goodbye to a beloved man. Shortly afterwards the county, far from any big cities, became the hot spot of the Virus in the state, quickly recorded the most infections and the first 2 deaths.

After a funeral in a small town in Georgia, the Virus exploded and spread like wildfire.

A funeral in the Four Corners section of the Navajo Reservation brought the Virus to the tribe. Because the tribe is physically susceptible to disease as a whole, life style, obesity, poverty, and the policies of the Federal Government, there are estimates that the entire Navajo Nation is at great risk. The Virus is the Small Pox of our time.

There are a multitude of ways to send your condolences upon a death of a friend or relation without attending the funeral in person. Use them. If that seems cold, just remember if you don’t attend your friend’s funeral, it is tit-for-tat. He won’t be attending yours either.

And with every disaster comes the scam artists. Remember Jim Bakker, the Big Time TV evangelist who became a Hard Time convict? Heeee’s back. And outside of a different wife, he hasn’t changed. He just got ordered to stop selling his elixir to cure the Virus.

Another pseudo-preacher and conspiracy spreader was selling tooth paste that cured the Virus.

The President is going against all medical/scientific advice and is promoting using a malaria/lupus medicine as a cure. He has said in spite of the fact he does not have the Virus, he might just take the medicine himself to prove it cures the Virus that he doesn’t have.

In the second week after we were in a shut down mode, things got worse. More churches offered in-person attendance. Jealous that Florida and California beaches had been big money makers during Spring Break, the governor of Georgia reopened a popular Georgia beach. Rumor has it, he tried to get Chris Christie to bring down his beach chair and promote the grand opening. The money wasn’t bad, but Christie asking for all the free food he could eat, nixed the deal.

The third week will bring Easter, and perhaps Trump’s hinted- at- declaration that the shut down will be lifted to attend Easter Services.

The T.S. Eliot line, ‘April is the cruelest month’, might take on a deeper meaning this April. All major religions have important happenings in the month of April. Some will take place in the safety of the home, others in crowded places of worship.

Our heroic Front-Liners can’t stay at home. If we are not Front-Liners don’t add to their danger. Obey the rules of the shut down.

And for those of you who believe your faith in God will overcome any dangers, consider:

The man sat on the peak of the roof of his house and watched the raging flooded river rise higher and higher toward his temporary place of shelter.

A boat stopped and the man was told to come and jump in the boat.

The man refused, stating, ‘Don’t worry about me. God will save me.’

The waters rose higher and the boat reappeared and again the man was asked to get the boat.

And again the man refused, stating his belief that God will save him.

The water was soaking the man’s feet when a helicopter hovered above and lowered a rope ladder.

And once again the man refused because he had faith and God would save him

And the river rose and took the man to his inevitable end.

And standing in front of the Pearly Gates, waiting to be sorted, the man asked in a pleading voice, ‘Wasn’t my faith strong enough? Wasn’t my prayers sincere enough? Why didn’t God save me?

And the sorter gave him his answer…

God sent a boat, twice, to pick you up and even sent a helicopter, and you refused all three times. Just what more could he do to save your stubborn ass?

God helps those who help themselves

Obey the rules. Keep safe.

The lives you save maybe the lives of those you love the most.

VINCENT- PAINTINGS OR PLAY

While on tour with Leonard Nimoy in VINCENT I discovered there’s a lot to like in art museums. A logical event since I was immersed in Van Gogh’s life and works. Every stop where we had time to kill I found an art museum. I don’t remember watching any TV or going to any movies during the tour, but I remember the art. I am partial to the Impressionists, I found I could get lost in the works of any genre.

We had a week in the Cleveland Playhouse, one of the best regional theaters. The Cleveland Art Museum on only a few blocks away and I visited it several times. It did not look like an art museum. It was one- story sprawling building set in a wooded location.

You couldn’t miss it because it had a large replica of Rodin’s The Thinker outside the building. It was too tall to fit inside. There was one thing it had, or didn’t have, that would set it apart from any other replicas of statue. There was a frisbee-size hole in it’s right buttocks, where someone had taped an M80 firecracker, lit the fuse and ran like hell.

At that time it also had two Van Gogh’s on exhibition, an Olive Garden painted in the asylum at Saint Remy and a wheat field painted in Arles. They hung on a wall in a small room of the museum. My first visit was midday following the opening of VINCENT the night before. Perfect time. Except for one other visitor, the galley was empty. Solitude heightens the appreciation of the arts, for me at least.

The other visitor was sitting on the center of the uncomfortable backless benchs that museums buy by the gross. There were two other benches, one on each side of the center, angled slightly giving the viewer a different view of the art. As soon as I came in, the man rose and plumped down on a side bench, leaving the center one for me without breaking his gaze at the works. He wasn’t faking his interest.

I observed him out the corner of my eye. He sat stooped-shouldered, letting his arms dangle loosely on his thighs and his head frozen in place as he stared at the paintings. He made no attempt to correct his posture. It wasn’t that he was overweight, it was that he was soft, dumpling- weight. He wore a dark gray suit, some sort of man-made ‘–lon’, the kind that doesn’t need dry cleaning or ironing. A Sears special, one suit coat, two pair of pants. I’d bet his wardrobe consisted of two sets of the same special, several off-white shirts and a rack of broad multicolored ties, the ones that camouflage soup stains. The uniform of a not-to-successful salesman. He was casting director’s vision of Willy Loman in DEATH OF A SALESMAN.

Having my people-watching over with, I joined him in staring at the Van Gogh’s.

There are three types of museum art admirers. The first are like Willy and myself. Concentrators. The second are usually art students with a pen and art pad. They sit and copy the painting. The third are the I-own-the-world people, who stand close in front of the work blocking everybody else’s view and sometimes has the audacity lean across the velvet rope barrier and touch it.

Two 40-ish women came into the small gallery. Dressed to the nines, proudly walking on high stilettos, their hairdos fresh and expensive. In those days we referred to them as yuppies. The women were the third type of gallery goers. They communicated in loud voices, predating today’s cel phone users, compelling others to listen even if they didn’t want to.

‘…never thought he was that good an actor. I thought he was limited to Dr. Spock in STAR WARS.’

‘You mean Dr. Spock in STAR TREK. And much more handsome without the ears. I am so glad you invited us to go with you last night. All these years living in Cleveland and we never went to the Playhouse.’

‘We have season tickets for every opening night of their productions. And thank you for inviting me to the museum. Seeing actual paintings of Van Gogh really makes the play special. We’ve never been here. I wish our husbands were with us.’

‘If your’s is anything like mine, time off from work cries for golf. I’m on the board of the museum and my husband is on the board of his golf club. But maybe combining the play with seeing some of the actual paintings…’

‘Maybe…Say, I am up to seeing that wonderful cafeteria in the museum?’

‘And the special of today is quiche, spinach quiche. Let’s …’

They walked out, and I marveled at how fast they could move in those heels. I went back to admiring the Van Goghs. Willy had never moved so much as his head during their visit. I imagined staring at rude patrons’ backs was something a true museum aficionado gets use to.

One thing I never got use to was working on a show on an empty stomach. I left, foregoing the museum’s special for the day, and went to a small Italian diner a few blocks away where I knew there was a hot dago sandwich with my name on it.

After stage checks I gave my museum review to our troupe. They all said they would like to go and see the museum, especially the Van Goghs. Dennis, the tour manager and AV tech, had his wife with him that week, but maybe they would go.

The Nimoys, Leonard and Sandy, had friends to hook up with and of course interviews, ‘Now please when I accepted your request to interview me I said I would discuss the play, VINCENT, the man Vincent, and his work. I will not tell you anything about the unreleased movie, STAR TREK’, was his standard disclaimer necessary in almost all them. Amazing how he could say it in such a gracious way even though the question irritated him. VINCENT was his much needed break from the months of shooting the movie. But maybe they would find time to go to the museum.

And if Sandy decided to go without her husband, Eric, the wardrobe man, would go with her just as he always did when she wanted to go shopping. Otherwise Eric would use his free time to watch TV.

I went up to the lighting booth early. It was back of the balcony just like the Guthrie’s, and to get to it I had to walk through the lobby where the audience was milling around, talking, sipping on their drinks, waiting for the house doors to open, just like at the Guthrie.

‘I thought that was you. I recognized your hat,’ a smiling ‘Willy Loman’ said as he came toward me. ‘I need your help,’ he said, holding out his ticket. ‘I don’t know how to find my seat.’

‘Nothing to worry about,’ I told him. ‘When the ushers open the doors, just ask one of them to show you your seat. Did you enjoy the Van Goghs today?

‘Oh, I enjoy them every time I come to Cleveland, that’s once a month. I enjoy all the art in the museum. There’s so much to see. I go to other museums when I make my rounds but Cleveland’s the biggest. I don’t watch TV much and sometimes I go to the movies, but looking at paintings is my favorite pastime on my route.’

‘Your route? Are you a salesman?’

‘No,’ he said quickly. ‘I am a sales rep. Salesmen work for a company. I work for myself. I handle all kinds of things, from soup to nuts,’ he laughed at his interjection, ‘picking just what I like from all different companies. What I think my customers would like to sell in their stores. Small stores, hardware, some grocery, mostly small towns around Lake Erie. East to Erie, west to Monroe, south to Columbus. I do have some small store customers in some of the big cities…’

I asked one little question and got an encyclopedia definition of a sales rep and a travelogue of northern Ohio. He was really a talker once he started. I told him I had to get up to the booth; but when I went to leave him, he grabbed my sleeve.

‘I am so glad I found someone I knew. I’ve never gone to live theater except a school play. Those two ladies talking about this one gave me the idea, and then I read the paper about it…’

I wanted to be polite but I wanted to get upstairs. ‘Well,’ I told him, ‘I bet you will like it and it’ll be something else to do on your route. There’s probably a lot of theaters where you can see plays.’

He let go of my sleeve. ‘There you go now. Good idea. I’ll look for you here when I come back next month and tell you about the plays I went to.’

I walked away. I wasn’t about to get into that I would be long gone from Cleveland by then. Try to explain that I was with VINCENT, not the Playhouse.

After I gave the okay, from my point of view of the house, to open the doors, I stood and watched the audience filter in. I didn’t see ‘Willyl’. I figured he probably bought a cheap seat under the balcony. Worse place to watch a play but I thought he would still enjoy it, slumped forward in his intense position .

I felt better than usual because of the day’s events. VINCENT was accomplishing more than just entertaining for a short time. It introduced people like the two women and ‘Willy’ to forms of the arts other than just what they were into. How many in the theater would go to a museum after seeing this play? And how many were in the audience because of their interest in great artwork ?

And, of course, how many were in the audience because it was a chance to see the beloved Mr. Spock, aka Leonard Nimoy in person?

‘Gosh, I never knew he was such a powerful actor.’

AND THAT’S A WRAP

 

 

MY GUN CONTROL (III)

 

My Gun Control Conclusion

The dining car was almost empty so I had a table all to myself. I ordered the biggest steak on the menu. Uncle Sam was still picking up the tab. I refused wine and took coffee. I was on duty. I forgot my paperback, so I sat back and watched the scenery pass, and thought about Sergeant Calvin C. Crowe. He represented a type of paratrooper I hoped was the exception and not the rule.

When I first thought about joining the Airborne, back in basic, I was hoping it would be my ticket to go overseas to Germany, instead of ending up like so many peace time GI’s in Frozen Chosen, aka South Korea. I had heard rumors of the 11th being disbanded and Crowe’s remark pretty much convinced if I made it through jump school, I would be in Fort Bragg, North Carolina – for my duration.

The steak and two pieces of apple pie ala mode were good but they didn’t keep me from thinking about my future. Maybe I should have joined my two high school buddies and enlisted in the Navy, even if the hitch was for four years. See the world and not have to do a silly thing like jumping out of airplanes. 

I didn’t want to, but I had to go back to our cabin. I didn’t meet anybody on the way and the rumble of the train reminded me of the Hitchcock movie where the old lady vanishes on the train.

I stood in front of the door. I don’t know if it the funk I was in, or if I saw too many cowboy movies, or if I thought I could hear snoring; but whatever, I unsnapped my holster and pulled out the ‘45. I checked to make sure it was locked and loaded and slowly pushed down the door handle, using my left hand. Then I pushed the door open quickly. The gun pointed straight ahead.

Damn! I was staring right into the eyes of Billy the Kid. He was standing by the table. He was holding a ‘45 pistol. In my side vision I saw Sergeant Calvin C. Crowe asleep on the lower bunk. He was snoring.

I realized that my thumb was pressing on the safety, my finger pressing against the stiffness of the trigger. I also realized I was staring down a barrel of destruction. Not that I thought the lad had any idea of shooting me ; but his eyes told me he was scared and might shoot me in fright, and I wasn’t going to let that happen if I could help it.

Oh, Billy,’ I said to myself. ‘Oh, Billy, don’t press down on that safety lever. Please. Please don’t.’

What seemed like a long, long time was over in a few seconds. The kid hollered, ‘No! No!’ and he threw the weapon down. It hit the table with a loud crash and bounced to the floor.

Crowe broke out of his nap and sat upright. It took him a couple double-takes to realized what had happened and he quickly dove for his weapon, all the time shouting ‘F@#k! F@#k!

Crowe’s swearing and Billy’s crying brought me back to my senses and I stuck my weapon back in the holster and picking up my paperback off the chair seat, sat down and opened it pretending to read. My mind did not register on the print but gripping hard on the book hid the shaking of my hands. I just kept thinking over and over how close I came to pulling the trigger.

What a trio!

A teenager from the tough streets of Philly trying to explain between sobs that all he did was take the gun off the sergeant’s belly because the man was sleeping, and he was afraid it would fall on the floor. ‘I just was looking at it. I wasn’t going to do nothing with it. Just looking, honest.’

The man in charge, a rodeo rider from Calgary, mumbling the same apology over and over. ‘I didn’t sleep very good last night. I never thought I would fall asleep though. I don’t think I was out very long. Not very long.’

And me, fresh out of Basic and an Army school, a small-farm lad from Minnesota, only a few months out of my teenage years, trying to look calm by trying to read a book. I must have carried my act off because the other two believed it. If they only really knew that I might have been the most shook-up of the trio. ‘Why don’t both of you go down to the dining car and have some chow? Do you good.’

They both claimed they weren’t hungry; but it would be a long time before they could eat again, so I pulled the porter’s cord and ordered two cheeseburger baskets and a couple cokes. For a couple of guys who weren’t hungry, they sure wolfed down the food as soon as it came.

Crowe said that he needed a real drink as he finished off his coke. I reminded him he was on duty and he muttered about falling asleep on duty.

I worked my ass off for these stripes,’ he whined, ‘And now…Blink of an eye and I lose them. Hell, they might even slick-sleeve me. Kick my ass back to Canada. Who knows.

I don’t blame you, Ostertag. When you write the report you got to…’

Whoa there, Mister Sergeant. When I write the report? I’m not top- rank here. When you write the report…’

Yeah, you’re right. When I write the report.’

Well,’ I said, ‘The report should be be short and sweet. Mission accomplished. Boring trip. Nothing happened.’

‘What you mean…?

What I mean, sergeant,’ I said, ‘The report should reflect it was a boring trip, nothing happened. You go off on some tangent to say something happened, but nothing came of it, and the three of us will spend more days in Repo while the Army red tapes the whole thing only to find out nothing happened.

‘Just let the three of us get on with our lives. The kid wants to go home. You want to get to town and buy your new Hog. And I want to go to jump school.’ And if they really believed that, I should have won an award for acting.

Crowe reverted to his normal egotistical persona. He handcuffed himself to our desperado before we exited the train and pushed Billy into the back seat of the MP car that met us at the depot. I got in the front like before.

Piece of cake, Sarg. Piece of cake,’ he assured the driver, who hadn’t asked us how things went. ‘Sarg, did you have to go to a special school to get in the MP’s?’ The sergeant said he enlisted to be an MP and volunteered airborne at the school.

We were dropped off at MP HQ and Billy was whisked away to the stockade without being able to say goodbye. After we checked out and waited for the jeep to go back to Repo barracks Crowe asked the desk MP about putting in for a transfer to the MP’s. He said he thought he would make a good one. And he had the wings and rank already. ‘And,’ he added, ‘Experience.’

Yeah,’ the top NCO said,’You got it all, don’t you?’ He looked at me and asked if I wanted to transfer also.

I’ll pass,’ I said, quickly.

The next week I was busting tail in jump school. About midweek, Patricio, the mail clerk intercepted me when I came in the barracks to tell me some kid had  come to the barracks to say thanks and goodbye to me.

Must have made a hell of an impression on him,’ Pat said, smiling, ‘When I told him you were in jump school, he said he would lay odds you graduated first time cause you are some baaaaad ass.’

Billy the Kid also promised he’d look me up when he was old enough to enlist again. He left a piece of paper with his address in Philadelphia in case I get up there. He said he wanted to fix me up with his good looking sister.

I never heard from William P. Fuller again. And I sure wasn’t going to reup just to hang around to see him, if he ever did come back.

As far as Mr. All- Canada was concerned, I saw him once from across Slave Market Street in Fayetteville. I waved, and I knew he saw me; but he ducked in the nearest bar to avoid me. I didn’t bother to cross over and follow him in the bar; although I really would have liked to rub it in his face that I not only got my wings, I got them on the first try in the jump school. So much for his prediction that I would have a hard time to make it.

A few weeks prior to my getting my discharge, there was a Division rodeo competition. I went hoping to see if Crowe was as good a bronc rider as he bragged he was. I was disappointed when he wasn’t one of the competitors. I did see him though as I rode my motorcycle out of the parking lot. He and several other MP’s were waving their night sticks around conducting traffic. He did transfer to the MP’s. His ‘experience’ must have been the tipping point to get accepted.

When I got back home I got rid of all my guns, three long ones used for hunting, one hand gun used to try and hit the broad side of the barn. Never missed not having them. Hunting wasn’t the same anymore. My old hunting grounds were suburban lawns. Besides after my experience with Billy the Kid, shooting an unarmed Bambi or Thumper would not be much of a challenge. After all I had faced ‘the most dangerous game’.

For several years after I had the occasional dream of staring at the barrel of that gun, seeing the look in that kid’s eyes. I still think of how close three people came within a hair from having their lives changed – for the worse.

And I am eternally thankful that I managed to use my gun control to prevent it from happening.

And that’s a wrap

MY GUN CONTROL (II)

We checked into the hotel and ate in the coffee shop. I went back to the room but Crowe walked out of the hotel. He woke me up hours later with his loud swearing as he staggered around the room trying to undress and make it to bed. His snorting and snoring kept waking me during the rest of the night.

The hotel clerk had given us a pamphlet from the USO just down the street. It had things we could do that weekend. Crowe said he just wanted to sleep and asked if I had brought any aspirin with. I hadn’t, but even if I had I would have said no. I enjoyed the fact he was suffering from a hangover. I went to the USO alone, had a good free breakfast and then went on a bus tour of the City of Brotherly Love.

Later there was a dance at the club that evening and Sergeant Crowe went with me. There was a large group of military men, some in uniform, some in civies. Crowe was the only paratrooper. And the large number of girls surprised me.

We had some free cokes and snacks and watched the dancers. For the most part they were really good. Crowe made snide remarks about the legs must have spent a lot of time practicing. I pointed out that Philadelphia was the home of AMERICAN BANDSTAND and the girls probably all practiced trying to get on the show. Macho Man said he never heard of BANDSTAND. But he said it too quickly and I knew he was lying. I described it to him anyway, told him how high school kids watch it when they come home from school, and I know that the show on in a lot in Army day- rooms too.

Pretty popular,’ I said. ‘Kids really dig the emcee, Bill Cullen.’ I pulled that name out of my hat.

Dick Clark,’ snapped my companion, who had claimed to know nothing about the show.

Since none of the girls seemed to be awed by the paratrooper, and since neither of us had enough faith in our dancing ability, we wallflowered and then went back to the hotel.

The next day we went to the USO and got afternoon movie tickets to see PEYTON PLACE. I had read the book and Crowe said he had read some of the book, the parts his buddy had underlined. This movie must be something else, he told me, because it is not allowed to be shown in Canada. He was disappointed on all counts. ‘Didn’t show me nothing,’ he complained, ‘Should have just played it on the radio and saved the price of the tickets.’

I reminded him we got the tickets for free.

When we got outside in the sunlight a couple young girls ran over and pointed out that Crowe had the same patches on his uniform that one of the characters in the movie had. Crowe was elated and he began to tell the girls about the 82nd and about being a paratrooper and… The more he talked the more young girls joined the group. Not having an 82nd patch nor jump wings, I stood off to the side, silent.

After a bit the girls started to break off. I noticed Sgt Crowe was zeroing in on a couple and he motioned me to join him. I did and whispered one word in his ear, ‘jailbait’. That brought him to his senses and we went back to the hotel and ate. We fell asleep watching TV, but not before we left a wake-up call with the desk. We had a big day starting early in the morning.

There was a different officer at the jail desk, older, softer spoken, and heavier, then the one from Friday night; but Crowe wasn’t any different. In just a few minutes he managed to get the cop angry, demanding to have his gun back and the prisoner be brought to the desk at once.

That’ll do, Mister Sergeant,’ the desk sergeant said in a voice hardly above a whisper. ‘I know you were warned the other night about your attitude.’He looked at me and asked if there wasn’t something I could do to help ‘Mister Sergeant’ act like a real MP, even if he wasn’t one.

I shrugged my shoulders and said the sergeant was the boss.

Yeah, I understand,’ he said, ‘I did my hitch in the Marines. The sergeant is boss, and you are nothing. And that makes Mr. Sergeant the boss of nothing.’

Crowe didn’t say a word, but he gave me a nasty look, daring me to laugh; but I knew better. I was stuck with him for a few more days.

Look, guys,’ the old cop said, ‘This kid lied about his age to help out at home. His father is dead and his mother is working two jobs. He enlisted figuring there would be one less mouth to feed and he could send money home to boot. Never figuring just how much it cost a private in the Army to keep up. When he got booted from jump school, he lost face, and that extra money for jumping. He came home and got his old job back, delivering pizza to help get his mother over the winter. He said he was planning to go back in the spring. I believe him. He’s a good kid. The Army wasn’t bothering to look for him.. We picked him up for speeding. He was late delivering a damn pizza,

If anyone should be on the Army’s shit-list, it should be the recruiter that signed him up. Just a damn quota-filler,’ he said as he made out the transfer paperwork.

As we strapped on our holsters and 45’s, another guard brought Master William P. Fuller, aka Billy the Kid, to the desk. Crowe grabbed Billy’s elbow and the desk sergeant told him the prisoner would need to be handcuffed to leave the building. Crowe argued. Said there was no way ‘this punk’ could outrun him.

Not a foot race, Sergeant. It’s a prisoner transfer. Cuff the prisoner. Now!’

I figured I would be the one cuffed to the kid , but Crowe slapped a cuff on his own right wrist and went to put the other on Billy’s left wrist. The guard pointed out that the cuff should not go on Crowe’s gun hand. Crowe argued and said that he was left handed.

Damn it,’ the old cop said, ‘You should have asked for a left handed holster then. You never cuff a prisoner close to your gun. Didn’t they teach you anything in MP school?’ Both cops smiled.

We were told that a squad car would bring us to the train station. Crowe said we had chits for a cab.

You will go in a squad car, Mister. Sergeant’, and he added, ‘I am instructing the patrol officer to stay with until the three of you get on the train.’ He sighed. ‘I just got on duty a short time ago, and I am more than ready to go home already. Here’s your patrolman. Have a nice trip, gentlemen,’ he said, with a wave. ‘Oh, and Billy, you report back here when the Army is done with you. Remember, we promised we’d find you a better paying job than delivering pizza.’

I got in the front seat and Crowe and Billy in the back. We hadn’t even pulled away from the curb when Crowe threatened the kid with an old Army myth.

Look, punk,’ he snarled, ‘Don’t even think about getting away. You get away and me and the PFC lose our stripes and do stockade time until you are caught. But if I shoot you trying to escape, all it costs me is 64 cents for the bullet I shot you with. So what do you think I’m going do if you try to rabbit?’

The driver looked at me. ‘Is this guy for real?’

The train cabin was more than we expected. Large. Upper and lower bunks. A table in the center and three comfortable chairs. I placed one next to the door and plopped. Like the old cop said, it was still early in the day, but I ready to call it a day. I opened the paperback I had bought at the station and hoped it would keep me awake.

Crowe unlocked the cuffs and ordered Billy to ‘sit’, and then he went and fluffed a pillow up and sat on the lower bunk. He took off his jump boots and pulled his can of Kiwi out of his go-bag and worked on shining his precious boots. I began to read my book.

Billy was a talker. He was leery of Crowe so he tried to talk to me; but I disappointed him when I replied in only a few words, and went back to reading. He looked out the window; but eventually he decided to ask Crowe about being a paratroper, playing into the sergeant’s ego. This time the sergeant was delighted to answer any and all of the kid’s questions.

Young Mr. Fuller knew how to win a person over. He had a charming personality that was reflected in his smile and his eyes. I could see how the cops back at the jail took a liking to Billy the Kid. I didn’t let on but I was spending more time admiring the lad’s technique than I was in reading my book.

Crowe’s first lesson was how to polish jump boots correctly and how important it was for a trooper to have one special pair for dress up and another for every day. The second was jump school and the fact that Billy had flunked out his on his first attempt.

Most people flunk out their first try. Right now the school is rigged so only the very best make it the first time. And if they don’t make it the second time, that’s it. They got all the troopers they need, what with the 11th Airborne disbanded over in Europe, and the turnover of 82nd and the Hundred and First pretty slow. A lot do like I did and reup.

Now in the jump school I got my wings, there was over 300 started. Only 83 graduated and out of that 83 there was only 31 of us that were first timers.’

You made it through on your first time,’ Billy said excitedly.

Yup,’ Sergeant Crowe boasted. ‘So you see, Billy, when you get out of the Army this time, go home and get in shape. Two, three hundred pushups – everyday. A lot of chin-ups. That’s where us smaller guys got it over taller guys… like the PFC,’ he said pointing at me. ‘No offense, Ostertag, but you’ll have a rough time making it. At least the first time. You wise up and know do things differently the second time.’

No offense taken, sarg. Thanks for cluing me in.’ I knew his whole spiel on jump school was aimed more at me then Billy. Crowe wanted to get into my head and stroke his ego at the same time.

He pulled the ‘45 out of his holster and asked if either Billy or I had ever qualified with one. We both shook out heads. I pointed out that there was only a few hours devoted in Basic to the gun, just enough to realized how hard it was to qualify with one. Crowe told how he qualified in Advanced Infantry school. And then he began to give a lesson on the weapon, known in the Army as US Pistol, Caliber , 45, M1911A1 He began by showing all the unique safety features like the need for the shooter to hold the grip or it won’t fire, and if someone is pressing against the the muzzle it will also prevent the pistol from firing. And of course the main safety lever on the side.

Billy was all ears. I was bored. The sergeant had told us when we boarded the train that he and I would eat in shifts and Billy would have food sent to the cabin. I stood up when Crowe began to break down the weapon and announced that I was going to go eat. Unless he wanted to go first. He was taking delight in showing off his knowledge and waved me goodbye.

To Be Continued And  Concluded

MY GUN CONTROL (I)

My adventure started on a quiet morning in Fort Bragg’s Repo Depot, processing center, Army’s idea of limbo. I had just graduated Signal school in Georgia and was waiting to be sent to my new outfit, 82nd Signal Battalion. And once there the next step would be going to airborne jump school. Three weeks of hell ending with a three jump- day and a two jump- day and graduation.

It was a Friday and with the weekend there would be at least three days more before I got processed. Days with nothing to do but think and fret about what was in store for me. Except for the sergeant, sitting on his bunk closest to the door, and myself the barracks was empty. The other men in Repo were either on KP or doing an Army make-work like picking all the pebbles off the grass. They were slick- sleeve privates, I was a one- stripe, PFC. The sergeant and I got out of this work details because of our rank; but my rank was too low for the sergeant to stoop to talk to me, and that suited me fine; he came off as a stuck- up jerk.

When he first came into the barracks one of the men had tried talking to him and was shouted at, ‘You will address me as Sergeant Crowe, soldier. Not Hey, Sarg.

Naturally the name evoked a few hidden ‘caw- caws’ from the men.

Crowe stood up, tall. Well as tall as any 5’8” man can stand. He remarked it wasn’t the first time he heard that B.S. and volunteered to leave his stripes on the bed if anybody wanted to step out back and caw-caw to his face. Crowe was short but stocky and in good shape. Nobody took him up on his offer and nobody bothered to try to talk to him again, including me.

His 82nd patch and wings that had seen quite a few washings, so that meant he had been a paratrooper for a while. His sergeant’s patch was brand new, so that meant he had re-upped, gone to some kind of advanced training and now he’s waiting to either go back to his old outfit or a new one. He just sat on his footlocker and spit-shined his two pair of Corcoran jump boots, over and over. He’d stand tall in any inspection.

I was laying on my bunk putting myself into a relaxing self-hypnosis state to relax. I had just put my calves to sleep and was working on my thighs when the door opened and the company clerk bellowed, ‘Ten Hut’!

The sergeant and I both jumped to attention as the clerk and a captain with an MP band walked in.

At ease, men,’ the captain ordered. ‘Sergeant Crowe, PFC Ostertag, I am Captain McElroy.’ I looked quickly at Crowe and he looked at me. The captain laughed, ‘No, men. Not any bad news. Good news.’ I sighed and I imagine Crowe did the same.

Instead of going into Fayetteville and drinking 3.2 beer, you are going on a trip to someplace you always wanted to see. Guess where.’

Hawaii was Crowe’s guess. Mine was Paris.

McElroy smiled and shook his head. ‘Nooo,’ he said. ‘If it was either of those places I’d be going and you’d be stuck in Fayetteville. It’s one of the birthplaces of our country, Philadelphia. Hey, cut the frowns’, he laughed. ‘It beats Fayetteville. There’s a soldier in jail up there that we want back here.’

Crowe tried to ask a question, but the captain just waved him off. ‘Pack a go-bag to do you ‘til Monday. Get into your Class A’s and report to me in Repo HQ.’

Crowe and I did as ordered and we did it in silence.

McElroy explained the Philly cops wanted the prisoner out on Monday morning. The MPs were swamped. The Asian Flu was hitting them hard and there was a big bad weekend coming up. Mid-month payday for the Air Force at Pope Field. Crowe and I were the two highest ranked available in Repo. He gave us the Orders, chits and per diem we would need, MP arm bands, a set of cuffs, and each of us a ‘45 with holster and belt and a quick refresher course on the weapon.

When I buckled on the gun, it felt like it weighed a ton. When Crowe buckled his on, his face lit up and I swear he added a few inches to his stature.

We were driven to the train station and got out tickets. We traveled in coach going but were promised we’ve have a private cabin coming back with the prisoner.

It wasn’t until we were grabbing a meal in the train’s dining car that Crowe offered me his hand and ‘introduced’ himself. ‘Sergeant Calvin C. Crowe, PFC. You can just call me Sergeant Crowe.’

I shook his hand. ‘PFC Donald E. Ostertag. You can call me Don, Sarg.’

Calvin C. was a talker once he started. He began with his background. He had grown up on a small ranch outside Calgary, Canada. He had worked with horses a lot and rode in small rodeos, hoping to qualify to ride in the Calgary Stampede.

I broke in and mentioned that I had worked a lot with horses also. Buying, selliing, boarding, breaking…

My words went in one ear and out the other. He was interested in a monologue not a dialogue. I didn’t have enough rank to interest him. Plus I was a leg, a soldier that was not a paratrooper. Our food came and I busied myself with a cheeseburger and fries while he continued with his history, between bites.

He enlisted in the US Army specifically to join the paratroopers. When his first hitch, three years, would be up he would have qualified for US citizenship to go along with his Canadian citizenship. He had found a home in the army. As soon as he got his two stripes, he reenlisted for an extra six years. The first reenlistment brought a big bonus and six years really brought a big bonus. Plus it brought that third stripe, the rank of sergeant. He was so proud of his sergeant chevrons I wondered if he had them tattooed on his left bicep to go with the tattoo of the paratrooper wings which I knew he had to have on his right bicep.

When he got settled back in his old outfit, he was going to buy himself a Harley Hog with some of his bonus money. I asked him what school he asked for with his new enlistment. He floored me when he said Advanced Infantry.

When he first enlisted he could have had his choice of what he wanted to do, an Army school with a good trade, or he could have requested where he wanted to be stationed like Europe; and then he could have volunteered airborne. This way he got what very few wanted, the Infantry, first line in a war, not much of a trade in civilian life. He could have gotten a choice of school or station with his new reenlistment, but he took more Infantry training. Go figure. He was pretty well talked out when we got back to our seats where we both fell asleep.

When we got in the cab in Philadelphia he surprised me by telling the cabbie to take us to the city jail. I would have thought we would into our hotel first, but he was the boss.

The desk sergeant read our orders and commented it would be hard to let Billy the Kid go

Crowe quickly asked if this guy was some kind of desperado. The desk sergeant just laughed and told us that our charge was just a kid, too young to be in the Army.. Seems he lied about his age and when he flunked out of jump school, he went home without permission.

Nice boy. We’ve a shine to Master William P. Fuller.’

Deserter,’ Crowe said. ‘Damn chicken- shit deserter.

The desk sergeant snapped, ‘Nah. He was still wearing his dog tags and field jacket when he got picked up. He had every intention of going back. You two are going to escort a kid who should be in high school not in the Army. You’re going to bring him back to camp and after a couple days he’s going to be sent back home. Some desperado.

‘Now according to this order you don’t get him until Monday morning’, he added.

I still want to see him,’ Crowe said, ‘Tonight.’

Okay, I guess that’s your prerogative’. He rang for a guard. ‘Leave your weapons with me.’

I was glad to hand over my belt, holster, and weapon. Sergeant Crowe looked like he was going to argue, but slowly set his 45, and only his 45, on the desk. The guard escorted us to the cell and Crowe demanded that the door be unlocked so we could go in. William P. Fuller looked up. He had a big smile on his face.

Sergeant Crowe bellowed out ‘Ten Hut’, walked over as the lad jumped to attention and pushed the kid against the stone wall of cell. ‘Okay, punk, why did you do it?’ He snarled as he grabbed the lad’s shirt. Surprised both and prisoner and me with that move.

The guard pushed me out of the way and poked Crowe in the ribs with his night stick. He ordered both of us to go back to the desk. We heard him consoling the frightened boy as we left. We stood at the desk and waited for the guard to come. The guard was angry and told the desk sergeant what had happened.

You don’t come in our jail and mistreat our prisoners,’ the desk sergeant hollered. Crowe tried to talk, but shut up when the cop hit the desk top. ‘You keep this shit up and I’m going to call the guy who signed this order, and tell him we refuse to entrust the prisoner in your care, Sergeant Calvin C. Crowe,’ He continued to read off the orders in his hands. ‘Says here you two ain’t even real MP’s. Just some jokers they had who were handy.’ He wrote out a receipt for our weapons and told us we’d get them back come Monday morning. Then he told Crowe to leave his holster also.

Naturally Crowe objected. He said he had every right to carry his authorized weapon. But he desk sergeant disagreed. ‘There’s too many guns on the streets now. We don’t need some teenage gang dragging you in an alley and walking out with your gun. Almost all guns used in crimes were stolen.’ Crowe said that would never happen. The cop just laughed and said he bettercall ‘this here Captain McElroy’ and get a couple real MPs sent.

Well,’ I said, ‘I’ve only have one stripe to lose.’

That brought Crowe back to earth. He touched his new sergeant chevron and agreed to leave the weapon. But he wanted to keep the holster and belt. The desk sergeant shook his head and pointed out it would really be stupid to get hit over the head because somebody thought there was a gun in that empty holster. Crowe threw the belt and holster on the desk and ordered me to follow him.

I waved goodbye to the desk sergeant after thanking him and saying, ‘See you Monday.’ He shook his head and saluted.

To Be Continued

 

THE ART OF RAYMOND (II)

…Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker!

There was a collective silence in the room broken when the sound of a very young voice stated, ‘That guy ain’t even got underpants on.’ The ice broke. The grandkids hooted and laughed. The adults tried to muffle their laughs.

Dad shook his head and told Raymond, ‘Take that damn thing off the table. Put it someplace where we can eat without having to look at it.’

Some of us began to clear the wrappings. Some began to take the plates from the pile and hand them out to be set in place. The little ones, declaring how hungry they were, moved to their chairs at the card table.

Mom hadn’t moved or uttered a sound since she had finally unwrapped her gift, and then she said, ‘Raymond’. Slow, dragging out the name softly at first and building into a shout, followed by sounds of angry crying. Everything stopped. The grandkids stopped laughing. The adults stopped getting the table. Raymond set the statue back on the table.

‘Six months! Six months,’ she said when she manged to speak. ‘Oh, I know you’ll love it, Mom. Six months he left me guess what it was. Six months waiting for that, that… I don’t even know what to call that damn thing

‘The guy in the store said it’s called The Thinker, Mom. It’s great art. A Frenchman made the original,’ Raymond told her.

‘Great art?’ she repeated. ‘Great art?

Now Mom was a small town farm girl who never went further than fifty miles from where she was born until she crossed the river into Wisconsin to watch me play in a high school football game. She had her own idea of what great art was. It was something that you would find in a church, or in a parochial school, or reproduced on a funeral home calendar. The only time she went in a museum was a high school field trip to the Natural Museum, a spooky building by the state capital, that had a real mummy in it. She never forgot the mummy. She never went into a museum again. Great art, humph.

‘A man without a stitch of clothing on…And he’s sitting on the pot.’

That observation got the grandkids laughing again. And some of the adults also.

Mom continued and everyone fell back into silence. ‘Two years,’ she sobbed, ‘Two years Raymond was gone. And, oh, how I missed him. Two years every night, on my knees praying he would be safe. Praying he wouldn’t get attacked by a polar bear or that the Commies wouldn’t bomb that radar place. Two years.’

‘Attacked by a polar bear,’ said the same young voice that mentioned the absence of underpants. ‘That’s scary.’

‘Two years and boy was I happy when he made it home from the service in one piece. And I was so happy even when he bought me a Christmas present way back in June. I figured it might be one of his tricks but I didn’t care. Then I thought maybe it wasn’t a trick. But I never thought it would be something like this. A naked guy…’

‘Sitting on the pot,’ the little voice helped his grandmother finish. ‘I’m hungry, Mommy. When can we eat?’

‘Oh, and another thing’, she said pointing her finger at her youngest, ‘You told me you bought it in a store on Seven Corners. There ain’t a store there. There’s only antique shops. Used things. Old used things. Couldn’t even buy me something new. Bought me something used.’

Raymond took the used statue into the living room and brought back another present, which he set down in front of Mom and asked her to open this present. He promised it was not a trick and it wasn’t used..

She unwrapped it down to the box it came in. It was a home-made ice cream maker. She didn’t cry but she pushed it away.

‘Now why would I ever want to turn a crank for a couple hours just to get a couple ice cube trays of flaky ice cream, when I can go to Huber’s store and buy any kind of ice cream I want. And probably cost less too. Home- made ice cream maker,’ she flicked her wrist to signal Raymond to take it away.’

Today the easiest way to give a present to a hard to please person is to give a them a gift card. Let them get their own gift. Not so in the 60’s. The idea of a piece of plastic with strange markings on it could be a substitute for cash or check was as far fetched as thinking there would ever be a contraption you could sit on the kitchen table and order anything from around the world. And the darn thing wouldn’t be connected to anything, not even a wall socket.

And Raymond had done the 60’s version of cash card. You give the hard- to- please a gift you know they won’t want, or even bother to open the box. You place the reciept in a sealed envelope with the name of the gift and the store where it was bought on top of the box. The recipient just takes it back to the store and redeems it for something they want. Oh, you could give cash or write a check but the money would just get mixed up with monies used for everyday expenses, not something special. Mom knew what Raymond had done. The sealed envelope was in plain sight on the top of the box. She just wanted another shot at him.

‘Mom,’ Raymond said, ‘Tomorrow I’ll bring you to Monkey Wards to exchange it for something cool. Okay?’

He did. She did and bought a blue flannel robe home. It cost more than what she returned and Raymond made up the difference. The robe became the mainstay of her everyday wardrobe.

The Thinker sat by the tree and we all believed that come the 6th of January, Epiphany, when the Christmas decorations were taken down, the statue would be thrown out with the tree. But not so. It sat there afterwards, a few feet away from the rocking chair where Mom fell asleep each night watching TV. Come summer when Mom wanted a cool breeze while she ironed clothes in the living room, she used the statue as a door stop for the front door.

And then one day it disappeared. Since the movie, The Christmas Story, was years from being made, Mom could not be accused of staging a variation of the accident used to get rid of the unwanted leg-lap.

‘I set up the ironing board and I must have not locked the legs because as soon as I put the iron on it, it took a nose dive and the iron flew off and smashed The Thinker’s head. Couldn’t glue it. Just small chunks and dust. Had Raymond throw it in the trash barrel when he came home.’

‘Did he feel bad about his gift being broken.’

‘Heck no,’ she said, ‘He couldn’t care less about it. The statue wasn’t the real gift. The trick he played was the gift he wanted to give me. Proof he’s still the same old Raymond we remembered. ’

And to paraphrase a show biz declaration:

And that’s an un-wrap, folks

 

THE ART OF RAYMOND (I)

           

 

The Art of Raymond (I)

The gag-present in Elmer’s Goat was probably thought over for a year and came to being in about an hour. The gag-present in The Art of Raymond was a glance in a store window, a spur-of- the-moment purchase and then it steeped for six months, finally boiling over at Christmas. The recipient of the first enjoyed the joke. The recipient of the second, well…

No one would fault Mom for suspecting that Raymond was playing one of his tricks on her when he came in the house on a Thursday afternoon, carrying a large something-or- other wrapped in shiny paper, with a big ribbon encircling it from top to bottom.

‘Mom, guess what? I was going to Seven Corners Hardware to buy some tools and when I walked past a shop I saw this in the window, and I knew you’d love it,’ he said, as he set the package on the kitchen table.

One of his tricks, she knew it; but she didn’t care. He was back home after two years in the Army. As the three older kids moved out one by one the house grew larger, emptier, and quieter each time one of them left. And when the baby of the family left, it really sucked the excitement of raising a family out of her life. Some parents can’t wait for the nest to empty, but not Mom.

Now at least he was back. She knew he would bring back some of the old excitement in the house. The youngest of four, but always the leader in laughing and tricks and stirring things up. Grandpa use to say that you could just see the wheels turning in his eyes when he cooking up his next mischievous thing to do. The little ‘angel’. Maybe bringing home that present was a sign he was breaking out of the quiet mood he had been in since he came back.

When she had mentioned to Dad how Raymond seemed different, older, Dad pointed out that the Army brags that they make men out of boys. Plus with the three older ones gone, there was no one around to tease or to encourage him. Or maybe he is just resting up. He’s had two years of dreaming up some new tricks.

Raymond had been a guard at a secret radar post in the woods up in Alaska. Thirty miles from the nearest town, he told her. Pretty boring. Both the post and the town. He said to break the monotony in camp he would volunteer to dress up in a protective padded suit and let the dog trainer sic the guard dogs on him. In town the main attraction was the small bar that served bad beer and Tombstone pizza. The beer and pizza were more dangerous than the attack dogs. Whenever she tried to find out more about his time in the Army he would just tell her it was secret. Loose lips sink ships, what ever that meant. He was a soldier, not a sailor.

She made a move to unwrap the gift but stopped. ‘I suppose you want me to wait until you have a bigger crowd to laugh at your trick,’she said.

‘Mom, it’s your Christmas present. You have to wait until Christmas to unwrap it. I’m going to put it in the living room right by where the tree always goes. Be handy come Christmas.’

‘It’s six months ‘til Christmas. Go hide it in the barn.’

‘It is going in the living room,’he said. ‘You’re a big girl now and I know you won’t peek at it. Besides, I had the man wrap it with all kinds of newspapers and cardboard so you can’t feel what is inside.’ Then he took it in the living room.

The first few months Mom tried to guess what it was. She came up with some possible guesses and a few improbable ones. It became a game between the two of them. One time she guessed it was a statue and she caught a quick smile on Raymond. She continued with other guesses, but every now and then she would go back to statue, and finally she declared that it was a statue.

From then on she tried to guess what kind of stature. She narrowed it down to a statue of the Madonna. She went further and declared it was Our Lady of Fatima or maybe Our Lady of Lourdes. Satisfied that she had nailed it, she backed off thinking about it, except when she had to move it to dust mop.

But it took over her thoughts again as Christmas grew closer. Christmas Eve was the time for the kids and their families to spend in their own homes. For Mom and Dad, it meant putting up the tree, preparing for the big dinner the next day, and Midnight Mass. Early afternoon saw the children and grandchildren arrive bringing food for the big meal and presents to be opened after the meal.

Except this year Mom insisted that she get to open Raymond’s gift because she wanted to use it for a center piece on the table. Everybody agreed because they were all anxious to see what had been sitting in the living room for all those months.

Raymond had the last say though, and he had no objection just as long as Mom stuck by her promised to keep it on the table throughout dinner. He also had a big grin on his face. I, for one, suspected a trap; but Raymond moved fast and set the package in front of Mom, who had scissors in hand to make short work of the ribbon, shiny paper, newspapers, cardboard Scotch-taped together.

And as she peeled each layer off, she kept repeating that she was right, it was a statue, it was a statue. She kept vacillating between Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima.

And as the last covering fell away, the statue was revealed. Only it wasn’t Fatima or Lourdes or even a Madonna. It was a replica of

For now, as they use to sign off back in the day:

Stay tuned, same place tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of the story.

D-DAY BRONZE STAR – 75th Anniversary

It has been 75 years since the D-Day Invasion. These men waded in the ocean, or jumped from the sky to confront the guns of a common enemy. They did it because they believed it was their duty to stop the evils of Fascism, Dictatorship, Hatred.

 

 

Some of my favorite memories of my time serving in the 82nd Signal Battalion revolved around the combat vets in the outfit. Some saw action in WWII. Some in Korea. Some in both. Each of them had a chest full of medals and great ‘jump’ stories. One of my favorite vets was Sergeant Estes.  He jumped into Normandy on D-Day, and was awarded a Bronze Star for single handedly capturing a platoon of German soldiers. But unlike most of the paratroopers who jumped in the darkness very early on that day, it was not the first combat jump for Estes. He jumped almost year before, in the first US combat airborne assault ever, again in the dark, the invasion of Sicily, where he got his first Purple Heart.

Just a bullet scratch in the shoulder, but I’ll take the medal.’

When I served with him, he was a Battalion cook, transferred to the mess hall a few years before.

Just biding my time. Cooking’s good. No getting up before the sun and running 5 miles. On 24 hours – off 48. Good life.

Tall, thin, face like cracked leather, with a drawl that needed a translator until you got use to it. His fatigues showed a faded outline of a higher rank of sergeant.

‘Never get too fancy sewing on your rank. Saves time when lose a stripe or two. Airborne’s got the youngest sergeants in the Army, and the oldest privates. I got me my Good Conduct ribbon during a time when I was too busy overseas to do any bad conducting.’

Quiet man usually. Hard to get to know. But once he decided to take a liking to you, he was a hoot to be around. He would really open up with some great stories, especially after a beer or two. Estes and I were next to each other in the parade to honor General ‘Jumping Jim’, ‘Slim Jim’, James Gavin, the 82nd’s favorite General, upon his retirement.

‘I’d follow that man into hell. Come to think of it, that’s exactly where I followed him,’ Estes said, swigging a beer to wash the hot dust out of his throat. ‘Following him got me my second Purple Heart. Hurt like hell!’

It was the first time I saw Estes in his Class A’s. Two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star on his chest along with a slew of campaign ribbons. ‘You got yourself quite a bunch of salad on your chest, Sarg. You got a reason to be proud.’

Well,’ he answered in a slow drawl, ‘I walk tall with the war ribbons, and my two purple Washingtons- and my Silver Star; but I don’t take much credit for the Bronze Star. Cuz it was an accident.’

‘What? I heard you captured an entire platoon of Germans, all by yourself and got the Bronze Star for it!’

Yup. But I didn’t Sergeant York it. It was an accident.’

Estes like to tell stories in bits and pieces. Almost like a Saturday Matinee serial. Leave you hang, come back next week and get another piece of the story. Took several sessions and quite a few beers before he told me about the ‘accidental Bronze Star’ and what led up to it. Estes also told stories in the grand style of Appalachian oral history. Slow, deliberate, filled with great mountain expressions, vocal inflections, physical gestures, and perfectly timed dramatic pauses. All in the sweet drawl of the hills.

I can give you the gist of his story leading up to getting the Bronze Star by ‘accident’; but not in his exact words, and certainly not in his exact style. I wish it would have been like today, put him in front of a camera and put the result on You Tube for everyone to enjoy.

Born and reared in the Tennessee Cumberlands. Just a couple big hills from where Sergeant Alvin York had his home place. Hard rock farm. Could hardly keep my folks in vitals, let alone enough for us six kids. All the paying jobs around weren’t around cuz somebody had them already. The only way to make any money was to become a faith-healing, tent-preacher with a couple rattlesnakes.

            ‘One day me and Levi, from the next farm, decided to go on the bum. We hiked a ride to where the freight trains have to real slow up a steep grade. Ran out, opened a car door, but there were a lot of hobos in it, so we found us an empty one. It was heading south, and we surmised that would be a good way to go. At least we would talk their language.

            ‘Now hoboing ain’t the fun you think it would be. Just listen to the songs of Jimmie Rodgers. He tells it like it was. And listen to the words real close in BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN. Dangerous life. If you do find an odd job, it’s hard work, low pay, usually cold food from last night’s dinner. Most of the time, you beg to eat, and you sleep in the cold. By the time we made it to Augusta, we were talking about heading back home.

            ‘There was this fancy movie house, and it was showing SERGEANT YORK. We had to see it! Had a little bit of money we were saving for some food, but it was enough to get only one of us in legal. Levi got a ticket and got me snuck the side door. Watched it twice. When we walked out of that movie house, I was gung-ho, knew what I wanted. I was going to join up in the Army. And I knew where to go.

            ‘We had passed an Army recruiting place on the way from the tracks. I spent most of the night trying to convince Levi to join up with me; but he said as much as he liked the idea of three squares a day and a cot to sleep in, what with the talk of the US maybe getting in the war, there was no way he was do anything forward enough to get shot at. Said it was only a matter of time and we’d be in war against Hitler. Come morning I went one way to join up and Levi went the other to catch a freight.

            ‘I told the Army sergeant I wanted to join up with the 82nd, cuz that was Sgt. York’s outfit, and he came from my hills. And it shouldn’t be so hard cuz Camp Gordon where old Alvin got his start was right outside Augustus. He said it didn’t work like that.

            ‘If I wanted to join the 82nd I might have to jump out of airplanes cuz there was a rumor the 82nd was going to be the first airborne division in the US army. I surmised it couldn’t be any more dangerous than being on the bum. Then he told me I’d have to go to Fort Benning for boot camp, still in Georgia, but a ways away, and I could volunteer airborne in boot camp. I asked best way to hitch there, and he told me I could ride a bus for nothing after I signed up with him. I didn’t lie. I told him my actual birth date. He pondered a bit and wrote down I was born a year earlier than I said, and warned me to never let anyone in the Army know how young I really was. Then he even bought me a good meal before putting me on the bus with my papers in hand. I was going to do my duty just like Alvin York did in the last war.

            ‘As for Levi, I got a letter from my brother a few years after. He said Levi and a couple old boys tried to rob a bank. Got outside and walked into a squad of police. Levi, who said he wouldn’t do anything to get himself shot at, was the first of the boys to throw down his gun and throw up his arms. He got his 3 squares and a cot alright, but he had to bust rocks on a Carolina chain gang to earn them.

            ‘It worked out sweet for me. Got through basic, got through jump school ,and got into the new 82nd Airborne Division, 505. Had my wings before Pearl Harbor.  Wasn’t one of the original 48, but came close to it. Was one of jumpers in the first US airborne combat assault. Sicily – 9 June 43. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were all glad to leave the training in hot, hot, hot, North Africa in the rear view mirror. It was a night jump just like Normandy was. Combat jump, no reserve chutes, low altitude, not enough time for a reserve to help. You catch a streamer you just got to pray and try to shake it loose.

            ‘We figured on going onto the mainland and fight old fat Mussolini’s boys; but instead we went to England to train for the Big Dance.

            ‘It was cloudy at 1AM, June 6, of 44, but at least the storm had subsided. We jumped behind the lines but not exactly where they wanted us to land. My platoon landed in a hay field with hedgerows on three sides, and a stand of trees at the far end. Great jump, great DZ, no harm to any of us. But we did hear occasional shooting afar, but none in our direction.

            ‘You could make out a supply chute tangled in the far trees. The captain ordered me to run down there and drag it back to our regrouping. I set my rifle down and took off. I was cutting the shroud lines to free the chute when I heard a lot of mumbling. And then a German soldier came out of the trees, followed by a lot more, a whole platoon of German soldiers. My rifle was a far ways off, but one man, even with a 03 Springfield, couldn’t do much against those odds.

            ‘That was the bad news. The good news was all the Germans had their rifles raised over their heads. They were surrendering to me. One soldier who talked good English asked that they be taken prisoner. What with all the airborne soldiers all around the area, they saw no point in trying to fight. Besides, he said, most of them were tired and wouldn’t mind sitting out the rest of the war in a POW camp.

            ‘I had to ask one of them to give me his rifle and the rest to lay their’s  on the ground. Ordered some to pick up the supply boxes and marched them down to where my platoon were watching and laughing and shouting how I was a big hero just like old Sgt. York that I was always going on about.

            ‘And that’s how I got the Bronze Star for capturing a whole platoon of Germans, all by myself. Nothing to be so proud of. Like I told you, it was an accident. Don’t think they’re ever going to make a movie called SERGEANT ESTES.’

            He was right. They never made a movie called SERGEANT ESTES; but accident or no, I told him he should stand tall wearing that Bronze Star. It was earned honestly. And one hell of a story.

                  bronze star             

 

One man’s D-Day story. He said he was just doing his duty like Alvin York, a neighbor a few hills away, had done his duty. Most everybody involved in that turning point in WWII felt the same way, doing their duty. We honor these brave men, on this anniversary  for doing what they considered their duty. And pray that their sacrifices were not done in vain.

             

 

BUSH & THE BEACH BOYS

Bush

During the Memorial events for President H.W. Bush, the TV picture always had a banner running across the screen proclaiming him to have been a President and a Patriot. Both titles are embedded in history below his name.

But the themes of the eulogies were memories of the man. His kindness, his warmth, his friendship. The following is a story of these attributes of this man told to me by a friend and union brother, Steve.

At this time, Steve was the head rigger for the Beach Boys. He was responsible to see that the sound and lights were hung safely in the best positions possible in the venues, and for setting up the portable stage for outdoor events.

In the early 80’s, the Beach Boys played the July 4th concerts on the National Mall in Washington D.C. A few days prior to one of those concerts, the band was invited to give a mini-concert for the Bushs and some friends at the Naval Observatory House where the Vice President lived in D.C..

Steve drove the rental truck with a small set up to the front of the house. He went to the front door knowing full well that it would be opened by a butler telling him to go around the back to unload. He was surprised when Vice President Bush, himself opened the door, introduced himself to Steve and the other hands, as if that was needed, and told Steve to bring the equipment through the front door. Closer to the ballroom, he explained.

When the crew went into the ballroom, Bush introduced them to the house electrician Steve had requested. Best the house electrician do the electrical hook-up. The last thing Steve wanted was to have an electrical outage in the V.P.’s residence.

Then Barbara came into the room and once again George made the introductions. Barbara told the men that there was a buffet with a chef standing by down the hall for whenever they wanted a meal or just a snack.

‘Catering, Honey,’ her husband teased. ‘Catering is show business talk for food. And there’s also a full bar and a bartender in that room too, guys.’

‘Thanks, Mrs Bush,’ Steve said, ‘But we have to setup first. The band will be wanting to do sound check in a couple hours.’

When they did go into the catering room for a meal, the first thing the chef asked was how do you want your steak? And the bartender looked a little disappointed when the hands that drank just wanted beer. Sure beat what the rock promoters considered catering.

Steve said it was less like working a gig and more like being invited to a friend’s house. Everybody was so friendly, especially the Vice President. Even the Secret Service men in their customary dark suits, had occasional smiles as they handed out the stickpins with the head painted the color of the day. These ID’s had to be pinned where they could be seen.

 

Vice President Bush was in the ballroom almost all the time. He watched the crew setting up everything and had a million questions. ‘If I learn how to be a roadie, will you hire me?’ he kidded. ‘You know, this being a Vice President really stinks. Worse job I ever had.’

‘You’re hired,’ Steve said. ‘How’s your golf game? We play a lot to golf on our days off.’

‘My kind of men,’ the Vice President said. And naturally the talk turned to golf.

Steve asked if Mr. Bush had ever played Willie Nelson’s golf course outside Austin. When the Vice President said no, Steve proceeded to tell him about it. ‘Only course where it is all rough. Strict rules: Like no more than 12 to a foursome. No bikinis or see through dresses – unless they’re worn by women. Drinking and smoking is not allowed – unless it is shared.

‘Next time I go to Austin, I will have to play that course,’ George said. ‘I’ll tell Willie that I am a friend of the Beach Boys crew. I miss my Texas. This job wouldn’t be half bad if I could do it down in Texas.’

When the Beach Boys arrived they were greeted by the Vice President and Barbara and where showed the room where they could tune their instruments. And also told about the catering and the bar.

“Now where’s Dennis? George asked. ‘They told me I could always tell who Dennis was because he always wore a Texas hat.’

‘Sick. Something he ate didn’t agree with him,’ was the excuse that was given. Dennis Wilson had a grave alcohol problem and the band didn’t want him to embarrass himself in front of the Vice President. Dennis died a few years later. He was was drunk and went scuba diving alone.

‘Oh! Oh! Guys, I got something to tell you. I got talking with your crew about golf. They said they got Monday off so I gave my country club a ring. All you have to do is tell them you’re the Beach Boys and crew and you can play a round on me. They said they would work in you in throughout the day. And the nineteenth hole is on me.’

It was evident that as the actual concert approached, Vice President Bush was feeling mellow. He met each guest, about 50 all toll, encouraging each on to ‘have a drink’. When the concert started he sat in the front row tapping his feet to the music and mouthing the words of the songs he knew or thought he knew.

After about six songs he stood up and went up to the band. ‘In honor of my wonderful wife, Barbara,’ he said pointing to her in the chair next to the one he just got out of, ‘Play my favorite of the Beach Boys. BARBARA ANN.’

Almost as if on cue, Mike Love, and Al Jardine quickly joined Carl Wilson at the front mic.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann. Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann.’

By now, Vice President George Bush had got to the mic and grabbed the mic off the stand.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann,’ he sang, drowning out the startled entertainers. His voice left a lot to be desired but not his energy. The only words he knew where the chorus which he kept repeating over and over until one of the singers started a verse. Then George stopped. Only to jump right in with the chorus when the verse ended.

It was probably the longest rendition of the song ever. The audience and the band and the crew were all smiles. The only one in the room that wasn’t smiling was Barbara Bush, who sat still with her hands folded on her lap. At last George stopped singing to his lovely wife; not because he thought he reached the end of the song, but rather because he was out of breath and wanted a drink. As he sat down Barbara slapped his knee and shook her head.

The concert went on and when it ended they played BARBARA ANN as their encore. They signaled to have the Vice President join them and the audience applauded. George Bush got up, went to the mic, and sang his favorite line several times.

‘You know, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘That is the best song you ever wrote. On behalf of myself, Barbara, and all our guests, I want to thank you all for a great time.’

The Boys, the band, and the crew applauded their thanks. Nobody told him that they didn’t write BARBARA ANN. It was a do-wop song by the Regents.

The next Monday the band and crew played golf courtesy of Vice President George Bush.

In April of 83 the Beach Boys were forbidden to play July 4th on the National Mall. The least popular member of the Reagan Cabinet, James Watt, Interior Secretary, declared that rock and roll bands were not welcome anymore on the Mall because of the element they attracted. Drunken rowdies and smokers of illegal substances. He wanted somebody more patriotic like Wayne Newton, who was a big Republican donor.

Vice President George Bush led the outrage against Watt’s decree, declaring, ‘These men are my friends!’ First Lady Nancy Reagan declared herself to be a mega-fan of the Beach Boys. Mike Love argued on behalf of the band by saying they played a lot of patriotic songs…like SURFING U.S.A.. Watt lost.

There was an attempt made to get the Beach Boys back to play the Mall but it was too late. The publicity made the band the hottest item in the country and they were booked at Atlantic City on the 4th to the largest crowd in the history of the event. And the Beach Boys began to be called America’s Band.

As for James Watt, a few weeks later he made what he thought was funny, racist terms about a committee that opposed his Interior agenda. Watt lost his Cabinet position and went to teach in a university out west. Both he and the band give credit for starting the uproar to Vice President Bush declaration that ‘These men are my friends.

And whenever the Boys were in the D.C. area, George Bush made it a point to see they could play a round of golf at his country club.

Like the banners proclaimed ‘President and Patriot’, and as the eulogies said, ‘friend and a wonderful human being’.

R.I.P. George Bush

True and fearless Patriot

Sully the service dog of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush in his final months lays in front of Bush's casket at the funeral home in Houston

His Friend

EPILOGUE – THE FALL

rainbow and roses

Just a few days before my fall, we had celebrated our 57th Wedding Anniversary. I was a few months from turning 80. But, you know, I never really felt old.

I had subjected my body to a lot of things over the years: bucked off horses, bruised up in sports, battered around jumping out of airplanes. A lot of hard work before I found my life’s occupation, stagehanding, and then when I settled on it, it was 24/7. long hours, little sleep, working part of it outside in the heat and the freezing cold.

I was fortunate to work as a stagehand, work that had great diversity, getting paid to work things that people paid big bucks to attend. Working big time names, acts, events. And while I missed so much of my sons growing up, I made up for my loss when they got old enough to work next to me. Sons, nephews, daughter-in-law all worked beside me. What a thrill! Something most people never experience. As the years went by I became one of the old-timers in the business, but I never really thought of myself as old.

Because of all that ‘fun’when I was younger I ended up with knees that creak and hurt, among other aches and pains. Heck, if I raced a tortoise it would be the damn turtle that would have to fall asleep in order for me to win. But you know I really never thought of myself as old.

I saw my our sons grow into adulthood and raise families. I saw our grandkids graduate from high schools and colleges. So proud of the family that my wife and I were blessed with. And even at our family get togethers and found myself looking up to talk to many of the family, I still really never thought of myself as old.

I saw the gray strands of hair that my wife tried to hide with black touch-ups. I looked in the mirror and for several years the face that stared back at me from the looking glass was not mine; but rather the face of my father in his later years. But still I never really thought of myself as old.

And then one night I fell, and from that night on I felt old, realized my dancing days were behind me. I must be content to watch baseball on TV, rather than climb stadium steps to watch in person or heaven forbid, actually play softball at a family picnic. I’m old…but happy.

As the grandkids grew older they saw less of their grandma and their poppa. What really hurt was the fact I had no more children to sit on my lap, to read to, to tell my stories to. The prospect of great grandkids are far in the future. And then we were blessed again.

Our youngest son, Dirk, married late and now we have three little girls to watch grow into young ladies, which they are doing much too fast. Already they are too big for Poppa’s lap; but not too old to overlook their grandparents’s need to be a part of their lives.

Dirk brought the three darlings to the hospital to see me, to help me recuperate faster, to cheer me up in a way no cards or flowers ever could.

I sat up in bed anticipating hugs and kisses. But the three of them stayed back from the bed.

The youngest, Jaycee, age 8, explained that ‘Daddy said we can’t hug or kiss you, Poppa, or even get close to you because we might give you some germs and get you infected.’

‘But don’t mean we don’t love you, Grandpa’, interjected Jenna, age 10.

‘Right!’ said Jayda, age 11.

What a wonderful get-well gift. A gift an old man can enjoy long after flowers fade and cards are thrown in a drawer.

FAMILY…mi familia…the family that raised me…the family that raised my wife…the family my wife and I raised and now their families.

I beg your forgiveness in my writing this account of my medical experiences due to the fall. I know that old people converse a great deal about their aches and pains and medical experiences like I have been doing. It can grow boring fast. In this case, I wrote it more as a catharsis for myself than for the entertainment of the reader. It is a shock to admit that you too have grown old, and a joy to be given a chance to grow older.

In THE FALL I used music as a prop. Laying flat on my face, hearing in my mind, Sinatra’s THAT’S LIFE, that song clearly was the Present.

The Past was represented by a song, C’EST LA VIE, bringing to mind my growing up in the French/Dakotah town of Mendota and a saying the old- timers said with a shrug of their shoulders.

And the fear of the unknown after brain surgery, QUE SERA, SERA, the Future.

And while all three are some of my favorites, the one song I start out my day is Louis Armstrong singing:

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people goin’ by
I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’
“How do you do?”
They’re really sayin’,
“I love you.”

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know

And I think to myself

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLDAll Star Night 14

MLB All Star Game 2014

Minnesota Twins Field

11th Day of the 11th Month 1918

440px-In_Flanders_Fields_(1921)_page_1

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

            First part of the poem written one hundred years ago by Dr. John McCrea after he presided over the death of a friend killed at the Second Battle of Ypes, site of the first use of gas in the war history calls The First World War.

The seeds of this conflict, one of the deadliest ever, went back centuries; but gained speed in a series of events and alliances begun in 1882, with the trigger, killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria occurring in June of 1914. When it finally ended it had caused the deaths of nine million combatants and seven million civilians and restructured boundaries in both Europe and the Middle East and dragged warfare into modern times.

It started for the most with  centuries-old methods of war, such as using the horse for both transportation and warfare; but quickly changed into a war of man-made machines powered by the combustible engine on the land, the sea, and a new battleground, the air. And this new method of warfare introduced yet another reason for nations waging war, Oil.

One thing that didn’t change was the reliance on the foot soldier, the doughboy, the mud slogging, trench fighter. And this war was indeed a war of trenches, miles of trenches. For the most part, these men in all wars are unsung; but sometimes one becomes a hero, a household name like the man from the hills of Tennessee, Alvin York of the 82 Division. Largely because of York’s heroics, his division, the 82nd was chosen to be the first airborne division in the US Army.

This war also brought to light the need to bring medicine and medical techniques into modern times. More deaths occurred because of tetanus and infection than from actual battle wounds. The studies of Pasteur and Lister became the Bible for the new medical structure and monies that would never have been allotted for the civilian populations were made available for new medicines to combat the main causes of death in this war.

The war spawned a variety of poems, songs, paintings etc.. It is the source of two of the strongest anti-war works of art, Remarque’s novel ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and Lewis Milestone’s faithful movie of the novel.

The Christmas Truces especially in 1914 have been used in movies and stage plays. The one I am most familiar with is ALL IS CALM:THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914. We put it  on stage at the Minneapolis Pantages in 2008, and it has been done during every Christmas season since. On Christmas Eve 1914 the sounds of Christmas hymns are heard coming from both the German trenches and the British trenches. Soon the soldiers come out of the trenches and the combatants meet in No-Man’s Land where they exchange Christmas greetings, food and beverages, and join with each other in singing the songs of Christmas. These truces were wide spread that Christmas even on the Eastern Front between a group of German and Russian soldiers.

At first the war had a variety of names depending on what countries were fighting each other. As more countries entered into the battle these names were melded into The World War/ The Great War. After the Armistice The World War/The Great War was given a subtitle: The War To End All Wars.

The Armistice was signed at 5 AM, November 11, 1918. The cease fire took place six hours later, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The time had a good ring to it and was easy to remember. There was also a political/military motive behind the delay in the cease fire. The delay gave the Allies a chance to gain better ground in case the Cease Fire didn’t last. That last day of fighting resulted in over 2,500 additional deaths. For all practical purposes it was the end of the war, but peace wasn’t officially ratified until 1/10/1920.

The victors had no mercy for the losers and dictated harsh edicts that changed the world. Boundaries were changed. New countries were created with no respect for the differences in the peoples in these countries. Overlooked was the ethnic differences, the differences in language and especially religions. It was a hastily drawn up with the main purpose to cripple the countries that could pose problems to the Allies as respect to economic progress and to colonial expansion. These ‘written in the sand’ changes still, almost a century later, remain one of the biggest sources of wars, horrific and genocidal, both external and civil, in the world.

November 11th was called Armistice Day, a legal holiday, in most countries that were on the ‘winning’ side. Later the name was changed to Remembrance Day in many of those countries. In 1954 it became known as Veterans Day in the U.S.A.

 

VERDUN-OSSUAIRE_DE_DOUAUMONT5

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

 

It wasn’t long before the subtitle, The War To End All Wars became as ludicrous as the phrase uttered in almost all conflicts, ‘They’ll be home by Christmas’.

And events that started just twenty years later caused a name change. The Great War was dropped, and The World War had to be renamed The First World War because another war with the usual suspects, some like Japan and Italy changing sides, combined to fight The Second World War, which was not The War To End All Wars either in spite of the fact the war ended with destroying two large cities with the first use of atomic bombs. Such destruction, we were told, would end war forever. No country would ever start a war with the threat of the mushroom cloud hanging over their head. Another premise that proved false.

 

Early one morning Frank Glick was driving to work and saw this Bald Eagle sitting on a gravestone in the Fort Snelling National Veterans’ Cemetery. Luckily he managed to take this picture.

 

Eagle at Ft Snelling

 

The cemetery sits on a high bluff overlooking beautiful valley where the Minnesota River flows into the Mississippi River. At funerals in the cemetery, sometimes there is an Honor Guard firing off a salute, sometimes planes fly in formation; but almost always there is a Bald Eagle flying  above the ceremony. The sight never fails to bring lumps in the throats of teary eyes mourners.

The cemetery and the nearby Veterans’ Hospital are both running out of room. And this sad situation is occurring in all our Veterans cemetery and hospitals across our land.

Our lawmakers always seems to find the monies for overrides on government contracts to develop a new weapons system, and monies to pay for the exorbitant salaries and profits for the private contractors, like Chaney’s Haliburton, that have slithered into our defense budgets ever since Viet Nam.

And yet when it comes to helping our veterans, these patriotic lawmakers vote down request after request stating no money is available. Our veterans hospital are for the most part outdated and understaffed. These patriots lawmakers, many of whom took deferments, some legit, some bought by a rich daddy, to avoid service, fought the idea that Agent Orange used by us in Nam was responsible for  veterans’  medicals problems like cancer, and they continue to avoid the epidemic of mental problems of our veterans who fought in our questionable conflicts ever since WWII. And the list goes on and on.

The best way to thank our vets for ‘THEIR SERVICE’ is to demand that we honor our commitments to them for sacrificing so much so much ‘to protect our freedoms’ and our ‘need’ to be the policemen for the world.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow  


In our present day treatment of our veterans, we have broken faith, not only with those that died but also with those that lived.

Flanders Field

To all my fellow vets, Vaya Con Dios.