Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hanging with heroes

I met a hero the other day. Normally, you’d expect to meet a hero at an awards presentation of some kind, with the media present and politicians vying for camera time, but I met him in the service waiting room at an East Texas car dealership.He stepped out of his pickup just like any normal person would, and left it with the service writer to have the oil changed.
He was a senior citizen, as we like to call them now. As he walked across the driveway, you could see that age had taken its toll. He was stooped and his skin was weathered by the Texas sun. He flashed a friendly smile as he headed my way.He was an unimposing guy…jeans, boots and a straw cowboy hat. The hat wasn’t big, fancy, or expensive like Hollywood cowboys wear. It was a working man’s hat, but it was his go-to-town hat, too. He looked average in every way…medium height, slender build, glasses, and…well, just average looking as Texans go. He wasn’t built like Arnold, but he appeared fit for his age.He sat down on the bench beside me and we exchanged greetings.
The warm, morning sun had just cleared the hills behind us, and we both commented on the beautiful morning.He carried a Max Brand novel in his hand, but after we exchanged greetings, he placed it on the bench beside him and we struck up a conversation. He had already caught my interest and I wasn’t going to let him read if I could indulge him in conversation.
We first talked about retirement, and the good old days, and cotton farming, and raising cows. He said he’d loved the idea of raising cattle since he was a kid in high school many decades earlier, but had to forego his plans to put some time in the Army.
It was then that I learned I was sitting beside a hero…a WWII vet.I asked him which unit he had been in…though I should have guessed. US Army Corporal Harold Fortenberry was a native Texan and he was part of the 36th Infantry Division…the Texas division…when they were sent first to Africa, and then to land on the Italian coast at Salerno in 1943.
After some general conversation about the military, he got this look in his eye. He was far away, in another time, and in his soft East Texas drawl, he took me along. I didn’t object.He said he had wanted to tell his children and grandchildren all about war, but despite the urgings of his family, he was slightly embarrassed to do so. I told him to heed his family’s request. They weren’t trying to humor an old man, they were truly interested. He said he had recorded part of his story on audio tapes, but hadn’t gone into the detail about many of the things that still filled his mind. One of his grandchildren had copied the tapes on a CD, but what he had recorded wasn’t everything he had to say...there was still so much to tell. All the little things.

He wanted to help them understand what it was really like to be scared every day, but to hide the fear with jokes and bravado, like young men in combat always do. He wanted to explain what it felt like to be exhausted, and hungry, and cold, and wet, for weeks on end. What it was like to look across an open field at the enemy whose job it was to defeat you by taking your life and knowing you would soon meet him eye to eye. He wanted people to understand what went on in your mind when you saw friends die in an instant, and what it was like to cheat injury or death by a turn of fate’s card. He wanted to tell them that the way you dealt with it was to get rip-roaring drunk when you could, or to find a private place to cry until you couldn’t cry anymore.He told me several stories about individual battles, and what had happened to him and members of his unit.
The stories were not boastful tales of triumph, but rather one man’s account of his tiny role in a brutal war fought between powerful countries. He never bragged that he had done anything more than what was expected of him as a member of a mortar squad. I don’t know if he was awarded any individual citations…he didn’t say, and I didn't ask, but he did say he was one of only two men in his original company not killed or wounded. He marveled at his good fortune, but mourned the loss of so many friends. He didn’t complain or speak ill of the government that sent him to war. It was something that had to be done and he was obliged to do his part. His pride was apparent, but his deeds were not demanding of praise or comment. And there was no anger in his voice, only the need to explain how it really was. I was eager to listen, and he was willing to talk about it.
You might wonder why, without medals and fanfare, I’ve referred to the Corporal from Texas as a hero, but that’s easy to explain. He belongs to a generation that’s rapidly disappearing; a generation we’ve selfishly taken for granted…and they’ve not complained. Not enough of us are cognizant of their personal sacrifice, nor appreciative of how they built the world we live in today. The young soldiers that went to war did what was asked and expected of them, and they did it to the best of their ability.Like so many veterans I’ve talked to, he didn’t come home with expectations of being treated special. He did his job, and then he came home to rejoin society and start a family. He could finally get back to Texas to raise cattle and to live the life he loved. When you are a real hero, that’s what you do. No demands. No whining. You quietly get on with life.I’m certain he’d be embarrassed at being called a hero, but in my eyes, he and his generation are all heroes. Their sacrifice allowed me all the comforts I now enjoy, and their labors have given the modern world a standard of living that couldn’t have even been envisioned when they were young.
All too soon, the mechanic returned with his truck and our conversation had to end. I could have listened to him for hours, but like anything good, a small amount makes you appreciate it even more. He apologized for bending my ear, but in my mind, he was passing on a personal record of history and I thank him for both the lesson and the pleasure of his company. We shook hands and I watched him walk away. It was time to do what modest heroes do. It was time to go home and check on the cows.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sick dog and frost on the pumpkin.

We had our first frost of the season last night. It was 3-4 weeks ahead of normal, and only a few days short of setting a record for early freezes. No, it wasn't a record, but it was the earliest freeze since 1925. I assume it's one more indication of global warming.

Sassy, our old Maltese, experienced an attack of extreme pain tonight. She began yelping and sprawled on the floor in agony. There was no indication that anything was wrong earlier, and after a minute or two, she relaxed as the pain apparently went away. We had no clue what might have caused it, but I suppose it was age-related in some way. I only hope that the next time it happens during the day when a vet is available. I hate not being able to better communicate with animals.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Going to the Dogs II

Our next oldest is Belle. She is a six-year-old Shar Pei and is truly a gentle giant. She weighs about 90 lb, but is shy, gentle, and as playful as a puppy.
When her best dog-friend, Dakota, died from cancer three years ago, Belle was devastated and mourned for months. When we got another Shar Pei puppy to keep her company, Belle could have taken over the alpha duties. Instead, she waited until the puppy grew up, and then she passed on the duties to her new pack mate.
Her health is not good, and she has to take pills daily for her inactive thyroid gland. Despite being active, she gains weight easily and has suffered numerous maladies and infections. She probably won't live to be very old, but her time with us has been a joy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Going to the Dogs

Since we are owned by four dogs, I might as well introduce them. This is Sassy, our oldest, a 15-year-old Maltese. The picture was taken a few years ago, and she is now rapidly deteriorating. She is totally blind, and nearly deaf, but still gets around surprisingly well.

We installed a dog door in the wall of our new house, and she goes in and out as if she can still see, but if we move anything on the patio, she gets confused, and has a hard time finding her way around.
At times, she will get too far away from the patio and get lost out on the lawn. One night, I woke up and checked on her, as I usually do. She wasn't in her bed, so I went outside to look for her. She was in the middle of the lawn going in circles. It was a cold night, with lots of dew on the grass, and she had apparently been out there for some time. She was soaking wet, exhausted and shaking with cold.
She was one happy puppy to get dried off with a towel and tucked into her bed.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Investigate "Big Greeting Cards"

With several holidays just around the corner, I'd like to re-post a rant I did on a forum about this time last year.

I think it’s time to stop ranting against “Big Oil”, and to take up the cause against “Big Greeting Card”. If anything has gotten out of hand, price wise, it’s the greeting card business. It can’t be the amount of paper, because I can buy a pocket book at WalMart for less than the price of a typical card, and the book contains ten times the amount of paper.

It can’t be the earnings of the verse writers. I’ve read where they get mere pennies for writing verses, and there are only so many ways to write Merry Christmas, so you know there must be thousands of recycled verses.

I’m convinced it’s nothing but obscene profits for a few rich greeting card executives, and Congress ought to hold hearings to investigate Hallmark, Ambassador, et al. I’d like to see their CEOs squirming in the witness chair while they try to explain to the honorable congressman from Mississippi why thirteen cents worth of product costs $5.99 at the local drugstore. Even after the leftover cards hit the discount shops, they sell for ten times their raw product cost. I'm sure the original retailers can claim unsold cards as losses against their federal taxes, so we are being forced to pay Hallmark twice!

While they are at it, I think Congress should investigate the reason behind adding all those greeting card days to the original two or three we used to have. Somehow, Grandparents Day, Kwanza, and Earth Day don’t do it for me when it comes time to send greetings. If they dig deep enough, I'm betting they’d find some kind of illegal relationship between the card companies, the promoters of new holidays, and yes, maybe even the Bush administration.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I'm not ready for winter!

The dozens of hummingbirds that had been visiting our feeders left almost two weeks ago, and now birds we haven’t seen since spring are hopping around the yard and flitting through the trees as they travel south. Squirrels are busy harvesting acorns, hickory nuts are littering the lawn and the leaves are beginning to turn. With all the signs, you’d think I would have been ready for winter to sneak in the back door...but I wasn’t.

This afternoon, I was sitting on the patio reading a book and enjoying a cup of tea in beautiful 75 degree weather. Then, a dark cloud formed in the western sky, and in minutes, the first cold front of the season rolled through. A cold rain, driven by wind made the temperature drop twenty degrees in little more than an hour. With the forecast for temps in the high forties tonight, I might be up in the middle of the night changing the thermostat from A/C to heat mode.

You’d think that someone who grew up in North Dakota would walk around in short sleeves and sneer at such a mild cold front, but I’ll be the first to admit that living in Texas twelve years has spoiled me. Tomorrow morning, I’ll have to dig my jacket out of the closet before I head for the coffee shop. Life is tough.

C’mon spring!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Moon of the millipedes

Seems like every year, it's an invasion of one critter or another. Last fall, it was scorpions, and they were everywhere. Then last summer it was black widow spiders. Over a period of a couple of months, I found 12 inside the mailbox, and dozens more around the yard. I finally bought a can of spider spray and spent much of an afternoon hunting spiders. I killed 15-20, and since then, I've not seen one. I think the increasing number of wasps also helped reduce their number.

The past few days we've been under attack from garden millipedes. They're harmless, but totally disgusting to find all over the house. Every evening, I spray dozens on the patio, but it doesn't seem to affect their number and several manage to find their way into the house overnight.

I'm almost looking forward to the first freeze, which should have an effect on the number of insects.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My plan for peace in the Middle East

Every weekday morning, several of us old-timers get together at the local coffee shop to drink coffee, eat sweets, and resolve the ills of the world.

Except for one guy, who admits he just loves to argue, there is little disagreement between us, since this part of Texas is pretty conservative. We tend to agree on things like taxes, drugs, government largess, personal responsibilities, etc. However, when the subject of foreign involvement comes up, we fuss a bit, and after all is said and done, the disagreement usually boils down to the Middle East. Problems in that part of the world just don’t seem to be resolvable.

If I remember history correctly, the USA was the first country to recognize the state of Israel, and we’ve now been their insurance policy for somewhere around sixty years. Based on the peace progress made between Israel and their adversaries in those sixty years, it appears we can plan on another sixty years playing protector, unless there are drastic changes.

I’ve been kicking around an idea that might work if we can sell it to the rest of the world. My idea is to move the United Nations headquarters to Israel. Pack up the whole damn bunch and put them on a fleet of ships to Haifa.

Conservatives in this country generally despise the UN, while the UN and our liberals constantly whine about everything the US does, so the move makes sense. Relocating to the most pestilent part of the world puts the Dudley do-right, world-fixers right next door to the action, and maybe motivate them to fix matters, instead of talking them to death. Looking out the window at the Golan Heights might be an education for some of those naïve bureaucrats.

A UN building, and all the world’s emissaries in the middle of Israel might discourage radical Jew haters from launching missiles into the country. Likewise, any acts of aggression would be pretty obvious if tanks…either Arab or Israeli…start rolling over the BMW’s and Mercedes limos in the ambassador’s parking lot.

I’ll have to ponder on that one for a while, but at first glance, it looks like a win-win situation.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Welcome to my blog.

I’m retired from 30-plus years in the aerospace industry. I’m also retired military, with 4-years active duty in the Air Force, and another 21-years in the Air Force Reserve.

I was born and raised on a wheat farm in the great state of North Dakota, but spent much of my life building airplanes and missiles in the Pacific Northwest. I retired to North Texas in 1996, and then last year built a new home in East Texas. I now live on a rural acre with my wife, four dogs, numerous wild critters and few neighbors.

My current interests include working on old Chrysler cars and writing fiction. I also like to work with wood, though I’m getting too old to do much of that anymore. My idea of ultimate relaxation is cruising in my ’64 Valiant convertible on a warm Texas night, with a cup of coffee in hand and listening to a CD of Golden Oldies. Mopar, Starbucks, and Roy Orbison. You can’t beat the combination.

My political bent is somewhat convoluted. First, I’m a flag-waving patriot of the first order and I love this country. I’m a strict, Constitutionalist/Conservative when it comes to taxes, government’s role in our lives, professional ethics, and personal responsibilities.

As far as social issues go, I’m more of a libertarian. I don’t care what you do in the privacy of your own home, but don’t make it my business by forcing your desires to become an issue for me to address. Keep your cultural and personal anomalies to yourself and don’t demand my acceptance, or try to change my mind about what I believe. I really don’t give a damn about your sexual proclivity, the reason for your latest inferiority complex, or your need for weed.

Unlike the stereotypical conservative, I’m not religious, but I’m not anti-religious either. I consider myself an agnostic because no one has been able to prove the existence of God to me, nor has anyone been able to prove He doesn’t exist. I find passionate people from both groups often tend to be a pain in the ass. I’ll happily bow my head and respect your faith while you say a prayer, but don’t try to convert me. I respect your need and will staunchly defend your right to believe as you wish, and to practice your faith without being hassled, but please return the favor and respect my opinion.

I mentioned that I like to write fiction, but I don’t consider myself a writer. That comes with time, learning, and dedication to the craft. At this point, I’m only putting on paper those stories that have been floating around in my head for ages.
I recently completed my first novel…In Dreams…a story about two older people trying to recapture the past. Someone said that your first novel is written from the heart and the rest from your brain. The heart seldom sells stories, and because I have no intentions to self-publish, my In Dreams manuscript is probably destined to wind up in a stack of old papers for my kids to sort through when I’m gone. They can throw it in the trash, but I don’t have the heart to do it. There’s that heart thing again.

My second novel is in work and is tentatively titled A Murder in Church. As the title suggests, it’s a mystery that takes place in the small, fictional town of Church, Montana. No CSI…no car chases…no insane serial killers…no studly, rule-breaking detectives with a bevy of gorgeous girlfriends. I hope to write the story in the vein of the old, traditional mystery, with believable characters and real life situations. It too, is probably destined to become a trunk novel.

As I did in a previous blog on an automotive website, I will probably write about whatever interests me on a particular day. Some days it will be a journal entry, while others might be a full page political diatribe. I don’t intend to write something every day, and the frequency depends on my fervor at the moment.