Monday, March 22, 2010

(De)Commissioning our history

(USS Lexington, CV-2, passing Culebra Cut, Panama Canal, early to mid 1930's)

As I watch Texas try and excise the history it doesn't like from textbooks, it has brought to the fore a longheld belief that they aren't the only ones who have been doing so.

Growing up I watched the aircraft carriers USS Wasp and the USS Hornet pick up our astronauts as they returned from space. Vague memories of a little boy, his first ones of our modern Navy. Later as I read history, both in school and on my own, the names "USS Wasp" and "USS Hornet" came alive to me, along with others like "Saratoga", "Lexington", "Yorktown", "Ticonderoga", "Bon Homme Richard", the "Ranger" I made a short cruise on and even the "Kittyhawk" I WESTPAC'd on derived their names from the history of our country; reminders of her heritage, of her victories and triumphs. Even the "Langley", the first carrier, was named after an aviation pioneer (albeit one our government had funded and then later promoted in order to fight the Wright brothers patents, much as they played Tesla and Marconi against each other to duck paying royalties).

Later, newer battles and victories were added to the roster. "Coral Sea", "Midway", named for the 1st carrier victories of the war in the Pacific; "Tarawa" found her way into history, and someone remembered "Valley Forge".

"Lexington" replaced "Lexington", "Yorktown" replaced "Yorktown"; the famous names were kept in circulation. But things were slowly beginning to change...

A carrier was named for the secretary of defense who had most strongly advocated them, James Forrestal. A few years went by with "Constellation" and "Enterprise" finding their way back to active duty while history did much to change our country. It was decided that a president, fallen while in office, was deserving of the tribute of a carrier named after him and the "USS John F. Kennedy" was commissioned.

The next keel laid was named after the admiral who oversaw and won the naval war in the Pacific, Chester Nimitz. Following was a keel named after a politician who spent the years between the World Wars advocating the Navy and rebuilding it after the disarmament treaties that ended WW1. He also was a champion of the first nuclear carrier commisioned, the USS Enterprise, and his name was remembered on the USS Carl Vinson.

Next came the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Abraham Lincoln, the USS George Washington, then another naval advocate, John Stennis had his name immortalized to travel the world in steel.

All through this period, the old names were retiring, being decommissioned, some being scrapped, some being sunk, a lucky few being purchased to be made museums to the men who served aboard them and gave their lives to defend them.

Sadly, though the old names are all gone now, save the "USS Enterprise". Though I won't say that Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, or George H.W. Bush (the names on the last 3 carriers built) don't deserve memorials or to have things named after them, my own feelings are that presidents have libraries for that, and no matter which political party is in power at the time, trying to immortalize their idols in U.S. Navy steel is not nearly as fitting as allowing the Navy to continue its own traditions. The ones that have served us since our Revolution, when John Paul "I have not yet begun to fight" Jones lost the "USS BonHomme Richard" and then commanded the first "USS Ranger"...since the USS Hornet landed U.S. Marines on the shores of Tripoli...or a later USS Hornet launched Jimmy Doolittle's B-25's in the first raid to attack Japan's home soil during WW2.

How wrong is it that our politicians would erase our history while even "Star Trek" remembers?

I'm grateful to the Marine Corps for keeping some of these names alive on it's LPH's, but I grow weary of seeing history erased in favor of political legacy...

(The very first link above will take you to a U.S. Navy website listing all of the carriers in commission order, the dates they served and their "disposition". Clicking on any of their names will take you to another page with a more detailed history and some photos of each. For more photos, is a site I've spent countless hours exploring. The other links take you to Wiki entries or some of the ship museum websites.)

May the week be kind to each of you...


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Sometimes you're the bug...

and sometimes you're the windshield!"

I heard Neil Bonnett say that once years ago and it's one of those perfect metaphors for life.

My wife not being a fan of Steve Martin or Alec Baldwin, we spent Oscar night watching a nominee from 1950 that she thought she'd seen but hadn't. A newly mastered DVD version with some extras, I was delighted to revisit it with company for once.

"Twelve o'Clock High" I read in my teens, before I ever saw the movie, though I grew up watching the series when I was a "tween" and it was in repeats. It's one of the influences that led to my love of airplanes and mechanical things. The authors, Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr. were there in different capacities in the 8th Air Force and the story is a compilation of characters and groups they served with.

When I finally saw the movie I was impressed with all of the portrayals, none more than Dean Jagger who won his Oscar for it. Knowing the "flying history" behind it made it all the more personal for me.

Going back now and watching it brought all of those early emotions back, plus those of thinking of all the lives affected by the war and fighting it; the lives of people I know today, here and on the "other side of the pond".

Shocking was getting to the documentary part and hearing someone say that the U.S. Marine Corps lost 20,000 men in the Pacific in their campaign across the islands.

The 8th alone had over 26,000 killed out of 47,000 casualties; these were half of the Army Air Corps casualties for the entire war.

After watching the movie I dug in one of my bookcases to come up with some books I bought through Powell's a few years ago. One was Beirne Lay, Jr.'s account "Presumed Dead" of being shot down over Europe after he assumed command of his own air group mid-war. The 2nd I found was a biography of Paul Mantz, who flew the B-17 that "bellies in" early in the movie, sliding into tents etc. The movie company tried to get the then re-named Air Force to do it and were told "no way"; Mantz agreed to do it, flying solo. As he set her down, he figured out he could still steer her with the "toe brakes" although the landing gear was up and that was how he managed to snag the tent without doing any other damage downfield.

The 3rd I still haven't found, a paperback copy of the original book "Twelve o'Clock High".

"Presumed Dead" I consumed in my spare time in 3 days, unable to put it down when I could get a chance to read. Concise, but beautifully written, it's added to my love of the French countryside.

It also shocked me at one point. As they are transitioning from training to England, they flew a southern route considered safer because of the weather at that time of year over Greenland. On landing in Marrakesh, Lay writes about the last crewman leaving the plane, tossing the DDT bomb through the hatch and closing it...

No wonder so many of those of our "Greatest Generation" are fighting cancer! DDT was still in use by the Navy in '73 when I was on shipboard; the olive drab cans that I sprayed around my bunk to stop the roach invasions (which didn't even slow them down) had it painted on the cans. But tossing a "DDT bomb" into the aircraft who's oxygen system I'd be breathing from, where I'd be living and fighting and dying takes on a whole new meaning all these years later (as does lying in a bunk I'd sprayed entire cans around and in the locker of).

(BTW, the way we finally stopped the invasions on shipboard was to line the edges of our racks with 400mph tape, sticky side out, after taping every seam and joint closed, then waking up in the morning and roasting our catch with butane lighters!)

Beyond all that I spent one day last weekend watching my son and grandson outwork me as we helped my sister's mother-in-law move. The next I spent recuperating as my knee was not happy with me at all; it's still grumbling a bit 5 days later. I've also been fighting what is either the last cold of winter or the first cold of spring...whichever it is, I'm tired of it!

Monday I helped my son pick up more subfloor and underlayment along with trim for his house. Dottie was off yesterday and I was coughing too badly to go see a movie she wanted to, so we ran errands instead, getting the last of the fishing licenses and boat permits for the new year; finding some corned beefs she can fix for a belated St. Patrick's Day dinner this weekend, and since she felt sorry for me being sick, she bought me a slab of ribs for dinner that I'll also be eating for lunch and dinner today. We also went by the apartment that Mary Ruth moved to last weekend so Dottie could see it and helped her sort some of the things that went into her storage unit. A beautiful apartment with a brook and waterfalls outside her patio doors, I envy her a bit!

So it's now Wednesday afternoon and I'm still waiting for WalMart or Sam's Club or someone to call say that I'm worthy of their employment. After I eat something, I guess I'll try filling out an app for Home Depot, though I've put that one off because I somehow feel disloyal to GM if I go to work for someone that campaigns a Toyota in NASCAR...silly guilt button, I wish at times I could disconnect it!

May the week be kind to each of you!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Riding the range...

As I drive around my "home turf" I often feel the ghosts of those who were here before me...I've thought of writing about some of them and hope perhaps they intrigue you.

When I make my shopping run to Wal-Mart, I head west on I-70 then pick up I-435 south and cross the Kansas River. Visible from the bridge as I cross the river Mill creek flows into the river from the southwest. Somewhere through the years I've read that was the site of one of the Chouteau brothers original trading posts back in the days when beaver hats were "king".

As the road climbs from the river and I get to Shawnee Mission Parkway, I'm traveling beautiful rolling hills that once held a township named Monticello. It was there that a young man first wore a constable's badge and first tried his hand at law enforcement. He voted in the 1856 presidential election there. To know I'm sharing the same country that James Butler Hickok once rode always induces awe in me. You might have heard him called by another name; "Wild Bill".

It wasn't long after those experiences he met up with a kid muleskinner from a few miles to the north of here; one who would probably become one of the most famous "Westerners" of all time; William Frederick Cody. At 11 Cody lost his father to the "Border Wars" that consumed Kansas through her territorial days and continued through the Civil War, culminating in the 2nd burning of Lawrence, KS by William Quantrill. Cody and Hickok rode together in the Kansas Militia, leading both of them into scouting for the military and their other pursuits.

A few blocks north of me is the old Fort Leavenworth Military Road from what was then Westport to the Federal outpost that still exists. As he traveled to Leavenworth not long before the Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman in his memoir wrote of spending the night at the Shawnee Indian School (now called the Shawnee Indian Mission), then rode west and crossed the Kansas River at a ferry owned by a white man and his Indian wife. That would be Moses Grinter; I've written of "The Grinter House" before, the first permanent house in my county. The house still standing replaced the cabin he and his wife had lived in for the 20 plus years before it was built. During the battle of Westport someone aboard the afternoon steamboat headed for Lawrence cut the cable on Grinter's Ferry, killing one of his hired hands; it was thought to be the work of one of the James boys trying to slow the troops from Fort Leavenworth reinforcing the Union troops. Later, after the railroad tracks that still parallel the river there were built, they were also said to have stopped a train or two.

The family of one of Hickok and Cody's friends from the militia days owned a tavern/rooming house called the "Six-Mile House" given its being six miles from the river on the Fort Leavenworth road. In a local history written by a school teacher she wrote of the shooting demonstrations that Hickok and his friend Theodore Bartels would put on after the war. Usually won by Hickok, she wrote of seeing him trot his horse down the lane, his revolvers pointing across his body, knocking bricks off the rail fence on either side...never actually taking aim.

Next to the downtown public library is the Huron Indian Cemetery; when the Wyandotte Indians were forced to relocate to Oklahoma Territory, they deeded over their land and buildings on the condition that the graves there would never be disturbed. In that same history I spoke of above, there is the story of what happened when the City Council decided they could take that land as there weren't any Indians left here to object. The aunt of Zane Grey, the writer, moved into the cemetery, with a shotgun and held off the sheriff while the City Council tried to evict her and legal proceedings were brought against them to enforce the original agreements. I've been told that my great-grandmother has a relative buried there...

A few blocks past the library, though the building is long gone, is where the "Free State" constitution for the state of Kansas was written (as opposed to the "slave state" constitution written earlier and never adopted). A couple of miles to the north lie the ruins of Quindaro, a settlement that had much to do with the transport of slaves to freedom via the Underground Railway. The high bluff they sit on was conducive for marksman to sit with their rifles, waiting to drive away the bounty-hunters trying to cross the river to recover those lives someone else considered their property.

The guerrilla Quantrill I mentioned earlier was a schoolteacher before the war, in a little town south of here named Maryville. What was left of Maryville was flooded by Hillsdale Lake as it filled, one of the lakes we fish.

My sister and her family live in Lawrence; burnt twice through the "Border Wars", the last time with much loss of life. When Quantrill and his raiders arrived they sent lookouts up Mount Oread to watch for dust clouds in case the military from Fort Leavenworth should come to the town's aid. 183 men and boys were executed; anyone old enough to carry a rifle up to the age of 90 lost their lives. The logos on the doors of the Lawrence police cruisers show burning buildings.

Mount Oread was where the University of Kansas was founded two years later, in 1865. It's where my oldest son and his wife both graduated from...

Those are only the ghosts from "my" side of the river...many more walk the Missouri side in the echoes of the music of the 20's and 30's...the echoes of the Pendergast political machine...the Union Station massacre...

I often wonder as all these ghosts gather 'round how many of those in the cars about me even know they existed? People always think "history" is somewhere else...that you have to "go somewhere" to find it...

But the ghosts wait everywhere, only waiting a chance to speak!

May the week be kind to each of you!


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The treadmill to oblivion...

Besides the name of a book I've been meaning to acquire for ages (Fred Allen's autobiography, if that name rings a bell for anyone), it means that finally after almost 2 months I've found my way back downstairs.

I survived 1/3 of the monthly shopping run yesterday (only casualty was my pride, as I drove further to a different wholesale club to get the Hershey's Dark Chocolate bars my wife loves as mine quit keeping them; got out of the truck and put my bifocals on so I could read the list and realized I didn' t have the checkbook). I was waiting for Costco to mail their coupon book to do the seems to come later each month. I'll be going there on the way home from the osteopath's tomorrow.

The knee ached a bit last night, but it wasn't "pain". So today after I'd been up a bit, eaten and taken the anti-inflammatory and let it have a bit to "kick in" I went downstairs and donned the "new" shoes I keep next to the treadmill and started walking...slowly...

I wasn't trying to set any records, only ease back into things. I made it 11 minutes pain free, at 12 it twinged once (possibly I took too long a step) and at about 14 it started to hurt with each step. I stopped, shut things down and after a few minutes to make sure it was OK I came back upstairs.

It's the first time in almost two months the steps haven't hurt coming up. I'm still wary going down; Saturday I went to do laundry and wasn't quite "awake" yet, led with my left and "jammed" it, feeling the bone bruise that's slowly been healing these last few months.

At the Supercenter on Monday (the first 1/3 of the payday trip) I had stopped at the magazine rack; I can't afford them anymore, though every other month I can't help myself and buy one ("Hot Rod Deluxe", with photos and cars I remember from the issues I saw 40 years ago). It wasn't there, but I picked up a copy of something else that caught my eye and stood there while I skimmed their article on men's knees. It spoke of ACL's and the other usual injuries, then had a section on arthritis. It told people about the "partial knee replacement" that Dottie had a few years ago; said to be wary of "scope" surgeries (?) and then ended with a piece that said no matter what, even if it hurts a bit, you have to keep moving because that is what "lubricates" the joint.

So, tomorrow, after the doctors and Costco, we'll see if I can make it to 15 before the "twinge" kicks in.

I haven't really gained since I hurt myself, but I hadn't really lost in over a year, since I hurt my back the last best intentions got caught up in summer and other things and also, I think one of those laws of physics came into play...

Something about objects at rest tending to remain at rest!

It's time for some defiance...

A friend wrote this a while back and it has been weighing on my mind as well; having fought my way from 300 to 200 several years ago and yo-yo'd back to 340, I know well the demon he writes of! I made it down to 270 the 2nd time before I hurt myself a year ago December and have been rather stuck since within 10 pounds of 300...

Where's Excalibur when I need her?

May the week be kind to each of you!