Friday, February 24, 2006

Grandpa pt 1

I started writing my memories of my Grandpa a few weeks before my Grandma passed away and had hoped to show them to her, but she decided she had been away from him far too long before I had a chance. Yet another regret I have, but I'm still glad I started writing these things down. I have about 10 pages just about Grandpa, so I'll post a bit at a time. This story always made me laugh when I heard it. So, Grandma and Grandpa, I hope you're having fun and don't worry about us, we'll see you soon enough. I love you both very much.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about my Grandpa, the man. The more I learn about him, the more in awe I am. He was born in Belgium and during WWI he and one of his brothers lived in an orphanage since his father had left for America before the war started and was going to send for them when he was able. The way I understand it, they were living with an Aunt, and when the war broke out she couldn’t provide for them and sent them to a Catholic orphanage. After the war ended, my Grandpa, at 16 years old, made his way to America with no money and unable to read, write or speak English. He was able to get from Belgium to Iowa and eventually locate his father. Quite a feat when you think about America in the early 20th century; very few phones, travel either by horse or on foot, and he had no idea where Iowa even was; just a general idea of the direction he needed to travel. That in itself is another story.

The only story I remember hearing about during his time at the orphanage was the time he was almost killed by an unexploded bomb. I hope I have it right, I haven’t heard the story in over 15 years, but it goes like this; the Nuns who ran the orphanage were very strict and so grandpa and his brother (I think it was Oscar, but maybe it was Morris) were always afraid of getting caught doing what young boys do (getting dirty, playing when they should have been reading etc). Anyway, one day they noticed something very shiny at the bottom of the river that ran behind the orphanage. The water was too deep for them to get it, so they kept trying everyday for quite a while. Finally, the spring waters had gone down enough for them to get it out of the river and try and figure out what it was.

Now picture two young boys hiding in the back grounds of a catholic orphanage, playing with an unknown treasure they had just pulled from the river while brilliant white sheets fluttered in the summer sun on a clothes line nearby. Grandpa’s brother (on lookout) suddenly and urgently whispers to him “the Nun is coming!!!!” and grandpa, not wanting to get in trouble, tosses the thing over the low stone wall to hide it until the coast is clear. BOOOOOOOOM! This thing they were playing with turns out to be an unexploded bomb! The resulting blast SHREDS the nearest sheets and turns them black and smoldering in the breeze! The Nun drops her laundry and hightails it with her long black habit pulled up to her knees for the safety of the building, thinking the Germans were attacking. Grandpa, with his ears ringing like bansees, feels the back of his head which feels like hamburger and looks at his bloodied hands in disbelief. His younger brother starts wailing “DEILA, YOUR BRAINS ARE FALLING OUT!!!!!!!!” and runs sobbing to the building.

In a panic, Grandpa, takes off running down the road and is finally picked up a mile or so later by some American soldiers that are bivouacked near the orphanage. They take him to the Army Dr. who stitches him up and then finally drives him back to the orphanage. The ride back to the orphanage was terrifying for him; he just KNEW he was in trouble with a capital T. Luckily, the Nuns still thought they had been attacked by the Germans. They RAN out to welcome him home, smothering him with hugs and heaping praise on him for his bravery in running to the American camp while under fire, to try and help defend his home! He never did tell them the truth!

He's been gone almost 21 years and I still miss him.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cindy's back... WHY?!

Hmmm, first I’ve heard of this. Well done to the “protestors”; she needs to be reminded that freedom of speech goes both ways. I did find it funny that she told the crowd “. . . if you support this war and President Bush, march to your recruiter's office and sign up." Something her son Casey did. Matt at Blackfive has the details of Casey’s valor. HE is a hero and deserves to be remembered but unfortunately, SHE is cashing in on his ultimate sacrifice for something HE believed in. Go away Cindy and let you son rest in the peace he’s earned.

Oh, and by the way, poor quality body armor?, not true. Our troops have the very best available. Rotten food? She’s full of BS; the dining facilities serve good, healthy meals and MREs may not be the most enjoyable, but they’re decent and healthy meals. No treatment for PTSD? The treatment is there, unfortunately, some refuse to take it. Some feel ashamed of not being able to cope on their own and refuse to get treatment; Sad, but true. Every returning military member is given the opportunity to get treatment. The DoD is spending millions to ensure this treatment is available to it’s members.

I’m sorry she lost her son, but I just wish she would HONOR him instead of using him. My advice to Cindy is to go to church. Find peace, solace and forgiveness. Honor your son and be grateful for the time you shared. Be proud of the man you raised; be proud of his commitment, his faith, and his compassion. Stop blaming others for his choice to serve, and promoting your own selfish agenda.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Grandma part 1

I wrote this in the airport yesterday on my way home.

We buried my Grandma yesterday on her 99th birthday. As we sat around talking and telling stories about our memories of her, I couldn’t help but think of what a wonderful contribution she made to our world.

Obviously, she gave life to my mother and all her siblings, so without her, none of us gathered here would even exist without her. But it goes much more than that. She was an incredibly strong woman who in her own small way, broke many barriers and stereotypes over her lifetime.

She came to this country as a 3 year-old toddler and was the oldest of 11 kids. She worked long hard hours on her father’s farm, and was one of the first women to learn to drive that newfangled invention, the horse less carriage. She lost a brother at Pearl Harbor and proudly watched as her four sons served their country. She was Grandpa’s best friend and missed him dearly and talked of him everyday for the last 20 years.

To me of course, she was this little old lady who had a boisterous laugh and a warm kitchen full of cookies and fun, and now great memories. Over the years I’ve come to know her from a different perspective. She was more than a great Grandma; she was also a mother, wife and friend. The Priest summed up her essence in a few true words: fearless in faith. I never really noticed before this weekend, just how important her faith was to her, but as we looked around her house, suddenly it became starkly clear. Everywhere you looked, there are crucifixes, icons, and other evidence of her deep love of god, only equaled by her love of her family.

Corners are piled high with photo albums of her family and displayed on every wall and furniture surface are framed photos of her family; photos of each or her 8 children from baby pictures to recent photos, and showing their life stages in between. There are also pictures of her 25 grandchildren, 27 great grandchildren, and 3 great-great grandchildren. She so loved her family and loved to tell anyone who would listen all about each of them.

In talking with her nurse and my mother about the day she passed, there is no doubt that she knew it was time to go. She had been confused for several weeks and was not eating well, however on that day she was incredibly lucid. My mother had returned to her house while Grandma was to do her daily physical therapy. Nurse Terri said that Grandma told her she was going to skip therapy that day because God had told her to he didn’t want her working that hard on that day. She also made sure she had a good full meal before going back to her room for her nap. She passed away shortly after, quietly in her room. We all know that she made sure she wouldn’t be hungry on her journey to heaven.

Grandma lived in her own home, by herself, up until 3 months before she died. My mom would come by and check on her everyday to make sure she took her medicine, visit, and ensure she was okay. It was very hard on both of them to finally decide to enter the nursing home, but obviously it was the right thing to do. Just like Grandpa 20 years earlier, she didn’t stay long. Recently my mom asked her when her happiest times were. “In my whole life?” she asked; “well, yeah” mom said. Grandma thought about it a moment and replied, “When I was doing my chores.” Once she could do her chores anymore, and moved into the home, she lost her drive. I think she just got tired and really wanted to see Grandpa again. He’s been waiting for her for quite some time.

Grandma and Grandpa were married for 58 years, raised 8 successful children; none of which were ever in trouble with the law. They taught hard work, honesty, integrity and faithfulness through unflinching examples. I’m humbled and blessed to be a part of their legacy.

Happy birthday Grandma, rest well you deserve it. Tell Grandpa Hi for me and know that I love and miss you both. Till we meet again.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


One of the coolest things I’ve read in a long time was Sheila’s account of her experience traveling through Colorado many years ago. Recently, my wife and I were driving through Colorado and Utah and I kept thinking what it would be like for someone who spent their life in places like New York City, Chicago, LA, or even Atlanta, to see the West for the first time. How they would react if they were suddenly exposed to not only the wonder and majesty of the wide-open spaces and towering peaks, but to the lifestyle of those that live out here. Not those that live in Denver or Salt Lake City, but those that live in the many small high mountain towns; I mean really live there. Not the big city folks who spend a few weeks or months in their high country “cabins”; but the folks that make their living here. Those that work in the agriculture industry, or the family owned local restaurants.

I imagine it would be as foreign to them as my first big city experience was to me. I grew up in a town of 1500 people, and my high school class had 52 students before the dropouts and flunkies. This school had students from two different towns, and about a 20-mile radius of all the farms and ranches. The first time I was in a real metropolis scared the crap out of me. I was (still am to a degree) claustrophobic from the crowds of people, and not being able to see the horizon; sometimes for days! I imagine someone from the big city would have similar feelings of anxiety. Looking out across the horizon for 50 – 60 miles with no sign of civilization would be frightening as well as inspiring. I chuckle at the thought of having someone from NYC come visit us at the house we’re building back in my small hometown.

First, they would have to fly into Denver, and then be driven for 5 – 6 hours along two-lane state highways to a town with one traffic light. Finally, finish the trip out on eight miles of dirt road to a solar powered home with the nearest neighbor barely visible down the canyon. During the night, coyotes howling along the dark ridges would serenade them and if they get up early enough, they would see wild deer standing outside their window.

Mountain living is definitely laid back. I remember several years ago, my in-laws were visiting us in Colorado. My wife and I were camping on our property (where we’re now building our house) for two weeks in a tent, while the family stayed in town at an RV park. We were making dinner at the RV park, and realized we didn’t have any baked beans, and since it was a Sunday afternoon, the market was closed. (no such thing as a 24 hour market here!) I said I would run up to the camp and grab a can or two, which Grandma thought was ridiculous since it was close to 20 miles round trip. To us, it’s just part of life. You have to plan ahead and be willing to be flexible when needed. You want to see a movie? Fine, the nearest theater is at least 16 miles in the next town, and they have one screen!

Driving back through Utah that week, we were between Monticello and Moab as the sun was setting. The vermilion landscape was bathed in a blazing sunset of yellows, oranges, red, and purples; I wish I had the skill to describe the over-whelming BEAUTY of that vision. Its times like those that I’m reminded how lucky I am to live where I do. I like the big city, but Love my mountains. My Mom told me something a long time ago as I was leaving to join the Air Force; “The Mountains will always be here, and you will come back someday cause they get in you blood and will always draw you back.” In other words, I guess you can take the boy out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the boy. Corny I know, but oh so true. I just wish everyone had the chance to REALLY see and experience them.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Somethings never change...

It looks like the AF is adding the F-15 to the Aggressor squadron down at Nellis to compliment the F-16s already in use. I’m torn with the news of the re-activation of the 65th Aggressors. On one hand, I had a BLAST while assigned to both the 64th and 65th (in fact, I helped transition the 64th from the F-5 to the F-16 and “closed” the 65th) with the F-5Es and am proud and happy to see that great squadron reborn; yet on the other hand, I don’t really see the advantage of using the Eagle as an adversary. Just as I couldn’t (and still can’t) see the advantage of using the Viper.

See, back when we got rid of the F-5s from the aggressor role, most of us couldn’t understand why the AF was replacing the aggressors with the same airframe that the majority of our squadrons already flew. The purpose of the Aggressors is to train pilots how to fight an enemy that employs different tactics AND airframes then what we use. It’s called Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT). When you use Vipers against Vipers, you only get ½ the training. You get Similar Air Combat Training. By adding the Eagle to the mix, you still have the same problem. The Aggressors will now have the same airframes as over 90% of the entire fighter community.

The beauty of using the F-5 back in those days was it showed without a doubt just how important the tactics employed by the pilot were. The F-5 would consistently “win” engagements against the Vipers and Eagles; both far superior aircraft, by tactics. In a typical two-week deployment, the F-5s would start the week by spanking the Vipers or Eagles, and intensely debrief each mission. By the end of the deployment, the F-5s didn’t stand a chance. The Vipers and Eagles had learned how to not only employ their jets, but their minds as well. By using an inferior airframe and spanking the hotshots, it humbled the Viper and Eagle drivers enough to listen and learn.

Back when we closed the 65th and transitioned the 64th to the Viper, most of us wondered why the AF didn’t buy a squadron of F-20s or F-18s if they wanted to upgrade the Aggressors to better reflect our adversary’s capabilities. They could have continued the long tradition of providing superior DACT training with a more realistic representation of the threat. I’m wondering the same thing again; how can you have DACT with the same aircraft?