before Lightyear there was another Buzz

Buzz Aldrin stepping onto the Moon, 1969

The second person to set foot on the Moon, “Buzz” Aldrin, is a living icon. The late Neil Armstrong and the Command Module pilot, Michael Collins are the other two legends of Apollo 11, whose feat of landing on and returning safely from, the Moon are celebrated today. Had it not been for a clear challenge, originating between two competing ideologies, the “West” and the Soviet Union – which first successfully put a man into space, the technology we take for granted would have come around a lot later. Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z have cell phones, cable television, and solar panels today, due, in part, to the science that sent mankind into Space, filtered down to the rest of us. The motivation for Governments may have been political, but undeniably, people are dreamers, builders and adventurers, too. Mankind advanced from stone tools to building the first flying machines in 100,000 years. From barely leaving the ground to launching orbiting satellites: less than sixty years. And from orbiting rudimentary satellites to putting people on the surface of another world and returning them, safely, in less than ten. And in the last half-century? We should be. in Star Trek parlance, “beam me up. Scotty!” by now.

When a human being first set foot on the Moon fifty years ago today, I was five days short of ten years old. When I ask my children today what they scientific achievements remember from the time when they were ten, space flight is not among their first memories. Movies and television, created with the technology inspired by the science and engineering of the Space Program, they recall.

Star Trek, Star Wars, and a host of other fascinating stories involving travel to other stars have filled the human imagination with possibilities. But the first grainy images on a television set of Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin setting foot on the Moon, was the reality that people working together, around the globe, could achieve impossible dreams. We are starting to finally see private enterprise invest in next-step ventures. We have man-made objects moving through interstellar space. In the last half-century the amazing feat of people living and working in orbit, the probes that visit distant asteroids or Pluto or travel in interstellar space have garnered less attention than someone’s latest inappropriate Tweet.

We need a challenge to unite millions to travel into a new Frontier. It is time to send adventurers, dreamers, and builders out again. In the rallying cry of that Disney character, Buzz Lightyear, in the Toy Story movies,

“To infinity and beyond!!”

Home, a quarter-million miles away

The American Experiment

“These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civil instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.” Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

https://nccs.net/blogs/our-ageless-constitution/will-the-great-american-experiment-succeed

In 2019, the United States of America has never been more dis-unified. And the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, about America as a republic – if we can keep it, never seemed more germaine. In the history of the world, war and subjugation has only maintained unity and “peace” for a matter of time. Through trade, common language, governance, science, cultural, religious, and philosophical ideas were passed down to the western world. Babylonians, Persians, Greeks,Romans and Ottomans spread a unifying message cemented by armies. In Asia, empires of China, Japan, India, and in Southeast Asia rose, fell and spread their influence. In the pre-Columbian New World, native empires rose, spread their influence across the continents. All rose, declined and were conquered by war, famine, or the petty squabbles and self-interest of people.

Since the first settlers and explorers from western Europe came to the New World, the same forces have been at work. The United States of America, was forged out of all these ideas, and expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and through conflict. It took a Civil War, two World Wars, and nearly a century for words enshrined in these documents to be embraced by the majority in America. Ideas that subjugated people based on skin color or religion still exist in the world, but in the United States, power-seeking politicians, academics and lobbyists are the ones now who threaten America’s future. For 243 years, America has welcomed immigrants, and as “Americans”, their talents and ideas helped the United States remain independent and unique in the world. Despite all the voices to the contrary, America is still exceptional; while many risk hardship and death to emigrate to Europe or to the USA, few seem willing to do so, to leave America to go in the opposite direction: into China, Russia, Sudan, or Iran.

The United States has indeed wandered from the creed that bound us together in the crucible of war. Many of those today, who have served in uniform, seen horror of war and the oppression of people around the world, are more committed to preserving our unity, our nation and our culture- our great American experiment, than those proselytize for socialism, rights without responsibilities, and demand reparations for our “shameful” history. Let us not listen to the voices that crave power, or those who condemn America, or those who use violence to silence American patriotism and nationalism. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, let us hasten to retrace our steps, and move together along the road toward peace, liberty and safety.

A cause worth dying for

defense.gov

On the sixth of June, 1944, seventy- five years ago, more than a hundred- fifty thousand Allied troops became heroes on D-Day.

My late mother was a 12 year old schoolgirl living on the shores of the Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland. She told me of a foggy early morning probably a few days before the invasion when she saw many ships in the Lough only to disappear a day later. That capped a brief visit days earlier of an American cousin in her mother’s family, a Merchant Marine, who she later learned had been decorated for bravery in the Battle for Malta in 1942.

While some may think that Northern Ireland was far from the Blitz – the campaign the Nazi waged against Britain – German bombers attempting to destroy or disable aircraft manufacturing and the Belfast shipyard from April through May 1941, destroyed a considerable part of the city. A thousand were killed, many were injured and more than 100,000 were left homeless. Once the Nazis started their campaign against the Soviet Union in June 1941, they diverted their bombers.

My mother and family were fortunate in that their home was not bombed but the family retail business was unable to recover from the bombing of the city and the economic conditions which persisted all through the war and the remainder of the decade. And so my mother’s family became emigres to the United States in 1948 (other relatives had been living in the United States since the mid-19th Century).

hot water

An experienced mariner knows most basic principle of seamanship: keep the water outside the skin of the ship. But what if you want water, for your health and convenience, inside a ship? Before modern systems aboard ship made potable water from seawater, sailors had to carry sufficient drinking water with them. Sailors rarely bathed. In the later years of sailing ships, mariners learned that cold water bathing, and clean clothes would prevent communicable disease, and foul odors (germs). Modern systems on larger vessels supply clean water for everything from cooling equipment to supplying sailors with drinking water and for food preparation. As an added personal benefit: hot water for showers.

Living ashore since retiring from the sea service, I have not had to go without clean clothes, nor without hot water for ages. This week our home water heater failed and for two days we were braving cool showers. Calling out a plumbing company – one who installed my unit happened to be a former Navy HT – was a smart move. I would have been out of my depth (pardon the pun) there.

With an older home, lots of unforeseen costs for safety systems raised the price and the complexity of the job. My wife and I opted for a better, “greener”, and only a little more expensive longer-term solution. A tankless system instead of an old technology- and shorter lived one. With other required modifications for federal, state, and local regulations, the cost had us briefly thinking, is cold water really all that horrible? But with my restless dreams about work in recent weeks, I never want to have nightmares about flooding -while at work – soothed by cold water showers!

126 years young

It’s a birthday celebrated by a whole lot of people. Navy people, specifically, and to whom, the shortened form of applicable address, such as “Good Morning, Chief”, “Senior”, “CMC”, etc is heartwarming even to a Chief retired now for nine years. On April 1st, 1893 the United States Navy formally instituted the paygrade of Chief Petty Officer (CPO). How does one become a Chief? To echo a Brother Senior Chief many years ago, posing the question of a “Selectee” (and then answering her bewildered look), “I decided to work and act like a Chief Petty Officer. Then waited for the uniform to catch up.”

Together with rating examination scores, selection eligibility criteria, and a service record review by a board of senior Chief Petty Officers, candidates are selected. And once selected, a process of mentorship, instruction, leadership exercises and camaraderie ensues. This had been, and after a brief adjustment period, was reinstituted: the CPO initiation. Those of us who were selected to the rank of CPO, in whichever specialty rating we served, whether male or female, Active Duty or Retired, are all Brothers and Sisters in a worldwide fellowship, the Chief Petty Officer Mess. And in the grand scheme, the CPO takes care of the enlisted, mentors junior officers, executes the mission, all while leading from the Deckplate level.

For more on the history of the Chief Petty Officer, see this link to the Navy publication All Hands.

Navy Chief, Navy Pride!

grinders and coffee

Mention grinders to an older Navy veteran, generally brings to mind the large parade ground we marched around in Bootcamp.  But “grinder” also means a particular type of sandwich. In Southern California, while there are different names: submarine sandwiches, hoagies, and grinders, there are some places that are vastly different than the franchises that pop up everywhere.  And in El Cajon, California, not far from my home, is an institution 50 years in the making, The Grinder.

I actually only stopped in Thursday night at the request of my son, a Vocational Nurse working the evening shift, for a sub specifically made there.  It might have been my first visit though I have lived in the area twenty years.  After a long workday and a long, rainy evening commute,  but I would drive an extra few miles for a sandwich.

It was not a fancy place.  A video game table of the sort I had not seen in thirty years  was against the wall.  On the walls, were  Navy-themed art, a Bible quote,  articles on the history of this deli, a plaque honoring fifty years, and pictures of local kids.  But the one I noted just before ordering was the image of the late Chief John Finn,  Medal of Honor recipient (Pearl Harbor) on the wall. The kids working there know whose picture it is.   San Diego County is a military community, and El Cajon in the part known as “East County” is home to a large population of veterans going back to the Second World War.

“where do we eat and what show do we go to?”

On date night, quickly planned,  even the retired Senior Chief’s understanding wife may have felt a grinder was sub-expectations.  The mall was packed with Friday-night families.  As it turned out, a little pastry and coffee with live music at a coffee house we like was perfect.  We knew the music and lyrics; the acoustics were okay, and probably because the band and their fans are all about the same ages,  they concluded at a reasonable hour on a Friday night.  7:30 is almost bedtime.

So much for foodies partying into the wee hours (7:30PM)

immigration kon and tiki

One of the major issues in North America and European countries today is immigration. Politics and basic economics drive the debate, regardless of which side one supports. Perhaps it is worth considering – by all parties – for thousands of years, new arrivals brought talent, art, foodstuffs, and skills in navigation, or farming, or just hardiness. There were no aid agencies or politicians, and the adaptable survived. Across vast distances and different continents, it is no wonder that these were first undertaken by sailors, military men, and adventurers.

Long before I became a Sailor, I recall reading the adventure of Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian zoological researcher and explorer. It was then twenty-five years after an impressive 1947 voyage his team made across the Pacific Ocean. Compared to the modern warships in which I traversed the Pacific Ocean, Heyerdahl – and by experiment, pre-Inca natives, constructed a thirty-foot boat, of reed and balsa-wood. With a banana-leafed thatch cabin and a single-mast, six men departed South America. If modern man, in a post-war world might feel exposed – a hundred miles at sea, no sign of land and no birds in the sky, what were the first explorers possibly thinking. I thought this with experience of riding a ship 530 feet (161m) at the waterline, feeling the speck he was in comparison to the ocean.

Thor Heyerdahl’s point in the mid-Twentieth Century was to test that people might have settled Polynesia not from Asia, but from the east – South America – fifteen hundred years ago. A second settling might then have come from North America- British Columbia – by way of Hawaii, five hundred years later. Through radio-carbon dating, sweet potatoes which originate in Central and South America, were subsequently (1991) found by archaeologists in thousand-year old sites in Polynesia. (Since 2005, scholars debate which group came first – Polynesians to Hawaii or Hawaiians into Polynesia).

If you have not read Thor Heyerdahl’s account, Kon-Tiki, and you have a bit of the ocean-adventuring spirit, I suggest adding this to your list. I intend to revisit his story. Perhaps while eating a sweet potato.