heroes aren’t like in the movies, part 2

File created with CoreGraphicsRest in Peace, Adam West

The heroes of my childhood were black and white.   Well, they were.  We did not get a color TV in my home until I was in 7th or 8th Grade.   As a child of the 1960s, I watched Batman and Robin, with Adam West and Burt Ward.  It was a campy good versus evil, solving the crisis that befell Gotham in thirty minutes or less Continue reading

Pardon me while I gasp for air

“For, with a ship’s gear, as well as a sailor’s wardrobe, fine weather must be improved to get ready for the bad to come.”
Richard Henry Dana Jr., Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor’s Life at Sea

Call me “somewhat concerned” with my deterioration during and after naval service.  Thirty years ago, I was prescribed steroids for some medical issues.  Twenty years ago, my appendix ruptured at the start of the Labor Day weekend holiday.  I was recuperating for a month.  I started to put on weight (happily-married weight) ten years ago.   And three  years ago, after getting too obsessed with cycling exercise, using clipless pedals  I fell and broke my wrist  in three places.  A year ago, I self-diagnosed that an annual or semi-annual trip to the ER  ( for ten years) was due to a food allergy to capsaicin.  Now that I have sworn off the spicy food or food containing bell peppers I ate for more than 30 years I am not poisoning myself.

This year I seem to have been crushed by flu and colds.  First year in three that I didn’t get a flu vaccine.   Congestion and nasal drip that chokes me at night will persist for a month, then off for a month or two and then come back just to be annoying.   With some of the crazy medical issues I’ve encountered over my life,  I don’t understand how I don’t have anemia like my late mother ( and low blood pressure)  Nor do I have high blood pressure or a  brain tumor like my late father (in his twenties).  Instead,  I find myself obsessed with breathing.

I always associated breathing problems with asthma, chain-smokers, or the people who live in horribly polluted environments.   I visited Samsun, Turkey one winter while in the Navy, and the coal smoke was literally down to waist-level height by the port . (And they were chain smokers as well.)    I only in the last couple years started smoking the occasional cigar figuring that after age 50,  would take twenty or thirty years to harm me. I probably now have only smoked a half dozen cigars in six months. In the next six months I will quit entirely.    I am very aware that my more sedentary life outside of the Navy renders me more susceptible to ills.   An article I read online tells me a healthier diet and exercise will counter the phlegm that is making breathing at night a chore.

Of course, I may have to cough up a lung or two exercising in my deteriorated state, to get healthier.

Entertaining “Shipshape”

46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. -Acts 2:46 (NIV)

As a Navy man, I know the difference between cleanliness and “white glove” clean.  In the ten years since retirement, that is NAVY retirement,  I have not kept up the rigor of four-a-day “sweepers”, field days, and “change of command” – mode painting and sprucing.  With dogs that shed hair hourly, there only just keeping up with the general clean during the week.   0512-0707-1115-1056On those weekend evenings that we entertain – which is something we are doing again now that we have no children at home – my spouse,   and sometimes one of our adult sons – is (are) conscripted in the early afternoon to field day.  While Chiefs supervising junior Sailors prepare official Navy functions – at USS Homestead, Chiefs and indians provide the labor.   But my bride, formerly the Senior Enlisted Leader’s spouse, has got the whole affair managed.   My role subsequently is to take out trash, walk the dogs, put my work-week items away and clean up before guests arrive.  ( I went out to obtain the dessert as my contribution to the evening.)

On a Friday night, we enjoy a home-cooked dinner with friends.  With friends you can relax;   nobody comments on incongruous objects in the dining room – a framed Japanese watercolor cat on rice paper ( hiding a still-to-be sanded hole in the drywall);  a framed hawaiian turtle motif on handmade, dyed paper that eventually will move to a more esthetic location; and a bag of dog food that was overlooked in setting the dinner table.  While the room needs a fresh coat of paint, the house is clean and welcoming.  The dogs are mostly behaved.  The dining table is polished,  scented candles and the dinner-party china are pulled out.

Entertaining has become fashionable again; we may not have granite counters, but we have solar-powered air conditioning.  And games.  Mexican Train, a dominoes game, is quite popular with our friends.  And with our group of friends a late evening is 9 PM.     Best of all,  Saturday is not a work day.  After an early prayer walk with friends, walking dogs, taking out trash, doing yard work, and putting away laundry I will have time to sit and write.

 

Popeye’d Off!

I  sort of “lost” it today, in a manner of speaking reading a blog post.   There’s all sorts of pain, dismay, anger and ranting about the shape America is in.

I have loved and respected America and Americans all my life. I served in the military 26 years.  The ugliness and anger in this country is due to failure of the country, following anything and everything but God and the letter/ spirit of  moral values;  some pick or interpret what to believe; some actually try, fail and try again to follow a peaceful path;  however, there are more than a few who practice a faith whose God is Self.

Second, the failure of the Family to instill a self-respect and respect for others. Single-parent families, absentee dads,  dysfunction  or disinterest in raising children.  A lack of training from earliest childhood.  FB_IMG_1491759647178 And third,  a failure of a people to have ethics, education, and motivation to hold ALL levels of leadership accountable.  Laziness, godlessness, and self-indulged people looking to blame and hate others is what causes this country, which had been the pinnacle of UNITY in the world,  pain.

May memories

A lot changes in forty years. In  May, 1977,  prior to my departure for Boot Camp at Naval Training Center, San Diego in October,  I was graduating high school.   Jimmy Carter was President, a fact that I thought, being a former naval submariner officer, would make him an excellent leader.   People didn’t want Gerald Ford as he had pardoned ‘criminal’ Richard Nixon, but I remember him for sending in Marines to retrieve the Mayaguez, which had been seized by the Khmer Rouge a month after the last battle involving U.S. troops of the Vietnam War.

In those last two years of the Seventies,  the Zumwalt-era of loosened grooming standards – longer hair, mustaches and beards worn by Sailors were okay.  Dungarees (bell-bottom style) and dixie cups, were the working uniform.   Pot was a problem on military bases including San Diego.   A community that now is marked by the upwardly-mobile, well-heeled beach crowd, Ocean Beach, was then a place where druggies and ex-military,  tattoo parlors and bars were less restrictive than up the coast near the UCSD campus.

A visit over the Coronado Bridge to the Naval Station Coronado, where carriers were berthed was my first view of a ship – the USS Recruit was a wood and metal reproduction on the Recruit Training Command, to introduce us to naming convention, etc – so did not count.  The ‘aroma’ of the interior of the USS Kitty Hawk was the first ‘knock out’ that I will never forget.  Jet fuel, grease, human sweat, urinals and generally,  the stink of at times, 3500 men (no women then) wafted fresh new sailors who had more recently been accustomed to PINE SOL clean scent.

At the time, I was a student learning to work on complex electronics and mechanical maintenance of teletypes.  Where I now cannot see without at least one or two orders of magnitude, I was able then to discern two from three centimeters adjustments.  The instructor was quite ADAMANT about that ability before graduation.   We had Iranian military students – this was prior to the Iranian Revolution – and when they were recalled by their government,  we were relieved.   Suffice it to say that American and Iranian hygiene were on different tracks.

In May of 1982,  with several of my fellow Russian Language students and the professor – I was able to travel  to Russia – prior to the end of the USSR (1989) – visiting cities – St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and Tbilisi.  If only for all but one – a socialist-  the trip was very informative and probably saved them and their future families from the ‘snowflake’ sensibilities, the mantra of “coexistence” and “socialism’s great”.  The people may have been interesting and interested, but the economy was a shambles. Ambition was reserved for the underground economy — some of whom are today’s Russian millionaires and billionaires.

In May of 1984,  I had been out of the Navy four years, attending the university in Tucson, Arizona.  Four three of those four years I had been actively involved in the Veteran students organization on campus,  and while peers were pursuing commissioning programs,  I was looking toward a government job after graduation.  Strangely,  in my second year after graduation,  when my graduate school plans went unfunded – I re-enlisted in the Navy -Reserve – that is.  The entreaties of one of my friends finally had me join his unit, only to see him quit!

After petitioning to resume an Active Duty career in 1987,  the next major May milestone I recall was May of 1997 when I was transferred from Norfolk, Virginia to San Diego, California.    1970 Dodge Chargers, if you could find one in decent shape were then ten thousand dollars or more,  homes which had been an unheard of, eighty thousand dollars – for an ocean view, were nearly eight hundred thousand,  and NTC was closed but for a few administrative medical functions.

And in the twenty years since that time,  friends and mentors went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq,  the Soviets became Russian trade partners, the Chinese became the world’s second-most powerful economy, the Islamic world tried to separate the economic need for the non-Islamic world – from the ideology that wants to reduce infidels to ashes,  and we are again at some form of odds over military preparedness against the adversaries that were no longer adversaries?

 

 

Never quit on yourself

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan,

I read this quote tonight, while browsing a blog post with 20 inspirational quotes and accompanying pictures, in themselves, very moving.  A family member in the service is weighing the possibility that he may be discharged for not maintaining the demanding physical standards of that service. (Even athletes get runners knee and shin splints.)

It is news that I know all too well.   As a younger man than he is now,  I also faced the same exhausting bureaucracy of my service branch,  weighing whether or not I would be medically discharged a couple years into my enlistment.  “Hurry up and wait”,  is the operational tempo of everything non-combat-related in the military.  But a determined mind, sharpened by knowledge of your adversary, bureaucracy, and equipped to respectfully and yet, unyieldingly, play ball is honored whether it leads to a win or loss.

Michael Jordan is a legend in the sports world for work ethic and results.  To win a lot, you risk a lot and lose a lot.  But every failure is a lesson in NEVER QUIT.  An opportunity to learn and improve.    I am glad that my wife and kids never quit  under adversity.  When I was young I was tempted several times.   Bouts of self-pity a few times.  Illegitimi Non Carborundum was my dad’s advice to me.    I finished my race by completing a career and retiring as a Navy Senior Chief.   So my son,  whether you serve 20 years or 6 more months,  I will not be prouder of you for never saying “I quit”.  You will always be ARMY STRONG to me.

if Jonah had a Spanish accent

15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. – Jonah 1:15 (NIV)

At sea,  even on a Navy warship, when the storm is raging, you feel very small and vulnerable.  In eight years, on three different ships,  I have been through squalls, gales, and hurricanes.  It is truly awe-inspiring – and foolhardy – to venture out on the upper weatherdeck when a destroyer is rolling 30 – 35 degrees port and starboard.   The churning, foamy grey and black sea is so different from the steel blue calm water of several hours earlier.   The power of the sea to bash in metal plates is also that same ocean that can leave sailboats without a breath of wind to move them.   In either condition,  I never want to be at the mercy of the ocean.

If one is to be stranded at sea, there are some more preferable spots than others.   Shipping lanes are well-traveled and charted,  like marked highways around the globe.   And then there are those when outside those lanes, who if they become stranded, rely on the grace of God,  or Neptune,  or  whales, dolphins or whatnot will send help their way.   The ocean, out of sight of land is a very lonely place, even in a part of the ocean that is well-traveled.

I was aboard the TEXAS, one of the last great nuclear-powered cruisers  about eight hours southwest of the Panama Canal  on a bright, sunny day.   I was performing some routine maintenance near the forecastle ( pronounced foc’sill”) when an announcement over the ship’s 1MC,  its intercom, that we were rendering aid to a small boat off our starboard bow.

“Boat” was an approximation as I recall.  It was more like a dugout, with two Panamanian men, and a couple of chickens – roosters, actually, in small cages in between the two men.  In the first minutes,   I was the only person on the deck who spoke Spanish and the deck officer asked me to translate some questions and directions for them to be brought aboard.    Apparently,  they were traveling from one of the islands off Panama to another – the birds were to be in a contest – and the motor started to have problems.   In starting to work on it – the motor clamp dislodged and motor and all fell into the depths.  They had been drifting with the currents for a day.

We were fortunate to be at that place and time to rescue the men and return them  to Panama with only a delay in our schedule.   Oh,  as for schedules,  sometimes they can be a pain in the neck with military precision.   At the moment we had the small boat along side,  and were preparing to bring them aboard, they happened to be under a bilge valve.  Yes.  Engineering began pumping waste overboard at that exact moment.  Furious calls over the radio,  straining on ropes and a few dozen choice expletives succeeded in halting the pumps, getting the men – and roosters, and their boat on board.

I wonder if those men recall the day the “americanos” rescued them.  And do they tell their children, when you are going to a cock-fight, be sure to bring a lot of rope for lashing,  maybe have all your shots updated, and most importantly, get a bigger boat.

Treading water

dont-tread-300
Gadsden flag, 1775

 

As I get older,  I wonder what has become of my military-physique – the early one, not the rounder one of my last year – and what became of the ‘forego the mission, clean the position!” fanatical routine with cleanliness.   Not that I don’t love the smell of PINESOL in the morning,  but leaving the house all day with two big hair-shedding dogs results in a truce between the advance of dirt and actual boot-camp standards of clean.

Attitudes that once were socially and fiscally conservative,  I generally vote in every election, hold ‘personal responsibility’ in high esteem — welfare is for the most-desperate and least able to work,  and believe military service is beneficial to everyone between 18 and 50 years old.    Now, I hold fast to my church family, my spouse, and keep my personal values fairly close to the chest — outside the street I live on.  Fortunately, I have neighbors who were also military or police, and are now retired.  A neighbor on a street where I walk the dogs has a “DON’T TREAD ON ME” flag above his door.  Another proudly has a TRUMP sign.   Both have pickup trucks with Marine and Army stickers on the former.   Then again,  I wear “VFW Life Member” and Navy Chief t-shirts to work.   But I am mellowed with aging.

I have YOSEMITE, bicycling, and Grand Canyon hiking stickers on my car, a VFW license frame and a Nature Conservancy brochure on my car seat – I contribute to purchasing wildland around San Diego to preserve it.   What happened to the guy who owned firearms, enjoyed target plinking,  and was a fan of talk radio?  Gone.

I need to get out of California.  I’m starting to love it here.

 

http://www.gadsden.info/history.html

Burial at sea

 

One of the privileges that a Navy man can request,  when the end time comes, is to be buried at sea. While I was on board the USS PETERSON in the mid-1990’s,  I was on the honor detail when we performed the last rites for (ashes of) a veteran of World War II. The ceremony was a solemn, set on the fantail of the destroyer.  Taps was rendered.  The Navy Hymn was played ( we had a boom box with a recording).  An officer, selected by the duty roster, read some words about the veteran and the tradition.  And everything was recorded on videotape for the deceased’s relatives. This was 1994 or 1995, so there was nothing like today’s live streaming technology.   When the time came to commit our Shipmate into the deep,  the wind shifted.   Our brother went partly into the briny — and also across the fantail.  A little splicing that evening in the Media center edited the re-shot final images of the burial at sea.   No need to stress the family with the ‘Sweepers’ call that was mustered up.

A burial — and a rebirth at sea, was exactly what occurred for me personally when I spent eight years on sea duty assignments with three different ships.   As I continue to read letters written in my first two years in the Navy, and from time when I went back into the Navy seven years later, I see a person that I no longer recognize.  I had tackled one of the most-rigorous technical skills the Navy offered,  but it took trial, error, failure, and opportunity that unexpectedly resulted in a review that medically discharged me.   At that time  I was an introverted teenager trying to escape Arizona and a negative self-image by joining the Navy;  in the Eighties, as a twenty-something stuck in a rut, with a challenging relationship, and poor job outlook,  I was able to re-enter the Navy, but only in that same field that had so challenged me previously.   The grass, or rather the salt air was beckoning me and I chose selfishly.   As my letters from this period show, I markedly changed as I matured.  When my personal life fell apart- my then wife took up with someone else,  I became more callous, even cynical at times, and a workaholic.    The go-to guy if something needed to be done.

However , San Diego changed all that.   I, metaphorically, died again, and was reborn –while I was still on active duty and assigned sea duty.   My new spiritual chain of command started with God and Jesus.  You listen when your ISIC (Immediate Superior in Command)  wears actual stars on his uniform. As stuck as  I had been in my past lives and self-interests,  I enjoy now a real freedom with my wife, family and church.  My skills, passions, and commitment is focused positively.   For almost twenty years, I have found that a burial at sea, and resurrection into a new life is truly freeing.  Thank God.

a Scout is prepared

letters to my future self

Continuing to go through my mother’s papers, I have a number of letters that stir old memories of my days in the Navy.  You, my readers and someday my adult children will get additional understanding how little things can chart the course of your life in ways you cannot fathom.

Whenever I read or see a reference to the Boy Scouts of America, I recall a chance meeting and conversation that had a bearing on me.  (Forgive my nautical puns.) On a Greyhound bus ride in 1974, an old ( I was 14- everyone over the age of 30 was older) gentleman,  and I started chatting.   With the discovery today of his letter to my mother and me,  I know him as J. Harold Williams.  At the time, I had been in scouting for four years, starting when we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and continuing when Mom and family moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

20170429_123112
Scouting, Cape Cod, 1974 (me at l.)

In his correspondence he asked how my last advancement to Scout First Class had gone – I had been selected since our bus ride.   From a Google search today,  I realize how interesting that encounter had  been.  “Chief” Williams, at that time, was national Boy Scout Executive Emeritus, and the founder of scouting in Rhode Island during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  (We discussed scouting and stamp collecting among other things).  I might still have an book on Scouting he gave me that day.

Guest speaker will be J. Harold Williams, U.S. Scout executive emeritus, who will “tell the story of the Scouting trail” from 1910 to 1965. Described as an “eye-witness to history” In the Scouting movement. Mr. Williams will relate personal experiences including the movement’s birth, and it” progress over the last 55 years. Started at Age 12 Mr. Williams has been active in Boy Scouting in Rhode, Island where he first began Scouting as a boy at the age of 12, and was the first Scout in the United States to come up through the ranks to become a professional Scout leader. He was Scout executive of the Narragansett council in Providence, R. 1., for 45 years, after which he was elected to the position of Scout Executive Emeritus and now spends his time speaking throughout the country on the Boy Scout movement. He has been honored by universities, newspapers, civic organizations and veteran groups and holds honorary degrees of Doctor of Education from Rhode Island college. Master of Arts from Brown university and the Achievement award from the University of Rhode Island. —  the Bridgeport Post, March 23, 1965 (edited for clarity)

And I recall, he was the one who started me in stamp collecting.  My Aunt June worked at the United Nations, and had been sending postcards to me from all over the globe.  Till Chief Williams, I did little with these stamped postcards except dream of traveling.   Untouched for thirty years,  I still have albums of stamps stuck away.

On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Last humanist standing?

Tonight, it was during a television show that I found some time for reflection.   Tim Allen’s comic touch on his TV series, Last Man Standing, is very engaging.  While we generally are spending time after work with our church family, working on chores at home, and writing (my wife and I both have blogs),  this was a moment to enjoy a little quiet time.

Over the last decade, television in the United States has really turned me off, but for a couple of shows that both my wife and I like to watch together. Television exaggerates stereotypes, current events, criminal behavior, and sexuality to capture viewers.  Yet with Last Man Standing, I think it is great that this show can portray the timeless interplay of parents and children – who are not children but grown into fledgling adults. And depicts topics with a touch of humor that also makes a point.  In tonight’s episode,  a scene where black neighbors and Tim’s character and wife meet for a barbecue, the wife constantly is making references to “show how ‘colorblind’ she is”. The husband, Tim’s character, pokes fun at how she sounds, and then makes a comment that the wife says “sounds racist”.

“I’m not racist. I’m a humanist. I hate everyone equally.”

Families are depicted as we actually are – sometimes we do sound ignorant, or a little too blunt towards each other, and at other times say things that are  “politically incorrect”.    In 2017, people in the United States have split into opposing camps, those who yearn for ‘how it used to be’ and those who want everyone to conform to the “new normal”.   Where has humor, civility, disagreement, and free expression gone?

I look back fondly to my military service.  I understood the military as the conversion of the willing into a homogeneous offensive or defensive unit.  It was also my conversion to educated citizen of the world.   Each culture has advantages and disadvantages, with  different ideas, customs and history.   As a result of a military uniform,  I was able to see the benefits of living in America come into sharper focus despite the nation’s ills.

That is why I am becoming fond of family comedy of the sort that Tim Allen’s show represents.  It allows a little relief from contemplating all the challenges around the globe.   I am a different sort of humanist.  I love people individually.  I am learning to have an open mind toward the rest.

armed with coffee, savvy, and “can-do”

When I was in the military, my role -besides ALL the other roles that I was given, was to maintain electronic communication equipment.  Really, this was an ironic career choice.   I should have gone into the social sciences and language.  The irony is that,  for more than 30 years,  I have been very capable in problem-solving.  When I lack the specific skills I am not afraid to ask questions – usually over strong coffee.

for veteran success

In the military and in an industry, to be effective, a person has to be capable in the role they were hired to do; possess attitude and work ethic for team success, do more than what is necessary and to be creative in problem solving.  At times, it is knowing the proper department person to contact for a quick -turn shipment,  a service request,  or  who stocked a particular adhesive for a repair done outside of the production chain of command.   To advance personally and professionally, a veteran often stands out by mentoring new employees and providing a team manager a “go-to” person.  In the workplace today, there are so many social contracts, sensitive subjects,  and human factors which are at odds with the department production goals and veterans “can-do”, get-the-job-done expertise.  While almost every enterprise challenges workers to do more with less, a veteran generally wants a product that a military end-user would have perform flawlessly when needed.  It might take more veterans in each business unit to overcome some individuals who do not challenge plans, goals, and promises made by leadership,  and to challenge those peers who do only what is necessary to maintain their position.  b3882-10051720openhousecolor397

Problem-solving skills include experiences in a military career to develop civilians into capable specialists.   Raised in an environment that does not cater to individual wants,  does demand personal sacrifice,  and teaches attention to detail,   a veteran is unfazed by office politics,  used to changing priorities from managers and figures out what gets the job done.  Sometimes the response is a cheery dose of salty language.   Circumventing the labor to schedule, exchange email, and discuss tools and equipment needed is a skill many military veterans are well-versed.   The veteran has frequently used a barter program, the unofficial currency in the military, to accomplish a task.  At other times,  it means having the confidence to draw a stopping point and get more hands on deck to troubleshoot a complex set of issues.

working smarter

Once upon a time, I would work myself into burn-out.  I no longer set impossibly-challenging goals and am able to call in reinforcements without hesitation.     Being creative in solving issues, and not volunteering but being assigned, may get a  ‘hanger queens’ successfully leaving my test station.  I leave it to others to foul it up.