Take Me Back To The Ball Park

 

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So I picked up the General a day early. At the time, I didn’t know it. She didn’t know it either. Sure, she is glad to be home, but in the resources of her mind, she was back at the ballpark last night. The team our oldest grandson plays on played their final game of the season in Brenham last night. We had anticipated and hoped the last game would have been day-before-yesterday. Unfortunately, they ran out of time (How’s that for sounding like an Aggie? I learned the response from my son.) At any rate, Monday night’s loss orchestrated the need for one more game.

 

Truthfully, I was a little anxious yesterday. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. I wasn’t anxious about the game. “No”, my concern laid elsewhere. When the General announced to me that she was wearing her game shirt, I feared that a question was forthcoming.

 

I refuse to live with the notion that I am henpecked, but the General’s asking me questions for which she has already determined the only appropriate answer comes dangerously close to setting me up. When it comes to style, that kind of questioning is her signature series. For example: “Do you want to pull weeds in the flowerbeds?” is one of those kinds of questions. For me to respond, “Not no, but absolutely not” is one “not” too many. That answer could figuratively carry with it the potential that I would wind up with a knot on my head. If you get my drift, I’m headed to the flowerbeds, or else.

 

Much to my dismay, yesterday she never asked the question I feared she was on the verge of asking. She didn’t ask: “Do you want to go to the game?” As it approached game time, she asked: “Would you find the game for me?” Was she kidding? We don’t have a radio. Sure, I’d seen the suggestion from the coach that we listen to the game, but I wasn’t going to sit in the car for two hours. After all, “What was she thinking?”

 

I went out to the garage for something and when I came back into the house, I heard the sound of talking upstairs. What was that about? You guessed it, “The General had pulled up the game on her computer.” Okay, so I’m “old school” when it comes to radio stations, I naturally assumed you needed access to a radio to hear the game. I obviously was wrong.

 

Seeing the General sitting in front of her computer listening to the game gave me a flashback to one of my favorite television series. Whether it fell under the auspices of a soap opera, I cannot say. It wasn’t daytime programming. It came on television in the evening. You may have even watched the series yourself.

 

The storyline of John-Boy Walton and his six siblings growing up in Nelson County, Virginia under the care of their parents, John and Olivia was hard to beat. Lest I not forget, there were also grandparents in the equation. There was a scene in many of the series where the family was gathered around a radio listening to news of World War II. Seeing the General sitting in front of her computer waiting intently for the game to start reminded me of that.

 

My daughter-in-law’s family comes about as close to the Walton’s as you can get. They live is a semi-rural setting, maintain close extended family ties and I can assure you that every family member from miles around was at the game in Brenham last night. Every other player on the Sealy All Star team was cousins or distant cousins. Honestly, they all have baseball in their DNA. In addition, they are a close knit large extended family group.

 

Consequently, my grandchildren are fortunate to have that kind of multi-family support. It always plays out well for children on their journey to adulthood if they are surrounded by extended family that support and encourage one another. Consequently, I have to give my daughter-in-law an A+ in that regard. I’m glad my grandchildren have cousins close at hand that they can play with and share time.

 

I have a friend that is a new first-time dad. He recently posted a blog identifying parenting advice his brothers thoughtfully provided him. Unknowingly, his wife had invited his siblings to pull together their parenting suggestions in writing and she then included them in a bound book to celebrate the beginning of his venture into fatherhood. Honestly, that is a pretty neat idea. She also invited his dad to submit suggestions as well.

 

I was intrigued by the similarities in the concepts his brothers underscored as a priority. I guess you could say, like father/like son since both he and they benefitted from the influence and direction of the same father. As you might suspect, some of the suggestions were both humorous. They were all thought provoking and carried an undeniable kernel of truth. Universally their suggestions were all wrapped in the blanket of Godly and loving nurture that provides an environment in which children flourish. Of course, I suspect the book of thoughtful advice will be a lifelong keepsake for my friend.

 

I smiled when I saw one of the suggestions provided him by his twin brother. He wrote: “Your kids are forming you as much as you are forming them.  Let them.  Even at their worst – and trust me that’ll come – they are asking you to become more loving, more patient, and more kind than you are or think you can be.  If marriage is a chisel that starts to chip away at the crust of our selfishness, kids are the wrecking ball”.

 

One of the suggestions made by another brother was beyond my understanding. I actually am clueless as to its meaning. How about you? Do you know the meaning of: “Try not to get biffed in the jimmies?”

 

Anyway you want to describe it; there is no replacement for close supportive familial interaction. It provides for children what they need to flourish.

 

All My Best!

Don

I Get It – It Is Not A Big Deal

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My truck is approaching the fifth anniversary of mostly being pampered and carefully stored in the vault. When I bought it, the General pronounced it as my last truck and suggested the need for me to take good care of it. It was another of example of her stating the obvious or providing a directive while I was already engaged in the activity. Okay, so she can’t help herself. I get it! It is not a big deal.

 

Now that Craig’s family lives within two to two and a half hours of us, almost with the ease of going to the grocery store, we head their direction to take advantage of watching the kids grow up. For the past eleven days, the General has been in Cat Spring. I actually dropped her off on a day trip I made to Houston. Her assistance was needed as chief cook, bottle washer and chauffer for the kids who live with the notion that if life is to be lived to the fullest, it must be lived in the midst of a very busy schedule.

 

Okay, so over the past couple of weeks while she has beena way, the General has developed an addiction. I guess it really isn’t her fault because the malady is highly contagious and everyone for miles around has lived with the condition for generations. The only negative impairment to one’s health is consumption of time. When it comes to eating up one’s time, Little League Baseball is a killer, but you can live with the malady.

 

In Sealy America, Little League Baseball is king.   What was potentially the last game of the season for William’s team was scheduled for this past Saturday in Bellville. Disappointingly, the game had to be postponed because there was standing water on the field. The game was rescheduled for last night.

 

The All Star team on which William plays was undefeated. They were scheduled to play again a team they previously had beaten. Their victory in that was against the odds. The other team had also been undefeated and they were like Sherman taking over Georgia. Figuratively speaking, “They were the big guns”. They also had won the championship for their age group last summer. Was it possible that the SEALY AMERCIA – ALL STAR TEAM would be this year’s winner?  There was great anticipating going into last night’s game.

 

Getting back to my truck, I’ve finally worn the new car smell off of it. In retirement (27 days and moving forward), it has become my primary source of transportation. Of course, I also had the General’s car available to me, but it is only a year old. You know me. You can probably predict that I didn’t want to put unnecessary miles on it. Besides that, I like driving my truck.

 

With the exception of my chauffeuring the General to Cat Spring, she has mostly driven her car (she could care less how many miles she puts on it) when she’s made the commute without me. Initially, she took my truck one time. When she returned she announced that she wasn’t driving it again because driving it hurt her hip. She had previously had that same experience when she drove the truck to Odessa when she went to see her mom.

 

Did I mention that her allegation that driving my truck hurts her hip was totally irrational? Riding in the passenger seat in my truck has never been a source of discomfort for her. Driving it, well that’s another story. Once the General gets a notion stuck in her head, there is no use trying to change her opinion. She’ll embrace her ill formed opinion until the cows come home if need be. There is no changing her mind. Any of you guys married to somone like that?

 

Hey I’ve had that truck for five years. I know it like the back of my hand. It is a tough Ford Truck and it is comfortable to drive. In fact, someone at church on Sunday mentioned to me that my truck was the best in the line-up of other trucks. Obviously, the affirmation had to do with the color of my truck. I think the color is called champagne.   Maybe looking at it was tantamount to acceptably raising a glass in Baptist circles.

 

Top of the line is descriptive of 99% of the other trucks that people drive to church where I attend. They have every bell and whistle available and high dollar is the category in which they fall. In fact, there was a new one with dealer tags still on it at church on Sunday. The owner said it had all the features with the exception of a kitchen sink.

 

On Sunday I looked over the lineup of trucks at church and next to Clarence’s truck, my truck is the oldest with the exception of one belonging to a high school student. Clarence is a kind and thoughtful senior citizen who lives less than a mile from church. His old Dodge pickup looks as though it has been around the block a time or two, but it still gets Clarence where he needs to go. I think the only place he drives it is to church.

 

 

Do I ever find myself wanting a new truck? After all, mine still looks new even though it is five years old. It doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles, but it serves my purposes and the body style has only changed slightly.

 

Yesterday afternoon as I headed to Cat Spring, I had only gotten as far as Dripping Springs when I noticed a truck in my rear view mirror. I could tell it was a new truck because there was a red shiny tag in the front were a license plate is intended to be. It was a Ford, but the grill was different than mine. I was trying to ascertain the color. The color was amazing. Do you ever look in the rearview mirror and see something that catches your eye and there is a hint of envy? I had that experience yesterday looking at the new truck behind me. I was hoping it would go around me so I could pay closer attention to the color. I guess you could say I was in the midst of distracted driving although it had nothing to do with my phone.

 

Finally, at the last traffic light, my truck and the new one were sitting side-by-side. I carefully looked the truck over. The color was champagne. In my head, I raised a glass of envy. After all, that truck was new and the grillwork looked awesome. I could also tell from looking that it had all the bells and whistles. Isn’t that the way envy works? Truth be told, sitting side by side, there was absolutely no discernable difference between the two trucks. They looked identical.

 

Getting back to the baseball game, I suspected the game would be called due to rain. Probably, in most instances it would have been, but in this area of the country nothing takes precedence like an All STAR baseball game. So there were two game delays due to rain, but rain or shine the mandate is to PLAY BALL! At the end of the game, William’s team (which was previously undefeated) had now lost their first game. However, the team they were playing and had previously beaten had also lost a game. Tonight one thing is for sure: “Rain or shine, the playing field will be surrounded by fans cheering on their team.”

 

The General and I got home well beyond our bedtime last night. It was well after midnight. In addition, I found that the last eighty miles where the hardest. It wasn’t that I was overly sleepy, but in pain. Driving my truck hurt my hip. I couldn’t get comfortable. Maybe the General is right. Right or wrong, she predictably won’t be encouraging me to get a new truck.  Only time will tell.

 

All My Best!

Don

Butterfinger Blizzards and Cherry Cokes

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My daughter’s answer to my question put a smile on my face. Last night I asked: “Andrea what is you favorite childhood memory?”  Without giving it a second thought she immediately answered: “Butterfinger Blizzards and Cherry Cokes.”  Her answer made me feel good.  I knew exactly what she was referencing.  It was father/daughter time.

It was our Saturday morning routine.  Let me briefly give you the back-story.  As a family, Treva, Craig and I moved into our new home in Henly on Christmas Eve, 1980. A week later Andrea was born on January 2, 1981. Her arrival caught us quite by surprise.  For one thing, by the time we arrived at the hospital in the very early morning hours, I barely had time to park the car before she was born.  We skipped the labor room and went immediately to delivery.  I guess you could say, “We were cutting it close”.

Since our first-born had been a boy almost a decade earlier, it never occurred to us that we wouldn’t be bringing another boy home.  I actually had to go shopping to find a dress to bring Andrea home from the hospital.  No, let me reframe that, “I was privileged to go shopping to find her a dress.”  We still have the dress. It is framed behind glass and above it is the signage I took from the only playhouse I ever built for her.  The playhouse was fashioned after a Fredericksburg cottage with a metal roof, small front porch and three windows.  It even included electricity.  I figured when Andrea was done with it, I could use it for something else.

Our home was built on a ten-acre track of land covered with large oak trees.  It was a perfect environment or so it seemed. The only amenity missing was the absence of garbage pick-up.  What do you do with your trash?  It was a good question.  My neighbors all resided on large tracks of acreage and many had fashioned their own personal dumb site somewhere on their property.  Maybe if I had owned more land, establishing a place for trash might have been a consideration, but I doubt it? I am not that utilitarian. 

Consequently, my Saturday morning routine was to take the trash to the county dumpsite in Johnson City.  I can’t recall how old Andrea was when she starting going with me on Saturday mornings, but she was very small.  Part of the Saturday morning routine included a stop by Dairy Queen before we returned home.

Dairy Queen started selling Blizzards in 1984. Consequently, she would have been three years old at the time.  Obviously Andrea’s memory is fairly keen. Probably she can recite for you, “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.  It begins with the line: “Whose woods are these?  I think I know. His house is in the village through. He will not see us stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow…”

Before you write me off as certifiably crazy, you need to understand that I grew up in Odessa where there were no trees. Consequently, every opportunity to drive the 17-miles from Henly to Johnson City where hills and trees were in abundance prompted my memory of that poem and reminded me we were privileged to live where we did.  I also would make up crazy songs or sometimes sing real songs. My daughter would sing them with me and we would laugh. If fact, on occasion we still both break out in song.  Back in the day, there was something special about “Butterfinger Blizzards and Cherry Cokes”.

The General is still out of town.  I had lunch plans yesterday and I mentioned to Andrea and Kevin after church that I might stop by later if that was okay.  They only live a couple of miles from us.

Yesterday afternoon, I got preoccupied with other stuff and forget that I mentioned I might stop by.  For starters, I attempted to find Andrea’s baby book.  She has one. Craig has one. Both are somewhere in our home, but I am absolutely clueless where to look. The General would tell you that “clueless” is fairly descriptive of my knowledge of where to find lots of things in our home.  At any rate, earlier in the week, Andrea had inquired about her baby book and I thought I’d find it for her. 

In my figurative “Hunt for Red October” I noticed Ronnie’s leather zippered notebook in the top of my closet.  I had made a commitment on Friday to look in it and see if I could find a number. Actually, we had the number, what we didn’t have was the source of information associated to the number.  It was important to us to find it.

The contents of the notebook surprised me.  The notebook had previously been in my parent’s possession. I’m sure I had looked inside it before, but I didn’t remember the contents.  The notebook included keepsakes from long ago. They were things my Dad had stored away. For starters, a well-worn Seiko watch had been replaced in the case and box in which it came.  Dad had received the watch for Christmas in 1972. It was a gift from Ronnie.  Opening the box and looking at the watch was the catalyst for my eyes filling with tears.  The watch looked absolutely worn out, but that’s not what caught my attention.  What caught my attention was the numerical number signifying the date that appeared on the watch.  It was the number “27”.  In case you miss the significance, my brother’s plane went down on December 27, 1972.

Almost reverently, I closed the lid on the case and slipped it back inside the cardboard sleeve.  Other surprises in the notebook included my parent’s marriage license, birth certificates, high school diplomas and my dad’s discharge records for the U.S. Army. 

Because of residual questions related to information that surfaced related to Ronnie, I telephone one of the A-6 pilots who knew Ron best.  He didn’t have an answer for my question, but ours was a thoughtful and welcoming conversation.   

Later in the evening when my daughter texted to ask if I was still stopping by, I responded, “Yes – I’m on my way if that still works?  She affirmed that it did. I backed out of the garage with the top down. It was perfect convertible weather. Seriously, it was very pleasant outside. 

In fact it was so nice outside that I suggested we visit outdoors. It was a perfect evening made better by Andrea’s mention of Butterfinger Blizzards and Cherry Cokes.  Later that evening as I drove home, I recited to myself Robert Frost’s poem. 

All My Best!

Don

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SHARED SORROW IS HALF SORROW

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Early yesterday afternoon while flying home from Washington, I initially struggled somewhere between being fully alert and drifting off to sleep. I subsequently found that sleep didn’t come or couldn’t come. There were extenuating circumstances, but I also had a lot to think about. Consequently, fully awake eventually won the struggle. I didn’t want to waste the experiences previously shared over the past couple of days by failing to reflect on them and search for nuggets of truth too valuable to dismiss by not searching for the lessons to be remembered.

 

Of course, as I sat at the gate waiting for my departing flight, I had fantasized that it would be good to sleep through the first leg of the flight (i.e.:  from Washington to Dallas/Fort Worth). Three hours is a long flight and I was tired. I won’t say I had burned the candle at both ends, but it had been a very full two days. I was intent on making the best of it. Sometimes to do that, you have to color outside the lines and at times abdicate to the wishes or needs of others in the group.

 

Friday night I was up way past my bedtime. It wasn’t just for me, but it was for me. I just reread that last sentence and I think it is incongruent, but at the same time it accurately portrays reality. Consequently, I will say it again. “It wasn’t just for me, but it was for me.”

 

Sometimes you do things because you know it is important to someone else, even if that someone else doesn’t know that it is important until after they’ve had the experience. Okay, so now you think I’m talking nonsense. Let me explain it this way: “Would I have ventured out on my own at that time of night? The answer is most assuredly not, yet “count me in” was my vote”.

 

Actually, I guess the “count me in” was self-evident because I was the one who posed the question. I guess that is short for saying the late night excursion was my idea. I thought it was a good one, but sometimes timing is everything and it was late. My judgment may have been flawed, but my gut told me it was the right thing to do. Sometimes my intuitive default button highlights this reality: “The only place we have is here and the only time we have is now.” Can you argue with either of those assertions?

 

I didn’t go to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (AKA – The Wall) three months ago when I in Washington. Going to The Wall is something I normally do when I am in D.C., but time got away from me and I didn’t make my customary visit.

 

Maybe it is only my imagination, but stopping by The Wall is tantamount for me to “emotionally checking in for old time’s sake”. I think I can make that assertion because it has been a very long, long time.

 

My stopping by The Wall is also a tangible way to remind myself that the issue is still important. I’m not ready to let go! There is still a small cross in front of Ronnie’s name indicating that he’s still missing. I want the symbol changed to a diamond to indicate his death has been confirmed. Of course, the other possible symbol is a circle around the cross to indicate the person has been accounted for and returned alive. To date, the third option has never been used on any name etched in the granite stone.

 

There were only five of us in the late Friday night group excursion, but one of us had never been to the Wall. He had never been to Washington before. What better time than late night to visit The Wall for the first time?

 

In the cloak of darkness the number of names on The Wall doesn’t look as ominous and overpowering as it does during the daytime. It takes more effort to see the names because the row of soft lights emerging from the base of the walkway doesn’t illuminate the names. Unless you read by braille, you’ll never find the panel your looking for or the name of your loved one without a flashlight or candle.

 

Like a horse heading toward the barn, I can operate like a bat in the darkness to locate Ronnie’s name. His name is on the same panel as the family member of two of the people I was with Friday night. Of course, my niece was also there, so we had Ronnie’s name covered.

 

Yet the real reason my gut told me that Friday night was the time and place for visiting The Wall had no relationship to the four of us. It was for the fifth person in our group that I thought it was important that we go. He had never been to The Wall before. No doubt he would have gone while he was still in Washington, but selfishly, I didn’t want him to locate his uncle’s name without being with people he knew. He didn’t know us well, but we had met the day before and we four had an awareness of what it feels like the first time you see a loved one’s name chiseled into that granite wall. No one should have that experience in the presence of strangers. It was a wise man that asserted: “Shared joy is double joy and shared sorrow is half sorrow”.

 

Consequently it proved to be a long night. At the same time, it was a meaningful and memorable night. I was grateful that we went. My gut instinct was right. The downside was it proved to be a very short night. It was also a long flight home.

 

Over the three hours of the first leg of my flight, I was lost mostly in thought. I was tired, but obviously not nearly as tired as the passenger in Row 27, Seat D on the plane on which I was a passenger. As I mentioned earlier, there were extenuating circumstances. I had the experience (I almost said misfortune) of being the passenger assigned to Row 27, Seat E. I was the guy in the middle seat. A lady sat to my right. She was assigned to Row 27, Seat F.

 

The seating arrangement was awkward. The man seated to my left (Row 27 – Seat D) was a large man. He would have been far more comfortable had he been assigned to Seats D&F, but it was a full flight and there was no extra space.

 

At some point, I looked to my right and the lady next to me on my right had her head propped against the aircraft. She was sound asleep. The guy to my left was also sound asleep. He, too, was leaning to the right. Thankfully, it wasn’t his head, but his right shoulder was propped and positioned against mine. I’m not making this up. We were tight. Awkward? – Yes / Comfortable? – No. There was nowhere for me to move. He was invading my space and his weight was pushing against me.   He on the other hand, was sleeping soundly. Did I mention his nap lasted for three consecutive hours?

 

At some point, the lyrics to the song, “Lean on Me” began to roll around in my head. You probably remember the song:

 

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain

We all have sorrow

But if we are wise

We know that there’s always tomorrow

 

Lean on me, when you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend

I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

‘Til I’m gonna need

Somebody to lean on…”

 

The sound of the lyrics to “Lean On Me” rolling around in my head were like a healing balm. The wise man who said: “Shared joy is double joy and shared sorrow is half sorrow” also said: “Two are better than one”. He also made reference to the fact that: “A chord of three strands is not easily broken.” That thought should serve to plant the lyrics to “Lean On Me” in each of heads more often.

 

All My Best!

Don

 

Case # 1973

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I didn’t anticipate that I’d be surprised by anything I heard at the POW/MIA League of Families meeting yesterday. Of course, I knew and anticipated there would be a special report by the League Archival Research Committee regarding a report on Case #1973. The committee had invested a full year of their time laboriously working on that lone investigation.

 

The team included the blended skillset of highly qualified professionals that was second to none. The team was composed of a former military officer and historian, a Vietnamese Linguist, an Imagery Analyst, and an F-4 Pilot. All four men are now private citizens who volunteer their time to take on the task of using their professional expertise to determine what heretofore has not been determined.

 

In case you missed it, the investigative “Archival Research Committee” receive no financial remuneration for their efforts. They are volunteers who live with the belief that no one serving their country in the military should be left behind. Consequently, their mission is to establish a basis that could subsequently lead to the return of those left behind.

 

The committee took full advantage of everything technologically possible as a resource in their finding of facts. In addition they had access to many Vietnamese publications and records, topographic imagery with date lines and the ability to capture before and after imagery.  The details are many. I mention these things just to highlight that when it comes to investigative techniques and thoroughness, the team investigating Case #1973 was at the top of the leaderboard. They represented the best and they were passionate about the mission before them.

 

No stone was left unturned and they painstakingly went down a lot of trails that proved to be dead ends. They were undeterred by the need to backtrack and go a different direction. They charted flight patterns, air speeds, projected time frames, possible target areas and a host of other variables.

 

The F-4 pilot personally invested over 360 hours in the past 12 months attempting to look at pictures of physical evidence previously collected at the thought-to-be potential crash site. A picture may worth a thousand words, but there were at least a thousand questions as to whether or not the pictures from long ago represented parts that came off of an A-6 Intruder aircraft. It was not a simple process.

 

Interestingly, the pictures were taken in 1992 by U.S. military personal at the first identified crash site for (Case #1973). In addition, a host of witnesses were interviewed. Many gave conflicting reports regarding the timeline when a plane crashed in their area. Some said it was time line in which my brother’s plane was lost. Others identified an earlier time. What appeared to be parts off of an aircraft were collected and taken back for analysis.

 

The subsequent investigative report from 1992 was sent to my niece in a brown manila envelope. She was a college student at the time and the Investigative Crash Site Investigation Report provided graphic details of the horrors of war indicating reports of strewn body parts.

 

In 1992, after years of silence with no information, suddenly as a family we were confronted with an abundance of information that brought with it questions regarding the credibility of investigation team’s conclusions.  Trust me, no one wanted information more than our family. I wrote back and said that we were grateful for any information regarding Ron. For years it had been a daily prayer of our family to know what happened. Without doubt, that is a characteristic of every MIA family. However, I respectfully requested an explanation of how they reached their conclusions.

 

I highlighted the contents of their report back to them. Since the report indicated airplane parts that were not consistent with Ron’s plane, I simply wanted some kind of justification regarding their conclusion. Almost immediately, they responded in writing that they had made a mistake. They, too, agreed that since the aircraft pieces were from “another type of aircraft”, the conclusion that it was Ron’s plane didn’t seem justified.

 

Initially this year’s investigative team looking with fresh eyes at the first potentially identified crash site pictures and descriptions of evidence, attempted to make sense of it as well.  For one thing, there was a picture of a fragment of a tire. Was it consistent with what you’d expect of an A-6 aircraft? According to one of the tire dimensions recorded in U.S. documents, it appeared not so.

 

The record indicated that a tire located and photographed was 50 inches in diameter with a width of 22 inches. That is a really big tire. Think about it. Could it be from a B-52 aircraft?” I’d almost say “yes”, but how would I know? Extensive investigative research and numerous telephone calls and emails to tire manufacturers revealed that there was not an aircraft tire with those dimensions for any kind of plane manufactured anywhere at anytime.

 

I can’t recall the number of venders that manufactured tires for aircraft during that era, but the investigative team contacted all of them. So what was the explanation? Could it be that the person documenting the dimensions of the tire in 1992 inverted the numbers? Instead of being a tire with a 50-inch diameter and a width of 22 inches, could it have been 20-inches in diameter with a width of 5.5 inches. Maybe? If so, it could have been a tire for an A-6 Intruder.

 

I’ve only touched the surface of the Archival Research Committee’s report. Their investigative report is twenty-five pages in length. They matched three pieces of evidence that conclusively were consistent with an A-6 aircraft. They also determined that the downing of this aircraft wash highly celebrated by the Vietnamese. It was publicized as the 700th plane shot down.   There is even a picture of the plane in a museum in Vietnam with several Vietnamese standing on it. Evidence suggests that the plane went down in a heavily populated area with lots of Vietnamese directives concerning the downing of the plane.

 

 

There was really only one piece of disturbing evidence. That was the surprise that I found unsettling.  I’ve now had almost 24-hours to think about it.  Rather than highlight that, let me simple say that I’ve given myself permission to focus on what I know to be true rather than what I fear to be true. How’s that for making a healthy choice?

 

 

What I know to be true is that four men comprising the Archival Research Committee and working as volunteers invested a year of their life attempting to honor my brother by orchestrating a scenario to bring him home. I am so amazingly grateful. While by their admission, they can’t say with complete accuracy “this undeniably marks the spot, put the ‘X’ here”, the information is now light years ahead of what we’ve historically known.

 

 

I don’t have the words to adequately express my gratitude to the Archival Research Team, but I’ll never forget the investment of that team’s time and the passion with which they worked to help orchestrate my brother’s return. Yesterday was a good day.

 

All My Best!

Don

Settling For Nothing Other Than The Fullest Possible Accounting

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“Hello My Name is Don…” Isn’t that something similar to the verbiage used by a lot of self-help groups to start their meetings? If so, let me begin my blog with that level of transparency. “Hello my name is Don”. Now that I’ve said it and identified myself by name, maybe I’ve got the hard part out of the way. Isn’t that the first step?

 

I can’t honestly tell you that I perceived I needed any help before I joined the group. My attitude is upbeat and positive about 98% of the time. Even when it’s not, I generally manage to turn the corner and focus on strengths rather than deficits. The need for support is not why I joined the group. Yet, because of the group, I find an extra something that I don’t have the words to cognitively define. What is it? You tell me.

 

Yet, I would hasten to say what is true for me is also true for the vast majority of other group members. The group doesn’t meet weekly. They don’t even meet monthly. Is it possible that you could become emotionally attached to a group that meets only one time a year?

 

Some of the members are seasoned and experienced and they obviously are tied to the cause. For them, the three-day annual meeting is non-negotiable. They will be in attendance come rain or shine. Yet strangely, even for a first timer, before the first day is over, the person experiences an extra something that unexplainably becomes a driving force that cements them to the cause.

 

Last night, I asked a young man if he, too, was from Kentucky? He looked at me like I had mistaken him for someone else and answered, “No, I’m from Florida.” When I had met him earlier in the day, he was seated next to someone I knew from Kentucky. I just naturally assumed they were related. It obviously was a wrong assumption.

 

So I asked, “How many meetings have you attended?” He responded: “This is my first meeting.” He voluntarily hastened to say, “I’ve enjoyed being here. I’ve met some nice people. This is something I think I want to do going forward”. Like I said, it is unexplainable, but already the brief taste he experienced had whet his appetite for more.

 

So if he wasn’t with the lady from Kentucky, with whom had he come? He must have read the question on my mind, because he said: “This is my first time here. I came by myself. I only have an older brother and he wasn’t interested in coming. My uncle is MIA and apart from my brother and I, my uncle has no other living relatives”.

 

Did I mention the meeting isn’t about the individuals who meet? Folks aren’t looking for a venue to fill a void or meet a deficit in their lives. It isn’t that kind of self-help group. Yet, in the process of meeting, they too, make the same discovery that I’ve made. They, too, find an “extra something” that tugs at their heartstrings and they sign on emotionally to advocate for a full accounting for their loved one. It is the only tangible way of actively doing something when there is so little that can be done. Did I mention that doing something is better than doing nothing?

 

Last night I attended the 48th Annual Dinner of the League of Families in Washington, D.C. It predictably included the Presentation Of Colors, the singing of the National Anthem, the Missing Man Table with a vacant chair for each branch of the military and a host of other things done symbolically to craft a story to which every person in the audience could relate. It was a visually powerful representation. So was the small sampling of pictures of the 1,600 + men and women still missing from Vietnam.

 

For me, the highlight of the evening was the verbal presentation made by Gen. Paul J. Selva, 10th Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nations second highest-ranking military officer. First of all, erase from your mind the concept that to be a General you have to be someone almost as old as God and bring with you a written script that those in attendance automatically fear will take forever to get through.

 

He wasn’t like that at all. Before he fully articulated his first sentence, he had my attention. I found myself hanging on to every word. His script wasn’t stuffy. In fact, I’m not even sure he had a script. His words, his demeanor, his eye contact with those in attendance, the way he postured himself and his voice tone clearly communicated the authenticity that he was speaking from his heart.

 

In the process his communication style was undeniably heart-to-heart. He shared three real life stories that had impacted his life and the POW/MIA cause. Since I am relying on memory and I don’t have the details clearly framed in my head, I’ll not attempt to recount the three stories he shared. I will simply reference one.

 

He shared the importance that Phil and Karen found undeniable in hoping one day the crash site of their family member would be located. I mean, after all, how hard could it be with today’s technology and access to a really good map? They refused to be dissuaded by reports that the plane went down in a very remote area of Laos. They refused to give up on fostering the hope that the crash site could and would be located. When it appeared no one was going to take action to fulfill that dream, they decided to take efforts into their own hands.

 

Purchasing the hiking gear necessary, they decided to travel to Laos and personally engage in the search themselves. Would you believe it, the hiking boots weren’t even needed. They personally located the crash site.  Soon excavation of that site will begin.  Without Phil and Karen’s resolve to refuse to settle for anything less than a full accounting, none of that likely would ever happen.

 

Perhaps General Selva captured the essence of “that something extra” I can’t define when he talked about the importance of honoring those who gave everything by settling for nothing short of the fullest possible accounting. Actually, that’s got to be the catalyst that prompts an “extra something” that undeniably makes a difference in a member’s life. I am blessed to me a member of the group.

 

All My Best!

Don

UP, UP AND AWAY

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My early morning flight to Washington, D.C. yesterday morning was on American Airlines.   Seldom do I fly anything other than Southwest Airlines. For one thing, I don’t like the added cost of paying to check luggage. For another, the last couple of years all of my flights on SWA have been TSA pre-approved. Why switch carriers and potentially mess that up?

 

Okay, so I have “STUPID” tattooed on my forehead. I was flying American yesterday morning and whether rightfully or wrongfully, I was operating on the notion that American Airlines operates pretty much like SWA. I opted to check-in for my flight exactly 24 hours prior to the posted departure time. Guess what? Can you believe this? With American Airlines you have the privilege of picking your seat before you board the plane. You make your seat selection at the time of check-in. Who knows, maybe you have the option to do so at the time of making your reservation. That seems to make sense to me, but somehow earlier I had failed to make that discovery.

 

Why not? I clicked on the link for seat selection. The obvious downside to having the privilege of selecting your seating is that it comes at a price. When I checked on seat availability, everything in the standard fare was already preselected. Are you kidding me? There was not one available seat that didn’t come at an extra charge of $17 to $34 dollars. The same was true for both legs of the flight.

 

Advertising something about extra legroom in the cabin or preferential seating choice and I’d say it closely resembles a scam. There were at least four available middle seats priced at $17. I didn’t want a middle seat even if they were giving them away. How many airlines have you flown on where the seating on one side of the aisle didn’t closely resemble the seating on the other side of the aisle? I bet your answer is none of them unless you were flying on Air Force One or some other private carrier.

 

I don’t remember the name of the airline, but when the General and I flew out of Rome, Italy several years ago, even at the airline terminal before we entered through security, there was an “UP Charge” for selecting our seats.   It seems like it was in the neighborhood of something over $100 a seat. Of course, you could pay the money upfront and be guaranteed that you and your traveling companion would be seated next to each other.

 

I’m a practical man. When had just spent 18 days together on a cruise.  If we needed to be separated by a couple or three rows to get a seat on the plane, it shouldn’t be the end of the world. The General would have opted to pay the $200 rather than take the chance that we wouldn’t be seated together. My thought process was closely akin to “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” The way I saw it, we were guaranteed some seat with the tickets we’d already purchased. Why not take our chances and avoid the additional charge? Like I said, the General saw it differently.

 

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you won’t be surprised to know that I opted to take our chances. I guess that means I’d be better at playing poker than the General. I was willing to call their bluff. By the way, I hate table games, so I’m not at risk for a game of poker.

 

The way I saw it, if you had an airline ticket, the airline was obligated to provide you a seat. After all, how would you adhere to the “fasten your seatbelt” requirement if you didn’t have a seat? That time it paid off to call their bluff, our seats turned out to be next to each other and we weren’t out the additional $200.

 

Okay, so I had a flashback to that experience when I was looking on Monday at seating availability for yesterday’s flight. There was not one available seat on the flight that didn’t come with the caveat of requiring more money.

 

So I checked in without making a seat selection. After checking in, I had to select how I wanted my boarding pass. I opted to print it. Of course the boarding pass indicated the assigned seat might not actually be your assigned seat. You’d think that disclaimer would have given me an indication that the boarding pass wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on?

 

Like I said, the airport was really busy yesterday morning. Thankfully, with boarding pass in hand, I headed for the TSA Pre-Approved line to get through Security. It, too, was busy, but it moved quickly. When the agent attempted twice to scan the bar code on my boarding pass without success, he told me I needed to go back to the airline counter to get another boarding pass. The bar code on my boarding pass was not working.

 

It was then that some level of panic set in. From my perspective, I was cutting it pretty close on time. In addition, I was attempting to get through Security at the SWA end of the terminal and the American Airlines counter was at the other end of the terminal. You may have already figured this out, with me I don’t have to look for things to worry about. In addition to my backpack and carry-on suitcase, I had my bi-pap machine. Medical equipment or medical devices are not supposed to count as a carry-on, but did the folks at American know that? Only time would tell.

 

I subsequently breathed a sigh of relief. It all turned out okay, except that I had to check my suitcase once I got to the gate before boarding the plane. Well, at least I didn’t have to pay extra for the assigned seat which coincidentally was the same seat assignment that had been reflected on the earlier boarding pass. As it turned out, I didn’t have to pay to check my luggage either. They were doing it complimentary from the gate.

 

That leaves me the dilemma of my return flight? Will I opt to pay for checking my baggage at the airline counter or will I take my chances and get it checked free at the gate? It sounds like the kind of question that has an easy answer. I’ll let you figure it out.

 

All My Best!

Don