Please join me in a toast with a morning cup of coffee celebrating the fact that maybe spring is really here – or at least will soon be upon us. The temp in Nebraska over the past few days has been in the 60s, Almost unbelievable. The contrast with last winter could hardly be more extreme. February and much of March of 2019 were bitterly cold and February had several rather heavy snows. I can handle more of the present variety – maybe several months worth – through the rest of the year.
Just a bit of writing news to talk about. The small company that published A Pilgrim in Unholy Places: Stories of a Mustang Colonel, the first book I wrote, sent a note advising that they are doing a reprint. That is good news because it will allow me to clean up some misplaced commas and the misspelling of a colleague’s name, etc., that have just bugged me no end. Quite possibly they are things that few others would notice -- but I do for sure. So … I am pleased by the new printing.
I am also a bit surprised by it. A Pilgrim in Unholy Places was first published in 2004 and then again in 2006 by an imprint of the initial company. (Hardly seems like it could be that long ago.) That first book was written at the suggestion of a family member and was intended mostly to share with family and any friends who might be interested. There was little attempt to market it beyond that audience. Anyway, this was a nice surprise – although I am sure the print run must have been quite small.
I enjoyed going through the book again. In addition to re-checking the grammar, the stories brought back lots of memories: Sarajevo, the search for the kidnapped child of a sergeant who worked for me, listening for the klaxon to sound during the Cuban Missile Crisis, boot camp, and on and on …
It had been a long, long time since I opened that book. If you are interested and have a moment, please share the re-opening with me. The brief Foreword to the book follows below.
There is a scene in the movie “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” in which John Wayne, as Captain Nathan Brittles, a cavalry officer about to retire, is sharing “war stories” with another cavalryman. As the two of them reminisce, Brittles notices a young woman listening. Thinking (mistakenly, as it turns out) that she has little interest in their conversation, as both explanation and apology, he shrugs, “Old soldiers, Miss …)
Captain Brittles’ concern is a legitimate one: especially for those who have not been closely touched by the military, a few “war stories” can go a long way. During the course of a 36-year career, I listened to innumerable “war stories” and participated in the bull sessions that usually accompanied them. The residue from most of those encounters is best retired for safekeeping, eligible for recall – like veterans who have completed their active service – when a smile or mental companionship is needed on a cold winter night.
Some though, are worth remembering, and repeating, if only because they are funny, or poignant, or so intense that they evoke special memories that form part of a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine – so deeply ingrained in ways visible and invisible that they help shape and define the person as a unique human being.
The most special tales can also serve another – higher – purpose: they put a human face on our nation’s conflicts and policies. They teach, preserve an organization’s heritage, and instill institutional memory. Collectively, they help glue a military service and its constituent parts together from a squad to headquarters, from one-stripe airman to four-star general. And, though the route is more indirect, they attach the unit and the individual warrior to the country and its citizens.
I share Captain Brittles’ apprehension about “war stories:” they can easily be overdone. I hope the ones included in this book will strike the appropriate chord and that readers will appreciate them for their humor, or because they are touching, or searing, or too important not to be told. If any do not meet those standards, perhaps those who have worn the uniform will understand the explanation and accept the apology. Like the ones offered by Captain Brittles, they come with a shrug: “Old soldiers …”
Thank you for indulging me. As I said, it was fun going back through the book.
The spring-like weather coincides nicely with the start of the baseball season (March 26 in the major leagues). I am ready for that occasion also. An Air Force friend, Eldon Estep, asked if I was glad to not be the commissioner of baseball given the public outcry associated with the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. It has been an interesting story to follow. The Astros fired their manager and general manager and a couple of former Astros associated with the sign-stealing process lost their jobs with new employers. The baseball establishment – the commissioner’s office – fined the Astros five million dollars and took away their first and second round draft choices in 2020 and 2021. There was considerable public opinion calling for more substantial action. Mike Fiers, the former Astro player who revealed the cheating, was given a standing ovation when his name was announced during his first spring training game with his new team. If that is a representative sample, it would seem that the baseball fan base would have supported additional punitive action. I thought perhaps we would see a fine levied that would at least penalize the Astros in an amount equal to the difference between the winning and losing World Series share. (But – as with so many other things -- nobody asked me.)
I have been taking a class through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute titled “The Cold War: the Clash of Titans.” Really good. During the class we listened to portions of the speeches that President Kennedy gave in Berlin in 1963 (“ich bin ein Berliner”) and that President Reagan gave in 1987 (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”). Both were marvelous pieces of oratory. The section of Reagan’s speech that preceded the “tear down this wall” statement was almost good beyond belief. There were 256 people in the class and I think all of us were ready to stand up and cheer – as did the people who heard the speech that day in front of the wall in Berlin. Breathtaking stuff. I guess I mention all of that because with the political campaigns now underway, thus far I have not heard any candidate from either party who can deliver a speech like that. There certainly has not been much that is inspirational. Don’t know if it is lack of talent or lack of good speechwriters or some combination of both. I miss that quality in the country’s leaders. Hope someone will catch the spark.
Now, in closing – as promised -- a truly bad pun. I would ask you not throw anything – please spare your computer screen.
This is really bad.
Why does Norway put bar codes on its ships?
So that when the boats return to port they can scan/the/navy/in.
Really bad. I blame it all on my daughter.
Actually, my other daughter contributed a sports joke that is equally as awful:
The other night, I celebrated a win by following the tradition of throwing the ball into the stands.
I guess you’re not supposed to do that in bowling.
Both of those contributions (?) are from my daughters. Perhaps I have done something wrong.
Have a great spring, everyone. Best wishes,