A Woman’s Place

This will be a post that has as much chance of bombing as it does of being worthy. Whatever, I just like to write things down when something moves me. Having an image or event bring up emotion or feeling in me can just as easily place me in a melancholy funk for days. My mind is so fractured these days . . . unable to process much of what I see happening around me.

I stumbled upon a cache of old photographs converted to digital media from Kodachrome slides taken by photographers for the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. They are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. I’ll single out two of then that have caused me to feel deeply about the women in my life . . . . all women really.

In my old age, I have developed a real appreciation for women. I could ponder for hours about Eve, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Nell Parks, my mother, my daughter . . . . and most important to me, my wife. Every one of these aforementioned women have a story to tell and have left or are in the process of leaving a legacy of triumph and heartbreak for all who follow. It is plain to me that women are not the “weaker sex” that some say they are. Women are strong in ways most men can only hope for. Some women . . . wives and mothers . . . have had the blessing of not having to work outside the home. They are able to be moms and grandmas full time, building for the future in ways so often unseen by the rest of us. I wish with all my heart that I had taken better care of “business” after Vietnam so that today I could have given my sweet wife of ten years the gift of staying home and raising her 17 year old daughter.

I realize that many women enjoy entering the work force and excel there. I also know that many who are in the trenches every day would rather be home. The reasons that women work are many, and are sometimes compelling. That brings me (finally) to these 2 images of women at work.

WWII Riveter

This woman is working on a “Vengeance” dive bomber at a plant in Tennessee, February 1943. Look at the nail polish. Why is she working? Patriotism? Children to feed while husband is off to war? No husband? A sense of pride and accomplishment? Did she feel that she had a choice? I don’t know, but I appreciate her effort and would love to know her story.

Women Railroad Depot "Wipers" WWII

This group of women workers were employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their break room, Chicago and Northwest Railway Company, Clinton, Iowa, April 1943. Again, look at them closely . . . . nail polish and bandannas the only visual differences between this lunch table and another seating only men. Where are the men, by the way? Presumably serving in the Pacific or in Europe. These photos are amazing, and they cause a torrent of emotion to hit hard at my consciousness.

I love my wife, and I wish things were different for her. I am also very proud of my modern day warrior as she fights the good fight every work day away from our refuge . . . . the house we helped build together. She may not pack a rivet gun, but she is strong, and brave, and dedicated to her family. Our world is at war, and the enemy is everywhere, and very skilled. The women in our lives are on the front lines more than we men realize. From Mother Eve, to my angel mother, to my mate and partner . . . . thanks so much ladies!

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Old Submariners Never Die . . . .

. . . . at least never on the internet or in my thoughts every day!

I have been wanting to post some writings here by a fellow submariner and friend of my father, a friend that he never met. Thanks to the internet, Dad’s last couple of years on this earth were richer due to the friendships he made in the cyber submarine community at large. My dad did pass from this life suddenly in 2000, after having lunch with old friends. As a decorated member of Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” I believe he earned that quick and sweet passage.

The Old Gringo

My Dad, The Old Gringo

One of those sailors was Bob “DEX” Armstrong, a post war boat sailor who came to idolize and honor Dad’s wartime service. DEX is a gifted writer, and as he got to know Tom, AKA The Old Gringo, DEX made Tom the subject of a few of his short glimpses into a boat sailor’s life. This one is titled:

I Wonder What Old Gringo Is Doing

“Did you ever wonder where old deep-water boat sailors go when they turn in their earthly issue and pick up their orders at St. Peter’s receiving station? We’ve all heard the Marines Hymn . . . ‘When The Army and The Navy takes a look on Heaven’s scenes, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines.'”

“So we know that we’ll have to deal with jarheads on the gates. Can you imagine spending eternity pulling gate duty? And writing a song telling the world that that was the extent of your eternal ambition? I guess somebody has to do it. I can hear the boot pushers at Parris Island . . . . ‘Listen up now… When you die, we make you an MP and detail you to stand watch on the Pearly Gates to see that those naughty submariners don’t steal the gahdam streets.’
‘Oh goody… Tell me Sarge, do I get to wear my uniform?’
‘You sure do… And you get to spend forever and ever, shining your shoes and brass.’
‘Wow!!'”

sub_poster2framed
“Just another of the many reasons that submariners wouldn’t have made ‘worth a damn’ Marines. The way I understand it, old worn out submarine sailors get assigned to Hell but they are given liberty in Heaven . . . . the part of Heaven where all the bars are located and cab fare is free. They don’t issue them wings and the bastards hock their harps for beer money.”

“There is a bar up there called ‘The Sterling Dolphin’ . . . a real dump. It’s on Admiral Burke Boulevard. Beer’s a dime a quart and the furniture is made out of railroad ties. The barmaids are all big busted blondes, farm girls from Kansas. And they hand out their apartment keys to all the qualified men. Old man Holland . . . you know, the clown who invented the first smokeboat and went around with that goofy walrus looking mustache and silly bowler hat . . . Holland plays the piano.”

“And there’s an old Juke Box with four hundred thousand cigarette burns on the top. It only plays Tommy Cox, and Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Margaret Whiting, Peggy Lee and Pattie Paige. The walls are covered with old yellowed photos of “E” Boats, “R” Boats, “S” Boats and all kinds of Fleet Boats, Old Tenders, ASRs and Admiral Lockwood.”

“The head is a mess . . . four old air expulsion, ‘Freckle Maker’ heads and a urinal trough made out of the air flask of a Mark 14 cut in half. And the walls are covered with the names of angels who come with removable bloomers. The wall behind the bar has soft pine paneling and thousands of silver dolphins have been pounded into the wood and an old 127 year old E-3 keeps them Brasso’d up.”

“The pickled hard boiled eggs fall out of the back end of the Golden Goose and they only sell ‘Beer Nuts’ in fifty pound bags . . . for two bits. The Shore Patrols are blind and the liberty cards have no time limits. There’s only one thing on the menu, the ‘Rig for Dive’ Cheeseburger . . . it’s cooked in all that stuff that comes draining out of the George Foreman grill. The name of every sub ever built and their hull numbers are carved in the tops of all the table tops.”

“At the bar there is a stool that belongs exclusively to Tom  . . . . it has ‘Old Gringo’ on it in solid gold letters . . . and late in the evening you can find Old Gringo perched at the bar, tossing down suds and wrapping his arm around the best looking gal in the place. Beer is free for any boat sailor who wears a combat patrol pin.”

“Old Gringo has a beer mug made out of a 5 inch shell casing with a hatch dog for a handle. The barmaids keep him supplied with hand rolled Cuban cigars and reports on who’s reporting in and when the bus is leaving for hell.”

“I don’t know if that’s the way it is . . . but that is the way it should be. An old hard core Diesel Boat Sailor should get something like that. One thing is for DAMN sure . . . Tom  isn’t standing a damn Gate watch! You can take that to the bank, Horsefly!”
I don’t know if that is the way it is either, but this I do know. My dad remains larger than life, now more than ever, and it will be sweet to see him again . . . . prolly sooner than later. I look forward to that with out fear.

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Remembering A Mother’s Love

In addition to a collection of lunch box notes and hand made greeting cards from my sweetheart, I am fortunate to also have a file of letters from the time I served as an Army Aviator in South East Asia. These may not be lunchbox notes, but they are very special to me, especially the ones from my mother. I was single until after my tour of duty in a combat zone. I did, however, leave a girl back home. The photo below is of me and my aircraft on a little dirt runway in Xuan Loc, Republic of South Vietnam, c. 1965

xuan_loc1965bw

I recently found a note my mother wrote to my girlfriend just a few days after I left for Vietnam. A mother’s love is forever, and reading this after so many years caused me to feel my angel mother’s arms around me all over again. Here is the note . . . .

Dear —-, For some reason Glen left this note when he left – knowing, I am sure, that I would send it to you. (I do not remember what was in that note Mom mentioned) My heart is breaking over his leaving and for all who love him. It will seem an eternity until he returns. I never thought he would be sent so far away.

As a mother who naturally wants to see her child happy if at all possible, I want to thank you for what you have ment to him, especially this month of leave at home. You are the kind of girl a mother would hope her son would love.

I know you both are young, and many changes in feelings may take place in a years time. If yours should change, I hope you might wait until Glen is home again to tell him. I can’t bear the thought of him so far away and hurt. If I sould foolish, please forgive me as I feel like I am losing my mind this morning.

May all our prayers surround Glen in these coming months and keep him safe. I am finding comfort in the 91st Psalm – you might find peace there also.

God Bless you, —-, and what ever the future brings we must know that it is the Lord’s will.
Sincerely, Corenne _____

moms_painting1web

My mother was a gifted artist. It was reported to me that after I left the country, Mom spent hours on the sofa watching the TV and nervously munching on ice cubes. She never picked up a paint brush again. This fact hurts my heart very much. Our family is fortunate to have several of Mom’s paintings. Here is one that I am blessed to have on our wall. I cannot tell you how precious these paintings, letters in her own hand, and photos, letters and other personal items from my father are to me.

 

Corenne’s grand daughter, my daughter, was just reunited with her Navy Chaplain husband after a deployment in Kuwait on a particularly difficult assignment. The girlfriend in this poignant letter turned out to be my daughter’s mother. Even though I am no longer with the mother of my children, I know that these kinds of things still have special meaning to all involved.

I am so happy that they are back together, AGAIN, after his 4th deployment. It is very difficult on their family, but my daughter is a former Field Combat Medic so she knows the drill! They will be here on “The Farm” for a visit in just a few weeks. My wife and I are looking forward to that rare time with a real American family . . . . our family!!

NOTE: Originally published in 2009

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How To Grieve With Challah Bread

My grandfather is dead: I do not know how to grieve. So I make bread.

Source: How To Grieve With Challah Bread

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Oh God Thy Sea Is So Great . . . .

On this day November 22, 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the fourth American president to be assassinated in office. This was my father’s president. I don’t remember seeing dad for a couple of days afterwards. He was distraught to say the least. I wish we had sat down together at some point and talked about it. Now I am left to imagine how he felt about this turning point in our country’s well being.

jfk-sailing_framed

. . . . And My Boat Is So Small

I have thought about this a lot . . . . while mowing the lawn or in the middle of the night, or while going through old ships logs and photographs. These musings are mine alone, and may be quite arguable against but I don’t care tonight. Why did I choose this photo? Simple answers . . . better times. My dad was a sailor in the same theater of operations as JFK and PT-109. I have great memories of sailing off San Diego in the annual quest for migrating Grey Whales. I like this photo. Whatever.

This senseless murder marked the end of the post war revelry that quenched the land, and ushered in decades of near constant fracturing across America. JFK was not perfect by any measure. Who among us is? However, he represented so much. Our country learned for the first time that a Catholic president would not torpedo US, or carry out the Pontiff’s agenda. We still have a ways to go in this light. Other candidates since who worship their conscience in lesser known denominations have had many of the same objections from JFK’s campaigns rise up to frustrate them.

I believe that JFK would have found a way to leave the Vietnam dominoes where they lay with so much less loss of life. Just my belief . . . . it is what it is. Instead, we got Johnson and Nixon lying and tripping over themselves in one way or another, and 58,000 American lives later we left Vietnam. Many others have never come home all the way. Some days I wonder if I did. Ford was a nice man and did complete the withdrawal but he was not near as presidential as JFK. Carter was entirely forgettable, although he did try to exfiltrate the Iran hostages. It of course was a complete failure.

History has been kind to Reagan, however my father really disliked him. Again, I wish we had made time to talk presidents and things over one of this old submarine sailor’s favorite rums. Pussers Rum, the original Royal Navy rum was indeed dad’s preferred spirit as I remember.

George H. W. Bush was next and again a nice man, however unremarkable. His wife was a terrific first lady. He could not overcome the stereotypes associated with his privileged New England background, either in my mind, or the voter’s.

Then came (don’t go there) Clinton and his dry cleaning bill. I still feel so bad for Chelsea. What must she have gone through? Will his gift to us in 2016 be Hillary? Oh my gawd please no!

George W. was shackled with terrible history, second only to FDR on 7 December 1941. I can forgive most anything GW did because of what was thrust upon him. Unfortunately, every generation cannot have a JFK. I am not sure Obama actually hurt me or my family, and my father probably would have liked him. I find him a better choice than his opponent at the time. Obama has hurt our military however, and that I cannot forgive.

So now where do we turn? Who is the John Fitzgerald Kennedy of this time in our history. I do not see one. I believe I would wish for any past President than for any of the declared candidates this time around. I sort of feel like I ought to apologize for placing JFK on such a pedestal. But I will not! I believe my father was actually traumatized at hearing of President Kennedy’s assassination, and every year that goes by I come to understand dad’s pain more clearly.

“Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small”

Be well!

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The Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

I never was called on to carry the wounded, nor was I ever in need of same. I witnessed my share in the most unpopular conflict of our time however, and called in Medivac Hueys almost daily to evacuate the wounded out of Vietnam jungles and rice paddies. HHuet_medic_RSVN1966These pilots were the most fearless I ever saw. What Korea launched with M*A*S*H helicopters was fine tuned in Southeast Asia. There was seldom time for these Dust Off crews to wash out the stretcher decks. When the local Life Flight is overhead today, it is haunting and carries me back in time.

WWI, the war to end all wars didn’t. WWII was nothing less than the world gone insane! Then Korea, Vietnam and other various conflicts had our military continent hopping. When it was my turn to test my brand new Army Aviation wings in Vietnam, I got to come back home after 12 months in country. We all had calendars on the wall over our cots marking off the days.

My father couldn’t . . . . wouldn’t come home until WWII was won in the last unconditional surrender by our enemies that we will ever see. Dad served 11 Combat Patrols on 3 different submarines in the Pacific. I was 10 months old before he and I ever met. My Uncle Jim did not come home at all. Not under a flag in a box or any other way. Lost at sea was the official report. My daughter was a Navy Combat Medic during the Desert Storm era. My son in law was separated from his young family via tours in the Middle East multiple times. In war or peace, I honor my wwii_vet2brothers in arms. I wish for all of us a day of contemplation, gratitude, remembering and prayer tomorrow on Veterans Day, the 11th day of the 11th month. I still see an occasional WWII veteran at the store or the VA clinic I frequent, wearing their ball caps humbly but with a jaunty tilt. There are not so many left, so when you come across one of these, the greatest generation, offer a hand and look deeply into his or her eyes as you say thank you.

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Coming Clean in the Town Rail Yard

My town is rich with history, as most are I suppose. It has been known for more than a Century as Junction City. There are a few other nicks that may be less complimentary but that is for another story. I am a SoCal expatriate for almost 40 years now and whereas we have some railroad history down where I am from, it is only a post script when compared to the epic story that is the building of the Transcontinental Railroad culminating with a golden spike and a bit too much libation just a few miles Northwest of here. More about this to follow.

San Diego and Arizona RailwayThe San Diego and Arizona Railway was a short line railroad founded by entrepreneur John D. Spreckels, and dubbed “The Impossible Railroad” by engineers of its day due to the immense logistical challenges involved. Established in part to provide San Diego with a direct transcontinental rail link to the east by connecting with the Southern Pacific Railroad (which secretly provided the funding for the endeavor) lines in El Centro, California, the 148-mile (238 km) route of the SD&A originated in San Diego, California and terminated in El Centro, California. By 1951, passenger service was halted. Then in December 1985, the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum revives the historic San Diego & Arizona Railway name(reporting mark SDAX), inaugurating it’s Golden State demonstration passenger trains over the railway out of Campo, CA east to Miller Creek and west to Division and tunnel four at the international border. These trips continue to this day. I missed out on both phases of my home town line, either too young or absent.

Here in the Crossroads of the West, I was smitten by our railroads from my first year in town. Newer mile long trains come and go through the scenic canyon East of town that is the very track bed for the Union Pacific’s portion of the Transcontinental Railroad lain in the late 1860’s. We are even treated occasionally to one of UP’s historic old steam locomotives pulling a special train through town and those events became the best reason I had to skip work and grab my camera. I often lamented that I was born 25 years too late, and in the wrong place. I knew that I was a railroad man deep inside. Turns out that my mother lived in my town as a 10 year old just 2 blocks from my home back in the very era that I go Walter Mitty for often. That must be the connection right there.

So now we have a brand new public passenger train service called FrontRunner that operates up and down the valley right next to the Union Pacific road. In our rail yard, a new bridge had to be built to enable FrontRunner to cross over the many UP tracks in the yard in order to arrive at the hub without freight service interruptions. Now for the rest of the story.

844 Meets FrontRunner

Above is my dream image that I finally was able to capture in 2011 at that very bridge. It was a crisp and cloudless November day which enabled maximum steam output. I had been chasing this moment for the last 3 or 4 years, setting up on a seldom used spur to a local railroad salvage company. Every other year the timing or the sky was bad. Seems FrontRunner keeps an exact schedule, and UP Steam gets side tracked by freight sometimes. It just did not come together.

I knew this year would be different from the outset. Never before had I been chased off by the yard cops. This day I was approached, scolded and asked me to retreat to Pacific Avenue by a UP Security guy packing a pistol. I was deflated as I took down the tripod and packed up. I wanted an old track bed in the foreground, not a city street! Much to my delight, he departed in a hurry after a radio call. I decided to stay. I was going to make this happen or else. There is the rub. I have some former journalists friends here at Word Press, and I fear that they will also scold me now as I come clean about this.

The scheduled Frontfrontrunner1wordpressRunner arrival time was at hand, and it was going to be very close to the estimated time that UP 844 was due in the yard. I was ready and excited at the setup. As the mid morning Front Runner came into view, I shot a series of photos on the overpass. Everything was perfect to tell this story in a composite image. Yeah, that’s right. A composite Photoshopped image was acceptable to me if the meet didn’t happen in the perfect spot. I was shooting for me, not a publication, and this was an image with a great story to tell . . . . the old and the new! My skill at the set up and in the photo editor was still going to be tested after all.

I was careful not to move the tripod as I waited. The cloudless sky meant easy stitching. Eight minutes passed and I heard 844’s unmistakable whistle quill coming out of the West. No UP cops in sight! I released 7 or 8 captures while marveling at the sight. I skipped the arrival at Union Station to hurry home to the studio to see what I had in hand.

844_3wordpressThe steam plume hid the back of FrontRunner perfectly. The stitching along track and concrete was not too hard at all. No cloud movement to deal with. It was all I had hoped it would be at last! It happened, right? Sure, I tossed out 8 minutes, but I witnessed this bit of history happen right in front of me. This was my day and I was very pleased with the quality and sharpness of the large finished image.

Over the last 30 years I had been interviewed or had articles published in our local paper. Some were about noxious weeds and some were about steam locomotives. The editors had come and gone, but I had some contacts there. The prior steam arrivals into town were, in my lay opinion, poorly covered. Old hat after 150 years I suppose. So I thought I would submit my image to the city desk to include with any article about 844’s arrival this year. No contract or money involved. I just thought it would enhance any print story in section B. Well, it was on the front page, section A with a by line. Wow!

Now I did not set out to fool anyone. I was not asked about the image nor did I mention that it was a composite. It did not matter to me because it happened just a few minutes apart right before my Pentax. The following week, I had some emails from the editor asking me how I managed to be so fortunate in being at the right place at the right time. I read suspicion between the lines and made a phone call and a full disclosure of my quest and resulting composite. I was mildly chastised and asked to submit the 2 original images that I captured. The editor felt an obligation to his readers to publish a “Story Behind The Headlines” article the following Sunday explaining the oversights by both parties in publishing the photograph. I agreed to come clean, absent malice as it was.

The new headline was “Photoshopped train image leaves cautionary tale for media” and the article was very fair as it assigned fault to both of us. The paragraph that I winced at was this: “The iconic image, submitted by a trusted contributor, captured the past and present of the evolution of the locomotive in American society. The photo generated a number of comments from readers who were impressed with the ability of the photographer to capture such a moment in time with a single shot. Well, the image was actually two seperate photos taken minutes apart and combined into one shot.”

Yes I was trusted over 3 decades, however it didn’t occur to me that I had done anything untrustworthy. I also never dreamed of a front page 6″ by 9″ photo and it did play very well. The editor went on to explain my inexperience with journalistic principles and that I did not set out to deceive the paper. He wrote: “He had read a column of mine where I explained that photojournalists try to tell a story with their images. To him (me), combing the photos was just a way of telling the story. If we had known, we might have run it as a photo illustration anyway and clearly identified it as such, explaining in the caption how it was created.”

Obviously, I retired from a very short photojournalism stint with my home town paper. I was absent malice but also absent the education on protocols of the biz. I was just a story teller and a steam locomotive chaser. I have good memories of the entire week and a few copies of both editions filed away. Ya can’t buy that kind of publicity, my friends.

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