Friday, May 31, 2019

Didn't See That Coming!

In the military, a skill one needs to have is the ability to wait. Patiently and quietly wait. Does it always work out that way? No, of course not. The troops love to bitch about things. Yes, I was a "troop" and yes, I loved to bitch about things. Everything, anything, you name it, I've probably bitched about it. I still do.

While traveling about the countryside, The Missus Herself is often driven to distraction by my running commentary on the habits of the other drivers on the road. Their lack of ability, their probable ancestry, and the obliviousness they demonstrate damn near every day.

But that's not really the point of today's story.

Another military thing is the need to periodically obtain a new ID card. (Yes, yes, I know civilians have them too, but usually that's really a driver's license, it has a two-fold purpose.) I don't remember the intervals on new IDs back when I was on active duty if one hadn't been promoted. (A promotion mandated a new ID with the new rank on it.) You also had to (typically) get one at each re-enlistment, something I did a number of times.

However, once one leaves the active duty ranks you get a different looking ID card, it's sort of bluish. When I was on active duty it was sort of greenish, now the damned things are used not only as ID, but also as a means to log onto a computer, and probably contains a DNA sample as well. It contains a computer chip too. It's white, and whereas the old IDs were oriented horizontally, the new ones are vertical in nature. Very fancy, very modern they are.

I received my first retired ID card (the blue one) shortly after I retired. As we were on a trip up to Maine, we decided to stop at the Portsmouth Navy Yard (it was on the way) to get me a new ID. Showed them my DD Form 214, gave them my last active duty ID, filled out a form or two, a picture was taken, and bingo, I had a retired ID. One thing the guy (active duty Navy) at the desk did that I thought was rather awesome was he cut the edge off of my old ID (rendering it obviously not valid) and gave it to me. As a souvenir of sorts. Rather decent of the chap I thought.

Now that ID was good for fifteen years (I think), not sure why it was fifteen, didn't ask. I was too busy enjoying being retired (though I was searching for a second career, Uncle Sam is generous but he ain't that generous with the retirement check). Not too long ago while The Missus Herself was getting her ID renewed, I had to show mine. The lady at the desk said my picture was too old and seeing as how I was there already, I should get a new one.

What the heck, let's do it. Thing is, the damned thing was only good for three years. That wasn't mentioned at the time and I didn't really check. Until a few weeks ago when the love of my life told me that her ID was due to expire at the end of April. Only then did I look at my second retired ID card and noticed that it had expired. A year ago.

Hhmm, that ain't good.

Long story short, I discovered that the system had changed since the last time I got a new ID, walk-ins, while not discouraged were not encouraged as well. This I discovered after going to the base to renew the ID. I was turned away, which was the first time ever.

I learned, I made an appointment online. When doing so, as there are hundreds of places to get military IDs, you have to enter a zip code so that the computer can tell where you are and you can select one of possibly several places to make an appointment. Oddly enough, while NS Newport was on the list, so was NS San Diego. Which last I checked was rather a long haul from Little Rhody. So yes, I picked NS Newport and set up an appointment for Your Humble Scribe and The Missus Herself.

Appointment day came around, the plan was for The Missus Herself to swing by my place of gainful employment to pick me up (NS Newport is not far from where I work) and we would get our new IDs.

Not so fast. Seems the ID office network went down, perhaps we'd like to reschedule, was the message on my phone (no cell phones allowed in the lab), meeting The Missus Herself in the parking lot she told me that they had just called and that the network was back up. Please hurry in!

We did and guess what?

Yup, network back down again.


Now what, we asked. We were given a special "go to the head of the line pass" good until Monday. So we endeavored to go in Thursday morning.

"Call first, to make sure the network is up."

I assured the nice lady that we would.

Thursday AM rolls around, phone calls are made, networks are certified as being "up" so we head to NS Newport. To find a mob of people all waiting for IDs.

Holy crap, we're in a tight spot!

We go to sign in, this guy told us "No more walk-ins" I waved the magic "go to the head of the line pass" and we were in. Still had to sign in and all that, but the lady we saw the day before spotted us and said that she'd take us as soon as she finished with the customer she was currently assisting.

It wasn't long, then we discovered that two forms of ID would be required, and the expired military IDs didn't count. I dunno, rules, terrorists, and what-have-you. But we had our "oh crap" moment right then and there. For we had no other form of ID save the driver's licences and the expired military IDs. Damn.

The nice lady behind the counter explained that she couldn't "wing it" as the computer, like some pagan god, demanded two forms of ID be scanned, and expiration dates be entered. We were seemingly screwed.

"Not to worry," the nice lady said, "I have an idea."

If I could just phone my town hall and ask them to fax our voter IDs (which I had no idea existed) to the ID office, she could use those. So, through the magic of the smart phone, I looked up the town hall number, made the call, explained my plight and was connected to the town clerk hisself.

"No problem, sir. I can fax those down in just a moment."

Which he did.

IDs issued, pagan god computer happy, Your Humble Scribe and The Missus Herself happy. All was well. Incidentally, when you hit 65 as a military retiree you get issued a "forever ID," no expiration date, good for the life of the holder. So I've got that going for me. (The Missus Herself still has to get a new one periodically, I guess that's if I go completely insane and divorce her. Never happen GI, I know what's best for me. As does she.)

But in one day, two people, working for gubmint for God's sake, going the extra mile to get the job done.

I didn't see that coming!

But thankful I am, kudos to the town clerk of my town and to the lovely lady at the ID office.

Bravo Zulu!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Nature's Way

The young doe was gravid, new life stirring within her as thousands of years of instinct drove her to seek a safe place to give birth. As she walked through the stillness of a cold, wet New England dawn, she found herself drawn to the place where she herself had been born, just a year ago.

There was low brush up against the side of a cliff of oddly shaped stone, the cliff faced the south so there would be warmth when the sun was out. The low lying brush would hide her young. She also knew that her herd had lived on this land for many years and that predators were few, though coyotes were sometimes scented on the north wind.

She settled in and waited, she knew not what she waited for, but instinct would tell her and be her guide. She didn't think, she didn't fret over the many things that could go wrong, she was a wild thing, a child of nature, she would do whatever instinct called her to do.

The first fawn was born just before the sun rose, the eastern horizon alight with the promise of a new day. The birth was easy, the young animal dropped to the soft ground and lay there trembling as its mother licked the fur of the young animal clean of evidence of its birth. When she was confident that her newborn was breathing and was well, she lay back down. Something wasn't quite right, she didn't know what it was, just that it was.

The two legged animals which shared the land with her herd were starting to arrive. She was alert and wary, but as they did not bother her or her fawn, she did not start or run. Which was just as well, she sensed that she was about to give birth again.

She moved to another low bush nearby, she could see and smell her firstborn, but she had to be ready to go through the birthing process again. Deep instinct told her something wasn't right, even though this was her first time, her species had been doing this for thousands of years, she somehow "knew" something was wrong.

The second fawn wasn't coming out, no matter how much she strained, shifted her body position, or moved, the young one seemed reluctant to be born. When the head broke free, she sniffed at it, licked it, almost willed it to be born. But it wasn't even trying, it wasn't moving at all.

Eventually the second fawn fell to the ground beneath the brush. It wasn't moving, the young doe licked at it for a long time, to no avail. Not knowing what else to do, she moved away from the stillborn little deer. Though she knew something was wrong, her instincts told her nothing in this instance. She had tried so hard to make the little one stir, now she was exhausted. So she lay back down...

All of that above played out beneath the southern facing windows of where I work. My lab is just inside that part of the building, a hallway separating the entrance to the lab from those windows. In the morning one of my co-workers mentioned that there was a deer just outside with a newborn. So yes, I went to look.

Sure enough, they were there. One perfect little fawn obeying instinct to not move unless its mother prodded it to do so. In that morning stillness, a number of us sensed that the miracle of nature being played out on the other side of the heavy glass wasn't quite over.

Word spread, more people came to see the spectacle. I was worried for the doe, she seemed stressed, whether it was from all of the spectators (the city bred among them doing stupid things like tapping on the glass, until told in no uncertain terms to "knock that off") or from the problems she was having with her second fawn.

It was a long struggle, during that struggle she would go over to her firstborn and nudge him and lick him. I watched as the little one took his first steps, awkward but game, the little guy made it to all fours for about five seconds before laying back down. I believe that he could sense that his mother was in distress.

Sometime in the afternoon she finally gave birth to a well-formed, but stillborn fawn. It is unusual for a yearling doe to have more than one fawn, but not that uncommon, it does happen. Whether she wasn't strong enough to push the second one out in time, or whether the second was already dead, I'll never know. All I know is that it took over five hours for that second birth.

Nature is harsh in its beauty, a lovely breathing new life laying not six feet from its stillborn sibling. A lesson as old as life on this planet, sometimes things go badly. The whys and wherefores are, to me, unfathomable. But the One who created all things has His reasons, of that I'm sure.

Still and all, as familiar as I am with Death, I hate seeing it touch something of such innocent beauty. Sometimes the Universe speaks in its outdoor voice, all we can do is listen, and wonder.

Sarge out.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Not Feeling It Today...

There are things in life that you wish you could forget. Non-trivial things, things involving death and loss.

As time goes by, it gets a little easier, even though a part of you is gone, never to be recovered.

But the underlying pain never goes away...
It seems a strange irony that the egress system which would save your life in an emergency could snatch it away from you based on something so intangible as surface winds. But just imagine being dragged behind a pickup truck at 25-35 miles per hour while grappling with your harness release and you’ll get some sense of our trepidation. The odds of losing an engine on a gusty day are no better or worse than on any other day. The odds of survival, given the conditions, are much reduced. And there would be other days to fly.

We all of us volunteered for this business, but all of us want a chance, should some bad thing arise, especially in a peacetime training environment: You’ll probably never have to eject. But if you have a bad day and are forced to, you’d a whole lot rather have an even chance to explain why you did so later.

Not long after we’d made our decision the snow was falling sideways and the wind howled through every nook and cranny, piercing though our flight suits and forcing us to shoulder through the gusts. I made my way to the O’Club for a pint of Guinness (for strength) followed by a shot of Jameson’s (for courage). Grateful for the day I’d had.
Looking forward to the next.
From WX CNX, By lex, on March 1st, 2012
For whatever reason, that post was up on The Lexicans yesterday, the 28th of May. It's a place I visit nearly every day. Most of the posts I've read before, it's a place where we remember Carroll "Lex" LeFon. My friend, my blogging mentor. This blog wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Lex.

Yes, I read that post the day it was published, seven years ago. In what came to pass, I had forgotten about it. Until yesterday.

As I started the blog as a tribute to Lex, I rather wish it had never come to pass. For if Lex was still alive, I would be spending my time reading his stuff, not writing my own. But you never know, another friend of mine, LB Johnson, was encouraged to write by Lex. Her latest book (which I will review when I'm done reading it) is dedicated to him.

So you never know.

As for the reason I'm not feeling particularly "bloggy" today, well that snippet above from WX CNX (which is aviation speak for a weather cancellation) was written five days before Lex took off on his final mission.

All the elements of what happened that day in the high desert around NAS Fallon in Nevada was foreshadowed in that post.

Hit me square in the gut it did.

That is all.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Can't Get Good Help...

Way back...
We have always had a shed in the backyard here at Chez Sarge. In fact, when we moved in, the shed (seen above in a damned near sepia tone, well, the photo was taken at the turn of the century, yes, this century) was relatively new. Not far away, to the right in the photo above, were the ruins of an older shed. Seems the previous owners got rid of most of it. Not all of it mind you, just most of it.

When we had vinyl siding installed on the manor house, in a nice Cape Cod gray shade with a dark gray roof, the shed looked rather out of sorts in its horrid beige with reddish trim avec its reddish roof. (The original colors of the house.) I redid the roof, yes, all by myself, and The Missus Herself and I repainted it in Cape Cod gray, to match the house dontcha know?

It stood that way for many a year. Then one day I noticed that the shed was no longer gray but was now a bluish-tinged sort of "not gray, not quite blue." Matters stood that way for a couple of years until we decided that we really should repaint the old thing. That's when we discovered that the trim was rotting. So we resolved to redo it with fake wood, a sort of plastic-like substance with the look and feel of wood.

Rather than rely on my feckless attempts at setting aside time to work on the shed, she eventually hired a guy. A guy who did fair work as long as you watched him like a hawk. He was not an adherent to the "measure twice, cut once" school of carpentry. More of a "that looks close enough" character.

Apparently The Missus Herself berated the poor knucklehead one too many times for he "called in sick" on the third day of the job. Heat stroke he said, bullshit I said. The Missus Herself let him know that his services would no longer be required. Ever. As in, "if you show up we'll have you arrested for trespassing."

Not so long ago...
There matters stood for another couple of years, there were days when I would gaze out upon the shed and wonder when the sides would just fall off. The frame was (and remains) stout and well-built, might have been actual 2 x 4s used in its construction. But the inside was close to becoming part of the outside and we did want an actual shed, not just a concrete pad with a roof.

So The Missus Herself went in search of another contractor to fix up the shed. She found one who agreed to give us a good price on the work, I won't divulge how much but I will say that it was far cheaper than a new shed.

Problem was, it took this guy's crew over a month to do the job. Not an actual working on it every day month, but a "we'll show up when we feel like it" month.

By my calculations (and observations) the contractor worked five hours the first day, perhaps four the second. Then they were MIA for two and a half weeks. Finally they showed up on a Saturday morning to install the new door. During that evolution they managed to trip a circuit breaker. Rather than knock on the door, they claimed to have "tapped on the window."


At any rate, they vanished like the dew on a hot day.

We waited for nigh on two weeks for their return. Phone calls were made, and not returned, texts were sent, and ignored. Until they received a text from us stating, "Finish the shed, or get a lawyer, your move."

They showed up early this past Friday and actually finished the job. Some of the detail work absolutely sucks, but I can mend that. When The Missus Herself said she was going to call them to come fix it I told her not to bother. Overall it's a fair to middling job, and it got done at less expense than some would have done the job for.

It only took them a month to perform about 24 hours of labor.

I wonder if they work for the government?

Today, ready to face another twenty years.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Purge

I hope everyone is having a relaxing, restful, reflective Memorial Day.  Sarge did an excellent lead up to the Holiday and gave us several different areas to think about.  I've got nothing to add except to say a prayer of thanks to the Lord for putting those people on this Earth.  They made it a better place and we should all strive to live up to their sacrifice and make the world an even better place.


One thing I've noticed about Texans is they always seem to be looking at the ground.  Folks in Cities seem to walk the sidewalks looking down at something in their hand.  I think it's some kind of  camera that takes a movie of what's in front of them and displays it on that device so they can, usually sometimes occasionally once in a blue moon, avoid running into the person or thing in front of them.  Pretty cool device.

When it works.

However, country folks in Texas also seem to look down when they're walking around their property.  I wondered why that is, but never being one to pass up sage advice of those who have gone before me, I've taken up the custom.

As those who have read some of my posts from the last 2-3 weeks know, there's been some heavy rain in the area.  Most of the flooding has drained off and our stock ponds are down by about 6 feet.  Leaving about 6-12' remaining.  

Two Weeks Ago
Standing in basically the same place yesterday

The road has drained off also and the damage is as bad as expected.  Got the first bidder coming out this week to take a look and tell me the bad news.  We shall see what we shall see.

But that rain, has caused the grass to grow quite prolifically.  Unfortunately, "Tony the Hay Guy" is unavailable to cut and bail it which has left it quite long.  The horses would love to have a go at it, however, their Doctor put them on a restricted diet and confined them to the corral due to early indications of Laminitis.  He used the word "Euthanasia" as a possible outcome if not treated effectively.

Well....That got my attention.

So, we've been going up to the barn to feed them once a day, one flake of hay, some heartworm medicine, some vitamin and mineral substitutes as well as just check on them.

Hey, it gives me something to do.

Couple of days ago, I'm walking up there through the tall grass, doing that Texas Thing (looking at the ground).

See it?
Mrs J is walking along behind me.  In her Flip Flops.  (She's from Wisconsin, I've tried to explain things to her, but I'm her husband, what do I know?)

I motion for her to stop and she bumps into me.  I start to back up which forces her to back up also.  She's asking questions and I point to the spot on the ground shown about a third of the way down from the top of the above photo.  Yes...It's a snake.

We wait patiently for a few moments, as the snake evaluates the situation and decides to move on.  After about 6' of movement, his tail comes into view and, fortunately, there are no rattles.  It's a  Bull Snake, which makes it an ally, not a foe, in the ongoing fight against rodents..

Having encountered one before (possibly even this one),  Mrs J and I (as well as Dr Jones) are of a mind on this particular subject. Consequently, the Snake shall now be known as "Reggie".

Turning to things of a more domestic nature, and because Memorial Day has a Military aspect to it, I would like to discuss an advantage of Military life that I did not begin to appreciate until this weekend.

As most folks, be they Military, Ex-Military, or just regular folks with a modicum of intellect (which leaves out most College Faculty and Students as well as Members of both Houses in Congress), are aware members of the Military tend to move often.  Generally at least every 3 years, sometimes more often.

When I retired from the Air Force at the age of 43, I counted up the times I changed my mailing address throughout my life.  That number was 49, which may have been understated by a couple that happened when I was in swaddling clothes, but 49 is a lot.

That meant I had seen a lot of the world.  Cool!

It also meant that I knew how to move.  Useful!

It also meant that I knew how to purge.

Purge, juvat?  Whatever do you mean?  Certainly not THIS definition?

No, Grasshopper, getting rid of unused, unwanted things, AKA crap!

Given the weight limits the military imposes on a service member to move, getting rid of stuff was mandatory.

Unfortunately, "stuff" reproduces more rapidly than over-sexed rabbits.  Exponentially exponentially.

So, Mrs J and I got to be pretty good at getting rid of stuff.

However, our last move was 20 years ago.  We've been in place for 20 years and have fallen out of practice in getting rid of "stuff"!

So, this weekend, my Commander-In-Chief, Mrs J, declared War (yes, it was confirmed by both the Texas Legislature, the US Congress and signed by DJT himself).   In a stirring speech she said  "We shall fight the junk in the Carport, in the closets, in the spare bedrooms, on the screened in Patio.  We shall never Surrender!"

Here's a slightly less stirring version of her speech that some piker plagiarized from her and time traveled back to June 4, 1940 to deliver it and steal her thunder..

In any case, that is why my usual pithy (No, Beans, not pissy, pithy!) commentary has been sparse lately.  We met with initial success in the battle of the Master Closet.  We can see the floor now and  16 x 33 Gal trash bags of clothing has been repatriated from the battleground to charity.

The broken chest of drawers that was awaiting me to get a "round to" for repair had been transferred also.  (Yes I repaired the drawer).  Thankfully, an old friend who was MIA was found and rescued.

Unfortunately, it is not without loss on our part.  Many of my beloved T-shirts, with pithy comments of course, are no more.  Some, but not all, will live on as rags in my workshop.

However, though the Battle of the Master Closet is over, the war is not yet won.  The Battle of the Screened-in Porch is nigh.  The penultimate battle will be the Battle of the Storage Shed, where Intel indicates that the Enemy has enlisted support from Red Wasps, Scorpions, Spiders and, possibly, some of Reggie's less friendly cousins.

Finally, as any great Commander knows, thanking and rewarding her warriors with the spoils of war encourages them to strive harder in further battles.

Lost booty found during the Battle of the Spare Bedroom was consumed with a Steak and Baked Potato


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Crown Them With Glory and Honor

What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
 and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,
and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Psalm 8:4-5, KJV

Every year there are names that I recite in church the Sunday before Memorial Day. Men that I wish to remember and wish that my friends and family might also remember. I feel that if we can each remember the name of one who fell in the cause of freedom, then they might live in our hearts forever. Three were killed in action, three died in training, all fell for freedom.

Captain Carroll F. LeFon, Jr., United States Navy
Lance Corporal Kurt E. Dechen, United States Marine Corps
Major Taj Sareen, United States Marine Corps
Lieutenant Nathan T. Poloski, United States Navy
Private Robert Bain, Royal Scots Fusiliers, British Army
Private First Class Albert J. Dentino, United States Army

Enjoy the weekend, enjoy the time away from work with family and friends. Enjoy the unofficial start to the summer season. Those who fell would not begrudge you the good times, the laughter, the fun, for truly, if they could join in, you know they would.

But spare them a thought, even if it's just for a moment, the men and women who fought and died for our freedoms should never be forgotten. Ever.

For the Fallen
by Laurence Binyon*
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, 
England mourns for her dead across the sea. 
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, 
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal 
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, 
There is music in the midst of desolation 
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young, 
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. 
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; 
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; 
They sit no more at familiar tables of home; 
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; 
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound, 
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, 
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known 
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, 
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; 
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, 
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Hat tip to Suz

Remember them.

* While the poem mentions "England" - in my mind I hear "America." One of those whose name I remember, my Great-Great Uncle Robert, was killed in action while fighting in the Middle East in the British Army, no doubt he would hear "Scotland," rather than England. Perhaps "freedom" would be a good overall substitute...

Saturday, May 25, 2019

God's Warriors

Oddly enough, when I was in the Air Force I had very little contact with chaplains. I wasn't much of a church-goer for a very long time, much to my regret these days. I think I went to church less than a handful of times in over 24 years. Yes, I'm making up for that these days, thanks to The Missus Herself.

That being said, I have always had a lot of respect for the clergy. I think Mom and Dad (mostly Mom) made sure of that. Truth be told, many of the men of the cloth I met over the years were good men and good pastors. Church was just something I wasn't ready for until I was in my mid-40s. (Not that my faith in the Lord ever lapsed. Let's just say that I had some odd ideas about religion for a very long time.)

Now I say "men," I have met one very good female pastor in my travels, she was the pastor at my Dad's funeral. My Mom, being something of a traditionalist, didn't think women should be pastors. The pastor at my Dad's funeral was the pastor of my Mom's church (mine as well when I was nobbut a lad) and she hadn't been to services in ages. After my Dad's funeral Mom returned to church. She still didn't think women should be pastors but was willing to admit that this particular pastor was very, very good at what she did.

The military clergy have always impressed me. Ministering to young men and women in peace and in war is not an easy job. I cannot imagine the agony they feel when having to give someone Last Rites who has yet to hit 30 years of age. I have written of these men before (apologies but until fairly recently they were all men) here, here, and here.

I've known three really good military chaplains since I retired, I count two of them as good friends and the other baptized my youngest granddaughter aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) out in Sandy Eggo a few years back (which I wrote of here). He not only baptized my granddaughter but provided some very good religious guidance to my son-in-law during one of his many deployments. A fine man of God right there.

These men and women minister to those who are at war in a very meaningful way. In perhaps the toughest times any of those fine folks will ever see, the chaplain is there to comfort and guide. Sometimes though, the chaplains themselves are caught in the middle of battle and become casualties themselves. Here is the story of one of those fine men.

Father Henry Timothy "Tim" Vakoc, Major, US Army
January 8, 1960 – June 20, 2009

A good man, gone too soon.

Friday, May 24, 2019

For Those Who Didn't Come Home...

American flags placed by soldiers participating in "Flags In" stand in front of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., May 24, 2018.
DoD photo by Sebastian J. Sciotti Jr.
You may have noticed that there is a theme for this week.

This time of year seems to get harder and harder as I get older.

Maybe I'm just a maudlin old man, but I feel the loss each and every day, not just Memorial Day.

Ave atque vale...

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Great Uncle Albert

Private First Class Albert J. Dentino (and friend),
K Company, 3rd Battalion, 328th Infantry Regiment,
26th Infantry Division, 3rd Army, ETO
14 Dec 1921 - 10 Dec 1944
Killed in Action in France at 22 years of age

Photo courtesy of Kris in New England
To the United States Army he was PFC Dentino, no doubt his buddies called him Al. He was a son, a brother, and to a dear friend of mine and her husband, he is remembered as Great Uncle Albert.

He enlisted in January of 1941, he was a member of the famous 26th Infantry Division, a unit created from various New England National Guard units. A unit which saw service in both World War I and World War II. Some of the facts of the division's participation in World War II are as follows:
After two months of bitter combat, the weary YD infantry had earned a respite from the fight. On 9 December, news reached the foxhole soldiers of an impending relief, and that night, the 87th Division began moving into the area of the 26th. The 101st Regiment was the first unit to be relieved (10 Dec.) departing immediately from the XII Corps sector, proceeding to Metz. On 11 December the 104th Infantry followed. With the relief of the 101st and 104th Regiments by the 87th (Golden Acorn) Infantry Division, the only Yankee Division doughboys remaining in battle were those of the 328th Infantry. The 346th Infantry of the 87th Infantry Division was now on the right of the 328th Infantry, and on the left was the 320th Infantry of the 35th Division. Perhaps because the sacred soil of the Fatherland, only a few miles away, was being seriously threatened, the Germans began a counter attack in the afternoon of 9 December in the zone of the 328th Infantry's 2d Battalion. This repulsed, the 2d and 3d Battalions began to advance again the following morning. Again enemy armor delivered heavy fires on our troops. The attacking battalions were forced into a slight withdrawal, because of the massed enemy tanks in the Bliesbrucken Woods. XIX Tactical Air Command was called upon for air support and in the afternoon a squadron of fighter bombers bombed and strafed the enemy concentrations in the woods. Direct hits were scored on three tanks, others were damaged. The 602d and 610th Tank Destroyer Battalions were both engaging any enemy armor that came under observation. Approximately ten tanks were eliminated by Tank Destroyer operations in the Bliesbrucken Woods action. From: Unit History of the 26th Infantry Division
I have little doubt that the action described above is probably when PFC Dentino was wounded, badly enough that he died of his wounds shortly thereafter. The fighting in this area was bitter and costly to both sides.

PFC Dentino died four days before his 23rd birthday.

From my friend Kris:
Chris - once again thank you for the honor of asking about Jim’s Great Uncle Albert.  We are so happy to have his story shared…he was forgotten by the family for 60 years until his picture surfaced in a box at Jim’s parent’s house (Albert was my MILs Uncle thru her mother). Typical of that time, so many young men died during WWII that families tended to just not talk about them to spare themselves the pain. The photo I found brought Albert to the sunlight again. Research and helped me fill in the blanks of his service.  Somewhere in my MILs attic there is a Purple Heart - someday I hope to find it.  In the meantime here is Albert’s story: 
Albert Dentino enlisted on January 16, 1941 - nearly one year before Pearl Harbor.  At a time when the U.S. wasn't involved in the war; indeed we were doing our best to stay firmly out of it.  Yet this 19 year old young man, born in Dudley MA in 1921 - enlisted in the Army National Guard, Company K, 328th Regiment, 26th Division.  His motivations are lost to time of course. Like so many of his era Albert finished 2 years of high school and dropped out.  Perhaps he joined because he was bored and hoped the military could give him a future. He wouldn't be the first to do that and he wouldn't be the last.

PFC Albert J. Dentino died on December 10, 1944 - barely three years after he was likely sent overseas.  He was wounded in the Lorraine Campaign on December 8.  His death came 8 days before the US troops pulled out of the Campaign.

I also know that he never came home.  I found a scanned image of a request, by his father, for a gravestone.  The request was submitted a staggering 5 years after Albert died.  And it's for a gravestone only, specifically indicating it is a marker for a body whose location is unknown.
My friend Kris (a fellow Lexican) remembers Great Uncle Albert every Memorial Day, she posts that picture above as part of her remembrance. This year I am adding Albert J. Dentino's name to the other names I carry in my heart the year round, but whose names I speak aloud in my church every Memorial Day Sunday. All died far too young.

Captain Carroll F. LeFon, Jr., United States Navy
Lance Corporal Kurt E. Dechen, United States Marine Corps
Major Taj Sareen, United States Marine Corps
Lieutenant Nathan T. Poloski, United States Navy
Private Robert Bain, Royal Scots Fusiliers, British Army*
Private First Class Albert J. Dentino, United States Army

They died for my freedom, remembering them is the least I can do to honor their memories. May they never be forgotten.

* My great-great uncle.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Memory Loss


Sarge’s post last Sunday got me to thinking.  As a Vet, Memorial Day is important to me, as I’m sure it is to many of us here at The Chant, possibly even more so than Veteran’s day, because we all know what risks the job entails.  For Vets, it’s sort of an occupational hazard to know someone who died in the service of our country.  And even if we don’t know someone personally, our military culture is one to talk about them, name ships and awards after them, and never, ever forget.  Is it the same for everyone?  I doubt it. Sure, for the general populace of the US, we'll have Veterans' Day and Memorial Day from now until forever, if only for the public remembrance that gives us a day off, but what's it for?  I tend to think the meaning of those days, to some of those who didn't serve, will probably lose a little as time goes on. A little what you ask?  A little importance, actual impact, or genuine concern for what the day really means and what our warriors sacrificed for us.

Viet Nam and the World Wars were massively significant eras of our history so we remember them well.  And our schools teach that history to our children; At least I think they do.  More recent wars?  I’m not sure what is being taught.  There is so much politics involved in war, especially since Viet Nam, that today’s education system may very well spin the reasons for a particular conflict and force a false, partial, or dare I say it- left-leaning narrative.  I could be wrong, but based on my own daughter's understanding of recent historical events, I don't think I am.  After 9-11, the entire country was behind our fight in Afghanistan, but the constant ticker tolling the number of casualties reduced that support. Later, we pulled out of Iraq and Obama’s camp was all for it, giving up all the gains there to ISIS, and creating a Christian genocide

We became fatigued with war and the expense of it, so “The Long War” became history.  The peace-at-all costs crowd doesn't really care about people dying, only about our people dying.  And more specifically, only the budgetary cost of those deaths.  If the general public and our leadership truly cared about Memorial Day, they’d have some actual memory of just how much blood was sacrificed.  If so, they would have done what was necessary to retain what that blood paid for- a stable and somewhat secular Iraq, with a people that were now our allies, but still quite vulnerable.  Obama was so determined to play politics and pull every single soldier out of Iraq, that it became a lawless and unchecked battleground.  That decision resulted in over 135,000 dead, and the elimination of Christianity in the region.  Deaths that a token force could have prevented, easily wiping out a nascent ISIS threat. 


However, unlike WWII and Viet Nam, the public has been well insulated from the wars on terror.  There was no draft, only dedicated sheepdogs.  We didn't have drives to collect materials like rubber, silk, and tin since we're a wealthy country now.  We didn't need our wives and girlfriends taking up factory jobs since we have a well paid defense industrial complex.  War hasn't hurt so the impact hasn't been as dramatic.  And with deficit spending, even the fiscal cost of war has been nothing to worry about.  At least for now.

That insulation, that lack of understanding, is a very bad trend.  If war isn't painful, doesn't cost, and isn't difficult, we will lose touch with how tragic it can be, and how hard of a decision it should be to commit troops.  I know that war is just politics by other means, but if it's all politics and no pain, our leaders might push us towards conflicts without due consideration of the costs.

And our populace, the gentle sheep that haven't served and are without some connection to war's pain, could either cease being a check on our leaders who want war, or might never understand how war can sometimes be necessary.  They'll also forget about, or at least undervalue, the sacrifice of so many of our young men and women who died in those wars, strengthening our freedoms.  That leads to people also not realizing and appreciating all the benefits that comes with living here in the U.S., benefits that arise from those freedoms.  People take for granted how easy and wonderful it is to live here, not understanding both how it's different elsewhere, and what it took to earn this lifestyle.

If we lose our connection to our freedoms, we lose much of what our national identity really is- a Constitutional Republic made up of independent states.  With the constitution and our Bill of Rights as it's foundation, cemented in place by Judeo-Christian values and fiercely independent people who succeed and flourish under capitalism.  Many in our socieity have already lost that connection though, due to a biased media, a corrupted educational system, and politicians that can only obfuscate and lie to their people. And we're already seeing the effects, with attacks on free speech, religious freedom, and the value of life atrophying to the point of some people accepting infanticide.   

Did I just equate a lazy acceptance of a Memorial Day off to our current political situation?  Yes, I guess I did.  It sounds like a bit of a stretch, but it really isn't.  If we forget our past, we lose our future.  And our past was only achieved by hard work, cooperation, respect for others, and the men and women who fought for us.  

For those reasons, I'll never forget what Memorial Day is for.

P.S. I found this in an article sent to me by FbL after I wrote the part about being insulated by war. Similar point to my own, but touches upon the idea that a vet could be hurt by the public's apathy. I'm not sure I would feel this way, but I thought it was worth sharing:

The gap between the citizen and the soldier is growing ever wider. Whereas in WWII the entire nation’s focus was on purchasing war bonds and defeating the Nazi’s, today’s populace is quickly amused by the latest Kardashian scandal on TV. Because the populace is more concerned about enjoying their freedoms and going about their day to day lives, the veteran can feel like an outcast. As though nothing they did mattered for a country that asked them to go.                                                                                                Source

P.P.S  It would have taken a typical, but unneeded tangent for me regarding my discussion of our national identity, but I have no time for those who believe that Judeo-Christian values established by old dead white men shouldn't be valued or are not universal.  This excerpt from an American Thinker article explains that point well.

The civic Judeo-Christian ethos does not demand adherence to the details of religion or to a particular form of worship or religious creed, nor loyalty to a particular religion. The ethos is open to all, just as is Western civilization. That its founders and ancestors were mostly white is not a structural roadblock to all sharing in its outlook, except in the mind of racialists eager to impute racism in anything distinctive or weaponize against those with whom they disagree.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Spirit of Lions

Polish soldiers carry ammunition to the front lines during the battle of Monte Cassino.
The night before the attack, General Władysław Anders spoke to his troops saying “let the spirit of lions enter your hearts” and…”go and take a revenge for all the suffering in our land, for what you have suffered for many years in Russia and for years of separation from your families!(Source)
Long time Chanter Paweł hails from Poland and he reminded me the other day of the fall of the Abbey of Monte Cassino on the 18th of May in 1944. I was speaking of poppies and the upcoming Memorial Day, Paweł was remembering his valiant countrymen who gave their lives to crack a tough German defensive position in Italy.

Damned good men, damned fine soldiers.

Little did I know that two Poles wrote a song the night before that final assault on Monte Cassino. It was named Red Poppies on Monte Cassino.

Red Poppies on Monte Cassino

Do you see that rubble on the peak?
There, your foe is hiding like a rat
You have to, you have to, you have to
Grab his neck and from the clouds, knock him down
And they went ferocious and mad
And they went to kill and to avenge
And they went like always unyielding
Like always, for honor, fight

Red poppies on Monte Cassino
Instead of dew, were drinking Polish blood
Through these poppies walked soldier and died
But stronger than death was his wrath
Years go by and centuries will pass
The traces of old days will last
And all the poppies on Monte Cassino
Will be redder because from Polish blood they'll grow

They charged through fire, expendable
Not just one, took a bullet and died
Like those madman of Somosierra
Like those, years before, at Racławice
They charged with force of madmen
And they made it. The assault was successful
And their white and red banner
Was raised on the rubble among the clouds

Red Poppies...

Do you see this row of white crosses?
There Pole with honor, took oath.
Walk forward, the farther, the higher
The more of them you'll find at your feet
This earth belongs to Poland
Although, Poland is far away from here
Because freedom, by crosses, is measured
This is history's, one mistake

Red poppies...

Alfred Schütz and Feliks Konarski

Men of the Third Carpathian Rifle Division hear The Red Poppies performed by Alfred Schütz's orchestra, May 1944.

1,072 valiant Poles still watch over the Abbey...

Monte Cassino Abbey, as seen from the Polish cemetery.
Throughout the ages, men and women have fallen in the defense of freedom. They wore the uniforms of many nations, they followed many flags. The one thing they all have in common is a love of freedom, and the willingness to lay down their lives for that freedom.

Remember them...

Further reading and Sources:

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Last

Well, what with all the inclement weather lately, a couple of things have happened or not happened.  First, getting outside to do things has been impacted by 1) soggy soil and 2) the resultant heat and humidity of a nascent summer and frequent heavy rain.

Second, this has resulted in my not being able to fix things and thus having a lot of time on my hands to....think about things.

Folks, that's just never a good thing.

I've been looking into Mrs J and my next day trip.  May is slipping by and we haven't hit the road this month yet.  In any case, while researching historical sites (under Civil War Texas) in the general vicinity, I came across a wikipedia site that mentioned the "Battle of Palmito Ranch" or alternatively "Palmito Hill".

Hmmm.  Mrs Schmuckatelli never mentioned that in 7th Grade Texas History or I'd have remembered it...and her name.

So...I clicked the link and began reading.

Well, as all our reader's know, General Lee surrendered his forces at Appomatox on April 9, 1865.  This is widely held as the end of the Civil War, since the vast majority of Confederate forces were East of the Missisippi River.  General Grant's capture of Vicksburg on July 4 1863 (aka the day after the last day at Gettysburg) had effectively isolated all Confederate forces west of the river, meaning they could do little to help the war effort in the rest of the Confederacy.

However, they had not surrendered yet.  In fact, the last Confederate General to surrender was named Stand Watie.  I remember him from Mrs Schmuckatelli's class.  She made us read "Rifles for Watie" a historical fiction loosely based on Brigadier General Stand Watie.  General Watie was the commander of the First Indian Brigade composed of two regiments of Mounted Rifles and three battalions of infantry.  All Indian, as in Native American, except they had joined the Confederacy which had seceded from the United States of America.  Very confusing.  Apparently, they did not want the Indian Nation's lands to become Oklahoma, so supported the Confederacy.

In any case,  Stand Watie, did not surrender until June 23 1865, more than two months after Lee at Appomatox.

But, back to Palmito Ranch.

The Union had a relatively large force (~6500) in the Brownsville area throughout the war to enforce the Blockade of Confederate Ports.  However, the proximity of Brownsville to Mexico and Mexico's generally siding with the Confederates for financial gain reasons, made them ineffective and, in July 1864, they were greatly reduced to about 1900 troops of the 34th Indiana Veteran Infantry Brigade which had fought at Vicksburg. In addition, the  87th and 62nd United States Colored Infantry Regiments were also assigned. In early 1865, the commanders of the Union and Confederate forces, seeing the writing on the wall, came to a gentleman's agreement that there would be no more fighting between them.  Outright surrender had been agreed upon, but refused by Major General John G. Walker, CSA Commander of the Texas Division of Confederate Trans-Missippi Department (how's that for a job title?  Beats the heck out of Commander, 3rd Confederate Infantry.)  In any case, upon hearing this the Union Commander resigned his commission and returned to Indiana.  Lt Colonel Robert Morrison replaced him in Command of the 34 Indiana Veteran Infantry Brigade and by Col Theodore Barrett as the Brigade Commander.

Col Barrett had been in the Army since 1862 but had yet to see combat. (Reading those 4 words brought a "ruh-roh" to my mind.) .  Unfortunately for Col Barrett, both the Union and Confederate officers in the Brownsville area knew of Lee's surrender and knew that this effectively ended the Civil War.

So, why fight?

Good question.  A few theories are proposed by historians.  First, there is a plausible theory that Col Barrett needed horses for his Mounted Cavalry Regiments and was going to take them from the Confederates.   Other's have posited that Barrett was "looking for a little battlefield glory" and so ordered the expedition.  Finally,  there is some evidence that Brig. Gen. Egbert B. Brown of the U.S. Volunteers, ordered the expedition in order to seize cotton from the docks for his own purposes.  (This may have been the purpose, but General Brown did not arrive in the area until much later in May after the battle.)

On the Confederate side,  Brigadier General Slaughter, who was the CSA side of the gentlemen's agreement, had escaped to Mexico after Lee's surrender and a Col Ford had taken his place.  According to one historian*

What was at stake was honor and money. With a stubborn reluctance to admit defeat, Ford asserted that the dignity and manhood of his men had to be defended. Having previously proclaimed that he would never capitulate to "a mongrel force of Abolitionists, Negroes, plundering Mexicans, and perfidious renegades"...Ford was not about to surrender to invading black troops.... Even more important was the large quantity of Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy's cotton stacked in Brownsville waiting to be sent across the river to Matamoros. If Ford did not hold off the invading Federal force, the cotton would be confiscated by the Yankees and thousands of dollars lost
So the stakes are set for one final battle for glory, freedom and honor.

Or not.

The Union sent out about 500 troops, led by Lt Col Morrison while the Confederates had about 300 led by Col Barrett.  A good synopsis of the battle can be read here.   Essentially, in a 4 hour battle, the Union had approximately 130 killed or captured with an additional 12 wounded to the Confederate's 3 captured and 5 or 6 wounded.  The Union forces retreated from the field resulting in a Confederate victory.
This painting of the Battle hangs in the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry, Austin.  Think Mrs J and I found our next day trip.

This was the quasi-official last battle of the Civil War with the majority of Trans-Missippi forces surrendering on June 2nd and  General Watie surrendering June 23.

Oh, and it always sucks to be the first person killed in a war.  IMHO, it's worse to be the last, especially when you know it's over.  Takes quite a bit of honor and discipline to do your duty at that point. 

Private John J. Williams killed in Action in his first combat action at the Battle of Palmito Ranch May 13, 1865
Rest in Peace, Warrior!

*Jerry Thompson, in Southwestern Historical Quarterly 107#2 (2003) pp. 336-337.