Monday, March 1, 2010

People I Won't Forget

This is about two ladies I met in a hospital X-ray waiting room.
I have spent a lot of time in hospital waiting areas over the last ten years or so. Some people I've met are quiet in their own thoughts and others enjoy a conversation. I have been both.
This day, about four years ago, I had taken my wife for some X-rays at our local hospital.
Two elderly ladies came in and sat quietly. I knew they were sisters the moment I saw them. They communicated among themselves with little conversation, mostly just a nod or other movement. What little I heard them speak seemed to be with a German accent.
I decided to say 'hello' to them. After a few exchanges of greeting, I asked "Are you ladies German?"
One sister said that they weren't German, but Dutch.
"Oh," I replied, "you are from Holland or The Netherlands"
"No, we're are of Dutch ancestry, but have lived there a little or visited some," one of the sisters explained.
"I was born on the island of Java and my sister was born in Singapore."
Her sister was called into the X-ray room as I continued my conversation with the other. I was intrigued by her soft, polite manner.
"Were you there during WWII?" I asked.
In January of 1942 the Japanese had invaded what was known as The Netherlands Indies. Java and the other islands were rich in rubber and oil that the Japanese needed for their war effort.
A combined fleet of allied ships were defeated in February of 1942 and the Japanese occupied the Indies until they surrendered in 1945.
"Yes, my sister and I were interned in a civilian camp during the war. We were young, but I remember the scarce food, little clean water, sickness and very little medicine. And of course, the ever changing attitude of the guards. Sometimes they were nice enough and other times they were harsh and brutal. I think they were embarrassed by having to guard women and children instead of fighting."
"But our greatest fear," she continued, "was that the war would continue as we grew into our teens. We then would have been shipped to 'pleasure camps' for the Japanese soldiers.
The months and years went by, always in fear."
After the war was over, a movement began against the Dutch. Finally in late 1949, Indonesia was granted its independence.
But I have never forgotten the two sisters. I could have spent hours talking to them. They had seen and experienced so much in their life time, these ladies of grace and dignity sitting beside me in a small waiting room in Texas.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Adak & "Spanish Eyes"

I won't bore you with details about the 'worst weather on the planet', but as a travel tip, don't make it your 1st or 200th choice, by my observation.
Our barracks, as I said before, were warm enough, but outside was a frozen wasteland. Ok, I repeat myself.
You can never ever figure when it's night or day up there. (It's either dark all the time or low light all the time..) But the wind and snow and fog are constant.
Anyway, one 'evening', I had the dubious job of 'duty driver', which meant I got to deliver the crews to their planes, and later their box lunches from the galley, if it was functional, etc, after working working all 'night' to make those same planes ready for a 11 or 12 hour patrol. No recovery if a plane went down in that frozen water. We never lost a plane, but another story will get into that.
The only vehicle we had was an old, old panel truck. It must have been indestructible, because we had no good roads, just a general path with less snow than the rest of the landscape. It ran through the worst weather, allowing for a Texas boy to learn how not to run off into a snowbank.
This particular evening, I had to take the 'tank', the panel truck, and deliver the next day's flight schedules, etc to the Officer's Club on the other side of the island.
Now, Adak had a serious shortage of women. There was a small contingent of nurses and even a few school teachers that ran a small school for kids's whose parents were stupid enough to be stationed there for a year. A woman on Adak was a link to the real world.
Anyway, our barracks were full of frozen guys that worked twenty hours a day in fur parkas, or so it seemed. We dressed in Navy issue fur clothing and such to work out in it. That evening, I
drove the old truck to the other side of the island to the Officer's Club. I walked into the Officer's Club to deliver the next day's schedule...I had to find a certain officer to deliver the schedule to...I found him and he ordered me away in less than 10 seconds. I wasn't dressed appropriately for the Officer's Club.
But the Club, geeze, was fantastic.
From us enlisted guy's that had an awful rec room with broken vinyl chairs playing awful repeats of awful movies, they had a 90 foot wooden bar with bartenders in suits and women, real women..the officers were dressed in sport jackets and the ladies were like our wives and girl friends, dressed to the 'nines', except our's were 6000 miles away.
But the kicker of it all was the music. A singer at a piano was playing 'Spanish Eyes" as the officers and the ladies endured Adak's torments, a thousand miles away from our barracks. I don't know if I love or hate that song, but it was a world away from where I lived, 2 miles away.
In the room I shared with 5 others guys, we had three old, old country 'LP's...we played them all day, the younger or lower ranked enlisted guys lived in what we called the 'animal dorm' Their music was '60's rock, which I hated at the time. (I later became a big fan of Janis).
Just another Adak story. More to come, if you're interested..

Friday, January 8, 2010

Adak, End of the World.

This is one of many Navy stories I'll pass along from time to time.

You that are lucky have never heard of Adak. Some of you have seen the 'crab fishing' series on satellite TV..well, Adak is 500 or 700 miles further west of where they fish or crab...awful weather. We were a lot closer to Siberia than we were to Alaska..

Anyway, I got there in early 1968. Looking out the window of our plane after a very long ride, my first impression was that I was so far from Texas that I could never get back again. I was almost right.

No trees, just tundra grass. Adak is about the 3rd island from the end of the Aleutian chain. Dismal doesn't come close to a description.

We had 9 patrol planes, searching for Russian subs and monitoring all other vessels, mostly Japanese fish processing ships.

We found two Russian 'Whiskey' subs, diesel boats in the far north Pacific and one nuclear sub under the polar ice cap. A fair number of fish-factories and such, but flying conditions were horrible.

In WWII, the Japanese invaded and occupied Attu and Kiska, just west of us, but Adak was never invaded. We used to walk from our barraks to the hanger to work. One place we had to walk had good stepping stones, until we found out they were WWII land mines. Defused, they said, but all the others scattered about were still functional. Just another day in Adak.
After about 2 months, a loud commotion came thru the barracks..."So & So is down in the head,(bathroom) and cutting his wrists..."
Lot'sa guys went to help...this guy was sitting in his underwear, crying and sawing on his wrists with his dull work knife. Lots of care and concern was given....two months later, another guy repeated the show...this one was offered a sharper knife...
Depression, awful weather and constant work will wear some down. A normal day was snow, fog, 50+ wind...
Our small hanger held 3 planes at most, usually we had to push work stands out thru 12" of snow and work with a flashlight under our arm. I worked graveyards, 11:00pm till 7:00am, but we got a lot of work done because most officers were not around.
Our barracks were warm, that much I'll say...but the 'recreation room' was a bunch of broken vinyl chairs that showed movies like 'Red Tomahawk' over and over.
An old, very old, cargo ship brought supplies to the island on a 2 or 3 week schedule, mainly when we saw it coming, we knew it was there.
Our galley (food fixing place) lost the ability to function for a few we ate 1954 issued C-rations...dried eggs from the '50's were just a delight...except when I went to our galley for breakfast and the first dozen eggs they put on the griddle turned green on hitting the's hard to eat that next one after seeing that...but it's not an option if they serve it to you...
Oh well....Adak was Adak...I have a lot's more stories if anyone wants to hear the time...well, later..
Thanks for your time.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


With a lot of help from my sister-in-law, I'm trying to put a few pictures into my little life stories. I will add more as soon as I find some worthy. I do ask my new readers to go all the way back into my earlier blogs. It was my first and favorite story, "The Man in the Moon" about my Grandfather and me. Written from the heart.
I hope it renews some of your favorite memories also.
I have a lot of life to write and time is slipping. Yeah, I was in the Navy '66-70, and in Viet Nam. Some I'll share and some can't. You that know, know.
Be well and thank you for your time and interest.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Christmas Box

It really was just an old pine box with a wooden lid. It was built to ship canned peaches and had a paper pin-up girl mostly intact on one end.
My Uncle had it for years. He had been on New Guinea during WWII and said he always remembered getting a can of peaches one Christmas Day. He found this box after he came home from the war, always retelling me the story.
I'm not quite sure how I came to own the box. I shared a bedroom with my folks until I was ten or so and my box never was far from my piece of the small room. It held my treasures and my dreams.
Christmas was always a special time. We were poor, but most everybody was poor. It didn't hurt the joy and excitement on every one's face. A lot of tree lots were around town. Even if it was seventy degrees, people were happy and excited. We had a tree most years, some a little picked over, but they smelled so good, like Christmas.
We had our Christmas gathering on Christmas Eve. We loaded up in the truck and off to Papa and Grandma's. A tarp would help a bit if it rained, but a wet Christmas couldn't dampen our spirits.
The twenty mile trip seemed to take forever. Going into Grandma's house, the wonderful smell of food, homemade candy and other delights filled the air. Even if we were having just a 'regular' meal, it smelled better just because it was Christmas Eve.
She always had a tree lit brightly, some real, some aluminum, but either one would fill the house with excitement. The presents we brought were added to those already under the tree.
Grandma was a big fan of making fudge or divinity, if it wasn't too rainy or humid. I ate both with an appetite only an eight year old could survive. After everyone had eaten, we would watch some Christmas music on the old black and white TV as I squirmed eagerly get to the presents.
Back then, a knife or a hatchet was a good present for a boy. I've still got the scars to prove it.
Clothes were the dreaded gifts, even when I needed new ones.
I got a 'varmint' call once. Just two pieces of plastic with a rubber band stretched through them. I blew that thing for hours on end out in the woods. Even my hound dogs gave up and went home. But it was a neat present.
Our presents were mostly modest, some homemade, but everyone was a treasure, except the clothes. Most of the presents came from my Papa and Grandma, but the gifts from my parents were just as appreciated and treasured.
What counted was that we were a family, sharing with each other on Christmas Eve.
I filled that old wooden box with as many treasures and presents as it would hold.
The old peach box finally gave way to age, but I just included it inside of me, memories and all.
Find your box somewhere, large or small, but keep your memories because they are the enduring spirit of Christmas.
Merry Christmas, folks.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Toad Frogging

In my life, I've been fortunate enough to go 'toad frogging' with two wonderful girls.
The first time was in 1955....I was 7 years old and so was she. I was spending the weekend at my Grandma's house and a friend dropped by. She had her granddaughter with her.
Her name was Ginny.
Ginny and I squirmed and avoided eye contact until my Grandma told to go outside to play.
It was dark by then, but we took my Papa's good flashlight and hit the yard. Kid's could do that in the fifties... sadly, today it never could happen.
We walked around the yard and got comfortable with each other. There wasn't a lot do see or do at night, but there were a lot of toad frogs croaking. It had come a big rain that day and they were in a mating frenzy They were everywhere. Ginny and I got a large bucket and began to collect them, chasing them until Papa's flashlight went out. We eventually poured them out so they could resume their croaking.
Ginny was beautiful. Her family moved to Louisiana a year later, but not before I got my first kiss. By that time, I was in love as much as I knew how to be. I never saw her again.
My toad frog hunting was on hold for the next 45 years. I had built a goldfish pond in my back yard. After a big rain, my back yard would fill with toad frogs courting. The lay their eggs in water and their tadpoles thrive. Goldfish won't eat them.
By a stoke of luck, one of my grand daughters, age 7, and her family were visiting. The frogs were in full voice, calling out to each other.
My grand daughter and I decided to get a bucket and catch some. We got a flashlight and chased toad frogs untill we were tired. We had over 50, it was a great night. I released them the next day.
I hope somewhere that my Ginny from so many years ago gets a chance to go 'toad frogging' with her grandson and maybe she will remember that night in 1955 and get to relive that feeling too.
Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gulf Coast Boy..The Community Years

It was 1993 or there abouts. I had been a communications technician for the phone company for 23 years. I worked in the central office, hi tech and all that. I enjoyed the work, but my old friend Danny was getting me involved in community affairs on the side. He thought I should 'expand' a bit. He was involved in a lot of local service and politics, he was a natural at it.
I began with the Chamber of Commerce. Danny and I co-chaired the annual golf tournament fund raiser for two years, then I chaired it for two more with a new friend, Mike as co chair.
I also did a few committees and such. My wife became an 'Ambassador' for the Chamber.
We were socializing in 'high cotton'.
And then my company's External Affairs department took note of me. I was one of their own who had good connections to the local business and political folks...
Translation..."Use Him".
Now, bear in mind that all of this 'community involvement' stuff was voluntary, unpaid and after hours, I still had my day job to make a buck.
I had a great boss who helped me any way he could, but my work came first. I would change from my work clothes into Dockers and nice shoes and race to a Chamber luncheon and be back in an hour to fix phone company stuff.
After a while, the External Affairs manager I worked with started taking me to city council meetings and such. They were all registered state lobbyist. My education into politics had begun.
She had a large area, with many small towns. But in politics, there is no such thing as a 'small town'.
Once she asked me to come with her to a town about 60 miles away. She had been there once and became uneasy when they locked the door behind her. The Mayor wanted his town to be included in the Houston area code. She couldn't explain to him why that was impossible, so I was there as a security/back-up/tech guy trying to explain to 'His Honor" why his demand was not available. I drew him a chart, explaining that his town's pre-fix number already existed in Houston and couldn't be repeated. Numbers are numbers.
The Mayor didn't get it, the meeting ended in a draw, but they unlocked the door for us.
She recruited me to approach several small communities, seven or eight, with a new proposal.
I don't care how confident you are, or what the item you are offering them, city councils can be imposing. But, my biker career had made me somewhat immune to that.
I presented the proposal to all of the towns and they accepted it, it was good for them.
Now, my external affairs manager was a very attractive woman. In her line of work, that was an asset. We became good friends, but nothing more.
She spent a lot of time and money keeping one VIP politician happy. I asked once if she would sleep with him to get his vote on an issue. She said "Absolutely Not". She was lying out her ass, I knew it and she knew I knew it. Who said politics can't be fun.
One of the communities I presented my proposal to was a remote village that had suffered some serious flooding earlier. Their town hall was a small trailer. As I waited in turn to present my proposal, I listened to other citizens address the council. One was an elderly lady wanting to know what they were going to do about the 'damn raccoons' that invaded her trailer. That problem just didn't seem to have a political solution, but one councilman offered to come by and 'shoot a couple of them'. Now, folks, that's service!
It went that way all evening.
At one point, the city council was to vote on paying the police chief for his over time in the previous flood situation. They had a very small budget. About then, the trailer door opened and the Chief came in. He didn't say a thing, he just found a chair and hiked one leg up on it, staring at the council from 15 feet, his very big 'pistola' jutting out prominently...and low and behold, the issue passed...
Democracy in action is sweet to see.
I presented my proposal soon and they agreed it was good for the community. I didn't even have to bring out my 'pistola'.
But it was time for me to get back to just being a civilian and my day job. I phased out of politics and community affairs. I had met a lot of good people and shared many interesting experiences, but my life, as I'm sure yours has, has been a great ride.
Well, that's about it for the Gulf Coast Boy series. I'll add short stories from time to time. Write about your life, everyone has stories. Share them with others.
Thanks for your time.
Party on, Dudes!