The Immeasurable “Peace” In Peace Officer……..

I am currently not following major league sports, instead finding that appetite fed by collegiate activities that will soon be corrupted by money and endorsements as well. When I read the paper, however, I do note the activities of league leaders in batting, wins, and saves by the bullpen guys. It must be nice to hang a nice tidy statistic on whatever it is that you do for a living. Police officers don’t have that luxury. Here is why…….

This morning I read about a 3 year old child that drowned at a swim beach on Table Rock Lake. The child was left unattended and found floating before rescue attempts ultimately failed. This tragedy reminded me of the good side of policing, a facet that gets little attention because you can’t develop a stat relative to your efforts in educating our “clients” the citizenry we protect. Specifically, it reminded me of my Award winning daughter and her tireless efforts at preventing these tragedies as a member of the Marine Division of the Highway Patrol. Her reputation for fair and aggressive enforcement was overshadowed by her zeal and presence in the classroom, delivering common sense water safety and regulation to thousands of folks over her career. Unfortunately, the results of her efforts can’t be measured, as it is impossible to know how many lives were saved by her enthusiasm and skill.

In our careers we answer hundreds of thousands of questions. Seldom, in the day, did we sit down for a quick lunch and not have an opportunity to educate an inquiring mind. Weather conditions, road conditions, favorable routing and equipment advice as well as legal inquiries were usually the topic. How much of this advice made a quantifiable difference? We’ll never know. In my day we placed a manicured Patrol Car in a fire station on the Optimist Cub’s respect for law day. I loved this opportunity to show kids the workings of a Patrol Car and answer hard questions about why we carry guns and what difference traffic and criminal law make to each of us. The response to these events was rewarding but not quantifiable.

Part of the job……

We may never know how much solace we provide after the death of someone in an accident. Our authority and ability to bring some organization to the details surrounding an untimely death is not quantifiable. Being an authority figure in these circumstance requires a great deal of composure and brings some degree of certainty to the circumstances, but it can’t be measured.

I have loaded badly hurt dogs in my Patrol Car and taken them to a vet, seeing to it they were either provided medical attention or saved from their suffering. I have stood next to a carnival pony, tied to a mileage marker on the interstate with a broken leg awaiting a local vet’s arrival to put him down. In both cases, we made an immeasurable difference to one of God’s critters.

How do you measure this?

Finally, there is the consideration of presence. What difference have we made by simply being at the right place at the right time? Years ago, we lived on an acreage outside of Jefferson City where we were in the process of building our home. I drove out there, in uniform, and climbed a ladder to watch the roofers work for a few minutes. They had no idea this was my house they were working on. After watching for awhile, one of the roofers walked over to me and asked how I knew about him (he was wanted). This assumption being prompted by a trooper sitting down next to him as he worked, for no apparent reason other than to arrest him. I asked where he was wanted, climbed down and confirmed the warrant, cuffed him and took him to jail. He asked how I found him and we both laughed hard when he discovered that I had no idea about him and the house was mine. It is where presence, alone, compelled a surrender. How many times has presence, alone, prevented an untoward event? We’ll never know.

To all the defund idiocy that is still wafting about, you have no idea what we do. It is not a life, as depicted on television, of shootouts and incredible enforcement tactics. While these things do happen, we contribute in thousands of ways that cannot be captured on paper with a number. It is usually after you have left the business that you start thinking about the “other” ways you have contributed to the greater good. We were paid to make a difference that cannot always be captured as a statistic.

Have a great week!

SR

Perspective, Perception And Spin……..

In order to satisfy some important educational objective in my freshman year of college, I took a course titled “Art Appreciation”. It was not a good fit for me, as beauty was not in the medium on a classic piece of art painstakingly cobbled together by one of the masters, rather a goggle eye just removed from a Big Piney root wad or a nice buck that drifted a little too close to my deer rifle de jour on a frosty fall morning. Madonna never caught my eye quite like a cute high school classmate as we loaded up for a movie date under the disapproving eye of her mother. The Masters and I do not agree on the definition of art. Probably never will.

Now we live in a world of perspectives, a fifty cent word for “spin”. I suppose we have politics to blame for never really knowing where the truth is these days, but the spin game is played daily. Consider the following masters of spin.

Listening to elected officials, 101

First up, we have realtors. Now to my realtor friends out there, do not be offended by this unmasking of the tricks of your trade. After all, the final decision needs to be made by the buyer and not based on one of the crazy distorted photos that are so prevalent today. There is wizardry in making a shoe box kitchen, with a hot plate for a stove, look like Emeril Lagasse’s kitchen. Realtors are becoming even more creative with the use of drones where a sink hole looks like a manicured lawn and the sunset shades a house that Herman Munster once rejected. They can make ditches go away and the word “rustic” conjure up thoughts of a lakeside cabin and biscuits just coming out of the oven. They are masters at staging a home, to hide the occasional flaw, with expensive furniture as well as providing direction to bring freshly baked cookies out of the oven as the clients drive up. “Quaint” is another word that suggests beauty and comfort…..in what might have been a chicken coop. No offense intended guys, but you are masters of illusion.

Well….they are Angels (sort of)

Next we have car salesmen. You might be looking at a 10 year old rust bucket, with the exhaust pipe wired to the bumper, but if you show interest, the salesman can assure you the car is a fine “local commuter” or errand car for around town. They will tell you they offer a “limited” 30 day warranty, point out the glass is all good and a seat cover or two will keep your butt off the springs. By the way, they are also very handy with the camera and hype. A little “surface rust” or “one owner” are handy fill ins for a car that may not make it off the lot under it’s own power. The bottom line is that if you show interest, they know how to maximize your interest. A good salesman only needs your perception to close the deal.

Finally, let’s talk optometrist offices. This week I had a lens surreptitiously fall out of my glasses. After realizing that I was not having a stroke, and finding the lens, I popped into my optometrists office to replace the offending screw. The conversations around me where hilarious. Folks who can’t see very well were attempting to pick out frames for new glasses. Never do this alone, especially if you can barely see the wall the frames are displayed on. People wear strange frames, some colorful, some God awful in shape and size, and some that defy any degree of normalcy, at least to the casual observer. It matters not. If you pick out a pair of chartreuse frames with Turkey vultures on the ear-piece and alligator skin nose pieces, the clerk will tell you how good they look on you. When your glasses arrive at a meeting about ten minutes ahead of you, the wearer, you have a glasses salesperson to thank. Again, never do this alone.

Today, we live as never before in a world of spin. Remember this advice. If you are listening to a person that was elected to his or her position, if you are buying something based on perception as opposed to utility, be careful. I try to choose dealing with folks like my physicians, people who tell it like it is, with warmth and honesty. We have been exceedingly fortunate to have several real estate agents who were ruthlessly honest and we generally buy new vehicles, based on research and expert opinion from sources other than sales staff. The last pair of glasses that I buy will be under the approving eye of Sharon, knowing full well she will not let me get out of there with a pair of clown specs perched on my nose. Today, more than ever before, the truth is elusive.

Have a good weekend.

SR

Keep The Finger Holstered………

Recent studies have shown that fully one third of road rage incidents involve guns, either defensively or offensively. It matters little here, because either way is gonna hurt you. In the US, there are, on average, 30 murders each year as a result of a road rage inspired incident. There are estimated to be an additional 12,600 reportable injuries annually attributed to rage. It is also estimated that as many as two thirds of all fatal accidents involve aggressive driving, as defined above. Not surprisingly, teenage males lead in the rage statistics but few of us are totally immune. Screaming at another motorist through your steering wheel is a symptom of our vulnerability and a prominent middle finger the ultimate indication of our displeasure. Screaming will address the adrenaline rush, the middle finger will get you shot or run off the road. Hear me out here.

Blow her a kiss…might keep your mirror from being snapped off and thrown at you.

A refresher on the indications of road rage is hardly needed for my readers. It is simple really, any movement made in traffic contrary to existing traffic law qualifies you as a slob driver or rage seized menace. Traffic enforcement is down in America. Covid has taken it’s toll with fewer officers during the pandemic willing to share space and air with folks who might be afflicted. Understandable. This phenomenon has also resulted in a newer generation of drivers who have little fear of police interference in their quest for notoriety. Statistics suggest that 2 out of every 3 fatal accidents involve rage or aggressive driving. Amazingly, 2% of road rage incidents result in one of the drivers attempting to run the other off the road.

Another contributing factor to road rage is the horn. Who hasn’t sat through a light change behind a possessed idiot feverishly manipulating their cell phone? When you are in that position, do you offer a courtesy beep on the horn or do you smash the horn button flat until your battery dies? Where you are when you offer the horn matters. In Dallas or St. Louis there is a certain horn etiquette that is expected and followed. I suspect the etiquette is far different in Portland or New York. Too long on a horn will certainly elicit an un-holstered middle finger accompanied by the wire to your horn being wrapped around your throat. You could, as an alternative, be shot or your car set on fire.

Okay, here is my point. Rethink your aggressive driving tendencies. There are about 393 million firearms in America, every car has a horn and we learn at the age of five what the middle finger means. Listen to this admonition from a retired traffic cop; courtesy taps are okay, the driver next to you may be an armed sociopath, and keep the damned finger holstered and in your lap. Learn to scream without moving your lips and have a nice calming cocktail when you hit the door at home. It takes two of you to create a rage incident, and neither one of you will remember it two days later.

When you get right down to it, road rage is really stupid…..on either side of the transgression. Vehicles cost a lot and all lives matter!

Have a great week!

SR

Old School……

In the news today, The US Air Force has announced new standards for physical fitness, presumably to accommodate the diversified nature of today’s young airmen and women. It seems the incoming folks can walk, as opposed to run, a mile and a half with other changes such as a planks rather than pushups when demonstrating their physical prowess. Should we be concerned? Hell yes, we absolutely should.

Two times in my lifetime I was required to meet a minimum physical standard necessary to fulfilling the role I was assuming. The first time was in Ft. Polk, Louisiana in the months of July and August, 1969, and the second was upon entering the Missouri State Highway Patrol training academy in July of 1972. In each case my well being was in the hands of folks who understood that preparation to fight a jungle war in Vietnam or a mean drunk on a county road somewhere in the hinterland would require a degree of conditioning exceeding a leisurely walk down a country road or the ability to hold a modified pushup position for a minute or two. Let me explain.

After a rough flight on a Trans Texas Airline puddle jumper, I arrived at scenic Ft. Polk at 1:30 AM. We had not slept since being sworn into the US Army in Kansas City around noon the day preceding. We were assured we had little value as human beings and ushered off to a building that was reminiscent of a cell block in a Southern prison farm. This was the beginning of our transformation from carefree high schoolers to a human being ready to fight for his life in Southeast Asia. The lynch pin in this transformation was one Domonick Petrarca, the Senior Drill Instructor. Sgt. Petrarca hailed from the streets of New Jersey and was as mean as a snake. He was also very effective and after 8 weeks, we had learned the basics of soldiering. Those veterans reading this know what I mean when I say Petrarca could transition from a butt stroke to a parry forward in a millisecond. He was effective and you either left the place conditioned and ready to fight or you got to start over, an experience sanctioned in hell.

My second experience was in the Highway Patrol Academy. This institution has produced many semi legendary physical training officers, and we soon became acquainted with our mentor, Corporal Paul Corbin (later Captain Corbin) who saw to it that every graduating recruit met a rather ambitious physical training standard. We soon realized that conditioning and maintaining control of society’s sociopaths and aberrant souls would, more than occasionally, require strength, stamina and resolve. Police work, like combat, is not for the faint of heart. Although the techniques taught were geared to a civil environment, both occupations require a certain and absolute degree of conditioning.

Captain Paul Corbin
Senior Drill Sergeant Domonick Petrarca

Back to the beginning. I emphatically disagree with the loosening of standards that seems to be the order of the day in occupations where well conditioned men and women are expected to win in a confrontation. I also am at odds with those who somehow believe that a social worker can talk him or herself through a confrontation with a mean drunk or sociopath bent on destruction. There really was a day, folks, when spitting on a police officer would see you launched right out of your brand new looted Nikes. Respect is gone because we no longer expect respect. Sad, really.

Thank you to my two personal mentors, who knew full well what I didn’t know. The number of really mean or otherwise societally challenged people is increasing and we are relaxing rather than enhancing the standards for confronting and dealing with these people. Our military has come to the point where it’s male members are taught how difficult it is to walk in high heels and how horrible it is to be in a minority or protected class where white supremacy reigns supreme. Believe me when I tell you when you are in a fight for your life, the color of the participants makes no difference, whereas your degree of conditioning and stamina mean everything. Don’t pray for a lighter load, instead pray for a stronger back.

This is one time where old school is best.

Have a great 4th of July holiday!

SR

The First Car Buying Experience….

Our family and extended family are all car people. It is a rare vehicle that lives it’s full life in our stable. I can’t think of a single vehicle that we drove from the showroom until it was hooked to a salvage yard to await it’s turn in the crusher. The game has changed, with internet pricing and the ability to have a vehicle evaluated, assigned a rating, and shipped to your driveway from somewhere in America being examples of today’s marketplace. I am old school and enjoy what Sharon refers to as the “dance of death” as you haggle with a salesman over a car you have seen, driven and evaluated personally. So we smiled broadly when Kaelin, our grand daughter entered the fray. Our job, approved by her parents, was to simply accompany her to look at a car in Springfield that Kaelin had found. Little did we know what we were in for…..

There are a number of Subarus in our family. Brand loyalty has never been my strong suit, but we like the offerings from this Nippon company. After researching extensively, and with deep consultation with her folks, Kaelin began looking for a pre-owned Subaru to replace her beater (an older Subaru) to take to Kansas City where she was to pursue her first employment opportunity after college. At a franchised dealership in Springfield, she found a newer Outback that looked promising. We arrived at the dealership to find an exceptionally clean and well maintained Outback, priced at the upper level of its value range. You guessed it, she fell in love with the car and decided to purchase it. After a quick consult with her folks, Sharon and I were asked to guide her through this process. Miss Kaelin then entered her first “dance of death”.

To get Kaelin on the right track, I told the salesman that we were not going to give them their asking price, and armed him with the number that was more appropriate. Kaelin gained a deep appreciation for the haggling game, and the extras that we demanded such as the removal of two door dents and painting of the rear valence that was scratched. After an hour or so, we came to terms and Kaelin was delighted with her first car deal. She learned to brush off the myriad of “great” opportunities, such as a lifetime clear coat protectant and extended warranties. Financing was easily arranged with her pristine but limited credit rating and substantial down payment and she was the owner of the Outback. Sharon was on deck and accompanied her to the meeting with the F&I folks to sign the paperwork. Kaelin sat through a second assault with offers of a number of great options and opportunities. She was learning and brushed them off.

We have all been here. Cars are an integral part of American life. I have written before about the enchanting lure of the internal combustion engine (yes with it’s carbon footprint and destruction of the world wide eco-system). America is within easy reach on our deteriorating road system and freedom is a button push or key turn away for a very mobile people. Our first vehicle purchase from a dealership is not easily forgotten. The margins today are narrowed considerably from days past as the internet has dramatically increased the competitiveness of a multi-billion dollar industry. This industry is driven by the delivery of cars and trucks, one at a time, to a customer from a dealer. Each of us will arrive at our final earthly resting place in a vehicle, hopefully not a damned Tesla with it’s thousand pound battery, rather a carbon spewing chariot courtesy of the genius of Henry Ford.

Miss Kaelin and her chariot to freedom!

Thank you Kaelin for allowing us to share in your first retail car buying experience. Your innocence, kindness and trusting nature will serve you well in your lifetime. It will also be tested in sales offices as you seek new chariots to freedom. Lee Iacocca, an icon and master of automobile retailing, said “never let a deal walk”, advice to salesmen that is timeless. We are proud of you! He didn’t let you walk……and he didn’t get his price either. Enjoy that new car and be safe. We love you, kiddo.

Have a good week!

SR

All Hail The Pig Trail….

The past two weeks have been spent in our neighbor to the south, Arkansas, at two distinctly different Ozark Mountain RV parks. You don’t have to travel far to enjoy the rugged beauty of this region. Our first stay was in a “resort” park, with many amenities such as zip lining and a large pool, twice daily trash runs and set your propane tanks out and they will be refilled and delivered back to your sight convenience. While expensive, and not a usual stop for us, it afforded a glimpse into the type of park where million dollar rigs were rather common among the units of folks like us who travel comfortably but not opulently. As always, the people in the RV culture offer a glimpse into Americana.

We started at our own Echo Bluff, close to home, where we could shake down our RV after it had reposed in storage for over a year. There I met a funeral director/embalmer from St. Louis who is on Missouri’s mass death response team and saw service in Joplin after the tornado. He is from the St. Louis area and was charming as well as astute. His knowledge of the Highway Patrol in his area was eye opening. You don’t often have the chance to visit with a man who understands death in ways we don’t see. Pragmatic but sympathetic and entirely service oriented. Fascinating.

We then moved to Hot Springs, to the Catherine’s Landing resort, on Lake Catherine. It is corporate owned and the subject of my remarks above. We visited the University of Arkansas maintained Botanical Gardens, on the shores of Lake Hamilton, which were absolutely gorgeous. It was hot, hilly and taxing on Tazzy and me but well worth the modest admission charge. US 70 (not I-70) will shake the fillings from your teeth east of Hot Springs. Beware.

We then relocated to Eureka Springs, to a park said to be among the best in Arkansas, Wanderlust RV Park. It is, indeed, very nice. The hospitality is top notch, hook ups excellent and cleanliness and affordability first rate. The units are close to one another, too close in some spots, but not disqualifying. The Eureka Springs Trolley picks up in the park and transports you downtown to an eclectic environment. This is home to the Great Passion Play and, to the uninitiated, a very diversified population. The host is a former Washington State area police officer and who also worked for the New Orleans Police department for 7 years. Those in the know are aware that New Orleans is home to one of the most corrupt police forces in the nation, and he freely acknowledged their colorful history. (Officers killing their partners in an armed robbery and such). We are sharing space with a retired California trooper and other police types while here. You can spend several days here and not see all there is to see in this region.

Finally, the ultimate adventure. I have always wanted to ride the infamous Pig Trail through the Boston Mountains of Arkansas on my motorcycle. Having not accomplished this, I made the decision to pull our 34’ RV down the trail. It is a series of sharp switch backs and challenging hills and grades. When we entered we were greeted by a “road work ahead” sign, prompting some concern, but I am a “professional driver” so ahead we charged. There is no turning around when you are well into the trail. Some 15 miles in we encountered a sign that said no trailers over 16’ allowed. It was a sphincter tightening moment. The sign needed to be 15 miles back from where it was erected. We soon drove up on a line of stopped traffic, including a loaded log truck pulling a “pup” or trailer also loaded with giant oak timber. We could see a problem on the hairpin curve ahead and a group of highwaymen talking to the truck driver. They left him and came to talk to me. They explained that a one lane, inside section of the curve had fallen away in two places and that I could not make the curve. The boss noticed Sharon’s police pillow and asked if I was a LEO. Turns out he was a deputy before retiring and going into road construction. I asked if I could walk down and look at the problem and he invited me to do so.

Decision time! The trucker said no, a good decision, as he had too long a wheelbase.

It was a nasty scenario and exactly as he described. If I elected to stay where I was, we would be spending the day and likely night on a steep grade communing with nature in a place that lightning would have to double clutch to hit us. If I got to the turn and got cold feet, then I would be obstructing the arrival of equipment to the scene. If I dropped off the edge, we would be a new tourist attraction on the Pig Trail, a monument to fool hardy confidence. During our conversation, the foreman noted that I was a Captain on the Patrol in Missouri, which was met with great deference. The decision was then mine to make. I borrowed a 50 foot tape from a worker, measured the radius of the curve, and then measured my wheelbase from the back axle of the Ram to the trailer axles, made a hasty calculation and announced I was ready to go. I figured I had two feet more than I needed. The foreman declared, “The Captain says he can do it”. I climbed in the truck and watched Sharon bury her head in her hands. I told the foreman if this goes to hell, take plenty of pictures, but was confident I could negotiate the corner safely. The workers all got out of the way and we began the the turn. Turns out I had two feet to spare and to their cheers, we were on our way. Here is the take away, that my friend, Stan Oglesby, knows to be the truth. Math is absolute, if it is done correctly. The construction workers have a story to tell, Sharon has renewed confidence in my eroding skills and my butt cheeks have finally turned loose of the fine leather seat in our new Ram truck.

RV’ing is an adventure, We celebrated our success in a bikers bar (no guns allowed) in Eureka Springs with a couple of the best chicken tacos I have ever eaten and settled in to watch a lovely Arkansas sunset.

Life is a hoot! Enjoy it while you still can.

Have a great weekend!

SR

Carrying Concealed In Simple Terms….

You have made the decision to arm yourself. Recent statistics regarding the sale of firearms in America clearly indicate you are not alone. There were 15,966,389 guns sold in America in the first four months of this year, with a large percentage of them being concealable, thus concentrating tremendous firepower in a small package. Knowledgeable folks estimate that 5,000,000 buyers were first time gun owners. (Sales were up 40% to women in 2020.) Interestingly, our neighbor to the east, Illinois, with 4% of the US population accounted for 27% of all sales nationally in the first four months of 2021. Who is buying, carrying and most importantly why? Read on.

Have you prepared for the outcome?

Gun ownership is guaranteed by our Constitution. As a result of this guarantee, Americans buy for as many reasons as there are people. Social scientists are at odds with the root reasons for gun ownership but are in agreement that a very significant part of the population acquires a firearm for personal protection. You would be consumed with naïveté if you cannot see why this is happening given the chaos in the streets and the proliferation of violence. I am not a social scientist, so will leave this issue to them. I have carried a firearm for 50 years or so of my life, both professionally and as an ordinary citizen. As a result of this experience, I am offering a commentary on several key elements attendant to the carrying of a firearm for personal protection. Here we go.

Proficiency: If you are going to carry a firearm, it is imperative that you know how to operate it. That is load, unload, clean it and shoot reasonably accurately. If you have not mastered these elements, carry a brick instead, and learn to throw it at an intended target.

The law: Shooting someone in your defense or the defense of others is opening yourself up to the vagaries of the law, both criminally and civilly. That 75 cent bullet can cost you everything you own or will hope to own if you fail to exercise excellent judgement when you send it on it’s way. Lawyers love the smell of gunpowder.

Mission: Are you protecting your home, yourself or those around you. If you are simply protecting your home, there are a number of shorter, but legal, shotguns on the market that are far superior to a handgun for this job. If personal protection is your goal, then you have a tremendous selection to choose from; tiny, powerful hand cannons, medium frame pistols and full sized handguns, some with amazing magazine capacities that are rarely of significance in an armed encounter. Protecting yourself and another person standing along side you is entirely different than engaging a shooter in a church or shopping mall where a number of souls are in peril. To a large extent, the extreme differences in intended mission will determine what kind of firearm you carry. The effectiveness of a big bore, full sized handgun is remarkably different than a .380 pocket pistol in your waistband, though both will certainly kill. The perfect handgun has yet to be developed, however; the manufacturers continue to work to this end.

Will: Do you have the will to shoot another human being? It is not as easy as it appears on television. Circumstance be damned, if you cannot aim a firearm at another human being and kill him or her, you are going to join the surprising numbers of folks who have chosen to seek cover as opposed to engaging a shooter that is threatening others, even when armed. Police officers face this same dilemma and they are trained to engage the shooter and protect others and not just themselves. This hesitation has cost officer’s lives and will your’s too, if you assume the role of active engagement on behalf of others, without the will to shoot a human being. On a much lesser scale, it is akin to teaching a young hunter to calmly look at a beautiful, young deer and shoot it to death. There is no dignity in death. An armed encounter, folks, is not a turn the other cheek proposition.

At this point, it is all on the line

This is not intended as an all inclusive treatise on the implications of carrying a firearm. It is intended to offer an insight into four elements that are essential to consider when you make the decision to carry. There are other considerations, such as open carry vs. concealed carry (I am not a fan of open carry having heard every argument relative to this consideration), security of the gun you carry and carry positions on your person. Do not talk to the gun shop owner for 15 minutes, buy it, load it and stick it in your pocket. You would be much better suited to buying that brick and a whistle and going forth. Give thought to your decision and seek training. Your preparation will make a difference when the trigger is pulled, I can guarantee it.

Have a great weekend!

SR

My War, Memorial Day And The Untold Story…….

Another Memorial Day is here and tradition tells us the day is set aside in remembrance of those who have died in the line of duty while serving in our Armed Forces. Every generation of folks who have served have a different story to tell, my generation marked the end of an era in the military where the business of killing efficiently was the order of the day and cultural diversity was simply assumed. Along the way, I lost uniformed friends to accidents, hostile action and homicide. I am offering a glimpse into the preparation that you go through to serve in a war zone. Every grave stone of a member of our Armed Forces is backed by a story. The living speak for the dead. Technology is changing the way we fight and I have little insight into the battlefield of today, but I understood the rules in my war, Vietnam. Let’s have a look at what happens before the Lord calls you home in the defense of America.

The risk was great and the reward is America as we know it.

You began military life under the tutelage of a Drill Sergeant whose decided motivation was to toughen, strengthen, teach you to shoot, follow orders and think under pressure. When this sixteen weeks of basic and advanced training was over, depending on your specialty, you were off to a duty station. In my case it was Vietnam where my specialty was computing data for the delivery of accurate artillery fire. On the way to Vietnam, we were housed in a giant warehouse in Oakland, Ca., where the lights were left on 24/7 to discourage suicide and mischief. The PA system droned on incessantly, calling names for a manifest, assigning you a seat on a charter flight to the war. The mattress stank from the sweat of thousands of folks who waited their turn to go ahead of you. Your jungle fatigues smelled of new, your boots were stiff and uncomfortable and the tension ran high. You were exhausted and sleep did not come easily. Missing a manifest was a very bad thing…so you formed a relationship with another soldier to listen while you dozed. As you boarded the airplane, you walked past returning warriors, tanned, grizzled and avoiding your eyes. Some crossed themselves, contributing to your fear. Across the tarmac, aluminum shipping containers, coming off the aircraft, opened your eyes to the reality of what you were facing.

Soon you were on the ground in Vietnam. The doors to the airplane were opened and a blast of peculiar smelling humid air slammed you in the face. You were briefed on what to do in case of a mortar attack and you were bussed to in country reception. You found another sweat stained mattress and began waiting for your assignment. You were anxious to learn your role and get this experience over with. Time crawled. While I was waiting, a young West Point Lieutenant was fragged and killed as he slept in the First Sergeant’s rack, mistakenly killed by a soldier who hated the Top Sergeant. They called it fragging, the use of a grenade to kill a superior. That was first blood for me and marked the casual indifference that accompanies death in a combat zone. As they say today, “stuff” was getting real.

Soon enough I settled into my job in a Division FDC, or Fire Direction Control center. Not bad, except for assignment on an as needed basis to Fire Bases that needed a slide rule toting guy with a rifle. This is the part where you get shot at, mortared or subjected to ground probes. The guys before me did all the heavy lifting leaving me to bat clean up. Still, I was alive. Our body counts, the only way to assess success in this war, were trending down and we continued to inflate our kill numbers. There is always a political beast to be fed when you are a pawn in the deadly chess game of war.

In my war, the two most devastating elements of combat were well trained, seasoned rifle companies and crack field artillery batteries. The damage to human beings that can be done with these components is forever seared in my mind. I was never prouder of an association with the military than I was then. Still, I was a small cog in a big machine. With God’s province, I also was not shrouded in a poncho, tossed into a helicopter and flown out to Graves Registration to be prepared for shipment back home, in a reusable aluminum shipping box, to join the 57,000 other patriots who’s work on earth was done. The smell of burned flesh, old death, and cordite is forever imprinted in my mind. You grow up a lot in a combat zone, if you have the chance. So many did not. In Vietnam, if you survived a year, you flew home sitting in a seat, or in a specially equipped Air Force airplane where your wounds could be attended. I was in a seat.

My point is this. Every veteran, in every era, has a story to tell of sacrifice, fear, and service to America. Some are incredible, some are the opposite and most fall in the middle. I would suggest that when you see a veteran’s grave, there is a story of sacrifice to be told. There is a back story, adapted to the era they served in.When you encounter the smooth white grave stone, it is more than a name, it represents a saga that is sadly untold. A man or woman with a rifle, a slide rule or a kitchen spoon underwrote your family picnic and whatever festivities you engage in. Every man and every woman who died in the service of this country mattered. Today, through our shared experiences, I speak for them. It is their day. May God richly bless those who reside under that smooth white stone….

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend……

SR

An Old Fashioned Date Night…

Think back to your high school years for a bit. It was a simple time especially if they were enjoyed in small town America. It was a beautiful time in our lives, with little to worry about in my day unless you had drawn a low number in the lottery, guaranteeing an extended vacation in Southeast Asia. High School athletics, an occasional bon-fire, an incessant run of movies in run down movie houses were the norm. If you were a woodsman or waterman, Missouri was your huckleberry. We had little concept of time, naively believing we were immortal, and that life was easy. The truth is that most of us did not see life coming.

The pandemic has altered our existence. We have been forced into a lifestyle that is predictable and challenging. For many of us, this time out in life has taken a year or so from us when our inventory of years is low and exceedingly precious. Sharon and I have ventured out a bit. We are gastronomes and make no apology. We have found a number of new eateries that have not disappointed, and more than a few that have seen our shadow for the last time. I am married to an incessant shopper who can remember the price of the same pair of jeans in ten outlets. She is capable of finding a sale rack during a hurricane induced power outage. We are venturing out again where she is sharpening those skills. So, like cicadas emerging from their shells we are slowly returning to “normal”. It should come as no surprise that a week or so ago, Sharon suggested we take a class where we learn to arrange a charcuterie display on a aptly named charcuterie board that we had burned a design into. We gathered at the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium’s Great Barrier Reef display, at tables for two, where we were instructed by a couple of charcuterie chefs and the resident wood burning authority. It was the classic date; something new, a glass or two of Moscato, a sanded white pine board and an assortment of the kinds of healthy eats that go into this style of French table fare. We were kids again, laughing at our (my) lack of artistic skills, in a setting that was gorgeous.

The assortment that we prepared for the board

My board was totally unimpressive. I burned “Ozark Life”, within a heart, into the corner of the board, while the resident elementary teacher/administrator demonstrated her skill as she burned “The Taz M’Haul” (the name of our RV) and a paw print into hers. (I’ll get even with this beat down on the pistol range later.) These folks then gather your boards, sand them and put some sort of beautiful, food acceptable, finish on them and return them to you. This is all done after the food arrangement class with the provided meats, cheeses, fruits and veggies. Like the ragged old teddy bear you won throwing your arm out at weighted milk bottles, these boards are trophies and will be around a long time.

Notice the delicate touch!
The work of an over achiever

We learned some things. First, it is still possible to take leave of your senses and dispense with the challenges that our world presents. We also learned that a fused index finger and a burning tool are not compatible. I did not burn myself, however; my normally suspect penmanship became a form of hieroglyphics, strangely intriguing but somewhat appalling. Like a Roman Gladiator, I got in the ring and gave it a go, even if I held the tool like the ripper held a knife. We learned that an arrangement of mustards, select jams, fruits, dips, breads and vegetables with an assortment of meats spiced to different tastes is a welcome departure from fried, baked or boiled. Finally, we learned that a night without a screen that runs on electricity or requires batteries can be both soothing to the soul and delightful. I almost passed on this opportunity a week ago when Sharon suggested it. I am super glad I did not. Everything is life is NOT deadly serious, however; time together is.

Have a great weekend!

SR

Why I Want To Have Another Colonoscopy…….

Almost everybody over the age of 50 has been wheeled into the cold, imposing procedure room where you are soon to suffer the indignation of a simple colonoscopy. It is the green mile that soon becomes inconsequential thanks to a little shot of Versed to lighten the moment. There has been a number of published accounts that describe the preparation for this cherished tradition, but some of us are not ready for the dreaded summary offered by the gastroenterologist when the Versed clears and your post anesthesia affection kicks in. Let me explain.

First of all, you have been lied to. When you pick up your gallon jug with a smidge of powder sifting around in it, you are told to expect a mild, lemony flavor. Says so on the jug. It does not taste like lemon, even if frozen in a slushy. It tastes like antifreeze smells, with a greasy texture somewhat like drinking water out of a minnow bucket. It takes about 20 minutes or so before your stomach roils around a bit and you head to the bathroom to begin a new porcelain relationship. At first it isn’t so bad, then it becomes a timing problem, solved only by precision forced glides from you chair to the room of convenience. You begin to understand why folks were hoarding tissue and start thinking about a level pay plan for water consumption at your house. Do not run, as you will surely miss an appointment with the toilet. Under these conditions, missing an appointment can be very distasteful.

Ole’ Clinch Killer

You persevere and are suited up for the trip to the hospital sometime the next morning. You leave having very little confidence in your previously formidable nut cracking clinch, and your eyes are slightly crossed from the effort. Folks coming in for this procedure are easy to spot. Eyes crossed and gliding across the floor with movement that would bring tears to a ballroom dancer. They slam home the IV, cover you with a blanket, direct a solid left side position on the gurney and tell you to bring your knees up in a tuck. You are close to the moment of truth, with just enough time before sliding into “conscious sedation” to see what appears to be 500 feet of black hose hanging from a thingabob on a stainless pole. The doc entertains you in a short conversation and bingo……you are gone.

The pre- procedure warm up…….

Assuming a normal examination, the doctor meets you in the recovery room where you can barely see him and will remember very little of what he tells you. This is why you bring someone with you, otherwise you’ll be demanding the procedure just completed get underway. I have been through 5 of these fun days, courtesy of a small anomaly on my very first one many years ago. Although still groggy, and barely able to hear the doc, I abruptly woke up, as alert as a border sentry on the Korean DMZ when I heard the doctor say “you are all done and will never need another one of these”. What do you mean never? Why do you say never? I am on the five year plan and will surely need at least 3 or 4 more of these things. Get me scheduled for 5 years, I’ll pay for it if I have to. I do not want to hear “the last” when referring to my longevity. Suddenly, I liked the idea of a few more colonoscopies, as the alternative does not figure in my long term planning.

I close with this thought. Follow your doctor’s orders and never miss this easy form of preventative maintenance. We all know someone who is dying or has died from one of the most preventable killer malignancies out there. As an afterthought, cheat! Sugarless, real lemon drink mix turns the slippery clinch killer into something that will stay down. It has to be lemon (the color) and even my very conservative gastro doc reluctantly agreed it was fine, as long as it wasn’t red. It worked for me and has to be right, after all I read about it on the internet!

Never…the nerve of that guy! It is on my calendar for 2026. Cost be damned……..no “last” times for me….no sir!

Have a great weekend!

SR