Flanders Fields – Music Monday

It was the early days of World War I in the Second Battle near the town of Ypres. A 22-year old Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed, from the explosion of a German artillery shell. He died 102 years ago tomorrow, May 2, 1915.

Ypres a small, ancient Belgian town saw some of the most intense and sustained battles during the war. Helmer was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as his friend, doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae.

John McCrea

The son of Scottish immigrants, for McCrea, medicine, the Army and poetry were family traditions.

As the brigade doctor, McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis. Later that evening, in his grief, for his lost friend, he began the draft for the poem In Flanders Field.

Written from the perspective of the dead it speaks of their sacrifice and serves as their wish for the living, that they press on. It became one of the most notable poems of its era and has attained iconic status in Canada.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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Music Monday – A Fine Sight to See

It was a year ago this past week while on the first leg of my long anticipated Around the USA road trip. I was cruising along Interstate 40, eastbound at 80 miles an hour approaching Winslow, Arizona.

It was nearly 11:00 at night. I’d left Las Vegas 5 hours earlier and had a long trip ahead. Other than a few stops for naps I was determined to make it to Huntsville, Alabama, still 21 hours away, for my first layover to visit family.

Weeks earlier I’d researched the routing, and possible sightseeing stops. Now, nearing the first possibility at a spot in Winslow’s downtown corridor, I was having second thoughts. After all it was late and I found myself unsure I wanted to delay my momentum so early in the trip. Would it be worth the bother?

A check of my GPS indicated it was just a mile or so off the Interstate. Had it been five miles I probably wouldn’t have stopped. Turned out it was just too close to pass by.

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50 Shades of Rick

Things you may or may not know. Revelations and a few more confessions.

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1) I was born on December 6, 1952 in a small Pennsylvania town. Despite the realization I find myself on the downhill side of life, I’m hopeful there’s more miles and milestones ahead! Craig Newmark, the computer programmer, businessman and founder of Craigslist was born on the same exact day.

2) My parents were never married and my father died when I was 2. He was 31-years old.

3) I was adopted by my father’s sister. She would soon divorce her husband whose last name I bear today. I was raised by a single mother.

4) I’m a seventh generation American. One of my 4th great grandfathers came from Germany while another migrated from Sligo, Ireland. My heritage includes heroes and scoundrels. Some of them helped shape the future of the country serving in all ranks in both the War of Independence and the Civil War. Dig deep enough and you probably have them too.

5) I am very much a proud American and a patriot. As long as I can remember that’s always been true. I believe in American Exceptionalism.

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 Decisions

I watched a movie a few nights ago about the writer Ernest Hemingway, probably the most influential writer of his time. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature. In 1964 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But despite all his success and fame he was a troubled man. He made some awful decisions. His final one was to end his life with a shotgun.

In poker, decisions really matter. A big part of the game is inducing your opponents to make mistakes. Good and bad decisions can make the difference between sudden death or sitting behind a commanding stack of chips. It’s said, poker is a microcosim of life itself. It’s true and part of the reason I love the game so much. Still to be determined though, is whether my investment in it has been a good… or a bad decision.

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Thoughts on Veterans Day, 2016

I’ve never looked at my service in the Air Force as a sacrifice, nor as a selfless act. It was among the best years of my life and with them came many opportunities.

I came away from those days so much more the benefactor. I was blessed beyond measure to have been born in this country. It was the least I could do for it.

If I am a prideful person it’s for two reasons: I’m proud to have served in the military and I am a proud American.

On this day, while I salute all those who took the pledge — those who wear and wore the uniform — I remember especially those who I knew personally, those who never returned to their homes and family. The 6 crew members of a B-52 who frequented our fire station for the “good food and vending machines.” The F-105 pilot whose ejection seat malfunctioned killing him and another firefighter on my crew. And then finally a high school classmate, Robert Bolt “R.B.” Dickerson an 18 year old Marine killed in South Vietnam in May of 1971.

There were a few others I knew and served with who paid the ultimate price and whose names I don’t now recall. Of course there are tens of thousands more from that era and from various wars and conflicts before and after. It is them I think of today. Any other “sacrifice” pales in comparison.

Died on the Fourth of July

On this day as we gather our families together with picnics and fireworks to celebrate our country’s independence I can’t help but think of my 2nd great-grandfather Edward Byron Patton. He was 34 years old on this date in 1860. Less than a year later Abraham Lincoln would become president. The father of 4 small children ages 1-6, the youngest, my great grandmother Mary Jane.

Edward Byron Patton

Edward Byron Patton

There was no celebration for Edward or his family on that Fourth of July and I would imagine it was tainted every year after. For on that morning his 27-year old wife Esther passed away. A newspaper account read that so greatly admired was she, and through respect to her memory in their small town, “all patriotic demonstrations were suspended and not an unnecessary sound was heard throughout the day.”

Edward never remarried and over all those years ahead, as a single father, he raised his children. Along the way he became a successful builder and contractor. I can imagine he was a beloved father, grandfather and patriarch.

I often think of what it must have been like for my great grandfather on that solemn day, traditionally set aside for happy celebration. I wonder what it would have been like to have watched him on that day conduct his affairs with the loss of his young wife. He was once a breathing living person, as real as you and I. Not just a name with dates and places among a long list of thousands who came before us. How I would like to set across the table from him and get to know him.

That’s a little of what I think about, every 4th of July.

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War is not the answer?

While driving across the I-90 floating bridge into Seattle a few days ago I couldn’t help but notice a sticker on the rear window of a Prius. You’ve probably seen one yourself. “War is not the answer” it read.

Sorry, I beg to differ!

We live in times when barely a week goes by without reading, seeing or at least hearing of yet another terrorist attack somewhere in the world. The most recent was Thursday’s vicious assault by an Islamist terrorist group on innocent, unarmed university students in Kenya, Africa. The massacre took the lives of 148 students.
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Our government and our naïve citizenry, just like the one in the Prius, need to wake up! What’s it going to take? Must we bear a similar attack, or even worse, here in the United States to wake these types up to the stark reality? This is war, like it or not! A war centered on the fanatical religious beliefs of the insane. These are tyrants whose desire is to advance the cause of Islam, no matter the cost or the method.

The length of time, as well as the price we’ll have to pay to defend ourselves against this enemy, will be long and costly. It already has been. It’s a struggle that could be without end and with no victors. Certainly nothing can be accomplished in ridding the world — if even possible — of these sick madmen without our united resolve.

We must be fierce, relentless and bold. We must take actions meant not for the faint-of-heart. And finally, we must take this war to the enemy. Our only defense against these sick, degenerate maniacs is offensive. We simply have to take the battle to them and engage them without restraint. It’s either them or us.

I choose us!

Many good people promote peace by opposing war.  They advocate laws or treaties to abolish war, to require disarmament, or to reduce armed forces. Those methods may reduce the likelihood or the costs of war.  But opposition to war cannot ensure peace, because peace is more than the absence of war. ~~ Dallin H. Oaks