Today Italy’s Celone airfield has returned to nature and agriculture. One couldn’t know the activities, the machines and the hero’s who once occupied this Italian countryside. Only from the air can be seen the faint scarring of the landscape. Hidden are the fading remnants of taxiways and the 6,000 foot runway that gave pathway to the heavy B-17 bombers, their crews and payloads of America’s 15th Air Force.
The faint runway (center), taxiways and other roads of what used to be Celone Airfield.
One of those crew members came from Salt Lake City, via Canada, then England. His name is Howard Thayne. He is my children’s first cousin, two generations removed. Their maternal grandfather and Howard are first cousins. Born on March 23, 1919 in the coal mining camp of Kenilworth, Utah Howard’s family would move to Salt Lake where he was the typical American boy, sociable and popular among his peers. He graduated from West High School and at the age of 19 served a two-year mission for the LDS Church in Canada. Soon after his return home, with the outbreak of World War II, Howard enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
Tomorrow is the birthday of Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. Like Mickey Mantle from my youth, Griffey turned me back to baseball as an adult. It came long after I had abandoned the game 20 years earlier.
It began once again with the excitement of my ten-year old daughter Jaime in the summer of 1989. We were at a neighborhood 7-11 when she talked me into buying a few packs of Upper Deck baseball cards. I hadn’t bought a baseball card in years! The last were used to motorize the sound of my bicycle. They were pretty effective, but the clothes pins couldn’t keeping them from flying off! Among those new cards we found “The Kid”s highly sought after rookie card. Jaime couldn’t believe it! It was the most valuable card in the 800-card set!
I’d never heard of him, but Jaime had! Not even yet a major league player, Upper Deck somehow knew, he soon would be. Ken Griffey, Jr. was going places. These baseball cards were like nothing I’d seen before, they were a work of art, pristine, glossy… darn near perfect! His card was beautiful. He was just an 18-year old kid and I was hooked!
Since I was a young adult I’ve always been an admirer of Bill Lear. The inventor of the car radio, the 8-track music cartridge and, among other things, the business jet that bears his name. Lear, who was born 115 years ago today, had a notable sense of humor, naming his second daughter Crystal Shanda (who they always called Shanda).
Bill Lear – Inventor & Aviation Pioneer
I came to know about Lear in the early 70s when I was in the audience at a taping of the Merv Griffin show in Los Angeles. Lear was a guest on the show along with the McWhirter twin brothers — Ross and Norris — founders of the Guinness Book of Records. A few years later in 1975 Ross was murdered by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1977 Lear would die in Reno of Leukemia. He was 75.
Bill Lear was a creative genius, a self-taught radio engineer with an 8th grade education. After a nearly 50 year career he received well over 120 patents. Shanda said of her father, Dad was always scribbling ideas and designs on restaurant napkins and table cloths, all the while telling jokes and discussing the infinite possibilities of the mind.
Next Saturday June 17th would be my father’s birthday. I don’t remember him. I was two years old when he died, but I think of him often, a lot more so as I’ve grown older. It seems he’s never far from my thoughts. Over the years I heard a lot about him. Of course he was loved by his family and he exemplified love as a devoted son, brother and uncle. People said he was kind-hearted with a great sense of humor.
Richard Delmont Lines (1924-1955)
Described as tall, good-looking, broad-shouldered and physically strong
he was also blessed with musical talent. It was said he was a gifted singer, well versed at playing guitar and a songwriter.
My dad, like his nine other siblings who lived into adulthood, had a rough life growing up. Coming from a broken home, they struggled through the years of the depression. At a very young age they often had to fend for themselves… just to eat. And on occasion some found themselves at odds with the law.
In talking about those days and their tough, undisciplined childhood an uncle described one of his brothers as “one rough character, eleven years old and packing a thirty-eight revolver.” That young boy, through his own determination, overcame those beginnings, and even before the war, was well on the road to turning his life around. He would go on to honorably serve his country as a combat soldier. He was one of the most respected, admired and finest men I’ve ever known.
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.
The son of Scottish immigrants, for McCrea, medicine, the Army and poetry were family traditions.
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.
Things you may or may not know. Revelations and a few more confessions.
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.