Monthly Archives: December 2009

Padre Steve’s Decade in Review: Up Down Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again

Happy New Year!

Well, we have killed off the first decade of the new millennium and I hate to say it but I miss the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.  Somehow despite the threat of double secret nuclear annihilation, disco, and bad hair those decades seemed somehow more civil, more hopeful and dare I say just a bit nicer than the current decade has been.  However this decade is what it is, or maybe was what it was.  I think that most of us could say like the Barry Manilow  song that “I’ve been up down tryin’ to get that feeling again” but like Blobdie sang “Dreaming is Free.”

Personally Padre Steve had recently embarked on another phase of military service having left the Army Reserve in February 1999 to enter the Navy. Since that time my career has been pretty good and I’m glad that I made the switch.  I have had the chance to serve with some great folks and see a lot more of the world and do a lot of cool things, including going to war. This time in 1999 I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  The big thing going on back then was the world being up in arms about the threat of something called Y2K.  Y2K was supposed to end life as we knew it as anything using computer technology was going to quit working, airplanes would fall from the sky, power plants would shut down and personal computers would stop working in the middle of trying to get a dial-up connection to AOL or Compuserve. We YTK fizzed and those that had made doomsday preparations felt pretty silly as they looked over their shoulders for Black Helicopters and hundreds of thousands of UN troops hiding out in our National Parks building detainment camps for real Americans.

Who the Hell Was this Guy Voting For?

As YTK fizzled the 2000 Presidential campaign got spun up.  Padre Steve missed a lot of it because he spent about 10 weeks in the dessert at 29 Palms with two different Marine battalions during two Combined Arms Exercises, or CAX.  He then left in December for a deployment to the Far East. Just before the election the destroyer USS Cole was attacked and heavily damaged by terrorists in an explosive laden boat while refueling in Yemen.  2000 ended without a decision in the election and the campaign culminated in January 2001 with a razor thin Electoral College victory for George W. Bush full of controversy over disputed ballots in Florida with an Army Corps of lawyers getting involved and taking the whole thing up the Supreme Court.  This process dragged on for what seemed like forever until I was in Okinawa with my battalion.  A new term was coined “the hanging chad.” Once the election nightmare was over things did not get better.  In 2000 lost some notable folks, former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach and Pro-Football Hall of Famer Tom Landry called his last play, Sir Alec Guinness crossed over the River Kwai and Montreal Canadiens Hockey legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard broke away and got his final hat trick.

9-11 Twin Towers Under Attack

As 2001 began it did seem that things were starting to settle down despite lingering hatred on both sides of the political aisle about the election.  But then there were the attacks of September 11th 2001 where terrorists flew hijacked airliners into both of the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. This caused a number of congressmen and senators to break forth in song outside the Capital and for a brief time it seemed that the whole country had united in common cause.  Soon US Special Forces, Rangers and Marines were fighting in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the terror attacks and the head of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.  US forces overran Afghanistan quickly with the help of Afghan tribes known as the Northern Alliance and it looked like despite not finding Bin Laden that the US goals were being accomplished even as the President was telling Americans to “go shopping” to many in the military giving the impression that while the military was at war that the nation was not.  In December 2001 Padre Steve was transferred from the Marines to the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Hue City, CG-66. The ship would complete a couple of underway periods and exercises before departing for the Middle East in early February.  This was Padre Steve’s first tour in a war zone and the ship conducted operations off the Horn of Africa, in the Northern Arabian Gulf as part of the UN Oil Embargo on Iraq intercepting smugglers, during which time Padre Steve was with a boarding team that made 75 boarding missions of Iraqi and other smugglers.

Iconic Picture of Padre Steve on a Boarding Mission

From there Hue City operated with the USS John F Kennedy conducting operations in the Gulf of Oman where our air controllers helped direct strikes against Al Qaida and the Taliban and during which time the ship was detached to keep watch on the Indians and Pakistanis who were on the brink of having a nuclear war.  Acting great and Academy Award winner Jack Lemmon, former Beatle George Harrison and NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt all made their final lap around the planet. In Baseball the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series in 7 games.

2004 The Red Sox Break the Curse

2002 also saw John Allen Mohammed, the Beltway Sniper bring terror to Washington DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland, the Congress passed a joint resolution to allow President Bush to use US Military Forces as he deemed fit in Iraq and the Iraq War Resolution.  Shortly thereafter the Department of Homeland Security was established.  The San Francisco Giants lost the World Series to the Anaheim Angels after leading in the 7th inning of game six much to the consternation of Padre Steve and the other Giants faithful.  Calls for the public water boarding of Giants Manager and former “Evil Dodger” Dusty Baker to find why he took out Russ Ortiz went unheeded. Dave Thomas the founder of Wendy’s flipped his last burger, country music legend Waylon Jennings sang his last song and Baseball immortal Ted Williams all died in 2002 with Williams and his family trying to make him a real immortal by having his remains cryogenically frozen.

The Challenger Disintigrates

For Padre Steve 2003 was relatively uneventful, the Hue City was in the yards when Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched and was just getting ready for a deployment when he was reassigned to the Marine Security Force Battalion.  In short order he was travelling around the globe and before the end of the year had visited his Marines in Bahrain, Rota Spain and Guantanamo Bay Cuba and he and the Abbess celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. The Iraq War and overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the big story of 2003 however there was other news. The Space Shuttle Columbia blew up on re-entry killing the 7 astronauts on board, California recalled Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Florida Marlins defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series. We lost some legends in 2003 comedian Bob Hope died at the age of 100 and is now doing his Christmas show for the Archangel Michael and the Armies of Heaven; US Senator Strom Thurman filibustered his last bill at the age of 100, Fred Rogers left the neighborhood and Joseph Coors brewed his last batch of really bad beer.

George Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln

2004 saw yet another nasty Presidential election riddled with controversy as George W. Bush defeated Senator John Kerry to win re-election.  In Iraq Saddam Hussein was finally caught hiding in a hole in the ground by US Special Forces, the war in Iraq went south as the insurgency of former Ba’athists, disaffected Sunnis aided by Al Qaida and other foreign fighters and terrorists took up President Bush on his challenge to “bring it on.”  Facebook was founded in Cambridge Massachusetts, simultaneous suicide bombs devastated trains in Madrid in what became known as Spain’s 9-11, Lance Armstrong won his 6th consecutive Tour de France, Chechen terrorists seized a school in Beslan Russia and over 300 are killed and 700 wounded by the terrorists as the school was stormed by Russian security forces and the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series to break the curse of the Bambino after coming back to defeat the Yankees in the ALCS after being down three games to none.  Death took no holidays in 2004 as Bob Keeshan better known as Captain Kangaroo was piped over the side, Rick James dated his last Super Freaky Girl without taking her home to mother and former President Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer’s Disease after seeing his successors destroy his coalition and “big tent” and hopeful vision of conservatism.   Padre Steve continued to travel around the world with his Marines going to Japan, France, and Spain, Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay as well as a number of trips within the United States.  In France he taught seminars at the Belleau Wood battlefield site and in Normandy.

Hurricane Katrina as a Category 5 Storm

The war in Iraq continued to heat up in 2005 with the insurgency spreading throughout the country with the focal point being Sunni stronghold Al Anbar Province.  Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf coast devastating New Orleans and southern Mississippi killing over 1800 and forcing millions from their homes. The ineffective and inept government response beginning with the “fly by visit” of President Bush helped the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate in 2006.  Terrorism was alive and well as a terrorist attack on London’s Underground and a bus killed 56 and injured over 700.  As for Padre Steve well he was selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander, completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and continued to travel around the world with his Marines going to Japan, France, Spain, Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay as well as a number of trips within the United States.  The highlight of this was being able to have the Abbess accompany him to Guantanamo Bay for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. The Chicago White Sox defeated the Houston Astros in the World Series. In Washington DC baseball stars were hauled before a Congressional committee to testify on steroids in baseball or interrogated about their possible use of steroids. This wasted millions of dollars in taxpayer money as loser Congressmen who tolerate all sorts of illegal and immoral actions of their own sought to embarrass and destroy the careers and reputations of ballplayers in a grand act of inquisitional hypocrisy. Death came knocking for comedian Richard Pryor, Johnny Carson gave his last monologue, Pope John Paul II met Saint Peter and James Doohan, Mr. Scott from Star Trek was beamed up for the last time.

Israeli Merkeva Tank Destroyed by Hezbollah

In 2006 Padre Steve was promoted the Lieutenant Commander and was transferred to EOD Group Two after completing another year of travel with the Marine Security Forces.  Within months there was talk of a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan for him and his trusty assistant and body guard Nelson Lebron. He also began a Masters Degree program in Military History at American Military University.  In the rest of the world the Republicans lost their majorities in Congress, the war in Iraq continued to grow in intensity and Israel went to war with Hezbollah forces on their northern border.  The attack was ill conceived and was a military failure revealing weaknesses in the Israeli ground forces training and tactical abilities forcing investigations of the military and the resignation of the head of the military.  Pope Benedict XVI the successor to Pope John Paul II published his first encyclical.  In the World Series Tony LaRussa’s St Louis Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers and Barry Bonds though tainted by controversy continued his march to the Baseball Home Run title.  Death paid a visit to former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, sportscaster Curt Gowdy called his last game and Don Knotts, Televisions Barney Fife gave up his bullet for the last time.

Barry Bonds the All Time Home Run Leader

The war in Iraq reached a climax in 2007 as President Bush heeded the advice of General David Petreus and initiated a “surge” of forces to help wage an actual counterinsurgency campaign.  Combined with the Al Anbar Awakening where the Sunni turned on the insurgents and allied themselves with the Americans the course of the war changed as insurgents lost support and the US and better trained and equipped Iraqi forces launched successful offensives to drive the insurgents out of key areas.  Padre Steve deployed to Iraq and served in Al Anbar Province working with US Marine and Army advisers to the Iraqi Army, Police and Border forces travelling thousands of miles in the province to go where few others went.

Padre Steve in Iraq with Bedouin on Syrian Border

Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record while track star Marion Jones surrendered 5 Olympic Gold Medals after admitting to blood doping and the Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to claim their second World Series title of the decade.  Meanwhile death came to Jerry Falwell who preached his last sermon; Tammy Faye (Baker) Messner applied her last coat of Bondo, Ike Tuner played his last guitar riff while Pavarotti exited the stage with Marcel Marceau who went rather silently I am told.

Barak Obama the 44th President

In 2008 Padre Steve returned from Iraq with a pretty good case of PTSD, chronic pain and anxiety coupled with depression and a crisis in faith.  He finished his tour at EOD and was assigned to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. He and the Abbess celebrated thier 25th wedding anniversary.  The war in Iraq was now moving in a successful direction with the Iraqis taking more control of their security and the various religious, political and ethnic factions beginning to talk and work with one another rather than shoot at each other.  However the war in Afghanistan took a nasty turn as the Taliban came back with a vengeance and the Afghan government was revealed as weak, ineffective and corrupt.  The 2008 Presidential election was waged with bitterness and the Democrats sent Senator Barak Obama, who had defeated Senator Hillary Clinton up against Senator John McCain.  Obama won the election becoming the first African American man to become president while strengthening their majorities in Congress. The world entered a major economic crisis in 2008 and the United States suffered massive losses in financial markets, housing and rising unemployment.  Bank bailouts were the order of the day as President Bush left office and Obama took over.  A massive earthquake in Sichuan China killed over 80,000 people while American swimmer Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals to set an Olympic record.  The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series defeating the surprising Tampa Bay Rays.  Death as always came along taking actors Heath Ledger and Charlton “Moses” Heston, comedian George Carlin and former Senator Jesse Helms.

Sarah Palin the New Leader of the GOP?

2009 came in with the inauguration of Barak Obama as President something that Padre Steve witnessed with a elderly African American women in her ICU room while holding her hand as she cried not believing that she would see an event of this kind in her lifetime.  The war in Iraq began to wind down as the US began to increase it’s withdraw of ground forces and turn over more security to the Iraqis.  In Afghanistan the war reached a crisis point as the military and political situation deteriorated within the country and support for the war dwindled in the US and Europe. Amid this President Obama agreed to a “surge” for Afghanistan.  The worldwide economic continued but by the end of the year some economic indicators were pointing upward again even as the US unemployment rate continued to rise. A bitter fight was waged over health care reform and economic policies while President Obama’s support and approval ratings crashed as people on both the left and right of the political spectrum criticized his leadership and policies.  Republican Vice-Presidential nominee and former Vice President Dick Cheney took the Republican lead in attacking the President while conservative talk radio delivered a daily barrage of criticism.  Some of Obama’s own actions did not help his cause especially in the manner in which he was viewed to respond to terrorist attacks including an attempted Christmas Eve bombing of a US airliner.  Tensions continued to grow between the West and Iran regarding that nation’s nuclear program even as widespread demonstrations wracked that country after an election which appeared to be rigged by the Iranian government. An outbreak of H1N1 Influence reached pandemic proportions across the globe but did not reach the lethality that it had the potential to do.  The Vatican announced a historic plan to allow conservative and traditionalist Anglicans come into the Catholic Church and retain their Anglican traditions and some measure of autonomy.

The Yankees Return

In baseball a revitalized New York Yankees team dominated the American league and went on to dominate their playoff and World Series opponents defeating the Phillies in 6 games. In football a good number of teams in both the NFL and NCAA were a parody of the sport and coaching scandals plagued the sport while at the box office Star Trek came back with a vengeance and a twist. Padre Steve continued his hospital work, battled PTSD, depression, his father’s Alzheimer’s disease and his own spiritual crisis but completed the academic requirements for his Masters Degree in Military History and by the end of the year began to experience some measure of healing.  He launched this site in February of 2009 and as of this post will have made 328 posts on the site.  He also bought his first ever season tickets for a baseball team and now claims Section 102, Row B seats 1 & 2 as his pew at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  Death prowled the earth looking for recruits finding legendary news anchorman Walter Cronkite who signed off of the last time, Pop Superstar Michael Jackson who “moon walked” the stairway to heaven or wherever, Senator Edward Kennedy who finalized his last legislation with his maker and Patrick Swayze who reprised his role in “Ghost.”

So it has been quite a decade personally for your friend Padre Steve as well as an eventual decade for the United States and the World.  The decade has been “interesting” and as the ancient Chinese curse says “may you live in interesting times.”  I hope that the next year and decade are a lot less interesting, that wars will cease and that people all over the world will join together like the old 1960’s Coca Cola commercial.

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing?

Peace and Blessings in the New Year,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s World: Top 10 articles of 2009

I began Padre Steve’s World Back in February of 2009. I started it mainly as a place to write about my experience in the Iraq War and my struggle with PTSD. It initial was, and on occasion still is a vehicle to help integrate those experiences into my life so that I might experience some measure of healing.  When I began this site I really did not expect it to become what it has become.

Now as anyone knows I am a member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish and that the Deity Herself speaks to me through Baseball.  That combined with the fact that I am a historian somewhat of a military theorist means that I love statistics.  I also love to look at facts, data and interesting stories and try to make sense of them. I do this with baseball of course, as well as how leaders can apply lessons of the past to present conflicts and recognize dangers of their possible courses of action.

I am an introvert but writing has helped me get out of myself.  I have ended up writing about people in my life, significant losses experienced at our medical center and how others have made a difference in my life.  As the site matured I found that I was writing less about me and more about other people, history, theory and various social and political events.  Of course the latter frequently stirred up a lot of crap in me so at times, especially dealing with subjects such as “The Lies of World Net Daily” or former Navy Chaplain, defrocked priest, convicted criminal and professional liar Gordon “Chaps” Klingenschmitt.  The site also allowed me to spend a lot of time sharpening my academic research skills as well as writing about baseball.  So this has become something more than a navel gazing site where I pick out the lint of my soul for all to see.  While my experiences pervade a lot of what I write as no one can write in a vacuum one’s experience, training, culture and worldview all influence what we write about and how we interpret events, they are not the central focus of the site anymore.  I think I have about 40 different subject areas that I post on now and who knows if that number will grow.

During this past year I have met a lot of people in person and online and had a good number of people post some very kind comments as well as some very challenging ones.  On the rather amazing side I have had people from my past, like the UCLA Army ROTC “Chief Lord of Discipline” Colonel Bruce Lawson find me and look me up as well as the son of the late Master Sergeant Harry Zilkan who was out training NCO as well as others.  I have had visitors and comments from around the world including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Singapore, Australia and Russia.  In all I have had over 700,000 views of the site since February and thousands of clicks on individual articles.  The comments that touch me the most are those who comment that what I write has touched them, helped them or provided them added knowledge about a given subject as well as those that in my more difficult times have offered me encouragement and prayed for me.  Through this I have also come across some very good bloggers and writers that I enjoy reading.  It has provided me a new network of acquaintances and associates to bounce ideas off of and have input from.  So I have to say that this has been a very helpful thing for me this past year and has given me ideas that I hope will one day will get published.  I have over the past year discovered some topics that I would like to publish and a I am ruminating on those even now.

My top 10 articles this year are listed here, as you can see they represent a wide range of topics:

Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009

The USS Enterprise NCC-1701 B

I posted this on May 29th 2009 and to date it has 6827 hits.  This was done on a lark and kind of took on a life of its own. There is a reason that Star Trek is so popular after over 40 years.  It is that it touches people’s lives and the stories, though set in the future are about the human condition and people can relate to them even now.   I know I do and that was the point of this article. The post still gets 10-40 hits a day.

The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia

Einsatzgruppen at Work

I published this article on September 14th 2009 and it now has gathered a total of 3649 hits. This article is a revision of an academic paper that I wrote for my Masters Degree in Military History.  I have studied modern German History, 1870 to the present for many years; in fact the bulk of my undergraduate history studies involved the topic.  In particular the period from the fall of the Kaiser in 1918, the German Civil War, the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Period have been my specialty.  When I posted this I expected that it would primarily be read by history wonks like me but it seems to have gained a substantial number of readers and still picks up a decent number of daily hits.

Halloween Book Burning Update: Bring the Marshmallows Please!

Pastor Marc of Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Book and Bible Burner and Heretic Confronter in Chief

I posted this on October 25th as a follow up to an article about a little Baptist Church that was hosting a book burning.  I found the subject fascinatingly terrible and had to write about it.  Humor blended with satire, history, religion, sociology and a bit of dare I say sarcasm created a monster.  This is my fastest growing article.  It’s funny how that “Old Tyme Religion” can get you going.  To date this post has 3292 hits.

The Forgotten Cold Warriors

Icon of the Cold War: The Berlin Wall Goes Up

I wrote this back on July 26th 2009 as a tribute to those who served in a truly forgotten war, the Cold War.  It now has gathered 2906 hits. As a Cold War vet myself like my dad I have felt for many years that the American government and both political parties have done little to recognize those who served, frequently in harm’s way during this conflict that spanned the globe over a period of 40 years.  I imagine that the same is true in Russia and the former Warsaw Pact nations. The article still gets a decent number of daily views, not like the top three but still a good number showing me that a significant number of people have feelings for those who served as well as their own service during the Cold War.

D-Day- Courage, Sacrifice and Luck, the Costs of War and Reconciliation

Omaha Beach at Low Tide

This was published on June 6th 2009 as a tribute to those who served and gave their lives on D-Day and during the Normandy campaign.  It talks about the reconciliation between Allied and German soldiers after the war and I relate it to my own dealings with the Iraqi people and military.  It voices my hope that one day Iraqi and American veterans can have the kind of reconciliation experienced by some of those who fought so hard against one another during the brutal Normandy campaign. To date it has 2887 views. 

Operation “Dachs” My First Foray into the Genre “Alternative History”

Field Marshall Erich Von Manstein

This article was posted on August 9th 2009 and was a rewrite of a paper I wrote in one of my Masters Degree classes.  It was inspired by Kenneth Macksey’s alternative history “Disaster at D-Day.” It was unusual in the fact that I wrote an alternative history as if it had actually taken place using real sources, people, places and events and writing as if the “what ifs” had actually occurred. In this case that would be the success of the March 1943 attempt on Hitler’s life had succeeded.  It has 2314 hits to date and still gathers a decent number of hits making me wonder if it has potential for expansion as a possible book. 

Cowboys Stadium meets Seinfeld: A Scoreboard and a Nose that You Can’t Miss

Cowboy’s Stadium and its Massive Scoreboard

This post combined my twisted sense of Seinfeld like humor into what I think is a pretty witty post about the monstrous scoreboard at the new Cowboy’s Stadium in Arlington Texas.  It seems to get a decent number of hits whenever the Cowboys play.  I wrote it on August 30th 2009 and it has 1570 hits to date.

Turning Points: The Battle of Midway, Randy Johnson Gets his 300th Win and Chief Branum Gets Her Star

SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers at Midway

This article was posted on June 4th 2009 and dealt with three different but for me interrelated events.  The first was a tribute to those who fought at the Battle of Midway, the second future Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson getting his 300th career win as a member of the San Francisco and a fallen Shipmate, Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Pamela Branum who was posthumously promoted to Senior Chief at her memorial service.  To date it has 1449 views and a significant number of comments.

These Boots were Made for Walking: The Navy NWU Suede boots

The NWU and its Boots

This was one of my earlier posts done on April 18th 2009 and provided my review of the new US Navy suede work boot which is worn with the Naval Working Uniform or the NWU.  It has surprised me that it has garnered 1332 hits.  It was a follow up article to a humorous article that I had written previously about all the different kinds of camouflage uniforms in use by the US Military entitled: The NWU- Now we all have different camouflage.

Memorable Recruiting Slogans and the All Volunteer Force

This article was a humorous look back at some of the military recruiting slogans that have been around since the beginning of the “All Volunteer” military in the mid 1970s.  I posted it on May 4th 2009 and it now has 1084 hits.

Other Articles of Interest

Since I have posted well over 300 articles to the site since its creation I have listed some other articles that I thought were significant below:

Baseball in Between Life and Death in the ICU

Mortain to Market-Garden: A Study in How Armies Improvise in Rapidly Changing Situations

The Treaty Cruisers: A Warship Review

Sometimes You Wanna go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts-Thoughts on 26 Years of Commissioned Service

You Win a Few, You Lose a Few. Some Get Rained Out. But You Got to Dress for All of Them

Remembering the Veterans in My Life…Memorial Day 2009

Alzheimer’s Disease, Ghost Fleets and Waiting for the End

Reformation Day: How Martin Luther and Hans Kung Brought Me to an Anglo-Catholic Perspective, a Book and Bible Burning Reaches Ludicrous Speed and Yankees take Game Three 8-5

My Brotherhood of War

Connecting…Baseball and Having My Dad Back for a Few Minutes

Lessons for the Afghan War: The Effects of Counterinsurgency Warfare on the French Army in Indo-China and Algeria and the United States Military in Vietnam

The Uncomfortable Legacy of Colonel General Ludwig Beck

A Christian Defense of the Rights of Moslems and Others in a Democracy (or Constitutional Republic)

I like Jesus very much, but He no help with Curveball

Comebacks in Baseball and Life: 27 Outs- the Baltimore Orioles teach us a Lesson in Life

Here’s to you Jackie Robinson

The Demons of PTSD: Abandonment

Doubt and Faith: My Crisis in Faith and Why I am Still a Christian an Advent Meditation

Padre Steve’s World Series Prediction and Book and Bible Burning Update

Dien Bien Phu- Reflections 55 Years Later

Brothers to the End…the Bond between those Who Serve Together in Unpopular Wars

World Series Game Six: Duel of the Old Dogs

The 2009 Season at Harbor Park…the View from 102 a Season in Pictures

I guess that is enough for anyone who wants to poke around on the site.  There is a place to subscribe to this site via e-mail if you want as well as a place to subscribe to comments.

I look forward to a good year of writing as life goes on.  I pray that you have a wonderful New Year.


Padre Steve+

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Observations of My Oral Surgery

Today I had the initial part of my implant work done to replace the departed “Undead Tooth of Terror. This was the first time I had oral surgery vice normal dentistry.  If you have never had it the only comparison to regular dentistry is that it involves teeth.  It is real surgery, albeit not like getting your noggin or ticker opened up.  However in the weeks leading up to this surgery I experienced a fair amount of anxiety and even a couple of nightmares related to the procedure, including if something went wrong. When you prepare for something like this, or any other medical or surgical procedure you sign a consent form. These include the risks associated with the procedure as well as the anesthesia.  One of these complications or risks is death which is not on my list of things that I want to experience in the next 30 years or so.

Implant Screws

I’ve done a lot of hospital work in major teaching hospitals, mainly in critical care, ER, Medical, Surgical, Burn, Neurosurgery and Pediatric ICU’s.  I have become quite adept at learning about what goes on in those places, to include understanding something about how critical care intensivists of all types work to include a lot of the technical things that they observe with patients.  I am probably one of the few chaplains who that has a copy of The ICU Book and can read heart rhythms, understanding the relationships of blood pressure, cardiac output, oxygen saturation levels as well as a host of other cool to know things.  When the Abbess was in the Emergency Room at a local hospital I made the diagnosis of her Epiglottis before the physicians.  After that one of our attendings at my hospital told me that wasn’t too late to go back to Medical School.  The thought is intriguing but alas, even Padre Steve doesn’t want to go back to school for that long at this point in life.  However I could probably play a very convincing doctor in film or on TV if given the chance.  I will entertain offers if someone wants to shoot something like MASH.

Today was interesting.  I was taken into one of the oral and maxillofacial surgery operating rooms.  These are equipped with the kinds of monitoring equipment found in an OR or an ICU.  I have observed these on quite a few patients and can read them rather well.  Today the difference was that they were monitoring me and not another person.  So this intrigued me, I have not been to a operating room since I was 7 years old at Bremerton Naval Hospital.  Things have changed in the 42 years between visits, or at least my perspective has changed.

I was seated in what looked like a dental chair on steroids.  I was hooked up to the monitor with a 4 lead EKG and pulse oxygen monitor and had a nasal cannula. An IV was placed and I was asked a litany of questions.  With all the monitors hooked up my doctor came in and talked about the procedure and a light anesthesia ‘cocktail” of drugs including Fentanyl and a couple of others that I cannot remember right now.  A large table was placed before me with a large number surgical and dental utensils.

Normal Sinus Rhythm

I looked up at the monitor as they got things going and made final preparations.  My heart rate was in the 58-67 range in normal sinus rhythm, in fact a very nice looking rhythm. My respiratory rate ranged from 5-11 a minute and my SPO2 or oxygen saturation ranged from 96-99.  Noninvasive blood pressure was 116/71 with a mean of 86.  Not bad for someone nearly 50.  The drugs we injected through the IV access point and I entered what is called “twilight” sedation.” It is a state where you are sedated but can still follow simple commands from the surgeon if need be.  I could hear what was going on but it was like being in a dreamlike state.  Occasionally I could hear the surgeon giving directions to his resident and also the noise of the drill, which was not the normal high pitched sound of a dental drill.

When it was over they brought me up out of the sedation and I looked around, my numbers were still close to what were on the monitor to begin with so I was still alive.  I was allowed to see the x-ray with the placement of the implant mount which is actually screws into the jaw.    I was informed that a bone graft was done and that I would only be able to have liquids and soft foods for the next two weeks.  I’ll have a follow up next week, be off of work until the New Year holiday, no PT for a week and light duty, including being told “not to talk too much” to allow the implant and graft to heal.

As I was collecting myself  I saw the corpsmen disposing of trash and “hazardous waste from the room.  In clear container, actually a container that is used for suctioned fluids from the mouth, was something that looked like a strawberry daiquiri, it was the blood and water suctioned from my mouth during the procedure and was about half full.  I commented to the corpsmen what I thought it looked like which caused them to laugh in agreement and said that I was a beer drinker.  I was wheeled out of the hospital in a wheelchair to the Abbess waited for me in my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V. I can’t drive through tomorrow and am to take it pretty easy.

The pain has been manageable and has been a far cry from the agony I went through during the summer with the Undead Tooth of Terror, something for which I can definitely thank the Deity Herself.

This has given me a small glimpse at the perspective of one of the patients that I see every day, so it has been worthwhile in a number of ways, and not just as a means to better dental health.  I remember Henri Nouwen’s book Beyond the Mirror which recounts his experience as a patient following being hit by the mirror of a truck alongside a road.  Such experiences are important for those who provide any kind of care, especially pastoral care.  For me the almost surreal experience was to borrow a phrase from Star Trek’s Mr. Spock simply “fascinating.”

All I can say is that at least beer is a soft food and though I have an implant I will never look like Mariel Hemingway.


Padre Steve+

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They Held the Line: The USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Hornet CV-8, Part Two the Hornet

USS Hornet CV-8 Building at Newport News VA

This is part two of a three part series about the USS Yorktown Class Aircraft Carriers. Part one serves as an introduction as well as the story of the lead ship of the Class, the USS Yorktown CV-5.  Part One about the Yorktown is located here:

Hornet as Completed off Hampton Roads shortly after Her Commissioning

The USS Hornet CV-8 was the third ship of the Yorktown Class and is sometimes referred to as her own one ship Hornet Class.  Laid down on 25 September1939 under the Naval Expansion act of May 17th 1938, Hornet was part of the pre-war naval build up authorized by President and Congress.  The previous Yorktown design was used to speed construction.  Hornet was slightly modified from her sisters Yorktown and Enterprise being 15 feet longer, 5 feet wider in the beam and displacing about 1000 tons more than her near sisters.  Her anti-aircraft armament was also slightly improved.  As with her near sisters Hornet had good protection except that her underwater protection was weak.  However, as would be born out in combat Hornet like her sisters would prove to be extraordinarily tough.

Hornet in Rough Seas Preparing to Launch the Doolittle Raid

Hornet was launched on 14 December 1940 and commissioned 25 October 1941 with Naval Aviation pioneer Captain Marc A Mitscher Commanding. Hornet conducted her initial training and air group qualifications while operating out of Norfolk.  On February 2nd two Army Air Corps B-25 Medium Bombers were loaded aboard.  As Hornet put to sea the bombers were launched to the astonishment of the crew. Hornet departed Norfolk for the Pacific where she embarked 16 B-25s under the command of Colonel Jimmy Doolittle.  Hornet’s own air group was stowed in the hanger bay.  On April 2nd Hornet departed from San Francisco for a rendezvous with Admiral Halsey’s Task Force 16 and her sister ship Enterprise.  As the ship departed Mitscher informed the crew of their mission.  Hornet would launch Colonel Doolittle’s aircraft against the heart of the Imperial Japanese Empire, Tokyo.

Hornet Launching B-25

The plan was for the task force to sail to 400 miles from Japan and launch the bombers. Enterprise was to provide air cover for the task force while Hornet’s air group was inaccessible while the bombers remained aboard.  On the morning of 18 April the task force was spotted by a Japanese patrol boat.  The craft was quickly dispatched by the heavy cruiser USS Nashville but not before the craft had reported the presence of the task force.  Though the task force was still 600 some miles from Japan Halsey ordered that Doolittle’s aircraft be launched against Tokyo.  The attack while militarily insignificant came as a major surprise to the Japanese who anticipating a raid by naval aircraft believed that any attack could not take place until the following day.  Even more significantly the attack stunned the Japanese military establishment, especially the Navy. The attack would provoke Admiral Yamamoto to attack Midway in order to draw out the American carriers and destroy them.

Hornet Arrives at Pearl Harbor Before Midway

Hornet along with Task Force 16 sailed back to Pearl Harbor arriving a week later and the mission would remain secret for over a year.  The task force steamed to assist the Yorktown and Lexington at the Battle of Coral Sea but that battle was over before they could arrive.  The task force returned to Pearl Harbor on the 26th of May and sail on the 28th for Midway.  Hornet’s air group was plagued with bad luck.  Torpedo Squadron 8, or Torpedo 8 commanded by LCDR John Waldron found and attacked the Japanese task force losing all aircraft and all pilots save one.  6 new TBF Avengers from her air group operating from Midway met with heavy losses in their attack against the Japanese.  Only one pilot from Torpedo 8 with Waldron’s group survived, Ensign George Gay.  Hornet’s dive bombers followed bad reports of the location of the Japanese carriers and took no part in the action.  Many would have to ditch in the ocean as they ran out of fuel.  Hornet’s air group would help sink the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Mikuma and heavily damaged Mogami on the 6th.  The Battle of Midway was one of the major turning points of the war.  The Japanese had lost six carriers which had attacked Pearl Harbor along with their aircraft and many of their highly trained pilots and flight crews. Coupled with their losses at Coral Sea the Japanese suffered losses that they could ill afford and could not easily replace.

Following Midway Hornet had new radar installed and trained out of Pearl Harbor until order to the Southwest Pacific to take part in the struggle for Guadalcanal.  By the time she arrived she was the only operational American carrier in the Pacific. Enterprise had suffered bomb damage at the Battle of Easter Solomons on August 24th; Saratoga was damaged by a submarine torpedo on August 31st and the Wasp was sunk by a submarine on September 15th.  In the space of 3 weeks the United States Navy had lost 3/4ths of its operational carriers in the waters off of Guadalcanal. Hornet now faced the Japanese alone, providing much of the badly needed air support for the Marines fighting ashore.

Hornet Under Attack: Note “Val” Dive Bomber about to crash ship

The Enterprise rejoined Hornet following hasty repairs off the New Hebrides Islands on October 24th.  On the 26th they joined battle with a Japanese task force of 4 carriers centered on the veterans Shokaku and Zuikaku. The Hornet’s aircraft attacked and seriously damaged Shokaku even as Japanese torpedo planes and dive bombers launched a well coordinated attack against Hornet. Hornet was hit by three bombs, two torpedoes and had two Vals dive into her with their bombs.  On fire and without power her damage control parties fought to regain control of the ship and extinguish the fires that blazed aboard her.

Hornet’s Damaged Island and Main Mast

Assisted by the heavy cruiser Northampton which took her in tow her crew brought the fires under control and were close to restoring power when another Japanese strike group found her and put another torpedo into her.  With this hit Hornet’s list increase and she was abandoned even as she was hit by another bomb.  With Japanese ships in the area it was decided to scuttle the ship. Escorting destroyers hit her with 9 torpedoes and over 400 rounds of 5” shells.  As Hornet blazed in the night her escorts withdrew and Japanese forces after attempting to take her under tow put four of their 24” “Long Lance” torpedoes into the doomed ship at long last sinking her.

Hornet Being Abandoned by Her Crew

In her last fight Hornet’s aircraft along with those of Enterprise mauled the air groups of Shokaku and Zuikaku again inflicting irreplaceable losses among their experienced air crews.  In the battle Hornet was hit by 4 bombs, two aircraft, 16 torpedoes and over 400 rounds of 5” shells, more hits than were sustained by any other US carrier in a single action during the war.  She was stuck from the Navy list on 13 January 1943 and her gallant Torpedo 8 was awarded the Navy Presidential Unit Citation “for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service beyond the call of duty” in the Battle of Midway.  Her name was given to the Essex Class carrier CV-12. The new Hornet served throughout the war and served well into the Cold War.  She now rests as a Museum ship at Alameda California.

The USS Hornet Association website is here:

The Museum site is here:

If you liked this article you might want to also read the following articles on this site:

The Battleships of Pearl Harbor

The Transitional Carriers: USS Ranger CV-4 and USS Wasp CV-7

The First Aircraft Carriers Part One: The First American Flattops- Langley, Lexington and Saratoga

The Treaty Cruisers: A Warship Review


Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in the pacific

They Held the Line: The USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Hornet CV-8, Part One

USS Yorktown CV-5

This is part one of a three part series about the USS Yorktown Class Aircraft Carriers. Part one serves as an introduction as well as the story of the lead ship of the Class, the USS Yorktown CV-5.

Seldom in the annals of war is recorded that three ships changed the course of a war and altered history.  Winston Churchill once said about Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” however I would place the epic war waged by the three carriers of the Yorktown class against the Combined Fleet and First Carrier Strike Group, the Kido Butai of the Imperial Japanese Navy between December 1941 and November 1942 alongside the epic fight of the Royal Air Force against Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

USS Yorktown and Enterprise under Construction, Newport News VA

The Carriers of the Yorktown Class hold a spot in United States Naval History nearly unequaled by any other class of ships, especially a class that numbered only three ships.  Designed and built in the mid 1930s they were the final class of pre-war carriers commissioned by the navy.  The ships were built incorporating the lessons learned with Langley, Lexington, Saratoga and Ranger and had features that would become standard in the design of US Aircraft Carriers. As such they were the template for future classes of ships beginning with the Essex Class until the advent of the super carriers of the Forrestal Class.

Yorktown Refueling Underway

The ships displaced 19.800 tons with a 25,000 full load displacement. Capable of 32.5 knots they were the Navy’s first truly successful class of carriers built from the keel up.  The ships could embark over aircraft and could steam long distances without refueling.  Protection was good for their era and the ships proved to be extraordinarily tough when tested in actual combat. In speed and air group capacity the only carriers of their era to equal them were the Japanese Hiryu and Soryu and the larger Shokaku and Zuikaku. British carriers of the period were about the same size but were slower and carried a smaller and far less capable air group though their protection which included armored flight decks was superior to both the American and Japanese ships.

Yorktown Operating Near the Coral Sea

The lead ship, the Yorktown CV-5 was laid down in 1934 and commissioned on 30 September 1937.  She served in the Atlantic conducting carrier qualifications and operating with her sister ship USS Enterprise CV-6  to develop the tactics and operational procedures that would be used by US carrier forces until she joined the Pacific Fleet in late 1939.  Upon joining the Pacific Fleet Yorktown took part in various major fleet exercises and due to the deteriorating situation in the Atlantic was transferred back to the Atlantic Fleet along with other significant Pacific Fleet units screening convoys against U-Boat attacks, Yorktown was a Norfolk when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and 9 days later she departed for the Pacific where she would join Rear Admiral Frank “Jack” Fletcher’s Task Force 17 (TF-17) at San Diego on December 30th 1941.  Her first duty was escorting a convoy of Marine reinforcements to Samoa followed by the first American offensive action of the war, a raid on the Gilbert Islands including Makin Island in late January and against eastern New Guinea in March.  On May 4th the Yorktown’s air group attacked Japanese installations on Tulagi and Gavutu sinking the Japanese destroyer Kikuzuki.

The actions in the Solomons were connected to the Japanese attempt to capture Port Moresby.  The Japanese forces were led by the Shokau and Zuikaku and the light carrier Shoho. The Americans parried the Japanese thrust with Task Group 11 centered on the Lexington and Fletcher’s Task Force 17 built around the Yorktown.

Yorktown’s Nemesis The IJN Hiryu

The clash of forces on the 7th and 8th of May is known as the Battle of the Coral Sea.  This was the first Naval Battle fought by forces that did not come within visual distance of each other which was fought by carrier based aircraft against the ships and aircraft of the opposing forces.  On the 7th Japanese aircraft busied themselves attacking the oiler USS Neosho and destroyer USS Sims, sinking Sims and damaging Neosho badly that her shattered hulk would be sunk by US destroyers on the 11th. As the Japanese aircraft worked over the unfortunate Sims and Neosho aircraft from the Yorktown and Lexington attacked and sank the Shoho. On the 8th the main event began.  Aircraft from Yorktown scored two bomb hits on Shokaku holing her flight deck, starting fires and knocking her out of the fight.  The Japanese countered as their aircraft discovered the US ships scoring two torpedo and three bomb hits on Lexington which would result in her loss when fumes were ignited by a generator causing catastrophic explosions which forced her abandonment.

TBD Devastators from Yorktown Operating in the Solomon Islands

Meanwhile Yorktown was under attack by Japanese aircraft.  Expertly maneuvered by her Captain Elliott Buckmaster, she was able to avoid the deadly torpedoes but suffered a bomb hit that penetrated the flight deck exploding below decks killing 66 sailors and causing heavy damage.

The battle was a tactical victory for the Japanese who sank the Lexington, however it was a strategic victory for the Americans as the Japanese move on Port Moresby was blunted and the lifeline to Australia preserved.  Additioanllyneither the damaged Shokaku nor the Zuikaku whose air group suffered heavy losses would be available for the attack on Midway scheduled for June.

The damage to Yorktown was severe and it was estimated by naval engineers that repairs to her would take three months.  Due to the success of US Navy code breakers the Navy had deciphered the Japanese intention to attack Midway.  Critically short of ships the Navy determined that Yorktown would have to be available for the fight.  Yorktown and her escorts arrived at Pearl Harbor on May 27th and in less than 72 hours she received repairs that enabled her to speed to Midway.  It was an amazing performance by the shipyard workers at Pearl Harbor who worked around the clock to put Yorktown back in fighting shape.  Yorktown departed Pearl Harbor on the 30th with her escorts and her air group augmented by squadrons from the Saratoga which was unavailable after being torpedoed in January and was still enoute to Hawaii following repairs and modernization on the West Coast.

With her repairs even lacking a fresh coat of paint and her cobbled together air group joined Yorktown led Task Force 17 to the waters east of Midway where they linked up with Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance’s Task Force 16 built around Yorktown’s sisters the Enterprise and Hornet. Yorktown and her escorts took station ten miles to the north of Task Force 16 as they waited for the appearance of the Japanese Fleet.  They would not have long to wait on June 3rd the invasion force was spotted by search planes operating out of Midway.

On June 4th the Japanese Kido Butai, the crack Carrier strike group commanded by Admiral Nagumo composed of the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu, 2 battleships, 2 heavy cruisers numerous escorting destroyers led Admiral Yamamoto’s Combined Fleet into battle.  Nagumo’s aircraft hit Midway as land based aircraft from Midway manned by inexperienced flight crews made uncoordinated piecemeal attacks against the veteran Japanese who decimated the attackers.  Initially the American ships avoided detection as a scout plane from the cruiser Tone was late in departing for its search sector and when the scout first spotted the Yorktown group did not report the presence of a carrier providing Nagumo with a false sense of security. The American carrier aircraft then attacked.  The slow, underpowered, under-armed and obsolete TBD-1 Devastator torpedo planes attacked first.  Of 41 attacking aircraft only 6 returned to Enterprise and Yorktown, all 15 aircraft from Hornet’s Torpedo 8 were lost.

While the Japanese scrambled to recover, rearm and launch their aircraft to attack the American Task Force and the Zeroes of the Japanese Combat Air Patrol were drawn down to the deck pursuing the remaining Devastators the SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown surprised the Japanese carriers. With full fueled and armed aircraft preparing for launch and bombs unloaded from the Kate Torpedo planes still laying about the deck waiting to be stowed the American dive bombers attacked.  Bombing 6 and Scouting 6 from Enterprise blasted Akagi and Kaga while Yorktown’s Bombing 3 hit Soryu causing massive damage and fires that would sink all three leaving on Hiryu to continue the fight.  Hiryu’s dive bombers found Yorktown and suffered heavy losses to the F4F Wildcats of Yorktown’s CAP yet three Val’s from Hiryu scored hits which started fires and disabled Yorktown, causing her to lose power and go dead in the water.  Yorktown’s damage control teams miraculously got the fires under control, patched her damaged flight deck while her engineers restored power and Yorktown was back in action steaming at a reduced speed of 20 knots but able to conduct air operations again.

Hiryu’s second strike composed of Kate Torpedo Bombers discovered Yorktown, and thinking she was another carrier since she appeared undamaged attacked her. Yorktown’s reduced CAP was unable to stop the Kates and the Japanese scored 2 torpedo hits causing another loss of power and a severe list.  Thinking that she might capsize the captain ordered that she be abandoned.  As this was occurring a mixed attack group from the Enterprise and now “homeless” Yorktown aircraft attacked Hiryu causing mortal damage to that brave ship.

Damage Survey Report of Torpedo Hits from I-158 on Yorktown and Hammann

With water lapping at her hangar deck it appeared that Yorktown would soon sink the ship was abandoned and left adrift.  However she floated through the night and the next morning a repair crew went aboard to try and save her. The destroyer USS Hammann came alongside to provide pumps and power for the salvage operations while 5 other destroyers provided an anti-submarine screen.  It looked like the repair crews were gaining the upper hand when the Japanese submarine I-158 reached a firing position undetected and fired 4 torpedoes one of which stuck Hammann causing her to break in half, jack-knife and sink rapidly while 2 more hit Yorktown causing mortal damage. Once again her crew evacuated the proud ship and Captain Buckmaster planned another attempt for the 7th, however one the morning of the 7th the Yorktown rolled over and sank ringed by her escorts.

Yorktown Abandoned and Sinking

Yorktown was stricken from the Navy list on October 2nd 1942 and her name given to the second ship of the Essex class.  That Yorktown would provide gallant service in war and peace and now is a museum in Charleston South Carolina.

The second installment of this series will be about the USS Hornet, CV-8 and appear later this week.

If you liked this article you may want to read any of the following articles on this site:

The Battleships of Pearl Harbor

The Transitional Carriers: USS Ranger CV-4 and USS Wasp CV-7

The First Aircraft Carriers Part One: The First American Flattops- Langley, Lexington and Saratoga

The Treaty Cruisers: A Warship Review


Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

The Feast of Stephen the Second Day of Christmas and the Octave of Christmas et al

Saint Stephen being Crushed by Heavy Stones

December 26th in the liturgical calendar is the Feast of Stephen, or Saint Stephen, to some better known to his friends as “Steve.”  Steve was one of the first seven men ordained by the Apostles as a Deacon.  He gets a significant amount of press in the book of acts which includes the account of his sermon before he got stoned, not like in dope kind of stoned but as in crushed by heavy stones.  Steve is known as the “proto-martyr” a fancy word for getting whacked for his faith before the other martyrs of the New Testament and the nearly 2000 years following.  As a high school student in the 1970s I already was well acquainted with Stephen when I first attended a Conservative Baptist Sunday school class for the first time.  This was back in the fall of 1975 and when asked to introduce myself I quipped “My name is Stephen and I got stoned.”  This went over like a showing a Cheech and Chong movie to the Women’s Missionary Society.  Of course I was a innocent of such things and too this day have never had any illicit drugs and while I have been a bit in the inebriated status I can never say that I have been stoned, even when put on Vicodin for the Undead Tooth of Terror.

The Feast of Steve is the second day in the twelve day “octave of Christmas.” Even if you know nothing about the liturgical calendar you probably heard the carol the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Likewise you may have heard the traditional English Carol “Good King Wenceslas” a King from Prague who happened to go out peasant hunting, or rather out looking to give alms to peasants and beggars.  Either way you may have heard of this feast or the Octave of Christmas.

The Good King Wenceslas

The Octave of Christmas begins on Christmas day and lasts until January 6th, in the West the Feast of the Epiphany but in the East the Orthodox Christmas. Thus we have the 12 days of Christmas in which time we hear about pipers milking maids listening to a bunch of infernal drummers while a bunch of pompous “lords” are leaping through gold rings held by more birds than you can shake a stick at and it’s not even hunting season.  However, the song, which allegedly according to legend has secret meanings probably related to the Illuminati or at the minimum a worldwide conspiracy to promote some kind of decadent lifestyle.  The actual twelve days of Christmas are a time of celebration which includes days dedicated to time off for peasants, celebration of the Incarnation and days honoring various saints, including the aforementioned Saint Steve.  You might ask about other days within the Octave of Christmas which honor various saints….well I’m waiting…..

Yes I see that had.  You want to know what other days in the Christmas Octave are named for saints.  Well, as I said we have the 26th which is in honor of Saint Steve.  The 27th is the Feast Day of Saint John the Evangelist who penned the verse John 3:16 which used to be held up in the end zones of football games by some guy in a rainbow afro hairdo.  The 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents which is dedicated to the children of Bethlehem killed by King Herod in the attempt to kill Jesus after his birth.  The 30h is that of Saint Thomas Beckett, and the 31st of December is that of Sylvester, an early Pope, not the cat who starred alongside Tweedy Bird.  January 1st is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Roman calendar and the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus in the Anglican calendar.  The 2nd is the feast of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church.  In the Roman calendar the 3rd is dedicated to Most Holy Name of Jesus. There are some variations in the observations, for example Anglicans in England celebrate John Wycliffe the Bible translator on the 31st and the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus on the 1st of January, to which I understand the villiage Mohel gets an honorary invitation to attend.  The Anglicans celebrate the Russian Monk Saint Saraphim of Sarov on the 2nd of January.   Episcopalians ironically celebrate the life of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton the first American Roman Catholic Saint who before she was Roman had been an Episcopalian on the 4th of January.  Anyway…you asked.

Padre Steve’s Namesake: Steve McQueen

So, today was the celebration of Saint Steve, the Patron Saint of Padre Steve, aka me.  Now my parents had no early idea about the liturgical calendar, if they had my name would be Rupert which I would have changed at the earliest opportunity had it been inflicted on me. Rupert whose feast is March 27th was the bishop of Salzburg Austria where the hills really are alive.  Since I am sure that they did not name me after Saint Steve I presume that mercifully in order not to inflict me with one of the family names that are as bad as or worse than Rupert named me after the actor Steve McQueen. It was lucky for me that they did as like Stewie Griffin I would have to have plotted their demise as an infant.  That would not have been pretty but I am sure that since I reportedly had a football shaped head for a while that I could have made this happen.

So have a blessed Octave of Christmas and be safe.


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The Commie Trifecta

Once upon a time there was something called the Cold War.  It was rather frosty, even in the sub-tropical paradise of Cuba.  During the Cold War the Soviet Union aka Russia led what was called the Warsaw Pact in a global conflict of world domination against the United States and it’s Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better known as NATO.  Both sides had minor surrogates around the world.

During the Cold War there were several places where the United States had forces face to face with the Soviet Union and its Allies. The most prominent of these were Berlin where the Berlin Wall surrounded West Berlin keeping its prosperous citizens from the great deals to be found on the East German economy and the East Germans out of the decadent West.

The Wall Comes Down

In the far east the United States and its South Korean ally faced the DRNK or the Democratic Republic of Nutso Korea headed by a man named Kim who would pass the leadership of the DRNK to his son who also is named Kim.  I think that the second Kim was named after Kim Novak but this is just a rumor started by the CIA to attempt to undermine the DRNK.  The demarcation line was that of the Armistice line of the Korean War located  in the general vicinity of the 38th parallel.  This remains one of the most heavily fortified locations in the world.

The final point of direct contact was in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay where failed baseball prospect Fidel Castro took his revenge on Major League Baseball by taking over Cuba, allying himself with the Soviet Union.  He almost helped start a thermonuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  After this Castro isolated Cuba from the Major Leagues and prevented them from having access to his star baseball players, except for defectors.

Padre Steve at the Brandenburg Gate on the East Side of the Berlin Wall

To have served in the US Military at all three flash points was nearly impossible akin winning Major League Baseball’s hitting “triple crown.”  By this I don’t just mean the American or National League crown but the entire league.  The last player to do this was Mickey Mantle in 1956 who hit .356 with 52 home runs and 130 in a mere 154 games.  I refer to the feat of serving at all three locations as accomplishing the Commie Trifecta.

PT on the Korean DMZ

To do this now is an accomplishment because you had to be serving in the military in Germany before the Soviet Union went Tango Uniform and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  Thus it is an accomplishment that few can attain unless they enter an alternate time line were the the Soviet Union survives.

On the North Korean Side of the Armistice Line

However Padre Steve has accomplished this feat.  Back in November 1986 he and the Abbess made the trip from West Germany along the Helmstedt corridor to West Berlin and then through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin.  12 years passed and Padre Steve was now in the Navy serving with the the 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in Korea from February through April of 2001.  Part of this involved camping out at Warrior Base a mere 800 meters from the South side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.  Serenaded by nightly musical serenades and inspiring messages approved by the boy named Kim we trained and also got a tour of the Armistice village of Panmunjom where in the conference room guarded by really tall and scary looking South Korean Soldiers one can actually cross over the to North Korean side of the room.  I would also do PT along the DMZ carefully avoiding anywhere marked “mines.”

Overlooking Commie Cuba from Leeward

The third portion of the Commie Trifecta was in November 2003 while assigned to the Marine Security Forces who manned the Colonel Nathan R Jessup Memorial Fence Line which separates the Guantanamo Naval Station from Communist Cuba.

This makes Padre Steve a relic albeit one who has been around long enough to get to do the Commie Trifecta. That friends is is way cool.


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Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle

Merry Christmas!

I do not throw the word miracle around lightly.  In fact I generally get irritated when I hear people calling things miracles that are no such thing such as giving God credit for the screw ups or successes of people.  I heard of a case recently where someone’s loved one had a preliminary test that showed possible cancer. Of course the person was upset and asked people to pray.  A second confirmation test was done and it turned out that the first was a “false positive.”  False positive tests are a part of the whole medical package, people and machines make mistakes.  The person sent an e-mail out to announce that the test had been a false positive and then proceeded to say that it had to be God healing the relative in question, not a mistake.  I think that to makes such a claim actually cheapens the term “miracle” and does God a disservice.  God at least to my understanding does pretty well on his or her own.   It is like in baseball where an infielder commits an obvious error that is glaring and the official scorer scores the play as a hit.  Now I rejoice that this person’s loved one did not have cancer, but the fact was that they never had cancer to begin with and thus to call the event a miracle is rather silly.  The same is true when a medical team works their ass off to save someone from death, does everything right and makes the save only to have people give all the credit to God.  Once again I have no doubt that God can be involved but to simply write off the efforts of dedicated people is to do a disservice to God.  I think that God is okay with people that he or she created getting credit where credit is due.

Miracles are rare and not everything is a miracle.  So when I say that I am experiencing a miracle I am certainly not doing so just to make me look deserving or extra spiritual.  Anyone who knows me knows that such a claim would be fraudulent.   I think that miracles related to one’s spiritual and psychological condition are rare and since there is no lab test to prove that you are all better that they are difficult to quantify.  When I hear people talk about being completely “healed” in such matters I am a wait and see kind of person, as Ronald Reagan once said: “Trust but verify,” especially in regard to anything to do with me, simply because I don’t want to look like an ass or by my claims make God look stupid when they do not pan out.

The past couple of years have been the hardest of my life.  I have talked about the effects of PTSD, issues with my father’s Alzheimer’s disease, my own sense of alienation and isolation, anxiety, depression and the crisis of faith that I experienced quiet a few times so I will not rehash them in this essay.  The reality is that they are a reality that I have had to try to come to grips with.  For most of this time I have existed in a world where everything hurt and I struggled to believe.  Imagine having to pray for people when you are wondering if God even exists at times.  To put it mildly it sucks.   That has been my world, despite my expertise at what I do and the pent up knowledge that exists in the gray matter mounted in my bald brain housing group it has been a struggle to keep going.

While PTSD, anxiety and depression are major issues I think the thing that made them worse was how alone I felt and how it seemed that God had abandoned me.  I think that was actually more frightening than the nightmares, insomnia, fear and everything else associated with my experience in and return from Iraq.  I believe, at least from my experience that a crisis of faith and feeling alienated and abandoned by God is one of the most frightening and dehabilitating things that can happen to a Priest or any other minister.  In fact I am pretty sure that when you ask ministers who have left the ministry that somewhere in their experience is a crisis of faith. That might be hidden by other circumstances but I’m pretty sure that it is there.

Christmas in Iraq…The Last Time I Felt the Presence of God…until Now

The past 22 months since returning from Iraq have been a terrible ordeal in an emotional and spiritual sense, however something has begun to happen and I cannot place my finger on it but somehow I am beginning to feel touched buy the grace of God again.  It actually began quite unexpectedly.  I came home from a disastrous trip to visit my parents in November completely wiped out and depressed.  It seemed that I had crashed yet again and I expected that this Christmas would be no different than that of last year where I left Mass before it began and walked for an hour in the dark and cold wondering where God had gone.  So when things started to happen, beginning ironically with the experience of performing the last rites for a patient in our ER and experiencing a number of other situations where I again felt part of something bigger than me I was surprised.  Lo, even astonished at events that I couldn’t explain were happening as well as the fact that people care for me, all kinds of people, co-workers, friends from baseball, friends from Gordon Biersch and friends from church.  I think that is where I began to realize that God might just care and maybe that there was hope for me again that maybe what I did mattered.

Today was a busy day as I walked about the medical center.  I saw the work of my physician, nurse, corpsmen and technicians of various sorts as they fought to save the lives of people.  I spent time with our staff as they worked to stabilize a very sick child for transport to another hospital in a last ditch attempt to save the child’s life as the child’s mother looked on.  I watched our ER team assisted by one of our anesthesiologists from the ICU work to save the life of an elderly man and get him to the ICU.  I saw surgeons and neurologists evaluating and working with a fairly young man who is in dire straits.  For all of these folks Christmas Eve and Christmas day are days that they are “in the fight.” They are days where the miracle is real, but not evidenced to all.  I am amazed by the skill, dedication and care of all of these folks who are attempting to ensure that Christmas does not end badly for others, both the patients in their charge as well as their family members.

Mid afternoon I was walking down the hall and I experienced a wave of emotion flood over me, and unlike the majority of emotions that I have felt in the past couple of years this was different.  It was a feeling of grace and I guess the presence of God.  I went up and talked with Elmer the shrink about what I was feeling and the experience was awesome, I was in tears as I shared, not the tears of sadness, but of grace.  I am beginning to re-experience the grace of God, something that has been so long absent that I did not expect it, at least right now.  I didn’t do anything differently; I certainly was not working extra hard to pray more, get more spiritual or pack my brain full of Bible verses.  I was too far gone to do those things.  It was all I could do many mornings just to get out of bed and come to work.

Now I know that I still have some hurdles in regard to my PTSD and that I am still not a “full up round” spiritually, but I have hope again. I am not the same Christian or Priest that I was before Iraq.  I have changed in a lot of ways, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  I know I have a long way to go, but for the first time in this see that I might actually get there.

I guess that is the miracle. Last year I dreaded the very thought of Christmas and this year I look forward to the Advent of Jesus, the Christ.  That in the middle of life and death, experiencing pain, alimentation and all that I have described that something has touched my life and I have hope again.  Tonight the Abbess is singing at her 5 PM Mass while I attend the 6 PM Mass over at Saint James Episcopal on my way home from work.  When we get home we will have dinner together, open presents, watch Molly open her presents and probably if I have my way watch funny Christmas movies and specials as we spend the night together.

I pray that you will experience some measure of grace this Christmas, or whatever you celebrate.  I do pray that God will protect us all and that we will be able to experience together the grace, mercy and peace of God.

Merry Christmas my friends, thank you for being there for me this year.

As Tiny Tim said at the end of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: “May God bless us all.”


Padre Steve+


Filed under faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Religion

Padre Steve’s Meditation on the Nativity

“Actually, Lucy, my trouble is Christmas. I just don’t understand it. Instead of feeling happy, I feel sort of let down.” Charlie Brown in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

When Christmas comes and you struggle with faith, see little hope and even despair of life, even the thought of Christmas coming can make the season even more difficult.  I know, I have gone through this since my return from Iraq.  Christmas 2008 was so frightful due to PTSD symptoms, insomnia, anxiety, depression and a crisis in faith that I could see little to hope in.  It was so difficult that before Mass began at the Abbess’s parish that I couldn’t stay.  I walked home in the cold and dark, not directly home but the long way looking up at the heavens and wondering if God was even there.  For the first time in my life I could really relate to Charlie Brown.  That as I have mentioned before was actually a terrifying thought.  Even in the darkest of times in seminary I never lost hope and always felt something special at Christmas.  In Iraq in 2007 I felt an incredible closeness to God as I traveled about to my advisers along the Iraqi-Syrian border having the chance to celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Eucharist and spend time with our guys and distributing toys, school supplies and cold weather clothing to Bedouin families who invited us in for Ch’ai tea and food.  But in 2008 faith was dry and hope, well hope was something that I prayed for as I walked home that Christmas Eve.

This year has been one of ups and downs but I have noticed that I have been feeling better the past few weeks.  Yes I still have problems sleeping but I am actually trying to get to bed earlier but I still have my struggles with faith and God but unlike last year I am looking forward to the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation.  The message of “Emmanuel, God with Us” is something that I find resonating again.  Maybe it was in that moment a couple of weeks back where I was on call and ended up having the blessing of doing an anointing, or “last rites” of a retired Navy doctor who had done his internship at my hospital and having the experience of having him breathe his last as I completed the rites.  There was something miraculous about that man, his life and faith that allowed the Deity Herself to somehow let me be on call and respond with exactly what he desired in his final moments on this earth.  Maybe it was running into a lady who had spent two months in our ICU earlier in the year.  At numerous times her condition was so critical that it appeared that she would die. However she spotted me is I was filling my cup of water and ice in the hospital food court and pulled me aside.  She was doing great and thanked me for being there for her.  Then there were other times where I was able to get outside of my problems and be part of other people’s lives, many times those who are critically ill like Sadie Harrell who on her death bed took the time to bless those around her, give directions to her family and before asking for more pain medications telling me that it was time to pray.   I could give the accounts of numerous people, staff and patients at our hospital as well as people at church, friends that I have known for years and people that I have gotten to know through this website and Facebook as well as my friends at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish and Gordon Biersch.

Some of those have been through responses of people to what I write on this website.  A few days ago I heard from the son of my ROTC training NCO Master Sergeant Harry Zilkan who passed away a few years back.  I talked about Sergeant “Z” in my post “Remembering the Veterans in my Life.”  I was honored to hear from him and hear how much he appreciated what I said about his dad.  When I started this site back in February I saw it as an outlet for me, and that it has been, at the same time I find that there are people very much like me who have walked in similar shoes who have been blessed by what I write.  This is actually quite humbling.

Like I said this year has been different. I still have a hard time with prayer though extemporaneous prayer on the behalf of others is becoming relatively normal again even if I still have not been able to resume my regular prayers of the Daily Office which died during Lent because they had become rote and were more of a duty than a part of life.  I had never expected that, but I think I will use the Nativity to begin again.

This has been a year of transition as I have struggled with a crisis of faith, the seeming absence of God, PTSD, anger, depression and anxiety the condition of my father with his Alzheimer’s disease and problems dealing with my mother.  Likewise, I find that the feeling of being vulnerable, weak and the pain of having to deal with all of those emotions for the first time that I can remember is not where I want to be, but does give me empathy for those who have lived with these feelings for years.  In a sense I have began to be part of that community.  At the same time despite all of this that faith is returning and I can sense hope again.  Even the Scriptures for the season and the songs and carols are touching me again.  The sense of tradition in the liturgy at church has been good for me since beginning to attend Saint James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.  I am finally beginning to hope again.

For me this comes in “the fullness of time” at least my time. The scripture from Galatians comes to mind. This is part of the Sunday liturgy for the Sunday after Christmas this year:

4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our* hearts, crying, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.* Galatians 4:4-7 NRSV

I once again feel the message of deliverance spoken of by the prophet Zephaniah:

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more. Zephaniah 3:14-15

Tonight I will be at Saint James even as the Abbess sings at the 5 PM Mass at her parish.  I am looking forward to the Mass tonight.

I do pray that whatever you are doing tonight and regardless of whether you are a Christian or not that you will know joy, peace and the presence of God this season.  I think of the Jewish physicians at the Medical Center who are covering today and tomorrow to allow their Christian colleagues to attend services and be with their families.  God bless you guys, you’re the best!

As I said yesterday, Merry Christmas or whatever you do.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, PTSD, Religion

Merry Christmas or Whatever You Celebrate

“It’s Christmas Eve. It’s-it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we-we-we smile a little easier, we-w-w-we-we-we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be.” Bill Murray as Frank Cross in Scrooged

Well, not exactly Christmas Eve….but who’s counting?

Well just a couple of days left until Christmas Eve which if you are Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox actually counts the same as Christmas day for sacramental purposes.  The Parish that the Abbess attends is having its “Midnight Mass” at 9 PM but I should not criticize.  When I was out visiting the little camps of advisers on the Iraqi-Syrian border in 2007 I moved the Christmas Eve Vigil Mass to the 23rd for the Marines and other advisers at COP South.  I figured no one else was out doing Christmas with these guys so why not, after all it was already Christmas Eve somewhere.

Anyway, I want to take this time to thank my readers and wish them a Merry Christmas, unless of course they are Jewish, Happy Hanukah.  Of course I have other friends and readers who are of different faiths or non-faiths.  I wish all my Wiccan readers a belated Happy Winter Solstice, my Moslem readers a Happy Eid. To my Atheist readers have a happy day off. Finally to the Jehovah’s Witness readers, sorry you get no presents and not only that if you guys are right only about one half of one percent of you will get to do anything other than pick fruit and pet animals for eternity anyway so enjoy. Heck even Atheists can buy presents for people at Christmas without any guilt because it helps the economy and makes people feel good.

So since everyone has reason to celebrate let us do so.  Of course many still have some hurdles to get over before you can open whatever presents you get, buy for yourself or can’t have because you’re a Jehovah’s Witness.  Among those things are fighting crowded malls, post offices, bad traffic and people infected with the holiday spirit which I think might also be called “road rage.”  Anyway most of us will navigate these treacherous waters as we travel over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s second ex-husband’s girlfriend’s brother’s house for some holiday cheer.  Actually the Abbess and I will spend it together and with our friends Pat and Jim, but most people call him Jim for Christmas day.

Anyway all seriousness aside the holidays, whichever one you celebrate, or don’t celebrate can be fraught with dangers toils and snares; from some of which we have not already come.  Yes there are the “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” the Christmas’s or other holidays that went to hell and are forever embedded in the back of our pea brains just waiting to jump out in the middle of the night.  Of course there are the “Ghost’s of Christmas Present,” the “demons” that crowd our daily lives that show up when we don’t want them to and causing us stress, pain and undue anxiety.  Finally there are the “Ghost’s of Christmas Yet to Come” that inhabit our dreams and either causing us to give in to fatalism and despair or to make a change for the better, I believe that in the latter case Christians call this repentance, but regardless of what it is called it is the better option.  Christmas and I guess other folk’s holidays can do this to you.

I mentioned in a previous article on this site about my crisis of faith since my return from Iraq how difficult Christmas can be and how fragile faith can be.  For a lot of people the holidays bring up all the hurt, pain, failure and rejection they have ever experienced rolled into a big turd sandwich served cold with chips instead of fries and Pepsi instead of Coke. Having gone through this last year I can understand just how people can despair in a time that should be full of hope, grace and peace. One person I know told me that Charlie Brown couldn’t compete with them. I

In our house this can be a difficult time mainly due to the Ghosts of Christmas past that inhabit both of our lives and the “Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come: which occasionally pay their visits.  However we work hard not to let that happen. Over the past few weeks the Abbess has been working on making decorations for our tree.  Now we have tons of decorations for the tree, many from Germany.  However she has decided that she decided she wanted to do something different this year.  She made what has to be hundreds of ornaments out of various beads, crystals, ribbons and bows.  Between that and a lot of other activities we are exhausted.  I ended up after she went to bed decoration the tree.  The ornaments look great. I went to bed and of course got up before her to go to work. I turned on the tree lights and turned the other lights off. The tree was beautiful and when she got up she got to see the fruit of her hard work.  It was cool and the tree is beautiful.

Today I was fortunate to get off a bit early.  I was able to get home and go with the Abbess to visit East Berlin to do some shopping.  This to locals is known as the base commissary although Wal-Mart is often very similar.  If you have read anything on this site regarding my dealings with the Ghost of PTSD know that crowds are not good for me unless they are in a ballpark. The commissary is a place that I do not like going but it was a necessary trip.  I survived though it did feel like my skin was crawling as I got stuck in the far corner of the store were the checkout line began, just like the stores in East Berlin before the Wall came down.  Having been to East Berlin and waited in long lines in crowded stores to attempt to buy what was not there I get flashbacks, especially when the line Nazi, or better put Line Stasi agent tells you which checkout stand to proceed to when you get to the front of the line.

Now I’m sure that many of you will visit your own version of East Berlin be it in a mall, a Wal-Mart or a base Exchange or commissary in the next couple of days, but be of good cheer in spite of everything you won’t have to brave this again until the 26th when you have to take stuff back and deal with people in worse moods and dispositions than those that were out before Christmas as well as those who are angling for bargains and willing to kill you to get them. I can understand why Frank Costanza created “a Festivus for the rest of us.”  Of course in my family we sometimes experienced the airing of grievances but not the feats of strength associated with that holiday.  Serenity now!

So until Christmas or whatever holiday that you might or might not celebrate let us “don we now our happy clothing” as we “deck the halls” while we drive our SUVs to Grandmother’s ex-second husband’s girlfriend’s house to watch football games in anticipation of baseball season as spring training begins in just under two  months.

So until then have a blessed Christmas or whatever holiday you do or don’t do this year.

Peace, Padre Steve+

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