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If Liberty Dies in Our Hearts, no Constitution Law or Court Can Save It: A Meditation on Independence Day in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been contemplating the ideas of liberty and freedom this week. I intentionally did not watch the President’s speech at Mount Rushmore for after what he did at Lafayette Park and in front of St. John’s Church on June 2nd showed me that when he speaks of freedom, he speaks of his own, and when he speaks of liberty it is for the few, and servitude for the masses, and yes those masses include the bulk of the men and women that blindly follow him. So instead I read the official transcript today and look at images and videos as well.

Nothing I read in it surprised me. It was as scripted as Leni Reifenstahl’s Film of the Nuremberg rallies, right to Trump making a flyover in Air Force One. After a series of platitudes invoking the President’s whose images are carved on that mountain, and a brief mention of American greatness, which he promised would “soon be greater.”  He made a perfunctory reference to the Declaration’s words that “all men are created equal,” words that only serve to camouflage a life and presidency that denies them, the protections of the Bill of Rights, and the guardrails of the Constitution and our institutions that curb the ability of one man to violate the Constitution and our laws, and surrender our nation into the hands of an avowed enemy, Russia, in word, thought, and deed.

He then went into a diatribe against attacking statues and memorials around the country, without mentioning that the primary memorials were those to Confederates, Slave Owners, traders, as well as those that helped exterminate the vast majority of indigenous, or native peoples of this land including the ancestors of the people who protested outside the park, for the land had been ceded to their ancestors in the Treaty of Laramie of 1868, and was considered sacred to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Sioux, and Arapahoe tribes that agreed to that treaty with the United States. .I will come back to that later.

Interestingly, he mentioned the Battle of Gettysburg and other Civil War battles without mentioning why they were fought, at was as if the rebellion of the Confederacy a nation founded “upon the cornerstone of slavery,”  In Trump’s speech it was was if the cause of the Confederate rebellion never existed, and the lives shed to preserve the Union and in turn emancipate Black slaves didn’t matter. Like everything else in  his speech it was designed to camouflage and obscure his actions to disenfranchise Blacks, and to treat them as less than citizens, because for him the understanding is that Black Rights do not matter, and the rallying cry of many “Black Lives Matter” is uniquely anti-American and anti-freedom, that is his understanding that it is his freedom, and the liberty of the few that matter. No one else.

Of course  slavery, its continued existence where it was already legal as well is expansion by whatever means into new territories, reintroducing it to the Free States, and invading Cuba, and Central American nations to expand it, was the first reason cited in every Confederate State’s ordinance of Secession, and in Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’  Cornerstone Speech. 

In his speech, Trump never mentioned slavery, emancipation, of for that matter the evils committed in the name of racism against newly freed Blacks, Jim Crow, the thousands of Lynchings, the massacre of whole towns, or sections of cities by the terrorist paramilitaries of the White Leagues, Red Shirts, White Liners, and of course the Ku Klux Klan, of which Trump’s father was a member of, even being arrested at a Klan demonstration in New York in the 1920s.

He made no distinctions, but lumped anyone who disagreed with him into people who hated the United States and it’s history and were determined to overthrow America. It was a speech as vilifying as any made by Senator Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare of the 1950s. This should not be surprising, because Trump’s mentor was none other than McCarthy’s counsel when he was shot down in his crusade to accuse Army leaders of being communists, or supporting communism, Roy Cohn, in 1954.

In effect Trump declared over 60% of Americans were revolutionaries and traitors, with the implication that only he could stop them. It was about his authoritarian vision of Law and Order. It was Orwellian in structure. Based on his actions at Lafayette Park, I know what he will do if he feels threatened. His speech at Mount Rushmore was a prelude to what he will do if he gets the chance, and if the military follows his orders. As a historian I wanted to throw up.

But, back to that mountain and the land around it. As I mentioned, that land was ceded by treaty to the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Sioux, and the Arapaho in 1868. The treaty was to be observed by all parties. Instead in less than years, the treaty was revoked with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills  in 1877, though incidents of U.S. citizens violating the treaty went unpunished by the U.S. Government which also hamstrung and prevented the Sioux from punishing offenders. For Americans guided by Manifest Destiny it was only the latest action in a century of American crimes against humanity in the continued genocide of the indigenous tribes that began when Europeans colonized the Americas beginning in the 1500s, but in the British colonies beginning beginning at Jamestown in 1607, and the Plymouth Bay, later the Massachusetts Bay Colony a Little over a decade later.

Judge Learned Hand 

I will finish this article with an excerpt of Judge Learned Hand, of the 2nd Appeals Court, considered by many to be the greatest American jurist never appointed to the Supreme Court. In his I am an American Speech of May 21st 1944 in New York’s Central Park he addressed nearly a million and a half people, in a speech given at a naturalization ceremony for new immigrant citizens. In it he stressed that all Americans were immigrants who had come to America in search of liberty. Liberty, he said, was not located in America’s constitutions, laws, and courts, but in the hearts of the people.

In the most frequently cited section of the speech he said:

What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it… What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

The interesting thing is that while Hand referenced Jesus in the speech, is that he had abandoned the Christian Faith while at Harvard, and became an agnostic and skeptic, that he at least hoped for some kind of cosmic justice where the least would be equal to the greatest. Likewise, his words as to what freedom really is stand in stark contrast to everything Trump and his loyal supporters who consider everyone else an enemy and traitor, as Hand so rightly predicted:

What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.

Sadly, we have seen that happen before our very eyes and it will continue for as long as Trump is in power or people who follow his  totalitarian beliefs, and perversions of history, overt racism, and denial of civil, voting, economic and religious rights of his opponents is practiced, be it at the Federal, state, or local level. Trump and his most committed followers are savage, with no understanding, appreciation, or respect of the culture, laws, and freedoms, they presume to defend.

Tonight, I watched the film Gettysburg. It is one of my favorites, even though it can cut though its errors, and somewhat mythologized depiction of some of the leaders portrayed in the movie. But in it there is an exchange between Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and an old Irish former Regular Army soldier named Buster Kilrain, who is more of a composite character than an actual historical character, but it is worth mentioning, because it contradicts everything that Trump shows in thought, word and deed on a daily basis. I can identify with Kilrain. As someone who is roughly 43% Irish by my DNA, and the son of a Navy Chief, educated in desegregated public schools and universities, I could not be considered a part of Trump’s sheltered rich, white elite. Likewise, as a Priest, career military officer and seminary graduate, there is much I can identify with in Chamberlain. The dialogue between the men is fascinating because it reveals my own inner struggle as a human being.

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: Tell me something, Buster. What do you think of Negroes?

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Well, if you mean the race, I don’t really know. This is not a thing to be ashamed of. The thing is, you cannot judge a race. Any man who judges by the group is a pea-wit. You take men one at a time.

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: To me, there was never any difference.

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: None at all?

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: None at all. Of course, I haven’t known that many freed men, but those I knew in Bangor, Portland, you look in the eye, there was a man. There was a “divine spark,” as my mother used to call it. That is all there is to it. Races are men. “What a piece of work is man. How infinite in faculties, in form and moving. How express and admirable. In action, how like an angel.”

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel. Colonel, darling, you’re a lovely man. I see a great vast difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You’re an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel, there is no “divine spark.” There’s many a man alive no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you’ve seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country. Equality? What I’m fighting for is the right to prove I’m a better man than many of them. Where have you seen this “divine spark” in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? No two things on earth are equal or have an equal chance. Not a leaf, not a tree. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel, is  justice. Which is why I’m here. I’ll be treated as I deserve. Not as my father deserved. I’m Kilrain, and I damn all gentlemen. There is only one aristocracy, and that is right here. [taps his temple]And that’s why we’ve got to win this war.

Today, I find myself agreeing with them and Judge Learned Hand. President Trump has declared war on a majority of American citizens, including me. On June 2nd for the first time in my life I felt like a President of the United States was threatening me, as a Priest, a citizen, and Naval Officer. I felt that again in his Mount Rushmore speech. I will respect his office and obey lawful orders, but my oath is to the Constitution of the United States, and not political leader or party. I will not remain silent when he attacks the very foundations of the United States to protect the racist monuments of the Confederacy and the other sordid actions of Americans, and other people who enslaved and committed genocide in the name of race and religion.

Donald Trump is an existential threat to every American who values liberty and freedom, and a man who would destroy his country in order to enrich and save himself, although I wonder if there can be salvation for anyone like him.

So, don’t forget why Independence Day matters, what our history really teaches, and that those who oppose Trump do not want to overthrow the United States, but seek to uphold and advance its highest ideals while being absolutely honest as to where we have failed as individuals and a nation to do so. That is patriotism. What Trump proclaims is a toxic nationalism. Yale historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.

Trump is a nationalist in the tradition of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Putin, the Kims of North Korea, Erdogan, and so many other nationalists only concerned about their power over a state that can make their wishes come true.

So until tomorrow, with thoughts of true freedom, independence and the protections of basic human rights for all,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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America’s Original Sin Revealed Again: The Malignant Open Wound of American Racism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Joseph Conrad wrote in his book Heart of Darkness: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” 

Those  words are terrifying when you think of them.

Since the first  African slaves arrived at Jamestown in 1619 the American experiment has not been without its flaws, mistakes, crimes, and to use the often frowned upon, its sins. There have been many sins in that experiment; the long term genocide committed against the original inhabitants of the country, the Native American tribes, which now reside in reservations with little economic opportunity and as the COVID 19 pandemic have shown, little access to healthcare and many other disadvantages built into treaties they signed with the government of the United States.

Then there are others as well, the treatment of almost every immigrant group at the hands of English, Scottish, and Welsh Protestants who dominated the political, economic, cultural, and sociological hierarchy of the new republic. That included the Irish and German immigrants who had their churches burned and treated as second class citizens by the Know Nothings of the 1830s to 1860s. Then there were Southern and Eastern Europeans, Jews from many countries, Japanese and Chinese, and then the Mexicans, who we robbed of 40% of of their country’s land by a war that Ulysses Grant said: “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.”

But all these aside, America’s original sin was the enslavement of millions of Blacks which sadly only ended in name with emancipation, Reconstruction, the XIII, XIV, and XV Amendments, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Instead of real freedom African Americans saw those rights wiped away by State Legislatures, beginning in the South but throughout much of the nation, enacted Black Codes, Voter Suppression programs, such as Poll Taxes and Voting Tests, and Segregation laws. These were backed up by White Nationalist and Racist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, and the White League. up to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Courts, going up to Supreme Court of the United States, which upheld voter suppression laws, Poll Taxes, and Segregation under the guise of separate but equal in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896. Of course while Plessy legalized segregation in all walks of life, it did nothing for equality, which for Blacks was ruthlessly destroyed. The courts also looked the other way when Black townships were attacked and massacred by the well armed Paramilitaries of the KKK, White Leagues, and Red Shirts, or the lynchings of Blacks that claimed thousands of lives.

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court John Harlan, a former slave owner and in his dissent with the Plessy decision wrote:

“The destinies of two races, in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all should not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.”

Justice Harlan’s words were prophetic and directly address what is happening today.

Such crimes are still happening even today, sometimes by those that claim the mantle of the original lynching as in the case of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota which was captured on video from several sources, which showed an officer putting his full body weight on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes, 8 minutes in which Mr. Floyd begged for his life saying “I can’t breath,”  but by the time the officer now accused of his murder assist by three other officers, was dead. This was despite the presence of many witnesses who tried to persuade them not to keep killing him.

Mr. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill by a store owner. The crime was a non-violent misdemeanor, but the police responded as if Mr. Floyd had committed an armed robbery or murder. In fact he was unarmed and otherwise non-violently protest his arrest, he was killed. Though the mayor of Minneapolis called it murder and demanded that prosecutors act quickly, they demurred and delayed until protests broke out, which spun out of control. They have now spread  country, some peaceful, some that became violent, and some peaceful protests which were met with police spraying pepper spray and launching Tear Gas, into peaceful protestors, including at least one member of Congress.

Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird:

“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.” 

President Trump embodies the words of Atticus Finch in that book. He has only fanned the flames with his tweets, and retweets which only incited supporters to help commit destructive acts, and provoked the protestors to respond in kind. The actual truth and facts of what happened in each case, beginning with the murder of George Floyd, will not be determined until all the forensic, video, and audio evidence provided by legitimate news organizations, ordinary citizens, and police records is examined to determine what happened in each demonstration following his murder. But after several days of inaction by prosecutors to change the police involved the anger burst into protests.

Malcom X said something very appropriate, and which if you have not experienced poverty, and discrimination, you may find it hard to empathize with the plight of American Blacks. The often  misunderstood Civil Rights leader said: “The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites.” What we tend to forget is that such treatment in Europe brought many English, Scots, Irish, Germans, and others to the United States, where their descendants emulated the behaviors of their ancestor’s oppressors, especially towards Blacks who many believed were sub-human, the same term used by the Nazis to describe the Jews. Think about if you or I were the products of such longstanding, pervasive, and institutionalized discrimination, how would you feel or what would you do? If you cannot answer the same as Malcom X, then you will never understand.

Sadly, this is nothing new to American Blacks, and who of us, if we were in their shoes would not protest, even in anger if their local, state, and Federal governments actually pursued policies of justice rather than passing laws that they refuse to enforce, and meaningless rhetoric promising better times, voting rights, civil rights, and equality. The last President to do this, at great political cost to himself as a Southern Democrat, who against his party’s wishes pushed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, as well as the promise of the Great Society. Had Johnson not gotten derailed by Vietnam he might have accomplished much more.

But what would White’s do if their civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcom X, as well as allies like Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, while lynchings continued. What would White America do if their churches, like the 16th Street Baptist Church, of Birmingham Alabama were bombed, or the parishioners Charleston, South Carolina’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church gunned down at a Bible Study by a hate filled murdering racist in 2015. What would we say if people fighting for our right to vote as were murdered in cold blood by on and off duty law enforcement officers and members of the Ku Klux Klan, as were Andrew Goodman, Mickey Scherner, and James Chaney near Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964.

Today American Blacks are most impacted by the economic crisis and medical crisis caused by COVID 19 harder than the Black Community harder than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. If one were to be fair, who could not blame them for ceasing to believe the rhetoric of political leaders. Who could not blame the majority who protest peacefully, but who are demonized, and set up by others intent on inciting violence, be they angry Blacks, or White Nationalists following  social media posts designed by their developers, be they American supporters of racists groups or President Trump, or foreign actors, like Vladimir Putin’s Russian, or Premier Xi’s Chinese intelligence units attempting to exploit the divisions In the American electorate as they did in the 2016 Election which President Trump lost by one of the largest majorities of popular votes, while winning three states by slim majorities which gave him win in the Electoral College.

I won’t go into details of the various “news” and opinion articles I have seen over the past few days, because so much disinformation has been published That it is hard to wade through, and it will take time. I would rather be right on specific cases than engage in generalities, and right now the only thing I can be sure about is the historic precedent and the murder of George Floyd. As far as the individual protests, I cannot comment more until I see more evidence, especially when so much disinformation is being reported about the protests, and the President continues to throw gasoline on the fire by his out of control tweets, as do his supporters. Likewise he continues to use this as a Political weapon to attack Democratic Mayors, Governors, and his Democratic rival for the Presidency, Joe Biden, as well as the free press which tries to report the events honestly on the ground, which had left several reporters, and innocent bystanders injured by rubber bullets fired by police while covering the riots.

That being said I honestly believe that outside agitators, mostly from the political right if you believe the local leaders and not White House propaganda, including off duty police officers are inciting much of the violence and looting. That does not mean that there might not be some left wing agitators, but the left has nothing to gain from inciting violence, it would only make the lives of Blacks harder, and encourage more violence against them.

No American is benefitted by the actions of Donald Trump, who can play on the the imagined fears Whites of Black people by simply playing one off against the other. He learned well from his KKK member father, it’s only when it costs you money when it becomes important, but despite court judgments against him and his corporation, he continues. That makes it obvious that his hatred of Blacks is what really is driving his response, and he will pay the political price, even as the nation suffers as a whole suffers for his actions and words. To this end we must fight for justice and not be silent in the face of evil.

One cannot look on as a bystander when innocent and non violent people are being assaulted and killed by police. As Yehuda Bauer said:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

Bauer also wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

I have no idea how this is going to play out, but a coming economic depression, an unending pandemic which had killed over 105,000 Americans as of today, and now massive riots provoked by unnecessary police violence and the incredible inequality brought about by America’s Original Sin are a perfect storm to make things a lot worse.

The wounds caused by America’s original sin are so deep, gangrenous, and malignant that they cannot be healed simply applying a bandage and hope that they will heal. That’s pretty much what we always do, even when well intentioned pass laws that are ultimately ignored, gutted, or overturned by their opponents. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed on April 9th 1945 on the direct order of Adolf Hitler wrote these words:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

That is all of our task today, if we are silent, we are complicit in that original sin, and it becomes our personal sin as well. America’s Original Sin needs complete disinfecting, and major surgery to cut out and excise it from our identity. Evil is the absence of empathy, which is the mark of a malignant sociopath. If you can turn away from the plight of African Americans and America’s Original sin, then there is little hope for you, and our country. But like Nelson Mandela I believe:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Waco Kid Rides into the Sunset: Rest in Peace Gene Wilder


http://www.movieclips.com/videos/blazing-saddles-official-clip-applause-for-the-waco-kid-409395779531
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday night lost a comic genius and great human being. Gene Wilder passed away with his family surrounding him at the age of 83 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. While many remember him most for his role as the quirky candy genius Willy Wonka, I will always remember him most for his roles in Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers. Of course I will never forget him in Stir Crazy or The Silver Streak, but for me it was his roles in the Mel Brooks comedies that I will never forget. 


http://nyti.ms/1xh2yeM 
The first time I saw him was in The Producers where he played the neurotic accountant Leo Blum who helped Max Bialystok (Zero Mostel) figure out that he could make more money producing a Broadway flop than a hit. I saw that film on television when I was about 12 years old, well before I ever saw him in Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, and I never forgot him. Then in 1974 I was able to convince the box office attendants and ushers that I was old enough to be admitted to the latter two films. Actually, it wasn’t that hard back then to fake it, no one ever asked for I.D., and I’m sure that some of them were stoned before they even showed up for work but I digress… 


https://www.yahoo.com/movies/video/blazing-saddles-clip-waco-kid-192608486.html
There are few people who could play neurotic people with the comic sensitivity that Gene Wilder did, the man was brilliant.  The next film that I saw him appear was Brooks’s classic Western spoof, Blazing Saddles where he played the washed up alcoholic gunfighter, the Waco Kid, whose name was Jim, though most people called him Jim. Wilder was a last minute replacement for Gig Young who actually did have an alcohol problem and collapsed on set forcing Brooks to shut down production for a day and bring Gene Wilder in relief. Wilder was perfect for the role and complimented Clevon Little who play the Black sheriff Bart to a tee. I think my favorite scene is where Sheriff Bart wishes a little old lady a “good day” and is told by her “up yours nigger.” Almost inconsolable Bart comes back to the office where the Waco Kid gives him some great advice. 

https://youtu.be/KHJbSvidohg

https://youtu.be/IpiHCZHGbF8


Then there was Young Frankenstein where Wilder played the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein opposite Marty Feldman, Terri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Peter Boyle. This was followed by Willy Wonka and so many others. I loved Wilder when he was paired with Richard Pryor as well. 

https://youtu.be/MySGAaB0A9k
I could go on and on about Gene Wilder, by I will stop for now. He and so many of his fellow cast members from these films are gone. Zero Mostel, Kenneth Mars, Clevon Little, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Richard Pryor, Alex Karras, and Peter Boyle to name but a few. He never announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s because he didn’t want to upset kids who saw him and said “look there’s Willy Wonka.” He was a joyful spirit who loved life, and now joins the love of his life, the late Gilda Radner, and now he goes into that final sunset. 


Rest in peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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We Called Him Sparky: A Baseball Legend Passes Away a Victim of Dementia

Big Red Machine (L-R) Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Sparky Anderson, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose

Baseball great Sparky Anderson died today at the age of 76 of complications from dementia a day after being admitted to hospice care in his home in Thousand Oaks California.  The Hall of Fame manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers had been in declining health for a number of years and had spent time in the hospital in February for a Kidney related illness.  He last visited a ballpark in May when he visited Dodgers’ Stadium and visited with managers, coaches and players. At the time the loss in his cognitive abilities were noticed but for a few moments the spark of his old managerial self came out.  In 2009 he was at the reunion of his World Series Champion Detroit Tigers team. It was obvious then that he was slipping even though he was quite animated as seen in this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJQBKlkrnIw&feature=player_embedded#at=87

Dementia of any kind is one of the cruelest afflictions as it often takes everything from a person. In the end stages it is often something like aspiration of mucus into the lungs as the person loses their gag reflex. The last two years of my dad’s life were difficult because he lost the ability to be himself ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease.  The last time I had any real communication was for a few minutes in May of 2009, after that he didn’t know me. I can only imagine what Sparky’s family went through in the last years of his life.  We don’t know a lot about Sparky’s illness but the signs of his declining health were noticed by his friends. Tommy Lasorda the legendary Dodgers’ manager commented: “He looked bad,” Lasorda said following an appearance at the annual Hall of Fame dinner in August: “He was really down. He was very sickly, and we had to take him off the stage. And then I called him about 10 days ago because I was thinking about him. We spoke, but I didn’t want to speak too long because he sounded exhausted, you know? We talked for maybe eight or 10 minutes, and he thanked me for thinking of him, and that was it.”

In the 1970s my dad loved Sparky Anderson and the Cincinnati Reds, the Big Red Machine. My dad had been a Reds fan as a kid and despite becoming an avid Giants fan always had a soft spot in his heart for the Reds.  I remember my dad’s disappointment when the Reds lost to the Orioles in the 1970 World Series, even though I was secretly rooting for the Orioles because I liked Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and Jim Palmer.  However in 1975 when the Reds won 106 games and defeated the Boston Red Sox in a thrilling 7 game World Series I was enthralled by Anderson and his team. When they swept the Yankees in 1976 I was similarly elated and my dad, well, he was about in heaven.  When dad taught me about baseball he used Sparky Anderson and the Reds players as models on how to play the game right.

One of those players was Pete Rose who is still banned from the game for life for betting on games.  Despite that my dad never gave up on Pete and had an autographed picture of Baseball’s most prolific hitter who despite what he did should be in the Hall of Fame. Rose said of Anderson today.

“Baseball lost an ambassador today. Sparky was, by far, the best manager I ever played for. He understood people better than anyone I ever met. His players loved him, he loved his players, and he loved the game of baseball. There isn’t another person in baseball like Sparky Anderson. He gave his whole life to the game.”

Another Reds’ great Joe Morgan said “He was a people person. I don’t think anybody else could have managed that team nearly as well as he did. We had a lot of different personalities. Sparky was able to deal with all of us on an individual basis but also collectively as a team. Because he was close to you and cared about you as a person, you were always willing to do more for him than you were for somebody else. I never thought of him as my manager. I thought of him as part of my family.”

The latter statement by Morgan is something that endeared Anderson to his players. He cared about them and he was totally committed to the game. Anderson overcame a hot temper which had earned him the nickname “Sparky” in the minor leagues In his time as a Major League manager he led the Reds to two World Series titles and one with the Tigers and 5 pennants. He is credited with beginning the pitch count which is now almost universally used in baseball.  He made pitching changes with such regularity in a day when starting pitchers typically threw complete games that he was nicknamed “Captain Hook.” Anderson admitted that it was because of the weakness of his starting pitching and strength of his bullpen. “Captain Hook? Yeah, I used what I had. We weren’t blessed with the Dodgers’ starting pitching, but we had a really deep bullpen. People say I was ahead there, too, five years ahead of the league, you know, having more saves than complete games, but I didn’t do it because it was in some book. I did it because we didn’t have but a couple of guys who could go much past six innings.” He is 6th on the all time wins list for a manager and was beloved by his players.

A saying that he picked up from his father epitomized his view on life and relationships

“Being nice to people is the only thing in life that will never cost you a dime. Treat them nice and they’ll treat you the same.”

Alan Trammel, Bench Coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks said today “I’m happy to say that Gibby (Kirk Gibson) and I are going to be able to pass along his legacy because we teach what we were taught. Being a good baseball player and person went hand in hand with him. He wanted us to put our dirty clothes in the bin so that the clubhouse guys didn’t have to pick up after us.”

Tiger’s pitcher Jim Morris said:  “Wow. He died way too young. I got a lot of phone calls yesterday about the hospice and the dementia, neither of which I knew about. I wasn’t prepared for this. I don’t know what to say. I’m kind of shocked, he was a big part of my life, for sure. He had a lot to do with molding me professionally and taught me a lot about perseverance.”

He demonstrated that care in his community.  In 1987 Anderson founded “CATCH”, which raises money for sick and at-risk patients of Children’s Hospital of Michigan and Henry Ford Hospital. Sparky became a man of faith late in life when managing in Detroit when he was baptized as a Catholic.

One of Sparky’s quotes sticks with me and sums up what I feel about life is this: “People who live in the past generally are afraid to compete in the present. I’ve got my faults, but living in the past is not one of them. There’s no future in it.”

Sparky died too young. May he rest in peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on my Dad’s 75th Birthday

The past few days have been weird I have been very busy and due to getting paged in the middle of the night on Saturday and Sunday to go into work have been pretty tired too.  As a result I have known that my dad’s 75th birthday would have been today. Now for the past couple of years dad didn’t know much of anything going on around him as he was in the end stages of Alzheimer’ disease.  However today I have hardly had time to stop to remember him.  I have been thinking about him a lot since he passed away and since my return from California following his funeral.

He would have been 75 years old today and in his life he did a lot.  His dad died really before he knew him when he was two years old and his mother raised him and my uncle as a single mother assisted by the Aunties, my grandfather’s sisters Elizabeth, Viva and Goldie until she had the means to purchase her own home not far from them.  My grandmother, Granny as she was known eventually remarried to a man that would treat my dad and brother as his own.  They moved to Arizona from Huntington West Virginia and dad would graduate from high school in Tuscan.  About the time that he graduated, his stepfather Van was killed in a auto accident on the way home from work.  Granny moved the family back to Huntington where she went back to work, my uncle Charlie attended Marshall University and dad would enlist in the Navy.  When dad left he sent half of his paycheck home to help my grandmother and to assist with his brother’s college and seminary expenses.  In 1958 he married my mom who he had grown up with attending the same schools in Huntington and in 1960 he sired me and in 1966 my brother.

Dad was a good father; he did care for his sons and he cared enough to teach us about responsibility and to do the right thing.  He always ensured that we were connected with church and faith but never beat us to death with religion.  As such as I grew up I had freedom to choose my faith.  He had a hard time with my constant desire to serve in the military and when I left active duty thought I was foolish to go to seminary. I’m sure that part of this was rooted in the religion that he had been exposed to in West Virginia as well as his distant relationship with his brother a minister.  However after I had graduated from seminary and become a Priest and Chaplain he became more accepting and he took great pride in me entering the Navy and in my promotion to Lieutenant Commander in 2006.

I miss my dad and have missed him for some time, even before his death. Our last visit he didn’t know me and I think that coupled with my PTSD and depression that I was experiencing at the time made that experience more upsetting and unsettling. When he passed away it was not more than 16 hours after I had learned of my selection for promotion to the rank of Commander.

His memorial service was beautiful and all of us were touched by the words of Chaplain Gerry Seeley and the great professionalism of the honors team from the Navy and the Air Force.

Since coming back I have had my ups and downs and think that I am able to appreciate all that he meant to me, the things that he let me do, the things that he taught me and the pride that he took in me, even when we had grown apart following his return from Vietnam.  Having gone to Iraq and having dealt with the pain, isolation and all that comes with PTSD I think I now understand how he changed following his Vietnam service.  He was not the same after it but then I don’t think that anyone that has been exposed to danger in isolated posts in unpopular wars comes home the same.

My dad taught me a lot.  I wish that he was still alive and not afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Part is my own selfishness in wanting to have him back and whole but the other part is that I wish that he had another 10-15 years to see his grandchildren; my brother’s kids grow up. He loved them more than anything. I wish too that he and my mom would have had more time to travel and see the world together as both were fond of the adventure that came with travel to Europe and Asia.

75 years. I wish it could have been 80 or 90 but it is not so, not in this life. But I know that one day I will see him again and maybe get a chance to have a catch on the lush green baseball diamond that I’m am sure has a prominent place in the layout of heaven.

Well tomorrow is another day and I hope that I can live up to what my dad would expect of me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Death, a Rain Delay and a Visit from Saint Pete

The news the next morning came like a thunderclap, as I was turning off my alarm clock which is located on my cell phone the phone rang to the tune of the Panzerlied which is my default ringer, a good German Army tune for a patently military Padre with an affinity for German military history.  I was not expecting the phone to ring as you might well image and squinted at the display to see just who might be calling me at this hour.  Without my glasses it was hard to see the display but nothing can come from a call this early in the morning. I looked at my watch to make sure that the cell phone time had been correct and that the call was not coming from someone at work seeing if I was running late which this morning despite having been up late the previous night I was not.  I hit the little green button with a phone on the key and put the device to my ever ringing ear, a product of too much noise exposure in Iraq according to my ENT, oh well, that and the loss of speech discrimination that I am experiencing tell me that the diagnosis is likely true.

“Hello” I asked warily wondering just whose voice would announce itself on the other end of the call.

“Hey Steve” announced the voice on the other end, it was my brother Jeff and I could tell that something bad had happened. “It’s Jeff I just got a call from the nursing home and they say that dad is hasn’t got much longer to live.” The voice was measured but full of emotion.

“Crap, okay, go on Jeff” my voice hesitated as Jeff continued to talk.

“Yeah, they called a few minutes ago and said that dad had taken a turn for the worse and that they didn’t expect him to live.” He paused for a second and continued. “I figured that they meant a few days so I asked them and the nurse told me that she didn’t think that he would live another half hour.”

I interrupted “a half hour?”

“Yeah, tell you what I need to get up there quick, I’ll call you from there to let you know what is going on.”

“Thanks Jeff be safe driving up there.” My voice trailed off as Jeff replied.

“I will Stevie.”

“One question, does mom know?”

“No they called me, I’ll let her know when I know something and I’ll call you as soon as I get up there.”

“Love you brother, be safe”

“Love you too” and with that Jeff hung up the phone.

I find it funny that my “little brother” refers to me on occasion as “Stevie” but he is my brother but he has been the more serious and grown up of the two of us since he was about eight years old. Dad used to say that he was eight going on forty back then and he still is the more serious and reserved of the two of us. When I was in high school and college he looked in askance when I went on toilet paper raids with friends and later with Judy around town.

In shock I walked back to the bed where Judy was awake and putting her glasses on. As I climbed back into the bed she asked “what’s wrong?” and reached out to me as I lay down next to her. “It was Jeff; he said that he got a call from the nursing home and that they said that dad was dying.” I looked up at her as she simply said “I didn’t expect that.”

“I didn’t either; Jeff is on the way up now, I don’t know what to think.” She cradled my head in her arms as I lay there stunned from the news.

“We’ve known for a long time that this was going to happen but…” I cut her off.

“But I just didn’t expect it now. I know that he hasn’t been the man that I knew for a long time with the Alzheimer’s but I just didn’t expect it. Kay had said that he was doing about the same, had gained some weight again and the last time I talked to mom and Jeff they said that he looked about the same as he has for a long time, I just figured that he would go on longer.” I paused as I took a deep breath and she said “I know” and held me close.  Seeing that we were up, Molly our vivacious Papillion-Dachshund mix pulled her 15 pounds of red fur and personality over us and wrapped her body around the top of our heads after squeezing herself between us and ensuring that she kissed each one of us.

We lay there for together not saying much as I wondered what was going to happen in the next few minutes. I prayed silently for my dad to have a peaceful death and to be with the Lord even as I searched for answers myself. It had not been that long, just about six month in fact since I had started believing again after my Christmas miracle. That had been a time, after Iraq I was falling apart and only got worse for most of the first two years after my return. I struggled with PTSD, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, severe depression, chronic pain gained a lot of weight and got out of shape but the worst part was feeling cut off from community and even worse cut off from God, the experience of feeling God forsaken shook me and it was not until shortly before Christmas that faith had began to return to my weary soul.  I hugged Judy and pressed up closer to her before realizing that I needed to get a shower realizing that I had just enough time to do this and get dressed before Jeff called back from the nursing home.

“Strange, yesterday I get the greatest news of my career and today this. It’s that damned Yin and Yang, those two have to always show up together why couldn’t I get time just to enjoy the news of the promotion?” It was a rhetorical question of course, I am not one that subscribes everything to God’s will which in my understanding would make God out to be a capricious and even somewhat cruel God, despite what the Calvinists and Augustinians say is part of his will for us. I have a problem with a God that would intentionally screw with his people like that and choose rather to believe that some things in life just happen, the good with the bad and that somehow that God will give us grace to get through the difficult times, even when we see no good reason for the timing of events. “Damned Yin and Yang, especially that Yang always shows up when you don’t want him to.

“I’ve got to get cleaned up and dressed I’ll have to go in to work after I hear from Jeff and rearrange my leave.”

“I guess this means another anniversary apart huh?” Judy looked at me and I simply replied “yeah what’s new?” I had planned to take a good amount of leave around our anniversary this Friday just to be with her, help her around the house and relax through the July 4th weekend but that was now out the window with dad’s death.  Over the 27 years of your marriage we have been apart more than together on this auspicious date that we share with the 1950 invasion of South Korea by the North and the 2009 death of Michael Jackson.  I spent our first anniversary in Landstuhl Army Medical Center back in 1984 and over the years had only been at home for 11 of our anniversaries. I guess being in the military you get used to this in fact with us it is almost a running joke, but this year I didn’t think we would be apart.

“I think that this means that we’re 11 for 27” I dryly said.

“I’ve stopped counting dear I just figure that it’s going to happen.”

“Yeah, me too” I pulled my body which now felt like it weighed a ton off the bed and headed to the shower and Molly looking somewhat offended snuggled closer to Judy.

About the time that I was finished dressing the phone rang again and it was Jeff telling me what I knew he was going to tell me.  I answered the phone resigned to the message that I knew was coming. “Hey Jeff, what’s going on?”

“Stevie, I’m here at the nursing home, I made it just after he died.  It looks like he just passed away in his sleep, he looks at peace.”

“That’s how we hoped it would be no suffering.”

“I know, I just didn’t think that it would happen this fast. I thought they would call us and that he would slip into a coma and take a few days to pass away.”

“Yeah, same here, I just didn’t expect it today, but then who does?”

“Hey Stevie, I call you back I need to go let mom know that he’s gone.” It was 3:25 AM in California.

“Okay, hang in there and good luck with mom, it will hit her hard I’m sure. Talk to you later, love you Jeff.”

“Sure thing, later.” The phone went silent as Jeff hung up.  I got my gear together gave Judy a kiss goodbye, filled me a water bottle and headed to my car.  After loading my gear in my trusty war wagon festooned with bumper stickers of baseball teams and military units and newly issued Operation Iraqi Freedom license plates personalized with “FLAK88” my favorite artillery piece of World War Two turned the key and nothing. The battery was dead.

I went back in the house and let Judy know that I needed to borrow her car and then proceeded to load her car for the trip into work.  On the way I called Derek, our assistant Department Head to let him know what had happened and by 7:15 I was walking in the office door wearing my Tides road jersey and hat. I sat down with Derek for a while as he and I have very similar family situations and both of us were wondering who would be the first to lose their father.  The talk was helpful and Derek prayed for me as our Monsignor, Father Fred.  Fred when he was on active duty had been my first detailer, which in non-Navy parlance would be a personnel manager or assignments manager.  Fred and I have had a wonderful ministry together as Priests and he came into my office, closed the door and spent time with me, finishing with prayer and letting me know that he would offer Mass on my dad’s behalf.  He was followed by Father Roy a Canadian Army Priest in our Clinical Pastor Education Residency who offered his condolences and then let me know that he too would offer Mass for my dad.  I gathered the things that I would need to include my Summer White uniform, or as I love to call them my Faggoty White Uniform as Colonel Nathan R Jessup, Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie A Few Good Men called them.  Once I was packed I was on my way home where Judy awaited me as did my laptop with which I would make my travel arrangements.

I could not believe the prices to fly on short notice and the aggravation that I had in trying to use my frequent flyer miles or get a real person on the line on all airlines except Southwest. Although I was able to talk with the kind folks at Southwest, who by the way are always the most courteous of all the airline customer service agents, at least to me, I went online where I got my ticket on Southwest to Sacramento and made my rental car reservations.  Following all of the time spent making arrangements my neighbor Larry jumped my car which enabled me to go to the auto part store for a battery.

Finally about exhausted and with the temperatures in the high 90s with unbearable humidity Judy and I went and got a beer and light lunch at Biersch before the ball game which I knew that I needed.  It is funny how baseball of all things works to calm me when nothing else will and how even when I experience great loss baseball is there for me. It is much as Walt Whitman once said: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out of doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair those losses, and be a blessing to us.” Baseball is a blessing to me, something that the Deity Herself must have figured when I was conceived to a couple of baseball fans who in addition to raising me right taught me to love this game.

I looked up at the sky and realized that there was a strong possibility that rain would affect the game as I got out of my car at Harbor Park.  When you live in these parts you can tell by the look, feel and smell when a storm is coming and this was one of those days.  I entered the park, as Bill “Spaceman” Lee once said “as one enters a church” paying my respects to the folks that I now know well at the front gate walking up the stairs to the concourse where I was greeted by Will, one of the ushers who helps people as they come up the stairs offering greetings to those that he knows while directing first time visitors in the proper direction.  I let Will know what had happened and he offered his condolences and said that he would pray for my family too.

I made my way across the concourse and looked out at the lush diamond below, the grounds crew was preparing the infield for the game as Rip Tide mugged for fans and the Tides band played on the concourse.  Vendors selling all types of food and drink were busily engaged in their work while Marty the Card dealer talked with a customer.  I stopped trying to figure out what I wanted to do next and decided to get a Tides dog and a beer before going down to my seat. This is a comfort food for me and like Humphrey Bogart said “A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.” Going down to “Rosie’s Grill” on the third base side of the concourse I ordered the dog and the beer, a draft Yuengling Lager and after dousing the dog in mustard and relish I went over to a table and ate the dog there as I stared out at the diamond occasionally looking across the Elizabeth River to the shipyards and dry docks and the Staten Island Ferry that was high and dry in the dry dock directly across from right center field.

My mind wandered thinking about the many times that dad had taken me to ball games and how much that meant to me.  The last game that we saw together was a Stockton Ports game at Banner Island Ballpark back in 2005 or 2006 when the Alzheimer’s was just starting to show up in his daily life and instead of being able to really enjoy the game he nervously paced the concourse behind home plate for much of the game.  That was so unlike him and I knew that he was slipping even though he did not yet recognize it. When I finished the dog I took my beer and my bag with my camera and windbreaker in it down the concourse where I met Chip the usher who greeted me in his usual friendly manner.

“Hey Steve how are you doing? Celebrating the promotion?”

I looked at Chip and sighed. “Chip it’s the damndest thing I thought that I would be celebrating and my brother called this morning to let me know that my dad died.”  Chip looked at me and shook his head.

“Sorry to hear that, he’d been sick for a while?”

“Yeah, the Alzheimer’s didn’t even know who I was the last time that I saw him; at least he went peacefully in his sleep.”

“But still…”

“Yeah, really threw me for a loop, I just didn’t expect it to happen now even though I have expected it for the last two years.”  I paused.

“I’m really sorry Steve; I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers. When are you going out?”

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

“Okay, I’ll keep you in my prayers my friend.”

“Thanks, I better go down and see Elliott.”

“Catch you later.”

“You bet.”

I walked down the stairs to see Elliott waving at me having already wiped down my seats.  I got down to where he was and he greeted me cheerfully. “Hello Padre, just you tonight?”

“Yeah just me.”

“I hope we don’t get rain tonight”

“Sure looks like we might it feels like rain.”

“Yeah, so how are you doing?”

“Not so good, I won’t be here for a while I got a call from my brother this morning to tell me that dad is dead. I fly out tomorrow.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that Steve.” I knew Elliott like Chip meant what he said.

“Yeah, hard to believe, I thought that God might actually let me enjoy a full day with my promotion.” I paused as Elliot let me continue, a good usher like a good bartender is a good listener.  “But stuff happens, like those Chinese kids Yin and Yang, the good and the bad huh?”

“Yeah, seems that way.” Elliott paused. “How are you doing there?”

“I guess okay, he died in his sleep, we’ve expected this for the last two years, I just didn’t expect it now.” I paused and as before Elliott let me do so without prattling on. “You know I prayed that he would go in his sleep at peace without anymore suffering but now that he has I am just…I don’t know, I didn’t expect it now.”

“Hang in there Padre; I’ve got to get busy before Dave thinks that I’m ignoring others, I’ll talk to you later.” A couple came walking down the steps looking for their seats and Elliott turned to great them. As he did I looked up at the sky, the clouds were building from the west and well, if you have ever lived where thunderstorms are a part of daily life you know what I mean when I say that you can smell the rain in the air or feel the storms building.

I went to my seat and as the grounds crew finished its work and the teams began to take the field I wondered if we would get the game in.  The young woman who would sing the National Anthem came out on the field and the PA announcer announced the Tides as they ran onto the field each accompanied by a young girl softball player about 6-9 years old.  Obviously the “Field of Dreams Team” was a girl’s softball team otherwise they would have been boys.  The young woman sang the Anthem and Chris George the Tides starter went into his final warm ups, just then the rain started and the home plate umpire signaled for the players to come off the field as thundered rumbled and lightening flashed nearby. I looked at my cell phone and looked up the weather channel whose radar show a very big blob of red coming our way. I left my seat and walked up to the concourse and not long after I did the heavens opened and the rains came down.  As I and most of the other fans took cover from the storm a finger tapped me on the shoulder.

“Padre, I knew that I would find you here.”

I looked up and it was Pete.

“I thought that the boss sent you out of town?”

“He did but he let me come back when your dad died.”

“Really, why?”

Pete put his hand on my shoulder “Padre the Boss had me come back because he knew that you’d listen to me.” He paused and looked me in the eye. “The boss was going to send Thomas because he wanted to send me on a road trip but when he actually called Carl home he realized that you really didn’t know Thomas, I mean Thomas is a good guy but…” I cut him off.

“But Skip knew that you were right for this.”

“Yeah, Tom’s good but you know me.”

“True.”

“And he likes wine better than beer” Pete chuckled “and even though he’s on the team he’d rather sit down in a nice restaurant and share a nice bottle of Merlot and eat cheese, Skip realized that I was the better choice.”

“Makes sense, Skip knows me pretty well huh?”

“All of us my friend, all of us, heck I remember meeting him for the first time when he called me, changed my name on the spot from Simon to Peter, the Rock.” He chuckled “sometimes I think that he thought the rocks were in my brain housing unit, the time I corrected him and he told me “get behind me Satan” my Lord that was not fun, I felt so foolish, but he didn’t chase me away.”

“Sometimes I feel pretty foolish Pete, I mean look at me, my dad is dead, I fly out to California tomorrow and I am standing in the concourse of a baseball park with rain coming down in buckets.” My sense of frustration and confusion was showing. “I mean Pete, what should I be doing? I really don’t know.” I shook my head and my eyes first moved to the ground and then looked back up at Pete. “I don’t know what to do Pete.”

“I know, and Skip knows, that’s why I’m here and not Tom. The fact is Steve you can’t do this alone, that’s why you’re here tonight; you need to be around this place, your friends and in a sense your dad. Your dad is here at least in spirit.”  Pete paused “Let’s get a beer and sit down out of the rain.” Pete walked me over to a stand on the first base side of the concourse where a vendor was selling Killian’s Irish Red. Pete looked at me and said “I’ll get it so put your wallet back.” Walking up to the stand he said “Sir, two Killian’s, make them large” and laid a twenty dollar bill on the stand. As the man reached to make change Pete said “keep the change my friend, tips might not be too good if this rain keeps coming down.”

The man behind the stand smiled as he finished pouring the second beer, “Thanks there buddy, you have a good night, thanks again” as he put the five dollars of change into his vest pocket.

“Let’s go over here Padre.” Pete led me to one of the tall round metal tables near the stand and put the beer to his lips. “Not bad, of course it isn’t named after Saint Killian, but we can pretend can’t we?”

“Always Pete”

“Cheers my friend, to Carl.”

“To dad” I replied as we lifted our cups.  The rain continued to beat down on the tarp spread across the field; I looked down at the display on my cell phone and noted the large amount of red, yellow and green on the Weather Channel, and I looked at Pete “looks like the rain isn’t going to let up for a while.”

“Well then let’s hang out for a while then.”  We’ve got a little bit of time, besides; you don’t want to get soaked on the way out to your car.”

“True, I am not a big fan of torrential rain.”

“You know that some of the good times early on came with the boss in the rain, well actually in the rain in little boats in raging storms.  I will never forget the time that he came walking across the water, shocked the heck out of me, enough to tell him that I wanted to do it too” Pete took a drink of his beer and laughed “I laugh about it now but when I saw those waves around me and realized that there was no boat under my feet I freaked out.  As I started to flail about and sink Skip walked over to me like he was on pavement reached down, grabbed my arm lifted me up and hauled my ass back in the boat. He then stilled the storm and the rest of the team; even guys like Judas had a laugh.” The rain was now coming down in sheets and with the exception of a couple of ushers and diehards everyone in attendance was on the concourse under cover or under the overhangs on the upper decks and the party deck.

“I’ve been through some storms at sea too”

“But you weren’t foolish enough to jump out of the boat.”

“Patently Pete, patently” I raised my cup “cheers Pete?”

“Cheers Padre” and Pete raised his cup to mine and each of us took another drink.

“So anyway, you wanted to talk to me.”

“Yeah, that.”

“So?”

“Well, last night I mentioned that you were in few a few changes or something like that before I left the park.”

“Okay, go on.”

“Well, that call from Skip, he kind of let me know that he was going to take Carl, your dad home.” Pete paused “And he kind of told me that he was going to send Tom as he had other work for me to do.”

“But that changed, you already told me that.”

“Yeah, yeah anyway, as I was saying, um where was I?”

“Changes and Skip telling you that he was taking my dad home” I paused and looked at Pete.

“Yeah, that let me continue.  You know that Skip liked your dad a lot, and I got to know your dad before you were even born, played some ball together on Guam.  I was on his team, I remember when he slid head first into second and broke his collar bone.”

“You’re kidding?”

“You dad was a young Petty Officer and a heck of a ballplayer, he was a solid hitter, knew where to hit the ball, aggressive on the base paths and good defensively at second base, sometimes all of us on the team would go out for a San Miguel after the game” and then paused for a drink and I took the opportunity to interrupt.

“What were you doing in Guam?”

“Come on Padre, what I’m doing here, Skip keeps us busy, that thing about “the great cloud of witnesses,” well some of us are more like low cloud cover or fog, a bit closer to the action than some of the others.” Pete laughed, “Skip likes us to be involved and I just happened to be in Guam when Carl was, it was totally coincidental.”

“Like the past two days?”

“No not at all, this was one of those God ordained things, you know Skip, when he wants something, well what can I say?”

“So you’re telling me that playing ball with my dad was coincidental and this was God ordained?”

“Yeah, so why can’t it be that way?”

“It just seems too coincidental to me Pete, I mean why this why me why now?” I was still in shock about dad’s death and though I knew that Pete was telling me the truth I didn’t really know how to react or what to say. I looked down at my beer and back up at Pete. “Pete I’m sorry I just don’t know what to say, I’m still in shock and kind of numb.”

There was an awkward silence and Pete reached out to me. “Padre, you needed to be out here tonight, you needed to hear this, it’s been so long with Carl not being himself with Alzheimer’s that you needed to remember that he was once young and enjoyed life, he loved you and your brother and your mom. He wasn’t perfect but there is a lot of him in you. He was proud of you and your brother and your families and I was glad to have known him back then.”

Though there were people all around us chatting and rain coming down mixed with thunder and flashes of lightening.  It had been nearly an hour since the rain began and it didn’t look like it would be letting up anytime soon as water began to puddle in the right field corner and other places in the outfield and warning track.  There was also water building up in my eyes, and I tried to be inconspicuous as I wiped away a tear.

“Padre, it’s okay, your dad died this morning.  It only happens once to most people and Carl was a good man, he’s getting a chance to hang out with Skip and well a lot of others, he’ll be fine.”

“So Skip really knew dad?”

“Still does, and I know that after Iraq you wondered if God existed and struggled with faith but when Skip said that he was with us and would never leave us or forsake us he meant it. He didn’t say that we wouldn’t have problems but he said that he would be there. Sometimes that’s hard to believe, I know I had a number of times where I doubted more than Tom ever did, thankfully Luke didn’t take the time to report all of those events.”

“Good thing I guess, better than these ballplayers, every error they make get’s published.”

“Good thing Padre, good thing.”

“So the reason that Skip sent me back is that he knew that you needed a bit of a pep talk. He wants you to know that things will work out and to find a way to make sure that people remember your dad before Alzheimer’s took everything from him. Skip thinks that it will be good for them and you too.”

“But what?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Skip didn’t tell me. I guess that he will give you inspiration, he’s good at that you know.”

“Yeah, but until this inspiration comes I don’t know what the hell to do.”

The rain began to let up; I refreshed the Weather Channel and noticed more storms in the area.

“Pete, I have a long day tomorrow, I need to get home and pack, if this game does get going it will be close to midnight before it’s over and I’m still tired from yesterday. I’d better get out before the rain starts coming down again.” I finished the last bit of beer in my cup. “You will talk to me again?”

“Of course, I’ve been assigned your case.”

“Thanks for being here and thanks for the beer too, it tasted good.”

“Sure thing Padre, I’ll see you here again, maybe we’ll even find some way to get a game going, I think I can talk Dave into renting out the park for a day.”

“That would be good.” I moved away from the table, picked up my bag that I carry my camera and extra baseballs and other memorabilia that I might pick up. Pete stepped out too and as we walked down the concourse he put his arm over my shoulder.

“You be safe on the trip Padre, give Judy a hug for me and spend some time with her, she loved your dad a lot too.”

“Thanks Pete, I will.”

Pete took his arm off my shoulder. “I think that I’m going to hang out for a while, I have a feeling that we’ll get the game in.”

“I hope so.”

“Catch you later Padre.”

“Thanks Pete.” As I walked down the concourse to the exit Chip, Elliott, Dave and Will all wished me well and I walked into the night to my car and my ears continued to ring.

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Rumbles in the Old Litter-box: Manifestations of Stress When One Loses a Parent and dealings with the Social Security Administration

I am back in my home town of Mudville aka Stockton California for the funeral of my dad.  I have mentioned the conflicting feelings that have been going on in me since I got the word on Tuesday of selection to promotion and Wednesday of the death of my dad.

I really thought that I would be prepared for his death since he has not been him for the last couple of years becoming really noticeable after I returned from Iraq in February 2008.  The last year and a half especially he has been less than a shadow of his former self barely existing in a nursing home.  Now I would be one that knows a lot about death and grief no matter how well that you think that you have prepared yourself it is like getting kicked in the nuts when it happens. In addition

I made my trip out yesterday, it was smooth and uneventful though quite pricey and have been out and about most of the day working on funeral service issues, particularly ensuring that everything was set for the Memorial Service on Sunday, correcting the obituary and coordinating with the Navy Chaplain that will perform the service and the Military Honors program coordinator  to make sure everything was fine.

I wanted to get info from the Social Security Administration people but their automated system is less than helpful…bad on you Social Security Administration.  Anyway I called the freaking number. At first I thought that I was in luck as the automated service told me that it would be “less than a minute wait” until I spoke to an agent. I was overjoyed, a real person in under a minute certainly the Deity Herself was smiling on me.  The it went to hell…the automated service told me that it was going to ask me six questions, the same six that the real person was going to ask me. It then informed me with great glee how this was in compliance with the Federal Government mandate on reducing paperwork, greenhouse emissions, save the trees, whales and generally safeguard humanity and make sure that earth is inhabitable for at least the next 59 minutes.  That announcement took at least 45 seconds, or so it seemed and then the painfully cheerful automated attendant with an overwhelming sense of self which you would not think that the automated attendant should have started “her” interrogation.  What pissed me off was this computerized and digitally enhanced kept calling itself “Me” and “I.” But I digress. “She” informed me to enter the social security number or say it, so I said it and the automated attendant revealed that she was either hard of hearing, did not understand simple English or just plain stupid. I guess it’s one of those Federal initiatives to hire incompetent automated help.  “She” asked me if the number, which “she” repeated to me was correct, I said no and she did not understand the word no. After a series of failed attempts to communicate with this incompetent but full of it automated attendant I gave up. I asked for a real person. I said the word “attendant” which “she” misunderstood, then “operator” which was also misunderstood and even “get me a f***ing real person.” which was likewise misunderstood by “her.”  I was wondering what the hell, she asks questions that the real person is going to ask anyway and like a cheerful pit bull from cyber hell won’t let me talk to a real person.  The old company commander in me was showing up as I wonder WTF was going on, about that time I was delivered by the call of the Petty Officer that is the military honors coordinator for the area and I hung up on  the overly cheerful automated attendant with an overblown ego and bad hearing.  I will take my mother to the local Social Security Administration Office on Monday morning to deal with this with a flesh and blood human being unless they too have been replaced by holographic images of fake people or wild flesh eating zombies.  Certainly the later would be easier to deal with.

In the midst of this I found that the old litter box was acting up. One of the physical  manifestations of stress is a rumbling litter-box and this morning my old litter-box was certainly rumbling. I delayed my run by about an hour and a half hoping that said rumbling had passed and it appeared that it had. So I put on my running shorts, my orange Norfolk Tides t-shirt and my gray with exceptionally bright orange trim and soles Nike running shoes.  The weather was great, about 60 degrees with clouds and a nice breeze. I felt great and looked to do about six miles until at the 2.2 mile point on on the outbound leg making great time the litter box began to rumble.  I knew that this was not good for unless I wanted to impose on a stranger’s lawn there was no place to go. So I turned around, locked down the sphincter and increased speed to get back to my parents home before sphincter failure set in, which I think would be something like what happens when the Starship Enterprise loses the warp containment field in her engineering plant.   The Deity Herself was smiling on me today my friends as I made excellent time on that back half of the run and with nary a second to spare made it to the head attached to the room that I am staying in.  Stress is such a beautiful thing but thank God for strong sphincters.

So anyway, hopefully things will settle down. My plans are to help my mom with the paperwork and the Social Security People as well as track down my dad’s insurance polices for her and get those paid out to her, or at least start that process.  The memorial service will be at the De Young Shoreline Chapel in Stockton California on Sunday at 1 PM. CAPT Gerald Seely, CHC USN will be the officiant and there will be military honors to include the presentation of our Nations’ colors by either a Navy Chief or Officer, the playing of taps and three rifle volleys from a ceremonial firing squad. I was informed that the the Stockton Police have been notified so they will not think that it is a drive by, Stockton being the home of the ceremonial drive by shooting.

So anyway, I want to hank everyone for their thoughts and prayers and encouragement over the past few days.  I will keep you informed and respond either, by e-mail or Facebook to you if you have or will contact me. I have a lot to catch up on in thanking people and I cannot tell you just how much that your support means and how many times that I have felt tears in my eyes as I have read your kind words.  Those that have called me have been tremendous blessing as have my colleagues at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and the Navy Chief of Chaplain’s Office.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Yin and Yang of Life: Promotion, Losing My Dad and Missing another Wedding Anniversary

Highs and lows they are a part of life and stuff happens but sometimes it would be nice to simply be able to rejoice without having to balance it out with great loss.  I am so full of mixed feelings right now and basically am numb. After finding out yesterday that I was selected for promotion and waiting to take a bit of leave to celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary on the 25th I received a call as I was getting ready for work this morning that my father had died.  He died after a long struggle against the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. The disease took him from us long before his body gave up the ghost very early this morning.

It’s not that he died, we prayed that he would be at peace and suffer no more but when it happens it is a shock and tremendously discombobulating to the emotions. I have been numb most of the day.  I am very grateful for the phone calls and loving words of friends via e-mail and Facebook.  But there is an emptiness, though I thought I had prepared myself for this day I found out that when death occurs, no matter how bad and how hopeless the situation is and the acceptance that a loved one will not be healed and restored in this world, it still is like being kicked in the nuts.  Of course from all of my work in hospital I knew this to be the gospel truth, but until it happened to me I could not say that I really knew how it felt to lose a parent.  Now I do and honestly I don’t know what to think.

Do I believe my dad is in a better place? Yes I do, with the Lord, yes, no longer suffering…yes.  All I can say is that there is emptiness now. I wish that he had been made whole, that we had another 10 years together talking about baseball, the Navy and even golf.  I wish that we could go out and play catch one more time and that he would hit grounders to me and tell me to “stay in front of the ball and keep your butt down.”  Of course that is just me, my brother, mom and my brother’s family as well as my dad’s brother all are experiencing the loss each in their own way and trying to cope with it in their own way. My mom and brother had to go to the funeral home today to make the final arrangements since everything had been pre-planned last year.  That had to be harder than hell for both of them; it was hard enough going with mom to make the arrangements last year.

I fly to California tomorrow and understand that the memorial service will be Sunday afternoon at De Young’s in Stockton.  Tonight I went to Harbor Park to see the Tides hoping that baseball and the sight of the lush green field will help me cope since the ballpark was one of the few places that I could find peace when I returned from Iraq.  It did help the friendships of the people there as well as the peace of looking at that perfect diamond was helpful. Of course the big rain delay which just let up a bit ago well after I decided to head home.  Oh well, cest la vie. I do hope that the Tides follow up yesterday’s win with another.

It’s funny how being selected for promotion doesn’t seem as exciting when that man that you wished could share it with you and see it happen is dead.  My dad along with Judy pinned the gold bars of an Army 2nd Lieutenant on my back on June 19th 1983 and now my dad is gone.

My brother was certainly closer to my dad than me and he has been a rock throughout this ordeal, especially when I returned home gooned up with PTSD from Iraq.  I know that he is hurting and that his children who loved their grandfather are grieving as well.  As for my mom, she spent over 50 years with dad, suffered the lot of a Navy wife and separation from her own family by the basis of being stationed on the west coast.

On the 25th of June Judy and I celebrate our 27th Wedding Anniversary. With me in California on that day and Judy here we will miss another wedding anniversary together. Of course we will make it up on the back side of this but it seems like old times, I have lost count of how many of these auspicious occasions that we have missed, I think somewhere around 16 if you count this one.

My dad’s memorial service will be at De Young Memorial Chapel in Stockton at 1 PM on Sunday the 27th of June. I fly out tomorrow and appreciate your prayers.

My dad lived a full life, he cared about people was a good man and had faith but now I will have to wait to see him again on that lush green diamond that is heaven.  Pray for me a sinner; remember my family as well as the soul of my dad Carlton Dundas, Aviation Storekeeper Chief, United States Navy (retired) husband, father, grandfather and a hero, a man that taught me about honor, hard work, determination and baseball.

May his soul and the souls of all the departed rest in peace.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Father’s Day 2010: An Awkward Holiday

Jeff Dad and Me at the California State Capital about 1972

Father’s Day is one of those days that cause me to reflect on life. The Abbess and I were never able to have kids of our own but love our nephews and nieces as well as some very special children of various friends.  Of course we have our little Papillion-Dachshund mix Molly who I guess I am the Doggy Daddy to; she is a sweetheart and a huge amount of fun. Lately she has intensified her training of us giving voice to what she wants on a more frequent basis. Yesterday she jumped up on the Ottoman that I had my feet propped up on looked me in the eye and barked to be let up on my lap.  I guess she didn’t think I was fulfilling my Molly-Attention Quota or MAQ.

So we went to church at St James and Father John gave a Father’s Day message which was appropriate to the day, but I always feel a bit awkward when people wish me a “happy Father’s Day” since I have sired no children of my own. I’m okay with that but it is just an awkward time.

May 2009 the last time that we had actual conversation before Alzheimer’s took him away from us

The sermon took me back to better times with my dad who still is confined to a nursing home unable to do anything for himself.  I have not been able to bring myself to go back to see him since November when I saw him last, that was a difficult visit and unless it appears that his death is imminent or something happens to my mother I don’t have the emotional reserve to make the trip. As my favorite theologian Harry Callahan once said “a man’s got to know his limitations.”

Thinking back to better times I have been thinking a lot about the early years where he did so much with me especially with baseball God how I wish that he was well and we could go out in my folks back yard or Oak Grove Regional Park which is directly behind their home and “have a catch” as Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella said to the ghost of his dad in Field of Dreams.” I remember when he joined Judy at my commissioning as an Army Second Lieutenant 27 years ago yesterday.  He wasn’t happy that it was in the Army since was a retired Navy Chief, but as my career progressed he let me know how proud that he was of me. When I became a Navy Chaplain he was overjoyed and was elated when I made Lieutenant Commander.

When I was a kid dad inspired me to want to be in the Navy although that was not his goal but he taught me to work hard, take responsibility for my actions and try to treat people right. He and mom always made sure that I was in church so in a sense they helped me on my way to becoming a Priest and Chaplain.

My dad was a good dad, I guess since he is still alive still is a good dad. He wasn’t a perfect dad and God knows that I wasn’t a perfect son.  I remember fondly the good times, regret the years that we drifted apart but rejoice that in the mid-1990s that we reconnected in a good way and that in the years leading to his complete disability from Alzheimer’s disease were able to do a few things and to hear him say “I love you son.”

God bless my dad Carl and all fathers this Father’s Day, those still alive and those that have passed away.  Most of all I wish a happy Father’s Day to my little brother Jeff who is a great dad to his children Darren, Nate and Julia.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Veteran’s Day: Goodbye to 666 Lake of Fire Circle, a Golf Outing and Remembering the Veterans in my Life

veteransday2009

Today was Veteran’s Day. Amid the solemnity of the day I am still in California where I came this week to try to help my mom with my dad’s affairs and to also see my dad who is definitely in the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  This has been the hardest trip home in my life.  I knew I had to come, although the Abbess was against it fearing for my emotional health and perhaps she was right.  Tonight I sit in a hotel room self medicating and trying to regain some sense of sanity.

Me and last last picDad and Me back in May…He Still knew Me then

The past few days have been hell.  My dad does not know me anymore; he has almost no response to anything and stares straight ahead.  The hardest part is when I realized that he didn’t know me.  So I asked if he had seen my mother who I had taken to visit him the day before and my brother.  He said that he had seen them, and even seen my mom the morning I asked him the question.  However she had not been there that day.  So I asked if “Steve had visited yesterday.”  He got agitated and said “I don’t know any Steve yesterday.”  Today was much the same, I asked if he knew who Steve was, and he said “yes” and I asked if he had seen him and he said “no he hasn’t been here.”  This whole trip he has probably spoken under 50 words in 4 visits.  There is nothing left. For all practical purposes he is dead in a body that won’t die.  If that was not bad enough my mother has not skipped any opportunity to attack and pick at me until I broke.  I begged her to lay off, told her that I was not up to fighting with her and tried to keep my cool but she wouldn’t let up.   I cannot deal with constant conflict and a mother who calls me “a weak, politically correct pansy.”  I’m a combat veteran and went to war unarmed into hostile territory with little groups of Americans far away from the big battalions with all the heavy weapons and the women called me a “weak, politically correct pansy.  She has put me down, belittled my education, vocation and career and insulted my wife for the last time. When I told her that “everything in her life that was wrong was somebody else’s fault and not hers” she agreed.  I knew it was over at that point. This may sound un-Christian but I will not go see her again.   Tomorrow I will see my dad for what it is worth, see my brother and his family and then early Friday I will get the hell out of Dodge.  She had offered to pay for my trip out but I can’t prostitute myself for that kind of abuse.    The next time I come back it will be for my father’s funeral.  I love my brother and his family.  He and his wife are saints.  I couldn’t live that near my mother without ending up in a psychotic state, something that I came perilously close to this week.  God bless Jeff, Mel and their kids.

Me and Jeff at mickey groveWith my Brother back in May

I went golfing with my brother and nephews today.  For much of the day I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of the damned boat.  My mind was so gooned up and upset by the events of the week I couldn’t concentrate worth a shit.  Even my well hit shots were mainly slicing to the right and I embarked on a tree killing expedition.  I hit 7 trees solidly, took down a couple of decent sized branches, grazed three other trees and nailed an outhouse.  However it was really good to be out with Jeff, Darren and Nate.  Nate can really hit the ball for an 8 year old; he has the potential to be a really good golfer.  Darren doesn’t really care and is out to have fun.  He enjoyed my sarcasm as I commented on my shots and helped keep track of the number of trees that I hit and I told him that I would see how many I could try to kill before the day was out.  By the end of the round I was hitting the ball a lot better and it was going more often than not where I wanted it to go, but the first 7 holes were hell.  It makes me think of Robin Williams’ golf routine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDQd49rEF_0

As I mentioned today was Veteran’s day.  After I got my hotel I went to a local Applebee’s where I had a sirloin steak and potatoes and a couple beers on their Veterans’ day salute.  I sat at the bar with a couple about 10 years older than me; he had served on a Navy Minesweeper in Vietnam.  They were nice; I think that is why I like sitting at the bar when I go out to eat, there is a sense of community that you don’t find a lot of other places.

As it is Veteran’s day I think I will take some time to remember some of the Veterans in my life who have helped my through my life and career.  This is taken from a post that I did around Memorial Day.

I’ve been in the military for almost 28 years now.  I enlisted in the National Guard while in college and entered Army ROTC back in 1981.  Since then it has been to quote Jerry Garcia “a long strange trip.”  My dad served twenty years in the Navy.  He retired in 1974 as a Chief Petty Officer and did time surrounded in the South Vietnamese city of An Loc when it was surrounded by the North Vietnamese for 80 days in 1972.  He didn’t talk about it much when he came back; in fact he came back different from the war.  He probably suffered from PTSD.  All the markers were there but we had no idea about it back then, after all he was in the Navy not the Army.

breedlove-ness2LCDR Breedlove and Chief Ness

My second view of war came from the Veterans of Vietnam that I served with in the National Guard and the Army.  Some of these men served as teachers and mentors.  LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness at the Edison High School Naval Junior ROTC program were the first who helped me along. They have both passed away in the past year and a half.  I will never forget them.  A post dedicated to them is on this blog. Colonel Edgar Morrison was my first battalion commander.  He was the most highly decorated member of the California National Guard at that time and had served multiple tours in Vietnam.  He encouraged me as a young specialist and officer cadet and showed a tremendous amount of care for his soldiers.  Staff Sergeant’s Buff Rambo and Mickey Yarro taught me the ropes as a forward observer and shared many of their Vietnam experiences. Buff had been a Marine dog handler on the DMZ and Mickey a Forward Observer.  Sergeant First Class Harry Zilkan was my training NCO at the UCLA Army ROTC program.  He was a Special Forces Medic with 7th Group in Vietnam.  He still had part of a VC bayonet embedded in his foot.  He received my first salute as a newly commissioned Second Lieutenant as well as a Silver Dollar.  I understand that after the Army he became a fire fighter.  He had a massive heart attack on the scene of a fire and died a few years later from it.  Sergeant Major John Butler was our senior enlisted at UCLA.  He served with the 173rd Airborne in Vietnam.  Sergeant First Class Harry Ball was my drill sergeant at the ROTC pre-commissioning camp at Fort Lewis Washington in 1982.  He was also Special Forces and a Ranger and served multiple tours in Vietnam.  He was quite influential in my life, tearing me apart and then building me back up.  He was my version of Drill Sergeant Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman. Like Zack Mayo played by Richard Gere in the movie I can only say: Drill Sergeant “I will never forget you.”

As I progressed through my Army career I encountered others of this generation who also impacted my life. First among them was First Sergeant Jim Koenig who had been a Ranger in the Mekong Delta.  I was the First Sergeant that I would measure all others by.  Once during a ARTEP we were aggressed and all of a sudden he was back in the Delta. This man cared so much for his young soldiers in the 557th Medical Company.   He did so much for them and I’m sure that those who served with him can attest to this as well as me. Jim had a brick on his desk so that when he got pissed he could chew on it.   He was great.  He played guitar for the troops and had a song called Jane Fonda, Jane Fonda You Communist Slut. It was a classic.  He retired after he was selected to be a Command Sergeant Major because he valued his wife and family more than the promotion.  It hurt him to do this, but he put them first. Colonel Donald Johnson was the commander of the 68th Medical Group when I got to Germany in January 1984.  Colonel “J” as well all called him was one of the best leaders I have seen in 28 years in the military.  He knew everything about everything and his knowledge forced us all to learn and be better officers and NCOs.  On an inspection visit you could always find him dressed in coveralls and underneath a truck verifying the maintenance done on it.  He served a number of Vietnam tours.  He died a few years back of Multiple Myeloma and is buried at Arlington.  Chaplain (LTC) Rich Whaley who had served as a company commander in Vietnam on more than one occasion saved my young ass at the Army Chaplain School.  He remains a friend and is the Endorsing Agent for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a Mormon he was one of the most “Christian” men that I have ever met.  I know some Christians who might have a hard time with that, but Rich demonstrated every trait of a Christian who loved God and his neighbor.

MVC-023SMe with Major General Frank Smoker USAF (Ret) and Colonel Tom Allmon 2005

When I was the Installation Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap PA I was blessed to have some great veterans in my Chapel Parish.  Major General Frank Smoker flew 25 missions as a B-17 pilot over Germany during the height of the air war in Europe. He brought his wonderful wife Kate back from England with him.  Henry Boyd who I buried was one of the 101st Airborne soldiers epitomized in Band of Brothers. He had a piece of shrapnel lodged next to his heart from the Battle of the Bulge until the day he died. Scotty Jenkes was an Air Force pilot in Vietnam flying close air support. Colonel Ray Hawthorne served several tours both in artillery units and as an adviser in 1972.  CWO4 Charlie Kosko flew helicopters in Vietnam.  All these men made a deep impact on me and several contributed to my career in very tangible ways.

051Ray and his Crew from The Vietnam Veterans of America at Harbor Park

My life more recently has been impacted by others.  My friends of the veterans of the Battle of Hue City including General Peter Pace, Barney Barnes,  Tony “Limey Cartilage ” Sergeant Major Thomas and so many others have become close over the years, especially after I did my time in Iraq. They and all the Vietnam vets, including the guys from the Vietnam Veterans of America like Ray and John who man the beer stand behind the plate at Harbor Park all mean a lot to me.  My friends at Marine Security Forces Colonel Mike Paulovich and Sergeant Major Kim Davis mean more than almost any people in the world.  We traveled the globe together visiting our Marines.  Both of these men are heroes to me as well as friends.

boarding teamUSS HUE CITY Boarding Team 2002

Finally there are my friends and brothers that I have served with at sea on USS HUE CITY during Operation Enduring Freedom and the advisers on the ground in Al Anbar mean more than anything to me. Perhaps the most important is my RP, RP2 Nelson Lebron who helped keep me safe and accompanied me all over the battlefield.  Nelson who has done Iraq 3 times, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Balkans is a hero.  The men and women of Navy EOD who I served with from 2006-2008 have paid dearly in combating IEDs and other explosive devices used against us in Iraq and Afghanistan are heroes too.  There is no routine mission for EOD technicians.

307With 1st Brigade 1st Iraqi Division Advisers in East Ramadi January 2008

I give thanks for all them men that I mention in this post, especially my dad. God bless all of you guys. Please honor the Veterans that you know not only on Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day but every day.   Honor also those who gave their lives in the defense of liberty in all of the wars of our nation. They have earned it.

Today as I write many of my friends serve in harm’s way.  I hope that my recovery, spiritually, emotionally and physically goes well enough that I can go back with them.  For now I need to recover. My boss is right about that, if this week is any indication I’m in no shape to go back to a combat zone, bit Lord willing I will be so I can be with those I care for and serve alongside.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Post Script: I do pray that no one takes offense at my words regarding my dealings with my mother. If someone thinks that I am wrong, or out of line they can contact me privately.  However, I have to protect me now.  I can’t help her or save her so I’m done.

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