Tag Archives: memories

Memories of Molly & Thanks to Friends

 

molly and orioles hat

Dean Koontz wrote:

“No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself. I also suspect that we cherish dogs because their unblemished souls make us wish – consciously or unconsciously – that we were as innocent as they are, and make us yearn for a place where innocence is universal and where the meanness, the betrayals, and the cruelties of this world are unknown.”  

As most of you know from what I posted yesterday we had to have Molly Fur, the wonderful dog who saved my life after Iraq put down at the age of fourteen. I knew her loss would hit me hard, however I have always tried to conduct myself in such situations as would Mr. Spock on Star Trek, or Commander Data in Star Trek the Next Generation before he got the emotion chip implanted. That being said I knew that I would cry, however, little did I expect that every time I turned around that I be crying.

Honestly I feel a lot like Robert De Niro playing the mobster Paul Viti in the movie Analyze This, where he tells his shrink played by Billy Crystal: “The other day, I was watching a commercial with a kid playing with a couple of puppies, I cried for forty five minutes! You slap a pair of tits on me, I’m a woman!” But I digress…

Molly meant more to me than almost anything in life. I am convinced that had she not come to live with me when I was stationed in Camp Lejeune away from Judy, that I would have succumbed to despair and found a way to die without making it look like suicide. I probably would have driven off the bridge to Emerald Isle or driven into the trees lining one of the state highways on the way to or from work.

However, having Molly there kept me from this because I wondered what the effect would have been on Molly. Stanley Coren wrote:“The greatest fear dogs know is the fear that you will not come back when you go out the door without them.”  I couldn’t do that to her, she loved me too much and would not have understood.

Having Molly with me in North Carolina gave me someone to come home to, and her cheerfulness and devotion kept me going through some of the darkest times of my life. Just having her waiting for me when I came home made all the difference and today for the first time I came home from work and Molly was not there to great me. It really hit me again, that she was gone .

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Molly was so irresistibly funny, sweet and beautiful and she lived her whole life that way, caring for Judy as much as she cared for me. Molly would sit with me on a huge bean bag chair and watch baseball, sometimes she would be looking at the television so intently I thought she had to be watching the games at least as much as she was comforting me, especially during the 2012 season when the San Francisco Giants won their second World Series title. She hardly left my side during those games.

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Thankfully, Molly never developed the taste for beer that our now Senior Dog on Deck, Minnie has, otherwise I would have probably had to pour her out of the beanbag to chase the deer around the house.

Over the past couple of days Judy and I have been showed such care and love by family and friends, in person as well as on Facebook. Likewise I have received so many kind words and thoughts from people who follow me here or on Twitter.

I know that sometimes social media can be poisonous and filled with vitriol. However, that being said such is not always the case. There are a lot of wonderful people out there on Twitter, Facebook and in the blogosphere.  The kindness shown by people people that I have never met in person who follow me on this site and Twitter has been amazing.

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I think Molly will always be with Me

Your kindness  reduces me to tears, just like Paul Viti, and just like is happening to me right now as I wipe the tears from my eyes. But those tears are not tears of sadness. They are tears of appreciation and thanksgiving, to Molly who saved my life, and for all who have taken just a few moments of time to offer a word of kindness. Those words have enabled me to remember all those times that Molly made my life better, helped keep me alive, and in the process probably made me a better person in spite of myself.

Thank you all so much.

Blessings, Love and Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mementos and Memories: The Symbols of the Tapestry of Life

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“Abruptly the poker of memory stirs the ashes of recollection and uncovers a forgotten ember, still smoldering down there, still hot, still glowing, still red as red.” William Manchester

One thing about military life is that when you serve a long time you collect mementos of your service. Some are earned, some are things you got just for showing up and some are items given to you by those that served with you. I have collected many in my 32 years and four decades of service. In those years I have come to cherish the the most the mementos that were given to me by the people that I served alongside, especially the ones with personal messages inscribed on them.

I have been moving things out of my office in preparation for my move back to Virginia for about a week now. Most of the things that I took back to my apartment before today were books, papers and articles of clothing and a few small mementos.

Today though I was different. Today I took down the mementos, my pictures, going away gifts, plaques and a few other articles. Among them were items inscribed by former Navy shipmates, Marines and Soldiers who I have served alongside dating back to 1985.

With the passage of years and assignments what I display in my office has changed. In my younger days my office was cluttered with citations for various awards, certificates, qualifications and academic degrees. In a sense it was the quintessential “I love me” wall.

When I came to Camp LeJeune three years ago that changed. I packaged up every award except for the citation to the Defense Meritorious Service Medal signed by General Raymond Odierno that I earned in Iraq. It has a great deal of meaning to me because of how much impact Iraq and my service there made on me. It changed my life and made me a different man with a new understanding of life. But unlike a dozen other personal awards I do not have it framed, it is still in the simple blue award folder that it was presented to me in Iraq.

I do not have any of my commissioning certificates, or ordination papers displayed. Of my academic degrees only my Masters Degree in Military History is displayed, like the DMSM it too is in the folder that it was presented. Of my military education I only display my certificate from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College the Army Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course and the Army Junior Officer Maintenance Course. Both of the latter is certificates are battered and in a very ramshackle frames.

Most of what I display now are things that were given to me by the people that I served something to do with baseball, Cold War era East German or Soviet militaria or pictures of family and my dogs. I have a couple of pictures and religious symbols, I have a copy of the picture “Madonna of Stalingrad” painted by a German Army doctor who was also a pastor, a small San Damiano crucifix and a bronze St Rupert Cross from Salzburg Austria.

Each item represents part of my life, career and things that I hold dear or which provide special memories, even if some come from times that were not always pleasant. But even the painful memories are part of the tapestry of my life. Haruki Murakami wrote:

“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about everyday, too many new things we have to learn. But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.” 

However in general what I now display has a lot less to do with me than the people, places and experiences that are important to me. They are my touchstones. Thus what I experienced today was different than other times that I took down my “mementos.”

As I took each one down various emotions flowed through me, happiness, joy, sadness and even in some cases pain. I read the various well wishes inscribed by various people on the mattes of various pictures, from junior enlisted personnel, Chiefs and non-commissioned officers, officers former commanders to people like General Peter Pace and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright as well as German officers that I have served alongside.  It is amazing the feelings

It is hard to put a finger on but it is almost like there is a metaphysical connection when I read, look at or touch some of those items. It is like I have gone back in time. In a sense maybe I have. That is the symbolic power of mementos. They are more than trinkets, more than awards or accomplishments they symbolize the ongoing power of relationships past, present and future. They are links to a past existing in the present and pointing to the future.

None of them are worth much money and to most other people they would mean nothing. But to me they are worth a great deal. They are reminders of my past and in a sense part of the tapestry that is me and hopefully on someone’s wall, on a card or a note what little I contributed will be remembered by others. As William Faulkner said:

“What matters is at the end of life, when you’re about to pass into oblivion, that you’ve at least scratched ‘Kilroy was here,’ on the last wall of the universe.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Challenger: 27 Years Later

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“We risk great peril if we kill off this spirit of adventure, for we cannot predict how and in what seemingly unrelated fields it will manifest itself. A nation that loses its forward thrust is in danger, and one of the most effective ways to retain that thrust is to keep exploring possibilities. The sense of exploration is intimately bound up with human resolve, and for a nation to believe that it is still committed to a forward motion is to ensure its continuance.” James A. Michener 1979

It is still hard to believe. But then Space Shuttles don’t blow up every day, but the Space Shuttle Challenger just beginning mission STS-51L on that cold and sunny Florida morning.

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Challenger’s crew

I guess that events like the explosion of Challenger remain with those that viewed them because they were unusual, historic and most of all, tragic. Yes we remember events of triumph as well, and they too make an imprint on our memories, but tragedies that impact a nation and the world touch us in a different and often more powerful way. I think this is because they expose to us our own mortality and vulnerability to things that we cannot control.

I know that I, like many others of my generation had grown up with the triumphs of the NASA manned space program. We had seen the incredible success of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.  Success and triumph were associated with the program. Even the tragic fire which consumed the command module of the Apollo I mission on January 27th 1967 during a launch pad test killing Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee did little to quench our belief in the program.

In 1972 as the Apollo program wound down a new program was developed to be a more affordable means to continue space travel and scientific study. The program became the Space Shuttle program built around reusable orbiters of which Challenger was the third built for the program.

By the time Challenger was being prepared for STS-51-L we had become to Shuttle missions being routine. NASA was launching a mission every two to three months.  Challenger was the second of two missions in January 1986, her sister Columbia having returned from a 6 day mission just 10 days before her launch.

This familiarity with the routine of the Shuttle program and expectation of success made many of us forget that space travel is inherently dangerous and that complex vehicles like the Shuttle were not indestructible.

The STS-51-L mission was to be the 10th for the Challenger in under three years of service. The mission had been delayed due to weather on the 22nd and rescheduled several times due to weather or in one case due to problems with an exterior access hatch.

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Challenger takes off on January 28th 1986

The morning of the launch the weather was predicted to be at or below the 31 degree minimum safe launch threshold. Engineers from the builder of the Challenger’s Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) Morton Thiokol contacted NASA with their concerns that the O-Rings which sealed the joints on the SRBs which they believed might not seal properly.  NASA engineers argued that even if the primary O-Ring failed that the secondary O-Ring would be sufficient even though this was an unproven theory. Eventually Thiokol management overruled their engineers influenced by NASA management which demanded that Thiokol prove that it was not safe to launch rather than prove that it was safe to launch. Considering it was a “Criticality 1” component meaning that there was no backup in case of a failure of both joints. It was a clear violation of protocol but the later Rogers Commission would show that NASA managers frequently ignored or evaded safety regulations to meet their very ambitious mission schedule. This decision doomed Challenger and her crew of seven.

On the 28th of January 1986 I was a young commander of the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) in Wiesbaden Germany. I had heard about the scheduled launch of the Shuttle but paid it little regard, despite the presence if Christa McAuliffe, the first “teacher in space.” That evening was hoping to close out the day by 7PM which was early for me as well as most officers in the 68th Medical Group and 3rd Support Command of what we commonly called the Imperial Army on the Rhine, the US Army Europe.

I had a stack of work in my inbox, NCO evaluations, criminal investigations, maintenance reports and upcoming missions, not to mention trying to get a head start on my Unit Status Report. Most of my soldiers except those on duty had finished for the day.

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Challenger’s last moments

About 20 minutes to Six my senior duty person at the company, the Charge of Quarters or CQ in Army parlance came to my door which was at the far end of the hallway from where the CQ was stationed. Specialist Lisa Daley was a solid medic and outstanding soldier who had a great personality that caused her to be well liked in the company.  She came to my door and blurted out “Lieutenant Dundas! The Space Shuttle just blew up!”

I looked up from my desk and I remember my words to this day. “Specialist Daley, Space Shuttles don’t blow up.” She then said, “No sir they do, it’s on TV right now!”

I was stunned by her pronouncement. I got up and followed her as she told me what had happened. While I reached the CQ desk I saw the small television which she and her assistant CQ were watching. There was a live feed from CNN replaying the disaster, the twin plumes of smoke careening across the screen marking the spot where 73 seconds into the flight Challenger exploded. I stood there in shock, the images of the divergent plumes of smoke being etched into my mind.

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Atlantis landing on her final mission

It is hard to forget. 17 years later I was waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace, then the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to arrive at Naval Station Mayport Florida for the Battle of Hue City Memorial weekend hosted by the USS HUE CITY. I got to the ship early and while drinking coffee in the Wardroom saw the news of the breakup of the Space Shuttle Columbia. It brought back the images of the Challenger disaster. General Pace was delayed as the Joint Chiefs and National Security Council held an emergency meeting and arrived several hours late and when he arrived he spoke of the Challenger disaster along with the Columbia.

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The Shuttle program ended with the final mission of the Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011. As one that still dreams of the stars and manned space exploration I do hope that NASA is able to return to manned space missions and go beyond what we have done before. I hope that future programs including the Orion program and maybe manned missions to Mars and beyond can fulfill that ever hopeful opening dialogue of Star Trek: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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