Tag Archives: njrotc

Honoring Vietnam Veterans

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I had the honor of delivering the invocation and benediction at a ceremony and luncheon in honor of Vietnam Veterans and their families at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, the 50th anniversary of the withdrawal of the last Americans from the embassy in Saigon. About 400 Vietnam vets and the families, or in some cases their surviving spouses or children were on hand along with about another hundred or so other people including civic leaders, government officials, and members of other military associations or groups, as well as members of college ROTC and high school Junior ROTC programs.

We often get requests to support ceremonies for active duty members, retirees, and veterans groups, especially and there will be a number more coming up with the commemoration of 76th anniversary of the attack upon Pearl Harbor. Since this one fell on a holiday weekend and I had no services to conduct I took this on to ensure my chaplains who were not conducting services didn’t have to break up their weekend and to ensure that those that were conducting services didn’t have to rush to or from their services to cover this event which took up most of the afternoon. I also took it because it dealt with Vietnam veterans. My dad and many of the men who shaped me as a young soldier and officer were Vietnam veterans and I always feel that I owe them and their families my time.

I think that it is fitting and important to honor these men and women. The Vietnam War still leaves its mark upon the country, like an unhealed wound, as Americans who supported the war, opposed it, went to war, or found ways to avoid serving as our current President did wrestle with what happened in that era, of which the war was just one component of a larger social upheaval that marked a definitive break with much of our past.

I had the honor of meeting and speaking with some of those present today, as did Judy who went with me. I also ran into one of my now retired colleagues from EOD Group Two, and was able to mix with some of the high school Navy Junior ROTC cadets, sharing with them my experiences as an NJROTC cadet in the 1970s and how it helped me become who I am today.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, shipmates and veterans, vietnam

The Unassuming Miscreant: How Padre Steve got his Driver’s License

Who would think that the Young man in the Aviator Sunglasses could be so devious? 

Note to Parents: While this article talks about my own misdeeds it is not an endorsement or blessing of your kid doing such things unless they do it with more style and flair than me.  In which case I need to meet them, as I do appreciate genius and want to make sure that they have the opportunity to school them in the ways of the “Farce.”This is just the first installment of my high school follies so look for more in the future.

I was a quiet and unassuming high school delinquent back in the 1970s and I love the classic 80’s comedy Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.  When I watch it I always reminisce about the good and not so good times that I enjoyed and did not enjoy in high school.  When I watch the movie I am reminded of so of my own sneaky misdeeds which included weaseling my way through or out of classes, escaping school to get my driver’s license by playing dead and cutting Geometry class so often by hiding in the library that the library staff thought it was my assigned class.

You see no one suspected me of such behavior because of my shy nice guy persona. Now to be fair I was pretty introverted most of the time. To top it off I was a NJROTC cadet in the years following Vietnam which was not the place one hung out if one was in the real “in crowd.” I sacrificed my love of baseball to appear cool by playing on the Sophomore Football team, albeit not very well. I was active in church and I was a pretty nice guy.  I look in some of my yearbooks and see the comments inscribed by friends and they all pretty much reflect the image that I put out. Thus while I was a complete goof off or no show in some classes I was a show off in other classes that I was good at which gave people the illusion that I was a really good student.  I was in those classes but image is everything and my High School GPA was just a bit above 3.0.

Now most people never suspected me of anything devious except my little brother Jeff who had me nailed though he was still in elementary school.  Little brothers and sisters have that ability.

I found that by masquerading as a serious student was far better cover to get away with things than being an in your face rebel like some of my other classmates were.  The fact that I carried a large stack of books with me everywhere I went added the image.  It did make my arms tired but when you have little else to use you take advantage of what you have.  I looked the part of the serious student thus that was what most people assumed that I was.

All of us at Edison High School had a common core of classes to prepare us for life. One of them was a class in health which also included some of the academic preparations for drivers training.  I was in a class with a bunch of folks that I have had contact with even today which was taught by Mrs. Davenport.   During the class we got to see two of the best “scare the shit out of you” films of all time.  They were Wheels of Tragedy produced in 1963 by the Ohio State Patrol and Red Asphalt produced in the early 1970s by the California Highway Patrol. Wheels of Tragedy can be seen in its entirety by following this link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6728780942571899981# while Red Asphalt can be seen here:http://www.documentingreality.com/forum/f166/red-asphalt-18740/

These are some of the creepiest films ever made and I’m sure that the girls were really grossed out by them.  When Mrs. Davenport left the room a couple of us played these films backwards on the 16mm projector, which led to images of dead people’s heads reappearing on their shoulders.  If these films were shown in theaters today they would get an “R” rating for violence due to the close up depictions of dead bodies.  I don’t know if they are still shown as they are somewhat dated, but they are pretty cool in kind of a retro-creepy way.

Once we got through that class which took place in the fall we started the actual driver’s education portion in the spring. The idea was that when we turned 16 we would be able to take and pass written and the road test administered at the Department of Motor Vehicles, better known as the DMV.  This class was taught by Mr. Allerdice, a stocky retired Marine with a close cropped hair and a growling who seemed out of place in the school but who was a great teacher.   He was like having a drill sergeant, albeit a nice drill sergeant but a drill sergeant nonetheless.  The Driver’s Education classes were limited to 3 students and included classroom instruction, a bunch of time behind the wheels of a simulator followed by supervised driving.   Our class had an orange Chevy Nova which had two sets of controls, one for the student and the “My God we’re about to die!” controls on the right side of the car at which Mr. Allerdice sat.   This was somewhat intimidating but still kind of fun, especially because we knew that if we were successful we got our learners permit and were pretty much golden for the DMV.  I had no problems with the class, really sailed through it and got ready for the real deal training on my parents 1972 Chevy Impala which was about the size of a small armored vehicle.

When the day came for my driver’s test I had to find a way out of school when my mom could take me to the DMV.  This came shortly after my 16th birthday at the end of March 1976.  That morning I told my mom to be ready to meet me about 10 AM because I needed her to take me to the DMV. She assumed like everyone else that I had permission to do the things that I said that I needed to do.  However I was flying by the seat of my pants and was about to embark on a gamble that if discovered would get me in trouble with the school and even worse at home. I was going to fake being deathly ill.

In my second period I told the teacher, whoever it was as I cannot remember what class I was taking that I was feeling sick. I told the teacher that I felt feverish and that I might throw up.  Since I had finished gym class the period before I was still somewhat sweaty which provided the cover for the fever, a sweaty and flushed face is great cover and prerequisite when feigning illness.  The teacher wrote me a pass to the school nurse.  I trudged down the hallway like I had the plague until I got to the nurses’ office which was in the main lateral hallway of the school where many of us had our lockers.  The corridor was empty except for staff policing the hallways for the miscreants hoping to cut class or escape for the day. They saw me but saw my pass to the nurse and assumed that I was deathly ill.

The nurse was a middle aged and a bit heavy set African American woman who was known for being wise to students feigning illness.  She was no dummy, had been a school nurse forever and didn’t take any shit but she was a most genial person.  I entered the office doing my best to look like I had the plague or other life threatening malady and prayed that I could pull off my escape with the unwitting permission of the Stockton Unified School Disctrict.  I told the nurse my story but she was not convinced.  However since I was still sweaty and flushed and she took my temperature.  I prayed that I would actually have one….and thankfully the temp was there, 99.1, not too high but still febrile.  How I pulled that off the temperature I don’t know to this day because I didn’t expect to have it taken.

The nurse then looked at me and said “Young Man, you do have a mild fever, do you still feel like you are going to throw up?”  I nodded meekly and replied that I thought that I was going to throw up, careful not to look her in the eye because I wanted to look really sick.  She went to the sink and got a paper cup and filled it with warm water.  She then said “You drink this; it will either settle your stomach or bring up whatever is down there.” I had not expected such good fortune; she had given me exactly what I needed to pull off my stunt.  I walked into the adjoining rest room and closed the door.  I looked down and the toilet and looked at the cup up water and smiled. With a grotesque simulation of an episode of projectile vomiting I tossed the water into the toilet.  I did this again and again for about 5 minutes.  When I was done I flushed the toilet, rinsed my face off with warm water and looking even more ill than I had went back into the nurses office.  By that time she was already on the phone with my mom.  “Ma’am, your son is really sick, and throwing up. You need to come and get him now.” The time was 9:30 AM.  She wrote me a note which bought my freedom and told me that she “hoped that I felt better.” I thanked her in a most sincere way saying that “I hoped that I did too,” thanked her and walked slowly to the main entrance of the school on South center Street.

About 9:55 mom came pulling up to the school, she was very concerned and asked “Steven, are you okay? The nurse said that you were really sick.” I said coyly, “Mom, I told you that I would be ready to take my driver’s test, let’s go.”  She gave me the most puzzled expression and said, “But she said that you were really sick.” I simply said, “I know mom, I told you that I would be here.”  Years later I told her the details of how I pulled it off details which totally amazed and disgusted her.

We went to the DMV where I passed the written and the driving test and posed for my first driver’s license picture.  I was street legal and had brazenly pulled off a stunt which not only got me my driver’s license but got me out of school early on a Friday.

I guess that it’s like Ferris Buehler said: “The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh… you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor’s office. That’s worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Just for fun, purely humorous, School stories

Padre Steve’s Pre-Navy Navy Experiences

I officially entered the Navy in 1999 however I had spent a significant amount of my young life hanging around the Navy as a “Navy Brat” as well as a Navy Junior ROTC Cadet.

USS J. C. Breckenridge AP 176

My first “underway” was returning from the Philippines on the USS J. C. Breckenridge AP 176 in 1964.  The ship was a troopship and at the time was engaged in the transport of military personnel and their dependents from the Far East to San Fransisco.  In this capacity the ship made regular stops at Guam, Yokosuka, Okinawa, and Inchon, as well as Adak, Alaska, and Midway Island as she sailed between the Philippines, Japan and the west coast.  We rode her back following my father’s assignment at Cubi Point Naval Air Station.

Children’s Playroom on Breckenridge

The trip across the Pacific was something that I remember to this day.  A Marine stood guard outside of the family quarters in a starched “sateen” fatigue uniform.   I remember Marines going over the side of the ship into waiting landing craft at one stop, probably Inchon. I had a tee-shirt from the ship that I wore proudly until it was a tattered rag.

Edison High School NJROTC Cadets on USS Gray April 1978 L-R Alvin Friend, Mark DeGuzman, Jeff Vanover, Joe Mariani (top) Randy Richardson, Delwin Brown and Padre Steve

When I entered High School I joined the Navy Junior ROTC unit.  I was very fortunate because our instructors, LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness ensured that we had many opportunities to go underway on various ships.

USS Agerholm DD-826

The first of these was the USS Agerholm DD-826 a Gearing Class destroyer commissioned in 1946 which had received a  FRAM-1 modernization and fired the only live nuclear ASROC.  I embarked Agerholm in San Diego with 5 other cadets in October 1975.  During the trip we were able to observe gunnery exercises in the #2 5″ 38 gun mount and help man a towing hawser in exercises with the USS O’Callahan and USS Carpenter DD-825.  The trip was exhilarating as we rode heavy seas, and got to stand watches alongside real sailors.

USS Coral Sea CVA-43

The second trip for me was on the USS Coral Sea in July 1976 where I spent 2 weeks working in the ship’s medical department. The trip about Coral Sea was interesting as we were able to observe flight operations and see how carrier operated.

USS Pyro AE-24

I then went on the USS Pyro in the fall of 1976 for a 5 day underway where I witnessed a burial at sea and met the chaplain who covered the service force.  On Pyro I was able to work with the Signalmen.

USS Mount Vernon LSD-39

In February 1977 a number of us traveled to Portland Oregon to embark on USS Mount Vernon LSD-39 for its trip from an overhaul back to her home port of San Diego during which we disembarked at Alameda.  That was an interesting trip as well as upon entering the Pacific from the Colombia River we ran into a major storm and we got to see how a flat-bottomed amphibious ship rode in heavy seas, the answer, not well. On the Mount Vernon we stood various watches the most memorable was in the Main Engineering plant.  Mount Vernon like most of the ships of the day was powered by steam turbines and the Engine Room was about 100 degrees.

USS Frederick LST-1184

My final underway was a round trip from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and back.  On the outbound trip we rode the USS Frederick LST-1184 as it transited with its Amphibious Group of 7 ships for a WESTPAC deployment.  On Frederick I was paired with the Operations department and Navigation division.  This was interesting as I got to practice skills that I had learned in the classroom as well as learn about the early satellite navigation systems Loran and Omega.  It was on Frederick that I first felt the call to be a Navy Chaplain and aboard which I would celebrate my first Eucharist underway 23 years later.

We spent a week in Peal Harbor when I was able to visit the USS Arizona and USS Utah Memorials, meet Navy Divers, Army Maritime Transportation Corps personnel and tour their landing craft.  We had some liberty in Pearl and the son of one of my parents friends from the Navy picked me up from a day of snorkeling during which I was badly sunburned with 2nd degree burns on my back. This lent me the nickname “Lobsterman” by my fellow cadets.

USS Gray FF-1054

The return trip was on the USS Gray FF-1054 a Knox Class Frigate which my dad had helped prepare for commissioning in 1970. Gray and a cruiser destroyer force headed by the USS Chicago CG-10 was returning from deployment.  On Gray I got to see my first underway replenishment

These journeys were important in my life, they put a love of the sea and love of the Navy deep in me that could not be quenched even by my 17 and a half years of service in the Army.  As a Chaplain I had the privilege of serving on the USS Hue City CG-66.

One of my photos of USS Hue City CG-66 during boarding Operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf

I still love the sea and who knows if I will get another sea tour, but I have been blessed in all of these experiences.  Of the ships themselves only Hue City is active in the US Navy while Frederick was sold to Mexico where she still serves.

Harpoon Hitting Agerholm

Agerholm was expended as a target for the Harpoon missile system, Breckenridge, Coral Sea, Gray, Portland were scrapped and Pyro was decommissioned and remains in the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Suisun Bay California.   They were all great ships manned by great crews.

Peace, Padre Steve+

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How Padre Steve Got His Driver’s License, Passed Geometry, Escaped Advanced Algebra and Selects Mood Music for a Book Burning

Note to Parents: While this article talks about my own misdeeds it is not an endorsement or blessing of your kid doing such things unless they do it with more style and flair than me.  In which case I need to meet them, as I do appreciate genius and want to make sure that they have the opportunity to school them in the ways of the “Farce.”

ferris buehlerCutting Class and Going to a Museum…Hmmm…

I was watching the move Ferris Buehler’s Day Off a couple of weeks ago and I began to reminisce about the good and not so good times in high school.  When I watched the movie I was reminded of so of my own sneaky misdeeds by which I weaseled my way through or out of classes, escaped to get my driver’s license by playing dead, well just played really sick and cut Geometry class by hiding in the library.  You see no one suspected me of such behavior because of my shy nice guy persona. Now to be fair I was pretty introverted most of the time. To top it off I was a NJROTC cadet in the years following Vietnam, played on the Sophomore Football team, albeit not very well, was active in church and I was a pretty nice guy…not like I am now.  I look in some of my yearbooks and see the comments inscribed by friends and they all pretty much reflect the image that I put out. Thus though I was a complete goof off in some classes and show off in other classes that I liked, most people never suspected me of anything, except my little brother Jeff who had me nailed though he was still in elementary school.  Little brothers and sisters have that ability.

Steve&TuffyA Face that You Could Trust…An Unlikely Miscreant

I found that by faking being a really serious student was far better cover to get away with things than being an in your face rebel like some of my other classmates were.  The fact that I carried a large stack of books with me everywhere I went added the image.  It did make my arms tired but when you have little else to use you take advantage of what you have.

All of us back in the 1970s in Stockton had a common core of classes to prepare us for life. One of them was a class in health which also included some of the academic preparations for drivers training.  I was in a class with a bunch of folks that I have had contact with even today which was taught by Mrs. Davenport.   During the class we got to see two of the most class “scare the shit out of you” films of all time.  They were Wheels of Tragedy produced in 1963 by the Ohio State Patrol and Red Asphalt produced in the early 1970s by the California Highway Patrol. Wheels of Tragedy can be seen in its entirety by following this link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6728780942571899981# while Red Asphalt can be seen here: http://www.documentingreality.com/forum/f166/red-asphalt-18740/

They are to this day some of the creepiest films ever made and I’m sure that the girls were really grossed out by them, especially when Mrs. Davenport left the room and couple of us played it backwards on the 16mm projector.  If these films were shown in theaters today they would get an “R” rating for violence and close up depictions of dead bodies.  I don’t know if they are still shown as they are somewhat dated, but they are pretty graphic in kind of a retro way.

Once we got through that class which was the first or second quarter of the sophomore year for many of us we started the actual drivers education portion in the spring so that hopefully when we turned 16 we would be able to take and pass the State of California written test and the road test administered at the Department of Motor Vehicles, better known as the DMV.  This class was taught by Mr. Allerdice, a stocky retired Marine with a close cropped hair.   He was like having a drill sergeant, albeit a nice drill sergeant but a drill sergeant nonetheless.  These classes were limited to 3 students and included a bunch of time behind a simulator followed by supervised driving in a Chevy Nova which had two sets of controls, one for the student and the “My God we’re about to die!” controls on the right side of the car at which Mr. Allerdice sat.   This was somewhat intimidating but still kind of fun, especially because we knew that if we were successful we got our learners permit and were pretty much golden for the DMV.  I had no problems with the class, really sailed through it and got ready for the real deal training on my parents 1972 Chevy Impala which was about the size of a small armored vehicle.

When the day came for my driver’s test I had to find a way out of school when my mom could take me to the DMV.  This came shortly after my 16th birthday at the end of March 1976.  That morning I told my mom to be ready to meet me about 10 AM.  In second period I told the teacher, whoever it was as I cannot remember what class I was taking that I was feeling sick, felt feverish and that I might throw up.  Since I had finished gym class the period before I was still somewhat sweaty which provided the cover for the fever, a sweaty and flushed face is great cover when feigning illness.  The teacher wrote me a pass to the school nurse.  I trudged down the hallway like I had the plague until I got to the nurses’ office which was in the main lateral hallway of the school where many of us had our lockers.  The nurse was a middle aged and a bit heavy set African American woman who was known for being wise to students feigning illness who was a most genial person.  I told her my story and still sweaty and flushed she took my temperature.  I prayed….and thankfully the temp was there, 99.1 but still high.  How I pulled that off I don’t know to this day.  She then looked at me and said “Young Man, do you still feel like you are going to throw up?”  I nodded meekly careful not to look her in the eye.  She went to the sink and got a paper cup and filled it with warm water.  She then said “You drink this; it will either settle your stomach or bring up whatever is down there.” I had not expected such good fortune.  I walked into the adjoining rest room and closed the door.  I looked down and the toilet and looked at the cup up water and smiled. With a grotesque simulation of an episode of projectile vomiting I tossed the water into the toilet.  I did this again and again for about 5 minutes.  When I was done I flushed the toilet, rinsed my face off with warm water and looking even more ill than I had went back into the nurses office.  She was already on the phone with my mom.  “Ma’am, your son is really sick, and throwing up. You need to come and get him now.” The time was 9:30 AM.  She wrote me a note which bought my freedom and told me that she “hoped that I felt better.” I thanked her in a most sincere way and I walked slowly to the main entrance on Center Street.  About 9:55 mom came pulling up to the school.    “Steven, are you okay? The nurse said that you were really sick.” I said coyly, “Mom, I told you that I would be ready to take my driver’s test, let’s go.”  She gave me the most puzzled expression and said, “But she said that you were really sick.” I simply said, “I know mom, I told you that I would be here.”  Years later I told her the details of how I pulled it off details which totally amazed her.

I guess that it’s like Ferris Buehler said: “The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh… you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor’s office. That’s worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”

My problems in more advanced mathematics began to occur in 9th grade when someone decided to throw the alphabet into what had otherwise been innocuous math questions that I could do in my sleep.  First period of 9th grade began in the hell of Mr. Nichley’s Algebra class.  Mr. Nichley was a throwback teacher.  He looked and dressed like it was still 1959, gray suit, boring tie and fedora hat.  He started the class speaking a language that I did not understand and wrote strange equations on the chalkboard which had new symbols and blurred the boundaries between the alphabet and the Arabic numbers that I had learned so well.  Unfortunately he was not much for explaining things to numbskulls like me and when I asked a question his answers always sounded like he was speaking in some foreign language.  The problem was that Nichley often seemed to be more intent on enforcing his brand of discipline than teaching.  I lost count of the number of students that he sent to the vice principle for minor infractions, including those done outside of school.  Some of the girls came in one morning very tan in the middle of the fall after have sat under sun lamps the day before.  This drew them blue slips.  If you talked in class and he was not in a cheery mood, which happened to be quite often, you got sent down.  Once he sent like 8 or 9 students in one class session.  I got sent down once without a blue slip.  However late in the fall Nichley was diagnosed with cancer of some kind and we got a never ending stream of substitutes.  Somehow I got through the year with C’s of various degrees and escaped to high school where I was faced with yet another test of my now severely limited advanced mathematical skills.  Nichley would survive to an advanced age dying just a few years ago in his late 80s surprising me because I figured that he must have died long ago as he looked like he was in his 70s in the 70s.

High school was different.  Geometry made more sense than algebra, I think because I could see the diagrams.  However, despite understanding it better I found our teacher, Mrs. Rundel boring as hell, so boring that I began to cut class.  Now Rundel’s class was 6th period, the last of the day.  This meant that as long as I didn’t get caught the next stop was the bus and home…or early in the year football practice.  The first quarter I only made a few cuts by going to the library.  The library was the perfect place, who would go to the library to cut class? That’s like running from God by going to church…wait I did that too.  But the library staff assumed that I was supposed to be there as I nestled my body amid the history and reference sections.  I got a “B” that quarter.  The next quarter I upped the ante.  I was becoming more and more bored, and Rundel always seemed to buy my excuse that I called into the counselors’ office or some easily verifiable story.  Of course to verify she would have to go see the counselor as she didn’t have a phone in the classroom and I’m sure my studious and law abiding demeanor helped the charade.  The 2nd quarter I pulled a “C” and the 3rd quarter I cut more and dropped to a “C” minus. What was amazing was that I was missing huge amounts of class and still passing.  The true test was the 4th quarter, this time I cut class more often than not.  I think I cut 23 out of about 45 class meetings, all in the library.  The last day of the quarter I showed up. I had to take 7 tests that afternoon and I finished the quarter with a 60.5% average just enough to squeak by with a “D” minus. My mom was surprised at the grade; she had not gotten a notice mid quarter about substandard academic performance because I had intercepted it and forged her signature.  She asked about the grade and I gave her my innocent, I had a “hard time with the class in the last few weeks of the quarter” story.   Rundel retired that summer and I’m sure that I had to have something to do with it. Thank God she did not call my mom like Mr.  Rooney did Mrs. Buehler:  “He has missed an unacceptable number of school days. In the opinion of this educator, Ferris is not taking his academic growth seriously. Now I’ve spent my morning examining his records. If Ferris thinks that he can just coast through this month and still graduate, he is sorely mistaken. I have no reservations whatsoever about holding him back another year.”

My less than stellar experience in mathematics ended in 11th grade when I came up against the advanced algebra teacher, Mr. Nadeau.  Nadeau announced to the class that he planned on failing half of us. I realized I was definitely in the half to be failed.  I knew that I had met my match and no amount of chicanery was going to get me through the way I got through the previous year.  I raised my hand, asked to be excused and went immediately to Mr. Brascessco my counselor.  I told him that I needed out of the class now, asked what was available and was enrolled in English Literature and sitting in that class in which I was quite successful and to this day I have never had to take another math class in my academic career, I was smart enough to know that my strength was writing and research, obviously honed to a fine edge while cutting class in the library.

And now…my mood music selections for the good folks at Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton North Carolina and their eminent Grand Master Pastor Marc Grizzard.  I have written a couple of times about them (see my latest on them here: https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/halloween-book-burning-update-bring-the-marshmallows-please/ )Since I looked at what they think is good music and found nothing suitable, they don’t have the Horst Wesel Lied in their music library. Since they can’t spell the name of the song and certainly wouldn’t be able to sing it like good Nazis, I have picked a few more contemporary tunes to help heat up the night.

I would start with the classic Disco Inferno by the Trammps, followed by Fire by the Ohio Players.  Once they got into it and started gyrating to the music while piling those Bibles on the fire I would switch over to a different style and play Burning Bridges the theme from Kelly’s Heroes performed by the Mike Curb Congregation and Foreigner’s Hot Blooded, REO Speedwagon’s Keep the Fire Burning, Linda Ronstadt’s Heat Wave, Abba’s Kisses of Fire. Continuing I would go with Johnny Cash and The Ring of Fire and the Talking Heads Burning Down the House and Blondie’s Atomic. Since this is a spiritual event I would end with AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.

It seems that Grand Master Pastor Marc has run afoul of the Fire Marshall and evidently he has no burn permit and that because of burn restrictions he won’t be able to have the burning.  Evidently Marc has decided the path of confrontation with the Fire and Law Enforcement agencies.  I can see this getting picked up in some of the offbeat press gets hold of this and starts presenting it as another example of Christian persecution. This could really be fun to watch and if I was there I would bring the beer.

I do hope the good folks at Amazing Grace Baptist and the Grand Master Pastor Marc will appreciate all that I do for them.  By the way call them at 828-648-0213 write Grand Master Pastor Marc at his personal e-mail: jonmarcgrizzard@aol.com

Peace, Padre Steve+

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Mulligan Stew…Adventures on the Golf Course and the Bar

Me at the 18thMe at the 18th after a Day of “Mulligan Stew”

I have not golfed since last August when I was last out here.  My shoulders and tendonitis which have bothered me since my return from Iraq have been too bad to play the game despite having a set of clubs and a city golf course less than a mile from my home in Virginia.  Today was interesting.  I went out with Jeff and his friends Steve and Frank.  Great guys all of them.  I enjoyed the hell out of the day.

Now as far as my golfing goes…It is safe to say I’m never going to be on the PGA or even the LPGA tour and never going to give Tiger Woods a run for his money.  In fact it might be hard for me to compete against Larry Curley and Moe.   Despite this it does seem, at least according to what my brother and his friends say that I have a pretty good swing for someone who golf’s as little as I do.  Apparently the Deity Herself gave me a great amount of grace.  Now to be honest I had some pretty good shots as well as some incredibly bad shots.  I lost 4 balls in 18 holes, 2 to water and 2 to grass that was so I that I dared not venture into it.  I guess the environmentalists are trying to ensure that some vermin has a place to live.  I also left a pitching wedge at the 9th hole which I did not recover. Thankfully it was an old club that only I might use when I come into town. My right shoulder began to hurt pretty bad by the 9th hole and for a while until I figured out the mechanics of what I was doing I was not doing well.  Thankfully after Iraq I can sense what my body is doing better than I could ever before I went there.  I was able to adjust much faster than usual and I was able to do pretty good, actually scoring a legitimate par on the 16th hole.  My drives and fairway shots got better.  Depending on a very forgiving 2 Wood I started hitting some very nice shots from the tee and the fairway. My approach shots to the green, especially with the pitching wedge or sand wedge after I lost the pitching wedge became very consistent and my puts started getting the range.  All in all it was not a bad round.  Now I while the rest of the foursome kept score I did not.  I took a lot of “Mulligan’s” when things were not going well in order not to slow up the game for everyone else.  Now the true golf aficionado would condemn me to golf hell for such infractions but despite my Scottish last name I do have a bit of Irish in me. I have just enough Irish in me not to take bad shots too seriously, especially when I have not golfed more than 5 times in the last 7 years.  Simply realizing that made my day enjoyable.  I was able to enjoy conversation while working on my game.  In all the day was simply great.  I think I surprised Frank when I suggested that he “bean” one of the golfers ahead of us who were going to slow for my taste so that we could play through.  He was shocked to hear a priest say such a thing, but I had to admit that they were going far too slow.  Heck, even I was playing better and faster than them and they had more expensive clubs and gear than I did and he was horrible.  He deserved it.  Thus I fall back to my old defense: “If they deserve it is it still a sin?”  Sometimes I wonder.  My confessor told me that it was still a sin even if here were extenuating circumstances, but sometimes I wonder.

Following the round Jeff and I got with my high school buddy Jeff and had a blast talking about life over at Maxim’s restaurant and bar.  I had a couple pints of Newcastle’s and we split some very gooey nachos.  It was good to see my friend Jeff again.  We went to high school together and did several cruises as NJROTC cadets while at Edison High School.  Jeff spent three years in the Army after high school serving in Korea, Texas and Kentucky.  After this my brother Jeff and I went to his house where we had dinner with his wife and kids and my mom.  That too was a good visit and after a nice visit I went to pick me up a bottle of Burt’s Bees Aloe and Linden Flower After Sun Lotion to sooth my lobster like skin.  Despite having bought two tubes of Banana Boat Sunscreen, one when getting my coffee this morning I forgot to put the damned stuff on.  It does very little good to purchase good sunscreen with a high SPF if you forget to put it on.

So now I sit writing this post and watching the Giants play the Mets on TV.  Soon I will be packing and putting myself in bed so I get see dad on the way to the airport.  As always thank you for your thoughts, kind words and prayers.

Blessings, Steve+

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The Call

Note:  To clear up some confusion my references to “The Deity Herself.”  God is neither male nor female and Scripture records that God made Man and Woman in his image, not just Man.  Likewise there are both male and female images used in the Hebrew which refer to God.  I am not turning to “goddess worship” if anyone is concerned. I patently, as anyone who knows me well, understand God within the accepted bounds of the Trinity.  My use of the female imagery is for the most part to get people to think and maybe actually notice that I am referring to God. Maybe too it will encourage women who have been hurt or victimized by men, especially abusive fathers to see that the Christian message is not something that excludes them.  While some may not approve, or even think that I have succumbed to “political correctness,”  I see this as legitimate use of the language, which because of its limited nature can never fully show us the glory of God. Peace and Blessings, Steve+

I’ve been asked by some how I was “called” into the ministry or my vocation as a Priest and Chaplain.  I have done a lot, I mean really a lot of reflecting on this over the years.  Honestly, I don’t really know how it happened.  I mean I like sort of know, but the “how it happened” is pretty much a God thing I guess.  Looking back I think I get it, but am still amazed that I get to do what I get to do.  To use the words of Elton John “I’m still standing after all these years.” The reason I say this is because I’m NOT the greatest theologian, preacher, pastor, or even chaplain around.  Likewise, I know that I am certainly not among the most “spiritual.”  For me the Christian life takes work, really hard work.  There are guys and gals around who who can do circles around me in most of these facets of the Christian life and ministry.   Now on the other hand I don’t think that I drag up the rear, but I’m not going to over play my hand.  There are things that I think that I do pretty well, but I consider myself kind of a journeyman.

General George Patton recounted in his memoirs that “he prayed that he would never get ‘the Call’ because he knew that he would have to leave the Army.”  In some ways I think I can understand that.  Now I know that I was called.  In fact that call probably goes back to a pretty early age.  I found among things grandmother had saved a short paper I had written in the 4th Grade about Easter.  It was not about the Easter Bunny but it was about the Resurrection of Jesus.  So I guess that I had some kind of faith stuff going on back that far.  I think that the first inkling of a call came when I was 11 or 12. At the time the Roman Catholic Chaplain at our base took care of my Protestant family when a local church Sunday School teacher told me that my dad was a baby killer.  Toward the end of high I felt  that call during a NJROTC cadet cruise from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and back.  I wrote my grand parents that I felt that I was being called to be a Navy Chaplain.  I did a short term mission with a Christian Singing group called the Continental Singers and Orchestra in the summer of 1979.  By the way I was the spotlight tech, I did not sing, the Deity Herself was wise enough not to inflict my “joyful noise” on our audiences.  That trip was remarkable, but when I was getting ready for it my local church had a nasty split.  As a result I got caught in the middle of it.  I was in military parlance “collateral damage.” To tell the truth, that experience was kind of sucky.

That was rough, in fact my reaction was to withdraw.  I left that church when I returned and started attending the church of my girlfriend. Patently she is now my ever patient and long suffering wife.  The poor girl should have realized what she was getting into with me when about a month into our dating relationship I left for three months.   Yet she has persevered.

What I figured during this time was that the Deity and I would make a deal.  I would stay in church.  I would even teach Sunday School, and that I would go in the military as a “good Christian officer.” She being the Deity of course would agree to that deal, everything would be copasetic and we would cooperate on my terms.  Pretty arrogant for a 20 year old, but hey, like most young people I had my really dumb moments.  She of course had other plans….

So I went in the Army because Judy forbade me to join the Navy.  She had good reason. Her two sisters married knuckle-headed sailors who were always deployed.  Neither of course were good husbands.  She however let me go into the Army.  I said “cool beans” and I thought I was on my way to fulfilling the deal I had made with the Deity.  As I made my way through my young Army career it seemed that She used very unfair and devious means to rub the call in my face.  Chapel friends would tell me that I needed to stop running from God.  A good friend left the Army for seminary.  In fact the good Deity ensured that I was miserable even though I loved being an Army officer.  Finally in 1987 She used my Brigade XO, LTC Ike Adams to kick me in the teeth. We would run together at lunch. One day while running he asked: “Hey Captain, what do you think your doing with the rest of your life?”  I responded in typical junior Army officer fashion: “Well, I’m going to the Advanced Course, take another Company and after that get promoted to Major.”  I mean I had this planned out, and then he cut me off…”Well I don’t think that’s what God has in mind, you were called to the ministry and are running from it.”

If there was ever an “oh crap” moment, this was it.  People had been pinging on me for five or six years about this, but nobody, ever ever  dropped the bomb like that.  I could have died.  I had never mentioned anything about this to the man. Yet here he was, or God was, reading my mail.  This was not fun.  So I asked him: “How do you know?”  I was stunned by the reply.  “Well the Holy Spirit revealed it to me.”  Now Ike was not and is not a flake.  He was a Social Worker and career Army officer.  He retired from the Army and went to Asbury Seminary where he got his M.Div and University of Kentucky where he picked up his Ph.D.  He’s now the Chair of the Social Work Department at Asbury College.  Shaken by the incident I took myself home.  I told the long suffering Judy what had happened.  She told me “Well I could have told you that.”

So a year and some change later I left the Army to go to seminary.  I was accepted at Asbury, Austin Presbyterian and Southwestern Baptist.  I chose Southwestern for the simple reason that it was cheaper.  Back in those days before the Fundamentalist takeover of the seminaries, the Southern Baptist “Cooperative Fund” underwrote the majority of even non-Southern Baptist students tuition.  What would have been a $5,000 per semester or so bill was reduced to $1,000 a semester give or take a bit depending on the semester.  It was a good thing, because seminary was hell on earth.  How we made it through that ordeal is beyond me. It was like going through the gauntlet of Klingon Pain Sticks in the Rite of Ascension.

First Judy got sick and had to leave her job, a crummy one working for the government in an office rife with sexual harassment.  I left active duty during the Texas Oil bust of 1988.  I couldn’t get a job.  Seminary students without a technical skill were a dime a dozen, and the attitude of many employers was that they didn’t need you and if they did, they would not pay you much.  We lost everything, I mean almost everything but our books and our dogs.  We lost our house, our cars, and were pretty much poverty stricken despite working  full time in social service agencies, night shelters, pizza parlors and part time as a janitor.  Finally I had to take a semester off just to try to get back on our feet.

About that time I was accepted into the Chaplain Candidate program in the National Guard.  I got back in school, but once again came to a point were my job was drying up and with it the money I needed to go to seminary.  I had been given my two week notice.  I was the highest paid hourly worker, expenses had to be cut and I was gone.  At that point I thought stick a fork in me, I’m done.  I took my last finals that semester in absolute despair thinking that all had gone for naught.  Walking down the hallway in tears I met a couple of my Professors, my Church history and Missiology professors. They saw me.  Both simply let me cry and then prayed for me.  I got home that afternoon, ready to quit. I figured that it was over and that I had failed. I was going to find a regular job and start over, maybe go back in the Army.  As I walked in the door the phone rang and I got a call from a Christian ministry that Judy forced me to apply to. They offered me a job doing counseling.  It paid better than anything I had since the Army and even had, get this, tuition assistance and medical benefits.   Now we still had some more rough times but somehow God got us through this incredibly difficult but formative time in our lives.  I think that She was ensuring that I would be able to care for those going through similar circumstances and never let me forget Her care and assistance as I slogged my way through seminary.  The weird thing about seminary was that this independent evangelical guy came out on the Anglican and Catholic side of life.  I had my Baptist and Assembly of God friends ask me if I was a “closet Catholic or Anglican.” Believe me, that was not a cool thing to be asked in a Southern Baptist Seminary that was getting hit hard by a Fundamentalist assault.

I finished seminary and was ordained in 1992, at which time I also became a National Guard Chaplain.  I did a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas from 1993-94.  That was an experience that helped me continue my education, formation and discernment at I continued to track in this Anglican-Catholic manner.  On top of this Judy became Catholic in 1994 and we moved to West Virginia where I took my first post CPE Chaplain job. This was a contract position at a hospital in the town where my parents were from and where my both of my grand mothers lived.  Unfortunately I worked bad hours and spent weekends on call at the hospital or with the National Guard or Reserves.  I had no fellowship, pretty much no life outside the hospital.  I was isolated and I knew that I did not fit in many of the churches in the town.  At a chaplain conference I met a Priest from a Anglican “Continuing Church” who told me about the Charismatic Episcopal Church in 1995.  My friend told me that he thought that it would be a good place for me.  I met with the local bishop and in July 1996 I was ordained as a Priest.  It should have been September, but the time-line was moved forward when I was mobilized for the Bosnia operation.  The day before my ordination my bishop made a comment to me.  He said that this was no longer about simply “doing ministry.”  He said it was about a Sacramental Grace that was ontological in nature.   In other words, it was something that God would do to change me in that Sacrament.

When I was mobilized I lost my contract job.  Thankfully, the Army managed to find ways to keep me employed as a base chaplain when I returned from Europe. This let to a string of events which eventually led me to the Navy Chaplain Corps.  I know that my call is that of a Priest.  That now is my identity, though I function as a Chaplain within that vocation.  I have been blessed in every assignment with wonderful people and almost in every place a supportive atmosphere.  My long military and Chaplain experience has helped me not screw up a lot since coming to the Navy.  I had made plenty of mistakes in the Army. The cool thing is that like changing services is like going from the National League to the American League in mid-season. All of your stats start over.  Kind of like the Bible says, “old things passed away, behold all things become new.”

I am a proud journeyman. I love what I do and the people that I work with and serve.  At the same time one day I will retire from the Navy.  I am sure that the Deity Herself will patently guide me into whatever She has for me as a Priest in her Church. I cannot imagine anything else.  I love being a mentor to young people, especially young ministers and seminarians.  If I have my way I hope to be serving as a Priest until the day that I’m really finished.  This is not about preaching, it is about serving God’s people, in Word and in Sacrament in whatever capacity the church decides to use me until I am done. I figure that since Jesus and the Holy Spirit and a whole lot of persistence  have gotten me this far that it must be right.

I hope that this somewhat explains my call and vocation as a Priest.  It has been to use the words of Jerry Garcia: “A long strange trip.”

Peace, Steve+

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In Memorium: Chief John Ness and LCDR Jim Breedlove USN

breedlove-ness2

LCDR Jim Breedlove (Left) and Senior Chief John Ness 1975-76 Edison High School NJROTC

I have found that as I get older I find there are moments where eras end.  Today was one of those days. I came home from my overnight on call at the Medical Center I checked my e-mail and found a message from Maggie Ness.  She was the wife of my1st year NJROTC at Edison High School, Stockton California, Chief Petty Officer John Ness. She wrote to inform us that John had passed away on Good Friday after a long illness.

The death of “Chief” was expected.  As I said he had been sick for many years and had come back home in hospice care. His death followed that of our Senior Instructor and Detachment OIC, LCDR Jim Breedlove by about 14 months.  LCDR Breedlove died unexpectedly after a short illness shortly before I returned from Iraq last January.  Both of these men had a profound influence on me and taught me many lessons.  From them I learned a lot about responsibility, honor and commitment.

They had founded the detachment in the early 1970s which was not when you think about it a great time to begin any military activity on any campus as Vietnam was winding  down.  Both men had recently retired from the Navy.  LCDR Breedlove was  what we would now call a Surface Warfare Officer who spent a lot of his career in ship’s Engineering Departments serving often as the Chief Engineer.  Chief was a Cryptologic Technician.  In short, a codebreaker.  Chief has spent a lot of his career working in the intelligence side of the house.

These men were the glue that helped guide me through high school.  Their efforts expanded my world.  My world had become much smaller when my dad retired from the Navy in 1974 and I was miserable.  Yet because of these men  my world expanded, in fact the world again became a place of wonder.  During the fall of my sophomore year I was able to go to San Diego and ride the USS Agerholm DD-826 up the coast and home.  Later in the fall we went to Mare Island to spend time with the “Riverine” forces of Coastal River Division XI.  That spring I went to a “mini-boot camp” at NTC San Diego.  The next summer I spent a couple of weeks on the USS Coral Sea CV-43 and get some “on the job training” in the ship’s Medical Department.  On Coral Sea I was able to see the intricate workings of flight operations on a aircraft carrier. Coming back to school we got a ride on the USS Pyro AE-25 a ammunition ship based out of Alameda California.  On Pyro I met a Navy Chaplain and talked with him about the chaplaincy.  I also saw my first burial at sea.  The next winter we traveled to Portland Oregon to board the USS Mount Vernon LST-39 coming out of the yards and going back to California.  My senior year was the highlight of my time in High School.  A group of us went down to San Diego and took USS Frederick LST-1184 from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. We spent a week at Pearl seeing the history of the base, the USS Arizona and USS Utah memorials and spent Easter Sunday there.  While there I spent a day snorkeling at Hanauma Bay and came out with the sunburn from Hell.  One of my friends, Jeff Vanover still remembers me as the “Lobster man” after that experience.  We rode the USS Gray FF-1054 back to San Diego and again learned a lot. On Gray I met with a destroyer squadron chaplain and learned more about the Chaplaincy.  I sent a post card to my grandparents from the Gray.   I found it when visiting my grandmother in 1995.  It said: “Dear Ma Maw and Pa Paw, I think that God is calling me to be a Navy Chaplain.”  At the time I was a civilian hospital and Army Reserve Chaplain,. I chucked and to her that “At least I got the chaplain part right.”  I had no idea that the Deity herself would lead me into the Navy a few short years later.  Other Cadets went on other cruises.  Several rode the USS Blue Ridge LCC-19 to Acuploco Mexico.  Others went on a Coast Guard cutter for 60 days in the summer on Alsakan fisheries patrol.

There are several things to note about the Hawaii trip.  It was over three weeks long, which because part of the time was Easter break (yes it was still Easter back then) we missed two weeks of school.  Some people would say that this would hurt students academicly, but I think not.  Sometimes I think that kids need to get out and see the world under the care and supervision of mature people. You can always catch up on academics, but to experience the world is something most kids miss out on. Commander Breedlove and Chief Ness gave us the chance to explore and see things that other kids would never see.  For me the more important facets were that the trip put in my heart a love of the sea, and the call to be a Navy Chaplain while on Frederick, something that was driven home at Pearl Harbor and coming back on the Gray.  Even more interesting was that in April 2001, about 23 years after that I celebrated my first  Holy Eucharist underway on Frederick. She was then the last LST on active service in the US Navy when she picked my Marine unit up in Pohang South Korea.  The Eucharist happened to be on Easter Sunday.  Talk about almost impossible occurrences. If there is such a thing as confirmation of where you are supposed to be, I think that this qualifies.

Anyway, those are experiences that these two men allowed us to experience.  I don’t know of many high school students who got to spend about 70 days underway on Navy ships and have all the other experiences that these emn allowed us to have.

Now it is time for some “Sea Stories.”  Chief Ness was a colorful man, as many Chiefs of his era were.  If you have seen the movie Men of Honor you can get to understand a little bit of the Navy culture that shaped Chief Ness.  He was not profane like Robert DeNiro’s character, Master Chief Billy Sunday, but he was a man who pushed us.  He was to often blunt and to the point. At the same time he was caring while not taking any crap from anyone.  He taught us to were the uniform correctly, close order drill, basic seamanship and other subjects that would be common to any new sailor.  As far as academics, he was a good teacher.  Like I said he didn’t take any crap.  We had a couple of guys who cheated on a test that sophomore year, both scoring an “A.”  Chief caught them, it’s hard to fool a codebreaker.  He brought them to the front of the class and told them that they would each get half on an “A.”  They both thought that meant a “C.”  Instead chief drew an “A” on the chalkboard and erased the right half of the letter, leaving the figure of an “F.”  He also taught us to be on time. Something that in my later years I have become almost pathological about.  We were getting on a bus to go to NTC San Diego.  There was one Cadet who was late.  At the appointed hour Chief directed the bus to start moving although a car was pulling into the parking lot and the cadet was getting out.  The Cadet did not make an effort to flag down or chase the bus, so Chief left him.  He then told us if the young man had made an effort that he would have stopped the bus, but the Navy would not delay a ship’s departure for one person and that we needed to see the consequences of being “UA.”  He also had an award that he gave to Cadets who had problems goofing things up.  It was a 10 pound shot put mounted on a plaque.  He called it the “Iron Ball” award for people who could “foul up an iron ball.”  He let us settle our class grades.  He used a “Bell curve” to do our final grade.  A the end of the quarter he would put every student’s cumulative point total on the board with no names shown.  He would then ask us to figure out who should get what grades using the Bell curve as our standard.  Thus we selected 10% for “A’s” 20% for “B’s” 40% for “C’s” 20% for “D’s” and 10% for “F’s.”  Now he allowed some room for maneuver if there were natural big breaks between scores, but he made us make the decision. He did because he knew that we would all have to make hard decisions that impacted other people later in life and that we had to learn that lesson early.  Chief almost always had his ever-present cup of black coffee, with a ceramic frog inside of it eyes looking up.  We used to joke that his forefinger was permanently molded ino the shape of a coffee mug handle. Chief had a heart of gold. He had nicknames for us, and he gave us a hard time, but when we were down he wouldn’t kick us.  He taught leadership lessons that I will not forget.

LCDR Breedlove was my mentor and later in life friend.  He taught us more advanced Naval subjects including Naval History, Law and customs.  He also taught us navigation, damage control, weapons systems and combat systems. He arranged for all of our trips and went with us on many of them.  In short he began to teach us to be Naval Officers. After I graduated I staying in contact with Jim.  He was always excited to hear what was going on in my life. Whenever I went home to visit my family I always set aside time to meet him for lunch and have a couple of beers together.  He was a gentleman, a family man and a Christian. His death, coming at the end of my time in Iraq was devastating.  We had stayed in contact during the deployment and his sudden death shook me.  I have been looking forward to once again sharing a meal and a beer or two together.

I have gone on a little long, but these two men meant a lot to me.  They were fine men, loved their families and cared enough for us to let us hard lessons before they became lessons that would kill us later in life.  A fair number of us went into the military, some for just an enlistment and others for full careers.  I’m the last of our class on active duty.  I even met one of my classmates when I was an Army Lieutenant going through West Berlin back in late 1986.  We had been in Chief’s class that first year and he happened to recognize me.

Tomorrow is Easter and I know that John and Jim are present with God.  Pray for their families, especially Maggie. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, rest in peace.

Peace, Steve+

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