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“Don’t be Silly, Space Shuttles Don’t Explode” Remembering Challenger

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is still so hard to believe that thirty-three years ago we were stunned to see the Space Shuttle Challenger blow up shortly after launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

I don’t know about you, but it shocked the hell out of me. I am a child of the 1960s and 1970s when the United States was setting the pace on the exploration of space. Manned missions to the moon had become commonplace, the Space Shuttle Program appeared to be a jumping off point for further exploration. Space stations that would be able to conduct scientific research and maybe even serve as launching and logistics centers for the exploration of Mars and beyond.

Back when I was a kid and young adult the space program captivated us, and coupled with the hope presented in Star Trek, where human beings of all races and nationalities would work with alien races who had similar values explored the far reaches of the galaxy, anything seemed possible. Then, in one moment, the dream imploded as the Challenger exploded. Truthfully, it hasn’t been the same since.

That afternoon I was still at work as the Commanding Officer of the 557th Medical Company, (Ambulance). It was about 20 minutes till six and I was completing paperwork from an Article 15 proceeding, and looking over our end of the month Unit Status Report drafts.

It was about that time that my Charge Of Quarters, Specialist Lisa Dailey camel charging into my office. She cried out “Lieutenant Dundas, the Space Shuttle just blew up!” I looked up from my paperwork and said, “Don’t be silly, space shuttles don’t blow up.” Such was my faith in technology and the dreams of the space program and Star Trek in my mind.

She couldn’t believe my response, because she had just seen it in real time. That was not long after the Armed Forces Network or AFN started broadcasting CNN and other U.S. based news programs in real time. CNN just happened to be televising the launch of Challenger. Specialist Dailey, who I still remain in contact with said “no sir, I just saw it, it’s on TV right now.”

With that I got up and went with her to the television where I stood transfixed as I watched the endless replays of the event. It was so unbelievable. Never before had a U.S. space mission failed to at last get into space, and it was a body blow to the space program. The shuttle program continued, but it wasn’t the same. There were many more successful missions, many in support of the International Space Station, but they became routine and many people didn’t follow them. Truthfully, I was like many people, I didn’t pay much attention to them after the Space Shuttle program regained steam and achieved success after success.

But then, some seventeen years later on February 1st 2003 I was sitting drinking coffee in the Wardroom Of the USS HUE CITY, waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Veteran of the Battle Of Hue City. General Pace was our guest speaker at the annual,Battle Of Hue City Memorial. He was remembered fondly by the Marines who served with him at Hue City as their Lieutenant. As I waited the wardroom Television was tuned to CNN which was covering the re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia. As I watched the coverage Columbia broke up on re-entry over Texas and Louisiana. General Pace was delayed in his arrival due to an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, but he did arrived. However, for the seconded time in my life I witnessed the destruction of a Space Shuttle, but by then I would never again make the comment “Don’t be silly, Space Shuttles don’t explode.”

Honestly, I want to live to see the day when human beings land of Mars, and to really dream when humanity achieves the capacity for faster than light space travel, or as it is called in Star Trek, “Warp Speed.” I would love to live to see first contact with a friendly Alien race like the Vulcans of Star Trek. I still dream, but I know that there are risks, and that in such undertakings that lives will be lost, that there will be tragedies, but that is the price of human progress.

As the entity called Q told Jean Luc Picard in the Star Trek Next Generation episode Q Who:

“If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here! It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross…but it’s not for the timid.”

I remember and mourn those lost aboard Challenger and Columbia, but I pray that their sacrifice in the name of humanity will not be forgotten, nor their quest abandoned.

Until tomorrow,

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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Remembering Challenger

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4JOjcDFtBE

About 5:30 PM on January 28th 1986 I was a young Army Medical Service Corps 1st Lieutenant in command of the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) which was based on Wiesbaden Air Base in Wiesbaden Germany. I 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 the Imperial Army on the Rhine.

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.

Back then communications and television for military personnel stationed overseas was primitive. The Armed Forces Network had one channel then and only recently had added live needs feeds from stateside news programs on CNN and morning shows such as NBC’s Today Show. By 1986 the Space Shuttle missions had become routine but this one was different because of a school teacher, Christa McAuliffe who was a payload specialist on the flight.

The Challenger was making her 10th flight in less than 3 years having first flown on April 4th 1983.  The mission STS-51-L 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.  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.

I had heard that the Challenger was to launch that morning in Florida which of course was the early evening for us in Germany.  However I had seen numerous shuttle launches on television, considered them routine and by then rather uninteresting.  Since I was a very junior 1st Lieutenant commanding a company forward deployed with a mission to race to the Fulda Gap in the event of a Soviet invasion of West Germany up to my ears in work I had no interest in watching another one.

Challenger disintegrates (BBC Photo)

About 20 minutes until 6 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!” That startled me. I grew up with the space program and remembered the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Although I remember the fire on Apollo 1 which killed three astronauts on the launch pad, but that was different, no American spacecraft had ever been lost though Apollo 13 was nearly lost while on a Moon mission.

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.  I was stunned and will never forget the image that I saw with my soldiers that day.

Seventeen years after that event I was waiting at the Naval Air Station at Mayport Florida for General Peter Pace.  General Pace who was then the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was coming to be the guest speaker at 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.

There are two more shuttle flights scheduled before the program ends this year. An era will be ever. The shuttles will pass into history and unfortunately for many the signature moment of the program will not be the many successes it will be the Challenger disaster and the images shown on CNN that cold and clear Tuesday in 1983.

The brave astronauts of all of our space programs deserve our highest admiration. The Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle programs pioneered space travel. We should not forget their sacrifices especially those that gave the last full measure especially those that we remembered yesterday. Ronald Reagan ended his short speech the evening of the Challenger’s demise with this line:

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

As a child I grew up with the space program and Star Trek. It is my hope that manned missions aboard better and more capable space ships capable of reaching the far reaches of this solar system and the galaxy will be built and humanity’s constant desire for exploration and discovery will herald a better future.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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

Happy New Year!

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

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

Who the Hell Was this Guy Voting For?

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

9-11 Twin Towers Under Attack

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

Iconic Picture of Padre Steve on a Boarding Mission

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

2004 The Red Sox Break the Curse

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

The Challenger Disintigrates

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

George Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln

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

Hurricane Katrina as a Category 5 Storm

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

Israeli Merkeva Tank Destroyed by Hezbollah

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

Barry Bonds the All Time Home Run Leader

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

Padre Steve in Iraq with Bedouin on Syrian Border

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

Barak Obama the 44th President

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

Sarah Palin the New Leader of the GOP?

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

The Yankees Return

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

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

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing?

Peace and Blessings in the New Year,

Padre Steve+

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Where were You When…? The Death of an Icon and Its Impact in Our Lives

Note: This post is one where I invite readers to share any memories they have of Michael Jackson’s death or other events that involved the deaths of cultural icons as well as significant events that either affected you or made a deep impact on your life or that of people that you know.  I will approve all comments except those identified as spam by WordPress.

The death of Michael Jackson yesterday was one of those events in life that when they occur leave a lasting impression on people. Even people who were not fans of Michael will remember because Michael Jackson was a cultural icon.  When icons die, or tragedies occur they tend to leave a lasting mark.  You can be talking to anyone and if they were alive when one of these events happened and quite a few or most people will be able to tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing at the time of the event.

I am 49 years old, though patently I don’t really look my age, nor do I act it.  Being that I am nearly half a century old it means that I have seen a fair amount of life.  Since I am passionate about life and a keen observer of life, society and culture being a historian as well as member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park parish I remember a lot.  I’m told by some that I have one of those phonographic memories.  You know the kind where you get a thought in your head and it keeps going and going round and round at 33 1/3 RPMs.  I will remember this because we had just arrived at the Capital Hilton and were preparing to go out for dinner with Judy’s cousin Becki at Murphy’s of DC to celebrate our anniversary.  I had just checked the news when I heard that Michael had been found down and was in cardiac arrest.  Since I have seen a lot of these cases roll into ERs that I have worked in I knew that Jackson had very little chance of coming out of this alive.  Most news sites were reported that he was getting CPR and had been taken to UCLA Medical Center.  Then I checked the website of Matt Drudge, the Drudge Report following a look at CNN.  I opened the page and Drudge’s trademark old fashioned police siren light was flashing and below it in red was “WEBSITE: JACKSON DEAD!” and had a link to the celebrity gossip site TMZ.  TMZ actually reported the death over an hour prior to most of the networks.  It also turned out that TMZ’s report was pretty accurate.  Later other sites began to announce the news pretty much confirming TMZ’s initial report. I saw the report on CNN as we walked to get a cab to the restaurant with Becki.  It was kind of surreal as Michael Jackson, despite his eccentric actions and nearly continuous controversy surrounding his life, was a larger than life figure.

So events like this get etched on people’s memories like images of the Virgin Mary on grilled cheese sandwiches or pizzas.  These have been reported by the faithful and offered for sale on E-bay so they must be authentic right? They are something that you reallymust  remember. Talking with Judy and Becki at dinner we began to recount where we were at different moments events over the past 30 years or so.   For me the events are often linked to other seemingly inconsequential events going on in my own life. As I have said before we have lived a life  much like the characters in the show Seinfeld so some of these things may not be as funny to you as they are for me.

Some of the things that I remember which stand out include the following events.  If you remember where you were at these events please feel free to comment or add your own in the comments section.  This is one of those rare times when almost everyone has a memory that surfaces because a current event triggers the memory of that particular event.

For me I’m going to first each back to is the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King on April 4th 1968.  That was strange because we lived in the little town of Oak Harbor Washington where my dad was stationed.  The town was small and isolated by being on an island.  We saw the news reports that night this time I believe we were watching NBC’s Huntley and Brinkley give the news. This was way before Cable news and so it took a while to get the story out.  As a little kid I was astounded that anyone could kill a minister and I knew that Dr. King was a leader in trying get blacks the same rights that whites enjoyed.  The next day our teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs. Jackson talked about it with us.  This was follow just two months later by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy following his California Primary election victory.  I remember the news reports the next day and how upset that my parents were about his death.

The next event was Apollo 11 Moon landing, the “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind” moment on July 20th 1969 where Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Lunar Module on the “Sea of Tranquility.”  I was a kid and on summer vacation still living in Oak Harbor.  We were at home watching Walter Cronkite report the event live when it happened.  That was an amazing event.

The next really big thing for me was the Marshall University Football team plane crash in Huntington West Virginia where at 7:35 Pm EST a Southern Airways DC-9 crashed into a hillside just short of the runway killing the team as well as numerous boosters, alumni and Huntington notables.  This was kind of person for us.  I had seen that team practice at the old Fairfield Stadium across the street from my grandparent’s house the previous spring before we returned to California to rejoin my dad after he had found us decent housing.  We were watching the evening news in Long Beach California when the local announcer interrupted the story he was working on and announced the crash.  My mom knew a number of people on the aircraft and was devastated.

I’m going to jump forward a bit, to the fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975.  This was a bitter day for me.  My dad had fought in Vietnam and I knew kids who had lost their fathers in the war.  I had experienced a Sunday School teach telling me that my dad was a “baby killer” for being in Vietnam in 1972 and I felt that we had let the South Vietnamese down and that it was the fault of those in the media, on the street and in Congress that had ensured that our men died in vain.  I think that was the point that I decided that I was going to enter the military.  I still cannot look at Jane Fonda and some of her fellow travelers without feeling a sense of anger.

Jumping again a few years I remember the fall of the Shah of Iran and the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran by so called “students” on November 4th 1979.  The takeover which lasted 444 days began in my sophomore year of college.  The humiliation of the country and the poor response of President Jimmy Carter confirmed that I would enter the military after college.  I won’t forget the nightly updates on ABC hosted by Ted Koppel which became the long running show Nightline. I would stay up every night to get the updates.  When the hostages were released this was cause for celebration, but the damage was done.  Of course we saw the pro and anti-Ayatollah  protesters on our university, Northride a big business school responded to a pro-Ayatollah by driving the protestors off campus.  So much for riled up MBA students and Science geeks huh?

When Elvis died on August 16th 1977 I was a getting ready to enter my senior year of high school.  In fact only a week before I had won a copy of a blue vinyl copy of his last album Moody Blue in a local pop radio station give away.  I was on a church high school trip when the news came over the radio.  The man driving the car a real estate agent who was a deacon in the church started to cry, I mean like really cry almost like Middle Eastern mourning kind of crying.  As someone who is less expressive of such emotions being a Romulan at heart I was mildly taken aback, after all it wasn’t like they had dated or anything.  I had seldom seen men cry before and this was some pretty emotional stuff.  My mom had the same kind of reaction I discovered on my way home.  I guess it was the generation thing.  He was the icon of his generation and changed both the style and the performance of music.  It was Elvis that I immediately thought of when I first saw the news of Michael Jackson’s death.  I guess the fact that both were known as the “king”, that both died young and unexpectedly and that Michael was briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley makes their connection a bit stronger than otherwise expected.  I wonder if there will be stories that Michael is really dead or if it was staged to get him some privacy.  I’m sure that conspiracy theorists will be looking into this as both a death and a disappearance.  On a side note I visited Graceland in 1983 on my way to Fort Knox Kentucky and sat in the “pink Jeep.”  Judy had a Tonka pink Jeep when she was a kid.

The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 20th 1981 stands out.  I was a junior at cal State Northridge and was taking my lunch on the lawn outside of the office where I worked as a peer counselor.  I was getting ready to go to class as I watched to really good looking girls go walking by me talking.  I didn’t notice anything unusual until the past me and continuing to watch I noticed that each had their hand down the back side of the pants of the other one.  I had never seen this before.  Of course having grown up in California I knew homosexual men and I had heard of lesbians but this was the first time that I ever noticed women of that persuasion like doing some affection or foreplay in public.  Since then of course I have had many friendships with both male homosexuals and lesbians but this was one of those moments that sticks out in my mind.  Anyway, as I walked back into the office to grab my books for class the office TV was on announcing the attempted assassination and what I will never forget is watching retired General Alexander Haig as Secretary of State have a news conference where he stated “I’m in control.”  Of course he wasn’t the next in line and though he thought that he was he was not in control, even of himself that that point.  I don’t think that then Vice President George H.W. Bush was very impressed nor were the actuals in the line of succession.  So the shooting of President Reagan is intermixed with my first view of lesbian touching and seeing a General go out of control to be in control.  As Mr. Spock might say to Captain Kirk, “Captain I find this fascinating.”

In January 1985 I was a young company commander in Wiesbaden Germany.  The Space Shuttle Challenger with 7 Astronauts aboard blew up shortly after launch.  It was already the close of the business day in Germany when this happened.  I had the First Sergeant release the soldiers a bit early and set the duty, the Charge of Quarters, the Assistant and the Duty Driver.  I was staying late as always to take care of maintenance management and personnel reports when Specialist Lisa Dailey rushed into my office.  Lisa was the Charge of Quarters or CQ that day.  She knocked on my door and said “Sir the space shuttle just blew up.”  She had been watching it live on the new AFN broadcast of live stateside TV news broadcasts.  If I recall this was the time slot of the Today Show, and yes it was when there was only one AFN broadcast channel.  I looked up from my mountain of reports and said to her, “Specialist Dailey, space shuttles don’t blow up.”  And she said, no sir it just did, I was watching it and it is on TV right now.”  So I got up from my desk and walked at a brisk pace down the hall with my spun up specialist and looked on in horror as I saw a replay of the launch.   I was stunned as like I had told Lisa “space shuttles don’t blow up.”  However this one did and it was sobering.  I should have believed Lisa, she was a great soldier and the last time that I heard from her is doing well working as an RN in Southern California.  I had an eerie reprise of this when the Space Shuttle Columbia blew up on re-entry.  At the time I was waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace who was to be our guest speaker at the Battle of Hue City Memorial Weekend in Jacksonville FL. He was delayed a couple of hours by an emergency meeting of the Joint Chiefs.

Fast forward a few years to the bombing by Libyan agents of Pam Am flight 103, the Clipper Maid of the Seas over Lockerbie Scotland, on December 21st 1988.  I had left active duty for seminary a couple of months previously and was engaged in a nearly futile job search in oil and real estate busted Texas.  I had completed the share of my morning futility mailing our more resumes, making more calls and picking up more job applications.  As always I would take a football out and punt it as far as I could to relieve the stress.  I had already found out that breaking things that you actually need when being accosted by bill collectors is not good a good way to deal with stress.  In today’s current economy I suggest anyone is such straits pick up a football and punt the crap out of it rather than taking anything out on home appliances, electronics or loved ones.  Eventually things will work out as sucky as they may seem now; the Deity Herself has assured me of this.  Anyway, back to the plane crash.  This really was weird for us because barely two years prior we had flown the same aircraft back from Germany when we were reassigned to the states.  We remembered this because then they showed the photo of the nose and cockpit area we saw the name of the aircraft.  I looked at Judy and said, does the name of that airplane look familiar?  If I recall correctly she said something like “Oh my God” and I said: “Remember back in Frankfurt when I saw the name of the aircraft prior to boarding?” and how “l liked the way Pan Am gave pretty names to its aircraft.”  It was funny because we both vividly recalled waiting for our flight and what we said about the aircraft.  That was totally weird and surreal almost like an X-Files thing as I thought back to details inside of the aircraft and the trip home from Germany.

We were in Fort Worth for the first bombing of the World Trade Center and the destruction of the Branch Davidian Compound outside Waco.  Both times I was at work and watched the events unfold on the televisions of our ministry’s television production department.  The Branch Davidian stand-off and attempted seizure of by Federal Agents used M-751 Combat Engineer Vehicles from my National Guard unit.  The vehicles were not manned by Guardsmen but Federal agents.  Later that summer I saw a couple of the vehicles which still had white paint scratches on them from the Branch Davidian building.   In 1995 I was home getting ready to go to work in Huntington West Virginia when the Murrow Federal Building was destroyed by Timothy McVeigh.

There are quite a few others that I could mention but will finish with the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers on September 11th 2001.  I had finished a couple of counseling cases and put out some other brush fires as the Chaplain for Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division.  Leaving my office for a belated PT session at the French Creek gym I was closing out my internet explorer.  On the Yahoo home page there was a small news line that said “Aircraft crashes into World Trade Center.” I shrugged and figured that some idiot private pilot had flown his aircraft into is by mistake and when out to my car.  I got in my 2001 Honda CR-V and some guy on the radio was blathering about it being an airliner and then I heard a chilling line that I will never forget. “Oh my God another aircraft has hit the second building.”  I went over to the gym and stood staring in disbelief at one of the TVs with a bunch of Marines and Sailors.  I shook my head, ran back to the office and changed over to my cammies and when to the Battalion Headquarters where we were informed of what the command knew and then set to work taking anti-terror precautions as no one knew what might happen next.  Camp LeJeune became a fortress.  There were checkpoints at key locations throughout the base.  Patrols were set up and we remained in lock-down for almost 4 days.  That is a day that I can never forget, over 3000 Americans and others killed by Islamic extremist terrorists out to ignite a world war.

So those are some of mine.  What about yours?  Feel free to add your posts here and get a discussion of these and other notable events including the death of Michael Jackson going.  It will be interesting to see and I will approve all posts to this article, excepting of course spam posts.

Peace, Steve+

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