A letter to my dad

6-17-2017

My father died twenty-five years ago. I not going to say that I miss him every day, I don’t. There are periods of time that I don’t think about him. And then events happen, or memories pop up and he returns to some place in my brain and in my heart. Often times, the memories make me laugh, at times they make me sad and often they make me wonder. Were I able to write him a letter, I would. If he were able to answer my letter, I’d check the mail each day, waiting.

Here is what I might write to my dad.

Dad

I’m not certain there’s someplace we go when we die, I guess being honest, I pretty much think it’s just over. If it’s not, I hope you’re well and enjoying the weather. I’ve managed to live a few more years than you, and for that I’m grateful. I have a few questions I wish you could answer for me. Most of the questions I figure I’ll have to go on wondering about. I don’t think I ever told you that it embarrassed me as a teen when you stuck a cigar down into your pipe and then smoked it. Today I tell the story and laugh, but as a boy it embarrassed me. I wonder why you did that. Now I love it.

We also never talked about your experiences or my experiences in war. I wonder why we didn’t? The truth is, I never heard you ever say a word about being in WWII. I wish we had talked about it, I think a lot about Vietnam now and maybe it would have helped to know how you managed to cope with what you saw and did. I hope by the end of your life, that war made some sense, because dad, my war doesn’t make any sense to me.

Mom was another thing that we never talked about. I remember one telephone call, but that’s it. I now know your pain in losing her so young was as great as mine. I wish we had talked. You were lucky with Dorothy, she was a great lady and a great step-mom to me. I’m glad you met her after my mother died.

On a lighter note, how did you know how to coach our Little League teams in Germany? To this day, I still tell people how great that was and how good a coach you were. They are great memories dad. I think part of my love of baseball was because of you.

I wish you could know your great grand children. Both are wonderful, kind and smart kids. Holden is a free spirit who has the courage to do and be what he wants. Lauren is as beautiful and sweet as a child can be. I also wish you could know Suzanne. She makes me happy, and we have tons of fun.

Two last thoughts. I have a picture of you as a young marine and you not only look about fifteen, you also look confident. I like that. I also have a picture of mom. She has dark curly hair and a strand of pearls on. She was very young and pretty when that picture was taken. I can see why you fell in love with her.

I guess that’s about it for now. If there is something after this, please take a moment to say hello to mom, to Dorothy and to my grandmother. I do miss all of you.

Your Son, David

“This is the price you pay for having a great father. You get the wonder, the joy, the tender moments – and you get the tears at the end, too.” Harlan Coben

Go well – David

Four friends

6-9-2019

My dad moved us to Dumas, Texas ( pronounced a little like dumb-ass) when I was fourteen, I knew no one in the town of 9000 people. It was a town that made it difficult to fit in. If you’ve ever heard of the frenzy for Texas high school football, then that would be a perfect description of that panhandle town in the early 60’s. The Dumas Demons had won the state championship football title the previous two years. There were team photographs on display in every home, business and bathroom in the town. The short of it is, if you weren’t a Demon, you were nothing. I was about five foot seven inches tall and weighed about 135 lbs., not exactly running-back material.

So what to do? I met Tommy sometime during the first month of my freshman year. He’d moved to Dumas from Tucson and was as lost in the town as I was. He was tall, skinny and shy. We looked like Mutt and Jeff. He liked music, I liked music. There was nothing left to do but start a band. There was only two small problems; neither of us knew how to play any instrument and neither of us had the money to buy one if we did.

We met Jimmy (forever to be known as “Jock”) after a few months. He was a few years older and could play a bit of guitar. We were on our way. Eventually Tommy bought a guitar from Sears and a small cracker box amp. I snagged a used three piece gold sparkle Ludwig kit. (It would be drums for me because I thought my fingers too short to play guitar). Tim joined us as the singer and we were on our way to becoming rock stars. We practiced four or five hours daily for months. Eventually armed with a set list of 20 or 25 songs, two cheap guitars and a mic plugged into a ten inch Gibson amp, a light show consisting of one bulb with red cellophane in front of it, and me sitting on a wooden crate behind my drums; we were ready for American Bandstand. We were The Avengers. We settled for our first gig at the local YMCA. We played each song three times, we had an audience of nearly forty people and we sounded like s….! Not to be discouraged, we practiced for the next year, bought new equipment and the next time we played, we were a real band.

The Avengers morphed into The Echoes and we played together four years. We made a record that sold maybe twelve copies. We backed up J Frank Wilson of Last Kiss fame and we were billed as Better’n the Beetles by Mutt McMurry, the owner of the local drive-in movie. And yes, he did spell it Beetles. Two of us graduated from high school and it was time to move on.

I went into the army and eventually Vietnam. Jock had always had some issues that I didn’t understand at the time and stayed in Dumas. Tim and Tommy kept playing music. Tim spent many years singing, playing in Vegas and eventually settled into a non-music career. Tommy kept growing as a musician. He switched from guitar to bass and played Woodstock with Johnny Winter. Eventually he met Stevie Ray Vaughn and along with Chris Layton, became Double Trouble behind Stevie. Tommy along with his bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

More than fifty years later, I still know that I’ve never felt any greater passion than as a teen, when practicing and playing music. Those three guys were the best of friends and bandmates to me. I’ve kept up with Tim and Tommy over the years and they will always be my music buddies. I asked Tim one time if he missed the music life. He said he didn’t miss the travel, but he missed the musicians. I’ve played off and on all of my life, and I miss the music, mostly I miss being sixteen, sitting behind my used drum kit and playing Louie Louie with Tim, Tommy and Jock.

“It’s only rock and roll, my god! It’s not rocket science.” Steven Adler

Go Well – David

58,320 Names

5-26-2019

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Some folks are off work, school is out and for some, the official summer season begins. People will have picnics and be glad it’s a holiday. I would ask that you pause and consider the true meaning of this day.

In Washington DC a black wall stands with 58,320 names carved into it. It represents my generations war, the war I spent north of the city of Hue with the 101st. Airborne Division. But I came home alive, so tomorrow is not in any way about me.

Please read this and think about it.

On Independence Day, 1966, nine of the high school graduates of the little mining town of Morenci, AZ., joined the Marine Corps as a group. All nine went to Vietnam, three came home alive. Robert Dale Draper -19, Stan King-21, Alfred Van Whitmer-21, Larry J. West-19, Jose Moncayo-22, and Clive Garcia-22, were killed. Notice that two of those surnames are Hispanic.

The youngest American killed in action was Dan Bullock age 15

The oldest killed in action was Dwaine McGriff age 63

5 servicemen killed were only 16 years old

12 servicemen killed were only 17 years old

226 Native Americans were killed

8 women’s names are on the wall

40 sets of brothers were killed

25,000 of the servicemen killed were 20 years or younger

17,000 of the servicemen killed were married

There are far more casualties whose names are not on the wall. The New York Times has written that it is estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 Vietnam vets have committed suicide.

Countless thousands of servicemen have died as a result of the 19,000,000 gallons of Agent Orange sprayed over Vietnam. It’s estimated that 400,000 Vietnamese people died as a result of Agent Orange.

This is what Monsanto said about their product in 2004. Nearly 30 years after the war ended. – “We are sympathetic with people who believe they have been injured and understand their concern to find the cause, but reliable evidence indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects.”

The thousands of victims of that companies poison are not on the wall.

So tomorrow, stop for a moment, take just one minute to truly realize the effects of just one of our wars. In total millions died, not just our men and women, but men and women from across the world. Millions of mothers, father, sons, daughters, wives and children continue to be effected yet today because of that war. That is what tomorrow represents.

“I try not to think of them as being on The Wall, but how I knew them before they got there.” Gene Harris, Vietnam vet

Go Well – David

A 1704 year old tree

5-22-2019

Today Suzanne and I walked the University of Arizona campus. We do this often because it’s beautiful and there’s a coffee shop nearby that has wonderful almond croissants. During our walk, we came upon a campus building we’d never seen – The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. When you walk into the lobby, the first thing you see is a slice of a 1704 year-old Redwood tree. The tree began it’s life in 211 A D. It fell to the ground in 1915.

Okay you might say, it’s an old tree, so what? It’s much more than an old tree. The tree represents a time period of worldwide immense progress and immense evil. If you Google events that happened in 211 AD, you’ll see that Emperor Septimius Severus of Rome died and his two sons Caracalla and Geta succeed him as joint Roman Emperors. Again, maybe a so what moment. What has happened in the 1700 years since then ? Some amazing events – The Crusades, The Magna Carta, Joan of Arc, The Industrial Revolution, The American Revolutionary War, American Civil War, World Wars I & II, man landed on the moon. Other events of smaller magnitude, electric power, nuclear power, the automobile and airplane, and of course the i-phone. Okay maybe pretty significant after all.

What else occurred? America was re-discovered by Columbus and millions of the native peoples were killed or died of disease. Millions of slaves were brought to this country. A civil war was fought and more than 600,000 people died. In total, it’s estimated that more than 1,260,000 Americans have died in Wars. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 108 million people have died in wars during the 20th. century. Famine and disease run rampant across this planet. I will stop with this.

Yes, there has been amazing strides in history and there has been unspeakable terror during the same period of time. And I don’t know how I feel about where we are today. It seems too easy to pick up my smart phone and find these horrible facts. 108 million dead people due to war shows up feeling like a casual fact on a small screen.

Hundreds of millions of people have lived and died during the 1700 years that tree stood. Hundreds of millions of lives – people who have loved, raised families, worked, fought, prayed and died. It was amazing and somewhat overpowering to stand and look at it, realizing the history that passed during that tree’s life. It was humbling beyond belief. The immense goodness of mankind as well as the immense cruelty of that same species; it’s impossible to comprehend. As I ran my hand across those 17 centuries, I touched all of that history, the good and the evil. I somehow felt both the significance of my life and the insignificance at the same time. We are each part of that history. Perhaps we have a responsibility to do all we can to add to the good of mankind and to oppose all that is evil. And yet, I question do we really know the difference between the two?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Go Well – David

The Earth’s Air Conditioner

5-16-2019

Yesterday the Tucson temperature bumped up against 100 degrees. That was not so unusual for this area this time of year. The locals would say when it gets hot you get chores done early and then stay indoors. The warm weather and absence of snow is one of the biggest reasons for our move to Arizona. I can say without hesitation that I’ve never missed a day of Minnesota winter.

I’ve started reading a book by Gretel Ehrlich. It’s title – In the Empire of Ice. Having just started it, I can’t say yet if I will like it as much as another of her books, entitled The Solace of Open Spaces. I would recommend it highly.

I had only gotten to page fifteen of the introduction to the new book, when I was stopped cold in my tracks. I am a firm believer in the concept of our earth’s climate change. The research and the volume of like-minded credible scientists leave in my mind no doubt that our climate is changing, and not for the better. To blatantly dismiss what is occurring is to be naïve beyond belief.

There is no doubt that what’s occurring is a complicated and difficult science. For those like me who are not trained in science, it’s almost beyond my ability to comprehend the facts. This is why what Ehrlich wrote in her book introduction caught my attention. Many of us have heard the meaning of the acronym KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. I recall that Carl Sagan wrote about the cosmos in a manner simple enough that most lay people could understand. And in three sentences, Ehrlich has done the same thing.

“Artic ice, including sea ice, glacier ice, permafrost, and ice sheets, drives the entire planet’s climate. Weather systems are global, and the Artic is the natural air conditioner for the entire Earth. Its seasonal blankets of snow and ice send solar radiation-heat-back into space, thus keeping our Earth temperate.”

We understand air conditioning, you turn it on when it gets hot, you turn it off when it is cool. Where is the switch for the world’s air conditioning system? Living in Arizona, I know very well what happens when the AC system leaks or runs out of Freon. The Artic is rapidly running out of it’s own form of Freon, the ice is melting at a level never before recorded by man. If we don’t make the necessary repairs to our planet, our cooling system will be beyond repair.

One last thought. There are those who make foolish and uninformed statements about climate change. A U S Senator stood in the Senate Chamber and proudly held a snowball, arguing that proved there is no climate change. There are others who say making the changes needed will bankrupt our country, or if the rest of the world won’t change, why should we.

So to me here is the gamble. If those of us who believe in climate change are wrong, life goes on and resources spent in making changes were unnecessary. But what if we are correct, and the people of the planet do nothing. We become one more species that will become extinct. It won’t happen in my lifetime, I’m old. Maybe not even in the lifetime of my sons. It will effect the lives of my grandchildren in ways unimaginable. I’m not willing to remain silent about this matter. My grandchildren deserve better of us.

All we need to know about this and the simple message of Gretel Ehrlich – The Artic is the Earth’s air conditioner and that system is disappearing at a rate beyond our comprehension. That’s all we really need to understand.

“I have long understood that climate change is not only an environmental issue-it is a humanitarian, economic, health, and justice issue as well.” Frances Beinecke

Go Well – David

My Zippo Lighter

5-2-2019

A friend of mine and I have decided to give a talk about being veterans of the Vietnam war. In starting preparations for the talk, I asked my son to send me a couple of mementos from my military past.

He sent two things I had requested. One item, my Combat Medical Badge. It is one of the few things that I’ve always been proud of from those days. It was earned by doing something positive in a period of time marked by death and destruction. As a medic, my job was to provide care for those who had been wounded or were ill. My job was to be a healer, not a killer, and I was awarded that distinction for doing my job. I was given other medals, but none have given me the same sense of pride. Many men and women suffered far more than I, and they deserve recognition far and above any given to me.

In addition to the CMB, my son sent me the Zippo lighter I carried for that year. I would guess that the vast majority of soldiers serving in Vietnam had a Zippo lighter. I would also guess many of them had the same saying engraved upon them.

“When the Power of Love Overcomes the Love of Power, Then There Will Be Peace.”

That quote has been attributed to Jimi Hendrix, although it was first said by the British statesman, William Gladestone. I suspect more grunts in Vietnam preferred that Jimi said it.

It was, and still is, somewhat odd to again hold that lighter. Next year it will have been 50 years since I boarded that plan and flew into a man made hell. I was 22 years old, thinner of waist and longer of hair in those days. I look at photos of that time and it’s hard to imagine I was once that young. I look at pictures of the men I served with and wonder about their lives, I wonder how many are still alive and I wonder how the war affected them. Some of those men were the best humans I’ve ever met, and some of them were despicable people. Maybe it was the war that shaped how we behaved. The Zippo feels smaller in my hand than I remember it feeling in those days. Maybe it’s because I feel smaller than I once felt. Maybe it’s because so many years later, I have a more realistic view of what life brings. Maybe it’s because it feels like all of these years later, the love of power is still a stronger motivator of mankind. Maybe it will take another 50 years and a new generation of people to make the power of love the stronger force. I hold out hope.

“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”

John Steinbeck

Go Well – David

What Do We Deserve?

4-22-2019

A friend of mine recently said he asked his teenager when it wasn’t okay to lie. The response was -“When you’re in court .” A reasonable answer. At a minimum it sets a foundation for honesty. Many years ago my boss told me I needed to lie about an issue with one of my employees. I asked him if it would then also be okay to lie to him, since he had encouraged that for someone I supervised. He said no, I shouldn’t lie to him. I quit the position soon after.

So now we fast forward to the Spring of 2019 and I wonder what we as a population of 300 + million people think about being constantly lied to. It seems that it is in vogue to be lied to by certain members of our elected officials. In one instance the total number of lies has been counted in the thousands. And yet there are those who simply respond, “They all do it.” And maybe to some degree that is true. But I can’t help but wonder why we accept that there’s nothing wrong with being lied to by our government. Who else do we so readily accept not being told the truth?

My first real experience with this form of leadership came when I was in my early twenties and a soldier in Vietnam. This country was nightly shown the images of young soldiers being brought home in body bags, while at the same time being told that we were winning the war. As the war drug on, the lies became more frequent and more absurd. In the end we simply quit the war, after 55,000 Americans and countless millions of North and South Vietnamese were killed. We accepted “Peace with honor.” We flew our people back to the states and left the people of South Vietnam to fend for themselves after the North Vietnamese took over. There is now irony that we are on such good terms with the country that defeated us. I guess our memories are short when we get to buy cheap junk made by others. Another irony is we were told we had to go to Vietnam to prevent Communism from spreading. Last I checked, Vietnam is a communist country.

But Vietnam was only a step along the road. Certainly before and after that we have often been lied to. Let’s not forget the Iran-Contra tales; and should we continue to give the Bush-Cheney folks a free pass on the certainty of those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? But what the heck, just another little war to get stuck with. Anyone want to take a stab at why we really went to war in Iraq and have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade? Does anyone have a clear idea why?

So I ask, why do we so readily accept the daily lies? I have a friend that is a deep to the bone supporter of the new administration. He once said to me “I’ve never in my life been more proud to be an American.” And I’m glad he’s proud, but I’ve never heard him say why, except that the economy is good and he wants to protect our borders. Another person I know, a fine church going Christian, told me she doesn’t care about a leader’s moral life or about lies. I didn’t have the courage to ask what she did care about.

So in the end, maybe I’m wrong about all of this. Maybe we shouldn’t expect our elected officials to be honest. Maybe we shouldn’t hold them to the same standard that we hold our young children. Maybe it’s no more important to believe that our democracy has been attacked by a foreign government then it is to believe our grandson when he says he didn’t eat the cookie before dinner. Call me skeptical, but when someone has to tell me over and over again to trust them, I usually get a little bit concerned about what’s going to follow.

“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it the second time.”

Thomas Jefferson

Go Well, David