Monday, February 03, 2014

Did you know ...

That today was "Four Chaplains Day" in the United States?

No? Well, you're not alone. The 71st anniversary of that fateful night when four U.S. Army chaplains gave their lives that others might live, caused barely a ripple today. It has come and gone quietly, and largely unmarked ... including by yours truly.

And I might have remained ignorant fo the fact were it not for a stop by Wikipedia's home page, where I perused their "This Day in History" column. A link in that column took me to a Wikipedia page where I learned that, in 1988, the United States Congress established February 3 as "Four Chaplains Day." And get this ... Congress acted unanimously in doing so ....ah, those were the good ol' days!

The page went on to note that some state or city officials commemorate the day with official proclamations, sometimes including the order that flags fly at half-mast in memory of the fallen chaplains. In some cases, official proclamations establish observances at other times: for example, North Dakota legislation requests that the Governor issue an annual proclamation establishing the first Sunday in February as "Four Chaplains Sunday."

Notice the frequent use use of some variation or another of the word "some."

The day is also observed as the "Day of the Dorchester Chaplains" in the lectionary cycle of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. And there are memorials to the four chaplains - one Catholic, two Protestant, and one Jewish - in a variety of media around the country ... stained glass windows, stone monuments, postage stamps, building and chapel names ... and wax ... at least once upon a time.

I was reminded of a visit my family made to Washington, D.C. back in the sixties, while my father was posted to nearby Quantico, Virginia. One of our stops that day was to the National Historic Wax Museum. I don't recall the other exhibits ... but I remember the one devoted to the four chaplains, their commitment to their faith and their answer to their calling. It was a large exhibit, with the movement and noise that suggested a ship at sea, all set in a pool of water. The display - and the museum itself - is long gone. But I did find a picture ... ya gotta love the internet!

It is reported by the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation that during the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., the USAT Dorchester was torpedoed by a German submarine in the North Atlantic. The torpedo knocked out the Dorchester's electrical system, leaving the ship dark. Panic set in among the men on board, many of them trapped below decks.

The foundation reports goes on to note that the chaplains sought to calm the men and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship, and helped guide wounded men to safety. As life jackets were passed out to the men, the supply ran out before each man had one. The chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to others. They helped as many men as they could into lifeboats, and then linked arms and, saying prayers and singing hymns, went down with the ship.

As I post this, there's less than five hours left of Four Chaplains Day 2014. Yet there's something about their story that could be/should be observed, cherished and shared with others throughout the year. May we never find ourselves in the desperate situation they faced ... but may we have at least a small portion of their courage, their love and their devotion for whatever life brings us. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Men of faith, men of steel

Earlier this week, in the course of an evening prayer gathering with @dreampcusa on Twitter, one of our partners offered up a prayer for the priests in Kiev. We joined in with that request, of course ... but part of me was wondering, "what's that about?" Once our gathering closed, I went and Googled "priests Kiev," then clicked on the 'News' option for search results ... and I found out exactly what he was talking about, and praying for.

The fact that there were protests in Ukraine in recent weeks was not news ... but it seems that the story had receded under the onslaught of more pressing news items ... Mr. Sherman's AFC Championship rant ... Justin Bieber's Miami vice ... the latest political scandals or rumors-of-scandal ... and, YES, some genuinely serious news items as well.

My Google search at that time produced few reports, the best of which appears below. In the last couple of days, a LOT more stories and images have appeared ... and that's a good thing. These are stories and images of people with the courage to step between warring factions, and stand firmly-but-peacefully between them, separating them at least for a moment, urging everyone in the streets of Kiev to listen to 'the better angels of their nature.'

Priest moves to stop Ukranian protester from
throwing Molotov cocktail at riot police.
The images being generated by the priests' intervention on the streets - and the emotions they generate within us - would be the stuff of dreams for  Hollywood directors, who would be hard-pressed to capture the setting of a battered and burning street scene, the flickering light of bonfires, the hoarse screams of protesters, and the lines in the faces of a bearded, cassocked priest with crucifix in hand (looking for all the world like a centuries-old icon) who has kept watch through a freezing night, praying and chanting, and keeping wtch over the opposing battle lines. It is something far, FAR removed from West Texas ... but very, VERY close to the Christian heart! To borrow from that now-ubiquitous phrase ... we can talk the talk, but can we walk the walk? Can we walk into harm's way as they are, with eyes and hearts open?

And honestly ... I don't think you have to be a person of faith and/or religion to admire the courage being shown by these men … and there are some women, too, doing this on the streets of Kiev.

God bless them, and keep them ... in Jesus' name ... Amen.

Orthodox priests in Ukraine step into line of fire to stop deadly protests

By Carol Kuruvilla
New York Daily News

KIEV, UKRAINE - Holy nerves of steel. A group of Orthodox priests stepped right into the line of fire to stop clashes between protesters and police in Ukraine.

The priests braved bullets and walked into no-man’s land between pro-European Union integration protesters and President Viktor Yanukovych’s riot police. ‘I’m here to placate the violence,’ an Orthodox priest said.

read the rest of this story, with photos

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Did’ja hear the latest about Carnival? … probably not

A little over a week ago, I was sitting at the bar on Deck 5 of the Carnival Valor, listening to a story about what had caused that ship to be late in its arrival at St. Maarten a couple of days earlier. It was an interesting piece of information, and I thought it would certainly prove newsworthy … unfortunately my nose-for-news is no match for the prominent proboscises one finds in America’s major news organizations.

Carnival File Photo
According to this report on the Wall Street Journal’s website (with a PRNewswire byline), “the Carnival Valor rescued five mariners from a pleasure craft that was sinking in inclement weather. Following the rescue, the five adults were brought on board Carnival Valor and evaluated by the ship’s medical staff, and provided with food and water. Two of Carnival Valor’s deck officers sustained minor contusions during the rescue effort.”

I cite the WSJ report because there really aren’t all that many reports to cite … at least from what one might consider major news media … WSJ, and USA Today. Oh, sure, there are the reports from PRNewswire, Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor and some cruise industry newsletters … but there readership is not as broad or (at least in some respects) as far-reaching as a CNN, an NBC News or even a Fox Noise.

True, a story about something going right does not have the same interest for news producers as something that goes wrong … the February 2013 Carnival Triumph cruise, for example. Want to know more about that? No problem … just Google “Carnival cruise from Hell” and you’ll find a TON of reports … including some that document that the cruise was not nearly as bad as was reported by the media and some selective sources.

If it bleeds, it leads … I first heard that forty-some years ago, during one of first forays into a newsroom as a writer/producer, and it still seems to hold true today (though there seems to be as much preference for stories that bleed the mind and the spirit as much as the body). But when you think of something like the Carnival Valor responding to a distress call on a stormy night in the high seas – honoring an old tradition of seafaring – and then saving five lives? C’mon … couldn’t we have trimmed a minute from the latest Miley shenanigans, or still another detailed analysis of what Washington ISN’T doing?

More than once, people have asked me something to the effect of, ‘could you ever sail Carnival again?’ Well, yes, because of stories like this. I’m glad I was on hand to hear first-hand reports, and that my family had a chance to meet the captain and bridge crew who participated in that rescue.

For what it’s worth, I thought I’d share the news with you.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Prayer and Praise for Firefighters

It’s been more than thirty years since I took the field as a substitute forest firefighter … but that brief service left me with a deep appreciation for the profession, and for those who embrace it. There remains to this day a place in my heart and my prayers for firefighters, which hasn’t diminished one bit over the decades … in fact, it grew some on ‘9/11’ … and it grew once again with this week’s tragic news from Arizona.

In the summer of 1980, I was working a seasonal job as an archaeologist with the National Forest Service in Sequoia National Forest, in the mountains east of Bakersfield, California. Our team was posted to the Greenhorn District, and we shared accommodations with NFS Engine Company 5-2. There wasn’t much to do in our off-work hours, so Chuck and I – both college students from the University of New Mexico – studied with the crew chief, familiarized ourselves with procedures and equipment, tested, and were eventually ‘red-carded.’ We were sub’s, available to fill-out the crew when they were short-handed, and each of us ended up rolling on a few fires.

In the course of my service, I came to know some ‘hot shots’ and to watch them at work. There was about them a swagger, an attitude that they were rough and tough and scared of nothin’. Some might have called it arrogance … I know that I did, at first. But over the course of my own service – watching them go into a fire on direct-attack, knocking it down and watching them come out – I came to the conclusion that their attitude was merited … even after one unfortunate incident when a hot shot expressed his contempt for ‘engine slugs’ and almost started a fight between our crews.

Like I said, that summer – watching REAL firefighters at work, my brief service with them, and my own close call with wildfire on one occasion – left me with an indelible impression.

In his book, Report from Engine Co. 82, New York firefighter Dennis Smith suggested that there was good reason for the use of fire in images of Hell … as anyone who has been burned could tell you. I remember my training during that summer in California, and learning to prepare the ground around me and deploying my personal, emergency fire shelter in the event that the blaze shifted and trapped us … and I remember hoping that I never found myself in that kind of situation. Those who do find themselves in such a situation, on more than one occasion, and keep coming back? Let’s face it … it’s natural for people to rush out of a burning building - or a collapsing World Trade Center - in a mindless panic … but then there are those who mindfully, purposefully rush IN.

May God bless them and keep them, comfort their families and their friends, protect them and uplift them in their life, and welcome them in their passing. Amen

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Seeking a 'field of dreams' in Colorado

The young men who comprise the Midland College Chaparral baseball team truly are the 'boys of summer' this year. At a time when most students are pursuing ventures off-campus - recreation, work, whatever - the team has remained on campus and at work, getting ready for what lies ahead. It's been two weeks since commencement exercises brought an end to the 2012/2013 academic year at our community college in Western Texas, and it will be another week before we kick-off the summer semester. It's a quiet time around campus ... unless you're a baseball player. They returned to Midland just a few days ago with a regional championship trophy in hand - the first ever for MC Chaparral baseball. And now they're in Grand Junction, Colorado for the JUCO World Series, the National Junior College Athletic Association's national championship tournament.

JUCO World Series-bound Midland College Chaparrals, 2013 NJCAA Region 5 Champions
This will be their first-ever trip to the national tournament. And while they have reached unprecedented levels of success, a difficult path still lies ahead of them, with the best junior college baseball programs in the nation standing between them and a national. But, you know what? I think they could do it ... I really do. They are a fine bunch of young men, good athletes, and we have a first-rate staff of coaches and trainers. They really could do it this year.

 And, no, I don't have the stats, the percentages or the research to back that up. Honestly, I'm not the baseball fan I was forty years ago ... and even then, I was out-of-sync with most of my friends and neighbors. The pro sports franchises that warmed their hears were mostly in Philly, just a two-hour drive south of my home near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. But my heart was warmed by franchises at the west end of the Keystone State, on the banks of the Monongahela where Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillén and the rest of my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates pursued America's pastime.

But even after all these years, and even after I've embraced 'the dark side' and begun following soccer more, I still enjoy a ballgame. Sometimes, I think I've been fortunate to have spent most of the past 35 years in areas where minor league ball is played ... in Albuquerque, NM with the Dukes, and in Midland, TX with the Rockhounds ... the venues are more intimate, the seats are affordable, there's an unusually high percentage of friends and acquaintances in the stands with you, and the players seem to be more concerned with playing than posturing as they work their way up to the majors.

In the time that has passed since the creation of "englische Base-ball" (or whatever), it still remains a favorite pastime ... and for all its appeal in other parts of the world, still a popular American pastime ...

It's like that line from "Field of Dreams" (one of the better speeches ever committed to film), adapted from Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe" (a great book on baseball, its magic and its appeal) ...

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again."

... it reminds me of the fun I've had in the stands, which I later shared with my boys. And how the wife and I would whoop-it-up from the sidelines when their rec teams took the field. I hope they'll share it with their kids someday ... if not, Grandpa will be standing by!

In the meantime, I regret that we will not be able to make the drive up to Colorado this weekend, to watch my 'Chaps' play ... a Memorial Day break in the hills and mountains of Colorado, watching aspiring young players take their best shot at the title ... I can think of worse ways to spend a weekend.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Coming Back

It's been cooler - even cold! - these last few months ... and it's been grayer, too, from clouds that block the sun, yet deliver no rain ... and at times it's been way too windy for me. Eh, winter!

But today, Spring is coming back. Today, I went out to the side yard of this place where we were staying, and was greeted not just with the head of the house's septic tank system, and the assurance that all was well with said system ... but by a bluebonnet, as well ... my first bluebonnet of the new year!

Today, spring is coming back.

I've lived in West Texas long enough to appreciate that we seem to have only two seasons in our part of the Lone Star State ... SUMMER, and NOT-QUITE-SUMMER.

But not today ... for today, at least, SPRING is coming back ... and I'm thinking that maybe there are ways I should be coming back, too. More on that later ... but, for now, enjoy my bluebonnet.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

THE Christmas tradition ... Luke wrote it, Linus shared it, I believe it

Clutter's "Agnes Dei," from the Bowden Collections' "Christ Is Born"

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2
King James Version (KJV)

However you mark this day, a very Merry Christmas! May this find you and yours happy and healthy, this holiday season and in the new year to come!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas tradition, of sorts ...

Even in the days of DVDs, when I could watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" easily and inexpensively, whenever I wanted, I would still wait for the Christmas season to come around, so I could watch the broadcast, just as I did the first time it aired ... and have done every Christmas season since then ... at least until the last couple of years, when broadcasters made additional cuts to the original program. Made me glad I bought the DVD a while back ... I still wait for the Christmas season to come around ... I just watch it via a new medium.

I like the humor of the story, with characters and dialogue that doesn't drive adults out of the room, screaming ... and I like the fact that we are allowed to laugh - or not - spontaneously, without the urging of a laugh track.

And I LOVE the music! The soundtrack was composed by the late, great Vincent Guaraldi, and was performed by Guraraldi and his trio. It's one of my favorite holiday music albums, AND one of my favorite jazz albums.

And I like the idea that a story about Christmas has something to say about Christ ... with a wonderful delivery by Linus of Scripture from the Gospel of Luke (King James version, no less), answering Charlie Brown's question of 'what Christmas is all about.'

There are some wonderful anecdotes out there about the making (and the near UN-making) of "Charlie Brown Christmas," and how viewers and critics had the nerve to rear-up and roar-out their opinions of the show ... opinions that differed dramatically from what network executives had predicted.

Makes me wonder if such a cartoon special could be produced and aired on a major television network today ... I don't know ... maybe not. I remain a big fan of cartoons ... but I just don't see as much respect for viewers young and old as I see demonstrated in something like "Charlie Brown Christmas." And with contemporary cartoon production being what it is, would we ever again see a gathering of talent such as Charles Shultz (words), Bill Melendez (images) and Vince Guaraldi (music), all of whom were not only creators, but determined advocates for their project? Again ... I don't know ... maybe not.

Now, if there was just some way to add those old sponsor plugs for Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kicking-off the 'giving season'

"We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. This year help create #GivingTuesday, the giving season’s opening day," writes "On Tuesday November 27, 2012 charities, families, businesses and individuals are coming together to transform the way people think about, talk about and participate in the giving season."

"It’s a simple idea. Find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to join in acts of giving. Tell everyone you can about what you are doing and why it matters. Join a national celebration of our great tradition of generosity, and together we’ll create ways to give more, give better and give smarter."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Recalling old times through new connections ...

In the local media this past month, some attention devoted to the 25th anniversary of the rescue of Jessica McClure from a well in southwest Midland where she was trapped for three days. That attention also provided for me an opportunity to connect with a one-time co-worker of mine - someone I have not seen for many, many years - and gain a renewed appreciation for how much smaller our world has become through the world wide web.

It was for me, a singular and - I hope - a defining moment in Midland's history. I found it to be one that illustrated so well what a community - and the individuals who comprise that community - can accomplish.

We can better appreciate those individual and community efforts from that time because of people like Phil Huber. Phil was a photographer back then for KMID-TV, Big 2, which made him something of a point-man for what was West Texas' dominant #1 television news department of that decade. Me, I was a writer and assistant producer in Big 2's creative services department, as well as a public service director and umpteen other things. That's how we did it back then ... everybody did a thing or two, or three. But that flexibility and that willingness would serve us well in the days that followed a call that brought a a reporter from Big 2 News and his photog (Phil) to a home on Tanner Street.

Phil's job was just to shoot the video, then take it back to the station for editing, and presentation on the evening news. But this time around, there would be more to it than that. A couple of officers peering down the well hole, trying to see/hear something of the little girl who had fallen in. The solution was a shotgun mic mounted on the top of Phil's camera ... was it detachable? It was, and Phil had additional cable that allowed the microphone to be lowered to where the girl was trapped, and the earphones that would allow the officers to listen. That was the first contact between the girl and her rescuers, and Phil was part of it.

You have to remember the technology of the day. This was 1987, and we were a small television market to boot. Those of us who who have grown accustomed to instant, total coverage of breaking news from almost anywhere, might forget what technology was available for news coverage in those days, especially for those of us who were yet to equip with what was new and developing in our nation's larger television markets. When I think of what coverage of that rescue might have been like back then, with just the cell phone technology we have now? Wow.

It was a long three days and nights that followed. And most of the staff at our station spent much of that time awake. Even those in the front office (accounting, ad sales and so on) did their part by keeping our switchboard open around the clock, and providing updates to callers from around the world ... or shuttling back and forth between the rescue site with freshly-recharged batteries for the cameras, gasoline for the generator in our live unit, and food for the news crews on the scene. But those news crew were on point ... for us, and for the world ... and IMHO, they did a damn good job.

It all came to an end Friday night, when the little girl emerged from the well in the arms of a rescuer ... hurt, frightened, but alive.

The rescue effort was over, but the effects of those three days would be felt in the months and years to come. And that included the effect it had on the careers of local news personnel. Like I said before, ours is a small market ... many refer to it as a 'teaching' market where youngsters fresh out of school can get some experience, some seasoning, filling their resumѐ tapes and looking for opportunities to move up and out. Phil was one of many, many young men and women who moved on to pursue their careers in markets around the United States.

I have not kept in touch with them as I should have ... but I did reconnect with Phil by chance earlier this year ... through Facebook. Apparently one of my co-workers at the college was a classmate of Phil's ... Midland High School Class of '76 ... On, ye Bulldogs! Through her, I connected with Phil's Facebook page. And at the same time, I have also renewed acquaintances from other Big 2 News alumni. As for Phil, he's living in Alabama now ... but his health hasn't been good, and there are days when his communication is limited to reading 'liking' posts that friends have made on his Facebook page.

An amazing thing, really ... how we can connect (or re-connect) through the world wide web, and how we can communicate ... even in circumstances where, in the past, connecting and communicating would have been difficult at best.

An awfully long digression, really, to get to my initial point ... appreciation for a renewed connection, best wishes to former co-worker, and a prayer of wholeness and healing for him.