Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Relay Disaster

In my last post about my school days, I described my graduation ceremony from my home-school alma mater, Christian Fellowship Academy, and the quirky things that happened to me at the graduation. I also promised to tell you a story about a track meet I attended where I actually entered into the Twilight Zone. Seriously, at this track meet, I was asked by a man with a gun to leave the track … where do I begin?
Life at Christian Fellowship Academy was different from public school.  One of the most noticeable features was a complete absence of organized physical activities.  Even though we never participated together in any athletic events or activities, the school decided we should enter a track event when we gathered to compete with other Christian schools throughout the Great State of Texas, a decision that still makes me scratch my head.  Once a year, we would travel to different locations and compete in various events ranging from singing to track and field.  For the glory and honor of my school, I entered photography, checkers, poetry writing, short story, preaching, choir, and (under much protest) the quarter mile relay. Perhaps I’ll find an opportunity to tell you about these events…more stories of the strange and unusual happened at these proceedings, and are each worth telling. But for now, let’s stick with track.
Track and field activities were the most respectable and dignified events to enter, weighing much heavier than checkers in importance.  All the students and staff gathered to watch their most favored athletes carry on the school traditions and bring great honor to their school’s name.  Excelling in these events was the key to understanding and gaining prominence and prestige among your peers.  No one except your mom really cared if you won a checkers competition.  The big trophy came from the event that now lay before us: track.
I begged our school not to create a track team only three weeks before the competitions.  I was the only student who had ever run on a track or attended a track meet in a competition, and I was horrible at it.  In fact, when my fellow students inquired about the events, I had to explain what a relay was, what hurdles were, and what a high jumper did.  Christian Fellowship Academy had four boys who were eligible for track events.  I was the oldest at seventeen, then Brant at fifteen, John and Jeb both at fourteen. As there were four of us, it made perfect sense to enter a relay.  No one took into account that we had a three-year differential in our ages, and that we would be competing against juniors and seniors, not freshmen and sophomores, like two-thirds our team were.  No one took into account that we had never run.  In fact, two of the boys had never run further than a lap around a track at any point in their lives.  Never the less, we started seriously training two weeks before the competition.  At least we allowed plenty of time for improvement.
When I tried to explain how a quarter mile relay operated, my fellow runners asked me questions like, “Where will the girls be sitting?” and “Why do those other guy’s shoes have pointy things on them?”  I knew we were in trouble.
Jeb had participated in track in elementary school, so he knew about relays and how to hand off the baton. I used Jeb to show the boys how to pace each other and accomplish a smooth handoff.  As we didn’t have a baton, I used a stick from a dogwood tree.  I placed John in the first leg, Brant in the second, Jeb in the third, and I was the last leg.  I showed John how to start and then told him to run as fast as he could to Brant, do the hand off, and then get off the track.  On our first day of practice, John grinned and said, “At least I know how to get off the track!”  As a team we didn’t perform any better. How could we? You can’t master a sport in one practice session. I do remember that we laughed a lot, and we knew better than to take ourselves too seriously. Hopefully, Jeb and I had enough experience to make up the difference.  We practiced a couple of times over the next two weeks, but we simply didn’t have enough time to get the principles down.
On the day of the race, I sat the boys down and made them watch the other runners as they raced.  However, they were only interested in the cheerleaders, something I wished to do as well, but I was distracted by an overwhelming sense of doom.  I openly desired to be sitting under the bleachers sucking on a goose egg rather than preparing for the inevitable.  The relay race started and I had to join my teammates on the field.  Like a general before a major campaign who has run out of bullets, I quietly surveyed the battleground that lay before me.  After calculating the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, I knew without doubt that we would be humiliated beyond measure.  If only I knew to what degree … 
First, I took note of the other track teams.  They were warming up together, while my team was poking each other with the baton.  The other teams were dressed in shorts, tank tops, ankle high socks, and cleated running shoes.  My team wore sweat pants and hooded tops, tube socks, and high-top tennis shoes.  Yet, John and Brant both managed to wear the same color socks!  I watched, as Jeb explained, as they were poking each other with the baton, that we wouldn’t really run with a dogwood stick.  I smiled when John held up the baton and pretended it was a bugle.   
Finally, the judges called for us to take our starting positions.  Somehow, I had never mentioned to John that the runners would be staggered along the track.  When he saw the other teams lining up ahead of him, he tried to tell the starting official that they were cheating.  I’m not sure he ever understood the explanation, but he lined up in the first lane and complied with the orders.  Despite my efforts to anticipate every detail, I also failed to mention to John that the race would start with a pistol shot.  It startled him so badly that he dropped to baton and looked over at me while the other runners were going around the corner.  Recovering quickly, he picked up the baton and started running.  Brant forgot that he was supposed to lead off before receiving the baton, and stood like a statue until John ran to a stop and handed off to Brant.  Brant started his quarter lap sprint, but the other teams had already passed Jeb and were close to my position. I had to step off the track so I wouldn’t get run over.  As Brant approached Jeb’s position, Jeb led off a picture perfect lead, but Brant forgot about the lead and started shouting to Jeb that he forgot the baton.  Jeb had to go back for it.  By this time, I watched as the racers rounded my corner and crossed the finish line.  Their race was complete; ours was only half begun.  Jeb and I executed our parts with precision, but by the time I crossed the finish line, I had to go around the hurdles they were already placing in my lane. The man with the starting pistol glanced at me curiously and asked me to clear the field so he could start the next race.  All told, we ended up with a time just short of two minutes.  I can still hear the stadium chuckling as they watched us limp off the field.  I will long remember that day. And today, the memory is fun, but at that time, I would have actually collapsed and expired if it were possible to die from embarrassment. I do pray that John, Brant, and Jeb find the same humor in this story as do I. Why not laugh about it? It’s hilarious!

What we thought we looked like

What we actually looked like

If you enjoyed this story, you'll get a kick out of my graduation, AKA The Prompt Circumstance .... Click the link to find your next chuckle of the day.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

SSG Jimmie Doyle

Not everyone can be a hero. Some people will never be given the opportunity to make a difference to untold millions. Some people will never have a chance at true greatness.

And then there’s Jimmie Doyle. Jimmie was a Texas boy who hailed from McKinney. When WWII broke out, Jimmie left his wife, Myrle, and 15 month old son, Tommy, and shipped out overseas. A member of the 307th Bombardment Group, 424th Squadron, U.S. Army Air Corps, Jimmy served in the South Pacific and was a nose gunner on a B-24J Liberator bomber. He, along with thousands of men like him, regularly squeezed inside a bomber in order to fly into the face of the enemy and into a hell-storm of anti-aircraft artillery. Once they dropped their pay load, they would return to base and await their next run.

By August 1944, the Japanese were being forced from tiny islands scattered through the Pacific Ocean and retreating closer to the Japanese mainland. The island of Palau was deep in enemy territory, and was defended by more than 35,000 troops and was the regional headquarters for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Furthermore, it was the focal point for General Douglas Macarthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz in a plan to rid the Japanese threat from the Pacific islands. The U.S. Marines were going to make an amphibious landing and take that island. As a member of the 307th, Jimmie’s flight squadron rallied and set out to soften up the target. Even with air support, Palau is remembered as the third bloodiest battle in the Pacific war and has been called “the forgotten corner of hell.”

On September 1, 1944, the men in Jimmy’s crew flew on a bombing run to the island of Koror. From the nose of the plane, Jimmy manned his .50 caliber machine gun and began battling his way across the ocean. Having reached their target, they dropped their payload. Within seconds, their plane was engulfed in a spray of anti-aircraft artillery. The left wing was severed and the plane began to spiral downward. Three parachutes were sighted by other American bombers as the plane splashed into the shallow waters near Palau. Immediately, a Japanese boat set an intercept course for the survivors.

At this point of the story, I must introduce a group called BentProp Projects.
According to their website, http://www.bentprop.org/index.htm, they are a group of friends, both historians and scuba divers, who “have gone looking for (and found) ships sunk throughout Micronesia during World War II. Early on, my story took a turn, when I switched from searching for ships to searching for planes - more specifically, American aircraft shot down by occupying Japanese forces during fierce combat over the Palau Islands between 1944 and 1945. Over the ensuing half century, these planes and their crews - and even the battles they fought in the Palaus - have become all but forgotten, except, perhaps, by family and the living veterans who flew missions with and knew these crews.” Patrick J. Scannon, MD, PhD, founder. These men and women have dedicated their lives to finding the remains of those honored dead and helping those soldiers return home for proper burial.
On Saturday, April 25, 2009, at 13:30 hours (1:30 PM), Staff Sergeant Jimmie Doyle was laid to rest in Lamesa, Texas. Aged 25 at the time of his death, Jimmie and 10 others in his crew were killed in that bombing run. The three men who parachuted to safety were picked up by the Japanese and were never seen again.

Among those who attended the funeral, Pat Mitchell was standing alongside Tommy Doyle, Jimmie’s only son. Pat Mitchell was a corporal in the Marine Corps who served a short distance from Palau in Okinawa during the war. Pat and Jimmie were related by marriage, although neither of them knew the other. Pat, who grew up in Lamesa, married Jimmie’s cousin, Nettie May Taylor in 1947. Pat’s story can be found here.

Since WWI, 88,000 Americans have disappeared at war, never to be seen again. The military services of America refuse to stop looking for them. It is the code of a soldier to “leave no man behind.” For more than 65 years, Jimmie was listed as Missing In Action, MIA, but he has returned home, thanks to the efforts of the BentProp crew. Take a moment on their website and watch the short video clip that honors SSG Doyle. Thanks to these volunteers, Jimmy is able to sleep under the West Texas stars, where he is at home.

Note: I borrowed heavily from an article found at: http://men.style.com/gq/features/full?id=content_6817&pageNum=1
Please visit this site and see the rest of the story.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Prompt Circumstance

The 2015 school year is wrapping up. This time of year always reminds me of my high school days and how much I hated school, and just how fitting my final day in high school was. That day will always be one of the funniest incidences of my youth. I should preface by saying that I now have a GED.

So, I was valedictorian of my graduating class, which might sound impressive until you discover that I was also the very first graduate of my school, Christian Fellowship Academy. Yes, I attended a small, private school, which was basically, a one-room schoolhouse attached to a church, which was out in the middle of a cotton field, which was out in the middle of no where. I would love to tell you that I was outstanding in my field, but I would have to clarify that I was actually out, standing in my field.

Being a homeschool graduate in the 80s was being a pioneer in many ways, and it was certainly unprecedented. As the first graduate of a school, I was allowed some creativity, and the principal commissioned me to choose the school colors!  Not many people can boast that claim, (if it’s a claim worth boasting.)  I chose blue and white, the colors of Westbrook ISD, my former school before leaving the public school system.

Being the first also presented some challenges that were unique. In order to graduate, I would have to acquire my own graduation gown.  I went down to Westbrook and asked if I could order an additional gown when they ordered their blue robes.  They agreed to help me and we arranged to have the gown shipped directly to my school.  The gowns were scheduled to arrive a week before graduation, but they were shipped late.  In fact, the shipment came only two days before graduation, and I was highly stressed over my predicament.  However, the real stress began when I opened the box.  Somehow, the order got mixed up and they sent me nine red gowns, instead of one blue gown.  It was too late to fix the mix-up, so I changed the school colors to red and white.  Not many people can claim to have enough influence to change their school’s colors on a moment’s notice! But, it makes for a fun story, so let’s roll with it.

The only photo I have of graduation.
My family and I practiced my march down the isle of our small church, but realized that “Pomp and Circumstance” wouldn’t play one full round due to the short isle.  So, we decided that Vicky, our pianist, would play the song all the way through, and then I would step out, and walk as painfully slow as I could manage. (I must have looked like a bride’s maid slowly gliding to the altar.)  We practiced until everything went smoothly.

An hour before graduation, Vicky called to tell us that she was not going to make it that night, but she had given the music to an alternate pianist.  Barbara had never played “Pomp and Circumstance” but felt reasonably certain that she could handle the piece.

When time came for the march, I stood in the back with my red gown and listened as Barbara started playing.  In all the confusion, no one told her that she was supposed to play the entire song once through before I would start my painfully slow march.  When Barbara started playing and realized that I wasn’t marching, she assumed that something was wrong and stopped playing. I didn’t know what to do, but someone told Barbara to start playing again.  She did, but stopped again when she didn’t see me marching. 

In the back of the church, we huddled up and decided that when the music started again I would march without waiting for a full round.  Unfortunately, Barbara was becoming rattled from all the confusion.  While we were reorganizing my march, someone whispered the original plan to her, but we didn’t realize that she was up to speed.  She decided to set a faster tempo for the first round, and slow down for the actual march. 

Alas, we didn’t know that she would play one full round.  So, when the music started at that fast tempo, I stepped out.  I was making good time until Barbara saw that I was marching to her rhythm. Surprised, she slowed down in the middle of my progression.  I had to alter my speed and almost fell down.  Fortunately, it was a short isle and I was at the stage in a flash.  I called it my “Prompt Circumstance.”  The rest of the ceremony went fine, except that I was redder than my gown, and I dropped my graduation trophy and bent it in half.  Oh—and I should mention that there is no evidence of this event, as the only known recording was accidentally recorded over a few weeks later while hastily attempting to catch an episode of MacGyver.

And the reason I have a GED—no college would accept my high school transcript and I had to get one before I could enroll. Not every valedictorian proudly displays a GED alongside his diploma!

My life is always eventful.

Sometime I’ll tell you the story about the very last track meet I ran. It was a record-breaking event, and I was formally asked to leave the track by a man holding a gun…

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Christian Men and Romance Novels 101

Recently, I attended a church service where the pastor blasted the women in his congregation for reading romance novels, and compared their behavior to men reading a Playboy.

My reaction to the absurd statement made at church.
As a romance novelist, I was disappointed with the preacher’s perspective; but I think his accusation was misplaced. This was due to a critical misunderstanding on his behalf. So, I’d like to take a moment and pen a few words about why romance is literature and not smut, and why it’s okay for a woman to read romance novels. Please bear in mind that I’m writing from the point of view of a married, Christian man. All of my arguments will be predicated upon that worldview.

First, I want to clarify my terminology. By romance, I’m NOT talking about Fifty Shades of domination or of the kind of book where you might find Fabio’s hair blowing in the breeze. I’m talking about romance in the classical sense, where a man romances a woman in a loving fashion, and not about sex, which is a whole different conversation.

Christian men tend to lump all romance novels into one huge category: smut. The type of romance books I write are clean and from a faith based point of view. The books I write are safe for my teenage daughter to read.  The kind of book I’m discussing is a book where a man meets a woman and they fall in love, and, while sex is an important subject in romantic relationships, it is not a topic that’s explored. Basic romance. Which, by the way, is defined as: “a novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry, romantic exploits, etc., usually in a historical or imaginary setting."  A very basic example of this type of romance would be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Why do women read romance novels? The best way I can think of to explain what I’m talking about is to give you an example that will be identifiable to you men. And I want to over-simplify everything to make it easy to understand. Romance is to women as hunting is to men. Let me explain….

When God made men, He buried, deep in their soul, the desire to be providers for their families. Generally, men find deep satisfaction in providing what their family needs, and this is one of the reasons a man will work a difficult, dissatisfying job—it’s a marker of his love for his wife and kids. This is one reason men enjoy going into the woods with a rifle or bow and bringing home the bacon, so to speak. Or, go to the range and plink away at targets. These types of actions help satisfy a man’s basic needs to be a provider.

Another explanation that might help? Okay, generally men love machinery. This can come in the form of a car or a power tool. Or a sword. Or a golf club. We appreciate these kinds of tools, and we gain satisfaction by using them.

This is similar to what God placed in a woman’s soul. Generally, woman have a deep-seated need for romance and love, much in the same way a man has a need to provide. This doesn’t make women weak; it makes them lovely.  Women gain deep satisfaction in receiving romance, much in the same fashion a man receives satisfaction in providing. One of the reasons a woman will read a romance is because it speaks to her and helps fulfill that need God placed in her basic programing.  Most women crave romance, and a good source is a romance novel. Just hearing her husband say the words, “I love you” is insufficient; they need more depth than that.

This is understandable if you return to my hunting example. You can’t just put on the gear, camouflage your face, and say, “bang, bang” and call it a hunting trip. You have to actually go out into the wild and seek out your target. This is true for women as well.

In a Christian romance novel, women will discover the joys of falling in love, coupled with adventure and a little adversity. They discover simple things like holding hands, long walks on the beach, flowers, music, and art. Women love these things, and they find them in novels. And honestly? Some of these things can be hard to find in normal, daily life.

Of course, my explanation is a broad stroke, highly generalized explanation, as I only want to briefly examine the basics. There are as many different types of romance literature as there are gun models and types.

I would like to suggest to men that if they take their role as provider seriously, then they should seek to provide romance for their main squeeze.

Sadly, I know the Christian world is divided over this topic, and some of you will profoundly disagree with me. I’m okay with that. We can discuss and not divide. But, understanding that “romance novels” are not automatically smut is a good beginning. Also, women who read romance novels aren’t necessarily feeding a sinful craving for illicit sex. God designed women to crave romance as part of their basic programming.  I would like to encourage all of you husbands to seek a way to meet that deep-seated need for romance in your wife’s life. Try holding her hand or taking a walk and let her tell you about her day. These are the types of romance she enjoys. And if you really want to score points, try washing the dishes, or vacuuming without being asked. Talk about romance!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

K-27, Sergeant Greg Moore

In the early morning hours of May 05, 2015, Sergeant Greg Moore was shot while attempting to apprehend a suspect in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was alone when the suspect allegedly produced a small, hidden handgun and shot Sergeant Moore, and then fled the scene in his patrol car, and took his firearm in the process. In the course of standard safety checks from dispatch, his failure to respond to the radio traffic prompted a search. He was found lying on the street by a civilian, who happened to pass by the murder scene. Within hours, the suspect was apprehended, and an ambulance was called to treat the suspect for dog bites. In the meantime, Sergeant Moore succumbed to his wounds.

Line of duty death is a reality every law enforcement officer faces on a daily basis, and a risk each officer accepts as part of the job. It is a reality that cops try not to focus on, nor dismiss. The realization of their potential demise keeps the officers operating at a level that ensures they go home at the end of each shift. Fortunately, line of duty deaths are rare, considering our population, and the number of officers on duty. As of May, for the year of 2015, 44 officers lost their lives on the job, from a wide range of causes that include gunfire, assault, automobile accidents, and heart failure. Each loss is significant. Each officer will be lost forever. Each will be remembered. I pray that none are forgotten.

I was blessed to attend Sargent Greg Moore’s funeral in Coeur d’Alene on Saturday, May 09, at Lake City High School. As many as 4,000 people attended the service, most of them law enforcement officers; coming from all over the United States and Canada.

When I arrived at the high school, I knew something was different about this funeral. I’ve been to other line-of-duty-death ceremonies—to many, in fact, but this event was different. Special. Remarkable.

As I parked and made my way to the gymnasium, I was awed to see that a group of citizens, who appeared to be members of various motorcycle clubs, were lined along the sidewalk that led to the gymnasium, each of them holding an American flag, forming a silent salute of gratitude to Sergeant Moore’s memory, and the sacrifice he paid.

We stood in line for an hour while waiting to be seated, and once we arrived at our seats, I was overwhelmed by the sea of law enforcement officers. From my vantage in the balcony, I was able to estimate that approximately 3,000 officers were gathered to pay their respects. Once the gymnasium was filled to capacity, an overflow area was utilized, complete with television screens and a live broadcast of the ceremony.

Greg Moore’s funeral was as difficult as you might imagine. Heart wrenching tears and final words were spoken, and most of the people attending were fighting their own tears, despite the fact that the vast majority had never met Sergeant Moore. We were all saddened to discover that he left behind a 10-year-old son and one-year-old daughter, but we were proud to learn that Greg Moore was a stellar husband and father, who invested into his family every chance he could. He was a man who lived without regrets, and whose smile and good humor made him a favorite amongst his peers. After hearing the personal testimonies of what an amazing friend he was, I was deeply saddened that I had not the opportunity to meet him in person and, by the end of the service, I felt as though I lost a friend.

His service was unique in some regards, with sacramental methodology I had never before seen. One such instance occurred when seven members of the honor guard performed a bell ceremony, where a single bell was struck 21 times. Each officer participating in the ceremony individually saluted as the bell was struck, and each took a knee once in response to the bell’s toll. I understand the bell ceremony is part of a standard fireman’s salute to a fallen brethren, and the effect was rather profound.
Once the ceremony was complete, we assembled in our vehicles to create the procession. In a noble and dignified response, hundreds of police and emergency vehicles followed the Moore family to the cemetery for the interment ceremony. The vehicles stretched across Coeur d’Alene like a blue and red flashing ribbon of honor, weaving through the streets and across town. The display of affection for their fallen comrade was not insignificant.

Even more poignant was the citizen response to the funeral. For the entire four-mile journey from the high school to the cemetery, families and individuals lined the streets to display their grief and respect, and demonstrate their unity with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department. The entire length was lined with flags, homemade banners, saluting citizens, and people kneeling on the edge of the road. 

The procession passed one baseball field; the players stood in formation and saluted as the funeral passed. Their solidarity was moving, and there was no doubt that the entire community was grieving Sergeant Moore’s tragic death, in a refreshing response that countered the recent riots in the City of Baltimore.
One banner was prominently displayed that read, “Cop’s lives matter.” This was the prevailing and unifying theme for the City of Coeur d’Alene, and their heartfelt display could not be mistaken. Cop’s lives do matter, and I’m proud to live in a country where police are respected and honored, and their sacrifices are meaningful. Therefore, I say, may God bless the Greg Moore family, and bring them peace and comfort in the days to come, and may we always remember the sacrifice Sergeant Moore made in order to protect our families from harm. May he rest in peace.