As of last week I have lived 82 years. That’s not so unusual; many people live that long or longer, but living that long is different from what it was in the past. We live in a world of accelerating change.
You are reading this, God willing, on Feb. 28, 2014, but I wrote it on the evening of Dec. 24, 2013, the evening before the day of the birth of Our Lord and a time, I felt, for reflection and a counting of blessings because my birthday was coming up soon.
I’ve always believed that since we’re all different it’s only natural that we like different things, but I also believe there’s a natural overlap among us, and when someone says he hates something other people seem to love, he may be missing out on a good thing.
Last week, I left off at the point where George Dasch and Pete Burger had landed on a Long Island beach as part of a four-man German sabotage team.
Although you will read this at a different time, I am writing it on Thanksgiving Day, a day when you and I are focused on things we are thankful for.
Last week I talked about the way we jumped at a chance to get anything free during the Depression. The reason was simple; most of the time it was the only price we could afford. Everything is so different today.
Because people had almost no cash during the Depression, anything that was free, or almost free, got a lot of attention.
In 1952, along with the rest of my Air National Guard outfit, I waited at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey to board a troop ship for Iceland. A male vocalist on a live radio program sang a song that made me think. It was called “Lucky, Lucky, Lucky Me.” The words really stuck in my head.
I’ll bet that humans, both male and female, have asked that question from the beginning of time. It’s a good one. I don’t even pretend to have the answer, of course, but 81 years of observing my fellow man — and woman — have led me to suspect that there are part answers.
Back when I was a kid of 8 or 9, just old enough to go to the movies by myself, it was exciting to listen to my brother Frankie each time he came home from the Victory Theatre and told about the latest adventure film.
In 1895, arriving from New York City, Winston Churchill landed on the sweltering island of Cuba where a revolution had dragged on for more than 30 years. Churchill’s goal in going to Cuba was twofold: He was a soldier and wanted to see what war looked like, but a second problem nagged at him.
Last week we left 21-year-old Winston Churchill gazing landward as his ship approached New York City, where he was about to learn that there was more to life than the stodgy attitudes he had absorbed during his then short and aristocratically sequestered life.
I mean no irreverence to Winston Churchill in writing this. I use him as an example because it seems so impossible that he, of all people, could have said some of the things he said when he was young.
I was writing about Mom last week when something intriguing popped into my head. We were talking about the questions I asked Mom. I could only remember a couple of important ones; probably because I’ve forgotten the simple ones all kids ask when they’re young.
My mother, God bless her, was quite ordinary the way we ordinarily judge people. And yet, every time anyone ever said anything about Mom it was always more than just a nice comment, it was a rave review.
Several weeks ago I read an article that spoke of a Australian nurse who collects the things people most often say as they reach the end of their lives. No. 1 on the list was, “I wish I had lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected.” I agree with that. It’s the secret to happiness.
Last week we were talking about making a choice between earning brownie points in the military by staying quiet, or speaking up and taking your lumps.
If 21 years in the Air Force taught me anything it was that there are times when you have to stand up and be counted. There were times when I found myself faced with a choice: Either ignore the oath I swore and play the brownie-points game, or do what was right and take my lumps.
Three years spent in Pakistan, combined with four in the UK, have firmly convinced me that there is no such thing as “English.” There’s Britspeak and there’s American, and Bob’s your uncle!
Last week, my outfit shipped out to Iceland, where in 1952 many people were card-carrying Communists. In those days the Communist world was a mess as countries like Russia and North Korea ran like clocks with broken mainsprings, but wide-eyed dreamers outside the Iron Curtain world didn’t know that; they believed that everything inside was peachy keen. The result? Friction between American troops and those who fell for Communist lies.
People sometimes ask me why I am so dead set against Communism. The answer? In 1952 and 1953 I had a couple of run-ins with wannabe Commies who thought that Communism was great. The run-ins didn’t amount to much, but they taught me what “misinformed fanatic” means.
Last week I told you the sad tale of a mother and her six young children who had to spend an entire month living in transient quarters while they each received two shots that had to be given two weeks apart.
You know a big problem with being young, Johnny? When we’re young we lack the experience to recognize that what looks like an easy job may turn out to be a lot harder. A great deal depends on an unpredictable human factor.
A few weeks ago I ran across a news story about an Australian nurse who recorded the most common regrets expressed by people who were nearing the end of their lives. As I read the article I was not surprised to find that the greatest regret of my life was one of the top five.
In 1957, two Air Force bases and two more stripes after I went back into the service, I spent 50 bucks for a mud-green 1950 Plymouth which quickly found its way to its natural home — the junkyard. Then came a solidly built Chrysler Saratoga two-door with a metallic green finish and a Red Ram V-8 that whizzed me over halfway across the country from Texas to New Jersey.
It’s often said that America has a love affair with the automobile, and I have to tell you that I have no argument with that, none at all. How could I? I just did a count. I’ve owned 14 of the little puppies.
Last week I told you how Lolly and I had forded the fabled Indus River in my Jeep on our way to see an archaeological dig. We had climbed a low range of mountains, reached part of the road that curved around a mountain, with a drop of 50 feet on our left, and one of 2,000 feet on our right. Suddenly, just as we topped a low rise at 35 miles per hour, we came upon an old man strolling down the middle of the narrow road with a 7-foot-long lathi, or quarterstaff, stuck under his arms — and no way to get around him.
We all learn by doing. In fact, many leading authorities believe it is the best way to learn. As someone who taught for quite a while, I would agree — with just one teeny, tiny caveat.
Last week I had finally given up all hope of seeing New Delhi in the few short hours I had during our overnight stay there, and had gone back to my room.
Last week I was just leaving Bangkok, Thailand, on the Navy C-121 Super Constellation, which in the 1950s through 1960s flew the Embassy Run along Southeast Asia once each week.
I had always dreamt of seeing India, so my eyes stayed glued to the window as our aircraft touched down on the New Delhi runway on a hot Saturday afternoon of October 1959.
The books mentioned in the first part of this column were “Evader” by Jack Newton and “Home Run” by John Nichol and Tony Rennell. Both are tense, exciting books about allied airmen escaping via “lines” run by Dutch, Belgian and French civilians.
I’ve read some interesting books about wartime escape and evasion.
I recently read something that took me back a little.
There is nothing in this world a whole lot better than a good chuckle, is there Johnny?
Last week I mentioned how I walked up to a teacher’s desk with the geography book, showed her how South America and Africa fitted together, and was told, “No, they don’t, Thomas!”
I’ve had a lot of pleasant surprises in my life. I can look across the room and see one of them sitting in her recliner sound asleep, and she is second to none.
If ever in my life I felt like I had stumbled into a time warp and come out on Alpha Centauri it was the day I found myself bumbling down a long, dim corridor walled on both sides by 8-foot-high banks of radio tubes.
If you’ve been reading this column over the years you may have noticed a couple of things about me. One, I am 81 years old. Two, I’m fairly computer literate for an old fogey.
It is 4:25 p.m. on the afternoon of 6 May 2013.
I left off last week where Private First Class Dan Daly, United States Marine Corps, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic part in fighting off thousands of Chinese soldiers who battled to enter the international enclave in Peking in 1900 and slaughter its residents, including thousands of Chinese Christians who had taken refuge there.
If you missed last week’s column, it was about my very first drive in a car. At age 5, all by myself, in the rumble seat of Uncle Joe’s roadster, I was whisked away on a 32-mile trip from one end of Staten Island to the other — a trip that ended with two delicious hot dogs and two whole bottles of root beer.
A few weeks back I mentioned a drive to Payson and back that I genuinely enjoyed. I got thinking about that afterward and could not help but be amazed at how much our attitude toward driving has changed since I was a boy.
Earlier today I chanced on a reference to evil. A few phrases caught my eye: “Deliberate wrongdoing, hurting other people for no reason, committing senseless acts of violence ...”
I’m sitting here “thinking on paper” — letting words flow from my head, through the keyboard, to the screen. I have a question. One I’ll bet you ask yourself once in a while.
I had an odd drive from Pine to Payson the day I wrote this. Odd because it was so easy compared to some drives. There I was, all alone as I left Pine.
Writing about Winston Churchill last week reminded me of some things I’ve heard or read over the years.
People, especially politicians, are always saying nasty things about each other.
One English summer afternoon in 1970, Lolly and I were on Broad Street in Oxford when we spotted a name we both knew well — Blackwell’s Book Store.
My last Air Force unit was a 21-man field training detachment at RAF Upper-Heyford, England. Like all Air Force outfits, we met once a month for commander’s call.