Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Harmonious Weekend

             My weekend began a bit earlier than normal, but it was all in the plans.

As a barbershop singer, I was in Sacramento to participate in what is called the Far Western District (FWD) Spring Convention & Contest where choruses and quartets from several states come together to compete, namely, California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, and St. George, Utah. The parent organization is called the Barbershop Harmony Society, formerly, SPEBSQSA which is the acronym for the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. Some years ago this name was changed for a couple of reasons. First, mostly because it is a cumbersome title for our organization (or any organization for that matter!). And second because barbershop singing is no longer strictly an American musical art form. We’ve gone International! In fact, last summer when I was singing with the Alexandria Harmonizers in France for the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, we made a side trip to Germany where we sang with a bunch of our German brother barbershoppers.

I sing with the Golden Valley Chorus (GVC) which is a chorus of 20 men. I’ve known some of these men for more than 25 years. They are a fine bunch of friends who all share the love of singing four-part harmony.

Our convention was held at the Convention Center on the former McClellan Air Force Base. Even though it is only 70 miles from home, I chose to stay in a hotel since the days are long and late. Friday night, things kicked off with the first round of quartet competition. This is always a great event. You get to hear and see some of the best quartet singing anywhere. The successful competitors move on in hopes of winning the Division competition which secures a spot for them to sing at our 2016 International next summer in Nashville, Tennessee. The champions are awarded the coveted gold medal. This places any quartet in the elite status among barbershoppers.

The various choruses compete as well in hopes of moving on to Division and then International. Our chorus placed 5th in the Northeast Division which means we qualified to move on to the Division Competition in Mesa, Arizona in mid-October. But if you ever have a chance to see VoCal (Voices of California – Sacramento) or Voices in Harmony (San Francisco Bay Area) perform, make sure you buy those tickets. There are many fine choruses of varying size; these two are definitely a cut above

One unexpected blessing for me occurred when my friend and chorus director, Bruce Sellnow, asked me if I would step in as the emcee for the High School Quartet Competition. I was delighted to help out. With a convention/contest of this size and caliber, you can imagine all the moving parts in order to successfully pull it off. There were five high school quartets all from California competing, from Las Flores (2), Milpitas, San Diego, and Santa Maria. Man, some of these young men are really good! Of course, as older guys we love to see the young guys take up a love for this hobby we all love so much.

Sunday morning I drove from Sacramento to Iowa Hill to attend a church my friend, Jim Crawford, has been pastoring. You have to know where you’re going in order to get there! Jim has asked me to preach for him there twice before so I knew where I was going. But the road from the freeway exit is nine miles of some of the most beautiful scenery around. The road is also extremely dangerous with its innumerable switchbacks and sheer drops of more than a thousand feet. I was driving my five-speed PT Cruiser, so I was good to go. But you never quite know what you’ll see. I came around one curve and was confronted by a turkey hen who didn’t grasp the immediate danger she had placed herself in. I waited until she cleared the road, and then continued on.

When I arrived at the town of Iowa Hill, population roughly 100, I stopped at the old school building that is used for numerous things today, but for our purposes, it’s a church on Sunday morning. I got out of my car, and immediately recognized Kathy coming out of the building. I smiled as she said, “Well, look who’s here!” I responded, “You just never know who’s going to show up in Iowa Hill.” It’s been almost two years since I was last there. It was good to see everyone again. Unbeknownst to me, this was their planned work day for the church, so I grabbed my PT gear and changed out of my coat and tie. I spent the majority of the time trying, unsuccessfully, to get two weed whackers to work. Got one started, but it would not stay running. The other had aged plastic fuel lines which simply broke in my hand. Eventually we cleaned up and then spent some time in worship.

After saying goodbye, Jim and his wife Diana headed for Sacramento, with me bringing up the rear, as we headed for the Filipino church where Jim was taking over as the new senior pastor. Saw some old friends there and enjoyed more times of worship with these saints of God. After the service we enjoyed a potluck lunch which included fish heads, chicken adobo, and a variety of other foods. Sufficiently sated, I finally took my leave and headed for home.

What a weekend! I had the harmony of friends and music with my barbershop compadres, plus I enjoyed the fellowship of Christian worship with two churches.

But the best part was coming home and being greeted by my wife, Isaura.

I am truly blessed!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Guilty as Charged

             One more bit of damning evidence that our culture is losing its way.
Have you heard about the new attack on men who, when they behave like gentlemen are deemed to be sexists? If you haven’t, sit down and strap yourself in.
Several years ago in the early days of the current administration, I discovered I was a potential terrorist as defined by the administration because I am a military veteran. To make matters worse, I’m a combat veteran. And horrors! I’ve served in two wars! After reading the State Departments definition of a would-be terrorist, I had to conclude that I must be a terrorist. Guilty as charged.
Now I read that because I engage in gentlemanly behavior, particularly when it concerns women, I am a full-blown sexist. Again, guilty as charged. What’s a fella to do?
A recent study has determined that men who smile and appear to be overly polite are sexists. Beware the chivalrous man! He’s likely to be the brutish lecher who preys on unsuspecting women.
I know, I know – I should be taking this more seriously. But the subject of men behaving in ways that are now being defined as sexist simply because he learned to show respect toward others (read: women) at some point in his life, must now call into question his possible ulterior motives the next time he smiles at, or holds the door for a female.
My wife, Isaura, reminded me again of an incident that occurred while attending San Jose State University (SJSU) in the mid-80’s just before we met. She had an armful of books walking toward her next class. A fellow student, a male, was walking with her. He opens the door, passing through, allowing the door to close before Isaura could get through. She called to the guy chastening him for not being gentlemanly enough to hold the door for her. He replied, “The last time I held the door for a girl she hit me!” He moved on to his class leaving my wife-to-be fumbling with her load while attempting to open the door.
About the same time period, I was coming out of my apartment a half-block from the University, when a girl from my next class was walking by. I said hi and moved over to the street side of the sidewalk. She abruptly stopped, looked at me with utter disdain, and boldly asked me, “What are you doing?” I replied that a gentleman walks on the curbside of the sidewalk when walking with a lady. Proving she was no lady, she caustically declared that such actions on my part were ridiculous. She stuck her nose in the air and marched off. I chuckled to myself and proceeded to my next class.
My brother and I were raised to be polite, courteous, and showing deference toward others, both men and women. Our folks were from Texas where such manners were expected. You’ll still see that in evidence today throughout the South. Add to that my grandmother (we called her Bambi – my step father’s mother) was from the Boston. Now this woman was a lady! Bambi moved in with us when I was ten. I never once saw her in anything except a skirt and blouse with sleeves to the wrists, and a brooch pin at the collar. When it came time for dinner, she would stand by her chair and wait for one of her grandsons to properly seat her. Holding a door open, whether in your house, a building, or a car, was done without thinking. If a lady walked into the room the men in the room were expected to stand up out of respect.
This may all sound very old fashioned, but it was the way John and I were raised. I hold the door, pull out the chair, and walk on the curbside for my wife, my daughters, and my granddaughters (ages seven and six – and yes, they like it!), and any other woman I happen to be with. Usually when I’m out and a woman enters the room, or approaches the table, I will stand in greeting. If the lady doesn’t know me well, she might make a comment, such as, “You weren’t standing up for me, were you?” It is not said as a challenge, but rather with a tone that indicates she’s very pleased by the courteous acknowledgement. My reply is a smile.
So here’s what I want to say about this business of displaying proper manners. If demonstrating such behavior is going to be labeled as sexist, then this is a sad day for our American society.
The British tabloid, The Telegraph, reported, “Chivalry could indicate hidden sexism, study finds.” The study focused on 27 pairs of U.S. undergraduate men and women, observing these folks while they played a trivia game.
College students? Really? Playing a game? That’s their study group for determining manners and the attitudes of men toward women? A hormonally super-charged bunch that hasn’t a clue as to why they behave the way they do at this age. Pardon me for my loud outburst of laughter.
What would become of the gentlemanly Sir Walter Raleigh who reportedly spread his cloak over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth I? If this were today, would the good queen upbraid the gentleman for his sexist ulterior motives? Or simply say, “Thank you, Walter.”
Ladies, I do hope you will appreciate the manners of the men in your life, expecting them to demonstrate those same manners at all times. But if a man shows the wrong intentions toward you through his use of manners, coming on to you in a boorish manner, then ignore the creep. You ladies always have the last word. That word is, “No!”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Local Politics

             Yes, I am retired. However, this condition in life’s journey is an enigma.

All through my working years I had heard from those who were retired that they found themselves busier in their “golden years” than when they were working. I decided I didn’t care for that idea very much. One difficulty: I have way too many interests and hobbies to sit idly by watching what remaining days I have left slip through my fingers.

Am I allowing myself to be busier now in retirement? Probably not, but I’m not letting grass grow under my feet either! I continue to serve on various boards and committees for organizations, both military and civilian. I also volunteer an hour or two twice a month in my granddaughter’s 1st grade class sorting a plethora of papers to be filed in each student’s personal folder. It’s fun sitting in class with a bunch of 7-year-old’s watching an experienced teacher handle these children so full of energy. They begin their class each morning by standing by their desks pledging allegiance to the flag. How refreshing! You remember doing that, don’t you?

I also spend one day a week at my youngest daughter, Jenny’s, store in Turlock which frees her up to continue her work preparing more furniture for the store. She named the store, Rustic Roots, and has a great location. I enjoy spending the day minding the store, talking with customers, and enjoying a cup or three of coffee with Jenny when she stops by.

With my older daughter, Laura, we have become involved in local politics. Growing up, my parents voted for Democrats: Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert H. Humphrey, and George McGovern. By then I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps serving in Vietnam and voting for the first time. Over the years I grew to lean much more toward the values and principles espoused by the Republican Party, and have remained so to this day. My first awareness of presidents and the whole political system came in the late 50’s as the election of 1960 presented the nation with Democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Republican Richard Milhous Nixon. I was drawn to Kennedy because of his energy and great one-liners. My favorite being, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” If I had been old enough to vote then, I would have voted for JFK. LBJ succeeded to the presidency following JFK’s assassination. In 1964 I liked the way Barry Goldwater talked, but I heard a constant barrage of criticism that he was a war monger, and he was going to get us into a war in Southeast Asia (aka, Vietnam). Johnson won easily, and then proceeded to send 25,000 Marines to Vietnam! That smacked of hypocrisy! In 1968 I was all for Nixon, but I was only 20. Four years later I found myself in Vietnam. I certainly did not like the way the war was being handled, but whatever chance there might have been for me to vote for the Democratic candidate, George McGovern, went up in smoke when he said, if elected, he would crawl on hands and knees for the release of our POWs in North Vietnam. That was unthinkable to me.

So about six years ago, Laura approached me and said she was troubled with the direction our country was heading and felt that she needed to do something. She wanted to be able to tell her daughter one day that she did all she could to make this a better country for future generations. She wanted to know how she could get involved. I hooked her up with a friend who is politically savvy and Laura found herself doing volunteer work on Fridays for a local state assemblyman. Shortly after, they hired her. Then the assemblyman called and asked me to be his alternate on the San Joaquin Republican Central Committee (SJRCC). I asked if I would need to be a registered Republican. There was a pause on his end of the line. “Yes,” he finally said with a tone of uncertainty. I told him I did not belong to any party, nor had I ever. I had always voted for whoever I believed would do the best job. Too many times I found myself voting for the lesser of two evils, to use a worn-out, hackneyed phrase. But because I wanted to help my daughter in her pursuits politically, I agreed to register as a Republican and serve as his alternate.

So the first Monday night of the month Laura and I drive the 25 miles to Stockton to the Old Spaghetti Factory for our meeting with the SJRCC. It is a great time for us to spend together which begins with a delicious pasta dinner prior to engaging in the monthly scrum and brouhaha of the political arena. You will be pleased to know that each meeting begins with prayer and the pledge of allegiance.

This past January new elections were held for the SJRCC. Laura was elected to be the Secretary, and I was chosen to be the Treasurer. I’m not sure how much of a dent this father/daughter team is making in the grand scheme of things politically, but we’re having fun, attempting, with God’s help and blessing, to make a difference. Our nation is worth it!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

We Are Americans!

           I was born in 1948, two months before Harry Truman won his first and only election to the presidency of the United States. Truman was a tough old bird, having succeeded FDR to the presidency following Roosevelt’s death in April of 1945. A few months later Truman was presented with having to decide whether to use the atomic bomb against the Empire of Japan which might bring about a final end to World War Two. Truman made the decision and saved what has been estimated as one-and-a-half million American lives, lives which would have been lost had we had to take Japan in a land invasion. He was a man who could make the hard decisions. When asked about having to make the call on using the atomic bomb, he said, “All my life, whenever it comes time to make a decision, I make it and forget about it.” He famously had a plaque on his desk in the White House that said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”

          I grew up hearing about presidents who made tough decisions – especially FDR’s “a date which will live in infamy” speech following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Eisenhower’s courage in leading allied forces against Germany’s Third Reich, and then later as president for two terms. JFK’s exploits in WWII were chronicled in his book, PT 109. By the time he became president in 1960, I saw all of our recent presidents as heroic. Democrat or Republican – it didn’t matter to me. These were men made of sturdy stuff, with broad shoulders willing to do whatever it took to protect the American people.

          Even though my mother and step father were Democrats, I didn’t care. When I came of age I never picked a party to belong to simply because I saw them both in a positive light. Over the years I realized I was developing certain views that were placing me more in one political camp than the other. But I still did not side with a party. I have always made it a point to vote, ever since 1972 when I was 24. I missed voting in 1968 because I was 20, and you had to be 21 then. That changed to 18 by 1972. I was in Vietnam that year so voted absentee for Republican candidate Richard Nixon, particularly after hearing Democrat candidate George McGovern say, “I would crawl on my hands and knees to get the POWs back (from North Vietnam).”

          Kennedy was the last of the strong heroic figures (“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”) before we hit the skids, presidentially speaking. LBJ, Nixon, and Carter were grave disappointments to me. Ford was a good president, but unfortunately assumed the presidential mantle from a deposed Nixon. Reagan was once again a strong, patriotic figure like those I had grown up admiring. Those since Reagan have been weak sisters by comparison.

          Today I am looking for someone who is made of the stuff that has made this a great country. I suspect there are those who are cut from that cloth out there somewhere across the “fruited plain.” However, neither political party strikes me as generating true leadership that has a laser focus on protecting America the country, and Americans wherever they might be, both here and around the world.

          Today the winds of war are blowing across the world’s landscape from Islamic radicals, but our elected officials seem to see this as an opportunity to fly kites. The number of imminent crises is staggering. Unsecured borders; government enforced health care; the dismantling of the Constitution – particularly the 1st Amendment (free speech), and the 2nd Amendment (the right to keep and bear arms); a national debt of nearly 18 trillion dollars; a military being reduced in force to pre-WWII levels; abortion, euthanasia, infanticide; Islamic terrorists; foreign nationals coming into America with no intention of assimilating; energy costs rising; wanton shootings and the like in businesses and schools; higher education costs becoming exorbitant and therefore increasingly out of reach; and so the list goes on.

          Can America find its way again in a world that seems to be going mad? Yes, I believe so.

          I was talking to a friend a couple of days ago. They were lamenting that they saw nothing but mediocrity and gloom in the years ahead for America. I reminded him that under the Carter administration things looked very grim. Carter was singlehandedly reducing our military force. In this weakened condition our enemies will, and did, take advantage. You will recall the takeover of our embassy in Tehran, Iran when 52 of our embassy personnel were held by Islamic terrorists for 444 days until Ronald Reagan was inaugurated January 1981. Reagan presented a tough, no nonsense posture, convincing the bad guys that he meant business – and they believed him! Reagan rebuilt our military and restored our footprint in the world. You could almost hear the nations of the world breathe a sigh of relief. Our economy rebounded and we were on the road to a quick recovery.

When America is strong economically, and robust militarily, our friends around the world are gratified and our enemies grow increasingly more cautious.

For the sake of your grandchildren and mine we must rise to the occasion and beat back and utterly defeat all of those threats to us that would undo us.
         We can do this. We must do this. We are Americans!