Marines.Together We Served

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Ecstasy of Chocolate

Roots in Ripon
30 May 2016
Chuck Roots

The Ecstasy of Chocolate

Chocolate! The word alone elicits delicious memories of moments of absolute taste bud euphoria which can only truly be experienced by a true lover of the cocoa bean and its eventual liquid, solid or powdered form.

The makers of chocolate are known as chocolate makers by creating chocolate from cocoa beans and other ingredients. This is not to be confused with chocolatiers. A chocolatier is a person or company who makes confectionary from chocolate. Confectionery is also called sweets, or candy. In any event, chocolate is the end result of their efforts. Bless them!

As a kid my favorite chocolate bars were Three Musketeers and Baby Ruth. While in Marine Corps boot camp our training period ended just after Christmas of 1969. Since we had performed very well during our training, winning many honors for our drill instructors, we were told we could receive some Christmas goodies from home. Even with this permission being announced I was unwilling to take the chance so I wrote my parents and family members and specifically instructed them not to send me any goodies. They complied and I was spared the humiliation of possibly having to eat a whole lot of chocolate or other sweet, gooey stuff which more than likely would have wreaked havoc on my innards.

Days before Christmas small packages began arriving for guys in my platoon. Each evening during mail call these packages would be handed to the intended recipient who would take his prize and hoard it in his foot locker. I was relieved to see that the drill instructors did not make any of these guys eat all of their stash in one sitting as I had feared. However, one of the guys hailing from Louisiana was a bona fide Cajun. Cajuns are primarily residents in southern Louisiana having descended from French colonists who had settled in Acadia, an area in Canada. This fellow received a box of homemade chocolate brandy balls from his grandmother. He and his bunkmate ate the entire box that evening. Since our body’s systems had not been exposed to anything remotely this sweet, and certainly nothing alcoholic during this closely confined training period of several months, the impact on these two guys was pretty severe. They were a mess the next day, giving the rest of us a good laugh at the expense of their misery.

Since I was a squad leader, I was quick to notice that one of the guys in my squad had received a care package. As he opened the box I noticed a Baby Ruth right on top. I sidled up to him putting a fatherly arm around his shoulders. He wasn’t sure what was coming. That’s when I asked him, “Who’s your favorite squad leader?” He sheepishly acknowledged that I was. “Then I’m sure you won’t mind parting with that Baby Ruth sitting there,” I said. He looked at me, then he handed me the candy bar. I took my newly acquired prize and sat on my bunk just staring at my treasure. I was torn by desire. I wanted desperately to eat the delicacy right then and there. But I didn’t want the craving for it to end just yet. So I slipped the candy bar inside my pillow case. For several nights I would slide it out of its hiding place and just gaze upon it. I could smell the chocolate through the wrapper, increasing my longing to consume it, but I denied myself each night. One evening the drill instructors announced that they were very aware that some of us were hiding away candy which would no longer be permitted since Christmas was now past and we were preparing to graduate from boot camp. So the word was given: Eat it tonight, or throw it away.

The moment had arrived! I could delay no longer. The coveted candy bar, the longed-for Baby Ruth was to be eaten. It was delightfully delicious! I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed a candy bar as much as I did that one.

I still enjoy chocolate as much as I ever did, only now I get it in different ways. When I first arrived in Ripon in 1998 as the new pastor for the Free Methodist Church, I discovered a quaint restaurant two blocks from the church with the unique name, The Bakery, since that is what is was originally. It was a throw-back to the 20s and 30s with a soda fountain, counter and stools, and tables and banquet chairs. One of the gals who worked in there at the time was Carla. I noticed the old style milkshake mixer and asked if they still made them. She assured me they did, so I promptly ordered a chocolate milkshake. Carla topped it off with whipped cream and even gave me what was left in the silver canister, just like the old days. Exquisite!

Another way I enjoy chocolate today is from Starbucks where I occasionally order a hot Mocha. My daughter Laura also makes awesome chocolate chip cookies. And then there is the rare treat of Oreo Cookies and milk. The chocolate biscuit part of the Oreo is perfect! No other cookie comes close.

So after all these reminiscences of chocolate, what do I read in the news today? “The Newest Party Drug is Chocolate.” What? Yup. I read it right. Apparently in Europe this is a new fad and is catching on in the USA too. The hip thing is to snort chocolate as a recreational drug. “Raw chocolate or cocoa is taken in drink, pill or powdered form,” the article states.

I’m irked. There’s just something obscenely wrong about this misuse of chocolate. Is nothing sacred anymore?

My favorite comfort food is now a comfort food of sorts for the drug culture.

I need a chocolate milkshake!

Monday, May 23, 2016

What Will They Say?

Roots in Ripon
23 May 2016
Chuck Roots

What Will They Say?

It is an enormous assumption, but I’m certain everyone has wondered at some point how they will be remembered once they have passed from this life. What will others say about you? What will come to their mind when you are mentioned in conversation? Perhaps most importantly, how will your family remember you?

As I recall, my first real confrontation with the brevity of life came when I turned 25. Some months prior I had been in Vietnam exposed to enemy fire and feeling very fortunate to still be on this side of the grass. Like most war veterans you do not forget your first exposure to combat. How quickly a life is gone! Snuffed out in the blink of an eye.

My 25th birthday had an impact on me which startled me with just how quickly that first quarter-century had slipped past. Would the rest of my days on planet earth go by as quickly? Is there a brake handle I can pull on to slow down this train of life?

It is not only the suddenness of life’s end that brings you up short, but the irrationality of the loss. So often the question is asked, “Why?” Why this person? Why now? They had so much to live for!

However, the most important question, at least for this article, is “How will you be remembered?”

Assuming you wish to be loved and valued, and to become a fond memory in the hearts of those who knew you, let me ask you: “How are you living your life?”

My youngest daughter, Jenny, is the owner of a really cute little store in Turlock she named, Rustic Roots. She refinishes furniture so it has a vintage look, or what is often referred to as “shabby chic.” One of her vendors makes wooden signs which I always enjoy reading. One that was recently in the store says, “If my dog doesn’t like you, we probably won’t either.” After chuckling for a moment I had to admit there is a lot of truth in that simple statement.

Epitaphs (you know, the words engraved on headstones in cemeteries) can be very sobering. Because of 34 years of military service, this one grabbed my attention about a soldier. To save your world you asked this man to die:
Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?”
I must tell you that in light of all that is changing in the United States of America, our fallen warriors would be perfectly justified in asking each and every one of us this poignant question! Remember this as you enjoy Memorial Day on Monday, May 30th.

Both as a pastor and a Navy chaplain I have counseled many people on end-of-life issues. I have also officiated at many funerals in the civilian world and the military world. I can still recall the words of various people who had nothing good to remember about a loved one. The most startling one I ever dealt with was on a ship where I was assigned as the command chaplain. A radio message came in that was from the Red Cross notifying the command of the death of the mother of one of our sailors. The sailor was located and told to report to the chaplain’s office. When the young man showed up at my door, I attempted to break the news to him as gently, yet directly as possible. After I told him of the report we had received of his mother’s death, I attempted to speak words of comfort to someone I assumed would be emotionally distraught. He sat there with a placid face, showing no emotion, in fact, no reaction of any kind. I wasn’t sure he had fully grasped what I had just told him. No doubt seeing the expression of curiosity on my face due to his lack of reaction, he said, “Is that all?” I said, “Well, that’s a terrible bit of news. Are you sure you’re okay?” He said, “I never liked her. She was a terrible person.” To which I replied, “I’m sorry you had that experience.” Our session ended when he asked, “Can I go back to work now?”

I’m certain that given the chance this sailor may well have had a less than flattering epitaph chiseled onto his mother’s tombstone!

As a Christian I take great comfort from the Bible’s instruction. On this matter of living a life that will be well remembered, I will share from 2 Peter 3, verses 11 and 12. Peter is writing to Christians about the coming Day of the Lord. “What kind of people ought you to be?” he asks. “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”

I suggest this is the best advice you can receive if you are earnest about leaving a legacy people will cherish in remembering you.

Allow me to leave you with one last epitaph carved into a tombstone in England. “Remember man, as you walk by; As you are now, so once was I; As I am now, so shall you be; Remember this and follow me.” A hand-written response was made on the tombstone that read, “To follow you I'll not consent, until I know which way you went.”

A favorite saying of mine goes like this, “Live for God always! The pay isn’t always so great, but the retirement benefits are out of this world!”

Monday, May 16, 2016

Elvis is Dead

Roots in Ripon
16 May 2016
Chuck Roots

Elvis is Dead

I’m not sure when the saying emerged in the American lexicon of idiomatic expressions, but it obviously was after Elvis Presley passed from this earthly existence. The expression goes like this: “Elvis is dead, and I don’t feel so well myself.”

This phrase referencing Elvis popped into my head because I am of an age where there are way fewer years ahead of me than there are behind me. In three months I will be celebrating my 68th birthday. One of the observances I’ve made is that when guys are together we try to figure out the pecking order, all based on age. Because a significant number of the men I play golf with are senior to me in age I often hear remarks like, “You’re only 67? You’re still a puppy!” Now, I will grant you that such a comment about being a “puppy” is a bit of hyperbole, to be sure. My grandkids certainly don’t think I’m as young as a puppy. Just ask them!

Another aspect of this business of growing older (which is not necessarily the same thing as growing old) is the way in which a person handles the hurdles which seem to be more daunting as we hit certain decades of life. For instance, why do I feel as though I’m still in my 20s on some days, and then on other days I feel much more like the cumulative effect of life’s twists and turns have collaborated against me. I used to enjoy a good workout lifting weights in the gym. I don’t go to a gym anymore, but I have a workout area in my garage with the basics for lifting weights. The siren song of the bench press beckons me, reminding me of the time when I could push some serious weight. “You still benched 300 pounds when you were only 50,” I hear in my head. Then there’s my favorite exercise – the Preacher Curls. This is a physical exercise that will make your biceps pop, all while curling a barbell in the position that looks a lot like someone in prayer, thus, the name Preacher Curls. But alas! I find myself devolving into the abyss of becoming sluggardly. The weights sit patiently on the rubber inter-locked mats on the garage floor, not the least bit affected by my absence.

Since golf is one of the few active sports men in middle age and beyond can still reasonably participate in, we who chase the “little white ball” are often heard lamenting a poor shot, accusing the golf gods of conniving against us. Golf, for instance, has many names, a fair number of which are not repeatable in this article. But one of my favorite names for the game of golf is, “If Only.” It goes something like this: “I hit the ball really well, if only that tree hadn’t been in the way.” Or, “I would have parred that hole, if only I hadn’t hit the ball out of bounds on my tee shot.”

But the aspect of getting older that seems to be part of the “right of passage” is when we seniors naturally ask each other how we’re doing. We can share with each other the innumerable ills that have been ailing us and never give it a second thought. I used to chuckle to myself quietly when I was younger, hearing older people talking about their maladies. I would shake my head and say to myself, “You are never going to do that, Roots!” And those, my friends, are what are called, “Famous last words.”

One-upmanship is rampant among us seniors. We are quick to look for a window of opportunity where we can gain a feeling of superiority over another person. It goes something like this, which I am certainly guilty of engaging in: Joe, bragging a bit, says he has three stents in his heart, pushing his chest out for emphasis, only to have me come back with, “Oh yeah? Well I have eight stents in my heart!” This is always a winner because I haven’t met anyone with nearly so many stents. Such braggadocios behavior is common when comparing our ever increasing physical shortcomings.

Something else I’ve realized on this runaway freight train called life is a truism which my wife’s Portuguese heritage singularly identified in a colloquialism. This Portuguese saying nails it! “If you manage to live long enough, you become a child twice.” Think about it! How many older people have you known who become boorish and insolent as they advance in age? They may well be petulant and demanding, causing strife and discord within the family. Here again, we may have found ourselves saying we’d never become like that. The closer we come to this age bracket, the more we temper our concerns about such childish behavior. “I sure hope I don’t become like that,” we might catch ourselves saying. The rest of us hope not either.

Then lastly, the final thought on this aging thing for this article is the idiomatic expression, “Growing old isn’t for sissies!” or some variation on that theme. It’s true. The body doesn’t respond as well as it once did. Aches and pains come to life seemingly from thin air. Naps are a welcome respite. The person in the mirror looks shockingly like your grandparent. People offer to help you, and you feel mildly insulted. And the kicker in all of this is you’re spending a lot of time visiting friends in the hospital. And funerals are now just a part of your life. You look around and wonder how many people will take the time to attend your funeral. Sobering!

Despite the challenges associated with aging, the good news is life as we know it is not the end. Jesus has invited us to receive new bodies which he personally will outfit for anyone who trusts in him. Jesus has also declared boldly that he has gone to heaven to prepare a place for that person who has experienced forgiveness for sin.

Just remember: all this earthly stuff is temporary, transitory. Heaven, God’s home, is eternal, a forever place to live with him. “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” To which I say, Hallelujah!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Religion & Politics, Oh No!

Roots in Ripon
9 May 2016
Chuck Roots

Religion and Politics, Oh No!

          Growing up I heard from my parents (and others) that in polite company you never discuss religion or politics. Even as a kid I used to think, “Why not?” As I wended my way through the hallowed halls of academia, I learned that most wars (possibly all) were started over issues of religion, faith, and dogma, and/or politics, philosophy, and beliefs.
          A few weeks ago Pat Harris from our congregation approached me and asked if I would sit down with a group of folks to discuss the current political climate. The California Sample Ballots have been arriving in mailboxes, so various people were wondering how to approach the responsibility of voting.
          So Isaura and I weren’t sure who would show up since there was no head count given. She and granddaughter Alyssa made chocolate chip cookies and I put on a pot of coffee. Counting Isaura and me we had 20 people huddled in our family room for a couple of hours sorting through the privilege and responsibility of voting.
          After opening our time in prayer, I delved into some of the history of our country, focusing on the process for electing our representatives which the Founding Fathers envisioned for this fledgling nation. Then they made sure to preserve this process by incorporating it in the Constitution. President Lincoln probably said it best in the opening of the Gettysburg Address in 1863. “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” I never cease to marvel at that statement.
          It was clearly unanimous among us that we didn’t care for the two choices the American people are now left with. The presumptive candidates are Hillary Clinton for the Democrat Party, and Donald Trump for the Republican Party. Admittedly, I am conservative in my views politically, so casting a vote for Hillary is not going to happen. Her mishandling of the Benghazi debacle while serving as Secretary of State was a deal breaker in any event. And as for Trump, he lost me early on when he was openly critical of Senator John McCain, saying McCain was not a hero. He followed that ridiculous comment by saying his heroes don’t get captured. Now, I may not agree with Senator McCain on many political issues, but I can assure you that this man endured unimaginable torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese. He was subjected to beatings every day. And don’t think for a moment that McCain’s father being a retired Navy admiral was lost on the enemy. Then when the war was winding down, the North Vietnamese offered to send him home early so he could be home for Christmas. But when he discovered that he was being released while his fellow POWs were still being retained, he refused, thus subjecting himself to further mistreatment. Trump has no idea what a genuine hero is.
          Yet the election for the 45th president presents us with these two choices. I wish it were otherwise, but since it is not, I must decide who to vote for. Understand me clearly on this: Not voting is NOT an option. I asked the folks gathered in my home if they could name one other country from history that has been able to exercise the freedoms we enjoy in selecting our representatives. With the exception of countries freed during World War Two who now practice a more democratic process, no one could name a single country that wasn’t ruled by a monarchy, potentate, dictator or theocrat.
          Every election is important because the decisions that are made have ramifications. For instance, the next president will very likely be choosing up to five new Supreme Court justices. Several are in their late 70s and 80s. Others are not in the best of health. If the next justices selected are in their 40s and 50s, the flavor of the decisions coming from this august body of jurists will set the philosophical tone in our nation for the next thirty years.
          Further, there are various ballot measures and other local-to-federal issues that need to be addressed. My vote gives me a say in how this all plays out. So, as I said earlier, not voting is NOT an option.
          As a Christian I believe what the Bible says is true. God raises one person up, and puts another one down. He understands the hearts of men, and though we do not necessarily see the final outcome, God alone works out his plans so that one day we will be able to look back and see that his plan was indeed the best plan. I may not like what I currently see taking place, but I know that God is sovereign. So even in the midst of man’s chaos I am able to smile because God will be glorified.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Bird's Eye View

Roots in Ripon
2 May 2016
Chuck Roots

Bird’s Eye View

The other night Isaura and I attended the annual fundraiser for Ripon’s 4th of July fireworks display. Our friend Tom Vermeulen invited us to attend as his guests. The evening affair was held at Spring Creek Golf and Country Club’s banquet room with roughly one hundred in attendance.
We have attended many fundraisers over the years and there is, predictably, a sameness to them. There are multiple ways for you to become separated from your money, but you know that going in, because, after all, it is a fundraiser. And if you are supportive of the organization, you gladly become a willing participant.
So, spending the evening enjoying a good meal and the excellent company of folks in our community who love America and all she stands for is a marvelous treat. But clearly the highlight of our time was our keynote speaker.
The gentleman who was introduced as our keynote speaker is a retired Navy Chief. That in itself is not particularly noteworthy. What makes this individual extraordinarily unique is the fact that he is one of only a handful (literally) of Pearl Harbor Survivors. CSM Delton E. “Wally” Walling regaled us with his Navy experiences, but it was his harrowing ordeal at Pearl Harbor that had us all transfixed during his 45 minute talk. Chief Walling served as a Signalman, thus the Navy rank/rate CSM (Chief, Signal Man). In his day, signal flags were still the primary means of communicating ship-to-ship, especially when maintaining radio silence.
Wally, at age nineteen in 1940, hitch-hiked 190 miles from his home in Shepherd, Michigan to Detroit to join the Navy. During his physical he was declared 4F (not fit for service). The reason for this evaluation centered on a “stiff” finger from his boxing days. Not to be put off, he asked the Navy doctor, “How can I get into the Navy?” The doctor said, “Cut it off!” Wally’s reply is priceless. “At your expense or mine?” “Yours,” the doctor replied. So Wally went hunting for a surgeon in downtown Detroit. A doctor agreed to remove the finger at the middle knuckle for $20.00. He told Wally, “You’re nuts!” to which Wally replied, “I may be nuts, but I must join the Navy!” Seeing that Wally was not to be deterred, he went ahead and removed the finger. The doctor then gave him back three dollars so he could get a sandwich on his way home.
By the time the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, December 7, 1941, Wally was a bona fide Navy sailor assigned to the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), a battleship which was also the flagship of the Pacific Fleet. In his 180 foot perch high above the decks of the ship he could see the entire fleet of ships tied to the piers in the harbor. Suddenly in the skies to the west came what looked like a swarm of bees, as Wally described it. Confused, he and others just stood there trying to figure out what this was. When dark shapes began to drop from under the attacking Japanese planes (torpedoes) everyone instantly knew they were at war.
Wally said the Japanese went about the process of decimating our fleet in a well-orchestrated manner. Three planes were assigned to each ship so that the damage done to our Pacific Fleet was accomplished in 15 minutes. He described specific ships that he witnessed sink or roll over from multiple torpedoes and bombs.
One ship that had anchored in the harbor had not been expected by the Japanese. It was a ship filled with fuel. Since no Japanese planes were assigned to bomb it, it was untouched. Wally said if they had blasted that ship the destruction at Pearl Harbor would have been far worse!
He served on other ships throughout the remainder of the war. His last ship was the USS Fayette (APA-43), a troop transport. He made six invasions on Pacific islands, the last one being Iwo Jima.
Wally and I had a chance to talk a bit later in the evening. I told him that I was a retired Navy chaplain, but that I had also served previously as an enlisted Marine. He soberly described how on Iwo Jima he and others were called upon to help the too-few Navy doctors care for the wounded Marines being returned to the ship for further medical attention. He said he figures he held at least 200 Marines in his arms as they died from their devastating wounds.
Today, Wally is 94 years old. He gives speeches to school children and organizations that want to know about Pearl Harbor. He also skydives once a year on his birthday which is this coming weekend.
In reflection, he said, “I hope I have done my little part to preserve the freedom of the people of the United States. God Bless America!”

You have, Chief Wally. And we thank you.

To contribute to the Ripon 4th of July Fireworks Display, you may send a check made out to the Ripon Chamber Foundation, noting “4th of July,” and then mail it to the: Ripon Chamber of Commerce, 929 W. Main Street, Ripon, CA 95366