Sunday, May 19, 2013

How is an American

How is an American


At the military academies, freshmen are required to commit to memory a variety of nonsensical paragraphs they must be able to regurgitate perfectly every time an upper classman demands it's repetition.
For example, "How is a cow"? "She walks, she talks, she's full of chalk, the lacteal fluid extracted from the female of the bovine species is highly prolific to the nth degree."

In this case, I believe nonsensical fits, oh so very well.

But the title of this musing contains the challenge of investigating those "things" that give an American the right and privilege to announce him/her self as an American.

I am always happy to announce that I am...by accident of birth, an American citizen and by the grace of God a southerner.  There is humor here, but there is also truth. The first step to being an American is to be a citizen. We will put the "how" to become a citizen aside for a later discussion.

If you were born in this country, you will find few that argue you were fortunate indeed. To be born here is one of the luckiest things that can happen to a human on this planet. There are other countries that can provide life styles similar to ours in government, wealth and freedom. None reach the level available in the US.

Birth only provides automatic citizenship, it does not make an American. Here is my list of things that help breed US citizens into American citizens. I can not do all the things in my list but I am working on it.

1. Attend grammar, middle and high schools in the US.

          While in school;
Place your right hand over your heart and repeat the pledge of allegiance to the American flag EVERY day.
Learn how to fold, display and respect the American flag.
Although hard to sing, always sing the National Anthem as it was written at events where all should join in. The National Anthem is not a composition of music that should be toyed with in any way. Recent music and Hollywood stars have made the Star Spangle Banner the object of Hip Hop and demographic cultural music renderings. None of which show respect for, or understanding of, the history that made this music our anthem.
         Render unto teachers the respect of self-discipline.

         Focus on your classes that instruct you in the history of our nation both the good and the bad.

        Memorize the preamble to the Constitution.

        Know and understand the Bill of Rights.

2.  Join the Boy or Girl Scouting experience. Regardless of where you live, be able to tie a Bowline, a half hitch, a sheepshank and a square knot.

3.  Spend two years of your life in service to your country. (Military, Peace Corps, Remote Teacher, etc)

4.  Prepare yourself for College or a Trade.  Do not drop out!

5.  Stay away from drugs.

6.  Go to church and decide for yourself how an organized religion fits into your life. Know the Lords Prayer and the Nicene Creed. The object here is not to commit to a religion but to see how man, with the use of language, can worship an idea and promise to be good.

7.  Do your best to find and join a person, an idea or an organization in which your personal interest must come second or third to the interest of the joined group.

8.  Travel to the specter that is the US National Park System. The Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Yellow Stone, Crater Lake, Mount Zion, Hovenweep  and East Glacier.  Ride the Blue Ridge Parkway from end to end. Visit every museum on the mall in Washington, DC. Visit the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.

9.  Know the names of the Americans who wrote: The Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers. Take your time and read these documents cover to cover and understand what you read.

10.  Understand that in this country an oath of office does not define fealty to a person or even a nation.    Our fealty, if that is a good word, is to the Constitution of the United States.  Our collective fealty is to an idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  For US office holders: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.  Be able to articulate the difference between a democracy and a republic.

11.  Name the Capitals of all 50 states. Be able to tell what states border each other. If you do not understand the geography of our nation and the world, you will never understand world history nor current events.


12.  Vote.

13.  Most of all, take justifiable pride in the history and the uniqueness of our nation. Regardless of the chatter, there is no place like this nation under any star. Know this stuff and get in the face of those who would denigrate or apologize for America's history. Our history has moments of blackness, but it is also filled with monumental acts of kindness, bravery, sacrifice, emotion and philanthropy.
BE VISIBLY PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN. There are billions who would change places with you in an eye flash.

Some other thoughts from a male American.

Learn how to cook and clean up.
Know how to sharpen and use a pocket knife.
Learn how to swim and help someone who can not.
Know how to build a fire in the rain.
Go to a church or Scout summer camp.
Learn to shoot a bow and arrow and a fire arm.
          Make as many friends as you can, but treasure the one or two with whom you can share almost anything.

          Learn how to make change without a pen or paper.

         Although considered sexist for decades, treating the ladies with deference is good manners and reflects the special place that women hold in our societies.

        Play a musical instrument or sing in a choir.

        See the movie "Pay it Forward" and live by its creed.

       Watch a professional baseball game from the stands. Root hard for your favorite and eat a couple of dogs and have a beer.

      Drink an RC cola and eat a Moon Pie.

      Study hard.  Make writing a clear and concise sentence a major goal of your education. College not for you? Pick a skill, learn how to do it in a formal training environment and make a life.

      Love one woman.

     Think hard how you will raise and support children.

    Volunteer.

    Run for office.

   Never stop reading.










































Sunday, May 5, 2013

2013 Carthage NC Trip



9 April, 2013
A Trip to Carthage, NC
Prologue

Perhaps a little background is required.

I am an ardent admirer of the subtle contacts that people have with one another but marvel at the less than subtle disregard most have for an opportunity to make a new friend and/or learn a volume about the ways and means with which our fellow travelers on the planet live out their lives. How do they revere friends and loved ones? What are their political understandings? How do they fill the needs of worship for an idea that can be justified only by faith? What idea; what conviction, what act of evil would justify giving up their lives? There exist no two humans who possess identical thoughts on these and a myriad other issues. It is this characteristic that draws me to interact with all those wonderful people and all their unique lifetime experiences.

It is my observation that people have daily experiences of which they are aware, but have little idea what these experiences may mean to their lives and futures. So my metaphor for these happenings is to view each person on the planet as a ball of plasma wandering its way among the galaxies. When an individual has any experience, there is a jet of plasma that shoots from the ball of plasma and into the black void that is space. These jets, I refer to them as historical strings of experience, swish through space until the jet or string of one person comes in contact with another string. Not all of us have the personality and hyper gregarious nature that allows us to see or feel something that seems clear to us as being important. Important enough to step aside from our current path and eagerly seek the excitement and gratification that almost always comes from following our visceral intuitions to begin a conversation with the person who is a complete stranger.

If you have not practiced this, it is harder to do than one might expect.

If neither player stops what they are doing and investigates the circumstances, no communication occurs and the moment passes. It passes with little chance that such a similar meeting can take place in the future. At my age, I do not want to miss a single experience.

Like most, I was too busy with family and work to even make record of these events during my school and work years. There is simply not enough time and energy to investigate these random coincidences of our lives.

Until now! Retirement has freed me of this restriction.

I make every effort to follow such leads, even if it's a bust. A sense of self gratification comes regardless of the inconveniences that may accrue from the effort. The enlightenment comes from the observation that the meetings are not left to chance, but are the product of an individual's willingness to break from the routine and follow the plasma string.

Disappointments are few.

Fulfillment is the rule of the day and it brings the most distant star into sharp focus and reveals a treasure for all to see and admire.

The treasure is a man.

 Not a modern man as related to the contemporary human condition, but a man molded by the hard times of the last century's depression and World War II. He is thin of build with a head full of white hair. He has, by all accounts, conducted himself with honor and provided food, shelter and enlightenment to his family. He is a man of modesty and genuine affection and good will for his fellow humans. He is, of late, the primary health giver for his wife. The burdens of this responsibility lay heavy on his shoulders but he accepts this condition of life as just one of its many facets. I would count myself as the most fortunate man around if I could be half the citizen he is.

The man is Earl Ingram and he is 90.

Lt Earl Ingram was just a kid when he was a platoon leader in the Second Infantry Division of Patton's Third Army. Earl's 2nd Infantry Division, the 16th Armored Division, the 98th Infantry Division and a host of others including the resistance fighters of Plzen, Czech Republic, forced the occupying troops of Hitler's Wehrmacht to abandon their occupation of this city just a few kilometers east of the German speaking Sudetenland.

At the end of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, the citizens of Plsen started their first annual celebration of the liberation of Plsen's people from the grip of the Nazis. This is a three day event and just a handful of US servicemen have survived to participate. Earl has been a guest eighteen times of the Czech Republic to help them celebrate this festival.

I met Earl at the festival in 2012 and it was he who provided me the clippings from The Pilot of Southern Pines newspaper written by John Chappell.

The clippings revealed that one of NC's finest, Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch, had finally been returned to his homeland. I immediately decided that I had to meet these people and see the memorials that speak so much of a community's commitment to remember those who have fallen in the service of our Nation.
For those of you who have read my blog, you know the story of Lt. Kirkham. If you do not know the story, go to My Blog.

In brief, my goal, while I was in Prague and so close, I wanted to pay my respects to a fellow combat aviator who had been killed in the line of duty very, very close to the end of the war. I was close and I was motivated.

There is little doubt that writing the story about Kirkham was a seminal moment in my life. With the exception of my wedding to the lovely Margaret Page Anderson, no single event has so forcefully spun my attitude of all that surrounds me.

The Ride


clip_image002It is an all day ride from Deland, Florida to Aiken, SC. Deland is the home of Richard K. Ward. Late of the USMC and American Airlines but employed by a firm, at present, from which he achieves success and gratification. Some how, Dick and I became close friends as companion F-4 pilots and then had geography separate our families and our lives for a couple of decades.
At one time in the past, Dick, along with fellow Harley riders, Gus Fitch and Stu Schippereit, the Valkerie rider, Steve Senna with Rex Decker along with our departed friend Jeff VanSyckle, the Honda VTX and Goldwing riders would hit the road and ride for weeks. In one combination or another, we rode to Bike Week at Dayton, Bike Week at Sturgis, Thunder Beach at Panama City Beach, Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap, the west coast and the PCH, all of Nova Scotia, every province of Canada except the northwest territories and Indian country, the four corners of the US, the Arctic Circle and every paved road in Alaska, both ends of US Hwy One, every state in the contiguous 48 plus Alaska, drank more Blue Elixir (Bombay Sapphire Gin), consumed more calories than was healthy and...met a thousand people who had stories but we were unable to record them all.

Dick is a close and valued friend and soul mate. I use the term soul mate because Dick is a believer. Dick is as keen, if not more so, than I with regard to Strings of Historical Experience. Dick can ride a mean bike and put words together that any scribbler would be proud of.  Like Forest Gump used to say, "We go together like peas and carrots."

All grand things suffer the ravages of time and our ability to leave our families and jobs becomes problematic, while other responsibilities begin to take their rightful place in the priorities of our lives. The bottom line is that we simply have ridden our last long trip and I am saddened that we will never share a Toddle House Hash Browns All the Way or three to a room at $45 per night, eight hours in the saddle while it rained on us the entire trip from Banff to Jasper, Alberta and back, the visitation to the lower worlds and spray from the river Styx as Stu lead Rex and I into a thunderstorm of monumental proportions. The list is endless and the memories smell of oil, gas, road kill, skunks and diesel fumes.

All that is left are these memories and they will simply have to do.

Short trips are OK as well.

The trip to Carthage is about four hours but Dick will join me and spend the night in Aiken the day before. As is our habit, we meet in Surrancy, GA and ride together back to Aiken. Another habit is to stop at the rest area on Hwy 301 just short of the Savannah river and log in to the books to help the staff keep the place open. I need to make a phone call so as we stop and park, I notice a middle aged man sitting on a three wheel tricycle that is configured for the rider to be recumbent while he pedals.
I get off the bike, knowing, just knowing that this is a good omen for our trip and that Dick and I are getting ready to follow up on a Historical String of Experience.
The rider, Jeff Heller, is from NYC and is riding to Florida. Here is how I described the meet on my blog.
"Jeff is a New York City liberal who has a heart of pure gold and a mild mannered way of expressing his ideas. He told us he was a part time nurse and a part time lawyer who's main interest in life seems to be the legal support of those immigrants requesting asylum in this country. Jeff and I differ in major ways on most political subjects of the day, but he and Dick and I were able, through civil discourse, to find small areas of agreement on some things that could lead to compromises."
clip_image004
Jeff Heller

This appears to be a skill not well learned in the halls of the Congress.

We can not sign the log books because the place is closed on Mondays and there were lots of folks planning on making pit stops here and were more than just a little peeved at having to find a place down the road.

I have exchanged emails with Dick Heller but after my last mail that included attachments containing much of my political thoughts I have not heard from him. Perhaps my comments were just too over the top. I do wish he would comment, but silence is also his right.

Our ride on Tuesday from Aiken to Carthage, GA is very pleasant and proceeds without a hitch.

clip_image006We arrive at the Flying Tiger Restaurant and are greeted by the owner and operator Leon Zhang. Leon is Chinese and an American citizen. I note some memorabilia from the Flying Tigers but do not warm up to the theme of the restaurant yet. The other guests have not yet arrived so we shed some of the leather and cool down with some lemon water and sweet tea.
John Chappell arrives a few minutes later and immediately begins to regale us with the history and customs of Carthage and the surrounding area. (I add this as an after thought. John Chappell is a one in a million kind of guy. His background is seeded with acting, the "science" of drama, journalism, writing, history and the telling of tales and stories that surely must have been the way of leprechauns, fairies and unicorns in the day of Hans Christian Anderson. He has a head full of reddish white hair that is always akimbo but only accents his personality and story telling. Although I have already mentioned his interest in all things history, some one needs to sit him down and do a video of... "John Chappell and the History of Carthage, NC".)
clip_image008John is a staff writer for The Pilot newspaper and was the author of the piece done on Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch. It is immediately clear that John is a unique character and it shows through his eyes. Eyes that appear to have a permanent glint filled with mischief.

He is as jolly as Old Saint Nick.

Earl Ingram arrives about ten minutes later and when all have sated their empty stomachs, I ask John to start the story on Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch. Well Lt. Upchurch will have to wait because John is off and running on Pleistocene epochs of sand and clay formations right here in Carthage. His lead in history is actually very interesting, but we do not have unlimited time so I ask him to run right into the story on Upchurch.

To do this, John asked us to follow him around the restaurant as he points out the history of the Flying Tigers and Lt. Upchurch.

 It was truly amazing. Unless you get up close and read the labels and articles, you would completely miss this well told story in a Chinese Restaurant.

On October 6, 1944, 21 year old Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch was killed in a US P-40 fighter aircraft. After what is believed to be his first combat mission with the 74th Fighter Squadron of the Flying Tigers, the flight of P-40s stopped at an intermediate base to refuel and then headed for the home base. The weather worsened, and Lt. Upchurch was last seen flying into the weather dangerously close to a mountain range. It was the residents of a town, Ch'en Hsien, in Guidong County, in Hunan Province, who made the trek to the crash site, Shang Pau Has, and gave Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch a ceremonial internment close to Santai Mountain. In 2005 the KIA/MIA Accounting Command team from Tripler Hospital in Hawaii in cooperation from a similar team from China finally listened to an old man who said he was 15 when the aircraft crashed and they followed him to a site and finally found Upchurch's last remains.

It had been 61 years from the date of Lt. Upchurch's death until his memorial service on 8 April, 2006. The space for the memorial was donated by the owner and operator of the Carthage area airport, Roland Gilliam.

When I first started this project, I was sure I would find all sorts of character traits, experiences and family history that would help me draw a conclusion on the character and culture Virgil and Doyle might have shared in their short fighting war. Strangely, this was not the case.

Both Virgil and Robert came from homes of strong family bonds and they would have had similar ideas about God, Country and apple pie. Since most of the country was rural, many citizens had little money or time to spend on the luxury of cross country travel. So they would have had little cross pollination on the dramatic differences that existed within their states when compared to one another.
North Carolina would still be in the rural and agricultural south. Jim Crow laws still flourished in the south with which Robert would have been well aware.

We all have prejudices but we do not always act on these feelings. Our two WW II men would have carried their prejudices to war and had these feelings enhanced or changed in some way by their experiences with other kinds of people outside of their hometown experiences. I use this example because most men who returned from their experiences in the service had their prejudices modified in some way that would manifestly change the way they saw the world in the future. Had these two men survived the war, they would have arrived back in their hometowns as changed people.

They would have matured quickly by an accumulation of loneliness, fear, sleep depravation, strange places and strange foods and the continual pressure to perform and not screw the pooch. They would have had visited upon them more acts of stupidity, mendacity and cruelty than they would have experienced in a lifetime back home. Their very souls shocked by the evil that begets man's inhumanity to man. Most of all, they would place value on ideas and concepts that were nonexistent prior to their enlistment. The line from a popular song of the day is germane: "How you gonna keep them down on the farm, after they seen Paris." All of these changes would not have necessarily been for the best and each veteran addressed his own demons in his own way, but most, without professional aid, chose silence.

The fact that these two men did not return from the war, did not mean that their impact on their communities ceased.

clip_image012Give a moment to the following: Think how many people of different races, languages, cultures and belief system took part in the creation of memorial sites in the state of North Carolina, the province of Hanan, China and Plsen and Trhanov/Ujezd, Czech Republic. Its the pride and national feelings of John Chappel, Roland Gilliam, Leon Zhang, Pat Waters, Doug La Violette, Earl Ingram, Marion Kirkham, George (Jiri) Lavicka and, to a minor extent, myself who keep these people and the sacrifices of millions in our memories. This mental pause, harkens us to an everlasting truth. Civilizations require the codification of laws and good manners for us to exist with one another in peace and harmony. These men nearby help make that happen.
Earl Ingramclip_image014Pat Watersclip_image016
Roland Gilliamclip_image019Marion Kirkhamclip_image010
John Chappellclip_image021George Lavickaclip_image026
Doug La Violetteclip_image023

When national and international laws fail to neutralize the tyrant of the day, we, the policemen and politicians of the world, may send these young men to compel the tyrant to change his ways and use force if required.

But because of the unspeakable horror and evil spawned by war, we, as a people, should make this decision to engage in mortal combat with a fellow human being the hardest task a nation can undertake.
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 Lt. Virgil P. Kirkham  Lt. Robert Upchurch                          

If we, as a nation, can maintain this philosophy, then the sacrifices of Lt. John Upchurch and Lt. Virgil Kirkham will go into the history books as a job well done.