Category Archives: Dick

Alice and the Sword

That title sounds like a Disney movie but it’s not. It is the story of how I came into possession of my Naval Officer’s ceremonial sword.

I came home at 18 from my freshman year at Cornell in 1960 to discover that my mother had run off again. This time to be with the loser who would be husband Number Three. That sounds like something from a stupid TV game show, but it’s not.

She had done it before. She had left Husband Number One, my birth father, when I was 2 or 3 years old. Actually, I don’t know who took off first because Hubby One, Bill Doran, disappeared at the same time. I never saw him again until I was 18 and looked him up. Never did find out where the two of them went.

I was turned over to the custody of my great aunt Lottie and her husband Paul. They were broke and we moved around from one relative and farm to another.

My mother returned when I was in the 3rd grade with Husband Number Two, Clyde Draper, and we moved to a slum in Pittsburgh while he attended watchmaker’s school. We then moved to Woodlawn, NY, an industrial area where we lived in Clyde’s brother’s cheap hotel. Actually, I spent much of my time on my uncle’s farm where my aunt Lottie now lived.

Clyde took my Mother’s departure hard. He ranted and raved and would not stop talking about it. Frankly, Clyde was not an easy man to live with before the divorce. He had been a Marine in the Pacific and participated in several landings. As I think about it now it seems likely that he suffered from PTSD before it had a name or was widely understood. He could hardly be described as a warm man and he was cheap. I had to save my money from my paper route and babysitting jobs to buy my baseball glove and bow and arrow. For my four years at Cornell he gave me a total of $400. Not quite enough. At the end of my Freshman year I quit my job waiting tables to study for finals the last two weeks and that ended my food program. I lived on wheat germ and sugar I stole from the cafeteria. Pete told me years later that if Alice had known that she would have had a fit!

He didn’t beat me at least not physically. It’s just that he wasn’t THERE. Although we eventually had a cottage on Lake Erie I do not remember a time when he took me fishing and he never took me hunting or attended any of my sporting events. That was OK, but now the situation had become miserable and impossible.

A friend of mine, Pete Gannon, and his family lived in a big house in Lakeview and they offered me a place to stay. I had a room on one end of the house all to myself and the Gannon’s home would be my home for the next six years. Pete and I had been good friends for several years in high school and along with another good friend, Bill Vogt, formed what we called “The Constipated Trio”.

Gordon Gannon was a successful attorney in downtown Buffalo back when it was a thriving city. That was before Buffalo deteriorated into a town half the size it was before all the industry left. He was a great golfer and fantastic wing shot. A big gregarious Irish guy with an infectious laugh, he was easy to like.

Alice, his wife was a blunt, hard smoking and outspoken woman who played the role of the socialite and hostess with aplomb. The frequently abrasive façade hid a heart of pure gold. I think she thought of me as another one of her kids. I discovered that somehow she had gotten her hands on the commissioning picture of me in my dress blue uniform and it hung on her wall until her death. Then for years it hung on Pete’s wall. I often wondered where she got it since I didn’t have one myself. I finally figured out that her address was the one I used on all my Navy paperwork. It WAS after all my home address. So it was Alice who got the news release of my graduation from The Basic part of the training.
She sent it to the newspaper.

The plans for Loi and I to be married were proceeding while I was finishing up my training to become a Navy SEAL. The date was set for two weeks after I completed Army Parachute Training at Ft. Benning, GA. I had no role in those plans. Loi’s widowed Mom had little money and neither did I so the festivities were to be modest. Alice played a role as if she were my actual Mother. She called the etiquette writer at the Buffalo Evening News for some advice on how to arrange the seating chart for all my parents who planned on showing up for the wedding. I don’t have a clue who invited them but Bessie and her third husband, Clyde and his new wife and Bill Doran and his wife all planned to attend the “rehearsal dinner” that Alice had set up for the Wanakah Country Club where the Gannons were members. Gordon had been club champion several times. As for Alice’s carefully planned etiquette seating plan….. my various parents blithely ignored it!

For the wedding I planned to wear my dress white uniform that I had never had an opportunity to wear. It had been purchased along with all my other uniforms with my uniform allowance received when I was commissioned. I also planned to wear my dress ceremonial sword that I had received as a gift from Alice when I graduated from what is now called BUDS. She was the only one who showed up at Little Creek for the ceremony. I don’t know where Alice bought the sword but I suspect that her older son had a hand in it. He was an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve. A sword has been a fixture in a Naval and Marine dress uniform for over 500 years.

When I tried on my whites a week before the wedding I got a surprise. Since my commissioning and after 8 months of brutal training, I had gained a full inch in my neck and two inches in my chest! No way to tailor the whites to fit so it was off to the tux rental place.

I never got to wear the sword…… then or ever. For over 50 years it has knocked around damp basements and unheated garages accumulating corrosion and weathering. I recently sent it to an outfit near the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and got it refurbished. I plan to give it to my grandson Malcolm, the only grandchild bearing my name. I am writing this so that when he reads it he will understand that it is a symbol of my affection and respect for the generous woman who gave it to me.


Filed under Dick

Lost Whistle

Back when I was a sophomore in high school (right about the end of the Peloponnesian War) I become quite envious of my friend Bill’s ability to whistle. Now I’m not talking about whistling a happy tune or some semi melodious sound. We speak here of a sharp, ear piercing whistle that ricocheted off the surrounding cottages. He did not stick one or two fingers in his mouth to force his lips into shape to achieve this amazing result. He simply jutted out his lower jaw, grimaced and let ‘er rip. I begged him to teach me this seemingly useless trick.

He tried. It seemed one needed to push the lower teeth forward, kind of like the under bite of a bulldog and tighten the upper lip. The tricky part was folding your tongue, sorta like a taco (or maybe a camel toe) and push your tongue against your teeth. Then you just exhaled up from your diaphragm like you would blow a duck call. I walked around for weeks sounding like a winded buffalo but making nary a tweet. Eventually I got the hang of it. In the ensuing years I perfected the technique and developed a piercing whistle that could rattle windows blocks away.

As the years passed this simple skill proved amazingly useful. My kids came to recognize this distinctive sound. I’d stand on the porch and let a few rip and no matter where they were in the neighborhood, they knew it was time to beat feet home for dinner.

I trained my setter to turn around and look whenever I let fly with one sharp whistle. I did this out in a large field when he was a youngster. Dogs like to stay out in front of you so I would whistle and change directions, zigging 45 degrees off our course. At first he’d ignore my whistle and when he finally looked back to see where I was, he’d find himself behind me and going away from him. He’d take off to get back in front of me again whereupon I would whistle and change course again heading 45 degrees in the opposite direction. Eventually he got tired of being hopelessly out of position and figured out that when I whistled I was changing directions. From there it was a simple matter to use hand signals when he looked back to show him where I wanted him to go.

The whistle proved useful in other ways. I could alert friends across the way to get their attention. Stop folks who were driving away with some forgotten item or stop kids and dogs from running out in the traffic. Back in my granite and marble construction days, I could alert guys on the scaffolding to look down and see what I wanted without having to climb up there and beat on their hard hats. Definitely useful.

Over many years I smoked a pipe and then because it was such a messy and fussy habit, switched to cigars. Being an addictive personality I did not just dabble in smoking, I did it constantly. During many of those years we lived in the Midwest with dry conditions much of the year and I had a lot of dry, chapped lips. I had a weak spot on my lip that stayed cracked most of those winter months. A few years ago I noticed a sore developing on my lip in that spot. Eventually I had it biopsied. Not malignant, but the doc recommended taking it off. Well no, I don’t like getting cut so, I procrastinated for a year or so and watched it get bigger. Another test and this time the results were not so cheerful. It had to go.

They couldn’t just gouge it off anymore and had to cut a V shaped chunk out of my lip…. all the way through. It was about half an inch wide at the top and tapered to a point down about an inch and a half. They stitched it back together and Bob’s your uncle. Well, not quite. The process cuts all those tiny nerves in there and pulling it closed sorta stretches things out of shape. While it looks pretty good and I never was vying for movie star looks, it has taken away my whistle. I never realized how much I cherished it until the first time I tried to use it and a breezy “phifffft” came out. Try as I might I could not get a sound out of my once faithful tweeter. I have been working on it in my moments of solitude and have managed to get a few pitiful toots but as soon as I try for volume it deteriorates into a sound not unlike an aggressive fart.

I suppose there’s a moral in here somewhere. I could be trite and say ‘don’t smoke’ but screw that. Everybody knows that. I guess I’d say that if you do smoke, don’t run around all day with a cigar hanging out of your mouth. You could lose more than your whistle.


Filed under Dick, Whistle

Pictures of the Yankee

Hello! It’s your blog “mistress” here! I found some pictures of the Yankee and thought I would share them here.

In 1963, the Yankee ran aground in the Cook Islands, off the coast of Rarotonga. Here is what she looked like within months of that accident.


This photo, while not dated, is clearly some years later.


Here’s what she looked like around 1989. This is the most recent photo I could find. Someday I’d like to visit the Cook Islands to see if I could take more pictures, and just experience the beauty and culture of this place.

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Filed under Dick, Yankee

The Knife

By Dick Draper


I wrote this story a very long time ago and discovered it recently when I was looking through some old files. It’s so old it was written on a typewriter. (You may remember those things.) It’s not much changed from the original.

Like a lot of stories, this one has some basis in fact. Many years ago when our son, Mike, turned one year old, he received a Buck knife in the mail from a SEAL teammate as a belated baby gift.  The letter with it said pretty much what the one in the story says. Over the years I have continued the practice, sending Buck knives to the young sons of friends. The last one went out about one year ago.

Let me hear your comments–good and bad–about this tale.


Nick shifted his weight carefully on the narrow board that served as his seat. He was already restless and a little cold but he had trouble sitting still anytime, let alone on the opening day of his first deer season.

The woods were perceptibly brighter now. He could almost make out the nearest clump of birches directly in front of him. An hour earlier, he had left the dirt fire lane following his Uncle Joe into the total blackness of the Minnesota pre-dawn. Uncle Joe had led him unerringly to his tree stand on a small knoll overlooking Hanlon’s Slough, a 100-yard wide depression of swamp grass and brush that appeared to have little, if any, water. The 50-yard strip between his stand and the edge of the slough was a maze of head high buck brush and young birches.

Nick wiggled his toes in his felt-lined Sorrels and flexed his fingers on the 30-30 Marlin cradled in his lap. It seemed an eternity since Joe had wished him good luck and with flashlight bobbing disappeared into the darkness. Nick hadn’t been too keen on locating his stand here. Hanlon’s Slough was named for Jack Hanlon, a crazy Irishman, so he was told, whose stand had stood not ten yards from where Nick now sat. Jack had died, Joe said, 4 years ago and no one had hunted in this location since. Ha, I’m a Polish/Scotsman and Hanlon’s a ghost; quite a pair of hunting buddies, he thought. But his Dad and uncle Joe had persisted and he did not want to think of him less than brave, even if he was only twelve years old.

A flicker of movement to his left snapped him out of his thoughts and started his heart to thumping. Trying to hold his head stationary, he rolled his eyes to the left and held his breath. He caught the movement again and recognized the object of his excitement; a tiny, fluffy “snow bird” that was flitting from branch to branch. He silently watched the bird as it continued the solitary task of examining buds. Since he seemed not to eat any, Nick concluded he must have been looking for the perfect bud.

Nick swung his gaze back to the front and realized he could now make out the nearest side of Hanlon’s Slough, and therefore the 1998 Minnesota deer season was now officially underway. In the distance, a single rifle shot echoed over the forested hills, and from further away, a series of four rapidly spaced shots. “He missed,” Nick mumbled.

After a few moments, Nick returned to his thoughts. He knew that this was a significant day, not only for him as his first deer hunt, but also for his Dad and uncles. Today he was crossing the threshold of Manhood in the eyes of the men in his family and he realized that they would never treat him in quite the same way. Nick had awaited this day, seemingly forever. The Knife symbolized it all. He leaned back against one of the two stout birches that supported his seat and pressed the Buck knife against his hip, comforted by its presence. The Knife had been his for nearly 12 years but this was the first time he had been allowed to carry it.

It had been given to him by his Uncle Joe as a baby gift and the letter to him said that the knife was to serve as a reminder to his Dad of his responsibilities as a father to, “….teach him the ways of the woods and to take care of his gear.” The letter also talked about how the knife, as it got moved from drawer to drawer, would remind his Dad that despite business and time pressures, he should “remember the simple and important things.” Nick could not say with certainty if the knife had caused his Dad to spend more time with him, but his father had taken him along on fishing and hunting trips since he was about four or five. Except for deer hunting.

He was lucky, he knew, for many of his friends at school did not get to do many of the things he enjoyed. His uncles had also taught him much. Uncle Dan, his Dad’s brother and the official trout-fishing champion of the family, had taught him all his tricks. Uncle Joe had showed him all his grouse coverlets and how to sit quietly in the hardwoods for squirrels. Joe Dolan wasn’t really family; he and his Dad had been friends for years despite their age difference. He had always been “Uncle Joe” to Nick and he knew that Joe loved him like a son.

It was fully light now, and from the bright glow in the east, Nick knew the sun would be up soon. It promised to be a glorious November day. With no wind, the woods were silent. An occasional shot could be heard but they were distant and certainly not by anyone in Nick’s group.

Nick’s eyes kept returning to a shape on the far side of Hanlon’s Slough. It sure looked like a deer standing in the tall grass! The more he stared at it, the more certain he became. Once again, his heart started to thump. Slowly, he raised the carbine and pressed his cheek against the polished walnut stock. Scanning the area with his scope he could not locate the deer, so using the open sights beneath the scope, he lined up the deer and then peered through the scope. His “deer” turned out to be a patch of brush and the trunk of a blown down willow. He reminded himself of Uncle Joe’s advice, “Don’t focus on objects. Just scan with your eyes and look for movement,” and “Listen:  your ears are your best allies.”

The momentary excitement and the morning chill were causing Nick two kinds of discomfort. He desperately wanted to stretch his legs, and the pressure in his bladder could no longer be denied. He took one careful look around and rose slowly to his feet, feeling the carpeted platform under his feet and the gentle swaying of the birches that supported his stand. After relieving himself, stretching and treating himself to a cup of steaming cocoa, he resumed his vigil, happy that a buck had not appeared during his break. He had heard many stories of huge bucks that chose awkward moments to appear.

The sun’s rays slanted through the trees now, turning the branches and dead leaves on which the frost had gathered during the night into dazzling patterns of reflected light. The kiss of the sun quickly melted the frost and droplets of moisture gathered on the brush. Nick watched intently as a drop of moisture grew on a twig near his head, distended and fell silently. “Like a tear,” he thought.

There had been a few tears last night, and Nick was still a bit mystified at the emotional outpouring. He wondered if it might have something to do with the ancient bottle of brandy that Uncle Joe had produced to toast the hunt and celebrate the little ceremony when his Dad had given him The Knife. Uncle Joe had quickly left the cabin during the ceremony and it was a long time before he returned with the armload of wood he had gone to fetch. Joe’s eyes had been rimmed with red. That had reminded him of something Uncle Joe had once said to his father, “An Irishman cries when he’s happy or sad. A Scotsman only cries when he has to pick up the check.”

The rustling in the leaves off to his right brought him back to the present and his eyes followed his ears to the source of the sound. A lean, gray squirrel was digging around among the leaves either looking for something or burying it. What ever he was doing, he made a lot of noise. It sounded like a whole herd of deer!

Nick leaned back and glanced again in the direction of the two small white pines about 40 yards away on his left. His Dad and Uncle Dan had located a scrape there when they were constructing his stand yesterday morning. They told him to keep an eye on it, as the buck might be back to see if a doe had left him a calling card in his absence. He was keeping a close watch on that area. He hadn’t heard any shots for some time now and the woods were again silent as the squirrel had moved on.

He started to think again about the events of last night and Uncle Joe’s reaction. He remembered that Joe had a son…Pat wasn’t it?  Yes, Pat. And he had died when he was about Nick’s age… hit by a car… riding his bike. Yes, that must be it. Uncle Joe must have been thinking about his son, although Nick had never heard Joe mention his name. Nick had overheard his Mom and Dad talking about it once, and even at his young age, figured that the loss of his son had something to do with Uncle Joe’s affection for him. He had never dared question Joe about it, and since no one else mentioned it, guessed it was one of those taboo subjects. He made a mental note to ask his Dad about it the next time they had one of their “talks”. It was about time for another one. He had heard some incredible things about sex at school that he wanted to get clarified.

Nick’s senses suddenly went on alert. He had heard something he was sure, but couldn’t locate the sound, as if it were on the fringes of his consciousness. There, he’d heard it again! The sound seemed to be coming from the other side of Hanlon’s Slough in the direction of Uncle’s Joe’s stand, was about a quarter mile away. While watching intently in that direction, he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his left eye and swung his head quickly to the side. “Damn!” he cursed silently for he knew he’d moved too fast. He froze and his eyes picked up the dark shape of a deer moving silently toward the two small pines. The deer had its head down and glided slowly through the brush. Nick could not get a clear view to determine if it was a buck. At about 50 yards distant, the deer stepped into an opening, stopped, raised his head and looked directly at Nick. It was a buck! And, Nick was certain; at that range the buck would clearly hear the wild thumping of his heart. Nick was almost overpowered by the urge to snap his rifle to his shoulder and shoot but he knew he would never make it. The buck would be gone before he could get off a shot. He also had been told many times that a deer can look right at you and not see you–if you don’t move. Suddenly the buck looked back over his shoulder in the direction of Uncle Joe’s stand, dropped his head and continued walking toward the two pines. When the buck’s head was momentarily hidden behind some thick brush, Nick slowly raised the 30-30 and thumbed back the hammer. His heart thumped like a drum, his eyes were misting with excitement and the end of the rifle weaved alarmingly. Nick wondered if he could hit the buck if he ever did step from behind the pines. And then the buck came into the open, stood looking at him and was perfectly broadside.

The roar of the carbine as it slammed against his shoulder surprised him, not only because the sound crashed through the silent forest like a sudden clap of thunder, but also because he could not consciously remember aiming or pulling the trigger.

Photographed in his mind forever would be the image of the deer crouching and leaping over the small knoll after his shot.  He knew in his heart that he had missed, confident that his sights had not been on the buck when he shot. “Shot, hell!” he muttered. “It went off.”

Nick’s hands shook alarmingly so he put the rifle down. He began to get dejected at the thought he’d blown his opportunity. Buck fever. He wondered what kind of ribbing he’d take from his Uncles for blowing his chance? His Dad wouldn’t say much but Uncle Dan would surely let him have it. He realized he wasn’t going to have much time to think about it when he spotted a splash of orange moving through the hardwoods and down the hill toward Hanlon’s Slough. Uncle Joe would be at Nick’s stand in a matter of minutes. Joe walked steadily in that rolling gait of his until he stood directly below Nick. He looked up and whispered, “Well?”

“A b-buck. I missed him,” replied Nick.

“How do you know?” asked Joe simply.

“Well, ah, he ran off.”

“So why don’t we go take a look?” asked Joe. “Hand me your rifle. Is it loaded?”

Nick looked sheepish as he realized he had forgotten to eject the spent cartridge. He was grateful that Joe remained silent as he unloaded the rifle and handed it down. Nick’s heart still thudded and his knees shook as he climbed unsteadily to the ground. “Deer frequently run, even if fatally shot. You know that, Nick,” said Joe. “Where was he standing when you shot?” Nick pointed toward the pines and they both slowly made their way in that direction.

Searching the ground for sign, Joe stopped and pointed. “Here’s his track. See the splayed tracks where he jumped?” exclaimed Joe. Nick was about to tell Joe the direction the deer had gone but Joe was already moving on the trail like a bloodhound. Nick remembered that his Dad had once said that Joe was one of those guys who could track a trout up a rapids. That certainly seemed true because Nick could not imagine what Joe was following over the leaf-covered ground. Every few feet or so Joe would stop and carefully search the area around the tracks. Nick knew he was looking for blood and the failure to find any filled him with dread that he had completely missed the buck. He knew the razzing he would take from his Uncles and the rest of their party would be unmerciful.

After an agonizing 30 yards, Joe stopped and said with a touch of excitement, “Here we go!” Nick hurried over and following Joe’s finger saw a single spot of bright crimson gleaming on an oak leaf. Nick’s hopes crashed. One tiny spot in all that distance? Maybe he had just wounded the buck. That would be worse than a clean miss. But Joe was encouraged. “Lung shot, I think.”

They pressed on. The tracks were slanting downhill now toward a small brushy slough. They found another blood spot, then another, then a large gleaming blotch and finally, at the edge of the slough in a small open area they found the buck. To Nick it looked huge with thick solid antlers shining in the morning sunlight.

“Congratulations, Nick! That’s a fine six point. Good job!”

Joe relieved Nick of his rifle and moved over to a log where he slipped off his pack and sat down. He pulled his thermos from his pack and fished his pipe from his pocket. It was clear that Joe would only be a consultant in the next phase of the operation. Nick struggled out of his orange coveralls and rolled up his sleeves. He knew he must field dress his own deer…he wanted to and still dreaded it. He hoped Uncle Joe would help him.

He reached for his Buck knife and slid it from the stiff leather sheath. The gleaming blade caught the light and momentarily blinded him, and the knife seemed warm and alive in his hands. Nick glanced up at Joe and was startled by the anguish on his face. Tears streamed from his deep blue eyes, coursed through the stubble on his ruddy cheeks and dripped off his chin. Nick stood poised, legs apart, with one hand holding the buck’s leg, the other gripping the knife. And then Nick knew, knew with the certainty that comes when finally seeing the obvious. “This is Pat’s knife, isn’t it?”

“No, Nick, it’s your knife,” Joe replied evenly. “True, it was Pat’s but as you know, he never lived to use it.”

Nick felt a little angry, a little disappointed and a little afraid. The knife seemed alien in his hand. He had to fight the impulse to toss it into the leaves. “Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Nick.

“Well, I’m not sure exactly. Never found the right time or the right words, I guess. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll tell you the whole story? Maybe then you’ll understand.” Nick plopped down on the leaves and laid the knife between them.

Joe wiped the tears from his stubble-covered cheeks, thumbed the crumbs of burley into his pipe and relit it before beginning. “When Pat was one year old, nearly 25 years ago, a close friend of mine who served with me in the Navy sent Pat the knife as a baby gift. The letter with it said pretty much the same as the letter I sent you. As you probably remember, it went something like this: ‘This baby gift arrives long after most of those that arrived on time are either outgrown or forgotten. This one will wait around for you to become a man. During those years as it gets shuffled from drawer to drawer, it will serve as a reminder for your father to teach you the ways of the woods and what it means to be a man. As the years pass, your father will be a busy man and this knife will remind him to remember the simple, important things. A young man’s first knife is a symbol of maturity and trust. May it serve you well.’

“As you might imagine when Pat was killed in the auto accident shortly before he was to receive it, I was crushed. My wife and I were so overcome with grief that our marriage went on the rocks. I got heavily into the bottle and was well on the way to losing everything. At that time you had your first birthday and I got the idea of passing the knife on to you. Getting involved in your life and watching you grow into a fine young man….well, it helped me. No, it saved me. Can you understand? I’m sorry I never got around to telling…”

“No,” said Nick. “It’s OK. It’s an honor and thank you for giving it to me.”

Nick picked up the knife and with a solemn expression rose and walked to the buck. He lifted the buck’s hind leg over his shoulder exposing the snowy white underbelly and glistening in his hand, the knife cut for the first time.

Copyright © 2010 by Dick Draper



Filed under Dick, Short Stories


with guest author, Mark Cudney

British Columbia and its lakes Minnie, Stoney and Corbett. The Douglas Lake Ranch and “world class fly fishing.” Where the deer and the free range cattle roam beyond the quintessential ranch gate that greeted us after driving miles of gravel road through a mountainous grassy landscape. We came from Whistler over the pass where there was snow on the peaks the first day of June and a mud slide blocking the road. There were five in our party: Dick Draper and I in one truck; Rob Pomroy, his young retriever Hurley, and John Alexander in another. Both trucks and the boat that Rob was towing were packed full of camping and fly fishing gear for our week long stay at the yurt on Minnie Lake.

This was the last leg of my journey which began driving the dirt road from my rural home in Western New York to a stop over at my son’s home near Buffalo. He and his family then drove me to Toronto, Ontario where I caught a non-stop to Vancouver and a rendezvous with Dick, John and Rob. It was a journey begun, oddly enough, by my vicarious sharing of a poignant moment with two men and a dog. A few degrees of separation with common ties to Western New York figured into my role in the event, as the artist commissioned to recapture that moment in paint. The dog was an aging Labrador Retriever called “Sedge” and Rob was his owner. The event took place while hunting ducks near Vancouver. It was a threesome that morning¾Rob and Sedge and Dick¾waiting in their blind for that special mallard to come within range. Sedge was in the twilight of his days; Rob and Dick’s purpose was to allow him an opportunity, one last time, to retrieve a fallen duck. The moment happened and what resulted so moved Dick that he contacted me the next day and I agreed to begin work on the painting paying homage to Rob and Sedge. (View the painting and read Dick’s full account of the event at under “Sedge’s Last Retrieve”).

Dick and I had not met but we had been corresponding via email, sharing a mutual interest in creative writing, fly fishing, and the out-of-doors experience in general. Our degrees of separation were founded in Dick’s friendship with my cousin Jim, going back to their days of being roommates at Cornell and in the fact that Dick had grown up near Hamburg, New York not very far from my boyhood home. Jim had sent Dick a gift of a print I had produced along with some of my writing samples and so, our correspondence began.

Once the painting was finished and received by Dick in Whistler, BC, he then arranged for me to join him, Rob and John at Minnie Lake. “We’ll send you your round trip tickets. All you need to do is get to Toronto and WestJet Airlines. Rob and I will see to the rest,” Dick told me in words to that affect. Now, I’m known among my family and friends as one who avoids travel as much as possible, that it takes some prodding to get me “off the hill.” Especially during the prime spring time fly fishing season on my home water. But this time I was easily persuaded. When the words “British Columbia, fly fishing for rainbow trout and camping in a yurt on the Douglas Lake Ranch” were used to convince me, the phrase “no-brainer” came to mind. So I set to the task of making a gear list and happily shopping, during the months beforehand, for those items necessary for my trek to BC.

Journal Entry: Arrived at the ranch around one p.m. Chilly. Intermittent rain. Unloaded gear at the yurt and went fishing. I learned quickly that with these guys, there’s no dawdling when you could be fishing. I was still absorbing the scenery¾the vast stretches of open range surrounding the yurt¾and trying to organize my gear. With haste, we readied the trolling motor powered boats as it began to rain. I joined Rob and Hurley while Dick and John manned one of the ranch’s skiffs. We were hardly underway when, trolling a sinking line, Rob had a fish on. ‘Already?’ I thought. ‘Wow! This looks good!’ It leapt forty feet or so in front of the boat and Hurley, inspired to retrieve, leapt off the bow. He swam toward the splashes while Rob did his best to maneuver the boat and control his line. Thanks to Rob’s angling and boating skills, a meeting of fly line, dog and trout was avoided. Rather than try to heft him over the gunwales, Rob made Hurley swim alongside the boat to shore where he was able to come aboard unassisted. We then set off again and trolled sections of the lake with Hurley on watch in the bow. Thereafter, he maintained his cool and stayed in the boat, although he needed to inspect every fish brought to net. All of them that day caught by Rob, I might add.

J.E.: I thought it odd to troll with a fly rod and found it awkward to cast, when it was necessary, a sink tip line sitting in a boat with a dog. Lots of fish jumping. I was having trouble finding my rhythm and felt clumsy. This was a whole new world of fly fishing, having spent my time wading the streams of New York and Pennsylvania dry fly fishing for brown trout with an attitude. I hadn’t fished, trolling from a boat, since my childhood. Rob was getting hits left and right and netted a few of those rainbow trout while Hurley and I sat in the bow, waiting for one with my name on it. After all, trout were jumping wherever you looked! Undiscouraged¾rather enjoying the catching and releasing by Rob, the leaping trout and just being there in British Columbia¾I remained ready for that first fish. Hurley, on the other hand, eventually became bored with the inaction up front, dismissed me with an air of disdain and went aft to be near Rob and further close encounters with fighting fish.

J.E.: Not off to a great start. Got my line entangled in the prop. Struck too quickly at trout hitting the fly. Unfortunately the former was to become repeated “burr-under-the-saddle” moments for me over the next couple of days, during the time we spent trolling. Rob actually had to disassemble the prop at one point to untangle my line. Now, Rob is an exceptional young man, an exuberant fisherman, a lover of dogs and the outdoors. Easy to know. You couldn’t ask for a better fishing guide and companion. He wanted me to do well. Throughout his experience with me in the boat, he exhibited the patience of a saint. However, there came a time when I believe that he may have wished me overboard and swimming to shore, so that he and Hurley could fish unencumbered. Maybe it was the latest prop incident or my missed strikes. May have been the time I managed to coax a trout close to the boat only to break it off before the net. More than likely it was the time, when using one of his favorite “hot” flies, I mis-played a beautiful rainbow and it broke off under the boat, taking that fly with it. No, it must have been the morning we were fishing Corbett Lake, near Merritt, BC.

It was our second to last day of the trip after we had left the Douglas Lake Ranch to drive to a cabin on Corbett Lake. There was the promise of some dry fly fishing to be had during afternoon hatches, not to mention some hot chironomid fishing. I was looking forward to not trolling. The pair-ups in the boats remained the same. I think Dick was happy to leave me to Rob since he too had experienced one of my prop mishaps the one time we fished together: a windy day on Minnie Lake with whitecaps, when we also lost motor power and had to row back to the yurt.

Rob and I had anchored near shore first thing in the morning and were setting-up our chironomid rigs. It was a nice morning and we were both looking forward to catching some trout. But when I went to cast, the fly I was holding and didn’t let go of became deeply embedded into my index finger. I looked at my finger in disbelief then glanced over at Rob who was involved with his rig and hadn’t noticed what I’d done. I took my hemostat and tried to work the hook free. It wasn’t working. The last thing I wanted to do was to spoil Rob’s day. I tried to think of a way to keep on fishing. I kept on trying to work the hook through the other side of my finger to cut-off the barb and make it easier to extract. Yep, shoulda pinched the barb down beforehand, but it was too late now. No good; most of the hook was buried and I was “wimping-out” at the pain. I thought I might be able to wrap a couple of bandages over the protrusion near the hook eye and worry about it later. In the end, I showed it to Rob and was surprised he kept his cool. My respect for his tolerance for this ugly American grew even stronger. Dick and John were nearby so we motored over to their boat where Dick assessed the situation, offered to try and extract the hook then decided it best not to. Long story short, John offered to drive me to the Merritt Medical Center so that Dick and Rob could continue to fish. We exchanged boats and headed to Merritt.

J.E.: A painless extraction and last chance to catch a trout from Corbett Lake. Redemption on a dry fly. The doctor on duty at the Emergency Room in the small, one story center informed me that what with my inadequate insurance, I was looking at a $900 bill for hospital services. I thought then that a half bottle of scotch and a pliers back at the cabin looked like the way to go. Reading the discouragement evident in my body language he added, “There is another option. If you’re agreeable I can take care of this in a minute out in the parking lot, off the books, but,” and he spoke directly to the nurse receptionist holding my admittance form, “mum’s the word.” I agreed. She ripped up the form. Once outside and standing near his car where it appeared not to be a doctor tending to a patient¾we could have been friends comparing fishing gear, the Doc his forceps and me the lure¾he numbed the finger, yanked the fly out, handed me two bandages and said, “The rest is up to you.” And, no charge! Giddy with gratitude, my finger dripping blood, I about kneeled down and kissed his shoes. He saved the day. John and I were able to get back to the lake and in the boat for the rest of the afternoon.

The next morning, our last before heading back to Whistler, found Rob and I and Hurley together again. I can only surmise that Rob was on a mission to better my luck. Hurley may have been looking forward to my next mishap or he may have gained an air of empathy towards me since he stayed near me in the bow. But up until then, I half expected to be relegated to a lodge boat by myself with a pair of oars during the time we had left. It turned out to be the most exciting few hours of fishing for me since the day on Stoney Lake when we all caught countless rainbows on chironomids, dragonfly nymphs and trolling. This morning on Corbett, we anchored in the shallows at the end of the lake and fished midges below a strike indicator. The water was looking-glass clear; a loon appeared underwater near the boat chasing a trout. There were so many fish rising and jumping in the cove it was dreamlike. Rob assisted me in gauging leader length and fly size and we both caught a bunch during the chironomid hatch. Then a mayfly hatch began and we switched to dry flies. Rob caught two or three before I had re-rigged my rod. I selected an Eastern dry fly pattern I had in my box and tied it on. Time was getting short. We needed to get back soon and hit the road. The rises had let up and Rob was preparing to lift anchor and I began to reel in and call it a day. I was happy with the action we had and the fact that Mr. Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) wasn’t with me this day. There was a rise form just then and I thought I’d try one more cast. I managed an accurate presentation and the trout hit the fly. With the hook set, I had another trout on, but this one was more special than the rest, taken on a March Brown dry fly from my own fly box. This was the fishing I was used to: sight casting to rising trout. It jumped and ran and dove and then jumped again near the boat. Twice it took a run below the boat and twice I led it out. It finally relented and came to the net. I believe that Rob was just as happy or even moreso than I was. Of the many trout I did catch there in the lakes of British Columbia, this was the one I’ll remember most vividly.

J.E.: The good outweighed the bad: The weather was uncooperative much of the time with wind, rain and a cold night or two requiring a wood fire. Most of the time, unsheltered Minnie was choppy due to the wind and we opted to fish nearby Stoney Lake. Even so, it was comfortable there in the yurt what with a wooden floor, wood stove, bunk beds and small kitchen area. Even a heated outdoor shower. Following a day of fishing, there were steaks and other food prepared over an outside fire. In the mornings, a hearty breakfast. One evening as a late dinner was being prepared, a storm blew in with wind, rain and hail. When it had passed, the clouds opened and a vivid double rainbow arced across the full extent of the sky. We all paused in what we were doing, awestruck. I thought it apropos to end the day that way: a rainbow above the water with all those rainbows beneath the surface. It was as if all the vivid colorations of the trout inhabiting the lake were drawn up into the very sky.

There were numerous occasions such as that which made the small misfortunes seem insignificant. There were the evenings at the campfire when the coyotes sang; the call of loons; the sight of eagles; the beauty of the rainbow trout and so many to be seen rising and jumping. Hearing of Dick’s and John’s many catches including the special trout of theirs that tail danced on top of the water. There was the unforgettable scenery of the open and rolling range land around the lake with mountains as a backdrop. Simply breathing in the high mountain air. The morning I walked up the draw behind the yurt and saw two mule deer. The friendly people of Merritt and the Lodge at Corbett, the generous Doc, my new friend John Alexander. My more than generous hosts, Dick and Rob, who arranged for me to join them. Finally, that “last retrieve” I made on the trout on a dry fly. It wasn’t as poignant as the retrieve that Rob’s old dog Sedge made on their last hunt together and which proved to be the catalyst for the events that led to my being there in BC, but it was an act that seemed to make the whole of the experience come full circle. Sedge got to do it one more time and so did I.

Left to right: Rob Pomroy, Hurley, Dick Draper, John Alexander, Mark Cudney

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Sedge’s Last Retrieve

The Story Behind the Painting

Note: I have received reminders from two of my three faithful readers that no new posts have been added to my blog in some time. True. Once again this year, we are hiding out in Hawaii escaping the gray and wet of the Pacific NW and for some reason when in Hawaii I find it difficult to sit down and write. I can’t even get enthusiastic about writing about the wrangling of the Democrats as they try to pass a health care bill nobody wants.

We learned last week that “The Conservator”, the quarterly magazine of Ducks Unlimited Canada, has published the painting “Sedge’s Last Retrieve” and my accompanying story. A few days later we learned that “The Retriever News”, a US based magazine aimed at sporting retrievers, will also publish the painting and story in their April edition. Hey, other than indignant letters to the editor, it’s the first thing (and likely the last) I ever had published. True, they paid me nothing and it’s pretty brief but…

The picture and the story as published below gives, you the gist of how it happened. What follows is the ‘rest of the story’.

The story behind the painting, “Sedge’s Last Retrieve” is one of sentiment. True, it’s been argued by art critics that sentimentality is to be avoided when painting. Nevertheless when the challenge arose to recreate a poignant moment experienced by two veteran waterfowlers, sentiment became the unavoidable subject. Dick Draper, British Columbian sportsman, retired entrepreneur, dog lover and former U.S. Navy SEAL, commissioned me to capture that moment for posterity. The following narrative, in his own words.

Mark Cudney

It certainly looked like a lousy day for ducks: high clouds, dead calm and warm. Worse, the northern birds taking advantage of the mild fall weather had not moved down yet, and the locals had gotten an advanced degree in decoys and steel shot. But Rob Pomroy and I were on a mission to get his aging Labrador Retriever, Sedge, out for one final hunt. Sedge had been fading fast in recent weeks and we worried this might be our last chance.

Rob and I met when we both did a stint as fly fishing guides in Whistler and despite our age difference (he’s as young as my son), we became companions in our shared passions of hunting and fishing.

Old Sedge had been for years, our constant partner at the duck club and did yeoman’s duty as the bow lookout on our fly fishing expeditions to central British Columbia. We recognized these duties would soon fall to another.

Despite the gloomy prognosis for the hunt, we put out the decoys with the usual care and settled in the blind to wait. The few flocks that came by were high and wide and arrogantly uninterested in our set-up. Finally a mallard, which may have been the last uneducated mallard in lower British Columbia, approached within range. Rob and I both opened fire.

Sedge saw the duck fall dead into the water and hobbled out as fast as his 13 year old arthritic legs and cancer-afflicted hips would take him. He mouthed that mallard and headed back but it soon became obvious he wouldn’t make it. He stopped and stared at the blind. Immediately, Rob waded out and picked up Sedge who refused to release the mallard. As he made his way back to the blind with that dog in his arms, tears filled my eyes. And I cursed myself for leaving my camera at home.

The next day I contacted Mark Cudney, an outdoor artist and writer acquaintance whose skills in both fields have greatly impressed me. I sent Mark some photos of Rob and Sedge and he went to work on some preliminary sketches. The final acrylic painting entitled “Sedge’s Last Retrieve” perfectly captures that poignant moment.

Sedge died two months aferwards and as a loyal companion of shared adventures and affections, he is sorely missed.

Dick Draper

Mark Cudney and I never met face-to-face until the painting had been completed. He is the cousin of Jim Cudney, my college roommate for three years, who a couple of years ago sent me a print of one of Mark’s paintings as a Christmas gift. Mark and I then began an email relationship fueled by our mutual love for fly-fishing, the outdoors in general and writing. Mark, of course, is a professional writer and artist and has had a number of his works published, especially in the high end “Gray’s Sporting Journal” and “Sporting Classics” among others. He also has published a book. IOW, he’s a damn good writer and was kind enough to read some of my stumbling efforts and offer helpful suggestions. His art that has appeared on the covers of the above magazines impresses also. You can check that out at This is where you go to order a print.

When I contacted Mark about doing a painting of Rob carrying Sedge back to the blind I had absolutely no clue how much work was involved in doing a painting like this. So, I asked him how much money he wanted for the job. Understand that all our contact took place through email. Until we met last August when I went back to Buffalo for my 50th high school reunion, we never even had a telephone conversation. Mark suggested a trade for his services…. He would like a new fly rod and reel in exchange doing the painting. Now unless you’re talking about a hand made split bamboo rod or an antique, the best rods out there go for around $700 or $800. A decent reel is another 150 bucks, maybe. Sounded OK to me.

As the weeks dragged into months while Mark was working away on the painting, I started to do a little math in my head and figured that Mark would be making something like ten cents an hour on this gig. I emailed him and said, “Are you sure about this deal? Would you like to renegotiate?” He came back and said that, no, he was happy with the original arrangement and that he had “his own reasons” for taking the job. He also advised me that when he was working as a commercial artist, a project like this would go for about $14,000. Gulp. I figured he’d need to sell a lot of prints to get even a modest return on his investment of time.

Mark drove up to meet me when we were staying at my former roomie’s house outside of Buffalo during the reunion visit. I suggested we go fly rod shopping to get the payment part of our deal completed. We trooped off to several fly shops in Buffalo to test-drive some high-end fly rods. Nothing impressed him on that day and he later decided on a Winston (Boron, 9ft in 4 wt) and a nice Ross reel.

When the painting arrived in Vancouver (in packaging that would have survived an air drop from 5000 feet) I got it framed and headed for Whistler where Rob had been waiting anxiously. It so happened that all his relatives were in town for a family reunion and that suggested an “unveiling party” would be most appropriate. A little champagne, some appies and a damp eyed unveiling marked the occasion.

Sedge’s Last Retrieve now hangs in the entry to our house, displacing a very nice Crosby watercolor. (Note: Rob has Print #1 and I have promised him that when I take the big dirt nap, the original will be his. I added the caveat that if I should drown on one of our fishing trips as a result of a blow to the back of the head with a canoe paddle that the deal is off.)

This fall when Rob and I were sitting in a duck blind waiting for some ducks to show up, we started talking up our return trip to Minnie Lake in central BC in early June. We agreed that it would really great if Mark could join us at the yurt on Minnie. It will be his first visit to the Pacific NW. Mark has spent his whole life fishing the small streams and rivers in western New York and reports that the biggest trout he’d ever caught on a fly was an 18” brown. Nice fish indeed for those waters but, we both thought he needed to hook into one of Minnie’s 8 pound rainbows and turn that new 4 wt of his into a knot. Mark agrees and will be joining my friend John Alexander from Seattle, Rob and me on the 1st of June. Sedge’s replacement, Hurley, will be along in his official role as the new bow lookout.

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Horsing Around

I was never very fond of horses. My uncle had a couple of workhorses on the farm where I spent a lot of time in my youth.

They were huge, especially for a kid, and ill tempered. I suppose if you had at pull wagon loads of manure and hay around all day you too would have reason to be a little grumpy.

My dislike for the horses started when one of them walked into his stall while I was sitting with my back to him on the outer edge of his manger. He reached over, clamped his huge teeth into the cubby right cheek of my ass and hoisted me into the air. He then dropped me on my face on the barn floor. His partner in the traces was no better. One day he chomped on to my bicep and gave me a nice colorful bruise to remind me to steer clear of him too.

My cousin had a “riding horse”, really a broken down nag that we occasionally tried to ride. Getting the horse to go away from the barn was nearly impossible but once aimed in the direction of the barn, she turned into Seabiscuit. Next stop? The stall. And be sure to keep your head down or lose it going through the barn door at top speed.

One of my jobs consisted of hooking up this tired steed to a small wagon and taking the milk cans out to the main road, about one mile distant. Although the horse surely considered herself retired, she did not seem to mind these early morning plods down the muddy track to the main road and back. She knew the drill and did not require much guidance from me.

Although I tried with little success to ride my uncle’s heifers my main goal in life at that time was to get a ride on Cy the pig. Cy lived in a large enclosure filled with bushes, small trees and tall grass. My strategy: to sneak into the enclosure and lie in wait for Cy to stroll past. Cy tipped the scales at about the same weight as the average NFL nose tackle and his back stood taller than my waist.

While Cy, like most pigs, possessed keen intelligence, he had poor eyesight. I had discovered that if I surprised him and got started scratching his back, he would stand still long enough for me to swing up on his back. I’d grab his ears we would be off on a brief but exhilarating ride. He’d usually quickly wipe me off on one of the bushes or small trees that populated his pen and I doubt that I ever came close to the mandatory 8 seconds that constitutes a competitive bull ride. My Grandma never seemed pleased when I returned to the house covered in dirt and pig crap after a successful ride on Cy.

It would be many years before I once again climbed on the back of anything that had four legs instead of a motor. I went on an elk hunting trip in the mountains of Montana and riding horses would be part of the experience. They put me on a gentle and obedient horse and off we went. I figured the horse knew what he was doing so I let him do it. We were on roads, well-maintained trails and open country. My valiant steed simply followed the guide’s horse. No problem.

This trouble free experience lulled me into complacency when some years later I scheduled a moose hunting expedition to Northern BC with my friend Daniel from Paris. This hunt would also require the use of horses. Based on my Montana expedition, I had few worries.

When we arrived I noted that the horses for this trip were considerably larger than the sure-footed ponies we used in MT.

The guide rode a young horse that he had “in training” and Daniel and I drew a couple of beasts supposedly accustomed to dealing with novice riders like us. As we headed off into the forest on that first morning, my first thought was, “You can’t take horses in there. There is no trail.” We forced our way through thick brush and numerous logs, some nearly belly high on the horses, blocked the faint track through the dense pines.

The guide led with Daniel in second place and me riding rear security. When we came to a log the horses would carefully step over. Well, no problem. We came to a two-log combo and the guide’s horse stepped over with no issues. (How they knew what their back legs were doing remained a mystery to me.) Daniel’s horse followed suit. My nag hesitated for a second and then jumped clean over both logs. Since I sat nice and relaxed in the saddle, when he landed my crotch jammed forward against the pommel crushing Mr. Happy and his two fuzzy friends. I gave silent thanks that my procreation days had long since past. But, the pain….!

With my eyes watering we rode on for some miles, the guide stopping periodically to give the long mournful cry of a cow moose in heat. Didn’t work. No bulls came running.

As we started back the guide pointed out a tree where “a grizzly had marked his territory”. Deep gouges raked the tree from the grizzly’s massive claws. Impressive. Earlier we had seen a grizzly track the size of a serving platter in some soft sand. Imagining the size of the critter that made those tracks and gouges convinced me I had no interest in meeting up with him, especially astride a horse and with my rifle securely tucked away in the scabbard.

As we rode on in single file and entered a large clearing the guide’s horse suddenly went nuts, rearing, jumping and bucking. Daniel’s and my horse immediately took off, racing side by side toward the far end of the clearing. It was like the final stretch of the Belmont, except that we were shouting and hauling on the reins to get the horses to stop. I doubt we had much influence but we finally came to the edge of the clearing and the horses stumbled to a nervous halt. As the guide approached with all three horses dancing around and clearly agitated, I asked him, “What the Hell was that about?”

“There’s a grizzly tracking us up on that ridge. The horses got a whiff of him.” He said.


The horses stayed skittish all the way back with their ears twitching this way and that and their eyeballs rolling. Bringing up the rear, my eyeballs were doing a bit of rolling too as I kept a wary eye on our back trail.

Finally we came to a small stream where the horses would have to drop down about 6 feet to the streambed to get across. The guide and Daniel’s horses carefully negotiated the drop. I should have suspected it. My horse never hesitated and just jumped the thing. We landed with a jolt. Unprepared and relaxed I once again jammed my crotch into the pommel and nearly fell off the horse in pain. Two weeks after we returned home I still walked gingerly.

I think the moral of this story is: if you have a choice, take a 4 wheeler… or walk.


Filed under Dick, Horses, Hunting

Pay Jump

I could never figure out why the Navy refused to pay us for the three hazard duties for which we qualified. It was also never clear why they excluded diving, the most dangerous of the lot, especially when swimming pure oxygen re-breathers in the middle of the night in the open ocean. Apparently the bean counters had never heard of the crappy Emerson re-breather rigs we often swam that frequently leaked and caused guys to pass out. (The German made Draegers were far superior but we couldn’t buy new ones and had to cannibalize parts to keep them running.)

They paid us for working with explosives (they didn’t call it underwater demolition for grins) and for parachuting. The former pay started right after Hell Week when we began playing with these fun toys on the beach at Little Creek. Hazard pay for parachuting came after we got back from Army jump school. They paid us $110 per month hazard pay for each and that came within $2.88 of doubling my meager Ensign base pay. The enlisted guys only got $55/mo. for each. Never understood that either. The only stipulation was that we had to work with explosives and make one parachute jump each month. We could always find a way to get the explosive business taken care of, but when we were deployed at sea getting an aircraft to make the parachute jump presented problems. These usually hastily arranged and down to the wire parachute drops we called “pay jumps”.

When we pulled into Toulon, France in the summer of 1966 aboard the USS Casa Grande our platoon was in serious need of a pay jump. Our Platoon CO, Pablo Zimmerman, one of the finest finaglers I have ever known, somehow convinced a Navy CH-46 supply helicopter to devote a morning to a parachute drop. Some sketchy arrangements were negotiated for us to jump into a grass strip auxiliary airfield near Toulon. We all grabbed our parachutes and gear and crammed into the chopper for the short hop to the field where some confused discussion took place between Pierre Ponson, the only guy in the platoon who spoke fluent French, and some French military guys. Nobody knew what was discussed but the winds were light and the time tight so we cut that confab short and boarded the chopper.

The normal procedure for these jumps is to pop some colored smoke on the ground to show the wind direction. The smoke showed light winds blowing from east to west at maybe 6 knots. Pas de problem. The next step would be to drop a streamer, a long ribbon with a light weight to see where that went so that adjustments could be made for the exit point. They lost sight of the streamer and decided to go directly to the next step since time, as I said, was tight. The next step involved jumping one guy out of the aircraft to see where he lands so that further adjustments can be made for the rest of the jumpers. This guy, for obvious reasons, is called the “wind dummy” and by custom falls to the lowest ranking or most expendable member of the Team…. in this case, me. Since I was the APO (Assistant Platoon Officer) I was not the lowest ranking. However, I rang the bell as the most expendable. (It must also be said that this was something of a tradition in Third Platoon.)

Pierre held the position of jumpmaster for our platoon and had little experience. The joke around the Teams was that if Pierre had the job of JM for the day that you should make sure you had some change in your pocket. The theory being: you would likely land so far from the drop zone you would need to call someone to give you a ride back. Pierre went on to spend 30 years in the Teams and become the head of the parachute program. Great guy.

The CH-46 had a gate that dropped down from the upward sloping tail creating a nice flat platform like a wide diving board. Standing on the edge of the thing with my hand braced against the overhead, I had a 270-degree view of the forest and airfield 3000 feet below. Kind of a weird feeling. Pierre slapped me on the ass and I launched myself into space.

When you jump out of an airplane, especially a military aircraft, you generally have over 100 knots of forward speed to assist in opening the parachute. Not so when you jump out the back door of a chopper. You plummet like a dropped rock off a tall building and you get a few extra seconds of that stomach clenching feeling of acceleration before the chute finally opens. My parachute popped open with a gratifying jolt to my harness and I swung gently beneath that beautiful green canopy as I looked around to orient myself.

We had recently been outfitted with the new T-10M (M for maneuverable) parachutes. They had an oval cut out of the back of the canopy through which air spilled, giving you about 5 knots of forward speed. Pulling down on one set of risers distorted the opening and turned the canopy in that direction. Thus, you could steer the thing and when landing, head into the wind and reduce the backward speed by the 5 knots. Of course, if you landed downwind you added 5 knots to the wind speed and could create some bone crunching collisions with Mother Earth.

I quickly discovered that the winds aloft were running at 90 degrees different from the smoke on the ground. It was also quite clear that they were blowing some 45 knots faster. Even facing the wind my measly 5 knots now had me drifting backwards at 40. Looking down between my feet I could see that I had already left the airfield far behind and now raced over dense forest with very large trees. I looked down to see if I still had my survival knife strapped to my leg. Yep, still there. Then I thought that cutting yourself loose while hanging in a 100 ft tree may not be the wisest solution to what looked like an inevitable “tree jump”, and one a couple of miles from the drop zone at that.

When I got down to about 750 feet the wind suddenly abated and I had control of the parachute again. I started looking around for a small tree to land in and spotted a clearing with scattered small trees. Great! I turned and headed for the clearing. I then spotted two soldiers in full combat gear with automatic weapons running toward my clearing. “Hmmm?” I wondered if these guys, who were clearly not US troops, had gotten the word that we were making a friendly little pay jump here. Then I thought maybe I’d drifted far enough to be in some secret installation. No time to think that through, I was landing regardless.

I turned the parachute into the wind for the landing at about 100 feet and the two troopers stopped, raised their automatic weapons and opened fire on full auto. My first thought was “Shit, I’m dead.” My second thought just before I piled into the ground was, “How did they miss me?” As my chute collapsed over a tree about 12 feet tall the two soldiers approached with their weapons aimed at me menacingly. Since I was a bit alarmed (just a bit) I had forgotten the few French phrases I knew. Asking for a beer or a cup of coffee probably would not have been appropriate. Come to think of it, asking where the toilet was would have fit the picture perfectly. (Let the record show I did NOT piss my pants.) I had my hands up. No Hollywood Steven Segal shit of going for my 4” survival knife with two heavily armed dudes standing 10 feet away. I pointed to my US Navy insignia and said, “US Navy. Friends. NATO. And, irrationally, “pay jump”.

They started laughing and jabbering in French. One of the guys walked over, opened the breech of his rifle showing me he had been firing blanks. Well, that explained how they missed me. They helped me pull my chute down from the tree and as I stuffed it into my parachute bag I heard more auto weapons fire. Three more of our guys landed near me with the same reception. Obviously, Pierre did not learn anything from his wind dummy’s trip into the enchanted forest. As I imagined various forms of torture for Pierre and considered the long walk thru the woods to the drop zone, one of the soldiers decided to help out by handing me my reserve chute. Regrettably, he picked it up by the rip cord handle instead of the carry handle and the spring loaded reserve exploded all over the grass. He stood there staring at the ripcord and said, “Voila!” Indeed.

I managed to stuff the deployed reserve in the bag with my main chute and started the long walk back to the drop zone. The teammates that had joined me on the march and I had plenty of time to plan some diabolical payback for Pierre.

Note: We later discovered when we did a joint exercise with the French Commandos Marine that we had stumbled into a war game between the French army and the Commandos Marine with our little “pay jump”.


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Dictator For A Day – Part II

If you did not read Part I you’re going to have some difficulty figuring out what I am doing here. You can probably guess what you need to do now.

Rising from my brief nap I am a little fuzzy so I will take on a rather simple issue: the dollar coin. Most countries that I have visited have one, two and even five dollar (equivalent) coins. The reason for this is quite simple. Paper money wears out many times faster than coins and who wants to carry a wad of paper singles in their pocket? In my youth we called this a “Michigan bankroll”… a big wad of bills, all singles. The US has made several attempts at introducing a dollar coin: the Susan B. Anthony dollar, the Sacagawea dollar and now the Presidential dollar. [Not to mention the Eisenhower dollar (1971-1978), Peace dollar (1921-1935), Morgan dollar (1878-1904; 1921), Trade Dollar (1873-1885), Gold dollar coins (1849-1889), Seated Liberty dollar (1836-1873), The 1804 dollar, and the silver dollar coins from 1794 to 1803. This dollar coin business is a failure more than 200 years in the making. –ed.] All have failed for one simple reason: the government refuses to simultaneously remove the paper dollar from circulation. Several years ago the Canadian government introduced the two-dollar coin (the one dollar coin, having the image of a Common Loon on the back side is often called the “Loonie”; similarly, the two dollar coin is fondly referred to as the “Twonie”). The banks pulled all paper two-dollar notes out of circulation when they came in and within two weeks all the paper notes were gone. I’d immediately have the Treasury stamp out millions of one-dollar coins and have the banks pull the paper bills. While I’m at it, I’d have them create a two-dollar coin. Maybe the Bill Clinton coin?
The War on Drugs: Started during the Nixon Administration in the ‘70s and expanded ever since, you would have to agree that the war has been lost. My criterion for this is quite simple: if any high school kid in North America can get any drug he wants in 24 hours (and he can), then I’d say you’re pissing up wind and getting your shoes wet.
The Feds spend some $20 billion annually on the effort and the states spend another $30 billion, almost all for enforcement. This does not include the costs of prosecution and imprisonment of offenders. Half of all the people in Federal prisons are there because of drug offenses and 17% for crimes committed to get cash for drugs. Officials anticipate that in 2009 over 1,841,000 people will be arrested on drug offenses. In 2007 there were 872,000 arrests for cannabis violations alone. In 1986, during the Reagan Administration, a mandatory minimum was enacted for drug offenders. As a result the average sentence for drug offenders is 75.6 months while violent criminals serve an average of 63 months. (Figures from War on Drugs Clock and an article by Christina Gleason).
Dan Gardner of the “Ottawa Citizen” has written an excellent series on the drug issue and points out that there is no relationship between the cost of production and the retail price for drugs because of the “risk cost” to the industry, including the need to corrupt judges, police and government officials. Many users could continue to function in society and not resort to crime to support their habit if the cost were not so out of whack.
So, for my first big pronouncement after lunch I would legalize all drugs (except crystal meth). They could be imported (or home grown) and sold like liquor i.e. Taxed and confirmed for quality. This would quickly destroy the illegal market for drugs and all the violence and graft that goes with it. Druggies would be able to pick up clean needles and that would require rescinding the Federal ban on needle exchanges. Dirty needles cause some 4000 new cases of HIV/AIDs each year that cost $618,000 each for a lifetime of treatment.
Next I would release from prison all except the violent drug offenders. The dealers could not re-offend because the market for their services no longer existed. Clearly, this would free up lots of prison space to hang on to the real dangerous predators to society like rapists, murders, pedophiles and various scumbags. It would also allow the ATF and the FBI to concentrate on potential terrorists and man the border to stop illegal immigration. Not happy with this? Sorry, I’m Dictator today.

Potty and liquid refreshment break.

Energy independence: This is another old saw begun during the Nixon Administration in the ‘70s. The result: the US has gone from about 16% imported oil to around 60% with the US sending some $700 billion annually to countries that hate us. The solution is to drill offshore and in Alaska and to exploit the tar sands in the West. This morning I added a $.50 tax on gasoline and would mandate that another $.50 be added in five years. I would also reduce the tax on diesel to make it less than the tax on gasoline, and tell the UAW to pound sand and allow the import of low cost high mileage diesel cars from Europe or South America. While were at it, might as well eliminate the CAFÉ standards for gas mileage. (Good piece on this in the 6/22/2009 “National Review”).
To keep the cost of electricity down I would immediately authorize the construction of 20 nuclear plants and open Yucca Mountain repository for nuclear waste. To do the drilling and building of nuke plants it would be necessary to pull the teeth of the well funded environmental groups and their cadres of lawyers. So, I’d cancel the “citizen lawsuit” provisions of environmental laws and subject proposed drilling and plant building to a commission of scientists and business leaders. I would also make environmental groups taxable entities and donations to such groups subject to a 20% tax. To be fair I would extend those provisions to all the many K Street lobbying groups. Unless there is a serious issue… let the drilling and building begin. The sale of drilling leases and the royalties resulting from all the new wells would be a great revenue source for states and the Federal government. Clean up of any oil spills would, of course, be the responsibility of the drilling companies.

Time for a cigar. All this Dictating has me restless.

The cutting of taxes, reining in of the lawyers and providing cheap energy would certainly bring in massive amounts of investment capital from around the world and result in rapid economic growth. As always, the lower rates would bring in increased revenues for the government. However, there would be a lag, so spending must be cut substantially. Anyway, government is too big, too expensive and redundant. The federal government employs 1.8 million civilians plus another 785,000 at the beloved post office. I’d put an immediate freeze on all hiring. For the USPS, I’d let any business deliver the mail and let the post office go out of business.

I eliminated the Education Department this morning, but there’s lots more low hanging fruit that I want to pick off right away. The Drug Enforcement Agency for example. I legalized drugs so this group is now unnecessary. As Ronald Reagan observed, “The Department of Energy has never produced a single barrel of oil or a lump of coal.” I’d eliminate 90% of the Dept. of Energy and transfer the remaining 10% over to Interior to keep track of energy. That leaves the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Commerce, Labor, Treasury, Vets Affairs, State, Transportation, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Defense. Except for Defense, I would appoint a commission of businessmen to combine functions, eliminate employees and streamline operations such that the cost of government would be reduced by 50% in five years. With the aggressive growth of the economy there will be plenty of job opportunities for these federal employees in the private sector.

While we’re in the cutting mode, let’s have my “Efficiency Commission” go through the budget and eliminate corporate welfare, farm subsidies, funding of NPR, the NEA, ACORN and all other groups not considered a Federal function. For Congress, no more tacking on earmarks legislation to build a bike path or airport in your district. Absolute no-no, boys.

Social Security: This Ponzi scheme makes Madoff look like a two bit thief. First off, I’d forbid Congress from spending the money put into the SS Trust Fund. I guess I’d first have to set up the fund since it doesn’t exist. Having former illegal workers now covered under the Guest Worker program and paying taxes will help but, social security needs to stop hemorrhaging money by sending checks to drunks, druggies and immigrants who never worked in the US. There will be plenty of money left over at the end of the War on Drugs to weed out the undeserving. I would also let people opt out of the system on the terms of the Republican proposal of a few years back.
Medicare: This is a black hole that needs to be closed and a very difficult task. Unlikely to be fixed by the Dictator today. I have already given doctors relief from medical malpractice and that will help. I would also let people set up medical savings accounts, make medical insurance available across state lines and make it portable when workers change employers. Self-employed people would be able to deduct insurance premiums and able to buy at group rates through associations. Free medical care would not be denied illegal aliens in emergency situations but they would be immediately deported when mobile.

Welfare: Another difficult and long standing problem unfixable by single pronouncements. First, no illegals should be collecting welfare. That’s an insult to honest taxpayers. Same goes for otherwise able-bodied individuals and there will be plenty of jobs available in the rapidly expanding economy.
Justice: I would immediately expand the Supreme Court to 15 justices and appoint 6 new jurists that believe in the Constitution and not legislating from the bench.
And finally, as the day draws to a close, I would pronounce that none of my Dictator Mandates could be changed for 10 years.

Time for a beer. That’s enough for one day.

Note: One of my three faithful readers suggested I tackle the Media in this piece. I decided not to because: 1. Freedom of the press, and 2. The media is comprised of private businesses and should succeed or fail by their own hand. People are already getting frustrated by the biased liberalism of the MSM and their drooling, slavish support of Obama. They are turning off network news and canceling their subscriptions to left leaning newspapers (the NYT, Boston Globe and others are on life support. CBS just reported the lowest ratings ever for their evening news program. Ever.). When citizens fully realize the impact of BHO’s policies and global warming is finally exposed for the massive hoax that it is, the MSM will pay a heavy price. In other words, they don’t need any help from me.

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Dictator for a Day – Part I

Long drives, I have found, give your mind plenty of opportunity to wander aimlessly down improbable paths and dream up unlikely scenarios. Such was the case in the four and one half hour trip over the mountains and back on my recent jaunt in search of the regal rainbow trout. I was thinking specifically about the almost daily announcement out of the Obama Administration to take over yet another industry or institution. One day they’re taking over the auto industry while simultaneously shafting the bondholders and giving big chunks of equity to their friends in the UAW. The next, they want to take over the health care business, or the banks, or impose a mammoth carbon tax on everything. Sobering thoughts.

On the long ride back and in the pleasant afterglow of a week of fly fishing, an absurd thought popped into my head, namely: if I were the Dictator of the US for a single day, what would I do? What changes would I make that politically cannot get done the way things are currently organized? Here’s how I fantasized my day as Dictator would go.

After rising early and the requisite morning ablutions and pouring the first cup of coffee, I would take Shakespeare’s advice and “… kill all the lawyers”. Not literally, of course. The little remembered Dick the Butcher uttered these famous words to Jack Cade. Jack envisioned himself the sole autocrat overseeing his version of a quasi-communistic social revolution. Dick was simply making a helpful suggestion. (Henry VI, Part 2, Act 4). Funny…. Jack sounds a bit like Obama.
My method for dealing with the lawyers who have taken over nearly every aspect of our lives, would be to impose “loser pays” rules… just like every other civilized country except the US. You sue and you lose, you get to pay the other guy’s fees plus a reasonable sum for wasting his valuable time. The estimated cost of litigation in the US is 2.7% of GDP plus adding 10-15% to the cost of everything. While I am at it, I would protect doctors from medical malpractice suits and turn over patient complaints to a review board. Egregious cases would be prosecuted and bad doctor’s licenses revoked. Harmed patient would be compensated at a sensible level. I’d mandate the same for drug companies.

After a second cup of coffee: Education.

There can be little serious argument that the public education system is broken and the teacher’s unions won’t allow anyone to fix it. My solution? All per student tax money stays with the kids and they can choose whichever school they want. In other words, if government spends $10,000 per pupil per year to educate her the money would go with the student to attend the school of her choice. Denmark has this system. This would encourage competition by schools to recruit not only students but also the best teachers. Thousands of new private schools would be created.

For Step Two, I would eliminate the Education Department and all the administrative claptrap they require of school systems. In its place, I would create an Education Commission made up of volunteer college entrance officials, educators and business people who would establish a curriculum for grade school, junior high and high school that is heavy on reading, math, science, US and world history and civics. To keep schools from reverting to the multi-cultural, anti-American, diversity heavy and environmental nonsense currently being taught, the Commission would establish national tests for each level and subject. Results of student success must be published so that parents can see what the teachers and students are doing. Students at schools that continued to teach the nonsense so common today would have substantial numbers of students who would fail to graduate. Recognizing that not everyone is destined for college, tech high schools could operate on a modified standard.
For Step Three, I would eliminate the Teacher’s Union. (*Little known fact–37 states do NOT allow teacher strikes, while others allow up to a month of empty classrooms year after year, such as Pennsylvania.)
While I’m at it, I might as well forbid all unions for public employees. They are too powerful as both a voting block and an inordinate drain on the resources of governments at all levels. I’d go back to the civil service system and bring salaries and benefits in line with the private sector. At this time it’s almost impossible to fire an incompetent government worker. I’d establish a system whereby a fired worker got a review within one week and immediately terminated if found deficient.

Time out for another cup of coffee and a little breakfast.

Taxes. They are too high and too complicated with too many breaks for special interests of all stripes. I would eliminate the AMT and the Death Tax and impose a flat tax on all income levels above $35,000 at 15%. Corporate taxes would be set at 15% with no special breaks or deductions and capital gains taxes set at 10%. I’d raise the gas tax by $.50 a gallon and designate that entire sum to the development of a nation-wide system of high speed rail between major cities. I would have private companies run the passenger rail system. Note: gas taxes are already sufficient to maintain the Federal highway system, especially if the Davis Bacon Act were suspended permanently. So, I’d do that too.

Congress: As I pointed out in a previous blog, members of Congress in most all instances are careerists and lawyers. I’d impose immediate term limits on these professional politicians. Two terms for Senators and three two-year terms for the House seem like plenty. Any member exceeding those limits would retire at the next election. This would eliminate a lot of pompous assholes.
The President: The current primary system is too long and way too costly. Let the parties select their candidates and start the campaign for President no earlier than six months prior to the election. I would also eliminate the contribution limits to candidates (McCain Feingold) but, require full disclosure of all contributors. Everyone has figured out how to get around the spending limits anyway and it restricts the “little guy” in favor of deep pockets like unions, lawyers and mega billionaire nut jobs like George Soros.

Potty break.

Immigration: this is a toughie but must be done. First, I would empty the prisons of all illegals and send them back to their country of origin. Our prisons are overcrowded anyway and, why should we feed and house these guys who should not be here in the first place? Mexico and other South American countries where most of these criminals come from would certainly object. Tough. If they refused, I’d get all the old parachutes in the possession of the military, strap them on the prisoners, fly them over Mexico (or wherever) and kick them out the back door of a C-130.

No immigration policy can work unless you stop the flow of illegals across the southern border. I’d immediately order the ATF forces that worked on drugs previously (when I get to drugs you will see why these guys are available), plus the National Guard and the Army if necessary to the southern border. To assist in stopping the flood of illegals, I would widely broadcast in Mexico that people caught trying to sneak in would not be eligible for the guest worker program.
Guest Worker Program: With some 12 million illegals living in the US at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars annually in welfare, medical and school costs, it’s obvious that many need to be sent back. I would establish a guest worker program that gives preference (on a points system) to people who speak English, have a job and/or a home and have been in the US for a long period. I would give them a Social Security number and require them to pay taxes like everyone else. Any other illegals would be sent back and not allowed to apply for guest worker status. Those leaving voluntarily could apply for GW status in the future. Police and immigration officials must check for citizenship of all suspected illegals. For those haughty mayors who harbor illegals in their “sanctuary cities” I would order their immediate arrest.
While this program might cause some difficulty for wealthy southern California homeowners in getting cheap lawn care and house cleaning services, it would create jobs for inner city youth.
In recent years the US has restricted the number of highly educated immigrants from certain countries while favoring the uneducated and poor from undeveloped countries. I’d reverse that policy since the booming economy from the tax policies and the reining in of the predations by the lawyers would certainly vastly increase the demand for skilled workers.

OK. Time for lunch and a short nap. More after.


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