Category Archives: Dick

La Grippe Espagnole

This spring’s scare over the H1N1 virus, the so-called Swine Flu, prompted me to order John M. Barry’s book “The Great Influenza, The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.” I do not necessarily recommend that you read this book. It scared the crap out of me. Suit yourself. What follows is sort of a book report and you can assume that when I mention figures and facts, that I have drawn them directly from Mr. Barry.

The pandemic of 1918-1920, called the Spanish flu, has special meaning for me. My maternal grandfather and grandmother died within one week of each other, leaving my three month old mother, five older brothers and a sister orphans. This was a common problem as 675,000 Americans, out of a population of 105 million, died, most during the horrendous twelve weeks in the fall and winter of 1918.

It is unclear exactly where all her siblings went to live but we know that her Aunt Lottie raised my mother. No finer woman ever drew breath. I know this because she also raised me until about the age of eight and intermittently for years afterward.

(Photo: young Bessie with her cousin, Percy, Lottie’s son, c. 1920.)

It is now believed that the virus first jumped from swine to humans in the winter of 1917 and first surfaced in the spring in Haskell County, Kansas, a small farming community. Soldiers visiting on leave from nearby Camp Folsom, home of 56,000 recruits training before heading off to fight WWI, carried the virus back to the base and the flu spread rapidly through the crowded soldiers. Although highly contagious, this first wave of the disease was relatively mild and few deaths occurred. It traveled from base to base and then on the troop ships to Europe where it spread rapidly. It went underground and mutated. The new improved version had become a deadly killer and was erroneously renamed the Spanish Influenza.

As the war ended in Europe returning US troops brought the deadly virus back with them and introduced it to the teaming cities on the east coast. It spread quickly to all parts of North America even the remote Inuits of Alaska and islands in the Pacific where whole villages were wiped out due to their lack of prior exposure to any kind of influenza. Indeed, no part of the globe was spared. Estimates are difficult but it is now commonly believed that 50 million to as many as 100 million people died. Global population at that time was about 1.8 billion people or 28% of the population today. In other words, nearly 5% of the world’s population died in the pandemic. Extrapolating those figures to the population today of 6.1 billion would give you a butcher’s bill of some 200 million souls. Even allowing for advances in modern medicine that’s a sobering number.

In a normal year influenza kills about 36,000 people compared with about 1/3 that number for AIDs. In fact, AIDs, also caused by a virus, has killed 23 million in 24 years. That is not a trivial number but the Spanish flu killed at least double that number in 24 months!

The influenza virus is the most perfect of all organisms, and the simplest. Consisting of little more than a membrane containing the genome, the simple RNA genetic material, it has only one function: to replicate itself. Even the simple bacteria have a normal cell structure and function. A virus does not burn oxygen for metabolism or produce any by products. The influenza virus attaches itself to a cell in the mucus membrane and invades that cell. It enters the nucleus of that cell and modifies the genetic code of the cell so that it produces new proteins that enable rapid replication of the virus. Ten hours after infecting the cell a “swarm” of between 100,000 and one million new viruses escape the single cell to invade its neighbors. Because the genome of the virus is so simple and because of the vast numbers, there are many mutations. If more than one different virus has also infected the cell, you get even more variations. You can easily see why the immune system has trouble keeping up.

One of the oddities of the Spanish flu pandemic was the disproportionate number of people in the 20-30 age group that died. Normal influenza outbreaks kill the old and the young and those with compromised immune systems. 50% of the deaths were people in the 20-30 age group, those with the healthiest immune systems. Scientists now believe that the over reaction of the immune systems of these young, healthy people actually caused their deaths. This violent reaction of the immune system is called the “cytokine storm”. Their lungs literally exploded and they bled from all orifices. Young healthy males dropped dead in the streets only a day or two after being infected. Many who recovered later experienced serious neurological disorders. Of course, many people also died from secondary infections of pneumonia, leading many researchers of the time to blame the disease on bacteria. It was not until years after the storm had passed that the real culprit was identified.

To understand how this thing got out of hand it is important to recognize the period in which it occurred. Medicine, of course, was just emerging from the dark ages and many doctors still practiced bleeding their patients for all manner of ailments. More importantly, the country was at war. Wilson had been reluctant to enter WWI that had started in 1914, but events finally forced the US into the fray in April of 1917. Once in, Wilson went at it with gusto. He nationalized almost all means of production, controlling food, fuel and industry. He stifled free speech and any form of dissent. The government controlled the press and the flow of information. Every able-bodied young man got drafted into the army and almost all the trained doctors and nurses were conscripted. Nothing was allowed to interfere with the war effort.

The result of these policies found massive numbers of men congregated in small places either on army bases or crammed into cities where they worked on shipbuilding or armament production. A lot of people in close proximity created a ripe environment for the rapid transmission of this highly communicable disease. When the troops started returning from Europe and brought the new improved virus back with them, the army failed to confine the soldiers to the bases and the disease spread rapidly to other installations and into the cities on the east coast. Other ships carried it to Louisiana and Seattle. From there it marched across the continent. From Europe it migrated to the Far East. An estimated 20 million people died in India alone. In China? Anybody’s guess.

In Philadelphia at its peak some 4700 people died each day. It was impossible to keep up with the bodies and finally steam shovels were employed to bury victims in mass graves. People were rightfully scared into immobility, a situation made worse by the heavily censored press that kept telling them the worst was over and everything would be just fine.

After dying out in 1919 a third wave came back in 1920 but by then the virus had again modified and was now less lethal.

Barry contends that we are not spending enough on influenza that historically has surfaced as pandemics three or four times each century. We have spent more money on West Nile Virus that has killed less than 900 people in five years than we spend on influenza. Given the body count, this makes little sense. And, we are probably overdue for another pandemic.
No one knows if the recent wave of swine flu that swept the globe this spring will return in the fall in a more deadly form.
I am pretty wary of this flu business after I caught the H3N2 “Hong Kong flu” in 1968. Fresh out of the Navy and in great shape, the damn thing nearly killed me. (Considered mild, it still killed 700,000 worldwide). It had me flat on my back for nearly two weeks and I tore my rib muscles coughing.
I hope the powers that be are working 24/7 developing a vaccine even though the virus that finally shows up will likely be different than anticipated. Of course, we have Tami flu and Relenza and anti-biotics to fight off secondary infections so we’re not totally defenseless like the poor souls in 1918. I don’t think the surgical masks help much. I would go with a respirator rated N95 and full face mask.

During the Spanish flu pandemic the only thing that worked was isolation. A few western towns, realizing it was coming, cordoned off the town and kept everyone out… at gunpoint. A few islands did the same. They escaped.

When it’s “flu season” this winter, hold your breath.


Filed under Dick, Spanish Flu

Road Trip

In 1984, when the kids were 16,14 and 12, we decided to take a family vacation. It had been over ten years since we had taken a vacation of any sort and we figured we were running out of time. The family balance sheet looked a little skinny, but we were optimistic and decided to go for it.

The plan that evolved centered on renting a motor home and driving from our home in Oshkosh, WI to visit family and friends in Olympia, WA. Along the way we could tour Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone and, of course, that icon of tourism, Wall Drug.

It turned out that renting a motor home was not so easy. They were not as yet all that common and private owners were the only renters. Finally, we made a deal and picked it up the day we were to depart (and the day after someone else brought it back).

We immediately discovered the thing hadn’t been cleaned and remained blissfully unaware of the many mechanical deficiencies as we set off full of optimism.

My first discovery, that the cruise control didn’t work, came as we pulled on to the Interstate. I did not fully understand how big a pain in the ass (and knee) that would be on a 4000-mile trip until I’d finished my first full day at the wheel. Of course, other issues would reveal themselves in due course.

A motor home is essentially a house on wheels and has all the systems associated with a normal home: sewage, water, heating and A/C, electrical and propane. I make no claims to being mechanically inclined and that’s being charitable. It would have been helpful if our home on wheels came with some manuals on how to run these systems, but, of course, it did not. That left me struggling to figure these things out as we went along. You can probably imagine how well that was working.

It would not have taken a NASCAR mechanic to conclude that the springs on the motor home were shot and the steering looser than OJ’s grip on reality. Aiming the vehicle down the freeway, particularly on windy days, was worse than steering a sailboat in a following sea. While the kids were blissfully munching sandwiches and playing board games in the back, I sat hunched in the driver’s seat with a death grip on the wheel. I could envision the headline: “Family Wiped Out in Motor Home Crash”. At the end of each day it took a couple of scotches and several aspirins to get the knot out of my neck.

I noticed a troublesome shaking and clanking when ever I backed up and it seemed to be getting worse. Finally in Butte, MT I decided to get it looked at. The cowboy/mechanic, in words even a five year old could understand, explained that the emergency brake consisted of a collar designed to grip the drive shaft when you engaged the emergency brake. That collar, he further explained, was broken into several pieces. Meaning: a) That we’d driven all that way without an emergency brake and b) If those pieces suddenly collapsed, the wheels would lock up. It didn’t take much imagination to come up with dozens of scenarios for disasters if that should happen. I called the owner. He didn’t want to fix it and only relented when I threatened to leave the motor home in Butte and fly home to consult with my lawyer.

A few days earlier we had encountered a perplexing problem. For some reason the inside of the motor home smelled like a sewer. I could not figure this out as I had been dutifully dumping the tank. What I had not known was that there are actually TWO tanks, one for “grey water” and one for the sewage. The handle for the latter was tucked back behind the former and ignorant me had missed that detail. Once again, a manual might have proven helpful.

After dumping the sewage tank I figured our problems were over. Not quite. The smell in the back was so bad the kids were riding with their heads out the windows and even in the driver’s seat I could hardly breathe. We pulled into a deserted rest area somewhere in South Dakota where I could assess the problem in solitude. I climbed up on the roof of the motor home and discovered a vent pipe. Well, that made sense. All toilets have vent pipes, even sophisticated outdoor johns. I deduced that with the sewage tank chock full, stuff had backed up into the pipe. I figured it had dried into a plug, backing up the fumes into the cabin. OK. Now what?
I finally figured out a solution. I had a couple of spinning rods and I needed something heavy to attach to the line and drop down the pipe. I tied my Swiss Army knife to the end of the line and climbed back on to the roof of the motor home. Popping the cover off the vent pipe, I began free falling the knife down the pipe and reeling it back up with the spinning rod. I’d done this a half a dozen times and felt like it was working when I noticed an elderly couple out of the corner of my eye. They were standing there looking up at me and I wondered where the Hell they could have come from. The guy shouted up at me, “How they bitin’?” They then had to grab each other to keep from falling over laughing. Realizing how ridiculous I must look standing up there with a fishing rod in my hands, I nearly fell off the roof laughing myself.

They were experienced motor home owners and had another good laugh when I explained my lack of understanding about the two tanks. They gave us a bottle of anti-stink solution for the tank and with the vent now functioning, we continued down the road…. Breathing free at last.

We hit all the tourist spots… including Wall Drug and had an enjoyable visit with relatives and friends in Olympia. It was memorable trip, to be sure, although it took about a year for my neck and shoulders to recover. Joining us on the return voyage were a gift from Loi’s sister, Sam and Tillie, two kittens named for cities we passed on the way home (Samammish and Tillicum). They would be part of the family for the next 19 years.


Filed under Dick, Vacation


The sun was well up and the frost melted by the time the old man loaded his gear in the Jeep and pulled out of the driveway. He had lingered over breakfast, taking a second and a third cup of coffee. Millie left him alone, knowing he had to do this at his own pace and feared that if she talked about it, she might lose her tenuous grip on her own emotions.

The knobby tires hissed and sang on the damp blacktop as the old man headed east into the countryside, passing woodlots and stubble cornfields, pasture and the fallow fields of the CRP Program. He drove slowly dreading the three-act play he had scripted for this day.
The small brass bell on Tom’s collar tinkled as he attempted to rise. He whimpered with the anticipation he always showed when they were going hunting. But, this time his whines were tinged with pain. Tom’s hips had deteriorated badly in the last couple of years. The old man had started giving him aspirins imbedded in soft cheese after each hunt. It helped.
But now, the cancer thing …. The vet tried to break it to him gently, “Hell, Tom’s twelve years old—nearly thirteen. That’s old for an English Setter.” Then he said, “You’ll know when it’s time to bring him in.”
Tom struggled to his feet and shuffled unsteadily forward until he could rest his chin on the old man’s shoulder. He choked back a sob. They had often traveled like this, with Tom whining in his ear, seemingly urging him to drive faster. The Jeep swung into a tight curve on the narrow country road and Tom lost his footing and toppled over. The old man swore, “Dammit. Lay down, Tom. Stay!”
In the month since the visit to the vet Tom had gone downhill fast and the old man knew it was time. Hated it, but knew. The vet said he’d wait for him.
He’d hunted alone in the early season leaving Tom behind. The dog had not appreciated that. Over the years he always knew that when the hunting coat and boots came out, it was time to go hunting. Even if sound asleep at Millie’s feet in the sewing room, he would come bounding into the hall like a three year old hopped up on Sugar Pops. Not wanting to torment Tom, the old man had started sneaking his gear out to the truck at night when the dog was zonked on his bed by the fireplace. Full of painkillers, Tom never noticed.
Hunting without your dog, he found, was like dancing alone. He’d enjoyed the brisk autumn days walking the hardwoods for grouse and stomping the ditches for pheasant, but it was not the same. His bag was lighter too. He had cursed two weeks ago when he lost a downed rooster. Tom, even a year ago, would have found that bird. He always did.
He braked the Jeep and swung into the farm drive way. Past the white clapboard house and around behind the weathered barn, he turned on to a dirt lane angling up the hill. He slipped the Jeep into four-wheel drive and slowly made his way up the rutted track. At the crest of the hill he spotted a battered white Chevy pick-up parked about 100 yards ahead.
Joe, the owner of the farm, crawled out of the truck smoking a cigarette. They were old friends and the old man hoped Joe would forgive him for being late. Joe waved as he pulled the Jeep up and parked on the verge 40 yards short of the pick-up.
Stepping out of the Jeep, the old man watched Joe signal the direction of the wind with a sweep of his arm and he waved in acknowledgement as he felt the light breeze on his face. Joe went to the back of the pick-up and reached into a wooden crate and after a bit of a struggle, extracted a rooster pheasant. Cradling the pheasant in his arms, Joe started walking down into the field of grass and low brush. He stopped at a thick bush about 20 yards in and after tucking the bird’s head beneath his wing, spun the bird in a circle half a dozen times. He then tucked the pheasant down into the bush and started back toward the truck.
“He’ll sit there a little while,” thought the old man. He opened the back gate of the Jeep and reached for his tattered hunting coat. As he shrugged it on Tom made his way to the back and started wagging his tail. When the old man reached for his gun case Tom gave his face a couple of wet licks. “Ready to go, buddy?” He asked. Tom waved his flag-like tail in response.
The gun was an old Fox side-by-side in 20 gauge. The bluing had long ago been worn off and the stock had plenty of dings, but the sheen of oil spoke to how well the old man took care of his gear.
He lifted Tom gently out of the truck and set him on the road. Snapping on his lead and grabbing the shotgun the old man and his dog entered the field. They angled across the wind. The old man wanted to get directly downwind of the bush that held the pheasant. Tom, though unsteady, had his head up, sampling the wind and working that trademark white flag of a tail back and forth. When they were directly downwind and 15 yards from the bird they did a left turn. He reached down and unsnapped Tom’s leash. “Find the bird, Tom,” he said.
Tom moved forward, staggering slightly, but he had caught a whiff and was closing in. Three feet from the bush Tom froze in a classic point, head and tail high with his left foot up and curled. “Whoa,” said the old man quietly. He dropped two shells into the open Fox and snapped it shut. Walking forward slowly past the dog he said “whoa” once again. He gave the bush a vigorous kick. Nothing. He kicked again and took a couple of steps. With a cackle and roar of wings the pheasant burst from the grass 10 feet to his left. The bird had run when he walked in and now was angling back the way they’d come. He brought up the double barrel swiftly and swung, fired and…. Missed! His second shot brought the bird down in a puff of feathers. “I guess we’re both getting old Tom,” he muttered.
Tom had seen the bird go down and was struggling through the thick grass in that direction. The old man quickly overtook the dog and snapped the leash on again. “Easy Tom. We’ll find him.”
The rooster lay in plain sight, gleaming in the fall sunlight, its gaudy colors a stark contrast to the dull brown grass. Tom gently picked it up and they started slowly back to the Jeep. He looked up to wave his thanks to Joe, but the pick-up was gone. He’d have to phone later with his thanks.
Halfway back to the Jeep Tom stopped. He could go no further. He tried to get Tom to release the bird, but Tom would not let it go. “All right you stubborn shit,” he said and picked up the dog. He carried Tom back to the Jeep with the bird dangling from his mouth. Only when the old man had set Tom in the back of the Jeep did Tom release the bird. He then lay down on his blanket, guarding his prize.
The vet was waiting when the old man carried Tom into the office. The place was deserted, as it was Sunday morning. Another debt to be paid. “You ready?” asked the vet.
“Yeah, I guess,” replied the old man. “Shot a bird over him this morning.”
“So I see,” replied the vet with a slight frown, noting the old man’s muddy boots tracking up his spotless floor.
Tom lay calmly on the stainless steel table. He knew the vet and the old man rubbing his speckled head and scratching his black ears soothed him.
“This won’t hurt him,” assured the vet. “He’ll get sleepy and then it will be all over.” The vet slipped the needle into Tom’s paw and the dog jerked at the sting.
The old man gripped Tom’s head and stared into his eyes. “So long old friend” he choked. And then it was done.
The vet said nothing as the old man gathered up Tom’s limp body and carried it out to the Jeep. Tears ran down through the gray stubble on his cheeks and dripped off his chin as he wrapped Tom gently in his blanket. He climbed in the Jeep and drove slowly away.
The Jeep followed the narrow country road lined with hardwoods gaily displaying their fall colors in the bright afternoon sunshine. The old man took no notice. Turning on to little used dirt track the Jeep continued diagonally across the ridgeline, coming to a stop at a small clearing. The old man picked up the blanket wrapped bundle from the back of the truck and set off following a faint game trail through the trees. After 100 yards he emerged into the open. To his right a large meadow sloped down the hill, to his left an extensive stand of second growth hardwoods and mixed pine blanketed the ridge. At the edge of the field stood an ancient and massive birch tree and beneath the protective branches of the birch loomed an open grave. Next to the grave a large pile of stones and small boulders stood like a sentinel.
The old man paused at the edge of the hole before gently lowering his burden into the opening. He removed a dog collar from the pocket of his hunting coat and buckled it around a low hanging branch before removing his coat and grasping the shovel leaning against the tree. He began filling the hole.
Brushing the dirt from his gnarled hands on his jeans, the old man sat on a log and studied the pile of stones. “Those rocks should discourage any coyotes from messin’ with you.” He said. The old man fished a crusted briar pipe from his pocket and stuffed it with dark tobacco from a worn leather pouch. When he finished the ritual of lighting the pipe, he wrested a can of beer from his hunting coat. Popping the top and flicking the foam off his fingers he raised it in a silent toast toward the pile of stones. “I guess you know why I picked this spot, Tom. This is where you finally figured out we were supposed to do this hunting thing together. In those early days I was thinkin’ about renaming you 5K, ‘cause where ever I was, you were about 5K somewhere else.”
Taking a long pull on the beer, the old man continued, “When you pointed that ol’ ruff cock bird right under that birch and brought him back to me with your teeth chattering in excitement, a light bulb went off in your head. You’d figured out that we were doing this as a TEAM. Things got lots better after that.”
The old man drained the beer and relit his dead pipe. “I won’t say you were the world’s greatest setter, but you were a good one. You were a sweet and gentle dog, and Millie loved having you around the house. Jeff loved you too. Hell, the two of you grew up together learning how to hunt. I’m sure he’ll be stopping by once he gets back from Iraq.”

He stood, shook the dregs from the can and stuffed it in his battered hunting coat as he slipped it on. He picked up the shovel and came briefly to attention. “Semper Fi, old pal.”

And with that the old Marine turned and limped back the way he had come.

© 2008
Author’s Note: This is my first attempt to place some fiction on the blog. Certainly a departure from my “right wing rants” as one of my readers so charitably puts it. If you like “Tom”… great. If not, feel free to offer constructive criticism or suggestions on an alternative hobby. Don’t recommend golf. I’ve already proven I’ll never be any good at that damn game.


Filed under Dick, Hunting, Short Stories

Time for Humor?

With the stock market sliding downward like a flushed toilet and the Chicken Littles crying financial Armageddon if the US Congress fails to enact a $700 billion “rescue” package, this might be an excellent time to try to find something to chuckle about. Herewith a few tales to try to cheer you up.

“How Do You Know He’s a King?”
In one of my early trips into the Bahamas as a deckhand aboard the Brigantine Yankee, we had one guest who set a new standard for obnoxiousness. Nothing pleased him and he complained in a loud voice about everything. He refused to follow any instructions from either the Captain or crew.

The “heads” on Yankee were about the size of a telephone booth and the marine toilets operated by a long pump handle that flushed the bowl out to sea. We had carefully instructed the passengers on the use of this balky equipment and warned them of their tendency to clog. We cautioned them not to throw anything into them, not to over pump and to contact a crewmember if they had a problem.

One afternoon as I strolled down the passageway I heard someone in one of the heads furiously pumping the toilet. It took only a few pumps to do the job and this guy (I could hear him muttering inside the tiny space) was levering the handle with determination. Uh oh, I thought.

Sure enough. Just as I was about to shout to the guy to stop pumping it backfired with a resounding blast. It sounded like a hand grenade had gone off in the enclosed space.

All went quiet and I became concerned. Then the door swung open slowly and, like a scene from a “Roadrunner” cartoon, out stepped our resident asshole. He was covered from head to toe with little bits of shit and toilet paper. He had it on all sides and even the top of his head, as the force of the blast had ricocheted off the walls and ceiling. Only the soles of his shoes were spared. With his appearance and the stunned look on his face, I had only one possible reaction—I fell down laughing.


A Bunch of Blarney

In the 80s when our company represented the POS equipment manufacturer, VeriFone, I traveled frequently to San Francisco for meetings. On one trip after meeting with the sales managers we all headed out for dinner together. Maybe we had a few cocktails. It was a balmy evening so we all decided to walk back to the hotel. On the way I paused at the many beautiful buildings, put my nose up next to the granite facades and announced to my friends the identity of that particular granite. They all knew that I had been in the marble and granite business for 15 years before getting into the credit card market. I would sniff a wall of granite and announce, “Ah yes, this is Carnelian granite from South Dakota,” or “this is Balmoral from South America.”

This supposed skill in identifying the source of granites from their smell particularly impressed one of the young woman sales managers. “You can actually tell the difference from the smell?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “It’s like wine taking the minerals and characteristics of the soil in which it’s grown.” We proceed down the street with her sniffing the walls along with me. She was not having much luck in discerning the difference, but I assured her it was an acquired skill.

We all headed home and I forgot about the whole thing. Then several months later, I happened to be talking on the phone to same gal early one morning. She was describing her vacation to Mexico and I only half listening as I sipped my morning coffee. She said, “I bought one of those marble chess boards down there—you know, with the green and white marble squares? You’ll have to sniff it for me and tell me what kind of marble it is.”

Well, had I been more alert that morning I might not have given away the game. As it was, I did a spit gag with my coffee and tried to choke back my laugh. Didn’t work. “You son-of-a-bitch”, she said and hung up. At the next sales meeting she tried to get someone else to fall for it by asking me to sniff the granite coffee table. Sadly for her, they were skeptical.


Orange You Glad I Asked?

For my 50th birthday I got an unwelcome gift…. Adult Onset Diabetes. The tiny islet cells in my pancreas suddenly decided to quit making insulin. I had to go directly to the needle and injecting insulin. My doctor, a morose and humorless guy, sent me off to the hospital where a plus sized diabetes nurse trained me on how to properly load a needle and inject it. The latter skill we perfected by sticking the needle in and pumping it into an orange.

Insulin can be dangerous if you take too much, so when starting out doctors are naturally cautious in working you up to the appropriate dosage. I had been going along for several weeks taking the prescribed amount and plotting the results of my blood sugars on a graph on my computer. (No doubt this comes as a surprise for many— that I could actually do that on a computer, I mean). My blood sugars were still running way too high and it was obvious that I needed to take more insulin. I decided to fax my graph to my trusty doctor.

As I mentioned, my doc had zero sense of humor and later retired from medicine because of severe depression. I had never seen the poor man smile. I faxed the blood sugar results to him with a note attached. It went like this:

Dear Dr. Imsey,

Things do not seem to be working out as you can see by the attached graph. I have been injecting the insulin into the orange for the last couple of weeks with poor results. Should I eat the orange?


He called me for an immediate appointment and when I walked in he actually had a smile on his face.

I hope you do too.


Filed under Diabetes, Dick, Granite, Yankee

Smart Mouth

I guess we have all said or done something impulsively without forethought and instantly regretted it. As the old saying goes, “Please start brain before engaging mouth”. I have probably committed this crime more than most having been cursed with a “smart mouth” and an atrophied sense of restraint. Herewith a few examples:


I was seated next to woman friend…. more my wife’s than mine… at a dinner party. Trying to make conversation, I leaned over and asked, “So, when is the baby due?” After a long pause while she glared at me she replied, “It was born two months ago. Asshole.” I deserved that.

Attending the first business luncheon with the entire management of the company that had just hired me to take over their construction department, I nearly committed suicide. The founder of the company was a born again Christian and his son who ran the day-to-day operation also professed deeply held religious beliefs. About a dozen of us sat around the table in suits and ties in this “get to know you” lunch.


The company manufactured, among other things, precast concrete mausoleum crypts and the chief salesman had just returned from a cemetery convention. He was describing a management training exercise he’d attended there where each attendee had to speculate on their manner of death and what their eulogy might sound like. People around the table were offering their own theories on their demise and it seemed to be my turn to offer something on the subject. I blurted out (obviously without much forethought), “I guess I’d be found shot in the back with my pants around my ankles.” During the long pause that followed and as I took in the open mouthed stares around the table, I had visions of receiving my walking papers immediately after lunch. Finally, and to my great relief, the old man laughed. Everyone else joined in and I finally exhaled.


In another luncheon experience my staff and I were entertaining a couple of clients at a local restaurant. There were a half dozen of us gathered at a round table and ordering post lunch coffee. My CFO was one of those people blessed with the metabolism of a hyperactive hummingbird. No matter what he ate he never gained an ounce. Those of us then firmly in the grip of middle age and not wanting to order new trousers every six months had to watch what we ate. He always ordered desert and that would have been OK except he always had to rub it in.


He was sitting directly across from me with his back to the windows, our clients on either side of him. They set his desert, a pudding of some sort with a healthy dollop of whipped cream and a perky red cherry perched on top, in front of him while the rest of us watched. He said something like, “Nothing for you guys? Heh, heh! I always have desert. Gotta have my sweets.”


I thought, “Screw you” and quietly picked up my spoon. I looked over his shoulder out the window and said, “Wow! That’s the shortest skirt I’ve ever seen!” This guy was a bit more of a letch than most, so naturally, he spun around to see this short skirt. When he turned I stood, reached across the wide table and with my spoon plucked that cherry neatly off the top of his desert. It left a nice divot in the whipped cream. Popping the cherry into my mouth I quickly sat back down and tried to look innocent as he turned around.


“I don’t see any…” he started before seeing all the startled expressions around the table. He then looked down at the gouge in his whipped cream and said, “Hey!” The clients laughed so no harm done there.


I should have fired that guy. He later cost me a lot of money.


When we got back from the Gemini XI recovery (described in an older post) the six of us, the “frogmen” who had done the recovery, were being interviewed by a local TV station. They were filming the thing and planned to show it on the evening news that night. As I described, Denny Bowman and his two guys had the primary recovery job and my two guys and I were the back up and also tasked with the recovery of the R & R module. The interviewer asked me. “What were you thinking about as the astronauts were coming down and you were about to leave the aircraft carrier?”

I replied, “I was hoping Denny’s helicopter would not start.” Not sure if that made the news or not. I didn’t watch it.

When our business started doing well in the late ‘80s we bought a second home on a point looking west on Lac LaBelle in Wisconsin. When my neighbor agreed to sell me 150’ of waterfront adjoining our two properties, we decided to tear down the house and build our dream home. The old place was actually pretty nice, especially compared to the cottage next door, but the two lots together were now worth more than the house. It had to go. I hired a guy with a bulldozer to nuke the place and left on a business trip.

When I got back to the airport I drove straight out to the house where the old grizzled operator was just climbing down off his D-8 Cat. The house was now a pile of rubble and the guy must have been looking at the old cottage next door as he tore our place to pieces. I walked up to the guy and said without a bit of preplanning on my part, “Where in the f*** is my house?!”

Well, I thought the poor man was going to have a heart attack. He turned white, then red, then kind of purple. His mouth flapped open and shut with nothing coming out and I thought, “Shit, I’ve killed this poor guy.” It took me about 15 minutes to calm him down and assure him that he had nuked the right house and everything was just fine. Felt bad about that one. The devil made me do it.

Of course, I’ve got a few more instances where my mouth started well before my brain. But, a mixed crowd reads this blog and I don’t want to offend anyone more than absolutely necessary.

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Filed under Dick, Short Stories

Blogging When the Sun Shines

I recently received an email from one of my three readers pointing out that I had not posted anything to my blog since June 11th. Time slips by quickly doesn’t it? Especially when the sun finally comes out. I do have several excuses. The first and principal one being sloth. It’s true. The less I have to do, the more difficult it seems to actually finish anything. Proof to the old saw, “If you want something done, give it to the busy guy.”

The other big reason is sunshine. We finally had some warm weather here in the Pacific NW after a dismal and cold spring. That means fishing and golf. Mid-June my pal, Rob, and I headed over the mountains to the BC interior for some serious fly-fishing at Corbett Lake. The trip got delayed a week when Rob’s 13 year old lab, Sedge, passed away. Sedge had been our lookout in the bow of the boat on past trips and it seemed prudent to give everyone a little time. He will be missed.
Corbett is a private lake loaded with big, fat rainbow trout. A highly productive lake with abundant insect hatches makes Corbett a perfect place for fly fishing and even the Holy Grail of trout nuts: dry fly fishing. The small cabins are, well, rustic. But, Peter the owner and chef puts out some decent dinners in the lodge. It won’t make the Orvis catalogue but serious fly fishermen from far and wide know big ‘bows lurk just off the weed beds ready to test the strength of your leader.
After the first day we figured out the program for ’08. Every day at 1:30 a mayfly hatch started on the shallow flats and the rainbows moved in for a late lunch. Some of the takes were vicious attacks while others quiet slurps. Big, pissed off fish! After breaking off several we both tied on heavier tippets. The action would be fast and furious for 10 minutes and then go quiet for a while before starting again. By 3:00pm, like someone had thrown a switch… it was over. Big fish too. We each landed several in the 4 to 5lb. range and one hog snapped Rob’s tippet like a rotten shoelace. He jumped twice near the boat giving us a good look. My guess: 8lbs. All catch and release, of course. Although on the last day I had a nice 3 pounder that was too injured to live and I brought him home for an appointment with my braising pan.
On July 4th son Mike and I flew to Winnipeg from Vancouver. The next morning at six we boarded a twin-engine turboprop for Hatchet Lake Lodge near the northern border of Saskatchewan (IOW, way an’ the Hell up there). It’s a trip I have wanted to take for a long time and I was not disappointed.
George Flemming built the place 35 years ago and wisely started catch and release well before it became fashionable. Consequently, the fishing is extraordinary for big northern pike, lake trout, walleyes and the rare grayling. George also managed to get a bulldozer in there by hauling it over the ice in winter and built a 6000’ gravel runway on a glacial ridge allowing serious land based aircraft access to this remote wilderness. Unfortunately, we did not get to meet George. He was in the hospital with the dreaded “Big C” and it did not sound like he would ever make it back to Hatchet Lake.
The main lodge is a massive log structure with a dining room capable of handling 50 guests (only 25 present during our stay), a bar and lounge, a tackle shop and a library. The out cabins, also made of logs, feature bedrooms, bath and living rooms. It’s still cold up there at night (and sometimes during the day) so the wood burning stove in the living room comes in handy. The lodge has its own electrical generating system and water system so you wouldn’t say we were exactly roughing it.
Days started at 5:30 when someone came by with a pot of coffee and threw a couple of logs in the stove. Breakfast at seven and with our Native guide we started fishing at 8:00.
Hatchet Lake itself is 20 miles long and 10 miles wide. Several lakes connect to Hatchet and you can access those lakes by portage or run the rapids, an exciting experience to say the least.
Dry fly fishing for grayling in these rapids can only be described as exceptional. These fish have become nearly extinct in the US and southern Canada. Mike and I were catching one on nearly every cast. Nice ones too. Beautiful fish!
Of course, the main attraction was big northern pike. When I say big, I’m talking about 15 to 20 pounders being relatively common. We caught at least a half dozen over 40” with Mike landing the biggest at 44”. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we caught over 200 pike. I wanted to catch them on my 8wt fly rod and got a few the first day before my fly got snagged in the net when Leonard, our guide, (who looked disturbingly like the sketch of Ted Kazinski … the Unabomber) landed Mike’s first big pike and the subsequent chaos in the back of the boat snapped the tip off my rod. So it was spinning gear and spoons. Since it stayed windy and cool most of the time and the pike were not in the shallows, fly-fishing would have been tough anyway.
On two of the days we opted for fly outs to remote lakes. The 15 or 20-minute hops offered a good view of the area and the vast amount of territory and the small amount of human interference with this wilderness. When we arrived at the lakes we found boats and motors waiting and once we took off we never saw the other fishermen until we returned to the landing to meet the floatplane at the end of the day.
Each day our guide would bonk a couple of smaller fish and prepare “shore lunch” consisting of fried fish fillets, potatoes with onions and heated cans of baked beans and corn. Not exactly Adkins Diet, but mighty tasty after a morning of fresh air. Sitting there on a rocky shore munching on a crispy piece of fish and watching an eagle making lazy circles high above…. well, as the man says, “It don’t get much better than this”. All in all, a fantastic trip.
Two days after returning from Hatchet, Loi and I took off on a road trip to the Okanogan, central British Columbia’s answer to Napa Valley. The ostensible purpose of the trip was to attend the anniversary party and pre-house warming of our Whistler neighbors, Tony and Barb. The party at their yet-to-be-completed home on the lake turned out to be a memorable affair. We had an opportunity to spend some time with our friends and get in a game of golf before a couple of days of touring this beautiful part of BC. The five-hour drive back through the mountains gave us a chance to reaffirm just how huge, beautiful and uninhabited our Province actually is.
So now we’re back in Whistler where the house and my golf swing needed some attention. I point all this out to my three faithful readers to confirm that, despite your suspicions, I have not been laying abed until mid day or spending my afternoons sucking beer in the shade. Not yet anyway.


Filed under Dick, Fishing, Mike

The Speckled Pup (A Love Story)

Everybody thinks fuzzy yellow lab puppies are cute. That’s why they use them in TV ads for everything from dog food to feminine beauty products. Personally, I can’t think of anything cuter than white and ticked English Setter pups. Part of that, I think, is my understanding of what happens when the respective pups grow up. The adorable labs grow into barrel chested brutes with tails like runaway fire hoses that knock infants off their feet and sweep everything off the coffee table. Setter pups, on the other hand, grow to be swift, graceful and beautiful with gentle dispositions. (I think I wrote something in this space recently about prejudice… nuff said?)

Growing up as a kid I never had a dog. Of course, there were plenty of dogs on my Uncle Lee’s farm….beagles and cockers. And, I spent a bit of time hunting with my neighbor’s two German Shorthairs, convincing me that pointing dogs were the ultimate in sporting breeds. I also enjoyed some great days hunting with my friend’s full sized poodle named Sardie who was, without question, the best retriever I ever saw. But, for some reason I was attracted to English Setters.

Once I got back from my eight month Med deployment with Third Platoon, and Loi and I got settled in a tiny house (but with a big back yard) in Virginia Beach, we decided to get a dog. An ad in the paper announced “setter pups for sale” and we went to take a look. Eight of the little bundles of white fur and black spots tumbled over each other in their joy at our visit. Going home without one never entered our minds. We picked out a bold and inquisitive male with black ears and tiny black ticking. We named him Zeke after the best hunter and wing shot I knew and he became our first baby.

Romping in our yard the little guy would snap on points at butterflies and flowers. Frozen in place with his tail high and still, he would raise his front paw in the classic pose. I had high hopes and immediately went out and bought a book on training hunting dogs. Basic training was going well and we quickly realized that Zeke had superior intelligence and a desire to please. Then I got sent off on another mission for the Teams for a few months. Loi went down to Florida to spend the time with her Mother taking Zeke with her, of course. By then, he had developed into a gangling teenager and committed a few crimes… like charging through the screened in porch without the benefit of the door a couple of times. He seemed quite enthusiastic about shagging squirrels and birds out of the yard and the screens got in the way. Loi’s Mom was not thrilled.

Back in Virginia Beach, I started working with Zeke in earnest. After dinner, Loi and I would head out to the approaches of the airport where the grass and brush harbored quite a few coveys of bob white quail. Zeke loved these romps but showed no inclination to point the quail. He seemed to find great joy in locating the coveys and running into them, watching them scatter in all directions. I was getting discouraged when one night in the gathering darkness as we headed back to the car, Zeke screeched to a halt on a point. I slowly approached from behind and gave him a nudge. He stood firm like a statue. I peered over him and saw a tightly bunched covey of quail directly beneath his nose. The hot bird scent had him transfixed. My hopes for him soared only to be dashed again. His new game: find the birds, briefly point and then jump in to make them fly.

I had to figure out a way to make him hold point until I got there to flush the birds. Otherwise, he’d find all the birds but I’d never get a shot. I bought six quail and kept them in a cage in the back yard. Leaving Zeke in the car, I would take the quail out in the field, spin them to make them a bit dizzy and plant them in the grass. I tied a 4 ft. piece of string to one foot so I could catch them again. I’d bring Zeke into the field on a long lead and work into the wind. When he pointed the bird I would make him stand there until I flushed the bird. This worked well and I next let him run on his own without the lead. Unfortunately, he had figured the game out. As soon as I let him out of the car he simply followed my scent trail through the grass to precisely where I’d placed the bird. He knew I’d taken the bird out there so he had no need to look for the damn thing. We had six quail for dinner that night.

In the fall I got out of the Navy and we headed home to Buffalo for six weeks before I had to report to my job in Chicago. It was time to introduce Zeke to pheasants. He had become pretty good at pointing quail in Virginia but pheasants were all new to him. He just chased them until they flew. He had also developed the nasty habit of hunting on his own. He’d figured out that by circling he could cross my scent trail and follow it until he found me. I had become simply his ride to and from our little outdoor expeditions. I’d be standing there fuming and I’d hear the tiny brass bell he wore on his collar tinkling as he galloped up my back trail. He was always happy to see me and though angry, it made no sense to punish him. One day when he’d been gone for a long time, I spotted a large lone tree in the middle of the field. I made for the tree, grabbed a low hanging branch and swung up into the tree. I climbed well up in the branches and waited. Soon I heard the tinkling as he jogged up my scent trail. He got to the tree and stopped as my scent track abruptly stopped. Zeke looked around, obviously puzzled, and then set off again to run another circle. Here he came again following the track, got to the tree and stopped, totally confused. I almost fell out of the tree laughing. Now he panicked and headed off again at a dead run. When he came around the third time I was sitting at the bottom of the tree waiting for him. Boy, was he ever happy to see me! I would like to tell you that the exercise in tree climbing cured him, but of course it did not. Since we had never actually hunted yet, he had no idea that we were supposed to be doing this as a team.

With the opening of the pheasant season rapidly approaching, I decided to go to a pheasant farm and buy a couple of birds, shoot them over him and see if he’d catch on to the program. With him on a long lead he’d pointed and I’d shot the two birds, but I was uncertain he’d learned anything. The game farm owner had cautioned me not to shoot any other birds than the ones I’d purchased. But, on the way back to the car with Zeke off the lead he snapped into a solid point. I walked up behind him and a big rooster flushed from under his nose. I capped that bird and Zeke brought him back to me quivering with excitement. I had to beg forgiveness from the farmer and pay for the extra bird but I could care less. A light had gone off in Zeke’s head. From that day forward we hunted as a team. Yes, he had a lot to learn and made mistakes but he knew what we were doing out there and would stand forever on point waiting for me.

One day that season a friend and I were hunting near a small lake. A flock of geese circled and looked like they were going to set down in the lake. I ignored Zeke while watching the geese. After ten minutes or so the geese buggered off and I started looking for the dog. No bell and no white dog bouncing in the field. I spotted a large clump of bushes and walked over. Peering under the brush I saw Zeke locked on a rock solid point. He’d been standing there patiently for about 15 minutes. I kicked the brush and out popped a hen pheasant. Now hens are not legal and I would never shoot one…. except my young dog had just done something extraordinary and he needed to get his reward. I shot the hen and then dug a hole and buried it. May God and the New York DNR forgive me.

Zeke had an exceptional nose and although pheasants are tough and wily buggers and will run like the wind if wounded, he never lost a bird I’d downed. One time he brought me a hen that someone else had shot illegally. He seemed quite pleased with himself. But, we were hunting at a public hunting grounds routinely patrolled by game wardens. I could see myself trying to convince the officer that I had not shot the bird and that my dog had simply found it. Right. I placed the bird in a grassy road that meandered through the field and led Zeke 50 yards further down and turned him loose. He made a big circle and picked up the hen again and brought it to me. He seemed to be saying, “Hey Dick, you forgot this!” Thanks. I dropped the bird on the road and led him about 300 yards away before turning him loose again.

Zeke had had a good first season but it was now November and time to head for Chicago. We rented a small basement apartment and I commuted by train downtown where I worked on the 1st National Bank building setting granite slabs on the side of the building…20 to 30 stories in the air. Working six or seven days a week at 10 hours per day left no time for much of anything much less hunting. Zeke had a long wire strung in the back yard that allowed him to run back and forth. One night the doorbell rang. The man at the door asked if my name was Dick and I gazed past him to the car parked at the curb. There in the back seat between a couple of kids sat Zeke looking quite relaxed. The man explained that Zeke had scaled the fence to their back yard and had his way with their female collie that happened to be in heat. They lived about a mile away and fortunately, Zeke’s collar had our name and address on it. I apologized profusely and vowed it would not happen again.

Two nights later the doorbell rang again. There he was with Zeke. This time he had torn down the wire and made the trip with his 12-foot chain dragging behind him. Missy was inside on this night so Zeke went up on the porch and managed to accidentally (?) ring their doorbell. When they answered there sat Zeke waiting to call on his lady friend. Luckily the guy had a good sense of humor. Some time later, after we’d moved on to Olympia, WA., we got a letter from them. Enclosed we found a snap shot of Missy and her litter of ten white and speckled puppies. Our boy had strong genes. The pups didn’t look like collies.

We made the cross-country trip from Chicago to Olympia in our ’66 Plymouth Barracuda. In the back we had a bassinette containing our new baby daughter, Tara, and Zeke who was somewhat whacked out on Dramamine. He rode most of the way with his chin resting on the edge of the bassinette. Through the big back window of the ‘cuda it must have made a pretty picture. We got a lot of friendly toots and waves from passing motorists.

Like I said, Zeke possessed exceptional intelligence. I calculated that he understood 24 words and commands. Like a lot of exceptionally intelligent humans, he did have his quirks. For some reason he was hypnotized by Loi’s emery board. Whenever she filed her nails he would sit in front of her motionless with a glazed look on his face. Loi could balance the emery board on his nose and he would sit there staring at it cross-eyed and never move. He loved oranges and hated peas. If you peeled an orange, he would sit in front of you and drool like a Great Dane. He would gulp down any slice tossed his way. But peas? Furgetaboutit. We often mixed some gravy and meat scraps in his kibble. He’d wolf down the bowl in seconds, leaving it as clean as fresh out of the dishwasher. If there were any peas in the mix, there they would be, sitting in the bottom of the bowl. I could never figure out how he could gobble the food down and avoid the few peas.

We lived out in the woods on one of the salt-water inlets outside Olympia. We had a gentle and fluffy cat named Phoebe. Zeke and Phoebe got along fine and occasionally could be found cured up together taking an afternoon snooze. Never anything but friendly….except when Zeke was in his kennel. Phoebe would jump up on his doghouse and then vault up on the 2 x 4 that capped the wire enclosure. She would casually stroll the narrow board and stop to wash herself while Zeke went absolutely nuts down below. Why was he so upset? I can’t say.  Territorial maybe? I know why Phoebe did it: just to piss him off. Cats are like that.

For the next four years when we lived near Olympia, Zeke and I did a lot of hunting. Most weekends I would go out with my business partner’s high school aged son. We usually headed over to a nearby valley for a little duck hunting at first light. With his thin coat Zeke was not designed for cold water and he did not appreciate sitting around. He was built to run. But, hunting is hunting and he enjoyed the birds coming in and the excitement of the shooting. He hated the taste of ducks and refused to pick one up on dry land. For some unexplained reason he was OK with swimming out to retrieve a downed duck. Once his feet hit solid land he spit the duck out, refusing to pick it up again. It seemed as if he were saying, “OK, I will do this thing for you, but I refuse to keep this stinky bird in my mouth any longer than absolutely necessary.” I was grateful and told him so.

About 9:30 we would head over to the public hunting grounds to hunt pheasants. By then, most of the early arrivals were leaving. One morning, two guys with two black labs were leaving one of the 40-acre plots. They said, “Don’t bother with this field. We just covered it with our two labs. No birds in there.” As you can expect, we hunted the field and Zeke pointed two nice roosters and we smugly put them in our game pockets.

With each new season Zeke became wiser and wiser about the sneaky pheasant. From painful experience, I gave up trying to tell him where to go and what to do. His exceptional nose and uncanny sense of what the wily birds were attempting never failed and made me look foolish telling him otherwise. He was now six years old and at the peak of his game.

Living as we did, out in the boondocks, with few neighbors, I never worried about letting Zeke out at night for his evening constitutional and a little rambling. One night he didn’t come home. The next morning and for several days thereafter I drove the country roads and searched the ditches for miles around looking for him. We posted rewards. We never saw him again.

Later we learned that a number of purebred dogs had gone missing in our area and a dog-napping ring was suspected. The culprits were never apprehended. I mourned him, as would a parent of a kidnapped child never returned. Over the years we had other hunting dogs. They tried hard, although none could fill the considerable paw prints of ol’ Zeke. I miss him still.


Filed under Dick, Dogs, Hunting

An Image of Dad

From the Blogmaster (or Blog Mistress, as the case may be)

This picture was sent by Mom (Dick’s wife) to me last week. It’s dated about 1957–when Dad was about 16 years old–posing with his swim buddies.

There are some things I’ve always known about Dad.

He’s just a little bit off-center. He looks at life at a slightly different angle, which I think is healthy.

He’s a showman. He’s not afraid to be noticed. He’s confident, but not cocky.

He may only stand 5’7″, but his personality is over 6′ tall.

I like to think I inherited some of this…and am able to pass it down to the next generation…no matter how weird it looks.

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My Captain…. Once Again

Those of you who know me likely suspected that I lacked the computer skills to set up this blog. You would have been correct and, if you doubted that I actually knew how to post these entries or amend them, you would also be right. Daughter Karen, to whom I have been sending my scribblings for a while, kept suggesting that I start a blog. I, of course, kept saying, “Yeah, yeah.” And did nothing.

So she created the thing. Now when I send something to her, she posts it and adds any pictures she deems appropriate from her collection or mine. She is my “blogmaster”. There, I feel better having confessed. And, thanks Karen.

(You’re welcome!)
(Note: Read “My Captain” 12 Nov 2007, before continuing)
When I sent her the “My Captain” piece she did some research on the Internet concerning the Brigantine Yankee and Captain Kimberly. She discovered that Cap was alive and well and living in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. After tracking down his address and phone number I vowed to go and see him when Loi and I visited Florida to spend some time with our friends Pete and Shirley. We are in the midst of that expedition as I write this.

This week, after a visit to the UDT/SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce and a stop in Vero Beach to spend some time with a mutual high school pal, we made the jaunt up to see the Skipper. He’s 87 or 88 now (he could not be certain which) and living in a group home with six other folks. It’s a good set up. He’s got his own large bedroom and private bath and is allowed to have his aging dog, Lucky, with him. His room is filled with memorabilia from his decades at sea including several models of square-rigged ships he’s building. The place is located right on the river front where it joins the ocean so he’s not far from the salt water where he’s spent his entire adult life.
I would like to think that he remembered me after 46+ years, but I don’t think so. Hundreds of eager young deck hands must have sailed under him over the years and a lot of water has passed beneath his keel since then. We talked about the Yankee, Frank the foul tempered but brilliant cook and Mel the First Mate from Marblehead. He described the around the World trip he took on her and how he met his wife Gloria aboard and married her when the Yankee reached Tahiti. Sadly, his wife died two years ago.
For reasons he did not explain, he left the Yankee mid-way through the trip and several subsequent captains failed to bring her home. She was eventually blown on to a reef in the South Pacific and destroyed. Cap was obviously saddened by that turn of events for he loved the Yankee. “She was a fine ship,” he said. As I have said in the past, any praise from Cap is high praise.

The Skipper explained how he and his wife acquired a ketch and began running charters out of St. Thomas. They were looking for a square-rigged ship but costs and availability were problems. Then luck smiled on them. A film company had rigged a Baltic schooner as a “pure Brigantine” for the film “Hawaii”. Once the filming was complete they just wanted to get rid of it. Being in the right place at the right time Cap and his wife were able to purchase the ship for the ridiculous price of $30,000. They named her Romance and began twenty-five years of deep-water charters. They did two circum-navigations of the World and several trips into the South Pacific, as well as charters in the Bahamas. The hundreds of people who sailed with the Kimberlys maintain an association with get togethers and a website. Clearly, the Kimberlys were loved by many. Sadly, the Romance is also at the bottom of the sea. She was heavily damaged while at anchor in the Bahamas and had to be scuttled. I believe the Kimberlys had left the ship by that time and others owned it.

After an hour and a half of conversation it was dinnertime at the home and time for us to leave. He walked us to the car and shook my hand in his claw like grip. He clearly relished having visitors and hated to see us go. He obviously loved talking sailing and ships. At times he seemed lucid and occasionally a little vague as I guess you would expect of someone who is 87, or maybe 88, years old. But, to me he was the same old Captain and had changed far less than the fresh faced 18 year old that had come aboard his ship in 1960.
Smooth sailin’, Skipper. And, thanks.

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Gemini XI Recovery

Recovery of the Gemini XI, 1966

These days the space shuttle’s return from a mission gets about 30 seconds on the evening news. Astronauts spend months in the Space Station ignored by the media unless there is a technical problem. Forty years ago it was very different. The space program had captured the imagination of the World and the media covered every aspect of launch and recovery with nearly everyone glued to their TV sets. I got to participate in this circus when I was selected to be part of the recovery team for Gemini XI in 1966.

The Russians always landed their spacecraft on land, but the US opted for bringing them down in the ocean. Not sure of the reason for this… softer landing maybe or perhaps a bigger target. In one of the early Mercury launches this decision did not look too smart as the spacecraft got swamped and sank. NASA figured it might be a good idea to put a floatation collar around the spacecraft to prevent losing the thing and all the important data carried on board. They determined that the job of entering the water after splash down and applying the collar would fall to the Navy’s “frogmen” (now known by everyone as the Navy SEALs).

The second job of these swimmers entailed inflating and tying a raft along side and getting the astronauts out of the spacecraft. After spending time weightless in space, the Gemini capsule became a claustrophobic seasick machine once it started wallowing in the waves. The astronauts couldn’t wait to get out of the thing. After a week or two in that cramped tin can it also stunk like a port-a-potty on a hot August afternoon.

The procedure called for us to get the collar installed, inflate the raft and then using a special wrench open the hatch to let them out. We had a telephone we’d plug into the spacecraft so we could talk to the astronauts and let them know how we were doing. On one of the early Gemini flights the boys wanted out so badly that they activated the explosive charge that blew the hatch from the inside. Unfortunately, one of our guys was in the process of peeking in the window and undoing the hatch at the time and the blown hatch caught him square in the forehead knocking him ass over tea kettle into the raft. This little embarrassment never made the news, but did lead to some changes by NASA instructing the astronauts not to blow the hatch except as a last resort.

In the early days the assignments to recovery teams got passed around to various Teams, alternating between East and West coast Teams. Eventually, because the launches and recoveries all occurred on the East coast and because of the retraining issues, all the recoveries became the job of Lt. Denny Bowman. Denny’s three-man team always had the primary recovery job and the three man backup team was assigned on a rotating basis to other frogs from UDT-21 and UDT-22.

A third team got sent down to wait off the coast of Florida in case the astronauts decided to abort and fire the space craft off the top of the rocket and into the sea. This never happened and seemed an unlikely option. The crash test dummies had never “survived” a test of this procedure.

After an eight month Med cruise with Third Platoon I got assigned the plum job of backing up Denny on Gemini XI. The two enlisted men assigned to my team were Paul Deaton and Sam Siaea. Both Paul and Denny were fellow classmates from Class 33 so I knew them like brothers and Paul had been with me on the Med cruise. Denny, unfortunately, passed away a couple of years ago from cancer. After Paul got out of the Navy he returned to college and then med school and has been a family practitioner ever since. Smart guy.

After some practice around Little Creek the six of us headed off to join the USS Guam, an LPH (helicopter carrier) designed to carry Marines and their equipment for airborne assaults during amphibious landings. Upon arriving we were surprised to see a huge disc mounted on the aft end of the flight deck. Although it may have had something to do with communi-cation with the spacecraft, the ostensible purpose was to transmit the TV signals back to the mainland. Our second surprise was the enormous number of civilians on board. CBS had the job of providing the pictures for all the other networks and had their own on camera people on board. Terry Drinkwater had drawn the long straw and would be the CBS personality on camera. Of course, NASA had a big contingent as did ITT who provided the communication. It must have been nearly 150 civilians along with the Navy personnel assigned for the recovery that crowded into the massive wardroom for the Captain’s welcoming speech.

After some general remarks and outlining the game plan for the launch, the wait while the astronauts circled the Earth for two weeks and the recovery, the Captain reminded the civilians on board that this was a US Navy ship. “This is not a cruise ship”, the Skipper pointed out. And, while they were aboard he expected them to observe the rules of a Navy ship. In particular no alcohol was allowed. Yeah right, I thought. The Captain really had no authority over the civilians and, of course, they ignored him. The civilians had nothing to do while the Guam circled Bermuda waiting for the astronauts to come down, so every afternoon a party started. The smell of whiskey and cigars filled the passageways where they were housed. Non-stop poker games became the norm and the search for ice the biggest challenge.

While the civilians partied we practiced. We had a dummy Gemini capsule that a helicopter would haul off some 10 or 20 miles from the ship and dump in the ocean. Following the beacon we’d locate the capsule, jump from the Navy Sea King choppers and do our thing, including hoisting guys up to the chopper. None of it was particularly difficult, but it gave us a chance to get off the ship and go for a swim.

We even practiced night recoveries. On one black night they dropped the capsule far out of sight of the ship. As we neared the site the helicopter pilot got a bit lax and he started bouncing the flat-bottomed Sea King off the tops of the 10’ waves. He hit two with resounding thumps nearly knocking me off my feet. I figured that with both doors wide open that heli-copter would sink like a stone and I got ready to bail out if he hit another one. The pilot managed to get the craft aloft again and then in that “no sweat” pilot twang calmly spoke into my headphones, “Sorry about that fellas. Spacecraft’s just ahead.” After we’d installed the collar and inflated the raft, the helicopter left. Following the roar of the chopper and the brightness of the landing lights, the sudden silence and total darkness came as a bit of a shock. We scanned the horizon and not a single ship was in sight. The three of us sat there riding the large swells in silence for a while until Paul muttered what we all thinking. “I hope they don’t forget we’re out here,” he said.

After what seemed like my longest two weeks at sea, the boys (Conrad and Gordon) were finally headed back to Mother Earth. It was a perfect day for a splashdown with calm seas and bright sun. We loaded into the waiting helicopters in full wet suits and tanks. The tanks were required because of the toxic fuel the spacecraft spilled into the ocean when they first splashed down. It quickly dissipated and by the time we hooked up the collar and inflated the raft we could dump the tanks.

My team’s job was primarily to back up Denny’s team in case their helo malfunctioned. However, on this mission our secondary mission was to try and recover the Rendezvous and Recovery Module, a piece of the spacecraft that breaks away when their chute opens. It had the floatation characteristics of an anvil and had always gone directly to the bottom. We were going to try to get on it quickly and attach an inflatable raft. NASA had a strong desire to retrieve it if we could.

Since I owned a Calypso underwater camera just like the ones NASA used and had been taking pictures during the training exercises for the NASA boys, they outfitted me with two underwater cameras and wanted me to take photos of the splashdown and shots of the astronauts being hoisted into the helicopters. My tasks were to drop Paul and Sam with a raft on the R & R Module and then photograph the recovery from the air and then from the water.

Our two helos launched without incident when the Gemini XI spacecraft reentered the atmosphere and were on station about 2 miles off the bow of the Guam when their parachute opened. I wore headphones and could listen to the astronauts talking to the ship and the communication between the ship and the pilot. I could only talk to the pilot.

By the time the space program got to Gemini XI the NASA boys had that reentry calculation down pat and Conrad and Gordon were going to splash down right off the bow of the ship.
We spotted the bright red and white parachute at about 5000 feet and circled around as it slowly descended. Denny and his guys were on it as it hit the water. Our pilot had us over the R & R module at about the same time and Paul and Sam jumped out. I pushed the raft out right after them and we headed back to the spacecraft where I started snapping pictures of the recovery.

The astronauts have the option of riding the raft and spacecraft back to the ship or being hoisted in the helicopter and flying back to the ship. It seems kind of silly to go through getting hoisted into the helicopter for a ride of less than half a mile. But, the short ride gave them a chance to get out of their space suits and make an entrance on the flight deck in front of the TV cameras and the formal reception committee while being welcomed by a Navy band. Conrad and Gordon opted for the helo ride.

When the astronauts were gone I jumped into the sea and swam up to join Denny and his crew at the spacecraft. It was still warm when I arrived. We rode it until the ship maneuvered along side and got it hoisted aboard. Our job was finished.

Sam and Paul were not successful in saving the R & R Module. It sank like the stone it was before they could hook on to it, although they hung on until they were below 100 feet down before giving up.

I’ve always regretted that I took the Gemini recovery so casually. We considered ourselves serious special warfare operators and this was a simple job. We aimed to stay aloof of all the hoopla. At the time I was so casual about it that I neglected to mention to my Mom that I would be on the recovery. She first heard about my involvement when the TV guys mentioned my name on national television. She was watching…. like just about everyone else in America I guess. I never heard the end of that one.

When we got back to Little Creek we were interviewed by the local TV people and various newspapers and for months afterward received requests for autographs that arrived in the mail. I began to realize that I had missed the boat. I could have taken a ton of action photos that might be of some interest to my children and grandchildren. I wound up with copies of about a dozen 8 x 10s that I had taken for NASA.

At the time the World was fascinated with every aspect of the space program. The astronauts represented the best and the bravest of America and what they were doing unimaginable.
Today everyone wants to know what’s happening with Brittany and OJ. Different time. And, I gotta tell you, for all my blasé attitude, I was pretty excited when I saw that spacecraft dangling below the big parachute right in front of me. We were a tiny piece of the event, but I now consider myself lucky to have been there.


Filed under Dick, Navy SEALs