Friday, December 22, 2006

What It Means

The old man didn't believe in much, and he certainly did not believe in anything he couldn't prove. He was too intelligent and too learned to allow himself the indulgement of beliefs that required faith--that was just too simple-mindedly uneducated for a college professor. He wasn't completely passionless--he did love his birds. As a trained biologist, he knew every detail of the physiology and behavior of animals in general, and, as a ornithological specialist, his knowledge of birds was particularly deep and broad. He was unabashedly vain in the surety that he knew practically everything there was to know about birds--he was darn near omniscient when it came to feathered fauna. He lived alone and kept several feeders in his backyard to attract the birds he loved so much--they were his company, and he often, embarrassingly, caught himself talking out loud to them.

He stood at the window as the light of the late December evening dimmed. It had snowed most of the day and several inches had accumulated. The temperature was dropping precipitously--it was going to be one of the coldest nights of the year. But, that hadn't deterred his neighbors from their annual ritual of asking him to join them at church for Christmas Eve services. He had politely refused, and even wished them "happy holidays," even though he considered it hypocritical to do so. His principled disbelief in the basis for the holidays prevented him from even recognizing Christmas in any way. There was no decorated tree in his house, no silly lights outside, and certainly no gift giving. He was no hypocrite.

As darkness fell, he heard the bells ringing from the church down the road, and he marvelled at the waste of time, energy, and resources devoted to Christianity. How could anyone with half a brain buy in to the immaculate conception fairy tale? If there was a God running this universe, and he was fairly certain there wasn't, why would he waste his time on the insignificant life forms on an insignificant rock circling a tiny star?

It was snowing again, and he reached over and turned on the outside light so he could watch the flakes fall. His attention was drawn to the ground just at the edge of the circle of light, where a flock of small birds was huddled motionless in the snow. He was immediately concerned. He had seen this kind of behavior before and it normally resulted in the death of all the birds in the flock. Stunned by the bitter cold, they would just sit there and freeze. He hated to see that happen. He loved his birds and it just tore at him any time he found one dead. He had to do something for this flock.

He quickly pulled on his coat and boots and stepped outside in the snow. He thought maybe he could scare them into some life-saving activity. Maybe he could chase them into the air and they would fly somewhere safe. He waved his arms and stomped his feet, but the birds just moved out of his way and continued to huddle in the snow.

He walked across the yard to his workshop at the back of the lot, opened the door, turned on the light, and stooped to turn on the space heater in the corner. He propped open the door and then stepped outside and into the shadows. He hoped that if he remained motionless and hidden the birds would see the light and warmth of the workshop and move inside. After a few minutes, it was obvious that the birds weren't going to take the initiative to move into the workshop on their own. He would have to try to move them himself. He walked over to the flock and bent to pick up a bird, but it fluttered away and landed on the other side of the flock. He tried several times to catch a bird, but the results were always the same. He tried to herd the birds toward the warmth of the workshop by stooping and waving his arms, but the birds just scattered in front of him and then rejoined to huddle in the snow. Again and again he tried to shoo the birds toward the lifesaving warmth, and he became increasingly frustrated at his failure to save them.

The temperature was perceptively dropping and he noticed that one of the birds had slumped lifelessly. He redoubled his efforts to herd them to the workshop. Another bird slumped in the snow. He was frantic now, speaking to the birds, trying to reason with them, and then caught himself, embarrassed. He said to himself aloud, "If I could just become a bird for one minute, I could lead them to the light and warmth of the workshop and save them from dying in the snow."

At that moment, the bells on the church down the road began to ring again. The old man sank to his knees in the snow and understood.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Guns and Butter: Recipe for Defeat

Commentators in the media noted recently that the Iraq Campaign in the War on Terror has now lasted longer than the US involvement in the Second World War. I think that is significant, but not in the way most of the superficial comparisons do.

First of all, most of the newsies got it wrong, claiming that the "War in Iraq has lasted longer than the Second World War." The historical fact is the Second World War lasted nearly eight years, beginning with the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 (one could argue it started earlier than that--with Japanese operations in China) and our entry as an official belligerent came halfway through the war.

Second, the correct military way to view our current operations in Iraq is as a CAMPAIGN in a larger war--a la the Pacific, African, and European Campaigns in the Second World War. If our global military operations against terrorism were confined to Iraq, then we could (still not technically correct) call it the Iraq War (or some derivative term, thereof). But they are not; we have forces (some overt; most clandestine) in the fight in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, Indonesia, Latin America, and in the "Stan" republics of the Former Soviet Union, to name a few of the many countries in which Islamo-fascists are fomenting hatred and plotting attacks against the interest of the US and our allies.

Third, the most important point to be drawn from the comparison of the current fight with the Second World War (and, inevitably, with our involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War of 1945--1975) is the level of commitment to absolute and rapid victory over our enemies. I've said it before, and it bears repeating (like the preacher who repeats the same sermon week after week until the congregation repents); we are fighting this war with one arm tied behind our backs and sitting in a rocking chair. President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld repeated the same mistake made by President Johnson and Secretary McNamara. Our involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War was (despite the 58,000 lives lost over a decade), for the most part, a limited application of the military and economic power of the re-United States. Unlike the 3 and 1/2 years of our full-scale involvement in the Second World War, there was no rationing or other shared privation during the 60s. Johnson did not want to jeopardize his "Great Society" goals, and he relied on McNamara's high-tech vision of future war (sound familiar?) to fight the Vietnamese communist insurgency.

If we had fought the Second World War like we fought in Vietnam, and are now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, WWII would have lasted until 1950 and we would have probably met the Soviets at the Pas de Calais (check out a map) instead of at the Rhine. But, Roosevelt committed nearly the entire economic output of the re-United States to war-making resources necessary for victory, and we (once those resources reached the fighting fronts) quickly overwhelmed Nazi Germany and the Japanese. Americans on the homefront made sacrifices for the Second World War that are unimaginable today. There was virtually no new cars or trucks for three years. Sugar, gasoline, rubber, and other resources were strictly rationed. Most colleges and universities in the land did not field football teams in 1943. And, (a little known fact that casts our worship of the patriotism of the "Greatest Generation" in a different light) the proportion of draftees in the American Armed Forces during WWII was far higher than during our "unpopular" involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War a generation later.

If we had fought the Second World War like we fought most of the war in Vietnam, and are now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would have not conducted the strategic bombing campaigns over the German and Japanese heartlands, but would have instead only pounded France (which is not necessarily a bad thing) to kill Vichy French, and Germans AFTER they crossed the Rhine.

The point is until we COMMIT to rapid and complete victory over our enemies, we are fighting a losing battle. To win this war, we must fight it like we fought World War Two. Our President needs to lead us in a crusade (I know that word makes Muslims mad--that's why I used it). He needs to quit trying to balance guns and butter. We need to put the Space Program on hold, devote one whole year of automobile manufacturing to building military vehicles, ration food so that we can overwhelm our Islamo-fascist sympathizers with American bounty for one year, and CALL on American men and women to join the crusade in uniform (either as fighters or as homeland support). We need to attack Iran and Syria, now, and end their support of Islamo-fascism.

I know that last paragraph sounds way over the top. It does to most who don't know the history of our empire in particular and world empires in general. Rome was at its zenith when its citizenry fought. Rome declined when its citizenry paid others to do the fighting.

I knew we were on the wrong track in this "War on Terrorism" by the late fall of 2001. I told Miss Brenda the morning of September 12th that I believed we were about to embark on the first world war of the 21st Century and that she needed to prepare herself for the agony of seeing her man and her sons go off to fight. I believed our president when he declared that we would make no distinction between terrorists and those nations that supported terrorism.

Turns out he didn't mean it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Between Three Worlds

I think I packed about as much travel and adventure into last week as I have in a week in a long time. Miss Brenda and her folks drove to Houston the weekend before Thanksgiving to spend the week with my beautiful bride's ugly twin sister and her family, as has become somewhat of a tradition. In years past, all of our kids rallied in Houston as well, but this year that wasn't possible. Everyone was going to be with some family for the week, except for bachelor #2 son and I begged out of the trip to Houston with the excuse that he would be lonely if I didn't spend the week with him. To my surprise, everyone bought it.

We hit the road early Friday morning a week ago--they headed west and I headed north. I got to #2's house in North Mississippi in time to quickly change into hunting togs and slip into the woods near his home with my bow. #2 had given me orders not to shoot any young bucks, but to cull the doe herd a bit. Right at sunset I had a shot at a doe, and missed--twice! Not a very auspicious start to the week, but at least I was seeing deer.

We hunted hard the rest of the weekend and I finally dropped a mature doe Sunday evening at sunset for my first official deer with a bow and arrow. Anybody who thinks that deer hunting is not fair to the deer has never climbed three stories up a sweet gum, stood motionless for hours on a narrow platform strapped to the side of the tree, strained to tell the difference between squirrels bouncing around behind your tree and deer walking up behind you, moved ever-so-painstakingly slow to bring bow and knocked arrow into position for the draw, and fought the heart-pounding shakes off long enough to draw and hold a tiny sight pin steady on the four-inch square vital zone of an animal whose keen eyesight, hearing and sense of smell can pick up a gnat-fart in a cotton-ball at forty yards. And, all of the pre-shot exertions are the easiest part of a successful hunt. Lucky for me I had a son in the woods with me who thinks I'm too old to be dragging a deer out of the woods by myself. It is heartwarming to realize that he cares more about having me around to hunt with than having me drop dead and turn over his (meager) inheritance.

Monday morning required me to transition from camouflage-clad apex forest predator to business-suited corporate consultant and abandon my retreat in the back-woods of Mississippi for a flight from Memphis up into enemy territory. A night in a hotel room in Chicago is as close as I want to get to spending time in a POW camp. Following a three hour meeting the next morning (for which my client is paying an embarrassingly large sum for the kind of work I did as a second lieutenant), I boarded the next available flight for Southern sanity and escaped O'Hare before the Thanksgiving travel crush of inhumanity began.

Two more days of standing motionless in the tops of trees, broken only by a respite in which #2 and I swallowed a nine pound turkey whole (at least that's what it felt like afterwards), resulted in plenty of deer seen--but no shots. Friday evening at sunset, a cow-horn spike buck (one that #2 wanted culled from the gene pool because of its inferior antlers) stepped into the open 20 yards stage left and proved Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest. He was laying motionless on the field when I finally climbed down out of my tree and began the long walk in the dark back to #2's house. When we got back to the field 30 minutes later, the deer was gone. No blood trail. It was as if Sasquatch had picked the deer up and walked away with it. We looked for sign in the dark for the next hour and then gave it up for the next morning's light. In the woods at daybreak, we found him several hundred yards away, where Sasquatch got tired of carrying him.

It being the Saturday after Thanksgiving (and we had tickets for the most bitter rivalry in college sports--Ole Miss and Mississippi State), we hustled the deer to the local venison processor, cleaned up, and headed to the home of hot beer and cold women--Lafayette County, Oxford, and the most gracious college campus in all of American academe. Under a cloudless sky and a perfect 68 degrees, we watched two 3 and 8 teams play a game that meant nothing to the rest of Division I, but meant everything to the state of Mississippi. My Rebels put in dominating performances against Georgia, Alabama, LSU, and Auburn this year only to fail to find a way to win. Against State, they did just the opposite. State dominated the line of scrimmage, time of possession, and total yards and yet the Blue and Red found a way not to lose--20 to 17--and took home the coveted Golden Egg. It was a special day for me--strangely enough, it was the first Egg Bowl I had been to since I became a Rebel 32 years ago.

Sunday morning, I strapped my pick-up to my backside and began the long drive back to my exile on the Redneck Riveria. Seven and a half hours (and several alternate developed plans for escaping the world of sand and sea oats for the world of hills and hay) I was back in Florida.

An hour later I was in a church business meeting, day-dreaming of deer and Rebel cheerleaders.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rangel's Rangers

As if Mississippians, and, by extension, all southerners, didn't have enough reasons to despise and fear liberal yankee politicians, Charlie Rangel's latest disparaging remarks about Mississippi cemented the confederate contempt. Rangel played it off as really meaning that he loved New York (yet another reason to doubt his sanity and veracity) but it gave us a clear look into the mind of one of the most influential congressmen in the new Democrat controlled legislative branch. He speaks from the heart. He hates the south and southerners.

So be it. We speak from the heart as well. We hate uppity, snooty yankees.

And now, Charlie wants to bring back the draft. He floated this idea three years ago and no one payed attention. They will now.

I hope he is successful. Nothing will energize the spoiled students on America's campuses more than the threat of making them serve their country.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stray Votage

What a spoiled, impatient lot we Americans are! But, that is our birthright. We were concieved as a nation by a bunch of spoiled, impatient (some would add: power-hungry) colonial elitists. The dirty little secret from our glorious revolution against the British crown is that the American colonists really had no basis for demanding independence. The truth, as most serious historians know, is that the average American colonist in 1775 enjoyed a higher standard of living, better health, a more sufficient diet, and far more liberty than his counterpart on the banks of the Thames.

Today, our economy is at one of its strongest points in the history of the American experience--we enjoy a higher standard of living and have more personal freedom than any other country on the planet. Yet to hear the detractors (power-hungry politicians and money-grubbing journalists, mostly) tell it, you would think that we were a third world nation. I've been to 3 times more countries than I have states in the re-United States (and I've been to a majority of the re-US) and I can tell you without hesitation that you don't want to live anywhere else on the planet.

I know that the American people are frustrated with the continuing combat operations in Iraq. But let's put that in perspective, shall we? We are fighting that battle in the War on Terror as if we were sitting in a rocking chair with one arm tied behind our back. The losses in Iraq, though each is precious, amount to but a fraction of a fraction of the losses we endure from alcohol-related accidents on our highways. I wish the lead on the news every day was the number of people killed by drunk drivers over the past 24 hours--we would quickly forget about Iraq!

It was politically expedient for politicians (and their journalist allies) to use the continuing battle in Iraq (that is not effecting 99% of the population in the least) as a means to drum up discontent with the incumbent government--just as it was politically expedient for a group of elitists and pamphleteers to use British taxation of the colonists (actually at a lower rate than what their counterparts on the Thames paid) as a means to drum up discontent with royal rule.

Well, we got what we asked for this time. At least 21% of the electorate did, that is. The national shame is only 40% of us took time away from our self-indulged and pampered lives to participate in the most important event in the life of our democratic republic. But, then again, that is about the percentage of the American colonists that actively participated (on both sides) in the decision to fight for independence from Britain in 1775.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day

A continent exhausted by four years of one of the most costly wars in the history of man, found peace 88 years ago, today. The First World War, as it later became known, began like most wars; politicians underestimated and soldiers overestimated. But this war was a perfect storm of political entanglements, military miscalculations, and outdated battlefield doctrine fed into the meat grinder of advanced technology. It was the most horrible war Europe had ever seen. Americans had seen something that approached it in effect half a century before. The American War of Southern Seccession (not a true civil war--but that is grist for another post) had presaged many of the technologies and battlefield experiences (trench warfare, mass assaults against massed firepower, rail and telegraph communications; to name a few) that would mature in the maelstrom of misery on the killing fields of France.

An armistice between the warring parties took effect on the 11th of November 1918. America and its allies commemorated the date as Armistice Day for a couple of decades, until it became clear that the "war to end all wars" had done nothing of the sort. In fact, as has almost always happened in the history of man's wars, the First World War solved nothing, and in fact planted the seeds of conflict that would germinate into an even greater World War in less than a generation. Following that war, politicians eager to curry favor with the generation that fought it (I know, I'm feeling terribly cynical this morning), established the 11th of November as Veterans Day. As opposed to Memorial Day, a commemoration of the war dead that began as Decoration Day and was initiated by the fair ladies of Columbus, Mississippi at Friendship Cemetery in 1865 (yankees hate this and claim a northern town as the origin--grist for yet another post), Veterans Day was designed to honor the living veterans of America's wars.

It has always bothered me that Americans don't seem to understand the difference.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Corps Celebrations

One of the things I'm beginning to miss more and more since leaving active duty is the pageantry and celebration surrounding the birthday of the Marine Corps. After the first few years of it early in my career, I have to admit that the novelty of all the ceremony began to wear off. But, this is the 4th 10th of November in which I haven't participated in a Marine Corps birthday celebration of any kind, and I kinda miss it.

One of my favorite Marine Corps Birthday memories is from the time I served with the Air Force as an instructor at the Air Command and Staff College. We Marines made up barely a percentage point of the total students and faculty, but made an indelible scarlet and gold mark in a sea of blue around the first couple of weeks of November. We hosted a Marine Corps Birthday Ball at the Officers' Club and could have made a killing had we been more capitalistic--the Marine Corps Ball is recognized as THE social event of the year at Maxwell Air Force Base and an invitation and tickets were prized commodities. One year I served as the ceremonial adjutant for the Ball and took great pleasure in flashing sword work in the close quarters of the crowded ball room--I got comments about it the rest of the year. Actually, I got critiques from my Marine buddies, who pointed out the subtle mistakes in my close order drill and sword manual. But the zoomies didn't see the mistakes--just the business end of my sword flashing perilously close to the tips of bue-suiter noses.

A ceremonial cutting of the Birthday cake with the adjutant's sword, and delivery of the first pieces of cake to the oldest and youngest Marines present, is a traditional and time-honored component of every Marine Corps birthday celebration. Since it's just me here today, I'll have to settle for the first piece of coffee cake.

I'm just short enough to make sword manual work with a butter knife.

Happy Birthday, Marines! Semper Fidelis!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Looking on the bright side

Bad news for Bush and the Pachyderm Party could be good news for me. On my morning walk with Miss Brenda yesterday, I provided my assessment of the election and and what it meant for the future. I opined that I believed the democrats would harry W for the remainder of his term with countless, unending congressional investigations and hearings, the aim of which would be to further weaken the republican party and set up a return of the Clintonistas to power. At the prospect of Hilary as president, my bride exclaimed, "If that happens we are moving to Argentina!"

Better start brushing up on my Spanish.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Corps Novembers

November is an important month for Marines, and is particularly a month tied to memories for this Marine. The obvious reason for its importance to Marines is that we celebrate the establishment of our Corps on 10 November. On that date in 1775, nearly 9 months BEFORE the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a rebellious outlaw group of landed gentry, obstensibly acting in representation of the will of the people of the 13 British colonies in North America, and calling themselves the Continental Congress, resolved that two battalions of Marines be raised for service with an all but non-existent rebel fleet (a resolution for establishing a navy had only been passed less than 4 weeks previous). We Marines attach great celebratory import to the date 10 November, but few realize that the two battalions initially authorized by Congress were actually never raised.

You see, Congress had this great idea. They wanted to invade Canada. Mind you, we had just initiated open conflict with the greatest nation on the planet by skirmishing with its small occupation/constabulary force in America, and needed to be thinking about protecting the territorial integrity of the 13 Colonies against the sure to come full-scale British military operation to quell the rebellion. But, Congress wasn't thinking about border security (sound familiar?) and fancied themselves strategists of the first order. Part of their great invasion plan was an attack on the British naval base at Halifax, Nova Scotia. The two battalions of Marines the Continental Congress resolved to raise were to be the assault force of that naval raid. George Washington, in command of the Continental Army, objected to the diversion of resources, and the plan (along with the two battalions of Marines) never got past the drawing board.

But, an American navy of sorts was growing (converted merchant ships mostly) and the British naval model called for Marines on board to act as the captain's security force (18th Century sailors were an undisciplined lot), as sharpshooters during engagements at sea, and as a landing force for small-scale expeditions ashore. The American colonists were British after all, and they copied the Royal Navy right down to the printed regulations. There was an abundance of out-of-work able seamen in colonial seaports, and some of the more trustworthy were enlisted to serve as Marines. A tavern-keeper with scant martial or maritime experience was the first Marine officer commissioned by the Continental Congress. Samuel Nicholas was evidently prized for his recruiting skills and for the fact that he owned Tun Tavern in Philadelphia--a local watering hole frequented by the afore-mentioned idle able seamen. To this day, we Marines celebrate our birthday with a toast of rum-punch, supposedly the drink supplied by Nicholas to seal the deal on each enlistment. One has to wonder how many toasts were drunk BEFORE the afore-mentioned idle able seamen scrawled their X on the enlistment contract.

November is an important month for Marines for other reasons as well. On 10 November 1918, one hundred and forty-three years to the day after the Continental Congress had resolved to raise two battalions of Marines, two brigades (or the remnants thereof) of Marines prepared for the final assault of the First World War (that operation--the crossing of the Meuse River--occurred the night before the war ended with an armistice on 11 November 1918). That a United States Marine Corps even existed at that point is an amazing and twisted story of near-extinction, evolution of missions, and fighting spirit of Marine leaders who tenaciously fought to save their jobs. But, a Corps of Marines did exist when the US entered the War in France in 1917, and Marines quickly established a name for themselves (thanks in great part to Army censorship of their own exploits) at the bitter battles of Belleau Wood, Soisson, Chateau Thiery, and Mont Blanc. Not much of the two Marine brigades survived the war. What did survive was a reputation for battlefield ferocity, and perhaps more importantly, experience by senior Marine leaders in large scale military operations and staff planning.

The month of November has another Marine Corps red-letter date--20 November 1943. On that date at conclusion of the first year of our war with Japan, the Second Marine Division conducted the first full-scale test of amphibious assault doctrine developed by Marines during the interwar years. While amphibious landing operations had been conducted earlier in the war, most notably at Guadalcanal, the 20 November D-Day on Betio in the Southwest Pacific Tarawa Atoll, was the Corps' first truly opposed amphibious assault. It was a near disaster, plagued by poor intelligence regarding the tides and reefs surrounding the island, poor application of naval gunfire support, and horrible ship-to-shore communications. The Japanese commander of the island had boasted that his defenses were so formidable that it would take "a million men, a thousand years" to overcome. Five thousand Marines of the Second Marine Division took Tarawa in less than 4 days. The cost was horrific--1085 Americans gave their lives for that speck of coral--but the payoff was a treasure trove of lessons-learned that helped to perfect the conduct of amphibious operations and made possible successful Allied amphibious assault landings around the globe--across the Pacific to bring Japan to its knees and across the English Channel to force Hitler into his death bunker in Berlin.

From a force of 6 Divisions and a like number of Air Wings, the Marine Corps, following cessation of hostilities in 1945, dropped to less than a third of that size and was scattered in reserve when Kim Il Sung (the current North Korean Commie's daddy) sent his forces into South Korea in June of 1950. Scraped together quickly from mostly WWII veteran reservists, the understrength First Marine Division spearheaded MacArthur's bold 15 September 1950 Inchon landing that turned the flank of communist forces pinning the remnants of US and South Korean defenders holding the Pusan Perimeter at the southern tip of the peninsula. Two and a half months later, the First Marine Division had retaken Seoul, re-embarked on amphibious shipping and sailed around the peninsula to Wonson, and advanced to the North Korean border with China. In the bitter cold of one of the worst winters in a region known for bad winters (history is replete with battles fought in record-breaking winters, as if God is trying to cool off warring mankind's ardor), the First Marine Division was attacked, on 27 November 1950, by the ten divisions of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Ninth Army Group. Battling sub-zero cold and 100,000 Chinese, the Marines conducted a fighting withdrawal back to the coast and survived, barely, as a fighting force. But, leave it to Marines to celebrate even a terrible defeat such as this (forever immortalized as the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir) as one of the crowning achievements of our Corps.

November is a red-letter month for me as well. The first of November 2003 marked the official end of nearly three decades of uniformed service.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Kerry Kiniption

Poor John Kerry. So misunderstood. So misunderstanding. So sure of his superior intelligence and right to be right. He's a brilliant man alright--ranks right up there with Hillary's philandering spouse. And the problem is they are both so sure of their intellectual superiority that they believe that it gives them the right to belittle everyone else; and they actually have the gall to react angrily when we take offense. I've said it before, and I'll say it again (for those of you who have such short memories that you forgot your brains on the way to the voting booth and actually voted for those two lying, whining, haughty, ego-maniacal, concieted mysoginists)--the fact that anyone at all voted for Clinton and Kerry is an amazing thing, and does severe damage to my hope for the future of these re-United States.

What is even more telling about the furor over Kerry's slam of our troops as uneducated, disadvantaged, and unsuccessful is the fact that the media is acting like they don't get it. In other words, they think Kerry was speaking an accepted fact--in their isolated little world, wherein they all form doggie daisey chains sniffing each others butts, only someone with no other option would actually volunteer to fight for his country. They certainly wouldn't "stoop so low" nor allow their sons and daughters to so "waste their lives."

All of these folks who think they are so superior because they are so much smarter than the rest of us show their complete ignorance of the very people about whom they think they know so much. The plain fact is our armed forces are composed of some of the smartest and most successful people in the country. I know this because I spent over 5 years of my career recruiting them. There are high schools and colleges in this country turning out future leaders of our communities, industries, and nation that rarely graduate someone who can score high enough on the military entrance exams to qualify for enlistment. How many companies in this country can say their employees are 90+ % high school graduates? How many companies on this planet can pull off operations equal to even the simplest of evolutions that our 19 and 20 year old troops conduct on a daily basis. I used to think that American business leaders were so much more capable than me and my military comrades--until I spent the last three years out of uniform and operating in the civilian sector. I haven't seen a corporate leader yet that most of the lance corporals in my infantry battalion couldn't out-think, out-decide, and out-lead.

Sadly, most Americans don't know who their liberty defenders are. The only people who know are those who have served. Maybe if John Kerry had actually served longer than most people take vacations, he would understand. But, he served only to get a PT-109 check in the box and then scampered home to malign his brothers in arms for political points.

That's all I got to say 'bout that.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It Ain't Mississippi, But It'll Have To Do

For six months out of the year, living on the coast in the Florida panhandle reminds me of the way the Norwegians take their saunas--only in reverse. Instead of lingering in the sauna and taking quick plunges in the snow outside, we hyphen-Floridians (there aren't any native Floridians left in the state--only New York-Floridians, Canada-Floridians, and this Mississippi-Floridian) linger in the cool of our air conditioned homes and vehicles and take quick plunges into the heatumidity (heat and humidity are one word down here) out of doors. But along about the end of October the air begins to cool slightly, the humidity drops below 80%, and it is actually pleasant enough outside to linger and survive.

The past two days have been as Fall-like as it gets around here and I spent each afternoon indulging my favorite hobbies--hunting and fishing. Actually, hunting and fishing is my life and work is my hobby. I once made the mistake of half-jokingly telling my Sergeant Major that hunting and fishing was my life and the Marine Corps was my hobby. He started breathing again and the red left his face when I added, "But I'm passionate about my hobby!" But, I digress...

Yesterday afternoon I sat on a field planted with brown top millet and scanned the skies for fleet-winged grey darting mourning doves. At least I remember that they are fleet-winged grey and darting. I didn't see any to prove the description yesterday. Typical of most of my forays afield, I saw everything but what I was hunting. A mature bald eagle flapped low across the field and at the far end swept up in a climbing turn that reminded me for all the world of one of the fighter planes attending the base on which our field was located. He seemed to know exactly where to catch the thermal that quickly vaulted him hundreds of feet up into a lazy upward spiral. When he drifted up and away so far that I strained to focus on his speck, I dropped my gaze back to ground level and caught site of movement entering the field to my right. Not fifty yards away a flock of hen turkeys and young of the year strutted on to the field and froze, a dozen pair of beady eyes locked on my form. We all remained motionless for a minute or so and then one of the mature hens put-putted and Ben Franklin's choice for our national emblem disappeared so quickly back into the brush that I wondered if I had really seen them at all.

This afternoon, the wind eased up enough to lure Semper Fish and me onto the water and we cruised boat docks and creek channels in the local bayou casting for reds and speckled trout. A pair of dolphins joined us as the sun began to set and I put down my rod to watch them frolic in the oranging light.

Most days I don't think I like Florida--most days, but not today.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Second Annual Gregory Men Weekend

If you belong to the "I believe Bambi was a real live animal and not a cartoon" set, you probably want to stop reading this particular blog at this point and go back to daydreaming about a world in which food magically appears on your plate, it's safe to swim with great whites, and grizzly bears let you pet them in the wild. If however, you understand that the natural order of the planet is that man occupies (if somewhat tenuously) an elevated position in the food chain (by virtue of larger brain-size and the ability to make and use tools), then you are probably safe to continue your waste of time reading this inane accumulation of electronic representations of the caffeine-induced thoughts emmanating from the wrinkled recesses of my grey matter. But, all of you squeamish girly-men (and women) out there have been appropriately warned.

This past weekend occasioned the Second Annual Gregory Men Weekend--an event steeped in the rich tradition of men freed from the bondage of shaving and conversing with women, released from the strictures prohibiting freestyle scratching, and given over to the pursuit of game animals occupying lesser positions on the food chain. My boys and I hunted deer every waking daylight minute of a 3-day weekend--interrupted only by the annual and inevitable ritual of watching the Rebels lose to Bama.

On Friday morning I was perched high in the leafy boughs of a poison sumac-enshrouded (another post will be devoted entirely to rash relief) tree overlooking a small field planted with a mixture of grass and clover guaranteed by its vendor to "attract deer by the droves." After two hours of slowly stiffening into a close approximation (complete with camoflague resembling its leaves and branches) of a large knot on the side of said tree, the one and only deer I was to see for the entire weekend walked onto the field, ambled over to a position front and center of my stand, and provided me the opportunity to draw my bow and miss, again. This, too, has become a well-respected tradition of the Annual Gregory Men Weekend.

Friday evening #2 son was perched in the same tree, and, in his words, was "covered up in deer," one of which he shot at and missed (he claims he was trying to make me feel better about my miss). I was sitting elsewhere, covered up in sumac, and no deer.

Saturday evening #1 son was perched in the same tree, and his aim with a bow was appreciably better than mine and #2's. He found us and breathlessly told us of the buck he had hit and in what direction it had gone. We followed a rapidly diminishing blood trail in the dark for a couple of hours, then lost the trail, and resolved to resume the search at first light the next morning.

The next day we picked up the trail again and followed it to the point at which we had lost it the night before. We puzzled over the tiny blood droplet clues that seemed to indicate that the buck had traveled in one direction, but following that azimuth led to nothing. We back-tracked and found a track that indicated the deer had planted and cut left like a reciever on an out pattern and followed in that direction for nearly twenty yards before we thankfully found the next drop of blood.

During this evolution, I lamented my poor eyesight and color-vision deficiency, but marveled at the ability of my sons to see the tiniest speck of blood and press on to the next. We followed the deer's trail for several hundred yards and then found him where he had expired on a wooded hillside. Much hooting, hollering, fist-pumping, high-fiving, knuckle-bumping and mono-syllabic grunting ensued.

#1 now has his "wall-hanger" and I couldn't be prouder.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Race is On

The crazy commie personality cult north of the 38th Parallel popped a nuke underground yesterday. I'm not sure why the world has been hyperventilating about this occurrence--we have believed that the hermit kingdom had several nukes for nearly a decade. The only reason they tested one was to get our reaction--kind of like when my grandson makes sure I'm looking before he walks over and yanks on the leaves of one of Miss Brenda's house plants.

I guess we should be worried that this might have been a seller's demonstration of a product's capability. The cash-strapped Li'l Kim Kult could be hawking its latest war wares to would-be buyers like the jihadis. But, the reality is that having the basic technology to set off an atomic device is not the same as building a deliverable device. Remember how big our first atomic weapons were--it took the largest four-engine bomber in the world at the time (the B-29) to lift and deliver just one. Neither the north Koreans nor the jihadis have an aircraft or missile (yet) that can deliver something the size of a Buick. I'm not saying the kimche kommies couldn't eventually develop the delivery technology and miniaturize a nuke to the point that it would fit, but I don't think they have it now.

Of course, they could put an A-bomb on one of their "fishing boats" and smuggle it out to a buyer or to a target. But, my limited yet insightful experience "manning the wall" on the Korean peninsula tells me that we keep pretty good tabs on stuff getting moved around up north and on boats getting special attention. For a year, I spent every morning in an intel brief on how many of Kim's watercraft ("fishing trawlers", subs, etc...) were in port or at sea. If an nK boat leaves DPRK territorial waters, we follow it.

And, if a nuke were to pop in a western city somewhere, it would be fairly easy to determine (by the radioactive signature left behind) from whom we received the gift. Exchanging gifts is so much more fun when you have much more to give than to get.

But, the miniscule (probably smaller than what we dropped on Japan 61 years ago) nuke pop in north Korea yesterday will act as the starting gun for a race in the Western Pacific Rim. Using Kim's nukes as an excuse, Japan will probably begin building their own. Japan is already debating changing the offensive capability prohibitions in the constitution MacArthur wrote for them when he served as military governor of the defeated Nipponese nation. Having a nuclear capable Japan is probably not a bad thing in the short run--helps keep the Chicoms in check.

The real fear is whether the Nationalist Chinese on Taiwan will use Li'l Kim's weekend fireworks as an excuse to join the nuclear arms race. They would dearly love to have a nuclear deterrent against PRC aggression. The problem is China might be forced to preemptively launch the Taiwan invasion force it has been building for a couple of decades now in order to prevent the Nationalists from joining the nuke club. That event starts a real world war.

Fear not, gentle readers. The end of the world is not in man's hands.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Weird, almost surreal, business trip this week. One of my client's corporate convention is in Las Vegas this week and they invited me out to give a presentation on the progress of our project for them. Twelve hours in airports and airborne busses on Monday and Wednesday for a thirty minute brief on Tuesday afternoon. Seems like a waste of money, doesn't it? Doesn't bother me in the least--the client paid for it.

The client evidently has more money to spend than they let on when we were negotiating our contract earlier this year. After dinner last night, they brought in a special guest for intertainment--Jay Leno. I kid thee not. And, it was the best 1 hour monologue I have ever heard--not one blue word and every punchline was a side-splitter.

There is no doubt that you have landed in Vegas--there are rows of slot machines on every concourse in the airport. Perhaps most surreal is the fact that even literally surrounded at every turn by one-armed bandits, and with tons of time on my hands, I never dropped a coin in a slot the whole time I was in Vegas.

For my next trick, I will spend another year in Panama City, Florida, without ever going to the beach.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Hmmm... When was the last time we saw that kind of anger out of Slick Willie? Let's see... Oh yeah--when he pointed his finger at us and lied about his relationship with an intern. I have always admired the political skill and populist savvy of Mr. Clinton, but the truth is not in him. And, like the pathological liar that he is, he believes his own lies. You can always tell when Bill Clinton is fibbing--his lips are moving. You can always tell when he is dropping a real stinker--he gets all flushed and puts on his "holier than thou" face.

Looks like the only one in the camp of sanity with any gumption to call Clinton on his weekend fabrications is Condi Rice. Hope she starts wearing body armor--people have a habit of getting roughed up and/or killed for messing with the Clintonistas.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Remembering an Earth War Veteran

When the Good Lord calls me home, there are lots of folks I am looking forward to seeing, and lot of folks I am looking forward to seeing again. One of the groups I am looking forward to rubbing wings with the most is God's Veterans. I am looking forward to battlefield leadership discussions with Joshua and Gideon and Marse Robert. But there's also a group of warriors in heaven not necessarily known for armed combat--they are the spiritual battlefield leaders. That group, composed of lions of the Faith like Stephen and Paul and Timothy, just added another member to their Veterans of Earthly Wars club.

Edmund Stallworth was an amazing "old" man when I first met him 35 years ago. He pastored Coccoli Baptist Church in the Panama Canal Zone and was one of the most tireless Christian workers I have ever known. I don't remember any of the hundreds of his sermons for which I was present (probably because I was more focused on Miss Brenda), but I remember his actions away from the pulpit. He had a heart for Missions and traveled to out of the way villages in the mountains of Panama to preach the Gospel and bring hope and help to the poor. He involved our church's youth group in that effort, and visits to the humble shack that housed Chica Mission's services remain one of my most indelible memories.

I also remember Saturday workdays at the church (actually converted from an old Army hospital) led by the preacher and my future father-in-law. Lots of embarrassing stories from those days that still manage to find their way into family remembrances--one in particular involving my inability to stay seated on a toilet. Long story for another post. And, anytime we talk about Brother Stallworth, we always recall his leading us up a jungle trail to a mountain top on which a large cross had been placed. We marveled then, and now, at his stamina.

Brother Stallworth, though hobbled by a stroke suffered a few years ago, stayed active in service for his Lord to the very end. When my wife and her sister organized a reception to honor their parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary back in December, Brother Stallworth, pushing 90, made the trip over from Gulf Shores and made the day complete. He couldn't stay for the entire reception, because he had a class to teach back at his church that evening! Brother Stallworth passed on to Glory this week and I'm confident Jesus was smiling broadly to see him walk through the pearly gates.

Preacher, I would ask you to save me a seat in Heaven's den, but I don't think you will ever slow down long enough to go in there for a rest.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Time to Reload, and Relax

There's been a lot of handwringing in the media lately about the alliances forming around the world against these re-United States. At first the media ignored the fact that Syria and Iran formed a military alliance specifically against American Imperialism and Israeli Zionism. But now that Venezuela's Castro-Lite Hugo Chavez has been making the fascism world tour, hugging and kissing our enemies and inking defense deals with the nations most likely to recieve the next round of American cruise missiles, the media has nearly gone into a paroxysm of frantic reportage regarding the fact that the whole world, "even some of our closest neighbors" are lining up against the US. The unsaid, but clearly felt, editorial in all of this reporting is that it i s all Bush's fault and we would not be in this mess if Jack Kennedyesque democrats were in charge.

And they are right.

Frankly, I think the fact that so many of the bad guys in the world feel so threatened by us that they feel the great need to team up is a very good thing. In fact, my sincere hope is that they all jump on the bandwagon of the next fascist regime at which we begin lobbing high explosives and all declare war on us.

Makes our political calculus much simpler. My favorite military quote of all time comes from the quintesential Marine Louis B. "Chesty" Puller, who when told of the 1st Marine Division's encirlcement by ten Chinese Divisions at the Chosin Reservoir remarked, "We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them."

And don't fear the rhetoric from the press and those currently out of power that "our military is worn out and doesn't have any punches left." That is the most idiotic assessment of American military and ECONOMIC power I have heard. Sure, we are wearing out a lot of equipment--combat operations do that. We'll make more, and the nation's world-sized GDP won't even notice the extra funds required to recaptialize the force. Frankly, most of the ground equipment we have been using has been around since the Reagan (a moment of silence, please, for the greatest American president of the 20th Century) Buildup, and it is time to completely outfit our brave fighters with 21st Century hardware.

They are going to need all new stuff when we take on the Sino-Veno-Islamo Alliance.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Shhh! Smell that?"

I'm not a big fan of airports. But, I have a favorite one. Actually, it is my second favorite one. My first favorite airport is the one at which I arrive prior to getting in my truck and driving home. My second favorite airport is Memphis International in Memphis, Mississippi. That's right, Memphis is in Mississippi. At least it seems that way, with most of the population that works in Memphis moving south into sprawling new subdivisions below the state line.

Memphis International is not the best laid out airport, through which to scamper from gate to gate. The airport's ticket counter personnel aren't necessarily the best and brightest, either. But, I will bet you a punch in the jaw you won't find a better smelling airport anywhere else in the world. The heavy aroma of barbecue is the signature smell of that part of the mid-south and the Memphis airport, thanks to several barbecue restaurants scattered throughout its concourses, is the most mouth-watering, nose-twitching, stomach-growling collection of smokey scent outside of a local county fair.

The problem is I never have a long enough layover in Memphis to take the time to wait in the long lines to secure a plate of the great smelling chow.

I might just have to miss a connecting flight on purpose someday so I'll have enough time to stop and savor a meal.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Force Protection Folly

"Colonel, turn on your TV; a plane just hit the World Trade Center."

The young Marine who had poked his head into my office to make that announcement, hovered at the door while I fumbled with a remote for the set across the long office from my desk. When CNN came on, the anchor was saying something about the history of light aircraft losing their way in bad weather and running into skyscrapers accidentally. But, the TV screen showed clear sky. The only cloud in the sky in New York that morning was the cloud of smoke billowing from the top fifth of one of the towers. My first thought was that that fire was going to kill a lot of people before it got put out. The movie "Towering Inferno" came to mind.

Three or four Marines were now at my door, craning their necks to see the TV, and I waved them on into the office. One said, "They say it was a Cessna that crashed accidentally." The huge gash in the tower was clearly not from a small plane and I said so. We were all watching, stunned, when the second airliner slammed into the other tower.

The youngest Marine in the room, a corporal, said what I had been thinking, but had been hesitant to say out loud. "Sir, this is a terrorist attack." I agreed and we continued to watch, transfixed by the TV shot of two towers on fire.

It wasn't until the attack on the Pentagon was announced that the thought occurred to me that this was a full scale attack on America. I was CO of Marine recruiting in the Southeast, so there was no operational response for which I was responsible. But, I did have over 500 Marines in small offices scattered from Louisiana to South Carolina and I felt the requirement to communicate to them immediately, and I told my secretary to set up a conference call as fast as possible with my eight subordinate commanders--eight Marine majors who each would, in turn, relay my communications to the rest of the force.

When the call began, I started by telling my subordinate commanders everything I knew; which was limited by what I had witnessed on TV. I next told them that I had heard nothing from higher headquarters, yet, but would call them back as soon as I got any orders. I then told them to relay to their Marines that I wanted them to do two things: Stay focused on their jobs as recruiters, and keep their eyes open for anything suspicious. When I finished my brief comments, I asked for questions.

"Sir," one of my majors chimed in, "I just got a report from the field that the other services' recruiters have been told to get out of uniform and go home."

I didn't believe that to be the case and told them so. "Sir, I just heard the same thing from one of my guys," another major said immediately. "So did I," said a third. A fourth voice cut through the chatter and announced. "Sir, I heard the same thing, and I told my Marines to stay in uniform and stay put."

That was the most sensible order or report I had heard that morning and I said so. I added, "Gentlemen, our country is clearly under attack, and may begin to panic. We will not contribute to that panic. Tell your Marines to stay in uniform and stay very visible." That there was not one voiced worry over their Marines becoming targets is to their credit. In fact, we later all shared that we hoped to be attacked by the cowards who were instead hitting civilians.

I hope someday to meet the Navy, Air Force, and Army officers who gave the orders for their people to run and hide. I want the opportunity to call them cowards and idiots to their faces.

Some are probably generals or admirals by now--that would make it all the more satisfying.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

That's Half of a Century for You, My Dear

Thirty-five years ago today my best friend and soul mate celebrated her fifteenth birthday. I was at the party. We weren't "officially" a couple yet, but as far as I was concerned there was nobody else. I still remember (amazing, considering I am in the throes of CRS -- Can't Remember Stuff) the gift I gave her that day--a pink stuffed animal. I even remember the little four line poem I included in the card:

Violets are red
Roses are blue
If you believe that
Here's a pink donkey for you

I am a really thoughtful gift-giver.

For her 50th I wanted to break tradition and give her something really nice and special for her birthday. I began thinking about it in earnest back last spring after I quit pouting about the fact that she had completely ignored my 50th birthday in January (never mind the fact that after my 40th I had given her a direct order to never mention my birthday again). One morning the liquid caffeine delivery system was working more effectively than usual and multiple creative synapses fired in the shriveled grey matter of my brain housing group long enough for a neat idea to form and lodge prominently enough to not succumb to CRS ten minutes later. For her 50th birthday I would send my beautiful bride and her ugly twin sister on a weeklong trip to, get this, a Dude Ranch. Now, I gotta believe that all of you out there who know Miss Brenda and her ugly twin sister are smiling at the thought of the two of them and a cattle stampede.

Poor cattle.

The idea was to give them something that as twins they craved, but had not really had in 30 years--time together as "sissies." Seems every time we get together as a family, the girls complain that they don't get to spend time with each other, what with all the cooking, cleaning, and child/spouse rearing responsibilities. So, I told them a couple of months ago that a trip to a dude ranch just for the two of them was going to be my 50th birthday present to them. Miss Brenda's ugly twin sister got really excited until she realized I had said DUDE, not NUDE ranch.

They left last Sunday for the badlands of north Arkansas (the ranch's brochure said something like "Wild West Adventure Southern Style") and except for one phone call and a cryptic e-mail about bucking horses and broken arms (not any of theirs) the family has heard nothing from them. Miss Brenda will be home (where she belongs--traveling is MY job) tomorrow evening.

Good thing--the laundry hamper is overflowing and it's hard to find the sink with all the dirty dishes in the way.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Fight the Strategy, Not the Tactic

Let's get something straight. Terror is a tactic, not an entity. Our enemy is employing terrorism against us, along with other tactics, but formally calling our current fight the War on Terror is like calling the war in the Pacific against the Japanese the "War on Aerialists" because they bombed Pearl Harbor from the air, or like calling the war in Europe against Germany the "War on Blitzkreig."

Let's get something else straight. Wars are not fought between ideologies. Wars are fought between nations (def.: A people, usually the inhabitants of a specific territory, who share common customs, origins, history, and frequently language or related language--Websters). When nations go to war, they cloak themselves in a righteous cause or ideology to cover the naked aggression--on both sides.

And another thing. Governments, even dictatorial ones, exist at the will of the people. History is replete with examples of nations who willingly adopted dictatorships, for the benefits of peace and security that can be derived from a strong central government. I grow weary of the farcical notion that the peoples of the nations, with which we are fighting a proxy war, yearn for democratic freedom. I'm sure a large percentage (still a minority) of the Iranian people, for example, would prefer a democratic republic over a theocratic dictatorship. But, the majority of the Persian nation are quite content with the rule of the Ayatollahs--that same majority overthrew their relatively benign dictatorial monarch in 1979 and imposed the Ayatollahs' Islamic government on themselves.

So, let's be clear eyed here. We are at war, whether we want to admit it or not, with several nations under the banner of Islam. Terror is their tactic. "Terrorist" groups like al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbollah, et. al., are those Islamic nations' expeditionary mercenary forces. Their strategy, manifest in their doctrine (the Koran), is our destruction.

In the immortal words of Todd Beamer, among those who fought back on Flight 93, "Let's Roll!"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Info Blackout

I am an information junkie. Between four or five newspapers' online editions first thing in the morning and radio and TV the rest of the day, I stay fairly well up to date (up to the hour in most cases) on natural and human events. That is until I go spend some time with #2 son in North Mississippi. He doesn't have web access and refuses to allow anyone to watch anything on his TV that doesn't have the words ball or gun in the title. That's okay, I'm a sports fan, too. But, when I finally get home and plug back in to the Information IV, catching up on several days of interrupted data stream can be overwhelming and a bit disconcerting. I spent the long weekend at #2's place helping him get ready for the upcoming hunting season (hanging deer stands and scouting places to hunt ducks) and when I got home last night the accumulation of four days' happenings just seemed so momentous.

One thing I did watch this weekend was sports--that's for sure. I think I watched more football games this weekend than I watched all of last year. Two comments: Miami, Florida State, and Notre Dame are overrated (as usual) and I have just four words to describe the hope of a winning season for my beloved Ole Miss Rebels--BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

To hear how Steve Irwin died was just bizarre. I mean, I always expected to hear that he was killed by a snake bite or eaten by a croc, but stabbed in the heart by a stingray that he didn't even know was there--that's just not right.

But the biggest news of the weekend comes from the young'un who lights up my world. My grandson is walking! He turns 11 months old today. I am one proud grandpop!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Follicular Fete

I was on the road this week, so an anniversary of sorts for Miss Brenda and I passed without celebration. To be honest, it has passed with barely a mention for the past 30 years. But there once was a time when the date was occasion for significant ceremony and remembrance.

On August 21, 1971, in the halcyon days of the summer before we started the 10th grade, I took Miss Brenda on our first official date. Amazingly, it was the last date either of us ever had with anyone other than each other. That's right, I have only dated one woman since I was 15 years old--and I wouldn't want it any other way. Now, before you write me off as a pathetic, unpopular high school loser, know this: I went on a date or "went steady" with innumerable girls, changing my feminine target as often as I changed my socks. Until I met Miss Brenda. For me at least, as corny as it is, it was love at first sight. And second sight. And third sight. From the moment she drew my attention, she kept it.

My children and brother Marines will find this hard to believe, but when I was in high school I had, if I may say so myself, a marvelous head of fine blond hair that consumed literally hours of my time comb-in-hand/face-in-mirror. I'll admit it, if you look in the 1972 edition of your Funk and Wagnel you will find my picture (comb in hand) next to the definition for narcissist. My comb was my most prized possession, next to my pen knife. After Brenda and I had dated for 2 or three months, I began keeping track of the occurrence of the 21st of each month by carving a small v-shaped notch on the spine of my black plastic comb. Even after I was required to cut my hair short enough (not to mention the ravages of male-pattern balding) to obviate the need for it, I continued to carry the comb and added a monthly notch right up until the 31st of July 1976, after which marriage vows eliminated dating and the joy of marking the anniversary of our first date.

Where did we go on our first date? To the Howard Air Force Base movie theater to see that romantic film, "Lawrence of Arabia."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Reveille Reminder

An early morning fishing trip with #1 son occasioned a discussion of the growing difficulty I have getting up early to go fishing. Frankly, if I don't have someone that I know will be waiting for me at the dock, more often than not I will turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. I love to fish, but the older I get the harder it gets to start my motivation motor first thing in the AM.

Our discussion reminded me of an OCS story that I shared with #1. The summer between my junior and senior year in college (or the close approximation Ole Miss is to a college), I spent 6 weeks at Quantico, Virginia, undergoing that prospective Marine officer rite of passage that is OCS. For 5 and 1/2 weeks the latest we were allowed to sleep was until 0500, and most mornings reveille went an hour or two earlier than that. By the time our last week of training arrived, we were pretty much asleep on our feet most of the time. Consequently, there are huge chunks of time from that experience that have no home in a wrinkle in the shriveled grey matter of my brain housing group.

I do remember, however, that the evening before one of our last days, our DI strode purposely into our platoon's open squadbay and announced, "Listen up, Candidates. Lights out at 2100; reveille at 0600." We remained at the position of attention while he about faced and marched out. As soon as the double doors at the end of the squad bay swung closed behind him, all 50 of us broke into a resoundingly joyful, "OOOORAH!!

The candidate whose bunk was next to mine and who stood next to me in every formation for six weeks, was a Texas A&M Aggie named Ned Hertberg. Unlike most of his unsufferably loud and obnoxious Aggie brethren, Ned was quiet, studious, and an easy guy to like. He rarely commented on any situation we were in, but his observation at this point is one I will likely never forget. He turned to me and said, "Never thought I'd cheer about getting up at six in the morning."

Ned was killed a few years later when the wing of the A-6 fighter bomber, on which he was the bombadier/navigator, came apart at the bottom of a bomb run over the California desert.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Opportunities Lost

The last two years of George W. Bush's tenure as President of these re-United States are shaping up to be bad ones for the home team, and the fault for it is entirely his. Frankly, as much as I like the man he is, I can't help but think that he has squandered the opportunity given us five years ago. Instead of acting boldly on his vision of the world at war with terrorists and their sponsors (World War III, IV, or V depending on which historian you listen to), he fell into the same trap that Johnson and Nixon did in the 60's with Vietnam.

For the better part of a decade we tried to gingerly shape the battlefield in the war with totalitarian socialism by fighting the Vietnam War with one arm (and one leg) tied behind our back. We never took the political, economic, and military actions necessary to decisively defeat the Viet Cong insurgency early in the war and the North Vietnamese Army upon their entry in the latter stages of the war. By the time we started to really get serious about isolating the North Vietnamese from their sources of supply (China and the Soviet Union)--we mined Haiphong harbor to prevent supply ships from getting in--and punishing the North Vietnamese with heavy strategic bombardment of their homeland, the American public had grown weary of a war in which our heavy involvement by that point had lasted 7 or 8 years, and cost over 50,000 American lives. Had we gotten serious in 1967 instead of 1972, we might very well have achieved our objective of a free and democratic (not perfect, by any means) South Vietnam, at probably half the eventual cost of American lives and treasure. We didn't get serious because we were 1) afraid of going nuclear with China and the Soviet Union, and 2) we didn't want to jeopardize the explosive growth in the standard of living in the US. But, China and the Soviet Union would not have pulled the nuclear or even conventional triggers against us, because our nuclear deterrent was too great; and the eventual total cost of the longer war was more than we would have spent if we had gotten serious early on.

The same pattern has developed since 19 fanatical muslims got our attention on 9/11. Instead of leading the great campaign of Roosevelt to utterly destroy fascism, Bush has led the timid campaign of Johnson to have "both guns and butter." Roosevelt was triumphant because we fought against Germany and Japan with unmerciful attacks of both their fielded forces and their homelands. The deaths of a few thousand in today's wrestling matches in the Middle East pale in comparison with hundreds of thousands each killed in one night of fire bombing Dresden and Tokyo. Horrible, gruesome work. But, we speak English in freedom today.

Bush was given the opportunity for greatness, squandered it, and will now be impeached by the democrat party when they win back the house and senate this fall.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Coniferous Canine Capers

I had the great fortune to command an infantry battalion in Hawaii nine (has it been that long?) years ago. The Marines of the First Battalion of the 3d Marine Regiment (abbreviated 1st Bn, 3d Mar, or just 1/3) carried the nickname "Lava Dogs." Marines were called Teufel Hunden, or Devil Dogs, by the German soldiers fortunate to survive facing them in the First World War. Since that time, "Devil Dog" has been as near to a term of affection with which Marines will refer to one another as our warriorhood would allow. When the Devil Dogs of 1/3 moved to their current base in Hawaii following the Vietnam War, one of the island menaces they first faced (excluding the rip-off artists in Waikiki) was the rocky remnants of volcanic activity ubiquitous throughout the Big Island's Pohakoloa Training Area, or PTA. Jagged bits and chunks of broken lava, these lava dogs will chew up a pair of boots in a week of hard training or rip up a uniform in one hit and roll--not to mention the damage they can cause to skin and bone. A month-long visit to PTA was a great but costly training opportunity--both in personnel and gear casualties due to run-ins with the devilish lava dogs. So, it was a natural thing for the 1/3 Marines to assign themselves the nickname Lava Dogs.

At the Officers Club on the hill at Marine Corps Base, Kaneohe Bay, one whole barroom was filled with plaques left by battalions and squadrons. An old, broken 1/3 plaque had bolted to it the figure of a bipedal bulldog that mysteriously disappeared just prior to our battalion's deployment for a seven month stay on Okinawa. At our first 1/3 Officer's Call at the Camp Hansen Officer's Club shortly after our arrival in Okinawa, the LPA (Lieutenants Protective Association--every unit has one or shame on its lieutenants) arrived en masse in the company of one 2d Lieutenant Lava NMI (no middle initial) Dog; a bipedal wooden bulldog bearing a striking resemblance to the missing plaque dog. My XO, Dan Liddell, saw the look in my eyes and leaned in to put the theft in perspective, "Colonel, the LPA has a mascot, and it could have been worse."

He was right, and I didn't even want to ponder long on what the "worse" mascot might have been. So, I resolved to put my stamp of approval on 2dLt Lava NMI Dog as the official First Battalion, Third Marines LPA mascot, and put that resolution in written form that was published at the following Friday's Officers' Call. The resolution/commission included regulations requiring 2dLt Lava NMI Dog's attendance at all official and unofficial functions at which a simple majority of the battalion's officers were present, and made the 1/3 LPA the sole and solemn caretakers, mentors, and minders of 2dLt Lava NMI Dog. My final charge to the LPA with regard to 2dLt Lava NMI Dog, was that he was to be returned intact to his rightful place "en plaque" at the K-Bay O' Club upon our return.

Over the next few months on Okinawa, the battalion's schedule sent individual companies on separate training deployments to Australia, Korea, Camp Fuji, Hokaido, and even one platoon to the Persian Gulf as the adhoc Marine Detachment for the aircraft carrier, USS Independence. 2dLt Lava NMI Dog accompanied the battalion wherever the majority of its officers deployed. At one point I took about half of the battalion to train in Korea for a month and left the XO in charge of the remnant of the battalion on Okinawa. One day, I asked an esteemed member of the LPA about the whereabouts of 2dLt Lava NMI Dog, not having seen him at a function at which I was fairly certain represented a simple majority of the battalion's officers. The lieutenant's answer to the "Old Man" was disingenuous at best, "Sir, 2dLt Lava NMI Dog missed movement to Korea." Missing movement was a court martial offense for which the responding representative of the LPA thought, incorrectly, the LPA would not be held accountable en masse. A quick phone call back to the XO on Okinawa, confirmed not only that 2dLt Lava NMI Dog had indeed missed movement to Korea with the battalion, but was UA (unauthorized absence--aka AWOL) and whereabouts unknown on Okinawa, as well. The fact of the matter was 2dLt Lava NMI Dog had been kidnapped from the care of the LPA by person or persons unknown.

For the next several weeks, a veritable flurry--nay, blizzard--of e-mails circulated among the officers of the battalion. I, of course, instigated most of it with contemptible condemnations of the slovenly safeguard with which the LPA had performed their leadership duties with regard to 2dLt Lava NMI Dog. At one point an e-mail, as they are wont to do, leaped the electronic corral and ran amok amongst the world wide web. I began receiving e-mails of condolences and inquiries as to the status of the search for, and the investigation into the disappearance of 2d Lt Lava NMI Dog. My son wrote from Mississippi to inform me that an admiral guest of honor at his NROTC's formal dinner rose and offered a toast to "the brave, and obviously P.O.W., 2dLt Lava NMI Dog." That he might more nobly be a P.O.W., and not simply, shamefully U.A., became the tenor of all future e-mails, and 2dLt Lava NMI Dog's plight began to take on the status of legend with rumorous reports of his exploits and escape attempts foiled by cruel captors.

At every assemblage of the battalion's officers, I asked for a report from the LPA regarding 2dLt Lava NMI Dog. Soon enough, the LPA pointed a disrespectful finger of fault at their superiors in the battalion's CPA (Captains Protective Association--every unit has one or shame on its captains). The furor that ensued was sheer delight to the XO and me--we had the spotlight and angry attention off of the more onerous requirements we "Old Corps" Marines were placing on the newest generation of Leathernecks (we were on a crusade to maintain the conservative standards of personal appearance and conduct, and Old Corps customs and courtesies, with which we had been raised as lieutenants).

The CPA, it turned out, had indeed taken 2dLt Lava NMI Dog captive; and the LPA finally planned, organized, and executed a rescue raid combining strategic and operational surprise and deception reminiscent of the much-studied Son Tay Prison Camp raid, and tactical actions not matched until Tom Cruise made the movie Mission Impossible. 2dLt Lava NMI Dog was found in solitary confinement in air conditioning ducts in the ceilings over adjoining rooms of two members of the CPA who vociferously denied any involvement and actively accused the LPA of a colossal frame-job.

Great entertainment for all involved--and several weeks of a long deployment passed quickly.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Milestone Mention

This is the 100th post I've made to this blog since its inaugural 13 months ago. At the time of its inception, I expected that I would write every day. I believed myself to be opinionated enough and skilled enough at keyboarding and sentence structure to be able to find something to write quickly about each morning. I tried hard not to merely repeat, or even put a different spin on something I heard from a radio commentator or saw from a columnist. That is harder than one might think. I have also tried hard to keep the subject matter and tone of my missives as varied and diverse as possible. Not that that matters much to the three other people who waste two or three minutes a day deciphering what is posted here.

I think I like to write most about life memories and personal current events. That tends to whittle down the readership interest (from three to two) a bit I'm sure, but is the most fun for me. Frankly, there is a world full of people opining on the air and in print about the condition of the world and its inhabitants. What I contribute to that discourse makes no demonstrable difference. Posting memories dredged from the shriveled grey matter in my brain housing group may appeal to less readers, but is important to me and to my family line (he writes, with insufferable pride in his progeny). So, forthwith, I will write only about my memories...

...or about a world event that interests me...

...or about a skylined jerk on the world stage...

...or about birds...

...but, that's all.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Early Arrival

Twenty-eight very short years ago today, my first son was born. I hardly feel much more than 28 years old myself. Well, my infantry knees and back feel like they are 80 years old, but my mind is still telling me I'm a youngster.

Miss Brenda gave birth to # 1 in a little hospital in Dumfries, Virginia, just up the road from the Marine base at Quantico. I was 2 months into a nine month initial training stint at the Basic School and Infantry Officer Course, and the boy's arrival meant I now had a family to provide for and shed a much different light on the life and death business I was training to conduct. While I remained keenly focused on the instructors' directions about the most effective way to conduct operations to destroy the enemy, I began to pay a little more attention to the instruction that began with the comment, "Listen up, lieutenants; this will keep you alive."

# 1 is so much like me in so many ways that there is very little wonder why we stayed at each others throats for so many years. Guess I didn't like myself that much. But, thank God, he has matured (much earlier than I did) and become a much better man than I am. I like to be around him now. That he and his lovely wife gave me a sharp little buddy of a grandson last year hasn't hurt his cause either!

Twenty-eight years..., amazing.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Charge of the Lieutenant Brigade

The other day a stray synapse in the pea-sized grey matter of my brain housing group fired and I remembered the day that the rifle company I had recently taken command of became truly mine. It was the late summer of 1987 and we were bivouaced in a large field behind the firing line of a set of ranges on which my company had been conducting live fire training. We had completed training for the day and the Marines were in their platoon areas sitting in front of their tents (we called them "shelter halves" because each Marine carried half of a shelter and buttoned it together with another Marine's to form a pup tent -- a term we never used) eating their evening banquet in a bag (MRE). I guess the day had not been too hot or too strenuous for them, because instead of falling quickly asleep as Marines learn to do as soon as strenuous activity ceases, they began to wrestle. The wrestling matches evolved quickly beyond one on one and as my lieutenants and I watched from a safe distance, one squad attacked another squad, and then one platoon attacked another platoon. Each attacking unit would announce its intentions by standing facing its target and clapping slowly in unison, and then a roar would go up as the Marines rushed each other. Our senior NCOs were doing a fair job of refereeing to make sure that things didn't get too out of hand, and my officers and I turned our attention back to planning the next day's events.

Whenever a particularly large roar would erupt from across the field, we would look up, chuckle, and comment on the battle's progress, "There goes First and Second Platoon" or "Tony, Weapons Platoon is getting stomped" or "Look at Smitty leading the charge," and then turn our attention back to our planning. Suddenly the low roar of friendly combat quieted. We looked up to see the entire company facing us and beginning to clap in unison.

I quickly scanned the faces of my five lieutenants and couldn't help but laugh at the looks of bewilderment turning rapidly to consternation...on all but my XO's. Brad McCullough was an accomplished martial artist and I don't think I ever saw anything rattle him. I did, however, see his eyes narrow as he figured the odds and then saw him glance around for an escape route. The other lieutenants were too shocked to do that much thinking. "Gentlemen," I managed to muster without my voice cracking, "we can't run. We have to attack." I turned and started jogging tentatively towards the company. With that, Brad hollered "Keeeyaaa!" or something like that (we laughed for months afterwards anytime one of us would yell "Keeeyaaa" in a not so similar situation) and sprinted toward the 150 Marines facing us.

My platoon commanders and I sprinted after the XO, and the six of us gave a long, wavering rebel yell that 125 years previous would have been right at home in Stonewall's Brigade rushing yankee earthworks. Our Marines actually stood stunned for a second at the sight of us charging them, and then recovered with a roar and charge of their own. We closed the 100 or so yards between us in a few seconds that seemed like an eternity of anticipation of the painful collision with the camouflaged tide. I picked out a big Marine in front of me that happened to be looking away at his own platoon commander, and I slanted toward him and dropped him with an open field tackle that I'm sure rung my bell louder than his. The company engulfed us and all six of us went down under a crush of happily hollering Marines. My First Sergeant saved me from possible serious bodily harm, by reminding in his drill field voice, "Marines, that is your commanding officer!", and pulling Marines off of the pile on top of me. He and I did the same at the piles of Marines that marked the positions of the rest of the officers, and as the men respectfully separated themselves and headed back to their tents I heard a Marine remark proudly, "Did you see the Skipper and the officers charging us?!?"

Little did they know, we had no other choice. But, now the company was mine.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mourning for Mohamar

All of the planet's spoiled brat bad boys seem to be competing for the world's attention this summer. The Ayatollahs and their pet, Amedinajawhatshisname, were getting the lion's share of the limelight early on with their "for peaceful purposes (except for the destruction of Israel) only" nuclear ambitions, so Kimche Kim launched some (not so successful) fireworks and stood on tiptoes behind the podium screeching, "Over here! Look over here!" Not to be outdone, the Ayatollahs grabbed the headlines with a prisoner-snatch raid by their proxy brigade in South Lebanon. That the Israelis took the opportunity to bomb an Arab neighbor back into the Stone Age, was so much the better for the islamo-fascist, rabble-rousing, headline-grabbing cause.

Of course, all of this free-world attention directed at irrational corrupt state actors was too much for Fidel. Putting little brother in charge and South Florida in celebratory suspense got the world's attention for at least two news cycles, and propelled a sick, but "heroically battling" Castro onto the front page and into the fluttering hearts of the closet Sandinista/Fidelista media who have been treating us to an unwelcome diet of rose colored looks at the Life and Revolutions of Fidel Castro, as if he were next in line behind Pope John Paul II for sainthood, instead of the sadistic socialist Stalin-imitator blowhard that he is.

I'm sure Qaddafi is regretting going straight, about now.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hotty Totty Time

That strong gust of wind you may have felt this morning was the Rebel Nation expressing a collective sigh of relief. The Ole Miss faithful, and not-so-faithful, have turned Rebel blue and red from holding their breaths all summer in fretful anticipation of the delayed arrival of a junior college transfer quarterback, who has been named the starter without ever taking a snap on a practice field in Oxford. He was named the starter on signing day, partly as a recruiting ploy by Coach Orgeron, and mostly because there ain't nobody else on campus that is worth a hoot under center.

According to news reports this morning, Brent Schaeffer was admitted to Ole Miss yesterday and will report with the rest of the team today. The kid is nothing if not well-traveled. He started the first three games of the 2004 season for Tennessee as a freshman, got hurt, got in trouble, transferred to that California JUCO powerhouse--College of the Sequoias, threw for 40 TDs last year, committed to Ole Miss in the spring, and then bounced back and forth between California and Florida finishing up summer school classes in order to qualify to transfer--driving the Rebel Nation nuts in the process.

Coach O tried to whip up excitement last year on a team that was long on heart, but woefully short of talent. I actually thought they accomplished quite an achievement to make it to 4 and 7 on the year. With twelve games on tap this year, I predict a .500 season--lots of young talent recruited this past spring, but Ole Miss plays in the SEC, not the ACC, and as good as the recruiting class is this year, five other SEC teams had higher ranked classes. Coach O's future as an NCAA Division I Head Football Coach is in the hands of a former Tennessee Volunteer--Schaeffer better be good and better stay healthy.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

30th WAT Recap

Sometimes the best stop on a vacation trip is the last one--home. Five days and a couple thousand road miles left Miss Brenda and the Colonel relaxed, but ready for the familiarity of our own bed and kitchen. The trip was a milestone for us in several different ways, besides the obvious marking of 30 years of matrimonial monogamy.

For one thing, it was the first time the uptight, control-freak Colonel had ever taken a trip without every stop choreographed, all lodging reserved, and every leg mapped and timed to the quarter hour. For the first time in our life, we hit the road with the ability to stop when and where and for as long as we (read: SHE) wanted. It was the most frightening five days of my life.

I had only one stop truly planned and we scrapped that for a direction change halfway through the trip. I had wanted to be at the little country church at which we had wed at the exact hour of our ceremony, 1400, on the 31st. When Miss Brenda got wind of the direction--back toward Memphis--my loose itinerary would take us, she exercised her veto and we swung east at Tupelo (after a photo-shoot at the Tupelo Buffalo Park) and took the Natchez Trace up to Tishimingo State Park in the highest corner of Mississippi.

It was appropriate, I guess, given our vagabond nature for the first 30 years of our life together, that we were at a highway rest area when the magic hour arrived. At a picnic table alongside a road we had traveled countless times (231 in L.A.), I took Miss Brenda's hand and upgraded the simple and small diamond solitaire with which we had engaged to be married three decades ago. She had expressed that she wanted to keep the original diminutive stone for her own sentimental reasons and the upgrade was a wrap of two companion diamonds, the three stones representing her three decades of loyalty to me.

I got the better gift: A Berretta Extrema in Advantage camouflage. She read my mind!

Monday, July 31, 2006

World War Three?

One of the most intelligent (and one of the most polarizing) people in politics, Newt Gingrich, has been proclaiming loudly that we are in World War Three and we need to wake up and act accordingly. I couldn't agree more. We have actually been involved in this world war since the late seventies and the rise of global terrorism. The parallels to World War Two are striking if you step back and look at the patterns.

While Americans, most of whom under the age of 30 can't even tell you the date, believe that the Second World War began with the Japanese attack on Pacific military facilities in Hawaii and a day later in the Philippines (most don't even know that), the seeds for that war had been planted two decades before and had germinated, taken root, and flowered into open conflict on the European and Asian continents half a dozen years before the re-United States' entrance as a combatant. Appeasement of Hitler's desires for German domination of Europe, and our efforts to keep Japan from becoming a world power through isolation and sanctions, resulted in German and Japanese aggression against weaker neighbors throughout the decade prior to December 7, 1941. Had the Japanese not attacked us at Pearl Harbor when they did, it can be argued that America may very well have remained out of a war which would have eventually brought Soviet domination to the entire Eurasian continent. But, our response following Pearl Harbor was nothing if not unequivocable. We DECLARED WAR and executed that war ruthlessly. As a result, the citizens of the American Empire have enjoyed the greatest and most rapid advances in technology and standard of living in the history of man.

If, the terrorist attack of 9/11 was our generation's Pearl Harbor, where is the formal declaration of war? By the end of 1941, we had formal declarations of war from the Congress of the re-United States on the Axis Powers--Japan, Germany and Italy. Yes, their populations suffered disproportionately more than ours in the ensuing war, but THAT IS THE AIM OF WAR. War is not supposed to be a fair fight, or a kiddies' soccer game following which everybody on both teams gets a trophy. If you are a citizen of a country that allowed a politician to lead you into war, you will suffer the consequences--good or bad. Following 9/11, our president said, and I paraphrase, "you are either for us or against us in this fight against terrorism and the United States will make no distinction between the terrorists and those nations that support terrorism."

We got off to a good start, even without the required formal declarations of war, and toppled the Taliban and Saddam. But, then we stopped attacking the enemy and starting allowing the enemy to attack us. It was as if after kicking Germany and Italy out of North Africa, and Japan out of the Southwest Pacific in 1943, we stopped and let Hitler and Tojo regroup for the next three or more years. The quagmire in which we find ourselves in Iraq is not the result of toppling Saddam. It is the result of not toppling Assad and the Ayatollahs immediately thereafter.

Sadly, it is too late, politically, to do what we should have done three years ago. Unfortunately, we will soon leave Iraq to radical Shia domination. More unfortunately, we will someday have to fight an Iranian/Syrian/Chinese alliance, that will be much stronger because we were so weak when we could have been so strong.

Friday, July 28, 2006

30th WAT

Now that she is safely out of communication with the rest of her world, I can reveal the whereabouts of Miss Brenda and the Colonel, and publish the itinerary for our 30th Wedding Anniversary Trip. I have not told her anything other than what to pack and roughly when we will get back home, and each stop on this trip has been and will continue to be a surprise.

Yesterday morning we departed Panama City and drove along the Redneck Riveria west toward Mobile. We stopped to shop any and every time she said the magic word: "oooh." We finally arrived at our first RON (Rest Over Night for you militarily challenged folks), the thriving metropolis of Hattiesburg, Mississippi; home of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

We rested comfortably over night and woke bright and early for the first of our 30WAT adventures. A quick stop and the ubiquitous and ever-dependable WalMart for supplies and we were off to Sanford, Mississippi to canoe down the raging Okatoma River. Okay, maybe the Okatoma wasn't raging, and maybe it more closely resembles a medium size stream, but we tamed her anyway. Okay, I tamed her. Miss Brenda sat comfortably in the front of the canoe with camera ready to capture for everlasting posterity the flora and fauna of Southern Mississippi. Seven miles and four hours later our butts and backs had suffered enough and we happily beached our canoe and caught the bus back to outfitters.

Leaving Sanford we headed due west and arrived in Natchez, Mississippi along with a humdinger of a thunderstorm. We are in a suite on the Louisana side of the river with a view across the river to Natchez Under the Hill. Tomorrow we begin our slow march upstate along the Natchez Trace. Okay, no marching, but lots of slow driving with stops for more photographic capturing of flora and fauna for posterity. My rough plan is to attend church Sunday morning at the little country church to which we belonged for the first two years of our lives together, and then Monday morning be at the little country church at which we married 30 years ago Monday. After that stop, we will head home...maybe.