Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hovering History

Today is the last day of my 51st year of free-breathing on God's green earth. I got to thinking last night about all the places my life has taken me, and with the the help of Google Earth I went back and visited some of them. I started with some easy ones--places in the US and not as deeply recessed in the wrinkly grey matter of my pea-sized brain. I found satellite pictures of my quarters at Parris Island, SC (or, where my quarters used to be--they tore it down right after I left and built a new house--a coincidence of course), our student housing in Newport, RI for the Navy War College, and our $50,000 house on a $5,000,000 lot at Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii.

When I tried to zoom in on our place aboard Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, Korea, the picture got too fuzzy to make out anything--we don't want to give the North Koreans too easy of a targeting solution.

I found satellite views of our Alabama abode, and the three places in Georgia (in three years) in which we arranged our worldly goods. The house in Jacksonville, NC was relatively easy to find, as well as the two sets of base quarters we occupied during our first tour at Camp Lejeune. Our two different sets of quarters at Quantico, VA seemed tinier than I remembered, even for a satellite view. Our efficiency apartment's building on the campus of Ole Miss is a small rectangle that hardly seems big enough to hold one residence, let alone ten.

The houses Miss Brenda's family and mine occupied on Howard Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone are still there and look to be in good shape, but the streets of the abandoned base are eerily devoid of cars. England Air Force Base in Alexandria, LA is also defunct, but the house on Royce Drive is still there; as well as the house on Horseshoe Drive out in town, where we lived for several months waiting for base quarters. Our quarters on Oklahoma Avenue aboard Little Rock Air Force Base can be easily found with a satellite view, along with the Little League ball diamond on whose outfield I dawdled and daydreamed.

Perhaps the most amazing find last night was the house in which we lived on another defunct US Air Force Base in Morocco. I found it by scanning the desert outside of Marrakesh for a runway and then traced the long road through nothing to the base housing. I was only 5 and 6 when we lived there, but I can still remember details from that place more sharply than others in my vagabond life. I remembered that the housing was arranged around a central empty square, and when I found that more memories came creeping back into my consciousness like little lost children looking for attention. I traced the road from the housing area back up past the "big kids" school, by which I have a indelible memory of frantic bike pedalling. As I remember it, the kindergarten and first grade classes I attended were in a building at the top of a small rise past the bigger school. At the end of the day we were normally let out a few minutes before the other school and those of us with tiny bikes scrambled to make it down the hill past that place before the "big kids" got out and filled the road with their bullying.

I wonder what if there is some "big kid" out there who has a fond Moroccan memory of racing from class to stand in the middle of the road and try to knock kamikaze kindergartners off of their bikes.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bambi's Revenge

We're starting to laugh about it now, but it wasn't funny two weeks ago. My mother's message on my answering machine two Saturdays ago said that my brother had fallen from a tree stand while deer hunting and was in intensive care in a hospital in Richmond, Virginia. The word and concept "helpless" is best defined by what is felt by recipients of news like that. I couldn't race to my little brother's defense from the neighborhood bully. I couldn't be of any immediate help. There was nothing I could do but pray.

What could easily have been a fatal accident, was, praise God, only a very serious one, from which my brother should recover fully, if not quickly. The broken collar bone should knit quickly enough; the six busted ribs will take longer.

As is the custom in my family once immediate danger is past, we have begun the little-recognized, but nonetheless clearly clinical, expression of humorous relief phase in our normalcy recovery. Dad's first question to his second and last son was did he have the presence of mind to attempt any acrobatics on the way down. My aunt asked for reading material recommendations so that she could send him a recovery care package and I opined that safety manuals would be appropriate.

When she overheard my brother telling me over the phone that the deer he shot proximate to his rapid evacuation from the tree stand was "kinda small," his dear and darling bride was clearly heard exclaiming from another room, "It only weighed 43 pounds!"

Perhaps the funniest anecdote was provided by my niece as she visited with her dad in the hospital. She told him that if he was going to do any future tree-stand deer hunting, she would buy him a rope to secure himself. My brother countered that there were nice harness and safety strap systems available, to which she replied, "I priced those--I'm going to buy you a rope instead."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Back to the Future

Last year is in the books and with it the end of the lives of two leaders whose polar opposition provides a clear definition of the term. They came to power in their nations during the seventies--one an opportunist; the other an opportunity. One would lead his nation into a nightmare; the other would lead his nation out of one. One's death was accompanied by the celebration of his enemies; the other had no enemies. One's funeral was brief and ignoble, the other's will demonstrate the greatness of a nation that honors its greatest.

Gerald Ford was the first presidential candidate for whom I ever voted. At the time, it was more of a defensive gesture than a vote of confidence in the man. I was not happy that Ford had let South Vietnam fall to the communists, but I KNEW I didn't want my country led by Jimmy Carter. I had a bad feeling about the man and unfortunately my misgivings were well-founded. Ford's failure to prevent the fall of Saigon was a national shame, but all the media concentrated on was the pardon of Nixon. Ford's reputation in my eyes grew enormously in the years after he left office. The more I learned about the man from sources other than the news media and Saturday Night Live, the more I became convinced that he was one of the greatest leaders our nation had ever produced. I especially appreciated his circumspection and his strict observance of the 11th commandment (applies only to past presidents and is broken continually by democrats): "Thou shalt keep thy mouth shut and thy face off the evening news."

Saddam Hussein's long overdue assumption of room temperature this weekend provided a glimpse into the future of Iraq. His executioners chanted the name of Muqtada al Sadr as they slipped the noose around Saddam's neck. Sadr is a Shiite cleric in the mold of the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose militia and their anti-American activities (car bombings, sniping, et al) are bankrolled by Iran. Time to leave Babylon.

Turns out Ford may have been right to let Saigon fall. The Vietnamese spent the next three decades just trying to re-emerge from the Stone Age. The Soviets were emboldened and invaded Afghanistan--the beginning of the end for the commies in the Kremlin.

Seems to me that Baghdad should be left to the Iranians to deal with. That should consume their time and treasure for long enough to allow a popular uprising to bring an end to the dictatorial clerics now in charge.

Let's bring our forces home and defend our country against the Mexican invasion.