Thursday, September 29, 2011

National Coffee Day

By whose proclamation the Colonel knows, nor, frankly, cares not, but today in the good ole U.S. of A. is National Coffee Day.

The Colonel can't speak for the rest of the nation, but here, on the grounds of Eegeebeegee, capital of the increasingly less whimsical and increasingly more plausible Tallahatchie Free State, every day is Coffee Day.  Each and every day, seven days a week, thirty (give or take one or two) days a month, twelve months a year.  No day is gainfully begun until the contents of a steaming cup of joe are coursing through the Colonel's bloodstream.

And, here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere the coffee is consumed without pollutants.  No sissified sippers here.  Straight and strong, thank you very much.

The Colonel's preferred mug?  Of the scores in his collection, he's a mite partial to the red one with the gold eagle, globe, and anchor emblazoned on its side.

National Coffee Day, huh?

That ain't near good enough.

By the power invested in him, by him, the Colonel declares that henceforth here in the Tallahatchie Free State every day from daybreak til noon is National Coffee Morning.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beary Bad Ball

Writing about the plight of one's college football team is a lot like complaining about a persistent rash.  Friends tend to distance themselves and enemies exult.

So, the Colonel apologizes in advance to the dozen or so of you who persist in wasting valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon for subjecting you to the following. 

Yesterday at church, the Colonel sat with his pre-service coffee klatch and opined that he was actually heartened that after having been away from the cultural center of the universe here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere for 30 years, he had returned to find Ole Miss football right where he left it upon his graduation  --  mired in mediocrity.

Actually, referring to the current state of Rebel football as mediocrity is an insult to mediocre programs everywhere.

Ole Miss football is, well, just awful.

At times like these, and there are times like these all too often in the life of an Ole Miss football fan, the Colonel is reminded of something credited to Robert E. Lee and paraphrases it here: "It is good that Ole Miss football is so terrible, or else I would grow too fond of it."  

The Colonel could be boorishly snide at this juncture and point out that the gridiron slump coincides with the administration's evisceration of every tradition at the University of Mississippi in the name of political correctness.  But, he won't go there.

Okay, maybe just a short side trip over there.

Long-time Ole Miss mascot Colonel Reb has been banished and replaced by a bear.  Supposedly, finding the bear was the culmination of a free and open mascot search.  However, if one peeks out from under his tin-foil hat for a moment he'll have no problem recognizing the signs of a massive conspiracy that perpetrated this fuzzy fraud on Rebel Nation.  One needs look no further than the rallying cry that began to appear in print coincident with the disrespectful disappearance of Colonel Reb: "Be A Rebel!"

The Colonel will pause briefly to help the Alabama and LSU grads among the few of you upon whose screens this missive has materialized to catch up.  Look at the first four letters of "Be A Rebel."

Keep looking. 

Sound the letters out.

Okay, while the tide and tiger alums work on figuring it out, the Colonel will continue.

Back to the sorry state of Ole Miss football.  With a 1 and 3 start to the season (the one win being an anemic effort against an FCS opponent), even the most fervently faithful and perpetually positive fans are having a hard time calculating how the total in the win column will even match last year's.  (For those of you who mercifully don't closely follow the merciless misery that is Ole Miss football, the win total last year was 4 -- the same as five of the last ten years' result.)  

As a result, Rebel Nation is on the cusp of yet another winter of discontent wherein the following questions will be asked ad nauseum:

1. How much longer will the Harvard of the South (by reciprocal agreement, Harvard is allowed to call itself the Ole Miss of the North) be allowed by the Stalinist purveyors of political correctness to use the appellation: Ole Miss Rebels?  

2.  How much longer will incompetence and ineptitude continue to be the two critical criteria by which athletic directors and coaches are hired at the University of [name of school and state found to be offensive and hereby redacted pending politically correct replacement]?

3.  How much longer will the [offensive title of the author redacted] continue to expend his meager treasure on season tickets?

The [offensive title of the author redacted] loves [offensive name of the state redacted], and can think of nowhere else on [offensive reference to a possessive Deity redacted] Green Earth he would rather live.  It's just a good thing the [offensive reference to a militaristic organization redacted] provided him with lots of training at being miserable.       

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Suit Up or Stay on the Porch

During a recent weekend of watching far too much football on TV, the Colonel and # 2 son saw a Marine recruiting commercial, a frame of which featured a recruit exiting a hut in which he and 50 of his closest friends had been exposed to a heavy concentration of tear gas.  The Marine Corps bills this as "an exercise to boost confidence in the standard issue field protective mask."  

Okay.  If you say so. 

The recruit in question is in a condition two short steps from agony.  The tear gas is assaulting every orifice, the eyes being but two of many.  Every pore stings.  Every drop of formerly viscous fluid recently resident in the sinus cavities has achieved a state approximating the flow rate and volume of the Niagara river over American Falls.  With sinus cavity and tear duct evacuation at levels unprecedented in the recruit's young life, the close up picture captures him at one of the least flattering of a whole catalog of unflattering moments in his three months at boot camp.

Demonstrating the arrogance only ignorance can summon, #2 son turned to the Colonel and snidely suggested, "He needs to man up."

For the next twenty-seven and one-half minutes, #2 was on the receiving end of one the Colonel's patented and practiced personal one-on-one "teaching moments."  Said teaching moment reminded #2 that he had little germane experience from which to draw such conclusions and included a play-by-play recreation of the annual gas chamber training required of all Marines.   

At the conclusion of the teaching moment -- "Arethereanyquestions?Ididn'tthinksokeepyourstupidopinionstoyourself!" -- #2 sat in the stunned silence that he and his siblings had practiced and patented as response to many, many of the Colonel's teaching moments over their lives blessed with the presence of the man curmudgeoned before his time. 

Then, a stray synapse fired across the wide gap separating two of the Colonel's few remaining cognitive cells lying fallow in the amorphous goo puddled in a recess of his combination brain-housing-group and cap rack, and the Colonel was reminded of an incident early in his training as a steely-eyed defender of freedom and the American Way.        
Too many years ago for him to count -- even removal of footwear will not provide sufficient appendages for enumeration -- the Colonel was assigned collateral duty as the Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defense Officer (NBCDO) for the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines.  In order that the Colonel might best perform his duties as NBCDO, he was detailed to a four week course of study at the prestigious institute of higher learning known as the Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (FMFLANTNBC) Defense School.  At this school (and the Colonel uses the term "school" in a manner so loose that a newborn's diaper deposit looks like a granite composition by comparison), the Colonel and forty other Marines were educated in the fine arts of chemical agent detection and decontamination, downwind nuclear fallout hazard plotting, and the appropriate wear and care of the (then) state of the art butyl rubber suit.

The butyl rubber suit was the early forerunner of the relatively lightweight HAZMAT suits now in vogue in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies. 

The butyl rubber suit weighed more than the Colonel.  

The entire annual production of two large rubber plantations in IndoChina went into the construction of one butyl rubber suit. 

When conditions called for the wearing of the butyl rubber suit, conditions were bad.  Very bad.

Early in our first week of training, the old salt instructors at the ivy-covered halls of the FMFLANTNBC Defense School regaled the students with tales of how tough and realistic training had been in the "Old Corps" and that one of the most realistic portions of training in the old days was to expose NBC Defense trainees to a live blister agent similar to the mustard agent used in World War I.  As they told us, the blister agent was so caustic in concentration that even the tiniest droplet on the skin would cause a huge blister that in some cases would reoccur on the site for the remainder of the life of the one exposed.  Sure enough, a grizzled old NCO rolled up his sleeve and showed the class a nasty scar on the back of his hand, "It hasn't blistered up in two or three months..."    

At the beginning of week two, the instructors informed the class that permission had been granted by Headquarters to resume student exposure to live agents.  Several members of the class actually "ooorahed!" The Colonel was not among those so easily motivated by the prospect of pain and permanent scarring.

At the beginning of week three, the instructors told the class that a sufficient quantity of live agent had been requisitioned from an Army chemical agent repository and that it should arrive in time for the class to be individually exposed on Friday afternoon.  

At the appointed hour that Friday, the students returned to the classroom following lunch break to find a squad of hospital corpsmen (that's pronounced "core men," Mr. President) lined up in the back, each carrying their large battlefield medical pack.  The head instructor reminded the class of the extreme toxicity of the chemical agent and gave some instructions about remaining motionless when the instructor administered a tiny amount to the back of each student's hand.  He then waved to the back of the room.

Every student turned to look.

A Marine entered through the double doors at the back of the classroom carrying a large jar of liquid.  

He was wearing a butyl rubber suit. 

The butyl rubber suited-Marine carefully carried the large liquid-filled jar to the front of the class, placed it gingerly on a table, and slowly unscrewed the top.  He then dipped a wand into the liquid, dabbed the tiniest of drops onto a large square of cardboard. and then carefully replaced the jar's lid.  The cardboard square was passed around the room for all to examine.

"Marines," intoned the head instructor solemnly, "this tiny amount will cause a severe blister on your skin."  

To emphasize a point that frankly needed little emphasis at this point, a slide projection of a horribly blistered hand flashed on the screen at the front of the classroom. 

A Marine muttered "[expletive deleted] this," and stood as if to leave.

"Siddown, Marine!," bellowed the head instructor.  "This is not a voluntary exercise!"   

The butyl rubber suited Marine returned to the large jar on the table at the front of the classroom and slowly and carefully removed the lid.  He then tucked the slender wand under one arm and picked up the jar in two heavily-gloved hands.  Turning slowly around to face the class, he stepped toward the first row of desks.  

The slender wand slipped out from under his arm.

In one quick motion, the butyl rubber suited Marine attempted to cradle the jar in one arm and attempted to grab the falling slender wand with a free hand.

Both attempts failed. 

The jar's liquid contents sloshed heavily across the front row of students in a scene reminiscent of the splash zone in front of Shamu's tank at Sea World.


Unmanly screams.

Loud wailing combining fervent prayer and frequent use of the words [expletive deleted] and [expletive deleted].

At the back of the classroom, a tight knot of ten or twelve Marines attempting to escape the horrors at the front of the classroom, were attempting, at the exact same moment, to exit the four-man wide double doors.

Both attempts failed.

Deep sobbing and other-worldly moans of anguish and despair became suddenly and incongruously mixed with gales of hilarious laughter.  

The Colonel, attempting to extricate himself from the tangle of Marines clogged at the rear exit, and attempting to demonstrate appropriate officer conduct by leading the chemically contaminated classroom exodus from the front (both attempts failing), heard the laughter and deduced that the experience of dying a horrible and excruciating death, in addition to eliciting prayer mixed with the words [expletive deleted] and [expletive deleted], must also cause one to laugh uncontrollably.

The next ten and one-half minutes can only be described as a free-fire zone of expletive-filled indignation, the most frequent refrain being repeated use of the phrase, "That [expletive deleted] ain't right!"   

The Colonel learned an immensely valuable set of lessons that day.

1.  Fear ain't funny, unless you are the one doin' the scarin'.

2.  Marines are heartless fatherless creatures who'll do anything for a laugh.

3.  Never trust a man in a butyl rubber suit.     

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Lost Decade

Ten years ago, this morning, the Colonel put on his uniform and eased bedside to kiss the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda goodbye, before heading to the office.  He hadn't slept.

How could he?

How could anyone?

The last twenty hours had seemed to last weeks

A young Marine had tapped on his office door frame the morning before and said simply, "Colonel, you need to turn on your TV."

The set was across the office and rarely on.  Not a good example for the boss to have the boob tube on during working hours, even if it had become a military tradition to keep CNN on to find out where the next hot spot was -- CNN's field reporters had become our best strategic scouts.  He could tell by the look on the Marine's face that there was something big happening and the Colonel waved his permission.

The picture that filled the screen was instantly recognizable, if incongruous.  One of the towers of the World Trade Center was afire at the top, black smoke billowing downwind against a vividly clear sky.  The news anchor was breathlessly and a bit incredulously repeating the first reports that a small plane had accidentally crashed into the tower.  Clear blue skies and huge gash in the building belied that.  The Colonel's worst fears were confirmed only a minute later when the next hijacked airliner bored in on, and exploded into, the South Tower.

Our Nation was under attack.

For the previous two decades the Colonel had been privy in varying degrees to the shadowy, half-hearted battle these re-United States had been fighting against terrorism -- enough to come to the conclusion, shared by many of his fellow military professionals, that our small scale retaliatory actions were doing nothing more than demonstrating a lack of resolve, emboldening the enemy, and feeding a cycle of violence.

That morning, as he sat on the bed beside his Lady, the Colonel was convinced that the nation was about to go to war.  The Colonel quietly told the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda that she needed to be prepared to see her man and their two sons (not then in uniform) go off to fight in what he was sure would be a war rivaling the major wars of the previous century and eclipsing totally the "drive by" that had been the quick campaign to free Kuwait.

"Are you sure?", Miss Brenda asked.

"No doubt in my military mind."  The Colonel answered confidently.  

The Colonel seriously over-estimated the wisdom and fortitude of our nation's political leadership.

Instead of DECLARING and waging WAR on the states fomenting and funding terrorism, our political leaders waged war on their own people, and their rights and freedoms

Oh, they talked big:  "You are either with us or against us!"  But, our actions were small and shadowy and ineffective; and we left many, many terrible regimes in place who were solidly "against us."

It has been the Colonel's contention for the better part of the last ten years that the United States was frittering away time, opportunity, blood, and treasure in what has become "The Lost Decade."

A real war, ruthlessly prosecuted against the states backing militant  fascism and using its tactic of terrorism, might just have had the same result as our real war, ruthlessly prosecuted against the militant fascist states that had threatened freedom in the first half of the last century  -- relative peace and unprecedented prosperity for the American people in the second half of the century.  

Oh, and a real war to end the threat of terrorism from militant fascist states would have been OVER six or seven years ago, and would have cost the same if not less than the phony war in which we are currently in the tenth year.

Despite the pandering politicians' pronouncements to the contrary, the Colonel must have you know that we are no more safe from the threats against our liberties and way of life than were we ten years ago.  If anything, we are more at risk than ever.  And, the American people are paying the price for our leaders' (the Colonel uses that word in this context as loose as a newborn's diaper deposit) lack of exceptional American statesmanship.    

But, what does the Colonel know?  He's just a graying centurion who reads history books.       

Friday, September 09, 2011

Happy Birthday, Miss Brenda!

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda begins her [number censored]th air-breathing trip 'round ol' Sol today.  Born in the year [number censored], the Colonel's Lady has been witness to momentous marvels and marvelous moments in the history of man on this big blue marble.

During her time on the planet:

Two territorial possessions of the Republic were granted Statehood.

Men walked on the moon.

Al Gore invented the Internet and founded a false religion.

The Cold War ended.

The Culture War began.

Elvis died.  Or did he?

Saddam did the stupid. Three times.

Walter Mondale lost 49 states.  Ronald Reagan found them.

Ole Miss won a National Championship in football.  Really.

The United States gave away a canal it built on the isthmus of Panama to a country it created on territory taken from Colombia.  

The United States invaded Cuba, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan to depose/arrest their leaders.  Four out of five ain't bad.

More than just a passive witness, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda has been a trend-setter and over-achiever from the moment she and her twin sister disembarked from my favorite mother-in-law. 

She is a world traveler. 

She graced the new state of Hawaii with her pre-school presence; lived in Washington, California, New York, New Jersey, and Tennessee as a kid; and then, as a teen, landed in the Panama Canal Zone happily coincident (dare we call it serendipity?) with the arrival of the Colonel to that tropic. 

As spousal support unit to her Marine, the Colonel's Lady has made spartan dwellings happy homes in Virginia (twice), North Carolina (twice), Mississippi (twice), Georgia, Alabama, Hawaii, Rhode Island, South Korea, South Carolina, and Florida  -- in all, EIGHTEEN different abodes adopted and adapted to serve as wonderful, welcoming homes for the Colonel and kids.

She is an organizer par-excellence. 

No church, community, club, school, nor business has experienced her membership without fundamental transformation -- for the good.  Even the Colonel's hen herd has been subject to her organizational will -- eggs are laid with precision placement and perfunctory punctuality.   

She is a consummate care-giver.

The Colonel's Lady is so constantly concerned with the comfort and confidence of others, that the Colonel's numerical call-sign for the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is "Twelve"  -- she always feels the need to "tend to" others.

The Colonel feels the need to pause as this juncture for the benefit of the 'Bama and LSU grads among the two dozen of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon, and explain the punchline in the preceding paragraph.  The Colonel will attempt to use the smallest words he can.

Her nickname is "Twelve" because she thinks she must tend to (ten two) others.  

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is a talented musician.

She plays the piano and plucks the Colonel's heartstrings.  She is the Colonel's angel -- often up in the air harping about something or another the Colonel has done, or hasn't.

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda loves the Colonel.  The Colonel reminds her of this often...

...often coincident with the purchase of a new gun or power tool. 

He could go on and on, but suffice it to say the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is the Colonel's favorite person in the whole wide world.  

Happy Birthday, Miss Brenda!      

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Willis A. "Buddy" Hinson, Marine

One of the last of a rapidly diminishing group of living American heroes was laid to rest today.  He was a charter member of the Greatest Generation; more than fulfilling his duty to his nation in his youth and yet active until his death as a champion of causes great and small.  He was eulogized by his pastor as a man who always "took care of things;" at the age of 89 he remained on the go and always in service.

Willis A. Hinson  (Buddy to his friends and Great Uncle Buddy to the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda) was one of that rare breed of men who early in their adult lives recognize that there are indeed things worth fighting for and that a small minority of hard men are needed to fight for the rest.  At the age of eighteen, more than a year before Pearl Harbor, Buddy Hinson enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  For his twentieth birthday Uncle Sam gave Buddy an all-expense-paid trip to the South Pacific.

By the summer of 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army had earned an aura of invincibility--they had virtually steamrolled every Allied force in their way from China to the Philippines to Singapore.  The inexorable Japanese march south had reached the last rim of islands to the north of Australia -- the Solomons -- and there seemed nothing to prevent invasion.  There were scant Australian forces available to defend against the impending attack -- most of Australia's military manpower was fighting Rommel's Afrika Corps in the deserts of North Africa.

Enter Buddy Hinson and several thousand of his closest friends.

In August of 1942, the woefully understrength and ill-equipped 1st Marine Division was thrown ashore on the key island in the Solomons -- Guadalcanal.  The Japanese had been constructing a large forward airbase on Guadalcanal from which to support future operations against Australia.  Buddy Hinson was a machinegunner with the 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment (2/7) of the 1st Marine Division.  The U.S. Navy landed the 1st Marine Division with the mission to seize and hold the airfield, and steamed away.

The Imperial Japanese Army and Navy had a problem with that.

For the next three months, the American Marines, soldiers, and airmen holding tenuously to the former Japanese airfield endured unimaginable horrors as the Japanese threw everything at the mud-mired men but the kitchen sink.  Ferocious Japanese naval bombardment preceded determined land assaults by increasingly larger and larger Japanese army forces against the American perimeter.

At the end of October, 1942, a final do or die assault was mounted by the Japanese.  On the afternoon of the 23rd of October, Marine commanders detected a Japanese force massing on a hitherto unassailed flank and hurriedly repositioned 2/7 on a low ridge of hills astride the expected Japanese avenue of approach.  The battalion commander placed his 33-man machingun section on a spur that extended off the ridge and had a field of fire covering the expected Japanese line of attack.  The Marines got into position as darkness fell and had very little time to dig in and prepare defensive positions.

Fast forward to the first, and last, sadly, time the Colonel got to spend any time talking with Buddy Hinson -- about six years ago.  The Colonel knew Buddy had been a World War Two-era Marine, but not much else about his service.  Buddy and the Colonel participated in a quick round of chest-thumping traditional among Marines and then Buddy sharpened his eyes and leaned in,

"You ever heard of Mitchell Paige?"  

Ever heard of him!?!  Mitchell Paige was among the pantheon of legendary figures the exploits of whom young Marines memorized like favorite bedtime stories.  The Colonel knew that Platoon Sergeant Paige had received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor during a particularly brutal fight on Guadalcanal and had gone on to serve a distinguished career; retiring as a Colonel.

"Yessir!" The Colonel answered Uncle Buddy. 

"Well, I served with Mitchell Paige on Guadalcanal."   

The Colonel pressed him for more, but true to the character of his generation, Uncle Buddy gave little other information about the most significant event in his life.  But, the Colonel could tell there was a great story behind those sharp eyes.

To his discredit, the Colonel quickly forgot about the incident, until the other day when he heard that Uncle Buddy had passed away.

The Colonel began a crash course on the Guadalcanal exploits of Willis A. Hinson.  The Colonel was amazed at what he found.

Platoon Sergeant Mitchell Paige's 33-man machinegun section was positioned at the very point at which the Japanese commander had marked for his forces to assault and penetrate the Marine lines.  When the assault came at 0200 on the morning of 26 October 1942, Paige was on the right flank by the #1 machinegun and Buddy Hinson was on the left flank, manning the #2 machinegun.

Within minutes nearly every Marine in Paige's outfit were dead or severely wounded.  Early in the fight Paige looked over to see Hinson fall from a head wound, and then moments later looked back to see Buddy back on his gun, operating a 3-man weapon singlehandedly. 

Suffering from his severe head wound, short of ammo, and now the lone Marine alive on his end of the line, Hinson followed his last order from Paige and put his gun out of action before crawling back to the rear.

The Japanese pouring through the gap in the lines beat Buddy back to the rear and were advancing on the Battalion command post.  Paige was still on his ridge, now behind the advancing Japanese.  He picked up a weapon and took the Japanese under fire, blunting the attack enough to allow an adhoc Marine counterattack force to form and begin to push the Japanese back.  Paige picked up an eighty-pound, 3-man, water-cooled machinegun, cradled it in his arms and joined in the counterattack which re-established the Marine defensive line.  THE STUFF OF LEGEND.

At the ceremony at which Paige was presented with the Medal of Honor, he deflected credit from himself and heaped praise on the men, Buddy Hinson among them, who fought and fell in that climactic battle.

Others have told the Colonel that Buddy used to joke that, "Paige got a parade; I got a pat on the back."  Still, Hinson was devoted to his wartime leader until Paige's death in 2003; and to Paige's memory until his own death this week.    

Until Guadalcanal, the Imperial Japanese Army had never been beaten.  On Guadalcanal, a few great Americans stood toe to toe with the cream of the Japanese military...and won.  After Guadalcanal, eventual American victory over the Empire of Japan was never in doubt.

The Colonel had the honor of telling Mitchell Paige's and Buddy Hinson's battle story this morning at Uncle Buddy's funeral service.  The Colonel is quite certain that Uncle Buddy is now guarding heaven's gates and that the Colonel will have to answer someday to Uncle Buddy for telling a story Hinson would rather not have been told. 

The Colonel is looking forward to the butt-chewin'.