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September 18 2014
Adam Markos was intrigued by his grandfather’s stories about World War II. When he was in high school, he started a magazine featuring interviews of veterans about the War.
He heard an improbable story about Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown, pilot of a B-17 bomber, and Lieutenant Franz Stigler, a German pilot of a Messerschmitt fighter plane. Markos approached Brown who told him to interview Stigler first because he was the real hero of the story.
Stigler was in combat 487 times. He led three squadrons of fighters - 40 planes against “formations of a thousand American bombers.” Of 28,000 German fighter pilots only 1,200 survived the war.
Franz was not a Nazi; his parents had voted against Hitler. When he was a boy he learned to fly gliders from his father who had been a fighter pilot in World War One. After studying aeronautical engineering, Franz became a Lufthansa pilot.
When war broke out in 1939, he was drafted into the Luftwaffe and became a fighter pilot. He was sent to North Africa. Then as German lines constricted, he flew missions out of Sicily then Germany.
Charlie Brown was a West Virginia farm boy who enlisted in the Air Force. He became a Boeing B-17 bomber pilot with an inexperienced crew. On their first mission flying from England in December 1943, they were hit by flak from anti-aircraft guns before they got to their target.
The plane’s nose was shot away, allowing sub-zero winds to rush through the plane. Before they dropped their bombs, they lost one engine and had trouble with another. Their guns couldn’t work because they were frozen with ice.
After unloading their bombs, they were beset by German Messerschmitts. Charlie not knowing what to do flew straight at the fighters, confusing the German pilots.
Charlie got an assessment from the flight engineer. “We’re chewed to pieces. The left stabilizer is all but gone. The hydraulics are bleeding from the wings. There’s holes in the fuselage big enough to climb through, and up front the nose is open to the sky.”
They passed over the German air field at Jever, where Stigler had just landed after shooting down another B-17. After refueling, Stigler took off after Charlie Brown.
When Stigler caught up with the B-17 he wondered how it could fly. “Every foot of the bomber’s metal had holes where bullets had entered.” The skin had been blasted away. “Through the planes exposed ribs he saw its crew, huddled over one another, caring for their wounded.”
Stigler felt his rosary beads. Although he needed only one more kill to receive the Knight’s Cross, he thought “This will be no victory for me.”
Stigler escorted the B-17 over the anti-aircraft guns. He flew parallel with Brown and mouthed “Sweden,” only half an hour away. He thought the B-17 couldn’t make it to England. Charlie ignored him, turning west. Franz saluted him.
They both survived the war. Franz often wondered if the bomber made it to England. Charlie wondered why the German hadn’t finished them off. In 1990 the two miraculously got together fifty years afterwards. They hugged and cried and became friends
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They Call Me Spence
by Brad Spencer
Award winning journalist
September 04 2014
A Leap into the Great Unknown
She wants to go. She wants to take that leap. And, according to the laws and ethics that govern our lives, she needs to do it. She must do it. Going to school is required.
Perhaps she’s aware of the magnitude of it, once that line is crossed, there’s no going back for a long, long time.
Going to Kindergarten is similar to potty training, really. She fought us on that, too. Perhaps she knew what it implied, perhaps her small mind was already aware of the consequences. Growing up means certain things change, certain luxuries vanish. There’s no more responsive and responsible servants catering to your every need, including the stinky kind. There’s no more full-day movie marathons and afternoon park-playing picnics in the middle of the week. No one is trailing you with a bag full of essentials. The time has come for you to take care of you-know-what on your own. The time has come for you to go learn shapes, colors, numbers, words and how boys can tease and be loud and obnoxious.
Marie gets on the big yellow bus, but she doesn’t leap onto it or skip or smile. She shuffles, her head down, her face twisted in disgust. She holds her older sister’s hand and reluctantly moves forward until it’s time to step up and up again and over and into a seat.
Even though she gets on the bus, it still breaks your heart to see her do so unwillingly. She’ll look back at you and frown, her eyes welling up with moisture, and it’s as if you’re sending her off to the orphanage. Every day the orphanage.
The good life, the worry free life, is over. It was a good run of five years.
At least it’s not as bad as when her older sister, Kate, went off to Kindergarten. The Sis that Marie looks up to now for guidance, the Sis whose hand she squeezes for reassurance as she shuffles onto the bus, had to be pried off her father’s torso by the school principal on more than one occasion. Kate wouldn’t even look at the big yellow bus without shrieking with fear and darting in the opposite direction.
Now, as she explains to Marie that school is fun and she shouldn’t be scared, Kate has no recollection of nearly ripping Dad’s chest hair from his skin while belligerently screaming and crying. I will no doubt remind her when she is much older and a boy is at the front door.
Perhaps Marie knows there’s no way around it. “I should just accept it because they will send me regardless. They sent Kate and she clawed Dad like a feral cat. I stand no chance. It’s inevitable. My days of doing whatever I wanted to do are over.”
Marie wants to go to school because when she arrives home, she’s ecstatic. Leaping joyfully, smiling brilliantly, no hint of the melancholy that consumed her hours earlier in the morning. All is well with the world again. She is bounding down the sidewalk with happiness.
“School is great. School is fun. School is awesome!”
And we’ll for sure remind her of that in the morning
Brad Spencer can be reached at Brad.E.Spencer@gmail.com
September 18 2014He’s Not a Dog, He’s a Soldier
Is it All For a Reason?
MY FRIEND across the lunch table was a fellow cancer sufferer as well as an old friend and high school classmate. We will call her Maria. She made the statement, “I believe everything happens for a reason.” I politely disagreed, but we argued the point good-naturedly.
When we suffer, or when loved ones do, we often look for reasons. It may start out as a standard “Why me?” Often the search for reasons involves God. As in, “God must have his reasons.”
Of course on one level, everything does happen for a reason. The bridge is washed out because of heavy rain. A plan crashes due to engine failure. A car wreck occurs because the driver couldn’t see his or her “blind spot.”
In my case, I have suffered with dangerous melanomas because I spent too much time in the sun at too many intervals in my life, with little or no sunscreen protection. My dermatologist says so.
But these are not what Maria had in mind when she used the word “reason.” To state her position, she would have been more accurate to use the word purpose, or maybe more precisely, divine purpose.
The attempt to do so often makes many claims. It is God’s will that this tragedy should happen. God brings misfortune to test us. This suffering will make us stronger. The suffering will make others stronger. God never gives us more to bear than we can handle. When God closes a door, He opens a window. And so on; you’re just as familiar with these bromides (and others) as I am.
SOME OF THESE give comfort to people, but not to me. In fact, I know, as do most people, that some aren’t even true. Take just one: “God never gives us more to bear than we can handle.” If we’ve lived a while with eyes and ears open, we’ve all known people whose suffering was so intense they have taken their own lives, or tried to.
It doesn’t resonate with me to think “everything happens for a reason” because if we move the dialogue into the area of religion, I find a God who is not only not credible, but not nourishing or loving.
None of it works for Harold Kushner, either, author of the powerful and enduring bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I have referenced this book before because I have found it to be a stronger comfort to people I know than other books whose aim is to mitigate grief.
Kushner was motivated to write his book after the death of his young son to a rare disease. He writes that he does not blame God for this personal devastation, nor does he believe his son died “for a reason.” Kushner believes that the universe is random and that God, loving and caring though He may be, has little power to control its earthquakes or its personal tragedies.
He uses several Old Testament texts as the spine of his conclusion. “Tell the righteous it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked, it shall be ill with him, for what his hands have done shall be done to him.” (Isaiah 3:10-11)
And, “No ills befall the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.” (Proverbs 12:21)
In fact, the theme that the righteous prosper while the wicked suffer permeates the Old Testament. Kushner responds by saying, “If I could meet the author of those texts, I would be obliged to point out that there is a lot of wishful thinking in that theology. To believe that today, a person would either have to deny the facts that press upon him from every side, or else define what he means by ‘righteous’ in order to fit the inescapable facts.
“Does God ‘temper the wind to the shorn lamb?’ Does he never ask more of us than we can endure? My experience, alas, has been otherwise. I have seen people crack under the strain of unbearable tragedy.”
IF A MAN inherits great wealth or property, draws a winning lottery ticket, or is the lone survivor of an airline crash, do these things happen “for a reason?” No more so than bad things, or so I suggested to Maria. They are simply the vicissitudes of a universe operating at random.
It would be a small and petty god indeed who chose to save the life of one airline passenger while taking the life of the next guy in the row. Maria was not convinced, but we did find areas of agreement. That’s what friends do.
Since we are both cancer victims, we agreed on the wisdom of following the guidance of our health care professionals and working at ways (lifestyle, diet, positive attitude, drawing support from caring loved ones, finding some kind of spiritual center, having strong reasons for living) to strengthen our immune systems.
Eventually, the bond of friendship trumps theological differences. I call that healthy.
September 04 2014Fall Lawn Care Tips
Labor Day is the beginning of the turf-grass-care season. Everyone likes a pretty green lawn that is free of weeds. That is next to impossible unless you spend a lot of time and money. It has been said “The more you do to the lawn, the more you need to do”. That doesn’t mean to do nothing.
One thing we talk about is dethatching, if you have more than an inch of thatch, you should rent machine that pulls plugs out. Thatch is caused by excess fertilizing, poor mowing practice, over watering and over use of chemicals. Some thatch is good.
September is the ideal time to fertilize, if needed. If you let the clippings remain on the lawn when you mow, that will return enough nitrogen to the grass.
When mowing your lawn, leave the grass 2 1/2 - 3 inches tall, some leave it 4 inches tall. The taller blades will shade the soil to keep the roots cooler and help prevent he soil from drying out so fast.. It will also help prevent the weed seeds from reaching the soil to germinate. The thatch also helps cool the soil, slows drying and stops weed seeds germinating.
When we spray the lawn with chemicals to kill the grubs, we also kill the earthworms and other insects in the soil. A few grubs are good because they help the earthworms clean up the dead roots and also help aerate the soil, loosening it so rain and air can get down to the grass roots.
If you just have a few weeds, it is better to spot spray, instead of spraying the whole yard. It is also less stress on the turf grass and better for the environment. Never spray just before a rain. The chemicals need time to work before being washed off. Also be sure to follow the directions on the container.
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The Rest is Still Unrwritten
by John Colclasure of Lexington
September 18 2014
It seems like it has been nearly thirty years since we began having a fall wiener roast in our back yard or elsewhere. At one time there were four couples who got together for hot dogs and tamales, cooked over an open fire at Comlara Park, Evergreen Lake, Dawson Lake or Lake Bloomington. With advancing years, four couples, became three, then two and finally just Mrs. C and I.
With a move to Lexington, Illinois in 1968, the annual “Fall Roast,” as it is now called, began anew with family, friends, and neighbors, with a good time being had by all. A good time, most likely in the hearts and minds of those who gather around the campfire, with “tall tales” being spun by yours truly. One such tale has become a tradition and a “must” to be included every year. With deviations of course! I’ve written about it before and some of you may remember it as “The Golden Arm.” There are a number of versions out there, most likely coming from the original essay by Mark Twain “How to tell a story.” None-the-less each year a second or a third “new”story must be told. Of which I am most happy to oblige. This years “new” story was adapted from A New York Ghost Story by S.E. Schlosser.
Recently a young man and his wife, both in their late 30’s or early 40’s were traveling along old 66, when their car began experiencing mechanical problems. He pulled to the side of the roads and after failing to find the source of the problem began looking around for some help. He was somewhere around the Ballard elevator and after a while knew that they would need shelter for the night. He spied a light through the trees and both began walking southward, until he came to a long winding lane leading up to a pleasant little house standing on the crest of a hill. They walked up to the door and upon knocking were met by an old man and his wife. Each were in nightclothes and obviously about to turn in, but welcomed the weary travelers in, offered to repair their vehicle; a room for the night and a late night snack. After an evening full of laughter and gaiety, the stranded couple offered to pay for their hospitality and overnight lodging, but the old lady adamantly shook her head and the old man also refused payment.
Early the next morning the travelers awoke and tiptoed out of the house, not wanting to awaken the sleeping couple, leaving a shiny Kennedy half dollar (given to him by his grandfather) in the center of the kitchen table where the old couple could not miss it. The travelers returned to their car and after finding that it had indeed been repaired; drove into Lexington, stopping at one of our local eateries.
The traveler mentioned the old couple to the owner of the restaurant and the man turned pale. “Where did you say that house was?” he asked. The husband described the location in detail. “You must be mistaken,” said the restaurant owner. “That house was destroyed almost 30 years ago by a fire that killed both Daniel and Eleanor Muir.” “I don’t believe it,” the traveler said flatly. “Mr. and Mrs. Muir were alive and well last night.”
After debating for a few more minutes, the travelers and the restaurant owner drove back out of town towards the old Muir place. They turned into the lane, which was overgrown with weeds, and climbed the hill to the crest. There they found the burned out remains of a house that had obviously not sheltered anyone for many a year. “I must have missed the track,” said the husband. And then his wife gave a terrified scream and fainted into his arms. As he caught her, the husband looked into the ruin and saw a burnt table with a shiny fifty-cent piece lying in the center. The date on the coin was 1971, the exact year the coin was given to him by his grandfather.
Till next time…john
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