Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day. A time to celebrate...and a time to remember.

There are so many words, poems, songs, etc. that “work” on this day. I thought I’d compile some images of those who paid the ultimate price (and some left behind). Nobody in my immediate family served in Viet Nam. And to my knowledge, nobody in my family has died in wartime since the Civil War. I was raised to be a patriot; I am thankful for that raising. Especially the part of patriotism that supports the troops and honors the service and the memory of those whose service is over.

Growing up near Eglin Air Force Base—then the largest AF base in the world—meant that many of my friends’ Dads served. And some paid with their lives. There were those in my home town who won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some served that most difficult assignment: prisoner of war. So my home town runs deep with patriotic fever. Note carefully, that there are democrats and republicans there. Liberals and conservatives. Patriotism, like heroism, is not tied to any particular place on the political spectrum.

I didn’t know any of these individuals personally.

Maj. Carl Drake was an Air Force pilot. Before going to Viet Nam, he led the Air Force ROTC program at LSU. He was a native of Ohio, but his last U.S. address was St. Petersburg, FL. His outfit was based out of McDill Air Force base in Tampa. Major Drake was shot down over Cambodia on June 18, 1970. His remains have not been found.

Carl Drake's younger son Randy was a friend of mine when I was @ U. of FL. Randy still wears his Dad’s watch that was sent home with Major Drake's personal effects after he was shot down. Randy was 11 when his Dad was killed. Carl had just turned 37 a couple of weeks earlier. Randy is now 46, like me. When I knew him, Randy was strikingly handsome. Big, strong, well-spoken, athletic. Just like his Dad must have been. Major Drake's name appears inPanel 9W, Row 65 of the Wall in Washington.

Capt. Tom Metsker and Lt. Jack Geoghegan are heroes of mine. They became so when I read the wonderful book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young that their commanding officer wrote about the battle in the Ia Drang valley in Viet Nam in which both men died. Maybe you've seen the movie. If not, you should see it.

Capt. Metsker, slightly wounded, was already on board a medevac helicopter, awaiting takeoff. He noticed that one of his fellow soldiers was being carried toward the same helicopter. Capt. Metsker cimbed off of the helicopter to help a more seriously wounded soldier get on board. That’s when Capt. Metsker was shot and killed. The other guy survived. Jesus once said "greater love hath no man than when he lay down his life for his friends." Captain Metsker left behind a wife and a very young daughter. He was 27 years old when he was killed.

Lt. Geoghegan died when he turned back under heavy fire to help one of his soldiers who had been shot. Lt. Geoghegan and the soldier, Willie Godbolt, died side by side. Which is how their names appear on the wall. If you’ve seen the movie “We Were Soldiers”, you’ll remember Lt. Geoghegan’s character well. He was one of the good guys. Married, & thrilled about his young daughter. Thoughtful. Christian. You’ll remember Mel Gibson/Hal Moore praying w/ Lt. Geoghegan shortly before heading out to Viet Nam. You may remember Lt. Geoghegan's character asking Col. Moore (Mel Gibson) about being a soldier and a father. He was 24 years old when he was killed.

Here's a brief tribute written by his widow just a few years ago. (She later remarried)

What a joy it is for me to know that he lives on in his precious daughter, Cammie, and his granddaughters, Stephanie and Julia. His loving, altruistic spirit is a part of all who knew him, from Pelham, NY where he grew up, to Widener University in PA (PMC in his time) where he is still a legend, and in Afica where we lived and he worked for the Catholic Relief Services, distributing US surplus food to the schoolchildren of Tanzania. Jack represented the best there is in life! He will always be part of us. Posted by: Barbara Geoghegan Johns
Relationship: He is my husband
Monday, November 5, 2001

I did not have any previous connection with Lt. Jack Rittichier, prior to my websearch for Memorial Day information. I am captivated by his story and the story of the recovery of his remains though. In case you’re wondering, I’m still quite bitter at our government, the Vietnamese government, the Cambodian government, and the Laotian government about the MIAs. I don’t think any of the four governments did all they could to recover the MIAs…or more likely, their remains.

Lt. Rittichier was a helicopter pilot who flew recovery missions, rescuing downed pilots. In 1968, a Marine pilot was shot down near an enemy encampment in Laos. The enemy used the downed pilot as bait to draw in U.S. helicopters and shoot at them. Lt. Rittichier was approaching the very hot landing zone when ground fire caught his helicopter on fire. Shortly after landing, the helicopter blew up.

35 years later, Lt. Rittichier's remains were located in the jungles of Laos. He was buried with military honors at Arlington. He left behind a wife who later remarried. She said that she was glad Lt. Rittichier was not forgotten.

Finally, I did not know Cpl Roy Wheat either. However, a good friend of mine from the Sunday School class I teach was a classmate of Roy’s. Said he was one of the nicest, quietest guys around. I’ve read Roy’s story several times while waiting in line at the post office on 40th. Roy won the Medal of Honor by jumping on a mine, thereby saving the lives of several in his squad. The newspaper picture is Roy’s mother hugging two of the guys whose life Roy saved.

I watched a show featuring Hal Moore yesterday. He’s the co-author of We Were Soldiers, and was the CO of the outfit that Capt. Metsker and Lt. Geoghegan were part of. Mel Gibson played Hal Moore in the movie.

Anyway, here’s what he said. Only God knows what those 58,000 people could have done with their lives had they been able to live them.

The same goes for those who died at Normandy (cemetery shot below), on Okinawa, on Sicily, in the Ardennes Forest, on the USS Maine, at Gettysburg,….Which is why I have always been haunted by the words of Major Michael O’Donnell. (see below)

I remember. I honor all of the heroes that these few represent. And I thank God that I am free because they served, fought, and died.

So, it’s Memorial Day. In the midst of all the cookouts, water sports, shopping, & all that, take just a moment to remember that freedom is never free. It is very costly. Many have given their very lives in defense of that freedom. As Major O’Donnell wrote, “save for them a place…”

Some writings from others...

Our dead brothers still live for us and bid us think of life, not death -- of life to which in their youth, they lent the passion and glory of Spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil, our trumpets, sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes ~

The Sentinel’s Creed
(for those who stand guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery)

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance, my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect that I protect.
His bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day,
Alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
This soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

"Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow –

This is a song by the Statler Brothers:

More Than A Name on a Wall

I can see her from a distance,
As she walks up to the Wall,
And a little boy beside her
With a face that I recall;
And she takes out pen and paper
As to trace a memory,
And the little boy said,
Mama, that's the same name as me.

She said, Son, it's someone special,
And he meant a lot to me;
Even though you've never seen him,
I'm sure he'd be proud to see
A young man who looks just like him,
And who'll grow up strong and tall;
I know then you'll understand,
Your daddy's more than a name on a wall.

She said, He really missed the family
And being home on Christmas day,
And he died for God and country
In a place so far away;
She said, I know it's hard for little boys,
But I think you understand,
So, son, just be proud of him,
Cause God surely knows I am.

She said, Son, it's someone special,
And he meant a lot to me;
Even though you've never seen him,
I'm sure he'd be proud to see
A young man who looks just like him,
And who'll grow up strong and tall;
I know then you'll understand,
Your daddy's more than a name on a wall.

All Rights Reserved

"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.

Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.

And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind."

Major Michael Davis O'Donnell
1 January 1970 Dak To, Vietnam
Listed as KIA February 7, 1978

Thursday, May 26, 2005

lessons learned as a geometry teacher...

the beach bum

So, school officially ended today. Next year, I'll only have half the teaching load, as I roll into a new position of "Director of College Planning and Placement."

What follows are some things I learned as a Geometry teacher these past 2 1/2 years...

--Almost nobody walks into my class thinking "Yippee! I love learning Geometry!"

--There are, in fact, students who actually enjoy the type of logical thinking used in doing proofs. But there are not very many of them.

--Very few math teachers think "Hey, I want to teach Geometry!"

--In the words of one of my graduate school professors, "Homework very important!"

--It's a good thing for Geometry teachers to have some artistic skill.

--I have none. (I already knew this, of course, but it was revealed on an almost-daily basis as I sought to draw various geometric shapes.)

--The line "Humor is not funny if you have to explain it" also applies in my classroom. To wit, "A drawing is not that helpful if you have to explain what it is that you've drawn."

--The meaning behind the name of ancient Indian chief SOHCAHTOA.

--The significance of the sentence "Oh Hallelujah! Another Hour of Algebra!"

--That most students prefer the version that substitutes the place of eternal damnation of souls for "hallelujah"

--Not only can I not draw those figures, very few students can do so either.

--Almost nobody remembers the difference between a theorem, a postulate, and a corollary

--Students understand triangles pretty well, though none like them very much.

--Ditto circles.

--Students frequently lose the subtle, elegant differences between a parallelogram, a rectangle, a square, and a rhombus.

--Logic is a good thing. In virtually all of life.

--Geometry is useful in many places outside of the Geometry classroom. I dare you to plan a trip without using any Geometric principles.

--If a student is disinclined toward 2-column proofs, it does not help very much to introduce flow proofs and indirect proofs into the mix.

--Nobody likes spherical geometry unless they are fairly odd. Like me.

And the most important thing I learned teaching Geometry?

Teaching Geometry offers an excellent opportunity to connect with and befriend (and maybe even influence!) students. I'm already looking forward to drinking coffee with some of my "beach bum alums" this summer. I'm also looking forward to them dropping by my office to say hello next year. And I'm very excited about connecting with each individually as the new "Director of College Planning and Placement." Beyond that, I am so eagerly anticipating what the Lord has in store for my young friends' lives.

To my students, you are loved much. Way more than I can say. Regardless of how well you did (or didn't do) in Geometry class.

So, have a wonderful summer. And remember that there's a short, 4-eyed, extremely handsome athlete/joker wannabe who is crazy about you and is honored to have been part of your educational process. (Even if you did not particularly enjoy that part of the educational process!)

the beach bum

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

a full heart

the beach bum

My heart is full tonight--which means my tear ducts are too!--for several reasons.

First, another year is ending. Which means students moving on out of school and/or out of classes I teach. Geometry is fun. Coaching is fun. Worldview is really fun. But all of that pales for me when compared to connections made with students. I really do love them. (Note: if you've ever considered going into education, I highly recommend it for this reason!)

Second, experience (alright...old age) tells me what some of the obstacles are that my young friends are facing as they move into college and beyond. Obstacles they are not even aware of yet. How I wish I could shelter them just a tad longer from some of the harsh vagaries life will surely offer! But that would stunt growth. Painfully-acquired growth, but growth surely.

Third, my youngest nephew graduates Friday. But I've already written about that in this space.

Fourth, I'll get to hang w/ my brother this weekend. Much fun! And something that doesn't happen nearly often enough.

Fifth, I know this will be a "full-heart" weekend for Mom. Joy and loss all at once.

Sixth, this graduation means that my beloved son is now a senior. Which means, in just one year, he'll be one of the ones graduating. And probably moving out of my house. After I graduated from HS, I never lived @ Mom's again for more than a couple of months here & there when out of college. I am very excited for him. And I hate the thought of his moving out of my house.

I'll go ahead & put everyone on notice. I'm going to be a worthless, wimpy basket case all of this next year. I apologize in advance to all of my macho male friends, because I'm going to embarrass every one of you this next year. I've never been afraid to cry...and I've never faced anything as hard as this will be. Consider yourselves forewarned.

One friend & wife drove their son to college about 5 1/2 hours away. He said that his wife said about two words the entire way back home. Yeah, that'll be me.

It's my strong wish and prayer for all of this year's graduates that God grant each a long and successful, dream-achieving, difference-making, God-entranced life.

Bob Dylan expresses my wish for each HS graduate friend of mine. I'll close with his words because my tear ducts are flowing freely. I have always loved this song. Enjoy!

Forever Young
Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Copyright © 1973 Ram's Horn Music

Saturday, May 14, 2005

on graduations

the beach bum
30 years ago, my brother graduated from high school. And since then, as the Dead sang, "what a long strange trip it's been..."
He went to the U. of Miami on a music scholarship. Majored in applied music, w/ trombone as his main instrument. Did some cool stuff w/ music along the way.
Then, of course, off to Naval Aviation training to fly P3s.
Then, to United Airlines.
Now, to project management near DC.

Along the way, he's lived in Pensacola, FL; Corpus Christi, TX; Topsham, ME; Keflavik, Iceland; Rota, Spain; Montgomery, AL; Vacaville, CA; Waldorff, MD; and now Littlestown, PA.

Been married a couple of times. Wonderfully so, now. A son who's a freshman @ U. of FL. A young daughter.

I mention all of this because next Friday night, his younger son graduates from the same high school. Only our sovereign, all-knowing God knows what's in store for Jerry, my nephew, during the next 30 years.

My prayer is success and integrity, combined with a healthy amount of way-cool fun, all under the heading of an ever-growing faith in the person and work of Christ. Jerry's first 18 have been a challenge at times. May his next ones go as he wishes.

Jerry, bro, know that you're loved much by all of us. Know also that we're proud of you. Know too that we're excited for you as you journey to FSU this fall. And finally, know that I can still take you...what?....we can go right now...*smiles*

I love you, Jerry Scott Madaris. Congrats!

Friday, May 06, 2005

some thoughts on prom

the beach bum
So, beach bum, jr. has a date to jr/sr prom tomorrow. The works. Tux--pink vest!--dinner reservations, new shoes picked out w/ Ma beach bum's help, etc. there's even a free t-shirt from the tux rental place, the punchline to which is "Looking sharp in a tux from Floyd's...priceless!"

Some prom observations:
--they're expensive! dinner, tickets, tux, flowers, pictures....
--they're fun! dinner, dance, post-prom parties (he has two lined up)
--most folks only have two in their lifetime
--I hope beach bum, jr. has a wonderful time!
--his date is in one of my classes I teach....yeah...that's slightly awkward...
--mrs. beach bum & I are chaperones...on the late shift....the cleanup shift. Two things I'm very un-good at: staying up late, and cleaning up. But I'm actually looking forward to it.
--one of my students & his date are arriving by boat from across the lake. How cool is that?

Proms are a link from new school to old school. A satisfying link (to me, anyway). Not all traditions are worth keeping, nor celebrating. However, it is equally true that not all traditions are worth denigrating nor jettisoning.

My old self is glad that prom is still a big deal. Here's hoping that it always will be.

BTW, I went both 11th & 12th grade years. With the same girl. In 11th grade, she was my girlfriend. In 12th, we were "still friends." Last I heard, she was the wife of a Methodist pastor out in TX somewhere. I hope she's happy & fulfilled, as she did not get much of that at her house.

One more thing. It seems that students frequently feel the need to bend/break/shatter rules on prom night in ways that they never would otherwise. Here's hoping that none of that happens tomorrow night. Or if it does that no permanent scars are inflicted.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

the beach bum

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
I know I’m not wrong... this feeling’s gettin’ stronger
The longer I stay away
Miss them moss covered vines...the tall sugar pines
Where mockin’ birds used to sing
And I’d like to see that lazy Mississippi...hurryin’ into spring

Moonlight on the bayou.......a creole tune fills the air
I dream about magnolias in bloom......and I’m wishin’ I was there

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
When that’s where you left your heart
And there’s one thing more...I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans

Moonlight on the bayou.......a creole tune fills the air
I dream about magnolias in bloom......and I’m wishin’ I was there

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
When that’s where you left your heart
And there’s one thing more...I miss the one I care for
More.....more than I miss.......New Orleans

(back to beach bum) - A wonderful old song recorded by various people, including N.O. jazz legend Louis Armstrong. The version I have is a duet version by Harry Connick, Jr. & Dr. John. It is awesome! HC's smooth singing & playing; Dr. John's wonderful-though-not-at-all-smooth voice w/ his Hammond B-3 solo. Makes me want to move down to south LA...

BTW, the version I'm speaking of was recorded when Harry Connick, Jr. was all of 20 years old. How cool would it be to record w/ Dr. John when only 2 years out of high school??

One more thing: I saw HC @ Jazz Fest about 10 years ago, and he was awesome! The coolest part was when he sent the band offstage for a break & he just started playing N.O. R&B piano. He soloed for probably 12-15 minutes. By the end, the entire piano was shaking. An all-time concert moment for me. BTW, he did indeed do the song above when I saw him; sadly, Dr. John was not there.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

my favorite football player

the beach bum
I've always been very fond of watching football. Perhaps because I was too small and slow to play. Perhaps because my Dad & I watched it & enjoyed it together. Or maybe I'm just a redneck.

Anyway, there are many I've enjoyed watching over the years: Bart Starr & Joe Namath & Deacon Jones as a kid. Then, Johnny Musso--the original Italian stallion, and Robin Parkhouse and John Croyle & Woodrow Lowe from the early 70s vintage Crimson Tide. Major Ogilvie, Jim Bob Harris, Ozzie Newsome, Rich Wingo, Marty Lyons, & Bob Baumhower from the late 70s vintage Crimson Tide. Then the great ones I saw in person: E.J. Junior, Kerry Goode, Cornelius Bennett, Derrick Thomas, Mike Shula (yeah, that Mike Shula), Al "L.A." many others from the 80s model Crimson Tide.

There are those from other schools too: Emmit Smith from FL (saw his first start), James Singleton & Louis Lipps from USM, Eli Manning from Ole Miss, so many others....

But then there's my all-time favorite player. He's one of the big guys up front. He appears to really enjoy a crunching block as much as some enjoy catching a pass or running the ball. He's a team leader. Hard worker in the weight room, soft-spoken guy, devastatingly funny sense of humor, high moral character...but Lord have mercy on the one who talks trash while lined up opposite him!

He's a very handsome fellow too. Leaders are frequently like that.

He's young. In fact, he's still in high school, for one more year. Today, I saw him play in a scrimmage on a college football field. He destroyed a linebacker with THE key block for his team on a come-from-behind touchdown. They won. Characteristic of many team leaders, he didn't think he did all that well. Oh, he did concede that he made a few good plays. There was the one on defense in which he destroyed a guard and stuffed the running back with the blocker. He wears #75. Only one other guy has worn that number at their school. That guy is now a cadet at the Air Force Academy. #75 has come to signify high moral character on that team.

Many of the guys mentioned above were/are bigger than my favorite player. All of them have played one or even two levels higher than my favorite. I've sought autographs from a number of them.

But my favorite football player gave me the coolest thing and the highest honor I know. His arrival on this planet changed my life forever. He gave me a new title: Dad. He bears my name. He is my son. I would rather watch him in a scrimmage as I did today, than watch my beloved Crimson Tide play for a national championship (done this live) or watch the Packers play in a Super Bowl (haven't done this yet).

I love you, #75! Press on, and finish well, buddy! I am proud to be your Tatusz!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

All that jazz

the beach bum
Inspired by yesterday's trip to the NO Jazz Fest...

I like a wide variety of music. But jazz is particularly special to me. Why? I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it's fun life experience...

1. In high school I was in a jazz band, playing tenor sax. (Decent tone, fair ear, technique needed work...) Those were some wonderful days...improv in class, dance gigs @ the officers' club, concerts...

2. While in jazz band, I played with some really hot players, a few of whom went on to music careers.

3. My older brother was a marvelously-gifted musician who majored in music @ U. of Miami.

But more than life experience, I think it has to do with the music itself.

The music seems to fit my personality. Ordered chaos. Rebellion within a structure. Solo acts within an ensemble setting. Sometimes loud, sometimes soft. Energizing at times, yet most relaxing at others. Many different possibilities. Kind of wild, now & then, yet always with some landing points where it all fits back together.

I think that's why I love it so. Note, by the way, that I have never cared for free-form, rhythm-less, melody-less jazz. I prefer melodies. Sometimes wild & wooly melodies, but melodies to be sure.

Take yesterday's performance by Astral Project, a beach bum favorite in general and at Jazz Fest. Astral Project is a combo of four absolutely incredible musicians who are all accomplished soloists, yet who blend together to form an almost sublime result. It's not just me, by the way; Astral Project is a Jazz Fest crowd favorite as well.

On guitar is Steve Masakowski. Steve plays guitars he designed with the help of a local lutier there in N.O. Very tasteful. Extremely fast. Looks like he could be a banker or a high school teacher. Plays like no banker or high school teacher--including this one--ever imagined playing. Guitarists of all stripes like listening to Masakowski's work

On upright bass is James Singleton. James does not look like a banker or a high school teacher. He has that look about him that almost screams "jazz musician". He is as fine a bass player as you'll ever hear. He is also a lot of fun to watch. Smiling, leaning over his head, grimacing at wonderful licks by his bandmates or at his own. Frenetic is a good word.

On saxophone is Tony Dagradi. Mostly tenor, sometimes soprano. All played superbly. As a former tenor player myself, I'm in awe of Tony's playing. Amazing, multi-register runs, but never at the expense of the melody. Never fast just for the sake of speed, yet always willing to take a ride that leaves one breathless. Tony is the between-song speaker for the band.

Finally, the drummer. A crowd favorite. Johnny Vidacovich. Slim to the point of being slight. Bald on top, short on sides. Really plays to the crowd well, with humorous facial expressions and high-energy gestures. And as a jazz aficionado friend of mine say yesterday, he's probably one of the greatest drummers in the world today. This was echoed by an 11th grade student of mine--himself a drummer--who was blown away by Johnny's playing. His solos are fine, but just his regular rhythms and fills are awesome to me.

The blended result is a show that starts out high energy (and awesome!) and stays there continuosly until the end. Even their slow songs maintain the intensity. Time seems to fade into irrelevance as they play. I love a lot of jazz groups. But Astral Project is really something very special to behold. Check out samples here at their website. Or buy/download a copy of last year's or this year's Jazz Fest performance here at the Jazz Fest website.

OK, end of written pondering. Go check out some Astral Project. And get ready to have your socks knocked off!
the beach bum