Wednesday, December 26, 2007

VBOB meeting

Christmas is past, and my writer's block is finally gone. So here are my impressions from the last Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge meeting that my buddy Doug and I attended last month.

First, in answer to my question about the value they placed on tactics as opposed to strategy, the vast majority of the vets I talked to responded in the following vein. They weren't concerned about the big picture. Mostly what they cared about was themselves, their fox hole buddy, and their unit. Sound tactics kept them safe, or at least as safe as it's possible to be in the midst of a battle. It was only when they went on leave or after the war that they learned of and criticized the grand strategy. I have learned from these vets and my reading that soldiers complain. They always have, and they always will at least among themselves. They feel it's their right, earned by dint of their submission to discipline and hardship that is absent from civilian life. I couldn't agree more.

Second, the speaker was a copilot on a bombing run who was shot down and taken prisoner by the Germans. He was excellent and was the third speaker we've had who was a POW, one from the Pacific and two from Europe. Their stories were all different. Yet they contained common elements. To paraphrase a short essay by Bill Hall, an ex-POW in Europe:

"The POW experiences hunger, cold (or heat), fear, anger and deep depression that the rest of us can never imagine."

The ex-POW can show you a loaf of bread made mostly from sawdust which at times was his only sustenance, and you are horrified as I was when my friend showed me one that he brought home from the war. But you and I can never really understand what the POW's went through. We weren't there, and thank God for that.

Finally, the members of the group voted to cut the number of meetings per year from four to two. I understand their reasons, but it still makes me sad. I enjoy these meetings immensely. They're not all about sad stories. They're also about seeing these people who have become friends, good conversation, and laughter. Sorry to end on such a sad note, but that's all there is to say. Good night.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I've finally gotten over my writer's block, and I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very merry Christmas as in celebrating the birth of Christ. Yes, I am a Christian and humbled to be one by the grace of God. What I am not is a fundamentalist or even a conservative. In fact I am a liberal. While I can't quote chapter and verse, I can quote a couple of my favorite Bible passages from the New Testament as attributed to Christ.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

"As you do to the least of these, so you do to me."

What better expression of the liberal philosophy could you find? I have no intention of starting a political or theological argument here. This is simply my belief and my faith that compel me to follow, as best as I am able, in the footsteps of Jesus. That is one thing that I think all Christians, regardless of their political leanings, can agree on.

Again, I wish you all a blessed and merry Christmas. For now, good night.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Writer's block

Well, this is new. I seem to suffering from writer's block except in responding to writing that touches me personally. I know what I want to write here. I just can't think how to write it. Want to see more of my writing? Post a comment that will compel me to respond. Otherwise I'll be back when I get over this frustrating malady.

Good night.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

VBOB upcoming

The next VBOB meeting is this coming Tuesday. I'm looking forward to it, as always, with a sense of anticipation. The subject of the meeting is always a mystery until I get in the car with my buddy Doug. We spend the trip down speculating on how good the speaker will be, which of our old friends (both literally and figuratively) will be there, what we'll have for lunch, and how many books we'd buy at the excellent Borders book store if we could afford it. We also talk at length about work and about our mutual passion for history. Sound mundane? Well sure, maybe to you. But for me it's a highlight. What could be better on a two hour car trip than to spend it talking about the things you care most about?

One question I want to ask at the meeting arises from the book I'm currently reading: "Brothers in Battle - Best of Friends" by William "Wild Bill"Guarnere and and Edward "Babe" Heffron. They both fought in the Battle of the Bulge and the legendary defense of Bastogne. I'm only about half way through the book, but what I'm taking from it so far is this. These two guys, who were the very definition of "grunts", didn't really care about the grand strategy of Eisenhower, Montgomery, or the other Generals. They cared about tactics as laid out by their company commanders and carried out by them in the field because it was tactics that kept them and their buddies alive. I am eagerly awaiting their answers and will post them after I return from the meeting.

I am fascinated by these sorts of historical questions. Another time, I'll tell you how it all started.

For now, although it's early evening here, good night.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Happy 108th to Olive Reilly!

Just a short post to wish a Happy 108th! birthday to the oldest blogger on the web, Olive Reilly. Please click on over to and do the same. I think you'll find her blog as captivating as I do. In fact, I'm going to her blog to wish her happy 108 right now. 108 years old? I just can't imagine it.

For now, good night.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More on VBOB

As promised, although delayed because it's been busy as hell at work, here is more about the most recent VBOB meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting we were invited to the local military history museum. Of course my buddy Doug and I jumped at the chance. For me, the most affecting display was the military weapons room. There I saw the exact Japanese rifle my dad had hanging on the wall of our basement right down to the bolt action, the pop up gun sight, and the gun stock. I was both glad and sad to see it. Glad because it was just as I remembered it although my dad refused to give any but the barest details of his service in the Pacific. Sad because my dad didn't live long enough to open up at least a little about his experiences. But the museum is much more than that. It chronicles the history of our local troops from the Spanish American War through the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As Doug said, "It's like a mini Smithsonian!" I could not agree more.

If you are fortunate enough to have a museum such as this in your area, I encourage yo to go. It's an experience you won't forget. For now ... good night.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The latest Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge meeting

My buddy Doug and I went to the VBOB meeting about a week ago. It was a short but fascinating one. First, our friend John was shot five times before he was captured in the first days of the battle. Three bullets went through his side. A fourth bullet went into his left shirt pocket lodging in his copy of the New Testament which he kept there, saving him from a grievous chest wound. The fifth bullet struck his left arm tearing the muscle from the bone, and he has the scar to prove it.

As further proof, he held up the uniform shirt he was wearing when he was captured. Each bullet hole was distinctly visible, and the left sleeve was cut off where German doctors had attempted to reattach his bicep to the bone and actually succeeded. John was captured in December and wore that shirt until he was liberated the following April.

The ironic thing is that John's uniform shirt was supposed to have been burned when he and his comrades were liberated and before they were deloused. He got it home somehow and didn't even realize he had it until his wife was cleaning recently and found it in a closet. We all forget things of course, but imagine being so overwhelmed by the course of events that you forget where you put your clothes?

War is ugly. War is violent. Any vet will tell you that if you can gain his or her confidence. War is also sometimes necessary, although not always. They'll tell you that too.

More to follow about the meeting, but for now good night.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A wonderful book

Recently finished reading "Dancing with Rose: finding life in the land of alzheimer's" by Lauren Kessler. She is a professional journalist who lost her own mother to Alzheimer's and even years later is mortified at how she failed to relate to her mother in the last years of her life. And so she goes to work as a minimum wage aide in an Alzheimer's care facility, not to write a sensational tell all book but to relate the day to day struggles of the aides and the residents and perhaps most of all to atone for what she sees as her own failure with her mom. I think she succeeded brilliantly on all three counts. She doesn't pull any punches about the working conditions or the lack of decent pay or benefits. Neither does she mince words about how stressful the job can be. On the other hand, she is entirely open about how attached she becomes to some of the residents and how heartbroken she is when a couple of them die.

I worked in a nursing home for 3 years before moving on to my present job in a hospital with much better pay, security, and benefits. My favorite residents back then were those who related to me on an intellectual level or those I related to on some deep emotional level. For example, there was a lady none of the other aides liked to take care of. She was combative and had a tendency to grab and pinch. Everyone called her Grandma , and I adopted the nickname. Eventually she came to recognize my voice and calmed down enough at least to be fed and showered and put to bed. Of course, one day the inevitable came. She lay dying, and I went into her room before going off evening shift. I stroked her hair and said, "Good night Grandma. Good night." I just about jumped out of my skin when I heard a voice behind me say, "Thanks for taking care of my mom." This from a man I'd never seen come to visit her. At that point, I felt more like a grandson to her than he'd been a son, and managing to mumble a you're welcome I rushed out of the room. When I came to work the next day her room was empty. Why do I remember this so vividly, and why does it make me feel sad to this day?

"Dancing with Rose" explains it more eloquently than I ever could. Buy it, borrow it from the library, or swap for it. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

Good night.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Welcome to The Vincent van Gogh Gallery

Just saw a program about Vincent van Gogh on PBS. He is my favorite painter ever. When I look at his landscapes they draw me in. I somehow feel as if I'm living there. In the case of his self portraits, as crazy as it sounds, I feel as if I'm living inside his head. The following link provides lots of info on his life, forums, wallpaper downloads, and more. If you're not familiar with Van Gogh I strongly encourage you to click. You'll discover a painter who engages your emotions in a way few other painters do. If you are familiar with him I also encourage you to click. You'll rediscover, as I did, why you love Van Gogh's art. For now I'll say good night.
Welcome to The Vincent van Gogh Gallery

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

Today is Father's Day. My dad died when I was 19, still deep in my rebellious stage. As a result, our relationship was somewhat strained. The man who called me JT when I was young will always be somewhat of an enigma to me because of his untimely passing. I do like to think that he would be pleased that I straightened my life out after he died and achieved much, if not all, that he wished for me. I also like to think that if he had lived to a ripe old age (he'd be 82 this year) we would have developed a mutual respect and the father son relationship that never came to be because I was a dumb ass rebel who thought he knew everything. I miss my dad and have been thinking of him today.

If your dad is still living, I hope you will give him what he wants most: unconditional love. Happy Father's Day! Good night.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Seabiscuit revisited

Just finished rereading "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hillenbrand. While the movie captures the heart of Seabiscuit's story, it doesn't tell it all. For that, you need to read her painstakingly researched and wonderfully written book. As she said in the interview reprinted at the end of the book, her aim was to write a nonfiction book that read like a novel. At that she succeeded brilliantly. I won't ruin it by providing details, but I can't recommend the book highly enough. Good night.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Battle of the Bulge Veterans, Home

In keeping with my posts about VBOB and Memorial Day, this is my personal web site about the veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. It may seem like shameless self promotion, but I beg to differ.

I started the site after the first VBOB meeting I went to with my buddy Doug. While I don't update the site as often as I should, it's been a pleasure to maintain ever since. I encourage you to explore all the links and make whatever comments you desire.
Battle of the Bulge Veterans, Home

Good night.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

BBC NEWS | Programmes | Happiness Formula

This is a very interesting site about the science of happiness. Am I happy? According to the quiz I am, and I have to agree. But there's lots of other fascinating stuff here, including articles, videos, and more. Enjoy it at your pleasure (pun intended). More later.
BBC NEWS | Programmes | Happiness Formula

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. To quote my friend Wayne who was a staff sergeant, i.e. a squad leader, "All I did was survive when others didn't. The ones left with the most combat experience got to be put in the leadership positions even if we didn't really like that responsibility. It really hurt when your orders got someone hurt or killed."

The above quote is from an email Wayne sent to me and makes me stop and think. He didn't want the rank. It was thrust upon him because one or more of his buddies had died. Think about your own job. Do you want a promotion or a raise? Sure, we all do. But would you want that to come about because someone had died? I don't think so. On this Memorial Day I hope you've been remembering those who served and those who are serving today.

Good night.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


So what is VBOB you have every right to ask? It stands for Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was fought in World War Two and is the largest land battle ever fought by U.S. forces. I promise to elaborate but first a little background.

My dad fought in the WWII Pacific Navy aboard the U.S.S. San Francisco but refused to ever say much about his experiences. There was a Japanese rifle hanging on the wall in our basement. When I was about 8 or 10 years old I asked him about it. In the gruff tone that can only say that no more discussion will be allowed he said, "That's just a rifle I brought home from the war." Years later, when I was cleaning out the garage, I found Army ammo boxes and a collapsible entrenching tool. I thought to myself, "Why on earth would a WWII navy man not only have army equipment but hide it?" By that time I knew I would get no answer even if I asked. He died over 30 years ago, and it wasn't until after my mom passed over 10 years ago that I was able to obtain his service record. Now at least I know he was a fire controlman helping to project the trajectory of the shells fired from the big guns of the U.S.S. San Francisco. I also know what battles he fought in, but that's all. An internet search for any shipmates who knew him has proved fruitless. I am passionate about history and insatiably curious. I want details, but I've resigned myself to the idea that I will probably never know. So be it. My dad was a private and self contained man. So am I, but I hope not to the extreme that he was.

On the other hand, there's my friend Doug. His dad fought with the U.S. Army in Europe and in the Battle of the Bulge. When he came home, he couldn't seem to stop talking about his experiences. I think he probably told his young son far more than a kid should hear about the horrors of war. Then several years ago Doug invited me to a Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge meeting. He was an associate member because his dad fought in the battle. For me it was a revelation. Here was a group talking about their battle experiences in the conversational tones used among friends. No secrecy and no drama. I think going to these meetings has helped both Doug and I gain some perspective on our dads' experiences in obviously different ways. I am proud to know these vets and to count more than a few as friends.

So ... enough background. At today's meeting my friend Wayne gave the customary talk. He was wounded three times: once in the shoulder, once in the chest, and once in the back. He received three Purple Hearts and the Combat Infantry Badge, of which he is the proudest. Tellingly, those weren't the most memorable. That came when a bullet entered the left front of his helmet just above the webbing, blew it off his head, and exited out the back. His buddies thought he was crazy, but he considered that helmet lucky and wore it through the rest of the war. He has it to this day and brought it to the meeting today. He told this story not for applause. It was just his experience, and he knew that a lot of these guys had experienced similarly horrific things.

If any of you have a similar or related story I would very much like to read it. For now I will say good night.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A difficult day

Today is Mother's Day. My mother, who passed away in 1993, loved holidays; but she never cared that much for this one. She appreciated the gifts and cards, but her attitude was that she was just doing her job. Ironically, it wasn't until she was prematurely widowed in 1975 that my brothers and I began to encourage her to celebrate this holiday in earnest. We took her out to eat and showered her with gifts and love. I miss those times, and I miss her still.

Her two favorite holidays were Thanksgiving, which I usually spend with my work family and Christmas which I spend with my church family. So Mother's Day occupies both a special and painful space in my memory. If your mother is living I hope you did something special for her today. If she isn't I hope you have engraved a good memory of her into your brain. Although it's only early evening here, I will say good night.

Monday, May 7, 2007

evil vs good

Everyone who lived during that time and was paying attention knows that Idi Amin was a vile piece of human excrement. The things he did not only to political rivals but to those he had a personal vendetta with for having "betrayed" him were beyond evil. Forrest Whitaker's performance in "The Last King of Scotland" is masterful and deserving of the Oscar he won. Just under the jovial surface he presented to the people, Whitaker powerfully portrayed the volcanic personality lurking underneath. I made the mistake of watching this DVD alone. I'm not afraid to say it gave me nightmares for a couple of nights afterward. Amin's crimes rank right up there with Hitler's and Stalin's and any number of dictators. That's the evil side.

On the good side is the DVD "Seabiscuit". I watched it for about the fifth time as a sort of antidote to "The Last King of Scotland". It's about three people and a horse who came together in the worst of times, the great depression of the 1930's. The owner emigrated to California with only a few bucks and through hard work became rich. The trainer was a loner who preferred the company of horses to that of people. The jockey was orphaned during the great depression and was a failed prize fighter. The horse, nobody respected until he began to win and win and win again.

That's all for now. Good night.

P.S. For all things Seabiscuit I recommend

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A blog from Iraq from Michael Yon

Michael Yon, a former special forces soldier, has been embedded with U.S. and British forces in Iraq for a couple of years. Forget Faux News or any of the other mainstream media outlets. While they give important information about what's happening there, we all know they deal in sound bites and sensationalism and politics. For a truly fair and balanced view I can't recommend Michael's blog highly enough. While most report from inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, Michael is out there with the troops not just for a few hours or a day, but for days or a week or more. For the most part he is given full access and reports the good, the bad, and the ugly. I urge you to go to his site and read and read and read.

I hate this war and distrust the President who lead us into it, but Michael's blog explains better than I ever could why I will support the troops who are fighting there and in Afghanistan until we are finally able to bring them home and ever after. Visit his blog at

Good Night

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech tragedy

I am a news junkie, and I've spent most of my free time lately reading and watching reports about this horrible massacre at Virginia Tech. I grieve for the victims and their families, for all the students there, for us as a nation, and yes: for the parents of this obviously disturbed mass murderer. No need to provide links here, it's all over the news both online and off. However, to read about it from the Korean perspective I recommend Googling South Korea news. From everything I've read, they are fervent in their grief for the victims and their families and the university and us and in their hope that this tragedy won't result in any racial backlash against Asians. I share that hope.

Finally though, I went into information overload today. I just couldn't read any more. It became overwhelming and more than a little depressing. As tiny Tim would say, although not in the context of his happy ending, "God bless us every one." That is my prayer too as this tragedy continues to unfold. And I'm sure I'll start taking in all the coverage again tomorrow. Good night.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Drought or deluge

My mind has been wandering lately, probably because of the nature of my work. It goes up or down depending on the number of patients we have, i.e. census. This past week I was put on call twice because of a low patient census. Then on Thursday it shot up to 23 with 3 patients going home. Later we got 3 admissions so we were back up to 23. Today we were scheduled for 7 admissions so I fully expect our census to be close to 30 when I go to work tomorrow. The common phrase at work for this phenomenon is feast or famine. I prefer drought or deluge because we're either thirsting for patients so that everyone can get their hours in or we're so flooded with patients that we don't have enough staff to take care of them all. Somewhere in there is a happy medium, but we seldom reach that. Despite all this, I enjoy my work. I get to meet a wide variety of people, and most of them are discharged home within 1-3 days. Then a new crop comes in. My work is hardly ever boring.

All right, on to the wandering. Just recently finished reading Ship of Ghosts by James Hornfischer. It's a history of the USS Houston which was the first ship to see action in WWII after Pearl Harbor. Her crew fought bravely and then endured a horrific yet heroic time as Japanese prisoners. His previous book was "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" which chronicled the experiences of the sailors, marines, and pilots of the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. Both are riveting and well worth reading. The author's site is at

Just realized how late it is and I have to get up at 5:00 in the morning. More wandering soon but now I need to get some sleep. Later

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Zach Johnson wins the Masters!

Zach Johnson has just won the Masters golf tournament! He is a fellow Iowan. Not only that, he is from my home city of Cedar Rapids. I would not describe myself as being as excited as I was when the University of Iowa won the 2002 Big Ten football championship, but I am very very happy for him and his family. My hometown newspaper has had a columnist covering Zach at the Masters. You can read Mike Hlas's columns at

I see great things ahead for Zach. Okay, I'm outta here. Later.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been my favorite book since childhood. I've always thought of Huck, the rebellious white kid, and Jim, the runaway slave as almost being joined at the hip. As indeed they virtually were for most of that fateful raft trip down the Mississippi River. I've somehow always identified with Huck as I'm sure millions of other kids from the 19th century into the 21st have. Not because of his abusive father but because of his adventurous spirit and free thinking ways. I've also identified with Jim, not because I can ever truly understand what he went through as a slave, but because of his intense desire to be free ... to just be free. I try to imagine being a possession like a horse or a cow, basically livestock, and I just can't quite fathom it. Huck Finn was one of the books that shaped my life along with my parents who encouraged me to read and bought me all the books I wanted.

This blog won't be only about books, although I'll certainly write about what I've been reading which is mostly history and biography these days with a smattering of mysteries thrown in. To quote Cicero, "A room without books is like a body without a soul." That sums it up nicely for me.

My interests are eclectic though. I obviously love the web. Would I be here otherwise? 8-) I also work in health care and am, in the words of a web brother, "geeky" about my job meaning that I care deeply about it which I do. So expect to see posts here about whatever catches my interest.

Finally, (I can hear you saying "Thank God!) 8-) I am brand new to blogging and haven't had time to figure out how to post links to other blogs and web sites I enjoy. I'm learning as I go along, so bear with me okay? Until next time, take care.

About Me

I work in health care, love books, love music, enjoy the internet, my friends, and my routine. 8-)