Author Archives: G. S. Feet

Great War Wednesday: Vimy Ridge, Canada’s Hour


The_Battle_of_Vimy_RidgeThe French still recall Verdun; the British have the Somme; the Anzacs, Gallipoli. When the Americans began fighting on their own they would remember Belleau Wood as a place of honor, but for the Canadians, the Battle of Vimy Ridge remains the most important battle of the Great War. This battle, fought from April 8 to April 12, 1917 marked the first time all four all-Canadian divisions had been assembled in one place for one assault. They would make the most of their opportunity.

After spending 1916 mired in offensives on the Somme and counteroffensives down in Verdun, the Entente forces decided to move the war back north to where it all began in the chalk fields, ridges, and valleys near and around Ypres. The assault on Vimy Ridge would be a set piece battle part of the larger 1917 Arras Offensive and it would begin in similar fashion to most battles to this point in the war.

Once all the Canadian forces, strengthened by some British corps of engineers and other specialists gathered at the mustering point, the deluge of supplies began to arrive. Thousands of shells for the guns, food for the men, and all the other necessities of a Great War battle poured into the depots behind the lines. Of course, as usual, this let everyone who took a moment to notice an attack was obviously brewing in the area. Still, this battle would take into account several lessons learned by both sides in 1916.

For the Germans, they began abandoning single line trenches in favor of defense in depth networks which gave their troops greater survival ability under massive bombardment. The Somme taught the Germans the futility of attempting to hold a front line of trenches. Unfortunately for the Germans, the area to be attacked during this battle had little in the way of defense in depth positions established given that the surrounding sector had been so quiet for the better part of the last 18 months. They would start preparations, but wouldn’t have time to get much done.

The Canadians drew on lessons in tactics and strategy learned in the meat grinder of Verdun. This included multiple wave attacks reinforced by close artillery support. The French generals who had successfully broken the German siege of Verdun actually gave a series of lectures detailing the methods they had used in the counterattack which threw the Germans back and regained the territory originally lost around the fortress city. Many Canadian corps commanders attended these lectures and the plan of attack for Vimy Ridge bears the French stamp of the new tactics.

The four Canadian divisions began training for the assault in rear areas as early as February 1917. This training included one extremely important new wrinkle. The allies had learned at great cost the majority of officers and commanders tended to lead from the front of their troops and so became early casualties. This was a problem because those officers were the only ones who knew what the plan was. Once they were killed, attacks often dissolved into little more than disorganized brawls and rarely accomplished anything lasting.

For the Vimy Ridge assault, the Canadians instituted a new policy. Every officer, commissioned and non-commissioned alike all the way down to platoon sergeants would cross train and learn the job of the man above him in the chain of command and the job of the man immediately below him as well. This proved a fateful change of strategy because now enough people knew enough of the plan to ensure that even when the top commanding officers were killed, the attack could go forward with a reasonable chance of success.

The battle began with the usual preliminary bombardments starting 20 March 1917. While the bombardments commenced, British and Canadian miners finished laying underground mines below the German lines to be a nasty surprise for the Germans once the assault began in earnest.

At 5:30 AM on 9 April 1917, the engineers blew the mines, destroying several German strong points and creating a kind of trench across no man’s land. This explosion signaled the supporting Canadian artillery to open up the hurricane bombardment where every gun in the line began firing at maximum rate. Despite sleet and snow, the Canadians managed to advance perfectly. Some units followed tanks in early examples of the later common combined arms attacks.

By 6:30 AM, three of the four Canadian divisions had reached their first objectives known as the Black Lines. After a planned pause to reset their lines of attack, the divisions moved on towards their secondary objectives, the Red Lines. These fell as well and for a time, the Canadians held the bombed out village of Vimy itself. Unfortunately, a German counterattack drove them out of the village but was unable to achieve much more in the way of sweeping the Canadians away.

During the early morning hours of 10 April, the Canadian commanders moved a sizable reinforcing force up to the front to join where the attack had stopped.  These new troops leapfrogged the Red line and began an assault on the Blue line, which they took by 11:00 AM. The original troops then leapfrogged THOSE troops and took the Brown line which ended up falling by early afternoon. By nightfall and despite a German counterattack, the entire area of Vimy Ridge was in Canadian hands with the exception of a single hill known as “The Pimple.”

After spending 11 April consolidating their gains and digging in against further counterattacks, the Canadian 4th Division renewed its assault on The Pimple and by 6:00 PM on 12 April, the entire ridgeline and surrounding villages and hamlets were in Canadian hands.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge is the greatest source of national pride for Canada to come out of World War One. Recently, however, some revisionist historians have begun to question just how Canadian the attacking force really was. Regardless, the largest Canadian monument to the men of the Great War remains proudly at Vimy Ridge to this day.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: America Enters the Fray


doughboysOn 6 April 1917, the United States’ patience with the Central Powers ran out and President Woodrow Wilson asked for and received a declaration of war from Congress. After almost three years of sitting neutral on the sidelines, America was a combatant in the Great War.

The great irony is America didn’t really want to get into the war. Unlike Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, Wilson had campaigned for the 1916 Presidential election under the slogan “He kept us out of war!” Unfortunately, circumstances overseas eventually made neutrality impossible.

Probably the greatest factor to draw the US into the war was Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917. After two years of scrupulously leaving neutral shipping, including American shipping, alone, the German High Command felt pressured by many factors, including the continuing British naval blockade of Germany, to resume the practice of sinking ANY ship via submarine found traveling in what the Germans designated war zones. In practice, this meant American ships started sinking any time they were found near the British Isles. Germany even went so far as patrolling outside American harbors for ships bound with material for Britain.

In the interest of honesty, America was in a poor position to cry foul over the submarines. Ostensibly a neutral, she was bound by rules of war not to carry armaments and other shipments to trade with and aid EITHER side in the conflict, yet from the war’s early days, American shipping magnates and manufacturers largely ignored the rules and carried on taking huge amounts of supplies across the Atlantic to Britain. One famous example was the Lusitania back in 1915. The sinking of this large ocean liner off the coast of Ireland nearly brought America into the war then because our government felt Germany had violated American neutrality. Since then, however, proof positive surfaced that the Lusitania, in addition to carrying passengers, had a hold full of ammunition destined for British guns. It’s not like Germany was sinking completely “innocent” ships despite the often high collateral damage.

So, unrestricted submarine warfare was a major cause of America’s move towards war, but it was not the ultimate factor. The final proverbial straw which broke the back of America’s patience bearing camel came in the form of the infamous Zimmerman Telegram. On 19 January 1917, Arthur Zimmerman, head of the German Foreign Office sent a telegram to the German Embassy in Washington, DC which was forwarded to the embassy in Mexico City, Mexico offering a sweet deal to the Mexican government. The entire text of the telegram read:

Zimmermann-telegramm-offenWe intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.

It wasn’t an altogether unusual step for a foreign government to try wooing allies during wartime; it’s actually a common practice. Unfortunately in this particular circumstance Germany made a fatal oversight. Unbeknownst to them, earlier in the war, British Intelligence Services had broken the German military ciphers used to encrypt the message. Secondly, since no German telegraph lines remained intact at this stage in the war, the message would have to go across the AMERICAN transatlantic telegraph cable. This cable just happened to run through a BRITISH relay station on its way to the United States. What neither Germany nor America knew at the time was British Intelligence had tapped said cable and recorded all traffic between Berlin and the embassy in Washington, DC.

Britain intercepted and decrypted the message, of course, and realized they were sitting on a bombshell that could finally get America into the war on the Entente side. However, they couldn’t do anything with it at the time because to take the cable straight to Wilson would be admitting Britain had been spying on American telegraph transmissions at least since the beginning of the war. A cover story was needed and lo and behold, one appeared shortly after Germany resumed the unrestricted submarine warfare.

When Germany loosed her submarines, America broke off diplomatic ties with Germany. Britain, who had been sitting on the telegram for a couple of months now saw the chance to act. They gave American intelligence services the decrypted telegram claiming a British spy had stolen a copy of said telegram in Mexico City. Still, all was not lost for Germany. A large section of the American population, mostly Irish-Americans and German-Americans, were wary of and disliked the British and vocal members of those contingents at first claimed the document had to be a forgery by British Intelligence trying to goad America into the war. For a few weeks, it looked like they were swaying the rest of popular opinion since such a large swath of the country was so determinedly anti-war.

Thing is, that might have worked had German Foreign Secretary Zimmerman not seriously put his foot in his mouth and given a speech in the Reichstag and ADMITTED the telegraph was genuine. This speech took place on 29 March 1917. Once the telegraph was confirmed genuine, the dominoes fell in America rather quickly, culminating in Wilson’s request for a declaration of war which Congress granted on 6 April 1917.

At long last, America was in the war. Undermanned and completely unprepared, but nonetheless in the war. The Yanks were going “over there.”

Love y’all and keep your feel clean.



More Than One Way to be a Winner


12838011222010022905This past weekend, 330 wrestlers from all over the country competed in the 2017 NCAA Championship Tournament. My favorite college wrestling team, Penn St., won the team title by a large margin, helped by the strength of five individual champions. The Penn St. wrestler who impressed me most this year, however, never stepped on the mat at Nationals. He was the one Nittany Lion who did not qualify for the tournament. His name is George Carpenter.

George is a sophomore from Chapel Hill, NC where he had a decent amount of success as a high school wrestler. Now, he just completed his red shirt sophomore year at Penn St. and, to put it honestly, he didn’t have as much success. For the second year in a row, he finished with a losing record.

See, wrestlers have many names for a teammate like George — sacrificial lamb, fill-in, spot holder, etc. On a team of stars and superstars, George was an also ran, but I loved to watch him every time he took the mat for one simple reason, he never quit. Most matches I saw George wrestle in, he was noticeably smaller and less muscular than his opponents. I would imagine many of them looked across the mat and figured George for an easy out. They took him for a “fish” and that is where they were greatly mistaken.

George Carpenter might not have had the flashiest moves or the biggest muscles. He might not have been competing under the highest expectations. Still, every time I watched him, he was always the first back to center mat on a restart. He would run back to the middle. He never played the edge of the mat and he never, ever backed down from an opponent. I saw him fight off his back and not get pinned. More than once he saved bonus points from going against his team because he was so tenacious he kept the score down so the other guy couldn’t get a major decision or a technical fall. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to win. Maybe he didn’t get his arm raised much, but he always did what his coaches asked of him which was to go out and wrestle hard. I admire him for that.

Years ago, I was an assistant wrestling coach at the high school where I taught. We had a wrestler like George. Actually, to be honest, compared to Nathan, George was more like an Olympic gold medalist. Nathan loved wrestling and he put his heart and soul into the sport. He ran sprints harder than anyone, he drilled during water breaks, and he always asked how he could get better. Unfortunately, God had completely overlooked Nate when He was doling out physical gifts.

Nate was short, a little slow on his feet, and possessed the saddest physique I have ever seen. His chest was literally concave. As the head coach put it, Nate didn’t have any “bumps” on his arms. He was the least gifted athlete I have ever coached or even seen. Still, he loved the sport of wrestling and due to several quirks in the weight classes, he was almost always in the starting line up.

For four years I watched Nate go out every match and lose. It was actually a surprise when he showed up the first day of practice his sophomore year after getting pinned some twenty times straight as a freshman. I was flabbergasted when he showed up for his junior season after his sophomore campaign was more of the same and I must admit I figured the boy was a bona fide masochist when he came out his senior year still having never won a match.

He was one of our three captains his senior year representing the lowest weights. He earned the spot through his tenacity and spirit. I couldn’t have done what he did. I wrestled in high school and I wasn’t good, but I still managed to put together some wins by my sophomore year and I actually finished second in the region my junior year. We don’t talk about my senior year when the weight classes changed. I know for a fact if my seasons had been as futile as Nate’s, I would have called it quits after my sophomore year.

Nate never quit. Match after match he would lose, more often than not by pin and he would always politely shake his opponent’s hand and come over to the bench. He’d put on his warm ups and go off by himself for a few minutes before coming back to cheer on the rest of the team. He was always right there on the edge of the mat willing his teammates to do what he seemingly could not. For that, the other boys respected him. He was their captain and they wanted to see him win as badly as the rest of us.

I’d love to say this story has a happy ending and Nathan broke through his senior year and won the region on the way to a state championship, but life doesn’t usually play out like a Hollywood movie. Nate’s overall record for four years of wrestling was 0 for forever. He never got his hand raised in victory. Yet, in some ways, Nathan won honors others never could. At least he was on the mat. He was IN THE GAME. Granted, he wasn’t so good at the game, but he never gave up on doing what he loved and next to his name in his senior yearbook is the notation “Wrestling 9,10,11,12 Letterman 9,10,11,12 Captain 12” which is more than many of his classmates had by their names in that same yearbook.

So raise a glass to the Nathans and the Georges of the world. They may not be champions at their chosen sports, but they are winners at life. Maybe they never got or never will get a trophy, but they made memories and they were true to themselves and in this world today if you can manage that, you’ve done a great thing.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

#TBT: The Fallacy in the Furor over “Fifty Shades”


50 Shades Criminal MindsI wrote this a couple of years ago when the FIRST Fifty Shades movie came out and since its equally vapid sequel has just hit the screens, I thought it would be a good time to rerun it.

Hopefully surprising no one, Fifty Shades of Grey tanked in its second week at the box office, but before the lines of voyeuristic housewives and notebook carrying college students dried up, the movie version of the best selling novel series since Harry Potter grew up unleashed a bee in the collective bonnets of moral conservatives throughout this great nation. I’ve read blog post after blog post and listened to sermon podcast after sermon podcast denouncing E.L. James’ books and the movie based upon the first novel as the latest sign the Apocalypse is upon us, Christianity has lost the culture war, and America has officially gone the decadent way of ancient Rome. While I agree with all three of those assessments, my reasons have nothing to do with this hideously written fan fiction masquerading as some sort of modern Anais Nin novel. I think we’re doomed, but that’s the subject of other posts for other times.

The segment of the blogosphere and Facebook most incensed by Fifty Shades of Grey is the group made up of parents of daughters — especially Christian parents of, ostensibly, Christian daughters. Fathers and mothers are posting and reposting their fears of some Christian Grey-esque person insinuating himself into their little girls’ lives and using his wiles to turn them into latex gimp suit clad BDSM sex slaves imprisoned in a Red Room of Pain somewhere far from their chaste upbringing. I’m here to tell you that fear is wrong on every level that matters.

First of all, the majority of people terrified of BDSM have no idea what the BDSM lifestyle is all about. It’s a lifestyle. It’s weird to us who don’t live that way, but lots of lifestyles are weird to people not living them. I for one am completely mystified at the vegan lifestyle. I have great respect and love for all animals except mosquitoes and roaches, but God did not put Adam at the top of the food chain so his descendents could eat rabbit food. Still, I don’t knock vegans because I believe what a grown, educated person puts on his or her plate is not my business and doesn’t affect his or her salvation in any way. By the same token, what a husband and wife choose to do for pleasure in the privacy of their own bedroom . . . or red room . . . is none of my business either. It’s not something I would choose, but I don’t see it affecting salvation either; unless, of course, it becomes an idol, but that’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

My church did not one but two entire series on The Theology of Sex and I’d put our two teaching pastors’ exegetical ability up against anyone past or present. Make no mistake about it, the Bible has a lot to say about sex. Rape? Explicitly Forbidden. Bestiality? Explicitly Forbidden. Incest? Explicitly Forbidden. Polygamy? Explicitly Forbidden. Adultery? Explicitly Forbidden. Homosexual Sex? Explicitly Forbidden. Sex before and outside of marriage? Explicitly Forbidden, and that means “swinging” or “wife swapping” is forbidden too.

What a HUSBAND AND WIFE, aka. “Happy and Healthfully Married Couple” do to give each other pleasure is none of my business. If they are Christians, and that’s who I’m primarily talking to, their sexual appetites are bound only by the dictates of Scripture and some may disagree with me, but I’ve never read anything in the Holy Bible — and I’ve read it cover to cover many times — about BDSM being forbidden to a married couple.

This guy is not your problem . . . .

Now, THERE’S the rub! Every post I read and every sermon I listen to speaks with abject horror about the evils of BDSM but no one yet has said anything about the fact Christian and Anastasia are NOT MARRIED! It doesn’t matter WHAT kind of sex they have; it is wrong according to the Bible and it’s THAT kind of thinking that has so many of our teens and young adults screwed up today. They try to use the slipperiness of words to justify having a sip of forbidden waters without the commitment of marriage. If BDSM is wrong, we just won’t do that and we’ll be okay. Sex means vaginal intercourse, right? Well then, oral isn’t really sex, right; anal isn’t really sex, right; *blank not involving her vagina and my penis” isn’t really sex, right? So, we just won’t do “that” and we’ll be okay AND have a good time as well . . . right?

Not according to the Scriptures.


. . . . this is the guy you need to look out for.

My second point is this — if parents are worried about a theoretical Christian Grey introducing their daughter to the wide world of kink, they are worried about the wrong guy. A saying I am fond of from the world of medicine goes, “When you see hoof prints, look for horses before you look for zebras.” It’s highly unlikely your little girl is going to catch the eye of some philandering, kinky billionaire. If she does, worry about it then. On the other hand, it is extremely likely she has already caught the eye of the cute boy next door or the sweet guy who sits near her in biology class or maybe even Dreamy McDreamerson sitting across the room in her youth group. THOSE are the guys you have to worry about, teach about, and plan against. Horses, not zebras.

The worst enemy of a girl’s chastity is neither some mythical billionaire dom nor some leather jacket wearing motorcycle riding bad boy. The worst enemy to a girl’s chastity is the good guy, the nice guy, the guy YOU like and trust. I know what I’m talking about because I WAS THAT GUY. {If you’re a family member of mine or an ex-girlfriend, now would be a good time to quit reading unless you want to learn some things about me you’d probably live just fine until death without knowing. You’ve been warned.}

Bad choices are made here way more often than . . .

My beloved wife of almost 20 years is not the first woman I ever had sex with. She knows this. Actually, she wanted it that way, but that’s another story ENTIRELY. I had sex with five other girls / women before her. Four of the five were while I was in high school and college. Believe me when I say I was not a billionaire playboy. I wasn’t even especially good looking. I was NICE, KIND, THOUGHTFUL, and TRUSTWORTHY. At least that’s what two sets of parents and two single moms thought anyway.

They were right about that too . . . except for the trustworthy part. I’ve never been physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive to any woman, much less a girlfriend. I loved to send cards and flowers and other little gifts to make them feel special because first and foremost I DID want them to feel special because of what I’d seen my mother go through but I’d be lying if I said the possibility of sex wasn’t lit up like a bright neon sign in the hormone soaked nether regions of my adolescent brain. So, after holding hands, then kissing, then heavy petting, the next order of business in the fulness of time was sex. More than once, it was the girl’s idea, not mine.

. . . here. Keep that in mind.

Keep this in mind, too. My papa was a Pentecostal preacher. I was raised in church and when I say raised in church, I mean I was born on a Friday and Mama took me to our little white church the following Sunday. I had been taught by many adults I respected and loved that sex before marriage was wrong. I wouldn’t have called myself a Christian back then, but I knew right from wrong; however, when the time was right, I JUST DIDN’T CARE and neither did the “she” of the moment.

I’m not saying this to brag or air my dirty laundry unnecessarily. I suffer the consequences of my youthful wrong decisions on a daily basis. What I’m saying is all you parents need to quit worrying about the Christian Greys of the world and start worrying about the guys in your daughter’s life whom you really like because those guys, like it or not, are the ones most likely to end up in a situation with your daughter that’s going to end in one hell of an emotional train wreck, and if you’re lucky that train wreck will be ALL. Much worse things can happen.

So go out and rail against Fifty Shades of Grey, not because of the BDSM, but because it makes sex outside of marriage seem okay and without consequence and both those assumptions are dead wrong.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: Tanks

Standard didn’t take long looking at the killing fields of the Western Front in 1914-1916 for some commanders at all levels to think, “We have to find a better way.” The whole idea of flesh and blood men jumping out of the scant protection of the trenches to run across the shell cratered and machine gun swept No-Man’s Land was obviously insane and yet, what to do about it?

The idea of men advancing within some propelled or motorized type of vehicle was not a new one. No less a mind than Leonardo da Vinci drew up plans for his Armored Turtle which was basically a wheeled dome with arrow slits cut in the side. While never produced, this machine gave the basic idea for what eventually became the tank.

Any vehicle used in combat in World War I had a few criteria. First, it had to contend with the sucking morass of mud the artillery turned the battlefield into. Second, it had to withstand sustained machine gun fire (no one seriously considered any idea of a vehicle impervious to artillery). Third, it had to be able to cross obstacles such as shell craters and trenches to be of any real effect.

The sticking point, no pun intended, was the mud. Cars and trucks (lorries for my friends in the UK) were a relatively new invention but it didn’t take long to realize their narrow tires would be of little use in the mud and muck of the Western Front. Wheeled vehicles of the era notoriously bogged down on what passed for roads in those early 20th century days; putting something on wheels with armor increasing its weight out on the battlefield would do little more than create a sitting duck.

The breakthrough came with the invention of the caterpillar track. Basically the “tractor” or vehicle had four driven wheels and several rollers over which lay a wide linked, jointed flat piece of metal. The track made a big circle around the four wheels while sprockets in the drive wheels engaged holes in the “track” and pushed it forward so the rollers could roll on it. The wideness of the track, the four driving wheels, and the circular motion combined to produce a machine that essentially laid down its own road as it went forward or backwards. The width of the two tracks enabled the weight of the vehicle to spread out over a much larger surface area than was possible with wheels and tires so the tractor could cover almost any ground.

Tractors were gaining widespread usage in agriculture to replace horse power and some enterprising army officers looked at the agricultural machines with an eye towards armoring them and using them as a weapon. After all, any machine capable of navigating a plowed field successfully should be capable of getting across a shell plowed battlefield.

The British were first to develop a viable machine. Originally called “land battleships” because of their great size and armor, their name during development changed to “tanks” to maintain secrecy. The legend has it that workers thought the new metal behemoths looked like municipal water tanks, thus “tank” stuck.

The first successful tank was the British Mark I. It was a diamond shape which allowed it to cross trenches and shell craters effectively because a good surface of track would be in contact with the ground at all times even if the tank tilted forward. It moved along at a scorching four miles per hour so it was in no danger of outrunning the infantry hiding hopefully behind it.

As for armament, the Mark I as well as later British models were known as “male tanks” or “female tanks” depending on what weapons they carried. Male tanks mounted two six pounder guns in sponsons to the left and right of the tank body. Female tanks carried up to six Hotchkiss machine guns.

The first tanks were used during September 1917 in one of the sections of the Battle of the Somme. They did not give an good initial showing as many broke down. The developers back in Britain, including their champion Winston Churchill, complained the tanks had been rushed into battle too soon before having time to learn how to best use them. Later battles would see greater numbers of tanks massed in lines and moving forward as great steel waves. These tanks were much more effectively used in these later battles.

In all, the tank did what it was designed to do. It crossed No-Man’s land with general impunity and gave the following infantry something to hide behind. Though they didn’t know it, mainly because this was supposed to be the war to end all wars, these early tankers and the infantry that followed them were setting the stage for the “combined arms” tactics of the Second World War which made the blitzkrieg so effective.

Looking back, it’s ironic to note the Germans only made about twenty tanks total in the Great War. They just didn’t see the point in the design, yet it was a young German corporal who faced tanks in battle who decided they were a great asset on the battlefield so Adolf Hitler made sure his army had plenty of tanks in the next war.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.



A Star Wars Christmas Memory

Standard friends and I went to see Rogue One over the weekend and it was an extremely enjoyable movie. I recommend it to Star Wars fans who can appreciate all the plethora of “easter eggs” the movie has buried in it. Still, anytime I go to a Star Wars movie, the experience is always tinged with sadness. Whenever I see those blue words on the starry screen “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .” I am instantly transported to a time when I was young and innocent . . . and my world was beginning to fall apart.

It was the summer of 1977 and I was sad a lot of the time. Mama and Daddy’s marriage was disintegrating right in front of me and I couldn’t do a thing about it. I was six and I was not processing the events well at all. Mama had already paid a visit to my school to explain why I, who was renowned for never shutting up, suddenly had fallen completely mute. I had no frame of reference for what was happening to my family. These many years later, many of my childhood and school days friends have lived through their parents’ divorce, but at that time I was the first kid on my block with divorcing parents and no one really knew how to help me and I didn’t really know what to do myself.

In the middle of the summer, Mama decided to take me to see this new “space movie” that had just started playing at the Augusta Road Drive-In Theater. She hoped a movie would get my mind off of what was happening to my home. A friend she worked with at Union Carbide named Wanda came over with her son whose name I simply cannot recall anymore and we went to McDonald’s for a hamburger supper then drove up to the movie theater.

Star Wars was already held over in lots of walk-ins but it had just started showing at the drive-ins which typically got movies later since admission was much cheaper. I didn’t know about the movie at all. So my buddy and I climbed out onto the vinyl roof of Mama’s Pontiac Gran Prix and stretched out just in time to see those now-famous blue words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . .” Then the screen crawl began with “Episode IV: A New Hope.” Two hours later, the Death Star blew up and I was covered in black vinyl preservative and standing on the roof of the car cheering. I was the newest, and as far as I was concerned, greatest Star Wars fan alive.

I saw Star Wars two more times over the summer, both at walk-in theaters, once with Daddy and once again just Mama and me. To this day, it is the only movie I have seen three times in a theater. I saw all three Lord of the Rings movies twice, but that’s as close as I’ve gotten. I was wild over anything Star Wars. When I started back to school in the fall I carried a Star Wars lunch box to the cafeteria every day and opened my Star Wars Trapper Keeper clone notebook for every class. I was all Star Wars all the time. So naturally when it came time to make out my Christmas list, Star Wars stuff was all I asked for.

I made out like a bandit Christmas morning.

I didn’t know when I got out of the car at Granny and Papa Wham’s house that it would be the last time my parents would spend Christmas together. I don’t know what I’d have done with the knowledge if I had known it. As it was, Daddy left early.

Under the tree though! I started opening presents and it looked like I was going to film a sequel right there in Granny and Papa’s dining room. I’ll be honest and say I don’t know who bought me what. Granny, Papa, Aunt Cathy, Daddy, and Mama all bought bits and pieces. Looking back, I might have been with Cathy when she bought my presents since she took me shopping so much with her in those years. I got everything I’d asked for and more.

Here’s a partial list because my memory isn’t as good as I wish it was. I got the Death Star Playset, a full sized toy Tie Fighter to go with my full sized toy X-Wing Fighter, a remote controlled R2-D2, ten or fifteen of the main action figures, and a cassette and book retelling the movie in its entirety. I couldn’t wait for lunch to be over so I could get off in a corner with a cassette player and listen to the movie all the way through. I was blissfully unaware of anything for two hours except Rebels fighting Imperials. Looking back, the grown-ups were probably discussing my future. I didn’t know and for a brief time period, I was too happy to care.

Something else I know now that the child me didn’t. That was probably the inflation adjusted most expensive Christmas I ever had. NONE of those toys were cheap. Each action figure I remember cost $3.00 but you have to remember what $3.00 was in 1977. I know the fighters were over $20 a piece, again in 1977 money and I’d hate to even think what the Death Star cost. I know as much as I loved those toys and as much as I played with them, I was no where near thankful enough to the people who bought them for me. Of course, those were the Christmases when I was the ONLY grandchild so I got ALL the presents. Shame that had to end, but I guess Nick, Zack, and Blake are worth it.

I wish I knew what became of all those toys. They probably wouldn’t be worth much today because I PLAYED WITH THEM! After all, they were TOYS! You weren’t supposed to leave them in sealed boxes to appreciate and be worth a college education twenty years later. I took them out and I played with them. I loved them.

The one item I remember most was the cassette with the full movie on it. That tape got me through some rough times. The last time I KNOW for a fact I listened to it was about six or so YEARS later when I was in seventh grade. I was sad so I pulled it out and put it in my stereo to go back to the galaxy far, far away. I remember the noise on the tape from so many playings had rendered it almost unlistenable, but I listened anyway. Now it’s gone like the rest of my childhood, but I have to say it was wonderful while it lasted.

Love y’all, keep your feet clean, and may the Force be with you, always.


The High Cost of Dying

Standard years ago when my Papa Wham died, I had my first encounter with the funerary business. Daddy took Granny and Aunt Cathy to Cannon’s Funeral Home to make the arrangements and pick out the things for Papa’s funeral. My little brother and I went along. I remember when we were picking out caskets, Nick and I both took a liking to a solid oak casket with satin lining. We thought Papa would have looked wonderful in it. We were both hurt when Daddy nixed our choice for a plain, gunmetal grey metal casket. Honestly, I thought it looked cheap. That’s when I learned my first lesson about funerals.

See, Daddy explained Papa only left $10,000 total in life insurance. Now to me, that sounded (and actually still sounds) like a lot of money, but inside a funeral home, even twenty years ago, $10,000 doesn’t go very far. That casket Nick and I loved so much? It was $4000 in 1995 money. If Daddy had bought it, he’d have had to leave many other necessities unbought or paid for them with money none of us had available. I learned a lot that day.

The main two things I learned were, first, funeral arrangements are not cheap and, two, a lot more is involved with a funeral than just a casket and a hole in the ground. Since Papa Wham’s funeral, I’ve had to plan three other funerals more or less on my own: Papa John, Mama, and, most recently, Granny’s, and I’ve helped plan three or four others, including Granny Wham’s. I’ve learned the hard way a funeral home planning room is no place for sentimentality as ironic as that sounds.

For one thing, EVERYTHING has a cost. The funeral director sits down with you and the rest of the family and he or she has a planning sheet. ANYTHING that gets written down on that sheet of paper costs something and sometimes the prices can take your breath away. What’s more, you need things you had no idea you actually needed.

Most basically, you have to buy a vault and casket. I didn’t even know what a vault was as pertaining to burial. The vault is a watertight sealed box the casket goes in. It keeps the casket from deteriorating and collapsing in which in turn keeps the ground of the grave nice and level so the cemetery groundskeeper can run the zero turn mower up and down the rows of graves without scalping the grass. Vaults are priced from expensive to astronomical. The vault I bought for Papa John, Mama, and Granny is called the Titan. It’s concrete and has a 250 warranty. I figure I won’t be here to renew the warranty.

The Titan is near the bottom of the price scale. It and the plain white metal casket I buried Granny in cost $6000 right out the gate. From there, the sky is quite literally the limit for price. They have vaults which are solid copper and hermetically seal which can run upwards of $50,000 just by themselves. You can have the vault engraved with the decedent’s name and dates and such just like a tombstone, but keep in mind when you get to the cemetery, that vault is going to be under four feet of dirt already and when the ceremony ends, they’ll put another two feet of dirt on top of it. You can pay all the money you want and you’ll never see any sign of that $50,000 copper box than you will the $5,000 concrete box. People pay it though.

I asked the funeral director who helped me plan the three funerals I had to plan why people would pay so much for something that doesn’t do the job any better and that you never see. He said two main factors drive what people spend on a funeral — age and guilt. Children and teenagers often have MUCH more expensive trapping like solid wood coffins and the like as opposed to elderly. I can understand that. A life has been cut short and a nice, expensive funeral seems like one way to give to that young person what’s never going to be given to them in life.

Guilt is worse. People who didn’t go see mother in the funeral home or who may have had issues with a person that went to the grave unresolved seem to think spending a mint on the funeral will somehow square things. I’ll admit my three funerals might be considered cheap to people on the outside. Hell, I got nasty calls after Mama’s funeral from one family member who said I’d buried Mama in a casket he wouldn’t have put a dog in. Luckily for me, I never had to use a funeral to tie up loose ends. I could look Papa John, Mama, and Granny all three in their cold dead faces and even though I was sad, I didn’t have any guilt. I did what I could for them while they were living. I’m glad I can say that and I’m sorry for anyone who can’t.

After the casket and vault get taken care of, you have to have a hole. You might not think much about holes but when a body is going in one, it’s not a hole, it’s a grave and that’s a whole (no pun intended) different story. The cemetery charged me $1500 for what they called “opening and closing costs.” Basically, I paid them $1500 to dig a square hole with a backhoe six feet deep, eight feet long, and three feet wide and then, a few hours later, to fill said hole in with dirt.

I forgot about embalming! If you’re going to have a viewing or a wake involving an open casket, you have to have the body embalmed. That’s another $1500 – $2000. I had Granny embalmed so Aunt Pearl and Rachel could see her one more time, but I didn’t have Mama embalmed because her express wish was she didn’t “want anyone walking by gawking at me and blabbering about how good I look!” Yes, ma’am. Closed casket it is.

Once the funeral is over, one big purchase remains — the marker. This is the bronze or granite headstone with the name and dates and maybe something like “beloved mother” carved on it. It’s basically a slab of rock or metal. Don’t let that fool you though. It’s one of the most expensive slabs of metal you’ll ever buy. One branch of my family owns a marble and monument company that makes headstones — they start in four figures and head straight up from there. I just made the second and final payment on Granny’s marker today. The worst part is the cemetery charges a $400 fee to set the marker in the ground at the head of the grave. $400.

So, the bottom line is if you don’t have a bare bones minimum of $10,000 life insurance, you are going to leave your family in a bad situation when you die whether it’s now or when you’re an oldster. $25,000 is a whole lot better because you just never know what comes up when someone goes down.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

A Change in Routine

Standard is Tuesday. For the last three years Tuesday has meant one thing to me above all else — a ride down to Clinton to check on Granny in the nursing home. My routine changed earlier this month. November 1st, when I would normally be on my way home from NHC, I was sitting in the family room of Fletcher’s Funeral Home planning Granny’s funeral.

Granny had been in decline for several weeks, but the call on Halloween night at 9:00 was still a surprise. See, I had just called at 8:00 and she was doing well — meaning about the same as she had been for a couple of weeks — resting comfortably in her bed. Then only an hour later, I got the call and she was gone. Just like that. The nurse said Granny went peacefully, just stopped breathing and lost pulse. Just like that.

We buried her next to Papa John. Now he’s got Mama on one side and Granny on the other. I picked her out a white casket with a pink lining. Granny always loved pink. She was wearing her newest gown and I had them wrap her in her favorite blanket. She got cold easily.

The funeral was tiny. The only people attending were Aunt Pearl and Rachel, Granny’s oldest sister and oldest niece, and about five others. I didn’t put Granny’s death in the paper until after the service so no one really knew about the arrangements. I know I didn’t make any friends with that branch of the family, but I had my reasons.

Chief among them was how she lay in the nursing home over five years and no one went to visit her except Mama and me . . . until Mama died . . . and Aunt Pearl and Rachel. Everyone else seemed to have their reasons for not making the half-hour drive to Clinton to see her. I figured if they couldn’t be bothered to see her when she was living and needed company, there wasn’t much point in coming to see her once she was gone and didn’t need anyone anymore.

So, my littlest Granny is gone now. When I was born I had all four grandparents AND four of my eight great-grandparents alive to visit. Granny was the last one. I know how fortunate I am to live to 45 before losing my last grandparent, but it’s still bittersweet knowledge all the same. To have so much love surround you then for it to be all gone is a hard thing to take.

That’s why it’s taken so long into the month for me to write about Granny’s passing. I didn’t want to be maudlin — her memory doesn’t deserve that. All her life, Granny lived for one thing — love. She only wanted to love and be loved in return. Now she’s finally in a place where she’s surrounded by love and I know she’s happy even as I miss her.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: Lafayette Escadrille


The insignia of the Lafayette Escadrille and no, that’s NOT a Nazi symbol. Way before Hitler and his evil bastards appropriated it, the swastika was a symbol in many cultures around the world, including Native Americans.

Ever since the first man took ship to go explore somewhere in the New World, young Americans, mostly men as women tend to have better sense, seem to enjoy going abroad in search of dragons to slay for some reason or another. Americans have been fighting other countries’ wars for as long as there’s been an America. Some go out of a sense of bravado and adventure, others for that most elusive of game “a cause”, and still others, especially in the days before fingerprint databases and DNA tests rendered it nearly impossible, to simply start over as another person — perhaps to forget a broken heart and perhaps to stay one jump ahead of the penitentiary.

One of the most famous groups of American young men who went to the service of another country was the Escadrille Number 124 of the nascent French Air Force. History knows them better as Le Lafayette Escadrille. These 38 men flew under the command of their five French officers from March 1916 until America officially joined the Great War in 1917 at which point they were incorporated into the even MORE nascent Army Air Corps.

When the group first formed, it was called the Escadrille Américaine. For some reason, however, — maybe it was having “American” right in the name — the German embassy in the United States filed a formal protest because America was “neutral” at the time and having a group of people under the name Escadrille Américaine apparently seemed to suggest America was allied with France rather than being strictly “neutral.” So the French changed the name to honor the biggest French hero in American history.

The unit received its baptism of fire over the Battle of Verdun soon after its constitution. On 18 May 1916, a Tennessee boy named Kiffin Rockwell became the first Lafayette Escadrille pilot (and by extension the first American period) to down an enemy aircraft when he shot down a German observation plane near the Verdun battlefield. Sadly, Rockwell would not survive the war but became the second casualty of the unit. The first casualty was one Victor Chapman who was shot down over Verdun 23 June 1916. In all, nine of the original 38 volunteers died in the skies over France while two more died later on when the unit became part of the American Army Air Corps.

The main weapon of the Escadrille was the Nieuport 11, affectionately called La Bebe’ by the pilots. It easily outclassed the monowing Fokker fighters which had driven all the earlier Allied aircraft from the sky during the latter half of 1915. It was nimble and powerful, but not without issues. Unlike German planes, the French had yet to develop a working synchronizing gear to enable the machine gun to fire through the propeller of the plane. The Nieuport’s single Vickers gun fired above the top wing which made aiming slightly more difficult than its German counterparts like the Albatross DIII.

If you like being an insufferable know-it-all at movies, and who doesn’t, if you’re ever watching the WWI movie about the Lafayette Escadrille called Flyboys you can tell everyone the Americans are flying the wrong planes because the movie uses replicas of the later Nieuport 16 which fired through the propeller AND had the full nose ring seen in several of the movie shots. Also, the Nieuport 11 wouldn’t have been flying against the Fokker Triplanes like in the movie since the 11’s had been replaced before the Triplane’s appearance in 1917.

Another historical inaccuracy of the movie is the inclusion of an African American pilot. The character is obviously based on the legendary Eugene Bullard who was the son of American slaves and who DID serve in France, first in the trenches in the infantry of Great Britain and later flying in the French Air Force. An amazing and deadly pilot who went to Europe to escape the rabid racism at home, Bullard nonetheless did not fly for the Lafayette Escadrille because they stopped taking volunteers once 38 had been reached. I could find no reason why because other men, white and black, were turned away once the 38 mark had been reached.

The Lafayette Escadrille officially came to an end 8 February 1918 when its surviving pilots were absorbed into the newly formed American 103rd Aero Squadron. Try as I might, I couldn’t locate the fate of the wonderful mascots of the Lafayette Escadrille who just happened to be two full grown African lions named, appropriately American enough “Whiskey” and “Soda”and who pretty much had the run of the aerodrome and the barracks where the men slept.

Love y’all and keep your feel clean!


Standard never parted from Mama if we were mad at each other. From the time I could drive I would threaten to follow her to work if we didn’t fix whatever lay between us. As a result, when the day came going on four years ago now and I had to stand over her casket, I felt grief — crushing grief –; I felt profound loss; but what I did not feel was regret. I’m not saying this makes me a great son or a great person because it doesn’t. I’m saying it because I haven’t followed the “no regrets” program with everyone in my life.

I met Tracey over the phone when she was a sales rep for a book seller and I was a middle school librarian. After our first conversation I wouldn’t deal with anyone at the company but her. We were kindred spirits. Our friendship was ten years of phone calls, emails, and texts. I never once laid eyes on her in the flesh. I knew she was up in New York living a life that would terrify me and loving every minute of it.

We’d go long stretches and not hear from each other but once Facebook caught on, it became much easier to keep in touch. She introduced me to the music of The Cramps and offered me the “real” tour of New York if I ever got the courage up to fly to the Big Apple. I didn’t make it for a thousand reasons: money, time, commitments . . . the usual. Then, last spring, through Facebook I found out she was sick — extremely sick, like at death’s door sick. She had a condition called “lipid pneumonia” which made her lungs fill up with a fatty fluid the consistency of oil.

Something strange happened then. We had a fight. Of all things, she was sick as a dog and we had a fight. Part of it was over someone in her life I hated — well, as much as you can hate someone you’ve never met; part of it was because I kept badgering her to leave her beloved New York City and move back to her family in Florida with warmer weather and family to look out for her. It was ALL stupid and the majority of the entire fiasco was my fault. Then she started to get better and better and got out of the hospital and it looked like everything was coming up Milhouse.

But she was still angry with me and I was too proud and stubborn to admit any wrongdoing or back down from anything I said. So, we stopped communicating. Last I talked to her was July of last year and she was, “fine thank you very much!” Then nothing. Well, Monday was her 40th birthday and I thought fourteen months was plenty to act like an ass so I sent her an emoji laden post telling her happy birthday on Facebook.

About an hour later I got a reply to my post, not from Tracey, but from her mother. It simply said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you but Tracey died Thanksgiving Day of last year.” I sat and stared at my phone so hard Budge asked me what was wrong. She knew who Tracey was so she was sorry for my feeling too.

It’s so weird in a way. I never laid physical eyes on her, but she’s left this empty space. She’s been dead nearly a year and I didn’t even know! Now it’s too late. I’ll never know what she thought of me those last months. Did she still consider me a friend? Did she feel betrayed? Did she feel anything at all? What I feel is much simpler.

I feel regret.

I feel regret that when she needed me most I wasn’t there in person or electronically. I feel regret that this amazing person who was part of my life will never know just exactly how much she made me smile or how much she taught me . . . all because I waited too late to stretch out an olive branch. Our last words to each other were harsh . . . because of my pride.

Now she’s gone.

Which got me to thinking how she’s not the only one. I’ve got friends and family I haven’t seen in years and some of us parted on bad terms. I’ve got people I need to apologize to but I don’t know where they are and it’s taken losing a real friend to open my eyes to just how fragile and fleeting life is and how enduring and everlasting our words are.

If you happen across this post and you are a friend, former friend, or family member; if you are someone I’ve wronged, comment below, email me, reach out and give me a chance to mend and take back some of the things I’ve said and if you can’t or don’t want to please know that for my part, I’m sorry. I’ve said and done stupid things and hurt people unknowingly and quite willfully at times, but I’m going on fifty and the man is sorry for many things the boy has done . . . and many things the man has done. I’m so sorry.

The Quakers have a proverb: “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

You only live once is not just a Millenial throwaway line by some rapper. It’s not just something to say. No, it is a truth . . . an immutable truth. No matter what we may believe about what comes after we’re only going through THIS life one time and this life is just a mist, a fog, a momentary vapor.

So please, take my advice. Never part with harsh words. Always be the first to say “I’m sorry” whether you feel it was your fault or not. Reach out to your friends and loved ones because you never know if what seemed so important to say, the argument that was so vital to win, the point so desperate to make just might be the last words the two of you ever share and then, when you finally decide to try to mend things you find out you’ve come to late.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.