Sunday, February 27, 2011

Painful Thoughts While Shoveling Snow

I wrote this a month ago but let it sit in draft status until today, and I'm not sure why. But here goes . . .

It's kind of amazing how thoughts tumble through my head while I'm out shoveling (more) snow. Richard Holstad keeps dropping ideas and I get these recollections, some good, some bad, and sometimes they crystallize while I'm trying to make my physical world better.

Within the walls of the old high school building I don't think I was ever smart enough to imagine where I would wind up today. That's not necessarily a good or bad thing, and maybe I'm not the only one to fall into this category of having, to some degree, "drifted" to where I am today. And that is not necessarily a good or bad thing either. It's just what it is.

But while I think about that I also think of the classmates that we've lost over the years and their consequent inability to get to our age - like we have, whether by design or by accident. So far as I know, Barbara Morris was the first to be in this group, and the more I think about it, the more tragic it is that she never made it out of high school, never really made it into the starting blocks, so to speak.

On the day of her funeral my dad asked me about my plans to attend, and at the moment he asked I was frankly waffling, not sure if I should or would or not. Somehow, his question made me think that it must be important to be there, so I went. You were probably there, and you probably remember like me just how quiet it was in that packed church - the Methodist Church, as I recall. The 6 seniors of the basketball team served as pallbearers, and the whole service was a check against our immortality. It was so sorrowful, so sudden, so true.

It was five or six years later that Arlo Severson died in a car accident near Cedar Rapids. I was asked to be a pallbearer, my first time doing so, and again felt this surreal awareness of mortality. After the services we had the traditional Norwegian Lutheran lunch in the basement, and it was there that Gladys Severson thanked me for being a pallbearer. What was I supposed to say? I was caught short of words. "You're welcome" seems feeble and "thank you for asking me" would be downright stupid.

Serving as a pallbearer is not my favorite thing to do, even though it is certainly an honor to be asked to do so, and I would not decline unless it flat is not possible to participate. And where our early departing classmates are concerned, I find myself musing over their lives - what might they have become? We who are left can only be musing about our own dreams and whatever measure of satisfaction we might feel we have achieved.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Big One - WW II

Recently I read a couple books about World War II. I mentioned in an earlier posting that an uncle had served at Iwo Jima, and thinking about him and the aging veterans from the Great Conflict, I have sought to learn more about what they lived through.

We may have been "blessed" as an age group, too young for the Korean War and too old for Viet Nam. At least I have yet to hear of anyone from our class who served in that arena, and if you know of any such veteran perhaps you could pass information along.

It wouldn't hurt for me to bone up on Korea beyond what I know, and most of that I picked up from the Truman biography by David McCullough. The Korean Veterans seemed to have been forgotten as a group, and McCullough clearly illustrates the hazards they faced including a vicious enemy, severe weather, and a certain level of stupidity at the top.

The WW II vets are now disappearing. Most of them would be at least in their 80's and a dying breed. If you want to learn more of the reality of what they faced, here are two books that I would recommend, both of them focused on the Pacific:

With the Old Breed, at Pelelieu and Okinawa is an autobiography journal by E. B. Sledge, written originally to share his story with his family. War is clearly Hell, and the Japanese culture of the day was such that any non-Japanese person was a lesser being, making it an even greater Hell for these veterans to experience. It's a diary, and thus it does not lead to a dramatic conclusion other than the daily tragedies the soldiers were facing.

Unbroken, a World War II Story of Survival was written by Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote Seabiscuit (also recommended reading). It's the story of Louie Zamperini, who could have been the first athlete to break the 4-minute mile and instead found himself adrift in the Pacific where he finally wound up in the midst of the South Pacific Island war zone, a couple thousand miles from where his plane had gone down. Eventually he was captured by the Japanese and spent a couple years as a Prisoner of War where he endured far more punishment than most could survive.

The Zamperini story is a little less believable even though it is true. Still, it provides insights into an experience that all of us missed, and a culture that led to brutality that we as Americans (I hope) would not want to be duplicated on our side. My whole point in sharing this thought is the recognition on my part that we grew up in a fairy tale, practically speaking, because we didn't know what we didn't know - about the life that our fathers and uncles were living, and all of it done so we could continue living the good life.

Having never served myself, I do try to make it a point of thanking those who have, and I hope you do the same. I feel like it was The Big One that "made the point" that armies should be restrained and people should live free. But time is running out on our options to thank those who were on the front line of that service.

Monday, February 7, 2011

World's Classiest Letter Jacket - Part Deux

Here it is again - Mike Lien in our awesome letter jacket. It came to mind recently when Richard Holstad reported he was thinking of buying it again since he lost or misplaced his original. In town for the Buddy Holly Days, he stopped at Decker's to inquire about the possibility of ordering one.

Interestingly enough, he was told at Decker's that they just don't sell those jackets like they used to because they're no longer so popular, but if he was interested they could do a special order for him. His problem was recalling all the color detail.

He put out an all call and between me and Larry Holstad we were able to define some of the colors. Larry and I agreed on the royal blue color, but he corrected me on the cuffs and collars. I thought they were blue and white, Larry said they were red and white though they reportedly were later changed to blue and white. We both thought the buttons were blue but Larry was wise enough to look at this picture and see they were indeed white.

I still had my numerals so I could report they were red on white, and Larry had his senior letter at hand so he could report the N was red and the K was blue.

In his last email on the subject, Larry also pointed out that Mike is wearing his class ring on his middle finger, not the ring finger, and that he always did that. I probably knew it at the time, but it wasn't something I would have even looked for. I'm not sure you can see it on this photo, even if you blow it way up, as I have - and the image gets all blurry.

And after all our efforts, Richard is getting his letter jacket true to the specifications, though not because of us. Before he got into town last week, his friend Larry Patterson had already gone to today's Athletic Director, Mr. Dodd, to plead for an NK Letter to replace the lost one, thinking Mr. Dodd could surely check the records to confirm Richard had earned it. Not necessary - Mr. Dodd said if an athlete wanted a replacement after 46 years he surely deserved one, and he was willing to accept Larry's testimonial to Richard's athletic service..

For his next step, Richard went back to Decker's, and found they maintain a binder filled with all the historic details on color, cut, etc., and he now has on order the exact replica on which he can sew his personalized, 46 years later NK Letter. And Richard is happy.

Maybe it only proves there is value in aging. Except that letter jacket, that will NEVER get old.