Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ernie and the Fence

Here is a quick story about my Dad and Ernie (his partner) when Dad was a young police officer.

Dad and Ernie were trying to catch a bad guy.  The young man was really fast, but Dad was young and quick. 

The bad guy ran down an alley and then he started jumping over fences between the back yards.  The first fence was a good solid 6 foot tall wooden one.

He jumped over that first fence quick as a fox.   Dad followed going right over the fence too.

Suddenly from behind them came in explosion.  It was so loud that the bad guy stopped in his tracks and turned to look.  Dad turned too, and as splinters of wood flew past his head he saw Ernie running through the wreckage of what had been the fence.

The shocking sight left the young bad guy unable to continue to run.

After they had him in custody Dad asked Ernie why he didn't just jump the fence.

Ernie said,"Well, I just got to running so fast I couldn't stop."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Happy Veterans' Day

After Dad enlisted in the USMC he was deployed to Japan in '63 - '64.  From his base in Japan he was sent off to a few different places including a training mission to Taiwan.

I've been through Dad's letters home and that training mission is in there, but there were a couple more stories that he told that I can't find more details or evidence of.  I'm not disputing that he did these things, but I don't know how much he confused because he was just a teenage Private and how much he lost to the years.

He told the story of being deployed to a small island off China.  I do know that there was a long running "Warm" fight over the Straights of Formosa.  The hotter fight predated '63, but they were still under dispute when Dad would have been there.  Artillery was lobbed from the mainland to the islands and vice versa.

According to the story, they sent Dad's Battalion to the island, but not all of them could land because a big storm blew in.  The portion of the Battalion that did land had to secure what they had and just wait.

They didn't have all their supplies and the only things they had to eat and drink were ice tea and rice.  Dad never wanted to consume these things ever again after that.

On the first day they were there, their platoon held attack drills.  On a command everyone had to make their way to the bunkers and hunker down until they got the all clear.

They all moved very slowly and slugishly, so when they were all in the bunker their Platoon Sergeant reamed them out.

"When I say move, you move.  You never know when the Chinese could start shelling, by God I wish they would shell right now just to teach you maggots a lesson!"

Lo and behold shelling  did start.

Dad said that he thought, "Oh my God, the Gunny can even call in fire from the Chinese!"

That certainly lit a fire under their butts, and they were never sluggish again.

While they were on the island they had equipment to either build or repair an airfield.  They didn't have all the pieces and didn't have all the people to put the pieces in place, but they had huge crates.

After a while they noticed that each day the crates were a little bit closer to the jungle around them.  The Marines eventually figured out that the natives on the island were trying to steal them by coming in the night and moving the crates a few inches at a time.  They put an end to that.

The funniest part of this story is that eventually they were releived when the other ships finally made it to the island.  They passed out loaves of bread and set up showers.  The Marines on the island had spend several weeks without showering.

There was a camera there (I think it was Dad's) and someone captured the revelry as the Marines delightfully ate their bread and stripped naked to take their open air showers.

The film of that shower day was actually on the back half of a film my Dad had started of him and his friends in and around the base in Japan.

Somehow he didn't know the back half of the film was there and he sent it home for his family to see how their Billy G was doing away in the Marines.  They gathered the whole family together to watch the movie.  Little did they know that it had a shocking surprise ending.

Happy Veterans' Day and Thank you!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Night of the Purple Fog

This morning was the annual appearance of the Orionid Meteor Shower.  October 21, 1962 was a night of a very young moon and it was the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The Battle of Antietam had occurred in September 1862 and many soldiers probably survived their wounds for at least a month only to die at home.

Because of that I believe that today is the 50th anniversary of The Night of the Purple Fog.  To commemorate that I have decided to finally post what is probably my father's most famous campfire story.
My Father enlisted in the USMC in August of 1960 with the hopes of following in the family "business" of Firefighting. Initially he was assigned to a Crash Crew and trained to fight aircraft fires and save trapped fighter pilots. Due to a choice of twelve weeks of guard duty over six weeks on Kitchen Patrol (KP), by October, 1962 he was working as an MP at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, SC.

The Cuban Missile Crisis had the whole country on edge, but no one was more anxious than the military on the south east coast. After the tensions had risen to a particularly fevered pitch, intelligence came down that all bases, and especially their Military Police patrols should be on the lookout for a known saboteur suspected of being somewhere on the east coast with a mission to damage any military facilities possible. Especially high value targets were those bases on which nuclear weapons were housed, like MCAS Beaufort.

I've searched on Google Earth to find the exact spot of this incident and I believe the Ammo Point is located on the north part of the base. The base is surrounded by low lands, swamps, tidal pools, and rivers.

My Father always said that the patrols to the back gate of the Ammo Point were the most difficult because you had to drive all the way around the airfield and at the furthest point you were beyond the range of the radios. It was a single lane road with swamp on one side and water on the other. The MPs at that time patrolled alone in pickup trucks. At night it was a long, dark, lonely ride to a poorly lit gate.

That night Dad drove around to the gate on the edge of his seat, knowing how close they might be to actual Nuclear War. When he reached the end of the road he tried his radio, nothing. He put the handset down on the bench beside where he sat and exited the vehicle to inspect the gate.

When he stepped out he realized that the ground was covered in a low laying fog. Because of the chemicals in the surrounding swamp gases the fog had taken on a violet tinge as it swirled around at boot top level.

Despite the fact that the truck was parked so that the headlights were pointed at the gate, Dad had his flashlight out to keep a watch on the surrounding area. He easily found that the gate was secure, and he turned to return to his truck.

As he turned he could have sworn that he saw a red light blinking in the distance, somewhere off to the right of the truck. He leaned forward and squinted; he held his flashlight out, and he saw it again. Blink, blink.

He thought it could be a reflector of some kind, but he wasn't waving his light around. None of the lights around him were moving, and yet the light blinked. He knew some Morse code and he walked toward the light, trying to tell what letters were being blinked. With his free hand he unsnapped the loop on the holster of his service .45.

He stepped cautiously through the fog, feeling the hard road change to swamp. As he approached the light he realized that it was indeed a reflector and it was the Spanish moss hanging from a nearby tree swaying between them that made it blink. But what had made the moss sway? Only then did a slight breeze begin to stir.

The reflector was a red, reflective ribbon on a brand new wreath of flowers, still fresh, that had been laid on a headstone. My Father had stumbled into a graveyard. The headstone was leaning and overgrown, covered in tree sap and bird droppings. As the gentle puff of wind cleared the fog, he saw the writing on the grave marker.

He had gone on shift at midnight and this couldn't have been two hours into the patrol, and the day, yet the date on the headstone was one hundred years earlier, to the day. My Father had stumbled into an all but forgotten Civil War cemetery.

He looked around for other evidence of the recent visitor. He found it in the shape of a right boot print. He leaned down to get a better look and realized that it was a full inch all around bigger than his own sizable 13.

He looked for the next print and found it; a left boot print at least six feet away from the first one and leading up out of the nearby creek. This creek had no name but it crisscrossed with countless others until it emptied into the Atlantic. He did a quick calculation and estimated that at six feet tall he could take a three foot stride when he was running. A man who took a six foot stride would have to be closer to twelve feet tall.

Just then his flashlight failed. It died slowly, dimming at first and turning yellow until it was barely a trickle of light. He felt the hair on the back of his head and made his way back to the truck at a range walk.

The headlights of the truck seemed to flutter or dim for a moment as he approached. He couldn't see in the bed of the truck so he threw his now useless flashlight back there with a clatter. As he did so he drew his pistol and chambered a round.

He moved around to the driver side and opened the door.

The cab was empty except for the radio handset sitting on his clipboard. He jumped in and put his pistol down next to the mic.

He put the clutch in, put the truck in gear and let out the clutch. Nothing happened. The back tires slid but didn't seem to catch.

It was a dry night and he had stopped solidly on the road. There was no reason for his wheels to spin. He tried again, trying to give it more gas, with the same result. It was like something or someone was holding the back bumper.

He looked in the rearview mirror and saw only black.

Heart racing he kicked in the clutch, jammed it into reverse and popped the clutch. The truck jumped back a few feet. He reversed the procedure and popped it into first.

The wheels squealed but moved him forward. As he peeled around in the sharp turn he needed to get going back down the road, he felt a heavy thump as if someone had jumped into the bed of his truck.

At the same time in that sharp, hard turn, his clipboard, with the radio hand set and his Colt M1911 .45 caliber pistol slide across the bench seat and dumped into the space between the seat and the passenger side door.

He slammed on the gas and raced through the gears. He figured that if a twelve foot tall man were in the back of his truck he would have a hell of a time getting around to open his door and if he wanted to jump out of the bed of the truck at 60 mph, then more power to him.

As he raced around back onto the main part of the base he was too frightened to look in the rearview mirror, even when the lights of the base would have made the bed visible.

He sped through the front gate, right past the guard without slowing down at all. The horrified look on the guard's face confirmed that he had a tiger by the tail in the back of his truck.

He needed a plan to get stopped and out of the truck without running into his passenger. He decide to make directly for the guard shack, where there would be other men and many more weapons. He would put drive right up to a space and let the concrete bumper stop the truck. The sudden stop would kill the truck so suddenly that someone without a proper hand hold in the back would be tossed about. My Father would have steadying hands on the wheel. As his passenger tried to regain his balance my Father would be out his door and make a mad dash for the shack door.

That was exactly what he did. As soon as the truck slammed into the barrier he threw the door open and bolted inside shouting, "Sergeant of the Guard! Sergeant of the Guard!"

He ran right past the desk and grabbed a shotgun out of the rack. He pumped it and put it up to his shoulder aimed at the still swinging double doors.

"What's going on?"

"Giant saboteur, walked out of the water, held my truck, twelve feet tall, flowers, out there!"

Eventually others joined him and they walked out to find his empty truck. It was exactly as he had left it, and there was no one in it.

"But the guard saw it, ask him," my Father protested. "He had a look of pure terror."

The guard had indeed had a terrified look on his face, but he hadn't seen anything except a runaway truck and the look on my Father's face. They were what had scared him so.

In the end my Father had to admit that there was no evidence that anything untoward had happened at all. There was no evidence that anyone had done anything except careless laid a wreath. Nothing except that when my Dad went to get his dead flashlight out of the truck bed he found that it was all wet and there was an old metal milk bottle back there.
The bed had been clean and empty when he had checked it out earlier that night.

Monday, September 17, 2012

NCO to Officer

My oldest is now in college and she has two medium term goals, to get her degree and to graduate as a United States Marine Corps Officer.

This prompted me to tell her how Papa became a US Army Officer.  This is definitely a story that may need additional support from others for authenticity.

After Papa was in the USMC and married for a while, they determined that the two do not mix (at least for Papa and Boushette).  Papa got out of the Marines and joined the Marine Corps Reserve.

A few years and three sons later Papa was an E7 (Gunnery Sergeant) and competed for NCO of the Year.  He won in fact and was awarded NCO of the Year for the entire USMC Reserve.  At about the same time he was applying to attend OCS (Officer Candidate School) with the Marines.

This is where the story gets fuzzy for me.  Either they forwarded the wrong paperwork and some numbskull who was also named William La Fleur was rejected (I can't believe any William La Fleur would be anything less than stellar, but that's just me) and/or his paperwork was delayed because it was the same paperwork that got forwarded for the NCO of the Year Award.

Either way, in the end he was 34 years old before the package went to the board.  At that time (I don't know about now) the USMC had a cutoff of 33 to attend OCS.  He was too old.

He was already a Sergeant in the Chicago Police Department and some of his friends there suggested that he try the Illinois Army National Guard because the Army cutoff age was 35.

He transferred to the Army and ultimately retired as a BG (Brigadier General).  The moral of the story is, keep your goal in sight and keep your legs pumping, never give up there is always a way.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Gap Tooth

I'm not sure what made me think of this today, but here is a quick story.

Dad had always had a gap between his front teeth.  I know we don't remember him that way because he got it fixed so long ago.

When he joined the USMC he had to get a physical and a dental checkup.  The Marine dentist took a look at his mouth and asked him, "You want that gap?"

Dad said that he could do without it.  The dentist reached behind himself and grabbed a pliers.  He stuck them in Dad's mouth, grabbed one of the back teeth and yanked it out.

In a few days Dad's teeth slowly moved and closed the gap.  That back tooth was just one too many teeth and it was crowding the rest until there was just no more room and the front slide sideways just to fit in.

Monday, June 25, 2012

F - A - T-square

Dad didn't do well in school, from second grade through high school he only did well in one class, Drafting. 

Dad told me that he loved that class and was sure he was going to get an A finally after so many years of disappointments and summer school.  He was down to his last project and he was doing it perfectly.  While he was at the drafting table in school working diligently another boy, who never much liked Dad walked by.  Dad's nemesis took this opportunity to jostle his arm.  It was a stupid, yet simple thing to do.

It was Dad's right arm and at the jostling his hand holding the writing instrument drove across the page, marking it indelibly.  I don't know if it was a pencil or a pen but I got the impression that the swath it made across the page would not have been erasable regardless of the instrument.

Dad flew into a rage and with the T-square already in hand he beat the boy with it.  It not only assured him of a failing grade in the class, but I believe a suspension.

It's hard to believe with all the scholastic accolades he earned in the Military and the Police, and how everyone remembers Dad as a great teacher; that he ever had such a hard time in school.  Maybe it was because he had such a hard time that he knew how to help others learn.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day Dad

1966, First Christmas and first Christmas as a Dad
Happy Father's Day Dad.  I know this story is about me, but in a way it's also a story about you.

When I was still an infant Mom took me to the neighborhood grocery store.  It was on the corner of Kostner and Montrose.

Some woman stopped my Mom while she was walking around with me asleep in the cart .

"Well, I can only assume that you are Mrs. La Fleur, because I've never met you, but that baby sure is Bill La Fleur's.  There is no doubt about that."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pope's Visit

I just got back from a trip to Boston.  While there I spotted a plaque that said the first mass ever celebrated by a Pope in the New World was on 1 Oct 79 when Pope John Paul II visited.  That reminded me of the La Fleur family's involvement with that trip.

The Holy Father arrived at O'Hare on Thursday night and drove from there downtown to Cardinal Cody's residence.  My grade school band had a space along Milwaukee Avenue.  One of the music teachers owned a store there and staked out the space for us.  When the Pope sped by in his limo we played "Sto Lat."

That reminds me of a joke.  The Pope was riding along in his limo and at one stop he approached the driver.

"It's been years since I've been allowed to drive, but in my youth I used to be quite a good driver.  Would you mind if I drove for a while?"

Of course the diver agreed and he slid into the back while His Eminence got behind the wheel and adjusted the mirrors.

A few miles down the road a police officer stopped the vehicle for speeding.  When he pulled them over and got the driver's identification he was so astonished that he went back to his patrol car and radioed back to headquarters, "You will never guess who I just pulled over driving this limo!"

"Who, is it somebody important, somebody famous, a rock star, movie star, the President?"

"Well, I don't know how is in the back but he must be REALLY important; the Pope is his driver."

Back to Dad's story.

The next morning, 5 October 1979, Dad had been activated by the National Guard for the Papal Mass at Grant Park.  He was in a hospital unit and they wanted them on site to provide medical support if needed.

Dad and some other Guardsmen who were also police officers were sitting around in their tent on Sunday morning discussing what it would have been like for the police if Jesus Christ came back today and gave the Sermon on the Mount.

At some point someone said that the mass was supposed to have started and they wondered if it was running late.  They had had the flaps of the tent down and hadn't seen or heard anyone.

They opened the flaps of the tent and found more than 200,000 people had filed into the park as if it were a church.  They hadn't heard a pin drop.  It was the largest mass ever held in Chicago and the only Papal Mass and Dad was there.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Swimming for Lane

My mom had a box of stuff she found in the house and she had us go through it on Easter. I found a few things that sparked ideas about stories.

I'm going to start with the swim card I found. It reminds me of when Dad was on the swim team in High School.

Dad attended Lane Technical High School and at the time it was an all-boy school. Because the school was all boy the swim team did not have suits, they swam in the nude. I guess the idea was that they would be faster.

One time they were at an away meet and the Lane swim team was gathered in their locker room (clearly not the dressing room) and got a rousing pep talk from the coaches. The captains got them further fired and led them to the locker room door full of, well let's just say pep.

They all lined up; cheering and chanting they made ready to burst into the pool room. The captains opened the door and ran out, followed by everyone else.

The trouble was that this school they were swimming against was large and rich enough to have bleachers looking on the pool. The bleachers were full of parents and siblings, some of them even sisters, and maybe a few grandmothers to boot.

The captains stopped dead in their tracks and tried to back pedal. The rest of the team pressed forward, unaware of the problem, but ready to beat the world.

The result was a dogpile of naked teen boys just inside the locker room door.

They had to quickly find suits or they would forfeit the meet. They did, but the suits were from a grade school or something because they were all too small. They did win the meet I think because they wanted to get out of those small suits as soon as possible.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Second Aniversary

I hesitate to say "Happy" Aniversary, but I do wish it to all of you reading.

We had a Papa dinner tonight.  I suggested everyone put sugar on their pizza, but we settled for roast beef pizza instead.  We had Pepsi (I couldn't find any RC or moon pies) and after we went on a DQ run.  I had a Heath Blizzard.

Tomorrow for breakfast we are going to dip graham crackers buttered with bacon into our coffee.  Then we'll put corn into our omletes.

I wish I had a cigar.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Papa's Day Off

This weekend I had a dream about Dad, my oldest took the day off today and I'm writing on a lap desk Dad made for us, so I thought I'd share a little thing my Dad used to do.

Every now and then he would call us out of school and take us for a walk in the woods. He called it Family Time, though my Mom never came with us.

I never knew if it was because he had had a particularly harrowing experience, or he just wanted to spend time with his boys.

We would go to La Baugh Woods or the Forest Preserve off Milwaukee and Elston, near Superdawg.

I loved those days. We called them hikes, but they were probably just a short walk in the woods. We were young and he captured the time. Sometimes he could be very wise.

Life moves pretty fast and we stopped to look around once in a while, so we never missed it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bad Guys, Frozen Pools and Frozen Lakes

With the snowfall of this week I thought of some of Dad's winter stories.  I've already told the Ernie and '67 Blizzard story.  I've already told the winter camping story.

I have a couple of short little stories I could tell.
The first one was one dark winter evening when Dad and his partner were following a, "bad guy."  They couldn't see him but it had started snowing lightly and they followed the footsteps in the snow.  Eventually they just stopped.

They looked around and heard a voice in the dark, "Three fifteen."

It was an old man in a doorway along the sidewalk.

Dad said that he thought, "No, it's more like 7:15" before he realized that the old man was talking about an appartment number.

Dad and his partner found and arrested the suspect in appartment 315.
Growing up we had a round, above ground, 25' pool.  One particular winter it had frozen over before Dad had had a chance to do something.  I had no idea why, but Dad decided that he had to break the ice that had formed on the pool.

With my Mom watching from the back door, Dad climbed up on the ice with a sledge hammer and started whacking away.

Suddenly the ice cracked from the center where Dad was standing, straight to both sides, cutting the ice into two huge semicircles.  Dad had one foot on each semicircle and they slide away and up, dumping him directly into the four feet of water below.

Mom saw Dad disappear and the ice slide back to close over him solid.  He was completely gone from sight under what was again a solid sheet of ice.

Suddenly Dad popped up through the ice and worked his way to the edge and climbed out.  Later he explained that he had gone under with the sledge hammer in his hand.  He ducked beneath the water to make sure the ice slamming back together did not slam into his head.
Only a couple of years before Dad retired he was driving around alone in a patrol car, as he was wont to do.  He liked to get out of the office and cruise.

Since he was never in a district along the lake I can only assume that he was not really where he was supposed to be when this story happened.

He was driving along the lakefront when he got too close to the frozen water, and it wasn't quite as frozen as he had thought.  The two passenger side tires broke through the ice.

Since he wasn't where he was supposed to be, doing what he wasn't supposed to do, he was on his own to get out.  Slowly he put the car into reverse and carefully, thankfully backed out.

As soon as he got back off the beach and into his own station I don't think he ever went out alone again.  I KNOW he never went driving on Lake Michigan again.