Friday, November 8, 2013

The Rest of the "Japanese" Stories

I was just talking with Dad's old Marine buddy, Don Provin, the other day.  He was asking what stories I had from my Dad's time in the USMC and when he was deployed.

I figured I'd steer him in the direction of this blog, but there are still four stories I can remember about that time that I haven't shared here.  I hope these help Don and I hope they are all the ones there were.  If anyone can remember more please let me know so I can post them.

The first two are what Dad called his:

"Japanese Toilet Stories."  

As they are toilet related I don't think they are appropriate for this blog, and they really wouldn't help Don as he was looking for combat stores which these are definitely not.
"Japanese toilet" in Dar Es Salaam

Let me just say this about them.  The first one involves fecal matter and what Dad always called a "Japanese toilet."  I've included a photo of a toilet of that kind.  They are sometimes called Asian toilets. I call them "floor toilets."

The second story involves stitches.  I will not relate the story but if you watch the movie, "Something About Mary" and you know the story you might recognize the situation there.

The other two stories are disconnected in my memory.  I really don't remember where or when they were supposed to have taken place, but I assume they were sometime while he was deployed overseas (primarily to Japan).  I could call them the:

"Japanese Knife Stories."

The first isn't really a story, but rather a quip or anecdote.  Dad said there were these UN soldiers who each had a knife.  Their tradition was that if the knife was unsheathed it must "taste" blood before being re-sheathed.

I know of two sets of people who have knives with this as a rumored tradition.  The first is the Gurkhas, but I think it is just a myth with them and their kukri knives.  I know Dad did admire the Gurkhas and may have met some, but the tradition seems to not be true.

The second group that I know has a knife tradition (real group, not the fictional Fremen of Dune) is the Sikhs.  One of the five K things they need to have or do is carry a kirpan knife.  It is true that the kirpan must taste blood before being put away.

Compare them yourselves
The story is that the Marines wanted to compare knives.  They showed their Ka-Bars and asked to see the kirpans.  The other soldiers obliged and when they were done the Sikh soldiers pricked their thumbs and put their knives away.

This was very curious and amusing to the young Marines.  They returned to their own group, sitting not too far from the other soldiers.  When another Marine joined their group who had not seen the kirpans before the first group would tell them to go over and ask to see their knives.

The Sikhs were good-natured about this for the first one or two times, but they quickly caught on that the Marines were really just trying to see how many times they would cut themselves.  The next time they sent a Marine over to ask about the knives they took one out as asked, but before putting it away this time they stuck the Marine before putting it away.

The last story really upset me when I heard it and so I never asked for a retelling or further explanation.

If you are squeamish then you should stop reading right now.

Dad said he was cutting tall grass with some Australian soldiers.  They would take a handful of grass and twist it around to hold it up.  Then they would come along with their knives (machetes or Ka-Bars or whatever, I didn't get the details) and cut the bundle of straw at the base.

Dad said he was working near this Australian who, when he made the bundle with his left hand, left his thumb sticking out.  He brought the knife across too close to his hand and cut his thumb.

The way I remember it, and I was prone to imagine the absolute worst when I was younger, what that he cut his whole thumb off.  Later I rationalized that he probably one cut the tip off.  Now thinking about it I'll bet my Dad had said something like, "He cut the whole thumbnail off."

Regardless of how much he cut, it was substantial enough that the Australian could pick up the severed piece.  The story goes that the Australian was so tough that he just picked up his thumb and kept right on cutting grass. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Smell Memory

This is more a vignette then an actual story.

When I was young my Dad had a workbench near the basement door.  In that area was also a radial arm saw (that sort of defined the space, as it was the last thing before the washer and dryer), the brick chimney and a wood burning stove.

My Dad kept a scrap barrel.  All the little pieces of wood that he cut off, or pieces he cut wrong, or extra pieces he put in that barrel.

Probably a couple of times a year he would clean up the work area.  Mostly it had been made completely disordered by us.  He would set aside some Saturday, usually in winter or late autumn.

He would start a fire in the old wood stove and burn all the scrap.  He would clean things up and hang up the tools.  Eventually he would sweep up an the whole place would be clean and cozy.

I loved those days.  We would work together to clean up and in the end the results were dramatic.  It made you want to start a new project.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Buzzing Uncle Jeff

Dad, Mom, me, Shawn, the pool, the fence and the Kennedy
I hope I can remember all the Dad and Uncle Jeff stories, but here is one especially for summer.

When Dad was in the CPD, at one time they offered a program for officers who wanted to fly the police helicopter.  Dad applied and had some flying lessons before they canceled the program, probably because of budget constraints.

At the time we had the pool in the backyard on Kostner and the six foot red wooden fence.  The pool was within about two feet of the fence on the south side, facing the Kennedy.  It was fairly common practice for young men to climb out of the pool and onto the fence.  They would then jump into the pool.  I had seen it done many times, but I think that by the time I was old enough to try it, we had replaced that fence with a chain-link (cyclone) fence.

Apparently Uncle Jeff liked to startle Dad when they were younger.  I say startle because, of course Dad wasn't "scared" of anything, but if you jumped out of a hiding place and yelled boo you could catch him off guard and make him jump.

Actually, now that I think about it, the only things Dad was afraid of were Mom and his children.
Ryan on the fence: one of the scary things

Anyway, Uncle Jeff liked to hide and jump out to see Dad jump.

One day while Dad was getting flying lessons in the police helicopter Uncle Jeff was visiting the house and swimming in the pool.  The instructor let Dad fly up the Kennedy and they were going to practice auto-rotating.

Auto-rotating is when the power goes out in a helicopter (the engine dies or some kind of power train failure).  The blades and the system are designed to keep rotating.  As long as you were going a certain speed forward you can ride the free spinning rotor blades safely down to the ground.

They weren't going to land, the instructor was just going to give Dad a taste of how auto-rotating feels.

As it turns out they were very near our house when the instructor turned off the engine.  So, there was Dad, coming in out of the south west and the low afternoon sun in a silent helicopter.  And there was Uncle Jeff climbing out of the pool and standing up on the fence getting ready to jump in.

Dad turned on the loud speaker and said, "HEY YOU, GET OFF MY FENCE!"

Dad said that after that day it never bothered him if Uncle Jeff tried to startle him, because Dad knew that he would never be able to top that.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Fathers' Day

When I joined the National Guard I was looking to fly helicopters.  I enlisted and became a helicopter mechanic (MOS 67N Huey Crew Chief), but after I enlisted and before I started ROTC the Army tightened the requirements for helicopter pilots so that they needed 20/20 vision to start flight school.  I needed glasses.

I quickly looked around for another military career path and decided on Signal.  I won't get into that decision now.  Dad was Signal Officer qualified, but he was also Infantry qualified, Chemical qualified, Medical Services qualified and MP qualified.  At the time of my decision I think he was with the MP Battalion.

I decided on Signal and started drilling with the Signal Battalion as a Cadet.  A few months after that I went to one AT (annual training, or summer camp) with them and was stuck in an officer position with almost no training whatsoever.  Needless to say, it was very stressful.

At the time my Dad had just come back to the Signal Battalion as the Executive Officer (XO).  One day when I was almost at my wit's end Dad happened to stop by.  He told me a funny story about the Battalion Commander.  It cheered me to think that the Old Man had troubles too, and it cheered me just to know that here was a guy I could disappoint and fail, but he would still love me.  That was enough.  He didn't actually cheer me up with a pep talk or anything like that.  He told me the story, told me he loved me and left.

Two years later I was a commissioned Second Lieutenant and a Platoon Leader in the Signal Battalion.  Dad was the commander and I was attending Signal Officer Basic Course in Fort Gordon, GA.  We were having a class on Officer Evaluation Reports (OERs) and discussing conflicts of interest.

For OERs you have a Rater, an Intermediate Rater and a Senior Rater.  The Rater is self-evident.  The Intermediate Rater just makes sure the paperwork is filled out correctly.  The Senior Rater is your commander's commander and is very important to your rating.

I asked the instructor, "What if your Senior Rater is your father?"

He never answered me.  He just slowly turned and said, "You're in the Guard, aren't you?"

Dad had it covered already.  He had the XO be my Senior Rater.  I know that could have been questionable, but she was a real hard@ss and those were some of my toughest evaluations.

Happy Fathers' Day.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New Scoutmaster

I'm on a Boy Scout bend lately.  It is probably because I've been very heavily involved myself and it makes me think.

I was working with one of the ADC's last night and we were talking about helping a troop move on to a new Scoutmaster.  It made me think of how my Dad ended up becoming the Scoutmaster of Troop 881.

I told you in this post how Dad ended up at Pack 3881 and eventually Troop 881 as a scout.

Dad went away to join the USMC after High School.  He was not really available for a couple of years.  When he did come back he stopped in to the basement of the Irving Park Baptist Church to say hello to his old troop.

He found a group of boys doing scouting stuff, being led by their boy leaders.  What he didn't find was any adults.  There was not one adult there on that Friday.  I'm guessing this happened sometime after the Autumn of '64 since that would have been when he was already married and home to stay (when did he leave the Active Marines?).

Tony Baneshki (I'm sure I spelled that wrong, would someone please write in and help me with that?) was the SPL (Senior Patrol Leader) at the time and he told Dad that their Scoutmaster had just quit.

Dad volunteered on the spot. 

He would have been only 22 at the time, a mere boy himself.  Back then they didn't have Youth Protection or Two Deep Leadership like they do today (and have since the late 80s).  A single adult could lead a troop, and so he did.

I have heard Dad say he was sure he learned more from Tony than he taught him.  In a few short years Tony would do everything for his Eagle and leave for the USMC himself.  Tony's paperwork got lost in the shuffle and he ended up not actually being presented his Eagle Scout award until 1983 when he, Jac Charlier and I were all presented it together.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Just Who Do You Think You Are?

Pre-Leave No Trace I guess
Something today reminded me of this story.  I think my Dad told this to me once, and I'm not sure if I got it right, but I don't think there is anyone around who was actually there so I don't think anyone can call me on this.

When I was young we used to make up our own skits for Boy Scouts.  We had an electric campfire that we brought out at the end of each Friday night scout meeting and we gathered around to sing songs and do a skit.

I remember one that we did that had something to do with the Space Shuttle.

Anyway, I guess we weren't the first scouts of troop 881 to do this.  Back in the day when Dad was a youth they did it too.

Once, when Dad was the Senior Patrol Leader (SPL, or for those unfamiliar with the Boy Scouts, the person who actually runs the meetings and leads the troop, the Scoutmaster is supposed to only be there as a guide) the boys in the troop wrote a special skit.

The skit started out with some young boys being roughed up by some older boys.  A rather large boy ran in and fought the older boys until they ran off.  Then the whole scene repeated with the heroic boy jumping in to save the young boys. 

Finally on the third rescue one of the boys asked the gallant champion, "Who do you think you are, Superman?"

The stalwart lad replied, arms akimbo, "No, I'm Bill La Fleur!"

I understand Harcus got a real kick out of that.

I guess he should have had one of these.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Another Anniversary. What Do You Mean Down?

As I sit here with my bad knee up, and thinking about Dad's anniversary I am reminded of our 1981 trip to the Great Smokey Mountains portion of the Appalachian Trail.

In 1981 Dad was 39, seven years younger than I am now, but he too suffered from a bad knee that year. That combined with a bad experience he had on the 1971 attempt at the same trip made him take up a particular strategy for the '81 trip.

In '81 Dad and Rich Zeremba were the two adults and there were seven scouts, Jac Charlier, Dave McCormick, Don Cotar, Shawn, Ken Klusendorf, Myles and me. I was the Senior Patrol Leader, but we were all very seasoned, experienced, expert campers.

Dad's strategy was to hang back with Z, be the last ones to leave camp each day, and to be the last into camp each evening. We had no problem with this as we had a crack crew and a great youth leader (me) with a plan (duty roster).

We young bucks loved to stop for a rest and as soon as the adults reached us on the trial, we would hop up and rush off. I rarely saw Dad on the trail.

One day as they we were hiking along we passed a Ranger who was doing some sort of ranger-y things in the National Park. I remember I didn't pay him much mind, but when Dad reached him they had been having a rather rough day. It was one of our longer days and it seemed like we were hitting several peaks.

Leaning wearily on his hiking staff, and breating heavily, Dad asked the Ranger how far it was to the campsite. The Ranger said that it was only another couple of miles and not to worry because it was all, "basically down" to the camp.

It was five miles I think and when Dad and Z finally made it up the mountain to the top where our camp was he collapsed in the Adirondack shelter mumbling something about how, "Up" was the same as, "Basic Smokey Mountain Ranger, 'Down.'" From that day forward Dad used that phrase whenever he could.

We woke on our last day on the trail with only seven members in our shelter. Dad and Z were gone, and so were their packs and gear. This was very disturbing because we woke with the dawn. They must have left in the dark of night.

We quickly got ready and got on the road ("hit the bricks" as Dad would say) as soon as we possibly could.

I was hesitant and wanted to search around before we left, just in case, but the rest of the boys were determined to catch Dad and Z up before the end of the trail.

I was the last to leave that day.

Somewhere about halfway through the day's hiking Jac and Don caught up to the adults. They wouldn't let them pass. It seemed that my Dad was, despite being last every other day, and clearly the slowest member of our group (with his bum knee and all) determined to be the first to finish with whole length of the park.

Sure enough he was. I found him laying on the grass beside the road with his feet up and his shoes off. We had reached our pick up point about four hours ahead of schedule and with no way of alerting our Ground Support (Aunty Mae).

So, in the end the Ole Man put one over on us. He pulled a Kobiashi Maru and changed the rules of the game so he could win.

As the song says, Dad, "...cut a hole and pull me through." If anyone can, you can.