We Can Do This

Hughs Wordquilts

IMG_5189-001Sixty-two years ago, in 1958, a flu epidemic surged through France where I was stationed at the U. S. Army’s 319th Station Hospital, part of the Bussac General Depot. Fear and adverse speculations made their way among the troops, but so did determination–especially at the 319th.

While our active capacity was small, we had 750 beds in storage at another location. We were fully staffed, and fully functional. Every Saturday we had mandatory classes that covered everything from military disciplines through medical procedures and protocols. Periodically, we moved out on bivouac to train in a field hospital setting. It was all done in keeping with the Army’s SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures). As an information specialist, my job was, among other things, to set up and carry out those classes.

When the flu hit, it was harsh and widespread. Fortunately, a lot of planning had already been done. We brought in…

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We Can Do This

IMG_5189-001

Sixty-two years ago, in 1958, a flu epidemic surged through France where I was stationed at the U. S. Army’s 319th Station Hospital, part of the Bussac General Depot. Fear and adverse speculations made their way among the troops, but so did determination–especially at the 319th.

While our active capacity was small, we had 750 beds in storage at another location. We were fully staffed, and fully functional. Every Saturday we had mandatory classes that covered everything from military disciplines through medical procedures and protocols. Periodically, we moved out on bivouac to train in a field hospital setting. It was all done in keeping with the Army’s SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures). As an information specialist, my job was, among other things, to set up and carry out those classes.

When the flu hit, it was harsh and widespread. Fortunately, a lot of planning had already been done. We brought in tents and equipment to set up an emergency hospital operation. Every summer an engineer battalion from Germany set up in a field adjacent to the 319th. We used that space to set up a field full of ward tents as much-needed overflow after we exhausted space in the hospital, service club, and gymnasium. 

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The impact was heavy. Every unit on post was forced to scale back as hundreds of soldiers fell ill. I was temporarily reassigned to work with a team at R&U (Repair and Utility).  Our job was to maintain the tents, generators, and heating system (it was cold weather). This involved long hours with few breaks. The task looked overwhelming, but we tackled it with an attitude: We Can Do This.

I don’t recall now whether we had any deaths from the Asian Flu, but I do remember it felt a lot like the current atmosphere with the COVID-19 Corona Virus. Our resources were taxed, and people poured constant energy into meeting the crisis. One day at a time, it all got done. 

COVID-19 is certainly more devastating and deadly that was the Asian Flu, and what we have now is a pandemic rather than an epidemic. Our community hospitals, medical personnel, and equipment will run short at the apex of the pandemic, but we CAN do this. One thing we have available is our military medical resources who are already trained, equipped, and mobile. They can take the edge off the anxiety that currently plagues us. We need to use them.

 

Fantasy Squadron

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As Veteran’s Day approaches, I remember my late “Uncle Shorty.” When the United States entered World War II, he answered his country’s call to military service. After basic training, the Army sent him to Officer’s Candidate School. Ninety days later he emerged as a second lieutenant preparing to ship out to the Pacific where he would lead an infantry platoon into some zone of hell he had yet to imagine.

Just as he stepped off the gangplank onto a troopship, he received new orders to report to the Pentagon where he spent the rest of the war writing training manuals. He finished with the rank of captain. I had another uncle who fought in North Africa, and another who served in the merchant marine service, but I didn’t see them much. Uncle Shorty was more visible because he served in the States and came home on furlough frequently.

So, Uncle Shorty wasn’t a war hero–but he was my hero. When I asked what he was doing to win the war, he would tell me he was “squirting ink” at the enemy. I was only eight when the war ended, so my imagination was fired up about what he must have been doing. By the way, his name wasn’t really “Shorty”–it was Elmer, after his father, but he didn’t like that name, so he went by “Bud.” I called him Uncle Shorty because he always called me “Shorty.” It was just a little transfer of identity between us.

After the war, many kid’s dads in my Cincinnati neighborhood came home and gave some of their military paraphernalia, such as sergeant’s stripes or a lieutenant’s bar, to their kids. During recess at Clifton School, we boys would spread our arms as though wings of an airplane, then run around the schoolyard like a fantasy squadron in combat. We would say “rat-a-tat-tat” in pretend dog fights shooting each other down. The kid whose dad had the highest rank was the squadron leader.

Now, my dad wasn’t in the military during the war. He was a supervisor on an assembly line at the Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant. We lived in Blue Ash just outside Cincinnati where there was a small airport whose runway ended behind our house.

I recall the scream when one of the Helldivers did demonstration dives at the airport, and another time when they brought in a B-25 bomber for a demonstration. It seemed like the pilot taxied almost into our back yard, then turned the plane, held it with his brakes while revving the engines to full throttle before thundering down the runway and into the air. I can still remember how the ground shook with the vibration of those revved-up twin engines.

By the time the war ended, we had moved back into the city, which is how I came to attend Clifton School. I soon found I had a problem with the squadrons in the schoolyard. Since my dad hadn’t been in the military, I had no rank insignia, so I was excluded from the flying aces during recess–that is until I talked to Uncle Shorty. Being a pretty quick study, he picked up on the problem right away.

Soon afterward he sent me a gift, an Army garrison cap with captain’s bars. Wearing that insignia on the school playground the next day gave me a chance to lead a fantasy squadron of my own.

 

Duty-Honor-Country

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It was half-a-century ago. World War II was behind us, and the Korean Conflict had hit the history books. What was current was something called the COLD WAR. The world was rife with daily tensions between the United States and the USSR. The atom bomb that ended the war in the Pacific had morphed into an ever-escalating race to develop increasingly volatile nuclear weapons and defense systems.

Diplomatic “brinkmanship” prevailed in international relations. Everyday life seemed to go along as usual, but fearful anxiety was ever-present under the surface. One of the first tests in this tension was the Berlin Airlift. The Air Force flew humanitarian supplies into East Berlin over the wall that had been created to keep the free world out.

The U.S. kept a standing army poised for combat in Germany. A command known as “COM-Z” provided logistical support for those troops. Within that command was another known as “BASEC,” which stood for “base-section.” That’s where I served for two years at the Army’s 319th Station Hospital at Bussac General Depot in France.

Military life during the Cold War was a mixture of routine and readiness. I recall times when we moved out in convoy to set up a field hospital for several days of combat training exercises. One “alert” was different in 1958 when President Eisenhower sent a contingent of Marines into Beirut, Lebanon. Ordinance for that operation was shipped from Bussac by the trainload.

We had a motto during the Cold War that stood at the heart of who we were as United States troops: “Duty-Honor-County.” Those three words were central to our mission and bespoke a positive thread that laced our lives together at home and abroad. As a Cold War veteran, I have a license plate bracket on my car with those words. Every day I am reminded how essential that slogan was, and still needs to be, at the center of our national life.

Today wars and political incidents test our resolve to stand for freedom in a world where it is always threatened. It troubles me that we don’t stand with a central slogan like duty, honor, country binding us together, undergirding our society. Instead, we seem to have drifted into suspicion, distrust, bullying, and tribalism. Such does not strengthen us. It pulls apart the fabric of our national welfare.

“Duty” suggests a responsibility to contribute to the common good. We each pitch in and do our part. It isn’t all about “me.” It’s all about “us,” at our best, seeking the best for others. It makes our differences secondary to a sense of community. It allows for individuation without cut-offs. It’s a lofty ideal much in sync with the founding principles of our nation.

“Country” is our unique sense of place, nationhood, traditions, beliefs, and vision. We value patriotism, loyalty to our principles, and commitment to the common good. We are “Americans” first and foremost, and we pull together to resolve problems and enhance life for generations yet to come.

These are just a few thoughts to sprinkle over the mix of crucial challenges requiring us to be consciously grounded in ideals that transcend the muddled fray of tension that engulfs us. The first Cold War officially ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the reunification of Germany. Tensions, however, have continued to fester. Today it appears we are engaged in another COLD WAR, with nuclear threats, diplomatic leveraging, and challenges to individual and national integrity.

Perhaps in such a time we should dial-up again that motto, “Duty-Honor-Country” to keep ourselves grounded in the promise America offers at its best.

 

The Urgency of the Awesome

Hughs Wordquilts

68751972_1081560372035314_3139446971106852864_nRecently my brother, who lives in the Shenandoah Valley, sent pictures online of wind damage to our family’s homeplace. Trees were down, others still standing but split into pieces. Debris was everywhere.

My first thought was, this is an old family photo, probably from a time after I had left home (Jim is twelve years younger than I). It seemed like an awesome occurrence I should have remembered, so I texted him, “When was this? I don’t recall mom and dad ever mentioning it.”

“Yesterday,” came the reply.

That surprised me. Although I don’t pay close attention to weather reports, I do watch the news on TV and read the newspaper every morning. It seemed like this surely would have been reported.

Jim texted me again, “It was a microburst.”

“What’s that?”

“Straight-line winds in a thunderstorm.”

It was a new term to me, so I checked it out…

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The Urgency of the Awesome

68751972_1081560372035314_3139446971106852864_n

Recently my brother, who lives in the Shenandoah Valley, sent pictures online of wind damage to our family’s homeplace. Trees were down, others still standing but split into pieces. Debris was everywhere.

My first thought was, this is an old family photo, probably from a time after I had left home (Jim is twelve years younger than I). It seemed like an awesome occurrence I should have remembered, so I texted him, “When was this? I don’t recall mom and dad ever mentioning it.”

“Yesterday,” came the reply.

That surprised me. Although I don’t pay close attention to weather reports, I do watch the news on TV and read the newspaper every morning. It seemed like this surely would have been reported.

Jim texted me again, “It was a microburst.”

“What’s that?”

“Straight-line winds in a thunderstorm.”

It was a new term to me, so I checked it out. Wikipedia informs me that a microburst is “a downdraft caused by a thunderstorm or a rain shower.” High winds plunge straight down from the cloud bottom, then burst outward in all directions when they hit the ground. Next comes a cushion stage where the wind velocity dissipates. Damages can cover up to two-and-a-half miles.

While the term was new to me, I found it not to be so uncommon when checking the history of this weather phenomenon. I found a listing of 18 incidents attributed either to microbursts or storms that included microbursts and tornadoes. They covered a period from 1989 through 2019, affecting aircraft, buildings, businesses, homes, highways, vehicular damage, injuries, and death. Microbursts can also compromise wind flow across the wings of aircraft in flight, causing the engines to stall.

One incident in June 2010, involved damages from 75 mph winds in Charlottesville, Virginia. Another in July 1012, occurred the Fredericksburg area. Most recently, a microburst caused a crane to topple onto an apartment building in Dallas, Texas this summer.

So, I wonder, how is it I’ve been unaware of microbursts? Could it be that in an era when the internet has shrunken our sense of the world’s vastness, we no longer notice the small things? Perhaps terms like “awesome” and “newsworthy” are reserved for events affecting huge, sweeping damages.

Whatever the case, this was one microburst that hit home for me. In my consciousness, microbursts will never again be swallowed up in the urgency of the awesome clamoring for a loftier audience.

 

Return to Sanity

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We need a return to sanity at the heart of our national life. I believe the majority of Americans are decent, hard-working, honest people who honor their country’s values of freedom and justice for all. We make mistakes and learn from them. We seek the good in others, rather than scold them as bad people, or fear them because of differences of race, belief, or place of origin.

We live our daily lives within the context of conflicting pressures that often test our patience and perseverance. We admire the sentiments engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, inviting those who are torn, weary, and desperate to a place among us. We are proud of our country and want it to stand on the high ground among the nations of the world.

That is not to deny the presence of intolerance, greed, self-aggrandizement, criminal exploitation, snobbishness, disrespect for others, and violence among us. In recent years these characteristics have come to dominate much of our conversation, and our presence in the world. Trust has disappeared. Decency has faded. Tribalism threatens to destroy the very fabric America has always represented. We must practice government “of, by, and for the people,” not a form of regressive feudalism.

It is abhorrent that we have allowed a president and his cadre of pirates to raid and trash our nation’s honor. We must restore respect to the office of the president. We must repair the brokenness he has wrought. The rights and humanity of all persons must be recognized from the Executive Branch, down. Trust and honor must overshadow political favoritism. The principle of innocence until proven guilty must be central.

Regardless of political affiliation, our nation needs a centrist approach that embraces the lives and destinies of all our citizens.