PRESS ON

Hughs Wordquilts

One of my most enjoyable activities while stationed in France with the US Army in the late 1950’s was participating in a Little Theater group. I played deputy File in “The Rainmaker.” We did so well with that production that we were offered an opportunity to travel to other BASEC Command posts with our next play, “The Hasty Heart.”

This story was set in a British military hospital in the Burmese jungle toward the end of WWII. A group of Allied soldiers had been there long enough to develop a strong bond. They felt challenged when a new patient, a Scot named Lachie, arrived. He seemed to be a picture of health, oblivious to the reality that sudden death from kidney failure loomed over him. The story revolved around the group bonding with Lachie only to have him lash out at them later when he learned he was dying. I…

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PRESS ON

One of my most enjoyable activities while stationed in France with the US Army in the late 1950’s was participating in a Little Theater group. I played deputy File in “The Rainmaker.” We did so well with that production that we were offered an opportunity to travel to other BASEC Command posts with our next play, “The Hasty Heart.”

This story was set in a British military hospital in the Burmese jungle toward the end of WWII. A group of Allied soldiers had been there long enough to develop a strong bond. They felt challenged when a new patient, a Scot named Lachie, arrived. He seemed to be a picture of health, oblivious to the reality that sudden death from kidney failure loomed over him. The story revolved around the group bonding with Lachie only to have him lash out at them later when he learned he was dying. I played the role of the hospital doctor, Lt. Col. Dunn, who had to tell Lachie the truth about his condition.

Our cast included nine men and a woman who got to know each other as we traveled and worked together. One man especially stands out in my memory. His name was John, and he was an Englishman who fittingly played a British soldier. He told us about being orphaned as a child during the German Blitzkrieg. We felt with him the fear that had surged through his body every time air raid sirens sounded, and the earth quaked under bombardment. John revealed some of the emotional baggage he still carried. He also talked about the positive ways strangers in the shelters helped him cope when his parents died. When I knew him, John was serving in the United States Army to search out who he was and where he “belonged.” It was a search for peace and hope in the “new normal” of the postwar world.

I have traveled to Britain twice in my life. The first time as a GI on leave, short on money, looking for a way to get through five days until my prepaid flight back to France. The challenge was to stretch twenty dollars to cover meals and lodging while I took in the city of London and its culture. On the train from the airport I shared my dilemma with a member of the Scots Guards who gave me tips on places I should see. One of those was Queen Elizabeth’s birthday parade at Buckingham Palace. He also took me with him to the Union Jack, a British serviceman’s club where I got a room with a hot bath and one meal a day for sixty-five cents a night. I learned the Brits have an expression they use when facing a tough challenge. They say, “Press on.”

That phrase seems tailor-made for all of us in these days during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Frequently I have heard references to World War II as people react to the current upheaval that has turned our everyday life upside down. Thankfully, we’re not dodging Blitzkrieg bombs, but we distance ourselves from others, wear face masks, constantly wash our hands, and use sanitizers to prevent the spread of an illness that kills as surely as bombs falling from the sky.

Millions among us have lost jobs and incomes overnight. Businesses have closed from coast to coast, many unable to rebound. Fear is drilled into us daily by non-stop news speculations, and political reactivity. Dedicated health care providers in overcrowded hospitals endure the pressure of long, grueling hours, and constant losses among their patients. Combined with it all is the daily struggle to find essential, but often scarce, supplies. We want to somehow normalize life and feel ourselves standing on solid ground again.

During these months I have thought back to John, a frightened child in a war-torn city, struggling as an adult to make sense out of the imponderable. As a child he learned to “press on.” He was still doing it during our Little Theater days. Nowadays I feel a fresh bond with him as “pressing on” becomes my own reality.

In “The Hasty Heart,” a group of men had their comfort zone threatened by the arrival of a brash Scottish soldier. Tension ensued, then eased, only to be refueled later when he felt the group had betrayed him with false friendship. It was an act of kindness from one of the men, a Burmese native who could not speak English, that softened the Scot’s heart. Somehow that crew pressed on, learning to embrace someone they’d once feared and denied. The play ended with Lachie joining the others in a group photograph, symbolic of the transcendent bond that prevailed despite the pressures threatening to unravel it.

In this day of the COVID-19 virus, we each face the need to “press on,” resisting the corrupting power of fear. We need to bond with each other beyond the level of divisive rhetoric so we can affirm hope through a shared belief that the last word is one of Goodness from the soul of our Creator.

Goodness does prevail. To find it we must, despite all forces to the contrary, grow together in the power of love, trust, faith and hope.

Press on.

Go Forward with Faith

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Today would have been my parents’ 85th wedding anniversary. They were married in her parents’ Cincinnati home at 4:30 the afternoon of May 5, 1935. Their entrance into adulthood was marked by the 1929 stock market crash and its aftermath. Although things were tough, they seemed unfazed by it all. Dad was a salesman with no job security, changing employment frequently. Mom was the secretary in a coal company’s local office. They launched their life together with a combined weekly income of thirty-nine dollars.

Following a brief out-of-town visit with his parents, using a borrowed car, Hubert and Mary “came home” to a third-floor apartment accessed by a rickety, self-operated cargo elevator. Ever romantic, Mom called it “Seventh Heaven,” quoting the title of a popular song. As I wrote in my book, “When Love Prevails” (Kindle Books), despite all the uncertainty, “life was new. They could do anything–they had each other. And, so they did, for 64 years until Dad’s death in 1999.

The love my parents shared, and the love of God they came to experience richly, took them through a roller-coaster of ups and downs that stamped their lives with eternal blessings. The Great Depression was a horrendous time in our nation. Somehow it tempered them for what they would endure: World War II, the birth of two handicapped children and the challenges they presented, a physical move to another state, the surgical correction of their daughter’s heart condition, and the founding of a residential school for severely physically handicapped, but mentally alert, young adults. The latter was a positive adaptation to their cerebral palsied son’s extreme challenges. They found deep faith through adversity. It sustained them through an emerging future filled with unknowns.

Today, we are immersed in another time of disruptive uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a time of restricted social interactions, massive job losses, small business vulnerability, and huge health uncertainty. Our inner resources and outward responses seem tested to the limit. No one knows how or when this virus will dissipate and the pandemic end. All we know is what exists in our personal reality one moment at a time.

As I write this, background cries abound to end the lock down, reopen businesses, and get things back to “normal.” Contrasted with those cries are the statistics that continue to mount with evolving COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Nobody knows what “normal” will look like from here forward, but we can know this: the way to go through this time is to move forward with faith. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes offers wisdom that enables us to grasp the uncertainties of life with faith that sustains the soul. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He goes on to name a world of compromising opposites which, when embraced with faith, bring completeness and blessings. There is balance and healing in his wisdom.

In this time of social and personal turmoil we would do well to move forward, not with fear, but with faith.

 

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.