2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

You Are Never Too Old To Achieve Your Dream

Sir Winston Churchill

What goals do you have for 2015? Go ahead, take a few seconds to think about the question. What’s that? You think you are too old or it is too late for you to do your dreams?

I’ve listed several examples of men and women who didn’t believe they were too old to go for and achieve their dreams. They went for it. They achieved their dreams.

“The world stands aside,” said David Jordan, “to let anyone pass who knows where he is going.” This applies to those, who learn where they are going late in life as well as for the young.

At 40, James Michener published his first book. He authored more than 50 titles – 26 historical fiction novels, 31 nonfiction books, and 13 of his works were adapted into TV mini series or made into movies.

At age 53, Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female prime minister.

At 65, Winston Churchill became British prime minister for the first time and started the epic struggle against Hitler. Churchill received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 at age 79 for his many published works, especially his six-volume set The Second World War. He wrote the six volume set when he was in his 70’s without any help or ghost writers. The photo is of Sir Winston Churchill.

At 69, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States. He served two terms. He was 77 years old when he completed his second term in office.

At 70 and again at 80 and 90, former President of the USA George H.W. Bush parachuted out of an airplane.

At 72, Golda Meir became prime minister of Israel.

At 75, Ed Delano of California bicycled 3100 miles in 33 days to attend his 50th college reunion in Worcester, Massachusetts.

At 80, Grandma Moses, who had started painting in her late 70s, had her first one-woman show.

At 80, Winston Churchill returned to the House of Commons as a member of parliament and exhibited 62 of his paintings.

At 81, Benjamin Franklin skillfully mediated between disagreeing factions at the U. S. Constitutional Convention.

At 96, George C. Selbach scored a 110-yard hole-in-one at Indian River, Michigan.

On his 100th birthday, ragtime pianist Eubie Blake exclaimed, “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”

How about you? Have you slowed down, packed it in, given up, and checked out? If I know the Father, I know that He has something wonderful still in store for you! It’s never too late. Why don’t you call God up and ask Him what that might be. His number is Jeremiah 33:3 “Call upon Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know!”

Picture Source:
Churchill V sign HU 55521.jpg This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain. This is because it is one of the following: 1) It is a photograph created by the United Kingdom Government and taken prior to 1 June 1957; or 2) It was commercially published prior to 1961; or 3) It is an artistic work other than a photograph or engraving (e.g. a painting) which was created by the United Kingdom Government prior to 1961.

Unsung Eagles: True Stories of America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II by Jay Stout

Jay Stout has written a fine book about the citizen of airman of World War II. This is an oral history instead of a traditional history. It is the remembrances of the ordinary men who answered the call of their country.

Reading the book reminded me of sitting at my local coffee shop and listening to the old timers tell the stories of their youth when they served the USA. It doesn’t give you the global, geopolitical strategies or the military master plan. Instead you get snap shots of the young men as you put their piece of the puzzle into the larger picture. It helps to see the bigger picture a little more clearly from the average airman’s point of view.

“Unsung Eagles: True Stories of America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II” by Jay Stout. The publisher is Casemate Publishing. It is enjoyable, easy reading, and well worth the purchase price. Well done!

Living in Military Housing

Officer Housing Fort Lewis, Washington
Officer Housing Fort Lewis, Washington

I experienced living in military housing from the 1950’s through the late 1970’s. My experience was two-fold. I lived in non-commissioned officers quarters as a military dependent on three United States Air Force Bases. I also lived in officer’s quarters as an adult serving as a company grade officer on active duty.

If you don’t think military housing is important consider a statistic provided by military.com. Their research shows a fifteen percent higher re-enlistment rate on installations with high-quality and newer housing than locations with lower-quality housing.

I loved living on-base as a dependent and on-post when on active duty. Military housing offers a tight–knit community. Housing is assigned by rank. What that generally means is if you’re a military brat you live in a neighborhood with kids your own age. You have an endless supply of playmates. As a service member you live in a community of people about the same the same age. You have lots of neighbors that are at the same stage of life that you are. It provides great support for spouses during deployments. You’ll have spouses nearby who are ready to help for your as you get settled into your new environment.

Another plus is maintenance. If something breaks it is fixed at minimal or no cost. When I served at Fort Lewis I just had to go pick up what I needed to fix a leaky faucet.

While you may not have as much privacy as you wish, with your commanding officer and company members living next door or right around the corner, the benefits greatly offset the negatives in my experience. Also, the yards were held to high standards. They were mowed and trimmed weekly or you got in trouble.

The best part as a military brat was the neighborhood kids. I could always find someone with whom to play ball. The facilities on base/post were awesome. Libraries, swimming pools, scouts, dances, and a very safe environment made growing up fun.

Christmas Bells

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

About “Christmas Bells”

“Christmas Bells” is a minor, yet well known, poem written by a very melancholy Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas morning in 1863 during the midst of the Civil War. It is anti-slavery poem as well as a seasonal favorite.

The poem was written six months after the battle of Gettysburg where 40,000 soldiers lost their life. In addition to despairing over the bloody war, Henry was also mourning the death of his beloved wife Fanny Appleton Longfellow. Fanny died in a tragic fire the same year that the Civil War broke out. In November of 1862 another personal tragedy added to his pain. His son, Union Lieutenant Charles Appleton, was wounded in the Army of the Potomac.

On Christmas morning in 1863, while sitting at his desk at the Craigie House in Cambridge, MA, Henry was inspired to write a poem as he listened to the church bells pealing. Their constancy and joyous ringing inspired him to write “Christmas Bells.” In spite of his sadness, Longfellow expresses his belief in God and innate optimism that indeed:

God is not dead; nor doth he sleep
The Wrong shall fail;
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

Sometime after 1872 Longfellow’s poem was adapted into a Christmas Carol. John B. Caulkin (1827-1905) was a famous English composer who set the lyrics to a gentle, melodic tune which is reminiscent of bells ringing. The carol is entitled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Alternative tunes have been written for the lyrics but Caulkin’s melody remains predominant.

I lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1966 – 1967. I was in the seventh and eighth grade. My father was in the United States Air Force at the time. As a student at Portsmouth Junior High School I took field trips to both Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Longfellow was a Bowdoin College graduate and was a faculty member before moving to Cambridge to teach at Harvard. We placed great emphasis when I was in junior high school on a classical education with understanding and appreciation of the arts including poetry.

Originally posted on December 22, 2012.

Christmas – Military Brat Style

Lionel "Southern Express" Electric Train
Lionel “Southern Express” Electric Train

1959 is the first Christmas I can remember. Just six years old my family lived in Glendale, Arizona.

Did I ever go to my paternal grandmother’s house for Christmas? No. I never did that, I can remember.

Did I ever go to my maternal grandparents’ home for Christmas? No. I did not that I can recall. We never exchanged gifts or ate Christmas dinner with extended family.

The closest thing I can remember about a visit to relatives was in December 1963. My father was in Vietnam on a one-year tour of duty. Mother, brother, and I visited my mother’s parents between Christmas and New Year, but not for the holiday.

My first experience with an extended family Christmas celebration was when I was dating my wife. In 1972, I celebrated with her and her parents on Christmas Eve. A feast covered the tables and aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and nieces were there. There weren’t any nephews yet. It was the most wonderful Norman Rockwell type of setting I had ever seen or could ever imagine. I fell in love with her family’s tradition. That’s another story for another time.

Ten years early, this time living on Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, I had a wonderful Christmas memory. My family always took a walk through the neighborhood on Christmas Eve. Living on military bases allowed us to knock on neighbor’s doors and sing Jingle Bells, The First Noël, and Silent Night. When we returned home, Santa had always visited.

This year he brought my brother and me an electric train set. Delivery of the train occurred somehow between the time we left the house and returned with set up on a table with landscaping, and ready to run. You could turn off the room’s light and see the light from the Lionel Electric Train. The train even had steam come out the smoke stack. It was the best present ever!

I played with that train until I married. The last time I saw it, I helped store it in my dad’s attic just before I married. The train traveled many a mile with me to three more duty stations and then to the retirement destination. On my father’s meager pay as a Technical Sergeant of $325 a month plus another $105 a month hazardous duty pay, we lived well.


Poem: Live in the Now

My mother died Sunday evening, December 14, 2014. We buried her on Saturday, December 20, 2014 in the family cemetery. Graves near hers include her parents, grandparents, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Mother would have turned 83 years old in February.

For most of my life, I heard mom and daddy dream of moving back to Gonzales County Texas where mother grew up. I heard daddy say her siblings and family were as beloved to him than his brothers and sisters. In the 1980’s they purchased property in the county that was near family. They planned to move.

A diagnosis in 1983 of kidney problems ambushed mother. I still remember the phone call. She was scared. She told me she had received her death sentence. She shared if she didn’t get with the program the doctor recommended they thought she might make ten years at the longest. She was only 50 years-old. She mentioned the doctor said dialysis and a kidney transplant were in her future.

I listened. We prayed. Her concern that the doctor recommended she stay in the Dallas area for the healthcare that was available troubled her. She wanted to move back home when dad retired.

Dad retired in 1988. Mother continued to follow the doctor’s orders. By the early 1990’s she was on serious medication for her kidneys. Her self-discipline was amazing. She still dreamed of getting well enough to move back home.

In the early 2000’s her kidney health continued to decline. I was well in the loop by now taking her to the doctor appointments many times as dad was already in his mid 70’s. In 2003 or 2004 they added her to the awaiting transplant list. There were almost 800 ahead of her on the list just in Dallas County Texas.

She continued to take medications. The daily number of pills taken were in the multiple dozens by now. She still wanted to move back home. I recall her dreaming of maybe after the transplant she would be able to get back to Gonzales County. She fought avoiding going on the dreaded dialysis. Somehow she kept her numbers where she never had to receive that treatment.

In March 2011, she was knocking on death’s door when a miracle of miracles, she had the kidney transplant. She had some issues like a bad heart beat but got that regulated. With the transplant, she came back to life. The next three years were like a miracle. Her strength and vitality returned. She felt chained to the Dallas Transplant Institute having to make multiple follow-up trips each month. This kept her from moving to her beloved Gonzales County.

In October 2014, she started going downhill health-wise. November found her in the hospital for most of the month. By Thanksgiving, she moved to a skilled nursing care facility. There she remained until transported to the hospital on the evening of December 11, 2014.  Her last words to my father were I love you.

In the hospital ICU, a ventilator did her breathing. As I saw her shortly before she took her last breath I got to hold her hand, kiss her forehead, tell her I love her and pass on my father’s last words to her. He said tell her he loved her and to thank her for sharing her life with him.

Mother is now back in Gonzales County now. My 88-year-old father’s comment as we crossed the county line heading back home was this has always felt like home. I love her family. In the not too distant future, I’ll be joining her in our beloved Gonzales County.

I thought of the below poem I wrote a several years ago. If you have dreams, go for them. Don’t delay. You never know when the time will run out.

We Never Lived In the Now

Your face shows your age,
though your countenance is still glowing.
Your age says grown-up,
but you’ve never decided where you’re going.

You’ve grown older.
Yes, I’m older too.
The remainder of our lives is before us,
oh, what’ll we do?

What were the dreams
you had so long ago?
What was your vision?
Where did it go?

You traveled your way.
I went mine.
A history so different,
yet lives intertwined.

The gray now shows in our locks,
showing how much we cared.
Your grin still lights my life,
my smile brightens yours when shared.

You lived for then.
I lived for when.
We never lived in the moment.
No we never lived in the now.

Copyright © 2008 by Jimmie A. Kepler
Originally published in WORDS..RHYMES..POETRY & PROSE!

The poem is included in the book “Gone Electric: A Poetry Collection” available on Kindle from Amazon.

The Devil’s General: The Life of Hyazinth Strachwitz -The Panzer Graf by Raymond Bagdonas

I enjoyed reading Raymond Bagdonas’ book “The Devil’s General: The Life of Hyazinth Strachwitz -The Panzer Graf”. If you are looking for a scholarly tome on the life of Hyazinth Strachwitz you will be disappointed. Against the backdrop of events in Germany and Europe from the early days of his education through the thirty-year period World War One, the interwar years, World War Two, and ending with his life after the war the author tells the story of Hyazinth Strachwitz and the units he served in and lead. I really liked the description of the post-First World War life of the aristocracy and their adaptability to the interwar and changes under Hitler.

While the conclusions drawn in some areas, like why he joined the SS, were general and without scholarly documentation, the author used sound logic based on available information in making these assumptions. The author takes the reader from Hyazinth Strachwitz’s early family history, education World War I, the interwar years to the invasion of Poland, to France and then Romania and Yugoslavia are just prelude to World War II on the Eastern Front.

Beginning with Operation Babarossa and continuing through the battles of Dubno, Uman, Nikolayev, Kiev, Kalach we see the leadership of Hyazinth Strachwitz in action with the Panzers. The journey continues down the road to Stalingrad, his promotion to Colonel and regimental commander in the Grossdeutschland Division. Battles at Kharkov, the plot to kill Adolph Hitler, Operations Citadel and Strachwitz and the battles of Kursk, Tukum and Germany. He surrendered to the US forces in May 1945.

We learned that Hyazinth Strachwitz was held as a prisoner June 1947. We learn his wife was run over and killed by an American truck. We see him move to Syria to work with the Syrian military, then go to Italy, and finally return to Germany in 1951 where he lived until dying of lung cancer in 1968.

While the book isn’t a scholarly treatment of Hyazinth Strachwitz, it is an important work that documents his actions and gives great insights into the use of the panzers on the eastern front.

“The Devil’s General: The Life of Hyazinth Strachwitz -The Panzer Graf” by Raymond Bagdonas. The publisher is Casemate Publishing.

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams is about being a young female in the US Army and her deployment to Iraq for a year with the 101st Airborne.

Kayla Williams was an Arabic linguist. Thirty-four years ago, I came off active duty as an US Army officer. Ms. Williams’s book made me reflect back to all the women soldiers I worked with, lead, and knew.

This is a good military memoir. While grit and rough language are on almost every page, what shines through is an intelligent young woman serving her country and putting up with all a woman experiences in the military. It appears little has change since back in my day.

We learn of her role as an Arabic linguist. She tells us how she feels her skills could have been used better with direct contact with the population as oppose to routine intelligence gathering. Particularly interesting are her experiences with leadership while in Iraq as well as her questioning the war in Iraq’s day-to-day conduct without looking at the logic and underlying rationale.

On the light side – her tale of the birth control glasses is funny, but true. Put those military black-framed Drew Carey or Woody Allen styled glasses on any man or woman and instantly they are effective birth control. Why? They make people unattractive thus scaring off members of the opposite sex. It is a book worth reading.

Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq by Lt. Col. R. Alan King

While serving as a senior civil-military advisor in Baghdad, U.S. Army Lt. Col. R. Alan King disarmed several potentially dangerous situations with a weapon few members of the Coalition Provisional Authority possessed: quotations from the Qur’ran.Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq begins as the first American forces in Iraq in April 2003. King’s civil affairs unit acted as liaison between the military, civil authorities, and the local population.

It was a job with extraordinary challenges – in the early days of the occupation, various Iraqi exiles returned to Baghdad to declare themselves mayor or sheriff, and tempers flared during the endless summer power outages. But King found success through bringing faith to the battlefield. He estimates that he met with over 3,000 sheiks, praying with them and asking for their help to rebuild Iraq. Those relationships earned him a reputation for fairness and respect for Islam that led several people on the “most-wanted” list to seek him out and surrender to him personally. He even met with Muhammad Saeedal-Sahaf, a.k.a. “Baghdad Bob”, the former Iraqi Minister of Information.

King also writes with pain at the memory of close friends who were killed in combat, both from his battalion and the Iraqis who worked with them, and he reflects with frustration on dealings with military bureaucracy and critical blunders that cost him some of that hard-earned trust.

R. Alan King was awarded two Bronze Stars for Valor, two Bronze Stars for achievement, and the Combat Action Badge. He is an active reserve member of the U.S. Army, and returned from his most recent service in Iraq in October 2007. He has appeared on NBC, CNN, Fox News, and other networks as a military commentator.

Twice Armed won the 2008 Colby Award, which recognizes a first work of fiction or non-fiction that has made a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of intelligence operations, military history or international affairs. Named for the late Ambassador and former CIA Director William E. Colby, the Colby Award has been presented annually by the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium at Norwich University, the nation’s oldest private military college, since 1999.