Thoughts, observations, sea stories and ideas from a former sailor and lifelong rancher
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Just life stuff
Yes indeed, I have been casting a mighty small internet shadow of late. As I write this I'm not even sure when my last blog post was. As it turns out, I can check. It were October 10, so 18 days ago.
So a couple of things. I started a new winter job which is a night job at a cornvenience store. I used to work nights a lot, and I always liked working nights. This winter I will have something to do other than sit on my fundament eating bonbons and complaining about everything, and extra money will magically appear in my banque account.
By the by, there've been a surprising number of folks horrified by my decision to take employment in a position which is so, so beneath my station. That puzzled me for a bit, but then I realized (was reminded?) that there are a lot of people in the world who see their fellows as objects rather than as real, live, people. Objects are for using and manipulating and categorizing, and a great many people simply cannot abide having independent and self aware objects in their lives.
But I digress.
As it turns out, I am not quite the same fellow I recall from my youthful days of working nights. Or perhaps I am, and I've simply developed a selective memory regarding the impact of fatigue and disrupted circadian rhythms.
Either way, switching to a night-based existence has been a bit of a challenge. A complicating factor has been my assignment to the occasional 3-11 shift, necessitated by staffing disruptions at the store.
Be that as it may, the shifts have begun to steady out and I've managed to shift my biorhythms in the right direction.
So it's been a bit of a challenge. As for my online presence, I was in the process of pulling back from less salubrious aspects of the connected life anyway, and many days away from the interwebs and plugged into the local night realm has allowed me a lot of time to cogitate.
There's a lot of danger, I believe, in this electronic communication business. I know from my own experience that it can sing a siren song of egocentrism and lead me down the path of thinking that those I communicate with are, like the laptop screen, two dimensional constructs that cease to exist when I close the lid. To combat this danger, I need to take a more thoughtful and ethical approach to my interweb dealings.
I'm not entirely sure how I'll do this, but I'll figure it out.
After I get some sleep...
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Monday, October 9, 2017
See if you can guess...
...what my new winter job is.
Last year, of course, I was sitting on my ass with an infected heel bone. This year I am not.
Sunday was a gloriously lovely day across the southern Panhandle of Nebraska. It was seasonally cool at sunrise, with the temperature about 38 degrees and the air marvelously still.
I took a couple of pictures and a video of the sunrise. The video was taken with the whatsapp app on my phone for transmission to my farmer friends in Herefordshire. Thus the dialog.
In return, the farmer sent a short video of what he was busy doing at the same time. Because the Earth is a rotating sphere of a planet, and Herefordshire is located some 4,444 (or perhaps 4,439, depending on the tool you use) miles to the northeast, the local time there was 2 p.m., or seven hours ahead of Kimball. A perfect time of day to be harvesting apples.
Last week he was applying lime to his fields.
Which has little to do with sunrise, but is nevertheless interesting. Lime is added to increase soil pH. Soils tend to become acidic, you see, where lots of rain can leach alkaline compounds away.
Anyway, there I was, 24 hours after making a video of a glorious autumnal sunrise. Now I was making a video of an equally glorious, but very different, sunrise.
That's one of the plethora of things I love about life. I inhabit a dynamic world and live a dynamic life. Living a dynamic life is a choice, and that's an important concept. It's also important to understand that choosing to live a dynamic life is much easier for me than for most of my countrymen, as I was born into a rural ranching family. I was not born a city or townsman, so I don't have to find an excuse and corral a bunch of dollars and make time to visit nature. Nothing special about me, you understand, just my great good fortune in selecting the correct time and place to be born.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
I don't remember exactly how old I was, perhaps eight or nine, but I do remember the moment I realized that I didn't have to be afraid of the dark.
It was late in the evening. Late for a youngster with a firm bedtime closing in, anyway. I decided to go outside. Don't remember why, exactly, but possibly to extend the day's play just a bit longer.
It was cold out, and very, very dark. As it is out in the country in the Nebraska Panhandle. I walked around the outbuildings, feeling a shiver of fear as I did so. It was dark, probably overcast, and there was no moon, so I couldn't see well. Part of my mind insisted that there could be something lurking nearby, some kind of monster or wild animal or alien. Maybe a ghost or a bogeyman.
Another part of my mind insisted that there was nothing present in the night which wasn't present in the day. Sure, the darkness could be hiding something from my direct vision, but it likely was not. I also knew from experience and from science lessons in school the what and why (in an elementary sense) of night vision adaptation. My pupils dilated and I could see more and more. Before long I realized that I could see quite well. My hearing and sense of smell seemed to be heightened, too, and even my skin seemed to be more sensitive to the feel of vibrations in the night air.
In some ways it was a big moment, a moment of discovery and growth. I felt like I had learned an important lesson. It was in some sense a secret lesson, too, for in my experience humans tended to huddle away from darkness, leaving the outdoors at sunset and sheltering in a world of artificial light. An unspoken and perhaps unintended lesson had been learned from that behavior -- that darkness is to be avoided.
My exploration had revealed something quite unexpected. I'd discovered that the night is a lovely place, a place to be cherished and enjoyed.
Years later, when it came time to do naval night stuff, I was a bit more prepared than my peers. Many of them, I suspect, had a latent fear of the dark. I did not.
I was acquainted with the night. At some point I found that Robert Frost had managed to put some of my feeling about the night into lovely words.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I still love the night.
Nothing wrong with the day though. And the transition can be lovely.
There was a fellow giving away free pumpkins down at the Kwik Stop this morning. When I saw him standing on the corner, I thought at first that his sign read "free puppies." Which is why I stopped.
But no, it was free pumpkins.
Except they weren't free. He had a sob story about a sick baby. He was very well dressed and was driving a brand new Jeep with in transit tags. Color me skeptical.
In my world I try very hard to live by the first principle, that all mean are created equal, that none are better or worse than myself, that all men deserve my fundamental respect as fellow human beings.
Giving that respect is an important responsibility for me. It's not always an easy responsibility to exercise. Few people can just blithely ignore the sick baby story. We're all hardwired to protect babies, after all.
But the responsibility to respect my fellow man requires that I do so with vigorous honesty. When there's flimflam in the mix, I can't play the game. There's no way to play that game while still respecting the fundamental humanity of the player.
Just as this fellow was treating me as an object to be used to acquire money without working for it, I would be treating him as an object if I played his game. We would each be using the other as a means to an end, and not, as Kant suggests, as an end only.
I would be the means to putting money in his pocket, he would be the means to allowing me to feel wondermous about my wondermousness.
I briefly visited with the fellow. I was friendly and polite and wished him well. But I didn't play the game.
There's nothing wondermous about me for not playing the game. I merely met the basic standard of personal responsibility.
Friday, October 6, 2017
And today's sermon is...
Skip to the bottom for a great cockpit video.
I am not a religious personage, nor am I ensconced in a parsonage. I am, however, going to preach just a tiny bit.
Preach. Intransitive verb: to deliver a sermon; to urge acceptance or abandonment of an idea or course of action. Transitive verb: to set forth in a sermon; to advocate earnestly; to deliver publicly; to bring, put, or affect by preaching.
Sermon. Noun: a religious discourse delivered in public by a member of the clergy as part of a worship service; a speech on conduct or duty.
Now why, you probably wonder, is this dumb shit preaching? He ain't no preacher!
It's a good question. And I'm sure as hell no preacher.
As it turns out, I'm preaching largely to myself. Writing it down like this is an exercise in ordering my thoughts and ideas in an attempt to winnow some fundamental grains of truth from the chaff of emotion and reaction. It's a Socratic thing; my try at not living a worthless life.
Is it the right thing to do or the right way to go about it? Beats the shit out of me. I am, after all, going by what Plato wrote about a rhetorician and sophist who managed to collect an Athenian death penalty some 2,500 years ago. So there's that.
Somehow, though, it makes sense to me. I have a powerful desire to find stuff out, and I am so very, very, fundamentally ignorant.
As I've noted many times before, our nation was founded on a set of principles. The bedrock principle, upon which everything America could be or should be depends, is the very first principle set down on paper by our founding fathers:
We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Now read that again. Before the rights comes the reality. All men are fundamentally, equally, human. None are fundamentally better or fundamentally worse. Each human life is of equal fundamental value. Period, full stop. No modifiers, no yabbuts.
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Get that? Governments are instituted among men. Before there is government, there are men. All men are created equal.
Before there can be any discussion of rights or government, the first principle of fundamental human equality must be the foundation. Like it or not -- and an obvious majority of the folks who live here do not -- that's the way it was set up.
I've been thinking about this thesis for many years. I've tried every way I can to smash it; to falsify the notion and discover a different underlying truth. So far, however, it's the only thing that holds together.
Yes. It's not the only way for a society to be organized. It is, however, what the founders said and wrote and what the various states agreed to codify into the Constitution.
Like it or not, the first principle is the foundation of America. It must be the most solid part of American society, or all else eventually crumbles.
So why is America crumbling? YGTBSM. I think it's safe to say that a majority of those who live here put their own personal wants, generally regarded as sacrosanct rights, well ahead of their personal responsibility to hew to the first principle. It's simple, really.
There's probably a critical number, a number that represents the sum of those who live here and who also do their very best to put the first principle first. If that number is large enough (in my critical number theory anyway) then the foundation remains solid enough. If the number drops below my undefined critical number, the foundation crumbles.
An obvious question is, well, what exactly is that critical number?
Like me, you've probably heard the third-third-third theory. At the founding, a third of the population were staunch British Tories, desiring to remain part of the Empire. A third were revolutionary patriots, desiring independence and holding a different vision of an ideal society, one based on -- you guessed it -- the personal liberty of fundamentally equal human beings. The final third of the population really didn't care one way or another. They wanted to live their lives and not be bothered by all that political bullshit.
So is the critical number 33.333 percent?
I doubt it.
Here's another stab at suitcasing the number. Victor Davis Hanson once noted in a lecture that since the dawn of civilization roughly 20 percent of any population tends to be ideologically collectivist, about 20 percent ideologically individualist, and about 60 percent don't really care. That 60 percent, he said, are more opportunist than anything else. In any given system, they'll do whatever they feel they need to do in order to get by -- and even flourish -- from day to day.
Now please pay attention to what I write. There's a very good chance that what I write is actually different than what the reader might imagine I mean. I didn't write that being an opportunist was a bad thing, or that 60 percent of the world's population are immoral or monsters or thieves. I wrote what I wrote, nothing more, nothing less.
That 60 percent number bothered me at first, but then it occurred to me that it's a very good reminder that if I really do believe in the first principle, then it is vitally important that I respect the fundamental humanity of those who don't see things exactly the way I do. I don't agree that swapping principles with the direction of the political wind is a good idea, and it's certainly not the way the nation was set up, but I also can't afford to think of those I've labeled opportunists as anything other than human beings who are not fundamentally less human than myself.
So what is the critical number? Is it 19, or 20, or 21? Is it 59, or 60, or 61?
Well, here's where I'm at on that. If the critical number is the percentage of people who do their best to hew to the first principle and thereby keep the national foundation from crumbling...
I have no idea what that number might be. Sorry.
But I do know that when it comes to me and my own personal existence in this place and at this time, the critical number is...
Here's a gem. Imagine flying a Jag into Khasab.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
This'll put a smile on yer mug...
A-4C with the J-65 motor, about 8k lbs thrust. VA-86 Sidewinders flew the Charlie from 62-64, upgraded to the E model with the J-52 in 64 and flew it through 1967. They transitioned to the A-7 in 67 and flew the A, B, C and E models through 1987. Then they went to Bugs.
When I refer to VA-86, I'm talking about the paint scheme of this particular aircraft. I believe Dollarhide, the pilot here, flew scooters with VA-46, the Clansmen.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Across time and space
A couple of weeks ago an aunt and uncle visited. They are retired and were spending several weeks roaming the country in their pickup and Airstream RV. They had made a big loop through Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska, and were on their way back home to eastern Oregon.
Aunt and Uncle and parked their rig at Point of Rocks RV Park, just east of Potter on Highway 30. For those old enough to remember the distant past, the RV park used to be called Buffalo Bend and featured a motel and restaurant said to provide the only really fine dining between Cheyenne and North Platte. It’s a lovely place, nestled into the Lodgepole Creek bottom and hard by a picturesque siltstone ridge which the creek, Highway 30 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks bend around to accommodate.
Mom and I visited their “home on the road” on one of the last warm evenings of the summer. We had a delightful meal of hamburgers, potato salad and baked beans and sat and visited for several hours.
During the conversation Aunt asked me a number of questions regarding my service in the navy and wondered how she could find more information about her father’s naval service during World War Two. She mentioned that she had a transcript of her dad’s war journal which he’d penned during his time as a Gunner’s Mate in USS Minneapolis (CA-36).
Until this conversation I’d had no idea that my aunt’s father had been a sailor and served in the war. I’d met the fellow once, at Aunt and Uncle’s wedding way back in 1977, but the topic of World War Two certainly never came up. I don’t really remember anything about the man, though I’ve got quite a few snapshots of the wedding party safely digitized. Those images stir a few hazy memories, particularly of my aunt’s little sisters, who were quite fetching in their wedding-party frocks. But I was a teenaged lad in those days, with teenaged thoughts and dreams, and so little of substance about the wedding remains in my memory banks.
The journal that Bill Kruger wrote is sparse. Having served at sea I can read between the lines of his short entries and have a good idea of what he experienced. An underway sailor’s day is filled with work and routine. It was so in the days of sail and will likely be so when sailors sail the seas of space in some distant, future navy.
But then there’s combat, and that’s a different kettle of fish entirely. It’s anything but routine.
Bill Kruger was a Gunner’s Mate 2/C in 1942. He’d joined the navy before the war, in the late 1930’s. In USS Minneapolis he was a member of the ship’s Third Division and served as a Gun Captain in Number One Turret, the forward 8-inch mount of the cruiser.
USS Minneapolis was a Heavy Cruiser. The term heavy referred to her main armament, which consisted of nine eight-inch/55 caliber guns in three turrets, two forward and one aft. Light cruisers carried six-inch main guns, but were otherwise quite similar to their heavy sisters.
Minneapolis was ordered in 1929 and was a so-called treaty cruiser of the New Orleans class. Treaty cruisers were limited in size by the 1925 Washington Naval Treaty, an attempt to control the post-World War One naval arms race. She was 588 feet long and about 62 feet wide and had a draft of up to 23.5 feet with a displacement of around 10,000 tons. In addition to her main armament of eight-inch guns, she had a secondary armament of eight five-inch guns and an ever-changing assortment of 20 and 40 millimeter and .50 caliber antiaircraft guns. Her armor ranged from 1.5 to 5 inches. She could make about 37 knots, driven by four shafts drawing 107,000 horsepower from eight boilers. Her crew consisted of just over 100 officers and about 820 enlisted sailors.
Pre-World War Two US naval doctrine relied heavily on cruisers to accomplish multiple tasks. They were used as escorts for the main battle fleet and for aircraft carriers, as scouts, as commerce destroyers, as gunfire support ships for Navy and Marine Corps amphibious operations, as fast couriers, and even at times as VIP transportation for American officials including the President.
The attack on Pearl Harbor changed much of that doctrine. With most US battleships sunk or out of action, cruisers were forced into the “heavy” role of the battlewagons, in addition to everything else, particularly escort duties for the now-precious aircraft carriers, as well as scouting and raiding.
On December 7, 1941, Minneapolis was at sea near Hawaii conducting gunnery practice. She was not attacked; later in the day she began scouting for elements of the Japanese fleet. She spent a lot of time at sea over the next few months. In early May she screened the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) during the Battle of Coral Sea (45 years later I served on a carrier named for that battle, the USS Coral Sea). During the battle on May 8 Lexington was lost and Minneapolis took on board more than 800 survivors.
In his journal Bill Kruger wrote: “At sea. This is one day I shall never forget. The Lexington’s and Yorktown’s bombers attacked the Japs. Sank 1 carrier and left another burning. At 11:15 Jap planes attacked us. They sure were after the carriers. We had two torpedoes go under us and one near bomb miss. Our A.A. [anti-aircraft] battery shot down four Jap planes. The Yorktown is leaking oil bad from near bomb misses, but she seems to be O.K. otherwise. The Lexington was hit with four one-thousand pound bombs and five torpedoes. She kept making 23 knots for six hours. Then the fire got out of hand, and the crew had to abandon her. It sure made a lump come in my throat. We picked up about eight hundred men off her. The other ships are loaded down too. Guess there weren’t very many lost. After we pulled away, one of our destroyers sank her with four torpedoes. The Lex was a great ship to the very last. Boy it sure is crowded on here. That’s all.”
A month later Minneapolis participated in the Battle of Midway. She was likely screening Enterprise (CV-6) or Hornet (CV-8). There were no entries regarding this pivotal battle in Bill Kruger’s journal, though he did record that the ship went north to Alaska in the days following the end of the battle.
On August 7, 1942, US forces invaded Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Solomons Islands. This was the first step in driving the Japanese out of their conquered territories. We know how it ended today, but 75 years ago we had no idea how horrific the campaigns to defeat Japan would be. In some ways the Solomons campaign has become a footnote to the history of the war in the Pacific. In late summer and autumn 1942 the brutal reality of war hammered the sailors of three nations, and the idyllic waters of the southwest Pacific became the graveyard of ships, men, and pre-war naval doctrine.
Between August 8 and November 30, six major engagements were fought between Japanese and Allied naval forces. In that short 110 day period losses were astonishingly heavy on both sides.
In those six battles, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) lost two battleships, two heavy and one light cruiser, seven destroyers, 11 transports, and a light carrier, and suffered severe damage to a fleet carrier, light carrier, heavy cruiser and destroyer. They lost 238 aircraft. As for naval personnel, the IJN lost more than 3,517 killed.
Allied naval forces, consisting of US and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ships and crews, were savaged. They lost six heavy cruisers (one of them RAN), a pair of light cruisers, nine destroyers, and a fleet carrier. They took damage to five heavy cruisers, four destroyers, and two fleet carriers. They lost 238 aircraft. Personnel losses included 3,753 US and Australian sailors killed.
Bill Kruger reported the initial landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi, and the night Battle of Savo Island this way:
We attacked Tulagi this morning. Wasp (CV-7) fighters shot down 9 zero and 1 float type fighters and 4 patrol bombers. Sank one transport. Guadalcanal and Tulagi have both been occupied by our marines and everything is under control.
One of our destroyers reported hit by bomb at Tulagi during Jap raid, air defense sounded at 12:05. Our fighters shot down ten or twelve Jap bombers. 13:25 Secured from air defense.
We were at air defense stations most all day. The Japs are sending bombers from Rabaul. Many have been shot down. U.S.S. Quincy (CA-39) reported sunk last night by torpedos. Also heard the Chicago was hit. Hope Frank Renner is O.K.
Nothing new today. We heard that only 152 officers and men saved from the Quincy.
The Battle of the Eastern Solomons took place on August 24-25. US forces sank four IJN ships, including a light carrier and light cruiser. USS Enterprise (CV-6) was heavily damaged and the US lost 20 aircraft and 90 men killed. The Minneapolis was not damaged in the fight. Bill Kruger recorded his experiences:
Today was the day we have been waiting for. At 1:20 I saw our fighters shoot down a 4 motored Jap flying boat. At about 2 o’clock we had torpedo defense. Our fighters shot down two more flying boats out of a flight of 12. They turned and ran. We launched three attack groups, two from the “Saratoga” and one from the “Enterprise.” The “Enterprise’s” planes went into Tulagi after the attack so we haven’t heard the results. The “Saratoga’s” planes hit two Jap carriers, left one stopped and burning. Also hit two Jap cruisers and one battleship. At 4:50 we had torpedo defense and were attacked by 80 Jap planes. The only ship hit was the “Enterprise.” She has the fire out and the flight deck repaired. She has several of her after compartments flooded. But from the looks of things she is O.K. We have not received any word on how many Jap planes were shot down. But the people in ship forward said they were falling so fast, they couldn’t count them.
Received word that the fighter group on Tulagi intercepted a Jap force headed out to attack us. The results were five Jap twin motored bombers shot down and eleven zero fighters. Our losses were three fighter planes.
Received word that our force at Tulagi found a Jap convoy 90 miles north of Tulagi, bombed them, and left a heavy cruiser and a large transport burning.
We headed south all last night and today. We met our tankers about 2 o’clock. We should be through fueling by midnight. Then we will head north again.
In September, October, and most of November, Bill Kruger’s journal is filled with much routine and a few bits of action. Then came the night of November 29-30 and the Battle of Tassafaronga.
Got underway at midnight. We are making 27 knots headed for Guadalcanal. The force is made up of three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, four destroyers, and ourselves.
At 11:28 P.M. we attacked a Jap force of destroyers, cruisers, and transports. This ship sank two destroyers, one cruiser, and one large transport. As I was loading the tenth salvo in my gun, I felt a terrific impact. I could not tell where we were hit, but I know it was bad. When we were hit it blanked me out for a few seconds. After my head cleared I finished my load, we fired that one (it sank a destroyer), and loaded again. As we finished the eleventh load we lost all power and shifted to hand. I received word to take as many men as I needed and rig for auxiliary power. As I went out of the turret, I could see ships burning all around us. There was still much firing going on, and many shells going over us. We were dead in the water. The ship was down at the bow, and listed to port. When I reached the shell deck I saw a very large cruiser blow up amidships about six thousand yards off our port beam. It had to be a Jap, because I never saw one like it before. It lit us up like day and I expected all hell to break loose. But no one fired on us. About this time one of the men from the turret came out and told me they had power again. I went back in, and we trained around looking for a target. But we did not fire again. We were ordered out of the turret and to stand by the life rafts. After all hands were out of the turret I went down through to see if all hands got out. When I reached the shell deck I met Smith J.W. and he was going down for the same reason. We went together but found that everyone was clear. We went out and helped put life rafts in the water. At about four in the morning it looked as if we could save the ship. And I was ordered to man my 20mm gun on top of the turret, as we expected an air attack. As daylight came P.T. boats and two tugs came out to help us. A tug took us in tow, and we headed for “Tulagi” harbor. We reached there about nine in the morning. We were hit with five torpedoes, two which blew 88 feet of our bow off. And three in number two fireroom. They also flooded number one and three firerooms. We had thirty-seven dead, and many injured. By the grace of God I am well.
That was the last entry in Bill Kruger’s war journal. If you think about it, you might understand why. Bill survived the war, of course, married, had kids, had a career, and lived a long, full life of more than 80 years. He passed away in 2004.
In an interesting coincidence, a sailor from Kimball served with Bill Kruger in USS Minneapolis. Charles M. Lanning was a Chief Boilermaker. He also joined the navy before the war and may have been a year or two older. Charles Lanning did not survive the war. He was killed that November night at Tassafaronga. As a boilermaker, his battle station would have been in one of the engineering firerooms, and it’s quite likely he was killed when the Japanese torpedoes struck amidships after the bow was blown off.
Monday, October 2, 2017
Corpsman Chronicles X: Reflections
I've had my head pulled in for a while now and have generally disengaged from the land of instant communication. There are reasons and perhaps I'll describe them at some point. I've been doing a lot of what good ol' Socrates suggested. I've discovered that, for me, too much instant information can be corrosive to growth, and my personal belief is that lack of growth is a death sentence for the soul. When I snap the tape I want to own the entire race and not be surprised when I look back and see stumbles. I want to own the good, the bad, and the ugly. I do not want to go gently into that good night singing the professional victim's anthem and blaming phantom oppressors.
Random images from 1985.
|Look at dis firetruckin' guy!|
|Up by the forward 03 BDS iirc.|
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