Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanks for Londyn

Our Thanksgiving celebration this year is tempered by tragedy. Our little next-door neighbor, 23-month-old Londyn, died in an auto accident last weekend.

We mere humans aren't privileged to understand many great mysteries, including why innocents leave this world early and those apparently far less deserving often live long and prosper. But while we mourn losing Londyn, we are thankful for the days she was with us.

We are thankful for the joy she brought to our neighborhood with her sparkling eyes and timid smile. We are thankful she learned to give us “fist bumps” and  “high fives” and to wave hello and goodbye. Most of all we are thankful for the many hugs she generously bestowed on Sandy and me.

Rest in peace, beautiful girl.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cheered by an Outage

“Look on the bright side,” Mom used to say when things seemed particularly bleak. Sometimes that positive ray can be hard to find.

Sunday at 6:30 p.m., electricity vanished at more than 300,000 homes, including ours, in southwestern Michigan.  A huge storm with 70 m.p.h. winds was the cause. The power company estimated service restoration in five or six days. The weather forecast said low temperatures likely would be below freezing the next night. 

--Kalamazoo Gazette Photo                                                                            

We started our gas log fireplace, but without an electric fan to circulate the warmed air it wasn't a big help. Our son performed a partial rescue with a small portable generator. He hooked it up to our refrigerator and freezer to save several hundred dollars worth of food.

Monday was unpleasant at our place. No computing. No reading early in the morning or when evening darkness fell. No television. No hot meals. Barely adequate warmth. It is amazing how much we've come to depend upon electricity.

Then I remembered Mom’s advice and thought about a bright side. One appeared. The power went out half way through the Packers’ televised football game. The few players not on the injured list were being crushed by yet another mediocre team. True Packers fans never leave a game until the bitter end. I was saved from another hour or two of intense suffering when the power went off.

Almost as positive as the early end of the Green Bay game for me was  the cautious restoration estimate by our electric company. Our power came on one day after it went out, not five or six. However, several thousand others remain without electricity today. Probably only a few are hoping to stay in the dark until Sunday night so they can miss another Packers defeat. Most people around here are Lions fans.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"With It" Decision Making

Right there in big, bold type, a reporter informed us that a University of Michigan football player “made a conscious decision not to get rattled anymore.” The coach must have been pleased to know one of his charges was thinking while determining his future conduct.

A few days later, we learned the gunman who terrorized the Los Angeles airport said in a handwritten letter he “made a conscious decision to try to kill multiple TSA officers.” Surely, the disaster would have been even greater had the shooter been blazing away while unconscious.

Now on full alert, the geezer made a “conscious effort” to watch for reports of “conscious decisions.” Sure enough, all sorts of people were making decisions while conscious about matters ranging from the mundane to the monumental. At the rate the new form of decision making is sweeping the nation, a majority will be forced to get aboard the conscious decision bandwagon “sooner rather than later.”

Apparently, no longer is it fashionable to simply do something soon even when one was conscious while deciding to do it.

It now is possible to demonstrate I am “with it” by merging my latest two language pet peeves with two previous ones into one glorious sentence: “Most importantly and hopefully, we now sooner rather than later will be making conscious decisions.”

It has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

They, Too, Were Heroes

With Veterans Day approaching, many stories in the media tell us about the actions of heroic military personnel who were crippled or killed facing enemy fire. Some interesting tales are repeated year after year and circulated widely. But others emerge only long after the event when an enterprising historian publishes a previously untold tale.

Lieutenant Charles J. Searl, a World War II pilot, bore a family name familiar to most residents of my hometown of Tomahawk, Wisconsin.  Bronsted-Searl Post 93, American Legion, has been active in veteran’s affairs and community service work since shortly after Armistice Day (now Veterans Day in the U.S.) ended World War I. My father was an active member of the post for more than 40 years. I played baseball for two seasons on a team sponsored by the post. One of my most treasured possessions is a trophy awarded by the Legionnaires for achievements in high school.

Yet all I knew about the post name was that “Bronsted” was killed in World War I , and “Searl” died in World War II.  I knew that because my father told me. I believe some Tomahawk natives with fewer ties to the local American Legion group had no inkling about the origins of the name.

Just a few weeks ago, Lt. Searl’s story appeared on the internet, posted by a Tomahawk resident on Facebook. The Tomahawk Leader carried a similar story this week. The story didn’t originate in Tomahawk, or Wisconsin, or anywhere else in the U.S. An Englishman, Ronald M. Setter, compiled “B-17 ‘Tomahawk Warrior’ A Tribute to Charles J. Searl and Crew.”  Mr. Setter made the story very personal, including ages and home states of all the crew members and some speculation about how they might have spent their off-duty time in the village of Royston, near the airfield where they were based.
Lt. Searl (top row, third from left) and the other crew members with "The Tomahawk Warrior"

Exercising a pilot’s privilege, Lt. Searl named the B-17 heavy bomber he flew after his hometown. “The Tomahawk Warrior,” with its original crew of 10, flew 24 missions to France and Germany, including one on D-Day, after it arrived at the Nuthampstead airbase in March 1944. On August 12, the plane took off for the 25th mission, one it did not complete.

A 25th mission might convey the idea to some that the crew of “The Tomahawk Warrior” would be safe permanently when they returned, but that probably was not the case, and Mr. Setter does not make that claim. American bomber crews suffered horrendous losses early in their participation in mainland European bombing raids. During the first three months (1941) the typical crew completed only 8 to 12 missions before their plane was shot down or disabled.

Apparently to boost flyer morale, the Eighth U.S. Army Air Force decreed that finishing 25 missions in a heavy bomber constituted a “completed tour of duty” and the crew could stand down. I know that happened sometimes, because a Tomahawk resident who lived on our street was sent back to state-side duty after his bomber safely completed 25 missions. However, histories tell us the “25 mission rule” was extended to 30, 35, or more depending on circumstances. By the time “The Tomahawk Warrior” arrived fairly late in the aerial campaign, fighter plane cover was much improved and German resistance was diminished. So, claiming that the “Warrior” crew might have been on its last mission on August 12 would add drama to the story, but probably would not be true.

On Saturday, August 12, 1944, without one crew member who was left behind for unknown reasons, “The Tomahawk Warrior” took off for a bombing run to Versailles, France. Less than an hour later one engine caught fire, and Searl turned over the town of High Wycombe to return to base. Another engine was observed to be on fire.

Mr. Setter wrote, “It has always been accepted that the pilot was trying to find open ground to attempt a landing when he had no chance of reaching his base or even Bovingdon airfield, which was only ten miles away to the north. He would have seen the populated area he was flying over and realized the devastation the plane would cause if it crashed there. It skimmed over the farmhouse of Lude Farm and crashed into open fields opposite. ‘Tomahawk Warrior’ and its crew of nine young men ended life in a massive explosion and fire. No one had bailed out of the stricken plane and no distress signal was ever traced. They stayed together, comrades now for all eternity. . . A short entry in official records at their base read: Takeoff 0618 hours, 0720 no return.”

To my knowledge, no special ceremonies have been held in the U.S. to mark the end of “The Tomahawk Warrior” and its crew. However, the remarkable part of their story is that the Brits in the area (Penn) have never forgotten.

Each Armistice Day, a special service at Penn Church honors the American flyers. Their names are read along with men from the village who gave their lives. Usually, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is sung during the service. Small American flags, each with the name of a crew member, are placed with British flags along the path to the church door. The Book of Remembrance in Penn Church has the American as well as the British military names inscribed in memory of their sacrifice.
At Penn Church, the crew of "The Tomahawk Warrior" are not forgotten

Mr. Setter concludes his story: “To all who read this tribute, remember . . . they gave their lives just as bravely and in sacrifice for peace, just as those who were lost on and over the battlefields of Europe.”

Charles J. Searl, age 23, left behind a wife and two small daughters. None of the other crew members was married. Their ages ranged from 20 to 27.