Saturday, August 27, 2016

Checking In On The Last Two Months

My KISS ticket from the August 5, 2016 show.

Greetings All:

It has been almost two months since I have posted on my blog.  I used to post a couple of times a week.  For the past couple of years I've been averaging a post a week.  So what happened?

The simple answer is this:  I chose not to write.  Oh, I suppose I could point out that things have been a bit full in my calendar and life.  Still, that is an excuse.  It all comes down to time and how one spends it.  I simply chose to not write.

Now it is true that this has been a busier than usual summer.  We had some serious remodeling done to the house.  To give you an idea of just how serious, please see below:

Here's the kitchen in full "demo" mode...

The new laundry room and (cough, cough) a LOT of dust... 

Here's the dining room, postmortem, soon to be re-born as the mud room.

This project began in earnest in late June and just now it is about over.  We were without a functioning kitchen and ended up washing coffee mugs in the bathroom sink.  Despite the nagging inconvenience, it was clearly a "First World" problem.  We were still living better than about 99.79% of the world.

Nonetheless, our daily routines were altered...a bunch.  This was not a typical summer and more nights than not I simply did not have the energy or desire to write.

So what has happened in the last couple of months.  The other big news is I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve.  I do not talk much about being in the military.  One reason is that I want this blog to be about subjects that I find interesting and hopefully thought-provoking to others.  It is not that I am not proud of being in the military.  If anything, I consider my being an Army Reservist to be a major aspect of who I am.  I'll make an exception here and share a promotion picture.

Dawn pinning on my new rank at my promotion ceremony on July 7, 2016

 The other big news is that I started hosting a weekly, pre-recorded radio show, "QC Veterans' Roll Call."  The show is sponsored by our local classic rock station, 97X and its parent company, Townsquare Media.  I owe my friend Greg a debt of gratitude for passing on my name to the powers that be who gave me a shot at hosting the show.

The show's purpose is to provide honest, relevant (and when possible, entertaining) information to our local Veteran and military audience, as well as their families.  The show has been running for a few months now (almost parallel with house re-model) and

This was a summer that was pretty typical with events that occur this time of year.  I "ran" the Bix 7 (well, most of it anyway) and paid the price for failing miserably to even make the effort to train for it.  We had the John Deere Classic golf tournament and I marshaled the 16th hole during the Pro Am with my Rotary Club.  My personal highlight of the summer from a "fun" standpoint was seeing the rock band KISS perform.

KISS performing at The Mark, er I mean the iWireless Center, August 5, 2016. 

 It was a terrific show and all the more amazing that two of band members, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, are old enough to be drawing Social Security and are still rocking it and rocking it HARD.  As Dawn and our daughters were out of town, I went with my friend Dave and we had a terrific time!  

As I think back on the summer and all that has happened, I am grateful for it.  We got thru the construction and the petty inconveniences.  The radio show is up and running and we've been incredibly fortunate to have a wide variety of guests participate.  Now, although the temperature is still safely in the 80s, fall is around the corner.  The kids are back at school and football is about to start.  Fall is always a fresh start, at least for me.

Perhaps it will be a fresh start to my blog writing as well.

Be well my friends,


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Finding Ourselves

Hemmingway and crew, Spain, 1920s, public domain/fair use, Wikipedia

Greetings All:

It's been a few weeks since I last posted.  I have wanted to write about the wildflowers I have planted, about the joyful passing of spring into summer, about all good, wonderful, safe and fun things.

Then Pulse happened.

I woke up several Sunday mornings ago to learn that the worst mass shooting in our time...and our history took place at a club in Orlando.  A coward, whose name I SHALL NOT mention, engaged in both an act of terrorism and murder.  Forty-nine souls (his doesn't get counted in this company) are now on the other side due to his hand.

I have some links below as I was going to expand on this subject.  I am not because:  1. My blog posts are long enough as is; 2.  I want to talk about "Papa H and crew (see opening photo); and 3.  Sadly, pulse is two major terrorist attacks removed from what's been going on in the world, all in one week.

First, the airport at Istanbul was attacked.  Then, a horrific act of cowardly terror perpetrated by by IS in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  I just got done reading about the particularly savage way the IS cowards massacred helpless hostages who had no way to fight back before the siege was broken.  I can feel my level of "moral rage" rising inside of me the more I think of these matters.  Enough on this, I think I've made my point.  

Let's rewind about a century, actually a century to be precise.  It was July, 1916 and a certain young British Second Lieutenant found himself as close to Hell as one could on Earth, The Somme.  This was perhaps the greatest folly of modern war from a battle/campaign perspective.  Over a million and a half men (and almost certainly women and children) died in that summer and fall with no military value gained whatsoever.  

Rebecca Bird's artistic work published in The New York Times, July 1, 2016, fair use claimed, no commercial intent intended in this blog post, full citation below to the story accompanying this art.

That young officer was J.R.R. Tolkien, who would go on to write The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  To this day, books I revisit several times a year.  The above artwork of Rebecca Bird shows how Tolkien was able to recall images seared into his memory of the horrors of war to help create the evil of Mordor.  

World War I is clearly in the historical background compared to World War II.  I believe that is in large part to both the scale and horror of the later.  Also, unlike the former, World War II threatened America directly.  Plus, those of us over say 30 have likely met someone who was involved in that conflict.  Add to the conversation the massive amounts of media surrounding World War II and it makes sense that this would be the conflict closest to our conscious.  The "War To End All Wars," has been pushed far back in our collective memory, like a expired can of tomato paste behind the Kraft Mac n' Cheese boxes in the pantry.

For some however, like Tolkien, that was far from the case.  World War I was never far away.  The death and carnage, the disease and despair, and always, the mud.  World War I was so catastrophic in scale due to both the massive numbers of troops involved and the advancements in the machinery of war.  Between the machine gun and the mustard gas, man had developed many new ways to kill each other.

Although World War I was primarily a European fight, America did enter the war in the 4th quarter, 1917.  First U.S. Army, led by General John Pershing, helped turn the tide that led to Germany's defeat a year later.  There were approximately 4.7 million Americans in uniform during WWI and 116,516 perished in that war.  (Source:  Paul Waldman, The American Prospect, citation below in the sources.)  

So it should not come as a huge surprise that such a genius that was Gertrude Stein would have commented on those who lived thru that terrible time as, "You're all a lost generation."

Rumor has it she said this at the famed "Harry's Bar" in Paris during the 1920s.  Her comments were directed in general to those of that time and in particular to Ernest Miller Hemmingway, or "Papa H" as I refer to him.  This is completely understandable.  One had to go back half a century since America had experienced such carnage.  Hemingway had his own scars.  As an ambulance driver in Italy, he had been seriously wounded.  I suspect he was not the only ex-pat in Paris trying to drown the memories of that ugly war one drink/bottle at a time.

Which leads me back to the opening photo of this blog.  This photo shows Papa H and his crew in Spain.  This was the backdrop for Hemingway's break-out novel, The Sun Also Rises.  I read this book (or at least bits and chunks of it) when I was younger.  I recently got turned onto it again with the audio book I am listening to, Everyone Behaves Badly by Lesley M. M. Blume.  Mr. Blume's book chronicles Hemingway's torturous path to fame via a novel and how in the process he threw his friends under the bus to get there.  I am about halfway thru it and am enjoying it.  I am also VERY glad that I was not part of the crew that rowed with Papa H in Spain/Paris for I surely would have been part of the "collateral damage" inflected by Hemingway.

When I finish the book, I endeavor to write another blog post about it.  For now, I'll simply say this:  I see parallels between the times of the 1920s and today.  There is much to be uncertain about.  There is much to be concerned, (strike that, nervous) about.  It is easy to feel lost.  

And yet...

Any yet I would suggest that with all the chaos and fear surrounding us, we can reject the label, "lost generation," or "lost whatever."  We can find ourselves.  We can find a way thru this tangled brush of fear and anger and outrage.  We can find a way to renounce the senseless violence and reaffirm the basic dignity of our fellow human beings.  That may require the use of force to quell the forces of evil.  After all, the shepherd's staff is there not to strike the lamb but the wolf.  However, justice can easily become unchecked vengeance when not tempered with restraint.  Easily said than done, I am sure.

I wonder if when Hemingway was writing his novel he was trying (without effect) to exercise the demons of his war?  I wonder if we as a free, secular society who celebrates many religions in our private lives, will come to grips with the evil about us?  I wonder if we, collectively, can ever find ourselves and in doing so achieve a world where we all can live in peace, free from war, free from strive.  Maybe not.  

The cynics will be the first to scream, "TOLD YOU!'"  Then again, I would retort with a line from Tolkien's first book, "All who wonder are not lost."

I don't think we're so far off the path we cannot find ourselves.  The question is-do we have the courage to follow the path?

I'll vote the answer is yes, and here's why.  We're Americans.  We are good, very good, at getting ourselves into jams.  We're also pretty proficient in getting ourselves out of them.  So I suppose my point is this:  If the world is lost, in need of "finding itself," then who better than Americans to lead the way?  

I can think of no one better.

One of Hemingway's early supporters was Sherwood Anderson.  History has largely forgotten him.  I had never heard of him until I listened to Blume's book.  In the early 1920s, Anderson had made it, so much that the Literary Avaunt Guard Queen herself, Gertrude Stein, was one of his inner circle.  

He wrote to her about his decision to walk away from Paris in the 20s and all of "that" to return to America   In defending his decision, he simply said:  “You see dear friend, I believe in this damn mixed up country of ours….In an odd way, I’m in love with it.”

I'd argue that love is the best compass to find our way forward, to help us find ourselves.

Be well my friends,


The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Empty Chair

The Fallen Soldier Table, Waterfront Center, June 17, 2016, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Friday night was our local Army Birthday Ball.  It was a class act and a good time was had by all.  Dawn and I get dressed up a couple of times a year and this is one of them.  I must brag on her amazing dress (, ladies) and how wonderful she looked.  I have published over 200 blog posts and change and I think this is the first time I am including a photo of both of us.  I thought this post and picture was a strong enough reason to have "an exception to policy."

Dawn and I at the Army Ball, June 17th, photo by J. Berta.

I was incredibly proud of how the entire community came together for this event.  The Rock Island Arsenal is our local military base and is home to the headquarters to First U.S. Army and Army Sustainment Command, as well as other military organizations.  It also has a factory that is a key component of our local economy.  So yes, there is a clear economic incentive for folks in the local area to support this event.  Yet what I saw Friay night and have witnessed my whole life is that this community is overwhelming supportive of our military.  It transcends getting dressed up and attending a formal event.

And I do love these things.  Considering how infrequently opportunities present themselves to get dressed up, it is a treat to do so.  I had to laugh when I put on my "Evening Mess" jacket and found the bottle openers that Dawn and I received last year for the 2015 ball were in one of the pockets.  It shows how often I wear that uniform.  

A bit of history is in order.  Formal military events have been around for a long time.  The U.S. Army has been doing such events for many years, as have our other sister services.  These are not everyday events.  They celebrate the tradition of the Army and the ceremonies that honor the history of the U.S. Army.  They are impressive to watch.  Just speaking for myself, they also cause me to swallow hard when concluded, especially when "Taps" is blown.

The Army and some state flags, including Iowa, on the stage for the ball, photo by J. Berta.


I first became acquainted with the concept of formal military events in 2003 at Fort Dix.  It was doing this time that I attended a "Dining In."  This event is the first cousin of a military ball.  While not a birthday event, it is still a celebration of our Army and a formal affair.  Then again, when you mix Soldiers with alcohol, things can get a bit out of hand.

The evening started well and we made sure the formal aspects of the evening were completed with the somber reverence required.  After that, well, let's just say, decorum was slightly compromised. 

What started with dinner rolls sailing across the room, ended with the MPs closing down the club.  Yes, that did happen.  Now, in all fairness, where we were holding the event was in the same building as the Fort Dix Community Club, that had a bar.  The patrons there were more than holding their own and that, in conjunction with our "antics," lead the local heat to say, "Party's over." 

But it wasn't, off we went into town to Kelly's, a bar that, while lacking an elaborate wine list, had two overwhelming positive qualities:  It was close and it was still open.  I was not driving that evening and all I can say with certain is the next morning arrived all too early.

Fast-forward to Friday night.  This event was far from that revelry.  We left shortly after the formalities had concluded, pausing for a few final photos with friends.  We'd had a great time and more than enough fun for us.  We were in bed by 11:00.

These events are fun, and they should be.  I think everyone should get dressed up at least a couple of times a year.  Whether it is an event like this, another formal affair, a wedding, whatever. Go enjoy yourself.  Like is too short not to have fun.  

After all, you never know when it will all end.  Suddenly, and without warning.

Which leads me back to the opening photo, the empty chair.  This table is set aside to honor those who are no longer with us. Those who have fallen on the field of battle.  Those for whom there will be no receiving line, no "prom" photo, no drink at the bar.  For them, there is only eternal sleep.  It is why these events are so different from other formal events. 

Friday night, the formal portion of the event was concluded by The First Army First Sergeant reciting from memory the "Fallen Soldier" speech.  He needed no script, as he was reading from his soul.  Here is a transcript I found of this most moving speech (pubic domain/fair use claimed):


Moving words indeed. 

We've been a nation at war, come this fall, 15 years.  That surpasses every other conflict in our nation's history.  I have to wonder how many brave daughters and sons attended similar events as Dawn and I did Friday who acknowledged with reverence the fallen table, the empty chair...and are now represented by it.

To all those who have served and fallen, thank you.  You are not forgotten.  Your chair may be empty, yet we carry your memory in our hearts.  May God give us the strength to never set down this most sacred burden to carry forth for all our days.  

Be well my friends,

The comments in this blog post and on all posts published by me on this blog, Cedo Pontis, are mine alone.  They are not meant to convey an official endorsement from any governmental agency, including the U.S. Army.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Requiem for a King

Muhammad Ali, 1967, public domain/no known copy write, full cite below.

 Greetings All:

 On Friday, June 3, 2016, Muhammad Ali passed away.  He was 74 years old.  He was an Olympic and professional boxer, three times the Heavyweight Champion of the world.  His professional record was 56 wins and only 6 losses, inclusive of 37 knock out wins.  His time was a particular spectacular (and brutal) time in boxing.  He seized claim to the title, "The Greatest," and he was.

In 1974, Ali battled George Foreman in Zaire (now The Democratic Republic of the Congo) for the heavyweight championship of the world.  Proclaimed, "The Rumble in the Jungle," this fight is hailed as one of the greatest moments in sports, period.  The movie, When We Were Kings tells this tale. 

The promotional poster for the 1974 Foreman/Ali fight in Zaire, fair use claimed, citation below.

At the end of the fight, Ali, bruised, exhausted, wounded, stood victorious.  An eighth round knock out of Foreman elevated Ali from just "The Greatest" to "The King."  The king of the ring and the king (in many ways) of the world.

The below YouTube video perhaps best sums up just profoundly significant Ali was from a cultural standpoint, transcending boxing.  Oh, and the narrator is a nice touch as well.  (Nope, not going to describe it, y'all got to watch it for yourselves.)
Now, The King is gone, passed onto the other side.  There have been tributes pouring in globally, with news broadcasts taking a break (thankfully) from the presidential race to honor Ali.  He was many things and for the last few decades of his life, beloved.

That was not always the case.  He refused to submit to the draft, taking a public (and hugely unpopular) stance against the Vietnam War.  He was actually convicted of draft evasion and it was not until the United States Supreme Court ruled Ali was, in fact, a conscientious objector that his conviction was set aside.  I have the citation to the ruling below in the sources.

I was too young to remember the controversyFor some, Ali was a traitor, a trouble-maker.  For others, Ali was a hero, willing to sacrifice money, fame, status, and popularity for his principles.  His quote of, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong.  They never call me nigger," summed up his stance.  

One does not have to agree with what Ali did to respect the principle behind his actions.  I like to think that had I been his age, I would have gone to fight in Vietnam.  Then again, that is complete speculation on my part.  After all, I had just been born and was fully engaged in defecating in my diaper during the worst of the fighting.  Conversely, I might have been active in the student protests of the war.  Here's the thing, you, me, NO ONE can know what we would have done at a particular time in the past.  Wish, hope, muse, rationalize and ponder all you want, you will never know.  

We do know about Ali.  He took a stance that was incredibly unpopular at the time.  He lost millions of dollars being banned from a sport where age is as ruthless an opponent as the other guy in the ring.  One can only wonder just how great he would have been had he accepted the draft, put in the minimal time and then returned to the ring much sooner than he did.

I heard a reporter yesterday say how his 92-year-old father, a crew member on a bomber in WWII, described Ali's stance on the draft this way:  "He's brave."  Here is someone whose chance of surviving the war was incredibly low.  Yet he described Ali's position as brave.  Here is someone I could easily qualify as an expert witness on courage stating Ali was brave.  That works for me. 

Winston Churchill, a man known for many quotes, here's one that is appropriate for today:  "Courage is the first of human qualities which guarantees all others."

I will argue that it was from Ali's courage sprang the other wonderful qualities of this man who made such a positive, global contribution later in his life.

As he left the ring for good, he carried with him the scars of his epic battles, with the most somber belonging to his brain.  Parkinson's Disease, almost certainly brought about by the decades of multiple, merciless blows to the skull, had come to him.  It would take his life.  His spirit, however, was always out of reach from its jab or hook.

He did not hide from the public his struggles.  His walk was slowed, his speech slurred, slowed, whisper loud, yet he stood tall.  My favorite memory of him indeed standing tall was at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.  There, he was the last torch bearer, handed the flame by Olympic Champ Janet Evans.

Ali and Evans at the 1996 Olympics, photo credit, M. Probst, sharing authorized, citation below.

I recall watching that ceremony.  I recall the look of awe and joy on the face of Evans (who I had a bit of a crush on back during the '88 Olympics, I should admit) as she passed him the flame.  With trembling hands, he lit the cauldron.  With that, the flame gave birth to the Olympic games and the re-birth of the Olympic spirit, enduring...just like Muhammad Ali.

There would be other honors befitting Ali.  The below image is of his ceremony receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.  Decades after he was a legal adversary of the U.S. Government, he was now honored by its leader.  Here's the link to the award presentation.  Although Ali could not speak, I am in awe of his quiet dignity.  With quivering hands, he takes time to button his jacket.  It's 4 minutes, well worth the time to watch (IMO):  

President Bush awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mr. Ali, public domain, citation below.

And honored rightfully so.  Ali's humanitarian efforts are renowned.  They are too numerous to list and I have a link in the credits below to them.  If I were to sum them up in one word, it was love.  He loved people.  He chose to use his fame, his story, to bring people together.  He took off the crown of a king and walked among the people.  In turn, they carried him on their shoulders, beloved for him.  He had become, "a king among peers."
As someone whose within the "area code" of a half-century of life, I am glad (relieved actually) that things I held important in the past are not so much that way anymore.  When I look back on Muhammad Ali's life, I see someone who achieved great things and fought all comers.  He relished the fight, needed it, I suppose.  Then in later years, he traded the jab for the handshake, the punch for a hug, the rage for love.  In doing so, I see a man who traded fame for humility and glory for service.  As he said:

"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on Earth."

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
Read more at:
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
Read more at:
A requiem is a Mass performed for the dead.  As Ali was Muslim, obviously, a Mass is not appropriate (while I'd argue prayers certainly are) yet a requiem can also be a form of acknowledgment, be it music or prose.  I hope this blog post captures the spirit of honoring Muhammad Ali, a man, father, husband, fighter, humanitarian and yes, citizen.  

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
Read more at:"
R.I.P. to the Champ, to "The Greatest." and to a king whose throne was vacant.  Vacant because rather than sit, he chose to go forth and serve.  This, to me, is the purest form of nobility, truly worthy of a requiem...of love.

Be well my friends,


Opening photo, World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg,