Monday, October 24, 2016

It's Almost Over

My absentee ballot for this year's general election.

Greetings All:

I just noticed it has been about six weeks since I last posted.  I'll spare you all the litany of excuses why I haven't written for a while and instead, simply say:  It wasn't enough of a priority.  

Yah, and um, what is going on in the world...let's see?

Well, first the good news:  The Cubs won the pennant.  Yes, that's right, for the first time in seven decades, The Chicago Cubs are playing in the World Series.  Although I am clearly a bandwagon fan, I am happy for all my fellow Cubs fan friends.  Last night, we were in our friends' backyard and they had the game on the big screen, projected onto a screen.  It was fun to watch.  And far more fun to watch my friends revel in the joy of the moment.  If Iowa ever goes undefeated and wins the National Championship, I know I'll feel the same way.

There is the little matter of winning the next few games.  And Cleveland is no slouch as a team this year.  Still, here's where I stand on who I think is gonna win...

My $10.00 wager on the Cubs winning it all from the sports book at my favorite Vegas hotel.

The other big thing we're all dealing with is the election.  This has been a particularly brutal election.  I read something today about how nasty the 1828 election was.  I was going to link to it but cannot find it.  And then again, that was then, this is now.

We've got our own problems.

Here's my two-cents on this election:  

1.  It will be over soon (thank God); and
2.  We will be OK, whoever wins.

I get it that people are upset about the choices, the issues, the circumstances...the bullshit.  (I do not think I have ever used profanity in my blog before, yet I cannot think of a more appropriate or accurate word to describe what is going on with our body politic.  Sigh.

I have not gotten too deep in the weeds about politics on this blog.  Maybe that is one of the reasons I have not written much on my blog.  I suppose it is one way I have avoided the elephant defecating in the room.  But here it is.

And since it is with us, I should make it clear that I do have a horse in this race and it is not the gentlemen from New York.  Based on the latest polling, it is pretty damn clear that Trump, like the Dodgers last night, is down to a handful of outs.  According to The New York Times, Clinton has a 93% chance of winning.  Here's the link.

As I commented on a friend's Facebook wall, this is NOT the time for those on side of HRC to take a victory lap/spike the ball/fill in the blank about talking shit about this win.  

Although I am glad it appears one Donald J. Trump will not be President, this is not without the clear recognition that many, many (that's code for tens of millions) of my fellow citizens are voting for him.

And before anyone jumps down my throat and calls them all members of the alt-right or "deplorables," they are far from it.  They are tax-payers, active/reserve duty members of our Armed Forces, Veterans, civil servants and first-responders.  They are people for whom certain matters, social issues if you will, are critically important.  They do not place Mr. Trump on the pedestal of hero worship.  Instead, they simply view him as the vessel from which their beliefs would be best served.

Then there are those for whom this election is a higher elevation of torture.  They are certainly no fans of Clinton.  Many are lifelong, committed Republicans.  The thought of not voting for their party's nominee is repugnant.  And yet, and yet...

And yet they cannot do so.  They are locked onto the true north of their own moral compass.  For them, the needle consistently points away from casting a ballot for Mr. Trump.

One of my friends on Facebook is such a person.  He is one of the finest people I know.  He has not only fought for this nation, he has led others in battle.  He is a thoughtful, gracious, intelligent, and compassionate person.  He is unapologetic in his faith, yet I never feel he is forcing it down my throat.  If anything, he slides out a chair and invites you to sit down with him.

And he's taken some HEAT rounds for this position.  For some, the "either your with us or against us" stance is non-negotiable.  That's sad.  

It is fine to be passionate about causes that matter to you.  It is not fine (uncool, actually, if you ask me) to get upset at someone else, especially a friend who does not agree with you.  I know I've been guilty of this myself in the past and I'm working on it.  What's the old saying, "Knowing you've got a problem is the first step in a cure..."

This morning (October 24, 2016), it was announced that former California State Senator and former student radical Tom Hayden had passed away.  You can read his obituary here.  He was someone who spent over half a century fighting for what he believed.  Some of those fights were ones I could not support, such as traveling to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  (Interestingly, The State Department looked the over way during the first trip, utilizing it as a way to initiate formal peace negotiations.  I still think it was an anti-American thing to do and Hayden said as much in his book, Reunion.)

Like him or hate him, one cannot deny the impact of Tom Hayden.  He was involved in the process.  Like him or hate him, Donald J. Trump has gotten millions of people involved in the process.  Like her or hate her, Hillary Rodham Clinton has gotten millions involved (or perhaps kept them involved, but participating none the less).  Let's not forget Senator Sanders from Vermont.  I did not support him this year, yet am impressed, and yes...grateful for his contribution to the process.  Millions of new voters, mostly young, came out to the polls and crowded into caucus locations to "Fell the Bern."  That heat was felt in the Clinton campaign all primary season.
It's almost over, that's the good news.  Here's the bad news:  the problems and challenges we face will still be there...

I've heard several well-known political observers quote and paraphrase the famous response that Benjamin Franklin gave to the woman on the streets of Philadelphia who inquired as to what type of Government this new "Constitution" had given the people?  Franklin replied, "A republic....if you can keep it."

With all the negativity and anger surrounding this campaign, it is easy to feel down.  The yard sign below is a sentiment I suspect more than a few folks feel this year.

From my cousin Ivan's Facebook page, kinda sums up the way a LOT of folks feel this year.

Whether we like it or not, it's our job, all of ours, to keep our republic.  So how do we reconcile our (collective) feelings of dismay with our civic obligation to engage in the process?  
That is admittedly not an easy answer.  Yet I do offer a few suggestions:  

1.  Vote.  Go to the polls, do early voting, get an absentee ballot, but vote.  If you cannot bring yourself to vote for the top of the ticket, fine.  But please do not ignore the many down ballot races.  Oh, and educate yourself on the candidates;

2.  Stay Informed.  After the elections are over, it will be natural for many, many people to say, "Thank God this is over!" and do the mental equivalent of balling up the Christmas lights, shoving them in boxes and hiding them in the garage.  We cannot do that.  Stay informed, at least on a few issues that matter to you.  With the internet, the information is easy to obtain but PLEASE, vet the source;

3.  If you have a friend who you had a following out with, who posted something on social media that just, well, pissed you off, let it go.  Reach out to that person.  Have a conversation, listening for the lion's share of it.  Trust me, you'll feel better; and

4.  Recognize that no matter what happens, we'll be fine.  I hope the Cubs win, but if they do not, we'll be fine.  If ______ wins, we'll be fine.  Deep breath, big smile, it's all good.

Yes, the election will be over soon.  Then the hard work begins.  Lets all get to work.

Be well my friends, 

And p.s., GO VOTE!  Thank you.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A City Silenced

A mailbox in New York City covered with missing people fliers from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Public domain/fair use claimed, from Pinterest, website link posted in the credits secion.

Greetings All:

"Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children."

President George W. Bush

Two days ago we acknowledged the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  There have been many tributes to those lost and the end of our "normal."  

It was 15 years ago today that I experienced what it was like to see the "end of normal."  Please allow me to elaborate.

9/11 was a Tuesday.  For those of us who worked in New York City, no one went to work the following day.  It was day off no one wanted.  Then came the following day, Thursday.  

Back to work...back to The City...but far from back to normal.

A normal commute would be noise and bustle.  Not so this day.  The best way I can describe it is what was missing from that day.  It was the noise, the honking horns, the general bustle of a city of millions of moving feet.  

All that was missing that day.  I returned to a city silenced.

What was new were the fliers.  The fliers of the missing.  They adorned lamp posts, buildings, and mailboxes.  I recall staring at them, reading the names, absorbing the faces and knowing in my heart they would never be found.  

This past Sunday, Dawn and I went to The Figge Art Museum.  It's a terrific place and as someone who can barely draw a straight line (with a ruler) I am so impressed with the artists whose work adorns its walls.  There was one piece in particular that struck me.  It is entitled, The List by Georges Schreiber.  

Here is what The Figge Museum writes about this work on its website:  "The List presents a timeless reminder of the horrors of war. In it, mothers, sisters, sons, and brothers strain to see the names posted on a casualty list."

The List by Schreiber, from The Figge Art Museum website, fair use/sharing authorized, full link below in the sources.

This painting is so gripping in its silent emotion.  The subjects utter not a word, instead staring intently at that single piece of paper nailed to the tree, hoping, praying not to read a name.  For so long as that name was NOT THERE, hope lived that their loved one did as well.

Not so on 9/11.  We knew, we ALL knew that by that "first Thursday after" that anyone not heard from while the sun still stood that sad Tuesday was lost.  

And yet the posters still went up.  I'd have done the same thing.

War, whether when in Schreiber's time or ours, is tragic.  Tragic, stupid, wasteful, and yes, necessary.  When war ends, hopefully victory is the result.  

Yet even in victory, there is a cost.  It is a cost paid in blood and treasure and joy and sound.

Perhaps the interest that war charges to our collective soul is that most awful silence.  Sort of like that silence experienced that Thursday 15 years ago.  A silence that is a first cousin to the subjects is Schreiber's painting seven decades ago.  

Whether a village or a city, the silence of war drowns every other sound out, from our ears...and from our souls. 

As I often type on my Facebook posts:  To remember is to honor.  Let us all remember those who were lost that tragic day, the voices forever silenced.  I think the city's silence that somber Thursday was a homage, perhaps only subconsciously, to those lost.

I'll send you off from this blog post with Paul Simon performing his hauntingly iconic song "The Sound of Silence," on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  You can listen to it here.

Be well my friends,


Opening photo, full webpage citation:,-1941-45-0826.aspx  

Monday, September 5, 2016

Penalty Declined

My ticket from Iowa's opening game, September 3, 2016

(Quick author's note:  I am experimenting with inserting weblinks directly into my blog posts.  If you see a word underlined, left-click on that word and it should bring you to the story.  Thanks, as always, for reading my blog.)

Greetings All:

Saturday, I was able to attend Iowa's first football game of the 2016 season.  It is always fun to be back in Iowa City and as my friend Dave and I drove into town, we marveled at both the changes and the similarities to when we were there...three decades ago.

We caught up with a few of our fraternity brothers and families.  Although this game did not have the representation future B1G Ten games will certainly have, it was great to see old friends.

 The game itself went thankfully according to plan.  Iowa eventually wore down a spirited Miami of Iowa team, securing a 45-21 victory.  I have no doubt that other games this season will not be so lopsided so I may it a point to enjoy this one.

The scoreboard at Kinnick Stadium, September 3, 2016. Photo by J. Berta.

As I have written before, college football is a minor passion of mine.  I like it for a variety of reasons and am probably a bit too invested (w-a-y too invested my wife might say, depending on the game and score) in my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes.  Part of it is a genuine joy I experience in the game and having a shared experience with the place I went to school.  I suppose another reason is my less-than-noble desire to see a team I have pledged allegiance to win.  In any event, I do remind myself (sometimes sooner than later) that it is a game.  A game, win or lose, that will be with me next week and next season.  It is timeless.

While football may be timeless, players are not.  They get older, then old.  Long hair gives way to receding hairlines, if not outright baldness.  Some go on to stellar NFL careers.  Others never play another down after college.  

Then there are those who do not age...because they cannot.  They are gone.  One such player that always comes to mind is Nile Kinnick.  

Kinnick won the 1939 Heisman Trophy, playing for Iowa.  He was also an amazing student and by all accounts an outstanding human being.  He also died far too young.

When I lived out East I would occasionally run into Michigan fans.  One day, some "Go Blue" fan snidely asked me, "Does Iowa even have a Heisman winner?"  It was more of a taunt than a question. 

I replied:  "Well, we have one.  But when your Heisman winner is a WAR HERO, you only need one."  

Discussion over.  

Nile Kinnick perished in the Pacific during World War II as a Navy pilot.  Rather than crash land his plane on the deck of a carrier and risk damaging the flight deck, he chose to ditch in the water.  In doing so, he lost his life. 

Nile Kinnick gave an immortal speech when he received the Heisman.  Here's the link to it and if you have not heard it before, of if it has been a while, I encourage you to take the two minutes to listen to it.

(This is your first "left click" moment, just FYI.)

Despite Kinnick's undeniable status as a fallen hero, something tells me Kinnick would have NOT approved of my comeback to my Michigan fan friend.  He was a humble man who disdained bluster and bravado.  Here's a quote from him that graces the back of a t-shirt I bought from my friends who run Public House in Davenport:

A quote from Hawkeye great, Nile Kinnick.  Photo by J. Berta, t-shirt from Public House bar, Davenport, Iowa.

So to the memory of Nile Kinnick, I do apologize for what was a blatant effort to leverage his memory to win an argument.  I will endeavor to not do that again.

Speaking of fallen athletes, two college football players were lost this summer:  One was the former punter for Michigan State (2011-2014), Mike Sadler.  The other was Nebraska's punter, Sam Foltz.  They were athletes at the height of their college careers with their whole life in front of them.  They were denied the opportunity, as William Butler Yeats wrote to live long enough,"... to comb grey hair."  (This is a reference to Yeats' work, The Wild Swans at Coole, (1919) "In Memory of Major Robert Gregory."  I have a link to the this work int credits.))

At their game Saturday (September 3, 2016) Nebraska did a truly class act.  They took the field for a punt and let the clock run down, taking a delay of game penalty.

As the clock ran down, it was clear that this was a memorial to a fallen friend, a teammate lost.  Nebraska was heavily favored against Fresno State and five more yards would have helped their field position against the mighty Nebraska Cornhusters.

Frenso State would have none of it.  In true sportsmanship, they declined the penalty.   Here's the link to that story.

College football is many things.  True, it is a game.  It does not determine election outcomes or the stock market's value or the Geo-political balance of power in the world.  What is it, besides a game, is a reflection of our values, of the things that matter to us.  When I saw what Nebraska did and when I saw the response from Fresno State, I smiled.  

While Fresno State lost the game, they won the hearts of Nebraska fans.  They declined a penalty...and claimed the honor of the day.
 I'll leave you with this photo of the formation.  You can read the story and see a video clip here:

Nebraska took a delay-of-game penalty on its first possession after just 10 players took the field as a tribute to fallen former punter Sam Foltz, who was killed in a car crash in July. AP Photo/Eric Olson.  Photo originally posted on ESPN's website, fair use claimed for this non-commercial blog.

R.I.P. Sam Foltz & Mike Sadler. 

Be well my friends,



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,