Copyright 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 for all original literary content by author(s)

11 May 2012

The Great Escape

Stalag Luft III, as seen from a 1944 Allied reconnaissance image shortly after the escape.

RAF image (1944)

Same image as Google Earth overlay.

Marked are the three tunnels "Tom, Dick and Harry" (plus, the later and lesser known, "George").
  • "Tom" was discovered by the guards. 
  • "Dick" was abandoned when the treeline for which it was intended was cleared for a new section of the POW camp to be built 
  • One night in March of 1944, seventy-six Allied POW's escaped the Nazi camp using the 336 foot long tunnel, "Harry." 

Three made it to safety, 73 were ultimately captured, and of those, 50 were executed. Despite the depiction in the film, no Americans took part in the escape, but had been a part of digging the tunnels. In fact, when the prisoners learned the Americans were to be moved to a separate section of the camp, tunneling efforts were increased in hopes of finishing one of the three in time for them to participate in the attempt.

"George," by the way, was begun near the end of the war, but the camp abandoned before it was completed.

The true story of heroism is both tragic and inspiring-- as is the film version.

When the acts of man have been extraordinary, I believe the places associated with those acts become "more" and take on a special significance in and of themselves. I spent a few hours researching, compiling and marking for that reason.

The geographic location is just south of the town Żagań, Poland (formerly, Sagan, Germany).

08 May 2012

So a Priest, a farmer, and a Sheriff walk into this...

Sitting here and hearing a sound that sounded out of place...  

That sounds like an aircraft engine-- on the ground on the street below, I think to myself.  I grab the television remote and press the mute button.

Yep.  That is what it sounds like-- but a very small aircraft engine.  Maybe it set down in the storm-- but that is one curvy road it is on.  Nah!  Can't be.  Whatever it is, it is heading the other way.

So, I lose interest in the sound, and realize I wasn't watching the television anyway; but (and better yet) I am reminded of a story:

Cessna 172 (from Wikimedia Commons)

I was living in small town Texas, where cows outnumbered people, and my "city-boy" Mazda 626 successfully did duty as a cutting horse on my way home from work, to block the attempted passage to freedom (or something) of a neighbor's loose bull.

One night, I was driving home on a long, mostly straight country road--  Farm to Market road something or other-- in that same cutting-Mazda.  It was just after 9/11.  We were all supposed to be alert for anything out of the ordinary back then, and since I am anyway, and alive because of it, I am sensing nothing unusual.

It is dusk, and I'm tooling along at sixty miles per hour because that was the speed limit.  Coming up out of a low spot in the road which I know has a fifteen degree curve right at the top of the little rise, I am always alert to the possibility that any traffic coming toward me may not be familiar with that curve, and am watching for headlights to appear.

Instead, I see a flash of red and then a brief glimpse of solid green light and come off the throttle and ease into my breaks.   I am down to a trot on my trusty Mazda as I take in the possibilities, and decide that despite the absurdity, I am rather certain that when I get to the crest of the hill, I am going to find a Cessna airplane on the road before me.

I get to the top of the crest and there is a Cessna aircraft on the road before me.  Not surprisingly, I am not surprised.

A woman in her sixties, wearing a print dress with lacy trim which was undoubtedly sold in a catalog also containing lawn art, model windmills, duck-shaped mailboxes and wooden heart-shaped things to hang on a wall with attached twine-- a woman dressed like that (in case you forgot where this sentence was going) was standing in the road, giving me the universal hand signal to slow down.  I lip-read a little because of some hearing loss.

I spent most of my youth in water.  I love swimming, but have these tiny little ear canals, and the water can get in, but it can't get out.  My physician told me they were small enough to be considered "deformed."  I had ear infections all the time, and so he had plenty of opportunities to consider the tininess of my ear canals.  Still, he never forgot his favorite joke when I went to visit him.  He would put that little dark green plastic funnel thing with the light in my deformed ear canal and then wave his fingers past my other ear so as to pretend he could see straight through.  It cracked him up every time.

Well the lady on the side of the road wasn't doing any of that, she was using one hand to make like she was pushing some invisible dog down that was continuously jumping up on her leg.

I don't know why acting like one is pushing an invisible and overly affectionate dog down is the universal sign for "Slow down" but it is.  Try it-- you'll see.  Anyway, I mentioned I can lip read, sometimes.  Well, I am fairly certain her words were "Slow ya' ass down" and that rather strengthened my interpretation of the hand signal.

I was near a stop anyway, and besides, there was a plane blocking the road in front of me, so I really didn't need any direction as to what to do.  I don't recall any section about right-of-way in the Texas Driver's Handbook mentioning aircraft; but when you have been driving for more that a few decades, some things just start to be intuitive.  In my my mind it went something like, Big vehicle with wings blocking the road with spinning blade bigger than my car-- best to give it room.  Besides that and having a little experience with airplanes (I have even ridden in them), I found it a bit ironic that the woman with the plane on the road was signaling me with suggestions as to what I ought to do with my car.

"Ma'am?  That being a plane... well, pardon me, but isn't it supposed have a bit more altitude?  Have you tried going faster?"

Okay, I did not really say that.  But the plane was turning itself around, and I watched an elderly man, wearing cowboy boots, jeans, and a nice cowboy hat (felt) holding a package, trot off toward a pick up truck blocking the road opposite the plane from me.  There was a car waiting there.  He must have been very experienced because he seemed to have stopped without needing any specific instructions.

The old cowboy backed the truck to the woman, she got in, and they hurried down a dusty drive right there through the pasture beside the road.  The plane was lurching as the engine revved-up and then was airborne before it got to the car facing me.

I was doing my best to catch up so as to read the tail number as it flew almost directly away from me, but by the time I got my Mazda 626 into a full gallop and along side, the plane had slipped too far from the road, and turning sharply, so I never saw any digits or letters.

I didn't have a cell phone in those days but was only three minutes from home, so I raced there and called 9-1-1 as soon as I got inside.

In less than a half hour, a Sheriff Deputy pulls up and comes to the door.  He asks me if I can show him where I saw the plane.  I'm still wearing my clericals:  Black suit, black shirt, white priest's collar, and want my dinner, but this could be important.

I can, and say so, and get in his cruiser.  I direct him to make a right at the end of my street onto the Farm to Market runway, and go a couple of miles.  At the top of the right hill, I say, "This is it.  Right here."

He pulls the cruiser to the shoulder and takes out a note pad and asks me if I could describe the plane.

I tell him it what model of Cessna it was.  He asks how I know, and I am explaining that it has a high wing, fixed tricycle gear, four-seater, white with dark blue or green trim-- couldn't get the tail number.

The Deputy looks at me funny.

I look at the Deputy funny.

"How do you know all that?" He asks.

"I saw it."

"How do you know all about that type of aircraft?"

I explain about my years working as an assassin for the CIA and how the flashy-thing only removed selected memories, but I still remember all my early pilot training which was required before I began flying the space shuttle on secret missions to shoot down the black helicopters that were causing all the alien troubles down in Roswell and their fluoridating our water in retribution and so poisoning our precious bodily fluids.

No, I didn't.  But wouldn't that have been fun?  And in my collar.  Lord knows I am kicking myself to this day for not saying that.  No.  I told him I was a Chaplain for the local Air Force Auxiliary, showed him the related ID, and he put that on his clipboard.  That seemed to satisfy the Deputy.  Some people can't handle the truth.

So, just a hundred yards further on from where we were parked, was a red brick, two story farmhouse.  All the lights were on, and the Deputy says, "Think they might have seen anything?"

I said, "The plane was on the other side of the hill from them, but they must have heard it."  We drive up the driveway and find a man rummaging through a tool box in the well lighted garage.  I like to use "lit" for when a fire has been struck, and "lighted" for a description of artificial brightness.  It seems odd to me to plant in the readers mind the possibility that I might have meant that the man may have been rummaging through a tool box inside a burning garage-- set afire by some arson who knew his craft.  One would think that the man would be frantically looking for a fire extinguisher, but he wasn't.  He seemed to be simply looking for a specific tool.  And since I make no mention of an arson, or a fire, I am hopeful the intent of my word choice created no confusion.

So, anyway,  I get out of the car with the Deputy.

The deputy says, "Howdy.  Say, did you see or hear anything unusual a little earlier this evening?

"You mean the plane?"

God as my witness:  The Deputy answered, "Soooo.  There was a plane."

The gentleman in the garage started, "Oh yeah, we--"

I interrupted, "Now wait just a minute!  You mean, after all the details I gave you, you thought I was making this up?"

Now, I didn't want to insult him more than I needed to because I did not want to walk the two and half miles back home that night; but I was ticked, and perhaps a little emboldened because there was an outside chance that if he did leave me, I could always catch the next plane.

The man in the garage laughed, and continued, "Yeah, there was a plane alright.  Landed right in front of the house, and we heard it.  When we went to look, it was going over that little hill there and down below."

His wife had come out to join us, and she added, "We figure it was drugs."

The Deputy said, "Yes Ma'am.  Out here away from the city, they make their pickups and deliveries and then drive them in to distribute.  Sometimes they just fly low and drop the stuff out.  I guess they had to do a pick-up of some kind."

It was an uncomfortable ride home... for the Deputy.  I enjoyed myself.  I gloated.  He knew I was gloating.  I had earned my gloat, and I was going to have it.

"So, while you may have had doubts, there was no call for you to express such surprise that I, a Priest, was telling the truth."

"Yes sir.  I'm sorry."

"And then it turns out you knew about such things being a way drugs are delivered out here."

"Yes, but until the lady said something about it, I hadn't thought of it."

"But you were quick to think that the Priest must be crazy?"

I was grinning and setting my spurs in, and he was apologizing the whole way.  His only way out was to get me home to my supper as quickly as possible.  He had that engine roaring, and I swear, we were nearly flying.


Only six more months of mariginalizing

Sitting with coffee, and having the day off from work, I light a cigar and see what there is to see on facebook.  
What I see is that the political season has begun...

My Republican friends are posting about Democrat lies and failures.
My Democrat friends are posting about Republican lies and failures.

My friends have convinced me:  Both parties represent lies and failure and so do not deserve my vote-- and so will not get it.

So now what?

So now we allow liars and failures to define our own ideologies for us, tell us the polarized options, teach us how to demonize one another so as to silence the make-believe "them" -- all so that known liars and failures remain in control?

Show me a candidate who wants to unite-- NOT as "us against them" but FOR one another (I and Thou); seeks to share our hopes and dreams, and articulate those for us; will acknowledge the reasonableness of widely disparate ideologies, and show us how to do the same.

You won't show me such a candidate because you can't. Our system does not allow such candidates into power.

And until enough of us are outraged by that-- our votes hurt us, separate us, and disappoint us.

07 May 2012

Wall Climbing

Because it is important to teach our children what they will do much of as adults.

From Wikimedia Commons

My response to unexpectedly having a week off.

04 May 2012

Masks for sale

My mother and her close friend were shopping at the original Nieman-Marcus in downtown Dallas when I was a child.  Nieman's was then, as it is now, notorious for snobbishness-- but the unaccustomed rightly take that as simply the rudeness of some of the store's employees.

So, at a cosmetic counter, and having difficulty drawing the attention of the not-overly-busy girl behind the counter, my mother and her friend begin to bristle with annoyance-- you know how it is to begin to feel invisible to someone who obviously knows you are waiting for them?  Another pair of women are also having a similar experience at the counter.  My mother overhears one of those women say to the other, "It is because we are Jewish that we get such treatment." 

My mother is trying to figure out how on earth the girl at the sales-counter could possible know the two women were Jewish -- thus the old joke, "Funny, you don't look Jewish!" is being played out before her eyes.  My mother says to her friend, in ear shot of the other pair and the woman behind the counter, "I wish I was Jewish because, then, when people are rude, I don't have to take it personally."

A poignant observation about how we all blame our masks rather than our own identity for how we are treated. 

At Nieman's, of course, the effect on many patrons of the store is to worry that one is not of properly high social standing to be treated with respect-- and the irony in that is the fact that it is exactly the marketing intent of Nieman-Marcus to set such a perception-- seeking to associate their store with rich, famous, and powerful-- and so the wanna-bes will shop there for status and pay the premium for the self-painted "mask" they take home apart from the actual purchase.

01 May 2012

On hearing a lullaby for the city.

A railroad engineer is playing a soft nighttime song for us who are still awake as he winds south and then across the bridge.

The single-note tune carried from the lake and up the creek-bed by me.

That sound and the huge machines... I like the world a little better when I hear them; and, tonight, the musician knew his craft.