Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Marine Funeral

With USMC Birthday Celebrations being held all over America and some other parts of the world this weekend I thought it might be right to re-post this article written several years ago.  Just a reminder that the Marines and others are on duty 24-7-365, in the mud and the dust and even down the block from where you live.  


Early Sunday morning, after the annual Marine Corps Birthday , called the Marine Ball, a 23-year old Sergeant and his wife were walking, him in his Dress Blues, in New Orleans' French Quarter. 

He had served in combat in Iraq and Afganistan and was a professional warrior. That didn't keep him alive when he and his wife were accosted by a local hood. During the altercation Sgt Ryan Lakosky was stabbed and died soon after. The killer has not been identified or caught. 

I was called upon to pipe the funeral late last evening and turned out early today at the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station. 

It was a solomn and serious program, attended by nearly every Marine, and many Navy personal on base. the Chapel was full, overfull really. There were Marines in the family sitting room, down the hallways, lining the walls of the chapel and out into the yard at every exit. 

As usual, each and every Marine looked good......just know if you are one. Creases right, sleeves in the BDU's rolled right, boots tied right, covers on right........"yes, sir", "no,sir", "thank you , sir"........perfect manners, no doubt better than the manners these folks were raised to respect in their own homes, but now the "standard manners" of the Corps. 

As I looked around I was impressed, as I always am when I am chosen to play for them. These are tough men. Many of them have hard faces, perhaps only when they are on duty and in uniform. These are men who can sleep in the mud, run twenty miles, carry a wounded comrade as far as needed and another mile beyond, in the heat, and under enemy fire. And, they laugh and smile when they meet. They treat a geezer in a kilt as if he is the King of Louisiana and thank me for helping out. I smile and shake their hands, and then I thank them for getting up every day and BEING MARINES. My children sleep safely because Marines stay awake in the most hellish places on Earth every day. 

After the ceremony, the Chaplain invited those who wished to pass by the table displaying Sgt Lakosky's helmet, canteen cup, dog tags and Kabar knife . Everyone, and I mean every single Marine stood in line while I played the Hymn over and over and over. Each one strode to the table, pivoted to the right, snapped to attention, paused , pivoted as only persons who have been trained to can, 180 degrees, snapped heels...then turned, knelt and spoke with the family. Not some of them, not many of them, but EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM, from the General, on down the ranks.......they never hurried, they never checked their watches, they didn't chatter in line. They were there on a respect the dead and to ensure that the family knew that there is a family of Marines, and everyone there was included. 

I have played many Marine functions. This sort of single minded goal-attainment is normal. I have never been into combat with the Marines, but I am guessing that the single minded goal-attainment strategy there is even more intense. My feeling is always this: IF WE MUST HAVE WAR, THEN WE ARE BLESSED TO HAVE MARINES WILLING TO HELP WAGE IT. God help the enemy who confronts these men and women. 

I had time to discuss the young man and his needless death with several Marines. His C.O. and i talked, and he set me straight. He said, with a hard smile on his face, "There's two ways I want to leave this life, and I want to see it coming. I want to go out killing Al Qaida/Taliban and defending the honor of my wife and family." He looked me in the eye, and with real intensity said, "Ryan and I worked closely together for two and a half years, and he got a chance to do that. He died defending his wife's honor." He meant everything he said. I think all these men and women are driven much that same way. While you and I are watching football, or raking leaves or waiting for the mailman to come, these Marines, and many more like them are on duty......24/7/365.......for the last 235 years. 

Are you saying a prayer tonight ? How about if you drop in a short line for the memory and family of Sgt. Ryan Lakosky and the USMC. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Throwing Some Light On THE Constitution

Sometimes certain things confuse and anger me. Here is a first hand story, all true, I WAS THERE.   On August 13, 2011, a Saturday I was in Wash DC.  An old friend took time to escort me and my daughter around and showed us many of the historical sites in the Washington Mall area and some other special places.    

One place we visited was the National Archives.   I'd never been to Wash. DC before and this was one place I really wanted to see.  After being frisked and tested and de-pocketed we were allowed to enter, passing through the gift shop, of course.     We found our way to the Hall of Documents and stood shivering as we had been drenched in a sudden rainstorm on the way to the Archives.   It was a crowded day, probably a typical summer saturday, and the line to actually get into the rotunda and SEE the documents wound back and forth.  

The guards, all black, all armed, and all looking bored, went through the litany of rules for every 25 or so persons finally admitted past the velvet rope.  (Author's note: I considered leaving out the fact that the guards were all Black, but really thought that to leave that fact out could be taken as racist. )

"The Rotunda is darkened to protect the Documents.  Use of any lights, flashlights, or any other kind of light is strictly prohibited.  These are the original Documents and the light will damage them.  They must be protected for future generations.  No photographs of any kind will be permitted .  No flash guns or strobes on any camera or other device will be permitted.  The room is darkened and must remain that way.  Any deviation from this rule and you and your party will be escorted out of the Rotunda"    etc, etc.........

So, in we went.  I was in awe.  Here i was, at heart just a poor kid from a small town in Wisconsin.....sixty years old with gray hair and as much American History memorized as I could pack in for five decades or so.  I stood in front of THE Constitution.  It was dark.   I had trouble even reading any of it.  It is script, and faded, and behind heavy glass.....and it was dark.   Dark, of course to protect THE Constitution.   As we were told, even normal room light would damage the parchment and the ink.  

After a reasonable time, we all took a last look at the Documents...paused to look around at the regal surroundings of the Rotunda, and left, still in awe.  

Now, fast forward to Monday the 15th.   President Obama felt the need to hold an event to make some public statement.  Where did he choose to do this?  In the Rotunda of Document Hall of course.    So, for that day, the visiting public was kept away from their Constitution and all the other Documents.  The camera crews moved in bringing with them all the light bars, light towers, cameras and more lights.   There was a test period, just to get the lights right.  Before the President arrived the lights had to be retested and warmed up.  If you have been on a live television set you know how bright and clean the lighting must be in order to look "normal" on your set at home.     When the President arrived the lights were still on, blazing away on the star of the show.....and oh, yes......the Documents.  

The next day, I'm sure the guards lined visitors up and began their litany again, "The Rotunda is darkened to protect the Documents....."

In so many ways during these last four years our Consititution has been attacked, ignored and circumvented.  The ideas, the heart and soul of our Constitution have been damaged.   And now, its physical existence has been endangered as well.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Not The World We Grew Up In

“This isn’t the world we grew up in, Jack.” I told my older friend.    Jack is about eighty, give or take a few years, and spent much of his working career as Chief Of The Boat aboard several diesel electric submarines.   “You can say that again.” he said.    So, I did, thinking that he didn’t hear me the first time.   As it turned out, he had heard me and was just being his normal, agreeable self.  

We had been discussing some of the technical things that we take for granted every day now, like cell phones, medical tests, GPS navigation and a few more.  Jack came from a world where signals traveled through wires or were simply shouted down a passage way and navigation was done with a slide-rule, a book of mathematical tables and a sextant.  

I proudly told Jack that my newest book, “KITCHEN STORIES From The Iron Lake Fishing Club” had been sent to the printer, along with the Second Printing of the earlier book, “The Iron Lake Fishing Club”.  And, it had been released, too.    He said he was proud to know me, a real by-golly author, and wondered how many books were being printed.   “Well, Jack,” I said, “they aren’t really going to print any until people buy them.  They don’t print books anymore without orders.   And, they don’t ship books very far when there are orders.   In fact, my book will be available here in the USA and almost any other place. And if someone in New Zealand wants one, they’ll just print and bind it there.   They all communicate via email and some printer in New Zealand can order one book, print and bind one and deliver it faster and cheaper than one can be made in South Carolina and shipped there.   Electrons don’t weigh much and they go really fast.”    

Jack was amazed.    He was further amazed to learn about the Kindle Device which lets people buy a book cheaper and faster than a real paper book and it does not take up any space in a briefcase or on the shelf. 

No, it isn’t the world we grew up in.   In November I decided to be my own PUBLISHER for the new book and for the second printing of the other one.   Publisher?  Me?  Sure, why not?  After all, the printing company,, a division of, made it simple with lots of templates, 24-hour free advice from polite and knowledgeable people and a great royalty plan. I had written the book and delivered it to a publisher in July, and by the end of November it became apparent that no publishing was going to happen.  (So, the author, me, walked to edge of the cliff overlooking Printer’s Canyon, spread a stack of manuscripts under each arm and began to flap them, until take-off was assured.)

Instead of taking on a part time job after my regular work day, and instead of spending a lot of evenings getting fishing equipment ready or working in the garden, I sat at the table and hammered my manuscripts into a Word Document.   There were “page title headers”, “consecutive page numbers”, gutter margins, edge margins, bleed in and bleed out, font styles and sizes, embedded or not, paper weight, color, surface texture, dots per inch coded into cover images, and a thousand other details which needed attention.   Simply getting the sentences to work together and having words spelled correctly now seemed to be the easy part. 

In High School a 500-word essay or a two thousand-word term paper used to seem like a big job.   Now, thirty-three-thousand words is just a short book.   We used to simply staple pages together and slip them into the desk for safekeeping.   Now, we back up work, daily, maybe every ten minutes, and email a copy to ourselves every hour or so.   That way, even total loss of the working computer will not cost us a book as the email is always out there in cyber-space someplace.   Some lessons are learned the hard way.  

And, now it is harvest time, so to speak.   Both books are available at the CreateSpace site and on, and other major retailers will follow.  It has been an adventure and a sort of a journey, I must say. I have several “book signings” scheduled and of course in today’s world we meet and greet on FaceBook and other places where we can shake hands with a thousand miles between us.  

I feel so old, and so young, in this strange new world.   And I’ll be needing to buy a new hat to go along with all my others.  This one will say PUBLISHER on it. 



Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Off My Rocker?


You older folks know the term, “Off his rocker.”  For you younger readers, it means being slightly crazy.  But, it means other things, too.   I do my best work when I’m off my rocker.  Actually that is the only time that I do any work. As it turns out, if someone else is in my rocker I get even less work done.  Are you confused yet? 

Back in about 1972 when I was a young man and knew everything I had a job working for the Episcopal Mission Society in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.   At the time, it seemed like just a job, something to do till something else better came along. Remember, that’s back when I knew EVERYTHING.   In retrospect, it was a great job and besides receiving modest pay and no benefits I got meals and a squeaky bunk in a cabin on the mountain top with a cold water shower and all the firewood I could cut and split.  How good does it get, eh? 

In the Spring time I swung a day off, a Saturday if I remember correctly and left home in my 1965 VW Beetle carrying only my camera and a sandwich.  

The Catskills were at that time a wonderful mix of old and new, civilization and almost primitive rural communities and crossroads.  While the fashionable people from NEW YORK CITY came to the Catskills to play and relax in the most up to date resorts, just a couple miles in any direction you could bring you to little cabins in hidden valleys which had been occupied by the same family lines since the Revolution. 

New York State Highway 17, AKA “the Quickway” was a modern wonder, traveling through the mountains in a series of cuts and fills with magnificent overlooks and towering walls of native rock and trees.  But, carved in with less expense, less noise and way less dynamite were the township roads, often still topped with native clay and gravel and about one and a half cars wide.  The little bridges, crossing a multitude of clear, cold trout streams were usually narrower. 

It was the little roads I traveled that day by plan and desire.   And, whenever the mood took me, I stopped and photographed the views that caught my eye and heart.  There were huge hemlock trees, massive piles of bluestone shards and tiny springs and creek crossings.   My sandwich went well with a tin cup full of cold spring water.   I didn’t know anything about water-born diseases then and never suffered for my ignorance.  Now, I suppose there are signs at every spring warning of possible death if you drink the water. 

About mid-afternoon as my little Volkswagen was sliding down a muddy section of grotesquely inclined roadway (remember, it was in the Spring) I passed a spot of what looked like the brush not growing well near the road.  Nailed to a stick was a hand painted sign that said, simply, “Junk for sale”.   It turned out to be someone’s driveway, just a muddy two-track up a slippery incline between trees and bushes which brushed against both sides of the little Bug.  

At the top of the drive appeared a cabin and a little log barn.   The cabin was complete with two windows and a door on the long side and one window and the stone chimney on the short side.  Smoke rose out of the top and mixed in the treetops.   A long “settin’ porch” ran the length of the house.   On the porch was a small boy, probably about ten-years old dressed in overalls and muddy boots.   He was friendly but cautious and showed me the table full of “junk”, old rusty pliers, a hammer, some old blue canning jars, a little box of thimbles, that sort of thing.    I noticed that he had been sitting in an old wooden rocking chair.  It really didn’t look like much, it too was for sale, and I needed a chair at my place.  So, I ponied up the four dollars he asked for.   It never dawned on me to negotiate a better price.   Even then I guess I knew that a dollar more or less to a poor man could make a big difference.  I left him happy, and I was happy myself, the signs of a good trade.

The old rocker did fit into my VW with the back seat folded forward.  And, when I got back home at the end of the day I learned that I was right .   It was just an old wooden rocker, with a worn seat.  But, by golly, it was comfortable, and it made a satisfying  sound when it rocked.  All the joints, wood-to-wood connections were pinned with wooden dowels.  My magnet didn’t find any nails or screws.  A few minutes with a damp cloth took off quite a lot of dust, grime, smoke and hand prints.  In the sunshine that came in early the old chair glowed with a deep golden hue.  I was glad that the cleaning had not removed the “creak”. 

Over the next several months I spent most of my “off” time in that old chair.  People stopped to visit me and would beat me to it, sitting and rocking and smiling as it creaked.  When the time came to move back to Wisconsin I had to make a big decision.   I was traveling light and everything I owned fit into my Volkswagen, except the rocker.  Heck, I had only paid four dollars for it, I could leave it right there.  But, something made me search out a friend who was traveling to the Midwest a couple of weeks later and I persuaded him to pack my rocker along.   He left it at my parent’s home, very early one morning, on the back porch in such a fashion that they could not open the door.  They re-arranged the living room furniture, pulled out the rags that sealed the front door against the winter weather, opened all the locks and brought my old rocker in.   My Mother said, “You mean you bought a four-dollar chair and made Dwight carry it all the way here?  And then your Dad had to open the front door and get it all fixed again, just for this?   This old chair?”      

Through the years that old rocker has been with me and later, my wife, at my apartments in Indianapolis, and our duplex in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, then our first home in Silver Lake, Wisconsin and our home in Iron River, Michigan.  The years roll on and the old rocker gave us a perch to rock babies as their teeth came in.  It was a nice place to sit and talk to the Grandparents on the phone and read a book.  It came with us to Louisiana and moved right into the violin shop with me.

Louisiana is known for it’s antique trade.  Some of its small towns thrive on the antique trade alone.  So, I should not have been surprised when several antique dealers came into the shop to look at and admire my old rocker.  A couple wanted to buy it then and there.  A couple of others were more informative and guessed that the rocker was made by a well known American named Stickley, a long time ago.  

In my sometimes-cramped shop, the rocker still has the place of honor, near the center of the room, facing the front windows and door.  I sit down there after lunch some days, and fight to stay awake.  Some folks who come in sit down and doze off right away, so comfortable is the seat and the sound. 

The rocker came into quiet prominence after Hurricane Katrina when many, many people were on the street, on foot and on their last dollar, and just about out of dreams.  Every day, sometimes several times a day, persons with nothing better to do would walk into the shop, “just to look around”.  Their homes were gone, their pets were gone, and in many cases some family members were gone, too.   They were in Hammond, just waiting, biding their time till they could get back into New Orleans to see what was left, and to try to start over. 

Many of them needed a rest room.  Some needed cash for food, and we took care of everyone who asked to best of our abilities.  But they all, every single one of them  really needed someone to listen. 

They were full of stories. They were full of questions and complaints and they were full of sadness.   And as they sat in the rocker, and it creaked with each movement, they sat and talked and cried and remembered.   After work I’d go home and wipe my face as I told my wife the details of the lives that had been shared with me that day and she suggested that I write a book titled, “Stories From The Rocker”, partly to record these little vignettes of heroism and history, but also to help me unload the weight of it all off my own shoulders. 

That was late summer 2005.  It is now 2012, and finally we can get through a day or a week without anyone saying, “…back before the Storm…”  

My old rocker is still there, and it still comforts visitors.  It is the “chair of honor” for mothers and grandmas who visit the shop with their families of budding violinists.  Children, of course, like to sit and rock enthusiastically and hear the chair creak.  Gladly, most of the sadness is gone now. 

As I look back, I have to wonder if that family in the Catskills has missed the rocker as much as I have loved it.  Or, maybe Mr. Stickley made it for this purpose, to travel and bring comfort to the weary.  

Friday, January 13, 2012


I'm sorry this has taken so long.   Like so many discoveries it just suddenly POPPED into focus.  

In 1958 the movie, "THE BLOB"  was released, with Steve McQueen and other actors.   A great early Sci-Fi story, it tells about a blob of space snot that has come to wipe out mankind.   After pumping a ton of lead into it, burning it, and hooking up a 13 K V line it is discovered that it can't stand cold.   So, it is taken to the Arctic, where it freezes safely, as the star says, "As long as the Arctic stays frozen..."

Get it now?   Al Gore was ten years old in 1958.   He saw this movie and it scared the crap out of him!!  If the Arctic thaws out the BLOB is going to come back to life!!!    That's what the whole global warming thing is all about!!   He BELIEVED IT!!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Gardening The Safe Way

This was written after our visit to Washington DC in August, 2011:

The problem with having a garden in your yard is not the bugs or the various fungus problems or even the indomitable weeds.  The real problem comes after you have tilled the ground and picked out the weed roots, then raked it all out and planted the seeds or sets, and then watered and fertilized, and picked more weeds and waited till just the right moment for harvest, some sneaky idiot neighbor steals your tomatoes or pulls up the carrots.   The cure for this, of course, is to put up a good fence with “Do Not Climb or Cross This Fence” signs.  Trained snipers on the roof make it a winning situation for the gardener.  That way, NO ONE will get near the melons or poke salad.  Michelle, a woman in Washington D.C. figured this out a couple of years ago and her little 20 x 15 garden plot looks great.  The professional landscape men who tend the yard keep it looking that way.   I think the snipers were there already and they put the garden on their watch list at no additional cost. 

It’s a funny thing when you think about it.   Folks who live in mobile homes will put a concrete birdbath with a circulating pump in it out in the yard to make the place look fancy.   And, the folks who live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave who already have magnificent fountains front and back and a potentially prizewinning lawn put a vegetable garden out back, in view of the street to make the place look like a mobile home park in Ohio. 

Yes, there are snipers.   You can see them move about from time to time.  Our guide, a fellow who is professionally involved in the workings of the U.S. Government said we could glance at the snipers, but not to stare at them, or make eye contact as they peered down on the civilian population with their high-powered binoculars.   If they “noticed” us, the ground level guards might walk out and want to talk.   That would be bad mojo, indeed.  

This is the White House, the People’s House here in America.  Of course, “the people” don’t really get to use it.   In fact the people who own it don’t even get to knock on the front door or stroll up the front walk without a specific invitation by date and time from a Congressman or Senator.  Personally, I’d like to file a Notice of Eviction with the local Sheriff. I don’t care to knock on the door, but I think it is time for the current residents to pack up and move on.  

Marine One, the President’s Sea King helicopter comes and goes several times each hour, I suppose to make it harder for anyone to know if or when the Executive is on board.  Everything revolves around Security here.   I don’t disagree with that actually, but there is a difference between having security and living in a fortress.   You’ll not get the full feeling of this on the nightly news, but standing out front, walking by, the “fortress” effect comes through loud and clear.   The long line of Black Suburbans in the drive, possibly waiting to head out to the golf course is the only thing that breaks the spell.

We left the White House sidewalk and walked past the big building next door.  Then it dawned on me why Presidents seem to feel that they can spend money with no looking back.   The building next door is the Department of the Treasury…”Lead us not into temptation” is NOT emblazoned on the big doors.

Now, on with the tour. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Smell of Paint

About a month ago my friend Murphy, a fluffy gray cat, decided to check the adhesion of the wall paper in a rather inconspicuous place near the back door.   With just a little pulling, he found that the paper, applied by a previous home owner could be peeled down in narrow strips.  

Of course, this meant that the room needed some sprucing up.   This room is approx. 12 x 14 and has the desk and printer, our eliptical machine and a desk where I do leather crafts.   Why stop there? As of today, all the paper is off the walls of that room, the trim is painted, the living room is a different color, the dining room has been totally repainted and all the trim changed color, the whole long ranch-style hallway has been repainted.   All the family pictures and decorative paintings, clocks and other "permanent" decorations have been moved and re-arranged.  Our curtains are packed away and new curtains have been bought and hung. All new area rugs are in place and several new spots are now covered with NEW throw rugs.  The original spot that Murphy scratched on has not been painted yet.  I guess it is being saved till last for some ceremonial reason.

Face the facts.   Grown women just need to smell fresh latex paint sometimes.  

Men usually prefer the smell of Outers (TM) Gun Solvent.