Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book tossing

Have you ever become so disgusted with a book that you said "ARRGGH!" and threw it across the room? Disgusted not with the message or content, but with an idiocy by the author?

Today, after reading a really stupid scene in a science fiction novel, I closed the book and put it down and said, "That's enough." Set the scene: A high-ranking naval officer goes to her office and determines someone is inside, someone who somehow got through security. She also notices that her computer is on, so she goes to check and discovers her computer is transmitting data. She has to shoot a bad guy before she can get to her computer. She then tries to enter a stop code, but her computer continues transmitting data.

Now I don't know much about computers, but when my computer starts doing stuff it isn't supposed to do, I figure we are under virus attack and I turn the darned thing off! The heroine of the book does not to that. No. "She picked up a chair and smashed it against the console. It flashed up in sparks, and the screen went dark." Aha. Show that console it's not supposed to transmit data. Uh, but wait a minute. You get the idea.

Not quite as bad as a book about pirates in the 17th century, a battle at sea, between sailing ships, and the captain ordered "Full speed astern!" That one I threw across the room.


Not gonna do it

I was going to post links to really stupid political happenings but became so disgusted with the carryings on by both or all organized parties that it just isn't worth the effort or increase in blood pressure. Here are some I read every day:

And this one I found a couple of days ago:

Theo and fmft are English, part of the worldwide Great Rightwing Conspiracy. Theo occasionally posts pictures of (somewhat/mostly dressed) women, but you can easily scroll past them. Mudville Gazette is another good one.

Enjoy the education.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Leopoldo Castillo

Leo was the best soldier I ever knew. He and I were best friends for a time. We were team leaders in the same rifle squad, shared a room at the barracks at Fort Meade, were promoted sergeant on the same orders.

Leo was born in Mexico. His family immigrated to the United States when Leo was 12. The family settled near Mercedes, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. Right away you might see there were differences in his background and mine. Leo was raised Roman Catholic. I was born and raised in Northeast Texas, where, back then, there were few people of Mexican background. Northeast Texas, too, was heavily Southern Baptist, and, again, back then, Catholicism was just this side of the Anti-Christ. I never believed any of that because, before the Army, I never knew any Catholics, or Mexicans, to compare reality with what was rumored and believed by many.

The Army is good at levelling things. Religious upbringing, economic standing, color -- none of that matters because you aren't there, you are in uniform, and the uniform is green. These days, multi-colored, but the idea is the same.

Right after Aero Rifle Platoon arrived in Vietnam, I was moved from First Squad to Second Squad. Leo and I saw each other every day, and we remained best friends, but we didn't have the closer connection of being in the same squad. In March 1967, the platoon was reorganized to Long Range Reconnaissance. I chose not to be a LRRP, for two very good reasons: I was not in good enough physical shape to run (and LRRPs sometimes had to do that), and my land navigation skills were not so good (and it's always a good idea to be able to tell someone your precise location, especially if the someone will fire artillery for you or give air support or, especially, is coming to get you from a very dangerous situation). Leo became a LRRP; I was asked to work in flight operations as assistant operations NCO. Leo was very good at what he chose, and, truthfully, so was I.

In the summer of 1967, Leo took his team on a five-day mission, typical LRRP mission of go quietly through the bush, look for signs of VC, mark finds on a map, go to a predetermined pickup zone and ride a slick back to base camp. A couple of hours after Leo's team was inserted into an area southeast of base camp, I was flying door gunner on a gunship, one of two providing cover and reconnaissance for an armored cavalry troop south of base camp. While Leo and his guys proceeded slowly, carefully and quietly through thick woods, I flew in a noisy helicopter in cooler air a few kilometers away.

Not long into our flight, the gunship team leader got a radio request to go to Leo's area. "He doesn't know where he is," the radio transmission said. I was on that helicopter and monitored the call. I knew Leo was good at land navigation and that he should not be lost. The team leader replied "Wilco."

When the gunships neared the area, the team leader called for Leo to mark his position. A mirror flashed from the trees. The team leader checked his map and then gave the coordinates to Leo. The two gunships left the area, dropping low into clearings now and then, to make a show that we were checking the area and had not gone to a specific place.

We were back on station fifteen minutes when Leo called for immediate extraction. Within five minutes the extraction helicopters were in the air and racing for Leo's location. (An extraction team consisted of the primary extraction Huey, a backup ship, a gunship team and a command and control ship.) Getting Leo's team out took longer than anybody wanted, but Leo and his four team members were extracted.

The next day Leo came into the flight operations tent. He said, "Can I talk with you?" He and I went outside. Leo said, "Yesterday I killed a man and for the first time I saw the bullets go into him." I didn't know what to say. Somebody tells you that, and you do know what to say ... Or maybe nobody knows what to say.

For the first three hours, the mission went as normal, Leo said. Then he came upon a trail that was not on the map. Adding to his discomfort, where the map showed continued woods, in front of him was a large clearing and a hill and the trail went over the hill. That was when Leo called in and when the gunship team went to his area. I told Leo I was on the lead gunship.

After the gunships left, Leo studied his map. He traced the route and distance from the landing zone. Leo had placed three men in his team on one side of the trail, while he and another man were across the trail near the tree line. Leo was studying his map when the man with him whispered, "Look!"

"Three gooks came over the hill and down the trail, right toward us," Leo said. He told the other man, "You take the one on the right, I'll take the two on the left."

When the three VC were less than 100 meters away, Leo and the other man opened fire, their M16s on automatic.

Leo said, "I had all tracers. I fired and I saw the tracers go into a man's chest." He beat his chest with his fingers, hard. "I had never seen that before."

Again I was struck silent. At the same time I appreciated that Leo did not tell anyone else; he told me. Maybe I was supposed to have an answer.

After a time I said, "I guess that's the way it is sometimes." What other answer is there?

Leo told about the extraction, of the single VC that got away, ran across the top of the hill and disappeared from sight. Leo led his team north, everybody running, and Leo on the radio calling for immediate extraction because his mission was compromised. I do not know what it is like, running through jungle and behind you is the sound of automatic weapons as several dozen VC are running too, and they want to catch you and they are firing ahead, at you.

Leo and his team ran, but their primary and alternate pickup zones were in the other direction. At one point, Leo said, the pilot of the primary extraction Huey radioed: "Are you near your Papa Zulu?" Leo replied, "I am cutting it now." Eventually, the pilots located a nearby clearing just large enough to land in. Leo and his team changed direction and found the PZ.

Leo said, too, "When we landed back here and the Huey left, Lieutenant (Name) was waiting. He said, 'Sergeant Castillo, why did you shoot those gooks?' I looked him in the eye and I said, 'Because I wanted to.'"

More on 2000 ice storm

Jim Clark lives in northern Red River County, about three-quarters of a mile north of FM 1159. The road to Jim's place is edged with trees, and part of the road is below ground level. The weight of ice on the trees caused limbs to break and fall onto the road. Jim said he spent two hours with a chain saw cutting his way to the Farm to Market road. His pecan trees were damaged, too. Limbs dropped around the trunks, "It looked like people getting ready for a bonfire," he said. "All that was needed was Joan of Arc."

With ice taking down electrical lines all over the county, many places were without power for some time. Clarksville had no electricity for about a week. People suffered from the cold, since houses required electricity to run central heat. A man in Bagota decided to move his family from town to the old farmstead, where there were propane space heaters and a propane stove. He contacted the local propane company and had the old tank filled. No one had lived in the house for some time. Several hours after the propane truck left the house, the man went to light the water heater. Accumulated gas beneath the house ignited, destroying the house and killing the man. His wife sued the propane company, claiming the company should have warned her husband about the danger of possible accumulated gas. The company settled out of court, with details of the settlement sealed.

FEMA representatives asked county commissioners what was most needed. Commissioners mentioned lack of electricity could cause problems with water treatment and wastewater treatment. Within a couple of days, a trucking company delivered several big new generators. The county had to pay for the generators, and then took a substantial loss when later selling the things.

With limbs blocking many county roads, commissioners contracted with a Mississippi company to clear roads and dispose of limbs. The cost was high, especially for a poor county. FEMA reimbursed the payments.

Big storms cost a lot of money to cities, counties and to people.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter and all that

Arkansas is pretty much white with snow and ice today, mostly ice so far. Winter storms bring great grandeur, but sometimes problems as well.

Around 1961 Northeast Texas got one of those every-so-many-years grandaddy ice storms. Schools, businesses, companies were closed. Ice covered all roads. Nothing moved but the mail, and carriers were careful and late.

Daddy was a millwright helper at Lone Star Steel then. Right after the last official world war, Daddy went to work as a mechanic at Red River Army Depot. Most depot work was repairing vehicles damaged during the war. Daddy once mentioned working on a Sherman tank that took an 88mm hit. "You couldn't put your hand any place inside without touching shrapnel," he said. More accurately, all that metal sticking to the inside of the tank was spall, but the idea is the same. Daddy quit the depot around 1955 and went to work at the steel mill. He and Momma moved from Boston, Texas, to a big old house west of Omaha, right on the Morris County-Titus County line. After a time there, we moved to a house a few miles closer to Omaha, and then to the last place I grew up in, just north of the Rocky Branch community. Rocky Branch had a store, two churches and maybe a half dozen houses.

Our house was the first house on the left going north toward Omaha. That was the first house we lived in with indoor plumbing. Before then, we drew water from a well, heated bath water on the stove, bathed in a galvanized tub and used an outhouse for the other necessity. The house had a fireplace and a space heater in the living room and a small space heater in the bathroom. In deep winter we closed all the doors, making the living room, the kitchen and the bathroom the only heated rooms.

For a time we five kids slept in the same room -- Carolyn, Francis and Patty in a bed, while Bill and I slept on a let-down couch. Then Bill and I got older and Momma and Daddy made the dining room our bedroom, with a real bed.

That bad winter, Daddy decided he, Bill and I should go for a walk in the woods west and southwest of the house, see what the ice looked like. We each put on long handle wool underwear and jeans, two shirts, two pairs of socks, coat and gloves and wrapped our heads and necks and went outside.

Everything was covered in ice -- trees, grass, the house, electric lines, the car and the pickup. Whatever movie you might have seen with ice ... That is how it all looked.

We walked to the barbed wire gate, frozen grass crunching underfoot, through the gate and past the barn, everything white and everything cold. We went into the woods a short distance from the barn, on a dirt path, and when in the woods we heard cracking noises, similar to gun fire. "What's that?" I asked. Daddy said, "It's limbs breaking from the weight of the ice."

The woods were picture postcard, landscape painting lovely. If you have not seen all things frozen, everything with an inch of ice, covering you have missed a natural wonder.

That was the biggest ice storm I have ever seen, more ice than the Christmas Day 200o storm that swept across Northeast Texas and Southeast Oklahoma and Southwest Arkansas. The 2000 storm caused much more damage, especially since civilization now is more dependent on electricity. The 2000 storm was the perfect combination of temperature and rainfall, with water freezing in the tops of trees and limbs broken or stripped from trunks by the weight of the ice. Trees in some places looked exactly like World War II pictures of wooded areas after artillery tree bursts. Following the 2000 ice storm, towns were without power for days, and some rural areas went 30 days with no electricity.

I can do without cold.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

As the man said ...

"Vanity of vanities, sayeth the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." -- Ecclesiastes 1:2.
Or maybe these days: "All is Narcissism." That's what this stuff is all about -- "I think" or "I believe." Truth is, most people don't really care what I think. My wife, sure, but she's my wife. I care what she thinks. She is, after all, the most intelligent woman in the world.

This is the "About Me" part. Native Texan. Lived outside Texas four years in the Army, including 1965-66 with 1st Cavalry Division and 2nd Infantry Division in Korea; 1966-67 with 11th Armored Cavalry at Fort Meade, Md., and in Vietnam; 1968 with 6th Armored Cavalry again at Fort Meade, as well as 2 1/2 years attending Harding College and Arkansas State University. BS journalism (appropriate, the BS part). Worked for five daily newspapers in Texas. Fired by three (so I must have been doing something right), twice for insubordination, the third time in an out with the old, in with the new housecleaning.

Priscilla and I have been married 37 years. We have three children. Michael is a platoon sergeant with an Army aviation brigade, two Iraq tours and he's going to Afghanistan this summer; Kathleen is an Air Force captain and RC-135 navigator, three deployments to a desert location we're not supposed to identify; and Casey is a squad leader in a Stryker brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, on his second Iraq tour.

Priscilla and I live in Arkansas, a few miles south of Little Rock. She is a Girl Scouts VP. I hope we go back to Texas when Priscilla retires. But that's a few years away.

I had 12 years with the Texas Army National Guard, including almost nine years as an Active Guard/Reserve training NCO. The other years I was in intelligence, 18 months as brigade-level S2 NCO. A cerebral aneurysm in 1986 brought problems. Surgery successful, in that I am alive. The Army put me out after diagnosis of "Organic mental disorder, characterized by depression, emotional lability and personality decompensation." I'm still not sure what those last two are.

I chose the name Ittai because Ittai was a soldier who took seriously his oath to David. In 2 Samuel 15, David fled Jerusalem upon the rebellion of Absalom. As those who remained with the king filed before him, David saw Ittai, his soldiers and their families. David said to Ittai, "Wherefore goest thou also with us? ... Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? ... return now and take thy bretheren ..." Ittai replied, "As the Lord liveth, and my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in life or death, even there also thy servant will be."

I hope to write what might be called essays, but more like columns I once wrote for newspapers -- reflections on kids and family in general, Vietnam things, cross-post from other sites. Enjoy the reading. Drop a note now and then.