Norman Rockwell

Do you remember Norman Rockwell? He lived from 1894 to 1978. For over 50 years, Norman Rockwell was a defining illustrator of the American middle class. He apparently did not draw the America of his memory but the America as he imagined it. His talent is beyond impressive. He was best known for his work with the Saturday Evening Post where he drew 321 covers. One of the better known covers from that magazine is titled “GI Homecoming.” This one was from May,1945, just at the end of the second world war. It is a portrait of a newly returned soldier standing in what appears to be the grubby yard of a run-down tenement typical of 1940’s Brooklyn or some other American melting pot city. There at the too small back porch, stands his loving and devoted Mom, arms outstretched in unrestrained joy, ecstatic that her little boy has returned alive from the war. You can just see Dad in the back door, newspaper in hand. His expression tells us he knows his little boy has come back much more than just a man. On the roof over that same porch, a workman beams down in quiet satisfaction to see his much missed friend. A couple of sisters are at Mom’s feet, jumping with joy. Racing towards him is little brother. He is no doubt thinking that now that my big brother is back, he will do great harm to those who have tormented him in his absence. Also racing towards him is the family dog, ready to play. But wait. Around the corner of the brick tenement is something else entirely new. Backed against the wall in a poor attempt at concealment, there “She” is. Tall, blond, girl next door pretty, she tries vainly to hide and see all at the same time. Our lass’ interest in the returning warrior is much more than a mere passing fancy. You know, we are never given the opportunity to see the soldier’s face. His back is towards us. But he stands there in the confidence born of manhood and the privations of war. We don’t know if he has yet seen her. One would like to think that he has. You know, she’s purrrdy! And she is opportunity. She is the opportunity to build his life anew after the ravages of war. She is the opportunity we all have if we are willing and able to see around the corner. Here on one hand is all the turmoil and noise of daily life resumed. On the other is new life with all its joys and expectations.

Opportunity will present itself in unlikely places at unlikely times.  Can you see “her?”

Komodo Dragons

(The following is submitted for your consideration, given that there are, at this exact moment, a family of Komodo Dragons in temporary residence at the Indianapolis Zoo). Enjoy.

            Well, now, it must be that the Almighty was in a sour mood the day He created the Komodo Dragon.  He probably made this lizard right after he made us and probably to spite us. This, the largest living lizard, is high on the list of the most unpleasant of creatures.

            First of all, his appearance does not lend itself to endearment. He can be long, up to 10 feet. He is also expressionless, unless a large gaping mouth capable of swallowing a small pig in its entirety is considered a captivating visage. Second, they have a ponderous gait that gives the illusion of slow physical and mental ability. They can however, move with lightning speed at the prospect of a meal. They are known to reach short bursts of speed up to 13 mph. You and I cannot run that fast. This is an eating machine so its mental ability and function is completely devoted to locating a tasty something or other. He has the habit of hanging around game trails (think a commuter route for animals) a long time, motionless, patiently waiting for some unsuspecting whatever to pass by. He is at the top of the food chain so will eat pretty much anything he can get his mouth around. He does not think much of us though, as it would seem attacks towards humans are fairly rare unless you happen to get in between him and lunch.

            It is a wonder they have managed to survive – Varanus komodoensis is a cannibal. It would seem that Mr. and Mrs. Dragon like to feast on their own kids. They have been at it so long that these creatures are born with a highly refined genetic ability to climb trees. It’s true. They are, at birth, highly accomplished tree climbers. Further, they seem to know the second they are born that it’s “off to the trees quick!” They further have it in themselves an uncanny knowledge that, if they smother themselves in dung and other unmentionable filth, they will render themselves unsuitable for any of the older lizards’ dining pleasure.

            Such is their extreme and total lack of social skills that the Creator put him on his own island way out in Indonesia. They have now made the place into a park and have decided to hire a bunch of rangers to protect this lizard from us. Or maybe it is to protect us from him. He is a wholly nasty and unlikeable (though oddly fascinating) creature. I hope to never meet one in the wild and, in support of that goal, will most certainly never visit the Komodo National Park.

            Say what you want, but the Komodo is a patient and tenacious survivor. He is also opportunistic. He is the walking, talking example of patience being a virtue.  Patience. “He who waits on the Lord will renew his strength.”

Wayne Dammeir

Wayne Dammeir was my brother-in-law.  He spent his entire life on a ranch in the Texas Panhandle (the Holy Land).  He was married with two children. He is a direct decendant of Batt Masterson of wild west fame.

If you looked up cowboy in the dictionary, it could just as likely say “see Wayne Dammeir.”  I’m convinced he was the original inspiration for the Marlboro Man. Quiet and weather beaten , he had a gentle toughness about him honed by years of dealing with ornery cattle and stubborn horses (and polished by his Mary Kay).  My last memory of him is from a dinner our two families enjoyed at a classic B-B-Q joint in Amarillo, Texas.  He informed me in his typically low-key fashion that, as a foreigner in these here parts, my money would no doubt be useless and that he would do the right thing and pay for dinner.  I observed that the same problem would exist were we “Back home again in Indiana” and that I believe I would have done the same thing.  His humor was drier than mine.

Wayne fooled us all.  His simple aw schucks demeanor hid a highly educated man.  He had a B.S. in Agricultural Science and a Master’s in Agricultural Economics from Texas A&M.  He was also President of the local Cattle Association.  He was devoted to his family and his ranch.  There is not a man anywhere so clear in his passion than Wayne was for the ranching life.

Wayne was also a tough old cuss.  There was a time when he was roping a steer that had gotten away from the herd and wandered off.  Got the rope around his head just fine and all seemed ok.  Unfortunately, his rope tangled around his leg, the steer went one way and the horse another.  Broke his leg in two places and left him alone in the middle of a range on a blistering hot Texas afternoon.  He drug himself a good distance to the only tree that offered anything resembling shade and waited until his father came looking for him.  I’m told he laid out there 3-4 hours. Yup, this actually happened.  I don’t know how many rattlesnakes he shot.

Not long ago, Wayne and his son were on horseback out on the range. Wayne was working with a horse that had recently been broken. He and Jordan went separate ways on different projects. Two or three hours later, Jordan was back at the barn when Wayne’s horse came back without him.  Twenty-two year old Jordan rode out in search of his Father.  He found him, battered and bloody, at the bottom of a ravine.  His horse had thrown him and his neck was apparently broken.  Rescue ensued and Wayne hung on another twenty four hours.  He died on a brilliant Texas afternoon at the age of 57. He left the wife he deeply loved, Mary Kay, a daughter, Laurel Catherine, and son Jordan.  He also left friends and admirers all across the Texas Panhandle and beyond.

Wayne Dammier was one of the finest gentleman I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  I am at a loss to explain what a class act he was. He loved his Mary Kay with all his heart and his passion for ranching was without bounds. I shall miss him.

Wayne knew his passion and followed it unreservedly.  “Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.”

The Four Chaplains

1AM on February 3, 1943. United States Army Transport Ship, Dorchester, is in a convoy of 6 ships enroute from St John’s Newfoundland to the US Army Command base in southern Greenland.  At that time, she is about 100 miles off the southern coast of Greenland making a leisurely 10 knots an hour.  Most of the 904 crewmembers and American soldiers were asleep below deck. They had been told to sleep dressed and in lifejackets as they were steaming through waters then known as “torpedo alley.”

Some distance away at periscope depth, the Captain of the German U-boat, U-223, spots the convoy.  She approaches the convoy on the surface and, at his order, lays out a fan of three torpedoes. Two apparently went awry. The third,  the third slammed amidships into Dorchester’s starboard side.  It is a mortal wound.  Boiler power was lost so the whistle to abandon ship could not be sounded.  Electric power was also lost so that an SOS could not be sent.  Several life boats were destroyed.  Many of the ones that did launch capsized due to overcrowding.  In the confusion, life jackets were lost. They were of little use to the hundreds of men thrown violently into 34 degree water.  The water was so cold they were unable to even grasp the cargo nets thrown to them.  904 men went into the cold northern Atlantic that night – 230 would survive to see the sunrise – and Dorchester sank by the bow in 20 minutes.

The explosion had left many men badly wounded and unable to move.  Four young men however made a choice to give up their life jackets and stay on board with the wounded.  They were all young Army Chaplains.  They stayed on board to preach courage to the living and pray with the dying.  They recognized that the needs of those all around them were more important than their own.  Survivors tell of them moving about the sinking ship tending to as many as they could until Dorchester finally sank into the cold and dark north Atlantic.

It is said they were last observed standing on the deck together, arms linked, praying loud enough to be heard in one final effort to bring comfort to those who would soon face a cold and lonely death.  For their actions, the four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.—- Today, the US Army trains its Chaplains at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. There is a Chapel there with a stained glass window installed in memory of those four Americans who showed the greatest love that they gave their lives for their friends.

There are few examples of completely selfless acts of service.  Most of us will never be in a position to give this kind of sacrifice. Words cannot fully express the quality of men that would voluntarily give up their own lives in service to the men around them, most of which they did not know. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”