From the Publisher’s Desk – Once again, it’s time to move on

By Lisa Whaley

I ran into my first love the other day.

Neither tall, dark nor handsome, this love was instead two stories high, drafty and in need of a lot of work.

Yet somehow it tugged at my heart like nothing else before.

At that time, so many years ago, I was single and had always dreamed of living in an old place — but thought it was beyond my reach.

Then I toured the house.

Estimated to have been built in the mid-to-late 1800s, the house used electric “stack” heaters for warmth, well-placed trees for cooling and relied on a nearby spring for water. Strange combinations of paint and wallpaper were everywhere. Half-finished projects, including an upstairs room stripped to its two-by-fours, were scattered throughout the house.

I can still picture the mattress, sans frame, laying on the brown linoleum in a downstairs parlor.

But all I could really see at that moment was its five fireplaces, reminiscent of an earlier era; the ornate, carved wooden staircase and upstairs landing; the tall windows; and the gingerbread-decorated front porch.

I could imagine ladies in big hats and long skirts getting ready for a picnic, hear the rattle of horses and their harnesses as they made their way to the nearby barn after a hard day of work in the fields and smell the aromas of wood smoke, coal and the cooking of long-ago suppers.

I was captivated. And like the whirlwind romance so clearly being mirrored, “old house” and I were soon wed with keys in hand and my name on the deed.

The following years were filled with sweet memories, as well as challenges met and lost. With the help of my long-suffering brother, I uncovered fireplaces, original floors and gorgeous hardwoods.

About two years into the house, I met my real love, Tim. We married and soon had two daughters to raise in a house that seemed to have been created for the warmth of family and the laughter of children.

Not that it was all smooth sailing. There were days when the water from the spring quit running, and we would melt snow in the winter or walk down to the creek in the summer to keep us all going. Gallons of store-bought spring water was also always on hand for such occasions.

Cold weather often meant a move for the whole family to the “study” which we had equipped with a propane stove. And running out to the front porch to reset the breakers became a regular occurrence after we found that the house’s current electrical system couldn’t support, for example, two heaters and a hairdryer.

Yet there were also the nights sitting on the side porch with our girls, Ginny and Mary, singing old mountain ballads passed down from my grandma Rosa and my grandpa Brownlow. The annual “honeysuckle festival” welcoming summer each year, established by Ginny and Mary and conducted on top of the old honeysuckle-covered log in the backyard. And the many dinners, snacks and family celebrations held in front of an original fireplace in our old-fashioned kitchen.

I honestly believed I would live out the rest of my life in that old country farmhouse, but the day finally came more than eight years ago when I recognized that it was time to go.

The house and its needs were just too big for our small family; the costs to keep it running too great. And my dreams of what I could do had long been replaced by the frustration of all that still needed to be accomplished.

I cried when we left, telling “old house” that we would find someone to love it even better than we had.

We sold it to a family with their own growing children and their own dreams of what it could be.

Then, this past month, “old house” showed up on realtor.com.

Photos revealed lots of restoration and repairs. The price was right and, against our better judgement, Tim and I stopped by to tour the property.

A new roof had been added to its top. Its former one-bathroom status had been changed to three. The upstairs had finally been finished. The kitchen had been expanded.

But the side porch was gone, turned into a walk-in closet. The front parlor that had once been our bedroom was now a state-of-the-art media room. The upstairs bedroom, once the domain of my youngest, had lost a fireplace but had gained a bathroom.

Oh, the pull was still there, whispering to me quietly while the realtor described the property. I had to fight the urge to grab a pen and sign on the dotted line. But in my heart I knew this was my house no longer. Another family had worked for nearly a decade to make it their own. And soon, someone else would take up the baton, adding another page in its history.

My husband, when we first made plans to tour the house, said these wise and prophetic words.

“It’s like reconnecting with an old girlfriend,” he said with a wry smile. “It seems like a good idea on paper, but when you meet, you know it just wouldn’t work.”

Like the old house, our family had changed. And it was once again time to move on.

Adam’s Apples – Alexa! Stop listening!

By James Mack Adams

As one who has been around for several decades, I have seen a lot of changes. I can say I have listened to staticky vacuum tube-powered radios, watched three blurry channels on a tiny black and white television screen, and used a rotary-dial telephone. It is difficult for younger folks to believe it, but those were considered cutting-edge technologies at one time. 

I have always considered myself to be receptive to newer technologies. However, the speed at which technology is now moving can be a little frightening. At times I fear we are sacrificing personal privacy on the altar of convenience. Our daily activities are more and more being controlled, and often recorded, by something called ‘artificial intelligence.’ What was once science fiction is becoming reality.

Remember ‘HAL,’ the talking supercomputer in the movie “2001-A Space Odyssey”? You are also probably familiar with Apple’s ‘Siri,’ Microsoft’s ‘Cortana,’ and the GPS lady.  Well, I will soon introduce you to ‘Alexa,’ unless you two have already met.

The dictionary defines ‘artificial intelligence’, or AI, as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision making, and translation between languages.

I opened one of my gifts from a family member this past Christmas Day and, at that time, I did not know at what I was looking. It was a small, squat, cylindrical object with a power cable. The box said it was an Amazon Echo Dot. That didn’t ring any bells with me at the time. I later discovered the Amazon product has been around since 2014. I had not heard of it.

Briefly stated, Amazon’s Echo Dot is a voice-based, smart-home device infused with artificial intelligence. A lady with a very pleasing voice lives inside the small device.

Her name is Alexa.  She is the artificial intelligence. It’s a little like having another person in the house. No, you can’t claim her as a dependent. 

Alexa can make your life easier. She can control the lighting in your home, control and monitor home security (locks, cameras, etc.). She can remind you of your appointments, prepare a grocery list and let you know when your latest Amazon on-line order will arrive. She can play your favorite music, read the latest news, tell you the meaning of a word, and translate between languages. Need to know a final sports score? Ask Alexa. Need to convert liters to ounces?  Ask Alexa. Is it going to rain in Erwin tomorrow? Ask Alexa.

A word of caution. Alexa reacts whenever she hears her name. That might be a problem if there is a real person named Alexa living in the house. A television character of the same name might also trigger a response. That has happened in our house. 

I will have to admit I am by no means using Alexa to anywhere near her potential. To take full advantage of Alexa’s abilities, I would have to install “smart” plugs, light switches, telephone jacks, cameras and other “smart” devices throughout the house. I would essentially have to do a lot of rewiring. That could become pricey in an older home.

Alexa is listening to what is going on around her. She has to listen so she can react to commands. She is not only listening, she is remembering. There is also a chance Amazon employees may be listening in. Amazon says the purpose of gathering data from users is to improve the system.

That is what concerns some users.   I have another family member who will not allow such a device in his home.  Artificial intelligence might evoke memories of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984.” Big Brother is listening.

In this case it would be Big Sister. On at least two instances when Jo and I were discussing something at the kitchen table, Alexa interrupted to offer her commentary. It caught us both by surprise.

Alexa’s ability to listen and record data can be somewhat controlled through the Alexa App on your computer, tablet, or phone. There is a button on top of the Echo device that will turn off the microphone.

It would be nice if I could just say, “Alexa, stop listening,” or “Alexa, shut up.” But that might hurt her feelings and she might not speak to me for days. Perhaps I am being a little too futuristic.

Officer Norway’s Column – More memories of serving in Somalia

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Editor’s note: This week Officer Kjell Michelsen continues his look back at his service in Somalia during the 1990s. The first part of this story appeared in the May 29 issue of The Erwin Record.

After we arrived in Mogadishu, thanks in large part to the strong presence of U.S. Marines and soldiers from the French Foreign Legion, the city, for the most part, was reasonably safe for us to travel around in. That said, there were some minor clashes between various clan militia, but they let us, for the most part, be alone to do our jobs.

It took a good couple of weeks before our little tent camp came together with a somewhat proper shower house and porta-johns. The first couple of weeks our shower was a few wooden pallets on the ground, and we would stand on those pouring water over ourselves. Even as primitive as that was, it felt great after a long hot day to rinse off with some lukewarm water.

We spent about three months in our little tent camp at the airport. Other countries set up similar camps as they arrived. We had a Nigerian camp right next to us, and not far away, soldiers from New Zealand had theirs and so on. Most of our days were spent supporting the UNOSOM HQ with staff and security, filling sandbags, fortifying our camp and plenty of reconnaissance trips into the city itself.

The security situation started to change in a negative direction in the spring of 1993, just a few days after we had moved our camp from the airport up to the former U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu.

The second in command for U.N. operations was a U.S. Army Lieutenant General Thomas Montgomery. As a result of the worsening security situation, a close protection unit from the U.S. Army CID was assigned to him as his security detail.

Because of our knowledge of the city, the Norwegian guard and escort squad was tasked with augmenting the U.S. Army close protection unit, and thus one of the most exciting and dangerous assignment for me in my years serving overseas started.

We worked closely with our new U.S. counterparts in many security operations in and around Mogadishu, both utilizing vehicles and helicopters.

The U.S. Embassy compound was a target for daily mortar and small arms attacks, so everywhere one went you had to be in full combat gear, at times often running from place to place. This was the period when the well known “Black Hawk Down” incident, made famous through the movie with the same name, took place.

During most of that battle, I was stationed in a side office to General Montgomery and could hear over radio communications when things started to take a turn for the worse as soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment, Delta Force and Navy SEALS went to the rescue of personnel from two downed Blackhawk helicopters.

In all, 19 U.S. soldiers were killed in action during the battle or shortly after, and another 73 were wounded in action. At that time, it was the deadliest battle since the Vietnam War.

Until next time, be safe and be thankful for our military men and women, and say a prayer for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Hood’s Winks – Tuskegee again

By Ralph Hood

My last column—about the Tuskegee Airmen—brought in several comments. One of the most interesting was the email telling me something that I didn’t know at all: there were also Tuskegee women!

The Tuskegee Army Nurses were a part of Tuskegee that had been totally unknown to me until, once again, Pat Luebke—my hard-working friend and media person—informed me of them and put me in touch with Ms. Pia Jordan, Tuskegee Army Nurses Project Director.

Obviously, the Tuskegee Army Nurses are not as well known as the Tuskegee Airmen, but Ms. Jordan is building a website on which you can follow her progress:  www.TuskegeeArmyNurses.info. We wish her the very best.

People ask me about Tuskegee Institute (now University). How did it start? Who built it and kept it growing?

Ah—that brings up another great historic story wrapped around one man, the great Booker T. Washington.

For a quick history, just look up Booker T. Washington on Wikipedia. It is a truly awesome story.

I first read that story in elementary school where we had tons of biographies in the library. They were all orange—front and back—and I do believe I read every one of them cover to cover.

If you go to Wikipedia, notice carefully the dates involved. Mr. Washington was born a slave. As an adult, he advised United States presidents. Unbelievable!

He started Tuskegee Institute with a little bit of money and a lot of effort. His goal was to teach his students how to earn a living and compete in the free market, plain and simple. His students literally built their own school: making bricks, constructing classrooms, barns and outbuildings, and growing their own crops and raising livestock, both for learning and to provide the basic necessities. Both men and women had to learn trades as well as academics.

Booker T. Washington was unbelievable. That’s all I can say.

He died in 1915, when he was only 59 years old. His reputation lives on.

Send comments to ralph@ralphhood.com.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Preservation project has Ervin/Erwin connections

By Connie Denney

It was a fine May morning when I toured Cherokee Creek Farm and heard about work being done to preserve this historic property, now an event venue. Angie Lemon pointed out that exterior walls of the house were built from bricks fired on site and are four bricks thick. Across the road stands a brick spring house. Remains of a post office and general store and a gristmill are still visible along Taylor Bridge Road in Washington County. A Tennessee Historical Commission marker stands near the intersection of State Route 81 and Taylor Bridge Road and may be seen just after crossing Taylor Bridge spanning the Nolichucky River, as one travels from Erwin toward Jonesborough.

The old oak tree beneath which Jacob Brown negotiated with Cherokee Indians in the 1700s was felled by a strong wind in 1958, according to Viola Ruth Ervin Swingle’s book titled ERVIN, which includes a photograph of the house, built by Byrd Brown, Jacob’s grandson. Mrs. Swingle documented the story of the house and its purchase by her father, David J. N. Ervin in 1908. She, also, tells the story of her father’s donating land for a town, which was later named Ervin in his honor. According to the story, the town’s first postmaster was an Erwin and somehow the “W” took the place of the “V” in the name.

As Angie, whose maiden name is Castle, led me about the property, I learned that she and husband Don Lemon also have Erwin roots, although they now live in neighboring Washington County. And, no, she had not done anything like this before. She is a pharmacist who works from home as a medical science liaison for Genentech. Don does IT work for Brown Edwards, an accounting firm, in Bristol. 

The house had been vacant for 20 years when they bought the 23-acre property from heirs in April 2018. She tells of reaching out to others to learn about historic preservation, craftsmen to do restoration work and about this house, in particular. The results are impressive. There’s more to come.

In addition to attention to the house with its nine fireplaces and both summer and winter kitchens, much work has been done on the grounds to provide usable spaces including a dance floor. A lovely fountain still bubbled and floated white blooms, which I supposed were left from the 200-person wedding event a few days earlier. A major addition underway is the 7,000-square-foot Creekside Barn to accommodate large parties. Among other offerings, it is to include a commercial kitchen.

Although the venue is a work in progress, Angie has bookings and is making them into 2020.  She says the goal is what she terms “The Estate Collection,” which is set out in a slick four-color promotional piece. “Our Farmhouse was constructed in 1840 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It provides deluxe, boutique style overnight accommodations for your event. With six different ceremony locations to consider, let the team at Cherokee Creek Farm help make your special day unforgettable!” It suggests one-day, weekend, Farmhouse and/or Creekside Barn, or all- inclusive options.

Although, its use has changed, the fact that this property is being appreciated and preserved allows it to be enjoyed—not only by those using it as an event venue—but by all who take pleasure in knowing it’s place in history is marked, perpetuated.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Remembering a mission to Somalia

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

The same year I came home from my tour to the now former Yugoslavia, another mission popped up in late fall of 1992.

In 1991 the Somali President Siad Barre and his administration had been ousted by a coalition of clan-based opposition groups, backed by Ethiopia’s then-ruling party. To make a long story short, Somalia rather quickly became a country ravaged by civil war, which in turn led to vast amounts of refugees and outright starvation for many people. The UN reacted, and through a resolution passed in early December 1992, the establishment of the United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM) was created.

Norway decided to send a platoon mostly staffed with support personnel to serve at the UNOSOM HQ in Mogadishu. I was assigned to a rifle squad tasked with security and escort duties for the HQ. After our initial training in Norway, we flew down to Somalia in a chartered Russian Ilyushin airplane, which was a former Soviet-era heavy transport plane with a cool looking “bombers lookout” up front.

Because of some scheduling arrival issues with the now US-controlled airport in Mogadishu, we had to land in Larnaca, Cyprus, where we as best as we could celebrated Christmas with the Russian flight-crew.

A few days after Christmas we finally received the go-ahead for our final flight directly down to Mogadishu. We landed and taxied to the UN side of the airport, and when the doors opened, the humid 100-plus degrees of air hit us like a “sledgehammer.” At that time, the Norwegian Army did not have any proper hot climate uniforms. We were all issued the same, poorly made uniforms called “Indian Bush,” we had been using in Lebanon. They held up for a while, but because of the constant humidity, the fabric took a beating. We later ended up getting new U.S. made woodland uniforms, which was a considerable improvement.

This mission to Somalia was in many ways a “first off” for the Norwegian Army, especially in terms of logistics and equipment. We had, for instance, tents with us that we lived in for the first few months that were made for the Norwegian climate, and not so much for what Somalia had to offer. We did not have any form for airconditioning, so the adjustment for us was brutal, but as the saying goes: “You Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”

We also had a full field kitchen with us staffed with several veteran cooks. I mentioned the heat, and these guys were working from early in the morning to late at night in a kitchen tent with several gas-burning stoves, again without any air conditioning and where the temperature easily would reach 120 degrees. Still, they managed to serve hot meals every day, bake bread and pastries for the whole platoon from day one.

Until next time, and part 2 of my time in Somalia, be safe, be happy, and enjoy the summer heat and the glory of air conditioning.

Hood’s Winks – A great American hero

By Ralph Hood

Oh, I had an exciting event last week …

I had a telephone interview with Lt. Col. Harry Stewart, Jr., one of the last living members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black pilots who were chosen, taught to fly, and sent off to Europe to fly combat missions in World War II. They did a great job.

Back when I was selling airplanes in Montgomery, Alabama – a hop, skip and jump from Tuskegee University – I met several Tuskegee airmen.

You young folk can’t possibly imagine how prejudiced and segregated we were in the 1940s, particularly in the southern United States.

Harry Stewart, the future Tuskegee Airman, traveled by train from New York to Tuskegee University in Alabama. Two years later, he was flying P-51 fighters against the Germans in Europe.

Just imagine – he learned to fly, received the coveted silver wings, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was at the time only 19 years old, and not yet licensed to drive a car!

The Tuskegee Airmen did a great job flying in WW II. They won honors. Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew 43 missions and once shot down three German airplanes in one day.

They were heroes. They did all this knowing full well that if they were shot down and lived, they – unlike white pilots – could not hide among the white population on the ground – they would be killed.

They were heroes – until they came back home after the war.

Stewart had always wanted to be an airline pilot. He said he quickly learned that no airline would hire a “colored person” as a pilot.

Stewart remained in the military a few more years, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel. Then he retired from the military, went back to school at New York University, earned a mechanical engineering degree, and went to work for a large company, ANR Pipeline. When he retired, he was vice president of the company.

Obviously, the man is a winner in any arena.

After his second retirement, Stewart took young people flying in a sailplane, hoping to inspire them for great things in their future.

Col. Stewart will be 95 years old on July 4 – what a patriotic day to be born! – but he’s still moving forward. He has a book out, “Soaring to Glory: A Tuskegee Airman’s Firsthand Account of WW II,” written by Lt. Col. Harry Stewart and Philip Handleman (Regnery History, June 4, 2019, $29.99).

Col. Stewart will be flying by airline to California to introduce the book. I wonder if any passengers on the flight will realize that a true American hero is onboard.

Send comments to ralph@ralphhood.com.

A Refreshing Knapp – I’ve graduated! Now what?

By Ray Knapp

As a graduating senior this year and exiting into the “real world” out there, you are probably filled with more questions and anxiety than you thought you would feel. What am I going to do now? What do I want to do? Will I just let fate decide for me, or will I make some concrete plans and see them through? What is the meaning of life anyway, and what am I to do with mine? Sometimes those questions are as relevant to university graduates as to those just graduating high school.

Having an age and experience advantage on you, I can say with some authority that it is my conclusion that every person is born to live out the dream they have inside. You may fall or fail many times. Most of us are afraid of the thief who comes in the night to steal all your things. But the thief is actually a figment of your imagination that is after your dreams. He is called doubt. He has killed more dreams than failure ever did. He wears many disguises and will leave you blinded; leave you “kind of” a success, not the real success of fulfilling the dream you were destined to live. To get past this mentality you have to want it with all your heart. You may fall or fail many times, but who is counting? Don’t let go of that dream – determination is the difference between success and failure. Henry Ford was bankrupt at age 42. Many people would have thrown up their hands in despair and settled for a life doing whatever menial thing they could to get by. Henry held onto his dream and, I think we all agree, turned that temporary failure into a huge financial success.

Some of the most meaningful moments come when we too rise above or go beyond the limits of our self-image and put ourselves at the service of others and our creator. Maybe you should add: that in order for life to feel meaningful, it needs to be in sync with your sincere interests. That’s not saying your interests in life are different from everyone else; many will find similar interests in nursing, teaching, or reaching for the stars … being an astronaut. It’s a case of knowing enough about yourself to find a particular path to service. When you find that dream inside you, then you can move towards defining the meaning of life. The meaning of life is to pursue that sense of self through interaction and understanding others, and keeping on the path towards service to God, and country – and working towards your ambitions.

It seems many pursue a life of no particular interests. For your life to be fulfilling and meaningful, certain things need to be done.

Foremost, you need to have relationships with others. Not preaching to you, but the Golden Rule is a good place to start, followed by the 10 Commandments. Relationships with others can, and perhaps should, include romantic ones, followed by family, friends and co-workers. Delving into just the dream – say… writing the next Great American Novel; being the world’s best artist and so forth is not the only thing you need to understand yourself, the world, or the meaning of life. Life means nothing without having a relationship with others.

A good friend, Jack Metcalf, a warm, likeable guy, wanted to be a railroad engineer, and to be the best engineer possible of a diesel train. Being an engineer isn’t just keeping the train on the tracks at a certain speed. Steve Brody learned about speed just before his demise in “The Wreck of the old 97.” Jack had to learn more than that; all the controls; what cars to hook to, and those to leave on a siding – everything about it. He worked hard, realized that dream inside him, and lived a fulfilled and happy life.

Do what interests you, and in everything you do in life … give it everything you have, and like Jack, you can live a fulfilled and happy life.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Norway celebrates its independence

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

This week on May 17, Norway, my birth country, celebrates their independence day. On that day in 1814, the new Constitution of Norway was signed in the town of Eidsvold.

Back then Norway was in a union with Sweden. The Swedish King at that time, King Karl Johan, actually banned it, believing that a celebration of this day was in fact, kind of a protest and disregard, even revolt against the union. It was not until 1905 that Norway once again was a fully independent country with its own King and Queen, and once again May 17 could be celebrated freely.

I remember growing up in Northern Norway how we used to celebrate May 17. The schools were a big part of the celebrations and still are. In the bigger cities with several schools, each would march under their own banner, and each class also had their separate banner. Most schools would also have a marching band, so in a city like Oslo the capital, you will see a parade with thousands of kids, from around 120 schools. Last year there were 74 marching bands, all parading dressed up and waving Norwegian flags. These parades will be held rain or shine.

Another neat thing about the Norwegian Independence day celebrations is the fact that the day very much is focused around children. The first part of the parade is mostly kindergarten, elementary and middle school kids, guided by their teachers and other volunteer chaperons. Behind them is the “peoples parade,” where you will have mostly families and various groups and civic associations. Somewhere between you will have the soon to be graduates from universities and high schools.

The latter, the high school graduates, are something unique to Norway. As I mentioned in an earlier post, high schools in Norway last only three years. The planning for their month-long celebration starts already during their first year in school. Some say it has gone a little out of hand, and I have to agree. Students from some schools will purchase an older bus and have it totally customized with a sound and light system, reminiscent of a night club. It will be painted inside and out, and they rent drivers to drive them around to various parties and concerts.

Some years ago my wife, my late mother-in-law and I were able to experience May 17 celebration in the capital, Oslo. It was a beautiful day, and we were able to get a sweet spot right in front of the Royal Castle and got to see the Royal family out on the balcony waving and greeting the parade as it passed directly in front of them. After the parade, we went as the custom is to a restaurant where they served Norwegian whipped cream cake with coffee, full of people dressed in suits and many in their respective national costumes from both Norway and other countries.

Until next time, be safe, be happy and be a good steward of our very own Independence Day.

Adam’s Apples – Meeting the Yorkshire vet

By James Mack Adams

One of my favorite programs on public television is “All Creatures Great and Small.” It is the story of James Herriot, a veterinarian practicing in the fictional town of Darrowby in the Yorkshire dales of northern England. James Herriot is a pen name used by the real Yorkshire veterinarian, James Alfred Wight. He was known as Alf to his friends. It is said he chose the last name of his favorite soccer player for his pen name. 

I have watched every episode of the PBS series, some more than once. While doing so, I never envisioned that I would one day have the opportunity to meet and chat with the gentleman. The encounter was a coincidence.

It was sometime in the 1980s that my former, now deceased, wife and I decided to embark on a driving tour of the Yorkshire dales. We planned to use a map of the dales that was printed in one of Herriot’s books we owned.

It is my opinion that the best way to travel other countries and enjoy the experience more is to obtain lodgings at bed and breakfast establishments whenever possible. This gives the traveler a chance to stay in private homes, meet and chat with the locals, and soak up more of the local flavor. If we had not decided to use bed and breakfast lodgings, we would not have had the experience I will describe.

One day in our travels, we drove our rented British-version Ford Escort into the town of Thirsk. After some searching, we booked lodgings in the home of a very nice lady. I am convinced some unknown force guided us to that particular house.

We moved our baggage into our room and then sat down in the parlor for tea and scones and a nice chat with the lady of the house. Our conversation soon turned to the fact we were huge fans of James Herriot and were using his book as a guide in our travels.

“Oh yes, Dr. Wight,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “He takes care of my little dog.”

I was awash in a wave of excitement. I know this was blatantly obvious to our hostess. She continued. “If you are on the street in front of his surgery tomorrow afternoon about 4:30 p.m., he will invite you in for a chat.”

At the suggested time the following afternoon, we were standing in front of the surgery at number 23 Kirkgate. The metal plaque beside the front door read, “Mr J A Wight Veterinary Surgeon.”

We were surprised that we were the only people waiting. It did occur to us that our hostess might have been mistaken and that we might be on a goose chase.

As if on cue, on or about the appointed time, a tall, slim white-haired gentleman opened the bright-red front door and walked out onto the small stoop.

His tie was loosened, and the sleeves of his white dress shirt rolled to the elbows. He greeted us warmly and invited us to come in. We sat in his office and talked for some time. He autographed our book before we left.

There is one particular thing that still fascinates me about the meeting with Dr. Wight. He was well known nationally and internationally as a best-selling author. He was the principal character in a popular and long-running TV series. Yet, to the residents of the town of Thirsk, he was just the local vet.

23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, the former home and surgery of James Alfred Wight (aka James Herriot), is now a museum and tourist attraction dedicated to his memory. On the outside wall is a blue plaque. The plaque, similar in purpose to our historical markers, is used by British Heritage to mark a building or site linked to an important person or event.

Dr. Wight died in 1995, but his professional and literary legacies live on. He dedicated his life to the tender loving care of “All Creatures Great and Small,” and to writing about his experiences. 

He deserves to be remembered. It was an honor to meet him.

From the Publisher’s Desk – A pretty good start – for now

By Lisa Whaley

My daughter called from college early one morning last week. Even before I answered it, I knew there was something wrong.

After all, her first class isn’t until 11 a.m.

“Mom, we had a fire,” was her cheerful 7 a.m. greeting.

Mary is a freshman at Western Carolina University. She is in the college’s Honors program, so she lives in one of the college’s honor dorms — Balsam.

It is a fairly new, beautifully designed and generally quiet building in which to reside.

Except last Wednesday night.

Or to be more accurate, Thursday morning.

Students, already weary from finals’ preparation and end-of-school-projects, were sleeping peacefully when the fire alarms went off at 4 a.m.

Fire alarms weren’t that unusual in Balsam, my daughter explained. The ongoing campus joke was that despite the high-IQs these honors students supposedly had, they couldn’t seem to make popcorn without burning it.

Everyone tumbled out of the building. Some thought it was just an oddly timed drill or perhaps another burnt bag of popcorn. Others were simply tired and confused.

It would be four hours before my daughter was able to return to her room, and she was one of the lucky students whose area had not been affected by either the sprinklers or the smoke.

According to rumors yet to be verified, a student had knocked over a lit candle and accidentally started the fire. (Candles are, of course, forbidden in the dorms for obvious reasons.)

Of course, for the students impacted, the timing of the fire couldn’t have been worse. Everything had been left in the rooms, Mary explained, even the rooms that would soon be doused in water and smoke. Many a student spent Thursday morning in a panic over the state of their final papers and projects — including the status of one very frightened guinea pig that was part of a crucial end-of-term science assignment.

Fortunately, there were no reports of any serious injuries. The college worked hard to get everything back up and running.

And the May 8 Balsam fire will probably become just one of the “when I was in college” crazy memories to relive many years in the future.

These WCU students were lucky.

Not so fortunate were the University of North Carolina at Charlotte students just two days earlier when, on April 30, a gunman opened fire on the campus, killing two and injuring four.

Like my daughter at WCU, these kids were simply students intent on preparation for and completion of spring finals.

It was horrifying; it was senseless; and for parents, it was so terrifyingly unpredictable.

We work to keep our children safe and then, as they step toward adulthood, we try to let them find their way. Last Tuesday’s events make us want to snatch them back and hold them close.

My daughter will finish her last final this Wednesday, and then will be back with us for the next couple of months within that wonderful illusion of safety, our home.

Yet come August, we must once again prepare ourselves to send her out into the big wide world again.

Perhaps our best recourse as parents is to try to raise them with the strength, faith and independence needed to withstand all that life throws at them; to remind them that home is always their haven; and to pray without ceasing.

We also should never stop searching — and fighting — for better ways to provide safer schoolyards and campuses for all our children.

It may not be that perfect hedge of safety we dream of, but right now it is a pretty good start.

Hood’s Winks – I have noticed that …

By Ralph Hood

I have never met a person whose appearance—in my opinion—was improved by tattoos. On the other hand, we do have some tattoos in our family, so I pretend…

When it comes to poor telephone service, medical offices are worst. I tried to call the American Medical Association (AMA) to ask if they are aware of this problem. Now hear this—I absolutely could not find a telephone number on AMA’s vast website! That says all I need to know about AMA’s attitude.

Thanks to computers, we can now make more and bigger mistakes in a few seconds than we could make in an hour back in the typewriter days. Nevertheless, we can’t live without the accursed computers.

By the way – it takes my computer about a minute to get going after I push the start button. Once started, however, it moves faster than a rocket. I recently asked it to find info about koala bears. It found 53,200,000 entries (yes, that really is fifty-three million two hundred thousand entries on koalas) in less than one second! How the heck does it do that? That’s amazing, since my computer says there are less than 100,000 koalas living in the world (truth is, they are not bears at all, but are marsupials).

When I was a teenager, my father bought a used 1955 Ford Fairlane with a V-8 engine and—believe it or not—a glass pack muffler. If you accelerated in low gear it made a beautiful, roaring, blatting noise that could shake the windows of a house. Daddy—who never noticed it at all—was superintendent of schools. He would park at the high school, then rev the engine in neutral as was required in the Model A Ford he drove when much younger. The students loved the racket. Daddy didn’t even notice it.

Motorcycles make a big noise when run at high RPM. They rev the engines while waiting at a red light, then roar off in low gear. Don’tcha kinda wonder why?

How come National Public Radio says it accepts no advertising, then reads ads for all of its donors? I dunno—do you?

In my old age, I started using a walking stick. You would not believe the advantages. People open doors for me. If no one is there, I open the door myself with the stick. If I’m waiting to cross the street, cars in both directions stop and wave me by. I can sit on the side of the bed in the morning and drag my shoes over with the stick, then open my dresser drawer with the stick, pull out my underwear, and drag clothes from the wall hooks.

I’m still noticing new things but some of them I can’t mention in a family newspaper.

Officer Norway’s Corner – Springtime memories from Norway

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

Last Tuesday, we were able to arrange for a mock-crash scenario at the high school. We started planning for this event last year, and we had great help from a few members belonging to the Washington County EMS, who have arranged and planned these for several years.

This event was earmarked for the outgoing senior class, and we genuinely hope that this is something we can do every year from now on for the seniors. As I have mentioned before, distracted driving is now the leading cause of death of teenage drivers, and this is an area that I and others will be focusing even more on in the months and years to come.

Springtime is always a special time for me as an SRO. The school year is winding down, we have seniors soon to be graduating, receiving their diplomas, taking pictures, creating memories for what soon will become a thing in their past, their high school years. This graduating class is also a little milestone for me personally. When I started at the high school, these graduating seniors were all newly minted freshmen, so we have been together since they started high school.

This time of the year also brings back memories from Norway. Easter, which is a weeklong celebration and vacation time in Norway, is also the official start of the spring season. Although where I grew up there’s still plenty of snow and all the mountain lakes are still covered with ice, but the days are a little longer, which helps. One starts to see little bare spots around where the snow has melted, those hardy dandelions are starting to pop up, and the seagulls are getting busy and loud, making nests and fighting for the best spots to do that on.

Another sign of spring in Norway, like it is here, is high school graduation. High school, or “Gymnas” as it is called, lasts for three years in Norway, not the four as here in the U.S. It was a fairly mundane thing when I grew up. There were some parties, some school arrangements, bigger cities even had a concert for the graduating classes, etc. That has totally changed. Those who graduate from a trade school dress up in blue and those from a liberal arts school in red. Some will invest tens of thousands of dollars in fancy buses, decked out with big sound systems and an interior that would make Elvis envious.

Spring is in many ways a re-birth of the glory of nature around us. It’s truly a beautiful, albeit short season, most years in this area, so that gives one even more reasons to enjoy these humid-free, tempered sunny days of spring, although those who suffer from pollen allergies might differ with my views.

Until next time, be happy, be safe and enjoy every day as a gift to be treasured.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Book club has staying power

By Connie Denney

Talk about staying power! Eighty years have seen mighty structures, governments and powerful men rise and fall, not to mention men walking on the moon and many scientific discoveries. Would the group of 12 women who decided to form a book club in Erwin in 1939 have thought that 80 years later women would still gather monthly for the very specific purpose they had in mind?

But, really, why not? From the beginning Parnassus Book Club intended: “The object of this club shall be a united effort to promote the culture and entertainment of its members.” 

If you need a bit of orientation regarding the name, Mount Parnassus is in Greece. Figuratively speaking, think home of poetry, literature, learning. The book, “Parnassus on Wheels” by Christopher Morley (published 1917), directly inspired the name.

The perpetuation of such a purpose has continued through limiting the membership to 12 invitees. With each bringing one book a year, all 12 months are covered. By meeting monthly to exchange books over tasty desserts, all have the opportunity to read the books. Chatting with them during a recent meeting, I asked how they felt about being a part of the group. “Honored” was the response with added nods of agreement.

A variety of life experiences was represented in the room, including raising families, teaching school, working in federal service, as a librarian, as a social worker. There’s a granddaughter of J.F. Toney, for whom the local public library was named. Another is a former member of the library’s board. There was, also, an almost tangible camaraderie—one of the newer members arrived with three others for whom driving on their own would be a problem.

One aspect of the perpetuation of the club that struck me as very special is the mother-daughter relationships. One member is the daughter of one of the original 12 members. Four others are mother-daughter pairs.

Nancy Gentry spoke with me later about her mother, Mildred DeArmond, whose artwork appears on the club’s first yearbook, which is now displayed in a scrapbook. She was an artist and taught art, mostly for private students. Some of her works are still in the family. Although her mother did not formally teach her, Gentry did become interested and planned a college major in art but changed to math, which she taught for 25 years. After retirement she took art lessons and enjoys painting, and can “forget everything else.” Her mother influenced her love of both art and reading.

Gentry joined Parnassus after her mother’s death in 1980. Members wanted daughters to come into the club and several did.

Fast-forward to today. The membership includes Missy Lewis, the daughter of Martha Lou Bain, and Karen Loughmiller, daughter of Ann Howze.

After both retired from federal service, Lewis and her husband moved to Erwin and enjoy the outdoors. She is “thrilled” to have the book club as a social activity with her mom. Her Erwin childhood memories include going to the library, especially for Dr. Seuss and Madeline books. Her mom read to her. She now reads to her granddaughter. 

About Parnassus, she told me that regardless of being a daughter member, she feels it a “tremendous honor” to be asked to join and wants to carry on the tradition.

“I’m thankful every time I cross the mountain to live in such a beautiful part of the world,” Loughmiller says of coming from Asheville to visit her mom. They discuss lots of books and share books. She remembers her teacher parents being avid readers, always having books in the home. 

Loughmiller worked for the Buncombe County (North Carolina) Library System for 25 years. “In my experience, part of our mountain heritage is the high value our families and communities historically placed on books, learning and education, despite the challenges these rural areas often faced.” She spoke of the accumulated wisdom, kindness, compassion and humor among women in the book club she felt honored to join. 

May each of us be especially grateful Sunday, May 12, for our own mothers and others who passed along the love of books and reading.  Here’s wishing the Mothers of Parnassus Book Club—indeed all mothers — Happy Mother’s Day!

From the Publisher’s Desk – An important reminder for us all

By Lisa Whaley

On my way to work last week amid a deluge of rain, I witnessed a strange sight that stuck with the rest of that damp, gray Friday.

Driving down Highway 107 along the Nolichucky River, I passed a duck on a mission.

She was marching along the side of the road, seemingly on her way to Erwin, in her decidedly ducky-waddling way. To her right was the rushing river; to her left, the in-a-hurry morning traffic.

She looked neither right nor left, her eyes intent on what lie ahead.

I christened her “Maude.” It seemed to suit her.

She made me smile, and she made me reflect on my oh-so-similar journey, intent on the next stop on my journey and the next, looking neither left nor right — somewhat unaware of the beauty and the dangers I was passing by.

I know I’ve mentioned it before. We live in such a busy, busy culture. There is so much to do and not enough time to do it. The tyranny of the urgent rules.

Yet more often than not, the things we are rushing off to are not the important things in life — family, friends, compassion, forgiveness — but the less important ones like possessions, status, and even those mundane tasks like laundry, dishes and mowing a lawn.

I thought about Maude off and on the rest of the day and into the weekend. The rains continued, bringing the Nolichucky to near flood stage, and I decided I had perhaps maligned poor Maude. Maybe her ducky forecast had been a bit more up-to-date than mine or perhaps she had been paying closer attention.

All along 107, water was out in the roads. Front yards had become good-sized ponds. And new little “creeks” were rushing along and beside the highways.

Erwin’s Witness Walk — an annual Easter tradition that rarely lets itself be impacted by the weather —had to be cancelled due to the downpour. The faithful still gathered at Centenary United Methodist Church in tribute to the walk, but had to forego the re-creation of Jesus’ journey carrying the cross.

Unless you were a duck like Maude, the torrent was just too severe.

Saturday brought more rain and cold. Water was everywhere and the skies continued to show gray as we prepared deviled eggs, sourdough rolls and dessert for Sunday’s Easter dinner with family. My mother-in-law was providing the ham.

Traditional Easter outfits were quickly modified in preparation for Sunday’s Sunrise Service. Sleeveless floral dresses and sandals were definitely no longer appropriate to the 40-degree morning forecast.

Early that morning, with light sweaters and warmer close-toed shoes added to our outfits, we made our way to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. The sky still looked dreary. We sang hymns and heard once again the story of the crucifixion and the rolled-away stone.

And for a moment, we stopped rushing. We sat still, savoring the story of God’s love and the closeness of the family around us.

Then, as we left the sanctuary, the sun burst from the clouds, revealing a beautiful sky. The rain may have darkened our days for a bit, but morning had finally come.

It was an important reminder.

On the way home, we passed one of those new “ponds” along the side of the road. The sun was still shining and several ducks were enjoying an early morning swim. I swear one looked just like Maude.

A Refreshing Knapp – Chasing the cat

By Ray Knapp

Sitting on my back porch, I smile as the little toddler that lives in the brick house on Parker Street ran after the family cat, crying out, “come here kitty, come here kitty!” It kind of took me by surprise to see this little girl, who seems to have been born to this young couple just a while back, is now a 2-year-old energetic toddler. Their barely school age son is throwing a small beach ball to his father, who gives it a hefty kick and watches his boy run after it. All this is happening within a couple of minutes of their arrival – the groceries aren’t put away yet. What a sweet scene I get to eavesdrop on.

Having a stent recently put in my heart, I sure wouldn’t have had the energy to keep up with those two young ones. God sure knew what he was doing when he blessed the young with children.

As we grow older, more infirmities creep in. My heart Cath and stent placement for instance occurred not originally for heart problems, but a synovial cyst that had grew on my lower spine and I was due for surgery to remove it earlier this month, but the surgeon had to get approval from my heart doctor first. Being cautious, the heart doctor ordered an echocardiogram which showed the left quarter of my heart wasn’t getting oxygen. So, the cyst operation was cancelled,– that thing dried-up on its own anyway.

The heart Cath and stent placement took place over at Holston Valley Medical Center. The doctor was a little fellow. “Just remember Ha – Ha, put an S in front of it and you have my name Dr. Shaha.” He had an infectious humor and a great bedside manner. I mentioned this to some of the nurses who were in my room running tests and miscellaneous things, that he seemed to be a great guy and very likeable. They looked at each other in kind of an odd way. Finally one of them spoke, “Maybe with you. He can be very curt with us.”

I was sent home the same day, but a new medication wasn’t sitting well. I felt like I was smothering and went to Erwin’s hospital ER that evening. About 2 a.m. the ER couldn’t get my vitals stabilized and sent me by a (Washington County) ambulance, back to Kingsport. If you want to know how rough I-26 is in spots, you should try this ride … it will rattle your bones.

Two of my kids, who come to think of it, have grandchildren of their own, came up from the Atlanta area to be with me and my wife – who wasn’t feeling none too well either. They hadn’t planned on this 2nd day, and had to notify their work places that it would be another day. Every once in a while, it’s nice to take the part of a child, and let your kids care for you. ‘Funny, but when family is there, you know you are in safe hands.

Looking back into the past, I can recall these two as children; Mark’s teacher was a stickler for perfect penmanship. Notes were always coming home instructing him to practice his cursive writing for a half hour at home. Now, of course, his grandchildren couldn’t read his cursive writing if it were written perfectly.

Kim on the other hand, had no notes coming home from school that I recall. Earlier – at about 3, she got all of her baby teeth and when people complemented her on her pretty smile, she would generally prove her teeth were perfect in more ways than one, by biting the fool out of the nearest child. I had a “Biter” on my hands.

Here came that little girl from the back of the house, still after the kitty. Her mother with groceries bags in her right arm, deftly swept her tiny daughter under her left, and marched into the house.

What memories a little girl chasing her cat can bring back – and how sweet those memories. .. By the way, I’m in pretty fair shape. Thank you again, Lord.

Officer Norway’s Corner – The story of Captain Robert M. Losey

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

I have always been interested in history, especially military history. Reading about various armies, conflicts and wars through the centuries gives one an insightful perspective not only on human nature but also on cultures and indeed politics, on a local, national and global scale. So I was a little surprised when I just a few years ago came over a little story I had not heard before, about a U.S. Army Air Corps captain, Robert M. Losey, who is considered to be the first U.S. military casualty of World War II.

Now, that in itself, as tragic as it was for him, his family and loved ones, was not really what caught my eye, but the fact that he was killed in Norway spurred my interest in his story. According to Wikipedia, Robert Losey was born in the small town of Andrew, Iowa, on May 27, 1908. He was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1925 and upon graduation was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the field artillery, but transferred later to the Army Air Corps, the forerunner to today’s Air Force. Losey became a pilot and earned two masters degrees from the California Institute of Technology while also working as a meteorologist.

Professors at the school described him as “perhaps the most brilliant student” whoever had attended the school. In February 1940 Losey was appointed as the air assistant to the military attaché with the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. His primary assignment while there was to report on the war between Finland and Russia, and where the harsh winter weather also gave him a unique opportunity to observe and put into practice his knowledge about meteorology and aeronautics.

On April 9, 1940 Germany invaded Norway. The Norwegian Royal Family and most of the Norwegian Parlament were able to escape. Members of the American legation to Norway was also able to escape from Oslo and headed north. As a result, Captain Losey was ordered to Norway to help evacuate the Americans across the border into Sweden, which was a neutral country. The group of people got separated on their journey, Losey was in the first group that made it across and volunteered to go back in search of the second group.

On April 21, 1940, Captain Losey made it back across the border to Norway and ended up in the mountain town of Dombås just as aircraft from the German Luftwaffe started a bombing raid. Losey and several others took cover inside a tunnel, but a bomb fell near the entrance and Losey was hit with a fragment that killed him instantly. Several days later, the German Luftwaffe commander, Hermann Göring sent a letter to the U.S. Major General Henry Arnold with a message of regret regarding Losey’s death. At that time the U.S. was not yet in a war with Germany, and they wanted to keep it that way for a little longer.

A couple of great historical movies about the German invasion of Norway and the war between Finland and Russia is now available here in the U.S. The first one is the Norwegian movie, “The Kings Choice,” available on Netflix, and the second is the Finnish movie, “The Unknown Soldier,” which can be found on Amazon. I personally think the life and untimely death of Captain Losey also has the right ingredients to make a great historical movie about his life.

Until next time, be safe, be happy and be a student of history.

Adam’s Apple – You might be a gentleman … if

By James Mack Adams

I am often amazed at how an insignificant incident can trigger an idea for a column. Such an incident occurred one day during a visit to my local pharmacy.

As I approached the main entrance to the store, I noticed a young lady approaching behind me.  As I always do, if I have presence of mind, I opened the door and stepped aside for her to enter.  She seemed somewhat surprised by my move. Then she smiled and thanked me. 

I later began to ponder about the young lady’s initial reaction. Why was she surprised? Has our culture changed to the point where acts of common courtesy and gentlemanly gestures are becoming the exception rather than the rule? I know all about gender equality, and I am all for that. I know that some may feel that a few time-honored courtesies are now antiquated. Forgive me if I still believe ladies deserve certain courtesies from us men. Perhaps it is a generational thing.    

In an earlier column, I referenced one of my favorite stand-up comedians, Jeff Foxworthy. A favorite of his routines is, “You might be a redneck, if.” Again, with gratitude to Mr. Foxworthy, the following short discourse could be titled, “You might be a gentleman, if.”

If you open the door for a lady to enter or exit a building or room, you might be a gentleman. This courtesy originated during an era when ladies wore voluminous hooped dresses that reached the floor. It was very difficult for her to open a door while managing the dress and maintaining ladylike modesty. Heaven forbid she expose an ankle or calf. 

When walking on the street with a lady, if you walk on the side next to the traffic, you might be a gentleman. In earlier days, many city streets were unpaved. The gentleman escorting the lady shielded her from being splashed with water or mud by passing traffic. Even on paved streets, splashing can be a problem.

If you give your seat to a lady or elderly person, you might be a gentleman. Gentlemen should never occupy available seats while ladies or elders are standing.

If you remove your hat when dining in a restaurant and if you seat your lady before you seat yourself, you might be a gentleman. I don’t think this one needs further comment. It is such a basic example of good manners.

If you stand when a lady enters or leaves the room or dining table, you might be a gentleman. Here again, this is demonstrating common courtesy and respect.

If you call for your date at her front door and if you escort her to her door at the end of the date, you might be a gentleman. Many dates take place after dark. You are ensuring your lady is safe. 

If you hold the umbrella over a lady to keep her dry while walking together in the rain, you might be a gentleman. Many of us have heard the story of Sir Walter Raleigh laying his expensive cloak over a puddle so Queen Elizabeth would not get her feet wet. A noble gesture but said to be an untrue story.

If you help a lady with her coat or wrap, you might be a gentleman. In an earlier time, women wore boned corsets and other clothing that restricted their movements. It was only right that she be helped with her wrap.

Let us fast forward to today. If you leave your cell phone in your pocket while on a date, you might be a gentleman. Put the phone on silent mode and put it away. Don’t be constantly checking your email or Facebook. Focus all your attention on your lady. She will appreciate it.

Many of our present acts of courtesy date from Medieval knighthood and chivalry. Chivalry was a combination of qualities expected of a knight, especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice and help for the weak. The code of knighthood also included gallantry toward ladies.

Chivalry is not dead in today’s society; it just needs to be resuscitated.

Hood’s Winks – ‘Ah, distinctly I remember …”

Ralph Hood with an airplane in Alaska. (Contributed photo)

By Ralph Hood

The above title was stolen from Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven.”

One of my favorite memories was the second trip wife Gail and I took to Alaska, where I made five speeches and one TV show appearance for several aviation groups. It was winter, it was cold and beautiful, and the local people were absolutely delightful. We traveled by car, private airplanes, and airline to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Kodiak, and Kenai (we did not travel by dog sled, but we did so in Montana on another trip).

In Alaska, I flew across the Cook Inlet—en route to Kenai—with legendary Alaskan pilot Tom Wardleigh in Tom’s single-engine airplane. I looked down at ice chunks floating below us, looked back at how far over the water we had come, then forward to see how far we had to go before being overland again.

“What,” I asked Tom, “will we do if the engine quits?” He smiled, waved his hand across the vista and said, “Ah, isn’t the scenery lovely?”

He was right—it was lovely.

I learned from Tom that all airplanes in Alaska must have a survival kit that includes a gun—with ammunition—that could kill a bear!

On Kodiak Island Tom Merriman took me for a ride in his Piper Super Cub (see picture). I sometimes flew power line patrol in a Super Cub in Alabama, filling in for friend Ed Long, who flew more hours than anybody else during his lifetime—for all I know his record still stands. But a Super Cub in Alaska is a far more awesome flight. We touched down on a black sand beach at one point and I felt like a real Alaskan bush pilot.

One night we stayed at a hotel in Anchorage near Lake Hood—not named after me, of course, but after some British admiral of long ago—which was the busiest float-plane/ski-plane base in the world. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was in full swing; and some of the sled dogs, tied up in the snow-filled yard of the hotel, barked madly while waiting for transport. Where else but Alaska?

Friend Mike O’Neill flew us in his airplane to Homer, where we saw more bald eagles than we knew existed in the entire world. They were everywhere—up close and personal! Unbelievable!

What a trip. Of all the places Gail and I have been, we agree that if we could revisit one of them, it would be Alaska.

ralph@ralphhood.com

Officer Norway’s Corner – A civil war in the heart of Europe

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

My next adventure out in the world on behalf of the Norwegian military presented itself in early spring of 1992, this time in (the former) Yugoslavia. The situation there had started to slowly unravel all the way back to the early 1980s when their authoritarian President Josip Tito died.

By the end of the 1980s and the fall of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, other former independent countries that had been a part of Yugoslavia now wanted their sovereignty and independence back. In 1991, Slovenia was the first to break free from the federation, followed by Croatia, and the ingredients for civil war was set.

This time Norway had decided to send down an ambulance unit to support other UN forces in the area. We were scheduled to only be there for three months when an ambulance unit from the British Army would relieve us. But before we could deploy, some of us had to pass a pretty challenging medic course. The course usually lasts for three months, but because of the urgency, they gave us the short, intensive three-week version. Those were some long grueling days reading, memorizing, practicing and testing.

Our unit had three ambulances, all white and marked with a big red cross on each side. We were stationed in a Croatian village called Daruvar. Luck would have it that they had an old resort hotel there and that became our new home for the next three months.

This mission was indeed a surreal experience. We were in a war zone less than a two-hour flight from Norway, almost in the heart of Europe. We would often drive through the front lines, and pass burning buildings, military vehicles, dead livestock and indeed human beings, civilians and soldiers alike in the ditches and fields along the roads. In a way, it was almost like being in a dream with images from World War II, but this was real.

We had to send one of our ambulances to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A few days after their arrival their hotel came under heavy artillery fire so with no time to spare they had to evacuate with other UN personnel. It was not until they came back to the town we were in that they discovered that the big red cross on the side of the ambulance had several bullet holes in it like someone had used it for a target. Luckily they all made it back in one piece.

War is always gruesome, and when you like in this civil war mix in ethnic cleansing and genocide it truly shows the worst side of human nature. Working in a war zone or even traveling to parts of the world where you see people fighting for survival makes one truly appreciate the freedoms and opportunities we are given, the blessings most of us can count on every day, or as the saying goes: “Many pray hard for what we take for granted.”

Until next time, be safe, be happy and be grateful.