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.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – A tune worth singing

Editor’s note: This column was first published on Feb. 5, 2008. A reminder of the importance of personal responsibility for caring for pets is still in order.

By Connie Denney

“When the dog bites”… are you hearing the song “My Favorite Things”? The idea from the Rodgers and Hammerstein song of “The Sound of Music” fame seems to be that when something negative happens – dog bite, bee sting, feeling sad – remembering “favorite things” helps you not “feel so bad.”

That’s a really good outlook. But I remember all too well stings (I loved to go barefoot) that made it really hard to think positively for days! There’s a lot to be said for prevention.

As for dog bites, prevention is definitely the best policy. I was luckier than some. I was not seriously injured. A child bitten the same day was. Still, there was concern over the dog’s shot status, my visit to the doctor, the tetanus shot. … It was a year ago. I remember it vividly.

I like to walk. Erwin is a great place for walking. Erwin Linear Trail is a natural. Residential areas with parkways and trees offer their own beauty. I was on a sidewalk not so far from home. It is not unusual to see dogs. Some of them seem to want to get across the message that they would like to kill something, others want to be sure their barks are heard. Then there are those whose behavior makes you think they just want to get through the day.  (Recognize human traits?)

This particular day I heard barking. Then – it happened so fast – there was a dog hanging on my ankle. It hurt, but not terribly – there was the sock and all. I remembered to stay calm and kept walking. I stopped at Dorothy Fortune’s and she wisely insisted I clean and bandage the bite area.

Since I did not know who lived in the house the dog ran back toward and was not about to go up to it to ask about rabies shots, I called people I knew who lived nearby. They knew of the dog but not how to contact the person. That’s when I called Gary.    

Gary Hatcher was Erwin’s animal control officer. You may know him as the man who does school programs and has enough certifications to decorate an office. Those who know Gary will not be surprised that he responded promptly, learned about the dog’s shots, made the contact with the Police Department for filing the required report, got back to me with information I needed. (He stressed the importance of medical attention to prevent rabies and/or infection.) Both he and Officer Wayne Edwards were compassionate and professional. That means a lot when you are on the needy end of public service. 

It is important to say here that the caregiver for the dog that bit me responded in a responsible way.  My point in telling the personal experience is simply that I learned up close the common sense reasoning behind sections of Erwin’s ordinance regarding dogs: “Running at large prohibited.” and “Vicious dogs to be securely restrained.” 

Through the actions of their elected officials, Unicoi County and the Town of Unicoi joined the Town of Erwin in committing to animal control services. A board including representatives of all three local governments and the Humane Society was established to operate an animal shelter. Citizens have the right to expect life will be better for humans and animals as a result.

Companionship of animals should fall into the “favorite things” category, should mean pleasure for the animals and the humans who choose to be with them, a decision not to be taken lightly. We should not expect pleasure without responsibility. Public policy, a physical structure that makes law enforcement more convenient, animal welfare awareness can be positive factors. Neither takes the place of personal commitment. Gary Hatcher can tell stories of suffering (human and animal) resulting from its absence.

A Refreshing Knapp – Fund will run out of money

By Ray Knapp

You may recall I had been for my yearly check-up at the VA and the doctor suggested a lung scan due to a past history of smoking and cancer in other parts of my body. I notified my civilian Primary Care Doctor who put in a request for the scan. It came back from Medicare as disapproved. The reason being, my age was past 77 and starting the first day of 2019, this procedure would not be approved for persons past that age.

People past that age still vote, so I wrote Phil Roe, Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn a letter voicing my disapproval and did get some response. Phil Roe’s caseworker sent me some forms to fill our detailing the circumstances, and I also received a personal letter via Email from Senator Lamar Alexander dated March 13, 2019. I’m not endorsing anyone in this column, but thought sharing Alexander’s letter might shed some light on the plight of Medicare as it now stands. The following is his letter in its entirety:

“Thank you for getting in touch with me and letting me know what’s on your mind regarding the age requirements for Medicare. I appreciate you sharing your personal story and your suggestions on ways to address this problem.

I am concerned about the long term structural problems facing the Medicare program. According to the Social Security and Medicare Board Trustees 2018 annual report, the Hospital Insurance Fund will run out of money in 2026. Also, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a beneficiary born in the 1950s will have paid $60,000 into Medicare but will receive $205,000 in benefits. Obamacare has made the problem worse by taking billions of dollars out of Medicare, creating more uncertainly for the future of the program.

The first victims of this Medicare fiscal cliff will be older Americans, millions of whom have no other way to pay their medical bills. The second victims will be younger Americans who expect us to solve our fiscal issues so they aren’t saddled with dealing with our national debt. In order to save the program, structural changes must be made. It is time for President Trump and Congress to start seriously looking at how to reform entitlement programs so that current beneficiaries are protected and the programs will still be here for younger Americans.

On April 14, 2015, I voted for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law on April 16. This legislation permanently puts an end to the formula, passed by Congress in 1997, that capped Medicare payments to physicians and has been temporarily overridden by Congress 17 times. This bill also includes 10 years of funding for Tennessee’s Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) program, which helps Tennessee hospitals cover the costs of caring for low-income patients. These hospitals provided more than $2.4 billion in unreimbursed services to Tennesseans last year alone. I was glad to support this legislation, and I look forward to continuing to work with members of the Tennessee delegation to support Tennessee hospitals that provide care for those who need help the most.

I appreciate you letting me know where you stand on the issue of Medicare reform.  I will be sure to keep your comments in mind as this important issue is discussed and debated here in Washington and in Tennessee. Sincerely, Lamar”

Well, I don’t know if my question as to why I was turned down for a lung scan because my age was past 77, or not. But from the tone of his letter, it is plain to see that Medicare is in one “mell of a hess,” as my dad would put it, and running out of money. The year 2026 is only 7 years away and I may live to see it. I hope Congress can get away from attacking individuals or opposing parties and come together for the good of the people … regardless of their age.

Adam’s Apples – Happy Birthday, West Point

By James Mack Adams

This month, the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York is celebrating the 217th year of its founding.  Founded in March 1802, it is the oldest of America’s service academies. It is credited as being the oldest continuously-occupied military post in America.

Also, this year, the academy’s Association of Graduates (AOG) is observing its 150th anniversary. Both events are important to me in that I am a designated Friend of West Point and as such I am listed on the AOG rolls. 

When I was a youngster, I invested quite a bit of my very vivid imagination time thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. My earliest career choices were cowboy, private eye, or secret agent. I went to a lot of movies in those days. 

In my teen years, my interest turned to the military. I thought it would be very cool to attend a military school for my high school education. I requested catalogs from schools and devoured them. I knew very well, though, that my parents could not afford the tuition. But it didn’t cost anything to look and to daydream.

Though I have always had respect and admiration for West Point and the outstanding military leaders it has produced, I didn’t pursue an appointment. I take pride in the fact I received my U.S. Army commission through the excellent ROTC program at ETSU and served my active duty and reserve time as a field artillery officer. 

My personal association with West Point came much later in my life. 

It was a day in the year 2000 that the phone in my home office in Georgia rang. The caller identified himself as Col. (Ret.) Fletcher Ware, president of the West Point Society of Savannah.  He said he enjoyed reading my weekly local history column in the Savannah Morning News and wanted to see if I was open to a proposition.

Col. Ware, whom I had never met, told me that West Point’s bicentennial celebration was scheduled for March 2002. He asked if I would be interested in researching and writing a book about the impact of West Point and its graduates on the Georgia coast over the academy’s first 200 years. The book was to be published by the Savannah society and serve as the centerpiece for the society’s observation of the bicentennial. I accepted Ware’s invitation to meet with the association’s board of directors to discuss the project.

Two years later, “Entwined Destinies…West Point and the Coastal Empire 1802-2002” came off the presses. It was a limited-edition hardback book and is no longer in print. I have seen where new and used copies are available through Amazon.com. 

Two former West Point superintendents and other Academy senior staff members have autographed copies. At a past Founders Day Dinner, I autographed and presented a copy to Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Barry McCaffrey (USMA 1964). Gen. McCaffrey commanded the 24th Infantry Division in Operation Desert Storm. He is presently a paid military analyst for NBC and MSNBC.   

Publication of the book opened doors I had no idea I would ever be allowed to enter. I was made an associate member of the West Point Society of Savannah. In January 2003, I was surprised and honored by being designated a Friend of West Point by the academy’s Association of Graduates. This made me an honorary member of “The Long Gray Line,” and gave to me some perks available to graduates.

In May 2003, my good friends, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Roger Waddell and his wife, Laurelei, invited me to accompany them on a visit to West Point. It was an experience I will never forget. During the visit, I got to sit in on a class, lecture to a group of cadets in Eisenhower Hall, eat in the cadet dining hall, and watch a Saturday morning dress review.

On March 3, Jo and I attended the 2019 Founders Day Dinner in Savannah. It was good to see old friends. The guest speaker was Brig. Gen. Steven W. Gillian, the current West Point Commandant of Cadets. Gen. Gillian now has an autographed copy of “Entwined Destinies.”

Hood’s Winks – Wild dreams

By Ralph Hood

I do not understand my dreams.

When I was about 12, I woke up one night in a graveyard, about a half mile from our house. If you don’t think that will scare the bejeebers out of a 12-year old, you should rethink. I ran like a terrified banshee all the way home.

Even now I have dreams in which people are out to kill me. This is a big issue in our family, since I get to fighting, kicking, and hollering. Wife Gail has to wake me up, lest I flail out at her.

Some of my dreams are wonderful. Just last week I dreamed that I won a Piper Super Cub airplane in a drawing. I love a Super Cub so that was a great dream. I flew all over the place in that dream, and hated to awaken to the reality that it wasn’t true. (Actually, I do understand that dream. The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association had a drawing for a Super Cub recently, but I didn’t win it.)

The thing I don’t understand is why I dream so much about problems that I never had in real life. I dream that I’m in a meeting and begin to realize that I am dressed only in my underwear! Now where does that come from?

These dreams run in my family. My Uncle Cy crawled out of his bedroom window onto the roof of the porch. He fell off, then calmly walked back into the house and returned to bed.

I still remember the night that several of us young boys camped out in Lee King’s back yard. I woke up the next morning in my own bed, having dream walked home in my sleep. Boy was I mad. The other kids ribbed me unmercifully about that dream.

I have dreams about owning beautiful cars and airplanes. But in those dreams my new red Corvette turns slowly into a rattle-trap riding lawn mower. The gorgeous new airplane falls apart.

I graduated from college more than a half-century ago. I still have dreams in which I am going to take the final exam, but can’t find the test room, can’t remember the course, and haven’t studied a lick. That never happened, but I still have the nightmares.

Recently—and this is absolutely true—I had a dream in which I drove a Bugatti, then got lost in the woods with several kids, one dog, and—so help me—a real live elephant!

I’m almost scared to go to sleep!

Officer Norway’s Corner – My second deployment to Lebanon

By SRO Kjell Michelsen

My second and last deployment to South Lebanon as part of the UN forces stationed there was in the spring of 1988. The previous year the UN had established a quick reaction force in South Lebanon, called Force Mobile Reserve or FMR for short. This force was created in the aftermath of a bloody clash between French UN soldiers and soldiers from the Shiite Amal movement. After this incident, it became clear that the UN forces in the area needed a mobile, heavily armed quick reaction force that could assist other UN forces should it be necessary. FMR was via the UNIFIL (United Interim Force in Lebanon) Force Commander placed under direct orders from the UN Secretary-General which at that time was Pérez de Cuéllar.

We moved into a brand new camp near the Lebanese town of Qana. Qana, by the way, is best known as the place where Jesus performed his first public miracle – the turning of a large quantity of water into wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1–11).

There was us in the Norwegian platoon, which was set up with two armored personnel carriers and two infantry squads with eight men in each. The FMR camp was indeed a multi-ethnicity camp. We had soldiers from, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Ghana, Fiji, and Nepal. We each had our own corner of the camp, but we shared the same mess hall and training facilities. Our FMR commander was Irish, so we followed pretty much an Irish military structure, with commands, morning muster and more. It took a bit to get used to their way of doing things, but we got used to it pretty quickly.

Although much of Lebanon at that time was showing evidence of a civil war, still parts of the country were beautiful, with plenty of vast fields of olive and citrus trees, rolling hills and valleys, small villages and bigger towns, and Mount Hermon, where it would snow every winter. As a Quick Reaction Force, we would sometimes be on mobile patrols for several days in a row, often spending the nights out in the fields or on one of the many UN outposts. Sometimes we would drive out to the coastal city of Tyre, where we would tour the ancient Roman ruins there and have dinner at one of the many local restaurants – a nice break from the field rations.

Often in our off time, we would sign up for one of the many biblical tours that the chaplain we had would arrange. We would travel to Israel and visit Jerusalem and trace in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples. We would visit Masada, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea, where we, of course, had pictures taken while floating, reading a newspaper. We would tour one of the old markets, where all the salesmen had a special price just for you, and sample the local food, that often was a mixture of Arab, Jewish, and French cooking.

I ended up spending two years in Lebanon on two different deployments. One day I would love to go back and visit.

Until next time, be safe, be happy and when you have a chance, see the world.