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Location: DownByTheRiver, Central Iowa, United States

Husband of the world's most wonderful wife, father of the world's four most brilliant children, grandfather to the world's eight most beautiful granddaughters and two handsomest grandsons

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Graduation

The RRR returns to the narrative of Youngest Son's graduation... Thursday night turned to early morning. I'd set my travel alarm clock and as always woke up a few minutes before it rang. False dawn was glowing in the east and birds were singing in the woods. I walked down the path to the shower room. A slow moving rattle snake slithered quietly away from the camp and towards the tangle of forest by the creek. I watched him with some concern, having little Jelly to think about back at the tent. But he continued sluggishly east minding his own business, that business likely involving a mouse or prairie dog. So I minded my business, that being showering.

Back in camp my daughter-in-law was up grooming to go watch her husband graduate. We left Jelly and d-in-law's friend sleeping quietly and drove to the air base as the sun rose behind us. We stopped at a WhataBurger for breakfast. WhataBurger is a Texas institution, a sort of cowboy McDonald's. The workers are always friendly, the food always tastes homemade. We had breakfast burritos and strong coffee. Then drove to Lackland's visiting area. We boarded a bus that delivered us to the parade ground. This being South Texas, the bleachers had roofs to keep off the sun. We found seats as close to where son would stand as possible. Then I went to the bus stop to wait on Jelly and friend. The Air Force wisely had a concession area open and I bought a cup of good military coffee. "As black as sin, as strong as temptation and as bitter as remorse." to quote Raymond Chandler. At the very last of the last minutes, friend and Jelly rushed up. I took them to our seats.

I could not help but compare the situation to my graduation from Army basic in 1970. For 300+ airmen there were over 1000 spectators. At mine, perhaps 3 dozen. The formalities began with the leaders of the training unit marching onto the field. Then each "flight" of airmen marching in formation. My son was in one of the honor flights, so he was carrying one of the state flags. Following tradition hundreds of years old, the training leaders delivered their flights to the squadron commander. She accepted their salutes, then stepped up to the microphone and led the hundreds of airmen in a repeat of their oath of enlistment:

"I,___________________________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

Those strong young voices boomed across the parade ground. The squadron commander came to attention and saluted them. They snapped back her salute and as they did a huge Air Force plane roared low over the field and banked away in it's salute. It was dramatic. I have goose bumps as I write this. When the ceremony was over, once again we found him. Everyone hugged and hugged and he was ours until afternoon. I watched them together remembering another home coming and hug 35 years before. I got off the plane at night in South Dakota, newly home from war, feeling like I was walking on eggshells. I walked down the portable stairway that had been pushed up to the plane and peered into the darkness to see if anyone was waiting. Out of the darkness ran the future Mrs. RRR. She threw her arms around me and we hugged and hugged.

We walked around the parade ground and looked at the old planes on display. Several I walked up to and patted. Old friends. Comrades in arms. A couple I owe my life to. Then we went to the BX (Base Exchange) to do some shopping and drove to a park for a noon picnic. And talked and talked and talked and just reveled in being together again. All too soon we had to take him back to the barracks. But the Air Force had arranged that we could meet again that evening at a Minor League baseball game. The San Antonio Missions never had a more enthusiastic crowd. Minor League ball is what baseball used to be in America and should still be. And we talked and talked. It was so GOOD to just be with him. At last it was time for the Airmen to get on the buses and return to duty. We went back to the camp ground. The ladies went to bed in the tent and I walked up to the phone again to tell Mrs. RRR all about it.

Then I walked around the sleeping camp, listening to the night sounds and praying, "Please dear God, keep him safe. Protect his comrades, confuse his enemies." I crawled into my tent and watched the stars twinkle through the trees and prayed some more.

And one more day was done.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The RRR's Antique Coleman Lantern

I bought a lantern just like this cheap on Ebay. It needed a new globe and leathers, but after they were installed fired up just fine. It has served faithfully on the expedition to Big Bend, the trip to Youngest Son's graduation and numerous river trips.

A Girl Named Jelly

The RRR returns to his narrative of the events surrounding the graduation of Youngest Son from Air Force Basic Training. After I was able to greet my Airman at the parade ground he quickly had an ecstatic reunion with his wife and beloved daughter. Then, as he and his Mrs. and their friend wandered off to talk I took over carrying for the little girl. Just over two years old, she is one of those charming children who has a seeming wiseness beyond her years. She is an absolutely delightful child. It's indicative of her personality that she decided suddenly to change her name. One day, asked by an adult what her name was, she responded correctly, then suddenly came to a decision and said, "NO, my name is Jelly". And as such she has referred to herself ever since. Frequently she will refer to herself in third person, especially when she knows she has misbehaved. She will wave her finger and say, "No, no, Jelly, that's naughty!" In a way she's become her own imaginary friend. So Jelly and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about the base with her entertaining me with her chatter and explanations.

That evening we took my son to a buffet supper at the open mess hall on post. A couple of his comrades came up and asked to be introduced to me and told me that he had read my letters to them and they were inspiring to them and helped them make it through the stress of training. I was very proud. Then my daughter-in-law, her friend and Jelly drove back to the campsite. I lit the antique Coleman Lantern and made coffee and we talked about the day. They were pleased with the tent I'd found on sale for them to sleep in. I got a hug from Jelly and a "night, night, Papa". I walked up to the pay phone and called Mrs. RRR and told her all about it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ranger Health

The RRR lets those concerned about his health know what has happened of late. Several weeks ago I was at the Veteran's Administration Hospital a Nurse Practitioner was listening to my heart beat through a stethoscope. "Are you aware that you are throwing 8 missed beats a minute?" So I called my civilian cardiologist, who did an EKG which, in 15 seconds did not catch any irregularities. So I was told I needed to wear a portable heart monitor for 48 hours. "Great, go get it and let's put it on." I said. Oh no, there's a waiting list, I had to wait 10 days. So I wore it 2 days and returned to the cardiologist's office. "So what does it say?" I asked. "Oh we don't read them here. We send them off. You should hear from us in a week or so."

It has been a week or so and I have not heard. But I HAVE been back to the VA for my regular check up and lab draw. Good news Ranger Readers! The A1-C, the long term measure of blood sugar levels was 5.6, which is the equivalent of an average sugar of 121, which for a diet controlled diabetic is VERY good. The cholesterol level was normal. The very best news is the liver enzyme tests. They are roughly the measure of damaged liver cells in the blood stream. The normal range for both tests is 7 - 40. One was 23. One was 41. This means that though the hepatitis C is alive, it is almost dormant. Excellent news for someone who has Grade 3, Stage 3 liver disease. Cirrhosis and liver cancer are delayed, pushed further off into the future. Part of the reason for this has to be the excellent nutrition Mrs. RRR provides.

I give example: Breakfast this morning when I got home from working all night was Mrs. RRR's low carb, high protein pancakes. The wheat ground fresh before the cooking. Real butter. Real maple syrup. Pork Sausage. Cold milk. Then the noon meal after I'd slept a while. Corn on the cob from the garden. Reuben sandwiches without the bread, which is to say: hot corned beef smothered in Swiss cheese and homemade sauerkraut. Another glass of milk and fresh fruit for dessert. At work tonight supper will be homemade yogurt with strawberries, a lean hamburger patty, and an apple. All in all, food much too good for a king. No one eats better than the RRR, nor has more love put into the preparation.

Ranger Kamp Site

The RRR shares this picture of the camp he sat up for himself, Youngest Son's Wife and Daughter and their friend while in San Antonio. My tent is the green military one on the left. It is French Army surplus.

The River Rat Ranger Rises From The Ashes

Good morning... Ranger Readers... It is in the wee hours of the morning in the center of North America and the RRR sits down to bring his blog back to life. What has happened in the days since May 8th when I last wrote? At that time youngest son was in Air Force Basic Training in Lackland AFB, Texas. Each day the energy and creativity I'd expended on this blog went into writing him a snail mail letter. I sent photocopies of his favorite cartoon (Get Fuzzy) and also some of mine. I enclosed essays on the military, poems, and news items. And he continued with the carefully induced stress that the military puts on a new man to see if he's the quality needed to serve his country.

I had one major victory during that time. The most feared week of Air Force Basic is Warrior Week where the young airmen go out in the woods and serve as infantry. He reported to his wife that Warrior Week was a cakewalk after trips down the river with me. Dad's training was not in vain.

At the end of his training I packed my camping gear into the Green Hornet and sat off for Central Texas. My first stop was at Youngest Daughter's in Dallas. She was "great with child" expecting Grandchild #6, her #2 at any time. Her husband greeted me and showed me to a bed I collapsed in after the long haul down from Iowa through Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas. The next morning I awoke to the sound of my granddaughter chattering away to Mommy. After a delicious breakfast we walked down to a shopping area where I bought a few more supplies for the rest of the trip. Then it was off to San Antonio, the home of Lackland Air Force Base.

First I stopped at the campground and sat up my tent and one for my guests... Youngest Son's wife, her best friend, and another beloved Granddaughter. I called the AFB and found what documentation I would need to register the Green Hornet on the base and after numerous phone calls and noble assistance from the friendly hosts at the San Antonio Kampground of America and their fax machine I was able to make my presence at Lackland legal. After registering as a visitor I returned to the KOA, and after calling Mrs. RRR and telling her of my progress made supper on my little Coleman stove and slept till the birds sang in the trees.

That morning was Thursday. I drove to the Air Base and attended the orientation class for family members there to observe the graduation. I looked at the other fathers. So many were veterans. Men who knew the face of war and knew that their sons and daughters could possibly be graduating to go fight in the current one. We carried a mixture of pride and grimness. The first order of the day was a chance to watch the airmen do their final exercise run of their training. As the picture shows, we lined the sides of the street. We cheered the young men and women on as they pushed themselves through the heat of this final day. I yelled myself hoarse. And remembered being another young man on similar runs 36 years before. The years had slipped through my fingers like sand.

After the runners returned to their barracks I met Youngest Son's Wife and daughter and their friend. They had arrived in time to watch the run also. They followed me back to the KOA to inspect their new quarters and I cooked us all lunch. Then we went back to the AFB to at last get to meet my son. This was at the Retreat formation. Each day on every American military base, the flag is taken down and ceremonially folded and guarded till it is raised the next morning. We watched as the several hundred airmen marched in formation and faced the flag. They played "Taps" as the flag was taken down. There are words to "Taps".

Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the sky,
All is still,
God is nigh.

Tears in my eyes I watched them fold the flag. It's adorned so many coffins. It will adorn so many more. Someday Taps will be played for me and the flag will be taken off my coffin and ceremonially folded and a soldier or veteran will take it to Mrs. RRR and salute her and give it to her. Tradition. History.

But today wasn't sorrow, it was celebration. The ceremony over, we were free to find our soldier among the hundreds there and greet him. I found him first and ran up to him and stopped. He was newly fit, newly mature, very confident, very proud. We looked into each others eyes as he stood at attention. Then he saluted me. I returned his salute and we embraced.