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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

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Combat Onion Rings

The year... 1970. The place.... several kilometers south east of My Lai 4 on the peninsula south of Chu Lai, Vietnam. The RRR was the radio operator for a Land Clearing Platoon. We had 4 bull dozers to uncover enemy tunnels and bunkers with and enough personnel to operate, maintain, and protect them. We had established a "night laager" site on top of a hill that we operated from.

We were hungry, desperately hungry for fresh vegetables. For 6 weeks we'd lived exclusively on C-rations, army canned individual meals. We craved fruit and vegetables. Each time I called the rear support area with the lieutenant's daily report and equipment requests I begged for fresh food. Finally the opportunity came to contact the rear "secure". Part of my equipment was what was then a top secret scrambling device for the radio. It was huge, heavy, unreliable and absolute magic allowing me to talk to our company headquarters "in the clear" with out using code and communicate freely. It was a measure of how seriously the secrecy surrounding this equipment was taken that I was issued a .45 caliber pistol and a thermite grenade with orders to destroy it if needed to prevent its falling into enemy hands and to kill myself with to prevent information about it from being tortured out of me. I had no difficulty with the idea of following the latter orders. I'd seen the remains of soldiers who had been questioned by the Vietcong and had no desire to share their experience.

In the clear I demanded over the scrambler that we be sent some fresh food. The First Sgt. got on the radio and explained that there had been a hold up in shipments for the entire division, not just us, but that they would send SOMETHING. We anxiously awaited the next resupply helicopter. Along with our mail, ammo, and bulldozer repair parts, the helicopter crew chief tossed out a wooden crate of fresh onions. It was all they had. The mess Sgt. had included four pounds of butter to fry them up with. We stood around staring at the crate of onions. I peeled the skin off one and began eating it like an apple. But the lieutenant had a sudden idea... "Let's make onion rings!" And make onion rings we did.

Soon two of the men were slicing the onions with bayonets. Another dug through the box of cast offs from the c-ration packs, digging out every powdered cream packet and salt and pepper. We crushed "hard tack", the army crackers and mixed that with water, cream and spices to make a batter. The demolition man opened a case of c-4 plastic explosive and burned a quarter stick inside an empty .50 caliber ammo can to cook the paint out. The ammo can became our french frier. For a fry basket we took a tall quart and a half juice can and perforated it with a clip full of ammo from an M-16. A piece of wire from a c-ration crate made bail for our "fry basket". We sat the ammo can on 4 rocks, put the butter in it and started burning little dabs of c-4 under it to melt and heat the butter. The onion rings were dipped in batter and placed in the basket and dipped into the hot butter. An M-16 made a handy stick to hang the fry basket from.

The were DELICIOUS! The dozen or so of us ate onion rings and ate onion rings and ate onion rings. We devoured the entire crate. We ate till we were as full as ticks. It was 5 years before I could contemplate eating onion rings again, but that night, that one night I ate all I wanted.

That's the way it was... it really, really happened.

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Friday, May 18, 2007


The RRR is pleased to report the pathology results from Midkid's surgery. Negative. No cancer. Benign. Thank you God.

Grappling With Destiny

The RRR and Mrs. RRR are in Dallas. Someone loves this city. Perhaps they will comment on this blog. But I didn't start this posting to express my obvious disgust with the Hollywood of the South. First I wish to say that Midkid has had her surgery and came through it stunningly well. The growth removed seems benign, tests are in progress but the pathologist seems 99% certain. My daughter is brave and strong. Her husband is wonderful and supporting. The granddaughters are beautiful, loving, and intelligent. These things are all good.

Meantime I did the last minute shopping for the Big River Trip. I needed an ultralight tarp. So Son In Law and I went to REI, the yuppie equivalent of Campmor.com. REI is known for $70 tarps. And there among them was a Chinese import that looked like exactly what I wanted for a whopping $3.50. I bought it on the spot. That left one more thing I needed... a grappling hook. They were originally used by pirates to snag the railings of ships they had caught to pull them together. The old wooden ship navy used them for the same thing. These days SWAT teams have them to toss on the roofs of buildings to ascend the walls. An investigation of Ebay showed the police type for a whopping $20 plus shipping and they were way too small... about 4" across (10 cm.). My Son In Law came up with a brilliant idea.

He purchased a couple pieces of rebar... concrete reinforcing rod a foot long (30 cm.) and 3/8" in diameter (about 10mm). We took them down to the end of his driveway at the apartment and bent them to shape using the the cast iron sewer grate for a vice and the handle of an adjustable wrench for a bending too. Naturally, it took two more trips to the hardware store but eventually with the help of both of our creativity, two 3/8" cable saddle clamps, and a 3/8" 8" long eye bolt, we completed it. Now I have a really for cool grappling hook which is the size I wanted for only about $7.

Now to answer everyone's burning question... what do I need with a grappling hook? It's because I'm floating down the river alone. I don't have a strong partner to hold the boat in one place while I tie off to the bank or stop when a hazard appears suddenly. The grappling hook will go on the end of the bow anchor chain. When I need to stop, I'll toss it into the woods on the bank of the river. It will catch on a limb, branch or tree trunk and I will come to a stop. When the trip is finished, I'll report how well it worked.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

The River Rat Ranger Reboots...

The RRR's youngest daughter Midkid... complained that he hasn't blogged in 3 months. She's right... here it is.... Outside under the Sugar Maple the new to me, old and battered jon boat bought for $50 waits upside down as the glue on the hull leaks dries. Beside me on the living room floor are 5 gallon buckets. One full of dried food. One full of cooking gear. Mrs. RRR is sewing a padded bag for the new Coleman Exponent dual fuel lantern. There is a poem on the new lantern's box.....

"I will EXIT the beaten path. I will
Exit the beaten path to ESCAPE
The urgency of clocks. I will exit
The beaten path all BECAUSE I
Enjoy a good CHALLENGE. To
RECHARGE my batteries. To
REBOOT. I will exit to hear my
Spirited shouts ECHO off the
Cliffs and back to me... back to
ME... to me. I will exit the beaten
Path to REDISCOVER who I
Actually am. I will exit the beaten
Path, and in my SOUL, not return."

Tomorrow Mrs. RRR and I leave for Texas to be with Midkid and her family as she has surgery. Saturday night we will head back for my beloved river valley. Sunday afternoon we will put the boat and the gear into Das Boot, our creaky ancient diesel Suburban and drive to another river. And Sunday night I will be where the frogs sing and the blue herons squawk sardonically.

Call me an escapist, call me a waster of time and energy, but till June..... call me long distance.