Category: Reflections

The Wisdom of Grandfathers

Something that I think we are in danger of losing as our society turns more toward social media and texting for communication is talking to and gaining wisdom from those who came before us.

Erwin Klippel

My Grandfather Klippel was a pretty handy guy. He worked for Remington Arms in Ilion, NY, as a gun assembler, and if memory servers me correctly, he built the prototype for the Remington Model 1100 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun.

As a young man, he’d gone out west to study to be an airplane engine mechanic, but unfortunately, had to give that up to come home and help on his family’s farm. But he could build a camp, drive a truck, pour concrete, raise chickens, or tell you where to dig your well. And he had an endless supply of witty, often whimsical comments and stories to tell.

He played semi-pro football, and I understand he was also quite a dancer and rode an old Indian motorcycle around, at least until he met my Grandmother. He also taught me how to split wood with an ax, which incidentally helped me to embarrass a lot of bigger and stronger guys when it came to ringing the bell with a big hammer at state fairs. Looking back, I am glad they didn’t get too upset by that!

But, most importantly, he had a lot of wisdom and was always willing to share.

Never a borrower be, but …

One of my favorite stories my mother shared with me about her father involves a rusty old saw.

When my mother was a little girl, she was helping my Grandfather repair one of the chicken coops in the back yard. He needed some sort of saw that he did not have. He hated to borrow things but had little choice, so he went to a neighbor and asked to borrow that particular kind of saw.

His neighbor was kind enough to loan him the use of the saw, but the saw was in terrible shape. It was dull, the blade was rusted and pitted, and the handle was loose. My Grandfather made the saw work, and when he was done, he took it into his workshop and began to work on the saw. With my mother watching, he cleaned and polished the blade, sharpened it, and repaired the loose handle.

My mother asked him why he was doing all that. She could not understand why he would spend the time fixing a saw he had borrowed. Clearly, she said, the saw’s owner wasn’t concerned about it.

My Grandfather turned to her and said, “Ardis, always return something in better shape than when you borrowed it. Doing that can only serve you well in life.”

That bit of wisdom had a big impact on my mother, and later, also on me.

We need more people today to think like that!

I hope you will check out some of my other posts by clicking here!

Dancing Days

I guess this stay-at-home crap has me bored, and my brain starts wandering to other, more enjoyable times. I got to thinking about how much I enjoyed Ballroom dancing. I haven’t been dancing in almost four years now. Once this pandemic is brought to heel, I may have to get back into it.

And please, don’t feel obligated to read this post. I am just trying to find things to write about to fill my time.

Benefits of Ballroom Dancing

There are many benefits to ballroom dancing. You meet great people. It is fun and it is also pretty darn good exercise. I also found that it compliments martial arts training very well.

Tango with Rhonda Becker of Champion Ballroom

Competition and Showcases

For the show-off in you there are competitions you can enter and Showcases you can participate in. Somehow, I got roped into doing a little of both, and I must admit, it was kind of fun.

Cha Cha with Elise Denneny. I think we took Best Amature Couple at this competition.

I remember my first showcase! I was nervous as hell. Before the show, we tried running through our routine, a Tango to Welcome to Burlesque, and I could not get through it. I damn near chickened out. Somehow, during the performance, we nailed it!

And if that is too much, there are simple social dances and parties …

I always enjoyed holiday parties. There were St Patrick’s Day parties, Halloween parties, New Year’s Eve parties, Christmas parties … almost anytime there was an excuse!

One video clip …

You have to be careful about this. Most videos I have are to music that I don’t personally have the licensing rights to use. They were done under the auspices of the dance studio’s licensing.

However, there is one video I have that is done to some music called the Tarleton Waltz performed by Elise Denneny’s son, Jimmy, and a group of his musician friends. I believe it is safe to show it here.

Tarletons New Years Waltz with Instructor Rhonda Becker

So, if you enjoy music and need a little exercise, or just want to have a good time, once this pandemic nonsense is over, you might head down to your local ballroom dance studio and check it out. It could be just what you are looking for.

Feel free to check out some of my other posts by clicking here!

A Thought for Easter Sunday

Thoughts in Solitude

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going, I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead my by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk of the Abbey of Gethsemane, KY.  Merton was a prolific poet and writer on spiritual social themes. He lived from 1915 until 1968.

Just a little something to think about …

Suppose you were one of Christ’s twelve disciples, and having just seen him brutally flogged and crucified, you fled, frightened for your life, and hid from certain death. What would cause you to suddenly change … to step out and publicly proclaim his resurrection and preach his Gospel, knowing full well it would inevitably lead to your own gruesome death?

Would you do it for money, fame, or some other earthly reward? How much treasure would it take to get you to do that, knowing you’d never live to spend it?

Yet, these twelve disciples did precisely that, without payment, and knowing it would undoubtedly lead to their own deaths. What would make a man find the courage to do what they did? It must have been faith. An unshakeable faith created between the time of Christ’s crucifixion and their individual decisions to spread the good news. What could have happened in that short time?

I am not a Bible-thumper or any kind of an evangelist, and I have long felt dissatisfied with what organized religion has become. However, I was raised as a Christian, and over the years, I have developed my own firm personal belief in God.

I have asked myself these questions many times over the years, typically around Easter. And I can only come up with one answer.

It would take a miracle …

What about you?

I wish everyone a Happy and Blessed Easter. And, I know we will all get through these troubling times together.

All Dogs Go To Heaven.

True and loyal friends don’t come around too often.

That’s what makes dogs so amazing. Dogs only want to please you. They will be a loyal companion to and protective of even the most loathsome and cruel owners, owners who are unworthy of such devotion and love. That is why it is so sad when the day comes that your most loyal companion needs you to do what is right by them.

A walk in the field …

Today, Sophie and I went for our usual walk in the field where we saw one of our friends with her two dogs, Charlie and Koa. Charlie is a fun-loving, ball chasing Golden Retriever, while Koa is, I believe, an older Yellow Lab mix.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to Charlie and Koa’s owner and her husband, who made the comment that he wasn’t sure how much longer Koa would be around. It seems Koa was having trouble standing, and moving around, and seemed to be “lost” sometimes.

Today, there were taking Koa for one last walk in the fields he loved to roam around in during his entire life. You could tell he was enjoying being there, but you could also tell he was ready for a rest. They had to help Koa back to the car when it was time to head to the vet’s office. It was time for this loyal and steadfast friend to be at peace.

Dog owners will understand …

Dogs live short lives. So if you own dogs, this will happen to you. I have had dogs, sometimes multiple, for my entire life. For me, dogs are simply members of my immediate family. They’ve provided enjoyment, laughter, comfort, and understanding when human friends simply walk away. So, when it is time to do the best thing for such a loyal companion, it is almost a debt of honor.

Roxie

I was reminded of the last time I had to go through this with Roxie. She was a rescued female Doberman and a beautiful dog. Roxie was a great friend during some really tough times for me. Unfortunately, she was struck by a debilitating disease when she was about five years old, known as Wobbler’s Syndrome. It is a degeneration of vertebra in the neck that typically affects young Great Danes and middle-aged Dobermans and causes a loss of coordination and balance through the legs and hips. As it progresses, it can cause a lot of pain, especially in the neck region

This disease has two paths it frequently takes. It can come on hard and fast, and there is nothing you can do except end your friend’s suffering. Or, it can come on, reach a point and level out for about two years, before coming on again and forcing you to make the tough decision.

For Roxie, the disease took the second path, and we had about two more pretty good years. She looked like she’d drank a few too many Margaritas when running, and toward the end, we needed a lot of low dose aspirin and neck massages, which she really enjoyed, but that dreaded day had to come.

For Roxie, we couldn’t go to the dog park because of the condition the disease had her in. So, we went out into the yard and sat in the sun. It was pleasant, not too hot, and she enjoyed that. I spent a lot of time massaging her neck. Then, when it was time, we went to the vet.

Roxie enjoying the pretty day.

I will never forget the very kind veterinarian. There were two shots. The first to relax Roxie and the second to put her to sleep. I got down on the floor with her as the vet administered the first shot. There was an instant change in Roxie. For a moment, it was like I had my old dog back. She rested her head on my arm as if to say, “thank you,” then the vet gave her the second shot, and she quietly went to sleep. It was an emotional experience. I felt heart-broken, and tears welled up in my eyes. But, I was also happy she was no longer in any pain.

I have Sophie now, and she is another fantastic dog. I never try to compare a current dog to past dogs I have had. They are like people, each unique in personality and the gifts they bring. I will have dogs as long as I can adequately care for them. The joy they bring to my life is worth the sad day that will always come. And that’s okay. Because, the God that I worship, lets all dogs into Heaven.

Sophie

Profile of an Adirondack Woman

Sometimes when I share some of my life stories with friends and acquaintances, I get looks and comments like “No way” or “You’re full of it.” I think far too many people spend their lives in tiny bubbles and never get to experience the fantastic world that is out there.

You’ve heard the saying, “We tend to write what we know …”

One of the many things that have amazed me in my short career as an author is the number of women who have given my first book, Serpents Underfoot, great reviews. It was my first book, and because of this, I know it is a little rough around the edges; maybe a bit too much language and a bit “too much information” in the bedroom scenes. But hey, you learn!

I had imagined my audience to be veterans and action/thriller fans. So I was shocked when I began receiving great reviews from female readers. After talking to a few readers, I understood that Serpents Underfoot had several strong female characters, and they really appreciated that.

While I pretty much self-edited Serpents Underfoot, I am working with a real editor for its sequel, Montagnard.

Beth Werner, of Author Connections, has been a professional editor and marketer for over 20 years. She served as the former Director of Marketing and Sales at Kirkus and has worked with Random House, Penguin, MacMillan, Disney Hyperion, Chronicle, Scholastic, FSG, Wiley, and others. Having read Serpents Underfoot, she commented she was also struck by the strength of the female characters in the story and how much she appreciated and enjoyed that. I believe I have carried this through into the sequel, Montagnard.

So, why the strong female characters?

In my life, I have had the privilege of knowing several strong women. Both of my grandmothers were strong women. One was the daughter of a well-known Herkimer, NY lawyer, drove a roadster, wore patent leather boots, and met the world on her terms. She was part Cherokee Indian and related to Robert E. Lee. I think my mother was a lot like her.

My other grandmother was a quiet, caring, and supportive woman. When my grandfather was drafted by the Army and stationed in Japan with General MacArthur after the war, she raised her children, worked in her garden, and was a source of strength for her husband, who was thousands of miles away in a strange land.

I was privileged to date another strong woman for several years, and while things did not work out quite like I hoped they might, I have nothing but respect for her. A medical professional, this lady took on the State Government, unethical “pain pill” clinics, and other issues in a continuous effort to improve the quality of professional medical care for her patients. She is now knee-deep in this battle against the coronavirus.

But, the strongest woman I have ever known was my mother!

Let me introduce you to her …

Ardis Gilbert was born in Ilion, NY, the daughter of Erwin and Eileen Klippel. She began nursing school at the age of 16 and graduated as an RN from Albany Medical Center in 1959. After moving to North Adams, MA, with her husband, Curt, Ardis graduated Magna Cum Laude in Mathematics and Summa Cum Laude in Administration from North Adams State Community College. She went on to teach mathematics for many years.

My mother enjoyed hiking, camping, backpacking, and canoe trips with family and friends, and jokingly founded the Adirondack Women’s Club for female family and friends who met the criteria.

A few family tales …

Albany, NY Granary Fire

When my mom was still a freshmen nursing student at the Albany Medical Center, a disastrous granary fire occurred in Albany. Many were severely burned in the fire, and the medical center was overrun. During the emergency, she stayed in an elevator with a doctor and performed emergency tracheotomies on burn victims as they were being taken up to the burn center for care.

One Crazy Old Lady

Serving a tour as a nurse in a ward that housed the criminally insane, she prepared to check in on an old woman who needed her medication. Nurses were not supposed to enter this woman’s room without an orderly present. However, there were no orderlies available. So, mom looked in the room and saw that the woman was resting peacefully and seemed quite calm. Being rather fearless, she decided not to wait for an orderly. My mother leaned close to the patient, the old woman sprang on her and began strangling her. She was amazingly strong, and my mother couldn’t pry her fingers loose. Fortunately, some orderlies arrived just in time and pried the crazy old woman’s fingers from around her neck. A few more moments and I would not even be here. It was a lesson my mother took to heart.

Hand washer escapee

In the same ward, there was a young man who continually washed his hands to the point that he would scrub the skin off them. I never knew what he did, but it was like he was trying desperately to get the blood off his hands. The doctors had to keep special gloves covering his hands and sometimes had to restrain him. During one of his more lucid moments, he was calmly walking the halls when someone accidentally let the locked door to the ward stay open a few seconds. In a flash, the man was out the door and making a dash for freedom. Seeing him go, my mother took right off after him and chased him through the medical center. She was a small younger woman but tackled him around the legs in a manner that would make any football player proud. He was, at this point, in the main entrance lobby to the medical center.

My strong female characters

While not intentional, I guess the strong female characters in Serpents Underfoot are composites of the courage and strength I saw in the many strong women I have had the privilege to know during my life. And after the reaction from my readers, I felt it essential to continue that.

My mother lost a fight with cancer almost two years ago now. But she met that implacable enemy with her head held high, and she fought the good fight. She was 78 years old. I guess these characters in my books are my way of remembering and celebrating the strong women I have known, including my mother.

The world can certainly use a lot more of them.

WTF! — Zita’s Legacy

I found this great post on a blog called Zita’s Legacy.

It is about a call she got from the school principal because she allowed her daughter to walk home from school … which, by the way, is right across the street.

Anyway, her post got me thinking …

I don’t know how earlier generations ever survived. I personally walked to school for many years … all through elementary and middle school … winter, summer, rain, snow, or sunshine (No, it was not uphill both ways, and I did have shoes). But yes, I did drink water from a hose, ride my bike without a helmet, come home when the street lights came on, played Cops and Robbers, and Cowboys and Indians. I fought my battles with neighborhood bullies, and somehow, someway, I managed to survive.

If in today’s America, a child is not even allowed to walk home from school by themselves, even when that school is right across the street … then we are doomed to extinction! If we are raising a generation that cannot cross the street by themselves, how, as adults, will they be able to make intelligent decisions, survive any kind of challenge, protect their families, or fight off terrorists who wish to destroy our country?

It is a far cry from ideas such as …

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

Japanese Proverb

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.

Michael J Fox

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

Earnest Hemingway

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.

Psalm 28:7

Nothing is more beautiful than the smile that has struggled through the tears.

Demi Lovato

Anyway, that’s enough philosophical waxing! If you’d like to read Zita’s post, click below.

I get a phone call from my daughters school on Monday, it was the principle, he had left a message for me. “I know that we talked about this last year, your daughter Skylar walking home by herself. We just think that she is to young to be walking home alone by herself. We want […]

WTF! — Zita’s Legacy

I think we have already raised far too many snowflakes! I am interested in knowing what you think …

Thoughtful Solitude … A Source Of Strength!

Thoughts in Solitude

Some of my readers may have noticed I took a small break in posting to my blog. Sometimes life can take the wind out of our sales and we simply need some time to get our feet planted firmly back under ourselves. I recently found myself in such a state. That is because my mother recently passed away. This came as an unexpected, sudden shock to us all. Diagnosed with lung cancer just before Easter, she went to be with her God on Sunday, June 10th. Needless to say, my mind has just been elsewhere for the past few weeks. Solitude can sometimes be a helpful, healing thing.

While Mom will most certainly be deeply missed, the purpose of this post is not to engender sympathy or condolences. My mother was a strong woman and led an amazing life. Growing up in the small town of Ilion, NY with blue collar parents, she became a registered nurse at Albany Medical Center and then later, an excellent mathematics teacher. Quite the artist, she specialized in pastels and watercolors and was a member of the Fine Line Art Gallery for 10 years. A lover of music, she sang in choirs, and served as a choir director at several churches. Mom also sang with several choral groups and performed on concert tours in Central Europe, Turkey, at Carnegie Hall, and the White House. She traveled most of the world and much of the continental United States and Canada. She embraced life firmly standing on her own two feet and she lived her life to the fullest.

Quiet Faith

Mom was a woman quietly strong in her faith. She accepted her situation with grace, strength, and courage, and when the outcome became clear, her faith and courage made things easier for the rest of her family. How many of us wonder how well we will handle things if we find ourselves in such a situation. How do we hope to find the strength to deal with situations like this? It is seeking an answer to this question that is my motivation for writing this post. I do believe that, like my mother, I am a person of quiet but strong faith. I certainly do not attempt to push my beliefs on anyone; nor will I argue with people about their beliefs. That is what “Freedom of Religion” is truly all about … not the political manipulations we see all over the news today. I can only hope that when my time comes, I can meet it with the same grace, strength, and courage exhibited by my mother. So where does that grace, strength, and courage stem from?

Solitude and Reflection

Shortly after my mother died, my father discovered a quote my mother had saved to a folder on their computer. He shared it with my brother, my mother’s sister, and me. With the grief over my mother’s death still very new and raw, I must admit reading it brought real tears to my eyes. While it was difficult to read, at the same time, it had a very different affect on me. I suddenly understood so much more about my mother and the source of her strength and courage.

I seem to remember that my mother spent a week at some kind of retreat which I believe was held at a Trappist Monastery. It was a week spent in silence, prayer and personal reflection. Maybe this was where she found this quote … or maybe it came later from reading inspired by her experience. I am not sure. However, when I read the quote, I was struck by the simple, open honesty of the words, and the trust in a pure relationship with a loving God. I cannot help but feel that such a faith could only be beneficial to whoever kept it.

The quote is from Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk of the Abbey of Gethsemane, KY.  Merton was a prolific poet and writer on spiritual social themes. He lived from 1915 until 1968.

From “Thoughts in Solitude”

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going, I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead my by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Is that not a powerful statement of faith? I do not normally share such personal things on my blog, but in this case, and especially if it helps someone else find the hope, courage, or strength they need, I think my mother would approve.

Healing: A Trip To The Adirondacks Is Good For The Soul!!

 The Adirondack Park in upstate New York

healing

I had a need to take trip to upstate New York this weekend. I flew into Syracuse and drove up to Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Park. My family has a small camp (called a cabin in the South) at Raquette Lake. We built it ourselves when I was a young teenager. My family has a history at Raquette Lake that spans several generations, and I understand I made my first camping trip to Raquette Lake when I was about six months old.

How Raquette Lake got its name … maybe!

The origin of the name is uncertain. One account is that it was named for snowshoes (raquette in French) left by a party of Tories led by Sir John Johnson in 1776. Traveling by snowshoe while fleeing American rebels, the spring thaw caught up with them. The snow was gone when they reached the lake. They left their snowshoes in a pile on the shore.

Back to the camp …

Sometime ago, we added a screened in porch to the camp. It has two skylights. One is leaking, so I flew up to take some measurements and see what materials might be needed to repair the problem. Every time I visit Raquette Lake it seems to have a healing effect on my soul. Whenever I drive into the Adirondack Park, it is almost like someone drew a line across Hwy 28. The air changes and I can breathe freely again. It is really quite a remarkable feeling.

healing

Hwy 28 North from Utica

Once you leave Utica and head north, it is a short distance to the Adirondack Park entrance. From there the drive becomes a trip down memory lane. It is very beautiful in a desolate sort of way. You pass through small towns like Remsen, Alder Creek, Otter Lake, Thendara, Old Forge, Eagle Bay, Inlet, and then Raquette Lake.

The Fulton Chain

You pass the Fulton Chain of lakes which are eight lakes formed by damming the Moose River. The chain starts near Old Forge and ends with Eighth Lake. The next lake is Raquette Lake which is a natural lake.  The Raquette River flows out from Raquette Lake winding its way northward to the St. Lawrence Seaway. Raquette Lake has 99 mile of shoreline, making it the largest lake in the Adirondack Park. Eighty percent of its shoreline is owned by the State of New York and is constitutionally forever wild. It is truly a wilderness adventure.

The Tap Room

Once I got my measurements and figuring done, I headed to Raquette Lake Village for lunch at the Tap Room. I also need to drop a copy of my book, Serpents Underfoot, off at the Raquette Lake Library. The librarian, Carolynne McCann Dufft, a friend of my parents, was kind enough to add my book to their collection. After dropping off the book, I had a great burger at the Tap Room. The Tap Room is a historic place … probably as old as the village itself. It can be found on the backside of the Raquette Lake Supply Co. While it can get a little loud in the evenings (it is a small place), the food is really excellent and it has a genuine rustic Adirondack atmosphere.

The Library!

I should also mention that the Raquette Lake Library, while small, is quite nice. Like the post office, it is a newer new addition to the village. Other than the post office and the library, the village remains pretty much the same as it was when I was a child. I love that. Maybe that accounts for part of the “soothing” effect it has on my soul.  The village, the lake, the air, the memories … all has a calming, peaceful feeling that recharges me like nothing else I have ever experienced.

Unplugged

healing

Another positive (or negative, depending on how you look at it) is that I can’t get a cell phone signal at all when at Raquette Lake. Sometimes, if you walk out on the end of the dock, stand on one leg, each as far out over the water as you dare, you can get the glimmer of a signal. But, I could never actually make a call from that position … never mind send a text or read an email.  For me at least, that is a good thing. We all need to unplug from time to time.

Where do you go for healing?

We all need a place to go to unwind, to de-stress, and recharge our batteries. It is important for maintaining both physical and mental well-being. For me, Raquette Lake is that place. Raquette Lake provides solitude, peace, and a great rustic atmosphere. I hope you find the time to find your own “Raquette Lake.”

Also,

Personalized copies of Serpents Underfoot can now be ordered directly from my website. Just click here!

Success in Life Rules: Post by Cristian Mihai

Rules for Success in Life

success

There is a lot of “success in life” or self-improvement information floating around out there; some of it great, some of it good, and some of it not so good. Many people are trying to succeed at their dreams. If you can make your hobby your occupation, that is indeed one form of success.

Rules for Success by Earl Nightingale

Cristian Mihai’s post on Earl Nightingale’s 12 rules made me think. You might want to check it out.

via How Earl Nightingale’s 12 Rules Can Help You Succeed In Life

Reflect On Where You Are… And Want To Be!

Reading this post made me take a good look at the things I am doing to succeed in my goal to be a successful author. While it would be hard to put all 12 rules into play at one time, we can certainly begin working on one and then expand from there over time. I know I am going to be re-evaluating some of the things I have been doing in the light of Earl Nightingale’s 12 Rules.

So, I would just like to thank Cristian Mihai for sharing this post with his readers. It is one of the more helpful blog posts I have read in a long time, at least as far as reaching my goals are concerned.

What does shape the story: Fact, Fantasy or Fiction!

What helps shape the story?

Isshin-ryu Karate

What does shape the story? Several people with whom I have spoken after they read my novel, Serpents Underfoot, have asked me if there are some of my life experiences woven into the story. What life experiences helped shape the story? And I answer, of course, there are.

I have about 35 years of martial arts experience as a student, instructor, and dojo owner. That experience plays a crucial role in Curtis’ and especially JD’s interest and development in the martial arts, and for JD, specifically in Isshin-ryu Karate. I based Sensei Tokumura’s character on my last karate sensei, Sherman Harrill, who helped me to understand what real karate is all about. Those who have trained with Sensei know what I mean. It was a real honor to be that man’s student.

An Army of One?

shape the story

While it also helped shape the story, the military stuff is a bit more complicated. Even as a young child, I wanted to be in the military. The backyard was my battlefield where my brother and I had legions of little green army men with jeeps, trucks, tanks, field artillery, etc., all under our command. We had trenches and foxholes. It was quite a battlefield. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d reply “I want to be an army!” I still remember my parents laughing and telling me that one man cannot be an army, but you can indeed be a soldier.

Maybe that is why the recruiting slogan adopted in 2001, an “Army of One” was so short lived and was replaced by “Army Strong” in 2006. Perhaps Army officials either talked to my parents, or they decided “Army of One” was a bit contrary to the idea of teamwork, an approach the military relies so heavily upon.

I did not just want to join the U.S. Army … I wanted to be an Army Ranger. And later, maybe even get into the Special Forces. I still remember that day, when I was perhaps 14 or 15-years-old, being so impressed when a Ranger team put on a demonstration of their skills at a park in North Adams, Massachusetts. That was what I wanted to be! The problem was I stuttered, and in my younger years, it was quite pronounced. However, this did not change my dreams of joining the military.

There was just one problem!

shape the story

My stuttering seemed to lessen at least in comparison to my earlier school days. Either that or I slowly became better at concealing my stuttering depending on the circumstances. So, in July of 1979, I went down to the recruiting station in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and I enlisted in the U.S. Army. I had just blown the ASVAB right out of the water, so I could pick whatever MOS (job) I wanted. Looking back on it now, I  should have probably chosen some good technical skill (maybe “in-flight missile repair technician”), but I wanted Ranger School; so that meant picking 11Bravo (Infantry) as my MOS. I had planned on an initial tour of three years, but I ended up signing a contract for four years (they offered me a $4,000 cash enlistment bonus upon completion of training if I enlisted for a four year period instead of 3 years).

On my way!

According to my contract, I was going to Basic Training at Ft. Knox, Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Benning, and then directly to Ranger School which, if I remember correctly, was also at Ft. Benning. I guess it was because of the high ASVAB scores that I was able to lock this in. I took the oath, and the recruiter gave me a ride home to get a toothbrush and say goodbye to my parents,  and we headed off to Ft. Knox, Kentucky that same afternoon. The recruiter who’d signed me up was going back to Ft. Knox, so he kindly offered to give me a ride. Several hours later, dropped me off at the induction center. Amazingly, I had not stuttered once this whole time, even when taking the oath. It was like a dream come true. I was going to be a U.S. Army Ranger.

Basic Training

Basic training began. And, yes it was pretty freaking tough. But, I loved it! Unfortunately, much to my dismay, some of the drill instructors discovered I stuttered. For me, it was virtually impossible not to stutter when they jumped dead in my shit; they were experts at it. I knew it was only part of the mind game they played to see who could take the stress and who would crack. If you could not handle their crap, you certainly had no business on the battlefield. I will say that, once they figured out what was going on, they did not belittle me for it. They were, however naturally concerned about me screwing up their Army. But, I was also doing very well with the training; physical training, shooting ranges, running, hand-to-hand combat, grenade ranges, mud, running,  probing for mines, weapons cleaning and assembly, rain, running, heat, road marches, more running … I was eating that stuff up!

Just one catch!

Then one afternoon, I got called into the Company Commander’s office. I was pretty nervous about that, wondering what the heck I had done. Once I reported, I was ordered to stand at ease. The Company Commander was a young Army captain not much older than me. The Captain told me that the U.S. Army appreciated my volunteering, my efforts, and ambition, etc. He went on to say that by all the reports he had, I was performing outstandingly in my training. However, in spite of that, the U.S. Army could not send me to ranger school. The Captain explained that my stuttering presented too much of a risk, especially with the cost of the training provided during ranger school. I was severely bummed out! But, deep down inside, I could see their point … and I hated it. The Captain went on to explain to me that, because they could not honor the contract they signed with me, I could get out of the Army honorably if I chose to.

My choice was clear!

I did not even have to think about it. For me, that was not an option. I asked if I could remain in the infantry if I stayed. The Captain replied that I certainly could. So, I stated that I did not want out. I would continue my training. The Captain nodded, saying that he had expected no less, and then dismissed me. I completed Basic Training achieving a high score on my end of cycle test, which I felt was quite an accomplishment.  I boarded a bus for the Infantry School at Ft Benning, Georgia.

One of my best memories of Ft. Benning occurred on the rifle range. We were conducting rapid-fire exercises with our M-16 rifles, and I was knocking them down. Drill Sergeant Winters stopped pacing and stood behind me for a few minutes, watching. When the range officer called for a cease-fire, I stopped and cleared my weapon. Drill Sergeant Winters looked down at me and stated, “That is some mighty fine shooting, son! Wherever you end up, they will be glad to have you.” I finished AIT by earning the maximum possible score on the Infantry Qualification Test.

Breakfast at Denny’s!

One other great memory. Another soldier and I were eating breakfast at a Denny’s in Columbus, Georgia. We were on our first weekend pass. After we had eaten, we would catch a cab back to the base. We were sitting there in our khaki uniforms when an older woman stopped by our table and started talking to us. We had no idea who she was. She was telling us how good it was to see two such outstanding young men in uniform and told us she was going to buy us breakfast, We both said thank you, but that it was not necessary. She would not argue. The woman then asked us if we knew who she was. We both replied that we did not. She told us she was Lillian Carter, the President’s mother. We were surprised, but finally noticed the men in suits standing around us. Probably Secret Service agents! The President’s mother took care of our check and then wishing us well, left with her escort. That was simply amazing!

Fun, Travel, and Adventure!

So, I served my four years in the U.S. Army Infantry. I traveled the world, saw different cultures, and did some pretty exciting things. In Germany,  I was stationed at Wiesbaden Air Base with the 2/22 Infantry.

Shortly after arriving, I was asked to report to the Battalion Executive Officer. My first thought was, Dang! Here I go again! I reported to the XO as ordered. He had been looking at my file and needed a driver. I took the job. I served as the Battalion Executive Officer’s driver for almost two years and spent a great deal of time patrolling our Battalion’s area of operations near the Fulda Gap. Our job was to slow the Russians down if they ever came across the border.

Finishing my two years in Germany, I got orders to Ft. Polk, Louisianna. The last place in the world I wanted to go was Ft. Polk, Louisianna! So, I went to the CO and asked how to get out of having to go there. He replied that I just needed to volunteer to go someplace else nobody else wanted to go. I asked him where. He said Alaska or South  Korea. I chose South Korea.

The DMZ

During my year in South Korea, with the 1/17 Infantry, I did a 90-day tour on the DMZ between North and South Korea. That was pretty exciting stuff,  a real mission. Real guns, real grenades,  real bullets, and a real enemy you could see from the observation post. And, sometimes … even stumble on while patrolling the DMZ itself.

I enjoyed the Asian culture and immersed myself in it. This cultural appreciation certainly shaped the story. I got involved with the local Amerasian orphanage and helped put a new roof on their building and also helped feed the kids Thanksgiving dinner. My year was up way too fast!

Air Assault!

When I got to my last duty station, I was assigned to the 1/501st Air Assault at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.  We later deployed to Panama, flying down on a C-130. We were cruising along at about 30,000 ft, sitting in slippery, canvas bench seats that ran lengthwise on the plane. As we approached Panama, a light turned on, and suddenly the plane stood on its nose and dove. We all slid sideways toward the front of the aircraft. It leveled out at about 400 ft if I remember correctly, and the back ramp opened. A group of men we never even knew were there (they were sitting behind our stacked gear) stood up and ran off the lowered ramp, jumping out into the night sky. When the ramp closed, the C-130 stood on its tail and climbed back to cruising altitude. We all slid back toward the rear of the plane. We were all surprised. I would never have thought an aircraft that big could fly like that. I’d always figured the group of men was a team of Army Rangers on a training exercise, but who knows?

Invasion of Panama?

This action all took place shortly before we took out General Manuel Noreiga, and I always figured we were sent there as a show of force … hoping to calm things down. I am not so sure that worked. However we could not just sit on our collective butts, so while there at Ft. Sherman, we completed the Jungle Warfare School.  My squad broke some battalion record for completing the Jungle Obstacle Course. We got a steak and lobster dinner, compliments of the Battalion Commander, for that accomplishment.

When it came time to reenlist, I did give that some very serious consideration. However, the paths I really wanted to take were essentially closed to me because of my speech impediment. So, I decided to seek my fortune elsewhere. I suppose you could say that the military adventures of Curtis Cordell and his son, JD Cordell are fantasies … depictions of the kinds of adventures I would like to have had if things had worked out differently.

All of these experiences did combine to help shape the story.