Thoughts That Never Occured to Me… before

November 12, 2010

Veterans Day Parade in Branson, Missouri - 2009

My bride and I are planning a trip to Germany in the not too distant future. To prepare myself, I’ve been listening to a radio station in Munich. (My computer picks up the signal far better than my short-wave radio!) The station I’ve settled on has an interesting format; similar stations in the U.S. (which are difficult to find) call it “The Music of our Lives.” It’s a step beyond the “Oldies but Goodies”. Most of the music played was recorded in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. There’s some Rock n’ Roll, but most of the songs would remind the listener of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Dinah Shore, Doris Day, and the like.

I’d estimate that eighty percent of the songs are sung in German; another ten percent are instrumentals, and the remainder are in English. Many of the songs are well known, but the English versions are not always by the original artists. Of course, I’m assuming the songs sung in English were U.S. originals. Based on what I’ve recently learned about German technology and a rich history of creativity, perhaps those songs originated in Germany and not in America.

Right now I’m listening to “Please Mr. Postman” and I think the group singing the song is the Carpenters. Go figure!

I was born in 1944 – about a year before the end of World War II. As a young boy, I would go to the neighborhood movie theater and cheer for John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Aldo Ray and others as they fought and defeated the Japs and Krauts.

It’s strange that I grew up considering anything labeled “Made in Japan” as junk, but had no similar opinion of German products. My memory tells me that the first products I recognized as having German origins were the Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen automobiles. One I saw as very high quality while I perceived the other as a pregnant roller skate of little value.

Today, it seems that the Japanese and Germans, along with the Koreans, are teaching Detroit how to make high quality vehicles. But that’s a story for another day.

Yesterday was Veterans Day. I always thought the U.S. did a fine job in recognizing the members of our “Greatest Generation”. As for our Vietnam vets, that’s another story, but it has improved.

On November 11, 1998, I was working in London, England. I was stunned when all activity in the office came to an abrupt stop at 11:11 AM. An announcement was made on the public address system and we were all asked to stand and observe a moment of silence. World War II had a much stronger impact on the British Empire than it did on America.

The victors certainly take the time to honor their soldiers, but what about the losers? Do the Germans and Japanese have parades to honor their citizens who fought so bravely, albeit for a losing cause?

I was recently told that the swastika can no longer be found anywhere in Germany; that it has been outlawed. However, another source tells me there is a museum in Berlin that displays many items of historical significance to the Nazi party, including the swastika. However, according to this source, there is very little to do with Adolf Hitler. If I was a German, I’d probably want to forget he ever existed.

Because of the war movies of my youth and the carry-over of anti-Japanese and German propaganda (that continues today in Hollywood) in my mind’s eye I see the enemy as blood-thirsty brutes who committed inhumane acts on our soldiers as well as on many innocent civilians. Let’s face it, it’s extremely difficult to view pictures of the Holocaust and see the German people in any other light.

And yet, I do. I’ve known a number of German nationals in my life and they are good fun loving people. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Horst, Chris, Joe, and my other German friends committing any act as brutal as those depicted in the historical documentaries.

“I was only following orders” is a defense that continues to be used to this day. Without having any factual information, it is my guess that the majority of the German and Japanese soldiers of World War II were fighting for a number of very simple reasons. First, they were drafted into the military and if they decided to go AWOL they could be shot. Second, they had to follow the orders of their superiors… or be shot. Third, when they faced the allied troops, they had to fight for their lives… or be shot.

It’s also possible that there were threats such as, “If you fail to follow orders, your families will be put in concentration camps or… be shot.”

Thus, I’m guessing that many of those soldiers were fighting because they had no choice. I’m sure each country had a number of combatants who bought their leaders’ propaganda completely and would be glad to shoot their fellow soldiers if that was necessary to insure the purity and harmony of their units.

But all of this is speculation on my part. I would love to sit down and talk with a German old enough to have been a part of the war effort… even if he or she was simply a teenager who gathered scrap metal for the war effort. As Americans who have never known a war on our own soil (in our lifetimes), it’s impossible to imagine how it felt to experience the exhilaration of the early Nazi victories, and how terrifying it must have been when the bombs started destroying their homes and cities. What were they told of the brutality of the allied soldiers? How much fear did they experience in the face of total surrender?

As for the Japanese, once again it is impossible for us to imagine two of our cities being totally destroyed by single bombs.

We lost the war in Vietnam – not because of any failure on the part of our military – but due to the ineptitude of our politicians. That ineptitude continues to this day.

In our country, it appears that we have finally learned to appreciate the efforts of our soldiers regardless of the situation that got us into war and the outcome of any military action. But how does a country pay homage to a military that failed to protect the homeland?

Again, I can only speculate. I would simply blame the political leaders who got us into the war to begin with. Then, I would honor and thank the soldiers who fought so bravely when they really didn’t have much of a choice.

I realize I did quite a bit of rambling with this, but it is an effort to wrap my arms around a subject that had never crossed my mind until I began listening to this German radio station.

The questions that gave birth to this blog entry were in regards to the music. So much of the music this station plays were popular songs in war-time America. Were those same songs played in war-time Germany? Or were they banned because they were American?

For that matter, were German songs banned in the U.S. at the same time? Prior to the war, Germany and the U.S. had many things in common. Was World War II like a divorce? All of a sudden, I will dislike everything about you simply because it reminds me of you? I will overlook all the good times we had during our life together simply because we’ve now discovered some basic areas of disagreement?

It seems to be such a shame. Perhaps all sides should listen more to the music than the rhetoric. If we can get everyone to agree on the same tunes, maybe world peace isn’t so far away.

Yes, I am a dreamer.

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Ask Any Indian

January 29, 2010

On my recent trip to Branson, Missouri, I purchased two T-shirts: one for me and one for a friend. This particular friend and I don’t always see eye-to-eye (understatement?), but we do agree on some things.

The shirt I bought him read, “Homeland Security – Fighting Terrorists since 1492”. In the middle of the shirt was a row of Indian warriors on horseback.

The middle of my shirt showed an Indian on horseback, with his head bowed low. The words? “Of course you can trust our government. Ask any Indian”.

Yesterday on my Facebook page, I brought up the subject of racism. I was recently accused of racism because I disagree with some of the policies of President Obama. Obviously, the charge was made by a black man and some of his ultra-liberal white friends.

I did not vote for Mr. Obama. My vote had nothing to do with the color of his skin. It had everything to do with his inexperience and his far left-wing leanings. I voted for John McCain because I saw him as THE LESSER OF THE EVILS.

In eleven presidential elections, I have never voted FOR a candidate and it really angers me that our two major political parties can’t find more suitable candidates. Of course, I firmly believe that anyone talented enough to do a decent job is smart enough not to want the job.

But getting back to discrimination…

In 1984 I dragged my family on a six week tour of America. We pulled a camping trailer and visited 29 states in those six weeks. I cooked many of our meals, but from time to time we ate at a restaurant.

The restaurant that sticks in my mind was in South Dakota. I don’t remember the place for its food or ambiance. What I do recall is an American Indian family standing in line waiting for a table.

I believe there were seven of eight people in their party. There were six of us and we were quickly shown to a table… ahead of the Indian family.

More than an hour later, we were finished and on our way out. That’s when the place became memorable to me. The Indian family was still waiting to be seated. And there were empty tables that could’ve been pushed together.

I later mentioned this to a family member who spent some time in that part of the country. He explained that the whites saw the Indians as lazy drunken bums that didn’t deserve to be treated as equals.

As I write this, I recall a trip to Copenhagen where I saw discrimination on an unbelievable scale. Some Danes absolutely hate the Swedes. I learned this when a shopkeeper tried to throw a Norwegian out of his store because he thought the man was a Swede. To make matters worse, the Norwegian also hated the Swedes and was, therefore, highly insulted to be called a Swede.

Why is it that some people have to look down on others simply because of their race or nationality?

A good friend (the harmonica player in our Nostalgia band) explained that the trouble with Baptists, Catholics, and Methodists is that they think they’re just as good as us Lutherans.

While such a statement is laughable, it seems that it may be truer than we like to think.

While working an assignment with IBM Europe/Middle East/Africa, I met many people from other lands. Through them I learned that the Germans dislike the Portuguese with the same sort of passion as the Danes in regards to the Swedes. There were other examples of discrimination between nationalities, but I’ve erased them from my memory banks.

In the United States, we have all sorts of laws to protect the blacks of our society and ensure their civil rights, but what about the American Indians. Does the NAACP have any programs that benefit the original settlers of this country? The Indians could be consider “colored”, couldn’t they?

Perhaps things have improved in South Dakota. I certainly hope so. That will give us all more time to turn our hate toward the Mexicans.

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I searched, unsuccessfully, for our camera before writing this post. Then my bride jogged my memory and I found the missing technological wonder! So, finally, here is the photo I wanted to include.

My newest T-shirt


Pufferbellies

November 20, 2009

Two of my granddaughters are becoming violinists. I’m very happy to see their interest in music and do what I can to encourage it.

Recently Rachel began singing a little tune and seemed rather shocked when I joined in. “See the little pufferbellies all in a row.”

Not surprisingly, my twelve-year-old granddaughter had no idea what a pufferbelly was. I gave her a brief explanation, but our visit to Paducah, Kentucky provided me with a perfect pictorial example.

A not-so-little pufferbelly

As with so many things I run across nowadays, seeing the steam locomotive brought back more than a few memories.

For example, I recall my parents taking us to see Rook Station near Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Besides having a fairly large rail yard, Rook Station had a round house where the pufferbellies could be turned around and maintained.

A similar turn-table in Savannah, Georgia

I also remember a time when I was about Rachel’s age that I went on a field trip to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in downtown Pittsburgh. Part of the tour included an animated film telling us about the future of railroading. They were getting ready to introduce diesel locomotives which would spell the end of most pufferbellies.

The "new" locomotive on the Branson Scenic Railway

A few scenic railways still use the steam engines, but they are becoming harder and harder to find. I believe the one that runs out of Bryson City, North Carolina is still using a pufferbelly.

A few years back I discovered how intense true railroad buffs are. I was working at a lumber yard in Texas when a load of old railroad ties was delivered. Almost immediately there were swarms of men intently searching for nails stuck in the wood. But these weren’t ordinary nails; they had two digit dates embossed in the heads. Those dates indicated the year the tie was put into place and were used to help the workers determine when to replace the tie. To my surprise, the nails were seen as valuable collectors’ items. I managed to obtain one and passed it on to Andy Sarge.

I mention Andy’s name because I’m hoping he can answer a question of two. While we were watching the Veteran’s Day parade in Branson, there were two machines working on the tracks of the scenic railway. The first machine was the one shown below:

A machine with steel teeth biting into the ground.

A closer look at the teeth

The teeth seemed to be used to loosen the dirt and gravel along side the track. Another interesting feature of this machine was the flimsy looking device being pushed ahead of the machine.

Unknown gizmo being pushed ahead

This thing seemed to be about twenty or thirty feet in front of the first machine. After this machine passed by, it was followed by a second machine.

The second machine

This machine would periodically drop the gray device in front and kick up a bunch of dust. I assume there were brushes cleaning the rails or redistributing the gravel loosened by the first machine.

Hopefully, Andy or some other railroad buffs will enlighten me.

In the meantime, let’s return to pufferbellies. Back in the late forties or early fifties, the Four Preps took that children’s song and produced the following recording.

And that is why I was able to sing along with my granddaughter.


Travel Tips – Branson

June 6, 2009

My bride and I are planning to take a trip to Branson, Missouri. We’ve never been there and we’ve heard a lot of nice things about the place.

We’ll have a week to try to take in as much as we can (as long as we stay within the budget) and, by the looks of their Chamber of Commerce web site, we could be kept busy for a month and easily deplete the royal treasury.

I discovered that there is a scenic railroad that runs through the Ozarks. That is something we’d probably enjoy doing, but is the dinner train worth the extra cost?

Dolly Parton’s theater also looks interesting and the menu sounds like multiple people could get their fill from one person’s servings. Is that reality? And, if Dolly isn’t there, is the show still worth seeing?

Like many first time visitors to anywhere, we have lots of questions, and I’m hoping my readers can help.

If you’ve been to Branson, tell us about your experience. What was really worth seeing? What do we not want to miss? What do we want to avoid?

I’m beginning to think we should start a web site dedicated to travel tips. People could sign on and share their experiences – both good and bad – so that others can take advantage of someone who has been there and done that.

If advertising was allowed, anything having to do with travel would be banned to protect the integrity of the information.

What do you think? Bring us up to date on Branson and your thoughts on the travel tips web site.

Thanks again.