Dec 18, 2014

Harold R. Mead and "The War to End All Wars"......

Last month, I was reminded once more that our Memorial Day used to be celebrated as "Armistice Day" and was the annual celebration of the end of World War I.  Most people are surprised when I tell them that my father, Dr. Harold R. Mead, was a member of the U.S. Army and served in that war.  A lot of my contemporaries have fathers who served in World War II.  There's a simple explanation.  My dad was born in 1894, didn't marry until he was in his forties, and I was the third of four children.  He was nearly forty-six years old when I was born.

As kids, my sister and brother and I would play with the old "doughboy" helmet that was in the garage.  I doubt if we made any connection with the Great War.  It was simply a toy that we used when we staged our own backyard conflicts.  I rarely heard my father talk about his war experience, and when he did, I was too naive to recognize its significance.  I should have been taking notes.

As I eventually gained an interest in my family's history, I certainly wanted to include a detailed understanding of my father's military experience.  So, in the mid-1980's, I corresponded with the U.S. Army and the Veteran's Administration to get any documentation that might be available.  My father had died in 1971.  I was shocked to learn that none of his war records existed.  In July of 1973, a disastrous fire had destroyed much of the National Personnel Records Center outside of St. Louis.  Over 80 million folders of official military records were destroyed.  There were no backups or duplicates.  My father's military history had gone up in smoke.  I resigned myself to the notion that I would never know the details of his service -- when and where did he serve, what units was he associated with, what battles had he witnessed?  I would never know.  I recall the enormous disappointment when I received the news from the Government that the records no longer existed.

The dental infirmary of First Lieutenant Ralph F Krueger, dental surgeon, 302nd Engineers, 77th Division, near Abri du Crochet, Argonne Forest, France. October 29, 1918. Remarkably, I found this image on the Internet.  Dr. Ralph Krueger attended Dental School with my father, was one of his closest friends, and they both ended up practicing dentistry in Schenectady, NY.  When I saw the image, I did a double take.  I thought, "I know that man!" 
Photograph: Courtesy of US Army Military History Institute. SC 42751.
But then came the Internet and the World Wide Web.  And along came better and better search engines.  And perhaps even more important, people and companies scanned and digitized huge quantities of documents that had been residing in libraries and private collections for decades.  More and better information was becoming accessible and searchable on the Internet.  That combination of developments has made much of my father's war record available in spite of the devastating fire that had destroyed so many documents.

The first breakthrough occurred a few weeks ago when I discovered an article in a little-known journal entitled "The Journal of the Association of Military Dental Surgeons of the United States."  In the July, 1919, issue of that journal is an article entitled, "Dental History of the Second Division, A.E.F." by Lt.Col. George D. Graham.  Early in the article, Colonel Graham mentions that he took command of the dental unit described in March, 1918, and lists the officers then in the dental unit.  My father was one of those mentioned.  Thanks to the library at the Northwestern University School of Dentistry and to Google's efforts to scan and digitize academic journal collections, I now know which organization my father served in during the war.
One of my father's units was the 9th
Infantry Regiment of the 2nd
Army Division of the A.E.F.

This article goes on to describe the history of the unit and its operations from March to November of 1918.  Within those few months, they saw action at Chateau Thierry, Soissons, St. Mihiel, the Champagne Front, and the Argonne.  My dad was definitely in the thick of the battles that were taking place.  The article also describes how the Dental Corps personnel were engaged, often acting as anesthetists for the medical corps during surgery.  Dr. Graham states, "Dental officers were installed in towns, in which troops were temporarily billeted, in dugouts, in tents and occasionally by the roadside, wherever their organizations happened to be, often under shell fire."  He also describes how, under these field conditions, these oral surgeons were developing better, lighter, and smaller instrument packages and equipment packages to make it easier to relocate and set up their "offices."  I also learned from Dr. Graham's article that in October, 1918, my father was "evacuated, sick" along with two other dentists.  No further detail is provided on either the nature of the sickness nor the destination of the evacuation.

Not too long after I located Dr. Graham's article, I found another offbeat publication, "Dental Cosmos, A Monthly Record of Dental Science."  This gem had been scanned by Google from within the Health Sciences Library at the University of California, Davis.  Again, I extend my thanks.  Volume 59, dated November 1917, informs us that during the week of September 22, 1917, a certain Army reservist named Harold R. Mead was assigned "To Camp Mills, Garden City, Long Island."  So now, I knew where my father completed his training prior to going to Europe.  The pieces of the puzzle were appearing slowly but surely.

On the U.S. Army Medical Corps site, I discovered a sizeable document called "A History of Dentistry in the U.S. Army to World War II."  In Chapter 15 of that work I read the following, which bears tribute to the service of men like my dad:
"The dental service that Robert Oliver and his colleagues built in France experienced its most difficult test with the combat divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Never before in the history of the Army or its medical department had dental officers gone directly into battle as part of a combat unit. Thanks to Oliver’s efforts and those of many others in the Dental Corps, the AEF had dental officers and assistants attached to all of its front line divisions, including infantry and engineer battalions in the trenches and field artillery batteries. Without the experience of any army in history to guide it, the AEF integrated the dentists into the fabric of the division in a variety of ways. While they were sometimes assigned collateral duties with little regard for their professional backgrounds, they were more often employed as auxiliary medical officers to assist the battalion and regimental surgeons and medical detachments on the battlefield. Regardless of their assignments, the dental officers and their assistants served their fellow soldiers in times of trial, a number of them winning awards for gallantry on the battlefield and others sacrificing their lives. Their performance ultimately won the soldiers’ respect and the honored place in the Army Medical Department that dentists had so long sought."

A search of newspapers of the period when my father likely would have returned revealed another gem.  On August 5, 1919, the following article appeared in the Schenectady Gazette:

Local Practitioner Saw Months Overseas as First Lieutenant

Dr. Harold R. Mead of 6 Eagle Street, the first Schenectady dentist to reach France, has returned, almost the last local practitioner to leave that country. Dr. Mead enlisted in July, 1917, and was commissioned first lieutenant in the same month. He spent five weeks in Camp Mills and was then sent overseas, where he remained for 21 months. 

He was assigned to the second division and spent most of his time with the 9th and 23d Infantry, composed of both Infantry and marines. Part of his experience was behind the lines with the medical detachment, and part of the time was spent at the front In first aid work. After the signing of the armistice he resumed the work of dentistry.
Among the engagements in which Doctor Mead took part were that of Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne. His division was the American unit which aided the stopping of the German drive on Paris. At the time of one German raid on his regiment, in which one of the doctors and seven Red Cross men were taken prisoners and another doctor-captain wounded, he, together with three others, was all that was left of the medical detachment. These four were forced to do the work of 12 or 13 men in giving first aid to the wounded and sending them behind the lines. He was commended for this work.
Dr. Mead tells an amusing incident which came to his notice while in service. One of his fellow practitioners, while working on a patient in his office chair, had the front of his office blown away by a shell. The patient "got up and ran" and was never heard of since.

The doctor was one of about seven who left this city to practice dentistry in the service. He has a brother-in-law, Captain Gilbert L Van Auken, who spent about the same time as the doctor in the field artillery. He has always lived in this city and expects to resume his practice in a week or two at his old location in Crane Street."

So there is a gap from October, 1918, when he was "evacuated, sick" from his unit in France, until July or August of 1919, when it was published that he had returned home.  I have no idea what transpired nor what his ailment was.  But I know a whole lot more about my father's units and movements than I ever would have thought possible even a few years ago.

He spent 21 months overseas.  It's remarkable to me that he rarely spoke of these times.  One of the few stories I recall him telling was of going into Paris once on leave with another officer.  Meat was in short supply, so a restaurant would usually offer a single choice of meat each day.  On this particular day and at the restaurant in which my father found himself, the meat of the day was tripe.  My dad said that they told the waiter to give their meat to a nearby French couple.  He had tasted tripe and said it was the worst thing he ever put in his mouth.  The French couple was overtaken with emotion that the Americans had "sacrificed" their meat to the benefit of the French.  Little did they know...

Dec 5, 2014

Remembering Roger G.

The last time I drank an alcoholic beverage was in August of 1983.  At that time, my "home group" in Alcoholics Anonymous was the Fayetteville Group in Fayetteville, Tennessee.  We met on Tuesday and Friday nights.  On the last Friday of the month, we had a guest speaker and celebrated the AA birthdays of anyone in the group whose birthday occurred during that month.  We were always on the lookout for new speakers to tell their stories at these so-called "eatin' meetings."
Sometime in 1984, the guest speaker was a gentleman introduced as Roger G. from Manchester, Tennessee.  My wife, Margo, and I listened intently to Roger's story.  He and I had a lot in common.  He had been raised in the north (the Boston area) in a devoutly Catholic family.  He was a college graduate.  He had migrated to the South fairly recently.  I could identify with much of his story.  After he had finished his story and the meeting had ended, Margo and I asked him if he'd care to join us at Shoney's for coffee and dessert.  We learned later that "coffee" was the magic word.  He would join anyone for a cup of coffee any time.  Roger joined us and within the next couple of hours, we became friends and Roger Gaudet became my first real AA sponsor.  Over the next several years, he would be my guide and mentor through the twelve step recovery program.

Roger's story was unusual in a number of ways.  He was not much older than I but he had been sober for nearly 25 years.  He had gotten sober in an AA group in Newton, Massachusetts, when he was around twenty years old.  That was a rarity in the early 1960's.  He spoke of the reaction of the older AA members when he attended his first meeting and stated that he was an alcoholic.  Many of the older members said that he wasn't old enough to be an alcoholic.  But Roger kept going to meetings, got a sponsor, worked the 12 steps of the program, and remained sober.  When we met, he was the director of a treatment facility in Manchester, Tennessee.

Roger became a fixture at our home on weekends.  Our guest bedroom became known as "Roger's Room."  He and I spent countless hours together and our common interests kept the conversation lively.  He had been formally trained as a keyboard artist at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and for several years had made his living as a concert organist, representing the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of North Tonawanda, New York.  

An ad for one of Roger's concerts,
in Spokane, in 1976
Roger would travel from city to city under the sponsorship of a local music company that sold the Wurlitzer line of electronic organs.  The company would send tickets to local residents who were potential customers.  Roger would put on a show at a local auditorium, demonstrating what could be done on the latest Wurlitzer instrument.  The dealer was ready to sign up potential customers at the conclusion of the concert.

He could spin yarns for hours with stories of those years as a travelling musician.  When he would arrive in a city, he'd call the AA answering service to determine the location of a nearby meeting.  If there were none nearby, he'd sometimes ask if an AA member could pick him up at his hotel to take him to a meeting.  Naturally he had met hundreds of AA members all over the world by this practice.  At one point, he was doing a series of concerts in Australia and encountered an AA member who was a Qantas Airlines 747 pilot.  The gentleman lived on a ranch and insisted that Roger live with his family throughout the duration of his Australia tour.  On Roger's return flight to Hawaii enroute to California, he was invited to sit in a spare engineer's seat in the cockpit of his plane.  The Qantas pilot happened to know the pilot of Roger's flight and had suggested this extra hospitality, knowing of Roger's interest in aviation.  Another time, while in L.A., Roger was picked up at his hotel by a couple of black recovering alcoholics driving a pink cadillac convertible.  They took him to an AA meeting in Watts at which, as Roger would tell it, his was the only white face.

One time, Roger told me to set aside a Saturday night for him and Margo and me to attend an AA "Roundup" being held at Guntersville State Lodge in Alabama.  As Roger put it, "There's a speaker that I want you to meet."  We went to the meeting and the speaker turned out to be a fellow who called himself "John the Indian."  His story was one of the most incredible recovery stories ever and it turned out that he and Roger had become close friends in the earliest days of their sobriety.  They had an almost identical sobriety date and had started their recovery in the same groups near Boston.  It was like old home week when Roger went up to John after his talk and asked, "Do I look any older?"  They hadn't seen each other for about twenty years.

Roger was a natural musician and every weekend was enriched by his playing at Margo's Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano.  He would simply sit on the bench and start to play.  It might be Mozart or Chopin or Rachmaninoff.  It might just as easily be Cole Porter or Rodgers and Hammerstein.  His repertoire was unlimited.  And Margo would toss out requests and Roger would invariably play them from memory.  He was astonishing.

His musical skill led to an amusing incident one Saturday afternoon at Parkway City Mall in Huntsville.  There was a store there called "Tony Barone's Organ Center."  The store was a long-time fixture in Huntsville, and the store was designed to be open on two sides.  If someone was playing one of the several display instruments, they could be heard throughout the mall.  Roger and I were shopping and he noticed the organ center.  He said, "Let's have a little fun" as he strolled into the store and sat at one of the more elaborate electronic organs.  Soon a salesman descended on us.  Roger asked how you turned on the instrument.  The salesman brushed Roger aside as he slipped onto the bench.  "Let me show you gentlemen a few features of this marvelous organ."  He proceeded to go through his routine, describing the capabilities and gadgetry, and even playing a few simple tunes.  Roger asked if he could try it out.  As Roger centered himself on the bench, he reached up and started to flip various stop tabs to reset the organ's registry, and launched into an astounding version of the Colonel Bogey March, employing pedals and both keyboards.  It was Roger at his flamboyant best!  By the time he finished, a crowd of several dozen bystanders had come into the store to see who was playing.  The salesman realized that he had been set up.  The owner of the store came out of his office to meet Roger.  We stayed for a couple of hours as Roger played request after request to the appreciative audience.

In about 1986, Roger informed us that he had been praying for guidance and had concluded that he was being called to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood.  This was an interesting turn of events for a man who had been married twice and had four daughters.  It turned out that his first marriage had been annulled and his second was never valid in the eyes of the church.  He was also nearly 50 years old.  He would have to find a bishop willing to support him through a seminary path of at least three years.  The sponsoring bishop would be unlikely to get too many years of pastoral service from a man who would be ordained in his fifties.  But Roger succeeded in getting Archbishop Edward T. O'Meara of Indianapolis, Indiana, to sponsor him.  Roger attended a "late vocations" seminary, Sacred Heart School of Theology, in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.  And on June 3, 1989, Margo and I (as well as a lot of other Huntsville AA members) were in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis for his ordination to the priesthood.  By this time in his life, he had reconciled with his children.  One of his daughters sat near him during the ceremony, and Roger carried his grandchild down the aisle in the processional, handing the baby to her mother before he took his place for the ceremony.  And the next time we spoke to him, he was Father Roger!

One of his first assignments was as associate chaplain 
for the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, with residence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods Parish near Terre Haute.  Here was this world-travelled former drunk serving as chaplain to a group of retired nuns!  He told me it was evidence of God's sense of humor.  As Roger put it, "That will teach me to pray to be surrounded by beautiful women."

In 1994, Roger was named pastor of 
St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, Indiana.  Margo and I visited him there and he was a very happy man.  He was loved by his parishioners, was composing lots of liturgical music, was performing organ concerts for some cloistered nuns at a nearby convent, and was still in demand as an AA speaker (and what a wonderful recovery story he had to share).

Roger took an early retirement in 2001 for health reasons and on August 2, 2002, he left us.  The tribute that follows appeared in the Criterion, a regional Catholic newspaper, the week after his death.  Unfortunately, it's impossible to capture in print the bigger-than-life presence that was Father Roger.  I am very blessed and grateful to have had him in my life in a very important and treasured way.

Father Roger Gaudet, retired diocesan priest,
dies on Aug. 2 by Mary Ann Wyand

Father Roger B. Gaudet, who retired as pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville last year, died in his sleep on Aug. 2 at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove. He was 65. He was granted early retirement for health reasons in January 2002 and lived at St. Paul Hermitage, where he served as chaplain. Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Gaudet at 11 a.m. on Aug. 6 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Father Thomas Schliessmann, pastor of American Martyrs Parish in Scottsburg and St. Patrick Parish in Salem, was the homilist. Burial followed in the Priests’ Circle at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis.

St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis hosted a luncheon after the funeral. The wake was Aug. 5 at St. Paul Hermitage. “He had been under the care of a doctor,” Father Schliessmann said. “Several years ago, he asked me if I would preach at his funeral. He and Father Raymond Schafer and I were ordination classmates.” Father Gaudet’s last name means “rejoice” in Latin, Father Schliessmann said, “and that’s normally how he lived. He lived rejoicing and enjoyed his 13 years as a priest.”

A former Marine, he had been married and was the father of four daughters. After his divorce, his marriage was annulled and he began studies for the priesthood. “He was able to enter the seminary after proving that any financial obligations to his four grown children were taken care of,” Father Schliessmann said. “He was a talented musician and professional organist. Following his ordination, he wrote the music for a special Mass at every parish where he served. He also played the organ for concerts to raise funds for parishes.”

Before his ordination, he was a therapist and ministered to persons with drug and alcohol dependencies. He was a recovering alcoholic and had participated in the 12-Step Program for more than halfof his life. “He had a very intimate and even mystical relationship with our Lord and an understanding of what he did for us on the cross,” Father Schliessmann said. “He had a very deep devotion to the Eucharist.”

Born on June 11, 1937, he was ordained to the priesthood on June 3, 1989, at age 52 by the late Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral. His first assignment was as associate pastor of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. In 1991, he was named temporary associate pastor of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.

In 1992, he was named associate chaplain for the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, with residence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods Parish near Terre Haute. The following year, he was named administrator of St. Mary-of-theWoods Parish while continuing as associate chaplain at the motherhouse.

In 1994, he was named pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, where he served until his early retirement last year. St. Michael the Archangel parishioner Jim Hession of Indianapolis knew Father Gaudet for a number of years and remembered him as a man of great faith and a talented musician.

“In a brief 13-year career as a priest, this man brought the true message of God’s love and mercy to those who needed it most,” Hession said. “He played [the organ] for the pure pleasure of it for the [Providence sisters] in the infirmary at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and at several nursing homes in the Indianapolis and Terre Haute areas.”

Hession said Father Gaudet also “worked tirelessly with the recovering alcoholic population” and served on the board of directors of Progress House, a recovery house for alcoholics and addicts. “I guess the most astounding part of Father Roger’s brief ministry is that he did most of his best work behind the scenes,” Hession said. “He had a way and an understanding and a belief that spoke volumes about spirituality, sobriety and serenity.”

Survivors include four daughters, Theresa Morese, Shannon Gaudet, Christen Pellitier and Susan Cabral, who reside in Massachusetts; two sisters, Rose Marie and Claire Gaudette of Henderson, Nev.; two grandchildren; and five great grandchildren.
Image courtesy of John D. Fitzgerald, a mutual friend of Father Roger

Nov 10, 2014

Elf Sighting...

This weekend, several of Santa's elves were seen working in my workshop.  It looked like they were building little rocking horses for some good little boys and girls.  Can Christmas be far behind?

Nov 8, 2014

A Coastal Holiday...

For the past many months, I've been working on a job in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Naturally, I come home with stories about the people I work with and the places I've seen.  Mary Ann and I have talked for several months about bringing her down to Corpus for a vacation.  We finally did that, starting a couple of weeks ago.

Mary Ann elected to drive from Fayetteville to Corpus Christi.  She could take as much time as she wanted to see the sights and she could carry as much luggage as she desired without worrying about excess baggage fees.  She also enjoys driving and does not enjoy airports.  She left on Wednesday, October 29, with the idea of taking two days to cover the 1,000-mile distance.  She made reservations at a hotel in Lake Charles, LA, in anticipation of covering the longest leg on the first day, covering about 650 miles.

No trips in the Mead family are uneventful, and this one was no exception.  While in Lake Charles, Mary Ann put a nasty gash in her leg while loading the car.  She had to get some special antibiotic cream to put on it and ended up in a Wal-Mart pharmacy where it took several hours to get her prescription filled.  She got a late start out of Lake Charles and arrived in Corpus after 10:00 PM.  We unpacked her luggage and both crashed and didn't set the alarm.

Friday, October 31
We both slept in.  About 9:30, I went to the lobby and brought breakfast up to the room.  We took our time getting ready and had a late lunch at LaPlaya, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Corpus Christi.  Then we drove around the City using a list of points of interest that Mary Ann had printed from some Internet sources.  We spent some time along the downtown waterfront, drove past some elegant homes that face the bay, and found the district in which the museums and art galleries are located.  I had no previous idea where all these venues were located because when I am in Corpus Christi, I'm commuting from my motel to work and back or going to or from the airport.  After a quiet dinner at Harrison's Landing we returned to our hotel to get a good night's rest in preparation for a busy Saturday.

I had suggested to Mary Ann that we go out to a very special restaurant -- Yardarm -- on Saturday night.  I had eaten there with some of my business colleagues and it was a wonderful dining experience.  The restaurant is in an old bay-facing residence.  It is family owned and both the food and service are exceptional.  So after we returned to the hotel, I called and made reservations at the Yardarm for Saturday night.

Saturday, November 1
Our route the first day
I awoke first and brought coffee and bagels up to the room.  After getting cleaned up and dressed, we decided to do a scenic loop from Corpus Christi across to Padre Island, then north to Port Aransas, then back to the mainland via ferry boat to Aransas Pass, returning to Corpus Christi via Ingleside and Portland.  This would be a good way to see the general layout along some of the populated as well as unpopulated areas.

It was nearly lunchtime when we were ready to leave the hotel, so we decided to have lunch right away.  We headed southeast past my place of employment (We were saving that visit for Monday), then across the JFK Causeway to Padre Island.  We stopped at Snoopy's, a very casual, mostly seafood restaurant, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the open water-level patio.  After lunch, we proceeded to the business district of north Padre Island, turned northeast and crossed a small bridge and were now on Mustang Island headed for Port Aransas.  This is a small, picturesque town of around 4,000 permanent residents that caters to tourists and sport fisherman.

We drove past dozens of condominiums and beach home communities along the road that runs the length of Mustang Island.  I pointed out to Mary Ann the area in which I lived for a few weeks during which we resided in a beach house as a money-saving business residence.  As we arrived in Port Aransas, I pulled into the parking lot of Coffee Waves, a little coffee shop that I had frequented when I lived nearby.  We went in and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon cup of coffee, then left to find the ferry that would take us across Aransas Pass, which is only a few hundred yards wide at the point where the ferry transits.  We found the ferry landing with no trouble and soon were on the ferry and underway for probably no more than four or five minutes.  Then we were being ushered off to continue our circular drive on normal paved roads.

A sailboat practicing along
the T-Head channel
We proceeded to the town of Portland, drove around a bit looking for points of interest (There were none that we saw.), and then headed for Ingleside and on into Corpus Christi.  The view from the bridge that crosses the neck between Nueces Bay and Corpus Christi Bay is quite impressive.  On one side, you are looking at the USS Lexington (CV-16), a World War II Essex-class aircraft carrier that now serves as a museum.  On the other side of the bridge is a large area of urban renewal development that includes an old historic district of Corpus Christi and Whataburger Field, home to the Hooks, Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Houston Astros.

Our dessert at Yardarm
Another visit to one of the so-called "T-Heads" filled the next hour, as we  walked along the waterfront looking at the private boats and yachts.  We proceeded to the Yardarm restaurant for the next couple of hours.  Our window table faced Corpus Christi Bay.   The meal was memorable.  We mentioned to our most-attentive server that we were celebrating our 10th anniversary (It was in July, but we decided we'd really celebrate with a nice dinner at a later date.  This was the date!).  She helped us celebrate by bringing a complimentary candle-laden piece of Key-lime pie.

Sunday, November 2
After another slow start, we decided today was a good day to go to the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.  I've been reading a wonderful book recently, From a Watery Grave : The Discovery and Excavation of La Salle's Shipwreck, La Belle.  A few years ago, the wreckage of this 300-year-old ship was discovered in Matagorda Bay, not far north of Corpus Christi.  The Texas Historical Commission and the Archeologists of Texas A&M University managed to raise the necessary funds to finance a multi-year excavation, including the construction of a giant cofferdam around the wreckage, that yielded over 2,000,000 artifacts!  Some of these artifacts are now on display at this and six other Texas museums.  Thus the interest in visiting the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.

We found the museum with only a couple of wrong turns and proceeded in.  There was substantial material on shipwrecks in general, a sizeable collection of geological and historical material suitable for teaching science classes, and finally, an entire section of the museum dedicated to the wreck of LaSalle's fleet and the LaBelle.  Unfortunately, much of the exhibit was in an area where the lighting system was not operable, so we couldn't see the displays.  But what we could see was remarkable.  It seems impossible that you are looking at a 300-year-old object that has survived being immersed in salt water.  The ceramic objects were not so surprising but there were many organic items made of wood and leather, and several metal objects as well.  And to top it off, I purchased another book on the subject.

Monday, November 3
The Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center, Home of
the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation
This was the day we would visit the Lone Star UAS Center where I work.  Mary Ann and I left the hotel around 10:30 and went to the building, which was a bank building that was acquired by Texas A&M University Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) a few years ago.  When I came to Corpus a couple of years ago to work on the proposal to the FAA that resulted in this effort, we were given space in this building for the proposal team.  The primary function of the building is as a business incubation center.  We (the LSUASC) now occupy most of the 3rd floor.  So Mary Ann and I proceeded directly to the top floor.  She got to meet many of the people I work with every day and she saw the facilities in which we work.  I'm glad we got to do this, so she has a much better sense of what I'm doing when I go to Texas.

We had lunch with some of my co-workers at Howard's Barbecue, a locally-operated gem that's within a stone's throw of the building.  We're well known there.  My favorite is the "Jimmy Jr."  Imagine smoked sausage, brisked, and pulled pork, combined in a large flour tortilla.  Add barbecue sauce, onions, jalapenos... Perfection.  And Howard's has the best cole slaw in town, made with chopped apples in the mix.  It was a very nice lunch.

The beach at the Packery Channel, showing the rock-lined jetties
that define the opening to the channel.
Then, at the suggestion of one of my co-workers, we proceeded across the JFK causeway and went to the Packery Channel.  This is the body of water that separates Padre Island from Mustang Island.  We followed the driving directions we were given and soon found ourselves on an access road that goes directly to the beach!  We drove onto the beach, which was lined with several kite-boarders and fishermen in the surf.  Then I noticed a long rock-lined structure on which people were walking that extended several hundred feet out into the water.  I drove perhaps 500 yards and parked at this structure.  It was quite breezy and cool, and the surf was high.  Mary Ann stayed at the car while I walked out on the concrete walkway.  There were dozens of fishermen on either side, standing on the huge boulders that lined the structure.  I went until I got drenched by a breaking wave.  The jetty extended probably another couple hundred feet from where I turned around.  This was a very impressive structure!

We had planned to meet the gang for dinner at Port Aransa, so after about an hour exploring around the channel, we proceeded north up Mustang Island and once more stopped at Coffee Waves, the little coffee shop in Port A.  Mary Ann and I relaxed with some warm beverages and reading material in some big soft chairs preparing ourselves for a delicious dinner.

At 6:15, we and the Hendrixes (Jerry and Dee) and the Nelsons (Mat and Amber with children Luke [3 years] and Kana [2 months]) gathered at Shell's, one of our all-time favorite restaurants.  You have to try it to believe it.  It's a small, family-owned place in which I have never had a bad eating experience.  It's the kind of restaurant that makes you feel totally at home the first time you walk in the door.  And the food is exceptional.

After a great evening with friends we returned to our hotel for a good night's rest.

Tuesday, November 4

Today would be the day for museum visiting, to view more of the artifacts from the Belle.  We had a liesurely breakfast and headed for Rockport, home of the Texas Maritime Museum.

To be continued...

Oct 21, 2014

Just Another Day...

Guess what I drove to work on this beautiful 70-degree autumn day?

Sep 8, 2014

Weekend Project...

Mary Ann cuts our grass and maintains the other landscaping around the house.  I help out when asked.  She is the only one who operates the riding lawn mower.  I add the gas and check the oil.  Recently, she had acquired a sun canopy designed to mount on our Toro riding lawn mower.  Here's the finished product.

Aug 27, 2014

The Big Dog House in the Sky...

Sheila, on right, being chewed by Goldie
For a few weeks, Sheila, my shepherd mix dog, had been growing more feeble and losing weight.  Her abdomen appeared to be distended.  Monday, I took her to the vet where she was diagnosed with a large tumor.  I had to have her euthanized.  I could not bear to see her suffer.  She was a gentle, loving creature and I will miss her greatly.

Sheila sharing her dinner with Belle

Aug 25, 2014

Latest Project

A few weeks ago we had the kitchen floor replaced.  The previous floor was a beautiful Brazilian Cherry laminate.  When we decided to use a laminate product, it was a decision driven largely by the fact that the laminate is supposed to be so durable.  What no one told us is the fact that laminate doesn't tolerate wetness.  On two different occasions, we had to replace it because a water leak caused water to seep into the space between the subfloor and the underside of the laminate.  When this happens, the individual "boards" of the floor warp and the floor is ruined.  We decided to replace the laminate with vinyl.

We picked out a beautiful dark graphite textured, commercial-grade vinyl.  The crew who installed it put in a completely new subfloor and did a magnificent job with the installation.  We were very pleased with the dramatically-changed result except for one item: the stairs leading from the great room into the kitchen.

At the time we had installed the laminate floor, I had built the two steps leading up into the kitchen.  I stained the treads to match the floor and used laminate to cover the risers.  It worked perfectly and lasted many years.  But now, we decided that the steps needed to match the kitchen floor rather than the great room floor.  That was when I discovered that I had both nailed and glued the steps.  I apparently wanted them to last without squeaking.  It made the dismantling process very interesting.

The results of my latest effort are very satisfying.  I cut new treads of oak, then glued the vinyl to it and routed the edge carefully to ensure that the edge of the vinyl aligned perfectly with the edge of the step.  In the meantime, I ordered some bullnose molding of white oak from a mill in Kentucky.  When it arrived, I stained it with an ebony-colored stain, finished it with polyurethane, cut it to length, and nailed it to the edges of the tread.  I carefully cut and glued the vinyl to the vertical surfaces.  The result is quite satisfying...

Aug 15, 2014

Recalling T-Bone McDonald...

1212 Woodland Drive, Norman, OK
In 1966, I was living in Norman, Oklahoma.  I had moved there a year earlier to teach in the Naval ROTC unit at the University of Oklahoma.  As a member of the faculty bowling league, I had made friends with Forrest Frueh and Jim Mouser.  Forrest and Jim were both attorneys and constituted the entire department of business law in the college of business administration.  All three of us were bachelors and we decided to become housemates.  Forrest had just bought a house at 1212 Woodland Drive in Norman.  It was the perfect bachelor pad.  The house had been designed by Bruce Goff, a well-known architect who had been the chairman of the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma.  It was constructed of redwood and glass.  It had no 90-degree corners.  Every room was either a hexagon or an elongated hexagon.  It sat well back from the street, surrounded by large trees, with a bamboo garden in back.  Except for having only one bathroom, it worked well for Forrest, Jim, and me.

One afternoon, I was the first to arrive at the house.  As I was going through the day's mail, I heard a loud knock at the door.   I opened it to find an extremely large gentleman standing there holding a small suitcase.   I asked if I could help him.  He responded, in a bigger-than-life booming voice, "Howdy.  My name is T-Bone McDonald (he pronounced it "Ma-a-a-ck Donald") and I'm an old friend of Jim and Forrest's.  I need a place to spend tonight and I'm sure Forrest wouldn't mind if I spent it with you boys."  It sounded logical.  He knew my housemates' names.  We had a spare bedroom.  I did the only hospitable thing and let T-Bone in.  He was our roommate for the next several weeks.

T-Bone knew Forrest and Jim because as undergraduates at the University of Oklahoma they had been members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon social fraternity.  T-Bone had been the chapter adviser.  When Forrest and Jim arrived home, they naturally asked T-bone what brought him to the house.  It became clear that for reasons unspoken, he had been uninvited from his home and it only seemed natural that he should move in with us.

Over the time we shared, I learned a lot about T-Bone.  His full given name was Leon J. McDonald.  He had gone Oklahoma State University, which at the time was still known as Oklahoma A&M.  As to the moniker, the NewsOK Website describes it this way: "The name originated in 1918 when his father, also named Leon, was dubbed T-Bone when he ordered a T-bone steak while on a track trip for Oklahoma A&M College, now named Oklahoma State University.

The T-Bone I knew, also an A&M graduate, was a center on the Muskogee High School's state championship football team when he graduated in 1941.  Another accomplishment, which is rare today, is that he had four years of high school Latin, according to the Website.

In the 1960s, T-Bone made his living as a traveling salesman representing Frisco Paint, a line of paints produced by a company in New Jersey.  He had a huge territory, and each week he'd hit the road in his trusty Ford station wagon.  His slogan: "Cadillac paint at Chevrolet prices."  And I suspect he sold an enormous amount of paint.   Sometimes, T-Bone would visit a local freight office in the towns he visited to inquire whether they had any unclaimed or distressed freight.  He'd rent a trailer, buy and haul the freight home, and find a buyer.  He would have really loved eBay if it had existed back then.  One time he pulled into the driveway with a trailer in tow and asked, "Bob, who uses nitric acid??"

He never met a stranger and loved to talk.  And talk he did.   He was not shy about sharing his life story.  Forrest, Jim, and I were the beneficiaries of his homespun wisdom.  What follows is my best recollection of some of those remarkable tales.

At the outbreak of World War II, T-Bone had completed two years of ROTC training at Oklahoma A&M.  He enlisted right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.   After some basic training and a series of short-term assignments, he found himself heading to North Africa where he ended up on General George S. Patton's staff.  He was with Patton throughout the North African campaign, into Sicily, thence to England, where General Patton headed up the disinformation campaign prior to the Normandy invasion.  After the invasion, Patton was restored to command of the third army in its drive across Europe.  T-Bone was there for all of this.  And to hear T-Bone tell it, Patton could do no wrong.

Forrest, Jim, and I heard all the great stories more than once.  They were so consistent that we were convinced of their credibility, regardless how outrageous.  And the following was among our favorites, told as accurately as I can remember it.  I can't swear that I recall every detail correctly and I certainly can't guarantee that it ever really happened.

After the Battle of the Bulge, Patton's third army was pursuing the retreating German army across Europe.  As T-Bone described it, they sometimes would be approaching a town and could see the retreating Germans on an adjoining hill.  The Germans, even as they retreated, would be firing mortars and artillery shells back toward the Americans.

T-Bone (by now, in early 1945, a Staff Sergeant), and his Corporal were in a jeep approaching a town being evacuated by the retreating Germans.  As the Nazis shot back toward the advancing Americans, an artillery shell made a direct hit on the vault of the main bank in the town.  As a result, T-Bone and his Corporal arrived in a town with substantial quantities of cash in the streets around the bank.  As T-Bone described it, there were "Dutch Guilders, German Marks, French Francs, Italian Lire -- just about every kind of European currency."  T-Bone and his comrade did the natural thing.  They gathered up as much money as possible and stuffed it into two military duffel bags that they had in their jeep.  They had no idea of the total value, but it was substantial.

Not too long afterwards, Eleanor Roosevelt got the brilliant idea of selecting the "High Pointers" from each unit and sending them to the French Riviera (now in Allied hands) for a little R&R.  T-Bone and the Corporal were the high pointers in their unit (I don't recall what size unit this was) and got to ride a train to Nice for a few days.  Naturally, they were accompanied by their duffel bags of cash.

The Red Cross, USO, and other service organizations had jumped at the opportunity to provide recreational outlets for the planned arrival of hundreds of the so-called High Pointers -- all combat-hardened troops, by the way.  What could be more exciting to these men than card-playing tournaments, badminton competition, shuffleboard, and lots of healthy food?  ...Not to mention water sports on the French Riviera?

T-Bone told us that the troops had learned that the center of intelligence in most European towns was the local barber shop.  When he and his buddy arrived in Nice, they and their duffel bags headed for the largest barber shop they could find.  They made a deal to trade their cash for recreational outlets of a different sort than envisioned by the "Red Cross Ladies."

The next morning was greeted by train cars of French prostitutes descending on the railroad station "with their poodle-dogs and maids" and truckloads of cognac to be distributed to the U.S. and allied servicemen free of charge.  All contributed by some anonymous benefactors.  I've often marveled that this scenario, if it really took place, never became the subject of a movie.  It would make a great one.

T-Bone McDonald speaking at
the Oklahoma City Kiwanis Club
Not long ago, I was telling a friend (who happens to be a retired army officer) about T-Bone.  I became curious whether my old roommate was still living.  After all, we have lost Jim and more recently, Forrest.  I did a Google search and to my amazement, there were 4 YouTube videos featuring T-Bone speaking to a Kiwanis Club in Oklahoma City on February 1, 2010!  There he is, bigger than life, with the same booming voice as I recall, telling part of the story.  Check him out at T-Bone 1, T-Bone 2, T-Bone 3, and T-Bone 4.  He's one member of "the greatest generation" whom I will never forget.

6/1/2018 Update:  I recently learned that only about 3 months after I wrote the article above, on November 16, 2014, T-Bone McDonald passed away.  His obituary follows.

Leon "T-Bone" McDonald, Jr.
September 6, 1923 – November 16, 2014
Leon J. “T-Bone” McDonald, Jr. was born in McLoud, OK, on September 6, 1923 to his parents, Leon J. “T-Bone” McDonald, Sr. and Carrie Vermillion McDonald. He passed away on Sunday, November 16, 2014 at Norman Veterans Center in Norman, OK. T-Bone was a graduate of Muskogee Central High School, and was center on the Muskogee Rougher, 1940 State Football Champions. He attended Oklahoma State University obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture Economics and a BS degree in Agriculture Journalism. He was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity in which he served as Historian while an undergraduate; and District Governor, and President of the Chapter Alumni Board after graduation. He was also a member of Blue Key, Sigma Delta Chi, Aggie Society President, member of Board of Publications and Sports Editor of the Redskin. T-Bone enlisted in the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor. He served in the U.S. Combat Infantry, in General Patton’s 3rd Army, as a combat infantryman for all of WWII. He received the Bronze Star for Valor, Combat infantryman’s badge and five campaign medals. After graduation, he worked as a salesman for General Mills from 1948 to 1956. T-Bone served the Reardon Co. St. Louis, Missouri from 1957 to 1962 on Eastern Division Sales Manager. S. Kearny, NJ. From 1963 to 1977 he served Frisch Paint Co., Paterson, NJ as a Southwestern U.S. sales manager, Oklahoma City. 1978 to 1989 and retirement he was Oklahoma State sales manager for Brulin and co., Indianapolis, IN. T-Bone was preceded in death by his wife, Fern Petree McDonald on Oct. 17, 1989. Fern and T-Bone were both OSU graduates and avid OSU fans. They never missed an OSU athletic event at Stillwater or on the road. T-Bone was an ardent reader, world traveler, world-class bridge player, and genealogist. He is survived by his 5 children, son Glen A. McDonald and wife Eloise; daughter Carrie Linn Boylan; son Michael G. McDonald and wife Monnett, son David B. McDonald and wife Lucretia; daughter Zoe Anna Barclay; grandchildren Carrissa, Elisa, Patrick, Nathan Jr., Ian, Qynton, Ryan, Brian, Reama; brother James A. “Jake” McDonald and wife Phyllis. He is also survived by many other great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Leon J. McDonald Sr. and Carrie Vermillion McDonald and sisters Patricia Davis and Ruth Ann Palin. Funeral services for “T-Bone” will be held at 2:00 pm, Thursday, November 20, 2014 at Memorial Park Funeral Home Chapel. Interment with Military Honors will follow at Memorial Park Cemetery.

Aug 10, 2014

Encountering Cecil Null...

Cecil Null
On August 26, 2001, Cecil Null died.  CMT News reported it this way: "Songwriter and performer Cecil Null died of cancer Sunday (Aug. 26) at the Bristol Regional Medical Center near his home in Bristol, Va. He was 74. Null's most famous composition was "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," a No. 1 hit in 1953 for the Davis Sisters. Bill Phillips had a minor hit in 1970 with Null's "She's Hungry Again."

Null's longtime friend, journalist Bill Littleton, says Null was also the guiding force in uniting Chet Atkins and Merle Travis for their Grammy-winning 1974 album, The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show."  Their article went on to describe Cecil's biographical details.  They included the reason I got interested in Cecil and tracked him down, "A student of American folk music, Null became an expert at playing and designing autoharps and ultimately served as a consultant for a manufacturer of the instrument. His 1964 song, "Mother Maybelle," was inspired by Maybelle Carter, perhaps country music's foremost autoharpist."

For many years, I subscribed to a magazine catering to the small community of people who love and play the Autoharp, a stringed instrument of the chorded zither family.  The magazine was published by an Autoharp enthusiast on the west coast named Becky Blackley.  She was absolutely relentless in her search for people who had played various roles in the history of the Autoharp.  She would find them, interview them, and write extensive articles detailing their contributions to the musical tradition that we all embraced.  One such article, published in the Spring, 1985, issue featured a profile of Cecil Null.  After his music career in Nashville, he and his wife, Annette (also a musician), had gone into the hospitality industry.  Becky found them managing an Econolodge motel in Lynchburg, VA.  Later, when I wanted to meet Mr. Null, he and Annette were managing the Old Pottery Factory Econolodge in Williamsburg, VA.

My late wife, Margo, was attending a convention in Alexandria, VA, in 1985.  She called to see if I was interested in flying into Washington National airport and helping to drive back home to Tennessee.  She had driven to the convention hauling a lot of equipment and papers.  Now the car would be relatively empty for the return trip.  I took a few days off and flew to Washington.  That's when it occurred to me that it wouldn't be very far out of our way to go meet Cecil and Annette Null in Williamsburg.  In fact, we might even be able to spend a night in their motel!

I got on the phone and spoke with Annette, sharing the fact that I was an enthusiastic autoharp player who wanted to meet them and maybe even spend some time hearing about their careers.  She made a reservation for us and said they'd love to spend some time with us.  The day the convention ended, we drove to Williamsburg and found the motel

As we walked into the modest lobby, we couldn't help noticing a giant painting or print, perhaps 4 feet by 6 feet, elaborately framed, showing Cecil and Annette in full, sequin drenched, performing regalia.  He was holding a large Gibson guitar, Annette was by his side, looking adoringly at his cowboy-hatted presence.  And on the wall, next to the giant picture, hung a gold record of Cecil's most famous and successful hit, "I Forgot More..."

Annette was at the desk.  We introduced ourselves and checked in.  She informed us that Cecil was out running errands and that they would be eating dinner as soon as he returned.  We agreed that I'd come by the desk around 7:00 PM to meet him.  Margo was exhausted and decided she could do just fine without meeting my soon-to-be-friend.  We went out for a bite to eat and she went to bed.

Cecil Null was a very big man with a booming baritone voice.  He greeted me most warmly and invited me into their apartment which was just behind the registration desk.  I could see immediately that he had retreived some boxes of artifacts to share with me.  In the 1950s and '60s, Cecil Null had experimented with the design of the Autoharp.  He had built several modified acoustic instruments and he experimented with a solid-body electric design, even winding the hair-like wires on his experimental pickup.  He had gotten out a number of his early experimental Autoharps, both successes and failures, to show me.

Cecil retrieved a bottle of Jack Daniels from their kitchen, offered me a drink (which I declined), and began to talk.  He talked pretty much for the next three hours.  He was mesmerizing.  He and Annette knew everybody who was anybody in Nashville.  He told me he had probably written over 2,000 songs -- that melodies and lyrics simply flowed out of his mind.  With regard to his biggest hit, he said that he had composed it shortly after his Navy service in World War II.  He circulated it and many other songs to dozens of potential studios and artists in the industry to no avail.  In 1953, the Davis Sisters (a duet made up of Skeeter Davis and her high school friend, Betty Jack Davis) recorded the song.  Within a few days of its release, Betty Jack was killed in a car crash.  The song went to number 1 on the country charts and remained there for 26 weeks!  "I Forgot More than You'll Ever Know About Him" has been recorded by Tex Ritter, Sonny James, Archie Campbell, The Statler Brothers, Jim Ed Brown, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, Slim Whitman, Anita Bryant, Johnny Wright, Kitty Wells, Vernon Oxford, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Patti Page, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Guitar--and countless bluegrass bands.

A much-younger Cecil Null, pictured
on one of his album covers
Cecil began to retrieve partially-completed Autoharp bodies from the boxes he had gathered.  His hand-carved solid-body instruments are like no one else's.  I have included an image here of one of Cecil's LP record jackets.  The Autoharp he's holding is typical of the ones he showed me that night.  Outrageously flamboyant, and extremely heavy, by the way.  They were carved from solid maple.  He had several partially-completed Autoharp bodies to show me, including one, hollowed out from a solid block of maple, that was going to become an acoustic instrument.  He said he had given some as gifts and showed me a picture of his brother-in-law, Fred Carson, a Hollywood stuntman, holding one of Cecil's creations.  There could be no doubt that Cecil had been at this creative endeavor for many years.

Several years ago, I ran across this Cecil Null coin on eBay.  On the front is an image of Cecil with the words, "CECIL NULL" and "THE WILDWOOD ANGEL."  On the obverse is an image of the Autoharp he made for Fred Carson along with the text, "KING OF THE AUTOHARP."  I'd love to know the origin of this strange artifact.

He spoke about his years working as a consultant to Mr. Glenn Peterson, who at the time owned Oscar Schmidt International, the company that manufactured Autoharps.  Cecil's design ideas had spawned the Appalachian model which became very successful.  He also authored a book on playing the Autoharp in a style similar to his own.  Mr. Null was a prolific writer and composer.

We went on to talk about how he and Annette had traveled for years playing at festivals and coffee houses and clubs and what a rough life that was.  His undying love for her was obvious.  They had just released a new album entitled Royal Country, and I bought a copy that night.  After a few more of Cecil's yarns, I retired around 10:00 PM.  I never saw him again, but I wouldn't have missed that evening for the world.

Jul 30, 2014

Wedded Bliss...

Today, Mary Ann and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary!  Hoooaaah!

Jul 28, 2014

"Old Blood"...

The other day the Red Cross bloodmobile stopped by the office building where I work.  I stepped inside and asked if I could donate.  Within a few minutes, I was on their very comfortable couch and made my donation -- essentially painless and very much needed.  In the meantime, one of my fellow workers, Matt Nelson, had found their supply of label tags.  He made his contribution by labeling mine!

Jul 20, 2014

The Joys of Travel...

Friday night, returning from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Huntsville was an adventure.  My 6:00 PM departure flight from Corpus to Dallas was delayed 2 hours.  I had noticed a scheduled 7:30 flight, so I asked if it might be possible to get a seat on that flight.  I got the last available seat and my bag was transferred to that flight at my request.

The 7:30 flight departed around 8:00 PM and at that time, the plane that would eventually service the "earlier" flight had not yet left Dallas to go to Corpus Christi.  My new flight got into DFW at about 9:26.  I was sure I had missed my 9:30 connecting flight from Dallas to Huntsville.  Nonetheless, I proceeded to my departure gate (naturally, in a different terminal.  I arrived at that gate to find people boarding the plane.  I got in line.  Halleluia!  I might yet get home!

When I gave the attendant my boarding pass, she notified me that I had already been rescheduled for a morning flight because the airline assumed that I could not make my connection.  She was, however, able to give me a window seat with no one next to me.  We sat in a very hot airplane for an hour waiting for a flight crew to arrive.  Finally got off the ground an hour and a half late.  Got to bed about 2:00 AM.  Whatever happened to clean, on-time, efficient train service?