Saturday, January 22, 2011

About the cruise...

We recently returned from a cruise. Thirty minutes out - thirty minutes home. A unique accomplishment in view of the fact that Indianapolis is several hundred miles from the nearest cruise port.

Actually, we went aboard the SS Titanic, complete with boarding passes. And survived although our boarding passes reflected individuals who may or may not have survived the April 1912 sinking of the 'unsinkable' White Star Line vessel

The visit to the Indiana State Museum afforded us a unique opportunity to see over two hundred relics from the ship. I remain amazed that so many seemed in good shape after decades in the deep sea bed. I was particularly surprised that things like letters and documents and suitcases survived. It was an awesome reminder that even the best designed, most luxurious ship of the time had it's weaknesses and perhaps faults. But the most amazing part of all was that for almost 100 years the legend of the Titanic remains as vivid today as it was in 1912.

Back in 1956, when I was in the Air Force supporting elements of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, I received orders to head home. After a stormy North Sea crossing to England, I caught the boat train from London to Southampton to board the amazing flagship of the United States
Lines, the United States. I had never sailed aboard a ship before so my inaugural voyage was an amazing experience. Especially so since I was sent back First Class. As a Staff Sergeant I was completely out of my domain, sailing with the Lord Mayor of London and movie star Robert Taylor. It was formal dress in the dining room - and luxury beyond my understanding.

This was also unique in the sense that my sailing dates coincided with the schedule of the Titanic. We were at sea off Canada at the same time the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank with thousands of lives lost. There was time to reflect on the tragedy and I have never forgotten the coldness of the seas and weather, and thought of the horror of the 1912 sinking.

Since my first sailing in 1956, We have sailed a lot of waters aboard a lot of ships. A few were old and decrepit - most were luxury liners. Every sailing has reminded me of the vastness and loneliness of the open seas. Especially around Alaska where we have sailed amidst icebergs and occasional rough seas (I remember 30 foot seas off Sitka one time - high enough that we had sea water coming through our latched porthole. And I became enthralled with cruising.

I'm sure glad to have see the Titanic display. It was a vivid reminder that sometimes the best laid plans of man are doomed to failure. But we grow from the reminders over the years.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Small towns - big heros

As one drives across this great land of ours, we can see big cities - smaller cities - and those little villages that are represented by a small dot on our Rand McNally Road Atlas. It happens in every state - there's a little dot for a town that the Interstate has bypassed and may not seem like much to the average person driving cross country.

Indiana has a lot of these small dots on its state map. For most people the names may not seem significant. But each of those dots represents the home town of somebody. Maybe a farmer - maybe the owner of the only gas station in town - maybe the operator of a small store struggling to compete with the major chain store ten of fifteen miles away. That little dot on the map may even have a sign or monument to celebrate a veteran of past or present wars.

Dana, Indiana is one of these dots. Chances are you've never heard of it before. It's located in west-central Indiana, almost in Illinois. It's closer to Danville, Illinois than it is to Indianapolis. In the 2000 census it had about 650 residents. Just a little dot on the big map, you might say.

But like a lot of small towns, Dana has a claim to fame. If I understand part of its claim, it has a museum. Not about an event or some major contributor to the growth of our nation. A museum dedicated to the life of Ernie Pyle.

Ernie Pyle? Who was he? What was his claim to fame?

Ask most any veteran of World War Two and his face is apt to light up with recognition. No, Ernie wasn't a military hero - at least in the sense of soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines.
He was just a newspaper correspondent. He wrote about events that happened in World War Two. Not from some relatively safe and comfortable office well behind the lines - but from the front lines. From where the action was. He might well be called the GI's newsman. He endured artillery bombardments. He endured the foxholes the same as front-line fighters. He ate the same rations (when they were available) as the rest of the troops. He saw friends die. He experienced first-hand the worst of war and painted pictures in words of what our armed forces endured. He became the personal tie between America's fighting men and the folks who waited at home praying that their loved ones would safely return.

Ernie did not survive the war. He died in the Pacific in a major battle for one of the major islands. He became a casualty as real as any of our service losses in World War Two. But he died as a hero serving as honorably as any person wearing the uniform of a service man. He may not have worked for the War Department, but he worked for his brother soldiers and for their families. There are a more than a few people in history who were not eligible for medals. But some of them, like Ernie Pyle, went far beyond basic job assignments to become heros in their own way.

By the time the war had lasted a few years, Ernie and his wife moved to New Mexico. That doesn't negate his tie to Dana, Indiana. He was just another great person who grew up in one of those small towns that seem no more than a dot on a map. I tend to wonder, as I drive through small villages, well off the beaten track, who in that town made the world a better place. Maybe as a farmer, or a store keeper, or a retired gas station owner. Maybe as as a service veteran. But someone important around that little dot on the map. And they and their town get a big salute from me - their road atlas dot has just become larger and more significant.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When Bad Things Happen to Good People....

It's been a bad weekend. Not the first nor will it be the last. But we always wish senseless killings would end and that all of us could live lives or watch television without fear of another bad blot on humanity. At least that's the direction I like to come from.
As I tried to come to grips with things like the Arizona shooting I try to seek answers. I'm not sure I always find them but this morning's RBC Ministries devotional thought in their monthly booklet Our Daily Bread really seemed to hit the mark (you can find them at on the internet).
I wonder so often why good people so often struggle with life physically, financially, emotionally, and so on. Why was a representative in government service gunned down the way
Gabrielle Giffords was? And what is her future? Why do innocent people die - is it simply that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Why are quadriplegics like Joni Earickson Tada terribly crippled doing things as innocent as swimming and diving? For that matter, why do servicemen and their families have to endure death and horrible injuries when servicemen have been doing the best they could to bring peace into a world where peace of all kinds is elusive?
Even closer to home are people like our eldest son who has endured disabling work-related injuries for over two years that don't seen to be cured? Where is encouragment for a friend whose husband has Parkinson's Disease and a son who has needed a kidney transplant (a second one) for months?How about the person who has life challenges that never seem to end and goes through life asking, "Why me Lord?"
I like to think that little publications like this mornings RBC devotional offer great elements of encouragment or perhaps reminders that there is still encouragment in tough, challenging times. Though we may contend with afflictions, we're never alone in them. I like to think that the last line in the above devotion thought is a powerful reminder: Our greatest comfort is to know that God is in control - not simply to prevent bad things but to give us strength to handle things that DO happen.
Have faith. You're never alone.