Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Go check out South Park Diva

Lyric Mezzo is starting to get back into blogging. She's got a new post up:

Obama now playing the flip-flop game with Israel.

Go give it a read.

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot

I've known about the Berlin Airlift since I was a child. How could I not, having lived in Germany and seeing the monument commemorating it outside Flughafen Tempelhof in Berlin?

In college, my German professor had me translate a magazine article about it from German into English.

This past May, I learned there was a children's book written about it. That book arrived in the mail today.

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot: A True Story of the Berlin Airlift and the Candy That Dropped From the Sky, by Margot Theis Raven (author of America's White Table) and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, tells of a young girl living in war-ravaged West Berlin and the American "Chocolate Pilot" who dropped candy to the children of the Berlin during the Soviet blockade of 1948-1949.

The book begins with a short history of the Berlin Airlift. It is mind-boggling, thinking of everything that went into keeping the 2.2 million people of West Berlin - the Allied sectors controlled by the United States, Great Britain and France - free from Soviet communist rule when Stalin tried to gain control by blockading all routes - rail, water, road - into and out of the city beginning June 24, 1948.

From June 26th, 1948 to September 30th, 1949, the British and American forces flew more than 277,000 missions, day and night, delivering more than 2.3 million tons of supplies. This is the same distance as going back and forth between the earth and the moon 130 times!

To keep people alive, Berlin needed 4,500 tons of food, coal, and essentials daily! Imagine packing, carrying, and unloading 646 tons of flour and wheat per day; 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes; 19 tons of powdered milk; 5 tons of fresh milk for babies and small children; 109 tons of meat and fat; 125 tons of cereal; and combined, over 5,000 tons of coal and kerosene during the summer and winter. And many other essential items were part of the cargo!

Nothing was easy about this rescue mission and there were many problems; the weather was terrible; the runways short; the skies crowded; the pilots had little sleep; Russian planes harassed the exhausted fliers in the air corridors; coal and flour dust caused mechanical problems.

The greatest cost of the operation was the loss of lives: 31 Americans died, 39 British, and 9 Germans. But they are not forgotten. In Berlin today, the memory of the beautiful "bridge" is cherished by the people who love their freedom, and remember the brave pilots and the countries who did not forsake them in their time of need.

Van Frankenhuyzen does a beautiful job illustrating the story: a depiction of bombed out buildings that was very much a fact of life for the people of Berlin in those first years after the end of World War II; Mercedes feeding her chickens, hoping they will lay eggs soon, so her mother won't decide they would be more useful on the dinner table; Mercedes' mother reading a newspaper story about the Chocolate Pilot, Lt. Gail Halvorsen, dropping candy to waiting children near the runways of Tempelhof; tiny parachutes trailing behind the cargo planes.

Mercedes wants to go to the airport in the hopes of catching a candy-filled parachute. She can't go alone, her mother telling her "the streets are too dangerous with soldiers and rubble everywhere," but Frau Simon promises to take her soon.

The day arrives, and Mercedes joins all the other children hoping for a sweet treat, but a bigger boy catches the parachute Mercedes was going for, and she goes home empty-handed. She remembers from the newspaper story that children send letters to the Chocolate Pilot. Using the moonlight, she carefully writes out a letter:

Dear Chocolate Pilot,

We live near the airfield at Tempelhof, and our chickens think your airplanes are chicken hawks so they become frightened when you fly over to land. They run in shelter and some moult with no more eggs from them. It is a big problem for us. We need the eggs. But when you fly over the garden and see the white chickens, please drop some candy there and all will be ok. I don't care if you scare them.

Your little friend,

Lt. Halvorsen received many letters, translated into English, each week. One boy, Peter Zimmerman, has trouble running fast enough to get any of the candy, so he drew a map to his house, saying he'll be waiting in his yard at 2pm each day. Even with the map, the Chocolate Pilot can't find young Peter's house from the air, so he mails a package of candy bars and gum to his address. Then, he receives the letter from Mercedes. He doesn't think he'll be able to find her garden with the white chicken - he wasn't able to find Peter, even with the map!

Mercedes is returning home with her mother on a foggy November day. She prays for the pilots' safety, and that the fog would go away and the Chocolate Pilot would be able to find her yard with the chickens. When they get home, Frau Simon has a surprise for Mercedes: there is a package sent from Tempelhof Air Field!

As she opened the box, the sweet smell of candy spread thick as jam through the room.

Chocolate bars! Packs of white and green mint gum! Pink bubble gum too! And Life Saver rolls, colored like the rainbow! Her Chocolate Pilot had found her at last!

Mercedes saw Mama blinking back happy tears. She gave her a thick chocolate bar to eat, and chose a creamy bar with nuts and caramel nougat for herself.

There was also a letter inside:

Meine liebe Mercedes (My dear Mercedes),
Frankfurt, den 4 Nov. 48

Thank you for your small letter. Not every day I fly over your home, but surely often. I didn't know that in Hahnelstrasse there lived such a nice little girl. If I could fly a few rounds over Friedenau, I surely would find the garden with the white chickens, but for this there is not enough time. I hope that through what is with this letter, I give you a little joy.

Dein Shokoladenonkel,
(You Chocolate Uncle)
Gail Halvorsen

Lt. Halvorsen had a seven-month-long tour of duty for the Berlin Airlift, but that isn't the end of the story. In the Epilogue, we learn Lt. Halvorsen returned to Berlin twenty-two years later as Colonel Halvorsen, this time as the USAF representative to Berlin, and as commander at Tempelhof. Two years later, he is invited to dinner to the home of a German couple he's never met. The young wife took out a letter from her china cabinet and asked the Colonel to read it. "The letter began: 'Meine liebe Mercedes.'"

The letter "is now kept in a bank vault, and is only brought out when her beloved Chocolate Pilot comes to visit once more. But every day when Mercedes walks under the skies of a free Berlin, the sweet memory of his gift still soars in her heart like the great silver planes of hope."

The book concludes with a blurb about Gail Halvorsen and his involvement in the Berlin Airlift and Operation Little Vittles, how people in the US heard about what he was doing and decided to help out, and what he has done since retiring from the Air Force in 1974.

Barnes & Noble recommends the book for children 4 to 10 years old. Honestly, a child of four probably isn't going to be grasping the concept of post-WWII Germany and the evilness of Stalin and the Soviet Union, but they will "get" the story of the children of Berlin just wanting a little bit of candy, and one American pilot doing his best to deliver that little bit of hope. This book is excellent for older children, especially as a way to give history a little perspective they could relate to: the children of post-war Berlin didn't have much, and something as simple as a candy bar or a stick of gum brought much happiness. And, it could be used as an introduction to the Cold War and the kind of tyranny we were fighting against. Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot would be a wonderful addition to your children's library.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Remembering Coolie

May 15, 2005

One year ago, baseball lost someone special. Mike Coolbaugh was taken from his family, friends and fans all too soon. I know this first anniversary can't be easy for those who knew him, but I do know that he won't be forgotten. Let's remember the man and player that he was. I've not heard anyone speak ill of him in any way, only what a good guy he was, and how much he loved the game...

May 30, 2005

Previous posts:

In memoriam: Mike Coolbaugh 7/23/07
Mike Coolbaugh: The Tributes 8/11/07
Round Rock Express' Tribute to Mike Coolbaugh 8/26/07
Why the Rockies should win the World Series
The daughter Coolie and his wife wanted 2/8/08

Monday, July 21, 2008

Another mission complete for the Texas Fallen Soldiers Project

Phil Taylor, founder of the Texas Fallen Soldiers Project, has completed another portrait, this time to honor 2LT Johnny K. Craver.

H/T: Gold Star Mother Nanette West

Saturday, July 19, 2008

P.S. I Love You

I don't recall hearing about this movie when it came out last December, but I had see it at the video store, but never brought it home to watch. Recently, Lyric Mezzo commented that she'd seen it, and that I'd really enjoy it. So, when I decided to run out for some movies to watch this weekend (I've got the house all to myself all weekend), that was one of the three movies I picked out, and the one I watched last night.

All I knew about the story was what was on the DVD jacket: "P.S. I Love You is your very own message full of fun, love, triumph and romance." What I didn't know is that shortly after we met Holly (Hillary Swank) and Gerry (Gerard Butler) at the beginning of the movie, we are at Gerry's wake. The rest of the movie revisits Holly & Gerry's life together, and Holly's journey to learning to live again after losing the husband she loved deeply. I can only hope that some day I will love and be loved that way...

This movie made me both laugh and cry. It's probably more of a "chic flick", I'll admit. Watching the "Special Features", I learned the movie was based on the book of the same title by a young Irish author by the name of Cecelia Ahern. I might have to see about reading the book.

Anyhow, I highly recommend this movie (rated PG-13: there's no actual sex scenes, though it is implied at times, and you see one bare arse, once), especially if you're in a bit of a sappy mood ;-)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Do's and don'ts for cats with a house to run

I got this from somewhere years ago, and have no idea who the author is. You may or may not have seen it yourself. If you've ever had a cat, a lot of this is going to sound at least vaguely familiar ;-)

I. If you have to throw up, get into a chair quickly. If you can’t manage this in time, get to an Oriental rug. Lacking an Oriental, shag is good.

II. Every time you use the litter pan, get as much litter stuck to your paws and fur as possible. Distribute evenly throughout the house.

III. Doors
A. Do not allow closed doors in any room. To get one open, sit in front and cry pitifully. If this does not work, stand on hind legs and hammer with forepaws. Once the door is opened for you, it is not necessary to use it.
B. When you have ordered an outside door opened, stand half-in and half-out and think about several things. This is especially important during very cold weather, rain, snow, and mosquito season.
C. Swinging doors: avoid.

A. Determine quickly which guest hates cats. Sit on that lap during the evening. You will know him/her because they will call you “nice kitty”. If you can arrange to have Puss ‘n’ Boots on your breathe, so much the better.
B. When sitting in laps or rubbing against trouser legs, select colors which contrast with your own. For example: for white furred cats, a good black wool is best.
C. For guests who gush “I just love kitties”, be ready with: 1) aloof disdain, 2) claws applied to stockings, or 3) a quick sharp nip to the ankle.
D. When walking among the dishes on the table, be prepared to look surprised and hurt when scolded. The idea to convey is “But you let me do it when there isn’t company.”
E. Always accompany guests to the bathroom. It is not necessary to do anything. Just sit and stare.

V. If one of THEM is sewing or working with paper and pens and the other is idle, stay with the busy one. Following are the main tips for HAMPERING:
A. When supervising cooking or other activities in the kitchen, start out on the counter. After you have been removed from the counters once or twice, sit just behind the left heel. This way, you cannot be seen and therefore stand a better chance of being stepped on, picked up and soothed or fed.
B. For book readers, get in close under the chin. Unless, of course, you can lay across the book itself.
C. For needleworkers, curl quietly in the lap and pretend to nap. Then reach out and slap needle(s) sharply. If you are offered a ball of yarn, ignore it. Repeat as needed.
D. People paying bills (monthly activity), or working on income taxes or Christmas cards (annual activities) offer unique hampering opportunities. First, sit on the paper being worked on. When dislodged, watch sadly from the side of the table. Wait until the person is lulled into a false sense of security, then roll around on the papers, scattering them to the best of your ability. Also chew on a few. After being removed a second time, push pens, pencils, erasers, etc. off the table one at a time.

VI. Dietary
A. Never eat from your own food bowl if you can steal from the table.
B. Never drink from your own water bowl if one of their glasses is full enough to drink from. Try to develop a “cute” habit such as drinking from a running faucet. Always refuse to drink unless the water is running just right. After this habit is firmly established, suddenly refuse to drink from anywhere but the toilet. This will keep them on their toes.
C. If you become bored with your diet, immediately after food is placed in your dish try to cover it with the newspaper under your bowl. Sometimes this can even result in your fresh bowl of water being tipped over.

MOST IMPORTANT: Be sure to get enough sleep in the daytime so you are fresh for playing Catch Mouse or King-of-the-Hill on their bed between 2 and 4 a.m.

Begin basic training early and you will have a smooth-running household. Humans need to know a few basic rules, and they learn easily if you start early.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Kile

Today would have been Kile's 25th birthday. It's been just over a year now since Kile was lost. I was able to meet his mother, Nanette, last night at The Dell Diamond before the Express home opener against the Oklahoma Redhawks. She and some of Kile's friends were going to be doing a couple of things to celebrate today. At the time of Kile's funeral, his family requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made into one of two memorial funds they had set up. If you'd like to give Kile a birthday present, consider making a contribution to one (or both, if you have the means and the desire) of these funds.

The 1st Lt. Kile West Memorial Fund (Austin Area Benefits)
Regions Bank, P.O. Box 249,
Hutto, TX 78634, account #8457016247.

These funds will be utilized to provide scholarships for deserving Hutto High School students.

Kile Grant West Memorial Scholarship (Houston Area Benefits)
% San Jacinto College Foundation
4624 Fairmont Parkway, Suite 208
Pasadena TX 77504
(281) 998-6104

These funds will be utilized to provide scholarships for deserving students to attend San Jacinto College in the Houston Area.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

2008 Patriotic Jersey Auction

As I had mentioned in my Celebrating Independence Day post, the patriotic jerseys worn by the team during the July 3rd game against the Albuquerque Isotopes, which was also Military Appreciation Night, would be auctioned off to benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The auction of last year's patriotic jerseys raised over $10,000 for the fund.

I like this year's jersey a lot better than the ones they had last year. If you would like to see a list of all the jerseys up for auction, go here. Individual (game-worn) jerseys listed below:

#54 team autographed jersey (I don't think this one was "game-worn" like the others, as Dave Borkowski got called up before this game)

#23 Ryan Houston, RHP
#24 Yordany Ramirez, CF
#56 Ray King, LHP
#22 J.R. House, C/1B
#41 Micah Bowie, RHP
#40, Jack Cassel, RHP
#38 Kyle Middleton, RHP
#21 Josh Miller, RHP
#19 Josh Muecke, LHP
#47, Fernando Nieve, RHP
#57, Nick Reglio, RHP
#8 Lou Santangelo, C
#7 Jonny Ash, IF
#2 Danny Klassen, IF
#33 Edwin Maysonet, SS
#13 Tomas Perez, 2B
#29 Jorge Sosa, RHP
#20 Nick Gorneault, LF
#26 Jackson Melian, LF
#25 Ray Sadler, RF
#48 Paul Estrada, RHP
#10 Tommy Manzella, SS
#39 Chad Reineke, RHP
#53 Chad Paronto, RHP
#45 Ron Chiavacci, RHP
#6 Mark Saccomanno, 3B/1B

#46 Burt Hooten, Pitching Coach
#15 Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson, Hitting Coach
#35 Dave Clark, Manager

All auctions end on July 15, some time between 11 and noon PDT, except for the #54 jersey, for which the auction ends July 10 at about 17:50 PDT (didn't need laundering??). So, if you've an interest and have the money, go ahead and put in a bid. Starting bid is $50, and I don't see that there is a reserve. The #54 team autographed jersey currently has a bid of $431.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pacific Combat Living History Program

When I was looking for ideas for Father's Day last month, one thing I came across that I thought my dad would like was the Pacific Combat Living History Program at The National Museum of the Pacific War, which is located in, of all places, Fredericksburg, Texas. If that seems strange to you, there is a reasonable explanation: Fredericksburg is the hometown of Admiral Chester Nimitz, who had played a key role in the Pacific campaign during World War II. Knowing how my dad loves history, particularly military history, my sisters and I decided to include the admission to the current living history program in his Father's Day gift.

The program is not presented all the time: by the time Father's Day arrived, the first two of five weekends of presentations had already passed. This weekend marks the third weekend of presentations. This was the weekend my parents chose to make the drive to Fredericksburg. My mom called me after the presentation was over so my dad could tell me about it. He really liked it - it was kind of like a kid wanting to talk about a really cool field trip he went on at school ;-)

Included in the presentation, which lasted about 90 minutes, was exhibition of the period uniforms and gear that both American and Japanese military personnel used and demonstration of period weapons. Mom told me they had been able to convert all but one of the weapons to fire blanks. The one they couldn't convert was the flamethrower. This one was only demonstrated during the "assault" on the "Japanese bunker" at the end of the program...

After attending this program today, my mom was asking me about her dad's service during World War II. Grandpa never talked about his time in the Navy, and she knows I've kind of made myself a bit of a family historian, and that I've got a photocopy of the diary my grandfather kept during his sea service in World War II. I'll have to finish going over that diary soon, matching my grandfather's notes to specific events in the Pacific campaign.

Although I'm from Texas and have been through Fredericksburg, I've never been to the National Museum of the Pacific War. I would like to visit the museum and see this living history program, so I'm going to do my best to make it to one of the two remaining weekends: September 13 & 14, and November 8 & 9. There are three presentations each day, on a first-come, first-served basis, at 10:30am, 1:00pm and 3:30pm. Admission to the living history program is $5 per person, and is separate from the normal museum admission (which is not required for this program). If you are in the area over either one of these weekends and are interested in this nation's history, I highly recommend - based on my parents' "reviews" - that you make an effort to go.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Celebrating Independence Day

I started celebrating Independence Day yesterday, leaving work a little bit early in order to miss out on most of rush hour traffic and get up to Round Rock in time to pick up some dinner on the way and still get to the Dell Diamond by the time gates opened at 5:30. The Express had several things lined up for this year's Military Appreciation Night.

Fans were invited to bring items for care packages to the troops. Inside the Home Plate gate, there was a large banner laid out on a table for fans to sign with well-wishes to the troops.

There would be a group of new Army recruits taking their Oath of Enlistment prior to first pitch.

All Express employees who have served in the Armed Forces were asked to join the new recruits on the field to be recognized before the Presentation of the Colors by the Round Rock Army Recruiting Depot's color guard.

The team would be wearing special patriotic jersey that will later be autographed and auctioned off on eBay to raise funds for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Once the jerseys are up for auction, I'll link to that separately. Last year's patriotic jersey auction raised more than $11,000. It would be nice to see that figure surpassed this year... I like these jerseys better...

During the game, which was being broadcast on FSN, one of the new recruits got his hair cut for the camera...

The celebratory mood was helped along by a 6-3 win over the Albuquerque Isotopes to sweep the series. And, of course, there would be fireworks after the game. The display lasted for more than 15 minutes. I recorded most of it (sorry for the poor audio quality and the mostly out-of-focus fireworks), but for time's sake, I've only shared the finale. Enjoy!

Cassandra's Love Letter to America

If you don't check in on Cassandra over at Villainous Company regularly, you're really missing out. Today, she lets us know why she is patriotic in her Love Letter to America. Excerpting it cannot do it justice. Do yourself a favor and read the entire essay.