Back from touring Western Montana: Lewistown, Glacier Park, Missoula, New Chicago, and Big Timber.
Then tonight I phoned my sister. Hell, she’s got cancer! That, and she still plays bridge at a maddeningly fast rate with three women who are all about to die from some reason or another. Two have cancer and the other has some sort of heart dysrhythmia. I wonder if that fits the national average for women in their 70s and 80s. At least they know what they are in store for. Well, someone will win at bridge. Meantime, that is.
Looking for flowers in Kalispell, I spied a distant store with display out front. Turned out to be watermelons. Then came the inspiration: why not buy watermelons instead of flowers. I would then place a watermelon on each grave: My grandparents, my aunt Corinne, my aunt Ruth Carol, my aunt Carol Catherine. This last died of a communicable respiratory disease in 1919, age three.
My grandmother died in 1967 on Feb. 20, just 80 years and 9 days old. My sister said she had quit eating and drinking. I reminded my sister that grandma had slipped and hit her head in the bathtub. I urged her to read my popular blog, with its tens of readers.
My sister, plagued with her own mortality, has decided to write for one hour a day. In a notebook, words on paper. I find that prospect exciting because Carol is smart. Not only really smart, but she is well-read. You ought to see her collection of murder mysteries, collected by author. She and I briefly mentioned some plot complications she might employ.
This week I plan to attack my own writing project full on. You see, listening to my sister and to several book reviews on the radio this past weekend, I’ve got some inspiration. One problem is insomnia. This is a problem only if you are unable to get up and start writing. Well, I can get up and go out to the living room.
Did you hear about the man who climbed a tree, sawing limbs as he went? Finally he is sitting way up on a tree limb and starts sawing with his chainsaw. He is sawing the limb he is sitting on, but seated next to the trunk, so he is not sawing the limb out from beneath himself.
He saws off the limb, then lowers the saw to the ground with a rope. Then he realizes that he has no way to descend the tree, so he has to wait for his wife to return home.
Our son Todd did something like that when he ascended a rope with Prussik knots, then dropped the Prussiks to the ground when he tried to change over to a rappel. He was still tied off with the rappel, but realized too late that he was unable to rappel unless he could somehow take his weight off the rope he had ascended on.
Todd yelled for help, but nobody was available who could hear him. Checking the time, he calculated that his sister wouldn’t arrive home from school for hours. Todd finally figured out what to do: He hauled up the rope, tied a few knots in it, then using his feet on the knots, raised himself enough to disengage from the tied-off mode to the rappel mode. His next chore was to pass over the knots he had made. He was not successful in this, so he hauled up the rope, tied enough knots in it, then lowered himself by climbing down knot-to-knot.
Sunday evening P. and I ate at Ciao Mambo’s in Missoula. Neither one of us was particularly hungry, so we ordered soup and salad.
I have been allowing myself one carbonated beverage each week, so I ordered a Pepsi. That was supper. Two glasses of Pepsi, half of a big salad, and a large bowl of tomato soup with basil.
Oh yes. I nearly forgot. That day at lunch I had eaten the five-star fire bagel with lots of chilis and meat and cheese. And another fountain drink, root beer.
Wow! I had the most amazing case of diarrhea that evening. Explosive. Also, the five-star fire bagel burned as it passed through. Ruined my evening. I had planned to challenge P. to a game of horse shoes and for Gunther to run back and forth from her to me as we played.
I can’t seem to get any traction in writing about Carl’s high school life. I guess I’d like to tell about a day in his life from that period, and I have the best kind of evidence, since I have his junior year high school annual. I also looked at his Boy Scout Handbook, studied it really, from that period. He could have been a scout until late in high school, although I doubt that he stayed in scouts.
I don’t believe he joined much of anything, except when he got to the university he joined Sigma Nu fraternity. His parents were proud of that. I phoned several people who couldn’t find any record that he had joined Sigma Nu, except that I went to the UM library and found evidence in a university annual from 1942. I think Carl joined the fraternity in a sort of non-traditional manner, because he skipped fall semester and started as a student in the winter of 1941.
I think I’ve got that straight. He went winter and spring, then fall of 1942 before he dropped out. He left for army basic on March 4, 1943.
What happened between Christmas 1942 until March 4, 1943? I have to assume that he went to jail. Just kidding. On the other hand, if he had gone to jail I’m certain that my grandmother wouldn’t have told me or anyone else in the family. Such things were sort of hushed up. For the sake of the story I could say that he went to jail.
So: Army basic from March to May 1943. Infantry training from May to September 1943. A.S.T.P. In Grand Forks, North Dakota, from September ’43 to March 1944. Infantry in Robinson and then Rucker from March 1944 to November 1944. England from November to December 1944. Missing December 25, 1944. Presumed dead January 1945.
Penny and I had tickets to France in 2007 for Christmas. I took a camera specifically to document our pilgrimage from Montana to the watery expanse out on the English Channel as close as possible to where Carl R. Bonde Jr. reportedly died.
We aimed to drop a few ounces of Montana soil into the water over the wreckage of the SS Leopoldville, his doomed troopship.
He was said to have died just five miles from France and his body is still there, as far as anyone knows. Some of his buddies were on deck where they could see the lights of Cherbourg when the torpedo struck.
Oh, I thought about it a lot. We both did, Penny and me. We prepared and rehearsed several years for our ritual on the Channel Christmas Eve, 2007. (Carl’s ship was hit by a torpedo Christmas Eve, 1944, about 6 pm. The exact time has been stated to be 5:55) My wife Penny and I ordered passports, of course, but we also had to get the dirt. That was Penny’s idea, putting a bit of Carl’s home into the English Channel.
Not just get it, but get it in the right way from near a certain house in Kalispell, Montana, Carl’s home. I think I already told about scooping up the dirt from a driveway on the edge of town on memorial day weekend.
Did I mention that I tore the hell out of my fingernail? Well, I just had a torn nail. Did I tell how we were in town decorating graves and our visit to Bud’s home to get dirt was our second try? The first time no one was home to ask permission. People do this sort of thing all the time, don’t they? My impulse was to just get out of the car, get dirt, and leave. But no, I had to actually ask permission.
May was warm in 2007 when we visited Kalispell. Once we got the baggie with probably four ounces of dirt, gravel, pine needles and my fingernail—well I remembered to take along a plastic bag for the dirt, but it did not occur to me I might also need a tool of some sort to gather up the soil.
The question was: how does someone transport a bag of soil to France? I had asked that question of Bud’s Army buddies at the reunion the year before. Army mortar man Maurice O’Donnell recommended putting it into a woman’s face powder container, or the like.
Instead, I practiced taking a dummy bag of dirt with me on the airplane when we flew to visit our son Todd and his family in Seattle. Well, I even took the dirt from our yard, and it was very clay-ey and even heavier. You know, a quart-sized zip-lock bag maybe one quarter filled with dirt, labeled and rolled up. I managed to get the baggie to Seattle and back: once in our checked luggage; another time as a carry on.
Turns out taking the dirt to France were no big deal at all. I just put it in my carry on suitcase. My guess is people do that sort of thing a lot.
Allan Andrade, an author and expert on the SS Leopoldville disaster, helped me connect via email with Bertrand Sciboz, a French treasure hunter. I did attempt to phone Sciboz, but got an answering message in French that sounded like French jibberish.
By email, Bertrand told me to bring a thousand euros in cash for the trip. Cash, to avoid paying a value added tax. I got euros from the bank across the street from where I worked. Of course I had to order them in, pay the exchange rate, plus a percentage fee. I got five 200 euro notes, big, maybe 4 x 6 inches, colorful, and crisp. I folded them and put them in my money pouch with the passport. Later I got another couple hundred euros to pay for a wreath that I sort of got talked into getting because my Uncle’s body was among about 300 others that were not recovered from the wreckage.
With our computer, I studied maps and photographs of Cherbourg. It sits on this prominent two-lobed peninsula on the Northwest corner of France, the Normandy coast, looking a little like a snail’s head with two eyeballs. It is situated a little west of Utah and Omaha Beaches.
I learned about Cherbourg from Jacquin Sanders’ book, A Night Before Christmas. The US Army and Navy established forts and headquarters there after liberating France from the Germans. The Google Earth pictures showed the huge breakwater and the port of Cherbourg. Also, you could see the giant pier where ferries take people to England.
A hotel is located near the north end of the jutting land, the Hotel Mercure. Our AAA travel agent arranged for our stay Christmas Eve and the night before. She also arranged for a round trip train ride from Paris to Cherbourg.
I’ve got a bunch of time, so I’ll tell you about the Army. I don’t like to write, so I am having my buddy Bill Moomey help me with this letter.
I had heard about a program called ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program). If your Army IQ test score was high enough you could apply, which I did. I went before a committee of officers, and they approved my application and sent me to the University of Nebraska Ag Campus which was a staging area for this program. We were billeted in the large building at the Northwest corner of the mall or quadrangle or whatever you call that area. I don’t remember what they called that building, but think I would know if I heard the name. We also ate there. We did close order drill, and also went to refresher classes to start our minds thinking about school instead of killing. The average stay there was about three weeks and then you shipped out to a college somewhere in the United States, like University of Iowa, or Missouri, or Connecticut, or even the University of North Dakota. That’s where I went.
It was cold that winter and we were billeted in old World War I buildings, heated with pot-bellied stoves.
We ate at the Student Union in the West end of the campus. During the day when we were on duty we marched in formation to and from meals, and classes. Each one in our unit had the same classes and same teachers. We had study halls at night, and those were in the Law building part of the time and military science building part of the time. Whenever we went anywhere including study hall at night we marched in formation and a cadet leader was appointed for every group. There was probably twenty or twenty five in each group.
The purpose of ASTP was to make engineers out of us in two years. At the end of that time we were to get a commission and assignment to an engineering outfit. We took math, physics, chemistry, etc. Only the basic engineering studies. At the end of three months a lot of our friends flunked out. They were shipped out to regular outfits and and within a couple of weeks they were writing to us and telling about getting a mail clerk job which was a corporal, supply sergeants, and all sorts of good easy positions.
The rumor mill was working of course, and we heard stories of how this program was not going to last, so we all tried to flunk out the second three months. Rumor was right on the nose. At the end of six months the program was thrown out and we all went to the infantry together.
The Air Corps Cadet program also gave up their University program and so a whole bunch of ASTP Cadets and Air Corps Cadets from Universities all over the country hit the infantry divisions to bring it up to strength.
Many of us at UND were assigned to the 66th division at Camp Robinson located just North of Little Rock, Arkansas. The 66th had just come off of maneuvers. They had been out in the field for three weeks playing war games and living in tents and they were rough and tough and gruff. They didn’t take kindly to a bunch of guys fresh out of college. The general IQ of the infantry was greatly enhanced at that time. Training manuals and weapons manuals were written at fifth grade level.
When we first got to Robinson there were probably fifty or sixty of us timid souls that met up with people like we had never been in contact with before. There was an Indian named Pat Cuny from South Dakota. Turned out to be a real nice intelligent guy who knew the ropes of fighting. He was a squad leader. There was an Italian from Pennsylvania. He talked a lot and was funny after you got to know him. Then there was another kid from New York City that had spent a couple of years in a Bunde youth group that Hitler was managing to influence because the Nazi party was not outlawed in this country. The Mess Sgt. was also an Italian by the name of Lido Puccinelli. He was connected to a casino in Elko NV. As a civilian. I don’t know if he was a dealer, or owner or what but that was his thing before coming into the Army He eventually became our Machine Gun Section Sergeant.
In the Infantry rifle company at that time there was a headquarters section, three rifle platoons, and a weapons platoon. The headquarters platoon was rather small and was made up of people to serve the Company Commander, such as First Sgt., Co. runner, Co. Radioman, Jeep driver, Mess Sgt and Cooks, Supply Sgt., Co. Clerk, mail clerk and that sort of personnel.
Rifle platoon had three squads Each squad had 12 men including Squad leader and assistant squad leader The squad leaders were Staff Sgts with three stripes up and one rocker. Assistant squad leaders were Buck Sgts. With three stripes up and none down. There was also a Platoon Sgt. with three stripes up and two down.
The weapons platoon consisted of three mortar squads of five men each and two machine gun squads of five men each. These squad leaders were Buck Sgts. The mortar section leader and the machine gun section leader were Staffs and then we also had a platoon Sgt.
The officers were a captain for company commander, a First Lieutenant as executive officer (second in command) and either First or Second Lieutenants as platoon Leaders. I am sure this is information you always wanted to know but didn’t know where to find out.
At any rate, when we got to Robinson they separated us new guys from the rest of the company for training purposes, because we essentially had to do basic training over again and they had to get us conditioned physically.
After three weeks in Robinson we shipped out by train (including Pullmans) for Camp Rucker which is near Dothan, Alabama.
While in Rucker we did the usual disciplinary training such as close order drill, 15 mile hikes, 25 mile hikes nine mile speed hikes, rifle range for target practice and training in the proper use of weapons, KP, guard duty which is to be considered a privilege and an honor not a duty, and an occasional pass or furlough. We also spent a lot of time on bivouac or if you prefer you can call it maneuvers, or war games. We would spend anywhere from three days to three weeks out in the field playing war games. While we were on bivouac we slept in tents, used slit trenches for latrines, and dug foxholes for practice, and of course filled them up when we left.
If you are in the infantry you carry a full field pack on your back. This consisted of a shelter half, one blanket, mess kit, and an entrenching tool of some kind. Either a small shovel or a pick. Mine was a shovel.
Sometimes you also included C-rations for one day and most of us carried an extra pair of socks. All of this stuff was rolled up tightly in the shelter half and then bound into the knapsack, which had shoulder straps When you were moving from one spot to another you had on the field pack and a rifle belt full of ammunition. The rifle belt had metal eyelets that you could hook other things into the belt for carrying. You always add a first aid kit hooked on, which was nothing more than a compress to put on wounds. Also your canteen, bayonet, and trench knife. After you get all of that equipment strapped on then you sling an M-1 rifle on your shoulder. Often times the weapons platoon boys also had a pistol. Occasionally we had to carry the machine guns which were quite heavy.
When you stopped to pitch camp for overnight two guys would each pair up and each would provide a shelter half. You would fasten them together and that would become your tent for two men.
While we were in Camp Rucker we stood reveille every morning and retreat every night. After reveille it was chow and then off to some kind of drill, or training movie, or hike of some kind.
The Camp Commander at Rucker was not part of our outfit and he didn’t think we should have to take 25 mile hikes, so he issued an order that they could not make us do 25 miles all in one day. Don’t worry, our high command put us through regular drills in the morning, gave us a little time off till 4:00 or 5:00 and then we went on a 25 mile hike until next morning. That way it was in two different days, since we passed through midnight.
When we stood retreat the weapons had to be just so-so. Because of the proximity to the coast the humidity was high. After sitting in the rifle racks all night the guns were red with rust, so it was a constant chore to keep the brass happy, but we survived.
Yesterday I tried again to speak with someone from Doctor Stile’s office about my psychiatric prescription that somehow got mixed up.
Instead of help, I got a severe-sounding recording that warned against leaving multiple messages that could delay action. I meekly left a message that went unanswered.
Long story, but for several reasons I had run out of my antipsychotic tablets. Had to do with the way my psychiatrist, Doctor Stiles, had written my prescription and the way the insurance company interpreted his instructions. He prescribed one 5mg Abilify tablet daily for three weeks with the option to increase to two daily if they weren’t working. They weren’t working, so I increased to two a day. Those tablets helped me climb out of my severe depression. I requested a refill from the pharmacy. I asked for 10mg tablets.
The insurance company folks decided that I requested a refill too soon. Not so!
The 10mg Abilify tablets I need cost almost $25 each and, of course, require a prescription. I tried and tried to reach Dr. Stiles nurse. I did finally speak with someone last Thursday at Dr. Stiles,’ who seemed to understand and promised to straighten things out. However, no prescription materialized and I spent $90.90 on seven 5mg tablets Friday. That’s what the tablets cost when the insurance declined to pay for them.
Yesterday I spoke with my pharmacist, Renee, who gave me two 10mg tablets and promised to call my doctor. Can you imagine my sense of gratitude? Renee has access that I don’t have.
That’s why I don’t do mail order pharmacy. I sometimes need to speak to my local clinical pharmacist like Renee who cares about me and my relationship with my physician. To her credit, things have not been easy at Renee’s pharmacy. She has recently undergone a change in computer systems that has required her to spend inordinately long days revamping her records.