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Dad. A Family Memory

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Prenote: My Dad died 20 years ago today. I had been planning to write a little piece about him for some weeks, and in fact had been at the place where he died, Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL, on October 22-23.

I digress for a moment: We were tiny town folks, and church was central to our lives, so my thoughts are occupied now with the folks of Sutherland Springs TX, where 26 people were killed inside the community church at Sunday service. Who will stop this insanity?

I think back to that chapel at Our Lady of the Snows, where I attended Mass Oct 23, as Dad would have. To my family: “I went to 7:30 Mass on Monday morning. There were about 30 of us.” There have been lots of wake up calls to deal with the crisis of guns in America. Sutherland Springs should be at the very top of our list: it can happen anywhere, to anyone….

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Chapel at Our Lady of the Snows Oct 23, 2017

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Dad

My Dad was like most of us. He had a good run, of almost 90 years. He contributed more than he took. He earned compliments and (I’m sure) criticism. Those who knew Dad can fill in their own blanks.

He lived ten years at Our Lady of the Snows, on the bluff just east of St. Louis in Belleville IL, from age 79 till his death. To prepare for his upcoming 80th birthday (Dec 22, 1987), he walked 80 consecutive daily 15 minute miles. My sister, Flo, and I were there for the “birthday walk”. It took him 13 minutes…

Henry Bernard about to begin his 80th 15 minute mile December 22, 1987

Nine days after he died I was in Chicago at a conference at O’Hare, and in the Sunday Chicago Tribune I found this column, by Mary Schmich: Schmich My father died001. To this day, whenever I hear that the father of someone I know dies, I send this column on.

It spoke to me.

His kids left a permanent marker in memory of Dad at Our Lady of the Snows Apartment Community on Memorial Day, 1998. Here’s the marker for the flagpole, photo from Oct 23, 2017. (Neither Mom nor Dad have gravestones. They both donated their bodies to schools of medicine for medical research.)

Marker at the flagpole at Our Lady of the Snows Apartment Community, Belleville IL Oct 22, 2017

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There are lots of things to remember about my Dad.

Today is election day in many places, including our town. Most certainly, Dad would vote. If he had a partisan preference, he never said it to me. He was interested in political topics. I recall a long term project of his was to read the biographies of all the Presidents of the U.S. I graduated from high school in the 6th year of Dwight Eisehower’s time, so Harry Truman would have been the most recent biography. In 1983 he and I visited the Eisenhower Library in Abilene KS, and on the same trip Lyndon Johnsons Johnson City TX.

His livelihood and job as a school teacher and small town school superintendent depended on “taxpayers”. He would muse about “NRFA” (pronounced nerfa, No Reelection For Anyone), but I highly doubt he ever practiced that philosophy – it was just his expression of disgust at politicians at all levels whose primary interest was to get reelected.

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In 1981, his wife, my Mom, died too soon, at 72. He was 73. They lived year round in San Benito TX, 245 miles south of Sutherland Springs. I think he went through a personal crisis in this time…how to go on. A life-saver for him was to go back to teaching, volunteering to teach English as a Second Language across the street at the Berta Cabaza Junior High School.

I recall that when he traveled he often would send postcards to his students back home, reasoning that this may be the only mail they ever received.

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He was born in 1907, as modern life was just beginning to bud. A couple of months ago I participated in a program in which I attempted to condense his first 18 years into seven minutes from his writings. Here is what I came up with: DAD STORIES told early 1980s– 2. My spoken rendition of these memories can be viewed here, beginning at about 8 minutes.

About 1920, Grafton ND. Henry Bernard is tall kid in white shirt. Other family members are his parents, Henry and Josephine, and siblings Frank and Josie, and two families visiting from Winnipeg Manitoba. The 1901 Oldsmobile still exists in an auto museum in Pennsylvania.

Those who know me, know I like to write. It seems to have followed some genetic trait inherited by my Dad from someone long ago.

After Mom, his wife Esther, died in 1981, Henry embarked on what became a regular routine.

He developed a two week cycle for letters to we kids. Monday was to his oldest (me); Tuesday for the second child, Mary Ann; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday for Florence, Frank and John. The other days he wrote to other family or friends, here there and everywhere. He was constantly intellectually active.

His tiny apartment (96A, which is now used for storage), was set up for his daily activities. Here’s his desk on Dec. 22, 1987.

Henry’s “home office”, 1987

For whatever reason I kept my set of letters and a few years ago donated them as part of the family archive to the University of North Dakota Chester Fritz library (his haunt in years of living in Grand Forks.)

I had, frankly, forgot about the donation of the letters till a surprise e-mail came on July 26, 2017: “Dick: Greetings. I wanted to let you know that the family history materials you donated in 2009 and 2010 have been processed. The materials are now formally part of the Initiatives in French Midwest Heritage Collection. Your materials are Series 29 and the finding aid for the collection can be viewed here:

I want to let you know that I very much enjoyed processing this material. Your father seemed like a really great guy and I am honored to help document not only his history, but that of your entire family. Please look at the finding aid and let me know if you have any corrections. Thank you.”

The writer was Curt Hanson, Head for Special Collections at the University of North Dakota. Dad was an interesting guy. Here’s a column about him in the Grand Forks (ND) Herald May 31, 1987: Henry Bernard by C Haga001

There ensued further conversation ‘back and forth’, including a later comment from Curt: “A funny story regarding the processing of your Dad’s papers. I have, truly, never come across someone as Catholic as your father. The fact that I am Lutheran may account for this! Your father would frequently date his letters by noting something similar to “17th day of Lent 1987.” This caused me to have to look up and determine when the 17th day of Lent was in 1987. I had to do this frequently!

While I was processing your father’s material, I had to spread out on a table here in Special Collections. One day last month, the Department was visited by an Orthodox Jew who was researching the history of the synagogue in town. He was dressed all in black, with both a payot and a yarmulke. He sat at the table right next to where I was processing. I found it ironic that an incredibly Jewish man was working next to the papers of a very Catholic man. Maybe it is just me, but I found that to be interesting.”

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The last family reunion, including many of us, September, 1996, at Our Lady of the Snows.

I close with a few more photos, mostly from Dec. 22, 1987. Happy Birthday to my daughter, Heather, who is 42 today; and an early b-day to Henry’s daughter Mary Ann, whose birthday is Nov. 10, and his son Frank on Nov. 17.

Perhaps you can take some time for remembering your own Dad (or Mom, or whomever) stories….

Henry, Dec. 22, 1987

Henry at 80. He was a ceaseless walker, until almost the end of his life.

St. Louis from Our Lady of the Snows, Dec. 1987. Now the trees have grown and the skyline is visible only in the fall after the leaves have shed.

St. Louis, Oct 23, 2017, from Cahokia Mound IL, a few miles northwest of Our Lady of the Snows.

#1306 – Dick Bernard: The Avenue of the Saints

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

About a week ago, I packed my bag and got on the road, destination an annual meeting of Citizens for Global Solutions near Lambert St. Louis Airport, St. Louis MO.

Over 500 miles later, I arrived at my destination, both exhausted and energized. It was good to see the open country between St. Paul and St. Louis, traveling I-494, U.S. 52, 63, I-380, IA 27, U.S. 61, and I-70 (to minimize confusion, the route is more or less a straight line from St. Paul to St. Louis). We are a very large and very diverse country, if one takes a moment to look.

Somewhere around Iowa City, on 27, I began to see a repetitive road sign:

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Somewhere in southern Iowa October 20, 2017

I could see the word “Saints” on the distinct road signs, but finally had to stop and read the rest of the story, and take the photo of Avenue of the Saints, unfortunately with the fleur de lis “impaled”. There oughta be a law!

There had to be a story. Back home I looked it up. You can read the fascinating story here. The “Saints” are St. Paul and St. Louis….

Such journeys have always fascinated me…49 states so far in life. Not much interested in the 50th – Alaska. Maybe I’ll still make it, but it’s not on my “bucket list”.

Even at highway speed, there is much to notice along the way. Friend Steve, hailing from Cedar Rapids, advised bypassing Waterloo due to road construction. His diversion allowed me to see the towns of Raymond and Dewar, and at least wonder about the town a few miles to the right on C66, Dunkerton.

The route took me to the outskirts of Hannibal, Tom Sawyer’s town. “Been there, done that” back in 1976 – stopped for coffee there, both enroute to and from.

After the conference in St. Louis, rendezoused with my brother in Belleville, at beautiful Our Lady of the Snows, where our Dad lived the last ten years of his life, dying there in 1997.

We took a trip to the nearby and very interesting Cahokia Mounds park, and I managed to get a good photo of downtown St. Louis a few miles away.

St. Louis from Cahokia Mounds IL Oct 23, 2017

On the 24th I headed home the same way I’d come, this time deciding to stop at a single point of interest I’d noted on the trip down, found east of Lourdes, Iowa.

Hwy 63, Iowa, south of Lourdes, Oct 24, 2017

The diversion six miles east was well worth the trip, even though there was no one there, and it was a chilly and very windy day.

At the farm site was the country school Dr. Borlaug attended (he was born in 1914). Also, some displays, one shown below.

Dr. Borlaug’s country school, opened in 1865.

Norman Borlaug Oct 24, 2017

Back home I wrote a note a good friend, born and raised on a farm, who I first met as an 8th grader in 1953-54, as follows:

“I made one stop enroute home which may interest you, as a farmer. One of the premier world agricultural experts – a Nobel Peace Prize winner – was Norman Borlaug of rural Cresco Iowa (perhaps six miles south of Cresco, about the same east of Lourdes, Iowa). I saw a sign pointing to the place where he grew up, and I drove the six miles off route 63 to see the place. It was chilly and windy and I was the only person there, but a fascinating stop. Here’s the web description of Dr. Borlaug.

His cousin was the country school teacher, and she recommended to his parents that he go to high school. She said he wasn’t the best student, but he had the attitude he needed to succeed. She called that one right!!!!

I once did a blog which referred to a chance meeting of my uncle and aunt with Borlaug, probably down in the Hankinson area of ND: You can read it here. The meeting with Dr. Borlaug was a vivid memory for Vince. It probably was sometime not long after he had won the Peace Prize. We all have our stories.”

In short order, my friend, a retired scientist, responded with his own message, which added to the learning experience of my week.

“Interesting article on Dr. Borlaug. There are a lot of people that have made great contributions to their respective fields, but as you know from my preoccupation with the forthcoming Ice Age and issues like that, what we need more of are folks that are big-picture thinkers. I was seeing on TV that the efforts of the Gates Foundation may completely eliminate polio. We spend much money on saving children from starvation and other preventable diseases, and yet, as per the population growth curve that I have shown you that I refer to as the “human stupidity index”, there will come a time when billions of people will be dying as nature reduces the earth’s human population back down to somewhere around 3 billion over the next millennium or two. As I have told you, my greatest charitable contributions are now focused on population reduction. I can’t do it by myself, and there are those that detest the idea of population control, but I will keep doing my bit to hopefully reduce the number of people that will lose their lives to natures forces as time goes on.”

In my life, I have found that there is lots to learn, and lots of richness in differences of opinion. Point of fact: I basically agree with my friends concern. What are we leaving those who come after us?

Returning home I did the periodic newsletter for my Minnesota Chapter of Citizens for Global Solutions. You are welcome to read it here: CGS News Nov 2017 Final-2. Of course, you can join an e-list for this five times a year newsletter if you wish. Just let me know: dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom.

Coming soon: Some thoughts a year after November 8, 2016.

“OldStuff”, Bingo, and the Travel Game.

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Monday, I took our 88 year old friend and neighbor, Don, to see the Fall leaves along the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin side of the river (across from Hastings and Red Wing, Prescott to Bay City WI). It was a fun afternoon, and we ended up at an antique shop in Bay City WI. It was a beautiful day.

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Bay City WI Oct 16, 2017

This was a nice shop, the proprietors a retired married couple. The man had a specialty: making bat houses. Yes, bat houses.

I’d never seen a bat house; if there is a “Parade of Bat Homes”, his would have been on the tour, a unique design, a work of art. Each house, he said, was a unique design, and there was a demand for his work.

When we were there, he also was completing a hand-carved wooden horse, which was a marvelous work of art.

I’m an antique, not an antiquer, but this was a most pleasant visit.

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Saturday, my spouse convinced me to go to the semi-annual Bingo in the “Undercroft” at the Basilica of St. Mary. (Undercroft is a gussied up name for Church Basement.) There seemed to be about 100 of us. A good time was had by all.

How Bingo became a Catholic “tradition”, at least in the places I grew up, is a mystery to me. Wikipedia does have a history of Bingo, which dates Bingo back to 1929 in the U.S.

In the tiny towns of my growing up, Bingo was a social affair, using corn kernels for covering the numbers; with small prizes, like a can of soup, or sometimes a pie. It seemed a Catholic thing. No $100,000 prizes then!

I got to thinking about one of the curiosity things still saved from the junk on the ND farm: a set of Bingo cards from about 1936:

Bingo cards, etc., from a bingo game kit.

Here are the instructions for the game: Bingo 1936001

What intrigued me on Saturday was the large number of young adults in attendance, all enjoying themselves. Sitting next to me was a Dad and his teenage son, autistic and deaf from birth. Dad was signing the numbers for his son, and they were having a very good time.

BONUS: when I dug out the Bingo cards, I found in the same bag 83 playing cards which were an obvious part of a board game. Here are the variety of cards: Travel Game001 The set was incomplete. There was no board and no rules, just the somewhat bedraggled cards.

You can find most anything on the Internet. Here is a history of the game. Because the set includes a 30 miles card, it appears it would date from the 1937.

Trees, “junk”, and nostalgia…not all bad!

Have a great day.

Minneapolis Oct 15, 2017

#1301: The Medicine Wheel and The North Country Trail

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

Monday I was in Valley City ND for an Alumni event at my alma mater, which I knew, back in 1958-61 as Valley City State Teachers College. The infrequent visits back are always nostalgic, this one more so than most.

My motel was a short walk from Medicine Wheel park, which I’ve known about since its first rough rendition back in 1992. It is a fascinating place, within sight of I-94, atop the “hill” which helps give Valley City its name. Here’s the park brochure: Medicine Wheel Brochure002The most recent Alumni Bulletin of the college tells the story of the Medicine Wheel, which you can read here: Medicine Wheel 001.

The current park is very impressive, a part of the American Scenic Byways. It is an interesting stop for travelers who know of it. At the park in early morning, just about sunrise, I met a person from Norway who was leading a bus tour through the area.

It happened, this trip, that I met the legendary Professor, Joe Stickler, who in sundry ways made the park possible. He was at the evening event, a soft-spoken but very friendly native of the Dayton OH area, who, I gather, made science come alive for generations of students. Prof. Stickler in turn gives the credit to generations of students who have brought the Medicine Wheel to its current state. Here’s what Joe says he’s been reading.

I asked if I could take his photo:

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Joe Stickler, Valley City ND October 2, 2017

This same day, I rendezvous’ed with my sister and brother-in-law at the Motel, and told them about the Medicine Wheel just down the street.

The Medicine Wheel was not new to them. They said that a number of years earlier, as new members of a group called the North Country Trail Association, they had attended a regional conference in Valley City. Medicine Wheel is part of the North Dakota Sheyenne River branch of the trail.

Carter at the North Country Trail marker at Medicine Wheel Park, Valley City ND October 2, 2017.

Flo and Carter are very active as stewards and volunteers of the Itasca Moraine (MN) portion of the trail, and I asked Carter how they happened to become involved. Carter remembered a day shortly after he’d retired: he decided to go for a solitary walk on an area trail. On the hike he met a solitary hiker coming in the opposite direction. The other man was a new volunteer for the North Country Trail. They chatted and the rest is history.

There is plenty of bad news in recent days.

My belief is that the positive stories above are replicated in thousands of ways, everywhere, every day, in our country and in the world itself.

What are your stories, where you live?

POSTNOTES:
1. I had planned, this day, to begin the retrospective on the recently completed Ken Burns/Lynn Novick series on Vietnam. The most recent post is here. I’ll add one or more posts perhaps beginning later this week. Check back.
2. While in Valley City I learned of the heinous massacre in Las Vegas.
Just weeks ago, I heard, in person, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly give a very powerful talk on guns and our society at the Augsburg University Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Hopefully it will end up accessible on the internet. For now, check their website: Americans for Responsible Solutions.

I ask myself, about being cause in the matter of solutions: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”. Every one of us has more influence than we think. We just need to get in action.

Five Citizens Reflect on the Vietnam War

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Your comments are invited for a follow-up post: dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom. Please include your permission to include in a post.

Following are some thoughts about Vietnam, prior to the beginning of the 17 hour film series on PBS, Sep. 17, 2017 7 and 8:30 p.m. CDT. Here’s the schedule of programs following Sep. 17 (see pages 21 & 25): PBS Vietnam Sep 17001

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photo copy of Padre Johnson sketch from 1968, used with permission of the artist.

Re the sketch, above: I’m proud to count the artist as a friend, Padre Johnson. He was a field medic in the Mekong Delta in 1968, among other vocations in life. He sketched the incident, and describes it here: Padre J Viet Combat003.

Padre is one of many Vietnam vets, including conscientious objectors and protestors, I have come to know either in person, or through others. There are many “truths”, and perhaps the best we can do is to acknowledge differences, while working to learn from the past.

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from Jim, Sep 10: Fifty years ago my brother was in Vietnam. During the spring and summer of 1967 he saved lives, both American and Vietnamese. He spoke fluent Vietnamese and had tremendous empathy for the people even the so called enemy soldiers. He was soft spoken, kind and generous and very much a hero. He was honored this year in Washington on June 17th. I included a short summary on the Minnesota History Center’s Vietnam Story Wall: here.

As I said in my writing, I grieve for his loss every single day.

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from Norm, Sep 10: I am looking forward to watching the series as I am sure are many, many other veterans who served in SEA during that war let alone many others as well.

Burns has always done a great job with his previous efforts and I expect that this one will be done well also.

There was a series (TPT) on the VNW [Vietnam War] several years ago that I thought was very good as it included perspectives, experiences, reflections and remembrances from people fighting on both sides and in between, i.e. the Montagnards, the Bru, the Sioux and the Hmong, the latter working with the CIA in the “secret war” in Laos.

The feelings about the VNW were still kind of raw at that time so I was aware of many folks including several veterans that were not comfortable with the series as it included comments and perspectives from the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, including general Giap. In addition, it showed some of the destruction caused by the B-52’s when they “went north” over Hanoi and Haiphong in the early 70’s coming from Andersen AFB(Guam), Kadena AFB (Okinawa) and Utapao (Thailand) where I had been stationed with the BUFF’s(Big Ugly Flying F…….s)in the late 60’s.

The B-52’s had been involved in the Arc Light operations for many years bombing sites in that theater before going north and encountering SAM missiles in or near North Viet Nam. The BUFFs took heavy unsustainable losses early in the effort to go North as a result of the SAM [Surface to Air Missile] missile defenses around Hanoi and Haiphong as they would initially come in on predictable routes over those two cities.

Several of the crews became residents of the Hanoi Hilton albeit for relative short times compared to Alvarez (seven years) and McCain (five years) as the truce was signed not long after the bombing of the north began and the prisoner exchange began.

Some of the crews who survived being shot down in their B-52’s were rescued by the Jolly Greens (helicopters) and the crews of medics. Several BUFF crewman did not survive either hits on the aircrafts by the SAMs, the subsequent crash and/or their injuries from received from one or the other or both.

One of the BUFFs from Utapao was hit by a SAM when over the north and limped back to its home base before crashing just outside its perimeter as it made its final approach to the runway.

I am definitely looking forward to watching this important series.

I am sure that Burns will feature the unrest within our country related to the VNW as well which is of less interest to me as that has been so well and so often documented so many times already.

I am primarily interested in learning about what other veterans were doing in that theater at the same time that I was there, it, 1967-68 as well as when my brother was there as a helicopter pilot in the early 70-‘s working with the “little people.”

I really don’t care about the impact of the war on the domestic side of the equation for various personal reasons.

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from Larry, Sep 11: My “perspective” on War in Vietnam, with direct link to my story on the “wall”, here. And Aug 31 a radio interview at KFAI.org (here).

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from Susan, Sep 11: My husband, Tom Lucas, served four years in Vietnam. He worked in Supply, so wasn’t in the trenches. But he flew in helicopters from time to time and experienced ammunition fire.

Tom loved the children and visited orphanages often. He knew that often children were sent into areas with bombs attached to their bodies. (You probably know all about that.)

I’m sure he knew of other atrocities but never once mentioned any.

In the 37 years we were married he rarely spoke about his time there, and I never once asked him about it. I knew it was too painful for him to discuss it. Once in a great while he would be in contact with someone who also spent time in Nam and did engage in some conversation with that person. But I was not present. Tom had two photo albums he showed.

He left them laying in the living room after their meeting, and he didn’t care if I looked at them. Shortly after our first child was born I received a call from the government asking about Tom’s possible contact with Agent Orange and whether or not our child suffered any disability. Tom was not in the jungles so wasn’t in contact with Agent Orange.

That’s about all I can remember. He did receive a couple of Commendation letters, but right now I cannot recall what they were for. I know you will sum up the whole Viet Nam experience so I’ll let you add the descriptions of that war. Tom died one day short of his 62nd birthday. He planned to retire at 62. He will be gone 9 years the end of October.

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Dick Bernard, Sep 12: I am a Vietnam era Army veteran, which means I was in the service after Feb. 28, 1961. Truth be told, at the time I entered the Army, Jan. 11, 1962, I had no idea of the future significance of that time in history. A vivid memory from early in my Infantry days is of a long time Platoon Sergeant hoping to get assignment to Vietnam duty because he’d heard Saigon was good duty.

Draft Card. I must have lost the original.

I had volunteered for the Draft. At that time, we were required to register for the Draft and carry Draft cards. There was no patriotic impulse: it was something I thought I’d have to do anyway, and may as well get it out of the way. I had just graduated from college. I could have qualified for Officer Candidate School, but declined as it would have required me to extend the two year tour. I had no thoughts of conscientious objection, or alternative service. My family history has many military veterans.

My service time began at Ft. Carson, Colorado (Colorado Springs area), mid-January, 1962. My memory is that the night before we boarded a bus from Fargo ND to Ft. Carson, my roommate and I went to a movie down the street, Bridge On the River Kwai.

Ft. Carson, then, was primarily a Basic Training base for the Army. Midway through Basic Training the announcement came that an Infantry Division was being re-activated at Ft. Carson, and after we completed basic training we were virtually all transferred into this new 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized). I ended up in Company C, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry of the 1st Brigade (if memory serves) of the 5th Infantry (Mechanized). I became Company Clerk. My recollection is that there were perhaps 140 or so of us in the Company, which shared a block with Companies A and B, and a headquarters Company.

Our routine was no different than anyone else preparing for combat.

Some years ago I contributed some pictures to a website which still exists, here.

Ft. Carson CO. Best I recall, Co C was at the NE corner of the 4th full block up. This photo is from the south and dates from 1962 or so. The church we attended (all denominations) was at the very end of the base.

Succinctly, we were, at that time, a peacetime unit being prepared for war. But if there was talk about a coming war in Vietnam, I don’t recall it.

I left the Army at the end of my tour, just before the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

Co. C continued, and ended up in Vietnam beginning in 1968. By this time, I was back home, with a “row to hoe” – working to raise an infant. My first wife had died in 1965, and our son was 1 1/2. I saw the war develop on the news, but that was all. I had no connection to protests, for no particular reason other than home duties.

In 1967 and 1970 my two brothers entered the Air Force as officers, and the war became much more personal to me.

About the same time, Company C became heavily engaged in combat in Vietnam, though I didn’t know that till years later.

The war ended in April, 1975, thence out of sight out of mind. In mid-November, 1982, I happened to be in Washington D.C. for meetings, and while waiting for my flight out of Washington National learned that the Vietnam Memorial was being dedicated that very weekend. I went there. It was a very powerful and emotional experience. Vietnam Mem DC 1982001

It was not until last week, when I revisited the unit website, that I learned that my Company C, that small group of about 140 men for whom I had done the Morning Reports for nearly two years had, in four years between 1968 and 1971, lost 37 men in Vietnam; in all the casualties of the Battalion which had earlier shared my block at Ft. Carson totaled 145. War was, indeed, hell. I just happened to get lucky.

May my comrades rest in peace, and may we intensify our efforts for peace.

POSTNOTE: I am always conscious of people who I know are veterans, particularly so at this moment in time – that is a benefit of this 17 hour film by Ken Burns.

Yesterday I was at my barber, a retired guy who works out of his home. I’m a long time customer and we’re good friends. He’s a combat Marine vet from Vietnam – assigned as tunnel rat, at times. His brother, another Marine, was killed at 18 in Vietnam about 1968. His name is on the Wall in Washington, and here on the Minnesota Capitol grounds.

Last Thursday at the preview of the film at the PBS station, my brother, John, was with us. He was an Air Force officer, a navigator on C-141 and other transport planes, for a year or more detailed on flights into Vietnam in the early 1970s, at least once drawing heavy ground fire.

The stories go on and on. I had a chance to say my piece on film at the preview, and I said that while I didn’t think war would ever end, we certainly can do a great deal to keep it to a minimum. There are no “winners” in war, only losers. We all lose.

I stay a committed member of Veterans for Peace. I am also a long-time member of the American Legion. VFP is my personal preference. There is no perfect organization, but such groups are important.

Beginning a New School Year…and a “Sha Na Na”….

Monday, September 4th, 2017

Thursday I dropped off a small gift for my daughter, Principal of a Middle School in the school district I live in. It was a 2017-18 computer produced calendar from the always popular Education Minnesota booth at the Minnesota State Fair. “Happy New Year” I said. Teacher workshop week was about over, and school begins (in almost all Minnesota school districts) the day after Labor Day. Here’s the Education Minnesota “welcome back” ad for 2017. Here’s more.

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Education Minnesota booth at Minnesota State Fair. Corey Bulman, 2017 Teacher of the Year, was guest in the booth.

(Best as I recall, the photo calendar idea began as an expensive experiment in about 1990, which was the first year digital imaging connected to computer became commercially available (see history of digital imaging here). Back then, the organization was named Minnesota Education Association. It was, as stated, an expensive experiment, but as best I know every year since the photo calendars have become very popular, a tradition for many, and, I suppose, less expensive, too. It is a great connection of educators with the community.)

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In one way or another over 50 million students are beginning their public school year (in Minnesota, this happens tomorrow). Here’s another view of the same data. Another 5 million or more public school employees (teachers, administrators, secretaries, cooks, bus drivers….) enter school with them. In all, that’s about one of five Americans.

All, beginning with school bus drivers, will have (or already have had) the annual nervous night before the first day of school as they arrive at their assigned places of work. Remember your own first days of the school year: new everything, starting a new year.

Of course, many other students attend parochial, or charter, or home school…but by far the largest, always, is the public school whose charter is to serve everyone, never a simple task.

Daughter Joni (referred to in first paragraph) is beginning her 14th year as a school administrator. Time flies. One of her major tasks, in addition to being Principal, is to supervise the completion of a new Middle School, which will replace her 1951 building in 2018. She’s equal to the task.

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I’m biased towards public education. Both parents were career public school teachers. Six Aunts and Uncles were public school teachers, most for a career…. I was involved in public education for 36 years – junior high teacher (9 years) and full-time teacher union representative (27). As mentioned, one daughter is, and has been for many years, a public school teacher or administrator. Nine grandkids are veterans of public schools. Another daughter was a school board member, very active in her local public schools.

Such a huge institution as “public education” is easy to criticize. All you need is a spotlight and a single someone on which to focus criticism, and a microphone to publicize it. With over 50,000,000 potential targets, there is someone there who will be in the negative spotlight.

But look at the totality before embracing the criticism….

Public education is a noble institution whose mission is to take all, and do the best they can given scarce resources: often too large class sizes, infinite varieties of individual differences and dilemmas, from family crises, to differing abilities, and even personality conflicts between human beings (teachers and students and other school employees are human beings too, after all).

Welcome back. Our country is a richer place because of public education.

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As noted, I have been very fortunate to be associated with public education my entire life.

A down side of this, as one ages, is to be witness at endings. Within the last month, I attended three memorials of public school teachers I knew, each unique persons. About seven people I knew were at the most recent reunion of the junior high school at which I taught in the 1960s and early 70s. The most recent death, Jim Peterson, former Fridley teacher, was the teacher I knew the least. His wife preceded him in death by a year, and he was felled quickly by a disease lurking inside him, so he didn’t have much time to say goodbyes.

I wrote the family afterwards that I had been to many memorials, but Jim’s, which he planned himself, was the most memorable, in all sorts of ways which don’t need to be described, except for the final song at the time we processed out of the sanctuary for the church ladies lunch.

The singer, who said she knew Jim as a neighbor and almost like a Dad, said he’d given her two songs to sing at dismissal.

The one I’ll always remember was the last, a delightful rendition of the “Sha na na” song. Not familiar with Sha Na Na? Here’s the YouTube version sung by the composer of the song back in 1969, and here’s the wiki story about Sha na na.

Imagine yourself walking out of church after a memorial service with this send off!

Do you know a teacher or a school employee or a student or one who has been? Wish them well, as this New Year begins.

POSTNOTE: My message to public schools, from “outside the walls”, remains on-line as it has been for many years. Read the message at Rethinking Community here.

Sustaining compassion – nearing the end of a week….

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Prior posts on Houston flood: here and here.

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This mornings e-mail included a photo with very brief text from Sean in Houston at 6:48 a.m.

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Houston TX 6:45 a.m. Aug. 31, 2017

The message was terse: “18 wheeler loaded w fans at Home Depot at 6:45 a.m. Thirty people in line.”

As Sean was sending the photo, I was at my favorite waking-up coffee shop. It was 57 degrees here, and sort of chilly and breezy, but otherwise a beautiful, carefree sunshiny day. Today was our day to go to the Minnesota State Fair, and as I was looking at the photo, I was thinking about how to dress for the Fair – should I wear a sweater, or take a jacket?

There was a certain incongruity: Down in Houston there was apparently a run on the market for fans.

For us, the prospect of an almost perfect day.

It is simple, I think, to retreat into ones individual circumstances, especially if carefree, even temporarily. It is not helpful, either, to get overwhelmed by every one else’s problems. Somewhere there needs to be found a balance.

The tropical storm that hit Houston and a very large area is an immense and continuing problem. Today’s front page in our local Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Health risks luck in Harvey’s water.” We see only the tiniest snips of the reality within which people in Houston are living.

What to do? Going forward: Sean made a good comment about what we could do a couple of days ago (see end of the link).

Today at 4:03 p.m., Sean’s Mom in Rochester NY (and my sister), sent her own e-mail, as follows: “Hi all…communication into and out of a disaster area is lumpy at best but Sean did send a note Wednesday (yesterday) and of course just re-confirmed the reality of impact and anticipated long process of clean up. I don’t expect to hear much, just continuing to trust that they are able to stay safe in their home and will not see the immediate area flood again as the reservoirs are de-stressed.

Houston certainly looks clear and sunny today but I have to take the TV commentaries in small doses – always a surreal feeling for a mom and grandma to know loved ones are impacted and truly not be able to physically help.

Thanks so much for your notes and your thoughts and prayers. That’s a big piece of the answer to the question ‘how can we help’. I am personally humbled by the numbers of friends I have who have family in the Houston area and by the sporadic reports of the positive community efforts in the face of this enormous tragedy. As you, I am doing what I can through trusted relief agencies and churches. The needs will continue for a long time.

I know Sean and Simone have many priorities right now but that they appreciate the time we are taking to think of them and their community. I sincerely believe that they are progressing on the return to whatever the new normal will be in their neighborhood.

And in their lives.”

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Personally, I say we’re all in community, everywhere, and we best never lose sight of that simple essential. What affects others, affects us.

We can’t solve everybodies problems, but we certainly can do small and large things to help make our world a little bit better every day.

(And by the way, the State Fair was good too. The annual “fix” is over for another year.)

I suspect that the better instincts of “community” will stick together in all sorts of ways to keep helping out Houston…and Mumbai…and Bangladesh (both suffering their own tragedies from water in recent days.) Yes, there will be abundant scams and outrages and all, but let’s look at the good.

Have a great Labor Day weekend.

from Sean, 6:48 p.m. Aug 31: “People were walking house to house delivering pizza and chocolate chip cookies (different people) everyone just trying to help.

Need to gut our old house tomorrow-surreal. I would send pics but I feel like a ghoul.”

from Sean 11:47 a.m. Sep 2: People delivering hotdogs.

(click to enlarge – enlargement will rotate to proper configuration)

from Mary, 6:14 p.m. Sep 2: Hello to all…cloudy and rainy here in Fairport New York as some of the remnants of Harvey make their way into our atmosphere. Otherwise, our info on the aftermath continues to be snippets and sound bites from news briefs.

I did speak with Sean for a few minutes this afternoon . He and [family] are still at home o… and one of the biggest residual storm impacts right now is first a ghost town of a neighborhood and second the sporadic internet, telephone and television services. They have electricity, they have water. Many of their immediate neighbors have been able to relocate themselves to apartments in the area and will use them as homes until repairs can be approved and completed. Most anticipate months before a return to living as it looked before Saturday, August 26. Waters in the area are slowly receding but still impact activity.

Sean and friends worked yesterday with demolition contractors as their ‘old’ home on Linkwood was gutted. I can only imagine how surreal that experience is….to have eaten pancakes and taken baths in a home that was beautiful ranch home and now looks to be in the very early stages of sloppy construction. Mold threats are very real in this area and the sooner the ‘wet stuff’ is removed, the better.

Sean and Simone are optimistic that school … will start again this week for [the kids]. Be good for the kids to get back to a routine.

Sean does send all of us a big caution, however, and that is a very real awareness that there will continue be a serious interruption in gasoline production and distribution and as the supplies run low..likely within a week, the lack of gas and the increase in price will be realities all over the United States. I am not seeing much about this on the news channels but I do not doubt for a minute it is real….energy is Sean’s business and he watches it closely.

Message: Fill up and stay put! Road trips need to be on the way back burner….never mind the rest of the energy sucking activities that we become complacent in doing.

They continue to find support from the outpourings of good will as you can see by that impromptu delivery of hot dogs and cookies that was random, unsolicited but meaningful and appreciates. As with other tragedies, the struggle is to remember those impacted over the long haul.

Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers.

from Sean, 9:52 a.m. Sep 3: Some areas will have water for another two weeks – west Houston is still under mandatory two week evacuation. Far from normal.

155 schools had severe damage – some won’t open this year. Will send pics of our gutted home later today. Along with the “before” pictures.

NOTE from Dick: Houston is semi-tropical climate, and the threat from mold is ever present, which means that flood damage has to be removed as quickly as possible.

(click to enlarge all)

One of several photos from Sean, 9:52 a.m. Sep 3

from Sean 2:17 p.m. Sep 3:

from Sean, one of 15, 6:42 p.m., at their former residence:

Houston at Day Four; and an unrelated “heads up” for Ecumenical Christians….

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Nephew Sean sent a couple of photos taken on his Houston street today. You can view them here. At the end of that post he answers a question of mine, “how can we help?”. (More on that below the graphic.)

The two photos in Sean’s neighborhood suggest a normalcy that isn’t…. That neighborhood, Houston and area, east Texas, the Gulf Coast, all are a long, long way from recovery. It is easy to let up, and move on to the next crisis of the day, and pretty soon Houston will be old news (it has made the front page four days in a row up here; that’s pretty much saturation. Something else will take its place.)

from Sean 5:41 p.m. Aug 30: “We got power back quick and everyone has running water. It won’t be normal here for a while. At least forty of the fifty houses around me need to be completely gutted or torn down. The streets will be lonely. My house is truly an anomaly in the area and thankful for it.”

I sent to Sean and his Mom an old graphic that has always made sense to me, even though it dates back to the early 1970s. I’ve used it on this page several times, most recently 2013, but it is timeless and pretty straight forward. Sean worked in NYC at the time of 9-11-01, and lost a number of colleagues and friends in the Twin Towers, I think, so he’s seen crises up close and personal.

(click to enlarge)

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

I wish everyone the very, very best. I really like Sean’s suggestion, yesterday: “So, how does someone help outside of Houston? Well, the Red Cross will be taxed – so volunteer, donate to local chapters in honor of Houston, have your church find a sister church and send supplies directly to them. Financial to Red Cross, etc. But by helping them in other regional areas it will allow them to draw more supplies. That is the best thing I can think of right now.

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NOW, a quick pivot to Religion, especially for those in the Twin Cities.

Sunday, at Basilica of St. Mary, a handout caught my attention. It is two pages, and you can read it here: Reformation001

Gracing the front of the handout was a familiar face, though not in a Roman Catholic Church:

(click to enlarge)

If your interest is even a little peaked, take a look.

I come from the olden days where Lutherans wouldn’t darken a Catholics door, and vice versa.

Things change, and I’m delighted they have.

And I expect I’ll be attending more than one of these programs.

“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37) – Houston and TX

Monday, August 28th, 2017

UPDATE from Sean, 3:30 a.m. Tue Aug 29 – see end of post

UPDATE from Sean, 2:02 p.m. Wed Aug 30: Have had 4 sets of people randomly walk up to help. Two photos of the street today.

Two Photos of Sean’s Houston street today, Aug 30, 2017, from Sean.

Second photo

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Yesterday was a very pleasant day here. There was some rain, but it was of short duration, and gentle, without thunder and lightning or wind. It has been a good year for rain, here. The temperature was perfectly warm. Everyone who likes flowers, and green, would like it here, now.

I noticed such things as I was sitting, visiting, with our elderly friend, Don, on his deck across the street.

A young girl roller-bladed past us on the street below; a young woman was walking her dog, who “met” a neighbor dog across the street. They apparently were friends, just a dog version of “hi, how are you?”. A few obligatory sniffs, no bark, and back to walking.

Back home, an e-mail from my sister, whose son and family – my nephew – live in the Bellaire section of Houston TX, a few blocks from a major bayou. “M” lives in suburban Rochester NY; her daughter and family live in the San Diego area.

3:47 pm. CDT: “Hi all and thanks for the notes…[son and family] are certainly in the midst of what you see on CNN or FOX or wherever. They are in their home but there is significant flooding with water up to the second step. According to [sons] last note about an hour ago (3:34 pm CDT) they had lost power and so cell phone use is pretty limited and I will not be calling for updates. He has said he will text when he can. They do not plan to evacuate – they really cannot evacuate unless by boat. Ironic because they are in a quiet residential area but of course all are in the same situation. They live … about five long block from the bayou. They just moved from their ranch home to the three story a few months ago and that area, [3xxx] Linkwood [Dr], is much messier because it is closer to the bayou and one of the reasons they moved was because of the flooding. It is still raining there. [Daughter-in-Law] had said they were stocked with water and food but of course we hope for the best with them and with all of the neighboring families. I know that you all will keep … family and your own friends and families in your prayers. It is a mess and likely to get worse – It is a real tragedy. I will keep you updated when I can, tornadoes are also a problem in the area. M

Mary gave me a different address than I had in my address book. I wrote back. She responded at 9:30 p.m.:

Hi all..it is 3xxx Tartan Lane…Houston. If you google you will see the area is very residential. Not much to do but wait for more news but as far as I know, the family is at home on Tartan Lane. Last I heard around 4:30 PM EDT there was no electricity in the area and the cell phones had lost power. And it is still raining very heavily I suspect as soon as they can be evacuated they will try and get to a hotel as it will be very difficult to stay on Tartan Lane. Long night ahead for everyone in the area. It is going to be hot and humid and even though [my son] had said (at last communication) there was no structural damage to the home, it is flooding and of course their cars were not protected and are probably under water. I will send a note as soon as I hear from them again, in the meantime lots of folks need thoughts and prayers. Unfortunately, they had no idea that this catastrophic flooding would occur in their area. More later…unfortunately. M

For a time, I sat transfixed to the Weather Channel, one of whose reporters was in the very area where my nephew and family live. The first smatterings of stories were being told.

I wondered who was living in their former home on Linkwood Drive, which was apparently even more vulnerable than theirs.

For me, as for my sister, and the rest of our family, what was very abstract had become very real…and continues to be real, as I write in the middle of this night in suburban St. Paul.

We live in a connected world. The latest tragedy anywhere is connected to us almost instantly, and, usually, it is some tragedy, somewhere…..

But those other events are abstract. Thankfully it’s not me, in my neighborhood. For most of us, today will be a nice day, with assorted but tolerable variations from one home to another to another.

I thought to myself, “who is my neighbor?”

“Everyone”, I answered.

I will add to this post as I receive updated information. Check back.

UPDATES:
5:15 a.m. Monday from M: Note from [daughter-in-laws] mom last evening. Their home is just outside Austin. “[We] are visiting friends in Solana Beach just south of San Diego! We were to return yesterday but rescheduled for Tuesday due to the hurricane. The last I heard was that they are safe and can go to second floor if needed….no power so don’t want to waste power on cell phone. Another family of five showed up at their door and took shelter with them. The water had not entered the house yet but both cars are flooded. That is about all I know now. I will let you know if I get any updates. So far our place [near Austin] is okay according to our neighbor and we have not lost power.
Pray for all

11:47 a.m. Monday from M (Mary) re son and family (Sean): Hi Dick…you do such a nice job with blogs!

Sean did send a brief text this morning stating they are able to remain at home for now and are staying in place on Tartan Lane and that the waters had receded slightly. It is still raining, of course, and there are likely to be community service issues for quite a long time. I would imagine restoration of electrical power is not on the top of the list! They should be fine but certainly there will be a lot of difficulties in the next few weeks and months. It is ironic that I planned to go down to Houston next week and spend some time with the children while Mom and Dad traveled on business…those plans have changed!

It is so true that the probing fingers of tragedy dig quickly and deeply into wide circles – and in the process draw so much diversity closer together. Have a great day – I will keep you updated. M

from Sean, 3:30 a.m. Tue Aug. 29, 2017: I am just seeing this as power was restored late yesterday for us. The damage is incredible and it is not often you see coast guard helicopters and boats doing rescues from your front steps.

Our house made it through with no water and we only lost power for about 36 hours. We were a refuge for never before met neighbors – seven people and two cats – as they saw 4-5 of water enter their homes. The devastation here is only surpassed by the true feeling of community and outreach for support. There is no shortage of people helping, offering to help or the like.

The storm took many by surprise as it escalated from a TS [Tropical Storm] to slow Cat[egory] 4. Friday at lunch time many people were gregariously laughing. Saturday, [our kids] had a swim play date with two friends. 20 hours later one of those friends was being rescued by smashing a hole through a second floor wall to escape the flood waters. We lost a car and a bunch of ancillary items in the garage but the devastation is real – our old house (we moved in June) which we still own and were going to rent or sell – had four + feet of water in it. I have pictures but they are not connected to this computer.

I cannot stress enough that the unselfish assistance being offered at the drop of a hat with no wish for acknowledgment has been refreshing. Community as it should be – working together – not tearing apart. I will never look at another’s tragedy or disaster the same way again.

Thanks for your notes and messages of support. We had our house blessed the day we moved in and the holy water sits on a shelf in the living room. What if we did not move this year, what if we did not bless the house – a lot of what if’s…but we all know where the answer lies – Above.

God bless,

Sean

Sean included a link to Houston Chronicle website, with this note: “…some good photos about the devastation many of these are a number of these are within a mile of our home. Pull up a map and look at Corpus Christi, to Beaumont, to the Woodlands to Katy. It would take about 9 hours to drive the circumference.”

From Sean, in response to question “how can we help?” 4:28 p.m. Tuesday: It is a great question and frankly one we wrestled with down here amongst members of our church group. There are a lot of volunteers and supplies are coming and then logistics get bad, etc. So what do you do? We walked the neighborhood (my street) this afternoon and just started helping people cart stuff out.

So, how does someone help outside of Houston? Well, the Red Cross will be taxed – so volunteer, donate to local chapters in honor of Houston, have your church find a sister church and send supplies directly to them. Financial to Red Cross, etc. But by helping them in other regional areas it will allow them to draw more supplies. That is the best thing I can think of right now. I will come back with more.

Dick Bernard: Solar Eclipse Day in the U.S.

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Back of U.S. Postal sheet for the Eclipse August 21, 2017


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As I write (6 a.m. CDT on August 21, 2017), my son and spouse, Tom and Jennifer, are enroute to the Twin Cities from Denver. They left at 2 a.m., Tom said, so as to reach a particular point in Nebraska to catch the eclipse.

Daughter Lauri and the four kids are probably ready to head out for somewhere in Illinois to do the same thing.

It will be an exciting day, hopefully no cloud cover (odds against that), and even more hopefully, no accidents doing serious damage to eyes, for anyone, anywhere.

Me? I’m off to coffee as usual.

Twenty years ago I would probably be doing the same thing as the kids.

I had some interest in these kinds of occurrences. We all have our own. I still do. But, as the saying goes, “there’s a time and a place for everything”.

My Dad, 20 years gone Nov. 7, described the change well: “now I do my travelling through National Geographic”. And he was adventuresome in his own way. Twenty five years ago he “bussed” from St. Louis to Fargo ND for the ordination of the son of a long-time friend. She is now 91, and she reminded me of this event a couple of evenings ago – one of those calls out of the blue.

Dad was 84 then, and he said he was coming to Fargo for the ordination, and I worried about him taking that long a trip unaccompanied. So I met him in Fargo. He was a bit miffed, I recall. He wanted to prove to himself that he could still “solo”! But we had a nice time.

I am reminded of another celestial event. It would have been sometime in about November, 1957, I was a senior in high school, and it was on the lawn of my grandparents farm home near Berlin ND. It was one of those intensely bright sky evenings, no moon.

Something called “Sputnik” had not long before gone into orbit, and in those days the newspaper gave its readers tracking information of where and when to see Sputnik in the night sky.

Sure enough, came a blinking light coursing across the sky, at exactly the time and place announced in the Fargo Forum. My recollection was that it coursed basically from SSE to NNW (though I might be wrong). It was tumbling through the sky, and the blinking light was reflected sun rays.)

Whatever the case, we saw it.

Have a good day.

The last stamp on the USPS sheet of 16 (see above). I bought 32 stamps and used 31 of them….

POSTNOTE August 23:

The Eclipse is come and gone. Nothing to comment on in suburban St. Paul MN – actually watched it on TV and at the appointed time, about one p.m., there was not much evidence outside our home that it was other than a normal day. A cloud cover was beginning to build, which not too long later would result in some rain. But were we living 100 years ago, we wouldn’t have known anything was happening.

My son reported little luck down in Nebraska either. We’ll get a fuller report this morning.

No word as yet from my daughter about her family experience in, I think, Illinois.

It seems, though, a worthwhile day overall…a good learning experience for anyone interested, or potentially interested.

from Kathy in Oregon Aug 24: My family – [six in all]; drove down from Portland, Oregon to Mt Angel on Sunday in anticipation of the next morning’s Solar Eclipse- the first time to be viewed from the U.S. coast to coast in nearly 100 years. Mt. Angel was in the path of the total solar eclipse and so Grandma’s home -a short 15 min walk to the Abbey hill, would be the perfect place to stay!

Next morning, with much excitement we made our way up to the Abbey (about 9 a.m.), stopping from time to time to view the progress of the moon’s eclipse of the sun through our solar glasses.
We found a great spot to sit on the north slope of this ancient hilltop, situated in the midst of Oregon’s north Willamette Valley. Monks, Scientists/equipment, seminarians back for their first day of school, professors, employees and friends (us) shared in this experience of a lifetime.

At total eclipse, we felt a collective sense of wonder and awe… a mystical oneness with all of God’s creation! At this moment of complete totality, in one voice, a spontaneous cheer erupted! The monks intoned the beautiful Salve Regina. After the brief 1.39 min. of darkness, the sun triumphed once again, spreading it’s warmth as the stars faded and the moon sailed on to the east.

I turned to observe my family next to me and saw tears trickling down [my] granddaughters cheeks beneath her solar eclipse glasses…(tears which in turn prompted more tears from her mom).
Along with the blessing of family- this magnificent display from the heavens, touched us all in a deep, forever, holy place….

PS. I was reminded later, as I observed my grandchildren, and then butterflies in the garden -doves on my patio, that the beauty and majesty of wonder of God’s creation is all around us every day in big and small ways …we need only to notice 🙂