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Dick Bernard: Planting Onions…and Glorious Flowers

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Today’s post is a recollection about my Aunt and Uncle. Shortly, we leave for a few days vacation. This computer will lie quiet for awhile. The following post has nothing to do with politics…then again, it may have everything…. At the exact same time I was composing this, among many critical issues, the most important of all, “repeal and replace” “Obamacare” has erupted in our nations Capitol. Insuring all of we citizens against catastrophic medical costs is a very, very big deal everyone needs to care about. In my view, the launch of this supposedly new plan is like launching a nuclear bomb against an unsuspecting people…. Here is a long and readable summary to read on this issue, if you wish. I will write later on my deep personal concerns on this matter. More in coming weeks.

Vincent Busch May 7, 2013

(click to enlarge any photos)

“Forwards” are not always welcome, as anyone who does e-mail knows.

Sometimes, like a couple of days ago, comes a gem, one such reaching me from a North Dakota farm near my ancestral farm at Berlin ND, a blog post by Rachel Held Evans received and forwarded to me by a good friend.

What caught my attention was the headline: “…Planting Onions*….”

What attracted my memory was remembering a row of onions I watched being planted by my Uncle Vincent May 7, 2013. (See photo which leads this post).

Uncle Vince was 88 at the time, and this visit he had a compelling need to plant some sweet onions in the now nearly vacant one acre garden he and his sister Edithe had kept alive long after the rest of the nine family members who had lived there, helping with and enjoying the fruits of the garden, had passed on.

Now there were only the two of them. and for seven prior years they’d lived in assisted living in town. But near every day they’d drive out to the old farm, and every spring was the ritual planting. Every year, the actual planted area decreased, but every year the entire acre was cultivated, to keep weeds at bay.

Now the gardeners were down to my Uncle, and he had very little energy left to expend. But once again he had plowed the ground, preparing the soil, and now it was time to plant something.

Six months earlier his sister had been admitted to the Nursing Home, and Uncle Vince now had to come to the farm alone. This year about all he was managing to plant were a couple of row of sweet onions. In his quiet way that pleasant day in May, I seemed to be witnessing almost a religious rite, near grief: a nod to a past that was rapidly disappearing.

It was while looking for the photo that leads this post that I came across another photo of something else I had seen at the same farm, a few minutes earlier that May day, as we drove up the lane, past the long vacant farmhouse.

Aunt Edithe’s voluntaries, May 17, 2013

Those and other flowers were Edithe’s passion, and probably in a previous year she had planted them, and here they were, unattended, but beautiful nonetheless, adding life to the house and surroundings..

No one had been by to remind them that it was time to bloom; they paid no mind that no one was weeding around them, or making sure they had water; or that they had an audience to admire them. They just were….

It seems to me, now, four years later, that both Uncle Vincent and those flowers were sending their own messages to us, about things like reverence for the land and tradition, about devotion to the better sides of our nature. Many other messages can be conveyed. They are for you to contemplate yourself and, if you wish, to share with others as well.

Have a great day.

* – Ms Evans post talked about “revisiting Madeleine L’Engle’s Genesis Trilogy,” and being “struck by how forthcoming the author is about her own fears around raising children during the Cold War. She writes of one particularly worrisome season: “Planting onions that spring was an act of faith in the future, for I was very fearful for our planet.”

In her Mar. 1, 2017 blog post, Ms Evans commented: “Planting onions” has come to signify for me the importance of remaining committed to those slow-growing, long-term investments in my family, my community, and the world, no matter what happens over the next four years”.

Time went on after that May visit to the garden.

In mid-July I made another visit to Vincent and Edithe; and once again Vince and I went to the old farm between Berlin and Grand Rapids.

July, 2013 in the garden

Vincent told me the rows of sweet onions were no more – he had gone out to the farm by himself, after dark, to plow the garden, and by mistake plowed them under.

It was clear to everyone that Vincents memory and general health were failing as his sisters had.

My next trip, in September, it was even more clear.

In November, 2013, Vincent joined Edithe in the memory care unit at the St. Rose Nursing Home in LaMoure. In Feb, 2014, she died at 94. Almost exactly a year later, in Feb, 2015, Uncle Vince passed on, having just reached 90.

At the lunch after Vincent’s funeral, neighbor farmer Pat Quinlan recalled the onion sandwich Vince had given him one day when he was over helping. It was the funniest of stories, as the photo below attests. Probably Vince would have squirmed, but it was all in great humor. Vince was who he was. In life, he would appear to be just an ordinary farmer with a small farm. But he was oh, so much more….

Pat Quinlan (at right) remembers the onion sandwich, February, 2015

We have only our own images of what heaven might be like.

Perhaps there is a garden and flowers and gentle breezes there.

Meanwhile, here on earth, let’s do what we can to make this world a better place for all of us.

Edithe and Vince in their garden July 27, 2007

Flowers and Onions, July 27, 2007

Edithe and Flowers, July 27, 2007

Edithe with the flowers from the garden July 27, 2007

#1241 – Donna Krisch: Diary of a Working Visit to El Paso. A Lenten Reflection

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

“SNIP” Feb. 27: “We decided on a menu of macaroni & cheese with tuna and peas, spaghetti and a carrot/yellow squash combo and apples. I started the meal and all at once was joined by a woman from Honduras who really knew how to cook. I speak basically no Spanish but could understand very well that I had not cooked the vegetables correctly. We were then joined by a woman from Brazil so none of us spoke each others language but we all knew the language of human.”

NOTE FROM DICK BERNARD: A long and very powerful witness to the less publicized side of our neighbors in Mexico and Central America by retired teacher, Donna Krisch. (She and I “share” North Dakota roots, and an Aunt, long deceased.) I hope this essay diary of two weeks in El Paso is shared broadly. All photos, excepting Statue of Liberty, by Donna Krisch, click on any to enlarge. Guest columns, such as Donna’s, are always welcome here. dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom for information.

Wednesday February 15, 2017
Today four Basilica of St. Mary (Minneapolis MN) members plus myself will leave for El Paso Texas to help in a shelter on the Mexico/Texas border. We have two nurses in our group and the rest of us will help however we can. The people coming to the shelter are seeking asylum from violence in their own countries. We have heard most are coming from the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Thursday, February 16, 2017
We arrived in El Paso yesterday afternoon. During our stay we will be staying at a beautiful, old convent of the Loretto Sisters directly across the alley from the shelter where we will be working.

Arriving at El Paso

Clothing room at the shelter

Dormitory for volunteers

When we arrived at the shelter a Brazilian woman with two small children was being taken to the airport to catch a flight to Boston to meet family having spent the night at the shelter. The morning was spent getting a tour of the facility, and sorting clothes that were collected by the Basilica children. In the afternoon, we met with Eina Holder, director of the shelter. She gave us a brief history of the shelter and an update on what we can expect to be helping with during our stay. In December, there were some days where up to 150 asylum seekers stayed at the shelter mainly from Central America and Brazil.

People coming to the border are questioned, fingerprinted by Border Patrol and processed at a facility an hour away. Some are required to wear an ankle bracelet with a tracking number and a phone call is made to a family member or friend vouch for them and send them travel money.

ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will bring them to one of 3 shelters. Nazareth Hall receives asylum seekers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and people will stay for 1-3 days and then either travel by bus or plane to meet family somewhere in the US. In the last few weeks the number of people seeking asylum has dropped so significantly that two of the shelters will be closing next week. Starting Monday, Nazareth Hall will be the only short-term shelter open. No one can explain why. Some possible reasons we heard were increased border patrol and also the new administration’s stance on immigration.

We have been treated so kindly by everyone we have met.

Friday, February 17, 2017
This morning we went to the shelter at 9 AM. Our work for today would be to continue to organize clothing, disinfect and disassemble cots, and organize the storage room full of supplies.

At noon, we attended a peace gathering in front of the El Paso courthouse. We were introduced to Fr. Peter & Sr. Betty. Fr. Peter is 94 years old and Sr. Betty is in her 80’s. They have devoted their lives to the work of the poor in Central and South America. They currently live and work with the poor in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. It was as if we were in the presence of saints. Each Friday they are among a small gathering of people that bring their tattered peace signs and stand on the corner for an hour.

After lunch, we went for a tour of Annunciation House. This shelter houses people seeking asylum that need to have more than 24 hours to figure out where to go. Some may stay for months. It is run by volunteers and houses up to 100 if needed. Upstairs in the house we saw the dining room and kitchen. Eina our guide then took us into the chapel which also serves as a bedroom when the shelter is crowded.

On the wall behind the make shift alter was a cross made of metal boxes each containing a shoe found in the desert where people might have crossed.

Cross of shoes found in the south Texas desert

One of the shoes in above photo

The story Eina told was of a young child traveling with her mother. The mother had written the phone number of the relative in America where they would go to live with in ink on the child’s hand. Along the way, the mother died. When the little girl was finally found, she was holding her fisted hand very tight. When she finally opened it the phone number was smeared so no one could decipher the number.

Saturday, February 18, 2017
Today started when Eina, the director of the shelter where we are working took us to her church to meet some of the young teenagers that came unaccompanied to the border and are now at Southwest Key a facility for children and teens.

Three times a week, they host groups of 10+ youth to come, play games, do a prayer service and have a meal like pizza and soda. Each week groups of youth ages 3-17 come to Rico center for three hours away from the detention center. This ministry is named in honor of the priest’s nephew who was murdered in Mexico.

Poster at Rico Center

Seeing these young people not knowing what they have been through, what they have seen, who they left behind at home was very moving for all of us. We prayed with them and for them. When we were leaving, the young woman leading the group thanked the “white people” for coming.

After lunch, we returned to the shelter to finish up tasks to be ready for people arriving on Monday.

*In 2015, there were 75 shelters that house children along the US-Mexico border housing approximately 14,365 unaccompanied minors. Rico ministries and the detention centers collaborate to provide this program for youth in detention. Their future is unknown, they may be deported, they may reunite with another relative. If a pair of siblings comes to a center and one turns 18 they will be separated and the 18-year old will go to adult detention. You have to ask yourself what kind of a nation does this to children.

Sunday, February 19, 2017
Beautiful sunny morning in El Paso. Eina picked us up for mass at 11:30 and we drove across town to El Buen Pastor parish in Horizon City, a suburb of El Paso. The church is in one of the poorest neighborhoods of El Paso and is surrounded by a very wealthy suburb.

When we arrived. the church was already filling up 45 minutes early. I have never felt so welcome in a Catholic church. The priest welcomed us during the sermon and we were thanked by the entire community at the end of the mass. During the handshake of peace, a little 4-year old boy came over into our pew, crawled through the entire pew, and shook everyone’s hand. After the 2-hour long mass we purchased 80 tortilla’s, to deliver to the farm workers at their center in downtown El Paso.

When we arrived at the farm workers center we were greeted warmly by a man named Carlos Marentes who runs the center. The center is located on a corner where farmers will pick up day laborers to work in the fields if there is work. They have lockers and showers and sleep on the floor. At midnight, they arise and stand out on the street and wait to be picked up if there is work. Of all we have seen so far this for me was the most difficult. Grown men with skin like leather, sleeping on the floor. Maybe it was because of growing up on a farm but I saw in those men my brothers and uncles and really for no other reason than luck is there life so very different.

We introduced ourselves and they introduced themselves and the Mexican state they are from. We then joined hands and said a prayer. One of the men I was holding hands with was missing half a finger and another I am sure must have Parkinsons Disease.

The work they were doing tomorrow was picking hot chilis. Apparently, they pick by the 20-gallon container and for each one they fill they get a chip which will then be exchanged for money. The plants are low growing so if you are tall you need to crawl through the fields on your knees. We were told by the end of the day their hands feel like they have a fever. Carlos thought they may also be planting onions. To do that they poke their fingers into rock hard ground and put onion plugs in each hole. For all this earn an average of $6,700 per year (just over $500 per month).

Monday, February 20, 2107
Our day started this morning at 9:15. We cleaned this huge gathering room called the Sala. After packing up the 40+ cots and them stashing them away we sorted through a great number of toys, vacuumed the rug to get ready for the next group of travelers. We received instructions on how the intake process works.

At 1:30 an ICE van pulled up to the shelter and dropped off 4 families with a total of 9 people. Usually the processing center feeds them lunch but when they arrived they had not eaten. The group were a father and son from Brazil who were going to Boston, a young mother with a two-year old and a seven-year old from Guatemala going to Florida, a mother and her 16 year old son from Guatemala going to Nebraska, and a father and his 10 year old daughter going to North Carolina.

After a short interview one of the workers tried to call their US families waiting for them. We then helped them find a new change of clothes, show them their rooms and help them find the showers.

Every Monday a local church brings a delicious meal of beans, rice and shredded beef. One of the men that brought the food sat down at our table and talked about why he does this work. He told us that 5 years ago he was an engineer and very successful owner of a construction company when he had a heart attack. He was lying there close to death when he decided his life had to change. He decided he needed to give back because his life had been so good so he now makes and serves dinner every Monday night at the shelter.

Things we found out about the families: the Brazilian man decided he wanted to go back to Brazil. He had left two daughters behind. For him to do that he would not ever be able to get back into the US again, plus he would need to go to a detention center until a whole planeload of detainees needed to go back to Brazil. The mother with her 16-year old son was pregnant with him the last time she saw her husband. The 10-year old little girl was complaining of her legs hurting and the dad just said that yesterday they had spent the entire day running.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Today seemed like a long day. We started at 10:00 with a meeting to write a shopping list for the shelter and then purchase the food. Three of the families from yesterday are waiting for bus tickets sent by their receiving families. The father and his ten-year-old daughter will be leaving on the bus at 4.

The process when families arrive looks something like this. The director of the center and one of our Spanish speaking volunteers do the initial intake (finding out what papers they have, finding out who to call to receive them, etc.) From the office, they are taken to their sleeping rooms.

Next, they are taken to a used clothing room to pick out one set of clothing because they literally come with the clothes on their back. The final stop is the shower where they each are given a hygiene kit with everything they need. After they shower we give them sheets and blankets to make their beds.

Today the refugees did not get dropped off by ICE until about 3 PM so by the time they finished everything another church group had come in with the evening meal which we shared with the families. After dinner, we helped them make their beds and get settled in.

The group that arrived today were two families from Brazil. One of them was a father and his 1½ year old son. They left Brazil because they had witnessed what he called a “massacre.” His wife and their older daughter will come soon maybe tomorrow. The reason they came separately and not together was they would have been separated at the border. The father would have gone into a detention center and the mother would have come to the shelter with the children. The other two families were from Guatemala.

One was a nineteen-year old mother with a 3-month old baby the other family was an older mother with her six-year old daughter. The young mother and her baby were both extremely dehydrated so even though the baby was trying to nurse the mother had no milk to give. The baby screamed uncontrollably for most of the early evening. Although complete strangers the older mother stayed with the younger mom through the night to make sure she and the baby got plenty of fluids… amazing compassion.

We had the chance to see for the first time the electronic ankle bracelets. I had imagined maybe a small band. They are at least two inches wide, battery operated and the batteries need to be recharged on a regular basis or ICE will start looking for them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Nazareth Hall got the call that 32 people (12 families) would be coming to the shelter by early afternoon so we sorted clothes, got bed linens ready and made sure we were prepared for their arrival.
This has been the largest group to come in since we came here. This time a huge white ICE bus arrived. We all felt a bit more prepared for what needed to be done.

During intake, I noticed a woman and two children. Throughout the process tears were streaming down her face and her two little girls were patting her on the back. Apparently when they arrived at the border her husband was taken away to detention and she and the girls were sent on. Everyone was once again very hungry so we served snacks while they were waiting to do their paperwork. While everyone was waiting, we noticed many of the people did not have shoe laces. Apparently, they are taken away when they arrive.

We left the shelter at 5:15 to attend a memorial mass in honor of Juan Patricio. The young man was killed outside the Annunciation House Shelter 15 years ago. We walked through luminaries that lined the sidewalk to the spot he was killed. We sat on benches in front of a makeshift altar outside. The mass was attended by many young people and many older adults.

Walk for Juan Patricio

Mass at Annunciation

Thursday, February 23, 2017
Many of the asylees [those seeking asylum] were leaving the shelter early in the day to go to the bus station.

Today people were leaving to be reunited with families in Maryland, Florida, New York and many more places. Because they will be riding the bus for several days and have no money the shelter sends them with a travel bag. Travel bags are made up of a blanket for each, sandwiches and fruit, snacks, water, and if they have children some sort of toy and pages to color. Some bus trips take over 36 hours. They are also given a winter coat if going to a cold climate state. Once the bags were made we started preparing for a new group of asylum seekers.

At 10:30 we got the call that 15 people (7 families) would be coming in the afternoon. After everyone was settled we put travel bags together for each family.

Tonight, we had an invitation to go to dinner at Villa Maria. This is a home for woman in crisis that need a place to stay until they can get their lives together. Women with mental issues, addiction and homelessness come to this shelter. Women from a variety of age groups live at the house. They usually stay up to two years.

Recently, however, women are being pushed to move out more quickly due to reductions in money from HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] The home is run on grants and a fundraiser each year. We had the opportunity to sit down with the women and enjoy a wonderful meal that they had prepared. This special place houses 22 women and offers support and counseling, job training and access to classes at a community college. It is a very calm place with a courtyard in the middle.

We are so impressed with the organization, the planning and collaboration of these shelters. All of the resources are donated and all the staffing of the centers are volunteer.

Friday, Feb. 24, 2017
We got a call this morning that Nazareth Hall will be closing today because of an inspection of the attached nursing home. All asylees will be taken to Annunciation House until further notice. We are glad to have an afternoon to rest.

Saturday, February 25, 2017
Matthew 25: 35-40
For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty
And you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made
me welcome; naked and you clothed me; sick and you
visited me; in prison and you came to see me.
. . . I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of
the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.

This is the reading Rubin Garcia referred to as we met with him this morning. What we thought would be a 20-minute meeting lasted 2 hours. Rubin Garcia started working with the immigrants 40 years ago when he quit his job and with the help of the archdiocese of El Paso opened Annunciation House. He has since opened many shelters as the need arose in the immigrant and the asylee community. All of the shelters including staff are operated by donations.

He started off by saying we probably should take down the Statue of Liberty.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The words ring hollow.

Statue of Liberty New York City harbor late June, 1972

Joni and Tom Bernard at Statue of Liberty, late June, 1972 (Photos by Dick Bernard)

Mr. Garcia believes that the church has failed to raise awareness for these most vulnerable people. The clergy need to start talking about Catholic Social Teaching. After 40 years and countless groups of people coming to the border to raise their own awareness nothing has changed.

In 2014 the first wave of immigrants arrived. They arrived in south Texas and because of the numbers immigration asked Rubin Garcia to house people in El Paso. He agreed with the stipulation that he would receive no money from the government so the government would have no leverage over these people.

From October 2016 thru January 2017 the arrivals of people needing shelter went up to 1,000 refugees a week. Since the new U.S. administration has taken office the numbers have dwindled significantly. Mr. Garcia thinks people are not coming because of new U.S. immigration policy and posturing. He said there is no official policy on who gets detained, and who doesn’t. The number of government run and private detention centers has risen with the surge.

In Mr. Garcia’s words our new President changed mindsets with the power of fear and the power of repetition of lies. He repeated the terrorist threat many, many times during his campaign. Mr. Garcia said we should ask ourselves how we feel about the leader of our country given absolute freedom to lie. What do we tell our children? He compared the terrorist threats to car accidents. Since 2011 there have been 80 deaths due to terrorists and 600,000 deaths due to car accidents. So, should we ban cars? Do we fear the car companies for making cars?

He encouraged and challenged us to talk to our neighbors, both however they voted about what is already happening in America. Find out what people are afraid of in regards to immigration. He also encouraged us to sit down with our pastors and ask them how we should be responding as Christians.

His biggest fear at this time is that the U.S. will set up immigration courts at the border and no one will be granted asylum. Once turned back they will be in Mexico which does not have the accommodations to house Asylees.

Sunday, February 26, 2017
This morning we have an invitation to visit Sr. Betty and Fr. Peter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. We are to cross the San Antonio bridge from El Paso, Texas to Mexico. Sr. Betty assured us she would meet us at the bottom of the bridge. We had a difficult time finding the right bridge and when we asked the response was always, “You’re going to Juarez??”

Fr. Peter and Sr. Betty and Cathy.

For over 5 years starting in 2005 Juarez was known as the murder capital of the world but in the past few years murders have dropped considerably. It was the city Pope Francis chose to visit in 2014. In any event, we were happy to see Sr. Betty at the bottom of the bridge.

Juarez, Mexico, border city of El Paso TX

Housing from the street in Juarez

Going from El Paso to Juarez was quite something. Crumbled streets, very primitive housing almost appearing to look like the site of a city that had been in a war. We made our way by bus to the little house and yard that Sr. Betty and Fr. Peter rent.

It seems like an oasis in the middle of a desert but is located in one of the poorer boroughs of Juarez. They served us eggs from their chickens and we talked about their years working for peace and justice in Central and South America and for the past 20 years living in Juarez. At 94 years of age Fr. Peter continues to say mass at one of the boroughs in Juarez. Sr. Betty at 84 has classes for women on her porch. She took us out to her backyard to show her chickens, and the tomatoes she had just planted. In their back-yard they have a covered area where she has made memorials to various groups of people that have been murdered. She has painted murals and listed all of the names of these people. There are murals for slain journalists, murdered women, students and men and people that have died in the desert.

Juarez has had many problems over the past few years. Early in the 2000’s American companies set up Maquiladoras (factories). A Maquiladora is a factory run by a U.S. company in Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor and lax regulation. Workers usually work 6 days a week for an average of $6.00 per day. When they first began workers especially women were drawn to these factories. There is a reason we can buy cheap goods in America. Sr. Betty was telling us that one of the companies was John Deere. The same job if done in America would earn a salary of $25.00 per hour. Hardly a living wage.

Monday, February 27, 2017
It is hard to believe this is our last day to work. We got a call that Annunciation House was receiving 39 asylum seekers (12 families) and needed help. About 2 PM ICE came with two white buses and dropped them off. It was basically the same procedure as Nazareth House with the exception that the men would stay at Annunciation Shelter while the women and children would walk two blocks to Casa Theresa. Some of the Basilica group stayed to help find clothing for everyone and I went to Casa Therese to make beds. Once beds were made there was dinner for 22 that needed to be made.

We decided on a menu of macaroni & cheese with tuna and peas, spaghetti and a carrot/yellow squash combo and apples.

I started the meal and all at once was joined by a woman from Honduras who really knew how to cook. I speak basically no Spanish but could understand very well that I had not cooked the vegetables correctly. We were then joined by a woman from Brazil so none of us spoke each others language but we all knew the language of human. The Honduran woman’s 10-year old son squeezed limes to make a beverage.

When everyone had their plates filled we all joined hands and said grace. It was truly a moving moment, I will never forget.

While this was taking place, the people were registered and given medical treatment if they needed it.

The stories of some of these women will stay with us forever. One woman carried her paraplegic son on her back the entire way from Honduras. Another woman and two children had wandered through Mexico trying to get to the border for the past 3 months. They slept in woods and would beg to sleep in people’s yards. At each place, they were told they needed to leave after one night. Another young girl maybe 12 or 13 year of age said her whole body hurt and was stiff. Apparently, there is this holding facility called the icebox because it is so cold at night where people can only be detained for 24 hours but she had been there for a few days.

Over the past two weeks not once did we see a potential terrorist. These are the poorest of the poor looking for a life free of violence. They come with their children, they come to be reunited with family, they come to make a better life for their families. Everyone I talk to in Minnesota seems unaware that this is happening here at our border. How can we the richest nation on the planet turn our backs on our brothers and sisters.

Thank you to the Sisters of Loretto for their hospitality and all the people we encountered during our time in El Paso. This is an extremely generous and caring community that works tirelessly to make life better for the poor.

POSTNOTE FROM DICK: Politics and Compassion are very uneasy companions. A dozen or so years ago I came across a succinct and very powerful explanation of the relationship between politics and compassion, made by then U.S. Senator, and former U.S. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. You can read it here. I read it some months after a powerful visit to Haiti, and after the Iraq War had commenced. The brief paragraph or two spoke many volumes.

Donna Krisch reflects on the very human side of the migration (refugee) story.

Others with the microphones and media and levers of power much stronger than Donna or myself can better publicize “illegals”, “drugs”, and the seamy underside of immigration. The comment by Rubin Garcia (above) brings it home: “He compared the terrorist threats to car accidents. Since 2011 there have been 80 deaths due to terrorists and 600,000 deaths due to car accidents. So, should we ban cars? Do we fear the car companies for making cars?”

Back at the beginning of the worst of the Great Depression, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a statement that deserves repeating, over and over and over: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

We are a nation of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Even Native Americans, the first immigrants, initially came from somewhere else.

The only ancestor I personally knew who was an immigrant from another country was my grandfather, Henry Bernard, who came to North Dakota from Quebec about 1894. His only language when he arrived was French, and he had a first grade education. Doubtless it took years for him to speak English fluently.

He died when I was 17, and I knew him well.

Four of six of my great-grandparents immigrated to America, long before the Statue of Liberty became the welcoming beacon (and lest we forget, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France.) My circles – all of our circles – are full of immigrants.

We do not honor ourselves by our present day fear-filled approach to people whose only sin is, as proclaimed at the Statue of Liberty, “yearning to breathe free”. We will, one day, be called to account….

Lynn Elling: An Anniversary; Thoughts About Peace on Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

It’s Valentine’s Day, and today I’m remembering my friend, Lynn Elling, who died one year ago today, a few days short of 95 years. He was a remarkable guy. He walked the talk about Peace. I was honored to talk about him at his Memorial Service on May 1, last year. I wrote a bit about him then. You can read it here, “In praise of exasperating people”.

The 1971 Declaration of World Citizenship
Click to enlarge, twice to double the enlargement

Last spring, after Lynn died, the family invited me to go through the residue of his long life which related to his passion, the quest for world peace. He gave “World Peace” a great run, leaving a substantial base – and a challenge – for the rest of us. Down in our garage is a single box with many remnants of over 70 years passion for Peace, which began, for him, as a young Naval officer viewing the aftermath of the awful battle at Tarawa Beach in the Pacific, November, 1943.

A truly major accomplishment from that box is shown above, from March of 1971, and I’d invite you to take the time to really look at not only the text of that Declaration of World Citizenship, but to carefully study the list of signers who, at the time, represented all of the major leaders in Minnesota, Republican, Democrat, Civic…..

Out of this accomplishment came a 30 minute film, “Man’s Next Giant Leap”, which is worth watching on line, here.

Lynn was 50 years old when that Declaration was signed. Two years previous had come a similar Declaration for the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County; and six years earlier a similar declaration for the United States of America.

The idea of Peace was catching on.

And on and on.

In about two months, in Minneapolis, a new film, The World Is My Country, will be shown at the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul about Garry Davis, another remarkable man, and friend of Lynn’s, who began a world wide campaign for the concept of World Citizenship. When I know details I’ll announce them in this space.

On May 1, at Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis, we’ll celebrate another creation of Lynn and others: World Law Day, which first was held in 1964, went on for years, and after a hiatus, this year will be the 5th in the most recent series. More on that event, featuring Shawn Otto of later as well.

Yes, Lynn Elling could be “exasperating”.

But it is “exasperating” people that are very often the ones who make the difference; the people who go beyond the bounds of “average and ordinary”. We all can learn from being “exasperating” ourselves, from time to time!

Have a great Valentine’s Day.

POSTNOTE: Another great accomplishment by Mr. Elling came May 1, 1968, when the United Nations Flag was mounted beside the U.S. flag at what is now the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza. The flag flew there until late March, 2012, when it was removed. More can be read here. This, too, was a completely bi-partisan initiative. Elling was a downtown Minneapolis businessman, working with others in the business community. The UN, then, was not considered as some enemy of the United States, as some have come to portray it in more recent years.

Related, Feb. 13, 2017, here.

Dick Bernard: Killer or Healer? A Decision We All Need to Make

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Sunday’s homily at Basilica of St. Mary was a powerful commentary on a portion of the Gospel of Matthew: “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment.” (full text MT 5:20-22A, 2728, 33-34A, 37).

Fr. Harry, a retired Priest of the Diocese and frequent celebrant and gifted homilist at Basilica, wove his message not around physical killing, but the more common, now almost ubiquitous and unfortunately acceptable practice of “killing” others by actions other than a gun or similar. He talked of a couple of old guys, once friends, who hadn’t talked to each other for decades, though they worked in the same building, who were more or less forced into contact by the marriage of their respective granddaughter and grandson…and in the process of renewal of their long interrupted relationship couldn’t even remember what caused the fracture in the first place….

So it goes.

Driving home, for some reason, I got to thinking of a homily I had heard in a Port-au-Prince Haiti Catholic Church on December 7, 2003. Six of us were in our first full day in Haiti*. The congregation of the church was financially very poor, but vibrant. The Priest, Gerard Jean-Juste**, was a charismatic preacher, and this particular day, he knew he had a target for his message in we six visitors from the United States, an hour or so flight away.

(click to enlarge)

Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste and parishioners at Ste. Clare Parish Port-au-Prince Haiti December 7, 2003 (Dick Bernard)

Fr. Jean-Juste saying Mass at Ste. Claire Dec 7 2003 (photo by Dick Bernard)

He didn’t look at us – we really hadn’t met him at this point, but he knew we were there – but his message about the role of our wealthy society in the U.S. – to be the “killers” or “healers” of this desperately poor country – struck home. He supported the democratically elected President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide; and by the sundry means available to it, the U.S. was in the process of “killing” this president whose constituency was the poor. Rather than helping (“healing”) the poor. We were making it all but impossible for Haiti to compete in any way with their very wealthy neighbor, our own country. Democracy in Haiti was competition, and could not be tolerated. With “friends” like us, who needed enemies?

While there weren’t dead bodies in the street – at least not a great number of them – nonetheless, they may as well have been: farmers who had grown rice were forced out of business by U.S. undercutting Haitian farmer prices, and then dominating the rice market…things like that.

I got to thinking of a recent visit to our towns bookstore. I was looking for a book of meditations for a friend whose wife had recently died. Walking down an aisle, I was stopped short by a sign, which so struck me I went back to the car to bring in my camera and click this photo:

Book Display December, 2017

I googled the author and found quite an array of books, almost all dark topics: about killing Patton, …Kennedy, …Lincoln, …Jesus; similar about the attempted killing of Reagan; in effect, the killing of Hitler and the Nazis, and per the picture, killing “The Rising Sun” in WWII; the Next Nuclear War….

Clearly, killing was O’Reilly’s selling point for his books. There is a polarity in this country in which many enshrine the idea of killing an enemy: a political opponent, “al Qaeda”, on and on. We sort of enjoy killing. It is politically very useful to have an enemy to kill.

Similarly, I am sure, there is a “healing” niche as well, with a completely different audience….

A friend of mine, a migrant from another country, here for many years, but not yet a citizen, described us well, recently. The U.S., he said, is a polarized country, where we largely exist in “bubbles”, like those two old guys that had no relationship whatever for many years, until some unplanned event brought them together again.

I’m on the “healer” side of this polarity. At the same time, I say we have to find ways to constructively communicate with the other side as well.

“Killing”, whether physically or by character assassination, is no solution. In assorted way, the assassins described in the books ended up dying themselves, either individually (like Lincoln’s assassin) or on a larger scale (Nazi Germany).

“Killer” or “Healer”? I’ll take “healer” any time.

TUESDAY, VALENTINE’S DAY: a shining moment when “healing” held sway.

* – More about the trip, if you wish, here.
** – Jean-Juste was on the “wrong” side in the battle with the U.S. Less than 3 months after our meeting him, he was imprisoned, then deposed to the United States, where he ultimately died, effectively in exile. President Aristide was deposed and taken out of his country by the United States. It was a sad lesson for me, on my first visit to Haiti.

#1210 – Dick Bernard: A Men’s Retreat

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

For several years I’ve spent a winter weekend at a Retreat for Men at the Franciscan Retreat and Spirituality Center in Prior Lake MN. I enthusiastically recommend both the Retreat and the Retreat Center. (Next years Men’s Retreat is the first weekend of February, 2018).

This years theme: “Find the Missing Peace: Pathways to Prayer”. This became the focus at the first group event on Friday night:

(click on photos to enlarge them)

Franciscan Retreat Center Feb 3-5, 2017

Each of us was given a wooden token as a reminder:

What do a bunch of men, mostly older, do in 44 hours at a Retreat on Prayer?

Well, I can only speak for myself. It was a quieting, reflective time. I didn’t see a newspaper, or hear any news, or see any television, or hear about such for 44 hours. It had been a long week, so I got some needed extra sleep; there were few distractions from just thinking about where I fit into the bigger picture of “peace”, and life in general.

It was a precious time.

Doubtless, we men approached it the topic in our own ways, privately, coming from wherever we were at at the moment. The greatest gift was the opportunity to escape from the madding crowd which is a constant in all of our surroundings in this fast and furiously paced world in which we live. For some precious moments we could be quiet.

In part of my time, I walked outdoors – the weather was decent.

I’ve made friends with an old Peace Pole out there. The pole needs to be rehabbed, and when I reported on that, yes, they knew. Much to my surprise, a good friend of mine, Fr. Vince Peterson, had been the driving force for the peace pole some years ago. I’m sure it will be brought up to date.

Personally, I wouldn’t want it replaced with a new pole. By itself, it represents a history I want to help reinvent. Peace Poles are around you. Look for them. They’re available. Here’s one source, a good friend of mine.

Old Peace Pole at Franciscan Retreat Center Prior Lake MN Feb 5, 2017

Of course, we got pieces of paper at the retreat, and they were talked about by the conference facitators. Thomas Merton was a favorite source of quotes. I think I was in college when I first read his “Seven Storey Mountain”…inspiring book.

And we saw a movie on Saturday night, one I’d highly recommend – very thought provoking. It’s called Unconditional, and is 90 minutes, here on Youtube. Take the time, and watch it! It may speak to you, in some way….

Franciscan Retreat Center celebrated its 50th birthday last year, and there were panel displays remembering events surrounding its history, which began in 1966. I found these interesting in themselves, and they don’t need additional elaboration.

late 1960s

1970s forward


Somehow, the panels spoke to me in a pretty powerful way. The list may not include something of importance that you remember from those past years in our history. Add it in!

That what’s a retreat is for….

Have a great week.

Barbara Gilbertson: “It was an amazing experience, the [Women’s] March [on Washington, Jan. 21]”.

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

NOTE: Barbara, of the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis-St. Paul, is one of the two people I know who actually participated in the Women’s March Jan. 21, 2016. Barbara writes in response to my blog of January 24, 2016. In response to my request to reprint her response as a stand-alone post on my blog, she included this comment: “Funny about Moana. It’s the only Oscar nominee film we’ve seen this year. Loved it!”

Barbara Gilbertson:
It was an amazing experience, the March. Turned out I went to D.C. Bold choice for someone who doesn’t much like long bus rides, crowds, and some days even more than one person at a time.

I threw together a commentary for the Strib {Minneapolis Star Tribune]. It was weak sauce, and I don’t expect to see it published. but it helped me gather my thoughts. In much the same way as dissecting a movie after you’ve seen it before you go to the movie reviews to see whether you liked it.

The March was inclusive by every definition.
The March gave me experiential learning about intersectional feminism.
The March gave me a new framework for intersectionalism that extends beyond any given individual.
We had a boatload of intersectionalism at work in Washington, D.C.

I didn’t know anything but the diversity had crossed my radar until I got home.

The last two hours on our bus (#3, and named to honor Patty Wetterling) turned out to be the foundation for my 36-hour experience with the March and the Marchers. In the crowded confines of that bus, random access to a microphone (voluntary — some chose not to speak, but very few) emboldened those whose stories we had never heard to speak. Actually, more like summaries/overviews than stories. With deep dips to the core of the speaker. Powerful and often painful sharing. Knocked my big, knitted socks off. In fact, I suspect socks were flying all over the bus.

At age 74, I was the oldest woman on board. The youngest was 17. We were white, black, Asian, Hispanic. Male, female. Sexuality diverse. Experienced politically alongside neophytes. Extroverts and introverts. Telling true stuff about ourselves in the context of the March and the immediate aftermath…what we’d expected, what we got, what we thought we’d gotten but needed to digest. Some anger, some despair, buckets of tears and enough shared information to ramp everyone up at least one notch on the empathy scale.

Everywhere, all weekend long, The Big Question: What next? It was never answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Because no one knew/knows, exactly. But we started up a FB [Facebook] bus group (within three minutes of its being suggested…those college students are techie whizzes). We have been sharing extensively ever since we got home. The MN “chapter” of Women’s March on Washington is active. The national group is active as well. There are calendars of “do this today” ideas. There are hot issues surfacing almost hourly. With Trump in the Oval, how could it be otherwise?!

This is by no means an exclusive endeavor. Neither was the March. It was totally inclusive and, as it turned out, totally safe. Nothing bad happened. And it didn’t take long to know during the March/rally that someone always had your back, wherever you were, whatever you were doing. Not in a cosmically holy way, but in a very human being way. Small children. Babies. Moms and dads. Singles. Groups.

It’s only been 48 hours since this eagle landed. So frankly, I don’t pretend to know the answer to “What next?” But I’m absolutely confident there will be a “next.” Maybe a March. Maybe something different. The Blitzkrieg HQ’d in the Oval is intended to be upsetting and off-putting. And it’s working quite well. But what got started in DC (and St Paul, and Chicago, and LA, and Kenya, and little towns all around our country and the world) is not going away. It’s bigger and stronger than a hot, one-time idea.

I’ll keep you posted. But likely you and your compadres won’t be sitting around waiting for invitations or permission or, or, or to rise to this national crisis. So cross-posting seems like a marvelous idea, don’t you think?

POSTNOTE FROM DICK:: Check back in a few days to this or any blogpost at this site. Quite frequently, people submit comments which are both thoughtful and interesting. This blog is published usually about two to three times per week, on various topics. Guest submissions, like Barbara’s, are welcome. The main criteria are that they be constructive and respectful. Dick Bernard

Friday, January 20, 2017. Some Thoughts Towards A Better World

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Related posts: January 6, 10, 13, 24, 25, 28, Feb. 3, 9.

Today, an event is happening at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.

Some thoughts.

(click to enlarge photos)

Participants at Third Thursday divided into small groups to take a quick look at one of the three treaties under discussion. This is one of the groups.

Last night I was at a meeting of 27 people, sponsored by Citizens for Global Solutions MN. I’m VP of the group, so I know the back story of this “Third Thursday” progam. The program was recommended before the Nov. 8 election; it turned out to be a very interesting discussion around three important United Nations documents: “The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women”; “The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”; “UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities”. (the links cited are very lengthy point of source documents. We worked from summary documents provided by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center. See photo below).

At such conversations, you rapidly learn about how complex seemingly simple things are; and in two hours we could barely scratch the surface.

After the meeting, I gave Dr. Joe Schwartzberg a ride home. We debriefed the evening, and the implications of what is ahead. Joe is an International Emeritus Professor at the University of Minnesota, and an acknowledged expert of the United Nations System. His recent book, Transforming the United Nations System. Designs for a Workable World, would, in itself, occupy several weeks of discussion in a book club setting. I know, I participated in such a group a couple of years ago.

Such is how it went for me the night before todays inauguration.


We are a nation of very good people, generally. Look around you. Most recently, this fact was brought home to me in the January, 2017 issue of the Washington Spectator, a small publication to which I have long subscribed. You can read it here: Spectator001. We also live in a world chock-full of very good people. People in my group wonder what we can do now and later. Here is a guide. I’d suggest passing these along, and printing both out for future reference.


So, what to do today, being among the category of citizens some would call “losers”; and taunt “get over it”?

I looked on my always messy home office desk Wednesday night to see if there was something there which demonstrated my feelings at this point in our history. I found two items:

(click to enlarge)

Nobel Peace Prize Forum, Bloomington MN 2016, and button, Liberty and Justice for All, acquired at some time in the past.

Perhaps today would be a good day to relisten to one of the speeches given by Kailash Sadyarthi at last June’s Nobel Peace Prize Forum. You can access it here. You will note there are four separate talks available, including his keynote, plus other powerful talks from the same Forum. (Information about the 2017 Forum is here. They are always outstanding. If you can, attend.)

What will be today, will be. President Obama leaves office with a 62% approval rating; his successor enters with a 32% approval rating.

The first official acts by the new President will likely be as advertised: to begin the attempt to dismantle the Obama legacy: “Obamacare”, and on and on. It makes little sense, but what do I know?

I don’t know anyone who is going to DC for the inauguration.

I know two people, both women, one from Minnesota, one from New Mexico, who are going to Saturday’s Womans March. One, a grandmother, will be accompanied by her adult granddaughter. “Leaving early Friday morning for DC. On a bus. Turning around after the March/rally, and heading back home. My adult granddaughter is going with me, along with some friends. Gonna be wild and crazy heading east. Heading home, I expect lots of sleepy people. Me, for one.”

While I have soured a bit on the effectiveness of protests, we plan to join the St. Paul MN link – 10 a.m. at St. Paul College.

Those of us of the peace and justice persuasion possess an opportunity now. It is also a challenge. Too many of us have sat back and pretended that someone else would carry our message for us; and complained if it wasn’t carried exactly or as far as we had wished.

The ball is in our court now, in every place that we live, and in every group that we are a part of.


This is our country, too. And we are very big assets to this country’s quality of life. Let’s be witness to that.

I look around and without trying very hard I see hope. Two of many additional examples, just within the last day or so:

1. Tuesday came a long message from a young friend, Walid, who has set a course to make a difference. In part he said: “I really think hope is stronger than fear. There are a million reasons to justify killing, hate and crimes. As a refugee I tell you that I will have a better and more passionate crowd if I go out there and say I’m going to the middle east to fight, there are less passionate and more nay sayers when you say I’m going to the middle east to work for peace. Peace sounds too naive till it actually happens. The results of peace are far stronger than the results of hate. The process of creating peace is way harder and more complicated than the process of generating hate and wars.”

(NOTE: I have personally noted, too often, that even the peace and justice community seems sometimes to revel more in conflict than in seeking resolution, which requires compromise. It is something we need to own ourselves.)

2. Yesterday morning, my friend George, a retired teacher, among many accomplishments, stopped by the coffee shop and asked if he could have a couple of minutes. He made a proposal, too lengthy for this blog, but essentially described here*. He’s donated $500, I’ve put in $50…because he asked. And I’ve sent his proposal to 15 people who I thought would be particularly interested in it.

Succinctly, he learned of this project by a simple Facebook search to see if anyone was around who he remembered from an early teaching experience 48 years ago. He happened across this project, coordinated by one of his former students, who, like him, was also a former Peace Corps Volunteer.

That’s as simple as it gets, and we all are in proximity to similar opportunities frequently. We are all in many network.

There is lots of work to be done, and we can do it one small bit at a time.

* – A little more about the proposal. Ten kids need to raise $30,000. They are from the Greenway School district, which is, according to George, a series of tiny communities between Grand Rapids and Hibbing MN on the Minnesota Mesabi Iron Range. Their communities include such places as Taconite, Marble, Calumet, Pengilly, Trout Lake Township, Iron Range Township, Greenway Township, Lawrence Lake Township and Nashwauk Township. More than 53% of the 1,000 students in pre-K to 12th grade qualify for free or reduced lunch.

I dropped Joe off at his home. We said good night. He waved good night; upstairs I saw his partner, Louise, wave as well. Great folks, great friends.

Back home, an e-mail came from Arthur Kanegis concerning his now complete film, “The World Is My Country” about “World Citizen #1”, Garry Davis. This is a film that everyone who cares about making a difference should watch for and promote. The website is here.

For those interested about todays center-of-attention:
1. 1999 Thoughts from conservative icon William F. Buckley, as reported in Red State.
2. Just Above Sunset for Jan. 19, 2017. Always a good summary of current events.

SATURDAY, JAN. 21Just Above Sunset summarizes comments on inauguration day.

from Kathy: Today I am caught between appreciating the “peaceful transfer of power” mentality, which I appreciate and respect and the urgent need to push back, speak out, etc. weird day…so sorry to see grace and wisdom lift off in the helicopter.

from Robert: Thanks for sending “my thoughts on inauguration day” and related thought-provoking items. You should have been a prof at UM leading philosophical seminars, etc., as you excel at such. America will survive Trump and cronies but will be damaged in many ways, large and small, as will the world. 2020 can’t come soon enough.

Best wishes for a winter filled with discussion with passion.

from Richard: Thanks for sharing. I agree with you 100, maybe even 110 %. I think, unfortunately, you and I, and many other geezers, dreamers, of our age and history, simply don’t get it. We completely misunderstand the modern world, the connectivity, the lack of interest in “facts”, or “truth”, and the fascination with entertainment, action, the fight, and the inability or interest in processing words.

Make your argument to me on pinterest, or youtube. If not, you are simply meaningless. [Some years ago, my teachers union] sent me to Yemen, with [a colleague], and then to Egypt. I was happy to survive, and after looking at classrooms of 160 kids in [a large Middle Eastern city], that don’t even exist anymore, I was never more humbled, and still feel that way. Our issues are small blips on the radar screen. Glad to know you are well, and still busy in retirement. I admire the commitment! Keep at it, but recreational travel is also a good idea.

Response from Dick: Great to hear from you, a “voice from the past”!

I do “have a life” beyond the blog, etc., and I understand completely your frustration about communicating across the generation and informed citizen gap, and today’s fascination with (really) nothingness as opposed to substance. Indeed, we came from a time in the relatively recent past where informed citizens and idealism seemed to be more acceptable than now (at least from the public information/disinformation frame). I have one former friend who keeps me well stocked with disinformation. I don’t block him, only so that I can see the subject lines – what the alt right is spreading via YouTube, etc. Horrible stuff.

Folks who know me well, now, would probably agree that I remain in the struggle and a main objective is to get young people (like we were, once) very actively engaged in their own future. After all, it is THEIR future.

There are lots of Walid’s out there. We just have to get them engaged, and get out of their way! (I am reminded of a retired Pastor friend, Verlyn S., who in the 1960s found himself as a minister to/with college students in varied college and university settings. This was in the turbulent years of Vietnam, etc.

Late in his life (he died a number of years ago), he received a distinguished achievement award, and I was in the audience when he gave his brief remarks. He said something I’ve never forgot, though I can only paraphrase from my memory: back in his young Pastor days, he wasn’t protest oriented, though he was a supportive pastor to the students of his faith. He said, from his recollection, that back then, like now, the vast majority of the students were mostly about the business of surviving college – just like today. Perhaps two percent (2%), he estimated, were activists, the protestors of the day. He said this to an audience who was getting discouraged. It didn’t then, and doesn’t now, take 100% to make a difference. As Margaret Mead so famously said years ago: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

From Christina, to her kids: I like Keillor’s thoughts on religion [link here]. I have shed more tears during this transition period than I want to even admit. I cried when Obama gave his farewell speech, I cried when he had the farewell ceremony for Joe Biden. I cried at the inauguration listening to Trump say things will now be different. It won’t be just talk but no action, thinking of all the things Obama has done. How Trump was able to walk into a much better place than what Obama walked into when he was inaugurated. I cried when the Obama’s left on the helicopter for Andrew’s air base. I cried when I saw the group that met them when they got there. I pray that God will Bless him for all he has done and I thank God that He Blessed us with 8 years of of his presidency.

from Emmett: On the plane ride home from Palm Desert, I was reading through information on the seven deadly sins that I had collected to support the notion that humans are a very unique life form when it comes to morality. Few of any of those sins relate to any other life form on earth. In any event, as I was reading through the material, the thought that was running through my head was: How can the people that support Trump and the GOP leadership consider themselves as religious conservatives? They represent the worst of humanity. We have Paul Ryan wanting to take away health care and funding for the needy. And then there is Mitch McConnell whose actions indicate a complete void in principles. And then Trump himself. I was visiting with a doctor from the VA this morning and he was telling me about an interview of Trump and his daughter. The daughter was asked what she and her father had in common and answered “Real Estate and Gold”. When asked the same question, his response was “Sex”. I had not seen that interview, but had seen one where he was talking about one of his granddaughters and commented something about hoping she will have nice breasts. They talk about draining the swamp, which they may eventually do, but first they have to collect enough scum from the swamp to fill those 3,000 to 4,000 government jobs to complete his administration. And when I was watching the Walid Issa film, I was thinking the same thing about Netanyahu as being as scummy as Trump.

Two Christmas Gifts

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

(click to enlarge illustrations)

Tuesday brought an unexpected assignment: the kind that goes along with the general category of “honey, do….” Ellen, my spouse’s long-time friend, needed a ride to a doctors appointment, and there was a schedule conflict. I volunteered.

Ellen is a long-time U.S. citizen, of African descent, whose accent betrays her growing up in one of the islands of the British West Indies. Ellen’s appointment flowed out of a knee problem so serious that she had to be transported by ambulance recently from the city bus on which she was riding for medical care. The pain had been too excruciating.

Back and forth to her job requires 3 1/2 hours a day on the bus, part of which requires a two block walk to the bus stop closest to her home, and a transfer in downtown Minneapolis. It has been very cold recently, and one day was just too much. Ellen badly needs a knee replacement. She needs her job more. She has no car.

As I drove her to and from the appointment we chatted about this and that. Ellen is someone you’d enjoy visiting. Even on the worst of days, she is upbeat.

I noted the big difference between Christmas weather here and on her home island. She’s been here a long time, and she thinks the snow is an important part of the Twin Cities Christmas season.

We talked a bit about Christmas back home on the island, and it brought out her own nostalgia.

I didn’t take notes – I was driving, after all – but she talked about how at Christmas time people from the churches went around singing Christmas carols in the town in which she lived. There was visiting, small gifts exchanged, other rituals that go with important occasions.

An apparently important event was the seasonal changing of the window drapes in homes…I gathered it was not a competition, rather an opportunity to admire and compliment the work of the occupants of the homes.

It brought to mind simpler times, not filled with fashion, and day after exchanges at the malls, a quest for things for which we have no need, as we have here.

There are many more pieces to this story, of course.

But on a Tuesday afternoon in St. Paul MN I got a great Christmas gift, thanks to my spouse and her friend, Ellen.

(In the caption for this post, I talk of two Christmas Gifts.

The second gift came in the form of the Christmas card which included the two pictures you see above.

This came about the same time as my visit with Ellen, and came from Mohamed, who I have been honored to have as a friend for 63 years. Mohamed (his birth legal name) I knew by another name way back then in rural North Dakota. His faith, then and now, Mohammedan (Muslim).

There was a brief message with the card, but the card really says it all.

“Let there be peace on earth” goes a song oft-sung.

Let peace…and its necessary neighbor, justice…begin with each and every one of us.)

The 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor: A Sailor and his Ship, the USS Arizona

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
On the USS Arizona, sometime between 1936 and De. 7, 1941.  Probably part of ritual of crossing the Equator for the first time.  Photo likely taken by Frank Bernard.

On the USS Arizona, sometime between 1936 and De. 7, 1941. Probably part of ritual of crossing the Equator for the first time. Photo likely taken by Frank Bernard.

You can easily determine the photographers location when he took the above photo by comparing with the following painting. (click to enlarge any illustrations).

Book cover (see referemces below)  The above photograph seems to have been taken on the foredeck of the Arizona.

Book cover (see referemces below) The above photograph seems to have been taken on the foredeck of the Arizona.

I’ve written often about my Dad’s brother, my Uncle Frank Bernard, who perished on board the USS Arizona, Dec. 7, 1941. My reference link with his – and my – story is here.

In todays post, along with personal comments about Pearl Harbor, I revisit two aspects of the USS Arizona that I have not touched on before:
1) The intersection of the lives of Uncle Frank and the USS Arizona; and
2) reflections from a diver who was assigned to visit the Pearl Harbor grave of my Uncle and the 1176 of his shipmates who perished on-board December 7, 1941.
#1 and #2, below, come from a book I’ve had for 25 years: The Battleship Arizona, An Illustrated History, by Paul Stillwell, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD 1991.

The ship and its crew rest in peace. As I write, this date, there are only a very tiny number of survivors of Dec 7, 1941, still alive.

(Info about 1936 forward from pp 323-332 of the Stillwell book)
24 July 1915 – Frank Bernard born in Grafton, North Dakota
12 October 1916 – USS Arizona commissioned at New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn.

4 September 1935 – Frank Bernard enlisted in U.S. Navy at Minneapolis MN; his home address 103 Wakeman Avenue, Grafton ND.
8 January 1936 – Frank Bernard transferred to the USS Arizona

15 July – 12 August, 1936 – Frank’s first visit to Pearl Harbor. (The Arizona had been to Hawaii, but only on two occasions, both in the 1920s. It’s previous locations were the western hemisphere, earlier primarily coastal U.S. Atlantic and Caribbean areas; in later years primarily west coast U.S. and Pacific, usually on maneuvers of one kind or another.)

1-4 April 1938 – (at Lahaina Roads. The brief link about Lahaina is interesting.)
8 – 21 April 1938 – Pearl Harbor

The Hawaii years, 1940-41.

10 April – 23 October 1940
(Alternated between Pearl Harbor (PH) and Lahaina Roads (LR)
10-25 April LR
26 April – May 13 – PH
14-23 May – LH
24 May – June 9 – PH
18-21 June – LR
22 June- 14 July – PH
15 July p August 1 – LR
2-19 August – PH
19-30 August – LR
30 August – September 5 – PH
5-9 September – LR
13-23 September – PH
(Most of next three months primarily at Bremerton/Puget Sound WA)

3 February – 10 June PH*
* 17 June – 1 July at San Pedro. Reunion of Frank Bernard with the rest of the Bernard family at Long Beach CA June 22, 1941
8 July – 7 December PH

THOUGHTS FROM A DIVER WHO VISITED THE TOMB (from Battleship Arizona, Stillwell, pp 286-289).

“In 1983-84 Navy and National Park Service divers conducted an underwater archaeological survey of the wreck of the Arizona. The project, which was funded by the Arizona Memorial Museum Association, had several objectives…The results of the study have been published in a book [Submerged Cultural Resources Study] edited by Daniel J. Lenihan, principal investigator for the Submerged Cultural Resource Unit of the National Park Service.

U.S.S. Arizona, U.S. Naval Institute Archives

U.S.S. Arizona, U.S. Naval Institute Archives

[Interview by author Stillwell, 5 Mar 1990] One of the divers on the National Park Service team was Jim Delgado, and he was involved in a follow-up phase of the study in 1988. He has dived on a number of sunken ships, including the collection of naval vessels used for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Despite his considerable experience in the field, he explains that diving on the Arizona was something special. He compares it with being in the Oval Office of the White House or perhaps in Abraham Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater. He says that he and other divers did not want to enter the ship because they felt they would be trespassing in an area where they weren’t supposed to be.

When he was under the water, especially in the area where the Arizona’s galley used to be, he could look up and see the people watching him from the cutouts to the sides of the white memorial. As he swam around the submerged hull, he was reluctant to touch it or to look too closely into it. He had a eerie feeling that someone might look back from inside, even though reason obviously told him otherwise. He looked into a hatch and saw all sorts of marine growth and twisted metal choking the entrance, and he noted that the deck was covered with silt. Unexpectedly, something emerged from a hatch, startling him. When it floated into the light, Delgado saw that it was a globule of fuel oil, freed from the Arizona after nearly fifty years. It rose slowly to the top of the water, then spread out to produce a sheen on the surface.

While he was swimming underwater, Delgado was overcome by a sense of time warp. The world above had changed dramatically since 1941, including the building of the memorial. But the hull of the Arizona was largely the same as it had been after the magazine explosion had ripped her asunder. True, she was corroded and covered with marine growth, but the essence was still there – the same hull that had been built seven decades earlier in Brooklyn. Shining his light in through one porthole, he peered into Admiral Kidd’s cabin, which was largely undamaged. He saw heaps on the deck that could have been furniture. On a bulkhead was a telephone; Admiral Kidd had undoubtedly used it many times. Elsewhere he saw the tiles that had been the deck of the galley. On the deck were pieces of silverware and crockery, obvious evidence of human habitation many years earlier. He saw nothing that looked as if it have once been part of a man, and he was relieved not to.

When he swam near the bow, Delgado saw evidence of the cataclysmic explosion that tore the forward part of the Arizona apart. The decks were rippled. Pieces of steel appeared to have been crumpled as easily as if they had been made of paper. Beams and decks were twisted into grotesque shapes. The ship showed some evidence of damage aft, but the hull was largely intact – certainly in comparison with the bow. By the time he dived on the wreck, no ordnance was visible, although divers had seen some 5-inch projectiles earlier in the decade. Delgado and his fellow divers found no sign of the kind of large hole that a torpedo would have made in the side of the ship. When the Park Service divers/historian emerged from the grave of the Arizona, he was covered with oil and filled with a profound sense of having been close to something he calls a “temporal touchstone” because it has so much value now as part of the American culture….”

Dad visits his brother Dec. 18, 2015, represented by his son, Dick, and the blue t-shirt he used to wear when he went for long walks, and the Collette family reunion t-shirt (his mother was a Collette from Oakwood ND).

Dad visits his brother Dec. 18, 2015, represented by his son, Dick, and the blue t-shirt he used to wear when he went for long walks, and the Collette family reunion t-shirt (his mother was a Collette from Oakwood ND).


This is what I know about my Uncle Frank Bernard: he was 26 years old when he died; he was quite a bit older than his fellow crew members. When he went into the Navy, it was, best of all, a job. It was during the Depression; he had been in Civilian Conservation Corps, and getting in the Navy was a good opportunity. He was a ship-fitter, which I understand was like a welder. He was unmarried, but had met someone, probably in Bremerton WA, who he apparently hoped to marry. She apparently was divorced, but I have never been able to learn who she was. He was a good sailor, from basic training on.

My uncle and the 1176 others who perished with him on the Arizona at Pearl Harbor were, I suppose, peace-time casualties – it wasn’t until the next day that war on Japan would be declared.

The men on the ship would have known about Hitler, and the war in Europe, and almost certainly knew that tensions between the U.S. and Japan had been building for many years. At the same time, it was quite clear that the attack on Pearl Harbor was one which was indeed a surprise, not known till the last minute. (I describe an excellent new book about this topic, here.)

I often think that Frank’s Dad, my Grandpa Henry Bernard, was unwittingly part of the history that led to the death of his son.

In 1898, likely in the fever of patriotism around the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor, Grandpa and others from the Grafton ND area were among the first ND volunteers to enlist for the Spanish-American War. He and his ND Company spent a year, 1898-99, in the Philippines, which became America’s outpost in what the Japanese considered their sphere of influence. While among the first troops to arrive at Manila, the Spanish had basically already been defeated, and most of their time was spent fighting Filipinos who’d just as soon see the U.S. go home. The company lost four men in battle at Pagsanjan Falls, near Paete, Luzon.

Tour over, in 1899, Grandpa and the crew stopped in Yokahama enroute home from Manila (picture at end of this article). It is a picture that speaks a million words.

By late 1941, war planners thought that the Philippines would be a more likely target than Hawaii for the Japanese.

After the attack:

On Dec. 6, 1941, those on the Arizona and elsewhere at Pearl Harbor, would have had no idea about the deadly four years to come; about 50 million dead in WWII, hundreds of thousands of these, Americans; the Holocaust; the Atomic bomb….

The great prospect of peace which came with the founding of the United Nations in 1945; then the endless wars which someone always declares are necessary, but which never really resolve anything. Each war, it seems, provides a pretext for the next war.

In my opinion, for we, the living, is that the next big war, if it comes, carries the prospect of ending civilization as we have come to know it. Nonetheless, someone will be tempted to “pull the trigger”. It matters who leads.

Our nation’s default setting through almost all of its history has been achievement of power through war. War is what basically built our country; and it is war that expanded our empire to an unimaginable and unmanageable extent.

War brought prosperity; it could as easily bring defeat. There is evil; there will always be war. But we need to guard against war as the first and only solution to problems.

The illusion now sold is that we can again be as we were: the very premise of “Make America Great Again”.

It is a proposition doomed to fail. It can only be achieved at someone else’s expense, which simply ramps up anger and the desire for revenge.

We need to change our national conversation, one conversation at a time.

The solution…or the problem…lies in each one of our hands.

Our future depends on each of us.

Here are a couple of items to possibly help give definition to the years since 1941:
1. A personal compilation of American War Deaths over history: War Deaths U.S.002
2. America at War (from the American Legion magazine): America at War001
(The first is only about American war deaths, simply to help me get some personal definition of the changing problem; but the reality is that we, and many others, now possess the capacity to destabilize and destroy everything…as could have happened had cooler leadership heads not have prevailed in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.)

Also, take 30 minutes to watch the 1971 film entitled Man’s Next Giant Leap. It was produced by my friend Lynn Elling, Naval officer in WWII and businessman, who died some months ago at 94. It can be accessed here. The people who put this film together, business and civic and political leaders, Republican and Democrat, believed in the possibility of peace, and they can be examples for us to follow.

As the hymn goes: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Henry Bernard, middle soldier, in Yokahoma Japan, enroute home1899

Henry Bernard, middle soldier, in Yokahoma Japan, enroute home1899

The family members in the story are, at right: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard.  From left, Henry and Josephine Bernard, Josie Whitaker, and Frank Bernard, Henry's parents and siblings, in Long Beach June 22, 1941.

The family members in the story are, at right: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard. From left, Henry and Josephine Bernard, Josie Whitaker, and Frank Bernard, Henry’s parents and siblings, in Long Beach June 22, 1941.

from Annelee: I read Uncle Frank, When will we learn? However, War with Japan and Germany were justifiable.

Response from Dick: There is no question that war was “justifiable” in both instances. However, I do have a couple of points.

First, it has long been my contention that America waited far too long before entering WWII, which began two years before Pearl Harbor. As a country, we were isolationist, and there were other complications such as a – let’s be honest – not terribly friendly attitude towards the Jews, and an otherwise close relationship with Germany in all senses of the word.

Second, I am always interested in when history is deemed to begin. Pearl Harbor didn’t begin our history of relationship with Japan, for instance. We were sowing the seeds long before. My Grandpa and his fellow soldiers enlisted, I’m pretty sure, to support defeating Spain, with the battle cry “Remember the Maine”, but their service was far from Cuba, in the Philippines on the island of Luzon (Manila). The Spanish-American War was Teddy Roosevelt’s war, largely, supported by the Press, and it seems to have been a war of acquisition, not defense. In the end analysis, it really had little to do with Spain, and more to do with American expansion, and in the case of Japan, what became “our” Philippines was within their sphere of influence, and far closer to them than Hawaii. Like us, they apparently had pretenses of power, and we were boxing them in.

Plus, we long had a very dismissive attitude about the Japanese, generally. People my age who grew up in the United States remember things purchased from Japan which were more in the curio class than anything else. “Japan” was a synonym for “cheap”.

Japan and some other places might now be jewels of capitalism, but at what cost in lives in WWII? I think we have a big blindspot in this area, and we’ll find out if we try to “Make America Great Again” the cost of national pride at the expense of others.

A concluding comment: As I write I remember that letter in German written by my Great Uncle in Dubuque IA Feb. 14, 1924 to his relatives in Westphalia (borderland of today’s Netherlands). At the time of his letter, he’d lived in the United States for over 60 years. In a very long sentence, which the translator described as emotion laden, he remembered a slaughter day conversation from perhaps 1850, and comments his grandmother made about the French during the time in the early 1800s when Napoleon had designs on controlling Europe.

He said this: “I will never forget how, each year on slaughter day, as we cut the fat pigs and cows apart, dear grandmother would say if only the dear Lord will let us eat it in peace and good health, and then, each time, she would tell how the French took everything of hers, in addition to all of the oppression they had to endure, and dear grandfather would tell how the French and the Russians took him and his father with (their) horses and wagon to drive under orders for weeks and, how the horses couldn’t go anymore, and how they were then whipped and left by the wayside (to die) and that the Busch’s homestead had been their lawful property but was taken away by the French, no wonder that my father left his home with his sons [for America]. France’s history has always been full of war and revolution for the last three hundred years and Germany was always the oppressed, if they will ever become peaceful?”

The phrase, “you lost, get over it”, takes on new meaning with this very long emotion filled sentence.

#1190 – Dick Bernard: My Brush with Fidel and Cuba.

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

A few mornings ago a friend at a neighboring table asked “out of the blue”, “so, are you going to Cuba?”

This was a head-scratcher. At the time, I hadn’t learned that Fidel Castro had just died in Cuba. At any rate, while I have an interest in Cuba, generally, my life doesn’t revolve around it or its politics. But no question, the Revolution in Cuba in 1959 has certainly impacted American politics for many years, and it long pre-dates the Castro brothers and Che Guevara…and they were not the villains.

My major “brush” with Cuba came in an Infantry barracks at Ft. Carson CO in late October, 1962. We GI’s were alerted that President Kennedy would be speaking to the citizens in the evening. A few of us gathered around the 9″ television owned by the Mess Sergeant, and watched the Presidents speech. Outside our barracks, perhaps a half dozen miles to the west, was Cheyenne Mountain, then and still the headquarters of NORAD* and, we were advised, one of many Colorado targets within range of the Soviet missiles being taken to Cuba.

The next morning, Tuesday, October 23, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News filled in the blanks, as known. Many years later I spent the time in a Denver library to find the specific issue that came to our Company office that morning. Here are a few pages: cuba002.

Here is part of page one:
(click to enlarge)

The rest of the story is anti-climactic. By the time Pres. Kennedy spoke to us, the crisis was nearly over. Extraordinarily tense diplomacy saved the day. Other than a few days of putting up with more intensive preparation, life went on as normal at the base.

And for the 54 years since then, Cuba has been a constant enemy, and Fidel Castro outlasted 11 U.S. Presidents.

Actually, Cuba is a fascinating place, and deserves much more of a fair shake than it has gotten these last many years.

Out at the ND family farm I found a “History of Latin America” published about the time of 1959 coup. In the chapter on Cuba, the final paragraph says this: “Reflecting on the sorry state of Cuba in 1960, the onlooker could say that two things are reasonably clear: Cuba was indeed overdue for a revolution, and revolutions are never mild and gentlemanly.” Here is the entire chapter from which that quote is taken, with apologies to the author, Hubert Herring: Cuba to 1963001.

For those interested, I have had several posts about Cuba. They can be accessed here; here; here; here; and here.

That’s more links than I thought I’d find.

Personally, I prefer we work at racheting up the friendship, rather than making sacred the enmity. The Cuban people deserve a break, too.

* – I linked, here, the Norad Santa website. It seems fitting for the season. Here is the other NORAD link.

POSTNOTE: My favorite Revolution story comes from my Dad’s cousin, Marvin, then a very prominent banker in a Minnesota city. We were visiting sometime in the 1990s. For some reason the topic of Cuba came up, and Marvin said that at the time Castro came to power he made a $5 bet with a friend that Castro wouldn’t last six months. “Guess I lost that one”, he said.