Friday, December 31, 2010

The Kepler Dynasty

I need your help with something. I don’t understand the concept of royalty. Oh, I fully comprehend how a family would rise up to rule over their friends and neighbors – offering a safe haven back when defense and conquest were ugly realities of life.

I’ve seen all the movies with good kings (Robin Hood) and bad kings (Braveheart). It’s easy to understand how dynasties rose and fell in centuries gone by. I just don’t see the need for royalty in this 21st century.

Why can’t my family be a 21st century dynasty? I could be King Reece...

Take Prince William, for instance. You remember Prince William don’t you? He’s the eldest son of Princess Diana, of fame for a number of reasons, not the least of which was her fiery death in a tunnel in Paris; and Prince Charles, famous primarily for his royal divorce and his extremely large honker.

I see where Prince William is getting married. And the whole world is glued to their sets to see what church they will select, and what flavor their cake will be, and at what opulent vacation retreat they will honeymoon. I see these “news” stories over my morning coffee, and I think to myself, “who cares?”!

My question is this – What makes these people any better than… say, my people? Why can’t my family be a 21st century dynasty? I could be King Reece and Queen Stephanie would never have to clean the house again. Her 149 servants would do that. By the way, that number, 149, is not an arbitrary number. That’s how many servants Prince Charles has.

Believe it or not, no press at all reported on it when Stephanie and I drove to Vegas to get married. By the way, in case you’re interested, the “church” we chose was A Hollywood Wedding Chapel on Las Vegas Blvd. Our cake was whatever Planet Hollywood serves as complementary to newlyweds, and our honeymoon spot was that opulent vacation retreat known as Las Vegas, Nevada.

But back to the Kepler Dynasty – I would be a good king, like Richard the Lionhearted, not an evil king like Edward Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots. Would you be willing to bow down and kiss the Kepler Crest on the Royal Ring? No? I didn’t think so.

Now I read where Prince William and his fiancĂ©e Kate Middleton, after their wedding in April, will not have ANY servants. Not a butler, not a chef (apparently Kate’s a pretty good cook), not even a personal valet (although I’m betting they will at least have maid service come in once a week to run the vacuum).

You know, this “no servants” policy makes me wonder if Prince William just doesn’t get the concept of royalty.

I wonder if he would kiss the Kepler Crest.

Photo "Prince Dillon, Princess Rebekah and future Queen Kiley" used without permission

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Heart to Heart

Remember eating those little candy hearts on Valentine’s Day? You know… the ones with cute sayings stamped on them. Perhaps you even gave a little candy heart with just the right saying to that special someone. I’m sure there are couples happily married today all because of a little candy heart.

When I was a teenager the church I attended sent out letters to its members with one of those little hearts glued to it. I don’t recall the nature of the letter, but what I do remember is that the machines at the post office crushed the candy hearts. So when you opened your letter from the church you got a lap full of candy dust. When teased about it the church staff just grinned in embarrassment.

I remembered the testimony of that little old lady…

But let me tell you something else I remember about the candy-heart-letter story. There was a little old lady that attended the church whose letter must have missed the posting machine or something, because her heart wasn’t crushed... at least not her candy heart!

The reason I know this is because one Sunday evening, back when churches still had what they called “testimony service”, this little old lady stood up and shared about how she was struggling with a trial in her life, and the day that letter arrived she was having an especially difficult day. Then she opened the letter, and there glued to the paper was a candy heart. And printed on that little candy heart were the words TRUST ME.

And she received that little candy heart as a word from God that all is well. And the peace of God flooded from that little candy heart to her aching heart.

I don’t remember that little old lady's name and I would suppose that now, some 40 years later, she is surely absent from the body and present with the Lord. But if not… if she’s still with us, I hope she’s reading this story right now. Because I would like for her to know that many times over the last 40 years, when I was going through a trial and having an especially difficult day, I remembered the testimony of that little old lady… and the peace of God flooded my heart!

Photo Melt My Heart used by permission

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Flying Monkey Movie

It’s the baby boomer generation that finally changed the way we look at things. Before, if a man got old and forgetful they laughed at him and said he had “Old Timer’s Disease”. Now, with sympathy and respect, that forgetful gentleman is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

I remember when, if a man just ate and ate and ate, and then went out behind the shed and stuck his finger down his throat to throw up, he was laughingly judged a glutton. Now that man (although it’s more often a teenage girl) is diagnosed with Anorexia, and offered treatment by medical science.

We snickered when we heard that Gomer Pyle was married to Rock Hudson...

But alas, not all changes are for the better.

When I was a child there were two men who lived together down the street. They dressed kind of funny, and even as a young boy I recognized that their home was expensively, if not oddly decorated. And we laughed about these men being “married” to each other. And we snickered when we heard that Gomer Pyle was married to Rock Hudson; although to the best of my knowledge that rumor turned out to be false.

Let’s face it. Not too many years ago, homosexuality was carried forth behind closed doors, at the risk of shame and banishment from the community. Now parades are held where those who embrace the “lifestyle” frolic gaily along as if they are the normal ones.

You may be of the attitude that this new acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle is a sign that the world has at last caught up with wisdom and sanity. If so, your beliefs disagree with the rest of us, who recognize homosexuality for what it is – deviant behavior that is frowned upon by the Creator of the Universe.

One wonders just how much more “change” this old world can absorb. Some changes are for the better. Others we recognize for what they are – harbingers of the inevitable finality we all will soon share.

So please indulge this old geezer when I forget the name of that “Flying Monkey” movie I’ve watched each year with fondness and joy. I may be getting older, but my mind is still sharp enough to know one thing...

Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore!

Photo Musical Monkeys used by permission

Saturday, December 11, 2010

An Angel Gets His Wings

The Movie
If your holiday traditions are like mine the time of year has come to watch that classic of all Christmas classics. I’m talking about the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. But there’s one scene in that movie that hits so close to home it’s scary - and I don’t mean funny-scary, I mean petrifying-scary.

The Scene
The scene that brings me to the brink of nightmare is not really the scene itself, but the memory it evokes. The scene is when George Bailey’s brother, Harry, sled out of control, ends up in the water. Of course, George saves Harry, but in the alternate world of Clarence the Angel, Harry sleds his way to a watery grave.

The Memory
A few years before my wife Stephanie and I met, I was married to someone else, and had two step-children, a girl named Amy and a boy named Casey. I well remember one year when we were in Colorado for Christmas with Amy and Casey’s grandparents. It was Christmas morning and Casey had found a brand new, bright red plastic snow sled under the tree. He was anxious to try out his new sled and everyone was antsy to get out of the house so we took a road trip to Wolf Creek Pass, a ski resort close by.

The Sled
We checked out the prices to rent equipment and buy a lift ticket, and decided just to hang out and have some fun instead. There was a really cool hill above the parking lot where we decided Casey could walk up and then sled back down to us – a controlled area where he would never be out of sight. And so up the hill he shot, grin on face and sled in tow. And then, with reckless abandon he yelled out a “whoooooopieeeee” as he jumped on his sled and headed down the hill.

The Mountain
What we had not taken time to notice was that just past the parking lot was the rest of the mountain – the downward side of the mountain! In fact, the parking lot we were playing in was located at an elevation of a little over 10,000 feet. And with gravity being what it is, if something (or someone) was to slide past the parking lot, the results would be… well… let’s just say far reaching!

The Terror
I would say we never noticed the danger of letting Casey sled past us and on down the mountain, but the truth is I did realize the danger. The problem is – I realized it only after I saw the terror in Casey’s eyes as he hit the parking lot and sledded right past me – out of control and unable to stop.

The Grab
The outcome of our little road trip that day could have been quite different – in fact it may have made the 11 o’clock news all across America, had Casey’s big sister Amy not grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and pulled him from the careening toboggan.

The Vanishing
And so there we stood, watching that bright red plastic luge as it flew down the side of the hill and into the valley. Down, down, down went Casey’s Christmas sled. And we watched and watched…and watched and watched, until the sled finally was so far down and away that it disappeared from sight, never to be seen again.

The Silence
As I remember it we didn’t say much about what might have happened, had Amy not been standing where she was, or had she not had the presence of mind to grab his jacket. I think it was just too overwhelming to think about. But I assure you, the outcome could have been devastating.

The Reward
After the divorce I lost touch with Amy and Casey, but I’ve heard Casey grew up to be a mighty man of God. And one thing I know – for every good thing Casey does for the Kingdom of God, Amy will get a jewel for her crown.

The End
I’ve often wondered if George Bailey and I have the same guardian angel, because I'm pretty sure I remember hearing a bell ring.

Hee Haw - Thanks, Clarence. And by the way, if Casey forgot to say it, Thanks Amy!

Photo used by permission

Friday, December 3, 2010

Uncle Dick and His Ship

When a man grows old and dies, his legacy – or at least the memory of his life – passes to his sons, and then to his son’s sons. Of course, if he doesn’t have sons it passes to his daughters. But if a man has no sons or daughters, will he be forgotten?

I remember meeting Uncle Dick only once in my life, or maybe twice. He was born on 11/11/11 and died in February 1980. And, while my father and I drove to San Diego for his funeral, we pulled into town just as it was taking place, and so we missed it. Uncle Dick is buried in a beautiful cemetery out on Point Loma.

This truly remarkable feat of seamanship was the only time in recorded naval history that such an event occurred...

But it is Uncle Dick’s death that really defines his legacy, or – not really his death, but more so how he died. In 1955 Navy Captain Richard Purdy, a WWII combat veteran, was the skipper of the USS Marion County (LST-975) when he and his ship were ordered to participate in an experiment code-named “Operation Wigwam”, a nuclear weapon test so secret that even its codename was classified and could not be mentioned without the highest clearances, and under penalty of imprisonment.

In Operation Wigwam, conducted by The Department of Defense and The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, three submarines were placed underwater, 500 miles off the coast of San Diego, and then a 30 kiloton nuclear bomb was detonated in a 12,000 foot ocean, at a depth of 2,000 feet. The objective was to see if a surface vessel could use nuclear weapons to destroy submerged enemy submarines without causing harm to itself.

At 1:00 pm Pacific Time on May 14, 1955 the bomb was detonated… and three submarines were obliterated. But that detonation also sent a fireball-bubble 12,000 feet into the air, covering a one and a half mile area of the ocean and sending highly radioactive seawater in all directions.

The Marion County was an LST-542-class tank landing ship, a ship with a set of large doors on the bow (front) that opened to off-load tanks, cargo and troops onto an unimproved shore. The Marion County’s role in the experiment placed it in close proximity to Surface Zero. And so, when the bomb exploded, the crewmen were overwhelmed with fear as they witnessed the 1,200 foot tidal wave surging their way. Using the ship’s loudspeaker system Commander Purdy was able to calm the crew, who braced themselves for impact.

Damages to the Marion County were extensive. At first Commander Purdy thought the ship would surely sink as a result of the blast. But after the shock passed and the water settled, the Marion County was still afloat. However, those huge bow doors mentioned earlier were damaged to the extent that the ship could not move forward. And so, Uncle Dick had to navigate his damaged ship back to Long Beach Harbor, a trip of over 500 miles, in reverse! To sail a ship in reverse for more than a few hundred yards had never before been attempted, nor has it since. This truly remarkable feat of seamanship was the only time in recorded naval history that such an event occurred.

When the Marion County finally reached dock, Captain Purdy’s wife, my Aunt Ruth, was there to meet him. But Uncle Dick was not allowed to leave the ship. A technician from the Scripps Institute checked him for radiation and found his shoes were too “hot” to allow him to leave the vessel. In fact, the deck was so hot with radiation that all who had walked on it had to change clothes and shoes before departing.

If you looked up “Operation Wigwam” on you would read the government’s official version of the event. You would read that, “…The test was carried out without incident, and radiation effects were negligible.” The brief, three paragraph account closes with the statement that “… only three personnel received doses (of radiation) of over 0.5 rems.” What you would not read about are the dozens of sailors, contractors and civilians who participated in Operation Wigwam, and have since died of various types of cancer.

On his deathbed, suffering the ravages of leukemia and lung cancer, Commander Purdy, my Uncle Dick, called in a young neighbor, Ron Josephson, and spoke haltingly into a tape recorder, detailing and setting down the record on Wigwam. "It's too late for me, son, but I feel that we're all left holding the bag, all those crews, not just on my ship, but all those crews."

A crack investigative reporting team broke the story of Operation Wigwam, and the December 2, 1980 issue of New West Magazine published the full account. A short time later the story was scheduled to run on the television news magazine show “20/20”, but as I remember it, the segment was pulled at the last minute.

Incidentally, according to, the USS Marion County was transferred to the Republic of Vietnam, where she served South Vietnam as RVNS Cam Ranh (HQ-500). Following the Fall of Saigon on 29 April 1975, Cam Ranh escaped to the Philippines, was renamed BRP Zamboanga Del Sur (LT-86), and serves the Philippine Navy to this day.

Captain Richard Purdy (USN), current status – deceased.

RIP Uncle Dick - you are not forgotten.

Read more about Uncle Dick and his ship:

The Marion County (History Central)

The Marion County (Wikipedia)

Operation Wigwam (Wikipedia)

Operation Wigwam - Washington Nuclear Museum and Educational Center

Operation Wigwam - National Association of Atomic Veterans Newsletter