Friday, November 17, 2017

An Aerial Adventure

National Naval Aviation Museum

Our tour guide's anecdotes turned yesterday's visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum into an aerial adventure.  The museum located at the Naval Air Station Pensacola was a must-see stop for Tim and I as we passed into the Florida Panhandle.

The Blue Angels

Our only regret was that we missed the performance of the Blue Angels, the elite fighter jet demonstration squadron, that took place here on Veterans Day, but that just gives us another reason to return.

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Kincaid had a story for every plane he pointed to.  His histories were entertaining and revealed each plane's importance to wartime aviation.  These are the ones that stuck with me.

NC-4 Flying Boat, the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean

Designed to be an anti-submarine vessel during WWI, the NC-4 Flying Boat's flight in May 1919 from Naval Air Station Rockaway Beach, NY to Lisbon, Portugal beat Charles Lindberg's solo flight across the pond by eight years.  Accompanied by its sister airplanes (the NC-1 and the NC-3 which unfortunately crashed in the Azores), the NC-4 took 19 days to accomplish the feat making stops along the way in Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the Azores Islands.  Navigation aids were non-existent in this early era of aviation.  In order for the Flying Boats to cross the ocean, 22 Navy ships spaced across the flight path approximately 50 miles apart sent up smoke signals during the daylight hours and red flares at night for the pilots to follow.  Hearing its history was even more absorbing when one learns that its crew members had to walk the wings in-flight to service the four Liberty engines that powered the craft.  Yikes!  I will never complain about the discomforts of a transatlantic flight again!

Lt. Commander Edward Henry O'Hare

Being from Chicago, Tim was especially interested in the story of Lt. Commander Edward Henry (Butch) O'Hare, the first naval recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and for whom Chicago's O'Hare Airport is named.  On Feb. 20, 1942 and despite the loss of his teammates, O'Hare positioned his F4F Wildcat fighter airplane between his aircraft carrier and the advancing Japanese formation of nine attacking heavy bombers.  His citation reads,

"Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machine gun and cannon fire.  Despite this concentrated opposition, Lieutenant O'Hare, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition, shot down five enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point.  As a result of his gallant action--one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation--he undoubtedly save his carrier from serious damage."  

This is the stuff of Hollywood!  Interestingly enough, his father, Edward Joseph O'Hare, was Chicago mobster Al Capone's accountant who turned against him and helped the FBI convict Capone of tax evasion.  His story was retold in the movie, The Untouchables.

F4F-3 Wildcat

Due to German and Japanese submarine activity off the East and West coasts of the United States, another training area was needed where U.S. Navy pilots could practice taking off and landing on aircraft carriers.  Lake Michigan was the best choice, but it also became known as the Navy's cold water storage unit because of the aircraft that were lost to its waters during training forays.  Shown in the photo above, a Wildcat airplane similar to that flown by O'Hare is on display at the museum, one of several resurrected and restored planes.

Finally, former President George H. W. Bush in World War II was a 20-year-old naval pilot when under attack he ditched his plane near Chichi Jima, a small atoll in the Pacific Ocean.  The Japanese commander who held the island practiced cannibalism, directing his officers to eat the livers of the eight unfortunate pilots in Bush's squadron who were swept ashore.

Aircraft flown by President George H.W. Bush

Bush, however, brought his plane down further away from the island but caught his parachute on the tail of his plane during his exit.  He managed to free it, and once in the water, scrambled into the life raft.  Fortunately for him, there was an American submarine in the area that surfaced and rescued him.  Unfortunately, this happened on the first day of the submarine's 30-day mission leaving Bush no choice but to join in the sub's operation until its mission was concluded.

My uncle, Byron Slade, was also a naval pilot who flew Wildcats off aircraft carriers during World War II.  He passed away in 2008, but hearing these stories brought his memory close again.  He, too, had some amazing stories to tell.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

I Built A House

Well, actually my team of ten Care-A-Vanners (RV owners/volunteers) plus one construction manager from the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Mandeville, LA built a home.  Maybe that's overstating it a little since there's still much work to be done, but at least we got the walls up and the trusses in place for the roof.  Nonetheless, the logo on the T-shirt I received for my participation says I did it, so I'm going to go with that.

Yet, much more of the credit should go to the great team of people with whom I worked.  Larry and Ty were our team leaders and the rest of us would have followed them anywhere.

Clockwise from upper left: Terry, Phil, Jeff, Judy, Barbara, Dee
See how attentively everyone listens to Brandon!

Not only would we have followed them, but I expect each one of us would have cheerfully jumped off a cliff had Brandon, our site supervisor, given us the command.  But given Brandon's fanatical attention to safety, I knew he would never ask that of us.

Our build site was in Covington, LA, a community on the outskirts of Mandeville that in recent years has almost doubled its population.  Many victims from the 2005 Katrina Hurricane fled to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain which is linked to New Orleans by the 24-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the world's longest continuous over-water highway bridge.  Due to the influx of population, housing in the North Shore communities is in short supply.  That's where Habitat steps in to fill the gap.

This was the first time I worked on a build from the ground up.  We began with a cement slab, and by the end of our two-week build, we had the walls framed in and the trusses for the roof raised.

All this we completed despite two rainy days that turned the gummy red clay soil into a sticky quagmire.

I swear my boots were stuck in the muck more than once making me wonder if I would be able to free them.

Yet, look at what we accomplished!

Vinecia, the home buyer for this Habitat house, looks absolutely thrilled at the progress we achieved.  She's a single mom with three children who currently lives in cramped quarters with her mother.

From left to right, Vinecia and Derel

Derel, down the street, is another Habitat homeowner.  She moved into her home a year ago and she is so thankful for her very own place that she routinely fixes a home-cooked meal for each team of Care-A-Vanners who rotate through her neighborhood.

Speaking of food, Larry and Ty took us to a couple of their favorite restaurants.  Pictured above is our crew at the Crabby Shack.

And for our final day on the job, Brandon grilled chicken for our potluck dinner.

I know I've bragged in this post about building this home myself.  Then, I expanded my praise to give well-deserved credit to my team.

But ultimately, the real builder of this home, just as Phil's T-shirt attests, is God.

"For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything."  Hebrews 3:4

Most Gracious Heavenly Father, I'm thankful to have been a "someone" on this project.  As Tim and I travel on to our next stop, please be with Vinecia, Derel, Brandon and this team of Care-A-Vanners.  In Jesus name, amen.

Cavorting in Covington

Car tag art worthy of our RV bus, the Dawntreader.

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."  So says the proverb meaning that without time off from work a person becomes bored and boring.  Yikes!  Never let it said that Tim and I are boring.  Consequently, in the interest of gaining some charisma, Tim and I packed some play into our stay in Covington, LA, the parish seat of St. Tammany Parish.  We've been temporary residents here for the past two weeks while we participated in building a home with Habitat for Humanity.

Although we climbed up and down ladders, carried beams and studs, and cut boards and posts on the construction site, those activities do not really qualify as aerobic exercise.  So we took to the Tammany Trace, a paved 31-mile trail that links five communities along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.  One weekend we walked six miles of the leafy trail from its origin at the old-fashion train depot in Covington before turning back to our start.  The next weekend we ambitiously biked 15 miles from the Mandeville train station through Fontainebleau State Park; then 15 miles back again.  Because I haven't biked since my second cochlear implantation surgery last March, Tim practically had to pry me off my bicycle seat.  But I felt both virtuous and victorious to have covered that section of the Trace.

What wasn't so virtuous was our stop at New Orleans Original Daiquiris, a chain of drive-through stands that serve up alcoholic frozen drinks.  I couldn't believe these shops were legal.  The state of Louisiana must not have an "open container" law.  But what the heck!  Tim ordered a strawberry daiquiris while I asked for a Mardi Gras Mash that we carried back to the Dawntreader to consume privately.

The Covington Three Rivers Art Festival, an extravaganza of music, food and art, was held while we were here.

Four blocks of Columbia Street in Covington's quaint downtown were blocked off while festival goers frolicked and took in all that the fair had to offer.

There were many pieces of art that I loved, but once again the RV rule by which I live is "If something comes in, something else must go out."  Dog gone it!

Attendance at the historic Christ Episcopal Church (the adjacent white clapboard chapel is Covington's oldest public building still in use) cannot be considered "cavorting," but our spirits were revived while worshipping there.  In fact, Rector Miller was a funny guy.  A rabid fan of the Houston Astros, he'd gone to games 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series in the prior week.

Still on the emotional high induced by their victory, he wore his Astros jersey over his cassock that morning.  Miller is a born storyteller and his viewpoint of Game 7 was especially entertaining.  However, the point of his sermon was that Christ came to earth to tell us that we could have life and have it abundantly.  There is a different way to play life's game and when we play the game His way, we may lose in the short term but we will be champions and will reign with Him for all eternity.  For the closing hymn, he asked us to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" which the congregates did with great gusto.  Very amusing!  Miller's timely and timeless message was memorable.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dew Drop Jazz

Tim and I are currently in Mandeville, LA for another Habitat for Humanity build (more about that later) when our team leaders, Larry and Ty, told us, "You've got to go to the Dew Drop on Friday night, if you want to experience jazz."

So we, along with the rest of our Care-A-Vanner team, packed a picnic and drove over to the Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Association's hall, a place with a long and storied history beginning with its foundation on May 5, 1885.

Most of the information that follows I quote almost verbatim from the Dew Drop Inn website which has a more in-depth account of the history of the hall.

The years following the Civil War were desperate times for African Americans as they struggled to survive in the post-war economy.  The association, like many formed by African Americans after the Civil War, had altruistic goals.  Led by Olivia Eunio, this group of Mandeville's civic-minded black residents came together to care for the sick, to provide help with funeral arrangements, to give food to the needy and to organize temporary housing for the homeless.

Ten years after its founding in 1895 (the year that most scholars agree was the birth of traditional jazz in New Orleans), a small, wooden hall was built in the older part of Mandeville.  This hall on Lamarque Street is now considered the world's oldest virtually unaltered rural jazz dance hall.

Mandeville, situated on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain directly across the lake from New Orleans, was developing as a lakefront resort at the turn of the century.  So it wasn't long before New Orleans jazz musicians made their way to the Dew Drop and its lively Saturday night dances.  Even Louis Armstrong is reported to have played here.

Positioning our lawn chairs for the best view through the hall's open windows, we settled back to hear the Pfister Sisters, a lively trio of ladies, sing songs such as "Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey" and "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B."

I think we had the best (free!) seats of the hall, much better than the wooden benches inside that cost $10 because we had an added attraction.  We could watch the rise of November's full moon.  All in all, it was quite an experience, one we'll long remember!