Death From Above

I never know what memory might happen to pop into my head at any given time. While I used to just ruminate and ponder on them for a few minutes and move on, these days I try to at least make a few notes on my iPhone for a story idea to be developed later.

The older I get the less I am able to run easily through my memory banks with total recall…it takes some more pondering and work to coax the memories back.  These playing cards popped into my head the other day and the first thing I did was go to eBay to see if I could find one of the cards to add to my small bookcase of dad’s military mementos. I found they were very rare, but I did find some information I was unaware of.

When dad came back from Vietnam in the summer of 1966 he brought several duffle bags and a foot locker back with him. These were filled with the paraphernalia of a soldier and stored away along with another 20 years worth of soldiering in an area underneath the stairs that was commonly called “The Cave”, as it was not easily accessed and you had to crawl in on your hands and knees.

Naturally, this was attractive to us kids as we could grab a flashlight and secretly dig through all kinds of cool stuff we weren’t supposed to touch. One of the things in the footlocker was a number of playing card decks like the one below. Having skulls, we naturally thought they were very cool and swiped a deck or two to play with. We thought it was weird that some of the decks only had 52 aces of spades, but some were just regular playing cards.

1/8 Cavalry Death Card

When dad starting finding them spread all over the house we got a spanking and told that the cards were special and we needed to leave them where they were.

We didn’t know why they were special, we just thought they were cards and there were several decks.  As we got a little older the story came out that these were “Death Cards” from Vietnam used by soldiers as calling cards and left on dead enemy soldiers to let the Viet Cong know who they were up against.  Well, that only made them more desirable since we constantly playing Army all over the neighborhood… so we started leaving a card on enemy neighbor kids as we “killed” them.

Most of my life I just assumed these cards were used by the entire 1st Cavalry Division and were probably still very common.  I have learned since the cards were designed by Captain Mozey, the commander of Charlie Company, my dads unit, and were unique to the men in the 8th Cavalry “Jumping Mustangs”, which were an Airborne/Air Assault unit, hence the “Death From Above”.

Some of Charlie Company in Vietnam,
1965-1966. Capt. Mozey is crouching on the left.
Some of Charlie Companies finest.
Vietnam 1965-1966

Here is some historic information I discovered while researching the cards written by retired Sergeant Major Herb Friedman, who researches and collects death cards:

There is a confirmed report that this card was designed by Captain Mozey of C Company, 1st Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment “The Jumping Mustangs” during his Vietnam tour of 1965-1966. A member of the unit told me that:

The calling card was placed on the chest or tucked, slightly, in the shirt pocket.  But as I said before we did not use it except to say “We were here.” The actual “Death From Above” saying was a WWII phrase. As of August 1966 the 1st & 2nd of the 8th “Jumping Mustangs” were all carrying a deck of “Death From Above” cards. 

Specialist 4 Kevan Mynderup, a former member of “Charlie” Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1968 adds:

I can confirm that the “Death From Above” card was designed by Captain William B Mozey in either late 1965 or early 1966. When Bill took over the company the nickname was changed to “Death From Above” and the unit members got a full deck of the playing cards along with a Black Silk scarf with the “Death From Above” and airborne Skull on it. The phrase was banned in the Battalion Area, so the guys said “DFA” until the brass figured that out. It was an Article 15 offense to say either. The company was broken up at least 2 times because of “DFA” and the cards and scarves disappeared, but returned in 1968 when I was with the company. Only Charlie 1/8th Cavalry was known as “Death From Above” at this time. The other companies had their own nicknames as did all the companies in the 1st Air Cavalry Division.

Although Mozey has been credited with designing the cards, it appears that he had them printed in the United States. One complete deck was found in an old foot locker and the cards turn out to have been printed by: Brown & Bigelow, St. Paul, Minn., U.S.A. Text on the actual deck adds the following information: The Business builders, 55164, A Saxon Industrial Company. 

Showing what the Ace of Spades death card looked like. Some of the decks only had 52 of this single card.

Brown & Bigelow of St Paul, Minnesota, was a leading producer of playing cards in the U.S. from the late 1920s to the 1980s. Brown & Bigelow manufactured playing cards under several brand names, as well as novelty and advertising decks. There seems to be no record of them producing Death Cards, so perhaps because of the political situation in the United States the company chose to keep their participation in the production of these cards quiet.

Former Specialist Fourth Class Vic Castle told me that when he arrived in Vietnam as a member of the 1/8th Cavalry on 1 May 1967 they showed him the death cards and black silk scarf and told him their use was prohibited. He says:

The clerk calls out my name. I get in Jeep for short ride to 1/8th Cavalry. There is a large sign that says, “1/8th Cavalry: Airborne, Air Assault, Air Mobile.” Out walks this Sergeant who greets us. I tell him I think there has been a mistake. I haven’t had Jump training. He says, “Don’t worry about it; we don’t give you a damn parachute anyway. He assigns me to A Company. He shows me the Death card and the “Death From Above” black scarf and tells me if I get caught with either it is an Article 15.

He remembers that some unit members were court-martialed while using the cards. He said:

I was told that the men were carving a Cavalry patch on a dead Viet Cong’s chest and stuck the playing card in his mouth. There was a soldier from an engineer outfit there and he took some pictures. He sent them back to his father who apparently was not amused. An investigation followed and then a trial of a First Lieutenant and a buck Sergeant. I think the trial was held in St. Louis and both men were sent to Ft. Leavenworth.

It seems to me that the two men were tried for abusing the body of the dead Viet Cong rather than the use of the death cards. Such charges have occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems perfectly acceptable to shoot a terrorist a dozen times or hack him to death with a bayonet, but abuse the body in any way afterwards and it is a criminal act. How strange.

Curiously, the “Death from Above” death cards reappeared again 30+ years later when American troops were sent to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm.”

From Ron Doyler:

“There exists another form of these cards. Brown and Bigelow out of Minnesota produced them.  William Mosey had them made when he was with the CAV in VN. The cards were done in full decks of regular suits and also ace of spades only. I have two of which were gifts from the Colonel when I was a boy. The cards are all black background with a winged skull and DEATH from ABOVE. The Colonel coined this phrase and had a unit flag also made. If I remember correctly from my conversation with him the director of Apocalypse Now had to gain permission to use this in the film from Col Mosey. Over the years the Col. has given all the cards away.”

I find the background of all this fascinating, as it has been part of my life for over 50 years now.  I even wrote “Death From Above” on my climbing helmet back in the 90’s as a sort of karmic dare to the powers that be, as rocks falling from above was one of the more common dangers we encountered while climbing.

Death From Above on my climbing helmet

While these were just playing cards, I shudder to think how many of mom and dad’s mementos we destroyed over the years when we were kids. After a while all the cards had been lost or destroyed, but there was much more.

There were some cool old suitcases that had stickers of where they had traveled stuffed full of cool stuff they had stashed away, like mom’s old brown army boots, both their uniforms and patches, medals and other hard won awards, post cards and various souvenirs, leaded crystal from Austria, and on and on. We were a half dozen destroying locusts devouring everything in the house. At least the internet allows us to reclaim some some of the bits and pieces of our history.

The summer Bahala Na came to visit.

One fine spring day back in the mid 70’s I heard a terrible racket over at the three story apartment building right behind our house.  I looked over towards the parking lot where the noise was coming from, and saw a bunch of kids yelling and screaming and slapping at something on the ground with sticks.

The apartments behind our house where the incident took place…against the building, Just to the left of the telephone pole. This is some other incident in 1972 that I can’t remember.

The noise included a fierce, high-pitched scream which was very strange, so I jumped the back fence to go see exactly what was going on.  It turned out to be a raggedy looking gang of neighborhood youngsters, maybe five to 10 years old, complete with dirty bare feet, torn play clothes and Kool-aid rings around their mouths.

They had surrounded a young hawk and were taking turns whacking and poking at it with sticks. The poor hawk was putting up a good fight.  He had his back against the apartment building and was clawing and pecking for all he was worth.  His feathers were all ruffled, mangled and bent every which direction.  Judging from all the feathers on the ground, they had all been at it for a while.

Red Tail Hawk struck by car
Not Bahala Na, he looked much worse than this one that was struck by a car.

I immediately grabbed a stick out of one of the kids hands and, waving it around like a sword, pointing at each one, threatened them all with immediate bodily harm if they didn’t stop at once. There may have been some colorful language used as well.

They started yelling back that the wicked hawk was trying to kill their poor cat and they were just protecting it from certain death from the sharp beak and talons of the hawk. The cat was still sitting there watching, blinking and taking a swipe at the bird now and then from between the kids legs.

I suspect the baby hawk fell or was pushed out of the nest high up on the building and the cat had found it hopping around on the ground, unable to fly yet. The kids had noticed the commotion of the hawk and cat fighting and joined the fight.


As things calmed a bit I explained it was just a poor baby bird that fell out of it’s nest and couldn’t even fly.  I told them to guard the bird and keep the cat away from the hawk and then ran to the house to grab some towels and a cardboard box.  The kids instantly went from beating the hell out of the bird to becoming a ring of protectors to prevent any further harm.

I figured I could at least keep him free from more harm and maybe let it heal up before letting him go…totally oblivious that it was protected by state and federal laws along with the US Migratory Bird Act.

I arrived back on the scene, tossing towels on top of the bird to try and calm it down.  That didn’t work very well…the little guy was fired up and going to go down fighting after the thrashing he had already suffered.

Hawks don’t like to be wrapped in towels

Staying wary of his talons, I tangled him up in the towels and maneuvered the box up close to him and pushed him into the box. I’m pretty sure I saw a disappointed look on the cat’s face as I headed to the house looking like the Pied Piper with the motley gang behind me.

Getting him back home, I carried him into the garage and closed all the doors, as I knew mom would not welcome an angry bird into the house.  While we had quite the menagerie over the years, she drew the line at snakes, wild rodents and anything else that might bite her.

We had an old bird cage from the days when we had parakeets, so I managed to dump the wad of towels and bird into the cage and shake him out, using a stick to get his talons out of the towels.  He was one pissed off chicken hawk!  I didn’t see any bleeding, just a lot of torn up feathers.

Sad Red Tailed Hawk in cage…”Let me free!”

I chased everyone out of the garage to let him calm down and immediately went to the set of Encyclopedia Britannica in the house to read all about him (there was no internet to Google anything back then).  From the bright red tail I had already determined he (or she) was a Red Tailed Hawk.  I had seen them many times perched in the trees watching for mice in the large grassy fields of White Villa.

I discovered they were frequently used by falconers, as they adapted easily to training.  While it sounded very cool to have my own hunting hawk, I decided it was best to return the hawk to the wilds…even if it was a suburban neighborhood filled with houses, apartment buildings and wild gangs of cats and kids.


First though, I had to rehabilitate the poor little thing so he could mend his feathers, fly and fend for himself.  Of course, he needed a name, so I named him Bahala Na, from an adventure novel I was reading and fascinated with at the time, I think it was one of Trevanian’s novels of international intrigue, maybe the Eiger Sanction or Loo Sanction.

The novel said Bahala Na was a Filipino saying that meant “Come what may”, which I felt was appropriate at the time.  Googling it today, it can be translated to mean “whatever happens, happens,” or “things will turn out fine,” or as “I’ll take care of things.”  All of these were perfect for this little guy’s life at the time so I think I chose a pretty good name since I had no idea if he would survive and be released.


I had seen enough National Geographic Specials and other nature shows to know that I shouldn’t turn him into a pet if I was going release him. I didn’t want to be imprinted as his parent.  Hoping to keep him in a somewhat wild state, I made a feeding prop out of cardboard and painted a hawk on it, glued some feathers on it with a hole where the beak was so I could use a stick to offer food to him indirectly and not from my hand.

My feeding device was no where near as sophisticated as this puppet for feeding young owls. Needless to say, it did not fool Bahala Na.

Then I had to figure out what the hell I going to feed this dude.  I wasn’t going to try trapping field mice every day so I checked the basement freezer to see what might work.  We always got a full side of beef from my Aunt Shirley’s farm, there had to be something in there.

There were always odd bits and pieces from internal organs…some were given to our grand parents, as Papaw loved the brains, liver and tongue as well as oxtail soup.  But the heart, no one ever seemed to claim that.  Perfect!  It was huge, could be cut into little bloody strips…just what a hungry little hawk would love to see on his menu!

Whole beef heart

However, as with most youngsters, Bahala Na turned out to be picky about his food. He refused to eat anything.  I would open the cage door with fake daddy bird (the males do most of the hunting while they are in the nest with momma protecting the babies) and he would go nuts, screeching and scrambling to the back of the cage. I would leave a chunk in the cage and leave, but he wouldn’t touch it.

After several days of refusal I thought there might not be any hope for the little guy, but one day I opened the door, stuck the “beak” in with a bit of bloody heart meat on it and he inched forward and took it.  Success!  He ate it up and screeched for more!  I fed him until he stopped feeding and felt like there was hope for the little dude.

What a caged, wild-eyed Red Tail looks like.

I learned later that hawks should only be fed whole animals to maintain their health, including their blood, guts, organs, bones and everything else. They need this yak or more properly “casting” as the casting material cleans their crop before it’s expelled, like an owl pellet.

A casting from a hawk. Bahala Na only had these when donated roadkill was on the menu.

Luckily I had enlisted the neighborhood kids to be on the prowl for mice, small snakes and other critters for additional chow.  It was practically a religious experience for them to bring me roadkill of all descriptions, like they were the family cat bringing a mouse home for master. Today I cringe to think of them scouring the neighborhood killing any small critters they could find.

“I got a frog for Nala”

Melody and Paul in particular were still very young and fascinated by Bahala Na and I would often find them standing in the garage with some kind of offering and a screaming bird begging for dinner. I don’t know for sure, but they might have also been charging their neighborhood friends for a peek to get money for candy.

I then discovered the next issue…food going in meant nastier material coming back out. This consisted of the previously described casting from his crop and something called a mute, which is a poo containing a combination of fecal matter from digested food, urine and urate, which is crystalline uric acid.


A hawk poo, called a mute, from a hawk eating beef heart.  Bahala Na had big piles of this.

Now, parakeet messes as bad as they are were mostly just a bunch of seeds and petite little seed poos.  A hawk eating raw meat leaves a hawk size pile of poo and yak, and if not cleaned up in a timely manner becomes a spa yak-bath for a crazy little hawk to roll and flap around in.

Luckily the cage was one of the types that had a slide-out false bottom for cleaning, although sometimes the yak piles were too large to fit through the narrow slot and I’d have to go in through the door with a heavily gloved hand being pecked at by that sharp beak.

Red Tailed Hawk talons are serious business

Feeding him and cleaning his cage in the mornings and afternoons became a major part of my summer schedule.  After a while just opening the side door to the garage meant the dinner bell had rung and Bahala Na would start screeching immediately at the top of his lungs until fake bird daddy fed him.

I fell into a pattern of feeding, watering and cleaning and Bahala Na continued growing, as the main cow heart food supply kept shrinking.  His feathers started coming back in and he started making the cage look smaller.  I gave up on the cardboard prop after a while and just used a long stick since it didn’t seem like I was fooling him…as soon as I walked into the garage he knew dinner was nigh.

As summer was drawing to a close and fall started I worried a bit as I had read that Red Tails migrated south in the fall, so I wanted to make sure he had time to fly south. he was looking very healthy.  He had grown quite large and his feathers were mostly back in place.  The cage was growing smaller and messing with his tail feathers.

After school started back up, I discovered dad had been feeding Bahala Na extra meals while I was at school. No wonder his size seemed to be doubling!  I caught him hand feeding him like he was a little puppy.  He had even bought some meat at the grocery store so he wouldn’t get caught.  As much crap as he gave me about keeping the bird in his garage, he was nothing but a big softie after having him there all summer.

Eventually, the day came when it was time to set him free, for better or worse.  The family gathered outside as I carried his cage to the back yard.  I set the cage down, opened up the door and stepped back to let him leave on his own.  He didn’t seem to know what to do at first, but eventually he inched to the door and hopped out.

He flapped his wings around like he was stretching them out and hopped on top of the cage.  He flapped a few more times and then managed to fly a few more feet up to a grapevine trellis. He did some more flapping and stretching and then did a big jump off the trellis and off into the sky he went. We all watched him fly until we couldn’t see him anymore and we thought that was it.

Red Tailed Hawk soaring on the wind

The next morning I looked out and he was perched on top of the telephone pole in our back yard, waiting for breakfast.  He stuck around for a few more days and suddenly he was gone…until the next spring.

He would come sit on that same spot on the telephone pole every now and then for the next couple of years, probably until he developed his own territory and had a family of his (or her) own as they reach maturity at two years and begin breeding at three years old.

Rose Lane  building apts behind house
Apartments behind our house when they were being built in the late 60’s. That telephone pole is where Bahala Na would perch on the top of the “T”.

I think of him every time I see a red tail perched high in a tree or sitting on a fence post along the highway.

Red Tailed Hawk
Drawing of a Red Tailed Hawk I made a few years later.

Brothers in Arms

I happened to channel surf past an episode of the PBS series “We’ll Meet Again” that is named “Korean War Brothers In Arms”.  This title caught my eye as I did a tour of duty up near the Korean DMZ and often think of my brothers in arms from that wild tour.

Les on a Cobra crash recovery mission near the Korean DMZ 1979

I also happen to admin a Facebook Group dedicated to the small garrison where I was stationed in Korea, Camp Stanley.  This camp was in constant use from 1957 until it was closed for good November of 2017.

I ride herd over a couple of thousand soldiers representing 5 decades of service that have year-long hardship tours at that camp in common. They now reminisce together on a daily basis and find old buddies they haven’t talked to in years.  It is truly gratifying to see a couple of old soldiers take up where they left off, as only those that have shared hardship together can.

So, I decided to park the remote and see if there was anything interesting about the show to share with my buddies.

Camp Stanley, Korea Group

I hadn’t seen or heard of the documentary series that describes itself like so:

We’ll Meet Again is a documentary series reported and executive produced by Ann Curry. Each episode introduces us to two people who were affected by momentous events in American history. We follow them on a journey of detection as they look for a long-lost friend, family member or significant stranger.


I got a little more interested as I began understanding where the show was going…looking up long lost friends or others that had an impact on their life that they have lost contact with.

That played into another passion I have, which is family history and genealogy. I can’t get enough of shows like “Who Do You Think You Are”, “Finding Your Roots” and “Long Lost Family”.  I spend an inordinate amount of time researching my family’s history on various genealogy related sites and find our stories extremely fascinating.


But that’s not what made me decide to put these words together.  One of the stories in the show reminded me of a similar situation concerning my father. The story on TV was about a man whose life had been heavily influenced by the heroic actions of two of his lieutenants during a period of heavy combat during the Korean War.

To briefly summarize the story, the young marine was from a very broken home whose mother was in the service and had left him several times, and he had never known his father.  Essentially an orphan, he joined the Marines to feel like he was a part of something bigger and to serve his country.

jo.pngHe was sent to war in Korea and on one particular occasion his artillery unit came under very heavy enemy artillery bombardment. All communications had been completely cut off.  This went on all day as part of a major Chinese offensive.

His unit, as well as many others, was in chaos and taking heavy losses. With no communications with HQ they were in danger of being routed…until these two lieutenants started making their way to each of his artillery unit’s gun positions, giving firing instructions and encouragement all around.

This young Marine was incredulous that these two officers were willingly placing their lives in extreme danger by moving from position to position, with no cover, and talking to each gun crew to calm them down and get them back in the fight. This is of course how the Marines want all their officers and NCOs to behave, but in real life the instinct to stay alive often keeps ordinary men hunkering down in their foxholes, which was the case for the young Marine.

That left such a huge impression on him as a young man that he never forgot it.  He determined to live his life with the example set by these two brave men that were dedicated to getting the mission accomplished and caring for their men, no matter the risk to themselves.  It affected him so deeply that after living most of his life, he wanted to reconnect with these men that had meant so much to him and let them know he viewed them as heroes and as examples to pattern his life. While he found both men to have passed on, he did eventually connect with their families to express to them how he felt about their loved ones.

It was at this point in the show that I remembered a phone call that occurred just after my father had passed away in 2006. I had flown back to Ohio for my father’s funeral and to help get the estate settled. One day we happened to be gathered around my parent’s dining room table, spread with insurance forms, bank account info, hospital bills and all the other various “important” paperwork from 80 years of life.

The phone rang and my sister Melody answered and chatted briefly trying to answer someone’s questions before waving me over and handing the phone to me and said it was someone that knew dad.  It turned out the call was from one of my father’s brothers in arms from Vietnam. He had served as a Platoon Leader, with my dad serving as his Platoon Sergeant.

They served together in Charlie Company, 1st Platoon, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment.  They were nicknamed the Jumping Mustangs as they were an airborne unit. As a reference, they were a sister unit to the 1/7th Cavalry Regiment depicted in the Movie “We were Soldiers” with Mel Gibson and went through identical training.  Both units traveled by ship together as the first divisional unit to arrive in Vietnam as the war heated up in 1965, the 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) based at An Khé in the Central Highlands.

Jumping Mustang Cert.jpg

Back in 1965 Vietnam, the man on the phone was a very green 2nd lieutenant, right out of college, that had suddenly been put in charge of leading 50 or so young infantrymen into combat.  A platoon’s leadership was typically a 1st or 2nd Lieutenant, the lowest of the officer ranks, known as the Platoon Leader, and a senior non-commissioned officer or NCO known as the Platoon Sergeant.

Dad On Sand Bags In 'Nam_1
Dad in Vietnam, 1965

The NCO’s always have much more experience than a butter-bar, a nickname given for the single gold bar denoting their rank. The senior NCOs, having spent years attaining their rank, had much more experience and had typically served in combat. The Platoon Sergeants ranks were usually Staff Sgt. (E-6), or Sgt. First Class (E-7).  There are then 4-6 Staff Sgt’s (E-6), or Sgt’s (E-5) that serve as Squad Leaders for teams of 8-10 men.

My dad was a career soldier with 20 years in the Army, having joined in 1943 and fought in terrible conditions against the Japanese in the Pacific theater in WWII, held the Yugoslavian General Tito’s communist aggression at bay in the Free Territory of Trieste just after WWII and held the line against Chinese and North Koreans on the 38th parallel during the Korean War.  Vietnam was to be his final war before he retired in 1966.

This lieutenant was calling, it turned out, because he had been thinking about dad and how, in his words, “he was a real old-school hard-ass, but SFC Profitt saved my dumb, green ass so many times over there”.

He just wanted to touch base to see how he was doing after all those years and shoot the shit. I could hear the sadness and loss in his voice after finding out dad had passed away only a few days before his call.

It was jarring that he would suddenly call after so much time had passed and dad had just died.  When I looked back at calendar dates though, it was a only a couple of weeks past the 40th anniversary of when they would have last seen each other in Vietnam.

So he may have just been reminiscing on the 40 year milestone or there may have been some unexplainable cosmic energy at work, or a TV show may have just tickled his memory, as it has mine. It certainly brought tears to my eyes to hear a total stranger speak of my father in such reverent terms.

Similar to the guy in the TV show, after his service he had just gone on living his life for decades, dealing with all the immediate needs that come up with work and family, as we all do.  But over time, and with age and experience, it became more important to reconnect with one of the more meaningful people in his life.

He reminisced how the tough old Airborne Ranger and veteran of multiple wars had taken a young kid (he was probably only 21-22, dad was 40) under his wing and showed him how the real Army worked and how to keep his men alive in combat.

He said it was frightening for him when dad’s 40 year old warrior knees finally got too torn up for him to go on field operations into the jungle and he had to get a less experienced Platoon Sgt. to take over.

But he said dad had trained him well, and he made it through OK.  I can’t remember all the details of the conversation as this was over 12 years ago. At the time I thought I could never forget, but I do remember hearing true respect and sadness in his voice.

A few months previously, after showing dad the videos I made of some of his Army service, including Vietnam, on Memorial Day that year, I remember him saying “Hell, you know more about what I did than I do”.  But that was after I had spent months digging through his old orders and records and researching tons of info in books and on the internet.

Paul Dad Les_2.jpg
Dad and I at the Moraine veteran memorial dedication May of 2006.  He passed away 2 months later.

I loved seeing the pride in his face as he watched the videos and added details he remembered to the stories, trying to put names to his men’s faces on the screen gave me immeasurable joy to be able to honor him that way.

I am at a point in my life where it has now been 40 years since last seeing my own brothers in arms, and can now easily empathize with how time has a way of peeling away layers of memory and leaving only the highlights…the people, places and points in time that get indelibly stamped into your memory.

I continued talking with the old soldier for a while longer and then gave him my contact information as I had a number of dad’s photos I wanted to share with him as well as the video that I had edited together from the photos.  He sounded excited about that and promised that he would dig through the back of his closet to see what pictures he still had.

Time passed, and I suspect with dad gone the urge to reconnect was dampened as the demands of life caught back up.  I have never heard from him again and, over time, I have lost, misplaced or simply can’t remember where I stashed his contact info, but the memory of that call is one of those memories stamped in my brain that I hope I never forget.

Ground Hog Boy Didn’t Want to Repeat This Day

Feb 2nd is of course Ground Hogs Day, and more meaningful to a small band of friends and family, Rick Baker’s Birthday.  Back in 1988, Rick’s 30th birthday was looming, which seemed like a big milestone at the time, so Terri and I thought it would be great fun to buy one of those “Over the Hill” party packages, complete with the black “Over The Hill” balloons and black buzzard beaks.


It was to be a surprise party, so we called up his girlfriend at the time, Marta, and arranged the birthday party with her and when the day arrived we went over to get their trailer set-up for partying early.

We thought it would be funny to surprise him as soon as he got home from work, so we hid in the spare bedroom to jump out and do the “surprise” thing.  Marta said he always went straight back to change clothes and came immediately back and poured himself a drink. I wanted to document his look of surprise on film, so I had my camera and flash ready to go.

We pre-staged decorations just out of sight so we could get them up quickly. We got everything set-up and hid away in the spare bedroom.  We were there for a while waiting when Marta came in excitedly and told us he had just pulled into the driveway.  He came in the door jabbering about work to Marta…he always seemed to be talking about something.

Marta giving us the skinny on Rick’s location

We let him walk past us in the bedroom, down the narrow trailer hallway to his bedroom in the back.  We planned on jumping out as he came back up the hall, sporting our black cardboard beaks on and snapping the shot.

He continued jabbering non-stop from the back.  That boy could talk about anything, anytime. We assumed he was changing from his work scrubs and we had some time to get ready to jump out.  We pulled our beaks into place, opened the door and listened for him to come back out.

He was back there for what I swear was only a second or two and we heard his steps coming back down the hall.  This was it!  Terri and I jumped out of the doorway with a big “SURPRISE” and I snapped the flash-photo at the same time. Still jabbering as he came up the hall, he stopped in mid-sentence as he processed what was going on.

The real surprise was that somehow in less than a minute, Rick had yanked every stitch off and was buck-ass naked!  I don’t know who was more surprised, Rick or us!  I thought the boy must be a magician to strip his clothes off that fast.

“If I run fast enough they won’t see a thing…my thing” You’re welcome for the fig leaf.

I only got one pic off as he was quicker than the flash recycle as he ran back to the bedroom to get some clothes on, quiet as a church mouse now and Marta laughing uncontrollably behind us.

Terri and I turned to each other with big eyes and burst out laughing instantly.  Rick took a lot longer to get dressed than he did getting naked, but he eventually came out asking “what the hell is going on around here, can’t a man walk into his own house with some sense of privacy, blah blah blah”.  We were all still laughing and getting the party decorations put up.

The stage set, we had a great time making dinner and telling old stories as we created another classic one.  I gave the party prints to them and Marta loved to tell the story and show off the buck naked pic by holding her thumb strategically over Rick’s junk…

Buzzard Beaks Galore

Making a wish

30 years old, oh my God!

Party time

It’s a story that has been told many times over the years but I happily came across the negatives while digging for photos of Rick 30 years later and was amused to find the negative of Rick in all his glory.  So of course I had to scan it and add it to the stories I don’t want to forget.  Happy B-Day buddy.


I’m the Son of a Picker-Man

With apologies to Dusty Springfield for the title, one of my favorite memories of childhood is going “picking” with the old man, an activity he loved and my mother detested. You only had to step into the garage to see he was a collector of all manner of previously used “stuff”.  I can hear mom shouting “Gordon, we don’t need any more of that old crap, I’m going to throw it all out!, with him hollering back “woman, don’t touch my stuff!”

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I’m not saying he was born to pick…but he could never resist no matter where he was, even the Korean war.

He never met a bent nail that couldn’t be straightened out enough to pound into a board.  Now, they may get flung into an old rusty Folgers can, mixed with sawdust, dirt and god knows what else and sit in that can waiting to be chosen and pounded straight for an eternity, but you never know when you might need a single 3.25” aluminum ring shank with extra-large head.


He knew all the good dumping spots within 10 miles and we would meander from one to the next, checking out what treasures the imprudent had offered up to the more experienced palate of the expert picker.

The best spots back then (and probably still) were along the Miami River between Miamisburg and the Dayton city limits.  Vance and West River Roads along the West bank and East River Road on the East bank were particularly fertile grounds as almost no one lived or worked along the river back then.  They were usually accessed down a dead end “fishing spot” road that resembled the entrance to the Bat Cave from the old TV show, not the groomed levee banks, bike trails and industrial areas you find today.

Banks of the Great Miami River much cleaner these days

He would holler “let’s go for a ride”.  We knew exactly what that meant…we could run wild in the woods and creeks along the river, exploring for snakes and frogs while he dug through piles of “stuff”.  He would load us kids in the station wagon and off we would go for a few hours of prime entertainment.

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Ready to roll

It really was great fun for us as we were pretty undemanding kids.  We were happy running the neighborhood, climbing trees, picking berries or wading miles up creeks, flipping rocks for crawdads and poking around for fossils.

As a rule, we didn’t get to go to fancy places (i.e., places that charged money or an admission) that smaller families took their children to have fun, so our expectations had a low bar set for what fun was. Just spending time with dad was fairly rare as he was usually working 2nd shift at Dayton Tire and Rubber.

Sometimes, there might be a specific mission in mind, such as finding some (barely) usable lumber to build some project he had in mind.  We would all get hammers and descend on a pile of old wood to pound rusty nails out and refill dad’s coffee cans at the same time.


At least once a year during pollination season in the spring he would take us to old farmsteads that were most likely abandoned after the big 1913 flood, before the levees were built. They still had orchards that had gone wild and we had some fruit trees at home that needed to be cross-pollinated from other fruit trees. He would be busy cutting flowering branches off of apple, plum and pear trees while we dug through old foundations, ruins and out buildings seeking fabulous treasures.

More typically though, was the “let’s go see what we can find” drive.  We would pull off onto one of the many dirt paths, usually full of puddles that splashed the car with mud and brambles and briers to scratch the paint up with long, slow, teeth-grinding squeals as dad squeezed through the overgrown paths.

Look at all that treasure!

These dump sites contained pretty good sized piles, deposited over many years.  There was some house hold garbage, but people were usually driving out to these sites to get rid of appliances and other “big trash” that they couldn’t easily get rid of or to avoid paying for getting rid of it at the dump.

Gotta be some good stuff in there

Dad would flip everything around with a heavy stick, looking for washing machine motors, lawnmowers, bicycles, tools, old phonographs, radios and other electric gear for parts and pieces. 2x4s and other dimensional lumber was stacked in the wagon, nails or not.

Typical pile

There might be old flower pots, household knick-knacks, old lamps, brass stuff, ashtrays, glassware, crates, you name it.  We were always on the look-out for bits and pieces to make go-carts, skate boards, push carts, bicycle choppers and other ways to injure ourselves like miniature Evil Knievel’s.

If we weren’t sure if something was a true treasure or not, we would hold it up and wait for the nod from the master. It felt like we were in the Coliseum, waiting for Caesar to give us the thumbs up or down, tossing it back down in disgust if it didn’t meet whatever standard dad had in his head.

Another favorite was just being down on the river itself.  There were a number of bends and log jams along the river that had treasures that had somehow fallen or gotten tossed into the river upstream.  There were always a lot of baseballs, softballs, footballs, kick balls, basketballs, whiffle balls and other floating stuff to be had.


Digging for snapping turtles, poking at dead animals, jamming sticks in muskrat holes and prospecting for snagged fishing lures and bobbers rounded out river activities.

Sword fighting with sticks was prized action. My brother Greg and I were playing gladiator on a log jam one time and he hit me in the face with a good size muddy pole that left a good sized gash. Per standard operating procedures, dad poked around with a Zippo heated knife blade, digging for splinters…mom splashed it with peroxide and called it good with slapping a butterfly bandage on. Left a scar for many years, but it has faded away over the decades.

High-tech medical instrument

Sterilizing unit

It was not unusual to come across an uncle or cousin down along the river as well.  They might be picking junk themselves, fishing or just plinking at cans with a .22.

One time we came across Uncle Pete or Uncle Shelby (Can’t remember which, we had a lot of uncles back then) bow fishing for carp.  He was out in the middle of the river, bow at the ready, staring down intently into the muddy water that was almost up to the tops of his folded-down hip waders.

Random dude bow fishing

I was amazed because 1) He was only in knee-deep water. We had been told we would drown if we went anywhere near the bank of the Great Miami River. 2) He was using a bow and arrow to fish! 3) He looked very dangerous creeping around with a big bow in water you could barely see through!

The carp got pretty big and generally slow moving as they vacuumed up everything along the bottom, but it looked like grand adventure to me.

Giant goldfish AKA a carp

We would eventually grow tired of digging in the junk piles, leaving dad to do his serious picking work while we wandered into the woods exploring. I would run out ahead, trying to escape the younger kids, with Greg right on my tail, Laurie chasing him and Phil just trying to see which way we went.

Each time we came back to a familiar place we would fan out a bit farther each time, enjoying the feeling of adventuring on our own in unknown jungle territory.  We were oblivious to any sense of danger, getting lost or being injured.

There were other dangers inherent to picking as well.  Worst perhaps, given my dad’s predilection for emergency medical procedures, otherwise known as poking around with that heated pen knife, was stepping on a rusty nail in the endless piles of construction debris.


Not only was there an opportunity for a tetanus infection, he had to explain to my mom what we were doing jumping around on piles of wood covered in splinters and rusty nails and had to go get our tetanus shots updated…again.

One more time…

There were often bee and wasp nests, chiggers, thorns, loose logs in the river jams, poison ivy, snakes…I have very vivid memory of running wild through the woods and stepping on a big snake.

How about a bite?

There were low growing and high climbing viney plants that grew everywhere and hid the forest floor and climbed up everything along with wild honeysuckle, but I knew as soon as I stepped on it what it was.  It just had that feel. It wasn’t a little garter snake either, it was big and meaty and curled up and now pissed as all Hell.

Snake haven…

My blood went icy-cold as I saw it writhing around, striking at everything within range. I suddenly became aware that I didn’t know exactly what else was under all the kudzu and plants around me. I grabbed a stick and started back-tracking, heart beating like a jack hammer, whacking weeds with the stick like I had a machete in the Amazon jungle.

Not every trip was junk picking, some times it was just prospecting for new spots, or going to his pokeweed patches for a mess of poke sallet. He always knew what was in season, whether it was pokeweed, huckleberries, hickory nuts, fruit in the old orchards, paw paws or a wild rhubarb patch on one of the old farms. He could scrounge up a meal for free just about anywhere.

By the way, the whole poke plant is poison, especially the roots.  Don’t eat the stems or any purple parts, only the leaves when they are tender in the spring and don’t forget to boil your poke leaves 3 times, with water changes in-between. Now you are ready to go harvest some poisonous poke come spring.


Mess of poke greens

This reminds me of one of my favorite sayings that dad had, and he had many. Opossums seem to be immune to the poison in poke, and are known to eat the berries. When we had Kool-aid stains all around our mouths he would start chuckling and tell us “your mouths looks like a opossum’s ass in poke berry season”. Use your imagination.

Pokeweed berries

Opossum ass

Eventually we would pile back in the wagon, and drive home all covered in mud and burrs, bitten up with bugs, punctured with nettles and briers and totally worn out. We would hurriedly carry our booty to the garage before mom saw it, to be inventoried and examined in more detail later.

What did he do with all this stuff you ask? Most of it gathered dust on shelves built of scavenged wood, put together with those recycled bent nails. Us kids might slap together some monstrosity from old lawn mower wheels and wooden crates to rattle down Orchard Hill as fast as we could before we crashed and burned.

Classic styling

But occasionally, dad would have a project in mind and have just the item he needed, sitting on the shelf for the last 6 years waiting for its moment, or just the right screw or plumbing gizmo, even if it was only a nickel at the hardware store.

Picker to the end

I don’t want to crawl too far into the old man’s head, because it was just great fun for us, but I think all this scrounging, living off the land, being self sufficient and gardening his own food was a product of growing up on a small tobacco farm in the hills of Kentucky, where his depression era family relied on getting by however they could.

dad and jean
Dad with his sister Jean down in Kentucky about 1928

I pale in comparison, but I’m not ashamed to say I inherited some of the master’s skills.  I can’t toss an off-cut of hardwood, will stash a hunk of stainless, brass or copper away “for the future” and have my own cans of nails and screws to sort through when I need one “just right”.  Thanks pop.

My own collection of bins and jars of nails, screws, washers and “stuff”


Now when I was a little boy… At the age of five… I had somethin’ in my pocket… Keep a lot of folks alive.

I was standing in the grocery store check-out line, vacantly looking around when I  noticed an older guy behind me with a boy that looked about 8-9 years old…most likely his grandson. I’m not sure how old the man was, but he was older than me by a number of years. Seems like as I get older everyone looks younger and younger.

They were quietly chatting and joking around but I heard the old man say “let me see it, did you lose it?” in the tone of voice that suggested this was a serious request and there was to be no clowning around.

The boy immediately dug in his pocket and pulled out a small pocket knife, a small 2 blade that looked like an old style Case or Schrade Old Timer. The kind of classic bone handled pen knife everyone’s grandpa had in the good old days.

Schrade Old Timer

I said “nice knife, do you know how to sharpen it?”.  He put his head down, acting shy and said “grandpa showed me but I’m not very good at it”.   I thought, boy, could I relate to that. As a kid my dad’s knife was always razor sharp and mine always seemed dull as a day at church until dad touched it up for me on his old oil stone.

I told the boy, “you have to keep practicing at it, one day, all of a sudden, you will have the feel of it and make your baby sharp as a razor”.  He smiled with a kind of “sure mister” look and put it back in his pocket.

Don’t cut yourself!

I paid for my groceries but kept thinking about when I got my first official knife. All this reminded of my own papaw Profitt.  I had played around with knives as most boys do, trying not to cut myself or get caught by my parents, with mom always saying “you’re too young to be messing with knives, you’ll cut a finger off!”. It felt like I would never have my very own knife.

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What mom always saw.

Then one day when I was seven years old we were down at the barbershop we always went to… George’s Barbershop, down on the corner of the block from my Papaw and Mamaw’s house.

mom & john m 2
Papaw and my mom. You can see the barber pole on George’s Barbershop down on the corner, with the Market right across the street.

Now this was a classic barbershop, with spinning blue and red sign outside, two old school red leather barber chairs that leaned way back for a shave…



…a place smelling of shaving cream, Brylcreem, Butch Wax and Wildroot hair tonic, with hot towels piled on men’s faces and the steady buzz of clippers or the strop, strop, strop sound as George touched up the edge of his straight razor on the old leather strop.  We were often threatened with getting our behinds touched-up with that wide hunk of leather.

Tools of the trade. Strop, straight razor and shaving cream brush. George’s were in better shape.

It was the barbershop Papaw always went to, sometimes just to sit in the “next up” chair and BS half the day away jabbering about sports, work, old war stories and other manly stuff with all the other manly men. They were all blue collar workers from factories like Specialty Paper, Delco Moraine, NCR, Frigidaire and other big manufacturers that built Dayton Ohio.

The Specialty Papers Co. 1958
Speciality Paper, where papaw worked

Fresh out of the military, my dad also got his hair cut there regularly. My uncles and cousins went there, and therefore my brothers and I went there. It made me feel pretty grown up to sit around with the rough talking men, listening to stories they didn’t seem to tell when their wives were around.

phil's 1st haircut w:george (1)
My brother Phil getting his first official haircut from George. Mom watching in the mirror

It was always fun to flip through the old men’s magazines like Popular Mechanics, Outdoor Life, True Adventure and if you were lucky maybe a dog-eared Esquire or Swank. Good times for a young boy.

Manly magazines

It was best to remain quietly in a corner as long as you could, just soaking it all in, but the men always knew you were there and loved joking around with manly standards such as “how many girlfriends do you have, pull my finger, got any hair on your pecker yet, you need some whiskey to put some hair on your chest” and so on.  As a young boy in the 60’s it was a full-on man’s man hang-out.

This testosterone dripping palace of tonsorial delight became the traditional place for Papaw to perform his grandparental deeds of delight.  He would hand out various kinds of hard candy, buffalo nickels, silver dollars, odd souvenirs from the bar, stuff like that.

I remember him giving me a 2 dollar bill silver certificate that I didn’t believe was real money at first. I kept it in a special place until one of my siblings used it for buying candy.

So it was in this ultimate den of manliness Papaw told me to reach down in his pocket and see what was there.  Now, Papaw was always a snappy dresser when he wasn’t at work.  Button-down dress shirt, spiffy tie, nice shoes and slacks with pockets as deep as the Grand Canyon that held all kinds of the magical delights previously mentioned.

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Papaw looking dapper

I dug down, hoping for a 50 cent piece or silver dollar that I could redeem for a bushel sized sack of penny-candy at the carry-out across the street. There was some loose change so I felt for the biggest one and pulled it out.  Nope, keep digging he said. Went back in to my elbow and disappointedly found a lint covered stick of gum. Nope, that’s not it either, one more time.

Now, I had felt the pocket knife in there the first time, but quickly discarded the notion that it might be the object I was seeking. I was stumped as that was the only thing I hadn’t pulled out.  Could it be? I slowly pulled the knife out of his pocket, waiting to hear the “not that, you’ll cut your finger off” I had heard so many times before.

I got it all the way out and slowly opened my hand, expecting anytime to hear the words I didn’t want to hear. They never came!  I looked at my hand.  In the center of my palm was a small, single blade knife. It had scrolled carving on the silver handles. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen in my short life.

Sterling silver knife similar to the one papaw gave me.

“A man needs a pocket knife” my papaw said. I looked quickly over at my dad, half expecting for him to tell me to give it back, or hand it to him until I was older. But he just nodded the silent “go ahead” nod with a grin. The next words out of his mouth were “Don’t tell your mother.  If you cut your finger off I will tan your ass with George’s strop.” All the men applauded and congratulated me as I stood there stone silent in disbelief.

There I was among men, in the ultimate place of men with my very own knife. I couldn’t believe it. I was officially a man. I opened the blade and carefully closed it, having been carefully sharpened and oiled by Papaw.

George showed me how to strop the blade on the leather to get it extra sharp…a skill that took me decades to understand and master.  All the men in the shop pulled out their knives and showed me their version of proper knife use and safety, many conflicting with each other.

Looking back, the knife was a small one, most likely made in Japan and commonly called a gentleman’s or gent’s knife, and used for light tasks such as trimming fingernails, opening mail, cutting string or peeling fruit. It might as well have been Excalibur to a seven year old me.

I cherished that knife, hiding it when I went to school to keep it a secret from mom. I’m sure she knew all about it.  Sliding it back in my pocket each afternoon, pulling it out and slicing apples, cleaning my fingernails like dad and whittling every stick I happened upon down to a toothpick.

I can’t remember what eventually happened to it, but from then on I have always had a knife in my pocket. I joined the Cub Scouts a year later and upgraded to a full sized Boy Scout knife with multiple blades and gadgets.

Classic Boy Scout knife

Over the years dad gave me various knives and showed me how to get it super sharp on a stone as I practiced over and over. He always said “a dull knife will cut you faster than a sharp one”. I had the scars to prove him right.

One of my favorites was a Case XX Stockman that I could eventually get sharp enough to shave arm hair.

Case XX Stockman knife

I have had many knives over the years and feel very naked without one in my pocket. As I mentioned, every man in that barber shop had a knife in their pocket. Most men these days seem to have stopped carrying pocket knives, even the small pen knives that every man used to have in their pocket. I like the pen knives…when I go to something more “dressy”, like a wedding or funeral, I change my bulky knife out for a slim pen knife, you know, in case I need to open a present, perform an emergency tracheotomy or clean my nails.

My papaw, dad and uncles always had a knife to open packages, cut a string or whatever task was at hand…including holding one over a lighter and using it as a scalpel and probing device if you stepped on a nail or got a splinter. Ask any of my brothers or sisters, I think we were all operated on at some point.

Now, I’m not going to belittle your manhood for not carrying a pocket knife (OK, maybe a little, after all, I became a man at seven), but I just cannot fathom not having such a useful device on me at all times. It amazes me how few carry a knife these days. I have lost a few at airports and concerts, but not in a while.

I have had knives made by Shrade, Barlow, Buck, Gerber, Kershaw, Victorinox, Leatherman, Spyderco, various Kabar and Camillus military knives and countless specialty knives for climbing, kayaking, sailing and woodworking. But the best knife is the one in your pocket when you need it.

My M7 bayonet and Camillus survival knife.

Camillus Army pocket knife. Basically a stainless steel version of a Boy Scout knife.

For years now I have used a Victorinox Swiss Army knife as my daily go-to utility knife. A friend gave it to me as a birthday present and I would be lost without it.

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Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. Beat up but still going.

With screw drivers, bottle openers, cork screw, scissors, magnifying glass, toothpick and other gadgets I use it every single day.  But with a stainless steel blade, it will not take a really sharp edge like a quality Case XX, Schrade or other high carbon blade so I often have one of those in my pocket as well, and possibly a Leatherman on my belt for those handy pliers. You need to be prepared, after all.

But I would give every single one of them up for that little silver knife I dug out of my papaw’s pocket back in 1966, when he was about the same age as I am now.

Catch Up To That Tornado!

The recent tornado destruction in Port Orchard got me thinking about the time a tornado ran over over me and my friends back in the 70’s.  Tornadoes are pretty rare in Washington State, unlike forest fires, floods, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis and the odd volcano blowing up.  Seems like a good bargain most of the time.

This is what reminded me from the local newspaper:

Emily Silverman told KOMO News she was caught in the tornado. She was in the car with her husband and 2-year-old son near Walmart.

“And it’s raining and it’s pouring down really bad and before you know it everything was flying everywhere,” she told KOMO. “Our car back windows blew out, our side windows blew out. Things hit us — there were a few people who had some head injuries from being hit by things. A car got pushed into a back… there was an accident. It was crazy. There were things flying everywhere. I thought I was a goner.”

My story starts when I was home on leave from the Army, maybe around 1979, just before I shipped out to Korea.  I was hanging out with my buddy Rick and his girlfriend Bonnie before going to my next duty station.

We were driving around in Bonnie’s old Pontiac Bonneville. I don’t remember exactly what we were up to, probably no good.  It was summer time, with typically muggy thunder storm weather in southern Ohio.

We happened to be out in Fairborn, by Wright Patterson, the local Air Force base, when I saw in the distance what looked like a funnel cloud forming up over some farm fields.

I had my new Canon SLR camera with me and I immediately began trying to convince Bonnie, who was driving, that we needed to get closer to the funnel so I could get some good pictures.

My argument consisted of “as long as we drive 90 degrees to the direction it is moving we will be fine”. I knew this to be true because I read it somewhere. There was no internet back then, so people generally still believed the printed word.

Rick and Bonnie were not convinced it was a good idea, but I kept it up, explaining this may be their only chance to see a tornado up close and personal… you only live once… go for the gusto… I think that was a beer commercial back then for Schlitz beer.  (I should probably confess a hurricane party has been on my bucket list since I was around 16 and still is)

I was either very convincing or just wore them down as Bonnie eventually pointed the car in the direction of the tornado.  It wasn’t raining all that hard where we had started, but as we got closer and closer the rain came at us harder and harder until it was coming at us horizontally.

We were getting buffeted around by the wind pretty good but I was still convinced her big boat of a car would be fine. The tornado still looked like a baby compared to the massive EF-5 that had wiped out the town of Xenia in 1974 and the hood alone on that Bonneville was the length of a football field and it was as wide as an oil tanker, so I was still pretty confident.

As the intensity picked up they both started in again about how this was “another one of my crazy ass ideas and why do we ever listen to you” complaints. By this time the windshield wipers were on high-speed, beating the window to death but still couldn’t keep up with the rain enough to see very well.

It was like being inside a car wash that had gone off the track.  I could still get a glimpse of the tornado once in a while to direct Bonnie which way to go, which was pretty much exactly opposite of the way she wanted to go.

As the sky got darker and darker we found ourselves on one of those straight, lonely roads that cut through Wright Pat that have the 10 foot security fences on both sides of the road.  With steep, deep ditches on either side, it was essentially a fence canyon with no place to get off or even turn around, and no where to go but forward.

The car was whipping back and forth, rain coming at us in buckets with shortage of irony in the fact that the closer we got, the less we could actually see of the tornado, much less get “good” pictures.

Suddenly, up ahead in a field on the other side of the fence I see the funnel cloud touch down along a hedge row and explode all the trees and bushes.  Vegetation was whirling everywhere and you could see it moving across the field, with crops swirling around like one of those invisible monsters on the old Johnny Quest cartoon as it bounced across the field.

The funnel then hit a big billboard sign and exploded it to pieces.  A full sheet of plywood was spinning right at us like a Frisbee and Rick and I were like PUNCH IT!, we’re gonna get creamed!

Bonnie put the pedal to the floor to try to speed past it but the car was being shaken back and forth all over the road, again with nowhere to duck into or get out of the way.

The plywood came at us like it was in slow motion, slowly spinning as it came at us with the Johnny Quest monster right behind it.

As we crossed the tornadoes path it got extremely loud and with a big blast the side windows blew out of the rubber seals around the door frame with a big pressure blast.  Our ears all popped at the same time and then the plywood Frisbee smashed into the front of the car, luckily taking most of the initial impact and as it continued on back and sheared both windshield wipers off in one big slice.

By now Bonnie is screaming “what have you gotten me into, I’m going to kill you if I live long enough” or something to that effect…along with plenty of more colorful language that I richly deserved.

She slammed on the brakes as she could no longer see anything out of the windshield and as we watched the tornado bounce across the road into the another field we all looked at each other kind of surprised we were all still in one piece.

I can’t remember what kind of tongue lashing I got after that, if I ended up paying for new wipers or any details really…I believe Rick switched to driving at that point since in order to see anything the driver had to stick their head out of the window and get a continual face full of rain.  We somehow limped back home with a great story to tell.