Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Bob


This is what he looked like when i first met him. I was walking across the diner floor and he stood up and blocked my way. "Hi, my name is Bob Shotwell, and I think it is about time that you and I got to know one another.".


That was the beginning of a long, close friendship. Bob interviewed me and wrote a piece that ended up in the Oregonian. Afterwards, we would meet up almost weekly and just talk...about life and stuff. He was an engaging, friendly, loveable guy.


I was there the day the Oregonian let him go. They wanted fresh young perspective. I told him that he had a case for age discrimination and he just laughed. He was above such things.


He introduced me to many of his friends, and I, in turn, did the same. We had so many things in common and our ideas of life seemed to ride the same rails....all except one. He was a Democrat and I a Republican. He used to say, "Lyle, my car steers to the left and yours to the right.". Then I would say, "But together, my friend, the car will go straight down the road. We just might have to buy a few more tires.". We felt that our friendship was a classic example of what our republic should be like.


In the early 90's, I was a approached by a man named Dennis Maloney. Dennis was putting together a special day for Bob. Deschutes County was going to honor him. Dennis asked me to be on the committee and I agreed. From there I met the sheriff, Darrell Davidson and Mike Myers both of who were on the same committee. Collectively, we put the day together. The first time that Deschutes County ever set a day exclusively for a single person. The day started at Jake's and finished at Sunriver with a lunch at Bend Golf.

Ten years later, over a cup of coffee, we decided that it was time that another person should receive that same honor.  We reached out to various friends in the county administration and became the steering committee for R.L. Garrigus day.  Every week, we would get together and scheme.  I found something new in him there…an extreme organization that I did not have.  His files were perfect.   All his I’s were dotted and T’s crossed.  Mine were yet another stack on my desk and anyone that has seen my desk will understand that one. 

Bob had some health issues in the late 90’s.  He needed to do some medical appointments but his distance from town made it hard.  So, Judy and I invited him into our home.  I learned of his illness that had haunted his life….diabetes.  He even had to get up in the middle of the night, check his sugar, and eat a half of a cheese sandwich.  He did that with the same Bob Shotwell charm.  We found ourselves laughing over stories in the middle of the night. 

Bob found himself without work but that never deterred him.  He applied at a new local place called Isky.  He was placed in a room with another very close friend, Frank Patka. 

Now, I had many people who I called friends, but only a handful of ones that I felt close enough to to confide in.  At the time, I recall only 3 or 4 and these two were in the group.  And their personalities were very similar.    In fact, the had one someone might call a nitro glycerin relationship.  Apart, the two chemicals are good but workable.  Together, they are explosive…..in their case, in a good way….except for Isky.  From their jokes, stories, and antics, the work was not getting done and Isky had to separate the two men that disrupted the room from their tedious work. 

In 2004, my world around me crashed when I found out that the truck stop was to be sold and closed.  I had the information but could not pass it on to my crew and I dropped into a deep depression.  Bob was not aware but found out the morning that it was announced officially.  He drove straight to my house to inform me that the news was out.  “I am here on an official capacity to inform you that I have started a new steering committee.  It is the Let’s get Lyle started on his new path of life committee.  I am the president.  It is time for you to get going, my friend.”.  His encouragement helped get me out of my funk and was a key element in where I am today. 

When the movie, Saving Private Ryan came out, Bob and I talked of going together to watch it.  I knew much of Bob’s story by that time.  “Why don’t you go watch it first.”, he said.  So I did.  We met up afterwards and he asked me if I felt he should go.  “Do you want to relive it?”, I asked.  “No!”, he stated.  “Then I would not go to see it.”, I replied.  The beginning of the story was just exactly as he had described his experience on Omaha beach.  Bob never did see that movie.

                                                   Bob's name written in the sands of Omaha Beach

With me taking over Jake’s and him getting older and needing to stay closer to home, our relationship remained strong but because of the distance we saw each other less.  I kept trying to get him online but his hard rock and pencil organization could not wrap around the new electronic age.  We kept together with phone calls and occasional visits. 

He did have a weekly radio show with now Deschutes County commissioner Tony DeBone and they invited me and another Bob, Bob Dent, down to be on it.  Bob Dent and I had been introduced back in the nineties and Bob Shotwell and I went to his retirement party from the Oregon State Police.  It was the last time that I was interviewed by him on air.

Then came the Band of Brothers and my emergence as a veteran.  Bob knew but only a few others.  I was not vocal about it nor did I wear any attire.  I persuaded Bob to come to one of the meetings and I believe that he did join both our group and the new one formed in LaPine. 

Bob Maxwell had a stone from Omaha Beach and he asked me to join him in presenting that stone to Bob at a meeting of the LaPine group.  Bob had met Bob at our group and this cemented a closer relationship.  I remember feeling how blessed that I was for being able to call both of them friend.

After Ray came to me with the project of getting the WW2 guys stories out in a first named basis, Bob was one of the first ones that I thought of.  It would be easy…after all, Bob was a awarded journalist.  He gave me his first draft and I remember when I edited it feeling it so cool that I was actually editing a twice Pulitzer nominated writers words.  I sent back my few small changes and he agreed to them. 

I got another friend and from back in the nineties, co-Redneck of the Year with Bob, Rick Steber, in for the first presentation because I wanted to add a creative spark to it with his ‘Cowboy’ flare.  Rick adjusted a small part of the story that later became the lighter side of it.  Bob had volunteered to go over to the Pacific Theater but did not have to because of the Japanese surrender.  Rick added that the Japanese found that Bob was coming…and surrendered. 

Bob rode with me in two Veteran Day parades.  The second was his last.  He said that it was just too hard to hold his bladder that long.  I understood and it was actually part of the reason that additional out houses were placed at the beginning of the parade.  Just too many of the older guys were needing them. 

LaPine decided to formally honor Bob at an event at the High School.  I was asked to present his story there.  It was quite an honor to step up on that stage and read it in front of him.  Bob sat with Bob Maxwell on the stage as we presented him with his honors. 



Our visits now became fewer.  The LaPine group invited me down to share his story with them yet one more time and I would see Bob only when he came in for doctors visits. 

Bob got brought into the hospital in the middle of the night by ambulance and I ended up shuttling his wife Carol home in the middle of the night and then a few days later, taking Bob home.  That was to be the last time that I visited his home in LaPine. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpCjXK1e24s   (cut and paste link into your computer to see video)

When I was approached by the new TV station in town called Zolomedia to help them put together some veterans with their stories called ‘War Stories’, Bob was our first choice.  They wanted to quickly get the series off of the ground and Bob was chosen because of his background in media.  It was felt that he would understand what they needed quicker and his story was very compelling. 

That was when I met his son, Mike.  I might have met him earlier but I don’t recall.  I remember me thinking of how he reminded me of Bob when he was younger.  Mike did a tremendous job of assisting in the presentation and actually submitted a correction that I later realized must have been correct.  Bob was a combat engineer.  That meant he could not have been in the very first wave at Omaha because they needed to help secure the beach head so that the engineers could help with engineering the same.  He was still under the same severe attack however and did lose his best friend to a German 88 shell.

I was at a Welcome Home Vietnam Veteran event when I got a call from Carol, his wife.  Carol told me that Bob was in the hospital and she feared that he would not be coming home.  Mark Wirges and I went up to see him.  Although weak, Bob was still showing his ‘Bob Shotwell’ charm and humor.  The nurse needed to do a procedure for him and asked him to swing his legs out the side of the bed.  “I will do anything you ask me, honey’, he charmed. 

The next day when I visited, I found that he was transferred up to the 4th floor.  I visited him a few times up there with our mutual friend, Frank and my daughter, Trinity, who had known Bob from her child hood days and had come to love him also.  Bob shared with me how he had gotten angry with the nurse staff.  That was the first recall that I have ever had of anger from this great man.  I had been with him through many angering things in his life and he had always held his head up and corrected me when I got angry for him.  He once looked at me and said, “You know, if you cannot keep a smile on your face and find laughter in your situation, life is no longer worth living.”. 

Mike showed back up and stayed by his fathers side.  When Bob was transferred to the rehab center, Mike was there to help him with that transition and then to encourage him to work hard so that he could go home.  It was there that I saw Bob’s character in his son the most.  Mike took his spot by his fathers side and then was there for all around him also.  Mike would insure that both Bob and his room mate, Frank (A Korean special forces veteran), got to the lunch room and back to their rooms.  Mike noticed when others around him needed help and jumped in.  The nurses told him that he could get a job there anytime he wanted it. 

On the day that I went to Eugene with the WW2 veterans, Mike called me and told me that it had been decided that Bob would be allowed to go home on the following Tuesday.  I visited a very happy Bob who was told me daily that he was going home. 

Our last real encounter was on that Sunday morning.  I came in and found Bob in the lunch room.  I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat with him.  He was hunched over and chewing on his oranges that sat on the side of the plate.  I asked him why he was not eating his breakfast.  “The nurse took my teeth and she did not bring them back.  I cannot eat that without my teeth.”.  I found the nurse and found that she had brought his teeth back in a jar by his bed.  I retrieved the jar and placed it in front of Bob.  He placed his lowers in and was struggling with his uppers.  I reached over to help and he hit my hand.  He did not want the help and did not want me touching his teeth.  We both looked at each other and laughed.  It was our last laugh together. 

The next day, I was involved in a service for another friend in Lapine.  Just before that service, I got the call.  Bob was gone.  I was in a flag line at that service but remember little about it as my mind bounced between the memories of my two friends. 

I sat in silence at my desk that evening before going in to play poker.  Frank found me there and we talked a bit of our old friends passing. 

The next day, I had surgery.  In a weakened state as I came out of the affects of the drugs used to put me under and keep me pain free, a wave of memories hit me and my tears flowed as I grieved for my old friend.  I felt that I had not done enough.  I recall, however fuzzy, my daughter in law, Crystal, massaging my shoulders and telling me that I had. 

My friend was gone. 

But I will hold those memories high and fly them like a flag.  Bob was gone, but the memories of the great BS of the Northwest will live on. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A day at Autzen



As with most events, I struggle with the night before.  So, this time I took a pill.  And even with that, I was up at midnight with all of my last minute thoughts.  What if this happens....and what if that.  Around 3 or so I put a post up on facebook and then went back to bed...hoping for an hour or so of needed rest.  I was to be at Jake's at 630.

I awoke and looked at the clock that said 635.  Jumping out of bed and into the shower, I still made it there by 7.  I kept telling myself that this was their day and we wanted it to be special.  I tried to make it a point to see every one of them and press that point.

The cooks popped me out a plate of my usual (scrambled eggs, avocado, and sausage with corn tortillas) and I went to pour some coffee and was reminded of my nerves as my hand shook while pouring it.  I went off into the back room to be by myself and try to collect them.


Zin, who knows me well, sought me out and gave me a hug telling me all would be well.  And...I knew it would.  I asked him to get everyone out front for a picture before we were to leave.  The guys all lined up in front of the diner for a last minute picture opportunity for wives and children of the guys before they went off on their great adventure.

The two Deschutes County Sheriff vans were soon loaded with guys in their 90's like a bunch of excited kids heading out on a class outing.  My good friend, Neil Mackey, drove the point with Lt Deron McMaster following and I behind them both in my Jeep.


As we arrived at Belknap springs for their rest stop, I realized how far we were behind schedule.  I kicked myself for not getting going at 7 instead of 730.  So, I tried to encourage them to make haste and get back on the bus quickly.  I figured our 20 minute stop was probably a record for 20 some 90 yr olds getting off a bus, relieving themselves in a place with only one bathroom, and loading back up.  I also asked Neil to pick up the pace if he would.

We pulled into Autzen at 1020 and the Ducks had a cart ready to take some of the guys down to the field.  Most of the excited guys did not want to wait for the cart to return and made their own way down to the field.

A girl from "Goducks.com" asked me for some interviews so I looked around for some that had not been interviewed in previous trips and lined her up with three.  While they spoke, I caught up with Kyle Wiest (Oregon's football director) on the sidelines.  Marcus Mariota had been there the day before but he had not seen him that morning.  One of the guys who had been to Iraq had left me with a coin for him that he had gotten in Baghdad.   On one side was the symbol for Iraqi Freedom and the other the Oregon Ducks.  We talked of the kids and he told me that the coach had used the story of one of the vets that I had sent him to prep the team for today's event.



Before the third man was finished interviewing, the end of practice arrived and the coach was bringing the men in a huddle.  I rushed over to hurry the interview while Kyle jogged over to the huddle.  Collecting all the guys, I headed them over to the side of the huddle.  As I got the last man there, I managed to hear the coaches introducing the recruits that were there checking out the school.  One of them was a transfer from Notre Dame.

  

The coach called the guys around us and soon we were surrounded by trees.  I looked next to me and Thomas Tyner was standing there.  I shook his hand and told him that his jersey was on the wall of our diner.  I kicked myself later for not giving him one of my cards hoping that one day he might stop in so we could take a picture in front of it.





We were in the middle of the scrum of players and old vets and I noticed one of them coaching Am Denfield to call down the practice.  I grabbed my camera quickly to capture the moment as Am is our only Beaver fan in the group.



As the practice broke up, I looked around and saw huddles of what looked like special team talks and thought them that until I saw Carrie's photo captures later.  The players were surrounding individual men and thanking them for their service.

One group of mainly linebackers were surrounding a Marine named Harvard Lewis who had survived three different landings in the Pacific.  Harvard walks stooped over with a cane.  The guys all hand their hands on his shoulders and were honoring him.  Harvard had to reach in his pocket to wipe the tears that were welling in his eyes.  Soon one of the team (I believe it was Tyree Robinson) produced a jersey and presented Harvard with it.








I noticed other teammates doing the same.  Kyle handed a jersey to one of the players and I thought I recognized him.  I asked Kyle who that was and he said Charles Nelson.  Charles was one of their highlight freshmen from the previous year.  As Charles gave his jersey away, I asked him for a picture with him and his honoree.



I looked over to see Carrie taking a picture of Jay with another player and came in behind and photo bombed him with Bryon Marshall.



I watched as the guys beamed with their jerseys and the opportunity to spend time with the team that had made it to the national championship and their coaches.  I caught up with my friend, Joe Sharpe who was talking to the Defensive coordinator and asked for a picture with them.  When I turned around, I noticed the two offensive and defensive line anchors, Tyler Johnstone and DeForest Buckner.  Things were happening so fast that all you could do was swim in the moment.







As the team broke up, we took the time to take pictures of some of the guys with their new treasures and some of the players that stayed behind.   And of course, one of their favorite things to do....tell the coach how he should do his job.....







After breaking up, we took a tour of their facility, giving the guys breaks along the way in the auditorium and the players lounge complete with couches made from football leather.









For one last stop, we took them over to Autzen for a photo opportunity on the field.


Loading up the buses, Kyle ran inside to get a poster board card that the team had signed for Bob Maxwell who had recently lost his wife.   Once again, the team that we all love was doing something special to encourage.



We parted with a "See you next year" and headed out to our lunch stop at the Subway in Springfield.  The Subway there is owned by a man who also owns the "Human Bean" coffee shops in Bend.  He had the guys through in no time and left us with two boxes of cookies for the trip back.



Arriving in Bend around 4 or so, the tired vets were picked up by family members and taken home.

But my day was not finished.  Jay had a Lacrosse game at 6.  Carrie drove him to the game and then we stopped for a quick sandwich which we ate in the stands as the game started.

Jay played great that evening and his team won handily.  On Saturday, they played one of the good teams from Portland that had beat them in the past.  The other team went up quickly 3-0 before Summit took control.  Jay scored the first two goals and assisted the next two ending up with 3 goals and 5 assists.  Summit came from behind to win 13-7.

One of the parents commented on Jay's play.

"Thanks", I said, "He was inspired by ducks!".  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bea


 The first time that I met her, she was standing by his side.  And that is how I will always remember her….by his side.  It was in the back room at Jake’s.  They had arrived for a Band of Brothers meeting.  It might have been his birthday but I am not sure.  Her smile was bright and cheerful and her handshake was warm.

It was not long before we became friends and the handshakes were changed into hugs.  And as I think back on her, that is one of the biggest and brightest memories….her hugs and the warmth of her cheek.  That along with the twinkle in her eye and her bright smile.  When she had an idea, she would sometimes have a sort of impish giggle and she would shrug her shoulders….as I think of it, I can see her doing it.


When she came into Band of Brothers meetings, I would sometimes escort her to her seat as Bob would end up talking to someone on the way in.  She would slide her arm under mine as if it were official.  She would ask me to give someone her seat if the room got too busy and afterwards, she would often help clean up tables and then wait patiently in the entry way for Bob as he would often be asked things afterwards. 

She was Bob’s perfect companion.  And their love for each other was always evident.  So much so, that when he came without her, it was as if something was missing…because she was.

I recall one day when they came in and she smiled and said, “I have something to show you.”.  She held out her hands and so did I.  She placed a small object in my hands and I looked down at it.  Then as I realized what it was my knees began to buckle as I staggered to remain standing.  I was holding the Medal of Honor.  It’s weight seemed overwhelming.  I quickly handed it back to her feeling unworthy to even handle it.  “I thought you might want to see it.”, she smiled.  The tears welled in my eyes as I thanked her for the kind gesture.  I remember that day fondly and only felt the weight of it one more time when a couple of years ago, Bob asked me to place it around his neck just before we met with the Oregon Ducks after one of their practices. 

A few years ago, Judy and I were honored at a breakfast for the Red Cross.  Bob and Bea came to support us.  I noticed Bob in line with two plates.  I asked him about Bea and he said that her blood sugar had dropped.  I asked him what they liked and he told me.  So, I took the plates and told him that he needed to stay with her.  Then, Zin and I took their plates to the front of the line and filled them with the needed nourishment.  

The only time that I recall seeing her without being by his side was when she was waiting for him.  They will always be in my memory…side by side. 

One day, she looked me up during one of the meetings.  “Bob’s says his hand is tingling.”, she said.  I went back to her table with her and Bob admitted that his hand didn’t seem to want to do what he wanted it to.  “What should we do?”, she asked.  “Well, I would get him in to see a doctor.”, I answered. 

A couple of hours later, she called me and thanked me.  He had a small stroke. 

A couple of weeks back, I got a phone call.  On the day that they were to return to Oregon from Arizona, Bea had suffered a stroke of her own.  She was rushed to the Phoenix hospital for treatment.  The stroke took her voice away and paralyzed her on her right side.  She lasted less than two weeks.  The word went out on Friday that we had lost her.
She will be brought back to Bend where a service will be held to honor her life. 


As I think back on her, I can see her sitting in one of our booths, by his side, or at an event, by his side, or just sitting out on their front porch, by his side.  For that is how I shall always remember her….ever faithful…ever loving….and by his side.



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Big Richard



I don’t know the year, but I remember the time.  We had been in our new building for a few years when the big guy showed up.  He met with an old friend, Richard Coon.  Richard was struggling with cancer and had diminished in size so when he met with this new Richard, they seemed quite the odd couple.  They were soon Big and Little Richard.  Sadly, we lost little Richard soon afterwards to that dreaded disease.
Richard Smith (Big Richard) soon became a steady regular as did our conversations.  I found that Richard was the construction supervisor at Habitat for Humanity.  Since my daughter, Carrie, had been on the list for a house for some time, I asked him one day if he knew how far along she was.  To my amazement, I found that she was right up at the top of the list….number 2.  He came in grinning one morning and told me not to tell her but the person on top had just stepped aside and she now was to get the next house.  It was hard for me not to tell her as she had become a bit discouraged as to whether she would ever get one or not.
Habitat had just had a big plate supper to raise money and I wanted to help also….especially since my own daughter was soon to be a recipient.  I poured over ideas with Richard one day while sitting at the counter.  Now, recently, my best friend Frank Patka and I had gone to a couple of free Texas Holdem tourneys down in Sunriver and I mused whether we could actually raise some money while playing this card game that had become so popular.
I decided to give it a go and purchased some table tops and chips from Walmart that I found on their closeout isle.  I began to promote and Frank and I hosted the first event on a Monday night.  Two people showed up.  I was quite discouraged.  But, the next Monday four people showed up and it grew from there.  Soon, we had two to three tables of players every week.  I had some sweatshirts made up and gave them to the winners in those first months of the growth of the event.  I also gave it a name….Holdem for Habitat.  And the person who was working on my logo agreed to make a logo for the event as her donation.
The popularity grew and while Richard played in those early times, he soon decided to be the chip boss for the event and to coordinate it rather than play.  To me, this seemed a boring task as I loved playing but Richard seemed to take it on with gusto and gained the respect and admiration of the players.  I recall when the local TV station decided to run a piece on our event.  With Big Richard between us, the newsman interviewed us sitting at one of our tables.  This helped bring in even more players.
Then, tragedy hits a bit when my office was broken into after one of the Monday night events.  A dishwasher who quit the next week seemed to be the culprit as he was sitting out behind the building and must have seen me place the bag in my desk drawer.  The burglar knew exactly where to go as he broke through my door and pried open my desk drawer stealing over $1000 of Habitat’s money and around $500 of mine.  It was a lesson learned of never leaving money in my office and of being more discreet around short term employees.
As you can imagine, the theft became big news and it reached out to other areas of the state.  An officer of the Department of Justice called me up one day.  At first, I thought that someone had found the thief.  But, I soon found out that I was the one being investigated.  Now, I had studied the laws and found nothing that I could see as a problem.  But, the investigator soon showed me my error.  Money down for chips, chips played to win, and a prize given to the winner meant gambling.
I was told to rectify the situation, one of those items needed to be eliminated.  I thought that it was going to be the end of the game.  But, I woke up one morning with an idea.  First off, we had recently had a larger tourney where we garnered prizes from some businesses on the coast and also local when Habitat asked us if we could help them raise some money for a special need.  So, what if we eliminated not one but two of the items.  First off, we would donate the original money at the register and then instead of a prize, we would make it a qualification of sorts for the big event that we would run once a year and hold it under the auspices of Habitat for Humanity thus remaining legal.  I contacted the DOJ officer and he said, “I think you might have found yourself a loophole.”.
While we lost some players, the others soon became quite consistent as did Big Richard.  Every Monday, you would find him there before anyone else setting up the game.
 
In fact, Richard did much more than that.  One night after cleaning up afterwards, we sat once more over a cup of coffee.  “Lyle”, he said, “I really admire what you do in this community with all of your events.  I want to be a part of this.  Don’t ask me if I want to help.  Just tell me where you need me and I will be there.”.

Soon, at all of our events, you would find Richard either running the register, or taking tickets, or cutting pies at Thanksgiving.  In fact, when we had to give up our yearly Thanksgiving affair recently, it seemed almost fitting as how could we do it without him.  When Jimmy would get involved with Chili cook offs, Richard was right there next to him, helping him serve.  And then one day he came in to tell me of a group of vets that he had just joined that were looking for a place to meet.  I agreed to let them come in  to my back room.  After the first week, he asked if they could return the next.  He even talked me into joining up with them.  I found them to be a very interesting and fun group so when they asked me to let them make us their permanent home, I not only agreed but appreciated it.  In fact, I hold it as the defining moment of finally joining my veteran brothers who I had been looking at from the sidelines since I was still somewhat in the closet from my unpopular war of years gone by in Vietnam.
I came to look forward to this group of “Old Farts” as they called themselves.  They and Richard were the foundation of so many things that I do and became the catalyst and center of my mission in life (of sorts).  This might have never happened if not for my friend, Richard.
When the group grew out of the back room and I decided to buffet them in the front, it was Richard who volunteered to stamp their hands when they purchased a buffet meal so that we knew they had paid before joining the line.  That also placed him at the door and he became the official greeter of sorts for the group.  All new members saw his smiling face as he directed them where to go and what to do.  It was Big Richard doing what Big Richard did….volunteering his time to help others.
Richard knew that his weight was a problem and pursued what he could do to help himself there.  He agreed to a stomach surgery.  They would decrease the size of his stomach thus forcing him to eat less and lose weight.  He was a bit nervous of this event but felt that it was needed and went through with it.  I remember when we picked him up at the hospital and took him home, they needed a special wheelchair to accommodate his larger body.
He struggled with eating afterwards but soon grew into a diet of sorts that would sustain him.  But other things soon came to be problems also like blood pressure and sugar.  He fought through it all however between revisits to the hospital.  Other family issues became bigger in his life also.  His brother who was living with him had major health issues and soon passed on.  His son needed his help and he was right there as a good father.  And, he missed his daughter and granddaughter down in Southern California.  He would often talk of them and show pictures around to us all.  His little granddaughter had garnered a huge piece of his heart.
He would talk of his other son who lived close by.  Something had happened between him and his wife and it had placed a barrier between them.  While Richard was proud of him, his son held anger over the breakup of the marriage.  This bothered Richard but he could do nothing about it.
One of our servers, Cindy, had become a real estate agent and talked to Richard of a program that he may qualify for to get him into a house.  Before we knew it, Richard had picked out a home south of Sunriver and although it was a struggle soon owned a mortgage on it that he could afford.
While we were happy for our friend, we soon saw less of him.  The cost of coming in every day became just too much.  Our daily meets soon turned into two to three times per week.  I missed my morning greeting of “Good Morning Sir Lyle”.  It actually led me to appreciate him even more when I did see him.  I would come in early on a Monday evening to share supper with him before the poker tourney.
But it did not deter Richard from being Richard.  He saw a need in my kitchen.  Crystal (our lead cook) was on her own.  She had left her husband and was now bringing up their three kids alone.  Richard told her that he would help her get into a Habitat house.
He soon became her mentor encouraging and pushing her to continue on.  He even saw another need through it all.  Her kids had never been to Disneyland.  He took it on as his cause and soon he was taking them on a trip south.  His big heart beat loudly on that trip and it is something that they all will never forget. 
Then, one day he told me that he was going up to Portland for a special need.  The numbers were up on his blood work and they had decided that he might have a bit of cancer.  They told him not to worry as they felt that they could get rid of it early.
His appointments kept getting put off and one time he even drove to Portland only to find it put forward again.  This was frustrating for him and I understood that.  He was assured once more not to worry.  So, it was just another trip up for him last spring.
Then I got the call.  He told me that they had opened him up and then just closed it all back down.  He said that cancer was on an artery and that surgery was out of the question.  I asked him what that meant.  He said, “They give me six months.”.  The shock hit us all but it did not deter Richard…..at least at first.
And then his absences grew and we saw less and less of him.  I took a couple of trips down to see him.  His family brought him in on the fourth of July.  He looked at me and said, “This is the first fourth that I have not worked with you.”.  He would always take tickets for the BBQ that evening.
 I will never forget the last time I saw him.  Richard was laying in his bed watching TV.  Ken and I sat at the foot of his bed and visited.  I looked over and Richard was staring at me.  I stared back and two old friends just looked at one another.  Without a word, tears welled in both of our eyes…..no sound was needed….my friend was saying goodbye.
We held a service for our friend in early August.  I carried his ashes while Ken carried his flag.  David performed his sword ceremony and JW and I piped him off.  It was a beautiful service but a sad goodbye.
But that was not the end of Richard’s story.  His legacy lives on.  Crystal’s house was named the Big Richard build.  Richard made it to the dedication ceremony where a sign with his picture was placed in front of the lot.
Two weeks ago, I spoke in his place at the dedication of the house.  It was a happy event where we spoke of Richard’s dedication and his drive to get Crystal into a house.  I also spoke of how the Band of Brothers may have never taken off if it had not been for Richard.  The bend group is now over 1100 strong thanks much to him.

And last week, I spent Thanksgiving in the house that Richard built….the Big Richard build….Crystal’s new home.  As I listened to the laughter, thoughts and memories of my old friend wafted through my head.  If he were alive, he would have been right there with us.
So….when we sat to eat, I placed a setting on the table for him.  And before we ate we raised a toast….to Big Richard.
Now a family has a home….a roof over their heads and a warm place to retreat at the end of the day.
All thanks to Richard Smith….Big Richard….a part of his legacy will always be close by.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

John Spence



October 30, 2013
For the ones from out of town who cannot get the local paper, here is today's main article:
John Spence, right, talks with Jonathan West in 2012 shortly after West — a Marine — received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service during World War II. Spence, who died Tuesday in Bend, served in WWII and was the first to try out a new diving apparatus that allowed for much greater freedom underwater. Erick Simmel, a filmmaker and historian, says every combat swimmer since can be traced back to that swim by Spence.

World War II vet was a first
John Spence, dead at 95 in Bend, pioneered U.S. underwater warfare
By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin
Published: October 30. 2013 4:00AM PST

"America's first frogman," John Spence, died Tuesday in Bend. He was 95.
Lyle Hicks, owner of Jake's Diner and an active member of the veterans group Oregon Band of Brothers, said he went to visit Spence Tuesday morning and learned he had died during the night. J.W. Terry, president of the Band of Brothers, said Spence had been at an assisted living facility for about a year.
In the years before Spence's death, Hicks, Terry, and California filmmaker and historian Erick Simmel collaborated with Spence to develop a detailed biography of his service in the U.S. Navy. Portions of that biography are excerpted here, including all quotations from Spence.
Born in 1918, Spence was the son of the sheriff in Centerville, Tenn. Spence was 9 when his father was killed, ambushed by a group of moonshiners.
Spence joined the Navy in 1936 and was sent to diving school. Assigned to the USS Idaho, he was primarily a gunner, but on occasion he'd be called on to dive, doing ship maintenance wearing a diving helmet tethered to an air source on deck.
He was discharged from the Navy in 1940, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Spence volunteered to serve as a gunner protecting merchant ships. But Navy officials instead took note of his diving experience. He was told the Navy had a role for him as a diver, and he spent the next three weeks camped at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., waiting to get the call.
A letter from Spence's mother alerted him that his assignment could be something different. Federal agents had been through his hometown, tracking down his former teachers and classmates and asking questions.
The Navy brought Spence to a secret base on the Potomac River south of Quantico, Va., where Spence learned he'd been recruited to the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. Italian swimmers had been sinking British ships, Spence learned from his commanders, and so the Navy had decided to form its own group of underwater warfare swimmers.
The term “frogman" was coined during the group's initial training, when Spence tried out a new waterproof suit made from green rubber.
“Someone saw me surfacing one day and yelled out, 'Hey, Frogman!' The name stuck for all of us ... but once again, I was the first," Spence told his biographers.
'Like Buck Rogers'
Spence's claim to being the first American frogman began the day a team of armed Marines escorted him to the pool at a Washington, D.C., hotel, where he was introduced to a young medical student, Chris Lambertsen.
Working in his garage, Lambertsen had built a diving apparatus out of a converted gas mask that allowed much greater freedom for the swimmer than anything Spence had used before. Spence was selected to be the first test subject, and soon he was swimming back and forth in the hotel pool, underwater, with no bubbles rising to the surface.
“It was silent. The only sound was my own breathing," he said. “It made me feel kind of like Buck Rogers."
Other hand-picked swimmers joined the team, and the five-man unit began training in explosives, espionage and close-quarters combat.
Spence was sent to Florida to teach newly formed Army and Navy amphibious units how to use Lambertsen's apparatus, a rebreather. One of Spence's students was Draper Kaufman, recently selected to lead the new Navy Underwater Demolition Team, and often credited as the “father of the Navy SEALs."
During a demonstration of the fins and face mask that members of the demolition team would be using, Kaufman, Spence recalled, told him he didn't really care for swimming.
In early 1944, Spence's unit prepared for its first combat mission. The divers would use small submersible craft to approach the German submarine base near Lorient, where repeated bombing raids had failed to penetrate the concrete bunkers protecting the subs. At the base, they planned to swim inside the bunkers and plant mines, sinking the subs and disabling the locks.
Planned to take place days before the Normandy invasion, the attack on Lorient was scuttled hours before it was set to begin. Simmel said Gen. Dwight Eisenhower “got cold feet," and scrapped the attack, fearing it could alert the Germans that the larger invasion was imminent.
The incident rankled Spence, who had returned to the Navy hoping to see action.
“He had trained so hard for that, and to have them scrub it, I think that angered him," Hicks said.
Spence asked to be relieved from his work with the OSS, and in June 1944, he returned to naval service on the USS Wadsworth as the chief gunner's mate.
Combat action
Spence served aboard the ship through the end of the war, fighting in the battles for Palau, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. At Iwo Jima, Spence got his opportunity to see combat swimmers in action from the deck of the Wadsworth, firing the ship's forward turret to provide cover as a group of UDT swimmers — including Kaufman, the reluctant swimmer — made their way to the beach.
Spence often recalled the story of his meetings with Kaufman, Terry and Hicks said.
“He always thought that was so funny, and then, he laid down fire for that guy at Iwo Jima," Hicks said.
Spence stayed with the Navy until 1961, retiring as a master chief gunner's mate. He went to work for Lockheed, where he'd worked briefly between his initial stint in the Navy and his reenlistment. Simmel said Spence spent several years in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles, working at a variety of military subcontractors as a systems testing engineer.
Simmel said Spence and his wife moved to Oroville, Calif., after he retired. When she died in the early 1990s, he moved to the Los Angeles area to live with one of his daughters, Simmel said.
Hicks and Terry said Spence moved to Bend, where one of his daughters lives, five or six years ago. They said they've had a difficult time learning much about his life, and are uncertain how many children he may have.
Hicks said beyond Spence's involvement with the Band of Brothers, he remained active until fairly recently.
“I know that John loved to dance, he would go down to the senior center to dance," Hicks said.
The details of the OSS combat swimming program were classified top secret until the late 1980s. In 1998, Spence and others in his unit were inducted as lifetime members of the Army Special Forces and given Green Berets. The Navy soon recognized the OSS program as the forerunners of the SEALs, and awarded the SEAL Trident to its members, according to Simmel.
Terry said there's a case to be made that Spence, not Kaufman, ought to be recognized as the first SEAL. He said Spence was aware of the controversy, but was largely content to let others argue who deserved credit for what.
“There is some dispute, there's an officer who claims he was the first SEAL," Terry said. “John always was just disgusted by the whole mess, so he just didn't talk about it."
Simmel said there's no dispute Spence was the country's first frogman, and that every combat swimmer since can be traced back to the experiments in the pool at that hotel in Washington.
“Every Navy SEAL owes themselves to John Spence and Chris Lambertsen," he said.
Hicks said one of Spence's daughters told him there are no plans for a memorial service, but the Band of Brothers may hold an event in his honor, and will seek to recognize him in the Veterans Day parade next month.
“The guys will probably do some kind of memorial, some sort of service, because he's so close to us," Hicks said. “He's a tremendous man."