Thursday, April 30, 2020

Emmy


                                   




I have had many pets in my life.  But, probably because of an event of my youth with our family dog, Thumper, I had dedicated that I would never get attached to one.  After all, sooner or later, they will no longer be there.
                                            

But all that changed eight years ago, when Judy brought home a little ball of fur named Emmy.

We already had a little mini Pomeranian named Mia.  And this was one of her sisters from a different batch.  Up until Emmy, Mia had always been such a happy little thing but she did not like sharing Judy's affection and her personality changed.

Judy saw this and asked me to take Emmy with me for a short time so that Mia could get used to having another pet around.  That never really happened.

                                     
But something else did.  When I would go to my room to read, scan the net, listen to music, or watch TV, this little ball of fur was right next to me on the couch.  When she wasn't playing, she was cuddled into my leg, often with her little head on my leg.
                                  
And so slowly or not so slowly, the attachment began.  She became my dog or should I say, I became her person.
                           
                                     
I remember times when she would struggle so hard to get my attention.  I knew or felt that her personality would probably be set from her puppy stage  so I began talking with her as we played.  "You are a beautiful girl.", I would say, "Always stay happy.".  And she listened.  In fact, she was quite probably the happiest dog that I have ever known.
                              

She would be there at the door when I came home from work and then be by my side all the way to bed time.  Then, she would crawl under our bed below me to sleep.  And I became deeply attached to this little ball of fur.
                                            
  In the summer, I would sit down on the grass in our back yard and she would run to me, jumping on my lap, and smothering me with kisses.
                                  

When I was not around, she would often sleep with one of my shoes.  I assume it was because it had my smell.
                               

                     

In the winter, she loved the snow.  She loved to jump in it and run around.  You could see her joy as she did so.

                                
In fact, Judy called her my rescue dog.  For when that PTSD side of me came out, often those happy eyes and that bright smile would help to settle me.  In fact, I remember the VA offering to get me a dog.  I said, "No, I have one already.".  

When I struggled, she would always be there.  When I was sick, she would not leave my side. A few years back, I came down with the flu.  I would lay on my couch out of it.  I would open my eyes and there she was either sitting there looking at me or sleeping down at the foot of the couch.

                                 

And she loved to play.  She especially loved chasing after a little ball.  I would give it a little toss down the steps and she would fly after it.  Soon she was at me feet again with the ball in her mouth pleading with those big eyes for me to throw it again.  That game changed a few short years ago when another little young boy came into our life.  Young Jasper loved those little balls also and we became concerned that he might put one of them in his mouth and choke so the balls went up only to come out on special occasions and soon they were forgotten.

Every evening she would be by my side no matter where I was.  And she would always perk up when I would tell her that it was time for bed.  She would run to our bed and slide under my side not to come back out until the morning.  I would often hear her snoring down there in the middle of the night.

But, then, one morning she would not come out.  We would call and she would not move. Eventually, I managed to slide her out but she just lay there, her breathing was shallow.

I picked her up and drove her to the animal hospital.  She spent a few days in an oxygen tent before her oxygen level stabilized and she was able to come home.    I noticed that there was quite a bit of dog hair under the bed so I figured that was probably what caused her discomfort.  I had to block off that part to keep her from going to her comfort zone.
             
                            

Bedtime soon became the foot of our bed where she found her comfort often sleeping on her back, with her legs up in the air.  But, that did not stop her discomfort.

Our vet referred her to a specialist.  After inspection and ex-rays, we found her problem was two fold and incurable.  First off, she had a collapsed trachea.  The collapse, however, was down close to her lungs where they could not put a stint in.  To make matters worse, the lack of oxygen caused her heart to enlarge.   The now bigger heart pressed down on the trachea issue making it even worse.

She soon began to struggle going up steps and I found myself carrying her up the stairs in the evening.  It got so bad, that she even struggled getting up the three small steps to our deck from the yard.

From an early age, she also struggled with hard floors. I remember once when we took her to the coast with us.  She would jump from one carpet to the next as she hated walking on the hard floor.  I thought it was her nails as you could always hear them when she walked on it.  Our kitchen floor was hardwood and she stayed off of it as much as she could.  When she was on it, she would often remind me of Fred Flintstone as she would almost run in place, her legs racing to gain enough traction to get her back to her security of carpet.

Last year, we moved to a new home with a single level.  We felt this would also be good for her as she no longer needed to be carried up the stairs.  But, the house had a hard floor in most of the rooms other than the bedrooms.  I would always know where she was when she moved around the house from the clicking of her nails on the floor.  Judy bought her special little rugs to make her maneuvering easier.   I always knew when she was coming to join me in my room as I could hear the clicking.  She would come over to the couch and either spread out on the floor or wait to be lifted up to the couch.  She just wanted to be with me.

And when she visited,  our daughter, Trinity, had a special affection for her also. Trin often had to work on her computer and you would find Emmy down at the end of her bed.  I would look in and there would be that happy smile on her as my daughter shared her affection.

Her coughing and struggles worsened however.  We bought vaporizers to help moisten the dry air. We tried CBD oil and then even purchased a special product for her throat to help ease the barking cough.  When she went outside to do her business, she would have to be carried back up the steps to the deck as she could just not get up them and when when she did try,she would go off in a coughing fit.  In fact, we bought her a ramp online hoping to ease that issue for her.  The ramp arrived too late.

No matter what we did, her breathing problems became worse.  Over a couple of days, they became acute.  Judy and I talked that night of her problems and I told Judy that we would soon have a decision to make.

Those last few nights, I would often find her panting down at the end of the bed.  I would go get her water and she would drink, easing her problems.  It was dark and I could not see her but I could feel her whiskers on the side of my thumb.  That was how I knew that she had stopped drinking.

Our last night together, I brought her water three times.  The feel of her whiskers became a special connection between us.  I was giving my little companion some comfort in her struggles as she did so many times for me when I was struggling.  In fact, the tears are flowing as I type these words as I realize the meaning of why that affects me so.

I went to my room and began searching the internet for when to put down a dog with those issues.  I could hear her struggle and Judy soon came to me to let me know also.

Judy and I took her out into the living room.  She sat at the foot part of my recliner and Judy sat behind her trying to comfort her.  I sat in Judy's chair and we put on a youtube video of birds eating.  Emmy struggled but calmed down.  We all fell asleep there.  I awoke in the early hours, Emmy panting at Judy's feet.  I climbed back into bed and slept for a couple of hours.

We both awoke around the same time.  I could see that Emmy wasn't sleeping but was struggling with her breath.

I looked online and found a veterinarian who specialized in coming out to homes for just this sort of thing.  I called and talked with her on the phone exclaiming Emmy's demise.  She could hear her coughing in the background as I spoke.  I told her that both Judy and I agreed...it was time.  Because she could hear Emmy and realized how acute the situation was, she told me that he had a 930 appointment that she would cancel and she would be right over.

Emmy was still in the chair when she arrived.  Her labored breathing told us all that she was worsening.

The doctor explained what would happen and with me sitting on the floor in front of Emmy, she began her work.  She gave Emmy her first shot to put her in a sleep mode.  As she began to feel the drugs, she looked at both Judy and I.  I believe that fact that we were right there assured her that it was ok.  I talked with her softly, telling her the same things that I had when she was such a small puppy on my lap.  "It is ok.  You are a beautiful young lady.  We love you.  It is ok.".

She calmed and laid her head down.  The doctor checked her out and said she was under.

We placed her on the floor and the doctor gave her her last shot.  Her breathing was still labored but then she took one last deep breath.   Our Emmy was gone.  No more struggling...no more pain....no more fear.

But we both see her throughout the house.  I hear her nails click on the floor.  I feel her whiskers on my hand....I look down and no one is there.  And the tears fall....as they are right now just thinking of it.

They say time heals.....this will take a while.

Judy took this last picture of her just weeks before we lost her.  It is just as she was and just like she is here.  Her bright eyes and happy smile.

Friday, April 10, 2020

A few days in April

March 25, 1975, we were arriving in Subic, dropping off some South Vietnamese officers that we were training in Korea, and picking up supplies and marrines to head to Vietnam. Some of the marines were a bit scared and we all had no idea where or how we were going to help. Initially, we were charting for Da Nang.

March 30, 1975. We left in the afternoon. We steamed originally with the Frederick and Joined the Dubuque along the way. My wife was in Australia at her parents house. She found out while watching the news and seeing a picture of the three ships racing to get there.

March 31, 1975.  We were halfway to Vietnam. This was about the time that we were sent further south. Many of you had various jobs to get ready including readying boats, building toilets attached to the side, and organizing the supplies needed to take on refugees. My job was to chart the mines going into the harbor. at 1300, we began small arms practicing off of the fantail. at this point, it was still just us and the Frederick.

April 1, 1975.   We now approach a coastline that now is loaded with resort beaches but they were far from that back then. We were now at the staging area awaiting further orders. Reports from DaNang are that refugees were taking to whatever floated to get away and were being shot like a shooting gallery. At 1700 hrs, we set flight ops and began shuttling 46 pallets small arms amo and 6 pallets MRE's to the Frederick. Took about an hour.

April 2, 1975. "The Durham has never before undertaken a humanitarian effort more important than this one." He went on to say that that we need to understand the torture that many of gone through. Capt. Bridge is still the Senior officer present but that is soon to change as we link up with the Dubuque and Blue Ridge (who has RADM Whitmire). At approx 1400 hrs, we head to our final destination at nearly full speed and begin shuttling marines back and forth via helicopter. We don't secure flight qtrs for four hours. At around 2130 (930 PM for you who have forgotten), we slow down to 5 kts and almost drift as we await the next two days of which most of us will never forget. The marines we have taken on are hardened and many of us stay out of their way.

April 3, 1975. I had the mid watch that night. We were close enough to the shore to see the battles going on. I have always likened it to an electric storm. My memory is this. I brought a cup of coffee and a cigarette out to the bridge wing watch. We were drinking our coffee, smoking, and watching the battle from afar. We knew that the next day, we were suppose to go in. One of us said, "I really don't want to go in there.". The other agreed. I have seen that memory over the years. Around 930, we began moving in. at 10, flight qtrs was set and we began shuttling what I believe were more Marines. The Marines were placed on the ladder to take on refugees. Around 1500, we began taking on refugees. The Marines were rough on them as they brought them up the ladder. An hour or so later, Capt Bridge had seen enough. He Halted the evac, pulled the Marines off of the ladder, and replaced them with volunteers from the ship who did not have details at the time. By 1730, we were close enough to anchor. As they realized we were there, small boats began frantically trying to get to our side. We had to use water hoses to keep them in line as we unloaded them one by one. Around 1830 a South Vietnamese chopper landed with interpreters who joined our crew members on the ladder and barked orders to the small boats to help keep them in line. Around 2000, Capt Bridge called it a day, we weighed anchor and pulled back out of the bay, our holds loaded with refugees.


April 4, 1975. Most of us got very little sleep that night. When we were not on watch, we were taking food, drink, blankets, and bottles for the babies. One of the babies was newly born having given birth in the boat on the way out to the ship. Others escorted refugees to relief stations off the side of the ship. We took the women to our own bathrooms around the ship. Bill Holic escorted a young woman to one. She stood in front of the sink and began taking off of her clothes to bath herself. Once Bill realized what was happening, he spun around , went to parade rest, and guarded the door until she had completed. At 730, we set the sea and anchor detail. An hour later, we dropped anchor. We began taking on refugees off of boats and via helicopters. I am not sure if it was todayor yesterday, that Ed Zyer, dove into the water to save a baby.
We worked all day until around 1800. We watched the battle on land as we worked. I was watching in the big eyes. I saw a small church with a cross on it. The church exploded as I watched. When the dust settled, there was nothing. I was so angry as someone would target a church. A few months ago, i was having coffee with a intelligence officer who knew the area. Without me saying anything, he looked at me and said, "You know, the Viet Cong hid a huge cache of arms under a small church there.". Who knows if it was the same but it sure hit me. Around 1800, we got orders from above to leave. The base was gone. The NVA had shot a shell over the bow of the Frederick. As we hoisted our anchor and left, small boats floated around us, waving at us. They thought we were coming back....but we were not. As we left the area, the NVA lined their tanks up on a cliff pointed out our direction. We left and headed towards Vung Tao, where we were to transfer our charges to the SS Transcolorado.



April 5, 1975. As we steamed to Vung Tao, the night in the holds was similar to the one before, except for a few changes. First off, we had even more people to look after. No one really knows the count, but as I remembered it was over 4000. I have always put it at 4500. Besides the number, there was two more differences. First off, when we pulled the people out of the water, many were fearful or in shock. Just imagine leaving all that you knew, fearing losing your lives, and floating out to a large grey military ship to be saved? At first, when we brought food and drink to them, they rushed us in a panic. Then, as they began to realize their safety and that we had plenty, that seemed to settle a bit. Secondly, however, was the aroma. Take thousands of people who might not have taken a bath in a bit. Put them in a tight quarters with the warmth of the tropics. Then, add in the fact that some of our guests had decided that the tie down holes in the holds were put their for their relief. Yes, that is right....they began using them as their toilets. Once again, however, the men of the Durham took their responsibilities to heart spending another fairly sleepless night. By morning, we were at Vung Tao. We anchored just 3 miles off of shore at around 0900. Two merchant vessels sat close to us. The Greenville Victory and the Transcolorado. The Blue Ridge command ship was close by and we were guarded by the Destroyer Escort Reasoner and the Light Cruiser Long Beach. (A side note....the Operations Officer on the Long Beach at the time is now my close friend and neighbor, Retired Commander Mike Chambers. We have discussed the time from our different perspectives a few times.) Around 1030, we began to recieve small arms fire. As Edward Rathke, recalls, Chief Lookingbill, yelled at them to duck. He then got in the Lt's face as only a chief can and said, "They are pinging us!". We hoisted anchor and moved further out so their shells could not reach us. Around noon, we began the process the other way, taking our friends down the ladder and loading them on our boats to take them to the Transcolorado. It seemed a bit easier this time and our guys helped them on to their new ride. While we shuttled, our helos carried over cases of rations. By 1800, our transfer was complete. An hour later, we hoisted our anchor and were underway further out to sea to a holding area. Tonight, we would get some needed rest.



Sunday, January 26, 2020

Willie

As I move closer to retirement, I am able to reflect back on a pretty good ride.  I have been able to meet some pretty incredible people and have become friends to many of them.  I have sat and talked with actors, athletes, politicians, and musicians.  Many of their pictures grace the walls of the diner.

They have allowed me to have many stories.  And these stories together create the fabric of our lives.  I was asked once for a good story for someone popular that is not on the wall.  I always share this with them.

Willie Nelson was singing at the Sisters Rodeo ground.  I believe it was on a Thursday evening. 

I rolled in around 730 that morning and went through my regular ritual, checking stock, appearance, and scanning the  crowd  to insure that they all look satisfied.  The crowd that morning was somewhat quiet but the flow seemed to be going well.  The counter was fairly full which I found often in the truck stop.  Lonely drivers who wanted some conversation while they stopped from their long tedious lonely drives.  At the end of the counter, I saw a rather long haired man stooped over his meal in silence.  In fact, that seat was the 'safest' seat in the diner.  Tucked down in the corner with only the back of your head being seen by someone heading down to the bathroom. 

My servers seemed to all abuzz over something so I went over to their huddle to disperse them, reminding them that they were there to serve their customers.  One of them turned to me with wide eyes and said, "We think he is here!".  "Who is here?", I queried.  "Willie....he is playing tonight in Sisters.  It has to be him.". 

OK, I told them I would find out and let them know.  I was sure that it was someone else but just wanted to get them back to doing what they needed to be.  I grabbed a pot of coffee and began working my way down the counter, greeting drivers and locals who were gathered there.

I approached the man at the end and I had to admit that he did look the part.  His braided hair was covered by a ball cap that he had lowered over his eyes as he attacked the breakfast in front of him.  He had a silvery well kept beard.  I filled his cup in front of him, put the pot down on the counter and asked if I could ask him a question.

He peered out from under the bill of his cap at first not saying anything.  Then he said, in that very distinctive voice, "I am not him, I just look like him, I am a truck driver, I drive a truck.".  "Understand", I said back.  "Enjoy your breakfast.  You will not be bothered.".  He looked up at me and smiled.  "Thank you very much!", he stated.

I went and told the girls that he was just a driver.  They took my word for it and went about their business.  He finished his meal, paid, and left.  Only then did I tell them the truth.  Soon the whole room was buzzing with excitement.  And I had another story for my memory.

Willie Nelson had just eaten at Jake's.