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… 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… 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."

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Time is a precious thing.  A minute or so either way can make a huge difference.  I was reminded of that on Saturday as I prepared to venture over to Eugene to join an old friend at the Duck game.  I lingered a bit in the office talking with my son, Casey before I left.  I was going to drive to the game and then afterwards drive up to Vancouver to join up with Judy at our daughter, Trinity's place and then back home the next morning.
That small time made me leave around a half hour later than I had anticipated.  I began up and over the Santiam only to be stopped just shy of the HooDoo turn off.  I sat in the massive back up of traffic wondering what had happened up ahead.  I watched as many people began to turn back and I wondered what they knew.  Then, I realized that I had a smart phone and wondered if I could get service where I was.  I pulled out my small hand held computer marveling at how much communication and information has changed in the last few years.  I looked up the ODOT page and found that their was a large accident ahead.  They recommended a different route.  Now, I knew why others had turned back.
I too turned around and headed back down but now I began to fret at being stuck inside this huge traffic flow going over that small pass.  I fought as to whether it was all worth it or if I should just turn north towards the girls and call it a day.  But, I had not seen my friend in a while and the game was a big one so I figured that I would just play it by ear when I got back to Sisters.  As I drove past Black Butte Ranch, I wondered if many would take the Cold Creek Campground cutoff road.  It is a small but straight gravel road that cuts over to the McKenzie.
As I approached the road, I watched the mass of traffic in front of me and no one was taking the short cut so....I decided to give it a go.  I turned and headed down the road and marveled that I was the only one on it.  So, I took it a little faster than I normally would (40 or so) and shortly found myself on the other pass well ahead of the crowd with hardly anyone there.  I reveled in my small victory and smiled at the fact that I was now ahead of all of them.
But, when I got to the top, a small light came on the dash.  The tire monitor told me that their was a problem.  I was driving Judy's new car that tells you all sorts of info including tire pressure and switched the monitor to see the problem.  The back right tire only had 16 pounds in it.  I pulled over and looked at it and you could not tell there was a problem so I kept on going thinking maybe the problem was the sensor.  But, when I got to Proxy falls, the indicator now said 9 pounds.  I pulled over again, still far ahead of the others and it looked low but not that bad.  I figured that I could easily get to McKenzie bridge and find some air for it.  I drove past a rather large flat area by the church camp with that vision in my mind.  The tire would did not.  Shortly before the bottom of the past, it gave up the ghost and I struggled to find a place to pull over.
The only place was rocky and a bit of a incline but now...I had no choice.  Sweating and nervous, I was angry at myself for not just pulling over at that large flat area.  I got the jack out and placed it in the only place available and began to raise the car.  The rocks did not allow the jack good footing and the incline was not friendly and now I worried that it would slip off the jack.  I quickly swapped the tires and tightened the studs on the small donut reserve.  With the flat tire in the back, I started the rig back up.  The huge line of traffic was now upon me and the traffic the other way was now in play also.  It was like rush hour and I was left looking for the small gap to slip into the flow.
I saw my break and punched the gas trying to bring it up to the speed of the traffic so as to not anger the car that was allowing the break.  The small substitute tire cried out as I asked it to keep up with the other three.  At first, I thought that maybe I had not secured it tightly but then once up to speed, I smoothed out and all seemed good.  I wondered just what speed it was meant for so I kept it down to 45 or so.....all the way to Springfield.  I took every turn out and kept to the side as much as I could so as to not hinder anyone.
I was glad that I had my GPS with me and set it for the Les Schwab Center.  It took me a bit as the first two on my list wanted me to go back the other way.  I am still not sure where they were trying to take me but I found the Springfield store and took note that it was on the main drag.  I arrived in Springfield at the store now 4 hours after leaving Bend.  It was 1:30 and I was supposed to meet my friend, Ron, at 3.  They assured me that they would get me out in an hour so I walked back up the road to a small burger joint not far away.
The sign said that Food Network had been there.  I wondered if I actually had time thinking that they must be very busy but I walked into a small cafe with only two tables full.  With hardly no one there, I walked up to the counter and asked how I ordered.  They told me to take a seat and they would come to me.  I ordered a burger and drink and waited....and watched.  I am one to always check out the other places and the two things that I saw that stood out were a line of beer taps right out where anyone could get to them and a small room towards the back for playing lottery.  Instead of a TV for entertainment, they had one with the numbers for lotto.  The owner seemed to certainly be trying to maximize his profits.  The draw for Food Network was obviously Man vs Food as they had signs for a 5 pound burger challenge.  I wondered how one even cooks a 5 pound burger insuring that it is cooked through.
My lunch soon came and I wolfed it down wanting to get back to my car.  As I paid at the counter the cashier told me that I was lucky that I had beaten the rush.  As I left, I could not help wondering what rush?  It was 2 in the afternoon.  Was it a pregame rush?
I got back to the shop and noticed my car was up on the jacks.  I watched a bit of the Alabama game noticing that they were certainly taking care of Texas A&M.  I ended up walking outside and was there when the young man remounted my tire.  He showed me the large plug that he had to put where the sharp rock on the cut off road had punctured.  He told me that I was was their largest plug.  I asked if it would hold and he assured me that it would.
I arrived 15 minutes short of my friend at the mall where we were to meet not sure if I was ready to take on the crowd in my heightened state of mind.  I wondered if it was just best for me to head north to Judy and Trin.  I shared with him a bit of the struggle that I go through and told him that I did not want to ruin his game.  He assured me that if I had a problem, we could come back out we went.
We met up with our old coach from high school at his tailgate spot and chatted with him for a bit.  His buddy was cooking up some fresh clam fritters.  We ate some of the delicious fritters and as we talked, I began to relax.  We left and walked into the stadium a half hour or so before kickoff and found our seats.  We sat there sharing our lives and our families and soon the kickoff started and the game began.  As I watched I relaxed even more and I enjoyed the atmosphere...of course winning does help.
Afterwards, as we left the stadium we found ourselves where the Huskies were leaving.  A few idiots were harassing them but most clapped and wished them well.  A rather tall player came over and engaged the crowd a bit, even signing autographs.  I noticed his name on his jersey...Thompson.  I later realized that it was Shaq Thompson, their best defensive player and certainly a future NFL star.
Arriving back at the car, I now began the next challenge...the drive up I-5.  I turned up the music and let it help me deal with this different mass of people.  I soon found myself at he place and pulled myself into a comfortable bed.  Two hours later, I was up as usual and downstairs reading as my daughter left for work.
I noticed online that three people had lost their lives on that accident on the pass.  They had left behind a 6 year old who had stayed back with friends.  My heart went out to this small boy and what he was about to got through.  His parents and younger sister were gone....and he would have to deal with that the rest of his life.
I found myself wondering where I would have been had I not sat in the office and talked with Casey.  Would I have been there just before the mishap, or during it?  One never knows.  It makes me pause and remind myself to always tell the ones that I love that I do just that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Everything is Ducky

I awoke early in the morning.  Last minute thoughts went racing through my mind.  I slipped out of bed and onto the computer to check weather and other last minute details.
I made a mental note to insure that when I got to work, I would look up the roster for the Ducks so that we would know who we were looking at at any given time. I gave a wake up call to Vivian, Red's wife but he had been up for hours.  I wondered how many of the men had actually gotten much sleep.  Especially that ones who did not experience last years event but heard from others about it.
Judy then slide out of bed also and we made our preparations to depart. I shared with her that my anxiety was raising a bit but knew that it could just be last minute jitters.  We agreed to set up a back up fail safe just in case by gassing up her rig.  I stopped in at Kent's Shell station to top her off.  They have the best service in town but this morning...nothing was fast enough for me.  I could feel it all creeping into my head.  I needed to prepare a back up for the day.
I was so glad that I had anticipated this a bit and had asked my buddy, Zin to join us and help organize. By the time that I reached the diner, waves of anxiety were flowing over me and I was having a hard time concentrating.  I kept telling myself that all was well and that my doctor was joining us in the trip.  What could possibly go wrong. I slipped into the office and Zin joined me there.  I told him I was struggling a bit as I printed out the extra sheets of who was to go in each bus and info on all of the WW2 guys so that they could be properly introduced.  I told him that I was confident that all would go well but that I wanted him to be ready to take my place.
We went in to get some breakfast and all of the men were waiting in the front room.  I went over and teased Mr. Denfield that after today, he would be a Duck fan (he is a die hard Beaver fan but agreed to go on the trip).  I was hoping that this distraction would help but I felt it all pushing the other way.  I looked over at Zin and motioned to join me in the back room.  I did not want them to see my distress. With tears welling in my eyes, I forced down as much food as I could.  Knowing that something in bananas help, I told Judy that I would be right back and drove down to Safeway.  I forced down one of the yellow fruit as I drove back up and parked.
Zin had them all outside and ready to go.  I was feeling better and helped organize a picture of us all before we left. I stepped up into the bus and realized that it was not a good idea.  There was no way out once I was on it and if I had a large problem I would end up shutting down the whole convoy.
So....I took the escape route and told them that Judy and I would drive.   That decision alone seemed to help out matters and my heart began to slow down a bit from its hard pumping. As we pulled out of the lot, I wondered out loud if we would actually make it to the practice on time.  "What ever happens, it will be ok.", Judy countered.  She was right.
By the time that we were half way to Sisters, I was calm and feeling fine....the point in front of a convoy of two Deschutes County Sheriff busses filled with WW2 vets on their way to visit the ducks. This was the second year of this event.  Last year, we had taken them over in cars.  After hearing about it, the Sheriff told me that they would like to get involved in this honor of our senior vets.  With two of his finest driving behind me, we were truly in good hands.
The first little glitch happened when we went through Sisters.  The busses took the truck route.  I merely waited off to the side after going through the town and pulled back out in front of them.  The night before had been cold and wet and the pass was heavily covered with cinders.  The two busses slowed behind me and I to followed suit as I kept them in my mirror. Our first stop was Belknap Springs.
I jumped out of the car to let them know that we had arrived and held the door for the guys as them came in out of the cold for their scheduled bathroom break.  I kept the guys moving and noticed a couple of them with coffee and sweet rolls.  They had found were the guests had their continental breakfast and thought it was for them.  The staff did not seem to care so I said nothing also. The front desk asked for a picture before we left and I said as long as it happened soon.   The manager met me out by one of the busses and pleaded with me not to leave.  She said the photographer was right behind.  We waited a few minutes and he did not show up.  I said that maybe we could stop on the way home and get one.  She asked which bus had the medal of honor recipient in it.  I told her that Bob had to step aside as he was not feeling well.  She said, "Well have a good trip.".  I think that Bob was the reason that she wanted the photo op and since he was not there, she did not need it.  We never heard from her.
Neil, one of the drivers, told they had to slow on the pass because of the potential icy roads but from now on, he should be able to keep up with me.  Judy giggled as we got into the car.  "What are you laughing about?", I quizzed.  "A police officer just told you that he could keep up with your speed.", she laughed.  I was rather funny.
I came upon a long stretch of road and an impatient driver going the other way passed a car and into my lane.  I hit my brakes and slowed to the shoulder letting him through.  "I wondered if the guys behind saw as they were back a bit.  They had...after all they were police officers trained to look for things like that.  Neither of them got his license number as he flew by us the other way. I turned to Judy and said, "I can't wait to tell people that I drove from Bend to Eugene with two officers on my tail and never got a ticket.".
As we closed in on the stadium, I called Kyle (the Duck football director) and he told me to look for a gate just west of the compound gate that we had drove through the year before.  I drove by and missed the gate because it was not on the road but in the parking lot.  I called Kyle again and finding out my error, drove the loop around the compound once more.  Right in front of the steps to Autzen there was a rather large puddle of water.  I was looking closely for the parking lot entrance and not at the water.  When I hit it, it splashed a huge wave on two unsuspecting students who were walking down the sidewalk. Both officers saw what happened and swung out around the puddle.  They laughed that the two students were drenched.  I felt real bad but one of them said that people around here are probably used to that sort of thing....after all, Eugene gets a fair amount of rain.
Kyle met us at the gate with a handful of passes to get in.  Lanyards with the stamped names of all our people on them.  I took half of the stack and we quickly labeled all our guys and they walked down to the field as we parked the rigs outside. I joined the group and noticed the marketing director was there also.  I smiled and said, "I wondered if you would be here.".  He said that they were going to make a small video for the web and that he would send me a link when done.

I set him up with interviews on a few of the guys as the others began to spread out and watch the team. I then realized that I had forgotten to print out the list of players so with their helmets on, I would not know just who was who.  But, I was far to busy to look anyway as I went from vet to vet to insure that they all were ok and having a good time.  I glanced in a time or two and caught some of the plays and noticed that they were practicing with the signs just like they played on game day.

Kyle caught up with me and told me that they would soon be breaking up and told me where to take my guys to.  I spread the word around to muster on the 50 yard line.   One of the guys was heading the other way and told me that he needed a bathroom.  "Can you hold it for just a short bit", I asked, "We are just about to meet the team.".

I looked over my notes as I prepared to introduce the men to the team.  We joined the team just off to the side and listened as the coach gave his after practice thoughts and encouragements.  He also had his coaches introduce a few potential recruits along with their families.  A couple of the kids looked the part already even though they were would still be juniors in high school since all seniors had already committed. Coach then introduced us and I stepped forward to make my address when he told the team to come around us and bring down the practice.  All of a sudden I had huge football players standing all around me.  One of them, a 6ft 3inch linebacker looked down at me and said, "Hey, you want to bring down the team?".  "Sure", I said, "How".  "Just say Down on me...Down on 3...123 Go Ducks".  It all happened so fast, my head was swimming.  "Down on me!" I yelled...still not grasping that I was actually in a huddle with the Ducks.  "Down on me", they echoed.  My mind was racing and I forgot the second line.  The cheerful student laughed "Down on 3", he encouraged.  "Down on 3", I yelled.  "Down on 3" came the echo from the team.  "1", I echoe...."2?"...just a bit echo.....Now I was confused....I turned to the player and said..."What do I say now?"..  "3", he laughed.  "3", I yelled and the team shouted out, "Go Ducks".  My buddy Zin was not far from me.  "What's the matter, Lyle, you Navy guys can't count to three?".

Hand after hand was thrust out to me as the various teammates thanked us all for coming.  It was all so overwhelming having my favorite team all around me....much different than addressing them.  I noticed Kyle off to the side.  He smiled and shrugged his shoulders knowing that I had wanted to take a picture with the team and the guys.  I walked over and shook his hand.  "I know how this works", I said, "you take what you get and we are happy with that.".  "Thanks", he smiled. I then joined in with the guys talking with the various teammates who lingered around.

I caught up with the coach and took a picture as I missed one the year before.  I told him that I had brought a couple of Beaver fans this year.  He said, "Give me an hour, we will have them converted.".
I spied Marcus as he was about to leave and shook his hand thanking him for sticking around for another year.  "Cool Aloha shirt", he commented on my Duck Hawaiian shirt.  "I play the Ukulele also", I joked.  "I never leaned that...always wanted to.", he said.  "It's pretty easy.", I smiled, "If you can run this team, you can surely play the uk.".  Carrie had asked me to say "Hi" to him so I did.  He seemed used to that sort of thing and said, "Tell her Hi back!" as he headed off to the locker room.
I looked around for WW2 guys who might be a little shy and found a couple off to the side, bringing them over to Coach who lingered on the field, giving the guys as much attention as they wanted.  Mr. Denfield was standing next to the coach with a big grin on his face.  "Are you a Duck fan now?", I asked.  "Close", he replied.
Kyle then took us on a tour of the new facilities.  We first had to go up a small flight of steps.  With two guys on walkers and a few others with canes, this was the biggest obstacle of the day.  Len (our Frogman....original Navy Seal) was carried up the steps by the two on each side.

Their facilities left us....speechless.  No wonder young kids want to play at Oregon.  They are incredibly beautiful and state of the art.  Their theater where the coaches can address the team is so sound proof that you can almost hear a whisper.  I told the guys that we needed something like that for our meetings.

I ran into Scott Frost, the offensive coordinator and took a couple of pictures.  I told him that Carrie went mad at me last year for not getting one.  I thanked him and told him that we wanted him to stick around....I am sure that other teams have him in their radar for head coach.  He only smiled there.  As the guys were getting on an elevator, Scott thanked them all for coming.  Back in the 90's. he had been the quarterback of a Nebraska team that beat Payton Manning for the title.

The lounge overlooked the practice field.  It had two large sectionals made of the leather from a football and had around 8 large screen video game areas that had NCAA 2014 on them.  I could just see the guys taking time off there.
As the two officers and I brought our rigs around and into the compound to pick up the guys, Ed tap danced for all to enjoy.

After picking them up, I said one last thank you and goodbye to Kyle.  "See ya next year!", he yelled out as I left.
While we still have these guys around us, this will be a very worthy event.
Go Ducks!