Monday, Jan. 22, 2007
Winston Churchill dubbed it Operation Pedestal.
It was August 1942 and for the British Prime Minister, the massive naval exercise would become one of the most decisive challenges of World War II.
Although the tiny but strategic Mediterranean island of Malta was a pivotal base for Allied air and submarine attacks against Axis supply ships, the island suffered intense damage from enemy aircraft.
Adolf Hitler wanted the base as a means to reach the Middle East oil fields. In 1941 alone, he tried to bomb Malta’s population into submission more than 960 times.
By 1942, Malta was so desperately short of fuel, food and ammunition that Churchill, with the help of President Roosevelt, ordered a huge convoy of British and American ships to get supplies to the island.
The story of that operation and how the father of a New Fairfield man fought against immeasurable odds to ensure some of those supplies reached their destination is told in a new tome titled “At All Costs.”
“I’m glad it’s now all in one book,” said Jan Larsen, whose father, Frederick Larsen, was a 27-year-old merchant seaman serving with the convoy. “My father was a modest man who didn’t talk too much about what happened, but we’re very proud of what he did.”
Jan Larsen, a 67-year-old former corporate executive who retired in 1998, has lived in New Fairfield since 2002 with his wife, Teri.
His father was a junior third officer aboard one of 14 merchant vessels being escorted by nearly 50 warships when Operation Pedestal began.
The world’s then-biggest tanker, the S.S. Ohio, specifically requested by Churchill, was carrying 107,000 barrels of oil from Texas.
The convoy passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean on Aug. 10 before meeting enemy resistance. The fleet was then under constant air and sea attack and Larsen’s freighter, the Santa Elisa, was sunk by torpedoes.
From the deck of a British destroyer that rescued them, Larsen and another shipmate, 19-year-old Lonnie Dales, later saw the Ohio, burning and abandoned.
The book’s author, Sam Moses, described how the two injured men boarded the Ohio at night and how Larsen repaired the ship’s Bolfors single-barrel anti-aircraft gun on the stern.
It was from there that Larsen, Dales, and a handful of other volunteers spent several days fighting off attacks from German and Italian bombers.
One bomb finally blew out the bottom of the Ohio’s engine room, but Allied destroyers on either side managed to keep the tanker afloat and towed it into the Maltese harbor of Valletta.
“When we entered Valletta Harbor, we were saluted like a victorious naval ship,” Larsen said later. “Crowds of people were singin’ and shoutin’ and screamin,’ and it was quite a thrill comin’ in.”
Dales said, “They were playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ for us.”
Roosevelt later presented Larsen and Dales with the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal “for heroism above and beyond the call of duty.”
Larsen’s citation, in part, said: “The magnificent courage of this young third officer constitutes a degree of heroism which will be an enduring inspiration to seamen of the United States Merchant Marine everywhere.”
Born in Newark, N.J., Frederick Larsen lost his Norwegian-born parents in the flu pandemic of 1918 and was raised in Norway by an aunt and uncle.
Larsen met his future wife, Minda, while training at a naval academy there and was away working on ships in the U.S. before their son was born.
“He was hoping to bring us over, but the Germans invaded Norway in 1940, and we couldn’t leave,” said Jan Larsen.
Jan and his mother were allowed to leave in 1942 under a prisoner of war exchange with the Germans, but Frederick Larsen did not know about their release until after he arrived in Malta.
After the war, Frederick Larsen spent 45 years as a sea captain with Delta Steamship Lines before retiring in 1983.
He died in 1995 at age 81. His wife, now 91, lives in Washington Township, N.J.
Last week, Moses, 59, who lives in White Salmon, Washington, said it was his agent’s idea to write the book.
“He had wanted someone to write the story for some years,” said Moses, who served in the U.S. Navy aboard a heavy cruiser during the war in Vietnam.
A feature writer for Sports Illustrated for 18 years, Moses is also the author of the acclaimed race car driving memoir “Fast Guys, Rich Guys and Idiots.”
Moses said he spent “two intense years” of writing and research for the Larsen book that included a 14-page letter he later wrote about the incident to a friend but never finished.
Moses, whose research took him to Europe and Malta, also credited Larsen’s action in part to the young man’s frustration over what had happened to his ship.
“He was a survivor, on another ship, and he felt helpless,” said Moses. “He wasn’t the type of man who liked being in that position. He knew all about tankers and he knew all about repairing guns, so he did something about it.”
Moses said it was well-documented that if the Ohio had not reached Malta with its much-needed supplies, the island would likely have fallen.
“They were only 18 days away from surrendering,” he said.
Moses’ book has earned praise from Mark Whitmore, director of collections at the Imperial War Museum in London.
“Sam Moses has skillfully blended the vivid recollections of many eyewitnesses with a wealth of original documentary research to produce an immensely readable and authoritative account of this crucial operation,” Whitmore said.
Jan Larsen’s personal memories of his father are filled with images of a devoted, loving man.
“He was a sea captain and away a lot, but he loved his family and was very generous,” said Larsen. “He was extremely well liked by his peers because of who he was although he never talked much about it. He was especially devoted to my mother. They were very much in love.”
“At All Costs” by Sam Moses is published by Random House and is available in hardback for $25.95.
John McClellan stepped out of the passenger side of his family’s car Sunday evening and walked up the path to the Family Worship Center — no cane, no wheelchair and not even a shoulder to lean on.
Some people at the center were surprised to see him move so easily, knowing that only four months ago he was shot in the head while serving in Iraq. About 125 well-wishers gathered Sunday to honor and meet McClellan and his family.
Joan Rawsen, McClellan’s next-door neighbor who has known him since he was born, came to the celebration service to “give thanks for all the good will that has come his way to help him heal.”
McClellan, 20, a Hickman High School graduate, is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head he suffered in September 2006. He was hit by a round from an AK-47 while serving with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Echo Company in Haditha, Iraq.
This is the second injury he received while serving in the Middle East. In October 2005, while in Afghanistan, McClellan was shot twice in the right arm.
After undergoing an operation in Badal, Iraq, McClellan was transferred to a medical center in Germany, followed by a 3½-week stay at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
McClellan is still undergoing a variety of therapies, making progress and keeping his sense of humor.
“I just went skydiving yesterday,” he said. “I’m just kidding. The left side of my face is working better, and my memory is getting better.”
As friends and family gathered around McClellan to hug him and speak with him, his mother, Connie McClellan, asked her son to smile for them to show the degree of progress.
Shortly after his injury, doctors, family and friends were unsure as to the level of his recovery, fearing mental and physical impairment, and possibly death. He soon showed signs of improvement, however, and underwent physical therapy at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla.
In November 2006, McClellan returned to Columbia to a crowd of supporters, friends and family.
“It’s pretty cool,” McClellan said of the service Sunday night. “It’s a chance for me to thank everyone for what they have done.”
Muriel Raine can’t hear the ding-dong of the doorbells she rings, but being hearing-impaired hasn’t kept her from building a successful Avon business.
In a field in which listening is as important as talking, Raine has twice earned Avon’s President Club Award, an honor reserved for associates who sell at least $10,100 worth of the cosmetics product.
“She’s amazing,” said Raine’s unit leader, Mary Van Valkenburg, a Village Mira Mesa resident. “I don’t know how she does it.”
Raine’s success is attributed to her listening abilities, which have nothing to do with her inability to hear.
“I introduce myself and tell them that I am hearing-impaired. Then I offer them a book,” said Raine, who picks up limited sounds through a hearing aid. “As long as they look at me while they’re talking, I’m OK. I’m pretty good at reading lips.”
That talent has served Muriel well through the past 35 years.
“I had hearing in both ears throughout childhood, and into my 20s, but it was limited, and it started slowly going downhill,” said Raine, who began her Avon career within a year of moving from California to Lady Lake in 2002.
Muriel had sure traveled a long way from Maple Plains, Minn., where she was a quiet schoolgirl who had to sit in the front row to hear her teacher.
“I used to be pretty shy when I was younger,” Raine said.
Her timidity can be traced to the fifth grade, when she was fitted with her first hearing aid.
“It was one of those box things that you wore around your neck,” Raine recalled. “The sounds coming out of it were all scratchy and it was noisy. I was so embarrassed I put it in my desk and refused to wear it.”
Fortunately, technology had advanced by the time Raine became an insurance underwriter.
“Didn’t wear a hearing aid again until I was in my 20s,” she said. “ I made it a point to check out hearing aids and I was fitted with a behind-the-ear model when I was around 27. I’ve had various kinds ever since.”
Ironically, Raine has become more self-assured as her hearing has diminished.
“Over the years, I found I enjoyed being around people, being out in the public and hearing their stories,” she said.
Raine also enjoys talking to people on the telephone, which is as easy as reading an Avon catalog. Taking orders is a snap for Raine, who uses a CapTel phone, which shows caller’s words on an LCD screen.
The boxes of Avon products scattered on the floor of her office attest to Raine’s listening ability, people skills and dedication. But as with most accomplished sales people, success didn’t arrive overnight.
“In the beginning, I waited for them to call me, but not many did. It was discouraging,” she said. “I’ve learned to check back with people because so many are busy. It’s hard to catch people at home.”
Fortunately, she had a supportive unit leader in Van Valkenburg.
“She helped me through it,” Raine said. “If I had a problem with an order or a bill, she’d make the call to Avon for me.”
And there was another benefit to working with Van Valkenburg.
“When I first started with her, I had gotten a few girls who were hearing-impaired, so I gave them to Muriel, and she just ran with it,” Van Valkenburg recalled. “And she’s been going strong ever since.”
Today, about a quarter of Raine’s customers are hearing-impaired. You might say that Raine receives a lot of “word-of-eyes” business.
And she’s doing pretty well with hearing customers as well. She’s developed a loyal client base through bowling and church.
Of course, Raine is always looking for new customers, and new ways to reach them.
“She attends all my unit meetings, which is remarkable because it’s hard for hearing-impaired people to attend meetings and get something out of it since nobody signs,” said Van Valkenburg, who tries to direct her words at Muriel when addressing the group.
Muriel still sits in the front of the classroom, but these days, those around her don’t think of her as handicapped.
“I’m just glad she’s in my unit,” said Van Valkenburg.
Friday, Jan. 19, 2007
Lifesaver Keith Hennessy never wants to repeat the dramatic resuscitation that saved Ali Ben Brahim’s life.
“I thought to myself I’m not going home tonight and sitting in my bed and knowing that he died under my watch.”
The three-year-old was found face down in a 1.2-metre-deep pool at Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre last Friday after his mother left him briefly to go to the toilet.
The family thanked Kilbirnie pool staff this week, delivering flowers to Mr Hennessy.
“I’m just so glad he is alive,” his father, Ben Brahim, said. “It could have been such a tragedy. We are just so grateful.”
Ali had been in a flotation ring in the main pool where children were playing on a giant inflatable.
A sibling had been left to watch over Ali, but had not noticed him slip through the ring, Mr Hennessy said.
The child was believed to have spent a minute submerged before he was noticed by another swimmer and pulled from the water.
“His arms and face had gone completely blue,” Mr Hennessy said.
The lifeguard began cpr, but after the first round of 30 compressions Ali still had no pulse. Water was pouring out of his lungs “like a fountain” and his mother was frantic.
Ali was still without a pulse after more than a minute, but his eyes finally began to open before he had a fit and had to be put into a “butterfly grip” to prise his mouth open.
“I gave him two more breaths and his colour came back and then he started to scream his head off.”
Mr Hennessy, who has worked as a lifeguard for nearly two years, said it was his first life-and-death rescue.
“I was very grateful to be able to do it, but I wouldn’t ever go through that again, especially a young child – it was harrowing.”
Wellington City Council pool manager Julian Todd said the accident was the most serious at its pools this summer.
The near-tragedy was a reminder that adults must watch children under eight years at all times in water, he said.
Friends and neighbours rallied around a popular newsagent when he collapsed and was rushed to hospital.
Alan Devereux, of A and G News, in Friars Street, Sudbury, returned from his paper round early last Friday morning barely able to walk.
Wife Gill immediately called for an ambulance and watched in horror as her husband was whisked to West Suffolk Hospital complaining of severe stomach pains.
Gill was preparing to close the shop and find her own way to the Bury St Edmunds hospital when kind-hearted neighbours, Brian and Pauline Suggate, and son Sam, stepped in to help.
Brian and Sam, from the near-by Paulie’s Café, offered to run the shop so Gill could be with her husband.
“You certainly know who your friends are when you need them the most,” said Mrs Devereux.
Mr Suggate added: “It was all a bit of a rush, I took the dog to the groomers, where it had an appointment and Sam looked after the shop. But we were happy to help out.”
With the Suggates manning the shop, another friend, taxi driver David Brett, ensured Mrs Devereux was at her husband’s bedside in no time at all.
“He was an absolute gem,” said Mrs Devereux.
Mr Brett took her to West Suffolk Hospital where she waited with her husband until he was discharged later in the day.
Doctors diagnosed Mr Devereux’s pain had been caused by kidney stones. He is now back at home and grateful to everyone who showed their support.
“Everyone who helped us was absolutely fantastic,” said Mrs Devereux. “I dialled 999 and by the time I put the phone down the ambulance was here.
“We sometimes only hear the bad side of the NHS but we can’t thank them enough.”
Friday, Jan. 12, 2007
Janice Fialka unveiled a new documentary featuring her cognitively disabled son at schools and seminars across the country. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, but one comment from a teacher proved to Fialka her family’s investment was a success.
“In Baltimore an early childhood teacher came up and said ‘I have to apologize to the family of a 4-year old with Down Syndrome,'” Fialka said. “She said ‘I told them to be more realistic about their dreams for him. Now I have to tell them I’m sorry.'”
The story of Micah Fialka-Feldman, a 22-year-old Oakland University student, is meant to show parents, educators and the disabled anything is possible.
The 25-minute documentary titled “Through the same door” will premier locally at 2 p.m. Jan. 21 in the auditorium at Berkley High School, 2325 Catalpa, with an introduction by Elizabeth Bauer, a member of the state Board of Education.
Bauer will discuss universal education at the premier, something about which Huntington Woods’ residents Fialka, her husband Richard Feldman and their son have plenty to say.
Fialka-Feldman wrote in an essay titled “I wanted to go to college and my dream came true.” A lot of people didn’t think he could go to college, but because family and friends believed in him he learned how to take public transportation to campus and found teachers who helped him pick the best classes.
“I think I will learn a lot,” Fialka-Feldman wrote. “I volunteer at the child care center on the campus. I am also in the social work club and Hillel, which is a Jewish organization. I am learning how to be a leader and how to do community service. I know my way around the campus and I have lunch with friends. I like being a college student … I am happy. My dream came true.”
His enthusiasm is on display in the documentary, which Fialka-Feldman’s parents commissioned from an independent local filmmaker. Fialka-Feldman was taped for 33 hours with his friends, in class, and with teachers, and footage was whittled down to the essentials. The film won rave reviews from educators and the disabled community.
“This video shows us living, breathing inclusion in action,” wrote Mara Sapon-Shevin, Ed.D., of Syracuse University in a review. “A must-see for all students, teachers, parents and the community. I plan to show it to all of the future teachers. Thank you for making this film. We all need it.”
The title of the film came from a day when Fialka-Feldman, who was enrolled in a first grade special education program, told his parents he wanted to walk through the same door as the rest of the kids at his school. It led to him becoming the first student with cognitive disabilities in mainstream classrooms in Berkley.
Though he can’t read or write on his own, Fialka-Feldman reached astounding heights with the help of voice recognition computer software, tutors, and the embrace of his community.
At Berkley High School, Fialka-Feldman won varsity letters in cross country and track, was a member of the homecoming court, and won the Social Studies Department Award for civic involvement. In 2004 he received the Michigan “Yes, I Can” award for self-advocacy.
He finished high school in 2003 with a certificate of attendance, took a 10-day trip through Israel with friends last year, and enrolled at Oakland University through the Transitions Program, which is geared to helping the disabled go from high school to college.
“He’s not matriculated, he’s a guest student,” Fialka said. “You receive services up to age 26 through the state of Michigan … We’ve always believed in full inclusion.”
Fialka-Feldman enrolls in three classes at a time, mostly about politics, posts essays online about his own life, politics and disability and lectures to educators around the country.
He may be disabled, but he’s not shy. Micah Fialka-Feldman learned fast the only way to get what you want is to ask for it.
“He finds peers either through the teacher or he stands up in class and says ‘I have a disability, will anyone tutor me?'” Fialka said. “Sometimes he takes the same test as other students, other times the teacher modifies it for him … He’s the happiest kid in the world. Everyone should be so happy.”
Thursday, Jan. 11, 2007
In an instant, 3-year-old Luca Gasbarrino went from rambunctious little devil to Nonni’s guardian angel.
It was surprising to his parents, Janelle and Lenny, since he’s a boy who’s used to getting in trouble.
“I was impressed because he’s two weeks removed from cutting his own hair,” Lenny Gasbarrino jokes.
“I didn’t know he had it in him,” Janelle laughs. “As you can see he’s a typical three-year-old rambuctious little boy.”
The active little Luca was with the grandfather when he heard the beeping of 66-year old Patricia Rennie’s respirator. Her hose had slipped out. Luca rode his scooter into her room to see what was wrong.
“My mom says she mouthed to him, ‘Go get your grandfather,'” Janelle says.
When Luca couldn’t find his grandfather, he took action.
“I put the tube back on,” he remembers.
“He knows he’s not allowed to go in there and touch any of that machinery, that equipment, because her life depends on it,” says Lenny. “But he just knew at that time it was okay to go up there and take matters in his own hands.”
That’s how the little devil became an angel in his family’s eyes.
“He really did end up saving her life,” Janelle says. “He’s her little guardian angel.”
Doctors gave Tim Attwater a 20 per cent chance of surviving after an exploding can of paint thinners turned him into a human fireball.
The freak accident on July 8, last year left the popular Eaglehawk man with about 85 per cent burns to his body and he was in a medically induced coma for seven weeks.
But less than six months on, Tim is back on his feet and has returned home to fiancee Sharon and their three sons, James, 6, Connor, 4, and two-year-old Brayden.
Tim’s comeback from the brink of death has been credited to the swift work of Bendigo paramedics and hospital staff as well as his action after the accident, which he learned from a first aid course he had just completed.
He now wants to raise awareness of the dangers of keeping cans of thinners that are not full in hot areas.
The accident happened after Tim went into the shed to put some more wood on a securely-covered fire.
He was about four metres away from the thinners can, which was less than half full.
The heat caused the container to explode.
“The liquid hit me,” Tim said.
“Once it got a naked flame, I turned into a fireball.
“I got out of the shed and I stopped, dropped and rolled.”
He used his hands to shield his face from the flames.
“I shed my clothes as I was going,”
He got in the shower with warm running water while Sharon called an ambulance.
Rural Ambulance Victoria mica paramedic Eric Lee said Tim did all the right things.
He remembers talking to Tim straight after the accident.
“Often you find these patients – I’ve been to a number like that and
I’m sure it’s the same for the other paramedics – they’re talking to you, you just know that that’s the last time they’ll talk to someone,” he said.
The paramedics put Tim on a clean sheet then onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.
“The extent of his burns meant it was difficult for us to get an IV (intravenous drip) into him to give him pain relief,” he said.
“We did gave him pain relief that he inhaled and we took him to hospital.
“During that time, he was still conscious of what was going on.
“In hospital, that’s when they took over the care and put him in a medically-induced sleep.”
Tim was flown from Bendigo Hospital to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne where he eventually came out of the coma.
While he could remember the accident, he did not realise the severity of his burns, particularly the damage to his arms and legs.
“I said (to the nurse) can I go home,” Tim recalled.
It has been and still is a slow road to recovery.
He has had skin grafts and requires further surgery to his hands.
Tim’s burns mean he must wear a protective body suit 23 hours a day.
He was discharged from hospital on November 30, last year and has only been walking for about 10 weeks.
But the fact he is walking at all is an amazing feat which he puts down to the good work of paramedics and hospital staff.
Everybody’s family is dysfunctional. I’m sure anyone reading this could trade stories for hours about how their family would win any contest that picked the most dysfunctional of all. I know I have plenty I could share that would both amuse and shock at the same time.
It also pretty much goes without saying that families fight – sometimes a lot. My family had what we all refer to now as a “misunderstanding” a few weeks before Christmas that seemed like it would never end.
But, as cheesy as it might sound, we all love each other and realized this even during the misunderstanding. Family is essentially one of the bedrocks of any society. After all, they are the people you are bound to by blood, genetics and even law.
Family is too important to cast aside over minor disputes and, yes, misunderstandings. Good family members will always be there for one another no matter what.
Unfortunately, a lot of times we all take our families for granted. Sometimes it takes something tragic to make us appreciate the people surrounding us.
Last week, my family found out that my dad’s younger sister – my aunt Angel – has breast cancer. Even as common as it is (one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer), it’s shocking when it hits that close to home.
Angel and I have always been close. She was only 11 when I was born, so she still lived with my grandparents, which is where I stayed most of the time while my mom and dad were at work.
She used to entertain and dance for me when I was a baby. Then as I got older, she’d help me build houses out of Lincoln Logs and other exciting constructions with Tinker Toys. No one can build a house with Lincoln Logs like Angel can.
When I was in seventh grade, she worked at my school. I remember spending the night with her often and riding with her to school. She also let me watch movies my mom and dad wouldn’t let me watch.
I’ll never forget the two of us renting Scream and then turning it off because we were both so scared. It didn’t help that we both tried to scare each other after her apartment was completely dark. The movie was much better in the daylight.
Being a working college student means there isn’t as much time to spend with your family as you were able to do as a kid. Fortunately, my family lives in Tuscaloosa. I still see them often, and even though Angel and I aren’t able to hang out a lot, we’re still close.
I don’t know that there’s a week that’s gone by during which we haven’t at least called each other to talk about our favorite show, “Grey’s Anatomy.” My grandmother gave both of us season two of the show and DVD, and I told Angel we should watch it together. I then laughed as we both realized the chance of her getting her three kids settled and us both actually having free time at the same time would be nearly impossible.
Though families don’t always get along and though Angel and I might have had some differences before doesn’t mean there isn’t love there.
The beginning of a new year always brings about new promises and resolutions. I only have one that I am adamant about keeping. I’m going to show the people in my life how much I love them and how much I appreciate them, and I’m going to be a kinder person to everyone. Besides, isn’t that easier than eating healthy and exercising?
It really isn’t that hard to show people that you care. It only takes simple acts.
On Sunday, my family’s church had a special prayer service for Angel. Before I even got there, I was overwhelmed with love and compassion. My best friend Heather offered to go with me even though she is really involved in her church, and it meant so much to me.
As we walked in the doors, I noticed several people wearing pink clothes and almost everyone in the church was wearing a pink ribbon to show their support for Angel. I know it meant a lot to her, and it definitely meant a lot to our family, including me.
It’s touching and refreshing to know someone cares. It is my wish that Angel and everyone else in my family knows how much I care about them this year, and I’m going to do everything I can to show it.
It is also my wish that during this hard time you will keep Angel, her husband Johnny, their three kids and the rest of our family in your prayers. This is going to be a difficult journey for her and for all of us. But our family is filled with love, and that makes us strong enough to handle even the toughest situation.
Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007
Mouse droppings and rats’ nests covered a trunk Bob Kincheloe discovered in McLouth this past week.
Kincheloe didn’t think much of the trunk he found in an old barn that he was dismantling for his friend Melody Barnes.
On Saturday, Barnes and Kincheloe decided to open the trunk. As they scraped away the layers of muck, they discovered a treasure trove. Inside were photos, letters, stock certificates and a marriage license.
The papers were makings of the story of a couple’s life together.
Kincheloe and Barnes found two last names on documents in the trunk and headed toward the local phone book. When they got to Bud and Betty Lukens, of Lawrence, they’d found the owners.
Kincheloe and Barnes made a trip to Lawrence to return what they had found. That was Sunday, two days before the Lukens were to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.
Appropriately, among the papers that were found was the letter Bud had written to Betty’s parents, informing them of his intention to marry their daughter. Their marriage certificate also was in the trunk.
The trunk had been lost when, two years ago, the Lukens sold their farm, which included the barn, because Bud’s eyesight had deteriorated to the point that he could hardly see the road to make the drive from his home in Lawrence. Macular degeneration has degraded Bud’s sight to the point that he can’t even read the long-lost letter he wrote to his wife’s parents.
Monday night, as Betty, 84, read the letter aloud, she couldn’t help but get emotional at the words her husband, now 86, wrote. She thought the letter was lost to time.
“I’m sure your greatest concern is essentially mine: her future happiness,” she read. She paused and insisted she couldn’t read any more, but she pressed on.
The letter, which covered the front and back of two pages, was written on Dec. 7, 1941. Bud was sure the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor meant he’d be in the Army soon. He wanted to marry Betty before that happened. They married Jan. 9, 1942, in California.
Bud served in the Army from 1945 to 1947, and afterward the couple returned to Kansas. They bought the farm and lived in McLouth until moving to Lawrence so their two daughters could go to high school here. Bud, however, made the daily half-hour drive to McLouth to take care of his livelihood.
By the time Bud sold the farm, he couldn’t see well enough to make sure they’d taken everything they wanted.
The Lukens sold the farm “as is.” From the clothes to the cattle, if it was at the farm, the Lukens left it behind. They didn’t realize they’d left those keepsakes there, too.
Barnes bought the barn from the person who purchased — and still owns — the farm from the Lukens. When Barnes and Kincheloe discovered what was in the box, they knew someone would want to get the items back.
“We organized it for them. We were just so happy to get their family history back to them,” Barnes said.
“We figured their grandkids would want these photos and letters. It seemed like the right thing to do,” Kincheloe said.
The Lukens have four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
The photos and letters and other memories couldn’t have been returned at a better time. Though they sold the barn only two years ago, the trunk had been in the barn, and unseen, much longer.
As the couple celebrated their anniversary, the two couldn’t quite agree on why their marriage had been so successful.
Bud, with a laugh, said their time apart made their time together better.
Betty, however, had a more romantic opinion.
“We’re terribly attracted to each other, and we always have been,” Betty said. “That’s what’s kept us together.”
A guy in a black Saturn pulls up to a gas station on Bank St. at Riverside Dr.
After gassing up, he goes inside and asks attendant Gamal Jebahi if he’s got a loonie for change.
Jebahi slowly pulls himself up from his seat and fishes for a loonie in the small pile of cash by the register.
“I’ll give you $1 and a penny,” Jebahi says. “It’s not much, but save it, it’s a blessing. God be with you.”
Welcome to Riverside Gas, where one gets more than just a full tank.
Jebahi, 48, is known as the “miracle man” after surviving a horrific gas explosion that set him on fire at his station on Dec. 31, 2004.
After two years of being closed, he reopened on Christmas Day.
“I feel joy of being active, of seeing life in front of me,” he says, looking out. “The little light of hope I had one time is now getting bigger and bigger.”
A navy toque covers his scarred head. Black sunglasses protect his damaged eyes. When he walks, he hobbles, struggling to keep his balance.
He was working on a vehicle at the time of the explosion and remembers little from that day.
“All I remember is a bright light,” he says. “I didn’t hear anything. No explosion, no sound.”
It was said he’d never survive, that he’d live out his life in a vegetative state.
There is no burn centre in Ottawa and Jebahi was rushed to a Toronto hospital, where he remained for nine months.
For the first four months, he was in a coma. When he came out of it, he had traumatic hallucinations for two months.
“I would be screaming,” he recalls. “I would see myself on the side of a building and someone would be pushing me off. In my mind it was real.”
He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t eat and would vomit after taking a few bites of food.
“The worst thing in life is having no control over the things you do,” he says. “So anything you can do by yourself is a gift, it’s a big reward.”
So far he’s had 144 surgeries with more on the way. He can barely hear out of his left ear and his eyes are severely damaged.
Inside his mouth is darkness, he’s lost so many teeth.
Plans to get married and bring his bride over from his native Lebanon were crushed. The wedding was called off.
Instead, his mother and brother travelled to Canada to care for him.
“I would be the biggest fool on earth if I think I could do this without the help of God, the one who is stronger than all,” Jebahi says.
Jebahi says he’s always been spiritual but now feels more strongly that he’s found his purpose.
On a day of freezing rain, when all the shops were closed, a distraught woman searching for salt entered the gas bar and asked for help. He gave her his last bag for free.
If a customer is short some change for gas, he’ll trust the person to come back another time to pay.
His kindness hasn’t gone unnoticed and he was flooded by letters from customers during his recovery.
There’s a clipboard by the cash, his “Goodwill Wish List” for customers to sign.
“Glad to see you back in high spirits as always!” reads one.
So far, he’s got about 30 signatures. When he hits 100, he’s going to take it to the city and lobby for Ottawa’s own burn centre.
Until then, he’s playing the “survival game.”
“The boat could sink, or I can try to salvage what I can,” he says.
It’s going to be a tough journey, but he knows he’ll be okay.
People pray in whatever way, he says and God shows His miracles every day.
“I’m here,” Jebahi says. “My mind is here, and that’s what’s important. One word is ‘hope,’ and there’s always hope.”
Monday, Jan. 8, 2007
Lake Rescue lived up to its name Sunday afternoon when two residents broke a channel through the softened ice on the lake to rescue a loon marooned in a small pool of open water.
Frank Wingate and Wayne Fisher went out in a small boat to break the channel, hoping that the loon would follow them out to open water and depart for its wintering grounds.
They were successful, but only after they left the loon to its privacy, according to Wingate.
Wingate and Fisher went out at about 1 p.m. to the shaded cove near Fisher’s home and they chopped the punky ice and forced their metal boat through the three-quarter inch ice. The bird, which was watching their approach, would keep as far away from them as possible in its small swimming pool, or dive briefly under the water.
Wingate and Fisher kept their distance from the loon, while exhorting it to escape to its freedom.
“Come on, bird,” they could be heard urging from shore.
The loon would occasionally let out one of its wails and rise up out of the water, and flap its wings.
After about an hour of gentle long-distance coaxing, the men decided they were cold and the bird might want its privacy.
“The loon is happy where he is,” Wingate said. “This guy isn’t going anywhere.”
But Wingate was happily proved wrong about an hour later.
“The loon has gone — it’s very exciting and we’re very happy,” Wingate reported shortly after 4 p.m., after he and Fisher had gone home to watch playoff football.
Wingate said the bird got caught in the cove between Carpenter’s Point and Monroe Point on Dec. 30, when Lake Rescue finally iced over. The bird kept a small area open by its constant swimming, he said.
On Friday, George Scribner, a Vermont Fish and Wildlife game warden, tried to catch the loon by going out with his kayak and a net. But the bird proved too active for Scribner to catch.
Plans to have the Ludlow Fire Department do a training exercise to rescue the bird on Saturday morning were cancelled Friday night because the bird’s opening was too big for a successful capture, according to Ludlow Fire Chief Peter Kolenda.
But on Sunday morning, Wingate and Fisher decided that the mild temperatures of the weekend and Saturday’s rain had opened up more territory on the clear sections of Lake Rescue and it was worth a try to break a channel and coax the reluctant bird through it.
Wingate, the president of the Lake Rescue Association, said he consulted regularly during the past week with Eric Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Loon Recovery Project, a joint effort of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
Hanson, reached Sunday evening at his Craftsbury home, said it wasn’t that unusual for a young loon to get caught during the icing-in of a lake. He said that young loons, which is what the Lake Rescue loon probably was, typically migrate after their parents. Usually young loons band together and migrate together, he said. The cold doesn’t bother them, he said.
According to Wingate, the young loon’s parents left the lake in early December, but he stayed behind.
Hanson said that loons from Vermont spend the winter in the ocean off New England. Originally it was thought that New England loons traveled to the coast of North Carolina, but research, including banding and satellite telemetry, showed they wintered off New England.
He said when he traveled to Nantucket last March, he saw loons in the ocean there.
Hanson said that Scribner had planned on netting the loon and bringing it to Lake Bomoseen or Lake Champlain, where there is plenty of open water. Loons typically need at least 200 feet of open water to take off, he said, because they are such heavy birds. Loons really prefer to live in 10- to 20-acre lakes so they have plenty of room to take off, he said.
Friday, Jan. 5, 2007
In March 1978, when Travis Baldwin was 8 years old, he was diagnosed with diabetes. Travis, now 36, has lived with the disease 29 years, and it destroyed his pancreas. In addition, his kidneys started failing about 11 years ago. A transplant was the only option left for Travis, but his name was down the list a long way. But would he receive a transplant for kidneys or his pancrease? The list did not include both.
With his kidneys shutting down, Baldwin was scheduled to being kidney dialysis Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006. Beginning the dialysis would help him cope with failing kidneys, but make a transplant situation more difficult, because a body dealing with the dialysis does not have much left over for the challenges of dealing with a newly transplanted organ.
In October, a new donor list specifically for pancrease/kidney transplants was started by St. Louis University Hospital and Baldwin’s was the first name to be put on it. Travis was on the list for a short 10 days before the hospital informed them a donor had been found.
The Baldwins, Travis and his wife, Tricia, were told to begin preparing for a transplant. The doctors told them it may be 18-24 months, maybe months, maybe days, but to begin preparing.
When they eventually received the call donor organs were available, Baldwin would have only a short time to get from El Dorado Springs to St. Louis where the transplant would take place.
Tricia Baldwin is as a paramedic with Cedar County Ambulance District/St. John’s. As a matter of preparation, her coworkers carried extra uniforms with them so they could step in to relieve Tricia at a moment’s notice if she were on-duty when the call was received.
The good news was Tricia was off-duty when the call was received about 8 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2. The bad news was Missouri was hit with one of the worst snowstorms in recent history Thursday, Nov. 30, unleashing 12 inches to 2 feet of snow across the state. Getting to St. Louis definitely would be a challenge.
“We had everything packed, and we were on the road about 15 minutes after we received the call,” Travis said. “We made a couple of phone calls – one to my mom and one to my brother and his wife who were going to make the trip with us. We had a convoy of three vehicles, and we were ahead of them by several miles.”
“We went through Springfield on I-44 because of road conditions, and made it as far as the first Lebanon exit when traffic came to a complete stop because of the snow and ice,” Travis said.
Tricia called Dennis Winston, EMS manager of Cedar County Ambulance District to enlist his aid to find out about road conditions and if there were any detours they could take.
“I called hoping to find an alternate route to go around traffic,” Tricia said. “Dennis called (St. John’s) dispatch and found out I-44 was closed between Lebanon and Rolla due to road conditions.”
Tricia also called the Missouri State Highway Patrol in hopes of securing an escort through the traffic, to no avail. She spoke with St. John’s dispatch and St. John’s Lifeline helicopter.
The managers of the ambulance and helicopter dispatch centers and Winston sprung into action trying to find the best way to get Travis and Tricia on their way to St. Louis.
St. John’s tried sending an ambulance from LaClede County to pick up the Baldwins from their stranded vehicle on I-44, but the ambulance encountered the same problem – it couldn’t get through the traffic. The Baldwins were on the inside lane of I-44 with the exit in sight, but were blocked in by semi trucks.
Travis spoke with the truck drivers around them, asking if traffic began moving could the truck drivers leave a space open for the Baldwins to get to the exit.
Tricia received a call from the Lifeline helicopter saying they would send a helicopter to the Lebanon airport to pick them up and fly them to St. Louis.
“In the meantime, the truckers all communicated with each other because the next thing I know one of them was knocking on our window saying, ‘Hey, we’re backing up traffic to make you a spot to get through’,” Tricia said. “So they did. They backed up traffic behind us big enough to get our vehicle through, and I got directions from dispatch to the airport and got to the airport.”
“When we got to the airport the fire chief was there from Lebanon with his vehicle, a fire truck and three other men to make sure we were all right,” Travis said. “Then St. John’s ambulance from Lebanon showed up to check on us. The ambulance took us out to where the helicopter was and both my wife and I got into the helicopter and they took us to the hospital in St. Louis.”
Travis’ brother and wife, and his mother and Travis and Tricias’ daughter, Logan, 10, also were stuck in the traffic jam on I-44.
Again, the truckers pulled together to make a way for them to get to the exit. Travis’ family and daughter got to the airport shortly after the Baldwins to see them off.
The weather was not the only obstacle that day. Time also was of the essence. The Baldwins were stranded in Lebanon with about three hours left on the clock.
“They wanted me in St. Louis about 5-1/2 hours after I received the call,” Travis said, “which would be close on a good day.”
Travis’ surgery was scheduled for 5 p.m. He told his daughter prior to leaving Lebanon in the helicopter, he wouldn’t go into surgery until he had the chance to see her.
About 5:30 p.m., the surgeons advised Travis they wanted to reschedule the surgery to 7 a.m. the next morning – they wanted more time to prepare the organs and to prepare Travis to make the transplant as successful as possible. Another piece of good fortune, since Travis’ daughter and remaining family members did not arrive in St. Louis until about 6 p.m.
“The first hour of the journey was the most stressful hour of my life.” Travis said. “Packing up and leaving and not knowing – we weren’t sure it was a 100 percent – if we wouldn’t have to turn around. Sometimes they haven’t had a chance to look at the donor organs, and they call and tell you to turn around, it’s not a go. We had to be prepared for that; luckily everything worked out.”
The Baldwins believe they received a Christmas miracle, not only with the transplant but the fact Travis’ surgery went very well with only minor setbacks and a possibility they’d be home for Christmas. They returned to Cedar County Tuesday, Dec. 19.
Travis said he feels so much better after the surgery. For the first time in 28 years, he no longer has to take insulin and his blood sugar levels are normal. He still monitors his blood sugar four times a day but sees those checks slowing down in the near future.
His body has suffered damage from the diabetes, his eyesight has been affected and he experiences neuropathy (a numbing sensation) in his hand and feet. The transplant will stop his neuropathy from progressing further, but will not repair damage it already has caused.
“It’s been a real blessing,” Travis said. “God had his hand in it and God does answer prayers, because all of our prayers have been answered. Everything was taken care of – with the helicopter ride, us getting there, the family getting there – it was just an act of God everything happened the way it did.”
“I’m so very humbled by the whole situation. I don’t want to take this for granted, and I want to let people know organ donations do save lives. I hope this story will heighten people’s awareness of how important organ donation is,” he said, “And I want to thank everyone for all the prayers on my behalf.”
Monday, Dec. 11, 2006
Christmas came early for 26 foster children in the care of Ashtabula County Children Services Saturday as they hit the toy aisles at Super Kmart with sheriff’s deputies in tow.
This is the ninth year for the Shop with a Cop program with the Ashtabula County Deputies Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 106. The lodge, along with other organizations, donate money for the event, which allows less fortunate children to shop for everything on their Christmas lists.
“This is always a special occasion for the kids,” said Nick Kerosky, Children Services community services coordinator. “They look forward to it every year.”
Kerosky said it is difficult for the children to be away from their homes regardless of the reason and the event is a way to take their minds off it.
The children aren’t the only ones who look forward to the event each year. Sheriff William Johnson and his deputies volunteer their time each year to put a smile on the faces of the children.
“This is the highlight of our year,” said retired deputy Mark Weber. “I can’t even envision going through Christmas without doing this.”
Weber still continues to participate in the event since his retirement in 2005.
“When you see the gleem in their eyes, you understand,” he said.
Lt. Greg Leonhard said out of all the programs the lodge puts on, this event is the one he looks forward to the most.
“With the support of different organizations, it’s nice to be able to share this with the children.”
Johnson said the program casts a good light on the department to let children know that the deputies and himself are their friends.
“It’s a great program for the kids,” he said. “Regardless of being with police officers, Christmas is Christmas.”
Deputy Brian Hubbard, president of the FOP lodge, said it is a good feeling to be able to do this for the children who might not have had a real happy Christmas.
“It makes you feel good doing it,” he said. “I’m just happy we are able to do it.”
Each child was given a gift card for $60 to spend on whatever he or she wanted. The FOP lodge donated $500, Ohio Cops 4 Kids donated $200, Becky and Bill Halman and Aaron Hoyle donated $260 and Kmart donated $20 per child. Deputy Julius Petro, secretary/treasurer of the lodge, said the deputies are always willing to put in extra money out of their pockets as well.
Following their shopping spree, Kmart officials host a party for the kids, complete with a visit from Santa.
Thursday, Dec. 7, 2006
World War II Pacific Navy stories often feature bravery and chance. We rightly thank an amazing generation for serving their country simply because “it had to be done.” [D-Days in the Pacific]
It is especially significant to remember them today, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
This story features bravery and more. A gift of life that echoes for generations.
My father survived Pearl Harbor. Trapped below decks on the battleship West Virginia, he barely escaped drowning.
After nine torpedo hits to the port side, this ship was in danger of rolling over.
When “general quarters” was sounded, all compartments on the Pearl Harbor battleships were shut and sealed in a procedure called “set zed.”
This means if an area is damaged, adjacent sections remain water-tight.
If one side of the ship becomes too flooded, the other side can be counterflooded for balance.
Balance is critical for a heavy vessel. A sailor’s worst nightmare is being trapped in a pitch-black sealed compartment, while the ship turns over. No way out, their fate is assured.
This is exactly what happened to the USS Oklahoma. A victim of torpedoes also, she capsized quickly. Trapped within constantly shifting air-pockets, most of her crew drowned. A few were cut from the bottom of the exposed keel, but this procedure had its risks: often allowing air-pockets to escape, cruelly drowning those within sight of rescue.
The “WeeVee” was berthed behind the Oklahoma. One side ripped open by torpedo hits and communication out, she started turning over. A list of 28 degrees was reached, but those below deck could only ride to their watery grave; Sealed in condition “set zed.”
My father told of a terrifying angle in the dark, while hearing water rushing into surrounding compartments. All expected drowning.
Top-side, WeeVee’s captain (Mervyn Bennion) was disemboweled by a bomb blast. Fatally wounded, he directed Lt. Claude Ricketts below to start counterflooding. Every second counted as the list became severe.
Bennion started this ship’s rescue while simultaneously bleeding to death. Awarded the Medal of Honor, sadly, few remember his name.
As I researched USS West Virginia history, I came to realize how close it came to capsizing. I would never have been born had it happened.
I read the Navy action reports and realized the real heroes were “shipfitters,” men with knowledge of the battleships plumbing who occupied the dark areas no one knew.
The shipfitters instinctively knew to commence counterflooding. Without waiting for orders, they ran to the bottom of the stricken vessel, but found the counterflood crank handles locked away.
Maintaining their footing on the severely angled deck, they flailed at the Navy padlock but it wouldn’t budge. Every second counted as this ships fate hinged on a hunk of brass.
One shipfitter barked for the wrecking crew to step aside. As they did, he smartly attacked the hinges and freed the counterflood cranks. The action report notes they ran through the behemoths lower decks, opening flood valves in the proper sequence to halt the listing.
WeeVee slowly swung back on its keel to rest on the mud of Pearl Harbor upright.
I had often wondered but for the intelligence of a sailor attacking the storage door hinges, the ship may have capsized. When every second mattered, this fellow bucked the crowd and used his brain. I’m likely here because of him, because even after counterflooding started, the ship was listing so badly most thought it was too late anyway.
Throughout the years I’ve collected much information about the USS West Virginia. I’ve written many articles about Pearl Harbor, even writing for the Web site for the movie “Pearl Harbor.”
By chance, the daughter of a WeeVee shipfitter read one of my articles and contacted me about her father. I looked up his name in the Navy Action Report and gasped. This was the guy who broke open the locker containing the counterflood cranks!
Surprises continued when I found out he was alive and well, living in Rome, N.Y., a one-hour drive from my Auburn home.
His name is burned into my head: Sylvester Puccio.
“Syl’s” daughter Pam was rightfully proud of her World War II dad for all the usual reasons (If your father was a World War II dad, you know what these reasons are). “No, you don’t understand,” I told her “Your father is greatly responsible for saving the USS West Virginia, the lives of her crew and future generations… not to mention me.”
If Syl’s children were proud of their dad before, they now have reason to think of him as I do: An angel sent by history.
I arranged for my wife and I to meet Syl.
I knew exactly what to expect, since I’ve met many World War II Navy vets over the years. They all have a self-effacing view of themselves, simply happy to have played a palpable role in critical history.
Syl was no exception.
A cheerful, outgoing man, he greeted us with the dignity of that neighbor you never knew well, but later discovered was a war hero.
I had recently lost my father, so it felt strangely familiar to listen to him pepper his language with the same terms and attitude my father displayed.
We talked for hours. Then I simply thanked him for a job well-done. Living proof stood before him that he made the correct moves that December day so long ago.
I hope Syl Puccio knows the scope of what he helped create: generations allowed life because he sacrificed his efforts for good. This can be said of all WW II veterans in general, but in this case it’s especially poignant. He can look someone in the eye and be certain he is directly responsible for that person’s life.
Not a bad legacy.
This helps explain why I have always stood next to World War II veterans, and now especially Sylvester Puccio, with a mixture of respect and dumb-struck awe.