A Photographer’s Stay in Denali National Park

The National Parks Traveler has just published my latest photography article.  Click on this link to go check it out.

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From Tanks to Paratroops – In Dad’s Own Words

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My father fought in WWII as a paratrooper in the 105th Infantry of the 82nd Airborne.  When he first joined the Army, though, he was in the Armored Division.  He never spoke of his experiences except on rare occasions; usually it was when he was drunk.  About 7-8 years ago, though, when he was in his 80’s, we convinced him to start writing about his war experiences.   This particular story he was addressing to my sister.  I have kept Dad’s wording but tried to correct spelling where I could.  As for the names he mentions in this story, I hope I’ve spelled them correctly as sometimes his writing was difficult to decipher.

– – – – – – – –

“When I first went into the Army, my mother (Granny) would not sign my release if I wanted to join the paratroops.  So, I settled for the Armored Division.  I found myself at Fort Knox, Kentucky, at basic training.  Back in that day and time, a PFC was a general.

I finished the 13 weeks of basic and then was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division.  My first Sgt. was an old-time regulation Army soldier.  He was what we called Top Sgt or Top Kick.  He was an Old-Timer and even told the Lts. and Captains what to do.  He had a lot of power.  He was an old bugger and we were afraid of him, but he knew his business.  He must have liked me because he gave me a light tank to drive.  In fact, I drove it so well, I “cowboyed” it.  In other words, I drove it as fast as it would go over rough terrain.  He put me on 2 days of KP for this; I had to wash dishes and peel potatoes for 2 days.

He (the Sgt.) seemed to like me, however, and so did the Captain.  We went onto the firing range to fire rifles.  I ended up making the best score of anyone.  The Captain asked me where I was from and my answer was Texas.  He said ‘I thought so.  Go show these other bastards how to shoot.’  I got my first advancement from this.  He made me a Corporal.  From there, I made a Sgt. as Tank Commander.

I should say here that I thoroughly enjoyed driving the light tanks.  They were small and not worth a damn in combat but would attain a speed of 48 – 50 mph and I always kept them at top speed.  We later went to what we called a medium tank:  the old Sheridan Tank.  They were much slower but much more practical for combat.

We moved our unit, the 2nd Armored, from Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Camp Polk in Louisiana.  I called your mother (Edna) one night and asked her to marry me.  She said ‘yes’ and she met me in Lake Charles (Louisiana).  We were married there by some preacher with Eula Roberts as witness.  She was an old friend of Granny’s (Dad’s mother).  We then went to Camp Polk to live in an apartment.

Edna left when I went on maneuvers in Louisiana.  I took lessons and was trained to be an umpire.  It was quite an experience.  We fought all over the Louisiana woods; red and blue armies. Before I left for maneuvers, I had put in for a transfer to the paratroops.  It seems I wasn’t liked by our Col. of the division.  Every time I turned around, he was there to give me hell.

One time, I was taking my crew to the motor pool to clean our tank.  I was walking them down and old Col. Yale came up in the jeep to ask me why I wasn’t marching them to the motor pool.  I replied that I didn’t think it was necessary since we were not on parade.  He didn’t like this reply and told me to double time up the small hill and back.  We did this and came back and saluted the old bastard.  This was not the first run in that we had, so I got damned tired of it; I wanted out.

Lt. Brendigan was my company commander.  The First Sgt. there – I can’t remember his name – but we had a good rapport.  Anyway, before I left for maneuvers, I went to personnel and put in for the paratroops.  When I returned for a leave from maneuvers, I was told to report to the First Sgt.  He saw me and shook my hand.  He said ‘John, you made it, you are going to be a paratrooper.’  I have never been so happy.  Lt. Brendigan told me that Col. Yale had given him hell for letting me get out.  Brendigan grinned from ear to ear.  He took me to the train in his jeep and wished me the best.  Brendigan told me that before I left, the old col. tried to pull some strings to cancel my transfer but failed at that because they needed paratroops for the Normandy invasion worse than they needed tanks at that time.

I got on the train with all of my service records.  I could have gone AWOL and no one would be the wiser, but that was the furthest thing from my mind.  My only thought was:  go to Fort Benning (Georgia) and be a paratrooper.  I had been smoking, but when I got to Fort Benning, I stopped smoking.  I knew that I was in for some rough training.  I was in good shape and could run with the best of them.

I’ll never forget the first time we rolled our own chutes to jump the next day; we were to make four daytime jumps and one night jump.  Our forth jump was a nighttime jump.  Our last jump was a daytime jump.  After this last daytime jump, we were to have a graduation parade.

I will never forget when I was released from the parade, I looked up and saw Edna standing there.  She had traveled all the way from Texas to Georgia to see my graduation.  We were invited that day to eat at the officers’ table. I was embarrassed.  I was not used to this type of attention.  After all, I was just a poor old enlisted man.”

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One day, Mom told me the story of her going to see Dad graduate.  I can totally understand why she and Dad were invited to eat at the officers’ table.  She told me she was the only woman there, and from seeing photos of her when she was so young, I knew she was an absolutely adorable little thing.MomDadWarPortrait_0001

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Feeling “Off”

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Everything feels “off”.  By “off”, I mean not only as in “powered down” but also off as in “off kilter” or “askew”.  I go home to my apartment and it doesn’t look or feel the same.  Naturally, it wouldn’t look the same because it’s a total pig sty right now, complete with undusted surfaces, unwashed dishes in the sink and stacks of boxes filled with items taken from Mom’s home.  Those boxes are in every room of my 2-bed, 2-bath apartment.  I have no idea where I will put everything, but I’ll handle it because those items are now all that are left of my mother and father.  Those items are all that I wanted to keep. The rest have either gone to my sister or they are to be sold in the estate sale this coming week or will be donated to charity.

My 89-year old mother passed away in early-mid February, a little less than 5 years after my 86-year old father died.  She was in the hospital for a week and then I and my sister took her home to care for her with the help of Hospice.  After Mom’s death, my sister flew back to her home and family in the Pacific Northwest and I began the duties as Executrix for my mother’s estate.

This has been one of the hardest, most physically- and emotionally-draining things I have ever done in my entire 53 (almost 54) years of life.

In addition to my full-time job, I am handling Mom’s estate.  All by myself (ok, I have the attorney working on probating the will, but you know what I mean).  And my sister and I are sooo very thankful that Mom had the means to pay for everything and that she had the foresight to put me as a signer (signor?) on her checking account.

You see, here in the U.S., you can’t die for free.  Not unless you are totally indigent, I guess.  Mom was not indigent, so of course there was a fee for the cremation, and another fee for interring her ashes in a little niche at the local cemetery.  Then, there’s the filing of the income taxes.  And the costs for probating her will.  Plus, I can’t do much of anything without the Letters of Testamentary (part of the probate process) but that will only occur after the 10-14 day waiting period while the Court publishes notice of the probate in the local paper to let any creditors know of Mom’s demise.  Luckily, Mom’s house and car and everything else were all paid for.  Nonetheless, I can’t sell her car or the house or get the taxes done or do any other of the myriad tasks dealing with Mom’s death without those Letters.

I wrote the obituary.

I informed people and agencies of Mom’s death.

Everything I have done is a reminder of the demise of her existence.

I talk to my sister on a daily basis – sometimes more than once – particularly if there is some sort of emergency (which there usually is).  I, who never wanted any more responsibility than that of work (which is why I have not yet ever remarried, why I never wanted to buy a house or why I don’t even own a pet) now shoulder more responsibility than I sometimes feel I can handle (but I’m an Aries, so you can damned well be sure I will handle the responsibility and I’ll handle it successfully).

I have very little vacation time left for this year, and it’s only March.  Most of my free days were spent caring for Mom or attending to her estate matters.  I will have to take a day off to attend court in order to get the Letters Testamentary.  I will have to take a day off to go to the local Social Security Office in order to inform them of Mom’s death and get a tax form to take to Mom’s accountant for taxes.  I’m sure I’ll have to take another 2 or 3 days off regarding other estate issues, as well.  I *am* taking a couple of 3-day trips during national holidays (Memorial Day and Thanksgiving) to spend time with my sister and her family; which reminds me, I still need to find out if United Airlines will allow me to carry the cremated remains of my father in checked luggage since I want to leave them with my sister for a future trip with her to Montana to spread Dad’s ashes over his favorite place there.  Thankfully (right now, anyway), I also have enough time left to take a 10-day trip (including weekends and holidays) to London in December to see the Christmas lights and to watch the New Year’s fireworks over the London Eye and to just escape from everything I will have had to deal with over the year.  I want to recharge my photography (’cause I haven’t felt like taking photos at all and still don’t feel like it) and I want to explore that wonderful city.  Who knows – maybe I’ll meet an awesome Brit of my dreams there …. Stranger things have happened, right?

In the meantime, though, I feel sad and lonely and a little out of place.  I get teary often; I was never one of those sentimental, sappy kind of people, so this teary thing is a nuisance and an emotional drain all at the same time.  I miss Mom.  I keep feeling like I should have / could have done more.  I’m always exhausted.  I’m still sick with a lingering cold.  I’m now dealing with the wet carpet in the sunken living room all by myself; heavy rains and a crack (or two) in the foundation slab contributed to the issue and the house now smells while the carpet dries. I need a hug and there is nobody here to give me one; actually, I could use lots of hugs.

Everything just feels off.

I walk through Mom’s house, checking on the damp living room carpet to see how much more it has dried, looking at all the things set up by the estate sales agent in preparation for this weekend’s sale.  It doesn’t feel like Mom’s house anymore because Mom’s not there any longer.  It’s just a house now filled with loads of stuff collected over a lifetime of 89 years for Mom, and 86 years for Dad.  And I feel empty.  I know things must be “off” if I feel like going in to work is the same thing as taking a vacation.

I guess the best thing that can be said is that I am busy.  I am busy with work (bless my co-workers for being so patient while I take off days here and there to handle this stuff), I am busy with the estate, and once all of this is over with and done, I will be handling my own messy apartment and initiating the process of researching places to live around and within Houston, much closer than where I currently reside (moving won’t happen until 2016).

Before all of this occurred, I was rather emotionally detached.  Now, I find that I am sympathizing more with people and their situations – especially if they are going through similar experiences.

Right now, it all sucks but I know that this, too, shall pass.  I know that somewhere at the end of this long, narrow tunnel there is a pinpoint of light; I don’t see it yet, but I know that it’s there.

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Filed under Attitude, death, family, Life, love

Photography In The National Parks: Don’t Forget Those Lodge Photos

My latest photography article has been published on the National Parks Traveler site.  Click on this link to go there and read all about it!

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Filed under 14 Days in Ireland, Alaska, Glacier National Park MT, National Parks Traveler, Photography, Travel and Photography

National Parks Traveler: My 5 Fave Shots for 2014

The National Parks Traveler website has just published my latest photography article:  My 5 Fave Shots for 2014.  Click on this link if you want to go check it out!

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Filed under bears, Big Bend, Big Bend National Park, Canon, Denali National Park, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, National Parks, Photography

You Don’t Need A Large Studio For Fun Portrait Pics

Becky-New Dress-Camera I’ve been recuperating from some outpatient surgery and haven’t gotten out for a couple of weeks.  I’ve enjoyed my “stay-cation” of napping, watching TV and reading, but my thoughts always turn to photography in some form or another. I recently received an order of three really cute vintage-inspired dresses and some extra studio light bulbs to replace the ones that burned out on me.  So, I decided to put two and two together and get some self-portraits of me in my new dresses while having fun playing with the studio lighting. Becky In A Blue Dress I don’t have any large rooms to use for dedicated studio work;  I’ve got clutter, luggage, etc. in every room.  But, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t get some great photos within a very small space. Becky-Camera-New Dress As you can see from the photos, I used continuous lighting with a couple of white umbrellas, one on each side of me for equal lighting.  I also used a wireless shutter release which ensured the focus on me was always nice and sharp.  I used both my Canon 5D Mk III and Canon 1DX; my 85mm f1.2 lens was attached to the 1DX while I alternated between the 24-105mm and the 40mm lenses on the 5D Mk III.  My favorite images ultimately came from using the 85mm f1.2 lens on the 1DX.  That combination is killer for portraits and great lighting, I feel. Becky In Blue Moral of the story:  you can get some great portrait images without alot of space or a special background.  And, playing around with the cameras helped me eliminate my bout of the “stir crazies”.

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Setting Up For The Shot

Setting Up The Scene

I had a good photo session with Rabbit’s Custom Guitars.

I never know what I am going to encounter scene-wise when I go to a home photo session, so I take along such things as continuous lighting (plus stand and umbrella) as well as my flash. I am small in stature so I can’t really carry too much; it’s generally a minimum. For this photo shoot, I used both my Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 1DX. I used the 24-105mm lens on the 5D Mk II and the 85mm f1.2 on the 1DX (I’m out two lenses because of some accidents while in Hawaii). I got duplicate images using flash, no flash, just the light/umbrella, as well as just the ambient lighting to see which images worked best. Space was a huge consideration too. Moral of this story is that you work with whatever you’ve got.

 

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