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THE CITIZEN SOLDIER

November 6, 2021

During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to Upstate Warrior Solution, 101 West Saint John Street, Suite 17, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29306, (864) 520-2073.

Bob Keeshan was born to Irish parents, in Lynbrook, New York. After graduation from High School in Queens, New York, in 1945, during World War II, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He was still in the United States when Japan surrendered, so he never saw combat. He attended Fordham University. He received his bachelor’s degree in education in 1951.

An urban legend claims that actor Lee Marvin said on “The Tonight Show” that he had fought alongside Keeshan at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. However, Marvin never said this. Marvin was wounded during the Battle of Saipan, not on Iwo Jima.

Network television programs began shortly after the end of the war. “Howdy Doody” was an early show which premiered in 1947 on NBC. Debuting on January 3, 1948, Keeshan played Clarabell the Clown, who communicated by honking several horns attached to a belt around his waist. Clarabell often sprayed Buffalo Bob Smith with a seltzer bottle and played other practical jokes.

Keeshan and his friend Jack Miller submitted the concept of Captain Kangaroo to the CBS network which was looking for innovative approaches to children’s television programming. Keeshan starred as the title character when it premiered on CBS on October 3, 1955. His character was as based on “the warm relationship between grandparents and children”. The show was an immediate success. The former Marine served as its host for nearly three decades. He was a citizen-soldier.

Thursday, November 11, is Veterans Day. Americans will honor those who have served our country. Scout troops and veterans will march together in parades. Some will hold flag retirement ceremonies. Our national leaders will mark the day with pomp and ceremony. People of faith will pause to offer prayers of gratitude as we remember those who died in service to our country and their families.

Five of my uncles served our country during World War II. Two were in the Navy, two were in the Army Air Corps, and one was in the regular Army. Uncle Buzz was in the Normandy invasion. Uncle Bill was assigned to the Pacific. Two were in bombers that were shot down over Germany. Uncle Bury parachuted into Switzerland. Uncle David was taken as a prisoner of war.  Uncle Robert endured the harsh life of an infantryman and then was captured as a prisoner of war. From these uncles, I learned a major truth. In war, there are no soldiers without wounds.  All of my uncles returned to civilian life following their military service. Members of Clare’s family, including her father, did the same. All were citizen-soldiers.

In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed that Armistice Day, November 11, should be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory”. There were parades and public meetings.  Business activities were briefly suspended at 11:00 A.M.

In 1926, the United States Congress declared that the anniversary of the armistice should be commemorated with prayer and thanksgiving. The flag of the United States was to be displayed on all Government buildings. On November 11 observances were to be held in schools and churches, or other suitable places.

This day was originally intended to honor veterans of World War I.  In 1954, by an act of Congress, November 11 became a day to honor all American veterans. The day became Veterans Day. 

Traditionally a two-minute silence is observed on November 11. It is two minutes well spent because we too easily take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.

I remember playing Army with my friends when I was a boy. Our battlefield was usually Dead Horse Canyon, over the creek and through the woods behind our house. One of my buddies insisted that he play the part of Audie Murphy in every skirmish. I didn’t know who Audie Murphy was until much later. I can understand now why my friend wanted to play the part of the World War II hero.

Audie Murphy was the son of a poor Texas sharecropper. The farm boy earned fame as the most decorated United States combat soldier of World War II. Among his 33 awards was the Medal of Honor, the highest military recognition for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America.

He also received every United States military medal for valor, some of them more than once. He was recognized with five awards by France and Belgium. Credited with killing over 240 of the enemy while wounding and capturing many others, he became a legend within the 3rd Infantry Division.

Beginning his service as a teenage Army Private, Audie quickly rose to the enlisted rank of Staff Sergeant. He was given a battlefield commission as Second Lieutenant. Murphy fought in nine major campaigns across the European Theater. He was wounded three times.

During his three years of active combat service, Audie became one of the best fighting soldiers in history. Many believe that his accomplishments will never be repeated by another soldier, especially given today’s high-tech warfare.

On September 21, 1945, at the age of 21, Audie was released from the U. S. Army. His picture appeared on the cover of Life magazine.

Actor James Cagney invited Murphy to Hollywood. The next two years were hard times for Murphy. He slept in a local gymnasium until he began receiving token acting parts.

In 1950 Murphy got a contract with Universal-International where he starred in 26 films. Most of those films were Westerns.  His 1949 autobiography To Hell and Back was a best seller. Murphy starred as himself in a film biography released by Universal-International in 1955 with the same title. The movie, “To Hell and Back,” held the record as Universal’s highest grossing picture until 1975 when it was finally surpassed by the movie “Jaws.”

Murphy married actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949. They were divorced in 1951. He then married former airline stewardess Pamela Archer. Pam was the love of his life. They were parents of two sons.

Despite his success in Hollywood, Audie never forgot his rural Texas roots. He returned frequently to the Dallas area where he owned a small ranch. He also had ranches in California and Arizona. He was a successful thoroughbred and quarter horse owner and breeder.  His films earned him close to 3 million dollars in 23 years as an actor. But Audie loved to gamble. He was an avid high stakes poker player. He won and lost fortunes.

Murphy wrote some poetry and was successful as a songwriter. Dozens of his songs were recorded by Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride, Porter Waggoner, and Roy Clark. His two biggest hits were “Shutters and Boards” and “When the Wind Blows in Chicago.”

Audie suffered from battle fatigue, now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After the war, he was plagued by insomnia and depression. During the mid-60s he became dependent on prescription sleeping pills. When he recognized that he was addicted to the prescription drug, he locked himself in a motel room, stopped taking the sleeping pills, and went through withdrawal symptoms for a week.

Audie was always an advocate for the needs of veterans. After his addiction, he broke the taboo about discussing war-related mental problems. In an effort to draw attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans, Murphy spoke candidly about his personal problems. He publicly called for the United States government to give more attention to the emotional impact war has on veterans and to extend health care benefits to include the mental health problems of returning war vets.

While on a business trip on Memorial Day Weekend, 1971, Murphy was killed at the age of 46. He was a passenger in a private plane. Flying in fog and rain, the aircraft crashed into the side of a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia.

On June 7, 1971, Murphy was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

Pam Murphy, wife and widow of Audie Murphy, established her own distinctive 35-year career working as a patient liaison at the Sepulveda Veterans Administration Hospital. Every soldier who was a patient in the hospital was treated with respect and dignity by Pam Murphy.

“Nobody could cut through VA red tape faster than Mrs. Murphy,” said one veteran. “She was our angel.”

“Even with the adultery and desertion at the end, he always remained my hero,” Pam said.

One year, Dennis McCarthy of the Los Angeles Times asked Pam to be the focus of a Veteran’s Day column for all the work she had done. Pam declined. “Honor them, not me,” she said. “They’re the ones who deserve it.”

Let’s do as Pam Murphy said. Honor all of our veterans. Many choose a career in military service. Many others, men and women, return to civilian life. They are citizen soldiers

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

HOW THE GRINCH ALMOST STOLE HALLOWEEN

October 30, 2021

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, created the Grinch.

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I are doing what we can to help those in need. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider supporting one of the local nonprofit agencies that offer critical care in our community. This week, please volunteer for, or donate, as you are able, to HALTER. This non-profit agency provides services to over 300 children each year. These are children who have physical, cognitive, emotional/behavioral conditions. The HALTER equestrian facility in Spartanburg County, South Carolina is located at The South Carolina School For the Deaf And The Blind, 1400 Carolina Country Club Road, Spartanburg, South Carolina, 29302, (864) 586-1671.

When I was a boy, before the Grinch almost stole Halloween, October 31 was one of the most anticipated evenings of the year. My friends and I looked forward to the carnival at the elementary school we attended. Halloween was second only to Christmas Eve when excitement, for kids, permeated the night air. No sooner had the sun gone down on the last day of October than costumed kids of every age flooded the streets of the neighborhood, knocking on doors and shouting, “Trick or treat!”

The weather here in the Upstate can vary from year to year on Halloween night. Could anything be more uncomfortable and itchier than a Smokey Bear costume on a warm, rainy evening?  Imagine a Little Mermaid outfit on a cold, frosty stroll around the neighborhood in the night air.

Parents escorting their children is always a good idea. The adults stand a few yards away, guardian angels watching over tiny gremlins and goblins. In my youth, the trick-or-treaters carried pillowcases or paper bags to collect their bounty, and now, most have some sort of container purchased for the purpose.

Trick-or-treating customs vary even in neighboring towns and cities. COVID-19 almost eliminated the annual tradition last year and will undoubtedly have an effect this year. Everyone, children and adults, should wear a protective mask and observe social distancing. Be sure to check local laws regarding curfew times.

In some states, trick-or-treating on Sunday is prohibited. This is also true for some communities, and usually, an alternative is suggested. Again, check your local laws.

In a previous “By the Way” column, I told about my friend Rusty. He always dressed as a pirate, carrying a large pillowcase in which to stash his booty. He stuffed a second pillowcase into his pocket, just in case the first one reached capacity. Rusty’s Halloween range was far greater than mine. He worked his neighborhood of Ben Avon before dark and then came to my street about the time I walked out of my house dressed as a hobo.

We ventured from one house to the next, collecting treats. Occasionally, we would have meetings with other trick-or-treaters to discuss which places gave out the best goodies. Rusty was like a crafty angler, concealing his best fishing hole.

Sometimes Rusty would trade treats with other consultants. He always came out on the better end of the deal. I saw him trade three packs of Juicy Fruit chewing gum for a Hershey Chocolate Almond bar and a pack of Topps Baseball cards. The pack had both a Mickey Mantle and a Willie Mays card inside!

I am not sure when the innocence of the holiday was lost, but, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, the Grinch tried to steal Halloween. Due to the general malice of some people, trick-or-treating turned violent. Vandalism replaced tricks, and some treats even became severe threats. Needles and razor blades were hidden in candy and in apples.

Halloween fireworks took their toll. One of my sisters was burned when someone tossed a firecracker beneath her toddler feet. A friend lost sight in one eye following a cherry bomb accident. The reputation of a playful holiday was sullied.

Movies added to the rising sense of terror. Nightmare on Elm Street and its numerous sequels made Freddy Krueger a frightening legend. Chainsaw horrors and slasher films, including no less than ten Halloween movies, contributed to the hijacking of a kid’s delight.

Long ago, on October 31 and November 1, the Celts celebrated the end of the summer with the harvest festival known as Samhain. They believed it was a time when the dead could visit the living by passing through the thin veil separating this world from the next. They believed that during these few days, they could be reunited with loved ones who were deceased. Bonfires were lit to ward off any menacing spirits that might also return.

Pope Gregory III moved the Christian feast known as All Saints’ Day to November 1 to give Samhain a Christian interpretation. The term Halloween is derived from All Hallows’ Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. The Christian church recognized October 31 as the day before a holy day, so Halloween became a holiday of sorts.

More than five hundred years ago, in 1517, the leader of what became known as the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, chose All Hallows’ Eve to begin a discussion. He nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, the Ninety-Five Theses or points of disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church. In those days, the church door was like the town kiosk, a place to post public notices. Luther chose the day because he knew many people would attend church on All Saints’ Day.

Luther hoped to raise awareness and prompt discussion in order to bring about needed church reforms. Instead, his plan created such a stir that the church eventually suffered a series of divisions. Many Protestants regard Luther as a hero of the faith. To many Catholics, he is considered an incendiary rabble-rouser. Many Protestant Christians celebrate Reformation Day on October 31. Luther’s triumphal hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” is a part of the event.

In recent years, conservative Christians have renewed the battle to end Halloween observance, alarmed by the vandalism and violence associated with the day.. The conflict has produced charges from both sides that are unfair and untrue. While conservative Christians want to eliminate Halloween altogether, others prefer to reinterpret it as a holy day.

The celebration of Halloween is as varied as the opinions about the day and its meaning. Many churches have replaced Halloween festivals with Noah’s Ark parties. Before the COVID pandemic, a dedicated preschool director said to me, “We encourage the children to dress up as animals. We always get a Batman or a Spiderman in the mix. I guess bats and spiders are considered animals even in their superhero form.”

With a bit of ingenuity, a children’s classroom can be converted into an ark. I have seen Chewbacca and Yoda aboard such a makeshift ark. Are they to be considered animals? Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo from the Star Wars saga and the creative mind of George Lucas, as well as Harry Potter and Hermione Granger of Hogwarts lore and the imagination of J. K. Rowling, have joined Noah and his family aboard the floating menagerie. One time I saw Darth Vader admitted to the Ark. He seemed as out-of-place as Voldemort would have been.   

The church I served until my retirement celebrated with a Fall Family Festival, one of the happiest events of the entire year. Children and adults dressed up in crazy costumes. The event featured games similar to those that were a part of Halloween carnivals when I was a boy. Trunk-or-Treat replaced Trick-or-Treat. Families decorated the trunk of their cars or the bed of their pickup trucks. The vehicles were arranged along both sides of an extended parking area. Children and their parents moved car-to-car rather than door-to-door, gathering goodies from friendly adults they knew very well.

Present-day families have numerous options. Some omit Halloween altogether. Others celebrate it as a traditional holiday. Still, others try to find some middle ground. Even within extended families, there may not be agreement.  The decision is entirely up to the parents. Grandfathers and grandmothers may be tempted into a grandparent conspiracy. Please do not undermine the authority of the parents. Your restraint will be appreciated. Grandparents can have treats ready for all children with parental permission.

An eleven-year-old boy was looking forward to Halloween. His parents had always allowed him to dress up and go trick-or-treating. That year his mom and dad were out of town, and his aunt was staying with him.

“There will be no celebrating of Halloween while I’m in charge!” his aunt declared. “You can go to the party at church, but if you want to wear a costume, it must be something from the Bible.”

The boy retired to his room to ponder his dilemma. He devised a brilliant solution. He dressed himself in assorted sports equipment. With his Scout hatchet in one hand and a garbage can lid in the other, he reported to his stern aunt.

The sight of her nephew startled the aunt. “Young man, I told you that your costume had to be something from the Bible. Please explain this garb.”

“Look in Ephesians, Chapter 6,” the lad directed. “I have put on the whole armor of God. My karate sash is the belt of truth. My soccer shin guards and cleats mean that I am shod with the gospel of peace. My catcher’s chest protector is the breastplate of righteousness. My football headgear is the helmet of salvation. And the garbage can lid is the shield of faith.”

His aunt knew the Scripture well, but still not convinced, she quizzed, “And what about the Scout hatchet?”

“I didn’t have anything to use as the sword of the Spirit, so this is the ax of the apostles.”

The Grinch was outwitted again!

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

CATS ARE NOT JUST FOR HALLOWEEN

October 23, 2021

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I are doing what we can to help those in need. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider supporting one of the local nonprofit agencies that offer critical care in our community. This week, please volunteer for, or donate, as you are able, to the Spartanburg Humane Society, Animal shelter, 150 Dexter Road, Spartanburg, South Carolina, 29303, (864) 583-4805.

Cats are a classic Halloween symbol, but how did their unique place in the October celebration originate? Black cats have long been regarded as objects of superstition. In Medieval France and Spain, black cats were considered bearers of bad luck and curses to any human they came near.  Later they were associated with witchcraft. 

A friend was taking me to a medical appointment last week. Along the way, a black cat ran across the street in front of us. “Did you see that?” my driver exclaimed.

“Yes,” I replied. “That is supposed to bring bad luck.”

“Not for me,” my friend said. “I love black cats.”

The world is filled with cat lovers. The animals have been revered from ancient Egypt, where they were first domesticated, to the exotic Persian cats. They are thought to be the most popular pets in the world. Many of our friends are cat people, and some have cats living in their homes – the very definition of a house cat.  

Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Broadway musical Cats opened on Broadway in 1982. The production won numerous awards, including a Tony as the best musical. As of this year, it is the fourth longest-running musical in Broadway history.

Suffice it to say, many people love and enjoy cats. Some do not.

I am fascinated by the big cats on the National Geographic television channel. I enjoy watching the Panthers, the Lions, the Bengals, and the Jaguars of the National Football League.  I can tolerate cats around the house as long as they stay outside, hunt rodents for their keep, and leave the birds alone.

Since we were married, Clare and I have pretty much agreed that cats were not our favorite pets, and Clare just downright does not like cats, inside or out.

I have learned that when Clare senses something is amiss, I need to pay attention to her. Years ago, while hunting for a house in Winston-Salem, we visited one picturesque abode. We got no further than the front door when Clare said, “Yuck! The previous family had cats! Many cats!”

We purchased a different home, further out in the country, near the old Moravian settlement of Pfafftown, North Carolina. We had no sooner moved into our new domicile than our first visitor appeared on our doorstep. He was an enormous cat, as white as Martha White’s self-rising flour and as wild as a March hare. Neighbors told us that the cat had belonged to the previous owners of the house.

I made the mistake of feeding leftovers to the feline, and he stayed around for the seven years we lived there. I named him the Kentucky Wildcat, though we resided in the heart of Atlantic Coast basketball territory. In the seven years we had Kentucky, I never laid a hand on him. I never could get close enough even to scratch his ears. He possessed the disconcerting habit of darting across my path when I went outside on dark nights. Though I halfway expected his surprise appearances, he never failed to startle me.

I saw Kentucky for the last time on the day we moved away. I thought of trying to take him with us, but he was simply not available. It seemed only fitting. We really had never owned him. I doubt he ever had an actual owner.

Clare often wears two pairs of glasses. Her prescription lenses are perched on her nose, and a pair of reading glasses is at the ready on top of her head. But her unaided eyesight is impressive. She can spot a dead bug on our basement floor at thirty paces. She can see a stain on my shirt and identify the source before I am even aware of the blemish. She carries a Tide laundry stick in her purse, just to keep me presentable.

My wife’s hearing is equally sensitive. Several years ago, on a rainy night during a booming thunderstorm, Clare thought she heard a baby crying. I, of course, heard nothing. But I have learned to pay attention when Clare senses something strange. As I listened, I heard only rumbling thunder, whistling wind, and pounding rain.

“I hear something that sounds like a baby crying,” Clare insisted. I listened more closely, and I heard what she had heard.

I went out into the storm to investigate. Sure enough, Clare was right! It was a baby crying – a baby kitten.

I reported my find. “Don’t bring that cat into this house!” she instructed.

I heeded her warning. Again, I have never regarded myself as a cat person. Dogs are more to my liking. At the same time, I felt compelled to provide some comfort for the black and white foundling. The little kitten had obviously become separated from her mother during the storm. I could not be sure how old the kitten was. She was so small I could hold her in the palm of one hand.

Placing an old towel in a garden basket, I made a bed for the tiny trembling stray. Cold, wet, hungry, and frightened, she continued to cry. She even tried to nurse my little finger in search of milk. That didn’t work.

 I called a good friend, a retired veterinarian, who gave me sound guidance.

“You found her, Kirk. She’s your responsibility. You’ll have to become her mother.”

At a local pet store, I purchased a formula substitute for feline mother’s milk. The little orphan lapped it up and promptly fell asleep in the crook of my arm. As I have said, I am not really a cat person, but I had become the unexpected caretaker of a kitten.

Our daughter named the cat. “She was delivered to your porch by a thunderstorm. You have to name her Stormy.” So, Stormy she is. Little did I know then that the name Stormy would later become associated with a national scandal, as in Stormy Daniels.

My veterinarian friend advised me on immunizations and on the proper time to have her spayed. Those health issues were taken care of by the good folks at our local animal shelter. Now, when I take Stormy to have her shots, my friend Roger goes with me. Believe it or not, it takes two grown men to corral the small cat into a crate to transport her to the vet.

My responsibilities are relatively few. I make sure Stormy has her regular ration of food, that her water bowl is freshly filled each day, and that she has a routine tick and flea treatment. I also take a little time to scratch her ears. When I sit down on a favorite bench in the yard near the tree of life, Stormy still enjoys climbing into my lap for a snooze. I, though not really a cat person, enjoy that, too.

Stormy has made herself at home in our garden. She quickly found the patch of catnip and enjoyed a daily tumble in the fragrant foliage. She has her favorite lookout posts and napping places. She has climbed most of the trees in our garden and knows how to descend as well as ascend each one.

Early in our relationship, Stormy and I reached an agreement. She is free to stalk and capture any varmint that crosses the estate. However, she is under strict orders to leave the birds alone. She does have to be reminded.

Stormy has gifted us with a variety of relics at our front door. These have included an assortment of deceased moles, voles, mice, chipmunks, and at least three gray squirrel tails. I don’t know what she did with the other end of the squirrels. Perhaps there are three tailless squirrels still bounding through our tree branches.

Late one night, I heard the sounds of a major catfight.  Actually, Stormy had cornered a possum. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with the critter. So, I ran it off with a pickax handle that I keep close by for just such occasions.

As far as I can tell, the bird casualties have been limited to one starling. Honestly, I wasn’t a bit upset by the demise of the pesky starling. Stormy is a discerning cat.

I have a cast-iron chiminea in one corner of our garden that I bought from a fellow in Commerce, Georgia. Sometimes on cool nights, I build a small fire in the rusty stove. Stormy ventures over to check me out. Then, just like she did when she was a tiny kitten, she will hop on my lap. I am not really a cat person, but I scratch her ears. Stormy purrs, and we enjoy watching the dying embers together.

By the way, Stormy is a black cat with attractive white markings.

            Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com