Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hot Studio – Cold Studio

As I was getting ready to write today I was thinking about how hot it is this week. Well, maybe not so much hot as it was humid. How did we ever survive before air conditioning? My mind’s eye looked back on the times that I’ve been in radio or television studios that were not the most comfortable. One would think that with all that expensive equipment in a broadcast control room that great care would be taken to make sure the room was maintained at a temperature that was best suited for man and machine. But it was not necessarily so; sometimes, temperatures for one reason or another could not be maintained in the comfort range. That brought back images of all the studios in the hallways of my memories.

The first was WUSC-AM. It was located on the third floor of the Russell House on the campus of the University of South Carolina in the older part of the west wing. The three studios, On Air, Production and News Booth were all in the central core of the building with no outside windows. I never remember a time when those studios were not comfortable.

At WCOS, there were three studios on the second floor of the Cornell Arms Apartment Building; AM On Air, FM On Air which contained the automation system and the production studio. During the summer, except on very warm nights the building’s central air conditioning system was cut off during the overnight periods as the folks who lived there opened up their windows for the night air. There was a window in the AM control room but we could not open it because the music from the air monitors would disturb the tenants living above. So it got a little toasty in there. The central heating system was a “hot water” type. The pipes for that system were located in the floor. So sometimes at night, the DJ’s feet were uncomfortable.

Then there were the DJ booths at Doug Broome’s Drive-Ins. I did only a couple of shows in the one on the roof of the restaurant at Main and Confederate. Those were in the spring time so I have no memory of being hot or cold there. But the cinder block building in the parking lot at the Doug’s on Two Notch near Beltline was a different story. That was my on air home for several years in the late 60s. There was a big old Amana window air conditioning unit installed in the back wall and it did a great, although a bit noisy, job keeping the equipment and me cooled, once I got it started up. I made sure that I was there at least 15 minutes early to get everything up to speed before spinning that first 45 at 8 PM. During the winter, there was enough heat from the tubes in the console, turntables and cart machines to keep me comfortable.

The TV Studios at WIS-TV and South Carolina Educational TV were filled with hot lights that kept things toasty winter and summer, but the control rooms at both stations were just about the right temperature. The same could be said for all the different remote trucks that I inhabited doing sports of all kinds as well as events such as debates, news conferences and yes, even a funeral or two.

WIS-Radio was interesting in that the transmitter was in the room next to the master control room. The only thing between it and the DJ was my desk and workbench and a glass swinging door. With a west facing picture window behind the DJ’s position in the control room it got a little warm from time to time as sunlight streamed through it right on the back of my neck. The other two control rooms had no windows. The bigger of the two had a large desk and several microphones for talk shows and interviews. It would warm up when there were a lot of people in there. The production room was actually a bomb shelter since the station was the main Emergency Broadcast System control point for the state of South Carolina. With the hardened walls and underpinnings of that studio I don’t think the temperature varied more than 5 – 10 degrees summer to winter.

When I converted the carport space to what would eventually become my home studio for both the live and prerecorded shows that I do today I made sure that I had plenty of air flow across the room. The supplies are under my feet when I am at the console and the returns through the mud room back through louvered doors to the main part of the house. Even so, I have to make sure that during afternoon shows, I have the blinds on the west side windows closed to block the sun. I love doing morning shows there because of the great view I have of the neighborhood.

When the west wing of the Russell House was extended into Davis Field, WUSC, now an FM station, was moved into new studios on the north side of the extension. That control room, like the one that was there before, was in the core of the building, I did a couple of shows in the 90s from that studio and it was always comfortable. Sometime before I got re-involved with the station, the studio was moved to the south side and located near the outside wall where it has an incredible view through splayed branches of a magnificent live oak tree of the patio below. Spring, winter and fall are glorious in that control room, but summertime is a pretty warm time there. There are two air conditioning supplies and a return all located in the ceiling within ten feet of each other. There is a pretty good airflow in that room, all within a foot or so of the ceiling. Contributing to the stuffiness is the fact that with few student DJs in town, the studio doors are closed most of the time each day. I wonder if I can talk someone into installing a ceiling fan in there!

So the first thing I do each Monday morning is to pull the shades in the window down to block the sunlight from heating things up, and prop all the doors between the studio and the hallway open. Fortunately the nearest water cooler is in the hallway outside, close enough for me to make it there and back while a song is playing, even those short oldies that are my stock in trade. So, if I don’t answer the studio line right away, call back, I’ll catch you next record. I’m out gathering a quick swig of heavenly nectar from that life saving fountain. I’ve often said that I loved a crowded studio; that is even truer on warm days. Every time someone comes to visit, they swish in a cool breath of hallway air. I can’t wait until next month when the student DJ’s happy faces pop in and out to say “Hi” as they head to and from classes.

Bottom line, be it summer, winter, hot, cold, or just right, a radio studio is still my “happy place.” Oh MY!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Reflections upon another circumnavigation of the sun

It took a few minutes of lying there in the bed with one eye open listening to the birds cheep outside before I remembered that today was my birthday. Before that it was just another sleepy Sunday morning. The problem is, that left alone long enough, my thoughts typically turn geeky.

The first question that popped up in my brain was how far I have come in all this time; the earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours and the circumference of the earth is roughly 24,000 miles. So a person standing on the equator is moving at 1,000 miles per hour relative to the center of the earth, roughly 867 MPH at my latitude. So in a year that would be 7,594,920 miles adding up to 546,834,240 miles travelled over my lifetime assuming I was standing still. Yikes! I’ve been around a bit!

But let’s not stop there. Let’s see: the distance between the sun and the earth is roughly 92,960,000 miles, so it travels 584,086,272 miles around the sun in a year. So I have traveled 42,054,211,584 miles in my lifetime. Forty two TRILLION miles! Now if I only had a dime for every one of those frequent flyer miles!

Dare I take this any further? Why not: the distance from the sun to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy is about 621,371,192,237,333,888 miles give or take a mile. The speed of the sun is has been calculated by someone smarter than me to be 514,495.347 miles per hour, nearly 6 miles per second. Now, I’m really flying, 0.00320% of the speed of light. Can I hear it for a red shift! Now we are really getting somewhere!!!

So much for how far I’ve come, what about my childhood dreams, how have I done? I’m glad to report that I’ve been blessed with accomplishing both of my typically diverse “fry cook or brain surgeon” dreams. I wanted to be a pilot and also to be a DJ on the radio from almost the time I can remember. The path for both of those came together when I came to the University of South Carolina as a Naval ROTC Midshipman in the fall of 1963.

As a midshipman, in 1965, during my Second Class Cruise, the Navy provided me with my first hands on experience with aircraft. First came the venerable T-34 roaring off the sizzling hot runway of Corpus Christi Naval Air station to soar amongst the cumulus clouds billowing blindingly bright in a deep blue Texas sky. I can remember that morning like it was yesterday, climbing out with the canopy slid back wide open looking down at a younger version of me riding across the causeway in his family sedan waving like crazy to get my attention. I responded with a gentle wing rock much to the amusement of my instructor pilot in the back seat.

Next I got some multi – engine time in a Grumman S-2F Tracker. But I had to share “stick time” with two other midshipmen on that flight. Finally, they walked me out to a Grumman F9F/F-9 Cougar sitting on the tarmac. Hot dog! This was what I was waiting for. My instructor pilot was crazier than I was back then and we had a ball, even flying over the Alamo inverted! That was a round trip of a little over 30 minutes so we had plenty of time to play above the clouds. After leaving the Naval Reserve, I was able to follow up on the civilian side getting my private, commercial, instrument and flight instructor licenses then teaching others to fly after work hours. Dream #1 fulfilled, check!

That same pivotal year, 1963 found me discovering, thanks to a guy who lived on the same hall in my dorm, the radio station on campus. I soon discovered that I had a knack for spinning tunes and soon enough, I was doing a regular weekly show there. It was an AM station back then at 730 on the dial. I was hooked. I would go into broadcasting. From there, for most of the next 50 plus years, I would be working on one side of the microphone or the other, even branching out into television and later into computer systems management. This day, I still do some IT consulting but have returned to the DJ role in my semi-retirement. Dream #2 fulfilled, check!

Still, despite the accomplishment of my childhood dreams, I realize that the biggest gift of my life is not fulfilling those childhood dreams. Sure those memories are a blessing now but the thing I value most being surrounded by my family and friends. As I sit here remembering I can see all those faces and smiles in the hallways of my memories! That is my joy! I am the richest guy in the world. Oh MY!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Memories of July 4th on the air!

Do you remember back in the day, when everything shut down for Independence Day? There was very little retail activity in the city, grocery stores, department stores, office buildings and banks were tightly shuttered. Even most gas stations were closed, surrendering the holiday sales to those stations that stayed open to support those families driving to the lake or the beach or to grandma’s house.

Even though our sponsors were mainly closed, the radio and television stations where I worked stayed open with a skeleton staff. Well, maybe not a skeleton staff but I was pretty skinny back in those days. Unlike modern radio stations, that rely on computer automation and transmitters that control themselves, we had to have a live DJ to spin the records, play commercials and keep the transmitters on the air. That meant that all but the most senior DJs, also known as program directors took their turns at holiday shifts. These were often longer than our usual 5 to 6 hour long shifts. Some stations even ran their DJs over 12 hour long holiday shifts.

We were much busier when we were on the air back then; selecting and playing the records and commercials, running the transmitter and oh yes – talking between each record. That was the 50’s – 60’s and early 70s radio experience. Some stations allowed the DJ to segue from a record to a jingle and then to another record as long as there was a production element between each song. Not mine, every station I worked for expected the DJ to interject his or her personality between every pair of songs. So after the normal 5 to 6 hour show we were pretty bushed. After a 12 hour holiday shift, one could hardly crawl out of the control room and drive home to bed.

Most of my co-workers and I didn’t mind the longer holiday shifts because we were alone in the station with nobody to bother us. No salesman running in with a last minute change to commercial copy. No traffic person making changes to the log upsetting the plan you had for the current half hour’s spot breaks. Even the phone line quietened down as a large part of the audience was listening from their cars. Yes, these were the days before cell phones and instant communication from everywhere.

Holiday shifts presented the DJ with another opportunity. Instead of playlists being tightly controlled by the corporate programmers of today, the play rules were pretty simple back then. You could select any song from the top 40 or the up and coming list. Play a golden oldie after the weather at 15 minute after and before the hour, kick off the segment after the news with a “kicker” or high energy song, and don’t play two instrumentals or songs by female artists back to back. Other than that were free to musically program our shows the way we wanted, given the input to the choices coming from requests. The program directors and music directors of the station usually relaxed these rules to accommodate the DJs working long shifts in order to help us keep our energy up. In my later on air career that meant mixing in album tracks much longer than the usual 2 ½ to 3 ½ minute 45 rpm record.

These longer records also helped us when we had to grab a bite of lunch from the lunchbox, the delivery guy, or the friend who ran a hamburger, fries and milk shake by the station mid shift. All this eating and drinking led to other activities that took longer than the usual top 40 song. We had creative ways of managing that too. For example; in 1968 Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote a song for The Monkees. “Valleri” was only 2 minutes and 16 seconds long. It was hot, climbing up the charts peaking at number 3. So my buddy Scotty Quick and I took it into the production studio recorded it to tape a couple of times and after passing grease pencil and razor blades over it a few times, we had a nice “bio-break” song a little over 5 minutes long. Whew, just long enough.

I used to love to listen to my co-workers as well as the DJs at the stations that competed with us during the “bleary eyed” portions of these long holiday shifts. It was a treat listening to a professional ply his or her trade under less than ideal conditions. That was when mistakes were made and the exciting part of that was listening to how the DJ recovered from those mistakes. Anyone can do a “stop break” once every 10 to 15 minutes after the automation has segued songs, liners and commercials all by itself. The old school DJs who are still on the air will be the first to tell you that.

So as I was planning my Fourth of July special, which will air on July 3rd this year, I was thinking of reviving an old gimmick of playing songs that had red, white or blue in their song titles or artist listing. That hasn’t been done in a while. NOT! Yesterday afternoon, the legendary Lou Simon, the DJ on Sirius’ “60s on 6” did just that! You beat me to it Lou, but a great gimmick can go a long way. So tomorrow, you wait and see what I do on WUSC-FM. Oh MY!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Do you love or hate thunderstorms?

Growing up in Florida meant experiencing that 3 PM thunderstorm every day of the summer. So I got over the sudden flash of lightning and the roar of thunder almost before I could walk. By the time I was 7 or 8, I was fascinated by them. I learned at an early age that sound travels roughly a mile in 5 seconds, so a favorite pastime was to estimate the distance at which the lightning struck by counting the seconds and dividing by 5. So if it took 15 seconds after the flash before you heard the thunder, it was 3 miles away. That was enough warning to brace for that clap of thunder.

That worked for me until lightning struck a tree across the street less than 100 yards away. I was sitting in the screen porch that would eventually become the Florida room that would be my brother’s and my bedroom. I was sprawled across the chair all relaxed and chillin’ out. All of a sudden there was a buzz, flash and Kaboom all at once. I think I must have jumped high enough out of that chair to touch the tongue and groove slats of green painted pine boards in the ceiling. I decided for a few years that thunderstorms were more interesting when viewed from the relative safety of the living room. That was the first time that I ever experienced the effects of corona; hairs standing on end and that coppery – sulfur smell that comes from a near lightning strike.

To say that I was startled was an understatement. There is a difference between being scared and startled. Scared or frightened is when you become aware of a danger and you react to it. Startled is when you are surprised by something unexpected. So there are two types of “fright movies” being produced by Hollywood. What I call true fright movies include “Silence of the Lambs”, “The Eyes of Laura Mars” or even “Jaws”, the object to be feared is identified and then slowly the protagonists are drawn closer and closer until they must confront it. Startling is different, things are going along smoothly until the heroes and heroines unexpectedly come face to face with the menace, usually in a clap of thunder of a crash of cymbals in the soundtrack. The old “Twilight Zone” TV shows were a great example of the “fright gag” as Hollywood calls it. Being scared or startled evoke the same visceral “fight or flight” reaction in the audience.

I eventually got over being startled by nearby lightning strikes and began to enjoy thunderstorms again. One of my favorite memories of being on the air on an AM radio station was the crackling of static in my headphones and the air monitor from nearby storms. To me it was part of the ambience of AM radio; it reminded me of the connection to the listener miles away, a sort of feedback if you will in the same media that I was using to communicate with them. It was more constant than the calls on the request line, which was plenty busy. I particularly liked the static from distant storms which did not threaten me with having to reset the transmitter when lightning struck the tower.

It was when my broadcasting duties expanded to the technical or engineering side, and repairing transmitters and studio gear that were damaged by lightning induced power surges that I began my period of fearing thunderstorms. For some perverse reason, thunderstorms rarely broke stuff when I was in the studio. It waited until I was snuggled in my bed in the middle of the night before eating up the component that was critical to staying on the air. That middle of the night phone call ensued, followed by a trip to the studio or transmitter building in the middle of the storm with windshield wipers flailing away, knowing that the station was losing money until I could fix the problem. My most important tool on those stormy nights was a battery jumper cable that would be used to short the tower structure to ground on the lightning side of the circuit I had to repair. I’m glad to say, that I never once forgot to remove the shorting jumper before powering up the transmitter, ever!!!

Left: This is what a radio station phasor looks like. So, I pretty much hated thunderstorms during that part of my career for the damage they did to my equipment, be it a transmitter, a computer system or anything between. Well, maybe respected is a better word. I remember well, sitting in the open door of the phasor room at WIS radio after getting that old RCA transmitter humming along at 560 kilohertz again. The storm was still raging but I sat there staring up into the structure of capacitors and coils that filled the room in a steel frame. I was mesmerized by the flashes of the electrical arcs that danced throughout the room in synchronization with the lightning outside and it seemed to me also with the backbeat of the music that we had on the air at the time. We were all connected, station and nature in a big dance that gyrated around those three 440 foot tall towers where it all came together.

These days, now when I am no longer the person on-call, on the front line repairing lightning damage to transmitters and studios, I have come to appreciate thunderstorms more. Knock on wood; I am on-call until late tomorrow afternoon. I still respect them and what they can do, but I also see the almost mystical dance that lightning does across the face of the cumulus clouds in the sky. Besides, my grass can use the rain. Oh MY!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Dad’s Music

One of the earliest memories I have is the old vacuum driven windshield wiper on our old Model “A” Ford family car back when I was four or five. Placed over the top of the windshield glass in front of the driver, we called it a “dee-daw” because of the sound it made as the vacuum from the engine swiped the blade back and forth across the glass. That “deed-daw” sound was important because it was the percussion section for the songs my father often whistled as he drove.

Now, my Dad couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but he could whistle up a storm. He could whistle all the tunes of his time. Somehow the speed of the windshield wiper would always be in synch with the tune he was enjoying. Growing up in Florida, we had many an opportunity to listen to Dad and his windshield wiper during the late Sunday afternoon drives back from the weekly trip to the beach or the lake. It helped the discomfort because we were all sticky from the salt water that dried on our skins and from a little sand that stuck to us under our bathing suites.

In the late ‘40s and the early that old Model “A” that was the first car in our family, gave way to newer “used” cars, none of which had radios. In 1955, he bought our first “New” car, a black and white four door Chevy Bel-Air, complete with a nice new car radio. There it was, right in the middle of the dashboard in all its radiant glory with the speaker on the passenger side right next to it, filling the car with music, news and weather from his favorite stations; WMBR and WJAX. For a few years, I listened along with him to some of his favorite artists; Enrico Caruso ("Santa Lucia" and "O Sole Mio"), Patti Page ( "Tennessee Waltz"), Frankie Laine (“High Noon” and “Moonlight Gambler”), Perry Como ("Far Away Places" and "Some Enchanted Evening"), Eddie Fisher ("Oh! My Pa-Pa"), and Eddie’s wife, Debbie Reynolds (“Tammy”)! I will never forget falling a little in love with Debbie watching “Tammy and the Bachelor” from the back seat of that Chevy in the Lowe’s Normandy Drive in Theater. Both of us were upset with Eddie Fisher when he left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor and he quickly fell out of our favorites.

Around this time, I was discovering a new kind of music; Rock and Roll! A lot of my friends’ parents thought rock and roll was the devil’s music and forbade them from listening. But my parents had a more tolerant point of view even to the point of giving my brother and me our own record player and three rock and roll 45s; Elvis’ “Teddy Bear”, The Everly Brothers "Wake Up Little Susie" and Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll”. I was so na├»ve that I had no idea what a “Party Doll” was, and looking back, I’m pretty sure that neither did they.

This divergence in musical tastes between my father, my brother and me inaugurated the “battle of the push buttons” over the choice of stations playing in the car. His vs. mine – WPDQ and WAPE! The chaos ended when Dad came up with the fifteen minute rule. Each of us; Dad, my brother and I, would have 15 minutes to listen to their station of choice. Lest you think that wound up two to one in the favor of the younger set, my brother and I often differed on which of “our” two stations we would choose.

There were a few songs that were hits to both generations; “Cool Water” by Marty Robbins, “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk and the Orchestra and "So Rare" by Jimmy Dorsey. It didn’t matter which station was playing it, it was good times in the car with the radio turned up and Dad whistling along with the melody.

So, today, when we are all remembering growing up with our Dads, visions of driving back to town on Atlantic Boulevard back from the beach drift to and fro in the mists of my memories. Sometimes it was just Dad as front man whistling with his “de-daw” percussion section, and others it was the glorious sound of that speaker in the dash of that 55 Chevy. Whatever your memories of your Dad are, I hope you are enjoying them on this Father’s day. Oh MY!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Reading Those Meters

Say what you will about Facebook, it does bring birds of a feather together. I am in several groups that are centered on radio. This week someone started a thread “Be honest.... ___ percent of the time I faked transmitter readings.” There were a lot of responses to the question and to my surprise about half of the responses were that they at least occasionally faked them. I will state from the start here that I am a major nerd and I never faked a reading, not even once. I may have been late, but never faked them.

Left: Legendary DJ/News Announcer Mike Rast taking transmitter meter readings at WCOS. When I talk about transmitter meter readings with my millennial DJ friends they look at me as if I had two heads. “Meter readings, what the heck are those?” You see, we live in an age that does not have the joy of meter readings. It all started a few years ago with “automatic transmitters” that basically ran themselves, even in the case of AM transmitters, raising and lowering power at the dawn and dusk all without the touch of a human hand. They had no idea what a Third Class Radiotelephone Operator License was much less a First Class License. If you had a “First Class” you were “the man” and could operate any station in the land, no matter what the power of the station was. It was a sad day for me, when the FCC discontinued the higher classes in favor of the “General Class” License. Gone were all the hard hours of studying electronics and transmitter systems, all the hard work lost in a bureaucratic flurry of deregulation. There was a small compensation; they returned my First Class certificate with the word “Cancelled” stamped on it.

These days, one no longer needs to have a license at all to operate most broadcast radio transmitters. All the DJ needs is to know how to turn on or off the transmitter, or at least where the operator’s manual is that tells them how to do that.

Back in the day, we all heard the war stories about the FCC inspector visits, where they would walk into the control room in the middle of your show and demand to see the transmitter log. He would look at your readings and perform some calculations in the ever present notebook that was stored behind the pocket protector in the pocket of his plaid shirt. Hey, this was way before the day of the handheld scientific calculator. He would then tell you whether or not your readings checked out. And if they didn’t, the consequences were dire and in some cases, career changing. There was even one story about an inspector ripping a license off the wall where all licenses were posted by law, and ripping it to shreds in front of the slack jawed, pale face of the now ex DJ. I doubt that ever happened for real, but that urban myth was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow.

The other thing that kept me on the straight and narrow was what we called the “Chief Engineer” now called the “Chief Operator” in deference to the National Society of Professional Engineers. Once a week, he would review all the transmitter logs, perform his own calculations and have a word of prayer with the hapless DJ or two whose readings he deemed as fake. One dead giveaway was if the readings were the same for hours on end. That just did not occur in the natural world; fluctuations in voltage from the power company would cause changes in the voltages and currents in the final tubes. When the voltage lowered you had to adjust the current slightly to keep it in the assigned operating range. They also caused minor temperature changes in the crystal ovens that changed the frequency of the transmitter minutely. When I became a “Chief Engineer” all these fudged readings stood out very nicely.

Then there is the fun of power change time. This usually meant switching from the daytime to the nighttime transmitter. In the case of directional AM stations that could also be switching additional towers into or out of the tower array. Just in case you are thinking “Yikes!” it wasn’t too bad. Using the most common remote control systems, five minutes before the power change the operator turned on the filaments of the transmitter you were about to start using. At the moment of truth, you threw the switch to the plate voltage of that transmitter and the remote control took care of everything else. Some radio stations had more steps. For example, the night transmitter for WAPE in Jacksonville was west of the city controlled by remote control. The daytime transmitter was at the station in Orange Park. To make matters worse, you could not start the daytime transmitter at a full 50,000 watts of power. You had to start it at 25,000 watts and then 15 – 20 minutes later raise the power to 50,000 watts.

OK, being a nerd, I always made power changes at the assigned time, but being a crazy DJ, I was always looking for having fun with that process. At WCOS our day time power was four times our night power and that meant fun in the early morning for me. One of my favorite “tricks” was to time the record I was playing so the power change occurred in the “break” of a song. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by The Four Seasons is a good example. About a minute before the end of the song, there is a slow fade, then a one second break followed by a “kicking” drum solo and the real end of the song. Another was to time the power change to occur a moment before a dynamic song opening. “Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown was one of these. The song opens with Brown screaming at the top of his lungs; “I am the god of hell fire and I bring you – Fire!” I had a lot of fun with that one.

In 2009, I was contracting with a local company as a project manager. I was sitting in my boss’s office chatting with him about radio and he told a story about his being startled in 1968 one morning at 6 AM by “Fire” blasting out of the radio he had left on all night. I asked him what station he was listening to at the time and he said it was WCOS. I cracked up and told him I was the guilty party responsible for that one. He said that he should have known.

These days, I can’t get the old DJ/Engineer combo out of my blood. When I walk into the control room at WUSC-FM, I always make a set of transmitter readings before my show. I don’t log them and I don’t have to do them. I also switch the control room monitor to “Air” and listen to the transmitter for a few moments. It is part of my pre-show routine along with taking a picture of my “Rockin’ Socks” for Facebook. All done; it’s Showtime. Oh MY!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Something has been bugging me

You may disagree with what I’m about to say, and that is fine. But in recent years, it seems to me that there is a tendency to make every National holiday about our young men and women actively serving the armed forces FIRST and then the real meaning of the holiday SECOND. While I completely support our service members, they have their own holidays, Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday of May and each of their individual service holidays. If this had been going on during my Navy years I would have felt badly for the courageous folks, for whom the holiday was created, that their holiday was being co-opted to show me more support. This is just me talking; I have not asked many active service members. Although those I have spoken with agree, the majority may not.

This weekend is a perfect example. Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States designated for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces and should not be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans living or dead and as I have mentioned above Armed Forces Day is for those actively serving in the armed forces. Yet I see many more social media posts saluting those folks in active service than posts honoring those heroes who have given their all for their country.

Now, I know you are sitting there rolling your eyes, but, as time passes since the big wars, WW I, WW II, Korea and Vietnam and the ranks of the veterans who survived them gets greyer and thinner, and their memories of fallen brothers and sisters fade into the mists of time I don’t want to see honor for their service diminished.

I want to remember that Doughboy who died in the trenches in France during WW I, honor the WW II airmen who died in a B29 bombing raids over Germany. Let’s not forget the Battle of Bloody Ridge that took place during the Korean War from August 18 to September 5, 1951. And in Vietnam, the many Huey helicopter pilots who gave their lives evacuating wounded soldiers and marines from the rice paddy battlefields under withering enemy fire. To quote the United States Army Signal Corps Officer Candidate School Association Web Site; “Approximately 40,000 US Helicopter Pilots flew in the Vietnam War. Approximately 2,202 pilots were killed, along with 2,704 crewmen. For those with their hands on the joystick that means 5.5% never made it back. Considering that the average pilot flew 4 times a week, he could expect that during his tour in Vietnam he was flying up against the Grim Reaper on 11.4 of his flights. That means that every 4.5 weeks he faced death. In soldier talk, his life expectancy was 4 and a half weeks... basically, a month.”

Let me tell you a story! The Seabees (U.S. Navy Construction Battalions) began building camps for Special Forces in Vietnam in 1962. In June 1965, Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields was actively engaged at the Battle of Dong Xoai. I’m quoting Wikipedia here; “Shields fought with Special Forces soldiers against the enemy carrying up needed ammunition to the firing line positions. Although wounded again by shrapnel and shot in the jaw on June 10, he helped a soldier and a Seabee carry the badly wounded Special Forces captain in charge of the camp to a safer position in the compound. After four more hours of fighting, and greatly weakened, Shields volunteered to help Special Forces Second Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams who now was the acting commander since the Special Forces commander was one of the first badly wounded in the battle, destroy a Vietcong machine gun outside the perimeter which was threatening to destroy everyone now in the adjacent district headquarters building which was now under the lieutenant's command and its occupants holding off the Vietcong attackers from all sides. The lieutenant armed with a 3.5 rocket launcher which was loaded by Shields, destroyed the machine gun, and on the way back to the building Williams was wounded for the 4th time and Shields for the third time, shot to both legs. Shields was air-evacuated afterwards from Dong Xoai with five other Seabees by the direction of the lieutenant to Saigon on June 10 and died during the evacuation.” He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions there. Shields’ story is important because he remains the only Seabee ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

So, here is my not so rhetorical question; How many of you know Marvin Shields’ story and its significance in American History? My follow up question, if you please, is; Would you have discovered his story if I concentrated on the active service member to the exclusion of writing about this hero who’s holiday IS Memorial Day?

One of my family’s traditions was for us to gather around and listen to stories told by my uncles and aunts about friends lost with Patton’s march across the Sahara and up the Italian Peninsula, or during kamikaze attacks in the Coral Sea or of shielding themselves with bulldozer blades as they attempted to rescue a fallen sailor from snipers in the jungle at the edge of a runway they were building in New Guinea. These are important stories about fallen American heroes that need to be kept alive on THEIR holiday.

Another down side of this concentration on the active military on EVERY National Holiday is the loss of prominence of the holidays that are actually dedicated to the members of the Armed Services - Armed Forces Day. Do you even know when Armed Forces Day is celebrated? In the United States, Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May. It falls near the end of Armed Forces Week, which begins on the second Saturday of May and ends on the third Sunday of May (the fourth if the month begins on a Sunday, as in 2016). Not to mention that each service has its own day usually celebrated on the respective birthday of that service; Army – June 14th, Navy - October 13th, Marine Corps – November 10th, Air Force – September 18th and The Coast Guard August 4th.

During my years in the service, I was proud to march with my battalion in Memorial Day Parades to give honor to those who lost their lives in battle. Memorial Day is that day of honor. Likewise I was proud to stand my station aboard ship on America’s birthday, Thanksgiving Day and Memorial Day so that my fellow Americans could celebrate the true meaning of those holidays. It was OK to honor me for my active service, but only after honoring the reason that holiday was created. Oh yes when it was my turn on Armed Forces Day and Navy Day, I welcomed the support from my fellow Americans. To quote Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” Bring it!! Oh MY!