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Archive for June, 2010

I am one of teachers who tend to grade student work almost immediately. At the end of the semester, I’d often stay very late to get finals graded before I headed out. So it was unusual for me to bring my work home on May 6 and not begin grading. I decided I needed some decompression time and would do other things through the weekend.

Whether it was cleaning windows, relaxing, going for a walk, I don’t remember; but I knew the change was very much needed. If you read some earlier posts from 2010, you are aware that I desperately needed some restoration. Monday would come soon enough for me to begin the process.

Well, Monday came and so did chills and fever. I was OK in the morning, but somewhere around mid-day I got excessive chills, so much so that I couldn’t even take my shaking hands out from under the blankets. As evening came on, my temperature rose higher and higher, hitting about 102. Next morning, I felt fine. By mid-afternoon, the same thing happened. Despite a couple of trips to the doctor and numerous blood tests for Lyme Disease, Epstein-Barr, CMV, hepatitis, etc., and a chest x-ray, nothing specific was found except that I had evidence of a viral infection. The chills and fever went on for ten days. I got little work done and pretty much lived on oatmeal, fruit and cold cuts as I had no energy to do much else.

My primary care provider said that while the symptoms stopped, it might take me a couple of weeks or up to six months to feel 100% again. Right she was! Every day for the first few weeks after this episode, I would go along merrily doing whatever it was I was doing and, BAM, exhaustion would hit me. I’d end up sleeping for a couple of hours.

arborContinuing to improve, that does not happen every day now but pops up unexpectedly, like this morning. I got up and did some trim painting outside, came in, showered, and had breakfast. I was waiting for our landscaper, Norm of Fracassa Design Works, to come out and realized that after he left, I needed to take a nap, or I was not going to get through the day.

So, here I am, trying to get this post done before heading off to “la la” land. This is not how I planned to spend summer!

BTW, the grading that should have taken me about two or three days to do took almost two weeks.

Oh, the reason for the title? For many years, I have joked that “when the world finally comes to an end,” what will be left will be either an insect like the fly or roach or a virus. Based on my recent experience, my money’s on the virus.

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It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged, not that the spirit hasn’t been willing. I was sick for a couple of weeks and am still pretty tired though improving. There are lots of posts running around in my head that I hope to put to paper.

Today is the 16th anniversary of my dad’s death. He and mom drove from Florida to Illinois in June of 1994 to attend the funeral of one of his brothers. Preparing to head on home, he packed the car, went back into my aunt’s house where they were staying, sat down on the sofa, and died. Yup, talk about a shock. The man my mom had spent six weeks with before he went overseas and six weeks after he came back before getting married and spending almost 49 years with had just faded away with no warning.

My son Kirt wrote a wonderful tribute about Dad which he has given me permission to share with you. The photos are from my parents’ wedding picture in 1945 and one that my mom carried in her wallet that was taken in the early 90s.

Dad 1945Dad 1990s

Flying Fortress

The Boeing B-17 Bomber was the toughest aircraft the allies could put into the sky.  The “Flying Fortress” remains a legend in the history of the Second World War.  It was the plane that struck deep into occupied Europe, in daylight, taking on the might of the Luftwaffe, braving the ferocious flak defenses.  It was the bomber that could hit precision targets from five miles up, then limp home with massive structural damage that would have crippled any other airplane.  It held ten flyboys, many still teenagers, and bound them into one solid fighting unit.

B-17

*Images are from government files and are all believed to be in the public domain.

Since its first flight early in 1940, this “Battle Ship of the Skies” had a reputation for getting its crew home, no matter what.  It was not unusual for a B-17 to come in on one engine, no tail or rudder, massive holes in the wings and fuselage or a collection of the above. Try as they might, the German’s just could not find a weakness.  Because of its tremendous range, some of its most dangerous  missions were conducted without the aid of a fighter escort.

“She’ll fight her way to the target, do the job, take anything thrown at her and do the damnest to get you home,” stated a young B-17 pilot after he inspected a 10 foot hole in his plane’s fuselage following a successful mission.  There is even an account of a “Fortress” landing itself after its crew had bailed out.

The “Flying Fortress” exceed all expectations.  It always completed its missions with great accuracy.  Most importantly, the crews were proud to say they have spent time in a “Fortress.”  She would take anything dished out at her and just keep on flying.  The B-17 was my grandpa.

The second oldest of ten children, he learned responsibility early.  He worked as a newspaper carrier before and after school and a golf caddy in the small town of Elgin, Illinois, outside Chicago.  He led the typical mid-western childhood.  His strengths in school were definitely in the practical subjects of woodworking and electricity.  He consistently applied himself and his dedication was recognized by his instructors.  He was nearing graduation when he was drafted into the Army Air Corps and chosen to be a crew member of the premier bomber of the war, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.  His training would begin at McDill AFB in Tampa, Florida.

These Florida memories came back to him one day when we were playing golf.  The cart paths of this particular course seemed to be interconnected with other longer and wider stretches of pavement.  Grandpa, quickly recognized the pattern and realized that it must have once been a training facility similar to his in Tampa.  These facilities were exact replicas of the 8th Bomber Group’s bases scattered throughout Europe.  I had a strange sensation as I drove down the same tarmacs that the B-17’s had trained on half a century before.  I was in a golf cart with my only worry being if I should hit a six or a seven iron off of the next tee while fifty years before, kids my age had been learning the ropes of the machine that would be the only device that could protect them from death in the coming months, wondering if the Florida orange grove would be their last sight of the country.

Upon opening a box of Grandpa’s stuff two summers ago, I came across the actual Pilot’s Training Manual from their B-17F.  After a brief overview of the gauges came a section that aided the pilot in assigning positions to his crew.  Under the heading of Engineer it reads:

Size up the man who is to be your engineer.  This man is supposed to know more about the airplane you are to fly than any other member of your crew.

To be a qualified engineer a man must know his airplane, his engines and his armament equipment thoroughly.  This is a big responsibility: the lives of the entire crew, the safety of the equipment, the success of the mission depend on it squarely.

Your engineer should be your chief source on information concerning the airplane.  He should know more about the equipment than any other member of the crew-yourself included.

Generally, in emergencies, the engineer will be the man to whom you turn first.  Build up his pride, his confidence, his knowledge.  Know him personally; check the extent of his knowledge.  Make him a man whom you can rely.

Obviously, Grandpa’s pilot recognized his strengths and made the logical choice.  If I were to trust anyone with my life, it would be Grandpa.  His dedication, perseverance, and loyalty were far beyond that of anyone I know.  When we were children he made my sister a doll house (it was enormous and detailed down to the working electrical outlets in the wall).

Instead of buying shingles, he bought a bag of five hundred tongue depressors and cut each one individually to shingle the roof.  He did this, not because he was cheap, but because he couldn’t find any pre-fabricated ones that were exactly right, so he made them himself and spent over two weeks just shingling the doll house roof.

One of my earliest memories is of Grandpa and me laying on the floor playing with my hundreds of matchbox cars and the tremendous multilevel city structure that he built for my cars.  It had working lights, a lighted helicopter pad,  an elevator and three different sirens and horns.  He was never too tired or too busy to get down on the floor and play with my sister or me.  The kids of the neighborhood quickly figured out their Sunday afternoon visit pattern and seized the opportunity to have Grandpa Clay fix their bicycles.

Today, I can imagine Grandpa cramped up into tight places of the bomber fixing one thing or another on the plane, in order to keep it in optimum running condition.  Knowing him, he probably even spent his free time helping other crews with their planes.  After hearing the stories of B-17’s coming back barely intact, I’m sure Grandpa kept himself busy, on and off of the ground.

It was also the engineer’s duty to man the top ball turret.  I’m not sure if he ever shot anything down.  He did give me a shell that he had saved.  At the time it was bigger than my forearm.

After the war he took his expertise and opened up one of the first TV repair shops in Manhattan.  He successfully owned it for many years until moving to Massachusetts to take a job with the ever expanding Honeywell corporation.  He worked there using his hands and thoroughly enjoying it until he took a early-retirement offer in 1989.  He quickly became bored and began working for five dollars an hour as the handy man for the local Sears.  Of all of his jobs, that was probably the one he absolutely loved the most.  In fact when he moved to Florida, the store manager called the Daytona store and had that manager create the same position down there for him.  I remember one day he came to visit and bragged about how a shelf had cut off a big chunk of his thumb.  Just like the old bomber he got the stitches and returned to work the next day.

I had not realized how huge this parallel between the plane and my grandfather was until after he died.  He had been fighting severe kidney problems for over fifty years, yet you would never hear him complain.  He was one of those men who didn’t care what he would have to go against; he would never say no. If you needed something at four in the morning, Grandpa would be dressed and out the door before you could tell him what you needed.  He would drive from Florida to New Hampshire non-stop without getting tired.  He could not keep stationary for more than an hour, unless it was if he was reading his favorite book, “The Little Engine that Could”, to somebody.  In the end it was part of Grandpa that was the most powerful and worked the hardest that eventually quit, his heart.

Grandpa took a lot in his life but just kept on going.  He never asked for anything.  He appreciated everything.  He left Elgin like a brand new plane and went off to war where the paint began to dull.  After returning, the mission continued in New York, Massachusetts and Florida, each year taking hits and making repairs.  Ironically, the final leg of Grandpa’s mission was the limp back home to the home base of Elgin where he turned in his wings after living a wonderfully successful mission.

Thank you, Kirt, for summing up so well this special man who was loved by so many. The love lives on …

In Memoriam: Clarence (Clay) Hansing, February 14, 1925 – June 15, 1994

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