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Stories Archives for 2018-05

Sergeant Stubby


Dogs are now specially trained to do amazing things.  Many are trained as police dogs, others to sniff out drugs, and some known as cadaver dogs.  The military now trains dogs for use in battle.  A few dogs were used in WW11, but it was unusual for them to see action in WW1 as did Sgt. Stubby.
Sgt. Stubby was the most decorated war dog of World War 1, and the only dog to be promoted to sergeant through combat.  How did this happen?
Sergeant Stubby was a stray, homeless mutt who saved more lives, saw more combat, and performed more feats of heroic awesomeness than most humans could ever accomplish.  This Pit Bull Terrier started his humble life as most stray animals do – hungry, cold, alone, and stranded in the town of New Haven, Connecticut.  Living garbage can to garbage can without so much as a doghouse roof over head, one day this little canine happened to stumble onto the parade grounds on the campus of Yale University.  It just happened that the men of the 102nd Regiment, 26th Infantry Division were training for their deployment to fight in World War 1 at this facility.
The pathetic little dog was adopted by a soldier named John Robert Conroy who named the puppy “Stubby” because of his stump of a tail.   Conroy started leaving food out and let the little guy sleep in the barracks from time to time.  It was not long before every soldier in the 102nd adopted the canine as their mascot.
After just a few weeks of hanging around the drill field watching the soldiers do their thing, this little dog learned the bugle calls, could execute the marching maneuvers with the men, and was trained to salute superior officers by raising his forepaw to his brow.
When the order came down for the 102nd to ship out to battle, Conroy just stuffed the dog into his greatcoat and smuggled him on board a ship bound for France.  Once safely out to sea, Conroy brought the dog out onto the deck, and all the sailors decided this dog was so great that they had a machinist’s mate make him a set of dog tags to match the ones worn by the soldiers.
Stubby served with the 102nd Infantry, 26th (Yankee) Division in the trenches of France for 18 months, and participated in four offensives and 17 battles.  He entered combat on February 5, 1918 at Chemi des Dames, and was under constant fire night and day for over a month.  In April 1918, during a raid, Stubby was wounded in the foreleg by retreating Germans throwing hand grenades.  He was sent to the rear for convalescence, and was able to improve morale of the other wounded soldiers.  When he recovered from his wounds, Stubby returned to the trenches.
After being gassed, Stubby learned to warn his unit of poison gas attacks, located wounded soldiers in “no man’s land”, and – since he could hear the whine of incoming artillery shells before humans could – became adept at letting his unit know when to duck for cover.  From first-hand accounts, this dog could hear English being spoken and would respond to check for any wounded men.  If he heard German spoken he would alert like a bird dog pointing at a quail.
It was reported that in September 1918 while patrolling the trenches, he discovered a camouflaged German spy hiding out while mapping the allied trenches.  Stubby smelled the foreign soldier and attacked.  He ran the guy down from behind dropping the spy to the ground.  Then Stubby clamped down on his posterior and held on until captured by American soldiers.
Following the retaking of Chateau-Thierry by the United States, the women of the town made Stubby a chamois coat on which were pinned his many medals.  For his actions Stubby was given a battlefield promotion to the rank of Sergeant, which meant that the dog now outranked his owner who was only a Corporal at this point.
After the war, Sergeant Stubby was smuggled back to the states where he was an instant celebrity.  He was inducted into the American Legion, offered free food for life from the YMCA, and whenever he went on tour for the war bond effort, hotels would relax their “no dogs allowed” policy for the canine.  He visited the White House twice, met three presidents, and in 1921 commander “Black Jack” Pershing personally pinned a “Dog Hero Gold Medal” on Stubby’s military jacket.
When Robert Conroy enrolled in Georgetown University Law School after the war, Stubby went with him.  The dog immediately became the official mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas’ football team, and to this day the University sports mascot is still a dog.  In addition to hanging out with the players and cheer leaders it became a tradition to bring Stubby out on the field during halftime at football games.  He would run around the field pushing a football around with his nose.  Nobody had ever done anything like this before, meaning that Stubby might have possibly invented the Halftime Show at football games.
Sergeant Stubby, American war hero dog, died in 1926 at the age of ten.  He was stuffed and preserved by a taxidermist and is featured in his own exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
A New York Times Obituary said it best when they wrote, “The noise and strain that shattered the nerves of many of his comrades did not impair Stubby’s spirits.  Not because he was unconscious of danger.  His angry howl while a battle raged, and his mad canter from one part of the lines to another, indicated realization”.
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950 words


Sneezes & Blessings



It has happened to all of us.  You are sitting in a room of people and your nose suddenly starts to tingle, followed by itching, then by the unmistakable urge to sneeze.  All you can do is close your eyes and “let-her-rip”.  Usually several people around you will say, “God Bless You”.  You have just been blessed by people you don’t even know, all because you sneezed.  Why is that?  What is it that prompts strangers to want to bless you?
A little research on this matter reveals the usual answer, no one really knows for sure when and why the custom began.  However, there are always several explanations offered by so-called experts.
It seems that back in the early days when people did not really understand the workings of the human body, the sneeze created a number of what we would call “old wives’ tales”. The sneeze was not well understood at the time.
Some believed such things as: 
a. The heart stopped beating during a sneeze and the blessing encouraged the heart to continue beating.
b. A person’s soul could be thrown from their body while sneezing.
c. Sneezing somehow opened up the body to invasion by the Devil or evil spirits.
d. A sneeze was the body’s effort to force out an invading evil presence.
e. Some cultures viewed sneezing as a sign of good fortune, or God’s beneficence.
It would seem that the people who believed such things felt that a blessing such as “God bless you”, or a simple “bless you” could be used as a sort of shield against these evils.  Consequently, different countries adopted certain words to accomplish this.  Some have adopted the German word Gesundheit (meaning ‘health’), others the Irish word slainte (meaning ‘good health’), or the Spanish word salud.  They all wish good health upon the sneezer.
I like the explanation that holds that the custom originally began as an actual blessing.  Gregory I became Pope in AD 590 just as an outbreak of the bubonic plague was reaching Rome.  In hopes of fighting off the disease, he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets.  At the same time, sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the plague.  The blessing “God Bless You” became a common effort to halt the disease.  
There are many superstitions regarding sneezing.  The following are my favorites:
     Sneeze on Monday for health,
     Sneeze on Tuesday for wealth,
     Sneeze on Wednesday for a letter,
     Sneeze on Thursday for something better,
     Sneeze on Friday for sorrow,
     Sneeze on Saturday, see your sweetheart tomorrow,
     Sneeze on Sunday, safety seek.
A sneeze before breakfast is a sign that you will hear exciting news before the end of the day.
We know today, of course, that when you sneeze your heart doesn’t stop, nor will you eyes pop out if you can keep them open, nor does your soul get expelled.  What does get expelled are hundreds upon thousands of microscopic germs at a speed approaching one hundred miles per hour.  The current advice is to cover your nose with your arm rather than you hand.  That way, all those germs won’t be on your hands when you touch the countless things you handle in the course of the day.  
We persist in the custom of saying “bless you” or “gesundheit” merely out of habit and common courtesy.  Have you been “blessed” yet today?
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Cell: 936-275-6986
574 words


The Fire Towers



Teenagers growing up in East Texas during the 1940s and 1950s were accustomed to being surrounded by towering pine trees, and sturdy oaks.  I was one of those kids being reared in about the deepest part of East Texas. In the pre-television days of the late 1940s, we kids had to invent our own activities to keep our minds occupied.  Some of them were good, and some were not so good.  Among the latter was climbing the metal fire tower located just west of San Augustine.
The U.S. Forest Service built a fire lookout tower probably during the 1930s just off Highway 21 west on what is now CR280.  The tower was located approximately 150 yards back in the woods.  Of course it was a dangerous thing to do, but it was great fun and a daring feat to trespass on the property to climb up the tower as high as one’s nerves would allow.  I recall a few females trying their climbing ability, but mostly it was the hairy-legged teen boys showing off for their dates.
Another fire tower was located just south of Red Hills Lake in Sabine County on Highway 87.  Whenever a group of teens made the trek to “Milam Lake” they usually capped off the swimming trip with a try at climbing that tower as well.  I do not recall anyone falling or otherwise injuring themselves during this activity.
A recent drive down CR280 shows no evidence that a fire tower ever existed, having been torn down years ago.  That is a shame as these fire towers served a significant service to our country.  The same is true of the tower that used to stand south of Red Hills Lake.  The towers have an interesting background, having been built out of necessity.
The obvious purpose of a fire tower was for a watchman to scan the forest for any sign of smoke indicating a forest fire.  They were constructed of either wood, or steel, with a small 10’ by 10’ building on top of the tower.  These towers gained popularity in early 1900s.  Fires were originally reported by use of carrier pigeons.  Later two-way radios were used, then telephones, or heliographs came into use as technology improved.  By 1911 fire towers were being built on the top of mountains.
In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the “Civilian Conservation Corps” which put the men of our county to work building many things in our communities.  The CCC built over 250 lookout towers between 1933 and 1942.  So, the golden era of these towers was between 1930 and 1950.  In 1942 an additional task was assigned to the watchmen in the towers.  That was using trained enemy aircraft spotters, prompted by our entry into WWII.
The use of and need for fire towers began to decrease and decline in the years between 1960 and 1990.  Modern technology – aircraft, powerful radios, radar, and even satellites, made the towers outdated and of little use.
Thus, they began to disappear from our forests one by one, unnoticed by most people.
It is interesting to note that Idaho had the most towers, totaling 987.  Kansas was the only state that never had a fire tower.  The tallest fire tower in the United States was the Woodworth Tower in Alexandria, La. at 175 feet. The highest tower in the world was the Fairview Peak near Gunnison, Colorado at 13,214 feet, which was actually on top of a mountain.
In 1911 a U.S. Forest Service employee by the name of William B. Osborne, Jr. invented the “Osborne Firefinder”.  This instrument measured the distance to and location of a fire by use of his invention.  Improved versions of this device are still used in certain parts of the country to this day.
So the two fire towers that we used to climb on no longer exist.  They are just a memory, enhanced by a couple of snapshots in an album which prove their existence in a bygone era.
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San Augustine, TX 75972
cell: 936-275-6986
669 Words


The Tornado



My cousin, Glen Anderson, and I were playing in my front yard that spring afternoon of March 5, 1943.  We had a new metal dump truck that we were using to move dirt all over the sand pile in a world of our own making.  The country was on a war footing and occasionally an airplane would fly over our small town.  Hearing a roaring noise we looked toward the sky for a military airplane flying overhead.  Instead of an airplane, we saw an ugly dark cloud in the northwest sky hanging low over the horizon. Glen decided it was time for him to go home, so he ran up the highway toward his home about a quarter mile away.
I ran around to the back yard of my home and found my grandmother, my fourteen year old sister, and my fifteen year old brother staring at a tornado funnel cloud approaching us rapidly.  My grandmother, Mary, was wringing her hands while chanting, “Oh, Lord! What should I do with these kids?”  My older brother, Richard, suggested that we run and  lie down in a ditch, which looking back was not bad advice.
Actually, we had no time to go anywhere as the funnel cloud was headed straight toward our house.  We all ran into the house and out the front door. Standing on the front porch we saw that the tornado had made a right hand turn and was traveling directly through our small town.  I saw debris flying everywhere from the cloud about half a mile away.  Then it began to hail, or actually chunks of ice fell from the sky, not like regular hail.
My grandfather, Big Daddy to us grand kids, was terribly afraid of dark and dangerous looking clouds.  He could tell if the clouds contained high winds, heavy rain, hail, or a tornado with just a quick study of them.  Several years before I was born he and my father had constructed a “storm cellar” about half way between our houses.  They dug a hole in the earth approximately ten feet square.  They walled it in with planks, put in a metal pipe for ventilation, built steps down to the bottom, and a large wooden cellar door to seal it off.
I recall several occasions when Big Daddy came to our house during the night and warned our family to “head for the storm cellar till this storm blows over.”  Dad would throw me over his shoulder, gather up the rest of us and take an oil lamp into the cellar and close the door.  The storm cellar had been stocked with drinking water, lamp oil, matches, a flashlight, one cot, and a couple of cane-bottom chairs.  Not quite the Holiday Inn, but adequate protection from the elements.
If there ever was a time that we should have been in that storm cellar, it was now.  We just did not have enough advanced warning to make it there.  So, we were depending upon fate, or angels, to see us safely though the storm.
My mother, Alice, was working as a beautician in her “Powder Puff Beauty Shop” in the downtown area of San Augustine when the tornado hit.  My father was in his office in the county court house when he noticed the angry, dark funnel cloud bearing down upon the town.  Panicked, he decided to drive the three blocks to the beauty shop and get my mother.  As he drove his old Chevrolet up in front of the beauty shop he saw tree limbs, sheet metal, lumber, and plate glass blowing past him.  Suddenly, his car lifted up off the pavement several inches, then sat back down.
He lay down in the driver’s seat until things settled down a bit, then ran into the shop to check on my mother.  She was fine but well shaken.  She had to physically restrain a customer who panicked and tried to run out the back door at the height of the storm.  Immediately after pulling her back inside, a large plate of glass crashed into the concrete steps and shattered.  Lightning had struck something at the shop, and a red ball of fire came out of an electrical outlet and danced across the floor.  Other than these incidents, the ladies were not injured, now was her shop damaged.
Worried about their house and family, mother and dad got into his car and headed toward home to check on the status of  “Murphy Hill”.  Heavy damage was evident all around them, as houses, barns, businesses, and trees had all suffered.  Fear welled up in their hearts as they raced the two miles out Highway 147 to our home.  They noticed that the German concentration camp had no damage which relieved their fear somewhat.  As it turned out, we were all fine as the tornado had turned away from us and turned more easterly through the downtown area.
Only one fatality was caused by the storm.  A young boy, Ezra Bryant, was killed when struck by flying timber.  Only five other minor injuries were reported.  Although there was a lot of damage we were lucky considering only one fatality and a few minor injuries.
Later on that evening I recall hearing fire trucks and ambulances from neighboring towns arriving to assist our small volunteer fire department in rescue operations.  Doctors and nurses from Center, Nacogdoches, and Lufkin came to render aid.  Military authorities and members of the Texas Defense Guard from Nacogdoches, San Augustine, Angelina, and Sabine Counties  all responded within hours.
All of this made a deep impression on my seven-year old mind.  I drew pictures of the tornado funnel cloud over and over for several years.
Back to the storm cellar.  It was used several times up until I entered high school.  My dad purchased a new Bendix television set from Tom Saunders, and we always watched the weather reports.  Big Daddy lost his storm forecasting job to the weather men.  Over time the storm cellar caved in and my dad filled it with dirt.  Today I cannot pinpoint its exact location, only the general vicinity.  But the memories are still there.


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