July 29, 2010

In Memory Of Those Who Served

I was torn about which of Tim's journal entries I should post here, 
and I finally settled on two, one of which is 
presented here and the other I posted earlier.

Today is Memorial Day, 2010. Like every Memorial Day for the past eight years, I’ll be at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery honoring the men and women who gave Their Last Full Measure of Devotion to this country, as well as those who served and were blessed to have lived beyond their service years and died in the Land of the Free. Like my father Carl P.J. Forkes and my brother Carl C. Forkes, who is interred at Fort Rosecrans.
 My favorite snipe at the Navy men in the family — and my friends who served in the Navy — They chose to serve their nation in the Navy, but I chose the military instead when I joined the Marines. D’OH!

Dear Old Dad served in World War II. He signed up for the Navy in January 1942, a little over a month after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I don’t really know the details of how and why he decided to join the Navy, other than a desire to serve and defend his country, a sentiment shared by millions of his generation at that time.

He became an Electrician’s Mate by chance. According to the Old Man, when a crusty old chief asked for any experienced electricians to step forward, Dad did so, even though he had never had a moment of electrical training or experience.

Whether he had any experience from working on anything electrical on the family farm is questionable; most of the place didn’t get electricity until the late 1930’s at best. But, Dear Old Dad learned a trade in the Navy, while fighting and defeating the Japanese.

Pop didn’t start his Navy career in the Pacific though. First he was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Texas, a mainline battleship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Shortly thereafter he came down with some disease, the specifics of which he never explained, and was sent back to a Naval Hospital in Philadelphia. Maybe Grandma was happy; her son might be spared serving in a war zone and sent home, but that was not the case.

Towards the end of 1942 dad was sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to pick up his next duty, a Destroyer Escort: The U.S.S. Wyman, DE-38. Man, that must have been a bummer! From one of the biggest ships of the Navy — the pride of the Navy — to the smallest, most unglamorous ship. Service aboard the corvette may not have been glamorous, but it proved every bit as dangerous as any ship serving in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

Destroyer escorts were small, with crews of less than 300. The skippers were generally commanders, or even lieutenant commanders. The job of the DE was to escort convoys and main battle groups, task forces, to and from various locations. They were submarine hunters primarily and DE-38, the Wyman, had two confirmed kills. The first was the Japanese submarine RO-48 on July 19, 1944 and the second, I-55, on July 28, 1944.

Right after sinking the first submarine, the Wyman’s whaler went to investigate the wreckage of the sunken sub and was strafed by friendly planes that thought it was a surfaced Japanese submarine. None were killed, although several men had been injured.

Afterwards, the Wyman served on escort duty, with time spent in “Taffy 38,” the task group charged with the invasion of the Philippines, and then with duty in the operations to invade Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

The war ended for Dad when the Japanese signed the instrument for surrender on September 2, 1945.

Young Carl’s story is different. He joined the Navy early in 1963 and served aboard the U.S.S. Pickaway, APA 222, from 1964-1967. Most of his time was spent taking Marines to and from the Western Pacific, with occasional stops in Hawaii, Guam and The Philippines. He saw the effects of war up close as Marines returning to San Diego from Vietnam would board the Pickaway for the arduous ride home.

Most people remember American forces getting to and from Vietnam by aircraft, but for a while, the Marines were arriving the old fashioned way: by taxi. Carl and I used to pick on each other with our inter-service rivalry and I always referred to Carl and the Navy as the Marine Corps’ taxi service.

The most memorable exercise Carl and his crewmates participated in was landing the 2/9 — 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment — on the beaches of Da Nang, South Vietnam. That was July 7, 1966.

Carl was supposed to start his Navy career as a radioman, but due to circumstances entirely in his control, he became a boatswain (pronounced “bosun”). Entirely in his control? Well, let’s just say he failed to meet the daily requirements needed to graduate “C” School.

He eventually moved from being a deck ape to the radar room, but I never lost the pleasure of calling him a boatswain’s mate!

Both my brother and dad have passed on, Dad over 30 years ago and Carl just under four years ago. His ashes are interred at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and it is for him primarily I attend the Memorial Day Service at that cemetery every year.

We all served, and those who lived to tell the tale are every bit as important as those who gave their lives in defense of this nation. All gave some; some gave all. And for that we should all be grateful.

Semper Fi My Friends!

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July 26, 2010

Feat of History

My uncle often posts interesting articles on a wide range of different topics, usually interrelated but sometimes not. At any rate, he's an interesting read and I would recommend that any one who is reading this to read this.


Been in a Little Feat kick all weekend. Little Feat, the band, not the tootsies things at the ends of my legs. Been singing either “Time Love a Hero” or “All That You Dream” all weekend. Not bad songs to have stuck in your cranial cavity. Well, I did put on Waiting For Columbus, thee Little Feat album to buy if you’re only going to buy one.

So, while listening to that album I did sing along with “Dixie Chicken” and “Tripe Face Boogie.” People always talk about how the Grateful Dead could jam and segue from one song to another, but really, the best band at that was — and possibly still is — Little Feat. Get this album; Little Feat puts on a clinic. You can download it for under 12 bucks.

Recorded live in London, England and Washington, DC, this is the lineup that includes Bill Payne, Paul Barerre, Richie Hayward, Sam Clayton, Kenny Gradney and Lowell George.

Lowell George is one of those guys; if you were an aspiring musician and/or songwriter in the 1970’s, you probably liked or even emulated him. Besides forming Little Feat (with Bill Payne) in 1969, he played with Mothers of Invention. The prevalent rumor is Frank Zappa kicked George out of the band for writing the song “Willin’.” Allegedly for the drug reference in the lyrics: “And if you give me: weed, whites, and wine …”

Sounds like a quaint story now, but a rumor like that, back then, no computers, no Internets to get viral on, the hippie culture moved with stories like that. Like the myth that Frank Zappa ate shit on stage. Not too long ago someone relayed that lie to me, as if it were the truest story that was ever told. And this was a guy who hadn’t been born until 1982. Or there abouts. How the fuck would you know, 40 years after that little piece of rock’n’roll mythology began making the rounds.

Actually, I would bet Zappa loved it though; it gave him notoriety and kind of fell in with his famous poster, Phi Zappa Crappa. If a guy would have a picture taken of himself sitting on the Vertical Throne taking a dump, why wouldn’t he eat shit on stage?

Well, one reason being that shit tastes like, well, shit and Zappa was never high enough to get past that, if he were actually ever high. In his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, FZ talks about the shit-eating myth (denying it ever happened) and how he had never liked drugs, didn’t want his band members using drugs when the played, or even drinking heavily. Although, as I recall, Zappa admitted he did in fact, inhale — once.

Lowell George was a prodigious drug user. Put me to shame really. Well, maybe not. The only difference between us, I survived and Lowell George did not. He lived to the age of 34, dying of “heart failure” in Arlington, VA June 29, 1979. Heart failure … goes along with excessive weight, too much alcohol and too much of the street drugs, like heroin. The autopsy showed that George actually died from an accidental drug overdose, but people who want history to remember George kindly stick to the “heart failure” story.

Like friends and families of alcoholics who die of kidney failure or cirrhosis of the liver, no one wants to state the obvious: the person died from alcohol or drug use. Alcohol and drugs, like nicotine, kill.

When someone like Lowell George dies from a drug overdose, it makes a lot of news, affirming for those opposed to legalizing street drugs, the reason why said substances should continue to be illegal. Ignoring the fact that being illegal didn’t stop Lowell George from obtaining his drug of choice. Being illegal doesn’t stop anyone from buying or selling drugs and by any estimation, the so-called “War on Drugs” has been a dismal failure for the past 80 years.

The saddest part of Lowell George’s legacy though is that he left behind two children and in a broader world, we won’t get to hear any new music from this man, one of the greatest songwriters to emerge from the 1960’s. He also had a great voice and was a master at the slide guitar.

My one disappointment with Waiting For Columbus is that it didn’t feature enough of George playing that slide guitar. It has all the great hits, like “Time Loves a Hero,” “Dixie Chicken,” “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Willin’ ” and “All That You Dream.” It also has scorching versions of “Tripe Face Boogie” and “Mercenary Territory,” quite possibly my favorite Little Feat song.

 “Some kind of man, he can’t do anything wrong

 If I see him I’ll tell him you’re waiting

 “Cause I’m devoted for sure, but my days are a blur

 Well your nights turn into my mornings

 I did my time in your rodeo, fool that I am I’d do it all over again.”

Years ago, right after Little Feat reformed and recorded the album Let It Roll, I had a chance to interview keyboardist Bill Payne. Of his old band mate, Payne said George was the type of guy you loved one minute and were ready to kill the next. Sounds like an addict. Predictably unpredictable. You never know when the person you can talk to sensibly will appear or disappear.

George would be 65 had he lived and likely might still be touring, if not with Little Feat than as a solo act. That’s what he was doing when he died 31 years ago. But we’ll never know. Waiting For Columbus went platinum years ago so he might have gotten out of the music business, got into real estate and ended up like surf guitar legend, Dick Dale, who performed June 6, 2010 at the Fiesta del Sol in Solana Beach.

 Don’t know if Dick Dale is into real estate actually, but if you have money and live in California, owning real estate used to be a great way to make your money grow.

In the thousands of rock concerts I’ve seen over the years, none of them, to my knowledge, included Lowell George. Let’s face it: there are a lot of them I just don’t remember due to too much alcohol and drugs. To this day I swear there were 15 people on stage when the Grateful Dead played Red Rocks on August 14, 1979. My lovely sister Elaine insists that wasn’t the case.

I’ve seen Bonnie Raitt and John Hiatt perform “All That You Dream” several times each, seen the “new” Little Feat a couple of times, but I can never say I saw Lowell George perform.

Back in the 1980’s I took my mother to see Henry Mancini perform with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. It had been nearly two decades since Mancini had scored a hit song, but for my mother it didn’t matter. Time had stood still and then rolled backwards. She was singing “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” as if she were 30 years younger.

 “Peter Gunn” is probably the coolest song Mancini ever composed! But Mom loved the romantic tunes.

Just imagine, seeing Lowell George, despite his age, performing his best music. When Dick Dale performed last weekend, he didn’t appear to have missed a beat. But, with Lowell George, it’s not to be. The best we can do is click on YouTube or download Waiting For Columbus.

That’s the true legacy of drug abuse; we lose a bit of what makes us smile every day when our heroes die far too young.

Unfortunately most of the pictures did not translate over into the Journal, so if you wish to see this entry in all of it's intended glory, than go here.
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