Great Grandpa’s Ray of Sunshine

It seems like we’ve been home from our Santa Rosa vacation for months now, but we haven’t managed to get out much during that time.  A wicked combination of doctor appointments and poor weather has kept us close to home.  

Luckily, though, Kasen and I managed a couple of playdates during that period, definitely the highlight of my time home. 

I didn’t have too many chances to get pictures — way too busy playing for that, and most of the time he was crawling away from me as fast as he could.  Of course, he would stop and look back to make sure I was chasing him. No fun crawling away if no one is going to chase you.

Cornered. though, he would crawl right up to me so I could capture a shot of him with my iPhone.

I volunteered several months ago to babysit whenever his mother needed someone to fill in as a babysitter, but we’ve only had him three or four times so far.  

Gavin kept worrying that taking care of him would wear me out, but the only problem I encountered while he was here was that Leslie wanted to hold him too much, cutting back on our playtime.

I’ll have to admit that at my age I wouldn’t want to take care of a toddler every day but having him occasionally makes me feel more alive than days when I sit inside at my computer looking at the rain coming down+. 

A Second Visit to Doran

Our second visit to Doran Regional Park with Jeff and Debbie was quite different than our first trip by ourselves.  Debbie had been reading about a new walk that crossed the wetlands, a trail we had never heard about. The weather was quite different, too, a thick fog blocking out the sunshine that had marked our first visit.  We got to see birds that we hadn’t seen on our previous visit, especially Egrets.

A hundred yards down the trail a Great Egret blended in beautifully with the fog as it hunted prey (the camera and Photoshop made it more visible than it seemed in real life).

Egret Hunting in Fog

As I’ve mentioned before, I actually like walking in the fog but generally am not happy with the photographs I get then.  

This photo of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets grooming themselves in a pond is an exception, though; it’s my favorite shot of the day.

Egrets Preening

The fog was gradually burning away as we finished the loop and headed back to the car, but there was still some fog left when I got this closeup of a Snowy Egret on the other side of the pond.

Snowy Egret in Reeds

By the time I got to the other side where I took a picture of the egrets grooming, the fog was entirely gone, and I took this shot.  I definitely don’t like this shot as well; the whole feeling is gone for me.

Egrets Preening

The photographer in me is always in search of sunshine because that’s when I usually get my most memorable shots, but past experience has shown that it is possible to get beautiful shots under all kinds of conditions.  You just have to be open to what’s in front of you.

Wait Five Minutes

Twain probably wasn’t referring to the Puget Sound Area when he said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes,” but it certainly seems to apply here.  We have a lot of microclimates locally, so you never quite know what to expect when you head out for another part of the area.  On a recent morning we headed out to Theler Wetlands under bright blue skies, but when we arrived the refuge was shrouded in fog

and cold enough that frosted cobwebs glowed in the morning light.

This Great Blue Heron had wrapped itself in its winter coat.

However, by the time we reached the walkway on the other end of the refuge, the fog had dissipated and the snow-covered Olympics lightened the morning

and our walk back to the car seemed to take on an entirely different nature.  Even the Green-Winged Teal

and this male Bufflehead seemed to have emerged from the darkness.

The photographer in me definitely prefers lots of sunshine, but I’ll have to admit that I find walking in the fog quite peaceful.

I Really Am A Vietnam Veteran

After a rather long, frustrating effort I recently started receiving Veterans Benefits with a 30% disability rating.  I originally applied nearly ten years ago after suffering from throat cancer and prostate cancer, two cancers commonly attributed to exposure to Agent Orange.  

Although I took several people’s advice and applied through a local VFW, I never heard back from them or the Veteran’s Administration.  When I applied, the Veteran’s Administration was underfunded and overworked, so I didn’t think too much about it when I hadn’t heard from them for six months.  Finally, I reached out to the VFW retired colonel who was handling my case.  Turns out he had suffered a stroke and seemed unclear what the status of my application was.  The initial process of gathering materials and writing about my time in Vietnam had been stressful enough that I was unwilling to start all over again.

Flash forward ten years.  While trying to figure out what would be the best Plan D insurance policy, our agent suggested that as a Vietnam Veteran I was entitled to prescriptions through VA.  I decided that my copay was high enough that was worth applying again, and it seemed relatively straightforward, relatively, as it turned out.  After all. I had my discharge papers and that’s all that I seemed to need to get the benefit.  Nope.  Not true.  

The proverbial Catch-22 revealed itself. I couldn’t be sent to Vietnam if I had less than six months of service left, but since the boat took nearly a month to get there I wasn’t in-country for six months and wasn’t eligible for the Vietnam Service award.  I thought that the phrase “Vietnam Veteran” on my discharge papers meant that I had served in Vietnam.  The VA department didn’t think so and told me I wasn’t eligible for the prescription benefit because I hadn’t proved I served in-country.

If I had appealed they would have had to dig out my service records, but they told me there was a six-month delay because of Covid-19.  Luckily, when I explained that I had symptoms of Agent Orange Exposure, the VA worker referred me to my local AmVets center.  What a difference they made. It turned out the most convincing proof I had that I had served in Vietnam wasn’t the APO of the unit I was released from (which was Vung Tao province) , it was the photos I am posting here (and the newsletters Sgt Desmond sent me after I returned home).

Though I have no memory of ever looking like this, this is, indeed, a photo of me holding a “grease gun” taken from the FDC because there was no way in hell I was going to be stuck with nothing but my assigned 45 when we got fired on during the night.

We were officially a heavy mortar platoon, but, in reality, the tracks were set up to function as a recon platoon with machine guns mounted on the sides.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my platoon was assigned to protecting the engineers who were preparing our site for the battalion barracks and headquarters and, later, assembling the building ourselves.   Fortunately, because we weren’t required to provide convoy escort like the tank platoons and recon platoon were. Unfortunately, because we didn’t see any real action other than serving as target practice for the Viet Cong that lived in the village we were “protecting.”  We caught enough fire initially that they finally assigned two tanks to our unit, which effectively deterred the nighttime attacks.

So, we spent the entire five-plus months I was there putting up buildings during the day and standing guard duty at night.  

It was definitely grunt work, but someone had to do it, and I was proud of how hard my platoon worked to get it done.  

I even pitched in and helped with the construction, though I’m sure my company commander wouldn’t have approved since I had been reprimanded back in the states for helping maintain our equipment instead of just supervising.

If we hadn’t been shot at regularly and if I hadn’t been on duty 24 hours a day because I was the only officer on the premises, I think this would have been my favorite time in the army. I know it’s a cliche, but I have never felt closer to a group than I did there.  I felt so close that I volunteered to extend my duty until the whole unit could return to the states; when I was told that my replacement was already on the way and that I would be reassigned to a unit in Saigon if I extended I was on my way home.

For better and worse, those five-plus months were the most influential in my life.