A solemn day today, yes but, give or take 50 years, America finds itself on almost the exact same footing as it did May 10th, 1975. Uncounted numbers of Hmong tribesmen, our trusted sworn allies against the Pathet Lao, were being left behind on the runway at Alternate (LS 20A at Long Tieng) as the last 130 climbed out to the east crammed to the seams with humanity. The loadmaster ended up sitting on the top step on the floor of the cockpit above the cargo bay.
Just as nobody wants to be the last to die in one of these affairs, so, too, does one not want to be left behind to face the wrath of the new landlords. Interestingly, we learned nothing from this teaching moment-right down to leaving the hardware on the PSP again. The present debacle outlasted our Southeast Asian boondoggle by six years albeit only gobbling up 2,448 folks trying to be all they could be. Vietnam was insatiable like the maws of Hell by comparison. Uncounted in all these shindigs is the cost in what we now antiseptically address as “U.S. Contractors” or, in the instant war, 3,846 mostly ex- military types we used to refer to as mercenaries… or pilots for Air America/ Southern Air Transport- or my personal favorite- Consolidated International Airlines. Six of one, half a dozen of another. Few know that every pilot who flew the Long Tieng Airlift was a civilian. Seems our Air Force was AWOL for this gig, too. Sound familiar?
Flying your Flag at Half-Staff
Being inquisitive once as a child, I asked my father about the history of flying the flag at half-staff. He felt it should be reserved for military servicemen or extremely high ranking members of the Executive branch-i.e., the President or the Vice-President. You should be accorded this honor once individually. In some locales, such as Pearl Harbor, the flag is flown at half-staff on the anniversary of the attack there- as it should be. That was a huge tragedy. Dad was a 33-year career Air Force fighter pilot with three NDSMs and didn’t have much use for politicians unless they could procure him a faster fighter. About this time (1954) President Eisenhower codified the rules. Here’s the latest regulation but it seems the current President is ordering up half staff treatment more and more frequently. What changed?
Based on this conversation about etiquette, I note I tend to see the flag at half staff far more frequently. I’m not some Karen making a mountain out of a mole hill but it would seem we cheapen the significance of the act if we overdo it nationally. The flying of it at half staff on today’s anniversary is more than appropriate- don’t misunderstand me-but simply because it, too, signifies the anniversary of a group event. I think it should be called for less and certainly not for victims of every extreme weather event to come down the pike. Less is more.
One morning down in California back in February 2020 on the cusp of the Corona Constellation, I arrived at my friend Sam’s house to find he’d passed about ten minutes after I left to go back to the motel late the night before. We had come down to be with his wife on death watch but I was still saddened to learn I missed the moment. I immediately turned and went out front to lower their flag. I believe Kathi left it there until the funeral a week or so later. When Cupcake’s dad passed, we did so, too until his ashes were spread. Ours is lit and flown 24 hrs. a day. It goes without saying that any reported loss of servicemen is cause for lowering our flag. To me, Dad’s explanation is more congruent. Veterans serve under the country’s flag and the flag is spread on their coffins as testimonial to their service. I have a hard time putting a congressman or a Senator in the same boat with Veterans.
But now it’s time to cast away stones as the Byrds sang. We will pray flags flying at half staff will once more become an anomaly. Knowing Fort Five Sides, they’re already running missions across the border to resupply the holdouts up north. SOSDD. It would be just like them ADHD generals to argue they need to keep their fingers on the pulse over there. That can only generate more candidates for VA benefits. Here’s hoping the next country to attempt to drag these Neanderthals kicking and screaming into the 21st Century will be the Chinese who break their spears on these cavemen/poppy growers. Historically, records show it’s currently Goat Ranchers 7, Invaders 0. In the era of HIND choppers and Stinger missiles, that’s pretty impressive. No less than Alexander the Great and Atilla the Hun pissed on that fire and went home empty handed. I wonder if they left their spears, bows and arrows there, too?
THE GREAT BIG BOAT VACATION
But I digress. I wished to share Cupcake’s and my most excellent mini four-day boating vacation with our kids and the newest Graham- granddaughter Penelope. Pardon me, we included Pickles, Widget (Minpin) and Missy the Yorkie. Taking Widget anywhere these days is a pain. He had a stroke last winter and appears to have lost his hearing. To get his attention now, you have to wave both hands wildly. That doesn’t play well in public. People call 911 when you start doing that. The EMTs show up and put you in those suits that button up in the back. I hate that when that happens. I can’t scratch my nose when it itches.
We picked up the boat at Seven Bays Marina about mid-lake on the east side on Sunday the 26th and returned Thursday morning at 0930. They send their own pilot out to exit the harbor and to bring you back in upon your return. They take all your gear and pack it from the car to the boat for you and vice versa afterwards. It’s like the Below Deck show without the servants and the big tip. We chose to sail south as that is the more unadulterated, prehistoric stretch. Being the week before Labor Day, the river was a ghost town.
The smallmouth bass fishing was absolutely incredible. We had to triage our catch almost immediately to nothing less than 2+ pounds and sacrifice the cocktail ice until we put in at Keller’s Ferry. By the second day it was up to a 3 lb. minimum. Look on a map and you’ll see Lake Roosevelt is like a wide spot in the Columbia River. The reason is Grand Coulee Dam. It’s like an inland ocean. And, unlike all those California reservoirs/lakes, it never goes down unless they open the gates…which they did on Day two. We woke up 2 feet lower and really had to crank the dual 110s to get off the beach.
If you’re old like us, and have to wear a mask, isolate or observe a 6-foot clearance horizontally outdoors, this is the glamping ticket. You’re miles from anything or anyone-no cell service, no internet. nothing. Your vessel’s a fifty five foot mobile island. You can put in to shore anywhere and tie up for as long as you want. From Seven Bays, it’s only 30 miles or so down river to the buoys that keep you out of the turbines.
These houseboat rigs are slower than the seven year itch but can probably make fifteen miles a day in a push. They have dual controls up on the flying deck. I recommend adding a small skiff and a 5 hp OBM if you like to fish. That and a shit ton of #2 and 3 Mepps spinners. The rocks underwater are unforgiving. Maybe a 2 ½ ” Rapala and a Tiny Torpedo. We saw one area with lots of cattails so I expect having a weedless frog would be a good idea as well.
The boats have everything you’d find at home except a king size bed. They’re all Queens. You’ll need the onboard generator to run the AC and the microwave and recharge the batteries but it was never over 80° so we didn’t use it. The microwave only got a workout as the autoclave for the baby bottles and associated paraphernalia. You have onboard potable water as well as unlimited direct lake water for dishwashing or bathing. The mean water temperature is about 10 degrees colder than a polar bear’s nose. Next year, we’re renting the one with the hot tub on the top deck.
Pickles has officially “dog-tested and dog-approved” this vacation and has given her complete concurrence on any future event. This must have felt like some kind of mega-supersized swimming pool to her. Widget and Missy avoided the water like Wicked Witches of the East.
Cupcake insisted on getting life preservers for the dogs “just in case”. When I put Pickles’ on, she seized up and refused to move an inch until I removed it. It was great for photography though. In fact, none of them were enchanted with the idea of wearing them-ever again judging by the looks we got. Taking the Three Dog Night picture was a piece of cake.
A lovely, uninterrupted four-day floating vacation with your new granddaughter? About $5,000. The memories? Priceless. There are some things money cannot buy. For everything else, there’s plastic.