Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rose wanted to live in the palace

     She left us five years today. She was Oma Rose to our family, "our dear Rose" to some of her closest friends and supporters, and Mom to Elsa and me.
     I don't intend to honor her memory each June 27, but this fifth anniversary is special, and of course, so was she.
One of my favorite photos of Rose Van Thyn (Mom):
reading to a class during a lesson on the Holocaust.
     If you follow this blog or my Facebook posts regularly, you know that I have written about Rose Van Thyn frequently as part of my family's history and my parents' remembrances of their Holocaust experiences.
     She became a celebrity of sorts in Shreveport-Bossier and beyond with her role as a speaker and educator on the Holocaust.
     Perhaps, as I mentioned in my speech in Shreveport at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Service a couple of months ago, that helped give her -- and Dad -- a sense of entitlement.
     I don't mean to exaggerate that, but there were times when that surprised some of the family and maybe irritated or exasperated us. I will cite a couple of examples in a moment, but I want to stress this: Mom and Dad basically were humble people, and they were particularly humbled by the honors they received.
     Of course, they were pleased to be honored. But Mom took those honors in stride (most of the time). Over the 25 years or so that she spoke publicly on the Holocaust, she did not do so to receive attention; she did it because she felt it was her "mission," it was important to let people know -- especially young people -- what could happen if a country went out of control, if prejudice turned into evil.
     But a sense of entitlement, well, I wrote about that in a blog piece three years ago:
     This concerned the honorary doctorate she received from Centenary College, making her Dr. Rose, a title she loved. She was proud of that.
     And so one day, this was late in her life when she was quite infirm, barely could walk, could not keep up with her mail and her bills (she buried some of them in drawers).
     She was looking at some address labels and she was quiet, but she didn't seem too happy. After a few minutes, while I was on the phone doing an interview, she somehow got herself off the couch and, using her walker, made her way over to the kitchen table where I was sitting, tapped me on the shoulder, threw down the labels and exclaimed, "This says Rose ... I want it to say Dr. Rose!" And she slammed down the walker to emphasize it.
      We could say "old age" was responsible that day. But 12 years earlier, during her USC Shoah Foundation interview about her life and the Holocaust, that sense of entitlement also emerged late in the 2 1/2-hour video.
      She was talking about her return to Amsterdam after almost three years and the harrowing days in the Auschwitz concentration-camp and then the "Death March" in the brutal cold of a German winter.
      "Now I had nothing," she told the interviewer. "I mean my parents had some money in the bank, but I couldn't touch that because it was all frozen. I had the clothes I had on my back, I had no home, no place to go, and I always said, when we came back to Holland I was very, very disappointed in the welcome we got.
      "Here was Holland, here was Amsterdam, we had two palaces in Amsterdam, and they put us in a rinky-dink hotel in the red-light neighborhood, and we had to work in the kitchen there, which we refused to do, and we stayed there a week and we all complained and then they put us in what used to be a diamond factory, where they cut and polished diamonds, and they still had the diamond mills in there, where they polished, but no one was in there.
      "They put cots in between those mills. Food was catered in; we had no privacy, no bathroom. There were some faucets in there where we could wash.
      "... All of us were very upset with how we were treated. They could have opened one of the best hotels in Amsterdam, where the queen stayed, and should have let us in there. They could have opened the palace for us, which they should have. Not because we had to be treated different than other ones, but we were. They owed us that, I felt."
      Yes, she wanted to be in the palace -- like the queen, or maybe just a princess.
      Some people might look at that video and say that Mom was just kidding; she was capable of that. But I don't think so; I think she was indignant. She felt entitled to royal treatment.
      And you know what? She might not have received that royal treatment in Amsterdam in 1945, but my view is that she -- and Dad -- were treated royally and honored by so many people for many, many years.
       Were they "entitled" to that? No, but thank goodness, it turned out the way it did. We -- their family -- are so grateful and thankful. After what they had been through, it was right that they got a lot of breaks.
       She lived to be almost 89, having outlived almost all her family of origin and her early years friends by some 65 years, going from a devastating time in Europe to a comfortable -- and meaningful -- life in America.
       I think Mom would have loved to know that she and Dad have five great-grandchildren (it will be six soon). There were two when she left us.
       I think she would have loved watching her only great granddaughter color and write and read ... just as that girl's mother once did at Oma and Opa's house. She would have loved those great grandsons; she might have hugged them and squeezed them, saying, "What a body, what a body," as she once did her beautiful blond first grandson.
       We do miss our dear Rose. But she left us great memories and I believe she knows we were proud of her.

The two great grandchildren she lived to see: Josie and
Jacob on visits to the house on Schaub Drive in Shreveport.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wikipedia, you are not my friend

Coach Lee Hedges
     If you are familiar with Wikipedia -- which bills itself as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" -- you know it is a quick online source of information. Reliable? It depends.
    Can anyone edit it? Yes ... if you know what you're doing. That does not necessarily include me.
    As I informed people last week through my Facebook post and e-mail note, there is now a new Wikipedia page on Lee Hedges, a coaching icon in Shreveport and in Louisiana. I can assure you it is accurate.
    I created the page -- my first Wikipedia creation -- because my good friend Casey, who obviously has little to do other than a regular job, noticed there wasn't a page for our high school head coach who is also our favorite coach.
    Casey asked/suggested that I put together the page because he knows I have nothing else to do.
    But I was happy to do it because (1) I'm pretty familiar with Lee Hedges' career and (2) the man is a treasure who would be on most anyone's list of "most admirable" people in Shreveport-Bossier.
    Great subject matter. However, doing the page -- figuring out Wikipedia -- was a pain. I could be more explicit, but take my word. A pain.
    Especially a pain if you are technologically challenged, or just clueless. Computers, phones, TVs and remotes ... hey, I'm trying, but I don't always get there.
    Formatting Wikipedia, though ... help!
    I did not do well in high school geometry or chemistry, struggled in biology. Physics was out of the question, but not as much as trigonometry or calculus (even had to look up how to spell those). These are not sportswriter subjects. 
    But Wikipedia stumped me as much as any of those. You want to be confused? Look up how to create a Wikipedia page, how to format it, how to -- oh, please -- add photos. 
    It might as well have been hieroglyphics or Greek or Arabic to me. It is not, in my opinion, user-friendly.
    There is a Lee Hedges page because I did muddle through some of it, and -- thankfully -- got some help. Here is your link:
    It wasn't my first Wikipedia experience. A few years ago I was notified that a page had been created for my mother, Rose Van Thyn. When I first saw it, I noticed a few facts that needed correcting or enhancing, so I did manage to go in and edit those items.
     That wasn't all that difficult, as I remember. But creating a page ...
     Until Monday, because of neglect and/or ignorance, I never knew who created Mom's page. Looking at the Lee Hedges page, I noticed a "history" tab and clicked on it. It's a history of how the page was created and any changes that were made.
      Remember this name: Billy Hathorn. He created the Rose Van Thyn page and many others, and when I sent him a note, he bailed me out on the Lee Hedges page.
      Billy is 67, a year younger than me, and lives in Laredo, Texas. He grew up in Minden, La., attended Minden High and Louisiana Tech University, and after a few years in the newspaper business, he was smart enough to turn to teaching for a couple of decades. 
       Doing Wikipedia pages is one of his hobbies, and he has created a bunch relating to people and subject with North Louisiana ties. I know my family is grateful to him for Mom's page, and I'm sure many others are grateful for pages dear to them.
       I have gone to many Wikipedia pages for quick information, when I was working at the Fort Worth newspaper and now as I write these blog pieces. Some pages are very accurate and thorough; some leaves gaps -- some of them large gaps. (I am not picking on Billy here; this is a general observation.)
       What I can tell you: At the Fort Worth paper, we had orders -- DO NOT rely on Wikipedia as a credible source to double-check facts in stories. (OK, so we cheated and sometimes used Wikipedia anyway.)
       Bottom line for me: It's useful. And if you want information on Lee Hedges, it's there ... for now. I suppose there is a chance Wikipedia editors -- whoever they are -- could change the page or delete it. I hope not.
      Here is the process for me: I spent 2-3 days compiling the information I wanted to share, using several sources -- most notably, a story by Jason Pugh (The Times in Shreveport) that is Coach Hedges' sketch on the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame web site;  chapters from Jerry Byrd's Football Country, published in 1981; Coach's year-by-year records compiled by The Times statistician guru Lee Hiller; and my personal knowledge of the man.
      Polished the material into story form, tried (and I stress, tried) to follow the Wikipedia format and offered it to "Articles for Creation" on May 15.
      And then waited, and wondered.
      Nine days later an editor -- FoCuSandLeArN -- posted a note saying that the subject seemed to worthy of a page, but that the article didn't follow the biographical style of Wikipedia and needed "cleaning up."
      To which, I replied -- not modestly -- that I've been writing articles for newspapers for 40 years and I don't mind being edited or making changes, but can you tell me exactly what "cleaning up" means? 
      I never heard back directly, and I didn't know how to check the history, but now I do and I found that FoCuSandLeArN did some cleaning up, and took out segments that I had used from Jerry Byrd's book. That's fine.
      Again, a silent period, and then 3 1/2 weeks later, on June 18, "Calliopejen1" sent this message: "Lee Hedges, which you submitted to Articles for Creation, has been created."       
       All right. 
       Next task: Inserting photos into the sketch. Again, a complication process because Wikipedia it seems has very tough copyright standards. I submitted three photos (all of which are on the Internet) through an "upload wizard."
The Lee Hedges LSU running back photo from
about 1950 that you won't see on Wikipedia.
       In about 10 minutes, "1989" left me a message that the early 1950s photo of Lee Hedges as a running back at LSU "has been marked as a possible copyright violation" and likely was to be deleted. 
       Because that photo is 65 years old and a publicity shot -- common in those days and for probably 50 years at every college of note -- I doubt it would be considered a copyright violation by anyone with any sense.
       Nevertheless, Billy Hathorn explained to me how difficult Wikipedia can be on photo use and he found a couple -- one of Mrs. Hedges -- that are on the page now. I'm hoping to find a Woodlawn yearbook photo of Coach; Billy said yearbook photos from before 1978 are public domain. So we'll keep trying.
       Billy also cleaned up the Hedges page, added some significant information, and linked the page to other Wikipedia pages.
       One other significant twist -- at the top of the Lee Hedges page is a note: "This article's tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia. See Wikipedia's guide to writing better articles for suggestions." 
       Guess I'm not as good as I thought.
       My friend Tom Marshall liked that. He sent a note saying, "I think you need to work on your 'encyclopedic tone' a bit. In a subsequent exchange, he said, "... The annotation seemed so asinine that I couldn't resist."
       If I knew what "encyclopedic tone" meant, I would fix it. If I knew what annotation meant, I probably would agree.
       Anyway, I have done a Wikipedia page, and I've had several people suggest that I do some more. And I'm answering, that ain't gonna happen. I've done my one, and it's a painful process. (Have I been clear enough about that?)


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Another year, another birthday

     If someone would say to me today, "You don't look a day over 67," I would tell them they are wrong. That is exactly what I am.
     I am writing this as an annual June 16 exercise, kind of like a yearly check-up. But it's a heckuva lot easier writing this than my yearly physical. (No major problems, but I'll get to that in a moment.)
Our daughter posted this on Facebook this morning

     I don't mind having another birthday; I'll take as many as I can get ... in good health. And I intend to make each day of the year I am 68 a good day.
     That is the intention; the reality is that not all days go how we want. Yesterday, the last day I was 67, was one of those bittersweet days. Saw a lot of people that were part of a good time in life many years ago, but the occasion -- the Billy Laird funeral -- was a tough one.
     The best part of life these days, no question, is time with my wife -- well, most of the time -- and to see the kids and in-law kids doing well and, most of all, those beautiful, smart, energetic four grandchildren.
     We don't see those grandkids enough, but -- a lot of you can identify -- when we do, they ... wear ... us ... out.  We expect the same soon of Eli, who is almost nine months old and is the best gift I received in the year between birthdays.
     The most difficult part of life for me is the deaths of people who were friends for many years. They tend to come so quickly these days. My wife says I have difficulty with those, and maybe that's true.
     We are reminded each time of our mortality, and I need to remember -- I try to remember -- the good that these people left us. That, I believe, is why we're here; to make this world better for the people around us.
     Billy Laird did that for me. So did three other coaches who have died in the past couple of months -- Larry Little, Clem Henderson and Billy Wiggins.
      For the happier part of life ... Beatrice and I enjoy reading and watching our favorite shows on TV and the occasional outing for entertainment (Bass Hall, museums, the book store, a movie or two). There is not much watching of sports events in person, which is OK. We get enough of that on TV -- the Mavericks and NBA for Bea, a nice variety for me (much to her, let's say, annoyance.)
      And one of us -- I'm not saying who -- is stuck on a computer game.
      One of us -- that would be me -- probably spends too much time at the computer. But writing this blog, as I've said before, keeps me motivated and keeps my skills (what few I had) from eroding totally.
      We like our Facebook time, except when we don't (that would be the slanted political posts and the negativity about our country. Hey, it's not perfect, but darned if I am going to take a doomsday view, and I don't appreciate it from others.)
      I like to follow politics. Not in great detail, but we watch PBS for the NewsHour and the political discussions. And if we could fast-forward through the 2016 Presidential election cycle, that would be fine. This drags out forever, and I'm still looking for a candidate I think will satisfy our needs.
      Oh, back to happier subjects ... 
      We both like to exercise -- the daily walks, a little gym work, and lately, a class of two of yoga a week. And we need that because ... we both like to eat.
      But about eating, we have to be careful. To be honest, I'd gotten careless the past few months. Too many sweets (I love chocolate), too many potatoes, too many snacks. (And too many reminders from my wife about this).
      This brings me to the yearly physical exam. It's always fun.
      The doctor was satisfied with my weight and OK with the exercise routine, although I could do more. But ... the numbers on the cholesterol and triglycerides were so far "out of range," I can't count that high. As a PBS report last week informed me, I'm one of about 3 million people with high LDL cholesterol -- that's the bad one.
       So the doctor is talking use of statins. I will take that under advisement -- as a counselor once said to me. But the immediate goal is a stricter diet -- vegetables in place of chocolate, for instance -- and more exercise. Then we'll check those numbers again.
        My body aches more; right now, the ring finger and little finger on my right hand are revolting (arthritis? carpal tunnel?); and I stumble and bump into things a couple of times a day; and Bea and I each misplace things, and can't find names and places for our thoughts at times. The aging process, right?
         Still, it's nice to be here; life is good, and we know from our friends in our age range, and the recent losses, that it can all end so quickly. 
         So I love the birthdays, and I hope -- I intend -- to file the annual birthday blog again next year. I will look a day over 68 then.  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A hero, a friend ... a great life

      Two thoughts right off about Billy Laird:
      (1) He was my first high school hero. I'll say he was many people's first high school hero.
      (2) I have known many, many great competitors in my years in athletics. No one ever was a greater competitor than Billy Laird.
      No one.
      In the first high school football game I saw, Billy threw the winning touchdown pass on the last play. Right there I was a fan for life.
     That night -- late September 1961 -- I was 14 years old, a junior high kid in the stands. To think that the winning quarterback would be my friend for 50-plus years was beyond my dreams.  
      In the first college football game in which I was the statistician for my school (Louisiana Tech), Billy was the quarterback. We didn't win that night, we didn't even score, but I was so proud to be a very small part of the program -- and Mr. Laird was one reason why I was.
     I write this, and it's agonizing. It has been an agonizing month.
     Because today, we lost Billy Laird at age 71. We pretty much knew the inevitability. But still it hurts. And as agonizing as it's been for all of us, his friends, think what it was like for the family.
     Excuse me, but ... damn.
     He leaves behind so much -- most importantly, a beautiful family (in every way): His wife of 50 years, their two children, their four grandchildren (who so much loved him, as he did them).
    A legendary football career -- as the first in the line of great quarterbacks at Woodlawn High in Shreveport (our first connection) and then at Louisiana Tech University, where he was a three-time, record-setting, all-conference star with more than 4,000 passing yards.
     An equally legendary, and long, football coaching career -- a number of college stops and then terrific years as athletic director and coach at Nashville (Ark.) High School and Ruston (La.) High, where through the day he was stricken he remained as AD and where his son Brad -- also an outstanding QB, at Ruston High and in college -- succeeded him as head coach.
     And thousands of friends and admirers -- teammates, fellow coaches and teachers and administrators -- from every stop.
     Those of us who followed him at Woodlawn and Louisiana Tech revered him, believe me. I know that Trey Prather, the next great QB at Woodlawn in the early 1960s, idolized him. I can almost guarantee that Terry Bradshaw and Joe Ferguson and Johnny Booty -- the three QBs that followed, will tell you that Billy was their hero, too.
     Here is what I believe, what I know: This was an extraordinary life. This guy just about had it all.            
     He was good-looking (although I wouldn't have told him that), he was smart, he was just a helluva athlete in football and baseball. He was a son, brother, husband, father, grandfather -- and just a plain, good person.
     Heck, yeah, he could get upset ... the hard-driving, demanding, hat-throwing QB and coach, play-caller. He wasn't as calm as, say, the head football coaches he played for and/or worked with -- Lee Hedges, Joe Aillet, A.L. Williams. 
     But he was such a natural athlete, and like his coaches, a natural leader. Billy wasn't pretentious; he didn't yell to show how big he was. He was point-blank honest, but diplomatic, too. For me, he was always fun to talk to, and to be around.
     If I had a football question or needed to check on a fact from the distant (or recent) past, I knew Billy would know. He didn't forget plays, or games, or people. A couple of times he admonished for one of my rare outlandish observations.
     Those us from Woodlawn, and Louisiana Tech, know how good he was at quarterback.
     He had a rifle arm -- maybe not like Bradshaw, but few had that -- but he threw a catchable pass. He wasn't quite as accurate as Ferguson -- few were -- and maybe more prone to throw interceptions (I used to kid him about setting INT records at Tech, in addition to a whole bunch of positive passing records). He was more like Prather in fiery leadership, but Billy wasn't going to fight anyone.
     (He would really show off that arm in baseball, as a catcher, or -- when his football coaches didn't want him catching -- at third base. He would field a grounder, take his time, inspect the ball, then fire it to a first baseman ... who was at risk.)
     Mainly, Billy had great vision of the football field -- as a player and a coach. He knew how offenses could exploit defenses -- and he was as masterful running the two-minute drill as anyone I've seen.
     Back to extraordinary ...
Brenda and Billy Laird
     He led his high school team to a monumental district championship; he led his college team to a conference title and a nearly perfect season; he then married the high school "beauty," homecoming queen and cheerleader from our neighborhood (Brenda Boyette, from Sunset Acres) right after she graduated from Woodlawn. Like I said, smart. 
     He had a shot at pro football, and it didn't take, only because the team that drafted him (Boston Patriots) and kept him on the taxi squad for a year also acquired a Heisman Trophy winner (John Huarte, Notre Dame) and the owner insisted the team keep Huarte, although Billy cleared outplayed him in training camp and preseason games.
     Teams were limited, and rosters were limited; this was before expansion of the NFL. A few years later, he might've stayed in the pros for years.
     So Billy turned to coaching. He eventually would coach with some great names -- Frank Broyles, Raymond Berry, Joe Gibbs, Don Breaux -- and on the Tulane staff which beat LSU for the first time in 25 years. Later, it was on to Northwestern State and back to Louisiana Tech -- and some very successful years.
     He took time out from coaching, went into sales, and watched his son quarterback Ruston High to two state championships and a 31-1 record -- and one of those teams (1990) is considered one of Louisiana's best ever.
     Then Billy went to Nashville, Ark. -- of all places -- and built a state championship program there (five trips to the state-title game). In 1999, an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story referred to him as "Dr. Offense."
     Then it was back to Ruston, back to near the grandkids, and while his teams didn't win as much there as Billy would've liked (Neville and West Monroe were tough district rivals always, and Ruston was on the low end of enrollment in its classification), his teams were competitive and fun to watch.
     Billy and I laughed often at how much we each loved the passing game. Billy learned it from his coaches; Lee Hedges opened it up in 1961 at Woodlawn, at a time when few coaches did; and Joe Aillet was among the first in the Deep South to install the pro-style, spread-the-field offense. It was perfect for Billy.
     About 10 years ago, one day Billy told me his dream game would be to have his team throw a pass on every play. I don't think he was kidding.
     (So there you go, Brad ... make Dad's dream come true.)
     Billy's dreams did come true, though, in many ways. He was about four F's -- football, fishing, friends ... and family.
      For us at Woodlawn, it began with the crew-cut, determined kid wearing the all-royal blue uniform with jersey No. 10. I wrote about him and that team (winless in 1960, district champions in 1961) three years ago: 
       It was a great bunch of kids -- undersized, overachievers -- and they were extremely well-coached. There was some terrific talent there, but no way it would have happened without the passing ability, the cool and the leadership of Billy Laird.
       He was the best competitor. He was great people. First heroes are irreplaceable.          

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Floods, tornadoes, disasters ... and mercy

       I am going to write about floods, tornadoes, the Netherlands and Wimberley, Texas, but first ...
       It is early June, the sun is out here in Fort Worth, the temperature is going to hit 90 or better today ... and no rain is forecast. Thank goodness.
      We will take all the dry weather we can get for a few days. Because just about all it did here -- and all over Texas -- in May was rain, rain, rain.
      It rained seemingly 32 of the 31 days, and with the rain, came the horrible flooding and tornado warnings, and tornadoes that were sighted and then touched down. And so there was destruction and tragedy, and if you don't know about it, where have you been hiding?
      It's the wettest May in recorded Texas-weather history, the third-wettest month ever (two Aprils had more rain). It's a long way from last year, which was the driest year we've had here since 2005 and the 13th driest year on record, and from 2011 when we had more than 100 days of 100 degrees or higher ... and it rained only a trace all summer.
      No one is talking about drought here now.
      What we're talking about is all those pictures and videos we've seen from floods in the area around Fort Worth (mostly to the southwest of us), Dallas, and Houston, and San Antonio, and Austin ... and the hill country.
      Difficult to watch.
The Fort Worth flood of 1949, and an iconic photo (
      We know it could happen to us. If you live long enough, you know natural disasters can strike close to you.
      We were fortunate that Fort Worth was not hit hard, but we've had flash floods over the years with roads under water. And if you've ever seen the photos from the flood of 1949 -- with the Montgomery Ward building surrounded by water and Colonial Country Club, right next to the Trinity River, so covered that the big golf tournament that year could not be played, you know it's not out of the realm of possibility here.
      I keep rolling this phrase in my mind -- "as one-sided as a flood." I have seen that written in sports stories, in terms of games or a Usain Bolt sprint -- and if that is supposed to be funny, here is my reaction: It is inappropriate. It is not a damn bit funny.
      I have been aware of how destructive floods can be since I was a little Dutch boy a long, long time ago, and so every time I see a flooded area, I think of my home country.
     My home state is now Texas, and we're still thinking about floods. True, too, in my former home (and forever-in-my-heart home), North Louisiana.
      It was gut-wrenching to see the crush of water in the Wimberley, Texas (Hays County)  area last week, and to hear and read about the dozen deaths as houses were swept off their foundations ... houses with people in them.
      And then, just as I make the connection of flooding to 1953 and the Netherlands, I learned of a connection to Wimberley.
Steve Thurber ... Woodlawn High, Louisiana Tech and now
mayor of flood-stricken Wimberley, Texas (
      Steve Thurber was a heckuva tennis player and good student at Woodlawn High School in Shreveport and at Louisiana Tech University in the 1960s. I was a fan of his then, he was a good friend, and when I saw him at our class reunion in 2010, he mentioned that he lived in Wimberley -- after years and years in Houston -- and was on the City Council.
      But, honestly, I'd forgotten the name of the town he told me.
      My memory was refreshed when Karen Bryant Dye -- also in the Woodlawn Class of '65 -- posted on Facebook that Steve is the mayor of that little town (population 2,626, by the 2010 census) in the hill country of Texas.
      Good place to be -- a resort area, between Austin and San Antonio and 16 miles from San Marcos, known for its scenery and its cabins and bed-and-breakfast homes -- until last week. That's when all the rains caused the Blanco River (never heard of it before) to surge from its banks ... and take over.
      No tennis match, no tax return (he's a longtime CPA) ever prepared Steve for this.
      And to think that being mayor there -- a position to which he was elected a year ago in May -- is a non-paying job. 
      Suddenly, unexpectedly, he became a spokesman for his town and area dealing with tragedy and dire circumstances.           
      Heard from a mutual friend who had been in contact with him that Steve and his wife and their home were OK. But for sure, their lives -- and everyone else's in that area -- has been drastically affected the past 10 days.
      We saw the reports from the NBC Nightly News, with Lester Holt anchoring from Wimberley (with flooded areas in the background), but Steve was not interviewed for that program. However, searching on the Internet, I found where he has done several interviews, television and radio, with national and Texas networks.
      Here are two of those links:
      As Steve explained it, there has been periodical history of flooding around Wimberley and in the hill country, a recorded surge of 33 1/2 feet by the Blanco River in 1929, but this surge was recorded at 44 feet before the rain gauges were washed away.
      There were "reverse" 911 calls made to warn people of the impending danger, but those calls can't be made to cellphones, so vacationers in the area -- and there were many -- were the mercy of the raging river.
      Thurber said seven homes were completely destroyed, taken off their foundations and down the river, and some 350 homes and businesses in the community were damaged. But, of course, the loss of lives was the real devastation, the stories over which we agonized.
       I know the feeling. I remember it from when I was 5 years old.
       Overnight on Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 1953 -- when we lived in Amsterdam -- the North Sea went crazier than it ever had. It had been a constant threat to the Netherlands for centuries;  much of the country is at sea level or below. But the dikes the Dutch had built didn't hold up against the angry sea.
       Much of southeast Holland, plus parts of Belgium, England and Scotland, were under water. The Dutch radio network did not operate at night, so in that day long before communication was an every-moment thing, there was little or no warning.
       Looked this up: There were 1,836 deaths in the Netherlands; with the other countries added, 2,551. In Holland, 9 percent of farmland was ruined. There were 30,000 drowned animals, 47,300 buildings damaged (10,000 destroyed).
       It took years, decades, for the Dutch to fight back against the sea. The Dutch government and the world's best engineers developed an elaborate flood defense system -- called Delta Works -- that took four decades to complete. And still today, there is always uneasy in Holland about the North Sea's power and flooding possibility.
       The flooding did not come that close to Amsterdam, which has all those canals and much water close to the city. But it left an impression with me.
       Somewhere in this apartment is a speciality publication on the 1953 floods that my parents purchased back then and which came to the U.S. with us. I have looked at that book often; it was a bad time for our country -- and the flooding danger is one of the things for which the low-lying country is known.
       And, of course, you have heard the tale of the little Dutch boy who stuck his thumb in the dike to save his country from flooding. That's out of Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, a novel first published in 1856.        
       Yes, I have been asked often if I was that little Dutch boy. Uh, no, I was not.
       But just think of all the photos from the natural disasters, so many. The bridge collapse, etc., in the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco-Oakland; Mount St. Helens erupting in Washington state in 1980; the tsunami and earthquake in Japan in 2011 and the environmental threats it caused; the tornadoes ripping through Oklahoma repeatedly; the flooding up and down the Mississippi River.
       And hurricanes every year, but especially 2005 and Hurricane Katrina just devastating much of New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana.
       When the New Orleans flood-protection system needed a complete overhaul, the people in charge called on the Netherlands' engineers.
       Remember all the images from all those disasters? And I could list hundreds more.
       We've never taken a direct hit, but we've been sideswiped a lot ...

        -- I remember flooded roads in North Louisiana in about 1960 when Dad drove to Natchitoches for business (I went with him) and we had to pull off flooded Highway 1 and take back roads that were open.
       -- I saw a reference to the flood in Bossier City in about 1990, covering the neighborhood where we had sold our house about six months earlier.
       -- The Bossier City tornado of Dec. 3, 1978, when we lived there; it was a few miles  from us and tore up the Airline Drive/Shed Road area.
       -- The May 2, 1984, tornado that ripped up Ringgold (where Bea went to school) and part of her little hometown (Jamestown) five miles away, and her parents still lived there then. We drove through with Bea's dad a week or two later and were stunned at the sights.

       -- An early 1990s tornado that came through Jacksonville and Orange Park, Fla., leaving our backyard littered with huge chucks of tree limbs and a thousand smaller branches and leaves.
An ugly sight after the Fort Worth tornado
of March 2000: the torn-up Bank One
 building (
       -- A flash flood in Knoxville, Tenn., one night some 15 years ago when I foolishly tried to drive through high water and ruined one red Jeep Cherokee. If the engine had died and windows and doors had locked, I might not have gotten out.
       Less than a year before we came to Fort Worth -- March 28, 2000 -- a tornado came out of the west and ran through downtown, leaving lots of damage, including a torn-up high rise right next to the newspaper building, the Star-Telegram. My pals there recalled having to weather the storm (literally) in the basement. Our first couple of years here, that building, which had been the Bank One Building, had so many boarded-up windows, it seemed unsalvageable.
       But they renovated and they rebuilt, and now it's The Tower, a 35-story showpiece with condominiums and luxury living.
       We are practically helpless when natural disasters strike; often, it is a matter of fate who and what survive. But we battle back if and when we can.
       And so Wimberley begins battling back.
       Asked about the search-and-rescue efforts, and the cleanup, and the town's collective mood, Steve Thurber told a national network interviewer, "We have a very close-knit community of folks here in Wimberley. They are now pulling together like always do in these type of events, although this is our biggest one by far we've ever had. Everyone is volunteering,  neighbors are out in front yards helping neighbors clean up, helping neighbors look for their valuables, their belongings, trying to help them put their town back together.
       "It's a wonderful community."

        I know their mayor is a capable, caring person. I salute him, and we should all feel for all those people, especially for those who lost loved ones.
       Because we are all at the mercy of the weather, and the natural disasters. It's a threat that never goes away. All we can do is hope and pray. Lord have mercy on us.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Legion ball, part 2: On the road to the majors

Seth Morehead, his last year
in the majors -- 1961
      Seth Morehead might have laughed at this description, but it's my opinion: He was an icon of baseball in Shreveport, La.
      In 1952, he was the star pitcher -- a hard-throwing left-hander -- for the Seven-Up Bottlers, the only Shreveport team to win the Louisiana state championship in American Legion junior baseball.
      Five years later, he became the first Shreveport Legion baseball player to reach the major leagues.
      He wasn't a star in his five-year MLB career; it wasn't easy to star in those years (1957-60) for the Phillies and Cubs and he got in only 12 games for the '61 Braves. But he was an example -- you could be a major leaguer -- for the kids that followed him in Shreveport's Legion program.
      One of those kids, just four years behind Seth, was another Byrd High School pitcher, Dick Hughes. He, too, was the star of a state championship team -- the 1956 Byrd Yellow Jackets.
      Like Morehead, Hughes also pitched in the majors. It took him longer to get there (eight years) and he stayed only three years (1966-68) with the St. Louis Cardinals before a torn rotator cuff injury ended his career. But he was a star, at least in 1967.
      On a Cardinals team that won the World Series, he was the top winning pitcher -- 16 regular-season wins ... more than Steve Carlton and Nelson Briles (14 each) and even Bob Gibson (injured much of that season, 13-7 record, but Series wins in Games 1, 4 and 7).
      Morehead and Hughes -- from the Shreveport (and Bossier City) Legion program to the majors. But, as I noted in the previous blog, the last ones to make that jump for 23 years.
World Series champion, 1967
     (That's an unofficial count. If you're reading this, and you know better, let me know.)
      If I have this correct, the only player in that time to play Legion ball for a Fourth District (Northwest Louisiana) team and make the majors was Lee Smith -- who came out of tiny Castor, La., about 35 miles from Shreveport, and pitched only a couple of games for the Minden team in 1975 before he was drafted into pro baseball by the Chicago Cubs.
       You might've heard of him. When he finished his 18-year major-league career -- he got to the Cubs in 1980 -- he was the all-time saves leader (478). And he's still No. 3, and still waiting for his Hall of Fame call.
        Another pitcher from North Louisiana -- and Legion baseball -- who reached the majors played in the Fifth District (Monroe area). George Stone was the stylish left-hander from Ruston High and the T.L. James Contractors, the star of two Legion teams that came close to state championships. He went on to Louisiana Tech and then to the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets (and the 1973 World Series).
        An infielder from Monroe, Wayne Causey, came out of Neville High and Legion ball as a "bonus baby" to make the majors at age 18 and had an 11-year career with five teams.
         But some explanation is needed here. There were several players from North Louisiana who made the big leagues, but did not play Legion ball.
        One was Cecil Upshaw, George Stone's cousin, who grew up in Spearsville, moved to Bossier City and starred in basketball and baseball for Bossier High and Centenary College. However, Bossier did not have a Legion team at the time; most of Cecil's development as a pitcher came at Centenary and on area semipro teams.
        Then there was this: segregation. Black players could not play Legion ball in the 1960s. So that wasn't a step to the majors for outfielder John Jeter (Coushatta and Shreveport ties, Grambling College), third baseman/pinch runner deluxe Matt Alexander (Bethune High), the National League batting champion and blazing "Roadrunner," outfielder Ralph Garr (Ruston, Lincoln High, Grambling), and some North Louisiana pitchers you might know -- Vida Blue (DeSoto High, Mansfield), James Rodney Richard (Vienna, near Ruston, Lincoln High) and Don Wilson (Monroe) -- and one who made one September appearance for the 1969 World Series champion Mets, Jesse Hudson, who was Blue's teammate at DeSoto.
         When schools and Legion ball integrated in 1970, first baseman Wayne Cage went from Ruston High and the T.L. James Contractors to an MLB career.
         Another to reach the top level of professional sports was the coach of the 1952 Seven-Up Bottlers: the then-young Scotty Robertson. If you are familiar with North Louisiana sports, you most associate him with basketball.
         For almost 25 years, after he left as basketball coach at Louisiana Tech, Scotty coached (or scouted) in the NBA. But he was a baseball man, too. 
        Scotty played high school and college baseball, played a year of pro ball, and began coaching Legion ball -- the Byrd-based Bottlers -- when he was the Vivian (La.) High School basketball coach, even before he returned to his alma mater (Byrd) as the basketball coach/football assistant in 1955.
         At a time when Shreveport had only two Legion teams -- Seven-Up and the Fair Park-based Waltrip Tire/Optimist Club (because I don't have the records/research I had access to decades ago, I'm not sure of the sponsorships) -- Scotty had many competitive teams.
         And if you knew him, and knew how competitive and driven/detail-oriented he was, you knew those teams were well-coached. But the 1952 team succeeded like no other.
         I don't remember much about the team, but it won the best-of-three state championship series, and I think it also won the regional tournament to reach the Legion World Series. There, it lost its first two games in the double-elimination tournament, one as I recall to a Sumter, S.C., team whose shortstop was Bobby Richardson (in a few years, a star second baseman for great New York Yankees teams).
         Even Seth Morehead couldn't get the Bottlers through in the nationals.
         Scotty coached Seven-Up through the 1950s, but then left baseball coaching. And as he left, Shreveport's Legion program began to change.
          In the 1950s, the Byrd players were on one team, the Fair Park players were on a team, and the private-school St. John's High players good enough for Legion went with the team in the district where they lived.
         Shreveport teams did well in high school ball; the Byrd '56 and Fair Park 1957 teams won Class AAA state titles; the St. John's 1957 team was the state runner-up in a hard-fought Class AA best-of-three series. The 1960 Fair Park team was maybe the best team of the decade; it got a raw deal in the playoffs (long story).
         But in Legion ball, except for 1952, the Shreveport Legion teams could not top the traditionally strong New Orleans Catholic-based Legion teams, and occasionally a strong team from Baton Rouge.
         Then, and for the next few decades, there was a distinct difference: In New Orleans, the high school baseball coaches -- in most cases -- were also the Legion coaches; their teams were much the same. Maybe that was true in the Baton Rouge area, too. Not in Shreveport.
         That began to make even more of a difference when, beginning in 1961, I believe, the Shreveport program expanded from two teams to eight. The Legion teams were based not only the high schools, but on the junior high districts.
         That gave many more kids a chance to play, but it also watered down the teams. Byrd players made up three teams (Broadmoor, Youree Drive, Hamilton Terrace); Fair Park had three teams (Lakeshore, Midway, Linwood-Caddo Heights area); and Woodlawn, opened in the fall of 1960, had two (Oak Terrace, Linwood-Cedar Grove area).
         Fair Park won Class AAA state high school titles in 1963, 1965 and 1970, and the '64 team made the semifinals. If those teams had stayed together to make up one Legion team -- especially the 1963 team -- they might've dominated the state; there was that much talent.
        Jesuit won Class AA in 1964; four of its best players played for one of the Woodlawn teams (Industrial Sheet Metal).   
         As it was -- and as I recall -- the 1962 Royal Crown Cola team (Fair Park/Midway) was the state runner-up; the 1963 Optimist Club team (Fair Park/Lakeshore), the 1964 Industrial team; and the 1965 Cobbs Barbecue team (Byrd/Youree Drive) all made strong challenges for state titles.
         But no Shreveport-Bossier teams got close again until the 1977 Bossier team lost in the state-finals series, and another mid-1980s Bossier team also was the state runner-up.
         As new high schools began opening, Legion franchises in Shreveport-Bossier began shifting districts and changing sponsors in the late 1960s/early 1970s when I covered the program. Integration meant a couple of teams for black players, and Jesuit High finally got its own team (sponsored by Ricou-Brewster).
         But I have spent much of these two blog pieces telling you how good the baseball was for all those kids, and I'll stick to that. I was told that by the mid-1980s, Legion ball had become bigger than high school baseball ... at least for a time.
         There were talented Legion players from Shreveport who went into pro ball after Morehead and Hughes, and some got close to the majors. Among those getting to Triple-A: third baseman Bill Hancock (Byrd '60/Seven-Up/Texas A&M); infielder Buddy Nelson (Fair Park '64/Optimist); first baseman Wayne Burney (Fair Park '66/RC Cola/Northeast Louisiana University); and two Northwestern State pitchers Don Shields (Woodlawn '66/Industrial) and Jimmy Stewart (Doyline '67/Minden Legion team).
         Another Triple-A player who wrecked a knee on the night he got a major-league call-up was Ike Futch, the "man who never struck out" out of Spearsville, La., who played for a Legion team in nearby Farmerville.
         One of Shreveport's great 1950s high school athletes (Fair Park) and later a longtime coach there, Jimmy Orton, was an infielder for five years in the loaded New York Yankees farm system.
         The gap of MLB players who came from the Shreveport Legion program ran from 1966 (Dick Hughes) to 1989. That's when outfielder Albert "Joey" Belle (Huntington High/LSU) began his tempestuous but highly successful career in the majors; he is, in my estimation, the best player to come out of Shreveport-Bossier. We're not talking attitude.
         For second-best, an old-time choice would be Willard Brown, the Negro League outfielder/slugger who played briefly in the majors (St. Louis Browns) in 1947. He's in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The modern-day choice is second baseman Todd Walker (Airline High '91/LSU), now the baseball coach at Calvary Baptist. He got to the majors in 1996 and, like Belle, was a 12-year player.
        In the last 26 years, by my count, nine Shreveport-Bossier high school players have gone on to the major leagues.
        Other than Belle and Walker, here's the list (with high school/college and team-year  they reached the majors:
       -- outfielder Shawn Jeter (Woodlawn '85, White Sox '92)
       -- third baseman Josh Booty (Evangel '94, Marlins '96)
       -- pitcher B.J. Ryan (Airline '94, Reds '99)
       -- pitcher Scott Baker (Captain Shreve '00/Oklahoma State, '03, Twins '05)
       -- first baseman Michael Aubrey (Southwood '00/Tulane '03, Indians '08)
       -- pitcher Sean West (Captain Shreve '05, Marlins '09)
       -- pitcher Josh Stinson (Northwood '06, Mets '11).
         I know that Belle, Walker and Jeter came through the Legion program. Not sure about the others.
         Seth Morehead, an affable man who returned to Shreveport and had a 36-year career in banking, died in 2006 at age 71. He always enjoyed coming to the ballpark and he would have been proud of these young men who followed his path.
        Like me, he would have said that Legion baseball was a part of his life he treasured.
        (Thanks to John James Marshall -- former Legion player, coach, sportswriter -- for providing information for this blog.)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Legion baseball was our foundation

     It is the last weekend in May and my thoughts turn back to a few decades ago when this was the start of the American Legion baseball season.
     For 12 years (1963-75), that was a big deal to me. It was worth waiting for, that first Saturday of games -- four games at old SPAR Stadium in Shreveport.
     Man, those were fun years.
     This topic might not interest many of my blog readers. You can stop here. But looking at my mailing list and Facebook friends list, I know there are about 100 once-young men who might like this brief history of junior baseball in Shreveport-Bossier and North Louisiana.
     I was involved as a scorekeeper, public-address announcer, newspaper writer, foul-ball chaser. For more than half of those 13 seasons, I was in charge of Legion ball coverage -- in the Fourth District league -- for The Shreveport Times
     So I saw, easy estimate, more than a thousand kids play baseball in the summer. Saw some darned good players and great games. Saw some mediocre players and badly played games.
     For some players, it was part of the road to college scholarships and/or pro contracts. For most, it was just a chance to keep playing a game they'd played for years.
     For me, in the summer of 1963, it was the start of a career in newspapering. And I actually got paid to do it. (It also was the start, I was reminded this week, for several others who wrote sports in Shreveport.)
     Loved it all. In the neighborhood, we played wiffle ball in the heat of the day. At night, for me, it was off to cover doubleheaders at SPAR Stadium or Centenary Park, Cherokee Park,  Blanchard, or one game at an out-of-town location (Mooringsport, Minden, Springhill, Homer, Ruston).
     Except on Saturdays. Then it was that four games-in-a-day fiesta at SPAR Stadium ... at least in the mid-'60s years when there was no pro baseball in town. Long days, great days.
      Here are two facts that might surprise those who followed Legion baseball in Shreveport-Bossier:
      (1) The only team from our twin cities to win a Legion state championship was in 1952 -- the Seven-Up Bottlers (the Byrd High team);
      (2) to the best of my knowledge, no Shreveport-Bossier Legion player from 1957 through the mid-1970s -- in other words, no one in the time I was involved -- played in major- league baseball. There were a couple of area kids who made it (I'll get to that).
       Amazing, because we had a very competitive eight-team league in Shreveport, and some talented players and teams.
      Shreveport-Bossier has had a dozen kids make the majors in the past three decades, So maybe the game -- and the opportunities -- improved, and the interest in baseball -- which some people think has declined over the years -- is still there.
      As I was thinking of writing this piece, I was wondering: Do they still play Legion baseball? Because I haven't seen anything on it in years. Had to Google it.
       The answer is yes -- nationally. They still play for state championships, and the champions go to regional tournaments, and those eight winners go to the Legion World Series, which has been played annually since 1928 and after being moved around the country from year to year has been based in Shelby, N.C., for several years.
       The answer is also yes for South Louisiana, the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.  In fact, a New Orleans team won the national championship in 2012 (another won in 2006).
       However, a sportswriter friend from there told me that the league is not nearly as competitive as it was decades ago. Many coaches -- who also coach the high school teams -- now choose not to play seniors (who just graduated from high school), preferring to play the kids who will return to high school this fall.  
       But, no, they don't play Legion ball in North Louisiana anymore. Interest waned in the early 2000s, and the program folded 6-7 years ago.
       That's not necessarily a negative. There are plenty of baseball chances for kids these days -- the Dixie Seniors program (which always existed in Bossier City), select teams, travel teams. If parents are willing to pay, and kids are willing to invest their time, they can play a lot.
       For at least half a decade, Shreveport's program was backed by the American Legion post -- Lowe-McFarland Post No. 14 -- which underwrote the program (with the various team sponsors). I only knew a few of the veterans at that Legion post near Cross Lake, but I thank all the men there for their service, period, and their service to baseball (and many other ventures).

     I already loved baseball when I saw my first Legion game in late summer 1962 -- Royal Crown Cola, the Shreveport city champion and one of the Fair Park High-based teams, vs. the Tulane Shirts, the Jesuit of New Orleans-based team that two years earlier (with a lineup that included Rusty Staub and future LSU quarterback Pat Screen) had won the Legion national championship.
      I went with Dad to SPAR Stadium to watch the first game of a best-of-three series for the state championship. R.C. Cola won that night -- fireballing Tommy Chiles pitched and big Frank Neel hit a home run, which was incredible to me, that a high school kid could hit one over the right-field fence (hey, I was 15, a little naive). But Tulane won the two games in New Orleans and advanced to the regional tournament.
      The next summer, after my sophomore year in high school, I was the scorekeeper for Industrial Sheet Metal -- one of the two Woodlawn High-based teams (the Linwood Junior High district), but not the team based on my junior high (Oak Terrace).
      Explanation: The Industrial coach was a Legion legend of sorts, a somewhat crochety, wrinkled, older man -- Milo Whitecotton, who came to every Woodlawn home game and some practices to scout his potential players. He also talked the scorekeeper into joining his team. 
      (He also "recruited" the sophomore Woodlawn catcher, who like me lived in the Oak Terrace-based district, to play for his team that summer. Not sure how that worked, but I saw a box score on a clipping I saved and the Industrial lineup had "Prather CF." Trey Prather was in the outfield because the Woodlawn football coaches -- thinking of their starting quarterback that fall -- preferred that he not catch that summer.)
      Milo was known among Legion followers to some as "the sage of Cedar Grove." The kids also called him -- not to his face -- "Limo Quiterotten." He loved his ball; he enjoyed working with the kids, and he coached some wonderful teams.
      Guarantee you that if I asked my friends from that time and that area what they remember about Legion baseball, the first thing they will say is "Milo Whitecotton."
     Over the years, I learned to appreciate the other dedicated Legion coaches in the city; they all worked at regular jobs, but summer baseball was their passion.
     Woodrow McCullar became "the dean" of Shreveport Legion coaches and the most successful of my era (five city championships). He had the Broadmoor/Byrd-based B&N Barbers for a few years, then switched to the Youree Drive/Byrd (later Captain Shreve)-based Cobbs Barbecue team and then used his own company's money, Glenwood Drug Store, as a sponsor.
     Other Legion coaches with a good number of years in the program: Bill Zeigler (Optimist Club, the Lakeshore/Fair Park team), my Shreveport newspaper artist buddy Ron Rice (Cobbs, then B&N in a swap with Mr. McCullar); Gene Stevens (Kay's Cookies, the Linwood/Fair Park-based team); Don Farrar (R.C. Cola); Harvey Johnson (the Oak Terrace/Woodlawn team); Pat Looney (the Hamilton Terrace/Byrd team); Butch Williams in Minden; Matt Martin in Homer.
      Some of them -- Coach Zeigler, Stevens, Farrar -- won city titles. Ron Rice was the organizer of one city playoff championship team.
       It was really neat for me to see some of the players I had covered later coach teams, guys such as Ronnie Warren, Sonny Moss, Don Birkelbach and Perry Peyton.
      But the most successful Legion coach in North Louisiana -- and the most successful team -- was Billy Henderson and the T.L. James Contractors of Ruston. The James Co. sponsored that Fifth District team (Monroe area) for 19 years and was a state-championship contenders often, finally winning in 1972 -- only the second North Louisiana to do so. Ruston was the spoiler for several Shreveport contenders.
     The umpires became familiar to all of us, too: Bob Molcany, Lloyd Boyce ("Sarge"), Jack Ferrell (the Colonel), Phil Risher, Bob Brittner, Alex Huhn and, starting in the 1970s, my good friends John W. Marshall III and Clyde Oliver "T-Willie" Moore (the "snake doctor" pitcher for Cobbs when we were in high school). Also, Mike Bonner and Jerry Carlisle -- two North Caddo High athletes of the '60s.
      But perhaps the most legendary Legion figure of the 1950s and '60s was the man in charge. Most everyone who ever played or coached a kids' sport in Shreveport knew him: Marvin "Hoot" Gibson. He was the commissioner of baseball in the Fourth District.
      Hoot was a small man, white-haired by the time we knew him, wore thick glasses because he had terrible eyesight, and had a nasally, high-pitched voice that was widely imitated.
      He had been a team manager at Centenary College in the 1930s when Centenary was a football power, and had been the head of the Shreveport Parks and Recreation (SPAR) department for a couple of decades.
      He had officiated some sports, which left many people wondering because he clearly couldn't see clearly, and so he was always protective of the referees, umpires and officials who worked games. Don't know if he was an American Legion member, but he represented Lowe-McFarland in the sport and he was proud -- and rightly so -- of the Legion baseball program.
       His "Recreation Ramblings" column was a Sunday sports staple in The Times, and I can tell you that Hoot was good to a young sportswriter, who after some years even dared to offer mild criticism. Don't think he was too fond of me suggesting that the Legion program be integrated once the area high school integrated in 1970.
       But we all should have gratitude for the job Hoot did all those years.
      And once he retired, Russell Neely (who was a Legion member) and then J.R. Heflin did fine jobs as the Fourth District baseball commissioners.
       I mentioned Phil Risher in the umpires listing above. He had another distinction: He was an infielder on the 1952 Seven-Up Bottlers, the state Legion champions. And in Part 2 of my mini-history, I will begin with two legendary names linked to that team: Seth Morehead and Scotty Robertson.


Monday, May 25, 2015

On Memorial Day, we always remember

Trey Prather: His LSU football bio photo; his and his parents' gravesite
     This is a day to remember. Memorial Day always is a day to remember.
     We remember Terry Cross. That will mean something to his friends from Oakdale, La., and Louisiana Tech University.
     We remember Gene Youngblood. That will mean something to his friends from Fair Park High School in Shreveport, and all the friends he made afterward.
     We -- those of us from Woodlawn High School -- remember Glenn Ogburn, Edward Cox and Harold O'Neal ... and, of course, Henry Lee Prather III. Trey.
     All were military servicemen who died in action in the Vietnam War.
     Obviously, Memorial Day encompasses much more than those killed in Vietnam. It covers all those who died in the service of our country while in the military. As several Facebook friends have pointed out, this is not a day to honor all servicemen; that's Veterans' Day (Nov. 11).
     All wars are horrible, and we all suffer. And we can debate the merits, or non-merits, of U.S. involvement, which is what happened on my Facebook page this past weekend -- and I didn't ask for that.
     Every war stirs our passions. We know looking back that it was crucial for the Americans to help save the world in World Wars I and II. We're not so sure about the Iraq and Afghanistan involvements; those are being questioned, second-guessed even today.
     For people of my generation, Vietnam -- and those who died there -- is the one with which we most identify. And it remains a contentious topic even now.
     We know that the American government -- led by the big man from Texas with the big personality and the big ears -- and the military leaders misled us, misguided our troops, and we question all those wasted lives, those young men with all their promise gone.
     More on this below. Here's what doesn't change: The permanence of those names on the Vietnam Wall; our memories of those young men; our grieving for them. I think of them most of all on Memorial Day.
     I have posted blog pieces over the past 3 1/2 years on Trey Prather and the other Woodlawn kids. Here are the links:
     Now about two other young men ...
USMC 2nd Lt. Terry Cross
     I did not know Herbert Terrell (Terry) Cross very well. He was from Oakdale and was on the track and field team at Louisiana Tech, a sprinter known for his explosive starts, according to a friend (and conference discus champion), Tim Hall.

     To be honest, he wasn't one of our front-line runners. He was just on the team. But he was an outstanding student. I remember him, in 1967, as a dormitory monitor on the floors where the athletes roomed -- a quiet guy, nice guy, seemingly always reading, always studying.
     He was at Tech an extra year working on a master's degree in mechanical engineering. He graduated in December 1967.
     I did not realize, or had forgotten, that he was in the ROTC program at Tech. So when he graduated, he joined the Marines, and quickly was a Second Lieutenant ... and was off to Vietnam.
     Four months after graduation -- April 8, 1968 -- he was killed in action. He was 24. Here is the link to his page on the Vietnam Virtual Wall:
     I was a junior at Tech; I do remember getting the word that he had died. He was the second person (and athlete) killed in Vietnam that I had written about; it made an impact because he died three months after Trey Prather.
     I don't think Tech did much, or anything, to honor Terry. But two years ago, some of his former teammates, the Tech track and field program, and people from Oakdale put together a Terry Cross memorial service prior to the annual Jim Mize Invitational meet at Tech. 
     From a story in the Oakdale newspaper: His family was presented a service portrait painting of him and a copy was given to the Louisiana Tech Alumni Center. The Jim Mize Invitational's first running event, the 4x100 relay, was named the Terry Cross Memorial race.
     Great touch. Long overdue.
Army Sgt. Gene Youngblood
     I did not know Gene Youngblood at all. I wasn't even aware of him until a couple of years ago. 
     But his younger brother, Tommy Youngblood, was a star athlete at Fair Park High, a Class AAA All-State defensive end the same year Trey Prather was the All-State quarterback. Like Trey, Tommy signed a football scholarship at LSU and he was Trey's teammate -- and a friend -- for two years.
     After I wrote a couple of articles on Trey, Tommy -- who lives in Highland Park (Dallas suburb) -- contacted me and wanted to meet. He had known several Woodlawn kids, dated a few Woodlawn girls, and wanted to talk about Trey and LSU. 
     We've become friends, and Tommy told me that not only did Trey's leaving LSU and joining the Marines and his subsequent death hit him hard, his older brother died in Vietnam only a month after Trey.
     "He was always an ROTC guy, a military-type guy," Tommy recalled. "Fair Park had a really good rifle-drill marching team."
     When Gene got out of school, knowing he was about to be drafted, he enlisted in the Army and went to Officer Candidate School (OCS). But that didn't take, so he wound up in basic training in 1966, served at Fort Polk and Fort Benning, earned a sergeant rank, and  went to Vietnam in 1967.
     Charles Eugene Youngblood -- Gene to his family and friends -- was one of 10 men in his platoon killed in a Tet offensive battle in the province of Hua Nghia on Feb. 12, 1968. The cause of death listed: multiple fragmentation wounds. He was 23. A page link:
     "He was a fun guy, an interesting guy, a good guy," Tommy remembers. "He knew people from everywhere -- Fair Park, Woodlawn, Marshall (Texas). He had girlfriends from everywhere."
     On my Facebook home page, Sylvia Pesek of Haynesville, La. -- the hometown of Trey Prather's mother and maternal grandparents -- posted a few paragraphs from one of my previous blogs (this was from a story written 20 years ago by someone else).
     Here is a portion of a remark made in response by a person whose name I am not going to publish here:
     "Maybe we should forget their names and tear down their monuments and quit memorializing their acts of war, whether they be 'voluntary' or 'conscripted.' The whole idea has to end somewhere, and as long as we keep making heroes of the victims, it will never end."
     There's more, but you get the idea. And there might be people who agree. But I don't, and others don't.
     Tom Dixon's reply to this person (and I don't know Tom): "Memorializing the person who gave their life in military service is NOT memorializing the cause. Any man who dies or risks death to protect or save the life of his fellows (and here, I primarily mean his brothers in arms) is a true hero. The 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds who served with me in Nam didn't start, understand nor promulgate that (bleeping) war. They 'served' as best they knew how."
     And here was Sylvia's reply: "You do not forget the names of friends or family. You do NOT. ... And they were ALL somebody's friends and family."
     Yes, they were. Prather, Cox, Ogburn, O'Neal, Terry Cross, Gene Youngblood, thousands and thousands of others. They gave their service; they gave their lives.
     Bless them all. Honor them all. We always remember.