Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Most Decorated Soldier in US History

The Hooper family was our neighbor in Cascade Valley, living in the house right behind us.  They were rural poor people from South Carolina.  Life was hard scrabble for them.  I remember  the daughter Patsy, and the mother very well.    They had all of these new appliances, like a vacuum cleaner , washer dryer, and dishwasher, that had slots on them into which you were to put a quarter when you used them.  Those quarters supposedly would add up to the monthly payment.  When everything was repossessed, Mrs. Hooper said, "Oh well, we enjoyed them while we had them."  My parents, who never bought anything on credit, were horrified!
I also remember my first recognition of product placement at their house.  Mrs. Hooper had a bottle of Joy dishwashing detergent.  I remember being surprised that the bottle was yellow, because  TV was black and white, and I hadn't seen the color.  When I saw it, I ran home, exclaiming excitedly to my mother, "Mrs. Hooper's got Joy!"  My mother said, "Oh? What is she so happy about?"  "No, JOY! Mrs. Hooper's got JOY " We always had a good laugh about that.
Another memory was that all of the children had blackened, almost non existent teeth, which made their smiles a little ghoulish.  That was because they ate squares of laundry starch instead of candy (it was cheaper) and their teeth had rotted.
And, I remember Joe.  He was older than me,  a red headed, scrawny  high school kid always in trouble, always a wheeler dealer.  My sister says he  would trade a stay kitten for a dog, then the dog for a goat, the goat for a cow, etc.  He also set  those heavy old wooden pins at the bowling alley for awhile.  I was told to just stay out of his way.  Depending on what you read, he joined the Navy at 17, served for two years, then joined the Army at nineteen. 
The place where they hold the Farmers Market in Moses Lake is called McCosh Park  It is the home to the only memorial plaque dedicated to Joe Ronnie Hooper, not only the most decorated Vietnam Soldier, but the most decorated solider in all of  US History.

The internet is full of stories about Sgt. Joe R. Hooper, (or Captain, since he later joined  the Reserves)  who did two tours of duty in Vietnam, and whose acts of courage were unbelievable.    Despite his troubled past, and his troubled time in the military, he was fearless in battle, and won the Congressional Medal of Honor ,Two Silver Stars, 6 Bronze Stars, and 8 Purple Hearts.  He was credited with 115 enemy kills in ground combat,  22 of which were in 1968 outside of Hue in a fierce battle that took most of his unit. Some say he deserved many more medals, but the ones he was officially awarded put him ahead of Sgt. Alvin York of WWI and Audie Murphy of WW11.
Joe died at age 40, and again, depending on what you read, the cause was a cerebral hemorrhage, a stroke, an aneurism, or by hitting his head in a hotel room, the day after watching Spectacular Bid win the Kentucky Derby.   He had been drinking, a behavior that followed him from an early age.  He had been wined and dined by Presidents, met Queens, been on late night TV, etc., but couldn't adapt to life outside the combat zone. Some blame the fact he didn't get treatment for PTSD, or his alcohol addiction.  But, as I say, his conduct followed a lifelong pattern.
There is a lot of controversy about why this decorated hero doesn't have more national recognition.
Unlike Sgt. York and Audie Murphy, very little is said about him.  This memorial in Moses Lake
is the only one, with the exception of a Seattle  Veterans  hospital wing designated for addiction treatment. 
Is he not honored because people still don't like thinking about the Vietnam War, or is it because Joe's life was not a hero's life?
He is buried in Arlington Cemetery, and there is a 2004 book out about him called, "The Forgotten Solider:  The Story of Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper, " by Peter Maslowski.  
If I remember the stories from someone involved in getting this memorial built, they pushed to have it just be for Joe, but in the end,  it had to be for all soldiers from the area. 

The other plaque on this wall, to  Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jim Fleming, acknowledged his bravery as a helicopter pilot in rescuing a six man Green Beret Team from enemy fire.  He was ahead of me in school, but I remember him.   He made the military a career, and to my knowledge, he is still alive. 


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Hometown

Friday, June 28, Day 67 (cont'd)
As we go through the outskirts of Spokane, Washington, we quickly get into farmland.  This is wheat country, on the edge of the Palouse region, where dry land farming overtook cattle and sheep grazing to become the 4th largest wheat producing area in the US.  Most are family owned farms, 2.2 million acres in all.  But 80-90% of the wheat is exported, going to Japan, The Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea and Yemen. 
When farming first started here, harvesting and threshing was done by horse team.  Such a team in the 1920's required 120 men and 320 mules and horses.  Teams moved from farm to farm as the crops ripened.  Even with the advent of the combine, 40 horses and six men were needed to operate on level ground and this wasn't level ground!   With the introduction of a harvester machine, by the 1930's, 90% of the wheat was harvested using combines.  Tractors and large motorized combines have made this farming easier now.  There are about 5,000 wheat farmers in the State.


We are passing the roads to towns  very familiar to me - Medical Lake, Cheney, Sprague, Tokio, Ritzville, Washtucna...  then Lind, Odessa and Warden.  As a teenager, I went to all of these towns with the Rainbow Girls, an affiliated organization of the Masons.

The state produces about 120 billion bushels of wheat per year. Winter wheat, spring wheat, barley, corn for grain, alfalfa hay, dry edible beans, and hops are among the crops important to the region.  Here's a field of beans.

Outside the cultivated area is the way this land looked when I grew up here.  Sagebrush, greasewood, foxtails, all low vegetation adapted to dry, hot country with little soil.

This is a good depiction of how a farm area looks in the surrounding natural vegetation. 

Dust Devils!  These are very common.  Small versions of whirlwinds, or tornadoes, etc.  The wind is always blowing here, and the farmers are in a constant battle to keep what topsoil they have. 

Almost every farm has a stand of trees that serves as a windbreak.  Poplar trees are the most common ones used. 

Along the road is evidence of caliche, a lime deposit (calcium carbonate) that binds the soil and makes it difficult to grow anything.   You can also see, however, the massive sprinkler system on this land, making it possible to grow astounding amounts of crops.  Farmers are constantly compensating for the shallow, poor soil.

This is an irrigation canal which is bringing water to this parched land.  More about that later.

Corn is an important crop here.  This corn is higher than other corn we have seen in our travels.  It could be that it is just later in the trip, but my feeling is that it is doing better than most. 
And, this is Moses Lake,  in the eastern part of Washington, about halfway between Spokane and Seattle.  I lived on the outskirts of the town of Moses Lake. 

This sign describing the history of Moses Lake, is a little worn out.  In fact I remember it from when I was young. 

The picture above the signs was taken from the "fill" an earthen road built across the lake.  This lake is like Devils Lake, in that it is endorheic.  Remember that term?  It means that is closed, with water coming in and none going out.  Hence, what you see here  is a large concentration of algae on the top of the lake on one side of the fill.  As kids, we used to hold our noses as we went across the fill to keep from inhaling the strong smell of algae!  Farm run off made it worse.  Things have changed for a lot of the lake, though.  More on that later. 

This is the road leading to the house where I grew up.   It is in an area called Cascade Valley.  The names of the roads out here, Ottmar, McLaughlin, Dick, were all neighbors of ours. 

This is the house where I grew up.  Actually, it looks a lot better than the last time I came through here.  It must have new owners.  My family hasn't owned it since about 1966.  The large tree to the right, a maple tree, is the reason my Dad wanted this property.  The house on it was just a little shack, but after years building dams, railroads, tunnels, roads etc. out in remote, dry dusty no-name places, he just was so happy to find a place with a beautiful shade tree.  The tree must have been at least 30 years old when we bought the place, so it's  over a hundred now, and has lost a few branches.  The house also had a beautiful lilac hedge, part of which was lost when an auto came through it.  But remnants of it are still there.   The road on the side of the house has been widened to accommodate the housing development taking place to the north.  The road is precariously close to the base of the tree, and I am surprised they didn't take it out. 

We had an acre of land, and grew just about every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable.  It was originally an apple orchard, We grew apples, peaches, pears, plums, grapes, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries,  rhubarb, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, onions, carrots, beets, radishes, cucumbers, and a myriad of other things, which we canned and used throughout the year.  We also raised chickens and had a cow for meat.  It looks pretty barren now, and the pine trees have replaced some willow trees I started literally from twigs.  My father had a blue spruce that he hung Christmas lights , but it has been removed.   Amazing what changes you see in 60 years!!! :)

I had a wonderful childhood.! I rode my bike everywhere, and although we were pretty far from town, there were two other girls my age who lived nearby.  We participated in Camp Fire Girls, and  were driven to town for all of the school activities.  During the summer, we didn't see anyone else until school started again.  But, I am still in touch with a lot of my childhood friends.

John and I  parked our camper out by the lake in an RV park I was not familiar with.  It wasn't too long after we got there that the clouds gathered,

Sure enough!  Look at our weather pattern.  See that rain hovering over the State of Washington?  That's us!  I don't ever remember having rain in the summer!

See that numeral "2?"  That's Moses Lake.  

Sheets of rain are in the distance. 

This is the swimming area at what is now called Blue Heron Park.  This is where I was to  learn to swim.  At that time, the water was so green and smelly, I wasn't about to open my eyes, and I never reached the correct marker, since it's hard to do it with your eyes closed.  Those reeds tell me that the water is still stagnant.    The town pool was off limits to me because of the polio epidemic and fear of getting it.  Good thing there was lots to do besides swim!

That land in the distance is Cascade Valley.  They have created some egresses for the lake water, and people have built homes, boat docks, etc. all around the lake.  When I was growing up, nobody built a house on the lake!   The town looks very prosperous now.

As I walked out on a new dock and looked into the water, I immediately recognized these weeds growing up from the bottom.  They always wrapped around your legs when you were trying to swim, kind of like swimming in a kelp bed. So some things haven't changed!

Big drops of rain started to come down and I had to hurry to the camper.  See those streaks?  They really were big drops!  That's not a time lapse....

There is a farmers market in town this morning, and if the rain lets up, we are going to take a look.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Coeur d'Alene

Friday, June 28 Day 67 
It was a perfect night for sleeping last night.
I took another walk to the river before we left this morning. I feel kind of like those trout that have the instinct to know how to find their way back home.  This is my country.  I was born in the Northwest (Idaho) and raised in Washington.  I have a strong desire to put a hook and line into the water just like my Dad and I used to do when I was growing up.  The smell of the pine, the whisper of the wind through the trees, the dew on the tall grass... The river takes on the color of the trees and sky here, a bright green this morning.

We wanted to take a look at this bridge which we can see from the campground.  It is too low for us to go across, so we turn back and catch the highway upstream.

The forests are bright green here, with beautiful yellow wildflowers growing alongside.  We don't see a "Welcome to Idaho" sign here, but rather this Idaho Panhandle National Forests sign, letting us know we are in another state. 

Thompson Pass has been heavily mined and dredged, and these are the slag piles that line the river.

We see a sign to Prichard Tavern, and since we have a friend named Prichard, we have to stop and see what it's all about.  Looks like the local happenin' place!

We are now following the Coeur d'Alene River.  It is  a gravel bottom, is shallow, crystal clear, and gently running.  There are home sites along the other side of the river and cabins all along.  

We pass this mill pond as we reach the bottom of the pass.

All of a sudden we come off Forest Road 9 and onto I-90.  We are minutes away from Coeur d'Alene.  It's hard to realize, after 630 miles of Montana, that the Idaho panhandle is only 43 miles across!

This is such a spectacular lake, and today is perfectly clear.  It has always been one of my favorites!

We stopped for lunch and took a walk down to the waterfront, where people were enjoying the seldom-seen 90 degree weather. 

Including these two girls who were carrying paddle boards down to the lake.

We enjoyed the town of Coeur d'Alene, and the sidewalk art.

I spotted this billboard for a reading that Patty Duke will be giving in a few weeks.  I'm sure it will be a marvelous performance.

More artwork - this time an Elk.

We don't spend much time in Coeur d'Alene, but we could have.  It is only a few miles to the border, and all of a sudden, we are in Washington!  This is state number 28, for those of you who are counting!

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Thursday, June 27, Day 66 (cont'd)

I know you think that Thursday was over, but I had to tell you about this guy.  He came along while we were sitting on that bench, enjoying the river.  He had on shorts and flip flops which clicked as he walked, a rather stocky fellow with wispy hair.  He was carrying a fishing pole,  came up to us and started talking.

He was from England, and had been a fireman.  He retired at age 52, he said, after being ready for 30 years to do what was needed. (Put out fires, I assume.)  His wife had gone off to another campsite to visit with some other English people from south of Missoula and have a party. (I don't blame her.)  He said he had purchased his fishing pole at a pawn shop for $12 and when he was finished, he would give it to a charity store and let them get some bloody good out of it. (Think he had a fishing license?)

He told us all about other vacations he had taken, mostly to the Caribbean, but how he had stopped, because most of the people he encountered were there for business conferences, and were pigs.  He'd gotten into a fight with one of them for grabbing about two pounds of freshly cooked bacon from a buffet table and dropping pieces of it as he went back to his table.  (News we needed to know!)

He asked John whether he was retired, since he had "a lot of chrome on his head."  He said he didn't give a toss what others thought of him.  (STOP TALKING!)

And then he wandered off.  after saying "Nice talking to you," but not before he had sucked all the air out of the forest!  John simply said, "Mad dogs ..."

 It took us come time to get back to the peaceful reverie of the beautiful evening.  There were deep eddy's  swirling slowly back upriver.  Perfect conditions for trout!  We took a walk around the campground in the fading light - even at 10:30 pm!  The smell of campfires and pine trees was so calming. 

The View at Thompson Falls

Thursday, June 27, Day 66 (Cont'd)
We love this place!  We found a camping spot right on the river!  It looks kind of like rain, but the air is cool, and relatively free of mosquitoes, allowing us to  grill and eat outside.  This is our view. 

A deer came through the woods, moving rather cautiously.  She was looking behind her at a group of campers who were following her.  And then she bounded off in the other direction.  We found out later that she had a fawn in a thicket close by, and she was moving away from where he was laying.  

After the first steak we have cooked on this entire trip,  preceded by hors d'oeuvres by the river,
we moved back to this beautifully placed bench to watch the river go by, and to read.

The river is taking on so many different hues as the light changes toward the end of the day.

At last, with the mountains, the trees and the rivers silhouetted in black, it is time to call it a night.