Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sea Life Aquarium Grapevine, Texas

One day I was happily thumbing through one of our Texas travel magazines and saw that a new aquarium was opening up in nearby Grapevine, Texas. The new Sea Life Aquarium is located in, of all places the Grapevine Shopping Mall. I have no real problem with it being at a mall, except this same mall has a Legoland Discovery Center and an AMC theatre right across from each other. When we got there at 3 p.m., the parking lot for the entire mall was full which required us to join the other cars stalking a spot. Dianna’s eagle eye caught an escaping SUV pulling out on only our second turn around the northeast lot by the Aquarium. I might add, this was day 29 of the 100+ temperature days in the Metroplex and everybody without an air conditioner (and maybe those who did) was at the mall.
When I first researched the aquarium, I noted you could buy tickets cheaper online. Kids under two are free, kids 3-12 are $12.75 and 13+ were $16.15. At the door, kids are $15 dollars and 13+ are $19. Point is, you save on cash and the wait. Online tickets basically walk-in. Those waiting to buy at the door wait in a swirling line of overheated parents and screaming kids for HOURS. If you want to maintain your sanity, get the online tickets. I’m not sure about weekdays, we were there on a Saturday and the online tickets go fast. Book several days in advance. I was able to pick my time to enter three days before.

But, we are aquarium snobs. We come from San Diego, home of Sea World (long before San Antonio got theirs) and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and the on Cannery Row Monterey Aquarium. We’ve seen some aquariums. Dianna loves looking at the fish and sea life. It brings back memories of home.

But let’s be fair. Sea Life is a multi-national company, which has aquariums all over the world and just recently came to America. Clearly, they are trying to get to the masses by choosing to open small aquariums in places like malls to get their message to about conservation and protecting the world’s oceans. I’m OK with that.
Sea Life has put together a diverse bunch of commonly identifiable fish and crustaceans that attracts and holds the attention of their demographic. Little people between say 3 to 12 years of age. Lots of bright and colorful displays and lots of little cute fish. And some sharks to get the “Shark Week” bunch to come in. I went to see their much-touted “360° Ocean Tunnel”. The tunnel is a walk-through lane with an arching acrylic glass at the bottom of their largest tank with sharks and fish continuously wandering by.

Throughout the aquarium, you pass through all your different food groups, Turtles, Rays, Sea Horses, Crabs, Eels and Octopus. So you have your Reef Sharks, Cownosed Stingrays, Common Octopus (are there any uncommon Octopi?), Jellyfish, Bonnethead Shark, Zebra Shark, Bowmouth Guitar Fish, Ribbon Sea Dragons, Big bellied Seahorse (so he has a weight problem, isn’t it cruel to label them like that?), Moray Eel, Nemo (Clownfish), Lionfish, and Starfish. The Shark Walk takes you to a room with a glass floor so you can stand over the shark tank as they glide silently under you like a 007 movie.

Oh yeah, I would have better pictures but you can’t use a flash or you become lunch in the Shark exhibit. But check out the website….I’m guessing the shots they got were with a flash.

What is cool is that they’ve done a pretty good job of making it kid friendly. Most of the exhibits are at eye level for little people and don’t require parents having to hold the kids up to windows, or what have you. There are exhibits where the little guys can crawl into the bottom of a tank and look from the inside like a deep-sea diver to watch the fish. There’s supervised “tidal pools” where they can touch or pick up a sea urchin. There’s always a kid activity in the area like one of those climbing play places like McDonalds to burn off some energy. At the end is a video where Sea Life Inc. tells their story of saving turtles, breeding programs and beach clean ups and how you can get involved at the local level.

Dianna contemplating the Rays

All in all a really worthwhile field trip if you don’t mind the crowds. The wife and I agreed that it was so crowded, you really couldn’t spend a lot of time at each exhibit or languish in the tunnel to wait for your favorite fish to go by. There was a kind of “keep up with the flow” sense of movement because of the crowding that took place whenever there was a bottleneck or stoppage. Probably better during a slow time or coming during the week could have avoided this. I wouldn’t mind going again at a more serene time.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rangers Baseball

As many of you may know, I am not a sports guy. Occasionally I follow a hot football playoff series, Super bowl, Pennant race or Series but I’m not a dedicated fan. I don’t live for seeing a certain team in the lead or get in heated conversations about who has the best talent or struggle under the delusion that my life revolves around the machinations of a bunch of overpaid jocks who’s main talent is the throwing, hitting, catching of an object covered in leather or running into each other in the hopes of disabling the other human being.

OK, my real problem with viewing professional sports stems from a distinct dislike, almost abhorrence to standing in line for anything. I refuse to wait in a parking lot queue and hunting for that elusive parking space which doesn’t require hiking shoes and a canteen to get to the stadium. Or a drive-thru line or waiting outside of a restaurant holding that ridiculous vibrating and/or talking plastic disk annoyingly announcing, “Your table is now available.” I have poured over the lengths of checkout lines to gage how much sooner I could get checked out. Usually resulting in getting behind the lady with all the coupons and sadly watching the other customers I thought I was going to beat, leave before me. OK, I’m a convenience snob.

I have attended a game or two in my past. Usually with a diehard sports fan who can quote me statistics and can answer the Diamond Vision trivia question of who won the Heisman trophy for 1989. This has usually involved a free ticket because they couldn’t convince anyone else to go with them. This too is the result of a deep-seated trauma of always being the last guy picked for the team. I know I’m not the preferred choice, just the last one.

That said, my family is well aware of my quirkiness in this area and we have dodged this bullet on several occasions. Once in awhile, someone has a senior moment and they ask me along to a game. In this instance, my daughter was asked by her boss, Tracie, to accompany her and her betrothed, Barry, to a Rangers Game. Tracie has season tickets and asked Nicole along. OK, the free ticket requirement has been met and, although she is my daughter, I’m still wondering if she didn’t pick me because all her other friends weren’t available. Old feelings die-hard.
Fan adding to the ambiance

There is another wrinkle I forgot to mention. This is a really nice, modern, outdoor stadium. No covered or rollback roofs. Nope, this baby is an open-air stadium. Let me remind my audience, this stadium is in  Arlington, Texas in the middle of what could be another record year for days with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.

When Nicole approached me about this about two weeks earlier, I noted the weather trend was warming and the forecast was triple digit. I broached the subject over a dinner we were having and I was assured the seats were under an upper deck and we would experience cool gentle breezes wafting from the facilities overhead fans.  After all, it was a “night game” and wouldn’t start until 7 in the evening. We would be kicking back in our seats and even be able to enjoy an ice cream in a cup in the shape of a batter’s helmet. In the days before the game, I was conjuring up visions of foot long hotdogs, fries and a refreshing ice filled drink enjoying one of America’s favorite pastimes.

Let me set the stage. On the appointed Sunday, the temperature at 7 p.m. was 101 degrees with about 45% humidity. Built in 1994 and costing about $191 million, Texas Rangers Stadium (formerly Ameriquest Field) is a 270 acre facility that took two years to build and can hold about 49,000 people. Attendance that night was about 23,000. We had really great seats on the 13th row up from the right center field wall, well under the upper deck and far away from any railings.

That was Dianna’s requirement since the second fall of a spectator  while trying to retrieve a ball thrown up to him by Josh Hamilton, a player for the Rangers. Yeah, like I was going to be reaching out into space to snag the winning run or something. It would most likely glance off my hand and wind up in the capable hands of some smug Little Leaguer who would then scoff at my feeble attempt. He might even add insult to injury by feeling sorry for me and handing it back just in time for the JumboTron to catch the moment for all to see.

But I digress. Here, seated in the place where the Giants took the trophy to the city by the Bay for their first time, in 2010. Tim Lincecum was wicked on the mound, Edgar Renteria broke a scoreless duel with a three-run homer in the seventh inning and San Francisco beat the Texas Rangers 3-1 in a tense Game 5 on a much cooler Monday night last October. Well, I got hungry.

The Rangers fare is typical of the 21st century baseball stadium. Hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, soft drinks and beer, lots of beer, interspersed with tall and cold gaily-colored Margaritas. Then there are the “other” food choices. Like Nolan Ryan beef sausage, Texas steak sandwiches, Blue Bell ice cream and pretzels large enough to feed four people. Fans can order gourmet dishes like a watermelon, feta and arugula salad (Really?) or a slider with oven-roasted veggies, tomatoes and Boursin cheese spread. The menu read like something you’d see on the Food Channel. I’m sure all of this has the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval.

There’s even a specially designed beer dispensing system that fills specially designed cups with beer though a hole in the bottom. This way, vendors won't have to pour the beer by hand (God forbid!), which can cause spills or foaming. The hole is kept closed by a flat magnet, and the cups are recyclable. How cool is that?

I am a bit of a traditionalist so Nicole and I started off with a good old hot dog (She bought). A nice foot long version, not overdone and very tasty. And why can’t anybody come up with a hot dog bun that has a hinged side that holds together once it’s accepted the dog. Although I have to admit, once I doused the dog with a layer of onions and relish, I may have exceeded the performance envelope of the bread. Still, can’t somebody do something about that? We can send men to the Moon but…..

While waiting for our dogs, I couldn’t help noticing the folks walking by with heaping boxes of these huge sweet potato fries. The term “fries” is not descriptive enough. We’re talking beautiful orange potato “wedges”. Think miniature churros. After downing my dog, I ran back and ordered up a batch of sweet potato fries. Herein lies the problem (refer to paragraph two). I had to wait in line, a long line. And then I discovered they didn’t have any sizzling away in anticipation of orders but tossed in one order at a time into the fryer.

Though noble in practice (nobody likes oily, overcooked fries), when you’ve got a line of hungry fans making multiple orders of fries, it got pretty confusing pretty quickly. Mind you, they made regular fries, garlic/cheese fries and sweet potato fries and only had two fry baskets to work with. Only two. I don’t believe a true production study (“A continuous study of relatively lengthy duration often made with the object of checking an existing or proposed standard time or its constituent parts, or obtaining information concerning the rate of output”) was ever conducted by this vendor. Literally, the cashier took an order, called it out to the fryers who took a handful of fries and tossed them into an empty fryer. It would take about five minutes to finish a batch, drain and pour the fries onto a plate and deliver them to the waiting customer. There was no accountability and the whole process really boiled down to the patrons keeping track of their own order. It was bedlam.

After being passed over once by a rather large, hungry (and scary) man who grabbed an order I was reaching for, it was survival of the fittest and I snatched the next batch out of the reach of a young Hispanic woman who, I noted, had not consulted the fashion police before she left the house in those ugly too-tall high heels and that slightly confining bright red tube top.

Coveting my prize like a five-point Buck over the hood of my pickup truck (hey, it’s Texas), I navigated my way back to our seats and Nicole and I shared a bonding moment dipping fry after fry in a vat of ketchup. It doesn’t get any better than that. Ok, it’s not your grandfather’s idea of a day at the baseball park, but it will have to do. In her later years, Nicole will be able to reflect on that moment and hopefully think fondly of her old man shoveling sweet potato fries into his pie hole and knocking back a large lemonade behind the right field wall. Truly, a Norman Rockwell moment.

We then stood for the Canadian and American National Anthems. Yeah, the Canadian National Anthem, “O Canada” the lyrics were originally in French in 1880 and translated into English in 1906 (they couldn't find anybody to do it sooner?).

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Brings a tear to the eye doesn’t it? Although, I must admit, the French version is much more moving. Then listened to the announcer read off the player rosters for the evening. It must have been the heat because the game kind of sputtered along all night. In the heat, Toronto seemed the most enthusiastic (go figure) while the Rangers just couldn’t get it together. It was scoreless until the sixth when Toronto brought in the only three runs of the game. Of course, whenever you broach the subject of a lackluster game, inevitably the response is, “Well, you should have been here last night.” Which, unfortunately, was true. The prior game with the Blue Jays was a heart stopper in which the Rangers were able to pull it out in the bottom of the ninth by scoring two runs, winning 5-4. It’s the luck of the draw.
Tracie and Nicole
As we approached the last inning, still 3 runs back, Nicole’s boss and benefactor Tracie, grabbed Barry’s baseball cap, turned it inside out and replaced the hat, bill looking up at an odd angle, back on his head. Tracie looked over at me and gave me the, “Well?” look through her beer goggles. I asked her why she had done what appeared to be a senseless act of meanness to her betrothed. Tracie said it was the “Rally Cap”. It seems, in Ranger Fan circles, when the team gets in trouble, you reverse your cap in some ancient Druid ritual to rally the team into performing. Tracie gestured that I do the same.
Note the dearth of "Rally Caps" in the crowd

Not wanting to shirk from a challenge to my manhood, and in the full view of my now cringing daughter, I reversed my hat and placed it on my head. Now, Barry had a canvas hat which, I believe, lends itself to reversal. I, on the other hand, had a more modern reinforced front panel and rigid material to my South Carolina Gamecocks (Go Fighting Cocks) cap. Let’s just say, it just didn’t look right. And as I surveyed my surroundings, I did not see another reversed hat in the lot. I think I was hood winked.

Nonetheless, our meager efforts were for naught as the end of the game did not bring victory. There was no joy in Arlington — the mighty Ranger has struck out.

As we joined the throngs of disappointed fans shuffling out to the street at 10 p.m., the temperature had cooled to a bone-chilling 98 degrees making the long walk back to our car further dampening our clothing and spirits. Once the air conditioner took hold, it was a relatively quick jaunt to the freeway and home. Certainly a night to remember and a great use of father/daughter quality time.  It’s been a while since my last Padre game at Petco. All kidding aside, there is always something magical about walking into that large stadium as one would enter a large cathedral, at once, awe inspiring and somehow comforting, stirring up old memories of similar times with friends and family. And let’s face it, because it’s America.

We’re baseball like Canada is hockey and Mexico is soccer. It’s in our DNA and helps us define ourselves within a world of cultures that we can’t always grasp. Like baseball, we’re about fairness, rule of law and most of all, team spirit. It is about winning and losing but everybody gets to play, no matter who you are or where you come from. And I like it. Thank you Tracie and Barry for asking us along and thanks Nicole, for taking your old man to a game.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Kilroy was here" and The Gork

Something unique about sharing what you believe is a mastery of literary brilliance, is the fact that, once you hit the “Post” button to expose your genius to the Internet, there is always someone smarter and more knowledgeable than you around every corner. And I am big enough to admit my errors in the face of overwhelming evidence.

An observation I made about the legend of “Kilroy was here” in my posting of my visit to the Audie Murphy and American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas drew the ire of WWII veteran, Frank Hinkle Sr. Here is his exchange with his son, Frank Jr. who cruelly forwarded it to me just as I was about to seat myself on top of the laurels I had placed upon my easy chair on a hot and humid Texas Sunday afternoon: 

“That was interesting about the term "Kilroy was here"  and that drawing was often found with the phrase.  However that was not Kilroy.  That was a "Gork", actually a lowly Gork and a male.  If he had been of higher rank he would have been a "Sprocket eyed Gork"  and if it had been a high ranking female Gork, it would have had "Sprocket eyes"  and one single hair sticking strait up, with a large bow attached.  She also would be saying "Yoiks".  Please keep your history straight and don't confuse the two different pieces of WWII grafitti.  I've been there.”
I hate not getting it right, so I did some research and discovered the figure has roots all the way back to WWI and may have been an Australian creation of the 1st Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Their graffiti read,” Foo was here”. The “Foo” was considered, by many, as a gremlin, which wreaked havoc among electronic and mechanical devices. In America, he was referred to as Smoe, Clem, Flywheel, Private Snoops, Overby, The Jeep. He’s “Sapo” (nosy) to the Chileans. There’s even a website dedicated to the graffiti at .

The figure was initially known in Britain as "Mr Chad". In the army Chad was known as “Private Snoops”, and in the Navy he was called “The Watcher”. Chad would appear with the slogan "Wot, no sugar", or a similar phrase bemoaning shortages and rationing. HHe often appeared with a single curling hair that resembled a question mark and with crosses in his eyes. Chad might have first been drawn by British cartoonist George Edward Chatterton in 1938. Chatterton was nicknamed "Chat", which may then have become "Chad." He has a very strong resemblance to the popular Popeye character, Alice the Goon, which first appeared in 1933. As I wandered around the Internet, I could see there are so many places the graffiti has been seen at from WWI to the Gulf Wars it would take volumes to document all of them.
When I asked Pat Tillery of, a noted expert in the field, he replied:

“I’ve heard of Smoe and Chad and even Luke the Spook but, sadly no Gork.  I would, though.  Please ask your friend for more details.”

Patrick A. Tillery

To the Senior Hinkle, have pity on me. Like many of his generation, my Dad saw the approaching conflict and volunteered in 1940. He was an Army Pacific War veteran and was, unfortunately, one of those veterans who made it a policy to never talk about his time in the war. He was very proud of that service and very humble about the lives he may have taken in the process. When I see things like Kilroy and other folklore in WWII, it makes me think of my Dad and the stories he did tell of his days in 1940's Hawaii prior to his deployment, some of the islands he "visited" during the war and his glancing involvement in early radio and radar technology. He passed away in 2003.

My Dad was one of those “Greatest Generation” members who passed into history without (despite my best efforts) passing on his contribution to his family. Every time I read about or learn a new piece of military history or about America in the 30’s and 40’s, I still wish I could ask my Dad at our next visit for his recollections but, sadly, I know I can’t do that anymore. I am buoyed by the fact (and a little jealous) that my good friend Frank, and an ever-decreasing number of others, still have this invaluable resource to ask when they can.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Texas Ranger Museum, Waco, Texas

Texas Ranger lore dates the first rangers to 1823, when Stephen F. Austin employed ten men to act as rangers to protect 600 to 700 newly settled families who arrived in Texas following the Mexican War of Independence. Austin called for, "ten act as rangers for the common defense...The wages I will give said ten men is fifteen dollars a month payable in property." The Rangers were formally constituted in 1835. Their pay was officially set at $1.25 a day and they were to elect their own officers.
After the Texas Revolution, the Rangers were brought back to act as a force to protect the new Republic against rogue Native American groups and were instrumental in helping U.S. forces in the Mexican-American War of 1846 at the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846.
Early Rangers were required to provide their own horses and equipment. They fought battles in which they were often outnumbered by as much as 50-to-1, so it was common for each man to carry multiple pistols, rifles and knives. The more modern day Rangers had to provide their own car, horse, and saddle, though the newly formed Texas Department of Safety (DPS) issued horse trailers. Back then, Rangers were paid automobile mileage and furnished a Colt .45 and a lever-action Winchester .30 caliber rifle by the state. Today's Rangers travel by government cars, airplanes or helicopters and occasionally by horse.
Modern Rangers have the benefit of state-of-the-art weaponry and other equipment. Each Ranger is furnished a semi-automatic handgun, 12-gauge shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle. Rangers are not issued uniforms, they dress as they need to (how cool is that?). A Ranger in Dallas might wear a suit and tie while a Ranger assigned to a rural area would likely choose Western wear. White Western hats, big belt buckles and western boots are the traditional standard.

The Texas Republic was one of Sam Colt’s earliest and biggest customers. Sam built them a Colt .36 cal Paterson “Texas” five-shot revolver, a weapon the Rangers used with deadly effect in defense of the Texas frontier. Today they get State issued vehicles and equipment. The standard issue is a .357 Sig P226 but most like the ubiquitous Colt .45 auto-loader usually pimped out with inlays and fancy grips. You can carry anything you can qualify with.
For most of the 1860s, Rangers continued to keep the Native Americans in check and many of them had time to join the Confederacy in the war of northern aggression (TWONA). In 1870 (reconstruction years), the Rangers were replaced by a Federal police force which never really had much public support (Damn Yankees!) and a new Ranger force was recommissioned by Governor Coke in 1873.

Observers point out that Rangers during the late 1800s did some pretty ugly things. In particular, Leander H. McNelly and his men used ruthless methods that often rivaled the brutality of their opponents, such as taking part in summary executions (that’s politically correct for hangings) and confessions induced by torture and intimidation.

This was exemplified by acts attributed to them during the Mexican Civil War of 1910. Before the decade was over, thousands of lives were lost, Texans and Mexicans alike. In January 1919, an investigation by the Texas Legislature found that perhaps as many as 5,000 people, mostly of Hispanic descent, had been killed by Rangers from 1910 to 1919, and that members of the Rangers had been involved in many acts of brutality and injustice.

One of the major problems facing the Rangers during the late 20s and 30s was bank robbery. The situation got so bad; the Texas Bankers Association offered a standing $5,000 reward for bank robbers. There was one catch….the money would be paid only for dead robbers. That is crime suppression.

The Legislature studied the problem and decided to revamp and reorganize the Rangers from a mostly political appointment job to civil service appointments. They also merged the Rangers with the Texas Highway Patrol into its current form as the Department of Public Safety.

The Rangers remain a potent but relatively small force. Today, the number of personnel is set by the Texas Legislature. As of[update] 2010, the Texas Rangers number 144 commissioned officers in seven geographical locations; Houston is the headquarters for Company A, Garland is the headquarters for Company B (North Central Texas where I live), Lubbock is the headquarters for Company C, San Antonio is the headquarters for Company D, El Paso is the headquarters for Company E, Waco is the headquarters for Company F and McAllen is the headquarters for Company G.  The Rangers Division Headquarters is in Austin, the home of Headquarters Company H.

In its infancy, there was no Ranger Badge (“We don’t need no stinking badges!”). The wearing of badges became more common in the late 1800s. Historians have put forth several reasons for the lack of the regular use of a badge; among them, some Rangers felt that a shiny badge was a tempting target. Other historians have speculated that there was no real need to show a badge to a hostile Indian or outlaw. Who had time to ID yourself when you’re riding and shooting your way throughout the West?

Additionally, from an historical viewpoint, a Ranger's pay was so scanty that the money required for such fancy jewelry was rarely available. Nevertheless, some Rangers did wear badges, and the first of these appeared around 1875. They were locally made and varied considerably from one to another, but they invariably represented a star cut out of a Mexican silver coin (usually a five-peso coin). The design is reminiscent of Texas's Lone Star flag.
The modern-day badge of a Texas Ranger compared to the obverse and reverse of a 1948 cinco peso coin from which it is made.

The current design of the Rangers' badge was incorporated in 1962, when Ranger Hardy L. Purvis and his mother donated enough Mexican five-peso coins to the DPS to provide badges for all 62 Rangers who were working at that time as commissioned officers.

The “One Riot, One Ranger” phrase kicked around is rather misleading and subject to folklore in that, there was never actually a riot. The phrase was coined by Ranger Captain William "Bill" McDonald, who was sent to Dallas in 1896 to prevent the illegal heavyweight prizefight between Pete Maher and Bob Fitzsimmons. According to the story, McDonald's train was met by the mayor, who asked the lone (get it?) Ranger where the other lawmen were. McDonald is said to have replied, "Hell! Ain't I enough? There's only one prize-fight!" This same bravado was probably exemplified in each and every episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” starring Chuck Norris ( Honorary Texas Ranger since December, 2010), which aired from April 1993 to 2001. Other Honorary Texas Rangers are John Wayne (Big surprise there), Will Rogers and George H.W. Bush (41 not 43).

In reality, it was such a huge event. The place had attracted many celebrities of the time (think like a Tyson fight in Vegas) including most or all of the employed Rangers at the time. The problem was nobody really wanted to stop the fight but the Governor’s orders were followed and the fight ultimately took place on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande near Langtry, Texas.
Today, Rangers do what most cops do anywhere in America.....except they do it in Texas. They are still considered a para-military force under orders of the Director to “suppress all criminal activity in any given area, when it is apparent that the local officials are unwilling or unable to maintain law and order. Also upon the request or order of a judge of a court of record, Texas Rangers may serve as officers of the court and assist in the maintenance of decorum, the protection of life, and the preservation of property during any judicial proceeding; and provide protection for elected officials at public functions and at any other time or place when directed. The Texas Rangers, with the approval of the Director, may conduct investigations of any alleged misconduct on the part of other Department of Public Safety personnel”.

Typically, they assist most of the smaller agencies in their assigned sectors of the State and most often get called in when a serious crime has occurred where the smaller agency doesn’t have the expertise or resources to handle the case. The Department of Public Safety includes the State forensic laboratories that process evidence for any agency that needs it.
Folks, I cannot relate to you the number of weapons on display at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum  in  Waco, Texas . There is room after room with glass cases crammed with hand guns, rifles, shotguns and tooled leather holsters the Rangers have had in their inventory or donated by family and friends or the retired Rangers themselves. I did try to photograph them but the dimensions of some of the rooms really wouldn’t give you a sense of the beauty of some of these weapons and leather. I only include these because they were my personal favorites but really only a small sampling of the stuff I saw.

Suffice it to say, you’ve really got to go there to appreciate the place. We did just the Museum in about three hours but if you took the time to pour over all the displays, you could easily spend the day there. Bring extra batteries, you’re camera will go dead before you’re done. Personal experience.

This is the personal 1928 Thompson Machine Gun belonging to Ranger Hardy B. Purvis. He became a Ranger in 1927 and retired as a Captain in 1956. Note the "violin case" it would have come in.

The displays are very extensive but actually, you must see the video the museum has put together. It really encapsulates the history of the Texas Rangers from Steven Austin’s call for volunteers to become Rangers to the role of today’s Texas Ranger. They even have a “Lone Ranger” exhibit of Clayton Moore’s stuff he used in the filming of the series from 1949-1957. The son of the series’ original writer, Fran Striker, donated original prints and memorabilia from the period.

We will be going back. We found a great place to stay, the Bed and Breakfast on White Rock Creek  . There are still museums to wander through (like Baylor’s Mayborn Museum ) and restaurants to try. As soon as the weather cools, which, at this rate, might be sometime in December, we’re heading back.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Audie Murphy and the American Cotton Museum Greenville, Texas

It was on a very hot North Texas day I decided to get out of the house and head back out to Greenville, Texas to visit the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum. Of course, the question will arise, why Audie’s museum is part of a museum dedicated to the production of cotton.

The museum started as the Hunt County Museum in 1987 as the Audie L. Murphy Hunt County Veteran’s Exhibit from a little downtown storefront to the current building alongside Interstate 30. Greenville has a very long and colorful history of cotton farming and production. It has a great collection of cotton production memorabilia and very detailed working models of cotton gins and the tools used to prepare the cotton for manufacture.

On the grounds is the oldest standing structure in Greenville, the Ende-Gaillard House which was built between 1857 and 1859 by Charles Frederick von Ende for his wife, Emilie Amelia Rinecker von Ende. This Greek Revival house, originally situated on Greenville’s Stonewall Street, was moved to Graham Park in 1957 to save it from destruction, and was moved to its present location in 1996 for preservation and is open for tours.

When you enter the museum, you enter the Cotton Museum. It has a well-done 1920’s era display of a typical sharecropper’s home. Pretty sparse in that many of the items were homemade and built for economy not comfort.

Greenville was known as the “Cotton Capitol of the World” in the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s. It boasted the world’s largest cotton compress which condensed huge bales of combed cotton into more manageable and compact 500 lb. bales more suitable for shipping. Folks, I tried to move this thing, kids do not try this at home!

Of course, with cotton plantations came slavery and the Civil War. The war ended slavery but began reconstruction which didn’t go well for either whites or blacks. The economy faltered when cotton declined as a major cash crop without indentured servitude, the importation of foreign cotton and the introduction of manmade fibers.

Throughout all this, Greenville’s favorite son status rested on Audie Murphy. There’s been a lot of controversy over where Audie was born and several towns vie for the honor. Two, Farmersville and Celeste, Texas, claim to be Audie’s hometown. He was most likely born in a town called Kingston, Texas in 1924 but the town declined over a rerouting of a railroad line and became, in essence, a suburb of Celeste. The family did move around and even lived briefly in an abandoned railroad car. Audie was a sometimes resident and worked in several places in Greenville, most notably at a general store, gas station, garage in the downtown area.

Although Audie was a fifth grade dropout from an extremely poor family, in the course of his service, he became the most decorated American soldier of all time. After the war, he became a celebrated movie star for over two decades, appearing in 44 films. He also found some success as a country music singer/songwriter.

Audie L. Murphy was sixth of the twelve children of Emmett Berry Murphy and his wife Josie Bell Killian. Emmett was an unsuccessful sharecropper and when his father abandoned the family in 1936, Audie, 12, dropped out of school to help support his family. He worked plowing and picking cotton on any farm that would hire him. This is the time he acquired his shooting skills. As the breadwinner, Audie and his friends often hunted to bring home food for his family. He became very adept at shooting rabbit and squirrel with his rifle. Bullets cost money and he never wasted a shot. This would come in handy in his future military career.

In 1941, at 16, his mother died and forced Audie to place his three youngest siblings, Nadine, Billie, and Joseph Murphy into an orphanage home. Joseph Murphy later became a Frisco Police Officer but eight months later, on January 29, 1968, was killed in a collision on his way to assist on a call in Celina, Texas. Thankfully, his is the only name on our Police Officer Memorial in front of Police Headquarters.

The real story is how he got into the Army. There was not a lot of opportunity for the poor and uneducated in post-depression Texas. Audie had always considered the military as an honorable career and had tried to enlist after Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, Audie was very small in stature, 5-5 and 110 pounds, so he was rejected by the Marines, Navy and Army for being too small and underweight. In June 1942, shortly after his 17th birthday, his older sister Corrine adjusted his birth date on his birth certificate so he appeared to be 18 and legally able to enlist. He was accepted into the Army and inducted in Greenville at the old Post Office on Lee Street.

His hopes of being a line soldier almost came to an end at basic training in Camp Wolters, Texas in a place called Mineral Wells just west of Weatherford, Texas. During a session of close order drill, he passed out in the hot west Texas sun. His company commander took pity on him and tried to have him transferred to a cook and bakers' school but Audie insisted on becoming a combat soldier.

For Audie, that officer’s decision to allow him to continue, set the stage for his phenomenal military career and unsurpassed 33 medals including the Congressional Medal of Honor he received in his 27 months of action with the 15th  Regiment of the 3rd  Infantry Division in the European Theater. True to form, when the Korean War began, he re-enlisted with the Texas National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division but wasn’t deployed. He ended his service in 1966.

When he came back from WWII, Audie became depressed and was diagnosed with “Battle Fatigue”. For years, he battled the condition we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In his later life, as he saw soldiers suffering coming back from Korea and Vietnam, he was one of the few early veteran’s advocates publicly discussing his own war-related mental conditions and pushed for better treatment of veterans.

While on a business trip on May 28, 1971, (Memorial Day Weekend) he was killed at the age of 46. A private plane flying in fog and rain crashed in the side of Brush Mountain near Catawba, Virginia. Five others, including the pilot, were also killed. Although Audie owned and flew his own plane earlier in his career in Hollywood, he was among the passengers that tragic day.

On June 7th, Audie Murphy was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. His  gravesite, near the Amphitheater, is the second most visited gravesite year round. President Kennedy's grave is the most visited. It got so many visitors, Arlington had to build a walkway to the site to accommodate all the visitor traffic.

1st Lt. Dean Hallamrk front left 

The Hall of Heroes exhibit which contains the Audie Murphy story is well done but like the man, simple. I actually found some of the lesser-known exhibits really informative. There is the Dean E. Hallmark display. 1st Lt. Dean Hallmark was a member of the Doolittle Raid of “30 seconds over Tokyo” fame. Originally born in Robert Lee, Texas, by 1930, his family had moved to Greenville and he became a civilian pilot flying oil workers for Humble Oil (now Exxon) in Venezuela earning him the nickname of “Jungle Jim” by his fellow Doolittle Raiders. In 1940, he was recruited by the Army Air Corps to become a military pilot ending up in B-25 Mitchell medium bombers.

At the beginning of the war, Dean was flying anti-submarine patrols from Oregon over the Pacific. When Doolittle asked for volunteers for the raid, Dean joined up. Dean was the command pilot of the sixth B-25 to launch from the deck of the Hornet, tail number 02298 and dubbed "The Green Hornet." In the movie “Pearl Harbor”, Ben Affleck’s character Capt. Rafe McCauley, assumes Dean's #6 position in order of flight during the Doolittle Raid sequence as evidenced by the chalkboard in the ready room scene. Like most of the Doolittle Raiders, after successfully making the bomb run, he barely made it to the shoreline of China.

Hoping to evade the Japanese, they were captured on the eighth day. Subsequently brought up on espionage charges and the alleged killing of innocent civilians in the raid, Dean and two others were executed by firing squad in Shanghai, their graves misnamed to cover up the atrocity. After the war, US officials discovered the graves and Dean was moved and reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery in 1947.

I also learned the origins of the term “Kilroy was here”. The famous WWII expression and grafitti was derived from a foreman’s signature validating the work of riveters in a shipyard in Massachusetts. Riveters were paid by the number of rivet holes they filled in a shift. Kilroy, wanting to show his supervisors he was doing his job and as a warning to dishonest riveters, wrote the words “Kilroy was here” to show the oncoming shifts where riveters had stopped. Of course, this notation was seen in various locations throughout a ship Kilroy worked on and a mystery became an urban legend myth during WWII.

Soldiers seeing this decided it had been written by a brave pioneer of the early conflict and was copied throughout both theaters of war. The graffiti would often be seen at the sites of early landings by the Allies with an accompanying G.I. that would swear it was there before they got there. So much so, that by the wars end in Europe, Hitler himself became convinced Kilroy was some super spy who seemed to be everywhere and demanded he be captured and killed.

If you like guns, you’re in the right place. From the Civil War to WWII, weapons were on display including my favorite, the Colt Walker M1847 .44 cal revolver. This thing was huge and must have been a handful to fire. There was even a display honoring the humble but ubiquitous P-38 can opener. I wonder if anybody can confirm the explanation on the card.
There was also a small but very concise history of Claire Chennault’s American Volunteer Group (AVG) “Flying Tigers”. It was interesting to learn General Chennault’s career, another Texan from nearby Commerce, Texas, somewhat paralleled Billy Mitchell in that they were both very vocal proponents of aerial bombing in a “good old boy” cavalry based infantry still grounded in the tactics of the late 1800s’. He quit to work for the progressive Chiang Kai Shek Nationalist Chinese who understood a thing or two about airpower. They were wise enough to cut him a blank check to put together a small but effective force to make the Japanese think twice about bombing their cities and civilians.

I discovered what it means to be a “Short Snorter”. A “snort” is, of course, a stiff drink and a “short” was less than a full pour, like a “shot”. It was the name given to members of the “Short Snorters” club. The practice was popularized by aircrews in WWII and involved a soldiers two favorite pastimes, drinking alcohol and collecting paper money.

It was based on how often an airmen had crossed the equator in an aircraft as well as how often he crossed into another country on a flight. You had to be a member of the military at the time of the crossing and the way to show this was by getting a sample of paper currency from that country and having them signed by fellow airmen who had witnessed the event. The money would be glued or taped end to end creating an ever-growing map of their travels and exploits. Many got to six feet or more. The longer your “Short Snorter” roll, the greater your status.
Typically, an airman would challenge another airman at the bar and ask, “Are you a ‘Short Snorter’ ?” Both obliging airmen would produce his “snorter roll” of bills and a comparison would take place. Generally, the guy with the shortest roll would have to buy the drinks. Several variants exist but the one I particularly like was the one where two crew or squadron members would tear a bill into two pieces, each carrying one half into battle. When they returned, they would join the bill together, buy and share a “Short Snorter” together and that would seal their friendship for life.

Outside, the Museum had built a very moving monument to both Audie Murphy and the fallen members from all the major conflicts from Hunt County. Audie is depicted in a statue capturing him with a German MG-42 (a distant relative of the iconic M-60 machine gun) in the battle action that won him his Distinguished Service Cross in 1944.

Having had my WWII fix for the day, I drove off in search of a meal. Greenville is not a hopping place, even on a Saturday and open eateries were hard to come by but a little tickling of Patty’s touch pad resulted in a lock on a BBQ place coincidentally on the north approach to the Audie L. Murphy Memorial railroad overpass.

The Johnson Street Smokehouse is a little restaurant tucked between the north and south approaches to the bridge. It had an extensive menu of cholesterol infused beef, pork, sausage and chicken. I had the beef plate with two delicious sides of potato salad and green beans. The beef slices fell apart as I stuck my fork in and the potato salad had just the right amount of mayonnaise and mustard which didn’t overwhelm the chunks of green onion and hardboiled egg. The beans had been steeping for a while in their salty brine and were tender and flavorful. All washed down with sweet tea that I got to go for the long drive back to Frisco.

I must say, although one of my best history trips of the year, it wasn’t the same without Dianna in the right seat coaxing me along. But it was a crazy Texas-hot afternoon and she would have surely melted. I’ll get her back when the weather cools for more tales of the backcountry.