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Sunday, September 11, 2016, 20:44 EST Leave a comment

Today is a day of numbers. Some are familiar:

  • 11, 175, 77, 93 — The flight numbers of the hijacked planes.
  • 3 — The number of airports from which the four hijacked planes originated.
  • 8:46 — The time of first impact.
  • 2,977 — The number of people killed in the attacks.
  • 19 — The number of hijackers.

Others, less so:

  • 61 — The number of nations, besides the United States, whose citizens were among the victims.
  • 4,300 — The number of civilian aircraft grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration following the attacks.
  • 120 — The number of U.S.-bound overseas flights that were diverted to Canada.
  • 1 — The number of people who made the decision to completely shut down U.S. airspace.
  • 5 — The number of military fighter jets scrambled (alas, too late) from Otis Air Force Base and Langley Air National Guard Base to intercept the hijacked planes targeting the Twin Towers.

There are many others. The one nobody will forget is 9/11/2001, 15 years ago today, when not just our country but also our world changed, permanently.

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Categories: history, remember

One Year

Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 12:23 EST Leave a comment

The 2013 Boston Marathon took place a year ago today. Of course, that annual big event would be overshadowed by the explosion of two bombs at the finish line at 2:50pm, just a few hours after the winners had crossed.

Three people were killed at that moment, dozens more seriously injured. The medical personnel who volunteered at the finish line to handle cases of dehydration, heat stroke, and muscle strains became, in an instant, medics in a war zone. It was later reported that the medical tent personnel triaged 58 people—several of whom had limbs blown off—in less than a half hour.

One of the registered nurses in the medical tent that day, a friend of mine who is also an officer in a U.S. Army Reserve medical brigade, recently spent three weeks in annual training exercises simulating mass casualty situations, which for their purposes were defined as five or more casualties. She said that after Boston, five casualties was a piece of cake.

People have moved on with their altered lives. The families and friends of the three dead, along with the loved ones of the M.I.T. police officer killed three days later by the alleged terrorists (or, as I call them, dirtbags), have made it through the first year. Survivors have recovered, some continuing to learn how to use the prosthetic legs that replaced the real ones they lost. Marathon organizers have planned this year’s event taking into account the need for increased security. Boston and state police, with federal law enforcement, have developed new public safety strategies based on lessons learned. Some of the runners who were prevented from finishing last year’s race have taken advantage of the Boston Athletic Association’s offer to run this year without having to re-qualify. Likewise, some of the volunteers who dealt directly with the carnage have decided to go back to the medical tent.

Today at the finish line, which has already been painted on Boylston Street in preparation for next Monday, wreathes have been placed in memory of the victims. A commemorative service will begin in a few minutes at Boston’s Hynes Auditorium. As I watch some of the coverage on television, I am more than a little weepy, which surprises me because 1) I was 40 miles away at my office when the bombing happened, 2) I didn’t know any of the victims (although several of my friends were very nearby); and 3) I never cried back when it happened, going instead from shock at the attack to indignation by the time the suspects were identified and hunted down. Probably thousands of other people feel the same way I do and, like me, don’t really understand why.

Maybe it’s because, as I’ve said before, this may not be personal to me as an individual, but it’s personal to me as a New Englander. This corner of the country is very stoic, its inhabitants proud of our history as the cradle of the American Revolution. Boston seems like a big city, but in many ways it feels like a small town. And the Boston Marathon, the oldest annual marathon in the world, is our special party in which we are kind enough to let others join. Crashing it for the sole purpose of killing and maiming people is bad form, and we take it personally. In the immortal words of David Ortiz, “This is OUR fucking city!” The implication being, How dare you come into our home and attack us and our guests! How dare you take our wonderful event and ruin it with blood and body parts! A year ago, it made me angry. I’m still angry, but I’m also sad, and it has taken a year for that to happen.

Some things can’t be understood or explained, so I won’t try. I’ll just let it happen. And maybe, on Monday, I’ll head into Boston and watch a marathon.

In Memory

Wednesday, September 11, 2013, 15:19 EST Leave a comment

As in years past, I volunteered today at the 9/11 Day of Remembrance blood drive at Fenway Park. It was an exhausting day; even though the donation areas were in air conditioned comfort, I moved from area to area through the very non-air conditioned concourses of the old ball yard. Nonetheless, it was a most rewarding experience. The number of people who come out to do something meaningful on this day never fails to inspire me.

So That Others May Live

Tuesday, September 11, 2012, 12:50 EST Leave a comment

My shift as a volunteer at Boston’s annual 9/11 Day of Remembrance blood drive is winding down. This year, as in other years when the Red Sox have a home game on this date, the Fenway Park part of the drive was from 6:00 a.m. to noon, though we’re still here because we checked in donors until noon and those people are still in the pipeline.

Those who wish to give blood but couldn’t get to Fenway can go to the Day of Remembrance, part 2, at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

As the Red Cross says:

Give blood in memory of those lost so that others may live.

Farewell, Friend

Thursday, May 10, 2012, 18:13 EST Leave a comment

(Cross-posted from the Triumphant Red Sox Fan Forum)

CBSBoston: Fenway Park PA Announcer Carl Beane killed in one-car crash: http://cbsloc.al/Kn3pkC

Received on my BlackBerry at 4:17pm yesterday

Carl Beane lets me try on his 2004 World Series ring, June 21, 2005.

Carl Beane was the kind of person who felt like a friend even if you had never met him.

To listeners of the Massachusetts radio stations where Carl was a broadcaster for the past 40 years, he was the guy who brought them the sports reports, covering everything from high school to the pros with sincerity and professionalism. Others knew him as the mellifluous voice welcoming them to Fenway Park and introducing each batter who came to the plate. To the men who played at Fenway, whether for the home team or the visitors, he was someone who went out of his way to learn the correct pronunciation of each player. The NESN and WEEI game broadcasters in the booth next to his and the beat writers down the hall considered him a respected colleague.

Some of us had the good fortune to become personally acquainted with Carl. In my case, it happened through his wife, who works for the same company I do and brought him into work one summer day in 2005 so her co-workers could get a peek at his 2004 World Series ring. She booked a conference room and spread the word that anyone who wished was welcome to stop by and see it, try it on, have their picture taken with it. Carl must have spent an hour and a half entertaining a steady stream of people, but he was every bit as excited to share the symbol of long-awaited victory with them as they were to touch it for a few magical seconds.

Over the next seven years, I met up with Carl from time to time. There were spring training vacations to Fort Myers during which he was there to do the public address honors at City of Palms Park. Or the time I ran into him during a Fenway tour and introduced him to some out-of-state friends who were big Sox fans. My mother met him for the first time after we attended a game and almost literally ran into him afterward in the concourse, when we were leaving and he was rushing from the public address booth to the clubhouse to do post-game interviews for his radio job. Even when in a hurry, he took a few seconds to be friendly and gracious.

But my favorite Carl Beane story unfolded at a minor league hockey game in Worcester. I was sitting a row in front of Carl and Lorraine when a small group of teenage boys a few seats down noticed the flashy jewelry on Carl’s finger. Seemingly without a thought that these young men were complete strangers and this was a $15,000 ring, Carl slipped it off, handed it to one of the boys, and invited him to pass it around so everyone could check it out.

When I attended last Friday evening’s Red Sox game with my mother, my friend Karen, and Karen’s family, I had no way of knowing it would be the last time I would hear Carl’s voice in person. I didn’t see him, but Karen did, meeting him at the park three hours before game time for a previously arranged personal tour in honor of her son’s birthday and her granddaughter’s first visit to Fenway. In addition to getting their pictures taken with Carl’s ring (the 2004 version, that night), they were also invited to step out onto the field during batting practice. In talking about what a great job he did in his role as the voice of Fenway Park, Karen told Carl that, if he wanted it, he would have the job for the rest of his life. And he did.

The Red Sox left on a brief road trip after Sunday’s game. Carl was going about his other business around mid-day yesterday when he suffered some sort of attack—a heart attack, the reports are saying—while driving, lost consciousness, and drifted off the road. He probably never knew what hit him.

People who were much closer to him than I was—his wife, daughter, grandchildren, step-children, neighbors, professional colleagues, and close friends—are mourning in ways that the rest of us aren’t. But for every person on Carl’s Christmas card list, there are countless others who associate his voice with some of the most entertaining moments of their lives and will miss it.

The Red Sox are preparing to pay tribute to Carl Beane before tonight’s game. I hope they will continue the tribute throughout the evening by leaving the announcer’s booth empty and the microphone still, so the fans in the stands, the “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” Carl greeted en masse before every game, can hear him in their memories one more time.

Categories: remember, sports

Solemn Observances

Thursday, April 5, 2012, 18:32 EST Leave a comment

Today is Holy Thursday for western Christianity. Thus begins the most solemn period on the church calendar.

Holy Thursday, called Maundy Thursday in the Eastern Orthodox church, commemorates the Last Supper, the Passover seder Jesus shared with his closest followers shared the day before he was crucified. (Coincidentally this year, it just precedes the Jewish observance of Passover, which begins tomorrow evening.) Good Friday, tomorrow, commemorates the crucifixion and death af Jesus. The Easter liturgies of the Saturday vigil and all Sunday liturgies celebrate the resurrection. So in the span of just a few days, we go from remembering the lowest time in Jesus’ life to the highest, a sort of theological roller coaster.

I admit to having been less than disciplined during this Lenten season. I didn’t give up anything, didn’t go to extra masses (and even missed Sundays on occasion), and wasn’t even especially careful about meatless Fridays. I do more some years than others. But Holy Thursday always focuses me on what I call the home stretch to Easter. Like the story of the workers in the vineyard who all got the same wages no matter what time of day they showed up, I figure God will cut me some slack for being a little late.

This day also reminds me of the death of my the man I think of as my former future father-in-law, who died on Holy Thursday 28 years ago. I suspect that God doesn’t mind that, either.

Categories: faith/religion, remember

Another POW Comes Home

Friday, March 9, 2012, 18:21 EST Leave a comment

Staff Sgt. Ahmed AltaieSomehow, I missed the news for 11 days. But earlier today, while reading announcements of war casualties on the U.S. Department of Defense web site, I learned that my adopted POW was dead. I read the details at the Army Times:

A Shiite extremist group handed over a simple wooden casket containing the remains of the last U.S. soldier missing in Iraq, a prominent Iraqi lawmaker said Monday, drawing a close to a case that has anguished the American’s family since his 2006 disappearance.

Shiite lawmaker Sami al-Askari, a close ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the remains of Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie were turned over last week as part of a prisoner exchange agreement between the Iraqi government and the militant group Asaib Ahl al-Haq.

The Pentagon confirmed Sunday that it had recently received remains that were verified as Altaie’s. But al-Askari’s comments provide the first confirmation that Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-backed insurgent group, was responsible for the 2006 kidnapping of Altaie after the Iraqi-born soldier sneaked out of the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad to visit his wife and family on a Muslim holiday.

Al-Askari said Asaib Ahl al-Haq last week acknowledged killing Altaie within a year of his October 2006 abduction. He said he did not know exactly when Altaie was killed.

Before I took it off this afternoon, I had worn Staff Sgt. Altaie’s bracelet since early autumn of 2009, when it was still hoped that he was alive. I put it on just a few weeks after removing U.S. Navy Capt. Scott Speicher’s bracelet, which I wore from January 2004 until his remains were brought home in August 2009. With the exception of the brief time between bracelets, that’s more than eight years of wearing a stainless steel bracelet 24 hours a day without interruption. It wasn’t exactly a fashion statement, and it didn’t always look good when I was dressed up for weddings, dinner-dances, or other formal occasions. But I believed, as I know others who still wear bracelets going back as far as the Vietnam war believe, that the act of never removing it was a small act of solidarity with the service member, who couldn’t “take off” his captivity for special occasions. It was also a reminder that the families of POW-MIA service members are never really free until their loved ones return, alive or dead.

Altaie POW bracelet

The POW bracelet I wore for Staff Sgt. Altaie, showing (front) his name, rank at time of capture, date of capture, and (back) home state and status

Staff Sgt. Altaie, an Iraqi-born American citizen whose family moved to Michigan when he was a teenager, was a hero in every sense, serving both the country of his birth and his adopted country at the same time. Even as an armed soldier, his work as an interpreter made him literally a bridge of peace and understanding between the American reconstruction teams to which he was assigned and the Iraqi people they worked with. I had often worried aloud for his safety, knowing that as much as Islamic terrorists hate Americans, they hate even more Muslims who collaborate with Americans. Apparently, he was aware of the risks but didn’t allow them to deter him in fulfilling his service or living his life. Indeed, when he was captured, he was believed to have been headed to the home of his in-laws to spend time with his Iraqi wife, whom he had married after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government but before he joined the Army Reserve.

The Defense Department press release of February 27 noted that, with the war in Iraq officially over, Staff Sgt. Altaie is “the final…casualty to be recovered from the Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn mission.” The U.S. armed forces now have only one service member confirmed held as a prisoner: Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, U.S. Army, who was captured by the Taliban in the summer of 2009. Sgt. Bergdahl is known to have been alive as recently as late last summer, when he escaped, only to be recaptured after three days.

I haven’t decided yet whether I will now wear Sgt. Bergdahl’s bracelet. I’m 0-for-2 with POWs, and frankly I don’t know if I can get that emotionally invested again. What I will do, regardless, is pray: for eternal life for Staff Sgt. Altaie, for strength and safety for Sgt. Bergdahl, for the consolation of the Altaie family and the comfort of the Bergdahls, and for all who await the final return of their loved ones from past wars. Alive or dead, everyone deserves to come home.

Categories: military, remember

Veterans Day Musings

Friday, November 11, 2011, 15:41 EST Leave a comment

Maxine - Veterans Day 2007I begin this post with the cartoon to the right (click the image to view larger). I love Maxine, and I love self-deprecating humor, and I love veterans, so it seemed appropriate. No disrespect is intended by the humor.

Today is Veterans Day, a federal holiday that traces its roots to the first anniversary of the armistice ending the fighting of the first World War. On November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson spoke of “solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” Congress passed a law in 1938 officially establishing Armistice Day and another in 1954 renaming it Veterans Day. A holiday for a similar purpose is observed in British Commonwealth countries and is known as Remembrance Day, the main difference being that Remembrance Day honors those who died in military service, whereas Veterans Day honors all military veterans, living and dead.

I always take this opportunity to think of members of my family who have served in the armed forces. The most recent are my cousins Jon and Tania, both active duty Army officers: Jon is a veteran of the Afghanistan War, Tania served in Bosnia. But there have been many others as well. One of my father’s cousins volunteered for two tours of combat duty in Vietnam. Two uncles, both now deceased, served during wartime, one in the Air Force at a nuclear missile installation in North Dakota during the Vietnam War and another in the Army in Europe during the Korean War (having lied about his age so he could enlist at age 17). Another uncle served during peacetime after Korea. My grand-uncle fought in World War II and returned shell-shocked, what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. One of my mother’s cousins was a Bataan Death March survivor. Going way back, my great-great-grandfather was a Civil War veteran, having been wounded while fighting on the Union side during the Battle of Port Hudson. Innumerable friends have served as well, some currently on active duty or in the reserves or National Guard. Now my son’s friends are serving, including one who is a Pentagon naval officer whose brother and sister are officers in the Air Force and Army, respectively.

I am not unique in feeling a personal connection to veterans known and unknown. My Facebook feed today is loaded with friends’ tributes to their military friends and loved ones, as well as gratitude to those who have served. One friend, a Canadian musician (who happens to have the same name I have), posted a message of thanks to all Canadian soldiers. Down the street from my office, the AHL’s Worcester Sharks hockey team is playing a matinée game with free admission for those with military ID. Yesterday, my employer held a veterans recognition event to honor our own employees who have served; it was well-received and promises to become an annual event.

Wherever you are today, please take a moment to remember people in your life who have given of themselves in military service. If they are still alive, visit or call them and thank them.

In conjunction with yesterday’s ceremony, we held a sock drive for the local homeless shelter run by Veterans Inc. Apparently, socks are the number one needed item in shelters, and when we approached Veterans Inc. to ask what we might be able to donate, that’s what they asked for. It makes sense, if you think about it—when people clean out their closets and drawers looking for used clothing to donate to charities, they come up with coats, pants, sweaters, etc. But we tend to wear our socks until they have to be thrown out. We ended up with several large cartons stuffed full with socks that will go to good use.

I served on the planning committee for the veterans recognition event, which means that in addition to attending, I also had lots of behind-the-scenes tasks to take care of. Among my assigned roles was to find the old patriotic decorations that everyone seemed to think still existed somewhere in the building, and determine what we could still use. With some help, I put my hands on a dozen tri-color banners that would have been perfect had they not been yellowed from years (decades?) of storage in less than ideal conditions. With the help of Woolite® and OxiClean® (that stuff really works, even if Billy Mays was a raving druggie lunatic), I managed to whip them into shape, press them, and provide them to our facilities staff Wednesday morning to be hung up later that day. After going over where and how they should be hung, my final word to facilities was, “Make sure the red hangs on the left. This isn’t Bastille Day.”

The remark elicited some chuckles, but it also got me thinking about the many other countries whose flags are the same colors as ours. When we Americans hear “red, white, and blue,” we automatically think of the Stars and Stripes. But those are the colors of several other nations too, including France (“bleu, blanc, et rouge”). Off the top of my head, I thought of the other Anglophone countries of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand; the Caribbean nations of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico; and the mega-nation of Russia. It turns out they are just the beginning.

According to the World Flag Database, there are 29 national flags whose sole colors are red, white, and blue. That includes all shades of blue, from light blue (Luxembourg) to the darkest navy blue. There are other flags that are predominantly red, white, and blue, but if they have even the tiniest bit of another color (such as Croatia and Slovenia), they I don’t count them. (The gold fringe that sometimes adorns the edges of ceremonial flags doesn’t count, either.)

The Passing of a Local Icon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011, 19:21 EST Leave a comment

Dick CarneyWhen I say “government worker,” what comes to mind? Chances are, it isn’t a positive image. Public employees at all levels, from local to federal, have a reputation of being lazy and/or inept and of hanging onto their jobs until mandatory retirement forces them out. That reputation might or might not be true, depending on the individual in question. One person to whom it most certainly did not apply was Richard Carney, who died last Friday.

Mr. Carney, as all but a handful of people in town government called him, served as Town Manager in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, for 41 years before retiring in 1997 at age 70. As noted in his obituary, he holds the record as the longest-serving Town Manager/Administrator in Massachusetts history. I recall hearing just before he retired that he might even have been the longest-serving active municipal manager in the country, though I was never able to confirm that. When I was Government Access director for the local cable company, I remember sitting in the control room adjacent to the Board of Selectmen’s Meeting Room in town hall, working remote-control cameras when Mr. Carney announced to a stunned Board his decision to retire. You have to understand that he had been Town Manager longer than most residents had lived in town, so his announcement was big news. The biggest town news in recent memory, in fact. And I was televising it live as it broke.

It was an ironic moment, capturing with state-of-the-art equipment the announcement that the oldest employee in town was stepping down. One thing I discovered during my tenure working for the town was that Mr. Carney was something of a technophobe. He kept the town at pace with the times, even while steadfastly refusing to avail himself of the technology that every other employee under him had. I don’t think he ever used his computer; I’m not sure he even had one in his office. After succeeding Mr. Carney, current Town Manager Dan Morgado quipped that upon opening the manager’s desk drawer on his first day on the job, he found an abacus.

But Dick Carney was no relic. He navigated the town through residential and commercial growth spurts, major infrastructure projects, increasingly intrusive state and federal regulations, and fiscal ups and downs. Something of a micro-manager—he is said to have prepared the annual budgets for almost every department in town, even though that should have been the department heads’ job—he always found ways to come up with whatever money was needed, even in the leanest times. His methods might not have been the most transparent, but they worked, giving Shrewsbury residents some of the best services available in the area.

Mr. Carney’s funeral mass was this morning. He was buried in the town cemetery. I wasn’t able to attend because of work obligations. But in the course of running a few lunch hour errands, I drove past Town Hall, where black bunting hung from the building’s facade and the American flag flew at half-staff.

Times change and people move on, as they should. Even the most effective and flexible manager must step aside eventually for someone newer and fresher. Forty-one years is a long time to be in a job, even for a government worker. Mr. Carney wasn’t your stereotypical government worker, though. He certainly wasn’t inept and he didn’t just hang around until it was time to collect his pension. So great was his impact that upon his retirement, town hall was renamed the Richard D. Carney Municipal Office Building. But it was good that he retired, finally. Good for the town and good for him.

He will be missed.

Remember 9/11, Give Blood

Thursday, September 8, 2011, 18:02 EST Leave a comment

UPDATE (Sun 09/11/2011): I’m told that walk-ins have been cut off. People with appointments should arrive as scheduled. Thanks to those who have been able to donate!

UPDATE: The Red Cross is no longer accepting appointments for the September 11 blood drive at Fenway Park, but walk-in donors are welcome.

This coming Sunday is the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America. Commemorative observances will take place across the country. If you’re in or near Boston, I suggest coming to Fenway Park to donate blood.

The Boston Red Sox have hosted the American Red Cross Day of Remembrance Blood Drive annually since 2003. As in most years, the Sox will be on the road, so there is no conflict between the blood drive and a game. Come by any time between 7:00am and 5:00pm (though I suggest arriving no later than 4:00) and enter the park via Gate D on Yawkey Way. It’s a great opportunity to see Fenway Park and the World Series trophies, provide life-saving blood for patients in Massachusetts, and honor those killed in the attacks ten years ago.

Go to RedCrossBlood.org to make an appointment (search for blood drives in Boston on September 11) or simply show up at the ballpark on Sunday. I’ll be helping out from 10:00 to 2:30, so ask around for a volunteer named Kelly and say hello.

You can also help by clicking below, downloading the .pdf flyer, and forwarding it to your friends and relatives in the greater Boston area.

Day of Remembrance Blood Drive