Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Brake for Turtles

I advise the student newspaper at my college. Now you have to understand that primarily I am a writer and that's how I got my job. I have an honorary doctorate from the State University of New York and a master's from a college in New Mexico. But I don't have a Ph.D., and so I think students tend to think of me as their mentor and editor, not some starched-shirted academic.

So last week I drove one of my editors (Evan) to North Carolina to pick up a national award he had won.

As we drove along a busy Ohio highway I saw something and  slammed on my brakes and pulled on the shoulder. As Evan gaped in amazement, I slipped between the semis and plucked a box turtle off the highway. I was afraid he or she was going to get turtle waxed for sure.

Wide-eyed lest I end up with tire tracks on my white tee shirt, I tucked the terrapin under my arm like Randy Moss sprinting for the goal line.

I jumped the guardrail on the opposite side and scampered down the embankment to leave Mr. or Ms. Turtle (we never were formally introduced, and I am biology-challenged when it comes to terrapin sexual parts) on the side of a stream.

When I returned to the car I saw Evan was in shock.

When we returned to our college Evan told a few people and now I have a nickname, "I Brake for Turtles."

It's been all in good-natured fun.

But I can't help hoping that I sprinted in the direction that the
turtle wanted to go. Can you imagine if I took him or her back to where he or she started from?

Imagine the turtle explaining this to a spouse. "Yes, dear, I know I'm late to that delicious repast of bugs and flies you made but some 230-pound monster swooped down on me, put me under his armpit ("I think he uses Right Guard") and set me on the ground. ("What do you mean, a likely story, my dear. It's true.")

A “Hell on Wheels” Christmas Dinner

by Hank Nuwer

In Memoriam and Remembrance, Christmas 1941, Fort Benning, Georgia

Sixty-six years ago my dad (Hank Nuwer, Senior; 1915-1984) was a Private First Class and training at Fort Benning for what became his five-year stint with the Hell on Wheels outfit, the Sixty-Sixth Armored Regiment (Light). 2nd Armored Division. *

I guess it's the time of year, but I lost myself this morning contemplating the few military souvenirs my father brought back from World War II combat. Why few? When he docked in New York after years spent as a light tank driver under General Patton in North Africa, Belgium, Sicily, France and Germany, he stopped at a pay phone to call my mother. After he hung up, he discovered a thief had waltzed with his duffel bag.

"Welcome home, Dogface," he remarked about the incident in his laconic way, when I asked what he thought after seeing the empty spot on the concrete.

He refused to say much more, just as he refused to say much more about such matters as the death of his tank mate and best buddy who was blown away by a shell while they were on a break. My dad's tank was nicknamed Lonely, and that's what's printed on its side in one surviving photo my mother has.

My Christmas thought for you is to think of my dad and all those other beloved Dogfaces sitting down to a formal Christmas dinner just weeks after Pearl Harbor. My Dad had been drafted and in uniform about one year.

Here is the menu from his Christmas Dinner, 1941, printed in a beautiful red, white and blue booklet:

Appetizers: Oyster Cocktail, Hearts of Celery, Mixed Pickles, Olives, Cream of Celery Soup Main Course: Roast Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Oyster Dressing, Giblet Gravy with Rice, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Asparagus Tips, Creamed Peas, Creamed Cauliflower, Apple and Date Salad Dessert: Mince Pie, Ambrosia, Pound Cake, Ice Cream Beverage: Coffee, Lemonade Breads: Crackers, Hot Rolls Fruit: Tangerines, Oranges, Apples, Grapes, Bananas
Well, because mincemeat pie was my Dad's favorite, I don't have to wonder what his dessert selection was. By some crazy coincidence, I found mince pie yesterday at Wal-Mart, and it is in my fridge now. I had not so much as a slice of this dessert since scarfing down my late Aunt Marion's unbeatable mince pie many, many years ago in my dad's hometown of Alden, New York.

So here's to our men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq and you for a beautiful holiday, as I give thanks to all the veterans (God Bless the Ordinary Troop-level Dogfaces), beloved family, friends, students, colleagues and casual readers of this web site.

Dad, if somehow you're reading this... "Welcome, home."

You're going to be a Great-Grandfather for the second time. And for the second year, I’m going to throw my diet out the window and invite friends over to enjoy the same meal you had at Fort Benning.

We'll lift a thin stem with lemonade and say, "Thanks, Dogface."

*In December 1941, the Commanding Officer at Headquarters was Major C. P. Amazeen and the Commanding Officer was First Lieutenant George C. Spence. In Dad's Third Battalion, the Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm B. Byrne and other brass included Major Leonard H. Nason, Second Lieutenant Robert C. Atwood, and Staff Sergeants Harold S. Bauver and Henry A. Hudson. The other Army men (in case their survivors are reading this by chance or Google) in L Regiment were George Gannon, Josef Kastl, Gordon Morrow, Andrew Theoful, Robert Chandler, Willard Lackey, Charles Meagher, Warren Portwood, Louis C. Rendina, Marion Russell, Henry Sydlo, James Tainsh, Charles Walters.