Learn His Name

Do you know the name William H. Pitsenbarger? He’s the young guy pictured above, the good looking kid who looks like he’s barely old enough to vote. If you don’t know about him you should because his is an inspiring story of selflessness and heroism.

He was a US Air Force Pararescueman who flew on more than 250 missions during the Vietnam War, helping scores of downed soldiers and pilots.

On one of his best known missions, he hung from an HH-43 Huskie helicopter’s cable to rescue a wounded South Vietnamese soldier from a burning minefield. This action earned him the Airman’s Medal and the Republic of Vietnam’s Medal of Military Merit and Gallantry Cross with Bronze Palm.

On April 11, 1966, he was sent into a battle near Cam My to extract wounded Army members. He attended to wounded on the ground and helped six men be lifted into two helicopters by cable. Those choppers flew wounded men to a nearby aid station but took on small arms fire when they returned for a second load. One damaged chopper sent a basket down for Pitsenbarger but he waved them off, instead choosing to stay and help the wounded Charlie Company, gather ammunition from the dead, and improvise splints and stretchers from vines and trees to help the wounded.

And when necessary, he picked up a rifle, helping to hold off the Viet Cong. He died by sniper fire that night. When his body was recovered the following day, he was still clutching a medic kit and a rifle.

While the 21 year old did not live to see the sun rise over a new day, the military says that sixty others did because of his courageous actions.

One of the reasons places like the National Museum of the US Air Force means so much to me is that they help keep alive stories that would otherwise be lost to time.

The museum tells his story with photos, a short video, the written word and some of the young Airman’s possessions and they do it beautifully. It was meaningful enough to me that I wanted to tell you about him.

Anyone who would wave off a chopper to safety in favor of staying with a unit that was pinned down and in grave danger doesn’t do that sort of thing to have their picture in a museum. But having a display dedicated to his actions is a reminder of the brave sacrifices made by countless young men in Vietnam. It’s a poignant reminder that life isn’t fair and that young men, even the brave and strong, too often don’t come home from war.

It’s also a subtle reminder of those who did make it home but who brought with them emotional baggage far heavier than the weapons and ammo they carried through the jungles of that place so far away.

This story, if told in a school text book would have a picture of a guy in uniform next to a story that basically says “there was a battle and people got hurt and this guy went in to save them. He died. The end.”

There was so much more to Airman Pitsenbarger. He was an only child who wanted to be a Green Beret when he was a high school junior. His parents wouldn’t give permission for their underaged son to join the Army. His pals called him Pits. His birthday was July 8, 1944.

Airman First Class Pitsenbarger was from Piqua, Ohio and he volunteered for the very dangerous pararescue work. He volunteered to go to Vietnam. He volunteered to stay when he knew his odds of survival were slim.

Had he lived, Pits would be 76 years old today. He might’ve had grandkids sitting on his knee at this very moment. Instead, he was posthumously promoted to Staff Sargent and awarded the Air Force Cross even though his superiors put in for the Medal Of Honor. It took another 35 years before his family and other Airmen looked on as that original award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

A movie was made about him and released in January. Perhaps you’ve seen it? I have not. It’s called “The Last Full Measure.”

His story is still taught to Air Force trainees and I hope that never changes. If you go to the Air Force Museum, look him up and watch his video. Look at his things and say his name as you hope that someday young people can stop dying in wars.

The Art Of Reading

Not everyone is a natural born reader. You know something? That’s ok.

But I know people struggle to read for a variety of reasons and want to offer some tips from my own experience.

It seems that I was born with a book in my hand. Reading is an escape, it’s entertaining, and it’s an amazing way to learn about anything under the sun. However, reading is something that I sometimes struggle with too.

It’s usually because I can’t quiet my mind or sometimes because I’m too tired to focus. I literally have lived years of my life traveling too much and unable to focus on a book. Any book.

Sometimes it’s because what I’m attempting to read doesn’t interest me or because I hate a character.

Back in January, I set out to read more books in 2020. Little did I know that the lofty goal of reading 100 books this year would become a vital part of staying sane during months of pandemic and seclusion.

Anyway, earlier this year, I listened to a podcast on reading and reviewed a few articles to develop strategies that would help me read more and better. Here are a some that helped.

Know That It Takes Effort. We live in a busy world that is brimming with distractions. You have to make an effort to turn off the tv, set aside your work, stop worrying about the bills, and focus on the words in front of you. This is super hard when there are so many distractions competing for your mental energy.

Respect Limitations. Reading is not the easiest thing to do for most people but it’s a thousand times harder if you have vision problems, trouble concentrating, dyslexia or some other learning disability. I’m not a doctor but would recommend seeking help with these issues regardless of your age.

Make Books Accessible. Some experts recommend reading multiple books at one time. The theory usually is that you should have a book at your fingertips wherever you go. The podcast that I listened to recommended having a book in the car, one in the living room, one on your nightstand, one at work for lunch time…. you get the gist. I have done this and have found it counterproductive because it takes forever to finish anything and it’s hard to stay engaged with a book when you’re reading just a few pages a day. I tend to read one book at a time and carry it everywhere I go. It’s much easier to become immersed in the action, remember characters and to feel some ownership of what you’re reading.

Play Mind Games. If you’re just getting started and feel intimidated, there are some things to remember. One is that you don’t have to read a 200 page book today. The other is that you can set mini goals for yourself. When you start a chapter, look at its length. If it’s ten pages tell yourself you are just going to read a chapter. If it’s fifty pages, say you’re just going to read the first ten.

If you’re struggling to focus, it is mentally healthy to have some goals. You can look at why your phone dinged after you reach your goal. You may find that you forget your phone even dinged and keep going.

Read What Interests You. I have a friend who only reads mysteries. I know others who focus on bestsellers like John Grisham. Some people like the classics or biographies or books about cars. Reading a book will do you no good if it doesn’t engage you in some meaningful way. I’m fortunate to enjoy many different genres. My reading list includes almost everything under the sun but it’s ok to focus on one thing.

Just remember, you don’t have to read Moby Dock to call yourself a reader. You just have to read.

Take A Break. If I read a book that’s challenging or that’s emotionally trying, I tend to follow up with something light. It’s like a palate cleanser for the mind!

Make It Part Of Your Routine. Personally, I like to go to bed early with a book. It’s a nice way to wind down after a long day and this is just part of my daily ritual. I read at other times as well but bedtime reading is my favorite. Maybe you would prefer starting your day with coffee and a book. Maybe you sneak in a chapter in your car at lunchtime. Just find a time each day that is reserved for reading, even if for just a little while.

Slow Down. Reading is not a competitive sport. Slow down and enjoy the story. Sometimes if I’m struggling to focus, I read aloud to my cat. Yes. You read that correctly. I read to Scout and he seems to enjoy it. Your eye can’t skip around if you’re saying the words out loud.

I know readers who shame people for what they read. Please don’t let others be a jerk about your book choices and in return, don’t do that to someone else. It’s not cool.

Sometimes I’m hesitant to give you my monthly book reviews because I hate people who brag about their reading. I have been giving my short reviews hoping to inspire others to read and to support authors and bookstores through buying or libraries through borrowing.

Hopefully you’ll find something in my mixed up reading list that sounds interesting and will encourage you to try reading for entertainment and learning!

Do you have tips for reading more or questions on this topic? I would love to hear from you!

Remembering Dr. King and the National Civil Rights Museum

Today we celebrate the life, teachings and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If he had not been cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, he would be 91 now. He would have elderly children, grandkids and great grandkids. It’s hard to picture when you consider the timeless images of a young man like the one above.

Here he is with his wife and first child. It brings to mind the famous quote that we all have heard.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

You have to wonder how much different the world and our country might be had he lived longer.

Today I thought we should visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. First of all, Memphis is one of my favorite places because there is music and history and culture and mac and cheese at every turn. Seriously, the abundance of homemade mac and cheese is pretty spectacular.

But it’s also home to this museum that beautifully and skillfully tells the story behind the movement.

Among other things, the museum has preserved the Loraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered. You can see his room and the balcony where he stood when bullets were fired from a boarding house across the street. Incidentally, you can tour that boarding house as well.

Visiting here was a sobering, humbling experience that sort of put a damper on the fun of all that music and food. But friends, I would go back today if given the opportunity and I would highly recommend it to you as well.

Facing history gives us the opportunity to learn from our past, to humanize those people we read about in text books and to hopefully do better tomorrow. And if nothing else, a place like this instills in us a new sense of empathy and understanding that we may not have known on our own.

Want to visit the National Civil Rights Museum? Click here for details. If you wish to ponder the teachings and thoughts of Dr. King, this is a good source for quotes.

Back To School

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack to school time always makes me want to run out and buy notebooks and crayons. I’m not clear on why because I really hated school when I was there. College was great though. I’m a proud alum of Ohio University, a Bobcat, and I’m so pleased that life allowed me to study there. It was a great experience that taught me so much both in and out of the classroom. I especially love the quote on this gate – “So enter that daily thou mayest grow in knowledge, wisdom and love.”

This is great advice for everyone, every day. You don’t need to attend college to be curious and to learn or grow. Try to learn something new every day, be curious, be adventurous and you will never be bored.