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    Entries in Flemington (13)

    Wednesday
    Feb222017

    A Ghost Story?

    I had a conversation with a dyed-in-the-wool atheist recently. He said there is no Heaven or Hell. When you die, you’re gone. That’s it. Journey over. It made me think a little, so I wrote a response…

    In the late 1970s, I lived on the corner of Bonnell Street and Park Avenue in Flemington, NJ. It was two doors down from the 1756 Samuel Fleming House on Bonnell and I had some rather interesting experiences in my house. You might call them downright strange.

    Late one evening, while lying in bed trying to fall asleep, I abruptly heard the front door open and close. At that time, I lived alone and my bedroom was the first one up the stairs. After the door shut, I heard light footsteps walk across the room and start up the stairs. Most certainly, I had locked the door. This totally startled me. I wasn’t sure what to do, except to patiently wait for those footsteps to almost reach the top step. There was no way I was going to let an intruder near me. Within seconds, I jumped out of bed and flipped on the hallway light switch just outside my door. At the same time, I kicked my left leg into the air at the target. What the..? No one was there. (OK, I won’t rule out that it was nothing more than a dream, but I’ve never hallucinated in my life. Well, maybe in my late teens, but that’s another story.) On that particular night, I was as sober as a judge and still quite awake. Without a doubt, I heard that door open and close. I heard footsteps walk across the solid wood floor and head up the stairs. No doubt about it.

    Prior to that experience, I occasionally heard conversations emanate from the kitchen. There was a gap under the door between the kitchen and living room. My house was also built in the 1700s. It stopped whenever I opened the door to get closer to the sound. No one was ever there and no one was standing outside chatting. What was it? Eh, I simply ignored it, until…

    When I first started dating Maryen, she lived on Main Street. We were going somewhere for the night and needed a fresh change of clothes. First, we stopped at her place and then mine. My friend, Ken, and his girlfriend, Nancy, were living with me at the time, but they had left hours earlier. His band was playing in Easton that weekend.

    While I was in the bedroom looking through my dresser, Maryen went down the hall to the bathroom. She left the door open. Once again, the downstairs door opened and up the stairs walked light footsteps. I assumed Nancy had come back for something because she walked right past me and into their bedroom. The hallway had wooden floors, too. When Maryen came to my room, she said that Nancy was home. I said, yes, I know, I heard her and kind of, sort of, saw her. I had glanced out of the corner of my eye and saw a shadow walk by. Maren saw the same thing; just a shadow out of the corner of her eye.

    “Hi, Nancy,” I loudly said as I walked down the hall toward their room. There was no answer, so we walked through their door. No one was there. I looked under the bed and in the closet. Nothing. Maryen was spooked.

    I would have shrugged it off again, except for the fact that Maryen heard and saw the same thing. That’s two people, not one. I never brought up the notion of spirits in the house to her before. I mean, we hadn’t been together all that long and I didn’t want her to think I was crazy. Eventually, Ken and Nancy moved out and Maryen moved in with her 7-year-old daughter. We never experienced anything again.

    One day, I spoke to an author and locally renowned historion about my/our “so called” incidents. This piqued her interest, so she researched the address. A month or so later, she told me a 7-year-old girl had drowned in a well out back hundreds of years ago. The well was long gone. At one time, the house was part of the original Samuel Fleming estate, most likely a barn, and erected after the Fleming house was built. In the 1800s, a larger addition was added.

    Up until those quirky experiences, I had always been skeptical of ghosts. To this day, I can’t say for sure that I actually believe in them, but I refuse to say I don’t. I think what I’m trying to say is that if there is even a remote possibility of the existence of apparitions, then there is surely a chance of an afterlife. To all naysayers who might not believe in ghosts, think about it. This is a true story.

     

     

    Monday
    Nov142016

    Gimme A Brake!

    This is something I wrote and published on October 13, 2006. I did make minor edits, but it pretty much remains intact:

    My father was always a very good auto mechanic. He used to help fix seemingly unfixable problems on stock cars that would run the modified NASCAR circuit. Back in the seventies, he owned a front-end alignment shop in Flemington, New Jersey. It didn’t take long for him to gain the reputation as having the best one in the area. People from all over would bring their cars to him. There was another guy in town who had been in the same business years longer; however, there were plenty of potholes around to keep them both busy. As a matter of fact, the two liked each other. One day, the other guy suffered a terrible accident on the job and went to the biggest and best alignment shop in the sky. That really bothered my father. 

    §

    I remember when I was 18, way back in 1970, I bought a 1965 Mustang. With air conditioning and an 8-Track cassette. AM-FM stereo, to boot. I was the man! FM had come into vogue by then, but most cars from 1965 and earlier era only had AM. With a loaded Mustang, it gave me enough confidence to go after a genuine girlfriend; one I had been eyeballing. Oh yes, she was a real knockout, I mean to tell ya! Unfortunately, Mustangs were not known for having big back seats. Oh, TMI.

    The following summer, the car needed new front shocks. I had never technically worked on a car up to that point and never planned to, not with a father who knew pretty much everything about cars. And after riding bikes most of my life, cars were still relatively new to me. Oh, he used to let me “help” him when I was a young boy, just to make me feel good, I suppose, but I never really did anything because I really didn’t help much at all.

    One day, I called him and asked if he would put new front shocks in for me. Sure, go over to Carver’s Auto Parts, get what you need and come by Saturday morning. OK, great! I was tired of getting seasick every time I went over a bump in the road. So was my girlfriend. That Saturday morning, I stopped by, parts in hand…

    “See those tools over there? They are all you’re going to need to replace those bad shocks.” 

    “What do you mean?” I protested. “I thought you were going to put them in for me!” 

    “No, you’re going to have to learn how to work on a car and this is a good place to start.”

    When he told me that, I began to dislike him for thinking I was ready to work on my own vehicle. I wasn’t, and I’m certain he sensed it when I called. Had he told me beforehand that I was going to do the work, I’d simply continue to drive on bad shocks.

    “I’m going to be right here to give you all the advice you need, so don’t panic.” 

    One thing about my father’s tools was that you could eat off them. They were neatly arranged, too. AND YOU’D BETTER RETURN THEM THAT WAY! Oh, he didn’t expect me to remember where they all went, but they’d better be clean.

    “No one wants to reach into a toolbox and grab a dirty, greasy wrench.” He was right. He was right about something else, too. I learned how to work on my own cars and I must have saved tens of thousands of dollars over the years because of it. 

    §

    Sometime in the mid-seventies, my very close and personal friend, Frank Foran, had a little Japanese import. I think it was a Subaru. Frank sold industrial coatings for Dupont back then and needed a small, fuel-efficient car that was very dependable. Because of all the driving he did, the rear brakes finally needed to be replaced. Front brakes wear out three times as quickly and those he kept in good working order. After tens of thousands of miles, it was time.

    I called my father and asked if I could use his shop on Saturday to work on Frank’s car. He normally didn’t work weekends so that wasn’t an issue. These were drum type brakes and the shoes were what needed to be replaced. Frank wasn’t as mechanically inclined as me when it came to working on cars, so I took him to the parts store with me, to show him how to shop talk automobile language. (He did know what a turbo encabulator was, but never worked on one.)

    When we left the store, he followed me to my father’s alignment shop. Inside the bay was a rack you’d drive up onto. In other words, it wasn’t a hydraulic lift. It was high enough, though, that you could stand under it.

    “OK, Frank. Slowly drive up the ramp and I’ll tell you when to stop.”

    He got out and climbed down. After removing the tires, I unbolted the wheel drums. After they’ve been on a car for a long time and subjected to the elements, they can be really tough to remove. They were. After finally getting them off, I started to disassemble the brakes, beginning with the driver’s side. I compared the old parts with the new, to make sure everything matched up. Everything was going well. I installed all of the new parts. I checked and checked again to make sure everything was correct. Check! Everything looked perfect. except…

    I tried to slide the brake drum back onto the first wheel cylinder to finish the driver’s side. No way. It wouldn’t fit. The brake padding was too thick. I thought of everything. I looked again to make sure my work was correct. It was. I compared the old parts with the new. Everything was on right, yet, those drums would not go back on. No way, no how. I even thought about sanding them down. I must have spent what seemed like hours trying to figure the mess out. Of course, Frank didn’t have a clue. Finally, I was officially stumped, so I phoned my father and explained the dilemma.

    “Are you sure everything is right?” he asked me. I told him yes. Absolutely positive.

    “Could you PLEASE come down and take a look? I mean, I’ve tried everything.” Reluctantly, he said yes. Frank and I waited impatiently, but we had no other choice. When good ol’ Dad pulled up and got out of his car, he looked over the exposed wheel assembly. Then, he walked up to us and looked into our eyes. Clearly, he could see our frustration. Then, we saw his. Turning away, he opened the driver’s door, reached in, and disengaged the emergency brake. Huh? What the..? Frank, you yanked on the emergency brake handle?

    “You think you two dodos can finish the job by yourselves?”

    I told you Frank didn’t know much about cars. Apparently, I didn’t either.

    Saturday
    May232015

    A Haunting Portrait of War

    I know I have published this before, but, in my opinion, it will never lose its importance. Each time, I try to bring it up to date. We should forever keep the memories of our lost soldiers alive in our hearts and minds…

    There isn’t a day that goes by when the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world rife with radical extremists like al Qaeda and daesh, defiantly justified to maim and kill in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call. It came at a time when most wars were fought over more mundane causes - nationalism, patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger and more powerful bomb was all the rage, and nations proudly strutted their massive hardware in shows of strength and unity in order to intimidate their neighbors and perceived threats. Today, our enemies use IEDs or strap a bomb to their chests and blow themselves up.

    On a distant morning in 1967, one of my classmates at East Amwell Township School was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the classroom. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? Of course not, and it didn’t take very long before the principal announced on the P.A. system that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there - somewhere in our heads. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white television sets. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    §

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that; there was no city in sight. Windows were left open to let air breeze through because air conditioning was a luxury. We weren’t afraid to leave our doors unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs alone cannot tell you. In the flesh, you get to know the person. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t, and with a war raging, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two giant drawing boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t simply up and go to the store back then because I was too young to drive.  Fortunately, I didn’t mess up, so I decided to draw another one, identical to the first. The original BOGO! I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished the drawings, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Theory. Back then, it meant that if one country falls under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land, but it was still a major threat because North Vietnam was one of the countries under their grip. South Vietnam was not, and we came to its defense. Today, Vietnam is one country but, by the end of the war, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    Nearly 46 years ago, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I woke up to the horrible tragedy of war. It was my first experience. Someone I knew personally was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for those who march off to war. Michael Baldwin was a man and I was a boy when we met, but I still look up to him and I will soon be 45 years older than he was on the day he died. To this very day, I wonder what would life be like had he lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children or grandchildren because of our brutal and self-inflicted world of terrorism, home-spun jihadists and plain, old weirdos? The more violence changes, the more it remains the same. Death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was the day Michael Baldwin died.

    On July 19, he would be turning 68. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone, but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

     

    Posted on Daily Kos

    Sunday
    Apr052015

    Feeling Loansome

    Once upon a time, many years ago, I was in the fast food restaurant business in Flemington, New Jersey. It was called Weiner King and our claim to fame was a specialty hot dog with mustard, chopped onions and the best homemade chili you ever had. Called a Texas Weiner, the chili was made with finely ground beef. No beans! It was brown gold.

    We had a very faithful base of clientele; people who had come into the place since it opened in 1962. Many of them remained loyal right up to the very end, and tons of old customers from that area will tell you they still crave Texas Weiners and King Burgers. And chili cheesedogs with onions.

    One of our faithful customers was a guy named George. George came in to eat every day, including weekends. Sometimes, he’d come in more than once. Twice. Three times in one day. He was such a good customer, he was almost like family. One afternoon, he approached the counter with a relatively serious look on his face. Usually, he was quite happy and talkative. On this particular day, he just asked for Jack. Jack was my boss, the owner of the place, and the best boss you’d ever work for. He asked me if I would cover the burger grill so he could walk up to the front counter…

    “Hey, George. What’s up?”

    “Jack?”

    “Yes, George…”

    “I’m getting married on Saturday and I want to have our wedding reception here.” I had met his fiancée many times before. Clearly, George wasn’t playing with a full set of teeth, if you know what I mean.

    “Certainly, George! I’d be happy to accommodate you!” Jack responded. “We’ll make sure you have reserved tables. How many people and what time?”

    I don’t remember the incidentals, but Jack offered free ice cream for everybody. Maybe, they brought a cake, too. When the wedding party arrived, right on schedule, George was beaming! They drove around the parking lot several times, tooting their horns in excitement. George was a married man! When they came in, he said they cruised down the main drag and around the three traffic circles, something Flemington is famous for, beep, beep, beeping away!

    I know it was a big hot dog party. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries. Milkshakes and Cokes. The orders kept flying. Plus we had to wait on other customers. After all was said and done, his entire bill came to just over $13.00. But you have to understand that, back then, in the early 70s - if my memory serves me correctly - a hot dog was 35 cents and a quarter pound burger was 50 cents.

    Yup, ole George did all right that day. Everyone had a great time, including us.

    “Where are you going on your honeymoon, George?” Jack asked as the affair wound down.

    “The Ringoes Drive-In,” he responded. The following Monday, George was back in for lunch. I don’t think anyone asked about the movie.

    §

    Two or three years later, George came up to the counter and, one more time, asked to speak to Jack. He had that same serious look on his face. This time, though, he wanted to talk privately, so the two met around the corner, by the side door between one of the dining rooms and the back room where we did our prep work. They spoke quietly, but, afterward, Jack said he needed to borrow $50.00. He was in a real bind. Of course, Jack immediately reached into his pocket and handed him the money because that’s just the way he was. “Is $50.00 enough?”

    Sadly, it was the last time George came into the restaurant. It’s as if he fell off the face of the earth.

    One day, many years later, Jack was on Main Street and he ran into him.

    “George… George… where have you been?” The poor guy desperately tried to hide his face to avoid the encounter. Too late. “Listen, don’t worry about the $50.00. I want you back as a customer. We like you! We’ve missed you! Forget the money!”

    “OK, sorry, I’ll be in,” and he scurried off. Maybe he thought that Jack was privileged. (He certainly wasn’t.) Maybe he felt Jack was rich because he could simply dig into his pocket and pull out $50.00 and he resented it. Perhaps he knew, when he borrowed it, that he’d never be able to pay it back. I just don’t know, but Jack never saw George again. None of us ever did.

     

     

    Saturday
    Jan312015

    Let Us Spray

    From the Estate of Samuel W. Knechel, Sr.

    §

    I found something in his collection of things…

    When my father owned a front end alignment business in Flemington, NJ, his father, Warren, used to stop by to chew the fat. My father would be working on cars and pay close attention to detail. He was a consummate professional. All the while, my grandfather would be talking up a storm, generally speaking of his grandiose accomplishments in life. Eventually, my father would get out his can of repellent and spray it around the bay and lift. Ol’ Warren would take the hint and, without skipping a beat, promptly turn away and walk out without a word. Off his car would go until he decided it was time to come bragging again.

    What’s most interesting is that my father was just as bad, if not worse than his father. As a matter of fact, it seems to be a family trait, although I was quite fortunate that I did not inherit the Knechel knack for bullshit. 

    What perplexes me, though, is that people I have known a long time will sometimes remind me that I sound just like my late father. I have no idea why someone would think such a thing! How could anyone EVER insult my good character like that? As if I have the gift of gab. HAHAHAHAHA!!!

    SHOCKING! The NERVE of some people!

    Thursday
    Nov012012

    Sandy

    This is a song from Bruce Springsteen. You can’t get any more New Jersey than The Boss. New Jersey is my home state and I am very proud of it.

    The name of this song is 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) and it’s from the 1973 album The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle. It was released when I was in the prime of my life and very much in love with my NJ girl. We spent our summers on Long Beach Island, down the shore. Sandy has been one of my favorites since it hit the airwaves. It’s a very melodic tune. For nearly forty years, it’s conjured up wonderful memories of times spent along the Jersey shore. Sadly, I must add something painful to those memories in the aftermath of the hurricane with the same name that devastated my state. My heart aches tremendously.

    This particular video showcases Danny Federici on the accordion. Danny died of melanoma on April 17, 2008. It was his final performance, when he briefly appeared with his E Street Band band mates onstage at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 20. Danny was from my hometown of Flemington and we both graduated from Hunterdon Central High School.

    Here’s to all my friends and relatives in New Jersey, whom I love very much. I have family and friends in New York City and Westchester County, New York. I have a very special friend in Pennsylvania. Most are still without power. My thoughts and prayers are with each and every one of you.

    Cross posted on the Daily Kos

    Tuesday
    Oct302012

    The Calm After the Storm

     I grew up in New Jersey. I still have a few relatives and many friends living there that I keep in touch with. Hurricane Sandy really concerned me, so, this morning, when I found out that everyone I know survived the mess safe and sound, I was quite relieved. Yes, there are massive power outages and downed trees all over the northeast, but no one I know was hurt. As of this writing, 89% of the population of Hunterdon County, where I was born and raised, is without electricity. Thank goodness for gas stoves, although not everyone has them.

    Speaking of stoves, I spent eleven years in the restaurant business in the Garden State. I, quite literally, worked my way up from sweeping floors and dumping trash to, what my old boss once told me, becoming the best manager he ever had, and I did it in record time. I took great pride in that due to one thing; one person. I had the utmost respect for my boss, Jack Little, and I still do. He was the best boss a person could ever have and he helped raise me, whether he knew it or not. If I was his best manager, it was because of what he taught me as an employer, a father figure, and a decent and honest human being. It was the respect he showed others that was instilled in me. And from him, I learned how to be as cool as a cucumber under fire. Don’t panic! Think fast on your feet.

    Inherent in any business, in order to be successful, is customer service. That’s the single most important factor, especially in a restaurant, where a customer wants to walk into a clean place, filled with smiling faces eager to serve you. It’s one of the cardinal rules of the service industry; service with a smile — and what you serve had better be just as good.

    I was much younger then and it was not unusual for me to put in 80-hour workweeks; nominally, 60. I was quite sharp in those days, too. There was a time — I kid you not — that a series of events (call them major breakdowns) hit me all at once and I had to render split-second decisions. In the middle of a lunch rush, of all times, a deep fryer stopped working, a toilet overflowed, a customer complained that their order wasn’t prepared right, and two of the front counter girls decided it was the proper time to pick a fight with each other. Yup, in front of hungry customers, anxious to get their food and go back to work; customers who couldn’t care less about Debbie and Sue, nor their boneheaded boyfriends and who they flirted with.

    From Jack, I learned how to work under pressure — how to deal with the daily events in the life of a restaurateur. Find ‘em and fix ‘em fast. He also taught me how to deal with people at all levels. After all, that’s what customer service really is, but it doesn’t stop there. It also includes the interaction between employees. How can a business run smoothly if there are underlying problems?

    On that particular day, I called each girl to the back room, one at a time. By taking them out of the argument, I accomplished the first thing; they couldn’t fight. I told them that if I heard another word, I would fire them on the spot and handle the lunch rush without them. I had other boys and girls working at the time and we’d just have to work harder. Most importantly, they would be out of a job and I stressed that a thousand other kids were banging at my back door begging for work. Yes, they were kids.

    “But, but, but,” they tried to explain in their whiny voices, “Debbie did this” and “Sue did that” and each boyfriend was somehow involved. I didn’t want to hear about it. 

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, “but this is not the time or place. Customers don’t want to listen to your petty fights, do they?”

    Basically, all it took was a minute to talk to each of them alone and things quickly settled down. I had learned a long time ago not to take sides, too. That was most important. NEVER TAKE SIDES because, in the end, I would be the only loser. And darned if it wasn’t the truth. After the lunch rush was over and things got cleaned up, wouldn’t you just know those two girls had already patched things up? There they were, taking their lunch break together, sitting at one of the tables and laughing up a storm. It was as if nothing ever happened. Had I taken sides, I would have been the real bonehead and worthy of the title.

    §

    Since those days, I don’t know what happened. I left the restaurant business in the early 80s. Today, at 60, I’m no longer interested in running a business, nor am I healthy enough to open one, but, somehow, I seemed to have lost that touch. While I still know a thing or two about customer service, something is amok on my blog and only I am to blame for not keeping it under control. No one else. Understandably, I must grab the bull by the horns. Right now.

    As with any business that deals with the public, it’s the meet and greet people who make your business successful. While management works diligently behind the scenes, it’s the front counter people that make and break a business. While I was all about hands-on management, I couldn’t do it all. No one can.

    I understood, and still do, that I could serve the best hamburger in the business, but all it would have taken was a couple of employees to throw it all away; not by being mean to customers, but by what the customers saw and heard coming from the front counter. If I walked in off the street, I wouldn’t care if you’ve got the best burger on the planet. By running a sloppy ship, I would wonder if your kitchen was just as messy, and I seriously doubt I’d want to come back, let alone order anything. Do you wash your hands?

    While no one on my blog is an employee and readers are not customers, please remember that half of Marinade Dave is what I write and the other half is what commenters have to say. That’s the entire menu – the recipe for success and it’s the beauty of blogging. Failure is not an option.

    I realize that tomorrow is Halloween, but coming here should not be a frightening experience. I want more readers! I want more comments! I don’t want people to be afraid of anything. While I would never expect everyone to agree with one another, let alone what I write, hiding behind the mask of anonymity does not give anyone a right to be uncivil. Be nice to each other. I realize that many years of writing comments about the Casey Anthony case (and now this one) has hardened us. Today is the day to wipe our slates clean! At least, on this blog, because it’s all that’s left to do. Please believe me when I say this…

    Marinade Dave is not the name of a hurricane and now is the time for calm after the storm. I refuse to write if it ends in a fight. We are a team and that means all of us!

    Wednesday
    Sep122012

    A Portrait of War

    There isn’t a day that goes by when the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world rife with radical extremists, defiantly justified to maim and kill in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call. It came at a time when wars were fought over more mundane causes - patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger and more powerful bomb was all the rage, and nations proudly strutted their massive hardware in a show of strength and unity in order to intimidate their neighbors and enemies. Today, our enemies just strap a bomb to their chest and blow themselves up.

    On a distant morning in 1967, one of my classmates was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the classroom. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? It didn’t take very long before the school principal announced on the P.A. system that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white televisions. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and it cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that. Windows were left open because air conditioning was a luxury. We weren’t afraid to leave our doors unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs can’t tell you. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t. With a war going on, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two poster boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t just go to the store back then when I was too young to drive.  Well, I didn’t mess up, so I had a blank sheet and decided to draw another one, identical to the first. Buy one, get one free. I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished the drawings, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Effect. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land. Call it Peking ‘duck and cover.’ Back then, the Domino Effect was a theory that if one country falls under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. North Vietnam was one of those countries. South Vietnam was not. Today, it is one country, but back then, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    44 years ago today, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I awoke to the tragedy of war. It was my first real experience with the horrors of conflict and someone I knew was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for our fellow citizens who march off to war. He was a man and I was a boy back then, but I still look up to him and I am now 42 years older than he was on the day he died. To this very day, I wonder what would life be like had he lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be bouncing his grandchildren on his knee today? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children and grandchildren because of our present day wars? The more war changes, the more it remains the same. Death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was when Michael Baldwin died.

    Today, he would be 67-years-old, soon to be 68. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

     

     

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

    Saturday
    Feb252012

    My Trip to Gainesville, Part 1

    This is a story about my trip to Gainesville on February 4. It’s going to have to be split into 2-parts because it is not just about the Gator basketball game I attended, it also encompasses the tragic crash 0n I-75 at the end of January. That’s in this part. The next one will be about Old Florida - Cross Creek and Micanopy. While this will touch briefly on Cross Creek, it won’t say anything about Micanopy, which is the oldest inland settlement in the state. This post will be heavy with photos. Most can be enlarged.

    HISTORY AND THE OLD SOUTH

    Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve had a keen interest in history. Growing up in New Jersey, it was impossible to miss because the area is rich with stories of days gone by. Much of the Revolutionary War was fought in my own back yard, for instance, and before that was the French & Indian War of the 1750s.

    While libraries are teeming with books on history, my affection for it lays somewhere else, deep within my mind. I seek the presence of history. I like to sense it all around me. Although not an obsession, I often wonder, as I walk about, who took the same steps one hundred years before me; a thousand and more years earlier, and I yearn to learn, because I can only guess as far back as our history books tell us. I know there’s more than that.

    Growing up, it was easy to explore our heritage. Where I lived was just northwest of Princeton, and that made it somewhat simple to visit historical sites and museums from Philadelphia to New York City and everywhere in between. Every so often, I’d hear news about the skeletal remains of a Redcoat and his musket being discovered in the rafters of an old house while it was being renovated. I lived in several homes that dated back to a generation or two before the Revolutionary War. The church where my late grandfather preached was established in 1733.

    Some of you may find me morbid for this, but I’ve always liked to walk through old cemeteries. I’d look at the names and dates on the tombstones and wonder who they were in life. What did they do? Were they friendly? Who did they leave behind? In my own hometown of Flemington, there is a small tract of land up the street from where I lived known as the Case Family Burial Ground. Several members of the Case family are resting there, along with a Delaware Indian chief named Tuccamirgan, who died in 1750. The grave was dug deep enough for him to be placed in a sitting position, facing east.

    While I am quite intrigued by my humble beginnings, I am just as fascinated with the American Civil War. Of course, being a Yankee and all, I never could get a firm grasp on the Confederacy until I moved to Florida. We were never taught to hate southerners, but we were aware that many southerners were raised to hate northerners — so we thought. It wasn’t all that many years ago when the ‘colored folk’ used separate water fountains and bathrooms in the south. When I moved to the Orlando area in ‘81, I didn’t know what to expect. To me, the Civil War ended over a century ago, so there was nothing more to it than history. Every so often, I’ll hear about how the war has never ended and that the south will one day rise again, but for what reason? To what end? Instead, I like to focus on the rich culture of the south, and that’s something I was never taught in school. It’s not anything that could be taught in school. You must live it in order to feel it.

    I’ve been in central Florida for 31 years now, longer than I lived up north and I’ve got to say, I like it here. No, that doesn’t mean I’d ever give up on my home town or state, and Orlando’s not known as a bastion of Old Florida, but there’s definitely something romantic about pockets of the south. I guess you could say the bug caught me during a screening of Gone With The Wind during my freshman year of high school in, of all places, New Jersey.

    There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the “Old South.” Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind…

    - From the opening of the film Gone with the Wind (1939)

    While I don’t sense anything genuinely historical about Orlando, I have found the ‘Deep South’ — through north Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi — to be both mythical and mystical. There’s no way to explain it in a sentence or two. It’s something that has to grow on you. The bug next caught me when I flew to New Orleans on a private jet back in the early 90s. I felt something tragic about the city but I could never pin it on anything. As festive as the place was, an innate sense of sadness always seemed to be right around the corner, on the other side of the wrought iron gate.

    I’ve since been back to New Orleans, but I’ve also traveled to and visited other towns from here to Houston. One of my favorite stops was Natchez, Mississippi, rife with tales of the Civil War. This story, however, is not about the war between the states, this is about one state, and it’s called Old Florida, home of majestic magnolias, stately live oaks and cypress trees jutting up from the water. However, there are two issues to cover first. 

    Many of you are familiar with Nika1. She is a frequent contributor on my blog and a good friend. About a month ago, she asked me if I’d be interested in going to a live Gator (University of Florida) basketball game with her. Yes! Of course I would! I’ve been to several football games, but never basketball, something I’ve always wanted to do. I first went to see Nika1 in late September of 2010, when she invited me up for a football game. While there, she took me around the neighborhood. That included the rural area where she lives, and where her family has lived for many generations. Once again, I sensed the old south, but in this case, it was Old Florida, and its roots were deep in history.

    Three weeks ago, on February 4, I drove up to the house she shares with Ali Rose, her beautiful Australian Shepherd. She had plans for me, too. After the basketball game, we were going to go to Cross Creek, made famous by The Yearling, the 1938 novel written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. She won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1939. Fascinating, I thought. Very much so.

    ANATOMY OF A TRAGEDY

    Almost a week before my drive, a terrible accident happened on I-75, in the middle of Paynes Prairie. 11 people died. To help you understand Paynes Prairie, it is generally a swampy area, but the weather has been exceedingly dry in Florida, and in this state, droughts breed brush fires, and lots of them. Many burn out of control.

    Burned Brush in Background

    On the way up to the game on US-441, Nika1 told me what happened. 441 is east of 75 and they run parallel to each other. The fire started east of 441. The first series of accidents began just before midnight, on January 28. Smoke and fog wafted west across the highways and the first 911 call came in at 11:53:14 from I-75 to report the heavy smoke and fog. Moments later, another 911 caller reported hearing accidents. Then, another one came in saying they saw the accidents. Moments later, all traffic was stopped.

    Those accidents were not fatal, but it prompted the Florida Highway Patrol to shut down the interstate by 12:45 am. At 3:21 am, the decision was made to reopen it, and the rest is history. By 4:00 am, you couldn’t see past your nose. Heading southbound, a semi had stopped in the right lane and a Dodge pickup truck plowed into it, followed by a Ford Expedition. The two Ford occupants were able to escape through the back just before it burst into flames.  The occupants in the pickup truck were on their way to a funeral, but sadly, all three family members perished.

    By now, frantic calls were coming into the Alachua County Communications Center. Of course, when troopers, sheriff’s deputies and emergency vehicles arrived, they couldn’t see, either.

    In the northbound lanes, two church vans were heading to Georgia. One van crashed into the rear corner of a semi stopped in the middle lane and it sliced through the van, killing five family members. One 15-year-old girl survived. The occupants of the other van survived. In front of the semi was a Toyota Matrix sandwiched between that one and one in front of it. The young couple in the Matrix died.

    Meanwhile, another semi had stopped in the middle southbound lane. It was hit by a Dodge pickup and the driver was able to escape with minor injuries. Then, a Pontiac Grand Prix smashed into the back of that pickup and the driver died.

    Had the drivers of those semis pulled off of the road instead of stopping in the lanes, would lives have been saved? You bet, but it will be a long time before the investigation into this tragedy is sorted out. That includes why FHP decided to reopen the interstate after it was closed.

    What surprised me was that the fire burned east of 441. Nika1 told me another person died on that highway, but it didn’t make headlines like the big one.

    The above photo represents what Paynes Prairie would look like during normal weather conditions.

    GO GATORS!

    As much of a horror as the accident was, there was a basketball game to attend, and the Gators intended to win it. This was, after all, why I took the trip to begin with, not including my visit with Nika1. The team was playing Vanderbilt. We had gotten there in plenty of time to nestle into our seats, where brand new t-shirts were nicely folded for spectators. Yes, FREE! Blue in color, the back had the Texaco logo and some type, and the front said “ROWDY yet refined REPTILE” with the Gator green and orange logo. It was a great game to watch and it was made better by the Gator’s victory. The final score was 73-65. The pictures can do the talking…

    The first photo is the University of Florida Century Tower in Gainesville. Begun in 1953, it is 157 feet (48 m) tall.

    Part 2 will come next week and it will take you through Old Florida and a Michael J. Fox movie. Mostly, it will be a selection of photographs I took.

    Friday
    Jan272012

    Once Upon A Time...

    NOW

    At my 40th class reunion in November 2011

     THEN

    My high school yearbook photo

    I know, I know… WHAT HAPPENED!?

    Wednesday
    Nov092011

    Walter E. and Anne Foran

    The image below was a pencil sketch I did of the late Senator Walter E. Foran and his wife, Anne, in the early 1980s. The senator died of lung cancer in 1986. I did this portrait for my close friend, Frank, the senator’s son, who faithfully visits his mother in a care facility each and every week. I just returned from New Jersey and spent my last night at his home, where the picture hangs in his dining room. 30 years of sunlight have taken a toll, but it’s still in pretty good shape.

    Walter’s brother Dick was a Hollywood actor who starred in, predominantly, westerns. He was considered one of Hollywood’s singing cowboys during the 30s and 40s. Frank and I have been close friends for nearly 40-years.

    The actual drawing is larger and not cropped like this one, but this was the one that had the least reflection on the glass.

    Monday
    Sep122011

    A Portrait of War

    There isn’t a day that goes by where the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world filled with radical extremists, defiantly justified to maim and kill in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call. It came at a time when wars were fought over more mundane causes - patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger, better, bomb was all the rage and nations proudly strutted their hardware in a show of strength and unity in order to intimidate their neighbors and enemies. Today, the enemy just straps on a vest and they blow themselves up.

    On a distant morning of 1967, one of my classmates was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the room. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? It didn’t take very long before the school principal came on the P.A. system to announce that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white televisions. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and it cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that. Windows were left open because air conditioning was a luxury. Doors were left unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs can’t tell you. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t. With a war going on, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two poster boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t just go to the store back then when I was too young to drive.  Well, I didn’t mess up, so I had a blank sheet and decided to draw another one, identical to the first. Buy one, get one free. I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished my work, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Effect. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land. Call it Peking duck and cover. Back then, it was a theory that if any country fell under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. North Vietnam was one of those countries. South Vietnam was not. Today, it is one country, but back then, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    43 years ago today, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I awoke to the tragedy of war. It was my first real experience with the horrors of conflict and someone I knew was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for our fellow citizens who march off to fight. He was a man and I was a boy back then, but I still look up to him and I am now 41 years older than he was on the day he died. To this day, I’ve wondered what if he had lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be bouncing his grandchildren on his knee today? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children and grandchildren in our present day wars? The more war changes, the more it remains the same because death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was when Michael Baldwin died.

    Today, he would be 66-years-old, soon to be 67. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

     

     

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

    Sunday
    Sep122010

    A Portrait of War

    There isn’t a day that goes by where the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world filled with radical extremists, defiantly justified to maim and kill in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call. It came at a time when wars were fought over more mundane causes - patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger, better, bomb was all the rage and nations proudly strutted their hardware in a show of strength and unity in order to intimidate their neighbors and enemies. Today, they just strap on a vest and blow themselves up.

    On a distant morning of 1967, one of my classmates was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the room. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? It didn’t take very long before the school principal came on the P.A. system to announce that his uncle, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white televisions. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and it cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that. Windows were left open because air conditioning was a luxury. Doors were left unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs can’t tell you. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t. With a war going on, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two poster boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t just go to the store back then when I was too young to drive.  Well, I didn’t mess up, so I had a blank sheet and decided to draw another one, identical to the first. Buy one, get one free. I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished my work, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Effect. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land. Call it Peking duck and cover. Back then, it was a theory that if any country fell under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. North Vietnam was one of those countries. South Vietnam was not. Today, it is one country, but back then, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    43 years ago today, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I awoke to the tragedy of war. It was my first real experience with the horrors of conflict and someone I knew was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for our fellow citizens who march off to fight. He was a man and I was a boy back then, but I still look up to him and I am now 41 years older than he was on the day he died. To this day, I’ve wondered what if he had lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be bouncing his grandchildren on his knee today? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children and grandchildren in our present day wars? The more war changes, the more it remains the same because death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was when Michael Baldwin died.

    Today, he would be 66-years-old, soon to be 67. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

     

     

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin