Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem: Invictus Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from … Read More
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Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley, 1849–1903
Rather than the captain of a ship, I consider myself to be the engineer of my train. I have no helpers—no switchman, brakeman, signalman, fireman, conductor, oilman and no mechanic. I am the sole occupant on the train, controlling its freight and its movements through life with the various switches and gauges and handles available to me—and trust me, they are many and varied.
My travel through life is not limited to any existing railroad lines or tracks. My train is capable of laying its own roadbed. No matter where I choose to go, the track will always be there and I travel on it at my own speed, without regard to other traffic or intersections or crossroads.
Rumbling and swaying behind me on the track is a string of railroad cars, a string that lengthens as life goes on. In that line are railroad cars of every description and function—coal tenders, box cars, flat cars, hopper cars, passenger cars, cars of every description and every color, cars capable of holding and hauling anything and everything ever owned, including businesses and cars and houses and pets and airplanes and even islands.
Those railroad cars hold everything ever taught, everything ever learned, every job, every action ever taken, every thought and every deed done, whether good or evil. They carry every love ever found and every love ever lost, whether love for a person or a place, or for an animal or an idea, and they carry every friend ever made and lost, every enemy ever made and every antagonist ever faced.
I’m reasonably sure that you, dear reader, have already deduced that my train is my brain. The cars that I haul are the compartments of my brain, and in those compartments repose every thought I have ever had—memories of everything that I have learned and done are being hauled by the railroad cars. They are always there, although sometimes some of them are not always available to me—that seems to be a condition that increases in direct proportion to age.
The poem that follows pertains to those that do not understand or are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of an engineer, believing that their own train is run—engineered, so to speak—by someone other than themselves. Since all life ultimately ends, those folks may possibly—with emphasis on possibly—be in for a surprise! The poem’s origin is unknown, at least to me, but it could well be titled:
Plaint of a Non-engineer
I’m not allowed to run the train,
The whistle I can’t blow . . .
I’m not allowed to say how far
The railroad cars may go.
I’m not allowed to let off steam,
Nor even clang the bell . . .
But let the damn thing jump the track
And see who catches hell!
After awhile—eventually, ultimately, inevitably, inexorably and conclusively, we will hand over the controls of our train and its cars, loaded with the thoughts and deeds of our lives, to the Central Dispatcher and we will arrive at our final destination—no, make that our penultimate stop, the one next to the last.
Our freight—our baggage, so to speak—accumulated over a lifetime will be off-loaded, weighed, categorized, tabulated and compared to established factors in order to determine our ultimate destination. Some of us may protest the final decision, but bear in mind that the deciding factors will have been available for consideration, beginning with our first breath and continuing to our last.
A brief postscript:
I have been criticized, constructively of course, for the length of my postings. Evidently some viewers are so busy loading their train and maneuvering it around various obstacles, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, that they have little time for reading. This posting is relatively short, so I’ll close it with a metaphor, an apology for the length of my stories.
In my writings I am somewhat similar to the drunk—similar to, mind you, but not the drunk—that made a bet with another drunk in the bar, with the loser agreeing to take a drink from one of the bar’s cuspidors, commonly called a spittoon.. The loser raised the spittoon to his lips and emptied it, and the shocked winner told him he didn’t have to do that. The loser replied that he had no choice because it was all in one piece—as are my postings.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
In 1955 I was a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force, stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. I was an aircraft electrician and a jet aircraft and engine mechanic. That was my third year at Maxwell, having reenlisted there after my discharge from service in December 1952. It took me just thirty days to realize that I had made a mistake in not reenlisting—you see, I had met this girl in Georgia and—well, click here to see her picture. and then you’ll know the rest of that story. The photo was taken some thirty years after our marriage in 1952. I reenlisted in order to get married, and I kept reenlisting in order to stay married and retired for length of service after 22 years of military life. Oh, and the title of the posting with the picture is Peaches, Cadillacs, Convertibles, Cows and Combat. That should pique your interest a bit!
My reenlistment and the physical I tolerated in Atlanta, Georgia on a very cold winter day in 1952 are featured in one of my early bloggings. Click here to read Turn around and bend over . . . I promise you that it’s well worth the visit!
During my three years at Maxwell Air Force Base I was assigned to the Transient Alert Section, a maintenance unit charged with meeting aircraft not based at Maxwell but transiting the base, including Marine and Navy aircraft as well as US Air Force planes. Our duties were to meet aircraft on landing, escort them to the proper parking place, secure the aircraft and then escort the crew and passengers to various places. We drove the yellow pickup trucks with the huge FOLLOW ME signs on the back end. While their flight plans were being filed for the next leg of their flight we serviced the plane with oil and fuel and performed any required inspections and maintenance as necessary.
We had a special parking place for VIPs—Very Important Persons—any member of Congress, any high-level member of the current administration, and any aircraft carrying a Code Five person or a general officer. We parked them immediately adjacent to Base Operations, and at the entrance to Base Ops, there was a small office that we shared with the AOD, the Airdrome Officer of the Day. The mistaken identification, the one interesting enough and strange enough to be featured in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, a popular television show that ran for five years and 156 episodes—it began in 1959 and continued until 1964.
On a special day in 1955, the FOLLOW ME driver led a B-25, a World War II bomber configured for passengers. The B-25 was a favorite for senior military officers to flit around the country in, supposedly on official business. I suspect that some of its use was comparable to that of certain members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi, for example. I can remember a five-star general that came to Montgomery frequently to visit old friends. Oh, I’m sure he delved into something official while there, but I doubt that the results justified the cost of the trip—but, of course, I could be wrong.
On that day the B-25 carried a Code Five, a number corresponding to a full colonel, the one that wears silver eagles on collars and shoulders. After the aircraft was parked and chocked and the passenger off-loaded, the flight crew chief stepped into my office to discuss fuel and maintenance needs and departure schedules. When he entered he smiled broadly, shook hands with me, said “Hi, Dyer. I have to go into Base Ops but I’ll see you before we leave.” I didn’t know him, but I said something to the effect that, okay, I’ll be here.
He was still smiling when he said,”No, really, when did you get here?” I told him I got there Maxwell three years before, in 1952. The smile vanished and he became visibly angry. He said that he didn’t know what kind of game I was playing, but he knew that I had not been at Maxwell three years. He said that he had seen me just before he left his assigned station at Randolph Air Force Base at San Antonio, Texas, that my name was Dyer and that I was a crew chief on a B-25 in his squadron.
I was dressed in white one-piece coveralls. My name was stamped in blue above a pocket on my the left side of my chest, and I pointed to that and asked him if his Dyer wore white coveralls. Then I turned around and showed him the back of my coveralls, with the large blue letters proclaiming Maxwell AFB.
None of this impressed the B-25 crew chief. He cursed and stomped out of the office, escorted the pilots and the passengers to the aircraft and in a very few minutes the aircraft was just a faint dot gaining altitude for the next leg of its planned flight. I never saw the crew chief again, and I never made my way to Randolph to meet my twin, the other Dyer in this version of the twilight zone.
The Airdrome Officer of the Day, a young first lieutenant, was a witness to our conversation, and after the plane left he asked some pointed questions. I could only tell him what I had told the crew chief, that I had never been to Randolph and that I had been stationed at Maxwell for almost three years.
Hey, Dyer, if you’re out there somewhere and you read this, please get in touch. You can contact me through this blog, or you can contact me on Facebook.com. There are thousands of Dyers on facebook, but only one named Hershel. I assure you that I will respond. And if anyone out there has ever known a crew chief named Dyer that was stationed in the 1950s at Randolph Air Force Base and would want to help me solve this puzzle, you can contact me through the same venues and I will definitely respond. Oh, and I’ll accept and acknowledge any e-mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!