Notable Deaths in 2021

January 4, 2022

2021 has been a difficult year with COVID refusing to disappear and the Omicron variant surging at the end. Regardless of that, we saw a lot of our favorite celebrities depart this earth, and a few here and there we weren’t too sad to see go. Here is my list of notable people who died in 2021. My apologies if I left off someone you think should have been included.

They Left Us in 2021

Ziegfried Fischbacher, of Ziegfried and Roy,
Norm MacDonald, who brought us some joy.
Tanya Roberts, Larry King,
Mary Wilson, an initial Supreme.

Phil Spector and Hank Aaron,
Bernie Madoff, Ponzi scheme baron.
Hal Holbrook, Sir Tom Moore,
Elgin Baylor sure could score.

Cloris Leachman, Larry Flynt,
Walter Mondale, vice president.
Leon Spinks sure could hit.
Bob Dole never quit.

Rush Limbaugh, conservative leader.
Max Cleland, red, white and blue bleeder.
Cicely Tyson and George Segal,
F. Lee Bailey knew things legal.

Christopher Plummer, Jessica Walter,
Archbishop Tutu served past the altar.
George Shultz, G. Gordon Liddy.
Jane Powell sure was pretty.

Vernon Jordan, Ramsey Clark,
Colin Powell sure made his mark.
Alcee Hastings, Roger Mudd,
Johnny Ventura, the merengue stud.

Marvin Hagler. Lloyd Price,
Arlene Dahl looked mighty nice.
Prince Phillip Mountbatten, DMX,
Richard Trumka reached labor’s apex.

Michael Collins flew ‘round the moon.
Olympia Dukakis died too soon.
Love Boat’s captain, Gavin MacLeod.
John Madden spoke “BOOM” real loud.

Senator John Warner wed Liz Taylor.
Donald Rumsfeld once was a sailor.
Bobby Unser, Carl Levin,
Bobby Bowden’s in football heaven.

Tony Lasorda, baseball great,
Charles Grodin met his fate.
B.J. Thomas, Willard Scott,
Tom T. Hall sang a lot.

Clarence Williams III of “Mod Squad” fame.
Golfers know Lee Elder’s name.
Ned Beatty and Don Everly,
Al Unser Sr. won races cleverly.

Lou Ottens, cassette tape inventor.
John McAfee, virus preventer.
Joe Galloway and Mort Sahl,
Jackie Mason had a ball.

Charlie Watts, F.W. de Klerk,
Ray Odierno did Army work.
Ed Asner, American actor,
Harry Reid, political factor.

James Michael Tyler (Gunther on “Friends”)
Pete Scolari and Dean Stockwell both met their ends.
Willie Garson, Johnny Isakson,
Betty White brought lots of fun.

Steve Sondheim had us tapping toes,
He, too, joined all of those
Who left in two thousand twenty-one.
They each had their day in the sun.
 

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2021

Sue and I wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. A couple of thousand years ago, the most unlikely event in human history occurred. A few years ago, Pastor Rod Stafford of the Fairfax Community Church, preached a sermon on the improbability of such an occurrence. Here is a summary of his message in meter and rhyme.

Who Would Have Thought?

Who would have thought a cosmic event
In the evening sky,
Would have caused three wealthy men
To leave home and try
To follow that rare and mystic star
To wherever it may lead;
To see if it was the sign
The scriptures had decreed?
Who would have thought?

Who would have thought one poor man
And one pregnant girl
Would have to travel ‘cross the land
For census of the Jewish world?
Who would have thought when her time came
He was only able
To find a place for her to rest
In a livestock stable?
Who would have thought?

Who would have thought that shepherds there,
On that peaceful night,
Would hear an angelic chorus
And see a heavenly sight?
And when their fears were calmed
And they went into town,
Who would have thought they’d see three kings
Kneeling on the ground?
Who would have thought?

Who would have thought in that barn,
Lying there that night,
Was a child who would grow up
To counsel peace and light
And bring hope into the world
And begin religion new
That would live in hearts forever more?
I’m sure nobody knew.
Who would have thought?

Pitt Panthers, ACC Football Champions.

December 5, 2021

Last night the Pitt Panthers beat the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 45-21 to become the ACC Football Champions for the first time in their history. It brought to my mind another game on November 12, 2016 when the Panthers shocked #2 Clemson 43-42 under the circumstances described below.

The Coach’s Kiss

The Panthers took on the Tigers.
Clemson was ranked number two.
No one gave them very much hope
To do what Pitt had to do.

The Panthers drew the first blood
When they pulled off the first TD score.
Then came the extra point kick
To add on one point more.

It’s pretty much taken for granted
‘Cause that’s what most kickers do.
But something went terribly wrong.
The football just wouldn’t go through.

The kicker was stunned and embarrassed.
Points after should never be missed.
But the coach put his arm around him
And consoled him with a kiss.

The Panthers fought hard the whole game.
Near the end they were two points behind.
Pitt’s kicker took to the field
With only one thing on his mind.

Six seconds left on the clock.
There’d be no time for reprieve.
It was all completely left up to him.
Was it something that he could achieve?

Forty-eight long yards away,
An attainment he wanted the most.
He could win the football game
By kicking the ball through the posts.

The center hiked back the ball.
The holder held it just right.
The kicker drilled it cleanly through
And defeated Clemson that night.

What changed that crucial dynamic
After the earlier miss?
Was it luck? Was it skill?
Or was it the coach’s kiss?

The 100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknowns

November 11, 2021

Today marks the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Soldier’s remains selected to represent the unknowns from WWI was loaded in a special shipping container onto the Cruiser Olympia that left Le Havre, France on October 25, 1921. The container carrying the remains was too large to go through the cruiser’s hatches so it was lashed onto the deck. During the Atlantic crossing the Olympia encountered the remnants of two hurricanes that created dangerous sea conditions for the crossing. The Marines guarding the remains lashed themselves to the deck to keep from being swept overboard. The Olympia arrived at the Washington Navy Yard on November 9, 1921 and the first Unknown Soldier was entombed on November 11, 1921 in Arlington National Cemetery. Subsequently, unknown Service Members from WWII, Korea and Vietnam were added to the Tomb. The Vietnam unknown was later identified and returned to his family. The Tomb stands today to represent and honor all the unknown Service Members who died in America’s wars. This poem addresses the service of the Soldiers who guard the Tomb day and night, in all weather, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

They Guard the Tomb of the Unknowns

Twenty-one purposed, solemn steps
To guard the sacred Tomb,
In early morning summer haze
And winter midnight gloom;

In summer’s cruel, torrid heat
And winter’s piercing chill;
When autumn brings sudden frost
And spring gales strike at will;

In blizzard, storm and hurricane
When others shelter seek,
The Soldiers tread their somber walk.
An honor denied the weak.

Twenty-one seconds facing the east
In calm and bone-chilling wind.
Then twenty-one seconds facing north;
Twenty-one steps down the path again.

The rifle shouldered away from the Tomb
To keep any foe at bay.
The routine repeated time after time,
Every night and every day.

No rest in this unbroken routine,
No recess or respite here;
The Tomb is honored constantly
Every moment every day of the year.

Why is such attention paid
To the Tomb where the Unknowns lie?
Why are so many hardships endured
Under clear or angry sky?

Ask any Soldier who guards the Tomb
And he will tell you true,
It’s a symbol of the utmost sacrifice
Of those who died for you.
They didn’t just lose their lives,
They lost their identity.
Unknown now to those they loved,
An evanescent entity.

It’s not just three entombed here.
It belongs to that untold throng
Who died in war anonymously.
This is where they, too, belong.

Where do those they cherished and loved
Go to grieve and pay respect?
They can come to this sacred place
To pray, to cry, to recollect.

So it’s not a sacrifice
To Soldiers who endure here.
It’s a sacred honor, labor of love,
And a duty that each holds dear.

Sources: “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”, Arlington National Cemetery, http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil; “The Tomb of the Unknowns” by Elizabeth M. Collins, January 7, 2014, http://www.army.mil; “Cruiser Olympia and the Unknown Soldier”, Independence Seaport Museum, http://www.phillyseaport.org.

Note: For more stories of American Patriots see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.



Happy Birthday Sue

October 18, 2021

Today is the birthday of my wife, life partner, counselor, soulmate and best friend, Sue Williams Austin. I am eternally grateful to Sue, who has supported me through all my endeavors, especially my military service. As every military spouse knows, it is not an easy life with your spouse away so much of the time leaving you with the responsibility of husband, wife, father and mother. Add to that the concern for the safety of your life partner. For her uncomplaining support through all these years and her undying love, this is for Sue.

For Sue, With Love

When I was a young man
I raised up my right hand
And said that I would go
To oppose any foe
At home or foreign land.

You came to join me,
Wherever that might be,
If they would let you do
The thing you wanted to
And come across the sea.

And you always came along
To help to keep me strong
Every time you could,
Just like you said you would,
‘Cause that’s where you belong.

And when you couldn’t come
You did your duty from
The home I left behind
So I’d come home to find
A place of joy and fun.

The times I was not there
You always did my share
Of raising family,
And all who would, could see
How much you really care.

Even though we’re now old,
We have memories to hold,
And love each other more
Than we ever did before,
For our love has not grown cold.

As I look back on life,
On joy and tears and strife,
I know I couldn’t be
If you did not love me
And you were not my wife.

So I thank you, dear,
For always being here,
Through all the good and bad,
And all the love we’ve had,
And a life of joy and cheer.

Christa McAuliffe’s Birthday

September 2, 2021

On this date in 1948, Christa McAuliffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She was selected to be the first civilian in space. NASA wanted a gifted teacher to communicate with students while in orbit. She was one of 144 semi-finalists for the honor. On July 19, 1985, Vice President George H. W. Bush announced that Christa McAuliffe had been selected. On January 19, 1986, after rigorous training, she and six other astronauts boarded the Challenger for the historic flight.  The flight lasted seventy-three seconds before breaking apart, killing all seven astronauts. The nation was shocked over this loss, reminiscent of grief of the nation after the assassination of President Kennedy. This poem is dedicated to the memory of President John F. Kennedy and those seven brave Americans who perished on the Challenger.

Did You Hear Them Shout

Where were you that cold November day
When dreams flowed free, untethered
And the stars before us lay,
Where grateful crowd were gathered
To cheer a leader on his way?

Where were you when hope became despair;
When dreams and faith exploded
In that moment so unfair;
When a madman smiled and gloated
As his bullet cracked the air?

And did you hear a young man’s ghost cry out.
“Press on, press on!”?

Where were you on that January morn
When the stars seemed close at hand,
The road to space becoming worn,
Now common instead of grand,
And the impossible seemed the norm?

Where were you when faith became despair;
When triumph became remorse
In that moment so unfair
And courage, taken so in course,
Just vanished in the air?

And did you hear the seven undaunted shout,
“Press on, press on!”?

Source: Wikipedia.

Note: For this and more poems about American heroes and heroic deeds, see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

National Airborne Day

August 16, 2021

On this date in 1940, the first official airborne jump was made at Fort Benning, Georgia, leading to one of the most elite US Army capabilities. I hope this poem will allow you who have not done so to vicariously feel what it is like to make a military static-line parachute jump.

The Airborne Commute

It’s oh-dark thirty, roll out of the sack.
There’s work to be done today.
You’ll get it all done without any slack;
Nothing will get in your way.

It’s out to the grounds for monotonous drills
Of things you already know,
Like how to land and how to spill
Chute air to down quickly go
And what to do if you’re landing in trees
Or heading for high power lines
Or if you’re heading for water you see
And looking for wind danger signs.

It’s time now to head for the parachute shed
For the gear that will bring you safe down
And nobody speaks of that unspoken dread
Of falling too fast to the ground.

The jumpmaster turns to his serious task,
With seasoned men to assist,
Of making sure no loved one will ask
If a critical check had been missed.

Then it’s time to wait in the pre-sunrise dark
‘Til the “equipment” comes on to the scene.
So you sit on the ground lost in your stark
Love thoughts and just what life means;
Of parents and sweethearts and wives and kids
And why you even are there
And all of the good things and bad things you did
And last night with the guys drinking beer.

Then the big iron bird comes into your view.
A C-130, the best of the breed;
A gray-haired, experienced, pro Air Force crew
With grizzled pilots to lead.
You can almost feel the confidence build;
No novices flying today.
Scarce hesitation has quickly been killed;
Eager, now, to be on your way.

Then down comes the ramp. You heave to your feet
And approach the wide vestibule
And file inside the big ugly beast;
No stallion, she’s more like a mule.
You find the right place on the taut canvas seat
And plop under the weight of your gear;
Hear the engines’ metallic drum beat,
Filling your thoughts and your ears.

Down the runway the bird starts her roll.
At last you’re now on your way.
Soon you’ll measure your heart and your soul;
Soon you will earn your jump pay
But not soon enough, unfortunately,
You first must endure the flight.
“Nap of the earth” today’s trip will be
At about two hundred feet height.
Two hundred feet up over the dirt;
Too low above bushes and trees
But it’s not the height that makes your gut hurt,
It’s the jerks up and down that displease.

It’s hot inside, can’t hear yourself think,
And you’re loaded with weapon and gear
And your stomach gets queasy and close to the brink
Of yielding up last evening’s beer.
So you swallow down a mouth full of spit
(For vomiting will bring one disdain)
And wonder how long on that seat you must sit.
You just want to get out of that plane!

“Ten Minutes” shouts the Jumpmaster’s voice
(Hand signals in case you don’t hear).
No turning back now, no other choice
As your stick-mate shouts in your ear,
“Are you scared? I don’t want to go!”
The novice clearly concerned.
“You’re best-can-be trained. That much I know.
Remember all that you’ve learned.”

“Six minutes!” the call from the Jumpmaster now
As the plane bounces low above hills.
Queasiness begins to settle somehow
As you start the jump sequence drills.

“Get ready!” lets you know you’re about to begin
The final procedures in flight.
You feel your heart race; the adrenalin
Of excitement rather than fright.
“Inboard personnel stand up!” the shout
From the jumpmaster controlling the show.
“Outboard personnel stand up!” no doubt
Into the prop blast soon you will go.
“Hook up!” the command from the front of the plane.
Cla-clack, the static lines clamping in place.
“Check static line!” this additional refrain,
A precaution to take just in case
Your static line somehow gets entangled
With some part of your parachute gear
Resulting in body parts getting all mangled
When you exit the plane. Then you hear
“Check equipment!” to make sure everything is OK.
“Sound off!” the command comes in clear.
“OK!” “OK!” you hear each jumper say
As they whack hard the next trooper’s rear.

Now the pilot pulls hard on the stick
(Altitude to meet jumpers’ needs.)
Without any warning, it happens so quick
It sends the jump stick to its knees
And as you recover without any gripe
The Loadmaster opens the door.
Fresh, clean, cool air down the pipe.
Who could ask for anything more?

You just want out of that hot, noisy plane
And soon it will happen you know.
The Jumpmaster hangs out the door now to gain
A look at the drop zone below.

“Stand in the door!” that blessed command
Sends the lead of the stick to the door.
Poised there ready to leap out he stands,
Not standing too long there before
The green light glows, the Jumpmaster shouts
“Go!” You shuffle your feet to the door
And suddenly you are gloriously out;
“One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four…”

“Uughh” comes a sound from somewhere within
As momentum and your chute compete
To separate your weary bones from your skin
And your body from head and from feet.

Then you look up and your chute’s open wide
And you breathe a sigh of relief.
No need for the reserve by your side;
Once more you’re the Grim Reaper’s thief.

As you prepare to hit the hard ground
With a force of a twenty-foot fall,
You turn to the wind and look all around
For troopers and hazards and all.

You hit the ground hard, jump up on the run
As you collapse your chute with a jerk.
It’s not over yet, the day’s just begun.
You’ve completed your commute into work.

Note: For interesting stories about the 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific Theater during World War Two, see Pacific Paratrooper, https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com.

Note: For more stories about military exploits, patriotic events and military heroes, see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

Ralph Puckett Jr., A True American Hero

July 25, 2021

On 21 May this year, Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Biden for actions taken during the Korean War in November 1950. He graduated from West Point in 1949. During the Korean War, he earned a Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic actions during the battle for Hill Two-Oh-Five about 60 miles south of the Chinese border. That award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor after the Defense Department included a recommendation to do so in the 2021 Defense Budget. After the Korean War, Puckett subsequently served in various challenging assignments to include as a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, where he continued to lead from the frontlines of his unit and demonstrate the same courage and leadership he did during the Korean War. He was adored by his troops for always sharing their hardships and for his leadership in battle. He retired from the Army as a Colonel in 1971. This poem attempts to tell the story of some of his heroic character in meter and rhyme.

The Legend of Ralph Puckett Jr.

From Tifton, Georgia to a legend in his time,
Ralph Puckett sought glory nor fame.
To do his duty and safeguard his troops
Was Puckett’s only aim.

He was always “there” for his troops,
Whatever their hardships may be.
Cold when they were, wet with them too,
If miserable they, so was he.

When the Land of the Morning Calm
Was serene no more,
Lieutenant Puckett packed his gear
And headed off to war.

He volunteered for the Rangers,
The best of infantry,
And planned to join a unit trained,
But that was not to be.

He joined a Ranger unit alright
But there were no Rangers there.
Seemed the infantry soldiers
Were needed everywhere.

He was selected to command
The Eighth Ranger Company,
And find the soldiers he was to make
Into Ranger infantry.

So he pulled soldiers from where he could,
Truck drivers, clerks and occasional cook,
And molded them to a fighting force.
About two months was all it took.

He led his troops into the fray
Not far below the Yalu River.
He didn’t have to wait too long
Before they were expected to deliver.

The mission was to seize and hold
The hill called Two-Oh-Five.
His unit attacked and captured the hill.
Outnumbered would they survive?

Five times, in human waves,
The Chinese came on strong.
The Rangers repulsed each attack,
But weren’t sure for how long.

Puckett had prayed before the fight,
“God, let me take care of these men
And do not let any get killed.”
He knew the foe would attack again.

During the fight he exposed himself
To the determined enemy,
So they would fire at him
And his Rangers then could see
Where they were and take them out
With accurate counter fire,
But during the prolonged battle
He was wounded dire.

Two mortar rounds impacted
In Puckett’s cold foxhole.
Evacuation he refused,
But the wounds would take their toll.

With ammunition running low
And no supporting artillery,
Hand-to-hand combat
Was all that was left to be.

The sixth Chinese human wave
Accompanied the last attack.
Overwhelming numbers meant
The Rangers were finally forced back.

Unable to move himself,
He wanted his Rangers saved.
He ordered them to leave him there,
An order they disobeyed.

His Rangers never will forget
His sacrifice on that hill,
Nor Lieutenant Puckett’s
Bravery and will.

He led his men with courage,
Intelligence and care,
And with them on that hill,
He was always there.

Later in nineteen sixty-seven,
Puckett was in combat again.
A lieutenant colonel now
Leading a battalion of men.

Not back in headquarters,
But out there with his men,
Sharing their combat risks
Amidst the battle din.

Seventy-one long years
After that Korea cold
On Hill Two-Oh-Five,
The story was retold.

The Distinguished Service Cross
He won there on the day
Turned into the Medal of Honor
On the 21st of May.

As he received that medal
He stated once again,
He was not the hero,
The credit goes to his men.

A lifetime of service
And sacrifice sublime.
Colonel Ralph Puckett,
A legend in his time.

Sources: “A True American Hero” by Michelle Tan, Army, July 2021; “Colonel (RET.) Ralph Puckett Jr.”, www.army.mil/medalofhonor/puckett; “Destined for the Medal of Honor: The legend of Col. Ralph Puckett” by Stavros Atlamazoglou, Sandboxx News, June 14, 2021; “Medal of Honor: Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr.”  Video by Harry Lockley, Defense Visual Information Distribution System.

Note: For more stories in meter and rhyme of American Heroes see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

The 17-Year Cicada Cycle is Waning

June 8, 2021

Riding my bike this morning I noticed a distinct lessening of the cicada noise and far fewer of the insects crawling up the oaks I passed. The 17-year cycle has passed its peak in the area where I live. I witnessed one of the creatures struggling on the ground as it was dying, having helped ensure the survival of its species. That event inspired this poem.

The Dying Cicada

Riding my bike this morning
I noticed something odd,
Cicada noise diminished;
Dead-insect-littered sod.

I saw upon the ground
A cicada dying there.
It was struggling mightily
To get back in the air.

It was lying on its back,
Putting up a fight,
Consuming waning strength
To get itself upright.

When it got on its feet,
Hoping to gain flight
It couldn’t take to the air.
Its inevitable plight.

I felt a little pity
For the struggle it went through,
But then I realized
That’s what it’s here to do.

For that little insect,
And billions more as well,
Ensure that its species
Will continue long to dwell
Upon the face of the earth,
As long as it and others can
Make the cycle persevere
And follow Nature’s plan.

Then I realized,
As I walked back through my door,
That our lives will fruitful be
If we achieve what we’re here for.

Note: For more stories in meter and rhyme see Poetry That Rhymes by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

The Seventeen-Year Cicadas

June 4, 2021

Brood X of the Seventeen-Year Cicadas have been invading Northern Virginia, West Virginia and much of Maryland for several weeks now. Their larval stage has been surviving underground, feeding on sap from tree roots, for the last 17 years. They emerge from the ground by the billions, molt into adults, and the males seek females to mate. Part of this process involves a cacophonous chorus sung by millions of males simultaneously in one of the loudest, most prolonged mating calls in nature. After mating, the females bore holes in the branches of trees and lay their eggs. When the nymphs hatch, they drop to the ground, burrow deep holes and spend the next 17 years waiting to emerge and begin the cycle again. I recommend watching the excellent short video on these cicadas’ life cycle, “The Return of the Cicadas” at http://video.com/66688653.

The Rise of the Undead

They came up from the underworld
With evil eyes, diablo red.
They occupied near everywhere,
These creatures of the living dead.

They crept and crawled upon the earth
With lust their wicked goal.
They screamed and screeched throughout the day.
They came to take their toll.

They put the fear of death in us.
They were everywhere to see.
We couldn’t get away from them.
They would not let us be.

They had been living underground,
Feeding on sap of trees,
Crawling through the grubby soil.
What kind of creatures, these?

In answer, an entomologist said,
“They’re harmless as can be.
They simply want to shed their skins
And climb the nearest tree.”

“They can’t bite and they can’t sting.
No need to perplex.
They’re not interested in us,
They’re only here for sex.”

“So banish your paranoia.
Sequester, now, all your fears.
They will leave us pretty soon.
You can relax seventeen years.”

Sources: “ Brood X Cicadas”, www.meadowsfarms.com; “Return of the Cicadas”, http://video.com/66688653.

Note: For more humorous stories in meter and rhyme see Humorous Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.