A Visit from an Old Friend

November 1, 2018

Last month my wife and I had a visit from a dear, old friend whom we have known for over 54 years. After she left, I began to think of the irreplaceable value of friendships maintained over the years and those renewed after years of neglect. She is, fortunately, in the former category. This poem reflects some of my thoughts.

An Old Friend

There is nothing like an old friend.
One who knew you long ago,
One who loved you then,
And one who, selfless, helped you grow.
One who knew you as a teen,
When frontal lobes were immature,
Or came much later on the scene
To help you realize and secure
Your you; who you really are.
Who had faith in you
And helped you pass some hinder bar
Because they knew what you could do.

How many old friends from long ago
Have you not seen for some years now?
Old friends that you used to know
But have lost contact with somehow?

They may have a need for you,
Like you for them so long ago.
So do what I implore you to
And contact them and let them know
You’ve not forgotten, even today,
What they meant to you back then,
And thank them, in your own way,
For being such a fine, old friend.

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Amelia, the Movie

October 17, 2018

I woke up this morning at 0130 and couldn’t go back to sleep. (Fortunately, a rare occurrence for me.) I decided to see if there was anything worth watching on the movie channels on TV. HBO was showing Amelia, a 2009 film starring Hilary Swank, uncannily resembling Amelia Earhart, and Richard Gere as her husband. It is an excellent film about Earhart’s phenomenal life as an early aviatrix. It brought to my mind a poem I wrote about her on what would have been her 115th birthday in 2012. It is one of my favorite poems, reposted below. I hope you enjoy it.

Amelia

You smile at me from pages old
As if to say that you were bold
Enough to fly through space unknown,
Where no woman’s ever flown.

Your girlish face and impish look
Belie the fact you often took
The first step through some ne’er before,
Some previously unopened door.

So many records you had set.
Some which are not broken yet.
Then one sad and fateful day
You raised your craft and flew away
To some place, we know not where,
Or what happened to you there.

We do know this, you led the way
That others follow yet today;
Those with courage, heart, and more,
To go where no one’s gone before.

Would that I had courage so
To venture where no others go,
I would leave my comfort zone,
Do something bold, all alone.
Instead, content to sit and stare,
I admire you from my easy chair.

 

A Greek Antiquities Tour

September 25, 2018

My wife and I had the great good fortune earlier this month to take a tour of mainland Greece to visit many of their ancient archeological sites. Athens, Epidaurus, Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi, Meteora and Thermopylae were all on our agenda. We visited, among other places, the seat of Agamemnon’s rule; the sacred city of the god, Apollo; the site of the original Olympic Games and the battlefield of the famous 300. We had excellent tour guides. In 2007 when the economic crisis hit Greece, the government essentially stopped archeological expeditions, laying off most of their archeologists, but they offered them tour guide licenses. As a result, most tour guides are archeologists who have actually worked on the sites they are guiding tourists through. A brilliant move by the government. For you who have not been there, Greece is a beautiful country with a fascinating history and friendly people. I encourage anyone who has not done so to tour Greece’s mainland. This poem includes some of our experiences.

Visit Ancient Greece

Tread the paths of Ancient Greece.
Stand where Plato and Hadrian walked.
See the temples to the gods.
Breathe the air where Socrates taught.

Have you climbed the Acropolis
And seen the temples there?
Especially the Parthenon,
High up in the air?

The theatre of Epidaurus
Boast whispers heard from any place,
On the first row or the highest up,
You hear the same, whichever the case.

Mycenae, from whence Agamemnon ruled,
Is quite a place to see.
He led Greek troops to battle Troy.
So says the Odyssey.

Have you seen where Olympic games
Were held to honor Zeus,
When folks would travel from afar
Safeguarded by Olympic Truce?

And have you seen the site
Of the Oracle’s divinations?
It’s among the most revered
Of ancient Greek locations.

Delphi, the center of the world.
Eagles, Zeus sent in the air
To find the navel of the earth,
Met in Delphi there.

If you’ve not been to Ancient Greece
To see their relics old,
Where civilization first began
(At least that’s what I’m told),
Then I urge you to take a trip
To that lovely, ancient land.
By airplane, sail or cruising ship.
Any way you can.

Now if you take this advice
I freely give to you,
And take a trip to Ancient Greece
As I urge you to,
There is an important fact
That I think you should know
Before you buy your ticket
And pack your bags to go.

They built high on mountains there
To fend off enemy,
To protect their hearth and home
And ensure their destiny.

So, go and see the ancient sites
And all the rest of it,
But take this advice before you go,
My friend, you’d best be fit!

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

V-J Day-14 August 1945

August 14, 2018

Today is the day Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, essentially ending the Second World War. (The official surrender did not take place until 2 September.) The following poem addresses the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to America’s entry into the war.

“A Day That Will Live in Infamy”

Early Sunday morning, before ships’ chores were done,
There came a dire attack from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Three hundred-sixty aircraft, attacking in two waves,
Sent twenty-four hundred warriors to their sodden graves.

“Air raid, Pearl Harbor,” came the clarion call.
“This is no drill,” the first alert, “General Quarters all!”
The attackers dove on Hickam Field and on Battleship Row.
Four battleships and nine score planes were tallied by the foe
But six battleships survived, two raised from the brine,
And after some repair, they would steam again just fine.

Repair shops and oil tanks were, mysticly, passed by.
Before too long the ships were fixed and planes were fit to fly,
And our stalwart carriers were not at Pearl that day.
Six months later they weighed in at the Battle of Midway.

We withstood that ill attack of December seven,
With sacrifice of those on earth and, I guess, help of Heaven.
We came back from fortune dire and from tragedy.
We came back, stronger still, from that “day of infamy.”

Now, one of those great battleships still in Pearl stands,
Crusted with barnacles and sifting Pearl’s sands.
The Arizona proud today defies those that baneful tried
To destroy America and to honor those that died.

Note: This and 54 other poems about patriotic events, documents and heroes can be found in Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

Happy Birthday to Me!

July 31, 2018

Today at around 0930 I completed my 80th year on this earth. It hardly seems possible. There have been unbelievable changes in America and the world in my lifetime. The following poem tries to capture some of them in rhyme.

On Turning 80

Eighty years is a very long time.
Our nation’s barely three times my age.
I’ve lived through good times and lived through bad.
What else will I see ‘fore I disengage?

I was raised in the Jim Crow south.
I saw discrimination that never should be,
But look at the progress that we’ve made
In the name of Justice and Liberty.
There’s more that needs to be done, for sure,
To reach that true equality,
But I’ve seen a lot of change in my life
To ameliorate that blight on our history.

I lived through the greatest war of the world,
Although I do not remember it well;
The holocaust, Normandy, Iwo, Bastogne,
And that Pearl Harbor hell.
Seen Korea, Vietnam, Cold War, Iraq,
Afghanistan, and small wars all around.
And on one clear September morn
I watched as the Twin Towers came down.
It took ten years to avenge that deed,
But finally justice was done.
We continue today to fight that scourge.
I wish I could live to see that war won.

When I was a kid back in school,
Awards went to the best.
Champions all got the trophies,
And nothing went to the rest.

If I was bad and misbehaved
And broke some faculty rule,
I could expect when I got home
Penance worse than at school.

And if we didn’t study hard
So that we failed a grade,
They didn’t just pass us on,
There is where we stayed.
For back then one had to achieve
If one was to get ahead.
Today in the name of “equality”
They pass kids on instead.

I remember pre-social media days
When people conversed face-to-face,
And kids made up innovative games
And played outdoors all over the place.
Our moms never knew where we were
When we went out play,
As long as we were in by dark.
Too bad that’s gone away.

I saw the end of colonization.
I saw tyrants come and tyrants go.
All of them lasted way too long,
And I was here when they established NATO.

I was here when the United Nations was formed;
No help when Rwandans faced genocide.
I hated to see the epidemic of AIDS,
And I wept the three times that astronauts died.

I remember when gold backed currency
And silver was in all our dimes.
I was a teen in the nineteen-fifties.
To me, the best years of all times.

I saw television replace radio
For news and shows and all.
And I saw on Movietone News
Dien Bien Phu and the French there fall.

I remember when Russians downed our U-2.
We tried to say it was a weather plane.
I heard the first notes of rock and roll
And saw Queen Elizabeth begin her reign.

Saw Castro take over Cuba,
Then exiles’ defeat at a Cuban bay.
Now we’ve come to live with the fact
That communists are ninety miles away.

I saw the birth of the nuclear age.
Sweated through the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It was pretty tense for a while
But Nikita Khrushchev’s flinch was priceless.

I saw a president assassinated,
Two of our other leaders, too.
I remember when Israel was born.
I was in boot camp when Sputnik first flew.

I remember the British invasion,
When the Beatles came to town,
And the Three Mile Island crisis,
And that awful Chernobyl meltdown.

I saw trains give way to passenger jets,
Saw the Soviet Union strong, then fall.
I watched the first man walk on the moon
And the beginning, and end, of the Berlin Wall.

The sexual revolution I kind of missed
‘Cause I was married then to my hun.
The technology revolution then came along,
But I doubt that was nearly as fun.

I remember coming home from ‘Nam
To anger, contempt and epithet,
But lived long enough to finally see
Overdue respect for the American vet.

I watched when President Nixon resigned,
I was stunned when Iran took our embassy.
Four hundred and forty-four days it took
Before Reagan set fifty-two hostages free.

I saw feminists stand up for their cause
And demand their equality.
Some think they went a little too far.
It didn’t really bother me.

I rejoiced when the twenty-first century came,
But we were worried ‘bout Y2K.
Computers, you see, were supposed to fail,
But nothing at all happened that day.

I saw South Africa end apartheid,
Birth of the internet and world-wide web.
They changed the way we communicate.
I’ve seen personal respect and comity ebb.

I’ve seen us delve far into space.
We’ve landed a rover on Planet Mars.
Technology develops exponentially.
We now even have self-driving cars.

I’ve seen a lot of natural disasters,
Hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, too.
They cause a lot of pain and destruction,
But we always seem to pull through.

I saw us elect a black president,
Then for the first time, a businessman.
If your kids doubt they can get to the top,
Tell them in America, anyone can.

But there’s a lack of respect today,
A plethora of incivility.
No one can see the other one’s view
Through their own hate and hostility.

Seen a lot of conflict in my life.
Seen a lot of people get awfully mad,
But we’ve always been able to compromise.
I’ve never seen disrespect this bad.

My life has witnessed a whole lot more
But I can’t begin to list it all here.
Some things seem like yesterday,
And some not nearly so clear.

I look back on my eighty years,
On the things I’ve seen and places I’ve been,
And as I try to sort it all out
It just doesn’t all seem to fit in.

I’ve had good times, and occasionally bad,
But on whole an incredible life.
I’m terribly proud of my progeny
And thankful I have a wonderful wife.

As I reflect on all those years
I know I’ve seen life aplenty.
I’d like to live eighty years more,
But I pray for another twenty.

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

Independence Day

July 4, 2018

Every school kid knows today is the birth of our nation but we too often get caught up in barbeques, concerts and fireworks and don’t think about the vision of our Founding Fathers and the risks they took in committing treason against the Crown to form this great nation. The Declaration of Independence lays out in detail the justification for the severance from England to include specific grievances suffered by the American colonists. Had they written it in rhyme (less the grievances), it might have looked something like this.

We Hold These Truths Self Evident

When in the course of human events
The time comes to dissolve
The bands that tie the populace,
Free people will resolve
To assume among the powers of earth
A separate, equal station.
God’s law entitles us to form
An independent nation.

We hold these truths self evident,
We’re all the same created,
And have rights eternally
That may not be abated:
The pursuit of happiness
And liberty and life.
Governments are thus contrived
To secure each precious right.

When any form of government
Is destructive to that end,
It may be abolished
By freedom-loving men.

The history of King George
Is one of usurpations
That are simply not imposed
By just and noble nations.

We have petitioned frequently
For sufferance to redress,
Only to be answered
By tyrannical excess.

We, therefore, do declare
That we are, and ought to be,
Absolved from fealty to the crown;
We’re sovereign and we’re free.

So we create from colonies
A new and sovereign state.
Citizens will be in charge.
No despot will dictate.

We pledge to each other
Our fortunes and our lives
And our sacred honor
To ensure that it survives.

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

D-Day

June 6, 2018

On this date in 1944, the Allied invasion of Europe began with the amphibious landing on the beaches of Normandy and the Airborne operations that protected those landings. D-Day marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

6 June 1944

The moon was full, the tide was high;
They felt propellers’ blast.
After midnight, the first went out.
They wouldn’t be the last.

Twenty-four thousand Airborne troops
Went into hell that night.
Some went in on silent silk;
Some in glider flight.

Their mission: provide the battle space
So Germans couldn’t reach
One hundred sixty thousand troops
Landing on the beach.

Vulnerable there, they’d certain be
To organized attack.
They had to quickly cross the beach.
They wouldn’t be pushed back.

They caught the Germans by surprise.
The weather thought to be
Unfit for combat landing;
High winds and stormy sea.

But a passing weather break
Allowed the Allied fleet
To get the warriors close to shore;
A monumental feat.

As those patriots waded in
They met with deadly fire.
They found themselves soon bogged down;
Their circumstances dire.

But fueled by pure adrenalin
And courage beyond belief,
They mustered resources deep within
As they fought off the beach.

Many heroes there that day
Where Europe meets the sea.
They gave the world a bulletin
On what was yet to be.

They fought hard and they fought long
For lodgment to secure,
But once they gained a foothold there,
The ending was assured.

Over four thousand Allied troops
Died at Normandy.
They sacrificed and gave their all
So Europe could be free.

Because of pluck and sacrifice
Of these courageous men,
Both Germans and the Allies knew
T’was the beginning of the end.

Today is Memorial Day

May 28, 2018

Memorial Day is the holiday established to honor those men and women who have died in the service of our country. Too often we are caught up in the idea that it is the annual holiday that ushers in the summer season and, perhaps, do not give enough thought to what it really means.

Memorial Day

Fire up the grill and break out the beer.
Memorial Day means summer is here.
Time to have over old friends and kin.
Summer is here. Let the good times begin.

It’s time for parades and trips to the beach,
Or maybe the mountains, if they’re within reach,
Or maybe take the kids to the pool,
Since this a day they don’t go to school.

But let’s not forget what this day is for.
Memorial Day means oh so much more.
It’s a day to remember those who have died,
Those who gallantly set self aside
For the cause of liberty,
And sacrificed all so we can be free.

Think of the million plus women and men
Who left, not to see their loved ones again,
And wrote a blank check to guarantee
Our independence and sovereignty.

So enjoy your day, your burgers and beer,
But think of the liberty we assume here.
Take some time to give it some thought
About how our rights and freedoms were bought
By sacrifice in service and war,
And never forget what this day is for.

Note: For more poetry honoring military service, see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

 

 

The End of South Vietnam

April 30, 2018

On this date in 1975, Saigon, South Vietnam, fell to the forces of the Communist north. For 25 years, America had supported the South Vietnamese in their efforts to remain free (the first US advisors went there in 1950), with massive military support beginning in 1965. By the late 1960s and early 1970s America had grown sick of the war and its substantial US casualties. The anti-war movement was beginning to have an impact on Congress. The Case-Church amendment, a congressional gift to the anti-war movement, prohibited direct U.S. military involvement without congressional authorization after August 15, 1973. In January 1973, the US officially ceased active involvement in the war but continued to provide financial support to the South Vietnamese. The elections of 1974 brought a Congress determined to end US involvement in Vietnam, both military and fiscal. They immediately voted funding restrictions to be phased in through 1975. As the North Vietnamese regular forces moved south toward Saigon, President Ford tried to convince Congress to appropriate funding to support the South Vietnamese in their efforts to preserve their country. He failed. Without continued US financial support, South Vietnam was doomed.

By the time Saigon fell, the US had evacuated over 2,000 orphans, as well as over 110,000 other South Vietnamese, clamoring to escape the brutal life, or death, facing them if they stayed. At 10:24 AM, Vietnam time, on 30 April 1975, the South surrendered to the Communist. Subsequently, an estimated 1 million people were imprisoned without formal charges or trials. Over 200,000 South Vietnamese government officials, military officers, and soldiers were sent to “re-education camps” where, in addition to the humiliation of defeat, they suffered torture, disease and malnutrition. An estimated 165,000 people died in Vietnam’s re-education camps. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fled, many in over-crowded, unsafe boats. It is unknown how many perished on the high seas.

The war had cost 58,220 U.S. service men and women their lives. More than 150,000 were wounded, and at least 21,000 were permanently disabled. Between 1965 and 1975, the US spent $111 billion on the Vietnamese war, the only war we ever lost. Beyond those terrible costs, the US lost its position in the world as the defender of freedom.

The Day Saigon Fell

It all remains so crystal clear;
Humanity struggling to be near
The vertical lift into the air
Not to be left desperate there.

The frantic mothers running along
Beside the plane, determined, strong,
And with plaintive, crying shout
Toss their babies on the last plane out.

The helicopters in the drink;
Frustrated sailors watch them sink.
Vietnamese airmen safe aboard.
Confused families thank the Lord.

The scores of people in many a boat
Trying to keep their hopes afloat
As they flee the red regime
In pursuit of freedom’s dream.

Propaganda camps soon to be
To re-educate the Vietnamese.
And if they don’t re-educate?
Murder is their certain fate.

In spite of promise, solemn made,
The Congress stopped financial aid.
After that betrayal done
The South had lost; the North had won.

The young republic now the past;
Betrayed, brave people to the last.
They’re not the ones to earn the blame.
We’re to blame. America’s shame!

Note: The source of much of the information in the opening discussion is from Wikipedia.

The Dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 4, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated fifty years ago today. This poem celebrates his life and his dream.

He Had a Dream

He had a dream that one day, indeed,
This land would rise and live up to its creed,
As our Founding Fathers so fluently stated,
That all men are equal created.

He had a dream that one of these days
The sons of the owners and sons of the slaves
Would clear a path where bigotry stood
And sit at the table of true brotherhood.

He had a dream in America one day
The yoke of injustice would be swept away;
The heat of oppression would no longer be;
Injustice past and men truly free.

He had a dream that surely one day
His four little kids would grow up to say
They are judged on their character by all honest men
And not by their race or color of their skin.

Yes, he had a dream of a much better day
When hatred and bigotry will be swept away.
We’ll hew out the mountain of doubt and despair
And a stone of hope in it’s place will be there.

But before his faithful work was done
His words were stilled by report of a gun.
One thing’s for certain, one thought supreme,
You can kill the man but you can’t kill his dream!