What if we do make it?

What if we do make it?

The real work is about to begin. I feel like we have been saying that for months now, but we’re really serious this time. At this point, I’m not sure what the real work is supposed to be. It could be the research we have been doing. Or it could be the coming trips to gather stories and hopefully fill in the gaps of who Leo was. Either way, I’ve been wondering what we hope to get out of this. I lose track of what we are going for. Between the various books and building projects, it can be hard to understand or remember what the point of all this is. A series of children’s books has very little to do with building a farm. And a book about getting to know Leo has next to nothing to do with building a candy store. So, if you aren’t sure what we are trying to do, you are in good company. Half the time we can’t figure out what we are trying to do either.

And there might not be a good answer for what we are trying to get out of this. We aren’t too different from a couple dogs chasing a car. We wouldn’t know what to do if we caught it, but we can’t help ourselves. Our optimism fluctuates on an hourly basis, but, for now, we are feeling like this could go somewhere, so we should work towards preparing ourselves for striking pay dirt. I could speak for Ryan, but I won’t. I’ll let him tell you what he is hoping to do with this. For me, I’m still working on defining what I hope this will be. The writing projects are more a means to an end. They aren’t really the point of this. The writings are a vehicle for something bigger. Hopefully. This is my stumbling block. I don’t know what I am hoping to be able to do. It’s almost like asking what I would do if I won the lottery, because, successfully, publishing a book would be like winning the lottery. At this point, there isn’t a need to have a clear answer for this. We have time to work on answering this and I can rest on knowing that this should be the start of something bigger.

While that is hardly an answer, it is close enough to one to keep me motivated. This entire journey has been motivated by little more than loosely formed ideas and absurd dreams. But they keep pulling me forward. It almost seems like a more reasonable way to pursue this. Allowing the road to define itself as we go. While there are grand aspirations involved, that may be the answer to this question. To say I tried. Yes, I want to build something good and lasting as a result of all this, but the most basic answer is that I tried. That I tried to build something good and lasting and meaningful in the world. That I am still fighting the good fight.

A Shoebox

A Shoebox

Jean meets me half way down the hall.

“Oh you came up?”  She seemed surprised.

“Yeah”, I replied. “The…” Jean interrupted.

“You know we’ve had a lot of weirdos come up here lately.  I had a gentleman come in the other day and he was very upset at me.”

“Oh yeah.  Why?”

“Well,” she replied.  I could hear her English accent get a little thicker as we continued talking.  “ He wanted to do research whenever he wanted.  I told him the hours I am here and that he has to visit when I am here.  He started to get very upset.  I had to call downstairs and have him removed.”

She paused. “You know it was quite scary.  I was all by myself and this man was getting very upset.”  She looked at me above her purple glasses as we kept walking.  “He is no longer allowed in the library.”

“Wow,” I fumbled.” Do you, uh, get that a lot?”  Despite my lack of eloquence, I could picture people becoming obsessed with a topic.  Sometimes I wonder if I will be that obsessed individual.  Cracked up with all my eggs in the TBD basket, I’ll fly through the halls accurately depicting the 850 horsepower Pratt and Whitney engine in the Douglas TBD Devastators.  Jean would walk by and, when I was getting to be too much, she would say,” Now Ryan go land your TBD.”  I would bank off to the right and crash into the chairs sprawled out on the shiny, tile floor.  Just sitting there, waiting for my next flight…

“Not really,” said Jean.

She walked me to my spot on an old, lacquered dining room table.  I was surrounded by books, census records and military dispatches.  I sat down to my tower of sources.

“I found two new magazines here about the TBD.  Here’s a book on the Coastal Watchers.”

“Great. Thanks,” I replied as she walked back towards her desk.  Another librarian was here today and she was very disgruntled by the state of the book covers.

“That George,” Jean said trying to console her friend’s misplaced rage.  “He’s a schizophrenic.” She walked back toward me with a stack of paper. “Here’s what I found on that Ewoldt guy,” Jean said towards me.  “I looked through all the genealogical records and was able to make a family tree.  Here are some military records and pictures.”  She handed me a stack of about 50 pages.  There were handwritten notes and screen shots of her discoveries.

“How did you find all these?” I asked.

“In the genealogical records,” she replied.  Her tone suggested that she had already said this and I was being naïve.  “If I have a date and a name, I can usually find most anything. I can…”

“Is this part of your job?” I blurted out interrupting her explanation.  Slowly sinking into this large leather chair, I leaned forward thinking if I got closer maybe I could understand her better.  Why is she willing to do all this work and research for free?  I’ve offered her money but she did not take it.

“I love the challenge.  I love looking into people’s lives and finding things. I guess that makes me nosy.”  She paused with a hoot.” Aahh I don’t care about that.  It’s interesting to me.  I love to find the shoebox.”

“The shoebox?” I repeated.

“Every family has a shoebox.  It has all the letters, pictures and primary sources from the family.  Find the shoebox and you find your story.  I was working with one author and we started with the main character of the book.  Then to his wife, then after finding his wife’s maiden name, a brother, then a cousin, then another brother, but no one was calling us back.” Jean made eye contact using this time to catch her breath as a dramatic pause. “Then one of the brothers called back.  They talked on the phone and, at first, he was a little reluctant to the author’s pitch.  It took some time but he loosened up.  Then he offered to send him all the letters and pictures he had of the family..”  Jean paused again and raised her fists in jubilation.

“We found the shoebox.  All he had to do now was write his book.  Every family has a shoebox and I love finding it.”

She finished the story looking back at me.  Her faraway look, her flashback to the shoebox, was a genuine display of pure joy.  I couldn’t help but smile back, inspired by her shoebox discovery.  It was contagious.



Note: The picture for this post was taken from the following website.  We are still on the hunt for ours.



The Douglas TBD Devastator

The Douglas TBD Devastator

In the summer of 1934, the United States Navy held a design competition between the Great Lakes Company of Cleveland, Ohio and the Douglas Aircraft Company of El Segundo, CA.  Known for their reliable bi plane design, the Great Lakes Company submitted an updated version of their most recent carrier plane.  The Navy had purchased 60 of the previous model in the early 1930s prior to holding this competition.  The Douglas Company, on the other hand,submitted an aircraft that was very different. It was unique in a lot of ways but its main distinction was the first thing one would notice when comparing these two aircraft.  The Douglas TBD Devastator had only one set of wings.

The first motor powered aircraft was the biplane built by the Wright Brothers in 1903. Progress was slow until World War 1 greased the wheels of innovation.  Once Great Britain’s Royal Flying Corp banned monoplanes due to structural failures, the biplane had a monopoly on the aviation combat market.  The biplanes were effective fighers as they became lighter and faster over the course of the war.  Towards the end of the war, the Germans were tinkering with a monoplane prototype that was very successful.  The war ended before the monoplane could fully display its skills and the biplane remained the predominant choice until the 1930s.  As the engines became more powerful, the need for a double wing aircraft decreased.  With Europe already flying monoplanes, it was only time before a monoplane posed a threat to the combat throne of the American biplane.

The Douglas TBD Devastator had more features than just the one pair of wings.  It was the first carrier plane to have brakes.  It was the first plane to be made out of all metal, as most planes before then used wood in their design.  The wings could be folded up using hydraulics and the cockpit was completely enclosed.  These revolutionary features addded to its impressive display of dive bombing put the Douglas Aircraft Company ahead of the Great Lakes Company, ushering in a new era of carrier bombers.  In 1935, the US Navy ordered its first round of TBD Devastators to restock their carriers.  By the start of the South Pacific in 1942, 129 TBD’s were boarded on aircraft carriers destined for the Marshall Islands, combat ready.   With early dive bombing successes in February and March of 1942, the celebration peaked in May with the sinking of a Japanese aircraft carrier at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  However this jubilation was short lived because, in the following months, the Japanese Mitsubishi Zeros would  prove to be a superior aircraft to the Douglas TBD.  By 1944, it flew slow, dove slow and its torpedoes never connected.  The Battle of Midway put all but four TBD’s into extinction with those remaining to be used as precious scrap metal.

I called the head of TIGHAR one Monday afternoon to discuss the TBD Devastator.  TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recover) locates, funds and recovers historic aircraft from the sea.  Their work is quite impressive and I would suggest taking a look at their website, tighar.org, to learn more.  TIGHAR has located a TBD off the coast of the Marshall Islands and the situation is ripe for a successful recovery because of the depth of the water and conditions of the plane.  However, both the Marshall Islands and the US Navy cannot agree on who owns the plane.  It’s a game of squatter’s rights.  That plane is Naval property yet it has been in the Marshall Island’s jurisdiction for over 60 years.   While the two entities argue over ownership, TIGHAR waits.  They wait as the plane sits in the salty Coral Sea.   They wait at their chance to recover and restore arguably the rarest aircraft in World War 2 history.  With no example of a Douglas TBD Devastator on land, they wait as the salt water slowly ticks away at the chance of redemption for a forgotten legend.

An interjection

An interjection

I’ve written previously about the power of questions. After all, it was a simple question that got this started. Another question started another trip. My tattoo artist, a deeply committed atheist, asked a simple question. If he gave me free time under the needle, what good could I do with that money saved. In other words, a trade. As a Christian, I traffic in good deeds, and he, obviously, in tattooing. A thought exercise began revolving around how to balance the scales.

Admittedly, it was a rough start to working through the question. I was caught off guard by the question and so unprepared to respond. Despite that, the general idea began to take shape. I would use my regular volunteer spot as a platform to build from. Stumbling over my words, I spat something out. An admittedly terrible idea. Turning my apartment into a breakfast spot for my homeless friends. After a few seconds thought, I assumed my neighbors wouldn’t appreciate it, so we scratched it off the list. But I was on the right track and it was up to me to find the answer. When my work was done, I would relay it back William and he would share his with me.

About this time, my volunteer schedule was shifting and this gave me a chance to redefine my time there. A chance to build something new. This was exciting. I’m not someone who is always on the lookout for the chance to build something, but over the course of the past year, I’ve learned that the chance to build something is something that wakes me up, whether that is writing a book, planting a church, dreaming up a farm or reinventing my volunteer space. The creative work stirs something up in me. It’s as though I’ve been designed to be a creative being. This was a new outlet for me to work out this creative energy and to build something new. Like all other building opportunities, this became an obsession. This itch continually sat there waiting to be scratched.

Finally, the idea was fine tuned and a new chapter was started. My time volunteering had fundamentally changed. Instead of giving my time exclusively to the place, I gave a little extra time outside of that place. Once a month, I bring in some sort of homemade snack to share with my friends and share time with them over a snack. As a Southerner, all important moments of life occur with food. It’s also deeply central to the life and teaching of Jesus. So, what better way to deepen friendships than with a fresh baked cookie? And, at least in this instance, I didn’t have to wait to for my reward. A couple hours of free tattooing waited for me.

This may be all that comes out of this or perhaps this is something that will continue and grow into something else. Perhaps a new iteration waits down the road. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.