DASH, THE CANINE BOB HOPE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

dash-croppedWell…it’s been quite a week.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to discuss something – anything – other than the election.  Luckily, there are two events that have my attention – Veteran’s Day and Dash the Wonder Dog’s fourth birthday.  On the surface there wouldn’t seem to be any connection between those two events but this week I discovered that my beloved pet is the Bob Hope of dogs, ready to entertain the troops at a moment’s notice.  As you may recall, Dash began his working life last spring when he got a job at a local care center.  Each week he trots into the facility like he owns the joint and cuddles up with the residents.  He shamelessly begs for treats, which many of them readily provide.  He is especially fond of people who have poor hand-eye coordination because the floor around their bed or wheelchair is a veritable treasure trove of crumbs and shattered crackers.  Fortunately for Dash, such people are in plentiful supply, plus they have the added attraction of fawning over him as he roots around for their droppings.

pets-on-wheels

This week Dash was lucky enough to call on several men who were celebrating Veteran’s Day.  Most of them are former dog owners so they especially appreciate being able to pet and hold Dash.  I have observed that most of the veterans’ walls are adorned with photos of themselves in uniform, American flags, and commemorative awards and medals.  This week the center gave them special recognition at a Veteran’s Day celebration, replete with music from the ’40’s and a special memento plaque.  One of my favorite veterans is a 97-year-old man whose mental acuity puts me to shame.  The first time we visited I remarked on a photo of him in a WWII fighter plane.  “Oh yes”, he said, “I was 19 years old when I enlisted.  It was a good time to be 19 because I was too young to have the good sense to be scared“.  That said, he wheeled around and pulled a sheet of paper out of his drawer.  On it was a typed list of the FIFTY missions that he flew in Europe.  That is an extraordinary number of missions – the maximum allowed by the Air Force at the time.  He is still quite proud of his accomplishment, as well he should be.  Last week I noticed that he had the book “Killing the Rising Sun” on his bed.  There is a picture of General MacArthur on the cover so I mentioned to him that my husband and his family were rescued from a Japanese internment camp by Mac Arthur.  “Humph,” he said, “I think there’s only one word for MacArthur – pompous!”.  As I said, he’s as sharp as a tack.   We discovered last summer that this wonderful man and I share a birthday.  I can only hope that portends I will be as engaged and dynamic as he is at 97.

wwii-womenAlso residing in the care center is a retired four-star general and a man who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  I love talking with these men, not only because they love being entertained by Dash, but because I have such unbridled admiration for their service and frankly, the dedication of their entire generation.  I read just enough sociology books to be boring at parties, and one recent phenomenon that worries me is the rise of the “cupcake” or “snowflake” generation – young people who are easily offended, shrink away from any opinion that differs from their own, and seek the constant reassurance of hearing “good job”.   I think about the “Greatest Generation” by comparison, whose work ethic and approach to life was forged by the Great Depression and World War II.  Most, like my own parents, didn’t have the money for college.  Their families “made do” during the Depression and when war broke out they volunteered and did whatever they could to contribute to the war effort.  That generation knew a lot of sacrifice and hard work.  They didn’t expect anything to be handed to them and learned how to face adversity with renewed resolve.  The World War II vets are dying at a rate of 1100 a day, and it is estimated that by the end of the decade almost all of them will all be gone.  We will be the worse for it.  So it was a privilege this week to wish the men in the care center a happy Veteran’s Day – we need to cherish them while we still have them.

As for Dash – we will celebrate his special day on Wednesday with treats and – if my husband isn’t looking – a cute little birthday hat.  I can’t believe how quickly the past four years have passed.  Our lives are forever changed by having this sweet and loving dog in our lives.  He makes us smile every day and his kisses, which he so lavishly dispenses, act as a salve to mend any cracks  in our hearts.  I have to say he really is a wonder dog.  Last week a nurse at the care center asked us to visit a new patient in the memory unit.  Dash crawled up on her bed and she stroked and cooed for five minutes.  When we left the nurse said it was the first time in three days that the woman had smiled.  In short, he makes everything – and everyone – better.  Maybe I should send him to Washington.

The Incredible ‘Earnie’ Earnhardt

by Bob Sparrow

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‘Earnie’ Earnhardt

     The window on being able to sit down with World War II veterans and hear, first hand, about their combat experiences is closing very rapidly (They are passing on at a rate of about 600 per DAY!). The window on sitting down with WWII vets who are as sharp as ever and remember everything is significantly smaller. I had that rare opportunity last week when friends Jack and Chuck and I traveled to the small, California high desert town of Llano (pronounced, Yon-oh), outside of Palmdale, where I was introduced to the incredible, unassuming Adam ‘Earnie’ Earnhardt. Earnie is 88 years old and is in amazing shape, both physically and mentally. He plays golf four days a week and has 8 Hole in Ones to his credit . . . so far! He makes award-winning jams (He just won 7 blue ribbons out of 8 entries at the recent Antelope County Fair) and gives them away – the three of us walked out of there with over a dozen jars of ‘blue ribbon jam’! He makes lots of other stuff too; he greeted us with some delicious homemade zucchini bread. When he’s not putzing around in his kitchen, he is an avid reader – he just finished reading Killing Lincoln and is now reading Killing Kennedy. He loves working on jigsaw puzzles (difficult ones), and he proudly displays his large collection of Playboy Magazines (He used to have every edition ever printed, but some were mistakenly thrown out when he moved). He laments, “The one with Marilyn Monroe in it was in the group that got thrown out. Damn, it’s worth about $5,000 today, not that I would have ever sold it!”. His younger years were spent growing up first in North Carolina and then in Pennsylvania; he is related to the famous Earnhardt car racing family.  He explains his leaving the south this way: “I had to move out of North Carolina to keep from marrying someone I was related to.”

B-24

B-24

     He was drafted right after high school in 1943 and was asked what service he preferred. “I told them I wanted to go into the Army Air Corp, so they stamped my papers and said, ‘You’re in the Navy’!” He lights up when you ask him about his military experiences. He fetched a couple of old scrapbooks for us to look through and talked about his time as a belly gunner in a Navy B-24 bomber. While he did on occasion fire the two 50 caliber machine guns from his bubble turret on the belly of the aircraft, mostly he was on unescorted reconnaissance missions taking photographs of enemy territory. His base pay was $21 a month. Flying out of Wake, Okinawa and Kwajalein, he flew missions over China, Korea and mostly Japan and in fact was in the air and personally witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. He attributes his inability to have children on the radiation he was exposed to that day. But in salty language, befitting a sailor, he says he never sought compensation for any disability and has little time for today’s whiners or those concerned with political correctness.

Honor Flight

WWII ‘Honor Flight’ attendees

     After the war he became a carpenter, but when it was discovered that he was an expert at reading blueprints, he was recruited to help build hydroelectric dams all over the world, which he did for the remainder of his working life. He was married for over 50 years; his wife died 17 days short of their 51st wedding anniversary, and although he lives alone, he has a constant stream of friends calling or stopping by his home that overlooks the vast Antelope Valley. He says back in the days of the Space Shuttle, he used to sit on his back patio and watch them land at nearby Edwards Air Force Base.

Jam

‘Blue Ribbon’ Jam

     When asked about the secret to his long, active life, he says, “My wife said that grocery bills were cheaper than doctor bills, so we always had 3 good meals a day”. Of course I used to drink a lot of scotch and I smoked for 45 years, so I guess I’m just lucky.” It was noted that while the three of us sat for about a hour and half asking questions and listening to his stories, he was always moving, getting something for us to see – he never sat down! How remarkable to be active, relevant and so engaged in life at 88. Last summer he was flown back to Washington DC as part of the ‘Honor Flight’ that recognized and thanked the surviving heroes of WWII. Aside from being a hero, he’s just an all around good guy – a Great Ambassador for the ‘Greatest Generation’.  Thank you Earnie for your service to this country, for your example as a great American and for some damn good jam.

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