Kimberly Therese Herndon

I like to believe that father and daughter have been together now for close to 60 years in Heaven.

Our next door neighbor in Selma, Alabama, Lt. Richard Neal Herndon, was killed in a T-33 training accident on September 19, 1959 close to where we lived. He was an instructor pilot at Craig Air Force Base. Herndon’s student, Lt. Donald B. Wilcox, also perished.

Mrs. Herndon (Mary) was my babysitter back then while mom worked at Vaughan Hospital. I believe she made the transition to New Vaughan Memorial Hospital as well. My family lived in Jones Trailer Park at the time.

Lt. Herndon (Dick) always took time to talk to my brother and me. He even fixed a flat on Jim’s bicycle. While dad was away in Korea we kind of adopted him. He was our hero in being a jet pilot. After the accident I never saw Mary Herndon again. I still remember a wreath hanging on the Herndon’s small trailer door.

I didn’t find out until much later that Richard Herndon and his wife lost a newly born daughter on January 28, 1959. The little girl, Kimberly Therese Herndon, was only two months old. She’s buried at New Live Oak Cemetery in Selma. Mary Herndon lost a husband and child in eight months.

Kimberly Therese Herndon’s gravestone was nearly undistinguishable from algae and grime. Thanks to the efforts of Doug Buster and his Cemetery Preservation Group, the small white monument was cleaned and looks as it did 60 years ago.

Kimberly’s dad, Lt. Richard Herndon, is buried some 2,038 miles away at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

I like to believe that father and daughter have been together now for close to 60 years in Heaven.

Obituary from the January 29, 1959 – “The Selma Times-Journal”

The Flying Chapel

Daniel Collier Smoke Jr. was considered the class poet at A.G. Parrish High School in 1941. A poem he composed that senior year contains seemingly spirtual premonition.

Front row left to right: 2nd Lt. Daniel C. Smoke Jr. (pilot), Flight Officer George Pendarvis (co-pilot), Flight Officer Gunnar Olsen, 2nd Lt. John Strong. Back row left to right: Sergeant John White Jr., Sergeant Harold Stone, Sergeant Richard Burres, Sergeant Elmer Koepsel, Sergeant David Sala.

Daniel Collier (D.C.) Smoke Jr. was born in Selma, Alabama on July 23, 1923. He lived with his family on Rural Route 2 – Old Orrville Road. Daniel had an older brother, Joe, and a sister, Georgia Angelyn.

The young man attended local Selma public schools graduating from A.G. Parrish High in 1941.

In 1942, he enrolled in Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn majoring in aeronautical engineering. He was one of the prestigious school’s brightest students. After two years of study he left and enlisted in the Army Air Corp for flight instruction. Assigned to bases in Biloxi, Mississippi and Savannah, Georgia, Lt. Smoke was trained in the operation of multi-engine aircraft.

On November 23, 1944, before leaving for Europe, Lt. Smoke married his sweetheart, Nancy Lewis, of Citronelle, Alabama. The couple’s wedding announcement in the Selma Times-Journal portrayed it as a gala affair. 

Lt. Smoke departed the United States on February 18, 1945 as command pilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress. The Boeing aircraft were called that, because of their ability to defend with 50-caliber guns mounted throughout the fuselage.

A letter sent to his parents and wife mentioned that plane and crew had safely landed in England. The newly crowned pilot indicated that it’d been a beautiful trip.

Several weeks’ later tragic word was received that on March 19, 1945, Lt. Daniel Smoke Jr. was killed in an airplane crash along with eight others. This was only the second mission for Lt. Smoke and his crew. His B-17 nicknamed “Flying Chapel” mysteriously collided with another plane on a flight to their target. The crew of that B-17 survived after parachuting from their damaged craft. Turbulence or propwash were some of the possible factors mentioned for the planes coming together.

Lieutenant Smoke left behind a grieving widow. The young couple had been married for less than four months. On a bizarre twist of fate, Georgia Angelyn, Daniel’s sister tragically passed away from illness 14 months previous to his death.

The airman was initially buried in France before his body was exhumed in 1948 and shipped to Selma. His funeral was conducted with full military honors. Daniel Smoke Jr. is buried in New Live Oak Cemetery along with his father, mother, sister, and brother.

Ironically, the B-17 that Lt. Smoke was piloting that day had been in several serious accidents previous to his taking command. On December 24, 1944 it was extensively damaged from German fighter planes strafing the tail section.

The airplane (serial number 43-38038) received its “Flying Chapel” namesake by former crew members. It seemingly limped home after each mission only through the power of prayer.

This battered Flying Fortress had four complete wing replacements during its short life span. Like many such airplanes during WWII, it was quickly repaired then put back into service. Just how thorough some of those quickie repairs were finalized will never be known.

A black & white photograph shows a side of the aircraft literally blown apart. Sections of aluminum fuselage is missing. Lt. Smoke’s B-17 was structurally compromised without question.

Those killed in the crash along with 2nd Lt. Daniel Smoke were:

Flight Officer George Pendarvis

Flight Officer Gunnar Olsen

2nd Lt. John Strong

Sergeant John White Jr.

Sergeant Harold Stone

Sergeant Richard Burres

Sergeant Elmer Koepsel

Sergeant David Sala

On a parting note, Daniel Collier Smoke Jr. was considered the class poet at A.G. Parrish High School in 1941. A poem he composed that senior year contains seemingly spirtual premonition:

“When the last bell rings, at the close of each school day, we separate from our comrades, and homeward wind our way. The days are flying swiftly; yes, time still marches on: and before we have time to stop and think, our life is half-way gone.”

Daniel Smoke Jr. and his family were devout members of First Christian Church in Selma.

* After the accident Lt. Smoke was posthumously bestowed the rank of Captain.

This photo shows “Beverly Jean” (43-37969). The other B-17 that crashed.
From an article in the October 24, 1948 “Selma Times-Journal”
Grave marker in New Live Oak Cemetery – Selma, Alabama
High school photograph.

The Other Side

“Dream big and dare to fail!”

Colonel Norman Vaughan

This story marks #100 for my WordPress blog as some might call it.  I don’t like the name. Blog sounds too much like blah. I see the site as a literary junkyard for a small portion of the junk I’ve written. These completed and published stories eventually get towed and parked here. On occasion I’ll yank one out to salvage a paragraph or sentence for use in another tale.

One-hundred is a significant number in many arenas. I always thought I’d make it to the century mark where living is concerned. At age 50, I remember thinking I’m only halfway to my goal. These days I’m not so sure. I’ll keep trying as Colonel Norman Vaughan would have me do.

Colonel Norman Vaughan was an Alaskan adventurer and mountain climber. He made it five days past his 100th birthday before passing away. I met him many years ago at a lecture he gave regarding his journey to the South Pole with Admiral Richard Byrd.

After the meeting was over Colonel Vaughan signed a book for me, my son, and one for Aunt Dora. During this seminar I learned that Norman Vaughan coined the phrase,

“Dream big and dare to fail!”

For me, Vaughan’s statement refers to never settling for less where life ambitions or goals are concerned. This saying is intended for young and old people alike.

Norman Vaughan’s book is called, My Life of Adventure. He wrote another titled, With Byrd at the Bottom of the World.

There’s a mountain in Antarctica named after Norman Vaughan. He successfully scaled that 10,302 foot peak in 1994, at age 88. After his accomplishment, co-workers and I constructed a temporary monument to him at our place of employment. The Anchorage Daily News picked up on it and printed a near full-page photograph, along with a story on how such came to be. Colonel Vaughan made a personal visit to thank us.

My Aunt Dora was tickled pink to get her signed copy. She almost made it to 100, unfortunately passing away at age 99. Colonel Vaughan would’ve been proud of her for daring to fail.

God is the only one knowing how much time we have on this planet. For the rest of mine I’ll keep praising him and adding more stories to my literary salvage yard.

This is the latest addition to my collection. I dedicate it to the memory of Colonel Norman Vaughan and my Aunt Dora Guyton-Hankins. I know in due time I’ll see both of them on the other side.

Climbing Mt. Vaughan

Fresher than Fresh

During my life I do not believe I’ve ever come across a sign advertising fresh frozen fish. Would that be an oxymoron?

Several years ago a restaurant in Lake Havasu City, Arizona had a sign out front advertising fresh fish. My wife and I decided to stop and try some.

Joleen asked our server, Don, where the fish were caught and just how fresh were they. The fellow had no problem answering,

“They’re Alaskan cod and we received them this week!”

That didn’t tell me a lot, but Joleen was happy to hear they weren’t farm raised. I’ve never heard of farm raised cod although catfish and bass are a different story. I decided not to push the issue with my wife.

The cod tasted fine. It didn’t have a fishy smell indicating the seafood was not old. I had a final question for Don.

“When you say fresh you mean they weren’t frozen?”

“Oh, no sir.”, he replied. “All the fish we get are frozen. That’s how we keep them fresh.”

I sensed at this point we were playing a game of semantics. This fellow’s interpretation of fresh was as flawed as Bill Clinton’s analogy of the word, is. In other words, our server hadn’t a clue what fresh fish or fresh seafood really was.

Years ago my brother and I visited Aunt Katrulia in Mobile, Alabama. Aunt K as we called her took us to a rustic seafood restaurant near the docks that served scrumptious po’boy sandwiches. The shrimp inside each bun had been caught early that morning. The buns were still warm from the oven. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Now that was definitely fresh stuff!

When I was a teen I went on a camping trip with another friend, Jeff Cloud, to Salmon Creek near Seward, Alaska. Jeff was an outdoorsman extraordinaire. He loved being in the wilds.

We caught several Dolly Varden right off the bat. I lit a fire while Jeff degutted then fileted the fish. Tossing them into a cast-iron pan with squeeze butter and a pinch of salt & pepper, he fried them up. Never has anything tasted so good. I bet those fish hadn’t been out of water for more than 10 minutes.

My friend did the same with a silver salmon we’d poached, only this time he wrapped it in foil and placed things on top of rocks underneath the fire. He let it bake for perhaps an hour before removing.

A tiny portion of the fish was burnt but the rest was cooked to perfection. Once again butter from a squeeze bottle with salt & pepper was added. That was some of the sweetest salmon I’ve ever tasted. Seafood doesn’t get any fresher unless it’s swimming.

During my lifetime I do not believe I’ve ever come across a sign advertising fresh frozen fish. Would that be an oxymoron? You tell me. I’m sure Wikipedia has their opinion but I choose not to always believe that site.

I shouldn’t be so concerned. The other night for dinner Joleen served cooked vegetables. I asked her if they were fresh and she said yes. After eating I was curious about something.

“You say these vegetables are fresh, yet they came from the freezer?”

“They were frozen.”, she replied. “That’s how I keep them fresh.”

It was evident a bit of Don’s culinary mis-intellect had rubbed off on my wife. Another puzzling question cropped up after Joleen mentioned that.

“Are frozen vegetables considered fresh?”

According to information from Green Giant they’re fresher than fresh. I suppose if anyone should know it would be him!

The Same Dress

At this point I’m not sure what I’ll be wearing to the reunion.

File photo

“My 50th high school reunion will be here in three years and I’m in a tizzy as to what to wear!”

That statement is not the least in my mind, but I bet there are some 1972 East Anchorage High graduates already thinking about such.

We’re lucky to have a group of hard-working alumni currently putting this most special reunion together. Pam Painter-Jones heads it up.

I plan on being there; Lord willing. Taking life one day at a time seems to work best for me. Avoiding stress goes along with that philosophy.

Avoiding stress isn’t the easiest thing to do. With the extra years placed on my chassis, medical visits have increased. There’s nothing fun about going to a doctor even for routine visits.

The worst part is dealing with miscalculated medical bills afterwards. Where do they find these billing people? No wonder so many seniors have heart problems.

In a way I look forward to my 50th reunion, yet on the other hand I realize I’ll be three years older. Regardless of what some say, getting old is not a walk in the park. If anyone claims different they’re a blatant liar.

Senility goes with the aging process and it seems I’ve picked up my fair share. Ten years ago I would’ve never called anyone a blatant liar.  I’ve only added blatant the last two.

At this point I’m not sure what I’ll be wearing to the event. My corduroy jeans no longer fit. Why that material went out of style we’ll never know?

I suppose Levi’s® and a flannel shirt will work just fine. They seem to be fashionable for all occasions. I don’t believe spandex shorts and a fishnet shirt would go over so well. Not that I have either.

I glanced at an online photo of another 50th class reunion to see how people dressed. There were some attendees sporting suits but it appeared anything is allowed.

I’m not inclined to haul a suit from Arizona to Alaska inside a carryon bag. Something tells me it wouldn’t look fresh after the trip. From the appearance of one attendee, beards are acceptable on the guys.

I’m avoiding stress by not fretting on how to dress. I realize there’s still plenty of time. On the other hand, I may call a few friends to see what color suspenders they’ll have on.

Just as a gal would hate to be caught wearing an identical dress as someone else, I’d cringe seeing some other guy sporting red, white, and blue suspenders.

Two old geezers having them on would be totally uncool!

At the Cross

It sounded like a good flick to me as I’d always wanted one of those cool switchblade knives.

I went to church a good portion of my early life. Selmont Baptist in Selma, Alabama was one of them. Various unnamed, non-denominational military churches in Lubbock and San Antonio, Texas make up the rest.

In Lubbock, I attended a midnight-mass Catholic service with a friend, Steve Carrico. I didn’t make it to midnight after becoming ill from the incense.

Early in my church attendance I learned Bible stories like David and Goliath. Jonah being swallowed by a whale greatly held my attention. I often wondered what Jonah found floating around in a whale’s stomach? To me the thought was mind provoking.

As the years moved forward I became lost while sitting on hard church pews listening to adult sermons. Much of that preaching was way over my head. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was lost from the beginning.

My years as a young person were generally spent trying to entertain myself. Fishing became a favorite pastime during junior high. I learned to tie flies and used them to fish for salmon at Russian River and Bird Creek in Alaska.

I put to work the infamous Lujon lure, snagging fish when it was legal to do so. That’s a story in itself. One thing I’m thankful of is that alcohol or drugs were never part of my entertainment.

Once I entered high school, cars, motorcycles, and snow machines became a passion. The trio took up a good portion of what free time I had. Working for dad after school kept me busy.

I met a fellow in 11th grade named Jeff Thimsen. Jeff’s dad, Dean, was a missionary preacher and bush pilot. Pastor Thimsen moved to Alaska in the early 1950’s with his wife, Virginia, and infant daughter, Jean.

My new friend told me tales about his family living in rural native villages. I couldn’t imagine residing in a home with no bathtub or shower; even worse, having to use an outhouse in winter.

During our senior year Jeff asked me to attend a movie called, “The Cross and the Switchblade”. He had free tickets which was righteous as I liked to say. My pal mentioned that only young people would be in attendance and there’d be plenty of girls. It sounded like a good flick to me as I’d always wanted one of those cool switchblade knifes.

One of the kids I grew up with had a switchblade. It was a cheap piece of junk his dad brought back from Japan. One day he was showing some younger fellows how it worked.  He flipped the switch and the blade swung out before dropping to the floor. I can still hear those boys laughing.

At the conclusion I thought the film was okay, but it needed more action. Telling us to please remain seated, some guy came on a microphone asking for those feeling led by the Lord to come forward. Many did just that.

Jeff asked if I wanted to walk up there saying he’d go with me. I told him not really, but maybe if we hurried there might be some popcorn left. It too was free that night.

A year after graduating (1972), Jeff and I were out cruising. We’d driven in circles all evening long checking out cars and girls. That evening Jeff drove for whatever reason to the baseball fields at Pine Street and DeBarr Road. We never went that direction for anything. He pulled into the parking lot to turn around when I sprung this question,

“Is this what life’s all about? We drive in circles until we run out of gas?”

Jeff realized I was being serious for a change. We sat there and talked for several minutes. He told me that God had bigger plans for my life than cars and cruising Northern Lights Boulevard. That’s when he asked me something,

“If you died right now do you know for sure that you’d go to Heaven?”

I told him that I hadn’t given it much thought.

“Would you like to know for sure?”, he replied.

“Sure!”, I shot back.

Jeff informed me that if I was sincere in what I’d just said, I needed to repeat a simple sinner’s prayer asking Jesus Christ to come into my heart and change me.

That night in Jeff’s 1965 Chevrolet I did just that. After doing so, it felt like a million pounds was lifted from my shoulders. I wasn’t a huggy guy back then, but I did shake his hand.

I’m eternally grateful for Jeff showing me how easy it was (through Jesus Christ), to know that I wouldn’t be going in circles for the rest of my life. I finally had direction after 19 years of being lost.

On that September evening in 1973 I came to the cross and I’ve never looked back!

Missing Chapter

It’s time for sending this info to a printing company to be made into five books; one for each grandchild.

Alaska Railroad train tracks near Beluga Point

For the past several years (it actually goes back further than that), I’ve been attempting fill in the blanks where my early life was concerned. Being the child of an Air Force serviceman, our family traveled from base to base every three years. Because of this, good friends that I made were left behind. That was typical for military kids before social media came along.

I made a concentrated effort to reconnect with not only them, but former teachers as well. I was successful in my endeavor; through the assistance of many people, especially my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

My purpose in doing such was to write a story or stories that I could share with my grandchildren. I wanted them to know more about Grandpa Michael’s life, than what I recall of my own grandparents.

Just recently I told my wife, Joleen, that I believed I was finally finished with the project. There are over 100 short stories plus three times that amount of newspaper and magazine articles. It’s time for sending this info to a printing company to be made into five books; one for each grandchild.

Joleen asked me if I’d ever written a story on how we met. I told her that I hadn’t. I’ve been publicly open about my past while she’s much more private with hers. Only the family and close friends know how we got together. Getting her permission to compose this missing chapter as I call it completes my mission.

In my perspective, how I met my wife is quite different than most. I suppose every couple believes that. It began with our family moving to Alaska. My mom, dad, brother, and I lived on the east side of town. Jim went to East Anchorage High School while I attended Clark Junior High. The mascot for East High is a Thunderbird with the mascot for Clark being a falcon. This was most fitting for an Air Force brat. Most likely only those with Air Force connections would understand why.

When my family eventually relocated to the south side of Anchorage I was supposed to attend Dimond High. Because all of my friends would be going to East I talked my parents into letting me do the same. That took some finagling. I had to use our old eastside address as my current address. Thankfully, I was able to purchase a 1961 Mercury Comet before 10th grade began.

During the years 1969 – 1972, I commuted each and every school day via the Comet at first before upgrading to a 1954 Chevrolet. After school I worked for my dad at his Texaco service station. There was no time for sports or belonging to school clubs. My English teacher tried to persuade me to write for the school newspaper, but I sadly had to turn her down.

A poem written as part of an English assignment was published during the freshman year. I was afraid my pals might see it. They would’ve thought it funny or bizarre. That piece of poetry was officially my first recognized composition.

After graduation, one of my activities each weekend like many teens was to cruise Northern Lights Boulevard. This was a favorite place for young people to hang out. Being into Hot Rod cars it was the perfect form of entertainment for me and my pal, Jeff Thimsen. Both of us were car nuts.

One evening as we aimlessly drove around town we came upon an orange 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. It was a T/A 340 six-pack model (3 x 2 barrel carburetors). There were two girls inside and I tried to coax the driver to punch it. Soon after our encounter my ‘68 Dodge Charger developed a flat tire.

As Jeff and I sat alongside the road swapping tires the girls drove back by and honked. I believe it was the next weekend that we bumped into them again. This time we talked for a bit and I found out the passenger, Joleen Freeman, lived less than a block from where I once did (by this time mom and dad had moved again). Had I attended Dimond High as the school system intended I would’ve rode the same bus as her.

Asking Joleen for a date she accepted. We went to this offbeat little place called “The Bridge Restaurant”. The only food item on their menu was Mulligan stew, with apple cider or water being the two beverages. How could anyone forget a dining experience like that?

The Bridge Restaurant

The following day I took Joleen on a long snow-machine ride through the back country of Anchorage. That seemed to impress her. On a Friday night (it was summer and the sun stayed up ‘til midnight), we drove to Bird Creek and walked the railroad tracks near Beluga Point. Scenic Turnagain Arm sat like a portrait in the background. I impressed her on my skill to walk on a single rail without falling. Things really clicked for us after that.

We went together four years before getting married in 1977. I have a good feeling that had I went to Dimond High, Joleen and I would’ve added another four years to our relationship. Unfortunately, my having to be an East High Thunderbird took precedence over such.

Joleen and I have been married 41 years now with the number growing each September 19th.

In a nutshell that’s how we came to be one. We’re sticking by this life journey till death do us part!