Time to honor
Boy Scout J.J. Mould, 17, prepares to place an American flag at the gravesite of a Civil War soldier yesterday at College Hill Cemetery in Lebanon, Ill. The scout was assisting members of the local America Legion post in placing flags at the headstones of many Americans – men and women – who served their country in uniform. The task took the group half of today, also, to complete. The oldest military gravesite at College Hill is the final resting place for a soldier who fought in the War of 1812, and heroes of every war that America has fought in since then are buried at the 2-century-old cemetery.
Gone but not forgotten
I’ll remember my many heroes on this Memorial Day, that time each year when we pay homage to those Americans who died serving their country and to those military veterans who have passed since their own honorable service.
Marine Corps First Sgt. Kenneth “Pony” Monell was my mentor. Marine Pfc. Mark Garcia was my friend in Vietnam. Navy Lt. George Griggs was my father and a PT boat skipper in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Many more heroes stand tall alongside them in my heart.
Pony Monell – one outstanding Marine – died a few years ago in Switzerland, where he had settled down during retirement. He was my company gunnery sergeant and first sergeant and my reconnaissance team leader in Vietnam. Most of my combat skills came from Pony’s teaching. I’m walking around today because Pony took care of his troops. The best recon Marine I ever knew could be strict, but he was always fair. And whether kicking me in the can in Vietnam or calling me on the phone from Switzerland some 40 years later, Pony always showed he cared. The man was my hero.
Mark Garcia was special. The young Marine was a gifted artist and a trusted friend. A wall in our home is graced by a wonderful, framed pencil sketch of me, drawn by Mark in Vietnam.
I remember when Mark started walking point on patrol. He was a Filipino American, and he figured that if we stumbled head-on into some bad guys – Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army soldiers – they might be too lax for a moment too long when they saw our young Asian. Sure enough, we walked into an enemy patrol, and their point man hesitated too long, allowing Mark to get the drop on him. After a brief firefight, the Viet Cong troops broke away and escaped into the mountain forest.
We all felt pretty gung-ho that day in the Annamite Mountains. Unfortunately, a few months later in those same highlands, after he moved to another recon team in our company, my friend fell to friendly fire. A 2.75-inch rocket from a Huey gunship killed our fellow gyrene, our hero.
George Griggs was my pop and an excellent role model. He was an attorney at law, known throughout southwestern Illinois for his honesty and integrity. A humble man, he always said he was just a country lawyer.
During World War II, my father’s PT boat squadron operated out of New Guinea and the Philippines. His South Pacific experience was that of tranquil, scenic patrols interrupted by combat. He seldom talked about his battles, but when I was a kid, I managed to drag a few war stories out of the old man.
In between the telling of those few thrilling tales, George Griggs taught me how to find morel mushrooms in the forest, how to tune a Triumph motorcycle in our garage and how to place honesty and honor foremost in life. When my dad died of a heart attack, I was devastated. He was more than just a country lawyer. He was my hero.
Many of my heroes died on Sunday, Oct. 23, 1983, when we lost 241 men in Beirut, Lebanon. Mostly Marines, along with some sailors and a few soldiers, they had been tasked with an impossible mission – to serve as peacekeepers in a city nearly destroyed, torn by strife, fought over by many forces and factions: the Israelis, Syrians, Maronite Christians, Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and the Druze, an offshoot Muslim sect. And Hezbollah, or the Party of God.
The 24th Marine Amphibious Unit made up most of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force in Beirut, accompanied by British, Italian and French troops. Battalion Landing Team 1/8 – consisting of 1st Battalion, 8thMarines and its support units – was the fighting nucleus of the amphibious unit. The battalion landing team headquarters element took up housekeeping in a large building that provided many offices and the
sleeping quarters for cooks, clerks and numerous support troops, such as recon Marines and TOW missile specialists. The recon and TOW troops conducted most of the mobile patrols, and I felt safe when on the streets of Beirut with them. I felt secure, too, with the infantry Marines on foot patrols. At the BLT headquarters, I enjoyed good chow thanks to the cooks, bakers and mess-hall Marines. I got to know many of the troops of the 24th
Marine Amphibious Unit by name, and I cherish the times I shared with them before I left at the end of the summer to return to my cushy job in Los Angeles.
Fifty-five days after my departure from Beirut, a young Lebanese man, trained and directed by Hezbollah, drove a Mercedes truck full of explosives into 1/8’s headquarters and barracks building. The tremendous force of the explosion destroyed the structure and 241 lives. The Marines and their fellow servicemen who were attacked at 6 a.m. that morning in Beirut were massacred in their sleep. They were dedicated to their service and their country, and they were my heroes.
I’ll remember all my heroes on Memorial Day. Don’t forget to remember yours.
McDonald's has announced it will no longer offer the Angus Burger, displayed here in three of its glorious versions of goodness. (Photo by Jeff Kauck/McDonald's Corp)
Americans love hamburgers, and I'm a red-meat – I mean red-blooded – American.
I've always reveled in the pleasant ritual of eating burgers, any burgers. Could there be a bad burger? Nah. I don't think that's possible.
Yet, McDonald's announced last week that its Angus Burger is outta here. The $4,
third-pound, cow patty is being put out to pasture.
Industry analysts speculated that customers' strained wallets and McDonald's dollar menu were the reasons behind the Angus Burger's departure. Mickey D's did not confirm that, but I can believe it. I often drive through our local McDonald's and order one McDouble and one Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger from the dollar menu for my thrifty wife, who then munches in pleasure while I try to rustle up something with no wheat in it for me and my wheat-free diet.
If I want a hamburger these days, I usually make my own tasty burger creation, using wheat-free buns I get at the Scott Air Force Base commissary. But before I was wheatless in St. Louis, I ate plenty of burgers at places all over America. Charles Kuralt, the late and great CBS news and feature reporter, once said: "You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars." I know exactly what you were talking about, Charles.
Back to the Angus Burger, I must say it's sad to see it go. It was comforting just knowing it was available nearby in case – on my one day each month that I allow myself to consume some wheat products – I decided to scarf down an Angus Burger in honor of my grandfather, who raised black angus cattle on his farm north of my hometown.
Some of my friends, who pride themselves in dining at real restaurants, guffaw at my lust for burgers, even the lowly McDonald's form of ground-beef matter. Hey, I began devouring McDonald's burgers many moons ago, when I was a squirt, when McDonald's little hamburgers were 15 cents, french fries were 10 cents, and milkshakes were 20 cents. Let's see; that means I could get a burger, an order of fries and a chocolate shake for 45 cents – all that unhealthful junk for just 45 cents. I loved it!
Thus began my passionate, life-long affair with the burger – to include the hamburger, the cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, guacamole burger with jalapenos and queso blanco, mushroom and swiss burger, double cheddar burger, In-N-Out Double-Double, Steak 'n Shake's double steakburger with cheese, Burger King's BK Triple Stacker, and then there was the famous grease burger at Dave's pool hall in Lebanon, Ill. Many more burgers exist, but I didn't want to say "and the list goes on and on." Darn. There I went and said it.
Dave's grease burgers, unfortunately, no longer exist. Dave passed away years ago, but when I was growing up in hometown Lebanon, the best edible thing on earth was a Dave burger. It was so good that still today I can visualize in high-definition our beloved burger chef Dave in his t-shirt and apron, working his magic over that big grill, sweating from the heat of the smokin'-hot grill and from the sweltering, summer-night air. The lack of air-conditioning just added to the character and charm of the joint. Imagine heavyweight Dave in that white t-shirt and soiled apron, with a toothpick in his mouth and tuft of gray hair hanging over his forehead, asking you how you wanted your burger. Then he turned his full body to face the grill, where he arranged his line of beef patties, flipping some of them, throwing American cheese on others and topping some of the almost-done ones with burger-bun tops. His face and arms glistened from his sweat, and some of his perspiration probably dripped onto our beef patties, seasoning them with some more saltiness, making them official Dave burgers. We'll never forget you, Dave!
Of all the kinds of hamburgers I've eaten, my favorite is simple – that would be one patty, a slice of American cheese and a layer of thin-sliced dill pickles. "When people pile seven things onto one burger, it makes me nuts," Bobby Flay contends. I hear you, Bobby, although I occasionally pile on lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and a few condiments. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I'm in a simple mood. Sometimes I'm in a pile-it-on mood. But I'm always in a burger mood.
My friend Norio Muroi from Tokyo, Japan, is like a Japanese version of me. He, too, could eat a burger everyday. In fact, when he visited the States for the first time, about a year ago, he stopped by my hometown for a few days and consumed a red-blooded American burger each day. Good thing I hadn't started my wheat-free regimen, because on the first day, we ate the famous cheeseburgers at Ron's Lounge. We sat down for lunch the second day at Steak 'n Shake for double steakburgers with cheese. And on the third day, we consumed big, thick cheeseburgers at Hardee's. Muroi-san said his favorite burger was Steak 'n Shake's double-beef concoction of utter deliciousness. Good choice. The man could easily survive in America if he had to.
I make a lot of noise when I eat burgers. By that, I mean I ooh and ahh a lot – maybe too much. I can't help that it sounds more like I'm making love to the burger than like I'm eating it. I guess I should try to tone it down a little. I could keep it simpler, perhaps like Samuel L. Jackson's Jules of "Pulp Fiction" fame: "Ummmmmm. This is a tasty burger." I'm sorry. I don't know if I can do that; I don't think I can be that subdued. I've got to moan and groan some oooohs and ahhhhhs as I thoroughly enjoy my juicy sacrifice to the burger gods.
After last week's announcement of the Angus Burger's demise, McDonald's has announced this week that it's beefing up its menu with three new Quarter Pounders. The three versions are to be the Bacon and Cheese Quarter Pounder, the Deluxe and the Habanero Ranch. Well, bless my burgerness. So long, Angus. Hello, your quarter-pound excellency. Welcome to my burger world!
Now, I've got to check my calendar and determine which day next month I'm allowed to have some wheat. Then I have to determine Bacon and Cheese Quarter Pounder or Habanero Ranch. How about both? Sweet.
Classy mother ages with grace
My mom was discharged from the hospital yesterday and will now spend a couple of weeks at a nursing and rehabilitation facility.
Mom is 95, and like a classic, old automobile, she needs a little repair occasionally. What else would you expect? This time, she experienced atrial fibrillation, or A-fib. That means her heart was beating out of rhythm, that there was a problem with the speed and pattern of her heartbeat. A-fib can be dangerous, because it can create clots. A clot that travels to the brain can cause a stroke.
The doctors at the hospital treated her condition, and she is better. She's a little weak,
though, and the staff at the rehabilitation facility will help her regain her strength. She still has miles left on her motor.
Myrtle Griggs was born in February of 1918, when America was engaged in World War I in Europe. That was a long, long time ago. She has come a very long way and has seen a lot of history in her journey through the 20th century and well into the 21st. And she's still rolling along.
Sometimes, it might appear she's running out of gas, but she gets refueled and tuned up and keeps on going. I often wonder how she does it. I feel a few creaks and cracks in my own frame, and my baby-boomer motor doesn't rev as well as it used to. So, I'm impressed with my mother's longevity.
And I've always appreciated my mother's unwavering support of me. Through all the years of my youth, my mom put up with my countless mistakes and blunders. Along the way, she always tried to make me see the light, impart unto me some of the wisdom of her years, and bail me out of jams if need be. I arrived upon this earthly plain because of her, and I still stand here today thanks to her.
Mom used to tell me that life is short, that I needed to make the best of it, the most of it. She was trying to save me from the troubles ahead and guide me onto a better path. But I was so smart, I thought, so Mom could have saved her breath, I thought. Of course, I was wrong and should have listened to me mum.
With my know-everything attitude, I made it to college, where I spent more time goofing off than I did breaking books. That college sent me on my way after a year, and I enrolled in another school, where I matched my first year's poor performance. After a semester there, I dumped my scholastic career. I'm sure I disappointed my mother, who continued to stand behind me anyway.
Then I joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and the Corps snapped me out of my stupidity and gave me some direction and purpose and a little bit of gung-ho. Mom probably called the Marine Corps commandant and ordered him to square away that Griggs kid.
Of course, I could still manage to screw up occasionally, even in the Corps. Take the time in Paris, where one evening I enjoyed a bit too much alcoholic cheer and used my telephone to call a lot of people back home in the United States. I even called a wrong number and chatted with that fellow for quite some time. Well, the phone bill came to about $450. That was about $400 more than I had. I asked my mom to withdraw the money from my bank account back home – this was way before electronic banking – and to please send it to me in Paris. She sent me the money, but it was her own money, which she insisted I keep, with no requirement to pay her back. She was still standing behind me.
I've always had a special connection with my mother, and the eeriest example happened in my sleep. I said it was eerie, didn't I? I was working at Auto Trader magazines at the time, always got home from work in the middle of the night, and would sleep a little late in the morning. One morning, in my dream state, I saw my mother falling, and she yelled out my name. Her shout woke me up instantly. After I got up, I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong, so I called my family back in Illinois and was told that my mother had fallen earlier that morning and had broken her wrist. Yikes! Talk about being connected.
Two of my nieces, Jackie and Jennifer, visited their grandmother this past Sunday at the hospital. Mom told them she was concerned about her hair being a mess. The nurse and Jackie and Jennifer all said her hair looked fine. The nurse said Mom was a classy lady and that her hair was beautiful. Nevertheless, Jackie combed her grandma's hair, and Mom's hair was even more beautiful than before.
I'll be heading to the nursing and rehab facility this afternoon. There's one classy lady there I need to visit and support. After all, she's always been around to support me.
T.E. Griggs is a writer, editor and photographer and a retired U.S. Marine.