Grandpa’s Home Repairs

My grandfather was a remarkable man.  But he almost met his match and burned down the house when he decided to wire it himself in the 1930s.   Grandpa' house

I defer to his own words on this:

“When I bought the house there wasn’t any electricity. I had to wire it up.  My brother Leo had a friend, and he and I got to be good friends.  The friend, “I’ll wire the house for you, I’m an electrician and I’ve got lots of extra stuff. Maybe we’ll have enough.”

I said, “Fine, if you’ve got enough for the downstairs. When can you do it?” He said “I’ll be here tomorrow night.” He worked until about 10 o’clock and I was around watching him. But he really only had enough materials to start the job and couldn’t get back to it for a while, as he had other paying jobs to do.

Well I thought I  had seen what he did,  and now thought it wasn’t that hard to be an electrician.  I wanted to wire everything.  I wanted to put as many wires out of one box as I could as they went the way I wanted to wire.

But I kept blowing fuses.  I can’t remember how many wires I ran out of that box.   Vi [his wife] said to me, “Eddie you are going to burn down the house.  There are sparks coming from the outlet.”  I ran over and pulled out about six plugs we had connected there.  Nothing happened, but I almost burned down the house.

Of course electricity wasn’t used for everything.

We had a gasoline-powered washing machine. I paid about $185 for it. In those days, people didn’t wash clothing every day, just once a week and you had a lot to do. Well, the gas engine wouldn’t run; most of the time it was a problem with the sparkplug since you had only one. The dealer told me if I had any problems to let him know, but he was too busy to come. So that’s how I found out it was the sparkplug–but when we got electricity we got an electric washer.”

When they got electricity it really brought them into the modern age.   Most rural areas didn’t have electricity.   But that wasn’t the only thing.  There was no indoor plumbing, except for a pump in the kitchen.   All the water had to be heated on the stove.  In fact they didn’t have  indoor plumbing until 1953 and used an outhouse and chamber pots in the winter.  The year I lived with them when my father was overseas in the Korean War was the first year that we didn’t have to use the Privy, as I have mentioned before.

Most people  now in the second decade of the 21st Century  have  no concept of what rural life was like back then.   Farm life was tough, no doubt about it.  Ask anyone who has used an outhouse in the winter.

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A Day in the Life….

Today is Vietnam Veterans Day — March 29, as such I thought about how I would have spent this day during the war.

Most days in combat began early.

F4 sunrise over Cambodia 1973

There was what we called an “0 Dark Thirty” wake up.

Then it was breakfast.  For me it was always Steak and Eggs, perhaps a ritual, but certainly one of assurance about the day to come.

Then an intel briefing where the targets of the day would be covered, followed by a crew brief, then to the crew bus –out to the revetments to preflight the bird.

At this point nearly 3 hours would have passed since that early morning call to get up.

It was on the crew bus that often folks turned introspective, but if they were thinking about what was to come they never discussed it.    Still on many mornings, in those long ago days, I could not help but think about how many men had boarded the crew bus never to return that night.  It was a  thought not entertained for long.

Still it was an inward acknowledgement of the brotherhood in which I found myself now which would shape me and my life for the years to come.

Years later I raised this with another fighter jock and he said he thought about this as he began a  mission but then “It was pretty quiet on the crew vans. I think most of us were engrossed in tactics, freqs, call signs, headings, settings, etc until the last moment or so at the van approached the jets. Had moment again on the taxiways and arming area after all the checks were done. Then after that the mission was the only thought.”

For men in combat there is only the moment of the mission ahead.

The British poet Sigfried Sassoon, a WWI officer, put it this way:
“Soldiers are citizens of Deaths’ Grey Land,
Drawing no dividends from Times Tomorrows”

They are trapped in the moment of their existence. There is and can be no other place to be.  It is really an existential moment.   Yet, if I ever thought I might die that day, I never voiced it to anyone.  That was OK.  All, who ever went into combat no matter when or where, has thought that.   It crossed the mind and then was gone.

Another day in the life of the war lay ahead.   






Posted in 13 TFS, American History, Combat, F-4 Phantom II, F4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, SEA, Udorn RTAFB, Vietnam War | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Air Force F4 Tech Supplement to High Flight


Air Force Supplement 1

(Surly bond slipping will be performed only by two ship IP-led flights)

(Dancing the skies will be performed on the wing only)

(Aircraft cleared sunward will climb within the horizontal boundaries of their assigned air space)

(when joining the tumbling mirth apply techniques outlined in 55-4, “Rejoins.”)


(Aircraft may disregard use of position lights when entering clouds believed to be sun-split.)


(When wheeling and swinging are combined in one maneuver, 4.1 symmetrical G’s will be kept on the aircraft)

(High in sunlit silence is defined as that airspace above Fight Level (FL) 290 from 1 hour before official sunrise to 1 hour after official sunset.)

(Chasing the shouting wind along is restricted to weather ships with specific DO approval.)

AND FLUNG (Aircraft will be flung subsonic only.)

(Should either crewmember experience delirium while in the burning blue, proceed with emergency oxygen procedures.)

(If windswept heights cannot be topped prior to reaching the area gate advise center.)

(When larks and eagles are flying the SOF will coordinate with RAPCON to insure adequate separation and that bird strike plan is implemented.)

(Nothing prevents VFR civil or military aircraft from transiting the high untresspassed sanctity of space under visual flight rules.)

(Crewmembers will not sacrifice aircraft control or exceed canopy operating limitations attempting to touch God’s face.)

–author unknown, I got the copy of this about 1974 while assigned to the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf AFB Alaska.

Posted in 43 TFS, American History, F-4 Phantom II, F4 emergency, F4 PhantomII | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My Dog Spot …

Well actually he is a very big male cat. I say this because about a week ago I got a letter from a local governmental agency, which shall remain nameless, saying “it has come to our attention that you have an unlicensed dog in your home” and threatening some sort of legal consequences.  

“Hmm,” I thought. Where did they get that idea. Then the proverbial light bulb illuminated: We had taken Max, our cat, into the local animal shelter for a free rabies shot.

Now Max is a very big boy. He weighs about 23 pounds and is about 36 inches long when he stretches out.

Does he look like a dog? I don’t think so.

So I called the number in the letter an assured them, as I pointed how incidentally I knew who had “ratted” us out, that we did not have a dog in this house.  But we have had Max for the past nearly 14 years.

Actually Max has had us – for as anyone with a cat knows, the cat is in charge.  We are basically his staff who cater to his every whim while he views us with detached interest. Every day it’s the same routine, we feed him, we let him up, we give him treats (when he indicates that it’s time), we pet him when he lets us, we feed him again, we go into the upstairs bath and turn on the tub so he can get a drink -always on his schedule-, and we end the day by feeding him. Yes, its clear he is in charge, not like dogs who basically flatter their owners and follow them around adoringly all day.

Cats do not do that.   Max can survive without us for several hours a day until its time for the staff to provide for his needs.

We did have a dog in Alaska: Niki, a Samoyed. She was a beauty.

The cutest and prettiest dog I ever had. Most of the ones I had as a kid were what we called mutts. Usually a mix of something like a collie and a beagle with all the worst characteristics of each breed. They basically were out door dogs who came and went in and out of our lives with great regularity. We never had a dog in the country as long as we have had Max for a variety of reasons.

Niki lived with us and was mostly  an indoor dog.  When we left Alaska she went to live with another family as we were being assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. We knew that an Alaskan dog would not be happy there in the desert heat.

So why did I call Max my Dog Spot?

Well for those who have lived in the west you know about Cal Worthington a car dealer up and down the west coast in the 1970-1990s. Even in Alaska the ubiquitous Cal had a dealership.

Cal’s Dog Spot (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Each TV commercial began with Cal’s spiel, very similar to Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice, that to make a deal he would stand on his head or eat a bug.  And it always had Cal with his dog Spot, which was variously an elephant, camel, horse, iguana, or any other type  animal, but never a dog.

Hmm I wonder if Cal’s son works at our local animal shelter?


For another story about a very BIG CAT see

Mascot 13 TFS



Posted in American History, Anchorage, Anchorage Alaska, New York, New York State History, Norvell Family History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Margaret Norvell – “True, Steady, Unfailing”

Margaret Norvell was a pioneer in American Life.

Born Margaret Celeste Dimitry Ruth, February 11 1860 in Washington D.C.  In 1883, she married Louis Gray Norvell, from a prominent St. Louis family. His brother Saunders Norvell was a very successful business man who was president of Remington Small Arms. Louis made some bad financial decisions and lost his fortune. He then became a light house keeper on the mouth of the Mississippi River on Deer Island at Head of Passes. When he drowned in a storm in 1891, trying to rescue boaters during a storm, Margaret took on his responsibilities as keeper. She served at the Head of Passes Light until 1896, the Port Pontchartrain Light (1896 to 1924) and the West End Light (1924 to 1932).  Margaret N News Clip

During a storm in 1903 that swept away every building, Margaret’s lighthouse provided shelter, there she cared for over 200 people who had been left homeless. Margaret later said that it was the most horrible experience of her career: “The pitiless rain came down ceaselessly, the wind howled about my lighthouse at Head of Passes and the water rose and lashed at the fastness of my home. I could look out into the swirling water and see people swept by and I was powerless to aid them.”

Dorothy Dix wrote in 1897: “Mrs. Norvell speaks of her decision [to become a light house keeper and dedication to duty] as nothing, though I think there is something heroic in the thought of a woman reared in every luxury settling herself to a life of hard work and isolation.” What Miss Dix did not say was that she also raised two small children and did it alone while doing her job in an exceptional manner.

Later again in 1926, when a small airplane crashed in Lake Pontchartrain, she battled terrible squalls for two hours in a small rowboat on the lake and rescued the survivor of the crash, a young naval aviator. Norvell served for 41 years with the U.S. Lighthouse Service.

To honor her service to our nation and dedication, the U.S. Coast Guard commissioned the cutter Margaret Norvell June 1, 2013 in New Orleans. The 156-foot patrol vessel was the fifth in the Coast Guard’s Sentinel class of “fast-response cutters.” About 55 of Margaret Norvell’s descendants attended.     Seal of the Coast Guard Cutter Margaret NorvellCutter Margaret Norvell






The motto of the cutter Margaret Norvell said it all: “TRUE STEADY UNFAILING.”

What better way to describe her.

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F4 Stuff

Recently I was looking at all the things I had collected that had to do with the F4.

The Phantom II mascot was called the Spook.    He appeared on a lot of things from patches — to letter head that I used to write home during the war — to the Spook in an arctic parka that my wife got in Alaska on a 43rd Squadron ceramic tile trivet.

arctic        phantomii-3

Then there were other obvious things:  unit patches from the 310 TFTS, 13 TFS, and 43rd TFS — TFS was a Tactical Flying Squadron.


F4 other things  include  belt buckles, mugs, cups, photos, and models  and special patches that were worn on party suits.  Below is a 13 TFS Christmas Card from 1973.

air-p     13tfstac              gib-2

While I was in Thailand, I got a model of the F4 that had my name on the rear cockpit.  I still have nearly 50 years later.

F4 Model

Below commemorative patches and fighter related mottos.






My wife Bonnie even did an oil painting of the bird I flew in Arizona.









Probably the most important memorabilia about my flying I no longer have.   After visiting the Air Force museum in September, I decided to donate my 8 mm home movies of combat and a tape recording I made of the last F4 mission of the Vietnam War that took off from Udorn Thailand.   I  did this because I wanted to make sure that they were preserved as important artifacts of the war.  I had previously transferred them to a Cd and a DVD and knew that they would probably just be tossed someday.    That still leaves me with a great deal of F4 “stuff” to deal with in the future.  But I am sure that given time I will find a good home for it all.

Posted in 13 TFS, 43 TFS, American History, Cambodia bombing 1973, F-4 Phantom II, F4 emergency, F4 Phantom II, F4 PhantomII, Fighter Aircraft | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fake News”


The topic of “fake news” has been in the media of late. Many Americans may believe that this is a new phenomenon; sadly, it is not. Fake news has long been one of the center pieces of American political life.   And lest anyone out there thinks I am pointing fingers at any particular politician, both parties do it.

In 1807, my great-great-grandfather John Norvell, then a 17 year-old boy, wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson asking him about his opinion of journalism as a future career. JNorvellThe letter went in part: “It would be a great favor, too, to have your opinion of the manner in which a newspaper, to be most extensively beneficial, should be conducted, as I expect to become the publisher of one for a few years.” Today is it hard to fathom anyone writing the President of the United States for career advice, let alone a 17 year-old boy from Kentucky. Yet Jefferson answered his letter in what has become his most famous pronouncement on the role of newspapers in American life and politics.

In a very long letter to young Norvell, in which he discusses history, and politics, Jefferson sadly noted: “I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who [have the] belief [reading the press] that they have known something of what had been passing in the world in their time….” Jefferson was clearly dismayed by what he saw as a politically motivated press filled with lies, errors, and in many cases fabricated news designed to hurt him.

This practice did not end when Jefferson left office. Dirty tricks, misinformation, false claims, distortions, half-truths, error-filled stories, misleading reports, and fiction became prime tools in American politics. Opponents spread the news that Andrew Jackson’s wife Rachel was an adulterer. In 1864, during the Civil War, Lincoln was reported as having signed a fake order to call up an additional 500,000 men – many less kind things were said about him– in the opposition press. Later in 1884, Grover Cleveland’s foes called him a philanderer, and charged that he had fathered an illegitimate child. In 1898, fake news pushed the country into the war with Spain. During the Second World War, some sources reported that Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a destroyer to the Aleutians to pick up his Scottie dog Fala at a cost to US taxpayers. Some later asserted that presidential candidate John F. Kennedy conspired to install the Pope in the White House. The list goes on and on to the present.

What is different today is the speed at which these stories propagate and spread. Whereas in the past, perhaps only a few people in Buffalo might have heard of Cleveland’s alleged love-child, today it would be all over the media.

Fake news is alive and well. It will continue to be with us, until people begin to take stock of the sources that they are getting their information from and really begin to think about what they read and hear.

Perhaps Jefferson had it right more than 210 years ago when he commented on the phenomenon of fake news in the political press: “The man who never looks upon a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer the truth than he whose mind in filled with falsehoods and errors.”

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