Honoring the fallen in country
With my wife and kids
at a Viet Nam Veterans Memorial
I grew up in a lower-middle class community on the South Side of Chicago, where the worst I faced was toughs who liked shaking you down for spare change in return for a safe walk home from school. Having earned my money waking up at 5 am every morning to deliver papers, I didn’t want to comply and, at times, had to decide between fight or flight, depending on the situation. I have been a staunch anti-bullying supporter since, one of the reasons I moved here to raise my kids.
My parents gave me three sisters and a brother, but we also got together with many aunts, uncles and cousins, eventually overflowing my grandparents' small house, and needing an increasingly long table for feasting during holiday celebrations. Politics were often discussed, and I can still recall hearing my father call Roosevelt demented for giving Poland to the Communists after WW2. Of course, after studying that war, I’d have argued it was more a matter of circumstances than personality, but his perspective was fixed on what he saw it do to his relatives who had remained in Poland after my grandparents left. While my family and relatives sometimes had diverse opinions on politics, we were still a small community where everyone helped each other out, not only in times of trouble, but whenever more hands or different skills would help get a job done, like repainting a house or building a granny-flat.
After the paper route, my first jobs were:
---filing the charge card applications (a new thing then) at minimum wage (starting at $1.50 per hour)
---dumping sometimes really heavy garbage cans onto the back of a garbage truck for the City of Chicago at twice minimum wage.
My first major life-decision was to join the U.S. Army without any prompting from friends or relatives. Perhaps it was the odd war stories my relatives told, perhaps rumors that it was only a matter of time until the Selective Service drafted me, or perhaps my slim choice of reasonable employment. However, since everyone told me I'd end up in Viet Nam, I like to think I joined simply because I was curious as to what was really happening in a war on the other side of the world.
Going to Viet Nam was a life-changer, luckily not a life-ender for me. I was one of the 25% of the arrivals chosen to go to an infantry unit in the field, where we tramped around the jungle in groups of five or more trying to confront an enemy we seldom saw. Suffice to say, I saw a little of everything a person might see in combat, and that was enough. The mini-series, The Pacific, most closely resembled those experiences, though luckily not to the extent faced by some of those brave fellows in WW2. I gave a talk about my Viet Nam experience to my stepdaughter’s high school history class, but how much can one convey in a quarter hour?
After being medevac'd to Japan, then a military base near home, and given an honorable discharge with severance pay and a 10% disability, I spent a couple months with family and relatives to clear my head. I thought I the world had changed, and it had, but not as much as I had. Rather than bore you with dates and places, I’m going to fast-forward through the many places I lived, studied and worked, from Illinois to Massachusetts to Arizona to California to Hawaii to here in Oregon. Each is a story unto itself, but it all can be reduced to saying, simply -- I explored this great country from coast to coast, fell in love, started a family, did it again acquiring more family, then came here.
My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and first five of fifteen cousins
On Patrol in Viet Nam
Lines of travel to and from places I've lived
and state high points I've climbed (in green)
The Cascades from the top of Bald Hill with "The Sisters" barely visible and me (John Sarna) in front
Why Benton County?
After getting married and having a couple kids, my then wife and I decided, since we were free to move anywhere, to find the best place in the U.S. to live in. Being an engineer, I made a spreadsheet and we listed all the places that met our minimum criteria. We then compared them all, reducing the list to five places. We spent a couple days in each, the first being Paradise, California, where the risk of wildfire put me off, and I’m glad of it to this day. Arriving in Benton County, it soon became obvious to us that it was the best choice, with its community spirit, entrepreneurs, open spaces, colleges and good high schools. Unfortunately, while still in the process of purchasing an old ranch-style house here to fix up, we were devastated to learn my wife had Stage 4 breast cancer. We completed the sale, but, by then, she was too sick to attempt to move. She passed away after a few years of ups and downs, but, raising two young boys while working full time didn’t allow me time for the attempt either. I remarried after a couple years, eventually convincing my new wife to move here, which was initially difficult since I made the mistake of bringing her up for a first visit during a rainy December. Now that she’s integrated herself into the community, she’s found much else to like here, and here we plan to stay.
My two boys on our first trip to Corvallis
Here and Now
What's left of the Pin Oak (in photo on opposite side of page) after getting my exercise splitting wood every morning
RURAL LOW-IMPACT LIFESTYLE - We live on a few acres of land just outside Philomath where my (veterinarian) wife can maintain the horses and other animals she loves. Across the road is Starker forest where we can ride awhile or pick up the Corvallis to Coast trail, getting to more miles than I can count, so she's happy (thank you, Starker). After living in large cities most of my life, essentially going where the work was, I can now take on (and sometimes enjoy) projects around the house and property. For example, I cut, stack, and burn firewood, which, together with the solar modules on my roof, results in a major reduction in my electricity use. Just as important to me is the Inverter I purchased, which, if the grid goes down, converts the solar DC to 120VAC, capable of running cell phones and a few appliances if we’re shaken up by the supposedly overdue Cascadia earthquake. Other duties as required include maintaining cars, fences, a safe zone around my house in case of fire during our dry summers, minor repairs around the house, stacking hay and helping my wife with her animals, and, of course, helping my kids get through school and become happy, productive adults.
I had to call in a tree service to cut down this big boy (a Pin Oak) next to my house, but the 20” blade on my Husky has sawed through plenty of smaller ones.
Another morning routine - feeding my wife's horses while she's away
FAMILY - My wife and I moved here from Hawaii, each with two kids and two step-kids. I brought along two boys and she brought along her twin girls. One step-daughter went to OSU before going to Portland to follow her major. The other now goes to Santa Monica Community College, where she can help out her grandmother, but plans to come back up to University of Oregon (Eugene). My elder son goes to Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) in Klamath Falls, while my younger son still attends high school here. And there's more. I have an older daughter who lives in the San Francisco Bay area and works as a special-education, grammar-school teacher/consultant. I also have another step-daughter who lives on California's north coast with her husband and their kid. Then there's others, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, besides my siblings, scattered across the country, but only one cousin predates me in Oregon.
My wife, her mom, and my twin step-daughters graduating from high school here
MUSIC AND SPORTS - Among the things that attracted me in Benton County are the value many folks place on music and sports here. My wife and I, and all our kids, play a musical instrument. Occasionally, around the house, I have heard notes from a piano, clarinet, saxophone, drums, ukulele, and guitar. For my boys, however, their favorite pastime is sports, my elder focusing on soccer, and my younger still trying a few on for size.
The high point thus far was when, as a freshman at Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT), my elder son, on a good pass, scored a goal in overtime with only a minute left to play, thereby leading his team to victory in their annual grudge match between OIT and SOU. It was quite an upset, as shown in the video is on the left. He also played forward for high school and Storm (Corvallis Soccer Club, or CSC). He had been playing summers for the TFA-CSC Alliance
(U-23), though playing this season has been cancelled due to COVID-19.
My younger son has been playing goalie on his high school team. He also currently likes to practice basketball, weight-lifting, and occasionally rock-climbing at the OSU Dixon Recreation Center.
My younger son playing goalie
PAST TIME - I started building and throwing pottery (ceramics) in college and continued it off and on ever since, including taking Art classes at LBCC. It allows me to enjoy just “being there” without thinking about the past, the future, or politics. I support everyone having their "thing" whatever it may be. For example, my younger son’s current thing is setting about replacing just about every moving part on an old, rusted 1967 Mustang. "Enjoy the journey as much as the destination," said Marshall Sylver.
Returning from a helicopter ride with my wife and boys to see molten lava flowing in Volcanoes National Park, rather than hiking 18 miles over the a'a, (pronounced ah ah for good reason). The volcano has been dormant since Sept. 2018, but will eventually erupt again, since the magma chamber is slowly refilling.
HIKING AND TRAVEL - When I moved to Arizona, I began hiking around the many natural areas in the West, hunting with a bow and arrow for a time, but eventually finding the most joy in hiking up peaks of any difficulty. It provides great exercise, is relatively inexpensive, and quite rewarding, whether it's sharing these experiences with friends, or simply enjoying the solitude alone (taking adequate precautions for safety, of course, as I tell my kids). My latest distant adventure was a couple years ago, hiking with my son up six of the State High Points in the Appalachian Mountains.
Mostly, I’m still in the process of exploring the great places Oregon has to offer. Some I've come to know well; I’ve hiked up Bald Hill close to 400 times, each time taking a photo of Mary’s Peak and the Cascades with my cell phone. Being an engineer, I keep a record of my hikes and trips, in case of a return visit or for recommending it to other folks that might be interested (here’s my list). Fortunately, these wide-open spaces are available to us all. Cities can’t offer this, and these places are sparse in the East and Midwest, so we’re blessed to have all these areas to explore.
“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it does protection." Theodore Roosevelt, former U.S. President