Live the Pace of the Great River Challenge

grc 1

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”     -Ferris Bueller

Players were easily checked in, warmed up, games played, and shirts distributed. The organization of this event could not have been better. I thought about how all of the details were handled for a day that went as smooth as clockwork and I realized that the people who made the day happen have very busy lives but have such a passion for Challenger Little League that they made the Great River Challenge a priority. Everyone who planned the day, who supported the day financially, and who volunteered their time during the day made a spectacular memory for the CLL players from Iowa and Illinois. Despite threats of rain and a stadium evacuation everyone was wearing smiles.
I have come to the conclusion that the pace of Challenger Little League is a good example of how we should live our lives. I watched as a pitcher repeatedly threw a ball until it connected with a bat, only to fall at the batter’s feet. The batter cheerfully picked up the ball and tossed it to the pitcher who patiently began lobbing the ball over home plate again and again until the batter got the hit he desired. There was no rushing the batter.  No heaving or sighing of impatience. There was only time. Time for fun.
A pony tail bobbed as a little girl, clinging to her walker, laboriously circled the big minor league diamond proudly tagging each base she rounded. Her enthusiasm was contagious even from a distance.
A young gal who strolled around the bases kicked into a sprint for the home stretch when she heard the fans cheering for her.
The entire crowd evacuated the premises mid-game without grumbling or exasperation when the fire alarm sounded. The staff of the ball park handled the crisis with aplomb and efficiency.
Raindrops fell between two games yet bothered nobody.
The whole pace of the day seemed to be easy-going, non-rushed. It felt like what a late September afternoon embodies. The lingering of the warmth of summer with no hurry for frosty nights, the hypnotic swaying of the ferris wheel gondolas, boats meandering up the river not yet ready to be docked for the winter. It was a peaceful, congenial day filled with cheers, smiles, laughter, and a few tears of joy. It was an escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, a life that moves pretty fast. I am glad I didn’t miss it.

 

 

Veterans…….my salute to all of you.

With utmost respect and gratitude for all who have protected the United States and for their families whose lives were turned upside down for the duration of their service, this is my humble compilation of stories regarding the two veterans dearest to my heart.

 
“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” – George Washington, first annual address to Congress, 1790
ImageThis is the story of my two favorite veterans.My father, a pilot with the Army Air Corps (before there was an Air Force) served in the European Theatre during WWII. He is willing to give us glimpses into his memories of the war. Some of them sweet, like how his unit adopted a shell-shocked dog that could only turn left. Some of them horrendous, like the photos he took at the concentration camp right after it was liberated, of the flatbed trucks piled high with bodies that resembled cords of firewood more than flesh and bones. Some of them brimming with pride, like his favorite 12 star photos. These are photos he took on the airstrip one day when Patton, Ike and Bradley were having an impromptu meeting. He shares letters that he wrote home to my grandparents; there are marks through words and phrases that might have given too much information. He tells stories of how different his last two years at Notre Dame were compared to his first two years, which were pre-war.

My mother was a nurse who had returned to the Aledo hospital to practice as a surgical nurse after graduating from Moline Public Hospital School of Nursing. She signed up for the Naval Reserves when a recruiter came to the hospital. She was promptly whisked away to be “IN THE NAVY”. This was during the Korean Conflict—don’t try to tell her it wasn’t a WAR!! She was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Hospital where she cared for young sailors; mostly burn victims and claims the stench of the scorched flesh remains in her nostrils still.
She recalls writing letters to mothers, wives and girlfriends of these boys who were unable to hold a pen, but were brave enough to dictate lies to the women in their lives- to prevent worrying- she would then hold these same boys as they sobbed with pain. During that time, riding the train was quite an elegant event–white linen cloths in the dining cars and porters with gloves. If she was in uniform, civilians would buy her drinks or meals, once she was invited to join the Governor of Illinois in his private car, when he learned there was a Navy nurse on board.Another time, she was returning to Chicago via train and met some folks who were going to a dive-jive joint to hear a “hot quartet” which turned out to be “THE INK SPOTS”. She was having such a good time, time was forgotten-she missed the last train to the Naval base and had to take a taxi to avoid being AWOL!!The romance began at a formal tea dance on the Naval base. My father was not supposed to be there, but was staying in Waukegan with friends, who had been invited to attend. He crashed the party and met a nurse in a pale blue dimity dress that had been purchased for $59 at Isabelle Ramey’s. Even the non-coms that mom used to sneak out to party with couldn’t keep her mind off of the dashing WWII Air Corps pilot. Some strings were pulled in D.C., mom was issued an early discharge so the two could be married…………..and so it goes 60+ years later……….my two favorite veterans……….my heroes……………my mom & my dad.

Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.
— General George S. Patton, U.S. Army

The honor is all mine- to be the daughter of one of these men.

It is 12:08 A.M. Thursday April 16, 2009. I have just arrived home from dropping my parents off at their home. We had been at the airport. My father went on the Honor Flight/Quad Cities today, he traveled to Washington DC as a guest of the Honor Flight organization. To welcome the flight home, the Patriot Guard, the Marine Moms and I don’t know what other organizations were at the airport forming two long lines of flags. The entire waiting area was packed with people who were there to welcome home the veterans from World War II. A 14 month old baby in a fleecy sleeper giggling as she tried to gum the wooden dowel to which her miniature flag was stapled. A young mother corralling her 4 year old son, 6 & 8 year old daughters- all dressed in red, white and blue. A blue-eyed blond 16 year old lounging on the floor of the gift shop propped up against the magazine rack engrossed in a fishing magazine. A 22 year old college student with sore muscles in her arm, hand & fingers after writing a 3 hour final. A 55 year old woman carrying a fluff ball of a Pomeranian named Princess Puff.  Proud wives of “Guardians” with their cameras around their necks. News reporters with their little pads of paper in such contrast to the TV news people in their spike heels and suits being trailed by long black cords and lit up by white bright spot lights.The numerous volunteers wending their way through the masses handing out free parking passes, flags and bottles of water. Airport personnel dragging carts of even more chairs, looking for places to squeeze in a few more. Many 80- 90 year old women looking fatigued at 10:45 P.M., most had other family members with them, but there were several that captured my attention: standing alone holding the little “old glory” and a handbag, waiting patiently, watching down the long flag lined corridor for a sign of their returning soldier…….looking into the faces of these lone women, I could imagine them standing at an airport or train station years ago, waiting for these same servicemen to come home. I wondered if they had a sense of deja vu or was the romantic in me taking over? I was totally flabbergasted at the size of the crowd.  All of these people, everyone with their own story to tell. I met a woman waiting for her husband who had been assigned to Pearl Harbor to replace the deceased Intel & Com after the attack. Another whose husband had been at Iwo Jima. A niece was waiting for her dying uncle who made the trip to D.C. today, but had years ago landed on Normandy Beach. A pilot who had a crowd of people bearing flags bigger than most and wearing badges with photos of him “now” and “then”  that said things like: “you are my hero”, “thank you Honor Flight QC”, “God Bless the USA”, “Always Remember”. Behind all of the noise of the conversations I could hear strains of patriotic songs and had to waddle dance to “for a duck may be somebody’s mother” and march around to “mine eyes have seen the glory” Finally at 11 o’clock there was much applause, we peered down the people lined aisle and saw the flashing light of an airport cart bringing out the first of the vets, cameras flashed, hands were shook, tears were wiped, hugs were given, but what I found to be the most pronounced and notable happening was what I could hear the crowd saying to these men; strangers with paunch bellies, gray hair, wizened, craggy faces with bright eyes. Some were staggering a bit after such a long day, some were riding in the carts or wheelchairs- all had their shoulders back and their heads held high as they shook hands with the throng and the throng said continually….thank you, thank you very much, you are so appreciated, oh how I thank you, God Bless you, and every single variation of thanks……..to these total strangers………..these old men (and two women)……these brave, courageous Americans……the Greatest Generation………..wow……….let us never forget our gratitude to these men and women who we are losing at a rate of 800 a day. It is because of them that we live the lives we live….let us always remember.

There were so many on this Honor Flight and a few will be featured or mentioned by some form of media, but how wonderful it would be if we could hear the story of each and every one of them. While awaiting their arrival I was caught up in the stories of the crowd, but it is the stories of these heroes that I long to hear. I wish these men wore the special yellow shirts that identify them as Honor Flight participants every day. I am sure that I rush past these veterans everyday- in the market or the drug store, these men who deserve my thanks, these men who pressed their frail hands into mine, these men who kissed my cheek and thanked ME for coming out to see them, these men who truly are the Greatest Generation.

If you know one of these men, please, get their story. Write it down. Video tape the telling of it, listen and remember it. However you do it, please, get their story.

Other stories that are out there to be told are those of the “Guardians”. Who are these people and what makes them pay $600 and give their time to help? These are people with stories of their own lives. Lives that they owe to these men, these veterans of World War II.

I, the daughter of James Padesky, Honor Flight/QC participant and Army Air Corps Vet have a message to all of the Guardians, to the Honor Flight Quad Cities, to the community who supported this financially and to everyone who had any part in making this day great. Thank you. Anne VandeMoortel

Please fill in women anywhere that I have just written men. I have no intention of dishonoring the women who served, my mother would slap me if I did!  I wrote the above after the 2nd Honor Flight out of the Quad Cities. Below is a link to photos of my mother’s Honor Flight.

Image

The Wonder of Challenger Little League

Imagine a baseball game where there are no strikes, no balls, no outs. Where everyone gets to hit, everyone gets to swing until the pitcher can make the ball hit the bat as it swings by. Where the first baseman gives the batter a high five when he/she reaches first base. Where a runner steps off of second base to go to third, but gets distracted and heads to the outfield……the second baseman leaves his base to chase the opposing player down, only to turn her around and run with her to make sure she gets safely to third base. Where the spectators cheer uproariously for both teams and every player. Where the fans have hands that are red from clapping so hard and eyes that are red from tears of joy, excitement, and pride. Where parents get to sit back and watch their child PLAY with other children (often times this is the only place that happens). Where a player stops to stare at the crowd bewildered because people are calling his name and cheering for HIM. Where every movement a player makes is made with 100% effort, concentration and determination.

Now, imagine a sunny, warm fall evening with an orange sun setting in the West while a full yellow moon rises in the East. The lights of the bridge sparkle on the dark Mississippi below. The smell of hot dogs and charcoal waft through the air. The cool breeze off of the river keeps the bugs from lighting on us. Listening, you hear the laughter, the clapping, the “hiddey-hiddey-hiddey-ho” from the announcer’s booth and then you hear the distinct sound of a ball hitting a bat at just the right spot, you look skyward and see that ball sailing in a huge arc from home plate to third base. The Powerful Player who hit the ball starts running toward first, but pauses to see what the ball is doing……what that ball is doing is dropping from the sky and landing smack dab center into the waiting glove of the startled and ecstatic third baseman. The crowd goes wild, the coaches swarm the field, the third baseman’s hand stings from the impact of the ball and all of the congratulatory high fives. The Powerful Player doesn’t continue to run to first base, even though an out has never been counted before. He saw that fly ball being caught and knew without any hesitation that if anything was ever going to be an out, that catch was it………this is what happened when the last player of the game was up on that incredible night during the First Annual Great River Challenge. Amazement and awe filled Modern Woodmen284198_10150750282085693_27915_n stadium.
Iowa and Illinois Challenger teams joined to play ball at a minor league stadium. Last game of the day under the lights….exciting……

more photos: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.274010080692.311176.552540692&type=1&l=8b314643f5