Friday, August 1, 2014

Peace: The importance of POW / MIA resolution

By Patrick J. Walsh

Peekskill, New York, July 31, 2014 -- Today, in the quiet warmth of summer in this picaresque city alongside the Hudson River, there is in the stir of memories and the milestones of history a moment to remember the journey of a native son.


Peekskill Bay - historic photo by William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Co. (Library of Congress)
...in the quiet warmth of summer, some measure of peace...

On this date a quarter century ago, two nations that were once bitter enemies during a long and violent conflict oversaw the culmination of that journey, when the remains of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Harry Irwin, United States Air Force, were formally returned to the United States by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

A 1956 graduate of Peekskill High School, Robert Irwin enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after college. He served his country throughout the entire course of the Vietnam War, until his death.

He was 33 years old when his plane was shot down on February 17, 1972, about 15 miles west of the city of Vinh, in North Vietnam. By that point in his long and distinguished career, he had risen to the rank of Major.

Flying with him that day was Captain Edwin A. Hawley Jr. Hawley was badly injured in the crash, but survived the shoot down and a subsequent year in captivity as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. He returned to the United States in 1973.

Two days after Major Irwin's plane was shot down, a North Vietnamese radio broadcast described the incident and claimed that both occupants of the plane had been captured. Captain Hawley was referred to by name during the broadcast.

Major Irwin was initially listed as Missing in Action. In the period following his loss, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

In 1978, five years after the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict, Lieutenant Colonel Irwin was declared deceased. His status in official records was listed as Killed in Action, Body Not Recovered.

The last official American wartime presence in Vietnam came to a close with the fall of Saigon in April, 1975. In the decade that followed, it was a difficult task for U.S. officials to get information about American service personnel who had disappeared during the war.

For many Americans, uncertainty about the fate of those who had been considered Missing in Action was an intolerable consequence of the end of the Vietnam conflict. During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, support grew for negotiations that might lead to more information about those who had been lost.

In February, 1986 -- 14 years after his plane was shot down -- U.S. officials were able to make a formal request for information about the fate of Lieutenant Colonel Irwin, during meetings with Vietnamese officials in Hanoi. Nearly two years later, in December, 1987, after a period of further negotiations, a report detailing the facts of the case was forwarded to the Vietnamese for their response.

On July 31, 1989, 17 years after he was last seen alive, the earthly remains of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Irwin were returned to U.S. soil. Befitting his long service to his country and his heroic sacrifice, his remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery later that year.

And in the grateful memories of those who knew him, and with gratitude for the blessings of Providence on the part of those who know only the stark details of his service, there is some measure of peace, in the quiet warmth of summer in this city by the Hudson, where his journey began.

© Patrick J. Walsh


Source: Library of Congress Vietnam-Era Prisoner-of-War / Missing-in-Action Database (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/pow/)

 


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Baseball and Writing and Life

by Patrick J. Walsh

Here's something I'm particularly grateful for today: my video Pitching Diamonds: Cy Young's First No-Hitter (http://youtu.be/QNsFJ7cxVR4) has just passed the 5,000 views milestone.

I am so appreciative for everyone who has checked it out over the course of the past two and a half years, and I am grateful for all the views, comments and feedback I've received on all my video efforts.

I first posted the Cy video in the very early hours of April 6, 2012 -- the overnight following Opening Day of the 2012 season for my New York Mets. That day, Mets ace Johan Santana returned from shoulder surgery to pitch a masterful five innings while helping to secure a 1-0 win over the Braves.

Later that season, Johan would pitch the first no-hitter in Mets history. I watched both of those games on TV, with my Mom.

Looking back on them now, and reflecting on all that has happened since — to my team, and in my life — I cannot help but smile when I think of how lucky I am to have had so many great experiences as a baseball fan, and as a writer.

The Cy video marks my first step beyond the Five Minutes in Space series — the first time I've posted a video intended for a broader audience. I had originally launched my YouTube channel in January, 2011 as a way to communicate with like-minded fans of space exploration — the folks who might know me as the author of Echoes Among the Stars or Spaceflight.

When I started researching my baseball project about a year later, it was awesome to have the ability to transform one small slice of the research into an 'instant' short-form documentary that I could immediately share online. It allowed me to reach out to other baseball fans, and to give everyone who might be interested in my writing a chance to see a little bit of my work in progress.


https://www.youtube.com/user/patwalshvideo

Given the length of time it often takes to put together a big project, and the fact that I am pretty much always working on a whole raft of different writing projects at the same time (like pretty much every other writer I know), it's an especially good thing to be able to quickly, concisely, and continuously share a sample of my work with anyone who'd like to know, you know, "so what are you working on now?"

There were 10 years between the publication of my first book (Echoes, in 2000) and my second (Spaceflight, 2010), and that's a really long time to have to try to describe your current project, again and again, in a manner that's succinct and vivid enough to capture someone's interest. Especially when the project is constantly evolving, or as you shift your attention from one project to another.

Having a video sample helps me to honor the question, and to provide a meaningful answer for those who are kind enough, or interested enough, to ask about my work. I am always grateful for both the interest and the support, as writing can often be a fairly solitary pursuit, and it's important to stay plugged into those who care the most about your work.

Which brings me, not coincidentally, back to the game of baseball.

In baseball, as in writing, as in life itself, there is so much joy to be found in being part of something larger than yourself: a team, a city, a sport, a life, a history…

I like to think that my own experiences of that feeling of joy, however personal or humble, have given me some small idea of what it's like for those who are at the heart of the greatest moments in the history of the game.

Just as time passes and those moments are transformed into memories, all the little joys we experience first-hand remain as near as our connections to the times we shared, and to the people who shared them with us along the way.

And as we remember and record and pass along the stories of those moments, we also pass along a little bit of each of us. Clapping, cheering, breathing right along with our favorite team or favorite players, we all take our seats in the stands as the game rolls on, helping to shape some small part of a day, or a season, or a lifetime.

That's baseball, and history, and life. And I'm grateful for the chance to share it with all of you.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Doing the Math: A Review of Keeping the Dream Alive

By Patrick J. Walsh

Bob Dylan once said writing songs is mathematical, intimating that at its highest level, songwriting is mostly a process of working out how things go together (or come apart) to create a finished work that makes sense. And in some ways, figuring out why you like the music you like is a pretty similar process.

When you look back at the music you've liked for a long period of time, you'll probably find some little surprises among the big hits and well-known artists. Looking ahead is always a bit trickier, though, when you try to project how you'll feel about a current favorite somewhere down the road.

In many cases, the common denominator will be pretty simple: the music that sticks around is the music that sounds best. And in the case of Keeping the Dream Alive, it's the distinctive nature of the sound that gives this collection of bluesy, driving roots rock its unique character.



The opener, "Lotto Dust," is a classic blues parable about the power and peril of dreams gone wrong. The narrative draws poignancy from the counterpoint of Walsh's strong, quiet tenor and the warm chorus of backup vocals — a good example of how the mix supports the theme and coloring of the songs.

As the signature song of the group, the driving uptempo instrumental "Keeping the Dream Alive" is a good summation of the artist's influences and interests. While carefully controlled, in keeping with the overall production, it also gives free rein to elements of the classic and progressive rock that permeate a great deal of his musical heritage, and which are also evident in his live performances (where he's been known to roll out deep-catalog covers such as Jethro Tull's "One Brown Mouse," for example).

"Hurtin' Up My Heart" features a bright multi-tracked rhythm vamp and the sort of heavy lead guitar that distinguishes classic funk and soul. The song's simple blues structure anchors a retro tone that's accentuated by its "old soul" lyrics, and the buoyancy of the rhythm creates an end result that is actually dance-friendly, in an old school reggae sort of way.

For me personally, as familiar as I am with the artist and his musical interests, the most revelatory song of this collection is the instrumental "Aloft." Straying from the core blues of the other compositions in the group, this foray into a sort of short form progressive rock is a definitive statement of sophistication and maturity by someone with a deep understanding and appreciation of the influences that have shaped modern popular music, and which have also informed his own musical journey.

"Every Day She's Gone" is another straight blues, and also serves as a good example of how the artist's careful attention to detail, in lyric and melody, helps to fully express the intended sentiments of the song. There is a stony finality to its theme of accepting loss while still remaining connected to the emotions that make memories meaningful in the first place, and as such, it serves as a fitting, dignified valedictory to the collection.

In each particular expression of its overall themes, and particularly in the careful crafting of the distinctive sound of the recordings as a whole, this long-awaited collection is every bit the compendium of musical styles and technical skill that fans have come to expect, and to cherish, from this excellent singer songwriter. It is music well worth having, and quick to join your short list of favorite recordings.