Saturday, June 7, 2014

D-Day Anniversay - Life and Death Captured on Film

Seventy years ago today, thousands upon thousands of men faced their fears and death and stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in the largest seaborne invasion that has ever taken place in human history.  Standing in landing craft as they bounced through the waves each one of those men must have thought countless times about the possibility that their lives would end within minutes.  Imagining the horror filling their minds, it is difficult to understand how those soldiers could be so dedicated, determined and focused on their jobs that they didn't hesitate and disembarked off those land craft onto beaches filled with death.

Over the years I have watched many documentaries on World War II and the Normandy invasion.  Though I have no idea of the real numbers, I won't think that there would have been a lot of photographers, reporters or video cameramen who took part in the beach landings.  Obviously there were some as there is film footage of the troops landing on the beach.  In most of the films you see men running or seeking cover, explosions and bullets flying through the air.  Death is not normally shown except at a distance when a bomb explodes, a ship sinks or an aircraft plummets to the ground.  There is one piece of film that shows a number of soldiers emerging from the surf and running up the beach.  The first soldiers run by and pass out of the camera's central focus.  Another soldier enters the center of the screen and he is hit by a bullet or shrapnel and immediately falls to the ground motionless. 

That piece of film is in many documentaries made about the Normandy invasion.  Every time I see it even though I know what is going to happen, I recoil a little in horror as the soldier is hit and falls to the ground.  Who was this man?  Where was he from?  Was he really dead as it appears on the film, or was he just injured and would go to fight another day?  What was his life like and what were the thoughts going through his mind as he ran across that beach?  Was his body swept back into the surf and dragged out to sea or is he buried somewhere in the cemeteries for the fallen?  I can't help but wonder those questions each time I see that piece of film.  I'll never know the answers to those questions as probably no one knows who he was.  But I can't help but think about him every time I watch a film on Normandy.

(Original picture from D-Day taken by sailor on board this land craft.  Photo is courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

Approximately 150,000 from the allied nations took part in the invasion and battle that took place on June 6, 1944.  Though the exact number is not precisely known, an effort by a historian with the National D-Day Foundation found that approximately 4400 allied soldiers died on that day.*  So for every soldier taking in the invasion roughly 3 in 100 died that day!

I won't have wanted to be one of those men who stormed the beaches of Normandy that day, but I am thankful that they did as it was the beginning of the end of one of history's biggest horror stories.  Each time I think of Normandy I will always think of that nameless man who fell and most likely died before he got more than a few steps onto that beach.

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

* The number of soldiers who actually died on that day is not precisely know because of many different factors.  The first factor is that many bodies were never recovered.  They have been washed out to sea, buried by earth thrown up by explosions or there may simple have been nothing left of soldiers killed by explosions.  Those soldiers were listed as MIA and many were not recorded as having died until at least a year later.  Other soldiers may have been killed and weren't found until days later at which time their death was listed as the day they were found.  Other soldiers may have been so grievously wounded that they survived for a day or two but then succumbed to their wounds later.  So though they were initially injured on D-Day their deaths would occur days later.  Determining a precise number of exactly who died or was wounded on that day and died of their wounds later is difficult.  However from the work that has been done, most experts agree on that roughly 4400 would died.  The most precise figure I saw while trying to determine this was 4413,

I found the following footnote attached to an article on the website Fivethirtyeight ( when I was researching the number of D-Day deaths. 

"Many history books include disclaimers. “The exact number of casualties suffered in the invasion of Normandy will never be known,” Encyclopaedia Britannica says. The historian Stephen A. Ambrose wrote in his book “D-Day,” in a footnote, “No exact figures are possible, either for the number of men landed or for casualties, for D-Day alone.” In their book by the same name, Randy Holderfield and Michael Varhola wrote, “Even in modern war, the nature of battle prevents a reasonably accurate count for a given period of time.” In “The Longest Day,” Cornelius Ryan wrote, “by the very nature of the assault it was impossible for anyone to arrive at an exact figure.”"

Friday, May 30, 2014

Denver to Bratislava

Traveling for work isn't something that I do very often at this time.  But when I do travel it seems like the trips are to more unique places that are much further from home.  This week I have traveled to the Bratislava, the capital of the Slovakia.

Never having been to Bratislava or Slovakia before I have been surprised by the beauty of the city and it's dynamic, modern character.  Though the city is not large, it seems to always be busy with people moving throughout it's neighborhoods day and night.

My trip began on Sunday May 25th when Lisa dropped me off at the Denver airport for a 5:25pm flight from Denver to Frankfurt.  Arriving in Frankfurt around 11:00am on Monday, May 26th I had a several hour layover there before flying on to Budapest, Hungary.  From Budapest I caught a train and made the 2 3/4 hour trip to Bratislava. 

Bratislava given it's size and proximity to other international airports doesn't have a large airport.  Commercial flights are flown into the Bratislava but the cost of these flights are extremely high.  Most travelers arrive by air in Bratislava via the international airport in Vienna, about 40 miles to the west of Bratislava.  My trip went through Budapest as the flight was almost $1000 cheaper than flying through Vienna.  Despite this being a business trip there was no reason to spend a much larger amount of money as taking the train trip allowed me to see a good bit of the Hungarian and Slovakian country side.

Arriving in Bratislava in darkness I had no idea that my hotel, the Sheraton Bratislava, was situation right on the banks of the Danube River!  Imagine my surprise as I got up to walk to the office on Tuesday morning when I noticed that I was right on the banks of the Danube.  This might not seem like a big deal to most but the Danube has conjured up images of castles and pitched medieval battles in my head and it gave me a pleasant surprise to find myself walking to work on the bank of this famous river.

Unfortunately my trip has not offered me much opportunity to explore the city.  My of my time has been spent in the office or in my hotel room working away on the project that has brought me to Bratislava.  Fortunately I was able to take two hours on Wednesday evening and take a walking journey through the streets of Bratislava to the castle that tops the high point of the city.  Below are some of the pictures of the castle and the city that I captured during my stroll through the city. 

 (Michael's Tower which is the only surviving gate/tower from Bratislava's original medieval town walls.)

 (There are many intricate carvings on the buildings of Bratislava's old city center.)

 (Michael's Tower was originally one of the gates into the city through the town's defensive wall.)

 (One of the many small streets/lanes in the old city center.)

 (Bratislava castle is home to the Slovakian National Museum.)

 (The Castle is an impressive large building.  However this current incarnation of the castle was only started in 1957.  The original castle was bombarded by Napoleon in 1809 and the remains were destroyed in a fire in 1811.  The castle sat in a state of ruin for the next 140 years before restoration began in the 1950's.)

 (View of the Danube from the castle.)

 (Statue of Svatopluk I in front of the castle)

 (Statue with the clouds and castle as a backdrop.)

 (Some of the fortification walls around the castle.)

 (View of the old city center from the castle fortification walls.)

(Interesting statue on the castle grounds.)

 (A church with castle high on the hill in the background.)

 (Clock tower in the city center.)

(A beautiful fountain lit with lights in the gathering dusk.)

My journey to Bratislava is almost over and though it has been interesting to see and experience this land I am much looking forward to arriving home and stepping back into my day-to-day life!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Zack - Harry Potter Boy

What kids do at school on a daily basis is normally a big mystery to their parents.  Millions of times each day a parent somewhere asks their child, "So what did you do at school today?"  Ninety-nine percent of the time the answer receive from the child is "nothing".  It's a rare event when a parent gets some real feedback on what their kid does at school.

The other day, I was lucky to receive some of that feedback when I looked in Zack's backpack and made him clean it out.  It was a mess!  There was a ton of papers in there that were obviously classwork that he had done at some point and then just stuffed into his backpack.  He has chosen never to use his assigned locker at school so everything ends up in his backpack.

He dumped everything out and then put the stuff he needed into the backpack.  A large pile of disorganized paper was left on the counter.  He sped off to to catch the bus and I sighed as I organized this pile of "garbage" so that he could go through it when he came home and pitch the stuff he really didn't need and take the rest to his room.

I came across a paper that he had written for his English class and it brought a smile to my face, so I decided that I had to post it here because it was interesting and it gave me a window into how he perceives himself.  (It was some kind of poetry assignment that was to detail something special about themselves from what I have been able to gather.)

Here's what Zack wrote:

Harry Potter Boy

I am Zack, Harry Potter Boy!
Due to some medical mumbo, jumbo of some sort or another,
I would have died if I was born on time.
I say it's mumbo, jumbo not because I don't care,
But they didn't didn't know what was wrong.
Medical Miracles even in 1998,
I survived by a process of induced birth!
My parents picked the day of my birth based on their favorite books by JK Rowling.
Thus I was born on July 31st
Year pass my mother dies...
But still...
I have a constant reminder of her love - my birthday.
I am Zack, Harry Potter Boy!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The East West Region Trail - A Wilderness in the Midst of the Suburbia

Warm southern winds have pushed the temperature in the Denver area well above normal in the last week.  This morning was no exception as the day dawned sunny, bright and warm.  Today was a day made for hiking!

Around 11:00AM I headed out for a long hike along the Douglas County East West Regional Trail.  In the last year a new trail head at Ridgegate Parkway was established that has opened up access to the high bluffs above the city of Lone Tree.  The trail head is in a well populated area where the new Cabelas Store opened in August of last year.  Despite the business of the area, once you set out upon the trail, it is though you have journeyed from the middle of Denver suburbs to a desolate ranching area.  Leaving the parking lot of the trail head behind, the trail quickly ascends to the top of the bluffs that dramatically rise up at the southern edge of the Denver metro area.  The elevation change is abrupt and significant as the high point along this ridge rises to almost 6300 feet, which is 1000 feet higher than Denver.

Getting up on top of these ridges is amazing as the view of Denver is fantastic and you really do feel removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.  The trail makes it's way to the west and all through out your journey there is a barbed wire fence on your left (to the south) that marks the boundary of a working ranch.  It is an interesting ranch because in addition to cattle, they also raise ostriches.  Today I was privileged to see two of the great birds strutting in one of the fields.  It is not a normal sight to see ostriches in Colorado!

Here are some photos that I took along the way.  I made use of a new Nikon Coolpix camera I received as a Christmas gift from Lisa.  It takes some pretty great pictures!

Thanks and peace to all! ~ J.

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 - My Year in Review

Another year is done and in the record books.  What a year it was!  My experiences with 2013 were varied but were for the most part pretty good.  Even the things that happened that weren't quite so good, turned out to have some pretty good silver linings.

The biggest event that occurred this year wasn't even something that directly happened to me - it was something that happened with Zack.  It's not something that I have mentioned on this blog or anywhere else for that matter.  The event was that Zack was officially "diagnosed" with Asperger Syndrome.  Aspergers is a mild form of autism and with the most recent version of the
"Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" it is now considered part of the "Autism Spectrum".  I guess this diagnosis really isn't a big surprise but it certainly had a large impact on both Zack and me in 2013.  Knowing this information has allowed us to change the way we interact and work together to address the issues that Zack needs to overcome to be a successful young adult.  Though some might think that getting this diagnosis is devastating, for us it has been extremely helpful as we now have a much better way to address the issues that have plagued Zack since Patty got sick in 2006.

Another event that occurred which was not so good and really has no silver lining has been Lex's near death experience and subsequent diagnosis with cancer.  The only good thing that has come out of this event has been that Lex is still alive.  When his vet informed us that the tumor on his spleen was cancerous we were told that he only had 2 - 3 months to live.  The doggie oncologist gave us a longer time frame of 6 - 8 months, but we are even now approaching the end of that period of time.  I am not going to be so foolish to think that Lex has this horrible disease beat.  With the incredible pain tolerance that all dogs have, it is possible that Lex could be fine one day and close to death the next.  He is doing well right now but that can change at a moment's notice.  I am just so happy for each day that we have with him!

Losing my job as part of IBM's huge layoff this summer I first viewed as a very bad thing.  However, events have shown that it was actually a very good thing!  You would never think that getting laid off would turn out to be something good, but in this case it certainly was.  With over 14 years experience with IBM the severance package I received was pretty darn good.  On top of that, after getting to take 2 months off of work, I went back working for IBM as a contractor at the beginning of October.  Working as a contractor was at first pretty weird, but I have grown used to it and I have found that many aspects of being a contractor are superior to being an employee.  I don't receive any benefits, vacation days or any other kind of paid time off, but I get paid for every single hour I work.  If it is a busy crazy week and I work 60 hours, I get paid for each and everyone of those 60 hours.  On top of that, when my work day is done I turn off my computer and stop thinking about work.  When I was a full time employee, I was never able to do that.  Now I realize I am just a contractor and there is no overriding goal or reason for me to focus upon my job as anything more than an hourly, day-by-day job.  As a contractor I make a much higher hourly pay rate as I don't get any benefits so I have to pay for those myself.  All-in-all getting laid off was a good thing rather than a bad thing! (That seems weird I know, but it is the way it has worked out for me.)

Another good thing about this year has been the amount of progress I have made in reinventing my house.  In 2012 we had the big remodeling of our kitchen and family room completed.  There was no major projects like that this year.  However, I accomplished many things in terms of getting the entire house in order and reducing the amount of "stuff" that I have.  It has been a fabulous feeling to reduce the clutter and be able to consistently pull one of my cars into the garage.  Just the feeling of having things organized and well in hand has been great.

Dating Lisa for all of 2013 has also been a really good thing.  We met in the spring of 2012 and have been dating since we met.  Our relationship has been drama-free, full of good times and pretty wonderful in general.  After the trauma and drama that I experienced with Shelly, I was pretty down on the whole concept of dating.  Instead of jumping right into the dating game after Shelly, I waited a long time and made sure that I was re-entering the dating world for the right reasons.  The wait and manner in which I approached dating really paid off, as Lisa is a wonderful, loving, kind, gentle and extremely positive person.  She has added a tremendous amount of positive things to Zack and my lives.  Lisa is a wonderful, happy person who I enjoy being with so much and this past year really saw our relationship grow and mature.  It's great to have her in my life!

There were many other events that occurred this past year and both Zack and I got to do many new and adventurous things - from Zack's Outward Bound expedition to my trip to the Philippines, each month of 2013 allowed us to grow and learn.

I know I am looking ahead to this new year with many plans for personal development, adventure and positive things.  We never plan for our future to contain things that are negative but undoubtedly those things will occur.  The key to handling those negative events are to try and find the positive things that you can gain from them.  I can't predict what negative events will happen this year, but I am determined to try and gain something positive from even the most negative things.  Hopefully there won't be a lot of negative events in 2014 - only time will tell, yet I will face it all with a smile on face and viewpoint of seeing the silver lining in everything.

Happy new year to you all!  My hope each and everyone of you is that 2014 is better for you than was 2013!

Thanks and peace to all! ~ J.

Below some of the pictures we took this year showing our adventures and activities.

(Yosemite Valley during Fall Break Trip)

 (Deer on the trail near El Capitan in Yosemite)

 (Zack and me at Glacier Point in Yosemite with Half Dome in the background)

 (Zack at Mono Lake outside of Yosemite)

 (Lisa and me on the Staten Island Ferry in NYC at Thanksgiving)

 (Lisa and me in the Devil's Garden in Arches National Park) 

 (Zack climbing a shear rock face on his Outward Bound expedition)

 (Sunrise from top of Mt. Olinger when Zack and I volunteered for The Hike for Hospice fund raiser.)

 (Lower Manhattan skyline from the Staten Island Ferry)

 (Colorado Sand Dunes National Park during spring break)

 (Our little group during spring break trip to Sand Dunes)

 (Moose outside of our condo in Silverthorne)

 (Zack hiking with me at Colorado's newest state park - Staunton Ranch)

 (Zack and I at Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico in August)

 (Hiking South Valley Open Space in Jefferson County early one fall morning)

 (Zack at Death Valley National Park on fall break trip)

 (In Death Valley National Park)
 (Zack at Christmas giving me a wave)

 (My and my brothers and sisters together at Christmas)

(Crossing the finish line at Canyonlands Half Marathon in March of 2013)