David Grider's yearbook picture

Oh Say Can You See: We Are Family

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On this Veteran’s Day at the end of a long, bitter election I’m nostalgic for an older national contest that defined the start of my formative years in a mixed-race middle & high school.

October 1979 when Willie Stargell and the rest of the Pittsburgh Pirates came back to win the World Series swinging to the beautiful rhythms of Sister Sledge’s We Are Family.

I’m listening to this song a lot these days. Thinking about that funkier America of my youth, and the fans of all colors flooding onto the field celebrating to joyful music that everyone loved.

And as a patriot with a cherished childhood memory of singing the Star Spangled Banner at Fort McHenry with my dear grandmother, I wonder, in the spirit of emergency measures:

Could we make We Are Family our National Anthem for the next year?

David Grider's yearbook picture
David Grider’s yearbook picture

John McGavock Grider

Memorial Day: A Remembrance of John McGavock Grider

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A Memorial Day remembrance of my great-grandfather, John McGavock Grider, a Lieutenant in the US Army Signal Corp, assigned to The Royal Air Force’s 85th Squadron as commanded by Major Billy Bishop, and killed in action on June 18 1918 while flying his SE-5a over German-occupied France.

John McGavock GriderApril of 1918. Hounslow Heath Aerodrome, England. Mac is second from the right, flight suit on, flanked by his squadron mates Springs and Callahan. In the weeks prior to this picture Mac had seen two close friends die in crashes during training flights. On May 22 1918 he would be sent into combat at Petite-Synthe, France, and be dead a month later.

Scene at Hounslow

L to R: Springs, Horn, Callahan, Grider, McGregor, with Sopwith Dolphin in right background

June 21, 1918. A portrait of the 85th and its SE-5a aircraft, near the trenches at St. Omer. Mac is not in this picture, having failed to return from patrol three days prior. A German plane would later drop a note confirming his death. His body was never found. Records of Mac’s service were stored in London and lost during fires of WWII. His name is on the Tablets of the Missing at Flanders Field American Cemetery.

June 21 1918 RAF 85th Squadron

June 21 1918 RAF 85th Squadron

Mac’s story has been told before, but on this warm, overcast Memorial Day in 2016 New York, what interests me is this: Mac spent a few days in NYC before sailing to Europe, and on August 31 1917 he wrote home to tell of attending “a parade of the militia up 5th Avenue”, which was the farewell parade to the 27th Division as shown in the photograph below:

Aug 30 1917 27th Division Farewell Parade NYC

Aug 30 1917 27th Division Farewell Parade NYC

And I wonder: is Mac in this image too? Part of the uniformed crowd gathered that day around Madison Square Park to say goodbye to men shipping off to war? Could that farm boy from Arkansas have imagined that someday his two great-grandsons would live and work within a stone’s throw of this place?

The warhorses, fabric biplanes, the people in the picture – all are long gone. But the buildings, streets and park – the Architecture of the place – are still with us, recognizable and useful a century later. Mac might be amazed by much “progress” of our world, but he’d find this corner of 23rd St & 5th Ave familiar.

And he, the veteran & casualty of The War to End All Wars, would know too well how some of those who serve today still pay the ultimate price.

A solemn Memorial Day to them all.

New Horizons From Yuma to Pluto

Happy 2016: New Horizons From Yuma to Pluto

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One of the most amazing things to happen in 2015 was NASA’s New Horizon mission arriving at Pluto after traveling billions of miles as one of the fastest human-made objects ever.

With such speed that it could not enter orbit around the planet, the people who designed, built and flew the craft had only a few minutes on station – after a 9 year flight – to capture the most detailed data and imagery.

And they nailed it, a stunning accomplishment for which info is still being sent across the void of space (over 4hrs transmission time at the speed of light…)

There have been many fantastic images published to date, but this recent close-up felt oddly familiar, a color composite featuring a mountainous region against a flat plain covering about 170 miles – the same distance from San Diego to Yuma…

I’m back driving my beat-up Mustang, dropping out of the mountains across the desert, monitoring the mechanical systems, changing fuel pumps in parking lots, at a time before cell phones, when a break down in Borrego felt like outer space.

So as the New Horizons probe hurtles toward the Kuiper Belt, and Pluto finally completes a single solar orbit that began in 1768, lets raise a toast to the many circles around the sun we’ve enjoyed, and here’s wishing everyone a fantastic 2016!

New Horizons From Yuma to PlutoClick image for full resolution