Guns and bacons. (Found on imgur.com)
I’m researching the history of Birch Bay, Wash., when all of the sudden I find this headline:
“1941… A salmon attacks a 12-year-old boy in Birch Bay on July 9, 1941″
So, that happened.
Here’s the rest, according to the Birch Bay Historical Timeline:
On July 9, 1941, a 35-pound Chinook (king) salmon attacks a 12-year-old boy who is fishing for crabs in Birch Bay (Whatcom County). The boy survives the encounter none the worse for wear, but the fish finds itself belly up on the barbeque.
In the early 1940s Birch Bay, located in extreme northwestern Washington, was a popular resort destination, and fish and man in the bay were long since used to each other. So it was a real surprise on July 9, 1941, when a 12-year-old Lynden boy, Walter Richmond, suddenly found himself confronted by an angry king salmon in the waters of Birch Bay.
Young Richmond was walking through the water just offshore, fishing for crabs, when he happened upon two large salmon, one a little larger than the other. He watched expectantly for the fish to swim away. But the bigger one did not. Instead it made a mad rush at the lad, who dropped a sack of crabs he was holding and fought back with a potato fork which he had been using for crabbing. The fish retreated – but not far. Likewise undeterred, Richmond stood his ground.
For a brief moment fish and boy warily eyed each other, two bold gladiators prepared to battle to the death. Then the salmon charged again. This time Richmond struck home with his multi-pronged dagger and dispatched his aquatic opponent. The 35-pound fish was dragged ashore and ingloriously barbecued.
No one at Birch Bay could remember ever hearing of a salmon attacking a human. Some speculated that it was trying to protect a mate, but no one really knew what caused it to go off the deep end. Maybe the kid just really freaked the fish out. And like all good fish tales, it grew bigger with each telling. By the time the Lynden Tribune reported the story on its front page the following week, the scrappy salmon was mistakenly reported to have been 35 feet long.
Telling someone else’s story often helps you define your own. That’s what was written in an L.A. Times article about the San Quentin News, an inmate-produced newspaper in the San Quentin Prison,California.
Staffers say their work can induce soul-searching, that telling other people’s stories helps them explore their own lives. And it can be a source of pride.
I love journalism because it provides me a look into another person’s life. They paint the picture, but I am the medium. It’s hard not to get excited when you meet someone with similar life experiences that you can relate to – or, at the very least, someone with the same passion.
Today, George Butenschoen and I discussed his upbringing in South Dakota before WWII. I’m compiling a story about George’s experience during the war. George is a Bellingham, Wash., local, who joined the Navy in his early 20′s and saw three invasions in the Mediterranean. He lived on a small naval assault boat nicknamed “Son of a Beach” for practically three years.
We discussed his love of working the fields, his daily regimen on the farms, and of course, what it was like living in the “Dirty Thirties.” But inbetween this conversation, he tells me about looking into the water of Omaha Beach in Normandy and seeing the bodies of young Americans floating face down in the aftermath of D-Day.
Sometimes he stops when we discuss these things, as if catching himself. He fumbles his words a bit and then turns his gaze away from me.
“That stuff was nothin’ compared to what my brother had seen.”
Oscar Buttenschoen, George’s younger brother, had been the epitome of an American hero in WWII. He was a gruff young man, “built like a brick house,” who would fight anything that moved, George tells me. While George had joined the Navy, Oscar joined the Army. Oscar served as a tanker under General Patton. Shortly after the war was over, he joined the Air Force. Oscar died in Salerno, Calif, in 1950 at the age of 28.
I do my best to reassure George that his story is just as important as Oscar’s. But I find myself in a parallel reality. Though I saw my own share of conflict in Iraq, I never saw the heavy fighting that some of my friends saw. I digress the same way George does when he brings up his experiences.
“It was never really that bad…”
Yet, I’m convinced that each of our stories is just as important. I’m continuously discovering my own meaning to my experience overseas.
Veterans are often easily coined in U.S. culture, especially in popular media. It is typically a one-dimensional perception though.
Former Army officer David Eisler wrote in a New York Times blog post:
If you listen closely to the national conversation about today’s veterans, you will hear two stories that seem to be at odds with each other.
One story is about healthy, hard-working, disciplined, well-trained and experienced veterans who would be an asset to any business or organization. The other tells of broken, disabled, traumatized veterans who have physical and behavioral health issues and require constant care and supervision.
Eisler provides great examples of two sensational views of veterans, in the past and present.
As a writer, I’m tempted to provide an audience with an entertaining and informative story. As a veteran, I’m obligated to tell a story that is authentic.
Originally posted on The Buttry Diary:
Occasionally, when journalists at a party or on social media ask one another our favorite newspaper (or journalism) movies, I will answer, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
Of course, no one thinks of “Liberty Valance” as a journalism movie. It’s a Western. But the whole movie is told through an interview between Ransom Stoddard and Charlie Hasbrouck, a reporter for the Shinbone Star. One of the key characters, Dutton Peabody, is editor and publisher of the Shinbone Star.
Many artists throughout time have feared open spaces. The distance between the clouds and the horizon was simply too much for them to fathom. It made them uncomfortable when they painted it, the same way certain subjects leave a writer with a knot in their gut.
My girlfriend tells me this as we make our way south on Highway 101, fresh out of the Redwoods in Northern California, in her dirty red Mini-Cooper. She’s reminded of this phobia as she can’t bring herself to look out the passenger window at the all-consuming black mass of the Pacific Ocean, just a stones throw from the highway.
I can’t say I blame her. I glance out the window and it’s like looking into space. Silent. Black. And huge. I love Humboldt County and the whole Pacific Coast, but it’s not a place I can quite call home. As a Puget Sound local, I’m not used to the unobstructed view. I need some peninsulas, islands an rocky beaches.
We’re on our way to Disney Land. It’s only for a few days, but the four days of driving is supposed to be “half the fun” as they say.
I realize how different a thousand miles makes. For one, Lorde’s “Royal” isn’t every other song that’s on the radio (the others being Macklemore). But the freeway code is different. More anarchistic. Common law as a whole is different. Discussing pot in public is a taboo. Littering is a more serious offense.
I’m getting older now. The once-silly notion of “life decisions” is a very real and serious matter. Do I stay in the Pacific Northwest? Do I travel with my girlfriend to Arkansas?
The ocean only seems to get bigger when you drive down the coast. You drive faster, not knowing what else to do, but eventually find yourself in Southern California. The air quality sucks. The people don’t know how to drive. Looking out the passenger window at a horrible black mass seems like a century ago.
As WWII veteran George Butenschoen tells me again and again, “it was something far different than you ever saw.” He refers to my time-in-service in the Army and in Iraq. That distinction might be obvious to anyone with a vague idea of the length or the intensity of either the Iraq War or WWII. But when Butenschoen talks about contrast, he refers to an entirely different concept of war.
Today, service members volunteer in a highly trained, yet smaller military force. Seventy years ago, it seems things were just the opposite
Yesterday was the first day I met Butenschoen at his apartment in Summit Place Retirement Home in Bellingham, Wash. Butenschoen and his daughter reached out to Western Washington University, where I study, a while ago in an attempt to find a student to compile a memoir or some recollection of his experience during WWII. It’s a project I’m very excited to continue working on.
(George Butenschoen is seen with his crew on LCT 221, aka “Son of a Beach.” Butenschoen is in the middle on the bottom. / Photo courtesy of George Butenschoen)
Butenschoen joined the Navy and provided logistics and transportation operations on a Landing Craft Tank, an amphibious assault boat. He was assigned to the boat with 10 other men shortly after completing basic training.
“How did you get that job? What was your official title?” I ask.
“Gunner’s mate,” he said. They put a hundred new seamen along a wall and had 10 officers come over and make their selection, he said. He barely knew what he was getting into when they picked him.
“What did you train for during basic?” I ask.
“I did a lot of running and walking.”
Butenschoen was 22 years old in 1942, pumped fresh out of the Navy’s basic training and put on a boat that he would spend more than three years in.
The lack of training he described almost seemed a little ridiculous. People often describe modern Basic Combat Training in the Army as easy, but I remember it being pretty extensive. Sure, physical fitness was easy enough, but four straight months of 20-hour days is tough for a kid. Combine that with classes, training exercises and the stress of being away from home and you can have yourself a grueling experience. Needless to say, I left basic with more to say than Butenschoen did.
But Butenschoen joined the military when there was no “all-volunteer force.” It was all about manpower. It’s a choice between two options that still gets tossed around in the U.S. Congress today: draft or no draft. That decision has some obvious economic pros and cons, but at its core it provides the military with with either a large number of service members, or a small number of highly trained service members. Back in Butenschoen’s time, the Navy put you in a suit and your new skipper would ask you where you’re from and what you did. If you happened to be a young farmhand with knowledge about tractor engines, you were likely to get picked as a crew member on an LCT manning a 20 mm cannon.
It was a different time, Butenschoen tells me.