for our father, Thomas Francis Wills, on Memorial Day 2019

a personal narrative

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An excerpt from an interview by Diane Frances Wills of our father Thomas Francis Wills for a seventh-grade assignment about 1971.  I did some editing to correct the date based on historical records and my father’s military records (Michael Stephen Wills).

Thomas enlisted for the navy one day after his 24th birthday, September 25, 1939 and served 6 years and a few weeks until October 7, 1945 having experienced the Battle of the Atlantic (American Defense Medal) and liberation of the Philippines (WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Theater, Philippine Liberation Ribbon).  Here is his description of an incident from that time:

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Thomas Francis Wills, Ocean View Beach, Virginia, 1940

1 Year, 6 months after my enlistment in New York City, March 1941, on the USS Upshur two days out of Boston on its run to Reykjavik, Iceland delivering mail and supplies to the marines stationed to prevent the Germans from establishing a base.  Steaming north we got word there was a gale blowing in our path.  We all became apprehensive.  I asked Bill Rogers, the radioman, about the approaching storm.  “Say, Bill, I see by the weather report we’re heading info some rough weather.  How long do you think it will last?”

“Yeah, according to the latest weather report it is a regular Northeaster and we can expect a couple days of rough winds and high waves, also very cold weather.  We’ll have to secure everything topside so it won’t blow or be washed overboard.  We can also expect very little in the way of normal meals except for maybe coffee and sandwiches.”  On such a small ship the cooks can’t prepare meals in such weather.

USS Upshur, 1940, the ten-man crew, including Thomas Wills, is on the bow

As we approached the storm zone the sea got rough and the wind started blowing.  Soon we were well into a horrible storm.  The sky got dark and gloomy, full of dark bold clouds.  The ocean rough, choppy and black.  The rain started coming down sharp and harsh, cold and icy.  The rain cut through your body like piercing arrows, it chilled your bones.

Sometimes I thought the ship was going to sink, the waves and the wind were so strong.  The bow would go bluntly into the water.  The ship listed sideways, seeming to almost rolling over.  The waves carried our ship up, then go out from underneath sending us crashing down.  This happened over and over, endlessly.  

 I was on duty in the radio shack and had to walk the whole length of the ship from my sleeping quarters.  Many times, I almost went overboard, the wind was so strong.  I could lay on my stomach but it did not help because I could still slide through the railings.  I would freeze to death in five minutes in that water.  I hope I never had to go through that again, seems like yesterday.  All we had to wear was a sailor suit, not too warm.  I’d just get all soaked. 

My shipmates and I, a five-foot eight-inch boy of 25 with dark brown hair, had to be calm and keep doing our normal scheduled duties, because we learned you can’t get panicky or else you will put your whole ship out of order.

 The storm went on until the end of night.  I thought the storm would never end.  It felt as if it lasted a week.  At that time no other ships sailed with us, so there was no possibility of help.  Nobody fell over the side or was drowned.

After that, a German U-Boat launched a torpedo at us and missed.  We searched, tried to sink them without success. 

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Life and Death

Rumination on wild flower blooms

Click here for my Online Gallery offering of trillium.

An access road, now blocked with huge boulders by the State Park, leads to this dam at the head of Fillmore Glen. I stop here for reflection at times and have climbed behind the dam for photographs. It is possible to drive up the south side of the glen on a poorly maintained road and park next to the boulders. In this season (spring) the surrounding forest is carpeted in wildflowers. Hepatica, trillium, dutchman’s breeches. One day, years ago, I pulled in behind a late model convertible with a license plate holder advising the owner was a member of the 10th Mountain division and a World War II veteran.

They were a well dressed and groomed couple. The white haired driver, in his late 80’s at least, patiently waited while she, a frail woman, walked the margins of the forest, enjoying the wildflowers. It was my impression this was a ritual for them, developed over the years. One of the few spring outings left to them.

Wildflower displays such as what I shared last posting develop over hundreds of years. The massed trillium are on land not disturbed for thousands of years, since the last ice age. These same spring wonders were certainly enjoyed by the Iroquois before us.

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On the gorge slope below the parking area, in a hollow on the north side of a large (I recall) oak, one early sunny spring morning I discovered the last resting place of a deer. Only the bones and some fur remained, the visible portion resembles the Capitulum and trochlea of a human arm bone and, indeed, there was a scapula close by. The season is evoked by the unfurling fern against the based of the oak.

Dark, Unwritten Forest Secrets
Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Massed White Trillium Blooms

Wonder of the northern spring forest

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I came upon this display April 2004, a wonder of the northern spring forest.

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Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Arizona Connections

A Span of 32 Years

Life for me changed September 1971 with my matriculation at the University of Arizona. The next five years (4 for a BS degree and 1 year dietetics internship) were busy with study and supporting myself leaving minimal time for travel. Then came 27 years of work and family until in my 49th year of life, with the graduation of my son, Sean, from college planned for January 2003, I anticipated having time and resources to see more of the world. The Arizona postings here flowed the outcomes of this decision that spanned the years 2003 through my Mother breaking her hip just before New Years Day 2009.

Click the links for previous Arizona postings related to the post text.

November 2003 saw our first Arizona tour. Sean was scheduled to be home from USS Observation Island. He served as an engineering officer working for Maersk contracted by the US Navy to operate the ship. We flew into Phoenix and headed north for a tour of the Mogollon Rim onto Winslow, the Painted Desert, Canyon del Chelly, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon South Rim, the western edge of the Painted Desert north of Flagstaff to finish up at University of Arizona Homecoming.

Homecoming 2003

My 2003 homecoming schedule including a meeting with the head of the Department of Nutrition Sciences, Dr. Houtkooper. We talked of ways to re-connect with the University, leading to an invitation to serve on the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Alumni Board of Directors beginning November 2005. From then until November 2008 I flew to Tucson two to three times a year for planning and educational meetings: planning fund raising activities, learning how CALS benefits and connects with the people of Arizona.

These baskets from our home are reminders of my original Arizona connection and of one story of re-connection. The larger, birds, design is from my student years from a first trip to Kitt Peak. It was a gift to my parents and for decades was in their china cabinet, I’d see it each holiday visit and recall driving desert with friends, the road up the mountain, seeing the newly constructed Mayall Telescope building loom over us, the smells and views of the Sonora desert.

Meeting Native American Artists

Working for the CAL Alumni Board the first time, November 2005, I had an idea to approach Native American artists for donations of their work for student scholarships. My first outing to meet artists was to an event at the Saguaro National Monument, west of Tucson, where I met Olvera and Simon Valenzuela. They were a happy couple devoted to continuing a tradition of basket weaving. Olvera was the youngest active weaver from generations of Tohono O’odham women. Her husband, Simon, a Pascua Yaqui, learned weaving from Olvera and her family. I purchased the turtle basket, upper left, and obtained contact information.

Click either photograph for a larger view.
From the bottom clockwise. Birds by Anmelia Juan of Geawuk (Kitt Peak 1972), Turtle by Olvera and Simon Valenquela (Sqguaro National Monument 2005) Stars by Simon Valenzuela for hsi daughter Pasquala Valenquela 16th Birthday (2018). Simon is of the Pascua Yaqui tribe who Learned basketmaking from his wife’s family.

I phoned them the last week of January, hoping to discuss a donation for that November. Simon answered, we talked and I learned he was in mourning for Olvera who passed away the previous week at 33 years of age, leaving her daughters Uneek and Pascuela. I did not bring up the donation and kept in touch. I felt sympathy for Simon’s situation because, twenty one years before, Sean’s mother deserted us and I raise him alone.

Olvera Valenzuela Memorial Scholarship

Over the course of months, communicating with Arizona contacts, I came to the conclusion donations by Native American artists was not a sustainable model for financing donations. The individuals were not prosperous enough and there were too few of them. Instead, during the travels documented here, I made contacts. In the Chiricahua National Monument I met Linda Kelly the owner of Triangle T Ranch who donated stays there. The Searcher had a side farrier (care of horses feet) and donated services.

With the permission of Simon and family we started the Olvera Valenzuela Memorial Scholarship. The application is an essay on the subject: “A Proposal for Native American Cultural Conservation.”  The qualified applicants are Native Americans enrolled at the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) in a course of study leading to a baccalaureate. The designation “Native American” is defined for the purposes of these criteria as being a documented member of a North American tribe. It was an annual award of $500 to the successful applicant. To start I contributed $1,000 to fund it for two years.

Over the next year, Simon and I contacted potential donors, but were unsuccessful in funding the scholarship beyond two years. In the meantime, when I visited Tucson for CALS board meetings Simon and I would do outings with his daughters. Here is one from the 2006 University of Arizona Homecoming football game. This is after the game, a win for the team, with the field covered in celebrating fans.

The third basket of the photograph, a stars design, was raffled to fun Pascuala’s sixteen birthday celebration in 2018 and I won!!!!

Cheers!!

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Life from Death

while trillium

Click here for my Online Gallery offering from this group.

Taken with a Canon 100 mm “macro” lens, a Kodak dslr body, a Manfrotto tripod and ample time and patience.

Enjoy!

Trillium rise from the decaying tree roots.
Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Overlapping Hepatica and Trillium Blooms

four of a kind

Click here for my Online Gallery offering from this group.

Four views of purple trillium, three of a grouping and one portrait. Taken in the same session of a rare set of perfect blooms growing wild.

Taken with a Canon 100 mm “macro” lens, a Kodak dslr body, a Manfrotto tripod and ample time and patience.

Enjoy!

Fillmore Glen Purple Trillium

The trillium plant grows from a body of rhizomes, a type of underground stem you can think of as a type of root. There are rhizomes when use to flavor food such as turmeric, though trillium is not one of these.

Fillmore Glen Purple Trillium

The single scape grows straight from the ground to form a whorl of three bracts mirrored by the three green (usually) sepals and, again, by the three flower petals for which it is named.

You can clearly see all of this in my photographs.

Fillmore Glen Purple TrilliumFillmore Glen Purple Trillium

Copyright 2019 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Improvements to Yesterday’s Post

Improvements to Yesterrday’s Post

Pam proofed yesterday’s post, “When the Moon Dined from a Stellar Mangar”and found some improvements, including adding text labels to aid in finding Cancer constellation elements.

Labels!!

You will find I replaced photographs in the original post and well, all the major elements of Cancer are labeled. Here is an explanation of the new elements.

You can now trace the “Y” constellation pattern, with Alpha and Beta Chancri (Latin for “of Cancer”) the two claws and Iota the tail. Both elemetns of Iota, a visual binary star system, are there. They are wonderful viewed with a telescope. Near Alpha is M67 (Messier Object 67), another galactic cluster of gravitationally bound stars. It is quite faint in this photograph.

Click photograph for a higher resolution version
Total Lunar Eclipse and Surrounding Sky with labels for primary element of the Cancer constellation

Click link for the first post of this series 

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills