Dear Verizon

I would so hate to leave Verizon with my four lines, but Sprint is still stubbornly offering unlimited data. I know, I know, the industry says they can’t keep that up, but, if they grandfather existing accounts, it’s quite tempting.

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Jack Dewayne Davidson

Danny, I said you were a bi-pedal ferret exactly because you know cubby-holes I do not. However, I believe this is something within the purview of Decedent Services. That’s why I am hereby asking Ms Wright for her assistance. It’s unlikely that the VA has Jack’s 201, but I know they have a copy of his 214. That will give his serial number and service dates, excellent starting points for finding the name of Jack’s assigned ship.

Ms Wright, I realize you deal with hundreds of deaths each month. That’s why I’m including a plain text version of Jack’s eulogy, to help you understand who Jack was as a person. I’m asking for some information that’s on his DD-214. That information will help me crawl backwards on the Internet to get the name of his ship. I plan to update the eulogy with that historical information and put a copy in the case for Jack’s flag. That way, someone finding the case in 2111 might understand that the flag symbolizes a real person. You might say I take “never forget” rather seriously.

Also, by a strange twist of fate, I am aware that a crew association was linked to Jack’s ship even though I don’t know the name. It would be nice if I could let them know that one of their crewmates has returned to his eternal duties.

From: DSloan [mailto:djsloan25a26@yahoo.com]
Sent: Thursday, September 22, 2011 10:10
To: royall@conchbbs.com
Subject: Re: FW: Jack Dewayne Davidson

Scott ..

Where are you in your search for his records .. Have you made any requests or learned anything in the funeral process?

Have you read through the http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/ (National Archives records request) or the http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq19-1.htm (Navy records request) yet, or seen the standard request form http://www.archives.gov/research/order/standard-form-180.pdf ??

Some of the requests require status of next-of-kin, but you may be able to petition if he had none.

Also, some of the records are open to all requestors.

Some Navy units published "Cruise Books" that documented the crew and mission of a particular deployment. Some of those publications have extremely limited circulation (see http://www.history.navy.mil/library/special/cruise_main.htm and http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq14-1.htm , or a dealer’s page at http://navysite.de/cruisebooks/) and I wouldn’t want to scour a library looking for every cruise book for the 5th Fleet for all those years, but it could be done.

oops, wrong photo

Oh, you are good. Still.

A grant? Ok, the short version. Xpress It uses a speech engine called Eloquence, originally developed at Cornell. It’s now owned by Nuance, which also owns DragonSpeaking. I currently only have a single-user license for Eloquence, and I would have to change that before doing much else. Nuance is a funny duck of a company anyway, its business model seems to be largely buying speech-related products to license. They do acknowledge that I’m positive PR for them, especially when I’m on the air as an Amateur Radio Operator. Still, they’re used to getting paid before granting licenses.

No, what has always happened so far (it even happened at the reunion) is that someone will come up to me and say they know someone who needs Xpress It. They might, but I never see any follow-on interest. Such interest is the thing I’d need to prompt me to put Xpress It back into a retail form. I say “back,” because it was in an installable package years ago. However, everything—including Xpress It—has evolved since then.

I do have a guy or two trying to find the sustained interest necessary, but we’ll see.

I still haven’t told Mom that you’re the ideal daughter she always wished for. You two think so much alike. About the only difference is that you still enjoy verbal wrestling matches.

From: Natalie Cole [mailto:cole@oakland.edu]
Sent: Monday, September 19, 2011 20:52
To: royall@conchbbs.com
Subject: oops, wrong photo

HI Again,

Here is better photo of big dogs.

Scott, have you thought of writing a grant, maybe partnering with U of Houston faculty in Communications or Information Technologies, in relation to the use of your software and its application for further use?

all best,

Natalie

Jack’s Eulogy

Here is the text of Jack’s Eulogy. (Marsha, I am sorry you couldn’t attend.)

This is the first eulogy I’ve done, and I hope this experience isn’t one I get accustomed to.

Jack Davidson’s childhood was ideally suited for creating someone better at dealing with machinery than with people. For those who don’t know, Jack’s early years sound like something a crazed soap opera writer might dream up. He was born on a mountain in southern Pennsylvania to a lonely housewife whose husband was still in World War 2 Europe. Jack’s biological father literally was a traveling salesman who we will never know. Jack’s mother already had a large family so he was summarily shipped off into foster care before the husband returned home. The truth was withheld from the husband until Jack attended a family reunion around 2001, and it was no surprise that he was told to never return.

If you can imagine spending your entire childhood being bounced from foster home to foster home, you begin to understand why he had so much trouble building friendships. There was occasional talk about an adoption, but it never went through. With one significant exception, Jack spent his entire life bouncing around the eastern U.S., never really finding anyplace he could call home. He was hired by no less than five steel mills in the Steel Belt, only to have every one of them shut down. That reminds me of the country song that laments, “if not for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” This isn’t to say Jack had no friendships, only that he would lose touch quickly as he drifted around.

And, drift he did, arriving in Houston in 85, which was when the first bust hit the oil patch. Yes, Jack’s poor luck was rather consistent, but it did have one positive side-effect. He had experience in so many areas that he truly was a jack of all trades. In his prime, Jack could remodel a house, assemble and operate a crane, drive a gasoline tanker, or repair a car, and he was understandably proud of those skills.

Unfortunately, his health had already started to fail him when he came to my office almost 15 years ago exactly to interview for a caregiver job. Jack showed up in his best T-shirt and jeans, and began telling me the stories of his life. Anyone who has experience with sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder knows that’s what they do. They recount their experiences as they subconsciously try to make sense of them. It was soon apparent that Jack needed my help as much as I needed his. He said he was essentially homeless when I hired him so our relationship was never just employer and employee. Jack needed several years to fully realize that I was also his friend. There came a time about four years back when he was no longer physically or mentally able to continue working anywhere. That told me that I needed to do what I could to support him until his Social Security and VA benefits were settled. I couldn’t do enough, and Jack would occasionally ask for a little extra. But, in exchange, even in his weakened state, he would try to do various handyman tasks for me. One of Jack’s strongest merits was always his mechanical aptitude, and, toward the end, I think he was trying to as much maintain a little sense of self-worth as help me. Whether it was replacing a bedroom door, enlarging a dog-door, or just mowing the yard, he would try.

That was one of Jack’s best qualities. Yes, he could be a grouch, and he literally cussed like a sailor. But, if he said he would help you, he either would or bust a gut trying. Jack truly was a man of his word, a rarity these days.

While Jack’s life was notably difficult, there were a couple of periods when his loneliness was assuaged by kindred spirits. I’m not talking about his marriage either. That was so brief that we could find no records of it, and the few references Jack ever made to the ex-wife were none-too-kind!

No, one of those kindred spirits came in the form of a young stray dog who entered Jack’s life 11 years ago. As I recall, she reluctantly walked up to Jack and never left. Jack previously had a dog named Gretchen, and, after trying many other names on the new dog, he tried “Gretchen” on her and she lit up like a pinball machine. Maybe that really was her name, but I doubt it. I believe she heard the love for the previous Gretchen in Jack’s voice and took it for herself.

Frankly, it is very challenging to find words that adequately describe the relationship between certain dogs and their people. Even among dog owners, dogs are often either regarded as toys or treated like spoiled children. Very rarely do you find a dog who studies its person to find the best ways of fitting in and helping. For instance, along with his other medical issues, Jack also had clinical depression and would stay in bed for hours. Gretchen would only tolerate it for a few hours before parking herself in the doorway to Jack’s room and whining loudly until he got up. Not that it was mealtime, she just instinctively knew he needed to get up. Also, Gretchen became rather good at boosting Jack’s spirits. She would make it a point to enthusiastically greet Jack when he returned from running errands. He commented more than once about how much that meant to him. Jack never seemed to mind when we jokingly referred to Gretchen as “Mrs. Davidson.”

On the Friday before Jack passed, I followed the suggestions of the palliative care doctor and social worker, and brought Gretchen up to visit him. We loaned her one of my service dog’s uniforms so she could walk in the hospital’s front door. We initially found Jack in the dayroom of the unit, and I don’t think he fully recognized Gretchen. However, once the staff had him comfortably settled back in his bed, she jumped up and gently lay down beside him. Although Jack was largely non-verbal by that stage, he made the extra effort to say, “thank you,” as he gingerly stroked Gretchen’s head. That sadly poignant scene reminded me just how inseparable those two had become. We left with Jack agreeing that we should bring his other dog, Hot Rod, the following Friday. But that was not to be, as he slipped into coma Sunday night and left us Tuesday morning. Based on how gentle and subdued she was with him that last time, I’m certain Gretchen sensed that her person was dying.

Starting several years ago, Jack said that Gretchen would have to be put to sleep if he died, because she was so dedicated to him. I think he also held out hope that there might be an afterlife, and he wanted to share it with her. Oddly enough, as we sat outside the night before he drove to the hospital that last time, he suddenly turned to me and said, “Gretchen is a one-person dog.” In other words, his request still applied. He didn’t want Gretchen to spend her remaining time mourning him. I know some of Jack’s friends strongly disagreed with the request, and I understood their reasons. In the end, though, the decision wasn’t theirs, or mine really. Jack had no way of knowing that my beloved Lilly, my first service dog, and another creature wonderfully adept at teaching herself ways of helping her person, would die painfully less than a week before his passing. That made fulfilling his request even harder on me emotionally. I didn’t tell him during what was our last visit because he was already carrying enough emotional burdens. No. he had previously entrusted this difficult request to me, and I’d be a sorry friend if I didn’t follow through. The fact that Gretchen was at least 12 years old did make Jack’s request more humane, she wouldn’t die old and broken-hearted. Jack and Gretchen will now always be together, whether there is an afterlife or not `/.

This ceremony began with full military honors, and there’s good reason for that. I mentioned a bit ago that there was only one place in Jack’s life where he felt really at home. It wasn’t a place really, more of a state of being. Of course I’m referring to his six years in the Navy. When dealing with a PTSD sufferer, you can sometimes determine periods of low stress by the relatively few stories they reflexively recount. For Jack, the Navy was the first time in his life that others really valued him and wanted him around consistently. As he put it, the Navy took him as a skinny 17-year-old who was allergic to everything, and turned him into a healthy young man. They were also true to the recruitment slogan: join the Navy, see the world.

Jack was assigned to a very old World War 2 troop transport in the Fifth Fleet. That meant most of his service time was in the Mediterranean. Not a bad assignment. Jack didn’t care for the ship; the crew called her the thing they used to bring Noah’s animals over. The ship’s contingent of Marines took exception to that description, since it necessarily implied that they were the animals. And, like any self-respecting enlisted man, Jack had no love for his officers. His fellow crewmen were another matter. Every one of them had a specific job to do which made them a part of the overall purpose of the ship, which was to transport her Marines and their equipment wherever the President said to, and, if ordered, put them ashore under combat conditions. Some civilians might find this tightly-defined mission trite, but that fails to notice that the mission was a piece of larger and larger missions until you reach the overall mission of the military. On Jack’s ship, he was a valued member, but still a member of a team with a function.

Jack did have stories of his experiences ashore, of course. Did you know that the bar fights that you used to see in old war movies between marines and sailors were pretty accurate? Yes indeed, even among groups of marines and sailors from the same ship. Jack’s jaw was broken two weeks after joining the ship. Two groups from the ship could be going after it in a bar, but, if a third group of outsiders attacked either of the ship’s groups, both immediately would band together to dish out some rude justice, at least until the Shore Patrol arrived.

If that sounds like a large and somewhat dysfunctional family, then you’re starting to get the idea. The military, specifically the Navy, was the closest experience Jack had to a family. I told him years ago that he would have been better off if he had stayed in the service, and, the second time I said it, he agreed. Only his pride and stubbornness interfered, and he could never really find a way back. What we are doing here today, at least symbolically, is helping Jack Dewayne Davidson return to the only family he ever really knew. He and Gretchen are now at peace among camaraderie he always sought and never quite knew what to do with. If Jack is looking on us, he is pleased because every detail of this ceremony has been consistent with what he asked for. I hope Jack now realizes that he really did matter to his friends.