The Coincidental Table


“If there’s no coincidence, there won’t be stories*.”
(*If Google Translate is right…..)

I heard the Chinese saying above this afternoon on This American Life. The entire show was about coincidences, and this particular saying (often said in a corny context but not intended that way by me) reflects the fact that a life devoid of funny, uncanny, or otherwise startling coincidences is a life whose stories are muted or nonexistent.

I have been peeling my Camp Gordon Johnston “onion” for several months now. (One of my life goals is to write a book about Camp Gordon Johnston.) After my “30 Days of CGJ” ended, I have kept tweeting daily about Camp Gordon Johnston. I am going through the unit rosters, tweeting the name of one soldier per day and sharing the tweet on Facebook, for example:

AlBassoAt first that felt like a very lazy approach: all I have to do is click on the roster, cut and paste the name, click “tweet” and do a screen capture to have a Facebook post. It’s not the most labor-intensive research that will take place for this book, by a long shot, but the five minutes I spend every morning on Edsel Lucas or Charles J. Smith or Leroy Tedlund (spelled Tidlund some places) bring them alive to me for that moment, and keep the memories of these men who rotated through Camp Gordon Johnston and served in World War II from completely washing out into the Gulf of Mexico.

One day when I added my day’s tweet to my Facebook feed, my friend Lea commented on the post (paraphrasing here): “Did you know our dining room table came from Camp Gordon Johnston?” I asked if there was a story behind it, and she graciously invited me to share lunch on the table and hear the story (side note: this woman makes a mean hummus wrap — she should be a Pinterest poster woman). Was it a coincidence that Lea saw my post and that led to the sharing of a story? Let’s go with “yes”!

I’m going to have to improve my data-gathering techniques as this book development process continues as my tendency to get caught up in the story leads to me neglecting any precision note-taking:

table notesBut the general point is: Lea’s table originated at Camp Gordon Johnston (the family’s beach house also sits on land that was originally CGJ property). There were four of these tables in all that came into the possession of her grandfather’s building supply business. The particular one that she owns came to her via an aunt, a long stint in storage, a close call with Goodwill as that aunt began paring down her belongings, and a frenzied drive to rescue it from a thrift store ending.

Table Green Pen

The Camp Gordon Johnston museum curator said she can’t find any documentation of this table in her database, but surmised that perhaps it was in a mess hall. With 8 leaves per table, I think her educated guess may be correct.

One thing Lea and I discussed over lunch was the fascination of “furniture with a story” (her NASA desk is a whole blog post unto itself!). I can’t help wondering:

  • Did Edsel Lucas reminisce about his hometown at this table?
  • Did Charles (Charlie? Chuck?) Smith brag about a girl waiting on him back at home at this table?
  • Did Leroy Tedlund fight as gargantuan a battle against his fear of the unknown from his seat at this table (or one like it) as he and his fellow soldiers would fight in the amphibious landings that lay ahead?

The number of Camp Gordon Johnston WWII survivors is dwindling, an obvious consequence of time’s refusal to slow down. I may never know from a first-hand account what was said, eaten, promised, joked about at this table.

I am pretty sure that the men who sat around it would be glad that a vibrant, happy, filled-with-life family uses it daily in 2014. This piece of furniture was clearly built to withstand a lot of wear, and seventy years later it may have a few scratches and nicks but it is as solid as they come.

Kind of like these guys…

1057th Engineer Port Construction and Repair

Credit: State Archives of Florida
Second row: Richard Thomas, Edsel Lucas, Wm. Edwards, Richard Mueller, Leroy Tidlund, Peter Hauser, Harris Boatwright.
Third row: Melvin Blackstone, Ray. Murphy, Chs. J. Smith, Edwin Caplinger, Maurice Franceau, Wm. Evans, Wm. Mikita, Warren Kelly.
Front row: Phil. Pritchett, John Gazdik, Chester Maciejewsli, Leonard Werth, John Nye.
Camp Gordon Johnston originally opened as Camp Carrabelle and was later named to honor Colonel Gordon Johnston in January 1943.
Back row: Geo. M. Esser, Phil. Karsted, Gordon Stark, Roy Briar, William Viglianco?, Merle Averill?, Geo. Kubik.

And that’s no coincidence.

30 Days of Camp Gordon Johnston (#30daysofCGJ)

My friend Karen started a monthly group called “Illumination.” The point of the group is to promote inspiration among friends and networking, especially for those of the group who telecommute and do not have the give-and-take that comes with office life.

This month, our focus was “30 days,” as in “you can do anything for 30 days and it can get you close to a goal you have been putting off.”

The speaker we discussed, Matt Cutts, says, ““The next 30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not, so why not think about something you have always wanted to try and give it a shot for the next 30 days?”

To watch his talk (which is less than 4 minutes long!), follow this link.

For my 30 days, I am choosing to stop procrastinating on taking the first step (baby step as it may be) of the book I eventually intend to write about Camp Gordon Johnston. Except for a couple of visits to the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum, and attending the Camp Gordon Johnston Reunion in 2011, I have not made any forward progress. I picture this book as a Laura Hillenbrand-style Unbroken, but seeing as how I am not Laura Hillenbrand, I have to figure out how to tell this amazing story my own way, and I have a lot of research skills to hone along the way.

What I can do, however, in just moments a day, is tweet. For that reason, I will tweet once a day for 30 days some factoid or other comment relevant to Camp Gordon Johnston using the hashtag #30DaysofCGJ. Maybe if I pull on that thread, it will lead me a bit closer to weaving the fabric that will become my book someday.

If you know of anyone who has a story related to the WWII training days at Camp Gordon Johnston, I would love to get in touch with them. I can be reached at paulakiger (at) gmail (dot) com!

cgj sign


Colonel Gordon Johnston Source: Princeton Alumni Weekly

Colonel Gordon Johnston
Source: Princeton Alumni Weekly


Resolve for 2012 (A Mama Kat Writing Prompt)

This week, recommended that I write about Mama Kat prompt number two: Quick! Your in laws will be at your house in two hours. What will you feed them out of what you have on hand? The thing is, my inlaws are over a lot and my husband is a pretty good cook, so that wasn’t as challenging as number five: What are your resolutions for 2012 and what happened to your resolutions of the past?

I usually pick three resolutions/goals for each year. So far, I have one. It is a carryover goal which I did not achieve in 2011 — running a 5K in less than 30 minutes. More on that here.

I don’t know what the other two will be. I need to put a little more thought into it and actually plan to attend a meditation session to get a little clarity on this.

Part of the prompt asks for outcomes of previous year’s goals. Therefore, a report card of sorts:

Here are the 2010 goals:

Guatemala happened. It didn’t happen in 2010, but we loved the group we traveled with and ended up sponsoring Estela, so I think the July 2011 trip happened at exactly the right time.
Big Green Pen is happening. I have steady opportunities to proofread, edit, and write as my “sideline” and get positive feedback from the authors with whom I work. My short story, Play Ball, won 3rd place in the Flash Fiction component of the Seven Hills Literary Contest and has been published as part of the Seven Hills Review.
The “Kids Main Driver” goal sort of happened. This was more of an issue for me when I was having to shuttle children off to after school programs every day and pay college students to get them to activities. With changes in their activities (i.e. no more football practice for Wayne), as well as the fact that Tenley now has friends who drive with whom she can ride, it’s not as big a need. But it’s still a challenge as Wayne Kevin starts speed skating two days a week and has to get from middle school to skating right in the middle of the work day.
Here are the 2011 goals:

The “Run a 5K in less than 30 minutes” has been rolled over to 2012.

Technically, you could say I wrote about Camp Gordon Johnston, because I wrote this post after I participated in their annual reunion last year. But my dream is an Unbroken-style story, one that readers walk away from knowing more about World War II, its people and its places than they did before they picked the book up. Much work remains to be done. This goal has not happened.

“Expand BGP (Big Green Pen) without losing so much sleep” has not happened. My day job still takes up my …. days, of course. Nights and weekends are filled with Big Green Pen stuff, exercising, time with family, other things I love, etc. In fairness to my health, I need to find a more efficient combination for all of this (or eliminate something).

Which brings us to 2012. As I said, I am not ready to go on record with my second and third resolutions yet. Some thoughts in my head include the fact that I really love being outdoors and would like to be more deliberate about getting some outside time in regularly. I also am cognizant that my children are rushing to independence at warp speed. When my son finishes school 5.5 years from now, I don’t want to be looking across a table at a spouse whom I have completely lost touch with and I don’t want kids who say “you were always on the computer.” Something about the 2012 goals has to be more inward facing than previous goals. Lastly, the thought “outer order brings inner calm” is part of the mix. I have never been a neat freak when it comes to my domestic life but I am tired of laundry mountain, dust bunnies, and unresolved pet stains on the carpet. Time to clean some things up.

Maybe Resolve pet stain remover will be my mascot product for 2012!



Marching Blindly Through Molasses

When I was driving to Carrabelle last weekend to participate in the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum Reunion, I was listening to “The Professor and the Madman,” a book written by Simon Winchester about the development of the Oxford English Dictionary. At one point the book was discussing the laughingly erratic progress of the project and Winchester used the term “Marching Blindly Through Molasses.” The term perfectly defines how I feel as I stand on the brink of the book I dream of writing.

I want to write about Camp Gordon Johnston, where a quarter of a million men prepared for amphibious combat between 1942 and April 1946. Having been in Tallahassee since 1982 (with the exception of the three years in New York), I have driven through Carrabelle more times than I can count. It was always on the way to somewhere else (specifically, the beach). This is typical of what I’d see out of the window:  

I got interested in Camp Gordon Johnston (CGJ) when my friends, Tony and Linda Minichiello, became involved in establishing a World War II museum in Carrabelle. When Tony first started describing CGJ and the museum to me, I thought “oh that’s kinda nice,” but over a series of years I got roped in conversation by conversation and finally made it to visit. On a Saturday, I  managed to wrangle my son and a friend of his into the car for the trip. Even though I arrived ten minutes before closing time, Tony gave us the deluxe tour, including the building where the museum stores its automobiles, such as this:

I took the time off of work this year and spent all of Friday and all of Saturday participating in the reunion activities. I sort of envisioned sitting down with the CGJ veterans who were there, picking their brains for stories and gathering detailed information for my eventual book. Which is why I am as surprised as anyone else that I spent most of the weekend thinking about Vietnam. (Although the annual reunion is centered upon the WWII veterans, it has expanded to be a gathering point for veterans from any branch of the armed forces, from any conflict.)

Two couples took me “under wing,” and both of the men were Vietnam Veterans. Rather rapidly as the weekend began, I deduced that my objective for the future book would be to meet everyone and gain some credibility among the veterans. There was no time or opportunity for in-depth “interviews” and the veterans who had been at Camp Gordon Johnson wanted to visit with each other, for the most part.

There were themes that ran through the conversations I had this weekend that connected back to Matterhorn, the audiobook I listened to several weeks ago. Although the book is technically “fiction,” Karl Marlantes has stated that it is based on his experiences in Vietnam. He said when he first arrived back in the US after serving, he “dumped” everything out on paper. It wasn’t until 30 years or so had passed that he could mold his “brain dump” from 30 years ago into the somewhat more objective book that was published.  A couple of observations:

There is a point in Matterhorn where Marlantes’s characters talk about the toxic mist that is coming at them from a plane above. The troops are supposed to have moved on to a different location prior to the misting, but an administrative decision made in some office far away changes the plan. Their commanding officer says, “Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s just a defoliant. It won’t hurt anything but plants. It is called Agent Orange.”

The Camp Gordon Johnston veterans tell a story of a boatload of soldiers who were lost when their amphibious landing craft let down its ramp in the dead of a moonless night, thinking it was at Dog Island. The craft had missed the mark and was still in open water. The soldiers, weighed down with gear, all drowned. Did some administrative decision in some office far away move the mission to a night that did not have the benefit of the moonlight?

I am at 700+ words and there is so much more to tell. For now, let’s just say I “got it” every time Lynn, the wife of Jerry, one of the Vietnam veterans present, told everyone in uniform:

 Thank you for your service.

Wordless Wednesday (Words of the New Orleans Edition)

This past Saturday, I was attending the 16th Annual Camp Gordon Johnston Reunion. As part of the festivities, the New Orleans LCU was supposed to make a mock amphibious landing on Carrabelle Beach to simulate the WWII training activities that occurred there in the early ’40’s.

Unfortunately, the beach was too shallow for the New Orleans to complete the landing. All was not lost, however. The crew gave tours of the craft. Our tour guide was this very nice young man, Lieutenant (I think) Weinstein:

Maybe it’s just all of the uncertainty of our family’s struggle with continued unemployment, but as much as I love all things military watercraft, it just seemed that the words on the boat summarized my life right now:

It often feels like something stinks:

Thank goodness I have friends with whom I can:

And say what’s on my mind:  

And, as always, I need to keep my options open:

Thank you to the US Army Reserves 824th Transportation Company, 332nd Transportation Battalion (Terminal), based in Tampa, Florida.