This blog post is going to be purely personal in nature. There will not be a wealth of fish or fishing information here, but if you choose to read you might learn a thing or two about me, and maybe find something to think about. Putting stuff that has been swirling around in my head into words on paper is something I need to do, something I like to do. If you want to read it too, well, that is OK.
I attended a funeral last week. It was the funeral for my uncle, one who had been battling cancer for quite awhile. We all knew that eventually he would lose the battle, and the time had come, but it was still hard. Family and faith are the only things I know that help in times like that.
My earliest memory of my Uncle Butch is of him being a pilot. Airplanes and flying run on my Bauer side, my dad had a private pilots license and worked as a airline station agent for years, my uncle flew for the Army, and my Grandpa Bauer actually had a private pilots license for a short time too (I do not think Grandma was too crazy about that). Anyway, I can remember at a young age hanging out at the airport where my dad worked for the airline and my Uncle Butch flew. I can remember sitting on one of the stools there at the small cafe with my uncle, probably drinking a pop and listening to him talk flying with other pilots. That was so cool.
In my early school years I wanted to be a pilot. I still have old art drawings that my Mom saved from school and in those early years they mostly included airplanes. I still love planes. Somewhere along the line my “what do you want to be when you grow up?” changed from being a pilot to being a fisheries biologist. All my art projects from those later school years included fish. You might wonder how I got distracted from flying and being a pilot like Uncle Butch and Dad, but hunting, fishing and trapping runs really thick in the Bauer blood too.
In fact as we gathered with family at my Uncle’s house last week, I knew it would not be long before the remembering and the hunting and fishing stories would start flowing. Almost as soon as we walked in the door and shared hugs and tears, one of my Dad’s cousins was showing us her turkey ring tones on her cell phone and one of my cousins was showing me pictures of the big McConaughy wipers he has caught this year. As we reminisced and shared stories of Uncle Butch, there were stories of turkey hunting trips and ten hours spent in fishing boats. Now you know why I am so passionate about encouraging others to start their own hunting, fishing, trapping, outdoor traditions with their families–those common bonds make our families stronger, make us stronger.
It was a sad occasion that brought us together as a family, but I knew there would be laughing too. I knew in the remembering and in the catching up from the too long time spent apart, there would be laughs. Laughter also runs in the Bauer blood. I will never forget Bauer get-togethers or fishing trips where my Grandpa and his brother, Uncle Orville, would be teasing someone, usually one of the girls, and laughing. Grandpa’s laugh was hard to miss, it was one of those that filled a room, one that you knew was his even if you had not seen him, only heard his laugh. Recently, I was re-reading one of Rober Welsch’s books, It’s Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See it from Here, Tales of the Great Plains, and Roger’s words struck me, he wrote this early in that book,
. . . I realized that the West was won not with a gun or with barbed wire, but with laughter, the remarkable capacity of a lady like this to face a hell generations later, and through all this she could laugh.
Laugh, Laugh not at another relegion, or race, or ethnic group, or sex, but at herself. I don’t know if it was the laughers on the frontier who survived or the survivors of the frontier who laughed, but there is a correlation there that we cannot, and should not, deny for a moment.
Like many of you native Nebraskans, if you go back just a few generations I can trace my ancestry to homesteaders. It has been said of those folks that “the cowards never came and the weak died on the way”. It should probably be added that the survivors learned how to laugh, and sometimes laughed at some unusual things, often themselves. Somewhere back in time the Bauers learned to laugh and that has helped us get through some hard times.
I figured in the remembering of my Uncle Butch I would find out who gave him that nickname. His given name was Richard and most everyone called him Dick, but my sister and I always knew him as “Uncle Butch”. Curiously, no one, not even my Dad could remember why he was called that? Maybe it was a nickname my Grandma gave him?
My uncle flew airplanes for the Army for a couple of tours in Vietnam, and then he later flew helicopters too. I can remember going down to Ft. Riley in Kansas to visit him and his family and being taken to a hangar on the base where he showed us the Hueys that he flew. I got to sit in the pilot’s seat of one of those choppers and that was really cool too. I have not done much fishing in Kansas; most of it was done during those visits with Uncle Butch and my cousins.
After retiring from the Army, he returned home to Alliance where he was a rural mail carrier for awhile before becoming a Box Butte County deputy sheriff. One day while serving as courtroom security he noticed a defendant who had snuck a handgun into the courtroom with the intent of killing the judge and then himself. He saw the guy fidgeting with the gun inside a folder and immediately took action grabbing the gun, flinging it away from the defendant and then subduing the man. Likely, my Uncle Butch saved a couple of lives that day, and was recognized for his action. He went on to serve for several years as the Box Butte County Sheriff.
Uncle Butch had all his funeral arrangements planned. He knew he wanted to be buried in the new veteran’s cemetery just north of the Alliance airport, the same airport where I remember being with him, and just west of the golf course where he spent a lot of time in recent years (I will forgive him for the golfing). By the way, the Nebraska Veterans Cemetery at Alliance is relatively new, there are only a few veterans who have been buried there so far. If you are looking for a way to honor a veteran, I can think of no better way than making a donation to a veterans cemetery. Those cemeteries are special places, holy ground, and they can use the donations for a lot of landscaping, maintenance and upkeep needs, think about it, http://www.vets.state.ne.us/nvca.html . If you walk into the administration building there and look in the display cases just inside the front door, you will see a display dedicated to my Uncle Butch.
He was buried with full military honors. The cemetery administrator read a long list of commendations that my uncle had received while flying for the Army. In fact he was so decorated that the Army/National Guard honored him with a flyover. That was an awesome thing; I was blown away. We sat in humbled silence, tears flowing down, while the guns saluted, the helicopter flew over, and “Taps” played. I do not believe any of us really know what flying Uncle Butch did for our country, what missions he completed. I think some of them were top secret and we may never know. I do know Uncle Butch wanted it that way; whatever it was he did it with honor and courage, for his country.
A few days ago it struck me that my earliest memories of my Uncle Butch, and my last memory of him were the same–he was a hero.