Seventeen Septembers Later

9-11 18 North Tower collapse

Please join us over at Bearing Drift as we remember September 11, 2001 — the most tragic day in American history.

Where were you on that day? Some share their stories.

Meanwhile, a timeline is playing out during the day, posted on Bearing Drift in real time as events unfolded that fateful day, with links also posted on Bearing Drift’s Facebook page and Twitter @BearingDrift.

As I noted this morning on my Facebook page:

It’s been seventeen Septembers since the horror of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Those too young to remember can never understand the feelings of the many who lived through it. This is a day to remember and reflect.

The toll on 9/11: Nearly 3,000 people died as a result of hijacked aircraft flown into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93’s crash into a Pennsylvania field to prevent the same tragedy in the Nation’s capital.

First responders who perished included 340 firemen and 60 police officers.

First responders who rushed into the dust and debris are now suffering from respiratory and other illnesses.

On this anniversary my thoughts always turn to friend Philip Lynch, a retired New York police officer who was part of the 9/11 rescue mission at the Twin Towers and who moved to Augusta County over a decade ago. His thoughts on a day that still affects many:

“Since then 9/11 first responders have cancer at a rate 15 percent higher than their peers. Many responders have other ailments. Some have PTSD. Some have lost their sense of taste or smell. Some have developed other problems such as dependence on prescription drugs, or alcohol to deal with the stress, and survivor guilt.”

Phil adds, “Please remember those who have been on the frontlines in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pennsylvania, DC, and NY.”

Never ever forget.

An Open Letter of Thanks to RPV’s Mike Thomas


Dear Mike,

You did it again — stepped in as interim chair to fill the vacuum left when John Whitbeck resigned in July — and the Republican Party of Virginia once again owes you a big thanks. You kept the party going until a replacement was voted on at today’s State Central Committee meeting.

Congratulations to new Chairman Jack Wilson who will finish out Whitbeck’s term.

We’ve been here before, haven’t we? As First Vice Chairman of the party, serving as interim chair is a role you have served a number of times in the past to preserve continuity in leadership. You have been asked before to take on the role yourself but you always said no. You seem to thrive working in the background, not in the spotlight of politics — always the reliable wind beneath the wings of whomever was chairman at the time.

The party owes you a huge debt of gratitude also for being the pillar that you are with a steady hand and even temperament and reliability to carry us through the rough patches. Your institutional knowledge is legendary — you are a walking encyclopedia of Virginia Republican politics — and we are amazed at your darn near perfect recall of facts.

During the battles that have occurred between factions, you have worked with all sides, listening and mediating and seemingly always available. Throughout the years not only have you worked with the grassroots but also with countless Republican elected officials who have turned to you for the same measured advice so appreciated by others.

For all that that and so much more, we thank you.

I looked through my photo archives from the past two decades because you know how I like to take pictures at Republican events. You’ve never told me no when I asked for a pic, patiently enduring my shutterbug over the years. Often what people don’t see in the photos I’ve snapped of elected officials is you off to the side, not seeking the limelight but every bit as important as those pictured.

So I compiled a few of those pictures from the multiple GOP events where we have run into each other. I have lots more but will save them for another time.

Just one more thing. Your friendship with many, patience with all, and wisdom from years of experience are truly appreciated by a party that probably doesn’t deserve you. I can just imagine that, as you handed over the gavel today to the new chair, you possibly gave a sigh of relief at resuming your role as First Vice Chair. All I know if we’re all grateful for your leadership. Thanks, Mike.



IMG_1624 (2)
At Burgers With Bill Bolling, June 2017. Richmond.

Mike Thomas August 2018
At son Alec’s wedding in August 2018.


The Republican Advance at The Homestead, 2011.

mike-thomas-5-w-trixie-john-hagerTrixie Averill, former. Lt. Gov. John Hager, and Mike at the RPV State Convention in 2016.

mike-thomas-6Mike and son Alec at State Central Committee meeting in Staunton, 2015.

mike-thomas-7At Burgers With Bill Bolling, 2014.


mike-thomas-9Republican Advance in Williamsburg 2009.

mike-thomas-10Election Night 2009 — Republicans swept Top 3 gubernatorial spots.

mike-thomas-11-familyMike with son Alec and daughter Ashley at one of Eric Cantor’s Republican Roundups.


Photobombed by RTD’s Jeff Schapiro while talking with former Gov. Bob McDonnell, 2016.

mike-thomas-13Republican Roundup. Maybe 2012?

mike-thomas-14-juanita-ballenger-2011With Juanita Ballenger at Republican Roundup in 2011.


mike-thomas-16With Paul Galanti and Judi Lynch.

mike-thomas-17With Susan Allen.

mike-thomas-18-ben-marchiWith Ben Marchi.


mike-thomas-20-martin-brownWith Martin Brown.



mike-thomas-23With Donald and Nancy Williams.

mike-thomas-24-rpv-conv-2011RPV State Convention 2009.

mike-thomas-24-with-mom-cal-2007With my parents at the Republican Roundup in 2007.

mike-thomas-25-at-geo-allen-house-2011Barbecue at Susan and George Allen’s house in 2012.

With Polly Campbell, State Central Committee Secretary for 40 years, at the Republican Roundup.

With longtime GOP activist Trixie Averill. Election night 2009 in RVA.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift


Recipe: Easy One-Skillet Mediterranean Chicken

Mediterranean chicken 1

Maybe I was dragging my feet after being on vacation the past 10 days, reluctant to wade back into the political swamp. Or maybe I just needed a break from editing and lining up articles for the week at Bearing Drift.

Whatever it was, this afternoon I left the keyboard and headed into the kitchen to do something I consider an enjoyable pastime: cook.

Checking the recipe from The Mediterranean Dish blog and gathering the ingredients, it didn’t take long to have a main dish ready for supper.

If you like fresh, give it a try. It’s simple and easy and yummy … and it made a great photo with all the colors. Enjoy!

One-Skillet Mediterranean Chicken Recipe with Tomatoes and Green Olives


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts of equal size
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic or garlic paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano, divided
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large lemon, juice of
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 1/2 cup small-diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup sliced green olives
  • Handful of fresh parsley, stems removed, chopped
  • Crumbled feta cheese, optional


  1. Pat the chicken breasts dry. On each side of the chicken breasts make three slits through.
  2. Spread the garlic on both sides; insert some garlic into the slits you made. Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt, pepper and 1/2 of the dried oregano.
  3. In a large cast iron skillet, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil on medium-high. Brown the chicken on both sides. Add the white wine and let reduce by 1/2 then add the lemon juice and chicken broth. Sprinkle the remaining oregano on top. Reduce the heat to medium. Cover with a lid or tightly with foil. Cook for 10-15 mins turning the chicken over once (chicken’s internal temperature should reach 170 degrees F).
  4. Uncover and top with the chopped onions, tomatoes and olives. Cover again and cook for only 3 minutes. Finally add the parsley and feta cheese. Serve with a light pasta, rice or couscous. Enjoy


Unfriending the Hatred Over John McCain

John McCain 11 Kerry Stutt on FB

I unfriended someone today on Facebook because of this meme. To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure who he was. I’m usually very careful about those added to my Facebook list so somewhere along the way maybe we worked a campaign together or something but I cannot remember. All I know if he was despicable in his hatred toward John McCain.

Conservatives used to talk about how hateful and vitriolic Democrats were toward Republicans. This meme proves that some on the Republican side have become just as hateful and vitriolic proving the hypocrisy that now permeates the GOP.

In trying to figure out who this Facebook “friend” was, I read his “about” section where he had written, “Canadian Immigrant, moved to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2000 for the opportunity of living the American Dream – FREEDOM.”

This meme is beyond the pale and further demonstrates the divide between 80 percent of the Republican party and the other 20 percent. Ronald Reagan would not be welcomed in the party under Trump.

John McCain: Vietnam POW for 5.5 years, public servant who represented Arizona for 35 years, twice a GOP presidential candidate.

GOP: Drowning in hypocrisy.

John McCain 8 USA Today


Shenandoah Acres

“In the Draft,” the Facebook page dedicated to Stuarts Draft in the southern part of Augusta County, had such interesting historical information this week that I decided to post it here as a reference for future years.

Shenandoah Acres has been a popular tourist destination in the central Shenandoah Valley as well as well known and loved by local residents. Here is what “In the Draft” wrote about this local treasure:

Good morning Stuarts Draft! It’s time for a new ITD Person Of The Week. Actually, this week we have “Persons” of the week. This is long overdue – these 2 guys (brothers) should have been the 1st people I featured on this page. I have no excuse, except that even though I’ve known who they were basically all of my life, I had never been introduced to them. They didn’t know me and I just kept thinking I would run into them someday and take advantage of that opportunity. I was seriously intimidated about calling them. I mean, in my opinion, this family is responsible for putting Stuarts Draft on the map and making our community what it is today.

I know most of you already know these guys, but if not, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Jack & Harold Blacka. I have some pictures of Jack that I got from his daughter Cindi. Harold told me the 1st time I spoke to him that I couldn’t take his picture, he might’ve been joking, because he has a great sense of humor, but I certainly didn’t ask a 2nd time – I was so excited to actually sit down and talk to them that I would have agreed to anything!

So, you know who they are, right? The Blacka family owned and operated Shenandoah Acres for 70 years. I say that they “put us on the map” because you can travel anywhere and when someone asks where you’re from and you say things like “The Shenandoah Valley Of Virginia”, “about 30 miles west of Charlottesville, VA”, “3 hours south of DC”, etc – it is not uncommon for the person you’re talking to to ask “Is that near Shenandoah Acres?”

It was not at all unusual for Shenandoah Acres to have visitors from every state (and some other countries as well) in any given summer. They once received a postcard from overseas that was simply addressed “Shenandoah Acres, Virginia, USA”.

Let me give you a little history. Rupert A. Blacka was a traveling salesman from Scottdale, PA. He sold a line of pots & pans that were designed to retain the vitamins in cooking. He had studied medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and dreamed of one day having a health resort.

In his travels, he came across Dodge Pond on a farm that had been owned by Dr William Dodge. Dr Dodge had charged folks 10 cents to swim and picnic on the property.

In 1935 Rupert Blacka returned to Pennsylvania and mortgaged everything he owned to buy the 312 acre apple farm from the Dodge estate. He brought his family – his wife Helen and, I think there were 2 children at that time, to Stuarts Draft, Va. Five more kids would be born in the next few years.

Jack showed me a picture of the small cabin where they lived in those 1st few years. He said the kids slept in sleeping bags on the floor. It was right where the state road ended at that time and Jack says they had to keep the ditches cleaned out, or when it rained it would flood into the cabin and get the sleeping bags wet.

Mr Blacka immediately went to work transforming the muddy spring-fed lake into a clean, clear swimming area and water park. (Rupert Blacka was obviously way far ahead of his time!). Jack & Harold told me that in the winter their dad would return to traveling sales as the lake was a very seasonal business.

The Blacka family continued to develop the property, soon offering an awesome beach house, horseback riding, miniature golf, tennis courts, shuffle board, bike rentals, volleyball & a softball field. I believe they told me that it was in the late 40’s when the diving tower and zip-line type cable was added (again, way ahead of their time). Jack said that the power company actually came over and set the poles for the platform.

According to Harold, the camping started in the 40’s when folks would stay all day and ask Rupert if they could just pitch a tent across the road in the picnic area. Shenandoah Acres had cabins available to rent, but in the early 60’s started developing campsites back in the woods behind the lake. Jack & Harold say that camping really took off in the mid 60’s and at that time they doubled the size of the bath house.

The brothers grew up on the lake – they say that they could swim before they walked. Harold says he learned to dive when Jack dropped him off of the platform into the lake.

Everything was so clean and well maintained – the lake was drained & cleaned every Spring. If you lost a ring or something while swimming, they would take your number and usually found it for you the following Spring. When folks asked Mr Blacka how he kept everything in such pristine shape, he would tell them that his kids did it – most people probably thought 2 or 3 – not realizing there were 7 Blacka children.

So, Jack & Harold Blacka grew up at Shenandoah Acres and graduated from Wilson Memorial High School. (Jack was in the first graduating class of kids who attended Wilson for 4 years. It had previously been an Army hospital.) After high school both of these wonderful guys enlisted in the Marines. Jack was sent to Camp Pendleton, CA for basic training and later was stationed in Okinawa. Harold went first to Parris Island and was later stationed in Yuma, AZ. (There were other stations, but talking to these two gentlemen is so interesting, that I occasionally forgot to take notes – y’all know how flighty I am.)

Of the 7 siblings, Jack and Harold were the 2 that returned to Stuarts Draft. They followed in Rupert’s footsteps – devoting their lives to their families and the Stuarts Draft community – working the lake during the summer, providing a super fun experience for all of us, and picking up other work in the off season.

They stayed busy. Both were involved in and served as Presidents of every travel/tourist association that existed. All of this in addition to raising their children, with their lovely wives, of course. Harold & Elise’s daughter Aaron was quite the athlete and Harold coached her & many other local young ladies in softball for years. Jack & Kay had Brian, Cindi & Kevin.

If you are a younger member of our community, you may not remember Kay. Sadly she passed away in 1981. If you’re my age, you most likely think of Elisa “Lisa” Kenney Blacka when you think of Jack’s wife – she was always working around the Acres. They were married for almost 27 years before she passed away unexpectedly in May of 2017 of a suspected pulmonary embolism.

The Blacka family sold Shenandoah Acres in 2005, after 70 years of serving our community. After a couple of ownership changes, in 2014, the husband & wife team of Garland Eutsler and Carolynn Rubino purchased and reopened the resort.

They have done wonderful things over there and brought back a place that is so special to our community. Garland has said that they are “building on the Blacka legacy”.

Last Spring they opened the “Blacka Pond” on the property in honor of the Blacka family. (The guys told me that their father had always wanted a fishing pond).

Jack and Harold still live on Lake road, both homes are within walking distance of Shenandoah Acres. They still stay super busy. Jack has season tickets to UVA men’s basketball, women’s basketball, football & baseball and he NEVER misses a home game.

Both guys are super close to their families. Harold & Elise’s daughter and her family are down in the Blacksburg area and they are often down there. Jack’s kids and grandkids are here and they keep him busy too – as you can see from these pictures.

I so appreciate Jack and Harold’s graciousness, for welcoming me into Jack’s home and taking time to talk to me. I heard some REALLY good stories and enjoyed my time with them so much. When you see Harold or Jack around the Draft, stop to introduce yourself and thank them all they have done for our community throughout the years. If you’re lucky, you might get to hear a good story too.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Visit the website for more information about Shenandoah Acres.

Back in the Homeschool Classroom: First Day of School


Many students started their first day of school this week including Augusta County. Some will start back after Labor Day.

This week was also the first day of school for many homeschool students … and that’s where my mind wandered this week as I remembered sixteen years of “first day of school” classes with my children. We had no bus to catch, no lunch to pack, no specially-requested school supplies to buy.

Teaching with the Calvert curriculum in grades K-8, all supplies were included so no trips to the store were necessary for particular items. Calvert had it down to a science because they supply curricula for families around the world … students living on sailboats with their parents, missionaries in remote areas of the globe, and even those of us who were simply teaching our children here in the United States.

For a child, there’s something special about a new pad of writing paper, box of crayons, drawing paper, freshly sharpened pencils, books, work books, and even a new ruler. I would add extras for my classroom … glue sticks, glitter, craft supplies, additional reading books, and personalized items for each of my children to make it a special, never-to-be-forgotten day to kick off a special, never-to-be-forgotten year.

I also decorated the school room and made it a new, exciting place for the new year … new posters, maps, visuals, and additional items that were added throughout the year with each season. For fall I would tape a three-foot tall tree on the wall and the kids would cut out and color leaves to add to it as I read story books out loud. Thanksgiving would have hand-crafted turkeys followed by Christmas, winter, Valentine’s Day, and other special times of the year.

Six things remained the same year after year. Our classroom always had a Bible, the American flag, and posters on the wall with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Ten Commandments. Maps of the United States and Virginia were part of our geography.

When my son was in the early elementary years and my daughter was a pre-schooler, she had her own “work station” complete with drawing paper, crayons, cut-out alphabet letters, Play-Doh, coloring books, manipulatives, and toys. It made her feel included in the school day.

We started back in September so mid- to late-August was spent each year working on lesson plans. While the kids swam in the small pool in our back yard, I would sit at the picnic table in the shade of a nearby tree and set up our schedule for the year. Calvert provided a laid-out lesson plan but I always deviated from it, adding and rearranging and working in extra activities to fit our family. That was the beauty of home education.

For the first day of school, I would wait until the kids went to bed the night before and then set up the school room for our first day. It added to the surprise and allure of a new year and, the next morning, they would pop out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, and then we’d head for the school room. It was almost like Christmas with big eyes and oohs and ahhs as they admired the new school accessories, picking up and examining a tablet or book or tube of glitter.

And so our school year began. Since it was September and the days were beautiful leading into autumn, we would often move outdoors onto a blanket in the shade to read out loud, or hike down to the farm pond to look for aquatic life — guppies, frogs, turtles, fish — that we read about in the science books. Searching for specific tree leaves was a favorite as they gathered a variety of species in our own nature scavenger hunt.

Some days we would pack a lunch and the school books and head for the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway where we would do school activities around a picnic table or search for creek critters for biology. After moving to Virginia, we would do the same and head to the Skyline Drive, eating lunch at a picnic area and then becoming Junior Park Rangers for the afternoon, looking for animal tracks and wildflowers and insects.

But the first day of school would kick it off each year, preparing us for those adventures in teaching, in learning, in exploring and expanding our horizons. I learned as much as the kids, and I believe we are all better for it. It was the right choice for my family, and I was willing and, thankfully able, with the backing of a supportive husband, to give 24/7 to my children who are now college grads, married, and have homes of their own.

Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin University in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in Augusta County located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:

Reading out loud to our children (July 2015)
Did Terry McAuliffe understand the ‘Tebow Bill’ he vetoed? (April 2015)
The Virginian-Pilot is wrong about homeschool sports ‘entitlement’ (February 2015)
’50 reasons homeschooled kids love being homeschooled’ (November 2014)
Grown son’s first home (April 2014)
Support group vs Co-op (February 2014)
Where it all began … blazing new trails (January 2013)
Grown son’s first home (July 2013)
Staying in touch with homeschool friends (July 2013)
New Year’s Eve (December 2012)
More sleep = homeschoolers happier, healthier than public school students? (April 2013)
Using Shenandoah National Park as your classroom (March 2013)
Rainy days (May 2013)
A chance encounter (June 2013)
Autumn (October 2012)
The rain rain rain came down down down (April 2012)
Why we teach our own (April 2012)
Casey (April 2012)
The wedding … letting go (September 2012)
The pain of grief (August 2012)
When faced with a challenge … no whining (April 2012)
The simple wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (August 2012)
First day of school (September 2012)
The rise of homeschooling (February 2012)
Hot summer days (July 2011)
Constitutional lessons and the Judicial branch of government (March 2012)
Mary Baldwin commencement 2012 … SWAC Daughter graduates with honors (May 2012)

Three 2018 GOP Gubernatorial Races Downgraded

With continued predictions of a blue wave in November, three gubernatorial races have seen ratings changes, according to Geoffrey Skelley, Associate Editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at UVa’s Center for Politics.

Three Republican governors up for reelection are facing tough races as their Democratic opponents gain ground in the latest round of ratings. From Thursday’s Crystal Ball:

Arizona and Iowa have few obvious things in common, but they do both have incumbent Republican governors seeking election in November. Another commonality is that the Crystal Ball now views both states’ gubernatorial contests as increasingly competitive, prompting ratings changes that move the Arizona race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican and the Iowa race from Leans Republican to Toss-up. In addition to these two changes, we are also shifting Illinois’ gubernatorial contest from Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic, another downgrade for Republicans.

Skelley digs deeper into the reasons for downgrading these races for Republicans, and notes:

With the three ratings changes in Arizona, Illinois, and Iowa, the Crystal Ball now rates nine gubernatorial races as Toss-ups, with 18 others favoring Republicans to some degree and nine more favoring Democrats to some extent. We now view Illinois as the likeliest party flip among the 36 gubernatorial contests in 2018.

Despite the negative news, Skelley gives a caveat of hope for the GOP:

The RGA continues to have a substantial money edge on its rival, the Democratic Governors Association. Granted, the RGA is defending a lot of ground — Republicans already control 26 of the 36 governorships on the ballot this year — but the committee has the financial wherewithal to move the needle and potentially snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in some close races. The RGA’s deep pockets are always a factor to consider in close gubernatorial races.

Read the entire report here. Find all the 2018 gubernatorial races here.

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift

Happy 4th of July From the Mitchells

For years Mr. Mitchell and I have hosted Fourth of July picnics, some small and some that were larger. One year we had over 100 guests — family, friends, and neighbors — in the back yard celebrating America’s independence. Here’s a look back….

What is the 4th of July without American flags? They were in abundance.

Relaxing and taking photos before guests arrived.

Alex puts up flag over grilling area.

Flags, flags, flags.

The grilling area ready for
100+ guests … three grills, three cooks,
100 hotdogs, 100 hamburgers, 100 Italian sausages.

* “SWAC House” coined by Yankee Phil in his post about the cookout

Previous posts:
SWAC House* 4th of July blast … part 1
SWAC House* 4th of July blast … part 2
SWAC House* 4th of July blast … part 3
SWAC House* 4th of July blast … a Marine in Iraq: “Freedom Isn’t Free”
4th of July = flags, flags, flags
A Look Back at 4th of July Parades, Cookouts at SWAC House

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell

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First Day of Summer and Shrimping in South Carolina

It’s the first day of summer — summer solstice on the calendar although unofficially summer began with Memorial Day. Pools are open, hot summer days are here, and vacations are in full swing.

As I watered flowers on the deck this warm morning in the Shenandoah Valley, my mind drifted back to another first day of summer when my husband and I, along with our 16-month-old son, went to visit with Virginia friends who were living at the time in Charleston, S.C.

On June 21, the first day of summer, we started out early as our friends took us in their boat to explore Charleston Harbor and visit historical Fort Sumter on a small piece of land in the Atlantic Ocean. We spent the morning walking its pathways, exploring fortified areas, and absorbing the history of it all.

Leaving Fort Sumter, we pointed the boat toward the South Carolina coastline and made our way into one of the delta inlets for some shrimping, a great pastime for our friends, and something that was about to become a new experience for us.

We found a nice place with no one around and anchored the boat, then spent the next hours slathering on suntan lotion to fend off the sun’s rays, picnicking on deck, swimming with our little boy in his life jacket, and waiting for the water to recede as the time for low tide approached.

The delta flats have canals cut into them where the water rushes out with low tide … and that is where we turned our attention. Jumping overboard with nets in hand, we stretched the nets across those canals to catch the shrimp that were being washed to sea in the ebbing tide.

Shrimp were plentiful and we quickly loaded our nets, emptied them into five-gallon buckets on deck, and repeated as we hauled in enough shrimp to fill all the buckets. Since we then had plenty of time to wait until the tide returned to once again float the boat, our time under the hot sun was spent removing shrimp heads before icing them down for the ride back to dock.

The experience made an impression on me because we commented several times throughout that day that it was the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, and it was very hot on the salt water — mid 90s with barely a breeze. Thank goodness for all that water to cool off with frequent dips overboard.

It was a memorable event that I recalled today while enjoying this first day of summer in western Virginia under cloudy skies, temps in the low 80s, and an afternoon of thunderstorms on the agenda.

Both memories are keepers.

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Staunton’s Bob Campbell Joins Heaven’s Chorus


Bob Campbell is pictured singing in this video still shot.

I woke up this morning to sad news. Staunton’s Bob Campbell, who sang for years with the Coachmen, a regional gospel-country quartet, passed away last night. His nephew Chris announced it on Facebook.

It brought back some memories. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a group of local residents worked with “From Our Hearts,” organized by Dianne and Benny Rankin who owned T-Bone Tooter restaurant in Churchville, to fill care packages for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Often we would meet at the restaurant before it opened to form an assembly line to pack boxes, print mailing labels, and get another stack ready to mail halfway around the world. Occasionally we would hang around on the porch for dinner.

Sometimes Bob entertained diners. I can still see him on the front porch singing in his laid-back way, with a smile on his face because he was doing something he loved.

For some reason, the song that sticks in my mind is that old Keith Whitley tune, “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” Bob nailed it.

A lot has happened since those days. Benny passed away in March 2018 after battling heart disease. The restaurant has been passed on to others and now operates under another name. But this morning Dianne added her thoughts on Bob’s passing, posting on my Facebook page:

Heaven has gained 2 new angels these last couple months. I know Benny Rankin was at heavens gate with open arms to greet his friend along with many others. Both of these great people will be missed greatly by the community. Thank you so much Lynn Randall Mitchell for sharing the memory of such a great friend and the good times of our restaurant, T Bone Tooter. Prayers to Tracy Campbell, Wanda Campbell and all his family during this time for healing.

Prayers for all Bob’s family and friends … he will be fondly remembered.

Bob Campbell sings “Sweet Virginia” beginning at 2:25.

A love song to Staunton where the Coachmen are from, written and performed by Chris Campbell. For those who were raised in Staunton, have left Staunton, have moved to Staunton and love the place … whether you’re from-heres or come-heres, you will recognize many of the landmarks in this video. If you’ve moved away, get ready to be homesick.

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Charles Krauthammer Pens His Goodbye: ‘My Fight Is Over’

Charles Krauthammer 1

“I have been uncharacteristically silent these past ten months. I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I’m afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me.” –Charles Krauthammer

Sad news on Friday….

After the heartbreaking news from his doctors that he has only weeks to live, psychiatrist/author/news commentator/panelist Dr. Charles Krauthammer began his open letter of goodbye by explaining his absence in recent months, how he thought he was on the road to recovery, and the bitter news that he was losing his battle with cancer.

“I leave this life with no regrets,” he wrote. Read it all here.

Dr. Krauthammer’s story is not in his death, but rather in his life, a life where he took lemons and turned them into lemonade.

Now 68, he was paralyzed during his first year at Harvard Medical School in a diving board accident. After 14 months in the hospital, he returned to med school and earned his degree as a psychiatrist, graduating with his class. He once joked that he was a medical doctor, a psychiatrist in remission, and hadn’t had a relapse in 25 years.

On his road to Harvard he learned to dislike political extremism on the right and left, noting, “I became very acutely aware of the dangers, the hypocrisies, and sort of the extremism of the political extremes. And it cleansed me very early in my political evolution of any romanticism. … I detested the extreme Left and extreme Right, and found myself somewhere in the middle.”

He practiced that in life, leading psychiatric research during the Jimmy Carter administration and became a speech writer for Vice President Walter Mondale. At the time he became ill last summer, he had spent years as a panelist on Fox News with Bret Baier, and 23 years as a panelist for PBS’ Inside Washington.

In his letter, Dr. Krauthammer wrote, “I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”

He wrote extensively, both in the medical field and then increasingly, in politics, publishing in Time, The New Republic, the Washington Post (where he won a Pulitzer Prize), Financial Times, The Weekly Standard, and many others. He won extensive awards and recognition for his work in all venues.

Krauthammer’s independent streak came out in his criticism of Donald Trump. He believes there is evidence the Trump presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government.

He was married and had a son. Friends talk about how he loved the Washington Nationals and was often at their games.

His life was remarkable. When tragedy struck, he seemed to dig down deep and excel at a time when many would give up. His voice, his intellect, his reasoning were calming amidst turbulent political times. That civility will be sorely missed.

“I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.” –Dr. Charles Krauthammer, June 8, 2018

‘The Eyes of the World Are Upon You’

[Today marks 74 years since the D-Day invasion. Two years ago the small community of Bedford, Virginia, invited Virginia and the world to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of Operation Overlord. Here are photos from that day (see also Part 2).]

DSCN1760 (2)“Fifty-seven years ago, America and the nations of Europe formed a bond that has never been broken. And all of us incurred a debt that can never be repaid. Today, as America dedicates our D-Day Memorial, we pray that our country will always be worthy of the courage that delivered us from evil and saved the free world.” –President George W. Bush (at National D-Day Memorial dedication, June 6, 2001)

Monday, June 6, 2016, was a day for sights and sounds and memories and stories from some of the few remaining veterans who survived June 6, 1944. It was the 72nd anniversary of Operation Overlord — the allied invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day — that marked the beginning of the end of World War II.

Exiting the four-lane highway in Bedford and turning onto Overlord Drive, it is a quiet drive through open fields up the hill to a place of reverence and thankfulness. Surrounded by the peaceful Virginia countryside with the Blue Ridge Mountains, including Sharp Top and Flat Top mountains that form the Peaks of Otter in the distance, the National D-Day Memorial provides an opportunity to learn and reflect on a pivoting event in America’s — and the world’s — history.

The overwhelming extent of the sacrifices made as well as the huge operation that involved 150,000 Allied troops, 5,000 ships, 11,000 aircraft, and huge losses of more than 9,000 Allied soldiers who died, including 2,499 American soldiers, in the largest amphibious landing the world had ever seen, was sobering.

The liberation of Europe began that day and, though the war would continue for almost a year longer, the Normandy invasion gave Allied forces an opening to begin working their way across Europe to defeat Hitler.

Thankfully, the vision of D-Day veteran Bob Slaughter to have a national site to remember and honor those involved was achieved, and the National D-Day Memorial was dedicated on June 6th, 2001, by President George W. Bush.

My husband and I arrived early on June 6, 2016, and stayed into the afternoon, attending the 11:00 am ceremony, strolling the grounds, reading the historical plaques, and listening to the roll call of names. We left with a renewed appreciation for the Greatest Generation. Below are photos that capture a small part of the day. May we never forget.

Why Bedford for the national memorial? As explained in the video, the memorial is a reminder of the extreme sacrifice the small Virginia town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains made during the invasion on June 6, 1946. They lost more men per capita than any other location in America. Of the 30 Bedford soldiers in Company A, 19 perished that day and four others during the war. That sacrifice by the Bedford Boys was the reason their town was chosen as the site for the national memorial. For photos of the memorial’s tribute to the Bedford Boys, see 72 years later … the Bedford Boys.

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For the first time ever the roll call of the names of the 2,499 Americans killed on D-Day was read by volunteers whose voices could be heard throughout the memorial’s grounds. The honoring of the fallen continued for three hours into the afternoon with names read by veterans, families, volunteers, and dignitaries.

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“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.” –Laurence Binyon

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The Bedford Boys seemed to come to life Monday.

DSCN1771 (2)Visitors began arriving prior to the 11am ceremony. Veterans were seated under shady awnings out of the sun’s glare.

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DSCN1797 (2)The 29th Division Drum and Fife band and honor guard.

DSCN1804 (2)A P-51 Mustang circled the site and made two passes over the memorial at the beginning of the ceremony. The World War II vintage aircraft was an American long-range, single-seat fighter-bomber used throughout the war and on D-Day (see Air Power Over the Normandy Beaches and Beyond). The pilots who flew the aircraft (see WW II pilot remembers D-Day, 72 years later) and gliders (see The Flying Coffins of World War II) were instrumental to allied forces, flying bombing missions and delivering troops and supplies.

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See also….

Part 2: Bedford D-Day Memorial Remembrance, Reading of Names of Those Lost on June 6, 1944

Remembering D-Day With the Bedford Boys

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell

The Beauty of a Cool June Evening

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Last week I was reminded of growing up in Richmond with the hot, muggy summer weather that absolutely drains every ounce of energy out of me. On Friday it was 93 degrees with humidity about 150 percent that felt like a wet washcloth smacking you across the face when you walked outside. When I stepped out the door my hair went into its frizzy “yeah, it’s humid” unkempt look that used to drive me nuts when younger but at my age I now just go with it.

I thought of that tonight while sitting on my deck in the cool — let me emphasize, cool — evening air. It’s 68 degrees at 8:30 and my bare feet are on the edge of being chilly. Mr. Mitchell mowed the back yard — perhaps baled would better describe it after all the rain we’ve had — so it looks like a park down under the trees at the edge of the woods. The clean smell of freshly mowed grass and other earthy smells are in the air.

I’m watching a solitary deer quietly grazing under the apple trees that, by the way, should be full of fruit this fall because they were loaded with blooms this spring. For once, thankfully, a hard freeze didn’t get them this year. It’s dark in the woods although we still have about 20-30 minutes of light left in the areas out in the open. I can imagine all the creatures in the woods looking back at me as I peer into the inkiness of the underbrush and trees.

We’ve seen a lot of wild turkeys — one big male and a bunch of hens. Our yard became their refuge from something, I suspect. They angled through one day from the woods across the back yard and beside the house making their way up the hill to the road. Just before getting there, they caught the attention of a black lab that began excitedly barking at this group of winged creatures heading her way, and that male and those hens took to the air and flew over the trees back down to the woods.

I’ve seen turkeys kind of fly but this was full-out flight up and over and all the way down to the back. Amazing. Nature never disappoints in learning something new.

Today a huge crow caught my attention as it swooped across the front yard and by the window so I opened the door to see if it had been a hawk, and it was the crow on the ground eating something. And then a mockingbird swooped in — back and forth, and back and forth — attacking at the crow that was about three times the size of the mockingbird. It continued to eat what I presumed to be a baby mockingbird that it had raided from the nest. Nature can also be cruel.

The lack of humidity makes it particular refreshing sitting out here, something we haven’t been able to do recently with all the rain. I’m looking forward to back porch sitting and entertaining and visiting. The trees are fully leafed out and deep green, bushes have gone wild with all the rain, and we will need to tame the jungle this week by pruning limbs and shrubs and vines.

Ahh … and I just saw a lightning bug, first of the season. A cricket is chirping and a far-off bird — I can’t tell what it is — is twittering. Other than that, the quiet is mesmerizing.

Wait — there it is … the deep guttural croaking of a bullfrog in our neighbor’s pond. I was wondering why I wasn’t hearing them. Missing are the tree frogs … only quiet from the edge of the woods.

It’s after 9:00 … the temperature has now dropped to 64 degrees and it’s completely dark out here … time to take my chilly naked toes inside. Get ready because summer is only a couple of weeks away in the Shenandoah Valley….

Cover photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
Sunset over the Appalachian Mountains

The Price of War

Today is the 73rd anniversary of V-E Day — victory in Europe — marking the end of World War II in that part of the world. Six weeks earlier, on March 21, 1945, a Virginia soldier was killed by Germans while battling along the Siegfried Line. He was 27 years old, my mother’s oldest brother.

His name was Clarence Osborne, the oldest of nine siblings. My mom was the baby of the family, a student at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, when her brother was killed. She still remembers her mother’s reaction that fateful day when the official government car drove up the driveway of their Chesterfield County farm many decades ago, and how her mother’s knees buckled as she realized the presence of that car meant her son had been killed. Mom says her mother, who lived into her 80s, never completely got over the loss.

After retiring, Mom spent hours researching to fill the void of not knowing exactly what happened to her brother and eventually found Clarence’s sergeant, Dock Roberts, living in Texas. Another soldier buddy, Emelio Albert, lived in California. She traveled to both places to talk with them to learn about her brother’s journey as a U.S. Army soldier through war-torn Europe and his final hours, and she documented the treasured research for our family history. Here are her words about her oldest brother’s final months at war … by Eula Osborne Randall Lucy.

Italian Campaign
The Italian Campaign was one of the most difficult of World War II, and some of the most difficult battles for foot soldiers were in Italy which was very mountainous with heavy snows in the winter of 1943 and heavy cold rains in the late winter and spring of 1944. The earth turned into a quagmire and foxholes were filled with water. Mud was so deep it was nearly impassable for vehicles as well as men on foot. In the summer of 1944, the ground turned to dust which swirled at the least disturbance. The unit veterans’ most vivid memories of the Italian fighting was the weather and terrain.

Clarence spent 15 months as a First Gunner in a Mortar Squad, part of the American forces who freed the little town of San Pietro in southern Italy from the Germans. From there they battled their way to the Riviera in southern France and on to the northern border of France, plus one day on Germany. He was killed in the last great battle the 36th Division of the 1st Battalion, Company D, 143rd Infantry Regiment of the Texas National Guard.

Clarence’s first battle was December 15, 1943. Starting December 8th, the 36th Division had been trying to take 4,000-foot Mt. Summacro (Hill 1205) so they could liberate the little town of San Pietro at the base of the mountain. Dock Roberts, Clarence’s sergeant, and Roy Goad, Commanding Officer of the 143rd Regiment, were wounded on Hill 1205. San Pietro was at the entrance to the Liri Valley and was heavily fortified by the Germans. It had to be taken by the Allies before they could enter the Liri Valley in the drive to liberate Rome.

The men of the 36th Division had come into Italy after fighting in the deserts of North Africa and were still wearing their summer uniforms. They were not prepared for the bitterest winter Italy had experienced in years. Most had no overcoats, raincoats, or even gloves.

Much of the fighting for Hill 1205 was by climbing, literally hand over hand, straight up the side of the mountain which was very rugged with sharp, jagged rocks. Germans were entrenched on the top, protected by large boulders along the edge of the top of the mountain. When the first Allied soldiers reached the top and surprised them, the Germans started rolling large boulders off the mountain.

San Pietro
The 1st Battalion of the 143rd Infantry Regiment moved on from Hill 1205 to the battle to liberate San Pietro at the bottom. Clarence was a replacement for the 36th Division and entered the fighting on December 15th. The next day they finally succeeded in capturing San Pietro but a high price was paid with 1,100 casualties.

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President Bush #41 in Intensive Care – Updated

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This photo (photographer Paul Morse through the George H.W. Bush office) went viral when it captured a moment in time with “former U.S. presidents and first ladies posing with former President George H.W. Bush at the funeral of his wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, in Houston on April 21, 2018.” Taken just before the funeral service: Laura Bush, former President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and current First Lady Melania Trump.


Twenty-one years ago this month my Aunt Ruth passed away in a hospital in Richmond after a brief battle with cancer. A little over two months later her husband, our Uncle Claude, followed after suffering a heart attack.

We weren’t surprised.

Married in the 1940s, they never had children and were dedicated to each other. In the absence of kids of their own, she had taken care of him through a heart attack in his 30s and diabetes later in life, administering his meds and monitoring his diet. After she was gone, I suspect he felt a bit lost after so many years together.

On Sunday former President George H.W. Bush was hospitalized, one day after burying his wife of 73 years who had passed away four days earlier. A statement from his office shared the news:

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The nation is praying for the 93-year-old Bush patriarch as he battles this latest health setback in the immediate aftermath of his loss. Theirs is a love story that will continue long after they are gone.

Updated May 5: The former President was released from the hospital.

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