Values

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When the FBI began to suspect that they had a mole in the mid-1980s, they assigned the investigation to FBI Agent Robert Philip Hanssen. Hanssen was born April 18, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois, to a Lutheran family that lived in the Norwood Park neighborhood. He was of Norwegian descent. His father, Howard, who died 1993, was a Chicago police officer, and was allegedly emotionally abusive to Hanssen during his childhood. Nevertheless, Hanssen went on to graduate from William Howard Taft High School in 1962 and attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1966. Hanssen joined the FBI in 1976. Things were going well for him in the FBI, but then, something changed.

In 1979, just three years after joining the FBI, Hanssen approached the Soviet Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) to offer his services. It is thought that he may have had some financial difficulties, and this meeting became the beginning of his first espionage cycle, lasting until 1981. After that, he laid low for a while. Then, in 1981, he restarted his espionage activities and continued until 1991. After that, he ended communications during the collapse of the Soviet Union, because he was afraid that he would be exposed. Hanssen restarted communications the next year and continued until his arrest. Throughout his spying, he remained anonymous to the Russians.

Hanssen spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States from 1979 to 2001. His espionage was described by the Department of Justice as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history.” In all, he sold about six thousand classified documents to the KGB that detailed US strategies in the event of nuclear war, developments in military weapons technologies, and aspects of the US counterintelligence program. Hanssen was involved in espionage at the same time as Aldrich Ames in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Both Ames and Hanssen compromised the names of KGB agents working secretly for the United States. Some of those KGB agents were executed for their betrayal. Hanssen also revealed a multimillion-dollar eavesdropping tunnel built by the FBI under the Soviet Embassy. Then in 1994, Ames was arrested. At that time, some of these intelligence breaches remained unsolved, so the search began for another spy. Ironically, they chose the spy himself to search for the spy. How convenient it was for Hanssen. Finally, the FBI paid $7 million to a KGB agent to obtain a file on an anonymous mole. That information led to Janssen’s exposure, when he was identified through fingerprint and voice analysis.

On February 18, 2001, Hanssen was arrested at Foxstone Park, near his home in the Washington DC, suburb of Vienna, Virginia, after leaving a package of classified materials at a dead drop site. Following his arrest, he was charged with selling US intelligence documents to the Soviet Union and subsequently Russia for more than $1.4 million in cash, diamonds, and Rolex watches over a period of twenty-two years. Hanssen pleaded guilty to fourteen counts of espionage and one of conspiracy to commit espionage, to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to fifteen life terms without the possibility of parole and was incarcerated at ADX Florence until his death on June 5, 2023.

In the days, and even months, leading up to Christmas, most people are trying to get ahead of the game by shopping for gifts for family and friends, and then squirreling them away to await the big day of reveal. We all hope we have found that perfect gift for our loved ones…that gift that tells them how much we love them. Some people are very crafty (a skill I have mastered…a few times, but not too many). Those who are crafty find themselves able to give that unique gift that comes from both the heart and the hand. Still, every gift sent from the heart is loved and is a blessing.

While the gifts are a blessing and something we want to give, they are, nevertheless, a big job, that grows bigger as our families grow. Still, would we want our families not to grow. Of course not!! Each new person is a blessing, and each is very loved. Still for those of us doing the Christmas shopping, trying to get ideas without giving ourselves away, and trying to keep those gifts hidden, it is not a project without a little bit of stress…especially as Christmas draws nearer and nearer. Oh, and don’t forget the monumental job of wrapping all those gifts. I was commenting to my daughter, Amy Royce, that wrapping was something I was going to have to “make myself” do, and she told me to wrap them as I get them!! Oh, to be so organized, hahahaha!!!

Most of us put up our Christmas decorations shortly after Thanksgiving, but there are those who can’t wait that long. They might put their decorations up right after Halloween. I don’t think I would go that far, but it doesn’t really matter, either way, decorating is a big job…even for those who love it. Some people have kids to help, or grandkids who come and help. That makes it easier, but others do their own decorations. No matter how you decorate, most of us are just happy to have the decorating done…while trying not to think about the work ahead of us when it’s time to take it all down again.

Now, we have arrived at the big day…whether you open gifts on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, or a combination of both. We hope our gifts are well received, loved, and not duplicated. Even if they are duplicated, it’s not the worst thing to happen. They can be exchanged, so all is well. Everything that has to do with Christmas has been done…or has it. So often, the real reason for the season…the birth of Jesus, is all but forgotten. How sad that is!! We focus more on Christmas movies, shopping, Santa Clause, and the Grinch, than we do on Jesus. There is nothing wrong with those other things, but we really need to know that the true reason for the season (whether Jesus was born in December or some other time of year) is to remember that God looked down on this messed up world and saw the family that He loved. He knew that we were lost, and without a Savior, doomed to Hell. That’s when He devised a plan to save us. He sent His Son, Jesus to be born a baby, grow to manhood, and then die on the cross as a sinless sacrifice for us!! We weren’t worthy, but like any Father, who loves his children, God chose to buy us back, and Jesus was the payment!! How can we possibly go through this season without remembering the birth and sacrifice of our blessed Savior. Remember the reason for the season!! Merry Christmas everyone!!

It’s a sad thing when someone dies with no next of kin…no friends or loved ones to see to funeral arrangements, last wishes, or even, to attend the funeral. I suppose for the most part, the unfortunate departed one would probably be cremated and no funeral would be held…at least in most places that would be the case. That seems even more sad than someone who lived their last days alone, with no friends and no family. It’s almost like being thrown away.

In Amsterdam, however, they just can’t stand the thought of such a sad end to such a sad life. So, they began a tradition. In a heart-warming tribute to those lost souls who pass without any next of kin or friends, a poet will write a poem and even recite it at the funeral. What an incredible act of kindness and compassion!! These poets are not paid for their services, and yet they take to time to write a poem specifically for the newly departed person, even though the poet never knew the departed.

Frank Starik leads a group of poets in Amsterdam. These poets attend the funerals of the city’s “unmourned” dead, remembering them with a specially composed poem. “I want to give them back a life, a history” he told Reuters reporter Alexandra Hudson. The social services in Amsterdam bury around 250 people a year, and about 15 of those depart with no trace of relatives or friends. For most of us that seems unheard of and shocking, but I suppose that these people are often buried or cremated with little fanfare, so we rarely hear anything about them, but these are the cases closely watched by the poet group, so they can step in and give their own tribute and a labor of compassion and love for a person who had no one to love them. While the poets write their poems, the city contributes by providing a coffin, bouquet of flowers, and even plays music best guessed to be the deceased’s choice of music. I’m not sure how they know what music to use, but maybe they look at the things in the deceased’s home, or anything else like name the wearing of a cross. I love these acts of kindness, and what social worker told Reuters when he said, “Everyone in Amsterdam – rich or poor – should have a dignified funeral, with flowers, with coffee and some thoughts about their life. We are not responsible for how they lived, but we are responsible for them in death, and if they died in Amsterdam then they are one of us.” I can’t think of an act of kindness that is more touching than this. Well done, Amsterdam. Well done.

My grandniece, Jadyn Mortensen has just completed her first year of college at the University of Wyoming, where she is studying mechanical engineering. Jadyn was given a full scholarship as part of the University of Wyoming Barrel Racing Team, and she has really been enjoying college. She missed her family, of course. Jadyn is very close to her parents, Amanda Reed and Sean Mortensen, and the family does just about everything together whenever they can, but this year at college, while hard work due to a heavy load, was also an amazing learning and personal growth experience for Jadyn.

With the school year behind her, Jadyn came home to Rawlins for the summer, and found a seasonal job with KC Harvey. She and her team partner were tasked with the job of spraying properties in the area. On their first day, Jadyn and her partner had a little bit of trouble in the form of a flat tire. They were not in the best place for that to happen, but Jadyn told her partner that she could change the tire, if they had a spare tire. As it turned out, they did, and before long Jadyn had the tire changed and they were back to work. At the end of the workday, their boss asked them how many properties they had finished. The girls told him they only finished ten properties. The boss said, “Let me get this straight. You sprayed only ten properties.” The girls cringed thinking their boss was upset with them. Then he said that most teams finished only 5 properties, and here the girls had finished ten properties and they had also changed their own flat tire. He told them, “That’s amazing!! I’m very pleased with you both!!” These girls got the bosses praise on their very first day!! Most people have no idea what to do on their first day…much less get it right!!!!

Jaydn has about four years of college left, but I’m quite certain that her summer jobs will be secure for as long as she wants to work at . Not bad for a young lady of just 19 years, but then Jadyn was raised by parents who taught her to be independent, and a dad who taught her to know her way around a vehicle. Jadyn is a tough young lady, even though she is very much a lady. She is as at home on a horse, snowmobile, motorcycle, jet ski, as she is in a pickup. And when she dresses up, she always looks simply stunning. She’s quite a lady. Today is Jadyn’s birthday. Happy birthday Jadyn!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

While my husband, Bob and I were in the Black Hills last week, we were having breakfast at the Hill City Cafe, when we overheard a waitress telling another table the story of how the Hill City High School came to have Smokey Bear as their mascot and be renamed the Hill City Rangers. I had no idea that anyone used Smokey Bear as their mascot, nor did I know that no other school was allowed to do so. That caught my interest, so we listened to the story, and then I had to research it further to get the whole story. And quite a story it is.

It all started around noon on July 10, 1939, with one of the worst forest fires in the history of the Black Hills. It was located just ten miles northwest of Hill City, and that’s too close for any wildfire to be to a city. Overnight, the fire burned through six of those ten miles, jumped the Mystic Road, the C.B. and Q. Railway, and was headed directly for Hill City. These are areas my husband, Bob and I have hiked, and hearing about the fire raging through them really hits home for me. The C.B. and Q Railway (Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad) was later abandoned and became the Mickelson Trail, which I have hiked from end to end, twice!! Not in one trip, but over about 10 years, one section at a time. The whole area is a place I love, and to think of it burning…well, it tears at my heart.

By noon on July 11, 1939, the fire was within three miles of town. That was when the wind changed and carried the fire further North and East. Still, Hill City and other towns were not safe, winds shift all the time, and the fire had to be stopped. The weather that year had been hot and very dry, unlike this year, plus a high wind repeatedly “crowned” the fire. The firefighters were in constant danger. They had already called in all of the Civilian Conservation Corps boys in the area, who had been immediately put on the fire, and now the forest rangers called for more help. You know that the situation is desperate, when they call for untrained volunteers. Shockingly, one of the first crews to respond was a group of 25 schoolboys from Hill City. These were high school kids…kids!! The crew of 25 included the entire basketball squad, one eighth grader, and several boys who had recently attended or graduated from the Hill City High School. Their foreman was Charles Hare, President of the Board of Education. This whole story of bravery and selflessness brings tears to my eyes and puts a lump in my throat.

The inferno raged throughout July 11th and into July 12th and utilized over four thousand firefighters, laboring together to bring the fire under control. The fire often isolated the crews, who went without food and water for a number of hours. Heat, smoke, and the danger of being trapped hampered the firefighters, but the blaze was brought under control on July 12th. The people of Hill City had spent many anxious hours watching the smoke and direction of the fire. Many had packed their belongings and were ready to move, but the order to abandon the town was never given. The schoolboys crew from Hill City was at the fire every day. The US Forest Service was so grateful to them that they were later recognized by officials as one of the best crews!! The McVey Fire burned over 20,000 acres.

To get back to the story the waitress was so proudly telling, “The name ‘Rangers’ was given to them in honor of their good record. Because of the work of these schoolboys back in 1939, Hill City Schools became the ONLY school district in the United States to have the privilege of using ‘Smokey Bear’ as its mascot. The school colors are Green and Gold which also represent the National Forest Service Theme, and Hill City is the ONLY school with the honorable privilege of having their graduation ceremonies held at Mount Rushmore. The staff, students and teams representing Hill City Schools hope to continue the traditions of the splendid group of men that our boys so ably assisted, The United States Forest Rangers.” It’s a proud tradition to own, and an awesome goal to reach for. I’m sure they will be able to achieve their goal, and as an annual “tourist” in the area, who loves the Black Hills, I want to thank all the brave firefighters in the Black Hills-Hill City area…past, present, and future (one of which was my niece, Lindsay Moore, for a summer) for all their hard work keeping the area safe, and mostly for their bravery.

As I was sitting in church yesterday morning, waiting for the service to begin, I looked around me at the people in the room. Most of them I have known for years…them and their parents. Then, I realized how many of the parents are no longer with us. It has happened over time…one here and one there, until suddenly, my generation was the new patriarch and matriarch generation in the church…the elders if you will.

I felt a wave of sadness, as I thought about my parents, and the parents of so many others who have gone home. Of course, the sadness was accompanied by the joy for each of them, who were now living every day in the presence of God. How glorious that must be!! They left this Earth, as well as their children and grandchildren, hoping that they had given us the training we would need to go forward in life and follow God in the way we had been trained. They left this Earth standing on the promise in Proverbs 22:6, that says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The people around me had all come up the way I had…going to church with our parents, and so the promise held true.

While I was happy that the people around me, were there to carry on their parents’ legacy of raising their own children in the church, I was sorry that so many of our parents and mentors were no longer there with us. Nevertheless, while we aren’t all queens like Esther was, the verse in Esther, 4:14 holds true, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” It occurred to me that while our parents were no longer with us, the truth was that this wasn’t their time in life…it is ours. We were born for this era, and it is up to us to carry on now. It is up to us to make our parents proud of the people we have become, the people they raised. I left church after the service, feeling a little melancholy, but also a little encouraged, because the people around me, who are carrying on with what their parents taught them, are making their parents proud…we all are. And while this era will have its own issues, the fact remains that each era has its own troubles, as the Bible clearly states in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Our parents carried their day, and now it is up to each of us to carry ours, until our era is up, and then, prayerfully, we have trained up the next generation of warriors to take up the tasks of carrying their day.

In December of 2006, some 10,000 US researchers signed a statement protesting about political interference in the scientific process. In other words, the politicians were manipulating the scientific outcomes of research in order to sell their own agenda to the people. The statement, which included the backing of 52 Nobel Laureates, demanded a restoration of scientific integrity in government policy. These scientists were tired of being forced to have their research line up with the outcome that the government wanted. According to the American Union of Concerned Scientists, their research data is being misrepresented for political reasons. The statement claims that scientists working for federal agencies have been asked to change data to fit policy initiatives. Basically, these scientists are whistle blowers, who stand to lose their funding because they won’t play ball anymore, but science whose outcome is manipulated by politics isn’t science anymore anyway, is it.

In the statement the Union released, it included an “A to Z” guide that it says documents dozens of recent allegations involving censorship and political interference in federal science, covering issues ranging from global warming to sex education. When Congress won’t stand up for scientific integrity, it left the door open for the White House to censor the work of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. Dr Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security said, “It’s very difficult to make good public policy without good science, and it’s even harder to make good public policy with bad science. In the last several years, we’ve seen an increase in both the misuse of science, and I would say an increase of bad science in a number of very important issues; for example, in global climate change, international peace and security, and water resources.”

The statement released at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting…the annual gathering of Earth scientists, triggered a major row when a discussion resulted in the renowned US space agency climate scientist Dr James Hansen claimed that he had come under pressure not to talk to the media on global warming issues. Michael Halpern from the UCS said the statement of objection to political interference had been supported by researchers regardless of their political views. Halpern said, “This science statement that has now been signed by the 10,000 scientists is signed by science advisers to both Republican and Democratic administrations dating back to President Eisenhower, stating that this is not business as usual and calling for this practice to stop.” With the statement of objection, the Union expressed a hopefulness that the new Congress taking office that January would show a greater commitment to protecting the integrity of the scientific process. Unfortunately, I don’t think that has been the case with that Congress, nor with any others. Manipulating science to control the population seems to be the political way of doing things.

Today is a very important day. It is not about having a three-day weekend, a barbecue, picnic, or even a holiday camping trip. It’s not that these things are bad, or even wrong. It’s really just a matter of remembering and showing respect for those men and women who went to war and didn’t come home alive. Those men and women gave their all, their very lives to keep us and so many others around the world safe. They could have stayed home. There isn’t a draft anymore, although many were drafted, because in a war the likes of the world wars, and others, the men and women were dying so fast that the volunteers couldn’t keep up. So, they held a draft, and those men, because at that time women weren’t drafted, did their duty, and went to fight the war, many losing their lives in the process.

I happened to watch a movie the other night, called “The Lost Battalion.” It was a true event from World War I. It was called “The Lost Battalion” because of the heavy losses incurred by the nine companies of the US 77th Division of roughly 554 men, who were isolated by German forces during World War I after an American attack in the Argonne Forest in October 1918. Of the 554 men, roughly 197 were killed in action and approximately 150 missing or taken prisoner before the 194 remaining men were rescued. These men were not lost. The US Army knew where they were…pretty much, but they were lost, because it was expected that all would be lost, and that was almost the case. During the battle, the men had to leave the trenches and run, almost completely unprotected at the Germans entrenched on the other side of the hill. The battle was gruesome, and the movie was quite graphic. I’m sure many people would say that they shouldn’t have shown so much blood and mutilation, but if they “sugar coat” it, do we really understand how horrible war is?

The battalion was led by Major Charles W Whittlesey who survived the attack, but refused to be transported out ahead of his men, choosing instead to walk out with them. When the attack began in the Argonne, the 77th Division was under the belief that French forces were supporting their left flank and two American units including the 92nd Infantry Division were supporting their right. Within the 77th sector, some units, including Whittlesey’s 308th Infantry, were making significant headway, but unbeknownst to Whittlesey’s unit, the units to their left and right had been stalled, and actually retreated. Without this knowledge, the 77th Battalion moved beyond the rest of the Allied line and found themselves surrounded by German forces. As I watched the movie, my first thought was, why don’t they stay and fight from the trenches? Of course, I quickly realized that you can’t take the hill from the trench. These men had to dig deep within themselves, and leave the safety of the trench, knowing that they would most likely die right there, if the Allies were to have the victory. That is giving your all!! That is what Memorial Day is really all about…the men and women who charged the enemy, accepting their fate of almost certain death, to win the war and protect our freedoms. These men and so many like them are the heroes of this day…a fact that we must never forget. I thank every fallen soldier this day, because you gave your all…selflessly and willingly, and you will never be forgotten!!

These days, we expect that our president will be familiar with the internet, texting, Facebook, and many other forms of technological advances, but we think of presidents in our past as having to deal with the ancient “technology” of the past, and we even find ourselves almost giggling when we use the term “technology” when speaking about such presidents as Abraham Lincoln. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln was a “techy” president…maybe not in the way we use the term today, but since technology often advances at the speed of light, he was quite advanced for his era.

Lincoln had always been a “cutting edge” kind of man, but during the Civil War, his “techy” prowess really came to light. Lincoln was quite taken with the new technology, which he called lightning messages. The federal government had been slow to adopt the telegraph after Samuel Morse’s first successful test message in 1844. Prior to the Civil War, even the federal employees who had to send a telegram from the nation’s capital, had to wait in line with the rest of the public at the city’s central telegraph office. Then, after the outbreak of the Civil War, the newly created US Military Telegraph Corps undertook the dangerous work of laying more than 15,000 miles of telegraph wire across battlefields, at Lincoln’s orders, so he could transmit news nearly instantaneously from the front lines to the new telegraph office that had been established inside the old library of the War Department building adjacent to the White House in March 1862. He was so interested in the telegraph, in fact, that he sometimes slept on a cot in the telegraph office during major battles. Of course, his main objective was to be able to get information to and from his generals as quickly as possible, but another major objective, that was just as important, was to be out ahead of his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, who didn’t have the same kind of access. In this way, Lincoln became the first “wired president” nearly 150 years before the advent of texts, tweets, and e-mail, by embracing the original electronic messaging technology…the telegraph.

President Abraham Lincoln, who was our 16th president, is best remembered for the Gettysburg Address, as well as the Emancipation Proclamation, both of which really stirred the Union, but it was the “techy” side of the man and the nearly 1,000 bite-sized telegrams that he wrote during his presidency, that really helped win the Civil War. It was those telegrams that truly projected presidential power in an unprecedented fashion, for that time anyway. The fact is that many people tend to be very slow to accept change, especially something as “new-fangled” as the telegraph was at that time in history. It took a man with foresight and wisdom to see that this was a “weapon” of sorts, that would explode our highly divided country into a place where the side of personal rights and personal freedom could propel it into a great nation, instead of two mediocre nations. The person who did that had to be cutting edge!! He had to be ahead of his time…and that is exactly what President Abraham Lincoln was. It is a sad injustice that he was murdered before his full potential could be realized. I wonder where we might have been today, if he had lived out his term.

My nephew, Rob Masterson met his wife Dustie while he was in the Army, serving in Louisiana. It didn’t take them very long to realize that they were in love. Anyone could see that they were perfect for each other. When Rob was discharged, they returned to Casper, Wyoming where Rob’s family all lived. We all liked Dustie right away, and Dustie worked really hard to fit in with Rob’s family. She loved Rob deeply, and that meant loving his family too. For Dustie, that was easy, because not only did she love Rob, but she was and is a very loving person in her own right, and she loved Rob with all her heart.

Now, over twenty years later, Dustie says of Rob, “My husband is without a doubt my ‘perfect’ partner and my best friend. I don’t know how other couples are, but we are both most comfortable together.” Rob and Dustie used to work together at Sam’s Club, where they were both department supervisors, she in grocery, and he in the tire shop. While it would mean that they would no longer work together, Rob nevertheless, encouraged her to accept a job offer at Walgreens, when it came her way, because he knew it would be a far better fit for her. Rob is very selfless when it comes to things like that. Dustie says, “I know in my heart that he will ALWAYS be there to support whatever I choose to do.”

Our family is used to the dynamic that Rob and Dustie have, but when people outside of the family see them together, they inevitably tell her that she has the perfect husband. Dustie would agree…for her, Rob is the “perfect” husband. Rob is a sweet man. As his aunt, I can attest to that. He grew up the only boy out of his parents’ five children, and after their divorce, the only man in the household. Rob took that “responsibility” very seriously. He is protective of all women, but none so much as his own family. Dustie says, “What most people don’t know is what we’ve been through separately (good and bad) helped us decide how we were going to go about our relationship. I’ve never known anyone who loves as deeply as Robert.” Rob is a man who picks his close relationships carefully, and that means mostly, his family and the very few that he calls friend. To those who are in that circle, he is loyal, protective. He is also true to all his beliefs and morals, and he will not be swayed by whatever is trending. Dustie thinks “you guys” did an amazing job bringing such a good man into this world…of course, she means his mom, my sister, Cheryl Masterson, and probable my parents, his grandparents, Al and Collene Sencer, all of whom would have to be the ones to take the credit for Rob’s raising. I would agree. They did an amazing job. Rob is a great husband, father, grandson, nephew, and friend, to all who fit in one of those categories. Today is Rob’s birthday. Happy birthday Rob!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

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