There are a lot of veterans in my family: me and three of my sons, my brother, my father and all six of my uncles, and a few of my cousins. Between us we have been in every major U.S. conflict of the last 75 years, from World War II to Iraq. Before that I had great-uncles and great-grandfathers in the Great War and the Spanish-American War. In fact, my forebears have fought in every war of our country, starting in Fort Ticonderoga and Valley Forge.

There is one of us in particular, my uncle Charles Hahn, who I believe deserves special recognition. A country boy froCharles Hahnm central Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Army during World War II. He became a Sherman tank driver who made the landing at Normandy on Day-17. While he met no conflict there, that was not to last. In the campaign across France, he earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart; he still has German shrapnel in his leg.

This never slowed him down. He returned home a war hero, married my aunt, and got to work building roads, dams, and power plants. You really can’t drive very far in Pennsylvania without crossing a bridge he helped build.

Charles lives quietly and peacefully now in a retirement home near Lewistown, Pa. He is nearly 90 years old, one of the few remaining of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ I remember as a young boy listening in awe to his stories of his war adventures, yet still not realizing the great sacrifice that he and his friends made. Today I do. Especially this day. Veterans Day.

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Some Observations on the Manassas City Elections

Manassas City saw some big changes with the elections this year. This is the first election since the City election cycle was moved to November from May to coincide with the general election. This is also the first time the Democratic Party has won a City Council seat in many years. Non-partisan activist groups were prominent players in the various City Council campaigns. In the end, of course, the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. Based on the data available from the Election Board here is some analysis of yesterday’s results.

Not surprisingly, voter turnout increased almost three times over the last Manassas City only election.

There was a thought that the higher voter turnout would tilt the election to a sweep for the Democrats, but the 8185 Manassas citizens who voted elected both Republicans to the City Council. The Democrats were competitive though. The chart below shows the percentage of voters for each candidate. For example, 64% of the voters cast a vote for Sheryl Bass.

As compared to the registered voters, the numbers show a lot of apathy still.

Of the voters who did exercise their duty, many still did not vote all their available votes.

30% of the votes for City Council were left uncast. There is no way of knowing whether 7273 voters only voted for 2 candidates, 2424 did not vote at all, or there was some other combination. This is a significant number; more votes were uncast, as the graph shows, than any candidate received. This ‘bullet voting’ technique appears to be very popular.

If you have come this far, thanks for reading. Let me know if you find this either interesting or inane. Comments are welcome!

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We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…

A wise man once said to help keep perspective and understand the times read an old book for every two modern ones. When a friend loaned me ‘Agincourt’ by Christopher Hibbert, a modern book about the famous battle in 1415, it wasn’t quite on the cycle, but I couldn’t pass it up; I’m glad I didn’t. The book, full of contemporary source documents, paintings and drawings from the early 15th century, is not just a history geeks dream, but a masterfully told story. Hibbert’s work brings into focus a world both distant and familiar. The struggles of the 15th century, from epidemic diseases to the threat of Islam, have simply morphed over time; they still haunt us today. With Chivalry at its zenith, honor was prized even above life. It’s a concept most today cannot even comprehend, but I found it refreshing. Reading Henry V’s original challenge to the French king offers an amazing insight into Medieval thought, and is just as manly as the speech Shakespeare wrote for him 200 years later. Manly Indeed. This sort of book may not appeal to everyone, but if you can, put it on your short list. If not, at least read something old.

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As I look around, there is nothing I can see that is not someday going back to God. God will take everything back from me, my health, energy, and vitality, all that I am. Except one thing; the one thing He really wants, my will. This power, to decide my fate, to do as I please, to make my own way, is really all that I have – it is me. It is the single point at which I can truly resist the control of my Creator. Yet the one thing God wants most from me is the one thing He will not take back by force. Though all else will be stripped from me, my will is mine to keep, or to give back freely.

This is the only real choice I have. All that I will be follows from that decision. It’s time for Mass.

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Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

This is one of my favorite hymns for prayer and meditation. This version by Slavic monks is from heaven. Perfect for a Friday in Lent.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia

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What I am doing on September 11

There will be lots of ways that the tragedy and shock, the valor and sacrifice of September 11 will be remembered today. In spite of all that has happened in these past 11 years, and I can assure you that the events of that day are always at the forefront of my thoughts. There is no more Flight 77 from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles. The number has been retired in honor of those who died at the Pentagon. But it is still flown, now Flight 149, and today I am the pilot. I can think of no better way to remember those who were lost in New York, D.C., Pennsylvania that fateful day, and in the wars that followed, than to get in that cockpit today and safely fly the aircraft, crew, and passengers from D.C. to L.A. And that is just what I am going to do.

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A Pleasant Day in the French Quarter

There is no argument that New Orleans is always a party. It is possible, however, to spend an afternoon walking the old city seeing the sights, enjoying the cuisine and culture, and learning something new, without having to head to confession the next day! Starting out on Canal Street, I headed to Jackson Square to visit St. Louis Cathedral. It was the first time I had ever been inside. I was awestruck – they just don’t build churches like that anymore. There were a lot of tourists there (like me), but still there was a quiet, reverent atmosphere that was a distinct and refreshing detachment from the busyness outside. The painting of St Louis above the sanctuary was marvelous. He is announcing the 7th crusade; the more you look at it the more it draws you in. Full of energy and promise, it also hints of the failure to come. It was a stark reminder to me that as a Christian I am called to be faithful, not necessarily successful.

Heading down Rue Chartres, I visited the old Ursuline Convent. A masterful piece of French Colonial architecture, built in 1752, it is the oldest building in New Orleans, in fact the oldest in the entire Mississippi Valley. Built with 2 foot thick masonry walls and giant beams from 500 year old cedar trees, it has survived fires, hurricanes, and time. Besides a convent, it has been everything from an orphanage to a meeting place for the Louisiana Legislature. When it was the Bishop’s residence a chapel was added, St Mary’s. Covered in the French fleur-de-lis, with a 100 year old German organ, and full of images of Italian saints, this Church reflects the the European immigrant heritage of New Orleans. The Docent was also quick to point out that the City has always been a majority of African descent both free and slave. Between the Chapel and the original Convent building is a hallway that contains the national Shrine of the Military and Hospitaller Order of the St Lazarus of Jerusalem. This order of Chivalry dates back over 900 years to the 1st Crusade. It is still active in worldwide charitable works.

If two Crusaders in one day were not enough, the exhibit on Joan d’Arc was a presentation of photography that was a truly unexpected surprise. Made of images of statues shot in black and white, it captured an intensity and power that was subtle yet intense, a lot like I imagine Joan d’Arc to be. Because of their arrangement and angles, the displays seemed to move with the passion of the great saint. This exhibit is one that I will not soon forget.

Needing a little refreshment after so much culture, I headed to the Café du Monde for the obligatory café au lait and beignets. For those who have had the pleasure, you know there is nothing quite like it. Those things are about 250 calories apiece so I had a good deal more walking to do!

A stroll along the Riverwalk and then down by the French Market began to burn off a few of those delectable doughnuts. The two French market vendors that caught my eye were the Chinese painter who used several colors at the same time on his brush to create a rainbow like calligraphy, and the Bulgarian jeweler who only used debris from Hurricane Katrina as a medium. The rest of the afternoon was spent stopping in shops that caught my curiosity and talking to locals. Being alone, there was no issue lingering at a haberdashery. Never being one to own a lot of hats, this place may change my mind. There certainly was a wide-brimmed fedora that seemed to call my name.

Back by the Cathedral I talked to one of the local artists; business is brisk she said, but it would be nice to have a patron like the artists who painted in the Cathedral. A city policeman was unusually chatty, elaborating on all the local political oddities and issues, of which in his mind there was a plethora. I don’t doubt him. There are definitely some places in the Big Easy to be avoided.

I was fortunate enough to get back to Immaculate Conception, a Jesuit church that almost rivals St Louis Cathedral in beauty. There was still a few minutes time for some prayer and reflection. Then I chatted with the sacristan for a bit, as they were closing for the day. She said the church had served as the parish church for the various national groups who had settled in the city. The French, Spanish, German, and Italian flags were hanging in the nave, as can be seen in the picture, reminding me again of the long ethnic history of the city. Having spent the previous day in Massachusetts, it was a stark contrast in the differences between the peoples who settled our land.

Back on Canal Street there was a large group of young African-Americans, with trumpets, saxophones, tubas, and trombones in hand. As I walked by I was amazed at the talent just playing away there on the street corner. This is truly a unique place.

The day ended with some red beans and rice at Mother’s Restaurant, a longtime local eatery with all the flavors I would expect of such a New Orleans landmark. After 6 hours of wandering around the city, interacting with scores of people, I was ready for some Cajun cuisine and then to bed!

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