A Connection to Heal

On April 8, 2004 Sandra Fillon was on her computer. She clicked the ‘submit my comment’ button, closed her eyes and let out a small breath of air. It wasn’t a comment she submitted but more of a plea; and it was finally sent.

“I am looking for anyone that knew my father Robert Graham Curl. He was KIA 12/2/69 in the province of Phuoc Long. I never knew my father; I was almost 3 years old when he was killed. He is a stranger that I know from pictures. I am now 37 years old and with a child of my own and long to speak with anyone that knew him or was with him on the day he died. My mother passed away and all the answers to the many questions that I have of him passed away with her. I basically know his name, that he was from Walled Lake Michigan and he was only 24 years old when he died. He was a SSGT with the 11th Armored Calvary Regiment F Troop 2nd Squadron. Any information you might have would be greatly appreciated.”

The posting was placed on the Blackhorse 11th Armored Cavalry Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia (11ACVVC) guestbook for those seeking information about people killed in action (KIA). Sending out the plea wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was the waiting. And once the fifth anniversary of her web posting came and went she frankly admitted that she sort of forgot about it. “I was kind of fishing anyway,” she rationalized.

One afternoon, Terry Thomas, 63, hopped on his computer and began looking through his old regiments’ website. While he’d known of the 11ACVVC he joined the organization this year. It was on their website he saw Fillon’s posting on the guestbook. He said his only thought was, ‘I’ve got to get a hold of her’. He immediately called the number and left a voice message. “Hi. I served with your father in Vietnam. Please give me a call.”

The pair separated by more than 1,300 miles—Thomas lives in Kansas and Fillon lives in Florida—was united by a seven-year old web posting.

“When I got that message, I just about fell out my chair.” Fillon said. “I couldn’t wait to give him a call!” They spoke for hours. “We both cried and laughed and cried some more,” said Thomas. “So much for me being a manly man. I was just so happy to have found her.” By that weekend they had spoken on the phone numerous times were already Facebook friends.

Thomas began filling Fillon in on how he knew her father. Thomas a Vietnam volunteer first met SSG Robert Graham Curl, his drill sergeant, during basic training in Ft. Knox in 1969. The last time Thomas saw SSG Curl was just a few months later in December. “I didn’t think ‘Oh, that’s my drill sergeant,’ I was just happy I saw somebody I knew,” said the M16 gunner. Thomas wasn’t in Vietnam long before he was hit on his right side and left temple during the firefight in the Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam. He was standing in-between SSG Curl and SSG Robert Raines. Thomas laid wounded and a few inches from him, SSG Raines and Curl were dead. Both men were on their third tour of duty in Vietnam.

“Of all the people that I could have found it’s the one guy that was next to him when he died,” said Fillon. “Listening to Terry, I was bawling like a baby.”

The September reunion of the 11thACVVC in Orlando was just the perfect time to meet face-to-face. As the day approached, Thomas had some trouble sleeping, this time not triggered not by the memories of Vietnam but by the excited anticipation of meeting fellow troopers and most importantly, meeting the daughter of his dead sergeant Sandra Fillon. “I really couldn’t sleep then. When something you know is about to change your life it’s hard to rest,” he said.

The Blackhorse 11th Armored Cavalry Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia is a non-profit corporation that aims to honor those that fought and died during Vietnam. They were founded in 1985 and began having annual reunions in 1986. More than 1,100 people and 82 “first-timers” were in attendance during the reunion. “Many (first-timers) didn’t know what to expect but they felt right at home as soon as they walked in the door and saw the first Blackhorse insignia,” said the president of 11thACVVC Allen Hathaway. “Once I was there I felt a warm welcomed,” said Thomas. “This reunion, even though it’s my first, has sparked something in me and will not be my last.” With next year’s reunion in Indianapolis, IN, the pair hopes to make a stop in Michigan to visit SSG Curls’ headstone.

On a sunny Florida Sunday Sandra and Terry sat poolside and shared 43-year-old memories. “He’d carry a picture in his breast pocket and no matter how many times you’d seen it he was happy to brag about his daughter,” said Thomas. “He loved her deeply.”

Fillon knows that picture. She has a picture of her father holding up a picture of her. “Finding Terry is like finding a lost family member,” she said. Thomas agreed, “I have another daughter in Sandra.”

The pair discovered that as Thomas dealt with Post Tramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) memories and the ‘survivors guilt’ of losing a friend Fillon never knew he died in Vietnam. Her Korean mother was notified of his death a year afterwards when a birthday card returned.  She was later told her father died in a car accident. “Because my mother could never speak or write English. I think the misinformation was due to the lack of translation,” said Fillon.  In the early 70s her mother married and brought her to America. Sadly her mother died never knowing the truth. It would take 30 years before Fillon discovered her father’s name and the circumstances surrounding his death on the Virtual Wall (www.virtualwall.org). SSG Robert Graham Curl, F Troop, 2nd squadron name is on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C at Panel W15, Line 16 and is buried in his home town of Walled Lake, Michigan.

“Once I discovered this I began digging. Searching for any and all information about him,” said Fillon. SSG Curl wasn’t married to Fillon’s Korean mother and as Fillon tried to reach out to her father’s family she was met with chilly reaction. “Me, a mixed raced child of their dead baby brother who died while fighting in Vietnam was like opening a very old and painful wound. It hurt, but I understood. Maybe they’ll be open to speaking to me later,” she said. “Meanwhile I figured I’d try other ways to find out about my father.”

She has discovered various websites such as findagrave.com and togeterweserved.com where she was able to find more people that knew her father, including her fathers’ high school classmate.

Just before getting Thomas’ message Fillon posted this on myfallensoldiers.com: “I am now 45 years old, almost twice the age you were when you died at 24. We never met in person, we’ve only seen pictures of each other. My mother never got over you and somewhere in the background your memory was always kept alive. I wish life turned out differently and you would be a 66 year old grandfather enjoying the latter part of his life but that wasn’t God’s plan. You have lived on in my heart though and you will never be forgotten.”

This meeting astonishes Fillon and Thomas, a meeting 43 years in the making.

“I’m sure Sandra is missing some pieces about her father,” said Terry as Sandra’s brown eyes swelled with tears. “And I’m excited to fill in those missing pieces,” he said as he cupped Sandra’s hand. Their new relationship is sealed. They vow to be a part of each others lives because when it’s all said and done, Sandra misses her dad and Terry misses his friend and through their union SSG Robert Graham Curl’s spirit remains.

Thomas said, “After all these years I’m glad to let Sandra know she was high on his love list.”

-Elena Brown

Special to the Emporia Gazette


Originally Published in Emporia Gazette Pull-out Section 11/05/12


O no-no’s: ten things black people shouldn’t do to celebrate Obama’s victory (Repost)

10. No uncontrollable giggling.
9. No naming babies “Barack” or “Obama” or any mash-up of his name.
8. No changing your e-mail to Obama_Mama@yahoo.com
7. No smugly walking up to white people and saying, “Boo-Yah!”
6. There will be no “Hustle,” “Running Man,” “‘Electric Slide” or dances inspired by Soulja Boy.
5. No Negro Spirituals or suggestions to change the National Anthem to “Lift E’vry Voice and Sing.”
4. No quoting Wesley Snipes from the movie Passenger 57 — the part when he said, “See? I told you. Always bet on black.”
3. No taking a day off from work… this isn’t a holiday!
2. Do not refer to the president-elect as “My Nigga.”
1. And no expecting that forty acres and a mule.
— Elena Brown (Forst published in Westword, 2008)

Published in: on 11/06/2012 at 23:13  Leave a Comment  
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Documentary uncovers scars of Vietnam

It’s well after midnight by the time Oscar Soliz clicks off his lamps and shuts down his computer. His brown eyes are strained, his neck and back are stiff, his hands tingle. He rubs his salt-and-pepper beard; it’s time for bed.

He’s just finished another 13-hour day producing a documentary about four local Vietnam vets and how their powerful memories have barely diminished with the passage of time.

The hour-long documentary, titled “Deep Scars,” features retired Staff Sgt. Edward Brown Jr., retired Sgt. Trini Cruz, retired 1st Sgt. William J. Johnson and retired Sgt. 1st Class Dion Soliz III. The veterans, all Purple Heart recipients, recount their struggles on the battlefield and off.

“I’m showing the feelings and fears of being in combat as well as its affect on their lives after returning home,” says Soliz, a self-taught videographer and owner of Ozman Visual Media Productions. “There are so many stories. So much had happened to them.”

The documentary opens with images and narration explaining the politics of the Vietnam War, the lives lost and the toll it took on men such as Brown.

“Hmm, lemme see, I’ve been recovering from my injuries for 44 years and counting,” Brown, 63, says with a chuckle. “Physically, I spent 32 months in various hospitals.” Brown was injured on May 14, 1968, in Binh Duong Province, Vietnam. In the uncut version of the film, Brown recounted how his fellow soldier Ron E. Clark fell into him after being hit by a grenade from a rocket-propelled launcher. “I looked into his eyes as he died,” Brown said. “His death was fast, and his survivors should know he didn’t suffer (alone).”

The documentary also recounts the hostile reactions many returning vets received from their fellow citizens.

Cruz spent 39 months in different hospitals recovering from his injuries. In the film, he tearfully recounts arriving back home in the United States still in uniform and walking with a cane. Cruz wanted a cup of coffee but he had no money. “I gave [the man behind the counter] one of my medals and said I’ll come back and pay for it. The man said, ‘We don’t take medals. We take cash here. I can’t give you a cup of coffee.’ We’re over there fighting this war, and nobody would give me a cup of coffee.”

Soliz is seeking a distribution deal for the film and, in the meantime, hopes to show it to various local veteran organizations. For now, he’s working on it primarily for the men featured in the video.

The documentary has been a year in the making, the last three months on editing alone

“You can get lost in editing,” he says. “Sure, I get tired and frustrated but that’s nothing. It’s a difficult documentary.”

“Deep Scars” had an effect on the subjects of the documentary.

“Being a part of Oscar’s movie is the first time I ever talked in-depth about my experiences in Vietnam,” says Dion Soliz, 64, Oscar’s brother. “And now I want my daughters to see the movie and understand what the nightmares and screaming at night were all about.”

It’s also had an effect on its director, who did not serve in Vietnam.

“I have a good life, but I still think I should have been over there,” Oscar says. “I have guilt of not going to Vietnam. But since my brother was enlisted, I couldn’t go; he wouldn’t allow it.”

Soliz’s only sibling served three tours in Vietnam (1967-1971) and was awarded the Purple Heart and four Bronze Stars.

“No need for mom to lose us both,” says Dion, explaining why he wouldn’t allow his younger brother to follow him into battle. “It wasn’t the politics so much as I felt it was my duty. But once you’re over there, family is all you live for. It keeps you going.”

Funding for the film came from $5,000 in prize money Soliz, 63, won in the 2011 Pepsi Challenge Grant. The program awarded grants for projects that benefit the community, environment and schools. While $5,000 is a pittance compared to what most films – even documentaries – cost, Soliz spent carefully and stayed within his budget.

“I bought the things I truly needed, like the green screen and software and some things I bought at a discount, like the Sony mc2000 camera.” Soliz said.

The film includes both comedic and painful recollections, such as Cruz’s having a tailbone removed, Soliz’s encounter with an elephant, Brown’s blown eardrums and the time Johnson was shot twice in two days.

Soliz says that for him, an unforeseen benefit of his working on the film is that he is now closer to his brother because he better understands Dion’s wartime traumas. “I’m trying to draw out the inner feelings of their reality. To understand how the wounded veterans survived during and after the war,” he says.

“I know my brother is real patriotic and feels plenty of guilt about not going over to serve in Vietnam,” said Dion Soliz. “But I tell him ‘Hey, I served your time and mine. I served for America, and that includes you.’ “

By, Elena Brown, Special to the San Antonio Express News

Elena’s Story_Doc uncovers scars of Vietnam

Blackhorse Essay


Field of Study:

The Blackhorse patch means something great. It means to be held to a higher standard. And while I may not have that patch on my shoulder the pride is in my heart. I aim to put the committed standard of excellence, seen within the men and women of Blackhorse, by achieving a degree in Journalism.

Worthiness of the 11ACVVC Scholarship:

My dad, retired Army SSG Edward Brown Jr., and I try to make the annual four-day reunion of the 11th Armored Cavalry’s Veterans of Vietnam & Cambodia
 every year together. It’s our father-daughter time. It’s where stories I never heard at home are shared. I was 13 when I went to my first reunion in Louisville, KY and since then I’ve attended 12 of the 25 reunions. I’ve watched men return and mourn the men that didn’t. The Vietnam reunion is intense and the 40-plus years of history is filling. There is a bond that defies race, religion, or personal politics. The 11th Armored Cavalry’s Veterans of Vietnam & Cambodia allows “outsiders” the privilege and opportunity to learn of what our dads, uncles and grandfathers experienced during Vietnam. This is an extraordinary reunion of men who became bonded by serving their country during an unpopular war. It is not special because I say it is special. It is special because of where it has been and the things it has accomplished, all because of the men and women who served, are serving or will serve and carry on the great legacy of the Blackhorse. The reunion is where people can sit at any table and look at pictures of teenagers in tanks thousands of miles away. Its where most stories start with “How about the time?” or “Remember when?” But it’s not just a time for them; the men at the reunion celebrate family.

Through the years, my dad’s brothers-in-arms became my honorary uncles. There’s something uniquely comforting about knowing I can be just about anywhere in the world and have a goodhearted man there to watch over me. That sense of security gives me confidence. It is with this confidence I am bolder, brasher and certainly more respectful woman.

The morals instilled within me gives me the confidence to interview the elderly lady being fined for “feeding the meters” on others cars, to speaking with a survivor as he recalls being shot at Columbine High School. I am direct, open and honest because my father, a man forged by the Blackhorse, taught me to be.

Currently I’m a jet-setting freelancing journalist with more than a decade as a flight attendant. It’s a job, a good job, but it’s not my passion. My passion is writing and reporting. And I would like the opportunity to further develop and hone the skills I have acquired over the years by obtaining a degree in Journalism. My articles appeared in The Denver Post, the Denver Business JournalThe Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs, both Denver and 5280 magazines and Thunder Run. I’ve won a regional Mark of Excellence Award for in-depth reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists and received the Colorado Press Association Scholarship. Recently I completed an internship with the award winning alt-weekly newspaper, Westword, thanks in part to my fellowship at the Academy for Alternative Journalism at Medill’s School of Journalism at Northwestern University. 

I am a hard working and motivated person with both short-term goals and long-range ambitions and when I set goals for myself I do everything in my power to accomplish them. If I happen to fall short of my goal then I pride myself in not how I fell but how I get up, which is something my father has taught me. Despite these tumultuously difficult economic times I know having a degree makes a difference. And, simply put, I need funds in order to continue the final years of my higher education at Metropolitan State College of Denver. It’s with the help of the 11ACVVC Scholarship that would take me one step closer to not just a dream but also a reality. 

Truth, honesty, and determination are some of the many slogans or mantras made up to inspire recruits, however, Blackhorse pride, a blazingly arrogant pride, comes from the heart. Therefore, I am worthy of this because I am an outstanding person who contains all the qualities a scholarship leader should possess. I respect all of our brave men and women that have served our country but the Blackhorse Troopers are family. And my family values education. It would be a great honor to be chosen to represent the men and women who have served our country in both Vietnam and Cambodia with award of the 11ACVVC Scholarship. And to make my family proud.



Bridging the Past

Bridging the Past

The day hadn’t been anything special as he sat and filled out the warranty guarantee card for the weed-eater he just bought in a local lawn care store. Another day, another errand, he thought.

The salesman looked at the card. A rush of recognition, a wide smile and a hint of sadness flashed across his face.

“Oh wow, I used to know a Ron Clark back in high school. One of my best friends. Died fighting in Vietnam,” said the salesman.

“Yeah,” he said nodding his baseball-capped head. And with a simple smile he stated, “That was my dad.”

Ron K. Clark, 43, is the only son of Blackhorse Trooper PFC Ron E. Clark. Clark senior was 22 years old when he was killed in action on May 14, 1968 in Bin Duong Province, Vietnam and is buried in Indianola, Iowa. He died three months before his only son was born. Clark’s name is located on panel 60E line 009 of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.

Ron didn’t know too much about his father and his family didn’t talk much about him. His mother remarried when Ron was a year old. It wasn’t until he was well into adulthood that people began to open up to him about his father.

“They’d tell me I have the same personality. That I’m quiet and laid back just like he was,” he said.

Gerry Costa served with Ron’s father in A-Troop. They were friends and even shared a birthday. Costa frequently writes memorials on the Virtual Vietnam Wall to his fallen friend. One entry from May 15, 2001 states: “[sic] Hello again my friend. Just wanted to let you know that after all these you are not forgotten. I toasted you yesterday at 4pm just like every year. I will never forget you or the time we spent in Nam. I am very, very sorry I could not have protected you better and kept you from harms way. Allons always.”

Costa visited the Clarks in Iowa in 2003. They went to the grave site and placed a Blackhorse patch on the headstone. Ron could sense the visit was a part of a real healing process for Costa and chose not to bring up many battle memories. “I know Gerry carries a lot of Vietnam on him,” Ron said. Even though they didn’t talk much about the war, Ron didn’t mind. “He’s a good man, and I’ve made a dear friend.”

Having met Costa, Ron was invigorated and motivated to learn more about his father, the Blackhorse regiment and, most importantly, attend a reunion.

The Blackhorse 11th Armored Cavalry Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia is a non-profit corporation that aims to honor those that fought and died during Vietnam. They were founded in 1985 and began having annual reunions in 1986.  In 2006 Operation Embrace was formed. Operation Embrace strives to locate, notify and welcome the family members of the men killed-in-action to the reunion. This year, Ron was just one of the 11 family members of KIAs that came and joined the 1,063 people, which included surviving soldiers and their families, at the August reunion in St. Louis, Missouri. Some of the men he met included Edward Brown Jr. and James “Jim” Sowinski, men that served with his father.

Retired SSG Edward Brown Jr. served with A-Troop from 1967-1968 and had been in touch with Ron through Costa for about four years. They had spoken on the phone and thru Facebook but had never met face-to-face. Brown was nervous and delighted when he was informed Ron would attend the reunion.

“I know he wants to know more details of the day his dad was hit. It’s hard, reliving that— And to share that with him,” Brown said with a heavy sigh. “But I will.”

Brown recounted Ron E. Clark falling into him during the fight. Clark took a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. “His death was fast and his survivors should know he didn’t suffer (alone).” Brown said. “I looked into his eyes as he died.” While Clark died during that fight, many were injured including Brown. The blast perforated his eardrums and he received injuries on his right side, with wounds in his shoulder, chest, liver, hip and leg. Brown’s recovery included 14 surgeries and a skin graft that took nearly three years in the hospital to recover.

“I owe Young Clark and his family. To answer any questions if I can, and to let them know he did not die alone.” Brown said. “God left me here for a reason. It’s my responsibility to share that Clark died a hero. He had a cause.” For his ultimate sacrifice Clark was awarded a Bronze Star with Merit, a Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service and Vietnam Campaign medals.

“I always wanted to know if there was something significant on the day my father died. But I learned it was a typical day in Vietnam. Sometimes people died and sometimes they didn’t,” Ron said.

The Army was hit hard in 1968 reaching more than 10,500 deaths that year, according to statistics founds on The Wall-USA.com, which is a 15 year old website dedicated to honoring those who died in the Vietnam War. Like a weighted backpack, many survivors carry the Vietnam experience with them in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although PTSD is often associated with Vietnam veterans, it appears in veterans of all wars and eras. Once known as Battle Fatigue and Shell Shock, PTSD symptoms may include intrusive thoughts, distressing dreams, flashbacks and irritability. It can also mean a reduced ability to concentrate, experience pleasure, feel tender emotions or imagine a positive future. Many vets are finding support when learning to cope with their Vietnam experiences. During the reunion psychologist Dr. Candace Drake and daughter of a Blackhorse trooper, Dennis Drake (HHT 3/11), hosted a veteran’s seminar explaining PTSD and the options available for veterans. Brown attends a fully packed weekly PTSD group at Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio, TX. “Meeting Young Clark has helped me with my guilt but I’m still sad Clark never met his son, but when I go back home, I’ll have a sigh of relief,” he said.

For about four days the fellowship is visible as stories flow in “The Bunker”.

In military terms the bunker is usually a reinforced concrete underground shelter. Here, at the reunion, it’s a place where the men embrace each other with the welcome they never received when they returned home from the

war decades ago. This is where they laugh and cry over memories, photos and have a beer or three. “I’d never thought I’d be sitting here laughing and having a beer with Clark’s boy,” Brown said with excitement. “Brown wasn’t the only one thrilled to meet “Young Clark;” James ‘Jim’ Sowinski

contributed to the shared memories of Ron’s father. “It’s good to meet Clark’s son! I got a clear picture of his dad. Sowinski said. “Everybody’s got a piece of something to give Young Clark.”

This is an exceptionally intense reunion of men who served in an unpopular war. There is a bond between them that defies race or religion. And the void that Vietnam left in the souls of vets grows smaller with each reunion, it is a place to remember and a place to heal.

“It’s important for me to be here. I know that Ed and Gerry have a lot of guilt. But I don’t look at it that way,” Ron said. “I’m glad my dad had good friends over there that were with him when he died. I’m here to thank those guys that were there with my dad.”

Ron still sees the salesman in the local lawn care store. He likes to talk with him about his dad. Ron said, “With the guys from Blackhorse, attending the reunion and the salesman, well, its just another thing that makes me feel a connection to him.”

-Elena Brown

Published in Thunder Run 4th Qtr, 2011

Guess it’s time.

Published in: on 11/07/2011 at 18:38  Leave a Comment  

I apologize

I remember how I eased the pain of your scraped knee or hand? I remember blowing on the wound and caressing my little girl’s wound…. “There it will go away now” . I would put on a band-aid to patch the pain. What happens when this little girl is now an adult, nursing a broken heart? A band-aid cannot patch the gaping hole in her heart.

I’ve stared at you, my lovely daughter your sad eyes upon me or listen with just as much pain in my heart as the pain in your voice. Oh no was all I could say. I couldn’t believe it. And I am helpless — helpless to help her overcome her grief.

I know I am the cause of your attitude about men and relationships. I know there is no such thing as a perfect parent, but I could have been much better than what I was. I could go on and on about my parental mistakes, and how I damaged you. for my behavior during your growing up years, but I love you too much not to apologize for the pain I have caused you.

You are looking for the happily ever after — sometimes it shows up quickly, but we don’t believe we are worthy of such a good thing and we mess it up — and watch happiness walk away. Then we search again — and again — and again until we realize that we have to know ourselves before we can give ourselves to another.

Your pain is my pain. Your hurt is my hurt. Your tears are my tears. You are my daughter — I would give up my life for you. I could not live my life without you.

I can’t say don’t be sad — because that’s a really silly statement. What I will say is hang on and reflect, because life is fickled, but it straightens out and you will find joy and happiness.

Love ya bunches,


Published in: on 06/14/2011 at 20:48  Leave a Comment  

All That Jazz

Denver’s historical Five Points neighborhood, once known as the Harlem of the West, is full of heritage and a renewed sense of purpose.

The kids in the cramped back room tapped their toes and snapped their fingers as the music flowed in, smooth as the liquor their parents drank in the lounge. The lucky ones who snuck in were so close to the stage they saw the tiny spheres of sweat glisten off Bill “Mr. Bojangles” Robinson or Nat King Cole. “We weren’t so much concerned about how much it cost to get in. All we were concerned with was how we could sneak in,” says George Morrison Jr. with a heavy laugh. “You had to at least try,” he says. “It was jazz at the Rossonian!”

Harlem, Philadelphia and Chicago are famous for their jazz cultures, but so too was Denver’s own Five Points, a staple of western jazz culture. During the roaring ’20s, the Great Depression and World War II, the neighborhood earned its title as the Harlem of the West, a must-stop for any jazz musician.

Historic joints, such as the Casino, Benny Hooper’s Ex-Serviceman’s Club and Lil’s After-Hours ran along Welton Street and jumped with the sounds of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and more.

The Points was the bee’s knees and the cat’s meow, a place to settle in and sip some (at times) legal hooch and listen as a canary on stage sang to the hypnotic beat of a skin tickler. The musical mash “” the sweet brutality of hopes and dreams, both achieved and dashed, and the freedom to let loose with heart and soul “” everything got played in the Points.

George Morrison Jr., 88, is the son of acclaimed jazz musician George Morrison. His dad was known for jazz but was a classically trained musician who performed for the Queen of England. But even that wasn’t enough to break the Denver Symphony’s racist hiring practices, which prohibited him from being able to play because of the color of his skin. “That was a challenge to my dad because you weren’t going to hold George Morrison down,” his son says.

Instead, Morrison Sr. created his own orchestra, the renowned George Morrison Orchestra with players such as Jimmy Lunceford, Andy Kirk and vocalist Hattie McDaniel. McDaniel later went on to become the first African American to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in the movie Gone With the Wind.

The band’s foot-tapping, dance-demanding jazz helped the group win a recording contract with Columbia Records “” the first to go to a black band. While with the company, Morrison Sr. recommended another jazz band that included Paul Whiteman, a white Denver bandleader, whose career became legend.

Those days spurred many stories. “I remember, during Prohibition, my dad making some home brew in the basement. He was making some when Bill Robinson came by to stay at our house. There was this loud noise, a “˜boom’ and “˜pow,’ and Bill Robinson said, “˜Get down; they’re shooting at us! Somebody’s shooting, get down!’ But it turned out the small bottles of the home brew had exploded in the basement. My dad said, “˜Aww, that’s just the brew downstairs,’ says a giggling Morrison Jr.

Morrison Sr. gave up touring in the mid-1920s and remained in Denver, where he opened the Casino jazz club, worked as a bandleader and taught music at Whittier Elementary, Cole Junior High and Manual High schools. While many musical greats were called to the Mile High City to perform, they weren’t allowed to stay in hotels downtown because of their skin color. Instead, city residents, like Morrison Sr., welcomed them into their homes. Others stayed at the Rossonian hotel and jazz club.

The Unity of Music

Once considered the premier club between St. Louis and San Francisco, the Rossonian provided high-class entertainment during the jazz era. It sits silent now, anchored in the Five Points of today. The wedge of a building is at the intersection of 27th Street, Welton Street, 26th Avenue and Washington Street, which forms the historic points that define and name the neighborhood.

“Man, it had a small stage. If the band had a piano, they had to build a little platform for it,” says Charlie Burrell, 88. A master jazz bassist, Burrell made a sensational career as a classical musician with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, which hired him as its first black performer in 1949. He made $35 dollars a week and supplemented his income “” and repertoire “” with local performances at the Rossonian and other jazz halls. “For a $1 cover and 50-cent drinks, it was some good music. It’s even where the white folks came down to get their fix,” says Burrell.

Quentin Harrington owned the building and watched it become one of the most integrated places in the city. “I had white people standing out on Welton Street to get in the place. I could look around that room some nights and couldn’t see a black face in there,” he wrote in the book Growing Up Black in Denver, published in 1988, the year of his death.

The Rossonian, a National Historic Landmark, welcomed live music, from the scat of Ella Fitzgerald to Charlie Parker’s sax. When the lounge closed, the musicians headed down the block to keep the party going. “It was the after-hours joints like Lil’s and Benny Hooper’s that were really good,” says Burrell. “We’d play from two in the morning till dawn and sometimes later if it really got going.”

According to Burrell, people like Cedar Walton cut his chops with several great groups at Lil’s. “I remember playing with Charlie Parker. This was during the time he was punching Judy [using heroin]. He got up there, sat on the stool and went to sleep. We never stopped playing. It was loud, and he just sat up there asleep,” he says.

So Black and Blue

In the 1920s and ’30s, open segregation and racism ran feverishly throughout America with the Ku Klux Klan at the helm. Blacks in the Points rarely ventured any further than California Street to the north, 22nd Street to the south and High Street on the east. Anywhere else was dangerous, and Five Points became a haven born of necessity as a black bastion against hatred.

The neighborhood had a department store, the Roxy movie theater, restaurants, a fire station, a dentist’s office and even its own post office. It was a city within a city. Look closely, and you can still see it.

Many of the buildings still stand today. The US Bank at 27th Avenue and Welton was once Five Points’ Atlas Drug Store. “We had everything we ever needed right there in the neighborhood,” says Morrison Jr.

If anything, the hatred and necessary fortressing of Five Points strengthened the community. The neighborhood’s black businesses prospered as the African American population grew from 6,000 to more than 7,500 between 1920 and 1940.

“There was the YMCA, and that kept a lot of us off the streets and out of trouble,” says Morrison Jr. The Phyllis Wheatly Colored YWCA became an official national branch in 1920 and operated as a residence hall, employment bureau and youth camp. The Glenarm branch of the YMCA focused on social and cultural life in the community, and it was considered by most the town hall, which hosted multiple meetings on the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Points was often the target of the Klan, which had a foothold in Colorado and was highly active until the 1950s, at one time boasting 50,000 members “” one of the highest memberships in the country. They were everywhere, including the government. During the 1924 elections, the Klan gained control by electing an open Klan member, Clarence Morley, as governor. The KKK became one of the largest organized political forces in the state with help from people such as Benjamin Stapleton, mayor of Denver from 1923 to 1931 and again from 1935 to 1947. After the Klan helped push him into office, he named Klan member William Candlish as police chief.

“I never saw the Klan, but we knew they were around,” Morrison Jr. says, recalling stories of when the family home was being built. “Three different times they burned crosses to stop the construction,” he says. The Morrison family property on Gilpin still stands today.

But a few buildings weren’t so lucky. They’ve been toppled by the wrecking ball, making way for gentrification, which has literally changed the face of the community.

Five Points’ rich history would have been forgotten if not for a long list of local musicians and developers and civic efforts such as the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, located in Five Points, which houses a growing collection of research materials related to African Americans in the west.

Determined not to let the Rossonian fade away, the latest modern-day Lazarus, the Denver-based, minority-owned Civil Technologies is at the forefront of Five Points’ revitalization. “Jazz is an American original art form with great cultural history,” says Civil Technologies developer and Denver native Carl Bourgeois. “It’s important that these places are protected and preserved for their past and future. I’m trying to honor that.”

“I had a fantastic childhood in Five Points. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world,” says Morrison Jr. “It’s sorta sad to see Five Points decline, and I miss the way it used to look, but it’s coming back. So watch out for the rebirth of the Points.”

Charlie Burrell and George Morrison Jr. jam and recall the Denver jazz scene.

(published Denver Magazine, 2009)

Published in: on 02/14/2011 at 08:43  Leave a Comment  

Stop Pissing Off Your Flight Attendant

7 Ways to Stop Pissing Off Your Flight Attendant
On December 28, 2010, In Daily List, by elenab

When flying, at best you’re clueless; at worst you’re an ass. But not to worry—we’re here to share a few things that will keep your flight attendant from going all Steven Slater on a mo-fo. And yes, it’s flight attendant not stewardess—And, since you’re clearly unaware, it’s also a new millennium. (Incidentally, I don’t get why anyone would want to piss off the people that could save your life in the event of an emergency 35,000 feet in the air.) So, take notes, stop being an ass and happy travels.

1. Don’t be the clog in the artery of boarding.
In those three hours you’ve been tooling around in the airport it never dawned on you to get your scarf, books and magazines and other various items to keep you amused. And must you do that in the aisle upon boarding? Get out a few things, not 14 different items for an hour-long flight BEFORE you board and make it to your seat. Let’s keep it moving, people! There are people behind you, sheesh!

2. Pay attention to the demo (and other announcements for that matter).
Now that you’ve settled in your seat, you’ve lost the ability to comprehend things like ‘Please pay attention to the safety demo’, ‘fasten you seatbelt’, ‘turn off all electronics’ or the words ‘under the seat in front of you’. If you gave a three-minute speech about safety and people ignored you, you’d be upset. Stop being a hypocritical jerk and pay attention, or else.

3. Don’t let your kids run amuck.
Your parental duties do not stop now that you’re on a plane. Don’t change your kids diaper in front of or on the flight attendant jump seat, and for that matter, don’t change them on the tray-table. Flight Attendants are not your insta-babysitter, because the game they play isn’t nice (remember this?) Or how about this game? It’s called, ‘Let’s kick a kid in the clavicle with the heels I’ve been wearing for the past 13 hours’. No need for instructions, they’ll catch on quickly.

4. Keep your stuff out of the aisle.
You know drinks are coming, and if you’re lucky, food! And how do you propose this is done? Enter flight attendants in the aisle. If you don’t want to get hit by a cart, then get your legs, elbows or head out of the way. Plus do you really want to be responsible for tripping up a flight attendant as they walk down the aisle because of your bag strap?

5. Handle your body.
Your immune system senses something harmful and antibodies like proimmunoglobulin E (IgE) are released. IgE trigger the release of the body’s chemicals like histamine. The release of histamine can affect a person’s respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin, and cardiovascular system. That’s the background of your allergy. If you can’t take things like nuts, milk or even if you morally object to pork, then bring your own food. Don’t expect the flight attendant to handle or magically know your dietary needs. This also applies to all medical conditions; we’re talking to you Diabetics that checked your insulin “in the other bag.”

6. No vague drink requests.
You wouldn’t walk into a coffee shop and say “I’d like a coffee’ when you want it black, with cream or sugar so why would you say it on a plane? Despite their majestic aura, flight attendants are not clairvoyant nor do they like to repeat, “How do you take it?” 221 times.

7. Know how to use a bathroom.
Not being able to handle the operations of going to the bathroom. Couldn’t be simpler, could it? 1.‘Push’. 2. Lock the door 3. Don’t be all shocked if your feet are wet when you went in there without shoes.

Published in: on 12/28/2010 at 15:01  Leave a Comment  

Son finally gets fuller picture of ‘SGT. MAC’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Mike Mc-Cullough has been trying to find information about the man in the family photo albums alongside his mother.

The man whose picture sits in a frame on her china cabinet.

The tall man with the piercing blue eyes, similar to his own.

The man who was his father.

“I used to sneak around the house and look at the old photo albums and newspaper articles that my mom had,” he said. “I’ve always been wondering just who my dad was.”

Sgt. 1st Class Alfred McCullough was killed in Vietnam when Mike was 1 year old.

“I wonder how I would have turned out had he been around,” Mike McCullough said.

After his father’s death, his mother moved the family from Germany to Colorado Springs, never remarrying.

Mike McCullough was 37 when he started going on the Internet to search for information about his father. Now 40, the Pikes Peak Community College employee hit pay dirt over the weekend after he and his mother were invited to attend a reunion of his father’s unit in Louisville.

Silver-haired men gathered around a table to meet and share their 40-year-old memories and thoughts about “Sgt. Mac.”

Alfred McCullough served in the Army for 12 years and was 33 when he was killed by small-arms fire in Binh Tuy, South Vietnam.

He is buried at Fort Riley in Kansas.

He left behind five children; Mike is the youngest.

“I knew right off the bat that was Sgt. Mac’s kid when I looked in those blue eyes,” Ron Betz said. Alfred McCullough “was a tall quiet man with a thick reddish mustache. I remember he died in the morning. We lost three men that day.”

Retired Sgt. Edward Brown Jr. added, “He was a gentleman’s soldier. He brought his point across in a smooth way. He was a real good man that took good care of us.”

Both men served under Alfred McCullough in Blackhorse 11th Armored Cavalry A-Troop in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968.

The McCulloughs were contacted by the Blackhorse 11th Armored Cavalry Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia this year.

The organization aims to honor those who fought and died during Vietnam. It formed Operation Embrace last year to locate, notify and welcome the families of men who died into the “Band of Brothers,” said Charles Schmidt, president of the organization.

Mike and his mother, Johanna, represented one of about 60 families that attended alongside the 1,500 members in Louisville over the weekend.

Johanna McCullough, 72, brought military photos and newspaper articles to the reunion, including an article about her receiving her husband’s Silver Star for service in combat.

“There are more photos I can bring next year” when the unit will reunite again in Chicago, she said.

“When I saw ‘McCullough’ on the name tag I thought, ‘That’s Sgt. Mac’s boy!’ and gave him a big hug,” said Jack Morrison, 59. “I didn’t cry, but I was close.”

“McCullough was my platoon sergeant,” Morrison said. “My memory is not what it used to be, but I told him (Mike) what I could about his father.”

It was far more than Mike McCullough had known before going to Kentucky.

“I do wish there was more discussion about my father when I was younger, but I’ve discovered it’s never too late to learn about your family,” he said.

Mother and son said the weekend brought them closer.

“It’s so nice to know our family was not forgotten,” she said.

Mike said all he wanted was to get a bit of information about his father.

“And now, through these men, I have a stronger bond to him,” he said.

(Published in the Colorado Springs newspaper, The Gazette on September 10, 2007)