On or about Dec. 6, 2008, as they say in court, I stumbled across OpenSalon.
I'd been a regular reader of Salon, thanks to links from Fark.com and other aggregators, and it was via the tab at the top of the page that I first encountered this bewildering and lively place that was supposed to cater to writers.
Well, I fancied myself a writer, if no great stylist, but I read for a couple of weeks first before summoning the intestinal fortitude to put up my first post. It was, unsurprisingly, a piece about the military, specifically the Christmas Truce on the Western Front in 1914.
Since then, I've been a periodic blogger, seldom hitting the “publish” button even three times a month (November was an anamoly). Some months, not at all. (I do, however, make it a point to comment often, if only to encourage people I think are doing a good job.)
But in answer to some people who have asked over the last two years, no, it doesn't mean I'm not writing. And researching.
Right now, besides my usual output of news releases and promotional work – and some copy editing for a couple of friends – I'm more or less on the trail of three different and difficult stories.
One is about a guy named Ron, who walks with a cane because his knees were ruined by years of carpet installation. Ron is a Harley Davidson fanatic – I swear he could probably recite the serial number of every bike that venerable company has produced – and looks exactly what you'd think an HD rider should look like.
Because of his knees, he can no longer ride his 1942 WLA – the wartime model that the U.S. military used – which now sits in his spare bedroom. Instead, he's switched his passion to three-wheeled HD Servi-Cars. Those of us of a certain age remember various police departments using them. He has three – two up and running and one ready for rebuilding. He continues to work on them, despite the heart attack that landed him in hospital last spring at 50, and despite losing his son in a horrific motorcycle accident two years ago.
Another is about a guy named Byron, a 23-year-old tailgunner in Lancaster bombers who died over Pilsen, Bohemia, in 1943 along with the rest of his crew. A Canadian, Byron was serving in a Royal Australian Air Force squadron.
His nephew and namesake has loaned me a box of letters that also includes his logbook, his medals, the Silver Cross his mother received from a “grateful nation”, the correspondence his parents had with the Defence Department and with relatives of the pilot on that ill-fated flight – even the last letter his father wrote him, which was returned as undeliverable by the military after his death. It's sad to think of a man's life reduced to this small collection of mementoes.
The third is about a guy named George whose enlistment in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1914 was so early he had a four-digit regimental number instead of the usual six. George was a Delaware from the Moravian First Nations Reserve about fifty miles from here, one of at least 4,000 – more than a third of all age-eligible men from reserves across Canada – to enlist.
Why he did it, I don't know: First Nations peoples had little or nothing to thank Canada for. But he became a renowned sniper, like others of his comrades, and somehow survived the debacle of the Western Front. He returned to deafening silence: The bigots in the small (and small-minded) town near where he lived gave gold watches and a civic reception to the other returned soldiers, but not to him. He was found dead from exposure in 1920.
So that's what I'm doing when I'm not on Open Salon. I may post here on what I uncover in each case – assuming OS is still around – or flog them to some publication or other. Or both.
All three of these stories need telling.
"Operations Pilsen Missing" made by the squadron adjutant.
It'd be nearly a year before the crew was officially declared dead.