Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Memorial Day Salute

I celebrated Memorial Day weekend with a visit by my dear
friend Judy, right, from Dallas and her boyfriend, Mike
Well, yes. Memorial Day is about honoring our war dead and the sacrifices they made so that we can be free. True heroes, all. It is also about celebrating our freedom to mark the day with festivities both solemn and joyous. I chose to celebrate the holiday by joyously hosting guests from Texas. My beloved friend, Judy, who inspired me to launch this blog a year and a half ago and then pestered me until I actually did it, journeyed from Texas with her beau, Mike, to spend the long weekend with me in Maryland -- and realized a long held dream in the process.

Here is the menu I created
for my guests over the
long weekend
The "land of pleasant living between the mountains and the sea" was not all that pleasant upon Judy and Mike’s arrival Thursday night. With a powerful cold front causing massive storms in my area most of the evening, the weary travelers found themselves stuck in the Cincinnati airport for more than five hours before they were finally allowed to make their connection to Baltimore, arriving at my house well after 3:00 a.m. Friday amid forceful winds. I greeted them with a snack and chocolates and saw to their comfort in the small guest house on my two acres in the county. We had big plans for the morrow!

Each morning I treated my guests to
fresh fruit and a helping of
Momb breakfast casserole
Following fresh fruit and a breakfast casserole on Friday morning (the recipe for which came from my best friend's mother, Joyce, of Spokane, Washington), and with Mike at the helm of their rental car, we headed south to Washington D.C. where Judy had secured tickets for a tour of our nation’s capitol on a vehicle known as a "duck". According to, the design of these remarkable WWII-era coaches was based upon the Army’s GMC 2 Ton 6×6 Trucks. DUKWs, which became known affectionately as DUCKS to the many servicemen who appreciated their extraordinary ability to traverse both land and water, were the result of a naming technique used by GMC: D, for the year it was designed (1942), U for the utilitarian nature of the vehicle, K because it was all-wheel (like the K series GMC) and W for the dual tandem rear axles.

This amphibious vehicle took us on
a great tour of Washington, D.C.
Used as a means to bring supplies to the Allies in places where the enemy assumed that without a seaport there could be no effective landing, less than a year after its introduction the first DUKWs alighted on hostile shores during the invasion of Sicily. On D-Day, 2,000 DUKWs were brought to Normandy. They were regarded as the most successful vehicle of their kind ever created, with more than 21,000 produced by American women who took over for the men during the war effort. After hostilities ceased, tens of thousands of these amphibious workhorses were left in towns and villages around the world. Some 17,000 are in operation across the USA today, restored to their original condition and serving duty as flood rescue vehicles, emergency-duty ambulances and, luckily for us, exceptional touring vessels.

Without missing a beat, our wheeled
vehicle descended into the Potomac
River, sprouted a rudder and propeller
and suddenly we were aboard a boat!
Mike and Judy blow their "duck calls"
while wearing slickers to repel the wind
After our trusty guide, Captain Jim Nichols, chauffeured us all around the District, pointing out notable landmarks and suggesting sights that might elude less-informed tourists, such as one of the only places to see a panoramic view of the entire city, we rode the Capitol Metro subway system to the next attraction on the day’s agenda: a tour of the International Spy Museum. This self-guided walk through a maze of rooms inside a block-sized building took almost two hours and revealed all sorts of fascinating minutiae about important American and foreign espionage dating from before the Civil war, as well as fun elements and props from spy films throughout movie-making history. Asked to assume false identifies at the beginning of our tour, we were periodically quizzed on the details of our "covers" to see how well we’d memorized them. Judy’s boyfriend, Mike, a Dallas neurosurgeon at the Veterans Affairs Hospital of North Texas, aced all the specifics about his fabricated persona at every step of the tour. At the end of the visit I was advised that although I had not completely blown my cover, some "retraining" was suggested.

Appetizers of fresh veggies and
homemade Greek Goddess dip awaited
my guests at the end of each day
Friday night's dinner was classic
Crab Louie and Chardonnay
Back home that evening, I treated my guests to a quintessential Maryland staple: jumbo-lump crab meat, but with a twist harking back to my west coast roots. Crab Louie, a recipe originating either at Solari’s San Francisco restaurant in 1914 or the Davenport Hotel in Spokane in 1910 (take your pick), this entrée salad had all the elements of a late spring meal: hardboiled eggs from my neighbor’s chickens, plump grape tomatoes, olives and lettuce, homemade Thousand Island dressing and lots and lots of succulent Chesapeake Bay crab meat.

Caesar salad, onion souffles and
eggplant Parmesan were on the menu
for Saturday night, capped by mango
banana splits for dessert
On Saturday Mike and Judy took their rental car back to D.C. for some more sightseeing while I worked on a celebratory meal that I hoped would be the highlight of their stay: a grilled ribeye steak for Mike and eggplant Parmesan for Judy, an avowed vegetarian, my mother’s classic Caesar salad, and individual Vidalia onion soufflés, finishing with sliced mangoes and bananas simmered in butter and rum and spooned over ice cream. By all accounts I was successful in my quest to please the diverse pallets of my guests. We were all stuffed.

Sunday's sunny weather was ideal for
taking in the panoramic sights at
Baltimore's Inner Harbor
Sunday morning I drove my friends to downtown Baltimore while showing off some gorgeous country roads along the way.  The overcast and chill winds of Thursday’s cold front had finally given way to sunny skies and warm temperatures as we strolled along the promenade at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and then fed apples and corn husks to my horse, Chubby and the other 35 horses at the stable in Baltimore County that Chubby calls home. Back at the house once again, my guests played a lively game of croquet out on the lawn while I put the finishing touches on three dishes I prepared for a neighborhood Memorial Day potluck we attended in the late afternoon. Judy was delighted to finally meet the neighbors I have so lovingly described in my blog, and I was excited to introduce them to my dear friend and original blog fan. But the highlight of the day came when Judy received a surprise telephone call from her father, 93-year-old retired Army corporal Dale W. Youngern, who announced his long-awaited decision to move from North Dakota to Dallas to take up residence across the street from Judy’s condominium. No small announcement with five other sisters all vying to be their father’s concomitant of choice, we toasted Judy’s exciting news all evening.

Dale W. Youngern was
only 20 years old in this
photo, taken in 1940
One might wonder why so much fuss was made over the prevailing emigration of her father to Judy’s domicile. But this is no ordinary dad. At the tender age of 22, Judy’s father enlisted in the United States Army in 1942, just about the time that generals Eisenhower and Marshall recognized the need for an elite special force similar to Britain’s Special Service Brigade. Colonel William O. Darby was commissioned to select and train these young American heroes. Dale Yongern, along with tens of thousands of other enlisted men, volunteered for the exclusive but treacherous position. Only a few hundred of the most physically and mentally fit were chosen to serve in the First Battalion of the U.S. Rangers, nicknamed "Darby’s Rangers". A charter member of the legendary unit, Judy’s dad joined the ranks of what would eventually form the Green Berets, elite Rangers and all other Special Forces.

And here is a photo of Judy's
father as a uniformed member
of the elite Rangers unit in 1943
As a member of the First Battalion of Rangers, Youngern took part in the Anzio invasion south of Rome prior to D-Day. The goal was to wrestle Rome from the Nazis so the Allies could move north to Germany. Commanded by General Clark to provide reconnaissance to the Anzio beachhead before invading Cisternia some thirty miles away, the 568 Rangers of the First Battalion set out by moonlight on foot for the village, each armed with a knife in his boot and a rifle. But the Wehrmacht had monitored the establishment at Anzio from the mountaintops, and as the Rangers approached Cisternia, they were ambushed by 10,000 Nazis fortified with panzer and tiger tanks. Their ranks were decimated. Only eight Rangers survived. Judy’s father was one of them. Youngern swam the "Mussolini Canal" back to Anzio Beach in the dead of night, paddling silently past Nazi troops who were smoking and joking along the canal banks. 

Judy, seated at left, with her parents
and all five of her sisters in 1999
After returning to Anzio, the intrepid survivor was assigned to the First Special Service Force where he was instrumental in the invasion of Southern France. Following D-Day, Youngern was sent to Normandy and then on to St. Lo, where he continued fighting across France to Regansburg, Germany, his location on V-E Day. Dale Yongern fought in five campaigns: Italy, Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, the invasion of Southern France, Central Europe and the battle of the Rhineland. After Germany surrendered, he was sent to Norway to round up Nazis. Having served his country for three years, three months and three days, Judy’s father was honorably discharged with the rank of Corporal and was decorated with five Bronze stars, the EAME Theater ribbon and a Good Conduct medal.

Judy, left, and Mike join me
beneath my flag on Memorial
Such is the stuff of which legends are made. Judy could hardly contain her excitement that her most beloved of heroes would soon be her neighbor. As we toasted our 18-year friendship, Judy and I reveled in the joy that she would soon realize a long-nurtured dream to have her father nearby. Our Memorial Day merriment had turned into a true celebration of the spirit and courage of our country’s greatest heroes, in the personification of CPL Dale W. Youngern, of Grand Forks, North Dakota, dear old "dad" to my darling friend, Judy.

"Heroes take journeys, confront dragons and discover the treasure of their true selves."
~ Carol Lynn Pearson

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