Guest Blogger: Cowboys and Flyboys

By Dr. Micah Murphy

(Flyboys in training at Navy Air Station Corpus Christi, 1943-44, Grandpa Springer is in the front row on the far right.)

My grandfather, Donald Springer, lived through the depression and that experience taught him to work hard and be very frugal. I don’t think the frugal part caught on with us, his grandchildren, but he did pass on the importance of hard work and above all doing your duty. That duty could be to country, to company you work for, or your family. Doing your duty wasn’t really seen as a burden it was just life. Life and duty were the same. Duty was more like purpose and one thing he couldn’t stand was anyone who shirked their duty. Duty wasn’t just one way though. You owed others and they owed you. You owed your employer and your employer owed you. You owed your country and your country owed you. He once quit a job as an engineer with a wife at home, on the spot, when he learned of unfair pay practices. He’s probably single handedly responsible for one automaker not selling 100’s of vehicles because they wronged him and he told everyone for 30 years. Generations may not purchase from that automaker now.

Like lots of men in his generation, he was excited to do his part, his duty, in WWII. He joined the Navy and became a pilot hoping to go straight to war to fight the enemy. He did not see combat and it’s something, I know, he always regretted. Some Navy pilots needed to stay here in the U.S. though. His assignments involved going to airfields, usually on the east coast, and flying damaged or otherwise decommissioned planes to a junk yard called the boneyard. The yard was somewhere north of western Texas, I think. The job gave him plenty of experience flying all types of planes and working on them as a mechanic and he later used this experience when he taught flight lessons, worked on aircraft, and lived at and managed the Hastings Airport where he met my Grandmother, Maxine, while giving her lessons.

He had several stories of crashing in fields and walking miles to find a phone or a ride and sometimes a meal with a family somewhere. One of my favorite stories did not involve a crash and it seems more like a comedy show than real life.

I don’t remember the plane he was flying but I know it was a larger single prop plane. He landed near Dallas for fuel for the last leg of his trip. He hit the head, got some lunch, and went to start up the plane. He had power but the prop would not crank. He tinkered a bit but decided the engine might be seized up. By flying these planes to the boneyard he was saving a lot of manpower. If it couldn’t be flown it would be sitting on this pavement for awhile taking up space and eventually it would need to be partly disassembled and trucked to the junk yard, so he would put some considerable effort into getting to the boneyard by air.

While he was standing staring at the plane trying to figure out what to do a jeep drove up with a Captain driving. (I think Grandpa was a 1st Lieutenant at this time). The Captain asked him, “What’s the problem, let’s get this plane out of here?” Grandpa explained that he couldn’t get it to turn over. The Captain told him to get in the cockpit and turn the key on, he’d get it started. Grandpa, a little confused and about to argue watched as the Captain pulled a rope out of the back of the jeep. He formed a lasso and rodeo style lassoed the top of the prop. Grandpa climbed up in the plane while the Captain tied the other end of the rope to his Jeep. I should mention this jeep did not have a top; it was just an open Jeep. The Captain got in the Jeep turned and gave a thumbs up which Grandpa returned. I don’t know how long the rope was but the Captain gunned the Jeep and took off. When he hit the end of the rope the Jeep seemed to completely stop and the Captain went flying out the front onto the pavement. The prop, though, turned and the plane started up immediately. Grandpa saw the Captain get up, brush himself off, pull in the rope, get back in the Jeep and drive away. Mission accomplished.

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Micah Murphy is an Associate Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management Marketing at Eastern Michigan University.


A New, yet Traditional Adventure

This past weekend brought back many memories. My daughter entered her first dressage show. While my knowledge in this sport is more historical, the experience did stir up equine memories. I first learned about the art of dressage from my mother. She explained how her Uncle Billy, along with any men with horse experience, were recruited during WWII to train for the invasion of Italy, as motorized vehicles could not maneuver the rocky terrain. Uncle Billy and all those other “Cowboys” prepared to infiltrate and ultimately fight using horses and mules. Much of this training can be traced to modern day dressage.

Growing up a city girl, Mom and Dad found a way to provide the “horse experience.” My primary horse knowledge involves a western saddle, upon Dad’s insistence (Probably because of his childhood in the Colorado mountains).
However, one day when Mom was making the daily jaunt to the barn, she surprised me, “I picked up a used English saddle. Give it a try.” And proceeded to tell me about Uncle Billy’s experience during the war.

Back to recent events…three weeks ago, MKs trainer, Jenn, suggested she try a dressage show. MK primarily studies behavioral/training issues, not show preparation. While I was hesitant, Jenn assured me that Mary had a firm foundation, and with a bit of focus, she could learn the needed information.

So for the past three weeks, she immersed herself in videos and lessons while I attempted to throw together an outfit. After a trip to Goodwill, I found a suitable coat (with a few minor alterations), and thanks to some borrowed tack, she was good to go! Her choice of pin brought me tears, the unicorn pin Mom gave her last year (shortly before passing).
Horse shows are an exciting and nerve wracking time (for mothers and daughters). The mental focus is only amplified when also preparing the perfect 3-4 minute routine partnered with a 1,000-1500 lb. animal. Though horse shows provide the perfect, final perk, the down time, just being there, relaxing in the midst of the glorious chaos.

While not the finest cinematography (In my defense, I apparently have potential as a show mom;), much of the day is here. Enjoy!

Dressage 2016

The Greatest Generation Goes to College


With April Fools’ Day just around the corner, I decided to share a classic prank from my mom’s notebook collection.  Over several years, Mom rode the California Zephyr to Denver each month to take care of Grandma Clare.  She always had a notebook with her to keep busy during the long journey.

Long journeys provide the ideal time for reflection.  This past winter, in particular, provided many afternoons to remember, reflect, and record.  My blogging adventure started 4 years ago.  The journey has given so much, healing during tough times, direction and focus when challenges emerge, improvement as a writing instructor, and keeping up with old friends while making new  with each post.  From time to time , I will share some of the earlier, more memorable entries.

Thank you, readers!

The Greatest Generation Goes to College by June Bernard Roche

Originally published November 22, 2012

…While horses were not my favorite animal, I grew up around horses because of my Uncle Bill and other horse people who were trained to invade Italy at Anzio because the invasion was too rough for a mechanized assault and would be completed with horses and mules. I grew up with Cavalry jokes like, “a pack of Horse Dropping Cigarettes–untouched by human hands.” (Which hit me as great humor in 4th grade)

The cartoons of Bill Mauldin were part of my life after the war. I loved the one of the old cavalry sergeant shooting the disabled jeep. Willie and Joe were a good impression of my thoughts about WWII.

Bill Mauldin jeep

Later in life I got to know the real Willie and Joes who came home and went to college on the GI Bill. At my school, they would tell the tale of these men who had survived the Battle of the Bulge, had shot at Kamikazes coming at their ships and survived the war often with wounds both physical and mental.

They came to campus and among the adjustments were things like getting in trouble for lighting a cigarette. One group of them presented a little surprise at chapel one day. They had filled all the pipes at the Hillsdale College Baptist Church with chicken feathers. The next morning the school assembled for mandatory chapel. The opening hymn began to the accompaniment of a flurry of poultry feathers. As these feathers floated, sometimes in little puffs powered by crescendo from the organist, the chapel became a very scene of collegiate glee as the prank was one of the greatest ever dared.

Our ex-GI’s paid to have the organ cleaned, graduated and went on to become successful in all sorts of endeavors. Eventually one became the President of the Board of Trustees at Hillsdale College as well as numerous trustees. They were the greatest supporters of our little school as were their wives, many of whom they met at the school.

At homecoming they always returned, and I felt privileged to work with, travel with, and party with this greatest generation. They have been leaving us slowly over the last ten years, but the spirit of these boys who weathered the depression and then were sent into the hell of war was the example set for my generation who followed them. We are still trying to live up to your noble sacrifice and courage.


June Bernard Roche was born in Brooklyn, NY, during the depression and spent her early years growing up in Pennsylvania on the campus of Lafayette College. Ironically, she was to live on college campuses for nearly forty years. In 1955, she married George Roche III. They lived in Virginia and Florida while George completed his years of service in the Marines. Later, June taught high school French while George completed his Ph.D at CU Boulder.

They moved to New York in 1965 when George was named Director of Seminars at FEE, the Foundation for Economic Education. June taught French at Dobbs Ferry High School. In 1971, they moved to Hillsdale, MI, where George became the President of Hillsdale College. In June’s words, “We were at Hillsdale until 1999, and we worked very hard to make the college the best institution possible. Since 1999, I’ve dealt with cancer, much memorable travel with family and friends, open heart surgery, the joys of grandchildren and now my first great-granddaughter, and learned how to deal with the winds of change that buffet our lives.”

Chihuahuas, Dry Roast Peanuts, and a Second Hand String of Pearls

Louie and Vada


I’m sitting on a plane after a visit to an old, dear friend, Vada Pitchford. She and her husband, Louis, were life long friends of my parents. Louis and Dad met in graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Later, Dad asked Louis to work at Hillsdale College where he became a well loved history professor before retiring in 1982 and moving to Billings, Montana.

However, there is so much more to this special couple. Vada was a school teacher for 14 years. She was teaching a few miles away from Texas City during the 1947 explosion, our nation’s worst industrial accident. She recounted the fear and confusion while evacuating students and the challenges of the days that followed.

Louis served as a Naval Officer in WWII on the USS Washington, participating in several missions, including the Solomon Islands. He continued to serve after the war as a member of the Naval Reserves for 22 years. When he shared his plans to join the reserves, Vada asked why. He simply said, “Someone’s got to do it.”

When I think of this amazing couple, I remember dry roasted peanuts (Louis’ favorite snack), Vada’s famous jalapeno grits, their pet Chihuahua, Cha-Cha, Sunday dinners, Vada’s string of pearls, and most important, Vada’s smile and Louis’ kindness.

During my visit, I was so happy to be given Louis’ silk flag from WWII. If you look closely at the picture below, you will notice there are only 48 stars. This special gift will have a place of honor in our home.



Cadavers Need Not Apply

Grandad and family

Here is another section from my father’s memoirs. It tells the story of my grandfather (Grandad), George Roche, Jr., and the accident and recovery that shows his fighting spirit:

…During the rest of the 30s, my dad sold X-ray equipment throughout Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. The family was doing well. My dad drove to doctors’ offices over a large part of the west, putting 50,000 miles a year on his cars. Coming back from a trip to the Western Slope in 1940, trying to make it home for Christmas Eve, his car slid off the road on an icy curve and turned over several times, completely crushing the top and popping out all the glass. He was able to get help in getting the car back on the road and drove 250 miles into Denver that night in a snowstorm with temperatures approaching 0, WITH NO GLASS IN THE CAR. He made it home for Christmas, but before New Year’s, we rushed him to the hospital with double lobar pneumonia. He was dying for lack of air, and the doctors offered little hope. My mother and I spent every day and half the night at the hospital, where he had been placed in what was then called the “kick-off” ward. Penicillin had not been discovered and the complete filling of the lungs with fluid was a death sentence. My dad didn’t give up and neither did we. It took six months and an operation that left a gaping hole in his back for the rest of his life, but he survived.

Our money was exhausted by mid-1941, and my dad had been told he could never work again, and his X-Ray business had ceased to exist because the government was responding to the threat of the fast-approaching war by buying 100% of all X-ray production. This began some very lean years for the three of us. My mother and I, years later in Hillsdale made a list of the places where we lived during the 1940s-50s and the lines of work which provided our living. Sitting at our table in Hillsdale, we were able to recall 26 places where we lived in that time, many during WWII–a rail yard in Salt Lake City, a Salvation Army Store in Greeley, Colorado, a malt shop on Firestone Blvd. in Los Angeles, a packinghouse in Torrington, Wyoming, a ranch near Salida, Colorado, and many rented homes and rooms in rooming houses.

We were running the Salvation Army Store in Greeley when Pearl Harbor was attacked, living in two rooms above the store which we reached by climbing the fire escape in the alley. That Sunday afternoon, my folks were frying chicken, while I, a first grader, played on the floor in the next room. I can well remember the moment when the first news came over the radio. The next day, my dad went down the street to enlist in the Navy. The Greeley recruiting depot, like similar scenes all over the country, was jammed and in total chaos. The paperwork was being processed while he took the physical. When the doctor saw my father’s chest X-ray, he yelled out the door, “All right! Cut out the grab-ass. I’m too busy for these damn jokes. Don’t show me any more chest X-rays from cadavers!”

While I never met my Grandad, I heard he was a tough, loving, family man. He did live long enough to watch his son’s inauguration as the 11th President of Hillsdale College. While I wasn’t born yet, I can assume that must have been a proud moment for him.

Did “Ewe” Know There Was an Aerial Attack on South Padre Island?


(Flyboys in training at Navy Air Station Corpus Christi, 1943-44, Grandpa Springer is in the front row on the far right.)

Every summer, Chad’s grandparents, Donald and Maxine Springer, spend time in Michigan. We consider it an honor to have them over for dinner and hear their amazing stories. I always wondered why we were never allowed to prepare lamb for these meals until one day Grandpa shared a memorable adventure from his flight training during WWII.

After graduating from high school, Don Springer enlisted in the Navy, and in 1943-1944 spent time training in Texas as a fighter pilot. During the war, Corpus Christi was known as a Navy town. Here many young men received flight training at the Navy Air Station, also known as Truax Field. Due to the demand for pilots after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Navy Air Station Corpus Christi quickly expanded into one of the largest naval aviation training centers in the world. Don was among more than 30,000 men who earned their wings. Grandpa loved the challenge and thrill of flying (In fact, after the war, he continued to work as a flight instructor at our local airport where he taught an adventurous student, his future wife, Mac.).

One day, on a training run, Don decided to make a pass over South Padre Island around 125 miles to the south. Back in the 40s, South Padre Island was mostly grazing land, primarily for sheep. Flying an F4F Wildcat with machine guns mounted on each side, Don spotted sheep, grazing in the lush fields of the island. He decided it was time to sharpen his skills with a bit of target practice, so he attacked the sheep. Between Don’s skill as a pilot and the power of those guns, the sheep didn’t stand a chance.

Shortly after his return to Truax Field, his commanding officer learned what had happened. In addition to paying the farmer restitution, Don, his flight class, and flight crew had to eat all of the “casualties,” meal after meal, until all the mutton was consumed. Despite my efforts to explain the taste difference between mutton and lamb, I have since given up encouraging Grandpa to sample a meal of young lamb. After his adventures in Texas, nothing will convince that old “flyboy” to give it a try.

In Search of the Elusive Rocky Mountain Orange

photo for orange blog

During this holiday season, I have been thinking about the tradition of finding oranges in Christmas stockings. While this tradition dates back as far as St. Nicholas, I wondered why it was considered such a big deal in my family. Using what I know of family history, American history, and a wee bit of logic, I began to examine the circumstances surrounding Dad’s upbringing in the Colorado mountains in the early 1940s.

While the railroad has transported oranges from California (and even Florida) to the western United States since the late 1800s, even by the 1940s, while oranges were available in most of the country, they were more difficult to locate in the remote mountain regions. In 1944, my grandparents and great-grandparents took a gamble and purchased a neglected, run down piece of property now known as the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, located in Nathrop, Colorado.

While oranges were certainly available 125 miles away in Denver and occasionally 17 miles away in Salida, my grandparents were putting any available money into rebuilding the hot springs. Also, America was still fighting the second World War. Rubber was among the many items rationed, and Grandad’s car had old tires with minimal tread. In the days before snow tires, driving the rough mountain roads with such tires was not only challenging but dangerous. A mountain storm could halt life in the mountains for days, and to preserve the life of the tires, longer trips were limited.

In addition to the remote location, my grandparent’s daily diet was also influenced by Grandad’s first job. At the old age of 14, he entered the Navy in World War I, serving as a ship’s cook. Here, he developed skills as a fry cook. Meat and potatoes were the traditional fare he served. As an adult, Grandad was less likely to serve fresh fruits and vegetables with the exception of cabbage, potatoes, and root vegetables. I think this was probably a combination of life-long cooking habits, the need for rich, hearty meals to provide fuel for a long day of labor, and the habit of purchasing staples with a longer shelf life. An orange on Christmas morning was a rare treat.

But regardless of the lack of money or the remote location, Christmas was always special. It was special because the family was together. They would open their small offerings for each other, and then gather around the fireplace and see Santa’s gifts. In the toe of each stocking, each year, without fail, was an orange. My great-grandmother would gather the oranges for a breakfast fruit salad to accompany the traditional breakfast of coffee, eggs, fried potatoes, and rainbow trout. While I only had the opportunity to spend time with my grandmother (and namesake) Margaret, stories like these help me “get to know” those who have gone before.

Thank you for reading! Nollaig Shona Dhuit!

Wishing you fruitful labors, bountiful blessings, and a healthy 2013!