The Eagle That Has Landed

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Frank Glick took this photo at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. When he recorded the shot, he never could have guessed how much it was going to mean to the widow of the World War II veteran buried there. — Star Tribune

By JON TEVLIN, STAR TRIBUNE
June 25, 2011 – 11:37 PM

It was a crow that first caught Frank Glick’s attention. It was flying around erratically, so Glick got out his Nikon camera and followed it. It was around 6 a.m. on a hazy spring day and he was driving through Fort Snelling National Cemetery because he was early for a training meeting at Delta Airlines, where he works.

Glick is an amateur photographer, but he always carries his camera, just in case. So he followed the crow, in some cultures a symbol of good luck and magic, until he saw it: a huge eagle perched on a tombstone, its eyes alert, its head craned, looking for prey. In the foreground, dew glistened on the grass.

Glick got his shot.

He didn’t think too much about the photo, until he showed it to a co-worker, Tom Ryan, who e-mailed it to his brother, Paul.

Paul wondered whether a relative of the soldier might want a copy. The tail of the eagle partially covered the man’s name, but Paul did some research and looked up the soldier’s name in newspaper obituaries. The eagle had landed on the grave of Sgt. Maurice Ruch, who had been a member of the St. Anthony Kiwanis Club, the obituary said.

Paul called the club, and it put him in touch with Jack Kiefner, Ruch’s best friend. When Glick took his photo, he never could have guessed how much it was going to mean to Kiefner and Ruch’s widow, Vivian.

One day this week, I met with Kiefner and Vivian Ruch in her St. Anthony condo. The actual print would be delivered later that day, but Vivian held a copy of the statuesque photo and her voice broke as she talked about Maurie, his nickname, who died from a form of Parkinson’s in 2008 at age 86.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “This is very emotional for me.”

Maurie graduated from college in mechanical engineering in December of 1941 and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Known for his keen eye, he became a rifle marksman and was stationed in the Aleutian Islands. He served four years in the military and earned a bronze star.

To those who knew Maurie, he was a calm and deliberate giant. He stood 6 feet, 4 inches tall, with broad shoulders, but he was also unassuming and unpretentious.

“Used to call him Mr. Precise,” because of his love of order and knack for fixing things, said Vivian. The Ruches had a rotary telephone long after they became obsolete because Maurie scavenged parts and kept the phone working.

“He could work a slide rule like nobody else,” said Kiefner, who was a manager at Honeywell when Maurie was there as an engineer. Kiefner and Maurie were friends for more than 60 years. Not many people can say that anymore.

Maurie also loved nature and photography, so “he would have absolutely loved this picture,” Vivian said. “I told him his first love was his rifle.”

On a rainy morning, Vivian spread photos of Maurie in the service, and the two old friends sat and ate banana bread and talked about a man they both loved.

They got that opportunity because a guy they didn’t know, Frank Glick, caught a special moment, and he and his friends took the time to seek them out and share the photo.

I told Vivian that some cultures believe the eagle is a symbol, not only of patriotism and dignity, but a messenger between heaven and earth. She nodded solemnly.

“I’d say the eagle had a very good eye when he landed on Maurie, and he was respected,” she said.

“I miss him,” said Vivian as she picked up the photo. “He was a good man and a good provider.”

“The eagle couldn’t have picked a better person,” said Kiefner. He paused. “This has been kind of fun hasn’t it?”

Tears welled in Vivian’s eyes.

“Yes, it’s been wonderful.”

Sgt. Maurice Ruch born on 22 July 1922, died 27 July 2008. He passed at the age of 86.

Spring Break In South Dakota

I was very excited when planning this particular spring break vacation since it would be the first time since all of my kids were very young that we would be all together for a vacation. Why pick South Dakota for spring break? Excellent question. The answer is actually pretty simple, my oldest daughter could not afford to go anywhere so we decided to go be tourists in South Dakota so we could all be together once again. I have deep roots in South Dakota to say the very least. We will get into that later and in other posts as well since that is very interlaced in our vacation because itnwasnt just a vacation it was also a trip down memory lane for me as well. First and foremost our trip was to see our one and only granddaughter. If it hadn’t been for Skype and cell phones I very well would have missed the first 2 1/2 years of her life since the last time I saw her in person was the day of her birth.

So, every vacation begins with the trip, and since I don’t fly, we drive, everywhere. Speaking of which, a brief note, the odometer in my 2005 Nissan Pathfinder flipped 100k on our drive back into town. Anyhow, we left late in the afternoon on Friday 07 March 2014 to begin our 1345 mile trek to our hotel in Deadwood South Dakota. With a gas stops, restroom breaks, and eating breakfast in York Nebraska, we made it in just shy of 24 hours. Yes we drove straight through and yes I drove most of it myself. Since I am not a great passenger I don’t sleep in a moving car. But, a rest from the wheel for 1-2 hours is just as recharching for me personally. Watching the weather the days prior we knew it was going to be a chilly drive as we were headed into a cold front. But, nothing prepares one for 7 degrees with 40 mph winds when getting gas at 3 in the morning. That shit will wake your ass up in a hurry. Surprisingly, the weather at our destination was quite nice and real similar to what we left behind in Texas, minus the 87% humidity. Although, in my opinion, the weather went down hill from that point forward. All and all it was a pleasant drive up there and luckily, we were very lucky, there were no incidents. I will get into it more but the wife and I thought we would have time to gamble a bit (something we rarely do) since the Fairfield Inn was connected to Cadillac Jack’s Casino. Little did we know until checking in that we would get $25.00 per adult per day in Cadillac Cash to spend at the casino. And the room, it was a steal for us, we got upgraded to a $729.99 per night suite and still only had to pay the obligatory contracted $9.00 per night. Yes, we have friends (family) in the Marriot hotel business so it makes traveling great for us. So, moving on…….

After checking in we went to visit my daughter so we could all get something hot to eat for a late dinner. Have I ever mentioned that I was looking forward to my first hello hug from my granddaughter? It was way better than I could have ever imagined it to be. It was wonderful and I really didn’t want to let her go. But I did, I shared, didn’t want to, but I did it anyway. We ate, we colored, we talked, we planned,new reminissed, and the we said goodbyenfornthe night. I personally didn’t want it to end but when the baby says its time then its time. Since my daughter was working Sunday most of the day we decided to make it a “rest day”, stay close to the hotel, and just do a little sight seeing in Deadwood. See, one of the pitfalls of this room was that I this 45 minutes from my daughters house. We woke up late, around 9 or so, got showered, and grabbed the local map to do a little sight seeing. First stop was Mt. Moriah Cematary where Wild Bill and Calamatty Jane are buried. After which I showed everyone where Wild Bill was killed. I know the history of this area real well so I got to play tour guide most of the trip. Now, I don’t want to sound like I am complaining, because we did come to a touristy spot in the “off season”, but the amount of things and places that were “closed for the season to reopen mid-May” became a personal joke for our family on this vacation.

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So, let me give y’all a rundown of what we did or attempted to do each day. Now, for me the closures were no big deal since I have seen all of these things many times before. Deadwood was just that, dead. The casinos were open, some gift shops were open, but things like the Adam’s House, the wineries, and the majority of the tourist like gift shops were closed. We went to Mt. Rushmore, a national landmark, and 90% of the trail was closed. One could walk down under the noses but no further and had to turn around the way we came. We also drove through Keystone, figuring Mt. Rushmore was a bust, and all but one store was closed, not even a restaurant of any kind was open. No, there was not a contingent back up plan, who expects a national landmark and park to be closed. We also attempted to visit Custer State Park, the main route (the paved road) was closed off, diverting drivers off onto the back maintenance roads. On top of that, the buffalo we did see were mere specs when viewed through high powered binoculars. Now, that was disappointing. Then, we went to the biggest tourist trap in South Dakota, Wall Drug. Of course, the “Backyard” where all the really cool stuff hides, was closed.

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There was excitement however, one night we were at my daughter’s house where I cooked them a nice meal, well all of us, and when we left to go to the hotel it was only raining, but in the mountains it was snowing like a sonofabith,nso much that overnight we got over 8″, which is allot for this Texas boy. But, that is where experience pays off for me so it wasn’t as hairy as one might be thinking. The way luck was having it we decided to go for a drive to see ifnincould find the house in Black hawk that my parents finished building the summer of 1968 and where I lived until I was 6 when we moved to Texas. The answer is yes, I did find it, but that is a post in itself. On the way out of town, to return to Houston, we had plans to spend the night in Sioux Falls, my oldest daughter joined us because vacation wasn’t over quite yet. For the first time ever, all of my kids will see where my dad is buried, none of them have ever been there, and my son has always wanted to see his namesake. This will be a post of its own as well, just know it was the highlight of the entire trip. Since we had to leave via Mitchell South Dakota and my daughter had to drive through it to get back to Rapid City, we decided to visit the world’s only Corn Palace, surprise, open for business as well as everything else in the little town. We also took a short side drive to see the house my grandparents built in the 40’s and it is also where both of them are buried.

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Then that was it, the hardest part came, saying goodbye to everyone. That part sucked worse than I could have possibly ever imagined, to put it mildly. Afterwords we did indeed begin the trek home, a long quiet trip that consisted of me driving while drowning out my sorrows with music playing to the max in my headphones. The snow, wind, ice, and rain made sure I stayed awake for the entire trip. Other than that, it too was uneventful. So, there is my spring break vacation to South Dakota in a nutshell. Stick around in the very near future because I have many expanded stories to tell that were merely mentioned today.