Tag Archives: Ohio

Friends of friends become your friends, too

friends, birthday celebration

Friends Ruth, Don and Ken before Gail arrived for the surprise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I contemplated the circuitous route of just how I happened to be sitting beneath a party canopy in this Ontario, Canada couple’s backyard. It’s a long but enjoyable story.

It all started when my wife was 14-years-old. Of course, Neva wasn’t my wife then. We married young, but not that young.

Neva accompanied her youth group to a church conference in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1964. With hundreds of teenagers from around the U.S. and Canada attending, with the teens assigned to sleep in homes of local folks.

That’s where Neva met Ruth. Ruth’s family hosted Neva. Neva and Ruth connected right away, and they kept in touch. Seven years later, Ruth and her husband, Ken, attended our wedding in northeast Ohio.

They returned to Ontario. We set up shop here. We all began our careers and started families. We visited Ken and Ruth once when our daughter was just two. Now her youngest child is five. Time melts away, doesn’t it?

With the internet, texting, email, and online chatting science fiction, correspondence via regular mail diminished over time. Life got in the way of our long distance friendship.

About 20 years ago, that unexpectedly changed. Neva saw an advertisement for a tour. She called the toll-free number and guess who answered? Ruth.

friends meeting

Meeting place. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Their personal connection was restored. Ken and Ruth have visited us here in Holmes Co., and we’ve returned to their place in Kitchener. We even vacationed together once. Sometimes we meet in between.

When Ruth learned that Neva and I had become snowbirds to Florida’s Amelia Island, she mentioned that their across the street neighbors also wintered there. That’s where our life circle began to expand.

Ruth exchanged contact numbers with their neighbors and us, and the result was pure magic. In February 2014, we arranged to meet Don and Gail at a coffee shop in Fernandina Beach, the island’s only town.

Before the first sip of coffee, the four of us were yacking away as if we had been lifetime friends. Gail was born in England and still has that lovely disarming accent that is as genuine and gentle as she is. Don was from Bermuda and carries that notorious island swagger with him still, even though he’s been a Canadian now for years.

We chattered like teenagers at a soda shop. It didn’t take long to discover that both Don and I had been volunteer firefighters. As if that wasn’t enough to cement our friendship, photography and nature were also common hobbies.

Having been to Bermuda a couple of times ourselves, we knew many of the locales they mentioned. Don shared stories from his childhood until the present.

true friends

Gail and Neva. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Gail and Neva got along famously, too. While Don and I were off shooting too many photos, our wives were happy just to shop, browse thrift stores, or sit and share. They clicked like childhood friends.

A carpenter by trade, Don was intrigued to learn that the wood industry was king in our county. Over the next month, we would take day trips together, go out to eat, or just play dominoes. That pattern repeated last winter.

That brings me back to sitting under the canopy. We surprised both Don and Gail by crashing her surprise birthday party.

For that little coup, you can blame Ken and Ruth. That’s what lifelong friends do for one another. They help create other equally robust friendships.

That’s the thing about friendship circles. They enrich your life.

friends

Friends. © Don Brown 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Warm Whispers

spring sunset, orange sunset

Warm Whispers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

At first glance, this photo appears to be a sunset somewhere in the western United States. In fact, I shot this sunset from my backyard in Holmes County, Ohio. From there, I have a clear view of the pastured hillside on our Amish neighbor’s farm. The windmill, bare trees and fencerow created a wonderful silhouette against the warm, whispery clouds of the multi-hued sunset.

“Warm Whispers” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Tunnel silhouettes

railroad tunnel, silhouettes, photographer, subjects, Bruce Stambaugh

Tunnel silhouettes. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

My wife and another couple came upon this trio in an old train tunnel in Barnesville, Ohio. Our friends have been life-long train enthusiasts. We were exploring the old downtown in southeastern Ohio when we found this tunnel. As we approached one end of the tunnel, we noticed a young couple posing for a photographer at the other. I couldn’t resist photographing the crisp silhouettes of the three as the photo shoot concluded. I especially liked that the couple held hands.

The changing fall leaves and the afternoon’s diffused light that reflected off of the wetted tunnel wall helped accentuate the three subjects, who were holding a brief conversation as I took their photo. “Tunnel silhouettes” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Morning reflections

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Morning reflections. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I usually carry my camera with me wherever I go. Yesterday was no exception. I was on my way to a meeting when I passed through Walnut Creek, one of the oldest settlements in Holmes County, Ohio. The morning sun was straining to filter through on-rushing clouds, part of a cold front bringing in some welcomed rain.

When I stopped to take a photo of one scene, I saw this one, the mirror reflection of this nicely kept farm, known as the Jonas Stutzman farm. An official historical marker notes that Stutzman was the first white settler in the eastern section of the county, arriving from Somerset County, Pennsylvania in 1809.

The details in this photo, coupled with the farmstead’s history, made “Morning reflections” my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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Red barn

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Red barn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I had just finished photographing some early evening scenes along the Lake Erie shore in Lakeside, Ohio, when I came upon this brilliant red barn right next to the Historic Lakeside Hotel. Its beauty stunned me. How the sun highlighted the barn’s red color and white trim also grabbed my attention. I loved how the green leaves of the tree limb intersected and nicely contrasted with the bright red. More than that, my wife and I have vacationed every summer at Lakeside Chautauqua since 1987, and I couldn’t recall ever seeing this barn.

I have thousands of photos from this beautiful gem of a town. The surprise of finding this barn, once seemingly hidden, but revealed by the combination of fresh paint and good timing made it my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Humbly and gladly joining the snowbird migration

snowrollersbybrucestambaugh

The day we left Ohio it was 15 degrees below zero, and the snow rollers, a rare weather phenomenon, still graced open fields surrounding our home.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I never thought I would ever be a snowbird. Snowbirds are old people that head south to Florida or southwest to southern Texas or to Phoenix for the winter to avoid the chilling temperatures and the harsh weather of northern latitudes.

I wasn’t going to be “one of those people.” I liked winter’s Jekyll and Hyde fickleness. In Ohio, a dull, dirty brunet landscape can be magically transformed overnight into a fluffy, frosted wonderland.

Really, I cherish the change of all the seasons. I never tire of seeing the verdant transition from winter’s dormancy, whether brown or white, to spring’s greening and glorious floral colors. Splashes of vivid feathers of our aviary friends enhance spring’s sparkle.

Of course after spring, summer’s cottony clouds come sailing over maturing crops and rainbow gardens full of nascent flowers and luscious vegetables. Then there is fall’s full blaze of glory amid the many stands of hardwoods to behold, too.

We are fortunate that our area offers diverse landscapes, from steep wooded hills to vital marshy habitats for an array of wildlife. I marvel at the hilly farmlands, with their multihued, flowing ribbons of contoured crops, and smart fields of grazing livestock. Contrasting brushy fencerows stitch the agrarian patchwork quilt together.

At middle age, I began to view winter differently. No longer was it the snowy playground of my youth, but a season to appreciate the beauty of white against earthy sepia browns and blacks, and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.

Even so, I have to confess that my fondness for winter has waned. During February, my wife and I overlooked a sandy beach that gently sloped down to the ever-rolling Atlantic Ocean.

roomwithaviewbybrucestambaugh

The view from our condo.

Traveling the interstates to the Sunshine State, we saw many other gray-tinged peers migrating, too. Like us, they fled from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New England and Canadian provinces alike.

Some drove vehicles like ours, stuffed to the gills with clothes, food, bikes and any other paraphernalia deemed necessary for their extended winter’s stay. Others steered huge recreational vehicles, towing equally crammed cars.

It’s the fourth consecutive year we’ve made the journey to Florida. Our stays have evolved from the original few pleasing days to several weeks in order to maximize the obvious.

I never thought I would ever say that. If I had my preference, I’m a mountain man. But the mountains are cold in the winter, and the cold makes my arthritis ache, and my bones groan. The modest warmth of northern Florida minimizes those maladies.

So there I was, a snowbird, partaking in the many amenities that Amelia Island, Florida had to offer. And believe me, it’s a lot.

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There I birded without crawling into my insulated coveralls and donning a stocking cap. There we read, wrote, explored, met new friends. There we could stroll the beach for a dozen miles if we wanted. We didn’t.

We were content to walk up and down the same sections of sand, embracing the sounds of the sea crashing the beach, the shorebirds probing for food or skimming the rolling surface for sustenance.

We gathered seashells simply because they were pretty. We embraced sunrises and moon rises shimmering at the ocean’s horizon. A mile west, the harbor sunsets were spectacular.

Our consecutive trips south for part of the winter serve as evidence enough. I readily and happily admit that we are officially now snowbirds.

enjoyinglunchbybrucestambaugh

My wife and I enjoyed our first lunch at Fernandina Beach, Florida outside, and it was Feb. 1.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Pumpkins are for more than pie

Great pumpkin by Bruce Stambaugh

Pumpkins, including the Great Pumpkin apparently, are sold in lots of large boxs at a produce auction near Mt. Hope, OH.


By Bruce Stambaugh

Besides the colorful leaves, pumpkins have to be right up there as one of the top icons of fall. The portly orange fruit seems to be everywhere this time of year.

By their sheer numbers, people appear to be in love with pumpkins. Maybe that’s because they don’t have to rake them like they do the pumpkin’s leafy fall compatriots.

Perhaps the pumpkin’s versatility is the primary reason for its popularity. Pumpkins are used for all sorts of things. My favorite, of course, is in pumpkin pie; hold the whipped cream please.

Pumpkin pie by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife's fabulous pumpkin pie.


I know I’m prejudiced. I’m partial to the pies my good wife makes. That doesn’t deter me, however, from enjoying the baking efforts of others just to prove my point.

Fall is the time of year when real, honest-to-goodness pumpkin pie begins to show up on the menus of local restaurants. There’s good reason for that. It’s pumpkin harvest time. Of course with canning and freezing, pumpkin pie can be made anytime. But given its delicate ingredients, it’s best made in cooler climes.

It’s also worth noting that the pumpkins we see for sale in the market, at roadside stands and in people’s front yards are not generally the kind of pumpkins of which pie is made. For that, you need pie pumpkins, which makes perfect sense to me.

Pumpkin display by Bruce Stambaugh

Homestead Furniture, Mt. Hope, OH used pumpkins in it's 20th Anniversary Sale last October.


These pumpkins have a much higher calling. They are for show. Pumpkins decorate front porches, yard displays, commercial displays and accent fall flower gardens. Their bright orange color warms the coolest autumn morning.

Toward Halloween, people pick the perfect pumpkin for their Jack O’ Lantern. Carving a face into the anointed pumpkin can be a family affair that makes lasting memories for impressionable children. On October’s darkened nights, a single lighted candle sufficiently illuminates the caricature designed and desired.

Colorful pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh

Pumpkins of different colors.


To be chic, pumpkins now come in alternate colors. There are white ones, gray ones, brown ones and even blue ones. These, too, are prized for their ornamentation qualities, and exhibited indoors and out.

Pumpkins are so highly regarded in our North American societies that they even earn their very own festivals. Towns around the country, especially in the Midwest where most pumpkins are grown, celebrated with contests like the largest pie and the largest pumpkin grown. To date, the record belongs to a young man in Wisconsin with a pumpkin that weighed in at 1,810.5 pounds.

Painted pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh

Pumpkins even get painted rather than carved so they last longer.


Pumpkins show up on our dinner tables in other forms besides pies and decorations. There are pumpkin cakes, rolls, ice cream, lattes, ravioli and soups. The seeds can even be roasted and eaten for snacks.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this. We are simply repeating history. Native Americans taught early explorers to North America to roast pumpkin slices skewered on long sticks over an open fire. Settlers learned to cut the top off a whole pumpkin, hollow it out, and fill it with milk and spices, and then bake it on hot coals. This entrée was the forerunner to our pumpkin pie.

The indigenous peoples also understood the pumpkin’s versatility. They would dry strips of pumpkin, and then weave them into mats to sit on.

Besides our early history, pumpkins have also played major roles in our folklore. Cinderella’s coach turned into a pumpkin at midnight. The headless horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow threw a pumpkin at poor Ichabod Crane. Of course, Charlie Brown is full of hope, still looking for the elusive Great Pumpkin.

Whether reading, eating or decorating, enjoy the pumpkin variety show while it lasts. Now pass the pie please.

Large pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh

Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes are sold every fall at the Mt. Hope Produce Auction, Mt. Hope, OH.

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Boiling sap produces more than just maple syrup

Sugar shack by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller's sugar shack is nestled against the woods where the maple sap is obtained.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When Gary Miller of rural Millersburg, Ohio got the idea to make his own maple syrup a couple of years ago, he never envisioned where that thought would take him.

“Two years ago,” Miller said, “I was standing in the rain under an umbrella boiling sap in an assortment of old used pans on my grill.”

This year, thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of some close friends and family members, Miller has his very own sugar shack. And when the sap is running, his shack and the surrounding woods are very busy places indeed.

The shack itself was donated to Miller. A friend, Paul Conrad, had an old shed he told Miller he could have, and Miller’s sons moved it in seven different sections for him. Once on site, the building was reassembled, reusing the old lumber.

That process set the tone for what was to come. Much of the equipment used by Miller and his friends has been refurbished as some part and purpose of the maple syrup operation.

Checking taps by Bruce Stambaugh

When the sap is running, the taps get checked frequently.

Indeed, when the sap is moving, so are a half dozen or so of Miller’s friends who help with the project. They placed 400 taps in sugar, red and black maple trees, according to Miller.

“We are careful about how many taps we place in a tree,” Miller said. “We don’t want to stress them.”

They also helped split the wood that fuels the fire that boils the sap on a homemade evaporator. Of course, the gregarious crew also put that together. Much of that ingenious system consists of recycled metal and other materials.

The wood stove that holds the fire that boils the sap belonged to Scott Sponsler, another friend. The stove was extended with metal from old toolboxes from a pickup truck that Miller owned.

Miller had a fan rebuilt and some ductwork manufactured locally. Together they help distribute the heat generated by the wood stove. The heat evaporates the sap into syrup.

The sap enters the sugar shack from another recycled item, an old bulk tank rescued from an unused milking parlor. It is held up by a repurposed metal stand so the sap flows by gravity into a smaller, reconstructed holding tank inside the old wooden shed.

Sap maze by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller explained how his sap boiling operations works.

From there, the sap runs into a customized sheet metal maze that allows the sap to be evaporated as it circulates up and down the four parallel troughs. After entering a second connected metal maze, the sap begins to change color. It is closer to the firebox and the preheated sap really starts to boil. Its darker color indicates that the moisture is being bubbled away.

Miller said that the sap isn’t officially maple syrup until its consistency is at least 66.9 degrees Brix, as measured by a hydrometer. Miller said with his setup, it takes 51 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup.

Hydrometer by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller showed how he uses a hydrometer to measure the maple syrup's moisture content.

Miller and his friends make the syrup when the sap is running. He said warmer days and cooler nights are the best conditions to make the sap run.

Before it is pumped into the elevated holding tank, the sap is gathered into 15-gallon containers from each tap bucket. The containers are carried on the back of a small tractor. Of course, the tractor was loaned, too.

Pouring sap by Bruce Stambaugh

Scott Sponsler poured sap from one of the tap buckets into a 15-gallon container before heading back to the sugar shack.

All the free equipment and labor is only appropriate. Miller said the maple syrup that is produced is not for sale, although it does have a name, Smoke Pit Maple Syrup.

“This is not a commercial operation,” Miller emphasized.

Instead customers get to donate whatever they feel the syrup is worth. The money is used for an educational scholarship program in Honduras. Miller’s Sunday school class at Millersburg Mennonite Church is financially sponsoring the schooling of several children there.

With all that said, Miller shared another important ingredient in the maple syrup production as far as he is concerned.

“It’s not about the syrup,” Miller said. “It’s about the fellowship.”

Indeed, laughter and kibitzing among the friends intermingle with the steam from the cooking sap in the cold, small shack. The steam and merriment waft together out into the cold air through the open doorways. The good-natured ribbing helps make the labor-intensive sugaring efforts all the sweeter.

Persons interested in obtaining some of the Smoke Pit Maple Syrup should contact Miller at 330-763-0364.

Maple syrup by Bruce Stambaugh

Various sized jars of Smoke Pit Maple Syrup lined a shelf in the sugar shack.

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Getting ready for winter

Martins Creek by Bruce Stambaugh

A series of heavy snowfalls hit Ohio's Amish country last winter.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Like it or not, winter is right around the corner. We have already tasted some of winter’s appetizers, snow, temperatures in the teens, and, of course, shortened daylight.

Fortunately here in Ohio’s Amish Country, the snow didn’t amount to much, and the skinny temperatures quickly moderated. Once winter arrives officially next week, that could change. We could have a snow-filled winter like last year, or worse yet, one like 1977 and 1978 when snowdrifts reached 20 feet or more.

Living in Ohio all my life, I have found it helpful to mentally and physically prepare myself for the inevitable. Whether it is prolonged or only stays awhile, the weather will get cold, and it will snow from time to time.

Snowbirds arrive in Pinecraft, FL by Bruce Stambaugh

Snowbirds arrive via bus in Pinecraft, FL.

Those who dislike that harsh reality and who are in a position to do so flee south or southwest to warmer climes. At least the snowbirds hope they will be warmer. Last year proved otherwise. It frosted in Florida and snowed deep in the heart of Texas.

Snow deep in the heart of Texas by Bruce Stambaugh

It even snowed in Austin, TX last winter.

All of us can’t escape the onslaught of winter’s harshness. Some of us don’t want to. Others are involuntarily stuck here to fend for themselves.

I have fond childhood memories of the benefits of winter, like ice skating, sledding, flinging snowballs and digging snow tunnels. Most of them likely were indeed in the throes of winter. But I do remember delivering newspapers in a glorious Christmas Eve snow.

I also recall hustling our young son and daughter into my in-laws’ farmhouse amid stinging, sideways snow, howling winds, and frigid wind chills. There are times when Ohio winters are at their absolute worst in December.

We then anticipate January and February to be utterly horrible. And low and behold they might turn out to be meek and mild, not to mention mucky.

Whether we stay or whether we go, winter, regardless of the weather, will arrive. We might as well get ready for it.

Snow covered cornshalks by Bruce Stambaugh

A typical snowy scene in Ohio's Amish country.

In many ways, we already have. The tomato trellises we erected last spring have long been coaxed out of the ground and stored in the garden shed, thanks mostly to one of our kind, strong young neighbors.

The birdfeeders have been cleaned, filled and hung, and the backyard birds, and a couple of mooching fox squirrels, have already been taking advantage of the freebies. Actually, I am the one that is grateful. Watching the birds, and squirrels, rabbits and occasional deer, enjoy the cracked corn, oil sunflower seeds and suet mixes is my winter’s entertainment.

White breasted nuthatch by Bruce Stambaugh

A white-breasted nuthatch at my kitchen window feeder.

In truth, I feed the birds year-round. With winter’s approach, I merely increase the number and style of feeders to accommodate the various feeding habits of my feathered friends.

Of course, I can’t neglect the vehicles that transport us from place to place during the winter weather. I make sure each is winterized and ready to endure whatever winter has to throw at us.

The woodpile is stacked high and wide, ready to feed the hungry fireplace. I’d rather be shunning the cold elements in front of a warm fire than on the outside shoveling them. Who wouldn’t?

Winter is nigh. Are you ready?

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Healing among the mourners

World War II Memorial by Bruce Stambaugh

My father, Richard H. Stambaugh, 89, got his only visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. courtesy of Honor Flight. As part of a review of the first decade of the 21st century, this picture appeared on the front page of nytimes.com on Dec. 24, 2009, three days after Dad had died.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In August, I emotionally crashed and burned. I thought I had been dealing pretty well with my father’s death late last year. Truth is, I wasn’t dealing with it at all.

Like so many others who have lost loved ones, I kept myself busy, and suppressed any emotions and hurts that spontaneously tried to ooze out at serendipitous times. I denied my suffering perhaps afraid to let myself go. I needed to properly mourn, take care of myself and share with others just how much Dad meant to me.

I thought I had of course. But I was just fooling myself. I know now that what happened to me was inevitable. I was in denial and the resulting consequences finally had caught up to me. I thought I was alone in this internal battle, and had to be strong for our mother and myself.

In his final months and days, Dad had received marvelous care from Hospice of Holmes County, along with the staff at Walnut Hills, the assisted living facility in Walnut Creek, Ohio where he and Mom lived. After his death, I began receiving monthly mailings from Hospice. Most of them had articles and literature on grieving.

Thinking that I was doing just fine, I usually glanced at them and that was it. That information was for others, not me. I was wrong.

The day my emotions hit rock bottom another Hospice mailing arrived. In it was an invitation to attend a special five-week session on grieving. I wasn’t tolerating the depression medicine the doctor had prescribed for me. I decided to stop the meds and start the counseling.

The group was small, which allowed for intimate, personal, confidential sharing. We met once a week for five consecutive Thursdays. I knew most of the handful of people who attended. The lives of rural people tend to intertwine consequentially.

Dick Stambaugh and Bob Dole by Bruce Stambaugh

Seeing Bob Dole, who was instrumental in making the World War II Memorial a reality, seemed to energize my father. Dole is often at the memorial to greet Honor Flight veterens.

Participants made the two hours each week a priority. We laughed, cried, listened and comforted each other. Our common, profound grief, our tears and smiles bonded us together with measureless compassion.

By the end of the final session, I had a greater appreciation for what others go through, how much people hurt even years after losing a loved one. I was no exception. I learned, though, that hearing the varying situations of others helped see my own issues in a new and realistic perspective.

We learned that grieving is an ongoing process. It takes time and understanding.

Still, I saw healing in my fellow mourners, and I felt healing myself. The last night we met, each of us took turns sharing something significant about our loved ones. Pictures, quilts, special mementos were all passed around.

I showed a slideshow of the Honor Flight trip I took with my father and older brother to Washington, D.C. in September 2009. Honor Flight is a program begun a few years ago to transport as many World War II vets as possible to the memorial in their honor in the nation’s capital.

I served as Dad’s guardian for the day, wheeling him around in his wheelchair. My older brother assisted two more able bodied vets. When asked where that experience fit in his 89 years of living, Dad said it ranked right after his marriage.

Knowing how much the trip meant to Dad, my brother and I were blessed to have been a part of that marvelous experience. In the same way, I was honored to have participated in the bereavement small group. The unconditional love and acceptance I experienced were unforgettable and priceless.

The hugs and handshakes upon parting told me the feelings were mutual.

Stambaughs at the WW II Memorial by Bruce Stambaugh

My older brother, Craig, Dad and I posed for a picture at the Ohio pillar at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 12, 2009.

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