The Greatest Generation

I spend a lot of time at the post office. My online business generates a fair amount of international shipping and those packages go to the counter rather than the loading dock. Underneath the glass on the post office railing is a special cancellation commemorating 1st Lt. William Deane “Hawk” Hawkins. As an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve, he won America’s highest military award, the Congress Medal of Honor.

April 19, 2012, would have been Hawkins’ 98th birthday. Born in Fort Scott, Kansas in 1914, circumstances made Hawkins an unlikely hero. A severe burn accident as a baby left him badly scarred and disqualified him from serving in the Army and the Navy Air Corps. He persevered and was accepted into the Marine Corps Reserve after Pearl Harbor and deployed to the Pacific on July 1, 1942.

Evidently, the Marines didn’t see his scars as an impediment. A PFC when he left the states, he quickly rose through the ranks. On June 1, 1943, he was promoted to first lieutenant.

His ultimate sacrifice came less than six months later on Betio Island during the Tarawa campaign. The Saturday Evening Post wrote of Hawkins, “He was slightly wounded by shrapnel as he came ashore in the first wave, but the furthest thing from him mind was to be evacuated. . . During a day and a half he personally cleaned out six Jap machine gun nests, sometimes standing on top of a track and firing point blank at four or five men who fired back at him from behind blockhouses. Lt. Hawkins was wounded a second time, but he still refused to retire. To say that his conduct was worthy of the highest traditions of the Marine Corps is like saying the Empire State Building is moderately high.”

Hawkins’ Medal of Honor was posthumously awarded for heroism and sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty. The citation reads, “His relentless fighting spirit in the face of formidable opposition and his exceptionally daring tactics were an inspiration to his comrades during the most crucial phase of the battle and reflect the highest credit upon the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.” William Deane Hawkins rests in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Hawkins represents the best of “The Greatest Generation” that are leaving us too quickly. His refusal to let his childhood scars limit him, his determination to protect his country from its gravest threat, and his selfless gallantry are worth remembering and honoring. Happy Birthday Lieutenant Hawkins.

Fort Scott Post Office Houses National Treasure

Fort Scott is home to a little known art treasure. Tucked away in the decommissioned courtroom on the second floor of the post office is a mural by Oscar E Berninghaus titled “Border Gateways.” Photos don't do it justice. I estimate it to be approximately 8 feet tall and 20 feet wide.

Berninghaus was born in 1874 in St. Louis. Self-taught, he sketched the St. Louis waterfront where tales from trappers and cowboys sparked a fascination with the old west. Best known for his work with the Taos Society of Artists, he also competed for commissions to decorate public buildings. In 1937, he won the commission for the Fort Scott mural.

Often misidentified as “WPA art,” the post office and courtroom murals were commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts. “The Section,” as it was commonly called, was a project of the Treasury Department. The Section’s main function was to enhance public spaces with high quality art. Unlike WPA projects, artists were not chosen on the basis of need, but through nationwide competitions. There are 22 intact Section paintings and murals in Kansas.

The Fort Scott mural is in excellent condition – the colors clean and vibrant. While not open to the public, post office personnel will proudly show it upon request. The Bourbon County Review thanks Todd McDermed, Supervisor of Customer Services, and Postmaster Robert Vacca for the chance to view this Kansas treasure.  


Book Review: The Whole Lie by Steve Ulfelder

·        Hardcover: 320 pages
·        Publisher: Minotaur Books (May 8, 2012)
·        Language: English
·        ISBN-10: 0312604548
·        ISBN-13: 978-0312604547

The Whole Lie, by Steve Ulfelder drops on May 8, 2012. I was lucky enough to score a review copy and I can whole-heartedly say that it is even better than Purgatory Chasm. The Whole Lie is the second book in the Conway Sax series and life is about to get really complicated.

Conway has it going on. His new garage has more work than hours in the day and his relationship with Charlene is finally on clean dry track. 

Then in walks Savannah Kane. Hey, I hate her. All women instinctively do. You want to grab Sax by the collar and tell him to get his tail home to Charlene. 

The best description I can think of for Savvy Kane comes from an old country song:

She walks into Smokey's one hip at a time,
Like a broken field runner slippin' through the line . . .

Yeah, I know.

And Savvy has another bombshell for Sax, a six-year-old souvenir of an affair with a man who wants to be the next Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. The story is heading into deep water fast when Savvy turns up brutally murdered. Sax, torn between the life he has now, and the loyalty he feels for the lover from his past is dragged into a pit of emotional and political intrigue. Without giving up any spoilers, mayhem ensues.

The strength of The Whole Lie is in the larger than life characters of Conway Sax, Savvy Kane, and baby-daddy Bert Saginaw. In signature Ulfelder style, everyone is a suspect, everyone has an angle, and everyone is lying. Throw in some campaign secrets, blackmail photos, and the fact that every time Sax thinks he has the killer, that person ends up dead, and you have a thrilling tale that moves at NASCAR speed. I had a guess who was hidden under the red dots on the photos, but . . . I. Was. Wrong.

Ulfelder’s racing experience comes through as Sax looks at things through the eyes of a driver and a mechanic. The motorcycle has been tampered with. It’s subtle, but a driver knows that it doesn’t feel right. The back seat of the car clicks when he sits on it. A mechanic knows it's not properly mounted. The clues are there for the reader, if you are willing to look through Conway’s eyes.

Readers are also rewarded with a nice slice of history on Conway Sax. His fall from budding NASCAR stardom into substance abuse and his subsequent recovery are told as memories as he thinks of Savvy. That recovery is also sorely tested by his grief and guilt over Savvy’s death.

Even with the wanton act of antique carnage in the final fight scene, I give The Whole Lie a full five snaps up and a bag of chips for the lines: “I grokked him, sister . . . I’m fluent in Quaalude.” – and – “You’re not convinced. . . Where was I? . . . Befouler. Viper. . . Ah, yes.”

Check out The Whole Lie. It builds on Purgatory Chasm, but is a stand-alone story. Available May 8, 2012. You won’t be sorry.

Bid It! Bourbon County

The Friday evening Bid It! Bourbon County purchase exchange in the parking lot at the west edge of the fort. The place where small town and high tech meet.

Check out Bid It! Bourbon County on Facebook.

Where Is It? Test Your Fort Scott Knowledge #3

Test your Fort Scott knowledge. This painted plaster flower chain graces a doorway to one of town's best known and unique buildings.

A little clue. There are 32 different levels to this building. Have a guess? Leave it in the comments. On our Facebook page or message me.


Book Review: Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder

Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder

·        Hardcover and Kindle: 304 pages
·        Publisher: Minotaur Books (May 10, 2011)
·        ISBN-10: 0312672926
·        ISBN-13: 978-0312672928
 You wouldn’t know it by looking at my 1995 station wagon, but I have a real fondness for racing. My dad used to take me to stock car races and drags and I was a teen before I learned that most girls didn't spend their birthday at the Auto-Rama.

Main character Conway Sax isn't just a mechanic; he's a former driver and race mechanic. That makes him part of a special breed and gives Purgatory Chasm its unique flavor and cadence.

When I read genre, I want the jargon, language, and mood to be authentic. Whether it's military, cop, or legal fiction, if it doesn't feel real, I'm not going to buy into the story. Steve Ulfelder uses his racing experience to put you into a driver’s mindset. Conway's actions and motivations are filtered through the concepts of target fixation, situational awareness, and the red mist of rage. His knowledge, reflexes, and attitudes are used to maximum effect in this sharp-edged hardcore murder mystery.

Even before racing, Conway Sax is loyal to the Barnburners. Part AA group, part Star Chamber, the Barnburners are serious people who abide by their own creed: loyalty and sobriety. When a Barnburner is hurt or in trouble, Conway Sax answers the call without question. Even when it hurts him and those he loves.

Enter Tander Phigg: long time Barnburner and even longer time jackass. The request is simple on its face. Phigg needs Sax to retrieve his special Mercedes, apparently in the clutches of an unscrupulous mechanic. However, when Sax finds himself sprawled on the garage floor with a lump on his skull and a headache to match, he discovers something he already knew, when Phigg is involved there is no such thing as simple.

Phigg can't even die easy. Suicide or murder staged to look like suicide? The evidence is split and Sax decides to follow the leads and play out the hand. After all, Phigg was a Barnburner. . . 

Enter a cast of characters where everyone has an angle, an agenda, and a secret. Ulfelder serves up a nicely woven web of potential suspects, setting them up and knocking them down with ease.  I had my suspicions, but wasn't 100% sure about the killer until the reveal. Then, in the manner of all good murder mysteries, you see the clues were there all along. 

In a nicely crafted subplot, Sax must also deal with the specter of his father. The rat-racing and rock-running illustrate the eternal conflict of a son who both wants to please and beat his father and a father who is simultaneously proud and threatened by his son. The resolution is elegant and bittersweet.

So, if you like your books fast moving, action-packed, and with a ring of truth in the characters and settings, then Purgatory Chasm is for you. Overall, I give it four snaps up and throw in the bag of chips for this line: "A street car is a tool. A racecar is a weapon." 

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Steve a bit and he’s a heck of a nice guy. Find him on Facebook and Twitter or visit his website. Next week is a sneak peek at his new book, “The Whole Lie” set to drop in May 2012.

Drop by The Bourbon County Review on Facebook and say hello! 

Where Is It? Test Your Fort Scott Knowledge #2

Welcome to the second "Where is it?" Fort Scott trivia challenge. Thanks to those who emailed me or private messaged me on Facebook with their guesses. This beautiful bit of architectural detail graces a corner building downtown. You have to take your eyes off the sidewalk to see it.

Click on the photo to see the larger version. Have a guess? Enter it in the comments, on Facebook, by Facebook private message, or by email. Have fun!