Category Archives: History

Oh, We Rioted Too

I stepped onto an elevator at work today and caught the end of a conversation:

“…and now that they’re burning down the businesses in their own neighborhood, they’ll have to go even farther–with their hands out!…Hey, Ashley!”

I was ashamed of myself. In the trip between one floor, I couldn’t think of what to say to these caregivers. Yes, I work in a place where kindness is the norm and we treat everyone who walks in the door in need of help.

I couldn’t find my voice in that instant to call out what I had heard.

I saw the same comments on Facebook that you did, the ones asking, “Why are they burning and looting? What good will that do?” One commentor even stated, “White people didn’t riot when OJ was acquitted.”

Demonstrations in 1995 after the Simpson criminal-trial verdict split along racial lines. This one was held in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Demonstrations in 1995 after the Simpson criminal-trial verdict split along racial lines. This one was held in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Yes, yes we did.

The difference is, we had a nice safe place to express our rage. White people owned the media outlets. We raged and rioted on TV so much that we created the 24-hour news cycle.

That’s the thing I have learned about rage–it will be expressed through whatever means are available to you. If you have the microphone, the chair, the podium, there are plenty of outlets for your rage. If a stone is the only means of power available to you, you will use that.

A Palestinian boy doesn’t throw a rock because it is photogenic. A lone man doesn’t face down a Chinese tank with a grocery bag to be poignant. A furious man in Ferguson doesn’t tip over a car because a camera is there to capture the shot. Those are expressions of simply not being able to take it one second longer. Looking around for something that translates fury into power. And using it.

Do I think it’s right? Of course not. But sometimes it’s the only tool at hand.

An Unknown Soldier

Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day make me sad because my late husband, Richard, was not quite a veteran but his service to his country killed him.  

His first career was as an aerospace engineer.  He worked for the Army Research Lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground–a civilian who got a paycheck from the Army.  This career happened years before we met.  I asked him what exactly he did and he answered, “If something that flies blew up but wasn’t supposed to blow up–I investigated that.  If something that flies didn’t blow up when it was supposed to blow up–I investigated that too.”  

SCUD shot down by Patriot missile.  Richard's not in this picture.  But this is what he did for the Army.

SCUD shot down by Patriot missile. Richard’s not in this picture. But this is what he did for the Army.

He went to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm to document the performance of the Patriot Missile System (was supposed to blow up–sometimes did, sometimes didn’t, often blew up the wrong target).  He even testified before Congress during the hearings about the Patriot.  

I have snapshots of him in the desert, in Army camo, Army-issued sidearm and everything, standing next to SCUD missiles (the ones that didn’t blow up).  He investigated the terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.  He worked on the Blackhawk Down helicopter crash from Somalia.  But he wasn’t a veteran.  

His investigative work wasn’t limited to Army aircraft.  In 2003 we were sitting in a hot tub in Bermuda at sunset and struck up a conversation with a lively couple.  They were part of a large group, there for a family reunion.  After a while, the wife revealed to us that they were there courtesy of Muammar Gaddafi, who had finally paid a financial settlement to the families of the people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  They were one of those families who had lost a daughter 15 years before that night in Bermuda.  Now that Gaddafi had paid millions in blood money, this couple were treating the people who had helped them survive their loss to a vacation.  Richard tensed up beside me.  After they left the hot tub, I asked him, “Did you work on that one?”  He nodded.  

On 9/11, he could barely speak through his rage–because he had worked on the investigation the first time terrorists had tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993.  Now that they had finally done it, he was no longer in the game.  He had moved on to being a business professor.  

One year on Veterans’ Day, we were watching the broadcast of the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  I shed a few tears.  He sat stoically, holding my hand.  I asked, “Doesn’t it make you sad?”  He answered, “It is sad.  But it also makes me proud that I did my part.  I helped.”


Hemophagocytic histiocytes in bone marrow

Thirteen years passed since those days when Richard traveled the world wearing Army fatigues, getting an Army paycheck, on Army transport…but not a veteran.  When Richard developed a viciously aggressive form of leukemia at the age of 37, his doctors concluded that the cause was most certainly benzene exposure.  Why were they so sure?  Because the damage to his chromosomes was so severe that it couldn’t be a fluke.  Because 13 years is the incubation period for that kind of leukemia.  Thirteen years earlier, he had been blowing up or reassembling all kinds of aircraft.  And aircraft fuel is high in benzene.  The office that Richard worked in, investigating all those explosions was situated in a converted aircraft hangar.  When the Army Research Lab converted the space to a laboratory, they didn’t bother to dig up the old fuel tanks or test the soil to see if it was contaminated.  

If he had had any other job, he wouldn’t have died.  If he had even had a different office, he wouldn’t have died.   

All that work he did keeping our soldiers safe killed him.  That’s why I feel conflicted on Veterans’ Day.  I wish he had heard “thank you” for the work he did.  Or “we’re sorry” from the Army.  I am proud to know there are soldiers who have made it home because of something he figured out in that lab.  He gave his life in that lab.  

A Veterans’ Day Salute to Some Bad Mothers

Happy Veterans’ Day to some of the Baddest Mothers In History!

These are just a few of the remarkable women veterans included on the Pinterest board:  Baddest Mothers In History.  Check it out today and learn more about their achievements.


Rear Admiral Grace Hopper


 SPC Lori Piestewa


Opha Mae Johnson, USMC