No Ordinary Joes

No Ordinary Joes by Larry Colton

Book Review by Maggie Elice Turner

History is getting older and older every day, and we must decide what deserves a place in the records books and what events can be skimmed over.  Americans of the “Greatest Generation” are aging along with history, and fading into it faster than we are able to count.  The importance of preserving their legacy and stories was not lost with Larry Colton and his book No Ordinary Joes.  Colton opens his book with a quote from President Kennedy regarding his pride for having been in the Navy; a sentiment also worn like a badge of honor by those in the submarine service.  Colton chronicled four men, Bob Palmer, Chuck Vervalin, Tim McCoy, and Gordy Cox who served aboard the USS Grenadier submarine during WWII.  Unlike other veteran narratives, he wanted to document a mini-biography of their pre and post war lives.  Colton does a good job of dividing the book into by giving each man a chapter related to the topic and then unifying the story again.  

Prior to the war, each man had been ordinary in terms of being a victim of the Depression Era, struggling to make ends meet, and seeking out a way to improve their home lives.  This motivated them all to join the Navy more so than patriotic duty.  Specifically, joining the Navy could provide them something domestic society couldn’t; a steady income and “three hots and a cot.” After successful completion of sub school, each of the men were assigned to different submarines before coming together on the USS Grenadier.  On the 6th war patrol, 23 April 1943, the sub was attacked by a Japanese aircraft with a torpedo sending them 300 feet to the ocean floor suffering with the bow pointed up at a 20 degree angle; a damaged propeller; a fire in the maneuvering room, water coming in the engine room and a smashed radio.  After 15 hours under water, the sub was able to surface and were eventually taken prisoners.

Many things in life can make a man extraordinary, but none more than becoming an American Hero after coming out of a POW camp alive.  The gruesome details of the torture at the hands of the Japanese bring the realities of war to life and one can’t help but feel their own anger towards the enemy.  Colton’s book continues up to 60 years after the war to a point readers see an ordinary picture of the men- ones that sill wear the badge of POW and Hero, but also an depiction of men facing domestic problems like every other ordinary man does partly from their upbringing and experience during the war.

Chair Upholstery

I’ve wanted to reupholster a chair for a long time.  Although I have no prior experience, after watching it being done over and over on TV, I felt I had learned the basics of how to get it done.

In 1996 on TLC, I  would watch a show called Furniture to Go (Which previously was Furniture on the Mend & then after Men in Tool Belts) hosted by Ed Feldman and Joe L’Erario.  It was one of my favorite shows and way before all these home repair-do-it-yourself shows on cable these days.  The guys would start out the show with a classic comedy skit or reenactment, and all throughout the show there would be tons of puns and jokes that you had to have a quick-whit to catch.   Sometimes the projects would be a wood furniture refinishing or reupholstering.   I’ve always been fascinated by this type of stuff, and would love to be able to do that kind of stuff on my own. 

21 years later………..  Joe and Ed have gotten together again (on YouTube) to share their tips and quick fixes and I finally dove in and did my own project!

I bought an old chair from an estate sale with the intention of re-covering it.










This was the hardest part of the project.  The seat was screwed into the chair and I didn’t realize that for a long time as I struggled to try and remove it.  Then there were the hundreds of staples I had to remove.  First I had to begin to carefully remove the original fabric, which I would then use as a pattern to cut out pieces of the new fabric I had selected.   


After getting the fabric removed I did a good cleaning and polishing of the chair frame. 

 It was at this point, when trying to lift the chair onto my work table, I had banged it into the edge of the table and popped a hole into the woven arm (#@!$%#%$&!!!).  Well it is my first project and mistakes were going to happen.  I continued on with other parts and would deal with this later. 

The back rest had buttons, so since I don’t have a mechanical way to cover/create buttons, I had to make a decision to discard them or try to somehow convert them to my pattern.  First I decided it would be too difficult to do and added some extra padding to cover the indentations from the buttons.  As part of the learning process, I first upholstered the back part and then the first.  So when I decided to go ahead and use the buttons, I couldn’t pop them through the fabric and I had to start over again. 

Here is a close up of the old and new covered buttons (buttons, but they have a brad-backing).  I cut a small square of material and wrapped it around the button and began to sew the back side as tight as I could.

To start, place the material face down on the table, and lay the cardboard-cushioned back on top.  Pull the material over the edge and place a staple in the middle.  Then pull material to make sure it’s smooth and tight as you put more staples across the top.  Now you can flip the piece around and do the same to the bottom and the sides.  It was like wrapping present, making sure all the edges were creased and even. 

This is the finished back rest with buttons and a first look at the material I chose. 

Next I worked on the seat. I also added and/or replaced the cushioning as necessary.  

I generously cut the material larger than I needed it to be. 

Always start with a staple in the middle first and then keep pulling taught and smoothing the material around the project. 

While working with the material, I had to make several release cuts in order to make sure that all of the material was smooth since this had more rounded edges than the back.

After everything is stapled into place, trim off the excess fabric. 


Now that the main pieces were covered, I attached the back to the wood with staples

Then I had to deal with the arms.  I decided there was no way for me to fix it, so I would have to cover both the inside and outside arms.  I took some poster board to make a pattern.  For the inside arms, I then transferred it on to a heavy cardboard (tv box) and hot glued the material to the cardboard and then stapled it to the arms. 

The outside arms were done the same way except I used the poster board and nothing heavier, that was hot glued to the chair

Now was the time to affix all the remaining pieces to the chair and add the chord (gimp) to cover the staples.   I used hot glue again around the back and down the sides. 

It took me 5 days to finish (I only worked on it an hour or two a day).  I know I didn’t do it exactly the way I was supposed to, I’m happy with the final product. 

Here’s the finished product !

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April 15, 1912 the Titanic British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in the early morning after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City.

Today is the 105th anniversary and I thought about that fatal voyage (& the Leonardo DiCaprio movie) as I was reading Francine Mathews’ book Jack 1939.  

I haven’t written a blackout poem in quite a while. This one was the first time I tried adding some graphics. 

Red Bird in the Moonlight



This hardy Cardinal’s brilliant red feathers are illuminated against the backdrop of a full Winter’s Moon.  The blustery wind out of the North Pole has kicked up the snow flurries into a swirling vortex, adding a chill to the air.   No need to worry though, this red-bird has a tight grip on the tree branch and an abundance of berries to snack on throughout the night.

This is the third painting that I have completed since starting back in early November.  This time, I found a picture on line and did what I could to re-create it without instruction.  Initially the canvas was supposed to be for a Bob Ross landscape, but it wasn’t working for me so I took a color and covered the canvas with a dark background to blot out my first attempt.  Because I don’t want this to be too expensive of a hobby considering I’m just starting out, I wanted to be able to re-use it.

When my mom said she liked it (mothers always do), but then hung it up on the wall, I knew it had to be half decent.   This painting served a dual purpose and I also made it into my Christmas Card design.  I took a picture of the painting and then put it decoratively on a card.  

Part-time Passion for Painting

I’ve started painting! I’m not good at it, but I started ! Here are my first two projects.  Up to last year, I still wanted to learn how to paint and was saving up to get the Bob Ross starter kit I saw for sale at Hobby Lobby.  Saving up was going to be one big obstacle as the kit was $100 and some of his other tools and brushes at least a quarter of that.   I’d like to say that my inspiration to paint comes from channeling my inner Michelangelo, Da Vinci or Raphael, but that’s not the case.  (yes I know I just named the Ninja Turtles).  I probably couldn’t even identify any of their paintings and do not hang out in art museums.  In fact one time I had to apologize to a co-worker of mine one time when I said that I ‘hated art’.  It was more of a mis-understanding of certain concepts of art. But Jared was such an art fan that to make it up and prove that I wasn’t a jerk, I visited the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Renwick Gallery, and the Portrait Gallery to show that I could appreciate art.  I found several pieces at each gallery that I could identify with.

So I guess, if I had to pick a favorite painter, it would be none other than Bob Ross.  I grew up watching him on public television and was amazed at the beautiful landscapes he could create in such a short amount of time.  I always wished I could do that too, but seemed to always take my creativity into different directions.

There was an offer on Groupon for a deal on a session at a local art studio that taught painting.  Teaching is a loose term because it’s more of step by step instruction to create a painting they chose. I was ecstatic when I found this offer and jumped on it.  I didn’t want to wait around for the right design… I wanted to go right away and signed up for that weekend class.  My friend Lisa joined me and I was happy she did.  It was so much more relaxing to have someone there to take the stress away.

This was the art studio in Sussex, WI called Uptown Art.  


This is the painting we were learning to do.  It’s called Autumn Walk in the Park by Karen Tarlton




Mine didn’t turn out quite the same way.  I was ok up to the point of the trees and the grass and the people.  I wish I could paint over the bottom and try again.  But all and all I’m not that disappointed and I didn’t get as frustrated as I thought I would.  Normally I’m the type of perfectionist that it has to look like the sample or its wrong.  I’m learning to get over that.  



So after saying that Bob Ross is my favorite painter…. what do I do, but go on my own with my first unassisted attempt, I paint something that is very “not Bob Ross”.   I had planned on going back again to Uptown Art, but I got my dates mixed up and I missed signing up for this Van Gogh style Tree.  



So I went to the crafts stores and assembled all that I would need to paint at home.  I think I came pretty close.  I did’t quite get all the swirls in and I decided not to put dots on the spheres, but I’m happy with it.  


 If I don’t make it back to Uptown Art this year, I did borrow a few Bob Ross instructional DVDs and I think I will try one of those next. 

Stay tuned for future art projects! 








The Cherry Harvest

The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna

I enjoy reading historical fiction because I like to feel that I’m right there with the characters.  A friend recommended this book for me because it takes place in Wisconsin, as well as for my interest in WWII and most likely because of my fascination with the TV show Hogan’s Heroes.  So to read a book about German POWs in Wisconsin was something I would definitely try, and didn’t put it off and pushed it ahead of the books I had already started.  

What intrigues me about historical fiction is being so immersed in the story that I then want to go and find out more about the historical topic, which is what I was hoping for when I turned the first page of The Cherry Harvest.  I was rather disappointed.  

I don’t like to be too harsh of a critic because this was a nice story.  It just wasn’t the story I was looking for.  

There was a lot of sex in this book.  I wanted to read about the German POWs (or PWs as they referred to them in the book) and what it was like to have them in Wisconsin while America as still deep in the war with Nazi Germany.

Instead what I got was a story about a farm family who badly needed labor and with all the men in the area drafted into the war, including their son, they turned to the US Army to allow them the use of German PWs.  The community was not happy about this and afraid to have the Germans around dangerous, potentially deadly farm equipment.   That’s it.  I feel like the two Germans characters stay in the background and walk in and out of the book at certain times.  The setting of the Germans is central to the plot, but it doesn’t go into detail about them and their experiences specifically.  The family’s teenage daughter is tutored by one of the prisoners who proves to be intelligent and well spoken in English.  Immediately, you expect the daughter Katie to fall in love with him.  She doesn’t.  It’s the mother who does even though she resisted feelings for him because her son was risking his life fighting the Germans.  The mother, Charlotte, is not a likable character, and she ends up being the downfall of the family as a whole.

The story focused mostly about Katie falling in love with a Senator’s son who is profiting from the war and her desire to leave rural northern Wisconsin to go to college in Madison and study literature like her father attempted to do.  So the Cherry Harvest was more of a coming of age love story.  It was a good story if I were looking for a romance novel, but I wasn’t.    

I looked up another review of this book and found that the author used this non-fiction book called Stalag Wisconsin so I have already begun reading this book and the first 50 pages are already giving me what I am looking for.  

Here is the link to an article about the factual information about German Prisoners of War in Wisconsin and mentions the Stalag Wisconsin book as well.



I’ve been wanting to write for quite a while, but hadn’t found the time or resources.  Tapping my fingers on my desk at work, & looking all around I wan’t going to let my 45 minute lunch to go to waste.  In that amount of time I could create a new blackout poem.  However, the only reading material I had in my desk to use was the Fleet Type Submarine Manual and the Torpedo Data Computer Manual which are not exactly choice verbiage for creating poetry.

Then I remembered I could access my Kindle Cloud reader on the computer.  Randomly, I chose from my fiction library the book Free Air by Sinclair Lewis and scrolled through with the mouse until I stopped on page 105 (because that is what time it was).  I read this book in the summer of 2015 so it wasn’t fresh in my memory.  I first skimmed the page, looking at it like a word search puzzle to see which words popped out.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a blackout poetry & usually I have to be in a particular mood when I make one.  This time, not so much of a mood came through, but more of a theme.  Nearly every day since the beginning of this year, my family has been watching past seasons of the reality TV show Survivor on DVD,  and have just completed Season 13.  Thus when I saw the name Jeff on the page of this book…. my mind immediately conjured up an image of host Jeff Probst. On the show, love or hate the castaway, it’s always an emotional episode when they have the “Loved Ones Visit.” The castaways are always surprised to see loved ones & then compete to spend time with them.  That’s what I thought of when making this…especially those who lose the challenge.

Because it was an e-book page it’s a lot wider than a photocopy of a regular book so you’ll have to click on the picture to read it full size.  In the event it doesn’t load because of the size, I typed it out below the picture.


Shacks and tents
She ambled to the shore, feeling feeble
Three days ago she was muttering
Jeff…. homesick
Crouched on the shore, forlorn figure
Reflection of sunset
A roar, a rush
A trim figure darting-
People she loved
He had shouted only, “I Miss” before she had rushed to him
Into the comfort of his arms and kissed him
Ridiculously wonderful to see you !
Must trot
See you very soon
Alone with Jeff in his cap, and his keen smile

Free Air- Sinclair Lewis

Free Air- Sinclair Lewis, Page 105 (electronic)




In the United States there are 25 submarine museums, and with my recent vacation to Cleveland, I can now check another submarine off of the list of those that I have visited. (Click the picture for an enlarged- readable view)

As of June 12, 2016 I have toured 13 out of 25 submarines

As of June 12, 2016 I have toured 13 out of 25 submarines


The USS COD (SS-224) is a Gato class WWII submarine that was constructed by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut and launched into service on March 21, 1943.  COD endured 7 war patrols and a total of 221 men called her home during those 7 war patrols.  The sub was decommissioned in 1954 and placed in reserve.  The COD was returned to the Great Lakes, by way of the newly opened St. Lawrence Seaway, to serve as a naval reserve training vessel in Cleveland, Ohio where the COD resides to this day. 


 A very busy attraction, the COD sits in Lake Erie and is a short walk from the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Indian’s Progressive Field downtown.  On the National Register of Historic Landmarks, the COD is open to visitors from May 1st through September 30th from 10 am to 5 pm.  

COD Memorial


Each submarine I have visited has something unique about them and is presented in different ways.  The COD’s hull and deck have been preserved.  This submarine does not have a modified visitor access door such as the COBIA or U-505 do.  Visitors to the sub have to climb down a vertical ladder through a hatch to the forward torpedo room in the same manner than the men did during the war.  


I call this the “lived in” sub.  The museum curator chooses to display the submarine as if it were still on active duty during the war.  It’s as if the crew were still on patrol because throughout the sub you will find personal artifacts such as towels, blankets and pillows on the bunks, stuffed bunk bags, cans of food in every nook and cranny, dishes on the tables in the Mess, clothes hanging out to dry in the Engine Room as well as photos of the men who worked in these compartments.  Seeing the sub this way brings to life the picture that this was not only a weapon of war,  but also a place of employment and a home away from home for the brave submariners.  

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