Mason County News
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Thanks Where Thanks Is Due
Wednesday, November 25, 2009 • Posted November 25, 2009

A guy who used to be the editor of a magazine I write for occasionally sent me an email recently. It was an ad for a group called the Texas Wild Network, which is where the guy works now, and the email offered me the opportunity to buy their T-shirt. On the front of the shirt is a picture of a frog and, in great big letters, it says ‘nature nerd.’So right away I’m thinking I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this season. I don’t have to send emails out to a whole bunch of people that will cause them to shake their heads and feel sorry for me. I can’t imagine who would wear a shirt that said ‘nature nerd’ on it, but I’d be willing to bet that kind of person lives in Austin. I don’t live in Austin, which is another thing I’m thankful for.Sometimes life is not what we expected. Things don’t work out the way we planned. The economy is in the tank, unemployment is over ten percent, and politicians are trying to take away our guns, our right to choose how we care for our health, and probably our birthdays. But even with all that, there is a silver lining.For example, I’m thankful I don’t have to fly a plane onto the runway in Goma. You should be, too. Goma is a town in east Congo, Africa. Someone sent me an email about an accident there recently, and the headline read, “Plane misses runway, lands in lava.”Well, that sounds pretty bad. At first I was thinking there were people getting burned up in the lava, trying to get out of the plane. And I was hoping someone got it on film.As it turns out the lava was not hot. A volcano erupted there in 2002 and the lava ran across the runway, which had been more than two miles long. Now it’s less than a mile long, because the folks in charge haven’t ever cleared it off.So this plane, carrying 117 passengers, overshot and ran into the lava, and 20 people got hurt. But there are some interesting aspects to this story, besides the fact that, even though it’s been seven years, they still don’t have the runway cleared, and the other fact that, despite having less than half a runway, they’re still allowing planes to land there. (“Airgoat flight 143, this is the Goma tower. You’re cleared to land on runway 1, the only runway. Winds from the north at 5mph, gusting to 12. Oh, and, when you touch down, HIT THE BRAKES. Have a nice day.”)One of the interesting aspects here is that the article says that some of the passengers on this flight from Kinshasa to Goma told the flight crew that there were heavy clouds. Now, you would think the flight crew would check on something like that, especially if they planned to land on half a runway, and wouldn’t have to depend on their passengers to give them their weather reports. But even so, they didn’t seem to be all that concerned about the clouds, since they went ahead with the flight anyway.Another interesting aspect is that, in 2007, a cargo plane overshot and ran into the lava and burst into flames, killing ‘at least eight’ people. While it’s strange that the authorities are vague about the number of people killed in this accident, it’s stranger that they didn’t shut the airport down and maybe bring in a dozer, or a bunch of people with shovels.They also didn’t shut the place down in 2008, after another plane crashed there. This one, a DC-9, had trouble taking off, probably because of the truncated runway, and dove into a ‘bustling market.’ That one killed ‘at least 40’ people. And it makes you wonder why a ‘bustling market’ was sitting right there at the end of the runway. Maybe they figured the lava field would protect them from errant planes. If so, they figured wrong.So while we may have our problems in America, I’d still rather live here than anywhere else in the world. But we need to remember that the reason we have the freedom, privileges, and opportunities we do is because our veterans have bought them for us, with their time, energy, sweat, and blood. And we especially need to remember that some of those veterans never came home.Serving in the military is always difficult, especially overseas, but it’s most difficult during the holidays. And it’s not just the veterans who pay the price for our freedom. Their families pay just as much, sometimes more.So our thanks this Thanksgiving should be directed to God, which is what the holiday is all about to begin with, and to our veterans for making it possible for us to freely offer thanks to Him.It’s the Veteran, not the promoter, who has given us the right not to buy a ‘nature nerd’ T-shirt. It’s the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.It’s the Veteran, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech.It’s the Veteran, not the community organizer, who gives us the freedom to demonstrate.It’s the Military who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who has the freedom to write this column because of our veterans. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or jeep@verizon.netger

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