At the beginning of last year, I started scanning some of my dad’s photos from South Korea in the early 1970s, when he was serving in the U.S. Air Force. I’ve been meaning for a long time to pick up the project again, and just before Christmas, the spark to do so arrived in the form of a surprise email through the Flickr page where I’m archiving the pictures.
Pat Bachman served with my dad from January to December 1972, and said he found the pictures I’d posted through an online search for the 5th TAC Kojin. The radar site, he explained, was a detachment of 5th Tactical Air Command (The Road Runners), headquartered at Clark AFB in the Philippines. Pat also added a few comments to dad’s pictures on Flickr, so I updated a couple photo captions in a previous post. He said he remembered my dad fondly as a hell of a nice guy, and graciously offered to send along a few of his own pictures for the collection.
This is Pat’s shot of the “short-timers’ board” in the 269 Lounge. Pat offered the following notes: Placement on the board represented placement in line for catching the “Freedom Bird” (represented by the helicopter) and rotating out. The Freedom Birds belonged to the Army and were part of the Jolly Green Giants. The name tags under the helo are the 10 who had recently left site – pic shows 11 because two rotated out on same date. Tags at the very bottom-left were visitors (VIP’s or pilots making first trip to the site). Tags on the donkey cart were the “Mule skinners” – truck drivers who routinely delivered supplies.
Sincere thanks to Pat for getting in touch, providing these photos and some background, and for inspiring me to finish scanning dad’s photos in the days and weeks to come.
(Click on any of the photos to visit the full gallery and larger versions of the images.)
And finally, Lifer – the site mascot:
From a recent exercise in storytelling. Assignment: In roughly 100 words, describe a time when your life changed.
At the last minute, I threw out my first, more serious draft, switched topics entirely, and wrote on the fly –
When we got home, I couldn’t get to my crayons fast enough.
I couldn’t find the black one, so I skipped Darth Vader and drew my stormtroopers in blue-green.
That’s how I remember the first time I saw Star Wars. I was six.
Since then, I have seen better movies. I have read better stories.
But this was more than spaceships and lasers and robots:
Star Wars is what got me interested in science and writing and history and mythology; in authors, characters, symbols, and archetypes; in storytelling and classically-inspired music and film-making.
This was a Big Bang. This was my world blowing up.
Also: spaceships and lasers and robots.
I liked the way it turned out, and it got a good reception. I saved it because I enjoyed looking deeper than nostalgia and remembering the first time someone else’s art really inspired me.
I’ve scanned another couple pages’ worth of my dad’s pictures from Korea. (Click here for some background on this project and the first batch of photos.) Clicking on any of the images will take you to the full photoset and much larger versions of the pictures.
As noted previously, I’d love any feedback, input or insight into the locations and situations captured in Dad’s pictures, so if you know someone who served in this area around this time – or even if you can translate some of the Korean signs in the photos – feel free to get in touch with me through the comments or by emailing booth(at)fieldsedge.com.
My earliest memories trace an elliptical orbit around two places: Lima and Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
If you ask me where the first place is that I remember living, my mind goes to this house on North Main Street in Lima:
That picture’s from sometime in 1972-73. (Here’s what the house looked like in summer 2012.)
But I also have many memories of the farm and house in Upper Sandusky where my mom grew up, since we lived there while my dad was serving in Korea in 1971 and ’72. While I can remember several things about being there, I can’t say that I recall having a sense of home in those memories, the way I do about the house in Lima.
That’s me and my maternal grandfather, Reuben Schoenberger. Here’s another one:
The pieces I remember from the farm and the farmhouse are mostly sensory snapshots: The smell of dirt and wood and oil in the barn, and the pile of gravel behind it where I played; sitting on the metal cover to something in the yard (a well, maybe, or a cistern?); the place under the front porch where I crawled with the family dog, Alfie; the pattern on the kitchen floor; the yard and the long driveway tucked into the cornfields.
That’s me and my grandma Joan and Alfie. I can remember that tricycle seeming huge – it had a double-decker step on the back! and needing those block-and-band accessories to reach the pedals. (Those things had a long life: after I outgrew needing them on the tricycle, they went into the box of toy blocks that lasted through me and my brothers.)
Now let’s go back to Lima.
I seem to think this area was just off the kitchen, at the back of the house. I still remember exactly how that rug felt under my hands and knees, and beneath the wheels of my toys. The wooden toy box in the background? My grandpa made it, and I still have it. And I remember taking everything out of it and making a complete mess of the room so that I could sit in it.
This was my parents’ second car (according to the back of the picture). Again, I can remember the texture of the seats. At some point, the Bug developed a hole in the backseat floor, and I wasn’t allowed to ride there. I loved two things in particular about the car: riding with the top down, and pushing the button that made the windshield washers squirt. This latter activity was most fun when carried out unsupervised with my best friend, Alberto – he’s in the middle of the photo below:
Alberto and his family lived next door, and it seems like every interaction I remember between our families involved laughing. Also, I could eat his mom’s homemade tortillas by the dozen. Man, they were good.
Finally, a trio of seasonal pictures, starting with me and mom in winter:
Summer. (I don’t know who that guy is, but I loved that swinging pole thing, and I love the ’70s feel of this picture.)
And fall. Me and my trike and our dog, Punkin.
Punkin got lost for a couple days once. I think I remember dad saying he found her out in a field by some railroad tracks.
Larger versions of these pictures – and a couple others – are in this Flickr photoset.
I’ve said before how excited I am to have played a small part in this project, so when the finished DVD of Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys landed in my mailbox last week, it was a little like the day I got my Bossk.
Here’s the elevator pitch from the DVD web site:
Like no toys before them, Star Wars toys were a phenomenon that swept the nation, transforming both the toy and movie industries, and ultimately creating a hobby that, 30 years later, still holds sway over its fans.
Plastic Galaxy is a documentary that explores the groundbreaking and breathtaking world of Star Wars toys. Through interviews with former Kenner employees, experts, authors, and collectors, it looks at the toys’ history, their influence, and the fond and fervent feelings they elicit today.
I may not be the most impartial reviewer, of course, but think the movie turned out well. It’s a nice balance of nostalgia trip, toy merchandising history lesson, eye-popping show-and-tell, and behind-the-scenes storytelling. There’s some fun animation work throughout, too.
Several nifty people I’ve met and/or know from fan circles are also in the movie, like Jim Swearingen, and a couple OSWCC and KennerCollector.com friends, and Steve Sansweet, who wrote what’s still one of my all-time favorite Star Wars books, “From Concept to Screen to Collectible.” (A book, which, it should be noted, also inspired Plastic Galaxy. It’s still a good read 20+ years after its publication. Most of what has become common knowledge about the Kenner/Star Wars backstory was unearthed by Sansweet first.)
It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that if you remember the Kenner brand or coveted the neighbor kid’s Landspeeder or grew up in the twin-sun shadow of the original Star Wars, then Plastic Galaxy is probably in your wheelhouse. You can order it from Brian and Karl’s Futurious Industries.
In addition to diving into my own memories of the early-to-mid 1970s, another project I’ve undertaken for this year is collecting my dad’s photos of his year in Korea, when he was serving in the U.S. Air Force, just a little more than four decades back.
There are several pages’ worth of these black-and-white pictures, unlabeled, collected in one of my mom’s earliest photo albums. I also seem to recall a box of color slides from Korea that used to be in our attic. I’ll have to ask about those and maybe look into getting them digitized. I figure I’ll post them a few pages at a time, publishing smaller images here, and linking to the collected Flickr set of larger versions. (Clicking on any of the photos will also take you to that set and the original 600 dpi scans.)
They’re a regular, everyday mix of scenic photos, posed pictures, and context-free slices of whatever life was going on at the moment.
All of these pictures were taken between July 1971 and August 1972, but not during February 1972, since Dad was home on leave then. Possible locations are near the USAF Osan Air Base and a radar site at Kojin, which seems to have been just south of the DMZ on the east coast, near a body of water named “Hwajinpo.” (I have a baseball-style cap of Dad’s embroidered with “Kamp Kojin Korea” on the front, “Doc” along one side and “Commander USAF Hospital” on the back. Another cap I have says “USAF HOSP Osan ’71-’72″ on it.)
I welcome any feedback, input or insight into the locations and situations captured in Dad’s pictures, so if you know someone who served in this area around this time, feel free to get in touch with me through the comments or by emailing me at booth(at)fieldsedge.com.
Growing up, I heard the term “tornado slide” used to describe this piece of playground equipment, and I’ve always loved it. This one’s in Harrison Smith Park in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and I’m pretty sure it’s The Best One In The World.
I mean, look at it. All metal. Three full revolutions. Angle of descent: Approximately badass degrees. Turns tight enough to cause right-leg friction burns on the center pole. An ascent that includes a landing, for Pete’s sake, presumably so you can acclimate to the altitude and get even more scared. Look at the bottom of the slide: I’m pretty sure that kid was kissing the ground out of his thankfulness for having survived – Oh, God, no, wait! Look closely! I think there’s another kid down there. THE SLIDE WAS BAITING US INTO COLLISIONS AND TRYING TO KILL US ALL.
Yeah, I loved this thing. I’m pretty sure it was installed in 1976, in tune with the nationwide bicentennial celebration, and that around the time of this photo, it was brand new. Check out that line of thrill-seekers. I’m one step up from the halfway landing, five years old. That’s my mom – also an adventurous type – right behind me.
Playgrounds have changed a lot in the three-plus decades since this slide was installed, including the park in Upper Sandusky. But the World’s Best Tornado Slide lasts. My daughter’s tackled it. Maybe my nephews, too. Last I checked, it’s still there – visible on Google Maps, even. Waiting.
This begins with an overdue thanks to the guys behind JediCon WV, who earlier this month published a really moving and heartfelt Tumblr post about Collect All 21! and my presentation at their 2010 convention.
John writes he was six when he was first swayed by the Force. I was more like 11. But so many of his recollections are similar to my experiences. Here he was, five years my junior living in Ohio while I grew up in Virginia, older – not wiser – and it’s like we lived next door to each other.
So I want to thank you, John, for bringing out the Star Wars kid in me once again. Each re-reading brings back memories of the best childhood anyone could’ve asked for. Maybe that’s why I’ve never really left it behind.
I mean dang. Thank YOU. It feels like I’ve said this a million times, but god, that kind of reaction, and hearing that someone read what I wrote and enjoyed re-discovering long-lost secret joys? That’s one of my favorite things in the world, and it’s a huge reason I wrote Collect All 21! in the first place.
So, that’s the first part of the post as referenced in the title.
Naturally, the second part is this: You know what makes a good Christmas present? Unbridled Star Wars,-1970s-and-’80s nostalgia, conveniently packaged in classic paperback format, or in an expanded electronic book edition.
There’s an excerpt, and some nice things that nifty people have said about the book, and things like podcasts and interviews, and some non-Amazon Collect All 21! links here.
Deep and sincere thanks again to everyone who’s supported this book for the past five-plus years and encouraged me to keep sharing my Star Wars memories.
This may be my favorite picture of me and my dad:
I had placed this sometime around 1973, but thanks to the incredible archive at Doug Gilford’s Mad Cover Site, I’ve discovered it’s got to be at least early 1975 which would make me 4 years old. I’m reading the March issue, Dad’s got Super Special #14, and the December ’74 issue is there in the foreground.
I can remember that bedspread and its texture; and the feel and weight of those dark yellow plastic plates that appear to have some bologna sandwiches on them; and the brown plastic bowl, too.
It looks like I’ve got a kids’ book at lower right, but I’d bet I’ve set it aside in favor of Spy vs. Spy.
The first batch of pre-orders and sales that summer and fall of 2008 were mostly to family, friends, and the supportive Star Wars fans of the Ohio Star Wars Collectors Club and the vintage forums at Rebelscum.com. They really jump-started this whole thing with their responses to my 2007 online series of Star Wars recollections.
In early 2009, right around the time my last full-time newsroom job was eliminated and I found myself out of work, Rob Wainfur posted one of the earliest completely-neutral-party reviews of Collect All 21! on his Retro Finds site, which was a more-than-welcome bit of nice news, and especially neat because Rob’s from Wales.
Around the same time, Adam, my Collect All 21! editor, launched Deus Ex Comica, and suddenly I was like, “Hey: I want a cool, professional cover and a foreword, too!” And that’s where Kirk Demarais and David Morgan-Mar came in, generously contributing their talents to the revised version of Collect All 21!, providing me with some amazing front cover art and a kick-ass introduction.
Working with a great digital publishing team, I expanded the book for a Kindle edition in July 2011, adding some new personal material as well as interviews and my magazine-length feature on Lorne Peterson.
Some of the other neat stuff that’s happened along the way:
- In spring 2009, I got an incredibly kind and supportive email from George Krstic, another Northeast Ohio first-generation Star Wars fan who grew up to write neat stuff like MTV’s Downtown, Megas XLR, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Motorcity. We’ve hung out a few times since, and recorded a few Star Wars nostalgia podcasts, and it’s always a blast. (George also introduced me to Josh Ling, who’s also a first-generation Rust Belt kid that came of age addicted to Kenner toys, and, I think it’s also fair to say, deals with the same old-school v. new-era Star Wars internal conflicts that twist so many of us in geek knots.)
- Jenny Williams and Curtis Silver both said really nice things about Collect All 21! on the GeekMom and GeekDad blogs, respectively.
- At PAX East in 2010, thanks to the GeekDad crew, I met Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf, who bought a copy of the book on the spot while we were all hanging out, and later provided me with a superlative blurb.
- CNN interviewed me for a 30th anniversary story about The Empire Strikes Back.
- Sharing Star Wars memories became kind of a thing: My friend Jonathan Liu sent me an advance copy of Tony Pacitti‘s My Best Friend is a Wookiee (2010), and I wound up meeting Tony at Star Wars Celebration V to exchange books and stories. A couple years later, in 2012, Gib van Ert released A Long Time Ago: Growing Up With And Out Of Star Wars, which I read and enjoyed on the way to Star Wars Celebration VI. And, of course, earlier this year, Fanboys director Kyle Newman (who also encouraged me regarding Collect All 21! in 2010) put together The Return of Return of the Jedi.
- Geek A Week artist Len Peralta and I recorded a Star Wars and 1980s conversation/podcast.
- I got invited as a guest to a couple JediCon WV events, which were tons of fun, and got my name on a spectacular poster by Kenner toy photographer Kim Simmons.
- Hugo Award-winning author and good guy Jim C. Hines read Collect All 21! and blogged about it.
- Then there was that time in 2012 when the fantastic Renita Jablonski called me and said, “So, we were thinking of doing a piece on the 35th anniversary of Star Wars, and I said ‘I know a guy,'” and we talked on the phone, and then BOOM! I’m driving to work a day or two later, and right there in the middle of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” is me. (And five years before that, when Renita was at WKSU, she produced a piece I wrote about not remembering the first time I saw Star Wars, which, again, is pretty much where all this started.)
- Topless Robot put Collect All 21! on its list of The 10 Greatest Non-Fiction Star Wars Books, which includes the line, “Celebrate the love, yub yub.” Yes!
- Somehow my book caught the attention of filmmaker Brian Stillman, who visited our house a couple summers back and interviewed me for Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys, which should be coming out later this summer.
Crunching some numbers from Lulu and Amazon to figure out about how many copies of Collect All 21! are out there – counting print and electronic versions – I come up with a number somewhere close to 2,500. (I’m always looking to make that number bigger, of course, but hey – that’s not a bad run for a completely independent, word-of-mouth effort.)
I will never be able to say thanks enough for all the encouragement and support from my friends and family and everyone who’s ever bought, borrowed, read, or shared Collect All 21! among fellow Star Wars fans and 1980s-era nostalgia loons (which I can say since I’m one of them).
The Force Will Be With You. Always.