Stranger Things in the Back Yard
November 1, 2017 9:32 PM | Posted in: ,

I haven't had much activity on the game camera lately, possibly due to the fact that the batteries were dead. Once I figured that out, I replaced them and set the camera on a step on our back porch, facing out into the yard. 

When I downloaded the images this morning, there was our neighborhood skunk, taking his usual stroll from one side of the yard to the other. A possum also made an appearance -- and somehow managed to bump into the camera while meandering around. These things were interesting, but not too exciting. 

But the last clip was a whole other thing. It started out in a boring fashion; I couldn't even discern what had triggered the camera. But about 15 seconds in, something...weird...occurred. 

In this case, a thousand video frames are worth a hundred words, so take a look for yourself.

So, any ideas about that that last flurry of activity might have been? I've watched it a couple of dozen times and I still have nothing but a cockamamie theory. Don't laugh, but here it is:

Captioned game camera photo

We do have owls in the neighborhood, and the wings on this UFO could belong to one of them. What I can't tell for sure is whether what looks like dangling feet belong to a second creature (in the claws of the first one), or if they're very poorly photographed bird's feet.

If the former theory is correct, the question then becomes -- what did the owl capture? If we were in West Texas, I'd quickly guess a rabbit, but we've never seen one in these parts. It's a mystery, for sure.

I understand The X Files is returning to television. If they're in need of an episode plot, this is a good place to start. The truth is out there...perhaps in our back yard. I see it
October 8, 2017 8:58 PM | Posted in: ,

One of my goals in retirement is to spend more time with my camera, doing some creative things with it and Photoshop. I've managed to check off a few projects on a rather lengthy list, so yesterday I grabbed my macro lens and ring flash and went hunting. Here are some of the subjects that caught my eye.

There's a particularly gnarled oak tree in the lot adjacent to ours. I see the face of an owl. What do you see?

Photo of a tree trunk

Abundant rainfall and high humidity create blankets of moss on tree limbs.

Photo of a moss-covered tree limb

I don't know what species of grass this is, but the seedheads are unique.

Photo of grass seed heads

I was so focused on the wasp that I never noticed the mayfly (that's what I'm calling it in the absence of any actual knowledge) until I placed the image here.

Photo of insect on flowers

The turtle is the anchor for this photo, but there's lots more going on if you look closely enough.

Photo of a turtle in the water

Toadstools and mushrooms are abundant lately.

Photo of a mushroom

Photo of a mushroom

Photo of a mushroom

This grasshopper appears to be praying over its dinner salad.

Photo of a grasshopper on flowers

Granite boulders of all sizes litter the banks of Pecan Creek.

Photo of granite rocks

Yes, it's a moth.

Photo of a moth

Someone has requested photos of deer. I aim to please.

Photo of a whitetail buck

Photo of whitetail deer

Here are some logs for your viewing pleasure.

Photo of logs

I'm sure you noticed that a few of the preceding photos showed a bit of Photoshop manipulation. I sometimes do that in an attempt to bring a different perspective to a familiar scene or subject; mostly it's simply to enhance the image (I have some really good lenses, but a really mediocre camera).

But sometimes, it's just for fun.

By day and from a distance, it's a rather unassuming live oak trunk...

Photo of a tree trunk

But when the sun goes down, it's a whole other story...

Photo of a tree trunk with a city skyline inside

I love the look of these tree fungi. This one is growing horizontally almost six inches on the trunk of a live oak next to our house. The color gradiation is simply amazing (and, no, that's NOT Photoshop at work).

Photo of fungus growing on a tree trunk

But as I contemplate this photo, it reminds me of something else...

Donald Duck with a tree fungus bill

I started to boast that from now to eternity, whenever someone googles "Donald Duck fungus," this is the only page they'll get. But when I decided to double-check my boast, I found that I'm not even the first to use the term, much less the only one. Sheesh.
I'm not a parent so I can only guess at the accuracy of what I'm about to say. I suspect that at some point in every child's life, they realize that most of those dire parental threats ("If you don't behave, Santa isn't coming." "Your face is going to freeze like that!") are idle, and not only are they no longer intimidated, they will downright flaunt the prohibited behavior, daring retribution.

I bring this up only because the animals in our neighborhood have this attitude toward my serious prohibition against wreaking havoc in our yard. Exhibit A for the prosecution:

A veritable parade of wildlife in our back yard

This is a compilation of scenes from my game camera taken over the course of a single night (Sunday night/Monday morning). How many species can you identify?

I'll break it down for you:

  • Oct 1, 8:18 p.m. - A fox appears

  • Oct 1, 10:18 p.m. - An armadillo makes an entrance

  • Oct 2, 12:27 a.m. - A skunk materializes

  • Oct 2, 5:06 a.m. - A raccoon shows up
To compound the insults, you might notice that two of the inorganic, inanimate objects in this little farce are traps intended to imprison at least two of these critters. Neither accomplished its purpose.


Check this out.

A raccoon approaches the trap

A half hour prior to the raccoon's appearance documented above, it (or someone impersonating it) decided to take a closer look at the trap I had baited in anticipation of just such an inquiry. We already know the outcome, don't we? What we don't yet know is just how impudent and contumelious this creature's behavior will be.

A raccoon enters the trap

Do you see that? DO YOU SEE THAT? It's IN THE TRAP, dining on sardines, and mooning my game camera. *Rodney Dangerfield voice* I tell you, I get no respect.

Update: Just when I thought things couldn't get any weirder...this happened this morning.

Buzzard trying to figure out how to get at the sardines in the raccoon trap

The buzzard knew something smelled deliciously dead (five-day-old-sardines remnants), but darned if he could figure out how to get to it.

This possum isn't playing
October 2, 2017 9:40 PM | Posted in: ,

Well, I may not be able to outsmart a raccoon, but that doesn't mean I'm a total trapping failure. 

Last Saturday I awoke to find that the door on the trap was closed, but through the bathroom window I couldn't identify the occupant. I got dressed and walked through the back yard and around the corner with my phone's video recorder going. Here's what I found:

Later, I reviewed the photos from my game camera, which I had focused on the trap, and was able to recreate the timeline of the capture.

Photo - Possum first appears on camera
The possum first appears at 4:27 a.m. Note the open trap door.

Photo - The trap door is closed
The trap door closes sometime between 4:27 & 4:30, presumably to the possum's chagrin.

Photo - When daylight arrives, the trap door is opened, but the possum remains
Daylight arrives, but the possum doesn't depart, despite the open door.
The rock on top of the cage is to keep the trap from closing again, when/if
the prisoner decides to accept the terms of his parole.

Alert Gazette readers will recall that this was not my first possum encounter. I much prefer the live ones to those of the deceased persuasion. They're actually a fascinating species, being almost totally resistant to the venom of rattlesnakes and water mocassins (which ruled out one of my cause-of-death theories espoused in the preceding link), and quite resistant to rabies.

Also, that "playing possum" deal is a real thing, but it appears to be an involuntary, uncontrollable act, much like Trump's tweets. The catatonic state can last up to several hours. This behavior is not present in babies, nor well-developed in juveniles, which might explain why this young one merely clung to the side of the cage when approached.

I'm fairly confident that possums aren't culprits in the systematic destruction of our yard and flower beds, so I had no qualms about releasing this one back into the neighborhood.

Scoreboard: Raccoons - 2, Me - 2
September 26, 2017 6:10 PM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers will recall that I was feeling pretty triumphant after the capture of not one, but two marauding raccoons who had been brutalizing our lawn. I'll admit that I was sure the human race could be proud of the way I was representing it in the mammalian biped-vs-quadruped battle.

Alas, pride goeth before a fall, and this West Texas city boy is learning some hard lessons about raccoons. Namely...

They will penalize your complacency.

Yesterday I awoke to find a third trapped raccoon in the back yard. But while the other two had appeared resigned to their fate, this one was the Steve McQueen of raccoons (Not old enough to get the reference? Grow up and get some culture, wouldja?). It was trapped, but not cowed, and our lawn had paid the price. Sometime during its incarceration, the creature had managed to turn the cage over and frantically dug up twice the area of lawn in an attempt to escape (once while the trap was upright, and again after it was capsized). 

It was still jumping around when I went out to check on it, so I moved the trap over to a bare spot so it couldn't do anymore damage while I went back inside to finish my coffee. But when I got ready to load it up for transport to the release area...the trap was empty. It had somehow banged around enough to hit the trap door in just the right spot to open it.

Let's recap. One, our lawn was damaged twice as much as usual. Two, the raccoon escaped. Three, he ate all the sardines. And not only did I still have a raccoon on the loose, I was sure he would never again be tricked into going into the cage, regardless of the lure of more sardines.

Score: Me - 2; Raccoons - 1

They will capitalize on your mistakes.

The lesson was hard, but I thought I learned it well. I would not place the cage in an area where the captive could do additional damage to the lawn, nor would I allow the cage to be rolled around by an over-stimulated occupant.

I placed the cage next to the wrought iron fence, in a spot where the grass hadn't spread, so it was resting on bare dirt. In a stroke of genius, I used nylon zip ties to firmly attach it to the bars of the fence, ensuring that it would not be shifted, regardless of the enthusiasm of the prisoner. I then slid a fresh can (partly opened, of course) of sardines into the trap and armed it.

I awoke the next morning to find an empty cage containing an empty can of sardines. Well, #$^$#$%.

As it turned out, I had a good idea, but it was poorly executed. Allow me to rationalize explain. I'm using a HavahartĀ® Easy SetĀ® trap, which is an excellent design when not thwarted by an idiot owner. The design is pretty straightforward: the animal, lured into the cage by the promise of a gourmet meal, steps on a flat plate which releases a rod which in turn allows the door to drop behind the unsuspecting diner and said door [theoretically] locks in place, engendering feelings of deep regret on the part of the trapped animal.

However, a problem occurs when some fool fastens the cage so tightly against something -- say, theoretically, the bars of a wrought iron fence --  that the door-dropping mechanism is placed in a bind so that the door drop, which is a fairly critical step in the whole trapping-the-raccoon plan, fails to materialize.

Let's recap. One, the raccoon got a free meal, without the usual stress of a human leering at it through the bars of the cage. Two...well, that pretty much sums it up.

The upside was that (1) the lawn was not subject to further humiliation, and (b) possibly that particular raccoon might view the trap as a variation on a Furr's Cafeteria and will return for another free meal.

Score: Me - 2; Raccoons - 2

More lessons learned. I have now repositioned the trap -- loosened the bonds so that it's still tied to the fence, but not in a bind -- and rearmed it with a fresh can of sardines. And now we wait.

I wonder what the raccoons are thinking...

Raccoons are enjoying new celebrity, thanks to Rocket Raccoon and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Rocket even has his own Wikipedia page (and there you'll learn that he's actually more than forty years old). But raccoons are really better in theory (and movies) than in reality. Many of you already know this.

We thought that after we trapped four armadillos in five nights, our back yard would no longer look like a herd of drunken golfers (OK, perhaps that's redundant) with pitching wedges had descended on it. Boy, were we wrong.

As it turned out, the Armadillo Mafia was good at two things: digging up grubs, and keeping the raccoons at bay. And once the 'dillos were gone, the 'coons were free to muscle into their territory.

I had applied grub control to the lawn with no apparent effect, so my last resort was to buy a trap and use the same strategy that had been successful with the armadillos. My first try using canned cat food and marshmallows was a flop (thanks a bunch, Internet!). Even the flies weren't impressed.

My brother and his wife said that they'd heard that the best bait for raccoons was a slightly opened can of sardines. Apparently, they're smart enough to discern that a fully opened can meant it was a trap. I was skeptical, but also desperate, so that's what I tried.

I placed the trap in the middle of the back yard, and slid a can of sardines (in oil, of course; I'm not a barbarian) into the back of the trap. I left it with a silent prayer that skunks don't like sardines.

Here's what showed up the next morning.

Raccoon in cage

Cute little guy, isn't he? Unlike the armadillos who, once they determined they were trapped, immediately went to sleep, the raccoon was alert and...well...a bit agitated. He'd apparently spent a restless night trying to dig through the bottom of the cage, which was now layered with shredded St. Augustine. The lawn under the cage looked like a new grave:

Damaged lawn under cage

I was happy to (1) see a raccoon and (b) not see a skunk. But I was puzzled: there was no sign of the sardine can. It wasn't in the cage; it wasn't in the yard. It wasn't anywhere in view over the fence. I'm pretty sure the raccoon didn't swallow it.

Here's my theory. We actually had TWO raccoons in the cage, and the door wouldn't close completely because of the close quarters. One of them was able to back out of the trap with the sardines, and the door slammed shut behind him, leaving the other trapped and sad and sardine-less.

In any event, as with the armadillos, my plan was catch-and-release, with the release part occurring far, far away. As I have absolutely no experience with raccoons, I wasn't sure how miffed and adversarial this one might be once uncaged, so I rigged up a remote trap door release, consisting of a long rope hooked onto the release handle.

I loaded the trap into the pickup bed (the caged occupant wasn't amused by the trip from the back yard to the truck) and strapped it down. MLB agreed to act as videographer and EMT. We drove to an undisclosed location, close to live water where the little guy might have a chance to thrive, and put my release plan into action.

The results were...umm...sub-optimal. Well, see for yourself.

Obviously, I had nothing to fear from this particular raccoon, as he disappeared faster than Sean Spicer's acting career. I still think my remote-release theory is sound; I just need to work on the application part.

Of course, if my other theory is correct -- the one about the double raccoon appearance -- we still have at least one more to trap. I've rebaited the trap with a fresh can of sardines, and this time it's zipped-tied to the bottom of the cage. I let you know how it turns out.

In the meantime, I hope I don't dream about a certain weapondized and vindictive raccoon.

Rocket Raccoon

Update: After composing the preceding account last night, I set the trap again, hoping to catch the companion raccoon that had managed to abscond with the sardines while abandoning his unfortunate partner. I didn't want a repeat of the mangled lawn under the cage so I placed it in the vacant lot next door.

I went out with a flashlight before daylight this morning to check the trap, and sure enough, another one had succumbed to the siren song of the sardine; his eyes were glowing accusingly in the glare of the flashlight. I returned to my cup of coffee.

After daybreak, here's what I found.

Photo - the second victim

This time, the victim occupant had practically filled the cage with debris, including a fairly large twig that baffled me as to how he had possibly dragged it inside. The trap was also on its side, evidencing a spirited attempt at an escape.

More impressive was the fact that while I had tightly secured the can of sardines to the bottom of the cage with nylon zip ties threaded through the ring tab, the raccoon had still managed to break the can free, peel the lid completely away from the can, and in the process snap off the ring tab. And, of course, the sardine can was clean as a whistle (however clean that may be). Never underestimate the ingenuity and commitment of a trapped raccoon.

Photo - The trap and remnants of the sardine can

The release went smoothly, as again the freed captive gave us not a second glance as it scurried into the woods. I do wonder if it will meet up with its partner, and what the ensuing conversation might entail.

It's a zoo around here...
September 21, 2017 6:26 PM | Posted in: ,

Note: I realize that what follows is pretty much business as usual for some of you who live in regions where these encounters are commonplace, but for West Texas folks like us, it's a brand new day, full of wondrous natural delights...and some things that are not quite so delightful.

The Hill Country weather has been abnormally hot and humid lately. This seems to have made the wildlife around our house more active, given the nearby creek's attraction as a water and food source.

Tuesday provided some interesting (and disturbing) interactions with that wildlife. My wife commented that if there had been two of each of the animals we encountered, she would have started looking for an ark.

It began around 8:30 a.m. as MLB and I walked to the mailbox to drop off a couple of letters. As we rounded the corner, I saw what I thought was a tree branch lying in the street a few yards before the creek crossing. I joked to her that there was a snake in the road...but instantly realized that, well, IS a snake. As we got closer, I realized that it wasn't just any snake. It was a water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus, for you herp experts).

Photo - Water moccasin

Growing up and living in West Texas, I have never seen a cottonmouth in real life. We had heard stories that they had been spotted in our new neighborhood in the past (one of our neighbors across the creek said they had killed one in their back yard), but I assumed those were very isolated cases. And perhaps they were, but as with stocks, past performance doesn't necessarily predict future results.

We cautiously approached the snake and my initial identification was confirmed as it opened its mouth and I could see the fangs as well as the coloring that gives it its nickname. My usual initial reaction kicked in and I grabbed my phone and began videoing the encounter (see below). You can hear me instruct my wife to go back to the house and retrieve a hoe so that I could deal with the moccasin in a safe manner.

By the way, all of the videos here were taken with my 3-year-old iPhone, hence the weird layout and sub-optimal resolution. I wish they were better quality, but the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it.

It wasn't until a pickup drove past that the snake began to move away, about the same time MLB arrived with the hoe. I took a couple of futile swings at it as it slithered into the grass heading back toward the creek, and finally connected. That slowed it down enough for me to eventually shorten its length by a head.

As alert Gazette readers may recall, this isn't our first encounter with a poisonous snake in Horseshoe Bay, and as I said then, I take no pleasure in killing an animal. But as with that rattler, this creature posed an immediate danger to people and pets and letting it go was simply not a wise option.

Here's an interesting (to me, anyway) side note. I never realized that water moccasins are in the same genus as copperheads. I knew they were both pit vipers (as are rattlesnakes), but I had no idea they are that closely related. I suppose it's only a matter of time before we encounter a copperhead.

This was just the beginning of our wildlife encounters on Tuesday.

Later, around dusk, I spied something sniffing around the armadillo trap in the back yard. It was a skunk! Without getting too close, I was able to observe him over the course of ten or fifteen minutes. I'd never gotten that close to one, and it was interesting to watch the unconscious lifting of the tail in response to unusual sounds or movement, while the animal never stopped sniffing and digging for food.

Photo - Skunk

If the skunk was ever aware of my presence, it gave no indication.

I set out our raccoon trap shortly after dusk, and a couple of hours later, we looked out the back window and spotted something moving around it. We couldn't tell if it was inside or outside the trap, so I grabbed a flashlight (and, of course, my phone) to investigate. Here's what I found: 

While I'm not crazy about the idea of possums roaming through our yard, I much prefer the live roaming kind to the dead stinking kind.

That was the last of our wildlife encounters for the day...but not for the week. Remember the raccoon trap I mentioned above? Check back...

Toilet Wars
August 24, 2017 9:41 PM | Posted in:

Species Neutral Restroom Sign

A female friend posted this on Facebook a few days ago:

Facebook post bemoaning male trashing of gender-neutral restroom

The ensuing comments provided a preview of the nuclear equivalent of the War of the Sexes, with each side accusing the other of being less sanitary or courteous when it comes to the state of public restrooms. Scholarly studies were quoted; personal anecdotes were shared; TMI lines were violated; nothing was resolved. But the "discussion" was lively and bracing.

I've been in only one "gender-neutral" (hereafter referred to as "GN" to save my typing fingers) restroom, and it was completely intimidating. It was located in a restaurant that specialized in what I call "foo foo food," and the clientele is typically female, by a significant margin. So, the restaurant has two restrooms off the main dining area, one female-only and the other GN.

Given the likelihood that the next person in the restroom after me would be a woman, I went far and above the normal bathroom behavior in an attempt to make it seem like I was never there, or that I simply went in for a moment of meditation before dessert. Toilet seat down*? Check. Sink fixtures wiped dry? Check. Mirror streaks (they weren't mine!) obliterated? Check. I did draw the line at opening the door and yelling something like "I NEED TIDY BOWL...STAT!" into the dining room, but I might have used some if it had already been present.

Ladies, please don't judge us guys too harshly when we find ourselves in the unfamiliar surroundings of a GN restroom. Keep in mind that we're probably accustomed to service station bathrooms where the decor is a foldout of the March, 1968 Playmate of the Month taped over the urinal, the floor seems to be alive, and the permeating odor is Clorox losing a battle with more truck stop burritos than you can imagine.

In other words, we're battling both nature and nurture, and pretty much losing on both accounts.

*I have been well-trained by you-know-who in Seat Upsmanship. I have many faults, but that ain't one of 'em.

Armadillo by Morning
August 18, 2017 9:30 PM | Posted in: ,

Note: For reasons to be revealed later, you didn't see this post. In fact, once you're finished here, please extract your memory and destroy it, Mission Impossible-style. Thanks for your cooperation.

Note 2: I conceived the title for this post when I briefly woke in the middle of the night, one of the few times I remembered an idea the next morning. When I told MLB that I had an idea for the title - thinking she would be amazed by my awesome creativity - she immediately said "Armadillo by Morning?" See what I have to deal with?

Armadillos have become the bane of my existence. Our initial reaction to their presence in our back yard was " Texan and cute are they?" has given way to "would the neighbors really complain about the use of one tiny tactical nuclear weapon?" The damage they're doing to our lawn does have the appearance of a heavy shelling, as evidenced below. This is only one of about twenty such divots these animals are creating during their nocturnal searches for worms and grubs.

Disclaimer: I don't actually bear any animosity toward armadillos. They are, of course, the unofficial state mammal of Texas, and I'm as illogically fond of them as the next Texan. They can't help doing what they do, just like some politicians. If you've never encountered an armadillo, here's a somewhat winsome overview courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  

Typical armadillo crater

I'm not the only resident of Horseshoe Bay with this problem, and a tip from another victim led me to the online home of The Armadillo Trap, which is the name of both the creator and the creation. Based on the enthusiastic recommendation of the aforementioned tipster, I quickly parted ways with $94.95 plus S&T for the scented version, which is touted as being far superior to the unscented alternative. 

Here's what the trap looks like, after some minor assemblage. The stick dangling on a string in the hole in the top of the trap is the trigger. It extends into the body of the trap and when the animal contacts it, it pops loose, dropping the two end pieces and forming an inescapable trap.

Armadillo Trap

This is a view of the inside of the trap, showing the trigger described above. Incidentally, I don't know how they managed to impregnate the interior with armadillo scent, or even how they came to possess armadillo scent, and I don't want to know. (A certain scene from The Lost World: Jurassic Park comes to mind.) What I do know is that it's a vaguely nasty odor, unless you're an armadillo, then it's apparently Chanel No. 5.

Interior of Armadillo Trap

The instructions said to place the trap in an "obscure and shaded area." I dutifully ignored those instructions and put it where we've seen armadillos partying, as shown below. (If this spot looks familiar, it's also the location of the infamous Dead Possum Raking Incident of 2017.) I figured if armadillos navigate by scent, and if the trap's scent is alluring as they claim, any place in the back yard will work.

Armadillo Trap Locked and Loaded

Having set the trap, we retired to our slumber, nervous as kids on Christmas Eve. Would we wake to goodies or coal in our stockings? Would there be mourning or dancing? Would I ever give up on finding a decent metaphor?

We were not disappointed. The trap was sprung sometime during the night, as you can see below. However...

Here's the list of animals we've seen in or around our yard: raccoons, possums, foxes, deer, squirrels, skunks, snakes. I'm pretty sure we couldn't trap a deer in that box, but all of the others were somewhere on a trendline ranging from possible to doubtful. I wasn't about to open the trap until I knew what was inside.

Armadillo Trap - Surprise Inside?

Fortunately, the hole in the top of the trap permits a quick peek at its contents, and this was definitely the shell of a nine-banded armadillo.

Yep, that's an armadillo's back

The obvious next question: what do you do with a trapped armadillo? I had conducted exhaustive research on my options, consisting of skimming the first ten results returned on Google. Some websites say that it's illegal to "transport and relocate" armadillos in Texas, but the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department is the governing authority on such matters, and its website says only that "live armadillos may not be sold." (Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution, please refer to the introductory note.)

What I did not want to do is burden another neighbor with my armadillo deportations, so I picked an obscure (there's that term again) and undeveloped area and performed the second part of the "catch and release" program, as shown below in the professionally filmed sequence courtesy of MLB.

It took a bit of coaxing to dislodge the animal. Armadillos sleep 18+ hours each day, and they apparently can drop into a deep sleep anywhere. But as you saw, once the alarm goes off, so do they.

I trust that this specimen has found its new environs to its liking, but the important thing is that it never shows its grubbing little snout in our yard again.

If you are being bullied by armadillos, this trap seems to be the real deal, and gets the coveted Fire Ant Bite of Approval. (OK, I just made that up, but it it a very sincere construction.)

Update: The next night, we trapped another 'dillo. Unfortunately, another one that was rooting around in the grass eluded my [very tentative] attempts to catch it by hand. I'll see you tonight, amigo!

As they marched us back from the river, one soldier was carrying an American flag. That flag was a beautiful sight. I wish that flag could have the same meaning to everyone in this country now.
    -- Loy Dean Lawler
Dr. Loy Dean Lawler was an optometrist who practiced for many years in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He was my wife's uncle (well, the relationship is a bit more complicated than that, but it will suffice). Loy Dean passed away in 2010 at age 86, a well-respected and devout gentleman.

He was also an Army veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. He endured four months as a prisoner of war, captured by the Germans along with thousands of his fellow American soldiers following the Battle of the Bulge.

In 1995, after returning from a reunion of the 106th Infantry Division (the first and only such reunion he could bring himself to attend), Dr. Lawler wrote his memoir of that ordeal. What follows is sometimes hard to read, but perhaps even harder for those of us raised in security and freedom to relate to. It's a stark reminder of the sacrifices that those who came before made so that we can enjoy that security and freedom. It's difficult to know exactly how to express gratitude for these sacrifices, but the least we can do is...never forget.

POW Experience
Dr. Loy Dean Lawler, Mount Pleasant, Texas

I was captured near Schoenberg close to the German border about 4:00 P.M. on December 19, 1944. I was with the 106th Infantry Division, 423rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, Company E, 1st Platoon. Captain Maxey Crews was our company commander. We had 4 or 5 left out of our platoon. The rest were killed, wounded, or simply missing. We had not had food or been warm or dry since the morning of December 16th. 

Newspaper report of MIA status
Undated newspaper clipping reporting on Lawler's MIA status
At the time of our capture I was with Captain Crews near the dugout that I supposed could be called the Regimental Headquarters. I can still see the anguish and tears on Colonel [Charles C.] Cavender's face when he came out and said we were going to surrender. I can truthfully say nobody around me wanted to surrender. Captain Crews had me relay the order to cease firing and to destroy our weapons. I thought some of the guys were going to shoot me when I passed the order on. It was a problem to get everyone to quit firing. There was some firing after I destroyed my M1 rifle, and that did make me nervous, being without my M1 

We were marched out of the woods and into an open field. On our way I was nearly shot by an SS trooper when I refused to let him have my watch. I changed my mind real quick when he drew his sidearm and put it in my face. I realized later how stupid I had been. The next thing was to destroy a pen and pencil set my Mother had given me, just to keep them from getting it. We huddled together in this open field the rest of the night. Early next morning we began a march that lasted all that day and the following night. I think we went to Prum and onto Gerolstein, but am not sure. The morning of December 21st we were given a piece of bread and put in boxcars. There were 60 of us in one boxcar. It had wooden benches where some sat, and the rest had to lay underneath the benches on the hard and cold floor.

We had several that were sick or wounded and lot of the men had diarrhea. Some were so weak they simply relieved themselves in their pants. Others hollered for the helmet that was passed around and emptied through a hole in the boxcar. I didn't think until later that I hope that wasn't the same helmet that was used to give us water. There was a stove in the boxcar, but nothing to burn--it was just in the way. 

Our train was pulled onto a railroad siding in Limburg, near Frankfurt, to allow higher priority trains to move on. On the night of about December 23, we were bombed by the British. It was quite a show with all the flares and earth-shaking explosions.

We managed to get out of the boxcar. I remembered seeing a foxhole earlier that was nearby. I ran for that and jumped in with the bombs exploding. I jumped on the back of a German guard that was already in the one-man hole. I quickly pushed him back down as he tried to get up and made a fast exit. We had hopes of escaping, but were quickly rounded up after the bombing ceased. I am not sure of this, but I was told we lost 12 out of our 60 men--to the bombs and by the guards thinking some were trying to escape. One of those killed was a friend who had married the day before we left to go overseas. His body lay in front of our boxcar all Christmas eve day. A Sgt. McNamara in our group was a good singer. He was leading us in Christmas carols when the bombing started.

We stayed in the boxcar about 10 days. During that time we had 1/6th of a Red Cross parcel and water once or twice. I am a little hazy on the water that was scarce, but I know for sure about the few bites of food we received.

We arrived at Stalag IVB about December 30th and was assigned to barracks December 31st. Several of the men were too weak to move and had to be carried off the boxcar. I believe we had one die.

We had to undress and were put in a "gas" chamber and deloused before being given a small bowl of warm oatmeal. That was the best meal I ever had-and the last for several months. While at IVB, we were in bunks (hard planks) that were so close together we could hardly turn over. There was a latrine at the end of the barracks with two barrels outside the door. With so much dysentery, most of us couldn't wait our turn and had to go in the barrels. Some Poles who had been in the camp a long time would come in and eat the feces out of the barrels when they could find any of a solid nature. We were not that starved yet. Later on I did find myself digging into a cow pile with a stick, looking for something solid. I found a couple of pieces of undigested carrots that were pretty good. Our diet at IVB was watery soup with very little solids.

About the middle of January, 1945, I was transferred to a Russian work camp, arbeit Kommando L71A near Boxwitz, Germany. We were close enough to Dresden to see the lights and the bombing of that city. 

I was with a group of 100 Americans and 400 Russians. Thirty-one of us and four Russians were assigned to work 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, in a coal brickette factory in Boxwitz (or Bockwitz). It was called Fabrique Eine und Zwie. We got out of bed at 4:30 in the morning, stood outside in formation for roll call. The guard would hit anyone with their hand in their pockets because it was not soldier-like. This was before daylight. We then walked one hour to work, before the 12-hour workday.

We had no breakfast--only a cup of what I call acorn coffee, barely more than warm water. Our noon meal consisted of half a Klim can of rutabaga soup without the rutabaga. The night meal was the same with a small piece of bread. On Sunday, our day off, we had only one meal, but I believe we got one small potato occasionally. If we found a worm in our soup that was good--something a little solid. Only on one occasion did we receive 1/6 of a Red Cross parcel, and that was near the time we were liberated.

My work involved some standing on a high scaffold and knocking out a ceiling with heavy hammers. I remember falling once, but wasn't seriously hurt. This didn't last very long, and the rest of the time we were working outside-stacking coal brickettes and loading things on boxcars. One day a German soldier, not one of our guards, came by on an inspection tour and told me to take my coat off--in the coldest winter ever recorded in that part of Germany. I refused. He tried to take it off, but finally gave up and moved on. He was so mad he was frothing at the mouth. I kept my coat on. 

A woman in a nearby house saw us wrestling around. She came out of the house and hid something under the snow next to a chimney. When no one was looking, I slipped over and found a small piece of cake. I mention this to let everyone know that all Germans were not bad.

The best part of our work was near the end of our captivity when the P-38s would strafe the plant. We would get to go to the bomb shelter. A German civilian worker would occasionally hide a thin slice of bread in his hat band and give it to me in the darkness of the shelter.

Our walk to and from work was rather uneventful--except for the cold. I do remember one time a Russian, while walking in formation, (we marched everywhere--never walked) stepped out of line while urinating to keep from hitting the guy in front and the German guard shot him in the face, the bullet going through both cheeks. He walked on to camp without any help.

There was a place in camp where we could take a shower--like once a week. We were separated from the Russians, but they could cut the hot water off when were in the shower and had fun doing it.

About March of 1945 I began to run a temperature and get weaker and weaker. I no longer could eat and had to give my food away. I worked as long as I could because several of the Russians were shot in bed when they couldn't get up. I was lucky, for they put me in a horse-drawn, iron-wheeled wagon with the guard, and took me to the nearest railroad station. I had pleurisy and it hurt to even breathe. I was too weak to sit up, so laying on those hard boards in the wagon and going over those cobblestone roads was a real experience.

We boarded a train for a hospital in Lebenwerda, Germany. It was an old theatre building. Our beds were planks that used to have a little straw on them. The British doctor in charge brought a German colonel in to see us. He, with one hand, put his fingers completely around my leg--just about skin and bone. The doctor was bitterly complaining to the Colonel about our condition. The next day I was taken to a regular hospital for X-rays and some other tests, and then returned to our own "hospital." Soon afterwards, the British doctor received some medicine that broke my fever and I started to get a little better. The guy next to me in the hospital was from the same barracks in our work camp, in fact, slept next to me. He died with something similar. I knew I was in bad shape when they placed this other man and me in the only two beds in our theatre hospital. I weighed 88 lbs and probably lost a little more weight before I got better. I was soon returned to the work camp. It was a strange feeling to travel on a train with German civilians. They looked at me like I was from Mars.

By April the weather began to get a little warmer. Just before we were liberated, as previously mentioned, we received 1/6th of a Red Cross parcel for each man. Prior to this we had no contact with the Red Cross. They "lost" us. About this time we began to miss some of our bread rations and the rutabaga soup without the rutabaga was replaced with some sort of sugar beet soup that was hardly edible. I traded a pack of cigarettes out of the Red Cross parcel for a loaf of bread, but it was stolen before I could eat it. I now know how a person feels when they lose all their worldly possessions.

Sometime after the middle of April all of our guards suddenly disappeared. The exception was a French soldier in German uniform. He was the only decent guard we had. He stayed with us. We could hear firing by the Russians advancing towards us. We started walking towards the American lines to keep from being captured by the Russians and, according to local rumors, marched back into Russia.

We lived off the land--like digging up potato eyes planted in the ground. We found a little burned cheese from a train that had been bombed. Here we were looking into horse and cow manure or anywhere we could find something to eat.

Just before we met the Americans at the Elbe river I was resting by the side of the road when I looked out into a field where a pregnant woman was working. A German guard began stomping her as she lay helpless on the ground. About the same time a German officer sat down beside me and told me the Americans should join up with the Germans and whip Russia while we could. We had spent several days just ahead of the Russians--like getting up (out of a barn) and separating ourselves from the Russians.

In the late afternoon of April 24th we crossed a bombed-out bridge on what I think was the Elbe River and met the Americans--273rd Infantry of the 69th Division. As they marched us back from the river, one soldier was carrying an American flag. That flag was a beautiful sight. I wish that flag could have the same meaning to everyone in this country now. During this walk one of our guys took a bicycle away from a German civilian, but several of us made him give it back. I did get a German officers sabre, but it got bent in the celebration and I threw it away.

We were put in this German home for the night. The man's wife and daughter left to stay with the neighbors, but the husband stayed with us and tried to celebrate with us. He soon passed out on his bed. I went out and milked his cow and drank the milk immediately. This was better than cognac. Our stomachs couldn't take anything very strong. The Russians arrived at the Elbe river about an hour after we did, and they were not as nice to the German civilians as we were.

Before and after photos of Loy Lawler
Loy Dean Lawler as a new recruit in the Army Specialized Training Program (left),
and as a corporal after his return. He quipped that "any POW who survived
got an immediate promotion - some way to get a promotion, huh?"

I don't remember where (maybe Trebsen, Germany), but the 69th Division took us to some barracks where we were billeted for a few days. During the first night with this I&R platoon, 273rd Infantry, 69th Division, we broke into the mess hall and stole most of their food. We returned most of it later when we found out we couldn't eat as much as we thought we could.

We were next sent to Camp Lucky Strike in France. After about two weeks and what I then thought was good food, we were put on a Liberty ship on our way back to Newport News, Virginia. A friend of mine, B. J. Carmichael, and I stayed on deck all the time. We never saw our assigned bunks.

This coincidence is worth mentioning. B. J. Carmichael, from Dallas, Texas, and I took our basic training in Camp Wheeler, Georgia. From there we were sent to the University of Alabama under the ASTP. We were still put in the same unit. We were then sent to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, still together. We went overseas to England and France, still together. During the Battle of the Bulge, around St. Vith, we were separated. After we were captured, we were together again. When were put in the boxcars on the way to Stalag IVB, we were together. Out of the thousands at IVB, we were in the same barracks and we both were picked for a group of 100 Americans to go to work in a Russian work camp with 400 Russians. A day or two after I went to this German hospital, here came Carmichael. 

We were together until liberated and sent to Camp Lucky Strike. Out of the thousands there, we were still on the same Liberty Ship back to the States. Finally, he was discharged from Ft. Ord, California, and I from Ft. Hood, Texas, but not before we spent a recuperation leave together in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

We haven't seen much of each other since. It is a shame we haven't, but I think both of us didn't care to dwell on the past all that much. He will always be special to me. While the bullets were flying around, I can still hear him hollering for me to "get down." 

To regress a bit, back to the work camp, I twice was put on a detail of about 6 guys to clean out the furnaces at the factory (or plant) where we worked. The ovens looked like pictures I later saw of these ovens where bodies were cremated. This was on a Sunday, supposedly our only day off. The oven doors were just big enough to crawl in, one man to a furnace. While scraping the wall down good, we stood on some grates above a bed of coals that were still hot. We couldn't stay in the ovens very long at a time. There was enough room for us to fall through the grates, but this was one time everyone was real careful. The only air we got was from the open oven door.

I say all of the above to say this. This wasn't any worse than having to stand out in the cold snow and ice at the brickette factory 12 hours a day with just a pair of G.I. boots on your feet. G.I. boots are not warm and they are not waterproof. There ought to be a special place in hell for the person who sold the Army those boots. My feet are still cold.

I know I have rambled around a bit and hit a few highlights. After almost 50 years there is no way I can remember everything. To those of you who were there, you can understand.

If you're interested in learning more about the details of the battle leading up to the capture of American soldiers following the Battle of the Bulge, feel free to check out the following accounts:

Many thanks to Loy Dean's daughter Mercy and his niece Becky for providing access to this story and photos. This has been posted with Mercy's permission.

I've posted this for two reasons. First, it's a way for me to honor a man with whom I was acquainted for decades, but only recently came to know this chapter of his story. Like so many of his generation, he rarely spoke of his wartime experiences.

Which brings me to the second reason: these veterans are leaving us at an alarming and increasing rate, and with them go the stories that illuminate their lives and educate their descendants. Those stories need to be preserved, and this is one way to do that. I did that in 2011 for my dad, and it's an honor to do that in 2017 for Loy Dean Lawler.

You may not have a similar outlet for preserving the stories of those veterans closest to you; regardless, try to take some time to interview them and capture some of their experiences and memories.