Friday, June 27, 2008

Woitek The Bear

When we were in Wrocław on our anniversary trip, I read about a famous figure in Polish history, the story is almost too good to be true, so I wanted to share it with you. Woitek (sounds like Voytek) was a bear who served in the Polish army during WWII. As crazy as it sounds, the story of Woitek is well documented, you can check out an article about Woitek at the BBC website. In 1942 Iran opened it's borders to receive thousands of Polish citizens who had just been released from labor camps in Siberia. The able bodied men were sent westward to join the war efforts. The accounts that I've read say that while on this westward journey to Lebanon, the Polish convoy came across an Iranian boy in the road who was carrying a big sack over his shoulder. It wasn't long before they discovered he had a bear cub inside. The Iranian boy was poor and hungry so they offered him money, a few candy bars, a can of corned beef, and an army penknife in exchange for the bear cub. At eight weeks of age, the cub was very week and malnourished, one article described how Woitek became part of the family,

"A feeding bottle had to be hastily improvised from an empty bottle of vodka into which a handkerchief had been stuffed to serve as a teat. They filled it with condensed milk, diluted it with a little water, and gave it to the little bear to drink. When he had finished it, he crept up close to one of the soldiers for warmth and fell asleep on his chest. The soldier’s name was Piotr (Peter) and he became forever afterward, the bear’s closest and most enduring friend.

The cub clung desperately to his substitute mother all through the tortured journey across Persia, Iraq and Jordan, along vast distances that seemed to loose heart and succumb to the despair of barrenness. Sometimes the man would lock the bear in the warmth of his greatcoat so that it became part of him. In the evenings, as he sat with the other men around the fire telling tales late into the night, the bear cub would be rocked to sleep in the sound of his immense laughter. In time, the orphan lost himself in the lives of these strangers and entangled himself completely in the rhythms and cadences of their speech. From that time onwards he became wholly theirs: body, will and soul."

Strict rules forbade any animals from accompanying the Polish soldiers, so to get around the rules they enlisted Woitek who now had a name and serial number to prove he was a soldier in the Polish army. Woitek was one of the guys, often at night as many as three to four soldiers would wrestle at against him but he never mauled or harmed anyone. Truly Polish, his two favorite treats were vodka and cigarettes which continued even to his last days in the Edinburgh zoo. Woitek's legend reached hero's status in 1944 during the battle for Monte Cassino. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war in which the shelling was non-stop day and night. One article described Woitek's efforts this way,

"During the most crucial phase of the battle, when pockets of men were cut off on the mountainside desperately in need of supplies, Voytek, who all this time had been watching his comrades frantically loading heavy boxes of ammunition, came over to the trucks, stood on his hind legs in front of the supervising officer and stretched out his paws toward him. It was as if he was saying: “I can do this. Let me help you”. The officer handed the animal the heavy box and watched in wonder as Voytek loaded it effortlessly onto the truck.

Backwards and forwards he continued, time and time again, carrying heavy shells, artillery boxes and food sacks from truck to truck, from one waiting man to another, effortlessly. The deafening noise of the explosions and gunfire did not seem to worry him. Each artillery box held four 23 lbs live shells; some even weighed more than a hundred. He never dropped a single one. And still he went on repeatedly, all day and every day until the monastery was finally taken.

One of the soldiers happened to sketch a picture of Voytek carrying a large artillery shell in his arms, and this image became the symbol of the 22nd artillery transport, worn proudly on the sleeves of their uniforms ever afterwards and emblazoned on all the unit’s vehicles."

In 1947 the Polish army in Scotland was demobilized so a home had to be found for Woitek. He finished his days in the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. One article that I read said from time to time soldiers from his infantry division would come back to visit. Often throwing him cigarettes and in one instance jumping the fence to wrestle, all of this occurred to the horror of the other onlookers, but Woitek responded to the Polish language and remembered his comrades. Statues of Woitek were placed in the Imperial War Museum in London and in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. So there you go, you learn something new every day don't you.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Missionary Biggest Loser #12--The Final Chapter

I write this final blog while rolling around in Polish donuts and enjoying the fulfillment of annihilating my nemesis and christian brother. BTW, you can read his last blog here. All that's left for me to do is to hand out a few "thank you's"

1.) I want to thank Ginger (my wife) for one Saturday morning in March when she looked at me and said "You know you've really gotten fat." Nothing like a little healthy candor in a marriage.

2.) I want to thank Matt Jones for being a great punching bag. . .ur. . .uh. . .I mean competitor.

3.) Finally, I want to thank my dad and my father in law. I'll be 30 years old this summer and together they have shown me that even when you are really, really, really, really old, and when I say old, I mean older than dirt old, yet you can still be healthy and without the use of "Fibercon."

June 21st/ Week #13: 236 lbs.

Mental State: Satisfied with a touch of gloating

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Missionary Biggest Loser #11---Buster Martin

I was reading Matt's blog last week and couldn't help but notice his blabbering about running 5k. It got me thinking and I did a little research. The picture is of a guy by the name of Buster Martin. At 101 years of age, Buster is the United Kingdom's oldest employee, so what's the point you ask? Well, he and Matt have something in common. It turns out that they've both completed a 5k run in the last few months. Of course, Matt was on a treadmill and may in fact have been sitting in a wheelchair while on the treadmill, but they've both completed a 5k run. I think congratulations are in order, Hooray!!! Hooray!!!

Now on to the business at hand. I've noticed that my nemesis and christian brother has been throwing out these "extra challenges" in the last few weeks--a few examples would be 1.) everybody check back in on December 30, 2040 and see who's kept the weight off, 2.) If I win you can't drink pop. . . yadda yadda yadda 3.) My belt buckle is bigger than your belt buckle. He'll probably try to throw out a few more challenges in the last week, but I haven't responded (and I won't) to these desperate attempts because there is only ONE contest and the reckoning is coming next Saturday, June 21st. Now I know that he's been getting all tricky on us with his "magic scale," and with his-- "I'm not telling you my weight now but I've sent the proof to an undisclosed location in the States where it is being guarded by Jack Bauer, Spiderman, and Patch the Pirate"----while I don't have any tricks like that I do have one card left to play. Throughout this entire contest I've been exercising every other day and losing roughly 3 lbs. a week as a result, but for the last two weeks I've jumped it up to six days a week. Oh yeah Matty boy, it's just like back in elementary school when you got called to the principal's office for some good old fashioned corporal punishment. Sure you're an adult now but you're still going to have to put your hands on the desk and take your Missionary Biggest Loser whoopin' like a man, just remember that this is gonna "hurt me more than it hurts you." Enjoy your wife's meatloaf, it tastes a whole lot better than the humble pie that's comin' next week.

June 14th/ Week #12: 242 lbs.

Mental State: Eye of the Tiger

The Anonymous Pedestrians

Ginger and I celebrated our anniversary by exploring a city in western Poland called Wroclaw (pronounced "vrot-swav"). It's called the "Venice of Poland" for the way the river winds through the city, and it's famous for many beautiful bridges. At one time the German border consumed Wroclaw--and only recently in Poland's history has the city returned to Polish control. The picture is of a monument near the Old Town square titled "Transition" and as you can see the statues appear to be slowly walking into the ground. The monument was created in December 2005 on the 24th anniversary of the introduction of martial law. From December 13, 1981 to July 22, 1983 the communist government enforced martial law to crush the Polish people's growing opposition. Overnight literally hundreds of people disappeared, some went underground to fight the communist government and it's believed many more were stolen away by the government, never to be heard from again. I know that in the states posting pictures and waving flags with the likeness's of Marx, Che, and Castro is kind of the chic thing to do, especially among college students, frat boys, and radical left wingers, all under the premise of free speech. The irony is that they celebrate leaders and a system that allows nothing even remotely close. To many who have recently come out of the system that these men represent, it would be tantamount to hanging a giant swastika on your bedroom wall. The world will never know some of the atrocities that occurred during communist control of Poland, whatever happens in this life though--there will be a reckoning in the next. Philippians 2:9-11 has universal application as men like Marx and Ernesto Che Guevara now realize.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Missionary Biggest Loser #10---A Little Off Track

Ginger and I went down to a town in southern Poland called Wroclaw for our 7th wedding anniversary. While walking around downtown we passed a tantalizing Polish bakery with fresh donuts. It wasn't a moment of weakness, rather more like willful disobedience, but I ate one--ur um actually maybe I ate two. It brought me peace, comfort, and warmth--even though all of those feelings were temporary. Was it worth it? OH YEAH. Not a great week for the diet but I've got two weeks to go. My nemesis and christian brother should be posting his final weight on Tuesday. You can check out his progress here. Stay tuned for all the drama as we wrap this contest up and Matt Jones gets beat down.

June #7/ Week #11: 249

Mental State: satisfied, thanks to those donuts