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In the News - Friday, May 13, 2011


See this week's front page



May 1 snow is 210 percent

by John Elliott

  One of the great things about living in or visiting Kaweah Country this time of year is the pristine mountain views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. This year, for mid-May there is an extraordinary amount of snow still up there above 8,000 feet, and it’s only just beginning to make its way down the Kaweah drainage.
   It’s official! The California Department of Water Resources has pronounced the 2010/2011 year type as “WET.” The May 1 numbers for the Kaweah drainage are 210 percent of normal; the statewide average is 187 percent.
   That’s great news and there’s even more. Following an off-again-on-again stormy April, the temperate May weather has really cooperated.
   According to Phil Deffenbaugh, the general manager of Lake Kaweah, they couldn’t ask for a better scenario to manage all that precious water.
  “It’s [the snow] not coming off in really high flows and this gradual going up at Lake Kaweah will continue,” Phil said. “For Memorial Day weekend, we expect to be just slightly above the old [pre-2004] fill level at 694 feet in elevation.”
   The storage at Lake Kaweah, as of Thursday, May 12, is 106,107 acre feet. The lake level is at an elevation of 673.48 feet and this season is going just about anywhere the dam tenders at Lake Kaweah want to go.
  “The flows were a little higher last weekend but with the cooler weather we came right back down,” Phil said. “We don’t expect to reach a full capacity of 185,000 acre feet until mid June.”
   But Phil also cautioned that predicting when a major meltdown might occur is still not an exact science. It’s dependent on the weather and whether or not there is an extended run of triple -digit temperatures.
   It’s not if the hot weather is coming, but when. Right now it’s a win-win for Valley farmers, who are making good use of the gradual runoff, and whitewater rafters, who will be enjoying ample cubic feet per second flows into August.
   Local parks and recreation areas are bracing for a busy season and with all that water comes some risky business.
  “When the temperatures heat up, the swimming spots are going to be irresistible,” Phil said. “Right now the water in the rivers and the lake is so cold even an experienced swimmer would have difficulty staying in more than a few minutes.”
   Those cold-water conditions are likely to continue into July. If you must enter the river or lake, use extreme caution. For river rafting or kayaking, always wear the proper safety gear and go in the company of a professional guide.
   An area waterway has already claimed a young drowning victim this season. Never underestimate the power of the local lake and rivers; the life you save just might be your own.

Wesak Festival revived

By Brian Rothhammer

  The four planets closest to the sun will be in alignment on Sunday, May 15, while a local convergence brings musical harmony to Three Rivers. A 40-year reunion of the original Wesak Music Festival in Three Rivers will take place at a riverside venue.
   Wesak, or Vesakha, is a time-honored Buddhist celebration traditional in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, and lots of other places to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha. The date of observation varies worldwide as calendars differ. In Three Rivers, it is the first full moon of May.
   Adrian Green, 86, renowned Three Rivers sculptor, brought the Eastern tradition to Kaweah Country in 1971 with the first Three Rivers Wesak Festival. As a student of Niscience, it was a natural progression.
   Niscience is a belief system based on spiritual knowing beyond academic science and combines Christian and Buddhist disciplines. When Adrian suggested to Ann Ree Colton (1898-1984), founder of Niscience in 1951, that an observance be held in Three Rivers, her answer was enthusiastic.
   Both envisioned a musical event.
  “I made a couple of calls and it just took off,” recalled Adrian. “It took place in John Holden’s pasture. The musicians built the stage… they needed more stage as it just kept growing.”
   Among those providing music in 1971 were Joe Hannah (present-day Sons of the San Joaquin), Clement and Dorothy Renzi, and dozens of others. The Tulare County Symphony performed with the Bakersfield College Choir.
   The celebrations continued throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.
  “It was a time of blending for the people, for humanity,” said Adrian. “Venues changed but the spirit remained the same.”
   By the 1990s, Adrian said, Wesak in Three Rivers had become more of a private observation.
   This year, brothers Dennis and Milton Melkonian of Three Rivers, in honor of Adrian, have revived the event by staging a 40th-anniversary celebration. Singer-songwriter Randy Sharp, his wife Sharon and daughter Maya, John Davis, and many of the original participants of the 1971 festival will be performing.
   Dennis Melkonian said more than 50 of the musicians who performed in 1971 will be here for Sunday’s gala.
   Adrian will welcome many old and new friends to the historic event.
  “It will be a reinvigoration of the ‘71 festival,” he said. “Wesak is a joyful celebration that has to do with peace on earth and the blending of all of us together.”
   The cost to attend the event is $15 but space is limited. For more information, call 802-8811.

Students discover rattler at TRUS

  Ah, the joys of country living... And attending a rural school, where the lessons aren’t always confined to the classroom.
   On Wednesday, May 11, a rattlesnake was discovered by students in Mrs. Pearson’s second-grade class on the lower playground at Three Rivers School.
   These are all Three Rivers kids, however, and well-versed in what to do, which was to immediately tell the teacher. The teacher, in turn, told Edmund Pena, TRUS grounds and maintenance supervisor, who dispatched the threat. The snake was three feet in length and had seven rattles (see photo above).
   This time of year, snakes are venturing out of hibernation to sun themselves, but stay close to their dens and return during the chilly nights. When the nights warm enough that they can stay out, they travel farther away from their dens, which is usually a granite outcrop.

Howard Liddell: ‘MIA and presumed dead’

by Gary Whitney

  This is the second installment in a four-part series to honor the three Three Rivers men who were killed during World War II. A plaque will be placed at the Three Rivers Cemetery in their honor during a special Memorial Day service.
                                           * * *
  “Howard Liddell Wins the Indianapolis 500!” This headline, however, never occurred nor did thousands of others. The men and women who would have made them instead became names on War Department telegrams: “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Liddell: We regret to inform you that your son, 2nd Lieutenant Howard F. Liddell Jr., is missing in action and presumed dead.”
   The United States gave 416,800 of their finest to bring World War II to its conclusion. Three Rivers suffered along with the rest of the country as three of her sons were added to that total.
   Of the three, Howard has been the most difficult to gather information about because his family is no longer in the area. Howard’s father worked for the National Park Service at Sequoia National Park between 1935 and 1955, so we know Howard lived here from at least 1935 until he entered the service.
   The reason for the Indy 500 comment was a reference to a conversation I had with Jim Barton, who was raised in Three Rivers.
  “Howard broke the record for getting from Three Rivers to Woodlake the fastest on more than one occasion,” he recalled.
   It seems only fitting that Howard, with his love of speed, would end up in the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang. The Mustang was a beast of a fighter plane and very agile and fast.
Howard was a member of the 47th Fighter Squadron, 15th Fighter Group, stationed on the island of Iwo Jima. The primary mission of the squadron at the time was to escort B-29 Bombers to Japan, as well as any necessary combat air patrols to neighboring islands where ground troops were deployed.
   Today, we associate the term “Black Friday” with the first holiday shopping day after Thanksgiving, but to the men of Howard’s squadron and the other squadrons in the area, Black Friday was June 1, 1945. On this day, 400 B-29 Bombers, escorted by 184 P-51 Mustang Fighters, left Iwo Jima to bomb Osaka, Japan.
   As the flight progressed, it became obvious that the weather was not going to cooperate for the mission. As the formation approached the impending storm, an order was issued from the lead B-29 to start a climb to go over the top of the storm front.
   The order was given too late. The lead P-51 warned the Bombers that entry into the storm would “blow up” the formation. The climb to get above the clouds was not successful and soon the planes found themselves in a horrifying situation.
   Not only was visibility impaired, but due to the electricity in the storm, radio communication was virtually impossible. When the fighters could no longer stay in formation and could not communicate an orderly retreat, total mayhem ensued.
   The fighter pilots had to turn around; 27 planes collided and crashed into the sea. But on this day, Howard Liddell was fortunate; he was able to stay with his squadron leader and after they broke free of the storm, followed a B-29 back to Iwo Jima.
   It was June 14, 1945, that Howard flew his last mission and would not return with his squadron. They left Iwo Jima’s south airfield at 6:45 a.m. that Thursday on a combat air patrol headed for the Bonin Islands. However, 15 miles out, Howard’s squadron mates realized he was no longer with them.
   The men of the squadron tried to hail him on the radio, but to no avail. They searched the horizon. Nothing.
   The search continued until noon with additional search aircraft brought in. Neither Howard nor his aircraft were ever found.
   On that day, 2nd Lieutenant Howard F. Liddell Jr. became another one of the many mysteries of World War II. His name was added to a long list of MIA’s (Missing in Action) from the Pacific Theater of Operations.
   After the conclusion of the war, the United States created Punch Bowl National Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii. Howard’s name, as well as the names of 18,093 other missing service men from the Pacific Theater are memorialized there in “The Court of the Missing,” a special section of the cemetery created just for them and, later, those from the Vietnam and Korean wars.
   On Monday, May 30, Howard’s name, along with Donald Brewer’s and Orlen Loverin’s, will be remembered with a place of honor at the Three Rivers Public Cemetery.

Another fish story…

  Scott Snetzinger, shown here with a six-pound large-mouth bass he caught recently in a local pond, is a one-stop shop for fishing information and bait and tackle, too. Scott, in his position as manager of the Three Rivers Market, has made it his business to know where the big ones lurk and how to land those trophy fish.
   Three Rivers Market stocks all the best lures and bait, and Scott will help you find the secret spots to drop a line.
  “Right now the hottest bass fishing is at Lake Kaweah and plenty of trophy bass are being weighed in every day,” Scott reports. “It helps to have a boat but anywhere from shore will work.”


Dick Burns
1924 ~ 2011

   Richard C. Burns of Three Rivers died Friday, May 6, 2011, at his home along the Kaweah River. He was 86.
   A memorial service will be held today (Friday, May 13), 4 p.m., at his home.
   Dick was born November 20, 1924, in Millersburg, Ohio, to Harold and Evelyn Burns.
   As a youth, Dick was active in the Boy Scouts, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. He continued to advance in the scouting program, ultimately earning a Gold Palm, which means he earned 10 merit badges beyond those required for Eagle Scout. Dick later served as scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 100 in Columbus, Ohio.
   Dick served in the U.S. Army during World War II in the China-Burma-India Theater. He was a mule skinner in the 124th Cavalry, Mars Task Force.
   The Mars Task Force’s mission was to supply and support Chinese armies in their struggle against a massive Japanese incursion. Dick walked 200 miles through the jungles of north central Burma (present-day Myanmar) from Myitkyina, a main Japanese base and airfield, south to Lashio.
   The Allied actions enabled the opening of the Burma Road in January 1945, a major supply line that depended upon the mules for transport of the important cargo.
  “I was hanging onto a mule’s tail about as far away from home as I could possibly be,” Dick reminisced.
   Dick graduated from The Ohio State University. He began his three-decade career as a ranger-naturalist with the National Park Service at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
   While at Great Smoky, he met the former Margaret “Peggy” Bebb. On September 1, 1951, Dick and Peggy were married at the Buckhorn Inn in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
During Dick’s NPS career, he also worked at Lake Mead (Ariz.), Yosemite, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Mammoth Cave (Ky.).
   In 1957, Dick and Peggy arrived in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and this is where they settled. They resided in Ash Mountain until Dick’s retirement 23 years later in 1980, then purchased their home in Three Rivers along the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River.
   Dick was a member of the Southern Sierra Archaeological Society, American Rock Art Research Association, and a former Sequoia Natural History Association board member. He was an avid photographer, birdwatcher, and supporter of the research and preservation of Indian rock art.
   Dick was a familiar sight on Kaweah River Drive during his daily morning walks to get the newspaper. He would have his binoculars around his neck and kept a close eye on local birdlife.
   He could name every bird, wildflower, and mountain peak. His photographs of the Sequoia foothills and Sierra scenes were published far and wide, in guidebooks, magazines, and more.
In 1983, Dick was preceded in death by his wife, Peggy. He was also preceded in death by his son, John, of Gatlinburg, Tenn., in 2004; brother Robert of West Point, Miss.; and sister Ruth of Marietta, Ohio.
   He is survived by his two grandchildren, Heather Burkhart of Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Brian Burns of Richmond, Va.
   Condolences may be sent to www.evansmillerguinnchapel.com.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
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