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BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”

. . .

Let me tell you: My cousin Leonard was a Marine in the Pacific in WWII.  (He never told me war stories when I was young, but he showed me his samurai sword and a Japanese flag.)  My cousins Ed, Bill, and Dick were all Marines.  (They all had pretty neat tattoos.) My cousin Jim O’Neil was Army.  (When I first went into scouting, I inherited his sleeping bag.)

My brother Tom enlisted into the Navy, serving on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown during the Vietnam War.  (He inherited Agent Orange illness.)

My brother-in-law Dave was an Army tanker.  (He patrolled in Europe during the Cold War.)  My other brother-in-law served in the USAAF long before I met his sister, my wife-to-be.  (He was based in Newfoundland.) 

My one son became an Army career officer with 30-years’ service, a bird colonel.  (He’s got medals and ribbons.)  His son, my grandson, follows in the Army.  (He moves and transports people and tanks.)  My other son learned the ways of the military in Navy ROTC in high school.  (It helped him win an Air Force scholarship.)

Me?  Here I am, how I turned out.  That’s the story here.

“Many are called but few are chosen”: I heard this mantra weekly–sometimes more than once a day–when I entered the high school seminary in Chicago in 1955.  I was fourteen years old, a 9th grader.  (At present there exist fewer than 10–maybe 5–high school seminaries in the United States.  Check Wikipedia.)

QUIGLEY SEMINARY in CHICAGO

I was marked, though, during 7th and 8th grades as one of the chosen ones to attend the “minor” seminary: high school, grades 9-12.  I was “special” to the nuns and priests.

But during this time, I still had the right toys and guns, leftovers from my Previous Age.  I lived, however, during The Cold War, The Red Menace, The Yellow Peril: the war in Indochina and the Korean War.  Additionally, I still had a close intimate cinematic relationship with William Holden in the film The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), and with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas and old war movies and war comics.

When I was a child, I played soldier.  In high school, I planned priest-to-be.  Not quite enough time for war stories and movies, though I did manage to squeeze them in whenever I could, especially during the summer months.  Now I was, however, “putting on the armor of Christ.” I was a different kid.  Oh, I rode the city bus and had a school bus pass; I studied physics and trig, English and rhetoric, but Latin and Greek, too.  And “the spiritual life.”  Up at “oh five thirty,” church attendance, off to school-classes at 0830, and the day schedule, in the uniform of the day: suitcoat and tie (never mind that they didn’t match). 

Acne Pic of Me in High School Photo

Thus, I carried on, for four years, until college–where all changed: “You’re in the Army now!”  Well, not really.

DAILY SCHEDULE

0530 Rise

Great Silence (Magnum Silentium) until post breakfast, 0730

0800 classes until 1530

Dinner

Magnum Silentium

2230 Lights Out

[with all other duties and activities]

And so it went.

Instead of “Eat-Pray-Love” it was “Pray-Study-Pray” for the most part.  During this (college) time, I had little exposure to war-related items except for studying history or translating the Aeneid from Latin or the Iliad from the Greek.  Singing of arms and men or singing of the wrath of Achilles: it was war.

In 1962 I was able to see the film about the D-Day invasion, The Longest Day.  (I had read the book in my “free time.”)  Somehow, I was able to make my way through the great–and large book–The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) by William Shirer. . . .

“In the world, but not of the world.”

In November 1962, I had completed full three years of “service.” At that time, I decided to leave my position of prayer and studies, turn in my “uniform” by which I was recognized: Roman collar, cassock, and my three-cornered biretta hat, with pom-pom.  No need for those items as I became part “of the world.”

Pic of Me in My Service Uniform Cassock

I left the ecclesiastical service with no regrets.  I was disappointed, at times, with myself that I did not remain longer: for more studies, for strengthening of friendships, and for a bit more maturity and discipline that I was obtaining.

DISCIPLINE: training that produces obedience or self-control, often in the form of rules.  The word “discipline” is from the Latin word disciplina meaning “instruction and training.” Discipline is to study, learn, train, and apply a system of standards.  It’s training, especially moral or character.  And, of course, rules (with “punishments”) and followers (“disciples”).  If I can use ONE word to sum up my experience in my years of training during the years of service, in preparation to go into the world to do work, that word would have to be DISCIPLINE.

Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord–these are the gifts taught to us for us to learn as we became good soldiers.  (The last one was really inculcated during room inspection by the Dean of Men, the “Lord.”)  But by our daily lives, we were highly disciplined, made to learn organizational skills, use of time, even good manners.

I must add, though, we had no firearms, no weapons training.  We did march, sometimes, in line (not on a parade ground), stood and sat to the sound of a bell in the refectory (dining hall), had times of the Great Silence (sometimes for days at a time). 

We made our beds (racks?), a habit I continue, kept our rooms clean, our lockers in order, and our desks neat and tidy (I am not good at that today).  A luxury we did have, though, was laundry service: we dropped off and picked up weekly.  This laundry business I had to learn on my own at home after my separation.  Later, my new wife, thankfully, knew all the intricacies of “whites, lights, and darks” –which I soon mastered, and later taught to our boys when they were able to learn this discipline.

And that, basically, is the end of my story.  That’s all that I’m going to say about it, some sixty years later.  Writing this, I have a tiny inkling of what a WWII Mustang fighter pilot must feel when answering questions about his war exploits or war record during the time of his years of service, no matter how long or short.  “What was it like?” “Were you ever scared?”  “Are you glad you joined the Army Air Force?”  “Any regrets about leaving the service?”

These are some actual questions that I have asked fighter pilots whom I have met in the not-so-distant past.   On the other hand, I have many of my own “war stories,” as it were, memoriesofatime, that I can share about my time together with classmates in hallowed halls, classmates who still reminisce about “duty stations” (classes and work details), “officers” (deans), the “general” (the rector); “S.O.S.” (creamed chipped beef on toast).  But I am not so naïve to make comparisons, to say that academia was completely like military service.

Though, at times, recalling an instance or event that I lived through, I’ll comment, “That’s no different from the Army way.”  And so it goes.

Was I ever in the Army?  Nah.  But note that I did have a draft card when I turned 18. . . .  “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  Some of my “comrades in arms” were called and chosen . . . some have already “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”  

©  JAMES F O’NEIL  2020    

 

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

“I want people to see a real person on the ice.  I want to seem tangible, hard-working, passionate about my skating, not just going out and doing something I’ve rehearsed a million times.” –Ashley Wagner, American figure skater.  [BrainyQuote]

* * *

Who takes ice skates on a honeymoon?  We did, in October 1963, to the Wagon Wheel Lodge, Rockton, Illinois.

Having packed our 1962 Corvair, my new bride-wife had tucked in her ice skates; for we chose our honeymoon getaway partially for its beautiful Olympic-sized skating facility available for us.

SKATING RINK AT WAGON WHEEL RESORT HONEYMOON

But I’m jumping a bit ahead of my story filled with memoriesofatime.

I never knew, all the while we were engaged, that my fiancée was a skater.  Not much mention, as I recall, was made of our hobbies, like stamp collecting, piano playing, ice skating, collecting Air Force shoulder sleeve insignia, and the like.  The two of us were so submerged in our work, and in our college courses, that there was little free time for hobbies.  An occasional lazy summer Sunday afternoon in Lincoln Park was a delicious treat.

So, when we were setting up our apartment before our wedding (we–gasp! –did not live together before our Catholic marriage!), I noticed a large square shoe box on her pile of stuff to be put away: Riedell.  White box, blue print, with an ice skate and silhouette of an ice skater on the top and sides.  “Do you skate?”  I asked on that warm Chicago October evening.  “You never told me anything about it.  I didn’t know,” I spoke. 

SKATE WITH PASSION!  SKATE RIEDELL!!

* * *

Sonja Henie (8 April 1912 – 12 October 1969) was a Norwegian figure skater and film star, a three-time Olympic Champion (1928, 1932, 1936) in Ladies’ Singles, a ten-time World Champion (1927–1936) and a six-time European Champion (1931–1936).  She won more Olympic and World titles than any other ladies’ figure skater.

At the height of her acting career, she was one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood and starred in a series of box-office hits, including Thin Ice (1937), My Lucky Star (1938), Second Fiddle (1939) and Sun Valley Serenade (1941) [Wikipedia], and It’s a Pleasure (1945).

Henie retains the record of most consecutive titles, sharing it with skater Katarina Witt.  In addition to traveling to train and compete, she was much in demand as a performer at figure skating exhibitions in both Europe and North America, becoming so popular with the public that police had to be called out for crowd control on her appearances in various cities.

Henie is credited with being the first figure skater to adopt the short skirt costume in figure skating, wear white boots, and making use of dance choreography. Her innovative skating techniques and glamorous demeanor transformed the sport permanently and confirmed its acceptance as a legitimate sport in the Winter Olympics.

Probably most young girls wearing ice skates, learning figures and jumps, aspired to be the next Sonja Heinie.

* * *

Once upon a time, Susie Braschko (before she became Susan O’Neil on 10-12-63) grew up in Des Plaines, Illinois.  Near the farmhouse where she lived lay a marshy area and watery pond where in winter her dad would set up a skating area for her and her brother.  She was a skater here, long before thoughts of Sonja Henie or the Ice Capades, Ice Follies, or Olympic Gold.  Here on the pond she learned to fall, and get up again.  And tasted the desire to want lessons.

Thus, it all began, with her dad driving her to Park Ridge, Illinois, to an ice-skating school (in an old theater)

for classes and lessons–until she had her own car to make her own way to the ice rink…and to her idol and teacher: Michael Kirby who once had to carry her off the ice–!–how, like a perfect gentle knight, as her calf bled from a gash-clash with another skater’s blade.  (Hospital stitches were needed.)

* * *

Michael J.R. Kirby (February 20, 1925 – May 25, 2002) Canadian figure skater who competed in men’s singles, was also (for a short while) an actor, and a one-time ice rink owner and skating coach.  When he turned 16, he became a Canadian national champion, winning the silver medal at the 1941 North American Championships and the gold at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, 1942.  He turned professional, joining the Ice Follies in 1943. 

In the later 1940s, he moved to Hollywood, appearing in several movies.  In 1947, while he was skating in a West Los Angeles ice rink, the manager asked him to skate with Sonja Henie, the rink owner.  He joined with her, and later had a role in her film The Countess of Monte Crisco.  He also became part of Sonja’s Hollywood Ice Review, which went to Europe and England.

He relocated to Chicago, establishing a chain of instructional ice skating rinks beginning in 1948.  He received an offer from Ice Capades, a company that both produced ice-skating shows and developed ice-skating centers.  Leaders hired him to bring ice rinks like his Chicago-area studios to cities across the country–and around the world.  Nevertheless, success waned in the late 70s, due to the lack of interest and support for ice skating; most of Kirby’s ice studios closed.  Later in life he was an ice-skating consultant and then the author of a biography on Sonja Henie.  (Sonja retired in May 1956.)  He died in 2002 of renal failure, in his home at Orange County, California.  [Thanks to Vikki Ortiz, Chicago Tribune, January 15, 2010]

MICHAEL KIRBY

Many skaters who went on to compete nationally got their start at Kirby’s Chicago-area skating studios.

* * *

Sue tells, humbly and modestly, of her abilities and skills, of how much she learned and how much she so desired to go on in skating.  But, as fate would have it, two of her friends were chosen to audition for the Ice Capades, one successful: “Jennie.”  Sue, though, could never make the cut, for she was 5’0’; 5’7’ or there about, was the minimum height requirement (generic costume sizes).

THE SKATING TRIO

No doubt disappointment set in with the breakup of the friendship and “teammate-ship,” onset of high school and jobs, and family obligations.  (Her father died when she was a junior in high school.)  So, the skates were put aside, put away, for a short while, a few years.

* * *

I didn’t ice skate much, growing up in Chicago.  I was one of those who used hand-me-down skates and tried my best in a non-Michael Kirby city park rink.  Later, years later, I tried with a group of young adults in the bleak mid-winter, skating on frozen lakes near Mundelein, Illinois.  And that was it: end of skating, end of grouping.  Until the honeymoon, of course.   

It was then when I made a complete fool of myself, as I slipped and slid around on the ice, more comfortable sitting down as my new bride skated figure-eights around me, triple-jumped over me (I thought), and smiled as she posed as Ina Bauer, encircling my frozen limbs.

INA BAUER TECHNIQUE

But we had “the time of our lives!”  Babies later (two) found us living in Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” all potential skating rinks in the winter.

One of the larger lakes near our home (in 1966) was Lake Winona.  The Park Rec provided skating opportunities, complete with crackling ice, motion, and bumps.  Yet for the most part, a good venue for kids and adults willing to brave the winds and chills.  Sue taught both our sons to skate (but not this big guy), and became a Park Rec Skating Instructor, complete with choreographing a winter skate program.  All good rosy-cheeked fun.

Leaving Winona, we had not many ice-time opportunities for a few years after.  A backyard rink I once made, for one.  But an ice rink in a new shopping mall in Florida, where we traveled for a visit, in 1977.  The ice was calling her name; I called her my “Sonja,” this wife-mother who awed us when she got on that small rink by Macy’s and wowed the shopper-onlookers, who clapped at her not-forgotten Michael Kirby “routines.”

We were so impressed.

Fast forward: Our move to Florida, 1980.  New skating life gradually came to Southwest Florida Gulf Coast: Two ice rinks, one a professional rink with a team.  Open skating, classes for beginners on up, ice shows, private lessons from Olympians practicing in the area and coming from the other coast.  Skating teams, competitive teams for all age groups, hockey teams.  The Ice Crystals were born (women’s adult skaters) –and medaled, and received trophies, traveled to Las Vegas and San Francisco and other national competitions.  And Susie–Run-Around-Sue–with her poodle skirt and all, high-scored for her age group.

POODLE SKIRTS TEAM

So, costumes changed, and blades needed sharpening, and airline travel had to be arranged, and then even new skates.  There was rink rental/ice time (that Zamboni!), coaching fees, gas mileage, and other miscellaneous expenses (way beyond a simple city park rink cost).  From time to time, Sonja Sue went to adult free skate; she also managed to take her skates on vacation, to her Ohio cottage, using the practice ice of the Pittsburgh Penguins, in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania–or on ice near Youngstown, Ohio.

SUE, BIG ICE, AND CLEMSON CLEM

Skater Sue, of course, had her share of falls, sore knees, bruises, twists, aches, sore butt, and from time to time a sore wrist or arm from pinwheels–or from an incorrect pull by a teammate.  Harder falls, then The Broken Wrist.

Broken wrist casts come in a variety of colors; she chose black, to blend with her costumes for the up-coming Las Vegas competitions.  And all went well, her team buddies holding her, supporting her when needed.

Nevertheless, that fall, that incident, set her aback, and recuperating time took much out of her.  The team, at the same time, had lost two or three members to illness; the small group barely had enough bodies to make a line across the midline of the rink.  The coach had her time cut back; the end was near.  The team ceased to exist.  The trophy case would never be added to by the adult skate group; only individuals competed from the rink.

* * *

“I think you should consider hanging up your skates,” the doctor said.  Glum.  Gloom.  No tears, but sadness at the realization: a trip to the ER with back spasms, X-rays revealing a fracture at L-2, and degenerative spine disease.  A bad score on a DEXA scan was an earlier warning.  A dangerous combination should any kind of fall occur, especially one on a cold hard ice surface.  Osteoporosis.

And that’s the tale now.

She has her medals and her certificates, her videos, and her photographs; those can never be disputed.  These are her memoriesofatime.  For me?  By now, you might have wondered what role I played in all this narrative, other than as its author, with what are so many of my memoriesofatime.

Well, I was intimately involved with costume selection (“That’s nice.  I like the red one, too.”) or being chauffeur (“What time do I get you to the airport?”) or fixer (“I’ll get some thread and safety pins.”  “I have a bandage right here in my pocket.”  “Here’s my handkerchief for those tears.”); jeweler (“Are those really real diamonds she’s wearing for that number?”), and charmer (“You guys did so well!  You deserved 1st Place, not those young skaters.”), and even technical advisor (“Exactly thirty-three seconds.  Just right!”).

At times I was Team Husband, just being there for an evening or Saturday practice–drinking hot chocolate, reading a book, smiling often, eating a hot dog or piece of pizza, or simply watching, enthralled by a group of women doing skating routines that would be in competition.  Or single skaters practicing, doing jumps and figures and whatever else ice skaters do to make us smile, make us wonder how they can do that on two quarter-inches of razor-sharpened metal attached by screws to a white boot, shoe-laced tightly around foot and ankle.

“Anything I should know about foot-pounds of pressure?”  “And if you feel yourself falling, I want you to relax and . . .”  “And, yes, those blades are really sharp!”  

[See the movies Blades of Glory, 2007; The Cutting Edge, 1992.]

I seldom complained, about time and money, about illness and injury, cuts and bruises–and expenses for Biofreeze.  Our hobbies–well, her “hobby” was really a “passion,” as she called it.  My hobby was collecting zinc and lead diecast airplanes.  I never had the “passion” as she did.  Ever.

So, I would add, in closing, nothing.  That’s all what I want to relate about my own “Sonja Henie,” from our beginnings to now, a good skating time of some forty-five years or so.  I should mention that there was many a time that I could not believe how beautiful she was “out there, on ice” with her musical motifs and routines–and how often  I was choked up by a special performance (and am still moved watching her videos), and how you might even have seen me reach for my handkerchief to wipe my eyes . . .

© JAMES F O’NEIL 2020

SEND IN THE CLOWNS!

MEDAL WINNER

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Begin, commence, start, initiate, inaugurate, usher in, mean to take the first step in a course, process, or operation.  [Begin, start, and commence are often interchangeable.]

https://apps.npr.org/commencement/   The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.  “Looking for some new words of wisdom?  Check out our hand-picked selection of commencement addresses, going back to 1774.  Search over 350 speeches by name, school, date, or theme.”

Commencement”: Often referred to as “Graduation,” the Commencement ceremony is just that, a ceremony.  It is an end-of-spring semester celebration for students projected to successfully complete all their graduation requirements by the end of that Spring or Summer semester.  Confirmation of degree completion does not take place until official grades are posted.  “Graduation”: The term in which one has officially and successfully completed all of graduation requirements

I never gave a commencement address.  The closest I came took place in 1982.  The high school principal called me to help with graduation.  “Of course I will!”  I was a senior teacher.  I thought, This is finally it! My Big Show!  I’ve been waiting since 1955!

The only address I gave to the Class of 1982 was my shout at the top of my voice during that commencement rehearsal.  “SENIORS!  QUIET DOWN!!”  (I may have said, shouted, screamed, bellowed out–as I tried to maintain order as they practiced for the upcoming ceremony.)

If I recall, the guest speaker was a newspaper columnist-humorist.  I couldn’t humor those seniors as he did.  But I did have a speech ready for them, parts from a favorite essay I had (still have) from then-Chicago Tribune writer Bob Greene.  He had written a piece–“1964” –for Esquire, highlighting his work on keeping a journal for one year, capturing those memories of the times to look back upon (which he wrote he still did from time to time).  It was about his 17th year, 1964, recorded in one journal.

I wish I had written that.  I wish I had written those words, so that I could give the class a commencement speech: “Don’t Forget What We Did Here for You!  Write It Down!” (Is anybody out there even listening to me?)  But, to paraphrase Thoreau, writing About is not what interests us at the time; it’s the Experiencing that’s important.  (Bob Greene wrote in 1987 Be Good to Your School.  I wish I had written that, too.)

I participated in my first graduation in 1955 in Chicago, from 8th grade.  Then off to high school (graduation), college (graduation), master’s (graduation), and all those other ceremonies I attended robed in regalia while a teacher in an audience or on a stage–or during those seven years as a school administrator, dressed in “civvies,” patrolling halls and parking lots, or getting after noisy guests or silly graduates, or even fixing stage lights or curtains, or…or…providing water for the honored guest speaker.  Even locking up the gymnasium doors Post Commencement.

Nonetheless, I was never a commencement speaker.  I never gave that address:

De Paul University Colors [not me pictured] White: Liberal Arts

“Madame President, Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Guests, Honorees, and Faculty; Parents, Friends, and Relatives.  And Graduates of the Class of 20__.  I thank you for asking me to come before you today, on this auspicious occasion….  WOW!  Look at all this color and flowers and the proud people in the audience.”

No, I never spoke for the graduates of West Point, the US Military Academy.

WEST POINT GRADUATION [without tassels]

I really wanted to tell them about the graduate who asked me, “Now what?”  And I would tell them What.  About luck, good fortune, life not being fair.  (They knew that already.)  “Reminder: Hard Work Pays Off!”  Maybe.  I would not be cynical.  I would be uplifting, edifying, funny, pleasant, grandfather-ly.  The wise old…what do I know about…anything?  Watch for it.  Here it comes: “Graduates.  Be flexible.  Be ready.  Be like the Coast Guard: Semper Paratus: ‘Always Ready, Always Prepared.’”  For?  The low ball, high pitch, fast ball, Hail-Mary Pass, missed putt, end run, unexpected, from out of nowhere.

Graduations, commencement times, are sad-happy times for me.  Since that 1955 time, as participant and observer, I’ve marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” (still brings chills, Mr. Elgar–and memoriesofatime).  I’ve listened to beautiful Palestrina choral pieces.  I’ve listened to names being called (in the thousands, I’m sure), speeches given (both enlightening and terribly boring), recognitions being awarded (I cannot recall ever being specialed-out for anything); trophies, certificates, diplomas, pins, books,  medals, and money-scholarships being handed out.

But after all is done, and rooms and halls are emptied, the work begins: the graduates must “commence” their lives now that a tassel has been moved.  Some will fail; we all have failures.  Great success will come to a few, as it should.  “That’s the way it is!” I would have told them.

And so , I may have never given a commencement address, may never have had to worry about preparing a speech, or needing a glass of water, or may never have had my tassel swing in front of my eyes–back and forth, back and forth–as I spoke.  (How annoying!)

Yet, overall, I’ve had my share of positions before the public, before audiences, and have even given a church sermon!  Yet there lingers within me a tiny bit of “missing-ness”: Never having been able to say, “And so, Graduates, in conclusion, therefore, good luck to you all!  Now go and commence!”

UNION HALL LA TROBE UNIVERSITY [before commencement exercises]

© James F. O’Neil 2019

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The best leaders enjoy the trust of their subordinates, peers, and superiors.” –Lt. Col. Pete Kilner, USA (Ret.)

How did Capt. James Miller earn and maintain trust in Saving Private Ryan?

How did U.S. Army Lt. (later Maj.) Richard Winters [1918-2011] command (not demand) respect in Band of Brothers–and, in the actual “Easy Company of the 101st”?

In my many courses “back then,” studying leadership and especially educational leadership, I learned theories X, Y, and Z; and A, B, and C; Reddin, Blake & Mouton, and McGregor; and on and on and on. All good, valuable, one building upon the next, or discarding the weak points of another. Even the oldest “Peter Principle” (1969) served as a textbook in one of my graduate classes (along with Up the Down Staircase).

Many years retired now, I am still attracted to good articles commenting on what I learned and perhaps practiced in my educational career.

I found in Military Officer (July 2018) a simply put framework by Lt Col Pete Kilner explaining the behavior of Capt. Miller (I believe) and the rationale behind the promotions and the trust placed in Lt Winters.

Both films aptly portray what Lt Col Kilner found in his experience “thinking more intentionally about trust,” that a person’s “trust-worthy-ness” is a function of four factors: HONESTY, RELIABILITY, COMPETENCE, and COMPASSION.

We can view these two important films at this time in our history, the 75th Anniversary of D-Day Europe. We can also search for Miller’s and Winters’ truthfulness; “courageous faithfulness to commitments”; responsibilities and judgment; and, finally, their humanity.

Do not the actors fit/play the roles?

Watching the films is not necessarily an exercise, but seeing elements within a film can be a good exercise in what we “get” from a movie.

“It’s more than just a good war movie.”–Jim O’Neil [See, “THE ART OF WAR (LOVING)”: https://memoriesofatime.blog/2015/07/04/the-art-of-war-loving/ ]

© JAMES F. O’NEIL 6 June 1944/2019

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