Meeting Larry McMurtry

On July 7, 2013, in , by Jody Ewing

Meeting Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana

Minnetonka, Minnesota, Sept. 29, 1994

Diana_Ossana_Larry_McMurtryPhoto by Jody Ewing
Authors Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry talk about their new book, “Pretty Boy Floyd,” at the Borders bookstore in Minnetonka, Minn., on September 29, 1994.

On September 29, 1994, my daughter, Jennifer Burgess, and I made a seven-hour trek from west-central Iowa to the Borders bookstore in Minnetonka, Minn., in order to attend a book reading by authors Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. McMurtry — the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, The Last Picture Show and other monumental works — and Ossana, his writing partner, had just published their co-authored novel, Pretty Boy Floyd.

These are a few of the photos I captured that day. A million thanks also are extended to an unknown woman in attendance who used my camera to snap the photo of me with my all-time favorite writer, “Larry Mac” McMurtry. The photo remains displayed on the wall in my home office — just an upward glance away from my computer’s keyboard.

Photos by Jody Ewing

NOTE: Click any image for larger slideshow with photo descriptions.

Joe Biden and Family in Onawa – Nov. and Dec. 2007

On February 3, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

Senator Joe Biden and Family Campaign in Onawa, IA


Democratic incumbent Senior U.S. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware made a stop at Janz Restaurant in Onawa, Iowa, on Nov. 11, 2007, to meet and visit with Monona County Democratic community activists. Those in attendance asked some tough questions, and Sen. Biden wasn’t afraid to look them in the eye when he anwered.

Following Sen. Biden’s visit, his son Beau Biden (Delaware’s Attorney General), met with Jody Ewing and Dennis Ryan in their home on Nov. 25 and again on Dec. 9 with other local activists. Sen. Biden’s wife Jill also met with area Democrats at the Onawa Public Library on December 28, 2007.

At the time of his bid for US President, Sen. Biden was serving his sixth term as US Senator, the sixth longest-serving amongst [then] current senators. Delaware’s longest serving Senator, Biden also served as Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in the 110th Congress.

He went on to become the Vice President of the United States.

Photos by Jody Ewing and Dennis Ryan

NOTE: Click any image for larger slideshow with photo descriptions.

Hardball in Onawa 10-14-04

On January 19, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

Hardball’s Chris Matthews in Onawa, IA

October 14, 2004


On October 14, 2004, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Sen. John Edwards visited Onawa, IA, where Edwards would meet with Monona County activists and where Matthews would interview Edwards and then tape an episode for his renowned cable TV program, Hardball with Chris Matthews.

As county chair for Sen. John Kerry’s presidential bid, I was asked — along with a few family members — to provide somewhat of a casual backdrop behind Matthews’ traveling anchor table, and then, later, Dennis and I joined Matthews and two others at the well-reputed desk where we played ‘Hardball’ with the candid host. (Okay, so the questions weren’t really that hard, but it was invigorating just the same.)

Above is a short clip from that episode. It has been a while now since I tried to extract more than just a few minutes from the recorded DVD a friend kindly sent me, but I will try again soon. Dennis and the others “did” have something to say.

P.S. In the beginning, what may look like a “smirk” is in no way my being smug; it’s actually what nervousness looks like. I’m fairly certain I inherited that trait from my mother. In fact, I know I did. :-)


Kysa’s Birthday 2007

On January 13, 2012, in , by Jody Ewing

Ain’t No Love . . . like ours



The event is my sister Kysa’s birthday, held in my 100-year-old home despite major kitchen and dining room renovations (which we completed the following month). That’s the great thing about a large, loving family; they’ll gather to celebrate a birthday or special occasion and somehow overlook the make-shift kitchen counters and yet-to-be refinished hardwood floors poking out beneath a host of mismatched area rugs.

They know what’s important.

Despite my first ever attempt at video recording (on a Digimax camera I received Christmas 2006 from my son Bill and his wife Jen), I managed to put together a short video encompassing the event.

I dedicate this video to my sister Kysa (after all, it was her birthday), and also to my late beloved stepfather, Earl Thelander, who lives on within all our hearts.

Barack Obama Live Webcast

On December 26, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing
Hope Action Change banner


Video from the Barack Obama Live Webcast

Hosted by Jody Ewing and Dennis Ryan
Taped in Onawa, Iowa

As 500 House Parties came together in all 99 Iowa counties on March 31, 2007, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama kicked off his “Hope, Action, Change” Community Get Togethers at the Onawa Public Library with a nationwide live streamed webcast viewed in all 50 states. The day’s event raised five million dollars for Barack’s campaign.

Hosts Jody Ewing and Dennis Ryan — who originally were to hold the event in their home — extend their deepest thanks to the Onawa Public Library staff, who graciously provided an alternate venue to accommodate the fast-growing number of enthusiastic guests.

Many thanks also go to Thomas Ritchie and Mike Kelley for all the great photos. Your keen eyes helped the event become a part of Onawa’s — and the nation’s — history. View the photos here.

Matthew Clayton

On December 17, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

Weekender logo

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Navy Corpsman from Iowa scribes details of Iraqi War

By Jody Ewing
August 21, 2003
All photos courtesy Matt Clayton
Matt Clayton (center) and other Navy Corpsmen in Basra.

It was starting to get cold after the sun went down — not like a Midwest winter night, but chilly, even in our bulky MOPP gear issued for protection from biological and chemical attacks. My section of TOW missile-equipped Humvees had just been attached to an infantry company less than 20 minutes earlier. We were to follow them to an intersection a few klicks south of the only bridge over the river Basra, into the city of Basra, for many kilometers east and west. At this intersection, we were to set up a security for a blocking force of tanks to occupy until the Brits took it over the next day. My section never made it to the intersection that night.

In the first of many detailed journal entries — this one aptly titled “That First Night” — U.S. Navy Corpsman and Onawa, Iowa, native Matthew Clayton describes the series of events that took him completely around the world by plane, Humvee, on foot and by ship, going through every time zone on the planet.

matt-clayton-ship-basraMatt Clayton, a Navy hospital corpsman who served with the Marines on Iraq’s frontline, was a college senior and gifted mathematician who hoped to complete his education and teach algebra at the college level once he finished his tour in Iraq. He is shown here aboard the USS Boxer near Solomon Islands, returning from Iraq.

The bulk of his writing, however, focused on the 40 days and 40 nights he spent in Iraq, fighting side-by-side with soldiers on the frontline of the war.

As a Navy hospital corpsman who served with the Marines, Clayton joined the ranks of John Bradley, the young Navy corpsman who, along with five other soldiers, raised an American flag on Mount Suribachi after the Battle of Iwo Jima. Trained as specialists in combat medicine, Navy corpsman go into battle with Marines and provide life-saving aid to those wounded in combat — including the wounded enemy. Clayton’s TOW platoon served with the Marine Corps’ 1st Tank Battalion.

Stationed permanently in Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif., the 28-year-old returned to Iowa earlier this month to spend time with his family and friends.

The son of Kim Berens, a nurse, and retired Marine Lance Clayton, both of Onawa, he also is this writer’s nephew. We talked about the war and that first night, where a small barking dog, Iraqis with AK-47s, one little boy, and pitch-black conditions set off a chain reaction of gunfire and what Matt called “archetypal gut reactions.”

What set off the events that night?

We had halted to do reconnaissance on a junkyard-like complex of buildings and above-ground fuel tanks, and my vehicle was stopped in the driveway of a darkened residence with a chain link fence. A dog emerged from the fenced area and ran around our vehicle, barking, while over radio traffic in my helmet I heard there were four dismounts (Iraqis) carrying AK-47s about 300 meters to our northwest. They were moving quickly from berm to berm and coming towards us, using cover and concealment.

Line charges used to clear minefield near BaghdadPowerful line charges are used to clear a minefield on a road near Baghdad.

Then, I saw a faint outline of a person standing next to one of the smaller buildings, and, my hands on the trigger, yelled something like “Freeze!” but he disappeared with only a sidestep. I heard him call for the dog, and when a pickup passed by, the headlights showed a young boy — who couldn’t have been more than 10  holding that dog. We’d dropped millions of flyers telling [the civilians] to stay inside, and here I’d almost blasted a young boy the very first night of the war.

What happened then?

4 Alpha, a wingman, yelled that the dismounts had just gone prone, and that one was aiming his weapon right at me. He said, “Kill him! F— (expletive)  he’s firing!” And just as I heard 4 Alpha say that last, I saw two orange streaks zip through trees high and to my right. We jumped into our vehicle and floored it… we were bringing the heavy gun back to support the others.

Sgt. Miller, our section leader, screamed “4 Alpha, direct my fire!” and before I even pondered what was about to happen, a .50-cal machine gun started belching hot lead right above my head. We eventually exterminated them with extreme prejudice. The carnage and destruction resulting from their deliberate and accurate fire are burned into my memory forever.

Can you contrast growing up in Iowa to what you saw it was like for those growing up in Iraq?

US Navy Corpsman and Iraq War veteran Matthew ClaytonMatt Clayton hugs his mother, Kim Berens, during a visit home to Iowa after his return from Iraq.

It was actually really sad. The people of Iraq could and should be one of the wealthiest countries in the world because of their oil reserves. But almost 95 percent of the people lived in total poverty, just squalor, shacks, barefoot, rags for clothes, no electricity, hand-pumped water out of ground wells. That was virtually all the country that I saw except for in Baghdad.

How would you describe the pulse of the country in Baghdad?

There was just overwhelming joy everywhere we went. No Iraqi civilian ever had a bad word to say to any of us at any time. Parents would come out with tears in their eyes, carrying their babies, thanking us for giving their children a chance at a better life.

Baghdad is not like a third world at all. It’s industrialized, and all that was just taken away from them. They’d tell us which schools had caches of weapons and where people were selling guns. Kids would actually bring pens out and want us to autograph their hands or their soccer balls. You’d see 50 or 100 servicemen’s names on it already from other units that had been on patrol. It felt very strange.

Did you and other troops ever discuss why you thought you were there?

Iran-Iraq Memorial in BaghdadThe Iran-Iraq memorial in Baghdad where Clayton’s battalion set up a tactical operations base.

Oil, plain and simple. That was the general rumor amongst the troops before we left. We listened to Bush, and even when he did the you’ve-got-48-hours thing and gave that speech, we listened to it on the radio in Kuwait, and all the Marines in my unit were like “Bullshit.” He was talking about this “axis of evil,” and “terrorists” and “weapons of mass destruction,” and we’re like, whatever. We’re going over there for oil and we all know it. In fact, instead of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” someone in my platoon made up a big sign that said Operation Iraqi Liberation with the first letters of each word in bold print and underlined so the sign clearly read O I L. Our platoon commander made him take it down.

Despite the reasons you felt you were there, did you feel most Americans supported your efforts or did it feel like Vietnam all over again?

U.S. Navy Corpsman Matt Clayton with his parentsMatt with his mother, Kim Berens, and father, Lance Clayton, during a visit home to Iowa after first returning from Iraq.

It felt like the people were behind us for sure, but we really had no contact. We got mail only twice while we were in Iraq. We never had a sense that we were going to come back and be called baby-killers or things like that. Everyone was extremely supportive.

What did you fear most while over there?

First and foremost, getting killed. When we first crossed over from Kuwait into Iraq, we didn’t want to get attacked by gas or slimed by chemical weapons. We had superiority as far as technology and equipment and numbers  and morale  so the chemical stuff was really on our minds at first, but then as we went more and more, about 80-90 percent of their entire armed forces just deserted the very first night we were there.

So the morale was good?

I don’t think morale was ever bad, but we were a bit anxious to get home. After we left Baghdad, we were camped out in southern Iraq waiting for these heavy equipment trucks to come and pick up the tanks. After our mission in the country was done, we were just waiting to get out and it was a little bit worse. We hadn’t had a shower for 40 days. We were ready to get out of there.

What are your plans for the future?

US Navy Corpsman Matthew Clayton

U.S. Navy Corpsman Matt Clayton

I have two years left in the Navy and I’ll probably be with the Marines those two years. Right now I don’t plan on reenlisting or extending. I really liked it except the war thing kind of turned me off. I’m a senior in college, and am going to finish my mathematics degree and use my money from the Navy and the GI Bill to get my masters. I want to teach math or algebra someday, most likely at a community college. I’m not sure where I’m going to go, but you can teach math anywhere in the world.

Excerpts of this article first appeared in the Weekender on August 21, 2003.

Copyright © Jody Ewing

* Author’s postscript to this story: Matt Clayton, like many others who spent time on Iraq’s frontline, has battled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since his tour in Iraq.

In May 2010, he was scheduled to sit down for a visit with U.S. Senate candidate (Ret.) Lt. Col. Bob Krause and Iraq veteran Maria Deike to discuss war vets’ ongoing needs and the difficulties they face recapturing former dreams and lives. Krause — former Iowa Democratic Veterans Caucus Chair — has worked tirelessly to bring to the forefront important veterans’ issues such as PTSD, substance abuse and homelessness.

Although the event was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, Krause went on to spearhead the Veterans’ National Recovery Center (VNRC), a 501(c)(3) corporation that brings awareness to the massive influx of PTSD veterans from the 911 Wars and works with other agencies to provide much-needed services to veterans struggling to reintegrate into society. 

Matt recently began working on a novel and shares other stories on his blog at He enjoys hearing from readers and other veterans and welcomes all feedback. He continues to explore ways in which he may be able to contribute to the Veterans National Recovery Center project.



On November 22, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

Videos and Photo Slideshows

An eclectic collection of slideshows and videos I either put together myself … or news reports and/or other stories involving my family, my work, or where one of us was interviewed.

You may either view the stand-alone videos directly on this page by clicking the photos, or click on the hyperlink below any photo to visit the individual page where you’ll still find the video along with any accompanying story or summary.

P.S. There’s still more to come. It just takes time to get them here.


Iowans Killed in Iraq and Afghanistan
Slideshow compiled by Jody Ewing
Click Here for detailed information about each veteran.



A short “iMovie” trailer I made in 2012 depicting
my family’s past Christmas holidays.



Family Moments
Made for Mom and Siblings Christmas 2007

























KTIV-TV Channel 4 reports on the Iowa Cold Cases website
and Earl Thelander death — June 9, 2008









Behind the scenes at Barack Obama’s “Hope, Action, Change”

live webcast  — Onawa, Iowa, March 31, 2007



On November 20, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

About Jody


Jody Ewing was born and raised in Onawa, Iowa, the second of five children born to Don and Hope (Archer) Ewing in less than five years.

She began writing at age eight, both penning and illustrating her dog-napping short story “The Mystery of Kalo’s Disappearance,” for her four siblings to read and critique.

She spent much of her childhood traveling the U.S. with her father — an ATA Hall of Fame champion trapshooter — and brother Brett, both of whom broke world records with their sharpshooting skills. Jody often tagged along, carrying shells or lugging her father’s 12-gauge shotgun and chronicling each day’s events in her daily journal.

Don Ewing

Don Ewing

Encouraged during junior high by her parents and West Monona English teacher Jerry Laffey, Jody had classmates reading and writing book reports on her western novel Gentry, an epic-length story about an early frontier town’s struggle for unity despite countless setbacks and Mother Nature’s wrath. By the time she finished high school she’d completed three full-length novels, two stage plays and numerous short stories, none of which she submitted for publication.

On Labor Day weekend, 1987, her father’s car hit a guardrail near Turin, Iowa, before hitting the Little Sioux River bridge and landing in the water below. For three days, Jody and her family walked the river banks until an underwater search and recovery team — along with their specially trained dogs — located his body. His death came 11 days before his 51st birthday.

In 1988, Jody signed on as a freelance correspondent with The Sioux City (IA) Journal, writing regular features for the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota “Siouxland” region until relocating to northern California in early 1991. Her first book, One Way: Bumps and Detours on the Road to Adulthood (a collection of essays on childhood and growing up), was published in 1992 by R&E Publishers. While living in California, Jody’s weekly newspaper column, From Jody’s Journal, began running in northern California newspapers as well as some Iowa and Illinois weeklies.

Earl Hamner, Jr.

She has since had more than 500 feature stories published (print publications), completed two more novels, two and one-half non-fiction books, and penned six screenplays, including a commissioned adaptation of Mary Dutton’s novel, Thorpe. Dutton’s novel — compared to To Kill a Mockingbird — was first adapted several years earlier for a “CBS After School Special” by one of Jody’s favorite authors and longtime role model, The Waltons writer and producer, Earl Hamner, Jr.

As a child, Jody imagined she’d grow up and become a famous novelist living in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Instead, she returned with her family to western Iowa in 1995, where a sequence of more detours led her down roads few others have a chance to travel or are willing to navigate. She immersed herself in raising a son with Asperger’s Syndrome, became politically active, went to work as a staff writer for the alternative newsweekly Weekender, and when her son’s challenges began taking her away from work, returned to freelance status to accommodate her son’s needs while writing from her home office.

Shortly thereafter, and based on a suggestion from then-Weekender editor Thomas Ritchie, Jody began researching and writing a cold case series on unsolved homicides and missing persons cases in the Sioux City area. She transferred her college credits from University of Iowa to Iowa State University in order to finish her Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree and add a Criminal Justice Studies minor, and graduated from ISU magna cum laude with honors.

Jody and Dennis

Jody and Dennis

Jody ran for the Iowa legislature in 2002, and has served in roles ranging from county chair to state co-chair for four presidential candidates.

In 2004, she and longtime partner, Dennis Ryan, bought a 100-year-old home with an enigmatic past and took in and cared for a family friend with Parkinson’s Disease, along with his 90-pound Chesapeake Retriever, Hagan, and his Pilot-to-Bombardier-WWII-obsessed African Grey parrot, Clyde.

With painstaking attention to dialog and details, Jody meticulously documented everything in her daily journal just as she’d done since childhood.

In 2005 she launched the Iowa Cold Cases website, which now includes case summaries for more than 500 unsolved Iowa homicides and missing persons cases. In an ironic twist of fate, her stepfather of nearly 25 years, Earl Thelander, died Labor Day weekend in 2007 from burns sustained in an explosion caused by copper thieves. His case remains unsolved today and is now included on the Iowa Cold Cases website.

Six days after her stepfather’s funeral, Jody’s mother, Hope Thelander, was diagnosed with Stage 3, Grade III breast cancer and subsequently underwent a mastectomy. After one full year of chemo and radiation, she is currently in remission.

Jody’s current writing projects, in various stages from rough drafts to final edits, illustrate a deeply lived-in life reflecting themes most important to her: familial bonds, second chances, finding courage to pursue that which “makes one’s heart sing,” and the healing power of humor when persevering against all odds.

Ultramarine Publishing, a New York publishing company founded with the goal of keeping in print serious works by American writers, put Jody’s One Way back into print. Her ‘Short’ — Pull — was published in January 2006 and made Amazon’s Top 10 list in Literature and Fiction two days after publication.

Jody is the mother of three grown children and two grandsons. Her oldest son Bill is an iOS applications developer and co-founder of Simply Made Apps. He and his wife Jen (who works for Blue Cross/Noridian) live in Fargo, ND, with sons Adam and Tom. Jody’s daughter Jennifer also lives in Fargo, where she works for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the Fargo Youth Commission. Jody’s youngest son Rhett is pursuing a college degree and plans to become a history teacher.

Jody remains extremely close to her mother and four siblings, and continues to share her century-old home with Dennis and their four family pets — dogs Hagan, Jack, and Quincy, and of course Clyde, the fighter pilot parrot.