Tuesday, June 23, 2009


It seems like only yesterday that she was born. Barbara had her by way of Cesarean as Carly was, in med speak, a double footling breech. It is hard to believe that not many years ago she would not have survived.

Well, that was cheerful, wasn't it? It seems like only yesterday that she was wholly fixated on dinosaurs. When I got my first computer, 1998 I think, I used a picture she drew of an orange-spotted dinosaur for the desktop picture. I kept it up there for many years.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Dad's Italian adventures:

"It was a whirlwind about this time and the merry-go-round of re-assignments finally placed us in the 5th Army just in time for the invasion of Italy in September of 1943. I think I already told you we ended up as part of the 5th Army because our MOS was Aircraft Maintenance. Again we were alongside of Montgomery and his 8th Army. They landed on the docks at Taranto and met only token resistance. Monty was able to move pretty quickly up the Adriatic coast and captured the airfields at Foggia which put our air power that much closer to Germany. On September 9th, we hit the beach in strength at Salerno and the Germans made an all-out attempt to push our landing back into the sea. We met an enormous amount of firepower at that beachhead even though the Germans had a big job on their hands trying to disarm the entire Italian Army because King Victor Emanuel was trying to negotiate a surrender and was asking the Allies for an armistice at roughly the same time we were making our landing. We were awfully damn lucky that Hitler did not reinforce his troops as they came very close to keeping us from even landing on that first day. My unit landed on the third day with all the equipment to unload and we were still under one hell of a lot of fire. We eventually got a lot of that equipment to the airfields the British had just captured at Foggia. I hadn't seen so much artillery since the Kasserine Pass in North Africa and believe you me, it was one God damned frightening experience."

"Being under intense fire can produce the weirdest effects. We were off loading jeeps onto the beachhead and Bang! Bang! Bang! three of them in a row got blown up as we tried to unload them. It seemed as if everything they aimed at, they hit and there was something very damed frightening in that experience. We were exposed on the beach and there was nothing we could do. The smell of gasoline and shrapnel from the destroyed jeeps was in the air. Super heated metal has a unique smell so adding that to the mixture of burning rubber and gasoline will produce something you will never ever forget. The guys who ran the apparatus that lifted the jeeps off the landing vehicles were scrambling around in that - stew - and everybody feared that they themselves would blow up with all that crap in the air. Everybody - and I mean everybody - got zinged and dinged a little from all that flying debris and after a while, nobody called for a medic unless they were seriously injured. But those three jeeps being destroyed all in a row really put the fear of God in all of us. Time seemed to stretch out and produce a kind of paranoia and the shells that didn't hit the jeeps, hit the sand so everybody had a stinging sensation in their eyes from the combination of fumes and sand and we were all disoriented as there was very little cover and everything was just happening so God damned fast and in no kind of order and enough guys got killed to make that fear very real. But that kind of fear flattens out and you weren't able to make sense out of anything after a while. But the absolute worst thing - and this sounds weird - but the worst thing was when you were out of range of all that shelling, the fear returned. When we went back to the ships to get a new load of equipment and all those sounds and smells started to diminish, we knew not to relax because we were just going to have to go back into that hell that was on that landing zone. Non-stop activity was the key to not losing your mind and we didn't want to stop until we could stay stopped and that was when the shelling stopped completely. That third day - the 12th - ended at roughly 1o o'clock that night and some guys just plopped down on the beach but others just wanted to get the stink of the day off of them and hosed themselves down or just jumped into the water. But the next day's activity needed to be laid out. We had tons of aircraft parts that needed to be ready to be moved forward at a moment's notice. So we forced ourselves to go back to work until we were ready for the next day."

"We were exhausted but sleep didn't come easy for any of us. For a lot of men this was their first time under fire and this was the end of the Allie's third day on European soil and a partial repayment for Dunkirk. We took a certain amount of pride in that. There was obviously a lot of work to be done, but Lafayette, we had arrived."

"We figured since the Germans did not oppose the initial landing the British made at Taranto, they were saving all their firepower for us. By the time we got everything off-loaded, the shelling had all but stopped. I guess the Germans figured they were not going to push us back into the sea regardless of how much hell they poured down on us. By the time we had everything ashore we linked up with the British 8th on September 16th and fought our way into Naples, the northernmost port city that could be covered by our bases in Sicily. After we took Naples, things suddenly changed and the Germans began a sort of orderly withdrawl rather than their usual bitter end tactics. Since Hitler couldn't - or wouldn't - reinforce his troops it seemed like they began concentrating on building a series of defensive fortifications to prevent us from advancing any further north than we already were. The winter of 43-44 saw the Germans altering their tactics from resisting us at the beaches to blocking the roads that led to Rome by fighting a rear guard action that resulted in the creation of what was called the Gustav Line that ran from Minturno in the west to Ortona in the east, cutting completely across the peninsula pretty much at its narrowest point as well as a series of other interlocking lines that supported one other. We heard that Hitler had replaced the General in charge of Italy and we could believe it. Their tactics completely changed and they used what time they had to construct the pillboxes and other fortifications that we began to face and the resistance we saw stiffened and every foot of progress we made came at a price. And I think what the Germans wanted to do was draw a line in the sand that said , you know, beyond this point you will not go. We ran into major difficulties as we approached those defensive positions in our attempt to move towards Rome. As the 5th Army attempted to move north from Naples up the old Appian way our ability to move became extremely difficult. The Apennine chain to the east of us ran down the spine of the peninsula and those fortifications took full advantage of the rivers that had to be crossed and they flooded the open valleys by diverting the rivers, and of course, the miserable God damned weather that fully favored the dug-in troops and we found ourselves pinched between the coast to our west and the mountains to our east. If ever there was an ideal setting for an enemy to take a defensive posture, this was it - mountainous terrain with the winter setting in."

"Meanwhile, the 8th Army was moving up the Adriatric coast at a good clip and was able to cross the Moro river at the port city of Ortona, the extreme eastern end of the Gustav Line. The Germans were instructed to prevent the line from being breached and hold the city at any cost. We found out later that the German High Command considered Ortona to be of such strategic importance they told their men to "fight for every house and every tree" and sent in the battle-hardened First Parachute Division to engage Canadian and New Zealand elements of the 8th Army in some of the most vicious house-to-house hand-to-hand fighting of the campaign. Ortona was one of the few usable deep water ports on the Adriatic coast of Italy, and thus allowed the British to shorten their supply lines which at that time stretched all the way back to Taranto where they had come ashore in the first place so it was strategically important to the British also. The battle was so intense the fighting became known as "Bloody December." It was truly amazing what happened to the people who lived in Ortona who were not able to evacuate or get out of the way and had to stay behind hiding in all manner of ingenious places like barns, carriage houses, public buildings and the basements of homes that had been destroyed and, therefore, as far as the both sides were concerned, neutralized. The battle went on for eight days and became known as "Little Stalingrad" which tells you all you need to know about how horrible the fighting was. Ortona added "mouse-holing" to the nomenclature of urban warfare to describe how holes were blown through interior walls of houses and buildings and grenades were thrown in to clear the space so small groups of advancing troops could move down through the structures from above and be under cover. Once Ortona was taken the eastern part of the Gustav Line was now in full breach but, once again, the weather played hell with our plans and blizzards on the eastern side of the Apeninnes forced the offensive to a halt. When you came right down to it, there were only three possible approaches to Rome and one of them, Highway 5 in the east, was marked by steep slopes and the continuing blizzards made air support out of the question so that way into Rome was not feasible on a number of different fronts. Highway 7, the old Appian Way, ran up the west coast from Naples and that was where we were stalled as the Germans had flooded the Pontine Marshes south of Rome which put that way really a mess to have to navigate and getting to Rome that way would have meant moving a large number of troops all the way across the peninsula in the winter so that was out. What that meant was that both the British 8th on the easternside of the Appennines and the American 5th in the west were both bogged down by the weather and the obstacles constructed by the Germans at the Gustav Line. That left just Highway 6 at the entrance of the Liri Valley as the only real way to get to Rome but it faced Monte Cassino and that was the linchpin and the anchor of the Gustav Line. Blocking our abilty to advance was the fast flowing Rapido River that rose in the Apennine Mountains and turned into the Garigliano River as it dominated the entrance to the Liri Valley. Elements of the 8th were moved from the Adriatic coast to the valley and the fighting took on a real international flavor as troops from New Zealand and India fought unsuccessfully at the entrance to the valley into January 44 until the New Zealand commander called for the destruction of the ancient abbey that sat on top of Monte Cassino. Because of its historical significance, the Germans refused to use it as part of their defensive strategy but the Allies had never believed that to be the truth as it was ideally situated to look down on our troops. We launched a massive air strike the first week in February and completely destroyed it but this presented a whole new set of problems for us as the Germans rushed crack paratroopers into the rubble and they were able to fend off two major offensives directed at their deeply entrenched positions. As we got deeper into winter, we were no closer to Rome as we prepared for the third major offensive of the campaign. By this time we had 1o divisions committed to taking Monte Cassino and we were still stalemated."

"At roughly the same time all this was happening, the VI Corps using both American and British troops made an amphibious landing behind the Gustav Line at Anzio. The Germans kept us pinned to the beach as they launched counter attack after counter attack. General John P. Lucas was blamed by the British for not being aggressive enough at the beachhead and making no attempt to breakout and meet the German 1oth Army in any kind of meaningful way and accepting the horrendous casualties that accurred as the result of his timidness and was eventually replaced by General Lucien Truscott. It wasn't until the weather cleared and the Germans were thrown into the fourth and final offensive at Monte Cassino and we finally blasted through the Gustav Line that Truscott was able to breakout of Anzio and launch an attack on the German 10th's rear as they were called into reserve to deal with the attack at Monte Cassino. We now had the Germans in full retreat and the way to Rome was now open and we were in position to demolish the 1oth Army when Mark Clark decided not to pursue them and move with the 5th Army into Rome."

"In one of the great ironies of the war, Rome was declared an open city on June 4, 1944, two days before the most climactic event of World War II: DDay the 6th of June. And my sister, your Aunt Ruth, Lt. Ruth M. Haddick hit Omaha Beach on DDay plus 6. She was an Army nurse, serving in a forward unit taking care of the wounded. I don't know what they called themselves then, but later we knew them from television as M*A*S*H units. On the other hand, I think your Aunt Ruth resented the way the nurses were portrayed as sex objects. Take a look HERE to see what I call Aunt Ruth's war."


Friday, April 24, 2009


Dad told me this story thusly:

"Boy, you shoulda seen it! They didn't call Erwin Rommel the Desert Fox for nothing and this is a good illustration of why. Here we were, chasing him all over the desert, short on rations, short on water, sleeping in tents and having to post guards to keep the damned Arabs from sneaking up at night and stealing the tents from right over top of us. It was a wise man who acted like he wasasleep when they were stealing the damned tent because more than one man got his throat cut in the process. This was March of 1943 and we were advancing along the North African coast towards Tunisia near the end of hostilities in the North Africa campaign and it was the prelude to the expected invasion of Sicily. We were attached to the British Eighth Army pushing Rommel's tank corps towards the American 1st Army in central Tunisia. We actually overran Rommel's tanks because he - now get this! - BURIED them in the damn desert lock stock and barrel - tanks, men and all - in an all-out effort to avoid getting trapped between the two arms of a giant pincer movement involving the British Eighth and the American First. Hell, we were in sight of the First before we realized what had actually happened and we wheeled around and played HELL digging the bastards out. The Desert Fox for true! But it was a mess, a real mess. We were all scrambling around like a bunch of beetles on a skillet as Rommel was trying desperately to avoid being trapped and we had a hell of a time trying to tell who was who and what was what. But we finally got it sorted out and squeezed Rommel's Tank corps in that giant trap and, in mid-May, Rommel's tank corps finally surrendered and we had about 100,000 prisoners of war on our hands, none of whom was Rommel, of course, because he and his staff were able to get out of Africa to the Italian mainland where they were safe and that was it for the resistance in North Africa. We thought we were through with Monty as we had heard rumors about General Patton and a proposed new army. But nothing ever works out the way you want it to happen, now does it?

A funny story from those days in the Tunisian desert. We were always on short rations and the Bedouins tried to keep a wary eye on their livestock but one day in early spring, damned if we didn't run across a goat out in the open. There were three of us and all we had, aside from our 50-caliber machine guns, was a ball peen hammer and a pocket knife and we knocked that goat on the head with the ball peen hammer and butchered him on the spot with that pocket knife. We would have shot that damned thing to pieces if we had used our machine guns. But for God's sake - all we wanted was something to eat.

We always had a problem being Americans as part of a largely British army and after Rommel's surrender in the middle of May we became odd-men-out and ended up as garrison troops guarding all those prisoners of war until the invasion of Sicily opened up and we became real soldiers again. We were detached from the British Eighth in July of 43 and, because we had chased Rommel all over Tunisia, we were considered "combat savvy" and were the headquarters troops for Operation Husky - the invasion of Sicily. We were the first force of Field Army size to see combat in the war. The I Armored Corps was redesignated the Seventh Army aboard the USS Monrovia and handed over to General George S Patton, thus our motto was "Born at sea, Baptized in blood" and after we ended up capturing Messina, "Crowned in glory" was added to our motto. We weren't as entirely liberated from that damned Montgomery as we thought. We formed the left flank of the British Eighth but we played a very important part in the liberation of Sicily and ended up doing most of it ourselves and overshadowed Monty, first by capturing Palermo - there's a funny story about that - the General staff gave in to Monty and had second thoughts about Americans capturing the city and our orders to take it were countermanded but Patton told the British those orders were "garbled in transmission" so we went ahead and captured Palermo anyway - and ultimately, we beat the British to the gates of Messina itself. Monty really wanted to liberate Messina but so did Patton because of the stinging remarks the British made about our competence early in the war - they never let us forget that fiasco at Kasserine Pass in North Africa. We got our noses bloodied right out of the chute, which, when you got right down to it, was our first real action in the war and the race for Messina was on! There was a motley collection of Germans and Italians in front of us and the Germans had an ulterior motive in their resistance: they wanted to buy time for as many troops and equipment as could be evacuated to the Italian mainland through the straits of Messina and they put up just enough of a fight to get those troops evacuated and then poof! - they melted away. Patton was suddenly able to move while the combination of the miserable terrain, and the damnable heat kept Montgomery bogged down as he approached the city from the Northwest and the best Monty was able to do was "rendezvous" with Patton after we had already entered Messina and we finally were able to get out of Monty's shadow by our achievement of those goals and to establish an American - screw the British! - an AMERICAN stamp on the Sicilian campaign.

But by then that damned Drew Pearson had told the world about Patton smacking a kid who was in the hospital with battle fatigue - Patton had a really low tolerance for anybody other than tough guys and he always liked to visit the wounded after a major battle - he referred to them as "his heroes." Patton was not very enlightened when it came to psychological problems and when he heard that some kid was in the hospital ward because of his nerves - man, he just exploded, kicked the kid in the ass, slapped him around some and ordered the doctors to send the guy back to his ouftfit forthwith. The whole affair turned into a fiasco for the Allies and public opinion turned against Patton when it was learned that the soldier had malaria. We were never sure that Drew Pearson hadn't made that little item up as that part of the story came out "conveniently" later than the original story. Drew Pearson hated Patton, we all knew that, so we wouldn't put anything past him. What was ironic about this whole mess was that the Germans could not believe that the Allies would relieve a general of Patton's caliber just for slapping around some private and they kept waiting for the other shoe to drop but it never did. Patton eventually regained the status he had before the slapping incident but only after the invasion of Normandy when he was given command of the Third Army. The High Command used his noteriety as a perceived pariah to decoy the Germans. By this time, however, those of us whose MOS was Aircraft Maintenance ended up being re-assigned to Mark Clark's Fifth Army. Patton's old command, the Seventh, ceased being a front-line organization and was used for various mop-up details and Aircraft Maintenance personnel were not a necessity for them. It was like a three-ring circus in those days, for true. We had soldiered with Bernard Montgomery, we'd soldiered with George Patton then, finally, we had soldiered with Mark Clark. There was a big difference in the personalities of those three guys, I'm here to tell you, and we saw plenty of action in 1943 and '44. We thought the invasion of Italy was going to be a cakewalk. I remember what they used to say about Mussolini during that time that he "made the trains run on time." He was deposed during the Sicilian invasion and we opened negtiations with King Victor Emanuel but got nowhere. Italy took the better part of a year to conclude and cost us a quarter of a million men and, as it turned out, our ultimate victory there was overshadowed by the Normandy invasion which took place roughly about the time that Rome fell so what credit we deserved was lost. I remember after the war I was told we missed all the action because we weren't part of the DDay landings and the breakout! I don't think we missed a damn thing because when we landed at Salerno three days into the invasion of Italy we were still under one hell of a lot of fire."

Monday, April 13, 2009


My father bought our first house when we arrived in Washington DC. Our first house! It meant we, at last, owned ground and Dad was going to make the most of it. He planted several trees around the perimeter of the property. The only one I remember was the mimosa. And he planted flowers, lots of them. But what I remember the most were the rose bushes.

My brother Bob helped him on the basement reconstruction project. On alternate weekends, Dad took my brother to the dump and they would come home with all kinds of building materials: scrap lumber, old bricks and pieces of paneling. From all that stuff, he had my brother straightening nails, squaring up the bricks and cutting the lumber into usable pieces to be used as headers for doorways and such. My brother was about 10 and my father wanted him to feel like he was a part of the building project and teaching him about tools at the same time. The only part my brother didn't accomplish was actually installing the door itself - a little too complicated for a 10 year old, my father thought.

On the other weekends, he and I would work on the lawn and the plants. We would head out to the woods and look for rich soil to bring home to create an enriched planting base for the flowers. We mixed the soil we dug up with fertilizer and loam he bought from the gardening shop to create a rich base into which we planted our flowers. It was my job to dig up a trench about eight inches wide and eight inches deep, dispose of the rocky detritus across the street in the drainage ditch and refill the trench with the mixture we created for the flowers.

You may be getting the impression that my father was some kind of a fanatic, an impression our neighbors surely had but to his sons, to his sons he was a teacher and we learned our lessons from scratch and were intimately involved in whatever project he dreamed up. For my brother, the project was the wall that separated the laundry room from the workshop - the entire wall, floor to ceiling, from framing out the doorway to the finished paneling of the wall itself.

My Dad started talking to the owner of the gardening supply place that he frequented. He began gathering information about breeding roses, the darker the better. He confided in me that he wanted to breed a Black Rose, something that had never been done before. The manager of the supply store told him to buy a dark red rose bush and put some black ink in the water but my Dad wasn't interested in "cheating his way to the Black Rose," is how he put it. He experimented with the Black Baccara and Black Jade varieties which are really red but have dark undertones.

He figured that breeding them together would bring him closer to the Black Rose than any other way. He gathered all manner of tools to separate the pollen and used paper hats to keep the germinated plants apart. I helped him with the actual work of germinating the plants but I'm certainly not going to stand on ceremony and say I'm a little bit of an expert here. I'm not. It was my Dad who did all the heavy lifting; I just helped with the scut work.

What I do recall, however, was the pruning I did in the dead of winter.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I found this picture of my father on the Internet the other day. I have been thinking of him a lot lately so I thought I would post his picture. I don't recognize it so I don't know where it was taken.

He has been gone for better than 4o years yet not a day goes by that I don't think of him

Well, what do you think, Nikki?

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I had put out the candles and was sitting in the dark, brooding. I listened to the wind howl in the middle of a God-awful thunderstorm which, although I didn't know it at the time, was part-and-parcel of tornado weather. My head was spinning. I felt vaguely ill. Then a thought crystallized: Why not call my ex-wife and daughter and tell them I was OK. They lived in Arizona and I knew they would be worried. As soon as the rain let up, I would walk to the corner, a little more than a block away, and use the public phone booth.

I know what you are probably thinking. If the phone wasn't working in my house, why would the phones be working on the corner? I think the events of that day had scrambled me, slightly disconnecting me from rational thinking and the fact that the question never occurred to me speaks volumes about my state of mind at midnight on the day tornadoes ravaged my part of the country.

I needed it to stop raining long enough for me to walk that block and put my plan into action. By 1AM, the rain had slowed to a drizzle and I went down the stairs and looked out the door. The air was full of water but it wasn't raining. I could see occasional flashes of lightening but not much else. You don't realize how little residual light there is at night in a city until you are in the midst of what amounts to a complete blackout. I mean, it was DARK. And very very quiet.

I walked up the slight hill to the corner, aware of the sound of my shoes scraping the pavement. My senses were alive; I could hear myself breathing. Do you remember the old-style phone booths made of metal, with sliding glass doors that looked not unlike vertical coffins? The sound of the metal doors scraping against the metal of the floor grated on my ears as I entered the booth. When I put the money in the slot and failed to hear a dial tone, I suddenly became aware of the absurdity of what I had just done. Of course, there was no dial tone! Nothing at all was working in this part of the city. I was awash in a sea of strange images. I could still see flashes of lightening. It was starting to rain again. I realized I was on a metal platform in an electrical storm. I saw a kid standing on the corner.


He was wearing a red and gray checked sweater and wore his hair cropped short. I hadn't noticed him on the way to use the phone. Where had he come from so suddenly, I wondered. I stepped out of the booth and walked towards him. There was no traffic, no sound, nothing at all.

We exchanged glances. He said, "Do you like sex?"

I looked at him in wonderment. How do you answer a question like that? "Yes," I said. "I do."

He looked me in the eye and said, "With me?"

And on that note, gentle reader, I strode briskly away from the young man in the red sweater and close-cropped hair and left him standing there alone on the corner and walked home in the rain. I went to bed, completely convinced that I had just experienced the last surreal moment of a truly surreal day

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Here was the situation as it laid itself out, the first in a series of surreal moments I would face that day. As I was returning from a short business trip to Danville Ky on Interstate 64, I was suddenly confronted by a TORNADO that appeared to be coming directly at me. I was listening to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" on a tape I had in the car but I switched to the radio, looking for news, as I went through a group of survival techniques in my head and decided to pull in under an overpass and figure out what I should do next.
I paid careful attention to that funnel cloud and soon realized it wasn't that close to me but since it was my first experience with a tornado I had to admit, what did I actually know about these things? I heard on the radio that dozens of sightings, most of which turned out to be duplicate sightings, had been reported across the Midwest that afternoon, but since barely controlled hysteria was the order of that particular day, I was ready to forgive just about anything.

My office was in the suburbs of Louisville and it was necessary for me to drop off the company car and pick up my own. I worked in a 6 story office building that was still under construction, 4 floors of which were complete and rented out. The other 2 stories were still incomplete and no work had been done in a couple of weeks. We liked to eat lunch on the unfinished 6th floor as the elevator opened on to a single large room that was completely enclosed in glass and it provided a good view of the Ohio River and the Louisville skyline.

The people in my office were clustered around a radio, murmuring at one another and they greeted me like a long lost brother, home from the war. We listened together for a while, getting no further new information and decided to go up to the 6th floor to see it we could see anything. It was very dark and there was a greenish tint to the sky and I thought of the book "Darkness at Noon." It wasn't quite 4 o'clock but it looked like early evening. There was no wind, which was strange in itself because, as quickly as I can explain this, a new tornado suddenly appeared in the general direction of where I lived, the bottom of which was one large dust cloud, and, as we watched, it quickly sat down on the Water Treatment Plant, scattering debris in all directions and, just as quickly, seemed to lift itself off the ground and dissipate. I had never seen anything like that before.

We broke up and started for home, never mind that I was headed to where I had just seen a tornado. I lived in an old neighborhood off Bardstown Road in an old house that had been beautifully carved into 4 apartments. I had the second floor front. I dreaded what I thought I was going to find when I got home.

The traffic, of course, was horrific. What was normally a 15 minute trip seemed to take forever. I was about 6 blocks from home when I first saw evidence of the tornado's destruction. The stores and houses that I passed on my way to and from work every day were now demolished. A hardware store and a couple of small markets, a few coffee shops and an art gallery, a convenience store and some gas stations and the historic Fern Creek Baptist church, all of which had lined both sides of Bardstown Road were now heaped in the middle of the road, with the odor of gasoline and smashed bananas in the air. The police had set up a temporary roadblock and no cars were allowed to pass. I had to park on the edge of that mess and start walking towards my house.

You could see the course the tornado had taken as the road became clear and there was considerable damage to my right in the direction of Cherokee Park. A tornado has strange patterns of destruction. At the center of the park was an ancient tree on which Daniel Boone had carved his initials. I found out later, the tornado, bearing down on that tree, had suddenly reared up and jumped right over top of it, preserving the old landmark in yet another surreal moment that day. It looked like it had gone down the street parallel to my street, which was Tyler Parkway, and debris was blown into the yards but there was only superficial damage to the houses. As I approached my house, I could see a tree limb sticking out of my dining room window that came from God knows where but that was all the damage I could see. I climbed the stairs and entered my apartment.

There was no electricity, no water, no phone, no nothing. I lit a couple of candles that I scrounged up and tried to assess the damage. The tree limb I had seen from outside was in the closet off the dining room that held my winter stuff - all ruined - and my custom-made bowling ball was shattered. I pushed the tree limb back through the window and thumb tacked an over sized towel on the broken window frame to keep the rain out. I swept up the broken glass as best I could. By this time it was raining hard, a major-league electrical storm, and I had just made it home without getting very wet.

I sat down in a chair and hooked my leg over its arm. I rubbed my eyes. I was sitting across the room from the window that had a ridiculous bright green beach towel in it, festooned with thumb tacks, and trying not to think about anything, anything at all, but all I could do was wonder what more could possibly happen that day.

Monday, February 16, 2009


During the summer of my sophomore year at college I was a Good Humor Man. I was issued a white shirt, white pants and a black bow tie, assigned a route and sold Popsicles and ice cream bars out of the back of a truck.

I had a bank of three bells on a rope with a hand pull that announced my arrival on the block by my pulling on the rope and producing a rhythmic series of tones, which is the best I can do at describing the sound that was made.

My chief competition for business was Mister Softee who played a recorded song through a loud speaker as he moved slowly through the neighborhood. If you have young children, you may be familiar with the song he played, especially as you sat down to dinner. My other competitor was Jack and Jill and he pushed a button and created a sound not unlike a door bell. Frankly, the cacophony of bells and loudspeakers and buzzers more than a dozen times a day as we all passed through the neighborhoods on our routes must have driven parents crazy.

And it wasn't just the neighborhoods I trolled, it was public swimming pools, break time at farms that employed migrant workers and manufacturing plants full of blue-collar guys who just loved their cold ice cream on a hot summer day. My boss wondered why I was ordering so many half gallons of ice cream because bulk sales were handled in another department. I had to explain how I was paying the guys on the gates of those farms and plants with half-gallons to gain entry to sell ice cream bars to the men.

This was the summer of my content and I was having a blast, making almost $500 a week, my wife and I having no idea what to do with so much money. Boy, I' m telling you we were a couple of 2o year old college students living high on the hog that summer . . .

Until one day in the middle of August.

My boss came looking for me and found me at lunchtime when he saw my truck parked in front of a pizza parlor and told me to hurry home as my mother needed me. My father had been in Vietnam since the previous November and, with my boss being so mysterious, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on.

My mother told my brothers and I that she had been visited by the Base Chaplain who told her that Dad had suffered a heart attack. I couldn't resist a guilty smile. Here he was, 45 years old, in a war zone, and he had a God-damn heart attack!

Remember the old World War II movies when women would receive a telegram that started WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU . . . .? well, by the time of the Vietnam war era, we were much more civilized than that.

Two days later, after no word at all except for that one visit from the Base Chaplain, a staff car pulled into our driveway and three men emerged: a minister and two well-dressed officers. They talked among themselves for a second, put out their cigarettes, and as all of us peered through the curtains with a growing sense of dreadful anticipation, the three of them walked toward our front door and knocked.

This was the first time my mother and brothers and I had been together all at once since my father left for Vietnam. Without Dad, there wasn't much "togetherness." My father was the cement that held our family together and, without him there, we were not very close knit. My father had more than 20 years in the service and mandatory retirement loomed at 30 years. In order to get to 30, he had to accept an overseas assignment and he hadn't been able to decide what to do. I was in college, my brother Bobby was a junior in high school and our youngest brother Ricky, was a freshman. He had the option of taking a three year tour in Europe with his family or go to Vietnam for a year. He was a senior NCO and if he chose the one year in Vietnam, he would receive his money tax-free plus receive bonus pay for being in a war zone. It turned out to be a no-brainer from his point of view. He would make enough money in that year to help pay for our college and still have enough for a down payment on the house he and my mother planned to buy when he retired. He wanted to help design and build it. When we were transferred to Washington DC after our stint in North Dakota, he bought a house and built a workshop in the basement. From that workshop, he built a laundry room for my mother and a rec room for the family with knotty pine cabinets on the rec room side of the basement. He was fond of the words "knotty pine." He found them to be beautiful.

Those men at the front door? They were that proverbial World War II telegram.

Another brick in the Wall

Saturday, February 7, 2009


When we lived in Base Housing on Tachikawa Air Force Base we could see Mt Fujiyama from our front yard. Since "yama" means mountain in Japanese, Mount Fujiyama was redundant and Mt Fuji was how she was known to all. We became aware of the adage about Fuji after a while: A man who travels to Japan and does not climb Fujiyama is a fool. A man who climbs her twice is a bigger fool..

My parents climbed the mountain in 1956 as I have the climbing poles they used in my closet. The mountain is climbed by passing through various stations and at every station your climbing stick received a brand, showing that you had arrived there, and at the summit you received a final brand and a pennant to attach to the stick.

My father died in Vietnam in 1967 and my mother, who is 81, now lives in a nursing home.

Memories memories.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Function: noun
Date: circa 1955
: How my Mother used to refer to our Japanese maid whenever she couldn't find a missing keepsake.

In my previous post, I sketched in our Asian tour of duty. When we first arrived there, our family lived in the Rice Paddies, a hastily constructed group of cottages on land 30 miles from the Tachikawa Air Force Base purchased for just that purpose while housing and facilities to support dependant families were built on the base. We lived there, cheek by jowl, with 20 other families who arrived there on various ships that had arrived from San Francisco and Seattle. We lived there for 6 months before the building project was finished.

The new housing was a series of rowhouses, 6 two-story apartments with a one-story apartments at each end of the structure for the enlisted personnel and single- family structures for the officers. Ironically enough, we lived right next to a fenced in structure where the base commander, a one-star general named Hudnell lived. His son Billy was in my second grade class and I was welcome at his house. In his front yard was a meandering creek with foot bridges crossing with koi in the creek. A really beautiful place.

This was less than 10 years after the end of World War II and several hundred people had been displaced by the base and had constructed rude housing within walking distance from the base. They had ingenious ways of making money. They took beer cans, cut them open, producing small pieces of sheet metal which they bent into various items like trains and cars that they handpainted and sold to the base personnel. They also bought solid colored Christmas ornaments and hand painted them with scenes of Christmas and Santa Clauses and sold them too. It has been 50 years and we still have 20 or so of these ornaments as prized family possessions.

The Japanese nationals who lived in those structures had jobs on the base in different capacities, some worked as laborers for the military but many others worked as maids and gardeners for the people stationed there. Imagine enlisted personnel with a maid and gardener! This was a first for them.

We had a full-time maid who cooked and cleaned and provided day care because my mother worked as a bookkeeper for the NCO club. My mother was slightly paranoid and, whenever she couldn't find a small piece of jewelry she used to call the maid a "sneakthief."

I'm not sure if Betty-san was a sneakthief or not but we were forced to let her got when my mother caught my father taking pictures (without film) of Betty-san topless! I was just old enough to have a glimmering of understanding of what was involved in that little escapade.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Forgive me Father for I have sinned, it has been nearly four months since my last post. Jesus, on how many levels can a nice Jewish boy like myself blaspheme!

I continue to lurk and occasionally post on several different crossword blogs, particularly on Rex Parker's, if and when the spirit moves me, mixing pieces of my life when they intersect with things that are related to the puzzle at hand. I couldn' t resist when Minot North Dakota reared its head one day last week and a Commenter posted that his grandfather was a rabbi in that community in the 1910s and he couldn't imagine a Jewish enclave in that part of the world.

Well, it just so happens that I have first hand knowledge on that subject as that was where my family was stationed after we returned to the United States after spending five years in Japan as part of the US Occupation Forces. My father was a career military man in the Air Force and we were one of the first families to accompany a serviceman to the Orient in the 1950s.

My father went over first and that left my mother, a 27 year old mother of three sons, ages 7 (me), 5 and 2 to get our household goods packed up, shipped to Japan, and to drive from Dover Delaware to Seattle Washington to meet the USS Gaffey, a refurbished troop ship, and sail away with her three children to meet her husband in Yokohama Japan. All this in the pre-Interstate days in a 1952 Mercury. Not bad for a country girl from Easton Maryland!

After our tour of duty ended in 1958, the emphasis in the world had shifted from containing the Japanese to confronting the Russians. Since my father's area of expertise was aircraft maintenance, sending him to where the airplanes were made a lot of sense. Minot (the natives pronounced it MY-nut) Air Force Base was part of the nuclear umbrella that protected the United States. My family had spent the majority of our time on the East Coast which meant we were surrounded by Jews. We believed that being in the Upper Midwest would leave us cut-off from our people.

We were right and wrong. The Jewish community was sparse, true, but, we found out, close-knit. We joined Temple Beth Israel in nearby Eastwood Park and found people who were just like us - far from home and disconnected. The natives were sympathetic to our plight and friendly.

This post was prompted by a random comment posted on RexParker's blog that sparked a memory.

Go figure.