Friday, May 28, 2010

Trial By Combat

While studying in England many years ago, I learned that one of the ways to resolve a lawsuit was trial by combat. The theory was that God would not allow a just cause to lose, so you either picked up your broadsword or battle axe or got a champion to do it for you. One of my favorite clients is a very sweet-natured young lady named Jody, who is five-foot-nothing and probably doesn’t weigh over ninety pounds. About a year and a half ago, I got her a consent decree against her babydaddy, who, I’m told (and I wholeheartedly believe), once roughed her up when she was holding her child.

After resolution of the consent decree, I was a distant observer on several occasions while the two parents would do pickup and dropoff for the little kidster on visitation days. Yes, you might say I was running an escort service. Jody is relocating out of state and another attorney handled the negotiations to modify visitation. While I’m glad she’s going to a better environment for her and her child, I’ll certainly be sorry to see her leave.

Every time I see her babydaddy, even though he’s twenty-five years younger than I am, I feel nostalgia for one of the practices of Arthurian England, and I stifle the urge to say to that (expletive deleted), “Okay, you, me, parking lot. Be sure to fill out your organ donor card.”

In Pace Resquiat

Last week, I was leaving my bank after taking care of some business when I opened the door for an elderly black gentleman who was wearing a sweater decorated with a pattern of scarlet and gray squares. I told him that because of his colors, he was definitely one of my people. He told me that he had retired from Ohio State. I mentioned my father, who had done the same thing and told him that I am old enough to have known Woody Hayes. (Fine, fine, I’m bragging.) This gentleman, Michael Ervin, surprised me when he replied, “I used to WORK for Woody Hayes.”

I got to hear a very good story. Mr. Ervin told me that when he returned from Korea in 1953, he and his brother managed to land a job in the food service department at the Stadium dorm and he got to see both the players on the team and their coach on a regular basis. He told me that Woody was a great guy to work for and that at Christmastime, he handed out boxes of chocolates and ten-dollar bills, which was a lot of money at the time.

I offered to treat Mr. Ervin to lunch, which he declined. I figured that for a true Buckeye fan, it was the least I could do.

Some people might wonder why I tell so many stories about Woody Hayes, a man who died twenty-three years ago. I thought about that recently while visiting Woody’s grave in Union Cemetery. It occurred to me that Woody Hayes was a man who “walked with kings and lost not the common touch.:” He always listened to what I had to say and he treated my opinions with respect. I very rarely got that in the home in which I grew up.

Rest in Peace, Woody.

The O’Hare Family Name

If you have ever seen greyhounds chasing a mechanical rabbit around a dog track, you have seen the most conspicuous contribution of a Chicago businessman known as Edward O’Hare. He did quite well for himself in the Second City during the Prohibition era, but, unfortunately, got mixed up with a very rough crowd. Legend has it that he was an associate of Al Capone.

Edward O’Hare came to a very bad end. He died as a result of a blast of submachine gun fire. A great many people on both sides of the law figured that O’Hare had gotten what he deserved. One of O’Hare’s mourners was his son, Butch, who had gone to military school. Some reports are that his father had asked that his son receive a commission as a naval aviator in exchange for him turning state’s evidence against Capone. I can only imagine how young Butch felt at his father’s funeral; not only had his father died young, but under circumstances that forever put the O’Hare family name in disgrace.

Ironically, Butch O’Hare turned out to be a very talented fighter pilot. In early 1942, he and the Wildcat squadron he was leading shot down a group of Japanese bombers that were in danger of sinking his carrier. For his actions, O’Hare received the Congressional Medal of Honor and spent the next eighteen months living a dream life, selling war bonds in the States. Midway through 1943, the need for good fighter pilots was so great that Lieutenant O’Hare was called back into action. He was sent to the Pacific and died under still-mysterious circumstances. O’Hare left a young widow and a lot of grieving friends. In his short life, however, he achieved what many would have considered impossible: he redeemed his family name. Anyone who changes planes in Chicago will walk through the world’s busiest airport: O’Hare International, and will see a replica of Butch O’Hare’s Wildcat fighter.

Lenny Montana

Anyone who has seen the film The Godfather is never going to forget Lenny Montana, who played Luca Brasi, the hulking chief enforcer of the Corleone family. Lenny Montana had the right build for the part; he was a former professional wrestler who was six-foot-six and weighed over 280 pounds. He was uniquely qualified to play such a part. Aside from his career in wrestling, he was an associate of the Columbo crime family. In the early 1970s, when the film was in production, the head of the Columbo family approached the makers of the film to express his strong displeasure at the prospect of The Godfather being made into a movie. The filmmakers made a deal with Columbo. They would not use the term “mafia” during the film, and they hired Lenny Montana to play Brasi. Montana had never been in a film before, and was quite intimidated at the thought of doing a scene with Marlon Brando. Francis Ford Coppola overheard Montana rehearsing his lines and decided not only to film him in action, but to include it in the finished film.

While the character of Luca Brasi is killed off early in the film, The Godfather was the start of a lucrative second career for Lenny Montana. As I’ve said before, sometimes good things happen to bad people.

The Enterprise’s First Fight

No, I’m not referring to Admiral Halsey’s WWII flagship, nor to the CV-6 or the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, nor the space shuttle, nor the spaceships of Captains Kirk or Picard. I am referring to the very first U.S.S. Enterprise, which saw action over 200 years ago. In the early years of the United States of America, the biggest single expenditure of the federal government was paying money to the Barbary pirates. As any good Moslem who has read the Koran knows, almighty Allah gave the word to Mohammed 1400 years ago that Moslems have the right to capture non-Moslems and hold them for ransom. The Barbary ambassador in Paris pointed this out to Thomas Jefferson in 1785, when Jefferson was still U.S. minister to France. Almost twenty years later, when Jefferson became President, he figured he was going to have to deal with the Barbary pirates.

Having to deal with those pirates was one of the prices of American independence. The Royal Navy protected all British shipping, in an invisible subsidy to British businessmen, but the merchant sailors of any country without a navy were on their own. I’m a bit puzzled that someof the smaller powers didn’t approach the Brists and try to negotiate an insurance policy from the Royal Navy. In any event, one of the ships Jefferson ordered to the Mediterranean was the U.S.S. Enterprise, a (XXX-gun skiff?). As a ruse of war, the Enterprise was flying the Union Jack. One day, it was approached by a Barbary corsair called the Tripoli. The captain of the Enterprise asked the captain of the corsair what he was doing, and the Barbary said, “Hunting Americans.”

A few seconds later, the captain of the Tripoli found that he had indeed found some Americans. Within half an hour, of the Tripoli’s eighty-man crew, thirty were dead and another thirty were wounded. This was just the first skirmish in a campaign that lasted several years.

I see in recent events that Somalis are carrying on that great Moslem tradition of kidnapping merchant seamen for ransom. I’m honestly not sure which is the better solution: to blow them all to Kingdom Come or to negotiate a settlement that would give them the right to sell postcards, t-shirts and posed photos to the tourists on passing cruise ships.

Her Majesty’s Birthday

Queen Elizabeth was born April 21, 1926. However, out of consideration for the English people, she officially celebrates her birthday on the first, second or third Saturday in June. I thought that was very nice of her. I have been in England in April. Trust me: most April days in England are no good for outdoor celebration. Question: on which day should Americans offer Her Majesty wishes for good health. For me, I wish Her Majesty good wishes and long life every single day, especially when I consider the kind of monarch the Prince of Wales is likely to turn out to be. Prince Charles seems to be intent on establishing himself as an honorary Moslem. Indeed, I understand that he wishes to become known not as Defender of THE Faith, but Defender of Faith, as in “of religion.” As many disagreements as I have with the Church of England, I think I recognize the lesser of two evils quite clearly. So with that in mind, here’s hoping Her Majesty’s longevity exceeds that of her dear, departed Mum, the Queen Mother.

Iwo Jima: Two Movies and a ‘Joke’ (Rated M for Mature)

I have seen both of Clint Eastwood’s films about Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and I highly recommend them both. There were moments in each film that made me gasp that a layperson may not have appreciated.

One took place close to the end of Flags of Our Fathers, when the actor portraying John Radley was going through is father’s effects after the old gentleman died. Decades before, John Radley’s father had been a corpsman and had participated in the famous flag raising atop Mt. Surabachi, immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s photograph. Of the six men in that photo, three died on the island. As the son sorts through his late father’s belongings, he comes across a medal with a blue and white ribbon. Most people would not recognize that as the Navy Cross, just one step down from the Medal of Honor.

I’ve always thought that if you want to describe the battle for iwo Jima to a layperson in thirty-five words or less, I would do it as follows: “Any time twenty-six men are awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for capturing eight square miles of some of the world’s most godforsaken real estate, someone in the planning department has SERIOUSLY messed up. “

In the Japanese-language film, Letters from Iwo Jima, there’s a scene in which General Kurabayashi is on the shoreline asking one of his soldiers where he would run if he had encountered machine gun fire. He was doing this to most effectively position his unit’s machine guns. The thing that made me gasp and made my blood run cold was the fact that Kurabayashi apparently correctly guessed exactly where the American landings were going to take place.

What follows is not for the squeamish. There’s one other Iwo Jima story that I heard recounted in a documentary that I viewed while I was in grad school, thirty years ago. One of the speakers was a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima and he related that the one phrase of Japanese that men in his unit had learned was the words for “take off your shirt.” This was because a number of Japanese soldiers would feign surrender while concealing grenades or even satchel charges beneath their uniform blouses as a means of taking American s with them. Needless to say, the Marines got wise to this trick very quickly.

The old Marine relayed that one Japanese soldier stepped forward, still wearing his shirt and the Marines of his unit emptied their Magazines into them. That particular Japanese was carrying a satchel charge that scattered his body parts over a wide area. The Marine also related (he was there and I wasn’t) that a portion of the Japanese soldier’s torso flew through the air and landed on the knees of a Marine who was huddled behind cover so that the Marine was looking at the bare buttocks of his recently deceased enemy. The Marine telling the story related that the surprised Marine shouted, in a West Virginia accent, “My God, am I hit that bad?” After which, the ancient Marine related the entire platoon was useless for the next half hour, since they couldn’t stop laughing.

General Sherman was right. War is hell and Iwo Jima was one of Hell’s lowest circles.

I once read a comment from Gore Vidal that during World War II, the United States Marines had a reputation for not only being brave men, but also resourceful since only men who possessed both of those qualities could fight their way of some of the ungodly messes that their officers were fool enough to lead them into. Whatever you think of Vidal, anyone familiar with the Battle of Iwo Jima would have to agree.

Gray of the Browns

Pete Gray is proof that true stories are much better than fiction. Like millions of American boys, he dreamed of becoming a big-league ballplayer. That dream took a terrible blow when Pete lost his right arm in an accident. Incredibly, Pete kept playing baseball. He would catch a ball with his gloved left hand, deftly switch his glove to the stump of his right arm, then throw the ball to the infield.

During World War II, so many able-bodied young men were in the service that Pete Gray managed to make the roster of a number of minor-league teams. In early 1945, he took the field wearing the uniform of the then-American League Champion St. Louis Browns. Gray only lasted one season with the Browns, but he managed to hit .218 in spite of his seeming inability to hit a curveball.

Pete Gray’s life after baseball was no fairy tale; he struggled with alcoholism for many years. He died in 2002, at the age of 1987. However, there’s no way to calculate the value of the good he did off the field. After his playing days, he was a regular visitor to VA hospitals, where he was no doubt an inspirational character to people trying to get their lives back on track after losing a limb.

p.s. Another ballplayer who bears mentioning is Jim Abbott. Even though he was a star athlete at the University of Michigan, he was still a remarkable player. Born without a right hand, Abbott overcame infinite obstacles and accumulated 87 wins while pitching with the Angels, Yankees, White Sox and Brewers.

Queen of Sea World

Almost ten years ago, I took a break from defending the drunks and petty criminals of Alaska’s Yukon Kuskokwim Peninsula. I visited my friends in Vista, California. One of the high points of that trip was visiting Sea World California, where my friend’s daughters, Erin and Shauna, are regular visitors. It’s an amazing place because there is so much to see and learn. I was impressed with Sea World’s facilities, but I was pretty much awestruck by Erin and Shauna’s knowledge of the place.

I was delighted by a show the staff put on with sea lions, walruses and otters. At one point, I listened, slack-jawed, as they named every one of the thirty-some dolphins they saw by name. They spent most every weekend feeding the dolphins, and each of them seemed to recognized the girls by sight. If you go to someone’s house each week and feed someone’s dog, that dog will be excited to see his buddy. The same principle applies to dolphins, who are very intelligent animals.

I regret that I was not present when Erin, the eldest daughter, got her nickname. One weekend, she was feeding and petting an appreciative pod of dolphins when a female tourist standing behind her groused, “Aren’t you going to give someone else a chance?” Erin replied, truthfully, “I’m the reason the dolphins are here.” At this point, that tourist snapped, “Yeah, right.” Erin politely said, “If I leave, the dolphins will leave, too.” I guess that particular lady might have been having a bad day because she snapped, “Who are you? Ariel, queen of the sea?”

Erin considered saying something back to that woman, but thought better of it. (At this point, I’d like to compliment Erin’s parents on raising three of the best-behaved children EVER.) Instead, she just shrugged her shoulders and walked to the other side of the dolphin tank. I really wish I had a video camera to record the look on that woman’s face when the entire pod of dolphins went swimming to the other side of the pool.

This is how Erin acquired her nickname: Erin, Queen of Sea World.

The BIMM Corporation

I first heard this story in August of 1980, while attending boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. A black sailor was telling the story, but it doesn’t have to be a “black joke.” I have deracialized it.

The story goes that a guy who has no education or training applies early at a computerized job location service and, upon entering his qualifications into a computer, he asks, “Who will I be working for?” To which the computer prints: BIMM.

He figures he will be working for the BIMM Corporation. He then asks, “Where will I be working?” To which the computer prints: HY

The young man says, “Great! That means I’ll be working in Hawaii!” He then asks what he’ll be doing. The computer prints out: BART.

Delighted, he says, “Wonderful! I’ll be a bartender!” He asks what he will be paid. The computer replies: PCT.

When the guy who runs the computer shows up, the applicant is just about dancing with joy, declaring, “I want the job!”

The operator says, “What job?”

The man says, “The job with the BIMM Corporation in Hawaii as a bartender where I get a percentage.”

The operator looks at the printout and says, “Sorry, but I have bad news. “

The guy says, “Well, then what does all of this mean?”

The operator tells him: “Be In Memphis Monday. Have Your. Big Ass Ready To. Pick Cotton Tuesday.”

The moral of the story is to get a good education, or you might be working for the BIMM Corporation.


In English Common Law, if a man’s wife is killed or injured, he has the grounds for a suit for damages for his loss of consortium. He deserves recompense under the law for the loss of his wife’s services. Originally, this was a man’s course of action. I’ve always thought that any guy worth his salt should do his utmost to provide services to the woman in his life.

I once went to a job interview about twenty-five years ago. The interviewer told me about a man who had suffered injuries that included a broken jaw. The jaw had been wired shut as the injury healed. The wife had filed suit for loss of consortium. The law firm defending the cause of action figured that they had to defend their client’s interest. The client, of course, did not want a huge settlement. They set up a deposition with the woman filing the suit. This woman did not know the meaning of embarrassment. She spent the better part of the afternoon describing why she was entitled to recompense as a result of loss of consortium. The attorneys of the defendant told their client that if the case got to a jury, any married women would go crazy. They convinced him to settle for a smaller amount than he would lose in a trial.

The guy who kept the transcript of the trial saved a copy for himself, in hopes it would help him with his own wife.

The moral of the story: Guys, pay attention to the needs of your woman, as it may pay off in the end.

Monk’s Story

In the early 1980s, when I would visit Woody Hayes in his office in the ROTC building, he would sometimes read to me from a book he was working that he intended to title History, Football and Woody Hayes. One of the first players he ever coached at New Philadelphia High School, back in the late 1930s, was a big fellow named Monk and the youngster played center on the offensive line. During World War II, Monk became a medic in the Army and served in the China/Burma/India theater with Merrill’s Marauders. One night, he heard someone scream “Medic!” I can only imagine the kind of courage it would take for a man to run right into the line of fire, following the sound of the man’s voice. Those who haven’t been in combat likely don’t understand the courage that takes.

That night, Monk saw moonlight gleam off of the blade of a Japanese bayonet. A Japanese solder had been yelling, “Medic!” in an attempt to trap him. Unfortunately for that particular soldier, Monk had extremely fast reflexes. Although he took a terrible gash from that bayonet, he knocked the Japanese soldier down and grabbed him by the neck and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. At sunrise, Monk’s buddies found him in the jungle, still squeezing that Japanese soldier’s neck. After that experience, Monk told his buddies that if they were hit, they should yell, “Monk.” If he didn’t hear the genuine call of an American in need, he wasn’t going to come out.

“Badmouthing America” and the Ghost of General Patton

Last year, President Barack Obama commented that the Chinese had an excellent rail system, as indeed they do. I understand that some Chinese trains can average 160 miles an hour. Some of President Obama’s harshest critics responded to that assertion by accusing Obama of “badmouthing America.” When I read those comments, I had, metaphorically speaking, a visit from the ghost of General George Patton. Patton hated Communism and had absolutely no use for anything connected with the Soviet Union. It occurred to me that if, in May of 1944, Patton had had a chance to compare the US Army’s Sherman Tank with the 75mm gunwith the Soviet’s T-34/85, which featured a heavier gun, thicker armor and better cross-country speed, I have no doubt that he would have moved heaven and earth to get his troops the superior model of tank.

And if someone had accused him of “badmouthing America” by striving to get his men the best possible equipment, I had no doubt that Patton would have beaten them bloody with his ivory-handled pistols and put one of his black leather riding boots up their backside.

By the same token, last week, I heard Chris Matthews of MSNBC interview a right-wing pundit who pointed out that, at present, America gets only 20% of its electric energy from nuclear power, while the French get 80% of theirs from nuclear power plants. That strikes me as an excellent question and I’ve never heard anyone on the left respond to it.

Chris Matthews laughed out loud and said in so many words, “You people don’t get to say anything about France. You people won’t even eat French Fries.” I was disgusted. Personally, I have never met anyone who has stopped eating French fries because of antipathy toward the French. (To my collaborator, who is obsessed with Rush Limbaugh, I would say on that occasion that Limbaugh was every bit as bad as Matthews’ worst.)

An Important Lesson I Learned on a Police Ridealong

Over thirty years ago, I went on a police ridealong with a Columbus police officer named Ron Larimer, whose sister I was dating at the time. That particular Sunday, Ron was delivering warrants, as in “knock, knock, you’re busted!” I’ll never forget that at one house, Ron asked for Mr. Jones, to which the young man answering the door replied, “That’s my brother. He’s not here.” He then went on to run a check and got the information that the young man had both a misdemeanor and a felony warrant and we left that neighborhood with young Mr. Jones in the back seat of Ron’s squad car.

Later that day, I asked Ron, “Why on Earth would that guy ask you to run a warrant check on him? If he had kept his mouth shut, he wouldn’t be in jail with me.”

Ron shared a bit of wisdom: “People do really stupid things ALL THE TIME.”

I was reminded of that incident just yesterday when I tried to help a young man get a stalking order in municipal court. He told me his ex-girlfriend was acting like a Kipling-eque woman scorned (not his words) and was threatening him. As I drove him home to the courthouse, my client informed me that he was going to college and intended to study criminal justice and ultimately hoped to become a homicide investigator. When we arrived outside the courtroom to go before the judge, four Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputies showed up and arrested my client on a charge of failing to provide a change of address. (He already had a sexually oriented felony conviction in New York for endangering the welfare of a child.) My client managed to change his address without notifying the Sheriff’s Department, and now he is looking at a possible second felony conviction. I seriously doubt he is ever going to realize his ambition of becoming a police officer, let alone a homicide investigator. Some things haven’t changed in thirty years: people do really stupid things ALL THE TIME.

Places I’ve Been: Malaga, Spain Bullfighting

In early 1990, I was on board the USS Josephus Daniels when we pulled into Malaga, Spain. Some of the crew attended a bullfight. Wherever American sailors go, the leadership does their best to make their men culturally aware and culturally sensitive and tries to avoid situations that could turn into international incidents. When I went through boot camp in 1980, we heard about one group of American sailors who attended a bullfight in Tijuana many years earlier and had almost managed to set off a second Mexican-American War. How did they manage to infuriate their Mexican hosts?

They started cheering for the bull.

For some time now, I have been trying to determine if this actually happened, or whether it was just a colorful Navy legend. In any event, the Armed Forces now tell anyone on leave in a Spanish-speaking country not to cheer for the bull.

I did not see such a spectacle, though I did hear that the Maluagan bulls lost the battle; perhaps they could have done better if they’d gotten Michael Jordan.

Places I’ve Been: New College Oxford (Reverend Spooner and Kate Beckinsale)

Back in the summer of 1977, I had the pleasure of studying at New College Oxford as part of an Ohio State program for eight weeks. I’ve since learned that New College was the alma mater of the good Reverend Spooner, an albino who was prone to verbal gaffes, especially switching the first letters of successive words. I also learned that New College is the alma mater of actress Kate Beckinsale. Sad to say, Ms. Beckinsale’s path and mine have never crossed. If they do, I’ll be tempted to tell her that we have something in common. Then I will ask “Bate Keckinsale” what it is.

Places I’ve Been: Paris (The Louvre and Manute Bol)

Back in 1986, I managed a quick trip on a student tour of Paris and toured the Louvre. I actually got a quick piece at the Mona Lisa from the distance of about fifty feet, looking over the heads of a couple hundred gallery goers. Our tour guide was quite knowledgeable, but at times seemed overly sure of himself.

For me, the high point of the Louvre was when he described an ebony sculpture of an almost emaciated human form that stood about seven and a half feet high. He described it as representing man’s alienation in the modern age. My response was, “Alien? Hell, that’s a life-size sculpture of Manute Bol.” My guide had no clue what I was talking about. All the basketball fans in my group decided that my interpretation was spot-on.

Time Share in Bethlehem

In 1994, I was teaching on board the USS Inchon when we pulled into Haifa for a lengthy port visit and I managed to go on quite a few bus tours. One of them was to the little town of Bethlehem where, the Bible tells us, Jesus was born. I learned that there are three different churches built at the site: one Catholic, one Eastern Orthodox and one Armenian. (These were built centuries before the Protestant Reformation.) Each of the three are built directly adjoining the reputed site of the nativity and I learned that, while the three churches are separate, they have all agreed to a time share for holding services at the holy site.

While I have, at times, been quite critical of some of the acts of organized religion, I found the fact that, at least in Bethlehem, three different Christian sects managed to agree on access to a holy site quite refreshing.

Places I’ve Been: Yap (Big Money and Hard Currency)

From 1998-1999, I served as the public defender on the Island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia. Yap is a fascinating place to spend a couple of weeks. After nine months, it can get quite boring. Yap’s claim to fame is that, for centuries before Europeans arrived, young Yapese men would paddle their canoes almost 300 miles to Palau, to quarry huge limestone discs, then transport them back to Yap to serve as their currency. Am I the only person who appreciates the irony of young Polynesian men risking their lives for pieces of limestone, whereas for centuries, members of other cultures have risked their lives for gold, silver or gems?

The Federated States of Micronesia still uses the American dollar as its currency. It has often occurred to me that if Yap wanted to revitalize their economy, they might do well to reintroduce stone currency as a way of raising money from tourists. After all, if other governments can decree that carefully engraved pieces of paper have monetary value, why can’t the Yapese government do the same thing with pieces of limestone. What better souvenir could a tourist have than a genuine chunk of Yapese stone money for say, 500 or 1000 dollars. You could include a thank you note explaining how the person had helped finance roads, medical care and more on the island.

For the real high rollers, they ought to auction off one really huge piece of limestone that will get the buyer an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Seriously, if you get a bunch of egomaniacal billionaires willing to argue over the fact their piece of stone is bigger than others, who knows how much money you could raise?

I’ve seen some pieces of stone money that are twelve feet tall, so I guess that Yap brings a whole new meaning to the idea of big money and hard currency.

A Saluting Story

I once had a conversation with a woman who had a PhD but absolutely no knowledge about anything connected with military life. When I mentioned this, she mentioned that she had watched M*A*S*H.

One of the biggest misconceptions that lifelong civilians have about the military is that they suppose them to be absolutely servile in the presence of higher authority. This is not the case.

There’s a great story about the Marine general named Louis “Chesty” Puller. The story goes that, one day, an enlisted Marine failed to salute a Marine lieutenant. To which the lieutenant ordered the Marine to salute 100 times. “Good morning sir, one! Good morning, sir, two!...”

A crowd joined to see what was happening and none other than Chesty Puller appeared. When the lieutenant explained that the private had failed to salute him and he had taken corrective action by forcing the man to salute him 100 times, General Puller said, “Well, young man, you were certainly correct in taking action. However, lieutenant, you are aware that every salute rendered must be returned. So why don’t you both start over?”

“Good morning, sir, one!”

“Good morning, Marine, one!”

I recently heard a similar story from a retired Marine friend of mine who had served as the administrative NCO of the Marine detachment at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. The DLI has a heterogeneous population of all four services and the ranks range from junior enlisteds training for the intelligence branch to senior officers who are about to do a tour as military attaches. One day, my friend, who at the time was a mere staff sergeant, noticed that a full colonel in the Air Force failed to return his salute. (At this point, my readers who are acquainted with the guy are already chuckling.) He is a very big man with a much bigger voice. This was even before he got voice training as a drill instructor. As the “zoomie” colonel walked past, my friend held his salute, pivoted 180 degrees and said in a voice which I’m sure carried from one end of Monterey to the other, “Excuse me sir, but in the Marine Corps, we were taught that all salutes must be returned.”

A very chastened and flustered Air Force colonel returned his salute. Apparently, he made quite an impression on the man because any time that colonel saw my friend, he returned salutes at Mach speed. Indeed, my friend comments that one time the man held his salute so long that he had to say, “Excuse me, I can’t drop my salute until you drop yours.”

For the benefit of lifelong civilians, if an officer fails to return a salute and the base commander hears about it, that is a serious breach of protocol indeed. A repeat of such an incident could end a man’s career.

Columbus Community Standards

Many years ago, in the early seventies, I believe, the State Highway Patrol stopped a driver whose car displayed a bumper sticker that read (and I’ll spell this out using NATO phonetics), “Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo Michigan.” The motorist had a date in municipal court for displaying an obscene bumper sticker.

The magistrate heard the evidence and rendered a decision as follows: the verb in question can mean a sexual act, or it can mean a term of derision and disdain. Quite obviously, the magistrate continued, it is impossible to engage in sexual relations with the entire state of Michigan. It is, however, quite commonly accepted in Ohio to express all sorts of derision and disdain toward that state, and particularly the University of Michigan’s football team. Therefore, the magistrate dismissed the charge.

Limeys and Yanks

I hope that none of my English readers take offense at the term “Limey.” The term originated with Captain James Cook’s measure of having his men suck on limes to prevent the outbreak of scurvy. So what happens if you don’t suck on a lime during an interminable sea voyage? Answer: You die a slow, horrible, agonizing death from scurvy.

The term “Yankee” originated with Dutch settlers in New York, referring to English-speaking new arrivals. The meaning later expanded to mean “inhabitants of the six states of New England.” During the Civil War, the term came to mean “anyone north of the Mason-Dixon line.” As recently as fifty years ago, the term “Damn Yankee” was a serious insult down South. Now that it’s been a century and a half, some of the bitterness has been resolved. (Although I did once hear about Lee Cameron, the editor-in-chief of Notre Dame’s Law Review being referred to as a Yank. Since Mr. Cameron was born and raised in Mississippi, he wasn’t sure if he should laugh or cry.)

A small word of caution to my English readers: if you ever see an American wearing a baseball cap with an ornate, red capital “B” on it, do NOT refer to the wearer as a “Yank.” His cap signifies his allegiance to the Boston Red Sox baseball team , and there is nothing that a Red Sox fan hates more than their archrivals, the New York Yankees.

Instead, if you see such a person, simply start chanting at the top of your lungs: “Yankees suck! Yankees suck! Yankees suck!” You will be treated like a long-lost brother.

In France, Beaucoup Coups, USA, No Do Coup!

There’s an old joke that when a library patron asks to see a copy of the French Constitution, the librarian directs them to the periodicals section. When I took my comprehensive general exam to receive my Master’s degree in History, back in 1980, one of the questions was, “Explain to a French family why there has never been a coup d’etat in the United States.” For the benefit of readers who don’t appreciate the stability the United States has enjoyed since 1776, it’s interesting to reflect that the French First Republic lasted 12 years before Napoleon overthrew it in a coup. The Second Republic lasted four years before Napoleon’s nephew, Napoleon III, staged a coup of his own. The Third Republic lasted seventy years, until Marshall Petain seized power in the aftermath of France’s defeat in 1940. The Fourth Republic lasted twelve years (going through twenty Presidents) until disaffected members of the French Army forced De Gaulle to take power and inaugurate the Fifth Republic. Four years after taking office, De Gaulle survived yet another coup attempt and repeated assassination attempts because of his policy of withdrawing from Algeria.

The Fifth Republic has now lasted fifty-two years. I fear that in another thirty years, France might be just one province of a Moslem Caliphate. When I answered Professor Millette’s question, about why there had been an American coup, I pointed out that very rarely had any general motive, opportunity and means to effect that kind of change. For most of American history, the American Armed Forces have been absolutely minute by American standards. For example, in 1940, when the Belgian Army surrendered, the US Army moved up in rank to become the nineteenth-largest in the world.

The United States has had very few close calls in which a coup might have been possible. For example, in the year after the American victory at Yorktown, a number of officers in the Continental Army, disaffected by Congress’s inability or unwillingness to pay them, urged Washington to declare himself King. Fortunately for America’s future, Washington indignantly refused to give the matter a second thought. No republic has ever been so fortunate in the character of its commanding general. Washington abhorred the idea of Caesarism. A few months before the end of the war, there was a meeting of some other disaffected officers at Plattsburgh, New York. They were understandably irate that Congress was several years behind in paying them. Washington had a near-mutiny on his hands. If he’d lost control of the situation, the Revolution might have failed then and there. Instead, Washington gave one of the greatest speeches of his career. At one point, he pulled from his pocket a letter from a member of the Continental Congress. He began to read it, then faltered. Washington produced a pair of spectacles and put them on. Almost none of them had seen him wear them before. Washington commented, “Pardon me, my sight has grown dim in the service of my country.”

Washington managed to diffuse the situation, although he was in an absolutely heartbreaking situation. He knew that for the new Republic to survive, he would have to be complicit in Congress giving his comrades for the past eight years a very poor reward for their devoted service.

Eighty years later, in November of 1862, Abraham Lincoln relieved General George B McClellan of command of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan was a very popular officer and there was, briefly, discussion among his subordinates about marching on Washington. At the time, the Army’s new commander, Ambrose Burnside commented, “I don’t know about you fellows, but I call this talk straight treason.” Fortunately, McClellan had no desire to attempt such an action. Instead, two years later, he challenged Lincoln for the Presidency as the nominee of the Democratic Party. He lost in a landslide.

There is, furthermore, the example of the early days of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration. A retired Marine general, Smedley Darlington Butler, claimed that some business interests had approached him with the suggestion that he lead a coup. The veracity of Butler’s charges remain a mystery to this day. If there was such a plot, it certainly never came anywhere close to fruition.

In the early 1960s, there was a popular book, later made into a movie, entitled Seven Days in May. The story takes place in May of 1974. (I’ve often marveled at the coincidence of an author predicting America going through a Constitutional crisis in the Spring of 1974.) The plot concerns all but one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff plotting to overthrow an unpopular President. The ringleader is a hugely popular Air Force officer named General James Scott. Many years later, in the months before the start of the first Gulf War in 1991, the Air Force Chief of Staff spoke to the press at length about his services’ specific, tactical plans to destroy Saddam Hussein’s forces. The next day, he was forcibly retired. My collaborator recently spoke with alarm about the Oath Keepers, a group of servicemembers who proclaim themselves ready to defend the Constitution, even if it means taking arms against the government. I informed my young companion that the chance of such an organization of succeeding is far lower than his being stampeded by a dinosaur at the corner of Lane and High. I am old enough to remember that in 1996, a right-wing commentator (with the initials R.L.) state that if Clinton won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College, he would refuse to leave power. I thought that, apparently, his writers could not come up with anything good that day because the chances of our forty-second President pulling off a coup were slim to none, and slim is out of town.

As recently as 2008, I frequently heard callers on Air America charge that the Bush Administration was plotting to cancel the November elections and stay in office indefinitely. Those fears were, of course, completely unfounded. I recently had the chance to discuss that same subject with a good friend who served twenty-five years in the United States Marine Corps. He stated flatly that there never has been and never will be a coup in the United States for the excellent reason that American servicepeople would not participate. I emphatically agree.

Yolanta in Leicester

When I was studying in London during the 1985-1986 school year, doing my second year of law school at Notre Dame, I briefly stayed at a hotel that happened to meet a very nice-looking Polish lady named Yolanta who I asked out. We went out a couple of times and I especially remember the evening when we went to see Gregory Hines, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Isabella Rossellini in White Nights. In the course of the film, there was a shot of Isabella Rossellini wearing a gold ring on the third finger of her right hand. I remember that was the custom in Eastern Europe. As I escorted Yolanta home to the family she was staying with, I noticed she had a ring on the third finger of her right hand. I asked her, “Have I been dating a married woman?” Yolanta studied the tops of her shoes for a moment and said, in a rather sad voice, “I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

We talked later and she told me that she had been in England for several months, working on her English (which was excellent.) Her husband and young son were back in Lodz. Back in 1986, the Polish government wasn’t taking any chances on their skilled workers defecting. She also mentioned that her friends told her she was crazy to leave her husband at home alone. I saw Yolanta a few more times, and things stayed G-rated. That is to say, the last time I saw her was in Leicester Square. She was about to catch her flight home out of Heathrow. I don’t know why this popped into my mind, but I said, “Let’s just kiss and say goodbye.”

I did not give her a peck on the cheek. I kissed her about the same way I would kiss Angelina Jolie if I had the chance. (And I doubt Angelina Jolie could be as fine a kisser as Yolanta turned out to be.) I hope my readers will kindly note that I do NOT make a habit of kissing married women.

That story has an interesting post script. I had given Yolanta my address. About a week after I got back to the States, I received a letter from Yolanta. She informed me that in the months she’d been in England, her husband had COMPLETELY jumped the fence and was having an affair with another woman. She sounded utterly distraught and mentioned that she was thinking of seeing a psychologist and, in a sentence that chilled my blood, said that she had contemplated suicide.

I did not have a phone number I could use to call Yolanta. Within the hour, I had sent a letter back to her via express mail informing her that whatever she was going through, her young son should never have to deal with his mother’s suicide. (A subject I know entirely too much about.) I told her that I was certain that her husband would come back to his senses and return to her and if, by some minute chance he didn’t, that men would line up around the block for a chance to be with such a fine lady as she.

A few weeks later, I received another letter from Yolanta. She informed me that her husband had seen the error of his ways, and they were back together. We corresponded occasionally for a number of years after that. I sometimes imagine that if her husband ever inquired about the letters she received from the USA, she certainly would be within her rights to say, “Yeah, that’s from the American who kissed me in Leicester Square. Do you have a PROBLEM with that, Romeo?”

Twenty-four years later, I still relish the memory of that one long, perfect kiss in Leicester Square.

Expert Commentary on The Military Channel

I frequently watch the documentaries on cable TV’s Military Channel. I recently had the absolutely priceless experience of watching a documentary on the training of US Army Rangers while sitting on the same sofa with a retired US Marine First Sergeant who spent five years on a drill field. Every time the documentary showed someone who had messed up, my companion would say in a split second, either “that’s dishonest, that’s unacceptable, he is gone, gone, gone,” or “he’s got a good attitude; he’ll be back.”

In one exercise, Ranger teams had to simulate carrying an injured pilot to safety. One team slung the 200-pound weight underneath two sections of pipe to carry the simulated pilot a couple of miles to safety. My companion immediately pointed out that they had screwed up big-time. The key to evacuating a wounded comrade is to carry them as high as possible, since a high center of gravity makes for a much easier carry.

My Conversation With a “Grape”

A few weeks ago, while standing in line at the San Diego airport to catch my flight back to Columbus, I found myself standing beside a tall young man (about 6’5”) who was wearing a peacoat and whose hair was cut quite short. I asked him if he was in the service and he said that he had ten years in, and was off the USS Ronald Reagan. When I asked his rate, he said ABM, which an old seadog like myself means, “Aviation Bosun’s Mate.” He added, “I’m a grape.” Those of us who have been on board aircraft carriers know that the crewmen assigned to the flight deck wear different-colored turtleneck shirts. Plane handlers wear white, catapult people wear yellow, ordnance men wear red and fuel handlers wear purple. (That’s why they’re called “grapes.”)

We chatted for a bit. I told him about my experience teaching college classes on board Navy ships with the PACE (Program for Afloat College Education). I commented that I hope he never missed a chance to take a college class because life tends to go a whole lot easier if you have a Bachelor’s degree. He gave a good-natured chuckle and said, “Tell me about it. I just finished up my Master’s in psychology. I haven’t used all my GI Bill benefits, but I hope to finish my doctorate when I get out.”

Moral of the story: do not ever underestimate the intelligence of the people we have serving in our Armed Forces.

Chuukese Love Sticks

While serving as public defender on the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia, I had occasion to have two brief layovers on the island of Chuuk. (During WW II, the island was known as Truk.) I managed to do a very brief bit of shopping at the airport. I learned that Chuuk’s most distinctive product is the manufacture of “love sticks.” They are short, ornately carved pieces of wood that were traditionally used as a tool for courtship. A young Chuukese fellow would push his love stick through the side of a hut and the young lady would either push it away (indicating she was not interested), pull on it (meaning “come on in), or wiggle it, indicating “I’ll be right out.” I suppose if she doesn’t like the guy, she could break the stuck, which strikes me as a little drastic.

I purchased a nice collection of love sticks for myself. I honestly wonder why the government of Chuuk doesn’t market that product far more aggressively than they do. I can only imagine what the response would be if a guy approached a lady at a bar and told her, “You know, I have a 12-inch love stick.”

I was only on Chuuk for a few hours, so I can’t say if there is a Chuukese Chuck E. Cheese.

Pie on Pi Day

March Fourteenth unofficially marks “Pi Day,” as Pi= 3.14159. Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune of being in San Diego and I got an invite to visit my dear friend Barbara, who bakes pumpkin pies that are simply not of this earth. I thought, “Me oh my, I’m a lucky guy, today I get high on Barb’s pumpkin pie.”

I try to avoid theological arguments, but I will suggest that anyone who has had a slice of Barbara’s pumpkin pie will have a hard time arguing that Heaven is not real.

Pitch Perfect Pistol Product Placement

For many years, I thought that no actor could ever do a better job of providing a movie endorsement for a pistol than Clint Eastwood did for the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum in the film, Dirty Harry. (“I know what you’re thinking, punk. Did he shoot five times, or was it six? To tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I don’t know myself. But seeing how this is the .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, if I got one left, it’s gonna take your head clean off, so you gotta be asking yourself: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”) I wonder if the board at Smith & Wesson sends Mr. Eastwood Christmas cards.

Shortly before the turn of the previous century, the Israelis manufactured a new pistol called the “Desert Eagle .50” that fires a gargantuan round of immense impact, but dubious practicality. The recoil from firing a single round just might break the shooter’s wrist. In 2000, Vinnie Jones, a former soccer player, appeared in a film called Snatch, in which he plays a character named Bullet-Tooth Tony. He is sitting in a pub, sipping a beer and sitting on a suitcase full of contraband when three young men who are wearing ski masks approach him, waving pistols in his face and demanding that he hand over the suitcase. Bullet-Tooth Tony takes a sip of his beer, then calmly explains to the fearsome-looking trio that there are two kinds of cojones. Guys with little one carry pistols that have “replica” printed on their sides, and guys with big ones carry pistols engraved with “Desert Eagle .50.” He then points his fifty-caliber at them and says, “F*** off.” The trio of would-be thieves vacates the premises post-haste.

Sandra Bullock’s New Guy

I rarely spend much time worrying about the marital escapades of celebrities. However, even as jaded a character as I was shocked at the egregious behavior of Sandra Bullock’s soon-to-be-ex-husband, Jesse James. In my humble opinion, Ms. Bullock would do well to hook up with a new boyfriend named Robert Ford to see what Mr. Ford could do for her. (Wild West buffs will get this immediately; others will have to think about it.)