Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Benjamin Franklin, Reluctant Revolutionary

If Benjamin Franklin had died at the age of 68, he would probably be buried in Westminster Abbey. Until that time, there had been no more devout servant to the crown than he. The aftermath of the French and Indian War (or as Europeans call it, the Seven Years’ War), several of the colonies had hired Franklin to represent their interests in London, where he spent eleven years of his life.

It was only when Massachusetts’ Governor Hutchinson began to act in an incredibly high-handed way towards the colonists that Franklin first leaked embarrassing letters about Hutchinson’s administration in an effort to force the British government to change its policies, and when that was unsuccessful he broke with the crown.,When he arrived back in PA, he was so furious with the British government that he declared that if the colonists ran out of muskets and gunpowder, they would need to fight with bows and arrows rather than submit to the crown’s tax policies.

Franklin was only back in the colonies for a short time. Shortly after he signed the Declaration of Independence, he caught the next ship to France to serve as the American ambassador in Paris for the next eight years. The irony is that if only British parliamentarians had listened to Franklin in the 1770s, all this trouble could have been avoided. Franklin argued that there would be no colonial uprising if the colonists just had representation in Parliament. Quite a few other American legal scholars made the same argument.

Franklin anticipated that someday there would be more Englishmen living in North America than on the island of Britain, and he recommended that there be a peaceful separation rather like the division of the Roman Empire into the Western Empire ruled from Rome and the Eastern Empire ruled from Constantinople.

Ironically enough, it took the British government a bit more than a century to catch up to Franklin. What he advocated was virtually identical to the present-day British Commonwealth.

“Smiling” Albert Kesselring’s Sense of Humor

In the last months of WWII in Europe, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ favorite tactic was to claim that while the German “vengeance” weapons (V1 and V2) had done severe damage, in just a few weeks they would produce the V3, a weapon that would completely change the course of the conflict and win the war for Germany.

In mid-March 1945, less than 2 months before the end of the war, Field Marshall Albert Kesselring, received responsibility for the entire western front. Allied troops were at the Rhine, American troops had taken the bridge at Remagen, and any competent general could see that the war would be over very soon. So when Kesselring met his staff for the first time, he proved he could smile in the face of disaster. He said, “Good morning gentleman. *I* am the new V-3!”

Melinda and Melinda

Two playwrights, one a comedian, and one a writer who specializes in tragedies, hear the story of a woman he walks in unannounced to a friends’ dinner party. The writers agree to make a story out of it. The movie stars Radha Mitchell (no relation), an excellent actress.

In viewing the tragic version of Melinda’s story, I found myself wondering Where on Earth did Woody Allen form his ideas about the legal system in this country, and to what extent do they reflect American society’s views as a whole? In the tragic version, Melinda is a married woman living in St Louis with her doctor husband and two children when she crosses the path of a charming international photographer. She leaves her husband and children to run away with this fellow who shortly thereafter proves to be a shameless womanizer who dumps her for someone else.

She then proves Kipling right: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. She buys a pistol, tracks down the philandering ex-boyfriend, and cold-bloodedly shoots him to death. For this, she spends a long death in prison, and now that she’s out of parole, she’s asking one of her old friends’ lawyer husbands to help her regain control of her children.

As I watched the film, I thought to myself, if she was really lucky and got a sweet plea deal from the prosecutor, she’d probably get sentenced 15 years and be out in eight. After all that time in prison, she wants to take back her children that she abandoned from the husband she left? At one point in the film, she visits her lawyer in the office to ask how the case is going and the lawyer responds, “Well, your husband has a lot of political influence.”

I am not the comic genius Woody Allen is, but if I were in that lawyer’s shoes I’d say “Listen you crazy b***, you left your kids for Mr. Excitement, proved you were capable of murder, and now you want your kids back? I don’t think so.” Then again, maybe saying such a thing to a woman who owns a pistol wouldn’t be the best idea in the world.

Being a Boston Restaurateur

I’ve always enjoyed reading Bill Russell’s books, not just because of his exploits on hardwood playing for the Celtics. I find him to be a fascinating storyteller. He’s certainly lived an interesting life.

One of his best stories describes how he tried to cash in on his fame by opening a restaurant in Boston and putting his name on it. The first problem he ran into is that the local police expected to get free coffee at his establishment, and he wasn’t having any. Boston PD responded by zealously writing parking tickets for those parked illegally in the restaurant’s vicinity. This proved to be only a minor annoyance. Russell soon discovered his employees were legally blind. Despite making a habit of showing up in his restaurant and watching everyone like a hawk, he was not able to break even.
Shortly thereafter he got a visit from one of the local “wise guys.” Some organized crime figures told him that if he wanted to stay in business, they had a sure cure for his problem. This was coming from guys who’d owned multiple restaurants in Boston for many years. The solution, they informed him, was to catch someone stealing red-handed, and a few nights later, that thief would get jumped on the way home and receive a vicious beating calculated to put him in the hospital for a couple months with injuries that would never fully heal.

The key, this wise guy told him, was that they would suffer injuries severe enough that they would probably never be able to work the rest of their lifer and would have *visible* multiple injuries. The wise guys would then visit the thief’s hospital room, inform him there were no hard feelings, and they had a job guaranteed for life as the restaurant’s loss prevention manager. Nothing like hearing advice from a guy in a wheelchair with an eye patch and maybe a hook where his hand should be to deter future stealing. The boss even offered his services for free. Sadly, Bill Russell closed his restaurant rather than resorting to that measure.

Playing with a Ball of String

I heard this one 30-some years ago and it works best if you tell it with its protagonist sounding like Truman Capote.

The story goes that a gentleman who was extremely devoted to his cat went on a trip and asked a neighbor of considerably gruffer sensibilities to cat-sit for Pussykins. On the first night, Pussykins’ owner calls and says, “How is my darling kitty kat?” To which the neighbor replies “Pussykins is dead. He got run over by a truck.” At this point, the cat-fanicer howls “How dare you be so insensitive? You should’ve told me Pussykins was on the roof playing with a ball of string and fell off, that you’d rushed him to the vet’s, and he was in surgery. The second night you should’ve told me they called in a cat specialist for a consult. The third night you could have told me that Pussykins didn’t make it.” Neighbor says, “OK.”

The second night, the cat owner gets a call from his neighbor. When the cat-owner asks why he called, neighbor says, “See last night, your mom was on the roof playing with a ball of string.”

The Question

The answer is, Yasser Arafat.

The question is, has Ara Parshegian gained weight?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ms. Everest and Mrs. Barbara

When I read Winston Churchill’s My Early Life, I found the first chapter quite poignant. Churchill obviously loved his parents deeply, but his father Ranolph was an extremely stern taskmaster, and his mother Jennie Jerome was so distant from him that he described her as being like “the evening star.” Neglect by his parents was notable even by the standards of that time.

Perhaps his biggest childhood influence was his childhood nanny Elizabeth “Womb” Everest. He describes telling her of his “many troubles” (Editorial comment: Dude, your grandfather is Duke of Marlboro and High Commissioner of Ireland. How many people wouldn’t want to trade places with you?). Her role in his childhood is hard to exaggerate. He kept a picture of her in his bedroom until his death. When he read a quote in the memoirs of William Gibbons, author of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which read “If there be any, as I trust there are some, who rejoice that I live, to that dear and excellent woman their gratitude is due,” he thought of Mrs. Everest. “It shall be her epitaph,” he promised.

1895 was a tough year for Churchill. In Jan his father died shortly before Churchill was due to graduate from Sandhurst, the British military academy, so he never got to prove himself in his father’s eyes. The elder Churchill had died after a long bout with tertiary syphilis. That June, when Mrs. Everest’s sister wrote him that Womb was ill, he hurried to her bedside and was holding her hand when she died. Churchill not only organized the funeral, he paid for the headstone (she was from a family of modest means). Just recently, I learned that the day Churchill died, almost seventy years later, he had a picture of his beloved nanny in his bedroom.

I thought of this because a very dear friend of mine operates her own daycare center in San Diego, where she manages to provide an environment for preschoolers, which strikes me as ten times more fun than Disneyland could ever hope to be. There are numerous kiddies, tricycles in the backyard, good-natured doggies, and all kinds of treats coming from the kitchen. I recently heard that her retired Marine drill sergeant husband had to pinch hit for her, and at the end of a six hour ordeal his reaction was “Just shoot me now.” That’s the amazing part of Barbara’s ability with children: she makes it look easy.

Caring for children is like dropping a very big stone into a large pond—you never know how far the ripples will extend.

Booth and Lincoln: *Beyond* Ironic

One wintry day in 1864, one of America’s foremost actors was trying to get on an evening train in Jersey City, NJ. A short distance away, a young man who was on his way home from his Harvard studies to visit his parents in DC slipped and almost fell into the gap between the station. The actor proved himself capable of quick thought and quicker action, grabbing the man’s shirt collar and bringing him to safety. The young man recognized the actor and thanked him profusely. That actor’s name was Edwin Booth, who was generally recognized to be the most talented member of the family. Sadly for him, after the night of Good Friday 1865, he would never be the most famous.

As a fervent supporter of the Union cause, Edwin was devastated by the news that his brother had murdered President Lincoln. Some days after the assassination, however, he got a letter from a friend of his who was serving on staff of General Ulysses S Grant that gave him some consolation. The friend informed Edwin Booth that one of his fellow staff officers had spoken often of Booth’s good deed, because he was the young man that Booth had saved from death or serious harm. His name was Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son.

Debauchery in Delaware County

Delaware County lies on the northern border of Franklin County, where I live. I have handled several cases in this quieter part of Central Ohio. Recently a woman named Stephanie got herself seriously inebriated at a wedding party, and when the police arrived, committed an act that gives whole new meaning to the term disorderly conduct. She sprayed them… with breast milk. She was released from jail after acknowledging to the judge that she had a serious problem with alcohol (Did‘ja think?)

I recently learned that Ms. Stephanie is an elementary school teacher. I hope she doesn’t lose her job—I’ll bet all of her students were looking forward to the next scheduled show and tell.

Tower Fed

When I was stationed at Fort Mead, Maryland, I did my banking at the local branch of the Tower Federal Credit Union, which is located inside the main building of the National Security Agency. It is in a hallway about 50 ft from the central security office where you will always find an armed guard and every exit to that building has at least two armed guards at all times. During banking hours, there are several thousand people inside that building, and since it’s on a military base, I can only imagine that a very highly armed SWAT team is only minutes away. I was therefore always amused by the fact that on the wall of the bank, there is a sign which reads, “Tower Federal will pay $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who robs this institution.” It’s been decades since I left NSA, but I’ve always wondered what breed of total mad men it would take to try to rob that particular federal branch.

Getting to Know My Great-Grandfather

In recent years, I have managed to learn quite a bit about my paternal great-grandfather, William Terry Mitchell. I certainly never met him, because he died in 1921, thirty years before I showed up. I had known that he’d served as a Confederate officer, and the family tradition had it that he had fought at Shiloh, but it wasn’t until I really started digging through archives that I came up with some interesting facts.

William was born in 1835, and according to the census of 1860, he was not a slaveholder. He was, apparently, a slave overseer in one of the largest plantations in Giles County, TN, a fact that I’m sure would appall one of my politically correct sisters-in-law. He joined the 3rd Tennessee Infantry in April 1861, almost exactly the same time as Fort Sumter. There were 112 men in his company. He was one of four officers. Each company had a captain, first lieutenant, second lieutenant, and believe it or note, a junior second lieutenant. My great-grandfather was the junior second lieutenant. In the OSU main Library, I read a description of what that unit went through. Of 112 men, 9 died in battle and twelve of disease. That’s a twenty-two percent mortality rate.

His unit was at Fort Donaldson in February of 1862 when General Ulysses S Grant commanded that post’s unconditional surrender. Great Grandfather Mitchell was in no condition to fight that day: records indicate he was sick in quarters. As a Union POW, he spent some time in a federal army hospital in St Louis, then got shipped across the country to join his fellow officers at Jonson’s Island in Lake Eerie, where he spent the next seven months. They were all exchanged in September 1862. Incidentally, he lucked out in where he served his time: Johnson’s Island had the lowest death rate of any Union POW camp. I’m almost certain that either on his way to or returning from Johnson’s Island, great grandfather Mitchell passed through Columbus. He lived long enough to hear of my father’s birth in 1919. I can only wonder what he would have thought had someone told him that his grandson would settle in a Yankee city in 1958 and live there for more than half a century.

Over the next 2 years, 3rd Tennessee Infantry fought in the Vicksburg campaign as well as at Chickmagwa. I know that Great-granddad Mitchell had a stay at a Confederate Army hospital in Atlanta. In the Nashville archives, I saw he had a receipt for having drawn pay from the Confederate Army’s paymaster general. I certainly hope he spent that money in a big hurry. The 3rd Tennessee Infantry started the war with about 900 men. Over 700 were exchanged, and by the time of the Battle of Missionary Ridge, they were down to 270. Most, after seven months, said “OK, let’s pick up where we left off.”

I fervently wish great-grandfather Mitchell had kept a diary, or that someone had collected his letters. They would make fascinating reading a century and a half later. Lt Mitchell resigned his commission on Sep 7 1864, five days after Sherman took Atlanta. He did not leave a letter of resignation so I don’t know whether it was due to illness or recognition of the Confederacy’s dim prospects. Be that as it may, I would call that a very wise career move: Over the next three months, John Bell Hood, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, established that as an army commander he was a great charge leader but a horrible strategist. He ordered his troops to carry out attacks that led his troops to a terribly bloody defeat at Franklin in November of 1864, and about 2 weeks later his command effectively disintegrated after a crushing defeat at the Battle of Nashville. There’s a book called From the Heat of Battle to the Fiery Cross that describes how by the Battle of Nashville, the Tennessee Infantry was down to 21 men ready for duty, and 3 “colored volunteers.”(I wish again that there were records for these three men, to find out their motivations for staying on when they probably could have run away by that time). Great-grandfather got out just in time.

Sometime in 1866, my great-grandfather took an oath of allegiance to the Union. I was mildly surprised to see the card identifying him lists his height at 6 feet and a half. Shows I’m not the only member of the family to reach that height. While I’m no admirer if the Confederate cause, I respect my great-grandfather’s tenacity.

There’s one more PS about my grandfather would appall my PC S-I-L big time. As a one-time confederate veteran, and an officer no less, there’s a strong possibility that great grandfather Mitchell might have joined an organization founded in Giles County either in late 65 or the summer of 66, which achieved notoriety not just throughout the state and country but internationally. Although they don’t keep membership rolls, there’s a distinct possibility my great-grandfather may have been a Klansmen.

Patrick Cleburn’s Plan

Now that we’re in the midst of celebrations on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I think it’s an excellent idea for all students of history to closely examine the causes and consequences of that conflict. Last year I hear a friend of mine state quite vehemently that the Civil War was not about slavery, it was about succession and states’ rights.
In discussing anything with this particular friend, it is a good idea to make liberal use of the phrase, “You’re partially right.”

When somebody says the civil war was about states’ rights and succession, I say, What were they succeeding about? When they say the cause was economic, I say, what was the South’s economy based on? The key issue, in my mind, was the EXPANSION of slavery. Lincoln and the Republican party hated slavery but could tolerate it where it already existed. Their platform was to be unalterably opposed to any expansion of the “peculiar institution” into further territories.

In 1820, Congress thought they’d settled the issue by declaring there would be no slavery north of the line 36 degrees. It would allow slavery, but nowhere north of the current northern boundary of Oklahoma. 25 years later, America’s seizure of the northern half of Mexico reopened the issue. Henry Clay and Daniel Webster engineered the Compromise of 1850 that California would be a free state and slavery would be allowed into the new territories (however, as a practical matter, Clay knew that the land in those areas would be totally unsuited for a plantation society). Throughout the 1850s, some ambitious pro-slavery factions sponsored filibustering expeditions to seize Caribbean islands and parts of Central America to further expand slavery.

When Lincoln ran for president in 1860, he made his position clear: he was resolved to save the union. If he could do it by freeing all slaves, he would do so, if he could do it by freeing no slaves, he would do so, and if he could do it by freeing some and not others, he would do that as well. The statement might make Lincoln seem wishy-washy, but we must take into account what he did not say: he would not allow for the expansion of slavery, even if it meant fighting the bloodiest war in American history.

When Lincoln won the election of 1860 (with only 42% of the popular vote but a clear majority of the Electoral College), southern states, starting with SC in December 1860, started seceding from the Union. Lincoln made it clear he would not agree to peaceful succession. Fort Sumner followed, and 4 years later, 600,000 Americans were dead. So was the institution of slavery. The Union still stood.

For anyone who argues that slavery was not the key issue of the civil war would do well to consider the case of Confederate General Patrick Cleburn. He was born in Ireland in 1828, immigrated to the US at the age of 20. At the outbreak of the he war proved himself to be an extraordinarily talented soldier, rising from private to major general in just 3 years. On January 2, 1864, General Clayburn attended a meeting of senior officers of the Army of Tennessee, where he circulated an essay he’d written. Clayburn first pointed out that the Confederate cause was in a very bad way, a fact which no competent soldier could deny: Vicksburg had fallen, federal troops had taken Chattanooga and were poised to attack Atlanta, and the Confederate Dollar, which had been worth 40 cents US currency, could now be had for six cents. Confederate prospects were indeed bleak.

Cleburn pointed out that the Confederate’s most serious problem was a lack of manpower. Again, a self-evident proposition. He then proposed a solution which left his fellow officers speechless. He proposed any slave who volunteered to fight for the confederacy should receive freedom for themselves and their families. After Cleburn finished his presentation, the silence was deafening. One party present said it was as if someone had told a grossly inappropriate joke in front of a group of church deacons.

Ironically enough, several months later, Robert E Lee broached the subject of arming blacks in return for their freedom, as did Cabinet member Judah Benjamin (who had been a plantation owner but had sold it and his slaves before the war—good timing on his part).

On March 13, 1865, the Confederate Congress actually acted on Clayburn’s idea. Clayburn sadly had been killed in action four years earlier. By that time, however, the Southern cause was well and truly lost. Five days later, the Confederate Congress adjourned for the last time, and 15 days after that, Lee evacuated Richmond, the Confederate Capital. Comparisons between the Confederate cause and that of the Nazis 80 years later because they carry some highly emotional baggage. But the Confederate congress’ action that late in the day reminds me of Himler’s efforts to use Jewish concentration camp inmates as bargaining chips to secure his own safety. It’s a far-fetched historical “what-if” to wonder if Congress had manumitted slaves earlier in the war, and it’s useless. Slavery was the raison d’ĂȘtre of the Confederacy.

The Last Draftee

Last month, the US Army passed a small milestone. It is now an entirely volunteer force. The last man drafted into the US Army retired at the age of 59 after almost 40 years of service. He was forced into the Army but found it to his liking: he retired a sergeant major. I have read some 1970s commentators stating America could not survive without a draft. I am reminded of the adage “Truth is the daughter of time.” Happy retirement, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger.

This Saturday in the Horseshoe

Ohio State fans will have to get used to someone other than Tyrelle Prior taking snaps. Over three years, he proved himself to be a young man of positively amazing athletic ability but dubious morals and a fifth-rate intellect. What type of total moron endangers his athletic eligibility by accepting discounts on tattoos? OSU’s new starter QB will be either Joe Bauserman, largely inexperienced, or Braxton Miller, completely inexperienced.

This has inspired one Buckeye fan to an irreverent verse (to the tune of the old Spider-man theme song):

Bauserman, Bauserman,
If he can’t start, Braxton can,
Can he run? Can he throw?
Sad truth is: we don’t freakin’ know.

I was positively stunned to learn the name of the University of Akron’s starting QB. It is Clayton Moore. Good heavens, are we going up against the Lone Ranger? Will they play the opening movement of the William Tell overture? I guess as long as they don’t let him ride Silver onto the field, we’re probably in good shape.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tales of the Horseshoe

The month I turned 56, I had to accept the fact that I might never hear an Englishman brag about the size of Wembley stadium. I’d been hoping for this event to happen and had been waiting to point out that while Wembley can seat 90,000, Ohio Stadium can seat 102,329.The last time OSU had a football game that was not a sellout was in 1971.

Back in the olden days, OSU played its football games in Ohio Field, on Canfield and High, until Chic Harley made the Buckeyes such a popular team that a new facility was obviously called for. OSU president William Oxley Thompson declared the new stadium would have to be built in the floodplain next to the Olentangy River—he didn’t want it to tower over every other university building. That turned out to be the case to this very day. Ohio State’s Thompson Library (named for the president who made the decree), the 20th largest in the country, is on the top of a nearby hill sop it towers over the stadium. Almost a hundred years ago, the 100-yd dash was a popular sport, so originally, the stadium was built with one end open, making it a giant horseshoe. I recently amused myself by looking through old editorials insisting a stadium seating 61,110 would never be filled to capacity. How time proved them wrong. When I was a child capacity had expanded to 84,000, by the 90s it expanded to 95,000, and now it is over 100,000.

My readers from outside the US might wonder what would happen if Columbus ever got hit by a full-blown blizzard in late November and there were several inches of snow with a wind-chill factor of well below 0. That’s exactly what happened in 1950, when OSU played archrival Michigan in the late November Snow Ball. My advisor at OSU, Ray Hamilton, played in that game, and he is still none too happy about that outcome. OSU lost 9 to 3.

One of the more conspicuous features of the OSU campus is the power plant with two smokestacks at Neil and 17th. I haven’t measured them, but a utility worker told me they stand 250 ft high. One popular legend is that each was built to commemorate a virgin co-ed graduating from Ohio State.

Back in 1978, a cartoonist from the OSU newspaper the Lantern made another metaphorical use of those smokestacks. In August of that year, Pope Paul VI had died and there was endless TV coverage of the crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square awaiting the appearance of the white smoke announcing the election of another Pope. A month later, Pope John Paul I died and once again, there was endless coverage of the crowds watching for smoke again. Three months later, OSU’s legendary football coach Woody Hayes saw his career come to an ignominious end after 28 years when he was fired after the 1978 Gator Bowl. In a stroke of brilliance, the editorial cartoonist did a drawing of every sentient being in Columbus gathered around the stadium, staring up at the smokestacks, awaiting the appearance of white smoke to announce the election of a new football coach. After this last year’s pay-for-tattoos scandal, a young gentleman named Luke Fickel is going to discover he has a chance to be a monumental hero or a monumental goat. If he doesn’t know already, all OSU fans want (and expect) is constant perfection.

The Third Joe McCarthy

One aspect of my Apserger’s is that when I was younger I sometimes had difficulty grasping that two very different people could have the same name. This came to my staunchly democratic parents’ opinion when I opined I thought Joseph McCarthy had done a great job. After the EMTs revived my mother (OK, a slight exaggeration)…

To put it mildly, my parents were no great admirers of the one-time Republican senator from Wisconsin. I had been referring to the baseball player and manager Joe McCarthy who won a pennant for the Chicago Cubs in 1929, and seven pennants and six World Series titles for the Yankees 1936-1943. His record of managing seven world champions still stands, though he shares it with Casey Stengel.

I recently learned about a third Joseph McCarthy who is in my opinion one of the great unsung heroes of WWII. He enlisted in the royal Canadian Air Force in May of 1941 and became a Lancaster pilot. What made him truly extraordinary is that he was the only Yank serving in the legendary 617 Squadron, better known as the Dambusters. Their most famous mission came 1942 against three hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley. They were carrying specially designed bombs. To hit the dams just right, they had to come in at 60 ft off the water, flying at speeds of upward to 200 miles per hour, in the dead of night with everyone and their second cousin trying to shoot you down. The bombs they carried were designed to spin backwards upon release, 5,000 bombs that would skip across the water until they would hit the dam, sink to the bottom, and then explode.

19 planes made the Ruhr Valley attack. Eleven of them made it home. They blew up three Ruhr dams. Squadron commander Guy Gibson received the Victoria Cross and a training job, though he kept volunteering for duty until he was put back in at the end of the war when he was killed.

McCarthy survived the mission, one of the few Yanks ever invited to tea at Buckingham Palace, where he received the Distinguished Service Order. Such was McCarthy’s skill and bravery that he made it back to Buckingham Palace on two other occasions to receive a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Repeat Bar (there is no truth to the rumor that on his third visit, the domestic staff asked “You again?”)

I was interested that unlike most Americans, McCarthy stuck with the RCAF not only for the duration of the war but until he retired in 1961. I doubt anyone ever questioned whether he’d earned his pension. I understand that pilot McCarthy died in 1997 at the age of 78. Seeing as he was around at the 50th anniversary of the Dambuster’s raid, I’d say he was playing with the House’s money.

My Report on Ted Lewis

When I was in 4th grade back in the 1964-65 school year, my teacher was a very fine lady named Mrs Abel. Mrs. Abel taught not only yours truly but all three of the other Mitchell bros, which proves to me that Mrs. A did not scare easy. Many years later I learned she taught for 42 years and went out “with her boots on”: she was teaching in the classroom until a week before she died.

All these years later I remember her as an extraordinarily fine teacher. She had us write reports that encouraged students to learn about research at a very tender age. I received an assignment to do a short report on band leader Ted Lewis ( 1892-1971) from Circleville Ohio. His trademark was the saying “Everybody happy” and whose biggest hit was “Me and My Shadow.” Once while passing thru Circleville I spied a small museum dedicated to his memory. What I did not find out until many years later is that though married, in his late 50s he took up with an aspiring actress 34 years his junior named Norma Jean Baker. As some of my readers might know, she later changed her name to Marylin Monroe. If only I’d known that back then, I could have made a much more interesting presentation.

George Patton on Opposing Viewpoints

I’ve always admired the following quote from General George S Patton: “There are people who disagree with me… They are wrong.”

US Marshalls

In almost all great military powers, there is a rank above general called Field Marshall. The Soviets had Marshall Zhukov, the French had Marshall Paton, the Italians had Marshall Bagdolio, and the British had Field Marhsall Montgomery. The only great power that does not follow this tradition is the US. Reason is during WWII, when it became clear the US Army would require a rank above general, that rank certainly would have been bestowed upon Army’s highest-ranking officer, the Chief of Staff, who was then Goerge Marshall. He let it be known on no uncertain terms that he did not want the title of Marshall Marshall. He was given the title General of Army, a rank since discontinued. Ironically enough, the only American to attain the rank of Field Marshall was Douglas MacArthur, who before WWII accepted the title for the Filipino Army.

Ward Hill Lamon, Unsung Hero

Ward Hill Lamon became a lawyer as a young man and got to be good friends with a rising Illinois politician almost twenty years his senior named Abaraham Lincoln. Lamon had the scholarship to be a lawyer. He also had the stature and personality to be an extremely formidable bodyguard. Apparently, he was one of the only men in the state who towered over Lincoln (who was 6’4”). Lamon did not share all of Lincoln’s political views (he had reservations about abolition), but when Lincoln became the president-elect, Lamon became Lincoln’s bodyguard en route to DC. ON the last leg of the trip from Springfield to Washington, only one man accompanied Lincoln, and that was Lamon, packing his suual two pistols, a bowie knife, and a blackjack. Lamon had originally hoped to be named to an ambassadorship, but Lincoln insisted on making Lamon the US Marshall for the District of Columbia.

Lamon frequently was quite literally on Lincoln’s side. On one occasion, some ill-intentioned southern sympathizer pretended to shake Lincoln’s hand, then tried to injure him by using a vice grip. Lincoln cried out in pain, Lamon cold-cocked the scoundrel. On another occasion, Lamon patrolled the White House grounds and found a suspicious character hiding in the White House shrubbery. The man made a suspicious move that turned out to be his last: Lamon hit the guy so hard he killed him. Later that evening, the Secret Service discovered the man was a southern sympathizer carrying pistols in his pockets.

Not everyone liked Lamon. Some contemporaries describe him as being self-important. But Lincoln’s secreatay reported being deeply touched when he looked down the White Housen hall to Lincoln’s bedroom the night he won re-election. Lamon was stretched out on the floor asleep. No doubt with two pistols close at hand. Ironically enough, in early April of 1865, Lincoln, sent Lamon on an errand to the recently captured Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia. Lamon’s last words to the President were a warning not to go out, especially not to the theater.

Lamon was a political ally to Lincoln as well as a physical protector, and he worked on Lincoln’s re-election campaign in 1864. Political songs were in vogue back then, and one verse went like this:

A great good man is Ward Hill Lamon;
Abe is Pythias; he is Damon;
He's the President's protector,
He's his political protector,
Ward Hill Lamon. Ward Hill Lamon.

German Pension Plans in Tanzania

Anyone who has seen either the African Queen or Out of Africa knows that during WWI, the fighting extended to The Dark Continent, where Britain, France, and Belgium helped themselves to the colonies Germany had set up in the 25 years after the Congress of Berlin. In an amazing fluke of history, the officer in charge of German East Africa (modern day Tanzania) happened to have an Army commander, Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck, who turned out to be a singularly talented and tenacious leader. From the first day of the war he knew that he was completely on his own. He got almost no help from home in the entire war and with a force of 30 German officers, 100 NCOs, 1000 native troops and about 3000 porters, he launched a hit and run campaign against allied forces that frequently outnumbered him over 10 to 1. Few people thought that colony’s resistance would last more than a few weeks.

That campaign is just one more example of General Sherman’s statement that war is hell. The fighting devastated food production, led to widespread starvation, and when the Spanish Flu reached that part of Africa through 1918 and in 1919, it hit the European population hard and the African population even worse. Vorbeck did not lay down his arms until November 23, 1913, when he finally got word the Armistice had been signed 12 days earlier. Vorbeck and his men were the only German soldiers out of the millions of men who served in the Wehrmacht, were the only ones who got a victory parade when they went back to Berlin.

Back in Gemrnay, Vorceck was advanced from Lt Colonel to major general until he was forced into early retirement. Although not a professional politician, he was an excellent judge of character: he loathed Adolph Hitler from day 1. After the Fuhrer offered to make Vorbeck the ambassador to the Port of St James, Vorbeck indignantly refused. WWII was a terrible thing for the Vorbeck family. Both his sons were killed in the war, Vorbeck’s house was destroyed in a bombing raid and for the last years of the war, he lived in fear that the Gestapo surveillance he was subjected to might turn into arrest or execution. After 1945, Vorbeck’s family escaped starvation, ironically enough, by food parcels sent to him by his old adversary, South African Field Marshall Smuts. Vorbeck was blessed with extraordinary longevity. He lived into his nineties, outlasting the Nazis and even lived to see Tanzania become an independent country. In the last years of his life he was invited back to his old stomping grounds as a guest on a number of occasions.

There is one last PS to Vorbeck’s life which would make an excellent ending if they ever make a movie about him. Sometime in the late 1950s, some West German bureaucrat pointed out that quite a few of the Tanzanian natives had fought bravely for Germany and that they really ought to receive back pay and, in some case, pensions (there are all kinds of valid criticisms to be made over Germany’s government actions the past century, but they are really good about meeting pension obligations). A German delegation went back and tried to locate soldiers who had valid claims to German army serive (to the German government, I’m sure that qualified as a bit of petty cash—to Tanzanian natives, German army pay with 40 years’ interest was a king’s ransom. SA few Tanzanian men had the documents Vorceck had given them back in 1918. A few more still had their army uniforms, and a few others could literally show the scars of battle. Some very clever Wehrmacht veteran came up with a very clever test. They called applicants in one by one, gave them a broom, and asked them to perform the manual of arms. The records show that every man passed that test.

World Cup Consolation

A few months ago, I sent an e-mail to an English attorney expressing my condolences for the English men’s football team losing to Germany in the World Cup tournament. His response was, “It’s fate. They win the football matches, we win the wars.” I’ll offer that wisdom to women soccer fans here in the US. Granted, every team in the world except Japan’s can only envy the US team for making it to the finals, and I thought we had a stronger team (and it’s my understanding that this was the first time the Japanese team has ever beaten the Americans in something like 20 tries).

I’ll note in passing that my family has supported women’s athletics for a very long time. Not only did my mother play high school basketball before WWII, my great-aunt Hazel played women’s varsity at Kansas University class of 1919. Finally, while the Japanse lady did get the better of our girls in the 2011 in the women’s world cup, we totally owned those bastards in 1945.

PS: This message comes to you from Columbus Ohio, hometown of both Curtis LeMay and Paul Tibdetz.

Defending Jimmy Hoffa (I)

To my readers, I occasionally trade e-mails with an English lawyer. This is a story good enough to share with everyone.

Dear Glin,

Since we both do defense work, here’s a story about Jimmy Hoffa. In 1957, Robert Kennedy had set up a “Get Hoffa” squad in the Justice Department. In February of 1952, Hoffa contacted a NY lawyer named John Cheasty who was ex-Navy and secret service. Hoffa told Cheasty that if Cheasty would report on RFK’s activities, he would pay him $2,000 a month for a whole year. Hoffa had misjudged Cheasty’s character: he immediately reported the bribery attempt, and Kennedy gave him a position on the squad. Hoffa thought Cheasty was his mole, when in reality, Cheasty was RFK’s mole.

The conversations had been both recorded and filmed. Cheasty arranged a meeting with Hoffa from which Hoffa was led away from Dupont Circle in handcuffs. When Kennedy was asked what he’d do if Hoffa was acquitted, he responded he’d never consider the possibility in such an airtight case, but if it did happen, he’d “jump off the Capitol building.”

So tell me Glin, how would you defend that case?

PS: When Hoffa’s attorney Edwin Bennet Williams got Hoffa off an all accounts, he sent RFK a parachute.

Strawberries at Kroger’s

I recently picked up a package of strawberries at Kroeger’s and managed to do so without any drama. Later that same day, I learned that back in 1932, there was a Kroeger’s in Detroit that employed “strawberry boys” at 32 cents an hour and paid them if, and only if, any strawberries arrived and could be unloaded. They were required to be on the job at 4:30 in the morning, and were not allowed to leave the loading dock for twelve hours. No strawberries, no pay, and almost three-quarters of their pay had to be used to buy Kroeger’s groceries.

That changed dramatically one hot spring morning when a nineteen year old kid showed up and organized the strawberry boys into demanding four hours’ guaranteed pay. Kroeger’s management feared that if they didn’t get their shipment unloaded immediately, it would spoil, giving the store a major loss. That nineteen year old kid was named Jimmy Hoffa, and it was the first of his battles as a labor organizer. It was not his last.

Is Murdoch Finished?

I had occasion to listen to some of Rupert Murdoch’s testimony before the Parliamentary committee and I thought to myself, This guy has had an extraordinary run in recent decades, and I think he’s had more influence on journalism throughout the world since anyone since William Randolph Hearst. Now, however, he expects us to believe that neither he nor his son knew anything about editors making large pay-offs to police to information. Anyone who reads this is entitled to their own opinion, but I don’t think Murdoch will ever be perceived again as the fear-inspiring colossus he once was.

Amy Winehouse

While Amy Winehouse was alive, every time I heard her singing, I would say to myself, “Get yourself to rehab, girl, yes, *yes*, YES.” Now that she’s dead, I just don’t have it in me to make any jokes about a talented young woman who died a lingering death from a terrible disease. I do, however, wonder who’s going to be the next good-looking corpse in show business, and I wonder why there’s not a Las Vegas betting line on whether or not Charlie Sheen will outlive Lindsay Lohan.

Deja *What*?

Shortly after Congressman Andrew Weiner was forced to resign in disgrace after sending out embarrassing pictures of himself on the Internet, a second Democratic congressman, David Wu of California, has also resigned after sending photos of himself in a tiger suit. Am I the only person who is suffering from a serious case of Deja Wu?

General Eaker’s Speech

Lieutenant General Ira Eaker was the first commander of the US Army’s 8th Air Force. When he arrived in Great Britain, he gave a speech which must have been a source of great relief to anyone who feared overblown oratory. He stepped up to the podium and said, “We’re not going to do much talking until we’ve done a lot more fighting. We hope that while we’re here we’ll act so that you’re glad we came.” Period. End of speech. If brevity is the soul of wit, then General Eaker is a soulful man.

I Saw Elvis on the Road to Jerusalem

While taking a bus tour from Haifa to Jerusalem several years back, we made a stop at the Neve Ilan exit, where I discovered that there is an Israeli gentleman who is such a devoted fan of Elvis Presley that he constructed a diner filled entirely with Elvis memorabilia and where Elvis songs are played at all hours. The parking lot features a larger-than-life statue of Elvis itself. I guess that’s just one more indication of American pop culture worldwide.

Yertle… and Kellan

When I was in the Navy two of my dearest friends were a couple named Mark and Barabara whose first child was a beautiful and rambunctious girl named Erin Nicole. From the first day I met Erin, I enjoyed being an honorary uncle and often got her children’s books. Then I’d stick around to hear Erin’s mom read them (Barbara has an amazingly sweet, soothing reading voice). Several years later, I saw my old friends again in San Diego. I’d been at sea for almost the entire last ten months, and seeing Mark, Barbara, and their now trio of kidsters, Erin Nicole (by then a precocious six-year-old), Seana Christine (almost three at the time), and Bryant Edward (4 months). I had the immense pleasure of hearing those kids’ dad read Yertle the Turtle by Dr Seuss as a bedtime story. I ask you, how many people have had the pleasure of hearing a US Marine read aloud a Dr. Seuss story?

“On the faraway island of Sala-ma-Sond,
Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond.”

For those of you who don’t remember, Yertle’s downfall is that he wants all the other turtles to form a turtle pyramid so he can see more and rule more.

I must say, dear old Dad gave an amazing performance reading the parts of old Yertle and the underling Mack. I thought to myself, the young Marine recruits in his charge would believe neither their eyes or their ears.

That was an extremely tough act to follow, but I had the immense pleasure of being guest reader of the story of Gertrude McFuzz.

“There once was a girl bird named Gertrude McFuzz
Who had the plainest bird-tail there was…”

Even twenty-some years later, I remember Erin Nicole giggling as I read. I thought if giggling was an Olympic event, she would certainly win multiple gold medals. I’m amazed how that experience stays with me more than two decades later. Erin and Seana are both college graduates now, and Seana has completed her first year of veterinary school at UC Davis. Bryant Edward, the tiny little fellow I remember Mom picking up and putting in his stroller, is about to graduate from college. He towers over not only me, but his dear old dad as well. If I want to be in a good place in my head, I put this memory on repeat.

Last month, my wonderful typist Marie Flynn got some very scary news: her four year old granddaughter Kallen had to go in for extensive open-heart surgery. Happily enough, it appears the doctors knew exactly what they were doing, though Kallen will have to go through a lengthy period of rest and recuperation. Having your entire sternum cut down the middle has got to be awfully rough on anyone of any age, much less a girl who is not quite ready for preschool. When I got the news, I thought about it for a bit and then gave Marie a copy of Yertle the Turtle and three other Dr Seuss books. I hope that will do something to lift her granddaughter’s spirits.

I will now pronounce two great lessons of life: 1) never miss a chance to read Dr Seuss to a little kid and 2) never miss a chance to get a copy of one of Dr Seuss’s books for a sick child.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An Illinois Joke

Q: What did one Illini prison inmate say to the other?

A: I think the food was better in here when you were governor.

Of Illinois’ last 7 governors, 4 of them have done time in prison. That’s 3 Democrats and 1 Republican, if anyone’s keeping score.

Pink Ribbons and Jean’s Opinion

Last year at the Ohio State spring football game, I was surprised to see the players were wearing not OSU’s traditional scarlet and grey, but pink and grey in honor of Stephanie Spielman. For the benefit of anyone not from Columbus, Ohio, Stephanie was an extraordinary lady whose husband Chris was an All-American linebacker at OSU who lasted more than a decade in the NFL. I wouldn’t say that it’s illegal to speak ill of the Speilmans in Ohio, but it’s simply not done.

Back in 1998, Stephanie was diagnosed with breast cancer and got treatment at the James Institute on campus at Ohio State, one of the nation’s finest cancer institutions. I remember meeting Stephanie and Chris once. Stephanie had lost her hair from chemotherapy, and Chris had shaved his head for moral support. Both spent a whole lot of time raising money for breast cancer research. Sadly, early last year, Stephanie’s breast cancer recurred and, despite the best possible treatment, she died early last spring. She left a husband and four teenage children. Stephanie Speilman certainly has left a fine legacy. There’s no one in central Ohio who’s ever raised money for breast cancer who doesn’t know who she is.

There’s a great deal of publicity about breast cancer treatment, with pink ribbons everywhere. A controversy surrounding the publicity is the slogan “Save the Tatas,” a marketing campaign directed towards the raunchier side of men. It occurred to me when I first saw this motto that some guys just *have* to do the right thing for the wrong reason. I once read a column wherein the writer claims the motto demeans both the women who suffer from breast cancer and the men who care for them.

After giving the matter some thought, I called my friend Jean from law school and asked for her opinion. She is certainly entitled to have one, since ten years ago she was afflicted with breast cancer herself. She told me she thought “Save the Tatas” was just plain funny. So I’ll differ to Jean on that question.

To all of my women friends, I sincerely hope Jean is the only one I will ever have who is ever *that* qualified to express an opinion on breast cancer.

Katarina Witt

I always admired Katarina Witt’s beauty and athleticism as she won a gold medal in the Winter Olympics back in 1984. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate Witt’s wit as well.
An apocryphal story has it that Donald Trump once offered Ms. Witt his private phone number, which she declined. Thoroughly miffed, the story goes, Trump told her that *no one* had ever refused his number before. To which Ms. Witt is supposed to have replied, “Well somebody has to set the trend.”

I don’t know if that story is true, but I’d like to think it is. Perhaps we can start calling her the Red Baroness for shooting Donald down in flames.

If I ever meet that particular Olympian beauty, I’ll say to her, “Katarina, I’ve been shot down by every beautiful woman I’ve ever talked to. Wand to set a new trend?”

The Wit of Nellie Gwin

Ms. Gwin was one of Charles II’s mistresses. Rumor has it that Charles’ last words were, “Let not poor Nellie starve.” Charles II is perhaps the wittiest monarch Great Britain ever had. One of his critics, John Wilmot, wrote of him:

"We have a pretty witty king
Whose word no man relies on
He never said a foolish thing
or ever did a wise one"

Charles responded, "That is very true, for my words are my own, but my acts, my ministers'.”

Apparently, Ms. Gwin’s wit made her a good match for Charles. Popular legend has it that once, when a heckler called her a whore, her coachman attacked the foul-mouthed scalawag and was in the process of giving him a beating when Nellie descended from her carriage and said, “I am a whore, find something else to fight about!” No wonder she got a pension of 1500 pounds after Charles’ death.

Crank Yankers’ Best

When I spent a year in London back in the mid-80s, one of my all-time favorites was the BBC show “Spitting Image,” which was a brilliantly savage satire on all manner of public figures using puppets that, after a while, looked more like the people they were satirizing than the people themselves.

There was a short-lived American take on this show that I was fond of. Apparently a lot of people aren’t familiar with the Comedy Central show Crank Yankers, which uses puppets to portray people involved in prank phone calls. My favorite involved a young woman who called into a strip club and pretended to inquire about a job. After informing the management of her measurements, she told them there was one catch: after a glitter-mascara accident, she was completely blind. She knew this would not be a problem, because she had trained her seeing-eye dog, a German Shepherd named Busch, to go from table to table collecting tips! She went on to explain that she would do just fine as long as the bar did not use strobe lighting, because strobe lights made Butch go ballistic. The management finally began to get suspicious when she threatened them with a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Columbo, Petrovich, and Socrates

I was saddened a few weeks ago to hear about the death of Peter Falk. He did some excellent comedies (check out him and Alan Arkin in The In-Laws), but he was always be remembered as the slovenly, disheveled homicide detective Lt. Columbo. In every episode of the show that bore his name, Columbo investigated murders committed by brilliant people who thought they had committed the perfect crime. At first, the lieutenant seems to be a totally bumbling buffoon, but bit by bit by bit by bit by bit, he methodically destroy their alibis and subterfuges, almost always using his famous tagline “Oh… there’s just one more thing.” (A great clip of him investigating real-life friend John Casavettes can be found here).

I recently read a review of a television production of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in which the reviewer contemptuously derided the portrayal of the inspector as being a “second-rate Columbo.” I laughed out loud. I once read an article by William Link, one of the creators of Columbo. He said he’d been inspired by Dostoevsky’s work from the 19th century, particularly the investigator Porfiry Petrovich from the novel—you guessed it—Crime and Punishment.
If that’s not enough self-reference for you, one commentator pointed out that both Columbo and the other inspector have a forebearer dating back to earliest antiquity: Both use a method originated by Socrates in classical Athens in the 5th century BC.

A Bit of Good News on the Historical Front

As a lifelong student of history, I am frequently exasperated by young people’s ignorance of my favorite topic. I was therefore absolutely delighted when my current collaborator William Hallal, a recent graduate of Ohio State, told me that his sophomore history teacher held a trial in his class over who was the more evil man: Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. I don’t want to try to decide the issue; however, I believe it’s essential for any educated person learn about the evil of both of those regimes. So kudos to Mr. Hallal and to Mrs. Emerson.

Happy Birthday, Baron von Steuben

Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steubenwas born 28- years ago in Madgeburg, Germany. Though he served in the armies of Frederick the Great, he was not, as he claimed to Goerge Washington, a former brigadier general—he never reached a rank higher than captain. He was, however, a superior troop trainer. When he arrived in Valley Forge in 1778, Washington put him in charge of training his soldiers. Steuben set to work training 100 carefully selected men and trained them to, in turn, be trainers. After they’d completed Steuben’s program, each of them was assigned 100 men, and by the springtime, the Continental Army was a completely different organization than it had been in the fall. The moral of the story (as I’m sure a friend of mine who’s a retired Marine D.I., whill appreciate), is never underestimate the impact of what one good drill instructor can accomplish.

Son of David

There’s one bit of history of the British Royal Family that has always intrigued me: Mary Queen of Scots was a red-headed, blue-eyed beauty who stood 5’11”. Average height was a lot shorter then than it is today (paging Nicole Kidman!). Her second husband Lord Darnley, before his unsolved murder, was well over 6 feet. Her secretary David Rizzio was an Italian fellow who was short and swarthy (before his unsolved murder). Her son, James I of England (James VI of Scotland) had dark hair and eyes, and was hardly 5’ tall.

When James came to the throne of England after Elizabeth I’s death in 1863, he rapidly established himself as a wise, scholarly man. It was his idea to produce a translation of the Bible available to anyone who could read. The King James Bible stands as a testament to his reign almost 4 centuries after his death. James’ reputation for scholarship was such that some people referred to him as the Solomon of England.

King Louis of France’s rejoinder was, “Well might he be called Solomon, for he is the son of David.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

1942: Christmas on Guadacanal

When WWII broke out, Barney Ross could have gotten himself a cushy PR gig with any of the services, but he wasn’t buying any. He retired from boxing at the ripe old age of ’32 and enlisted, volunteering for the USMC. Early in his service, his military career hit a major bump: some ill-intentioned Marine NCO had the temerity to make a nasty anti-Semitic remark to Ross’ face. Ross cold-cocked him. He was in danger of being court-martialed when a member of the board pointed out to his colleagues that this could give the Marines a public relations black eye. Ross was given the choice of either facing a court martial or shipping out with the first marine division. He eagerly volunteered for the latter.

By the end of 1942, he was seeing combat on Guadacanal. In one instance, he and his section of three other marines were ambushed, and all four of them were hit. Ross was the only one still capable of fighting back, and fight back he did. He used both his own weapons and the weapons of his fallen comrades until enemy fire ceased, then dragged his one surviving companion back to American lines for treatment (though the fellow outweighed him by 90 lbs).

The next day, a Marine patrol sent out to investigate discovered the bodies of Ross’ two other squad mates along with about two dozen dead Japanese. For his actions that day, Barney Ross received the Silver Star, the US Military’s 3rd highest decoration.

However, before he was medically evacuated from Guada Canal, Ross became part of Marine Corps legend. While on Guada Canal, he had become good friends with a Catholic priest, Father Frederick Gehring, who asked him to help out with the Christmas show he was putting on for the marines. This is a story which no Hollywood screenwriter would dare make up. Amongst his inventory of chaplain supplies, Fr Gehring discovered he’d been shipped a pipe organ, and he soon learned that the only competent organist on the island was none other than Barney Ross. So, striking a blow for American ecumenicalism, a Jew was the featured entertainer at the 1942 Guadacanal Christmas pageant.

This really makes me wonder what was going on at the Rosofsky house. Would he come home bloody from a street fight and then his mom would make him practiced the organ, or did the local boys taunt him so much about playing the organ that he demonstrated he could play with his fists as well?

In another note Hollywood would not dare imagine, after Ross had played his full repertoire of Christmas songs, Fr Gehring prevailed upon him to play one from his own tradition. Sp Barney Ross played his personal favorite, “My Yiddish Mama.” The US Marines have a thoroughly well-deserved reputation as extremely tough customers. However, guys there said years later that by the time Ross finished playing, there was not a dry eye in the house.

After returning to the States and being decorated personally by President Roosevelt, Ross found he had to face an even tougher opponent than he’d faced either in the ring or the battlefield: his wounds were so severe that he became addicted to morphine, which led to heroin addiction. He managed to make it to a rehab center, which saved his life.

Barney Ross only lived to be 57. In the last years of his life, he was a speaker to high schools about the dangers of drug addiction. To me it seems Ross got not just a second act in life, but a third one as well.

Dove-Ber Rosofsky

F Scott Fitzgerald once said there are no second acts in American lives. He must never heard of Dove-Ber Rasofsky. Dove-ver, or Earl, was born in Chicago in 1909. His parents were Russian Jews who fled the pogroms Brest-Litosvst. His father was a Talmudic scholar and rabbi who had to operate a small vegetable store to support his wife and four children. In later years, his eldest son would recall that his father always urged him to be a scholar rather than a fighter and even told him, “Jews don’t fight back.” Doe-ver never, and I do mean never, got with the program on not fighting back. As he grew up, he proved to be extremely good with his fists.

In 1924, when Earl was still in his teens, life handed him an extremely bad break. His father was shot and killed when some thugs robbed his vegetable store. His mother had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized, and Dove-Ver’s three younger siblings, Ida, Sam, and George, were all placed in an orphanage. Dove-ver decided he wanted his family back. At that point in his life, he was running with a *really* rough crowd, including a childhood friend named Jack Rubenstein who later shortened his name to Jack Ruby and moved off to Dallas, where everybody heard of him Nov 24, 1964.

It’s not clear exactly how deep his involvement was, but Dove-Ver knew some guys who knew Al Capone. Fortunately, he chose to make a living in an honest, but extremely tough game after making some success as an amateur fighter.

Even as an adult he was only 5’7” and his fighting weight was between 130-140 lbs. He was not a big man, but he could scrap. ,In September of 1929, two months before his 20th birthday, Dove-Ver started fighting professionally under the name of Barney Ross. Three and a half years later, he was lightweight champion of the world. By the time he hung up the gloves after 10 years as a professional fighter, he had 79 fights with 72 wins and only 4 losses. Nobody ever knocked him out. He’d won two world championship belts as a lightweight and a welterweight, and he succeeded in reuniting his family.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Salute to Lance Corporal Ainsworth

This past June 12 marked the 90th birthday of one of the unsung heroes of the Battle of Normandy. 67 years ago, a young man named Ainsworth went ashore in Normandy as part of the East Lancaster Regiment. He was not destined for high command—he made lance corporal twice and private on three occasions. However, as anyone with any knowledge of military history knows, it takes *all* kinds of people to win an award.

Ainsworth was a big man and a very talented amateur boxer. His greatest contribution to the war effort may have been his extraordinary gift for sneaking up behind German soldiers and capturing them. The fact he grabbed guys and took them back alive no doubt made him popular with his battalion’s intelligence section. I'm not sure exactly how many he captured, but it was enough to make him famous within his batalion for it. If you want to know how good he was, consider this: he’s still alive more than 66 years after the war ended. Need I say more?

Before the end of the Normandy campaign, his luck ran out: a blast from an artillery shell injured him badly enough to get him discharged from the Royal Army. Of course, in combat, luck is a relative thing: I’ve heard that he and the company cook were just about the only survivors of that outfit.

I once saw a picture of the senior Mr. Ainswroth with his late wife. I noticed two arms, two legs, no eye patch. He had a career teaching school, and he fathered three children. I thought to myself, Well, apparently the Krauts did not hit anything too important. In the US armed forces, any injury serious enough to get one out of combat but not cripple you for life is known as a “million-dollar wound.” Sounds like that’s what Lance Corporal Ainsworth got.

I’ve never met Mr. Ainsworth, but I’ve heard quite a bit about him because he had a son named Phillip who managed to attend Hartford College, Oxford, and while helping out with the Ohio State summer program there, managed to win the heart of a Ohio State co-ed named Diane Spring. I was tapped to be best man the day after St Patrick’s Day, 1978. That is one summer romance that turned out very well indeed: 33 years and two children later, Phil and Diane are still together.

Most of my American readers are familiar with Ed McMahon’s prize patrol giveaway: once a year, he’ll knock on some randomly (?) selected household and give them a check for ten million dollars. My readers will please forgive my bizarre sense of humor, but it has occurred to me that Private Ainsworth was a battlefield philanthropist for the Germans he captured. Anyone who’s ever seen Saving Private Ryan might have the smallest inkling of what a living hell combat in Normandy 1944 must have been like. In that situation as a German soldier, would you rather have a) all the tea in China b) all the gold in Fort Knox, c) all the Rockefeller money d) all of the above or e) a free ocean cruise to a POW camp in Canada where you’d get three meals and a bed for the next year? (all-time creditable towards German pensions).

I usually call my friend Phillip right before Christmas—December 24 is his birthday—and I think of his dad and the fact that somewhere in Germany, there are probably still a number of elderly men getting to celebrate Christmas with their families because LC Ainsworth took a prisoner didn’t kill them (any of those guys ever go to the trouble of sending Phil’s dad a Christmas card? Those ungrateful Kraut bastards!)

I’ve heard that only one German soldier, a soldier in the Waffen SS, who resisted, and LC Ainsworth had to kill him. I’ve also heard that’s an incident that haunts his dreams to this day.

I’ll probably never get to meet Phil’s dad. If I do, I’d like to say, Congratulations for making the world a better place. The destruction of Nazi Germany is one of the noblest causes man has ever fought for (I’m proud of the fact my father and uncle both fought in that conflict). What I’d say to him is if killing a man haunts him, then he should be glad he is not a complete sociopath. There are people who actually enjoy that sort of thing, and they are very scary creatures indeed. It’s a shame that German soldier passed up a chance at life, but that’s the choice he made. A whole lot of men had to die to win WWII.

To Whom it May Concern

My father was trained as a gunner on a B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber. Originally, he’d been assigned to be the ball turret gunner, but by the time his unit arrived in Great Britain in late December 1944, the Luftwaffe had taken such heavy losses that the 8th Army Air Force had moved the ball turret position from almost all B-24s, so Dad flew his missions as a waist gunner.

That was fine with my father. The ball turret position was by far the most difficult position to get out of in case a bomber crew had to get out of a damaged aircraft. There’s a poem, “Death of a Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarell, that shows the danger well:

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Because of that change, there was one less crewmember, and each bomber had an extra flak jacket. My father immediately claimed his plane’s surplus flak jacket and made a point of standing on top of it when they hit it into their targets. My father was 25, the oldest man on the plane. The youngest was a 19-year-old form Georgia named Blaylock who felt the need to adopt a tough-guy persona while on the ground. Maybe he was just trying to cover up the fact he was as scared as anyone else.

Anyhow, from the very first mission they flew, Blaylock said to my father, “Mitchell, if a bullet’s got your name on it a flak jacket won’t do you any good,” and felt the need to repeat the comment several times on subsequent missions. Finally my father said, “All right Blaylock, I don’t care about the bullet with my name on it. What bothers me are the ones that say ‘To Whom it May Concern.’” That was the last time Blaylock ever mentioned that particular subject.