Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Internet - Good or Bad?

At first glance the Internet seems to be a wonderful thing. An amazing amount of information is available with nothing more than a click of the mouse. It is easy, however, to discover much more than you care to know on a subject. For example, I looked up "Stodghill" and found there were 110,000 entries. That's an astounding number to a man my age who has never once encountered another Stodghill.
Some of the people listed seem quite prominent even though I had never heard of them before Google. There is a Ron Stodghill who apparently is a widely-known writer for a variety of publications including Time magazine. There are doctors, professors and just about anything else a person could name, yet I had never heard of even one of them.
My grandfather's first name was Chambers, and that's another first. I've known people with the last name Chambers, but who would saddle a newborn kid with a first name like that? My great-grandparents, whoever they were. Chambers didn't fit the rather staid and upright image that the name brings to mind. He was a factory worker and a tobacco chewer who liked to spit into the wind when he was walking beside my father so the gooey mess would end up on him. He used expressions like, "It's enough to give a dog's ass the heartburn" and he enjoyed deliberately mispronouncing words because he knew it irritated his only son.
And while a young man, Chambers was a street brawler in the Indiana towns of Aurora and Rising Sun along the Ohio River and in Warsaw, Kentucky on the opposite shore. Dad, who was not at all inclined to take part in such things, still seemed rather proud when he told of Martin Stodghill having his nose bitten off in one of the melees. Apparently the entire Stodghill clan in that part of the country liked to take part in fights and neighborhood donnybrooks.
One thing about the Internet, it strips a person of all privacy. And one piece of information I came across makes me wonder how much of it is true and how much isn't. I write a series of short mysteries and novelets that appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The central character is a private eye named Jack Eddy but the narrator of the stories is a newspaper reporter by the name of Bram Geary, the Bram being short for Abraham. I just picked his name out of thin air because I wanted it to be one syllable linked to two syllables. I didn'teven think about Geary being an Irish name although that is a plus, of course.
The Thrilling Detective website has this to say about the series: "Twenty-six years old with a receding hairline and a fistful of ambition, Jack Eddy is an op for the Akron, Ohio branch of the Wellington National Detective Agency, circa 1937. He's slick, brash, and prone to cutting corners, much to the dismay of young, and at times surprisingly naive crime beat reporter Bram Geary, the narrator of this series of short stories. Both Jack and Bram live at Mrs. Bauer's boardinghouse. Poor ol' Bram usually ends up far more involved in Jack's cases than he would like. The 'aw shucks' narration style, and the very real violence of the times give these tales a rather unique flavor, as though John Boy was writing for Black Mask. Now there's a concept for you. "
But poor ol' Bram does get around. On the Internet there is a web site named Geary Central. It is a place where people of that name search out information on ancestors and pass along what they find to others of the same name. So who should show up in it? None other than Bram. The site says this about him: "Crime beat reporter Bram Geary is the narrator of the ongoing Jack Eddy series of short stories by Dick Stodghill, published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine."
How many members of the Geary clan, I wonder, fail to reaize that this is a fictional series and Bram actually exists only in my mind?

Friday, April 28, 2006

NASCAR - Yellow Flags and Spoiled Brats

I have enjoyed racing since the day in 1939 when I saw my first midget auto race at Sportman's Park north of Akron. Those were rough and dangerous races on a banked dirt track that didn't allow for mistakes or ineptitude. The driver of a car that wasn't much good died in the consolation race that first night. Either of the two racing publications of that era would tell you that several drivers were killed every week on tracks across the country. That part I didn't enjoy, but the races themselves were exciting and competitive.
I still like to watch open wheel racing, especially IRL but also CART or Formula One. I just can't warm up to NASCAR, though, despite its current popularity. The fact is you can stand along Lexington Avenue in New York any day of the week and see just as exciting taxicab races.
One of the minor annoyances with NASCAR is the TV announcers who constantly refer to the "... car." "The 26 car has passed the 49 car" and similar remarks. The cars aren't going around the track on their own, in each there is a driver who should be named rather than a number. Then, too, the cars themselves with their countless decals and painted signs are an abomination.
There is nothing minor, however, about the number of yellow flags on display in every race. I watched a little of one recently in which the audience was told there had been 18 caution flags. The race was still going on so there probably were more before it ended. You can bank on that being true because it seems there is always a yellow flag to slow the action and spoil the fun during the last five laps.
The problem is that there are too many cars on the track. I don't know how it came about that 43 cars start every NASCAR race but there has to be a reason rooted in history. Traditional or not, that's far too many, the majority of them lacking even a faint hope of winning. More often than not it is the drivers of those cars that are responsible for the caution flags. As a race winds down to the final laps you can be almost certain that one or more of them will be involved in an accident. NASCAR accidents seldom are as serious as those in open wheel racing, but they certainly bring the action to an abrupt halt. If there were half the number of cars on the track the races would be far more interesting. Park the ones that aren't competitive.
When a race is over, and sometimes before that, come the temper tantrums and the finger pointing more suited to 12-year-olds playing a pick-up game on a playground. Quite a few drivers need to grow up and quit acting like it is a wrestling event on Monday Night Raw. The wrestling is billed as entertainment and only an idiot would think it is anything else, but it can be fun for everyone. Well, nearly everyone. But when a couple of NASCAR drivers who wouldn't last 30 seconds in one of those staged matches act like they are John Cena or Rey Mysterio it's both pathetic and disgusting.
There's a TV commercial that contends "NASCAR isn't a sport, it's a way of life." That may be true and it probably accounts for its popularity. A great many of those in the grandstands aren't true racing fans, they're event fans. It's the thing to do, the place to be, because it makes them feel they are a part of something even though they aren't. That seems to be the way people are today at every kind of sporting event. They want to inject themselves into the action, thinking they make a difference even though they do not. It's the tailgating and the overblown pre-game or pre-race pageantry with its insufferable hoopla that draws many of them to a track. That sort is to be pitied because they can't have much worthwhile in their personal lives. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Museum and a Man Named Eddie Wolfe

If I look a little younger - well, a lot younger - today it is because of a phone call from the 4th Infantry Division Museum at Fort Hood, Texas. The lady on the line asked if I had a photo taken in my World War II uniform. They wanted it to go along with a story of mine in a book entitled "War Stories." All the articles in it were written by 4th Division men who served during my war or in Vietnam. So I sent the photo that makes me look 18 again. It was taken just before I shipped overseas early in the spring of 1944.
The lady didn't say and I didn't ask which story they were using of the several I had in the book. Some were quite graphic. She says the young soldiers enjoy reading the experiences of those who served in the division long before them. It makes history come alive for them better than any lesson taught in a classroom. I can believe that.
I wonder, though, what Eddie Wolfe, my old platoon sergeant, would say if he walked into the museum and found my picture there. Probably "Of all people, why him?" I agree. Eddie's photo, or those of many others I could name, would be better suited. Eddie was the best and bravest combat soldier I knew. Long ago I wrote this about him: "Eddie was never at a loss for a few thousand words on any subject. But not once did I ever hear a word of self praise from him, or anything even approaching a boast. Had he been so inclined, Eddie had a great deal to boast about. I am sure, though, that never once did it occur to him that there was anything out of the ordinary in his willingness to place himself in danger when there was something he felt needed doing. He believed, and I am certain of this, that any of us would have done the same thing. That none of us did so never dawned on him."
I recall one night - actually an hour or two before dawn - when Eddie put his arm over my shoulder and said, "You did a good job tonight, Stodgy." Coming from him that was the ultimate praise and nothing said since then comes close to equaling it in my mind.
One of the great moments of my life came a few years ago when Jackie called me to the phone and when asked who it was replied, "Ed Wolfe." It was him all right, I would have recognized that forceful voice anywhere. Eddie was 25 in Normandy so that makes him 87 today, but he sounds just as strong as he did those long years ago. He lives in a suburb of Atlanta and that's a fair distance, almost a different world, from his native Taunton, Massacusetts.
I put together a few things I had written and sent them to him. The first paragraph of his reply read: "What a surprise. Reliving the Battle of Normandy in your publication brought into focus forgotten battles, old comrades and towns long ago forgotten. I am flattered to be among the people you wrote about, and somehow you made me out a hero when in truth I was just doing what I was taught to do in combat. I was just as scared of dying as the next guy."
Of course he was scared. Any combat infantryman who says he wasn't is either a liar or insane. It's fear that gets the adrenaline flowing and without that extra boost a man couldn't survive. But on one occasion after another Eddie went beyond merely doing his job. When danger beyond the norm was involved he never ordered one of his men to handle the job, although he could have. No, he did it himself. But Eddie always spoke his mind without regard to whether he was talking to a private or a general. There are some officers who don't like that, but those kind aren't the good officers. The time came when an officer he was compelled to work with didn't care to hear the opinions of a mere enlisted man so Eddie was shipped out of the company. So how did he spend the rest of the war? As a cook. That's the military for you. But the experience led to the only boast I ever heard from Eddie Wolfe: "I can still break an egg with one hand."

Monday, April 24, 2006

4th Division Folks - They Keep on Dying in Iraq

My old World War II outfit, the 4th Infantry (Ivy) Division went to Iraq for the second time last December. The first time they were in and around Tikrit, where men from the division captured Saddam Hussein. Now they are in Baghdad. Either place, the men - and women too - that wear the ivy leaf patch keep on dying.
Thanks to Bob Babcock, a member of the 4th Division Association, I get an e-mail newsletter from Iraq three or four times a week. I learn a lot from it, including the fact that my regiment, the 12th Infantry, has among its duties the job of guarding the Green Zone. One young private says he enjoys working at the main gate, where he checks those seeking admission, because that way he gets to see and meet a lot of people. He can only hope that one of them doesn't turn out to be a suicide bomber, but he didn't say that.
The newsletter nearly always starts out with a list of the division's latest fatalities. There also is a monthly memorial service at Fort Hood Texas, where the division's rear detachment is stationed. In December the 4th will return there - hopefully, that is. They are counting down the days.
When you read in the newspaper that such and such a number of Americans were killed it is very impersonal. The government seems to prefer it that way. Reading that newsletter brings it to life, or perhaps I should say death. For example, her captain said this of 19-year-old Amy A. Duerksen: "She always had a smile on her face. Anyone who knew her, knew her smile." She was assigned to the division shortly before it was deployed to Iraq so she was given the option of staying behind to better prepare herself. She told her commander she was ready to go.
Pfc. George R. Roehl, 21, joined the Army one year and seven months ago, a week before Spc. James F. Costello, who had the "ability to find something funny in ordinary situations." On April 11 they died beside each other.
And on and on it goes. All my life it has been that way. Old men and women send young men and women out to die miserably in some foreign land. Sometimes there seems to be a reason for it, sometimes there doesn't. Either way it's sad, just as it's sad that those old people that ship young people off to die usually had never set foot on a battlefield themselves. Their own kids don't seem to sign up, either. Guess they learned that from their parents, or maybe they just have "other priorities." After all, dying in battle is for poor kids and middle class kids, not those from political or wealthy families, but now I'm being redundant. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Wrong End of the Horn - or Horse

Mrs. Canfield, my seventh grade teacher at Kent School on Akron's rough and tumble east side often looked my way and said, "Dick, someday you're going to laugh out of the wrong end of the horn." I never have figured out exactly what that meant but still the message came across. However, writing about how this blog got its name recently made me wonder if she didn't mean "'ll get the wrong end of the horse."
This has to do with predicting the winners of high school football and basketball games during the years when I spent my days and sometimes my nights toiling for the Muncie Evening Press. I could say that I was pretty good at it but modesty forbids. Truth to tell, though, I was great. Year after year I was correct between 73 and 84 per cent of the time.
If you think that's easy, try it sometime. How was I to know what was going on in little towns such as Logansport, Wabash and Tipton that were many miles away? Maybe the star quarterback just broke up with his girl friend, the all-state lineman ate too many Twinkies for lunch and had a bellyache at game time, the fleet-footed running back was up until 3 a.m. drinking beer with his buddies. My predictions depended upon such things and no one should ever have to depend upon a bunch of high school kids. Boys especially.
I overcame such obstacles, though, with near-sensational results. Still, there were bad moments. That's where the horse came in. It was all the fault of the Delta football team, a contrary bunch that wouldn't do what they were supposed to do. Delta, a consolidation of four small high schools - Royerton, Desoto, Eaton and Albany - lies on the flatlands of Indiana a few miles north of Muncie.
This particular Delta team had a good record but ruined my own because I was wrong on nine of their ten games. That's right, I was 1-9 when Delta played. This resulted in them inviting me to their awards banquet where I was presented a trophy - the south end of a northbound horse.
The following year, needless to say, I gave special attention to Delta games. My record was a spectacular 9-1. They invited me back to their banquet and gave me another trophy, this one the front end of that horse.
It was all in fun, of course, but there were times when I wondered if the folks out at Delta didn't have it in for me. There was the day, for example, when I was dead wrong in predicting that Delta would lose an important basketball game. The next morning I arrived at the newsroom to find the entire ceiling covered by helium-filled blue and gold balloons. Boy, those people out there among the corn and soybean fields sure knew how to rub salt in a wound. I wonder what Mrs. Canfield would have had to say about such shenanigans. "I told you so," probably.
Which reminds me of a story about Mrs. Canfield herself. She was a well-padded, portly woman. Fat, to be truthful about it. The week before Christmas one year she opened the door to the hallway and stepped out just in time to be flattened by a boy running at full speed. She broke an arm. The next year the week before Christmas she opened the door to the hallway and stepped out just in time to be flattened by a boy running at full speed. She broke the other arm. Only a cretin would laugh at such things. I didn't, of course - at least not when Mrs. Canfield was around. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Ben & Jerry's Blunder - Black & Tan Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont manufacturer of ice cream, is in hot water with Irish-Americans. A recent story by Reporters Without Borders in the London Independent told of the firm's unbelievable lack of sensitivity in naming a new flavor Black and Tan. Company officials claim they had no knowledge of the name's history. Hard to believe that not a single person there knew a little about what had happened in the past.
The Black and Tans, so named by the Irish because of the colors of their uniforms, were the brainchild of British politician Winston Churchill. Most were British veterans of the First World War and the vast majority were thugs, rapists and murderers. Churchill organized them and sent them to Ireland in the years 1920-22 in the mistaken belief that if they killed enough Irishmen the IRA would wither and die. Fat Winston never saw another country that he didn't believe should be occupied by the British and he was irate that after centuries of occupation the Irish had had enough.
Not everyone in Britain agreed. The London Independent story gave a few examples. A Labour Party commission told of the "insolent swagger" of the Black and Tans, calling them "rough, brutal, abusive and distinctly the worse for liquor." General Frank Crozier resigned in 1921 because the Black and Tans were "used to murder, rob, loot and burn up the innocent because they could not catch the few guilty on the run." Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson said of a conversation with Churchill, "I warned him again that those Black and Tans who are committing very indiscriminate reprisals will play the devil in Ireland, but he won't listen or agree."
Even Churchill's wife Clementine sided with those protesting, telling him, "It always makes me unhappy and disappointed when I see you inclined to take for granted the rough, iron-fisted 'Hunnish' way will prevail."
She was right, those methods didn't prevail. The IRA led by such men as Michael Collins (the big fella) and Eamon de Valera (the tall fella) could not be defeated and soon 26 of Ireland's 32 counties were an independent country forever free of the British.
So what were the Black and Tans really like? One commander told his men, "Innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time. The more you shoot the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man." He didn't mention rape, but that was prevalent among the brutes.
And now Ben & Jerry's has named an ice cream flavor Black and Tan. Until they rename it a great many people, me among them, will never again sample their wares. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Voting - Is it all done American Idol style?

I voted today. By absentee ballot, obviously, because the primary election isn't until May 2. In Ohio this year it is the only way of being reasonably certain your vote is counted. At least that's what all the stories lead you to believe. The new electronic voting machines arrived some time ago and the tests proved them less than reliable. The manufacturer sent an expert who changed some batteries and said everthing was OK. They tested them one more time and the machines were less than reliable - again. Now the company that made them says it will have hundreds of technicians on hand for the election to quickly fix any and all problems.
So why don't I have confidence in the machines, the manufacturer or the technicians? Just an old skeptic, I guess.
I think the whole country should go back to paper ballots so that we could be at least a little confident of the tally. Counting them takes a while and that probably means the TV networks would veto the idea. As a newspaper reporter I put in a number of all-night sessions at several different election boards as votes were counted. It wasn't much fun, but isn't an accurate result more important than speed, comfort or a good night's sleep?
And what about the voting on American Idol? A lot of people might say a guy my age shouldn't even be watching the show but I accidently tuned in about five weeks ago and kind of enjoyed it. Since then I've watched it every week, including the kick-'em-off show that follows the next night. They don't tell you the voting count although it would be easy because voters use a different phone number for each contestant. If they haven't tallied the votes then how do they know who to send home? So they could tell the audience but they don't, and therefore I don't believe the voting means a thing except money for the phone company. I think the big shots decide who will stay and who will go long before the program is aired.
If that's not true then why did the so-called pretty girl - actually an obnoxious brown nose - not lose out this week? She was awful and everyone else was good, and that wasn't just my opinion but that of the three judges. Isn't that what should matter, or is it a popularity contest rather than a talent competition? But the fellow kicked off last night also was popular. Getting rid of him, however, provided a balance of three males and three females for next week. In my mind all issues add up to one thing - a rigged result. But as I said, I'm just an old skeptic. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Arrogant - Who, Me?

Is "Stodghill Says So" an arrogant title for a blog? After all, does anyone really care what Stodghill has to say? Not that I've noticed lately.
So why the title? The story dates back to 1970, my first year at the Muncie Evening Press. I was a general assignment reporter covering all the various beats when the need arose and at other times handling whatever else came along. A week covering the county fair, for example.
The sports editor, the late Jerry Fennell, was always in need of extra help and that was right up my alley. Not only did I enjoy it but that 20 bucks for covering a game was a major incentive. In late August when the high school football season was fast approaching I looked over the previous year's editions to see what teams were good and what were not. I told Jerry that one thing was missing from the Evening Press, a column predicting the winners. I said that was a tried and true way of making sure that all fans would look at the paper before heading out to a game. I volunteered to do the job.
Jerry wasn't a man who appreciated innovation but he reluctantly agreed that I should go ahead. On the Friday morning before the opening games I handed him my predictions complete with a few lines of copy and the projected scores of the six games involving local schools. All told there were about 30 games in the area and I included them all.
Jerry was jittery about the whole thing. He didn't say so, but I knew he was afraid that some readers might believe that he was the one sticking his neck out. I would have a by-line, of course, but that wasn't enough to ease his mind. To remove all doubt about who was responsible, above the predictions he ran a kicker: Stodghill Says So.
The name caught on in a big way and for the next 20 years was a regular feature during the high school football and basketball seasons. But how did I do that first night? Even Jerry Fennell was impressed because I was correct about 80 per cent of the time. The icing on the cake came when I covered the Yorktown-Centerville game that evening. I had predicted that Yorktown would win 20-19. The final score was Yorktown 20, Centerville 19. People in Yorktown thought that was truly remarkable but they couldn't seem to decide if the new guy at the Evening Press was a genius or just another smartass.
But anyway, there was a time when people actually believed that someting must be true if Stodghill Says So. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Body Armor - Good or Bad?

It seems that body armor is constantly in the news these days. Should soldiers in Iraq wear it or not? Too many people that have never been in combat weigh in on the subject. It depends on the job, I think.
Someone that spends most of his or her time riding around in a Humvee or other vehicle would be wise to wear it, or so it seems. But what about infantrymen who are on their feet and on the move?
Many years - decades, actually - have gone by since I carried a rfile with the 4th Infantry Division in Normandy but I well remember the rule that helped me survive at a time when so many good friends and excellent soldiers did not. It wasn't because I was a better soldier, far from it, but I was lucky enough not to have an artillery shell hit on top of me or have a sniper line up the crosshairs of his telescopic sight on my head. But that rule helped, too.
It was simple and easy to remember: Keep low, move fast, stay mobile.
All three things were important but the last one was vital. It seems to be forgotten today. So does keeping low. So, in most cases, does moving fast. As for staying mobile, I feel sorry for the soldiers in Iraq, many of them from my own 4th Infantry Division, that I see on the news who are burdened with bulky backpacks. You can't hit the ground and roll while wearing one of them. That extra weight can be a killer, too. If you are in the open you can't be truly mobile if you don't have one hand free until you are ready to fire your weapon. Forget those foolish photos of cops with both hands on a pistol as they move toward a confrontation. It's a good way to die.
So what about body armor for infantrymen? I certainly wouldn't wear it if back in combat. On an evening news program one infantryman in Iraq said he couldn't climb a six-foot fence while wearing body armor. Another said he couldn't touch his hands above his head while wearing it. In other words they couldn't stay mobile.
Some might say it's a toss of the dice and there is some truth in that. But it is better to load the dice in your favor whenever possible so I would much rather depend on mobility rather than body armor when bullets are flying.
And finally, if you have never been in infantry combat, keep quiet on the subject because you don't know what you are talking about. Posted by Picasa