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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Monday, May 29, 2006

Three Outlaws You Wouldn't Have Wanted to Meet

They were not the kind of men that rob banks today. They didn't walk in clad in scroungy clothes and hand a note to a teller, not the Dillinger Gang. They went in wearing business suits and hats, guns in hand, with Dillinger yelling, "This is a stickup," before vaulting over the barrier into the teller's cages. John Dillinger is shown in the two photos at the right. At the upper left is John Hamilton, a daredevil gunman afraid of no man. Below him is handsome Harry Pierpont, considered by some to be the brains of the gang and known as a vicious killer when aroused. I rescued these mug shots from a stack ready to be thrown away by the police department in Muncie, Indiana. That's cops for you. Men with a real sense of history.
To be exact, the trio shown were the key men in the second and most notorious Dillinger Gang. For the most part the first gang consisted of Dillinger and Homer Van Meter. Baby Face Nelson was the star of the third gang, but nobody called him Baby Face. Not if they wanted to go on living. He killed at the drop of a hat and put a real dent in the ranks of the FBI.
Dillinger, Pierpont and Hamilton became friends in prison. After Dillinger was set free he was the outside man in one of the biggest prison breaks in history. Pierpont and Hamilton were among the nearly dozen escapees. So were a couple of others in that second Dillinger Gang.
They freely roamed Indiana and Ohio, occasionally other states, in small cars during the daylight hours because the cops thought outlaws traveled at night in big cars. Van Meter no longer was a member of the gang because he liked to clown around and Pierpont, a deadly serious man, wouldn't have him around.
Of their many bank holdups, one of the most lucrative came in Greencastle, Indiana. It also had a humorous twist. While the others were inside, Hamilton stayed on the street by the door to keep anyone from entering or leaving, playing the role of what they called the "Tiger." It didn't work out quite the way they had it planned because an elderly woman of foreign extraction decided to leave. Hamilton stopped her and said she couldn't. She pushed him aside, saying, "I go to Penney's and you go to hell." The flabbergasted Hamilton watched her cross the street to go shopping. What else could he realistically have done on a busy downtown sidewalk?
Dillinger was arrested after a bank job in Bluffton, Ohio and was held in the Allen County Jail in Lima. There was a warrant out for him in Dayton so one evening Pierpont walked in with a second member of the gang and said he was there to return Dillinger to that city. The sheriff himself was on desk duty. He said, "Let's see your credentials." Pierpont pulled a gun from under his jacket, said, "Here's our credentials," and shot the sheriff dead. That later led him to the hot seat in the Ohio State Penitentiary.
In the 1980s I interviewed one of Pierpont's cousins. She was just a little girl when Harry decided to attend a family reunion north of Muncie even though every cop in the country was looking for him. She thought he was nice, but her one real memory of him was his blue eyes, the most vivid she had ever seen. But not eyes you'd want to see when they were staring at you over the barrel of a gun.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

This and That

Remember Ben Bernie? If you do, you've been around the block a few times. He was a band leader in the 1930s and a popular entertainer. I saw him on the stage of the Palace Theater in Akron in 1938 or thereabouts. Bernie was best known for saying "Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah!" He also said, "Thissa and thatta about dissa and datta," or something like that. So thanks to Ben, that's what this is all about today.

* At long last it's all over on American Idol. I won't say anything about the winner except this: The fact that he won again proves that the only taste most Americans have is in their mouths. Well, one more thing: People will be watching and listening to Katherine McPhee long after they have forgotten the name of Taylor Hicks. Apparently a lot of viewers were upset because another guy eliminated a couple of weeks ago didn't win. Not me. He was a shouter, and it amazes me that these days so many people confuse shouting with singing. And that any kind of noise is music. An old friend, the late Ross Spencer, said there is sound and there is music and too many people mistakenly believe that sound is music. So today there are too many shouters and too much sound, not enough singers and too little music.

* Well, they're at it again, blaming all the troubles of the country on us. By us I mean old guys. We just don't die soon enough to suit them so we're going to bankrupt the USA. So what would they say if all the Social Security and Medicare money suddenly ceased to flow into the economy? I don't know what they'd say but I know what they'd call it: a depression. Very likely as bad or worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. We managed to survive that, we made it through World War II and another one in Korea. Our generation brought the young folks the television and computers they think they couldn't live without. So would those complainers like to return to the days when the younger members of a family were responsible for housing, feeding, clothing and providing medical care for their elders? Do they think they would come out ahead financially that way? If they answer yes to those two questions I think they soon would realize they had made a terrible mistake. So to all the complainers I say this: "Nuts to you! Grow up mentally because you too will soon be old physically."

* I checked the forecast this morning and the men and women who are supposed to know what they're talking about predict it will be 90 degrees in Indianapolis Sunday. I don't believe the drivers in the Indy 500 will appreciate 90 degrees even though this will be the 90th running of the race. I saw the race in 1946 and 1947 and just about everything has changed since then. Now the cars all look alike except for the paint jobs. That's bad. Now the drivers wear what look like space suits. That's good, especially if there's a fire. When I was in the infield during those long ago races a lot of the drivers wore T-shirts and slacks. Those T-shirts would creep up and form a roll around the driver's chest as the race went on. Other drivers wore dress shirts and all of them had crash helmets of varying styles. You could recognize the drivers, not just the cars, because they sat right out in the open. The cars weren't equipped with radios so the pit crews wuld write messages on chalk boards and hold them up if they wanted to communicate. It was one helluva dangerous way to earn a living, much more so than it is today. The 1946 winner, George Robson, was killed in a race three months later. In 1947 the car of a driver named Shorty Cantlon wouldn't start so he was a couple of laps behind when it finally did. He was trying to make up ground, lost control going into the first turn and hit the wall head on. The steering post went through his chest. Yes, it's a lot safer today. And better, I suppose, but a lot of the earlier romance of racing is missing. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

By Any Name it's a Miserable Place

Something, but I'm not sure what, made me think of Camp Polk, an utterally awful place that the Army now calls Fort Polk. Call it what you will, it's the only place I've ever been where a man could find himself waist deep in a bayou with alligators snapping at his butt and ten minutes later be trudging through ankle deep sand in a Sahara-like setting.
Everyone in the Army during WWII - the big one as Archie Bunker used to call it - heard about Polk and the nearby town of Leesville. Those who had been there warned against going the same way a preacher warns against going to hell, and for much the same reasons. I recalled their words on an unhappy day in late summer of 1951 when told that along with the rest of my National Guard outfit I was headed for Polk. This, we assumed, was the first stop on the way to Korea, where people were shooting at each other. I wasn't sure which sounded worse, Polk or Korea.
Our train pulled into Leesville in late morning. The track ran behind the rear of the jail so we were welcomed to town by women standing nearly naked behind bars, happily waving to us and yelling that they'd see us at the Broken Drum or the Cave or some other of the town's many disreputable dives. This was a big morale booster for some of my younger companions, the 18-and 19-year-olds who called me "Pop" because I was 26. They'd bring their troubles to me, nearly all of them concerning women. I probably gave out more bad advice to the lovelorn than Ann Landers or Dear Abby.
Before leaving home we had been warned against coral snakes, the deadliest in North America. They didn't mention the three varieties of rattlesnakes, the copperheads and the huge number of cottonmouths. Nor was anything said about those alligators, the wild boars that didn't hesitate in charging a company of riflemen, the packs of razorback hogs that enjoyed taking big bites of human flesh. Nor did they say anything about large lizards, tarantulas, black widows or scorpions. They did, however, mention the women in Leesville.
I was the mortar section sergeant, an irritant in itself because the only stripes on my sleeves were those of a corporal. For that I had no one to blame but myself. I had been a staff sergeant but a short time before we were federalized I resigned after a run-in with the company commander. Not knowing we were about to be federalized, of course, and all too soon after I had finally found a good job paying a dollar an hour.
One thing about the military, it isn't necessary that you know how to do something, only that you are capable of ordering someone else to do it. I, for example, had never mastered the use of a mortar's sight. You had to level two bubbles while at the same time lining up the sight on an aiming stake. Level one bubble and the other was off. Level both bubbles and you no longer were lined up on the aiming stake. Line up on the stake and a bubble was off...and on and on and on.
Don't get me wrong, I could do it. In five minutes, maybe ten. That remained a dark secret because a skilled gunner could do the job in seconds. As section sergeant, though, all I had to do was order the others where to set up and then let the squad leaders and gunners take over. That's the tried and true Army way of doing things.
So that's how it went one hot and steamy summer afternoon at Polk. After issuing an order or two I retreated to the shade of a tall tree, checked the immediate area and particularly the place where I was going to sit, then I sat. Leaning back and lighting a cigarette, ready for some serious relaxation, all seemed as well as possible in my world. Then before I had time for a more than a puff or two an ammo bearer came running over and said those most dreaded of all words, "Our shell didn't fire."
That meant the damn thing was stuck in the tube. The drill at such times was for everyone else to withdraw to a safe distance while the section sergeant and squad leader worked to get it out. Once the pin (the same as one on a hand grenade) was pulled a 60mm shell was touchy as hell. The merest contact with its point-detonating fuse and that was all she wrote.
So the squad leader detached the tube from its base plate and slowly raised the back of the tube while the section sergeant cupped his hands around its mouth, making sure nothing could possibly touch that fuse. As the back of the tube got higher and higher you could hear the shell begin to slide forward. From then on it was up to the section sergeant to catch it and re-insert the pin. So that's the way it went.
Once that was done the shell was put back in its container and set aside to turn over to ordnance, then the firing resumed. And I went back to my tree, leaned back and lit up again. That's when an ammo bearer from a different squad came running over and said, "Christy dropped the shell in the tube the wrong direction."
Ah, those were the good old days at Polk. Posted by Picasa

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Best Summer of All and a Boy Named Gerard

There are times when a man, or even a woman, must decide between spending time with a blog or writing something that might bring in a little money. That's why 12 days have gone by since my last blog - I opted for money.
I had finished a major project and was starting another when my in-laws, Mike and Annette Taylor of Cape Canaveral, stopped by for a visit. They took us out to lunch at the Sheraton Suites, a fancy hotel with fancy prices. Not wanting to take advantage of them, I ordered an $8.95 sandwich, which is about as cheap as it gets at the hotel a few blocks from home. I washed it down with a glass of Guinness. I even gave Mike my french fries, but this self-sacrificing can last only so long so when the Guinness was gone I ordered a Stella Artois.
In case you don't know, Stella Artois beer has been brewed in Belgium since the year 1365. That's not a typo; people were drinking Stella Artois for more than a hundred years before Christopher Columbus set sail across the Atlantic. Who knows, maybe he had a few cases aboard ship.
Having a Stella Artois in hand brought memories of the summer of 1945, the most glorious of them all because the war in Europe had ended and I was in a nice little town in Belgium. Like many soldiers, I was "adopted" by a Belgian family. Two families, actually, because the matriarch of the one across the street from our billet had a sister in town. Between them the Daubies and Delportes had five kids and another was born late in the summer.
Gerard Daubie, a boy of 10, had an older sister and a younger brother. The Delportes had two girls. Like all Belgian kids, Gerard was a polite, hard-working boy but like his siblings and cousins he was thin and underweight after five years of German occupation. One of Gerard's chores was to walk out of town early every morning and bring back a pitcher of milk from a farm. If there are two things about him that stand out in my mind above all others, though, it was an ever-present smile and his remarkable sensitivity for a boy his age.
This sensitivity was evident when a carnival came to town. American kids might think it pretty tame, but after all those years without one or much of anything else, even a light in a window after dark, it was exciting to the Belgian boys and girls. One evening I took Gerard and his 12-year-old sister, Christiane, down to the town square so we could go on the rides. I was a little shy of my 20th birthday so it was obvious to all that Christiane thought I was kind of exciting too.
There was a ride that had cars with seats for two people. I got in first and Gerard started to follow me, then saw the hurt look on his sister's face. He stepped back, smiling, and held out his hand for her to go ahead and sit beside me. Over the years I have known a lot of 10-year-old boys, but only one I can think of who would have been that thoughtful and caring, Gerard Daubie.
The point of the story is that when we returned to that little town in Belgium 40 years later, Gerard was a salesman for Stella Artois. Christiane? At the age of 29 she died of cancer.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bye Bye Beacon

Our subscription to the Akron Beacon Journal expires in June and we are not going to renew it. This will not throw the Beacon into bankruptcy, although the status of the former Knight Ridder newspaper is up in the air at present because nobody seems to want to buy it. Someone will, of course, there's no doubt about that. But when I worked for the Ashtabula Star-Beacon 36 years ago the publisher, Mr. Rowley, wanted to see every subscription cancellation because each was important. Recalling that, I believe I should spell out why a man who spent much of his life in the business no longer wants a newspaper on his doorstep every morning.
Some of the blame can be placed squarely on that scapegoat for nearly everything, the Internet. The real culprit, though, is the Beacon itself. It once was a great newspaper back in the days of John Knight and a couple of extraordinary newsmen named Ben Maidenburg and Jim Schlemmer. I'll admit to having been a little upset, however, on the day in 1938 when the Beacon Journal bought out the Times-Press, a Scripps Howard paper, and became the only sports page in town for a kid to read. The Times-Press had done a much better job of covering high school sports, the subject that interested me the most both then and now when turning to the sports section.
But after the previously named trio retired the Beacon started a long downhill slide. In my opinion, and I know I am not alone in feeling this way, it has now hit rock bottom. It has fewer pages than the Muncie StarPress, where I once spent 20 years, although Muncie is far smaller than Akron. There isn't as much world and national news as I would like and on Saturday there isn't an editorial page. Recently the Beacon began including the TV tabloid in the Sunday paper only if a subscriber requested it. We did, but only two weeks went by before we failed to receive one.
At the top of my hate list, though, is finding a photo of LeBron James on page 1 far to often. If it isn't LeBron it's some other Cleveland professional athlete or an Olympian. Those photos usually take up more space than the story detailing the latest happenings in Iraq. A few days ago the ultimate in this nonsense came when the entire front page was a photo of LeBron under a banner headline proclaiming: ON TO DETROIT. Turning that page revealed what would ordinarily be page 1.
The Beacon's obsession with professional sports in Cleveland is mind-boggling. The high school sports coverage is pathetic at best. When a weekly newspaper - and not a very good one - in Cuyahoga Falls scoops the Beacon Journal by three days on the naming of a new football coach at Falls High something is radically wrong at the Beacon. Cuyahoga Falls is a city of 50,000 and deserves better than it gets from the Beacon Journal.
Some of the local stories in the Beacon Journal are ones I have seen the previous night, and far too frequently two nights earlier, on the TV news. On occasion a story of interest doesn't even make it into the paper.
So where does the Internet come in? I receive an e-mail news digest every morning from the Washington Post and the Irish Times. After looking those over I check out the regular edition of the Post, The New York Times and USAToday, then take a quick look at the aforementioned Muncie paper. After that I hop across the pond and look at the Irish Independent and then go north of the border to the Belfast Telegraph. From there it's a quick jump over the Irish Sea for a peek at the London Independent, an excellent paper, and then on to Paris for the International Herald-Tribune before heading north again to see what's new in the Belgium Post. After all that I sometimes take a look at the Columbus Dispatch or some other newspaper that might contain a story of interest. All this in half an hour unless it is a day heavy with breaking news. There is a web site that opens the door to 10,000 newspapers around the country and around the world. To a 20th century guy living in the 21st century that is downright amazing.
Sure, I'll still take a look at the Beacon's online edition to check the obits and see if there is something of interest in the local news. What will I miss in the Beacon? I was going to say nothing, then I remembered the Sunday column by public editor Mike Needs. I enjoy that, but I can read it online too.
But what about those times when it's nice to have a newspaper in your hands? No longer will I fill up a pipe, have a cup of Irish breakfast tea beside me and lean back with the Beacon, but there are always issues of the Muncie StarPress around even if they are a few days old. And if the urge to have a current paper in my hands ever hits me I can walk half a block to the neighborhood convenience store. No, I'm not going to feel deprived of an old pleasure, not at all. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Internet Privacy - This is Downright Scary

Think that anything you do can remain a private matter in this age of the Internet? Think again.
I was well aware that just about everything is available online if you know where to look. I knew, too, that hackers occasionally break into even the most secure systems. I was naive enough, however, to believe that a story I was writing and in no way whatsoever was connected to the Internet was my own to do with as I wished. This is a story only halfway complete and I am not even sure how it will proceed because I haven't got that figured out yet. I haven't even given it a name, just have it stored as a WORD document listed "secret assignment."
Imagine my surprise when, while looking for something else, I found it on the Internet along with my street address and email address. I know that someone with a little knowledge of computers will say , "Don't worry, it's only available on your own computer."
Oh, sure. Until a hacker decides to seek out my hard drive or until I accidentally do something that makes it available to the world. If it's on there at all it can happen.
Not only that, but anyone who manages to call it up can change the story however they wish to, can take the plot and twist it a little for their own use, can type in their own ending and submit it to a publisher. I know because I experimented a little and found it was possible to work on the Internet version just as I would by calling up the original document.
This does not make me happy. It does not make me feel secure. It makes me wonder just how much a copyright is worth today. Theoretically anything you write is copyrighted from the moment you type the words even though you may later do it formally. But if someone can read your work the instant you hit a key to update it...well, I'm not so sure it really works that way any longer.
I have other stories that are in finished form stored under "My Documents." Are they also available to anyone with the knowledge and ability to find them? Probably.
I don't come even close to being a computer expert. To me a computer is much like a car, something to use when you want to do something. I've driven cars for more than sixty years but haven't a clue as to how they work. It's the same with computers. They are great for writing stories or looking up things on the Internet, but what makes them operate is a mystery to me and I prefer to keep it that way.
So this problem that has come up, what can I do about it? Not a damn thing.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Life in a Slave Labor Barrack

The grim looking structure enclosed by a barbed wire fence was a slave labor barrack at a Focke-Wulf aircraft factory on the west bank of the Weser River near the village of Einswarden in Northern Germany. For seven months it was my home.
No, I was never a slave laborer for Hitler's Third Reich. While living there shortly after the end of World War II I was a military policeman, an MP. The building itself wasn't bad - two men to a room, a decent shower and latrine - but Germany was a dreary place in the late months of 1945 and the early ones of 1946. On top of that, being only a few miles from the North Sea meant the climate was frightful.
We had two basic jobs that varied from day to day. The toughest of them was riding around in a Jeep patroling the factory complex, which was being used as an ordnance depot, as well as Einswarden and the larger town of Nordenham. The easy one was spending the day or the night in a large guard house at the main gate. We were merely supervisors with the actual work, such as it was, being done by former German soldiers. There was always a dozen of them there, sometimes twice that number, although it took only one man to supervise the traffic coming in or going out.
In the guard house we spent most of the shift talking. This was difficult at times because only one of them was fluent in English and my German was limited in the extreme. In spite of that, as time went by we became pretty good at making ourselves understood. It was easier, though, when the English speaking Muller was there.
Muller had been a paratrooper with an amazing ability to survive. He stood 6-5 or 6-6 and was thin as a fence post, but agile as a gymnast. He had dropped on the day Germany invaded Belgium and again on the island of Crete, where the fighting was prolonged and vicious and the major opposition came from tough and rugged civilians. As a ground soldier he had fought in North Africa, Italy, Normandy and for a couple of years on the Russian front. No man should have lived through all that, but Muller did.
Sometimes at three or four in the morning the Germans would sing their old marching songs. Softly, so as not to attract the attention of any puffed-up American officer. We had many like that, believe me, and eventually they proved to be the downfall of Muller and many of the other guards, but that's a story for another day. I enjoyed that quiet singing and sometimes even hummed along on a chorus or two...hi lee, hi low, ha-ha, hi lee, hi low...
Muller and I became friends. Sometimes I visited his home or we would take walks around the countryside. One night he told me that the other Germans thought I was OK because I was tolerant and friendly. Aside from one man and he hated everyone alive. Perhaps he had reason to because he had returned from the Russian front badly crippled to find that his house was the only one on that side of the river to be destroyed by a bomb - a stray one that wasn't meant to be dropped. But Americans in general, that was another matter. Muller said, "We hate the British and Americans for killing our women and children. We hate the Russians for destroying our army."
I had seen the result of strategic bombing in several large German cities and hated it too. The top brass believed that by killing enough civilians - women, children, babies, the elderly - they would break the will of the German soldiers. Instead it made them fight all the harder. I was glad that I had been an infantryman who fought other soldiers, not those who were helpless. When we did find that civilians had been killed during a firefight, and especially children, it was upsetting to most of us.
How bad was some of that bombing? Terror bombing, there is no other word for it. They say that the atom bomb dropped on Hirishima killed 71,379 people. In the final weeks of the war the conventional bombing of Dresden, Germany, a city without a single military objective, killed at least 135,000. Victory was already assured, there was no reason for it to have happened.
There are those who contend terror bombing was justified because the Germans had bombed London and other British cities. Does that mean that two wrongs make a right? Did the terror bombing kill off the men responsible for the destruction in London? Of course not.
I wonder, too, why it was that not a single bomb fell on that aircraft factory where we lived but across the river in Bremerhaven block after block of residential areas were leveled? That was far from being the only example of the property of multi-national corporations being spared. The results of war aren't always what they seem to be.