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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Saturday, December 30, 2006

You Never Know Where the Stuff You Write Will End Up

That heading is true, it really is. Take a couple of these blogs, for example, and a contest I entered 10 years ago. The Akron Beacon Journal offered $100 for the best Christmas story and it sounded like easy money, which it proved to be. A few weeks ago I reprinted that story as a blog.
Months before that, however, I wrote another blog about living in a former slave labor barrack at a Focke-Wulf aircraft factory near Nordenham, Germany. That was in late 1945 and early 1946. Nordenham is a small town so what would the odds be that someone living there would read that blog? Astronomical I would have said. I easily could have wagered that hundred bucks and a lot more against it happening. Easy come, easy go - another bet lost.
The gentleman who read it was Peter Puhl, who has mastered the English language. We have corresponded by e-mail ever since and I sent him a few photos from my days as a military policeman there in the months soon after World War II. So Peter read the second blog, the one that earned that hundred bucks, and took it to the newspaper in Nordenham. A woman reporter translated it and the story was published a week ago today, complete with a sidebar and a couple of pictures. It covered the whole top half of a page. Peter mailed us a copy.
Everyone may not agree, but that seems like a strange chain of events to me.
Reminds me of why I decided against embarking on a life of crime. We were staying at the Algonquin Hotel in New York while attending a Mystery Writers of America function in the early 1980s. They do street repairs after dark there and one night they did so outside our window at 2 a.m. It sounded like they kept raising a large sheet of steel high in the air and dropping it to the ground. After a little of this I got up, dressed and went down to the bar. A few minutes later a man several stools away leaned forward so I could see him and said, "You're Dick Stodghill, aren't you?" I admitted it after deciding he didn't look like a bill collector or process server. Turned out he was a professor at Ball State University in Muncie,where I worked for the newspaper.
A year or so later I was sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton Harbor Inn in San Diego when a man walked up and said, "You're Dick Stodghill, aren't you?" Again I admitted as much. The fellow worked for Prentice-Hall publishers and had a relative who had sent him a column I had written. A picture accompanied the column.
New York to San Diego - where could I go to hide out? No wonder Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd had such a tough time of it. Keep this in mind the next time you're thinking of pulling a bank job.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Stroll at Daybreak

There are times when something occurs that doesn't make sense, that can't be explained through logic. Usually such incidents are quickly forgotten, but not always. Sometimes a thought or a vision is permanently implanted in your mind and never goes away. The one that follows is a case in point:

Combat heightens a man’s awareness of all that is around him; small things like sounds and shadows, large ones like the gradual changeover from night to day. Dawn is the hour of attack, a time to be espec­ially alert, but it isn’t like throwing a switch and having a room light up around you. Instead it creeps up, sometimes shrouded in mist and sometimes spark­ling clear, but always slowly with shadows becoming objects and bands of darkness taking on the shape of trees and fences and buildings. In Normandy what had been a black mass across the field little by little became a hedgerow with trees and underbrush rising from its top, foliage clinging to its front and men who would remain unseen waiting and watching on its far side. That is a major part of war, men watching from a place of concealment to see what other men will do.
At first light on a July morning near Sainteny, mist swirled in the field ahead and birds hidden in trees and undergrowth chirped tentatively, aware that all was not as it should be in their world. Half the men in G Company still slept while the others leaned against the hedgerow peering out over the field, rifles lying close at hand.
Muscles tensed as a German walked leisurely and without concern through a break at the right end of the hedgerow fifty yards away. The young soldier had left his helmet behind and his weapon as well. Was it some sort of trick? The Germans were experts at that, doing something out of the ordinary to keep you off balance or to draw your attention away from something more important. But they were not suicid­al, so it couldn’t be that. He had to have believed there was another field between him and the enemy and no one had put him the wiser. It was a mistake on his part, a deadly mistake.
He ambled along in front of the far hedgerow, pausing once or twice to look at something growing from its side. Why didn’t the men on the other side call to him so he could drop down and try to crawl away while they delivered covering fire? Surely they must have seen him, or had they withdrawn during the night? When he paused again to examine something that caught his eye, the final scene in the movie version of “All Quiet On the Western Front” leaped to mind, but then it had been a butterfly that attracted the attention of actor Lew Ayres in the role of Paul Baumer.
Along the line rifles were picked up. For once there was time to take careful aim. No command was issued, yet everyone fired at the same instant. The young German was slammed against the hedgerow before slowly slumping to the ground. For a moment he con­tinued to move a little, then someone put another bullet through his head.
Men who had been sleeping leaped up from their slit trenches, grabbing their rifles and joining those at the hedgerow, then quickly ducking down again as the Germans opened fire. They had not withdrawn, so how had they missed seeing their comrade in the act of making a fatal error?
It fell silent again as those on both sides of the line realized it was a false alarm and nothing was happening. Men lit cigarettes or broke open gray K-Ration boxes labeled “Breakfast.” Waxed inner cont­ainers that burned with neither flame nor smoke were set afire so that coffee could be heated and small cans of processed eggs with apple flakes could be warmed before eating.
Jimmy Hewston, a rifle squad leader, brushed the sleep from his eyes and said, “What in hell was that all about?”
“A Jerry walked out in the field,” someone told him.
Jimmy looked over the hedgerow to where the body of the young German lay. He turned again, grinning, and said, “I’ll be damned. Decided to take a stroll, did he? Crazy bastard should have known better.”


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Old Drug Peddler From Long, Long Ago

For six months back in 1967 I earned a living pushing drugs. It was perfectly legal but a few years later selling the same stuff would have landed me in prison.
I had decided I should be making more money so I took a job with a pharmaceutical company out of Sellersville, Pa. They had a complete line of drugs but the hot item was a diet pill called Obestat.
There was a week of training at the plant and that's when I first began wondering about my decision. During one session the instructor praised a product they sold to nursing homes. Kept even the most unruly of the residents tranquil all day, he said. Sure, I thought, by doping them up, by knocking them out. Hardly my idea of a noble undertaking.
When I started out making the rounds of doctor's offices I often found anywhere from a dozen to fifty women waiting for their regular supply of Obestat. Some of them looked like it wasn't shedding many pounds from their bodies. But they were happy. Boy, were they ever happy.
The main ingredient in Obestat at that time, the only one that really mattered, was methamphetamine. La-de-da, who cares about keeping house, fixing supper, taking care of the kids? Life was just one big round of fun and laughter. Keep that Obestat coming, Doc.
It didn't take long for me to have enough of it.
Three years later after a couple of other newspaper jobs I found myself working as a reporter for the Muncie Evening Press. One of my early assignments was covering a criminal case in Circuit Court. The defendant was charged with selling - you guessed it, Obestat. The people in charge of such things had finally realized just what methamphetamine really was and what it did.
You can still buy Obestat, but it isn't the same product. No more methamphetamine, no more fun and games.
It was all a bit ironic, of course, sitting there in a courtroom taking notes. A few years earlier I had been peddling the stuff and now I was writing about some poor slob headed for prison for doing the same thing. What a difference a day makes - or a few hundred of them.


Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas On KP

Well, another Christmas has come and is just about gone and it soon will join the ranks of those I can't recall. In thinking back, only a few stand out in memory and the others are just a blur. Chief among those that proved memorable was the Christmas of 1943 at good old Camp Wheeler, Georgia.
I had been in the Army for less than two months and had found that it was not living up to my grand expectations. The early weeks of basic training had taught me that I was unworthy of occupying even a small area of the earth's surface. The same was true of the forty or so others in my platoon. Our sole purpose in being alive, we had discovered, was to make life unbearable for our leader, dear old Sergeant Felts. We should, he told us, crawl back into whatever sewers we had emerged from so the Army could get on with the business of trying to win a war.
Then a few days before Christmas we had a rifle inspection and I was gigged. "This man has cosmoline in his gas port," cried the lieutenant doing the inspecting. "Put him down for KP on Christmas, Sergeant Felts." The sergeant put his nose an inch from mine and shouted, "You're on KP for Christmas!"
So on Christmas Eve I tied a white towel to the end of my bunk and was awakened at 4 a.m. by the Charge of Quarters shouting, "Get up! You're on KP for Christmas!"
Then at the mess hall the Mess Sergeant yelled the most dreaded words known to man: "You're on pots and pans!" Army pots are the size of garbage cans, the pans as big as basketball hoops. After being used, both are either coated with grease or buried under a baked-on crust of unspeakable filth.
And it was raining. And it was the first day we were allowed to go into town. Unless, of course, you were on KP. So in they filed in their Class A dress uniforms and then off they went to Macon while I stared at the monumental stack of pots and pans needed to cook a Christmas dinner.
It ended eventually, as all things do. I was back at the barracks in time to hear how great a time everyone had in town and how wonderfully they were treated by the citizens of Macon. When the lights went out at 9 p.m. I was already in the sack, and it wasn't visions of sugarplums that were dancing in my head. How could so many pots and pans have found their way to one little mess hall? Why did every one of them have to be used to prepare three meals?
Yes, I remember it well.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Drugs - What's Legal and What Isn't?

A friend sent the following e-mail:
"I just heard on the news that the use of illegal drugs among teens is dropping steadily, and it seems to me that the government has finally figured out how to fight illegal drugs. What they've done is taken a clue from their past successes.
"They found out that the best way to put the numbers racket out of business was to create a lottery. The best way to fight organized crime's inflence in Las Vegas was to legalize gambling everywhere, then have their corporate cronies take over the Vegas places.
"And they are taking the same tack with illegal drugs by allowing the pharmaceutical companies to supply legal drugs to everyone that is the least bit unhappy with life, including Ritilin and other drugs to over half of our school children.
"If they could figure out a way to present legalized prostitution as a government agency, and a way to cut their buddies in on the profits, they would get them out of that too.
"Their motto seems to be, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Sad to say, he's right. The big question in my mind is why schools are insisting that kids take a drug that no one seems to be sure how to spell. Google it and you get Ritalin and Ritilin in about equal numbers. And long term side effects, there are differing opinions on that, too.
But what about the short term? Is turning little devils into little angels the goal? Do they want all kids to sit meekly with hands folded while the teacher supposedly is teaching? How much of that teaching does a drugged mind absorb?
I'm sure the manufacturer and the school people have pat answers for that last question and some of the others. Oh, it doesn't affect their ability to learn. Oh, there won't be any long term effects. Oh, we just want to lengthen their attention span.
To all that I say baloney! Actually another more descriptive word leaps to mind. So if a drug is the answer to all the problems, why is it that American kids are learning far less than their counterparts in other countries of the Western World? Why wasn't it necessary to drug kids when I was in school? Half of my class of 44 lived at the Children's Home. The rest lived below or just above the poverty level. Some of us could be unruly at times, yet the teachers were able to cope. Is it the fault of television, of video games? They have those in other countries, too.
So what is the answer? I don't know, but I am darn sure the manufacturer is interested only in making money and the school people are interested only in making life as easy as possible for themselves. The kids? They're just pawns, victims of greedy adults or lazy, incompetent adults.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Are People Living Longer Than 100 Years Ago?

An interesting e-mail sent by a friend in Germany lays out the differences in the United States of today and those of 100 years ago. The first figure mentioned is life expectancy, which was 47 in 1906. Now it is about 72, perhaps slightly higher.
Why the difference? Some of it is owing to prescription drugs and improved surgical procedures, of course. But the biggest reason is the control of the epidemics that killed so many people in the past. Cholera, Yellow Fever, Diptheria, Tuberculosis, so many, many more. It was far from unusual for an epidemic to wipe out an entire family. The countless dead children played havoc with that life expectancy figure.
If a person avoided all those deadly epidemics, he or she could expect to live far longer than 47. Because they are the only ones I know about I'll use the member of my family as examples. My great-grandfather, Peter Lynch, was born in 1835 and died in 1922. That made him 87 according to my meager skill with mathematics. His son, James T. Lynch, lived into his 90s. His wife died at 77.
Their children were Joseph, Leo, Mary, Helen, Alice and Ethel. Leo died in infancy, thereby shooting the hell out of my calculations. Joseph lived until his 70s, Mary and Ethel well into their 80s. The exceptions, along with the unfortunate Leo, were Helen and Alice. Helen, a Communist organizer in New York, took part in a demonstration on a rainy and cold winter day, came down with pneumonia and died at the age of 38. Alice was stricken with a deadly form of stomach cancer and died at 47. That meant the six lived to an average age of 55. Take away Leo and the figure jumps to 66. It would have been much higher if Helen hadn't been a fanatical advocate for New York's unemployed.
My father lived to be 77, both of his parents well into their 70s. So did both his sisters.
The point of all this, provided there is one, is something we all know: statistics can be deceiving. Those people living a hundred years ago had about as good a chance as we do of living to a ripe old age just so long as they kept away from the numerous and deadly epidemics.
Despite ignoring every rule of health devised by man I have lived well past my 81st birthday. So what does that prove? Not a damn thing.
Well, maybe it shows that we shouldn't place much stock in certain statistics.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Are People Different Today? You'd Better Believe It!

If you want a graphic display of the difference in people today and those when I was growing up during the Great Depression, take major league baseball players as an example. Back then they made about the same amount of money as the average man. All but the true superstars had to work at other jobs during the off season.
In attitude there is no comparison between the players back then and today's millionaires. A year or two before he was forced to retire, Lou Gehrig and his New York Yankees teammates came to Akron for an exhibition game with their Class C Mid-Atlantic League team, the Akron Yankees. All the regular New Yorkers started the game: Gehrig, Dimaggio, Dickey, all the others. When the Cleveland Indians of today travel 35 miles to play their AA team, the Akron Aeroes, most of the regulars stay behind owing to "pressing business," whatever that is.
In the 1930s, Akron's old League Park had a wooden grandstand and dugouts. After a few innings Gehrig walked around the end of New York's dugout along the third base line and lit a cigarette. All the kids hanging over the edge of the grandstand yelled, "Hey, Lou!" He looked up, ground out the cigarette, waved his hand and gave us one of his famous, lopsided grins. A couple of innings later the same thing happened with Dimaggio.
In 1936 the St. Louis Cardinals, the old Gas House Gang, stopped off in Akron for an exhibition game after completing a series in Pittsburgh. They were a tough bunch that looked right at home in their unwashed, filthy uniforms. It was August and the Cardinals were in a heated pennant race, yet all the regulars were in the lineup: Frankie Frisch, Terry Moore, Leo Durocher, Joe Medwick and so on. Paul Dean was the starting pitcher. His brother Dizzy had pitched the previous day so he went in as a pinch hitter so the fans could see him on the field. After that he wandered through the grandstand, hot dog in one hand, a bottle of soda pop in the other. He'd sit down with people, talking and laughing, then wander on and sit down with another group.
The only regular who didn't play was Pepper Martin, sidelined with an injury. So he climbed up to the press box, took over for the PA announcer and called the entire game, throwing in little anecdotes about his teammates. They'd look up at the press box, shake their fists and laugh. But they didn't find it humorous when they lost to the Akron Yankees.
Can you imagine any of those things happening with today's pampered millionaires? If so, you have a better imagination than I do. Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 18, 2006


Fortunately this is an old picture. A 1981 photo taken the day after an auto accident caused by a young female driver. In wandering around town I told the people shocked by the sight of me, "You oughta see the other guy!"
But it wasn't funny. Our beautiful maroon Mercury was totaled. I had been in the emergency room at the hospital on a couple of earlier occasions with a gall bladder problem. When they wheeled me in the doctor in charge said, "Boy, they really got you this time, didn't they?"
Yes, they did. A light rain was falling and the woman coming the other direction in a large International Scout didn't know that rain made the road slippery. She crossed the center line and hit me head on.
She was insured by Prudential, a company my Uncle Joe had spent 20 years with while selling their insurance. I talked on the phone with a young woman at their office in Illinois. She said we would get $3,000, that was all, then told me a few other things before ending with, "And that's the law!"
"That's funny," I replied, "I've covered the courts for a newspaper for years and never heard of that law."
There was a lengthy pause, then in a subdued tone she said, "Well, it's not the law, it's the way we do it."
That wasn't the way we did it. We took it to court and got $12,000, four times what Prudential wanted to pay. So we got a bigger Piece of the Rock than Prudential wanted us to have. But that's not the point.
The point is, how many people not familiar with the courts heard that woman say, "And that's the law!" and just gave up? How many thought, "If that's the law, I guess I have no choice."
I'm not a big fan of TV commercials, especially those that include the words "you deserve." For the most part they make me angry because some idiot spends more than he makes, gets in over his head, and then is told he still can get the credit "he deserves." He deserves nothing.
But a couple of law firms, the types once described as ambulance chasers, advertise here and others probably do the same throughout the country. One commercial ends this way: "The insurance company has lawyers on its side, you deserve one on your side." Amen.
My advice to anyone would be to never trust a thing an insurance company says. Stand up for yourself. Fight them all the way because they'll sure fight you all the way.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

What's Wrong with this Story?

During the first two weeks of December, 1944, the 12th Infantry Regiment moved into a quiet area of Luxembourg for a much needed rest after more than a month of brutal fighting in Germany's Hurtgen Forest. Most of its machine guns and automatic rifles were sent back to ordnance for repair and reconditioning. The 2nd Battalion's greatly understrength rifle companies were positioned in the small towns of Echternach, Berdorf and Lauterborn where the men not on outpost duty could rest in resort hotels. Their mission seemed an easy one: protect Luxembourg City and the powerful Radio Luxembourg that could be heard throughout Europe.
Hours before dawn on December 16 the regiment came under heavy attack. The outposts were overrun, each of the small resort towns quickly surrounded. Not long after daybreak orders were sent down to every unit - "Hold at all cost. Fight to the last man."
The Battle of the Bulge had begun. Units to the north were quickly overrun by the Germans but the 12th Infantry Regiment held its ground just as it had done at Gettysburg and in so many other battles long past.
The regimental Cannon Company was positioned on a ridge overlooking a small stream and a stone bridge. A column of German tanks approached but the first of them to reach the bridge was knocked out by direct fire from Cannon Company's 105mm howitzers. With the bridge blocked and the column halted, German infantrymen forded the stream and soon had a six-man gun crew surrounded. An English-speaking German called to them to surrender. Three of the men wanted to but the other three reminded them of the order - Hold at all cost.
Despite that, the three did surrender. The others held on although their position seemed hopeless. Then a rifle company from the 1st Battalion arrived and now the Germans were outnumbered. They withdrew across the stream, taking their three prisoners with them.
In the late 1980s more than forty years after that frigid morning in Luxembourg, the six men were reunited at a 4th Infantry Division mini-reunion of men from Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. I listened as they talked of that day and what followed. It went like this:
The three men that surrendered were presented medals for having been prisoners of war. The three that held on received no medals.
The three that surrendered received top priority medical care from the Veterans Administration. The three that did not were placed far down the list.
The three that surrendered lived out the war in the safety of a POW camp. The three that did not continued to endure the rigors and risks of combat.
There were other distinctions, all minor. The three that surrendered, for example, all had special license plates honoring them as former prisoners of war. The others had no such plates. Little stuff like that.
Is there something wrong with this story? Something wrong with the country's priorities?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Oh, My Aching Back!

Well, the old back went out on me again. Maybe I shouldn't say again because the last time was in 1981. That was the result of an automobile accident, a head-on collision, caused by a young female driver.
I can't use that excuse this time because the most recent car crash came in 1992 - in this one our car ended upside down - and was caused by a young female driver.
Those were my third and fourth major auto accidents. The first was two months before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Even though I was only four years of age at the time it seemed like my crash was much worse than anything that ever happened on Wall Street. After all, it put me in the hospital for thirty days.
To return to the suject of my back, during the weeks following that 1981 collision I had thirty-four X-rays. Inconclusive, every one of them. Then they laid me on my back and stuck electrified needles into various parts of my body. With every jab, one of my legs would shoot straight up in the air. The result: inconclusive.
But back to my aching back. By the way, during World War II the most commonly heard words from servicemen were, "Oh, my aching back!" They came when things weren't proceeding in a pleasing fashion, which meant nearly all the time, so someone was constantly saying, "Oh, my aching back!"
But about my back. One thing about being eighty-one is that health issues are lined up like a row of dominoes. When one thing finally improves it knocks down the next in line so something is forever wrong. The Fickle Finger of Fate just keeps sending stuff my way and there isn't a thing I can do about. Let's see, we've got a nice case of ulcerative colitis here so what should we do with it, and the finger points my way. H'mm, where shall we send this heart attack, and the finger . . . well, you get the idea.
But we were discussing my back. Anyway, I get these kidney infections now and then, even go to a kidney specialist several times a year. The latest was last month. A couple of days later the Fickle Finger had an extra kidney infection on hand so guess where it ended up? So the infection was finally licked on Monday and at precisely the same moment my back went out.
Well, that's life. But why is it that of all the miserable afflictions that can hit a person, the only one that makes people laugh is a bad back? Maybe it's because some poor guy is hobbling along and suddenly lets out an ear-piercing scream. Perhaps it's because watching him try to get up from bed is like watching a bug trapped on its back. Or that when he wants to arise from a chair he makes half a dozen false starts, each accompanied by an agonized groan, before finally succeeding.
The odd thing is that even the unfortunate victim can't help but join in the laughter. Only after a couple of unearthly screams, of course. Actually the oddest thing of all is that when you are sitting still you would never know that something is wrong. But, man, when you try to move.
So right now all I'm asking for is a little sympathy. That's exactly what I can expect, says Jackie, but why does she have to emphasize "little?" Why can't she just pat me on the head and say, "Ihat's too bad. I'm so sorry?" Those comforting words should follow every cry of, "Oh, my aching back!" In my case these days that would amount to a lot of head patting.
So right now the X-ray lab at the hospital is on standby alert. The people with the electrified needles are ready for action. But I've got news for them: I've learned about those things and this time I will just go on crying, "Oh, my aching back!"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Comment Box - and Geeks

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, that little box you can call up by clicking "comments" at the end of a blog. When it works, I get an e-mail asking if I want the comment published. I always say yes.
But I've had people tell me they have tried several times and nothing happened. Don't ask me why because I'm in the dark on the subject. I could expand on that and say I'm in the dark on many subjects, but trying to list them all would require days spent writing a blog.
It was another Stodghill, John Stodghill, who told me I should activate the box, so I did. That was months ago, but he posted a comment a few days ago so I know he's still out there somewhere in cyberspace.
But this little box that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't made me wonder how all this internet stuff works. I haven't a clue. After mulling over the question for a minute or two I decided I really don't care, don't even want to learn how it works. It does, and that's all you really need to know unless you are a computer geek.
That's something else I'm not sure about. Exactly what is a geek? Considering that a computer geek knows more than the rest of us, I guess it means someone who is pretty smart, at least about computers. There even is a Geek Squad that sends a geek to your house to fix your computer. I could use one of those several times a day.
There also are cell phone geeks, but I don't think they're smart at all. Are there other kinds of geeks? Who knows? Actually, who cares? Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ugly Bug is Dead

When I was writing a daily column for the Muncie Evening Press all through the 1980s I was always on the lookout for material. It had to be something world-shaking, of course. Something that would stop people in their tracks, make them gasp for breath. The following item lifted from a 750 word column, for example:

Ugly Bug is dead.
That was the column lead that leaped to mind when I found him belly-up under a cake of soap in the soapdish set into the tiled wall of the bathroom. I hurried downstairs and told Jackie.
“He probably isn’t dead at all,” she said. “He’s probably just sleeping.”
Sure, under a cake of soap. I know death when I see it, and Ugly Bug was sleeping the Big Sleep.
For years now Ugly Bug and Mrs. Ugly Bug have enjoyed life in our bathroom. I’m not sure what Ugly Bug does or even if he does anything at all other than get into tight spots from which I am called upon to rescue him. And I suppose he has another name but I have no idea what it is. Finding Ugly Bug legs-skyward under the soap was a bitter blow after years of going out of my way to look after him. When he’s in a hurry it takes Ugly Bug 10 minutes to cross four feet of floor, so caution must be observed when setting a foot down. That’s not as easy as it sounds, particularly at 3 a.m. when Ugly Bug enjoys taking a stroll.
It’s a rare day when I haven’t had to help him out of the bathtub before turning on the shower, shake out a towel where he has settled down for a nap so that a second shower isn’t necessary, assist him from the door frame before slamming the door. After all that, finding Ugly Bug had passed on in a most unlikely way came as a decided shock.
But I was wrong. That means Jackie was right. Ugly Bug had settled down for a siesta in one of the valleys between the ridges that support the soap, that was all. After removing him to a safer place, I had the sudden realization that my big story for the day had turned into a non-story. So let’s begin again:
Ugly Bug is not dead.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Christmas Story From 1945

A decade ago a newspaper offered $100 for the best Christmas story submitted so I figured that amounted to $100 an hour, not bad pay. The following true story was easy to write and proved to be the best hourly rate to ever come my way.

The wind off the North sea cut to the bone as Frank Schwartz and I made our Christmas Eve rounds at the sprawling ordnance depot that had been a Focke-Wulfe aircraft factory. Even by 1945 standards, it was a bad night to be riding around in an open Military Police Jeep. Before our shift ended, another joyless Christmas Day would arrive with us still far from home. We had been told to be on the lookout for an intruder or intruders who had entered the depot several nights in a row. Aside from a few overly eager officers recently arrived from the States, who cared? The biting cold and ways of escaping it were of far more importance to us.
A sliver of light at ground level suddenly caught my eye. I pointed it out to Frank. He cut the engine, and we coasted toward the dark building ahead. As we drew near, we could see that a little light was escaping from one side of a blackout curtain still in place, although the war had ended months earlier.
We quietly entered the building and, not wanting to show a light, felt our way along a wall to the stairs leading to the basement. Frank had a .45 in hand, I carried a machine pistol. What would we find – a gang of criminals methodically stealing supplies to sell on the black market? That light was coming from a woodworking shop. When we reached the doorway, we saw a former German soldier clad in his old uniform working at a lathe. Adsorbed in his work, he was unaware of our presence. This was our notorious intruder.
As we entered the room, our weapons trained on him, the man looked up, all color draining from his face. We asked why he was there, but he didn’t understand English. Even so, he knew what was expected of him. After pointing to a small, three-wheeled wagon made of bare wood, he showed us the fourth wheel that he had been turning on the lathe. Then, managing a weak smile and holding a hand three feet above the floor to indicate size he said, “Knabe.”
Neither Frank nor I knew much German, but we were aware that “kuh-nob-uh” meant boy. He was building a wagon so that his small son would find something under the tree in the morning. Even a man with money, and obviously this one had none, could not have found a toy for sale in any German store that bleak Christmas season. For a moment, Frank and I looked at each other, then Frank pointed first to the lathe and then a clock on the wall. It was 10:30, so when the German limped over and placed a finger on 11 we understood that the little wagon would be completed in half an hour.
What should we do? Perhaps he had used a few scraps of U.S. government wood, but he had done no one any harm. We knew from experience that if we turned him in, the authorities would not see it that way. He would be given a long prison sentence. On the other hand, if we left him there someone else might find him. Then too, he might be caught if he tried to leave the way he had come. Either way, we could be in serious trouble ourselves.
So we waited there until he finished the job. When the last wheel was locked in place by a cotter pin, we beckoned for him to follow us outside. He was apprehensive, still uncertain of what was ahead as he climbed the stairs in an awkward, stiff-legged gait. A wool G.I. blanket was kept in the jeep, so we had him curl up as best he could on the floor in back. We covered him with the blanket and then drove to the main gate. Our route of patrol took us to the village of Einswarden and the nearby town of Nordenham, so we cruised on past the guards with a casual wave of a hand. We dropped the grateful German off at a corner near his home, then drove on to a service club where we could get hot coffee and sit for a while beside a fireplace.
I thought about the man, remembered his uniform from which all insignia had been removed. Lighter colored patches remained, telling us he had been a lance corporal in an infantry division. It had not been that long since Frank and I were infantry riflemen fighting Germans in similar uniforms. Strange how quickly things could change.
Somewhere nearby, a church bell tolled midnight. Frank raised his coffee mug to me. “Merry Christmas, Stodgy.” I touched his mug with mine and said, “Yeah, Frank, Merry Christmas.” And suddenly it was, thanks to a former enemy, a little homemade wagon and a small boy who would find it in a few hours. This was a gift that in happier, more affluent times ahead would never be found in any toy store. I knew, though, that no present, regardless of how expensive it might be, would ever light up a child’s face more brightly.
And while I didn’t realize it at the time, never again would the spirit of Christmas warm me quite so meaningfully as it did on that bitterly cold night beside the North Sea.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Internet Explorer 7 - A Real Mess

Apparently the people at Microsoft got together and decided to really mess up the internet, especially for Ol' Stodg out in Ohio. They came up with Internet Explorer 7, a new and "improved" version of something that worked quit well. Then they sent pop-up windows, one after another, telling me to get it because it's free. So just to get rid of those pop-ups, I decided it couldn't hurt and clicked OK.
Boy, was I wrong. The first thing it did was knock out my Windows tool bar. Now I can't print a selection, just a full page. I used to be able to X something out, such as my website after viewing it. Now if I X out anything at all it knocks out the entire internet. If I call up a photo on Blogger and click "done" when it has uploaded, out goes the internet. When I call up Favorites, out goes the list as soon as I click on one of them.
On and on it goes, more and more things that aren't as good as they were before Internet Explorer 7 came along. So what can I do about it? I don't know, but I'm trying to eliminate Internet Explorer completely and go with Mozilla Firefox or some other program.
Thanks a lot, Microsoft, for really messing things up.

www.dickstodghill.comPosted by Picasa

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rodger Young

A true American hero, Rodger Young. See the post below. Posted by Picasa

A True American Hero

If sometime you happen to be driving along U.S. 20 in northern Ohio you will notice, as you pass through the small town of Clyde, a cemetery on the north side of the highway. At its entrance is the imposing statue of Civil War General James Birdseye McPherson, a Clyde native, mounted on his charger. He was the highest ranking Union officer to die in that war.
Should you drive inside you will pass by the usual tombstones of varying size and, when you get near the back, the road will curve to return you to where you started. If you pause there for a moment, though, you will see an inscription on what looks much like just another small grave marker. Read it and you will find that the man buried there was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Not another general, just a private. His name was Rodger Young.
He was perhaps the unlikeliest of all heroes. Certainly not a man who would have a stirring ballad written about him. He stood only 5-2, had a round, rather commonplace face and wore thick glasses. Had he traveled to Hollywood and asked for a job in a war movie he would have been laughed out of town. Instead he traveled to the South Pacific and played a role in a real war, the kind in which people die.
Along with weak eyes, Rodger Young had a couple of other problems. While there in the Solomon Islands he found he was going deaf. But bigger than either of those failings was his inability to understand that his body just didn’t measure up to the size of his heart. He insisted on trying to do things the bigger guys did. He went out for football at little Green Springs High School but on the first day of practice the coach told him to get lost, this was a game for the big kids. In baseball he had a surprisingly strong and accurate throwing arm for a little guy, but no one realized how important that might prove to be on a day well in the future. He played basketball, too, but his ability fell far short of his desire. Then one day he was knocked to the floor, unconscious. When he awoke hours later he didn’t realize that someday the blow would cost him his ability to hear.
Some of his friends joined the Ohio National Guard, so Rodger Young did too. The local unit was a rifle company of the 37th Infantry Division. You don’t find many men his size in rifle companies. He did well, though, because he always worked a little harder than anyone else, and eventually was promoted to staff sergeant. But World War II came along and one of the first units called up was the 37th Division. It shipped out to the far-off Solomon Islands and soon was involved in combat on an island called New Georgia. By then Rodger Young realized he was losing his ability to hear. He asked to be reduced to the rank of private because he feared his handicap might endanger the men in his squad. As a private he would be responsible only for himself. Or so it seemed to him at the time.
Forty years after that day in 1943 when Rodger Young died, Jackie and I drove to Clyde on a Sunday afternoon in hope of finding someone who might remember him. I wanted to write about him for the Indiana newspaper where I turned out five columns a week. We stopped at the VFW post, thinking that might be the best place to begin. Only a few lights were on and the three men there said that was because of a reunion nearby. Most of the members, including Rodger Young’s old friends, would be there. It was one of those coincidences that sometimes come along in life.
So we drove to the site of the reunion and there we found many of Rodger Young’s friends and classmates, both men and women. They were happy to talk about him, about his school days, about his days in the Army, about the day that he died on the island of New Georgia. I gathered enough material for not just one but several columns. A few days later an 8x10 photo of Rodger Young arrived in the mail. He was wearing a wrinkled uniform and holding a small child. An unlikely hero, you might think, had you happened to pass him on the street. Not another John Wayne, not even close, but John Wayne fought all his battles on the back lot of a Hollywood studio.
Rodger Young fought his last one in a jungle when the light was beginning to fade and he and the other nineteen members of a patrol would soon be unable to make their way back to safety. Pinned down by a Japanese machine gun crew that had ambushed them, their position seemed hopeless. Two of the men from back in Clyde and Green Springs were killed, then two more. The lieutenant in charge ordered a withdrawal, but even that seemed impossible. Then Rodger Young started crawling toward the machine gun. The lieutenant reached out and ordered him to stop, but the hand clutching Young was hit by machine gun fire. Young shook his head, grinned and said, “You know I’m hard of hearing.”
He was hit time and again, yet kept crawling forward until he was close to the machine gun nest. In agonizing pain, his left arm useless, he managed to get a grenade from his pocket, pulled the pin with his teeth, and stood up. A burst from the machine gun caught him full in the face, yet he managed to hurl the grenade. His aim was perfect.
The fifteen remaining men picked up their five dead comrades and made their way safely back to the company. Months later songwriter Frank Loesser wrote The Ballad of Rodger Young. “No, they’ve got no time for glory in the infantry, no they’ve got no use for praises loudly sung, yet in every soldier’s heart in all the infantry, shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young . . .”

Saturday, December 02, 2006

You Get What You Pay For? - Not Always

I never cease to be amazed by the way Warner Cable cuts off commercials before they are finished. I don't know if they do it everywhere but they do it all the time in Akron. How do they get away with it? Don't the advertizers check to see that they are getting what they pay for? Maybe they do and then Warner has to run those that were cut off again without charge. That could explain why we see some of them over and over again.
It isn't that I'm a big fan of commercials. The majority are annoying in the extreme. Especially those of pharmaceutical companies. It's just that it seems like somebody is getting ripped off and I hate rip offs.
Some commercials aren't too bad. A few are even entertaining. The Geico gekko and the Aflack duck leap to mind. I also like the ones for Tractor Supply, those with lifelike figures that never move but say humorous things in a low key manner.
Others are so bad, so irritating, that eventually they become acceptable. Around here we have a daily dose of those from Fred Martin, a car dealership with several locations. Half a dozen or so men rotate in being seen on them, but whichever ones happen to be on a given commercial they end up saying in unison: "We're the Fred Martin car guys, we know cars!" This is done while aiming an open hand at your face. The first few times they are maddening, then gradually they become almost a tradition, like eating something you hate on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
That's why I get angry when a couple of these husky characters yell, "We're the Fred Martin car guys, we know. . ." and then another commercial cuts in. It's so annoying, missing that last word even though you know what it will be. But can you be completely sure? Maybe this time they were going to know something different. Maybe they were going to know a few good places to have lunch or something else of interest.
So how does Warner Cable keep getting away with it? In fairness I should point out that they sometimes even cut off their own commercials. As I said, it's amazing. Posted by Picasa