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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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Signs of the Times

Same old stuff in the news all the time. People spending more money than they earn so they can have the newest of the new. Average Joes sinking their money in the stock market because they believe it's the easy road to riches. People growing more self-centered and placing greater importance upon financial gain. Tax cuts for the wealthy so the burden falls on those who are not.
But hold on a minute. I'm not talking about today, although it does have a familiar ring to it. No, those were the conditions in the late 1920s and were the root causes of The Great Depression that followed. I didn't dream it up; you can read all about it in a classic book by Robert S. McElvaine: The Great Depression.
I remember 1929 and the Wall Street Crash but I wanted to read about its causes for a book I'm doing on the Hoosier Hot Shots. They were three musicians who found themselves out of work when vaudeville died because of movies that no longer were silent and a new-fangled device called radio. So they set out on their own in 1932, the worst possible time to start a new venture. They hit it big, though, because their sometimes zany and usually humorous music was just what a weary, discouraged public needed. Gabe Ward, an old friend and one of the trio, wrote this half a century later: "All we wanted to do was cheer up the 1929 crash victims. It worked!"
But reading McElvaine's book offers little cheer. Fright, it provides a lot of that. Much of what was happening in the years leading up to the big crash make you shake your head in near-disbelief. Archconservatives were pushing for the repeal of Prohibition so a tax could be placed on beer, the workingman's drink. They were attempting to gain control of the Democratic Party so they would have a monopoly on political power. It was their belief that the wealthy should pay no taxes at all and the entire burden should fall on those less well off.
In other words, stupid men had their hands on the throttle.
So the bubble burst. The unemployment rate shot up to 24.9% and those that still had a job were afraid they would soon lose it. Breadlines and soup kitchens popped up all over the country. Many doctors and lawyers found themselves in line for something to keep them from starving. Other men were selling apples on street corners, hoping that would bring in a little money. Bing Crosby had a hit song, "Brother, can you spare a dime?" You heard that plea on every city street. The founder of General Motors was a short-order cook in a bowling alley. Every city of any size had its Hooverville - a shanty town of tents and makeshift shelters built of cast-off wood and cardboard. And then the banks failed and drought brought the Dust Bowl.
So what did Herbert Hoover, who was elected president in 1928 have to say? Not much because his advisors said to ride it out, stay the course and it would just go away. He did say that people should spend money, forgetting that most had none. That led to a tongue-in-cheek popular song that included the line, "Mr. Herbert Hoover says now's the time to buy, so let's have another cup of coffee and let's have another piece of pie."
Years later, still in his ivory tower, Hoover wrote this about the early 1930s in his memoir: "Many persons left their jobs for the more profitable one of selling apples."
Unbelievable. But the words of a popular song a decade later come to mind, it's later than you think.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Is it OK for a man my age to have 250 bags?

I don't believe a person should carry things to the extreme. It says something about your state of mind. Something bad, probably. I once had 14 new toothbrushes and that seemed excessive. I sometimes have a dozen 16-ounce packets of pipe tobacco on hand. That could be excessive. Now I have 250 bags of Twining's Irish Breakfast Tea in reserve. Does that seem a few too many? A bit excessive, perhaps?
None of this is my fault, of course. There was a time when I didn't have even one toothbrush and I didn't want to be caught short again. There is always the possibility that natural cavendish pipe tobacco will become unavailable so I like to keep some on hand. There are times when the grocery is out of Irish Breakfast Tea and that would qualify as catastrophic. A prudent man prepares for such eventualities.
So, being down to 12 or 14 teabags, I ordered 240 more from Amazon. The price was quite good, better than the grocery store's. Now I have 250 and shouldn't run short.
I use each teabag twice. That means I am set for 500 days. There are people, I'm sure, who think a man only two weeks shy of his 82nd birthday shouldn't be thinking about being around for 500 more days. Actually I don't, but there's always the possibility. So I'm prepared.
All this came about because they were going to slap an additional tax on cigarettes to pay for a new stadium. A stadium in which you cannot smoke. Even before that the price was too high so I quit buying cigarettes and now smoke only my pipes. I have 185 of them, a number some people might consider excessive. It isn't.
The point is this: for 60 years my breakfast consisted of a cup of black coffee and a cigarette or two. Coffee tastes awful and the cigarettes took care of that problem. But without cigarettes I had to give up coffee, which tastes awful. So I switched to Twining's Irish Breakfast Tea. It's strong and tastes good, something you'd expect from the Irish. And I'm set for 500 more days. By then the country will have elected a new president and with that to look forward to a man has good reason to stick around for a while longer and use up all those bags.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Another July 25 when the sun was up and the sky was blue

At six in the morning the sun was shining, the sky was clear, the rain had finally ended. Without being told we made up our blanket rolls, unsure of what the day would bring but aware that "this is it." No one spoke because there was nothing to say.
There was no feeling of excitement or anticipation, not even dread - just nothing. From the faces of those nearby I knew it was the same with them. And so we waited.
A company runner made the rounds calling out, "If anyone wants to write a last letter home, mail will be picked up at oh-nine hundred hours." Army diplomacy.
None of us, not even in our wildest fantasies, could have imagined what the next few hours would bring. First a massive artillery barrage that had to have had a devastating effect on the Panzer Lehr Division on the other side of the highway. Then dive bombers, then medium bombers, then the dive bombers back again on a second run.
There can come a time when men on the ground, the foot soldiers, believe that enough is enough and a feeling of empathy for other men on the ground sets in. It matters not that those other men wear a different uniform and speak a different language. Even men weary of combat start to feel that the killing from a distance should stop and now the infantry should take over.
But it had only begun. Unless you saw it yourself I don't believe it is possible for anyone to visualize the sight of one thousand-five hundred heavy bombers coming over a small section of ground. Think of that many jetliners flying above you in formation. Think of them dropping thousands of strips of tinfoil much like Christmas tree tinsel on you. Think of the sound as thousands of bombs began coming down. Think of the sickening realization that instead of moving away from you the bombs now were falling on your side of the road and drawing steadily nearer.
A pathfinder plane flying back and forth finally made the men in the far bigger planes aware that they were dropping their bombs in the wrong place. Couldn't they have seen that for themselves or didn't they even care that they had killed hundreds of American soldiers?
At last it ended and an eerie silence fell over those Normandy fields. A squad leader, Curly Walsh, was the first to speak: "If there's any Jerries left after that we should turn and head for the beaches."
His answer was a quick burst of fire from a German machine pistol. "We're still here," it seemed to say. "Come on over."
No, not all the men in Panzer Lehr had died. Those who had survived were ready to fight.
July 25, 1944. It was one helluva day. No one who was there can ever forget it, not until he draws his final breath.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Commas, Titles and Other Important Stuff

Commas are like dentists, something you need at times but seeing them too often can be a pain in the butt. Well, maybe not the butt in the case of dentists.
What I'm trying to say is that a comma here and there is vital but too many of them can impede the flow of a sentence or an entire story. In great quantity they are similar to unsynchronized traffic lights that bring traffic to a halt far too often rather than letting it move steadily down the road.
I've had that happen more times than I can remember. An editor, usually someone who majored in English, adds comma after comma to a story that doesn't need more than it had when it was submitted. It just seems that the love of the comma is drilled into their heads so they worry too much about breaking up sentences rather the flow of the story. A story needs rhythm as much as a song because pace is vital.
I have a story in the October issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine - that's its unusual cover at the left - and it was published just as it was written aside from the addition of a few commas. Not enough to hurt anything, though, because the editors at AHMM know that you don't want to slow down the action in a mystery story.
They did surprise me by keeping the title I used when submitting it - The Survivor Of the Storms. It's the latest in the Jack Eddy series that has been running for many years. I usually can come up with decent titles such as Mayhem On Market Street, Nightmare On North Hill, Panic On Portage Path, Death On the Devil Strip, The Town Club Murders and so forth, but with this story I was stuck. I had to call it something, of course, so I came up with The Survivor Of the Storms thinking they would change it. They didn't, and now I'm glad because it looks better in print than it did in my head.
They did something else right, too. The drawing with the story is that of a Great Lakes ore boat, not some tramp steamer on the Atlantic. An ore boat - on the lakes they are called boats, not ships - is very long, sits low in the water and looks like nothing else. The artist got it right.
I've been so busy the past couple of weeks that I've missed out on much of the latest political talk from Wolf Blitzer and his cronies. Now that would be a shame because the election is only sixteen months away and a man needs time to make his choices. I hope you realize that's a joke.The fact is I'm not too crazy about any of the candidates except Dennis Kucinich and he has about as much chance of being nominated as I do. I'll have a hard time voting for any Democrat, however, because too many of them want amnesty for all the illegal aliens that slip across the border. That taken into consideration, I'll have an even harder time voting for a Republican because they are enchanted by war unless they have to do any fighting in one.There is one Republican who is just so perfect it makes a man want to gag. That's Mitt Romney, of course. I never see him on the tube without wanting to douse him with a bucketful of muddy water. But what's the use, he'd probably come out looking like he just took a shower.Guess I'm going to be stuck with an independent, being one of that breed myself. The problem with that is an independent has even less chance of winning than Dennis Kucinich. The big players have it fixed that way. Well, maybe Al Gore will decide to toss his hat in the ring. Along with Gore, a man I'd vote for in a minute is Sherrod Brown. Like Gore, he's not running. That doesn't leave much to get excited about.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Drugs, Real Estate and Such

Someone belonging to that large family named Anonymous left a message on my shout box - yes, I have a box for people who want to shout at me - asking why I never write about my careers as a drug salesman or real estate salesman. That's easy to answer: I was a total failure at both.
Actually, I have written a lot both here and elsewhere about selling drugs. The biggie was Obestat and you didn't have to sell it, housewives were lined up to grab the stuff out of your hands. Why? Because the key ingredient was methamphetamine. It supposedly was a diet pill but skinny women were eager to get their share. A few years after my six-month "career" people went to prison for selling it. Obestat is still on the market but without the methamphetamine.
As for real estate, you could count my sales on your fingers. Perhaps using only one hand, but I forget. I never could understand it because I had a great sales pitch that went something like, "You don't wanna buy no house, do ya?"
My main problem, I think, was always pointing out the 30-year-old furnace, the missing shingles on the roof, the cooling breeze from the open space between the window frames and walls, stuff like that.
I did list some houses, though. There was one where a murder had been committed that stands out in memory. Guess who got to clean up the dried blood on the floor? Guess who opened the refrigerator for the first time in six months and was knocked off his feet by the aroma? Guess who had to clean that up, too, and wash the dishes from the last supper?
Come to think of it, I've written about that a number of times as well. Now granted, there are things I don't write about. Sometimes it's because there's not a whole lot to say about working in a state liquor store or on the night shift at a box factory, brain-numbing jobs like that. Pretty boring even to me. Sometimes it's because it's personal stuff that might be hurtful to someone. There's enough of that without me joining in.
Not much more to say on this subject except to thank Anonymous for making it possible to write a quick and easy blog. When you're fast approaching your 82nd birthday you need all the help you can get.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This Is Not Americanism, It's Old-Time Propaganda

Blogging and a serious research project such as the one I'm involved in aren't compatible so I've neglected the former. A post I read on a writer's message board jarred me back to the present for a short time.
It wasn't anything new, just a rewrite job on something cranked out seven decades ago by Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels. Change the word Muslim to Jew and it's pure Nazi propaganda designed to make the reader hate. I had seen it before; it's making the rounds on the Internet because you are supposed to pass it along to others so the hatred will infect them too. When I received it from a Hoosier friend I tossed it after a couple of paragraphs. This time I read it all.
Sure, there are some nasty Muslims in the world but the idea that we are to hate them all is as un-American as you can get. The extremists have done some serious damage and will do more of it, yet they will never begin to catch up with the Nazis in the art of killing the innocent. So should we hate all Germans, or should we have hated them during World War II? Only if we were just like the Nazis.
Americans should keep that in mind. Today's fanatics aren't even close to being as bad or as effective as the Nazis. Those who doubt it need to read more history.
The latest message of hate supposedly was written by a New Jersey housewife. It contends we should treat prisoners without regard for the Geneva Convention. True, if you believe you should sink to the lowest possible level of human behavior just because someone else does it. How does that leave you superior to your enemy? It doesn't; you're exactly the same.
The alleged New Jersey housewife cites suicide bombers as a reason to hate all Muslims. There isn't much you can say in favor of those who kill while blowing themselves up, we all know that, but should we still hate all Japanese because of the Kamikazi pilots of 65 years ago?
During that war when Hitler's legions were out to conquer the world I had the dubious pleasure of running up against some of the meanest, most skillful soldiers the world has seen, the German SS. It was some of their counterparts who ran the concentration camps. One group, members of the 2nd SS Panzer Division, Das Reich, had wiped out an entire French town on their way to the place where we met. For fanaticism it would be difficult to equal the young Hitler Youth soldiers in the 12 SS Panzer Division, Hitler Jugend. And yet for the most part even they adhered to the rules of the Geneva Convention. And so did we because failing to do so would have left us no better than vicious animals.
A decade ago survivors of the 22nd Infantry Regiment from my division chipped in to buy a monument in Germany's Hurtgen Forest. It honors a German officer who died in a minefield while trying to aid a gravely wounded American. It has become a tourist attraction. That regiment, incidentally, is preparing to return to Iraq for the third time.
So the way I see it is this: There are far more good Muslims than bad so hating them all places a person on the same level as the Nazis when they killed six million Jews, gypsies and political dissenters. Disregarding the Geneva Convention leaves a person with less honor and integrity than those SS soldiers I encountered. You don't win wars by hating. You don't win wars with boisterous talk. You win wars with men like Colonel Red Reeder, our first regimental commander in Normandy. As he lay wounded outside an aid station - he lost a leg - he told the medics who were preparing to carry him out of the hot sun and into the tent that they should take a man lying near him first. When told the other man was a German he said, "Then move him into the shade."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Do People Willingly Eat This Stuff?

On a message board for writers someone asked what food people really detest. Like any man with his head screwed on right I said liver. Actually what I wrote was something like, "Rather than eat liver I'd prefer to be buried up to my neck in sand next to an ant's nest with my head drenched in honey."
I'm not alone in this because I have checked the garbage cans at countless Army mess halls on days when liver was on the menu. Without exception it was difficult to find a place to deposit my own serving of the dreadful stuff because the cans were filled to overflowing. Gallup could have taken a poll on liver being served in mess halls and the result would have shown 99 per cent of us with thumbs down.
Almost anything the English eat would finish close behind liver on the distasteful list. Just the names they give food is enough to turn the stomach of the strongest man. How about asking, "What's for dinner?" and being told bubble and squeak. Or bangers and mash. Or toad in a hole.
At the top of my hate list of English food is beefsteak and kidney pudding. How could any civilized person ruin a perfectly good piece of beefsteak by mixing it with kidneys and calling it a pudding? I can't imagine.
I'll admit another English favorite, beans on toast, doesn't sound too bad, but I'll bet they're talking about some big, mushy kind of beans, not Boston baked beans.
On many an occasion I've told my favorite British food horror story so I'll repeat it one more time. On a truck convoy that started in France, wended its way through Belgium and Holland before arriving at a British military post in Germany, we were fed English food. It was unbelievable, indescribable. All that saved it from total disaster was being able to look forward to the chocolate pudding for dessert. Chocolate pudding? No, it turned out to be a cup of cold gravy. How do the English ever survive to adulthood?
In fairness, though, I'll repeat the story about a breakfast in Denmark. As we filed into the dining room there was a plate waiting at every chair and it looked delicious - eggs sunny side up, bacon, toast. Unfortunately it was all prepared in advance and had been setting there overnight.
Did I mention beet meringue pie? That was at Fort Benjamin Harrison. Grits at Fort Benning? K- Rations any time, anywhere? Yuck.
Recalling all this has been delightful, but I think I may skip lunch.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What Pushed Chris Benoit Over the Edge?

Last night I gathered up all my courage and watched the Larry King Show, which is asking a lot of any man. The subject interested me, though - the murder-suicide involving wrestler Chris Benoit. A number of former wrestlers were interviewed along with present-day star John Cena. Like everyone else, they couldn't begin to understand what caused a man they liked and respected to kill his wife, young son and himself.
This unhappy case reminds me of the time when I was ten or eleven and a man living a few blocks away acted in much the same way. At the family home on Third Street, William Slabaugh shot and killed his wife, two children and then himself. The kids were a boy my age and a girl a couple of years younger. It turned out Slabaugh had been having severe headaches for a couple of weeks. He complained to friends, people at work and family members, even saw two doctors about the problem. No one did a thing to help him. He had an appointment with a third doctor, but it was scheduled several hours after he picked up his gun. An autopsy revealed that a brain tumor was behind it all.
It seems strange to me that all the talk about Benoit centers on steroids and other drugs. Why hasn't anyone mentioned the number of times a professional wrestler suffers a hard blow to the head? Watch Monday Night Raw or Friday Night Smackdown some time to see what I mean. They take a terrible pounding several nights a week and as Sylvester Stallone said, you can't fake a fall.
It was pointed out on the King program that a professional wrestler is twenty times more likely to die before the age of forty-five than a professional football player. They didn't explain why. It seems that somebody might be interested in finding out.
As for Chris Benoit, they should be checking to see how many times he landed on his head after jumping or being thrown from a great height. The unfortunate event took place over two days time so that isn't 'Roid Rage at work. What was it, then, that turned him into a killer? This was a man who loved his family so much that he'd fly home even when he could be with them only six or seven hours before boarding another plane and heading back to work. I hope they're closely examining his head.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Not Remembering Can Be Easy

There wasn’t anything about the kid that stood out, that made you remember him even though he was around all the time. He wasn’t big and he wasn’t small, probably 5-8, give or take an inch, and no older than eighteen. You might say his features were generic, nothing distinguishable, nothing memorable. He had the look of the hills, of Appalachia, and he came from one of those states, but which one I can’t remember.
He had an end bunk in the barracks and he spent most of his free time sitting there or sometimes lying down. He just sort of blended in like the rifle rack or one of the footlockers. He seldom received a letter and when he did it was from his mother, never a girl back home.
When guys were cutting up he’d laugh quietly at something that was said or at the crazy antics and horseplay. He never joined in, though, and no one ever thought to make him a part of it. Nor did anyone ever make him the butt of a joke or anything like that when they were clowning around, probably because they didn’t remember.
He did everything the rest of us did while training and I suppose we just took it for granted that he would. Then one day he was given an evening job, whitewashing all the rocks lining both sides of the drive leading to the company area. It was half a mile long so that made a mile of rocks. No one thought of offering to lend a hand. He never complained or even said a word about it.
When the day’s work was done and groups would head out for town, no one ever asked him to go along. Not because no one wanted him around, they just didn’t remember. It was the same when some of the boys would go down to the PX for a beer. No one ever thought to ask if he’d like to join them.
So that’s the way it went until the time came when we were in combat. On a sunny afternoon we were slowing advancing down a city street. At one of the cross streets the first man to go out was cut down by machine gun fire. It came from an American machine gun. There was no mistaking them because ours dated back to the previous war and fired slowly with a chug-chug-chug sound. German machine guns were new and fired twice as fast with a ripping sound. Failing to tell them apart was impossible.
Before there was time to even think about our next move the kid said he’d go around the corner and tell them they were shooting at the wrong people. The platoon sergeant told him to wait a minute before he started out and sent a squad up to the top floor of the building to see if the gun and its crew were visible.
They had set up a neat nest protected by sand bags. From a back window on the top floor a man with a good throwing arm could hit it with a hand grenade. Before anyone had time to call out to the crew or do anything else the kid started around the corner. Two men raised up behind the sand bags, two men wearing German helmets. Their own gun must have been disabled so they were using an American one they had found. They were great at improvising or making use of whatever was at hand.
I heard only one comment about the incident. Someone said, “They shouldn’t have let him start out before we had time to do something up here.” Whoever said it didn’t remember to call him by name.
What was his name? I don’t remember.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Things Don't Always Turn Out Quite as Expected

Fusion seems to be the hot word in marketing and advertising today. There's some kind of soft drink with that name as well as a gum, or maybe candy, called Fusion. Gilette now has a Fusion razor and blades. Ford has a Fusion car.
Most people don't think of razors and automobiles at the same moment, but the next time you see a TV commercial for Ford's Fusion, take a look at the grille. It looks for all the world like Gillette Fusion razor blades.
* * *
When Chicago's historic radio station, WLS, had its formal dedication on the evening of April 12, 1924 it brought in renowned actress Ethyl Barrymore to say the first words. The idea was to get off on the right foot with a dignified introduction. However, when she saw the large, round microphone they used when radio was in its infancy, Ethyl was horrified. Not realizing the mike was "live," she cried, "Turn that damned thing off!"
So with those words was a great radio station first heard by the listening audience.
The call letters, by the way, stand for World's Largest Store. That's because at the beginning it was owned by Sears-Roebuck
That's the kind of stuff you learn when you're doing research for a book.
* * *
Another radio blunder was committed by Alan Freed, known as the father of rock 'n' roll. That in itself was a blunder in the eyes of many.
Back in 1946, which was long before Freed gained fame on the air in New York, he was an announcer for station WAKR in Akron. In those days an announcer had all kinds of assignments so when Akron North High reached the final game of the state basketball tournament it was Freed who did the play-by-play.
The finals were played in Toledo that year. When game time approached an announcer back in Akron said, "Now we take you to Toledo for the championship game of the state basketball tournament."
The next words came from Freed in Toledo: "Boy, do I ever have to piss."
There was a brief pause, then the announcer in Akron said, "Now we take you to Toledo for the championship game of the state basketball tournament." Said it with a straight face, too.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Memories of another Fourth of July

It began hours before first light on the Fourth of July, the relentless artillery barrage that turned the sky ahead from inky black to golden yellow. Navy vessels offshore, battleships and cruisers, joined the firing and their shells passed overhead with the rustling sound of snakes slithering through dry leaves. The noise, the rumble and roar of explosions, continued hour after hour through the night and didn’t cease even when dawn broke over the green fields of Normandy.
July Fourth, but this was not a fireworks display intended to entertain appreciative onlookers. Instead this was the sound and sight of death descending on men huddled deep in holes dug in the ground. How could anyone survive such a pounding from above, from the shrapnel whirling through the air in search of a body to tear apart, from the onslaught against the mind and the nervous system? Some didn’t, of course, those that suffered a direct hit, and yet when it ended or when they became aware that enemy soldiers were beginning to advance on their position the majority were ready to rise up and fight.
It’s always that way. You can kill men with bombs and shells, but only some of them. The rest may be shaken, yet still ready to do battle. Then other men on the ground must finish the job, if it is even possible for it to be finished. That’s the role of the infantry: close with the enemy and then kill or be killed. In the end it always depends upon them, the foot soldiers.
That’s what we were, those of us looking on. Riflemen, machine gunners, mortar men. And this, we knew, was the start of the Big Push. We also knew that soon we would march down from the high ground where we watched, march down into the cauldron, into the valley of death.
We did not know that within the space of a dozen days 40,000 Americans would fall on a short stretch of land that in a mere half-hour could be traveled by the driver of a car. It was fortunate that we did not know. Infantrymen are always aware that what lies ahead will be bad. It is better not to know just how bad.
And so we watched and listened as those memorable Fourth of July fireworks continued on through much of the day. Late in the afternoon we heard from panicky rear-echelon men of the division ahead that the Germans were giving them an unmerciful beating. The same Germans who had been at ground zero during that unrelenting barrage. We should flee for our lives, they told us, but we didn’t. Instead we just waited quietly, knowing there was little to be said, until the order to start moving forward arrived. It came, as we knew it would, and then, as we always did, we followed the familiar words from the platoon sergeants and squad leaders, “Follow me.” The battle cry of the infantry, follow me. Follow me and die. Many did, some of us didn’t. Those who didn’t could never forget.
What we were doing, or so we thought, would end war forever. That never happened. The killing, the suffering, the inhumanity of it all may pause for a time, then begin again. It always has, it seems it always will. The world never runs short of old men ready to send young men out to kill, out to die. Then, as time moves on, old enemies become new allies – the British, the Germans, the Italians, the Japanese. Peter Bowman may have said it best in Beach Red, perhaps the greatest book on war ever written: “Battle doesn’t determine who is right. Only who is left.” And this about those who survive: “There’s a corner of your mind that’ll never sleep again.”
Enjoy Independence Day. It came with a price.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Day Ol' CBS Stole My Innertube

My dad, Ol' CBS, had an aversion to water. Not the kind found in a bathtub but the big stuff like Lake Erie. This came to mind because the vacation season is in full swing. Way back in 1935 it was decided that the Stodghills would take one for the first time since I had arrived on the scene a decade earlier and spoiled the fun.
We set out for Vermilion on Ohio's north coast on an August morning when the air was raw and damp. That was a prelude of things to come because most of the week was downright frigid. People in the other furnished cottages were burning furniture in their fireplaces but my mother drew the line at that. If Ol' CBS had had his way we would have set fire to the whole cottage.
Then about Thursday or Friday it warmed up enough to walk down to the lake and jump in. I was well prepared with a fat, oversized innertube. That was back when tires had innertubes and every boy worthy of the name had at least two. One was for the off chance that he might get to go swimming some day and the other was for cutting up to build slingshots and other things necessary to make life worth living.
So I was floating around on my innertube a little offshore when Ol' CBS showed up. He demanded the innertube for himself and over my violent protests took it away from me, him having the advantage of being a lot bigger than me.
He climbed aboard and for a few minutes was drifting along happily, but then he somehow managed to tip over and disappeared from sight. He surfaced quickly, arms and legs thrashing in the air, and started calling for help. The lifeguard ran into the water and began struggling with Ol' CBS, who seemed determined to take the lifeguard down with him.
This went on for what seemed a lengthy period but at last the lifeguard got Ol' CBS to his feet. I say to his feet because the water where he had been floating only came up to his knees.
This was somewhat embarrassing for him, of course, so he hurried off back to the cottage.
I got on the innertube again but soon became aware that the lifeguard was keeping a close eye on me. Maybe he thought it ran in the family.
In later years I sometimes reminded Ol' CBS about the day he stole my innertube. He vigorously protested my version of the event, claiming I had willingly offered it to him and that he was in twenty feet of water and going down for the third time when the lifeguard arrived.