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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Friday, October 24, 2008

Where have all the soldiers gone?

Another soldier from this area was killed in Iraq. It brought to mind the difference between today and the summer of 1944 when on a single day hundreds, sometimes thousands, died. So little attention is paid to it today it seems time to post an excerpt from the book "Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War."

As we left the south end of town on the road to Carentan, a distant rumbling could be heard, one that in another time and another place would have been the far off sound of a late afternoon thunderstorm. Heads turned slowly, eyes met for a moment and then drifted away to some point on the horizon. War was raging ahead and we were going back to it. No one spoke. In the Hollywood version of battle this was the time when someone would have cracked wise, but this was not a movie.
The convoy stopped again just outside Ste.-Mere-Eglise, this time for fifteen minutes or longer. For the men in G Company the halt could not have come at a worse place. In the field on the right side of the road the grass had been stripped away and men were at work turning the raw earth into a burial ground.
It should never have happened. Soldiers headed for battle should not have had to sit and watch the indecent manner in which those who had already died were tossed and sometimes kicked into open graves. But it did happen to those of us in G Company as we waited beside the road leading south from Ste.-Mere-Eglise to Carentan.
It is unlikely that any of us had given thought to the disposal of bodies left behind on the battlefield. It certainly hadn’t crossed my mind, but if it had there was no possible way that I could have envisioned a scene quite so brutal, so repugnant, so grisly, as the one taking place before our eyes.
I don’t believe it was the thought of meeting a similar fate that was so disturbing to the men who had already seen combat. Rather it was the memory of friends already dead. Many of the bodies being handled so roughly and so disrespectfully were clad in green fatigues just as we were. Were some or all of them from the 4th Division? If so, they had been lying in fields for days, perhaps weeks – and this was possible as sometimes in returning over ground that had been the scene of fighting days earlier we had seen bodies of men left behind the first time we had passed that way.
And the new replacements that had come into the company at Cherbourg, what was this like for them?
For new men and old alike, the stench was overpowering. Only by breathing through his mouth and not his nose was a man able to bear it. Even the smell while a battle was in progress was less nauseating. The Americans from Graves Registration and the German prisoners doing the physical work wore gas masks in order to endure and carry on.
It was an assembly line operation, this job of filling a cemetery. Half a dozen crews of prisoners were busy digging graves. Off to their right was a truck, a six-by-six like those in our convoy. Bodies were stacked high in back, just thrown haphazardly onto the pile. Some were badly mutilated or missing a limb or two, even a head. Others showed no sign of a wound although one was hidden somewhere.
The truck was the starting point. Two Germans stood by the tailgate waiting for a signal from one of the Graves Registration men kneeling nearby with clipboards in hand. When one finished processing a body he would gesture to the Germans, who then would grasp the nearest dead man wherever it happened to be handiest — by an arm, a leg, a head. They would pull the body from the truck, then turn it loose and let it hit the ground. After taking hold of it again they would drag it through the dirt to the waiting American.
The Graves Registration man would remove one of the two dog tags from a chain around the dead soldier's neck. After searching through the sheets of paper on his clipboard he would place a checkmark beside the proper name, then tack the dog tag to a white wooden cross or Star of David taken from nearby stacks.
That accomplished, he would hand the grave marker to a prisoner in charge of another crew. Again the body was dragged across the ground to a place where mattress covers were piled high. The body was then stuffed inside one of them. The mattress cover was hauled over the ground to the first of the waiting graves. There it was shoved or kicked into the open hole and another crew of Germans with shovels began covering it with dirt. When they were finished the cross or star was planted on top and the job on that man was complete.
On and on it went, this grim, impersonal ending for men who a month earlier had been wondering when the invasion would take place and what it might hold in store for them.
Another truckload of bodies arrived as we watched. Parked beside the one already there was a small red pickup truck commandeered from a Norman farmer. It seemed out of place there among the drab shades of brown, green, gray and black.
There was a reason for its presence, however. When the body of one young soldier was pulled from the stack it was clad in a German uniform. Field gray it was called, but when seen from even a short distance the color was little different than that of the green fatigues we wore. The prisoners knew what to do when they came upon one of their own. One took the body by the feet, the other gripped it under the arms and together they pitched it into the back of the pickup truck. The youthful German’s long blonde hair fluttered outward until the body landed on the bare metal surface with a fearful clatter. Now it was ready for its trip to another graveyard where the crosses were black.
So equality was achieved. American or German, it mattered not. Neither was afforded even a modicum of dignity in death. All that differentiated one from the other were the fields in which they would be buried.
As we sat watching the gruesome tableau unfold, visions of sweethearts, wives, daughters and mothers waving goodbye from the platform of a railroad depot flashed through my mind. Even knowing that men were dying and that their loved one would be at risk, was it possible that any could have imagined this end result of war?
On the field of battle a man quickly learns that the pomp and ceremony, the parades and the bands playing stirring music are just a sham, a mockery of the real purpose of war. Dignity does not accompany a man into battle, nor does glory, and orderliness never offsets the madness. Why should it be different when the final act is played out?
Through it all no one had spoken. Not once as the days and weeks went by did I hear anyone refer to the episode at Ste.-Mere-Eglise. When it came to mind while resting on a hillside one sunny afternoon in late August I looked at the men around me. Only a handful had been there to witness it. The others had been left behind among the hedgerows and sunken roads near Sainteny, in the fields west of St-Lo, at Marigny, Villedieu, St. Pois, Mortain. Everidge and John Morgan, Major O’Malley, Jimmy Hewston and Curly Walsh, Captain Hardee, Lieutenant Crawford, Hancock, Cwiklinski, so many, many others.
More than a decade later while listening to the words of a song heard for the first time I would recall that warm summer day on a quiet hillside, would remember the thoughts that passed through my mind as I searched for old familiar faces and found so very few ... Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards, every one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Just who is the retarded one?

I'm not going to come right out and say we have a retarded woodpecker that visits our balcony because Jackie is thrilled whenever he comes calling. She says he follows a chickadee or a tufted titmouse to see what the big attraction is that lures them here.
I'll accept that explanation, but I can't help wonder about a bird that starts pecking away at the trunk of an artificial tree. Jackie rushes to his defensive, of course, by saying, "The trunk is real wood."
Okay, but why does he nose around bright red hummingbird feeders? The hummingbirds have headed wherever it is they head in mid September but the feeders remain in place because those chickadees and titmouses like them. It has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but I often wonder if one titmouse is here and another joins it, do they remain titmouses or become titmice? No one has ever given me a satisfactory answer.
Anyway, the little downy woodpecker hangs around as long as ten minutes at a time checking every inch of a wooden trellis and a weather beaten birdhouse with wood shingles for a roof. Other stuff like a metal pole, too.
So here is the big question: does this woodpecker give real meaning to the expression "bird brain" or does it actually apply to someone who spends twenty minutes writing about the subject?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Snubbed by a hamster

Sophie, the little hamster who has lived with us for about ten months, rightly feels she is one of the family and expects to be treated accordingly. When she wakes up about eight in the evening and comes down from the nest she has built on the fourth floor of her cage she expects to find the door open.
She checks to make sure everything is just as it should be, watches television for a minute or so, then comes out and strolls around the top of the table. This goes on for a while, then when she tires of it she stands by her plastic ball. When it has been turned so she can climb inside, she is ready to roll from room to room looking for places where she can get stuck and has to be rescued.
But last night she overslept. When she finally came down it was only fifteen minutes before our bedtime so the cage door was closed and locked. This annoyed her so she stared at Jackie for a minute or so. This failed to produce results so she tried it with me. Again no reaction. Angry now, she tried gnawing on the bars on the door. Even this proved futile so she went up to her second floor and turned her back on us. This is a hamster's way of showing she feels nothing but contempt for everyone present. Turn your back, that'll show 'em.
I hated to go to bed with Sophie feeling she has been badly mistreated so I tempted her with a favorite treat, a hamster yogurt drop. She continued the snub for a short time, then the desire for a treat overcame her disdain. She came over, took the yogurt drop, went down to the first floor with it and turned her back on me.
So that's the way it goes when you displease a hamster. They don't forgive what they see as poor treatment, at least not easily.This morning Sophie was ready to be her usual sweet self again. Being offered a few sunflower seeds and a raisin helped. It's a tough job, staying on a hamster's good side.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Do Writers Touch-type Like Secretaries?

This is a serious question. They say that after he was well-established as a writer, Hemingway wrote 150 words a day. One reason is that before starting to write, he read every word of a story written up to that point. That means that by the time a lengthy piece was finished he would have read it hundreds of times.
Proving that Ernest and I have, or had, one thing in common, that's the way I write. I begin by reading a story from the first word, then add something to it. End of comparison between Hemingway and Ol' Stodg.
But about writers who are touch typists. Do they actually bang out copy at sixty words a minute? Do their brains work that fast? In my prime, my brain moved in the slow lane when I was seated in front of a keyboard. That's why I use two fingers and a thumb. The thumb hits that long thing at the bottom which I believe is called a space bar. Don't quote me on that.
Even during my newspaper days I used two fingers. With deadline at hand those two fingers were flying. So was the trusty right thumb. Most reporters were touch typists so I sometimes wondered if they had fast-lane brains. When my copy was all filed I'd watch someone else. This was most annoying for them if they happened to look up and found my nose a few inches from their keyboard.
My conclusion: they paused to think, then typed their thoughts. My two fingers seldom paused. Those fingers were moving as fast as my brain, or any brain, could put words together. That meant the two fingers worked just as well as two hands. In the end it all came out even.
This, of course, does not include the hunt-and-peck people. Few things are more painful than watching a cop type a report, pausing every few seconds to stare at the keyboard in hope that somewhere on it is the letter G.
So there you have it, the answer to a question that has puzzled even the smartest people down through the ages. All a writer needs are two fingers and one thumb. Aside from a hammer and chisel, paper and pencil, or a typewriter or computer, of course.

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's a matter of priorities

If we had a dog he'd be hunting for a place to sleep because I would he occupying his house. Not that I did anything wrong, understand. It's because talk about medical stuff is boring.
Yesterday when the doc was using a scalpel to cut a large hunk out of my left hand he began with, "I could say this will hurt me more than it will you."
"You could say that, but I wouldn't believe you."
So as he sliced away and I grimaced, we discussed old movies, a favorite topic for both of us. When I was leaving and met Jackie in the waiting room she said, "When will the stitches be removed?"
"We agreed Casablanca is the best film ever made."
Looking at the half-inch thick bandage she said, "You can't get that wet, can you?"
"I was surprised that he thinks The Best Years of Our Lives was sad."
"He's having a biopsy done, right?"
"When a revival of Blithe Spirit ran on Broadway he flew to New York for one day just to see it."
"Did he say anything at all about your hand?"
"Can you believe he hasn't seen that film where Walter Matthau was trying to murder his wife?"
So anyway, my popularity rating isn't too high right now. Sympathy is not forthcoming whenever I say my hand hurts like hell. I'm tired of hearing, "That's the way it goes." I think "Seen any good movies lately?" is totally uncalled for.
So the next time one of these squamous cell carcinomas pops up, and they do so regularly, she can just go into the treatment room with me even though she doesn't like the sight of blood and gore. If there has to be any dull and boring medical talk it will have to come from her. The doc and I don't have time for it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Some things to think about

In Canton, Ohio, twenty miles south of where I'm sitting, the fire department has put in a request for bullet-proof vests. In Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton they already are standard equipment for paramedics.
Says something about our society, doesn't it?
There was a time when the arrival of firefighters or an EMS ambulance was greeted with sighs of relief and gratitude. Today in certain places the sighs have been replaced by gunshots. Contrary to what some people believe, it has nothing to do with race. White neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, Hispanic neighborhoods, it can happen anywhere.
Close to home, a major league outfielder could throw a baseball from Goodyear's world headquarters to the neighborhood where I spent my formative years. It's a white neighborhood, a place where today it would be unwise to walk alone down one of its streets. Things have changed, it's not 1939 any more. That's unfortunate.
Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, Britain's highest ranking officer in Afghanistan, says the war there cannot be won. To end the mess, he says, a deal may have to be struck with the Taliban. That group of insurgents, according to Carleton-Smith, will still be there after all foreign troops have left.
Having carried a rifle in some of the biggest infantry battles in history and survived, I don't like the things I see in film of actual combat today. There was a new film this week raising the issue of so-called "friendly fire," a misnomer if ever there was one. The striking thing to me is the level of talking and yelling. Platoon sergeants, squad leaders or an officer, if one is present, should be the only ones sounding off unless a private is calling attention to a new threat. Close combat should not include a gabfest. When it does, the chance of survival diminishes. It is to be hoped that what is shown on TV news exaggerates reality.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

All shot up

We made our monthly trip to see Ol' Doc McLaughlin this morning and got to sit around waiting in the treatment room decorated with Cleveland Browns-Pittsburgh Steelers material. I prefer the room decked out with Harley-Davidson stuff or the one fixed up like a French cafe, but I did enjoy a baby's diaper suit hanging on the wall with the message on its front saying "Poop on Pittsburgh." Not that I don't like Pittsburgh, a great city where the Allegheny and the Monongahela meet to form the Ohio River.
Anyway, I got a flu shot to keep me healthy this winter and a testosterone shot to give me energy and last night I had a shot of gin on the rocks to put a smile on my face so for now - at least until happy hour rolls around - you could say I'm completely shot.
The remarkable thing about this visit to see the doc who likes to be called Hugh is that I was on my best behavior. No wisecracks, no one-liners, just a decorous man behaving decorously. Last time after he slammed a needle into my butt he said, "Beautiful!" so I asked him if he meant the view or his expertise with a syringe.
Jackie said something about acting my age. That's exactly what I was doing. There comes a time in life if you live long enough when you can say just about anything to anybody and get away with it. Along with that, everybody smiles at you, young ladies hurry to hold doors open for you and somebody is always asking if you could use a little help. I play the role to the hilt, milk it for all it's worth even though I can open doors for myself and never need any help.
Well, there was one thing this morning that caused the sawbones to jerk his head back in shocked surprise. After pointing out the latest skin cancer on my left hand I called the $100,000 machine he uses to remove them a "gadget." Apparently that is not a term normally used when discussing medical equipment. But what the heck, I can say anything I feel like saying because it's one of the perks you acquire with age. That's something for young squirts to look forward to.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cell Phones and other evil gadgets

Jackie received something called a text message on her cell phone, a nasty piece of high-tech horror presented to her by granddaughter Jennifer. I knew from the day it came into the house that it would be just another time-wasting, tranquility-destroying intruder that as a terrorist puts Osama Bin Laden to shame. I was right, of course.
As anticipated, Jackie couldn't call up her text message so she turned the cell phone and a thousand-page instruction manual over to me. I, too, was unable to find the text message but did discover that in the nightmarish world in which people who send and receive text messages live it is spelled TXT message. And we wonder why the English language, or anything coming even close to a recognizable imitation of it, is on the endangered species list.
While leafing through page after page of undecipherable instructions and at the same time playing around with the little monster itself I did manage to do one thing. I accidentally took a picture - an upward view of my own nose. This did serve the purpose of reminding me it is time to get out the nose and ear hair trimmer. I could not, however, determine how to call up this picture after inadvertently hitting another button.
So I'm sick of the high-tech era and all the useless and expensive gadgets it has inflicted on a gullible public. I don't even know what most of them are or what, if anything, they do. What exactly is a blackberry? Or a blue tooth? I thought plasma was something they shot into a person needing more blood. Then there is the silly bit of nonsense found in cars that tell someone too stupid to read a map how to get to where they want to go. One more evidence of dumbing down.
Jackie's text message - oops, TXT message - is still floating around somewhere in cyberspace and I am not a bit sorry about that.
How did we ever survive before all this high-tech stuff came along? Happily. Blissfully content in knowing we were capable of finding our way to the convenience store on the corner without the help of anyone or anything. And, of course, basking in the glow of contentment that comes from being off somewhere without anyone knowing where you are - a place where no one can call you on a despicable cell phone and say, "What are you doing?"

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's Alright, It's Okay

If asked to pick my favorite current TV show I would answer in a heartbeat, the BBC production New Tricks. If you haven't seen it you are missing out on a real treat.
It revolves around four great characters - oddballs every one of them - played by some of Britain's finest actors. Three of them are retired police officers, detectives. Their boss is a hard-bitten female who comes close to being driven off the deep end trying to keep them in line. She can't, of course.
The song introducing the show has become quite popular, yet BBC has not released it on a CD. Because of this, fans have typed out the lyrics and posted them on the Internet, proving once again that you can find anything imaginable on the web if you take time to look. Like so many others, I love the song. Unfortunately I can't sing it for you so here is the way it goes:

It's alright, it's okay,
Doesn't really matter if you're old and grey.
It's alright, I say it's okay,
Listen to what I say.
It's alright, doin' fine,
Doesn't really matter if the sun don't shine.
It's alright, I say it's okay,
We're gettin' to the end of the day.
High tech low tech, take your pick,
Cos' you can't teach an old dog
a brand new trick.
I don't care what anybody says,
At the end of the day,
There's no place that I can't find,
A drink or two to ease my mind.

So there you have it: my themesong. The words I live by.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How disgusting can it get?

The first rule of politics, especially presidential politics, is this: when you have nothing good to say about yourself, start slinging mud at your opponent. If the truth won't do the job, dream up some lies and then keep repeating them.
For an example of how this is done, check the McCain campaign. In recent weeks several leading publications have come right out and called him a liar. One used the word dishonorable.
Now it is full-speed-ahead time for the character-assassinating chain e-mails. Time for the candidate and his choice for VP to hurl any vicious comment they can think of because they are bereft of good things to say about themselves. They know there are ignorant people who will listen. The wise ones decide for themselves and they are the ones who find mud-slinging so reprehensible.
So will the Republican campaign of filth pay off as it did for the swift boaters and the Willie Horton folks? In a few weeks we will know. If it does work, or the race hatred works, the country will have four more years of the policies that created the current financial mess and four years of hoping a weary old man doesn't die and leave the fate of the nation in the hands of an ill-prepared vice president.
In the meantime, anyone care to discuss the economy, health care issues or the wars costing $10 billion a month?
Perhaps the filth mongers should hire some of the people sending messages telling us we can lay hands on tremendous amounts of money if we will only . . . well, everyone knows the rest. My latest came yesterday from someone purporting to be Miss Maria Buku. It began: "Hello My Sweetheart in Love, my Honey." The sender closed with, "I am waiting for for your soonest mail from your sweet lover." The amount of money waiting for me if I just write or call is $5,600,000.
Now wouldn't someone who could write that sort of tripe do well in the current campaign?
I've neglected blogging recently because of finishing up a couple of short mysteries and starting on a couple of others. That and trying to keep from gagging whenever I watch the news.