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, November 22, 2008

What is the true meaning of hero?

The word "hero" is bandied about quite freely today. If you hit the home run, score the touchdown or sink the basket that wins a game you are a hero. People are called heroes when in fact they have done something that rightly should be referred to as commendable. Occasionally an obituary will say a person fought heroically against a life-threatening disease even though it was their own life that was threatened.
I have a different definition. A hero is someone who willingly places his life in jeopardy to aid another in grave danger. I have known a few men like that, served with them in infantry combat. They are a rare breed.
At the top of the short list of heroes I have known is the name of Eddie Wolfe. Those who have read the book Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War know of a few times when he risked his life while others failed to act. As fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday is the morning when some of us had moved into the wrong field in the dark of night and then at first light were subjected to a horrific artillery barrage directed by Germans who could see us. Eddie, who was in the adjoining field safely behind a thick dirt hedgerow repeatedly called, "Stodgy, Stodgy, are you guys OK?" I assured him we were until finally the concussion from shells hitting close by left me unable to move or even speak. I could see, though, and in the midst of the shelling, when it was difficult to distinguish anything because of the brilliant bursts of silver laced with gold and red, I saw Eddie crawling toward me. He gripped me under the arms and, crawling backwards while pulling me and my equipment weighing well over 200 pounds, dragged me to safety.
That was just one of the times Eddie left a safe place to help someone when the odds were stacked against his surviving. He never got a medal, never even a word of thanks because that just wasn't something men did.
Eddie, a platoon sergeant, never slept while one of his men was out on patrol or doing some other extremely dangerous job. A few other sergeants called him "Mother Wolfe" and meant it as a compliment. But without meaning to, Eddie made most compliments meaningless to me on a night when I had to lead an ammunition train of rear-echelon men through rugged country while a German patrol was loose and roaming the area. At four in the morning when the job was finished he put an arm over my shoulder and said, "You did a good job tonight, Stodgy." Coming from him, to an 18-year-old soldier that was the supreme compliment that could never be equaled.
The fact that he was a Jew didn't keep Eddie from sending me Christmas cards. He was too big a man to let something like religion keep him from doing things like that, things he felt like doing.
Time catches up with everyone, though. Eddie Wolfe would have been ninety or close to it when he died this week. His kind seldom come along. The world isn't quite as good a place without him.

Friday, November 21, 2008

It's a Dog's Life

Among the dozens of glossy catalogs on slick paper Jackie has received in recent weeks is one exclusively for dogs and cats. One might think it impossible to fill 170 pages with gifts for our four-legged friends but I assure you it can be done.
The message is simple: You may cut back on gifts for friends and family owing to the state of the economy but don't skimp on things for your pet. If you believe the ads and TV commercials these no longer are Christmas gifts, being holiday gifts instead. This is in keeping with what people now call "the holidays."
Now I have had a certain amount of experience with dogs and in my opinion the mutt was never born who gives a damn about the holidays, Christmas or otherwise. To them, every day is a holiday. Gifts, especially those that are edible, is something they do care about, of course. As for little booties to protect their feet from the snow and all the other stuff in that catalog, no self-respecting dog would be caught within a mile of them.
Take Casey, whom came into my life as the puppy pictured above when I was a callow youth of eight years. That would have been in 1933. A cute little fellow as a pup, Casey quickly developed into a street dog at a time when currs were aloud to run loose. He would leave as soon as someone let him out in the morning and seldom be seen again before supper time. As often as not he came home filthy, wet and smelly, occasionally covered with burrs, sometimes cut and bruised from a battle with another mutt.
All someone had to do was utter the word "bath" and Casey disappeared under a bed or in some dark corner of the basement. Had some well-meaning person attempted to slip booties on his feet or even tie a little sweater on his back I hate to think of the consequences.
As he grew older, Casey developed a new habit. He would rest his chin on the lap of a wary visitor and then throw up. This was disturbing to my father, who was always out to impress people, but not in the way Casey had in mind.
Casey's only visit to a vet came when he needed to be stitched up after an encounter with the neighborhood chow. He never once was served dog food from a can or package. Instead he greedily consumed anything left over from dinner.
So the point of all this is that Casey, who lived to be fifteen, would have been unimpressed by everything in the catalog aside from things he could devour. This, I feel, is an attitude and outlook shared by nearly all the dogs on earth. Their idea of a holiday gift would be having someone leave a raw steak unattended for a moment while they were within striking distance. The things in that catalog wouldn't be worthy of even a sniff.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I wish someone would tell me

(A) Why economists keep saying we may be in a recession. Don't these people ever get out in the real world? Apparently not.
(B) If Ben Bernanke is an educated fool totally out of touch with conditions in the country. He needs to be told that there's life beyond Wall Street and Washington, D.C. and that the Wall Street Journal isn't the only reading material available. He has lowered the interest rate to one percent and now says it may be necessary to lower it again. Hasn't the man heard of inflation? He should be handed a grocery bill from 2006, given the amount of money on the bottom line and then sent out to buy the very same items. When he saw how many things were missing from his cart when he ran out of money he might wise up to what the rest of the nation is up against.
(C) Why any man or woman in their right mind would choose to live in Southern California. We've all heard the usual explanations: Great climate, Disneyland, Hollywood and on and on and on. They're not good enough reasons.
(D) Why the people who do live there expect the taxpayers in the rest of the country to send money every time there is a forest fire, mudslide, flood or earthquake. One or the other of these things seem to be monthly occurrences.
(E) Why some politicians tout the free economy system and cry "socialism" if someone suggests a program to help ordinary people, then turn around and say huge corporations must be given taxpayer money to bail them out when they make stupid mistakes.
(F) Why a firm like AIG is given billions of dollars in aid and then allowed to pay their executives huge bonuses. But, says Henry Paulson, they're only getting half of last year's bonuses, poor babies.
(G) Why I'm foolish enough to think any of these questions might be answered in a satisfactory manner.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Will the wild creatures please go away

Okay, this has gone far enough. I love all the little critters of the world, those who know me understand that. I love the big ones, too, but prefer them when seen from far away or while they are behind bars.
So, feeling as I do, it didn't upset me a bit when the coyotes came back to this area. Nor was I concerned when the rattlesnakes and copperheads decided global warming made this a fine place to live. The big rattlesnake hunt of 1940 had killed 106 of them and that was the last seen of them in these parts. Until recently.
The foxes never did leave, being wily little fellows who knew how to hide out. I'm not sure how they felt when cougars were spotted in the neighborhood but I wasn't too thrilled about it.
Then came the bears. Just why they found Northeast Ohio more to their liking than the mountains of Pennsylvania is anybody's guess. Reminded me of the time when we lived in upstate New York and bears roamed the hills around our house. Not content with that, one of them decided to meander down Main Street in Oneonta at the height of the Christmas shopping season.
This in turn brought memories of the day an elephant strolled through downtown Peru, Indiana. He had escaped from the winter headquarters of a circus. Now you would think that finding an elephant would not be too difficult but apparently that is not true because he had been free for a week or more.
But I digress. The latest event in the animal kingdom's determination to reclaim the land where they one lived without human interference came this week when a panther was spotted nearby. That's right, a panther. Even the most ardent admirers of big cats have never claimed that panthers enjoy the company of humans or purr contentedly when given a pat on the head.
Now we've lost our insects but gained cougars, bears and panthers. Hardly a fair trade off in my book.
So what's left? Only the wolves. So far none have been found in the Akron area although I have seen a couple of large, furry dogs from a distance. Who knows?

Friday, November 14, 2008

The evidence is there to see

There is a road a short distance from town that I remembered as a narrow, hilly two-laner with nothing much on either side. So why, I wondered, was it showing up in the news so often? We drove down it a couple of days ago and it was a shocking experience.
On both sides were allotments of expensive houses on small plots of ground. Fancy houses, the kind we used to think were occupied by rich people. But there aren't that many rich folks around so the occupants were everyday people living beyond their means. Despite the fancy name for each allotment, this was foreclosure country.
I feel no sympathy for those who suddenly wake up to reality. They knew these places were too much house, three-thousand or so square feet while they had a one-thousand foot income. They were over their heads the day they moved in and they knew it. Then they maxed-out credits cards to have a big-screen TV and all the latest electronic gadgets. And didn't they "deserve" a gas-guzzling SUV or van?
It is obvious that most are living from paycheck to paycheck. For some, even that won't do it so they have to visit payday lenders charging exorbitant interest rates. Not too long ago there was no such thing as a payday lender.
Most of us my age learned better during the Great Depression. The lessons were good ones: Don't buy something until you have money to pay for it. The roof over your head doesn't have to cover several thousand square feet. The vehicle you drive doesn't have to be a top-of-the-line model equipped with every luxury imaginable. We worked hard for little money, but what we possessed was really ours and stress wasn't included in the price tag.
So that ugly phrase "the American Dream" has turned into a nightmare for millions. Should the rest of us bail them out? Or bail out automakers or banks or any other business? Not on your life. That's just postponing the inevitable. Once again Americans need to learn a hard lesson. When they have, you won't find a payday lender on every corner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The following column appeared in the Muncie Evening Press on Veterans Day, 1981. It still seems timely.

Dick Stodghill, whose "in the Press of Things" column appears regularly on Page 2, is a combat veteran of World War II.
Veterans Day, what does it mean? A great deal to some people, very little to most.
A veteran, regardless of the war in which he or she served, is one of those who is left. That’s not the definition found in Webster’s, it appeared in a small volume titled "Beach Red" published 35 years ago – "War doesn’t prove who is right, only who is left."
While this is a day to honor American veterans, it’s hard to tell one from another when the shooting stops. Those who do the fighting, regardless of the uniform they wear or the language they speak, are pretty much alike, just average guys who have to kill the wrong people. Not all American veterans saw the enemy at close range, of course, and those who did saw the wrong faces, not those of the Kaiser, Hitler, Tojo, or the top men of North Korea or the Viet Cong.
* * *
He lay on his side, curly blond hair matted by the afternoon rain, face pressed to the wet blacktop of a narrow country road. Fingers of one hand gripped a half-open first aid packet, water collected in an upturned helmet a foot away.
He was too young to buy beer in Indiana. Too young to walk a college campus except as a visitor. Too young to die on a spring day when the air was warm and wild flowers bloomed nearby.
But he did. And those who crouched beside the road took no pleasure in the fact. Some might say they should have because his uniform was a different shade and his helmet a different shape. A bullet fired by one of them had found him as its mark. No one boasted of the kill, no one claimed the trophy.
* * *
He was too old and too slow to keep up. The others cleared the wall and kept going. He was still trying to climb over, clawing at the top with fingers that suddenly relaxed as bullets tore his body.
He turned and faced his pursuers, smiled a sickly smile as he sagged against the wall and to the ground. The overcoat that was too big came open and letters scattered in the wind.
Someone picked one up, handed it to the squad leader. He opened the envelope and a photo inside was passed from man to man. Each in turn looked at the body slouched against the wall, and saw the face of the man holding a young girl on his knee. Behind them stood two older children and a woman.
The squad leader knew the language, read the letter aloud. A commonplace letter, news of home, nothing special. At the bottom a postscript in a childish scrawl: "I love you, Papa. Hurry home."
The squad leader reached for another letter. Joe, a hardened killer at 19, shook his head and said. "Don’t read any more, Eddie." No one raised a protest.
* * *
The tank 20 feet away fired again and again at the stone farmhouse in a narrow valley. Only between bursts could the clatter of rifles and machine guns be heard. A squad of riflemen, out in front of the rest of the company, crouched behind a thick dirt hedgerow, waiting to be ordered forward.
A mile to the rear had been a training school for boys 12 and 13. They had joined the thin rank of defenders, been told to try to hold the line. They fought fiercely until cornered, then were little boys again.
One of them squeezed through the narrow space between the tank and hedgerow, stopped and looked around uncertainly. His right hand held a rifle, tears streamed down his face.
Someone cried, "Put your hands on your head." The words were lost in the incessant racket.
Still, the boy grasped their meaning. He began to raise his hands, and with them the rifle. It was a threatening gesture. Only later, when there was time to think, came the realization that it was unintended. With it came the memory that would never go away – the look of disbelief, the shock, the pain. The ranks of the enemy were one fewer, but who was there to rejoice?
* * *
They served by the millions in the 20th century. And died by the millions. Young, old, black, white, red, yellow. From all walks of life, from every section of the globe, in uniforms of various hues. The differences seem small once they’ve died.. You look and wonder who he was, where he came from, who will cry for him.
Those who are left gain weight, go bald, grow old while the medals tarnish in a drawer. The years pass but certain memories never fade. And those who didn’t squeeze a trigger never quite understand.
Who can truly say whether it was worth it? No one, but any person of common sense knows there had to be a better way.
Today is set aside to honor American veterans. Many countries have similar days. Until the time when they are unnecessary, any claims that men are civilized will ring hollowly over the countless graves of those who learned otherwise.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The antics of inanimate objects

It never ceases to amaze me that some people believe inanimate objects cannot act for themselves without a bit of help from humans. The truth is, some of them act not only without help of humans but to deliberately spite them.
That's not true of the cute little fellow at the left, Hallmark's Hamster Ralph. He acts only out of consideration and concern. Skeptics will say Ralph is a mere picture, an inanimate object, and therefore cannot act at all. Then why is it, I ask, that with more than thirty photos on my screen saver - some that go unseen for weeks at a time - it is always Ralph who is looking at me when I return to the office? The answer is simple, Ralph needs to be reassured that our little Sophie is OK. I always tell him she is just fine and sleeping peacefully and then he goes away. Some cynics might question my sanity for talking to an inanimate object and I feel sorry for people like that.
Then there is wire. Take coat hangers - bent wire - for example. No matter how carefully they may be arranged and separated, when left alone for even a moment they will bunch themselves together in a tangle that defies even the smartest among us to get apart. Now just tell me those inanimate objects can't act on their own.
How about electric wires found around every computer and TV set. Place them in perfect order (it's called dressing them) and the next time you check they are in a hopeless jumble. Coincidence? Not hardly.
Or how about automobiles that utterly defy some people when they try to start them but react instantly to the mere touch of someone else? We all know folks who cannot start a chain saw, power mower or any other object lacking the power of thought, or at least lacking it according to logical people. Then someone else comes along and starts them without even a hint of problem.
So say what you will, some of us know there is no such thing as an inanimate object lacking the ability to act on its own. Anyone should be able to see that.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bailing out the automakers

The Big Three among car manufacturers aren't so big anymore. They need financial help from the government and it goes against the grain to provide it. Yet the nation depends upon the industry and all its suppliers. It has to be done. It wasn't always that way. No one came to the aid of Auburn, Hupmobile and so many others, including Jordan. Jordan? Yes, that was the name of a popular car of the 1920s. Its founder, Ned Jordan, revolutionized automobile advertising. Romance, adventure, those were the things that should be selling cars, not wheelbase and other dull, drab specifications, or so he believed. The result was "Somewhere West of Laramie" and auto advertising was never the same.
In the late 'twenties, Ned Jordan saw the coming of the Wall Street Crash. He sold his stock in the company, but the firm continued making beautiful cars at its plant in Cleveland. Then the Great Depression hit and Jordan soon was in financial hot water. No one provided aid, no one offered help so the company was forced to close its doors. Few people today realize it ever existed.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Good times in the neighborhood

I was thinking today of Burkey the barber and this was probably the first time in many years that anyone remembered the portly fellow who had a shop just down the street. Back in 1936 and '37 we lived right next door to the place where he spent most of his waking hours. By looking out the balcony door just to my right I can see both our old apartment and the building where Burkey had his shop.
As he cut your hair, Burkey's ample stomach pressed tightly against your arm so you could both hear and feel the inner rumblings. Every so often he would emit a noteworthy belch. I looked on that as a highlight of having my hair cut but my dad found it disgusting, or at least pretended to. Clyde B. Stodghill was not a man of great refinement himself so I took his complaints with a grain of salt.
Neighborhood kids, and there were many of them, played on the devil strip in front of Burkey's shop. I'm not sure why because there was a large vacant lot just a stone's throw away. Boys wrestled and fought and played marbles and mumblety-peg while the girls used chalk to mark out a hopscotch ring, or whatever they called it. That corner was always busy, but it's strange because today you never see a kid there. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
One snowy day Burkey kept me from committing murder. A boy from my former neighborhood came over to play and hit me in the nose with a snowball. It was the first time I realized I had a vicious temper and would have to work to keep it under control. So I had my visitor on the ground with my hands around his throat until Burkey came out and pulled me away. The boy headed for home and I never saw him again. For months after that Burkey would shake his head and say, "You were going to kill that kid."
Burkey's old shop and Mr. Baer's drugstore next to it in the same building are an apartment today. So is Freese's Grocery next to the drugstore. Mr. Baer was very old and so was most of the merchandise in his dark establishment that rarely saw a customer. Freese's was a typical corner grocery store with the added feature of a few booths at the rear for drinking beer. Mr. Baer lived upstairs above his store and the Freese family, including my friend Dean, lived over the grocery.
The old neighborhood has changed a lot. I wish I could say it is for the better, but I can't. Nearly all the people from that era are dead now, including the kids. I was the least likely of the bunch to still be around, but that's just the way it goes.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Dawning of a New Day in America

It truly is a new day for an old guy in America. Half a century ago I would have scoffed at the possibility, yet I have lived to see it happen. We have come a long way during my lifetime and we still are far from perfect but the progress we've made is remarkable.
I have written about having to get up from my seat in a bus headed from Columbus, Georgia to Atlanta so a black woman and her two children could get aboard. And about having to slump down in my seat as a black sergeant drove me from Fort Benning into Columbus on a number of occasions. He was concerned that otherwise he could be in trouble.
But yesterday Americans elected a black president. We have traveled that far in fifty-six years. The accident of birth in itself isn't cause for pride, yet today I feel a return of pride that has been missing from my life for too long. I'm proud of America, proud of Ohio and proud of Indiana. I'm proud of the people who looked beyond the color of a man's skin and saw and heard something inspirational. I'm especially proud of the often-defamed and derided young people of America because they have moved beyond the old prejudices that still abide in the hearts of many of their elders. Beyond even that, I'm proud of those elders who cast aside the old and decadent ways, a task that was far from easy for them.
So now we start down a path laden with obstacles. Each of them can be overcome if we really try, if we ignore the scoffers who stand on the sidelines and yearn for the return of the dark days and darker nights. In many ways today brings to mind the change that took place in America when I was a boy of seven and Franklin D. Roosevelt took the helm of a country in the depths of despair. His mere presence gave men and women courage to drive ahead and his words offered inspiration that ensured the overwhelming problems of the Great Depression would be overcome. It wasn't easy then and it won't be easy now, but this old guy once again believes that despite the harping of the inevitable critics we will take one step at a time until we have reached the goal of a better world with better values and a feeling of pride that is earned, not inherited.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

At last it's over

The votes haven't been counted but the seemingly endless months of campaigning are over. In many ways it seems that it has gone on for years, decades even. But now it's finished.
The question now is whether or not the tally will be accurate. In many states voting machines without a paper receipt are in use. A short segment on CNN showed how easy it is to tamper with them to change the results.
Along with deciding who will be the new president, this election may determine which tactics win, which lose. Is it talking about the issues and plans for the future or is it the slash and burn methods of the past? Does mud slinging still work or are people sick of it?
Then there is the question of time. Do we really need campaigns that go on as long as they do? In some countries there is a time limit and this might be a good time to have one in the United States. If it can't be said in six or eight weeks it probably isn't worth saying.
There also is the method of voting to consider. It seems unbelievable that in the country that preaches democracy people have to stand in line as long as two, four and even six hours to vote. Some can't do it, some won't do it.
So the system needs a major overhaul. Will it be done? Not likely because it's in the hands of the politicians and they appear to like it just the way it is.
Finally, if the current system remains in place, and it almost certainly will, shouldn't election day be a national holiday? We have them for everything else.
Oh yes, and if a single vote in Rhode Island should be worth as much as one in California isn't it time to have the popular vote determine the winner, not the antiquated electoral college?