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, June 30, 2009

Just an Army AWOL

When my orders arrived I read them, read them again and then read them a third time. Then I read Fleming's and Goulding's. All were the same: name. rank, serial number and "report from Fort Benning, Georgia to Company K, 145th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division at Camp Polk, Louisiana."
A clerk had slipped up. No date to report, nothing saying "by the first available means of transportation." Just report, that was all. Opportunity had knocked so I answered.
I was an old veteran, Fleming and Goulding were new to all this so that was their tough luck. My lips remained sealed.
Our 14 weeks of Weapons & Leadership School had proved to be nothing more than infantry basic training. The graduation ceremony was like that at any high school. One man at a time marched across a stage and was handed a diploma. I was eager for it to end because a northbound bus would soon be leaving nearby Columbus.
Then disaster struck. We had to march across the stage a second time so officers could smell our breath. Not surprising as half the men were drunk. I wasn't, but time was of the essence. Finally it ended and those not arrested milled around saying goodbye to friends they had made.
Not me. I ran to our barrack, grabbed my loaded duffel bag and flagged down a bus headed for town.
Somewhere along the way I changed into civilian clothes and arrived in Akron early the next day. A week of relaxation followed. I visited the people at the place where I had worked before being called up for the war in Korea, watched the Little League team I had managed play a game, goofed around in general.
When it began to seem likely that military policemen might be coming to the door I talked my less-than-enthusiastic father into driving me to the railroad station in Cleveland. A New York Central train took me through Muncie at first light the following morning and then on to St. Louis. From there the Missouri Pacific carried me through Little Rock and then arrived in Texarkana at midnight. There was a four-hour wait before a Kansas City Southern train would take me to Leesville. There are few places more dreary than Texarkana in the wee small hours.
At Leesville about nine in the morning I changed into my uniform and caught a bus for Camp Polk, expecting trouble when I arrived. Instead when I walked in the door of the orderly room Warrant Officer Fred Slabaugh jumped up, came around his desk and shook my hand while calling, "Captain, come and see who's here. Stodghill's back."
Captain Prasher was all smiles. Slabaugh said the company was out in the field and wouldn't be coming back until the following evening. He said, "Should we send Dick out with the chow truck?"
The captain shook his head. "He's probably tired. Have him just take it easy around the barracks until the men come back."
So I did. I'd go to the mess hall and eat before the chow truck would leave, head for beer at the PX when I was thirsty, sleep when I was weary.
Fleming and Goulding spotted me when the company returned my second night there. They were outraged. Questions such as, "Where have you been?" were fired at me. I grinned and said, "Akron." Their anger peaked.
When they ran out of breath I said, "You young guys need to learn how to read orders." They simmered down after a week or ten days.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Most Unusual Man

Evan Owens was a funny man with a weird sense of humor, an irreverent outlook and an uncommon talent for painting word pictures. For several years his desk and mine were side by side in the newsroom at the Muncie Evening Press. In the afternoon after deadline we enjoyed meaningless conversations about nothing at all. Horatio Alger books were a favorite topic. Evan kept a long row of them at the back of his desk.
Once in a while when city editor Jack Richman had finished the last of his duties and was headed for Frosty Miller's Tavern we would hail him with a question about Horatio. Jack wouldn't slow down or even glance our way. He'd just say, "You two belong in an institution." He could have been right.
One rainy winter morning several reporters called in sick. Jack Richman was ready to spit nails and then Evan called. Jack's only words were, "Evan, you're not allowed to be sick. Get down here!" He soon arrived, red-eyed, nose dripping.
Our telephones had buttons so reporters could take calls at their desk regardless of who answered the phone. Evan would talk only on the phone on which a call came in. When a reporter would yell, "Evan, line three," Evan would get up and walk to the desk of the reporter who had hailed him and use his phone.
At times Evan was secluded in his own little world. One day as deadline approached people rushed to a window at the sound of a loud crash. A city bus had smashed its way into the front of the Strand Theater. Jack Richman yelled, "Somebody better get down there." Roy Bigger said, "It's OK, Jack, I see Evan coming back from City Hall. He's almost to it."
When Evan walked into the newsroom Jack said, "What's the story on the bus, Evan?" Evan stared around the room, bewildered. "Bus? What bus?"
City Court had just adjourned one day when an elderly man thought his car was in reverse and crashed into City Hall. Evan watched in amazement as the man shifted gears and backed full speed into a parked police car. He shifted again and took another hunk out of City Hall. Again he threw it into reverse and wiped out a second police car. Finally getting the wheels turned, he roared across a side street and smashed into an office supply store.
Evan ran to a phone, forgetting a reporter should never arrive breathless. When Jack Richman picked up his phone I could hear Evan say, "A car. . .a car. . .a car. . ." That was enough for Jack. "Well goddammit, Evan, what about a car?"
An assistant editor who hated Evan always held down the city desk on Saturday. One day after he had been particularly critical Evan, a touch typist, deliberately positioned his fingers over the wrong keys. He wrote a two-page story, grinning slyly all the while. When he filed it the editor read, "Xzsbtuq. . ."
Years before I knew him Evan's older brother, a doctor, died, leaving a wife and young children with no means of support. Evan married the widow and raised the children as his own. They loved him as a husband and father as time passed.
Because the father of my uncle by marriage had been a singer with the Metropolitan Opera, Evan decided I could sing. Whenever there was a company party, he would have a few drinks and then seek me out. "Sing for us, Dick," he'd say, "sing for us." This would go on for a while until finally in desperation to end it I'd get up and sing. People would cheer and throw pennies and nickles. Evan would beam.
When he retired, the company gave Evan his typewriter so he would use his wonderful talent to write stories. He never did. Too bad because Evan could take the most commonplace event or person and weave a fascinating story.
From reading Evan's stuff I learned to write a few paragraphs and then drift off onto an entirely different subject and then tie them together in the final sentence. I learned from Evan that nothing is dull or boring except to dull and boring people. Watching him taught me that no matter how battered a fedora might be, no matter how greasy the hat band, it never reached the point of being ready to throw away. Nowhere else have I found someone willing to have a "serious" discussion for an hour with neither party cracking a smile or believing a single word that was said. Only Evan Owens could do that. He was one of a kind. I miss him.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Feeling sorry for GOP politicians

Sometimes it's hard not to feel sorry for Republican politicians but I usually manage to avoid it. Those fellows (GOP women have more sense) like to say their morals are better than those of the rest of us but one thing after another happens to prove them wrong.
The latest is the South Carolina governor who flew to Argentina to spend five days with his mistress. This is the same Mark Sanford who was morally outraged when other men were found with open flies. We might have thought less of the whole business if he had hopped in his car and driven to Savannah for this little get-together - but Argentina?
Then there are The Mouths. Those would be Cheney and McCain. Neither ever saw a war or a general they didn't like. Well, almost. When he had the opportunity to be in one, Dick Cheney had "other priorities." Six times. He's tough, though. He's the first to admit that. Now McCain spent time in a prisoner of war camp so he should know better. He also lost out on being president and the things he says these days make many of us more thankful than ever for that.
How about The Brylcreem Twins, John Boehner and Mike Pence? Neither has ever been seen with so much as a single hair out of place. Their districts aren't far apart so maybe it's something in the air. Or it could be their determination to always place insurance companies ahead of the general public.
That's a trait shared by most GOP folks in Washington. They keep saying 119 million Americans would lose their private health insurance if a plan is adopted so everyone shares that benefit. This despite the fact that the man who came up with that figure says it isn't so. What he said was those people might prefer a better plan run by the government so they'd bid farewell to the insurance companies. Big difference there.
Now Boehner and the other boys who spent eight years getting us into this economic mess are complaining because the Democrats haven't gotten us out of it in five months. Yes, it's hard not to feel sorry for people who think that way. Some of us manage to keep from it, though.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

For Some, a Special Day

June 25. Just another summer day to most people. For those of us still living, and the ranks have dwindled considerably, it is a date that revives memories of another June 25 in the bloody summer of 1944. We were young that day when we fought on the streets and in the buildings of the port city of Cherbourg, yet old beyond our years.
For the three weeks since D-Day, Cherbourg had been the goal. Beyond it was nothing but the Atlantic and that's why it was important - a place where ships could dock.
In the plans for the invasion of Normandy, Cherbourg was to be captured within a few days. The generals who drew up those plans underestimated the tenacity of German infantrymen and they seemed to forget the thick dirt hedgerows that surrounded countless small fields lying between Utah Beach and the port that would be used to bring in supplies and fresh replacements to hurl into the cauldron. Eisenhower, the supreme commander, should have remembered those hedgerows because he had visited Normandy years earlier. All of them should have remembered that German infantrymen always fought if for no other reason than they were soldiers and that is what soldiers do.
Every field was contested. Every farmyard and village street was the scene of brutal close combat. So was a stone quarry near the little town of Montebourg and a large woods that was so close to the objective you could almost smell the ocean.
The casualties exceeded anything the generals back in England had anticipated. By the time that first stage of the Normandy Campaign ended my company had lost more men than had landed on D-Day, but many of those were replacements who barely had time to plant their feet on French soil before they were cut down.
Now we were in Cherbourg, weary beyond what any words can convey. Progress was slow so whenever we halted for even a few minutes some men fell asleep on sidewalks despite the clatter of rifle and machine gun fire and the metallic blasts as tanks fired their cannons. In the distance tremendous explosions were heard as the Germans blew up the port facilities. Instead of being usable in a few days it was three months before the port was open again.
Yes, it was a memorable day. Hardly worth a line in a history book today, but unforgettable to those who were there. That's the way it always is once the guns fall silent. Generals pin another little ribbon on their chests, politicians make flowery speeches, but few people remember. Today the Battle of Cherbourg is a video game. No one actually dies, of course.
(photo taken in 1985 by Jackie Stodghill)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Virus that didn't make it

Thanks to a number of people I now know the Fathers Day card purportedly from Hallmark was an attempt to infect my computer with a virus. It didn't work, thanks to one of four programs on the computer that made it impossible to open the so-called card.
Sending such things on a holiday is clever, but only a fool would waste his time doing it. That he is a fool was proved by the fact he can't spell received.
This is just one of the annoyances that go with owning a computer. Another are the messages from Princess Fruity-Tootie or a barrister in Hoo-Hoo Land needing your help with a financial transaction. A third are messages saying you must update your personal information with a bank you have never used.
Apparently there are people who fall for this stuff or they'd quit doing it. Perpetrators with enough intelligence to do this sort of thing could probably make a lot more money by getting an honest job. They would tell you that working a scam is more exciting and more fun. Many career criminals feel the say way. It isn't just the money that entices them into a life of crime.
I have always been careful about opening attachments from anyone I don't know and trust. From now on, e-cards are added to the list so don't bother sending me one.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thanks, whoever you are

Yesterday, Fathers Day, someone sent me a Hallmark e-card. Sad to say, when I click on ". . .open here" I get a message saying it doesn't work.
How can I thank someone or think kind thoughts about them when I don't know who they are? Now I may get messages from three or four people saying they sent the card.
The point of this is to make whoever sent it aware that I am not an ungrateful, insensitive clod. I may be a clod but I'm a thoughtful clod.
I did notice one thing about the message saying I had received a card: Hallmark does not know how to spell "received." Other than that morale booster the experience has been a washout. The moral of the story is never trust anything beginning with e-.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Little Bitty Tear

The Civic Theater in Akron was packed to overflowing with people eager to hear Eddy Arnold sing the songs he had made famous. It turned out he wasn't like so many entertainers who sing a little, talk a lot. Eddy walked on stage, sat down on a high stool, smiled and said, "Good evening." Then he sang and didn't stop for two hours. No talking, just singing. No one left the theater thinking they hadn't gotten their money's worth.
Odd, though, that most walked out the door with another memory stored away. It was of a funny little man, the warm-up singer for Arnold. He ambled out onto the stage, climbed up on that high stool, sat for a minute or more looking around with a big grin on his face. He said his name was Hank Cochran and that didn't mean a thing to most people in the audience. He plucked a few notes on his guitar and began singing. It was painful. The man had a voice that would set dogs to howling. Akronites are polite, though, so everyone sat quietly just hoping it soon would end.
After half a dozen songs he stopped, looking around again and grinning as if to say, "Wasn't that wonderful?" Then, as though asking for permission, he said, "I'm gonna sing a few songs I wrote myself."
Oh, no, not more, that was the general feeling of the three thousand listeners. So he started: "A little bitty tear let me down. . ." Amazing. This guy had written the big hit by Burl Ives. Next came the song Ives had followed with, "It's just my funny way of laughing. . ."
He had won the audience, but he was just getting started. Two huge hits by Patsy Cline followed: I Fall to Pieces and She's Got You. Poignant tales of love gone wrong: You walk by and I fall to pieces. . .I've got your picture, she's got you. . .
By then it was time for Eddy Arnold so Hank Cochran sang another of his compositions, Make the World Go Away, one of Eddy's biggest hit.
Cochran slid off the stool, said, "Time to go," and started off the stage, that funny grin on his face again. But he had to stop and come back again and take a bow because he was receiving a standing ovation. Not bad for a little guy who could barely carry a tune. It was the only time I've seen a warm-up act bring everyone to their feet.
The lesson was obvious: Don't judge people by first appearances. Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline and Burl Ives were wonderful singers, but it took the Hank Cochran types to bring out their talent for the world to enjoy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's all in a name

In Muncie years ago there was a doctor named Elmer T. Cure. What better named could there be for a doctor? But wait, there's more. His middle name was Treat. Dr. Treat Cure made Ripley's "Believe it Or Not."
Some names would be less suitable. It wouldn't do much for the morale if you were heading for surgery and the job would be handled by Dr. Butcher. Savage or Cutter would be little better. I wouldn't care to be treated by a Dr. Grimm. No fun in that.
When we arrived at an emergency room following an automobile accident we were examined by a Dr. Payne. Fortunately there wasn't much of it. At another ER we encountered a Dr. Ambrosia. There's food for thought in that.
For a while, major league baseball provided a lesson in anatomy. Players were named Face, Fingers and Foot. Face should have been a plastic surgeon and Foot would have made a great podiatrist. The possibilities were limitless for Fingers. A masseur, a chiropractor, a bass fiddle player.
For a reason that escapes me, a number of men and women named Stodghill have become writers. Before the arrival of the Internet I thought I was unique. Not so. There's Ron, Paul, Tom and a few others that don't leap to mind.
The Internet is great for seeing if a name chosen for a fictional character really is that of a living person. Chances are it is no matter how outlandish the name may be. I haven't checked out Wolfgang Schmuzzbutt but he's probably there.
So names may be good or bad. No matter how much thought you put into it, finding one more suitable than Dr. Treat Cure would be difficult. I wonder if the name influenced his choice of professions? If not, it should have.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What happened to pride in appearance?

Oh, the pain, the suffering, the agony.
I stubbed my toe. The little one. On the left foot. I don't know who to blame, but someone is responsible. I'll just suffer in silence, tough it out and write about another severe pain in a different part of the anatomy: the way people dress today.
The photo at left shows that even at a tender age I cut a stylish figure. Those kids on Our Gang - Little Rascals if you prefer to call them that - may even have picked up a few pointers from Young Stodg.
As the years from 1930 to 1960 ticked away I was average when it came to clothes. Then, although I didn't change in what I wore, my apparel gradually became a step above that of the horde of people bent on looking disreputable.
Today, even though neither I nor my clothes have improved in appearance or style, I have become a model of what the self-respecting man will wear in public. This is because the average American male has turned into an unmitigated slob.
You don't believe that? Take a look at any photo of people on the street during the Great Depression, the war years or even the 1950s. Then go to the mall or anywhere else that you find crowds and take a serious look at the men and women passing by. I guarantee you will say, "Ohmygawd, what happened?"
Not only do people today think nothing of leaving home looking worse than any prideful 1930s tramp, some don't mind wearing clothes that are downright filthy. Pride in appearance no longer exists in America.
Some will say, "We are casual today so we dress more comfortably." If so, the word isn't casual, it's sloppy. In far too many cases it's filthy slob.
Even at the doctor's office you see patients like that. Then when you go in to see the doctor he looks like he hopped a freight to get to work and is wearing the worn out clothes of a hobo. Look at the nurses, too. Remember when they wore crisp white uniforms so you could never confuse them with the cleanup crew?
No need to even mention people attending athletic events. It's unbelievable.
Even though in the 21st century I dress much the same as ever, I have risen to the top in style and fashion. I don't know which is worse, the pain in my toe or the pain of having to look at the way people dress today.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Longevity - what's it worth?

A man named Don Buetiner has traveled the world seeking out places where people live the longest. He has written a book about it and although I haven't read it, the advice seems to be the usual stuff about eating, exercising and so forth.
This poses a question: Does quantity take precedent over quality? My answer is no. That comes despite the fact that through no effort on my part I am in the middle years of being an octogenarian. I could cite a few dozen reasons why I feel that way but they are summed up in the final three sentences of Jack London's Creed: "The proper function of man is to live. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."
Jack London died a relatively young man, but he indeed lived. His writing serves as a testament to that.
There was another writer, my late friend Ross Spencer, who felt the same way. After a heart attack the doctors told him what he must do. He listened, then said, "I'd rather live one day my way than ten years your way."
He lived eighteen with a cigar in his mouth and a drink in his hand. Like Jack London, Spence will be remembered for the beautiful writing he left for the world to enjoy.
Buetiner has selected Albert Lea, Minnesota as the town where he will attempt to have everyone live as he says with the goal of longevity. But is that what life should be about? Is living each day with the aim of adding more days to your lifespan that important? Or was Jack London right? Was Ross Spencer right?
I'll go along with Jack and Spence. One good day is better than ten average years, at least in my opinion. I've broken every rule along the way and still have a pipe in my mouth most waking hours, take a drink whenever the desire hits me and get most of my exercise by walking from my desk to the dining room for lunch. Using my time is far more important than prolonging my time. That's the way it always has been and continues to be. Most of my friends who believed otherwise now spend their days in a cemetery.

Monday, June 15, 2009

It wasn't really "Bless "em All"

Every so often I am hit by an uncontrollable urge to write about "Bless 'em All," that song sung with gusto by soldiers during World War II. Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians, they all sang it. I wouldn't be surprised if the Germans captured it and sang their own version.
Contrary to popular opinion, not too many songs are actually sung by soldiers. Many thought to be popular with those in the military are either too mushy, too maudlin, or contain too many notes. Simplicity is important because when the average group of soldiers burst forth in song it makes a chorus of tree frogs sound like grand opera.
There is one problem with writing about "Bless 'em All." When sung by those it was intended for, soldiers, not even a single "bless" can be found in the lyrics. It shouldn't require much imagination for even the most shy and sheltered person to know what word replaced it. So here is a case where accuracy and realism would be severely frowned upon by polite society.
This was and still is true of many things associated with the military. That same word keeps rearing its ugly head so a bit of censoring is often required. For example, the Germans sometimes fired colorful leaflets over the American lines. The drawings would not be at home in a church bulletin, nor would the messages. A typical one (borrowing a word from the popular version of the aforementioned song) read: "What 4-F is blessing your wife tonight, Joe?"
These were greeted with great hilarity. However, I sometimes felt concern that these crude illustrations and words might set some married men to wondering. Others, and this I knew for a fact, wouldn't have given a hoot.
Whatever, "Bless 'em All" apparently was written by a British music hall performer. Considering how few notes this classic contains, that isn't surprising. I do wonder, though, if he sang the version put on paper or the military adaptation? Either way it didn't bear much resemblance to "Keep the Home Fires Burning" or "There'll be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover." Still it was a pretty good song.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Day when the Sun Shines Brightly

Remember when Gabriel Heatter began his evening radio newscast by saying, "Ah, there's good news tonight"? No, you don't remember unless you've been to the county fair more than a few times because Gabe hit his peak during the years of World War II. As often as not his good news concerned a battle in which 10,000 men died or the bombing of a German city that claimed three times that many lives.
But reading a few newspapers from various countries this morning made me realize Gabriel would be beside himself with joy today. First was a story out of India which serves as a warning to husbands to watch their mouths. A bride of only a month was distressed when the man she married said another woman was more beautiful than her. She tied the brute to a chair, doused him with paraffin and struck a match. A date has not been set for the murder trial.
Some cops in Sierra Leone are upset because cobras and vipers have taken over their police station. They set fire to it but that didn't help so they've called out the army. It just shows that snakes don't care what kind of company they keep.
Right here in the States Cher's daughter Chastity is having a sex change so she'll be a man and no longer have to worry about being chaste.
It was England that provided the most shocking news. Not because golfer Nick Faldo is being knighted by the queen, no it's worse even than that. At that bastion of higher education, that center of knowledge and culture, Cambridge University, a sign has been posted reading DO NOT PARK YOU'RE CYCLE HERE.
It's true, I'm afraid, the world as we have known it is gone. We are rapidly regressing to the Stone Age and in another 50 years people will be living in caves. Then, at least, there no longer will be cause for octogenarians to say, "What's the world coming to?"

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hanging Out with Tough Men

From the beginning of my formative years I have enjoyed the company of tough men, the kind who work at hard jobs and wouldn't have it any other way. Tirebuilders and men who worked in the vulcanizing pit at Goodyear were the first I knew. Next came Squint, a roustabout with Cole Brothers Circus. When it came to town in late spring I was there as the trucks arrived. Getting a job as a local - a townie - was no problem so I spent a memorable week working like a slave and studying the permanent workers, the men who put up and took down the huge tent, carried water and food for the animals, manned shovels to clean up after them and did any other mean job that came along.
I happened to be there when Squint shaved that first day. It was something to see and remember. Squint worked stripped to the waist so from his hairline to his belt his skin was the color and texture of tanned leather. He wasn't a boss but was the leader and hardest worker whatever the job might be. He could spot a problem and fix it without waiting to be told or until an accident happened.
Squint used all the circus lingo and could cuss with the best of them, but he talked like a college professor. He tolerated having me around so after a couple of days I began peppering him with questions. I asked if he had gone to college and he nodded his head. I asked where so he said Dartmouth. An Ivy League man. I asked why he was a circus roustabout and he answered with a question, "Have you ever worked in the office of a major corporation?"
He knew I hadn't. I said no so he said, "If you had, you wouldn't need to ask."
I made a point of always being there when Squint shaved. He started the way many men did, picking up a straight razor, the kind the British call a cutthroat. There the similarity ended. Squint dry shaved. No water, no shaving cream, just that cold steel blade cutting the whiskers from his leathery skin. Watching was painful, but I couldn't force my eyes to look elsewhere. When he finished he'd run a hand over his face and neck to make certain he hadn't missed a spot.
Six years in the infantry and working rough civilian jobs meant knowing many tough men and enjoying their company. Not one of them dry shaved. Only Squint. I'm glad I got to know him even if it was only for a week.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yes, there are bad kids

Some people say there are no bad kids. That's a crock. Jackie saw one today at the doctor's waiting room. The boy of 7 or 8 had misbehaved when he saw the doctor so his grandfather explained why it wasn't the thing to do. The kid said, "And the point?"
Sounds like he'll be another Ronnie. When my 12-and-under baseball team used to practice at the field behind the high school Ronnie, who was about 10, would show up and sound off. He was better than anyone else and knew more than anyone else so he always had smart remarks for the players and sometimes for me. I'd chase him away but he'd keep running his mouth all the way home, which was just across the street.
He never changed and was still that way when he played on the high school's junior varsity basketball team during his sophomore year. The filth that came out of his mouth exceeded his talent.
Nothing changed when summer came. He had a bad word for everyone he'd see. One day a neighbor heard his mother say, "Ronnie, your dad wants you to take the trash can out to the curb."
Ronnie was right in form. "Tell the old bastard to do it himself."
That seemed to be the final straw and the old bastard couldn't take it any more. When he arrived home after work he was carrying a shotgun. No one knew if Ronnie had a few choice words before he was blown to pieces. Dad used the other barrel on himself so when the mother returned home she had some clean-up work ahead of her after the police left.
No such thing as a bad kid? Those who say that never met Ronnie. The bleeding hearts will contend it was the fault of the parents or he needed counseling. They're wrong. Ronnie got exactly what he needed. It just took a while for him to get it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There are smiles that . . .

I scared myself again this morning and it started me thinking about smiles. Remember the old song Smiles? "There are smiles that make us happy, there are smiles . . ."
Nowhere in that song is there a line about smiles that scare the hell out of people. My smile, for example. I'm not sure when it got that way because I never did much of it even in my younger days.
The late James Whitmore had a wonderful smile that improved as he grew older. Remember those Miracle Gro commercials? Another actor, Richard Widmark, had a decent smile but for some reason it was a little menacing. Humphrey Bogart's could be that way or it could be warm. Well, maybe a little warm. OK, warm only if you knew he was pleased about something.
Jackie has a truly heart-warming smile. Other people I know have nice, pleasant smiles. Then there's my smile. When I smiled after finishing shaving today I leaped back from the mirror. It happens every time because a gargoyle is leering back.
Little children stare at me whenever we go out. I have learned not to smile at them. If I do, some go running and hide behind their mother's skirt. Others just stand there in shocked horror. But why? What caused this? Was it because I seldom wore a genuine smile when younger? Are my facial muscles unable to move the way James Whitmore's moved? Could it be that this is a reflection of the real me?
I don't have an answer. I just know that when something is pleasing or strikes me funny the safest thing is to never change expression. That way mothers don't glare at me for frightening their kid and adults don't come up with an excuse for leaving the room.
I have noticed one thing: I kind of like it this way.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Just another white cross

Al Bright took a bullet to his forehead when the ramp dropped on his landing craft. That made him the first man in G Company to die 65 years ago today.
Staff Sergeant Bright from Paris, Tennessee was doing what infantry squad leaders do: go first and yell, "Follow me!"
I didn't know Al Bright because it was a few days later when I joined G Company in Normandy. Three weeks after D-Day I was one of two men assigned the job of opening 150 casualty rolls stacked along a wall in Cherbourg. These were the blanket rolls that had been left behind with the company kitchen. No one had returned to claim them. Inside was all a man possessed aside from what he carried on his back.
With me was Mike Spinelli, another 18-year-old rifleman. It was a miserable job. Boots in one pile, pants in another, all the government issue items that soon would be handed out to someone else.
It was the personal stuff that got to you. A framed photo of a pretty girl, another of young childen with their mother, a packet of letters in a feminine hand, a half-read paperback book that would never be finished, a candy bar that someone else would eat. None of it worth a damn except to the man who thought he'd be coming back to it again.
Mike said, "Look at this," as he handed me a small bible opened to the title page. On it was written: "To Alton C. Bright from mother. Read it and be good." The gold leaf on the top of the pages was stuck together. Al Bright hadn't read it. Was that why he was the first man to die? Only an idiot would believe that.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Will this stuff ever end?

Most of my old Army outfit, the 4th Infantry Division, is just back from a 15-month tour in Iraq. It was the third tour. On the first, it captured Saddam Hussein. Many Ivymen and a few women have died in Iraq.
One of the division's brigades was not part of the recently-ended tour. Instead it left for Afghanistan last month. My old unit, the 12th Infantry Regiment, is is the core of the brigade now at the Khyber Pass on the border with Pakistan. The elements of the division that were in Iraq were mechanized. The brigade now in Afghanistan is light infantry, ideal for combat in an area where some mountain peaks are as high as 14,000 feet.The photo shows the casing of the colors before starting the deployment.
Having my old battalion on the Afghan-Pakistani border makes for an uneasy feeling. Those who have never been in infantry combat may not understand that. Memories come back of good men left behind on battlefields in Europe, friends who wore the same ivy leaves shoulder patch as those now in Afghanistan.
If you read the battle streamers on the unit banners you will see such names as Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, various campaigns in the Old West and the Philippines, Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne and Saint Mihiel from World War I, all the European campaigns of World War II, ten in Vietnam, three from Iraq and, when it returns to Fort Carson, a new one from Afghanistan.
I'm weary of it. Does it ever end? In ever one of those earlier wars the same words were uttered about noble causes, patriotism and how those who fall will never be forgotten. But they are forgotten. Tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. How many Americans can name a single man who died on the landing beaches that day? That's just as true of those who died in one of the Tet Counteroffensives or at Little Round Top on the last two days at Gettysburg.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Good Figures, Strange Attitudes

I've never had much use for the FBI but I assume they have some people who can add and subtract. The bureau's figures on crime in America's largest cities last year should be accurate or at least close to it so I'd say Akron came out fragrant as a spring breeze. Not if you take the FBI numbers at face value, though, because the G-Men say crime here is up 20 percent. However, the biggies are down considerably. There were five fewer murders and 14 fewer rapes. Aggravated assaults (aren't all assaults aggravated?) increased by 40 percent and there were 69 more robberies so the FBI says Akronites were behaving badly. Considering the state of the economy in 2008 I'd say that's understandable. But aren't murders and rapes worse? In my book they are so I'm favorably impressed.
Twenty miles south, some people need to rethink their priorities. The economy in Canton isn't exactly booming so it's hard for me to figure why veterans are up in arms over the placement of flags on banners at Fawcett Stadium. They are having an international football competition involving eight nations and unless they are talking about soccer it comes as a surprise that football is played in that many countries.Anyway, Canada was seeded first and the United States second. The flags were arranged in the order of seeding. This has veterans and even some other people feeling insulted. So the banners were taken down Monday. This is the sort of nonsense that keeps me out of two organizations that once claimed me as a member - the American Legion and the VFW. For some reason I just can't feel insulted by having the flag of Canada displayed above the American flag. It's all about the seeding for athletic events, for Pete's sake.
Isn't there something else of greater importance to worry about? Are these guys also insulted that 40 million Americans lack health insurance. Does the high unemployment rate hereabouts insult them? Surely there must be something of greater importance than the placement of flags to feel insulted about. I've spent six years in the military and it takes more than that to hurt my feelings.