Friday, August 24, 2018

Short Story: An Irish Sojourn


      I was staying in Clare, Ireland for a visit when I was 14. My parents were not with me, so when I arrived at Shannon Airport, a security man wearing a really nice sweater took me into the security office and called my parents back in Howell, New Jersey.

  I gave him the number and he talked to my Dad. "Are you sure you want to let your boy stay over here by himself? Someone could knock him over the head and there it is."

   Whatever my Dad said allayed the fears of the man, who turned to me and said, "Well then, go about doing whatever you were doing, I suppose. If you ask me, I think it's a terrible idea but that's it. Good luck, boy."

   There were two things that hallmarked my three-week visit to the Emerald Isle: one was a visit to Clare's Abbey through a bog (which I did not know was a bog until I was ankle-deep in mud) and two, a terrible case of food-poisoning from which I wished to die.

   Clare's Abbey was the furthest thing from a tourist trap. Of course, it was 1981 when I was there and I have no idea if it's changed since then. I can't really envision a gift shop for the place or a sweatshirt reading "I Survived Clare's Abbey." If there were any 'Clare's Abbey action figures,' I am fairly certain they would be small dolls of ticked off monks.

   The abbey was set off by itself down a lonely, dirt country road. It was not especially large, but it was gated up with some pretty high, gothic fencing.

   When I started that day, I woke up at the West County Inn about six o'clock, had breakfast and asked the staff if thee were any 'castles or stuff like that nearby.' I was told by a maid, "Well, it's not much but there's Clare's Abbey. It's out in the country on the other side of town." I asked the maid, Bridget, if it was famous. Bridget was in the middle of folding something when she said, candidly, "Not particularly," and returned to her work.

   Irish people speak really fast, at least that is what I think. I couldn't understand but a few words from some of them. It was an overcast day, but it was nice getting out and seeing things. I asked at least a half dozen people about where to find this country road, picking out a word or two here and there. Finally, I encountered a gray haired Catholic priest in a twead jacket and floppy hat walking along the cobbled street in town. Again, I asked about finding the road. He spoke really fast. So, I asked the older gentleman to slow down like three times. With him speaking very slow and attempting patience I finally caught "...down the street behind the thatch-roofed school..." I was pretty sure he thought I was slow-witted.

   I started walking down the dirt road and after a bit I saw the outline of the abbey. There wasn't a soul in sight. I guess the locals were sort of over the whole abbey thing. The road was kind of winding so I thought it would be quicker if I walked across this green, open field. The abbey was something like a quarter-of-a-mile away. So...with my new, white Nike sneakers and only pressed jeans, I start to walk across the field. At first the ground was fine. and it was a lovely walk. It threatened to rain, but I was 14...and some rain wasn't a big deal.

   The ground started giving away a little bit at a time until I stepped on a spot that gave all the way. I went into the mud to about mid-calf. Until that moment, I really never knew what a 'bog' was. I got the picture all at once. By the time I reached the abbey my sneakers were destroyed, along with my socks, and the bottom of my jeans were caked in mud. But, I was damned if I wasn't going to that cursed abbey after all the trouble.

   When I got there, the place was full of ravens -- really big ones. And, they were scary and practically screaming at me (presumably to leave). In addition, there was a high black, metal fence in open areas of the abbey and signs saying "Keep Out." Being American, and one from New Jersey at that, I yelled profanities back at the murder of crows and told them where to go and threw some pebbles their way. Most of the crows flew away when I did this, and those left didn't seem particularly interested in me. Then, I climbed the fence (it was climbable) and surveyed the small abbey. Actually, it was the most unimpressive abbey I have ever seen. I'd watched enough movies to see some really big abbeys (e.g. Robin Hood). This one looked only liveable for one or two monks -- tops. It wasn't vey nice. It occurred to me that if monks really screwed up they might be sent here.

  After ten minutes or so the crows came back and were pissed. They basically surrounded me along the stone walls of the abbey and crowed menaingly, being very clear about them not being my besties. I got scared and wasn't even sure they'd let me hop the fence again. Inevitably, I did hop the fence, but the ticked off crows didn't stop their complaints about me until I was about 100 feet down the road. the cherry on this sundae of started to rain. It wasn't light small rain. It was big stinging rain.

   I walked through town looking a muddy sight and drew a good share of odd looks. By the time I finally arrived back to the hotel it stopped raining. It only stopped raining when I was crossing the hotel's parking lot a few feet from the door...of course. Despite it being a pretty terrible day, I really enjoyed the little adventure overall. I don't know why I thought that, I just did.

   A few days after my abbey experience I had breakfast at the restaurant in the hotel. I was the first one in for breakfast that day and sat at the counter across from the cook. We were the only two there at 6:30 a.m. The cook was a young man of probably 20 or so. We chatted some and I ordered mutton broth and some looked good. But, it wasn't. There was nothing good -- at all -- about that broth. It tasted good enough, though. So, when I started getting very sick within the next few hours, it was a real surprise.

   The food poisoning was notable because it was the sickest I have ever been in my life. As I write this I am 52 and have had my fair share of 'sick' during my life. But, nothing ever approached the food poisoning I had in Ireland. Not only were all sorts of things coming out of every orifice I had, but the headache and body aches were so constant and heavy that I could barely crawl out of bed and across the floor to use the bathroom.
   I remember contemplating that if someone put a nice, cool gun barrel at my temple I would be glad if they squeezed the trigger rather than go through anymore of that agony. Anything I put in my body, whether it was food or water, came out in the harshest possible ways from a variety of places. The maids dutifully cleaned the room and gave me fresh sympathy, water and lots of towels when they were in. There were no doctors involved and I just called my parents enough to say that I was alive and thinking of them. I said I was thinking of them, but in reality I was just very sick.

   About a day before I was scheduled to go home, I got better. I stayed indoors and played it safe with food and beverages but still boarded the plane home frail and weak. People asked me about my visit to Ireland, and I have always glossed over it '...Wonderful place, really. So lovely....'

   In all, I learned two things during my Irish sojourn: 1. Don't cross random open fields in Ireland, and 2. Never, ever order mutton broth from a menu.


Clarence Sasser, Medal of Honor, Vietnam War

I think Medal of Honor winners have stories that should be told. And, it comes from no better place than from them theirselves.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

How Did White Supremacists Get A Seat At The Table?


My father was a World War II combat engineer in the U.S. Army. He fought in Europe and he was part of the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. He went through hell. On top of that, he lost a brother in the U.S. Navy at Anzio Beach. His brother was an LST driver who was blown out of the water by the Germans.

   Now, let’s talk about white nationalism, the Nazi Party and the Klu Klux Klan. Here it is: these things are un-American. Someone cannot be right if they are arguing any of the nonsense that these people spout.

   A lot of good people died getting rid of the national governments that espoused similar beliefs in World War II. A lot of others went through hell.

   My Dad was someone I really respected. But, I think he had really bad, undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress from the war and living with him was really hard. Still, he was a good man.

   Real Americans died getting rid of Nazis in the world. Families lost loved ones, whose losses were felt for decades after their sacrifice.

   Why is white nationalism something that is being tolerated in public speech these days? Why is it tolerated at all? Maybe it is because the children of the Greatest Generation are getting older, becoming retired and just want to be left alone. I know that is my situation.

   As a reporter, then an editor and finally a publisher in community news as a career, I considered myself an advocate against racism, intolerance and white nationalism. My Dad and my uncle paid the real price for my beliefs. I had the easy part, all I had to do was what was right.

   So, I had my career and lived a good piece of the American Dream, like a lot of other people. But, the experience of World War II has faded in America. Young people just don’t remember what the price of a world free of monsters costs. I pray God it will not have to re-learn old lessons.

   When I was a child, my friends and I were playing “World War II.” I just happened to be the Nazis one day. I suppose I was five or six. Well, my best friend, Paul, and I got the drop on the ‘good guys’ and we play shot them up. In victory, Paul and I pretended giving the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute. My father was nearby and hit me with an open hand across my face pretty hard. He yelled, “Never do that again, for the rest of your life.” Then, he walked away. I got it.

   I was a Conservative for many years as a young man. I like to think I was a “Gerald Ford Conservative,” which meant that he fostered business, advocated select government de-regulation and basically excluded social issues from the mix. It made a lot of sense to me.

   Then, Conservatives married the Religious Right in the 1980s and, somehow or other, the white supremacists and their ilk became Republicans too. Now, today, white supremacists have a seat at the Conservative table. I can understand church people wanting to do what they believe in government. But, white supremacists? Really?

   It is ironic in a way, at a time when more people are inter-marrying in races, faiths and nationalities that white supremacists should have a say about anything at all. But, these are the days we are living in.
World War II was a war that needed to be fought

   I am in my 50s. My children are in their late 20s. I am happy I lived when I did: before terrorism, before the societal ‘crazy’ and before Conservative attitudes changed. You know, when I was eight years old, my family went to Washington DC for a visit. I saw all the sights, we went to the Congress and we saw the U.S. Treasury Building and the chapel near the White House where the presidents took Mass. We even saw Ford’s Theater and the room where President Lincoln passed away across the street. Well, people are not able to just go to the Capital anymore, or the Treasury. There are security issues.

   As a matter of fact, I went back to DC maybe 10 years ago. Well, going to the Capital was a big deal security wise. What characterized my trip was that the White House Christmas Tree was behind several barricades, with two police officers guarding it. There was a sign that said not to get within 20 feet of it. Yeah, just not the same world anymore.

   What will America look like in the years ahead? I have no idea. I am retired, living in the mountains of North Carolina and have no plans to travel, make a fuss or leave my lovely little town.

   This is a time for another generation to make its mark. How it will do it is a mystery to me. I do wish them well, though.

Frankly, my days of wanting to make a stamp on society are over. I focus on my health and my home. But, this America is not the one I grew up in and I think that America is gone forever. It’s sad because the America I was born in was awesome. In my opinion, it was the dream.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

M4 Sherman Tank - Crew tell how shocking it was

There have been some remarkable innovations in armor through the 20th century and into the 21st century. But, I think it is entirely right to pay homage to the tank that won World War II, the Sherman Tank.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Gil Hodges Was A World War II Marine


I don’t know why Gil Hodges isn’t in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. And, as much as it’s a crime that he isn’t in there, that is not what this column is about. This is about how Gil Hodges was a U.S. Marine in World War II and his legacy.

   All-time Dodger great and Mets skipper Gilbert Ray “Gil” Hodges (1924-1972) has one heck of a baseball resume under his belt. Hodges was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. But, he only played one game for the franchise before entering the United States Marine Corps (also in 1943).

   Hodges served in the Pacific Theater and was an air defense artilleryman. At first, Hodges was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and later sent to nearby Kauai, where he played baseball with the 16th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. But, that was short-lived because then-Sergeant Gil Hodges was next ordered to Tinian.

   Tinian is a small island about five miles southwest of Saipan. During the war, a garrison of 8,500 Japanese soldiers held the island until they were evicted by the U.S. Marines in the Battle of Tinian (July 24 – Aug. 1, 1944). Of some note, only 313 Japanese combatants survived that action.  
Gil Hodges with the Mets

   So, Hodges was stationed at Tinian until his unit was moved in with the Marine forces set to invade Okinawa. Once there, Hodges went in with the first echelons of Marines who were brought ashore. The 82-day battle would last from April 1 to June 22, 1945. And, every single member of the Armed Forces who served on the island during that battle was in danger every minute of their time there.

   It was at the Battle of Okinawa where Hodges earned his Bronze Star. According to the citation for the medal, Hodges “was entrusted with the safeguarding and stenographic preparation of highly classified documents” through “extensive periods of enemy aerial alerts and extensive bombing attacks.”

   Hodges was not a combat infantryman. But, he certainly did his part during the battle, and the war for that matter. And, he remained at Okinawa until October 1946. On February 3, 1946, SGT Gil Hodges was honorably discharged from the Corps, at the age of 22.

Hodges was awarded the Bronze Star
   On February 3, 1946, SGT Gil Hodges was honorably discharged from the Corps, at the age of 22. For the rest of his life, Gil Hodges wouldn’t make a big deal about his time in uniform. When asked, he would be reticent with regard to talking about the war. He was a humble guy and a down-to-earth one.

   Maybe more than a Marine, a ball player or a manager, Gil Hodges was a family man first. He was married to the former Joan Lombardi and they had four children: Irene, Barbara, Cynthia and Gil Jr. 

   On the diamond, and between the lines, Hodges’ record speaks for itself. He played the game between 1943 and 1963. Hodges patrolled the outfield and played first base for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (and one year with the Mets as a player) and made eight All-Star appearances, 1949-1955 and 1957; he was a part of three World Series-winning teams, 1955, 1959 and one with the Mets in 1969 as manager. He also won three Golden Glove awards, during the 1957-1959 seasons.

Gil Hodges answered his country's call in World War II

   After he retired from baseball, Hodges coached the Washington Senators from 1963 to 1967, and the “Amazing Mets” from 1968 to 1971.

   Sadly, in April 1972, Gil Hodges’ retirement was cut short when he died of a heart attack in West Palm Beach, Florida. But, what he left behind was a legendary baseball career, and a rich life as a role model and good family man. In these days of ‘sports entertainers’ (rather than ball players), Hodges’ kind of quiet, team-focused confidence is hard to come by in professional sports, or anywhere for that matter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Darryl Strawberry | The Highlights

In my opinion, if Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were able to have different careers, there could have been more than one World Series win in 1986. With that said, it was one heck of a year. To read more about Darryl on Wikipedia, click HERE.