♫ Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town ♫

As part of this week-long tribute to Kenny Rogers, one of my all-time favourites, each night I plan to include a bit of trivia.  In 2017, Kenny Rogers did an interview with Southern Living magazine.  One of the questions he was asked was to recount his favourite memory of Dolly Parton, his long-time friend and singing partner.  Kenny said his favorite moment was in 2013 while they were recording their final duet together called You Can’t Make Old Friends. At one point, he looked up and saw Parton was no longer at her microphone. Suddenly, she appeared by his side, and put her arms around his neck. “Kenny, I think you should know, I could never sing at your funeral.”

Rogers laughed at the memory. “I went, ‘So we’re assuming I’m going first?’ ” He chuckled again. “But I love her for that. You never know what she’s going to say, but it always comes from love.”Kenny-DollyWhen I first mentioned that I was considering Ellen’s idea for a week-long tribute to the late Kenny Rogers, you guys started giving me ideas, letting me know your favourites, and I jotted them all down.  The #1 favourite, with four requests, is this one … Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town.

I had no idea that Mel Tillis had written this song!  The song tells the story of a wounded soldier who has returned home to a woman who shows him little sympathy, leaving him to go out at night and enjoy the company of other men. All he can do is beg her to stay home and keep him company, but his pleas fall on deaf ears.

Tillis based the song on a real-life couple who lived near his family in Florida. In real life, the man was wounded in Germany in World War II and sent to recuperate in England. There, he married a nurse who took care of him at the hospital. The two of them moved to Florida shortly afterward, but he made periodic return trips to the hospital as problems with his wounds kept flaring up. His wife saw another man as the veteran lay in the hospital.  The real couple’s story had a tragic ending:  the man killed her in a murder-suicide.

I also didn’t know that Tillis was the first to release this song, including it on his 1967 album Life’s That Way. Waylon Jennings, Johnny Darrell, The Statler Brothers and Bobby Goldsboro all recorded the song later that year, with Darrell’s version going to #9 on the Country chart. Kenny Rogers recorded the definitive version with his band The First Edition in 1969, taking it to #2 in the UK and to #6 in the U.S.

A lot of controversy surrounded this song when it became a hit for Kenny Rogers in 1969, as the Vietnam War was raging and the song was often assumed to be about a man who came home crippled from that war. Rogers would perform the song in a jovial manner, and the crowd would often clap and sing along, so to some it was seen as disrespectful to veterans. In a 1970 interview with Beat Instrumental, Rogers defended the song, saying:

“Look, we don’t see ourselves as politicians, even if a lot of pop groups think they are in the running for a Presidential nomination. We are there, primarily, to entertain. Now if we can entertain by providing thought-provoking songs, then that’s all to the good. But the guys who said ‘Ruby’ was about Vietnam were way off target – it was about Korea. But whatever the message, and however you interpret it, fact is that we wouldn’t have looked at it if it hadn’t been a GOOD song. Just wanna make good records, that’s all.”

I’ve included two versions here.  The first is Kenny with The First Edition back in 1972, and the second is Kenny sans The First Edition, some thirty years later.  They are both good, I think my preference is the second, however.

Ruby
Kenny Rodgers

You’ve painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair
Ruby are you contemplating going out somewhere?
The shadows on the wall tell me the sun is going down
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town

It wasn’t me that started that old crazy Asian war
But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore
And yes, it’s true that I’m not the man I used to be
Oh Ruby, I still need some company

It’s hard to love a man whose legs are bent and paralyzed
And the wants and needs of a woman your age really I realize
But it won’t be long, I’ve heard them say, until I’m not around
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town

She’s leaving now cause I just heard the slamming of the door
The way I know I heard its slams one hundred times before
And if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town

Oh Ruby, for God’s sake, turn around

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Mel Tillis
Ruby lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

The Day That Lives On — December 7, 1941

On this day in 1941, at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appeared out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.

Today, I came across a piece on the Jon S. Randall Peace Page about one of the heroines of that day, and I thought it a good thing to share with you …

On December 7, 1941, Japanese dive-bombers and Zero fighters screamed overhead at Pearl Harbor and Army hospitals on the island were overwhelmed with burn victims. At Hickam Air Field Station Hospital, amid the noise and confusion, dealing with shortages of supplies and even beds, one woman stood out, working ceaselessly and calmly despite the enormous loss of life around her.

First Lieutenant Annie G. Fox, Chief Nurse at the hospital, assisted in surgical procedures, administered pain medicine to the injured and prepped some for travel to nearby hospitals when the 30-bed facility was overwhelmed.

She was one of many recognized for their exemplary service on that tragic day in American history, and she would become the first US service woman to receive the Purple Heart, which she received for her actions during the attack.

Even though she was not wounded, at that time, the US military awarded Purple Hearts for “singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service.”

But, two years after being awarded the Purple Heart, the criteria was changed to only those who received wounds by enemy action. Her Purple Heart was rescinded, and she was instead awarded the Bronze Star medal on October 6th, 1944, using the same citation for the Purple Heart originally awarded to her.

Fox was born on August 4, 1893 in Pubnico, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia.

There is not a lot of information on Fox online, but according to the War Time Heritage Association, “she served during the First World War from July 8, 1918 to July 14, 1920 and in the Second World War. Throughout the 1920’s and 30’s she served in New York, Fort Sam Houston in Texas, Fort Mason in San Diego, California, and Camp John Hay in Benguet and Manila in the Philippines. After sometime back in the Continental US, she was assigned to Honolulu, Hawaii in May of 1940. She was granted an examination for the promotion to Chief Nurse on August 1, 1941, promoted to 1st Lieutenant and transferred to Hickam field in November of 1941.”

After Pearl Harbor, Fox was awarded the Purple Heart on October 26, 1942 for her “outstanding performance of duty.”

The citation read:

“During the attack, Lieutenant Fox in an exemplary manner, performed her duties as head nurse of the Station Hospital . . . [She] worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency and her fine example of calmness, courage, and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact.”

Although her Purple Heart was replaced with the Bronze Star, “the United States Armed Forces still recognizes Lt. Annie G. Fox as the first woman to ever have been awarded the Purple Heart medal,” according to the Purple Heart Foundation.

The Foundation states, “At 47 years old, Lt. Fox was for the first time placed in the middle of battle. There was gunfire, bombs detonating, and the sound of airplanes whipping over the hospital. It was not long after the attack began that the Japanese pilots turned their attention near Hickam Field and Station Hospital. While the “hellfire” rained down outside the hospital, Lt. Fox cleared her mind and jumped into action. She assembled her nurses and sought after volunteers from the base community to help her look after the wounded that started to arrive.”

Fox, according to the Wartime Heritage Association, “went on to be promoted to the rank of Captain [on] May 26, 1943 after transferring to Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, California. Annie Fox had a number of posts in the Army Nurse Corps serving as Assistant to the Principal Chief Nurse at Camp Phillips, Kansas. She served at Camp Kansas from 1943 to 1944. While there she was promoted to the rank of Major. Prior to her retirement from active duty December 15, 1945 she also served at Fort Francis E Warren in Wyoming. She eventually settled in San Diego, California where two of her sisters resided. She never married.”

She died on January 20, 1987 in San Francisco, California at the age of 93.

In March 2017, Hawaii Magazine ranked her among a list of the most influential women in Hawaiian history.

According to the Wartime Heritage Association, “regardless of the [Purple Heart’s] evolution over time or what it was decided would be awarded based on the circumstances, it is clear Fox acted with great heroism, courage and service to her fellow servicemen and women.”Annie-Fox

Dorothy Thompson, the Journalist Who Warned the World About Adolf Hitler

Have you ever heard of Dorothy Thompson? I hadn’t either until our blogging-buddy Mary posted a link to another blog that she thought relevant to my topic-of-the-moment, Trump’s racism. Turns out that Ms. Thompson was a quite notable journalist during WWII, and had the distinction of being the first U.S. journalist to be expelled from Germany by Hitler! This post is noteworthy for three reasons: 1) it is fascinating and I learned much that I didn’t already know; 2) it is very well-written; 3) parts of it are chilling, as you will see, when compared to the situation in the U.S. today. Please take a minute to read and think about this post. Thank you, Peter, for permission to share this with my readers!

Embrace Serendipity

I write for fun, but not everyone has that luxury. A great many people in the world write to earn their living and I have always thought that to be a tough way to go: deadlines are a pain, and I can attest to that after publishing a small journal for a few years. There is this challenge to stay relevant and also inspired enough to write every day are the fabric of nightmares and sleepless nights, but some people excel at it.temerity

I was struck over this past weekend by the brazen cowardice of the U.S. Congress. It astounded me that a sitting president would tell elected members of Congress that they should go back to some country they “came from” and that

seehearspeakThe U.S. Congress

Congress would sit by silent as brass monkeys. Yet… that is what happened.

One word that has largely disappeared from our vocabulary is…

View original post 1,758 more words

07 December 1941

FDRYesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Three Notable Deaths …

There have been a few notable deaths in the past week or so that may have gone largely unnoticed in light of other news centered around the ‘man’ whose initials are DJT.  This morning, as I attempt to keep from sliding into the rabbit hole, I decided to focus on these ‘notable deaths’.  (Isn’t it a bit of an alarming state when focusing on death is uplifting???)


Dorcas ReillyDorcas B. Reilly … the name may not ring a bell, but I can tell you that she has affected my life twice in the past month or so and does so several times in the course of a year!  No, she wasn’t a rocket scientist or even a politician.  She wasn’t a scientist, but rather an artist … a food artist.  I have always said that cooking is an art, not a science, and Ms. Reilly proved that.  In 1955, she was a supervisor for the Campbell Soup Company test kitchen when she invented the classic American dish of green-bean casserole.

Her recipe calls for mixing a can of cream of mushroom soup, cooked green beans, a bit of milk, soy sauce and pepper. Pop it in the oven, toss some crunchy fried onions on top, and voilà.  It is the only way my family will eat canned green beans.  Fresh ones, I can do awesome things with, but canned green beans are yuck any other way except in Dorcas Reilly’s green bean casserole!

green bean casseroleIn interviews over the years, Mrs. Reilly noted that the casserole’s appeal was in its simplicity.

Ms. Reilly was 92 when she died on 15 October, and is survived by her husband, Thomas H. Reilly. Mr. Reilly said his wife had grown up in a family of cooks, which spurred her love of food. Even after spending all day in a test kitchen, she would cook at home as well, experimenting and using fresh ingredients. She did make a lot of soup, Mr. Reilly said.

Mrs. Reilly left Campbell’s in 1961 to raise her children, but returned years later as a manager, a position she held until she retired in 1988. In 2002, Campbell’s donated the original recipe card for the green-bean casserole, written by Mrs. Reilly, to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.


RonnebergJoachim Ronneberg was a surveyor when WWII broke out. A few years later, he was a hero, the leader of an almost suicidal mission to bring down the lynchpin of Nazi Germany’s nuclear program. The SOE (Special Operations Executive) trained 23-year-old Ronneberg to lead a daring, almost suicidal mission: penetrate Norway, break into a nuclear plant, and destroy its supply of heavy water, a dangerous substance that can help create weapons-grade plutonium and fuel nuclear reactions.  Britain had been tracking Nazi attempts to create a nuclear bomb throughout the war, and worried that Axis forces would use such a weapon to destroy part of Ronneberg-youngEurope.

Ronneberg and his team had to wait out a brutal blizzard before they could parachute into their location. They skied to the Norsk Hydro heavy water plant in Vemork, Norway on February 28, 1943. The operation was swift and carefully calculated. Shortly after midnight, the men broke into the plant and rushed inside, ready to knock out guards with chloroform. But once inside, they found that the door their Norwegian contact was supposed to have left unlocked was impassable. Luckily, they had access to building plans supplied by a Norwegian who had designed the plant.

ronneberg-2Ronneberg and a fellow operative made their way through a narrow cable shaft, captured a guard, set explosive devices, got out of the compound, and exploded 3,000 pounds of heavy water, the equivalent of five months of factory production. The pair skied away by cover of night. Not a single shot had been fired.

Joachim Ronneberg died at the age of 99 on 21 October.


Todd Bol didn’t keep the Nazis from getting nukes, nor did he create a recipe that would last throughout the ages, but he left a legacy, nonetheless.  Todd Bol believed in the magic of books and believed that a life without books … well … just wasn’t much of a life.Todd Bol-2In 2009, Todd Bol was renovating his garage in Wisconsin when he ripped off its old wooden door. He liked the wood, though, and didn’t want to throw it out. So after staring at it for a while, he decided to use it to build a small monument to his mother, who had been a schoolteacher.Todd BolHe fashioned it into a replica of a schoolhouse, two feet high and two feet wide, put his mother’s books in it, and planted it on his front yard, hoping to start a little book exchange for his neighbors.

That gesture spawned what might be called the tiny library movement, leading to his founding of a nonprofit organization called Little Free Library a year later.

Since then more than 75,000 Little Free Library boxes, which blend the form of folk art with the function of a community water cooler, have popped up in all 50 states and in 88 countries.

They operate under the honor system: You take a book and sometimes you leave a book, so the content of the boxes is constantly changing.  Today, the little book-sharing boxes can be found on urban street corners and at suburban malls, in cornfields, forests and lake sides, in subway stations in New York City, police precinct buildings in Los Angeles and a refugee settlement in Uganda. The Today Show established one at NBC’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan.

Todd Bol-3There is even a Little Free Library on the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, for reindeer herders and their families!

Mr. Bol died on 18 October at age 62 of complications from pancreatic cancer.


Three good people whose names most of us never knew until their death.  Without them, we would not have a lovely dish to take to potlucks or to serve at Thanksgiving, the end of WWII might have gone an entirely different direction, and many people might not have ever discovered the joy of a book.  Just goes to show … those good people are out there, albeit often very quietly going about their good deeds. RIP Dorcas, Joachim and Todd. And thank you for your contributions to our lives.

U.S. Isolationism: Then and Now — A Guest Post by John Fioravanti

Earlier this week, after Trump spoke to the United Nations General Assembly, and later the Security Council, I asked our Canadian friend, John Fioravanti, if he would be interested in doing a guest post from the perspective of how Trump’s “America First” isolationist policy will affect the rest of the world.  He did me the honour of accepting my request, and so, without further ado, I turn this stage over to John …

U.S. Isolationism: Then and Now

john fioravantiI thank Jill Dennison for her generous invitation to host me on her amazing blog site. Every day I read and enjoy Jill’s posts because she always gives her readers food for thought. I hope my offering below will do the same.
Those of us living outside the USA know how dangerous American isolationism is to world peace and prosperity. The current Trump administration is determined to turn the clock back more than a century in the realms of both domestic and foreign policy. The President emphatically denounced ‘globalism’ in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 25th this year. As a retired high school history teacher in Canada, I’d like to enlarge on my first statement that U.S. isolationism is a very dangerous path to follow.

Tuesday, President Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly.

Some historians would argue that the United States was the most powerful nation on the planet in 1900 but no one knew that yet – not even the Americans themselves. While the great European powers of the day were engaged in a struggle for supremacy and jockeying for the most advantageous position by way of formal alliances, America remained entrenched in her isolationism. Her only concern with the looming European conflict was how it would impact trade and her own economy. Attacks on American shipping by German U-boats in European coastal waters roused the U.S. Congress to declare war in 1917. President Wilson understood that America needed to adopt a global perspective in foreign policy and suggested the creation of the League of Nations at the end of World War I. The idea was embraced by the Allies but the U.S. Congress turned their backs on the world by refusing to ratify the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Without American participation, the League was doomed to failure. The rise of Hitler, the fall of France, and near-defeat of Britain were not enough to compel Congress to emerge from the comfortable cocoon of isolationism. No, it took a direct attack on U.S. territory in Hawaii by Japan to trigger American entry into World War II in 1941. The costs of that war in blood and money were monumental – not to mention the unleashing of two atomic bombs in 1945 that brought Japan to its knees and ushered in the age of nuclear deterrence. I do not blame the American people for the horrors of these wars – that would be preposterous. However, I do blame the idea of isolationism. The United Nations was established at the end of World War II and survives to this day. It’s main mandate was and is still to prevent a third world war. If America had turned its back on the idea of isolationism in 1919, or America First as it is styled today, would the League of Nations have failed to maintain peace in Europe? We’ll never know, of course, but it is a chilling question nonetheless. For the next seventy-one years after World War II, America turned her back on isolationism and took on the mantle of the global policeman. Her newly-minted atomic weapons gave her the military authority. In 1945 American military power was awe-inspiring and unprecedented in world history. American wealth rebuilt western Europe from the shambles of warfare in order to shore up her Allies. The United Nations, headquartered in New York, became the embodiment of the ascendance of globalism in human affairs. Over the next several decades, the UN established World Courts to bring war criminals to justice all over the globe. The Security Council embraced a Canadian suggestion to create Peacekeepers in order to keep opposing military forces separated in areas of crisis until diplomacy could establish solutions. UN agencies were created to address human suffering from natural disasters as well as from the devastation of local wars. The UN took the lead in supporting policies of freedom and equality throughout the world by taking strong stands against discrimination suffered by women and the LGBT communities. The UN evolved from just a tool to avert another world war to a force for fairness and justice in every aspect of living in the modern world. Isolationism is an ugly policy. It turns a blind eye to the evil that is perpetrated outside of its national borders. In other words, your suffering is none of my business. I am not my brother’s keeper. This is not to say that the American people are ugly. They are not. I have lived beside the United States all of my life and consider us to be like brothers and sisters. Like all siblings, we have our differences, arguments, even fights. Unfortunately, Trump has allowed his distaste for Justin Trudeau to play itself out in the worst way. That is ugly. In a little under two years, the Trump administration has bullied and alienated America’s allies. Trump berated NATO leaders about their levels of contributions to the alliance after President Obama had negotiated a process for those contributions to be increased over time. Many of these same allies are also America’s best trading partners. Trump decided that these partners were treating America unfairly and hammered them with tariffs. He used the same bullying tactics with Mexico and Canada in the talks to update the NAFTA treaty. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would not be bullied by American tariffs, Trump retorted with rhetoric normally reserved for enemy countries. American policies in the Middle East have served to further destabilize an already dangerous part of the world.

Trudeau makes a point while talking to Trump at G7 Summit.

As America withdraws from her traditional role as leader of the free world and alienates her allies, one doesn’t have to look too far into the past to see a likely outcome. America First is driving anti-immigration policy in the Trump administration as well. The people who are being barred from entering the land of freedom and opportunity are refugees from the Middle East, Central America, and South American countries where life has become unbearably dangerous. Trump’s policies are hurting a lot of good people around the world. History has also proved that restricting immigration is self-defeating since many immigrants and children of immigrants have made significant contributions to the growth of technological innovation and the overall economy in the United States.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of the Apple computer, son of a Syrian political science professor.


Many thanks, John, for your words of wisdom … keep that pencil handy, for I may want another soon!  Meanwhile, I have an open stage here and would love to hear from some of my other friends outside the U.S.: Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany … please let me know if you’re interested in contributing a post from your perspective!

Book Review: A Higher Call by Adam Makos

This is a review I wrote more than five years ago, in January 2013.  It was one of the best books by a first-time author I have ever read, and for some odd reason, I awakened this morning with this book on my mind.  When I wrote the review, it received exactly one view, one like on WordPress, though it fared somewhat better on Amazon and GoodReads.  But then, that was 2013 when this blog had only about 30 followers!  So, I decided today would be a good day to re-run this review in hopes that somebody will be intrigued enough to read the book!  (Plus, we all need a little break from all things trumpian.)

Every now and then I cross paths with a book that strikes a chord somewhere deep within me, a book that shares my waking hours and my sleep. This is one of those books, as was Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. Coincidentally, both tell a true story from World War II … Unbroken tells of Louis Zamperini who survived to tell about his adventures as a US pilot in the Pacific, subsequent capture and imprisonment by the Japanese.  A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II  tells of two pilots, one German and one American who meet high in the skies over Germany on December 20th, 1943. Both of these books will stay with me, I am sure, for a lifetime. A Higher Call grabbed me and simply won’t let go.

December 20, 1943, in the skies over Bremen, Germany. Charlie Brown is the pilot of a B17 bomber, just finishing a raid on an aircraft production facility. His plane has been hit multiple times by German flak. It was missing a rudder and had sustained serious damage to its hydraulic and electrical systems, not to mention that only one engine out of four was functioning at peak, one crew member was dead and several others seriously injured, and now Charlie faces flying through enemy flak to get north of Germany over the North Sea and back to Great Britain, a feat beyond all imaginings. Suddenly from behind he spots a German fighter plane and Charlie knows he and his crew have no chance to survive if the fighter shoots so much as a rock launched from a slingshot at their plane. This edge-of-the-seat action enhances, but does not dominate the story. The pilot in the German Bf109 is Franz Stigler, a man who joined the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) to avenge his brother’s death. One look at the B17 and Stigler knew it didn’t stand a chance. He remembered the words of his former leader and mentor, Gustav Roedel, who had once told Franz, “You score victories, not kills … you shoot at a machine not a man”, and decided in less time than it took the thought to form that he not only couldn’t shoot down that crippled bomber but that he would do everything he could to save the men inside. There were two dangers to this, but Stigler barely registered them. The first, of course, was that the bomber would fire on him first and knock him out of the sky (he didn’t know that the bomber’s guns were frozen, all but the turret gun whose range was so limited that he was never really in any danger from that). But the other, perhaps greater danger was that if the German command ever found out that he had the chance to dispatch this bomber and didn’t, he could be court-martialed and sentenced to death. On Stigler’s mind at that moment in time, however, was how he could keep the crew on this bomber from either being sent to a fiery death by German flak or an icy death in the North Sea. Ultimately, he led them through the German flak and left them over the North Sea with a salute and a prayer that they could stay safe. And it is in this one episode that Franz Stigler became a hero in my book. He would go on to fight some 487 missions in the war and is now in history books as a German flying ace, but for me it was that one act of human kindness, of human compassion, that made him a hero.

Though the book centers around the heroic acts of Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler in the air over Germany that day, the event itself actually occupies less than 4% (15 pages out of 368) of the book. Had I realized this in the beginning, I might never have bought the book and that would have been my loss. The bulk of the book follows Stigler’s career and rise as a flying ace throughout the war and it is from this that I, who have nursed a hatred of all things pertaining to the German military almost since my birth, came to realize that not every soldier in Germany was a Nazi and not every soldier in Germany lacked a heart. The Luftwaffe, or German Air Force, in this book is shown to be no less human than any man in the USAF or any other branch of the Allied military. Overwhelmingly, the Luftwaffe were NOT members of the Nazi Party and did NOT support Hitler and his programs. They were simply there to do their jobs and defend their nation and its people. In fact, most were not aware of Hitler’s “Final Solution” (the extermination of Jews) and the death camps until near the end of the war. For the most part Germans, including the Luftwaffe, were as afraid of the SS (Gestapo) as were we.

Many years after the end of the war, both Brown and Stigler wondered what had become of one another. Neither knew the other’s name, yet neither had forgotten that strange encounter in the skies over Germany. Eventually they would have their reunion and become brothers not of shared blood, but of shared life. Notably, though more than seventy years had passed since the end of WWII, once this story became public, Franz Stigler began receiving hate mail, presumably from Germans who felt that he should have blown Charlie and his crew out of the sky. I guess hatred is in no danger of becoming extinct any time soon.

This is Adam Makos’ first published book, though he has been editor of the military magazine Valor, for some fifteen years, and frankly I was intrigued when I read a synopsis of the storyline, but was not expecting great writing from this first-time author. I was wrong. The writing is as seamless and spell-binding as almost any I have read. This is a heart-warming, yet edge-of-the-seat true story that reads like a novel and leaves the reader wanting much more. Sadly, both Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler died in 2008. However there are photos and video clips of their reunion some 50 years later on the author’s website.  If you read no other non-fiction book this year, do yourself a favor and read this one. It will stay in your mind and in your heart for a good long time, maybe forever.

Albright Speaks — We Should Listen

Madeleine Albright served as Secretary of State for four years under President Bill Clinton.  Though I have not always agreed with her positions, I have tremendous respect for her knowledge and understanding.  Today, Ms. Albright published an OpEd in the New York Times that I find astute, timely, and chillingly prescient.  Agree or don’t agree, but I think this is something each of us needs to read and ponder.

Will We Stop Trump Before It’s Too Late?

By Madeleine Albright — April 6, 2018

On April 28, 1945 — 73 years ago — Italians hung the corpse of their former dictator Benito Mussolini upside down next to a gas station in Milan. Two days later, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker beneath the streets of war-ravaged Berlin. Fascism, it appeared, was dead.

To guard against a recurrence, the survivors of war and the Holocaust joined forces to create the United Nations, forge global financial institutions and — through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — strengthen the rule of law. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and the honor roll of elected governments swelled not only in Central Europe, but also Latin America, Africa and Asia. Almost everywhere, it seemed, dictators were out and democrats were in. Freedom was ascendant.

Today, we are in a new era, testing whether the democratic banner can remain aloft amid terrorism, sectarian conflicts, vulnerable borders, rogue social media and the cynical schemes of ambitious men. The answer is not self-evident. We may be encouraged that most people in most countries still want to live freely and in peace, but there is no ignoring the storm clouds that have gathered. In fact, fascism — and the tendencies that lead toward fascism — pose a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II.

Warning signs include the relentless grab for more authority by governing parties in Hungary, the Philippines, Poland and Turkey — all United States allies. The raw anger that feeds fascism is evident across the Atlantic in the growth of nativist movements opposed to the idea of a united Europe, including in Germany, where the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland has emerged as the principal opposition party. The danger of despotism is on display in the Russia of Vladimir Putin — invader of Ukraine, meddler in foreign democracies, accused political assassin, brazen liar and proud son of the K.G.B. Putin has just been re-elected to a new six-year term, while in Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, a ruthless ideologue, is poised to triumph in sham balloting next month. In China, Xi Jinping has persuaded a docile National People’s Congress to lift the constitutional limit on his tenure in power.

Around the Mediterranean, the once bright promise of the Arab Spring has been betrayed by autocratic leaders, such as Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt (also just re-elected), who use security to justify the jailing of reporters and political opponents. Thanks to allies in Moscow and Tehran, the tyrant Bashar al-Assad retains his stranglehold over much of Syria. In Africa, the presidents who serve longest are often the most corrupt, multiplying the harm they inflict with each passing year. Meanwhile, the possibility that fascism will be accorded a fresh chance to strut around the world stage is enhanced by the volatile presidency of Donald Trump.

If freedom is to prevail over the many challenges to it, American leadership is urgently required. This was among the indelible lessons of the 20th century. But by what he has said, done and failed to do, Mr. Trump has steadily diminished America’s positive clout in global councils.

Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems, he touts the doctrine of “every nation for itself” and has led America into isolated positions on trade, climate change and Middle East peace. Instead of engaging in creative diplomacy, he has insulted United States neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations and stripped the State Department of its resources and role. Instead of standing up for the values of a free society, Mr. Trump, with his oft-vented scorn for democracy’s building blocks, has strengthened the hands of dictators. No longer need they fear United States criticism regarding human rights or civil liberties. On the contrary, they can and do point to Mr. Trump’s own words to justify their repressive actions.

At one time or another, Mr. Trump has attacked the judiciary, ridiculed the media, defended torture, condoned police brutality, urged supporters to rough up hecklers and — jokingly or not — equated mere policy disagreements with treason. He tried to undermine faith in America’s electoral process through a bogus advisory commission on voter integrity. He routinely vilifies federal law enforcement institutions. He libels immigrants and the countries from which they come. His words are so often at odds with the truth that they can appear ignorant, yet are in fact calculated to exacerbate religious, social and racial divisions. Overseas, rather than stand up to bullies, Mr. Trump appears to like bullies, and they are delighted to have him represent the American brand. If one were to draft a script chronicling fascism’s resurrection, the abdication of America’s moral leadership would make a credible first scene.

Equally alarming is the chance that Mr. Trump will set in motion events that neither he nor anyone else can control. His policy toward North Korea changes by the day and might quickly return to saber-rattling should Pyongyang prove stubborn before or during talks. His threat to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement could unravel a pact that has made the world safer and could undermine America’s reputation for trustworthiness at a critical moment. His support of protectionist tariffs invites retaliation from major trading partners — creating unnecessary conflicts and putting at risk millions of export-dependent jobs. The recent purge of his national security team raises new questions about the quality of advice he will receive. John Bolton starts work in the White House on Monday.

What is to be done? First, defend the truth. A free press, for example, is not the enemy of the American people; it is the protector of the American people. Second, we must reinforce the principle that no one, not even the president, is above the law. Third, we should each do our part to energize the democratic process by registering new voters, listening respectfully to those with whom we disagree, knocking on doors for favored candidates, and ignoring the cynical counsel: “There’s nothing to be done.”

I’m 80 years old, but I can still be inspired when I see young people coming together to demand the right to study without having to wear a flak jacket.

We should also reflect on the definition of greatness. Can a nation merit that label by aligning itself with dictators and autocrats, ignoring human rights, declaring open season on the environment, and disdaining the use of diplomacy at a time when virtually every serious problem requires international cooperation?

To me, greatness goes a little deeper than how much marble we put in our hotel lobbies and whether we have a Soviet-style military parade. America at its best is a place where people from a multitude of backgrounds work together to safeguard the rights and enrich the lives of all. That’s the example we have always aspired to set and the model people around the world hunger to see. And no politician, not even one in the Oval Office, should be allowed to tarnish that dream.

A Case of Mistaken Identity – For 71 Years!

Iwo-2

 

Iwo-1Perhaps the single most iconic photograph from World War II is the one (above) of six Marines raising a U.S. flag on top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, on February 23, 1945.  The photograph, first published in Sunday newspapers around the nation on 25 February 1945, “went viral”, as we would say today and was reprinted in thousands of publications.  Titled Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, the photo won a Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year. The flag in the picture is actually the second U.S. flag to be raised on Iwo Jima that day.  The first was raised in the same location around 10:20 that morning (see photo on right), but this flag was too small to be easily seen from the northern side of Mount Suribachi where heavy fighting would occur for several more days.  Thus, a larger flag was used for the second flag raising.  The picture was also used as a model for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), sculpted by  Felix W. de Weldon.  It was dedicated in 1954 and is located in Arlington Ridge Park, at the back entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. The three surviving Marines, Rene A. Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John H. Bradley, posed for the memorial’s sculpture.

Iwo-5

So, who were the six men in the photograph?  Well, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal failed to jot down the names of those six Marines, so the Marine Corps backtracked and identified the men as John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Franklin Sousley.  For some 71 years, these names have been immortalized.  But then in 2005, when retired Marine Sgt. Maj. James Dever was working as an advisor on Clint Eastwood’s film Flags of Our Fathers that highlighted the lives of the six flag raisers, Dever spotted inconsistencies in the gear worn by the individual identified as John Bradley.  He began an investigation, but from what I am able to find, nothing came of it.

Iwo-4

Man outlined in blue is Bradley/Schultz

Then in 2014, Omaha World-Herald historians Eric Krelle of Omaha, Nebraska and Stephen Foley of Ireland, called attention to the identities of the flag raisers. Krelle had watched the video of the flag raising (2nd flag raising actually starts at 2:25) over and over and was convinced that the man identified as John Bradley was actually Pvt. 1st Class Harold H. Schultz.  Once the story was published in the Omaha World-Herald, Michael Plaxton, a board-certified forensic media analyst, came in to validate the findings that led to the identification of Schultz.  The official determination was only announced last month on 23 June 2016.

Although three of the six Marines were killed (Strank, Sousley, and Block) on Iwo Jima within days after raising the flag on Mount Suribachi, both John Bradley and Harold Schultz lived until 1994 and 1995, respectively.  Why did neither of them speak up?  Eric Krelle came up with one possible scenario:

John Bradley, in my estimation, raised the first flag and was then misidentified by Rene Gagnon or Ira Hayes as one of the second flag raisers. When watching the video of the events unfold, it appears that Harold Schultz saw what was about to happen, stepped right in and helped push the pole up, and then walked away to grab some rocks. Hayes and Sousley who were directly behind him and in front of him may not have even recognized that it was Schultz who was there helping them. It all happened so fast–the time between everyone holding the pole and the flag going up took only 10 seconds.

We will likely never know the reason that neither man came forward, as all six men and Bradley are now dead, so we can only speculate.  The Smithsonian has produced a documentary on this subject that was first aired on 3 July 2016, but will also be aired on Saturday, 16 July @ 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday, 20 July @ 12:00 (noon).  For a complete schedule, you can visit the Smithsonian Channel.

Review of Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Every now and then a writer’s first novel is worthy of a 5-star rating. Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson is such a book. Generally speaking, I do not tend to read first works of new authors. Yes, I realize that every author has a first book and that if nobody read their first, there wouldn’t likely be a second, third or fourth and the author would fade into obscurity in a job as a lawyer or taxi-cab driver. Even Charles Dickens had a first book way back when. Still, it generally takes a writer a book or two to find his footing, to be able to write from the heart while, at the same time, pleasing his readers and making them yearn for more.

Set in Chicago in 2004, Once We Were Brothers is the story of Ben Solomon, now an 83 year-old Polish Holocaust survivor. There is, in the city of Chicago in 2004, a well-respected, wealthy man, a generous patron of the arts, named Elliot Rosenzweig. Ben Solomon is convinced that Mr. Rosenzweig is a former Nazi named Otto Piatek and is determined to bring him to justice. He enlists the aid of attorney Catherine Lockhart and her friend, a private investigator, Liam Taggart. Though set in 2004-2005, a large portion of the book is the telling of Ben’s story, set in the years 1933-1945, and this is what makes this book more than just another legal thriller. The details of that period are extremely well-researched (I double-checked several myself) and I was immediately drawn into the story, into the time. Rosenzweig, of course, has a team of highly skilled, highly paid lawyers who will do whatever it takes to protect their client and his reputation, while Ben has only Catherine and Liam. At the outset of the story, Catherine is one of hundreds of attorneys in a large law firm where billable hours rule the day, and she is impatient for Ben to come to the point of his story, doubtful that he has a case at all. But as Ben’s story unravels, we see Catherine change, subtly at first, then ultimately she becomes wholeheartedly determined to give Ben the best she has to give.

What makes this book extraordinary is Ben’s telling of how the Germans took over the Polish town of Zamość where Otto had spent his childhood with Ben and his family, and the metamorphosis of Otto from brother to betrayer. Though I have read many books about World War II and the atrocities of the Nazis, Ben’s story left this reader with the nearly breathless feeling that I was living through that time at this very moment and gave me a nightmare or two in the process.

I do not write reviews with spoilers, as the purpose of my reviews is to entice the reader to pick up the book and read it for him/herself. Suffice it to say that this is undoubtedly one of the best novels I have read in a long time. Most of my other 5-star ratings have been for non-fiction, historical books, but this novel has both entertainment value and social value, historical value. I highly recommend it and hope that if you choose to read it, you will come back here and let me know what you thought of the book. Mr. Balson also has a new novel (his 2nd) out just this week, entitled Saving Sophie: A Novel. I am eager to delve into this one and I hope it will be as excellent as Once We Were Brothers.