We have, for these past many mornings, awakened to a different world. In the new world, I have a new set of heroes: clerks in grocery stores, EMT personnel, the medical staffs at hospitals, the young man who delivers the newspaper every morning, and so many others whose duties require them to interface with others or to be out and about in order to provide a service the rest of us depend on. Bless them all.
Before setting down to turn these words into electrons I checked last month’s blog to review the themes we talked about. In the intro I mentioned that I was really looking forward to opening day of the baseball season … So that worked out well, didn’t it?
It has been interesting to learn what others have been doing to cope with their “shelter in place” or “social distance” circumstance. Nita and I have both been reading even more than our usual: the stack of books keeps getting shuffled from place to place in the house. Nita has also been doing jigsaw puzzles. I have been spending more time writing than was the case before the world changed. (Depending on how the words turn out on paper that could end up in either the good news or bad news category.) We have both become fans of British murder mysteries, so many evenings find us watching a couple episodes of any one of several series that are so very well done. Sometimes, especially on cool or rainy nights, we have a spot of tea, which seems to add to the ambience. We are even starting to understand some of the accents. I have also been chasing Nita around the house. Unfortunately, she is awfully fast.
Just for fun, with this extra time I have been noodling around with some “Jeopardy” questions in categories that I haven’t seen on the show. I don’t know if the staff accepts submissions from the outside, but regardless, it has been entertaining to put the stuff together. If you have ideas in any of these categories, please feel free to chime in. The third one listed below for sure needs some help.
Category: Ideal names for athletic teams. (Name the city associated with the nickname. Each nickname is an item, event, or product prominently associated with the city.)
Sprouts What is Brussels?
Blues St. Louis (I know, I know, the NHL team already has this perfect name)
Times New York
Category: Cities in Song Titles (Name the city mentioned in the song title)
Note: Google lists dozens of others, but most are obscure or associated with genres that don’t have a wide fan base.
“I Left My Heart In -----” What is San Francisco? (Tony Bennett)
“Moon Over ------” Miami (Various bands, artists)
“April In -----” Paris (Doris Day)
“A Foggy Day In ------ Town” London (Frank Sinatra)
“Walkin’ To ------” New Orleans (Fats Domino)
“Battle Of ----------” New Orleans (Johnny Horton)
“-------- By Morning” Amarillo (George Strait)
“By The Time I Get To -------” Phoenix (Glen Campbell)
“Last Train To -------” Clarksville (The Monkees)
“Viva --------” Las Vegas (Elvis Presley)
“The Girl From ---------” Ipanema (Stan Getz, Astrid Gilberto)
“----- Lineman” Wichita (Glen Campbell)
“The Last Time I Saw -----” Paris (Kate Smith, many others)
“Arrivederci ------” Roma (Eddie Fisher, many others)
Category: Cities in quotes. (Name the city cited in the quotation.)
Note: This category is especially thin. Any ideas?
“----- must be destroyed.” What is Carthage? (1)
“ We’ll always have ----” Paris (2)
“From Stettin in the Baltic to ---- in the Adriatic” Trieste (3)
“God reigns and the government at ----- still lives.” Washington (4)
1. Cato the Censor to the Roman Senate
2. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) to Ilsa (Ingrid Berman) in “Casablanca”
3. Churchill’s “iron curtain” speech at Fulton, Missouri
4. James A. Garfield’s eulogy to Lincoln on the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination
Your help on any or all of the above would be welcomed!
If you plan to fit in any extra reading in the additional moments that may be available over the next days and weeks, the staff of “Time” Magazine has put together lists of books in several areas that may be useful in keeping us entertained and giving us food for thought. A few titles from two of the lists that may be of interest to you follow below.
Books About Solitude
Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala
The victim of tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the author is her family’s only survivor. Filled with unimaginable grief, while remembering her old life “she works to assemble a livable present and reminds us all how to move forward in the wake of devastation.”
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Though not a backpacker, following losses in the family the author set out on a solo hike of over 1,000 miles carrying all she needed to live on in her backpack. The book unfolds in flashbacks and “reveals how being alone might actually be what put her back together.”
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
In Time’s words, the book “practically lays out a manual for social distancing.” Thoreau enjoys the sounds of daily life, relishes the escape from the constant distractions of modern life, champions self-reliance and environmentalism and instructs us to savor life with “an infinite expectation of the dawn.”
The Martian, by Andy Weir
Stranded alone on Mars with few supplies, the astronaut must use his engineering skills to survive. The book, made into a 2015 movie starring Matt Damon, “examines how one person’s perseverance and creativity can carry him through an unthinkable trial.”
A Gentleman from Moscow, by Amor Towels
After the Russian Revolution an aristocrat is sentenced to serve a life sentence under house arrest in the attic of a hotel. The book spans decades as the man learns to view the world from within the hotel’s walls; it is “a stirring portrait of one man’s reliance on memory and imagination to maintain his resilience in isolation.”
Books about pandemics
World War Z, by Max Brooks
The book describes a virus that originated in China and spread across the world. Where have you heard this before? Except in this case millions of victims are transformed into zombies. The book is written as a thriller and describes events with a remarkable prescience: the Chinese government tries to cover up the virus’s spread and the U.S. government, in the midst of an election year, is slow to react to the developing catastrophe. (The book was banned in China.) Time says the book’s core insight is that “the real threat isn’t the virus or even the zombies – it’s our psychological response, namely denial and panic.”
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
After a swine flu pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population, a group of musicians and actors travel around newly formed settlements. Tracing the impact of the pandemic on all of their lives over several decades, the book explores “how humanity can fall apart and then, somehow, come back together.”
The Road. By Cormac McCarthy
An unnamed father and son try to stay alive while traveling across deserted terrain during a bitter winter in post-apocalyptic America. The book “raises questions about morality, parenting, and the lengths that humans will go to survive.” The book won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen.
In another list, “Time” suggests books everyone should read at some point in their life. If we are still under house arrest in a month or two, I will include some of those titles for your consideration.
And now, lastly, a bit about writing – which is, after all, supposed to be what this site is all about.
It seems like being mostly confined to the house has been conducive to working longer each day than has been my usual routine. The effort has been directed toward a third and final book about America’s forgotten military leaders. If it ever sees the light of day, the book will cover the period from the Cold War to the present day. As I have mentioned before, the sections on the Cold War and Korea have been done for quite some time in draft form. Vietnam has been harder going – so, being stuck to a desk with pencil in hand has probably been a good thing. I’ve gotten quite a bit done in the past month.
Vietnam was such a flash point in our society. Even today, almost a half century after the last U.S. combat troops left the country, it remains deeply controversial. As the conflict was unfolding, there were a few officers who dared “speak truth to power” and question the way the war was being fought. Because of the continuing controversy, I thought it would be appropriate to include a chapter devoted to the major dissenters, identifying who they were and describing their views.
In one way or another, all of the dissenters were penalized for the stands they took. One, a bantam-sized Marine lieutenant general, Victor Krulak, presented his views directly to President Johnson. Johnson did not like being challenged and escorted Krulak from the Oval Office. Krulak was denied the opportunity to become Commandant of the Marine Corps and the four-star rank that would have accompanied that appointment. Krulak has been an interesting figure to research and write about. Because of his diminutive five feet four inch height, his U.S. Naval Academy classmates teased him with the nickname “Brute.” The nickname stuck. Krulak relished it. Even his wife called him “Brute.”
“The Dissenters” chapter is now essentially done, though the first draft is pretty rough. I had originally planned to end the Vietnam section with that material, but a friend asked me to consider including the leaders of the raid on the Son Tay prison camp as part of the chapter. U.S. prisoners were held for a time at Son Tay, several miles northwest of Hanoi. The raid, masterfully done, was intended to free the small camp’s 45 Air Force, 16 Navy, and 4 Marine personnel who were held there.
When the raiders landed at 2:00 a.m. on November 21, 1970, they found an empty camp; the prisoners had been shifted elsewhere. Still, the raid had positive outcomes. Stunned by the demonstrated ability to penetrate deep into the interior of the country, the North Vietnamese shifted prisoners, consolidating them into larger, more defensible clusters. The effect was to put American POWs, many of whom had been held in solitary confinement or near-isolation for months, even years, in surroundings with other U.S. prisoners. Morale among the prisoners, many of whom had already been held for three or more years, improved significantly.
It was a great honor for me to have known and worked with some of the POWs. Their resilience and faith in our country never faltered. They were convinced we would bring them home. None of the several I knew ever expressed a sense of bitterness. All had been tortured; all had lifelong physical damage as a result of shoulders being torn out of sockets (in the form of torture most often used, the prisoner’s arms were tied behind their backs so tightly that their elbows touched; then a rope was inserted under that binding and they were suspended face down from a hook in the ceiling) or knees being beaten with metal pipes often after having been injured while ejecting from their aircraft. Most, like John McCain, had major injuries that were minimally treated, or, if treated at all, were left unattended for days or weeks.
At any rate, I have been doing some reading about the camp, the raid, and the prisoners who were held there. I had not realized that an acquaintance, Chuck Boyd, was one of the Son Tay prisoners. Boyd was taken prisoner April 22, 1966. He was released February 12, 1973. He went on to become a four star general and deputy commander of U.S. European Command. I also worked with and got to know John Borling and A.J. Myers. They were shot down together on June 1, 1966. Both were released with Chuck Boyd on February 12, 1973. John Borling went on to become a major general; he was a friend from both Strategic Air Command Headquarters at Offutt AFB and later in Europe when he was stationed at NATO Hqs in Belgium and with NATO’s Allied Forces Northern Europe at Stavanger, Norway. He was a very interesting man – a near genius, I would think: multi-lingual, and a dynamic, highly effective leader. During the almost seven years he was a POW, he wrote poems to his young daughter whom he had seen only as an infant. He had neither pencil nor paper, so he wrote the poems in his mind and he and a fellow POW memorized them. The poems were later published in a book titled Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton. In 2004, he ran for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. He lost the primary in a strange election. Shortly before the general election, the Republican Party’s first choice, a millionaire businessman, dropped out of the race after newspapers reported on some very nefarious activities. His replacement, a former diplomat who stepped into the campaign on short notice, then lost the election to a state senator named Barack Obama.
Nita and I knew A.J. Myers and his wife Marilyn at Vicenza, Italy. A.J.s personal story was especially poignant. While he was a POW, he son was killed in an auto accident. Myers was such a fine person. He and Borling were two of the hardest working people I have ever met. Both seemed to think they had some catching up to do. They did not. It was a pleasure to have known them.
Well, enough of that; it is long past time to close this out. Whether the Son Tay segment will make the book is still to be determined.
Let’s close with the usual really, really bad pun that tracks with the climate of the times:
Ran out of toilet paper
and now using lettuce
Today was just the tip
of the iceberg
Tomorrow romaines to
Really bad. As usual, I blame my daughter.
If you have some time, I invite you to check the attached material. When I received it from my Air Force friend CMSGT Jim Lloyd, I thought it might touch all of us during this very unique time. We will get through it. Thoreau’s words were just right: savor life “with an infinite expectation of the dawn.”
Nita and I wish you the very best sunrise.