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Archive for the tag “WW2”

Let us drink wine and escape for a moment or two

 

campThe word escape means different things to different people. Escape could mean getting away from something that curdles the blood and hazes one’s judgement. It could mean getting away from a loveless marriage or a life baked hardpan hard.  And it can also mean escaping from a World War II prison camp with the help of the world’s most famous board game, Monopoly.

Aaaaahhh Monopoly…  Who hasn’t spent a few pleasant hours trying to steal Monopolyimages-1 cash when your sisters aren’t looking or perhaps sprucing up some of those ill gained properties with a few stolen green houses or red hotels….then watch as the sisters grovel – unable to pay the exorbitant rent that you charge…and then see them curse their unfortunate choices of the thimble, the joyless iron, or that little yapping Scotty dog.  Okay, none of that actually happened (I’m pretty sure), but the point being, is that we’ve all enjoyed the game.  It began to be mass marketed in 1934 and I’m sure there are some of us who recoiled in horror and disbelief upon hearing the plans to replace the Scotty, the race horse, the hat, the wheelbarrow, the imagesshoe, the battleship, and of course the thimble. (The new pieces have been chosen, but their lameness prevents listing.)

During WW2 large numbers of British airmen found themselves in POW camps trying to figure out how to escape.XIB_BU3856  Well, here comes the Monopoly angle: Germany, in a rare nod to the Geneva Convention, allowed humanitarian groups to distribute care packages to the prisoners and one of the items allowed in those packages were “games and pastimes.”  So the British came up with fake charities that sent Monopoly games to the prisoners. The games were licensed to the British, so instead of having streets from Atlantic City like the American game, the British ones had streets from London.  Carefully placed inside the boards were escape tools like tiny compasses that could fit on the fingertip, metal files, German money which was mixed into the Monopoly money, and most important, silk maps (silk because they were hardier than paper, wouldn’t tear easily or desolve if wet and they didn’t make noise.) Royal Air Force flyers were told that if there was a red dot in the free parking area of the board that it was a “special edition” with the escape tools within.  It is estimated monopoly_wwii_silk_escape_map_-_credit_phil_orbanes_0that more than 35,000 P.O.W’s successfully escaped from prison camps with approximately 1/3 using the rigged Monopoly sets. In a way this gives new meaning to the “get out of jail free” card.  Unfortunately, there are none of these special boards in existence because the airmen were told to destroy the boards in order to keep the secret from the Germans. Escape they did with the help of the escape tools and old Rich Uncle Pennybags (that’s the name of the chubby guy with the stash and the top hat who is always so happy ) .

Escape can mean many things. Some want to escape reality, some want to escape a mundane existence.  Some want to escape the sin-then-repent cycle, some want to escape the necessity of choice. But for many of us, you can never escape

YUM! wear 309

the want and need for a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken or a pair of Double Doubles with grilled onions and a fry pack when you’re hung over. Groove.

Big Al, Fast Eddie, Ursula, and Butch

th-2It is true that screen writer Robert Towne (Shampoo, the Last Detail ) wrote the screen play for ” Chinatown ” at the Banning House Lodge at the Isthmus on Catalina Island, California. It is  true that the Ford Thunderbird, the low, stylish two-seater iconic car of the 50’s, was named after the Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Ford.1957.Thunderbird ConvertibleCalifornia . The country club was also the first place that golf carts were  used, invented by assistant pro Eddie Susalla.  It is also true  that during World War II, the casualty rate for every 1000 US Army soldiers in uniform was 24,  for the US Marines there were 29 casualties for every 1000, and for the US Air Corps it was a startling 400 of every 1000  bomber crew members that were casualties. The average age of a typical US soldier in WW2 was 26 (in Vietnam it was 19) born in the year that the war to end all wars ended (World War I, 1918).  He weighed 144 pounds and was 5’8″.  One in three only had a grade school education, one in four held a high school diploma, and one in ten attended college for at least one semester. This is all true.

cache_500_1_1_img_222195_a1931a6c18d4ba557ed854bcae419b41jpg.imgBut what is not true is that Fast Eddie O’Hare turned in his client Al Capone to the Feds and the IRS because he wanted his son Butch to learn the value of honesty and integrity. There have been attempts to tell this tale as a story of redemption and a morality play to demonstrate the importance of recognizing the errors of one’s ways, of atoning for one’s misdeeds, of trying to do right and prevent one’s sins from being visited upon future generations.  All valuable lessons indeed, but they have little to do with the true story of Fast Eddie, Ursula (Eddie’s fiance), Eddie’s son Butch, and Al ” Scarface” Capone.

Fast Eddie was a St. Louis attorney who ditched his wife, got a divorce, and moved to Chicago where he started collaborating with Big Al both in biz and in law.  A lot of lettuce tumbled Eddie’s way and the al-caponeChicago night life was doing him favors.  Eddie hooked up with Ursula Sue Granata whom he planned to marry, but being a good Catholic lad he couldn’t pull the marriage trigger because of the divorce, which made Ursula none too happy.  Eddie sent a lot of dough to the Vatican in hopes that a request for a dispensation would come through, but Eddie had to keep on waiting.  Eddie was rolling in the green doing legal work for Al and sharing in the huge profits from these less than noble activities.  Besides dancin in the dough, living the highlife with Ursula, and groovin with Big Al, Eddie was also an adoring father to his son Butch who he tried to give all the best things in life.

But here is when the baloney hits the meat grinder: Fast Eddie could give Butch all that money could buy, but what he couldn’t do was give Butch a good name, a name not tarnished by the  putrid smell of association with gangsters.  So, to rectify this malady Eddie decided to go to the authorities, admit his crimes, tell the truth, and turn in evidence of tax evasion by Al Capone to the IRS thus sending Big Al to Federal Prison at Alcatraz.  Eddie did this knowing that by turning against his boss and giving states evidence he would be signing his own death warrant, but this way Eddie would be doing the right thing by telling the truth and would be  teaching Butch a valuable lesson in integrity…… all of this is a towering lather of fabrication.

Edward_J._O_Hare_s

Ed O’Hare

Fast Eddie did eventually provide valuable information that aided Federal authorities in sending Capone to prison for income tax evasion, but he didn’t do it because of an attack of conscience or wanting to right the numerous wrongs he had done.  He did it because he saw that Big Al was going down and tried to save his own skin from going to the big house.  Cutting a deal with the Feds was the easy part; dodging the bullets from the guns of Big Al’s apes – not so easy.

So Al goes away to the slammer and “The Chicago Outfit” is now run by Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti.  What happens to Fast Eddie, Butch, and Ursula ? Well, on November 8th, 1939 Fast Eddie got into his 1939 Lincoln, placed a Spanish made .32 – caliber pistol on the seat and drove away from his office.  As Eddie approached the corner of Ogden and Rockwell (no relation) a car roared up beside him and two professionals let loose double volleys from shot guns killing Eddie instantly.  In his pocket was a rosary, a crucifix, and a poem clipped from a magazine. ” The clock of life is wound but once And no man has the power To tell just when the hands will stop At late or early hour Now is the only time you own Live, love, toil with a will Place no faith in time For the clock may soon be still”. Eddie was 46 years old and was a rat who got what he deserved.

Ohare

Butch O’Hare

Butch O’Hare became a Navy pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic effort in shooting down five Japanese bombers in defense of his carrier ” The

Butch being awarded the Medal of Honor

Butch being awarded the Medal of Honor

Lexington” thus becoming the Navy’s first “Ace” of the War. “One of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation” stated President Roosevelt.  On November 26 th, 1943

during a night mission Butch was shot down and lost at sea. There is evidence that indicates he was killed by friendly fire.  Butch O’Hare was suitably honored when the Chicago airport once known as Orchard Depot was renamed O’Hare International in 1949 and continues today as the world’s busiest airport.

Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti

Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti

Can’t forget about Ursula, Eddie’s fiance.  Several months after Eddie was killed Ursula married Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti , the boss who ordered Eddie’s murder.  Can’t trust those “good time gals” and you can’t trust a slimy rat “mouthpiece”.

Groove.

A Good Gesture Gone Bad, Real Bad

Henry Tandey

Henry Tandey

We make choices hoping they are the right ones, but sometimes even the grandest rights can turn into the most horrible wrongs. Helping a stranger then having your wallet stolen by him. Giving a hitch hiker a ride only to have him throw up in your car.  I have suffered these good deeds that turned into regrets, but that is nothing compared to what happened to Henry Tandey.

Henry Tandey had him in his sights. His Lee-Enfield rifle had not let him down once during World War I and it was a clean shot. Henry had won the Victoria Cross (the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy awarded to a British soldier) and numerous other medals making him the most highly decorated British private of the First World War. Had Henry been an officer there is little doubt that knighthood would have followed. It was at the battle at Marcoing, France in October 1914 that a weary German soldier wandered into Henry’s line of fire. The enemy soldier was wounded and did not make an attempt to raise his rifle. He stared at Henry expecting the inevitable. The twenty-seven year old Tandey choose not to shoot. “I took aim, but couldn’t shoot a wounded man” said Tandey, “so I let him go”. The

Hitler in WW1

Hitler in WW1

German soldier saw him lower his rifle and nodded his thanks before wandering off.  The twenty-nine year old German soldier was a Lance Corporal of the Bavarian Infantry Regiment. His name: Adolf Hitler.

Henry put the encounter out of his mind and rejoined his regiment, discovering soon after that he had won the Victoria Cross. In newspapers around England a picture of Henry carrying a wounded soldier after the Battle of Ypres was published.  It was a dramatic image which symbolized a war which was supposed to be to end all wars, and was immortalized on canvas by Italian artist Fortunino Matania. Leaving the army in 1926 at the rank of sergeant, Henry settled in Leamington, England where he married, settled into civilian life, and spent the next 38 years as a plant security chief at Triumph Motors, then called Standard Motor Company. He lived a quiet life and although regarded as a hero he rarely mentioned his participation in ” The Great War.”

The painting

The painting

In 1938 England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made his trip to Munich to meet Hitler in a last ditch effort to prevent World War 2 which resulted in the ill-fated  “Munich Agreement” (“Peace in our Time”). During that ominous trip Hitler invited Chamberlain to his newly constructed retreat in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria which was a birthday present from the Nazi Party. While there, Chamberlain found a reproduction of the Matania painting depicting Tandey carrying his wounded comrade. Puzzled by his choice in art Hitler explained ” that man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again, providence saved me from such devilishly accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us.”  Hitler seized the moment to have his best wishes and gratitude conveyed to Tandey by the Prime Minister, who promised to phone Henry upon his return to England which he did.  Tandey’s nephew remembers his uncle getting up to answer the phone and matter-of-factly returned  mentioning that the Prime Minister called and said that he just returned from seeing Hitler and he saw the painting and when Chamberlain asked why it was there Hitler commented ” that’s the man who nearly shot me.”

Things went sour for old Neville. His appeasement to Hitler was a major blunder, he lost power to Winston Churchill, and died of stomach cancer within 2 months. The Tandey / Hitler  story broke in 1940, but no one gave it much thought at the time. In 1940 Henry told a

Henry

Henry

journalist ” if only I had known what turned out to be. When I saw all the people, women and children he had killed I was sorry to God that I let him go.”

Henry died in 1977 at age 86 and had his ashes spread along side his fallen comrades at the British Cemetery in Marcoing, France. He must have been haunted as time revealed what a monster Hitler was and his act of great decency to a very indecent man was a strong example how a right can be made wrong. So here is to our rights staying rights and I think that is a toast worth drinking to. Groove.

Lucky Lindy we dug you as a flyboy, but what’s the deal with all the chicks ?

OK, we can give the nod to Charles Lindbergh as the first flyboy who flew solo from New York to Paris (has Jimmy Stewart ever been finer?), but the whole America First Committee (AFC) thing, where as the chief spokesman, he campaigned to keep the United States out of World War 2 and was branded an anti-semite for statements he made on behalf of that cause (” The Jews are a race with undue influence in the media, warning that the passions and prejudices of such ” other people” would lead the country to ruin.”) We knew then that there was something dark, twisted, and acheiving a high mark on the weirdo meter, behind his big blues.   He was  a supporter of racial purity and a staunch eugenicist, which is someone who believes in the improvement of the human species through control of hereditary factors in mating.  Lindbergh’s knowledge of this came from breeding animals on the farms of Minnesota.    More black marks on his resume –  he never really retracted his groove of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and made public the invincibilities of the Nazis and their value as a bulwark against the hated Russians, who he regarded as a much greater evil.

(By the way, the AFC was the foremost non-interventionist pressure group against the American entry into WW2 that was not started by a bunch of extremest weirdos – but by Yale law student R.Douglas Stuart, future president Gerry Ford, future Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver, and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart.  Members included Chairman of the Board of Sears, Robert E. Wood,  Sterling Morton of Morton Salt, novelist Sinclair Lewis, poet e.e. Cummings, film producer Walt Disney, actress Lillian Gish and author Gore Vidal.  Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was rejected on “a reputation for immorality.”  (That would leave out all my friends.)

Lindy’s private life was no day at the beach, most of which was his own doing. He married Anne Morrow, daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, and stayed married for 45 years. Towards his own family Lindbergh could be cruel, locking his 18 month old son out of the house to foster independence and forbidding his wife to cry when the baby was famously kidnapped and murdered a few months later.  Anne was a very accomplished author and a champion of women’s flight but Lindy was ” physically and emotionally absent” and was a control freak of the highest degree.  Needing someone to tell her she was a groove, Anne entered into an affair with her own physician who provided support and fun – something that Charlie was never good at.

Lindbergh’s real weirdness emerged when after he died of cancer, it was revealed that in addition to his five kids he had with Anne, Charlie had not one, not two, but three separate families living in Germany and Switzerland from which he had 7 more kids.  All were perfectly concealed until after he was gone.  The three lovers bore him  7 kids between the years 1958 and 1967.  The children recall a tender father who always arrived in a Volkswagon beetle wearing a beret (was it raspberry in color ?)   Their mothers told the children that their father was a famous writer from the United States who had been trusted with a secret mission and they should never speak of him.  Their birth certificates declare “father unknown”.   No wonder that the very popular dance ” The Lindy Hop” was named for Charlie.

Then in 1972 , at age 72 , the ” Lone Eagle” crashed to earth, dying of lymphatic cancer at his home in Maui, Hawaii. Always the control freak, he specified the exact dimensions and constructions of his grave (” Father was obsessed with drainage” said son Jon.)  (Aren’t we all?)  He wanted his body wrapped in all cotton sheets, but had to settle on a cotton- polyester blend (all they had at the local store – don’t you hate that).   Only his wife Anne was allowed to sit at his deathbed when” Lucky Lindy ” exhaled his last breath and only then by instructions could she kiss him. He hated to be touched.

Charlie Lindbergh was an excellent flyer, but a flawed man who was a cold customer with deep rooted weirdness.  Maybe  he is guy who could fly you out of a sky full of trouble, but let’s not call Charlie for the good times. Groove.

A Torpedo for Your Thoughts…or a Three Hour Tour

Was it Gilligan’s fault that the S.S. Minnow ran aground on that uncharted desert isle?  Maybe, but the Minnow

The Minnow

(not named for the small bait fish, but named for Newton Minow, who Gilligan’s Island executive producer Sherwood Schwartz believed “ruined television.”  Minow was chairman of the F.C.C. and was noted for his speech in which he called American television “a vast wasteland”) survived the show and now resides on the east side of Vancouver Island as a charter boat for sightseeing tours. This cannot be said of the escort destroyer USS William D.Porter.

It was 1943 and the “Willie Dee’s” first duties were to be  assigned to one of the most secret and critical missions of ww2. They were to escort the mighty USS Iowa (currently docked at the Port of Los Angeles) whose mission was to deliver Franklin Delano Roosevelt,  Secretary of State Cordell Hall, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many others (totaling more than 80 in the President’s party) to French North Africa to meet with Joe Stalin and Winston Churchill. This was the first of the high level summits between the Allied leaders. With maximum speed, the trip would still take up to 8 days in U-Boat infested waters, so the sailors were on high alert and radio silence was imperative.

The Willie Dee’s journey got off to a bad start. As Capt. Wilfred Walter backed his ship out of its berth in Norfolk, Virginia her anchor snagged the ship beside it and ripped off it’s railing, life rafts, a small boat, and various other equipment. It wreaked havoc on its neighbor, but just scratched Willie Dee’s anchor. In a hurry to meet the Iowa, Capt. Walter issued a quick apology and the destroyer was on it’s way.

The sun of ineptitude was shining on the Dee, so within of 48 hrs into her mission a loud explosion startled the convoy and this initiated anti submarine maneuvers. Not to worry signaled the Willie Dee. It was just a depth charge that had accidentally fallen off the ship because the trigger was not on “safe” as it should have been .

Soon after that the ship was hit by a freak “rogue wave” losing a man over the side never to be seen again. The wave caused the engines to temporarily lose power putting the “Porter ” far behind the convoy. The Chief of Operations, Admiral Ernest King, was on board the Iowa and was becoming increasingly embarrassed and frustrated by the actions of the Willie Dee. He made his displeasure known to Capt. Walter who assured the Admiral that things would improve. Improve they did not.

The USS William D. Porter

When the convoy was east of Bermuda, the Iowa’s captain offered to show Roosevelt how the battleship could repulse an air attack. As the Iowa fired its defensive guns at weather balloons sent aloft as targets, the president sat on the deck enjoying the show.  Over on the Willie Dee, Capt. Walter thought this would be a good shot at redemption and ordered his crew to battle stations.  They conducted a drill in which they would practice torpedo launching at another ship. The crew chose the Iowa, some 6,000 yards away.  The trick here is that all the primers, which are needed to launch the torpedoes, are to be removed.  The problem is that the crew did not remove all the primers – so when the bridge officer shouted fire #1 there was no sound which was good, when he said fire #2 there was no sound which was also good, but when he said fire #3 and a ‘ whooooooosh’ sound was heard, the astonishment was quickly overcome by pure horror. The crew of the Porter had just sent a torpedo at the Iowa carrying the President of the United States.

Remember, this is a secret mission and radio silence is very important, for breaking it might signal its location to the enemy. A signalman was to alert the Iowa of the terrible situation, but the young inexperienced sailor instead signaled that the Willie Dee was “going in reverse at full speed.”  Capt. Walter put on the scale ” Should I break radio silence or possibly kill the Leader of the Free World.”  He broke radio silence and after haggling over who was calling, the Iowa obliged to turn hard right missing the torpedo by 350 yards which blew up in its wake. Capt.Walter and crew could breathe again, only to see every gun on the Iowa train their sights on the small destroyer thinking assassination was in the air. Walter tried to soothe the Iowa by saying it was a mistake. Admiral King had had enough of the Three Stooges act and ordered the Willie Dee out of the convoy and to report to Bermuda where the crew was met by fully armed Marines and the entire crew was arrested. A  first in American Naval history.  Somebody had to take the fall, so a crew member was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor. When Roosevelt heard the sentence he ordered the crewman freed since no harm was done.

The Porter was sent to the chilly waters of the Alaska to cool down, but a drunk crew member was determined to fire one of her guns, sending a 5 inch shell into a commander’s front yard while he was having a party for fellow officers and their wives. No harm, but another notch in the yardarm of the Navy’s goofiest ship.

The “Willie Dee” sinking

It is now 1945 and the Porter eventually found itself patrolling the seas off Okinawa where it was fighting off Japanese kamikazes, blasting several out of the sky. A kamikaze approached the Willie Dee and it successfully shot it down, but the plane was moving so fast that when it went into the water, it continued to moving underwater towards the ship. It moved directly under the William D. Porter and exploded, lifting the ship out of the water.

The ship who had caused so much trouble that it seemed Gilligan might have been their Captain, sunk in less than 3 hours without losing a single crewman.  It’s niche in history was kept secret until 1958, when the Navy made the story public. The Minnow or the Willie Dee?  Don’t know how many crew members of the Willie Dee looked like Ginger or MaryAnn nor did they have anyone as smart as the professor.   Groove.

Lemme tellya Pilgrim

Did not serve

Don Adams (Get Smart) served with Marines on Guadalcanal. Wounded in battle, he later became a drill instructor . Eddie Albert (Green Acres) won the Bronze Star for actions during the Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific. James Arness (Gunsmoke) received The Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his actions at the Battle of Anzio. Walter Brennan (Real McCoys) served in WW 1 and was exposed to poison gas which ruined his vocal cords leaving him with the high pitch voice texture that made him a natural to play old men while still in his 30’s. Jimmy Stewart flew over 20 bombing missions in B-24’s over Europe, rose to the rank of Colonel, and was awarded many medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross. John Wayne, real name Marion Morrison, DID NOT SERVE. There were many top line actors who distinguished themselves in America’s wars (Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, and many more), but John Wayne was not one of them.

John Wayne, the quintessential war hero and patriot, never actually  served in uniform. There are some who claim that there were good reasons that kept John from service (a crumbling marriage, four kids to feed, old injuries, a skyrocketing career, can best serve at home making movies of WW2 heroes), but there were other stars under similar circumstances who found themselves in service. In 1944 Wayne received a 2-A classification, deferred in support of national interest. A month later the Selective Service decided to revoke many previous deferments and reclassified him 1-a, but Wayne’s studio appealed and got his 2-a repealed.

Author William Manchester (Arms of Krupp, American Caesar), while recovering in Hawaii from wounds suffered in the Pacific  during WW2 wrote  “One night they had a surprise for us. Before the film, the curtains parted and out stepped John Wayne, wearing a cowboy outfit and a 10 gallon hat, bandanna, checkered shirt, two pistols, chaps. boots and spurs. He grinned his aw-shucks grin, passed a hand over his face and said, Hi-ya guys! He was greeted in stony silence. Then someone booed. Suddenly everyone was booing. This man of fake machismo we had come to hate, and we weren’t going to listen to him.”

In the wake of his movies the line between John Wayne the man and the heroes he portrayed becomes blurred. Perhaps there are good reasons for his absence during WW2 and there are many who feel there are. Yet, by many accounts, Wayne’s failure to serve in the military was a very painful experience in his life. His widow (the last of three wives) said that his patriotism in later decades sprang from guilt. She wrote ” He would become a ” superpatriot” for the rest of his life trying to atone for his staying home.”

I think John Wayne was a patriot, but not a hero.

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