A Wedding and and a Snooze

.At the wedding of my nephew’s daughter

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Ready for a snooze

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🙂

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Gone for Two Weeks

I will be traveling to Fort Lauderdale today to attend the wedding of my great niece on Saturday.  She is the grand daughter of my wife’s sister and I have known both she and her father all of their lives.

My girls will also be attending.  I will be riding in the back seat with Pam and Rob and will stay with Marie, Joe and Clark boy for two weeks after the wedding until Thanksgiving when I will return home.

I will be gone for awhile but I plan to have a good time!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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On My Adventure in Joining the Army

Toritto in Asmara, Eritrea – 1965

Next week, on the 18th of November, it will be 56 years since I enlisted in the Army.

Why did I enlist?  Well I was a high school graduate working in a bank for over four years and not making enough money to live on my own.  I was 21 and was still largely supported by my father, He had an 8th grade education and was getting to that point in his life when he couldn’t do unskilled construction work anymore.  I needed to lessen his burden.

I had graduated high school at 16 (I skipped the entire 8th grade – clever boy) on a Thuraday and went to work full time on Monday in the mailroom of the First National City Bank of New York.

I joined up for 4 years.  I wanted to serve in the Army Security Agency which was involved in signal intelligence, reporting to the National Security Agency.  Most of the first year would be involved in training.

I had a girl at the time and we knew we were going to marry eventually.  She had just turned 18 so there was no hurry.  There was however the matter of conscription.  I received my draft card when I turned 18 and it was just a matter of time before a poor kid living on the outskirts of Coney Island was called up.

I was not attending college full time; there was no money for that.  National Guard and reserve units were completely filled with the sons of the well to do and were impossible to get into.  So there would be no deferment for me – unless of course I failed the physical.

I went into the army 4 days before President Kennedy was murdered.  By Christmas she and I decided not to wait.  She married Private Toritto.

Nine months later I was on the horn of Africa.

So on the 17th of November 1963 there was a “going away” party at my home.  Previously there had been one at the bank.  My buddies got to say grown up farewells.  At my home my brother and my future wife got roaring drunk, my bro decorating the shrubs outside the house.  My girl was put to bed by my mom until she recovered sufficiently for me to take her home.

The Army Induction Center – Whitehall Street

Next day I reported to the Army Induction Center on Whitehall Street in Manhattan, just a block from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.   JoAnn would take a job just steps from the building while I was in Africa.

I am going to take my physical.  I’m 5′ 7″ tall in shoes; had a 29 inch waist and weighed maybe 125 lbs. back then and was blind as the proverbial bat without my glasses.  I could barely see the biggest letter on the top of the eye chart.  I was a fine physical specimen indeed.

I join the long line of young men which included those like me who had enlisted for whatever reasons and those who had been called up and had no desire to become soldiers.  So we are all standing  in our “tighty whities” – skinny guys, fat guys, muscular guys, guys with tats.

Directly behind me is the biggest, most muscular black guy I have ever laid eyes on.  I took a quick look and estimated he was about 6 feet tall, a good 5 or 6 inches taller than I and weighed maybe 200 lbs.  This guy just towered over me and was rippling with muscle.  He made everyone in the line look like milquetoasts.  He and I standing together was a study in contrast and good for a laugh.

So there we all were, moving through the various rooms with different doctors checking us out.  Height.  Weight.  Nose.  Throat.  Heart.  Lungs.  Eyesight.  Mental fitness.  Feet.  “Can you read?  Are you homosexual?”

Then of course your “junk” was inspected – for hernias.  “Turn your head left.  Cough.  Right. Cough.  Next!”

If you had 20/20 vision with your glasses on, you passed.  If you were fat, you passed.  The Army in its wisdom would place you in a “fat platoon” to diet, exercise and lose the weight.  If you could read a stop sign you passed.

Lots of guys who didn’t want to go had notes from their doctors.  Hernias.  Bone spurs.  A touch of asthma.  Few were classified 4-F or physically unfit.  The Army needed men.

And so we moved down the line to the foot inspection.  I passed.  I was in.

The examining doctor spent some time with the huge black guy behind me.   Surely he had the makings of a soldier much more than I.    He was big  and he was fit.  He was a poor black guy who had been conscripted.  He would go.

He was rejected.  Flat feet.

What!  How could you take skinny guys, fat guys, guys who can’t see 10 feet without glasses and reject him!

He patted me on the shoulder and smiled.

He was Emerson Boozer, running back for the New York Jets who would be there for Joe Namath’s Jets victory in the Super Bowl over the Baltimore Colts – the first victory for the American Football League.  He wasn’t going in the Army.  He would be  a pro football running back for more than a decade, be inducted into the Jets Ring of Honor, help win a Super Bowl – but his feet weren’t good enough for the Army.

He was nice but he wasn’t drafted.  I was learning how the world worked.

Emerson Boozer left and I was sworn it, put on a bus to Fort Dix New Jersey and assigned to Company O of the 3rd Training Brigade.  Our barracks were left over from World War II and had two coal stoves for heat.  Every night in those buildings someone was standing “fire watch.”

Before bed we were inoculated against every disease known to man – all in one shot.  We were all sick as dogs at 5 A.M when rousted from our beds for P.T. (running around the quadrangle), then breakfast.  Fat boys went to the fat platoon and got special low calorie meals.  Then it was off for uniforms and standard Army gear.

The first days included classes on military regulations and discipline, learning to line up, roll calls, marching, policing the area, physical training.  On my 4th day while listening to a Chaplain drone on about morals it was announced that the President had been shot.

I put on some muscle during those days.  Learned to be a bit of a marksman with a rifle.  Spent time in the snow and cold.  Got bronchitis.  Spent a few days in the hospital.  Got a nice rousing cheer from my platoon when I got back.

My parents and my girl visited occasionally on weekends.  Other nights I would sneak out after bed check, hustle across an open field to a bank of telephones and call JoAnn.  We spent one night in a local motel together and I had to sneak back to the barracks before dawn.

My dad came to pick me up for ten days Christmas leave; he filled up the car with other guys heading for New York City, dropping them off at bus or subway stations in the city before we headed home.

I would marry within the week.

I had no bone spurs nor did I play pro football.

 

🙂

 

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Tomb – 11/11/1921 – 11/11/2021

Arlington
The Cenotaph
A grey slab ‘neath the Arch de Triumph.
Eternal flames and flowers.

Before great wars
there were no monuments
to the nameless, faceless dead;
no great tombs to the common man.

No stone edifice honored
the rotting carcass mass;
no shrines to his humanity,
the conqueror of emperors and tyrants.

Great war brings a new perception
of the human condition;
of the dignity attaching to it everywhere
even amongst the most pitiable.

The lesser tribal glories faded,
might we recognize our membership
in the greater tribe of man?
And so from the nameless, faceless mass

we chose a hero of the story;
of the decline and rebirth of despotism,
of blind leaders and deluded masses
old wrongs perpetuated and new ones imposed

of revolution leading to war
and war leading to revolution
of peace stillborn
of hopes aroused and then again betrayed

for blind we are still
to the humanity of the “other”
by embedded thought
our vision is confined.

So how better to honor
those who fed the guns
and absolve our guilt, being ever mindful  of their fate
the doomed, conscripted, nameless,  faceless ones?

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The Price of Honor – From the Archives for Veteran’s Day

It was the Summer of 1967 and I was in the Army.  My four years of service would be up on November 17, 1967.

I had been loading up flat bed rail cars in Texas in 1966 as my unit prepared to deploy to Vietnam. I had just returned from a couple of years in Asmara, Eritrea.  My mom died suddenly (she was 43 years old), my father was ill (he had epilepsy) and a younger brother was already in the war zone. He had been drafted.

My father bitched to a local Congressman and I was given a “compassionate reassignment” near home. So here I sat that Summer (counting the days to Thanksgiving) in the “Personal Affairs”office at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, best known as the headquarters of the Chaplain School.

“Personal Affairs” was a misnomer. Six staff were assigned to the office and responsible for making notifications to the New York State next of kin of Army soldiers killed in Vietnam. That’s what we did.  Afterwards we arranged to transport the body home; a Survivor Assistance Officer was appointed to help the family with “final arrangements”.    We arranged funerals; presented medals.

During the Vietnam war fully one third of the casualties were conscripts. Their families lived in the neighborhoods; not on the military post or in an Army town around a massive base. They were predominantly lower and middle class kids who lived in Bensonhurst, Harlem, the Bronx, Troy or Buffalo. Their families were working people living in little houses or apartments just trying to get by and praying for their kids to come home safe. They never wanted to see that Army staff car prowling the neighborhoods looking for an address.

A name would be transmitted to us through Headquarters, First Army at Ft. Meade Maryland. We had the names and rank of every active duty officer in New York state and we would call the closest one directly,  ordering him to make the notification.

Only one Colonel ever bitched about the duty over the phone and refused the order.  He got a call from the Commanding General First Army and called me back apologetically, took the information and made the dreaded knock on the door.  Since I grew up in the city and knew the Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods I would often accompany the officer and a chaplain on the notification.  I knew my way around the city while most officers from outside of New York didn’t.

Mine was a duty which left you emotionally dead.  I would try to compensate by finding out from the family if the soldier had a friend or relative over there, someone he was close to, someone he mentioned in his letters. The Army wouldn’t tell the family they could have anyone they wanted to escort the body home. I told them. When they gave me a name I moved heaven and earth to find that guy and get him out of that hell hole. They came home with the body and never went back, assigned stateside afterwards. It was my way of giving back in payment for my own safety and expiating my guilt.   I did not go to Vietnam with my unit.  Someone else went in my place.  I tried to save a man for every man who died on my watch.

I wanted to kill no one. I wanted to touch no one’s fate except in a positive way.

One hot day a middle aged jar head came in wearing his Semper Fi baseball hat. He was WWII and had been in the Pacific. He son had been drafted and was carrying the war to Ho Chi Minh.

“My son has been reported AWOL in Saigon. I want him found and returned to his unit”.

Over coffee I said what he already knew. “He’s probably just shacked up in his hootch with a local lovely. He’ll be back soon enough.  After all, he can’t go very far.”

“Nope. I want him picked up and returned to his duty so he can complete his tour over there. Can you send a message through channels to send the M.P. s out for him?”

Sure I could – but I didn’t want to; I had a sudden dark foreboding about this. I should have listened to my inner voice. But I didn’t. I did my duty; I told him I would and I did.  The military police picked the kid up and returned him to his unit.

In a matter of days  his name was on the list.  My C.O. knew what had transpired and brought me the file.  I was sick. Someone else had to handle the file – I couldn’t. I had been touched – been involved however peripherally in a death.

I was angry. That sonofabitch jarhead had involved me. I was going to look that bastard in the face.   I was going to scream at him.  “Are you happy now!!?”

I never went to wakes or funerals for KIAs.  Never.  But I was going to this one – not for the soldier’s sake but for my own.

I donned my dress uniform bearing my staff sergeant stripes, my badges and my two decorations, drove out to Queens and walked into the funeral home, every bit a soldier.  No one knew who I was of course but the family glared anyway – they saw the uniform.  The kid had been drafted and now he was dead.  I walked right up to the jar head and looked him dead in the eye – and could say nothing.

Jar head couldn’t look at me. He knew why I was there.  Now he was just a middle aged father with tears in his eyes for his dead son.

Suddenly he and I were in a long embrace. We were the only soldiers there who knew what we had done – who knew we could have left his boy alone.

His momma burst into tears when she saw the uniform. She hugged me like I was her own.

I paid my respects. “Thank you for coming”. I left, my duty done.

I often wondered if the Jar head ever told our secret or if he carried it to the grave.  I often wondered if momma knew what he and I had done when she embraced me.

High indeed the price of honor. When duty called the jar head served. The domestic conflict over the Vietnam war made no difference to him.  When the nation called he did his duty.  He expected his son to do the same.

Have we anyone to blame but ourselves?

It’s been a long time since I visited the Wall and looked at certain names still familiar from that long ago Summer.

Strange indeed and sad it is I can no longer remember his.

P.S.  My younger brother came home without a scratch.  I saw him from the window of my office, ran outside and embraced him in the street.

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Somme -For Remembrance Day

somme1

The Leeds, Bradford and Barnsley Pals
Sheffield City and Grimsby Chums
Harrogate and Tenth West Yorkshire
heard the call of the pipes and drums

All lads who shared a pint together
the butcher’s boy and cobbler’s son
went off to see the sights of France
from a trench beside the River Somme

Last evening in England it was boasts and toasts
poems, songs and innocent prayers
a night made warm, breathless and palpitant
by excited young lovers bidding farewell

That morning sunrise in the trench
he picked a poppy and placed it ‘hind his ear;
a conversation with a well fed rat
who stared at him, laughed and showed no fear.

till the whistle sounded
the pipes wailed, skirling aye
for all they were worth
and they went over the top

the drinking chums from Barnsley and Grimsby
from Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield City
into the guns which cut them down
like mowing poppies on a pitch at home

And a cry went up from all the shire
from towns and villages which lost their lads
for friends who drank and died together
on a bloody field in dirt and mire.

No one living now recalls them
Harrogate Pals and Tenth West Yorkshire
but upon this day all England remembers
in national memory, a river in France.

They will bring flowers to the graves today
flowers from where they were born and bred
flowers from their English gardens
passing “Winged Victory” where children play.

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It’s Birthday Week! I’m FIVE!!

I was born the evening Trump was elected! Good things happen even on the worst of days!  Papa had a Dewars!

Cute eh?

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Me last Summer

Yesterday, the beginning of my birthday week at school!

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“Coal Joe” Manchin Speaks

Kyrsten and Coal Joe

Well Senator Joe Manchin of the great state of West Virginia spoke today.

You all know old Joe by now. He has single handedly held up President Biden’s economic agenda.  With a 50/50 split in the Senate between Dems and the GOP , his vote is necessary to pass the President’s social legislative package.

Passing it is vital.  Failure will only indicate that Dems really can’t get anything done and would probably be catastrophic to their chances in the mid-term elections next year.  Failure could be the ruin of the Biden Presidency and would do more to bolster the return of Trump than anything I know.

Well since Joe has become the necessary lever to push he has become a prima donna.  He’s enjoying the spot light and sees the opportunity to delay and deny to get what he wants.  The party be damned.  He cares not that he is the only significant vote out of 50 holding things up.  If he gives his support, Kyrsten Sinema, a new Senator facing election next year probably  will to.

Don’t matter.

Joe wouldn’t agree to any paid family leave, even after it was cut from 3 months to 4 weeks.  I guess West Virginia’s women simply birth their babies, get out of bed and go back to work.  Or they are all so financially well off that they can afford to simply stay home without pay.

So paid family leave  was completely stripped from the bill leaving America the only country in the western world without it.  Thanks to Joe.

He also opposed the child tax credit cutting it from 5 years to one, which still did not get his commitment to support the bill.  He opposed the expansion of Medicare to cover dental and vision care.  Even with a cap on annual amounts.   Joe thinks it fiscally irresponsible.  Buy your own false teeth.  I had to.  Two thousand bucks.

Finally Joe railed against any assault on the fossil fuel industry.

Why?  “Coal” Joe is from West Virginia and wants to save those fine coal mining black lung jobs back home.

Besides, he has large investments in fossil fuels and big donors in coal and oil who  contribute big bucks to  keep him right where he is.

Doing Mitch McConnell’s work for him.  Mitch is laughing his ass off while Joe spouts tripe about “bipartisanship.”

Manchin also was instrumental in killing the possibility of lowering prescription drug prices  and the billionaire’s tax.  Fiscally irresponsible.

Its time to stop characterizing Joe Manchin as a “moderate” Democrat.  Bull shit. nd I don’t have a clue as to exactly how he represents the people of his state; a state in the lower 10% in just about every measure.

In today’s remarks Coal Joe mentioned something he wants.  He wants House progressives to vote for the hard infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate.  House progressives have refused unless Joe commits to supporting the social spending bill.  They have slashed the social spending bill by trillions and have given up a lot while Joe has given up nothing.  So progressives are holding the hard infrastructure bill hostage.

So today Coal Joe fiercely criticized House progressives for refusing to support the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the social reconciliation package moves forward.

“The political games have to stop,” the Democratic senator said. “Holding this bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for the reconciliation bill.”

Of course, Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the other key Democratic holdout in the Senate, have used their two votes to demand and get drastic cuts to the reconciliation package and are now refusing to endorse the framework for the smaller bill.

So one could make the argument that the “political games” are not restricted to the progressive wing of the Democratic party.

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are two of the most selfish senators I’ve seen since the Eisenhower administration.   For months, these two have bullied the White House and progressive Democrats into bending to their will. Key liberal priorities such as paid family leave and medical leave and measures to reduce prescription drug costs, provide two years of free community college and repeal key elements of the Trump tax cuts have been jettisoned. The total cost of the bill has been cut in half — from $3.5 trillion to around $1.75 trillion — all to satisfy Manchin’s and Sinema’s demands.

And still they will not commit.

He has also made it clear he will not support a carve out in the filibuster rule to pass voting rights legislation.  He is after all for “bipartisanship” and “compromise” even thought there is not one Republican vote supporting voting rights legislation.  Republican activities to repress the right to vote are the reasons we need the legislation in the first place.

If the Dems can’t get this passed Manchin should be stripped of his Committee assignments and drummed out of the party.  Sinima should face a well financed primary challenger next year.  She has betrayed the progressives  of Arizona who sent her to office.

I will contribute to her challenger’s campaign.

As for Coal Joe, if he doesn’t vote for the bill we have no need of him and are no worse without him.  He is making it impossible to govern anyway.  His actions are only helping Trump.

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The Kitchen Witch – From the Archive

The kitchen witch still hangs in the window
dangling from a string
along with the spirits
and distant echos

She moves
ever so slightly
as if a ghost had passed
a little too close

Empty rooms
now waiting for new life
furniture marks on carpet
ashes in the fire place

Stillness in the living room
sounds of Jobim
remembering Gamboa
embedded in the walls

The bedroom silent
except for faint murmurs
of passion and love
the children didn’t hear

He takes the kitchen witch
and with one last look
closes the door
and carries her to the car

She sits near to him
on the front seat
next to the bronze box
engraved with pine needles

And the kitchen witch says
“You mustn’t look back”
as he points the blue jeep South
toward the sun.

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Old Woman – From the Archive

A wise old man
closer to the exit door
may see the image in his mind
carved in stone, when all was perfect

or perhaps not,
for the highs and lows
of life come slowly and for us
do not last long.

I don’t know when that moment was,
when the world was mine
and all would last tomorrow and tomorrow
and I was at my height

for just a moment
then it passed
leaving me to realize
that nothing lasts forever.

And now that old woman;
in my mind’s eye
still a radiant beauty,
also passed her moment of perfection

she too
like me
almost at the end of years,
as the baleful sound of Gabriel’s trumpet nears.

My mind falls silent and no longer asks
if the joy or pain be more; the sight of her
calls forth the end of days
yet still gives me great delight.

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