A 9/11 FEEL-GOOD STORY

I know the title sounds like an oxymoron.  No doubt, you are thinking how could anything positive have emanated from the horrific and cowardly attacks of 9/11?  Read on, and you will see.

I would guess that not many of you have heard of Gander, Newfoundland, and even fewer of you are cognizant of the role this small Canadian town played in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.  You may recall that immediately following the attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers everything was in total disarray, if not out and out panic mode, especially air travel.  No one knew what, where and when other terrorist surprises were planned, and there were hundreds of planes airborne, which made them and their passengers extremely vulnerable.  One of the top priorities was to somehow clear the skies.  Anything airborne was considered a potential target, as were the major airports, themselves, in both the US and Canada.  Both the FAA and its Canadian counterpart were frantically searching for less vulnerable locations to which they could divert these airborne planes.

One chosen destination was the Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, Canada.  Few people had heard of Gander, much less could find it on a map.  As I said, that’s probably true today as well.  Gander was a small town of some 10,000 people located at the northeastern tip of Newfoundland.  Despite its small size, it happened to have an international airport capable of servicing large jets.  I think it’s fair to say that Gander owes its very existence to its strategic location and value as a military and civilian air base.   The town has a rich aviation history, and, indeed, many of its streets bare the names of famous aviators, such Eddie Rickenbacker, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and Chuck Yeager.

The airport was first constructed in the mid 1930s to provide a fueling and maintenance stop for military planes flying between North America and Europe.   Its value expanded greatly during WWII.  After WWII, it became a civilian airport, again as a refueling stop.  Remember, at that time, planes generally did not have the capacity to fly across the Atlantic non-stop..  It became such a popular stop that it became known as “The Crossroads of the World.”   Over the years, the town of Gander grew up around the airport.

Fast forward to 9/11.  As I mentioned, Gander International Airport was selected as an emergency destination.  As part of what was dubbed Operation Yellow Ribbon, a total of 42 planes carrying some 6,600 passengers and crew descended on a town of 10,000 with only some 500 hotel rooms and limited resources.  (As an aside, one of the American Airlines pilots was Beverley Bass, who was the first female pilot in the airline’s history.)  In addition, the planes were carrying a wide variety of cargo that had to be stored and maintained, including two chimpanzees that were bound for the Columbus, Ohio zoo.  Furthermore, no one was sure how long it would be until normal operations would resume.

How could the town possibly accommodate all these people, the cargo and the equipment?

  1.  First, the town’s mayor, Claude Elliott, declared a “state of emergency.”  Then, everyone pitched in.  “I didn’t go home for five days,” Elliott remembered.
  2. The hotels were, of course, overwhelmed, so the town converted public buildings, such as schools, into temporary dormitories to lodge the overflow.  In addition, some residents took in borders, free of charge (no small accommodation in a town where people were used to not having to lock their doors at night).
  3. Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers provided free meals, as needed.  Some of the “guests” had special dietary needs, such as kosher meals for Jewish people, that had to be accommodated.
  4. The town’s hockey rink was donated for use as a giant walk-in refrigerator to store perishables.
  5. Local hospitals, doctors, and nurses provided free medical services.  A local veterinarian cared for the various cargo animals, including the aforementioned chimps.
  6. Shortages in basic goods had to be resolved.  For example, Elliott later recalled that the town literally “ran out of underwear.”  Replenishments had to be trucked in from St. John, which was over 200 miles away.
  7. Gradually, many “guests” became integrated into the town’s customs.  For example, Newfoundlanders have a custom known as “screeching in.”  The inductee “wears a yellow “sou’wester,” eats hard bread and pickled bologna, kisses a cod on the lips, and, then, drinks the local rum, called “screech,’ while onlookers bang an ‘ugly stick’ covered in beer bottle caps.”  Sounds delightful, but I’ll pass.

After five days, the crisis was over and the flights resumed.  By that time, as Elliott put it, “we started off with 7,000 strangers, but we finished with 7,000 family members.”

CONCLUSION

Some final points:

1. Gander’s residents really rose to the occasion.  They exhibited the finest in human spirit during a terrible crisis, and did so out of the kindness of their hearts.  Afterwards, the Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chretien, in recognition of their contributions, told them “You did yourselves proud… and you did Canada proud.”

2.  The two chimps made it to the Columbus Zoo in good health.  A few years later they had a baby chimp named, you guessed it, Gander.

3.  The story is now being portrayed in a Broadway play called “Come from Away.”  Elliott and others attended the opening, met the cast, and got to take a bow on-stage.  A nice and fitting tribute.  I have seen the play.  It captures the “can do” spirit of the townspeople and the camaraderie that developed between them and their “guests.”  It is most uplifting.  I recommend it.

 

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MEMORIAL DAY

This weekend, millions of Americans will celebrate Memorial Day.  To many of them MD is merely a day off from work, a day to gather with friends and relatives, watch sports, barbecue, or maybe go away for a mini-vacation.  But, how many of us actually stop and ponder the meaning of MD?  What does it mean?  What is its derivation?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Read on.

According to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs the purpose of MD is to honor veterans who have died in the service of their country.  (Some people confuse it with Veterans’ Day, celebrated in November, which is to honor LIVING veterans for their service.)  MD is celebrated on the final Monday in May, which this year is May 29.  It has also evolved into the unofficial start of summer and Opening Day for beaches, pools and vacation homes.

The original name for MD was “Decoration Day.”  The custom of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is centuries old.  Its origins are murky, but after the Civil War it became customary to “decorate” soldiers’ graves with flowers as a way to honor those who had died in that war.

Several cities claim to be the birthplace of MD.  Warrenton, Va. claims that the first CW soldier’s grave was decorated there in 1861.  Women began decorating soldiers’ graves in Savannah, Ga. as early as 1862.  Boalsburg, Pa. and Charleston, SC, among others, have also made claims.  NY became the first state to recognize MD as an official holiday in 1873.  In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, NY to be the official birthplace of MD.

The basis of Waterloo’s claim is that in 1865 a group of locals, including a pharmacist, Henry Welles, General John Murray, a CW hero, and a group of other veterans, simply marched to the local cemeteries and decorated the soldiers’ graves with flowers.  What gave Waterloo an edge in the birthplace battle was that Murray was an acquaintance of General John Logan, the general who issued “Logan’s Order, ” the proclamation that declared “Decoration Day” should be celebrated annually nationwide.

At first, MD was celebrated on May 30 every year.  The date seems somewhat arbitrary as it was not the anniversary of any famous battle or military event.  Perhaps, it was chosen simply because flowers with which the graves are decorated are in bloom and plentiful at that particular time of the year.  The name, “Decoration Day” was gradually replaced by MD beginning in 1882, and in 1887 MD became the official name.  In 1968 the Congress moved the holiday to the last Monday in May.  This annoyed many traditionalists, but the lure of a three-day weekend overcame any objections, and the Monday date has prevailed.

There are some MD traditions worth noting:

1.  Flying the flag at half-staff.

Most of the time one will see the flag flown at half-staff all day; however, technically, this is not proper.  The flag should be raised to the top and then lowered to half-staff.  This is intended to honor those who have died for their country.  At noon, the flag is to be raised again to full staff, where it remains for the rest of the day.  This is to recognize that the deceased veterans’ sacrifices were not in vain.

2.  Poppies.

Poppies have become the official flower of remembrance, declared as such by the American Legion in 1920.  This is derived from WWI and the Battle of Ypres (English pronunciation is “Wipers.”).  Apparently, a proliferation of poppies grew on that battlefield around soldiers’ graves.  These poppies were featured in a famous poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae called “In Flanders Fields.”  This poem caught people’s imagination and popularized the custom.

3.  Sporting Events.

No American holiday celebration would be complete without a sports connection.  MD has the Indianapolis 500 and the Memorial golf tournament, among others.  Also, until recently there was the traditional Memorial Day baseball doubleheader. Alas, due to economics, scheduled holiday baseball doubleheaders are all but extinct.

CONCLUSION

I hope the foregoing has increased your understanding and appreciation of MD.  As a veteran, myself, I find it most gratifying that, in recent years, most Americans have come to recognize and appreciate the service and sacrifice of our country’s veterans.  I can remember a time (the Vietnam War period) when it wasn’t so.  Just last night, for example, I attended a Billy Joel concert.   At one point, Joel dedicated a song to veterans and several of them appeared on the stage in uniform.  That produced some of the loudest and longest cheers of the night.

So, whatever you do this weekend, however you celebrate, try to pause for a moment in honor of the many veterans who have given their lives so that the rest of us could enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

ROGER MOORE

Roger Moore, best known for playing secret service agent James Bond, has died at 89 after a bout with cancer.  Although most people, especially those of my generation, associate Sean Connery with the role, Moore actually played the super sleuth for a longer period of time – seven films over a 12 year period.  [How many of the eight actors who have played Bond can you name?  Answer appears below.]

Roger Moore was born in London on October 14, 1927.  His father was a policeman.  One day he was assigned to investigate a robbery at the home of film director, Brian Desmond Hurst.  Through that tenuous connection Hurst eventually hired young Moore as an extra for one of his films.

Moore was not exactly an instant success.  In the early 1950s he worked mainly as a model in print advertisements for knitwear, which earned him the moniker, “The Big Knit.”  Later, in the US, Moore appeared in a series of forgettable tv series, such as Ivanhoe, The Alaskans, and The Persuaders.  If you remember any of those, you get a gold star.  His big break came in 1960 when he was cast as “Beau Maverick” in the popular tv western, Maverick.  Beau was cast as Bret and Bart Maverick’s English cousin.  Ironically, Sean Connery had tested for the role but turned it down.  Then, in 1962 Moore was cast as the lead in the popular series, The Saint (1962 – 1969).

By the early 1970s Connery had made it known he was no longer interested in continuing the role of James Bond.  In 1973 Moore became the third Bond and, at 45, the oldest.  His style was different from Connery’s.  Connery was more physical.  Moore was more debonair playboy and exhibited more of a sense of humor.

The Bond role proved to be the highpoint of Moore’s career.  For the next 30 years or so he appeared in mostly minor roles.  He focused his energies on humanitarian work.  For example, he became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991.  Also, he helped produce a video for PETA that protested against the production and sale of foie gras (fatty duck), which mistreats and exploits ducks.

CONCLUSION

In 2004 in an Academy Awards poll, Moore was voted the “Best Bond.”  Be that as it may, in my opinion, Connery was the quintessential Bond.  My favorite Bond movie was Goldfinger.  I even liked the villains in it – Auric Goldfinger (do you get the pun in the name?) and Odd Job.  Not to take anything away from Moore, when I think of the super sleuth, I think of Connery, not Moore.

Answer (in no particular order):  Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Barry Nelson, George Lazenby, David Niven and Daniel Craig.  If you named them all, you are a Bond savant, but, also, you really need to get out more.

ISIS TERROR ATTACK IN MANCHESTER

Late last night, ISIS terrorists perpetrated another attack, this time in Manchester, England.  (Earlier accounts had not identified the responsible party, but this morning ISIS claimed credit for it.)  Once again, they picked a “soft” target, detonating a bomb in the lobby of a concert hall where the pop entertainer Ariana Grande had just concluded her performance.  The latest estimates of casualties were in excess of 20 killed and 60 injured.  A disproportionate number of the victims were teenagers and/or pre-teens.

This represents a continuation of terrorists’ predilection for attacking “soft” targets, such as malls, schools, churches, clubs and concerts.  Many people, including yours truly, have predicted this as an obvious strategy.  It enables them to inflict maximum fear and disruption of our normal way of life.  It can make one feel that “no place is safe.”

Witnesses described frightened teens and pre-teens, who moments before had been enjoying a concert, sitting around in groups sobbing for their parents.  The image is heart-rending.  The traumatic affect on these kids will likely be considerable and long-lasting.

This was the deadliest terrorist attack on British soil since 2005.  British Prime Minister Theresa May characterized it as “callous” and “cowardly.”  As I write this, police believe it was executed by a single suicide bomber, but based on past experience I believe their investigation will disclose that he had logistical and financial support from others.  According to CNN British police are citing this attack as evidence that there is a widespread terror network operating in the country, and more attacks are likely.

Terrorism has been on the rise in Europe in recent years, and GB has been on a “severe terror alert.”  Some of the significant terror attacks in Europe in the last 12 months include:

  1.  7/14/16 – In Nice, France, a truck plowed into revelers celebrating Bastille Day killing 86.
  2. 12/19/16 – In Berlin twelve were killed when a hijacked truck plowed through a Christmas market.
  3. 3/22/17 – In London four people were killed when a terrorist drove an SUV into a group of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge.  He then stabbed a policeman.
  4. 4/17/17 – In Stockholm, Sweden a terrorist drove a truck into a group of pedestrians in a department store killing four persons.

CONCLUSION

Any objective observer cannot view this latest terror attack in isolation.  It should be obvious that it is part of a coordinated series of terror attacks by a group or groups of terrorist cells.

In my opinion, in Europe we are seeing the culmination of decades of lax immigration policies and an excess of political correctness.   At this point, a considerable amount of damage has been done and the problem may be approaching the point where it will become irreversible.

In the US we should view the European situation as a warning.  It is providing us with empirical information of what can and likely will happen here prospectively if we fail to take corrective action now.  The evidence is right in front of us.  It is actual, not theoretical. We must increase our border security, enhance our vetting procedures, and strengthen our law enforcement policies towards immigrants.  Otherwise, before long, we may find ourselves in a similar situation.

CHUCK WEPNER – THE “ORIGINAL ‘ROCKY’ “

Most people are familiar with the movie Rocky (1976), which portrays a down-and-out boxer who gets a shot at the heavyweight title and shocks the world by nearly winning the bout.  Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay and starred as Rocky.  The movie was a huge success and won nine Academy Awards, including best picture.  It is generally considered to be one of the best sports movies ever, and the American Film Institute has ranked it as the second best boxing movie (behind Raging Bull).  In addition, it spawned six sequels, which have met with varying degrees of success.

What most people are unaware of, however, is that the character, Rocky, as well as much of the movie’s plot, was based on an actual boxer named Chuck Wepner.   Unless you were an avid boxing fan in the 1970s and 1980s you likely have never heard of Wepner.  Read on and be edified.

Wepner was born on February 26, 1939 in New York City.  He was raised by his grandmother in Bayonne, NJ.  Money was scarce.  For example, Wepner’s childhood bedroom was actually a converted coal shed.  He did not have any formal boxing training.  He learned to fight on the streets.  As Wepner put it, “it was a tough town… you had to fight to survive.”

After graduating high school Wepner joined the Marines, where he learned how to box.  He was very successful, primarily because he could “take a punch.”  After his discharge, he bounced around at different jobs, including that of a “bouncer” in a club.

He turned professional in 1964.  He became a successful “club fighter” in the NJ area and even managed to defeat former WBA Heavyweight Champion Ernie Terrell in one fight.  But, he was not in the same class as the top boxers, losing badly, for instance, to George Foreman and Sonny Liston.  His main forte was he could take punishment.  In fact, he took punishment so well that it became the basis for his nickname, the “Bayonne Bleeder.”

Wepner’s big break came in 1975.  Muhammed Ali’s handlers were looking to “book” a white fighter for Ali’s next bout, and Wepner happened to be the highest ranked white boxer at the time.  Wepner’s pedestrian record was also a factor as Ali’s handlers were looking for a non-threatening opponent before his next big fight.  The fighters’ respective purses reflected their respective status and expectations of success.  Ali was guaranteed $1.5 million; Wepner got a mere $100,000.  The pre-fight conventional wisdom was that Wepner was a sacrificial lamb.  The question was not whether or not he could win, but how long could he last?  Go the distance?  Not a chance!  In response to one reporter’s question as to his chances in the ring, Wepner quipped: “If I survived the Marines, I can survive Ali.”

Wepner almost made it.  He did, indeed, shock the world, not by winning, but by nearly lasting the distance when few had thought he could.  Ali beat him by a TKO with but 19 seconds left in the 15th and final round.  Moreover, in the 9th round Wepner had scored a rare knockdown of Ali (although Ali later insisted Wepner had stepped on his foot).  While Ali was down Wepner retreated to a neutral corner as required by the rules.  He was brimming with confidence until his manager told him, “You better turn around.  He’s getting up, and he looks pissed.”

Before leaving his hotel room to go to the bout Wepner had told his wife, who had remained behind, “Tonight, you will be sleeping with the heavyweight champion of the world.”  When he returned to the room afterwards, she asked him “Am I going to Ali’s room, or is he coming to mine?”  Apparently, she, too, had a good sense of humor.

The fight with Ali proved to be Wepner’s last big moment in the ring.  “I showed the world that I belonged in there,” said Wepner afterwards, and “that’s what I really wanted to do.”  Three years later he retired, and went into the liquor distribution business with his wife, Linda, where he remains today.

CONCLUSION

Stallone had watched the Ali-Wepner bout.  Supposedly, it had inspired him to write the script that became Rocky.  At first, Stallone denied any connection, but, eventually, he agreed to a monetary settlement with Wepner.  Furthermore, in a nice gesture, he offered him a role in the sequel, but it didn’t work out.

In my opinion, the parallels between the two are too compelling to be coincidental.  For example:

  1. Wepner’s career and style of boxing were very similar to those of the fictional Rocky.
  2. Wepner fought a wrestler, “Andre the Giant.”  In Rocky III Rocky fought the wrestler, “Thunderlips,” played by Hulk Hogan.  Additionally, during the fight Andre threw Wepner out of the ring, as Rocky and Thunderlips did to each other.
  3. The personality of the fictional Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, bore a striking resemblance to that of Muhammed Ali.
  4. Wepner really did train by running up steps, although not the 72 steps at the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as portrayed in Rocky.  He did not, however, eat raw eggs.  Anyone who does “better be wearing depends,” he once quipped.  Also, he denied training by punching slabs of frozen meat.  “I trained on punching [unruly bar patrons].  I was undefeated in about 87 bar fights.”
  5. Rocky’s fictional bout with Creed exhibited many parallels to the actual Wepner-Ali bout.

As you can see from the foregoing quotes, Wepner was very personable and had a great sense of humor.  Currently, his story is being portrayed in the movie, Chuck, starring Liev Schreiber as WepnerI have seen it, and although it was not as good as Rocky, I found it entertaining, and I recommend it.  Don’t be put off by the fact that you may not have heard of Wepner.  Listen to Schreiber: “I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know who Chuck was… and I was blown away when I found out.”

 

WHO AM I – PART II

The following is intended to be a “fun” blog that tests your knowledge of various topics from pop culture to American history.  See if you can identify the person described.  I tried to find a middle ground where you will be tested but not frustrated.  I hope I succeeded.

  1.  My real name was William, but I was known by my nickname.  I was a straight man in one of the most famous comedy teams ever.  I performed in vaudeville, on the radio, on tv and in the  movies.  My most famous comedy skit was about baseball.
  2. I had the shortest tenure of any US President.  I was the last president to have been born a British subject.  I was the grandfather of another president.  I was a renowned Indian fighter.  My most famous victory came at the Tippecanoe River.
  3. I was a versatile performer of tv, stage and film.  I could sing, dance and act.  My biggest roles on the stage were in Chicago and 42nd Street.  I appeared in numerous films, such as Dirty Dancing.  I played a police detective on a long-running tv series.
  4. My given name is Robyn Fenty, but I am known by my middle name.  I was born in Barbados.  I have won eight Grammy Awards and have sold over 230 million records worldwide.  My first big album was Music of the Sun.  I have dated many celebrities, one of which was MLB star Matt Kemp.
  5. My real name is James Todd Smith, but everyone calls me by my famous nickname.  I have achieved notoriety as rapper, actor on tv and in the movies.  In one of my movie roles I jumped out of an airplane.  Currently, I am starring in an action show based in LA.
  6. I was a comedian with a very distinctive style.  I appeared in movies with both Clark Gable and Clint Eastwood.  I was a staple on tv variety and late night talk shows and had my own tv show for a few years.
  7. My real name was Lawrence, but everybody knew me by my famous nickname.  I was born in St. Louis.  I played in the major leagues for many years and was considered one of the best ever at my position.  After I retired I coached and managed teams in both the National and American Leagues.
  8. I was one of the founding fathers.  I was a wealthy merchant and statesman from Boston.  I was President of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  9. I am a radio personality best known as the host of American Top 40.  On tv I hosted a popular reality tv show for many years.  I am a talk show co-host on a popular daytime tv talk show.
  10. I am the only person to have served as both US president and vice president without having been elected to either office.  Although I was often portrayed as being clumsy, I was actually an accomplished athlete in my youth.

ANSWERS:  1) Bud Abbott (Abbott and Costello).  2) William Henry Harrison (campaign slogan – “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”).  3) Jerome Bernard “Jerry” Orbach.  4)  Rihanna. 5)  LL Cool J.  6) Don Rickles. 7)  Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. 8)  John Hancock.  9) Ryan Seacrest. 10)  Gerald Ford.

I hope you enjoyed this blog.  Please let me know how you did.

 

MOTHER’S DAY

Sunday, most Americans will celebrate Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is celebrated all over the world in some form. Different countries have their own way of celebrating the day and even celebrate on different dates. Some countries have replicated the US traditions – hallmark [or email (tacky)] card, flowers, chocolates, and family gatherings; others have incorporated it into other holidays honoring women or mothers; and in still others, a combination of the two has evolved. Restauranteurs claim that Mother’s Day is their busiest day of the year. Evidently, one of the perks for mothers on MD is a day off from cooking. And why not? (On the other hand, on Father’s Day the restaurants are relatively empty as many fathers are put to work barbecuing.

In the US MD was first celebrated in 1908 when a lady named Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother. Ms. Jarvis had been campaigning for the country to recognize a day to honor mothers since 1905 when her mother had passed away. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed an official proclamation establishing the second Sunday in May as MD. It was to be a day to honor mothers and the concept of motherhood and their contributions to society.

Eventually, Ms. Jarvis became disillusioned with the commercialization of the holiday.  By the 1920’s the greeting card, candy and flower industries were marketing their products aggressively to take advantage of the holiday.  Jarvis strongly advocated that people should demonstrate their love and respect for their mothers through personalized, handwritten letters instead.  Being a person of action she organized protests and threatened boycotts of these industries.  At one point, she was arrested for disturbing the peace at a candy manufacturers’ convention.

Despite her efforts, commercialization of the day has continued to grow.  Americans, in particular, tend to demonstrate their love in tangible, material ways through the giving of gifts.  Today, MD is one of the biggest days for the sale of flowers, candy and greeting cards.  In addition, it is the third-biggest day for church attendance behind Christmas Eve and Easter.

As I stated, MD is celebrated in many countries in different ways and at different dates. For example:

1. The most common date is the second Sunday in May, which is May 14 this year. Besides the US, some of the countries that celebrate it on this date are Canada, Italy the Peoples Republic of China and Turkey.

2. Some countries, such as the UK, Ireland and Nigeria, celebrate it on the fourth Sunday of Lent. The UK incorporated it into a previously existing holiday called “Mothering Sunday.” ” Mothering Sunday” dates from the 16th Century.

3. Many Arab countries, such as Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia celebrate it on the vernal equinox (March 21).

4. Russia used to celebrate MD on March 8 in conjunction with International Women’s Day, but in 1998 the date was changed, by law, to the last Sunday in November.

5. Bolivia celebrates it on May 27, which is the date of an historically significant battle in which women played a key role.

6. Since 1950 France has celebrated MD on the fourth Sunday in May, except when the date conflicts with Pentecost in which case it is delayed to the next Sunday.

7. Hindus celebrate MD on the new moon day in the month of Baisakh (April/May).

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

MD is one of the few truly internationally recognized holidays. One of the charming features of the day is the variety of ways and dates on which it is celebrated. This is derived from the differences in customs and cultures around the world.

One thing is certain now and will remain so prospectively: on this day the mother/wife is truly in charge.

Men, all together now, let’s repeat the two-word mantra for a successful marriage:

YES, DEAR!

BABYLIFT ORPHANS

This is a feel-good story about the Vietnam War, which, I know, sounds like an oxymoron.   But, read on.

“Operation Babylift” was the moniker for the mass evacuation of babies and young children, mostly orphans, from South Vietnam just before the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong overran Saigon.  Over 10,000 children were airlifted from Saigon to the US, Australia and various other countries between April 3 and April 29, 1975.  Eventually, they were adopted by families all over the world.

The operation was authorized by President, Gerald Ford.  The plan was to utilize some 30 flights on military and cargo aircraft.  Several service organizations participated in this project, including Holt International Children’s Services, Friends of Children of Vietnam and the Catholic Relief Service, among others.

The project got off to an inauspicious start as the first plane to leave crashed killing 138 passengers.  However, that was the only mishap.  After a while, a shortage of military planes developed, and with the North Vietnamese closing in on Saigon more rapidly than originally anticipated,  it became necessary to supplement them with flights on commercial aircraft.  In addition, some private citizens, such as businessman Robert Macauley, chartered planes at their own expense to help.

The operation, itself, was somewhat controversial.  Some people questioned whether or not it was in the children’s best interest, since many of them were not orphans, and therefore, were being separated from a parent and/or sibling.   John Bennett, a former president of the Union Theological Seminary, summed up this argument opining it would be “better to allow the children to grow up in their home culture.”  Moreover, certain South Vietnamese government agencies objected to placing the children with foreign families.  They preferred to place them with Vietnamese families.  The net effect was to complicate and delay the operation, but, ultimately, many thousands were saved.

CONCLUSION

Some 40 years later, I believe there can be no doubt that the program was a rousing success.  Generally, those who remained behind did not fare well, especially children of mixed birth and their Vietnamese mothers.  All in all, it is estimated that the North Vietnamese murdered some 250,000 South Vietnamese and sent millions more to “labor” or “re-education” camps or worse.

Meanwhile, those who were rescued did just fine.  For example, take the case of Michael Marchese.  He was transported from a South Vietnamese orphanage to the US at the age of three.  Today, he is married with a family working as a successful real estate broker in New Jersey.  He knows he was very lucky and is very grateful.  “I can never thank Holt [International] enough.  Without the babylift, [I] would have either died or grown up on the streets. ……The Vietcong were gathering up boys who didn’t look fully Vietnamese, [and with an American father Marchese definitely did not], and taking them to camps or actually shooting them.”  Marchese was attempting to find his older sister and his mother for many years.  In a further happy twist, Marchese’s older sister had also been adopted by a US family and was also looking for him.  They re-united in 2000, and later found their mother.  Obviously, it was a very poignant reunion.  Marchese said his mother kept apologizing to him for sending him away.  His response: “There’s nothing for you to apologize about.  You …saved my life.”

And, then there is the story of Victoria Sharma and her adopted Vietnamese sister.  Sharma, an eight year-old American citizen living in Saigon with her parents, remembers the harrowing experience of getting her sister out of the country.  Her father, a US government employee was in San Francisco.  They did not have a Visa or passport for the little girl and the North Vietnamese were closing in.  At the last minute, her mother wrote the necessary contact information on the four year-old-child’s  body and literally tossed her into the waiting arms of one of the airplane’s crew members.  All she could do was hope that the baby would be delivered to the father in San Francisco.  She was.  Sharma and her mother left on a commercial flight later.  The foregoing are but two examples of the harrowing and, ultimately, uplifting stories associated with the airlift.

At the present time, a Vietnamese agency called Operation Reunite is busily attempting to match adoptees with their families using DNA, so, perhaps, there will be many more happy reunions.   In addition, there is now a memorial in Holmdel, NJ commemorating Operation Babylift.  The project was a very positive ending to a dark period in our history.

 

 

FLORENCE FINCH – HUMBLE HERO

Wartime tends to produce many heroes.  Usually, such heroes are ordinary people who, finding themselves in exigent circumstances, accomplish extraordinary things.  Most of the time, these heroics go unrecognized at the time by the general public.  Recognition, if it comes at all, follows years later.  Such was the case with Florence Finch.  Probably, most of you have never heard of Ms. Finch, which kind of proves my point.

Finch was a major hero during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during WWII.  Due to the circumstances of her actions and her own modesty, her deeds were not known to the general public for some 50 years afterwards.  They remained buried in obscurity.  Only her family was cognizant of her exploits.  Her story is very inspiring and deserves to be told.

Loring May Ebersole was born in Santiago on Luzon Island in the Philippines on October 11, 1915.  Her father was an American who had fought in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and remained there afterwards.  Her mother was Filipino.  After graduating high school Finch secured a job as a stenographer at Army Headquarters in Manila.  She married Charles Smith, a US sailor.  Unfortunately, Smith was KIA soon after WWII broke out.

Due to her mixed heritage Finch was able to “pass” for Filipino with the occupying Japanese.  She was able to secure a position writing rationing vouchers for distributing food, medicine, clothing, gas and other supplies to the Japanese Army units in the area.  She proceeded to divert as much as she could to the Underground whose members were desperately in need of those items.

Eventually, she was captured, imprisoned and tortured.  The Japanese wanted crucial information from her regarding her associates, and they did not treat her lightly because she was a woman.  When it came to torture, the Japanese did not discriminate between the sexes.  One of the many techniques used to get her to talk was electrical shocks.  To her credit, she never talked.  When she was finally liberated in February 1945 she weighed a mere 80 pounds.  She became the first woman to be awarded Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon in recognition to her contributions to the war effort.

After her liberation she moved to Buffalo, NY where her father had some family living.  She joined the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, aka SPARs, to, as she put it, “avenge her husband.”  In 1947 the government awarded her the Medal of Freedom, the predecessor of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest medal that can be awarded to a civilian.

After the War she endeavored to live a quiet, if not secluded, life.  She enrolled in secretarial school, met and married her second husband, an Army veteran named Robert Finch, raised a family, and worked as a secretary at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.  As I said, her friends and neighbors never realized her special background.

Eventually, however, the US government “discovered” her.  In conjunction with plans to construct a memorial honoring women in military service in Washington, DC, the government sent a questionnaire to all female veterans, including Finch.  Once she had completed the questionnaire detailing her exploits, the “jig was up.”   Finch was back in the limelight.

In 1995 the Coast Guard named a building on Sand Island, Hawaii in her honor.  In conjunction with that event, Finch’s daughter, apparently not as shy as her mother, alerted the news media and Finch’s story became known to much of the public.

CONCLUSION

Finch passed away in December at the age of 101.  Consistently with the way she had lived her life she died quietly in the Ithaca nursing home in which she had been living.  At first, news of her passing was reported solely in newspapers in upstate NY.  Wider dissemination only occurred after the Coast Guard recently announced she was to be interred with full military honors in an upstate NY military cemetery.  Why the five-month delay?  Well, again, it was due to Finch’s modesty.  When she sensed she was near the end, she had made it clear that she did not want her funeral to interrupt her relatives’ Christmas holidays or to force them to travel to upstate NY during the winter.  (Who thinks of that?  Remarkable.)

Why was Finch so unassuming regarding her war exploits?  Perhaps, it was just her nature to be modest.  Or, perhaps, one can glean understanding from the following quote.  When asked to describe her exploits of heroism, Finch had replied “I feel very humble, because my activities in the war effort were trivial compared with those of the people who gave their lives for their country.”

Rest in peace Florence Finch.  You were a true American hero, and you will be sorely missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S FIRST 100 DAYS

Americans seem to have accepted the practice of evaluating our presidents based on their accomplishments in the first 100 days of their term in office.  100 days seems rather arbitrary to me.  Why not 90 days or six months?  But, I’ll play along.

Saturday was President Trump’s 100th day in office, so below please find my analysis, which, due to time and space, I have limited to the key issues.  What have been his successes and failures?  To what extent has he fulfilled his campaign promises?  I have tried to summarize his performance objectively, although I’m sure many of you will disagree with me.

  1.  Supreme Court Vacancy – In my opinion, beyond a doubt, his greatest success was securing Senate approval of Neil Gorsuch as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  Since Justice Scalia’s untimely death the court had been functioning with only eight justices raising the specter of 4-4 decisions.  Gorsuch has impeccable credentials, and I believe he will be a superb justice.  Moreover, I believe he will generally support a conservative agenda, and, best of all, he should be on the court for many years.
  2. Economy/Jobs –  He has taken several actions designed to boost the economy and job market.  (a)  He has proposed deep and radical tax cuts.  Critics have denigrated his plan as favoring the rich, citing the elimination of the estate tax and the reduction of the highest bracket to 35%.  Those do favor the rich, but there are also benefits for the middle class as well, such as doubling the standard deduction and eliminating the alternative minimum tax.  In addition, small business owners will benefit from the sharp reduction in the corporate income tax rate to 15%.  Historically, tax cuts have boosted the economy, and this one should as well.  The stock market has already discounted such a boost.  The Dow is up 6% already this year.  Past history tells us that the final law will be considerably different from President Trump’s proposal once Congress has weighed in, so stay tuned.  (b)  He has pressured certain large corporations, such as Carrier, into cancelling plans to relocate jobs to foreign countries.  (c)  He has approved commencement of construction of the Dakota Pipeline and withdrawn from participation in TPP.  (d) He has issued executive orders designed to alleviate the burden of excessive government regulations on business, especially small businesses.
  3. Healthcare –  His bill to repeal and replace the ACA failed to pass, but he has chipped away at the ACA somewhat by executive order.  The likelihood is that the Administration will continue to try to secure passage of a comprehensive healthcare bill, but it needs to win over conservative Republicans and/or moderate Democrats to do so (a tall order).
  4. Immigration/Border Security –  His policies are designed to protect Americans by controlling the flow of illegal immigrants, criminals and drugs.  For the most part, he wants to accomplish this by enforcing existing laws, which have been largely ignored by previous administrations.  Those who advocate open borders should look how well that has worked in Europe.  I view open borders as akin to leaving the doors of your house open at night.  (a)  He has issued two executive orders designed to tighten the vetting process for immigrants.  So far, he has been thwarted by his opponents, who have challenged them successfully in the ultraliberal 9th circuit.  I find it very frustrating that one liberal judge, ruling based on personal politics rather than the law, can thwart the wishes of a majority of Americans, but it has happened twice.  (b)  Similarly, his executive order to defund sanctuary cities that refuse to obey Federal law has also been challenged successfully in the 9th circuit.  Hopefully, the government will ultimately prevail in the Supreme Court.   (c)  Congress has been able to block funding for the Border Wall.
  5. Foreign Relations – (a)    He has exhibited strong, decisive leadership, which was sorely lacking in the previous administration.  (b)  He has been very aggressive with terrorist organizations.  He authorized the extensive bombing of Syria after Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, including on babies and children. Furthermore, he authorized the use of a MOAB, “mother of all bombs” on suspected terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan. (c)  He has met with the heads of state of several countries, such as Japan and China, to establish rapport and establish a basis for cooperation.  (d)  He has enlisted the support of China, hopefully, to reign in North Korea.  (e)  He has reiterated the US’s strong support of Israel.

CONCLUSION

Has President Trump been perfect so far?  Has he delivered on all of his campaign pledges?   No and no.  But, in my opinion, there have been more positives than negatives.  In my opinion, his biggest negative has been his inability to convince Congress to support him, notably, with respect to healthcare and funding for the Border Wall.  He is reputed to be a superb negotiator.  He has to demonstrate this ability prospectively in order to have a successful presidency.   (The rulings in the 9th District are not his fault.  Thanks to the system of checks and balances imbedded in the Constitution the President cannot control the courts.)

It is important to keep in mind that he has been dogged by a hostile Democratic party, which, incidentally, has shown far more unity against him than it did during the election campaign.  In addition, many in his own party have been opposing him.   And, then, of course, there is the media, which continues to slant and exaggerate the news against him.  His use of twitter has helped him in this area.  It is almost a modern version of FDR’s “fireside chats” in the 1930s.

I remain optimistic that things will work out.  We shall see.