Saturday, November 29, 2008

Off to England

Next, as an investigative reporter, I was sent to England. In order to disguise my mission and to save money I was sent on a goodwill junket. What had happened was that a large passenger plane operated by British Airways had crashed over Rome and nearly 300 passengers had died in the crash. The concept of the fuselage was new but the plane was powered by Rolls Royce. I found it hard to believe that the engines had failed. After we got to Manchester I played sick and hired a guide and a vehicle so I could visit the factory where the body of the plane was built and assembled. There was a lot of gloom at the plant. Finally I talked to a major source who told me in understandable language what had happened. The plane was not sufficiently designed for high altitude. About the third time it was flown to 20,000 feet it just simply flew apart. I had my story and returned to the tour. The other visitors made fun of me but who cares. I apologized. Meanwhile the United States contractor had cancelled with the British company and was buying a plane made in California. It was the most significant aviation story of the decade. I returned home and wrote the story. But management was afraid of it because I could not name a source. I did not want to double cross my informant. Finally my story was pigeonholed. About nine months later the story broke in England. It was too late for the British company and the California company profited by the turn of circumstances. Aviation has changed a lot since then. This blog will resume Tuesday.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nailing a Crooked Politician

I was assigned the title "Investigative Reporter" and went to work. There were reports of a county commissioner taking bribes to build a road to a drilling site. I put on a pair of overalls and started carrying a camera in a totesack. It did not take long to get photos of county equipment being used illegally. I went to the grand jury and got an indictment. But the tenacles of the illegal scheme reached clear across the county. The story eventually involved a bank. a major corporation, and a number of individuals. I was the least popular news reporter in town. Finally, however, we got the commissioner removed from office, and I won some journalism prizes. The name of my story was Hoot Owl Road. Now let me drop the other shoe. We elected a new county commissioner to replace the crooked one. The new man turned out to be as dishonest as the man he replaced. Do I have an answer for this? Yes, but it will cost a lot of money. Maybe we should abolish the county commissioner type of government.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Friendswood -- A Quaker Settlement

We moved our residence from Houston to Friendswood, which was an hour's drive from the Post and Chronicle. We bought some acreage and began raising our two daughters. We also bought some horses. Friendswood was a Quaker community. You could not buy liquor in the community. It was low key, however almost every family had at least three children so it was obvious that a lot of copulation went on. It was ideal place to raise children. The largest edifice in town was the Friends (Quaker) Church. After we had lived there a while we managed to obtain an Episcopal church, but it was much smaller. Then one day it was announced that NASA would begin operations at nearby Webster. The space program, which eventually sent a team to the moon, brought thousands of new citizens to the area. A lot of these new arrivals did not want to live in Space City, USA, so they moved to Friendswood. And many of them were Episcopalians. One Sunday the members of the vestry had to stand up in the back of the church because all the seats were filled. Friendswood changed, but one thing remained constant -- no liquor was sold in the city.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bad Luck in Oklahoma

We were married in the old stone Episcopal church in San Angelo in front of an estimated 300 relatives and friends. Right after that we resigned from the Standard and left town in search of better paying jobs. We went to Oklahoma City where I had a connection with the executive editor of the Daily Oklahoma. He talked to us for a while and then offered me a job and then he turned to Marie and said, "How would you like to be society editor?" She leaped to her feet and said, "Go to hell." At that point I knew we would have to move to a city with two newspapers. I considered New York City. We ended up in Houston where she went to work at the Chronicle and I went to work at the Post. We had good careers in Houston and bought some acreage in Friendswood, south of there, and raised our two daughters in a rural atmosphere. As soon as they grew up one of them moved to New York City and the other one to Washington, D.C. So much for country living. The newspaper business is different now, but in our time we enjoyed the competition, the investigative reporting, and the prestige of a daily newspaper.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

San Angelo

Back in my home town of San Angelo I found that things had changed. When I went to the department store to buy some clothes they did not have any -- but the clerk hinted that he could find some under the counter. Prices were still restricted, one of the good things that Congress had done during thie war, but a black market had grown up. You could not buy a new car but if you had the money one would show up at a location out of town. This made me angry but the management of the Standard Times would not let me write about it. The word is Greed. People seemed adjusted to this situation, but returning veterans were not. I joined the American Legion and we began to protest. This went on for a while but after price restrictions were lifted the market adjusted. Meanwhile I wore part of my Army uniform and drove a second hand car. During this time I noticed a female reporter who was covering City Hall. Her name was Marie and she was competent and confident. She was quite independent and did not want anything to do with me. I was not interested in marriage until I met Marie. I had made the rounds of my old girl friends, and one of them was the only granddaughter of a rich oil man who was worth millions of dollars. I took her to the park and had sex with her. She was compliant but not exciting and I gave her up. A year later she married a ranch boy and her grandfather gave them a ranch, a herd of cattle and a pickup truck. Even so I did not regret not having married her. That may explain why I am so poor. But Marie continued to interest me and after three years she agreed to marry me. She was ahead of her time, an independent woman who was seeking to make her way in a world which men had dominated for so long.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Truman @ the Atomic Bomb

Information about the Atomic Bomb began to flow in. It had been a well kept secret. President Harry Truman made the final decision to drop the bomb. It was estimated that if we invaded Japan that 2 million Japanese would be killed and possibly that many U.S. troops. At that time we had nearly 10 million citizens enrolled in the military. Pictures of the Japanese surrender aboard a battleship in Tokyo began to be published. The war was over, and the warlords had begun killing themselves - Hari Kari with a knife to the abdomen. Truman always said he never regretted dropping the bomb. I agreed with him. I had signed up for the duration and six months and now I was eligible for discharge. I started toward home after receiving my discharge at Fort Bliss in El Paso. I did not know what my next move would be. On the way home I stopped at a bank in New Mexico and asked if I could float a loan to bring some cattle into the state. The banker asked me to wait a few minutes while he checked with a widow who owned a large ranch. This widow had a young daughter who was eligible for marriage. I waited and he talked to the widow on the telephone. He returned shaking his head. It seems the girl had married the hired hand only two days before. I do not know what the girl looked like but I came back to Texas to resume my career. After thinking it over I decided against resuming my ranch operations. Instead I went to work as a reporter on my home town newspaper, The San Angelo Standard Times. This led to other changes in my lifestyle.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Atomic Bomb

Back in the States I was sent to Victorville Air Force Base in California. Here were thousands of soldiers, including me, who were waiting to invade the Pacific Theater. While we were waiting I was ordered to give daily newscasts. I had an Associated Press teletype installed. One morning this AP machine began ringing bells with a bulletin. It reported that a B-29 bomber had dropped an Atomic Bomb on Japan, killing thousands of people. I immediately called the base commander and read him the story. He thanked me and hung up. I still did not know what was an Atomic Bomb. The story went on to relate that the bomb had been dropped from high altitude and that shock waves had rocked the B-29 and sent a mushroom cloud into the atmosphere. I read this story to the troops all day long and each time there was a shocked reaction while they waited for me to tell them what was an Atomic Bomb. I had to use the old Army routine "dismissed" to empty the theater. The Japanese warlords did not want to end the war but the Emperor took charge and surrendered. Then most of the warlords committed suicide. The war was over. Next Tuesday I will give some background on the Atomic Bomb.

Friday, November 21, 2008

An Italian Father

After finishing a strong cup of coffee I remembered an incident in Italy which amused me. A soldier often seeks out a family for a visit because he is homesick. This happened to me in a suburb of Naples during the old old war. The father served us some wine at inflated prices and since he spoke English we had some conversation. With me was a PFC we called Shorty. The Italian father had two daughters who lurked in the background. Shorty drifted over to talk to the daughters and they disappeared into the hall. One of the daughters pulled up her dress and showed Shorty her private parts. This inflamed his passions. Later on when it became time to leave, I thanked our host for his hospitality but Shorty negotiated a deal to spend the night. The girl had indicated which door led to her bedroom. Later on when the house became quiet, Shorty tiptoed over to this door, but it was locked. I suspect the father was using his daughter for bait but regardless of his motive he locked the door securely before going to bed. Poor Shorty!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Marie and I were sipping tequila at a bar in Nuevo Laredo. This bar was being operated by Jesse, who was the son of the old man who started it and who was our friend. The old man had died and Jesse had taken charge. A woman came in and sat down at the bar with us. She had a bag of groceries. Jesse spoke to her and she pulled out a gourd. He asked her to contribute it and she agreed. So Jesse peeled the gourd and sliced it and sprinkled salt over it and then poured tequila over it. Then he filled our glasses for free, offered the sliced gourd on a platter and poured the woman a drink. The gourd tasted bland except for the salt and tequila. So we held an afternoon party with Jesse. I asked Jesse the name of the gourd and he grinned and said "potatoes". I asked the woman the name and she said "Hic a ma". Then she wrote it down and it started with a J instead of an H. Since then I have seen this gourd being sold in the produce section at some of the supermarkets. It is commonplace along the border. Just think about hiccups to start with and then add a and ma. It is sold cheap and makes a great appetizer for an afternoon cocktail party.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Baby Doctor

Before the violence caused by the drug war, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo were closely related. On the Mexican side there was a doctor, Salvador Pena, who delivered more than 5,000 babies over a period of years. In the early days pregnant women from Laredo went across the river to see Dr. Pena because they trusted him. When I first met Dr. Pena he was 82 years old. He lived into his 90s.The new mothers would rush back across the border to the U.S. side so they could register their new baby as U.S. born. I met Dr. Pena at a private club in Nuevo Laredo where he was having a late lunch with the mayor of the city and two attorneys and the head of the schools. He was affable. "In order to live as long as I do you need to enjoy a daily siesta, preferably with a young woman," he told me. This history was well known on both sides of the Rio Grande. It was a way of life which suited most of the residents.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cortines Closes the Whore Houses

Patricio Healy had the map of Ireland on his face but when he opened his mouth he spewed forth a torrent of Spanish. He also spoke English. He was a third generation Mexican, the lead reporter for a large Mexico City daily and a member of the press corps which traveled with President Ruiz Cortines. I met him in Nuevo Laredo where I had traveled after leaving the dedication of Falcon Dam. "I have a scoop for you," he said. After leaving Falcon Dam President Cortines had gone to Nuevo Laredo. Upon arrival he hired a taxi cab and toured the red light district. This was a hodge podge of shacks in the heart of downtown, and the houses were rat infested and dirty and prone to catch on fire. The next morning Cortines called together the leading citizens of Nuevo Laredo, the government officials and anyone with influence. He told them that they must get rid of this fire trap and eyesore. If you wish to replace them, then go outside the city and buy a tract of land and fence it and make an entrance with a police gate and control the traffic, he told them. The president of Mexico has a lot of power in a matter like this, and it was considered an order. So Ruiz Cortines and Patricio Healy went back to Mexico City and two years later a new and orderly red light district was establish on the edge of town, and as far as I know it is still there.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Presidents I Have Known

I knew Lyndon B. Johnson better than any other president of the United States, although I have met and talked to a number of chief executives. I feel that Lyndon would have been rated a great president if he had stayed out of Vietnam. Lyndon was a hands-on president. His Civil Rights bill brought the nation into the new world, but eventually lost the South for the Democratic Party. On the other hand I knew Dwight Eisenhower, but not real well. He was almost the opposite of Lyndon. He issued orders, expected them to be carried out, and then went to the golf course. He was a hands-off president. I was there when Ike came down to South Texas to dedicate the Falcon Dam on the Rio Grande River along with the Mexican president, Ruiz Cortines. The two presidents met in the middle of the dam. The night before, while staying at Allan Shivers house, Ike had been briefed on the abrazzo custom. When two Mexican leaders meet they give each other a brief hug called an abrazzo (an embrace). Ike said it was silly and he was not going to do it. So the two men met on the dam and Ike shook hands. At a strategic location below the dam were at least 50 Mexican reporters and photographers. They wanted a picture of the traditional abrazzo. Ike balked. Then the Mexicans hissed loudly "abrazzo." Finally Ike, red faced and a bit angry, gave in an embraced Cortines. You needed to be there to see it. It was a symbol of unity between our two countries. I will tell you a bit more next week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Home at Last

I received an honorable discharge after four year of service in the war, and returned home to a changed world. I went to work as a news reporter on my home town newspaper, the San Angelo Standard Times, but I was not allowed to print my personal opinions. The department stores did not have any clothes although a clerk indicated that I could buy under the counter. The automobile dealers did not have any new cars, although it was hinted that for enough money they could find one. Most of the people in my home town had worked hard in the war effort and were honest and respected. But our society had been infected with hustlers who would steal the money off a blind man's eyes to repeat an old adage. Although I was restricted in what I could print, I was able to tell many of these rascals off when I encountered them. Finally, the soldiers and sailors who returned home after the war made such a public outcry that Congress passed a piece of legislation called the GI Bill. It sent me a cash payment which helped my bank account and it provided loan help for a new house which I bought when Marie and I got married. I have an idea that a similar bill might be indicated for the veterans who are still fighting today. President Franklin Roosevelt closed the banks and made them reorganize when he took office. President Obama will inherit a financial cesspool when he takes office, but he will need the help of Congress to help reform the economy. Congress has been overpaid and over indulged in recent years and it is time for some new programs. Yes, it is time for a change.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Atomic Bomb

Millions of citizens of the United States were involved in the war, either as soldiers in the military or as plant workers or in other way. Hundreds of thousands of army and navy personnel were poised on the West Coast to strike at Japan. The Japanese warlords, desperate for success, had created the suicide aircraft strikes, known as Kamakazi. Our navy, poised to invade Japan, was being attacked by the Kamakazis. It was estimated that millions would die on both sides.It was into this tense atmosphere that President Harry Truman dropped the atomic bomb. I had torn the bulletin off the Associated Press machine and was busy reading it to the troop stationed at Victorville Air Force Base in California. Ordinarily when I finished a newscast there was a scramble for the door as the soldiers burst out of the room. But when I finished telling them about the Atomic Bomb there was a deep silence. They were waiting for me to tell them what was an atomic bomb. I could not tell them what I did not know. Finally I fell back on a standard Army statement: Dismissed. The official bulletin had described how U.S. pilots flying a B-29 bomber at high altitude had dropped an atomic bomb on Japan and had killed thousands of people. The pilot described a mushroom cloud rising from the blast into the atmosphere. Shock waves from the explosion had rocked the plane. The Japanese did not immediately surrender so Truman ordered a second bomb to be dropped. At that point the Japanese emperor took charge and announced surrender and the stubborn warlords began to commit suicide by stabbing themselves in the stomach. It was obvious that the war was over. It was some time before details about the creation of the atomic bomb, which had been done in secret, were revealed. To this day the bomb remains a controversial subject. But to the soldiers waiting to invade Japan and perhaps die it was a welcome happening. I was one of those who was glad it happened.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Foggia Valley, Italy

One thing about the military, they do move you around. The next thing I knew I was in Foggia Valley, Italy, close to Naples. The number of B-24 bombers there almost blew my mind. In less than two years the United States workers, women and men, had produced thousands of bombers and tanks, rifles and ammunition and uniforms as well as establishing bases. The warlords in Berlin and Tokyo had underestimated the basic character of the people of our nation. Every morning a group of B-24s took off from Foggia, followed in short order by another group, hour after hour. Late afternoon saw most of the bombers returning, minus maybe four or five. We were bombing Germany out of existence. In North Africa I had felt that Germany was winning but here in Southern Italy I felt that Germany was doomed. And the credit was due to the people of the United States who went to work with zest. The war in the Pacific was a naval war, with our battleships and cruisers and aircraft carriers meeting the Japanese in places that most of us had never heard of. Finally the Japanese warlords, fanatical to the end, started using suicide pilots, called kamikaze. By that time I was in Victorville, Calif., along with thousands of others, waiting to go to Japan. It has been estimated that we would lose more than one million troops, and that the Japanese would lose maybe two million people, including soldiers, when we invaded. Franklin Roosevelt had been succeeded by Harry Truman. It was Truman who decided to use the atomic bomb. I had been assigned to the news desk at the Southern California air base and was giving eight news reports a day to thousands of soldiers who marched to the base theater to hear them. Early one morning the Associated Press machine began ringing bells for what seemed forever. The message was that we had dropped an atomic bomb on Japan. I called the base commander, who was wide awake. and read him the bulletin. He thanked me and hung up. I still did not know what an atomic bomb was. Next I will tell you the reaction of the troops concerning the dropping of the bomb.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Catania Sicily

The next move was to Sicily where the Allied forces were taking over the country. This was a prelude to invading Italy. We ended up in Catania, once Roman, once Greek, and now Italian. It was an ancient city with walls 12 feet high. When we marched into the city one of the first things I noticed was that none of the people smiled. They were almost sullen. We set up a base outside the city and overlooking part of the Mediterranean and in the shadow of Mount Etna, a volcano. We could hear the sounds of the invasion of Solarno Beach in Italy, about 40 miles away. Every morning a barefoot Sicilian boy wearing a felt hat came to our base selling wine. That was where I first started drinking wine. At irregular internals a young man drove a team of horses pulling a wagon into our base trying to sell us something. He was wearing a pistol which I hesitated to take away from him. He and the barefoot boy both had some connection to the Mafia, about which I knew nothing at that time. But it was the Mafia which had helped us drive out the Germans. It was a world which had not been covered in my U.S. history studies. It was a beautiful part of the world but had many problems, not the least was the mosquitoes which swarmed at sundown. I had once read about Hannibal, the Carthagenian general who invaded Italy from Sicily, but that had been many centuries ago. At any rate, we used Sicily to invade Southern Italy and soon we were in Foggia Valley, near Naples. I had felt that the Germans were going to overcome us, but shortly after my arrival in Italy I knew better. It was then that I became confident we were going to win the war. I will tell you more about this next Tuesday when I resume this account.

Abortion Arab Style

I need to advise reader discretion for this report-not just minors but for anyone faint of heart. My outfit was in Casablanca and was not under a lot of pressure. So like soldiers everywhere we boarded a truck and headed for a whorehouse. This was in a suburban village about 15 miles south. When we got there a segment of my outfit decided to have group sex. I was not ready for that so I broke away and toured the premises. In a large patio I found the madam and one assistant building a fire. Then they rolled out a wagon wheel and started tying one of the young prostitutes to the wheel, spread eagled so the girl's hands and feet could be tied separately. Next the madam put some large stones, round and smooth, into the fire. It was fascinating to watch and a bit puzzling. Finally they spread a thin blanket over her stomach. She was completely naked. At that point the madam took a pair of tongs and reached into the fire and dropped one of the hot stones on the girl's stomach. The girl winced with pain but did not cry out. They repeated this a second time and I could not stand to watch any longer so I left. A little later on in a Casablanca bookstore I found a pamphlet written in English which described the founding of the whorehouse, the Arab tribe involved, and the name of the home village which was not far away. Many years earlier, for economic reasons, the leaders of this tribe decided to create the brothel and to furnish the girls. Before leaving for the whorehouse the girls were betrothed to a young man in the village. This future husband was to accumulate livestock and a site for living quarters. The girls would return after a period of sevice with a dowry based on their earnings and two or three children born in the brothel. She would join her husband to create a domestic life. The children, usually of Arab origin but some of partial French and English descent, would inject new blood into the tribe. The article which I read seemed authenic and it explained that the longer a young woman worked at the brothel without getting pregnant increased her dowry and her productivity. It was rather startling to read such a graphic account of the adjustment to a new social culture. By the time I arrived the program had been in existence for decades and the culture was well established. The barbaric adoption procedure dated back to a previous time and was accepted without reservation. After witnessing the hot stones procedure I went back into the whorehouse and chose a young prostitute for a sexual liaison. She went through an ancient procedure which included clapping me on the back which almost knocked the wind out of me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Why Are We Here?

My younger daughter called from New York and asked: "How are you Daddy?" I replied that I was just fine. This was not really true. I lie awake nights wondering about the big question-WHY. Why is one of the questions I have been unable to answer during a long life of seeking answers. Sometimes I think about Mr. Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar." Cassius worried if he and his friends were doing the right thing when they killed Caesar. Brutus, on the other hand, had no doubts about it being the right thing. I grew up with the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. I am not sure that Mr. Jefferson was a happy man. Why do I go to the Icehouse, is it to stifle my conscience with a beer? No, it is to listen to the conversation. Sometimes even a truck driver comes up with a grain of wisdom.Mr. Schulz, the cartoonist, created Charlie Brown, who never came up with the answer. Lucy, on the other hand, never doubted that SHE was right. Franklin Roosevelt, who nearly got me killed during World War II, said that the only thing we need to fear is fear itself. FDR jerked me out of a pastoral existence into a world of turmoil. I came back from the war opposed to slavery. It has taken a long time, but we seem to be on the verge of abolishing slavery here in the United States. President-elect Barack Obama, who has a bright wife and two daughters, is an honor graduate of Harvard Law School. Yet he turned down a well paying job with a corporate law firm to go into community action in Chicago. Maybe he knows why. My New York daughter is a poet. My older daughter, in Austin, is an attorney. They want to know why. My grandson, who is teaching English in the schools in Korea, wants to know why. Maybe he will find some ancient wisdom in Asia. The answer is that we are here to help create a better way of life in which to live. Sounds simple? Join me at the Icehouse to help me find some answers.+

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The French Foreign Legion

Finally the high brass moved us out of our defunct Tunisian base and shipped us to Casablanca. It took a bit of adjusting, but we obtained new uniforms and new equipment and ate in a well prepared mess hall. This beautiful city was spread across a hillside and overlooked the Atlantic. One day my commanding officer, Capt. Thomas Cloward informed me that he and I would be going to Rabat, about 20 miles north, to review the French Foreign Legion. We would join General Cannon, who was the top commander in our area, and other officers. All I knew about the Foreign Legion was a movie that I had once seen. But when we got there it was an impressive sight. There were 500 white Arabian horses who had been chosen so they all looked alike. And there were 500 troopers dressed the same. It was the greatest calvary in the world. The troopers and their mounts passed in front of our reviewing stand in an impressive formation. I had ridden horses most of my life, but in the ranch country of Texas. There was a lull in the program and it was then that Capt. Cloward volunteered me to ride with the Legion. He informed General Cannon that I was a great horseman. This was true in the ranch country but here it was different. But I was stuck. A French officer was summoned and quickly agreed to furnish me with a mount. When I was handed the reins to this horse, I realized that the saddle was next to nothing. I mounted and rode off. In Texas we neck reined out horses, that is we trained them to respond to a tug across the neck. And we used a straight bit in the mouth. But the French Legion used what I thought were cruel bits, joined in the middle, and a pull on the reins which was able to draw blood. However, the horses had been trained to respond instantly and they responded to my pull without faltering. I seated myself and rode out into an open space and did a few turns and twists and galloped a bit and pulled down to a trot. Then, feeling sure that I had control of my mount, I broke into a run and headed for the reviewing stand. Right in front of this stand I pulled my horse up sharply and turned a somesault out of the saddle and landed on my feet with the reins in my hand. It had been three or four years since I had done this maneuver, but I was lucky and it went off well. I handed the reins to the trooper and saluted the officer and returned to the reviewing stand. Capt. Cloward was pleased and General Cannon congratulated me. A few years after World War II (my war) the French Foreign Legion was disbanded. It was a sad day, but the calvary had been rendered obsolete by the mechanization of the military. The German general, Rommel, was one of those who had mechanized the army and it was a major development. In the Air Force, that also changed the way bombers were used. It was a case of learning the hard way.