Today’s Quote

November 1, 2017

“The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”

 

 

 

By Timothy Snyder

Tim Duggan Books, New York

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Today’s Quote

February 17, 2016

ron-chernow-1“From the outset, the young Hamilton had phenomenal stamina for sustained work; ambitious, orphaned boys do not enjoy the option of idleness. Even before starting work, he must have developed unusual autonomy for a thirteen-year-old . . . Hamilton exuded an air of crisp efficiency and cool self-command. While his peers squandered their time on frivolities, Hamilton led a much more strenuous, urgent life that was to liberate him for St. Croix . . . He was a proud and sensitive boy, caught in the lower reaches of a rigid class society with small chance for social mobility.”

Ron Chernow, author of Alexander Hamilton

Penguin Books, 2004


Three-Minute Memoir

September 29, 2013

My Long Journey to Korea

By Floyd Douglas Sizemore

DougLeeKoreaOn November 3rd, 1948, less than two months after my 17th birthday, I enlisted in the “new peacetime Army” at Fort Holabird, in Baltimore, Maryland. That “peacetime” part sounded pretty good. Being just a kid, I had no idea where Korea was—I doubt I’d even heard of it, and at the time I’m sure I couldn’t have quickly pointed to it on a world map—so it was not something to which I gave any thought, and I sure didn’t see a war coming around the corner.

The army, though, was exciting to me from the start. I grew up poor—my family never had much of anything—but right off the bat the military supplied me with all these new clothes: shirts, pants, shorts, t-shirts, boots—everything—even a pair of shiny black dress shoes. I also liked the food (my favorite was the creamed chipped beef on toast, a.k.a. “SOS”), but didn’t manage to gain weight, at least at first. During basic training we ran everywhere, so I actually lost weight, down from my enlistment weight of 110 pounds to 95. But after basic I quickly packed it all back on, and then some.

After finishing the eight weeks of basic training at Camp Pickett, Virginia, in January 1949, I was assigned to the 11th, AAA BN, at Fort Bliss, Texas, where I was trained on M19 Twin 40s mounted on a light tank, and the M16 Quad 50s mounted on a halftrack. In November 1949, the 11th AAA, and me with it, was relocated to Fort Lewis, Washington, to continue training. Up until then, my impression of military service had been formed, for the most part, from watching B-movies at neighborhood movie theaters, where I guess I got the idea that if you were smart enough, you could get away with a lot of stuff—like not saluting officers. I tested that theory several times and found myself walking extra guard duty around the Fort Lewis prison.

After a 15-day leave in January 1950, I was put on orders for Japan. Then, six months later, I was told to report to Camp Stoneman, California. I remember thinking that since I had already served over a year in the army, any tour of duty in Japan would be a short one. So I was in a pretty good mood when our Sergeant marched us to the front gate of Fort Lewis and used a lantern to flag down a passing train. I was surprised when the train actually stopped right outside the gate to pick us up. It was an overnight ride from Ft. Lewis, WA to Camp Stoneman, and I reported there on June 23. Then came the big surprise—North Korea invaded South Korea. Suddenly, things didn’t look so good, and to make matters worse, I would soon learn that Korea was just across the narrowest part of the Sea of Japan.

In early July 1950, we boarded a ship and sailed out of San Francisco Bay headed for Japan, or at least that’s what they told us. But instead, a few days later, we sailed into Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington. Later, we found out that they needed our ship to transport the 2nd Division directly to Korea, so we spent a week at sea making a huge circle—or was it an oval? Talk about “hurry up and wait.” In Seattle, they put us up in a naval barracks on Pier 91 for several days, organizing us into something that the army called “packets.” I was in packet 13.

At McChord airbase in Pierce County, Washington, we boarded C54s for Japan by way of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. We landed in Yokohama about three days later. After about a week, most of the men were assigned to the 24th and 25th Divisions in Korea. Some of us were sent to northern Honshu, Japan. We took a civilian-packed train overnight. After arriving at Camp Hargen around the first of August, I was assigned to B Battery, 865th AAA BN, located at Misawa airbase. I spent the remainder of 1950 in routine training.

KoreanWarMap1I was beginning to like Japan, thinking that my tour of duty would soon be up and I’d be on my way back to the States for discharge. Then came June 1951, and our outfit was put on alert for Korea.  Our equipment was upgraded, and on July 19, 1951, around midnight, we were loaded on an LST manned by a Japanese crew. There were crazy tides in the Sea of Japan, which accounted for using local crews who knew the area, and we spent six days on the water. We had to stand up to eat at a long metal table. Breakfast was hard-boiled eggs and we slept on cots on in hammocks. One night we hit some really rough weather with 30-40 mph winds. The next morning the seas were still choppy, and I remember watching a hard-boiled egg roll down one of those metal tables. Strange, the images that stick in your mind.

We arrived in Inchon, Korea on July 25, 1951, and the next day at Kimpo airbase, northwest of Seoul, to relieve the 50th AAA AW BN. All positions were occupied and by 0800 we went on alert. Our job at K14 was defense of the airfield. At first, we were issued live small arms ammo, but our commanding officer in B Battery took it away, saying, “I don’t want you guys acting like you think you’re John Wayne.” Each evening, around sunset, we were harassed by a pesky PO2 reconnaissance aircraft. Some clever guy gave the pilot the name, “Bed Check Charlie.” In August, “Operation Rat Trap,” an attempt to shoot Charlie down, was put into place. But as far as I know it never worked. By the time we scrambled and got to our gun positions, he was on his way back up North.

Once again, my mouth got me in a bit trouble when I complained about how ineffective operation “Rat Trap” turned out to be. The commanding officer, a captain, called me into his office and remarked on what he termed my “bad attitude.” As I recall, our little chat went something like this:

HE: Sizemore, you don’t like the way I run this outfit, do you?

ME: No sir.

HE: Well, would you prefer to go to the front instead?

ME: No Sir. I’m too close as it is. Send me to Pusan. (Pusan is in the southern part of Korea, close to Japan, and at that time was far from any of the action.)

HE: I’m sending you to D Battery. (That was on the other side of the airfield, still at Kimpo.)

In September 1951, I heard through the military grapevine that my brother Lee was in Korea, somewhere around Seoul, and I asked my sergeant for permission to go visit him. I failed to mention that I had no idea exactly where Lee was, and that I’d just have to trust to luck that I would find him. “Take off,” the sergeant said, “we’ll cover for you. All we’re doing is just setting around waiting for something to happen.” So I hitchhiked both ways, and asked around, but no luck. I told some of the guys if they ran into him, to let him know I was looking for him.

Two days later, back in D Battery, I was sitting on my gun position when I spotted a guy walking up the road toward me, and something in his gait looked familiar. Sure enough, it was brother Lee. We had a great reunion, including a lunch that I remember featured—of all things—“snowflake” potatoes. After lunch, as he was leaving, Lee told me he was scheduled to rotate home soon, and that he’d see me back in Baltimore. Then, only a few days later, he showed up again—this time with a surprise birthday gift (I turned 20 on September 13, 1951).

“I thought you were going home,” I said. Lee smiled. “I brought you a little present.” Then he pulled a 38-caliber revolver from the waistband under his shirt, and handed it to me. It was absolutely beautiful, with pearl handles, just like the one General Patton carried in WWII. I patted my 40mm and protested that I didn’t need a pistol, but he insisted. “For when you’re walking guard duty,” he said. “Just a little extra protection. You never know.” When we parted company that day, Lee’s last words to me were, “Take care of yourself.”

In early December 1951, our gun crew was moved to Outpost #4, nine miles northwest of Kimpo, on the Han River. We had a Marine artillery crew to our right. Our orders were to fire at anything that could be used as an observation post—houses, barns, even humps of high ground on the bank of the river. After about a week, we had turned the landscape and the village below our gun position into rubble. Then our outfit was relieved and we pulled back to Kimpo. Later, we had a great Christmas dinner, and then our biggest show came on New Years’ Day 1952, soon after we were again put on alert. Every gun position from Kimpo to Seoul was ordered to lay down blanketing fire for ten minutes in an attempt to “open up” the surrounding areas. It looked like the 4th of July, but it also seemed to me that the fireworks were called off almost as soon as they started. They never told us the results of all that firepower, if any.

In March 1952 I was assigned to the 1st Platoon Command Post and promoted to the rank of Corporal. After one year in Japan and eleven months in Korea, I had accumulated enough “points” to return to the States. In June 1952 I took a 14-day sea cruise—this time directly back home to Baltimore.

Copyright © 2013, Floyd Douglas Sizemore

Today’s Gag

July 23, 2012

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit my archives at cartoonstock.com and jantoo.com by clicking the sidebar links.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

Kurt Vonnegut On Playwriting

September 28, 2011

Adapted from: It May Not Make History, But That’s Not The Point

By Kurt Vonnegut, The Los Angles Times, October 24, 2004

People ask me in these crazy times if I, like so many others, am writing a play that might influence the course of American history in the coming years, a la “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” I have replied that no work of art can do that nowadays. It would be nice if one could, but forget it.

I wrote my play “Happy Birthday, Wanda June” in the 1960s, when another unpopular war, now generally acknowledged as having been cruelly nonsensical, in Vietnam, was going on. But the timing was purely coincidental. My inspiration wasn’t the My Lai massacre or the bombing of Cambodia or whatever, but my having just read about the homecoming of the hero Odysseus after an absence of many years, as described by Homer so humorlessly in his “Odyssey” nearly 3,000 years ago. Not exactly news of the day.

When my play was first produced in 1970 . . . . the Viet Nam war still going on and making more people than ever die . . . But I did not imagine for as much as a nanosecond that my burlesquing of blustery, blowhard tellers of war stories like Odysseus, or to some extent like Ernest Hemingway, would have the slightest effect on history . . . .  All I wanted then, and all I want now, whenever my play is revived, is that actors and a small audience, about 200 people . . . have a good time for 90 minutes or so.

Wherever I teach creative writing . . . I have never mentioned the possibility of changing the world for the better by means of a work of art. What I have tried to teach instead is sociability: how to be a good date on a blind date; how to show a total stranger a good time; or, if you like, how to run a nice restaurant or whorehouse. The same would have been my main lesson had I been teaching jazz.

What “Happy Birthday, Wanda June” confirms, I hope, is that contrary to Homer’s Odysseus, a war hero or hunter, a killer, is not the most glorious sort of person imaginable. Nor is it right, as Homer and Greeks of his time evidently believed, for a man to regard a woman, save for a witch or a siren, as an obvious inferior, as his God-given servant and property.

Has “Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” written 35 years ago now, become dated? It surely has in this way: One of the leading characters is a vacuum cleaner salesman. There really used to be such people, and they made good money too. Selling Electroluxes was the way my big brother Bernie put himself through MIT, all the way to a PhD. And then he went on to discover that silver iodide particles can make it snow or rain sometimes.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.


Photo Quote

November 28, 2009

CapaGerSol

“If your pictures aren’t good enough,

you aren’t close enough.”

Robert Capa, 1913-1954
Magnum Photos


Fred-Ho

May 5, 2009

nails

By Shirley Lupton

I can’t help wondering what my manicurist thinks as he bows his head close over my hands. They retain a scent of garlic and onions from the preparation of a stew I left to walk over to this new salon in my neighborhood. He examines them with Asian solemnity and without discernible judgment brings a bowl of hot suds and guides both hands into it. Then with a dancer’s swing he dips under the table to remove his tools from the sterilizer. With the clank of metal on his tray my mind flashes back to the preparation for surgery ten years earlier and the chemotherapy that destroyed my nails. The smell of yellow flesh and fresh gauze comes, but leaves fast, a hit of angst in one intake of breath. Then back to onion and garlic worry as I exhale.

We proceed. Our right hands are locked as he files and pares in silence. Pinned on his shirt pocket is a small metal plate with an improbable name, Fred-Ho. He is small, under a hundred pounds, so delicate and young, with intermittent black fuzz around his chin and upper lip and his black hair is slicked back Alec Baldwin style. His hands are strong as he gives me a hand massage, the mid-point ritual. He hurts me. He presses on arthritis points I forget I have. I practice my own inscrutability and study the empty chairs.

Suddenly his face lights up from an internal jolt and he speaks in that lyrical Vietnamese sing- song trill and somewhere in the salon, like a parrot in the jungle, another manicurist answers in the same trill to share a joke. Then he cues me to leave him to wash my hands of the flaky material used in the massage. I pad over to the customer sink against a far wall, set about with soaps and dried flower scent baskets. I see him in the mirror talking on his cell phone, smiling – no – laughing – free of me. As I wash away the crusty stuff I feel like a hostage. I look like one too, distress all over my face. Why so tense? You don’t have to re-write Atonement. It’s a simple manicure -not a massacre. I imagine us as in a musical where I return to him dancing and singing, all the manicurists rising from their stations bursting into a chorus and we high kick past the pedicure island happy and united.

“Fred-Ho?” I ask, as he paints my nails in quick strokes, a colorless gloss with a hint of frost – my choice. I bring my own Chanel, White Satin. “Is that your real name?” “My name Ho,” he answers, “my Vietnam name Ho.” He frowns and signals for the other hand I offer. I want to ask him why did he leave Vietnam? I want to apologize to him for the war – to tell I did protest marches and sit-ins and leave out the parts about sex, drugs and the Stones at Altamont. But I say nothing.

Ho leads me to the nail-drying bin – a long chin-high table with UV blue light glowing in a slot for hands just under the top. Without the use of my hands there is nothing to do but think. Ho’s grandfather or uncle could have been the child who begged on the side of the road and blew away the GI who handed him a chocolate. Or, maybe some Marines, while passing through a hamlet on the way to nowhere and for no defensive reason, gunned Ho’s cousins down. But Ho was born ten years after the choppers lifted cringing Americans off the embassy roof in Saigon. If I believe what I read about his generation, he knows or cares little of the war. It was your government – not you, they say. Even the older people there say that.

At the cashier I watch Ho sitting on a stool bent over the bare feet of a young redhead in a pedicure chair. As he scrubs her pink heels she is reading Newsweek. The cover shows a man in a black turban and the caption says War Escalates in Afghanistan.

Copyright © 2009 Shirley Lupton.