Archive for the May 2006 Category


If you will lend me your eyes for a few moments, I will try to give you a nickel’s worth about aphasia and several dollars’ worth about the realities of being a soldier. My thoughts about the realities of being a soldier have been rolling around in my mind and have been keeping me awake at night. So something has to be done and that accounts primarily for this essay.

Let us turn to the aphasia part of this equation. Aphasia is a stroke-induced ailment that causes one to forget nouns. For example, in preparing to write this essay, I somehow lost the word aphasia even though it is one of the subjects of this essay. On other occasions, I frequently forget the name of glaucoma, the ailment which blinded my father, my brother, and now myself. It is a matter of calling the names to mind. For example, I can tell you that Tom Brokaw, who called my generation the greatest generation, worked for NBC and appeared on the 6:30 PM national telecast. While I can tell you all about what Tom Brokaw did, I often cannot call his name to mind. This ailment tends to become dangerous when I fail to call the name of a prescription drug to mind. I might say that it is in the tall green bottle or the tall white bottle, but that is not much use to the pharmacist who dispenses it. I am simply unable to speak the name.

In my own case, aphasia was the result of a stroke that I had in 1997. A stroke affects the brain. It is not necessarily a heart-related matter at all. In my case, I was spared the loss of movement in my limbs, but the net result was aphasia. The surgeon who had planned an aortic valve replacement, said that we had dodged a bullet by having control remain in my limbs. Nevertheless, he is not the guy who suffers from being unable to call nouns to mind as a result of aphasia.

To correct the effects of aphasia, I had treatment for three months at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation under the care of Shirley Morgenstein. As the work with rehabilitation proceeded, Shirley suggested that I should write essays as a means of rehabilitating my brain. Now some 200 essays later I am still at it.

There is one rule that I have always tried to observe. In all of the essay writing that I have done, I have never commented on the deprivations of the great American Depression, which affected so many of us. I have never commented on the divorce which took place 23 years ago. And I have only written an essay on one occasion having to do with the brutalities associated with combat warfare. In that case, I wrote an essay called “They Never Betrayed Me.” It had to do with my experience of December 8, 1943, after being shot down in northern Italy, being a POW, and being rescued by the Italian Partisans. It was the Italian people who never betrayed me in the escape from the German prison. I wrote that essay some 60 years after the event as a means of telling my daughters and their husbands and their children about what had happened so long ago. It was also a piece intended to keep my five grandsons from being seduced by the lure of military life.

Now, I am about to transgress that rule once again by writing about the realities and the brutishness of warfare. Violating a rule twice in 65 years would seem to me to be acceptable behavior.

What set me off were the six or seven generals who demanded the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. All of these generals were retired, of course. While they were active, if they had ever asked for Rumsfeld’s resignation, they would have been cashiered immediately. They knew that, and so they kept their remarks to themselves until they retired. The burden of what the generals had to say about Rumsfeld had to do with the whole Bush administration which started the war in Iraq. It was the view of these generals that the war was ordered by people who had never served in the military forces, including Bush, Cheney, Gonzalez, Rice, Wolfowitz, and all the rest of the neocons. It is easy for those sitting in Washington to send an army to invade Iraq because it is not their lives that they are putting on the line.

The quote that is the title for this essay comes from what they have had to say. The retired generals have said that the Bush administration sent people to war to get killed but they had never been sobered by the requirement to “bury the dead”. They never experienced war and the attendant duty to take care of its obvious aftermath. I am here to tell you about the realities having to do with the death of soldiers. And I am here to tell you about burying the dead.

From this point on, this essay will probably be a grim one for many readers. It is my intention to talk about the death of soldiers and it will not be a pretty scene. It is unreal to assume that, in every case, soldiers die from a dime shaped bullet hole to the heart and that they fall to the ground in a position where the Army Graves Registration Unit can pick them up and put them in coffins. The fact of the matter is that soldiers are killed in the most grisly of circumstances. Today in Iraq we see the effects of roadside bombings that separate men from their senses. They lose their eyesight and their ability to reason. So far we have lost 2,450 men in Iraq being killed with more than 18,000 being injured. The casualties have suffered gruesome injuries.

Kindly remember please that the statistics published by the American military are subject to great doubt. It is not in the interest of the American military to tell you how many people have been killed and how many have been injured in a sad fashion. It is in the interest of the American military to minimize the deaths and the injuries. Simply put, don’t trust the military when it comes to publishing details about deaths and injuries.

I was never in the infantry where the bulk of deaths and injuries occur. My service was in the Air Force and I will use that as a means of describing the deaths of airmen. When a mission is mounted against the perceived enemy, only a small minority of the wounded ever return to base. As a general rule, those on the mission suffer their injuries over enemy territory and do not return to their bases. Their deaths may occur by anti-aircraft fire or by fire from opposing fighter pilots. They may be captured and lose their lives in prison camps. All that we have to go on here is that those who are missing will be an empty cot in the tent or in the barracks. When a man has been missing for a short time, you know that he is not returning when people from the headquarters come to collect his personal effects from his footlocker, if he has a footlocker.

For those who return wounded from a mission, there are grim realities. These are the realities that the generals did not mention in their effort to unseat Donald Rumsfeld. Nonetheless I am sure that they are cognizant of these injuries. I am going to be talking here about airmen who participate in raids over enemy territory. Before leaving on any mission, every airman must don a parachute harness. The parachute harness is like a pair of overalls in one respect in that it is stepped into with the harness being anchored at the crotch level and then thrown over each shoulder. There are devices, latches if you will, to hold the harness together. Many airmen, particularly pilots, prefer to use a seat parachute pack attached to the harness. The seat harness covers the buttocks and indeed, it is sat on. Many of us, me in particular, used a chest pack parachute that must be attached to two receptacles near the top of the harness. The main thing about the chest pack is that it must be attached properly or the parachute will open downward rather than upward. Furthermore, the chest pack must be remembered before jumping out of the airplane whereas those with the seat parachutes do not have such a concern.

When enemy fighters try to disable one of our aircraft, they usually go after the tail gunner and then the side gunners. Once they are put out of commission, the plane is largely defenseless to attacks from the rear and from underneath. Injuries from 30 caliber or 50 caliber bullets to the aerial gunners are hideously gruesome. Either the 30 caliber or the 50 caliber can make a hole in a man’s midsection much bigger than the size of a fist. When a plane arrives back at the base from which the mission started and there is an injured airman or airmen aboard, there is the problem of removing the injured man. In most cases, however, if an airman takes 30 or 50 caliber bullets in his chest or stomach area, he will probably be cut in half. As I said, 30 caliber and 50 caliber bullets just tear holes all the way through a man’s midsection or through his chest area.

Now I return to the theme of this essay, which is “they did not have to bury the dead.” Removing the remains of an airman who has been hit by anti-aircraft or fire from an airborne machine gun is a delicate operation because the lower part of the body is still attached to the upper part through the parachute harness. It is not uncommon to see a man’s lower parts dangling, being held on only by the parachute harness which passes through his crotch area. I know these are grim and gory details, but the neocons who ordered this invasion of Iraq, Bush, Cheney, et al., should think about things such as this. Removing a man who has been killed by machine gun fire from the rear cockpit of an airplane, for example, is a gory and messy piece of work. It is not a case of a single small bullet hole through the heart at all. It is simply a man being cut in half with all of the attendant details.

I regret to tell you these details, but these are the actual facts of war. There is no gainsaying that the war is making, as Bush says, “great progress.” The fact of the matter is that George Bush has never seen what war has done to his troops. Neither has Cheney, neither has Rumsfeld, neither has Gonzalez, and neither has Madame Rice or anybody else among the neocons. It is my recommendation that people of this sort who directed this war against Iraq be required to bury some of the casualties that have occurred. It is my estimate that once the people who ordered this war in Iraq get their hands bloody from a dead soldier, they might have more reluctance in the future to order any invasion. It is one thing to sit in Washington and send airmen to bomb Iran or Iraq. It is quite another thing to lift an airman out of the rear cockpit of the airplane with his two halves coming out being held together largely by a parachute harness.

Well, you see, the retired generals have obliged me to break my promise of never discussing the combat phases of my war experience. It is only the second time. If my recollections, which are grim, were to become known in the upper reaches of this administration, it would be welcomed by me. In the instant case, Bush now contends that the war will go on at least through the rest of his term, which takes us to somewhere into 2009. By that time, there may be another 2,500 dead and another 15,000 wounded. May I ask, is this in the interests of the United States? Of course it is not! Do you feel one bit safer because of these casualties?

As you can see, the generals set off an angry response that I have been harboring for years, since the Iraqi war started. I grieve for every American and Iraqi death. I grieve for the deaths of our allies in this misadventure. While I grieve at the deaths and the injuries, Bush rides his miserable bicycle and worries not at all. Well, I shouldn’t say “worries not at all;” he dreams up ventures such as wiretapping and collecting data on telephone calls made by American citizens, and threatening to bomb Iran.

This essay started out with my recollections of aphasia and it ended up exactly where I knew it was going, which is a grim recital of deaths that occur to soldiers. As such it is merely an exercise in the realities of warfare. If you are upset by this recitation of the realities of warfare, please don’t harbor resentment toward me but rather toward the people in Washington who ordered the misadventure into Iraq. For the deaths and the gruesome injuries to American soldiers, this administration must be held accountable and the fact that it is going to go on for years to come is a travesty of the first order. If you are aroused and angered, as I am, please tell your representatives or your senators about your anger and let them know that killing and torture by Americans is not in our best interests. Absolutely not at all.

May 17, 2006
Essay 190


For new readers, it’s probably worth mentioning that this particular type of essay is atypical. Pop generally enjoyed writing about language, culture, and current events. This incident must have royally pissed him off, since nothing short of that would cause him to revisit war memories.

Now that we’re once again in the election season, this essay makes me think back to John McCain, who is still in the senate trying to (among other things) protect American soldiers from torture. He’s of course far more familiar with the realities of war than most of his colleagues; he’s buried the dead. I only hope that however this next election turns out, we’re not left with another commander in chief who deploys troops first and asks questions later.


The title of this essay is a bit misleading because at the time this game took place, Africans played no baseball at all. On the other hand, it is a celebration of a game played by GI’s late in 1944 or 1945 between two clubs whose managers disliked each other with such intensity as to border on hatred.

The game was played on a dusty diamond located on the British airbase at Accra, Ghana. Ghana, at that time, was called the Gold Coast. By the time the game was played, the Americans at this joint British-American base far outnumbered the Brits and, in effect, it was more of an American base than a British base. Nonetheless, we drove on the left-hand side of the road and we were paid in British West African pounds sterling.

Both teams had to make the ball last for the entire game and, if my memory is correct, we were furnished only a choice of two bats. Gloves were hand-me-downs that had to be returned to the Recreation Department at the end of each game. The stands holding the spectators could accommodate about 20 or 30 persons. The benches for each club were strictly nothing more than benches; they had no backs. One was arranged along the third baseline and the other was along the first baseline.

The leaders of the two clubs could not have been more unlike each other. The leader of the “Office Workers” was a man named John Lewis whose forces went to work in the offices of the administration wearing freshly-pressed khakis. The leader of the “Overloaders” was dressed in fatigues and his men did the manual loading of cargo aboard the many airplanes that flew out of Accra to bring supplies to the European front on one hand and to the Japanese front on the other. The head man of the Over Loaders was known as “Red” Sabbatis. Red came from the Boston area and was celebrated because he had once signed a minor league contract with either the Boston Red Sox or the Boston Braves.

Somehow or other, long before I arrived at Accra, there was bad blood between John Lewis and Red Sabbatis. The games between the two clubs were used to express that anger.

John Lewis was an older fellow, probably in his late thirties or early forties. How he ever got into the military is something I do not know. But John was a very straight-laced fellow who argued with umpires and expected to win every argument. I had no animosity toward John Lewis, but on the other hand I had no warm feelings for him. It gave me a degree of pleasure to beat his club.

Red Sabbatis, on the other hand, was a working man’s kind of fellow whom everybody seemed to like. I liked Red quite a bit. I liked Red even though he played shortstop, which was one of the positions that I had often played. All things considered, Red was a natural born leader not only of the ball club but of his Overloaders’ work crew working on the flight line.

The catcher on the Overloaders was a left-handed fellow named Prozak. I never recall hearing him referred to as anything but Pro or Prozak. If he had a first name, it escaped me. Prozak had been a six foot four inch left-handed pitcher and an outfielder and a first baseman in the semi-pro ranks and also had been given a tryout by one of the clubs around the Boston area. Prozak was very close to Red Sabbatis. Prozak caught the pitcher on the Overloaders using a first baseman’s mitt. Unfortunately, catcher was the other position that I normally played. So the options of playing shortstop or catching were denied to me because of the seniority rule and the fact that the manager played one of those positions.

Somewhere along the line, there was a fellow named Shorty who stood probably a little less than five feet tall. Shorty rolled his own cigarettes and appeared to always have a hangover. Shorty attended most of the ball games played at this dusty field and, from what I could gather, he understood baseball quite well.

The third baseman on the Office Workers’ team was a fellow who let you know that his background included wealth and a college education. He wasn’t particularly snooty about all of this, but he seemed to reflect the thought that he was a little bit better than the rest of us. I never knew his name or at least I can’t recall it, so we will refer to him as Van Cleef.

The rest of this cast includes Walter Bednar, a pitcher from Cleveland who was a thoroughly lovable guy. The third member was Eddie Boyce, an infielder from Brooklyn who was a little touchy because he spoke pure Brooklynese. When he addressed two people, for example, he would refer to them as “youse guys.” I liked Eddie Boyce quite well.

As it turned out, Walter Bednar, Eddie Boyce, and myself came to Accra late in the proceedings because we were returning from our Detached Duty in Italy with the Twelfth Air Force.

The Overloaders were an established team when we reported to Accra. The three of us played on another team for a game or two, with which Red Sabbatis made an offer to the three of us, to join the Overloaders. Walter Bednar became the pitcher, Eddie Boyce became the third baseman, and I was required to play second base, a position I thoroughly disliked.

The game was called softball but in point of fact the ball was anything but soft. It was simply a larger version of a baseball. It could be hit for more than three hundred feet and the ball stung if caught without a glove.

Because Accra is only five degrees above the Equator, the sun shines most of the time and the weeds grow all of the time. Games could be played late in the evening. The sun and the rain in the Equatorial Zone provided lots of rain which meant that the vegetation grew at an alarming rate all year long.

That takes us to the field itself. There were tie-downs for each of bases which meant that they were held in place fairly firmly. There was no pitcher’s mound, of course. The field was dusty most of the time except when it rained. The outfield was an interesting piece of work. In right field, a road ran along the edges of the field and on each side of the road were two drainage ditches, perhaps two and a half to three feet deep. Because of the vegetation that grew in those ditches, it was difficult to find out exactly where the ditches were. It was not unusual to see an outfielder back up and slide into the ditch and largely disappear.

In center field, about 350 feet from home plate, was the base morgue. The morgue was associated with the base hospital and there were some center fielders who were wary of the morgue and did not like to chase balls hit in that direction.

In left field, there was an obstruction very much like the wall in Fenway Park in Boston. The base at Accra had a large hospital which was built in a series of separate wings. Most of the wings or wards were about 100 to 125 feet in length and extended from a central structure. In this field at Accra, there was a ward that extended for about 70 feet into fair territory with the remainer of the ward in foul territory. The patients in this ward had no radio or television, of course, so they watched our ball games with great interest. That wing was a place where patients with venereal disease were treated. Soldiers have a wry sense of humor and always referred to the venereal disease wing as the “country club ward.”

Well, that is enough about the circumstances of the game that is under discussion here. Late in the game, John Lewis’s Office Workers had tied the score and had men on first base and on third base. The runner on third base was the disliked Sergeant Van Cleef, the wealthy man. Apparently John Lewis had flashed a signal from his perch on the bench, which he never left, to the runners for a double steal. Walter Bednar fired a fast ball to Prozak and the runners on first base and third base took off. Prozak came up firing to me. His throw had all of the earmarks of a major league fast ball. I caught the ball running in, about chest high, and fired it back to Prozak. With great good fortune, the ball was caught in Prozak’s mitt, six inches above the ground in front of home plate. An instant later, Van Cleef slid in to home plate and was called out because of the fact that Prozak had the ball and Van Cleef slid into it.

I was astonished when John Lewis, an argumentative fellow, did not dispute the call. I was also amazed that Van Cleef simply got up, dusted himself off, and walked to the bench. There was absolutely no argument that he was out and Lewis and Van Cleef accepted that fact. I was greatly surprised that they didn’t dispute the call.

In all of my baseball playing career, my throw to Prozak was probably the hardest I ever threw and certainly it was the most accurate one in my history. When we gathered around the pitcher to discuss the runner on second base, I had thought that Sabbatis and Prozak would praise my throw that saved the run. In point of fact, those two men simply took the point of view that that’s what I was expected to do and they offered no praise whatsoever. Eddie Boyce and Walter Bednar patted my behind and said, “How to go!”

That night in the barracks, Shorty, the guy who looked as though he had a perpetual hangover, was describing the game to three or four other GIs who lived in that barracks with all of us. Shorty contended that the throw from Prozak to me and my throw back to Prozak were the hardest that he had ever seen in his life. And he was full of admiration. When I walked by, Shorty asked me had I seen the game. When I told him that I was the second baseman, Shorty had trouble believing it. Prozak was probably six inches taller than I was and a lot heavier, so he could understand a throw coming from Prozak to me but my return throw was launched by a smaller fellow and Shorty simply could not believe that a man could throw that hard.

But now we come to the moral of this long story. In all of the games played by the Overloaders for the rest of that year, neither Prozak nor Red Sabbatis ever mentioned the throw. I was not dismayed by their failure to comment but I thought that the play on Van Cleef was worthy of attention of some kind. While those two teammates offered no praise whatsoever for the play in question, praise came from a very unexpected source.

In the mess hall, I was eating my dinner out of my mess kit and facing the back of the mess hall. I was distracted when someone tapped me on the shoulder and sat down opposite me. He complimented me on my throw to Prozak. Of all things, it was John Lewis, the Manager of the Office Workers whom the Overloaders genuinely disliked. Lewis sat down to eat his meal, dressed in his usual freshly-pressed khaki uniform, and started to discuss the game. Within a few minutes, along came Van Cleef with his mess kit, and sat down beside me. He touched me on the back and complimented me on throwing him out.

I was never particularly attracted to John Lewis and Van Cleef but I did not hate them as Sabbatis and Prozak did. I thought they were a little “uppity” but I let the matter rest there.

So the moral of this story about an African baseball game is that you never know where praise might come from. Similarly, those who are expected to give praise may not do so. This may not be the most startling revelation, but there it is. From that date forward, I looked at people in a little different light. If John Lewis and Van Cleef were decent men, which they were, then there must be hope for the rest of mankind.

And by the way, my memory tells me that the Overloaders won that game by one run. The men in the “country club” ward were greatly pleased with the outcome of this African ballgame.

May 26, 2006
Essay 191
Kevin’s commentary: I… I don’t have any experiences like this. There seems something so pure about it, I don’t know. The kind that bleeds nostalgia, that I’ve only ever seen in movies. Something that you can only get with a bunch of guys who need a distraction in a place a long way from home. I also think that this essay is actually helped by the dictation style; Pop’s voice comes through incredibly clearly.

Maybe stuff like this is still happening around me, and I’m just so far removed from the sporting world that I don’t see it? Seems likely. I guess it doesn’t help that I’m largely useless in any sport where you have do something that isn’t about running really quickly. Since baseball already has designated hitters sometimes, maybe I should propose the position of designated runner.


When it comes to goofiness, there is a tie between Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and the American Congress. For example, in the past week or so, the Senate has passed a resolution announcing that English is our only official language. It is meant of course to bar Spanish, which the Mexican immigrants speak. In a way, it is a sucker punch against immigrants.

I have a proposition as an amendment to the official language edict. It is my proposal that every visitor to the United States must also speak English fluently. For example, the Kuwaiti soccer team, if it ever visits these shores, should also observe our language restrictions. Every member of the soccer team, including the goal keeper, should speak English perfectly.

The resolution in the Senate about English being the only official language ignores the fact that many peaceful countries have more than one official language. Belgium and Switzerland come to mind, as does Canada. These countries are not involved in killing Iraqis at the moment, so I would suggest that perhaps it is the duality of their languages that accounts for their peacefulness.

There are several other amendments which might be offered with respect to the resolution on the English language. Let’s not be half-hearted about this. Let us declare now and forever that the Free Will Baptist faith is our official religion and that the song “Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam” is our official national hymn. Furthermore, it should be included in the amendment that only full-submersion baptism will be accepted as a means of getting to heaven. I suspect that virtually every Southerner in the American Congress would vote for such a resolution.

Speaking of heaven, I asked my sixteen-year-old grandson the other day where heaven was physically located. He instantly replied, “In Denmark.” That struck me as odd because I had thought it was in Bolivia or in the suburbs of Alice Springs, Australia.

The fact of the matter is that in 1776, our freedom was won with the help of the French who graciously permitted us to speak an American brand of English to this day. Without the French at that juncture, we would now probably be the subjects of good old Queen Elizabeth and her goofy son.

There are other amendments that might be offered in addition to the English language resolution. For example, we should designate Ford as the official automobile of this nation. Chevrolet sounds a bit too French.

Rolling Rock should be designated as our official beer, and Jockey should be our official underwear.

Now if there is an objection to any one of these resolutions, I propose the use of military force including the newk-you-lar option to make everyone accept them wholeheartedly. What is good enough for the Iraqis ought to be good for the Americans.

Perhaps this is the silly season in Washington, but the attempts to discriminate against new arrivals in this country are running amok. Most of the proposed laws or restrictions are being offered by wild-eyed representatives in the House, such as Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and are being strongly supported by Southern members as well.

In the final analysis, everybody knows that English is the only perfect language and that the Free Will Baptists have the only perfect religion. It seems to me that establishing these facts in law as well as the other propositions offered herein, would make America more secure and more loved around the world.

This is supposed to be a nation of immigrants, but one would never know it by what is taking place right now in Congress. Now that the English language question has been settled, we must turn our attention to operas performed in the French, Italian and German languages. That would seem to be the logical progression of the resolution passed last week by the Senate. I suspect that Verdi, Giordano, Mozart, Bizet and Wagner would wholeheartedly fall in line with the English only resolution.

May 26, 2006
Essay 193
Kevin’s commentary: I know why the Garden of Eden is in Missouri, but I have no clue at all why I said heaven was in Denmark. Maybe that was Andrew?

Anyway, let’s just cut out the middleman and make intolerance itself the national religion. Save everybody some time. Though honestly we’re doing better recently, as a country.