Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ripped From the Headlines

Elian Gonzalez is taken from his protectors so he can be returned to Cuba.

   One of the stops on the Yahoo carousel -- that series of news pictures that cross your computer screen, stopping barely long enough to hook you into reading the story before moving on to the next news story, so that you become conditioned to slamming your hand down on the keyboard like a contestant in a game show, but I digress -- there was a news story related in an odd sort of way to one of the main story lines in my new book "The Armored Fist."
   The story was about some drug addled couple who lost their two little boys to the wife's parents in a custody battle, funny the news media should use the word battle because it doesn't sound like much of a fight, the kids were simply taken away and placed with the grandparents instead of foster care. But anyway, this father with a couple of drug related convictions ties up his in-laws, kidnaps his own kids, and flees with his wife and the two little boys via boat to Cuba, which agrees to send the reprobates -- that term applies only to the parents, not the little boys, although they were included in the deal -- back to the United States.
   End of story. Not. I rarely use the word "lunkhead" but I feel obligated to apply it to the alleged journalist who compared this situation to that of little Elian Gonzalez, who survived a disastrous boat trip which claimed the life of his mother and wound up in Miami and in the center of a political firestorm.
   Now Elian's mother was not some drug addled good for nothing, all she wanted was freedom and a better life for herself, I guess she had a boyfriend too, and her son, and she headed toward America on an overcrowded, rickety boat with more leaks than the CIA, while the couple that fled to Cuba with their kids had a decent, uncrowded boat, even if the father didn't have both oars in the water. This the Yahoo correspondent called a "reverse Elian Gonzalez," like it was some kind of football play, although I suppose it does have a bit of legitimacy since purely in terms of the voyage it was like Elian's journey in reverse.
   By now, you are no doubt asking yoursef, what on earth does all this blabbering have to do with Aaron's new book, "The Armored Fist."
   Which brings me to the diary entry of the Rev. Edmund Randolph Laine of Stockbridge, Mass., for April 3, 1945.

   The diary entry begins with a thick black cross, which actually in this case is both a cross and a symbol referring to a footnote. The day begins cool and gray, with some sun in the afternoon. It was Easter Tuesday, and Reverend Laine notes that he is "not feeling too well." The diary entry ends with the footnote, or actually it was simply a late addition, underlined, "Eddie killed this day in action in Germany, at about 12 p.m. our time." I say it was a late addition because in the pre-Twitter era, it would be 13 days before a telegram arrived informing Reverend Laine that Lieutenant Edward L. Forrest was killed.
   When I first attended a reunion of the 712th Tank Battalion, in 1987, Ed Forrest was the only name from my father's stories that I remembered, which is why I took a special interest in his life.
   So wait, what about Cuba and Elian Gonzalez and the drug addled reprobate kidnapper of his own two kids, you might ask.
   For this you have to glance once again at the diary entry, and back up just a smidgin from the late addition. At 11 p.m., Reverend Laine listened to the news on the radio, which included commentary by Fred Vandeventer.
   I'll be damned. Forgive me while I digress again. It never occurred to me to look up Fred Vandeventer, but I just did, and according to imdb, Vandeventer was the "Mutual Broadcasting System radio newsman and columnist who originated the game "Twenty Questions" for radio and, later, television. Based on the "Animal, Vegetable or Mineral" parlor game, it was one of the first shows to transcend radio into the new medium of television, and was extremely popular. He was a "printer's devil" for his high school newspaper ..."
    So that's who Fred Vandeventer was, and that's who Reverend Laine was listening to on the radio at 11 p.m. on April 3, 1945. Now, back to Cuba.
    Right after listening to the news, Reverend Laine notes in his journal, immediately prior to the footnote, that he finished reading "When the French Were Here."
"When the French Were Here" was a book by historian and diplomat Stephen Bonsal about the role of the French in the American Revolution. It was the middle of 1781 and George Washington's proverbial credit cards were maxed out. His troops were like "What MREs again?" and ready to pack it in if they didn't get paid.
   Enter the "Ladies of Havana," who, according to Bonsal, responded to a plea from a French admiral with jewels and furs and cash worth about 1.2 million pounds, which financial analysts might tell you would be worth $28 million today. George Washington was overjoyed, the troops got paid, and the rest is history. American history.
   When Elian Gonzalez was unceremoniously returned to Cuba, the Latino press was all over it. I looked this up years ago when I first started researching the material in Reverend Laine's diary, and I've been unable to find it again, but a columnist in the Miami Herald wrote "...and this is how we pay them [the Ladies of Havana] back."
One of these days I'm going to transcribe more of Reverend Laine's diary, which is filled with cultural references of the day, often shortened due to a lack of space, like "Air mail letter from E. in p.m. mail. Walked around back lawn." Come to think of it, you might say he was born to tweet.

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Priceless. (Well, actually it's $17.69 at amazon)

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