Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Here's to you, Forrest Dixon

Forrest Dixon

   I was not having the best of Veterans Days. The former president of the Kassel Mission Historical Society is upset with me because I didn't write a president's message for Veterans Day. This morning I went to Dunkin Donuts and the lady behind the counter asked me if I was a veteran. I knew what that meant. A free cup of coffee if I said yes. She probably wouldn't have even asked me for an ID. I said "No, but thank you for asking." She did give me the senior discount. Heck, last week I asked her what time it was and she took five minutes off.
   As I was driving this morning, listening to National Public Radio, I shouted "Dammit!" Because one of their reporters played a tape of an interview he did with a couple who didn't plan to be on the radio, but agreed to let him use the interview. It was truly heart-wrenching, in which the couple described the night the doorbell rang and they saw two Marines outside, and they knew immediately that something terrible had happened to their son in Afghanistan, or maybe it was Iraq. He had been killed in a helicopter accident, barely a month before he was due to return home.
   So why did I shout "Dammit!" in my car, in which I was the only occupant? Because just the night before I'd been thinking how the media doesn't know the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Memorial Day is when you talk or write about the men and women who died for their country, and Veterans Day is when you talk or write about people who lived to relive their experiences. To its credit, after I shouted "Dammit!" the rest of the show was devoted to discussions of post traumatic stress disorder, and other Veterans Day appropriate material.
   Maybe I'm full of shit. That's just the way I think it should be, although I was surprised by the strength of my reaction.
   And then it happened. In the afternoon I got an email informing me that one Lori Greiner had posted a comment on my oral history blog informing me that a link was broken. Well, the rest of the email is what, to me, Veterans Day is all about.
    "In honor of Veteran's Day, I googled my grandfather, Forrest Dixon, and came across this page with the audio link. However, the link does not appear to be working. Can this be fixed? Also, I would be interested in purchasing the audio CDs that contain stories from my grandfather. Can you provide me additional information? I would love to be able to share these stories with his great-granddaughters. Please contact me at ..."
Needless to say I was not looking to sell a couple of audio CDs to the granddaughter of a veteran I interviewed, and told Lori that I would send her the audio of Forrest's interview. I also attached a transcript of a 1993 interview I did with her grandfather at his farmhouse in Munith, Mich. She emailed me back with the remark "This is great stuff." Which indeed it is. But the fact that my work had helped Lori's children learn about their great-grandfather's experiences -- and what experiences they were -- redeemed this year's Veterans Day for me.
  Forrest Dixon was a farmer, an onion farmer in Michigan. He once told me a story about an accident on a nearby farm. A worker had fallen into a piece of farm machinery and his body was mangled. He used the phrase "tossing their cookies" to describe the reaction of the EMS workers who arrived, maybe they weren't EMS workers but whoever they were they faced a difficult challenge extracting the worker's remains from the machine. Forrest said he told them, "Here, let me help." He had seen things during his 11 months of combat as a maintenance officer in my father's tank battalion that made him used to sights like that.
   I met Forrest at the first reunion of my father's tank battalion that I went to, in 1987, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Following the 1989 reunion in Detroit, he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. The doctor doctor told him it was helpful to talk about it. He said that within a few days, everybody in Munith knew he had rectal cancer. He lived more than another ten years.

Forrest Dixon's obituary 

   A couple of times Forrest's son Tom, Lori's uncle, came to the reunion with his dad. Once a few of us were sitting around a table in the hospitality room and Forrest was telling some of his favorite stories and one of the veterans addressed him as "Major."
   Tom turned to his father and said, "I didn't know you were a major!"
   There was one story Forrest didn't tell, or at least didn't volunteer. I had to hear it from another veteran of the 712th Tank Battalion. It was about the time Forrest climbed into a tank with no engine -- it had been removed so the mechanics could work on it -- and singlehandedly knocked out a German tank that had broken into the maintenance area.
   The last time I saw Forrest, he had just been robbed. Not at gunpoint. He had a thriving vegetable garden in the back yard of his farmhouse, and some thieves drove up in the night and made off with his entire crop of butternut squash.
   Thank you, Lori, for googling your grandfather on Veterans Day. I hope many others did the same.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A slow news day in the neighborhood

   In the world today, an epic battle that already is being compared to Stalingrad and Bastogne was in its fortysomethingth day on the border between Syria and Turkey, U.S. military troops were being quarantined after helping out in Ebola-stricken countries, Pentagon workers were being warned they might be targeted for lone-wolf terror attacks, and the Fed was ending quantitative easing.
   So what did I see as I passed the newspaper stand in the supermarket this morning?
   A blaring headline in the New York Post that said "Fiddler on the roof" about a fellow jerking off in his window who was photographed by a popoffrazzi. And a blaring headline in the New York Daily News about a guy somewhere who some court said could marry his niece. Naturally, the headline was "Speak now or forever hold your niece."
   Here's a headline for you: "Vinnie Musetto turns in grave." (Poor Vinnie, who died last year, was the Post copy editor who wrote "Headless body in topless bar.")
   "Pervy peeper plays his pickle." I wonder if Rupert Murdoch wrote that one himself. Now, WTF is quantitative easing? Or is it qualitative easing? Whatever.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Frozen in time in a vast portfolio


I daresay I've been on a bit of a warpath the last few days. A bit of a warpath, heck, stick a few feathers in my hair, if I had any hair to stick them in, go to Home Depot and get a pint of Glidden eggshell white and slather some streaks along the sides of my face and I'd probably be shouting for the Washington Redskins to change their name to something less racist, like the Washington Tea Partiers, oh, wait, it doesn't get more racist than that, now, does it?

Or just the other day, when I was getting gas for my car in New Jersey, granted, the place was one of the lower priced gas stations in the area, it only had four pumps and was a little crowded so I had to angle my car in a little, and while the attendant was filling my tank a woman of at least forty in a white SUV squeezed past my car, stuck her head out the window and said "Really Grandpa" because she didn't like the way my vehicle was almost blocking hers. Luckily for her her vehicle was out of the station by the time I realized it was me she was addressing. If that had been Connecticut or Texas and not New Jersey, I could have had an AK-47 in my glove compartment.

And then today, I figured I'd check out my friend Victor's blog, which I hadn't seen in a few days. Victor started a blog that is slightly critical -- mind you, slightly is a bit of an understatement -- of the newspaper that fired him a few years back. In his blog he sometimes goes out of his way -- like that woman should have gone out of her way to avoid calling me Grandpa -- to expose the paper's flaws. I don't agree with everything he criticizes -- the Israeli-Hamas war, for instance, does belong on the front page and not on the "nation/world" page way the heck inside the "A" section.

But today, I daresay, he didn't nearly go far enough in his criticism. He posted the lead to a story and made some negative comments about the story, which I didn't read, nor will I, because I don't subscribe to the paper and rarely visit its web site. But this was the lead:

"For years, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan has seemed frozen in time, a forgotten giant in the agency's vast portfolio of transportation facilities" (A-1).

Some people will think this is a good lead. It wouldn't surprise me if the reporter got a bunch of pats on the back. But an editor should learn to trust his gut, and my gut was seeing all sorts of red flags, how's that for a mangled metaphor. Frozen in time? The Port Authority bus terminal has morphed dramatically over the past two decades, with fancy eateries sprouting up inside and around it, hell, five years ago you didn't have to spend two dollars for an eight ounce bottle of water if you were dying of thirst while waiting for the bus to Hoboken. Okay, so there's an occasional homeless person late at night. And forgotten giant, vast portfolio, hell, Donald Trump may have a vast portfolio but what the heck is a "vast portfolio of transportation facilities"? Actually the Port Authority is probably the flagship of the Port Authority's portfolio..

Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure what it is that pisses me off about this lead. Maybe it's the first two words, "For years." The reporter says "For years" like he's been there more than a dozen times. Now if a commuter who passes through it every day for umpteen years said to the reporter, "For years, this place has seemed frozen in time..." that would have been way better. Maybe the reporter has been to the bus terminal a lot. Maybe it's just the flowery exposition here that gets under my skin.

Like I said, I didn't read the rest of the story nor will I. So if you're the reporter who wrote it, I hope you got a lot of compliments and a raise. As for me, your lead was just the icing on the upside down cake of my week.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The unknown soldier

From left, Bob Anderson, John Owen, Rollie Ackermann, Ted Duskin
   On NPR today there was a blurb for a program on things people learned at their first job. I got a phone call today that reminded me of a lesson I learned not at my first job, but at my first job in the newspaper industry that I've never forgotten, even though I ignored that lesson in the publication of a recent book.
   I was a clerk in the sports department of the New York Post when some team -- I forget which league and I even forget which sport even, this was a long time ago -- exercised a fairly high draft pick to acquire a player nobody, at least nobody in the sports department of the New York Post, had ever heard of.
   I don't know if I wrote the headline or somebody else wrote it, or if it even made it into the paper, and I'm not sure even if it was in the headline or the lead of the story. What I do know is that the player who was drafted was referred to as an unknown.
   Nor do I remember if it was me who was admonished or somebody else. But the night sports editor said "He's not unknown to his family or his loved ones." Of course I'm not quoting exactly, but the point was made. He was not an unknown player, he was a little known player, or a relatively unknown player except by his relatives."
   So today the phone rings. "Is this Chi Chi Press?"
   "Yes, this is Chi Chi Press."
   A word of explanation. When I self-published my first book, "Tanks for the Memories," I didn't want it to appear self-published, so I made up the name of a publishing company. My mother and father used to call each other Chi Chi, although it was pronounced kind of like Chitchy or Chitch. Either way it was short for Cicciolino or cicciolina, which is Italian for dumpling. After two or three books I incorporated Chi Chi Press, although after five or six books I dissolved the corporation because of the high corporation fees. Chi Chi Press is still my imprint, and I use it on the books that I publish through Amazon for the Kindle and Create Space programs.
   "I'm calling about the picture that's on the cover of the book "Big Andy," the one which shows Bob "Big Andy" Anderson  butchering a cow that had to be put down because it had a broken leg ("That cow's leg was no more broken than yours or mine," Andy said in the interview. Still, it's a pretty well-known picture in the annals of the 712th Tank Battalion from World War II.
   "On the inside of the book you identify the people in the picture as "Bob Anderson, John Owen, Unknown and Ted Duskin," the caller said.
   "Are you related to one of them?" I asked, or words to that effect.
   "The one you identify as unknown," the caller said, "he was my father."
   Kaye Ackermann, who said the unknown tanker was Rolland "Rollie" Ackermann, and I spoke for about half an hour. She said her father died in 1971, and that he never talked about the war, and her mother never allowed her and her sister to ask about it. But that once when she was young her father was kind of dozing in a chair and he opened his eyes and saw her and said, rather softly, "The only mass grave I saw had 250 bodies in it."
   She said her dad was buddies with Big Andy, but that he never went to a reunion. The battalion didn't really start having reunions until, well, I'm not sure, it might have been the mid to late 1970s, it might have been later. There were a couple of smaller reunions before they became a battalion-wide thing.
   Rollie Ackermann was a tank commander and he was wounded, she said, on Feb. 6, 1944, which likely would have been at a place called Branscheid in Germany, in the heart of the Siegfried Line. She also said they gave him "blue" somethingorothers, the term I'd heard was "blue 88s," the term was different but I'm sure the pill was the same. She said she thought it was sodium pentathol.
   The great thing about print on demand and e-books is it doesn't take a lot of time or money to make a correction, so I went in and revised to publications to add Kaye's father's name. And I remembered that lesson of so many years ago.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

These are the climes that try men's souls

A pooch in Omyakon, Siberia. Photo by Amos Chapple.
   Winter has a month to go and already Weather dotcom has run out of ideas for headlines, after "Say it ain't snow," what are they going to say next? Reminds me of my days on the sports desk of the New York Daily News when you had to come up with a dozen different verbs for win, but at least the opposing teams and even the winners rotated so that if the Yankees bopped the Bosox in April they could bop them again in June and nobody would even notice that you were repeating yourself. But this winter of one snowstorm following on the heels of another has pretty much drained the creative juices from headline writers nationwide, except in Florida and California.
   Heck, even Snowmageddon is hackneyed by now. Snow kidding. This winter sleighs me. Slush, slush, sweet Charlotte. I give up. Go ahead, hit me with your best snow headline.