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.