Thursday, May 30, 2013

It’s the cup of brandy no one wants to drink.
Recently, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the surviving Doolittle Raiders gathered publicly for the last time. They were, and continue to be, among the most universally admired and revered men in the United States. There were 80 of the Raiders in April, 1942, when they carried out one of the most courageous and heart-stirring military operations in this nation’s history. The mere mention of their unit’s name, in those years, would bring tears to the eyes of grateful Americans. Now only four survive.
After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, with the United States reeling and wounded, something dramatic was needed to turn the war effort around. Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to Japan for the U.S. to launch a retaliation, a daring plan was devised. Sixteen B-25’s were modified so they could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never been tried before–sending big, heavy bombers from a carrier.

The 16, five-man crews, under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who himself flew the lead plan off the USS Hornet, knew they would not be able to return to the carrier. They would have to hit Japan and then hope to make it to China for a safe landing. But on the day of the raid, the Japanese navy caught sight of the carrier. The raiders were told they would have to take off from much farther out in the Pacific than they had counted on. They were told that because of this they would not have enough fuel to make it to safety. And those men went anyway.
They bombed Tokyo, and then flew as far as they could. Four planes crash landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed. Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew made it to Russia.

The Doolittle Raid sent a message from the United States to its enemies, and to the rest of the world: We will fight. And no matter what it takes, we will win.
Of the original 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as national heroes and models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a motion picture based on the raid, “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo,” a patriotic and emotional box-office hit, and the phrase became part of a national lexicon.

Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each April to commemorate the mission. Every year, a wooden display case bearing 80 silver goblets with each Raider’s name engraved on it is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passes away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case at the next reunion, as his old friends bear solemn witness. The case also holds a bottle of 1896 Hennessy cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy Doolittle was born. There has always been a plan. When there were only two surviving Raiders, they would open the bottle and toast their comrades who preceded them in death.
As 2013 began, there were five living Raiders. Then, in February, Tom Griffin passed away at age 96.  What a man he was. After bailing out of his plane over a mountainous Chinese forest after the Tokyo raid, he became ill with malaria, and almost died. When he recovered, he was sent to Europe to fly more combat missions. He was shot down, captured, and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.

So now, out of the original 80, only four Raiders remain: Dick Cole (Doolittle’s co-pilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in there 90’s. 
The men have decided that after this final public reunion they will wait until a later date – sometime this year – to get together once more, informally and in absolute privacy. That is when they will open the bottle of brandy. The years are flowing by too swiftly now and they are not going to wait until there are only two of them. Instead, they will fill the four remaining goblets and raise them in a toast to those who are gone.*

God Bless Doolittle’s Raiders, may we all pay homage to the greatness of these men, and raise a glass to their incredible honor and bravery. 

*The source of the original article is unknown

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


There are always certain events in one’s life that stick in your mind, no matter what your age at the time they occur. It’s true that our most memorable moments are those attached to heightened emotion, whether positive or negative, and I’m sure those who look back at the most impressionable events in their lives would agree. As for me, growing up as a small child in World War II, such memories became all too commonplace.  
One such instance was the last time I saw my cousin, Lesley Wright. A member of the RAF, Lesley had eagerly joined in the war effort in 1941, much to the dismay of my mother’s sister, Edie. Having been very close growing up, and having grown even closer after the loss of four brothers in World War I, my mother and Edie shared everything—and as a result our families had become like one. Lesley oftentimes looked to my mother for advice, and whenever he had the opportunity he’d come over to visit his “Aunt Nina” and spend time with me. He was really more of a big brother than a cousin, and in my eyes he was larger than life, a true soldier who I looked up to like no other. Even so, he was barely 19 the last time I saw him, and I was not quite 4.
I remember the morning well because I had been awakened by the ring of the telephone. Even at my young age, I was old enough to know that when the phone rang back then it was usually bad news. I lay still for a moment waiting to hear my mother’s voice when suddenly I realized it might be my father, who’d been away on assignment for several weeks. I jumped out of bed and raced for the door, hoping for a chance to speak with him. Instead I found my mother engaged in a rather terse conversation that ended with, “you know darn well you never need an invitation,” before she abruptly hung up the phone.
I stood silently in the doorway, looking up at her.
“Who was that Mum?”
She gazed down at me, ignoring my question. “Your breakfast is on the table, dear. Start to eat—I’ve work to do.”
I knew immediately that whoever it had been had upset her, and this was further confirmed as I sat and ate my breakfast toast and dripping, alone. I watched from the corner of my eye as my mother pulled out the bucket and scrubbing brush and started to scrub the floor on her hands and knees. Yes, definitely troubled about something, I thought. The only time mum does that is when she’s mad at dad. With my curiosity now piqued, I asked once more.
“Who was that on the phone, Mum?”
“Finish your breakfast, Ian.  Lesley’s going to be here in a moment.”
Well that was all I needed to hear! I scoffed my toast down and followed it up with a large swill of milky tea, all the while being ever so careful not to spill on the table. No sooner had I drained my cup when there was a knock at the front door. I leapt from my chair and ran to answer it, jumping as high as I could in my attempt to reach the door handle. Watching my gallant efforts, my mother pushed herself off her knees, wiped her hands on her apron, and walked over to pull open the door. Then, without expression, she turned and went back to the kitchen to return to her cleaning. I looked up to see my cousin Lesley standing in the doorway in full uniform. He looked down and smiled as he came inside and closed the door behind him. I immediately jumped on him, clinging to his legs as he attempted to step forward. He bent down and picked me up, threw me over his shoulder, and spun me around his neck before turning me over and placing me back on the ground.
His smile gradually faded as he looked toward the kitchen and called to my mother. “Aunt Nina.  I have only a few minutes.  Please, I have to report back soon…”
My mother slowly stood up, once more wiping her hands on her apron before walking toward us, her pace quickening as she got closer. She threw her arms around Lesley, burying her head in his chest as tears began streaming down the sides of her face. Moments later she stepped back, gently pushing him to arm’s length as she attempted to speak to him between broken sobs.
“Lesley, I’ll have no more of this nonsense talk. It’s not fair to me and it’s certainly not fair to your poor mother.”  Her hands were trembling and her voice quivered as she spoke. “You know what we’ve been through—our brothers taken from us—no God would take our children too!” She dabbed at her eyes with her apron and took a deep breath in an attempt to gain her composure. “Now, come. Sit with me a moment and let’s have a cup of tea.”
My stomach felt a bit queasy as I watched them make their way to the dining room table where they fell into deep conversation. My mother poured them both a cup of tea and Lesley called to me as I stood waiting. “Be with you in a moment, Ian—now go in the back room and play for a bit!”
I knew Lesley was true to his word, so I quickly went to my toy box and began lining up my soldiers in neat little rows whilst I waited for him. When it came time for him to leave he beckoned me to the hallway and bent down so we were face to face. He reached into his pocket and brought out a shiny silver tin; then he opened it up exposing a box of Chiclets and barley sugar candy neatly tucked inside.  He placed it in my hand. “I want you to have this. It’s from my escape pack.”
Now standing beside us, my mother snatched the tin from my hand and gave it directly back to him, her eyes once again welling with tears. “Don’t Lesley, you know you might need this.”
But Lesley would have none of it. He gently but firmly took the tin back from her, and bending down on one knee, handed it back to me.
“This is for you, Ian.” Lesley said, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Now go and enjoy it and always remember this day. I want you to live your life as if I’m with you at all times.” He paused for a moment and glanced back at my mother, her trembling hand covering her mouth as she fought back tears. He turned back to me, his grip tightening. “Do these things for me and take care of your mum, okay?”
I nodded in agreement, but didn’t really know what to make of his words. He leaned down and kissed me on the cheek. “I love you, little chap,” he said quietly, before turning and making his way down the front steps. He stopped for a brief moment at the end of the walkway to wave back at us.
That was the last time I saw him. Two days later Lesley was killed during one of the Pathfinder raids over Germany. It was only years later that I learned he had come over to the house to say good-bye. He was the navigator on a Pathfinder conducting bombing raids over Germany, and although his crew had done more than the required number of runs, they had all volunteered for what was explained to them as a suicide mission. They had been instructed to say good-bye to their families and loved ones, all knowing they would not return.
I yearn to know Lesley now, as an adult—to talk to him man to man and to thank him for saving me, my family and countless others from the ravages of war. I will continue to live life as if he’s always with me, always giving me strength to go on no matter what the adversity. Lesley Wright will always be a part of me, and he will always be my true hero.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Blame Game

If you watch the news at all you’re probably aware that the Occupy Wall Street movement recently resurfaced in Oakland, California. At the time, I couldn’t help but think what a paradox it was that the latest demonstration took place just across the bay from Silicon Valley, where Facebook was busy initiating a $5 billion public offering. After all, Facebook is a huge platform for the occupiers and most people would agree that this mother of all social media sites has had a stunning impact on the way people communicate worldwide—a good thing in many respects.  However, the entire “occupy” thesis, if there actually is one, is that Wall Street is the villain responsible for our country’s on-going financial woes, and ultimately, for theirs. The conundrum for me is that as a result of Facebook’s IPO, Wall Street is about to partner with them—big time.  And those same greedy, vile “one-percenters” will be directly associated with a company that the occupiers rely on to communicate with one another. 
So given that, I’d like to know how the occupiers feel about the fact that Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, is about to become a top dog among the upper echelon of that elusive one percent club.  Not only that, but the stock offering is going to create not just a few millionaires, but one thousand.  Yes, you read that correctly, one thousand new millionaires. Now I don’t know about you, but I think that’s tremendous! After all, don’t we want entrepreneurs and the people who believe in them to do well and prosper as a result of their incredibly creative ideas? Ideas that are so forward thinking they actually change the world as we know it? Just think about all the ways the capital resources generated from this transaction will boost the economy, assist charities and other worthy causes, and in this case, provide Facebook employees and investors—those people who were willing to take a shot at a new ground breaking idea—with abundance and financial security. What could anyone possibly find wrong with that? The entire scenario is precisely what makes America great.
Oh, but I know—there will be the argument that it’s not the founder or the investors or the employees that the Occupy Movement is angry with—it’s those dastardly investment bankers. Well guess what?  There wouldn’t be a public stock offering without them. JPMorgan Chase, a company that’s been around since the late 1700s and employs almost 240,000 people, has received the prestigious lead post in Facebook’s IPO. Other underwriters include Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Barclay’s, and Allen & Company, companies who are responsible for employing another 450,000 plus individuals worldwide.  Would anyone begrudge them what will probably result in a 1% fee for handling one of the largest IPOs in our country’s history? I don’t think so.
Ultimately, I suppose my point is that it makes no sense to target one group or entity when individuals are simply fed up with their own life and circumstances. The blame game just doesn’t work when you live in a completely free society that lets you set your own limits. Yes, the subprime mortgage debacle and subsequent housing bust catapulted this country into a serious financial mess, and who exactly is responsible will be debated for years, but somehow creating chaos in the streets doesn’t strike me as the best way to recover. This is America. There’s nothing to stop anyone from becoming the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. This is still the land of opportunity and if you don’t agree with that premise then there are plenty of other places in the world where you can go to test that theory. After all, you’re only an American if you choose to be. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Bombing Raid

Trent McStuart’s mind continued to wander, and he thought back to his early childhood and his family’s home in Enfield, England, a suburb just outside of London proper.  It was a modest brick home with a large bay window overlooking a small neatly trimmed yard. There was a garden tucked out back where an apple, peach and pear tree grew.  Lily of the Valley surrounded the apple tree and Trent recalled the delightful smell of the blossoms at the onset of spring. During the summer months, his mother would open the French doors to the garden revealing a small stone patio that led out to a finely manicured lawn.  Trent would spend hours playing in the yard and he could remember the fresh feel of cool spring grass on his shoeless feet.   
As a toddler, Trent began many of his mornings with a soft-boiled egg sitting proudly in a shiny porcelain egg cup shaped like a cockerel.  He recalled his mother cutting perfectly shaped “bread fingers” for him to dip in the warm boiled egg.  Trent smiled to himself as he thought back on those days and he could almost smell the aroma of his mum’s shepherd’s pie on Saturday afternoon.  He could picture the dining room set for Sunday dinner; the McStuart’s best English china and finest lace cloth draped over the large oval table.  He remembered how each Sunday after church his aunts and uncles would arrive to feast on roast beef and Yorkshire pudding as they chatted away the afternoon.  What wonderful, carefree days they were.
Those carefree days were not to last, however, and Trent’s mind wandered back to the early days of World War II.  His most vivid memory was that of the blackouts and the Anderson shelter that was buried in his backyard.  He could distinctly recall how his parents and their neighbors would run about with flashlights, the lenses covered by their hands so the German bombers could not detect the light from the sky.  He would never forget the skeletal shape of their hands or the blood running through the veins of their fingers as the flashlight glowed beneath them.  Yes, the blood, he could definitely remember the blood.
Trent’s father, Thomas “Tiggy” McStuart, had a great distaste for the Anderson bunker and was always reluctant to take shelter from the bombing raids–as if by doing so he in some way gave power to the Nazi forces.  Given that, on the rare occasions when his father was at home, Trent always slept in his own room on the second floor of the house.  But there was one instance when his mother insisted they all sleep in the shelter.  After a rather heated debate, the McStuarts compromised. Trent would stay on the sofa downstairs in the living room and his parents would sleep in their bedroom upstairs.  His father had pulled the sofa away from the bay window, pushing it securely against the wall on the other side of the room to keep him from falling out.
The air raid was severe that night. Trent remembered being awakened by sirens and the constant sound of anti-aircraft fire. He wasn’t afraid, but instead recalled a feeling of excitement because he knew his father would soon come to pick him up out of his makeshift bed.  He would take him to the master bedroom where Trent would climb into his parent’s giant feather bed and listen to his mother and father talk about the different types of aircraft and armaments they’d heard that evening.  His father could identify every aircraft as it flew overhead, and amazingly he could tell whether it was German or British simply by the sound of its engines. The whole experience was like that of a fantastic thunderstorm, frightening and awe-inspiring all at the same time.
This particular night, German casualties had been high as the British night fighters chased the bombers off their targets, away from London’s East India docks.  As the Germans made their way back through the night sky, many half-filled with unused explosives due to the British interception, they were unable to identify additional targets as a result of the city-wide blackout. The German pilots could only see remnants of the anti-aircraft flashes from the ground below, and in their haste to unload, they let their bombs drop over the only targets they could distinguish.  As a result, the very anti-aircraft batteries that had been placed amongst the civilian population to protect them would on this night serve to do just the opposite.  
Feeling uneasy about the thunderous blasts that seemed to be coming closer and closer, Trent was about to call to his father when the world suddenly came down around him.  His ears popped as a deafening noise–a roaring sound, followed by the impact of a hundred freight trains–hit the house all at once.  He couldn’t see, he couldn’t hear, he couldn’t breathe.  It felt as if someone had jumped atop him in his bed. Trent tried to move his arms and legs to no avail.  He eventually managed to steal a breath, but the smoke and debris that filled his lungs only made his desperate struggle for air more difficult.  Then in a moment, all was silent. Terrified, he lay in the dark, quiet stillness for what seemed an eternity before hearing the slight murmur of muffled voices.  The murmur quickly turned into chatter that soon erupted into frantic yelling and screaming. He could hear his mother cursing and the knot in his stomach grew larger as he listened to her uncharacteristic words.  He had never heard his mother use the Lord’s name in vain before, nor would he ever again after that night.         
“God damn it, Tiggy!  Put something on your feet!  You’ll never make it over to him!” Nina McStuart was frantically calling out. 
Trent could hear the continual commotion, but had no idea what was happening.   Directly above his head he heard glass shattering and moments later he felt a hand touch his face. 
“I’ve found him Nina, I’ve found him!”  His father’s trembling voice called out.  Trent could feel the debris being cleared from his face and he was suddenly able to breathe again. He heard his mother whimper from above, “Is he all right Thomas?” 
“He seems okay, Nina!” Tiggy half shouted, his adrenaline taking charge. “He appears to be just fine!”  Trent’s father carefully picked him up and in the darkness Trent could see a dim light.  It was a man’s hand covering the top of a flashlight, the familiar red glow of the light running through his fingers.  It would become a vision that would be etched in his mind forever. The man holding the light was wearing dark blue overalls and a metal helmet with letters on it.
“Bring him back over here Tiggy so we can get a better look at him.” The warden did his best to appear calm, but Trent could see that his hands were visibly shaking. Tiggy followed the warden toward the hallway to the bottom of the stairs.  As they passed by the front entryway, Trent could see the front door of the house was missing.  He looked to the right and saw the kitchen door was also gone.  There was nothing else– just a gaping hole through center of the house.  He peered over at his makeshift sofa bed, now in shreds under a pile of glass and rubble. The entire bay window had blown across the room into the wall, burying him in its debris. 
Trent’s father and the warden gently placed Trent on one of the steps and when the flashlight shone on his little body his mother let out a gasp that frightened him more than the sight of his own shattered home.  He looked to his father for strength, but heard only his quiet murmur. “Oh, dear God, he’s covered in blood.”
The warden placed his hand on Tiggy McStuart’s shoulder. “Just take it easy, Tig.” 
“Take it easy! Can’t you see he’s injured?” Tiggy yelled in frustration. “Get some water for God's sake!”  The warden quickly made his way to the kitchen and filled a bowl with water, promptly bringing it back to where Tiggy waited.  Tears now streamed down the sides of Trent’s cheeks as his father kneeled down, gently wiping his face with a dampened cloth. 
“It’s okay son, you’re going to be just fine.” He said, forcing a smile as he turned back to Trent’s mother.  “I can’t find a mark on him, Nina.”  He commented, continually wiping away the blood and debris. 
Trent’s mother suddenly stepped back and placed her hand to her chest. “Dear Lord Tiggy...” She half whispered.  “Look at your hands…”  Trent’s father looked down at his bloodied hands, a puzzled look on his face as he turned them from side to side.  He hurriedly immersed his fingers in the basin, wincing in pain before quickly pulling them out again. Trent watched with horror as blood began rising from the many cuts and gashes on his father’s hands, wounds which he’d never felt at all.  Nina McStuart slowly placed a hand on her husband’s shoulder. 
“Darling,” she said, her voice now calm and controlled. “The blood is your own.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Deep Frying a Turkey

I asked my very good friend, Terry, for instructions on deep frying a turkey. Below is the response I received. Even though Thanksgiving has passed I thought I would share this, as it’s great for a laugh. 

You asked for the instructions to deep fry the turkey. Here ya go…

5 gallons of peanut oil
A turkey (No shit Sherlock!)
A turkey frying pot and related equipment
Burn ointment
Cajun injecting sauce
Cajun seasoning rub
A nice bottle of single malt scotch or other GOOD scotch
A Padron cigar (substitutes allowed)
A short glass
Ice – preferable crushed
A match or two
I hope you filled the propane tank by now!!!

Pour scotch into a short glass with crushed ice.
Let it sit.
Dry off turkey.
Sample scotch, if okay, refill glass. If not, finish it and try again.
Stand turkey upright.
Inject turkey with Cajun Butter/Garlic marinade (no fat)
Check scotch. Still cold? Good. Down it.
Coat turkey with a lot of Cajun seasoning.
Take it outside where you will cook. Unless you are deep frying it inside in which case you are a moron.
Light burner.
Light cigar. SHIT you forgot the scotch.
Go back in and refill glass.
Sip scotch and smoke cigar while oil is heating to 375.
When oil is ready, finish off the scotch and SLOWLY lower turkey into oil.
You probably need the burn ointment now. Apply this liberally or drink the scotch faster.
Cook the turkey for about 3.5 minutes per pound.
Continue with cigar and scotch until turkey is done.
Put the scotch and cigar down.
Turn off burner.
Slowly raise turkey from oil.
Let it drain over the oil.
Make sure cigar didn’t go out.
Finish the cigar, drink the scotch and take the turkey in.
While turkey is cooling apologize to Robyn for getting shitfaced while cooking.
Bada bing bada boom. That’s all there is to it.

Enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Poppy Day

For many people Veteran’s Day is just another day.  For some it’s simply an inconvenience that banks are closed and mail service is interrupted. For me and many of my friends and colleagues around the world it is something extraordinary.  It is a day we quietly remember our comrades, and even in some cases our enemies, who gave up something incredibly special to them, their friends, family and country…their life.
As a child in England I always remembered it as “Poppy Day.” Wives and relatives of deceased veterans would stand on street corners holding a can with a slot in it. You would place some loose change in the slot and they in turn would pin an imitation poppy on your lapel. You never saw a gentleman, a lady, or a worker of any profession not wearing a poppy on Veterans Day.

I remember as a small boy asking my father what Poppy Day meant and he explained to me the story of the poppy fields of Flanders.  At the time I really didn’t comprehend what it meant; it wasn’t until several years later that I really understood.  My dad and I were driving across France and he turned to me and said, “Son, we’re going to be taking a slight deviation. There’s something I need you to see.”  To this day I could not tell you what battle sight we came upon, but I knew it was significant to my father. We had arrived after travelling down a long country lane and even as a small lad I was taken aback by the sight.  As far as my eyes could see there were white crosses - east, north, south and west. I watched my father approach a grave, then brush away a tear. It was then I suddenly understood Poppy Day.

I wish everyone a meaningful Veteran’s Day.  Keep our military in your prayers and pray for our veterans, especially those who did not return to their friends and family…God Bless.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Where’s the Discrimination?

I’ve watched with much interest as the Republican Party candidates vie for a position in next year’s presidential election. The one thing I can’t help but notice is the incredible diversity within this group.  Considering Republicans, and certainly Tea Party members, have been labeled “racist” by some media sources, it seems odd to me that so many facets of the population are represented among these nine candidates.   I thought perhaps the intolerance label was attributable to the baseline theory that individuals should be responsible for themselves and not look to the government to resolve their problems; as if somehow this was a brand new idea.  In fact, this concept was heartily embraced by John F. Kennedy, one of our most beloved democratic presidents who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  How is this any different from what the republican candidates are saying today?

I find this whole concept of discrimination very curious as I sit and watch the debates.  The panel before me is made up of one woman, two Mormons, two men over the age of 65 (one over 75!), a black man; and yes, I said “black” – he’s a fellow American who happens to have darker skin than mine – that’s all.  Hell, I was born in England, of Scottish decent, and no one refers to me as a British-American.   Lest I digress however, we also have among this group, three middle—aged white guys from very different backgrounds, each with very different ideas.  Isn’t that what democracy is all about?  And those are just the presidential candidates.  If I look at the up and coming stars of the Republican Party, they include Senator Marco Rubio, a Latino whose parents escaped from Cuba’s dictatorship, Bobby Jindal, of East Indian heritage, who’s done an incredible job of rebuilding Louisiana.  Then there’s Chris Christy, the gruff, slightly overweight bull dog from New Jersey who has rocked the house in Trenton and put that State back on its feet after hovering on the brink of bankruptcy. 

And for those on the “tax the rich” bandwagon, I won’t go into my thoughts on that ridiculous banter, however, I will point out that the majority of these candidates came from very modest beginnings before their tenacity and hard work paid off.  I can also tell you that among them they’ve given tens of millions of dollars to the underprivileged.  In fact, as a percentage republicans far outweigh democrats in charitable donations, even though democrats reportedly have greater incomes.

So who exactly are the racist Republicans/Tea Party discriminating against?  Well it’s certainly not women, minorities, religion, race, the poor, the obese or the elderly.  So if someone can answer this question for me, I’m all ears…