Sunday, April 24, 2016


            It was a moonless night with a high overcast that blocked whatever starlight might have challenged the cold blackness which swallowed me as I slipped out of the guard tent. I stood still for some time to allow my night vision to adjust. I refrained from pulling down the ear flaps so as to maximize hearing ability and felt each of the pockets of my outer gear to make sure I carried nothing that might jingle or cause noise. My left hand was covered by the standard two-piece winter glove while the right was sheathed only in the woven cotton inner liner which I could easily pull off with my teeth if I needed to bare my trigger finger. My M-2 .30 carbine had been retrieved from where I had left it, just outside the tent door so that I need not take time to wait for metal to stabilize with the temperature change. I was ready.
            Because the area around our home compound was mostly an unprotected “free-fire” zone, we depended on a barbed wire barrier interspersed with trip flares for day-time security and manned sentry outposts at night or when under imminent warning of enemy activity. Our greatest exposure was the danger of individual intruders targeting our power supply, radar equipment, ammunition dump and key communications for the western front. The area to our north, looking toward the 38th parallel was on rising ground denuded of all trees and undergrowth by napalm bombs and pock-marked by old trenches and fighting holes. In the nighttime dark it was a maze of hidden obstacles and dark recesses; a graveyard of hiding places which had changed sides three times in the fighting.
            Because of a “feeling in my bones”, I had given Airman Frost a night off and taken his place on Post#6 where I now sat behind an observation post of weathered sandbags looking out over that ghostly landscape where months earlier real “ghosts” had battled for a few square yards of miserable hardscrabble. (I was still naively intrepid and “gung ho” at that stage of my fast-fleeting teenage innocence, anxious to confront an enemy I had only seen through binoculars across the muddy Imjin River.)
            It was about 0300 hours when I felt as well as saw a movement out of the corner of one eye; something had changed the shape of a shadow cast by the lip of an abandoned gun emplacement not more than a dozen yards away from where I kept my silent vigil. With my heart pounding and moving quietly but rapidly to a point where I could look down from a safe quarter I pulled my bayonet from its sheath and slid it onto my carbine in such a way as to signal the action noisily, I sang out with the Korean language challenge to Halt!  JEONGJI! JEONGJI!
            There was no response, but I could now see the figure of a person scrunched down in the corner of the fighting hole and holding his hands in front of his pale face. I thought for an instant of what I had told myself I would do with such an “opportunity.” But if the guy had been armed I would probably have been dead by now. Having instead shouted out: Sergeant of the guard, Post No. 6!  Need back up! I jumped down into the hole to find myself looking into the frightened eyes of a “kid” dressed in the typical quilted winter duty wear of a North Korean soldier. Still shaking, I held my bayonet on him until my buddies arrived.
            In the wee hours of the morning I sat across from the pair as our interpreter and Korean National Liaison Officer Cha Wal Bin carried out the interrogation (not an altogether pleasant undertaking to witness.) The young prisoner turned out to be a 2nd Lieutenant in the North Korean Peoples’ Army on an undercover mission as a courier. When we opened up some of the threads applied to his jacket quilting we found tiny strips of rice paper rolled into narrow bundles containing addresses of Northern sympathizers in Seoul. I have long forgotten his name so I call him “Lieutenant Cho”. What I will never forget is his youthful face and terrified eyes looking up at me in the dark of that cold Korean night. I still wake up with that moment playing in my mind’s eye and I tell myself that if he is still living I may be the reason why. I allow myself to believe he stayed in the South when the armistice was signed and has a loving family and posterity of his own enjoying the freedom we helped to leave behind for him. His is a story I have only shared with family and close friends, but for me “Lieutenant Cho” lives permanently in a warm and hopeful corner of my brain and we are connected in a way I can’t completely explain. Or deny!

Monday, April 18, 2016


            My paternal great-grandfather – Morris Washington Weigel – is buried somewhere in Alaska where a landslide carried him to his death on May 18th, 1898 at the age of 48. He had made his way from a home in Ohio following the “impossible dream” of rocks and rivers loaded with nuggets of gold ready for picking. He probably made that epic climb over the Chilkoot trail where the “Trail of ‘98” ended for so many “dreamers” who left everything behind – even their lives. What I wish is that he had left us something in writing; what thoughts occupied those lonely days and nights in that far northern place.  Did he think of the wife and eleven children he left behind? Did he wonder if his grand voyage was worth it all?
            Another Weigel ancestor died in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain during the march on Atlanta in 1864. We know where he is buried; even down to the grave number in a Civil War cemetery near Marietta, Georgia. He hadn’t yet celebrated his 20th birthday. I wish someone who knew and loved him had written something about this patriotic young westerner; I would like to know what he was like and how he felt about “Lincoln’s War”. What had his dreams for a future life been? Did he leave a sweetheart behind in Ohio?
            I knew my father very well. He told me many stories – true stories. Living in a remote forest cabin; confronting a cougar; eluding a marauding bear; exploring America by hitching on trains; wounded in action and lying with the dead in France at a place called Belleau Wood. He never wrote anything down; I possess only a single letter he wrote me during my war. As his son, and as a family genealogist it is my task to tell his life story so that generations who follow may know more than mere dates of birth, marriage and death.
            Because of all the things I wish I knew about family members of the past and the times in which they lived I have framed my own written life story as if to leave no doubt among my posterity as to who I was, what I believed, the people and things I loved, what experiences helped to shape me and what I did to find happiness and fulfillment in the years allotted to me on this good green earth. I want them to know how my wife and I met in high school, married while young, and managed to build a life-long love affair that was lasting, rewarding and successful, and the wonderful offspring that reflect the ideals we all learned to live together; that it takes more than a house to make a home and more than a home to make an eternal family.
            Because I want them to know about the “little things” that marked me as a mere mortal yet left their own unique stamp on my often-quirky persona, my stories, literary vignettes and pages of verse already fill a half-dozen fat ring binders as well as mega-bytes of digital memory.
            And then there are the lists! Mostly hand-written so far and always a work-in-progress, I have recorded such compilations as the most important people (“giants”) in my life, my favorite books and authors, motion pictures, destinations, institutions, restaurants, dishes, adventures. On one list are the children of my 1st grade class, on another my tent mates in Korea, while all the vehicles of my lifetime and their idiosyncrasies constitute a list separate from the aircraft I have flown or traveled in as a passenger.
            Perhaps the “grand-pappy” of all my lists is one started more than 50 years ago, titled “MY 100 FAVORITE THINGS”. Its’ contents range from soft cotton socks and the sound of crows on a frosty morning to the lighthouse at Pemaquid Point. They used to be subject to occasional change, but I can read over it all these years later and realize I wouldn’t change a thing.
            Genealogy it seems to me is not just about looking into the past, but mapping, pondering and telling our own story so that generations still unborn will come to know, love and feel connected to us.


            Because of travel plans and other pending conflicts, I have been a “chickenless” countryman for the past two years. With the resolution to live more “mindfully” in 2016, that condition just had to be remedied. For the past week our home has been filled with the sounds of new life as a clutch of baby chicks, just recently out of the shell cheep from a temporary brooder in a back-room just off our kitchen.  Not only is it the sound of self-reliance and security, but a veritable alarm clock of happy memories reaching back across the years. Shirley and I find ourselves looking for every excuse to wander into the back room to stand just out of sight in order to drink in those cheering notes. For Shirley who grew up just on the outskirts of a small Vermont village, with laying hens grazing outside the rear door where a family cow  supplied milk, cream, butter and cottage cheese (and ice cream) for six. I might add a productive berry patch, large vegetable garden, vintage rhubarb, and an old-time Duchess of Oldenburg apple tree I would press cider from years later.
            Meanwhile in faraway New Jersey where my father gardened on a small-town acre and ordered baby chicks by the hundred, I was growing up with that annual cheeping sound welcoming springtime and a family enterprise that made our back door a busy place throughout the World War Two years even before we escaped to a Vermont hillside dairy farm where chickens, ducks and the odd goose added their voices.
            From our present home place we look down on our pasture acres where – in just the last week -  we have watched three new calves rise on their wobbly legs and voice their first objection to their mothers’ rough tongue. Within 24 hours they are racing around and bawling at each other like marathon runners before dropping to the grass for a long nap while their moms are busy eating grass and making more milk for supper.
            There is yet another sound to add to the chorus; a strange crank-crank-crank coming from the tall ancient cottonwoods across the river in whose still-naked upper branches the seven large hard-to-hide  stick nests abandoned last November are once again tenanted by the long-legged tall-necked and noisy Great Blue Herons who returned this morning from their winter pilgrimage. Now we watch as the guys and the gals share the labor of last-minute repair work leading to the egg-laying and food-carrying which will fill the days ahead. Keeping a watch on all this will be the pair of Bald Eagles who know everything that is going on for the several square miles they patrol, the white flashes of their heads and tail feathers coasting by us at window level every day.
            The local squadron of Gambrel’s Quail which half- march and half- fly, top knots nodding, across our front yard at least once a day – their posted “sentry” watching from atop a big rock – chatter to their young cadets adding their obsessive instructions to all the other sounds that fill a new spring morning. 
            Best of all though is the chuckling of a brand new GREAT grand-baby; especially when its number 14! Always a lucky number.


Saturday, April 16, 2016


            When Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S. just days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most Western observers saw it as a major miscalculation on Hitler’s part; it seemed an unnecessary risk with little to gain other than a “new” war with a major power. The real voice over Hitler’s shoulder was that of High Seas Admiral Karl Donitz whose U-boats had been held at bay by the “neutrality” agreement that had permitted U.S. shipping to provide the aviation fuel and war supplies which almost alone kept Great Britain standing after nearly three years of German pummeling.
            Beginning with two or three “wolf packs” of old VII class U-boats in March and an eventual attack force of over 400 by year’s end – including modern type IX far-ranging boats, the longest and most crucial battle of WW II was under way: The Battle of the Atlantic. By August 1942 Donitz’ “Operation Drumbeat”(Paukenschlag) had sunk 233 Allied ships, and 22% of the entire U.S. tanker fleet lay on the bottom of the Atlantic shelf, most having gone down within sight of land. In 1942 the most dangerous place to be was aboard a U.S. merchant ship, and the Merchant Marine – America’s oldest sea service – paid a high price without any of the rewards or compensations of the military services.
            With most of Europe under Nazi occupation, the Far East and the broad expanse of the Pacific “owned” by the surging Japanese Military and our own Alaska under assault and occupation, the very idea that the United States was somehow going to lead the western world to victory should have been seen – even here at home - as the hopeful myth the world’s prior history would have painted it. Bent on taking swift action against the Empire of Japan, few civilian observers fully understood at the time that our most important and immediate task was to save Great Britain. England was like the free world’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier”. Without that “green and glorious” island there could be no aerial war to bring destruction to Germany’s industrial capacity to make war; and there would be no Allied invasion of the continent to save Europe’s millions.
            At the same time the Japanese dagger was pointing at Australia in the Pacific while we knew the Philippines couldn’t be held. We put up a visible “holding action” by sending the under-strength and poorly-supported 1st Marine Division on a high-cost invasion of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. It would be a bloody seven-month campaign rather than a quick victory as had been hoped for by Washington planners who still did not understand the depth and power of the Japanese Navy or the fighting spirit of the enemy soldier.
            The Battle of the Atlantic went on as it would for two more years with the implementation of the convoy system introduced by the British, improved U.S. depth charges (“hedge hogs”) and the growing use of long range anti-submarine bombers (B-24 Liberators). Smaller aircraft carriers known as Escort Carriers would accompany convoys, with improved radar making it a deadly game even for the most daring U-boat commanders. By war’s end aircraft would dominate in winning the war against U-Boats.
            As a boy of 9 and 10 I was a keen observer of the war, both at home where so much was going on around me and across the globe. Like everyone around me I was caught up in the patriotism of the time - which I am sorry to say – has never been seen since nor is likely to come again. I had cause every day to think deeply about what it meant to be an American and the pride I felt by continuous reminders that ours’ was an amazing country filled with respect and love for one another. If I was dreaming it, I hope never to wake.


Thursday, April 7, 2016


            A century after Lizzie Borden’s hatchet “over-kill” in Fall River, and 3000 miles away, another famous American murder case with compelling similarities took place. On August 30th 1989, 21-year-old Lyle Menendez and his brother Eric 18 entered their family’s 23-room mansion in Beverly Hills after carefully disarming the alarm. Having given the maid the night off, José and Kitty Menendez had fallen asleep watching television. José was guilty of one thing that we know of: having raised his sons in a wealthy childhood and then expecting them to work and achieve. Carrying two newly-purchased shotguns loaded with buck shot, the boys first fired a shot into their father’s head from in front before walking around behind the couch to fire another directly into his head. Trying to crawl away, Kit endured an onslaught of 9 or 10 blasts before her sons ran out of ammunition. Even though their mother wasn’t guilty of anything, the boys had decided she would be unable to do well without her husband’s income. (And then again, she might tell on them if spared.)
            The only remaining ammo was bird shot they had to go back to the car for to complete the execution, taking time to fire into their knee caps to make it look like a “gang hit.  Then they carefully (?) picked up the shot shells and other debris placing it in a garbage bag to drop off in the dumpster of a nearby gas station. Then, satisfied they went to a late night movie before returning home and calling the police to report finding their parents dead.
            Who could believe that two such fine-looking young men from a prominent and successful family could possibly be involved in a murder of such sheer brutality with their own loving parents as victims?
            And that very question explains why they were not treated as suspects by the investigators, why two juries with a mountain of evidence failed to find a clear “guilty” verdict and then just barely getting a conviction – without a death sentence -- three long years after the crime, finally inviting suspicion only when it was noticed that they had gone on a buying spree with one million dollars of their father’s money in the first six months!
            The Menendez boys were no geniuses; nor can we claim brilliance on the part of the investigators for that matter. During the initial questioning by detectives, Lyle noticed they had missed one of the expended shot shells in their “careful” clean-up; he could see it just under the chair the detective was sitting on. He managed to pick it up minutes later. (They shouldn’t have been inside the “secure” crime scene to begin with.) Most basic of oversights was the failure to test the boys’ for gunshot residue – a routine which would be done just to eliminate them from the list of possibilities, even if not seen as suspects. After the expenditure of at least 20 shotgun shells, they would have been literally covered with powder residue, to say nothing of possible blood splatter. Later it would be learned that Eric had confessed the crime to his counselor – which would have been “protected testimony” of course – but when Lyle threatened the life of the Doctor, the legal umbrella of protection was broken. Only with the final of the three juries were portions of the doctor’s tapes belatedly admitted.
            When the Menendez brothers fabricated a new story and testified that they had killed in self defense after a “lifetime of parental abuse”, they once again managed to elicit sufficient jury sympathy to avoid death. They got “life without possibility of parole.”
            Searching into the background of this American family, it becomes clear that from the very beginning in their New Jersey days Lyle and Eric Menendez developed a relationship so unusual it must have been more than obvious to those around them – to the point where they operated as from a single identity. By theft and deception they lived a lifestyle far beyond any allowance from their demanding father and indulgent mother. They may have used a shotgun instead of a hatchet, but like Lizzy Borden a century earlier, it was hatred for an “overbearing” father that led to mayhem within the walls of family.