Friday, May 26, 2017


            I have read – and expect to continue to run into – some well-deserved editorial reminders that this year is the 75th, and likely the last numbered and remarked anniversary of that epochal episode known as World War Two, within whose embrace I experienced my crucial growing up years, and true to whose promise I lived out some of my country’s most crucial and foundational decades. For me and a fast-disappearing number like me it is the centrifugal and defining event of a lifetime. It fills the capacity of my memory cells so fully that virtually all other subjects are subordinate and related to it. Including – and perhaps especially – that three-year “diversion” we call Korea.
            Yesterday a Vermont friend phoned to report that Jerry Thomas had passed away in a home-town nursing home. Jerry had been one of six of us who traveled to the Air Force Recruiting Station in Montpelier one December day in 1950. That original “six” represented one third of the boys in our high school graduating class and we chose to enter the U.S. Air force and take our basic training together. I fear I may be the last of that “spirited” bunch, with each of whom I had shared uncounted “cherry-cokes” at THE SPOT.  In the following months, as the Korean War grew larger, most of the others followed in one Service branch or another. It was what our older brothers and cousins had done a few years earlier, and it was what we did. Like those predecessors we too had weathered the Great Depression, gotten by on less and witnessed everything World War II had brought to our 20th century door step. We were in every sense of that generation, and motivated by the same sense of brotherhood and patriotism. We were true “believers”.
            In fact, it is worth pointing out that more than 400,000 of those of us who fought in Korea had also seen active service in WWII, including most field-grade officers and a preponderance of senior “non-coms”. (To our ever-lasting benefit.)
            I think often of the world we came home to, and the unique nature of its shape and character; and of the unvarnished reality of our modest expectations. Married, with a young family and only a high school education, I had the good fortune to attract the attention of an Air Force Reserve senior officer who was a Vice President of Vermont’s most important business enterprise, and who recruited me into the most august of its departments - even without an advanced degree. There my similarly selected colleagues included Cal Haskell, a recently released Air Force Major and experienced senior command pilot, and Gordon Paterson who had served with the 82nd Airborne Division and who limped from a bad training injury. Gordon, a devoted Masters candidate became my business mentor and best friend. We shot competitively and wandered wild country together. (He became a senior staff member of the University of Vermont and is still a good friend.)
            We were next joined by Lt. Clayton Jordan who came home from the Battle of the Bulge and Stalag Luft III – one of the most notorious of the worst Nazi prisons – as a proudly honored local hero. As a Sergeant who fought on with his last bullet after releasing his men to surrender he was awarded a “battlefield commission”. Clayton twice survived being sentenced to execution by firing squad by sheer audacity. He is perhaps the bravest man I have ever known. I also was assigned to work on a daily basis with a man named Glen Rice, my opposite number in our Dallas, Texas branch office. Glen had been taken prisoner in the fall of Manila back in 1941 and had survived the Bataan Death March. Crippled for life from his years of beatings and punishment by the Japanese, he never complained and felt honored to be working with the rest of us.
            Each of us in our own personal variations, had watched our loved ones go off to war, rally behind a united cause, honor deeply-held values and convictions and remain true to our own personal sense of honor. We came from a generation or two that went to church, opened doors for ladies and pretty much stayed married once we got that way. We didn’t own a lot of Mutual Funds, but tried not to buy stuff we couldn’t afford. I know I am super “old fashioned”, but still write checks and don’t know feel deprived not knowing how to use an ATM machine. And I think I have lived in the very best generation; in perhaps the straightest generation. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


            When my Dad was in charge, he never “made” breakfast, he always “scared it up”. When living in a cabin – he assured us – he would leave the door open so that he could run outside just in time to catch the manually-flipped “flapjacks” as they exited the chimney. I thought of all that last week as I noted an unexpected “find” in a nearby meat department, thereupon bringing home a lovely, glistening, five-pound “pork belly”.
            After drying the exceptionally lean fresh cut, I covered it with a dry rub of salt, pepper and brown sugar (my private stock of maple sugar too precious to reduce further), and set it to cure, wrapped, in the bottom of my outdoor refrigerator where I was careful to turn it several times daily over its five-day aging process. Rinsed, dried and ready for the most sacred step of all, it went into my pre-heated smoker over chips of maple wood where I tended it lovingly for about five hours. With a golden “bark” and an internal temperature of 165 degrees, I pulled it out to cool gently before slicing thick quarter-inch slabs redolent of sweet-salty maple magic.
            The next morning, I made a brief stop at our hen house to pick up a couple of just-laid brown eggs before putting a skillet on the heat. I drank in the incomparable smoky smell of the first few strips of hours-old bacon which I set aside on kitchen toweling when half done. Spooning just a jot-and-a-tittle of hot pan fat over the quivering yokes, the bacon returned just in time to get re-acquainted and back to temperature before it was savoring time. You’ll have to cut me some slack for believing that I haven’t scared up a better, sweeter-tasting breakfast than that one in a very long time; and I still have at least 4.5 pounds of incomparable smoked pork belly to look forward to.
            Back on the Vermont hillside farm of my teenage years, the smoking fire would have been funneled underground through several feet of smoldering maple chips or dry corn cobs before being “trapped” in an inverted wooden barrel where the bacon and hams hung suspended, for a longer period of time. We had no “electric freezer” back in those times and in that far northern clime, and along with other parts of the pigs and other farm animals the cut meat leavings were merely wrapped, labeled and placed on shelves in an old outdoor cabinet in our woodshed where they kept frozen solid until May – or maybe June.
            My Dad was probably fortunate to pass on from this world before such wonderful breakfast fare became “illegal”.

Monday, May 1, 2017


            Highway traffic passing my Rockville property for the past several weeks may have been doing some head-scratching as they looked over to see a strikingly beautiful, familiar yet unfamiliar “American” banner flying at the top of my flag pole: alternating red and white horizontal stripes with white stars in a field of blue filling the upper left quadrant. One member of my prized collection of seventeen historic “American” flags, this one gets flown on very rare occasions. It is in fact the first national flag of The Confederate States of America with only seven stars (representing Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Louisiana.
            Known affectionately as “the stars and bars”, its three broad stripes when rippling in the wind or blown about in battle could easily be mistaken as the Union colors, confusing maneuvering troops of both denominations, and getting people killed at Manassas in the first Bull Run battle. Because the white bar was so large, it may even have been mistaken as a “surrender” symbol. Accordingly it was replaced by the more well-known and unmistakable “battle flag” with its diagonal cross-bars.
            When displaying this particular flag to school children I point out that it figures importantly in our country’s history, and that many tens of thousands of American boys died fighting under its stars and bars; it is their youthful bravery and devotion to a cause that I honor – NOT the cause itself.
            It was with President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers in April, 1861 that the plunge toward civil war probably became irreversible, setting the stage for South Carolina’s firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, an eventuality Lincoln had sought to avoid at all costs. (In fact he had carefully coordinated the dispatch of the ship carrying needed supplies for the fort with Confederate leaders. Of all the “southern” states, South Carolina was the most obdurate and entrenched in its anti-Union, pro-secession sentiments.)
            It was almost exactly four years later on April 9, 1865 that Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses (“Sam”) Grant, effectively bringing America’s costliest war to an end in the living room of a home owned by Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Seeking peace and safety for his family, McLean - a proud Southerner - had departed his previous home in Manassas Virginia, when the war had actually begun when a Union cannon ball fell on his kitchen when he was dining with Confederate General PGT Beauregard in July, 1861.
            Then it was Apri1 15, 1865 when an assassin’s bullet took the life of Abraham Lincoln who was probably the only living human who could have prevented the era of political and social strife which befell the bereft nation which had paid so egregious a price for a reunion over which the slain leader would likely have presided.
            As the breeze rippled the “Stars and Bars” these past few days, I could not help but visit other “collectors’ banners in my personal “museum” including: the 20th Maine regimental; Irish Brigade colors; Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry guide-on; General Hood’s 1st Texas Headquarters flag; George Washington’s “Pine tree” flag and the Revolution’s “Bennington Battle Flag”.
            On the wall to my left hangs Don Troiani’s portrait of the 14th Brooklyn Hussars of 1862, while at my back a large lighted reproduction of Mort Kunstler’s “Lee Takes Command” capturing that historic May 31, 1862 event looks down on my writing desk. A replica 1863 Cavalry Officer’s sword is suspended over all.
            As an ironic afterthought, there is also a certificate with then Governor Zell Miller’s signature “appointing” Al Cooper (a definite “Yankee boy”) a Lieutenant Colonel in the Georgia Militia -  a thank you from the State of Georgia for a modest piece of service during the 2002 Olympics.