Birds, Kites and Movies

We were part of a Marine Expeditionary Force on exercises in the Caribbean. Boredom comes easily aboard ship. There are only so many rifle inspections you can do. My guys spent a lot of time on the taffrail of our LST just looking out over the ocean. One day one of them got the bright idea to fly a kite. This seemed like a great thing to do so they got some wooden slats from vegetable boxes in the galley and cut side panels from some old sheets. The result was a magnificent box kite standing about 4 feet tall. With great cheers and excitement they launched it but immediately the structure became unstable, wobbling through the air, whirling in circles, unable to gain altitude. They thought if they could just add some weigh it would balance and become stable. They made another trip to the galley and got some tin foil from the cooks which they put on the bottom of the kite. The tin foil lent just enough weight to stabilize it and keep it upright. It flew beautifully, soaring high over the aft end of the ship up into the wind with the birds. The aeronautical engineering prowess of these young Marines truly impressed me. That evening I attended the 1900 reports with the ship’s department heads to give the Marines report. My boss, Capt. Sirotniak, was supposed to do this but he and the Captain did not get a long so he always sent me in his place. When it came my turn, I said, “Capt. Sirotniak reports there are 6 officers and 187 enlisted embarked Marines aboard.” I further said, to mollify the Captain, “Capt. Sirotniak sends his compliments to the Captain, Sir!” The officers thought this was funny but the Captain didn’t. He replied, ‘You tell Sirotniak to get his ass up here next time. You also tell him that as of 1900 tonight the Marines will no longer fly their goddamned kites aboard my ship. The tin foil screwed up the radars.” At that all the officers started laughing, even louder than before. I tried hard to suppress my own laughter. The Captain visibly annoyed, retreated to his cabin. When I returned below I explained all of this to Sirotniak and he suspended the kite flying, which really upset the Marines.
While all this was going on, the men observed birds dipping and soaring over the aft end of the ship. Soon one of the Marines had the bright idea to feed them. He went below and got some bread which they broke up into small pieces and threw into the water. The birds went crazy attacking the bread, fighting with each other to get the best piece. Soon a lot of the Marines joined in, followed by a lot of the crew up on the quarter deck cheering. After a couple of days the men got bored with feeding the birds . Then one of the more creative Marines had the bright idea to put hot sauce on the bread. Every Marine carries a bottle of McIlhenny’s Louisiana Hot Sauce in his pack. They got a bottle of this potent potion and began sprinkling it on the bread. The effect was immediate and dramatic. The birds would swoop down, grab a piece of bread and soar back into the air only to taste the hot sauce, flap their wings wildly, spiral down and crash into the ocean. It didn’t look like any of the birds were harmed; they just swallowed some water and took off for safer surroundings. The Marines loved this. Loud cheers went up anytime a bird crashed. Hearing all the noise a lot of the sailors came aft and participated in the fun. This became an activity that both the Marines and the sailors could enjoy together. Feeding and crashing the birds with hot sauce ladened bread continued until some animal lover complained. They thought it emanated from one of the Yeomen, a fat kid with thick glasses but no one never really found out. All of this got back to the Captain. That night at the 1900 reports I gave the usual report. Seeing that we didn’t lose any man overboard, the numbers stayed the same. The Captain looked at me sternly and said. “As of 1900 tonight the Marines will no longer feed the goddamned birds aboard my ship. And you tell Sirotniak that if these shenanigans continue I will take disciplinary action. In other words his ass will be grassed.” So in the space of a week the Marines lost their kite flying and bird feeding. Needless to say morale was pretty down. A few days later a round jammed in one of the 5” guns during gunnery practice. The gunnery officer asked me if I could get a couple of Marines to volunteer to help extract the round. Of course no one volunteered.
But watching movies was one activity for which the Marines could not get into trouble. Every so often in the evening we would all gather on the mess deck where they would hang a white sheet and watch a 16 mm film complete with noisy projector, scratchy sound and blurry picture. We had two John Wayne movies, “Rio Bravo” and “Stage Coach,” which we watched over and over again. One day the ship’s gyro compass broke and a technician from the task force command ship had to be high lined over to our ship. He brought with him two new movies.  I had taken the opportunity to arrange a trade. We were desperate so we would trade for anything. I had a radio link up with the command ship and arranged to get a couple of Vincent Price films, “Tales of Terror” and “The Tomb of Ligeia.” Every one was excited and soon “Ligeia” became the favorite, mainly because it starred Elizabeth Shepperd, a blonde who walked around in flimsy night gown (not that there was anything to see; after al this was 1967). It got so that the men learned a lot of the dialog and yelled out the words in falsetto voices whenever Shepperd appeared. One night we noticed a Marine sitting on the other side of the sheet We asked him what he was doing there and he said that he was watching it “backwards.” What he meant was that he was watching the reverse image as it projected on the back of the sheet. He said he liked it because it was different from what he had been watching for a couple of weeks. Immediately all the Marines ran around to the other slide. Very soon at all the movie showings half the Marines sat on the front side, the other half on the back. The cooks liked this too and whipped up large buckets of popcorn. Everyone looked forward to movie nights,
Years later I had the pleasure of meeting Roger Corman, the director of the Vincent Price films. I told him this story and how much the we all liked liked “Ligeia.” I told him about how we watched the reverse image and how much enjoyment that gave us. He asked me which side I liked best. I had to admit that I liked the reverse image better. He smiled and said, “So do I.”

In The Company of An Angel


I attended an event at the 92nd Street Y that celebrated the life of Primo Levi. Levi was a Italian Jewish chemist, writer and Holocaust survivor. His major work was “If This Is A Man” an account of the time he spent in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. He was rounded up with 650 other Jews. They traveled for many days on a cramped train and were incarcerated for almost a year. By the time the camp was liberated by the Russians only 20 had survived.

An impressive group of writers and publishers had assembled in tribute to this remarkable man. I thought I would stick around afterward and try to meet some of them. The evening was sponsored by the New Yorker magazine. The magazine’s editor David Remnick read from “If This Is A Man,” the chapter about the round up and the trip to Auschwitz. About how no one knew what to expect. Upon arrival, under the watch of guards,  the women, children, elderly and sick were taken away in one direction, the men in another. They were told to leave their luggage on the platform. It was a poignant reading.  Many people were in tears. I must admit I myself was a little weepy.

At the end of the evening there was a wine and cheese reception and an opportunity to meet the readers. Not knowing anyone, I stood by the bar, glass in one hand and cheese plate in the other surveying the crowd and waiting for an opening to talk to Mr.  Remnick. Near me, I noticed a small elderly woman standing by herself. She must have been around 90 years old, dressed in a lovely suit with a scarf and carrying a handbag. Her hair was nicely coiffed.  I thought I would go over and say hello.

I introduced myself and we shook hands. In an effort to make small talk I allowed as to how much I enjoyed the evening, especially the Remnick reading. I noted how palpable the emotion was in the auditorium and how much I was affected. She admitted that she too and became a little teary eyed. At that moment she turned, looked in my eyes and said simply “I made the trip.”  I was stunned, I didn’t know what to say. It was as if a boxer had hit me in my stomach and I stopped breathing. I couldn’t speak. When I gathered my composure I said “Words fail me, I have no words.”  She smiled and said, “I see some friends that I must speak to. Thank you for coming over. It was so nice to have chatted with you.” And she tottered off leaving me to wonder what had just happened. She was so self assured. She was proud. Like a Marine vet who says “I made Iwo.” It was her metaphor for letting me know that she was a survivor. Of the Holocaust.

To this day I still don’t know what happened. That brief encounter affected me in a very deep and profound way that I make no attempt to understand or explain.  Perhaps some day I will. All I know is that for a few brief minutes that night I was in the company  of an an angel.



My friend Annie and I were invited to a Thanksgiving Day dinner party. We thought we should bring something and after some discussion we decided on an apple peach pie. “I will make it from my grandmother’s recipe. I’ll buy some fresh apples and we can use the big jar of peaches that we got from the farm stand,” she said.

She was soon back from the market with a large bag of apples and we got started. She quickly finished the pie crust and began to cut up the apples. “Why don’t you open the peaches?,” she said. “This is great,” I thought, “All I have to do is open a jar!.”

The peaches, perfectly formed, succulent yellow orange slices in their syrupy juice sat there, ready to be opened. I held the jar on the counter top with my left hand and started to twist with my right. Nothing happened, the lid wouldn’t budge. I twisted some more, gripping the lid as hard as I could. Still nothing. And more. Nothing. By this time my fingers were red and began to sting. The palm of my hand was burning. Far from ready to admit defeat, I allowed that I was having some trouble getting it open. Annie said “Be careful,” “Why don’t you try holding the lid with a towel or a rubber glove. That way you might get more traction.” I tried in quick succession a towel and then a glove. I had all the traction in the world but neither the towel nor the glove worked. By this time all  the twisting was causing my forearm muscles to shake. I reached for a knife. I gingerly tapped around the lid a few times. I tried again with harder taps, they didn’t work. Taking up the jar in my left hand I tried again, and again, and yet again. By this time, in frustration and desperation, I was hammering on the lid. “Watch you don’t break the jar,” she said. I was determined not to give up. “I will do battle with you, Jar, you will not defeat me. I shall prevail,” I exclaimed. At this point, thinking that some supernatural power was needed I tried to will it to open, I even prayed. No luck. “Why don’t you try running it under hot water,” Annie said. Great idea. Turning on the hot water and holding the jar in both hands I held the lid under the steaming flow. The water was almost scalding. Soon some of the water ran down through my fingers onto my arms. I screamed in pain. “This damned thing is killing me,” I said. “Easy does it,” she said, a wise piece of advice, sadly unheeded on my part.

After drying myself off and waiting for the stinging pain in my arms to subside. I reconsidered my strategy. Let’s try the knife again, this time a larger knife, a carving knife. I furiously beat the around the lid not caring whether or not I broke the jar. In fact, the idea of actually breaking the jar was beginning to appeal to me. I thought, how can I do it safely, and how to do it without breaking the whole jar and spilling all the peaches? I had the perfect hammer for the job in my tool box. Sanity prevailed however, and I gave up on that idea. Next I found a large flat head screwdriver and, cradling the jar like a football in the crook of my left arm tried to pry the lid loose. The blade was not thin enough to slip between the top of the jar and the lid. I was losing my patience by this time. I furiously jammed the screwdriver against, alternately, the glass and the metal lid. Until the screwdriver slipped and speared my left hand, in the crevice between my thumb and index finger. “Yow!,”  I screamed, while looking at the ugly cut.  I rushed into the bathroom, washed the wound and put some bandages on it. I went back to the kitchen to continue the battle. Realizing the  screwdriver method would not work, I had another thought. What if I could find one of those really cool jar opener things? They have a grip and a handle that would give me the leverage I needed. I knew I had the strength to open it with one of those.  I put my jacket on and made my way to the door. “Where are you going?” Annie said. “I’m running up to Feldman’s to get one of those jar opener things. I’ll be right back.” “Hurry back, we are running out of time,” she said. So armed with grit, determination and resolve and, with the knowledge that time was no longer on my side, I raced the 10 blocks up to Feldman’s Housewares. Of course they were all out; they sold the last one that morning. But they would be getting some more in next week.  I guessed that someone else was having trouble opening their jar of peaches, and waiting until next week just wasn’t an option. I left Feldman’s feeling pretty dejected. “Maybe I could convince Annie to just make an apple pie,” I thought, ruefully. I didn’t want to give up and at the same time I knew that Annie would not buy the apple pie idea. I was doomed.

I raced the ten blocks back to the apartment. “They didn’t have any more left,” I said sadly, completely defeated. “Why don’t you try hot water one more time. Try running the water all around the edge of the lid, where the rim meets the glass. Make the water as hot as you can.  But don’t burn yourself again.” I was skeptical but did as she told me. Being a good sport and having run out of all my options I gave it another try. After a few minutes I dried the jar off and scooped it up again. I grabbed the lid with my best vise-like grip with all the strength I could muster and started twisting.  I was shocked and surprised to see it easily come off, without resistance and fall into my hand. “Oh my God!,” I shouted. I was almost speechless and amazed to see what had happened. When I gathered my composure I asked her, “How did you know to try that again? How did you know that would work?” “I didn’t know it would work with certainty but I did know that heat causes metal to expand at twice the rate of glass,”she said. “The heated air in the jar will also expand reducing the pressure difference that holds the lid on. You probably ran the water only on the top of the lid; running it on the sides is what does the trick.”  “How do you know all that?,” I said incredulously. “Sophomore science. That was part of an experiment I did for the High School science fair,” she said with a smile as she busily set about scooping the redolent peaches out of the jar and into the pie.

Cargo Nets


In the summer of 1956, when I was 11 years old, I went to see the movie “Away All Boats.” It starred Jeff Chandler who played the captain of the amphibious attack transport, Belinda (APA-22). The movie followed the ship and its crew across the Pacific carrying Marines to their island campaigns.I was so excited to see this movie. The scenes of Marines climbing down the cargo nets suspended along the sides of the the ships excited me stirred up a desire to do something like that. In later years I did not remember much about the movie except for those scenes and the sight of the little boats forming up in circles preparatory to assembling on the line of departure for their trip to the beach. I did not know then that I wanted to a Marine, I just knew that I wanted very much something to do with the heroism, bravery, and sacrifices of those men. Growing up in the years after World War II I heard many tales and adventures from my dad, uncles, and men in the neighborhood. I overheard one man say to a friend, “I met your dad on the beach at Saipan.” That sent shivers down my spine. I wanted to be like these men and do noble deeds.

Ten years later II was a young Marine Lieutenant assigned to the Basic Officers Course at Quantico, VA. One week the training schedule showed a full day blocked out for “Cargo Nets.” I immediately knew what this meant. On the assigned day we fell in with rifles and full gear and proceeded out to the training area. There in front of us was a 20 foot wall with two cargo nets attached. The structure looked huge and presented me with yet another training challenge. I was confident I could climb down the net; climbing up would be something else. With the “encouragement” of the instructors and my comrades I made it up and down several times. I was so concentrated on the instruction “Don’t Look Down” that I did not have time to think of the  heavy rifle and pack on my back. This activity prepared us for more fun to come: a live exercise.

The following week we traveled to the Navy base at Norfolk, VA where we boarded the Attack Transport USS Francis Marion (APA-249). We were quickly assigned to quarters. Each space accommodated 50 Marines. The racks were arranged in 6-high tiers. I took the top rack, with the overhead about a foot above me. The space was somewhat private as I had no one above me, although I had 5 guys below me!

. The following morning, the first day of our 3 days of landings, we were awakened at 0600. We proceeded to breakfast at 0630. Breakfast consisted of steak and eggs, the traditional breakfast fed to Marines before a landing. I felt so proud to be part of that tradition as it represented the last meal many Marines would ever have had. By 0800 we were all on deck. I was eager to get to my station early. As I recall, the sky was overcast and a light breeze was blowing. The sea was choppy, and the air felt crisp. The deck was noisy with orders being shouted and sailors running everywhere. I was assigned to debark station Red 1. There are 5 debarcation stations on either side of an APA and each is color coded. Red 1 was the highest station because it was up on the bow. Of course I had to get that one! I and my pals Max Kalletta, Jack Kelly and Pete Kearney were the first ones over the rail. I broke the first rule and  looked down into the little boat about 40 feet below me bobbing up and down in the water and banging into the side of the ship. It could have been a mile away! All of a sudden reality hit me, I have to climb down this net and into that little boat. At once I felt nauseous and scared. I did not want to get sea sick and I did not want my fear to show and I certainly did not want to fall off the net. My training kicked in and, with the three others, in an instant, I was over the side. That was a life lesson for me. Fear is dispelled by taking action. Once you get absorbed in doing something, the fear goes away. The descent was easier than I thought. I followed the second training rule which was to climb with my feet and not with my hands. I relied on my feet for weight and position and my hands for balance. And I timed my jump into the boat so I would land on the up roll of the boat on the waves. Before going over the side we were warned to time our leap into  the boat with its upward roll. To do otherwise would risk a fall and a broken ankle. Once in the boat, we grabbed the lines fastened to the beam at the end of the net and pull them hard so the net would remain taut and would rest at the bottom of the boat. No sooner did I grab hold of my rope than the net started to fill with Marines. It took all my strength to hold that rope and my side of the net taut as the little Papa boat rose and fell and banged against the side of the ship. The wind and waves had picked up by that time and I was starting to get wet. But as hard as I worked I kept my gear on my back and my rifle on my shoulder.

Once our boat filled with Marines, the coxswain received the order to depart. He proceeded out into the open ocean and formed up with other boats from the Francis Marion in a tight circle which got larger as other boats were joined. The sea was really choppy by this time and we soon got sopping wet. The sound of the loud engines was so noisy that it was almost impossible to be heard so hand signals were used. Once all the boats had joined the circle we proceeded out to form up on the line of departure. Nothing is more thrilling than to see to the right and left boats lined up in a perfectly straight line poised for the order to attack. The waiting seemed forever but at last the signal was given and we proceeded to make our 2,000 yard trip to the beach. The little boat plowed through the chop as it rose and fell on each wave, Water streamed over the gunwales and spray flew over the flat ramp at the forward part of the boat. The bad news was that i was soaked; the good news was that I was not seasick!

When we arrived at the beach, the boat unloaded us in about 5 feet of water and we had to wade the rest of the distance to shore, holding our rifles over our heads. By this time, I was cold, wet, covered with sand, and exhausted. Once ashore we began to execute our training exercise. And have the chance to do it all over again the next day.



France, April 1944. Here is a young woman on a train. She is sitting in 2nd class. It is raining. Preoccupied, her thoughts are elsewhere as she gazes out the window at the countryside as it rushes past. The driving rain is strong and the wind beats streams  of water against the steamy glass. She can barely make out the farms and houses as they flash by in the gray mist.

The woman is of average height and build, 35 years of age, with pale complexion, and blue eyes. Her light brown hair is long and  pinned back with a barrette, the kind  that was popular in the ‘20s. Her eyeglasses perch on the end of her small nose. She is wearing an oversized, heavy blue cardigan sweater, gray gabardine trousers, and brown walking shoes. She is dressed like a teacher, which she is, a teacher of archaeology at the the Université at Rheins. She studied at the Sorbonne and graduated with a masters degree and honors. She spent several summers in digs throughout Syria examining Assyrian royal tombs. Her name is Justine, her code name, the name by which she is known in the Resistance. It is not important that we know her real name. We need only know that on this day she is escorting a downed American airman over one of the escape routes of the Comete Line, a network from Belgium to Spain. Her responsibility is the Rheims – Paris link. She is traveling with false papers under the name of Emilie Durand, a teacher. She has a 9 mm Walther PPK pistol tucked snugly into the waistband of her trousers at the small of her back.

Her traveling companion, and “cousin,” is 1st Lieutenant Hal Davenport, U.S Air Force. Hal’s bomber crash landed 3 weeks ago. He is carrying a piece of German anti aircraft shell in his left side. The pain is bearable. The wound is sufficiently healed to allow him to travel. His  false papers identify him as Etienne Pascal, an office clerk. Hal is 24 years old, over six feet  all, a Texan. He is a handsome man, with dark brown hair, piercing dark brown eyes, and an Errol Flynn pencil mustache. His lanky frame is crammed down into the small, uncomfortable seat. He has had a heightened sense of awareness since boarding the train in Rheins where they passed through document control without a hitch. They were lucky the French police were not so thorough. Lately, since the Jewish roundups, the police have become more attentive. Hal is dressed as a typical Parisian office clerk. He is wearing an ill fitting black suit, white shirt and nondescript gray tie. In his lapel the badge of the local Vichy political society. His shoes are well worn. It was difficult to find clothes that fit him which delayed their departure.The size 12 shoes posed quite a problem. The journey from Rheims to Paris takes a little more than an hour. They are making good time. They will arrive early.

Suddenly the train begins to slow. Justine sits bolt upright. She strains her neck and eyes to see out the window. They are not near a station. Why are they slowing? The train proceeds more and more slowly. She becomes even more concerned.  Is there a problem with the engine? With the tracks? Are they switching us? She has a strong sense that something is very wrong. Suddenly, coming into view, a road crossing with a safety gate. The gate is down. There are several civilian cars and a German army staff car parked at the side of the road. The German officers are standing next to their car. Beside the other cars are small groups of men wearing long black coats, smoking and talking. Dear God, she thinks. The Gestapo! This is not another document control! They are probably looking for someone. The train hissing steam, grinds to a stop.  The men pair up and quickly and efficiently board the train, each entering different carriages. What to do? She is thinking quickly now, critically assessing f the situation. She looks out  the window on the other side of the carriage. She sees tracks and beyond  the continuation of the road, a forest. The door to the forward carriage is about 2 meters away. Beyond that door the platform between the cars and a safety gate. The gate can easily be unlatched. Just 15 seconds to be out the door, onto the platform and through the gate. The 3 meter jump to the ground and a 50 meter run across the tracks to the tree line would take at most one minute. They could do that even with Hal’s wound. The train is blocking the road which works in their favor. Her hand reaches slowly for the Walther and her fingers carefully unlatch the safety. She does not want to shoot the men but she will if she must. She whispers her plan to Hal. With a wink and a nod he signals his understanding and approval. She sits back and waits.

She hears the doors of the carriage squealing as they open. She doesn’t panic and, even though she is boiling over inside, she maintains her composure. She must not betray any emotion or show fear for to do so means instant arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment. She thinks of Dedée Gaumont, captured by the Gestapo, tortured and executed. She knows they are about 5 km from Epernay where her uncle, a member of the Maquis, the local Resistance,  keeps a safe house. The forest is their only hope. The men are getting closer as they check each passenger. They are formal and direct. “Your papers please,” they say. Slowly and methodically they work their way through the carriage. Did we attract attention at Rheims? That couldn’t be; they would have grabbed us then. What if they speak to Hal?  Will they believe her when she tells them that her cousin can’t speak because he’s had a tonsil operation? No time for useless thoughts. She comes back to their escape plan, running it over and over in her mind. The men are coming closer. She hears their abrupt impatience at the slightest hesitation or delay. The men are now questioning the passengers in the seat behind them She glances at Hal, then at the door. He taps her wrist with assurance. She is fortunate to have him with her, a large, strong man, a definite asset should they need to execute the plan. She is ready, poised to leap.

Harold and Emily


Harold arrived at the park early. He eased his lanky frame down onto his favorite bench, stretched out his legs, and opened the cup of steaming hot coffee that he brought from the deli. This was his favorite park and had been Emily’s too before she moved away. Harold was a tall, gawky man, 40ish with sandy, curly hair, brown eyes and a ruddy complexion. His thick glasses made him look older than he really was. Women found him attractive in an unassuming way and often complimented him on his thick, wavy hair. He was a failed movie and TV writer who made a living tutoring kids on their SATs so that they could get into the right college. Not the job he wanted, perhaps, but it was the best he could do, and besides, it paid the rent.

t was a crisp, sunny October morning, a chill in the air. He savored every detail. The park comforted him. He noticed the sunlight dancing on the water in the little fountain in front of the statue. Some birds started splashing about and a little boy contemplated jumping in after them. “Maybe I’ll have children one day.” His heart leaped at the thought of seeing Emily again. He was certain he could convince her to get back together. “Its crazy, I know, she is in Paris and I’m here. But we could work it out. I was such a fool to say the things I did. If I sincerely apologize one more time, I know she will take me back.” The thoughts flooded in. “Her apartment is probably big enough for both of us. I could get a job tutoring French kids, American kids at the embassy, or a real teaching job. Or maybe she’ll move back to New York?” Harold’s brain buzzed wildly. He had made a reservation at the little French restaurant, where once they had spent many pleasant hours talking and making plans. It was a place where he knew she would feel comfortable. He would win her back.  “What a glorious day, so many possibilities,” he thought.

Emily was on her way to the park. She hadn’t seen Harold since their breakup nearly 2 years before. Emily  didn’t quite know why he had contacted her. She was puzzled by his email. He said only that it would be nice to see her the next time she was in town. Her latest case brought her to New York for a few days so she decided to call him and they agreed to meet. “Our relationship was difficult, I admit,” she thought. “but it will be nice to see Harold again, to hear what he’s been up to. I wonder if he’s met someone? He’s such a sweet guy. Harold needs someone in his life. Its sad, he’s alone so much of  the time.”

As the taxi pulled up in front of the park, she fumbled in her bag for her wallet and credit card. She quickly manipulated the screen. After she swiped the card,  she noticed the name Spence, Powers LLP on it.  “Oh shit, wrong card. Oh well, they can afford me,” she said. She stepped out of the cab and looked around. Emily was a striking woman of medium height, slender, with black hair, blue eyes and pale almost translucent  skin. She was a “high powered” attorney  in the Spence, Powers Paris office where for the past 2 years she handled international trust and estate cases. Since leaving New York her career soared. She had a lovely apartment in the 16th, a Jaguar, summers at Cap Ferat, and a girlfriend, Patricia, with whom she was madly in love. They met while working on a case together, she was the daughter of one of her clients. Their summer friendship blossomed into a romance. She could not keep from thinking about her. She missed herterribly and could not wait to get home. Paris was her home now, she did not want to be anywhere else.


By Edward Gregory Jones

When I arrived in Viet Nam I was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, an artillery battalion, as Communications Officer. The S-1 introduced me to the battalion commander Lt Col Hamilton, who welcomed me aboard. He told me that my predecessor had been KIA, but that Gunny Peschek would fill me in. 1/11 was situated on Hill 34, about 30 clicks southwest of Da Nang. This low slung hill, covered in bare red dirt like a week old pimple, was surrounded by fields of shimmering verdant green rice paddies. To the south, the muddy Song Cau Do river. To the west, the foreboding mountains of Laos. And in the distance to the east, the tranquil blue waters of the South China Sea.
I found Gunnery Sergeant Gene Peschek in the hootch that doubled as the comm shack and his quarters. Gunny Peschek was a World War II and Korean War vet who had been around the block more than a few times. I was really happy to have that much experience looking over my shoulder. While we were chatting and getting to know each other, Cpl Sorehan, one of the wiremen, came running in, and, after saluting, said, “Gunny the brig chasers are here. They’ve got Stratton, sir. They’ve brought him back and they need a signature for his release.” Gunny and I went outside. There, in a jeep, were two large Marines and a small, scrawny Marine in handcuffs with his arms dangling between his legs sitting on the back seat. “Take the cuffs off him, he’s not going anyhere,” I said. They did, and I signed the paperwork. They took off, leaving me, Gunny, and Private Lawrence “Lucky” Stratton standing there looking at each other. I noticed that Stratton had a cast on his right arm. I also noticed that he was older, around 30. “Busted down from Sergeant or Staff Sergeant,” I thought. I asked him why he was in CC. “Well Sir”, he said, “I got into a minor altercation with some Air “Farce” types up in Da Nang. I fractured my wrist. Colonel Hamilton, sir, after I got out of sick bay, he busted me and gave me two weeks in CC. I did my time and now I’m back.” CC was short for Correctional Custody, a 2 week incarceration for infractions not worthy of courts martial. This was a lot of information which required fleshing out. “Stratton,” I said, “I’m curious to know what you were doing at the airbase.” “Well sir, I was trying to trade some of my shit to scrounge some plywood and cement so we could fix up the hootches down in the vlle. You know, like, win the hearts and minds. The deal was going OK until those assholes started to get unreasonable. And then they said some uncomplimentary things about the Corps, I felt compelled to defend our honor, sir.” From that brief conversation I discerned that Pvt. Stratton was bright, articulate, decisive, loyal and took the initiative. Right away, I liked him. But, as I came to find out, he walked to the beat of a different drum.
As time went on I learned more about him. I found out that he got the name “Lucky” because, during a Tet rocket attack, the 4 guys in holes next to his were killed. He survived with only a burn to his hand from a piece of hot shrapnel. He became one of the best radio operators in the Fire Direction Center. The FDC bunker was the nerve center of the battalion. We were the only Marine artillery battalion that shot centralized fire direction. All of the battalion’s fire missions came into the FDC where gun data was computed and transmitted to the firing batteries, We shot 2-3,000 rounds a day, augmented by Army guns and naval gunfire. The battleship New Jersey shot for us. On a good day the FDC was frenetic, bordering on pandemonium and controlled chaos. I could put only my best people in there, quick, decisive thinkers who could work under extreme pressure. Lucky Stratton was one of them.
Over time, Lucky’s performance improved. He had not gotten into any more fights, so I promoted him to Private First Class. But I started hearing some scuttlebutt that guys were borrowing money from him. I asked him to tell me what this was all about. He said that while playing poker with some Marines and Vietnamese Rangers he found that they were all playing with different money. There were three currencies in use in Viet Nam at that time, Military Payment Certiccates, Piastres, and Dollars. MPCs were the legal method of payment. The Piastre, the Vietnamese national currency, and the Dollar were forbidden for use by American military personnel. The Dollar was the most valuable, followed by the Piastre and the MPC. Dollars were in demand. Since he had accumulated a stash of these currencies, he started making change and soon became the game’s banker. He kept the conversion rates in his head and took a modest fee for each exchange. Soon his fame and fortune spread beyond the confines of the poker table. Other guys in the the battalion and guys from other units sought him out when they needed cash. He even made modest loans and took collateral. He developed quite a reputation as a poker player, currency dealer and pawn shop. Under normal circumstances I would have busted him and sent him to CC again, but he was my best radio operator, and we were soon about to embark on the largest Marine operation of the war. I couldn’t afford to lose him. And besides war in Viet Nam wasn’t exactly “normal circumstances.”
All Marines who were in-country at least 6 months were eligible for R&R, or Rest and Rehabilitation, at a location of their choice. When Lucky’s R&R came up he announced that he would be going to Okinawa, to visit his Japanese girlfriend. Before he left I asked him to bring me back some Scotch and some cigars. He said he would be glad to do this for me. He returned a week later, but not seeing any Scotch or cigars I asked him if he had forgotten. “Oh no sir, Mr. Jones, I didn’t forget. They’re on a pallet up at Da Nang. I’m trying to get them down here for you.” I had no idea why a bottle of scotch and some cigars would be on a pallet at the Da Nang airbase but I didn’t ask any questions. A couple of days later, sure enough, he showed up in front of my hootch in, of course, an Air Force jeep, with a driver. In the back of the jeep was a case of Johnnie Walker Black Label scotch and a gross of cigar boxes. I was now the owner of 24 bottles of prime scotch and 2,880 Manila Corona cigars. I ended up keeping the scotch and trading most of the cigars. Thanks to Lucky I soon developed my own reputation as a trader.
Lucky went “back to the world” anout 2 months before I did. We didn’t keep in touch. As the years went by I’d often think of him fondly and wonder whatever happened to him. Those frenetic days and sleepless nights in the FDC would have been perfect training for the financial futures pits of the Chicago Board Options Exchange. I often wondered if he was on the other side of any of my trades.

Merrick Garland

Re president Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Contrary to popular sentiment that the Senate is not doing its job, not doing what it is paid to do, I submit that the Senate, in its checking function, is very much doing what it is supposed to do. Article 2, clause 2, section 2 (Appointments Clause) of the Constitution requires the President to nominate a Supreme Court judge, and the Senate, with its advice and consent, to approve the nomination. In the Heritage Guide to the Constitution John McGinnis writes, on p. 271, “The Senate has independent authority in that it may constitutionally refuse to confirm a nominee for any reason.” Nor is a timeframe or deadline required to do so. Furthermore in Federalist 76 Alexander Hamilton says, of the Senate’s checking function, “the necessity of of their concurrence would have a powerful, though in general, a silent operation.” So clearly we will just have to wait, patiently, while the Senate does its job.