John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

An Ill Wind

I did not plan a piece for today, but Isaias changed that. Isaias, what a peculiar name. Pronounced, E-sy-E-us, it is the Spanish or Latin translation of Isaiah meaning “God is Salvation.”

Isaias was also a named windstorm that travelled through the Northeastern states on Tuesday, August 4. Not to be confused with a monster storm like Superstorm Sandy that clobbered the Metropolitan area with water and wind, Isaias was downgraded to a fast-moving tropical storm by the time it arrived in this area.

It didn’t receive the hype that Sandy did either, but in the short time it took to pass, we learned that it isn’t always size that counts. Mary Ann and I had three separate encounters with the storm and its aftermath.

We began our experience in Denmark, ME at the summer camp of Geoff and Judy Jones our old friends who summer in Maine and winter in Saint Simons Island, GA. Each year we alternate visiting the Jones’ in Maine or they visit us in New Hampshire. Both homes are in the sticks, but their camp is on a lovely lake.

We knew the storm was coming on Tuesday, so we made haste to return to Marlow before it arrived. Less than 130 miles separate us but, since most of the journey is along two-lane country roads, traveling time is about three hours.

Still the storm seemed to arrive simultaneously with us about 3pm. By 5pm a large eye treated us to blue skies that quickly darkened. Rain and wind returned causing a power failure before six. Geoff and Judy lost their power about the same time. Losing power in rural areas is common enough that Geoff maintains a gasoline powered generator. We don’t spend as much time so we depend on battery powered lanterns and faith that New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) would save the day sooner rather than later.

Our son, Michael, his wife, Jodie and daughter Samantha were with us, but their two boys had left separately that morning driving back to Fairfield, Connecticut. Fortunately, Jodie had already prepared a pasta in meat sauce dinner just before the lights went out. Our guests left the next morning in the continuing blackout. Before they left, Drew told them power was out in Fairfield. We also discovered Port Washington had also been hit hard with numerous trees down.

Curiously, our NH problem turned out to be a broken utility pole that NHEC replaced mid-afternoon on Wednesday letting there be light once again. The Jones’ utility also acted swiftly but failed to re-connect them or their neighbor on Wednesday. On Thursday Geoff ventured out to find a utility truck and after a bit of frustration, found six in convoy. The lead diver agreed to follow Geoff home where the lineman spotted a tripped circuit breaker on the top of the pole leading to their home. He used a 30-foot telescoping pole to reset the breaker leading to a bright and loud spark along the line and a second tripped breaker. The workers fixed the short and power lived again.

We also learned that our New Jersey friends, Mike and Lynn Scott were without power in their Fairhaven home. WTF? How could three major Metropolitan power suppliers in three different states get it wrong. After Sandy, all of us had been sold the same bill-of-goods that they had taken steps to minimize outages and re-invented their communication system so that customers would receive accurate and timely updates. Instead, Isaias overwhelmed the utilities and, in each case accurate communication was zero point zero.

Our Port Washington power returned Friday morning, Michael Delach’s on Saturday morning and the Scotts on Saturday evening.

Despite the wide-spread annoyance of Isaias, I was able to take away an odd tale from the blackout in Port Washington. A good method to remotely determine whether power is on or off is to call the answering machine. If the power is on, the call will go through to voice mail. If it is off, it won’t go though.

Sometime on Wednesday I called 883-0040 from my mobile phone. On the second ring, a man said hello.

Nonplused, I was silent for a second or two then I said, “I’m taken aback. I never thought that a person would pick-up this call. You see I was calling a number that should have gone to a voice mail.” That number is 883-0040.”

He replied: “Amazingly, this phone number doesn’t contain even one of those digits! Must be a problem in the switching system.”

Sorry.” I replied. I called back on our NH land line this time including the area code: 516-883-0040.

Same fellow picked it up and answered: “You again.”

“Good grief, I thought including the area code would set it free. I will not bother you again. Goodbye”

True to my promise I didn’t call him again, but my daughter did. So did our friend, Sue from Florida and the Hampton Inn, Oxford, OH called to confirm a reservation for my son. I have no idea who else called, but on Friday I decided to call him one last time and offer him a bottle of his favorite brand as thanks for his trouble. Too bad, but by the time I called my answering machine was back in operation.

So, whoever you are, if I ever find you again, I owe you and thank you for your patience. 

The Queen of the Skies

British Airways’ (BA) announcement in mid-July stunned aviation enthusiasts: “It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect. It is unlikely our magnificent ‘queen of the skies’ will ever operate commercial services for BA again due to the downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic.”

And that’s that and so it goes. BA was the largest operator with 31 747-400s  remaining in its airliner inventory. Sure, we enthusiasts knew the end of service life for the first and the most successful of the jumbo jets was drawing to a close. BA had previously revealed that they would phase out their 747s over the next five years, but five years is five years away.     

British Airways’ predecessor, British Overseas Airways Corporation or BOAC acquired their first Boeing-747-100 in 1970 and this airplane made its first commercial flight on April 14, 1971.

Boeing  designed the jumbo to meet the wishes of, Juan Trippe, the founder and CEO of Pan American World Airways. Trippe demanded an airliner 2 ½ times the size of the 707, Boeings first successful jet airliner that entered service in 1958. Pan Am ordered 25 airplanes and took delivery of their first 747, the Clipper Young America on January 22, 1970.

Since 1969, the first year of production, Boeing has built 1,556 747s with 16 on order or under construction. The last of those 747-8 freighters is expected to roll off the production line from their Everett, Washington plant in the next two years.

Boeing 747’s remained in demand with airlines and frequent fliers for almost forty years. Following the demise of the supersonic Concorde, their popularity with elite transatlantic travelers soared. No airplane could fly higher or faster and the 747’s size allowed the airlines to outfit their First Class and Business Class cabins with luxurious features. 

One of the first indications that the 747’s tide was ebbing was the great tragedy on September 11, 2001. Another was the direct competition from the introduction of the Airbus A380, the first jumbo passenger plane to surpass the 747 in both size and superlatives.

(Curiously, the A380 would fall victim to the same forces that doomed the 747. Airbus has announced that it will close the A-380 production line in 2021 because of a dearth of orders even before the virus struck. Only 250 will be built making this jumbo a financial disaster.)

Demand for the 747 shrank as newer and more efficient two-engine jumbo jets like Boeing’s own 777 entered service. These aircraft that could provide similar luxury while being cost-efficient.

Domestic flights ended early in 2018 when a veteran crew flew Delta Airlines’ last active 747 from Atlanta to the airplane boneyard in Marana, Arizona.  

Covid-19 landed the knock-out blow. BA was not alone in retiring their fleet. Virgin Atlantic retired their 747s on April 10, 2020. There stated reason: the pandemic. Covid-19 has decimated world-wide air traffic reducing these airlines financial situations to dire.

Lufthansa retired its 747-400s. Only their six 8Fs remain.

The last chapter for the 747 is being written at Boeing’s San Antonio facility. Two 747-8F have been delivered to the United States Air Force for conversion into VC-25B transports better known as Air Force One. Boeing built these airplanes for Volga-Dnept, a Russian company that subsequently tanked. Uncle bought them and their conversion is under way with the first delivery expected in 2024.

Since their service life is expected to be at least 30 years, they will still be flying at a minimum of five years short of the Queen of the Sky’s 100th anniversary!

Remarkable!

On the Outside Looking In will not publish for the next two weeks. I hope to  reveal an intense piece comparing the on-going turmoil of this summer to our discontent to that of 1970.              

OBX Vacation

I am back!

Last summer Mary Ann and I decided to take our family to the Outer Banks to celebrate my 75th birthday. We rented a house on the beach behind the dune in Nags Head. All 11 of us had a wonderful time, so much so, that Mary Ann directed me to rent a house for 2020 to celebrate her 75th.

Unfortunately, our rental was already taken for the week of the 4th of July. Choosing not to be defeated, our daughter, Beth, found another realtor who had what appeared to be an acceptable alternative in the town of Duck further north on the Outer Banks. I took the plunge and accepted the contract.

Before I continue with this story, I need to explain my thoughts about beach vacations. I have made many in my life that included stays in Cape Cod, Fire Island, the Hamptons, Florida, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Saint Martin / Maarten and Antigua. I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of a week on the beach and the calmness it offers.

However, I first must get passed the four things I do not like or enjoy about a beach vacation: The sun, the sand, bathing suits and the waves. I never liked the sun. I am fair person who burns quickly and easily. Sand is a close second and I find bathing suits to be uncomfortable. I loved the surf growing up and body surfed with pride and pleasure. Such is life and those days ended a long time ago. Now, my idea of a perfect beach vacation is being on a shaded deck or a porch with, at least, three books to devour drinking a cold one while having a grand view of the ocean and family members enjoying the sand and sun.

Fortunately, I am alone in our family to have this point of view which makes a beach vacation work for everybody else.

Jodie is the queen of the beach hands down and spends as much time there as she can. Michael, Beth, Tom and Mary Ann all tie for second. Our grandchildren also enjoy the beach but also seek out alternative activities. As a group, Drew, Matt, Marlowe, Sami and Cace all finish third.

The time it takes to drive to the Outer Banks from the New York Metropolitan area is a stretch, but it is doable. Non-stop without traffic is eight hours and change and with stops, pockets of traffic and unexpected delays, 10 hours. This estimate turned out to be accurate for all of us this trip. We drove down separately in three different vehicles. Mary Ann and I invited Marlowe and Cace to join us. Our new Hyundai Palisade sports bucket seats in both the first and second rows and considerably more leg room. They jumped at the offer.

The house we rented was a wicked improvement over last years. Named: Run-A-Way Bay, everything was newer and more opulent. It had six bedrooms, so everybody was happy with their accommodations. The dining room fit all eleven of us as did a picnic table outside on the upper deck.

Since we now live in the era of Covid-19, eating in was a must. In 2019, we didn’t eat out much. Seating eleven is cumbersome so we mainly did take-out and we followed an even stricter discipline for this vacation. In addition, adhering to Covid-19 paranoia and having learned from 2019, we brought down NY Sicilian pizza for our first night since eateries in OBX are overwhelmed on arrival night.

Michael also brought a fabulous Buffalo chicken dinner for a second night and

Jodie contributed Chicken Parmigiana for a third. (Let us respect that Mary Ann brought two trays of lasagna, meat and meatless, that the rabble rejected.)   

Mary Ann and I supplied 100 surgical face masks, toilet paper for every bathroom, paper towels, sanitizers, hand soap and wipes to protect our family.

Of course, things go wrong. The a/c failed the first night in part of the house, but it was fixed the next day. TV took a couple of visits to work properly. ( Frankly, not my issue. I didn’t watch one second of TV all week.) The commercial ice maker was kaput, so we compensated by buying four, ten-pound bags every day.

Beach vacations, by their nature, are uneventful, but on Thursday, we were treated to an angry ocean thanks to tropical storm Fay that passed far enough offshore to give us a show without any danger.

That night at dinner of take-in BBQ, spirits were so high that I said: “Let’s reserve Run-A-Way Bay for the same week next summer.”

Beth called the realtor the next day and we are good to go in 2021.  

Weekly Post Delayed

Due to technical difficulties, my weekly blog post will be delayed until Friday.

Big Blue Interrupted

This year should have been my 59th year of being a New York Football Giants season ticket holder. I purchased a single season ticket in 1962 for $37.50 at the team’s office then located in 10 Columbus Circle. I paid cash for my ticket and gave it to a woman who sat behind a window that resembled a teller’s cage. I recall that the hallway was lined with photos and paintings of famous Giants players, coaches and members of the Mara family, who owned the team since its founding in 1925.

My $37.50 paid for admission to seven home games at $5.00 each plus a $2.50 handling charge. That inaugural year was my most memorable football experience until 1986. In 1962, the Giants won the Eastern Division of the NFL and hosted the Championship Game in Yankee Stadium. The ticket cost $15 and Big Blue lost that game to the Green Bay Packers, 16 to 7 on the coldest day of my life.

The Giants repeated in 1963 but lost the Championship Game in Chicago to the Bears. Losing became a habit after that season and the Giants didn’t reach another championship until 1986 when they defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI. Head coach, Bill Parcells, summed up the significance of that victory not just for the players, but also for we long-suffering fans by saying: “Men, never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, because you did it.”

The Giants have since gone on to appear in four additional Super Bowls and win three of them. I attended two wins in SB-XXV and SB-XLII and one loss in SB-XXXV. Not too shabby.

As a senior fan, I joke when people ask me what it is like to be a fan that long. My standard line is to joke, “It has given me the opportunity to witness many years of lousy football.”

Truth be known, each opening day is a renewal of faith and friendship with tailgate buddies of the most diverse circumstances all who have the same commonality, Giants football. We are the proud, the faithful whose loyalty knows no limits.

From my perspective, I believe the three most important dates on the calendar are:

The day the NFL schedule is released that allows us to speculate on our chances for success.

That day in mid-summer when the season tickets arrive in the mail in all their glory.

And opening day when anything and everything is possible.

Covid-19 continues to turn the world upside down, Big Blue included. Usually, the team requires season ticket holders to pay for the upcoming season by May 1st. This year, the Giants extended that date first to June and then to July 1st.  

The schedule was released on May 7th , but we accepted it cautiously.

Fast forward to the middle of June. I called the Giant’s ticket office and asked if that date would be extended? The woman who took my call explained: “I don’t know, but I understand that an e-mail will be sent out next week providing more information. If I were you, I wouldn’t do any thing until you receive that e-mail.”  

It arrived Monday morning. Indeed, the payment date was extended to August 14, but it wasn’t until the third paragraph that ownership announced incredible news: “We are offering all season ticket members the ability to take a year off from buying their season tickets. If you decide to do this, you will have no obligation to pay for your season tickets this year.”

I was amazed by this stunning news and proud of Giants ownership for making such a generous and costly (for them) pre-emptive move. To the best of my knowledge, Big Blue was the first NFL team to make such a unselfish offer. But it didn’t shock me. The Mara organization has a history of treating their fans as a family.

In 1973, Mayor John V. Lindsay evicted the team from Yankee Stadium for having the audacity to announce that they were moving to a new stadium of their own in New Jersey. The mayor could have allowed  the Giants to play all seven home games in Yankee Stadium before its reconstruction was due to begin. But as one of his deputy mayors told a reporter: “We are not going to give the Giants any favors. We are going to throw them out as soon as the Yankee season ends.”

The late Wellington Mara, then President and CEO of the team immediately announced that all season tickets would be suspended for as long as Big Blue was forced to play in the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut.

Now his son, John, and the head of their co-owning family, Jonathon Tisch, are showing genuine care and concern for their faithful fans.

I accepted the offer in short order relieving myself of all the anxiety of attending games in person. I will miss our tailgates and being there for live football, but I have no doubt that it’s for the best.

Thank you, Mister Mara and thank you, Mister Tisch. Like your fathers, before you, you are a class act.

My Quarantine Time Capsule Vignette

Cace Briggs

Cace Briggs is my youngest grandchild. He attends MS 442 located in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. He wrote this piece as an assignment for a remote class. God willing, he will enter the Eighth Grade this September. Cace agreed to permit me to publish his piece. I edited his piece for clarity but, with the intent to leave its essence and his use of language unchanged.   

Every day starts with the sun coming up Vanderbilt Avenue chasing the shade away and bringing a new day. The cars start beeping at the repair shop in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard across the street from my apartment just like a rooster waking up at an urban farm.

Slowly, a meager number of cars lumber along the streets bringing essential workers to their destinations like soldiers to their posts. Many workers carpool and are dropped off by friends and family members. These cars drive off into the distance leaving only a faint noise and the smell of exhaust. And so, Brooklyn wakes up to another day of the pandemic with the rest of the world.

I begin my day by looking out onto the barren streets wondering when the day will come when cars can again populate the dark canvas. I feel sad but, after a while, I bring myself to go out for a bike ride. I believe it would be a good distraction from the somber state of the world. As I ride through the streets it feels strange to not see the bustling of cars and  people riding their bicycles or walking their dogs. I had become used to their absence on previous rides, but this is such a nice day, I thought maybe it would be different.

As I cross the Williamsburg Bridge, I stop for a minute to admire the beautiful though desolate view of the East River. When I reach Manhattan, I expect at least a little traffic, but I am surprised to see almost none. After riding through the Lower East Side which only seems to take seconds. I return homeward on the Manhattan Bridge. I reminisce on prior summers when the city was so alive and intriguing. Back home, I retire to my bedroom trying not to think negatively about what feels like the apocalypse.

As the day ends, shadows consume everything making the world dark again. The cars return to reclaim the essential workers. The drivers listen to the workers’ stories of hard work and never-ending sacrifice.

That night after I heard the cars coming back, I had the feeling I hadn’t had in a while, hope.

In bed that night I know that one day I will look back on this not with sadness or hate but thankfulness and gratitude toward the people who made sure we survived and prospered.

“On the Outside Looking In,” will not appear next Wednesday and will return on July 15.     

Interment at Arlington

Part three of my Father’s Day Trilogy. This story was originally written in 2003 and a version of it appeared in my anthology: The Big Orange Dog and Other Stories.”

He died on December 12, 2002 shortly after his eighty-third birthday, cause of death, cancer in multiple organs. He had been diagnosed less than a month before his death and he died at home, in his sleep, under hospice carefree of pain. An atheist, he had little concern for the disposition of his remains except that they should be cremated, but shortly before dying, he decided to have his ashes interred at Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Marilyn, followed his instructions having his remains cremated without family or friends.

The administration at Arlington processes twenty to thirty-five services a day, Monday to Friday. Even so, with casualties from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and with so many World War II veterans dying; our family was told in March that Dad’s service would not take place until Thursday, June 19, 2003.

We are a small family, and everybody decided to attend. Mary Ann and I drove down from New York as did our son, Michael, and his wife, Jodie. Our daughter, Beth, and her husband, Tom, rode down on Amtrak.

Steven, my youngest half-brother, flew to Florida from Oregon with his wife, Cathy, and son and daughter, Jeffrey and Kelsey to stay with Marilyn. They flew to Norfolk and drove to Richmond to meet up with Steve’s oldest brother Mark and, his wife, Nancy. Together, they drove north to Arlington that morning. Nancy’s mom and dad also drove from their home in Emporia, Virginia to attend. Two nephews of Marilyn also attended. Our sister, Diana, rounded out the group at sixteen when she arrived that morning from Maine.

The Catholic chaplain, a “full-bird” colonel, insisted that my Dad have a service in the Fort Myers chapel adjacent to the cemetery rather than in the administration building. I found this curious as Dad’s freely and publicly atheistic beliefs were well-known.  He had had little contact with anything Catholic since he divorced my mother shortly after World War II ended. The chaplain’s insistence led me to surmise that Dad never changed his Air Force records.

Fortunately, the chaplain kept the service simple and almost non-denominational. My daughter and son read from the old and new testament, Kelsey read the petitions and the priest led us in the Lord’s Prayer. Unfortunately, he did not keep his homily simple, choosing instead to wax poetically, showering Dad and our family with qualities and attributes that never existed. As I listened to him, I wondered how he’d react if I changed Dad’s eulogy and included the line, “The sons of bitches of this world have lost their leader!”

But I didn’t. Here is what I said:

Dad led a remarkable life. He demonstrated fortitude, courage, honor, loquaciousness and grit for as long as I can remember. He had an unending thirst for knowledge that took him both figuratively and literally to all parts of the world.

His zest for life never diminished. His need to know things to understand them never diminished.

He was combative, and the Lord knows the confrontations we each had with him. But he did love and care for his family.

When his body deserted him, when he knew he had terminal cancer, he accepted this with dignity, honor and humor.

It is time to take joy in his life, in his memory. It is time to celebrate his life.

That is why we are here.

This was true enough and made for a proper eulogy. Good thing too, in view of the size of the interment detachment that waited outside the chapel. Dad’s rank, years of service, war record and metals qualified him to receive a high military ceremony. A horseman with drawn saber led the formation. Behind him six horses stood hitched to a caisson. Three horses had riders. A band and honor guard stood at attention as six pallbearers followed two others who inserted the urn into a compartment at the end of the coffin mounted on the caisson.

A four-man color guard led the procession away from the chapel. A twenty-piece band and a honor guard consisting of twenty-one airmen followed. They led the flag draped caisson flanked by the eight pallbearers. We followed in our cars as part of the procession. Slowly, we proceeded through Arlington to the Columbarium where his remains were to be interred following a last military service. Workers along our path ceased their activity and stood at attention as we passed.

Because it had rained earlier that morning and the forecast predicted afternoon showers, the airmen wore blue raincoats. The humidity was not kind to them though they did not display their discomfort.

The pallbearers carried the urn to the central square where they set it down. They unfurled the flag with great ceremony, holding it outstretched imitating how it would hang if draped over a coffin. The band played and the chaplain spoke. We were asked to stand while a separate squad of eight airmen positioned in a grass field two hundred yards away fired a twenty-one gun salute after which Taps was played. The honor guard re-folded the flag, handed it to the chaplain who handed it to my father’s widow. A retired military wife sat next to Marilyn during the entire ceremony providing guidance and comfort. Mark carried the urn to its assigned vault. The chaplain made a few more erroneous remarks and the service ended.

We walked back to our cars crossing the central square one last time. I calculated that about sixty air force personnel had participated in the ceremony.

 “Well Dad,” I thought, “you received your due today. Too bad you weren’t here for it; you would have loved it.”

Two Photographs, Two Crews

Originally written on October 2002 this piece appeared in “The Big Orange Dog and Other Stories.”

Before me on the kitchen table are two photographs, one in color, one in black and white. Publicity photos of Eighth Air Force crews and their B=24s. taken some time during the fall of 1943.

The black and white photo is familiar; I first saw it when I was a child. It shows the crew my father trained with and with whom he went to war. The photographer framed ten men in two rows, five squatting, five standing. Behind them, their bomber, a B-24H their pilot named Miss America.

My father stands closest to the airplane, left hand on his hip, his overseas cap tilted left. Twenty-two years old, he wears a confident smile. He is a Second Lieutenant, the navigator. The others are Marfia-pilot, Bonder-co-pilot, Moor-bombardier, Brown-radio operator, DiSimone-assistant radio operator, Sekavec-engineer, Emerson-assistant engineer, Cunningham and Simpson-gunners.

I knew that my father alone survived the war. I learned this from mu mother and later, as an adult, from him,

In October of 2002, John Sr. traveled from Florida to Greece with a layover in New York. I agreed to meet him by the Delta baggage claim at LaGuardia Airport. He was 82, traveling alone on a flight that began in Melbourne, FL at 5:30 am with a connection in Atlanta.

I watch him as he descends the stairs and comes to me. He looks spry and energenic. I collect him and take his carry-on bag, Amazingly, this is his only bag for a week-long European trip.

I am taking him to lunch before driving him to the Delta Terminal at JFK. I pick a diner on Northern Boulevard in Douglaston just off the Cross Island Parkway, convenient to our route to JFK. He orders Pastrami on rye. Good for him. I stick with grilled chicken and two Heinekens round out our order.

John, the father, brings items from the past folr me, part of his legacy. A curious collection, but I understand. Things a father would think important. His service records, drawings of the B-24H and a washed out color photograph of a B-24 and its crew.

I look at the photo then at him. I have never seen it before, I look at my father and ask, “Where did you get these?”

“At a reunion,” he casually replies. I look at the photograph, again. The six enlisted men squat, the four officers stand. The name of the airplane is not visible and only the officers are identified. From left to right, Wyatt-navigator, Slipp-co-pilot, Colburn-bombardier and Gonseth-pilot, Wyatt has his hands clasped behind his back. His shearling lined leather jacket is half-zippered open. He is hatless.

The caption reads:

“On 13 November 1943, Gonseth’s crew was elevated to Lead Crew and Delach joined them as Lead Navigator. R. Wyatt was transferred to Mafia’s (sic) crew replacing Delach as Navigator for Miss America.”

“Both crews 13 November, target Bremen, Germany. Miss America attacked by ME 109s received extensive damage and ditched in the North Sea.”

I know most of these facts. I knew my father returned safely to base. I know he completed his tour, returned for a second tour and finished with a total of 47 missions. I know Miss America was last seen disappearing into the Borth Sea cloud cover.

But who in hell is R. Wyatt? I have never a mention of his name. Why now? Why did my father give me this photo now? Did he even know Wyatt?

But these thoughts come later, long after I drop him off at the Delta terminal. They come as I look at the two photos before me on the kitchen table over a glass of Irish whiskey.

Wyatt died that day in place of my father! Two crews, two photographs two navigators and two destinies.

Afterward

I wrote that story the day after I saw my father for what turned out to be the last time, He returned home early feeling poorly. I spoke to him several times by telephone and remarked about the second photo. I deliberately addressed my remarks in a such a way that it would open him to wanting to talk about Wyatt. He chose not to respond to my questions so I didn’t pursue it.

I told my friend, Dick Sullivan all of this. “I feel it is his call. He gave me the photo for a reason. I believe I have planted the seeds. I believe he will tell me when he is ready. ” Sully agreed.

It did not. That physical problem turned out to be an aggressive cancer. After a brief hospital stay, he returned home to hospice care. He died in his sleep on December 12, 2002, three days after his 83rd birthday. RIP COlnel.

An Unwanted Intruder

My father graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School (Brooklyn Tech) in 1938 where he excelled in mathematics and engineering. He was accepted by the new United States Merchant Marine Academy that Congress had authorized only two years previously. At that time, the college was a school in name only and the cadets were sent to various American flag fleets to learn their trade through study and practical experience.

The academy preferred that the cadets be assigned to passenger liners that could accommodate several on each ship. The hosting operators included American Export Lines, American President Lines, Delta Steamship, Grace, Matson, Moore McCormick and United States Lines.

John, Sr. was assigned to the United States Lines SS Washington, as a deck cadet. He would be taught the requirements for the successful navigation of the ship. (The opposite was an engineering cadet, who would be taught how to make the ship run.)

John liked to say, “I preferred being where I could see which way we were going.”  As it turned out, he was a natural as he possessed extraordinary vision, 20 / 10, and saw things in the distance before anyone else on the bridge could. 

The SS Washington and its sister ship, the SS Manhattan, operated between New York City and ports in Europe; Southampton, Hamburg and Cherbourg until September of 1939 when war broke out between the Third Reich – England and France.

Both ships were withdrawn from North Atlantic service. Even so, both were deliberatively decorated to identify as being neutral ships.  Two enormous American flags were painted on each side of their hulls. Between the flags, the name of the ship was painted in giant block upper-case letters and beneath this: UNITED STATES LINES. At night powerful floodlights lit these marking to prevent a hostile warship or submarine from misidentifying the Manhattan or Washington with another ship.

For the remainder of 1939 and the beginning of 1940, the pair ran between New York, Portugal and Spain with continuation to Naples, Italy. In mid-May when the Nazi’s lightning-fast blitzkrieg galloped through the low countries and smashed into France, the U.S. Maritime Administration requisitioned the ships and ordered them to Europe to evacuate Americans stranded there.

Washington evacuated American nationals from Bordeaux on June 3, then set sail for Lisbon arriving on June 6. Wartime complications delayed departure from Lisbon until June 11. Leaving Lisbon, Washington began its third leg of the voyage to Galway, Ireland.

The New York Times reported on June 12, 1940 that the well-lit liner was stopped southwest of Cape Finisterre by a German U-boat.

 “The submarine ordered the liner to stop, warned that she was to be torpedoed and gave a time limit of ten-minutes for leaving (the) ship. Captain (Harry) Manning, a veteran skipper and a hero of many shipping rescues stood on the bridge and personally flashed the signals that averted the pending disaster.”

“Following are the messages which were exchanged by blinker signal:”

          Submarine – ‘Stop ship.’

          Submarine – ‘Ease to, ship.’

          Submarine – ‘Torpedo ship.’

          Washington – ‘American ship.’

          Submarine – ‘Leave ship.’

Washington – “American ship.”

Submarine – ‘Ten minutes.’

Washington –‘Washington, American ship. Washington, American ship,’

“There was a pause and again:”

Washington – ‘Washington, American ship. Washington, American ship.’

Submarine – ‘Thought you were another ship. Please go on, go

on.’

My father was off duty when the confrontation began, but he double-timed his way to his emergency station once the Prepare to Abandon Ship sirens and horns blew.

By the time the ship returned to New York, newspapers could not get enough of the details. Unfortunately, or fortunately; my father’s terminally ill mother had heard the news and begged her son never to return to sea. He consented to her dying plea guaranteeing that this experience would be his last voyage.

Instead, he went to work for the New York City subways, but that only lasted until Pearl Harbor was attacked. Soon after, he joined the Army Air Force. Being a city kid, who hadn’t driven a car, he had poor eye – hand coordination and washed out of pilot training. The air force decided that he be taught to be navigator to take advantage of his remarkable eyesight.

He was assigned to a four engine B-24 named Miss America. His new crew trained in the desert of New Mexico. My mother was permitted to join him there in early 1943.

From there the crew flew the bomber to England and war. My mother returned to Ridgewood, Queens and I was born the following February.

Remarkably, he survived flying 47 missions in B-24s with the Eighth Air Force over occupied France and Nazi Germany even though Miss America and its crew were lost over the North Sea after just five missions. (My Father had been transferred to another B-24.)   

Had he remained in the merchant marine; the odds were just as bad of surviving the North Atlantic U-boat menace as they would have been serving in a B-24 bomber over Nazi Germany on daylight missions.

He didn’t know it until the war was over, but he made the right choice.

Once Upon A Time in Gotham City

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead or actual events is purely coincidental.

Gotham City is a metropolis located in the state of New Gotham. With a population of 17 million people, it has the most of everything that a mega city needs to prosper. One of these is its school system.

Long before Covid-19 descended on Gotham City, the city’s leaders faced an enormous crisis. Inspectors discovered that many of Gotham’s public schools had been constructed using liberal amounts of asbestos to insulate pipes, structural steel and other critical elements. Asbestos polluted many spaces, classrooms, kitchens, lunchrooms, and bathrooms. Everybody knew this was a fact of life, but it wasn’t until an investigative reporter for the New York Journal-American made it public in screaming headlines like: Gotham Is Home To  Killer Schools, that this outrage erupted into an instant scandal.

Tessie Apple-Sammy, the City Council chairperson proclaimed, “Heads will roll! Blah, blah, blah…”

Mayor Pissant Parker huffed and puffed, huffed, and puffed and declared: “HOW DARE THEY!”

Governor Sholmo Guano III. inferred that Parker was a, “Small minded, pot smoking jackass of dubious intellect who lacked the ability needed to run Potter’s Field on Heart & Soul Island, never mind, Gotham City.”

Trouble, trouble, trouble. Yes, we have trouble in Gotham City, with a capital T… 

The collective leadership decided to remove all asbestos over the summer and re-open in the fall. We will never know for sure, but meeting this deadline was fixed. Someone in power decided that the schools would re-open after Labor Day regardless of their actual condition. Was it, Apple-Sammy, Parker, or Guano, or was it the school superintendent, T. Ruby Maxwell IV?

MS-33, the Thomas E. Dewey Middle School for the Curious, was one of those schools. MS-33 was considered a magnet school for unique talent and the truly disruptive. The asbestos scandal broke at the worst time for Dewey. Their revered principal, Doctor H. Spencer Hezekiah, had been forced to resign for ritualistic beliefs better left unsaid.

When Chancellor Olympia (Buckwheat) Meade, Jr. confronted Dr. H and barked at him, Dr. H’s only defense was: “It’s coming, it’s coming. Time is short, but if we act now: There is still time brothers.”

Dr. H’s removal left Dewey in the hands of a crazy person who had managed to walk the line, avoid the mine field and work the system. Let us call her Peterette Paul otherwise known as Fishy.

The District Superintendent, Jackie D’Ripper, hated MS Paul and considered her to be a fool who tried to oppose her. It was not a good idea to cross Superintendent D’Ripper nor try to arm wrestle her.

By the middle of August, the lack of progress to remove the asbestos was becoming serious. Principle Paul turned out to be a paper bully. She could intimidate weak people, but MS Paul couldn’t make a hard call even if her life depended on it. She refused to make the call to re-open Dewey.

D’Ripper had had enough of this lack of willpower. On short notice, just before the school was scheduled to open, she arrived to inspect MS-33. The first classroom she inspected was sealed with plastic sheets taped across the open door, “Take down the plastic,” she demanded.

The workers did as told. D’Ripper looked inside and pronounced: “Open the fucking school.”

Where is D’Ripper when we need her now?