John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: October, 2013

Once Upon a Time in Keene, New Hampshire


The Keene Swamp Bats are one of thirteen teams belonging to the New England Collegiate Baseball League where undergraduates hone their batting and fielding skills in a short summer season from Mid-June until early August. Players come from schools as far away as Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Texas and Washington though the majority come from Northeastern colleges, schools like St. Johns, Franklin Pierce, Southern NH and Central CT. They live with local host families and hire out to local businesses as part-time workers to earn some spending money.

The thirteen teams are scattered from Saratoga, NY (the Brigade) to Sanford, ME (the Mainers). On July 5, a hot Friday evening we decided to take in the game between the Swamp Bats and the Holyoake Blue Sox at Alumni Field adjacent to the Keene High School. Our family has had a summer place in Marlow; a town about 22 miles outside of Keene for 29 years and this summer was the first time that we thought about taking in  one of their games. In fact, the main reason for our decision came about because we were given 30 passes to their games by a local retailer, Sid’s Carpet and Snooze Room, when my wife, Mary Ann, bought some new furniture.

We picked that Friday as our family was at the Marlow house for the 4th. Eleven of us; two seniors, four adults and five kids, schlepped into Keene first for dinner at Ramundos, a local pizza restaurant, and then on to Alumni Field. We arrived at the ancient ball park halfway through the first inning and found that the home team had attracted a good-size crowd for a Friday night. As we entered, we passed a sleek Peter Pan bus idling off to the side, the driver preferring its cozy A.C. to watching his charges before he’d wisk the Blue Sox back to Holyoake once the contest had ended. We handed in eleven passes to the senior volunteers saving $4.00 for each adult and $2.00 for each senior and kid. In return the gate keeper stamped the top of each wrist with a purple blob that kind of resembled the Swamp Bats logo.

We made our way past food and concession stands to the seating areas. We had a choice of small rickety bleacher stands behind the home plate cage, a sizeable covered grandstand along the first-base line that resembled the ball parks of yesteryear, only much smaller, and an old open bleacher along the third-base side. This last was mostly empty so we headed there. Our chosen nest turned out to be behind enterprising local fans who knew better and sat on the field in all manner of lawn chairs placed in a row along a white line drawn on the grass about ten feet from the third-base foul line. From these perches, they called encouragement to their favorite players and serenaded them with cow bells and tin horns.

Our grand kids participated in a couple of staged events between innings,; a sack race and a balloon sitting contest while the 11 year-old, Matt, spent his time unsuccessfully trying to retrieve foul balls being out hustled by local boys who knew the lay of the land.

The game moved along in typical baseball fashion when out of nowhere, a man shouted Mary Ann’s name and came over to see her. He was a fellow we knew from back home in Port Washington, William, a computer geek who has helped us through years of computer problems. Unbeknownst to us, he was in the process of moving from Long Island to Keene and he decided to attend this game on a whim never having seen a Swamp Bats game previously himself.

How crazy was that? So crazy that it eclipsed the unusual outcome of the game. The Blue Sox lead 6-3 with three innings to play when a foul ball struck the home plate umpire’s wrist fracturing it. Poor ump! PoorSwamp Bats, the game was terminated at that point allowing Holyoake to secure a victory to savor on their early bus ride south.

When the City Died at Sea


One year ago, so called Superstorm Sandy struck the NewYork Bight, a nearly right angle bend at the mouth of the Hudson River that extends  from Cape May inlet to Montauk Point. The New York Bight  is considered to be a high danger zone for a tropical storm generated ocean-water surges. Every hurricane season, forecasters warn of the destruction a mega-storm would bring. On October 25, 2012 this threat became a reality.

Pick your place of dreams, Rockaway, Staten Island, Long Beach, or the Jersey Shore. A place of quiet and charm, on the water, away from the noise, the clutter, the things that make Gotham intolerable to ever consider living there. Sure, the Big Apple provides the infrastructure, money, the halls of commerce inviting people to come on board, make a good living, succeed and have the opportunity to grow, to prosper and seek to achieve the American Dream. But who wants to live there?

These places of refuge provided safe alternative to leave it all behind when the work day, or, more importantly, the work week ends. Places where people let their burdens go, as their pressures and the frustrations drift away. When the ferry touches shore at St. George, or a c, bus or train crosses a bridge and reaches Broad Channel, Rockaway, Long Beach or towns along the Shore, escape is at hand. Soon these people will be home, safe, happy and in their own element.

But, there is a trade off. By choosing to live by the beach, the water dwellers accept the challenge of the unforgiving sea. This, their ultimate fear is subsumed by the challenges of every day life, relegated to the background, rarely discussed, even when state and City fathers need to drum up “Armageddon” scenarios at the start of each hurricane season. Poor garbage collection, ordinary post-storms power restoration and slow snow removal after a typical City snow storm are enough to worry about.

But this time, it all went wrong. The enemy was the sea. The one they always warned about, the one that was the unthinkable, the “what if,” doomsday storm. This time the jet stream left the coast unprotected. A combination of a full moon, high tide and Sandy slamming into southern New Jersey produced winds and a surge that drove the Atlantic west back into the Jersey Shore, through the Narrows into New York Harbor up the Hudson and East Rivers flooding coastal Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

It clobbered the historic islands in the Upper Harbor, Liberty, Ellis and Governor’s flooding all of the low-lying buildings. Fortunately, the Statue of Liberty, Castle Clinton, Fort Jay and the Grand Hall did not suffer water damage, but the infrastructure was severely damaged.

Next, it flooded Lower Manhattan, the East Side, claimed office buildings, the WorldTradeCenter memorial, NYU and Bellevue hospitals, inundated most of the subway tubes and the two automobile tunnels under the East River. Eighty-six million gallons of the Hudson River poured into the Hugh Carey-Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The surge covered runways at LaGuardia and JFK.

The engineers on duty that night at Penn Station saved their charge. When they received word of how high the surge would be, they made a conscience decision to open the flood gates protecting the two Hudson River tunnels to funnel the inundation into the tubes across to New Jersey and away from the station. As a result of their action, these tunnels were closed for three days. If not, the station with all of its signals, electrical equipment and switches would have been out for weeks.

The surge swept the auto receiving yards and container docks at Port Newark and Port Elizabeth, raced up the Hudson River flooding trendy Hoboken wrecking PATH, the old Hudson and Manhattan Tubes. Still, further north, the Hudson topped Metro North’s Hudson Division flinging boats and debris onto tracks and flooding nearby factories and warehouses in Westchester.

Sandy sent a monstrous wall of water into shore communities along the length of Long Island crushing its barrier islands. Starting in the west at Sea Gate, it spread across Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay, east along the entire Rockaway peninsular striking vulnerable Breezy Point where wind, rain and fire conspired to incinerate more than one hundred homes and water damage the rest: R.I.P. Breezy Point.

Long Beach, JonesBeach and Fire Island were clobbered. Waterfront communities along Jamaica Bay and the Great South Bay were not spared; Broad Channel, IslandPark, Freeport, Amityville, etc. The life that these folks signed onto ceased to exist. Even the train line to Long Beach and the subway line that stretched across JamaicaBay weren’t spared. The surge destroyed electrical sub-stations, tore up the tracks and washed away the fill that supported them.

The beach communities along the NorthShore and Connecticut received their dose of Sandy as the tide rose in Long Island Sound and winds pushed the surge west back towards the City drowning coastal sections of towns like Port Jefferson, Bayville and Fairfield.

Thousands of homes were wrecked, a plethora of cars destroyed and those beach life-styles, carefully planned, cultivated and developed are gone, gone as if they never existed. The shore communities will never be the same. Homes may be rebuilt but minds cannot be and the daunting question will remain for all who live near the water and survived: “Do I stay, do I rebuild? And what will happen the next time something this evil comes my way?”

Thank You for Not Smoking

I recently stayed three nights at a Westin Hotel in Kansas City which, as you would expect, was 100% smoke free except for the odd-guest guiltily puffing away outside the lobby, but at a discreet distance from the entrance. Even the most hard core smoker has been chastised into submission by rules, regulations, custom and the moral code of our non-smoking society. Thank goodness for that, but it caused me to reflect on the bad old days when smoking was considered a right on a par with eating red meat, drinking excessively and driving “big ass” cars and trucks. Back in those days, woe be the non-smoker who asserted themselves to ask, “Would you mind putting that out?”


And less we forget that long, hard struggle; let us recall some of the stops along the journey. Take flying in commercial airplanes. It wasn’t that long ago that once the airplane was airborne, the no smoking light went off with a commanding “BLINK” and we were free to light up our choice of tobacco product be it a cigar, pipe or cigarette. Back then you knew if the captain was a full fledged smoker he would turn off the sign the instant that the wheels left the runway. Addicted smokers who were veteran flyers sat poised, a pack in one hand, lighter in the other prepared to light up on the sound of that “blink.”


Eventually, the transition began. First to go were pipes and cigars. That helped a bit but the next step was the dumbest; creating smoking and non-smoking sections on the same airplane. Separate sections but we all breathed the same re-circulated air! Then smoking was banned on all flights under two hours. This made some sense but created dilemmas for flights between cities like New York and Chicago. Nominally, this is a two-hour flight but, depending on traffic and weather conditions, it can be as short as an hour and a half or well over two hours. Never officially confirmed but many of us believed health conscious airlines scheduled their flights to O’Hare for less than two hours while those who remained safe havens for smokers added time to theirs.


Finally, banned on all domestic flights, the right to smoke ended internationally first on domestic carriers, then on all flights to and from the United States and finally on most flights everywhere. Likewise, limitations spread as to where one could light up in airport terminals as it did in all public places. In its last vestige, special rooms were created with their own exhaust system. I recall one in Los Angeles that was a small, square, glass-enclosed affair. The smokers put on display looked, felt and played the part of degenerate outcasts.


I can tell you the exact moment when I realized that the war was lost and I had to give up my prized cigars and quit smoking. I was going to London on a TWA night flight from JFK on a winter evening. When the car service arrived at the airport, I saw this business man standing outside Terminal 7, his suit collar turned up in a vain attempt to fight the cold. He looked miserable, but endured this discomfort so he could smoke his stogie. By then I no longer puffed on a cigar while flying, but I could still easily devour twenty Marlboros between New York and London. But the thought of that other guy told me it was over; game, set and match.


Today, we rarely encounter other peoples’ smoke, but when those odd times occur and we unwittingly are hit full-force by a puff of exhaled cigarette smoke the jolt to the system is an unwelcome reminder of just how bad those bad old days were.

An Incredible Story

James Muri passed away on February 3, 2013 and his obituary ran in the NY Times on Feb. 10. Ninety-four at the time of his death, 71 years earlier, when Mr. Muri was only 23, he was part of a failed attempt to sink the Japanese fleet at the battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.

The battle of Midway was the major battle that turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. It was fought over three days that early June. Prior to the battle, American cryptologists had broken the Imperial Japanese Naval Code, but only in part. They knew the next invasion would come at a location designated, Area AF. But great controversy evolved about where AF was located. The brass at the Pentagon were sure it was the Aleutian Islands, but the code breakers at Pearl Harbor were sure it was MidwayIsland. They won the day when they sent a message to Midway via a secure underwater telephone cable that the island garrison was running out of water and told the commander in charge of Midway to broadcast it back to Pearl in plain, un-coded language. Sure enough, The Japanese intelligence operatives advised Tokyo that AF was running out of water.

Every force available was geared up for action. The navy only had three carriers operating in the Pacific; the Yorktown, the Enterprise and the Hornet. Despite the enormous risk of loss, all were committed to the battle. But the islands that comprised Midway itself, one named Sand, another Eastern constituted a fourth and an unsinkable aircraft carrier from which to launch strikes against the Japanese fleet. A ragtag and eclectic collection of airplanes and crews were dispatched to Midway to go into harm’s way.

First Lieutenant James Muri of the Army Air Corps piloted a B-26 Marauder light bomber. The AAC had designated the airplane as Hull No. 1391, but Muri had named it after his wife, Susie Q. He and his crew were at Hickam Field in Oahu, awaiting orders to join other bombers from his squadron in Australia when he and three other B-26 captains still at Hickam were ordered to fly their airplanes to Midway and report to the navy. On arrival, they were informed that their bombers were going to be used as torpedo attack planes. One can only imagine the look and feeling of incongruity on their behalf they received their orders. Army Air Corp pilots have as much idea as to how to attack a ship as they do attacking an iceberg and the use of torpedoes was completely alien to them. Nevertheless, an order is an order no matter how insane it is. To make matters worse, the launching system for the torpedo was jury-rigged under the bomb bay.

For the record, crews never trained in naval warfare were ordered to make torpedo attacks against a superior enemy in airplanes never designed to fly in this manner without any real practice. Brilliant! Only the military could have come up with such a mission, even granted the critical nature of the battle.

Lt. Muri and his crew took off at dawn on the morning of June 4 and joined the other aircraft flying toward the reported position of the Japanese fleet. As they drew close, they were attacked by a number of the excellent Japanese fighters, the Zero, whose pilots were protecting their prize possessions, the four aircraft carriers that they called home. All three crewmen, the gunners in the rear of, Susie Q, were wounded during the flight to the fleet. Shot up, Muri pressed on and tried to launch the torpedo. It jammed, but somewhere in the attack, it fell into the water.

The captain of the carrier Muri attacked saw the danger and ordered an emergency turn into the wake of the torpedo speeding toward it. This presented Muri with the choice of flying down the carrier’s deck, front to back which is precisely what he did.  His obituary included his description of this experience, “The guns were all pointing out. It was the safest place to be. I always said we could have touched down if we lowered the gear.”

Without the weight of the torpedo, the B-26 finally outran the pursuing Zeros and made it back to Midway, shot up with a badly wounded crew. They say that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing and the wreck that landed at Midway that afternoon tested that theory. The crew counted over 500 bullet holes before they gave up with half the airplane to go. Every man survived; a miracle into itself.

Of the sixty-two airplanes that took off from Midway on June 4, 1942, thirty-three were lost, all without scoring even one hit on any ship in the Japanese fleet. Then, in the blink of an eye, dive bombers from the Navy’s carriers found the fleet and sank three of the four Japanese carriers. The war in the Pacific turned just like that. The last Japanese carrier succumbed two days later. Midway was a victory in spite of all of the things that went wrong that could have prevented it from being so. Walter Lord called it in his book, Incredible Victory.

Martin Caidin, an American World War II aviation historian included the exploits of Lt. Muri in his book called, The Rugged, Ragged Warriors. He ended the book with an affectionate description of what was left of Susie Q: “On the side of the Midway airstrip, several men swathed in bandages, went out for a long look at Old 1391. The Marauder stood at an ungainly angle, her skin punctured and blackened. She was a wreck. They say it is possible for an airplane to look tired. This one looked it.”

RIP James Muri