John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: December, 2013


My late, great friend, Richard Byrd Sullivan, never had a problem telling it like he saw it. We regularly rode home together on the Long Island Railroad’s Port Washington branch. Occasionally, we’d enjoy libations procured from those Pennsylvania Station bartenders who tended their portable carts on the boarding platforms. Sully would command: “Dewar’s, rocks, in a small cup.” My rejoinder: “Make that two.”

Sully didn’t mince words, never accepted grey as an answer and never suffered fools, charlatans, or b.s. artists. He wasn’t always right, but he was always certain. One night leafing through his evening NY Post, he saw this photo of Wellington Mara, then the owner and boss of the New York Football Giants. He studied Mara’s piercing eyes, his square chin and mischievous grin that seemed to say: “Go ahead, try me.”

Sully hit the page with the back of his hand and commanded of me; “Delach, that man was a gyrene!”

“Richard B.” I questioned, “What in hell is a gyrene?”

“J.D., you dumb sh–, a Marine, a Marine! That’s what we swabbies called them.”

“Well, you dumb swabbie, Mara was f—ing Navy just like you.”

“Delach, I don’t believe you. Look at that face; that’s the face of a gyrene.”

I knew to argue further was fruitless and, anyway, to go by appearances, Sully was right, Mara looked like a Marine.

I thought about that as I read the newspaper on November 22, 2013. Among the cascade of articles about John F. Kennedy’s death that day 50 years ago, one in the NY Times profiled the Marines assigned to Arlington the day of the President was murdered. These Marines were ordered to duty once word of his death became known, they met our slain leader’s body at the White House on Friday night, took him into the East Room, stood guard, then escorted him to the Capital. They carried the casket up to the Rotunda, again stood guard during the viewing, returned the President down those steep, almost seemingly endless Capital steps, set his casket upon the horse-drawn caisson, escorted him to Arlington and delivered him to his grave.

They were young eager Americans and the Times’ story profiled four of their experiences that day, their military service, what they did on leaving the service and who they are today. The profile included recent photos of each of them, all now in their 70s.

John Cunningham, “I was an accidental participant at a turning point in history.” Mr. Cunningham served in Nam became disillusioned with the war and voted for George McGovern in 1972.


Lamont Pittman, “It stopped them from sending me to Viet Nam. Racial prejudice saved my life.” Mr. Pittman, the only black Marine in the honor guard, believes that the Marines were so impressed by his professionalism in his service at Arlington that they did not replace him with another black Marine during his tour of duty.


Bill Lee, “You leave no footprints. No one is watching you, but you are part of history.” Lieutenant Lee led the silent drill platoon during the President’s funeral. To this day, his troops still hold him in awe. Mr. Pittman reflected about serving under Mr. Lee, “He was a father figure for us, a stern disciplinarian who talked a lot about what being a man was about. I was comforted by him.”


Tom Cheeks, “We were kids totally focused on doing our duty as well we could.” Then 20, today, a retired insurance executive, he reflected about how quiet it was as they escorted the caisson along Pennsylvania Avenue. “And then a woman yelled out Kennedy’s name. A shiver went through me and I thought, ‘That’s the President of the United States inside there.”

Powerful recollections but it was the photos the Times carried of these old men that drew me in most of all. Sullivan’s long-ago comments about Mara rushed back. Each man had the same features, squared shoulders back, chins out, hands in front either clasped together or in their front pockets, thumbs out, short hair, square jaws, steely eyes; no doubt, gyrenes:

Semper Fi!

Giants vs. Lions October 21, 1962

Authors note: Set out at the end of this post is a remarkably clear photograph taken during a game between the New York Football Giants and the Detroit Lions in 1962. It was shot from the closed end of Yankee Stadium looking out toward the outfield bleachers. The colors are so vivid that the photographer must have used Kodachrome film. My son recently discovered this photo on an obscure internet site. With my daughter’s help, we uploaded it to this post making this endeavour a family undertaking.

In 1962, at the age of eighteen, I purchased a season ticket paying for it in cash. The cost was $35.50, $5.00 dollars a game times seven home games plus a fifty cents service charge. I purchased this ticket in person at the Giants’ office then located at 10 Columbus Circle from a woman behind a barred window that resembled a teller’s cage in a bank.

At eighteen, I was over-the-top in my anticipation to begin seeing my new-found heroes in person, but the schedule delayed my quest. The New York Yankees, the prime team in Yankee Stadium, as expected, made it to the World Series where they beat the San Francisco Giants, The Football Giants were relegated to road warriors for the first four games of that season, opening with a loss to  the Cleveland Browns. They made up this loss beating the Eagles, Steelers and Cardinals prior to playing their first home game in Yankee Stadium. On that delightful autumn afternoon, October 14, 1962, my brand new team of record let me down by losing my very first home opener to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-17.

The Lions were next and came into this game with a record of 4 and 1 having beaten the Steelers, 49ers, Colts and Rams but having lost to their rivals, the Greenbay Packers, 9-7. 

Back then, the Giants home games had a scheduled starting time of 2:05 pm that was in deference to the then existing New York blue laws that prohibited the sale of alcohol including beer before 1 pm on Sundays. This allowed Harry M Stevens, the stadium’s concessionaire, an hour and change lead time prior to kickoff to sell his frothy beverages to the sell-out crowd. The game that day was played on a drop-dead beautiful autumnal afternoon captured in this photograph by the delightful views of the bleacher crowd basking in the mild October weather. It is mostly male and white as it would be today, but it reflected the dress standards of the time. While a good number of these men are in shirtsleeves, they wear what we would call today, business shirts. And every shirt is the same color; white.

Others have on jackets, some wear ties and some, hats too. But, not baseball caps; they sport head coverings that we used to call fedoras.

Those were magnificent times to be a Giants fan and have the privilege  to have a ticket admitting you to Yankee Stadium to see the likes of Y.A.Tittle, Del Shofner, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli and Roosevelt Grier. I was a City kid without a car or a driver’s license who rode the subways to the game. My journey began in Ridgewood, Queens to Union Square where I transferred to the IRT Jerome Avenue train on the Lexington Avenue Line, (today the Number 4 train.)

Attending the games was a gift. Those train rides were exciting. VIPs rode the rails. I saw Jim Farley, the former Postmaster General and power broker board the train at 86th Street several times wearing his tweeds and carrying his walking stick. What a thrill to be in the company of a swell like Mr. Farley!

Nothing was greater than the thrill to be on that train when it broke free from the subway tunnel just south of the stadium and brilliant light flooded the cars as the train emerged into the noon time glare as the train turned north onto River Avenue. We caught an all too brief glimpse of the field as the train sped past the stadium before easing into the 161st Street station. The crowd stampeded out onto the platform, descended onto River Avenue and into the atmosphere of stale beer, cigar smoke, hot dogs, peanuts and the anticipation of the game. 

The photograph resurrects memories of that day. Look at people sitting on the field. The band: wearing scarlet uniforms sits behind the end zone in left field, to the right, under the Coca-Cola sign, fans sit on folding chairs in front of the Yankees’ monuments in center field. This was where the Giants arranged for people in wheelchairs to watch the game. Most of the people in folding chairs were their companions and this was 1962, long before ADA!

Above that same Coca-Cola sign, others watch from the IRT elevated station. This prized perch was by invitation only exclusively offered on a “who you knew” basis from some unknown Transit supervisor. 

The photograph captures an ordinary pass play. Y.A. Tittle (14), the Giants quarterback is setting up to throw what could be a screen pass to his halfback, Joe Morrison (40) who is moving to Tittle’s left. Ahead of Morrison, tackle, Rosey Brown (79) zones in on Lions’ outside linebacker, Wayne Walker (55). Behind them, middle linebacker, Joe Schmidt (56) is tracking Morrison but tackle, Roger Brown (76) seems to be holding back. Defensive end, Sam Williams (88) is charging Tittle unimpeded up the middle having gotten by Giants guard, Darrell Dess (62) while Giants halfback, Phil King (24) and tackle, Jack Stroud (66) double-team an unidentified Lions player, probably Alex Karras (71). Giants tight end, Joe Walton (80) is peeling off to the right on his pass route under the watchful eye of corner back, Dick Lebeau (44) while Lions  outside linebacker, Carl Brettschneider (57) makes his rush from the Tittle’s blind side having beaten Giants guard, Greg Larson (53). 

A marvelous photograph, the colors so vivid that they shock the senses, and yet, only a photograph of an ordinary play taken on a sunny afternoon at the big ballpark in The Bronx. Brilliant!

 For those of you keeping score: the Giants won 17-14 giving the Lions their second defeat of the season. 

Despite gaining revenge on the Packers later on Thanksgiving by smothering them 26-14, that was the only loss Green Bay would endure in 1962 finishing 13-1. The Lions finished second in the West with an 11-3 record losing the last game of the season in Chicago, 3-0. 

The Giants didn’t lose another game that season winning the NFL Eastern Division with a record of 12-2, but we lost to the Packers in the NFL Championship Game, 16-10 in a frigid and wind-swept Yankee Stadium on December 30th.    Image

The Bar at the Top of the World

World View is a new “space tourism company,” already part of group called Inspiration Mars that proposes launching two people into space in 2018 to enjoy a flyby of that Red Planet. But World View’s primary ambition is considerably closer to home. They propose to lift up to six people at a time plus a crew of two 18.5 miles above the earth in a capsule tethered to a large balloon. Here’s how the New York Times described the concept:

“This is a very gentle flight that will last for hours aloft,” said Jane Poynter, World View’s chief executive. She said the cabin would be about the size of that of a private jet, and would have a “superbly comfortable, luxurious interior where you can get up and stand upright and move around and go back to the bar and get a drink.”


The entire experience will last about six hours including a two-hour ascent beneath the balloon, two additional hours drifting along in the heavens and a two-hour descent after jettisoning the balloon as the capsule glides back to Mother Earth under an inflated parasail.

The article noted that 18.5 miles is technically not space as real space starts at the 62-mile altitude. So the participants will not be actual astronauts. World View doesn’t believe this will be a turn-off, but, at $75,000 a pop, it doesn’t seem that a certificate signed by the pilot saying:

This is to certify that Mr/Ms___________ ascended to ________miles, or________feet above the planet Earth on ___ of _________, 20__                                                                                    


will be of much value especially once a couple of hundred people make the journey and start displaying like certificates.

Also, five or six hours is a long time to peer out a tiny window at basically the same scenery watching as it shrinks in size while the surrounding sky becomes darker and darker. Sounds a bit boring, even after a drink or two.

Now, please, do not think that I am ridiculing Ms. Poynter or her gang at World View. Not at all; this is a terrific concept, it’s just that their market focus is just a bit off. They need creativity; less Cape Kennedy and more Las Vegas, less NASA and more Carnival Cruises, less Neil Armstrong and more Steve Wynn. Move the entire operation out to the Mexican desert and re-name it: The Sky High Vegas Party Club.

And what a club. “You may belong to the ‘Mile High Club’ but how about the ‘20 Mile High Club?” (Not to worry, a little exaggeration goes a long way!) Not just booze, but gambling and girls, Girls and GIRLS. Now doesn’t that make $75,000 a throw considerably more reasonable and if the gambling takes off (pun intended) the price can come down to an economical $49,999.

I picture theme rides. True this will be mainly marketed to guys in view of Vegas being a haven for bachelor parties and conventions but also cater to couples, ladies only and the entire L.G. B. TG.TS. market.

Why the MexicanDesert? To escape the long reach of Uncle Sam. It seems that even 18- miles up is not beyond the jurisdiction of the F.A.A. and you know what that means, the T.S.A. and all of their rules, prohibitions, pat downs and body searches. Yuck!

So, it’s adios Estados Unidos and viva Mexico. At first participants will be flown from Vegas to the base in the Mexican desert, but as more and more people see the base, there will be a great opportunity to build a new resort near the launch site. And it won’t take long to grow in popularity as theses crazy kids come to realize how “joyful” the resort can be:

Up, up and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon…