John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: April, 2019

Kevin Costner’s Radio Interview

Netflix premiered the film, Highwaymen, in mid-March at selected theatres for one week to make it eligible for the 2020 awards season, a curious requirement they had to fulfill before releasing it on their proprietary network on Friday, March 29th.

A true story, so far as any Hollywood production can be considered true, it tracks two de-commissioned Texas lawmen, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault who are pressed into service to track down and kill Bonnie and Clyde.

Played by Kevin Costner (Hamer) and Woody Harrelson (Gault), they prepare to ambush Bonnie and Clyde with the assistance of three local Louisiana lawmen. Utilizing basic police work, they deduce the couple’s next move. The young murderers meet their end in a hail of automatic, rifle and shotgun fire. The Highwaymen is a decent film, but way too long for my taste.

On Thursday, March 28th, I happened to be listening in to our local morning WABC radio show featuring Bernard McGurk and Sid Rosenberg when Costner joined them by phone for a pre-planned promotional interview for the movie.

We will never know, but I believe Sid drew the short straw as the boys knew Costner was only doing this to fulfill publicity requirements. As expected, Costner sounded noticeably disinterested and bored as the interview began. Rosenberg took a different approach that caught Costner totally off guard.

“Kevin, you have starred in a number of baseball movies like Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, but I have to tell you my favorite was For the Love of the Game.”

“Mine too.” Costner responded, his enthusiasm clearly building. Rosenberg, who has an ego the size of an elephant, wisely understood not to interrupt and let Costner continue:

“We spent two weeks filming in Yankee Stadium, but it almost never happened. Two or three days before we were supposed to start, I was told that George Steinbrenner, the Yankees principal owner, had nixed the deal and banned us from the ball park.”

“It was up to me to call Steinbrenner and settle the problem. I called him, we exchanged pleasantries before I asked him what was wrong?”

“He replied: ‘I don’t like your movie because the Yankees lose.’

“George,” I responded, “It’s true that our hero pitches a perfect game against the Yankees, but he is a diminished pitcher who is at the end of his career. Sure, he ends with a perfect game, but the Yankees had already clinched the pennant and would go on to win the World Series.”

“Hearing that Steinbrenner decided he loved the concept and gave us a green light to make the movie.”

Costner paused and continued: “You know, I have never told that story to any one else before, so I guess I have given you a big scoop.”

“Oh yeah, one more thing, as luck would have it, the Yankees won the World Series that same season and Steinbrenner sent me my own World Series Championship ring. I have never worn it, that would be inappropriate, but it’s my prized possession that I keep it with my valuables.”

Having never seen For the Love of the Game, I watched it on demand the following weekend. I found it to be only fair but an enjoyable baseball movie. However, I discovered that Costner wasn’t completely honest with Steinbrenner. When the hero, Billy Chapel, pitches his gem against the Yankees, they were tied with the Boston Red Sox and the pennant was yet to be decided.

It would appear that actors like politicians can’t be trusted.      

Once Upon a Time in Coral Gables

Late in December of 1960 my father summoned me to Miami between Christmas and New Year’s Day to meet with Congressman Dante B. Fascell’s service academy selection committee. John Sr. desperately wanted me to attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy located on Kings Point, Long Island. The old man believed the competition for an appointment from Florida would be easier than from New York so he concocted a plan that I would apply using his Homestead, FL address.

(Long story short: John Sr. divorced my mother shortly after coming home from WW II. He re-married and remained on active service. In 1957 he was stationed at Homestead AFB while I lived with Mom in Ridgewood, Queens.)

My reaction on arrival; culture shock. They had Christmas lights in Florida. I thought: “How dare they! Christmas belonged to those of us who suffered through cold snowy winters. These interlopers had the sun, swimming pools and short-sleeve shirts. Who gave them the right to celebrate Christmas!”

I did meet with the selection committee; it went nowhere.

But the trip wasn’t a waste of time for me. On one of my few free days, the old man drove over to the home of Jack Roberts in Coral Gables. Jack was an Eastern Airlines pilot and was the first person I ever met who had a swimming pool in his backyard. On this day though, swimming would have to wait.

Jack announced to his two boys and me, “Pile into the car, we’re going to go watch a football practice.”

We filled the back seat, my father sat shotgun and off we went to a nearby field in Coral Gables. Jack explained who we were watching: “Boys, that’s the Midshipmen preparing for their game on New Year’s Day against the Missouri Tigers in the Orange Bowl.”

We stood there watching their drills, an experience slightly more exciting than watching grass grow or paint dry. Jack and John Sr. drifted off to speak to one of Navy’s coaches. They re-joined us as practice ended. I stood there wondering why we were wasting swimming time when the coach walked over with a midshipman dressed in a sweat-stained cut-off tee shirt and blue shorts. First thing I noticed, I was taller than him but, quickly my eyes were drawn to his enormous legs. His name was Joe Bellino.

The Washington Post noted: “Deceptively fast, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Bellino said he was never tackled from behind. His legs were so heavily muscled that he had to cut slits in the back of his football pants to make them fit.”

“All I know is that I was quick,” (Bellino) told the Baltimore Sun in 2010. “I wasn’t big in the shoulders or waist, but my legs were stocky, and I was built low to the ground. I could run straight, or sideways, without losing any speed.”

Bellino first greeted Roberts and my father with the respect due an Eastern Airlines captain and a USAF Major. Moving on to us kids, Roberts introduced us as we shook his hand. He wore a smile easily and joked around with us before leaving for the locker room.

The thought of asking for an autograph seemed out of the question, but all three of us were genuinely impressed by this football hero who spoke to us.

Back at Mr. Roberts’ house, we charged into the pool for a good time, but observed Mr. Roberts posted warning sign: “IF YOU PISS IN MY POOL – I’LL SWIM IN YOUR TOILET BOWL”

Despite this disappointment, Joe Bellino was awarded the 1960 Heisman Trophy as the best college football player in the nation. Labeled, “Jolting Joe” and the “Winchester Rifle,” in honor of his Massachusetts home town, he broke every running record at Navy. Annapolis retired his number. 

Arthur Daly, then the dean of The New York Times sportswriters scribed:” Of recent years the Navy has developed at least two tremendous weapons. One is the Polaris missile and the other is Joe Bellino’”

Red Smith, then writing for the New York Herald Tribune noted: “(He) wriggles like a brook trout through congested traffic.”

For the Service Academies, their clashes against each other are paramount. And the greatest rivalry is Army versus Navy. In the 1959 contest Bellino scored three touchdowns including two scoring runs of 15 and 46 yards and, playing both ways, he intercepted an Army pass to set up another Navy TD. Final score: Navy 43, Army 12.

The following year’s game was much closer, but the Midshipmen prevailed 17-12. “Bellino ran for 85 yards, caught two passes, scored a touchdown, returned kickoffs and at game’s end, intercepted an Army pass on Navy’s goal line to preserve the win.”

After I returned to Ridgewood, I watched my newly adopted Midshipman lose the Orange Bowl to the Tigers: 21-14 on New Year’s Day…and so it goes.

Bellino fulfilled his service obligation played two years in the pros for the Patriots before finding an ordinary American life back home in small town Massachusetts.

Reading his obituary in Newsday on April3, 2019 reminded me my father’s scheme, my first winter break and meeting my first football hero. Joe Bellino, RIP.

On the Outside Looking In will not publish on April 17 and will resume om April 24.

Our Honored Dead

Robert McCallum is an engraver for the Granite Industries of Vermont located in Barre. “McCallum has been making headstones for over 18 years. He has nine years to go before he can retire with a union pension.”

He leaves his home in darkness every working day so he can clock-in by 6 AM, for his eight-hour shift that allows him time to pick up his daughter when school ends. Each shift, he first applies stencils on approximately 30 tombstones that he uses to engrave the particulars of the fallen

Asked if a tomb stone stands out in his memory, he mentioned Ross McGinnis who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2008. “McGinnis was only 19 when he threw himself on top of a grenade that was thrown into his Humvee in Bagdad. His body absorbed most of the blast, saving the other men inside. I feel sad that McGinnis and these others couldn’t live their lives. They died for their brothers. In my eyes, they did their duty to the fullest.”

Last fall, The New York Times profiled families who lost loved ones on the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan during our wars without end.  The essay by John Ismay about McCallum, “Carving Thousands of Headstones,” was the exception. McCallum survived his stint in Iraq with the Charlie Company, 368th Engineering Battalion of the US Army Reserve. He was a construction supervisor, paving roads during our invasion.

The 368th is housed in armories located across southern Vermont and New Hampshire and Charlie Company is based in Londonderry NH. Units like the 368th have been regularly called-up to active duty several times to serve in these perpetual conflicts that ensued following the slaughter of the innocents on September 11, 2001. It is a fact that the Regular Army cannot function without these reservists. McCallum retired from the reserves in 2011 with the rank of staff sergeant.


After Fort Sumpter fell on April 13, 1861, the Union War Department was remarkably prescient that the ensuing conflict would produce massive casualties. The army issued General Order 75 on September 11, 1861 making commanders responsible for burials and marking graves. Quartermaster General, Montgomery Meigs chose to appropriate Robert E. Lee’s estate to establish Arlington National Cemetery. Wooden headstones that averaged a cost of $1.23 were used to mark the dead, but the life-expectancy of these boards was no more than five years. With the total recovered dead estimated to be around 300,000 the replacement cost would exceed $1 million over a 20-year period.

In 1873, the Secretary of War, William W. Belknap, set the first standards for stone markers. Made from granite or other durable stone, each marker would measure four inches thick, 10 inches wide and 12 inches high. Above the ground the stone was polished and the top slightly curved. Each stone displayed its number, the soldier’s rank, name and the state he served. In 1903, the height was increased to 30 inches, the width to 12 inches and the thickness to four inches. Over the years everything about these tombstones evolved as we evolved.


Like Robert McCallum, Eddie Puckett was a modern-day stone cutter employed by the Georgia Marble Company. “Eddie figures he’s made 300,000 to 400,000 headstones for soldiers and their spouses during nearly 40 years of work.” So wrote Anna Varela for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“For most of my career I made replacement tombstones for the ones that wear out after 50-years or updated existing ones to include spouses. The past few years have been different, though. With the war in Iraq, there are more names and death dates for soldiers recently fallen. These are most bothersome. I’ve done headstones for all the other wars that you can name – from the Revolutionary War on up. But you kind of feel for the Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers because it’s an ongoing thing.”

Arlington is a solemn oasis across the Potomac from DC.  I witnessed the formality, respect and precision of the service there during my father’s internment. From start to finish every aspect of his service personified our nation’s honor and respect.

Arlington, of course, is where John F. Kennedy was laid to rest. Nobody described it better than Jimmy Breslin in “Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor:”

Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on his khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hattie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. “Polly, could you please be here by eleven O’clock this morning?” Kwalchik asked. “I guess you know what it’s for.” Pollard did. He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

When Pollard got to the row of yellow wooden garages where the cemetery equipment is stored, Kawalchik and John Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, were waiting for him, “Sorry to put you out like this on a Sunday,” Metzler said. “Oh, don’t say that,” Pollard said. “Why it’s an honor for me to be here.”

Pollard was 42 a veteran of World War II. Breslin concluded:

One of the last to serve JFK, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.