John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: June, 2020

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.


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


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?