John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

La Pointe du Hoc

The last stop on the bus we take from outside the American Cemetery to Grandcamp-Maisy turns out to be opposite, La Ferme du Colombier, the inn / B&B where we will stay for the next two nights. It is quite a complex. In season, it is something like a resort, offering economy rooms and extensive camping facilities. Their appealing restaurant is also a bargain. We enjoy a late lunch and dinner there that day. Don, a CPA, calculates that the total cost for our rooms, lunch and dinner including eight bottles of wine is $125 per couple. Viva la France, viva Normandy!

After lunch, we set out to see if it is feasible to reach La Pointe du Hoc from Grandcamp-Maisy on foot. We discover that this is another fishing village and a coastal destination during the summer season. Many stores and restaurants are already closed for the season and display signs in their widows reminding the public that they will re-open next May.

A rainsquall strikes just as we leave town. We jointly decide that continuing this quest is a fool’s errand. We agree that returning to the B&B is our best course. Undoubtedly, this course of action contributes to the consumption of those eight bottles of wine.

Tuesday, October 24, 2000: We are scheduled to leave Normandy by van at  eleven a.m. with all our worldly luggage. Our next destination is, Pontorson, the town nearby the Abbey at Mont St. Michelle, the famous abbey located on an island with the same name. Today, a highway built on an artificial berm keeps it connected to the mainland even during high tides.

Again, I wake up early, a blessing rather than a curse as it allows me to make solo explorations. I make my way into town to buy Francs from an ATM. Twilight reveals a fishing town fully awake and engaged in the business of unloading catches and processing the fish for sale in town and boxing them in ice for loading into vans and trucks for delivery to other destinations.

The tide is high, the gates to the locks are open, and fishing boats continue to enter the port. On a covered part of the quay, fishmongers are already hard at work arranging fixed metal tables with  beds of ice and depositing a variety of fresh caught species for individual and commercial customers.

It seems that the entire town and surrounding communities have turned out to participate in the beehive like activity of unloading catches and separating these fish for sale locally and shipment to other destinations. I take it all in as I realize how lucky I am to enjoy this wonderful though ordinary experience.

Back at in inn, I join Mary Ann and our mates for breakfast. Fascinated by my telling of what the port was before dawn, we return only to find the activity has shifted and fish mongers are now busy selling the catches on this, the village’s fisherman’s market day.

We reassemble in the Inn’s courtyard, just before our van is scheduled to arrive. Peggy has a quiet conversation with the driver who agrees with her request that we make a stop at La Pointe du Hoc. Peggy is our hero for pulling this off and this opportunity is an excellent experience.

The struggle at La Pointe du Hoc played an important role in the D-day landings. The Germans had installed massive cannons at the top of these 100-foot cliffs and on June 6, 1944, 200 US Army Rangers using ropes and ladders scaled those cliffs to destroy those guns. Almost half the unit was lost or wounded taking the German positions. The site of this struggle is the memorial we are seeking.

The field of battle is well groomed, but it remains in the same condition as it was when the battle ended. Debris has been removed, but the shell and bomb holes remain as do the reinforced concrete fortifications, some blown apart and others, still standing intact. The bunker where the big guns were supposed to be mounted stands empty and damaged, the same way the rangers found it on D-Day. The Germans had removed those cannons to escape the heavy bombing attacks prior to the invasion. The irony is that they were unable to re-install these guns once the invasion began. Eventually the rangers discovered them laying under camouflage in a farmer’s field where they destroyed  those guns.

Such are the quirks of the battlefield. Still, those surviving rangers removed the Nazis from a strategic height that dominates Omaha Beach.

As we drive away from the Normandy beaches, we pass through St. Lo, the town where General George Patton’s Third Army began its massive offensive that would clear the Nazi army out of central France and Paris. Our visit to the Normandy beaches is a home run for all of us and I am pleased to remove it from my bucket list.       

Colleville and the American Cemetery: Part Three if My Normandy Chronicles

We receive a warm welcome once we finally reach our Colleville B&B. The women who run it  treat us to sandwiches, cheese, wine and Calvados. Although warm and friendly, our B&B is small, I mean, really small. Except for Mike and Peggy, the four of us are rookies when it comes to casual European  accommodations. We finally understand what, “En Suite” means. As we relax over wine and cheese, our hosts explain that only one of the rooms has its own bathroom or, as it is said, is furnished en suite. Since Don and Helen already paid their dues, that room  belongs to them.

Our room rate is FF 120, or $21. Mary Ann and I take one look at the size of the bed and agree, there is no way we can sleep together in that tiny thing. Separate rooms are in order. Since we are their only guests, our hosts jump at my request for a second bedroom.

The shower presents a different challenge. Our hosts have booked a restaurant for us directly behind Omaha Beach. Showers and quasi-dress clothes are imperatives. The communal shower is tucked into a corner of the common bathroom. I must enter through two doors sideways as they are cattycornered to each other. I successfully squeeze in, but, once inside, movement is difficult and, of course, I drop the mini bar of soap. I do succeed in showering despite my vison of knocking the stall over in my attempt to retrieve my bar of soap. When I relate this story later at dinner, Helen takes delight and relief in explaining: “The same thing happened to me.”

There is only one taxi in town, so we travel in two parties of three. We men go first so we can correct any problems. Fortunately, there aren’t any, and all is in good order. The restaurant is charming, and the food and drink are to our liking. Over dinner, we make the decision not to hike the next day. Peggy has scheduled us to walk 14 miles to Grandcamp-Maisy, our next destination. But after enduring the toll from today’s 12-mile slog,  we decide we need a break. Besides, we want to visit Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. We agree, instead to take a bus to our next B&B.

After dinner ends, the taxi returns to transport the ladies first. Don, Mike and I retreat to the bar where we meet Jean-Pierre Chedal-Anglay, who speaks to us in English and invites us to visit his summer home in the adjoining town of Vierville. We explain to this charming man in his seventies that time will not permit us to visit him.

I excuse myself to step outside so I can read the inscription on a nearby monument I noticed when we first arrived. Its message, in French and English gives me pause: At this place they called Omaha Beach, the Allies began the liberation of Europe on the 6th of June 1944.

When I return to the restaurant, Mike has a glass of 25-year-old Calvados waiting for me courtesy of M. Chedal-Anglay. As we enjoy this treat, the owner, not to be outdone, pours each of us a sample of a of a 45-year-old version. God is good and what a wonderful way to end a brilliant day. I mention to Mike and Don, “Colleville may be the last town in France where the people still express a debt of gratitude for America’s sacrifices on June 6, 1944.”

Monday, October 23, 2000. We enjoy a continental breakfast and a delightful conversation with the owner of our B&B that Peggy translates. We discover that she became a grandmother last night. Her new grandchild was born in Bayeux. She will drive there today after she delivers our luggage to our next stop in in Grandcamp-Maisy.

I realize from the many photographs that line the dining room walls that her family has owned this inn for many years.

Later, when we leave to visit the American Cemetery, we pass the local Catholic church’s  graveyard,  I note an inscription on one of the first headstone we pass. It explains that the deceased was executed by the Nazis in 1941 for being a member of the resistance. His family name is the same as the family that owns the B&B. I wonder what the newborn will come to know about this patriot.

We reach the American cemetery just after 10 am giving us a bit more than two hours to visit before the bus to Grandcamp-Maisey arrives at 12:15 pm. It is a remarkably solemn and a historical place that evokes my emotional response for the sacrifices made by all who rest there.

As I walk around the perfectly groomed grass field, I come across Lieutenant General Lesley McNair’s resting place. He died on July 25, 1944, one of 110 GIs who lost their lives to friendly fire when our own bombers executing their mission to destroy the German’s front line, dropped their bombs short of the target and on our own lines. The same simple cross or Star od David that marks every other Gi’s resting place, marks his. Death doesn’t differentiate duty and service.

I find a semi-circular wall that closes off one border of the cemetery. It is dedicated to all the GIs declared Missing in Action or MIA during this campaign. I decide to walk it end to end and as I do, I am struck by the number of names of soldiers who belonged to the 262nd Regiment of the 66th  Infantry Division that have been engraved on the wall for those missing in action. When I return to New York, I discover that the 262nd had boarded the troopship, SS Leopoldville, in England for passage to Cherbourg.

On Christmas Day, a German U-Boat torpedoed the transport within sight of its destination. A breakdown in communications between the ship and shore delayed rescue until it was almost too late. The soldiers waited for rescue in their combat gear. Landing craft arrived to rescue the lucky ones, but when a key bulkhead gave way, 14 officers and 748 enlisted men drowned. Since their bodies were claimed by the sea, they will forever be MIA.

“Sad, makes you want to laugh. Sad, makes you want to cry.”

The weather turns as we walk to the bus stop. The bus arrives on time and the half-hour ride to Grandcamp-Maisy  sure beats an endless 14-mile hike. Our B&B,  “La Ferme du Colombier,” is just opposite the last stop on the bus’s route.  

Arromanches to Colleville-sur-Mer: Part Two of My Normandy Chronicles

Sunday: October 22, 2000. Restless, I awake before dawn. As quietly as possible, I leave Mary Ann for the continental breakfast being served in the Hotel La Marine’s nearly empty dining room. I choose a table overlooking the English Channel. In the pre-dawn light, relics from D-Day begin to reveal themselves in the morning mist, remnants of concrete caissons the allies sank to provide the breakwater for an artificial harbor to support the invasion. The forces of nature; time, the tides and countless storms have moved these enormous caissons so that they are scattered about in a haphazard fashion.

I return to our room with a hot cup of coffee, artificial sweetener and a croissant for my bride who I find awake and waiting for the excuse I provide to start her day.

Today, we will hike 12 miles west from Gold Beach, the eastern most of the three British landing beaches to Omaha, one of the two American beaches. That is our plan, but as the saying goes: “Plans go to hell after you take the first punch.”

The first half of our hike is a pleasure. Once again, Peggy has arranged for our luggage to meet us at a B&B in Colleville and we three couples, Don and Helen, Mike and Peggy and Mary Ann and I gather outside to see our baggage depart. A light mist engulfs us as we set out in hats, rain jackets jeans and hiking boots. We pass new vacation homes under construction as we leave town. Ironically, just below this new construction, we pass a sealed German gun emplacement with its gun port trained on the town below.

The trail leads us to the top of the bluff where we hike while the sun slowly burns off the mist. The views are spectacular. We take them in as the sun and clouds flirt with each other all morning long allowing us to stow our rain jackets in our knapsacks. The cliffs below the trail must fall at least 200 feet to the beach, but it appears that the French do not concern themselves with lawsuits as we encounter few warning signs or any fences to prevent hikers from getting too close to the cliffs.

We locate other artifacts from the war at Longues-sur-Mer. The first structure we see is a reinforced concrete command bunker close to the cliff. It is in remarkable condition and we wonder if this is the bunker used in the movie, The Longest Day? The guys can’t resist going inside to look out of the narrow opening and reenacting the scene from the movie when the area commander first discovers the invasion fleet.

Further along the trail, we find four additional bunkers, each the home of a German 88 mm cannon. These cannons were the Nazi’s most feared guns effective against troops, tanks and aircraft. GIs called the sound that their incoming shells made, “screaming meemies” and once you heard that whistling sound, you were in trouble if not already hunkered down.

It is at this point in our journey that we begin to realize that this is going to be a long day. There are several places along the trail where valleys break the bluff requiring descents and ascents. Here is where mud comes into play making the going difficult. Both Don and I slip and fall, fortunately, without injury.

We do catch a break. In the distance, we see a breakwater jutting out into the channel. As we draw closer, the fishing town of Port-en-Bessin reveals itself. A groomed set of dirt steps leads us down from the bluff and into town. We observe several small German fortifications and the remnants of a trench system on our way down.

We stop for lunch in Port-en-Bessin and eat in an outdoor Brasserie. This is the exact time and place when I discover my favorite French sandwich, the croque monsieur, their exquisite interpretation of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

A perfect interlude, but far too brief. By now we are forced to accept the reality that we still have many miles to go before we can rest. Worse, time isn’t on our side.

We press on, once again climbing the bluff. We follow a detour around the perimeter golf course and are surprised to spot a concrete bunker right next to a fairway. Once we return to the coast, we spot a modern military facility surrounded by barbwire. The building has a tall tower that supports all variety of antennas and dishes. Two men in uniform appear and enter an outside walkway observing our passage. We cease talking, put one foot in front of the other and refrain from taking photographs. Paranoia runs deep.

The trail turns inland following the contour of the land. We pass farms and cows grazing in the fields. Fatigue sets in leading us to lose the trail in a nameless town. We separate and I continue about 150 yards before I am called back. Mike reversed course to find a by passed marker about a ¼ mile before the town. We return to the trail that follows a shallow but steep stream. After a rough time descending the trail, it turns left forcing us to climb a hill back to that same town. At the top, we reach the same road I had explored. We are only 25 feet from where I turned around. Frustrated, I am mad as hell, but I keep it to myself since there is nowhere to direct it. The trail leads our sagging spirits back toward the beach.

Daylight is fading as we reach Omaha Beach. We pass the closed gates of the American Cemetery. Darkness drops upon us as we reach a highway, but cannot find a sign, any sign directing us to Colleville. Finally, I spot a sign and I ask Peggy, “What does that say?”

Peggy replies: “Thank you for coming.”

I wonder what’s on the other side of that sign. I walk away from my friends and turn around to read the other side. Sure enough, even I can understand what it says in French: “Welcome to Colleville!” Another incident to add to our memories of what makes this trip unique.

Peggy approaches a nearby home. The residents gladly allow her to call our B&B which we locate it in short order. All is well that ends well.             

A Force Majeure

 Dear reader, please disregard my message that “On the Outside Looking In,” would not publish this Wednesday, April 21.

My plan, to be away in New Hampshire, was trumped by a spring snow and ice storm that dumped about twelve inches on our house in Marlow. This storm also caused multiple power outages. We postponed our trip to open Little House for the 2021 season.  

As a result, Part Two of Our Normandy Chronicles will be published this Wednesday.

John Delach     

Trip to Bayeux and to the Sea: Part One of My Normandy Chronicles

Friday, October 20, 2000. Sunrise arrives late in Paris this time of the year and it is still dark at 7:00 AM. The dreary weather enhances the darkness while the lights from cafes illuminate the early commuters on their way to work.

Negotiating our way past these men and women, we walk to the Gare St. Lazare to catch the train to Bayeux. A long stone staircase provides an obstacle for our luggage, especially for Don and Helen’s oversized suitcase that we call Big Bertha. We men manhandle it up to the second floor only to discover the escalator we no longer need. We find our train and the six of us settle into our reserved first-class compartment. Our journey will take about two hours and soon we are entertained by a group of French women in the next compartment. Their animated conversation is punctuated with gales of laughter that grows in volume and hilarity as they continue. We try to peek, but they have drawn the curtains and it is not until they prepare to detrain that we see them. Four plainly dressed middle aged women and we can only imagine what memories, thoughts or circumstances led them to carry on as they did.

The train continues onto Caen and then Bayeux.

 Anticipating difficulty with our luggage, Peggy made reservations at a hotel close to the station when she coordinated our trip. In the parking lot we see the “Hotel de la Gare,” for the first time. Resembling a rooming house more than a hotel, it is a rudimentary building constructed of wood and stone with oddly shaped rooms with and without bathrooms. Mary Ann and I draw a room that has its own bath as do Mike and Peggy. Helen and Don are not so lucky. The room rate is FF298 or $40 that includes a continental breakfast. We take to referring to this hotel as “The Fleabite.”

We eat lunch in town before visiting the museum that is home to the Bayeux Tapestry, the historical work of art that chronicles William the Conqueror’s successful invasion of England. The lengthy tapestry is set in a continuous cabinet that meanders through several rooms Mary Ann and I rush through it but are a bit shocked to discover the fate of King Harold, the English king after he lost the Battle Hastings. It appears the victors played roughly back then as Harold was cut into sixes.

Don, Mike and I visit Bayeux’s World War II museum and note that the British liberated what remained of the city on June 7, 1944, one day after the invasion. Afternoon rain cancels our plan to visit the British cemetery. Oh well, it’s back to the fleabag bar.

That evening, we dine at the Hotel Notre Dame, a small, but charming hotel in the center of Bayeux. Peggy is familiar with this hotel. While planning the trip, she had investigated staying there, but found it difficult to contact them. When we arrive, the hotel manager greets Peggy profusely. Recognizing Peggy’s last name from the dinner reservations, she exclaims” Madam Cruise, I am so sorry that we did not communicate better and that you are not staying with us”.

She asks where we are staying and when Peggy tells her, I swear- I see her eyes cross as she attempts to keep her composure.

The funny thing is that both Mary Ann and I sleep soundly and only awaken when Don knocks at our door the following morning.

 After breakfast in the fleabite, we pack and bring our bags to the lobby. A local taxi service will transport them to the Hotel La Marine in Arromanches, eight miles away. Arromanches was the site of Gold Beach where British and Canadian forces landed on D Day. Unlike our luggage that take the easy way out, we plan to hike to the sea on a marked trail that runs between farmers’ fields. We quickly become adept at identifying trail markers, although we do become lost a few times. Fortunately, between our compass and the map, we regain the trail.

It is rainy season and mud is an issue, but we don’t let it discourage us. Hiking to the Normandy beaches is our goal and our adventure exceeds our expectations. Near noon time, we reach a town with a café serving ham, cheese and butter sandwiches on French bread with wine or Stella Artois on tap. Helen, who disdains butter, when confronted on this being her only choice, replies, “God wants me to have it.”

The afternoon offers us interesting encounters. We meet a group of men and women on horseback who dress in medieval costumes. They have just finished lunch served on folding tables by a man who dresses like a chauffeur or a waiter. Several empty wine bottles are in evidence. We discover their group are part of an equestrian rally set out to collect specific items and score points.

After climbing a rise, we come to a meadow elevated above the surrounding terrain. In the distance, we take in our first glimpse of the English Channel. Before we can react, nature trumps this view in a field adjoining the trail. Two calves have been born shortly before our arrival. The first calf has already risen to its feet and is trying to reach its mother to begin feeding. The second calf remains on the ground having difficulty standing up. First the mother nudges it, and when that doesn’t help, a second cow nudges the calf to provide encouragement. A third cow joins in and, after several more attempts, the calf succeeds in standing up. Quite a sight for us city people.

Finally, we reach the bluffs above Gold Beach and make our way down to the hotel. Our luggage has arrived in good order, and even though this is off-season, the hotel offers us a satisfactory dinner.

I decide that Calvados will be my after-dinner brandy of record for the remainder of this trip. Between the fatigue from today’s journey and the thoughts about walking the bluffs behind the beaches to Colleville, 12 miles  to the south, we call it a night.

“On the Outside Looking In,” will not publish on April  21st  and Part 2 of “My Normandy Chronicles,” will appear on April 28th.            

Once Upon a Time in the State of New York

How good is your memory? How good are you at political trivia? Before I begin, a word of caution: If you are unfamiliar with mid-Twentieth Century New York State politics and politicians: Fuhgeddabouit!

We begin with the election of Kenneth Keating to the United States Senate in 1958. Born in Lima, NY in 1900, Keating, a moderate Republican, was elected to the House of Representatives five times beginning in 1946. He defeated New York City’s well-known DA, Frank Hogan, in that 1958 election.

Keating and Governor Nelson Rockefeller both joined Jacob Javits, elected to the US Senate in 1956, to form a powerful triangle of moderate / liberal Republicans with national aspirations.

By 1962, I was coming of age politically. I had grown up instinctively a Republican, so I thought that these were my guys although, in my heart, I knew we weren’t on the same page, but Keating gave me hope. Through sources that I have never identified, he was the first politician who broke the story that led to the Cuban missile crisis.

Two years later my hope vanished when Keating led the revolt by part of the New York State delegation to the 1964 GOP convention by walking out after the delegates nominated my personal hero, Barry Goldwater, for president.

A point of trivia. Goldwater’s running mate was another upstate congressman, Bill Miller. Years later, Miller appeared in a TV ad for American Express that went something like this: “Hello, do you know who I am? I once ran for vice president of the United States.”

“ No, you don’t know who I am, that’s why I carry the American Express Card “

The commercial then displayed a blank Amex card on which the name Bill Miller was printed before our eyes.”

In a bit of irony, Keating also lost his seat in 1964 to Robert F. Kennedy. Four years later, RFK was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles just after winning the California primary.

Enter Charles Goodell. Who was Charles Goodell? The easy answer is: The father of Roger Goodell, the reigning Commissioner of the National Football League.

In 1968, Charles Goodell was yet another obscure upstate congressman who Governor Rockefeller appointed to fill the remaining two years of the late senator’s term of office.

That same year, the author, publisher and commentator, William F. Buckley, ran for mayor of New York City, in part, to raise the visibility of the nascent Conservative Party. When asked what he would do if declared the winner, Mr. Buckley replied: “Demand a recount.”

But Buckley’s serendipitous campaign accomplished his goal, it put the Conservative Party on the map. When I turned 21 in 1965, I registered as a Conservative.

As the bi-election of 1970 drew closer, WFB, called his older sibling, James (Jim) to suggest he run on the Conservative Party line for Goodell’s seat. According to a piece in a recent issue of National Review (NR), Jim’s reaction was, “That’s ridiculous.”

Ordinarily, Jim Buckley’s reaction would have been bang-on. Running on the Conservative line might draw less than 15% of the vote. The hope was the Democratic candidate would mirror Goodell’s liberalism creating a possible path for a conservative.

True to form, the Democrats nominated Richard Ottinger, a down-state Congressman to face off against Goodell. When James Buckley accepted the Conservative Party’s nomination for the Senate, we, the citizens of the Empire State had a bona fide, three-way race; two liberals against a conservative.

The stars must have been aligned: Like the 1969 Mets, the 1969 Jets and the 1970 Knicks; when the final tally of 5,893,894  votes were countered, Jim Buckley had done the impossible in the State of New York: He had been elected to the United Sates Senate by the following vote count:

Buckley: 2,288,190 or 38%

Ottinger: 2,171,232 or 36%

Goodell: 1,434,472 or 24%

Oh, happy days! I was ecstatic. It was the happiest vote I’d ever cast for a US Senate candidate.

The reality of being a conservative in New York returned with a thud in 1976. Daniel Patrick Moynihan cruised to victory in the general election with 54.1% of the vote while Jim Buckley, now running on both the Republican and Conservative lines, fell short with 44.9%.

And so it goes, although I will always wonder what would have happened if the second-place finisher in the Democratic primary, Bella Abzug, had managed to overcome her 10,000 shortfall to Moynihan? Abzug’s controversial ceaseless attack mode did her in in several runs for office and pitted against the genteel Buckley; well, if I had been a betting man, I’d have put my money on Jim Buckley.

But to be fair let me quote the words of one of my favorite call girls, Mandy Rice Davies, to put my opinion in perspective: “He would say that, wouldn’t he!”            

Interstate Maggie

Since 1984, we have owned several light trucks referred to today as Sports Utility Vehicles or SUVs. We bought our first light truck, a GMC Blazer, shortly after we purchased our vacation home in rural southern New Hampshire. At the time, we had two Golden Retrievers, Harry and Fred, and we believed a SUV was a sensible way to transport them to and from our home. The four-wheel drive also helped during the winter months. We even equipped the Blazer with an engine block heater so it would start in Arctic conditions.

Harry and Fred took to traveling, but their idea of a good trip was to get as close to us as possible with their goal, to reach our laps. Light trucks were not popular in 1984 and barriers did not yet exist to seal off the cargo area from the seats. Mary Ann took to creating self-made barriers and through trial and error, assembled useable obstructions consisting of tension rods, bungy cords and accordion gates.

Crude, but effective, they worked most of the time until Mary Ann met her match. When Fred died prematurely, we adopted Bubba. Bubba had the determination, strength and intelligence to break through these barriers. His greatest moment came one summer day when Mary Ann set off for New Hampshire with a friend. Later that evening she related her tale to me. “John, I built a strong, and thorough barricade using four heavy duty bathroom curtain rods that fit snuggly into place. Then I weaved bungee cords diagonally across the rods forming a complete barrier.”

“What happened,” I asked?

“Mary and I stopped at the Bagel Store in Port Washington to pick up our breakfast and, when we came out, there was Bubba sitting in the drivers seat. After all my hard work, he had destroyed my barricade in less than five minutes. I actually cried; I was so frustrated”

“What did you do for the rest of the trip,” I asked?

“Gave up,” Mary Ann replied. “But we have to do something as I have had it with that stubborn dog.”

It was about this time that we purchased a new Blazer and Mary Ann told the salesman, “The deal will not be finalized unless you find us a steel barrier designed for these trucks.” He did and Bubba’s adventures ended. When Jumbo arrived, all three dogs rode in the cargo area and never caused trouble.

Then came Maggie. This dog could not ride in a vehicle without becoming totally upset. Her body became rigid, and she started to sweat. Dogs sweat from their mouths and paws and Maggie quickly demonstrated just how much a dog can sweat. Vomiting often exacerbated the experience.

Mary Ann took to nurturing Maggie to get her to relax. First, she sat in the cargo area with Maggie with the back gate open and the engine turned off. She talked to Maggie, petted her and gave her treats. After doing this several times, she stepped out and petted her from the outside. Immediately, Maggie became stiff, and every time Mary Ann started the engine, the results were the same, awful.

In desperation, I purchased a large dog crate, the kind used for transporting dogs on airplanes. We calculated that part of Maggie’s problem was passing trucks that frightened her and the crate limited her view of traffic to the opening at the rear of the crate. Even if it did not work, it would limit the problem to the inside of the crate.

At times she showed improvement, but, if traffic delayed us, or there was heavy truck traffic, Maggie would lose it. She was so bad that we decided not to take her on our first long vacation after we both retired. After returning, we took delivery of our next SUV, a GMC Yukon XL. We drove it with Maggie in her crate up to New Hampshire. On arrival, I happily opened a dry crate. I proceeded to unload our belongings when I realized that, on her own, Maggie had jumped back into the truck and was lying on the back seat watching me. This was unheard of and I decided to test her by driving around the driveway. She was fine so I took her for a short ride. Again, she was fine and, when I opened a backseat window, she put her head out to enjoy the breeze.

We will never know for sure, why this happened. Was it the new truck? Did she get old enough to overcome her fears? Did she want out of the crate, or was she finally car broken? Whatever the reason, we were happy and never considered confining her to the cargo area. Instead, we purchased a cushioned seat cover to protect the back seat and that became her place.

 How far did she come? In January of 2001, we drove to Sanibel Island, Florida. She was great the whole way down, took advantage of rest stops and behaved in the motels. A crowning moment came on the ride home. Because of special circumstances, we had to make the drive with only one stop forcing us to travel 14 hours the first day. She behaved perfectly and became our interstate dog.

We did learn one lesson. Sometimes Maggie put her front paws on the armrest to lean out a bit further. The Yukon had those old toggle switches and, suddenly, we heard her cry out as the window caught her head. She had stepped onto the electric button that raised the window. We adjusted the window and engaged the child-window lock ending that problem for the rest of her traveling days that were all without drama.

The USS United States CVA-58 and the B-36 Peacemeker

Part Two

After Japan surrendered, conventional wisdom concluded that the last thing the US Navy needed was another aircraft carrier. By 1945 the Navy had 17 Essex class fleet aircraft carriers in commission with seven more fitting out or under construction. In addition, the three larger Midway class carriers were also fitting out and would join the fleet late in 1945.

The United States Air Force (USAF) already had a bomber under development large enough to fly round trip from the United States to Europe and deliver an atomic bomb, but the Navy didn’t want to be shut out by not having the capability to deliver nuclear weapons. However, the sizes of the two bombs dropped on Japan were so large that neither the Essex class or Midway class could accommodate or operate a navy bomber big enough to compete with the B-36.

The National Security Act of 1947 became law in July. One aspect of this act created a new cabinet post of Secretary of Defense and President Harry Truman elevated James Forrestal, then Secretary of the Navy, to this new position. Bluntly put, Truman and Forrestal didn’t like each other and had major differences on policy and political views. They especially differed on the future roles of the Navy and Marine Corps. Truman, who was pro Army, wanted to make dramatic cuts that would eliminate the Marines. He also favored the USAF being solely responsible for delivering nukes.

Forrestal ignored his President’s desires and directed Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery, an advocate for naval aviation, to prepare a top-secret memorandum setting out how the Navy could participate in a conflict with the Soviet Union. Gallery maintained that every potential target in Russia was less than 1,500 miles from the sea. What the Navy needed was an even bigger aircraft carrier, a so-called supercarrier and a new bomber that had the needed range.

Forrestal began his quest by convening a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Key West on March 14, 1948 to formulate the roles of the USAF and the Navy when it came to nuclear weapons. The resultant Key West Agreement assigned primary responsibility to the Air Force, but the Navy was not prohibited from participating. Not exactly an overwhelming endorsement for the Navy, but Forrestal used it to move the approval process forward for the super carrier, now given the moniker, USS United States, CVA 58.

Unfortunately, the concept for this ship, its reason for being and planned use were all terribly flawed. If built as planned, CVA-58 would have become a white elephant. First off, the planners had designed a flush deck ship without any structures above the flight deck. There wouldn’t be an island structure to navigate the ship and command air operations, no proper smokestack, no radar, antennas, etc. The carrier would have to depend on other ships in its group for navigation,  conducting operations and communications. What could possibly go wrong?

The rigid plans for the United States failed to consider improvements then under way that would alter the very reasons for building a ship like this in the first place. Granted, the atoms bombs available in 1947 were like the originals, but future devices were shrinking in size and weight while being made more powerful. The ship itself would have been obsolete even before completion. The British Navy were already developing the angled deck. Instead of landing aircraft down the center of the flight deck, this British innovation would angle the landing to one side. This would steer the aircraft away from the command island, the stack and all the needed instruments and communication aerials and antennas.

Deals were made between the Navy and Air Force and Congress approved the funding on June 24, 1948, Forrestal approved it on July 22nd and Truman followed the next day.

This is where the fun began. Truman was running for re-election in 1948 and Forrestal chose to support Truman’s opponent, Thomas Dewey, the Republican Governor of New York. Forrestal even met with Dewey to discuss the possibility of remaining as Secretary of Defense in Dewey’s cabinet.

Truman won. Mad as a hatter, of course he fired Forrestal on March 3, 1949 replacing him with Louis A. Johnson, a stalwart Democrat who raised $1.5 million for Truman’s campaign. Seven weeks later, construction commenced on the United States with the laying of the ships keel at Newport News Shipbuilding Co. on April 18th. Five days later, after conferring with Truman, Johnson cancelled the USS United States.

John L. Sullivan, Secretary of the Navy resigned on April 26. Forrestal committed suicide on May 12 by jumping from a window on the 16th floor of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He had been admitted  for exhaustion following his firing. Admiral Louis E. Denfeld, Chief of Naval Operations was forced to resign, and a Congressional investigation found in favor of Truman and Johnson, no doubt, along party lines.

It seemed the Air Force and the Army had run the table. But, on June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded the south and Truman entered the war after the United Nations voted to stop the invasion.  It fell to the Navy and Marine Corps to respond.

Our meager Army contingent was forced to retreat to the Pusan perimeter. It was the Navy’s Pacific Fleet carriers  that first provided air cover to this beleaguered perimeter and MacArthur called on the Marines to rescue South Korea by their successful amphibious assault at Inchon.

Johnson was forced to resign on September 19, 1950. The aircraft carrier had reaffirmed its worth and before leaving office, Johnson was coerced into approving a new class of four super carriers. Ironically, or appropriately, the lead ship, CVA-59, was named the USS Forrestal.

Ultimately, the Navy also became a major player for delivering nukes once submarine launched ICBMs became a reality.     

The B-36 Peacemaker and the USS United States, CVA-58

Part One

The USS United States, CVA-58, was meant to be our navy’s first super aircraft carrier. Conceived, in controversy, and aborted soon after construction began, the ship was a victim of an amazing post World War II inter-service power play between the US Navy and the newly formed independent United States Air Force, (USAF). When the USS United States was cancelled, the Navy lost the opening round in the struggle between those two services to determine who would be responsible for implementing our nation’s strategic nuclear strike force

In retrospect, the cancellation of CVA-58 was a wise decision, although none of the players knew it at the time. Moreover, subsequent world events would ultimately give the Navy the role that they wanted.

The two atom bombs that ended World War II were carried by B-29 Superfortress bombers belonging to the Army Air Force (AAF) that were modified to deliver these massive nuclear devices nicknamed, “Little Boy and Fat Man.” The B-29 was the largest bomber in the air force’s inventory and the only airplane able of flying round trip from Tinian in the Marianas to the targeted cities in Japan.

But the B-29 was about to be dwarfed by a new bomber designed to replace it. In November of 1941, just before America’s entry into the Second World War, AAF planners asked for proposals for an airplane that could bomb Nazi Germany flying non-stop to and from America. It was designed to fly this distance if Britain was taken out of the war. Since aerial refueling didn’t yet exist, this massive bomber had to be self-contained.

The AAF awarded Consolidated Aircraft, (soon to become Convair,) a contract to build two prototypes of this new giant. The project was put on the back burner less than a month later after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Once Nazi Germany declared war on America, England’s survival ceased to be an issue. The Yanks were coming as friendly occupiers, or as the Brits noted: “Overpaid, oversexed and over here!”

Work on the B-36 remained dormant until the spring of 1943 when the AAF developed a new mission for their mythical super bomber, fly missions against Japan from Hawaii. One hundred bombers were ordered for delivery starting in the summer of 1945.

Instead, as we know, the Navy and Marines defeated both the Japanese Navy and Army and occupied the principal islands in the Marianas chain, Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Newly built air bases allowed B-29s to bomb Japanese cities at will. 

Nicknamed the Peacemaker, the first B-36 was rolled out Convair’s Fort Worth, TX factory in September of 1945. At first blush, it again seemed to be a beast without a mission. But, after the war ended, many of our military, political, diplomatic and think tank leaders hung their hats on the belief that nuclear weapons would prevail and determine the outcome of future wars.

At the same time, our leaders rightly sought to reduce the size of the vast armed forces that we had assembled to achieve victory in our European and Pacific campaigns. Army and Marine divisions were de-mobilized, surplus bombers and fighters were scrapped and two out of three naval ships were mothballed or scrapped. Our new goal was to establish peace and prosperity for returning veterans including the creation of  educational and employment opportunities and housing for their newly married spouses and their baby boomer offspring. President Harry Truman took this effort one step further by de-segregating our armed forces once and for all.

The law also created a new and separate service, the United States Air Force. Besides going from brown shoes and army green uniforms to black shoes and blue uniforms, the USAF divided itself into two parts, a tactical force to fight regional conflicts while supporting the army and the Strategic Air Command (SAC) to deliver nukes in the next world war.

General Curtis LeMay became SAC’s Commander allowing this demanding general to create this force to his own image and liking. Le May needed new bombers to fulfill his mission and the Boeing company received two orders, one to build a medium range bomber, the B-47 Stratojet, and an intercontinental bomber, the B-52 Stratofortress. However, the B-47 would not be ready to go into service until June of 1951 and the B-52 wouldn’t be ready until February of 1955.

To fill these gaps, LeMay chose the B-50, an advanced version of the B-29, to be the interim medium range bomber and the B-36 as the intercontinental bomber. By 1947 the Iron Curtain had descended across Europe and it became obvious that World War Three would likely be between the USA and the USSR. The Peacemaker was somewhat obsolete by then being powered by six propeller engines and four jet engines, but it had a range of 10,000 miles, enough to fly round trip non-stop between the state of Maine and Leningrad. When the last B-36 was retired in 1959, its epitaph read: “The B-36 flew from the death of one air age into the birth of a new age without dropping a single bomb in anger.”

Le May wanted to extend the range of SAC’s bombers and the solution was aerial refueling. He asked Boeing to improve on the British system and Boeing developed the flying boom system that has continued to evolve to this day. After its introduction, the actual range of an airplane became irrelevant so long as tankers were available to re-fuel it.

LeMay also fought off attempts by other commanders within and outside the USAF to involve SAC in Korean Wat missions always maintaining that it existed purely for strategic missions.

SAC would remain in operation until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992.

To be continued.       .

Men Say the Darndest Things

Many men, especially those younger than me, are cognizant of the expected and acceptable boundaries when dealing with women associates. I’ve been retired going on 21 years (I got lucky) having already become a dinosaur in the office setting. Transitioning from my old school (men only) environment to a diverse office led me to suffer through several self-inflicted awkward incidents in my later working life. Who wants to relive embarrassing experiences? Certainly not New York’s governor.

I believe most times, my foibles resulted from laziness on my part. Instead of thinking about what I was saying, I reverted to stereotypical assumptions that I falsely transferred to the woman with whom I was talking. Even simple things like: “What’s your husband’s name?” are the result of  chauvinistic presumptions. Most embarrassing: “Oh, are you pregnant?”

Of course: “How’s your sex life?” at best deserves a verbal slap in the face. ”F**k off,” would be appropriate, but would a woman be so bold? That’s why men in positions of power must get the message: Out of bounds.

I was recently reminded of my gender’s fatal flaws in a conversation with a female friend. Let me call her E. We were speaking on the phone when the subject of COVID-19 Virus vaccinations came up. E, mentioned that she had received a call from the VA offering her a special slot reserved for Korean War veterans like herself. “I jumped at it and made a reservation to be vaccinated at the VA center in Northport, Long Island.”

“On arrival, I realized that the patrons lined up for their vaccinations consisted of elderly men and me. Making small talk while we shuffled along, the chap in front of me asked: ‘Were you a nurse?”

“No,” I replied, “I was a sergeant in the Marine Corp!”

“Good come back,” I commented to E, but in my heart and head, I thought back to my own “were you a nurse” moments.

One January afternoon in the mid-1990s found me at the United Counter at LaGuardia Airport checking in for what accurately could be described as an insurance boondoggle. I was one of several New York insurance brokers invited to a so called: “Round table discussion of the status and future of energy needs,” sponsored by the Geneva Insurance Monopoly (GIM.). Held in Aspen, the conference would last three days, but the actual meetings were limited to one hour each day.

The rest of our time was dedicated to winter sports and activities. GIM gave us alternatives to down-hill skiing which was fine with me as skiing was not on my list of things to do, EVER. As I recall, I selected snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling as my activities. Most of the American brokers picked similar venues. We noticed that all the staff from GIM went skiing every day. Of course, the entire rationale for the conference was for these Swiss skiers to test their prowess on Colorado powder.

But who was I to complain? They picked up everything. The goggles I brought with me broke so I bought a new pair in the hotel’s ski shop. When I went to pay and offered a credit card, the clerk explained, “The charge has been automatically billed to your room,” a bill I never saw.

But I digress. At LaGuardia, I boarded the United 757 that was about half full and found a row in coach completely empty. “Perfect,” I said to myself. I sat down in the aisle seat and scattered the stuff I wanted to look at on the middle seat. An important part of my stuff was that Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. By coincidence, their Sunday’s magazine was devoted to airline travel.  

Just before the door was closed and secured, there was a bustle of activity and several individuals in airline uniforms passed by my seat. One woman stopped at my row and asked, “Would you mind if I sit here?”

“Not at all,” I replied.

With that, she took the window seat. The door closed and we began to taxi for takeoff as the flight attendants began the litany of pre-flight safety procedures. When they reached the part about fastening seatbelts, I could not resist telling my new seatmate one of the anecdotes I had just read in the NYT Magazine.

“I just read about this clever method a particular flight attendant uses to deal with this announcement. She says: ‘Now for those of you who haven’t been in an automobile since 1955, here is how you fasten a seatbelt.”

She laughed and said, “That’s great.”

Bravely, and stupidly, I continued, ”You should try that one day.”

She replied: “I’m a pilot.”

I replied: “Damn, I just stereotyped you, didn’t I, and I am embarrassed!”

I dreaded what was to come, but she was both polite and nice. Otherwise, this would have been an awfully long flight to Denver.