Tag Archives: world war 2

Iconic Star Doris Day, 95, To Record Again

Recent reports say the famed singer will make another album for the sake of her favorite pet charities, including the SPCA. Doris Day has always been one of my entertainment idols. This old sailor’s War War 2 memory goes back to 1945 and my favorite Doris Day song, “Sentimental Journey”.

It’s ending lines portrayed an important era in American history. World War 2 was finally winding down, after terrible loss of life, both military and civilian. Many of us had been away for three or four years, and the anticipation of returning to the USA was our dream:

Gotta take that sentimental journey,
Sentimental journey home.

Doris Day’s musical lament was exactly right as World War 2 ended in Europe in May and in the Pacific in September. A member of an advanced Navy team in the Philippines, I was waiting to take my sentimental journey back home.

It reminds me of another timely and inspirational 1945 Doris Day hit, “My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time”. Good luck in your new album, Doris. And may you enjoy many more years of good health and career success.

Kathy Griffin: Cut Her Some Slack, Not Her Throat

Wow, the comedienne really must have done something disgustingly evil! Both far right nutcase Republicans and far left crazed Democrats want to do to Kathy exactly what her Trump severed head photo portrays. That’s the first thing the political parties have agreed on since Lexington and Concord.

I disagree with those who want to destroy her career, or worse, destroy her. I belong to a fast-disappearing minority who enjoy her comedy. It’s biting, outrageous and sometimes downright dirty. However, she always does it brilliantly, often making herself the butt of her jokes.

When Leno and Letterman retired, I thought Kathy the best candidate for a late-night talk show. Considering what we must endure every evening from the current crop of boring, no-talent hosts, my opinion grows ever stronger in her favor.

What’s shocking about Kathy’s outrageous photo of a bloody Donald Trump head? Of course, the initial thought comes from the too-obvious comparison with what bloodthirsty Middle East terrorists do to victims. Kathy quickly admitted it was a gross display of bad taste. As she’s finding out now, there are limits to what comedians should do to get public attention.

So, let’s get some perspective before we shout: off with her head! This nonagenarian’s memory goes back to personal experiences with murderous hate in World War 2. As an 18-year-old in Navy boot camp, my training with weapons was emphasized to kill those dirty Japs and lousy Krouts.

Of course, Japanese and German 18-year-old recruits were also taught how to kill me. Worse, as in all modern wars, the encouraged murder wasn’t confined to soldier killing soldier.

As the war was ending in 1945, air raids over enemy cities became more and more massive. The bombings of Tokyo, Berlin, Dresden and other targets killed thousands of children and women. And on the very last week of the war, the two atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Of course, World War 2 was not the last of it. There was Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and more. Recent air raids in Syria caused many civilian deaths, and it goes on and on.

Does it all make you stop and think? Kathy Griffin’s beheading joke isn’t quite as offensive as real wars, air raids and suicide bombings that cause never-ending inhuman destruction.

Philippines President Imposes Smoking Bans

Rodrigo Duterte, while eliminating drug dealers and cussing out U.S. politicians, has taken on a new enemy. The Philippines leader recently hit the worldwide tobacco industry by making it illegal to puff cigarettes in public areas of the island nation.

The news takes this old non-smoker back more than 70 years to World War 2 when I served in the Philippines. Our advanced Navy unit moved up in early 1945 during the retaking of the islands of Leyte, Samar and Luzon from Japanese occupation. We were in Manila when the war ended, stationed at the Fleet Landing Base along the Pasig River.

We were allowed to buy one carton of cigarettes a week, intended for personal use. That’s ten packs, a total of 200 cigarettes. Our carton price was 50¢. A carton today costs from $35 to $40. A non-smoker, at first I gave my cartons to other Navy guys. Then something happened to allow me to find better uses for the cigarettes.

Our riverbank tent camp had no fences, so it wasn’t unusual for local Filipino civilians and kids to wander in and out. As American troops were liberating Manila, the retreating Japanese destroyed much of the city and wantonly murdered thousands of civilians. One tragic result was homeless orphan kids.

I came up with an idea to help by giving them my ration of smokes. Because American cigarettes were still unavailable in Manila, the kids could get 50¢ downtown for selling each cigarette. I enlisted other Navy guys to volunteer their cartons. We helped some starving kids survive and, just maybe, learn some practical business lessons.

Long Ago Visit To The Empire State Building

It was the tallest man-made structure in the world when it first reached for the sky way back in 1931. I was six years years old, and witnessed the opening ceremonies with my dad.

He and his brother, who owned a Manhattan men’s clothing store nearby on 38th Street and Broadway, had invitations. They took me and other family members to 34th Street and Fifth Avenue for the historic occasion at the new structure.

With just a vague memory of the event, I recall the Empire State Building was truly a skyscraper, big and bright, rising higher and higher, way beyond my stretched-neck view. There were a lot of important-looking men there at the ceremony, all dressed formal with top hat. I recognized President Herbert Hoover, but not the man on crutches, then-New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt.

My next visit to the Empire State Building, just 13 years later, was a very different experience. I was a 19-year-old sailor in the summer of 1945, and home on leave. I had served on a troop ship in the Pacific during the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in World War II.

I was visiting my uncle at his home in Brooklyn, and on that day we had just arrived at his store in Manhattan for his 10 a.m. opening. Then, suddenly we heard a loud crashing noise that echoed among the tall buildings from the direction of Fifth Avenue.

I had immediate fearful thoughts of how our ship had fought through Kamikaze bombing attacks. They were suicidal efforts by the Japanese aircraft against our ships to prevent American landings. They caused more Navy casualties in just two months in early 1945 than had been suffered previously in the entire four years of war.

We soon heard fire engines and ambulances screaming through the streets. A police car nearby had its radio on, and we went over to listen to breaking news of the disaster at the Empire State Building. Because I’d been through Navy emergency medical training, I told my uncle I’d volunteer to help. The police car took me to the scene in a few minutes.

What had happened was the pilot of an Army Air Corps Mitchell B-25 bomber had become confused in thick fog as he was descending for a landing at a Long Island airport, and didn’t realize how low he was flying.

The bomber hit the north side of the Empire State Building at the 79th Floor. It disintegrated, with one engine passing all the way through and landing on another building below. Fortunately, the B-25 had no bombs aboard to magnify the disaster. However, all three members of the crew and eleven people in the building were killed.

When I arrived at the site, emergency workers were already inside removing the dead, helping the injured and extinguishing fires. I was assigned to a guard detail of police and servicemen on the sidewalks to make room for equipment, and to control crowds of onlookers.

Because the terrible accident happened on a Saturday, many of the devastated offices on the 78th, 79th and 80th floors were empty or with smaller than usual employee staffs. The death and injury toll would have been much higher if it had happened on a weekday.

The memory of that tragedy has been with me ever since. Then, in 2001, when terrorists crashed commercial aircraft into the World Trade Center buildings just blocks away in Lower Manhattan, the horrible memories returned. I was reminded of the tragic 1945 accident at the Empire State Building.

Memorial Day 1942: Recalling A Long-Ago Experience

As a high school senior at that year’s holiday, it was my honor to recite a patriotic poem at the school’s Civil War memorial statue ceremony. It was at Girard College, a residential school for fatherless boys in Philadelphia, founded in the 1830s.

When the Civil War began in 1861, many Girard students, ages 14 to 17, ran away to join. Most fought for the Union, while some made their way south to the Confederacy. As history reports, casualties on both sides were horribly heavy, including many of the Girard teen volunteers.

The poem I recited, written by Francis Miles Finch just after the Civil War, is The Blue and the Gray. It equally mourns and honors the dead of both sides of the conflict, and ends with:

No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the graves of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day,
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.

A Soapy Hanukkah From Long, Long Ago

The Jewish holiday this year is from Sunday, December 6, to Monday, December 14. It brings back memories from 70 years ago. World War II was finally over in September, 1945, but it would take three or four more months before I‘d be shipped home from my base in the newly-liberated Philippines. 
As December approached, I was happy that the shooting and bombing stopped, and wasn’t thinking much about celebrating any holidays, Jewish or otherwise. Members of our unit lived in tents close by the Fleet Landing along Manila’s Pasig River. 

Among our boring daily duties was to help load and unload supplies on boats to be taken to Navy ships docked in the harbor. For us, the only thing resembling a holiday was when some kind-hearted crew member brought us some fresh food or a gallon tub of ice cream.

We had a mess tent, and dined on what nearby Army units ate, K Rations, including Spam and other canned and dried almost-edible food products. For fresh water, we had 50-gallon canvas containers, hung from trees outside our tents.

Our shower consisted of four standing boards nailed together as a roofless box, with another big water bag on top. Our head (toilet) was a trench with a 4×12 wooden box above, with 8 butt-sized holes cut into the top board. For those who had previously served aboard nice, clean Navy ships, this tent living in the war-torn city was quite a come-down.

When holiday season approached, guys from the ships brought us plastic Christmas trees, ornaments and holiday decorations, and our tents looked a bit less drab. We even got strings of small red and white signal lights that lit up our tent area at night.
The Christian guys were getting Christmas packages from home in early December. I was happily surprised when a carton of Hanukkah goodies from my Aunt Flossie arrived. She had mailed it from Philly in October, and although the war ended in September, it still took a month across the U.S. and then on a Pacific cargo ship to get to me.

As I opened the carton, I was ecstatic to see the typical Hanukkah edibles, including honey cake, macaroons, jelly candies, chocolate-covered matzohs and cans of gefilte fish patties. I looked forward to a tasty ethnic holiday feast. Then, disaster! Aunt Flossie had also stuffed in packages of perfumed soaps, shampoo and lotions.

What she didn’t realize was that everything in the carton during the month of travel had absorbed the heavy odors of the toiletries. All reeked and tasted strongly of soap, including the canned food. Even the hungry stray dogs that hung around our tents refused to eat any of it.

I sent a nice letter of thanks to Aunt Flossie telling her how much I enjoyed her generous Hanukkah present. My December holiday wasn’t a total loss. The Christian guys on my crew kindly shared their non-soapy Christmas goodies from home.

1944: I Danced With Maureen O’Hara At the Hollywood Canteen

Recent news of the passing of the beautiful star brought back fond memories of her films with John Wayne and other great performances. It also conjures up a personal recollection from more than 70 years ago when I spent a few brief moments with Maureen O’Hara. While at the Navy base in San Diego awaiting sea duty orders, this 19-year-old sailor and a group of shipmates hopped a bus to Los Angeles.

We headed to the Hollywood Canteen, then a famous free gathering place for servicemen and women. It was popular throughout World War II, because on any visit one could meet famous volunteers. They were there daily to chat, sing, dance and serve refreshments to the uniformed visitors. 

On any day, a homesick sailor or GI could come face to face with Joan Crawford, Jack Benny, Bette Davis, Danny Kaye, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich and many more of movie history’s most glamorous stars. We lucky swabbies were there on a memorable night when one of the volunteers was Maureen O’Hara.

As we sat at a table blinking at all the sights and music, a beautiful young woman approached with a tray of doughnuts. Of course, we instantly recognized the fantastic red hair, brilliant green eyes and flashing smile of Maureen O’Hara. When she asked if we wanted anything, we all froze. Along with the overwhelming presence, that musical Irish lilt in her voice was hypnotic.

What happened next is still fresh on my mind, even after seven decades. Bending close to me, she asked if I wanted to “take a wee whirl around yon dance floor”. I couldn’t move, so several other sailors recovered from their trance, laughed and pushed me out of my chair.

I still clearly remember we glided to “I’ll Be Seeing You”, a popular song of the time, recorded by Frank Sinatra and other crooners. On the dance floor, Maureen and I were close for five minutes. To me it seemed like just a few seconds, then she kissed my cheek and disappeared into the crowd. 

I never saw her again, except, of course, in her great movies. As with every other fan, I was impressed by the variety of her most popular roles. She excelled as a feisty Irish girl in “The Quiet One”, and a young American widow in “Miracle On 34th Street”.

She certainly deserved to win many times, but Maureen O’Hara never received an Academy Award. In this fan’s opinion, the perforance in her final film in 1991, “Only The Lonely”, was certainly worthy of an Oscar. She brilliantly portrayed the feisty Irish, naturally, mother of John Candy’s character, a Chicago cop.

As with her multitude of fans, I mourn the passing of Maureen O’Hara. This ex-sailor will always fondly remember the beautiful movie star who asked him to dance. Or was it all just a wonderful dream?