We Have a Language Problem

When I was a boy a “mobile” phone was that one in the kitchen that had a 5 foot cord that allowed you to talk out in the garage where hopefully, your parents couldn’t hear you. There were certain words, however, that I never used whether they could hear me or not, particularly in mixed company. A young man named Josh Hader brought this memory to mind recently in a most unusual way. Hader, who just turned 23 in June, was representing the Milwaukee Brewers in his first All-Star Game, and even as he was pitching, people in the “Twitterverse,” as it’s called, began unearthing racist and sexist tweets, the latter expressed with the most explicit and vulgar words, that Hader had published when in high school. Hader immediately apologized after the game, appearing quite contrite and sincere. In fact, his two fellow Brewer All-Stars, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress, both of whom are African-American, accepted the apology immediately.

As of this morning (July 30, 2018) you can add Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb and Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner to the list of major league baseball players who tweeted “stupid stuff,” to use Newcomb’s words, when they were teenagers.

The words that these three tweeted are indefensible, but I would offer this defense of all three individuals: They are products of a society that has lost all perspective on acceptable public discourse.

Not all thoughts should be expressed. Not all expressions should be used and if they are used, there should be a very specific context in which they become acceptable. This was once our standard, but now, of course, reality television, twitter, and Facebook offer an opportunity to pour out your heart, unfiltered and raw, so that you can let everyone know at this very moment that you are ANGRY! Or sad or bitter or jealous or plotting revenge or whatever the passion of the moment may be, and in any language you choose with no ramifications other than perhaps a reprimand in the comments, which you may then delete. Many of our celebrities, including actors, reality TV stars, sports figures, and politicians no longer adhere to any standard, which, of course, makes it easier for our neighbor to abandon a standard for civil discourse. Ultimately, that makes it easier for us to throw our former standard to the winds. I seriously wonder if most high school students even know what vulgar means.

You have the right to offend, but I have the right to not be offended. You may offend through your art—I don’t have to go to the art museum. You have the right to offend in your television show—I don’t have to watch. When we all share a public space, such as a busy street or a ballpark, however, then you don’t have the right to offend. It is in such public places that a standard of public discourse should be maintained for one very important reason: It is a sign that we respect each other, and that we are not going to chance offending others, especially when there is no need and there is no cause.

All of which brings us back, not to Hader, Newcomb, and Turner, but to ourselves. If you don’t approve of your ballplayers tweeting slurs and vulgarity, then don’t use that language when tweeting about the guy in the car in front of you or the team you hate the most or the President, however mad or disgusted you are with any of those people at the moment. The only way that we will restore civil public discourse is to be civil to one another. Standards come about through the example that we set for one another. Josh Hader, Sean Newcomb, and Trea Turner did not sin in a vacuum.

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Reveille With Beverly

In The Boys We Knew, Jimmy and Elizabeth take in a movie entitled, Reveille With Beverly in which the title character, played by Ann Miller, connives her way into becoming the morning disc jockey at a radio station near an army base. Heretofore, the regular disc jockey, Vernon Lewis, played by Franklin Pangborn (whom old movie fans will recognize in an instant) has played classical music, but when Beverly takes over the show, she plays the music the soldiers enjoy the most—swing. This causes great consternation, but of course is wildly successful and the movie features some outstanding performances including Count Basie playing “One O’clock Jump,” Duke Ellington performing “Take the A Train,” and Frank Sinatra singing “Night and Day,” classics all. What is most remarkable of all, however, is the true story behind the movie.

Jean Ruth Hay was 24 and a graduate of the University of Colorado when she got her start in radio. It was her idea to play “the stuff that makes you swing and sway” for soldiers at Fort Logan, a base near Denver. Reveille With Beverly—Jean adopted her radio name for obvious, rhyming reasons—debuted in October of 1941 and by 1942, with the war in Europe having exploded into a true world war, she took a job at a CBS station, KNX-AM, in Hollywood. The Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast her show, which ultimately reached 11 million people around the world.

Jean was popular for more than just her radio show. According to her obituary, “Ms. Hay posed for pinup shots, and troops voted her ‘The girl we’d most like to be trapped in the turret of a B-17 with.’”

She began each show with “Hi there, boys of the U.S.A.” and one can only imagine what a thrill those words must have been to men fighting in the North African desert or the jungles of Guadalcanal. Reveille With Beverly was released in February, 1943 about a month after Casablanca, and while we rightly honor the latter as a movie classic and one of the quintessential World War II movies, we should at least salute the former and the young lady who brought a little bit of home to servicemen and women all over the world.

The following trailer for the movie is quite special in that it features Jean Hay introducing the movie.

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5 Classic, But Largely Forgotten Songs of WWII

Music played a very important part in maintaining morale not only on the home front, but also at the front. In The Boys We Knew, Johnny writes a letter to Command Performance, a radio program created by the military for GIs based on their own requests. American troops all over the world listened to Ruth Hay and her Reveille with Beverly radio program, and  Glenn Miller joined the Army for the express purpose of forming a military band that would play “modern music” for the young men and women in the armed forces. Music was a way of connecting one front to the other.

Ironically, some songs that we now associate with World War II actually hit the charts before the war. “In the Mood” topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1940, while “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” debuted early in 1941. This got me to thinking about the many songs that came out during the war that were actually about the war and its effect on the home front. Perhaps because they were so in tune with the time, these songs are largely forgotten now, unless, of course, you listen to Sirius XM radio’s 40s Junction on channel 6073. To understand any time period, however, you have to see it from a contemporary perspective and not from a perspective that continues to develop 75 years later.

Therefore, I give you five songs that truly speak to the experience of the time. I have excluded songs such as “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Sentimental Journey” because although they had a deep contextual meaning for those who experienced the war, their lyrics speak to other contexts as well. The songs on the following list, however, are firmly rooted in the war experience and I invite you to click on the links and listen:

  1. Many songs were written in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor including “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” The 1942 song was based on an actual event aboard the S. S. New Orleans during the attack. With inoperative hoists to take ammunition to the decks, the crew formed a “bucket brigade.” Chaplain Howell M. Forgy uttered the remark to encourage the men, a remark that he may have heard in the 1939 movie Guns Along the Mohawk.
  2. “This Is the Army Mr. Jones” humorously addresses the shock experienced by millions of men who suddenly found themselves in the service. Written by none other than Irving Berlin in 1942, the song was featured in a Broadway review entitled, This Is the Army, which was also written by Berlin with the express approval of General George C. Marshall, as a way to raise money for the Army. Wildly popular, it was turned into a movie of the same name in 1943. (Shenandoah Valley Dancers might recognize this song as part of Jump Alley’s repertoire.)
  3. “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” was introduced in the 1943 movie musical/fundraiser Thank Your Lucky Stars and was sung by Bette Davis. The song laments the fact that the only men seemingly left at home represent slim pickings: Tomorrow I’ll go hiking with that Eagle Scout unless I get a call from grandpa for a snappy game of chess.
  4. There was actually a song entitled “Rosie the Riveter” that appeared early in 1943. In fact, the term appeared in the song before it appeared in any artwork. Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover appeared on May 29, 1943. The song featured here is the original by the Four Vagabonds.
  5. My personal favorite on this list is an Ella Mae Morse song entitled, “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet.” The song appeared in the 1944 film, Broadway Rhythm and is sung by a night shift factory worker who is headed to bed when the rest of the world is rising:

Been knocking out a fast tank, all day
Working on a bomber okay
Boy you blast my wig with those clinks
And I got to catch my forty winks.

To truly understand what everyday life was like from Pearl Harbor through V-J Day it is important to listen to the everyday songs and watch the everyday movies that folks were consuming, and not just the ones that we remember as being representative of the time. (Which isn’t always accurate. See my post from May 11, 2018.)

Post script: History on the Net’s WWII In American Music page is an excellent and thorough source for songs that were popular from 1939-1945 and I would encourage you to explore the site.

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The Boys We Knew

The Boys We Knew, the sequel to The Secret of Their Midnight Tears, is now available in both paperback and e-book form. You can download a copy to your Kindle, order from Amazon, or see me, as the first batch of copies just arrived at my house. (And I know that some of you have to have that real copy in your hands!)

The Boys We Knew begins on December 31, 1942, just a few weeks after The Secret of Their Midnight Tears ends, or perhaps I should say, “pauses.” The latest novel pauses shortly after D-Day. And I say “pauses” again because a third and final volume is planned.

Elizabeth Bittner is the town’s telegrapher, an important job, which has also made her the bearer of terrible news to some of the town’s families. Her closest friend, Veronica Marsh is helping her father manage a group of young Victory Farm Volunteers. The two girls contribute to the war effort by organizing a War Bond drive, donating to the scrap drives, and writing letters to Veronica’s brother, Buck, and their friend, Johnny, who are in the Pacific. Ever concerned for the welfare of “their boys,” Elizabeth and Veronica are anxious for their return, but as the girls become conscious of how the war is changing them, they begin to wonder: Will the boys who come home to us—if they do come home—be the boys we knew?

Two new characters are doing their part to win the war. Jimmy Hardy, who was dating Elizabeth finds himself as part of the invasion force storming Utah Beach on D-Day. High school freshman Hannah Wightman is part of the Victory Farm Volunteers, spending her summer tending tomato plants with several classmates on the Marsh farm.

At one point, several of the characters attend a war bond rally at the local textile factory. This scene is based on an article that appeared in the July, 1943 Butler Brothers company newspaper of which my mother was a contributing editor for the Baltimore plant. The three servicemen who are introduced to the crowd in Marsh Point are real, as is their story. Here is an excerpt from this particular chapter titled, “July 21, 1943.”

Mr. Harbaugh introduced Petty Officer Shelby Pits of the Naval Industrial Relations Department, who in turn introduced the three men who had been sitting quietly on the flatbed truck that had been pressed into service as an outdoor stage. Each was in the dress uniform of his service branch.

The first was Private Robert Chapin a Marine who was serving as a gunner on the U.S.S. Yorktown when it was sunk. He was also in the first wave at Guadalcanal and wore on his chest a Purple Heart.

The second was Seaman Basil Izzi whose ship was torpedoed in November and who survived 83 days aboard a life raft on raw fish and birds.

The third was a merchant seaman, John McCarthy whose vessel carrying vital supplies to England was also torpedoed at night in the North Atlantic. The sixteen days he spent in a life raft resulted in four months in a naval hospital for treatment of frozen feet, hands, arms and legs.

These three, along with Petty Officer Pits, were just beginning a tour of factories in the Mid-Atlantic. Already they had appeared at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore, Fairchild Aircraft in Hagerstown, and at the B & O Roundhouse in Martinsburg. From Marsh point they would visit plants in Lynchburg, Bedford, Roanoke, Richmond, Petersburg, and the Portsmouth Naval Yards. No longer fit for active duty, they were still useful on the home front urging the folks to work hard and buy war bonds.

Each spoke briefly, but sincerely about the need for LeBeau Brothers employees to take pride in their work and to produce the best clothing possible. Private Chapin in particular urged them to never miss a day and to buy bonds. Seeing so many school-aged children in the audience, he added, “And you kids, skip that Saturday morning Western at the movie house and buy stamps instead.” Pausing, he added, “I apologize if the owner of the local theater is present,” a remark which was followed by great laughter.

Finally, Petty Officer Pits stood up once more and invited Claire Morrison to the stage. She was helped up onto the truck and remained by his side as he spoke once more to the crowd.

“You all know of Mrs. Morrison’s sacrifice and, therefore; I need not detail it here. While she may have lost her son, she has not lost her resolve to do all that she can to win this war. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you the Chairwoman of Marsh Point’s Red Cross Bandage Committee.”

Great applause broke out as Mrs. Morrison informed everyone that the committee would meet every Thursday at Zion Methodist Church at 7:00 to roll bandages for the troops and that LeBeau was donating all the material.

Clearly the end of the program had been reached, but no one had had presence of mind to plan any kind of closing or benediction. Avery Harbaugh was about to ask Reverend Frye to come up and pronounce one, when Seaman Izzi stepped forward and began to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Everyone joined in, the singing growing ever louder.

“Thank you,” said Seaman Izzi as the home of the brave brought the National Anthem to its conclusion. He nervously circled his white hat in his hands. “We used to sing a lot on board the raft.”

Hannah, who was in a group that included her mom, the Marshes and the Bittners had all heard the words of the “Star-Spangled Banner” drift across the Rowatoba River, languid in the mid-summer sun, but in her mind’s eye she saw Seaman Izzi in a raft drifting in an empty ocean, fighting to maintain hope.

“Heroes don’t look like you think they’ll look,” she said to no one in particular.

I hope you enjoy The Boys We Knew. Reviews on Amazon are important for broader marketing and I would be most appreciative if you would write one, however brief.

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My Dad’s Sentimental Journey

A great deal of the inspiration for my just-released World War II novel, The Boys We Knew came from my parents’ experience. The scene in which three servicemen visit the LeBeau Brothers factory, for example, was taken from the Butler Brothers factory newspaper on which my mom was an editor. Petty Officer Shelby Pits, Private Robert Chapin, Seaman Basil Izzi, and John McCarthy were portrayed in the novel just as described by Butler Brothers’ newspaper. Seaman Izzi’s account of his ordeal at sea is available on-line.

I have made another connection with my parents’ experience to the times, one that I think will have to go into the third and final volume of what started with The Secret of Their Midnight Tears. My dad, being a highly structured person, kept a log of his train trip from Seattle, Washington where he disembarked from his destroyer, the USS Gleaves, to Bainbridge, Maryland and the USN Personnel Separation Center, just north of his home in Baltimore, where he was discharged on December 20, 1945. I should say, “their home,” because he and my mom had married on Thanksgiving Day, 1943. Leaving Seattle at 4:30 a.m. on December 13th, the train wound its way through Washington, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—in fact, the final stop was Harrisburg, where his granddaughter now works for ABC 27—before arriving in Bainbridge perhaps around 3:00 p.m. on the 18th. I say “around” because the note for Harrisburg reads “1400/18” and there is no entry for his arrival at Bainbridge. I can only imagine that in his excitement he forgot to record it.

Just last week I connected this post card that I knew was among my parents’ keepsakes to a song that I’ve heard at least 200 times before. I was listening to the 40s Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio when “Sentimental Journey” began to play. This time, however, when Doris Day sang, “counting every mile of railroad track that takes me back,” I got a chill as Dad’s postcard came to mind. My father had almost certainly heard the song as it hit the charts at the end of March and stayed there for 23 weeks. It was an anthem for the boys and girls returning home and you cannot watch Doris Day talk about that without crying. I can’t, anyway. Had Dad heard that song and decided he would count “every mile” or at least every stop? Whether my dad was inspired by the song or the songwriters were inspired by guys like my dad doesn’t really matter. They were all connected by the joy of victory and homecoming, and now, thanks to the post card he kept, his son and granddaughters and now great-granddaughter are a little more strongly connected to him.

[Click on the link for an excellent video of “Sentimental Journey.”]

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Ward’s Problem

Even after all these years, the television show, Leave it to Beaver can still make me laugh out loud and make me beyond misty as it portrays the struggles of children trying to make sense of the world, and the struggles of parents trying to make sense of their children.

Take the episode, “Ward’s Problem” from Season 2, for example. Ward has promised Wally that he will take him fishing on Saturday. Ward has had to cancel on Wally for three Saturdays in a row and promises Wally that this time trip is on. Beaver, however, comes home with the news that there is a Father-Child picnic at the school on Saturday and creates “Ward’s problem.” June volunteers to go, but Beaver tells her, “No women are allowed, unless they’re a father.”

The boys are eating supper one night while their parents are out and it is then they realize that their father has promised both of them something he can’t deliver to one of them. Before they make this discovery, Wally, the ever-vigilant older brother tells Beaver, “Mom and Dad wouldn’t like you eatin’ with your face in your plate.”

“But they’re not here,” replies Beaver.

“Well, I’m here.”

“I’m not going to waste manners on you.”

Ward finally decides that the right thing to do is to go to Beaver’s picnic. He tells Wally that since Wally wants to be treated like a man now that he is in high school, it is he who will have to bear the disappointment.

“You know, Dad,” says Wally, “It always doesn’t work out so well, being treated like a man.”

If wiser words were ever uttered on a television show, I haven’t heard them.

Naturally, Ward and Beaver take first place in the three-legged race and Beaver excitedly shows his mom the trophy. “It’s solid gold plastic!”

At the end of the show, June gently chastises Ward for not telling Wally sooner that the fishing trip was delayed once more, to which Ward responds, “When a father has two sons and they’re both looking forward to having a good time with him, you hang on to the feeling as much as you can.”

Happy Father’s Day.

Image result for photos of leave it to beaver characters

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A Capital Experience

I will never forget watching the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup last night, mainly because we watched most of the game on a little laptop screen in a little ballpark in Winchester, Virginia. Somehow, that seems quite appropriate.

Martha and I had been invited to attend Men of Opequon Night at Bridgeforth Field to watch the Winchester Royals take on the Harrisonburg Turks in Valley Baseball League action. The “MoO” group, as they call themselves, an Opequon Presbyterian Church organization, had asked me to speak about Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience back in May, and we enjoyed talking with one another so much that they graciously extended us an invitation to their outing last night. Of course, as it turned out, the Capitals were playing the potential clinching game for the Stanley Cup. We set the DVR and hoped to get home at least in time for the 3rd period.

The baseball game was a sloppy affair however, that included multiple hit batsmen, walks, wild pitches—in fact Winchester scored two runs in an inning in which they never recorded a hit. As the game dragged on into the cooling Virginia night, the crowd diminished. To our left, however, were two Shenandoah University volleyball players, one a junior the other a senior, and both in their Capitals jerseys. Martha had cheered them upon their entrance to the stands with a “Go Caps!” The public address announcer was keeping us informed of the hockey score and there wasn’t much concern among the baseball fans when the 1st period ended in a 0-0 score. As the teams furiously traded goals in the 2nd period, however, our attention turned more and more to the hockey game and at that point we noticed that the two volleyball players had a laptop computer on which they were streaming the Stanley Cup. Realizing our interest, the girls angled the laptop so that we could see and began announcing the goals. When Washington went up 2-1 I said, “You know if the Caps keep winning we won’t be able to leave. We’ll have to stay in the stands lest we mess with the Cosmic mojo.”

“We’ll be the only ones here in the dark, if we have to,” replied the young woman in the Ovechkin jersey.

We were bonded from that point on.

In the 7th inning—or maybe the 8th—Harrisonburg put seven runs on the board to go up 16-4. We were now the only four people left in our section of bleachers.

“They have to win tonight. I can’t take any more anxiety,” said the junior whose boyfriend was coaching first base for Winchester. We agreed, but it didn’t look good until Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game 3-3 about half-way through the 3rd period. At this point, Martha was walking around, too nervous to watch on the laptop, and I was sitting in the aisle next to the girls.

Winchester added a meaningless run in the bottom of the 9th to make the final score 16-5 and ending the three-hour forty-five minute affair. With the hockey game tied, we were released from our vow of having to stay in the bleachers in order to maintain the Balance of the Hockey Universe. We weren’t yet out of the parking lot when we turned on the radio and heard Lars Eller put the Caps ahead 4-3 with about 7:30 to go.

We hurried home and into the house where we watched the final 28 seconds and the finest moment in Washington Capitals history. We didn’t watch together, of course. Martha raced upstairs to watch on the bedroom television because that’s where she had watched the entire playoffs. Had the Golden Knights scored while she was watching downstairs, she never would have forgiven herself for causing that.

I felt joy as the Caps celebrated, but I also felt the joy of our two young friends bouncing around like radio waves emanating from somewhere in Winchester. We never got as far as introducing ourselves; names weren’t necessary anyway as we knew all we needed to know about one another as the innings drifted by. And so, I’ll never remember the Caps first Stanley Cup without thinking of our two friends and how we huddled around this little screen in an empty section of bleachers on what turned out to be a glorious night indeed.

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