March 8, 2017

Remedy for gangs who can’t shoot straight?

CHICAGO  (AP)—Police say the two young girls who were critically wounded in separate weekend shootings in Chicago’s South Side were not the intended victims.
      Department spokesman Anthony Guglielumi said in an email Monday that the girls, ages 12 and 13, were shot in the head Saturday night in areas with heavy gang activity by people who were aiming at someone else.

      Who would have thought that? Aren’t there a lot of young girls and other seemingly innocent people out on the street in cities and towns across the country, and particularly in Chicago, but here in Champaign-Urbana, too, where people get hit and killed while they are walking down the street?
       Well, of course. These young and innocent people are killed by people who have had no training of any kind with guns. They just somehow pick up pistols, stick them in their pockets and pull them out when they see something they don’t like and fire off a few rounds. They’re worse than The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, the name of a 1969 novel by Jimmy Breslin that was a funny story made into a movie in 1971.
       These gangs are two warring Mafia families in New York. One of them, considered weaker than the other, uses a dang old lion to blackmail the other gang’s “clients.” It’s the story of Papa Baccala, a Brooklyn Mafia boss, and Kid Sally Palumbo, a would-be capo who “couldn't run a gas station at a profit even if he stole the customers' cars.”
       Sounds like some of the people running around shooting people today.
       But enough of that. These young gang members and others who carry guns like this is the wild west need to learn to shoot straight and hit the people they want to hit instead of young and innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and are on the bad end of people who can’t shoot straight.
       So what to do with them? Obviously they go to prison with other criminals, if and when they are caught, are charged and maybe convicted. Which doesn’t always happen. And if they do go to prison, they’re back on the street before you know it to pick up a gun and shoot at somebody again. You read about that every day.
       Rather than prison for these gun-happy people who can’t shoot straight, we, as a society, have a responsibility to teach them to shoot straight so they will hit their intended targets and not young girls or anybody just walking down the street.
       When these people are caught and convicted, rather than send them to prison, send them to the military for the term they would have gone to prison. I’m partial to the Marine Corps myself. Let these trigger-happy dudes step off the bus and into the yellow footprints each recruit does when they get to Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island or San Diego and go through boot camp with a drill instructor screaming in their faces from early morning to late at night.
       By the time they get to the rifle range, they might have had an attitude adjustment. Maybe not, but they could learn about rifles and how to shoot straight by snapping in for a couple of weeks—that’s without live ammunition, dry firing. No live ammunition until they can be trusted. That may not ever happen, although you can be sure that they will learn safety protocol. I recall one day on the live-fire range when we (recruits) had been told if we had a jam to keep the rifle pointed down range and hold up our hand.
       One recruit not far from me held up his hand but pointed the rifle down the firing line with everybody in line. The rifle coach came running down behind the firing line, grabbed the rifle with one hand and knocked the recruit down with the other. Needless to say, that was the last time anybody failed to point the rifle down range.
       After boot camp, these people can go off to recon outfits, jump school or special forces in the Army, SEAL training in the Navy or another elite outfit where they will be surrounded by tough, well-trained men and women who know how to treat bad guys.
       Then give them live rounds and send them off to some troubled area where people shoot back. If they can’t shoot straight by then and haven’t had an attitude adjustment, they can still go to prison. And when they finally do get back on the street, at least they can hit their targets and little girls and innocent people will be a bit safer.

January 22, 2017

Iwo Jima memorial service planned for Camp Pendleton

The Iwo Jima Association of America of Quantico, Va., and the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee of San Diego, Calif., are joining together Feb. 15-19 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
      Both organizations have met separately in February for many years to remember one of the bloodiest and most brutal campaigns in the most costly war in history. For 36 days, more than 70,000 United States Marines and sailors, aided by tens of thousands of airmen in the air and sailors at sea, fought tooth and nail, inch by inch against 22,000 Japanese defenders led by LtGen Tadamichi Kuribayashi.
      The battle for the island was critical because of its location between the U.S. airbase in the Mariana Islands and the Japanese mainland. The radar that warned the mainland of pending U.S. air raids needed to be disabled so the bombers could fly undetected all the way to Japan, and any U.S. planes damaged in the raids would have a place to land on the return flight of nearly 1,500 miles rather than being lost at sea.
      Nearly 6,000 Marines gave their lives of the total 6,821 Americans killed on the island of 8 square miles of volcanic soil 650 miles from Tokyo. Another 19,000 Americans were wounded, and nearly all of the 22,000 Japanese died in the battle. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded on Iwo Jima, 22 of them to Marines of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions, which was more than a quarter of the MOHs awarded to Marines during World War II.
      So the spirit of those who fought so gallantly for the principles of our nation and to preserve democracy and free those oppressed by tyranny won’t be forgotten, these two groups are committed to perpetuating that spirit and ensuring that future generations remember the battle long after the last Iwo Jima veteran is gone.
      The Iwo Jima Memorial Service begins at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at Camp Pendleton on the westerly side of the Pacific View Events Center near where Laura Dietz, founder of Iwo Jima Monument West, is leading the initiative to erect a Marine Corps War Memorial much like the Joe Rosenthal photo of the iconic flag raising on Mount Suribachi that sculptor Felix de Weldon used as a model for the memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
      A wreath will be laid at the current Iwo Jima Memorial in Camp Pendleton that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The program will close with a 21-gun salute and Taps for the men who died on Iwo Jima.
      After the ceremony, a World War II memorabilia display will be open in the rear of the banquet hall. At 5:30 p.m. there will be a concert by the First Marine Division Band, followed by a call to order, the Presentation of Colors and a program that will include an invocation, welcome remarks and a keynote speech by distinguished guests, the Empty Chair Tribute, an Iwo Jima flag-raising tableau, closing remarks and dinner.
Prior to the Memorial Service, IJAA ( will host a symposium at the Grand Pacific Palisades Hotel in Carlsbad that will include several distinguished speakers who will address the historical events leading up to WWII and Iwo Jima, the actual battle and the aftermath to current times. Also expected at the symposium will be the Joe Rosenthal Chapter of the USMC Combat Correspondents Association.
      Rosenthal’s photo is arguably the most reproduced photo in history and is a recognized symbol of Iwo Jima and the Marine Corps. In addition to bringing the history and significance of the photo to younger generations and teaching them about the Marines, Iwo Jima and the sacrifices of WWII veterans, the group has begun a petition drive in hopes of having a U.S. Navy warship named after Rosenthal. Members of the public can sign the petition online at
      Both IJAA and the IJCC will tour Camp Pendleton on Thursday and visit the Stu Segall Strategic Operations Studio on Friday and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Lunch at a base mess hall will be included each day.
      Additionally, Military Historical Tours ( of Woodbridge, Va., will host a trip to Guam March 20-27 and on to Iwo Jima for the annual Reunion of Honor that is held in conjunction with a delegation from Japan that includes Yoshitaka Shindo, the grandson of Gen Kuribayshi.
      Funds are currently being raised to send seven Iwo Jima veterans on the annual “Reunion of Honor” tour in March. Two have been financed to date. Tax-deductible contributions of any amount may be sent to “IJAA,” P.O. Box 680, Quantico, VA 22134.

‘Never Surrender—The Ed Ramsey Story’

With the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor having been on Dec. 7, marking the entry of the United States into World War II, there were a host of books and films about the war to remind us of what this country owes the 16 million who served and those who supported the war effort at home.
      One documentary set in the Pacific Theater is “Never Surrender—The Ed Ramsey Story” about the late Edwin Ramsey’s experiences as a guerrilla leader in the Philippines adapted from his book, “Lieutenant Ramsey’s War.” I’d read the book and was invited to the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary.
Raquel Ramsey and I at the documentary premiere in Los Angeles.
      Ramsey was born in Carlye, Ill., grew up in Kansas and went to the Oklahoma Military Academy. With a bachelor’s degree and a reserve officer’s commission, he enrolled in law school at Oklahoma University. In his last year of law school in 1940, his sister, Nadine, a pilot who had moved to California, was in a plane crash that left her seriously injured. When she was released from the hospital after a few weeks, Ramsey dropped out of school and went to California to care for her.
      By Christmas 1940 she was walking again, and by January 1941 she was able to care for herself. And she was making plans to fly again—which she started doing in February.
      Broke and with the academic year in law school half over, Ramsey was at loose ends and wasn’t sure what to do. But with a reserve commission, the war already raging in Europe and prospects of the United States being drawn into it, he believed it wouldn’t be long before he’d be called to serve. So he applied for active duty, and with his experience as a polo player and a love for horses, he ended up in the Army’s 26th Cavalry stationed at Fort Stotsenburg near Clark Air Base when the Japanese attacked the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941.
      Like many American military personnel and Filipino soldiers, Ramsey refused to surrender and evaded the Japanese in the jungles of the Philippines until they were able to become organized and provide resistance as a guerrilla force. While many of the Americans and Filipino fighters, were caught, tortured and executed—some even beheaded, Ramsey eventually became the leader of about 40,000 guerrillas throughout the Philippines.
      Most of the resistance was providing intelligence to the allied forces and helping prepare for the eventual battle for the Philippines. Before the end of the war, and because of Ramsey’s leadership, the Japanese looked long and hard for him and placed a $100,000 bounty on him. When Gen. Douglas MacArthur finally returned to the Philippines, as he had promised he would in his famous “I shall return” speech after President Roosevelt ordered him to leave the Philippines and go to Australia in early 1942, Ramsey had led the guerrillas through three and a half years of resistance and provided information that helped make MacArthur’s return successful.
      When the American forces did arrive, Ramsey was emaciated and weighed less than 100 pounds. He’d even had his appendix removed without being anesthetized because the drug, which had been purchased on the black market, turned out to be water and there was no time to try and find more. Ramsey drank a bottle of rum and was held down during the operation. The appendix burst as soon as the doctor removed it.
      For his service, Ramsey was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, second highest award to the Medal of Honor. There has been a movement to raise it to the Medal of Honor. But until he died in 2013, Ramsey wasn’t concerned about that happening.
     “I didn’t do what I did for a medal,” he said.
      The documentary included interviews with Ramsey during his lifetime, as well as clips and narratives about the Philippine resistance movement from the war years. It was a moving film about the experiences of one man and the leadership he provided among hundreds of stories of heroism during the war.
      Ramsey’s widow, Dr. Raquel R. Ramsey, a Filipina 29 years his junior who was married to him for 30 years and was one of the producers of the film, said, “It was a war story, but more a love story as (actress) Jackie Bisset posed to me. It also showed that no matter how many challenges he faced in war or peace, he never surrendered.”
      Nor did Ramsey hold grudges. He lived in Japan for five years after the war and worked for Hughes Aircraft. (Ramsey also worked at Hughes Aircraft with former Urbana, Ill., resident John Britton, a Marine Iwo Jima veteran and graduate of Urbana High School and the University of Illinois.)
      The premiere was held at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and longtime friend of Ramsey, said, “This is a story of sacrifice, survival, heroism and reconciliation and that is why the Museum of Tolerance was a perfect venue.”
      Some 300 people, many of them friends of Ramsey, attended the premiere.  The documentary will be available after the Oscars where it is entered in three categories at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: documentary, original score and original song.

November 27, 2016

Wait of 71 years for an Iwo Jima veteran Cubs fan cut short

As a lifetime St. Louis Cardinals fan, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever root for, or even hope for, the “Loveable Losers” to win a World Series. Like his father raised him, my father raised me to be a Cardinals fan, and I raised my son to be a Redbird fan, even though we lived in the Chicago suburbs most of his young life. Same with the girls, even though one of them still lives in the Chicago area and is married to a damn Yankee fan.
      But then I met William Blaine “Bill” Madden in 2005 at a reunion of Iwo Jima veterans in New Orleans. Serving with Easy Company, Second Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, Bill celebrated his 19th birthday on Feb. 18, 1945—the day before the Marines landed on the island—and was wounded in early March. 
      Transferred from Iwo Jima to the hospital on Guam, then to California and on to Great Lakes Naval Hospital to be near his northern Indiana home, the young veteran and Chicago Cubs fan was there during the 1945 World Series between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers.
      That was in the days just before the Billy Goat Curse came down on the heads of the Chicago Cubs after somebody wouldn’t allow avid Cubs fan, Greek immigrant and Billy Goat Tavern owner William “Billy Goat” Sianis to bring his pet goat, Murphy, along with him to Wrigley Field for the fourth game of the series. As he and the goat were being denied entrance, Sianis reportedly raised his hands in the air and put the curse on, saying, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.” 
      Bill didn’t know about the curse at the time, but he told me the story for my novella, Iwo Blasted Again, for which he was the primary source and his poem of that name became the title. The Tigers won the fourth game 4-1 and the fifth game 8-4. The Cubs bounced back to win the sixth game 8-7 to tie the series at three games apiece to set the stage for the seventh and deciding game of the ’45 World Series, much like the Cubs-Indians 2016 series.
      In ’45 the Cubs offered a number of tickets to the wounded veterans in the hospital at Great Lakes. But Bill and many of the wounded men didn’t get to use them. Hospital officials announced that anyone taking advantage of the Cubs’ patriotic generosity would first have to go on working parties to scrub and mop floors to “earn” the tickets.
      “I lived 90 miles from Chicago,” Bill told me, “and at 19 I figured I’d have a lot of chances to see the Cubs in a World Series.”
      By the time he was in his late ‘80s, he’d about given up and said he was going to quit watching or paying attention because they were never going to win. 
      Then things started changing for the Cubs. Last year a group called the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, which provides financial assistance to wounded combat veterans, offered him the opportunity to attend a playoff game, and he thought maybe he would finally make it to the series. Still didn’t happen—until this year.
      On Oct. 24, I received the following email from Bill: 
      “Hooray, I’ve just been given a ticket to the first Cubs home game of the World Series! Dave Walker and I will be seated in Section 208, row 9, seats 9 and 10. Look for us. Dave Walker heads the veterans' group, Coalition to Salute to America’s Heroes.  I’m not a hero, but I’ll pretend to be in this case since I’ve waited since 1945 for this to happen but never thought it would. Go Cubs!” 
      Sadly, when Walker came to take Bill to the game, he became ill with a blocked colon and went to the hospital. Surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 1. But with a weak heart and failing kidneys, the prospects were bleak. 
      On Wednesday, I received a message from Bill’s son, Jim: “Dad passed away last night with his four children holding his hand. He was in the prep room waiting for surgery but didn’t make it. I was able to read the Cubs newspaper articles to him about the last win (Game 5), which made him happy, but we regret he didn't get to see another win. His was a life well lived.” 
      Indeed Bill’s life was well lived. He taught high school English for 34 years and had also taught classes at Purdue and Indiana universities. He was a great father, a poet, a teacher who could still recite verbatim some 20 poems and a good Marine. At 90 years old, he was still a great Cubs fan. I’d hoped he could hang in there for a World Series winner.
      “That was the last thing on my bucket list,” he told me when the playoffs began and I told him I thought this was the year. “I hope so, but I’ve endured a lifetime of disappointment.  This time I will wait and see.” 
      If only he’d have been able to wait just a couple more days.

November 10, 2016

My 2016 Veterans Day Speech at Urbana High School

It’s an honor for me to speak about Veterans Day here where I taught English and journalism for 15 years and advised The Echo. Some of the best times of my life were in the classroom with students, discussing literature and the news of the day and how those stories and events apply to our own lives.
            I also want to thank Dr. Owen and the Urbana School District for having school today instead of giving everybody the day off and in providing the opportunity to remember the sacrifices of veterans who served down through the years for the freedom we enjoy in this country. It’s great for teachers and staff to be here, as well, to be reminded of what our country owes to its veterans.
            Look at these men (and women) here before me. They served when they were only slightly older than you are now and are here today to help us pay tribute and to help you understand why we’re here remembering Veterans Day. Would you veterans stand and let these students give you a hand for your service?
            How many of you students have parents, grandparents or relatives who served in the military? Please stand. That’s great. How about friends or neighbors? Please thank them for their service the next time you see them.
            Now to a bit of history—I’m a teacher. Remember?
            While we celebrate Veterans Day each year, and it’s a day off from school or work for many and the stores give sales, many people don’t know where the holiday came from. Oh, we know that Veterans Day is a day to honor Americans who have served and sacrificed for our country. But there’s more to it than that.
            World War I officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, but was signed seven months after the fighting had finally ended with an armistice, or a peace agreement, between the Allied Nations and Germany (with whom we were at war) on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, or November 11. The following year, Armistice Day was observed on that day “to remind nations to seek peaceful relations between one another, in hopes that we will never again be divided.”
            Well, so much for that. Great idea, but we’re still at war. World War II followed in a little more than 20 years and took 405,000 American lives before Germany and Japan surrendered and peace was restored after millions of other lives around the world were lost.
            World War II had hardly ended before the United States was back at it in Korea. That war ended in a truce with North Korea in 1953. Service organizations urged the 83rd Congress to reinstate or rename Armistice Day as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all conflicts, and President Eisenhower signed the legislation on June 1, 1954.
            And there have been changes so we could celebrate holidays on Mondays “to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees.” Veterans Day was relegated to the fourth Monday in October until objections reversed the decision for Veterans Day back to the original date so “Americans are able to focus on the importance of Veterans Day, which is to honor and celebrate veterans for their patriotism, passion for our country, and selflessness in serving for the common good.”
            No test on that, but I do hope you remember it. These things are aspects of our country that I tried to share with students here and at other schools where I taught for 25 years. Through those years, I brought veterans into my classes to speak about their service.
            Many times, those veterans were quite a bit older than the students, and it’s not always apparent how their experiences can apply to someone your age. But the fact of the matter is, as I said earlier, they were not much older than you are now when they served. I just returned from a funeral of an Iwo Jima veteran who turned 19 the day before the Marines landed on Iwo Jima. Many of those men were teenagers. In fact, Jack Lucas turned 17 six days before he landed on Iwo Jima and received the Medal of Honor for his actions in saving the lives of his buddies a few days later.
            From my own experience, I don’t remember when I didn’t look up to veterans and appreciate their service. In my eyes, they were like today’s action heroes. My earliest memory during World War II was of community dinners that were held in the upstairs of an old-time general store in a tiny village in eastern Illinois where I grew up. Soldiers would come home on leave, and the town would honor them for their service with a get-together. On the wall above the piano was a board with the names of all the men and women in the community who were serving. Four gold stars were beside the names of those who would never see their home again because they were killed in action.
            After the war, many of those who did come home and re-entered civilian life had a difficult time. One of my older cousins who was in his early 20s at the time, had landed on Omaha Beach during the invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944. After the war when he came home, I remember him playing cards with my parents and a couple of others—still wearing his Army fatigues and wearing a tankers’ cover on his head.
            He later went to work driving a livestock truck for my father. As I got older, I got to go with him sometimes. He was kind and gentle to me, but one day while we were at a neighbor’s farm loading calves during a thunderstorm, Bruce dove under the truck when a bolt of lightening accompanied a loud crack of thunder as if a mortar had exploded beside him. When I saw him do that, I was scared and didn’t know what to think.
            The neighbor—whose own son had served with Bruce—put his hand on my shoulder and simply said to me, “He was in the war, son.”
            Through the years, I continued riding or working with Bruce whenever possible. Throughout the area, we’d run into others who had served. I’d listen to them talk and occasionally hear a bit about their service. Not much, but I looked up to them and their service and told them I hoped some day to also be able to serve in a war as they had done—something they always said they hoped I would never have to do.
            Time ran out for Bruce when he was no longer able to handle the pain from his wounds and injuries. Sadly, on the anniversary of the D-Day invasion several years later, he took his own life. He once told me he wouldn’t take a million dollars for what he’d seen—but he wouldn’t take a millions dollars to do it again, either.
            The barber who cut my hair until I was out of high school had been in the Marine Corps and had landed on Iwo Jima—one of the toughest battles of the war—6,821 men were killed and another 19,000 wounded in the 36-day battle. He was among the wounded, and while he was being hoisted up the side of a hospital ship, he looked back toward the island and saw the flag flying on Mount Suribachi that’s now an iconic image in our nation’s history. He would tell that story to me with tears in his eyes.
            “Regardless of how long I live, I’ll never see anything so beautiful as Old Glory flying on that mountain,” he said. That was on only the fifth day of the battle, and the men on the island thought the battle was over.
            Others fought and served throughout the Pacific and Europe, “Flew The Hump,” over the Himalayas, taking food and supplies into China, or served in the States, as many civilians did, to support the war effort overseas. Some 16 million men and women served.
            When one of our neighbors who had joined the Marine Corps Air Wing before the war would meet one of my dad’s trucks I happened to be riding in and I would see him, I’d roll down the window and put my arm out and fly “a plane” at him. He’d fly his arm back at me. He’d been wounded in Hawaii as he was relieving the guard on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
            Then came the Korean War, the Cold War and Vietnam. I served during the later half of the second and the first part of the last and was with men who had served on Guadalcanal, on through the island-hopping campaign on the way to Japan and later in Korea. My most vivid memory is of one man, a corporal when I met him, a private when I last saw him serving time in the brig where I worked, who had been a gunnery sergeant. He’d landed with the infantry in four island campaigns, including bloody Tarawa, in World War II. He was still a gunnery sergeant during Korea, but his condition, which would have been identified as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) today, and alcohol took its toll. The last time I saw him back in the States he had the 1000-yard stare as he moved along, oblivious to everything around him.
            Since then, the country has eliminated the draft, the Iranian student revolution took over our embassy in Tehran and held our servicemen and citizens prisoner for 444 days, the Marine Barracks in Beirut was bombed, we’ve been attacked in our own country on 9-11, and we’ve been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq for years, and we’re still fighting in the Middle East.
            And despite the lack of a draft, thousands of men and women have continued serving in the military by choice to keep us free and safe. Remembering and honoring those veterans who serve this country on our behalf is what today is all about. It’s the right thing for us to do for those who have been willing to put themselves in harm’s way to defend our country and our freedom.
            Thank you for your attention and thank you for remembering and honoring our veterans, today and every day.