December 7, 2017

Remembering the attack on Pearl Harbor that led to the U.S. entry into World War II

Dec. 7 marks the 76th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that killed more than 2,400 American servicemen and civilians, wounded more than 1,200 and propelled the United States into World War II that eventually took the lives of 405,000 Americans and some 60 million worldwide before it finally ended in 1945 when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
            Much has been made about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. But in reality it wasn’t that much of a surprise. The Japanese had been on the move throughout the Pacific and the Orient since 1904 when they defeated the Russians in Port Arthur, Manchuria. Then they took control of Korea and most of the German colonies in the Pacific, including the Carolines, Gilberts and Marianas, plus the German colony on the Chinese coast at Tsingtao.
            American writers Homer Lea and Jack London had written about the Japanese efforts to expand its empire prior to World War I. Gen. Billy Mitchell wrote about it in the mid-1920s. And in 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria and followed in July 1937 with the “infamous Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which instigated the Second Sino-Japanese War,” and then followed with attacks on Shanghai and Nanking. Finally, there was the Japanese air attack on the American gunboat, USS Panay, in December of ’37 that happened to be filmed by cameramen on the Panay and on the riverbank. Both films clearly showed Japanese aircraft attacking the Panay with the American flag flying.
            This was all public information.
            And when George Patton was the intelligence officer of the Hawaiian Division, he issued a detailed report dated June 3, 1937, in which he concluded, “Japan was willing and possibly able to attack Hawaii.” In the last sentence of the report, he wrote, “It is the duty of military forces to prepare against the worst possible eventualities.”
            Gen. Patton always said, “To be a successful soldier, you must know history.”
            Either the leaders of this country didn’t know history or didn’t pay attention to it.
            As late as November 1941, admirals in Washington wrote a vague message warning the commanders in Hawaii of the possible danger of an attack, but never checked to see if any precautions were being taken. Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Twomey writes about this in his book, “Countdown to Pearl Harbor,” which I read last year prior to attending the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
            The commander of the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence unit had lost track of Japan’s biggest aircraft carriers. Twomey writes of false assumptions and racists ones, misunderstandings, infighting and ego clashes between intelligence officers and the Navy and Army commanders—all of which led to our being totally unprepared for the attack.
            So much warning was evident long before the “Day of Infamy.”
            At 7:02 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 7, two young Army privates, George Elliott Jr. and Joseph Lockard, at a mobile radar unit at Opana on the opposite side of Oahu, picked up “a blob of unknown, inbound airplanes that erupted on their oscilloscope,” and they reported it to authorities. Only the switchboard operator and one other man were at Fort Shafter’s information center as Elliott informed the operator that a “large” flight of planes, which turned out to be 360 Japanese war planes, were inbound.
            A few minutes later Lt. Kermit Tyler, a fighter pilot who had been given the morning shift for the second time in his life to be a “pursuit officer,” called the mobile radar unit at Opana. With no fighter planes standing by, he knew nothing about how things worked or what to do. When Lockard told him about the incoming aircraft, he said he thought about it for a moment and said, “Well, don’t worry about it.” 
            “I had a friend who was a bomber pilot,” he said later, “and he told me any time that they play this Hawaiian music all night long, it is a very good indication that our B-17s were coming over from the mainland because they use it for homing.”
            He had heard such music on his radio as he drove to the center in the early morning hours. And a flight of B-17s had, in fact, been flying all the way from California and arrived in the midst of World War II.
            At 7:55 a.m., Dick Lewis, a Marine sergeant from my hometown, was relieving the guard on Ford Island.  He was standing at the end of the runway with three other Marines, all of whom had just returned from a few months in the Central Pacific building airstrips with the forward echelon of the Marine Air Wing.
            “I looked over my shoulder and saw these planes flying right at us,” Lewis told me in an interview that was later published in Leatherneck magazine. “I thought they were Army planes at first and wondered why they were flying maneuvers on Sunday morning. Then I noticed them meatballs on the wings and wondered why they covered up the stars on the bottom of the wings. That’s how dumb I was at first.    
            “Then I saw something coming out of the planes and didn’t know what it was that was hitting the airstrip and making fire jump off the runway. They were still quite a ways away from us, and pretty soon something went ‘Yiinnnggg,’ and I went end over end. I got a ricocheted bullet in my right shoulder. And I knew it was for real then.”
            For a short time, Lewis thought he’d lost his whole shoulder. Bleeding badly, he yanked off his dungaree jacket to get down to his undershirt and tore it off, then took his fingers and pushed the shirt into the hole to stop the bleeding. But his arm was hanging straight down and wouldn’t move. 
            “We’re under attack, boys!” Lewis shouted as the planes flew over. “This is the real thing.”
            He said they were on the other side of Ford Island about three miles from Battleship Row; smoke was billowing up over the hangers, and planes were burning right in from of them. Smoke was also beginning to billow up over the harbor.
            “Dadgoneit,” Lewis told me in the interview, “we knew the war was coming just as well as you and I are sitting here and know that it did happen. They sent us on out to Guam to build an airstrip, and then we went on to another island—I may be getting these islands mixed up—but we went on to Midway and helped build an airstrip on Eastern Island and got on ship and came back to Barber’s Point on the fourth or fifth of December. We came into Pearl Harbor and unloaded all our planes and things.”
            And so, the war did come. It raged on for 43 more months in the Pacific and in Europe. The world endured tremendous loss and destruction amid that horror—and witnessed a lot of courage and sacrifice, as well. What Pearl Harbor signals today is that the security of our world can be a precarious thing, and sometimes we must fight to preserve our freedom. But it also has a great cost.

November 26, 2017

The rules for teachers in 1872

During the summer and at the start of every school year when I was still teaching high school English and journalism, I reviewed lesson plans, saved magazine articles and newspaper stories, and filed away anything remotely connected to the classes I was teaching. Sometimes I used the material, but much of the time everything stayed in its original file folder, never to be used again, but I lugged the stuff with me every time I moved to a new town or school. 
            During the last few weeks, I’ve been going through my many files and cleaning them up. I still have difficulty throwing things away. But it’s been quite interesting revisiting those old files, yellowed newspaper clippings and magazine articles, and letters from former students and a host of others. And it has rekindled many memories.
            One clipping that I found most intriguing was, “Rules For Teachers 1872,” from an unknown source. The rules brought back one memory in particular: I had switched from a clinical psychology master’s program and working in a maximum-security prison to pursuing a master’s degree in English education and preparing to teach. I’d been compelled to be clean-shaven as an employee at the prison, so I grew long hair and a beard when I changed my grad school plans and was on campus at Southern Illinois University where no one said anything about my beard or the length of my hair.
            To student teach, though, I’d had my hair cut relatively short but kept the beard. Walking into class one evening just before leaving campus at the end of the quarter to student teach, the professor looked at me, smiled and asked, “Did you get the job, Ray?”
            Then the day I reported to the high school to student teach, the principal called me into his office and told me beards were not allowed in the school.
            “To student teach here, you must conform to community standards, “ he said after we exchanged small talk. “You can have the afternoon off to shave.”
            I knew to argue would be a battle I’d lose, so I reluctantly agreed.    “Is a mustache acceptable for the community standards?” I asked.
            “Oh, yes,” the principal said. “We have several prominent men in town with mustaches. No problem for you to have one.”
            So I went to a barbershop uptown and had my beard shaved but kept a long, extended mustache known as a “Fu Manchu.” The principal never commented on it, but my cooperating teacher wondered whether it was acceptable. The students approved.
            Times have changed from those days in many schools when male teachers weren’t allowed to have long hair or beard. The clip in my files went far beyond the no-beard rule, though, although beards apparently weren’t prohibited in 1872. Teachers in some schools back then were even required to “sign contracts which included the following ‘Rules for Teachers,’” according to the clip:
            1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
            2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
            3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
            4. Men teachers may take one evening a week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
            5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
            6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
            7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.      
            8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.
            9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be give an increase of 25 cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.
            After my student teaching days (when I did go to the barbershop for a shave), I don’t recall ever being told I couldn’t have a beard or long hair, or told what to wear—although it was still customary for male teachers to wear coats and ties.
            Some rules are obviously worth having if they help create a positive learning environment. I just don’t recall a list. And I’m not sure I would have taken too well to the lamp-filling, chimney-cleaning, pen-whittling life of a teacher in 1872.

September 24, 2017

Some thoughts about prisons and our responsibilities

“…And as a single leaf turns not yellow
but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong
Without the hidden will of you all.”
Kahlil Gibran
The Prophet

This excerpt from  “The Intruder” is from a book of 26 prose poetry fables by the Lebanese-American artist, philosopher and writer Kahlil Gibran. Originally published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1923, it is Gibran’s best-known work, has been translated in more than 40 different languages and has never been out of print.
          While Gibran has more to say about crime and punishment, he gets to the crux of the problem in this poem, which has long been my favorite and where the title of my recently published novel, “With The Silent Knowledge,” was taken.
          Growing up in this country, I’d always believed that the courts and the prisons were set up in the interest of society and to function for everyone’s welfare—for the accused and the convicted, as well for the victimized and the afflicted. With that in mind, I majored in psychology (and English) as an undergraduate and planned to go to grad school to become a clinical psychologist.
          But after a year as a “correctional counselor” in a maximum-security penitentiary, I developed a different perspective. Prison Riots, murders, rapes and myriad other heinous prison conditions no longer surprise me. 
           Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was reported to have used justice with mercy, mercy with wisdom, and the three with a balance that fit the circumstances. He was the kind of person I thought all judges should be—and were. It still bothers me all these years later that I fooled myself with this naive belief.
          Something in me still can’t accept that any American judge would ever send any redeemable man or woman to prison, if the judge realized what he or she was sending them into. Once there, the possibility of anyone ever being redeemed is less likely. 
          The chance for a crime-free life of redemption is more likely by keeping the felon in the community where the problem originated. That is not to say that I think violent and dangerous people should not be sent to prison. But since the community is part of the problem, as Gibran writes, we need to address the root causes of non-violent criminal behavior—poverty, stress, drug or alcohol addiction and abuse, lack of education, the family structure and more—and keep those offenders out of prison where they are educated with the “Big House” inmates’ mindset. 
          I have known many convicts in prison and many ex-convicts in the general population. And I can’t truthfully say that I have any personal knowledge of the prison experience, per se, ever instilling a single positive value in a person, although there are programs that reach a few. I can also truthfully say that I have no knowledge of the prison experience not disintegrating, if not stripping away the positive values a person may have when he or she enters. 
          However, we continue to send people to prison at an alarming rate. The prison population in Illinois, for example, has risen from about 10,000 to nearly 50,000 from the time I worked in one. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and results in negative societal and economic effects. 
          Much has been written about prison conditions, so we cannot claim ignorance. Judges and the communities have to be aware of and know what’s happening. And if we know, being an educated and caring people, all of us should collapse the prisons for many minor offenders by merely destroying their rotten foundations and work to solve the issues that have prompted the offenses.
          But I also know that’s wishful thinking on my part. It’s much easier to send offenders to prison to punish them and get them out of our sight rather than deal with the problems by providing educational opportunities, job training, therapy and other endeavors to promote learning to live in a society free and honorably. 
          We express concern over the fact that prisons are overcrowded. We express anger when a prison erupts into full-scale riot and guards are killed or injured—or the released felon kills someone or returns to the same life he or she left. But our society never, not even for a second, thinks the statistic of the recidivists failure is also the statistic of our failure, any more than the beliefs that the full and overcrowded prisons and the riots are the results of our failure. Or if it does, it doesn’t change anything. 
          I don’t know how long since it’s been since I started doubting the essential justice of man, but it seems like a long time ago. The Russian writer Dostoevsky said, “Man is a pliable animal, a being who gets accustomed to everything.” 
          That’s too bad in this case. Dostoevsky also said something to the effect that you can tell the quality of a society by looking at its prisons. You might want to take a look around you—he spent some time in a Siberian prison.

August 6, 2017

Making the most of time off in the summer

Time off from work is a great way to grow personally and enhance life skills that benefit the whole world.
            As an English teacher and journalism teacher for much of my working life, I always had summers off to do whatever I wanted. Some teachers used to say that June, July and August were the best months of the year.
            And there is something to that. It gives teachers time to recharge and prepare for a new school year. During the summers off, I’ve taken courses for a master’s degree, attended a writing workshop and combined it with a vacation, hooked up a travel trailer and taken my family on a 30-day trip around the country to tour national parks, visit friends and do whatever else of interest that came up along the way.
            I even taught history in summer school one year. Another summer I strapped on a backpack, tent, sleeping bag and canteen and hitchhiked on a 30-day trip from Illinois to Washington, D.C., down to Florida, across the South and Southwest to Southern California, up to San Francisco, and back to the Chicago suburbs. I camped sometimes, stayed with friends or people I met along the road and occasionally stayed in a motel. I turned down rides just like people turned me down when I stuck out my thumb. But I met some people on that trip years ago who are still good friends to this day.
            Another summer, I went to Australia for two weeks for the filming of The Thin Red Line movie of the James Jones novel about the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II. During other summers, I’ve taken students for eight-day tours throughout historical sites in Europe with the American Council for International Studies or taken them and my own kids camping on my father’s farm in Southern Illinois.
            Those summers were fun, memorable and probably made me a better teacher. I always came back to the classroom refreshed, had a new perspective about life and looked forward to meeting my new students each year. I always told them the first day that I was glad to be back for one of the second most important jobs a person could have. A student would often say he or she thought teachers believed their jobs were the most important. I would answer that parenting was the most important job in the world because if the parents did their job, my job was much easier. Those were the parents who always came to conferences to see how their student was doing and how they might help.
            A parent who apparently wasn’t doing the best job once came to a conference, and I was telling him about the progress of his student and how he might help.
            “You mean you want me to do your job?” the man asked.
            “No,” I said. “I want you to do your job.”
            But I digress.
            When one of my daughters was quite young, she was surprised after talking to one of her friends about a trip we’d taken that not everybody’s parents had summers off. She thought they should. I understand her perspective. And while I don’t think it would work out for everybody to have summers off, I’ve always thought vacations most people have are a little skimpy and the country would benefit if everybody had a little more time off to do what they wanted, although I hadn’t thought through how that might work with most American companies’ profit motives.
            Then the first of this year, my college sophomore daughter participated in an improvisational workshop at The Second City Theatre in Chicago. So the rest of the family went along for a few days vacation in the city for a little improv of our own. It was my turn to be surprised when Caitlin came back to the hotel after the first day.
            “There are two women in my improv workshop who work for a reinsurance company headquartered in Switzerland,” she told us at dinner that evening. “Most everybody else is my age, in their ’20s. I really like these two women. They aren’t really old, probably in their ’40s, but I just didn’t think there’d be anyone that age here. One of them has kids that are 6 and older.”
            I thought it was an interesting way for the women to spend a week of vacation.
            “It’s not vacation,” Caitlin said. “Their company gives employees a week off each year to do an activity of their choosing for personal development, whatever they want to do. They said people have gone skydiving, traveled to Italy to learn to make pasta, or done whatever else they want to do for a week.
            “One of them lives in Indiana, and the other lives in Connecticut. They met each other through work and work-related trips and decided to come here. I know one of them is keeping a journal and is recording different improv exercises and warm ups to show or maybe try with her coworkers.”
            I’d never heard of any companies doing that. It’s not the summers off that teachers have, but what a great idea.

July 28, 2017

A typical bait-and-switch employed by a car dealership

Not long ago, I totaled my black 2011 Kia Sorento EX in an accident and was looking for a similar one to replace it. Deciding not to buy a new car, I started looking online and found a black 2015 Kia Sorento LX on the Edmunds website at Bob Rohrman Schaumburg Kia in Schaumburg, Ill., called and talked to a pleasant woman about the SUV, received an email from her that promised me an extra savings of $400 on the car that was already marked down from the price on Edmunds, made an appointment for a test drive, received a text from her that the appointment had been scheduled for Saturday, July 15, at 1 p.m., told her I would be there and drove the 160 or so miles to Schaumburg.
         On the drive north from my home in Urbana, I received a call from a salesman at 11:24 a.m. to see if I would be there at one. I told him I was on the road and would be there a little after one. He said, “Fine. We’ll have the car ready for you.”

         When I arrived, I was met by a young man who immediately started looking for the SUV to show me. I told him that I’d been told it would be ready. A few minutes later, he came back and told me that the car had been sold.
         I was stunned after driving more than 160 miles, paying tolls and having been told the car would be ready and available. Another man behind the desk who was sitting beside a man I think was the general manager, Alik Freeman, engaged in a whispering conference with him and then told me they opened at 9 a.m. and the car had been sold shortly afterward.
         When I told him I’d been called at 11:24 and told the car would be ready when I arrived, he apologized, said it took awhile to close the sale and wanted to know if I would be interested in anything else.
         I was quite angry, bit my tongue and said little, but told the man that his apology meant nothing, nor would I even consider buying a car there. Nothing else I could do but write about it on this blog, contact the Kia corporate office, the Illinois attorney general and the Better Business Bureau, post it on Facebook and spread the word.
         Bait-and-switch happens all the time, I’ve heard. I understand they weren’t holding the car for me, but I would have appreciated a call telling me that the car had been sold rather than a call to see if I was keeping the appointment and that it would be ready for me when I arrived. That didn’t happen and when I looked online days later, the car was still on the Bob Rohrman Schaumburg Kia website.
         Another one of life’s lessons learned about trusting what people say.

July 10, 2017

Former Handy Writers Colony member, author and playwright Shirota funds Lowney Turner Handy scholarship

Author and playwright Jon Shirota, the last member of the Handy Writers Colony in Marshall, Ill., has given the Marshall High School Foundation $5,000 to fund the Lowney Turner Handy Creative Writing Scholarship for the next 10 years to give $500 annually to the best writer at the high school. 
          “If I live to be 100,” Shirota, now almost 90, said and laughed, “I’ll give another $5,000 to continue it for another 10 years.
          The Japanese-American who was born and raised on Maui and lives in Southern California is the author of Lucky Come Hawaii, written at the colony in the early 1960s, Pineapple White, Chronicles of Ojii-Chan and several other stories and the following plays: Lucky Come Hawaii (adapted from the novel), Leilani’s Hibiscus and Voices From Okinawa. All three plays were published in Voices from Okinawa and have been performed in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Okinawa and Japan. 
          When Lucky Come Hawaii was adapted into a play, it was awarded a production grant from the John F. Kennedy Center for New Plays and led to other plays and other playwriting awards for Shirota. He has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the American College Theater Festival, the Los Angeles Actors Theater Festival of One Acts, the Los Angeles County Cultural Affairs Department, and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and National Endowment for the Arts. 
          Shirota wanted to fund the scholarship to honor Lowney Handy for nurturing him and helping him become a writer, without whom he doubts he’d ever have come to be a writer. He was working as an Internal Revenue Service representative in Los Angeles when Handy invited him to the colony in 1963. He resigned immediately, loaded up and drove the 2,000 miles to Marshall.
          “She showed me the way,” Shirota said. “And I have the signed picture of her that she gave me on the wall of my office that I look up to each day as I sit down to write. She inspires me. My contribution to the writing scholarship is my way of honoring what she did for me.” 
          On the occasional trips back from his California home for James Jones Literary Society symposia, Shirota visits Handy’s grave in Marshall and leaves a bouquet of flowers after standing quietly before her grave in quiet contemplation. 
          After hearing of Shirota’s contribution, another former colony member who has contributed to the fund for the annual $10,000 James Jones First Novel Fellowship Award, Robinson, Ill., native Don Sackrider said, “It seems the Handy Colony lives on. How nice.” 
          While the Lowney Handy Writing Award has existed for many years, and a certificate is presented to the winning student each year by Dr. Jim Turner, Lowney’s nephew, it has never had a cash award to go with it. 
          “This is certainly a great tribute to Lowney and to Marshall,” said Alyson Thompson, director of the Marshall Public Library who has been instrumental in helping Shirota set up the financial contribution and is working with him and the Marshall High School Foundation to get the award in place for the next academic year. “It is not only an attribute to her, but to the community as well. And for that we are all thankful.” 
          The $500 annual scholarship will be given to student who completes an application, holds a GPA of 2.5 or higher—Shirota likes the lower GPA because he never graduated from high school and joined the American Army as soon as he could and was stationed at Schofield Barracks where Jones was stationed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor—and be a graduating Marshall High School Senior. 
          Included with the application is a Creative Writing Essay as outlined by MHS Senior English teacher Amy Gard or her successor. Marshall High School students also compete for an essay-writing award, initiated by the James Jones Literary Society, based on Jones’ short story, “The Valentine.”
Another former colony member, Edwin “Sonny” Cole, a Marshall native who wrote two novels, Some Must Watch and A Legacy of Love, before turning to teaching at Menlo Park, Calif., becoming head of the lower school and then becoming headmaster where he stayed until retirement, also remembered Marshall by leaving $100,000 to the Marshal Public Library after he died in 2015. 
          The library has all the books written by members of The Handy Writers Colony. Besides Shirota, Jones, Sackrider and Daly, other writers from the colony who published books include John Bowers, Tom Chamales, Jere Peacock and Charles Wright.
          Contributions will be accepted for the Lowney Turner Handy Creative Scholarship by the Marshall High School Foundation at 806 N. Sixth St., Marshall, IL 62441, to help fund the scholarship for years to come to honor Handy who mentored many writers at the colony and was the guiding force in From Here To Eternity author James Jones’ initial success.