Thursday, March 20, 2008


I will never forget the day that my brother Raz went off to war. It was one of those blustery days when you just imagine it the same way when Jesus died. My brother’s leaving was everbit as bad. We had known it was coming for months. When Pearl Harbor happened, we all knew instinctively, even if nobody voiced it, that this was going to change our world forever.We surely didn’t think of this change in global terms, just within our family.

My brother was bigger than life. To me, he was born an adult. The rest of us were all trying to figure it out, but he was already there. He immediately tried to join up since he had been in the National Guard. Every week, he would go to town for drills. They didn’t even have guns, but I heard him telling Dad once that he felt like he was doing something.

Raz was only 16 in 1943. Mom insisted he finish school which had only 11 grades. The morning he was leaving, his two best friends, Marvin Slaughter and Jake Raynor came to the house. They all seemed to be excited, but I remember the family was very sad to see Raz go. I was trying to keep from crying and Charles was boohooing and Sis was sobbing like her life was over. Mom was being strong. Dad, as usual, was silent. We all knew this was supposed to happen. The world was being threatened; and, if it could be saved, our brother could do it.

We watched them drive down the dusty road, turning right and then disappearing up the road toward town. Sis stood at the mailbox by herself still weeping as if her heart was broken. It made us cry even more. She kept saying, “Hurry up and write, hurry up and write.” It would be months before we heard anything.

Later on, we discovered he was at Camp Perry, Virginia. He wrote this letter:
Dear Sis: This is going to be short as we just got some paper and
pen from the Red Cross to write on. The trip to Camp Perry was
on the train and we were crammed in like sardines. I lost track of
Jake and Marvin, don’t know what has become of them. I was in
the middle seat with two rather fat guys. One of them was from
Roanoke Rapids. He said it is in North Carolina but I’ve never
heard of it. He could talk, nonstop all the way. His Daddy owned a
hardware store and he was a clerk he said. And, now he’s headin off to
kill Japs. I hope I’m doing the right thing. I’m thinking about all of
you and the crops. Tell Corb that he has got to step up and make
sure that Charles and Hop pull their load. I don’t worry much
about Charles, he’ll toe the line but you know how your younger
brother is. He’s more apt to hide than work. But, he’s little and so
I guess we can’t be too hard on him. I know that my going is hard
on Pa, but he’ll move right on. I will miss the cookin something terrible.
Tell Aunt Gertie to send me some biscuits. I’m just kidding. I
don’t think I’m going to care much for this life till maybe I get to
me a ship. Take care of yourself and you better not get married till
I get back home. Your brother

Here's another one: Sis, sorry you haven’t heard from me for awhile but I haven't had a moment to myself for the last several weeks. I just got my ship assignment. We’re getting ready to start training on it. I can’t tell you the name of it as my Chief said the Japs might get a hold of it. (Raz was on the USS Gage, one of 117 attack ship, sometimes called Victory ships). Tell everybody hello and I’m missing you all.

And another, Sis, we are out to sea now. I don’t know when you will get this but a day never goes by that I don’t think of all of you. Life is pretty hard on board ship and yet you kind of get use to it. Do what you’re told and just put one foot in front of the other is what I do. I’ve heard tell that some of us might be taken off and put with the Marines. We picked up a bunch of them and when they get off the ship some of us might be Marines. I would volunteer but there’s a rule, don’t ever volunteer. Our work is pretty routine though. I got all your letters and can hardly believe how hot it has been and all the rain. How much did the tobacco bring? Was Ma able to get the new wringer washing machine that she wanted? Tell me who has been coming to the house for the Sunday dinners. I’m really missing them. I bet you’d think I was skinny as a rail if you saw me. This is not the best chow in the world. Are you still thinking about being a teacher? I hope you don’t get married till I get back home. Write and tell me the answers to all my questions.

My brother Raz had a very interesting and challenging military experience in World War II. The brothers loved to hear about his "war stories" and adventures. Afterall we were back home pondering what our eldest brother was up too. Here are a few of brother Raz's memories:

Every time I go to a reunion, although there’s only four of us left from my old unit, some of them discuss the old time battles which I tell them I’ve never heard of just to rattle them: When I tell them I don't remember, they just smile. All vets can tell some tall tales. I use to tell our folks I don't see why anyone else needed to go to war—with our record we won it. Here’s one for you.My outfit was in Guadalcanal getting ready for the invasion of Okinawa. We had already run the Japs away from that part of the world. As 17 and 18 year olds will do, they had their mind on woman. It didn't matter how they looked. One night as we were enjoying the nice cool weather, 138 degree temp, a band of locals came by checking on the troops who had invaded their territory. Apparently they were not afraid of us because they had several women with them. At least I guess they were women, as they didn’t have any tops on; and, suddenly, I was transported back to sneaking looks at bare breasted women in National Geographic.The women were not going to make the cover of Playboy whatever that might be— a bone in their noses and a thin piece of cloth around the middle. The warriors had some sort of head dressing, also a bone in the nose and the body covered with a loincloth. Most of us kept looking at the women, trying to figure how anyone could get excited about such females. The captain was able to communicate with them assuring them we didn't intend any harm. After the cruelty of the Japanese, I am sure we were a blessing.

I was standing guard at the edge of the perimeter with an old boy from Texas while the Captain was talking with our visitors. In typical Texas bragging fashion, this guy knew all the answers to getting hold of some of the women. When he approached me, I told him to “forget it, not me.” Even though the testosterone was rampant, I was not that stupid. Besides those warriors were carrying spears, and I was sure they knew how to use them. He kept tal king and continued to run his mouth. The Texan claimed that the women left in the camp of the warriors were pretty, eligible, and would welcome us with open arms. To hear him tell it, we could casually walk over and have us one glorious night. After all, we hadn't seen a woman in two years.

Being a young fool and against my better judgment, I decided to go with him. As we slid through the thick jungle, he continued to build up our case. Soon we came to the huts and began to peep in them. Just as we rounded a corner of the hut, a spear came by my head, followed by a warrior yelling at the top of his voice. It was like a horror movie. I lit out as hard as I could run, several of those warriors were on my tail. I dodged and ducked until I could spot our Camp. By this time, I had lost the warriors. Secretly, I was hoping they had either captured the Texan or stuck a spear in his rear. No such luck. He got away free, the warriors only spotted me. Without saying anything, later he confessed he saw them before I did and hid. The captain found out about it and restricted me to Camp for the rest of the time we were in Guadalcanal. The Texan claimed to be innocent and told the captain the only reason he was there was to go get me. I decided then and there never to trust a Texan!

Guadalcanal is in the Solomon Islands, northeast of Australia, and doesn't get much of a footnote in history. However in World War II it was essential to controlling shipping lanes between the US and Australia. Japan was eager to build an airstrip, and the US was eager to stop them.

Our brother Raz was right in the thick of it and faced some of the most difficult fighting in the Pacific. Corb found this brief account: “The main battle for this God forsaken place is about over but we still have pockets of Japanese all over the Island. Some of them are trapped according to our Captain but still are lethal to the natives and us Marines assigned the impossible task of mopping up these bastards. The cruel Japs can still command bombing attacks with awesome firepower. While asleep as a small patrol or in Camp, we constantly hear, "Jap bomber!" Then comes the whistling of the in-coming bombs. Japanese troops on the island who were harassing us were not many in number. However, they used their mortars to keep us on our toes and to enact a few casualties at a time. This was constantly nerve wracking."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


My advice to anyone in this crazy business is: "As a writer, if I were you, I wouldn't be planning on retiring on book sales."

Supposedly, only 40% of Americans read a book last year. What is really weird is that book publishing is estimated (this from article in NY Times) will bring in $15 mil this year. 408 million books will be bought this year. And, according to the article, a survey conducted by some outfit called Ipsos found that 27% of Americans had not read a book in the previous year. However 27 percent read 15 books or more (I would estimate that I read, for instance, about 35 a year, not to include portions of books that I peruse); so, I guess there's hope.

Get this, 8 percent read 51 books or more a year. And, I guess that according to the article, a sizable minority does not read but it is balanced out by those who read alot. I would say I buy at least 50-75 books a year and so the idea that only 40% read books is a little statistically false. However, they are not reading my book. So...

Monday, March 10, 2008


The Wire is over. This is like a death. I've been watching it for five seasons and last night was the last episode. And, this morning, I am a little in mourning as some of my all time favorite characters are out of here. What has made it such a good show is that it is an arena that most of us don't have a clue about; inner city blacks, life, corruption, politics at the street level, etc. And, the show is peopled mostly by African Americans. I learned lots and was able to asked a couple of people who know, "Is this really the way it is out there?" Answer. Yes.

Each of the five seasons focused on various institutions: schools, politics, labor, the press: wow. I don't want to tell more than you care to know and make it a penguin story: (this little girl received a book from her grandmother about penguins and her mother kept hassling her to write her grandma a "thank you" note, Dear Grandma, thank you for my book on Penguins but it told me more about penguins than I care to know." ) Someone like me can often turn something into a penguin story quickly.

The Author of The Wire, David Simon and his writing partner, a retired Baltimore Policeman seem to really "get it." Simon didn't have the ending all wrapped up but pretty much left the culture in place: the drug dealing, the corrupt or self serving politicos--there was an implied ending, much like Lonesome Dove, if you are a fan: kind of flash backs, picture portraits: some making it, others not, the anti-heroes.

One of my heroes in the beginning ended up like all politicians, disappointing. Carcetti, the Mayor, where politics is all that matters (like we have never heard that before)is not interested in a better Baltimore, only one that looks better. Carcetti and Gavin Newsome of San Francisco remind me of each other. Instead of out getting "pot holes" fixed, they are trying to get to the Governor's Mansion.

The protagonist if there is one, McNulty, finally, along with Lester, his somewhat mentor opts for justice over truth. Some of it happened. Most of the characters are appealing and all of them stick in your memory. If your ears are virgin or prone to sensibilities involving language, The Wire is rife with the F, MF, and the N words--be warned.

The Wire, however, should become an American institution in terms of knowledge itself. And, I think that the best way to watch it, although I didn't but a friend suggested this: rent a whole season and watch. OD on The Wire.