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The Disappearance of the USS John McCain

President Donald Trump swears he had nothing to do with hiding the USS John McCain from view during his recent state visit to Japan, nor excluding its crew from a presidential address to most of the rest of Pacific fleet’s sailors at the port of Yokosuka on Memorial Day, but we don’t believe him. Trump’s fans admire his bluntness, so we’re sure they won’t mind if we come right out and say that he’s an habitual liar and exactly the sort of small and petty person who would do that.
By now everyone knows that Trump had a very personal feud with the late Arizona Sen. John McCain III, for whom the warship is named, along with his four-star admiral father John MCcain II and and four-star admiral grandfather John McCain, each one a bona fide war hero, and that Trump isn’t one to let a feud end at the grave. Trump dodged the draft during the Vietnam War with a phony baloney note from the podiatrist who rented office space from Trump’s multi-millionaire father — again we expect that the Trump fans will appreciate our bluntness — but he dismissed the five years of torture that McCain endured in the notoriously brutal “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp because the naval aviator declined an offer of early release made due to his family’s prestige rather than leave his comrades behind and hand the enemy a propaganda victory. “He’s only a war hero because he got captured,” Trump infamously said. “I hate to tell you, but I like a guy who didn’t get captured, okay?”
That slur against every brave American who ever endured being a prisoner of war should have ended Trump’s candidacy right then, but it didn’t, and when he somehow became President of the United States Trump continued his war of words with the former Republican nominee and bona fide war hero and longtime public servant who had the gall to question Trump’s fitness for the presidency. McCain wound up casting the decisive vote against Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” and after that Trump ramped up the taunting “tweets” even as McCain was dying of brain cancer. Although we don’t care much for the health care law and would like to see it repealed we have to admit that Trump didn’t have any sort of replacement on offer, so we can forgive McCain’s vote and acknowledge that he might even have been right, but Trump is not the forgiving sort and is never wiling to admit that he might be wrong.
The Pentagon and the Navy and the White House spent much of Thursday passing around blame about why the USS John McCain had covered its name with a tarp, then delayed its much-needed repairs by sailing outside of television camera range, and why its crew was one of the two in the area not invited to a presidential speech on a ship named for someone Trump has no beef with. They all initially blamed it on unnamed lower officials, but wound up admitting that there was a directive from the White House to keep the ship out of any press photos. Trump wound up claiming he couldn’t be held to account for whatever some unnamed lower level White House officials might do, but reiterated his dislike of McCain, and said that “Somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him, okay? And they were well meaning.”
Both the war hero McCain and the draft dodger Trump prided themselves on blunt talk, and people 0n both sides seem to love it, so we’ll go ahead and say it again. The President of the United States is an habitual liar and a small and petty man.

— Bud Norman

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Chief Two Toes, and Other Reasons for Memorial Day

Our old newspaper pal Hoot, also known as Skippy Sanchez, went to Facebook on Sunday and linked to a Memorial Day post that ran in the Central Standard Times five years ago about our late mutual pal Jerry Clark. We thought it a well-written tribute to a bona fide American hero, and decided to take the day off in Clark’s honor and re-run it.
Today is Memorial Day, and we plan to charcoal some meat, drink a beer, and fly our Kansas flag from the porch. In keeping with our holiday custom, we will also spend the day missing Jerry Clark.
Clark, who was also known as Clyde Suckfinger and Chief Two Toes, was a good friend from way back in our newspaper days. When we broke into the newly computerized newspaper racket at 19-years-old as glorified copy boys he was an aging photographer who’d been shooting since the days of the massive accordion-lens cameras with the searchlight-sized flash bulbs, but we hit it off immediately. He liked that we had been born in Manila in the Philippines while our dad was paying off his AFROTC debts by flying single-engine planes and doing various other First Lieutenant chores, as he had his own connections to Manila and the Philippines, and he liked that we were the very last ever hired to work at the late Wichita Beacon where he had started his ink-stained career.
The twenty-something college grads from fancy journalism schools who then dominated the paper’s reporting ranks were often embarrassed to have him along on assignments, with his rumpled suits and conspicuously ugly shoes and the ties marked with holes from the chemicals that splattered around in the dark room, not to mention his ribald sense of humor and uncomfortable candor and unabashed Kansasness, so naturally we regarded him as the coolest cat in the newsroom. At every opportunity we’d hang out with him in the darkroom or the smoker’s lounge and swap jokes, the dirtier the better, and he’d tell us tales of the good old days when the reporters wore fedoras and shouted “get me rewrite” into candlestick phones and everything was in glorious black-and-white. Most of the stories were funny or risqué, and always infused with a necessary cynicism about the business he was in, but he’d still choke up occasionally at the recollection of a murder or other grisly crime scene he’d been sent to, or the sorry state of the slums he’d documented during the paper’s occasional urban crusades, or the tornado that wiped out the tiny town of Udall just south of Wichita.
The photographs Clark took of the aftermath of that tornado were reproduced in publications around the world and won him a nomination for the Pulitzer prize, but you had to get to know him for a while before he mentioned that, or anything else he’d done that was worth bragging about. Eventually we got to know him well enough to hear about his Great Depression boyhood in an Atchison orphanage, where all the kids rooted for the Detroit Tigers because the team was rough and ugly and all the respectable town kids with parents rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals, and how at the age of 16 he spent a year of more or less indentured servitude at a bakery in Hutchinson. When he turned 17 years old Clark was inducted into the Army and shipped off to the Pacific to fight a war against the Japanese, and after a while he even talked to us about that.
One sunny summer day we noticed that Clark was less than his usual ebullient self, and assumed it was because the young whippersnappers from out of town who were then running the paper had pulled him off the street and relegated him to darkroom duty, but he scoffed at the idea and explained it was the anniversary of the very worst day of his war. He told how a landing craft had stopped too short of the shore on one of the many islands he had been obliged to invade, and how he had gone charging out of the deployed door and immediately sinking into the depths of the ocean under the weight of his helmet and gun and backpack and heavy boots. He somehow managed to jettison all the gear and make it to the beach, but he arrived there in the middle of a pitched battle without a helmet or rifle or rations or boots, and spent the rest of the day crouched in a hand-dug hole as machine gun fire whizzed overhead and mortar shells landed close enough to toss sand on his back. He had relived the experience once a year ever since, he said, and assured us that nothing those young whippersnappers running the paper could do seemed quite so bad.
On another occasion he told how his regular assignment after a beach was taken was to leap into the enemy foxholes further inland and either shoot or knife whoever he found there to prevent them from placing magnetic bombs on the bottom of the tanks that would pass over. He was neither boastful nor ashamed about it, and he’d always add that pretty much every other able-bodied American male at the time also had some nasty chores to do in the war, and we had to agree with him that it was of greater importance the Axis powers didn’t win.
On most occasions he told more light-hearted war stories. He liked to tell about the time he saw a zoot-suited Cab Calloway and his swinging orchestra while on leave in southern California, or the time he was in the boxing ring with Joe Louis, who served as a referee for one of Clark’s bouts against fellow training camp lightweights while the heavyweight champ was on a morale-boosting tour, or the friend and fellow soldier who contracted what Clark thought a particularly amusing case of testicular elephantiasis from a Singapore prostitute. Like most combat veterans, our friend preferred to remember the good times and funny anecdotes.
We’ve forgotten how Jerry Clark came to be known as Clyde Suckfinger, although we vaguely recall that it couldn’t be recounted in such a respectable publication as this in any case, but we clearly remember how he came to be called Chief Two Toes. One day in the early ’90s Clark took ill and was taken to the local Veterans Administration hospital, where we found him lying in bed with both feet sticking out of the blanket. One foot had only the big toe and the pinkie toe, and when he caught us looking at it he explained with a shrug that the other digits had been blown off by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Battle of Manila. He gave us his full account of the famous fight, which is still troubling to recall and far too gory to recount here, but suffice to say that it ended with him spending two years in a Hawaiian hospital partially recovering from his numerous wounds.
Clark also told us that one of the men who occupied the next bed wasn’t so lucky, and when he died Clark inherited a camera, which he spent the rest of his time in the hospital learning how to use. When he was eventually shipped back to Kansas he got off the train in downtown Wichita, walked a few blocks down Douglas to the Beacon Building and managed to convince the photography editor that he could take good pictures and wouldn’t be intimidated by any of the gore that newspapers loved to cover back in the day. That’s how Jerry Clark came to be a newspaperman, and he so loved the job he always said that he counted himself lucky, no matter how bad things got.
He spent the last years of his newspaper career relegated to the dark room, and whenever the photography editor would rap on the door and demand to know what he was doing in there he’d always say “I’m doing the three and the five,” which we found out was an allusion to an old Army joke that absolutely cannot be repeated in such polite company as our dear readers, and the whippersnappers from out of state who ran the paper forced him into retirement earlier than he wanted. At his retirement party the Vietnam vet who was then the photography editor made sure everyone saw Clark’s Purple Heart and numerous other decorations, along with many of the excellent photographs he’d taken over the years, and even the most callow of the college-educated reporters who’d been embarrassed to have him along on assignment seemed to realize how shabbily he’d been treated.
We like to think he got some revenge during several years of a seemingly happy retirement, savoring the loving company of his longtime wife and taking pride in a son who had gone off to sea with the Navy, and indulging in a variety of hobbies that did not involve photography or newspapers or war. We are happy to say that every time we’d see him he was in high spirits and low-brow humor.
Those doctors in Hawaii never did get all of the Japanese shrapnel out of his legs, though, which is how we came to visit him in the VA hospital. The war was still trying to kill him, he said, and he was still determined that it wouldn’t. He died a few years later in a seizure-caused car accident, and the medical report suggested it had something to do with the lead in his bloodstream. The war wound up killing Jerry Clark, after all, even if he’s not counted in the official and horrific death toll, but we think it a testament to his toughness and stubbornness and Kansasness that it took more than 50 years. That it never stopped the hearty laughs he’d get from a dirty joke or the pride he took in his son’s military service or the compassion for his fellow man that somehow persisted in the loving and gentle soul of such a fierce and fearsome warrior is all the more remarkable.
Chief Two Toes would be annoyed with us for saying such flattering things about him, and insist that he was no different from any of those other hard-luck sons of bitches who had the misfortune to don a uniform in a time of global war, so we’ll also take time out today to remember all of his brothers and sisters in arms. There are still concerns about the care that America’s heroes are receiving from the VA, which used to send Clark two pairs of those famously ugly shoes each year, one of each with a cardboard box to take up the space where his middle toes used to be, so we’ll try to keep agitating about that through another year and another election cycle.
By all means enjoy some charcoaled meat and a beer today, and fly a flag from your front porch, if the weather permits, but come tomorrow be ready to insist we do better by the likes of Jerry Clark.

— Bud Norman

Another Memorial Day

Today’s a good day for burgers and beer and goofing off and other great American things, but one should also aside a few moments of gratitude for the brave soldiers and sailors and airmen who make them possible. In hopes of helping, we’ll observe our tradition of re-posting an essay we first published back in ’12. It’s still all too true.

On a long walk through old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass diving a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rife and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that tarnished a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American War and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and the the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war last for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before on to the more exciting tales of the ’60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial preeminence on the world state, and permanently altered, for better and worse, the the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and the giant Keeper of the Plains statue at the confluence of the rivers, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another monument lists the names of the many local men who died serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a more elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of the conflicted had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some Americans veterans of the war have publicly complained about the include of a non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt, not just by the world but by individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the Union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the Wichita boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city were are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markets to honor the men and women who have fought for this country, and of course a good many graves for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq War, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor those for fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive all of us, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishments of even tenuous democracies in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the defeats of Al-Qade and the Islamic State might yet prove a boon to humanity, and that faint hope is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the wars have been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for American in even the most controversial wars, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and be grateful.

— Bud Norman

Reality Intrudes on a Otherwise Nice Weekend

The weather around here was atypically perfect over the Memorial Day weekend, with none of the vicious thunderstorms and potential tornadoes that usually drive all the campers away from the nearby lakes at some point in the holiday, and the news cycle was as slow as one can hope for these days. Still, there was no shaking a certain sense that real life and all its discontents would start up again today.
We did our best to put it aside for a weekend of gratitude to fallen heroes and other uplifting thoughts, attending church and doing some pressing chores and pursuing plenty of procrastinating, while sticking mostly to the sports news. On Monday we slept late and eventually got together with some gray-haired hippie friends who meet every year on the date at a charmingly dilapidated house in a charmingly dilapidated neighborhood, and we had some barbecue and drank some beer and talked mostly about music.
They were playing the Allman Brothers Band on an old stereo sound system, apparently in memoriam of Gregg Allman, one of the eponymous co-founders of the band and its longtime vocalist and organist and songwriter, whose obituary we had noticed in the news over the weekend, and we have to say it sounded great. As natural born rockabillies our tastes in rock ‘n’ roll tend to the pre-hippie generation, and in our relative youth we embraced the punk sensibility that rebelled against those aged hippies, but we could never resist that Allman outfit doing “Crossroads” or “Whipping Post” or especially that enticingly melodic “Jessica,” which we played over and over on our old stereo until it drove our mom crazy, so we shared with our hippie friends a sincere toast to an undeniably crazy old hippie who was also an undeniably great and quintessentially American musician.
There was plenty of grousing about President Donald Trump, too, of course, but our natural born rockabilly punk and old school Republican sensibilities weren’t much stirred to offer any defense. We left early and dropped in an another old friend, a woman who is a bit younger and far punkier than ourselves, and still quite attractive in an exotic and ripened sort of way, and after she she showed us some cell phone video of her cute grandsons she also started grousing about Trump. After such a long friendship she usually avoids political topics with us, but we invited her to vent her spleen without any fear of recriminations. This lead to an eerily civil discussion about our bedrock conservative principles, however weird they might seem at the moment, and even some lengthy discourse some about the authoritarianism on her side of the political divide, and it ended in a hug.
After that we still managed to make the last inning of the Wichita Wingnuts’ home-opening victory over the Salina Stockade at the old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on a glorious early summer night next to the Arkansas River, and although our New York Yankees lost to the Baltimore Orioles the Boston Red Sox also so lost so the Yankees were still comfortably in first place in the American League East. In our perusal of the sports pages we also noticed that Frank DeFord had died and Tiger Woods had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, so it wasn’t a great day in sports. DeFord was until his final day the best sportswriter of his generation, and at one point around 2008 Woods seemed poised to claim the title of greatest golfer and most heroic sports hero ever, and both of those stories came to a sad end over the weekend.
We dropped in on the last Wingnuts inning with a couple of our cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, one of whom is a graying hippie professor at the local university and the other a gray-pony-tailed hippie who still musters a full-throated defense of Trump, and they briefly filled us in on what they’d been arguing about during the home team’s victory. At that point we tried to talk about the home team’s victory, and if we’d arrived early enough to purchase a beer we’d have raised a conversation-changing toast.
We can’t help a late night glance at the news, though, so naturally Trump came up in that. They don’t observe Memorial Day in Germany, so Chancellor Angela Merkel went ahead with a speech that didn’t mention Trump by name but made clear that in “my experience of the last few days” she spent with Trump she had concluded that Europe could no longer count on the support of “outside sources,” and her opponent in the upcoming election more explicitly agreed with her more subtle denunciation of Trump. Our liberal Facebook friends were meanwhile exulting in Trump’s admittedly unusual demeanor during the national anthem at Arlington Memorial Cemetery, and although we don’t think it necessarily damning we have to admit it is unusual. There’s the carry-over from the previous work week’s stories about Trump’s son-in-law and all-purpose appointee, too, and we had to warn our Trump-apologist friend that the upcoming testimony of the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director will likely require some difficult apologetics.
He seemed to take our warning to heed, and inquired about the well-being of our folks, whom he has also lately befriended. We appreciated the sincere inquiry, and assured him they seemed to be doing fine, and felt a hopeful thought that all this politics and sports and whatnot doesn’t really matter.
We also took a moment or two to remember Jerry Clark, who grew up in the Depression at an Atchison orphanage and got his toes blown off at the Battle of Manila in World War II and somehow wound up in the darkroom of the newspaper where we worked as young punks,  where he became one of our very best friends ever. For all the difficulties of his life he was one of the funniest fellows we’ve ever known, and as we face the coming week we’d love to hear what he would say about this particular moment in time.

— Bud Norman

A Pause for Memorial Day

The news should start up again with its recent ferocity tomorrow, but until then the country deserves a brief respite. Today is Memorial Day, a chance to relax, light up the barbecue, knock back a beer, and reflect for a moment or two on the heroes who made it possible. We’ll not intrude on any of that with news, which is mostly pretty bleak these days.
Thanks for dropping by, though, and allowing us to wish you a great day in in the great land of America.

— Bud Norman

Another Memorial Day

Today is a good day to take it easy, enjoy the arrival of another long-awaited summer in America, and to not bother with the mess we’re making of it. It’s also a good time to reflect on the men and women who once made America, so we’ll re-post an old essay once again. Nothing much has changed since we wrote it.
On a long walk through the old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass dividing a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rifle and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that has tarnished to a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American war and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time the monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and that the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war lasted for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only short mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before rushing on to the more exciting tales of the ‘60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial dominance, commenced more than a century of America’s preeminence on the world stage, and permanently altered, for better or worse, the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and its giant Keeper of the Plains statue, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another lists the names of the many local men who died while serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a rather elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of that conflict had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some American veterans of the war have publicly complained about the inclusion of non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt not just by the world but individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found clear over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city there are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markers to honor the men and women who have fought for their country, and of course a good many gravestones for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq war, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor the men and women who fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive us all, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishment of a democracy in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the military defeat of al-Qaeda will prove a boon to humanity, and that is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the war has been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for America in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and to be grateful.

— Bud Norman

Memorial Day

Among the fallen heroes we honor today are some who fought in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Ramadi in order to bring democracy to that country and cease its support for terrorism. Lately both cities have fallen into the hands of a sadistic terrorist gang calling itself the Islamic State, presidential candidates from both parties are questioning the decision to send American troops into Iraq in the first place, nobody seems to be asking it if was a good idea to withdraw them, and those who survived the ordeal are feeling forgotten and disrespected. We won’t take up time on a holiday best spent with barbecue and beer by arguing the wisdom of the American efforts in that country, or their apparently premature end, but we would like to let those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan know that they are well remembered by re-running a post from a Memorial Day past:

 

On a long walk through the old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass dividing a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rifle and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that has tarnished to a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American war and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time the monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and that the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war lasted for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only short mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before rushing on to the more exciting tales of the ‘60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial dominance, commenced more than a century of America’s preeminence on the world stage, and permanently altered, for better or worse, the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and its giant Keeper of the Plains statue, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another lists the names of the many local men who died while serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a rather elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of that conflict had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some American veterans of the war have publicly complained about the inclusion of non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt not just by the world but individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found clear over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city there are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markers to honor the men and women who have fought for their country, and of course a good many gravestones for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq war, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor the men and women who fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive us all, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishment of a democracy in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the military defeat of al-Qaeda will prove a boon to humanity, and that is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the war has been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for America in Iraq and Iran, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and to be grateful.

— Bud Norman

In Memoriam, Clyde Suckfinger

Today is Memorial Day, and we plan to charcoal some meat, drink a beer, and fly our Kansas flag from the front porch. In keeping with our holiday custom, we will also spend the day missing Jerry Clark.
Clark, who was also known as Clyde Suckfinger and Chief Two Toes, was a good friend from way back in our newspaper days. When we broke into the newly computerized newspaper racket at 19-years-old as glorified copy boys he was an aging photographer who’d been shooting since the days of those massive accordion-lens cameras with the searchlight-sized flash bulbs, but we hit if off immediately. He liked that we had been born in Manila in the Philippines while our father flew single-engine prop planes there to play of his AF-ROTC debt, for same reason, and that we were the last-ever hires for the old Wichita Beacon where he had started. The twenty-something college grads who then dominated the reporting ranks were often embarrassed to have him along on assignments, with his rumpled suits and conspicuously ugly shoes and his ties marked with holes from the chemicals that splattered around in the dark room, not to mention his ribald sense of humor and uncomfortable candor and unabashed Kansasness, so we naturally regarded him as the coolest cat at the paper. At every opportunity we’d hang out with him in the darkroom or the smokers’ lounge and swap jokes, the dirtier the better, and he’d tell stories of the old days when the reporters wore fedoras and shouted “get me re-write” into candlestick phones and everything was in glorious black-and-white. Most of the stories were funny, often risqué, and always infused with a necessary cynicism about the business he was in, but he’d still get choked up at the recollection of a murder or some other grisly crime scene he’d rushed to, or the sorry state of the slums he covered, or the tornado that wiped out the tiny town of Udall just south of Wichita.
The photographs Jerry took of the aftermath of that tornado were reproduced around the world and won him a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize, but you had to get to know him a while before he’d tell you about that, or anything else he’d done that was worth bragging on. Eventually we got to know him well enough to hear about his Great Depression boyhood in an Atchison orphanage, where all the kids rooted for the Detroit Tigers because the team was rough and ugly and all the town kids with parents rooted for the more respectable St. Louis Cardinals, and how he spent his sixteenth year in a sort of indentured servitude to a bakery in Hutchinson. When he turned 17 years old Jerry Clark was inducted into the Army and shipped off to the Pacific to fight a war, and after a while he even talked about that.
One hot summer day Jerry seemed less than his usual ebullient self, and we assumed it was because the young fools from out of town who were running the paper had pulled him off the street and relegated him to darkroom duty, but he scoffed at the idea and explained it was the anniversary of the worst day of his war. He told how a landing craft had stopped too far ashore of one of the Pacific Islands he was obliged to invade, and that he had gone charging out that deployed door and started sinking deep into the ocan under the weight of his helmet and boots and gun and pack. He managed to jettison all the gear and make his way to the beach, but found himself in the middle of battle without helmet or boots or gun or pack, and had to lie still in a shallow hole for a full day as bullets whizzed overhead and mortar fire landed close enough to spray sand on to his back. He had re-lived that experience on the same day every year since, he said, and nothing the young fools from out of town who were running the paper could do would be quite so bad. On another occasion he told of us his regular assignment to leap into enemy foxholes and personally dispatch the soldiers there to prevent explosive charges from being magnetized to the bottoms of the tanks that passed over. He preferred to talk about the time he got to see a zoot-suited Cab Calloway play swing music during a leave, or the time he was in the boxing ring with Joe Louis, who served as a referee during a morale-boosting tour of the training camp where he boxed in a lightweight tournament, or the friend and fellow soldier who contracted a particularly amusing case of testicular elephantiasis from a Singapore prostitute, but it was clear that he had a lot of bad days in the war.
We’ve forgotten how Jerry Clark came to be known as Clyde Suckfinger, although we vaguely recall that it couldn’t be recounted in such a respectable publication as this in any case, but we clearly remember how he came to be known as Chief Two Toes. One day in the early ’90s Jerry took ill and was taken to the Veterans Administration, where we found him lying in bed with his feet sticking out of the blankets. One foot had only the big toe and the pinkie toe, and when he caught us looking he told how the missing digits had been blown off by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Battle of Manila. He gave us the full story, which is still troubling to remember and far too gruesome to recount here, but suffice to say that it ended with him spending two years in a Honolulu hospital recovering from his wounds. He told us that one of the poor fellows in the next bed hadn’t been so lucky, and when he passed away Jerry was given possession of the man’s camera and spent the rest of recuperation figuring out how to use the thing, so when he was eventually shipped back to Kansas he got off the train at Wichita’s downtown Union Station and walked a few blocks to the Wichita Beacon where he swore to the dubious editors that he knew how to use a camera. That’s how he came to be a newspaperman, and Jerry regarded it as one of the lucky breaks he’d had in life. Those Honolulu doctors never did get all the Japanese shrapnel out of his legs, though, which was why he was back in the hospital all those years later. The war was still trying to kill him, he said, and he was still determined that it wouldn’t.
Jerry spent the rest of his career in the dark room, where he always said he was doing “the three and the five,” which alludes to an old Army joke that cannot be told in polite company such as this, and was forced out before he wanted by the young fools from out of town who were running the paper. At his retirement party the Vietnam vet who was then the photography editor made sure everyone got a look at Jerry’s Purple Heart, along many of the remarkably good shots Jerry had taken over the years, and even the most callow twenty-something reporters were unsettled by how shabbily he’d been treated. We like think he got his revenge with a few good years of retirement, savoring the company of his longtime wife and a son who’d gone off to sea with the Navy, indulging in a variety of hobbies that did not involve photography or newspapers, and we are happy to say he was always in high spirits and low-brow humor when we’d see him.
Jerry died several years back in a seizure-induced automobile accident, and from what we heard that Japanese shrapnel and its ongoing effect on his bloodstream might have had something to do with it. The war finally killed him, but it’s a testament to the toughness and stubbornness and Kansasness of our friend that it took about 50 years. That it never stopped the hearty laughs he’d get from a dirty joke or the pride he took in his son’s military service or the pain he felt from the ordinary sufferings of his fellow human beings was all the more remarkable. He’d be annoyed to hearing us saying so, and quick to insist that he was no different from any of those other hard luck sons of bitches who had the historical misfortune to be called on to don the uniform at a time of war, so we’ll take a moment to day the miss the rest of them as well. We still miss Jerry, and the America he exemplified for us, and Memorial Day is an annual reminder.
This year the holiday is accompanied by newspaper accounts of gross mismanagement and substandard care at Veterans Administration hospitals such as the one where we visited our friend and discovered his missing toes. The same VA used to send Jerry two pars of those conspicuously ugly shoes every years, with one featuring a personalized padding to fill the space of those missing toes, which he also regarded as a lucky break, and it is infuriating to hear that they’ve failed so many of the men and women who made the same sorts of sacrifices and suffered the same lingering effects of war as our friend. We read that the President of the United States was 13 minutes late to a press conference to announced that he’s awaiting some bureaucrat’s report before being “madder than hell” about it, and that’s standing by the Secretary who has presided over the past five and a half years of this outrage, and the decline from the days of Jerry Clark seems depressingly apparent.
By all means enjoy some charcoaled meat and a beer today, and fly a flag from your front porch, if the weather perm is, but come tomorrow be resolved to inset that we do better by the likes of Jerry Clark. Not just in the VA hospitals, but everywhere in America where that hard luck son of a bitch toughness and unabashed Kansansness is lacking.

— Bud Norman

And the Living Is Easy

There is no news on Memorial Day, a strict rule of journalism that most newsmakers gladly obey, and in any case all sensible people ignore whatever does happen out there in the rest of in world. The stock markets are closed, the bureaucrats are barbecuing in their well-tended backyards instead of issuing new regulations or scary statistics, the right-wing ranters on talk radio are running repeats, the editorial pages are devoted to solemn sermonizing about the fallen heroes of long ago, and the troubles of the present are momentarily forgotten.
We spent much of the day listening to old Chuck Berry records, an appropriately apolitical way of rockin’ and rollin’ into the summer, but could not resist some stubborn instinct to glance at the headlines. At the Drudge Report the big story was about Sen. John McCain, who can not resist a stubborn instinct to make headlines even on Memorial Day, traveling to meet with the unsavory Islamist rebels fighting the equally unsavory Assad regime in Syria. The reports were a depressing reminder of what a disaster a McCain presidency would have been, and that the only reason we don’t regret having voted for him is that the alternative proved even worse, as well as the unsettling fact that there are no good options left in Syria. Another story that caught our eye was about a planned Hollywood movie depicting Hillary Clinton’s heroic role in the Watergate hearings, with the famously luscious actress Scarlet Johansson playing the lead role, but that was also too depressing to read.
Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, which is supposed to be the slow news time of year, but expect no respite from events. The slow trickle of revelations about the various scandals will continue through coming months, no matter how much the media would prefer to ignore it, and both sides of the partisan divide will fight to a draw on most matters. Immigration reform might pass, but not without plenty of resistance from people outside Washington. The quantitative easing of billions of dollars per month into the markets can’t continue forever, and if it ceases this summer the economy will be back on page one after a long and inexplicable absence. Summertime offers a delightful number of distractions, but what’s happening out there in the rest of the world will inevitably intrude.
In the meantime, we wish a happy summer of poolside frolics and good time rock ‘n’ roll music to all our readers.

— Bud Norman

Lest We Forget

All of the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for the United States of America deserve our respect and gratitude, but on this particular Memorial Day we feel obliged to make special mention of J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods. If the names are only vaguely familiar, all the more reason they should be singled out. These are the four Americans who were killed by a ruthless terrorist attack as they served their country at a far-flung diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, and the country these brave and honorable men died for doesn’t seem to care much about them.
There have been hearings and headlines and even the occasional hard-hitting question from someone in the old-fashioned media, but they haven’t generated an appropriate outrage from the public. The Secretary of State who signed the cables denying the necessary security to the men who died in Benghazi remains the most popular figure in American politics according to some polls, and is widely considered a frontrunner in the race to become the next president. The Commander in Chief who went to bed as the men were fighting for the lives, while somewhere down his chain of command two stand-down orders were given to units willing to rescue their comrades, is confident enough in his public standing to unilaterally declare and end to war that resulted in the deaths of four men on his watch. All of the people who went before the public to lie about why the deaths occurred, blaming a little-known low-budget filmmaker who had availed himself of his free speech rights as an American rather than the organized terrorist gang that actually committed the murders, remain on their well-paid jobs.
Various excuses have been offered, and the president even spent a portion of his hour-long address on national securities on Thursday to reprise the thoroughly refuted claim that stingy Republican budget-cutting is to blame, but the administration’s main defense is the public’s disinterest in the whole matter. In one of the rare interviews the president granted during the campaign, to a snide liberal comedian on a cable show, he described the death of the four Americans as “not optimal.” His White House press secretary has recently tried to fend of questions by insisting that it was all “a long time ago.” When the Secretary of State belatedly showed up at a congressional investigation on the matter and was questioned about why she didn’t try to discover the basic facts of the incident before taking to the microphones with a dishonest tale of an incendiary YouTube video she snarled “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
So far the strategy seems to be working, at least well enough to keep the poll numbers from plummeting. The Secretary of State’s callous indifference to the fate of four Americans even won plaudits from the liberal press, who declared the performance proof of her presidential timber. As far as much of the country is concerned, the scandal is that some people keep asking embarrassing questions of an administration they regard as more important than the people it is supposed to protect. An even larger portion of the country just doesn’t want to hear about it, or any of the glum talk about terrorism, and are happy to hear that the president has declared an end to it all.
Stevens, Smith, Doherty, and Woods all deserved better than what they got from the government they served, and they deserve better from the people they sacrificed their lives for. None were active duty military personnel at the time they were killed, and the former Navy SEALs Doherty and Wood employed by a private security firm, but they were assuming the same risks to serve their country as any soldier, sailor, or airman, and they warrant the same respect on this holiday. It does make a difference.

— Bud Norman