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This Date in History: April 22

Michael Wittmann


Michael Wittmann, SS-Hauptsturmführer, born on April 22, 1914 in Vogelthal, Tiger tank commander with over 130 confirmed enemy tank kills with the 1st SS Panzer Division “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” and the 101st SS Heavy Tank Battalion, winner of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, killed in action on August 8, 1944 by enemy tank fire near Gaumesnil in Normandy; his last words were: “Attention!  Attention!  Anti-tank guns to the right!  Back up!”  His remains, as well as those of his crew, were discovered and identified in 1983 and subsequently buried at the La Cambe German Military Cemetery in Normandy.  (2000 Quotations from Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich)


Hans von Seeckt

Hans von Seeckt, Army Colonel General, born April 22, 1866 in Schleswig, ranking officer of the Reichswehr (Chef der Heeresleitung) until 1926, winner of the Pour le mérite in World War I, resigned after a conflict with the Reichswehr Minister – Otto Gessler, author of Thoughts of a Soldier, military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek in China, died December 27, 1936 in Berlin, nicknamed: “The Sphinx”, on his authority during the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch: “There is only one man in Germany in a position to organize a Putsch, and that is me.  But the Reichswehr does not putsch.”  (2000 Quotations from Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich)


This Date in History: April 222023-04-23T19:17:43-06:00

This Date in History: April 21

Josef Dietrich

Josef Dietrich, SS-Oberstgruppenführer, born May 28, 1892 in Hawangen, wounded twice and winner Iron Cross 1st Class in World War I, member of the post-World War I Oberland Freikorps, key participant in the purge against the SA in 1934, commander of the 1st SS Division “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler,” commander of the 1st SS Panzer Corps and the 6th SS Panzer Army, winner of the Nazi Party Blood Order and Nazi Golden Party Badge, winner of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, released in 1959, died April 21, 1966 of a heart attack at Ludwigsburg, on the death of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich: “Thank God that sow’s gone to the butcher.”  (2000 Quotations from Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich)


Walter Model

Walter Model, Army Field Marshal, born January 21, 1891 in Genthin/Saxony, commander 3rd Panzer Division, commander XXXXIst Panzer Corps, commander 9th Army, commander of Army Group Center, Army Group North, Army Group North Ukraine and Army Group B, winner of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, committed suicide by gunshot April 21, 1945 near Lintorf/Düsseldorf, buried at Hürtgenwald-Vossenack German War Cemetery, last words: “I would have never thought that I would ever be so disappointed.  My only aim was to serve Germany.”  (2000 Quotations from Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich)



This Date in History: April 212023-04-23T19:11:00-06:00

Air Janes

While researching Dying Hard, I came across some history that I had been unaware.  In World War II, thirty-eight ladies of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) perished in service to their nation piloting military aircraft, flying almost everything their brothers did including B-17 Flying Fortresses, one of which sported the feisty name of “Pistol Packin’ Mama” because the “Air Janes” were just as saucy as the guys.

Air Crew Pistol Packin’ Mama

The organization was a civilian pilots’ outfit, whose members were actually US federal service employees who became  trained pilots who tested aircraft, ferried aircraft, and trained other pilots so as to free male pilots for combat roles.  Some 800 completed all training.  Here are some period illustrations relating to Air Janes:

Fifinella, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) mascot, created by The Walt Disney Company

Air Jane in a P-51 Mustang

Air Janes belonged to the Air Transport Command and wore this insignia

In 2009, members of the WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  There aren’t many left, so if you get to meet one, tell her thanks and see if she has a story to share with you.  It’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet a real live hero.

Air Jane in the cockpit

Air Janes2023-03-25T17:35:36-06:00

Gold Star Heroes

America’s soldiers in World War II come from all corners of America – the teeming cities of the northeast, the rural south, the golden sun of California, the farms of the Midwest, coal country of Appalachia, cold country of Minnesota and even from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation somewhere on the endless Dakota plains. Some are illiterate, needing their buddies to help them read letters from home; others are college boys from schools like “Ole Miss,” University of Maryland, Santa Monica Junior College, University of Kansas, and Bradley Polytechnic Institute.

Jay Lavinsky

But college boys are in the minority; most start work at an early age to help the family, and a lot of them are more familiar with hard manual labor than they ever wanted to be.  A couple have dangerous jobs up in towering treetops as lumberjacks, or deep underground as coalminers.  Several toil on hard-scrabble farms, another is a harbor dredger under the scorching Georgia sun.  One stands in front of a hot plate hoping someday to own a small restaurant; another crouches behind home plate chasing his dream of playing catcher in the Major Leagues.

A few are married; a few are spoken for; the rest think they are God’s gift to women.  Descended from Austrian, German, Italian, Russian, French, Scottish, Irish, Lithuanian, English, Danish, Canadian, Swiss, Mexican, Korean, Filipino, Swedish, Romanian, Ukrainian, and Polish immigrant parents, they have nicknames like Mac, Hawk, Kenny, Willie, Noodles, Timber, Doc, Vito, Candy, Greek, Buster, Bulldog, Porky and Russian. Not all are born across the fruited plain and are more than happy to tell you about the “old country” of Scotland, Austria, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, the Philippines, Greece, China, Norway, Canada…. or Texas.

Most are young – anyone who shaves is considered old; and every old guy is called “Pop.”  The company commander, even though just 22, is invariably termed “the Old Man.” They all would give their eye teeth to see their mothers just one more time; ladies with names of Pearl, Anne, Fern, Edith, Eva, Pauline, Rose, Tarcila, Grace, Estelle, Antonetta, Ruth, Lupe, Elena, Apie, Ella Fair, Margaret, Maria, Minnie, and Lillie Mae, because every mother thinks that her own son is the cat’s meow.  And while each son would trade a few of his tomorrows to be sitting at Mom’s kitchen table tonight, not a one of them one wants to become a Gold Star in her window.

Gold Star Mothers flag , in the window of Mothers who lost a son or ...

Company B, 39th Infantry Regiment is the star of French’s next and final book, Dying Hard.  Jay Harvey Lavinsky, at the top of the page, was in Company B, winning two Bronze Stars with V for Valor, before being wounded by six German machine gun bullets outside a small village in Germany on March 4, 1945.  However, six days before that, before the dawn’s early light on February 28, something very tragic happened as Company B advances against small arms fire, mines and self-propelled gunfire at the western edge of Berg, two miles southeast of Nideggen.  Jay Lavinsky and Harry Nodell, who Jay calls “Brooklyn,” are involved in street-clearing operations.  In the dark night, Jay cautiously leads part of the squad, supported by a bazooka team, down the left side of a street, when he hears German drifting from a basement window and tosses a hand grenade through it.  On the right side of the street, Nodell spots a German half-track and approaches it, despite a cry of alarm from Lavinsky.  The vehicle’s machine gun drops Brooklyn with a lethal burst.  As other soldiers engage the enemy, Jay runs to his fallen comrade and holds him in his arms, screaming: “Listen you son of a bitch; you better not die on me!”  Harry looks Jay in the face, winks, smiles, and dies in his arms.  Jay will go several days before a change of clothes is available to swap for his blood-soaked uniform – drenched with the blood of his closest friend in the world.

“Brooklyn” Harry Nodell

“Brooklyn’ Nodell left a wife and two young daughters behind.  Mollie never remarried.  He became a Gold Star in his mother Agnes’ window.  Jay survived the six bullets and subsequent five operations, and is now almost 99 years old, living in Delray Beach, Florida.  He is in a wheel chair and in the last fight of his life, because at least here on this Earth, a person cannot avoid “the Grim Reaper.”  But Jay is taking that fight to the later rounds in boxing terms, because there is no quit in Jay.  He knows all about that because when he was young, a family friend in his hometown of Philly is like an uncle to Jay – Barney Lebrowitz, who boxes under the name of “Battling Levinsky,” former light heavyweight champion of the world.  Jay learns as much of the “sweet science” as he can from “Uncle Barney” and departs for England on April 5, 1944 to fight for America in some pretty rough places like the Hürtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge and the Siegfried Line, where German machine guns are nicknamed “Hitler’s buzz saw” or the chilling-nickname “bone-saw,” one of which got Jay.

So if you live in Florida and see Jay, or see a World War II veteran anywhere you live, reach out and give them a hand — in thanks but also in helping them do the little things in life like walking out to get the newspaper, or even cutting the old-timer’s grass.

Over 400,000 military personnel made the ultimate sacrifice for you in that war.  Just don’t just say “thanks for your service”: do something special for them.

Gold Star Heroes2023-03-24T18:50:04-06:00

This Date in History: February 24


Gerd von Rundstedt

Gerd von Rundstedt, Army Field Marshal, born December 12, 1875 in Aschersleben, winner of the Iron Cross 1st Class in World War I, retired in 1938/recalled to service in 1939, commander Army Group A, commander Army Group South, Commander-in-Chief West (Oberbefehlshaber West), president of the Army Court of Honor, winner of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, died on February 24, 1953 at Schloss Oppershausen near Celle, often told a joke about Adolf Hitler and Moses:

“Back in 1940, Hitler was standing on the French coast over the Channel and planning the invasion of England.  Suddenly he saw a small black cloud soar up from the cliffs of Dover and swirl toward him, growing bigger and blacker as it came.  As it approached, he was shocked to see the figure of Moses in the cloud, speaking to him with a voice like thunder.  And this is what Moses said – ‘Führer, had you treated my people better, I might be showing you the Red Sea trick.'”  (2,000 Quotes From Hitler’s 1,000-Year Reich)


Pompey’s Pillar along the expedition route

February 24, 1874.  Sunrise was at 7:02 a.m.; it began to snow again.  The expedition moved east into the high country over the prairie to avoid the high bluffs north of the Yellowstone River and headed toward Sweet Grass Creek (some 74 ground miles from Bozeman,) arriving at 3:00 p.m.  Sunset occurred at 5:54 p.m.  Addison M. Quivey described the immediate plan of action.

“…leaving the Yellowstone at the mouth of Big Timber creek, crossing Sweet Grass creek (12 miles) about five miles from its mouth; thence following up a small right-hand branch of Sweet Grass to the summit of the divide or table-land between the Yellowstone and Musselshell rivers, which we followed for eight days (two of which we lay by,) descending to the Yellowstone again a few miles above the mouth of Prior’s creek, and near the place where Colonel Baker and his command had their fight with the Indians in 1872.”  (Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gold and Guns: The 1874 Yellowstone Wagon Road and Prospecting Expedition and the Battle of Lodge Grass Creek)

This Date in History: February 242023-02-24T09:02:49-06:00

The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter

The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter

A Bob Lee Swagger Novel

Simon & Schuster, 2013

(February 14, 2023)  I just re-read, for probably the fifth time because it is so well-written and a real pager-turner, The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter.  Part of the Bob Lee Swagger series, this fiction book transcends that genre, which I’ll address in a moment, and is clearly on my all-time top ten fiction book list.

It would probably not spoil the book, which I have carefully stored in our hide-away in Puerto Rico so that I may read it every year when we are down there, if I mentioned that it is about the John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas in 1963.  Kennedy’s picture is on the front dust jacket of the hard cover edition of the Simon & Schuster book (while Lee Harvey Oswald’s picture is on the back dust cover.)  On the front title page is a photograph of the murder weapon, the infamous Mannlicher-Carcano Model 38 carbine with its cheap and poorly attached Japanese-made scope, and on both the front and rear inside of the hard cover are detailed sketches of Dealey Plaza – which probably has no significance for 99% of all Americans except for being the site of JFK’s murder.

The book begins with the hit-and-run death of an author (a “gun-guy” that wrote about snipers and weapons,) which being a writer myself obviously caught my undivided attention.  The man’s widow does not believe it was an accident, so she contacts Bob Lee Swagger, who had been a sniper in Vietnam, who has had additional gun-related escapades in his later years, and whose body has so many old bullet wounds that it makes Swiss cheese look solid.

I will leave the story there and apologize to Mr. Hunter if I have said too much already.

Reviewer Lee Child (Jim Grant, Jack Reacher series) said of the book, “it might even be true,” while noted author Vince Flynn – who died shortly after The Third Bullet was published – opined that the book “answers the question ‘What if?’ in astonishingly plausible detail,” so if my modest writing skills remain unimpressive, at least you know that those two literary heavyweights liked Hunter’s book as well.

From Mark Lane (Rush to Judgment,) almost immediately after the assassination, to tomes published to this day fifty years later, authors have attempted to show that this group or that – with or without Lee Harvey Oswald’s participation – brought off the crime of the century, and some would say the most significant crime in the entire history of the United States.  Most of these books, while they add bits and pieces to the general body of knowledge surrounding the assassination, often fall short in two areas: the technical capabilities of the firearm (maybe more than one, you’ll have to read the book) and bullets in question, and that the route of the presidential motorcade did not become known until a short few days before the event.  Large, complex organizations do many things well, but doing them quickly is usually not a characteristic of the ponderous, as the author shows.

In short, after reading and re-reading Hunter’s work, one quickly concludes that the author truly understands firearms in all their complexity – and sometimes simplicity, such as a tour-de-force description of what the Mannlicher-Carcano was originally designed to do when developed in 1891 – as well as a consummate ability to leave no loose ends in the theory at the heart of the story.

However, there is another level to the novel that I mentioned earlier.  Later in the work, the main character, Bob Lee Swagger, is informed by several literary experts that people who loved to read great literature often develop a sense of how they could insert puzzles and clues in their work (be that writing or espionage, etc.) that some people might find, while others miss them; some of these puzzles – which were key to understanding “who done it” – were in plain sight, while others had multiple layers of detail and nuance; some of them followed a clichéd formula, while others are undramatic and small.

Why is this dialogue important?  Because the discussion is really not a focal point of finding “who done it.”  That revelation is already known in the first third of the book.

No, I believe that Stephen Hunter slid this conversation of literary puzzles into the book intentionally for someone to find much later in reading The Third Bullet – maybe decades from now after Hunter and I and those of us who were living in 1963 are long gone – and conclude:

“This story is not total fiction.  In fact, it is probably 70% true, maybe even more, and the author stumbled across it and promised his source that he would portray the book (‘Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination…’, humma, humma, etc.), as PURE fiction, when it is anything but a work of fiction at its heart.”

Read The Third Bullet yourself and see what you think.  Is it simply a work of fiction that is so well-conceived and adroitly written that Stephen Hunter hit it out of the park, or is it something more?

The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter2023-02-14T18:08:17-06:00

Dying Hard

It won’t be long before I turn in the finished book, Dying Hard, to the editors at Schiffer Publishing, who will work their magic to turn it into something you will love to read.  So what is it all about?  In short, the story is about one tiny American Army infantry company that fought for our country for several years in World War II.  But it’s a lot more than that.

Once upon a time, the forces of evil came within a razor’s edge of plunging the world into a second Dark Age.  Many, many nations answered the call to defend civilization, but only one – the United States of America – could tip the balance of fate to victory for the defenders of what was good and right.  And she did.

America won the war with a huge industrial base.  She won it with a unity of effort seldom seen before and never seen since.  She won it by bringing women and minorities into the war effort.  She won it with magnificent technology.  She won it with a few senior leaders in each military service and in Washington who had the remarkable foresight to comprehend the new character of this war and how it would be conducted.  But most of all she won it with a bunch of boys who stood on God-forsaken battlefields around the world and in their own brazen and cocky manner snarled at their foe: “Not today Tojo; not today Benito; not today Adolf.  Not today, not tomorrow; not ever.  To get to where you want to go, Adolf, you have to go through us.  And that ain’t happening.”

The cost of that victory was monumental – which is why we have so many monuments around the world to remember their sacrifice.  Unlike in many other nations, however, most of America’s monuments are not triumphal arches or palisaded promenades, but rather her military cemeteries, unfortunately filled to the brim with her heroes.  In World War II the United States of America lost 407,316 military dead – enough that almost every city, town, and village lost loved ones.  As to civilian deaths worldwide, the slaughter estimates range from 45 million to 95 million – and the only reason America did not suffer millions of civilian deaths at home is because these same young Americans stopped the enemy before they could get here.

There have been thousands of books written about the war, maybe tens of thousands, based primarily on records and reports, and the accounts of senior officers.  And many are excellent.  But there has always been a problem.  The enlisted men and women of America who fought World War II were notoriously reticent about discussing their experiences.  Called “The Greatest Generation,” they should also have been dubbed “The Silent Generation.”  Not only were they closed-mouthed, many seemed proud that they “wouldn’t talk” to the extent that children and grandchildren, maybe even you, of these soldiers came to the conclusion that even if they waterboarded “Old Gramps” – which they would never do to such a beloved person – he wasn’t talking, so why bother because everyone was just going to get wet.

Maybe it was because my father was so closed mouthed about the war that I wrote this book.  Once in a while, you could get a few grunts and groans out of the old man if you were lucky, but he was of the mind that the war was a chapter of life already finished and better off not to be re-read.  My brother and I would get a hint of his experiences when Dad stormed into our bedrooms each school-day morning, screaming at the top of his lungs in German to get out of bed, turning on every light, throwing back the curtains and, when he was in a particularly charitable mood, opening the windows all the way on frosty-cold mornings to ensure that you got out of bed – quickly.

Dad had spent some “quality time” as a prisoner of war (POW) at some place in Germany called Stalag VI G and obviously wanted his two sons – who had designs on attending West Point – to get used to catching hell like he did every morning there at that camp when a German sergeant did the same thing.

We are going to try to get their story right, in spite of their reluctance in life to talk much about the war.  Of course, each one would insist that we not talk about his own efforts, but remember his buddies instead, saying that they were the real heroes, and what they were able to accomplish together.  All were unique, and it was this individuality that made every other soldier better.

“A soldier can be a hero and a hero can be a legend and a legend can make a superman out of a soldier.”  You will read about all about that; in fact, the intent of Dying Hard is to put you right alongside of the soldiers of Company B, 39th Infantry Regiment – in the same foxhole.  You’ll start your journey at Fort Bragg, North Carolina where the division is formed.  Then its’ off to England in 1942 and then we’re all going to Algeria, Tunisia and Sicily; we’ll see combat in each.  After that it’s Normandy, France, and then we’ll head east to Belgium.  This fighting is tough, but you’ll think the war will be over by Christmas.  It won’t be.  Your next stop is the Hürtgen Forest.  If you survive that, and a lot of us didn’t, it’s on to another miserable place, the Hohes Venn.  Then it’s Merode Castle (see photo above) and then Elsenborn Ridge in the Battle of the Bulge.  The castle, built in 1263, has five-story towers, and a wide moat with 7-foot-deep, cold water.  There is one entrance – a narrow bridge twelve feet wide, covered by machine gun fire.  Getting into that castle, borrowing a phrase from poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, you will be “stormed at with shot and shell.”

In January 1945 we’ll try and get warm and attack the vaunted Siegfried Line, where concrete bunkers have machine guns we call “Hitler’s buzz saws” or “Kraut bone saws” and when you hear them firing, you’ll know why.  Then you’ll see the inside of a German POW camp.  You’ll lose a lot of weight, be infested with fleas and lice, suffer constant diarrhea, get no hot showers, sleep three to a bunk, and see guys drop from typhus – while angry guard dogs try to bite you.

Meanwhile, Company B keeps fighting to the end of the war in Europe.  It is a rough time and casualties continue at an alarming rate right through the end and a lot of our buddies died.  After that, however, everyone did not just pack up their gear and head home.  What would happen with Japan, how long will the occupation of Germany last, what is the system for a soldier to return home?  Finally, there is a Conclusion and Epilogue; save them for last.  Some of the book is sad; but much is funny, which could be offensive to some readers.  But no less an authority than famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle had this to say about humor in war.

“It would be wrong to say that war is all grim; if it were, the human spirit could not survive two and three and four years of it… As some soldier once said, the Army is good for one ridiculous laugh per minute.  Our soldiers are still just as roughly good-humored as they always were, and they laugh easily, although there isn’t as much to laugh about as there used to be.”

At the end of most chapters you will find a total of over fifty special topics under the category of “School of the Soldier,” an old Army term that has to do with teaching a soldier the really important stuff in the Army and how to survive, so you can tell their story when they wouldn’t.

History is the oxygen for storytelling; and storytelling is the essence of humanity.  Once upon a time, your father, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers became part of that history which fueled a legend that should never die – in part because so many of them did.  Your mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers were legends too, sometimes in combat areas – such as the Philippines, where 77 Army nurses, the “Angels of Bataan and Corregidor,” were forced by the enemy on a 68-mile “death march” without food or water in 100-degree temperatures – or back home working in dangerous factory jobs building the Arsenal of Democracy.  Now it is up to you whether that legend is passed down to your children and grandchildren, or whether you let that legend die.  Because legends don’t die with a bang; they die with a whimper.

You might ask: “Why is it up to me to keep their story alive?”  Because you would fit right in with us in Company B.  How do we know?  When something in life knocks you down, and you get back up on your feet, wipe the blood off your nose with your sleeve, and say: “Is that all you’ve got?” you’re in Company B.  If people have told you that you were too small, or too slow or too anything, and you went out and proved them wrong, you’re in Company B.  If you ever saw someone bullied by a group of people bigger than you and you jumped in to help that person, you’re in Company B.

You love dogs?  In 1942, a young soldier found a stray dog in the Aleutian Islands, and took care of him until he was reassigned to the States.  Putting the dog, named Buff, in his duffel bag, the trooper took him on the journey.  Months later the soldier climbed aboard a troopship – Buff hidden again in his duffle bag – and went to Europe and Company B, where Buff served as a mascot and helped pull guard duty.  So if you love dogs, you’re in Company B.  And if you love to read a book about American soldiers, then you’re in Company B, too.  So rise and shine, grab your helmet and follow us.  And make sure your M1 Rifle is loaded because we’re going back to the line.


Dying Hard2023-03-24T18:56:02-06:00

My Friend Eric Paternoster

My friend and West Point classmate, Eric Paternoster, died about three weeks ago.  We had known each other since 1970 when we entered the US Military Academy and were assigned to Company A-2.  Attended his Celebration of Life ceremony in Cincinnati last Friday and wrote down some of my thoughts on him.

A Man for All Seasons

As we look back at Eric Paternoster, it would be quite understandable to call him a “Renaissance Man” – someone with extraordinarily broad and comprehensive knowledge, and with expertise in multiple disciplines.  That was certainly true for Eric, who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1974, served as an airborne, ranger, infantry officer, earned a graduate degree from the University of Cincinnati, and worked as a senior consultant with Accenture, followed by Ernst & Young, and finally with Infosys as the CEO of Infosys Public Services.  A “Renaissance Man”?  Certainly.

Sir Thomas More

But Eric was much more.  Five-hundred years ago, author Robert Whittington coined the phrase “A Man for All Seasons” describing Sir Thomas More, venerated in the Catholic Church as Saint Thomas More, an English lawyer, judge, social philosopher, author, and statesman – and perhaps most importantly a man who stood up to King Henry VIII, and for this offense was beheaded.  It is said that the executioner was so distraught that he begged for More’s pardon before carrying out his grim task.  To Whittington, “A Man for All Seasons” was a person ready to take on whatever life threw at him; a person suited for all occasions; who does not get flustered easily, but keeps a calm, efficient demeanor; a person who has proven to be extremely reliable and trustworthy; acts with grace and aplomb, but never demands to be the center of attention; and perhaps most importantly, follows their conscience, and acts correctly even when others may choose a less honorable path.

Duty, Honor, Country

In 1970, after completing Beast Barracks at West Point, Eric and roughly thirty other classmates reported to their new home, Company A of the 2nd Regiment Corps of Cadets.  One of their first orders of business was to elect their class honor code representative who would instruct and lead them over the next four years in a code of conduct that simply states: “A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.”  The penalty for failing to follow the code was equally simple; a cadet could be expelled from the Corps.  Eric firmly believed in the honor code and believed all should follow it.  Eric also believed it was his duty to explain the code fully to all cadets and to also fight for any cadet that Eric – following his conscience – believed did not willfully commit an honor violation.

Regulations were another matter.  Eric was of the belief that the new Monday Night Football program was almost a Constitutional right to watch – even if the end of that game came after Taps, and thus there were numerous occasions when he was apprehended in the company dayroom, game on and lights off.  And more than once, when Eric was caught in this abhorrent transgression, he refused to divulge who might or might not have been watching the game with him, but who had scampered behind a large couch and avoided apprehension, while Eric took the rap.

National boundaries could not contain this “Man for All Seasons.”  With Infosys Public Services, Eric helped fuse American and Indian knowhow, culture and intellect – along with expertise from personnel of several other nations – to forge boundaryless public sector synergies.  Eric would leave no stone unturned and once his vision included taking a large number of company employees to the Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield in southern Pennsylvania.  However, rather than simply describing a military engagement from some 159 years ago – the technology and tactics having little to do with today – Eric used the past to stimulate a day-long examination of the future for Infosys: who in the organization was monitoring the technology of present and future competitors?  How does an organization train, develop and retain quality employees and prepare them to be future leaders?  How do leaders transmit and ensure understanding of their vision of success to the entire organization?

And like every person for all seasons, Eric would be the first to credit others for his own success: his West Point classmates; his Army comrades; his business associates all along the way; his beloved University of Cincinnati; his family; and most of all his wonderful wife Diana Paternoster (nee Coleman).

Eric, we miss you in so many ways.  But we also thank God for the opportunity of having you in our lives.  Pride of the Corps.  As for everyone who never met Eric, I would submit this old poem by Rudyard Kipling that captured our friend in so many ways.  It is called If.


If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


My Friend Eric Paternoster2023-02-14T18:00:09-06:00

Don’t Pull the Switch

I used to be a big believer in the death penalty.  And I still believe that there are some really bad people out there who don’t deserve to live among us.  So in defending yourself, and your loved ones against a murderer who would take your lives, well if he takes his last breath in that attempt that’s just too bad for him.

As for the government using the judicial system to put someone to death, I don’t agree with that anymore.  First, you can’t “undo” the death penalty, if you later find out that the guy you just fried in the electric chair didn’t actually do the crime.  If the accused is convicted and gets a long prison sentence, you can let him out later if you discover he is actually not guilty, and at least try to make amends for the error by paying him and his family an extremely large amount of money; it will never make up for the lengthy incarceration, but at least his later years will not be in poverty.

Juries make mistakes.  Prosecuting attorneys and defense counsels have various degrees of competence and make mistakes too.  Judges’ rulings often later get overturned.  Even the vaunted US Supreme Court frequently has 5-4 decisions – meaning that 44.44% of the justices had the “wrong” legal opinion from the majority.  If 44.44% of our juries convicted the wrong guy and sentenced him to death, we would stop the death penalty immediately.

US Supreme Court

Secondly, law-abiding citizens, whether in the jury, or prison guards, or the few actually involved in the execution process, often suffer terrible mental duress for the remainder of their lives – even concerning executions where there is never any doubt as to the accused’s guilt.  Yes, there are some who will “sleep like a baby” but others won’t.  And that’s not an opinion; I was fortunate enough to be able to review 96 death penalty cases in the US Army in Europe in World War II, when writing The Fifth Field, and numerous military police involved in the executions had terrible emotional issues later – with at least one tough MP sergeant, Richard Mosley, later committing suicide.

Richard Mosley

But most troubling, charging someone with a capital crime – a capital crime is one for which you could possibly receive the death penalty – is often a matter of prosecutorial discretion.  The prosecutor can put the death penalty into the realm of possible punishments, or he can “take it off the table.”  That is a difficult decision for any prosecutor, and some are simply not up to it.  Most alarmingly, we are seeing that more and more prosecutors are using factors of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and even political affiliation in their decisions of whom to charge – or not to charge.  That is bad enough concerning crimes that carry potential incarceration.  But using those factors in such a way for a prosecutor to put his or her thumb on the scales of justice concerning the death penalty is unconscionable.

Do you really think that the current State’s Attorney Office for Cook County, Illinois, doesn’t often have their entire hand on the scales of justice – let alone thumb?  Even the Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association ripped into Kim Foxx’s decisions in the Jussie Smollett case.

Ferguson Riots

Do you really think that politics didn’t play a role in determining who should be charged concerning the 2014 disturbances/riots/unrest/uprising in Ferguson, Missouri?  Even the US Department of Justice couldn’t get to the bottom of it, ruling on one hand that Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in self-defense, while also determining that the Ferguson Police Department had engaged in misconduct against the citizenry of Ferguson by, among other things, discriminating against African Americans and applying racial stereotypes in a “pattern or practice of unlawful conduct.”

Do you really think that politics and political affiliation are currently not playing a factor concerning the participants in the January 6, 2021 incident at the US Capitol?  Congress has talked about treason – a crime that could carry the death penalty.  And according to Time Magazine, some 17 months after the event, 840 people had been arrested.  But only 25% had received criminal sentences, while 75% were still awaiting trials or had not finalized plea agreements.  Only 80 of those arrested had been sentenced to terms of incarceration!  The median prison sentence of those 80, as of June 2022, was – get this – 45 days.  An additional 57 were sentenced to periods of home detention.  That doesn’t sound like death penalty material to me.

World War II Hangings

However, if some politicians and states attorneys have their say, EVERYONE in the Capitol that day would be strung up on nearby light posts.  No one should have that much power.  We need to do away with the death penalty – before people get executed for their political beliefs.

Don’t Pull the Switch2023-01-22T17:42:47-06:00


Till is a 2022 American biographical drama film that had its world premiere on October 1, 2022 at the New York Film Festival and will be released in the United States on October 22, 2022, by United Artists.  It obviously hasn’t reached Decatur yet, but looks like it is a very good movie, although the subject is a pretty rough one.  The two main characters are Emmett Till, age 14, and his mother Mamie, who is played by Danielle Deadwyler, and if she doesn’t get an Oscar for her performance they just ought to do away with the award.


That’s because she plays a lady who has just had her son brutally murdered.  They live in Chicago and Emmett asks her if he can go visit Mississippi to visit family.  She agrees, and he never comes home alive.  There is no reason to spoil the show by recounting all the details.  If you can’t wait, read Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement, by Devery S. Anderson.

For everyone who thinks that history began the day they were born, and given the median age in the US is roughly 38, that means half of us start our personal view of history in 1984 and before that, Who cares?  But you should care, because this incident was a major factor that propelled the modern US Civil Rights Movement, which led to Reverend Martin Luther King, all the way up to today.

As you will see in the movie, after Emmett is killed and his remains are returned to Chicago, Mamie has a terrible decision to make — at the funeral should the casket be open or closed?  Families all across the country have to make similar decisions for their loved ones.  But it usually does not involve the remains of a 14 year old, and the remains are usually not so mutilated that it is hard to determine who the person is.  It is not a decision that the mother of a 14 year old should ever have to make.  But Mamie had to make it.

Mamie Till

Mamie could not have been faulted for deciding on a closed casket.  But she chose an open casket — precisely to show the world the brutality that was so shocking, that only an open casket could show its magnitude, the depravity of the crime and innocence of her son, whose life was snuffed out for no reason.

But history has a way of filling in the blanks and a book I wrote The Fifth Field, sheds light on Emmett Till, although I did not realize it until after I conducted the research.  The reason Mamie had to make this decision was that her husband, Louis Till, was not around.

Louis Till was from Madrid, Missouri, reportedly growing up an orphan.  An amateur boxer, he worked at the Argo Corn Company in Argo, Illinois – not far from Chicago.  He married Mamie on October 14, 1940; both Louis and Mamie were eighteen years old.  On July 25, 1941, they had a son, Emmett.  The couple separated in 1942; according to some sources, he had attacked his wife so violently that she defended herself by throwing a pan of boiling water on him.  On July 9, 1942, Till was inducted at Chicago, Illinois – according to a source, it was the Army or jail from a judge, who was tired of Till violating restraining orders.

Fast forward to June 27, 1944 near Civitavecchia, Italy – along the Mediterranean coast northwest of Rome.  Louis, who by now has two court-martial convictions, and four other men, assault and rob a US Navy sailor and then plan and commit two home invasions raping two women and killing another woman.  To make an interesting crime mystery short, Louis and another soldier are convicted of rape and murder, sentenced to death, and hanged at Aversa, Italy on July 2, 1945.  Louis and accomplice Fred A. McMurray were initially buried at the U.S. Military Cemetery at Naples.  Both were exhumed in 1949 and now are buried at the American Military Cemetery at Oise-Aisne, France in Plot E.  It’s a mysterious place and still pretty difficult to get into.  Till’s remains are in Row 4, Grave 73.

Louis Till Grave

In Fighting for America: Black Soldiers – The Unsung Heroes of World War II, author Christopher Paul Moore stated that Mamie said that, although she had received his wedding band and personal effects: “the Army had never told her the cause of her husband’s death.”  That was accurate to an extent; the Army was quite terse with every soldier executed stating only that it was due to “judicial asphyxiation.”

But don’t feel sorry for him.  He was brutal to Mamie; he was brutal to the two women he raped and the third that he killed.  The trial records support the conviction and the sentence, despite what some “experts” opine that all trials of minority soldiers in World War II were racially tinged.  Read The Fifth Field and make up your own mind.

Within these effects, however, was an item that would help Mamie ten years later.  Louis Till’s silver ring, bearing the date “May 25, 1943” and the initials “LT” that he purchased in Casablanca was returned to Mamie.  In 1955, she let Emmett take the ring to Mississippi, and after finding his remains, authorities identified his mutilated body, in part, through the distinctive ring and the initials “LT.”

Mamie Till died in 2003 at age 81.  She was buried near her son in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, where her monument reads, “Her pain united a nation.”

See the movie.  Read the book on Emmett Till.  Read The Fifth Field.  You can learn a lot from history.

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