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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 Paternoster2022-11-14T09:53:51-06:00

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 Switch2022-11-14T12:30:53-06:00

New Book on Waffen-SS Tiger Crews at Kursk 1943 Published !

This man knocked out 77 enemy armored vehicles in World War II as a panzer gunner.  Do you really want to take him on in tank combat?

I always wanted to write about Kursk, and not have “just another” recount of the fight.  Not a rehash of Tiger tanks at Kursk but a whole new treatment of the machines and men at this pivotal battle: Waffen-SS Tiger Crews at Kursk: The Men of SS Panzer Regiments 1, 2 & 3 in Operation Citadel, July 5-15, 1943 which is published by Schiffer.

They were as hard as Krupp steel and as swift as greyhounds, the men who crewed the Waffen-SS Tiger tanks at the Kursk Offensive in July 1943.  Primarily enlisted men, not only did they fight – and fight well – at one of the largest tank battles in history, they also later formed the nucleus of Tiger operations in key future battles.  Franz Staudegger, Michael Wittmann, Bubi Wendorff and Bobby Woll became household names as the men who rode the Tigers to victory, but over 200 other crewmen had fascinating careers as well.

The SS men who fought in these Tigers were not ten feet tall, although the Russians may have believed that during those few days that the Tigers shook the earth at the attack on Kursk in central Russia.  No, these men were far more ferocious than huge physical goliaths.  These soldiers had no concept of defeat.  This is their story.

At Kursk, often described as the “Greatest Tank Battle in History,” the Wehrmacht fielded a total of just 120 Tiger tanks, including 35 operational Tigers from the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in its powerful Leibstandarte, Das Reich, and Totenkopf divisions.  The Tiger became a legend, but any tank is only as good as its crew.  For the first time, we know the identities of over 220 Waffen-SS Tiger crewmembers at Kursk – not just the few dozen officers, but the enlisted men as well.

Their biographies are stunning: some were veteran panzer men; others were previously in the infantry and a few had just transferred from the Luftwaffe.  Eight would win the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross; others would receive very few medals.  Eighteen would die at Kursk, while thirty-five would be wounded.  And the survivors?  Unfortunately for many an American, British, Russian tank crew, these SS Tiger men in their black uniforms would go on to form the deadly nucleus of the Waffen-SS Heavy Panzer Detachments that fought at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of Berlin.

Daily battle maps show the location of each of the three Tiger companies in the 2nd SS Panzer Corps.  Original German Luftwaffe aerial photos show the terrain taken within days that the Tigers rolled over it.  Over 110 photographs of Waffen-SS Tiger tanks, crewmen, award documents, anti-tank ditches, including many from private archives never before published show you what life was like from combat to eating a meal.

Before the offensive, German Colonel General Heinz Guderian, one of the “fathers” of modern armored warfare, who wanted the offensive postponed, dramatically chided the Führer, Adolf Hitler, to his face with this acerbic question: “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is?”

You are about to find out.

Waffen-SS Tiger Crews at Kursk: The Men of SS Panzer Regiments 1, 2 & 3 in Operation Citadel, July 5-15, 1943

New Book on Waffen-SS Tiger Crews at Kursk 1943 Published !2021-05-15T12:26:51-06:00

American Hangman Published!!!

American Hangman

(September 23, 2019)  American Hangman: MSgt. John C. Woods: The United States Army’s Notorious Executioner in World War II and Nürnberg is published and you can start ordering now.  The book is fabulous; the price of $29.99 is an excellent buy considering that it has 108 black and white photos from the period, several of which are from the family with their kind permission, and where he resided that I guarantee you that you have never seen before.  The work is 256 pages, with endnotes and sources that dispel all the myths surrounding this fascinating character.  Most importantly, this is what I call a “one off” book.  Once you read this, you will know everything you would want to know about the “American Hangman.”  There are no other books about him.  There are a few magazine articles, first published in 1946 and continuing occasionally to today, but most of the information in them is extremely inaccurate which you’ll see.

But don’t worry; his actual life is more interesting than the myths about him were.

You will be able to read, from primary official documents, the details of every man for which John Woods was the assistant or primary hangman.  He did not, as magazines claimed, hang 347 men, nor did he hang, as he once claimed, 200 men.  Some were American soldiers; others had been  German or Austrian war criminals.  Then there were the last ten men Woods would ever hang, the top Nazi war criminals that had been condemned to death at the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg.  Only Hermann Göring cheated Woods as he took poison just hours before his schedule execution.  You’ll read about that too and also about how Woods hanged Julius Streicher, one of the ten men, after Streicher had “disrespected” Woods on the scaffold!

But the story goes much deeper and reveals his young days, his short stint in the United States Navy about 1930, almost missing his wedding ceremony just after Prohibition was lifted, his brush with the law bouncing checks, driving a truck for a hearse company, joining the United States Army in 1943 and fighting at the Easy Red sector of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 as men died in bunches around him.

Did you know that John Woods could smoke a cigarette and blow smoke out of his ears?  Well, his nieces remembered that and a great deal of additional information about a man who adored his wife, loved dogs, liked to make officers uncomfortable, had an affinity for Wild Crow bourbon whiskey, had a storehouse of entertaining stories to tell his friends and who botched more than a few hangings, the reports of which made it back to the War Department in Washington, DC.

After reading this book, you will feel that not only do you know about John C. Woods but that you would have enjoyed having a beer with him.  In fact, one of the characters in this book used to do just that in various pubs at Le Mans, France almost every day for six months in 1945.  He’ll fill you in on details that the US Army never knew about the “American Hangman.”

But beware, it might not stop with a beer; as John might tell you: “I never saw three quarts of whiskey disappear so fast in my life.”  (Said to True: The Man’s Magazine at Fort Dix, New Jersey in November 1946, concerning his team having a few drinks after the Nürnberg hangings.)

An easy read, in deference to my Army Buddies, American Hangman sheds crucial light on the death penalty in the US Army in Europe in World War II, the execution of Nazi war criminals, and the effects of participating in an execution on the part of those ordered to carry it out.  And his mysterious death?  Well you’ll just have to hold off reading that last chapter till you get through the rest of the book!

For much of World War II, history books have described the influence that commissioned officers have had on shaping significant events.  Now it’s time for you to meet the man that went from private to master sergeant in one day and who had officers, from lieutenant to brigadier general, dancing to his tune.

 

 

American Hangman Published!!!2020-10-28T14:10:51-06:00

New Book Distributor for Europe

(March 12, 2014)  Schiffer Publishing has hired Gazelle Book Services to sell and distribute Schiffer publications in Europe.  This will shorten delivery time and reduce postage costs.  The information on this distributor is:

Gazelle Book Services     White Cross Mills      Hightown      Lancaster   Lancashire      LA1 4XS      UK Tel: +44 (0) 1524 68765    Fax: +44 (0) 1524 63232     E-mail: sales@gazellebooks.co.uk

For those readers in Germany or those travelers fortunate enough to be able to visit Munich, Germany, another bookstore can also assist you in finding the books found on this website.  In my 40 years experience, the Christian Schmidt bookstore is one of the best military bookstores in the entire world.  You can spend hours in there browsing!  Ask for Gabi; they speak perfect English.  You can take the U6 U-Bahn from the center of the city in the direction of the Klinikum Grosshadern and get off at Grosshadern, one stop before the end.  It is marked in blue on U-Bahn maps.

Christian Schmidt Buchhandlung
Sauerbruchstrasse 10
D-81377 Muenchen
Germany

Email: info@christian-schmidt.com
Web Page: www.christian-schmidt.com
Phone: (49) 89 703227

 

New Book Distributor for Europe2014-03-12T20:14:52-06:00

US Army Executions World War II in Europe and Africa Data

(March 9, 2014)  Due to numerous requests by readers, we have added a table showing the names, dates of execution and places of execution for all 96 American soldiers executed in World War II in Europe and North Africa, the subject of The Fifth Field.  Included at the top of the table, which is found in the published work section for The Fifth Field, is a photograph of the last face that probably 34 American soldiers ever saw before they were hanged — that of US Army hangman, Master Sergeant John Woods.  Previously published biographical information on Woods has been mostly incorrect, as until two years ago, Woods’ official personnel records had never been released to the public.  The Fifth Field is the first work to incorporate those files and shows that Woods had been in the US Navy in 1930 but had been discharged for psychological reasons.  He also had never been an assistant hangman in Texas and Oklahoma — as he had claimed in 1944 to help secure the position as hangman, which took him out of a combat engineer unit slated for frontline duty, and also elevated him from the rank of private to master sergeant in just one day!

US Army Executions World War II in Europe and Africa Data2014-03-09T19:28:25-06:00

Kudos for Stalingrad

(November 8, 2013)  Distinguished Stalingrad author Jason Mark, who has written such classics as Island of Fire: The Battle for the Barrikady Gun Factory in Stalingrad, Death of the Leaping Horseman: 24. Panzer-Division in Stalingrad, Into Oblivion: The Story of Pionier-Battalion 305, Angriff: The German Attack on Stalingrad in Photos, and An Artilleryman in Stalingrad, now offers Stalingrad: The Death of the German Sixth Army on the Volga, 1942-1943 for purchase on his website (www.leapinghorseman.com).  Jason writes on his site:

“Leaping Horseman Books gives this two-volume set its highest recommendation. The level of detail is astounding.  For every day of the battle there is map and an account of the actions and casualties of every corps and division in 6. Armee, followed by a closer look at an individual soldier who died on that day.”

Check out his website for this book and for many of Jason’s excellent offerings.

Kudos for Stalingrad2013-12-12T17:01:04-06:00

Fifth Field Responses Arriving

(November 6, 2013)  Responses to the publishing of The Fifth Field are starting to arrive.  A Supreme Court Associate Justice, an Army 4-star and Deans of two east coast “Ivy League” Law Schools and one California Law School have written that they each have a copy of the book and look forward to reading it.

Fifth Field Responses Arriving2013-11-07T08:59:30-06:00

The Fifth Field Published

(September 17, 2013) Schiffer Publishing has sent out the author advance copy, which indicates that The Fifth Field has been published and should be available for shipment next month.  The book is fabulous; it came out at 370 pages, with 42 photographs, almost all of which have never been published before.

Five special photographs show moments from the executions of Louis Till, Fred McMurray, Charlie Ervin and Mansfield Spinks at the Peninsular Stockade at Aversa, Italy in 1945.  These unique photographs, which had remained hidden in private hands for 67 years after the war, and unknown to be in existence by the Army, are believed to be the first photos of U.S. Army executions of U.S. personnel since the hanging of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators in 1865.  The book additionally has five photographs of Army hangman Master Sergeant John C. Woods; we feel certain that you have not seen at least three of them before.

Each of the cases is covered in great detail through trial records, witness statements, investigator notes, review findings and execution reports.  For those historians and legal scholars wishing to do additional research you will find 56 pages of endnotes with specific document citations and the archives in which these documents can be found.  There is an additional appendix that provides over 100 short biographies of detention center personnel, hangmen (such as Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint,) key Judge Advocate General — JAG — officers and commanders from Dwight Eisenhower on down who approved General Court-Martial results.

This is a book about the death penalty.  No matter what you believe your opinion to be on this important subject, you need to read this book before making up your mind for the final time.  The information within these pages has never truly been considered before as we address this significant national issue.  But do not worry.  This is not a legal text; it is written by a regular Army officer, using standard English, not “legalese.”  Having said that, there is a section where a trained lawyer, with over 50 years experience and who has participated in death penalty cases, examines several of these courts-martial and analyzes them from his own perspective.

For historians of the Second World War, this is the first definitive account of every capital case ending in death for an American soldier in Europe and North Africa during the conflict.  For past, present and future Judge Advocate General officers, non-commissioned officers and civilian personnel, this is a history of your Corps during its most significant hour.

 

The Fifth Field Published2013-10-06T19:53:23-06:00

Stalingrad Two-Volume Set Published!

Stalingrad: The Death of the German Sixth Army on the Volga, 1942-1943

Volume 1 – The Bloody Fall

Volume 2 – The Brutal Winter

(August 9, 2013)  The advanced copies of the long-awaited set of books detailing the demise of the German Sixth Army have arrived at the publisher and more should arrive in a few weeks.  You can order a set now.  Bound in a sturdy black case, the two volumes have a total retail price of $69.99.   If you are a historical aficionado of the battle, a “grognard” wargamer, or a military collector of German World War II Stalingrad memorabilia – especially documents , this is a set of books you will pore over time and again in your library.

Stalingrad Two-Volume Set Published!2013-08-10T11:38:44-06:00
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