Wednesday, September 30, 2015

His Only Souvenir

A Japanese "Dog Tag" from World War II, permission from owner to photograph. Photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

This past weekened, I was at our neighborhood grocery store with my Dad and youngest daughter.  We were there to celebrate her birthday and kicked off the day with doughnuts.  As we sat in the cafeteria, at the table next to me sat a gentleman wearing a "World War II Veteran" baseball cap.

There are not many of these Veterans left.  Everyday, we lose more and more of them.  Here is a sobering statistic is from The National WWII Museum:

"Approximately every three minutes a memory of World War II – its sights and sounds, its terrors and triumphs – disappears. Yielding to the inalterable (sic) process of aging, the men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now mostly in their 90s. They are dying quickly – at the rate of approximately 492 a day, according to US Veterans Administration figures."

When I got up to grab my coffee, I shook his hand and thanked him for his service.  We struck up a brief conversation and I asked him, "What Theater?"  He said Pacific.  Come to find out, he was with the 1ST Cavalry Division and their occupation of Tokyo. 

Although the European Theater (including North Africa) had ample examples of terror and hardship, the Pacific Theater was a different kind of war.  This quote from The Hoover Institution sums it up well:  "For the British and Americans alike, the Pacific was hands down the war’s most hated theater in which to fight,..."

As we were wrapping up our conversation, he said, "Let me show you the only thing I brought back from the war." (Or words to that effect.)  He then pulled out his key chain from his pocket.

Attached to his key chain was a Japanese identification tag, commonly referred to as a dog tag.

I asked this Veteran if I may take a picture of the dog tag to show my friends.  He agreed, yet was puzzled that I had a camera with me.  (Like my 77 year-old Dad, he is not a smart phone owner, I suppose.)  That dog tag, this Veteran and member of "The Greatest Generation" was kind enough to share with us this memory of a time seven decades ago.

While this Gentleman has to be in his late 80s or older, his eyes had a gleam and a firm handshake.  This is a man for whom his memories of World War II are forever linked to his daily life.  I also noticed that on his key chain was what I presume to be his dog tag.  

I think that his gesture of sharing with me something so personal was a wonderful gift to me.  He continued to share by allowing me to offer the photo above to all of you.  

Take a moment, if you will, to study it.  It is a simple piece of metal, marked with a language foreign to me.  This Veteran did not go into details as to how it came into his possession and I did not ask.  I suppose in some ways it is as much a part of him now as it was the person to whom it was issued to.  I am honored he shared it with me.  

I wonder what it is like to have memories from so long ago still so vivid, to be with you everyday.  I wonder what it is like to see everyday an item so simple, ordinary even, yet so full of meaning.  

Meaning, memories, and I suspect, the burden of history.  

Be well my friends,


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My First Broken (Political) Heart

Joe Biden's 1988, er '87 campaign button, fair use/public domain claimed, full cite below.

Greetings All:

If you're living in America and unless you're in a cave (without wi-fi), you are aware that the 2016 presidential campaign is in full gear.  This week, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin exited the race for the Republican nomination.  This was, even by political standards, a rapid fall from grace.  He had been a front-runner just a few months ago.  Yet he could not raise the interest (or money) to stay in the race.

I did not support him and I highly, highly doubt I would have voted for him in the general election.  Still, I respect his decision to leave the race and do so in an honorable, even magnanimous manner.

I have a friend from college who was a strong supporter of him in Iowa.  I connected with him on Facebook and expressed my condolences (might not be the right word, but the best one I can come up with) for the end of his candidate's campaign.

For some reason, I thought about the first time I had my political heart broken when a candidate I was supporting exited a race.  That would be the then Senator from Delaware, Joe Biden.

Then, this morning, I see in the paper that it was on this very date in 1987 that Biden did, in fact, exit the race.  Ladies and gentlemen, a blog post idea was born.

I was between my freshman and sophomore years in college when the Biden campaign took off in Iowa.  I will freely admit it:  I was swept up in the excitement, the energy.  Many people saw Biden as JFK 2.0.  He had a compelling story of a wife and daughter killed by a drunk driver and how he found a way to stay in the U.S. Senate and still put his kids first.  He had a message the resonated and he could appeal to all stripes of the Democratic party.  And if you think his smile is something now, you should have seen it back then.

That was the formal, serious, aspect of the campaign.  Then there was all the fun.  In an era before smart phones, posts and instant feedback, campaigns were different.  It was more personal.  You had the opportunity to see the candidate up close and personal.  You got to hang out with the staffers and fellow supporters.  Simply put, it was a grand time.

Then, it was over.  Biden withdrew over charges of plagiarism.  I have a link below to his 1988 campaign and you can read about it if you would like.  In a nutshell, Biden, in a moment of oratorical flair (and he has had many) failed to cite to a source.  I am not sure whether to laugh or cry at what is the going rate for a political scandal these days.  I feel safe saying this would not make the cut, not even close.

When I think back on it, I do recall the hurt, the loss.  I also can laugh in a way at how how much this was, in the words of my friend Dave, "A first-world problem."  Sad, sure, for me, and his supporters.  Yet at the end of the day, it all worked out and Senator Biden went on to have a remarkable and honorable career in public service, including being a heartbeat away from the Presidency.  I have no doubt he'd trade it all, ALL of it to have his son Beau back.  (Beau Biden, his eldest son, died of brain cancer earlier this year.)

So here's to those supporters of Gov. Walker, especially the college kids.  You saw in him what I saw in Joe Biden.  You were inspired, motivated to change the world, or this country, or just win the Iowa Caucuses.  Now, that shall not be.  You will wonder, agonize even, over,what could have been.  My advice:  let it go.  (and please, do NOT cue the Frozen song, thank you.)  Let go of the pain and recall the good times, the rallies, the speeches, the moments when you said to yourself:  "I'm part of something bigger than myself."

And one more thing.  Hold onto the buttons, the posters, all that stuff.  Pull it out someday and recall with both warmth and pride your role in that endeavor.  I used to have the poster that is shown below, yet I fear it has been lost to time and multiple moves.   

The Biden '88 campaign poster.  I had one of these in my fraternity room.  Fair use/public domain claimed, please see the full cite in the credits at the end of this blog post.

Such is life.  I suppose for those of us who have been involved in campaigns, losses are like broken hearts.  It stings, yet you get over it.  Hopefully, you can remember the good times and the bad memories fade.  At the end of the day, elections are important.  Yet the reason for elections, the preservation of our beloved Republic goes on, for perpetuity.  And that is something, God willing, that we shall never suffer the loss of, or feel the grieving thereof, in our hearts.
Be well my friends,


Sunday, September 13, 2015

"You're Going To Need A Bigger Boat."

Quint, as portrayed by actor Robert Shaw, going shark hunting in the movie Jaws.  Taken from my TV, fair use claimed, credit to Spike TV, Universal, Peter Benchley, et al, again, fair use.
Greetings All:

I'm in a good mood.  My beloved Iowa Hawkeyes reclaimed the Cy-Hawk Trophy from Iowa State yesterday.  I taped, er I mean, "TiVoed" the game and watched it late.  It was nice to see a win.  It was especially nice to have something as trivial as a college football game to focus on after what yesterday's focus was on...9/11.

When Iowa loses, I usually shut off the TV.  When Iowa wins, I'll gladly watch whatever late game is on, SEC, Mountain West, whatever.  As I was flipping thru the channels last night, I came across Jaws.

Jaws is the film that tells the tale of a shark.  A shark that well, eats people.  Living in Iowa, being a time zone, or more away from an ocean, sharks are an abject threat.  Kind of like dragons.  You don't want to mess with either one, yet the odds of running into one are pretty slim.

The movie came out 40 years ago and still is living on (and not showing it's age one bit) on cable TV.  Well, that's not exactly accurate.  There are some things about the movie that date it.  For example, the town mayor wearing a wide lapel blue striped jacket (and don't forget the anchor one, too) while SMOKING in a hospital.  

Yet the story, at its base level, is timeless.  A crisis arrives and the protagonist(s) have to deal with it.  The main character, Martin Brody, is the chief of police of a small, summer resort town.  It's on an island actually. Oh, and he cannot swim.  Perhaps not the best place to work.  Then again, as Brody quips, "It's not an island if you look at the water from the beach."  (Or words to that effect.)

There is the iconic scene of when Brody, et al come "face to fin" with their nemesis.  I could describe it.  Then again, there's nothing like seeing it.  And since you've all been especially good and dedicated readers (as well as YouTube's liberal sharing policy, yup, claiming fair use on this as well), here you go.

What makes a great movie, in my opinion, is a couple of things.  First, it must tell a story.  I've heard that good stories usually have this theme:  A stranger comes to town.  Well, we've got a stranger here.

Second, it has to tell a good story.  It is a suspenseful movie.  It's not a horror film, a slasher flick or any of the sort.  Thanks to the music of John Williams (da-Da, Da DA DA!!) we don't need to see the shark.  We can...feel him.  Where is he?  When will he strike next?  Can he be killed?

Third, it cannot be all doom and gloom.  Even Hamlet has some light moments, and so does Jaws.  It is a terrific cast and was masterfully done by Steven 26.  

Then, there is the underlying theme of man's epic struggle against a mighty adversary.  Quint smashes the radio (and seals his own doom) to prevent the Coast Guard for coming to the rescue.  This is Quint's fight, to win or lose.  As I watch the film, I think of Hemmingway's Old Man and the Sea.  I wonder if Spielberg thought about that as he was making this film.

I doubt it.  From what I know from the making of the film (see the credits below) many things went wrong during the making of it.  I think Spielberg was trying to not run out of money and summer as he made this masterpiece.

Oh, and the third thing a movie needs to be great is a climatic ending.  We've got that here as well.  In a movie chalk full of great lines, perhaps the best one is this:  "Smile you son of a..."  That line is from the photo below:

Chief Martin Brody, played by Roy Schneider, in the final scene.  (Squeeze, don't pull Marty.)  Photo also taken from my TV, fair use claimed, credit to Spike TV, Universal, Peter Benchley, et al, 
In a world full of bad news and troubling times, movies offer an escape.  Well, perhaps escape is too strong a word.  How about this:  A respite, an opportunity to indulge in a mix of comfort and excitement.  In this case, we get to "experience" the fight on the sea and stay dry.  We get the ending we want, perhaps need.  I think that is OK.  It's fine to "take a knee" once in a while and enjoy a late night movie, especially this one.

Perhaps it is good this was on at summer's twilight.  After all, I might think twice about going back into the water.
Be well friends,


Friday, September 11, 2015

A Tuesday Morning

One of the unfortunately well-known images from 9-11, full cite below, public domain claimed.

Greetings All:

Fourteen years ago this morning, our world changed.  I might write some more on it later.  For now, here are some thoughts expressed in a poem.  If you're reading this blog, please, in your own way, take a moment to remember those who died that terrible day.  A terrible day against a backdrop of a gorgeous weather day.

A Tuesday Morning by Jeno Berta

It was a Tuesday morning, sunny and bright.
On the edge of summer’s farewell, warm, yet not brutal hot.
Blue skies, blue as water from a still lake.

Then came the planes. 
First one, then three more.

They crashed. 
Into buildings.
Into the ground.
Into our souls.

They broke metal.
And glass.
And our hearts.

On that Tuesday, that wonderful weather day,
Our “normal” ended.

Yet from that horror, heroes emerged.
Simple acts, yet acts that mattered.
Water shared to quench parched mouths.

Running shoes given away by a shop-keeper.
Given to commuters turned refugees for a day.
Shoes that did more than aid sore feet.
They gave strengthen to the effort of all of us,
To get up, to walk on, to go home.

Yet not all made it home that day.
Some perished in the towers,
Plunging to the ground,
A final act of defiance against the flames.

Others at the Pentagon.
Some in suits, some in uniform, sibling citizens all.

And then there were those who fought back.
Whose rallying cry of, “Let’s Roll” became our own.

On that Tuesday, fourteen years ago, we recall.
We recall our shock,
Our anger,
Our grief,
Our fear.
Yes, our fear.

Yet let’s also recall how we came together,
In our houses of worship,
Schools and sports fields.
In our neighborhoods,
And our homes.

Recall how an act meant to tear us apart,
Pulled us together.

We learned much from that day,
With lessons still to study.
But for now, for today, for this day,

Let our thoughts be to the souls of the fallen.
Of spouses still alone,
Of children now grown,
Of parents for whom time stopped in their hearts,
Time never to move forward again.

I hope the sun shines today, this morning.
As it did that Tuesday morning.
For I believe that one can still recall a loss,
Revere the fallen,
Resolve to honor them in a life lived a bit better,
And still be grateful for the beauty of the day.

A day that like the 728 Tuesdays since that day,
That was the last “normal” Tuesday morning…
I shall ever know.

Be well my friends,



Photo credit: