Thursday, December 31, 2015

‘A Guide to the Conduct of the War’ -- a short story

War stories aren't my favorite, but after my dad passed away, I read the book "The Brigade." It's a true war story that's similar, I've learned, to his U.S. Army mission. Now I'm sharing a war story Harry wrote, possibly soon after his Army service. Did he base it on personal observation? We'll never know. Unless he shared it with friends or submitted it for publication, the yellowed, typed original has remained sight-unseen in a basement box -- until now.

Up – up – up into the wild blue yonder, the trim little fighter ship, its metal skin gleaming in the bright sunlight, rose, seemingly as a feather.

The pilot at the controls felt the same surge of joy, the same vibrant thrill that he invariably felt on his ascents into the skies. For was this not his destiny? Was this not what he had been born for, bred for, trained for? All his life, since he had been a little boy, he had watched these man-made birds winging their way across the heavens, listened to the roar of their powerful motors as they cleaved their way through the air.

And then had come the glorious opportunity to serve his country in the air. He smiled, now, as he recalled those first days of flight training, the gay good-humor of those embryo bird men, the almost unbearable agony of his first bad landing, and through it all, the never swerving conviction of their serious purpose.

And now, as he soared up high above the clouds, he was a full-fledged fighter pilot with hundreds of combat hours to his credit. The realization widened the smile on his face, for now he had proved that the air was his element. He was serving his country as he knew best.

Back home he was a hero, hailed and feted wherever he went. And it pleased him.

Higher his sturdy craft rose, higher and still higher until finally, leveling off, he found himself all alone in the sky with only the blood-red sun above him and the fleece-white clouds below.

Now he settled down lower in his bucket seat and grimly set his course for his objective. At his present speed he should reach it in exactly thirty-three minutes. But twenty of those minutes would be over enemy territory, and he knew he would have to keep his eyes open. Not that he need worry too much about being shot down. A contemptuous sneer curled the corners of his mouth as his mind contemplated this thought a few moments. For was he not a better man than any the enemy could send against him? And was not his a better ship, faster, more maneuverable, better armed? And were not the very gods with him, even providing him with a speed-increasing tail wind?

Nevertheless, he told himself sternly, he must be careful. His commanding officer had firmly impressed this point on him when he had volunteered for this mission. For this was an extremely important mission and, as his commanding officer put it, an all important objective. He must not fail. And his chest swelled with pride as he recalled the envious looks of all his fellow pilots as they watched him take off, into the very teeth of death for the honor of his country and his people.

Now he was over enemy territory and he felt a queer sensation tingling in all his nerves at the thought. Constantly his eyes scanned the skies, ever roving, ever vigilant, pausing only now and then to glance at this instruments, on the lookout for enemy ships. But his hands at the controls never faltered as his ship droned steadily forward on a beeline to its objective.

Ten minutes to go, ten minutes to accomplish what three pilots before him had failed to do. Ten minutes more and his name would go down in history with all the heroes of war. Somewhere below was the target that he must strafe, the target that, once strafed, would hold up the enemy for precious hours. Hours, which would enable his government, anxiously awaiting the report of his success, to assemble the necessary equipment to deliver the knockout blow.

Five minutes to go. This was becoming ridiculously easy. Where was the enemy air opposition? Were they so frightened by the approach of one lone fighter plane as to keep all their ships on the ground? But wait. What was that? Off to his right, those three specks on the horizon, heading on a course that would intercept him a few miles ahead. Now he saw them clearly, but they were at least a thousand feet below him. Had they seen him? They gave no sign. Well, he must chance it. He was too close to the target now to turn back. His right hand clenched the control stick tightly as he continued on his course. They were directly below him now. Still they gave no sign of having seen or heard him. And then, suddenly, almost like one ship, the three turned over and dived down through the clouds below, to disappear from view.

He heaved a prodigious sigh of relief as he loosened his clutch on the control stick. Simultaneously, he realized that he was over the target. This was it! Now!

He breathed a prayer to the god above him as he started his dive toward the ground. Down, down, down through the mist-like clouds, down, down through an eternity of nothingness, past the very eyes of death itself, while the wind whistled and screamed in vain in his wake.

Abruptly, he was in the clear. As he leveled off, he recognized the target below. His objective! And at the same time he saw the single enemy fighter coming straight at him out of the blue ahead.

No time to dive on his target. No time to seek the protection of the clouds above. No time to try any evasive action at all. Time to fight! He must dispatch the enemy with all possible speed and proceed on to the target.

Automatically he switched his guns to “all on” position and as the two ships drew closer together he opened fire. The enemy opened fire at the same instant. Beads of sweat covered his forehead as he held his thumb on the trigger. Suddenly he knew the meaning of fear. This enemy, this boastful, swaggering, stupid enemy, was coming at him head on. He had heard tales at home of this enemy’s penchant for suicides, but he had never before encountered it in this fashion. Yet, here it was. He watched, fascinated, as the ship in his sights grew larger and larger, swelling out of all proportion to its true size as it drew closer and closer. Violently he wrenched the control stick to the upper right corner and clamped his foot down on the right rudder to dive away.

And even as the bullets thudded home into his brain he realized he had made a mistake. In the last, lingering instant of death he realized that he had failed, that he, Son of His most Imperial Majesty, Exalted Ruler of the Universe, Emperor Hiro-Hito, had been blasted from the skies by the thundering guns of an American P-40.

“Peter Rabbit calling Mother Hubbard. Peter Rabbit calling Mother Hubbard. Over.”

“Mother Hubbard to Peter Rabbit. Come in. Over.”

“I just shot down another Jap Zero. Over.”

“Okay Pete. Come on down and finish this game of poker. We’re holding up your hand.”



Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman

Thursday, December 24, 2015

'It Will Never Was' – a story of time travel

I'd been avoiding many of the old boxes in my basement, overwhelmed with the thought of reading piles of my dad's unpublished novels and stories. They vary in length -- and age, ranging from 30 to 70 years old. Well, I finally started with the short stories. I posted the first ("The Surprise") on this blog last week. Although some may appear long, they read quickly, even for a non-speed reader like me. This one has traveled safely through time, I'm guessing from the 1950s or '60s.

“We know that time machines have never been invented – neither in the past nor in the future,” said Professor Angel. “Or at least,” he amended his statement thoughtfully, “we know that time travel devices have never achieved any widespread use.”

“How do you know that?” asked O’Neil.

“Because,” said the Professor, “we have never been visited by travelers in time – neither from the past nor from the future.”

“I repeat,” said O’Neil, “how do you know that?” He looked around the classroom, seeking assurance in the blank gazes of his fellow students. Finding none, he shrugged and continued. “After all, Professor,” he said, “how do we know? Any number of time travelers may have visited us. Besides, the fact that we haven’t been visited, if we haven’t, isn’t conclusive proof that they don’t exist. Maybe they just haven’t gotten around to visiting this age yet.”

The professor smiled. “On the surface,” he said, “you make a good point. But consider, a moment. It is only in the very recent past that men have achieved the technological ability to make a time machine, even assuming that we had the basis in scientific knowledge. And it would seem incredible that such a device could be made and put into use, say within the last hundred years, without some information about it becoming public. Why, a project big enough to make a time machine, with the associated research and development aspects, would compare in size with the Manhattan Project. Impossible to keep it secret. This leaves us, then, with the future. If you assume, for the sake of argument, that a time machine was invented in the future, what would be the most logical age for them to visit? Why, the period in which the greatest scientific discovery in history was made, of course, the 20th century, when the energy of the atom was harnessed by man. Inevitably, Mr. O’Neil, an explorer from the near or the distant future would be irresistibly drawn to witness the first explosion of a nuclear weapon, the first atomic bomb to be dropped in war, the first H bomb, the first peaceful uses of atomic energy, and so on.”

The smile on the professor’s face broadened. “As I have heard you observe on several occasions, Mr. O’Neil,” he said, “it’s a natural. And the mere fact that absolutely no evidence exists that this period of time was ever visited, indicates conclusively to me that time machines have never been invented.”

“Well,” said O’Neil slowly, “that’s pretty involved reasoning, Professor, but I’m not sure I go along with it all the way. For example, what if time travel involved a dematerialization so that the traveler was invisible to …”

“Oh, come now, Mr. O’Neil,” said the professor, “you’ve been reading too much science fiction.”

“Okay,” said O’Neil reluctantly, “but there’s a flaw somewhere.”

* * *

Professor Angel walked slowly down the leaf-strewn sidewalk cutting across the northeast corner of the campus. A flaw, he thought, a flaw somewhere. I’ve been thinking about time travel half my life, and a 20-year-old boy says I’ve got a flaw. A flaw indeed. He sighed heavily. But where? His reasoning, he knew, was sound, his presentation, effective. The class, he was sure, accepted his arguments without reservation. Except for O’Neil, of course. That O’Neil, singularly intelligent young man, he thought, but what was there about him?

His wife greeted him at the door of their small, ranch-style house. “Call for you,” she said with that thin, tight-lipped expression that meant only one thing. “You’re to report to Dean Willard at once.”

O’Neil, he thought instantly, it must be him.

“All right,” he said. He patted her shoulder.

First time in three years, he thought, that’s not a bad record. It can’t be serious. He went down to the basement, pressed the button that moved one wall aside, and entered the room with the squat ugly machine. The wall rolled back before he was settled in the seat and as the machine began its powerful humming-throbbing noise and the room disappeared before him. The machine was pre-set; he could do nothing to control it. When it stopped, he emerged into the presence of two men. One was Willard; the other – O’Neil. Good heavens, he thought, the man’s a spy. And even while he thought it, his mind was saying no, not a spy, a security agent, that’s it, a security agent.

He said nothing, watching them silently. Willard spoke first.

“Ahem,” he said, “uh, Roger, I believe you know O’Neil.”

The professor inclined his head slightly.

“Now then,” said Willard, “O’Neil is not with Security. He’s with a special squad covering the whole time sector – some thirty thousand years. They have two missions – one, to discover the principles of time travel, and two, to discover the principles of releasing nuclear energy.”

“Isn’t that what I’m doing?” said the professor.

“Of course,” said Willard, “except that you are stationed in the 20th century of the Christian Era, and O’Neil can move about from time to time at will. Also, where you are looking for details, he is looking for broad clues. And he has one.”

They are playing with me, thought the professor, they know. The whole fearful weight of his knowledge pressed upon him. His shoulders drooped as he sighed.

“Indeed,” he said, “and what is it?”

“I think,” said O’Neil, speaking for the first time, “that you have discovered the principle of time travel.”

No, thought the professor, he can’t know. I can’t be that transparent.

“Man,” O’Neil went on suddenly, “it’s a natural. Think of it. We discover two time machines, both obviously built at different times, by different technologies, yet necessarily operating on the same principles. We learn how to make them work, but no matter how we try, we can’t fathom the principles, the secret of making more. So, with two machines, we set out to explore time, to learn the twin secrets, so that we can set a dying world on its feet again.” He paused, breathless, then continued, more slowly. “One of those machines,” he said, “I suspect was built during the Atlantean Age, and we’re checking it. But the other could easily have been built during the 20th century of the Christian Era, and that, Professor, is where you’re stationed.” He pointed an accusing finger. “You’re the only one of us,” he said, “who could have figured it out himself. The rest of us would have had to steal the secret, but you could have learned it. And I think, Professor, that sometime in the last three years you have learned it.”

“If you have time,” said Willard, and his voice was suddenly menacing, “you had better tell us, Roger.”

“No,” said the professor, “I can’t. I’m not sure. Don’t you see? Time. I need time. It takes time. I must have more time.” He watched them closely, noting the swift glance that passed between them.

“How much time?” asked O’Neil.

“A year, maybe two,” he answered.

Again the swift glance, this time with something more than understanding, something infinitely cynical in it.

“Very well, Roger,” said Willard. “We’ll give you this time. Go back to your work. We will be in touch with you.”

When the professor was gone, O’Neil turned to Willard. “Can we trust him?” he asked.

Willard shrugged. “What can he do? He is but one man, a scientist, alone. The last of his kind – and perhaps the first.” He shrugged again. “What can he do?” he repeated.

* * *

“What can I do?” said the professor. “I’m only one man, alone. What can I do?”

“Tell them you don’t know,” said his wife. “Stop building that – that – thing. Tell them you can’t learn the secret; it’s too much for you.”

“It’s no use,” he said hopelessly, “they’ll only put me under the tele-thought. They’ll use it,” he continued, “to plunder the ages.” He shuddered. “They’ll destroy everything. They respect nothing. They’ll sack the world. The rape of time. They’ll come back to this time in force, robbing, destroying – they’ll …” He stopped. Slowly the frown straightened out, the eyes brightened, the smile broke through. “Of course,” he said softly, “of course.”

* * *

Two years later he appeared before Willard and O’Neil, serene and self-confident.

“I’ve done it,” he announced, “I’ve built a nuclear powered time machine. I know the principles.”

Willard rubbed his hands while O’Neil smiled.

“Good, Roger, very good,” he said. “We will set up a factory to produce them in quantity, and you will direct the work.”

“No.” said the professor calmly, “I will not.”

“Eh,” Willard scowled, “you know better than that, Roger, we’ll put you under the tele-thought. You can’t resist.”

“No,” said the professor, still calmly, “you can’t make me do anything anymore. You can’t win, gentlemen. You’ll never win, because you haven’t won. Don’t you see?”

“No,” said O’Neil, “I don’t. We’ve got you, Professor, and now we have three machines. I don’t see how we can lose.”

“Very well,” said the professor, “I’ll explain. You see, the machine, which I built back in the 20th century of the Christian Era, is the same one we’re using now, the one which you suspected was built during that period. By the way, where is it now?”

“One of my men has it in the Atlantean period,” said O’Neil. “Goddard. Maybe you know him?”

“Ah yes,” said the professor. “A very capable fellow. Perhaps even capable enough to – well, never mind, let’s continue. In any event, I built my machine – and used it to do some exploring. With it I discovered that I remained in the 20th century, Christian Era, and lived out my life there. Subsequently, others used it – then it was lost for some ten thousand years, until you found it again. It conclusively proved, however, that no one else ever built another machine – except for the Atlantean model. So you see, you lose.”

“But, but,” sputtered O’Neil, “how could you and Goddard be using the same machine at the same time?”

“Oh, but it’s not at the same time,” the professor smiled, “it’s at different times.”

“Even so, Roger,” Willard broke in, “what’s to prevent us from putting you under the tele-thought, from learning the secrets, and from building more machines?”

“Just this,” said the professor, slowly walking over to his machine, “If you will notice, I came here in my machine, not yours, which is still in my 20th century basement. When I leave here, you will no longer have a machine at your disposal. I’ll be out of your reach forever. I’m going back now to warn Goddard – or to destroy his machine, which is really my machine, if he won’t listen to reason. But I think he will. When I’m gone,” he added, “ponder this, gentlemen. You cannot change time, you can only witness it.”

The last he saw of them was the stunned expressions on their faces, the dawning realization of defeat.

* * *

Professor Angel looked at the blank faces of his students, compressed his lips, then smiled as he concluded his lecture.

“There is only one conclusion,” he said. “Observation bears out the fact that time travel never has and never will achieve widespread use. To coin a phrase,” he added thoughtfully, “it will never was.”


Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

'The Surprise' – a story of jealousy

Author Harry M. Zubkoff
FEB 1, 1958 – The date-stamp in red ink is barely visible on the top corner of the thin, yellowed paper. Could it be the mark of a potential publisher who once received Harry’s short story, only to return it later, unpublished? The typed story, however, still reads clearly. ... Also clear is that Harry's love for reading fiction turned to writing it as well. On this page you'll see one of dozens of short stories no longer buried deep in musty boxes. It's the first one I read, and -- no surprise! -- it made me want to read more. See if you agree.

He shook his head violently, as though by doing so he could dismiss the thought of her and Samuel. The phone was ringing.

“Hello,” he said.

“John,” her voice was breathless, “is that you, John??”

Sure, he thought bitterly, it’s me. John, the big brother type, always a brother, never a bridegroom.

“Yes, Kathryn,” he said.

“Well, how are you, John?”

How am I, he thought, how am I? I’m dead, that’s how I am. You’re going to marry Samuel, and I’m dead.

“John,” she said anxiously, “are you still there, John?”

“Yes, Kathryn,” he said, “I’m here, I’m fine.”

“John,” she said, “are you busy this evening?”

Oh no, he thought, I’m just going to kill Samuel, that’s all. It won’t take long, and I’ll be free afterward.

“What did you have in mind, Kathryn?” he asked.

“I thought we might have dinner together somewhere,” she said.

“What about Samuel?” he said, and could have bitten his tongue.

“You don’t like him very much, do you, John?” she said gently.

I hate him, he thought. I hate everything about him, everything. But most of all I hate him because he took you away from me.

“You shouldn’t feel that way, John,” she went on when he did not reply. “He’s really very nice, and he speaks well of you. I do so want you to like him. Anyway,” she added brightly, “he’s working on some papers tonight, and nobody sees him when he’s working, but nobody.”

Unless he knows you’re coming, he thought. Unless you’ve made an appointment with him. So you could kill him.

“I’m sorry, Kathryn,” he said, “I can’t possibly make it tonight. So many things to do,” he added vaguely.

“Oh,” she was disappointed. “I so wanted to see you alone before …”

“Before what, Kathryn?” he prompted.

“Before the – the – the wedding,” she hesitated. “After all, it’s less than a week away.”

That’s what you think, he thought grimly. At least, not to Samuel. You might get married, but not to Samuel.

“I’m sorry, Kathryn,” he repeated. “Some other time, perhaps.”

Any other time, he thought. Any time after tonight. I’ll always be here, Kathryn. I’ll always love you.

“Well, anyway, John,” she laughed lightly, “I can wish you a happy birthday. Happy birthday, darling.”

“Goodbye, Kathryn,” he said, “thank you.”

Oh, Katie, he thought, Katie. If only there was no Samuel. If only it were the two of us again. But it will be, it will be that way again. You’ll see, he thought fiercely, you’ll see. After tonight, no more Samuel. He’ll be dead. I’m going to kill him. It’s all arranged. I ring the doorbell. He opens the door. He’s alone. I go in, close the door, follow him to the library, never the study, never takes anyone into the study when he’s working, he opens that big double door, it’s dark in there, he crosses over to the lamp, reaches for the switch, I shoot, once, twice, maybe three times, it’s dark and I must be sure he’s dead.

He was sweating, his shirt sticking to his back. I must stop thinking, he thought desperately, stop it.

He had considered and discarded a dozen plans before finally settling on an alibi. It was the simplest, the easiest to execute, the most foolproof, and probably the oldest alibi in the business. I’m beginning to think like a professional killer, he thought, and shuddered. Watch the time now, he told himself, from now on you’re on a timetable.

At five minutes to six he arrived at the theater. The girl in the box office smiled in recognition as he paid for his ticket and he checked his watch with her. She’ll remember me, he thought. As usual he handed the doorman a cigar when he entered and deposited his ticket stub carefully in his watch pocket. The serial number on the ticket would prove he had entered before 6:00, and the doorman would corroborate it. Not that he’d need any proof, but just in case. He had even seen the picture before, only two nights ago, at a different theater. Again, just in case.

He sat quietly, looking at the screen with blank eyes till 6:30. Out front, he knew, the doorman and the girl in the box office would be relieved then, for a one-hour dinner period. He had one hour in which to kill Samuel. It would take twenty minutes to walk to Samuel’s home, five more to get in and kill him, twenty minutes back to the theater. He should be back at 7:15, well within the hour, with fifteen minutes to spare in case there was any delay. The relief box-office girl and doorman would not know him, the second ticket stub he would dispose of, and when he finally emerged from the theater at 8:40, he would make a point of saying goodbye to the regular doorman.

It was as simple as that. He had turned it over in his mind again and again. He could see no flaw.

At 6:30 he left the theater. It took exactly twenty minutes to reach Samuel’s. No one saw him. No one would remember him. At exactly 6:50 his gloved hand rang Samuel’s bell.

Samuel opened the door, the hateful smile on his face.

“Come in, John,” he said, “good to see you.”

He took off his hat, hesitated, then removed his gloves. Looks more natural, he thought, mustn’t make him suspicious. Have to be careful not to leave any fingerprints around, though.

“Let’s have a drink,” said Samuel. “Cool you off. You look hot.”

He was wet. His legs felt shaky.

“Lead the way,” he said. Yes, lead the way, he repeated to himself, lead the way so I can put a bullet through your rotten heart.

“You know, John,” said Samuel, “I’m glad you came tonight.” He seemed strangely nervous, as though he had a premonition. “I sort of had an idea that you didn’t like me. Because of Kathryn. I hope we can be friends,” he went on. “She’s very fond of you, you know.”

The final insult, he thought, the final humiliating insult. As Samuel opened the double doors to the library he took the gun out of his pocket. He stood just inside the doors as Samuel crossed the dark room to the lamp, barely visible from the reflected hall light.

“Stand where you are,” he said. His voice frightened him. It sounded strange, harsh. He forced himself to speak again.

“I do hate you, Samuel,” he said slowly, distinctly. “I hate you,” he repeated, “because you took her from me. You and your smile and your smooth line, you turned her head, you took her from me. She doesn’t really love you. I know. It’s me she loves.”

Samuel stood still, his face a white blur in the darkness. His mouth was open, his teeth showing, but he was not smiling.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, John,” he said finally. “What are you going to do?”

He had not seen the gun.

“I’m going to kill you,” said John, and shot, once, twice, and, as Samuel crumpled, a third time. Back to the theater -- his mind was going through the catechism unbidden -- buy my ticket, destroy the stub, take a seat, watch the picture, out at 8:40, home to bed, no one will find him at least till tomorrow.

He was suddenly aware that the light was on, several people standing in its harsh glare. He stood frozen, gun forgotten in his hand, hearing the murmur of voices but unable to comprehend the words. Then he saw Kathryn on the floor crying, Samuel’s head cradled in her lap. He looked at Samuel, at the face that would smile no more.

“Surprise, John,” Samuel whispered, eyes glazing over. And, with a last tremendous effort, he gasped, “Happy Birthday.”


Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman

Thursday, December 10, 2015

‘Season’s Greetings’ to DOD (the year was 1983)

Harry dishes out chili for a guest at one of his annual office Christmas parties. A co-worker made the chili each year, and I've been told it was the highlight of the party. Many in the Pentagon regularly attended, as well as out-of-towners.

Several people who follow this blog knew Harry from the Pentagon. So you folks may remember his annual Christmas parties -- and his "Season's Greetings" poems to the Department of Defense. He wrote the poem below three years before he retired from government. It was the same winter I brought my 13-month-old daughter to his office Christmas party. And, it was there she took her first steps without holding on! 

I’ve come across Harry’s “Season’s Greetings” poems from many other years, too; I selected 1983 because the sentiments are timeless.


My friends, our greetings every year,
Are all designed to bring good cheer,
Replete with names of folks we know,
The ones who make the system go.
But friends, this year is somehow different,
Names alone are not sufficient.
Harry was crowned "Pentagon Poet Laureate"
We simply can’t remain serene,
Reflecting on the global scene,
Events in 1983 upset our equanimity.
So this year’s greetings are directed
At events and those affected,
With names deserving special mention
That we’ll bring to your attention.
First and foremost, let us pray,
For those who serve the U.S.A.,
Let’s support with all our means,
Our United States Marines.
P.X. Kelley and the rest
Are among our very best.
A memory we’ll always keep,
 And crowned again ...
Of those men murdered in their sleep.
With all our deepest sympathy
To members of each family.
Every sweetheart, wife and mother,
Every sister, father, brother.
Hold fast and firm to this belief,
Our nation shares your common grief
For those young men who gave their all
In answer to their country’s call.
And Army Ranger personnel,
Those who fought and those who fell.
Their purpose and their mission clear
To all but those who will not hear.
Our hearts go out to them and theirs,
Our thoughts, our tears, our daily prayers,
... And again
These men, our leading, forward edge,
Won’t be forgotten, this we pledge.
And those who criticize and carp
So righteously (without a harp),
Should bear in mind the attitude
Of students, and their gratitude,
So now’s the time to rally round
The only Commander-in-Chief in town!
To all our Navy personnel,
Who do their jobs so very well,
Our country owes a massive debt,
Though some don’t realize this yet.
On, above, beneath the sea,
They help to keep our nation free.
Away from home for so much time,
Throughout the world, in every clime,
And their appearance, anywhere,
Signifies our presence there.
To all our Air Force people, too,
With all the jobs they have to do,
Gen. Powell attended Harry's parties, too.
Those who fly as fast as sound,
Or tend the missiles underground,
We owe much more than we can pay,
So let’s remember that each day,
And hope for progress every year
In safeguarding our “high frontier.”
These armed forces all together,
Geared to go in any weather,
Ready, able, day or night,
Are a symbol of our might,
All on duty, constantly,
Deterring any enemy,
By their presence, they assure
That our country stays secure.
To all the leaders of these forces,
Those who are “official sources,”
Let’s not sell these people short,
They deserve our best support.
For the Navy’s John Lehman,
(The sharpest, you know)
And Admiral Watkins,
A great CNO,
The ships and the subs and the aircraft to meet
The needed improvements in strength of the fleet.
For the Army’s John Marsh
(He’s the best at this craft)
And General Wickham,
The new Chief of Staff.
The brigades and divisions, equipment and stuff,
With training sufficient to keep the troops tough.
For Verne Orr of the Air Force
(A quality guy),
And Gabriel, Charlie,
Advising Secretary Cap Weinberger?
The Chief of the Sky,
The weapons and systems to keep us apace
Of our mission to fight in the air and in space.
For JCS Chairman, General Vessey,
An organization not so messy,
With the power to make a hard decision,
And make his mark as a man of vision,
Persuasive and backed by rational reasons,
He is the Pentagon’s man for all seasons.
And last but not least,
For the DOD leaders,
From all of our viewers and writers and readers,
For Weinberger, Cap, and his Deputy, Thayer,
We offer a very fervent prayer,
May they both have the courage and wisdom and sense,
To know when to jump or to straddle the fence,
May they talk to the Congress, the public, the press,
And convince them which courses of action to bless,
May the policies that they both devise
Be cautiously bold and very wise,
And may they retain their honor and pride,
With the Forces of freedom at their side.
Now let’s turn our backs on ’83,
It taught us a little humility,
And let’s look forward to ’84,
Whatever the future has in store,
Of this we are certain as we can be,
That ours is still the land of the free,
Let’s pray that all hostilities cease,
And that God grant this world a measure of peace!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Opinion: D.C. traffic engineers are the best -- not!

Harry smiles circa 2007, some 40 years after he wrote three opinion pieces (typed originals above left). In this piece, he vents about D.C.-area traffic engineers. Do you think he ever changed his opinion? I doubt it.

One of the most enviable jobs in our modern society is that of the traffic engineer. I’ve often thought that this must be a most satisfying vocation, and that anyone who works diligently, with perseverance and ingenuity, must inevitably succeed at it. Furthermore, the successful application of the principles and techniques of traffic engineering are almost immediately visible – the feeling of accomplishment comes quickly.

Of course, the schooling and training must be long and intensive. I imagine every traffic engineer must go through a two-year internship as a traffic officer in the police department of a large city, where he can experiment with the various methods of impeding the flow of traffic. Then, I suppose, he also has to work with some sort of community planning group so that he can learn the intricacies of laying out streets and signal lights in random, haphazard patterns.

But I’m sure he doesn’t learn the real tricks of his trade until he’s actually on the job and can bring the full weight of his intellectual resources to bear on the problems of creating and sustaining the gigantic traffic jams which mark our metropolitan areas throughout the country.

Oh yes, you really have to hand it to them for that. I’ll bet that the traffic engineers from all the major cities get together for an annual celebration at least two or three times a year to boast about their successes. I can just hear New York describing some of his best traffic jams to San Francisco, for example, or Los Angeles challenging Chicago to create bigger and better jam-ups or else drop out of the race.

In my own area of the country, the metropolitan area of Washington, D.C., however, there is no question that we have the best traffic engineers in the world. Their work is a constant source of pride to those of us who are fortunate enough to commute from the suburbs every day, and there are countless instances of their genius.

One road, for example, which leads from the Pentagon to the Arlington Memorial Bridge, was a thorn in their side for years. It was a three lane highway, one way, and thousands of cars flowing out of the Pentagon parking lots each night sped through to the Bridge easily and quickly on their way through Washington to the Maryland suburbs. This situation must have been intolerable.

Finally, a particularly imaginative and persistent traffic engineer found a solution to this demoralizing problem. It was a stroke of genius, really. What he did was have one lane of that road chopped out entirely (those huge road building machines are very efficient at destruction, too) so that the remaining two lanes were exactly calculated to handle 66 percent of the traffic load. Now, of course, it takes 20 to 25 minutes to traverse a stretch of road which previously took about three minutes. You can’t beat that for improvement.

There are other examples, too, some of them even more spectacular, but too much praise may go to their heads. Anyway, I’ll stack my traffic engineers up against those of any other city in the country any time. Believe me, all of us around Washington breathe a prayer for them every night. And we sleep easier, knowing that our traffic engineers are on the job. It makes life more exciting, too, wondering what surprises they have in store for us tomorrow.

Stay tuned next week for a memorable "Season's Greetings." 

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Opinion: We must repair the environment

I wonder if our family cross-country road-trip in 1965 inspired my dad to write about the environment. The shots above show Yosemite, Yellowstone and The Badlands. In the photo below, Harry (right) and his nephew examine the beach during our stop in Carmel, CA.

If we changed a few numbers, Harry's opinion piece on our growing population and the environment would be just as relevant today. I believe he wrote it in the 1960s. 

There is a great deal of concern being expressed these days about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the inevitability, in a nuclear-armed world, of a catastrophic war. Whether it is triggered deliberately or accidentally, such a war, it is argued, could conceivably end man’s tenure on this planet and even, perhaps, make the earth inimical to all forms of life forever. I do not mean to derogate this danger, although I do think it is highly exaggerated, but I submit that there is a far greater danger to mankind present – one about which there seems to be too little concern expressed. I refer to the proliferation of man himself.

It has been calculated that 90 percent of all the people who ever lived are alive today, but if you think we’re crowded now, just wait another generation. By the year 2,000, the population of this planet will have doubled and the drain on the world’s natural resources will be incalculable. And though we are marginally conscious that many species of life – including fish, fowl, animal and insect – are endangered, we do not seem to realize that man himself may be threatened with extinction. Indeed, the problems posed by our exploding population are not limited to laying waste our soil, leveling our forests, or upsetting the ecological balance. Pollution, the most urgent of all our problems, is causing the two vital elements to man’s existence – water and air – to become major health hazards.

Man and man alone is responsible for the systematic destruction of his environment. In our frenzied and ill-conceived efforts to cope with the growing population, we are tampering with our environment and redirecting the forces of nature, with almost no regard for the future consequences. In our efforts to create more facilities for human habitation, we are rendering more and more of our planet uninhabitable.

I do not know if it is yet too late to correct the evils we are perpetrating on our environment, but we must certainly try. The decisions we must take, the actions we must take, will not be easy, but we must try. We must move in the direction of repairing that damage which is still reparable. Above all, we must plan, now, on how to make the wisest use of our natural resources without destroying them – and ourselves – in the process.

I'll post one more opinion piece next week.  

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Opinion: We're being invaded

Here's my dad on Thanksgiving in 2008. At family dinners, he entertained us with his theories and opinions. Little did we know, he had some good ones stashed in old files. 

Harry had no shortage of opinions and theories. Recently I discovered several essays titled, simply, "An Opinion." I assume he submitted them for publication. Do you suppose he wrote this one in the 1960s? A few details give us clues.

Have you ever stopped to wonder where all the people come from who fill all the new apartment houses being built throughout the country these days? Every major city, for example, is in the throes of an apartment boom, with modern high-rise monstrosities coming to dominate the skyline from coast to coast. These apartments aren’t inexpensive, either, with rentals ranging from over $100 a month for efficiencies to several hundred a month for multiple bedroom units.

Frankly, I find it hard to believe that there are enough people around to fill these buildings. And I find it doubly hard to believe that there are enough people around who can afford these prices. So where do they all come from? Well, I have a theory about that.

The fact is, I don’t think they’re people at all. Have you been reading all the reports about flying saucers lately? Well, judging by the frequency of these reports, it seems to me that somebody “up there” is running a shuttle service to Earth – that there’s a mass immigration taking place right under our noses. To those of you who would scoff at this suggestion, I ask you to consider these statistics.

The astronomers estimate that there are about 6,000 million galaxies, like our own Milky Way, within range of our 200-inch telescopes. (There are probably millions more that we haven’t seen yet.) They also estimate that our galaxy contains about 30,000 million stars, most of them bigger than our Sun and each of them with its own family of planets. If each of the galaxies contains approximately the same number of stars, and the truth is, most of the galaxies are considerably bigger than our own, then we can conservatively guess that there are something like 180 million million stars out there. Multiply that figure by ten and you get a rough idea of how many planets there are.

Now with all those billions and billions of planets, literally more numerous than the grains of sand on all the beaches of all our oceans, there must be at least a few on which life similar to ours has evolved. And if they’re anything like us, they must think the grass is greener here, and maybe it is, at that. Anyway, I think they’re coming here, probably from many different places, landing secretly on dark nights, printing their own money (which accounts for the inflation that’s taking place) and setting themselves up in residence. Maybe they look upon the Earth as a vacation capital of the universe. After all, viewed through their eyes, we’re probably good for a lot of laughs the way we behave towards each other. Or maybe they look upon us as a horrible example and are trying to figure out how to avoid making the same mistakes themselves.

To be sure, I know they’re studying us and our culture. If you want to get a close-up look at them, just visit any of our major university campuses. Oh, there are some superficial similarities between them and human beings, but if you look closely, you’ll see that many of them can’t possibly be products of this planet.

Anyway, I think it makes more sense to believe that we’re being “invaded” by extraterrestrials than to believe that we’re filling up all those apartment buildings and colleges ourselves. If you find that too hard to take, though, I have another theory, too. It has to do with time travel, but I’ll tell you about it another time.

View from Harry's grandson's 12th-floor apartment in Harlem. We're pretty sure he's an Earthling.

I used to ask my dad if he knew secrets of flying saucers and government cover-ups because he had Top Secret Pentagon clearance; he claimed he didn't. In retrospect, certain conversations suggested otherwise. I’ll post two more of Harry’s “opinion” pieces in the coming weeks. 

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

He didn't get fame from 'The Alphabet Game'

Harry and Jeanette posed during their 25th wedding anniversary party at home, August 1968. Two months later, Harry submitted the "verse-story" below for publication. I wonder what (or who) inspired him.

We’ve seen many examples of Harry's creative poems, as well as why he wrote them -- to tell stories both real and fiction, to persuade others, to stir imaginations, and just for fun. But did you know he wrote at least one for children? Neither did I, until I saw it in a stack of short stories in a musty old box. Harry sent "The Alphabet Game" to at least two publishers: Authors and Publishers’ Service in Flushing, NY, and Harper & Row in New York City. Here's his submission to the latter.

October 24, 1968

Dear Miss Nordstrom:

Enclosed is a short Verse-Story for your consideration and possible publication. I have tried it on several pre-school children and they were delighted with it. Suitably illustrated, I believe it would be quite appealing. Though I cannot provide the artwork myself, I have several ideas about illustrations.

Please let me know if you think it worth pursuing, or if you would be interested in receiving more such material for a juvenile audience.


Harry M. Zubkoff

The Alphabet Game

Thousands and thousands of years ago,
Before you were born and started to grow,
When people lived in caves and hunted,
No one talked; they only grunted.

No one could read or write at all,
They just painted pictures upon the wall,
Until some people whose names we forget,
Invented a brand new alphabet.

First they invented the sounds, you see,
Like the sound of A and sound of E.
And three more sounds are I, O, U,
They call them letters, and vowels, too.

These five little letters you learn today,
Make every sound that you can say,
Just try them out, make sounds for a while,
But quietly please, soft sounds with a smile.

Then they had to shape each sound,
To make it flat or broad or round,
To make each sound into a word,
To understand it when it’s heard.

As they invented every letter,
Each sound got a little better.
And finally, when they were done,
They added up to twenty-one.

Now let’s review, for just a minute,
How many letters are there in it?
The total number’s twenty-six,
And they do all the sound-word tricks.

Repeat these letters after me,
B, C, D and F and G.
H, I, J, and then there’s K,
Now that’s enough for you today.

After K comes L and M,
Drop one leg and there’s the N,
Then P, Q, R, and S, T, and V,
W, and X, Y, Z.

We call those letters consonants,
Because they sit there on a fence,
They’re silent, they cannot be heard,
They only help to shape each word.

They wrap each vowel in a shell,
We call it learning how to spell,
So when you know them all by sight,
You, too, can learn to read and write.

So practice them and play some games,
With sounds and words and even names,
And maybe, when you have some time,
You might compose a little rhyme.

Like A, B, C, D, E, F, G,
H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P,
Q, R, S, T, U, and V,
W, and X, Y, Z.

Or, A, K, J, and W,
M, and N, and U, and Q.
Or maybe C, D, E, P, T,
Go on, it’s fun, just try and see.

I didn't see a rejection letter, but it looks like "The Alphabet Game" ended up in the soup.

Stay tuned; next week I'll post a writing that surprised me more than this one.

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Harry recalls the 'life of the party' (plus '50s photos of a community's labor of love)

Harry outlived many of his friends, and now I appreciate the stories he wrote in their memory. We've seen several on this blog -- each eulogy features the very heart of the person Harry remembered, and together they tell stories of a bygone generation of friends. Below you'll see another tribute for a man he befriended in Greenbelt, MD, the planned city built by President Roosevelt's New Deal. It's where Harry and Jerry Pines were among the founders of the Jewish Community Center -- built not by the government, but the residents themselves -- in the early 1950s. Below the tribute, I posted a few of the photos Harry saved from their do-it-yourself construction project.

Harry and Jerry Pines posed with friends on a trip in the 1970s. All were part of a large community of activists who remained friends for life, even though most moved out of Greenbelt in the '60s.

Those of us who have known Jerry Pines through a good part of our adult lives don’t have to be told what kind of man he was. But every person is viewed differently by the people he knows – his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his colleagues at work, his friends and his neighbors – each of them views a person from his own perspectives. I want to say a few words about him today from the perspective of a couple of his friends, Jack Sanders and myself, to show you how we looked at Jerry and to add a little understanding of that view to the storehouse of memories that his family will cherish in the years to come.

Whenever I think of Jerry Pines, one thing immediately comes to mind. He was always the life of the party. We’ve had a lot of parties over the past thirty-five or forty years in our circle of friends, and at every one of them, without fail, Jerry would sooner or later take center stage. When we needed a master of ceremonies, we’d call on Jerry. When we needed someone to say a few words about this or that, about almost anything, we’d call on Jerry. Not only did he have a sort of stage presence, as real as that of a professional entertainer, he also had the most delightful sense of humor.

He knew how to take the most ordinary incidents, the most routine of daily circumstances, and tell about them in such a way as to transform them into the most hilarious misadventures. The mishaps that befell him were unbelievable and, the way he told about them, unimaginable, as well. If you ever heard him tell about the things that happened to him when, for example, he would take a new car back to the dealer to get some simple little things fixed, you’ll know what I mean. Whenever he told a story like that, he would have us gasping for breath because we laughed so hard.

In these more recent years, he had more than his share of physical discomfort and pain, but even when talking was a great effort for him, he never lost that sense of humor and that knack for bringing out the bizarre aspects of any situation. I recall vividly when a few of us were all together last year, not long after he got that new gadget that made it possible for him to talk. Boy, did he talk! The effort required for him to talk didn’t faze him or inhibit him at all. He had us all in stitches.

There are a lot of other things we remember about Jerry Pines – his kindness, his generosity, his willingness to share, his genuine interest in others – these qualities are legendary among his friends. He had a great many virtues. He had an unwavering morality. He knew what was morally right and practiced it throughout his life. You could say that all of us know the difference between right and wrong, but we frequently look the other way when someone does something wrong. Not Jerry. He could not abide duplicity or dishonesty in others, and never hesitated to point it out when he encountered it. He played it straight all his life and he expected others to do the same, but he was not so na├»ve as to believe that they always would. One of the last things he told Jack Sanders, who saw him just before he went in for surgery last month, was that his wish for his grandchildren was that they would grow up to be honest, forthright citizens of high moral character. Jerry talked that way, and he meant it.

He was a keen observer of the world around him and deplored injustice wherever he saw it. He could never understand, for example, how in this great country of ours there was so much poverty and disadvantage, despite all of our national wealth and resources, and he championed the cause of the ill-fed, the ill-housed and the underprivileged. He wanted everyone to have a better life, not just here, but everywhere. Maybe that’s why he liked so much to travel, to visit other countries and to see other lifestyles, not just to say that he had been there, but to see things for himself and to gain a better understanding of other peoples and other cultures. Every trip he took was a learning experience for him and he always came back with some very cogent observations about the things he had seen.

Jerry Pines led his life with grace and style, with humor and wit, always looking at the bright side, never giving in to despair. He was a friend, and his friendship brightened our lives.

A complicated labor of love

The Washington Star news clipping (above) from March 20, 1955, and construction photos (below)
The project to build a Jewish Community Center in Greenbelt was an icon of community spirit among neighbors and friends. But it wasn't easy. In an article in The Washington Star Pictorial Magazine on March 20, 1955, Harry described several barriers:

"Often we had the heartbreaking job of tearing down work that took us weeks because a construction expert would tell us it wouldn't do." 

"Most of our people didn't know the front end of a trowel from the back of a wheel-barrow when we started." 

"One of our problems was the old saying, 'A little learning is a dangerous thing'. Too often we had 15 self-elected foremen all telling one another what they had learned from books and how to do the job."

I'd recognize my dad's jacket anywhere. Is he inspecting the wall?
Harry, Jerry and the others attended the building dedication on March 20, 1955 (above and below).

I was thrilled to find these '50s photos. (I have to wonder how long they could sit in those chairs.)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The media blitz of '86

On Halloween in 1950, Harry walked into the Pentagon to start a career that spanned 36 years. So it's fitting that this Halloween we can see (and hear) his quotes that honored the day he walked out. I remember the excitement when a TV station featured his retirement -- after The Washington Post scooped the story. Now I've discovered that more newspapers ran with the lead. So here's a glance at Harry’s retirement hoopla, which is news to most of his family and friends who follow this blog.

TV news story

On June 3, 1986, “Eyewitness News” interviewed Harry for a segment on WDVM TV in Washington, DC. The clowns in the first scene were his long-time friends who managed a timely surprise! Click here for the video on YouTube. Or you can watch it here (though it may not appear on your mobile device):

Here's the video transcript:

"Early Bird Editor Steps Down"

MAUREEN BUNYAN:  The publisher of one of Washington’s best read dailies and most influential newspapers is stepping down. Harry Zubkoff, editor of the Defense Department’s most popular publication, is calling it quits after nearly four decades. Andrea Roane reports.

ANDREA ROANE:  The atmosphere at the Pentagon is usually much more subdued than this, but an exception was made today for Harry Zubkoff. After 36 years as chief of the Pentagon’s news clipping and analysis service, Zubkoff is retiring. In that position, this man who thinks of himself as just another government clerk served as publisher of the Current News, Early Bird, and other source information for high-level Pentagon officials. In 1950, when Zubkoff started with the Early Bird it was just one or two pages long filled with pertinent news clippings for a half dozen officials. But it has grown substantially over the years.

HARRY ZUBKOFF:  We now clip probably 65 newspapers every day, well over 300 periodicals a month, and we provide literally hundreds of pages of things, clippings, stories, for the people to look at who are in a – are decision makers.

ROANE:  Almost 20,000 people here and abroad read Zubkoff’s Early Bird edition. Defense Secretary Weinberger starts off his day with it. So do the folks in the White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

ZUBKOFF:  What the media are saying about defense policy, strategies, doctrines, programs, weapons acquisitions, everything that they have to take into consideration in the formulation of our national defense policies.

ROANE:  Modestly, Zubkoff believes his stepping down won’t change anything in his department, but his colleagues disagree.

MAN:  Harry is so good. For me he’s a genius, honestly. He’s a tremendous man and very impressive, really very impressive.

ROANE:  Can he be replaced?

WOMAN:  I don’t think so. No. Not in my mind.

ROANE:  In retirement, Zubkoff says he plans to write a book or two. They won’t be the kiss and tell variety about the Defense Department but rather about something he knows very well after 36 years, the media. Andrea Roane, Eyewitness News.

Print news stories

Now for Harry's quotes in three newspapers, with snapshots of seven.

Washington Post, June 1, 1986:  
"Our mission has become incredibly important as the press devotes more and more time and energy to covering national security issues ... ." 

"There are so many things I'm now in the habit of reading that I really cannot relish the prospect of giving them up ... I'll probably wind up spending $1,000 a year on subscriptions." (That explains why he did just that for the rest of his life!) 

"I'm sometimes torn. I often have the feeling that not only I, but almost anybody, could have done a better job than some of the reports I read. I have had the desire to be a commentator -- a columnist or a pundit. I do feel I could add something. But I'm not actively seeking a job and I doubt anyone will invite me. I might write a book, or two, or three. I really have not decided on anything ... I'll be 65 in June. I could stay here forever, probably, but I want to do other things."

Pentagram, June 5, 1986:
"You can always predict what's going to happen ... if you read carefully." 

"The Current News does provide sort of an Inspector General-type 'eye' for the secretary [of defense]. In stories that we pick up, we will call his attention to something that is happening out in the field someplace that may eventually really create a problem. This will often be the first indication that this problem exists. Then, he can call in his staff and say, get me the lowdown on this."  

"There is never a story in any newspaper that is free of errors." 

Army Times, June 16, 1986: 
"I have no doubt, and I've read them all, that the people who cover the Pentagon beat [for the major newspapers] are doing a better job than their counterparts at the White House or the State Department. We have the best reporters in the business."

But the "good information coming out the typewriters" of Pentagon reporters doesn't always show up in the newspapers ... "They don't want to be innovative, to startle their readers, to concentrate a lot of information on subjects that demand it, like military policy and strategy. That might bore their readers, they think. They would rather devote a whole section to style and fashions and gossip and society."

Doubting there will ever be the same kind of consensus toward military operations that existed during World War II, Harry said: "When I was a kid, there were 120 million Americans. Now there are 240 million. It's impossible to obtain more than a modest majority of opinion in favor of anything."

More retirement accolades

Pentagon admirers published a Special Issue of his Current News ...

And created a caricature that featured his reputation as a pilot, poet, and cowboy hat wearer.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Back to basics – a lesson on Israel’s independence

Harry and Jeanette sightseeing in Israel, 1972

My dad always followed events in Israel, and he practiced what he preached: He read, listened to, watched, and analyzed every news source possible. When it came to Israel, Harry spoke with authority. In 2011, at 88 years old, he wrote this article for his synagogue newsletter. 

At the end of the War of Independence in 1948, when Israel’s neighbors had tried unsuccessfully to wipe the new country off the map, the parties to the conflict, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, signed an armistice agreement with Israel that set up interim demarcation lines pending the establishment of permanent borders to be negotiated. These lines were not based on any geographic formation or demographic consideration. They simply marked where the respective forces were deployed when the cease-fire was declared by the UN Security Council Resolution 62 on November 16, 1948. The lines were drawn on the map that accompanied the Armistice Agreement with a green marker pen, so it became known as the “Green Line”.

Let’s be clear about this. The Security Council stressed the temporary nature of the armistice lines and that permanent peace would necessitate establishing permanent borders that would be different from the armistice lines. Permanent borders were never established because the Arabs steadfastly refused to negotiate. So the armistice lines remained in effect until the “Six Day War” of 1967, when the Arabs once again tried to wipe Israel off the map.

This time, the Arabs lost everything they had gained in the 1948 war—and then some, including the entire West Bank and Jerusalem. Yet Israel, it has been said, is the only country in history which, having won a war started against it, has to sue for peace. The Arabs, on the other hand, having lost three major wars against Israel, are now pursuing their goal of eradicating Israel by means other than war. 

A new phrase has now entered the vocabulary—delegitimization. So, while declaring that Israel is an illegitimate state, thrust upon the world by the colonial powers and other such nonsense, the Arabs are now talking of establishing a Palestinian state using the 1967 borders, ignoring the fact that there never were any 1967 borders, and even the temporary armistice lines of 1948 were nullified by the war they started and lost in 1967. Forgotten, too, is the fact that they could have had another state by accepting the UN Partition Plan in 1948, as the Israelis did. They could also have had another state several times over the past sixty-two years but chose not to do so, and there is no reason to take seriously any unilateral declaration of statehood now.

Meanwhile, a revolutionary fervor is sweeping through the Arab countries of the Middle East, exposing the hypocrisy of those who have been claiming all these years that the root of terror and unrest is the unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. What the Arabs want is what peoples everywhere want—freedom from their oppressors. If I may paraphrase Winnie the Pooh—they have met the enemy and they is them.

When my parents left to vacation in Israel in 1972, I got a ride from my New Jersey college to the NYC airport to bid them farewell. (Imagine traveling in a suit and tie these days!) At home they played Israeli music, and these classics became two of my favorites: Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and Erev Shel Shoshanim 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Rhymes for the bosses, with words of wisdom in all

Before the computer era, my dad saved some of his drafts, like this one showing handwritten edits on the final poem on this page. I consider them a gift to future generations of our family. So, my advice to others: try to be kind when your parents want to keep so many boxes full of memorabilia each time they downsize their homes.

Most of Harry's family and friends knew nothing about his reputation as a poet throughout his 36-year career in the Defense Department. So here's a taste of why he was dubbed the "Pentagon Poet Laureate." I selected three bosses because I remember my dad talking about them.

To Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense, 1977 – 1981

Before he was Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown was Secretary of the Air Force. Harry must've written this poem when Brown left in 1969.

The Secretary’s role is not so easy to define,
He keeps the programmed forces and the budget all in line,
He formulates the policies, and analyzes trends,
In short, it’s not a job in which to make a lot of friends!

His mind must be receptive to a host of different things,
From the nuts and bolts, the details, to the systems’ functionings,
On which to base decisions that result in strategies,
In short, it isn’t hard to make a lot of enemies.

And yet, throughout your tenure, you have won our deep respect,
For pronouncements and decisions, both direct and circumspect,
You have helped to shape the nature of the future generation,
And in doing so have fully earned our deepest admiration.

But even more importantly, please bear this thought in mind,
You have left a goodly host of U.S. Air Force friends behind,
And somehow we look forward to a brighter future, when
You’ll return once more to government, and we will meet again.

Harry was right! In this letter, dated December 30, 1976, he welcomed back his boss:

Dear Dr. Brown:

When you left, almost eight years ago, you may recall that I wrote you a little farewell poem. It is only fitting, therefore, that I write a welcome-home poem now. So:

On behalf of those who populate the Pentagonic maze,
Who occupy the back rooms half the nights and all the days,
Let me welcome your return as the commander of our fort,
And assure you that you have both our respect and our support.

We'll be keeping you apprised of what's occurring in the press,
(A fact which might contribute to your quotient of distress.)
And throughout the coming crises that inevitably rise,
We will round up all the comments, both the foolish and the wise.

So don't lose your sense of humor and, whatever your desire,
We will help in any way we can to put out every fire,
And while formulating policies and solving problems, too,
Just remember, let your inner warmth, from time to time, shine through.

Five days later, Dr. Brown wrote this reply on a copy of the poem:
"Harry Z, Thanks for this superlative effort and the advice. It reminds me that though most of the work is oppressive many of the people here are nice! H.B."


To Eugene M. Zuckert, Secretary of the Air Force, 1961 – 1965

When the man of the hour acceded to power,
And you were confirmed in this job,
You found a whole host of old friends and old ghosts,
In fact, you confronted a mob.

This place was a literal beehive of guys
Who remembered the old days of yore,
When they were one quarter of their present size,
That is, when you served here before.

They thought of the days when you wielded the whip,
When you cracked down on spenders galore,
When you helped form the structural shape of this ship,
When you crammed with the cream of the Corps.

Small wonder, old friend, that they welcomed you back
With a cheer and a sigh of relief,
For here was a pro in the business we know,
To steer the ship clear of the reef.

Your basic approach to the job as our coach,
Has confirmed our opinion of you. From
The day that you left to the day you returned
It is obvious, too, that you grew, some.

We hasten to say with a note of dismay
That each morning you’re not a slow starter,
And though we complain of the pain and the drain,
We all find ourselves working harder.

So let us conclude with sincere gratitude
And on one thing we all will say “Yes,”
We’ll never get sore while you’re minding the store
For you are our boy, we confess!

We’re glad that you’re here on birthday this year
And we hope that you always will be,
So each year on this day we can greet you this way


To John A. Lang, Jr.
Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, 1964 – 1972

The time has come to say good-bye, as come it must, at last,
And never did some seven years fly by so very fast,
So pause with me and see if we together can review,
The golden years of John A. Lang, and of his happy crew.

So many things have happened in so short a span of time,
That we can only capture but a few of them in rhyme,
For you have filled the passing years with so much work and fun,
And never did so many owe so much to anyone.

Now all of us remember who recruited you, you see,
Our former boss, the Secretary, known as Mr. Z.,
But tell use, did he twist your arm before you would agree?
Or did you volunteer to take this job quite willingly?

And all of us remember, for a year you wore two hats,
And set a pace of action that would kill us normal cats,
You also had both Frank and Ray, a pair of great execs,
And both of them, we have to say, wound up as total wrecks.

And all of us remember that in any given week,
You reluctantly accepted invitations that you speak,
No, there weren’t very many, just a million words or two,
Which we bound up in four volumes as a souvenir for you.

And all of us remember all the many jokes you told,
For sometimes we would hold our breath to hear how they unfold,
And some of us remember just as clear as yesterday,
The never-ending research to find something new to say.

And all of us remember every trip you had to take,
The times when you were gone we didn’t have to stay awake,
But you surely led Bill Richardson a very merry chase,
As you charged through every speaking trip like speeding through a race.

And all of us remember all those meetings with your staff,
When each dreary Monday morning would produce at least one laugh,
For you spent the time critiquing what we did the week before,
And with humor in predicting what the next one held in store.

And all of us remember in deciphering your scrawls,
With just a few, short scribbled words you’d have us climbing walls,
And the colorful expressions with a twinkle in your eye,
Can you repeat the one when you were called to testify?

And of us remember that when things did not go right,
When the prospects looked quite dismal and the future less than bright,
We could always count on you to turn a frown into a smile,
And to make us feel much better, if for just a little while.

And all of us remember, you reminded us each day,
That a love of flag and country is what made the U.S.A.,
We salute you as a gentleman who really loves this land,
For your patriotic fervor you deserve a hearty hand.

And all of us remember, when the flag becomes unfurled,
That the State of Carolina is the center of the world,
And to take it one step further, it was so ordained by Fate,
That the little town of Carthage be the center of that State.

Yes, all of us remember many things we cannot say,
For memories come flooding back when you are gone away,
But this we know and this we say, we’ll miss you very much,
And this we hope, and this we pray, that you will keep in touch!

Hundreds of people who knew Harry at the Pentagon received a poem at one time or another. (I know because I now have copies.) And, they probably saw his annual "Season's Greetings" poems to all in the Defense Department -- stay tuned; I'll post one down the road. And, did you know Harry submitted rhymes to greeting-card companies, Hallmark for one? I'll save those for later, too. Next week I'll get back to his "regular" writings.