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.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rhymes of freedom, fate, and friends

My father considered flying his greatest hobby -- until he couldn't fly anymore. At that point, he told someone in a letter, his love of Big Band music took over. Another hobby, he said, was editing a weekly newspaper. Did he consider poetry a hobby, too -- or a way of life? I don't have a backstory to any of the five poems below, so let's assume Harry wrote them simply for his own enjoyment. Or, do you think he penned a couple of them on behalf of someone else? 

Harry in the sky
Untitled (Undated)

If those who live and spend their lives on land
Could once, just once, with freedom soar the skies,
If they could see from high just where they stand,
And knowing this, lift up their sights, their eyes,
And draw direction from the truths above.

If they could feel the strength within their souls,
that powers men with God's sweet energy,
Then set their course without regard to shoals,
They'd know the dignity of being really free,
And soon the world would learn to trust -- and love.


Untitled (Undated)

I wonder if Harry ever presented this poem.
Now and then, from time to time,
I feel compelled to rhyme a rhyme,
The reason why, I do deplore,
Is GIRLS – parading past my door,
My door – and desk – and me – you see,
Front on a traffic artery,
And girls from near and far away,
Lead my quivering eyes astray.
(Especially those from down the hall –
They pass – and off my chair I fall!!)

Now those who pass with nose in air,
I follow – with a wicked stare,
And those who pass with eyes on floor,
My eyes pursue them out the door!!
But those who pause and glance inside,
With artful look and twinkling eye,
No, he's not looking at girls; he's relishing
his mother-in-law's chicken soup, 1960s
I cannot face – I shrink – I hide,
I size them up (just shoulder-high!)
(Especially those from down the way –
They know me off my chair each day!!)

There’s a saying, and it states,
All things come to he who waits,
So here I sit – so patiently,
And wait for girls to come to me.
The trouble is, there are so many,
All I want is one, most any,
In fact, I’ve picked her out already,
Whatta dish – now down, boy, steady!!
(One of those from down the street,
Knocks me off my chair and feet!!)

But just when all my dreams get started,
I’m told that soon we shall be parted,
Such is fortune, such is fate,
We never even made a date!
We had barely got acquainted,
She spoke to me – I almost fainted!!
Now she’s leaving, and what frets me,
I will die – while she forgets me.
(OH, that doll across the heather,
Now we’ll never get together!!)


Untitled (Undated)
At an office event, 1960s

A thousand thousand years ago,
Before we existed – it was long ago,
I dreamed a dream so vividly,
And the dream was all about a girl and me.
The sky was blue and the stars were high
And the girl, it was you and the guy was I!!!

I dreamed we walked by the sandy sea,
The girl who was you and the guy who was me,
And the blue-green sea and blue-green skies,
Were reflected so suitably within your eyes.
And we both held hands as we walked along,
And our hearts were young and love was strong.

But the All-Wise God looking down from above,
Decided that the Earth wasn’t ready for our love,
And he sadly laid us down to rest,
And our Souls were exalted and our love was blessed.
And we slept a deep and peaceful sleep,
For we had an appointment with the future to keep.

But the question is – is the future now,
Or is it a thousand thousand years from now?
Do we start once more and go on and on,
Were we destined to meet inside the Pentagon?
Or did Fate decree we should wait some more?
Does the future have another dream for us in store?


Untitled (Undated)

Relaxing at home, 1980s
The time has come, I must confess,
When words with which I can express,
My feelings simply can’t be found.
They echo with an empty sound.

It’s difficult to say good-bye.
For I am not too old to cry,
And this I know, within my heart,
We two are growing far apart.

But life is joy and sadness, too,
And you must do what you must do,
And though we nevermore will meet,
My memories of you are sweet.

I wish the very best for you,
May all your fondest dreams come true.
I wish success for you, and more,
In finding what you’re searching for.


Dozing with a friend, circa 1970. Was he dreaming up his next poem?

Friends (Undated)

A friend is not a casual acquaintance or a date,
And this is not a matter that is open to debate.
A friend is someone whom you like, to share your woes and joy,
And it doesn’t really matter if a friend’s a girl or boy.

A friend is someone whom you like, to share your blues and bliss,
To share a smile, a word, a look, a fond embrace or kiss.
A word, a look, a smile, a kiss, a touch, a fond embrace,
Each of these is precious at the proper time and place.

Indeed, a friend’s a precious thing, and also very rare,
Each person has so very few with whom these things he’ll share.
A friend is like a brother whom you fight for and defend,
No matter what he says or does, he’s yours until the end.

And friendships are quite strong, I think, not puny things or wrecks,
For friends are much like lovers, but of course, without the sex.
Now is it wrong or wicked, is it really very bad,
To confide in one another when you’re happy or you’re sad?

Well, if these words or thoughts or deeds do easily offend,
Then maybe you don’t understand the meaning of a friend,
You must accept, you cannot change the foibles of a friend,
But if you cannot stand me, then our friendship’s at an end.

In case you missed them, you can read more of Harry's poems in the previous two posts on this blog. Next week, we'll see why Pentagon officials hailed his poetry.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Once a poet, always a poet

I never asked my dad to name a favorite poem or a poet who inspired him. I have a hunch, though, that his poem-writing flowed without influence from the greats or anyone else. One thing's for sure -- once he started, he never stopped. Only in the past year have I learned the extent of his poetry -- about people he knew, places he went, events of the day, and just ordinary thoughts that drifted through his mind. Even when he wrote a Letter to the Editor, he did so in rhyme! Harry submitted the four poems below in the 1960s, each to a different publication.

Harry might have submitted this one to FLYING magazine, which still publishes.

On Zero Defects
Harry, smiling through the '60s

The question that I often hear,
I’ve asked myself the same.
Is Zero Defects’ meaning clear,
Or is it just a name?

Can this apply to us? I said,
Or should we pass it by?
Is this alive or is it dead?
I wonder – so said I.

I pondered it, by day and night,
And really thought it through,
And in the end I thought, they’re right.
This is the thing to do!

Harry and Jeanette, 1962
For none of us is perfect, see?
This thought occurred – in rhyme,
Not him, or her, or you, or me,
We’re not right all the time.

We make mistakes, we’re sometimes wrong.
We’re human, but, good grief,
This poor excuse won’t last for long,
Let’s turn a brand new leaf.

And leave us all get on the ball,
Let’s shift our gears to high.
And let’s support it, one and all,
Let’s do it right – let’s try.


In August 1965, Harry wrote this letter to The Washington Post columnist Bill Gold.

Dear Bill:
Here is an unsolicited testimonial from your faithful reader and long-time admirer:

I start each morning, every day,
Circa 1965
With breakfast -- and the Post,
I read what pundits have to say,
Both here -- and coast to coast.

But first, a habit that is mine,
I carefully unfold
The paper, to The District Line,
And read each word by Gold!

Your column sets the tone each day,
And cheers me up no end,
It matters not what others say,
At least you've got one friend!

By the way, Bill, thanks for including my name in your birthday greetings (June 16). It's an honor to be in such distinguished company.

Harry Zubkoff

P.S. The contribution is for your favorite charity.


In January 1966, Harry submitted this poem to Poet Lore, still in publication.
Harry in flight

The Brink of Space

Let sailors spin their wondrous tales,
Of ships and storms and shining seas,
Of winds from hurricanes and gales,
Of waves as high as redwood trees;
Let sailors spin their wondrous tales.

But when an airman’s contrails track the sky,
And leave his crinkled lines on God’s own face,
The magic stirs men’s minds and hearts – they sigh;
For mankind trembles on the brink of space.
Aye, mankind trembles on the brink of space.

I had to look up "contrails," did you?


Harry sent this Letter to the Editor to New York Daily News on September 20, 1968, the day they published an article titled "Wall Street Tickers Flip Over Sweater Girl Figure." Did you know -- "sweater girl" was a term made popular in 1940s and '50s Hollywood for shapely women wearing tight sweaters; it became synonymous with "pin-up girl" during WWII.

Dear Editor:

The attached story published in your newspaper has excited my imagination to the point where the only appropriate response could be the following poem:

Harry's copy of the original Daily News article
A Poem Maligning Sweaters

Now this has been the subject of
Much idle conversation,
And it could fill a lot of books,
That's no exaggeration.

So if what I'm about to say
Sounds somewhat idiotic,
It's because those lovely sweaters
Make me mentally neurotic!

For everywhere I look, it seems,
I see a lovely vision,
No wonder all the scientists
More 1960s photos
Invent atomic fission!

I sign in every morning,
All prepared to do my share,
Then for eight exciting hours
All I do is sit and stare!

Though I make an honest effort
To perform a job that's right,
I can't do any work at all
As long as I have sight.

I spend a whole day scheming,
Ah, fantastic plots and schemes,
Then at night I wake up screaming,
For I see them in my dreams!

Once I thought I was impartial,
I could look but never touch!
But really, now, I must admit
That this is much too much.

I used to be quite sane, you see,
But now I'm on the brink,
Indeed I'll go quite mad if
I allow myself to think.

I used to be quite virtuous,
The rejection letter
But now I'm on the verge;
These things arouse in me a
Certain predatory urge!

Every time I see them,
they contribute to my rage,
They're so easily encountered,
But not easy to engage!

After reading through this poem,
I am sure you will agree,
There is nothing worse than sweaters,
For creating misery!

I didn't find the original NY Daily News article online, but this article gives a brief explanation of the young woman's short-lived fame: The Bizarre Story of the Wall Street Sweater Girl. And here's the complete story of Francine Gottfried on Wikipedia.

Stay tuned for more poetry next week.