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