Thursday, July 27, 2017

Harry’s interview with WWII Oral History Project

In his interview with the World War II Oral History Project, Harry recalled that Aug. 15, 1945, was the day President Truman announced the end of the war. He also mentioned another reason for the date’s significance, as youll see in the transcript on this page. I first heard the interview after Harry died, on a CD our family obtained from the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Later I found the audio cassette tape Harry had saved from the interview, which took place in his Leisure World apartment community in Silver Spring, MD.

This is August 28, 2007, Leisure World of Maryland Oral History Project of World War II. We’re interviewing Harry Zubkoff, who was born June 16, 1921. He served in the Army becoming a Staff Sergeant. My name’s Murray Seeger. I’m helped by Adel Schwartz.

Well Harry, you told us you’re from Buffalo, North Buffalo. I’m from the south side of Buffalo, about 15 miles. [Both chuckle.] Where were you on December 7, 1941?

Harry: I was working for the Bell Aircraft Corporation. We were already on a three-shift program there producing airplanes, mostly for sale to Russia.

Murray: This is also North Buffalo?

Harry: Yes, Bell Aircraft plant on Elmwood near Hertel.

Murray: Yes, my mother went there part time as an inspector.

Photos on this page from Harry’s Army album and files
Harry: How ’bout that.

Murray: How ’bout that. And you were 20 years old. And what was your skill, what was your training?

Harry: I had spent six or eight months at the Burgard Vocational School learning how to do things like riveting and soldering and valving and all of that, the kind of skills they were looking for in the war plants. And I went to work at Bell in the fall of 1939.

Murray: Now they were making a fighter plane at that time, right?

Harry: Yes.

Murray: What was it called?

Harry: It was called the Airacobra P-39.

Murray: Right, and you said they’re largely being sold to Russia at that time.

Harry: Yes, they were. It was an unusual design aircraft because it did not have an engine in front; it had an engine right underneath the pilot in the middle of the airplane.

Murray: And it had a cannon in the front nose.

Harry: And a cannon in the front, right.

Murray: I remember that. And on the other side of Buffalo they were making the P-40s.

Harry: That’s right, at Curtiss.

Murray: Yep, Curtiss-Wright. Now, were you working on December 7th, you think?

Harry: Yes, we were working. They had a loud speaker in the plant. Around noon or 1:00 I think it was, the loud speaker came on and there was an announcement that the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. Everybody stopped working for a few minutes, and a dozen guys – within my sight – dropped all their equipment and said they’re going down to enlist.

Murray: Oh my goodness.

Harry: There was a general exodus almost every day from that point on; men were getting up, going out, and enlisting right away.

Murray: Amazing reaction.

Harry: It was.

Murray: Did you know where Pearl Harbor was?

At the time I didn’t, no, but I found out soon afterwards.

Murray: Now what was your family situation at that time?

Harry: Well, let’s say this. My parents were both terminally ill. I was the only breadwinner in the family, and I was working and taking care of both my mother and father. I had two married sisters living in Buffalo, and they pitched in as much as they could, but they both had little children, and you know, times were tough, it was the Depression, and their husbands were not making much money, so they really couldn’t help. So, that’s what I was doing.

Murray: Now, you registered for the draft at this point.

Harry: Oh yes.

Murray: Were you called up?

Harry: I was deferred because I was working at a war plant.

Murray: And you were also support for your parents I would think.

Harry: Well, I don’t know if that entered in to their calculations.

Murray: Ok. Did you continue working? When did you actually enter into the service?

Harry: July 1945.

Murray: Now were you drafted at that point?

Harry: Yeah, we were all – maybe 10 or 12 thousand were laid off in January 1945. Contracts expired; the company was, say, contracting.

Murray: That plane wasn’t very successful.

Harry: No, it wasn’t used by Americans.

Murray: The Air Force didn’t like it very much.

Harry: No.

Murray: Now the war in Europe was over.

Harry: That’s right.

Murray: And you’re called in. Where did they send you?

Harry: They sent me to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, for basic training. Mind you, I wanted to get
into the Air Force. I had a private pilot license.

Murray: My goodness.

But the Air Force didn’t need people anymore, so they put me in with combat engineers for basic training.

Murray: You think it was for your mechanical skills?

Harry: Probably.

Murray: Where did you go for basic training for combat engineers?

Harry: Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.

Murray: Oh, Ok, I’m sorry, I thought that was another camp. Sixteen weeks?

Harry: Sixteen weeks.

Murray: And from there?

Harry: From there, they yanked me out of there just before the group was going overseas. We were supposed to go to the Pacific.

Murray: Yeah, you would have been part of the Army invading Japan presumably.

Harry: Right.

Murray: And, do you remember where you were when the bomb was dropped?

Harry: Yeah, that was in September, no, the bombs were dropped in August, and I was in Louisiana.

Murray: You were sweating it out in Louisiana. And the Armistice Truce was signed in September?

Harry: It was signed early in September. As a coincidence, I had been married on August 15th, 1943. On August 15th, 1945, when I was in Louisiana, President Truman announced that the war is officially over. But it wasn’t signed in Japan until later, in September.

Murray: Right. Your service was supposed to be what, the duration and six months?

Harry: Yes.

Murray: But you have to have points?

Harry: Well, I didn’t have any points.

Murray: And from Louisiana, where did they ship you?

Harry: They sent me to Baltimore, to go to intelligence school. Fort Holabird in Baltimore. I went to intelligence school for three or four months, then they shipped me out to France.

Fort Holabird, Baltimore, 1946

Murray: Now what kind of intelligence were you supposed to be doing?

Harry: Counterintelligence.

Murray: Now you’re going to interview people?

Harry: Yes.

Murray: Do you have a language?

They taught me German. And theoretically I was fairly fluent in German.

Sprichst du Deutsch?

Harry: Not anymore. You know, when was that, 60 years ago or so? I haven’t used it since I got out.

Murray: So you finished at Fort Holabird and you’re shipped out to France?

Harry: First to France, then to Germany.

Murray: And where were you stationed there?
Harry: In Germany for a while in Stuttgart [?], then in a little provincial town called Buchen, not far from Stuttgart, not far from a famous resort called Vadmerventine [?].

Murray: Now what is your job?

Harry: Well, you know, the basic job of counterintelligence was to investigate cases of sabotage, espionage, subversive activities, that sort of thing. But we, basically we were being used at the time for two purposes. One, to trace down wanted Nazi war criminals and to get evidence against them for use in war crimes trials. And the other one was to help build up a network of people who would continue to provide us with information. And, we were worried at the time about the increasing hostility with Russia. In the intelligence business, we were taught so much about the Nazi paramilitary organizations and all of their political organizations, etcetera, and we started taking lessons in the same things in regards to the Russians and the communists. So we were working on both trying to figure out what the communists were doing and also tracing Nazi war criminals.

Murray: Had you been promoted by now?

Harry: Just normal promotions, Corporal and Sergeant. They wanted me to go to officer candidate school, but I didn’t want to commit myself to a longer term in the Army.

Murray: But you must have impressed some people, you must have done well whatever you were doing.

Harry: Well, in those Army aptitute tests. And of course all the reports I wrote were models of English composition.

Murray: That’s because of the good education in Buffalo public schools.

Harry: I got to tell you that some of the officers couldn’t read or write English in my view.

Murray: You stationed in this small town in Germany all the time and traveling around?
How far away did you get?

I was sent on several missions. I spent some time in a DP camp trying to find these couple infiltrators.

Murray: Did you have some identified or just smelling around?

Harry: Smelling around mostly. Well we did have a few.

Murray: Was that over in the east part of Germany, toward Munich or in that area?

Harry: Yea, we were in Munich. There were Displaced Persons camps all over the area. I spent some time in one near Dachau, the concentration camp at Dachau. It set up a DP camp mainly for Jewish people, who couldn’t tell the difference between that and the concentration camps.

Murray: Right.

Harry: And I had a lot of interaction with them, who found that American Jewish soldiers were a breed apart.

Murray: Good or bad?

Harry: Good.

Murray: They didn’t think the other American troops were sympathetic or understood the problem?

Harry: Well, they didn’t know that Jewish people could be warriors or in the Army.

Murray: Did you speak Yiddish?

Harry: I had a little Yiddish. And German is largely or partly based on Yiddish.

Murray: That’s right. So how long was this duty?

Harry: A year.

Murray: Did you find it interesting?

Harry: Oh, fascinating. Now did you ever hear of the Jewish Brigade from Palestine? There were some Jewish guys in the Jewish brigade who wrote a book [book based on them] about their experiences. They were also chasing Nazi war criminals and finding them and killing them. And there was a period of time when my superiors were wondering if I was one of the guys who was finding them and killing them.

Murray: Now is this one of the times when you felt your officers were not sure about Jewish soldiers?

Harry: Not my officers, no, but others in the military government. You know, intelligence and military government were at odds with each other ...

Right from the get-go.

Harry: Right. And they did a lot of things that the intelligence community really wasn’t happy with. You may have heard how they brought over all the Nazi scientists, and we were against that.

Murray: I think the same thing in trying to fit them in the post war government.

Harry: True. We had started out with a de-nazification program and found out that many of the ex-nazis were being placed in responsible jobs.

Murray: Experienced bureaucrats.

Harry: Right.

Murray: I lived in Germany, I was a reporter in Germany. And this was still being talked about a long time afterwards. So you were there a year. Then what happened to you?

Harry: I came back, got discharged.

Murray: Got your points?

Harry: I guess so. It was after a year and a half they brought me home.

Murray: Where’d you muster out?

Harry: New Jersey.

Murray: Did you go back to Buffalo. Did you use the GI Bill at all?

Harry: Yes. I did, I used the GI Bill to get a commercial pilot’s license. I was working as a flight instructor and commercial pilot for a small aviation school in Buffalo called Mastercraft Aviation – until 1949, when we no longer had any students. The whole bottom dropped out of that aviation market. The post-war world was going to be a flying one, but it didn’t develop that way. And a friend of mine from the intelligence community called me and said we just got a new organization called the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, and I’d like you come down and work for us.

Murray: That was brand new. Harry Truman did sign the papers for that.

Harry: Right. So I came to Washington, and they wanted to hire me, but what they wanted me to do was go overseas and be a spook. Now I had a brand new baby boy, and my wife didn’t want me to go overseas, I didn’t want go. So I turned the job down.

Murray: What did you do then?

Harry: I got a job at the Veterans Administration, and worked there for a year. And then I got a job with the Air Force in the Pentagon, a 90-day job with the Air Force. That was in 1950. And 36 years later I retired. A long 90 days.

Murray: What kind of work did you do?

Harry: It was the best job in the world. What I did in the Pentagon was put together compilations of news clippings about military affairs which grew and grew as more and more people were writing about the Department of Defense.

Murray: Did you have to get up at 4 in the morning?

Harry: Well, I did, actually at 2. We called it the Current News. Subsequently the earliest edition became the Early Bird edition. It’s still in existence.

Murray: It’s famous.

Harry: Yeah, and I was famous for a while.

Murray: Did you have any uniformed working for you?

In the beginning we had uniformed people, but, around the mid-1950s, early ’60s, till then we had uniformed people. As our job expanded see, we did more than put out news clippings. We also were writing speeches for the Secretary of the Air Force and also for the Secretary of Defense. So I had a small research outfit, mainly writers, and they were military people. Around the mid-’60s, they took all the military out, put them in a separate division. It was all civilian. I was the chief of that division from about the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s when I retired.

Well thank you very much, Harry. It’s a marvelous story. I appreciate your coming in.

I Googled the interviewer, Murray Seeger. He was a seasoned journalist and wrote the book “Discovering Russia: 200 years of American Journalism”. He passed away three years before Harry, at age 82.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Greenbelt’s laugh-a-minute reunion – Part 2

Mark with his Zadie in ’86 – a chip off the old block?
Maybe Harry was a wannabe comedian. Luckily he lived to see my son actually become one. I dedicate this post to Harrys grandson, Mark, in honor of his upcoming marriage. Its the transcript of side two of an audio cassette tape. (Side one is the previous post on this blog.) Harry kept the jokes coming at a 1996 reunion party for residents of Old Greenbelt, MD, the D.C. suburb where young, pioneer families grew up as close-knit neighbors. At the party, one woman recalled that it took a village to raise Greenbelt children, citing Hillary Clinton’s vision at the time for children of America. Between others reflections, Harry piped in with more jokes.

A little boy is walking down the street with a wagon, and all of sudden the wheels fall off the wagon, and the little boy says, “I’ll be damned.” And he reattaches the wheels to the wagon, and he walks a little further, and the wheels fall off again. And the boy says, “I’ll be damned.” Well the minister was walking behind him, and the minister says, “Young man, it’s not nice to say I’ll be damned. Instead when something unusual happens, say Praise the Lord.” So the kid walks a little further, and the wheels fall off again, and the kid says, “Praise the Lord.” And low and behold, the wheels pick themselves up and reattach themselves to the wagon. And the minister said, “I’ll be damned.”

Two cavemen were sitting by the fire. Outside it was raining and sleeting and thundering and lightening. And one of them turned to the other and said, “You know, we never had this kind of crazy weather before they started using bows and arrows.”

The dinosaurs were holding a revival meeting, and one of them turns to the other and he said, “You know it’s obvious that we will survive the coming problems of the Ice Age because otherwise we would cease to exist.”

People don’t always say what they mean. An example: A farmer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was suing an automobile driver for having been injured in an accident. And they’re in court, and the lawyer for the defendant is questioning the farmer. And he said, “Isn’t it true that at the time of the accident you told the sheriff that you were feeling fine, that nothing was wrong?” And the farmer said, “Well, let me explain.” And the lawyer said, like lawyers do, “Just answer yes or no.” The farmer says, “I have to explain. It was like this. I got up in the morning. I hitched up my horse and wagon. I threw my hound dog in the back of the wagon, and I started going toward town. And just when I got to the top of the hill, this great big automobile plowed into me from behind. It threw my horse to one side of the road; it threw my dog to the other side of the road; and I was pinned under my seat. Then the sheriff came along. He went to look at my horse, the horse had a broken leg, so he pulled out his gun and he shot him dead. He went to look at my dog, the dog was badly hurt, he had a broken back, so he shot him in the head and killed him. Then he came over to me and he said, ‘Well, and how do you feel?’ And I said, ‘I never felt better in my life!’” So you don’t always say what you mean.

A little boy came home from Sunday school, and his mother said, “What did you learn today?” “Well, our teacher told us about Moses, who rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians. When they came to the Red Sea, Moses called for the engineers to build a pontoon bridge. After they had all crossed, they looked back and saw the Egyptian tanks coming. Quick as a flash, Moses radioed headquarters on his walkie-talkie to send the bombers to blow up the bridge.” And his mother said, “Is that really the way your teacher told that story?” And he says, “Mom, if I told you the way she told me you’d never believe it.”

You know, there are all kinds of great errors in newspapers. I ran across this one: The highway commissioner said that detour signs will be conspicuously placed so that no one will have any trouble getting lost.

Here’s another one: The Northampton man has been sentenced to five years in prison for shooting but not killing his estranged wife.

A woman was filling out an employment application when she came to the square marked “age”. She didn’t hesitate; she wrote down “atomic”.  The last question on the form was “What are your aims and ambitions?” Again she didn’t hesitate. She wrote “I want to go as far as my education and sex will allow.”

The airline was advertising “Our airlines now have four hostesses instead of two, and with wider seats, too.”

[Replying to an attendee’s story about fundraising for the Jewish Community Center] I gave driving lessons for the JCC, and I had one particular student … You know, learning how to fly is not an easy thing, but it’s comparable, well, let’s say, you’ve got to have at least 18 to 20 hours of dual instruction and then another 18 to 20 hours of solo flight before you can get a license. Well I taught this lady probably 200 hours and she never was able to drive the car. She probably could have learned to fly faster than that. But you see she’s paying the shul by the hour, so the synagogue made a lot of money by her taking driving lessons. It was a good way to contribute.

A man put a coin in a vending machine and watched while the cup failed to come down. One nozzle sent the coffee down the drain, while another poured the cream in after it. “Now that’s what I call automation,” the man said. “It even drinks it for you.”

Now who can answer this very simple question? Which month has 28 days? [Audience member yells “Every month.”] You’re too smart.

This is an election year, ya know, lots of campaigning going on. This Republican is telling his friend how to get votes. He said, “What I do,” he says, “every time I take a taxi cab I give the driver a very generous tip and I tell him to vote Republican.” The other guy says, “I’m a Democrat. I’ll tell you what I do. Every time I take a taxi cab, I don’t give him any tip and I tell him to vote Republican.” If anybody here wants to vote Republican, you’re excused.

I’ve got a medical joke for you, Bill. This guy wants to buy life insurance and he’s filling out the applications, and there’s a question that says, what is your weight? So the man filled it in, 189 with glasses. So the insurance man said, “You know, this is kind of unusual. Why don’t you put down your weight without the glasses?” Well, he says, “I can’t read the bathroom scale without my glasses.”

This is one that tells an essential difference between men and women. A college English professor wrote these words on a blackboard: “Woman without her man is a savage.” And he said to the class, “Punctuate that sentence properly.” The way the males wrote it, “Woman (comma), without her man (comma), is a savage.” The way the women wrote it was, “Woman (exclamation point)! Without her (comma), man is a savage.” Emphasis on words.

The big joke going around Moscow right now, where everybody hates Yeltsin … So these people are in line for a store to buy food, and the line is very, very long, several blocks, and one woman gets out and she says to her friend, “I’m going over to the President’s house and I’m going to slap that Yeltsin right in the face.” And she left. A little while later she came back, and her friend said, “What happened?” “That line was longer than this one.”

The Russians were in the United States visiting manufacturing facilities. So they’re trying to privatize and all that. So they’re visiting one factory, and all of the sudden the whistle blows, and everybody in the factory goes out, and the Russian says to his host, “They’re all running away. What are you going to do?” And the guy says, “No, don’t worry, they’re just going out to lunch.” A half hour later the whistle blows and everybody came running back and started working. The Russian was amazed. He thought once those guys got out they’d never come back. Now the manufacturer said to him, “Which machine do you want to buy?” And the Russian said, “Never mind the machinery, I want that whistle.”

An [?] sultan kept his harem several miles away. Every time he wanted one of his wives, he sent his servant to get her. The sultan lived to be 95; the servant died at the age of 30. This proves that it’s not the women who kill you, but the running after them.

Anybody else want to talk? I can keep on all night you know. …

In a few minutes they’re gonna take away the tables and maybe do some dancing. OK, I’m gonna turn on the music. Those who want to dance, dance. Those who want to circulate, talk to each other. But let me conclude with this little story.

There’s a company that produces soap and perfume. And they had a contest for the best advertising slogan. And the one that won: If you don’t use our soap, for heaven’s sake, use our perfume.

At this point, Harry turns on the tape of music. We hear the first song: “Meet me in St. Louie, Louie. Meet me at the fair …” After a few more bars, the event tape-recording turns off. I have no doubt that Harry put together the music tapes for that evening.

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Harry as funnyman at reunion in ’96 – Part 1

Harry loved jokes. On March 23, 1996, he kicked off an event with lots and lots of them, chuckling as he went along. And judging from the laughter on the audio cassette tape, the audience enjoyed them, too. Harry was the master of ceremonies at a reunion party for elders who had lived in Greenbelt, MD, as young adults. The tape reveals nostalgic voices of people I knew; like my family, many left Greenbelt in the 1960s or so, and many stayed friends. Harry was 74 years old at the reunion, and I’m guessing most attendees were, too, give-or-take 10 years. He must have pulled from his stockpile of jokes and stories, and his experience as well. 

I brought a few notes. You know I learned from Mort Beroza that you have to put it all on 3 by 5 cards. Now, I promised a few people that I’d have a few stories I’d like to tell. First of all, people have asked me how come I chose this hotel to have a party in? And the answer is, I, who am a student at the University of Maryland and read the Maryland Diamondback every now and then, saw an ad, and it said, if you want to have a successful affair, it’s the Maryland Inn, the Best Western Maryland Inn. So I figured what can we lose? And that’s why I chose this hotel, and I think it’s great.

Those of you who have wine, here’s a toast to the good old days when we weren’t so good ‘cause we weren’t so old. Now here’s how you can tell when you’re getting old. Here’s a story I promised Martha Kaufman I would tell. (Are you listening, Martha?) The other day I bumped into Martha after many years, at the News Review office, and she said, “Harry, you’re looking wonderful.” And that’s the story – when you’re young, people come up to you and say hello, how are you? They don’t expect you to answer. When you’re middle aged, they say how ya feeling? But when you’re old, they say gee, you’re looking great, you’re looking wonderful. And to all those people I said tonight you’re looking wonderful, I didn’t mean to imply that you’re old; actually you do look wonderful. To tell you the truth, everybody looks wonderful to me.

Middle age, they say, is when you’re old enough to know better but young enough to keep doing it. And – there’s a delayed laugh, ya get it? It’s the time of life when you’re suspended between why not and why bother? You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and they refuse to tell you where they’re going.

One of life’s very pleasant moments is when your children get to the age when you pretend that you know everything. Although my grandchildren now think I know everything. Grandchildren, you know, that’s God’s way of compensating for growing old.

You know when we were young, everybody told us to listen to our elders. Now everybody tells us to listen to our youth. I don’t know what to do – I don’t listen to anybody. And the problem with doing things to prolong your life is that all the extra years come when you’re old; you can’t enjoy them.

And there is a story I want to tell you before we eat. People very seldom say what they mean or mean what they say. Like the fashion expert who said that the trend in mini-skirts will continue. Well, it looks like the end is in sight.

A little kid went to the ballet with his father, and he’s watching all the girls dancing on their toes, and finally he says to his father, “Why don’t they just get taller girls?”

An Englishman, an Irishman and an American are flying over the Sahara Desert. The Englishman said, “A beastly place.” The Irishman said, “That’s the devil’s home.” The American said, “What a great parking lot.”

The Frenchman, who had spent a lot of time in the United States, was asked the most striking difference between the Americans and the French. The real difference, he said, is apparent in the fall of the year. The American is sad that the days are getting shorter, while the Frenchman is happy that the nights are getting longer. We don’t have the French view of things. (Al, are you confessing?)

First, I got to tell ya, not everyone here knows everyone else, so you gotta really spend a little while talking to each other, introducing yourselves. And, if you feel so inclined, when you come up to get your food, go back to somebody else’s table. And sit and chat with people you don’t know. And, during the course of the evening, anybody who wants to talk about the old days in Greenbelt, or about anything else if you have some stories to tell, feel free to come up; I’ll be happy to sit down. Meanwhile, I’ve got a few things I want to say.

The Dutchman was telling … Did you know that the Netherlands flag was red, white and blue? Just like ours. And the Dutchman was talking to an American and he says, “Our flag is symbolic of our taxes – we get red when we talk about them, white when we get our tax bills, and blue after we pay them.” And the American says, “Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s the same in the United States, only we see stars, too.”

You know, a generation ago, most men when they finished work they came home to rest; now they come home and they need exercise. Why is that?

OK, as Nat keeps prodding me, anyone who wants to come up and reminisce … I just want to give you a few short statistics. The story of the creation of the world is told in Genesis in 400 words. The greatest moral code, the Ten Commandments, contains only 279 words. Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg address is only 266 words long. Anybody want to talk and reminisce? Keep that in mind.

If you tell a man that there are 300 billion stars, they’ll believe you. But if you tell him that a bench has just been painted, he’ll want to touch it to be sure.

Here’s a story about tourists from New York and Miami. He was struck by a car in the street. A crowd gathered, somebody called an ambulance, and another person covered the man with a blanket. And he said, “Are you comfortable?” And the guy said, “Yeah I make a living.”

A man bought a few boxes of cigars, and he insured them against fire. After he smoked them, he put in a claim against the insurance company that they had been destroyed by fire. The company refused to pay, and the man sued. The judge ruled that the company had given the man a policy protecting against fire and had to pay. So as soon as the man accepted the money, the company had him arrested under charge of arson. That’ll teach him.

Why is it that goods that are sent by ship are called cargo, while goods that go in a car are called a shipment? The peculiarities of the English language. When a girl says you’re going too far, she means you’re getting too close. Copyright is what takes away the right to copy. Flammable means the same thing as inflammable. And valuable means the same thing as invaluable. And ravel means the same thing as unravel. A very peculiar language. I’ve been trying to teach English to speakers of other languages at the University of Maryland. And it’s incredible how difficult it is to try to explain the meaning of words to a person for whom English is a foreign language.

A reporter was sent out for a man-on-the-street opinion survey concerning the modern woman. The first person he encountered was a man who had just passed his 102nd birthday. (Pay attention, Al.) “I’m afraid I can’t be much help to you,” replied the old gentleman regretfully. “I quit thinking about women almost two years ago.” (You’re all gonna get an exam about this later.)

The Navy recruit lost his rifle on the firing range. He was told he’d have to pay for it. He protested. He said, “Suppose I was driving a Navy jeep, and somebody stole it, would I have to pay for that, too?” And he was told yes. “Now,” he said, “I know why the captain always goes down with his ship.”

An old miser called his doctor, he’s on his death bed, and he says, “They say you can’t take it with you, but I’m gonna do it. I’ve got three envelopes, and each one has $30,000 cash. I want my doctor, my lawyer,” and who else? [Audience member says my accountant] OK, my accountant, I’ll go with that. “I want each of you to throw an envelope into my coffin just before they lower me into the grave.” So at the funeral, each man tossed in his envelope. On the way home (it was a pastor, not an accountant), the pastor confessed, “I needed the money for the church, so I took out $10,000 and threw only $20,000 into the grave.” The doctor said, “I’m building a clinic, so I really needed $20,000, so I only threw in $10,000.” And the lawyer said, “I’m ashamed of you both. I threw in a check for the full amount.”

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey, along came a spider and sat down beside her and said, “curds have cholesterol, whey is fattening, and sitting on that tuffet will give you back trouble before you’re 40.” That’s what’s going on in our lives today, dangerous foods. There was one guy taking a survey … you know, all kinds of foods are going to kill us sooner or later, and meat, you know, is murderous (red meat); vegetables are vicious; the water we drink is poisonous. And he pointed at one guy in the audience and he said, “Can you tell me what it is that most of us eat at one time or other that’s the worst thing in the world for us?” And without hesitation, the man answered “wedding cake.”

When Harry wasn't telling jokes, he was taking photos
OK, this is the story before we eat. It seems that Mr. Ginsburg is going on a cruise all by himself. And like they do on cruises, they assign you to a table, and he was assigned to a seat at a table with a French gentleman who spoke no English. First night out when he got to the table, the Frenchman stood up, bowed, and said, “Bon appetite.” Not to be outdone, Ginsburg stood up, bowed, and said, “Ginsburg.” Well, this went on every evening at the dinner table. On the last day, Ginsburg was talking to a friend and said he was glad the cruise was coming to an end because he was getting tired of that Frenchman introducing himself every night. “But Mr. Ginsburg,” his friend said, “that is not his name. It’s a French expression that means have a hearty appetite or enjoy your meal.” “Aha,” said Ginsburg. So that night, he beat the Frenchman to the table, and when the Frenchman approached, he stood up, bowed and said, “Ginsburg.”

So now enjoy the dinner. I have some more stories for after we eat. … Let’s start at that table where my sister is sitting.

If anyone would like to listen to the audio tape with the reunion attendees telling jokes and stories, please contact me. Stay tuned for Part 2 – the other side of the audio cassette tape.

Copyright 2107, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Harry’s wrap of ’50s Pentagon memories – Part 4

Here’s the last of Harry’s pages of notes in his computer files on the Pentagon publishing operation in the 1950s. They were last edited March 3, 2010, although that could be the date he reorganized the files. These reflections follow the previous three posts on this blog. Together they reveal a snapshot of our father who carpooled to the Pentagon when my brother and I were very young. 

By the end of the 1950s, we had pretty much achieved some stability in the Current News operation. The Air Staff had established a printing plant next door to our office and, by written agreement, had assigned top priority to printing the Current News. I kept that written agreement handy because I frequently had to use it to shout down some Air Force Colonel who wanted his stuff, whatever it was, printed ahead of the Current News. Anyway, we were distributing between 400 and 500 copies to the Air Force – both the civilian and military staffs – and another 300 to 400 to Office of Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, Army, Navy and Marine Corps. 

Random photos on this page from 60s and 70s
Aside from the military services, we were also giving about 100 copies a day to the other Defense Agencies, such as Defense Intelligence Agency, Defense Logistics Agency, DARPA, etc. We were printing the front page of the morning edition, which we now called the Early Bird, in yellow paper to distinguish it from all other papers on the peoples’ desks. We had also started printing a main edition. The Early Bird had, since the very beginning, come out at 6:00 a.m., so that the chauffeur could get a copy when he went to pick up the Secretary of the Air Force in the morning. The Secretary would read it on the way to work and by the time he got there his juices would be flowing freely. By 1960, the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Navy and Secretary of Defense all made the same arrangements. This aspect of our distribution problem became a real headache as time went by and demand grew. But more on that later.

In order to meet our 6:00 a.m. deadline for production, we had to start screening and clipping around 2:00 a.m. This is where the work became an adventure. We could get the Washington Post okay – the first edition came out around midnight and was available to the Post’s loading dock then – likewise the Wall Street Journal, which was also printed locally. Fortunately, we had people on our staff who volunteered to start work at 1:00 a.m. and fetch those papers. For a while, several of us took turns doing it – a terrible chore for me about once every two weeks – but in 1961, when Leon Simms came aboard, he took over that job permanently – Leon, a man for all seasons. More about him later.

The out-of-town papers were another matter. Most East Coast papers came to Washington by truck – from Boston the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor; from New York the NY Times, the Long Island Newsday, the NY Daily News (afternoon) – also the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, and from the South the Richmond Times Dispatch, the Atlanta Constitution, and a few others I can’t recall at the moment. They all arrived at an out-of-town newsstand in Bladensburg (border between D.C. and Prince Georges County in Maryland – a scary neighborhood around 4:00 a.m.) We also took turns picking them up until Leon took over.

My mom (blue dress) attended many Pentagon events
I should also mention that the LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle came to National Airport on the red-eye flights around 6:00 a.m., and we made arrangements to have them delivered to us by about 7, so those papers, and Washington’s afternoon papers – the Times Herald and the Daily News, all went in the Main Edition which came out at noon. By that time, Sgt Earley had retired [she was the namesake for the original Early Bird], I still had several (three or four) enlisted personnel working for me, and we still had three or four officers from Major to full Colonel in the office whose main job was writing speeches and congressional testimony for the Secretary. That was an activity that Murray Green and I both were actively involved in and for which we needed Top Security Clearances.  

I seem to recall that I had to be re-investigated and re-cleared every five years or so. Also, every two years or so we got a new Colonel in charge of the office. We got two kinds of Colonels – either it was his last active duty assignment before retiring or it was his best assignment on his way up the ladder – a prestige job working for the Secretary. Every one of them was a sharp, intelligent, top-notch guy.

So, we had two deadlines a day and the situation was fairly stable – except during snow storms and really bad weather when the trucks didn’t get to Washington on time – occasionally hours late. I remember (sidebar here) when truck drivers were mad about the 55 mph speed limit that was imposed nationally – 1973 was it?? – so coming in from the north on the NJ Turnpike they breezed along three abreast blocking the whole road so nobody could pass them and came in two or three hours late. This went on for weeks until they were finally permitted to speed on the turnpike without getting ticketed. Anyway, everything changed in 1961, when Kennedy came into office and McNamara came in as Secretary of Defense and Gene Zuckert came back as Secretary of the Air Force. 
When Zuckert came back, he greeted me as an old friend. I told him I was especially glad to see him come back because, while he was number one on the roster of Office of the Secretary of the Air Force personnel, it was also true that he followed right behind me on the alphabetical roster, which meant he was also last – sort of like George Washington, first and last in the hearts of his countrymen. One of the first things he did was fire the Administrative Assistant, my boss John McLaughlin. After John, there were a number of Administrative Assistants – Phil Curran, Tom Nelson, Joe Hochreiter, John Lang and Bob McCormick. I got along well with all of them, but it was an efficiency expert who was brought in some time in the late 1960s to examine the workings of the Secretariat, who jolted me by saying that the reason I got along well with my bosses was because they made a special effort to get along with me. More on that later.

(Although Harry ends with "More on that later," I haven't come across further reflections in his old files. If I get my hands on more, I'll let you know. You can get an overview of his years at the Pentagon in the book "Distorting Defense, Network News and National Security" by Stephen P. Aubin. )
Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Historical notes highlight Pentagon players – Part 3

Harry was fond of boss Zuckert (on right, above and below)
On this page we see more reflections from Harry’s early Pentagon years. Whether he intended anyone to see them (other than the original recipient) we’ll never know. As our family reads these notes, however, we can pair some of his experiences with the Pentagon photos taken during his career. I found these notes dated Jan. 3, 2010 in computer files, though I think he wrote them years earlier.

When I came to the Pentagon, the United States Air Force, as a separate service, was just two years old. The first Secretary, Stuart Symington, was just leaving and the second Secretary, Tom Finletter, was just arriving. One of the Assistant Secretaries was Eugene Zuckert, whom I met early on and took an immediate liking to. The Special Projects Office was run by a couple high-powered Colonels, established to do special jobs for the Secretary.  

The thing to remember is that the Air Force was still trying to organize itself and the Secretary had all kinds of organizational problems in trying to adjust its civilian staff to do the administrative things while the military side was trying to adjust its staff to get out from under the Army and do the military things – and there was a lot of confusion about who was responsible for what. The civilians had no responsibility in operational matters, and the military had some partial responsibility and a lot of interest in administrative matters. Thus there was a lot of tension between the Deputy Chiefs of Staff and the Assistant Secretaries, while the Secretary and the Chief of Staff were mostly cordial. All the discord took place at the second tiers and Gene Zuckert set the original ground rules at that level and got most things smoothed out. Another Assistant Secretary was Roswell Gilpatric, though my mind’s a blank as to when he came in, but I got to know him, too, and he was more of an intellectual than the others and did a lot to enunciate and clarify Air Force thinking in those early days.
Anyway, the Colonels and a couple other civilians in the office were mainly occupied in doing things for the brass – the Secretary and Asst Secs and also the Chief – writing speeches, and preparing congressional testimony. Remember, on top of everything else, the war in Korea was just getting underway and the Air Force was scrambling to get into it. Busy as the office was, they turned over the less important stuff to me, the newest member of the staff. By the way, two other people were hired at the same time as I. One, Louise Gronniger, stayed on with me until she retired, a few years before I did.

So, like I said, I got the less important odd jobs thrown at me. One was the newspaper clipping service which became the Current News. Another was the requirement, which some congressman wrote into the law – the National Security Act, I believe – that each Agency must submit an Annual Report. So the Secretary told the Chief to prepare a draft and the Air Staff set up a historical office to write Air Force Histories and then the Chief told the Secretary to prepare a history of the Secretariat to include in the official Air Force History … so, this round robin led to me being assigned to write not only the Annual Reports, which I did for many years, but also a classified history of the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, which I also did for many years. That, in turn, led to me being asked to write an annual account of USAF progress/history each year for various encyclopedias. And that, in turn, led to me being asked to write articles for various magazines, which I did a lot of on my own time at home so I could get paid with a clear conscience. But that’s another story.

By the end of the 1950s, the Current News had grown substantially. We were now getting more newspapers and doing more screening and clipping and putting out more pages in the morning.  I think it was in 1959 or 1960 that we went from 6 to 8 pages. By this time the Air Force Printing Plant was in operation. They had a lithograph printing press. And they had a machine that could take a picture of a Current News page and make a plastic/paper mat which could be put on the press and inked up and reproduced in hundreds of copies. We were making and distributing about 500 copies each morning. And it was no longer exclusively for the Air Force – mostly but not exclusively. We were giving copies to the Secretary of the Army, Sec/Navy, Sec/Def, and Joint Staff. Plus, all kinds of people were coming into the office to pick up any extra copies laying around, if possible.

Harry (right front) with office crew, 1960s
Lots of things were happening in 1960, not only in our office. Eisenhower was finishing up his eight years as President and a new campaign was getting started. Kennedy was entering the national scene, this young Senator from Massachusetts, and Nixon was hoping to graduate from Vice President to President to succeed Ike. Those were exciting times and our office was getting busier. But let’s back up a bit.

During the decade of the 1950s, several organizational things happened. We were still the Special Projects Office and there was always a Colonel at the head of it with a civilian as the second in command. The civilian was Murray Green, also a Reserve Colonel in the Air Force. Now, the Colonel had a military staff, usually three or four officers helping him with all the writing he did for the top brass. The civilian had a half dozen of us helping, also, with writing and other projects for the brass. I was pretty much the number two civilian, running the clipping service and writing the histories, etc., and also helping with the writing chores. Every now and then I was assigned the major responsibility for writing a Secretarial speech. But, mainly, I was administratively running the office. That is, keeping the time and attendance records, making sure all the personnel matters were attended to, etc., taking care of all the performance evaluations, writing up the award and commendation recommendations, and, also handling disciplinary matters, as well. I still had several, three to five, enlisted personnel working for me as well as a few civilians.

Harry appears as the photo-bomber in several old Pentagon shots
When the top two Colonels left and another was assigned, there was some organizational turmoil between the Secretary and the Chief and for a while the Chief of Info was assigned to the Secretary and my office was assigned to Info. (Later they changed their name to Public Affairs, as opposed to Private Affairs or Secret Affairs.) Then for a while Public Affairs was assigned to the Secretary and my office to the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary. There it remained until after I retired. Public Affairs, on the other hand, bounced back and forth between the Secretary and the Chief of Staff until they finally decided that it worked for both, and I guess it’s still reporting to both.

* * *

The next page of reflections in Harrys files I had already prepared as a blog post (in two parts) in 2015. It refers to his role in a McCarthy-era case while he was working at the Pentagon in the 1950s and living in Greenbelt, MD. That page begins like this: 

If I repeat myself in these looks back, it’s because as things occur to me, I get a different perspective in my reflections. Anyway, in the early ’50s, my office was moved to the Public Relations office for maybe six months or a year and then back to the Secretary’s office, although our work was for both the Secretary and the Chief – it’s just that their staffs kept juggling things around before they finally settled down and we were placed under the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary. At that time, the AA was John McLaughlin, who had been there from the beginning in 1948. In 1953, I came forcefully to the attention of the Secretary. Here’s what happened.
In earlier posts, Harry refers to this movie (IMDb photo)
This has nothing to do with my Air Force career. You may recall that this was the era of Senator Joe McCarthy, who accused the State Department and the Defense Department of harboring a bunch of communists. Security considerations took precedence over everything else in DOD. Early in 1953, the Navy Department fired five people as security risks. ...

You can read the rest of that page of reflections in posts on this blog from November 2015: "Harry recounts McCarthy-era case in our Greenbelt, MD, hometown" 

(Stay tuned for the last page of Harrys historical notes on his early years at the Pentagon.) 

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Harry recounts ’50s-era Pentagon publishing – Part 2

Harry’s notes below appear to be continued from those in the previous post on this blog. There he recounted how the Early Bird, the Pentagon’s former signature publication, got its name in the 1950s, and the start of the long-time Current News. I found these last edited April 3, 2009. So, who in the world will be interested in this bit of Pentagon history? Possibly the Pentagon historians – and those of us who still marvel at learning more about Harry’s remarkable life.

In the early ’50s, the demand for our daily clips grew beyond our ability to produce it. The problem was reproduction. The Secretary of Defense wanted a copy and the Joint Staff, too (this was before there was a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), so we were buying multiple copies of the newspapers and cutting five copies of articles and pasting up five copies of the Current News. 

In addition, we were making a few more copies on the Photostat machine, but I kept looking around for other ways to reproduce it. Of course, we could get it printed just like newspapers, but that would mean setting up a printing plant, with presses and all, which was impractical if not impossible. I looked at mimeograph machines and that would work if we retyped everything on those mimeograph wax-sheet stencils, but that was also impractical. 

Harry (with moustache) and Pentagon colleagues, 1950s
Then I found a mimeograph machine that would work. It was a German machine, a Gestetner, that used a rubber stencil. The way it worked was, there was a separate machine that was used to copy anything on to a rubber mimeograph stencil. It could copy newsprint and sketches or drawings okay (pictures, too, but with poor resolution), so we still had to paste up our pages, then copy them on a stencil and then run them off on the mimeograph machine. The only drawback was that it took about five or six minutes to make each stencil, so, for four pages it would take a half hour, including the time to change stencils, etc. We were doing all this at about 6:00 a.m., trying to get copies ready to give the Secretary, et al. at 7:00 a.m., when they got to the office. Each stencil, by the way, was good to run off about 100 copies, which I thought would be more than we would ever need. Little did I know!!

When I demonstrated the wonders of these machines to the blueprint department where they were using the Photostat machines, they were so impressed that they bought several of them and started replacing their Photostat machines, and I got a special price from Gestetner to buy a second stencil-making machine and a second mimeograph machine. With the two machines, we were able to make all the copies we needed and still meet our deadlines. This worked pretty well for several years in the early and mid-50s.

He earned the highest civilian award many times (sample medals below)
We were now printing very legible multiple copies that looked very professional, and getting to be known as the Current News. And, as our capacity to reproduce copies increased, the demand for copies increased as well. We were doing this almost exclusively for the Air Force, though we were giving a few copies to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff. Then the Secretary of the Air Force wanted all the Assistant Secretaries to get it, and the Chief of Staff wanted all the Deputy Chiefs of Staff to get it, and all of them wanted their Execs to get it, and their office staffs, etc, etc. Then suddenly we found ourselves running off a couple hundred copies using both machines and still not able to meet the total demand. An interesting sidelight is that the stencils, which were guaranteed or advertised as good for about 100 copies, started stretching and warping at about the 125th copy. They were, after all, a very thin rubber, and we spoiled a lot of them when we first started using them just in the handling. So we worked with the Gestetner reps in helping them improve their products. 

I had never paid much attention to organizational arrangements, but suddenly I was confronted with an unexpected problem. My office was a separate division under the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force. Next door to me was another division that handled all the mail coming in to the Secretariat as well as several other things and, in one of the many reorganizations taking place in those early days (remember, the Air Force as a separate Service was only two years old and still trying to organize itself), that division was transferred to the Air Staff, specifically to the Asst Chief of Staff, I think. That organization claimed responsibility for all Air Force printing requirements in the Pentagon, including the Current News. They wanted to appropriate my Gestetner machines and take over all my reproduction needs, and I told them to go to hell. (Ever the diplomat, me.) It escalated right up to the Secretary and the Chief of Staff, who agreed to let me retain my machines and do my own printing, until the Air Staff could come up with an improvement on my operation.

So … the Air Staff took over a block of space next to my office and set up a reproduction facility which eventually became the Air Force Printing Plant. They invested several million dollars in strengthening the floors there to hold hundreds of tons of printing equipment, which rivaled the Navy Printing Plant down in the Basement of the building. And, in time, they did, indeed, come up with a better system, at which time I was happy to turn over the printing business to them. It was, however, agreed to between the Secretary and the Chief of Staff – in writing that I had a copy of in my files – that the first priority in that Plant was the Current News.

In later years, I had a lot of run-ins with Air Staff Reps, and one recurring one was when they wanted to delay the Current News printing in order to print something else with greater urgency, in their view, and I objected. The poor guy who ran the Plant had to do what his boss told him to do, and when he told me so, I had to go over his boss’s head either to the Chief of Staff or the Secretary, and I always won and they hated me for that.

He also saved the wall plaque below, like the one on the wall above

(Stay tuned for Parts 3 and 4 of Harry’s historical notes.)
Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Memories for the Pentagon historians - Part 1

Since I began this blog in May 2015, I’ve focused on paying tribute to my dad through writings discovered in his files. In so doing I’ve delighted in connecting or reconnecting with family and friends who knew him, as well as many who didn’t. Another reason for this blog: to “file” Harry’s writings in a permanent, searchable space – even writings that may interest few. So, perhaps somewhere out there, someone is wondering how the Early Bird – one of the Pentagon’s bygone signature publications – got its start. Harry may have sent these reflections to a colleague for a 1998 book. (See photos at end of this page.) Here is the first of four pages from his files. Stay tuned in coming weeks for the next three.

Here’s a story I’ve only told to a couple people, and I’m not even sure who any more. How the Early Bird got its name. In 1950 we started the Current News, just two copies – one for the Secretary and one for the Chief of Staff. The Secretary was Finletter, and the Chief was Hoyt Vandenberg. They were both fully occupied with what the press called the B-36 Hearings – really, the Hearings by the Armed Services Committees of the House and the Senate. Basically, it was about the roles and missions of the Armed Services. The Air Force wanted the nuclear bombing mission with the B-36 to carry it out – long range strategic bombing. The Navy wanted it, too, but with aircraft carriers and submarines. Missiles were still on the drawing boards. 

Harry (far left) in his Pentagon office, 1950s
Anyway, the office I had just been hired to work in was being expanded a little – it was called the Special Projects Office which worked directly for the Secretary of the Air Force, and a couple of high-profile Colonels ran it together. Mainly, they wrote speeches for both the Secretary and the Chief of Staff, and they did all kinds of other odd jobs when called on. They also had some high-profile Reservists who came in from time to time to help out. Anyway, I was assigned to brief the Secretary each morning on what the newspapers were saying about the Hearings. Now, the Korean War was just getting started and the whole Pentagon was scrambling to figure out what the U.S. military was gonna do about Korea and we were just starting to send people and equipment to the Pacific to bolster what was already in Japan and on Okinawa. 

Harry got awards in the 1950s and regularly during his career
There was no such thing as a Xerox machine. What I did each day was cut out articles from The Washington Post and the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal and a couple afternoon papers from the day before – the Washington Times Herald and the Washington Daily News. I got several copies of each paper so I could cut out two copies of each article and paste them up in what subsequently became our standard format. If the Colonel wanted a copy, I had to cut out a third copy of each article. Well, what with the Hearings and the war heating up in Korea, the DOD and the Air Force was starting to get more and more coverage in the press and pretty soon it was more than I could handle and still get it to the Secretary and the Chief of Staff early in the morning. 

He often was crowned the “Pentagon Poet Laureate”
So, a couple enlisted people were assigned to help me; one of them was the oldest enlisted woman in the Air Force who had been one of the first women to enlist when WWII started. She was 60 then, which I thought was ancient (I was 29), and the Secretary had to sign a waiver to extend her because 60 was the mandatory retirement age. She was a Master Sgt and her name was Amabel Earley. She stayed for two years and she was great. When she retired she went to live in the distaff retirement home. One of the newspapers, I think the Post but I’m not sure, ran a big story on her when she retired, a glowing story really complimentary, and I remember how mad she was because they called her the oldest enlisted woman in the Air Force. Well, she was the one who put the Current News together for a couple years mostly, and while it was still called the Current News, we began referring to it as Earley’s Sheet, which soon became Earley’s Bird, which eventually became the Early Bird

Right from the beginning, I was trying to figure out how to reproduce it. I found the office in the Pentagon that maintained all the drawings and architectural sketches of the building and those things were reproduced on a Photostat machine, which they let me use. The trouble with that was that everything came out of that machine as white on black and some as black on gray, which made them hard to read. But we were able to make four or five copies that way, which was still better than cut and paste.    

It wasn’t until several years later that we put the title Early Bird on it, and I’ll tell you that story another time. 

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman 

These snapshots show the 1998 book cover and some of the pages that recount Harry’s work in the Pentagon. When I contacted author Steve Aubin, he commented: I’d be honored to have parts of my book chapter used to help tell Harry’s Pentagon story. He gave me a file folder of original documents that helped me write that chapter. I thought it was a story and a part of history that needed to be preserved. Participating in a small part of that history when I worked for Harry made a huge impression on me personally and professionally. (Click on photos to enlarge.)