Herman Wouk: Requiescat in Pace

Herman Wouk has died at age 103.  A Navy veteran of the War in the Pacific, he became a celebrated novelist after the War.  To me his best novel will always be the Caine Mutiny, in which he drew upon his experiences to paint an unforgettable picture of life in the Navy during the War.  Here is my review of the movie based upon the novel:

For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney.  Over the past 27 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny.  Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk,  who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.

 

The cast is top notch.  Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine.  In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman.  Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions.

 

 

 

Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the “exec” of the Caine, a wants-to-be career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior.  Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character:  too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment, he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer.  Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg.  Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.

 

In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald,  portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them.

What I admire most about the film is the realistic way that the defense is depicted.  A legal case consists of the facts, the law and people. (more…)

Published in: on May 17, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Herman Wouk: Requiescat in Pace  
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Requiescat In Pace: Peter Mayhew

Sad that even wookies must die.  Peter Mayhew was the giant behind the mask.  Unlike most Hollywood figures, he lived a quiet life with his one and only wife, and their three kids.  Born a Brit he became a naturalized American citizen in 2005.  A deeply charitable man, he was always available to have Chewbaca bring wookie cheer to sick kids in hospital.  A well lived life.  Fare you well Mr. Mayhew, and may you now be in the land where the stars only know eternal peace and love.

Published in: on May 3, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Requiescat In Pace: Peter Mayhew  
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Requiescat in Pace: Colonel Richard Cole

Inevitable but sad:

Sad news—the last Doolittle Raider has died. Lt. Col. Richard Cole passed away Monday at the age of 103.

Cole was the final surviving member of the daring raid on Tokyo by carrier-launched B-25s. As I wrote for his 100th birthday in 2015:

Col. Richard Cole was the co-pilot of “Crew 1,” which means he sat alongside Col. Jimmy Doolittle at the tip of the tip of the American spear aimed at Imperial Japan. The Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942, was a virtual suicide mission. It was a daring sea-launched bombing mission in the earliest days of World War II.

After Pearl Harbor, Americans were desperate to hit back, and that first hit was the Doolittle Raid. Sixteen Army Air Force B-25s took off from the USS Hornet to hit multiple Japanese cities. The plan was to fly to China because a B-25 could not land on an aircraft carrier. Only one of the 16 planes actually landed safely — in the Soviet Union. The fate of the rest of the crews was a story of heroism and sacrifice.

Many didn’t survive. Some were beheaded by the Japanese. The Japanese burned entire towns in occupied China that helped the Raiders.

Go here to read the rest.

 

 

Seventy-seven years ago 80 very brave Americans, led by Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, brought the nation a badly needed morale boost.  The War in the Pacific was going badly as defeat followed defeat.  Navy Captain Francis Low hit upon a plan to send a message, not only to the American public, but also to Japan, that the United States was not beaten and that it would strike back and prevail.

16 Mitchell B-25B bombers were placed on the carrier USS Hornet.  In great secrecy the Hornet and its escorts steamed to within 650 nautical miles of Japan when the force was discovered by a Japanese picket boat which was sunk by gunfire from the USS Nashville.  Fearing discovery the Doolittle force launched immediately, some 10 hours earlier than planned, and 170 nautical miles further from Japan.

The raiders reached the Japanese Home Islands at around noon.  They had split up into groups ranging from two to four planes and struck targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka.  The raiders then planned to fly their planes into Nationalist controlled China and make their way back to the US.  Miraculously 69 of the raiders did just that.  Three of the raiders died and eight were captured.

Of the captured raiders, three were executed by the Japanese on October 15, 1942 following a show trial.

 

 

The remaining five POWs were placed on starvation rations, with one of them dying prior to liberation by the Allied forces at the end of the War.  Jacob DeShazer, one of the POWs, came back to Japan as a missionary in 1948 and worked there for 30 years spreading the Gospel. (more…)

Published in: on April 12, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Requiescat in Pace: Colonel Richard Cole  
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Requiescat In Pace: George H. W. Bush

 

Former President George Bush has died at age 94.  I am deeply ambivalent about his role as a major player in our national life, and I think we are too close to his Presidency in time to have much perspective as to it.  However, what has always personally fascinated me about Bush is his service during World War II.  Enlisting in the Navy during World War II on his 18th birthday, he became the youngest naval aviator in 1942.  As a carrier pilot in the Pacific during the War he flew 58 combat missions.  On one of his missions he earned a Distinguished Flying Cross:

“For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as Pilot of a Torpedo Plane in Torpedo Squadron FIFTY ONE, attached to the U.S.S. San Jacinto, in action against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of the Bonin Islands, on September 2, 1944. Leading one section of a four-plane division in a strike against a radio station, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Bush pressed home an attack in the face of intense antiaircraft fire. Although his plane was hit and set afire at the beginning of his dive, he continued his plunge toward the target and succeeded in scoring damaging bomb hits before bailing out of the craft. His courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Reserve.” 

Like many men who survived in combat he wondered why he had been spared and what God had planned for him.  I have a friend who is 98, and part of that select fraternity of survivors who saw action as carrier pilots in the Pacific in World War II.  His matter of fact accounts have always struck me with how easy it was to die outside of enemy action.  The technology was just barely there to conduct combat carrier operations over the watery wastes of the Pacific, and it was very easy to die due to mechanical problems, simply getting lost or crashing during carrier landings, particularly at night.  When I made the obvious statement on one occasion that it took a very brave man to do what he had done, he denied it.  He said simply that the country had a job that needed to be accomplished, and that he and his shipmates simply did their duty to the best of their ability.

Bush is the last of the presidents to have seen combat service in World War II, and with his passing, and the passing of the men he served with, a special spirit is passing from our national life.  God willing, may we see it again in our hour of need.

Published in: on December 3, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Requiescat In Pace: George H. W. Bush  
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Requiescat In Pace: Stan Lee

( I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the comic mavens of Almost Chosen People might be interested in it.)

Stanley Martin Lieber, better known as Stan Lee, passed away today at age 95.  A World War II veteran, Lee  worked for virtually his entire adult life, except for his time in the Army, for Timely Comics, which became Atlas Comics and, by the early sixties, Marvel Comics.  After DC comics, the colossus of the comic book world at the time, met great success with its revival of superheroes in the mid fifties, Lee followed suit in the early sixties, but with a twist.  His superheroes had human frailties and wrestled with the type of problems that normal people deal with.  In short, he made superheroes more realistic.  He understood that such realism made his heroes and heroines more heroic, not less.  His strategy worked, and Marvel unseated DC, which was rather like Avis beating Hertz.  Lee assiduously also developed a loyal fan base.

For the past few decades Lee has not been involved in the operations of Marvel Comics, contenting himself with being the public face of the company and with humorous cameos in the numerous films based on Marvel comic book characters.  His wife of 69 years died last year, and recent stories about him have focused on allegations that his daughter, or others, have been attempting to take advantage of him, the type of very sad conflicts that often seem to surround the very elderly with money. Unlike in comic books, happy endings are not assured in real life.

However, none of this can diminish the entertainment and inspiration that Mr. Lee gave to hundreds of millions over the years, including me during my boyhood.  Excelsior Mr. Lee, and may this quotation now stand you in good stead:

“There is only one who is all powerful, and his greatest weapon is love.”
Published in: on November 15, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Requiescat In Pace: Stan Lee  
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John McCain: Requiescat In Pace

 

Senator John McCain (R.AZ) has died at age 81 of brain cancer.  That is a very hard way to go, as I know from my secretary of 30 years dying from similar cancer three years ago on August 28, 2015.  He is at peace now, and my prayers for both him and his family.  I was not a political supporter of Senator McCain except, reluctantly, when he was the Republican standard bearer in 2008.  However, I never doubted his courage, based upon his refusal to accept freedom in 1968 from his North Vietnamese captors due, doubtless, to his father being a high ranking Admiral and the North Vietnamese seeking a propaganda coup.  He was warned by his captors that refusal would mean torture and very bad treatment for him, and they amply kept their word.  Whatever else he did in his life, at that moment McCain was a true American hero.

 

Published in: on August 29, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on John McCain: Requiescat In Pace  
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Aretha Franklin: Requiescat in Pace

 

Something for the weekend.  I Say A Little Prayer, sung by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.  She died this week at age 76, leaving behind a body of work that will give joy to generations to come, and that is not a bad legacy.

Published in: on August 18, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Aretha Franklin: Requiescat in Pace  
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Steve Ditko: Requiescat In Pace

 

 

In my misspent youth I collected comics.  (As a sign of advancing maturity I got rid of them when I was 13.  If I had saved such treasures as my beloved Spider-Man #2 I could have a tidy sum now!).  Perhaps my favorite comic book was the initial run of Spider-Man drawn by artist Steve Ditko.  Spider-Man became a crime fighter due to his beloved Uncle Ben, his foster father, being slain by a burglar that Spider-Man could have apprehended but did not due to his having been too self-absorbed to help a cop chasing the burglar.  I always thought Spider-Man had a powerful motivation as his lack of action, his sin of omission, led to the death of Uncle Ben, and as I was taught early by the nuns, a sin always requires reparation, and Spider-Man’s reparation was to fight crime, a theme that was constantly remarked upon in the comic.

I identified with Spider-Man.  Spider-Man was a bookish teenager lacking social skills suddenly vested with great powers.  He was also broke and his travails over money had a ring of familiarity to me.  My favorite Spider-Man story of the Ditko era was a trilogy in which he was suffering from the flu and had to stop the bad guys and somehow get the serum necessary to save the life of his Aunt May who was seriously ill.  It sounds silly in that bare bones summary of the plot, but the story arc emphasized some good lessons for a growing boy:  courage against the odds, fighting for those you love and that superpowers do not make the hero since Spider-Man lost much of his as a result of the flu, and was even more heroic as a result.

Steve Ditko, the legendary artist who drew Spider-Man, has passed away at age 90.  In a field dominated by Leftists, Ditko was a follower of Ayn Rand.  He had a very distinctive style, go here to see samples of his work.  His stark drawings were a reflection of how Ditko looked at the world.  Good and Evil were realities to him, and not merely differing shades of gray.  In 2004 Ditko wrote about another of his comic book heroes, Mr. A:

“Mr. A stands for a rational, objective philosophy of positive, pro-life premises and values. That is symbolized by his white and black card. A is A, no graying, no contradictions: Reality is an absolute, man is a rational being, reason (logic) is man’s only means to knowledge, man’s life is the standard of value, the good is that which supports a rational life, man must act on objective, rational virtues of integrity, independence, honesty, etc. The moral man is the man who leads a productive life, at his best in thought and action. …. Mr. A’s values are the highest values, the best values, for a man to live by if he wants the best life has to offer.”

A rather reclusive figure, as far as is known Ditko never married and had no children.  He politely declined requests for formal interviews, although anyone who wanted to could stop by his Manhattan studio and talk to him if he had the time.  Somewhat of a restless figure, not always easy to work with,  he was employed by many comic book companies during his career.  Ditko went his own way during his life, rarely willing to temper his art to suit his employers.  May he enjoy in the next life the peace and joy that his characters strove for.

 

Published in: on July 10, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Steve Ditko: Requiescat In Pace  
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Requiescat in Pace: Billy Graham

illy Graham died last week at age 99.  My sainted mother, uber Catholic that she was, used to watch his crusades on TV in the Sixties.  In his prime, Graham was on a par with Ronald Reagan as a spell-binding orator, but more than that  he was a voice crying out for Christ in a dark world.  I  I will miss him and may he now be enjoying the Beatific Vision.

 

Published in: on February 25, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Requiescat in Pace: Billy Graham  
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Mort Walker: Requiescat in Pace

 

Mort Walker has passed away at 94.  The creator of the comic strip Beetle Bailey, for 68 years he poked gentle fun at the absurdities of the US Army.  Walker served as an Army officer during World War II.  Post war he became a cartoonist and drew about what he knew about:  the Army and the comic possibilities of any massive hierarchical organization.  Throughout almost seven decades Walker followed the same formula.  His soldiers never went to war, they stayed at camp Swampy in perpetual peace time, the issues of the day were ignored, no politics were to intrude on the strip, the same set of characters, with very few additions and subtractions, served perpetual timeless enlistments, the officers were almost always clueless and the men often lazy and shiftless.   Stated that way it might be hard to see how the strip endured, but it did, and proved especially popular with kids and veterans.

Ironically, this non-controversial strip for its first ten years was banned from the pages of Stars and Stripes by the Army, humorless military bureaucrats disguised as officers taking umbrage with the strip’s depiction of officers as fools and the men as shirkers, completely missing the deep love that Walker had for the Army he kidded.

 

At ease Mr. Walker, your tour of duty is over.

 

Published in: on January 29, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Mort Walker: Requiescat in Pace  
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