Talk about strange bedfellows. I got here by calling the editor, Mike Piccione, a bad name (the terminus of the alimentary canal) and telling him to go make love to himself, only not in such delicate words. After that, we got along great.
I’m a strange bird to be landing in this nest. I guess I’m a liberal, although I think of myself as a normal, middle-of-the-road, patriotic American.
I always stand and salute the flag. I get a little dewy eyed when I sing along with “The Star Spangled Banner” and when I see stories about Americans who gave their lives for our freedoms.
I tell my adult-school students that brave men and women gave their lives so we can vote, so we can hear both sides of a political argument, and so we can go to any church we want — or not. Mostly, my students take these freedoms for granted. I try to remind them that freedom isn’t free.
When I was growing up during WWII, the family hero was Uncle Billy — now Lt. Col. William T. Unger (retired) of the U.S. Marines. The family story was that he lied about his age and signed up at the start of WWII.
Uncle Billy was awarded the Navy Cross for action in the Pacific. Then-Lt. Unger fought on Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Guam and Guacalcanal, among other places. One time, his tank ran out of gas and ammo in the jungle, and he and his men were surrounded by Japanese soldiers.
So my Uncle Billy stood in the open turret with two .45 caliber pistols and had his men reload as he shot enemy soldiers who charged the tank. I don’t remember how many he killed, but suffice to say he saved his men, and they lived to fight on and help win the war.
Uncle Billy was my hero and my idea of a man.
But years later, he told my son that those Japanese soldiers looked like young farm kids, like they weren’t old enough for war, and like they had never been in battle before. He said he felt terrible about it, but it had to be done.
When I was a little kid, grown men often asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I always said, “A Marine.” They laughed, for some reason, and it made me mad. How dare they insult the Marine Corps, my uncle and me. Of course, they didn’t intend all that.
In 1956, I graduated from North High School in Wichita, KS, the same school my uncle had graduated from, and signed up for the draft. I got a standard college deferment and didn’t think much about it. But I had two buddies who went into the Army. One went Airborne and trained in North Carolina. He came home on leave one time and brought his sergeant’s wife with him, which didn’t seem like a very good idea. My other buddy went into the band and was stationed outside New York City and went into the city a lot to Birdland and other famous jazz nightclubs.
So I heard a lot of stories. I renewed my deferment every year and thought I didn’t want someone less intelligent and less educated than I was telling me what to do. Of course, I didn’t realize they would be trying to save my life.
Along came the Viet Nam War. In 1964, I got a job as an editor on the copy desk of the local newspaper, The Wichita Beacon. I read hundreds of war stories and saw hundreds of photos. They weren’t pretty. Dead and dying Vietnamese and Americans. A young girl burned by napalm. Famous photo. I saw the war on TV every night. A South Vietnamese soldier put a gun to the head of a captive and pulled the trigger. Another famous image.
I read Dr. Bernard Fall’s book, “The Two Viet-Nams.” It was obvious we were deep in a civil war and had no business being there, and it was obvious that our leaders were lying to us.
For one thing, they said the U.S. would be threatened if Viet Nam went communist. Well, guess what, it went communist, and now, years later, they are one of our trading partners.
War and peace are funny things. When I was a kid, the Japs and the Germans were our sworn enemies, but a few years later we had helped them rebuild and they became big allies, and, again, trading partners. It makes you wonder if we couldn’t have skipped all the bloodshed somehow.
The Allies crushed the Germans and their economy after WWI, but after WWII we helped them rebuild, and that rebuilding led to peace, as it did, also, in Japan. Hmmm. Maybe helping people is the road to peace.
As you can see, somewhere along the way, I became a peacenik. I went to work for the York, PA, Gazette & Daily, the most liberal commercial daily newspaper in the country. As the editor, Jim Higgins, told me, “The locals call it ‘The Gazette & Daily Worker’,” after the communist newspaper. He laughed, thinking that was funny.
When I worked for the Wichita Beacon, the paper didn’t cover black people. They were considered beneath our dignity. Maybe our mostly white readers would have been offended, or uninterested. My then-wife worked at the Wichita Children’s Home, so I knew there were two orphanages in town, one for black children and one for white. A black child had never spent a night in the white one, and vice versa.
This was during the Civil Rights Era, with marches all over the country and violence in the south. I thought we should cover race relations in Wichita, but I couldn’t get my own newspaper to cover the story.
At the Beacon, you couldn’t say anything bad about the cops or the military. At the Gazette, you couldn’t say anything good.
One time, in York, PA, I covered a story about a cop who saw a burning apartment building. He stopped the car and ran toward the fire. A woman on the second floor was holding a baby out the window away from the smoke. As he ran, she tossed the baby, and he caught the child and cradled it in his arms, like a warm football. I thought it was a hell of a story.
But the Gazette wouldn’t print it. The editors didn’t want to make the police look good. My God, I thought, what is wrong with these people.
So, I was just as disillusioned with conservative newspapers as liberal ones. They were equally biased and equally full of bull.
What always interested me about journalism was one thing, and one thing only: telling the truth. I believe in participatory democracy, and I believe it can’t survive without a well-informed electorate. The people need to know the truth.
That’s what interests me about writing for Guns & Patriots: the opportunity to tell the truth.
Thanks for reading. Hope my “liberal” views and stories didn’t offend you. But if they did, you’ll live.