by Bernard McCormick Friday, October 06, 2017 No Comment(s)

 

The most recent Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War is a much-acclaimed history of an event that most Americans may never fully understand. Unlike recent controversies about Civil War memorials, a war with which no one alive today has personal experience, there are millions who lived through the several decades when Vietnam evolved from a place vaguely known as French Indochina to an epic tragedy for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and for those who fought against us.

For most, Vietnam began in the mid-1960s when our military presence grew from a few Special Forces and advisors to hundreds of thousands of soldiers. But the roots of that conflict trace back to 1954 when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. Most of us took little notice, for we were just getting over the Korean War.

But not long after, the name Vietnam became better known, thanks to an ex- Navy doctor-turned-medical missionary named Tom Dooley. Dooley wrote and spoke of Vietnam in terms of savage communists versus persecuted Catholics. He was a Catholic product of Notre Dame (although he never graduated), and he toured many colleges in the U.S. pleading his cause, which we now know was exaggerated and controlled by the CIA. College girls, in their knee socks and saddle shoes, loved the good-looking, eloquent Dooley. They did not know he did not fancy girls.

Dooley’s influence, largely forgotten today, was strong. He had a powerful friend in New York, Francis Cardinal Spellman, who in turn was close to the Kennedys and other prominent American Catholic families. Working with the CIA, he managed to seed our Vietnam involvement with the first of the distortions that would characterize our government line for the next 15 years. He made an anti-colonial nationalist movement seem to be a communist assault on western values, including the Catholic church.

Dooley did not live to see the results of his work. He died at 34 in 1961, at a time when the U.S. was barely involved in Vietnam. President Kennedy was much more focused on a nearer problem: Cuba. But we now know that even as he sent military aid, JFK was wary of a larger U.S. involvement in what he perceived as part of an anti-colonial movement that had swept Southeast Asia since World War II.

Initially, most Americans, myself included, supported U.S. policy. We were all brainwashed. I was also in the military, sort of. I had been commissioned through ROTC in the late 1950s at a time when the Army had too many junior officers and no war for them to fight. Many of us were given six months active duty and eight years in the reserves. Although trained in artillery, I was in a civil affairs unit. Our job would be to rebuild cities after we destroyed them. We were a wonderful group of screw offs, useless in peacetime. I wrote stories about our annual summer camps with titles such as “The General’s Martini,” “The Night We Boiled the Major” and “Can’t Anybody Here Hit That Deer?” We had so much fun that nobody ever quit our outfit.

Still, we would have made an effective active duty unit. We were heavy with brass. Our commanding officer was a state senator and we had abundant political connections, with lawyers, doctors, stock brokers, a Mercedes-Benz dealer, a college professor, a du Pont engineer, a labor relations specialist, service station owners and two journalists who would wind up in the magazine business together in Florida. Some of the older guys had combat experience in Korea. We thought Vietnam could use our myriad talents in pacifying all those Viet Cong villages. The army thought otherwise. When the war was getting hottest, they threw our whole unit out of the army. But my reserve obligation was up by then.

I had left sports writing for the real world, and in the next few years wrote about the growing war, even as my opinions subtly shifted. “War Boom” was a column about the Boeing Vertol plant near Chester, Pennsylvania, that was building the big Chinook helicopters still used today. One day a proud father came to the newspaper with his son who was a devout Christian and was joining the army despite all the noise being made by un-patriots whose protests were growing every year. The kid was no John Wayne; he seemed on the frail side and not intellectually gifted, but I wrote that the father wanted the world to know that his boy was doing his duty. Only years later did I learn the kid had been killed in Vietnam.

By then I was at Philadelphia magazine, where I went to Toronto on a story called “The Exiles” about local young men who had left the country to avoid the draft. Another piece, “A Welcome to Arms,” described the induction center where dozens of fresh-faced draftees gathered to begin their journeys to boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I also did a piece about the status of our military reserves, which ranged from screw off units such as ours, to Air Force reservists who left jobs on a Friday afternoon, flew giant transports 8,000 miles to Nam, and were back in the office Monday morning.

By 1967 it was clear that most Americans were barely touched by a war that was affecting more and more families in a terrible way. We decided to do a short moody piece on the caskets coming home from the war. It turned out they did not come to the Philadelphia airport, but rather to the Air Force base at Dover, Delaware. The idea enlarged to covering a Vietnam funeral. We checked the papers for the daily casualty reports. After being coldly rejected by the first few families we called, we found a father who seemed to think he had an obligation to accommodate the media. And it turned out, the dead soldier was a friend of the younger brother of one of my college buddies. He and a dozen friends had enlisted together in various services. Four of them got to Vietnam and three came home without a scratch. The fourth, Pvt. Leonard Martin Jr. was killed in a mortar attack at an artillery post called Gio Linh.

We followed the process all the way from sitting in on the instructions they gave at Dover Air Force base to “escorts”—the soldiers assigned to accompany the casket to the funeral. They were told to be respectful and not tell any war stories. You were not there. Keep your mouth shut. Lenny Martin’s escort was a kid from Kansas. He did a great job.

The remains were delayed returning from Vietnam. We hung around, waiting with the family for a week. The magazine was mostly printed by the time of the funeral. It had not seemed a terribly sad event until that afternoon when people, many of them young, who had all seemed stoic, suddenly broke down en masse when the honor guard, including several of the friends who had enlisted with Lenny Martin, fired the 21-gun salute, and the young escort from Kansas presented the carefully folded flag to Martin’s mother with the reverent words “On behalf of a grateful nation.” It had been drizzling all day, but as the mourners returned to their cars to leave and the gravediggers began to lower the casket, the sun suddenly burst forth and the gray day turned freshly green and reborn.

“Back From Vietnam” was a first of its kind. Philadelphia magazine had a dramatic flag draped casket on its cover. Within weeks, publications around the country were covering Vietnam funerals. A war, which had for years seemed as distant as the names Tom Dooley and Indochina, had finally come home.

We visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall to make sure Lenny Martin was on it. He was, along with 58,318 others, most of who were barely born when Tom Dooley first made his misguided case in the 1950s.

There is one other name that should be added to that memorial. John F. Kennedy. There are numerous testaments by sources close to JFK that he thought Vietnam was a losing proposition and intended to withdraw American forces after the election of 1964, an election he did not live to see. Few recall that Kennedy had seen Vietnam first hand as a young congressman. In 1951 he visited the country and came home convinced that “in Indochina we have allied ourselves to the desperate effort of a French regime to hang onto the remnants of empire…”

JFK, his distrust of the CIA growing from the 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster until his murder in 1963, also sought to ease tensions with the Soviet Union over Cuba. Elements of our government, including powerful military and industrial figures, wanted just the opposite. They wanted, and eventually got, a bigger war in Vietnam. Some were willing to risk a nuclear war at a time when we could still win it. They saw President Kennedy as a traitor.

There is a growing body of opinion, of which this writer is a committed advocate, that it cost JFK his life. He is every bit as much a war casualty as those 58,318 names etched on that cold black granite memorial.

 

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by Bernard McCormick Thursday, September 14, 2017 No Comment(s)

Now that the storm is over it is time to return to priority items, namely rewriting American history.

Aside from the fact that so much of it is plain silly, the disturbing fact about the controversy over Confederate memorials is that much of what has been written and broadcast reflects a one-sided understanding of that cataclysmic event in American history—the Civil War.

It has bothered us almost since it happened that the murder of President Kennedy in 1963 appears to be going down in history as the work of a lone nut, whereas the evidence is mounting that JFK was killed by a conspiracy involving the highest levels of our government. However, as new information surfaces year by year, there remains a chance that the truth may prevail.

Which makes the Civil War situation more troubling. The history of that conflict has long been written; the economic causes of the conflict and motives of the combatants should not be in dispute 150 years later. And yet they are. You see Robert E. Lee, one of the most admirable men in our history, is described as a “traitor.” And southern generals, and by extension all the poor grunts who fought and died under them, are said to have fought to preserve slavery.

Even reporters covering various memorial protests seem weak on the details of the Civil War. The Miami Herald, in its front page report of the latest Hollywood street debate, described John Bell Hood, one of the Confederate generals who has a street named after him, as “a commander at Gettysburg.” Technically correct. Hood, serving under James Longstreet, was one of nine division commanders in Robert E. Lee’s army. Hood had good reason to remember Gettysburg. He lost the use of an arm there. Transferred to the western theater, he lost a leg at Chickamauga. But history remembers him for a more significant loss. He took over command from Gen. Joseph Johnston of the Confederate army defending Atlanta in 1864. As bold as Johnston was cautious, Hood made some rash decisions. They led to the loss of his entire command, the only force standing in the way of Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea.”

That’s just a mini example of shallow reporting on this subject. The main problem is that much of the public accepts the idea that southern generals and their men fought to enslave other men. Some historians cite the fact that southern state legislatures, in voting to secede, cited slavery as a reason. But those legislatures, dominated then as today by commercial interests, did not fight the battles and die in great numbers. Those common soldiers fought for their states, right or wrong, and considered themselves patriots rather than traitors.

Shelby Foote, (pictured above) who spent 20 years of his life writing a great three-volume history of the Civil War, has put the matter in perspective:

“People who say that slavery had nothing to do with the war are just as wrong as people who say slavery had everything to do with the war. That was a very complicated civic thing.”  In the same interview, Foote added in his infectious Mississippi drawl: “Believe me, no soldier on either side gave a damn about the slaves. They were fightin’ for other reasons entirely in their minds. Southerners thought they were fightin’ the second American revolution. Northerners thought they were fightin’ to hold the union together. And that held true throughout the whole war.”

Southern military leaders were considered anything but traitors in their own land. Just the opposite. Gen. George Thomas was shunned by his own Virginia family because he was the rare southern-bred officer who stayed with the union. Gen. John Pemberton was born in Philadelphia, but married a southern woman and served much time in the south. His two brothers fought for the Union and he was a pariah when he moved back to Philadelphia after he had held high rank in the Confederate army.

It is understandable that years after it ended, the south honored men it regarded as heroes. The same held true for the north. Monuments to southern generals were no more endorsements of slavery than monuments to northern men were considered thanks for freeing the slaves.

Some of the very generals whose history is being removed understood this better than anyone. The Union’s Ulysses Grant and Confederate James Longstreet served together before the war and remained friends afterward. Robert E. Lee had a cordial relationship with George Meade, the man who beat him at Gettysburg. A full quarter of a century after the war ended, Confederate Joseph Johnston died of pneumonia contracted when he stood outside on a cold February day while serving as a pallbearer at the New York City funeral of his old adversary, William Tecumseh Sherman.

That was the reality of the time. The monument destroyers should remember that­—as if they knew it in the first place.

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by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, August 23, 2017 No Comment(s)

Thanks to the tragic weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, the movement to rid America of the Civil War has been thus far nobly advanced. We seem poised to get rid of the streets named after Confederate generals in Hollywood, and now citizens have taken it upon themselves to pull down statues or deface Confederate memorials wherever they can find them.

Others ask, ‘Where will it end?’ ‘Will George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves, both suffer the fate of Robert E. Lee, whose memorials are in danger?’ ‘Will respected academic institutions bearing their names be renamed to avoid controversy?’ We certainly hope so. We personally are starting a campaign to rename Jackson, Mississippi, because it bears the name of Confederate Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson. WAIT! You say it wasn’t named for Stonewall Jackson? Rather Andrew Jackson? What difference does it make? Most people don’t know that, especially those foaming to change historic names, and some people who can’t spell the word history might be offended by the name.

Same for Jacksonville, Florida. You can’t take a chance that people may not realize that Andrew Jackson and Stonewall Jackson are not the same man. And who can doubt that if he had been a general in the Civil War, instead of the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson, a southerner, would have been on the southern side? He would join almost every other general—north and south—who stayed with their native states. Besides, just calling it “Ville” (pronounced vil, not vil-lay) will save money in typesetting.

The charge is on, cannon to left of us, cannon to right, and we are desperately looking for a Civil War memorial to eliminate that nobody has thought of yet. It is almost impossible to do in the south, for statue historian wannabes have added to the narrative by noting that many statues were erected around 1900, coinciding with the rise of the Jim Crow movement. Thus, they must be deliberate efforts by racists to lend nobility to the lost cause to preserve slavery. Thus, they must go.

That appears to be a sound argument until you realize that Civil War memorials appeared in the north at the same time. The fact is that it took several decades for some reputations to be validated by historians and survivors of the war, and even longer to find funds to memorialize prominent figures. In Washington, most of the famous memorials came around 1900 or later. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s statue was dedicated in 1903, and Gen. Phil Sheridan rose in 1908. The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial was 1909. The massive Lincoln Memorial was not dedicated until 1922, the Dupont Circle Fountain in 1921 and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in 1924.

Elsewhere it was the same. Grant’s Tomb in New York was dedicated in 1897. In Boston, the famous tribute to Massachusetts’ valiant black soldiers—Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial—across from the State House, came in 1897. Philadelphia’s elaborate Smith Memorial Arch was not completed until 1912. So much for the questionable timing argument.

That said, historical revisionists are claiming control over all the obvious southern memorials. We had to go north to find one whose disappearance we might be first to endorse. Begorrah, we found one! And it is no less conspicuous place than Gettysburg, the scene of the bloodiest three days of the war. There is a memorial there, hard by the Devil’s Den, honoring the famous Irish Brigade. That unit consisted of three New York regiments, including the legendary “Fighting 69th” and one each from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. It suffered terrible casualties at the bloodbaths of Antietam and Fredericksburg late in 1862, and barely six months later, its thin remnants got shot up again at Gettysburg. It entered the battle only 500 strong and lost one-third of its men on the second day. By the end of the war, including replacements, it had lost more men than the 3,000 it mustered at the beginning.

It also had one of the most famous clergymen of the war, Father William Corby, whose 1910 statue blessing the Irish Brigade before battle is among the more conspicuous monuments on that monument-crazed battlefield. There is also a replica of the statue (1911) of Father Corby, arm raised in absolution, on the campus at Notre Dame, where he served as president after the war. At ND the statue is nicknamed “Fair Catch Corby.”

But we are not speaking here of that memorial. The one we want removed is the Irish Brigade memorial (above) that sits at the point where the brigade fought so heroically to slow the Confederate advance on the second day of that fight. It is one of the most striking monuments at Gettysburg—a Celtic cross almost 20 feet high, with an Irish Wolfhound (a virtually extinct breed) reposing at its base. Because it represents the valor of Irishmen, mostly immigrants from the famine era, who fought for the North (a good many fought with distinction for the South as well) we had to search the history books to come up with a reason to censor it.

One reason is that neither of our two Gallagher ancestors, our great grandmother’s brothers, John and James, who died in the Civil War, were members of that famous unit. In fact, we don’t even know what units they were with. There are 70 John Gallaghers and 35 James Gallaghers from Pennsylvania listed in the history of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. We think they both came from around Easton, Pennyslvania, but regiments from that area were mostly square heads. (That is a term of respect for Germans.) Anyway, our boys were not part of the Irish Brigade, so that’s one strike against it.

But our real reason for picking on this particular memorial is the fellow who designed it. His name is William R. O’Donovan. He was a self-taught sculptor who worked in New York and was famous for war memorials. Great Irish name, O’Donovan. So far, so good. But history has forgotten that before he became known in New York, he was born in Virginia. He was only 17 when the war began, and like Robert E. Lee, he fought for his native state. THE BLOODY MICK WAS A FREAKIN’ REB!

Obviously, this young fellow was a flaming racist. He went to war, not because everybody in his neighborhood did, and you were considered a traitor if you did not, but because he believed in slavery and was willing to die to preserve it. Forget that he lived most of his life in New York and sculpted a moving tribute to his fellow Irishmen who fought on the other side.

We modern historical revisionists have the ability to see only what we want to see, and we are in a desperate fight to be the first to find another monument to remove. So honor our claim to the Gettysburg Irish Brigade memorial. Just one word of caution: Before you try to pull it down, make bloody sure no Irishmen are watching.

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by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, August 16, 2017 No Comment(s)

 

The business pages recently have carried stories about what appears to be the slow expiration of Sears. Some reports describe the demise of the once iconic retailer as almost a death in the family. For our family, that is close to home. Both parents worked for what was then called Sears, Roebuck & Co. in Philadelphia. In fact, that’s where they met.

Richard Sears, who sold watches in his spare time working at a desk job in a railroad station, founded Sears in the late 1800s in the Midwest. He soon sold everything else, and much of it far from his Chicago base. In Philadelphia, Sears once had a huge presence. It had an enormous building off Roosevelt Boulevard, which is U.S. Highway 1 in that city. It looked more like an aircraft factory than an office building and had a 14-story clock tower. It was built as an outlet store and plant when Sears was in its heyday with a mail order business that foreshadowed today’s Amazon operation.

The building (above) opened in 1920, and dad and mother went to work there soon after. They were among the first of thousands employed at that site for 70 years. Dad apparently worked in plumbing and heating from his earliest days with the company. Today you would add air conditioning to that field. Mother, just out of high school, was with an advertising unit. One of her tasks was translating letters from French. And she could barely read French. Our parents’ closest friendships were made there, and numerous of our boyhood friends had relatives in the Sears family. It was a great place to work, very progressive for its time. It had a profit sharing program, which enabled many employees of that era to retire with small fortunes in Sears stock.

The Depression, so hard on many families, was barely felt by our family. Dad, who never finished high school, moved up the Sears management ladder and in the 1930s was transferred to Port Newark, New Jersey, where Sears had one of its production facilities for its Modern Homes division. It had started in the prefabricated housing business at the turn of the century and sold 70,000 houses in many designs, some of them pretty fancy. They were built in two plants (the one in Port Newark took up 40 acres) and shipped the raw material for houses by rail around the country, where local carpenters put them together. More than a few were constructed by their owners. Those houses today are prized. People actually search the country to see them. Dad’s background with Sears suggests he handled the plumbing aspect of the home building operation. Buyers could pick their kitchen and bathroom designs; it all came with the package.

Dad started when the Modern Homes unit was strong in the late 1920s. He commuted to North Jersey from Philadelphia for several years, then married and moved our family to North Caldwell, New Jersey. It was just in time to see the Depression catch up with the housing market. Home building slowed and Sears decided to shut down its modular home unit. Dad managed to stay with Sears, but in 1939 it entailed a move to Elmira, New York, where he managed that store’s plumbing and heating department. I gather he did well. I recall mother took us outside to see if we could catch a glimpse of his airplane flying overhead to Washington, D.C. where he received some kind of company award.

Elmira was a pleasant little town, famous as one of Mark Twain's haunts, but mother missed her big family in Philadelphia. We lived near the Chemung River, which had a habit of flooding. Two exciting things happened in the three years we lived there. At age 4 a horse nearly rolled over on me because I was so small the beast did not know anyone was on him. That ended my equestrian lessons in a hurry. The other event was war. The country was still in shock from Pearl Harbor at the beginning of 1942 when dad managed to engineer a transfer back to the big facility on Roosevelt Boulevard—and almost immediately got fired.

As he told the story, Sears calculated that the war would kill its retail business, and decided to cut back on middle management. As it turned out, so many men entered the service that workers were in short supply. Thousands of women filled their jobs.

Dad said the man tasked with firing people was a fellow he had known years before.

“I didn’t like him and never took pains to conceal it,” dad said later in life. “It cost me my job.” He was 46 years old with three young kids and a new mortgage, and after 21 years with Sears, he was on the street. Unfortunately, he had not taken advantage of Sears’ attractive profit sharing program, so he had little backup. A recent article quoted a manager at a Sears store in Georgia who lost his job when his store closed: “But after working there all of those years and then losing my job, it hurts. I’ve taken a big emotional hit from this.”

That statement could have come from dad. Photos of him from the 1930s show a jaunty, almost cocky looking guy in a derby hat. But after losing his job, pictures show a more subdued, resigned man. He managed to get work with a big insurance company and stayed with them until he retired. He knew the value of life insurance; he just didn’t enjoy selling it. When I was 19 he suggested I get a little policy, but then called in one of the young men in his office to write it up.

Our family never took it out on Sears. Over the years we bought appliances from our local store and what little hardware we needed. And their post-Christmas sales were a good way to pick up toy trains at a big discount. Sears did a major catalog business. Even the houses they built could be ordered by mail. But our only experience with it was memorable, and not in a good way.

Our first year in Florida we ordered Christmas presents for the kids through the catalog. My wife had thoughtfully chosen a bunch of stuff, and it was all supposed to arrive a few days before Christmas. For reasons still unknown, it did not. Christmas Eve found us in Smith’s Drugs, which used to be in Fort Lauderdale’s Gateway Shopping Center, trying to get something, anything, for three small kids. Smith’s was a surprisingly well-stocked store, and within an hour we had all sorts of items, from toys to stocking stuffers. The kids never knew the difference. But maybe we should have sensed it was the beginning of the end for Sears.

Over the next decades, Sears remained the obvious first choice for many things. We got tools on a regular basis and a variety of household items, but one by one things you used to find began to disappear, along with other customers. The last major purchase was a refrigerator, but that was at least 15 years ago. We still used their auto store for tires and repairs, but had no need for much else. There were no trains on sale after Christmas.

It is ironic that a company, which invented the mail order business, is among the many retailers being undercut by the modern application of the same idea. It is further ironic that a company that started selling watches still has at least one local customer that likes its inexpensive wristwatch bands. We buy one every couple of years. That probably won’t keep Sears afloat.

 

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by Bernard McCormick Thursday, June 29, 2017 No Comment(s)

We have commented previously on the effort to change three street names in Hollywood from those of prominent Confederate generals. It’s a problematic idea and reflects a general misunderstanding of the complexities of the Civil War. That bloody conflict was rooted in the birth of the country—an ongoing debate over the supremacy of a federal government over individual states.

Slavery was the economic cause of the war. Without it, there would have been no friction worthy of 600,000 deaths. But there was also a political cause, for which most men fought, and this is what those opposed to Confederate monuments don’t seem to get. The Southern states did not think Northern states should tell them what to do. And with few exceptions, soldiers went to war for their neighborhoods.

Historians regard one of the generals, Robert E. Lee, as a great American. Like almost every prominent officer and enlisted man, he fought for his state. His gracious acceptance of defeat and subsequent reunification of the states helped ease the bitterness of the loss among Southerners.

Few historians would deny that had they been alive during the Civil War, such honored men as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson would have been on the Southern side. Probably even George Washington. Proud Virginians all.

The other disputed streets are named after John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest, both prominent Southern military leaders. Hood was a very brave and aggressive soldier who gave half his body (an arm and most of a leg) to Confederate service. Unlike the others, he was not a gifted general, but he also had more than his share of bad luck.

Forrest was a brilliant commander. Historian Shelby Foote wrote that he and Abraham Lincoln were the two geniuses produced by the war. The knock on him is that he was a pre-war slave dealer, and helped start the Ku Klux Klan, as a political movement to combat the excesses of the Reconstruction Era. What is often ignored is that he also turned against the Klan just a few years later when it became too violent. He helped shut it down. Still, he is the one man whose legacy is understandably tarnished.

Anyway, the war to rename the streets goes on. The consensus seems to be that, even among those who think the whole thing is rather silly, if it gives offense to people, let the changes occur. But it is getting to be an economic battle. Residents of the three streets are complaining about all the work they will need to do to change their addresses on driver’s licenses and other documents. It is possible their mail will be misdelivered for the rest of their lives. Hollywood officials estimate the cost of the name changes at more than $22,000.

A few weeks ago, the Sun-Sentinel quoted one such resident who did not want to go to the trouble of changing personal documents:

“What bothers me is that people who don’t live on the street and don’t even live in Hollywood are getting involved. What do they care? It’s not going to impact them at all.”

Ironically, that’s similar to the attitude Southerners had toward the North during the Civil War. 

Because we do not live on the aforementioned streets, we accept this neighbor’s kind invitation to butt into this conversation with a modest proposal. Instead of spending $22,000 to rename the streets, how about spending almost nothing to rename the people they are named after? Simply put in the record, as we are doing right now, that Lee Street is named for Spike Lee. We don’t know everything about that distinguished fellow, but we are confident that he or his ancestors were not officers in the Confederate Army. 

Forrest Street could be retro-named after that universal American hero—Forrest Gump. Although Mr. Gump was from Alabama, his gentle and loving nature reflects the national desire to bring people together again, so helpful in these divided times.

He was also a bit on the simple-minded side, a secondary tribute to the folks pushing for the name changes.

As for Hood Street, there are options. It could be named after Robin Hood, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, which should be a popular sentiment in that part of Hollywood. To broaden the tribute, why not name it generically, after all the hoods in the world. That is an umbrella expression, which has changed over the years. In Philadelphia in the 1950s, it was applied to young men of culturally inadequate backgrounds and was sometimes applicable to women as well. In basic terms, it meant the opposite of preppy. There are probably a few representatives of that genre living in Hollywood right now.

Having just saved the city of Hollywood $22,000 in cash and untold amounts in aggravation, we ask nothing in return except to have a street named after a Gen. McCormick. Alas, there were no Gen. McCormicks in the Civil War. We would settle for mother’s name; there was a Union general, and a pretty good one, named Sweeney. A Cork man; we would have preferred he be from Donegal. Either way, he should provoke no ire. Now, just find that lucky street.

 

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by Bernard McCormick Saturday, June 24, 2017 No Comment(s)

 

You can see it now. Motorist I, in heavy downtown traffic, is late for a meeting with the boss. Motorist I sees the unprintable streetcar blocking his lane of traffic half a block away. He veers sharply to the left, hoping Motorist II in that lane will let him in. But Motorist II is one of those angry types who does not ever let anybody get in front him. To do so would be an affront to his manhood. He accelerates and hits Motorist I, who is now truly late to see the boss.

Motorist II is out of the car, screaming at Motorist I. Motorist I senses a foreign accent in Motorist II and calls him an unprintable racial slur. Motorist II understands enough English to be offended and makes a threatening gesture, and Motorist I, citing Florida’s “stand-your-ground law” reaches into his car for his Glock. Too late. Motorist II crouches and gets his .25 caliber Beretta out of his ankle holster and shoots Motorist I in the groin before the latter can even aim.

Staggering back in pain, Motorist I fires. He misses Motorist II but the bullet hits a pregnant woman coming out of a building across the street. Motorist II, getting over his road rage when he realizes the incident might lead to his deportation, runs to his car and tries to flee. But he can’t move in traffic because the streetcar coming the other way has everybody blocked. Panicking, he takes off on foot.

Suddenly thinking like a lawyer, he throws his gun away, aiming for a trash basket across the street. Under the stress of the situation, he forgets to bend his knees as on the foul line in his native Montenegro and hits the aerial of a car. As the weapon falls to the street, the impact causes it to fire, and the bullet goes up in the air and strikes a traffic helicopter rushing to report the scene. Unfortunately, it hits the chopper pilot, who loses control. The chopper plunges down and strikes the streetcar that started all the trouble. There is a fiery explosion. Fortunately, the trolley car is as usual almost empty, and only four people die. Unfortunately, none are attorneys.

OK, that series of events is not likely. Such things only happen in television ads. But it is not unthinkable that a streetcar blocking traffic could lead to some inappropriate decisions by motorists stuck behind it. And that would be the least of the problems associated with the proposed WAVE Streetcar in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The real problem is that the proposed streetcar is a very expensive idea designed to help the rapidly worsening Fort Lauderdale traffic situation, but it more likely will just make things worse. Public opinion has been building against the idea, and Fort Lauderdale Commissioners are increasingly conflicted. Mayor Jack Seiler has pointed out the problems. Let’s hope his colleagues listen and wave off the WAVE.

This is not a bias against streetcars. We actually like them. Growing up in Philadelphia, we lived on a cobblestoned avenue that had two streetcar lines. They rattled in our dreams. Even as the original concept of sharing lanes with other traffic has been long abandoned around the country, streetcars still survive with the right concept. Where they are useful are new systems that provide dedicated lanes in congested downtown settings, combined with newly constructed tracks reaching out to suburban locations and high-traffic destinations such as airports.

Denver is an excellent example. Its electric vehicles have exclusive lanes (shown above). They move around faster than cars in the downtown, and then connect to existing railroads, or new rights of way, to serve communities outside the city. The airport connection makes six stops on the 25-mile route. It takes 37 minutes.

Fort Lauderdale’s application would make sense if the streetcars had dedicated lanes. But they won’t. Even the planned expansion to places such as the Davie education complex would share the road with cars and trucks. And it isn’t as if Fort Lauderdale has no alternative to reducing downtown traffic. More effective, infinitely cheaper and available without delay, would be the Chattanooga, Tennessee model. For decades a downtown shuttle has used small electric buses to solve the same problem as Fort Lauderdale faces. They are free in theory, although people can, and usually do, make a 25-cent contribution at a box at the main terminal at the railway station.

They produce no exhaust in a city with a serious air pollution problem, do not hold up traffic and are fun to ride. That idea is hardly new. Atlantic City has had its famous jitneys for a century. Like Chattanooga, they run so often that riders can almost always see one coming down the street. They also pass each other if they have no riders getting off. It is a popular and efficient system.

Fort Lauderdale’s problem seems to be a reluctance to back off after much time and planning has gone into the system. And apparently developers are pushing for it because it will ease parking requirements for their new (and traffic generating) high-rises, which only these developers seem to want.

Happily, Fort Lauderdale taxpayers seem to be getting the message—slowly. One hopes those in charge will do the same. Pray they have the good sense to WAVE it off.

 

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by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, June 20, 2017 No Comment(s)

If it is still running, and it probably will be, we plan to take the Auto Train later in the summer for maybe the 30th time. We don’t know the exact count, but we started using it in the early 1970s when it was launched as a private company. Amtrak did not take over until 1983. Since the 1990s, somebody in the family has ridden it every year; some years we took several trips, up and back. And not always in the summer. We took at least one round trip up for the Christmas holidays.

We obviously like the idea, and we have written about it a number of times, wondering why the concept has remained limited to just one route from central Florida to northern Virginia, close to Washington. It seems like an idea that would work on most of Amtrak’s long-distance routes.

In fact, the original Auto-Train Corporation did attempt to run a second train, after it began to make money on the initial route. It ran from its station in Sanford, northeast of Orlando, to Louisville, Kentucky. The concept seemed sound, but its engines proved too heavy for the poorly maintained track on the old Louisville and Nashville Railroad. It had derailments, followed by lawsuits. The railroad had warned of the danger of the heavy engines. The poorly executed expansion put the original company out of business in 1981, and several years later Amtrak took over. The train has been a success. It was profitable for years, and may still be. If not, it doesn’t lose much money, at least not by Amtrak’s standards.

We revisit the subject in response to the new proposed Trump budget that would cancel many of Amtrak’s trains, including Auto Train and the two regular long-distance trains that serve Florida from the northeast. We propose, as we have before, that instead of eliminating those unprofitable, but still useful long-distance trains, Amtrak combine them with auto trains. This is not an original thought. The original private Auto-Train Corporation planned to do it years ago, combining its Midwest auto train with “The Floridian,” a regular train from Chicago to Miami. Veteran rail observers may recall seeing that train, pulled by distinctive brown and orange Illinois Central diesels, on what are now the CSX tracks along Interstate 95.

The first step would be to return to the Midwest, using the existing Sanford facility to run an auto train not just to Louisville, but closer to the big Chicago market. In addition to carrying people and their cars, it would also carry carless passengers. To keep it fast (Auto Train often runs ahead of schedule) the stops would be only at major markets. Current Amtrak trains serve many small towns, but this idea would stop at only busier destinations. En route to a terminal south of Chicago, (Lafayette, Indiana seems about right) you could stop at Jacksonville, Macon, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, Louisville and Indianapolis. At 10 minutes per stop, that might add an hour or two to the trip. But so what, people on a train are not in a big hurry.

Initially, the train need not be daily. Again, train riders are not in a hurry. As traffic grows, the schedule could increase. A super terminal not too far south of Chicago could then serve as the starting point for most of Amtrak’s current long-distance trains. Five established Amtrak routes leave the Chicago area for the south and west coast. All those routes are longer than the current Auto Train (855 miles). The California Zephyr, from Chicago to near San Francisco, covers more than 2,000 miles, much of it through the spectacular Rockies and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Its 30 plus station stops could be cut in half, but include the population centers of Omaha, Lincoln, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Reno and Sacramento, along with a few of the more scenic vacation spots along the way. The trip currently takes a little more than two days. A few extra hours would hardly affect ridership.

On those long routes there would be the opportunity to add facilities to load and unload vehicles at least once. It is surprising how fast Amtrak crews (shown above) can do that right now. It would not appreciably delay the train and greatly add to its usefulness.

Ultimately we could see the idea working on the shorter eastern routes, using the Lorton, Virginia Auto Train terminal as a starting point for cross country auto trains along existing Amtrak routes to New Orleans and Chicago.

Would these hybrid trains make money? Probably not, but they surely would lose a lot less than they do now and likely cease the clamor to destroy a valuable national asset.

 

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by Bernard McCormick Thursday, June 15, 2017 No Comment(s)

This was a time when Larry King was still king of cable. We were doing a piece on the former Floridian for the Sun-Sentinel’s Sunday magazine. He had finished his TV show at the CNN headquarters in Washington and gone across the Potomac to Arlington, where he did a late night radio show. It was often about sports. During a commercial break he asked where we had gone to school. We told him, “La Salle.”

“I can see Tom Gola now in the Garden,” King blurted. “La Salle wore sleeves on their uniforms. What a ball player!”

Larry King was right on both counts. We mention him today for historical perspective on one of the great events in the history of modern sports. The Cleveland Cavaliers wore jerseys with sleeves in their NBA championship series with Golden State. The Cavs lost the series, but history will little note nor long remember that. What scholars centuries from now will record is that it marked the first time in anyone’s memory that a prominent basketball team dressed up to the occasion. LeBron James and his teammates brought back sleeves to basketball.

We predict that in the near future sleeves will make a comeback, taking us back to the glory days of the 1950s when Larry King was a teenager watching Tom Gola in Madison Square Garden. La Salle not only played better than almost any college team for several years; they also had everybody outdressed. With the sleeves, they won the National Invitational Tournament in 1952, when that was bigger than the NCAA Tournament. They won the NCAA in 1954, and were runner-up to San Francisco the next year. That loss wasn’t their uniforms' fault. They had San Francisco outdressed, but the Dons happened to have Bill Russell and K.C. Jones in the same lineup. Two future great pros. La Salle had only one. Sports Illustrated described La Salle as “four students and a basketball player.”

Outside of Philadelphia, where he was prominent as a coach and in politics (he was city controller) after his playing career, Tom Gola’s name may have faded. But he still holds the NCAA rebounding record more than 60 years after he played. He was just a tad under 6 feet 6 inches, although he seemed taller, and was reported as high as 6 feet 8 inches by those of us who exaggerate for a living. But he was that rare player who helped his team as much on defense as offense. They didn’t keep records of steals and pilfered passes in that era, but Gola was a master at that. He had great reflexes—both hand and foot speed. He was the Philadelphia high school 440 champion. It seemed on the basketball court that he moved faster running backward than other players did in forward motion. Those gifts made him a great rebounder. He just got to the ball faster.

The success of La Salle’s uniforms led a number of other teams to adopt that classy look in ensuing seasons. It wasn’t unusual to see a prominent team wearing sleeves in the latter ’50s and early 1960s. La Salle wore them for about 15 seasons. For a time Philadelphia rival St. Joseph's took up that look and did pretty well with it. Of course they had a great coach in Jack Ramsay. Why either team gave them up can only be explained by whoever let Notre Dame football dress like the GEICO gecko for a few novelty games in recent years.

One of the teams that adopted sleeves—in fact, a few years before La Salle—and kept them for decades, was Evansville. They got a lot of publicity out of their uniforms and wore them into the 1970s when their excuse for de-sleeving was that players complained they added weight. Their coach said they also hurt recruiting with some players who did not like them. The weight angle seems a little silly, considering at the same time basketball pants went from short-short to near wedding dress lengths.

If there is a drawback to sleeves, it is illustrated by the Cavaliers' recent presentation. Their uniforms were too tight fitting. It showed the muscular studs to good advantage, but LeBron James actually said he felt restricted. He only had 41 points and 13 rebounds in the final game. Back in La Salle’s day, the uniforms were a little less confining, and players not only were not turned off by the look, but also were delighted to look so pretty when they played in Penn’s Palestra.

It should be noted that as with everything else in modern sports, there is a mercantile component to this story. It has been reported that a uniform manufacturer is behind this throwback movement. It supplied not only the Cavaliers, but also some college teams in the NCAA Tournament with sleeved jerseys. The motive is obvious. We can expect to see all sorts of college, high school and even younger-age teams adopting the look of the pros they aspire to be. And there are always the fans who commit a large part of their gross income to acquiring every piece of apparel worn by their favorite teams. The jingle of the cash register can be heard around the world, or would be if we still had cash registers. 

The sleeves, like everything else in modern sports, are controversial. Some fans think they look awful. But some fans have awful taste. Welcome back sleeves to basketball. Now if only they’d start bouncing the ball again.

 

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by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, June 13, 2017 No Comment(s)

The weight of a compliment is directly proportional to the weight of the person giving it. Thus one of the most valued comments in our 56 years in the magazine business came from the late Dr. Abraham Fischler. We bumped into him at a luncheon a few years back. It was probably for Nova Southeastern University.

“You are one of the few guys in your business I respect,” he said. We had known the man casually from almost his first years at Nova in the early 1970s, but that accolade came as a very pleasant surprise. And we were pretty sure what motivated it. It wasn’t the long 1973 piece we wrote for Gold Coast magazine, in which Dr. Fischler was already being credited with saving the young university from bankruptcy. More likely he recalled columns we wrote for the Hollywood Sun-Tattler in the late 1980s.  By then Nova had a growing law school, had pioneered the off-campus degree program, which was widely imitated, and had begun developing medical programs, and other curricula that filled a community need. A school that had been viewed as an educational joke was turning into a real university.

But Dr. Fischler was upset that some of the new programs were being duplicated just across the road from Nova’s growing campus, at the satellite campus of Florida Atlantic University. As one who had been the key player in achieving the rare feat of making a new private university succeed in the 20th century, he naturally did not welcome such intimate competition from a state- supported institution.

We quoted him as saying there was no “educational” need for such state programs, at least not in South Florida, but there was an obvious “political” motive. Local legislators wanted to show the voters that they were doing something in Tallahassee. The Sun-Tattler, which expired in 1989, was little read outside of Hollywood. But it was an excellent little paper, and it was one of the few voices calling public attention to Nova’s legitimate complaint, and we gather our stuff had some influence. At least it mattered to Abe Fischler, who remembered it more than 20 years later.

Dr. Fischler died in April at 89, and to understand the importance of his luncheon compliment, one needs an appreciation of what Dr. Fischler achieved in his 50 years in South Florida. Among the dozens of people who contributed much to our economic and cultural development over the years, it is hard to think of anyone who took a more unlikely path to building something of such lasting value to the area.

In 1967 Abraham Fischler arrived at what was then called the Nova University of Advanced Technology. It was 300 acres of almost empty fields. He had a doctorate from Columbia and professorships at Harvard and the University of California at Berkley. He was attracted to a concept of a school exploring new ways of teaching science. But the school had blown through the money generously supplied by local families. At one time it had 17 professors and only four students. It still had dedicated supporters, including Hamilton Forman, whose family donated the land in Davie, James Farquhar, William Horvitz, Mary McCahill, Louis Parker, Abe Mailman, Edwin F. Rosenthal and Theresa Castro. But the average South Florida resident barely knew it existed. Some people mixed it up with Nova High School.

The founding president was a charming man, and great fun at a party, but he did not view part of his job as raising money he was freely spending. Nova had been launched with the support of both Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood leading families—two groups that previously had not often worked together. It had launched some promising programs—cancer research and oceanography among them— but it had very few paying customers. When its first students graduated in 1970, some thought it might be the last class. Dr. Fischler was asked to take over the Titanic that same year. He knew so little about business that he called on Hollywood’s Abe Mailman, to show him how to read a balance sheet. Money was so short he had to hold faculty checks. He had to innovate in ways he had never foreseen.

While cutting costs, he also cut a deal with New York Institute of Technology, whose wealthy founder, Dr. Alexander Schure, an education innovator himself, was able to fund the school. One of Fischler’s first moves was launching the law school and an off-campus program offering doctoral degrees for educators. Many, this writer included, considered that a cheap degree. Some of the school’s earliest supporters were turned off, both by the association with NYIT, a school they had never heard of, and by the off-campus programs, which they considered little more than correspondence courses. The idea, however, has since been imitated by major schools. And it saved NSU, which by 1973 was in the black. Cy Young, one of the school’s early trustees, summed up Dr. Fischler at the time:

“He’s a remarkable man. He’s a scholar, he’s a scientist, he’s an expert in education. And it turns out he’s also a damned fine administrator. And that’s very unusual, to find those qualities combined in one man.”

He displayed those versatile qualities until he retired in 1992, by which time the relationship with the New York school had ended, and NSU had 11,000 students and multiple campuses. The once empty field was now a busy and spectacular campus. He had attracted a second generation of benefactors. Their names are on the buildings and other facilities— Huizenga, Goodwin, DeSantis, Moran, Maltz, Case, Miniaci.

Dr. Abraham Fischler also has a building named for him. But his real monument is much larger. It is called Nova Southeastern University.

Peter Thornton, NSU's founding law school dean, posed on the future site of the school in 1983. Most of the now busy campus was still empty fields.

Photography by J. Schoonmaker

 


by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, May 23, 2017 No Comment(s)

As Septembers go, that month in 1970 was pretty hectic. I had officially told my boss at Philadelphia magazine that I was leaving to get involved with a magazine in Florida. I was also helping Philadelphia magazine take over a chamber of commerce magazine in Boston.

Between trips to Florida, I spent several days in Boston to help my boss get started in what was to prove a long but ultimately successful effort to make Boston magazine the excellent publication it is today.

That same month I was also working on a major freelance piece for The New York Times Sunday magazine, an assignment I had taken on before knowing about events in Florida and Boston. I spent nights traveling the bad streets of West Philadelphia with the city’s elite highway patrol, following a weekend in which one police officer had been killed and three others wounded in what seemed like an organized assault on the cops by a group called the Black Panthers. It turned out that wasn’t the case, but that wasn't known until later. In the meantime, The New York Times wanted a piece on the war on cops. It was too good a credit to pass up.

And somehow in that memorable pinball September, there was time to go to New York to do a piece for Philadelphia on Roger Ailes. Ailes, who died last week in Palm Beach, was decades away from becoming one of the most powerful men in American media, but he already had serious visibility in Philadelphia. At a young age he had become a very successful producer of the popular “The Mike Douglas Show,” and had moved with it from Ohio to Philadelphia.

But what put him on the national map was his starring role in Joe McGinniss’ best-selling book, The Selling Of The President 1968. McGinniss had been a hot, young columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer when he quit to get an insider’s look at the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon. It was a gamble to give up an enviable newspaper job to follow the campaign, hoping for a unique book. It was a gamble that paid off richly, not only for McGinniss but also for Roger Ailes.

Ailes, at only 27, had met Nixon when he appeared on the "Douglas Show." He had brashly told Nixon, who considered television a “gimmick,” that he would never be president if he did not learn to use TV. Nixon took him seriously, hiring him as a media consultant, in the process inventing a new business. With Joe McGinniss lurking in the background, Ailes went on to produce a dramatic victory. As I wrote in 1970:

“The Selling of a President was the bombshell of the non-fiction season, heading the best-seller list for four months and earning Joe McGinniss an estimated $500,000. Revealing the callous Madison Avenue techniques behind the Nixon campaign, the book portrayed Richard Nixon as an image carefully constructed from the wreckage of the old Richard Nixon. It described how protectively his managers kept their candidate insulated from the public in a germ-proof tent, waging a television campaign with live, rigged audiences who did not expose Nixon to the turmoil and harangue that characterized the hapless campaigns of Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. If you disliked Richard Nixon to begin with, the book made you hate the man.”

But we added: “Not so Roger Ailes. If there was a hero in McGinniss’ book, it was Roger Ailes. Ailes came across as a driving, intelligent professional who ran the guts of the campaign, the television appearances, and provided moments of amusement with his irreverent and profane observations.”

Here’s one example. Keep in mind that Ailes is describing the man he was working for in the campaign, who by then had been elected president of the United States:

“Let’s face it,” Ailes is quoted in the book, “a lot of people think Nixon is dull. Think he’s a bore, a pain in the ass. They look at him as the kind of kid who always carried a bookbag. Who was 42 years old the day he was born. They figure other kids got footballs for Christmas, Nixon got a briefcase and he loved it. He’d always have his homework done and he’d never let you copy.”

Ailes was understandably surprised when he saw such quotes in the book.

“Oh, I laughed like hell the first time I read it,” he told me. “But I was also shocked. I thought, 'That dirty bastard. He really screwed me.'”

Nixon never commented to Ailes on the book. Instead, two months after its publication, he hired him again. Joe McGinniss turned out to have launched Roger Ailes’ ship of fame. The men became friendly; Ailes gave McGinniss some coaching for his TV appearances, even when they appeared jointly when McGinniss was promoting his book. Ailes realized McGinniss was also promoting himself. They remained in touch until McGinniss’ death in 2014. By then Ailes had 20 years experience as an expert political consultant, and another two decades as the celebrated and feared co-founder of Fox News.

His years of studying political figures and molding their television personas led him to make some savvy personnel choices. He hired Chris Matthews, who had little TV experience at the time, for the predecessor cable network to MSNBC. Ailes did not stay long after he could not control its programming. He had a lot more success at Fox, where he had total command. Among his hires was Bill O’Reilly.

I did not emphasize it in the 1970 story, but even then it was known that Ailes considered the media too liberal. He only worked for Republicans and it was known for years that his goal was to balance what he considered Democratic dominance of the media by establishing a Republican network. There was just a hint of that in my story.

“Ailes now goes out of his way to portray television as the most honest medium, the one in which the essential man comes through. He likes the phrase “truth television” and he insists that President Nixon’s 1968 successful television campaign was the real Nixon, expertly directed and counseled, of course."

We know now that that was an outrageous lie, and it foreshadowed his “fair and balanced” slogan for Fox News. That is only believed by those for whom Fox is the one true church.

In last week’s obituary, The Palm Beach Post summed up Fox News’ reputation among the rest of the lying media: “From its debut on Oct. 7, 1996, the network, under his (Ailes) tutelage, did its share of straightforward reporting but also unmistakably filtered major news stories through a conservative lens. Evening programming, which embodied the Fox News brand, was dominated by right-wing commentators like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, who hurled opinions and vented resentments with a pugnacity that reflected their boss’s own combativeness.”

That combativeness was not so obvious in 1970. Ailes at 30 looked nothing like the shambling corpulent tyrant of later years who has been described as crudely dominating, and who lost his powerful position when accused of sexual harassment. A pipe smoker in his early years, he came off more as a reflective professorial type, except for his self-description:

“I’d say that more people dislike me than like me,” he says with a trace of pride. “A lot of people think I’m a little bastard. I’m aggressive, I’m hard driving, I’m impatient. I’ve found that I work best with these qualities.”

It is the irony of ironies that in the week Roger Ailes died, Fox News had one of its worst weeks ever. It has always been a clear winner in the evening ratings, but for the first time in more than a decade both MSNBC and CNN led Fox in the prime time. The reason is that Fox was at its biased worst. When stories were breaking daily about President Trump firing an FBI director who was investigating his possible ties with Russia, Fox chose not only to downplay that major event, but actually to have its commentators and guests bemoaning the leaks in Washington and accusing its competing networks and prominent newspapers of a conspiracy to destroy President Trump with biased reporting.

Apparently, a number of its viewers abandoned Fox’s fair and balanced presentation to switch channels to the rival lying media, simply to find out what was going on in the real world. Roger Ailes must be turning over in his freshly dug grave.