Sunday, December 7, 2014

"A Day That Will Live in Infamy!"

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” December 7, 2014: 73 Years to the Date
Sunny, Patchy Clouds 73°F/23°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
Sunday Morning! Sunny. Just like it was on that other Sunday December 7th, the day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called, “A Day That Will Live in Infamy.”
                In their all-out attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the key targets for the Japanese were the battleships. They sank Arizona, California, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Utah. 
USS Arizona December 7, 1941
Today, the USS Arizona still rests on the bottom, a war grave with more than a thousand valiant souls still aboard. In the midst of all of this flame and carnage, one scrappy destroyer escaped to fight another day, and took her fair measure of vengeance on the attackers. She was the destroyer USS Jarvis (DD 393) and on board was a young Quartermaster named Harry Schultz who would one day follow the lead of his ship’s namesake and disobey a direct order during the heat of battle to become one of the true heroes of World War II.
                Lest his name be completely lost to history, let me introduce you to Midshipman James C. Jarvis. Three U.S. Destroyers have carried his memory into battle: Jarvis I DD 38 which saw combat in World War I, Jarvis II DD 393 which escaped the Pearl Harbor attack, and Jarvis III, DD 799, which saw service from the end of World War 2 through the Vietnam War before it was decommissioned and given to the Spanish Navy. Midshipman Jarvis was born in 1787 and appointed as a Midshipman from the State of New York in 1799. As was the custom of the day, Midshipman Jarvis went to sea aboard the famed frigate Constellation. During its battle with the French frigate La Vengeance Deux in February 1800 young Jarvis was sent aloft to secure the ship’s mainmast. At one point he was ordered down for fear the mast might topple. He yelled down, “My post is here. I can’t leave it.” The mast crashed down and Jarvis went over the side with the rigging and was drowned. He was 13 years old.

USS Jarvis in 1937
               On the Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, the second destroyer Jarvis was moored next to another destroyer, the USS Mugford DD 389 and their tender, USS Sacramento, 1914 vintage gun boat. The “after action” reports of all three ships show the Japanese attack beginning at 0758 on that Sunday morning. General Quarters was immediately sounded and all three destroyers opened fire on the attacking aircraft with anti-aircraft machine guns and their five inch guns. The ship’s log notes that the machine guns commenced firing at 0804 hrs., with the five inch gun firing the first shot of any five inch gun in the harbor 60 seconds later. The USS Jarvis was credited with shooting down four enemy aircraft during its escape from Ford Island to the open sea. It is believed that Jarvis was the first to draw enemy blood on that bloody Sunday. Among the seamen receiving special commendation for their action during the attack was Quartermaster First Class Harry Niel Schultz, who had been with the Jarvis since it was commissioned in 1937. 
Harry Schultz
Schultz was later given a commission and eventually commanded the LST that my dad sailed on in WW2. But, on December 7th, Schultz, a career peacetime Navy enlisted man, was aboard the Jarvis. The Jarvis fought its way to the open sea and safety. Its gunners shot down four enemy warplanes and evaded the attackers’ efforts to sink it and block the harbor entrance.
 Schultz and the Jarvis survived Pearl Harbor, and about two weeks later Jarvis left Pearl Harbor with the carrier Saratoga to join the Task Force assigned to relieve the Japanese attack on Wake Island, but, in a controversy that resounds to this day, that mission was scuttled and the Japanese took the island on December 23rd. In January 1942, while on an anti-submarine patrol the Jarvis rescued 182 survivors of a Japanese torpedo attack on the fleet oiler Neces. By July, 1942, Schultz and the Jarvis were on their way to the Solomon Islands to take part in the invasion of Guadalcanal on August 7th. The transport ships that Jarvis was escorting came under a heavy attack and the destroyer was torpedoed in spite of the fact that only 9 of the 26 attacking Japanese planes were able to penetrate the American defenses. After the battle the ship moved to Tulagi where seven wounded crewmen were transferred to a hospital on shore. Quartermaster Harry Schultz went ashore with them to make sure they were cared for. That assignment saved his life.
The Jarvis’ skipper, Lt. Comdr. William Graham, Jr. ordered the ship to steam for Sydney Australia for repairs. Shortly after, she steamed across “Iron Bottom Sound” and ran into the approaching fleet of Japanese Admiral Mikawa’s heavy cruisers, which had mistaken the destroyer for an American heavy cruiser. As she continued to steam westward, the Japanese again attacked her with a force of 31 planes, raking her with machine gun fire and torpedoes.
Jarvis Casualties Lans & Billy Wilson
USS Jarvis went to the bottom of Iron Bottom Sound at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on August 9th with all hands. Brothers Billy and Lans Wilson were among the 233 crew members who died that day. Quartermaster Harry Schultz went on to a new assignment.
Rising from the ranks, Schultz earned his commission in 1944, and took command of US LST 920, a landing ship that saw action from the beaches of Normandy to the invasion of Okinawa back in the Pacific.  He was one of only three members of the 920’s crew of 110 or so who had ever been to sea. Schultz’ executive officer was my father, Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. But unlike my dad, Harry Schultz didn’t talk about his wartime experiences.
Schultz' Command - LST 920
On August 14, 1944, the LST 920 and its sister ship the LST 921 were sailing in a convoy across Bristol Channel, about 70 miles from Lands’ End, England. At 4 p.m. the LST 921 was struck by a torpedo and broke in two, the aft portion sinking.   Half the crew was lost. A second torpedo launched by the attacking U667 was aimed at the 920. My dad recalls seeing the torpedo’s wake, but a British escort vessel came between the attacker and his ship

Killer Sub - U 667
and was blown out of the water. Standing orders were for all ships to remain with the convoy if attacked. Captain Schultz ordered Radioman Fred Benck to send a message to the convoy commander.  "WHO IS PICKING UP SURVIVORS?” The reply was an order, “DO NOT BREAK CONVOY!" This message was delivered to the captain. In about two minutes, he came into the Radio Room and ordered Benck to send the message again. This time he waited for the answer which was "DO NOT BREAK CONVOY!" As Benck told me years later, “H N SCHULTZ then used these words, ‘TO HELL WITH HIM’ and we pulled out of convoy to turn back and pick up Survivors! A message came from the Commander of the convoy to get back in the convoy. The message was never answered!”

Like the Wilson brothers on the Jarvis at Guadalcanal, two brothers were serving on the two LSTs in the convoy. One of the Forty-seven crewmembers of the LST 921 pulled on board the 920 was Seaman Gerald F. Hendrixson, the twin brother of LST 920 crew member Harold Hendrixson. Thanks to Harry Schultz, the Hendrixson brothers both made it through their ordeal.  A few days later Captain Schultz was called before a court martial but later cleared of any charges. Many years later I learned from Schultz’ family and friends that he had never gotten over the loss of his shipmates at Guadalcanal, and he was not going to let any more good sailors die if he could help them even if it meant disobeying orders. Shultz’ left his command of the LST 920 in 1946, stayed in the Navy after the war, and eventually retired as a Commander. Two of the officers from the 920 that I talked with in researching this story told me that Schultz always “kept a certain distance” from his officers and crewmembers. Knowing about his earlier career as I did, I realized that he had already lost one shipboard “family” in the war, and he probably didn’t want to form any close personal ties with his new one. And, my dad, who was on the bridge at the time of the U-boat attack, never knew why his “Skipper” disobeyed orders that August afternoon. He said he was “stunned” when Captain Schultz broke that convoy rule and gave the order to come about.

Post WW2: Schultz & son Michael
               A few months later, Captain Harry Schultz and LST 920  sailed through the Panama Canal and on into the Pacific Ocean. Next stop? Pearl Harbor - on route to the invasion of Okinawa and the end of World War 2. After the war, Schultz stayed in the Navy, eventually raising a family. His son, Tim, told me that his father never said much about his wartime experiences. He had only a few wartime snapshots and several of his father's letters and Navy documents, so his knowledge of his father's Navy career was quite limited. That's a situation now faced by so many heirs of "The Greatest Generation."

Ciao, MikeBo

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

After the Battle, a Postscript!

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Wednesday December 3, 2014
Rainy 61°F/16°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
                As we count down to the 73rd anniversary of that “Day of Infamy,” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it, I’m still digging into another story about World War 2, the U boat attack on my father’s ship in the Bristol Channel off the coast of Britain, later in the war than December 7th 1941. His high seas adventure took place on a sunny summer afternoon in August 1944.

Lt. Charles Botula
               My father, Lieutenant (jg) Charles Botula, Jr, never had a chance to meet Admiral Karl Dönitz, and to my knowledge, he had never heard of Karl-Heinze Lange either. However, he certainly had a chance to witness their handiwork. The World War II “Battle of the Atlantic” got very up close and personal for my dad and the crew of his ship, the LST 920.
LST 920 at Normandy 1944
 On that long ago afternoon, it was a few minutes before 5 p.m. and the crew was getting ready for chow, when the convoy they were sailing in - EBC-72 - came under attack by the German U Boat 667, commanded by Karl-Heinze Lange. A torpedo had struck the 920’s sister ship, LST 921, breaking it in two. Then, as my father watched from the bridge, a torpedo trail headed relentlessly toward his ship, the 920. It would have struck dead amidships had it not been for the British Corvette that was escorting the convoy from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England. The Brit, LCI(L)99 took the full brunt of the torpedo’s wrath, blowing it out of the water just a short distance from its intended target, the 920.

Ill-fated LCI(L)99
               The attack was followed by a courageous move by the 920’s skipper, Lt. Harry N. Schultz, who, in a violation of the hard and fast order to stay with the convoy, ordered his ship to come about to pick up any survivors from the LST 921 and the LCI(L)99.
LST 920 Skipper Schultz
In Schultz’s mind, an ancient law of the sea trumped any contemporary rule for navigating a war zone. While the enemy sub stayed in the area, looking for an opportunity to resume the attack, the rescue effort continued into the night. As survivors were pulled from the chilly waters of the Bristol Channel, the sub stayed just out of the range of the new three inch gun Captain Lange thought the LST 920 was carrying. Lange was wrong. The 920 was equipped only with 40 millimeter weapons. Another bit of luck for the rescuers. The next day, it left the area and sailed to its home base in France to report a successful mission to Admiral Dönitz. U 667 never reached its home port. Neither my father, nor any member of his crew knew who had attacked them or what fate had in store for the enemy.
Admiral Karl Donitz
A clearer picture of what happened on August 14, 1944, comes into focus if you know a little bit more about Admiral Dönitz and his philosophy of waging war. Simply stated, it was to destroy completely the enemy’s ability to wage war, a practice by great commanders past, present and future from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Genghis Khan to Napoleon Bonaparte, to American Civil War Generals U.S. Grant and, especially William Tecumseh Sherman. Karl Dönitz learned the craft of submarine warfare during World War I, when Germany terrorized the Allied shipping lanes and initiated its own downfall with the torpedoing of the Lusitania, bringing the US into the war.
                Being an island nation had kept invaders out of Britain from the time of William the Conqueror in 1066 right up until the eve of World War 2. As Germany shook off the shackles of The Versailles Treaty, Adolf Hitler and his generals began to plan for an invasion of Britain. From the rubble of the First World War Germany had built a massive military machine with its Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine. Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz’ purview would be the Navy and its fleet of unterseebooten, the dreaded U boats. When WW2 began in 1939, so did the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest naval struggle in history from outbreak to Germany’s surrender in 1945.  The Allies lost 3,500 merchant ships and warships. The Germans lost 783 of its 1153 U-boats. By the time that LSTs 921, 920, AND LCI(L)99 met up on August 14, 1944 with U 667, the war was in its final year and the Germans had already lost the Battle of the Atlantic.
                When I first heard the story about this U boat attack, it was little more than a wartime anecdote that my dad told over the Sunday dinner table as I grew up. Dad was proud of his wartime Navy service and he loved to regale his two young sons with his “war stories.” My brother and I grew up listening to them. The whole story played out over just a few days’ time in late 1944, but it took years for me to find out all the facts. Apart from the names of his own shipmates dad was in no position to learn any of the details relating to the other ships involved or their crews. It was not until after I retired that I started treating this story as I had done so many other stories that I covered during my long career as a journalist. And as I carried out my research and each new fact came to light, I was on to one hell of a war story.

Dad, Mom and me June 1944
I have distant memories of a June day in 1944, when my mother took me to Boston by train from New York. My father had already been away from home for almost a year by then. I was about four and we were in Massachusetts to attend the commissioning of my dad’s brand new ship. By the time the new crew took its new ship out on its shakedown cruise, the LST 920 was sporting a brand new camouflage paint job and was getting ready to head to the Pacific. But orders changed at the last minute and it headed to Philadelphia to pick up a “secret cargo.” The 920’s sister ship, LST 921 received the same orders and the two new ships headed to Philadelphia toward the end of July to pick up their mysterious cargo. Both received new paint jobs, literally overnight, along with new orders – to join a one-thousand-ship-convoy off Nova Scotia and head across the North Atlantic. At about the same time, July 22, 1944, U 667 set sail from its base at St. Nazaire, France with its new commander, Kapitan Leutnant Karl-Heinze Lange in search of allied shipping. Along with its new skipper, U 667 had been outfitted with the new
                By August 9, 1944, Convoy HXM 301 with the LST’s 920 and 921 had successfully crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Liverpool, England. As the long journey ended for them, their nemesis, the U 667 was already drawing blood. The day before, on August 8th, U 667’s new skipper had scored his first kills; a US Liberty ship, the SS Ezra Weston and a Canadian escort vessel, HMCS Regina.
HMCS Regina
The Ezra Weston took the first torpedo, and, as the Regina came to the stricken ship’s aid, it too was torpedoed. One officer and 27 men aboard the Regina were killed; the ship’s commander and 65 crewmen were saved, although two of the survivors died before they could reach a hospital. All 71 crewmen aboard the Ezra Weston survived the attack. Now, on the afternoon of August 14, 1944 the two LSTs were en route from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England toward their ultimate destination – Omaha Beach in Normandy. U 667 spotted their convoy in the Bristol Channel.

The Attacker U 667
U 667 was one of 1153 German submarines commissioned in World War II. It was a Class 7C submarine which first saw action in 1942. Its first Captain, Heinrich Schroteler, was in command for four missions. While U 667 is credited with shooting down an RAF bomber, it did not score any “kills” against Allied shipping. on his next command, the U 1023, Schroteler did sink a British minesweeper and a Norwegian tanker in the waning days of the war in 1945. His successor on U 667, Captain Lange, had better luck, scoring four kills within two weeks in August 1944. The Weston and Regina on August 8, and LST 921 and LCI(L)99 on August 14th.  Later, as Lange and U 667 steamed away from the site of their latest victory, neither the Captain or his crew could know that their luck was about to change.
U 667's Captain Lange
                In all of the research I did for this story, the archives of the Navies, US and German, revealed only that U 667 struck a mine on or about August 25th on the way back to a hero’s welcome at its home base at La Rochelle, France. I found the answer on a specialty internet site, which is devoted to the archives of the Kriegsmarine and especially it’s Unterseebooten.
                According to the archives, the RAF had carried out a series of aerial mine-laying missions off the coast of France right about the time that U 667 was carrying out its last deadly mission. Mine-laying had been carried out by both sides in the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel. The Germans to keep the Allies away, and the Allies to keep the Germans bottled up in their home ports or to snag them on the way home. In a report on the August 1944 mine laying sweep, the map coordinates of the area sown match the location where the wreckage of the U 667 was finally located and examined by diving crews. The loss of the U 667 was recorded by the Kriegsmarine when it missed a scheduled radio check-in on August 25th. By then, Admiral Dönitz and his high command had begun to assume that if a scheduled check-in was missed by one of his U-boats, it meant that the sub had been lost. In fact, U 667 did become a war grave less than two weeks after it’s most recent victory. Ironically, none of the survivors of its last wartime attack ever knew what happened to the submarine that had so impacted their lives.
Ciao, MikeBo

Monday, November 10, 2014

It's Veterans Day. Thank You For Your Service!

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Low Clouds 69° F/ 21°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
                Every November 11th, amidst all of the “Veterans Day” claptrap of holiday mattress sales, and the rest of the marketing blitzes, I put on my history major’s cap and think back to 11 o’clock in the morning on that long ago day in 1918, when the guns along the Western front finally fell silent after four long, bloody years. World War I had come to an end and the warriors became veterans. I also remember a cold, clear December day in 1945 when my father came home from his Navy service at the end of World War II, and joined the ranks of veterans of another “Great War”.  One story he brought back with him was his account of a U Boat attack on his convoy, EBC 72, in the Bristol Channel between Milford Haven, Wales and Falmouth, England at 1654 hours on August 14, 1944.
LST 920 At Sea 1944
The bare bones of the story was that his own ship, the LST 920, came through the attack unscathed, but a British escort vessel, LCI(L)99 was blown out of the water and sank with most of its crew. The 920’s sister ship, LST 921 was hit by a torpedo and broke in two, the aft portion sinking with about half of its crew.
The LSTs 920 and 921 had been built at the Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard in Massachusetts and commissioned only a short time before the U Boat attack in August; the LST 920 on June 17, 1944 and the 921 on June 23rd. In Navy parlance, they were sister ships. Their crews had trained together. Many of their crew members had grown up in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the vast majority of them had never served in the US Navy before the war.
Capt. Harry N. Schultz
Captain of the LST 920 was Harry N. Schultz, a petty officer in the peacetime navy.
Lt.(jg) Charles Botula, Jr.
My father, Charles Botula, Jr. was the Executive Officer. The captain of LST 921 was Ensign John Werner Enge, an Alaska fisherman. They had just crossed the Atlantic in a huge, one-thousand-ship convoy and were on route to take part in the support of the D-Day invasion of France. Ironically, the British escort vessel that also figures in this story, the LCI(L)99, had also been built at the Bethlehem-Hingham shipyard in 1942 especially for the British Royal Navy.
Ensign Don Joost, the 921’s Engineering Officer, had just left the engine room and gone to his quarters to rest for a while before chow. “I had just stretched out in my bunk,” Joost told me in 2003 when I visited with him in Walnut Creek, California. “The concussion lifted me right straight up and I hit the overhead. If I had still been in the engine room I would have died right then.” Joost told me that the torpedo was one of the new acoustic torpedoes the Germans had started using because it homed in on the target’s engine noise. The 921’s electrician, Lloyd Meeker and motor mechanic John Abrams were still in the engine room. “All of a sudden we were in the air,” Meeker said years later. “There was a flash from the switch board and the lights went out and the engines stopped running. The ‘Motor Mac’ (Motor Mechanic, referring to shipmate John Abrams) went in the air up over the engine and landed on the deck. I was in the air and landed on the deck and then was in the air again. We didn't know what happened, but knew we had to get out. The ‘Motor Mac’ headed for the port escape hatch and I headed for the starboard escape hatch. As I stepped in the hatchway a gush of diesel fuel and salt water washed me back in the engine room. The room was filling fast. The amazing thing was that the engine room became as bright as day. It was real bright with no shadows or blinding effects. I think the good Lord was looking out for me. I had to swim across the engine room and dive down to the escape hatch to get out. The ‘Motor Mac’ was already at the top of the ladder trying to get the hatch open. It was stuck and I was able to help get it open.” When I talked to Abrams in 2003, he was grateful that he and Meeker were able to escape. A lot of their shipmates weren’t so fortunate.
 Moments later, my father watched from the bridge of his ship as a torpedo wake streamed toward the LST 920. It would have been a direct hit, but the British escort ship LCI(L)99  had steamed between the oncoming torpedo and the LST 920. Seaman Joseph Wallace was also watching. “As I stepped thru the hatch, I heard the explosion… seconds later General Quarters sounded…I heard ‘hard right rudder,’ and I believe ‘starboard back full.’ The plan was to make a very sharp turn. As I completed the order, I tried to look out and see what was happening.” Seconds later, the torpedo that my father had seen from the bridge found its mark. Wallace continues.
Torpedoed: LCI(L)99
“At that point the LCI 99 came across our bow and was hit. I saw her rise from the water and break up. The LCI 99 was so close I thought we might ram her. If we were playing baseball, I could have thrown a ball on the fly to her. She must have been about 300 feet from us.”
The LST 920’s captain, Harry Schultz had defied standing Navy orders that all ships in a convoy stay in formation under all circumstances. If a ship became disabled, it was left behind to the tender mercies of the German wolf packs.  Those same orders stipulated that in the event of an attack on the convoy, none of the ships could break formation to render assistance.  Radioman Fred Benck was on duty when Captain Schultz and Ensign Donald Reed came into the radio shack. Benck recalled, “I was ordered to send this message to the Commander of the convoy: "WHO IS PICKING UP SURVIVORS?” The message that was returned was "DO NOT BREAK CONVOY" This message was delivered to the captain, Benck continued. “In about two minutes he came in the Radio Room and said ‘Benck send that message again.’ “This time he waited for the answer which was the same.  "DO NOT BREAK CONVOY!" “H. N. SCHULTZ then used these words “TO HELL WITH HIM” and we pulled out of convoy to turn back and pick up survivors! A message came from the Commander of the convoy to get back in the convoy, this message was never answered!”
                Had Schultz not disobeyed the order, all 107 crew members of the LST 921 would have been lost. He was later court-martialed for his action, but found not guilty. In his after-action report, Captain Schultz praised his crew, “Boat Officers crew did an outstanding job. Ensign Harold Willcox dove into the water several times in picking up survivors, many of which were litter cases. He also dove to clear the boat propeller which had become jammed up with the sunken ships' debris. Ensign J.J. Waters also dove in to pick up survivors. These officers were ably assisted by their boat crews in swimming out, picking up survivors, going aboard the remainder of the hulk of LST 921 knowing it may be very hazardous with submarines in the vicinity. Both officers did a fine job in directing the rescue of survivors.” Captain Schultz noted in his report that 48 survivors had been picked up by his sailors. One of them was the brother of one of the LST 920’s sailors. Many years later, in 2003, long after my father’s death, I began my own research into that transforming event in his life. I think it most appropriate to share it on this Veterans’ Day.
Neither my father nor Captain Schultz knew about the German submarine that attacked them or what happened to it after that. That would only come to light many years later by research into official reports and the archives of the US and the German Navy, the Kriegsmarine. A German submarine had been seen on August 14th and engaged by the RAF. It had even been reported as sunk. But, it was not the U 667, which had made its getaway and set a course for its home base at La Rochelle, France.
U 667 Crew
The U 667 had been commissioned in 1942 and went to sea under Oberleutnant Heinrich Schroteler, taking part in five Kriegsmarine “Wolf Pack” operations from 1943 to 1944 in the North Atlantic. In March of 1944, it was refitted with the Schnorchel (snorkel) undersea breathing apparatus and went back to sea under Kapitӓnleutnant Karl-Heinz Lange. Only a week before the attack on LST 920, U 667 had torpedoed the Liberty Ship SS Ezra Weston and sank a British escort Corvette, the HMS Regina on August 8, 1944. U 667 was a proven killer whose next target was the hapless Landing Ship 921.  Earlier, under Schroteler, U 667 had engaged in several battles with pursuing warships and aircraft, and survived several Allied depth charge attacks. But, it’s only “kill” prior to August 8th was an RAF Lancaster bomber which was lost as a result of the skirmish. U 667 did not register any “kills” against Allied cargo or warships until Karl-Heinz Lange took command in July 1944.
U667 Skipper Lange
Following the afternoon attack on August 14th on LST 921 and the destruction of LCI(L)99, U 667 stalked the LST 920 throughout the night and part of the next day but did not renew its attack. Finally, Captain Lange ordered his ship to head back to its home base at La Rochelle, France to celebrate the successful mission. The U 667 never arrived at its destination. Instead, on August 25, 1944 as it threaded its way through the minefield Cinnamon, it struck a mine and sank to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, a short distance from its destination. Captain Lange and his entire crew of 45 submariners is entombed in the hulk of their ship, which is now a war grave. Captain Schultz’ defiance of orders paid off-his ship rescued 48 of the survivors, while several others were picked up by British vessels, but 43 of their shipmates were killed. Schultz continued in the US Navy after the war and retired as a Commander.
Ens. Don Joost, Capt. John Enge - LST 921
Captain Enge went on to serve aboard the LST 78 in the Pacific. His new ship and the LST 920 took part in the invasion of Okinawa, the last invasion of the War in the Pacific. Enge died in 2010 at the age of 95. My father mustered out of the Navy in December 1945 and moved his family back to New York. He never went to sea again. And, today, on Veterans’ Day, I am grateful that they served.
Ciao, Mike Botula

Saturday, November 1, 2014

El Día de los Muertos-Day of the Dead

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Saturday November 1, 2014
Cloudy with Showers 63°F/17°C in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA  
Today is the first day of November, 2014…the day after Halloween….All Saints Day. It is also El Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead. It’s a national holiday throughout Mexico, and it’s widely observed in California as well, particularly among our Hispanic population. It’s a time to honor and pray for family members who have died. The celebration takes place on the first day of November, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Traditions include putting up private altars honoring the deceased and decorating them with sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. Families of the departed also visit their relatives’ graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.

September 27, 2013 - Roanoke Avenue Cemetery, Riverhead, New York
I had been gone from this place most of my adult life. I had come here one day in April of 1961 and another day in November of 1965 to bury my parents. Following their funerals, my brother Packy and I set to the task of closing up the home where we had grown up and get it ready to be sold. Then we both moved on with our lives.
My parents: Charles and Mary Botula
Now, on this sunny day in September “Skip” and Charlie Botula are still resting in their quiet place marked by two granite headstones, their repose shaded by an old oak tree. It’s not quite November 1st, but this is now my own personal
Día de los Muertos. After visiting my parents graves, I walk along the path through the cemetery.  My stroll takes me on a tour of my childhood. Across the way from mom and dad is “Papa Nick,” the smiling Greek man whose family still runs the confectionary where we used to gather after school. Down the way is my third grade teacher. Around the bend is my old scoutmaster. Across the way, in a plot marked by a tall granite monument lie my parents’ best friends. Glancing down at the headstones as I walk along, I see so many family friends.
Maybe it’s because of my own love of history, but I love to visit old cemeteries. There are so many stories there. The catacombs and church crypts of Rome, colonial era cemeteries along the eastern part of the United States, Gold Rush and Frontier cemeteries in California, Nevada and Arizona. Our own Arlington National Cemetery. There is the small family gravesite behind an old Victorian mansion in Mariposa, California. The family that now owns the house inherited the small family cemetery when they acquired the property and now care for the burial ground with the same loving care as if it sheltered members of their own family.
After all my adventures in life, I now understand that this is where I must return some day, even as a symbolic gram or two of ash. Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem comes to my mind.
''This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.''

October 31, 1992 Halloween
Now, let’s go back to a sunny Saturday afternoon on Halloween weekend 21 years before. My wife and I are on a guided walk through the old, historic cemetery in Santa Ana, California. Our walk takes us past the graves of many notable local historical figures. There are mayors, prominent members of the clergy; a famous Sheriff is buried here, too. The headstones read like a “Who’s Who” of our county. As we walk along, we notice something else. Here and there, people have gathered for what appears to be a picnic. They’ve spread blankets at the gravesites and set down their picnic baskets. Most of them have placed bouquets of flowers at the headstones with lighted candles. I see them praying, saying grace and then lifting glasses in their toasts. Curious, I approach a family gathered around one of the graves. “Good afternoon,” I greet them. “Nice day for a picnic, isn’t it?” They smile and nod. My curiosity knows no bounds at this point. “But, why a picnic in a cemetery?” I ask.
“This is El Dia de los Muertos,” the woman said in a soft voice. “The Day of the Dead.”  Today, we come to the cemetery to honor members of our families who have died and to pray for them.” She continued. “We want to let them know that even though they have left this life, they are still part of our family.” I didn’t know what to say next. I had never heard of such a custom. The woman went on to explain to me that it is a holiday in Mexico and more important to Mexican culture than Halloween itself. I was quite moved.
In our society, visits to loved one’s graves can be infrequent and generally very brief. Flowers can be placed at the headstone and a prayer said. But, long spans of time can pass before a return visit is made, if ever. Gone forever and easily forgotten. At that moment, I realized that I had not visited my parents resting place in more than 30 years. Our cemetery walk this day took place on Halloween. The next day would be the first day of November, All Saints Day and El Dia de los Muertos. I could feel the connection here. I could almost hear the grandmother talking to her family as they picnicked six feet above her. I could feel the love and respect these family members were showing their loved ones. Later, as we continued along our walk, I thought of my own parents who were buried far away from where I lived now and made a promise to myself to honor them one day in the tradition of El Dia de los Muertos.
Eleven years later I kept that promise during a reunion of my high school graduating class. I had taken my new fiancée and my son back to my home town to join me in reconnecting with old friends and classmates that I hadn’t seen in 45 years. For my son, the trip gave him a chance to connect with a family that he had only heard about, or seen snapshots of, or read about. My wife-to-be said it gave her a chance to know me a little better. It took about forty five minutes to find the gravesite and then, we placed a bouquet of roses between the headstones. I put my arm around my son’s shoulder as my lady hung back a few paces and together we bowed our heads. “Mom. Dad.” I said, “I’d like you to meet your grandson. I’d also like to introduce your new daughter.” We stood in silence for a few moments and then I said, “I’ll be back.”
In that moment, I truly understood what the Mexican woman had told me in the Santa Ana Cemetery years earlier. Five years later when I returned for our next reunion, I went to the cemetery with a blanket, a bottle of wine, three glasses and two rose  bouquets. I brought some family pictures and spent an hour trying to tell them everything important in my life since they had left me. I poured each of us a glass of California Zinfandel, set a glass at each of their headstones next to the rose bouquets and splashed a bit of my wine on each of their graves, toasting them as I did. This has now become part of my own family’s tradition, although my trips back to my home town usually don’t coincide with El Dia de los Muertos on the first of November. But, it has more meaning for me than the Halloween celebration.

Ciao, MikeBo

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"I've Been Hacked-UPDATE"

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Thursday October 30, 2014
Partly Sunny 80F/ 27C in Rancho Santa Margarita
                Back on Monday a call from my credit union woke me up with the news that someone had been making charges on my credit card. In Italy!   One of them was for $951 dollars. The credit union rep quickly reassured me that I would not be charged for the thief’s shopping spree. The credit union was on top of the situation. The card had been cancelled and a new card had been mailed to even before my phone rang. The caller could offer no explanation for how my credit card number came into the evildoer’s possession, except for a guess that I must have lost the card in Italy. Hmmm! Fat chance!
I explained that particular credit card had been used only once by me - to consolidate the balances on two other credit cards so I could close them out and off their balances at a lower interest rate. The credit card itself had never been out of my desk at home. I had spent two months in Italy last winter, but that card had stayed in California. So, I concluded that the credit union’s data base had been breached. And, while the credit union guy couldn’t confirm that, I cited the information that the credit union had made the discovery on its own, otherwise the card would not have been cancelled and replaced before I was even notified.
                Now, I’m not complaining here. The credit union came through in championship fashion. However, this incident prompted me to get a head start on my next “Rome Diary” series and share some of what I have learned in my own travels. Since this story was prompted by a case of attempted ID theft, let’s start there with some of my thoughts on safer traveling  with today’s edition of….
“MikeBo’s Travel Tips:”
·         If you plan a trip out of town, especially to a foreign country, call your bank and let them know where you’re going and for how long. While you are on the phone, order one of those European-style credit cards with the imbedded computer chip to replace your magnetic stripe card. As we used to say on the electric radio at the end of all those live commercials, “You’ll be glad you did.” This is a good place to get in a plug for on-line banking. Remember, you’re going to be a long distance from your hometown bank branch.
·         Order some currency from your destination country. Call your bank and order the cash over the phone or on line. You can pick it up at the nearest branch or delivered to your home or office. That way you have some local currency in your wallet when you arrive. You can order traveler’s checks before your trip, but plan on using your ATM or credit cards just like you do at home. The European standard calls for cards with those chips, but, many places still take the mag stripe cards.
·         If you are going to Europe, the primary currency is the Euro, which is worth about $1.35 US. Just figure that when the clerk rings up €100 Euro on the cash register, it translates to about $140 US bucks. By using your ATM card you are drawing the Euros you need through your own bank at a better rate. Again, it’s a good idea to call your bank and let them know you’ll be traveling so they don’t think your identity has been stolen by Al Qaida.
·         Make sure you have your passport and that it will still be valid one year after your planned return to the states. I decided to stay in Italy an extra month on a whim. If my passport had expired, I would have been like the Tom Hanks character in “The Terminal,” where he played the Eastern European immigrant without a country stranded at JFK Airport.
·         Speaking about your passport. Be prepared to show it during the frequent passport checks you’ll encounter as you travel. At the Frankfurt Flughafen, I had to show mine about five times during a one hour stop to change planes. Also make a copy of copies and put one in each bag you bring. It wouldn’t hurt to put a scan copy on the laptop or tablet you bring with you. That way if you lose it, or, your passport is stolen, you can at least have some ID.
·         If you are a licensed driver, stop by the Auto Club (AAA) and get an International Driver’s License. If you have an occasion to rent a car in Europe or borrow one from a friend, this will come in handy, and will provide an extra piece of validated ID for you.
·         I caught a heap of flak from some of my American friends for this, but my suggestion still stands- make your flight reservations on an airline other than a U.S. air carrier. In my humble opinion, U.S. airlines have become penny pinching bus companies flying oversized sardine cans stuffed with fat people and screaming kids. My first choice among foreign carriers that I’ve personally flown is Lufthansa, a preference that dates back to my first trip to Germany in 1975. Swissair is another jewel of the international air carriers. They make international flying in this day and age just like it used to be, a real travel experience. If you like riding on a crowded New York subway, go ahead – fly Air Gringo. MikeBo Jr., who’s the real frequent flyer in my family, likes British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. For my next trip to Rome, I’m looking to avoid the dreaded LAX by taking a Jet Blue “Red Eye” from Long Beach to JFK in New York, laying over for a day and then catching an Alitalia flight non-stop from NY to Rome. The Pope flies Alitalia. I rest my case.
Some other handy household hints:
·         Call your cell phone provider and sign up for “International Roaming.” That way your friends and family can still call or text you and not even realize you are out of the country. Muy Importante! Sign up, too, for a discount calling rate FROM Europe. It will save you a ton of money.
·         One – learn some Italian, or French, or German or whatever language is spoken at your destination. Pick up some maps of where you’ll be going along with a pocket phrase book. A pocket dictionary is handy, too. If you have the time, take a language class for travelers.  I took one through the Italian Cultural Society in Sacramento. Plus, there are a lot of free language tutors on the internet. Just consult Dr. Google.
·         Plan on taking some guided tours on your trip. In Rome, I recommend the Dark Rome tours or City Wonders in Rome and other cities in Europe. First of all, my son the tour guide could use the money. The company prefers to hire native English speakers, which is the best way to go. I struggled through Pompeii with a guy named Enzo, who had the same effect on me as a Bengali call center. 
For me, actually living in Italy was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to going back. I've left coins with all of my friends in Rome to toss into Trevi Fountain for me. Trust me. It works.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Yikes! I've been HACKED!

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Monday October 27, 2014
Sunny 79F/26C/ in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
IRONY 101 DEPT: A call from my credit union in Sacramento woke me up this morning. I was told that one of my credit cards had been charged and fraud was suspected. I confirmed that the foreign country where the card charges were made is 6500 miles from my present location. The man on the phone quickly assured me that I would not be liable for those fraudulent charges and that the card was being cancelled and a new one would be sent to me. Evil deed thwarted. I got up, started a pot of coffee and then ran a quick check of my other accounts. All seemed to be well. Then I brushed my teeth, poured my first cup of coffee. Then I sat back down at my computer and clicked on the thought for the day that begins my daily musings. Subject of today’s “Thought for the Day” GLOBAL SHARING!

Today’s “MikeBo Travel Tip:” If you plan a trip out of town, especially to a foreign country, call your bank and let them know where you’re going and for how long. While you are on the phone, order one of those European-style credit cards with the imbedded computer chip to replace your magnetic stripe card. As we used to say on the electric radio at the end of all those live commercials, “You’ll be glad you did.”  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Story My Father Told Me!

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Wednesday October 22, 2014
Sunny 83F/28C/ in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 
                This week, I found another treasure in the collection of family photos and papers that I brought with me when I moved back from Northern California in January.
I’ve been carrying the family memorabilia with me since my father died in 1965. And, now that I’m retired and have the time, I’m going through the collection and trying to collate it to pass on to my children and grandchildren. In the process of sorting this week I came across a yellowed, eight page essay written by my father for his sociology class at the University of Pittsburgh, probably around 1929 or ‘30. This typewritten document opened a window on his world for me. As I read this story, I realized that I had heard it before.
Charles Botula, Jr.
My father had often talked about his family in the “Olden Days,” usually in family conversations over Sunday dinners after church when my brother Packy and I were growing up. Now, with his hand typed memoir from so long ago in my possession, I can share his first-hand account with you as Charles Botula told it himself so long ago.
Johana and Karel Botula
My grandparents had come to the United States in 1903 from what is now the Czech Republic. Back then, it was part of the Austrian Empire, and they were part of a massive migration from Eastern Europe. There were hundreds of thousands of people fleeing poverty, persecution and war who were looking for a better life in America. The Botula family started its upward climb to the middle class from the very lowest rung on the ladder. Actually, it wasn’t even the ground floor. It was more like subterranean. My grandfather Botula started his new life in America as a coal miner.
Karel Botula “got off the boat” in Philadelphia in 1903 and started work in Cokeburg, Pennsylvania, a small coal mining town near Pittsburgh. My grandmother, Johana, arrived with her three children, Karola, Maximilian, and Frantiska at Ellis Island a short time later and joined him in Cokeburg.
                My grandfather Botula worked for the James W. Ellsworth Coal Company.    Karel Botula was one of the thousands who answered the call. He was a young man, married with three young children. In the Europe of that era, his family faced a bleak future. America, in his mind, offered the future he wanted for his family. So, in 1903 he booked passage to the United States, arriving in Philadelphia and traveling on to a small mining town in western Pennsylvania. His wife, Johana and the couple’s three children followed him a few months later, arriving at Ellis Island in New York harbor.
                Dad picks up the story from there. “It took a lot of researching on my part to get a complete picture of the turn of the century migration that brought my family to America in the first place and I still have a lot to learn about my family’s early life in Europe, but this much I have learned.”

                Cokeburg, Pennsylvania was a “company town,” built and maintained by the Ellsworth Coal Mining Company. The company owned the land and built the homes the miners and their families lived in; operated the company store where they bought their groceries and other necessities; built the church where they worshipped; built the school and hired its teachers, and it provided medical care to the miners and their families. The town’s entire purpose was to mine the bituminous coal deep underground and from this raw material bake it in massive ovens turning it into coke, a hot burning, gray, ash-like product used in the manufacture of steel. The coke ovens dotted the countryside around the mineshafts, and, as the coal was distilled into coke, the ovens gave off thick clouds of black sulfurous smoke. Karel Botula’s job was not only dangerous from the necessity of digging for the coal deep underground, but the work was carried out under environmentally dangerous conditions. I can remember as a small boy seeing the smoke from the ovens and the downwind hillsides near them that were devoid of all living trees and brush. In the center of the village was a huge slag heap, where the mine tailings, and waste from the coke ovens were piled high. Today, the slag heap has been reclaimed as a park, but then it was a raw wasteland where the immigrant children would play. 
Coal Tipple at Cokeburg, PA 1939
According to the official history of the Borough of Cokeburg, the town was founded in 1900 by James W. Ellsworth, a Chicago businessman who had purchased 238 acres of land to build a coal mining development called Shaft Four in Bethlehem Township. Shaft Four was the original name of the village. The name was later changed to Cokeburg in 1902. My grandfather arrived the following year and moved his family into one of the company-owned houses.

During the first 15 years of their lives in America, “the Company” was the face of American government. In the 1950s my grandfather’s life was immortalized by “Tennessee Ernie” Ford
in his song “16 Tons.”
“You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.”
Company store, company house, company school, company church. The miners were even paid in company “scrip” rather than U.S. currency. The whole town of Cokeburg was owned lock, stock and barrel by “the company.” For a family of eleven like my grandparents’, living in a company house was a tight squeeze. Dad’s story continues……

I couldn't help but compare that to the small two-story home that I grew up in. It was a two story house and my only sibling, my brother Packy and I each had our own room upstairs, while our parents had their own bedroom on the ground floor. Most of those miners’ homes in Cokeburg are still there. All modernized, of course, and not an outhouse to be found. 
Old Miners' Homes in Cokeburg. Coke Ovens Below the Houses.
Here’s what they looked like some years later. The old coke ovens were no longer being used.
The companies controlled everything. They advertised all
over Europe to attract workers with promises of money and
opportunity in America. They owned the ships that brought them to the U.S. from “The Old Country.” They controlled the railroads that carried them to their new homes. They owned the towns where they would work and the and the houses they lived in, the schools their children went to, and the churches where they worshiped.
The Old Company Store

The company store sold them the food and other necessities they needed. The currency that paid for everything was company “scrip.” It was phony money printed by the company. It was acceptable only at Cokeburg’s company store. The miners and their families could not go shopping at the next town over. And the people who lived in the company town nearby could not buy anything in Cokeburg, because their company “scrip” was no good in Cokeburg.
Karel and Johana’s children attended Cokeburg’s one-room school. Two of the girls eventually went on to nursing school, another graduated from a business college, still another graduated from high school, but the youngest stayed home to help my grandmother. Two of the boys followed their father into the mines when they finished school. All of the boys might have followed their father and brothers along that career path, and my life could have been very, very different if my dad had gone into the family business. My grandfather, as it turned out had other plans. My dad’s story continues….
Twenty three years after the Botula family came to the United States and settled in Western Pennsylvania, they made another move, but not as far as the original transatlantic journey in 1903. Once a family of five—Karel and Johana along with their three children, Karola, Frantiska and Maximilian, they were eleven strong when they arrived in Pittsburgh, the biggest city in Pennsylvania, little more than 30 miles from Cokeburg.

Botula Home 3316 Ward Street
They bought a three story home at 3316 Ward Street in the Oakland area, just off the Boulevard of the Allies, not far from the University of Pittsburgh, where Charles Botula would become the first member of his immigrant family to graduate from college. The 1930 U.S. Census lists Karel and Johana, and their children: Karola, Frances, Maximilian, Mary, Julia, Hannah, Adolf, my father Charles and Theodore. This became the family home until the last child, Julia died in 1991. Over the years as the children grew, married and started their own families they left, but all came back frequently for family celebrations. My dad met my mom and they moved to New York where I grew up, but the rest stayed around Pittsburgh. Adolf died in 1947. Karel died in 1948 and Johana died in 1952. Julia remained to tend the flame until she passed away in 1991. 
Right up until the old homestead was sold, after my aunt died, the telephone listing still read Karel Botula, 3316 Ward Street, MUseum 2-4072. 
Here they are, the Botula Clan.

One of my prize possessions. The Botula Family Portrait. In the front is my Grandmother, Johana, Theodore, Karel, and Charles (my father) on the right. Behind them in the back row are Julia, Mary, Karola, Adolf (behind Theodore), Maximilian, Frances and Hannah. Every person in this photograph is now deceased. In January 2015, I will be my grandfather’s age when he died - 74.
Mike Botula

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Random Notes from a New Blogger

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Wednesday October 15, 2014
Sunny w-high clouds 81°F/28°C in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA   
Buongiorno et Bonjour!
                After several years of posting on Facebook, I’ve concluded that it and the other “social media” sites are giant electronic conveyor belts constantly delivering an endless stream of information. Some of which is actually useful. Closing your web browser or turning off your IPhone or laptop is like turning off a garden hose or, better yet, a fire hydrant. What it delivers when the faucet is turned on remains there, just waiting to be turned loose once more the next time you open the valve. Last year I stepped up my own participation in social media when I started posting a chronicle of my extended visit to Italy with my “Rome Diary” on Facebook. Happily for me, I received a fair number of comments and compliments on my unorthodox travel log. Since my return to the US coincided with some major life changes for me including a divorce and a move back to Southern California and a whole new life as an elderly single male, I couldn’t exactly continue posting something called “Rome Diary.” However, the response to my Italian adventure was of such a positive nature that I decided to continue with my writing efforts. The question was, what means do I use for my “bully pulpit.” So, I decided on a blog. It’s just me and my computer, the internet and thou, gentle reader. It’s the perfect outlet for a retired news guy who looks at every event in life’s passing parade as a potential news story and has developed an indelibly ingrained habit of writing a news story on these events and broadcasting them far and wide. And that gentle reader is how came to be. No assignment editor. No other writer, unless I invite one to chip in. No producer. No news director…..just you and me….and maybe the NSA.
                Several times a week I sit down at my trusty Hewlett-Packard and start writing. As soon as I post the day’s masterpiece on Blogspot, I send it on to Google and Facebook and generate a “Tweet” on Twitter, and other points on the blogosphere. Now, when I “Google” myself, I get a lot of responses, for in just a few short months I seem to have become search engine fodder. I don’t think I’ve “gone viral” yet, but I’m hearing some rumblings in response to my efforts.
                My personal notebook has collected some odds and ends that I’m revisiting with an eye to including in my blog. These are usually false starts on stories that I thought would stand alone as a blog posting but didn’t. Or they are paragraphs that I edited out to make my day’s story more concise. Or maybe they are sub-plots that I included in the draft, but decided to drop and revisit sometime in the future. Occasionally, I will recycle them and include them in a new edition of “MikeBo’s Blog.” Funny you should’s one now…….
                It’s actually a quote from the legendary attorney Clarence Darrow’s opening statement at the “Scopes Monkey Trial” back in 1925. That’s when the State of Tennessee had outlawed the teaching of evolution in public schools, and brought substitute teacher John Thomas Scopes up on criminal charges. In his opening statement on July 10, 1925, Clarence Darrow said…..
“If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lectures, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.”
Since we are locked in a similar discussion today, I thought it might make sense to reprise the comments of one of the greatest lawyers in American history.
Now, briefly, here’s a look at some events from “Poor MikeBo’s Almanack.” (Via
1581 - Commissioned by Catherine De Medici, the 1st ballet "Ballet Comique de la Reine” is staged in Paris.
1815 - Napoleon Bonaparte arrives on island of St Helena to begin his exile.
1948 - 38th US President Gerald Ford (35) weds department store fashion consultant Elizabeth (Betty) Bloomer Warren (30) at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
1951 - Mexican chemist Luis E. Miramontes synthesized the first oral contraceptive.
1969 - Vietnam Moratorium Day; millions nationwide protest the war.
1993 - Nelson Mandela & South Africa president F W de Klerk awarded Nobel Peace Prize.
And, so it goes.

Mike Botula