Monday, May 25, 2015

14 August 1944: A Story for Memorial Day!

 “LOST MUSKET DIARY” Monday May 25, 2015
Cloudy 66°F/19°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
Tomb of the Unknowns - Arlington
  When I was a little boy, Memorial Day was still called Decoration Day and fell on May 30th and November 11th was still Armistice Day, and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year there was a moment of silence to commemorate the end of World War I. Now, they have been rolled up into a pair of three-day weekends, declared by Congress in 1968 when it reorganized the observance of our national holidays. Decoration Day is Memorial Day and Armistice Day is now Veterans Day. Most of us still pause to honor those who fought for their country, especially the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice. But, the real meaning of both days is sometimes lost in the holiday atmosphere that accompanies any long weekend. That’s why I want to reach
Lt. Charles Botula 1944
back to the time when I was a little boy and a war story that was first told to me by a young US Navy officer who lived through it – my father, Charles Botula. I’ve shared this story before, but, for the first time I can post the names of the sailors who died on that long ago afternoon.

Surviving Bow Section LST 921
  Monday, 14 August 1944 -16:54 hrs. - USS LST’s 920, commanded by Lieutenant Harry N. Schultz and USS LST 921, under the command of Lieutenant John Werner Enge were underway in convoy EBC 72 from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England when they were attacked by the German submarine U667, under the command of Kapitӓnleutnant Karl-Heinze Lange. LST 921 was hit by the first torpedo and broke in two with the aft section sinking a few minutes later, taking half of the ship’s crew to the bottom.  General Quarters was sounded and the LST 920’s Captain, Harry N. Schultz came to the bridge. Seeing that there were survivors from the LST 921 in the water, he ordered his radioman, Seaman Fred Benck to send a message requesting permission to turn the 920 around to pick up survivors. Schultz’ request was denied and he was ordered to proceed to Falmouth. Years later, Benck recalled what happened next. “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 formation. This message was never answered.”
Radioman Benck

LST 920 Skipper Schultz
 As my father watched from the bridge of the
LST 920, he spotted a torpedo wake coming straight at him. Just then, a British escort vessel, LCI (99) came alongside and took the full brunt of the torpedo and was blown out of the water.
  As the 920 came about, Schultz ordered two small boats into the water with Ensign John Waters in one and Ensign Harold Willcox in the other, along with nine other sailors to rescue survivors from the British ship and the LST 921.
LST 921 Captain John W Enge
Willcox tied a line around his waist and jumped into the water numerous times to help pull survivors aboard. In his After Action Report, Captain Schultz singled out Waters and Willcox and the nine seamen for outstanding performance during the action. In all, 48 survivors were rescued and brought aboard the LST 920.  Seaman Joe Wallace tells this part of the story. “I remember one of the 921 crew members coming up to the bridge all wet and oily. I gave him my locker keys and location, and he showered and put on some clean dry clothes. By this time it was dark. We gathered the survivors and were on our way to Falmouth. There, I had the task of counting the departing survivors - 42 walking and 6 stretcher cases.”
  A number of other survivors from the 921 as well as the LCI (99) were rescued by a British ship that joined in the rescue operation. All told, about 65 survivors were picked up, but fully half of the LST 921’s complement of 107 officers and crew had been lost. And so, on this Memorial Day, I would like us to remember:
               Baker, Thomas A., USNR                              Seaman First Class           
               Banit, Roman J., USNR                                  Seaman Second Class      
               Bennett, Frederick W., USNR                       Seaman First Class            
               Bent, Eugene E., USNR                                  Seaman First Class           
               Clements, Charles M., USNR                        Seaman First Class            
               Dove, Raleigh J., USNR                                 Seaman Second Class     
               Enge, John Werner, USNR                            Lieutenant  (survived)
               Feeney, Lawrence E., USNR                         Fireman Second Class      
               Fitton, Edward Joseph, USNR                      Seaman Second Class     
               Freely, James Joseph, USNR                        Boatswain's Mate 1st Class  
               Furino, Louis A., USNR                                  Coxswain             
               Guthrie, Edward J., USNR                             Ensign   
               Guziak, Walter V., USNR                               Seaman Second Class      
               Hoak, William K., USNR                                Gunner's Mate Third Class 
               Jerzewski, Chester R., USNR                        Seaman Second Class      
               Jones, Oscar R., USNR                                   Coxswain             
               Kozlik, John H., USNR                                    Seaman First Class           
               Lowe, Samuel M., USNR                               Seaman Second Class      
               Micheline, Carmine A., USNR                      Seaman Second Class      
               Mindlin, Daniel, USNR                                   Ensign   
               Monaco, Robert Chester, USNR                 Radioman Second Class 
               Moore, Charles H., USNR                             Seaman Second Class      
               Mulholland, William P., USNR                     Seaman Second Class      
               Newberry, Clyde, USNR                                Seaman Second Class      
               Pizon, John J., USNR                                      Seaman First Class          
               Potasky, Joseph E., USNR                             Seaman First Class           
               Progy, Henry, USNR                                       Motor Mach Mate 3rd Class 
               Richard, Donald James, USNR                     Gunner's Mate 3rd Class  
               Siring, Ronald John, USNR                            Ship's Cook Third Class    
               Smith, Kenneth J., USN                                  Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class 
               Smith, Lee I., USNR                                        Seaman Second Class     
               Smith, Ray R., USNR                                      Seaman First Class          
               Sprague, Herbert K., USNR                           Seaman Second Class     
               Suazoe, Ray M., USNR                                  Seaman Second Class      
               Totulis, Albert G., USN                                  Gunner's Mate 3rd Class  
               Trachsel, Ernest W., USNR                           Seaman Second Class     
               Van Why, Henry, USNR                                 Seaman Second Class      
               Verity, Edward C., USNR                               Seaman Second Class     
               Vitense, Glenn, USNR                                    Seaman First Class           
               Widmer, Richard C., USNR                           Seaman Second Class     
               Yavornitzky, Andrew J., USNR                     Shipfitter Second Class   
 There is an important postscript to this story. The attacking submarine, U 667, had sunk four ships including the LST 921 and LCI (99) on what turned out to be its most successful cruise. But as it headed back to its base and a hero’s welcome, its jubilant crewmen could not know that their luck was about to change. In all of the research I did for this story, the US Navy and German  Kriegsmarine archives revealed only that U 667 struck a mine on or about August 25th on the way back to at its home base at La Rochelle, France. Digging further, I found the answer on a specialty internet site:, which is devoted to the archives of the Kriegsmarine and its unterseebooten. According to the archives, the RAF had carried out a series of aerial mine-laying missions off the coast of France in an area code named Cinnamon right after the U 667 left port on its final cruise. The RAF dropped mines into the U 667’s outbound route. A report on the August 1944 mine-laying sweep shows the map coordinates of the area sown match the location where the U 667 was finally located and examined by diving crews. The loss of the U 667 was recorded by the Kriegsmarine after it missed a scheduled radio check-in on August 25th. With that, Admiral Karl Dönitz’ high command assumed that the sub had been lost. Ironically, neither my father nor his Captain, Harry Schultz, nor any of the survivors from LST 921 ever knew what happened to the submarine that attacked them.
U 667

  Two weeks after the August 14th attack, the U boat was headed back to its base at La Rochelle, France when it struck a mine on August 25th. The explosion sent U 667 to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, where it remains with its entire crew of 45 The wreckage is now a war grave. Apart from the sub’s captain, Karl-Heinze Lange, the other sailors in his crew are unknown, or they would be listed here as well. It’s fitting that we remember all who perished on this Memorial Day.
 Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
-Navy Hymn 

©Mike Botula 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Great Job, Dr. Sodl, I salute you!

 “LOST MUSKET DIARY” Wednesday May 13, 2015
Mostly Cloudy 71°F/22°C in Rancho Santa Margarita

Thanks, Doctor!
This morning I finally got to shake hands with the surgeon who operated on my shoulder. It was the first time in months that I had even been able to use my right arm for that social ritual. When the checkup was over, I even waved goodbye to the nurse. It had been six weeks-44 days to be exact-since I started counting backwards from 100 on that operating table. When I woke up afterward, all I could do was wiggle the fingers on my right hand because the arm itself was strapped to my side where it remained securely tied down for two weeks.
   I had been cautioned all the way through this process to be patient. “Don’t try to rush things,” I was told. It was advice I listened to and paid close attention to. The surgery itself was definitely not an out-patient procedure. An ancient sports injury had come back to haunt me in my “Golden Years.” The injured rotator cuff in my right shoulder had been further compromised by osteo and rheumatoid arthritis to the point where the cartilage in the joint had disintegrated and bone was rubbing on bone. I had largely lost the use of the arm and the pain of it was constant. 
  Doctor Sodl replaced the ailing joint completely with a new one of titanium and plastic and reattached all the muscles and tendons in a six hour operation. I spent two days in the hospital before
What will TSA make of this?
being released to return home, where I recuperated under the watchful eyes of my daughter, Dana; my part-time caregiver, Liliana and, of course my board-certified companion dog, Lola. What a team!
  Following post-operative checkups with the surgeon at two weeks and a month, I checked in with a physical therapist, George Stablein. I’ll be working with him over the next few months working to regain full use of my “right wing.” George used to pitch in the major leagues in his former life. “I know a little about shoulder injuries, Mike,” he told me on our first visit. It’s great working with a veteran.
  As tempting as it might have been to just sit in my rocking chair nibbling bon-bons and watching daytime TV, I had decided at the outset to live as normal a life as possible.  While I would not be allowed to drive for several months, I took advantage of the stores and restaurants in my immediate neighborhood where I could walk to, and arranged for rides to further destinations for any shopping trips or personal appointments. That included services for senior citizens that are available in my new home town, like daily lunches at the senior center, senior discounts for taxis and public transit and the like. Several of the local markets offer on-line grocery ordering and home delivery, which I made note of. And, even though I never needed the service and never had occasion to call 911, I knew that the local emergency paramedic services are among the best in California.
Nurse Lola
My room-mate is worth a special mention in this. Several people offered to temporarily care for my dog while I got back on my feet. Dana did take Lola to her house while I was in the hospital, but I decided when I got back home; I wanted her there with me. Now, looking back, I realize that I owe her a lot for my swift recovery. Our frequent walks along the neighborhood walking trail do as much for me as for her. My responsibilities in the area of making sure she is fed and watered prodded me into getting the exercise I needed, and that worked well for both of us. Hospitals and care facilities have long known the benefits of including a pet or service animal in the treatment of patients, especially for older people who tend to be isolated in their lifestyles.
  Just before my cataract surgery over a year ago, my ophthalmologist took note of my advancing age and told me, “You’re getting to the age where we start replacing parts. Your eyes are just going to be the first stop for you.” He was right. Since the shoulder project, I’ve met any number of people who’ve told me about their new knees or hips, shoulder joints or other prosthetics. There are a lot of us clanking around out here. So far, I’m happy with the outcome of Dr. Sodl’s handiwork, and I won’t be surprised a bit if another doctor tells me that I’m ready for another replacement part.    

©Mike Botula 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mikie sez: EBBOM- Engage Brain Before Opening Mouth!

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Monday May 11, 2015
Partly Sunny 72°F/22°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
I bought my “History Major” T-shirt to show off, knowing full well that it would be irksome to some people. But, I had put in a lot of hard work to be able to say that. A few years ago, when I made the decision to go back to school, in part, to relieve the crashing boredom that had descended on my life in retirement, there was also another reason.  I wanted to take care of a big item of unfinished business and get my college degree. At the time, I had no idea how that decision would ultimately impact on my conversations on Facebook and other worlds in the Social Media Universe.
  My very first class was California History, primarily because I wanted to learn more about my adopted home state.  Growing up in New York, I had learned a lot about Henry Hudson and his good ship Half Moon and the sale of Manhattan Island for $24 worth of junk beads, but I lacked the same familiarity with California.  After the first class, I introduced myself to the teacher, a chap named Wes Swanson. Taking note of my somewhat elderly appearance in a sea of fresh young faces, he inquired, “If you don’t mind my asking, Mike, but how old are you?” At that moment, I was somewhere around the sundown side of 68. “Older than my History professor, for sure,” I replied. With that he invited me to join him for lunch in the faculty dining room.
   “So,” he asked me over the salade nicoise, “what brings you back to school at this stage of the game?” I told him that I had started out on a quest to earn a Bachelor’s Degree many years before but that a busy life and career had gotten in the way. At that point I was just a few units away from an Associate’s Degree in Communications.  By the time we were presented the dessert menu, Dr. Swanson had persuaded me to change my major to History. The change would add several years to my schooling, but hell, I was retired and had nothing else to do. “You've done Communications all your life,” Mike, he said, “Radio, Television, Public Relations. If you had a degree for just doing your job, you’d have your doctorate.” And so, I went back to square one and became a full time student majoring in History:  World, California, Middle East, Women’s History and Mexican-American History. Rounding that out were the required math and science courses and electives like political science, criminal justice, Geography and Art History all executed with a high enough grade point average to make the Honor Roll. Not too shabby for an old geezer whose contemporaries tend to worry mostly about the onset of senile dementia.
   Happily, I found that studying history was like being back in the news business. There was a lot of reading involved along with a heavy emphasis on research and documentation of sources. Each History class included a section devoted to research and documentation. And each term paper required identification of all primary and secondary sources, along with a bibliography of all sources. Finally, all of our papers were submitted through a scholastic internet site that examined all of our term papers for any hint of plagiarism. My class work was submitted to an editing and validating process that was every bit as thorough as the New York Times.  Much later, I went to work part time at the college helping Professor Swanson with the grading of tests and term papers, in a process that was every bit as demanding as any perfectionist editor or news producer.
  The scholastic standards are a far cry from the modern day blogosphere where anybody can cut and paste somebody else’s “meme” or bumper sticker slogan and call it documented research. The deluge of sheer propaganda and bilious verbal detritus on Facebook alone is enough to gag a maggot! (A favored response from my teenagers back in the day). So my recent history studies served to remind me what I had learned from my training as a newsman.
  One of the critical elements in my college studies was the focus on original source material. This requires at the very least a library card, access to a variety of internet search engines and the skills of a detective. The end result must include the five “W’s”: Who, What, Where, When and Why, with How also in the mix. Cutting and pasting other material without sourcing and attribution is simply insufficient unless you are Joseph Goebbels, a commentator on Fox News, or any one of a substantial number of stars in the “Blogosphere.”
   Along the way to writing this particular piece, I had a Eureka moment reading Manny Fernandez’ column in the May 4th edition of the NY Times and have chosen to lift some of his comments to help me make my points in this effort to show you how to navigate the stormy waters of contemporary social media with its memes and campaign sloganeering. An example from Fernandez column:
What's the first thing you do after you get a story assignment?
Students jumped in with answers. Pick up the phone. Run out to the story.
Grab a notebook. Start writing. The professor, a wiry, fiery, chain-smoking
newsman straight from central casting named George Flynn, dismissed all
No one guessed the correct answer- go to the morgue!
Fernandez’ point is that a reporter’s first stop should be the morgue, that library of old stories on the same or related subjects.  We generally don’t go to a Morgue these days. It’s Google or Lexis or Wikipedia or any one of a number of search engines. A public or college library card is the key to accessing all sorts of research tools and primary sources.  Your favorite daily newspaper has a search mode on its home page enabling the reader to look up previously published stories on a given person or subject.  It’s actually a task that I would get started for the reporter in my one-time role as an assignment editor. I’d give the reporter a folder of wire copy and news clips dealing with the assigned story to read en route. While the reporter would be working in the field gathering facts there would be editors and writers and researchers back in the newsroom working with the reporter gathering facts and information, so that when deadline time came, the story would be as complete as possible.
  An awful lot of what is presented as news and information these days is really nothing more than entertainment disguised as journalism. Or it’s driven by someone’s political agenda. Or, it’s just outright propaganda or product marketing all dressed up to go out. So, it’s vital for the reader or listener to check out the story before regurgitating bad information in a public statement. EBBOM!
    During my career as a radio and television journalist and later on in government service, I've been in the cat-bird’s seat as a lot of history has been made. I've covered news stories and interviewed a lot of people on a multitude of subjects. I've been very fortunate, but it’s also left me with a touch of PTSD. Covering breaking news stories is like seeing the cowboys in an old western movie chasing the runaway stage coach. There’s not much time for much more than a running narrative.  With history, there’s plenty of time, but a lot more work involved and a more stringent degree of fact checking and research. In addition to that, there is also the reality that there are usually forces at work that don’t want the story you are pursuing to be told at all, or there are pressures to alter the story being told to suit a particular political or personal preference.
  Here’s an example:
  In my study of American History, I quickly became aware of the strong current of prejudice, bigotry and racism that runs all the way through the story of our nation. In fact, I believe that it can be traced back in time from Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland in the present time, back through the racial upheavals in the 1960s and early ‘70s, farther back to the civil rights movement of the 1950s, all the way back through the Indian Wars of the 1800s, our Civil War and Reconstruction, on back into history through the colonization of the Western Hemisphere to a Papal Bull issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493. If that year rings a bell, it’s because it was the year after Christopher Columbus “discovered” a whole New World for Christian Europeans to conquer. To understand today’s story, one must often traipse back through history. Sometimes finding the root causes may take considerable backtracking.
  These days, social media overflows with the work of people who simply cut and paste the suppositions and opinions of still others who, in turn, are cutting and pasting their suppositions and opinions, religious and political beliefs on the theory that what they are passing along is somehow based in fact and therefore valid. In my humble opinion (or as is the current fashion, “IMHO”) we have moved firmly into a new era of Info-tainment.  What is passed off as news is really the product of the corporate marketing or entertainment divisions. Facebook and the other social media sites have become today’s “town meetings.” They host an on-going conversation on every conceivable concept, and have given a voice to people who, in another time, would remain mute. At the same time, the social media is an enabler. It can give voice to just about any fact, thought or belief that humans can express. It is completely up to the reader to separate fact from fiction, myth from reality. I find that an understanding of History is a valuable asset in this regard. Not just knowledge of events, but knowing how to search for the facts.
   The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.
Winston Churchill

©Mike Botula 2015

Friday, May 8, 2015

Happy Birthday, Son. It’s V-E Day!

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Friday May 8, 2015
Cloudy 47°F/8°C
Birthday Boy at 8
My son Mike is celebrating his birthday today. The baby of our family turns 42. He’s way too young to remember what his grandfather was doing on this date back in 1945. In fact, my son never got to meet his grandfather. Charlie Botula died in 1965. But, I can’t help but think about both of them when this date rolls around every year. Mike’s generation would be hard-pressed to even remember what May 8th signifies. But, I’m old enough, so I’ll take a moment to pass it along. It was the day that half of a world war officially ended. It’s “V-E Day” for Victory in Europe. The Allies had won and World War 2 in Europe was over.
  The day that Germany surrendered, my dad’s ship-the LST 920 was in the Pacific, crossing the International Date Line en route from Pearl Harbor to the island of Eniwetok, which would become famous later on as the site of one of the early atomic bomb tests. At that time, it was one of the islands that the Allies were using in their giant game of Hop Scotch on the way to Japan. But, Charlie had seen his fair measure of the War in Europe, surviving a U boat attack off the coast of England and shuttling personnel and supplies from England to France right after the Normandy invasion. That was 1944. He was in the Pacific by 1945 and took part in the invasion of Okinawa. Instead of U-boats, it was Kamikazes. And, in June of 1945 as the Allies were preparing for an
Getting Close
invasion of the Japanese home islands, it looked to my dad that their war would drag for another couple of years. He and thousands of other were just praying that they’d survive the war. They didn’t know that brighter minds than theirs were working on a little surprise in the shape of a mushroom cloud for the enemy.
  At the time all this was going on, my parents were expecting an addition to the family. Mary was expecting some time in the Fall of 1945. In their correspondence back and forth from Jamestown, New York to “Somewhere in the Pacific,” they had discussed potential names for the baby and had disagreed over the name for a new baby boy. Mom wanted to name the new addition after his dad and call him Charles. But, dad wanted a different name. He had a war-time superstition that if his new son had the same name, it would mean that he would not survive the war. Mom prevailed. My brother’s name is Charles and dad lived to tell the tale.
Happy Birthday, Michael!

  Now, my birthday boy, Mike has a keen interest in history. I like to think he takes after his old man in this regard. So it might be of interest to him to hear that he came into this world on a very notable date, V-E Day. Buon Compleanno, Michael!

©Mike Botula 2015

Sunday, May 3, 2015

It’s Sunday Again! Can I Get the Sermon Home Delivered?

Mostly Sunny 73°F/23°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
  I think the toughest thing about recuperating from my surgery is not being able to drive. And on top of the order to stop driving that my doctor gave me, my truck has been on the disabled list ever since my daughter and  I set out for my first post-op checkup with my surgeon two weeks ago. That, plus the fact that my right arm has been securely strapped to my side for most of the past month has definitely kept me close to home with a king-sized bottle of Tylenol.
  I’m fortunate to be living where I do, in a pet-friendly apartment complex near the center of a well-planned new community that is very pedestrian and retiree friendly, and in close proximity to my daughter’s family, which includes four of my grandchildren. Dana sees to it that I get to my various and sundry medical appointments and has had a big role in my recuperation. I've also had a caregiver, Liliana, drop by a couple of times a week to tidy up after me and take me to the store. But apart from my daily walks with my faithful “Emotional Support Animal” (E.S.A.) Lola, and my trips to the doctor or shopping with Liliana, I've been pretty much confined to quarters.
Nurse Lola
I have to give Nurse Lola a lot of credit for my fast recovery. It might have been really easy during my shut-in stage to just sit in my apartment and hope that the “Meals on Wheels” folks would make a mistake and knock on the wrong door. This was especially true at night when I would have to get in and out of bed by myself and pray that I wouldn't fall. Several people suggested that I send Lola out to be cared for by someone else. But, apart from the time that she spent at Dana’s home while I was hospitalized, my dog has been with me at home. And, you know what that means. Dogs eat. Dogs need to go to the bathroom. They need attention and exercise and all the other considerations one has to give a good roommate.  So, I had someone else to look after beside myself and she did a very good job of keeping my mind off my aches and pains.
   As each day passes, my arm works better and better, and after a month I am spending more time out of my sling than it. So, I’m thinking once again about my next traipse to Italy. I’m now looking at the middle of June, once I’m given the green light to start driving again and through the bulk of my rehabilitation program. For fans of my Rome Journal, this means an exciting new chapter. I’ll be blogging right here and sharing on Facebook as well as my website:
  Mike and Laura are already making suggestions as I pull my travel plans together, so I know we’ll have a lot to do, especially since “Junior” is a licensed tour guide, history buff and art aficionado. I’ll be posting as I go along.
 As a wrap-up, let me return to the medical adventure I've been on the past several months. Winding
What all the fuss is about!
up this late in life with a new Titanium shoulder joint was the farthest thing from my mind. I could feel the toll that advancing age was taking on my old carcass: the cataracts…the blood pressure…the digestive ailments…and the loss of mobility that two varieties of arthritis brought with them. But, I had no idea that a half-century old shoulder injury would come back to haunt me the way mine did. But, in the process, I became aware that I was joining a not-so-exclusive a fraternity of seniors who've checked into their local “fix-it shop” and walked out with a shiny new hip or knee joint or elbow or shoulder joint like me. My surgeon, Dr. Jeff Sodl told me when I woke up that my operation had gone very well, and he performs a lot of them. I did spend two days in the hospital, but I never suffered any severe pain, and I found I functioned pretty well with one good arm during the whole process. With good advice and careful preparation, the whole ordeal was quite endurable.  Looking back, I probably should not have procrastinated as long as I did. But, the deed is done. I’m recovering nicely. Long may I wave!

© By Mike Botula 2015