Saturday, June 20, 2015

Oh No! Not Another @#%&@# Neck Tie!

 “LOST MUSKET DIARY” Sunday June 21, 2015
Cloudy Followed by Sunshine- High 85°F/29°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
Happy Dad's Day, Me!
with Jordan and Jaydan
   Puh-leeze! Spare me the ugly tie! AND… the socks, the golf tees, and the new bowling ball. (I haven’t even bowled in this century), or the ski wax, or that DVD of Sinatra’s Greatest Hits! I’ve already gotten my Father’s Day present. In fact, I have had it for years. It’s something I’ve shared for ages with my late wife, Donna. My first Father’s Day gift came into my life on May 29, 1969-just a few days after a man first set foot on the moon. My Father’s Day gifts all have names: Dana Lynne, Michael, Joshua, Jacob, Jessie Lynne, Jordan and Jaydan. Now, I despise the idea of celebrating Father’s Day
Mikey, Donna and Dana
gumming my way through the Senior Citizen Special at Denny’s. My idea of a great Father’s Day gift is raising great kids…..and grand-kids. In this category, I am wealthy beyond King Midas’ wildest expectations.
   So, today is Father’s Day! A holiday I’ve been celebrating for forty-six years! My anniversary as a familial propagator. (I know my daughter will blush because I just gave away her age, and women don’t like guys who snitch them off like that). But, the fact of the matter is that forty-six years ago today I first heard the words,  Happy Father’s Day, Mike! And, to compound matters, I am also rejoicing in my twenty-second year as a Grandfather. So, I’m the one who’s entitled to celebrate. Not the other way around.
Numero Uno - Dana Lynne
   A long time ago some money-grubbing marketing guys saw how Mother’s Day and Christmas and Kwanzaa and Eid and Chanukah boosted the bottom lines of the world’s peddlers of stuff and provided still more sustenance for the thrift shops and landfill sites of the world, and invented – Father’s Day! So while other families drag their geezers into overcrowded restaurants and shower him with bad neckties, shirts, golf balls and tees, fishing tackle and Lawrence Welk records for the next donation to Goodwill, I’m just going to enjoy the Father’s Day present I started receiving many years ago – my kids! I’m not going to sit in my rocking chair with a shawl around my shoulders sucking on a lemon and telling stories of Oh Mein Papa! Nope! I’m gonna share my Father’s Day gift by showing you a bunch of baby pictures of the very kids that made ME a father and a grandfather. How’s that for turning the tables on the bad necktie brigade.
Dana at One!
First, there’s the Senior Kid, my daughter Dana Lynne. She started life as a frail, colicky little thing weighing just five pounds. Early on being so frail and sickly, she caused enough worry and anxiety for Donna and me to last a lifetime. But, she went on to thrive and eventually grew to be a teenager. That’s when our worries and anxieties really began.
  Junior kid is Michael Stephen. Donna picked his name. Now, Stephen is a name that does not exist in either my late wife’s family, or mine. Donna drew the line at naming our son after me. “I just don’t want our son to go through his entire life being called, “Junior,” she said. So she made up a middle name for him. Michael Stephen Botula! Donna was right, of course! No one calls him Junior. Nope! Practically all of his life he has been called Mikey! Hey Mikey! To this day, (and he just
"Hey, Mikey!"
turned 42), I have to check the spelling on his birth certificate to make sure Stephen has a “ph” in the middle, and not a “v.”
   Right around this time of year, when the first commercials for Father’s Day start blaring out of the TV, I’m prompted to think back on prior years of my fatherhood. My first Father’s Day came just a few weeks after Dana was born, and with her health being what it was, we were worrying that we might not be celebrating it a year hence. But, she came through and she grew into a healthy and beautiful little girl. Five years later, young Michael Stephen joined the family. By then, we had moved up from our mobile home into our first house, where we raised two young native Californians. Even with the five year age difference, Mike and Dana are very close. And, in spite of the geographical distances that have separated all of us from time to time over the years, we are a very close-knit family.
"The GREEN wire, Joshua!"
Jacob and Jessica
Eventually, Dana grew up, married, and began presenting Donna and I with grandchildren. Our first grandson is Joshua, now 22 and a U.S. Marine, who just told me in a phone conversation that he’s in training to be a bomb disposal technician. You know what that is, Grandpa! He said to me, that’s the guy on TV that wears a big suit of blast armor who always winds up cutting the right wire, the GREEN WIRE!  Hey! What can I tell you? He’s a MARINE, not a little kid anymore. There was a long hiatus in the Procreation Game in Dana’s life. After she married Jason, they started their own family. Now I have five grandkids. 
Jacob is nine. Jessica is eight. After a few years went by, they were expecting again. And then, another miracle happened –TWINS! During the first few days in the hospital nursery, the girls were tagged “A” and “B.” “Baby A” became Jordan and “Baby B” became Jaydan.
My dad-Charlie Botula
   So, THAT, gentle reader is my Father’s Day story. No neckties, no shirts, no new bowling ball, just a whole bunch of smiling little faces. That is the best present a guy could get on Father’s Day!
  And, I know that my own dad, Charlie Botula, would approve this message!
©Mike Botula 2015

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A D-Day Story: Winston Churchill's Bright Idea!

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Saturday June 6, 2015
Low Clouds, then Sunny and Warmer 74°F/23°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
   Just before General Dwight Eisenhower gave the final order to launch Operation Overlord 71 years ago today, Prime Minister Winston Churchill turned to him and said, It appears that the destinies of
two great empires seem to be tied up in some God-damned things called LSTs!
Were that to be said today about some impending military offensive like Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East, that pithy phrase – in spite of being uttered by a world statesman of Churchill’s caliber – would be meaningless. But on June 6, 1944 both Eisenhower and Churchill knew that the outcome of the largest military offensive in human history depended on the long, squat amphibious cargo haulers that would deliver the troops and their weapons and supplies to the shore of Hitler’s Festung Europa. In today’s world of global commerce, we marvel at the supertankers and the giant container ships that carry the world’s energy supplies and our food and merchandise from their sources to the destinations where they are needed. 
Dad's LST at Normandy
The Landing Ships of World War 2 were their ancestors. Now, if you are wondering why I’ve chosen to write about such an arcane bit of naval weapon to commemorate the 71st anniversary of D-Day, it’s simple. My dad used to drive one – the LST 920. He was the ship’s second-in-command.
   The largest of the World War 2 landing ships, the LST for Landing Ship, Tank, was little more than 300 feet long with an interior deck that ran the full length of the ship, from the watertight gull wing doors and vehicle ramp at the bow, all the way back to the stern which carried a huge anchor attached to a winch by a thousand feet of steel cable. The LST’s mission in the operation was to steam onto the beach with its cargo of tanks,
Lt (jg) Charles Botula, Jr
trucks, jeeps and troops along with their fuel, ammunition and supplies, open the front doors, lower the ramp and enable the troops and other cargo to join the battle. Then the ship and its crew would wait until the next high tide so it could back off the invasion beach and sail back to its base for another load. The Allies used a variety of landing ship types in their operations around the world in World War 2. The craft came in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with a specific mission. Small landing craft like LCVP’s carried troops and small vehicles, like jeeps. LCI’s were designed to land infantry and used twin ramps at the bow so their troops could exit the ship quickly in battle. Other LCI’s were fitted with batteries of rocket launchers. While an LST could carry a whole column of tanks on its lower deck, an LCT was a smaller version that carried a smaller number of heavy vehicles.
               The genesis of these amphibious weapons of war can be traced back to the disastrous 1915 Gallipoli campaign of World War 1; and the need for them was emphasized almost 20 years later during the early months of World War 2 at the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940. Winston Churchill was a key figure in both of those historic events. As First Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War, Churchill played a key role in what became known as The Dardanelles Campaign, which was carried out to secure the sea route between the Aegean and Black Seas, the maritime route from the Mediterranean to the Russian Empire through what is now Istanbul, Turkey. Following the Allied invasion and eight months of intense fighting, the Gallipoli Campaign ended in a disaster for the Allies and the biggest victory of the war for the Ottoman Turks, with over 100,000 dead on both sides. For his part, Churchill laid part of the blame for the Allied failure at Gallipoli on the Allies inability to land large numbers of troops and materiél on shore quickly and in sufficient amount in a seaborne invasion. A similar lesson for the Allies played out in the early days of World War 2 at the Battle of Dunkirk. By then, Churchill was Prime Minister and Britain was staring at impending defeat in the face of the Nazi onslaught across Europe.
LST 920 En Route to Normandy
               At Dunkirk in late May 1940, the Allied Expeditionary had been pushed back through France to the Channel coast by the advancing Wehrmacht. Before they could be pushed into the sea, Churchill rallied the nation which responded by sending an armada of boats and ships to the French coast and rescued over 330,000 British and Allied troops. While a victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat by Churchill and his embattled countrymen, the Allies had to leave the bulk of their arms, ammunition, vehicles and other equipment behind when they evacuated. What the British could not take or destroy, the Germans captured and made good use of as the war played out. No wonder that, in his earliest meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill sought not only the immediate assistance that was desperately needed to keep the Nazi wolf from John Bull’s door, but he also discussed longer range plans aimed at the ultimate defeat of the Axis menace. Among the tools he requested was a ship that could carry large numbers of troops and their vehicles, including tanks and artillery along with all of their equipment and supplies, land them on enemy beaches, or where necessary, evacuate them quickly. The idea for the LST, the very ship that my own father served aboard during the war, was born.  And so, in December 1942, a few days following the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, HMS Boxer came into service in the Royal Navy. Its builders were the same company that built RMS Titanic, Harland and Wolf Heavy Industries of Belfast, Northern Ireland. By the time that the D-Day invasion at Normandy took place in June 1944, more than a thousand LSTs and hundreds of others landing craft of all types and sizes had been put into World War 2 service.
First Time at Sea - LST 920 1944
   My father’s ship, LST 920 was commissioned ten days after D-Day, and had been painted in Pacific Theater camouflage colors, when suddenly, its Captain received new orders, the paint scheme was changed overnight to North Atlantic Gray and it joined a convoy bound for Britain. It arrived at Normandy in early September carrying out support missions for the next six months.

©Mike Botula 2015

Friday, June 5, 2015

On the Road Again, Soon!

ROME DIARY 2 Friday June 5, 2015
Mostly Cloudy 72°F/22°C in Rancho Santa Margarita
   OK, then! We’re back. I’ve dug through all the stuff in my desk and found my passport with my baby picture on it. Laura has made my reservations on Alitalia. Liliana will keep an eye on Lola while I’m traveling. So, in a few weeks, it’s Buon Viaggio! This geezer is Roma-bound!  Ah, Rome!
Il Colosseo!
"Roma è la città di echi, la città delle illusioni e la città di desiderio".
 “Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.”  
So wrote Giotto di Bondone, the Italian painter and architect back around 1337. Ah, it seems like only yesterday. By the way, did I mention that August is the hottest month of the year in the Eternal City? According to my local sources it’s kind of like downtown Bakersfield, California on the 4th of July, and most local Romans are “on holiday” elsewhere during August. Even the Pope heads out of town to Castel Gandolfo. So, why would I want to admit a potential travel blunder at this particular moment? Why? Because I should have posted this story yesterday, on the fourth of June, that’s why! I was writing a special blog piece for Sunday commemorating the 71st anniversary of the Allies invasion at Normandy when I remembered another story about a big day in World War 2, and when I looked it up; I realized I had missed another anniversary by a full day; the 71st anniversary of the fall of Rome to the Allies on June 4th 1944.
General Mark W Clark
And that, gentle reader is why everybody remembers General Dwight David Eisenhower, and hardly anybody knows who General Mark Wayne Clark is. It was all in the timing. If History’s master time-piece had run differently, Mark Clark would have maybe become President of the United States and gone down in history, and Dwight Eisenhower would have joined Ambrose Burnside on history’s long list of obscure generals.
Look at the timeline:
June 4, 1944: Rome falls to the Allies led by Gen. Mark Clark
June 6, 1944: Operation Overlord begins. Allies launch D-Day Invasion at Normandy, France under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  Get the picture? General Mark Wayne Clark misses his moment of immortality by TWO DAYS. Seventy-one years later this reporter misses the anniversary by one day. Poor Mark Clark! As Marlon Brandon mumbled in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, “He coulda been a contenduh!” But, such are the quirks of history.
  I’m looking forward to going back. Each time I visit, I seem to want to stay longer. Maybe I could become a full time expatriate like my son, Michael. Junior grew up in Southern California, but when he went to London after high school in 1999 to work as a musician and sound engineer he met a pretty girl in Rome, and now, Laura is his wife. This trip will also help take my mind off the move my daughter and her family are making soon. Her whole kit and caboodle is up and moving to TEXAS, by G*D! Thank goodness for Skype, but I’d rather go back to Italy. Why Rome? Well let me share a short quote from Mary Platt Parmele’s 1908 book A Short History of Rome and Northern Italy:  “Rome did not lay the cornerstone of modern civilization. She IS its cornerstone.”
Not THAT X-ray again!
Now that I’ve pretty well recovered from my shoulder joint replacement surgery, I’m thinking outside the box again. Mike and Laura and I are already talking about things I can do when I return. Laura is already checking on a visit to Venice, which I missed the last time. We can take the high-speed train from Rome and be there in just a few hours. Then there’s Paestum, an ancient city in the far south which boasts some spectacular Greek temple ruins. Of course, a traveller could spend a life time just in Rome and never see the same historical attraction twice, but I will want to visit the Galleria Borghese again. And, I want to see Michelangelo’s David. The masterpiece was on tour the last time I was there. And, since Michael is playing in a new band called No Funny Stuff, I can get out on the town and go listen to them play.  Oh, and one nice thing about having an expatriate son who is not only a musician but a
Ancient Paestum
professional tour guide, is that I can tag along with him at work, and take any one of an assortment of tours of Rome. He works for a company called City Wonders, (Insert subtle Plug!) which is a good name for any traveler to Europe to keep in mind.
Since I got such a nice response to my Facebook postings on my last trip, I’ll blog as I go along on this one and will make an effort to include more pictures amidst the travel tips I pass along. So, more Rome Diary 2s coming up soon.

©Mike Botula 2015