Sunday, December 11, 2016

Rome Diary 1, Day 30 - Revisited!

Brushy Creek Journal
Sunday December 11, 2016
Foggy 56°F/13°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Partly Cloudy 55°F/13°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00128
      From time to time, as I open my Facebook page to see what’s going on in the cyber-world (as opposed to what’s happening in the Real World) I am offered an opportunity to re-share one of my previous postings. I suppose it’s the thinking of Mark Zuckerberg and his band of merry cyber-geniuses that a pleasant memory, or meaningful thought once posted is worth repeating. And so it
The Coliseum Rome
was on this foggy Texas Sunday morning that I encountered one of my original
Rome Diary postings. It was done on Day 30 of my 2013 Roman adventure during a time of maximum tumult in my life. I had just spent the first night in the studio apartment that my son and daughter had found for me after my initial month in Rome camped out in their guest room. Now, you’re gonna get the chance to live like a native Roman, Pop, said my son. Laura and I are going on a cruise. Sofia, the pooch is going to Selci to stay with the folks and we’ll see you next week! I was to be alone for the first time in years in a place where I didn’t even speak the language. Panic! Denial! More panic! And, finally….. well it all worked out.

Diario di Roma, la giornata trenta! Mercoledì 11 dicembre 2013
(Rome Diary - Day 30 - Wednesday December 11, 2013)
Cloudy 56°F/10°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
      Spent the first night in my new pad here in Roma. Very comfortable studio not too far from Mike and Laura and Laura's folks on the way to Fiumicino Airport. It's a very cozy place, and I've rented it for the month that the lady who normally lives here is visiting friends in Buenos Aires. Lots of people do that here. They'll rent out their apartments to help offset the cost of their travels. The bed is very comfy and I slept soundly on my first night. Now, I really get to learn the ropes. All on my own. Challenging. Thirty days. Wow! I've away from home for a month now. Actually, I should say away from the U.S., not away from home. That's because in my present life, I am without a home. But, that's another story. Suffice to say that rather than go sleep under a bridge I thought I'd come to Rome and visit my son and try to figure out my what I want to be when I grow up. Good move. More on that in a moment, but, first...
...Ostia Antica. I mentioned earlier (in a previous Rome Diary) that when Rome became the first city in the world to reach a million in population, it's port, Ostia was a prosperous maritime trade center, handling goods from all over the known world - Asia via the Silk Road, the Middle East, Africa, and all of Europe. There's even speculation that the Romans visited the Americas. Now the port is known as Ostia Antica (ancient Ostia) and its not near the Mediterranean any more. The shoreline moved away sometime in the 15th century. The new Ostia is a hopping coastal resort a short distance from Rome proper, which reminded me of Newport, Huntington Beach or Redondo. The original is now is ruins, but what spectacular ruins. Outside the walls on your way into Ostia Antica you walk through a settlement that resembles a large village. No hustle and bustle here. All of the residents are deceased. This is the Necropolis, Greek for City of the Dead. Today the
Necropolis - Ostia Antica
quiet is broken only by the
oohs and aahhs of tourists as they meander past the sarcophagi and family mausoleums. The sanitation conscious Romans always buried their dead outside the city walls so as not to challenge the sensitive Roman-nosed residents inside. Utter McKinley must have had an ancestor in charge, because the Necropolis is the Ancient Roman Version of Forest Lawn Memorial Park where the deceased were burned or boxed, buried or scattered. And it appeared to me that Ostia Antica's Necropolis had a zoning code. The streets are wide and well laid out and the memorial crypts line them in tidy rows, like country cottages or townhouses.. Pagan Romans founded the city with their tradition of cremation, followed by the Christians who carefully prepared their dead for resurrection. Eventually both customs survived.
Valentina at Ostia Antica
For the living residents of Ostia Antica, the city boasted an amphitheater for music and drama, Roman style baths for health and relaxation, a market place with shops and restaurants, and a bordello, of course. (There was always a bordello. After all, the Puritans weren't invented for a thousand years). There was an athletic field which hosted various sporting events. I should say that Ostia Antica's amphitheater had great acoustics. That was a hallmark of the ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Stand in the center of the stage and speak in normal tones and the audience can hear you in the cheap seats way up in back.
Shortly after we arrived at Ostia Antica, Mike and I were commandeered by Giancarlo, one of the many freelance tour guides you will see at Rome tourist attractions. Mike, who is fluent in Italian, forked over 50 euros ($67.50 or almost $34 bucks an hour) for a two hour tour that was way too fast for my poor arthritic legs and completely unintelligible, even though he promised me that he did speak a little English. He was very right on that one, he spoke very little English. Mike quickly
Mike Jr. Licensed Tour Guide
figured out that our guide was not licensed by the government like the pros hired by his company,
City Wonders Tours, which prides itself on matching native language guides for tours taken by its customers. And, of course, all the licensed guides have to undergo special training for each tour they conduct. That's one reason I implore you to take a guided tour in Rome and based on my son's experiences working for them plus my own observations on several of their tours, I heartily recommend City Wonders Tours. They're an international company. Next tour for us is the Angels and Demons tour, a City Wonders specialty. We're taking that on Friday the 13th. Yikes!
Next time, more of On the Road with MikeBo!
For now,
(Postscript: Following my initial random Facebook postings during my 2013 Roman Holiday, I returned to southern California where I became a regular blogger and set to work producing my own website. As I became more comfortable in my writing as a pastime, I set out to do what a lot of retired news geezers do, writing a book. In this case, a book about my father’s adventures as a US Navy officer during World War 2. My book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books in August. I returned to Italy in 2015 and plan on going back again in the Spring of 2017. So there are more Rome Diaries yet to be written. Stay tuned!)
[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books), regularly produces  MikeBo’s Blog and produces his web site

© By Mike Botula 2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Day of Infamy: The Diamond Anniversary!

Brushy Creek Journal
Wednesday December 7, 2016
Partly Cloudy 42F/5 C at Cedar Park, Texas
Mostly Cloudy 72 F/22 C at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
  Today's blog originally posted in 2014 on the 73rd anniversary of the December 7th 1941 Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Pearl Harbor Day doesn’t always fall on a Sunday as it did that year. I post this part of the Pearl Harbor story every year to honor those who died in the attack as well as those who survived to fight on for the ultimate victory in 1945. In
USS Arizona (BB 39)
2014 when I first posted this story, I was busy writing a book about my father’s war time experiences during the war,
LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  I discovered at the time that the Captain of the LST 920 – the ship that my dad was assigned as executive officer - had seen earlier service on a destroyer, the USS Jarvis, which happened to be at Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attack.  My dad’s Captain was Harry Neil Schultz, who enlisted in the peacetime Navy in 1937. Schultz survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and narrowly escaped the sinking the USS Jarvis by the Japanese Navy off Guadalcanal the following year. He was awarded command of LST 920 later in the war. My father, in recounting his own experiences about his time on the 920, said that Captain Schultz never talked much about his earlier service in the US Navy.  The task of uncovering Schultz’ wartime heroism came out of my research for the book. It’s quite a story, as you’ll see.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii: 0800 hours 7 December 1941
     Sunday Morning! It was the day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would call 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. The big Navy aircraft carriers, the new backbone of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet were not in port on that fateful Sunday.  The Japanese attackers  sank Arizona, Oklahoma, Virginia and Utah. The USS Arizona (BB 39) 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 Neil Schultz
Harry N. 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.

  The Jarvis was named for Midshipman James C. Jarvis. Three U.S. Destroyers have carried his name into battle: Jarvis I (DD 38) which saw combat in World War I; Schultz’ ship 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. In the custom of the day, young Jarvis went to sea aboard the famed frigate USS 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.
  On the Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, the second destroyer Jarvis was moored next to
the USS Mugford (DD 389) and their tender, USS Sacramento, a 1914 vintage gun boat. The “after
USS Jarvis (DD 393)
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 a special commendation for their action during the attack was Quartermaster First Class Harry Neil Schultz, who had been with the Jarvis since it was commissioned in 1937. 

    Schultz was later commissioned as an officer and awarded command of the Landing Ship (Tank)  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. 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 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.
    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 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
Radioman 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.
    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.

[You can read more about Harry Schultz in Mike Botula's book LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  

© By Mike Botula 2016

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Beware the Ides of March!

Diario di Roma Tre
Sunday December 4, 2016
Sunny 60°F/16°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00128
Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate, now what's going to happen to us with both a House and a Senate? Will Rogers
       God only knows what Will Rogers would say if he were still alive to see Donald Trump
"Smile, You're on TSA Net!"
elected President! Some of my friends vowed to leave the country if Trump became President of the United States. I get that! After all, the U.S. Presidential election of 2016 was viewed here and in Europe in the same way as the Fall of Rome in 476 AD when the Eternal City fell to the Barbarians and the Dark Ages began.  But, politics has nothing to do with my upcoming trip to Europe! It has more to do with all those coins I tossed into Trevi Fountain on my four previous trips to Rome. It’s a continuation of a personal journey. This time, I hope to retrace the steps my grandparents took when they emigrated from what is now the Czech Republic and came to western Pennsylvania where they lived the American Experience, starting on the ground floor. Actually, my grandfather started well below the ground floor, mining coal in a small company town south of Pittsburgh.
So, it’s just coincidence that I will be leaving the country in the Spring of 2017. But, just in case our new President mistakes the nuclear trigger for the start button on his microwave oven on some future night and a mushroom cloud envelops Trump Tower, I will be grateful for the extra distance.
         Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of desires. (Giotto di Bondone)
         That is my favorite quote about Rome. Bondone said that – in Italian – back in the 14th century, well before Rome’s Metro was built, but long after Rome’s aqueduct and sewer systems were installed. Bondone was from Firenze – Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance - but he captured what Roma is all about. And if you ever go for a long walk through the narrow streets of the ancient city, you will understand the phrase completely.
         Roma è la città di echi, la città delle illusioni e la città del desiderio.
This will be my fifth trip to Rome. I traveled there for my birthday in 2005, just five weeks
Roman Forum
before Pope John Paul II died. In fact, we walked by the hospital where he was a patient at the time. My then fiance
é and I had our two week vacation planned to include Rome, Pompeii, Florence and Venice. But we were so captivated by Rome that we spent our entire holiday there. When I returned two years later for several weeks, Michael took me for my first trip on the TrenItalia high speed train to Bodone’s home town – Florence. We took  another train to Pisa so I could see how far the famous tower is leaning for myself.  In November 2013, I returned for what I thought would be a two or three week visit, and I wound up renting a flat and staying in Rome for almost three months.  My initial reports home to family and friends on Facebook quickly became the initial chapters of my Rome Diary, which evolved into my blog and are now archived on my website – I share as well on Google Plus, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The trip to Rome in 2013 started me on yet another career – writing. After I returned from my fourth trip, I got busy and put the finishing touches  on my book about my father’s wartime experiences in the U.S. Navy during WW2 – LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Published by Amazon Books and available from and online from Barnes and Noble as well as Booktopia in Australia and New Zealand).
       Shortly after my move to Texas, I started thinking about another trip back to Italy, and as soon as I had finished unpacking and setting up my new apartment, I started long-range planning for Rome. I renewed my passport and signed up for an Italian class at Austin Community College’s Continuing Education Center. My language instructor, Professoressa Patrizia Casciana, is a native of the Puglia region of Italy. Her Conversational Italian classes are the next best thing to being there. When I told her that I would like to continue with her next class but would be traveling in Italy for a month, she did not bat an eye. No problema, Michaele! Vi e-mail i compiti a casa. E invii le assegnazioni torna a me.  (I will email you the homework. And you email your assignments back to me). Problem solved. Grazie mille, Patrizia!
       In addition to the itinerary that Laura and Michael are putting together to keep me entertained during my visit, I am also hoping to make a trip to the Czech Republic to meet some of
MikeBo, Laura, Michael-Venice
the descendants of the Botula clan that my grandparents said farewell to back in 1903 when they emigrated from what was then Austria to settle in western Pennsylvania. A few of my cousins have already visited with our distant relatives back in the old country and I have already been in touch with a distant cousin who speaks English who has agreed to help me if I can make the trip from Rome to the Czech Republic. Alice, who is now a Facebook Friend and Skype Buddy has also suggested that I learn a bit of the language –
Cesky -  to help me navigate during my hoped-for  trip to the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, Austin Community College doesn’t offer Czech in its language curriculum, so I’m doing the best I can with some on-line language instruction, and a lot of reading about that part of Europe. Plus, Alice has tipped me off on some on-line resources and recommended a couple of language books. If you are a fan of The History Channel, you’ll recall that The Sudetenland was the part of the new country of Czechoslovakia that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave away to Adolf Hitler in 1938 to assure Peace in Our Time! We all know how THAT worked out.

[PS: Mike Botula’s wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! Is a dynamite item for holiday gift-giving. Ol’ Santa has snapped up a sleighful of the books and will be happy to deliver one for placement under your Channukah Bush or in a Christmas stocking!  Order it from Santa or Amazon Books, or Barnes and Noble.]

© By Mike Botula 2016

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016: It’s Personal!

Brushy Creek Journal
Friday November 11, 2016
Partly Cloudy 58°F/14°C in Cedar Park, Texas
   The first veteran who comes to my mind every November 11th is my father, Charlie Botula. That’s
Lt. Charles Botula, Jr.
a natural. He’s my dad. He served in the US Navy during two long years in World War 2. His ship, the LST 920 saw action at Normandy and in the Pacific. He survived a U boat attack off the coast of England in 1944 and sweated through Kamikaze attacks at Okinawa in 1945. Unlike so many other brave souls, he returned from the war physically unscathed to a loving family in December 1945. Once home, he joined millions of other veterans building new lives in post-war America.
   After I retired in 2004 following a long career in broadcast journalism and government service, I set about writing a book about my dad’s wartime experiences. Last summer LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books. (Christmas shopping hint!). During the course of my research and writing I was fortunate enough to meet and talk to a number of the veterans who either served with my dad aboard LST 920, or survived the U boat attack on its sister ship, LST 921.  Very few of them survive in 2016. The final chapter in the book is my Epilog, an update on the sailors I came into contact with during this project. I would like to share it with you on this Veteran’s Day:

LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!
These are not dark days! These are great days; the greatest days our country has ever lived.
Winston Churchill
 Charles and Mary Botula returned to Riverhead, N.Y. early in 1946. After moving five times in eleven months as they struggled with the post-war housing shortage, they bought a home on East
Skip and Charles Botula 1945
Main Street and settled in to raise their two sons. The Navy veteran at first returned to his pre-war job with the Personal Finance Company while Skip Botula stayed at home to help raise their two boys. Changing jobs, Charles worked as an office equipment salesman for several years before striking out on his own with his pre-war buddy Jim Mulligan, a returning Army veteran. The two vets opened a debt collection agency serving Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties. When my brother and I got a little older, our mother returned to nursing, and became a working mother until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1955. Faced with overwhelming medical bills and the loss of Skip’s income, Charlie drew on his college degree and his Navy service and went to work for county government as a Suffolk County, New York probation officer.  Mary lost her battle with cancer and died in April 1961. Skip was 49. Charles died of a broken heart four years later in October 1965, at age 56.
Mike and Packy Botula 2016
My brother Packy and I went through the local schools and graduated from Riverhead High School. I graduated in 1958 and embarked on a career in radio and television. My brother Charles, who I had given the life-long nickname of Packy, graduated in 1963, went on to the State University of New York, Buffalo, earned a commission in the U.S. Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice during the Vietnam War. During a later assignment Packy Botula flew Air Force Two, the aircraft designated to fly the Vice President of the United States. During his tour, he numbered Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and George H.W. Bush among his passengers. Charles and Mary were role models for their sons and other family members of the next generation. Charles’ godson, Bernard Botula, my cousin, shared the same birth date with dad – October 23rd. Bernie was born in 1929, the year of the great Wall Street Crash and like so many in my family, came of age during the Great Depression and World War 2. My father was the first member of his immigrant family to graduate from college. His godson, Bernard Botula was the first to earn an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He was commissioned in 1954 and assigned to one of the nation’s first nuclear submarines.
The LST 920’s Captain, Harry Neil Schultz remained in the Navy after the war, eventually
Harry Schultz
attaining the rank of Commander by the time he retired. Members of his family said that he never talked much about his wartime experiences. Schultz’ four brothers were also in the service during the war.
Lieutenant John W. Enge, the commanding officer of the ill-fated LST 921 was given command of LST 78, which took part in the invasion of Okinawa along with LST 920. After the war, Enge returned to Alaska where he met his wife Carol and became a leader in the Alaska fishing industry. Enge died in 2010 at the age of 95.
Ensign Don Joost, who was severely wounded in the torpedoing of LST 921 was rescued by the British and taken to a hospital in Falmouth for treatment before being quickly transferred to another tank landing ship, LST
Ensign Don Joost
500 where he served for the rest of the war. Joost went on to serve in the post-war Navy and served on a submarine during the Korean War, before he returned to civilian life as an engineer with Shell Oil Company. Joost was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his bravery during the attack on his ship. When I met him in 2004, he and his wife Bonnie were living quietly in retirement in Walnut Creek, California. Bonnie Joost died in 2014, several years after her husband’s passing.
 Don Reed, LST 920’s Communications Officer and the ship’s last commanding officer returned to California following the war, but never ventured far from his Navy experiences. When I met him in 2003 he was active in his church and serving as a docent aboard the USS Hornet, the World War aircraft carrier/museum ship in Alameda, California.  Reed stayed active in retirement but our communications tapered off and finally ended around 2011. I had brought my son, Michael, with me to meet Reed at that time. Our meeting with Reed provided a real personal connection for my son since his grandfather had died 12 years
Ensign Don Reed LST 920
before he was born.
Seaman Larry Biggio, who had contracted Yellow Jaundice in the Pacific worked diligently after the war to ensure his old ship’s place in history. Biggio established a web site dedicated to the memory of LST 920, which became a labor of love for him and the other shipmates who contributed photographs and articles in the effort to perpetuate the memory of LST 920. When he finally retired, Biggio turned his files over to me. Much of his research has been utilized in the writing of this book.
Engineering officer Jerry Gerard, the aspiring artist who had done the pencil sketch of my dad at Normandy, was transferred from the LST 920 following the ship’s return from Europe. After the war he put his artistic ambitions aside and embarked on a career as an engineer for a petroleum company. Retirement found Gerard back in his home town of Warsaw, Indiana, still active and enjoying a good golf game.  Gerard was still proud, in his eighties, that his old Navy uniform still fit him. He was touched that my dad kept his sketch among his souvenirs.
Motor Machinist’s Mate Joe La Rock returned to his home town near Pittsburgh, Same old story, La Rock wrote in his remembrance letter in 2006, Boy meets girl. We fell in love and were married on February 2, 1948 by my minister. According to La Rock, the minister was the same pastor who had baptized him as an infant. My minister in Pennsylvania had married my mom and dad, baptized me and then, married Minnie and me before he retired. We now have been married 58 years and have three wonderful and successful girls. La Rock began his post-war career earning 79 cents an hour as a laborer but eventually worked his way up in a federal agency and retired 34 years later as a deputy director.
Seaman Joe LaRock
Pennsylvania, and in 1947 married Minnie Wheaton, the Alabama farm girl who had been his pen pal all throughout his time in the Navy.
LST 921 Motor Machinist’s Mate John Abrams, who struggled with Seaman Lloyd Meeker to escape from the engine room, survived the war and went home to Renssalaer, NY. In his retirement, he took on the task of being his ship’s historian. Abrams provided a vivid first-hand account of his escape from his doomed ship.
Lloyd Meeker, who escaped from LST 921’s engine room along with John Abrams returned to Redmond, Oregon after the war. He shared his recollections of his Navy service in a long letter in 2008.
 Ensign Bob Naden, who replaced Jerry Gerard as engineering officer when the ship returned from Europe, came home from the Pacific and returned to civilian life. Naden went on to serve for many years in the state government of Iowa.
The first commander of the U 667, Heinrich-Andreas Schroeteler was transferred to another U boat before his ship’s encounter with Convoy EBC 72. He was captured by the Allies and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp until Germany’s surrender in 1945.
U 667 Captain Schroteler
Schroeteler died in Germany in 2000 at age 85. He had survived the war and lived to a ripe old age, unlike his successor, Karl-Heinze Lange.
The LST 920’s Navy career spanned the years 1944 to 1946 and then the ship joined the Mothball Fleet in Suisun Bay near San Francisco before it’s reincarnation in civilian service as part of a fleet of service vessels for a Brazilian Petroleum Company.
Wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who is considered the “father of the LST,” was turned out of office as the war ended in 1945. But made one more appearance on the world stage as Prime Minister in 1951 to 1955. Churchill died in 1965, leaving an indelible mark on history.  
The world that these men knew had changed forever.  Some veterans like Charlie Botula freely shared their experiences with friends and family. It was clear to those who knew my father, that his Navy service was a high point of his life.  Other returning veterans dealt with the horrors of war by shutting them out, putting their memories behind them and moving on. As the years passed, time began to thin the ranks of those who had served in World War Two.  Children and grandchildren wanted to know more about their parents and grandparents, uncles, brothers and I’ve not talked about this in 60 years!  one LST sailor told me, I just wanted to put it all behind, but I now realize that these are stories that need to be told. Charles Botula and his shipmates made history.  We must not lose sight of their deeds. As Winston Churchill so aptly put it:
British PM Winston Churchill
cousins and experiences during the War.  Many of these veterans began to fear that these stories might go untold and their shipmates might go unremembered. It is much to the credit of men like Don Reed, Larry Biggio, Don Joost, John Abrams, Lloyd Meeker, Fred Benck, Harold Dunagan, Joe Wallace, Jerry Gerard, Joe LaRock, Ray Willis and family members like Tim, Robert and Kelly Schultz, Tom Willcox, Robert Waters and John Ross who so generously shared their memories, photographs and documents that I have been able to tell this story. The LSTs 920 and 921 hold vivid memories for the men who served on them.
“The destinies of two great empires seem to be tied up in some god-damned things called LSTs.”

After LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! published, I got a letter from a reader who informed me that the un-named ship’s cook from the LST 921 was a long-time friend of his. Survivors John Abrams and Lloyd Meeker had both told me about their badly injured shipmate that they had helped rescue from the sinking of their ship, but they never identified him.  Only by chance did I learn that the ship’s cook, Charles Watson, a seaman from the state of Washington not only survived the war after losing a leg and suffering multiple leg and arm fractures, but it still heartily enjoying life at age 95. I talked to Charley Watson after I received Curt Pederson’s letter. And I’m happy to report that Charley Watson is still with us today, joining the rest of us in obvserving Veteran’s Day 2016 – 72 years after that U boat attack in the Dover Channel.   
[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site , and is linkedto FacebookTwitter and Google Plus!]
© By Mike Botula 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Day of the Dead - El Dia de los Muertos!

MIKEBO’S BLOG for Tuesday November 1, 2016
Sunny 87°F/31°C in Cedar Park, Texas

[This story first appeared on the day following Halloween in 2014. It is re-posted every November 1st.]

Buenas Dias,
   Today is the first day of November…the day after Halloween…All Saints Day. It is also El Día de los
Botula Family Gravestone
Muertos, or
The Day of the Dead. It’s a national holiday throughout Mexico, and it’s widely observed in California as well as other southwestern states, 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 my home town most of my adult life. While I had been born in New York City, I had grown up in Riverhead and went all the way through high school here. I had come here one sunny day in April of 1961 with my brother Packy, and our father Charles to bury our mother, Mary. On another sad day in November of 1965 my brother and I returned to bury our father, Charles. Following their funerals, my brother Packy and I set to the task of closing up the
Charles and Mary Botula 1937
home where we had grown up and get it ready to be sold. An unseen gate slammed shut on our idyllic childhood, and we both moved on with our lives. Now, on this sunny day in September forty eight years later, “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 1
st, 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” Meras, 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, Ramsey Walters. Around the bend is my old scoutmaster, Alton Medsger. Across the way, in a plot marked by a tall granite monument are my parents’ best friends, Fred and Beverly Alexander. Glancing down at the headstones as I walk along, I see so many family friends.

Saturday April 29, 1995-Calvary Cemetery Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
   I had come to this gravesite for the first time in 1947 with my father when I was six years old. It was the first time that death had touched our family, and I was overwhelmed by my grief. My dad’s brother, my Uncle Adolf had died suddenly at the family homestead on Ward Street. He was still in
Johana and Karel Botula
his thirties. Forty-eight years later I had returned to say farewell to my dad’s other brother, my beloved Uncle Ted. My own dad was not here – he and my mother had passed away thirty years before, and were buried back in my home town. For me, the two gravesite visits were like placing bookends on either side of my life and were also important chapters of my family’s history. I viewed the moment as a flashback with the scene beginning in a chaotic drama in black and white and quickly flashing forward in time to a similar but a contemporary drama in full color. As is the custom in many Roman Catholic cemeteries, we said goodbye to Uncle Ted at a short service in the cemetery chapel and then we left to let the graves crew do its job. There were no graveside goodbyes. After the chapel farewells, my cousins, my brother and I among them, decided on our own to visit the family gravesite. There are three generations of Botulas buried at this plot, there are other family members resting nearby. It wasn’t a
Dia de los Muertos visit, that’s not part of my Czech heritage, but the sentiment was the same. For the cousins, Packy, Anna Marie, Richard and Frank and me, this became our own brief family reunion. We were a close-knit group of cousins, and, we
The Botula Cousins
hadn’t been together in many years. Uncle Ted’s passing was a signal moment in the story of our family.

   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, church crypts and necropoli of Rome, colonial era cemeteries along the eastern seaboard 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 home in Mariposa, California. The people that own the house acquired the small family burial ground when they acquired the property and now care for it with the same loving care as if it sheltered members of their own family. I think as I walk along that the history of any society lives in its cemeteries.
     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, Donna 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, Theo Lacy, 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. But, why have a picnic in a cemetery? I ask. El Dia de los Muertos,” the woman said in a soft, accented voice. It is El Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead.  Today, we come to the cemetery to honor members of our families who have passed on 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 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, “We’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 “Trick or Treating” of Halloween.
Hasta la vista,

Friday, September 16, 2016

Hi! Whatshername Wants to be Your Friend on Facebook!

Brushy Creek Journal
Friday September 16, 2016
Partly Cloudy 92°F/33°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Thundershowers  82°F/28°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00128
Deep down in my Facebook Profile there must be something that screams out Senior
My New "Friend!"
white male, divorced, lives alone with companion animal. Interested in meeting attractive young lady of diverse ethnicity. Well traveled, interesting career background, independent means!
 Now as anyone who visits my profile page can attest, that’s not what I wrote. I am NOT looking to get married again (Been there, done that – TWICE!), or even thinking about embarking on a deep and meaningful relationship!. And yet, occasionally, I will see a pretty face in my inbox with a request to be on her Friends List on Facebook or Twitter or Google Plus etc. The pretty face that I’m talking about in this blog has appeared in my Friends inbox any number of times, always under a different name.
Deep down, I am hoping to grow my list of followers for my Blog ( and my web site, and the other social media venues. I’m also working to encourage my Friends to buy my new book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  Published by Amazon Books, it’s being sold by, Barnes and Noble and Booktopia (In Australia). Like the radio and TV broadcaster that I used to be, now that I’m a writer, I’d like to build my new audience – people who love to read!
Facebook and the social media also enables me to stay in touch with my friends from my lifetime of wanderings. Being new to Texas, I am embarked, once again on restarting my life. Which means that I have started all over again finding a place to live followed by: a grocery store, a doctor and dentist, a gas station, some places to walk Lola, my poodle, and some new friends to hang out with. It takes time to put down roots. I know. I’ve done it a dozen times! Sometimes, I plan this. Other times, life happens. (Catch my drift?).
So then. Back to my personal observation that you do meet some very interesting people on Facebook. I’m also aware of the fact that there are some hustler types out there on social media trying to entice others with promises of wealth and passion beyond description. Most of these folks seem to be based in West Africa. (NOW, you’re catching on). And they are definitely not old high school chums who are trying to reconnect. I think that’s the case with the young lady who has sent me numerous Friend Requests, each time using a different name. I’ve gotten requests with the same face attached, albeit with different poses from this same woman calling herself variously: Better May, Anita Better May, Crystal Sureline, Hamdiya Mun, Suzzy Williams, Vonica Herry and, the list goes on.
My friends in law enforcement (and believe me, as the former News Secretary for the
Los Angeles District Attorney, I have plenty of those), all tell me that the young lady is
As "Crystal Sureline!"
just another pretty face on the front of a cyber-scam that involves a boiler room operation complete with computers operated by hustlers using purloined photos of models and other pretty faces preying on social media’s gullible souls. Frequently these cyberscams originate in the former Soviet Union or in West Africa, where the economy of third world nations like Kenya and Ghana seem to be built on enterprises like this. Since I have no way of knowing whether the lady who’s pretty face is part of all this or just another lovely whose photo has been ripped off, I won’t make any direct accusations about Anita/Crystal/Hamdiya/Suzzy/Vonica! After studying the photos very carefully, I am convinced that the girl in that medly of surnames is a real, genuine member of the fair sex. After all, there is only so much you can do with PhotoShop. So, I’m willing to give the real whatever-her-name-is the benefit of the doubt for a moment while I offer some advice about cyber-scams.

First of all, don’t reflexively accept the Friend Request! Check the person out first. I usually look at the list of mutual friends. Then I click on the sender’s Facebook page and check out their Friends list, the About section, and the Check-ins. If the wannabe friend was born in Texas, but now lives in Accra, Ghana, keep moving. If there is very little or no
As "Sandi Tomsen!"
information on the person’s page, I pass. I also don’t even bother with requests where there is not even a profile picture. Some FB fans may assume that they are protecting their privacy, but most likely there is is No There There! Kapisch? Frequently, the evildoers will resort to hacking someone’s Facebook page, and steal the real owner’s Profile picture. So when you get a message from your friend that asks, Have you heard the good news? Or have you gotten your federal grant yet? Call your friend or private email them and let them know they’ve been hacked. And, the first time they ask you for money so a doctor can treat them for Malaria, or make a donation to their church, or they are trying to scrape the money together for funeral expenses for their late mother in Mali, pull the plug! They’ve got a “live one” and you are headed to the poor house.
Use your internet tools to help you check out your new friends. I am a serial Google-er!  I also subscribed to a background check service called Been Verified! Nothing like it if you want to know if the guy who’s asked your youngest daughter out on a date has any drunk driving arrests. A lot of these resources are well known to old newsguys like me, but, even so, we occasionally wind up on the losing side of this game ourselves. But, I’ll save those stories for another blog.
Let’s get back to Better May, Anita Better May, Crystal Sureline, Hamdiya Mun, Suzzy Williams, Vonica Herry et al for just a moment, because I think I finally know who she is. And I owe my discovery to a combination of Google and my own dumb luck. A few days ago I got a Friend Request from a lady calling herself Sandi Tomsen. Ms. Tomsen looked familiar, so I dug a little further. Sure enough, Sandi Tomsen was also Better May, Anita Better May, Crystal Sureline, Hamdiya Mun, Suzzy Williams, and Vonica Herry! Oh Joy! My mystery beauty has crossed my path yet again. Before I responded, I copied her photo onto my Females on Facebook File to join another couple of dozens of JPEGs of the same lady striking different poses under different names. (Hmmmm! I wonder if the real people behind this little deal knew that their “Star” would wind up in a blog on internet scams?) Then…..and here’s the dumb luck part…. I right-clicked on the photo and clicked again on the Search for this image on Google option. Bingo! Up came yet another name! Same pretty girl, but now she was Aria Giovanni – an adult actress and model with her own web site and live chat room. Hmmm! The mystery continues. All I have to show for my research efforts is a string of phony names and a lot of pictures of the same pretty girl.
What I did learn from this experience is how to better protect oneself from people of ill-intentions on the internet. I’m still learning how to take advantage of search engines like Google. For instance, if your new Facebook friend sends you a love note or poem that
Actress Aria Giovanni
makes your heartstrings quiver, do this. Highlight and copy the text. Then paste it into the search engine. It will work like that anti-plagiarism software used by colleges and universities. Bang! Zoom! You’ll find out in a heartbeat whether the Flirty-Gertie on the other side is the original author or copying Lord Tennyson or Shakespeare. And now I know the same thing works for photos. I tried it on one of my own pictures, and it responded with the words Senior Citizen. True enough, but a little short of the mark.
So, after all that, I’m no closer to a meaningful friendship with my wannabe Facebook Friend than I was when I first got a Friend Request from Better May/Anita Better
May/Crystal Sureline/ Hamdiya Mun/Suzzy Williams/Vonica Herry/Sandi Tomsen. The trail of aliases seems to end at Aria Giovanni. But, even that may not be real. According to Wikipedia, Aria Giovanni is an adult film actress. That is backed up by IMDB, the Internet Movie Data Base. Now, adult film stars work under a flock of aliases, so, here again, I am left wondering what Aria Giovanni’s REAL name is. Hmmm! Hopefully persistence on my part will shed a little light on my minor mystery. And if her face appears on your Friends List, let me know. I’d love to compare notes. I’ll check back with  you later!
[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site , and is linkedto Facebook,  Twitter and Google Plus!]
© By Mike Botula 2016