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