Sunday, December 31, 2017

Up, Up and Away! Soon

Rome Diary IV:
Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!
December 31, 2017
Mostly Cloudy 55°F/13°C in Rome, Italy
Cloudy 39°F/4°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Buona giornata amici miei!
      This is my final blog for 2017. In a few hours, there will be a new year, and new adventures ahead. There will be another birthday, and new musings on how swiftly time flies. First thing on my  New Year’s agenda: Rome!

I live for my travels to the Eternal City. It’s a romance that dates back to Mr. Diamond’s Latin
Michael, Laura, MikeBo in Venice
class at good old Riverhead High School, when I first started learning about the wonders of the ancient world. There must be something in the Botula family gene pool, because my son Michael went to Europe, met his future wife Laura in London and went back to Rome with her and are living their happily ever after in Rome. My first visit came in 2005, and I’ve dutifully returned regularly ever since.

The first several visits were typical vacation trips. My first Roman Holiday, came with an ambitious two-week plan: Rome, Pompeii, Florence and Pisa, and of course, Venice.  In spite of the high hopes, I never left Rome on that trip. Too much to see and do in Rome. Since then, I’ve scaled back on my travel ambitions and lengthened my time in-country. In 2013, I traveled to Rome for what I thought might be a two week sojourn. Instead, I stayed more than two months. After the first few weeks, Michael and Laura found me a studio apartment nearby, left me behind, and went on a ten-day cruise. Since then, we have followed that pattern. On this trip, I am renting the same small apartment I lived in this spring. It’s near Michael and Laura, it’s close to the bancomat and market and it’s located within a short walk to the metro.

Looking back, I can see that I was following a very familiar pattern often taken by first-time overseas travelers – planning too ambitious an itinerary. Too often, the first-time international traveler returns home in a daze. The vacation has unfolded in a blur of activity. Were we in Rome on Tuesday, or was that Berlin? When were we in Paris? I remember the Eiffel Tower, but, what day was it? So, my sage advice to first time travelers is this: Go ahead and book a complete tour with flights, hotels and meals included. Make sure you take local tours so you are sure to see the sights. But, keep in the back of your mind what you’d like to see on your RETURN TRIP. That way you can profit by your lessons learned on your guided tour and apply them to a more leisurely pace on your return trip.

Thanks to globalization and the internet, a Roman Holiday can be yours as easily as a family trip to Disneyland, especially in Europe where the Euro is the currency of choice in 19 countries. (The current rate of exchange is 1 Euro = $1.19 USD). I always order a supply of Euros from my bank before I leave, so that I have some local currency to spend until my first visit to an Italian bancomat, or ATM. Your credit cards will work in the EU as well. Just make sure they are cards with the computer chip. And, it’s always a good idea to let your bank and credit card company know the dates and places you will be traveling.

I always advise my traveling buddies to invest in a good travel book to take along. Having some handy phrases in the local language will go a long way to endearing you to the natives. I carry and array of city street maps as well. Also, in keeping with my current virtual existence, my IPAD and IPhone both carry the Google Translator, so I can augment the Italian I’ve learned in Patrizia Papi’s language classes at Austin Community College.  The GPS features on both handheld devices largely replace maps and guidebooks, but, my Boy Scout training has instilled in me an incentive to have a map and guidebook handy as a back-up.

Michael’s band, No Funny Stuff! is playing in Milan a few days following my  arrival in Rome. So, we will be traveling on the high-speed train from Rome to Northern Italy for a few days on my first adventure out of Rome. Since my birthday and Laura’s birthday fall within a few days of each other, we plan on a joint birthday celebration in Milan. In keeping with my policy of  over-planning my vacations, the trip to Milan is the only event on my itinerary so far. But, I know at the other end of the month, there will be other adventures and other destinations.

My laptop and my IPad are traveling with me, so, I will be writing about my journey along the way.

I’ll keep you posted.

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can visit Mike Botula at]

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Day of Infamy: An Untold Story for December 7, 2017

Day of Infamy: An Untold Story for December 7, 2017
MikeBo’s Blog!
Partly Cloudy 52°F/11°C Roma, Lazio, Italia
Cloudy 42°F/6°C Cedar Park, Texas
    Today marks the seventy-sixth anniversary of Japan’s attack on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, a date that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would tell a Joint Session of Congress the following
USS Arizona
day would go down in history as A Day Which Will Live in Infamy. From that moment forward, America would be at war, entwined in the greatest global conflict in the history of the world.

    One of the survivors of the Pearl Harbor  attack was a young Petty Officer named Harry Neil Schultz, a native of Washington. Schultz later went on to command LST 920, an amphibious landing ship that my father, Lieutenant Charles Botula, Jr. served aboard as Executive Officer during 1944 and 1945.
   Schultz’s heroism in the aftermath of a Nazi U-boat attack on my father’s ship off the coast of England in August, 1944 is chronicled in my book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! While I was researching the book, I talked to several members of Schultz’ family who told me that Harry Schultz had joined the Navy in 1937. He was one of five brothers who served in various branches of the armed forces in WW2. On December 7, 1941, Harry Schultz was aboard his ship, the destroyer USS Jarvis (DD 393) on that fateful Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor. His story is also told in a chapter in my book. This account is from my website.
Harry Schultz: Defiant Hero!

Onward and Upward!
© Mike Botula 2017

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at]

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Roma Diario IV: Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!

MikeBo’s Blog!
Sunday 19 November 2017
Sunny: 60°F/15°C Roma, EUR, Italia
Mostly Sunny: 65°F/18°C Cedar Park, Texas
     The doctor glanced a his computer screen, smiled, and looked over at my daughter and I and said, Okay! The good news is … no cancer!  It’s amazing just how good for morale a few spoken words like that can be! 
      My primary physician had referred me onto a specialist when one of my blood tests registered
high. This appointment was with the specialist to go over the results of a biopsy, and he had asked me to bring a family  member with me to the consultation, just in case….! So, as months of angst dissipated, I said, I HAD been planning my next trip to Italy. Can I book my flight?  His reply, Sure, but I would like to re-check you in three months. Bon Voyage! My snappy retort, I’m going to Italy, doctor. That’s Buon Viaggio!

"Roma è la città di echi, la città delle illusioni e la città di desiderio".
Giotto di Bondone, 1337
      [“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of desire.”]

The wheels had been turning ever since I returned from my last trip in April. I had originally planned to spend the holidays back in Rome with Michael and Laura, but then that lab work threw a wrench into my plans. Now, everything was back off hold, and my travel planning lurched back up to speed. The new trip will be a birthday celebration instead of a family Christmas, but that’s okay.
       I’ll be spending my vacation in the same apartment where I stayed the last time. Michael called Amina, the landlady and she reserved it for me. So, I’m back in a familiar neighborhood, near Michael and Laura. I’ve made the transition from being a tourist just dropping in to Rome to becoming a part-time resident of the Eternal City. After a challenging year in Texas with hurricanes, mass shootings and conservative politics, I’m actually looking forward to a winter holiday in Europe, especially a pilgrimage I hope to make to the Czech Republic.
       As many of my friends and the folks who know me or follow my adventures on Facebook, my blog or are aware, my paternal grandparents emigrated from the vicinity of Ostrava in what is now the Czech Republic back in 1903. I’ve also included some of our family history in my book about my father’s World War 2 adventures, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Barnes and Noble on-line, and Amazon Books). I am a proud product of America’s Immigrant Experience!
      The world has gotten a lot smaller since I made my first overseas trip in 1975, to Frankfurt, Germany to visit my brother Packy, who was stationed there in the US Air Force. We toured Bavaria, Austria and Northern Italy on that trip exchanging US dollars into deutschemarks, Austrian schillings and Italian lira along the way. Now, when I need spending money or go shopping I visit a corner bancomat and top off my  wallet with Euros. The US dollar is worth about the same as the Euro. (Current exchange rate: 1.00 = US $ 1.18). A trip to Rome is no less challenging than a weekend in San Francisco. And, I highly recommend visits to both great cities.
       It has certainly made my visits to Italy more enjoyable having a member of the family – my son Michael – actually living in the city where I spend most of the time. It further helps the cause to have a son who not only lives there, but makes most of his income as a guide for City Wonders Tours. When I was younger and the kids were growing up, I used to take Michael and his sister Dana to work with me quite frequently. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and Michael has taken me to work with him as he leads tours all around Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and points in between like Pompeii, Montecassino, and Pisa. My grandparents came to America to seek new opportunities and to raise their family. My son has reversed the pattern, and I am following in his footsteps.
       My ticket for the trip, in jet age steerage is booked, my apartment in Rome is reserved. All I need to do now is tuck my passport in my pocket  and get to the airport, which I’ll do shortly after the holidays. I’ll be chronicling my adventures, large and small in my upcoming series Rome Diary  IV: Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!  
Onward and Upward!
© Mike Botula 2017

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at]

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Diary of an ex-Press Secretary!

MikeBo’s Blog!
Retired in a small city in Texas
November 16, 2017
    I actually felt sorry for Donald Trump the other day, and embarrassed for every press secretary
L'arancia grande beve l'acqua!
who ever dropped the ball on a small but vital detail. POTUS’s scramble for his drink of water during

his mid-week news conference is still reverberating on TV and computer screens, tablets and I Phones around the globe and is destined to be replayed down through the centuries. History will note it as a defining moment of the Trump Presidency.
   And now, I’m wondering which minor minion in the White House Press Office will be fired for the President’s gaffe. In the rules of the press secretary profession, the cardinal rule is: Never leave undone any small detail that allows your boss to look bad!  In the flackery game, letting your boss look bad is a capital offense, a mortal sin, and a Bozo no-no!
   In normal times, the White House Press Office is the undisputed World Champion among government press agencies, bar none. As a reporter, I’ve had occasion to cover presidential press events all the way back to LBJ’s visit to Phoenix, Arizona three weeks after the Kennedy assassination in Dallas in November, 1963. In California, I covered  Ronald Reagan when he was governor and during his presidency. I also covered the Western White House during Watergate. Trust me when I say that the President of the United States should never have to scramble for a sip of water during a televised news conference. And, to have to unscrew a plastic bottle of water and gulp from it like a field hand… well, it’s just gauche beyond words!
   I covered thousands of press conferences over my decades as a radio and TV reporter. But, I never realized the science behind the staging of a news conference until I was hired by a political consulting firm to do advance press relations for a California ballot initiative in 1988. That campaign kicked off a whole new career line for me. The following year, I joined the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office as News Secretary to District Attorney Ira Reiner. Two District Attorneys later, I left for Sacramento following my appointment by Governor Gray Davis as Assistant Director for Public Information for the new state Department of Child Support Services. I’ve had a lot of experience with news conferences.
   I could do a university lecture on How to Organize a News Conference. (And, in fact, I have.) But, let’s focus on TLC at the podium. Even the most seasoned veteran will experience a dry throat or begin to perspire during his or her presentation. So a basic detail is to have a glass of water nearby along with a small package of tissues.  I always huddled with my client before the start of the news conference to make sure he had his talking points in the proper pocket. The briefing always included the location of the glass or cup of water. (No bottles).
   One of the participants at I news conference I was responsible for was considerably shorter than my boss. So, I had a special riser built, to eliminate the sharp difference in the height of the two speakers. Later, my boss told me that the visiting dignitary was impressed because your Press Secretary thinks of everything!
   Poor POTUS! He travels to  the far reaches of the earth on a 12-day journey to meet with world leaders, engaging in the most monumental political tasks, and wants to share his good news upon his return with his nation and the world. But, what is the most notable moment of that entire effort? The leader of the Free World fumbling with a screw-top water bottle!
    Somewhere behind the scene at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, heads are rolling!
Onward and Upward!

© Mike Botula 2017

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at]

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sorry I Missed Your Birthday, Dad!

MikeBo’s Blog!
Cloudy with Sun in Afternoon 59°F/15°C at Cokeburg, Pennsylvania
Sunny 75°F/24°C at Cedar Park, Texas
Dobrý den!

Yesterday, as I signed onto Facebook for my morning ration of clack and clatter about The Decline and Fall of the American Dream at the Tiny Hands of the Upstart From Queens, one of my
Dad in 1945
  Facebook Memories popped up on my screen. It was an old blog of mine, entitled A Story My Father Told Me! Not being inclined to wallow through another memory flogger, I passed on it and went on to more current events. Then, last evening, my cousin Linda reminded me that it was my father’s birthday – October 23rd, the same as my cousin Bernie Botula, my dad’s godson. When I replied to her message, I mentioned that my kid brother Packy had his birthday on the 18th. This morning, as I lurched into consciousness, I realized that, had he lived, my dad would be 108. (He died in 1965 at 52). The title of that Facebook memory and my blog escaped me, so I went back to the source to refresh my memory.   

Sunday, October 8, 2017


MikeBo’s Blog!
Location: Austin, Texas Area
Partly Cloudy 72°F/14°C Roma, Lazio, Italia
Sunny 89°F/31°C Cedar Park, Texas
    Back in August I recounted in my blog how I had cut the apron strings connecting me to my cable TV provider. It was a divorce from a longstanding relationship of (at least) three decades. Since my friends and neighbors on Facebook and other social media sites have texted me with comments, I thought it might be time for a follow-up, so I can answer the musical question: how’s that streaming thing working out for you?
    In a word: GREAT!
It took me several months and several conversations with the customer service reps from my provider to get it done. For me, cutting cable was more Evolution than Revolution. I did it in steps.
     First, I needed to shop around for the necessary add-ons. I was starting with a new big screen
Smart HDTV set. A visit to Amazon brought me a high gain indoor TV antenna, which gave me my local Austin, Texas area channels. Then, off to Best Buy where, after discussing my goals with one of their customer service reps, I brought home an Apple TV adaptor, figuring it would synch up better with my IPad and my IPhone. However, other options are: X-Box, Amazon Fire, Google Chromecast, Roku, Android Smart TV among others.

The Smart HDTV has a built-in computer, and thus offers an array of streaming apps in addition to my Apple TV. Some of them duplicate the Apple TV apps, but some are unique to my big screen Samsung. After the tedious process of selecting and down loading the apps I wanted, I was ready to give it a try. (Mind you – at this point I still had my cable service connected). I quickly discovered that some apps require a cable TV provider to function. But, most require a subscription but operate independently of cable. After several weeks of tryouts and putting the same streaming apps on my laptop, IPhone and IPad, I called up my provider and started the unraveling process. I cancelled my land line phone service, placed my cable TV service on a vacation hold and took off for Italy for the next month.
    Internet streaming has one HUGE advantage! You don’t have to be home to watch TV. The Apple TV component provides the apps and access to your subscriptions just to your TV set.  All other apps and subscriptions can be downloaded directly to your IPhone, IPad or PC or laptop. You can be anywhere in the world and still watch Law and Order. Once I had been assured that my rental apartment in Rome came with WI-FI, I was in business. And that formed the basis of the ultimatum I could give to my cable TV provider when I got home the following month.
    Lifestyle changes combined with the ever-increasing costs of staying connected, were my primary reasons for my electronic cost-cutting. My move from California to Texas in late 2015 meant my suburban home no longer needed to care and feed the technology behind four or five rooms with cable boxes and TV sets. My new home was a two-bedroom apartment with a big-screen smart HDTV in the living room and a 30-inch HDTV in the spare room that I use as an office.
     As time passed, not only was I dealing with increasing cable TV expenses, but increasing costs of maintaining cell phone service, especially when I was traveling.  Once I settled into my new digs in Texas, I had my cell phone, a land line phone, cable TV and an internet connection all wrapped into a nice big bundle from AT&T with an average monthly cost of about $400 bucks. Once I got rid of my land line and cable TV service, my monthly tab has dropped to less than half of that.
    Cable TV providers are extremely loath to lose their customers to streaming of any kind, and AT&T was no exception. So, I decided on taking a gradual approach. In my first call, I cancelled my land line phone service and put my cable subscription on vacation hold. After I got back from Italy, I called them again and asked to cancel my cable TV subscription. Sir, your cable TV service is BUNDLED with your internet service. If you cancel one, we will have to terminate the other, the friendly customer service rep told me. You’re telling me that I can’t have one without the other? I asked. That’s right, he replied.  BUT, we CAN reduce your cable TV subscription down to basic cable. You’ll save about $30 a month. Would that be satisfactory? I decided to retreat from the battlefield and fight another day.
    Over the next few months I refined my streaming set-up. I had already subscribed to CBSN for news and Netflix for House of Cards and Narcos. The Apple TV came with ITunes. Now, I added HBO Now, You Tube, IHeart Radio, Comedy Central, PBS, the National Geographic Channel (OK, I had to subscribe to the magazine to evade a cable provider), The Weather Channel, and a few others. Now, some months later, I am still adding channels while subtracting others. The refining process is an ongoing thing, but my choices are my own, and not a cable provider’s take-it-or-leave-it bundle.
    With IHeart radio, I can stream music and news from around the world. From my buddy John Stephens’ Paradise FM in Tauranga, New Zealand to my good friend and colleague Hans Laetz’ KBUU-FM in Malibu, California. I can even check to see if they are still playing polkas on my old alma mater WRIV 1390 in my hometown of Riverhead, NY. While I’m writing, I generally listen to Austin’s classical KMFA89. On weekends, it’s jazz on WDNA, Miami. And if a big California story catches my eye I can hear it on KCBS, San Francisco; KBFK, Sacramento or KNX, Los Angeles.
    With my indoor antenna I can watch all the local Austin channels, including 4 – count ‘em – FOUR PBS channels through KLRU. PBS Kids (which I leave on for Lola when I go out), KLRU Create, KLRU-Q and the regular KLRU-HD, which is the only PBS channel on local cable. The streaming app offers a bonus: unlimited streaming of any PBS program through its Passport Program. All it takes is a minimum donation to PBS, and your donation is tax deductible.
     Since I’m a former newsman (TV/Radio reporter 1st class–retired) who capped off a career in broadcast news as a press secretary for Los Angeles County, California and Public Information Officer for the State of California, I’d like to mention the wide variety of news sources available through streaming. PBS does a first-class job starting with the PBS Newshour.  But they also offer BBC World News America, NHK Japan and DW TV Germany. DW TV also has a streaming app and broadcasts news 24/7 in multiple languages. Another example are the apps from the New York Times and Washington Post, just to mention two major newspapers that also publish video products and produce podcasts. Contrary to what you may hear in the political windstorms these days, there is Real News out there if you know where to look for it! Associated Press, Reuters, Al Jazeera. I even have RAI-TV news on my IPad when I want to follow the news and practice my Italian simultaneously.
    My Samsung big screen offers Amazon Prime TV through its built-in apps. Since I’m an Amazon Prime customer, the television streaming is included in my annual fee. (Can’t wait for the new season of Bosch, a dandy LA detective series). It’s funny, though. The Amazon app on my Apple TV will only let me shop on Amazon, not watch any of the Amazon TV product. Must be a competition thing.
     Just last week, I added CBS All Access to watch the new Star Trek: Discovery and was pleasantly surprised that a subscriber can either stream the shows of their choice or watch CBS on the local CBS affiliate. In my case, that’s KEYE-TV Austin. As good a signal as it pulls out of the ether, my TV antenna is still subject to occasional interference.
     The last time I talked to my cable TV provider, I had all my ducks lined up. The customer service rep that I talked to didn’t really put up a struggle. I was prepared to tell him that my cell phone contract was no longer in force and I was prepared to offset some of the cost reductions for my cable TV service with a higher quality internet connection. I was about to tell him that I could cancel everything with AT&T and go with another provider if we couldn’t make a deal. (My mailbox overfloweth with ads and solicitations from Spectrum and other cable and internet providers). By the time we were finished talking, my cable TV service was gone and my internet service had been upgraded.
     Now, I pray that the electricity and my internet connect stay up.
Onward and Upward!

© Mike Botula 2017

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a subsidiary of  Mike is on FacebookTwitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus!] Mike’s book is available from or Barnes and Noble Books.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

LST 920: The Long, Slow Target’s Anniversary!

MikeBo's Blog!
Soleggiato: 90°F/32°C Roma, Lazio, Italia
Partly Sunny & Hot: 100°F/38°C Cedar Park, Texas
                    A friend who dies, it’s something of you who dies.  Gustave Flaubert
    August 14th also fell on a Monday in 1944. Seventy-three years ago today at 4:54 p.m. a torpedo from the U 667 exploded at the stern of my dad’s sister ship, LST 921. The blast broke the ship’s
Charlie Botula and LST 920
back, and within the next few minutes, the aft portion of the ship would sink along with half of the crew. My father, Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. watched from the bridge of his ship, LST 920, as a second torpedo cut through the water heading directly toward his ship. Suddenly, a British escort ship, LCI(L) 99 steamed between LST 920 and the oncoming torpedo, and was blown out of the water.
       Following an anxiety-filled, but otherwise uneventful voyage across the North Atlantic, LST 920 was in a convoy steaming across the Dover Channel from Milford Haven, Wales on the final leg of its long wartime journey to Falmouth, England. It should have been steaming toward the Pacific, but wartime logistics had suddenly changed and now it was headed for Normandy. Ensign John J. Waters noted in the ship’s log at 16:54 hours that LST 921, sister ship to the LST 920 had been hit by a torpedo. American and British lives would be lost, many sailors would be wounded and many individual acts of heroism would be noted. But, the event itself would merely be recorded in official Allied wartime records and little notice taken until many years later.
      My dad told that story to my brother Packy and I over Sunday dinner for years. But, the whatevers nagged at me for decades. Whatever happened to that Nazi U-boat after the attack? Whatever happened to Captain Harry Schultz? Whatever happened to the guys that Ensign Harold Willcox pulled out of the water? Whatever happened to the crew of that British ship? My father’s story and the remaining questions it raised, eventually prompted me to put my journalistic skills to work on a very  personal family story, and in August of 2016, my book LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books. So, my annual tribute to my father’s war-time
Das Book!
close call is also an opportunity to circulate a reminder about my own contribution to American literature and the history of World War 2. LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is available in paperback, a Kindle version from Amazon Books, and a print-on-demand paperback edition is available from Barnes and Noble. (You can either order on-line from or in the store at the Customer Service desk). Readers in Australia and New Zealand can order it from Elements of dad’s story also appear prominently on my website:
      Charlie Botula came home from the Pacific War in December 1945. I remember that moment just as vividly as I remember attending the commissioning of LST 920 in June of 1944. After he came home, the family moved back to Riverhead on New York’s Long Island and we all went on with our lives. Other young veterans came home, too, to build their homes and raise their families. Some of them married their high school sweethearts and started families. A few others brought home their war brides, bashful young women with odd-sounding accents. After a while,  among the returning veterans, there were other people with strange
Commissioning- June 17, 1944
accents, DP’s. DP was an acronym for Displaced Person, the official Red Cross designation for people who had lost everything because of the war in Europe. About the time I entered third grade I started making friends with new classmates, who spoke little or no English. We grew up together.
      Mary Botula died in April 1961 after a long battle with cancer. Dad survived the war by 20 years, dying just a few days short of his birthday in October 1965. Packy went back to college, got his commission and spent his career in the US Air Force. I went back to Arizona where I was working in radio and went about building my career. In 1966, along with my new wife Donna, we went on to California where we both built careers and raised our two children-Dana Lynne and Michael. Through all my travels, I brought along Charlie Botula’s  family photos, Navy records and letters, and other personal documents. As we moved on with our lives, the memories of dad’s war stories faded somewhat, but I continued to carry them with me.
       One evening in 2003, as I surfed the internet I came across a website devoted to World War 2
Don Reed in 1944
Navy veterans. On a whim, and without any expectations, I left a message: My father, Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. served aboard the LST 920 as executive officer from June 1944 until December 1945. I would like to hear from anyone who might have served with him. A few days later I heard from the LST 920’s former communications, officer Don Reed. Mike, I served aboard the LST 920 from its commissioning in June 1944 until it was decommissioned in 1946. I knew your dad very well. Please let me know how we can get in touch.
       That brief exchange opened a whole new vista for me on dad’s wartime experiences. The first stop was to meet Reed and talk to him first-hand about my dad and his war-time experiences. So, my son Michael and I drove from my home in Sacramento, California to Alameda across the bay from San Francisco to meet Ensign Reed. Michael never knew his grandfather since dad died in 1965. seven years before my son was born. Over dinner, Reed shared his photos, his recollections and his research about the attack on his convoy in 1944. He too, had survived that experience with many unanswered questions. Next step for me was to reach out to other crew members from both LSTs who had lived through that experience. A letter to the U.S. LST Association brought me a list of ten or so, veterans of the two LSTs who were members.  I wrote to each one of them, asking if they would share their memories.
      Their response was heartwarming. Seaman Larry Biggio had started a website dedicated to the
U 667 - The Villain
crew of LST 920. Biggio and Reed had kept meticulous track of the crew of the LST 920 and of the ship’s timeline throughout the time it was in commission. I relied heavily on their research in writing the book. Radioman Fred Benck and Seaman Joe Wallace wrote accounts of that long ago day. From the ill-fated LST 921 I talked by phone with Master Machinist John Edmonds and Seaman Lloyd Meeker who gave me their accounts of their escape from the engine room of their sinking ship. Captain Harry Schultz’s son Tim, his grandson Robert and nephew Kelly Schultz provided valuable insights and information about the pivotal character in my story. Captain Schultz had disobeyed direct orders to bring the LST 920 about and return to rescue the survivors of the 921 and the British escort vessel. I talked by phone with Engineering Officer Jerry Gerard who was a good friend of my dad’s and served with him.
      Other accounts came from Tom Willcox, the son of the heroic Ensign Harold Willcox, who dove repeated into the chilly waters of the Dover Channel to rescue survivors. John Ross, the stepson of
Skip and Charles Botula 1945
Seaman Ray Willis contributed some 200 photos from the LST 920’s clandestine darkroom. Photos and memories were also contributed by Robert Waters, son of Ensign John Waters, who witnessed the torpedoing from the bridge and noted it in the ship’s log. I also was able to meet and talk with the Engineering Officer from the LST 921, former Ensign Don Joost, who trained with my father and knew him well. My father and other survivors of that event knew only that they had been attacked by a German U-boat, but nothing beyond that. My father never mentioned over those Sunday war story telling’s, that the German tracked them for several days following the attack, looking for another kill. But, when former Ensign Don Reed guided me to the wartime records in the National Archives, I struck the mother lode of wartime Nazi Navy history.
     From the German archival website which is dedicated to the wartime German Kriegsmarine, I was able to research the U-boat that carried out the attack, the U-667, from its launching in 1942 at Hamburg, Germany to its encounter with a deadly mine on August 25, 1944.
Onward and upward!

© Mike Botula 2017

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! writer of  MikeBo’s Blog and producer of the website  Mike’s book is available from or on-demand at Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cutting the Apron Strings!

MikeBo’s Blog!
Tuesday August 8, 2017
Soleggiato e caldo a Roma 98°F/37°C
Scattered thundershowers 92°F/33°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Buongiorno amici miei!
     A few days ago my Facebook news feed popped out an item which instantly caught my attention! (SPOILER ALERT: This has NOTHING to do with Donald Trump or politics!) It was the tale
of a cable TV customer who was amazed to learn that he could watch his local television channels for FREE if he hooked his TV set up to an ANTENNA. I realized instantly that this poor soul was not of my generation. For, I recall in the dim distant past running home from school, turning on the Emerson black and white TV set in our living room and sitting through a snowy test pattern from one of the New York stations so I could watch Howdy Doody! Since we lived almost 100 miles from New York City, our signal was, should I say, less than crisp!  But after my dad spent $450 on the TV set and another $100 for the outside antenna, at least the test pattern and Howdy Doody and Captain Video were FREE!
     But, back to the future. Now I’m looking back at decades of cable television service, back to the primeval era when cable TV was called CATV, or Community Access TV. Now, we all belong to the Online Generation!
     Back in the distant past, my first monthly bill for cable TV service was about twenty bucks. Nowadays, by the time I added up all of my electronic necessities like cell phone, house phone, cable TV and internet services I was in thrall to my carrier for an amount approaching the entire defense budget of a banana republic. Something had to give! Either I could continue eating and paying my share of the price for my retirement plan health services, or I could stay in touch with the world and keep blogging about starving to death on Twitter and Facebook. Shortly after I moved to Texas I decided to make some adjustments, but I soon found that cutting the apron strings is not any less a task than a rebellious teenager who is wriggle out of the grasp of a domineering parent.  Here’s how I did it.
      First thing to go was my landline. Nearly every call was from a telemarketer. My voicemail in-box was cluttered with charity pitches, solicitations for services or instructions to Press ONE to be connected to a live operator!  I used my home phone only rarely. My home phone was nothing more than a repository for hang-up calls, junk faxes and telemarketers. My carrier was helpless when it came to purging the robocalls. Then, I set out to systematically wean myself of my cable TV service. It turned out to be a lengthy process fraught with finding alternatives and facing constant challenges from my provider.
     My first major purchase after I moved to Texas was a big screen, Smart HD TV set. Like all state-of-the-art TVs, it possessed a built-in computer and was internet ready. It also has multiple HDMI inputs for other components, and it also carries a number of apps for news channels and selected entertainment channels for shows and movies and games. The big screen TV replaced my older 30 inch HD TV, which now sits on my desk in my office. After a few months of being tethered to the ATT U-verse, I made my first move – I shed my land line.  At the same time, after Googling indoor TV antennas, I ordered one from, plugged it in, tuned my television set and – Voila! After a lapse of decades, I was again watching local TV channels for FREE! After trying the new antenna out for several weeks and assuring myself that I was on to something, I hopped in my Ranger and drove to Best Buy and returned home with the next element in my grand plan: Apple TV.  I chose Apple TV because of my experience with my personal IPhone and IPad and the MACs I used at work. Now, the little Apple TV box nestles right under my HDTV.  The indoor antenna rests on a stand right alongside.
      As a dress rehearsal for my soon-to-be cable-free life, and since I was going to Rome anyway, I called my provider and had my cable TV service put on vacation hold for two months. I could still bail out of my plan if it did not work to my satisfaction.  So, after watching a combination of free and Apple TV for the next two weeks, I hopped on my flight to Rome.  By the time I returned to Texas, I was ready to take the ultimate step. I called my provider to be told that since I had purchased my internet service and my cable TV service in a bundle,  I could not delete cable TV without also cancelling my internet service. So, I chickened out. As a compromise, I reduced my cable TV service down to basic cable,  which saved about $35 a month. So, by losing my telephone and reducing my cable TV service, I was saving almost $100 a month. Not too shabby, I thought. Then the next monthly bill landed in my mail box. I was paying $85 for Basic Cable. That was fewer local channels than I was getting from my indoor antenna. I was going to have to climb the mountain and have a heart-to-heart talk with God herself. The deity of all communications: AT&T! (The reader can, at this point, substitute Verizon or Sprint etc. for my provider, AT&T).
     So, on a day of my choosing, I donned my flak jacket and shorts, grabbed a big cup of black coffee, picked up my cell phone and dialed 6-1-1. After duking it out verbally with the computerized greeter, I was over my initial hurdle and chatting with a real live customer service specialist. I started with a pitch about my lifestyle:  I have become a child of the internet, I explained. I’m retired and I travel a lot. My bank and my credit union don’t even have branches in the state where I live. All of my bills are sent to me by email are and are paid on line. All of my deposits are done via wire transfer. If I have a check to deposit, I do it through my IPhone. I have international roaming on my IPhone. Whatever you, as my provider, may lose in cable TV revenues from me will be more than made up for in roaming and data charges. I will even upgrade my internet connection to a higher speed, but I no longer need cable TV service. For what seemed like an eternity, there was silence on the line.
     Then a warm, friendly voice was heard. Of course, sir. I will be happy to assist you in revising your plan.  I was just a little taken aback. I had expected far more resistance. And so it was done. No more cable television. The following days I gathered up my cable boxes and remote control devices and took them to the UPS  store for shipment back to the provider.
     Going it alone takes a little work. Deciding which show to watch requires  more than a casual glance at the TV Guide, or surfing the directory of your cable TV package. My indoor antenna picks up four  Austin PBS channels. There’s KLRU HD, the main channel; KLRU-Q, which runs programs from the main channel at different times and is heavy on documentaries and drama series; KLRU-Create, which offers cooking, do it yourself, craft and travel features; and PBS Kids, the 24-hour children’s channel. In addition, subscribers to PBS are eligible for the KLRU Passport, which enables live streaming of all PBS shows. Since I’m a long-time PBS subscriber, this upgrade was a no-brainer.  I’m watching Amazon TV through my big screen HDTV app and have the option to view others. But, my Apple TV is the heart of my operation, and I am constantly adding new apps to my collection. (That’s the tedious part: selecting an email address so you can open accounts with an ID and password, and finding a credit card to pay for the individual applications. For music there’s ITunes and IHeart Radio. So far my television mainstays are CBSN for news, Netflix, HBO Now, Amazon TV,  You Tube, the National Geographic Channel and PBS. I must caution the sole internet streamer that some of the apps promoted in the Apple Store are linked to your cable TV service. That’s how I lost the Turner Networks and my ability to watch the SAG Awards or all those great old movies.  But, trust me, it all balances out.
    As an old retired newsguy, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on my former profession and all the ranting about Fake News! Internet access gives the viewer a new, international  perspective on the news. I subscribe to the New York Times and the Washington Post, of course. But one of my cornerstone news sources is the PBS Newshour. PBS also carries BBC America and DW TV, the German news service based in Berlin. They also offer NHK News from Tokyo and several other news programs which I watch to stay current. DW TV and Al Jazeera are also stream-able. There are apps in the Apple Store for both of them. I even subscribe to RAI-TV from Rome. RAI covers my quest for news and enables me to practice my Italian at the same time. CBSN has replaced CNN as my regular hourly news source. So, I am finding that, if you make the effort to connect with new sources of information and entertainment you can broaden your horizons. And, as I write this blog, my IPad and IPhone have lit up with breaking news bulletins from a variety of international sources about the President of South Africa surviving a vote of confidence.
I may be living in the heart of Texas, but I’m in touch!
Onward and Upward!


© Mike Botula 2017

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site , and is linked to FacebookTwitter,   LinkedIn and Google Plus!]

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father’s Day 1944!

MikeBo’s Blog!
Soleggiatio e caldo 88°F/31°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Cloudy 77°F/ 25°C Cedar Park, Texas
Fatherhood is great because you can ruin someone from scratch!  Jon Stewart
Father’s Day, 1944 also fell on Sunday June 18th. And, while I had to look up the date, I can assure one and all that a new necktie or a pair of argyle socks or new golf clubs was the farthest thing
Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. 1945
from my dad’s mind back in 1944. Charlie Botula had already been outfitted with a new wardrobe by Uncle Sam, the crisp white uniform of an officer in the United States Navy, and he spent that Father’s Day on the bridge of his brand-new ship, LST 920, as it embarked on its shakedown cruise following its commissioning the day before. I remember the day vividly although I had not yet reached my fourth birthday. It’s one of my earliest childhood memories. It was also the last time I would see my father for almost two years. It’s another vivid childhood memory that many of my contemporaries did not share, because their fathers did not return from the war.
While he was away, it fell to my mother to be both mom and dad to her only child. (My brother Packy would not join us until late the following year). While dad was in the navy, Mary Botula moved back to Jamestown, New York to be near her parents and siblings who lived in western New York State.  It was a life faced by millions of other American families. Dad was away in the service.   Not until he came home and he was able to show us the photographs from his ship’s clandestine dark room did we get to see where he had been and really share his experiences.
Dad, Mom and Me - June 17, 1944
LST 920 Commissioning
Dad was in the service and mom was back at home working to keep the family ties together. Everywhere he sailed, my father kept a small leather folder with photos of his family. My mother had my dad’s pictures in frames all around our second-floor apartment. We made regular trips to the photographer’s studio, so my father would have pictures of his family back home to go along with the frequent letters that Mary would send him. While her letters were full of news about the family and frequently accompanied by family snapshots, dad’s letters home showed the impact of wartime censorship. Geographic locations were vague: somewhere in England, somewhere in France, somewhere in the Pacific.
Now, I could bore you to tears with stories about my dad’s influence on my life. He guided my brother and I as we grew up and influenced us as we reached adulthood. He led the way with compassion and honesty and a firm hand. And, while I have many warm memories of both my parents, it wasn’t to be for many years after his death that I really began to get to know him, and concluded that he and I could have become best friends. Retracing his steps through the two years that he was absent from my life, sparked a journey of my own.
Every journalist takes on the task of getting to know the person whose story they are telling. It’s a key part of the job. When my father, died in 1965, I became heir to boxes of his personal papers books, photographs and other documents. I kept them in storage for many years until my own retirement. My brother and I had grown up listening to our father’s stories about his Navy service in World War 2. One evening as I visited an internet site devoted to World War 2 history, I left a note in the site’s comments section. My father Lieutenant (jg) Charles Botula Jr., served as Executive Officer aboard LST 920. I would like to contact any former officers or crew members who served with him. It was done impulsively, without any expectation of a reply. To my surprise, I received a reply a few days later. Mike, I was with your father on the commissioning crew of LST 920, served with him during all his time on the ship in Europe and the Pacific, and took his place as Exec when he left. Let me know how to get in touch! Don Reed. That exchange of messages started me on a journey that lasted well over a decade and came into fruition when my book LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books, last August.
LST 920: Charlie Botula's
Long, Slow Target!  1944

Don Reed was the LST 920’s Communications Officer, serving from its commissioning on June 17, 1944 at Hingham, Massachusetts until July 8, 1946 when the ship was decommissioned in San Francisco Bay. Mr. Reed was the LST 920’s last commanding officer. He became my guide and mentor as I retraced my father’s footsteps through that part of our lives. Except for distant, fleeting memories, my father was just a black and white image looking out at me from a picture frame on the mantel during that time of my life. But, to the men who served with him aboard ship, he was a daily presence. Charlie and I got to be pretty good friends, former Ensign Jerry Gerard told me. Gerard was the ship’s engineering officer and an aspiring artist before the war. Among my dad’s papers was a pencil sketch that Gerard had done of him, dated 1944. We used to talk
Gerard's Sketch of Dad
a lot about our families while we were at sea,
he told me. I still had career aspirations to become an artist after the war, and I asked if I could practice on him. He agreed and when I was done with the sketch, I gave it to him as a souvenir. I’m flattered that he kept it all those years. Jerry Gerard is gone now, but, I still have the sketch he did of my dad, and I plan on passing it along to my own son.
Because he was on board the entire time that dad served, Reed was the officer who knew him best. In a letter to me in 2003 Reed said, His age must have been around thirty when we formed up our crew, and our Captain was around the same age, which made them the two real ‘old men of the crew, and the only married officers. As Executive Officer, he was not required to stand watches, but he volunteered into it. So, I spent a lot of watches with him, including night watches in fierce Atlantic weather. I remember your dad as being calm and stable, even-tempered, a kind man, Ensign Reed said.  Part of his job was to support the Commanding Officer and see that the crew   carried out the captain’s orders. With your dad’s temperament, he was a good buffer between the captain and the crew. As Executive Officer, he was Captain Schultz’ right hand man and enforcer of the Captain’s leadership, Reed said.  So, the junior officers started to good-naturedly call him ‘the Sheriff’ and he good naturedly did not object. I’m sure that Reed had added the good -naturedly to his description, only because he was telling the story to the son who had grown into adulthood under the tutelage of The Sheriff! As the son of a man who could be a very strict father, Reed’s comments made me smile. 
One of dad’s war stories was his account of a Nazi U-boat attack on his convoy and the sinking of
Michael and Mary Botula
the LST 920’s sister ship. One torpedo had broken the back of the LST 921 and sent the aft section to the bottom of the Dover Channel along with half of its crew. Another torpedo blew a British escort vessel out of the water as it steamed between the U-boat and dad’s ship, as he watched from the bridge. As I read the other eyewitness accounts and talked to survivors of the attack, I became aware for the first time of the depth of courage that he possessed. That courage was displayed in smaller ways as well.
I came down with Yellow Jaundice in the middle of the Pacific, ex-Seaman Larry Biggio told me in a telephone conversation. I was sick as hell. Could’a died for that matter! But, the Jaundice was extremely contagious and none of the other guys would come near me. Your old man was the only person I saw between the time I got sick enough to be confined to quarters, until I was evacuated to the hospital on shore. The exec checked on me several times a day and made sure I had what I needed. Seaman Biggio was evacuated from the ship and spent several months in the hospital before being sent back to the states. I never saw your dad again after I left the ship, Biggio said, but, I think about what he did to help me to this day. I owe him a lot. I owe him my life!
One of the great tragedies of the war, is the fact that so many returning veterans, declined to share their experiences with their families. Those that survived the long road through Hell, simply put their experiences behind them and tried to resume their normal lives. My brother and I are fortunate in the fact that our father freely shared his wartime experiences with us, and they were blended in with the other life experiences that our mother and father drew upon as they raised us. As a journalist, I understood that my father had played a part in one of the greatest historical events of the 20th Century. But, even as those experiences unfolded, he had no way of knowing the true impact of his small part in that drama. He was a great story teller, and, his memory inspired me to put my skills to work to tell his story. Charlie Botula had no way of knowing what happened to the survivors of that U-boat attack, or what happened to the survivors of the LST 921 that were rescued from the chilly waters of the Dover Channel by his crew. It was up to me to retrace his steps and reach out to the people and events along his path, and eventually tell his story.
One of the people he met along the way was former Ensign Don Joost, the Engineering Officer of the ill-fated sister ship, LST 921. I spent an afternoon with Don and his wife at their home in Walnut Creek, California, talking about the U-boat attack on his ship and the rescue of his shipmates by the  crew of their sister-ship, LST 920. The captain of your dad’s ship, Harry Schultz, disobeyed a standing order to come back and get us, Joost recounted. That took a lot of guts on his part, and he was court-martialed for it! In fact, the whole crew showed a lot of courage, because after the torpedo attack, that U-boat stayed in the area looking for another kill. Badly injured in the attack, Ensign Joost was evacuated to a hospital in England where he recovered from his injuries, and was decorated for bravery for rescuing many of his shipmates from the sinking LST 921. Eventually, he was assigned to another ship. After the war, Joost transferred to a submarine and saw service during the Korean War. I asked him if he knew my father.
LST 921 Survivor
Ensign Don Joost 1944
Oh yes, he replied. We both served on sister-ships. The ships themselves were built in the same shipyard at Hingham, Massachusetts, and we were both commissioned in the same week. The crews trained together at Camp Bradford, Virginia. There was a very tight bond between the crews of the two ships. Yes, I knew your dad, Mike. There was a slight pause in the conversation, and then Joost said, And you certainly favor your dad! It was a very proud moment.
 After its duties in Europe, the LST 920 sailed back across the Atlantic and, after refitting, went on to the Pacific.  My father came home in December 1945 and together my parents lived a full life until cancer took her from us in 1961. After that he was a ship without a rudder and he followed his “Skipper,” as he affectionately called his wife Mary, in 1965.
Now, half a century after his death, I still rely on his example to set to set my own course through life. One of my favorite teachers told me time and time again, By example, you teach! I certainly had a great role model. Happy Father’s Day, Charlie Botula!  
Grazie mille, papà!
© Mike Botula 2017

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a subsidiary of  Mike is on FacebookTwitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus!] Mike’s book is available from or Barnes and Noble Books.