Sunday, December 29, 2019

Il Primo Natale di Alexander!

Sunday December 29, 2019
Sunny 50°F/10°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia

Apart from the excitement of Christmas Eve, Alexander’s FIRST Christmas passed quietly. We had
Alexander and Michael Botula
been invited to Laura’s sister’s house, but, Chiara’s own daughter, Noemi was sick with a slight bug, so Laura and Michael opted to stay home. I joined them later in the day for dinner. On Christmas Eve, we were invited Tiziana and Pino’s home for dinner. Tiziana and Laura have been friends for years, and the two couples are neighbors in the same condominium complex. We enjoyed the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of several courses, in the Italian manner, and exchanged gifts. It seems that many Italian families lean more toward Christmas Eve for their celebration instead of the typical American fashion of the big event being on Christmas morning, following Santa’s visit the night before, and the joy of the children seeing their presents under the Christmas trees. I explained to Michael and Laura and the others, that Donna and I used to exchange our gifts on Christmas Eve right up to the day that our daughter Dana was born, and we began to wait until Santa’s visit along with everyone else.

Michael, MikeBo and Balcony
A few days before Christmas, I took the Metro down to the Coliseum to meet Michael for an aperitivo, a longtime custom among Romans. He was back to work as a tour guide and was just wrapping up his full day of showing visitors to Rome the sights. Nowadays, his bookings are made through Airbnb. So, you can rent an apartment, and book one of Michael’s tours in the same transaction. I waited for him in front of the Metro station in the shadow of the gigantic amphitheater. We set off along the wide street through the Forum toward a shimmering Christmas tree in the distance. That’s the Piazza Venezia, said Michael. We’ll see what’s happening there and have our aperitivo. We left the Coliseum behind and strolled past the glories of ancient Rome in the gathering twilight. We passed by the Capitoline Museum perched on one of the Seven Hills of Rome, the seat of power during the heady days of the Roman Empire. I love to stroll through the Forum at Sunset…so many ghosts haunt the city! Soon, we reached the Piazza Venezia and the Christmas tree in the Piazza. We stepped inside the tall, iron fence to Italy’s War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier high above us. To reach the tomb, a massive line of granite steps awaited us. I demurred, citing my age and my arthritis, which makes it difficult for me to negotiate stairs of any kind, especially if there are no handrails to assist me.

Il Duce at one point ordered that the boulevard in front of his Fascist headquarters to be widened and straightened to accommodate the huge military parades that accompanied his early military conquests. Mussolini, it seems, was bent on restoring the glories of the Ancient Roman Empire, but he accomplished far less than that. However, in the glory days of fascism, Mussolini embarked on a massive public works program, much of which can still be seen today. Fortunately, by the time Rome fell to General Mark Clark’s troops on June 5, 1944, it had been declared an Open City, which spared Rome the massive destruction suffered by other European cities in World War Two. Il Duce himself along with his mistress, Clara Petacci, were executed by partisans in 1945 in Northern Italy, and, in a final indignity, were hung upside down by their heels in a Milan gas station. In a typical gesture of Italian gallantry, Ms. Petacci’s skirt was tied at her knees, so her legs would not be exposed to the gazes of the thousands of spectators who came out to witness the spectacle. The famous balcony was restored in 2011. So much for the Italian history lesson. And, now back to Christmas.
Mussolini's Balcony in its Heyday
We crossed the street and posed for several of Michael’s famous selfies. When I saw the photos later, I saw that he had taken two varieties of photos. One included just the two of us in several frames, and the other series widened out to include Rome’s infamous balcony from which Benito Mussolini used to address hordes of his fascist followers. In fact, and Michael has pointed this out to me every time that we have come here;

On Christmas Day, I got up and went for a long walk around the neighborhood. Our family plans had been dashed by the illness at Laura’s sister’s house. When I decided to stay through Christmas and the New Year, plus my birthday in January, I had expected to spend a lot of time alone or with other friends simply because Laura and Michael would be focusing on the new addition to THEIR family. Which is as it should be.  So, I brought my faithful traveling companion with me – my trusty IPAD and a selection of Netflix movies, including the Godfather Trilogy. In the process, I discovered that my entire HBO subscription and most of my Amazon Prime subscription do not work in the European Union. Ditto for CBS All Access. (CBSN works fine for news). But Netflix, with it’s international menu works fine. So, between my long walk and the Godfather Part 1, I was able to put Christmas Day in the “win column.” Then, 5:30 rolled around, and it was time for dinner at Michael and Laura’s. I got to see my new grandson again on Christmas.

The next day, I told Michael when he called, that I would walk over to his house. And so, shortly
Alexander Botula
after two, I started off, deciding to try the new route along Via Cesare Pavese instead of the more tried and truer route along Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico. As a result, I became hopelessly lost shortly after turning left on Via Salvatore Quasimodo off Via Cesare Pavese. It was after 3:30 before I executed my course correction and discovered the true path leading to Laura and Michael’s place. As it turned out, he was planning to deep fry a duck. We would be dining in style. My extra-long walk had been worth it.

Next time, more of my Roman Holiday adventures. Until then,
Ci vediamo, (See you soon).

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a former broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at]
© By Mike Botula 2020

Sunday, December 22, 2019

La Vita Romana!

Sunday December 22, 2019
Partly Cloudy & Windy 59°F/15°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia

Life has certainly smoothed out for me since the tumultuous first week or so. I never fully recovered  from the apartment I had counted on to live in for two months, disappearing at the last, possible minute like that. Even worse, the Penthouse being such a disastrous replacement. Even though our money was quickly refunded, the whole experience left a bitter aftertaste in my craw. I periodically check that listing on Airbnb, and I am gratified that The Penthouse shows nary one booking for all of 2020! The main reason that I am even here in Rome at all is an infant named Alexander…my grandson and heir to the Botula name. He is the first-born child of my son Michael and his wife Laura and is the first Botula to be eligible for dual citizenship – Italian and US.
Alexander and Michael
 I am happily ensconced a short distance away on Via Laurentina, a major thoroughfare in this section of the area known as E.U.R. I’m a short distance away (less than a ten minute walk) from the apartment I originally rented from Amina in 2015 or so. So, I have a bit of a history in this particular neighborhood.

Thursday evening, I sent a message to Maria, the lady who was going to rent me the original apartment, just to touch base. She was not in Rome. In fact, she was on a train back to her home in Linz, Austria. It seems all high speed trains in Europe have Wi-Fi. What’s more she would not be in Rome during my stay. AND, she promised to make it up to me for the inconvenience of the apartment that wasn’t there! I promised her that when I planned for my next trip to Rome, she would be the first person I would contact. It’s always nice to have options. I only pray that the contractors Maria hired to renovate her apartment have finished by then. My son had expressed doubt that they would be finished in time for my trip when he checked out the apartment for me. So, when Maria sent me her frantic note, I wasn’t totally surprised.

Alexander turned one month old on December 14th.  This will be my newest grandchild’s first Christmas, and we could not be happier. He’s a bit colicky, but that is to be expected. Mike and Laura take him to the pediatrician every week. He definitely is growing and filling out.  Alexander is Laura and Michael’s first child. As many of you know, my daughter Dana has five children, three girls and two boys; Joshua, Jacob, Jessica and the twins Jaydan and Jordan. In fact, I followed Dana’s family from California to Texas to be near my grandchildren. Alexander’s appearance provides me with more of an incentive to visit Rome. (As if I needed more of an incentive).

Laura at the Chinese Store
I love the neighborhood. It is chock full of little shops, bars and restaurants. All the modern conveniences of life without the Texas-sized distances that I’ve grown used to back home. My entire life is now within walking distance. And, for further distances, there is a bus stop directly in front of my building with an endless line of buses to whisk me to the Metro station and the entire city beyond. One such establishment is known throughout the neighborhood simply as, the Chinese Store, or in local parlance il negozio cinese. In this day and age of specialty shops, the Chinese Store is a throwback to the time when every small town had at least one five and ten cents store. This version occupies perhaps two or three store fronts, and it’s one entrance is guarded by an elderly Asian woman sitting behind the store’s only cash register. Inside every conceivable household product is jammed on the shelves which go floor to ceiling across the extremely narrow aisles. Laundry detergent, fabric softener and the ubiquitous drying racks occupy shelf space right across from the flat ware and dinner plates. Stationery items are at the front of the store.  And, the replacement batteries and USB cables are kept alongside the cash register, under the watchful eye of the Asian lady. Overhead, along one jam-packed aisle, shower caddies dangle on hooks, high and out of reach, except for an employee with a long pole with a hook on it. Everything is somewhere – here in the Chinese Store. The store has a sign that says SUPER CONVENIENZA! Everyone in the neighborhood knows where it is. I have never seen so many items jammed into one location as I have crowding Il Negozio Cinese, except for the old Five and Dime Stores of old.

And, speaking of the neighborhood, I’m happy to know, that in this small-town atmosphere, my neighbors are getting to know me as well. There’s the lady cashier at the Elite Market, who is very patient with me as I fumble with la busta or plastic shopping bag or my Euros to pay her. She remembered me after one of my absences. I always   try to greet her in Italian and inquire as to how she is. Buongiorno. Come stai? And, at the end of the transaction, it is always, Grazie. Ciao! In the case of Alejandra, who did my manicure at the spa around the corner, she not only remembered me from last May, but she remembered that Laura made the original appointment. That left me with no alternative, but to make my next appointment with her for the next time. Several of my neighbors in the apartment building have noticed my new face among them and welcomed me with a warm Benvenuto! Even my friend and sometime landlady, Amina, has gotten into the welcoming act. When we met for coffee on my first night in the apartment, she made a point of taking me in to each bistro and specialty shop to introduce me to the shopkeeper and asking them to take care of me because I didn’t speak Italian well.

And then, there is Delia, who is technically my landlady. She and her husband Christian literally saved my bacon when I was forced to move from the Penthouse, and they couldn’t be nicer to me. Delia offered to clean the apartment during my stay and help me shop and cook. I opted to retain her for the cleaning chores. She comes every Friday or Saturday, and when she is finished, my little casa fairly GLEAMS.

I realize that I have a distinct advantage over the typical tourist. On my extended stays, I actually live here! Unlike my first couple of trips to Rome when I stayed with Michael and Laura, I now pack a big suitcase (usually overweight) and rent and apartment for a couple of months usually in my chosen neighborhood in E.U.R. A couple of years ago I developed the habit of leaving an extra suitcase with a variety of clothing to be worn on my next trip. My extra suitcase is joined by my laptop computer, which I leave with Michael and Laura. That means I can hit the ground running when I arrive in Rome. The days of the life of a tourist, with its regimen of hotels and a bewildering array of cities and tour buses is now behind me. I actually LIVE here, at least part-time!

Next time: Alexander’s first Christmas, but, for now…

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a former broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at]
© By Mike Botula 2020

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Un Giorno Piovoso!

Sunday December 15, 2019
Cloudy 58°F/14°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia

Sta piovendo! It’s raining!  Back in Texas, this would just be another gully washer, but here in Rome
Snow in Roma - 2016
the citizens take things more seriously. I’ve experienced this first-hand several times now. This storm rolled in on Friday the thirteenth… or, in Italian, Venerdi tredicesimo! The first time was the snowstorm that paralyzed the city two years ago.  My son called me to check up on me. It snowed, Pop! He told me. When did it last snow in Rome? I asked the pride of my loins. About fourteen years ago. He told me. I wasn’t here for that one. We were in Bologna. But Rome is shut down. Schools are closed. The buses are not running, and the Metro is not running. Dad, the CITY is shut down! I knew instinctively what I had to do. I ran to the balcony and snapped a few photos with my IPhone. Then, I looked down the street. The activity on the street indicated to me that the Coop Mercato was still open. I grabbed my coat and my walking stick and headed down the street to pick up some survival supplies. As I entered the store, one of the clerks greeted me with a friendly Buongiorno! Dove il sale?  I replied. Where is the salt? He pointed to the back of the store. I headed there with my basket and picked up three boxes of rock salt. In a snowstorm, you can never have too much rock salt!  I used it liberally on my way back to the apartment to salt down the entry steps.

Last Spring, it was a record heat wave that paralyzed the city. One evening we even had a moderate earthquake. Now, we have a rain emergency. What next – locusts? Visigoths? American Tourists? But now, it’s raining … and Rome is paralyzed! Rome is built on seven hills. It has a fabulous sewer system, parts of which are two thousand years old. The rain will run off… but povera Venezia!  Venice has more to lose than Rome in this era of climate change. The summer rains have been bad…up to four feet of water flooded Piazza San Marco recently, portending the future date when Venice will be completely under water.

Sofia and Alexander
But the primary reason for this visit is my new grandson, Alexander.  Like my daughter’s five kids, Alexander is a joy to his Nonno in his dotage. It’s amazing how fast newborns GROW! Alexander Came home from the hospital with a tiny knit cap on his tiny head. He was a peanut! Now after just a few weeks, he has grown considerably. I don’t have the relevant statistics at my fingertips, but he sees the pediatrician every week, and his parents keep track of every weight gain – meticulously. Michael took off from work for a full month to help in the parenting chores and to bond with his new son. Laura has several more months of maternity leave remaining. Fortunately, her work enables her to work from home much of the time, and that’s how she will gradually return to her job.

On Wednesday, I rode the Metro to Circo Massimo, where the ancient chariot races were held; at the invitation of my friend Amina. She works at F.A.O. the massive United Nations Food Organization. The FAO building was constructed during the 1930s by Benito Mussolini, during the height of his conquests in Africa to house his colonial offices. The view of the Circus Maximus from the FAO
rooftop is nothing short of spectacular! The Coliseum and the Forum are just one Metro stop away. During our luncheon of Couscous (for her) and Pasta Napolitano (for me) Amina suggested that our next lunch date be the following day near the Basilica San Paolo, at a little neighborhood restaurant that she knew. After that, she would be traveling to Paris to spend Christmas with her family. It meant that I might not see her again on this trip to Rome, because she would be leaving after that for three weeks hiking in Vietnam.  Sure enough, she rang my apartment the following day to catch the bus to the Laurentina Metro. As I met her in front of my building, the skies opened up, and it started raining – hard. We were rained out of our excursion to Basilica San Paolo. We scurried into a nearby bistro, had lunch and waited for the rain to stop.

The next day, Friday the Thirteenth, I awoke to another storm that had rolled in during the night. THAT was the storm that closed schools and created such havoc. I had been expecting Delia – my landlord’s wife to clean the apartment, but sure enough – at the appointed hour I received a text from Christian saying that Delia would not be coming until the afternoon. Even then I had my doubts, because I felt that the storm would be with us all day. Sure enough, word reached me that afternoon that Delia would be unable to come over until the following day.

If it were not for my teacher at Austin Community College – Patrizia Papi – I would be totally lost in the language department! Each time I come to Rome, my well-meaning son tries to find one of his students for me to practice with in a language exchange or scambio di lingua. That has had mixed results for me. For instance, three years ago, Monica and I had molti gelati together, but didn’t practice much English OR Italian. I have decided to take matters into my own hands with Delia. The arrangement is that she comes in to clean the apartment weekly. (And, I suspect, to keep an eye on the place for her husband, Christian). So, I have introduced Delia to the wonders of Duolingo. We both have our Google Translators on our Smartphones. So, we are able to communicate. Where there’s a will there’s a way! Now, every week when she comes to clean, we sit down at the table, beve caffѐ, and practice our languages. I usually spend at least an hour a day practicing with Duolingo.

Next time, more adventures with Alexander the Great, conquering hearts everywhere he travels through the known world.

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

© By Mike Botula 2020

Sunday, December 8, 2019

La Vita Domestica!

Sunday December 8, 2019
Partly Cloudy 60°F/16°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia

Alexander Botula
In my travels to Rome, I’ve always gone onto explore most of Italy. Hence, I’ve been enchanted by Firenze, Venezia, Pisa, Milano and, yes …. even Napoli. I’ve walked along La Via Appia and visited ancient Paestum, a hardy survivor of Magna Graecia, and visited the notorious World War Two battlefields of Salerno, Anzio and Montecassino. But, from the moment Michael and Laura told Annamaria and Sergio and me about the blessed event they were anticipating in November, I knew that major changes were coming to my gad-a-bout scheduling. MAJOR changes were in store for Michael and Laura, too! The memory of what my cousin, Mary Duffy said all those years ago to Donna and I came flooding back to me now.

Donna and I had just made one of our career moves to San Francisco. It was 1966. The Summer of Love. I had just taken the Program Director’s job at KFOG radio, when it was still located at Ghirardelli Square. Donna would soon get a job at the BBDO Advertising Agency at 650 California Street. It was before our Dana or Michael made their appearance, and we thoroughly lived the San Francisco life for a full year. I realized that my cousin Mary Duffy lived in San Francisco orbit nearby with her husband, Tom Walker. (In the Botula family, the cousins were always referred to by their family name, so the other cousins could keep track of them). I called Mary and invited she and Tom to join us for dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was on our post-prandial stroll around the area, when Mary uttered those immortal words. Enjoy it now, Mike and Donna! She said. Because when your kids start coming along, these carefree days are going away for a L-O-N-G time. You’ll be old and gray before you have the world to yourselves again! Mary was right. Dana was born in 1969 and Michael was born in 1973. Life, as we knew it in our carefree days together, ended with our first diaper change. But, as I hasten to add since, I know that Alexander will read this someday. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life with children is to be savored, because they grow up much too fast!

So, I am reliving those times through Michael and Laura. True, it impacts on Nonno, as well, because if their focus is totally consumed by their new son, this will impact as well on the people who have been free up to now, to simply drop in for a visit. It’s a whole new ball game for them as well. How I wish Donna could be here to share in the moment. (We divorced in 2003. A few years later, she was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2010). But, at moments like this, my cousin Mary Duffy’s words ring down through the years. But, back to the present!

I missed Alexander’s birth by a week, but I have been here for many of his small, but important milestones since, most notably his first bath. Laura and Michael have spared no expense in seeing that their son has all the right equipment. That includes his bathinette. It’s literally a tiny bathtub on wheels. From their son’s equipment room, my son rolled it into the kitchen, where the infant Botula would get his first wash down. Even before Alexander was brought in, Michael carefully measured the warm water for the first bath, and repeatedly took its temperature with a special, stainless steel thermometer. Finally, after all the preparations of Dr. Michael DeBakey’s surgical team preparing for a heart transplant…Laura brought the baby into the operating theater. All that was missing were the surgical gowns, masks and rubber gloves! Layers of baby clothes quickly disappeared as did the diaper, which Alexander was not quite done with. Uh, ONE and Uh, TWO! Alexander used his diaper for the final time and was quickly committed to the warm water. The experience of his first dunking immediately elicited squawks of disapproval from the infant. I was present with my cellphone camera at the ready, ever mindful of the potential for future embarrassment once the baby Alexander had reached maturity and the inevitable baby-picture displays by his parents. So, I have chosen one, carefully cropped photo to accompany this blog.

Alexander was born on November 14, 2019 at Oespedale San Camillo, in Roma. It’s the majorhospital in Italy’s government health care system, where babies are born – at least in Rome. Laura was born there, and now her son. Laura’s sister, Chiara, had her little girl, Noemi there as well. So, for the patriarch of the Tomei family, Sergio, it has meant a lot of visits to San Camillo over the years. The front of the hospital is marked by greetings of well-wishers spray-painted, graffiti-style across the façade. Sergio and I posed for a photo in 2017 when Chiara and Maurizio’s Noemi was born in the same hospital as her little cugino was born. Oespedale San Camillo is not a birthing center as Americans would understand the term. It is a specialty hospital, operated by the government, where Italian babies are born. It is a full-service hospital with surgical suites and neonatal intensive care units. Such care for newborns has resulted in Italy’s low infant mortality rate worldwide. (5.5 per thousand versus the USA’s 6.5 per thousand).
Sergio and MikeBo

So, I return to my original point: I’m not gallivanting around Italy much on this trip. I’m trying to stay close to my new grandson without becoming a pest to his parents. I recall when Dana was born in 1969, my mother-in-law traveled all the way from Illinois to southern California to help out, then announced that she would stay until our baby girl was Baptized in the Catholic Church! (Oh, the joys of a religiously mixed marriage). That’s why I have one daughter who’s Catholic, and a son who’s a nominal Methodist. (When Michael was born, my mother-in-law was too ill to make the trip). So, I am pretty much on my own this trip. I am getting reacquainted with my friends from my previous trips, and yesterday, bought a slew of biglietti so I can travel by myself on Rome’s Metro e Autobus system.

I’ve reconnected with Marsha de Salvatore, the Grande Comedienne of Rome’s Comedy Club, where she performs as Marsha Cincinnati. In fact, I brought her a big jar of Melatonin Gummies to help her sleep. I ran into Marsha at a Louis C.K. performance during my first week in Rome. The comic has come to Rome, trying to make a comeback after a disastrous encounter with the Me Too movement! 

The week before, Louis C.K. had played Tel Aviv in a comeback tour of epic proportion. Then, I met Amina for coffee. She is my landlady from my first stay at an Airbnb apartment. I’ve stayed there a few other times. Hence, we’ve become friends. In fact, for this trip, her place was booked. So, she arranged with a friend to let me rent her apartment, but the deal fell apart when the contractors remodeling her apartment missed their deadline. That’s how I wound up in The Penthouse. Anyway, we met for coffee last week. Before we said our Buona Sera’s, she had introduced me to every shopkeeper on the block, as their new neighbor. Amina is like Welcome Wagon on steroids.

Next time. Two turkeys, as we ex-pats celebrate Thanksgiving.


[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at]
© By Mike Botula 2020

Monday, December 2, 2019

So Much For The Penthouse!

Monday December 2, 2019
Partly Cloudy 62°F/17°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia

After Maria’s call pulled the rug out of my plans for a place to stay in Rome, I called my son Michael
Michael and Alexander
in a bit of a panic. I had a hunch that would happen! Said my son.  I got the feeling that she doesn’t have a clue about how Italian contractors work, especially if they’re not supervised. And Maria told me that she was going to Japan on business during the time you’d be arriving. Michael was up against a deadline of his own. His wife, Laura was due to give birth to the couple’s first child around November 14th, He did NOT have time to go house-hunting for his dad. But, two days later he called to tell me he had found an apartment in my preferred section of E.U.R. It’s Via Elio Vittorini, dad, off Viale Cesare Pavese, where you stayed at Mohamed’s place. He went on to say that because the birth of his son was imminent, he wouldn’t be able to check the place out. But the photos looked good, plus it was a solid neighborhood, very high end, etc., etc.  I concurred, and we signed the contract. I would have to spend my first night in a hotel while the other guests moved out. But I had found my home for the next two months…or, so I thought.

Penthouse View
It DID have a great view! I was hustled right outside to see it and avoid the shortcomings of the inside. Later, after the landlady and her associate had left, did I came to get an opportunity to survey the apartment properly. The bathroom was super small and cramped? Imagine a small closet with an oversized sink, a toilet and a bidet AND a shower all crammed into a four by six room. I would have to climb over the bidet to gain access to the shower. Now I should digress to explain that all Rome apartment buildings have on their roof a structure to house the machinery for the building’s elevator. Over the years the elevator box has been expanded to include a small apartment or two. Thus, in the age of Airbnb, that is how we got the Penthouse designation. Access is gained by a full flight of stairs without handrails. Since I have rheumatoid arthritis, the ascent UP the stairs was manageable with my cane but GOING DOWN was a nightmare! (For Italy, any form of ADA legislation is still in the distant future! And, so I passed the next three nights – scared out my wits to exit the apartment, except when Michael was around to call the paramedicos in case I took a header down the stairs.

I’ve already recounted the visit I had from Giancarlo, the building superintendent. He wondered about all the racket on my roof during the night. It was the compressor for the combo heater/ air conditioner that made enough racket that HE could hear it in his flat on the floor below. That night, I listened to the drip…drip…drip of the rain on my pillow – until I wised up and moved the bed away from the leaking window. I awoke the next morning with the intention of taking a shower. I turned on the water and adjusted the temperature to my satisfaction. Then, I climbed over the bidet and into the shower and soaped myself to a fare-thee-well. At the moment of super-sudsiness, my hot water turned icy cold! I haven’t had a cold shower like that since Boy Scout Camp, or maybe the time my wife told me for the twentieth time that she had a headache! I rinsed off as best as I could – in great haste, I might add, and got the hell out of the shower. The culprit was the antique by-demand water heater on the wall. It’s capacity of hot water was – shall we say – sorely lacking.
Alexander Botula

But the Coupe de Ville, as my old KMPC buddy, Dave Niehaus used to say before he went on to fame and fortune, broadcasting games for the Seattle Mariners baseball team. The Coupe de Ville for me came when the ancient wax ring at the base of the toilet sprung a leak and flooded the bathroom, with water lapping out under the door into the living room. Just then, my son Michael buzzed me from the front gate. When he got up to my penthouse, he greeted me with, ‘Morning, Pop! Did you get your shower? Then he spotted the deluge, whipped out his cell phone and started video-ing the entire apartment. That’s for the complaint department at Airbnb, he explained. Then, he got our landlady on his phone. When he got done with the call, he said to me, get packed! This place is uninhabitable. They’ll be over soon to pick up the keys. By the time they arrived, Michael’s video was already being viewed by the Airbnb folks, who had already promised a full refund. By the time that the Penthouse landladies had arrived, my son had found me a NEW apartment. But it wouldn’t be ready for another day. So, it was back to Hotel Quadrifoglio Roma, where I had spent my first night in Rome.

My New Apartment
The new place is on Via Laurentina, right around the corner from my apartment on Viale Oscar Sinigaglia. Christian and Delia Grilli are my hosts. Compared to the Penthouse, my new place is a dream! It’s taken a few days now, but I’m all settled into my new digs. I’ve even taken a couple of showers, and, lo and behold-no cold water and NO floods! When we signed the rental agreement, Christian cautioned me that I might get a visit from officers of La Guardia Finanza, Italy’s financial police who look out for Italians who might get the urge to cheat on their taxes. Sure enough, the next morning my doorbell rang, and I opened my door to two ladies flashing badges. We’re from the police! Said one of them, and I ushered them. They looked over my rental agreement and checked my passport. I, in turn gave them Christian and Delia’s phone numbers and they left shortly thereafter.

I realize my apartment travails have prevented me from post the full number of baby pictures of my new grandson – Alexander. But I’ve been preoccupied with straightening out my living situation. I’ll just put you on notice that will change with this blog. I see Il bambino just about every day, so stand by for lots of baby pictures!

Next time: Amina takes me on a tour of the neighborhood! Plus, Louis C.K. and other delights.

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at]
© By Mike Botula 2020

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Getting Settled!

Wednesday November 27, 2019
Rainy 65°F/18°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia

The photo of the father and his newborn son is a classic! Exhausted from the ordeal, the father sits
Father and Son
glassy eyed, staring into space while the infant sleeps blissfully on his father’s lap until his next feeding. The mother is asleep in another room until duty calls her again. The photo is from the Botula Family Album. The young father is my son Michael, and the infant is my grandson Alexander, whose mother is Laura. I missed Alexander’s birth by a week. You know how it goes with those non-refundable tickets the airlines are peddling.

Last May, when I arrived in Rome for my annual visit, Laura’s parents, Sergio and Annamaria, were on a tour of the Holy Land. Laura told me that they wouldn’t be back in Rome until he following Friday, but they would be joining us for pizza on Saturday evening. Sergio and Annamaria have become two of my favorite people over the years we have been under the same family umbrella.  Since Michael met Laura, back nearly twenty years ago, he has pretty much relocated from his native California to Europe, primarily Italy to be with his Amore, Laura! The couple has moved around Italy as career opportunities have arisen, but they have always returned to Laura’s birthplace – Rome! On the appointed Saturday, over pizza, Michael and Laura gently broke the news to their parents that Laura was expecting their first child – a boy, at the end of November. Even though I had not planned on coming back to Rome at least the following Spring, I knew immediately that if I didn’t return in November, I would miss the birth of a new heir to the Botula line, and I could NOT be NOT present for that. So, when I got back to Texas, I put in motion my planning for mio grande ritorno!

Now when I travel to Rome, I go for at least two months!  It’s like my move from California to Texas
Nonna Annamaria 
four years ago. It takes all the logistical consideration of Caesar’s invasion of Gaul; Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in winter, or the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day. First, I must make arrangements for Lola’s care and feeding. My daughter Dana has traditionally taken on that assignment. She also checks my apartment for me and picks up my mail while I’m gone. The first thing I have to do is find a place to stay.

Generally, I’ve had great luck with the apartments I’ve rented through Airbnb. Amina, Mohamed and Stefania have been my hosts for some memorable stays in the Eternal City. But when I checked with them for this trip, their Airbnb’s were booked solid. Then, Amina came to the rescue. A friend of hers, Maria had purchased an apartment just a few blocks from her place. When Maria contacted me, she explained that her apartment was being renovated completely, and that I would stay quite comfortably. This transaction would not go Airbnb, but Amina assured me that her friend was as good as her word and she had already vouched for me to Maria. I sent Michael by to check out the apartment anyway, just in case.

After he checked Maria’s apartment, Michael called me to report that the apartment was undergoing a MAJOR renovation, complete with electrical, plumbing and all new appliances and fixtures. Maria is from Austria, he told me. She’s used to having contractors perform in an entirely different way than the Italians do their work. She’s not even going to be there to supervise and answer their questions. I don’t think the apartment is going to be ready for you. So be prepared! Sure enough, Maria called me about two weeks before I was supposed to leave. The contractors were NOT going to meet their deadline and the apartment would not be ready for me. And THAT, gentle reader is how I came to rent The Penthouse!

Usually when I arrive in Rome after a twenty-hour excursion across the Atlantic. I take a nice hot
Alexander Botula
shower, relax and deal with my jet lag. But since I was spending my first night in a hotel, I passed on the tiny glass coffin which masqueraded as a shower in my hotel room. The first night in Rome passed uneventfully. Michael took me home to meet my new grandson; I was re-united with Annamaria and Sergio, the other proud nonni (grandparents). Finally, Sergio drove me to my hotel where I relaxed until it was time for Michael to pick me up for dinner. The next morning, I enjoyed the continental breakfast provided by Hotel Quadrifoglio; Michael arrived; I checked out, and we were out to check in at the Penthouse.

The landlady, an affable Italian woman, quickly directed me to look at the view from the large terrace outside.  I like the E.U.R. district. I am very familiar with it. It is close to Michael and Laura’s. Its shops and restaurants are close and convenient. And, I have friends in the area. But, in her rush to show me the view, I missed the shortcomings of what Airbnb describes as La Vittorini Penthouse! I did not discover most of them until much later; one of them took two days to find – and then it had to rain. It happened after I went to bed. As I began to doze off, I heard what sounded like DRIP! And then another…DRIP! By the third or fourth … DRIP! I realized what it was. The rain was beating against the window, and the window was leaking on to my pillows. I moved the bed away from the wall. That solved the immediate problem. The next day, I had another visitor - Giancarlo, the building’s supervisor. (In Italy, most apartments in high density buildings are owned, like condominiums, by the people who live in them, but others are held as rentals. Giancarlo’s job is limited, but vital. He deals with issues that everyone shares. I had the heater in the living room on. The compressor on the roof was making a loud noise. It was loud enough that Giancarlo, who lived on the floor below me, could hear it, and he knocked on my door to see what all the racket was about.

As I answered the door to let Giancarlo in, my son called. As I was trying to explain to Giancarlo what the noise was all about, Michael – whose Italian is much better than mine, asked me to hand
Nonno MikeBo & Alexander
the phone to Giancarlo. They chatted animatedly for a few minutes, and when Giancarlo found out that the source of the blame for the noise was the apartment owner, and not me, he handed the phone back and made his exit. Michael explained that Giancarlo would take the matter up with the owner.

Thus, passed my first few days in Rome. Let me just say that my feelings about my apartment will never see the light of day in any Airbnb review, so I would take the opportunity to vent my spleen here, Just let me close by saying of my present adventure: the family part is wonderful…my apartment, not so much.

PS: I’ve moved. Details in the next exciting chapter of…MikeBo’s Blog!


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

© By Mike Botula 2020

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sorry, Grandpa Botula, BUT…

Una Questione Importante  per la Famiglia!
(A Matter of Importance to the Family!)
Sunday November 10, 2019
Partly Cloudy 62°F/ 17°C in Roma, Latium, Italia


This first edition of my Rome Diary VI centers around a blessed event in the blended families of Botula and Tomei!

Laura and Michael
When I arrived in the Eternal City last May to begin my regular two-month stay in Italy, mia nuora, (daughter-in-law) Laura, casually mentioned that her parents – Sergio and Annamaria – were traveling in the Holy Land but would return from their travels in time for us all to get together for pizza the following Saturday. And, so we did. And, on THAT occasion as the five of us chomped on pizza margherita e pizza con salsiccia e verdura, Michael and Laura made the announcement that their little family would be growing by the addition of  un bambino in November. They had waited until they could share the good news with all three of their son’s grandparents. (Sadly, Michael’s mother, Donna, had passed away in 2010). And so, that’s what brings me back to Roma in November, for my new grandson, Alexander’s first Christmas!

My apologies to my own grandfather, Karel Botula, BUT, his great-great-great grandson Alexander will be born ITALIAN!

I can only imagine how Karel and Johana Botula might feel after they struggled so hard to make it to AMERICA, and participate in the AMERICAN DREAM to ensure that all of the little Botulas that followed them would be AMERICAN CITIZENS, that they might be just a tad disappointed, but Nonno Mike  as I’ve come to be known, happens to be delighted at the prospect of having a bona fide Italian in la Famiglia! And, I’m happy to report to all of my followers out there in Facebook-Land that I will be in Rome for the  joyful occasion. Among the gifts I am bringing my new grandson: a copy of my book about his great-great grandfather – LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!...autographed, of course.
My Grandpa and Baby MikeBo

Perhaps young Alexander Botula would like to know about his dad’s side of the family? After all, Botula certainly sounds Italian! But, it’s NOT an Italian name. The cognomen originated in what is now the Czech Republic, in the ancient kingdom of Bohemia. At the time that Karel and Johana emigrated to America in 1903 with their three children: Maximillian, Karola and Frantiszka,  the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Karel Botula, according to one family legend, bought into that old con artist’s tale that the streets of America are paved with GOLD! There is no family legend about Grandpap buying the Brooklyn Bridge with his meager savings by traveling in steerage class. I like to think he avoided that by arriving in the Port of Philadelphia, while Johana and their three kids got the full treatment at Ellis Island in New York Harbor. I have no knowledge of a family legend involving Karel’s down payment on the Liberty Bell.  At any rate, the Botula family became quickly established in the western Pennsylvania coal mining country where Karel Botula toiled six days a week, ten or twelve hours a day as a coal miner. Talk about starting life in America from the ground floor up! However, the long hours underground did not stop Karel and Johana from raising their large family. Altogether, they raised nine children to adulthood.

Young Alexander will not be his Nonno’s first grandchild. His  papa, Michael, has a sister – Dana Lynne who has FIVE children (cinque bambini); Joshua, Jacob, Jessica, and the twin girls Jordyn and Jaydan.  So, the new arrival will have lots of cugini to play with. That doesn’t count his cousins on his mama’s side of the family.   

As I look into the little tyke’s future from the perspective of my own long trail through life, I tend to see his young life through his parents’ eyes. Laura is an attorney engaged in the fine points of
La Famiglia!
business law and is currently engaged with a company recruiting attorneys for positions at prestigious law firms. Her family has welcomed me into their warm embrace right from my very first visit to Italy. And Laura’s parents have made several visits to the U.S. to visit and meet their American relatives in California as well as Texas. Alexander will find a warm welcome on
both sides of the Atlantic!  Michael enjoys a hyphenated career, juggling his time between his responsibilities as an English teacher, entrepreneur with his own tour company in Rome, and devoting what remains of his time playing with his band No Funny Stuff!  Young Alexander has a promising future. He will be bi-lingual so he can chat with his American cousins. He will grow up in one of the world’s historically wealthy cities, Roma and be able to proclaim proudly, Civis Romanus Sum! And, he will be able to carry two passports – Italian and USA.  I can look down the road ahead and predict that my new grandson will be in good hands.
Benvenuto nel mundo, Alexander! Grazie mille, Laura e Michael!

Arrivederci a tutti. Ci vediamo presto!

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is an award-winning broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read the entire Rome Diary series, plus more about Mike Botula at]
© By Mike Botula 2020

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Generation Passes!

MikeBo’s Blog
Tuesday November 5, 2019
Mostly Cloudy in Texas 73°F/ 23°C
Good Day!

Harold Dunagan in 1944
The generation referred to is, of course, what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation  in his best-selling book.  The Greatest Generation fought and won World War Two. Harold Dunagan was part of that generation. Dunagan was a sailor aboard my father’s ship – USS LST 920. He aided in the rescue of survivors from LST 920’s sister ship, the LST 921 during a torpedo attack on their convoy in the Dover Channel off the coast of England on August 14, 1944. In his first-person account of that day for my book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! Seaman Dunagan told me, When 921 was hit, the whole thing didn’t sink. It was cut in two with the front part staying afloat. The aft section went to the bottom of the channel with about half of LST 921’s crew. The LST 920, at first, acting under strict wartime orders, proceeded to it destination – Falmouth, England. However, a short time later, the 920’s Captain, Harry N. Schultz, disobeyed those orders and ordered his ship to come about and pick up survivors from the LST 921 and a British escort ship, LCI(L)99, which had taken the full brunt of a torpedo intended for the LST 920. Seaman Dunagan aided in the rescue of the survivors. Years after the war, he told me, We picked up survivors. As I remember, there were 48 survivors from the 921 and none from the other. (The British Escort ship – LCI(L)99).

Dunagan’s wartime service was entirely aboard my father’s ship, LST 920. My dad got to come home in December, 1945, after being granted emergency leave because his mother had suffered a serious
Harold Dunagan - recent photo
stroke and was not expected to live. But, Seaman Harold Dunagan, who had shipped aboard at the commissioning on 17 June 1944 stayed aboard the LST 920 through service in the European Theater, the War in the Pacific, Japanese Occupation Duty. Dunagan stayed aboard until 20 April 1946 when the USS LST 920 sailed into Suisun Bay to join the Mothball Fleet. Following the war Boatswain’s Mate Harold Dunagan returned to civilian life. His wartime duty was finished. On December 21, 1948 he married his wife, Irene. Their marriage would last 70 years until Harold’s death in October, 2019. Harold Dunagan lived to the ripe, old age of 95.

After LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was first published in 2016, I received my first email from Dunagan’s daughter-in-law, Joyce Dunagan. She was the first of many family members to contact me after publication with questions about their loved ones or contributions to my store of knowledge on this deeply personal subject about my father and his shipmates. Joyce was able to tell me how much her father-in-law was pleased by my account of that horrific day. Not only did he keep a copy of the book on a chair next to his bed. But it was among the display of photos and Harold’s medals from his service in World War 2 at the funeral home just before his burial with full military honors. I was deeply touched to hear that. So many veterans of WW2 were reluctant to talk about their wartime experiences after they came back that many of their stories are lost. I’m grateful to be in a position to tell one of them.

When I first heard the tale of 14 August 1944, my father, Lieutenant Charles Botula, Jr. was telling
the story. He was Captain Schultz’ executive officer aboard LST 920. In my dad’s account of the
Seaman John Shields
attack, he was watching events unfold from the bridge of the ship. Suddenly, as he recounted to my younger brother and I, he looked down in horror to see the unmistakable wake of a torpedo approaching from the port side aimed directly at the midships portion of the 920. It would be the same spot that another of U 667’s torpedoes had struck LST 921, with such deadly results. Suddenly, as my dad told the story and other eyewitnesses would confirm, a British escort ship – later identified as LCI(L)99, hove into the path of the oncoming, hurtling torpedo and disappeared in a sheet of flame and smoke. When the smoke had cleared, my father recounted, the ship had disappeared. All that was left was some debris floating in the water. The ship, itself had disappeared!

In the years since the attack on Convoy EBC 72, I have become convinced that the Commander of the British escort ship – Leftenant Arthur John Francis Patrick Reynolds – deliberately placed his own ship in harm’s way to protect my father’s ship, LST 920. Protecting the ships in the convoy was Leftenant Reynolds’ prime mission, and I’m sure that the skipper, who had seen action previously in the Italian Campaign, took seriously.   
Seaman William Todd
 Two Seamen who were among the ship’s crew killed that day were Ordinary Seaman John Shields, Royal navy and Able Seaman William Todd, RN, age 19. Seaman Shields, whose age was not reported in the casualty list, was about the same age as Todd. Their youthful faces smile up hauntingly from their old photos, and we are reminded again that war is fought by the young people. Whether or not Captain Reynolds made a conscious decision to place his ship – LCI(L)99 into the path of that hurtling torpedo is a matter lost to history. The brave souls who were lost that day accomplished their mission. They saved many lives aboard LST 920, among them Harold Dunagan and my father, Charlie Botula. They also made it possible for LST 920 Skipper Harry Schultz to return to rescue the survivors from the hapless LST 921. For their heroism, I am eternally grateful.


[MIKE BOTULA, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant. His book is available from Amazon Books. You can follow his blog at:, including his Rome Diary series, and learn more about Mike Botula at: ]

©2019-Mike Botula

Monday, August 5, 2019

Back Story: LST 920 and Charlie Botula!

MikeBo’s Blog
Monday August 5, 2019
Sunny in Cedar Park, TX 94°F/ 34°C
Partly Cloudy in Falmouth, UK  67°F/ 19°C


Lord knows, I did not set out to write a book about a war story my father  told me and my kid brother as we were growing up! But, that’s what I did. And, the reaction was life-changing for me. By the way – it will soon be the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the U-boat attack on my father’s convoy in the Dover Channel during World War Two:  August 14, 1944.  A quick recap: LSTs 920 and 921 – sister ships, having been built and commissioned in the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in Hingham, Massachusetts, were part of Allied Convoy EBC 72, en route from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England on 14 August 1944, when the convoy was attacked by U 667, commanded by Captain Karl-Heinze Lange. U 667’s first torpedo struck LST 921 toward the stern, breaking the back of the 328 foot-long landing ship. The dazed crew would have less than five minutes to rescue the hapless souls in the stern section. The explosion triggered the alarm for General Quarters aboard the LST 920, and as the crew scrambled to their battle stations, the Captain – Harry N. Schultz and his Exec – Lieutenant (j.g.) Charles Botula, Jr. raced to the bridge. Once there, Lt. Botula closely scanned the waters around his ship through his US Navy-issue 7 by 50 binoculars.  His heart must have skipped a beat or two as he spotted the indelible signs of a torpedo’s wake homing in on the middle of his ship! That torpedo was coming straight for us, and there was nothing to do but watch it hit us, he would tell my younger brother and me as he recounted the events of that August day over and over as we grew up. Suddenly, a British escort vessel, LCI(L) 99 raced between the on-coming torpedo and LST 920, and took the torpedo intended to sink LST 920. The resulting explosion blew LCI(L) 99 out of the water. After the blast, I watched as the smoke cleared, said my dad. All I could see was smoke and bits of floating debris. The ship itself had vanished!

Don Joost in 1944
On board LST 921, Engineering Officer Don Joost had just left the engine room and had returned to his quarters to lie down for a few minutes before chow, when U 667’s torpedo hit. Below him Motor Machinists John Abrams and Lloyd Meeker were momentarily trapped in the fast-flooding engine room. In another part of the ship, the ship’s cook Seaman Charles Watson found himself trapped under a tangle of shelving in one of the ship’s passageways. And, Seaman Second Class Charles H. Moore would be trapped in the sinking stern section of his ship and go to the bottom of the Dover Channel along with several dozen of his ill-fated shipmates, and two of the LST 921’s officers. Aboard the British escort vessel, LCI(L) 99, Acting Able Seaman William Todd…age 19, the ship’s cook, would be killed by the torpedo’s blast along with most of his shipmates.

As I said earlier, I did not intend to write a book about my dad’s wartime experience, but that changed in 2003 after I left a message on the U.S. LST Association’s web site, asking if any association member had served aboard the LST 920 with my father. In a few days my note was answered by Don Reed, the 920’s Communications Officer. He told me in his reply that he had served with him since the ship was commissioned in June 1944 until dad left the ship in November 1945. Since, I was living in Sacramento, I decided to drive with my son, Michael, to Alameda where Don worked as a volunteer aboard the USS Hornet to meet him and hear the story anew. Don Reed was part of the original crew of LST 920, and was aboard for her entire time in service, becoming  her last Commanding Officer in 1946, before she joined the “Mothball Fleet” in Suisun Bay. This meeting with Reed led to other meetings, telephone interviews and letters from other members of both LST crews. Instead of a straightforward war story, my father’s tale became a wartime mystery with a lot of unanswered questions:

Don Reed in 2003
We were supposed to go to the PACFIC! Reed told me and my son Michael, over dinner in Alameda, when we finally met.  We were on our shakedown cruise when we were ordered into the Philadelphia Navy Yard for a new paint job, and to take on a TOP SECRET cargo. Then we received orders to join up with a thousand ship convoy out of New York and head to EUROPE! Later, I would hear similar versions of Reed’s account from officers of both LSTs – the 920 and the 921. A few weeks later, I drove over from Sacramento to Walnut Creek, California to meet with Don Joost, former Engineering Officer of the ill-fated LST 921. Joost shared his pictures with me and talked to me about the secret cargo carried by the two LSTs. There was a lot of speculation about what we were carrying, said Joost. Some of our officers thought it was mine-sweeping technology. But, I was of the opinion that our secret cargo was technology designed to foil the acoustic torpedoes the Germans were just starting to use. Indeed, late in the war, the German Kriegsmarine introduced a new torpedo designed to home in on the sound of the enemy ship’s engines. Is it possible that the Germans knew what your ship and the other LST were carrying?  I asked Joost. During the war, the Germans had a highly sophisticated spy network operating on the U.S. East Coast. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, Joost replied. But, the answer to that question probably lies on either the bottom of the Dover Channel in the stern of LST 921, or at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, in the hulk of U 667!

The U.S. LST Association required that I join the association before it would share the names and addresses of the former crew members of LSTs 920 and 921 that I sought. But, membership was a small price to pay for the first-person accounts that I would gain. At Don Reed’s suggestion, I obtained the ship’s logs for my dad’s ship for 1944 along with an aerial photo of the LST 920 at sea for the first time – painted in Pacific Theater camouflage colors. Through the contact list provided by the U.S. LST Association, I was able to either arrange telephone interviews or obtain first-person accounts with a dozen survivors of the ordeal. From that little exercise, I was able to craft a short article for The Scuttlebutt, the LST Association’s newsletter. After evaluating the material that simply did not fit into the one thousand word article, I made my decision to do a book. My book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books in August  2016, shortly after I moved to Texas. Almost immediately I began to get emails from the quickly diminishing crew members of the LST 920 or 921, or their friends or family members. I quickly realized that many of the family members of those who lived through the events of 14 August 1944, did not have a father like mine who freely recounted his wartime experiences. And indeed, many of the letters I received containing the first-hand accounts were accompanied by a sentence or two explaining that they were telling these stories for the first time.  I got the eerie feeling that they were being given permission  from their Executive Officer, through his son, to finally tell their stories. Such was the emotional connection that I developed with these old shipmates.

Charles Watson in 1944
By telephone I spoke with Motor Machinist’s Mate John Abrams, who recounted the escape that he and Lloyd Meeker made from the engine room of the LST 921, and their subsequent rescue of the ship’s cook, Charlie Watson. Both Watson and Abrams told me how Abrams  took his own life jacket off and gave it to the badly injured Watson. I spoke with Ensign Jerry Gerrard, the Engineering Officer of LST 920 for his account of the attack and Captain Schultz’ disobeying the direct order to proceed onto their port of Falmouth, in order to come about and pick up survivors from their sister ship, LST 921. The rest gave their first-hand accounts in their letters. It soon became obvious from my father’s account of the incident as well as the other first person accounts, that there was not much known about the submarine that carried out the attack. That would come later in my research under Don Reed’s guidance. Reed, who had done extensive research on the attack, knew that U 667 had struck a mine two weeks after the attack on the convoy, and its wreckage now lay on the bottom of the Bay of Biscay near the U 667’s home port of La Pallice, France. Even my own father had not known that when he died in 1965. So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from a French diver named

Christophe Moriceau, who not only knew the fate of the U 667 but had actually dived on the wreck site. Moriceau is a member of L’Expedition Scyllias,  a French diving organization. He explained that, while the wreck had been located in 1972, it had been mis-identified as the wreckage of another U-boat. Not until 2014 was the wreckage formally identified as that of U 667. Given this new information, I decided to draft a new edition  of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  This was done in Spring, 2019.

Able Seaman William Todd
Perhaps the largest contribution that the book makes is proving information to the families of the two ships. One family member wrote to tell me that up until my book was published, the only information the family had about one of their own who’d been killed in action, was a tattered telegram from the War Department. Looking back on Gillian Whittle’s note about her great-uncle William Todd, the young Able Seaman aboard the British Escort ship who died that day, I am glad that I was able to provide even sketchy details of his last moments. She ended her letter saying, we cannot let the memories of these great people be forgotten!

Most of the men who sailed aboard LSTs 920 and 921 are gone now, but a very few are still with us. Seaman Charles Watson, the 921’s cook is a hale and  hearty 97, despite losing a leg in his ordeal. A Signalman from the 920, James Dietrich is a healthy 94 years old and walks daily for exercise. Seaman Harold Dunagan, who shared his accounts  of helping survivors from LST 921 is now confined to a nursing home. His daughter wrote me: He was very proud of your first book and keeps it on the table beside his chair at all times!

As I said earlier. I did not set out to write a book, but I’m glad that I did!

[MIKE BOTULA, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant. His book is available from Amazon Books. You can follow his blog at:, including his Rome Diary series, and learn more about Mike Botula at: ]