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 www.mikebotula.com]

© 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 www.mikebotula.com]
© 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: mikebotula.blogspot.com, including his Rome Diary series, and learn more about Mike Botula at: www.mikebotula.com ]

©2019-Mike Botula