Friday, September 4, 2015

The Long Siesta

The International Man Of Mystery  Nick Sweet
Or Man Of International Mystery

One of the best things about being a crime writer is discovering new writers.  My experience follows a very familiar pattern.  An email bounces in to my in-tray asking if I would like to review a book and I say yes. Then forget about it.  The book then appears in a brown padded envelope usually sandwiched in between a legal request for an onerous personal injury statement and an electricity bill.  So the secret package is opened up with huge excitement and the contents are sometimes as exciting as the electricity bill. Occasionally the book lives up to my expectations.

The Long Siesta  was fabulous.

Then, there is the icing on the cake I promptly request, threaten, blackmail the author to do a guest blog for Murder is Everywhere. Especially if they write about somewhere as yet unblogged.

 So it’s with great delight I introduce you to Nick Sweet, who sets his novels in Spain. His book The Long Siesta is published by Grey Cells Press – the crime imprint of Holland House and on the surface it’s an intriguing police procedural set in Spain, yet the author gives us glimpses of the countries unsettled past.  It’s a compliment when I say his detective reminded me of R D Wingfield's  Frost.  The detective is a deeply flawed individual (with good reason) and I shall maintain an enigmatic silence on that one - no plot spoilers here. Nick obviously knows Spain very well and the narrative has a sort of magical flourish. ( I did have one moment of sharp intake of breath when I read a member of the strong supporting cast was a bull fighter so it was interesting to read what Nick had to say  on that subject.

 I did ask Nick for a few words about the translation style of the novel as it is obviously written in English for an English speaking audience but maintains a direct translation of many Spanish phrases. … read on.
The book cover!

I first came to Spain with my parents when I was seven, and it struck me as being a magical place. And as I grew up my fascination with Spain grew, too. It was a country—or a group of countries—with so many different customs and traditions; and at the same time, it also seemed to be a land that embodied a mass of contradictions. I first moved here to live way back in my twenties; to begin with I lived in Bilbao, then I moved on to Barcelona, where I met my wife, Belén, and we married the following year. During our time in Barcelona, we met all kinds of people. One friend we made was an undercover policeman, and I naturally found it interesting to talk to him about his work. It’s certainly true that I learned a thing or two from him about what was going on in the city’s criminal underworld.

Decades later, after living in England and the Middle East, we moved to Seville; we found a nice flat bang in the heart of the city, and I immediately fell in love with the place. There’s a magic about Seville, so that I found it could be exciting just to walk the streets; and I loved the art and architecture. So I decided to set my next book in Seville, and the main character, Inspector Velázquez, came to life in my imagination as the manuscript of what would become The Long Siesta slowly began to take shape.
I was impressed by how warm and welcoming the local people were. But this is true of the people all over Spain. I remember one time when Belen and I were in the Retiro, the big park in the centre of Madrid, for instance, and we were considering where we might go and eat. We got talking to a man who happened to be sharing the same bench as us, and asked if he could recommend somewhere that did good food and was easy on the pocket. The man, who was a perfect stranger to us, said he knew just the place; but it was too far to walk, and the route too complicated for him to be able to give directions. No matter, he would just have to take us there. He was waiting for his son, who would be coming to pick him up in his car any minute. They would take us to the place and drop us at the door. We said we didn’t want to put him out. But it would be a pleasure, he protested.  So sure enough, when his son arrived they drove us to the restaurant and even introduced us to the owner.
I wanted to make bullfighting an integral part of the novel, because it is part of life in Spain. Actually, Spaniards tend to have different attitudes towards it. You can see this in my own family, for instance: when she was eighteen, my wife’s mother once went to a corrida in Valladolid with her father, only to pass out in the middle of the action. Her father had saved up all through the year to be able to afford the best seats, for the two weeks when the bullfights came to his native city and, far from showing any concern for his favourite child’s well-being when she fainted, he merely began to berate her for having ruined his enjoyment of what should have been, in his view at least, a wonderful spectacle. Like her mother, my wife Belén also disapproves of bullfighting.

My late father in law, Manolo, was a keen painter and took an obsessive interest in the work of Goya and Picasso, even though he did not share their passion for the bullfights. Picasso’s Guernica famously manages to feature a number of bulls and elements from the bullfight of course, while also portraying the horrors of war. Manolo also told me stories of his experiences as a small boy during the Civil War, and of how, for years after it had ended, he would be woken up in his bed every Sunday morning by the firing squads. Manolo’s anecdotes inspired me to become interested in the history of the conflict, and this ended up playing a part in The Long Siesta, too.

I also wanted to give my readers (whether or not they happen to have any Spanish) a sense of the ways in which Spaniards use language when they speak, in the hope of making the work more authentic (and also possibly more interesting and amusing); and so I’ve included a small number of phrases in my novel which are in fact instances of Spanish idioms. This presented the question of whether it would be better to translate these idioms from their original language into English; or whether it would work better if I were to transliterate them. There is of course a big difference, as anyone who is interested in the whole business of translation will know; although this may not be so obvious to ordinary readers who have never had cause to concern themselves with questions which are perhaps usually considered to inhabit the terrain where specialists hang out. Perhaps if I provide a few examples then it might make what I am talking about a little clearer. Let’s begin with ‘milk’. In Spanish, someone who is in a bad mood can be said to have, or to have drunk, (the) bad milk (‘El/ella tiene (la) mala leche’). On the other hand, if you want to express surprise or astonishment in Spanish, then you might say ‘Joder’/’F***’, but you might just as easily say ‘I dirty (or literally ‘shit in’) the milk’/‘Me cago en la leche’. And if you think something is wonderful, or simply ‘the best’, then you might say ‘it’s the milk’/‘es la leche’. To throw your house out of the window/‘tirar la casa por la ventana’, translates to ‘pulling out all of the stops’; and to warn against ‘putting the cart before the horse’ transliterates from the Spanish equivalent (‘empezar la casa por el tejado’) as ‘begin the house with the roof’.
You can see how these idioms might prove something of a minefield for the struggling learner of Spanish; but I thought it would be fun to use them in The Long Siesta for comic purposes, and also to provide authenticity, always providing of course that the meaning was obvious. Indeed, I was keen to write a page-turner that would be easy to read, and so naturally the last thing I wanted to do was confuse the reader. I discussed this with my editors at Holland House, and they assured me that the meaning of what I was writing was obvious and that they’d tell me if anything was unclear. I’ve also included a small glossary, at the back of the book, for readers who are interested in looking into these matters further, along with a short list of Spanish vocabulary, where Spanish words (often connected with cuisine or bullfighting) have been used; although readers who are simply interested in enjoying a fast-moving and easy-to-read crime thriller set in Spain won’t need to stop and look words or phrases up. 

Nick Sweet  04 09 2015

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The circus

It really doesn't matter what your political views are to see some of what is happening in the US Presidential campaign as a circus.

I have to admit to a certain pleasure at Contender Donald Trump's irreverent, unconventional, oft idiotic approach to presidential politics.  Certainly, given the abysmal records of both House and Senate over the past few years, almost anything that is different is refreshing.

It is hard to select one item to comment on about Trump's campaign, but the selection was made much easier this week by Contender Scott Walker (Governor of Wisconsin).  More of that later.

My choice of one item of Contender Trump's campaign to talk about is THE WALL.

In general, Contender Trump has been pretty light of detail in his broad-ranging proposals, but a couple of weeks ago he released his detailed policy on immigration.  He promises to triple the number of US immigration officers, to end job visas for foreign students, to deport undocumented migrants, and, in contradiction to the Fourteen Amendment, to end automatic citizenship for babies born on US soil.

In addition (fanfare please), Contender Trump has proposed to build a wall all along the 2000 mile (3200 km) border between the USA and Mexico, and to make Mexico pay for it.  To be fair, some of it (less than a third) has already been built, mainly in Arizona.

"“The Mexican government has taken the United States to the cleaners,” says the Trump policy paper. “They are responsible for this problem and they must help pay to clean it up.”

When questioned about the viability of such a fence, especially given the enormous costs and limited success rate of the existing George W. Bush mandated fence, Contender Trump had this to say: "Building a wall is easy, and it can be done inexpensively.  It's not even a difficult project if you know what you are doing."

Almost everyone involved in policing the US-Mexican border, almost everyone involved in building the existing fence, says that it is an impossible task, not worth the money both to build and maintain. Not only impossible to build, but it won't stop the flow anyway, much like George W. Bush's high-tech virtual wall was an inordinate failure.

Needless to say he would want the world to know such a magnificent structure to be known as The Trump Wall.

I mentioned above that it was Wisconsin Governor, Contender Scott Waker, that made me pick The Trump Wall as the one Trump policies to comment on.  The reason for that is in a recent NBC interview Contender Walker, when asked whether it would be necessary to build a wall between the USA and Canada, said it was worth considering.

My friend Steve Alessi (a founder member with Annamaria Alfieri of Sicilians for Kubu) sent me an article about Contender Walker's pronouncement and suggested it was to keep Canadians flooding across the border to take advantage of the US's free health care.

Anyway, as ambitious as The Trump Wall is, the Walker Wall is off the charts.  The border between the two countries is the longest border between any two countries and has severe problems associated with it.  However, to be fair, a start has been made already - it is policy to maintain a clear path along the border for its entire length.

To give some insight into the enormity of Contender Walker's idea, take a look at this fascinating video.

The two candidates arguing as to whose wall is biggest.
We are now only fourteen months away from the election - gasp - and have much more of this to look forward to.  I've lost track as to how many candidates have thrown their hats in the ring, but it must be in the mid-twenties.  So watch this space for updates on how the most powerful country on the planet elects its leader.

Stan - Thursday

PS.  In researching this blog, I discovered to my amazement that there are dozens of walls or fences between countries around the world.  You can find out about them here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hell Hotel

by Jorn Lier Horst

In addition to being part of an interesting community, I use this blog to keep my English skills in working order. I hope I manage to make myself understood. It is not so easy with a foreign language. My grandfather got to experience that. He signed on board the freighter Polar Fart. In Norwegian fart means to travel, or be traveling. After the first quay in Glasgow the crew re-baptized the ship with a single stroke of paint to Polar Traveller.

A couple of years ago I had a visit by an Englishman. He howled his laughter over signs that alerted for Fartshump, and had to get out of the car and take a picture of each eternal one. The signs are there to get alert drivers of bumps in the road and to reduce speed. I didn`t know that hump is slang for intercourse. I do know what fart is. Humping and farting is an en embarrassing combination, that knows everyone who has tried it.

Another friend of mine worked for a period as a telemarketer, but had to take off the rest of the day off when a potential customer was Englishman and she had to ask for Steve Pick. In Norwegian the pronouncement of Steve means hard and Pick means dick. Lessons learned was also she who started an IT company and called it FagWeb it. In Norwegian Fag means skills or science. After very many hits via American homoerotic sites, she changed the name to e-profile.

One should tread carefully when it comes to international launch of national products. Kavli is one of the biggest food companies in Norway, but in Greece they had trouble launching their goods. No wonder, since the Kavli (Καβλί) in Greek means erect penis (am I right, Jeff?). For the same reason Ford never sold any models of Ford Pinto in Portugal, where Pinto means small penis. It also went wrong for Chevrolet when they in the 80s launched the car model Nova in Latin America. Nova means star in Spanish but in Latin America means Nova "does not go". In France it went wrong with Toyota's launch of the sports car MR2. The French pronunciation of the letter and number combination is namely merde, witch means shit/damn -  isn`t that so, Cara?

There are several car companies who have committed advertising blunders as a result of imprudence or ignorance about the choice of name. Prior to launch in the Nordic market, Honda had to change model name on Honda Fitta to Honda Jazz, as fitta is a Norwegian name for the female genitalia. The wife of a friend of mine in Japan had one of those cars. In the advertising brochure he could read that  "Fitta is small on the outside but big inside" and "Fitta is a daily pleasure". It goes with the story that Honda previously dropped the model name Pervo. 

The people in the hotel industry also have their challenges. In my hometown Larvik we have Farris Bad Hotel  (Bad; norw. bath/spa) and a little further north is the village of Hell (hell; norw. slope/hill). There will you also find the city hotel, wishing you Welcome to Hell

Jorn Lier Horst

Monday, August 31, 2015

Nazi Gold Train

Nazi Gold. Two words that conjure up hidden treasure, greed, the horrors of World War II, a Ludlum thriller, and which strike continued fascination, today, seventy years after the war. Old newsreel clips on Youtube show the Allies at war’s end in the Austrian salt mines recovering crates of gold wedding rings from Holocaust victims, gold bars, paintings of Rembrandt and Vermeer, treasures looted and hidden by the Nazi’s from all over Europe. Recovered treasure looted from the Third Reich that Hitler envisioned to become the Thousand year Reich. Given the sheer quantity of art and valuables pillaged by the Reich, one historian claims, it may take a thousand years to recover.
The stuff of legends? Maybe, yet a recent rumored ‘discovery’ of a Nazi gold train, buried in a tunnel in Poland either under a castle or in the mountains, has sparked treasure hunters, the curious, World War II buffs and the attention of the world to the Polish region near the border of Poland and Germany.
News came to light several weeks ago after two men, only identified as one Polish and one German, registered a finder’s claim which legally would entitle them to ten percent of the findings from a hidden Nazi gold train which they claimed to have discovered. As reported in the Telegraph UK “Since the end of the Second World War rumours and legends of a Nazi gold train that disappeared without trace in the dying days of the conflict have swirled around the town of Walbrzych, in south-west Poland. Stories put the train in the hills around the town, but despite many attempts to track it down it was never found – until now, it seems.”
Naysayers comments abounded; how could this be hidden for so many years, the logistics were impossible, who would leave gold and how could a long train be ‘hidden’. They insisted this was yet another fable of lost treasure.  Turns out, well-known to the residents of that region, that the Nazi’s used slave labor to build warrens of tunnels threading the mountains and construct rail tracks to these tunnels.
Geographically the area is near the border and convenient to Berlin. Theories abounded that the tunnels were used as storage for looted art and treasure, or more sinister claims of dangerous chemicals manufacturing.
But almost every day since the claim was registered in the Walbrzych town hall, a new turn in this story comes to light. A treasure hunting group insisted they had ‘discovered the location of the gold train’ under a hill two years previously. That the group mapped the location, stored the information on their computer and it was stolen. Hence, their claim should be rightful as the first discoverers. No proof of this has surfaced and one wonders why the group can’t remember the location which they said was on a four-kilometer stretch of the Wroclaw-Walbrzych main train line near Walbrzych. 

Rival treasure hunters, stolen maps, tunnels, castles, hidden Nazi gold. All the components for a historical thriller, right?
  Following that the town hall spokesman came out with a statement to the effect that since a finder’s claim was filed, all necessary actions were being taken to investigate this location and the procedure was complicated involving the fire department, heavy land moving equipment, experts at defusing munitions, rights to the property and access. This would all take a long time and involve cooperation on many levels. In the meantime the spokesman asked for what amounted to a plea to dissuade the rush of treasure hunters combing the area. The spokesman asked them to back off since they had no idea how dangerous the remains, if any, and their contents could be. The press was asked to wait for further announcements when they had information.

Now disgruntled treasure hunters complained over what they saw as a press blackout, how this reeked of a cover-up or it was a plot for tourism to bring visitors to this quiet region. "There are discrepancies between maps of the area from the 1920s and the 1940s which suggests there are tunnels under the town which have never been found," a local is quoted as saying. "Up to 1947 the Soviets were here and we do not know what they found."
The Ksiaz castle was being prepared for Hitler's arrival right up to the end of World War Two with a study and en suite lavatory installed for the dictator.
A comprehensive bunker complex based on the blueprint of the dictator's Berlin wartime base was also under construction when the fortress was overrun by Soviet troops in 1945.
Local politician Lukasz Kazek claims that just one third of the vast tunnel network built by the Germans during the Second World War, dubbed the 'Riese' project - German for 'giant' - have been discovered.
This story fascinated me. Every day a new aspect has been unfolding. I wondered why no residents of this area between the four-kilometer stretch of the Wroclaw-Walbrzych main train line near Walbrzych had been interviewed. Surely, if these gold train rumors existed since the war wouldn’t anyone still alive remember? Or their descendants recall hearing stories? Or had interviews and accounts occurred on Polish radio and didn’t make it to the international papers. Again, it intrigued me, and that thought of what if, the what if spark that triggers a story. What if the locals knew about this train and had kept quiet over the years because they had helped themselves long ago to the contents?
The could almost parallel my next book involving Nazi gold and a train through France. I’d done research concerning the Reich’s trains carrying gold from Switzerland, through France to Spain and their destination of Portugal. Documentation shows the Nazi’s paid Salazar, the dictator of Portugal, in newly minted bars of looted gold for Tungsten, also know as Wolfram the metal mined in Portugal needed to armor plate tanks. Salazar had wised up early in the war, refused Reich marks and demanded gold in payment. 
A hurdle in this transportation operation, that had to be surmounted again and again, was that the French rail tracks, the standard European gage-tracks and the Spanish broad-gage didn’t match.
Don’t to this today. The French train would stop at the ‘end’ of the line at the foothills of the Pyrenees, the contents in this case Nazi gold bars to pay Salazar, in order to be transferred manually to the Spanish trains waiting on their tracks at Canfranc, a Belle Epoque era train station. 

No forklifts then. And gold is heavy. Think of a five kilo bar, that’s a little over 11 pounds. If each box carried five bars, that’s 55 pounds requiring not one strong man but two. Think of hundreds of boxes with gold bars needing to be transferred. The villagers of Canfranc were enlisted for the work. 

In the journalist Ramon J. Campo’s exhaustively researched book, Canfranc, Gold and the Nazis, new revelations about the station’s old secrets emerge. According to Campo, 86 tons of gold passed through Canfranc. He describes border officials who loaded up on gold bars, people who got glimpses of paintings and clocks. The people in Canfranc who Campo met and interviewed knew the stories. Hence in my story, the gold headed for Canfranc plays a role.
During the war Nazi’s systematically looted works of art and cultural property from public and private collections in Europe with close to 80,000 objects confiscated in Poland alone. We know from historical documentation that a German army presence existed there all during the war and they headquartered at Ksiaz castle on a hill, close to Walbrzych, where you can lodge today.
You can also visit the tunnel underneath the castle built by Nazi slave labor.
  The saga continued yesterday in a startling announcement by Piotr Zuchowski, head of conservation for the Polish Arts Ministry, who revealed at press conference that a 90 year old man on his deathbed confessed to being involved the operation to hide the train 70 years ago.
The minister said he is now “99 per cent” that the train has been found, after seeing photographs of an object taken with ground penetrating radar.
“This is unprecedented. The train is over 100 metres long, and is armoured. We do not what’s inside but its armour indicates it has a special cargo,” said Mr Zuchowski. “There is probably military equipment but also jewelery, works of art and archive documents which we knew existed, but never found.” 
The identity of the dying 90 year old man, and the two treasure hunters remain part of the mystery still surrounding the train. Historians have warned that the train could be booby-trapped and the possibility that it contains toxic chemicals.

What do you think? 
Cara - Tuesday

WWII: Seventy Years of Remembering


This coming Wednesday, the 2nd of September, will be the seventieth anniversary of the Japanese surrender in Tsingtao.  My father Samuel Puglise was there.  He had fought on Guadalcanal, Saipan, Okinawa, and Guam, and then after VJ Day, his unit was sent to China.
The surrender ceremony.  Sam is in there somewhere.

The Japanese had invaded China in 1937.  With more advanced war materiel, they soon overwhelmed the Chinese, despite their home territory advantage.   By the time my father joined the fight to rout them from the islands of the Pacific, the Japanese were firmly entrenched in China.  After the 1945 surrender, there were hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers who needed to be repatriated.  Naturally, this was an operation that would take some time.  The Japanese troops were kept in holding areas while the available ships were used to transport them home.  American Marines were put on guard duty to keep them in custody until they left.

Japanese after the surrender.

But there was a big problem.  The Chinese had reasons (one of which I wrote about last week) to want revenge on the Japanese.  During the night, Sam told me, local people would crawl under the barbed wire and kill the Japanese.  And there were not enough Americans to properly patrol the perimeter and keep the inmates safe.  The solution enacted boggled Sam’s mind.  The American commanders rearmed the Japanese officers and had them walk guard duty  with the Americans.  “Think of it, Sweetie,” Sam said.  “A few weeks beforehand, we were trying to kill one another.  And then, there we were, armed and walking guard duty together.”

Card Sam sent to my mother at Christmas 1945

After the repatriation was complete, Sam and his fellow Marines were kept on for a while, guarding Cheng Kai-shek’s supply lines in his war against Mao Zedong.

Sam in China

Sam’s time in China was not without challenges.   His group—a contingent of the 6th Marines—was attached to the 1st Marine regiment.  On the one side, assumptions were made that the 6th would continue to supply them and on the other that the 1st would.  For a while, nothing arrived, not even rations.  At one point, they managed to trade with the Chinese for a cow, which they butchered and ate.   Sam made a chewing motion when he described this.  “It was old and TOUGH.  We named it ‘Confucius’ calf.”

Confucius' Calf

Sam on the extreme right, dining on tough meat.

He made friends with a Dutch missionary priest, who later escaped the religious cleansing after the Communist victory.  I wish I could remember his name.  He came and visited us in Paterson, on his way home to the Netherlands.  For years after the war, Sam corresponded with a doctor and his wife named Pfister.  I found their address on Pei Tai Road in the blue notebook shown in this collection of memorabilia:

Sam's memorabilia

Sam's souvenir photos of Chinese he served with.

Sam rescued a monk from a bombed out Buddhist temple.  As they left, the man reached down into the rubble and took up a roof ornament and gave it to Sam.  He kept it, and brought it home when on 1 April 1946, the 6th Marine Division was disbanded, and Sam was finally shipped Stateside.   By “slow boat from China,” he said, and then train from San Diego to NYC, and them by inter-city bus to Paterson, and then by city bus to home.

Coming home!

He told me much later that people at the Paterson City Hall bus stop looked askance at him and asked why he was still wearing his uniform more than six months after the war ended.  When he walked into the house, I was alone, sitting on the sofa where my mother told me to stay and not move until she got back from the store.  I had turned five the month before.  For more than a year I had been begging for a dog.  My mom told me I had to wait until my father got home.  She had written of this to Sam.  He opened his duffle bag and gave me a dog, one that used to occupy the roof of a temple in China.  Here it is:

My dog.

Sam brought home this Buddha carved from coal.

A few of the items Sam collected in China

During the first fifty years after coming home, Sam did not talk much about his war experiences. I remember only two rather benign stories.  Here they are as accurately as I can recall them:

My mother had sent my father a package that contained pairs of socks, a cake, and a box of raisins thrown in at the last minute.  The socks were something Sam had requested.  He and his buddies had found that in the soggy climate of the South Pacific, in unrelenting battle, they often did not take off their boots for a week at a time.  When they did, their socks were gone.  With endangered supply lines stretching back to San Diego, there were often no replacement socks to be had.

When I saw this last year in London, it resonated with me.  It was part of
an exhibition at the British Library about World War I

The cake was a mess of moldy crumbs.  But the raisins!  Drinking alcohol, except for wine at dinner, was not part of my father’s culture.  His best buddy, a guy of Scottish descent from Connecticut, however, saw a marvelous opportunity.  They were, at that time on a beach getting a few days of R&R.  Sam climbed a palm tree and came down with five coconuts.  They used their bayonets to cut off the tops, put a handful of raisins in each one, recovered them, and buried them in the warm sand.  Three days later they dug them up and drank the fermented coconut milk.  Sam laughed out loud when he recounted how after their “cocktail hour” he could not stand up, but had to crawl through the trees and underbrush to get back to his tent that night.

On Okinawa, after the last major battle, they were “mopping up.” Sam and two other Marines were patrolling a rocky part of the island pockmarked narrow caves, some of which went straight down into the ground.  Snipers were hiding in these as well as in caves on the sides of the mountains.  American patrols investigated the holes in the ground by shouting for anyone hiding in them to come out.  If no one did, they dropped in a grenade to make sure no sniper would pop up later and kill them.  Sam and two others from his platoon were on such a patrol after weeks of jungle fighting without any let up. "We did not look very spiffy," he said.  At one such hole, they stood poised and ready, with rifles pointed down and called for any one inside to come up. To their astonishment, a gray-haired gentleman in a perfectly clean linen Panama suit, complete with white shirt, tie, and vest emerged, followed by two equally pristine young women in silk dresses, wearing white gloves and fashionable little hats.  "I never felt so filthy and smelly in my life," Sam said, laughing.

Uncle Paul in his Seabees uniform

In true Sicilian fashion, even with the war raging, Sam managed to wangle transportation to visit family members who were also at the front.  His older brother, who was beyond combat age, joined the SeaBees (Construction Battalions).  When Sam was still on Okinawa after the conquest of the island, he found out that Paul was with a group building an airstrip on Saipan.  Sam talked his CO into letting him hitch a ride on a transport plane and spent a day with his brother.  He learned that my mother’s youngest brother Joe was on Peleliu.  Following that battle, Sam found a way to get there and spend some family time.  Sam could do that sort of thing.  He was a modest, but thoroughly engaging and charming man.  Whoever you were, his sincerity made him irresistible.

It was not until a few months before he died that Sam told the horror stories.  The only family members he talked to about the awful parts were me and David.  When you read them you will see why he did not want to talk about it.

During that mopping up operation on Okinawa, those same three who found the pristine people in the hole in the ground, on another day, emerged from the jungle toward a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Scores of Japanese had been driven to the edge, but no one knew they were there.  “Though there were only three of us, they must have thought we were leading a large force coming through the trees,” Sam said.  “As soon as they saw us, some of them threw themselves off the cliff onto the rocks below.”  Some killed themselves by falling on grenades.  Pairs of them pulled the pin on a grenade held between them, embraced, and went over the edge headfirst.

This last story made Sam weep with anger and sadness when he told it to us more than sixty years after it happened.  He and a member of his platoon were having a smoke under a tree.  There was no enemy action anywhere in the area, and no one else was around.  An elderly Japanese man, resident of Okinawa, came along the road walking with great difficulty with a cane, making very slow progress.  The Marine sitting there with Sam picked up his rifle, aimed it at the old man, and killed him.

At ninety-four, Sam looked at us through his tears.  “I spent my life trying to forget these things, Sweetie,” he said to me.  “But I never could.”

Annamaria - Monday