Monday, June 28, 2010

Letter Jackets

While cleaning out a spare closet recently I found these letter jackets hanging behind some other things—hadn’t seen them for years. Boy did they bring back the memories. After taking a couple of pictures and looking them over--they went back into storage…my offspring will have to decide what they want to do with them.

For a lot of kids, like me, winning a varsity letter was a real challenge and a keen goal. There were a few who seemed to cruise effortlessly through competitive sports and collected several letters…those were the gifted athletes. Others of us had to spend literally years in the heat, cold, and physical trials in the pursuit of a letter and even then, there was no guarantee of winning one.

Coaches kept the records and made the final choices for awarding the letter jackets. First team players always lettered, but for others on the teams it was a closer call. On reflection, the coaches had a tough job deciding who lettered and who did not. There were a few seniors each year that did not letter even after making the varsity teams and playing the sports all those years. Rules were rules and the lesson learned was that achievement could be an elusive goal.

Football letters were limited to 24 each year, both in high school and junior high. There were 10 basketball lettermen and 14 baseball lettermen; the numbers for those sports seemed to change a bit from one year to another for reasons I don’t understand.

For a 1950s boy, all sports began about the 4th grade, with pick-up games between the neighborhood kids. Little League baseball began about age 10, PeeWee football began about the same time, and the school sponsored flag football was played in the 6th grade. By then you had a pretty good idea of which kids were good at sports. Contact (tackle) football started in the 7th grade and from there on, there was a 6-year run, ending the senior year, for one to earn some letters or just a letter. Individual growth and maturity was extreme and uneven during those years.

Actually, getting a letter jacket was kind of anti-climatic. They were distributed at a school assembly and celebrated at an evening dinner (always cutlets) in the school cafeteria. The end of a season was both a relief and a let down. For a footballer, after 4-months of almost daily after school exertion you abruptly had nothing to do unless you were on the basketball team. However, I clearly recall being pretty worn out at the end of the season and a number of us were injured.

The best thing about those letter jackets was having a girlfriend wear it. That way you could let her show it off while you not-so-subtly signaled your claim to the girl. However, if you didn’t have a girl, they weren’t worn much because usually within a few weeks you were off to high school or college where the jackets were seen as kind of juvenile, so they went into the closets.

The jackets pictured above represent a couple of firsts which should be of interest to an East Side historian. The Meadowbrook jacket has a patch on the sleeve marking the school’s 1959 Ft. Worth city football championship—the first football championship in the school’s history. And the Eastern Hills jacket has a similar patch on the sleeve marking the school’s 1962 Ft. Worth 4A-5 city championship—the first 4A-5 football championship in the school’s history. In those days 4A consisted of Texas’ largest schools…5A wouldn’t appear until some years later.

I’ve always considered having had the privilege of playing Texas High School football as a significant experience…they make movies about Texas Schoolboy football, don’t they?

In fact, there are 3 movies that I can recall, you've probably seen them,

   Varsity Blues - cute, shows the spirit, story a bit fanciful.
   Friday Night Lights - accurate, based on a real story, well done.
   The Junction Boys - Texas schoolboy football as I remember it.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Comparing Generals

When General Petraeus sat for his 2007 confirmation hearing, I couldn’t help but be curious about the huge collection of ribbons on his uniform. Most of the Vietnam veterans must be retired by now and for a professional warrior there hasn’t been much war going on since then. I wondered what all those ribbons could be.

A quick scan of his military awards list told me that they were mostly the kind of awards commonly given to a fast track soldier on the rise—pretty, but of modest substance. I suppose the accumulation of a chest full of ribbons is necessary for a high ranking military commander, lest the soldiers he commands look in askance and wonder what the heck the dude has done.

I thought a side-by-side comparison of General Petraeus with another General of the same rank from the WWII period might be interesting.

Each general has 9-rows of ribbons; I didn’t count each individual award but would estimate the total to be about the same. One general has a command pilot wing and the other has an infantry badge of some kind along with a jump badge and a helicopter assault badge pinned below the ribbons. LeMay’s career spanned 37-years. Petraeus has been a soldier for 36-years. Both rose to the 4-star rank.

O.K., so far, so good. However, as always, the devil is in the details. Just listing the names and descriptions of all those ribbons would cause anyone’s eyes to glaze over. But it would be instructive to take a brief look at their respective careers.

LeMay joined the Army Air Corps in 1928. He had been retired from the Air Force about 9-years when Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974 —a retirement that was forced by LeMay’s rigorous disagreements with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Presidents Kennedy & Johnson. General LeMay was a consummate warrior and couldn’t stand the Ivy League, by-the-numbers statistical approach to command furthered by McNamara. LeMay had flown the missions over Germany during WWII, while the Harvard educated McNamara, then a captain, had worked in the AAF’s statistical office charged with pouring over the bombing results and making statistical reports. LeMay’s strident nature was lampooned in the press of the sixties, depicted in the 1955 film Strategic Air Command, and lampooned again in the film Dr. Strangelove.

General LeMay’s service included the award (3-times) of the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Silver Star, and a host of other combat awards along with some of the inevitable political awards for high command. His command pilot wing indicates that he had flown over 2000 hours and held air command positions. He led the legendary Eighth Air Force mission to Schweinfurt-Regensburg in 1943, commanded the 20th Army Air Force B-29 raids on Japan in 1945; commanded the 1948 Berlin Airlift; commanded the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from its inception; was Chief of Staff United States Air Force during the Cuban Missile Crisis; and accomplished most of this before General Petraeus was born.

General Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974 and was assigned to Italy (Note: Vietnam was then still a hot zone!) and similar assignments during the 1970’s; he was an academic earning his PhD and a general’s Aide-de-Camp during the 1980’s; as a battalion commander in the 1990s he suffered a chest wound in Kentucky when a soldier tripped and accidentally discharged his rifle, he then went on to command Operation “Uphold Democracy,” a 6-month exercise to help stabilize Haiti after a Haitian coup, followed by several Executive Assistant posts in Washington which rounded out his 1990’s service; since 2000 he has seen some service in Bosnia, broke his ass (sorry…his pelvis) on a parachute jump, and continued his work as a modern military manager as he successfully led the “surge” in Iraq.

So, there you have it. Some chests full of ribbons are different than other chests full of ribbons. The devil is in the details and each person is a prisoner of sorts, to his time slot in history.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Meadowbrook - Eastern Hills Neighborhoods

The accompanying picture came from a 1962 Clan yearbook and provides a good aerial view of not only the school grounds but also of some of the surrounding neighborhood. My family was not one of the earliest to settle in the area so I always wondered how old, some of the “older” houses were as I drove around the neighborhoods.

Note the YELLOW direction indicator in the lower play field. Meadowbrook Drive is behind us just beyond the lower left corner; the toll road is a mile or two north; Ft. Worth is to the left; and Handley is behind us off the right lower corner.

Generally, the entire housing stock north of EHHS (the Eastern Hills section) was constructed from 1954 to 1962. Along Weiler Blvd. on the left or West side as you go North out of the picture were some nice older homes with some acreage that were generally built during or just after WWII in the 1940s. A good looking little sophomore named Angie Meer and her brother, Kurt lived in one of the fancier homes there, and Steve Helmricks’ family settled in one of those older houses when they moved to the area about 1961.

Jesse E. Roach, founder of the Cattlemen's Steak House (c.1947), lived in the house adjoining the north boundary of the school grounds at the intersection of Weiler and Danciger. He was about 62 at the time and owned 4 restaurants, 2 of them in Dallas. Sometimes you could see over the fence and catch him out sunning by his pool. To my knowledge, he never socialized with any of us or walked over to see what was going on.

A number of the houses west along Meadowbrook Drive toward the Meadowbrook Jr. High School, including those surrounding the golf club, and those South of Meadowbrook Drive were built during the 1920s. One on Queen St. is for sale now and it was built in 1891.

Subdivisions behind Meadowbrook Drive (N & S) date to the 1940s and early 1950s. I think Gay Burton’s family lived in one of the large older homes that may have dated to pre-WWII. If I recall correctly, her home was located across from the Meadowbrook Golf Course club house. Others in those neighborhoods were Phil Nixon, Susan Begley, Mike Grizzard, and maybe Larry Guthrie.

By the way, the golf course was originally a private club opened in 1922 and was known as the Meadowbrook Country Club—it was about 40-years old when we graduated. The club apparently failed during the Depression and was then given to the city. I played it a few times and ran a sled down the “3-humps” as often as enough snow fell to permit. Some of us worked on the construction crews when it was rehabilitated in 1962.

For those from Handley or others who might not have known about the pleasures of sledding down the 3-humps hill on the Meadowbrook Golf Course, it was a fairway near the club house on Jenson Rd. The drop was fairly high and from the top, if the snow conditions were right, you could get a pretty long ride, descending over 3 distinct small hills. At the bottom, the run opened into an expansive plain giving plenty of room for the run out. A lot of kids came from all directions when the snow fell, so it was also a good social event and a terrific memory.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kendall McCook & Danny McCoy

For some reason I always thought of Kendall McCook and Danny McCoy as being joined at the hip. Maybe the fact that their pictures were side-by-side in every yearbook and that they lived close to one another out near TWC contributed to that impression.

Kendall was a talented athlete who, as I recall, played basketball and baseball on the EHHS varsity teams. Not many would remember that he was also the star quarterback of the 1959 Ft. Worth championship Meadowbrook Buffalo Jr. High team. However, I think he injured his back before entering EHHS and didn’t play football after Meadowbrook. The Meadowbrook championship was a big deal since it was the first time the school, built in 1936 (23-years), had won the city crown.

In the interest of protecting folks' privacy, I generally avoid referring to anybody in the present time; however, Kendall has put himself on the net in a pretty public way. Here is a link to one of his video clips.

Danny was a smallish, wiry end on that same Meadowbrook championship team and played a couple of years at EHHS on the JV teams. His older brother, Ronnie, played on the 1958 Poly football team with Susie Waddlington's older brother, Pat, and Roby Morris' older brother, Jack.

Danny’s strongest trait was his sense of humor which was probably the sharpest in our class. I think he was the original instigator of the “MUMBLE” which was invoked during school auditorium assemblies.

Principal Roy Johnson was a favorite target of the mumble and I don’t think he ever figured it out. While Mr. Johnson was speaking from the auditorium stage, Danny would call out under his breath, “MUMBLE” and very soon most of the auditorium was in a low roar as the kids repeated…”mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble.” Mr. Johnson would stop and look over the crowd with a puzzled look.

It was a brilliant bit of harmless rebellion.

(Gus note:  I really love these two, an irascible old fart & credible Wordsmith and a first-rate humorist not too bad with the words himself.  And to have encountered them at the beginning of their run was something special.)


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Suzanne Hoffman & Jon Roper

Found this article while going through an old Handley Jr. High newspaper someone posted to the net. Suzanne was our choice for Miss Eastern Hills and was well-liked, friendly. In fact, I think we voted her as class favorite each year we attended EHHS.

Jon was a gregarious kid with a ready wit who played on the football team every year. I didn't know Jon or Suzanne very well, so haven't much more to say about them. They're probably relieved.


EHHS Burned Down - 1959

Did you know that the school burned down while it was being built? I didn't either. Found this article in a Handley High School student newspaper but don't know if all the class shuffling they speak of really took place. Anyone know?


Friday, June 18, 2010

Sara Tannahill

It sometimes helps to put things into their chronological perspective in order to better understand them. Mrs. Tannahill was our chemistry teacher and so far as I can recall, she was a good one. She was energetic, moderately acerbic, and a bridge-nut. Her manner was brisk and good humored.

I struggled in her class, but then again for some reason I never really liked the study of chemistry. The back story of Sara Tannahill was her penchant for playing bridge. When you entered her classroom, you first walked toward the back of the room via an aisle that was flanked by the lab tables on the right and the chemical storeroom on the left. The student desks were at the back of the room and Mrs. Tannahill’s desk was hidden to the left behind the storeroom wall.

Steve Means, Paul Shields, Sam Scott, and Paul Tate are some of those who come to mind as filling out the foursomes for a game of bridge when time permitted—there were likely some others such as Bob Dillard and maybe David Bane also learning bridge that year. This was usually during Mrs. Tannahill’s free period in the afternoon. That chemistry room was ideally designed to hide the bridge table, which was Mrs. Tannahill’s desk, as it hid the game from being seen from the hallway through the door window. I think she also locked the door.

I found Mrs. Tannahill’s fraternization with students a bit puzzling, but now that I’m much older I think I’ve figured it out. She wasn’t much older than we were…she was a kid herself. Born in 1934, she was only 28 when we were seniors. Sara Tannahill taught for a year or two at Poly right after college and took the job at EHHS shortly after the school opened.


Mr. John Franklin Ross & Bataan

For those of us who took physics in 1962-63, Mr. Ross (1915-2004) was our physics teacher. He had a reputation for being difficult to understand and for a 17-year old the notion of taking a physics course presented by a man who was difficult to understand was a bit daunting.

I recall him as a medium-sized, quiet spoken man, not given to making small talk, and owing to either a speech impediment or a regional accent…difficult to understand. In those days there were some things we didn’t ask our elders and questions about their war service was one of those things.

There was a persistent rumor circulating that he had been in the Army during WWII and had been on the infamous Bataan Death March. I don’t recall anyone asking him that question nor do I recall him ever mentioning a word about the subject. The truth is that most of us wouldn’t have known how to frame the questions even if we were so inclined.

In 2004, the Proviso East High School of Maywood, Illinois, produced the Bataan Commemorative Research Project telling the story of the men of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion. Their project won the top prize for excellence from the Illinois State Board of Education. For us, their project revealed the remarkable story of one of our former teachers and answers the questions we didn’t ask.

As you read it, imagine what Mr. Ross must have been thinking as some of us worked our adolescent magic in his presence. Everything that follows is copyrighted material.

Pvt. John Franklin Ross (submitted by son Steve)
Pvt. John Franklin Ross was the son of Casper & Katie Ross. He was born on June 10, 1915 in Wills Point, Texas. He attended local schools in Wills Point.
On March 19, 1941, John was inducted into the U. S. Army at Dallas, Texas. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. There, he became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion.

During his training, it was found that he could operate the radio, so he was trained to be a radio operator. He was later assigned to a command tank of one of the platoons of C Company.
In the late summer of 1941, John and the rest of the 753rd were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. Although at Camp Polk, the 753rd did not take part in the maneuvers. The one thing that John remembered about the maneuvers is that he and the other draftees put up verbal abuse from the "lifers" who resented them.
After the maneuvers ended, the 192nd Tank Battalion received orders that it was being sent overseas. According to John, replacements for members of the 192nd who were considered "too old" to go overseas were being sought. John took the place of a man who did not want to go to the Philippine Islands. The man was afraid that if he was sent to the Philippines, he would be killed by the Japanese. John not having any family obligations volunteered to take his place.
John, with the rest of his new tank battalion, was sent west by train to San Francisco. After being inoculated, they boarded ships and sailed for Hawaii. He recalled that both ships were crowded and men got into fights over who would sleep in the bottom bunks. During the trip, John liked to go topside all the way to the bow of the ship to watch the ship go up and down in the water. Being topside also helped him get over his seasickness.
After a stop at Guam, the ship arrived at Manila. John and the other soldiers were taken to Ft. Stotsenburg. They spent the next two weeks readying their tanks for use in maneuvers.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the Japanese attacked Clark Field. John found himself in a war with Japan. For the next four months, John fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.
In John's opinion, the tanks were well armed with machine guns. Japanese troops on foot were no match for the tanks, but every one of the Japanese would shoot at the tanks when they saw them.
In the first engagements with the Japanese, John believed that the tanks did a lot of damage to the Japanese troops. The Japanese liked to dig foxholes to hide in and fight from. To clear out the Japanese, the tankers would stop with one of their tank's tracks over the foxhole. The driver would then pivot the tank on that track to make it borrow into the ground. Eventually, the Japanese soldier inside the foxhole was crushed.
After some of the heaviest engagements, John stated that the tankers slept upwind of their tanks. The reason the tankers did this was they didn't want to smell the stench from the flesh and hair caught in the tracks of the tanks.
John recalled that during some of the engagements with the Japanese that the Japanese sent soldiers against the tanks carrying cans of gasoline. The Japanese would attempt to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and attempt to set them on fire. If the tankers could not machinegun them before they got to the tanks, they would shoot them as they stood on the tanks. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crews inside the tanks.
Since the tanks were riveted, when the turrets were hit by machinegun fire, the rivets would pop and ricochet inside the tanks. The rivets sparked when when they hit the sides of the crew compartment. This situation was made worse by the loud sound of bullets from machine guns hitting the tank. The biggest danger from the rivets was the possibility that one could hit one of the tankers in the eye.
On one occasion John remembered that his tank platoon was moving through a Filipino barrio. The town square had a statue in the middle of it. Suddenly, a Japanese tank appeared in the other side of the town square. His tank got off the first shot, but the gunner rushed the shot and hit the statue. The Japanese tank fired but also missed. The shot came so close to his tank that the crew saw the fireball go by the turret of their tank. By this time, they had reloaded and the gunner had time to place his second shot. This time he made a direct hit on the Japanese tank.
Fighting in the jungle created many problems. John stated that the Japanese liked to use the large roots of the trees for cover. Attempting to clear the Japanese out was a problem. If the tree was hit by an artillery shell, it would cut down the tree but not hurt the Japanese soldier and he would survive.
In one such incident, John told how a Japanese soldier was hiding in foxhole between the roots of a tree. The Americans fired at the soldier hitting the tree. Woodchips from the bullets fell into the foxhole slowly filling it up leaving less room for the soldier. After awhile, John and the other tankers could see his backpack. When he had been pushed up high enough, he was killed by the American soldiers.
During the retreat into Bataan, the tanks were moved at night to prevent them from being strafed by Japanese planes. In the jungle it was very dark. John was in the command tank as the tank was crossing a narrow bridge when one of the tank's tracks slipped off the side. The tank fell off the bridge and landed upside down in the bed of a stream. When the tank hit the ground, John fell against the side of the tank. A bolt sticking through the armor hit him in the temple and went deep into his head.  

Afterwards, John bled a lot from the wound and suffered from headaches. After he became a Prisoner of War, John crossed the same bridge repeatedly. Each time, he would look down and see the tank still sitting upside down in the stream.
After the Filipinos and Americans had withdrawn into the Bataan Peninsula, the tankers found themselves under attack from Japanese planes. To protect themselves from the planes, the tanks were hidden, during the day, in the jungle where the canopy from the trees was so thick that no direct sunlight came through. As a result, he and the other soldiers were very pale. To get a tan, when no planes were around, the soldiers sunned themselves in what little direct sunlight they found.
It was at this time that John had an incident with a Japanese rifle. The tanks were bivouacked, and he was walking along the far edge of their position. As he walked, he spotted a Japanese rifle on the ground. John wondered if he could hit anything with the gun, so he tied a string to the gun and moved it with the string to see if it was booby-trapped. After determining that it wasn't, John picked the gun up, racked a round into the chamber and fired at a tree. This was a big mistake! Everyone knew the sound that a Japanese rifle made. The entire camp came alive with the shot being so close. John received a royal chewing out for firing the gun.
During this time, everyone was expected to volunteer for dangerous (suicide) missions to gather intelligence on the Japanese or to destroy something. In his own words, "It was a thing you had to do." Being from the country, John believed that he had an advantage over the Japanese soldiers who most likely had grownup in the city. John had grownup shooting guns at game. He thought that most of the Japanese had never touched a gun before joining the military. So after a few shots, John would settle down and feel that his odds were better than theirs.
One of the greatest dangers facing the tankers at this time were snipers. The snipers would tie themselves onto trees and sit in them among the branches for days. One sniper had been taking shots at the tankers for days, so John crawled forward with a M-1 while using a log as cover. After the sniper took a shot and racked the rifle bolt, John determined that the sniper was in a particular tree. John began firing on the lower branches of the tree where they were attached to the trunk and worked his way up.
John believed that he must have been getting closer because while he was firing, the sniper took a shot at him. Finally, the sniper got so close to hitting John in the head that John backed off. The Americans brought a machinegun forward and raked the tree with fire where John thought the sniper was. They hit him and he fell from the branches. He jerked to a stop and hung from his belt which he had used to tie himself to a branch. An officer wanted the Japanese brought down, so John shot the belt until it snapped and the soldier fell to the ground.
John and the other members of his tank crew were assigned guard duty. Their job was to prevent Japanese infiltrators. The tankers set up a road block along a gravel road and stopped and searched everyone coming down the road. John recalled that a Filipino man with his head down who was peddling fast approached them on a bicycle. John ordered the man to stop, but he kept on coming. John stood in the middle of the road and hollered for him to halt, but the man kept on coming and rode past John. John's orders were not to let anyone through without being searched. As the man road off, John pulled his .45 pistol and aimed it right at the man's butt. When he fired, the bullet hit the back tire near the road and threw gravel everywhere. The Filipino threw his feet straight into the air and tumbled off the bicycle. John and the other soldiers ran over to the man and inspected what he was carrying but found nothing that was of danger to the soldiers. The Filipino was skinned up pretty badly, but he took off the back tire from the rim and road off. John never knew why the man never stopped.
The morning of April 9, 1942, John and the other members of C Company received the word of the surrender from one of the battalion's officers. They were instructed to destroy their equipment and then meet the Japanese at Mariveles on the southern tip of Bataan. John recalled that they drained the oil out of some of the jeeps and trucks and ran them to burn up the engines. For others, they poured sand into the motors and ran them. They also took their guns apart and scattered the pieces so that they would not be found.
At first, the soldiers had been ordered to travel without arms, but John wanted to keep his tommy gun to protect the soldiers from bandits or Japanese soldiers. The commanding officer of C Company, William Gentry, spoke to Headquarters over the radio and after some debate, got permission for John to keep his gun. Before they left to meet the Japanese, John and the other men removed all tanker insignia from their uniforms since the tanks had done a lot of damage to the Japanese. All during the time that he was a POW in the Philippines, Japanese guards would ask, "You tanker?" Anyone found with a tanker insignia or admitting to be a member of a tank battalion disappeared or were killed.
On the way to the meeting place, John and the other soldiers saw a bus full a Filipinos with men riding on the roof. They stopped the bus and the driver told them to get on the roof. The first man up the ladder had his hand stomped on by a Filipino soldier who also pushed him off the ladder. John climbed up the ladder and when the Filipino went to stomp on his hand, he stuck the tommy gun in the man's face and made him back away. John made the other Filipinos make room for the tankers and they rode until they were closer to Mariveles.
When the Americans met up with the Japanese, they took John's tommy-gun and searched everyone. The Japanese took what they wanted and looked for unit identification or insignia. Seeing what the Japanese were doing, John dug a hole with the heal of his boot and slipped the photo he had of his aunt into it without being observed.
From Mariveles, John, with the other members of C Company, started what became known as the death march. On the march, John went without food and had little water. He also witnessed atrocities committed by the Japanese. The worst thing that he saw happened when a Japanese soldier started yelling at an officer for moving too slow.  Without warning, the guard shot the officer in the stomach. The man fell to the ground in agony to the ground. As he lay there, he kicked, rolled and screamed. The guard did not allow any of the other Americans help the officer. So, he slowly died.
At San Fernando, John and the other POWs were packed into small steel freight cars. They were packed in so tightly that the men who died remained standing. When the survivors climbed off the cars at Capas, the bodies of the dead fell out of the cars. From there, John walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
During John's time at Camp O'Donnell, he went out on work details. He did this regardless of how sick or starved he was. On these details he cut down trees, drove supply trucks, built roads and did farm work.
Of all the details that John worked, the worst was the burial detail. He first worked this detail at Camp O'Donnell and continued working it at Cabanatuan after the new camp opened. He recalled that at Camp O'Donnell the bodies were put into a metal shed until they could be buried. The bodies stacked up faster than they could bury them. The POWs on the detail worked in teams. They would carry the body in a sling on a pole. The pole rested on their shoulders.
When selecting a body, John would climb the pile and select the smallest and least ripe body that he could find. Some of the dead had had wet beriberi and were swollen and very heavy, so he did not chose those. If the body had been dead for awhile, the skin would come off in the hands of the two men while they picked it up. To get the skin off their hands, the POWs would rub their hands together and roll the skin into balls. They would then put the body into the sling and attempt to standup at the same time.
John stated that if he had a good partner, they would stand up at the same time. The two men then would walk in a rhythm with the bounce of the sling. Some men couldn't or wouldn't do this right. So when working with these men, John would get up quicker and put the weight of the lift on the other man. The one lasting effect from working this detail on John was that he never liked to handle peaches because their peals felt too much like the skin of a corpse.
On December 12, 1942, John was selected to go on a work detail to build runways at Camp Murphy. This detail was known as the Las Pinas Detail. John was only on this detail a short time when he was returned to Cabanatuan. Not that long after returning to Cabanatuan, John was selected for shipment to Japan.
On September 18, 1943, John with other POWs left Cabanatuan for the Port Area of Manila. On Pier #7, they were boarded onto the Taga Maru. The ship sailed on September 20, 1943. What John remembers about the ship was that it was too small for the ocean. The Japanese also would not allow the POWs out of the hold even though many of the POWs were seasick. Those who had to vomit vomited into a steel trough in the hold. This same trough was used as the POWs' toilet. As the ship was tossed around, all that was in the trough sloshed back and forth and sprayed those POWs standing near the trough.

The Taga Maru arrived at Moji, Japan on October 2, 1943. John was taken to Sendai #5-B in the northern part of Japan. The POWs in the camp worked at a steel mill owned by Nippon Steel. Conditions for the POWs were not very good. Although the climate was cold, the POWs' barracks had little or no heat. He recalled that one day the Japanese announced that the POWs were to take a bath. The POWs removed their clothes and bathed in groups in a large vat filled with hot water. John recalled that it was the only time he had been warm while in Japan. When they got out, the Japanese sprayed the POWs with cold water. Some men refused to let the Japanese do this. Within a few weeks, they had died of pneumonia.
During his time at Sendai #5, John worked as a stevedore unloading and loading ships. He also did other jobs at the steel mill. He and the other POWs had no idea of how the war was going. All they had to go on were rumors. In John's opinion, those men who placed their hope on the belief that they would be rescued by a certain date often gave up hope and died after the date came and went without anything happening.
On September 15, 1945, John was liberated by American forces. He returned to Texas and married Edna Lewis Mickey. Together, they raised four children. John went to college on the GI Bill and became a high school science teacher at Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth, Texas. He taught physics, biology and chemistry.
John F. Ross passed away on January 16, 2004.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Miss Arabella Odell


During our time at EHHS Miss Odell, as she was known to us, was effectively the Dean of Girls even though her title was Senior Counselor. I don’t know how you might have seen Miss Odell, but since I had little reason to interact with her, my impressions were limited to a few brief exchanges. From those exchanges I’ve believed her all these years to have been something of a crusty old woman.

In 1963, Miss Odell was only 2-years older than we are now in 2010...somehow she doesn't seem quite so old from today's perspective. She passed away in 1985 at the age of 89.

Recently, I ran across a good site being run by a member of the 1959 Handley HS class. Many of our teachers were transfers from the old HHS and one of those HHS ’59 graduates recalled Miss Odell in a way that I never saw her.

“One of the things that impressed me the most about our HHS education was the professionalism of our senior English teacher, Miss Odell. Thanks to her I was able to write well enough to pass college classes. Thank You, Miss Odell, for teaching us to write a term paper properly. Do you remember memorizing a hundred lines of poetry? What I remember the most about her was how she taught us Shakespeare. I think it was MACBETH or something like that, and she would quote a passage from memory, turn around, walk to her desk, and about 30 seconds later the bell would ring to end class. She was some teacher; really, more like a college professor. She inspired me toward a teaching career.” (Richard Clark HHS ’59)

I stand corrected. (Gus).  Below is the dedication page for the 1942 Handley High School yearbook.


Monday, June 14, 2010


For years, try as I may, I cannot get my tulips to fully bloom before the damned squirrels eat them. Now, I’ve never been much of a gardener…plant it, if it grows—good, if not—try something else. Actually, I subscribe to Gallagher’s philosophy: If you water it and it dies, it’s a plant; if you pull it and it grows back, it’s a weed!

I have a copy of Stanley Marcus’ second book, “Quest for the Best” standing by in my reading room for occasional reference. Written about 1979, Mr. Marcus’ words seem now like a nostalgic window on a much more genteel past. He discusses a variety of finer things and laments the degradation of our circa 1979 society.

In one of the paragraphs I read the other day, Mr. Marcus extolled his patrician enchantment with the tulip fields of Holland when seen from the air. He waxed on and on about the astounding colors. Now, I’ve never seen much of an early Spring riot of color from my own tulips; however, from the few I’ve seen survive the damned squirrels, I could grasp what he was relating with his words.

At an earlier time in my life I might have planned a special excursion tacked onto a European trip to see something like those tulip fields blooming in Holland. However, these days with travel a PITA, I’m content to look it up on Google. And so I did, and the picture above is what Stanley Marcus so enchantingly described over 30-years ago.

The picture below is more representative of my own experience with tulips.