Archive for January, 2009

The Rat’s Nest

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 22, 2009 by wally426


22-01-2009       Brooklyn, NY

Complete Destruction

It was an icy day.
We buried the cat,
then took her box
and set fire to it
in the back yard.
Those fleas that escaped
earth and fire
died by the cold.

~William Carlos Williams

1958 was a terrible year for the borough of Brooklyn. The brittle glue that held this gritty city together had been violently chipped apart. The glue was one topic of interest that was spoken of in back alleys, subway trains, barber shops and on brownstone stoops. This one uniting factor that sent people into a collective tizzy was, of course, the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. After an ambitious plan by the team’s owner, Walter O’Malley, to build a state-of-the-art stadium over the Atlantic Avenue rail yards was squashed by Robert Moses (A.K.A. Bobby Kickback), the team was forced to relocate to Chávez Ravine in Los Angeles. Who knows what would have happened if the stadium had been built? Perhaps the borough wouldn’t have fell into economic decline? Perhaps the city’s center would have bustled with life? All we know for sure is that the rail yards have laid there like an old dying cat for some time. The fate of this pitiful animal has been the subject of intense debate over the last fifty years. 

In 2004, the debate was once again aroused after a successful businessman by the name of Bruce Ratner acquired the New Jersey Nets basketball team. The main goal of this acquisition was to bring a professional team back to a place where Ratner had attempted other ventures, Brooklyn, NY. Ratner’s lofty goals not only included the arena over the Atlantic rail yards, but to also the construction of 16 Frank Gehry designed high rise condominiums (two of the largest buildings were set to offer “affordable” HUDD housing in an undisclosed amount of units) and a public green. The deal was promoted to local residents as a chance to put Brooklyn back on the map. It was a deal that would provide low-income housing, jobs to city workers, and a business center in Brooklyn that bustled with commerce. The plan initially had many high profile proponents: Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, and partial team owner and Brooklyn native, Jay Z.

As most things go, the promises seemed far fetched. Soon cracks in Ratner’s plan began to show. As the footprint for the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA) developed, it became evident to residents of Prospect Heights and Fort Greene that their homes were either in the shadow of these huge edifices, or directly underfoot. Not only that, but the designs were hideous (in my opinion). I mean, look at these things:

As funding began to dry up for the project, the amount of affordable housing that was slated to be set aside suddenly dropped. It also became evident that the majority of this so-called low-income housing was relegated to families who made a “moderate” household income of $50-115k/year. Meanwhile, the average household income in Brooklyn is $32k. This begs the question, to whom are these units affordable to? The promises of jobs to local workers came into question as well. When Ratner’s first project (Metrotech) went up in downtown Brooklyn back in the 80’s, he’d promised scores of jobs for locals. His word proved unworthy, however, and he outsourced the jobs to his cronies outside of the city. What’s to say that he won’t do the same with this project?

Worst of all, the whole plan reeks of kickbacks and shady deals. The MTA, who owned the land over the rail yards, sold it to Ratner for $100 million. This seems odd that the land had been appraised for over $200 million and there was another bid on the table for $150 million. Why would the MTA willingly throw away that kind of money? Especially with the current budget crisis that has them raising fares and cutting service!! In short, who ends up paying the $50 million out? The residents of New York City. Additionally, people who own and rent in the footprint aren’t exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of having their beautiful brownstones completely demolished. If this was an endeavor set forth by the federal government or State of New York, then eminent domain could effectively be exercised. However, this is an attempt at a blatant land grab by an individual. Not only is it abuse of eminent domain but also a violation of the residents’ fifth amendment rights.

So what will become of the old cat laying in Brooklyn’s center?

As it currently stands, the shifting economy has also shifted the feasibility of the project. Ratner has not only scaled down the plans for the arena and surrounding buildings, but has also requested to cut funds given to the MTA (another slap in the face to commuters). As he still hasn’t paid the $100 million for the land, the space can technically go back on the auction block until a more sound investor comes along. Ratner seems to be back on his heels right now. With increased opposition from the community, he could be pushed off the rat’s nest he’s attempting to build in the heart of Brooklyn. For all those willing to further the opposition’s cause, you can sign the online petition and let your voice be heard…

¡El Pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido!


Beyond the call of Duty

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 14, 2009 by wally426

14-01-2009  Brooklyn, NY

After finishing Goodbye, Darkness, I started reading up on the various battles in both the Pacific and European theaters. Eventually I came across stories of some medal of honor recipients, they were sobering tales to say the least. The gallantry and poise these men showed in the face of certain death is absolutely incredible. I’ve listed some examples below which were written by either Truman, FDR, or one of the recipients’ comrades:


Thomas A. Baker (June 25, 1916 – July 7, 1944)

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty at Saipan, Mariana Islands, June 19 to July 7 1944. When his entire company was held up by fire from automatic weapons and small-arms fire from strongly fortified enemy positions that commanded the view of the company, Sgt. (then Pvt.) Baker voluntarily took a bazooka and dashed alone to within 100 yards of the enemy. Through heavy rifle and machinegun fire that was directed at him by the enemy, he knocked out the strong point, enabling his company to assault the ridge. Some days later while his company advanced across the open field flanked with obstructions and places of concealment for the enemy, Sgt. Baker again voluntarily took up a position in the rear to protect the company against surprise attack and came upon 2 heavily fortified enemy pockets manned by 2 officers and 10 enlisted men which had been bypassed. Without regard for such superior numbers, he unhesitatingly attacked and killed all of them. Five hundred yards farther, he discovered 6 men of the enemy who had concealed themselves behind our lines and destroyed all of them. On 7 July 1944, the perimeter of which Sgt. Baker was a part was attacked from 3 sides by from 3,000 to 5,000 Japanese. During the early stages of this attack, Sgt. Baker was seriously wounded but he insisted on remaining in the line and fired at the enemy at ranges sometimes as close as 5 yards until his ammunition ran out. Without ammunition and with his own weapon battered to uselessness from hand-to-hand combat, he was carried about 50 yards to the rear by a comrade, who was then himself wounded. At this point Sgt. Baker refused to be moved any farther stating that he preferred to be left to die rather than risk the lives of any more of his friends. A short time later, at his request, he was placed in a sitting position against a small tree . Another comrade, withdrawing, offered assistance. Sgt. Baker refused, insisting that he be left alone and be given a soldier’s pistol with its remaining 8 rounds of ammunition. When last seen alive, Sgt. Baker was propped against a tree, pistol in hand, calmly facing the foe. Later Sgt. Baker’s body was found in the same position, gun empty, with 8 Japanese lying dead before him. His deeds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Bausell LK USMC.jpg

Lewis Kenneth Bausell (April 17, 1924 – September 18, 1944)

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the First Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Peleliu Island, Palau Group, September 15, 1944. Valiantly placing himself at the head of his squad, Corporal Bausell led the charge forward against a hostile pillbox which was covering a vital sector of the beach and, as the first to reach the emplacement, immediately started firing his automatic into the aperture while the remainder of his men closed in on the enemy. Swift to act a Japanese grenade was hurled into their midst, Corporal Bausell threw himself on the deadly weapon, taking the full blast of the explosion and sacrificing his own life to save his men. His unwavering loyalty and inspiring courage reflect the highest credit upon Corporal Bausell and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Willibald Bianchi.jpg

Willibald C. Bianchi (March 12, 1915 − January 9, 1945)

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy on 3 February 1942, near Bagac, Province of Bataan, Philippine Islands. When the rifle platoon of another company was ordered to wipe out 2 strong enemy machinegun nests, 1st Lt. Bianchi voluntarily and of his own initiative, advanced with the platoon leading part of the men. When wounded early in the action by 2 bullets through the left hand, he did not stop for first aid but discarded his rifle and began firing a pistol. He located a machinegun nest and personally silenced it with grenades. When wounded the second time by 2 machinegun bullets through the chest muscles, 1st Lt. Bianchi climbed to the top of an American tank, manned its antiaircraft machinegun, and fired into strongly held enemy position until knocked completely off the tank by a third severe wound

Herbert F. Christian (June 18, 1912 – June 3, 1944)

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. On 2-3 June 1944, at 1 a.m., Pvt. Christian elected to sacrifice his life in order that his comrades might extricate themselves from an ambush. Braving massed fire of about 60 riflemen, 3 machineguns, and 3 tanks from positions only 30 yards distant, he stood erect and signaled to the patrol to withdraw. The whole area was brightly illuminated by enemy flares. Although his right leg was severed above the knee by cannon fire, Pvt. Christian advanced on his left knee and the bloody stump of his right thigh, firing his submachinegun. Despite excruciating pain, Pvt. Christian continued on his self-assigned mission. He succeeded in distracting the enemy and enabled his 12 comrades to escape. He killed 3 enemy soldiers almost at once. Leaving a trail of blood behind him, he made his way forward 20 yards, halted at a point within 10 yards of the enemy, and despite intense fire killed a machine-pistol man. Reloading his weapon, he fired directly into the enemy position. The enemy appeared enraged at the success of his ruse, concentrated 20-mm., machine-pistol and rifle fire on him, yet he refused to seek cover. Maintaining his erect position, Pvt. Christian fired his weapon to the very last. Just as he emptied his submachinegun, the enemy bullets found their mark and Pvt. Christian slumped forward dead. The courage and spirit of self-sacrifice displayed by this soldier were an inspiration to his comrades and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the armed forces.

Joseph J. Cicchetti (June 8, 1923-February 9, 1945)

He was with troops assaulting the first important line of enemy defenses. The Japanese had converted the partially destroyed Manila Gas Works and adjacent buildings into a formidable system of mutually supporting strongpoints from which they were concentrating machinegun, mortar, and heavy artillery fire on the American forces. Casualties rapidly mounted, and the medical aid men, finding it increasingly difficult to evacuate the wounded, called for volunteer litter bearers. Pfc. Cicchetti immediately responded, organized a litter team and skillfully led it for more than 4 hours in rescuing 14 wounded men, constantly passing back and forth over a 400-yard route which was the impact area for a tremendous volume of the most intense enemy fire. On one return trip the path was blocked by machinegun fire, but Pfc. Cicchetti deliberately exposed himself to draw the automatic fire which he neutralized with his own rifle while ordering the rest of the team to rush past to safety with the wounded. While gallantly continuing his work, he noticed a group of wounded and helpless soldiers some distance away and ran to their rescue although the enemy fire had increased to new fury. As he approached the casualties, he was struck in the head by a shell fragment, but with complete disregard for his gaping wound he continued to his comrades, lifted one and carried him on his shoulders 50 yards to safety. He then collapsed and died. By his skilled leadership, indomitable will, and dauntless courage, Pfc. Cicchetti saved the lives of many of his fellow soldiers at the cost of his own.

Foster WA USMC.jpg

William Adlebert Foster (February 17, 1917–May 2, 1945)

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a Rifleman with Company K, Third Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa Shima in the Ryūkyū Chain, May 2, 1945. Dug in with another Marine on the point of the perimeter defense after waging a furious assault against a strongly fortified Japanese position, Private First Class Foster and comrade engaged in a fierce hand grenade duel with infiltrating enemy soldiers. Suddenly an enemy grenade landed beyond reach in the foxhole. Instantly diving on the deadly missile, Private First Class Foster absorbed the exploding charge in his own body, thereby protecting the other Marine from serious injury. Although mortally wounded as a result of his heroic action, he quickly rallied, handed his own remaining two grenades to his comrade and said, “Make them count.” Stouthearted and indomitable, he had unhesitatingly relinquished his own chance of survival that his fellow Marine might carry on the relentless fight against a fanatic enemy, and his dauntless determination, cool decision and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of certain death reflect the highest credit upon Private First Class Foster and in the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

Elmer E. Fryar (born c. 1915 died December 8, 1944)

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Pvt. Fryar’s battalion encountered the enemy strongly entrenched in a position supported by mortars and automatic weapons. The battalion attacked, but in spite of repeated efforts was unable to take the position. Pvt. Fryar’s company was ordered to cover the battalion’s withdrawal to a more suitable point from which to attack, but the enemy launched a strong counterattack which threatened to cut off the company. Seeing an enemy platoon moving to outflank his company, he moved to higher ground and opened heavy and accurate fire. He was hit, and wounded, but continuing his attack he drove the enemy back with a loss of 27 killed. While withdrawing to overtake his squad, he found a seriously wounded comrade, helped him to the rear, and soon overtook his platoon leader, who was assisting another wounded. While these 4 were moving to rejoin their platoon, an enemy sniper appeared and aimed his weapon at the platoon leader. Pvt. Fryar instantly sprang forward, received the full burst of automatic fire in his own body and fell mortally wounded. With his remaining strength he threw a hand grenade and killed the sniper. Pvt. Fryar’s indomitable fighting spirit and extraordinary gallantry above and beyond the call of duty contributed outstandingly to the success of the battalion’s withdrawal and its subsequent attack and defeat of the enemy. His heroic action in unhesitatingly giving his own life for his comrade in arms exemplifies the highest tradition of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Joseph F. Merrell (August 21, 1926 – April 18, 1945)

He made a gallant, 1-man attack against vastly superior enemy forces near Lohe, Germany. His unit, attempting a quick conquest of hostile hill positions that would open the route to Nuremberg before the enemy could organize his defense of that city, was pinned down by brutal fire from rifles, machine pistols, and 2 heavy machineguns. Entirely on his own initiative, Pvt. Merrell began a single-handed assault. He ran 100 yards through concentrated fire, barely escaping death at each stride, and at pointblank range engaged 4 German machine pistolmen with his rifle, killing all of them while their bullets ripped his uniform. As he started forward again, his rifle was smashed by a sniper’s bullet, leaving him armed only with 3 grenades. But he did not hesitate. He zigzagged 200 yards through a hail of bullets to within 10 yards of the first machinegun, where he hurled 2 grenades and then rushed the position ready to fight with his bare hands if necessary. In the emplacement he seized a Luger pistoland killed what Germans had survived the grenade blast. Rearmed, he crawled toward the second machinegun located 30 yards away, killing 4 Germans in camouflaged foxholes on the way, but himself receiving a critical wound in the abdomen. And yet he went on, staggering, bleeding, disregarding bullets which tore through the folds of his clothing and glanced off his helmet. He threw his last grenade into the machinegun nest and stumbled on to wipe out the crew. He had completed this self-appointed task when a machine pistol burst killed him instantly. In his spectacular 1-man attack Pvt. Merrell killed 6 Germans in the first machinegun emplacement, 7 in the next, and an additional 10 infantrymen who were astride his path to the weapons which would have decimated his unit had he not assumed the burden of the assault and stormed the enemy positions with utter fearlessness, intrepidity of the highest order, and a willingness to sacrifice his own life so that his comrades could go on to victory.

Tetsu No Ame

Posted in Uncategorized on January 8, 2009 by wally426

08-01-09  Brooklyn, NY

My latest read is called Goodbye, Darkness by William Manchester. It’s a touching memoir about a former Marine Sergeant who fought throughout the Pacific in WWII. Aware that his mind has obscured war’s many traumas, he revisits the sites of major battles (Guadalcanal, Saipan, Betio, Guam, and Okinawa) almost forty years later to see what kind of memories and emotions can be stirred within.

Recently I realized where I got my macabre fascination with violent ends, last words, last actions, and the atrocities and tragedy of war. This came from my father, the one who gave me Goodbye, Darkness as a Christmas present. While we never fought in any wars, our curiosity on the subject of mortality is cat-like. Those who know me well enough know about my thoughts on plane crashes. When I’m old and grey, I wouldn’t mind if my number came up on a doomed commercial flight. I think of it as an opportunity to (literally) go down in a blaze of glory. Whenever I fly, the flight number will usually indicate how much I’ll think about actually going down. Some numbers just sound like ones you would hear in the headlines the day after a crash. Numbers that only have two or three digits, identical digits back-to-back, and consecutive digits are almost a sure-fire ticket for some kind of drama. This evening I’m flying down to Fort Lauderdale and have an excellent “crash number”, 151, god help us! During lulls at work, I will look at NTSB crash investigations, paying special attention to the blackbox recordings contained within them. Reading (and hearing) people’s last words is such a privilege to me. Here are a few actual examples from the archives…

Pete, Sorry… Oh gosh, we’ve lost a wing…

We’re hit man, we’re hit. Tower, we’re going down, this is PSA… Ma, I love you

Larry! We’re going down, Larry! … I know it!

Hit the water! Hit the water!… Hit the water!

Oh sh!t, this can’t be!

Amy, I love you…

Uh… where are we?

Aaaaah… Allah Akbar!

I rely on God

It’s an odd obsession, but one that helps me appreciate life a little bit more. Living each day as if it were your last is a tough thing to do, especially if you have a family. Death is not something that should constantly occupy your thoughts, that would be unhealthy. However, I’m a firm believer in focusing on thoughts of mortality as an inspiration to lead a fuller life.

As a soldier in WWII, death surrounded you, it was hard not to dwell on it. These men fought hard regardless, almost with wanton disregard for their own safety. “Our father’s” war might have been the last one that wasn’t mired in controversy and opposition. In almost everyone’s eyes back on the home-front the allied powers were good and the axis powers were evil. As a result, these men fought with amazing fervor and fierceness on the battlefields, even though they were often put through hellish conditions. America was different back then, and the author, William Manchester, describes the blissful ignorance that was entrenched in American culture perfectly:

The United States was a different country then, with half today’s population, a lordly father figure in the White House, and a tightly disciplined society. A counterculture didn’t exist, as a word or as a concept… Standards were rigid; everyone was determined to conform to them because the alternatives were unthinkable… The bastion of social stability was the family… There was plenty of time for the householders, the doughboys of 1918, to explain to their sons the indissoluble relationship between virility and valor… Violent death, including death on the battlefield, was unsparing on the next of kin. The man killed in action cannot observe the five stages, so those who loved him must do it for him, or at least try to. Those who succeed are fortunate, and few… It was bad form to weep for a fallen buddy. We moved on, each of us inching on the brink of our own extinction, never speaking of what we considered unspeakable. Today’s children are baffled by our acquiescence then in what, to them, appears to have been a monstrous conspiracy against our lives. They are bewildered by those waves of relentless young men who plodded patiently on and on towards Betio’s beach while their comrades were keeling over on all sides. They ask: Why? They are convinced that they couldn’t do it… and they are right.

I suppose the automatic thought of giving up your own mortality for the sake of patriotic duty just doesn’t cross many people’s minds today. I wondered after September 11th if I could do the same thing my grandfather did two generations earlier in joining the marines? Even though I do consider myself a patriot, I think it would take much more for me to die for this country. Perhaps that is the one thing about protesting that is beneficial to our world. I have never been a complete dove, but think that blindly stepping into conflict without weighing the consequences is a terrible and dangerous thing. Reading war books and envisioning the ravages of war through a soldier’s eyes is a sobering experience. It brings you to think about your own mortality, what you’re willing to lose, and at what cost? My only conclusion is an accordance with the old phrase war is hell. As far as I’m concerned, the less it happens, the better off we’ll all be.