Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Near nuclear launch - Response to the UN - Jan 2016


John Bordne United Nations Interview

Seconds to Stop the Final Countdown: the Cuba Missile Crisis in Okinawa

Side-event organized by the permanent Mission of Chile to the UN and the Mayors for Peace.1

Analysis and Opinion

By George Mindling



What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe, not what one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence rigorously and skeptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” – Carl Sagan


On October 27th, 2015, I received an e-mail from Glenn Jones, a former fellow member of the 1962 TM-76B Mace missile Installation, Checkout and Verification team at Bitburg Air Base, Germany. Glenn forwarded an opinion article published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, dated 25 October 2015, titled “The Okinawa missiles of October” by Aaron Tovish.2 While unfamiliar with the article itself, I was well acquainted with John Bordne's story. I first heard it while writing “U.S Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers” with Robert Bolton, of Lawrenceville, Georgia in 2006 and 2007. John Bordne and I communicated often about the TM-76B Mace in Okinawa during that time, not only for the book, but also for my web site about tactical missiles.

I read the article and was struck by several statements I felt weren't correct, or were incredibly exaggerated. Two days later, at the TAC Missileer Reunion in Orlando, I addressed the reunion attendees after the main dinner asking anyone for comments or information, especially veterans of Okinawa. While there were members of the 498th Tactical Missile Group present, no one had heard the story, and many attendees gave it little credence. I wanted to know if perhaps I had been wrong in excluding the story from our book, or if I had been correct in my original assessment.

Charlie Simpson, Colonel, US Air Force (Retired) Executive Director, Association of Air Force Missileers, sent me an e-mail on November 17th, 2015, asking if I had any knowledge about the same article as he had received inquiries from members of his organization. I answered Colonel Simpson;

“Neither Bob (Robert Bolton, Co-author, U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers) nor I could corroborate any part of the story while we were researching our book several years ago, nor could I find anyone to give it any credence whatsoever. I posted questions about it on the web site, but have had no comments. I mentioned it at our last TAC Missileers convention, which included many 498th TMG vets, and the response was the same. No one had heard about it before, and no one gave it any credibility after I mentioned it. While I wasn't there, I can't swear it didn't happen, but personally, I think it's a case of confused memory. Operation Sunset Lily was true, but this is a whole different tale.

I soon received an e-mail from Joe Perkins, Executive Director of the TAC Missileers Association, asking anyone with any knowledge or information about the Bordne story to contact Travis Tritten, a reporter for the Stars and Stripes in Washington, DC. Tritten asked the TAC Missileers Association for information about the Bordne story. After exchanging e-mails and a lengthy telephone conversation with Tritten, I gave him permission to use any photographs from my web site in the article he was writing about the Bordne story. I agreed to allow the use of any material on my web site as I deemed it in agreement with the intent of the original contributors. Several photographs submitted to me by other members of the 498th TMG were used when the story entitled “Cold War Missileers Refute Okinawa Near-launch3“, was published on December 23, 2015.

My TAC Missile website, http://www.mace-b.com/38TMW/, originally based on the Air Force unit I was assigned to in Germany, has been open to the public since 1996 when I originally hosted it on AOL.com. [Over 617,000 page views, average 47 hits a day] It was moved to its own domain a little over 15 years ago, and has been popular with former missilemen and Air Force veterans ever since. As the site became popular, more and more people contributed stories and photographs to help keep our part of Air Force history alive. One of the early contributors, Robert Bolton of Lawrenceville, Georgia, - also a former Mace missile man – and I became good friends and eventually collaborated on a book based on our experiences with the web site and our personal experiences with the Mace missile system. The book, U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers, was published in 2008, and was developed from contributions from former missilemen from all aspects of the early cruise missiles.

John Bordne was also one of the other early contributors to the web site, and later the book.4 His descriptions of the early days on Okinawa in 1962 with the TM-76B Mace and the launch sites were an integral part of the early deployment story of the Mace B (TM-76B/CGM-13B.) All except one particular part: John maintained that they (the 498th TMG) were at DEFCON 2 during the Cuban Missile crisis and came close to launching missiles during the tense confrontation. While not being able to explain to me what DEFCON 2 meant, his belief was that all of the sites on Okinawa were operational in October, 1962, were ordered to launch their missiles against their assigned targets, and therefore they were at DEFCON 1. I disagreed with his assumption of the DEFCON level, but John was adamant and would not budge. I had no choice but to not include Bordne's story in the book.

I responded to Aaron Tovish's article in December, 2015, on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists web page:

“I read your article with great interest as I researched John Bordne's story in 2008 for inclusion in my book, U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers, co-authored with Robert Bolton. We included many of John's comments and photos in the book, but could not corroborate or verify his Cuban Missile Crisis story. In our book's acknowledgments, I thanked John Bordne for his many comments and contributions to the book, but as I also wrote, 'We thank the people who contributed stories and material for this book, much of it derived from or inspired by contributions to the web site. We have endeavored to verify each and every story, confirm or deny every rumor. Many stories were left on the table, but several could not be ignored.' The story about DEFCON 1 at Kadena was one of the stories we left on the table.”

“One basic reason for our exclusion of his story is the lack of proof PACAF went to DEFCON 2 at any time during the Cuban missile crisis. USAFE, under Gen Truman Landon, escalated to DEFCON 3 unbeknownst to NATO Commander, Gen Lauris Norstad, who had been authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to escalate NATO forces at his discretion. Gen Norstad, after discussion with British Prime Minister McMillan, decided not to escalate from DEFCON 4 to DEFCON 3, although Gen Landon had received permission from direct Air Force channels as did all other Air Force combat commands. [Nuclear Weapons Safety – Scott Sagan-Leadership Involvement, pg 103]. The Strategic Air Command was the only U.S. force I found to advance to DEFCON 2, and stayed at that level until Nov 15th. Theater Commands such as USAFE and PACAF were not part of SAC and did not fall under that command. While part of the SIOP at the time, the TM-76B (CGM-13B) was a tactical missile, not a strategic weapon.”

I found no records from the 498th TMG, 313th Air Division, or 5th Air Force to show they escalated to DEFCON 2 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and therefore did not support inclusion of John Bordne's story as a factual component of the book.

I decided to watch the Bordne interview to better understand Aaron Tovish's article. As I watched the video,5 I realized I was being forced into a position I had avoided for several years. I quickly began to suspect the purpose and overall integrity of the interview based on irregular, inappropriate, and quite frankly, erroneous statements Bordne made while explaining not only the background to his story, but his Air Force history as well. It appeared to be more theater than substance.

John Bordne and I trained concurrently, though separately, for basically the same system and skills early in our Air Force enlistments. While Bordne was Flight Controls, launch, I was Flight Controls, maintenance. I, too, was half-way through TM-76A Flight Controls class at the Lowry Technical Training Center in Denver, Colorado, early in 1961 when Leonard Estrada, Long Beach, California, and I were selected to move to the first TM-76B Flight Controls mechanic training for first term airmen. All previous TM-76B Flight Controls personnel, both career airmen and NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers), were factory trained in Baltimore, Maryland, by Martin-Marietta.

Bordne and I were both students at the Combat Tactical Missile School, 4504th Missile Training Wing, Orlando Air Force Base, Florida, during the second half of 1961 although Bordne stated he was assigned to Kadena in the summer of 1961 while I didn't finish training at Orlando until November of that year. Bordne trained as a launch crew member while I was trained in missile maintenance. One of my classmates, Leonard Estrada, and I were both slated for assignment to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, after graduation, however, at the last moment – after our hold baggage containing our winter uniforms had been shipped to Kadena – our orders were changed and we were both given PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders for Bitburg Air Base, Germany, to report in January, 1962. I remained in the Mace B program for eight years, serving through all of its numerical designation changes.6

I found the cumbersome, ill-recorded video of the October 28, 2015, John Bordne interview tedious to watch, so I converted it to the .mp3 audio format so I could listen to it conveniently. I deleted the first ten minutes of the recording – before the interview actually starts – and have listened to the entire John Bordne interview at least three times. I replayed parts of it many times while taking notes and insuring I understood what Bordne said. I had to research many of the comments, including those that were not necessarily germane to the Okinawa issue, as I knew many of them to be inaccurate Unfortunately, they are indicative of the relative accuracy of the overall interview. I began to question not only the information being presented by Mr. Bordne, but also the purpose of the interview as well.

Bordne's dramatic opening statement "It was hard to believe, that if we had to launch theses missiles, that we were in last minutes of our life, and that within days there would virtually no life left on the planet. I cannot explain the feeling that I had, It is something I only had once and haven't had since then. Bone chilling, numbing feeling" is expectedly as profound as the subject itself. The problems begin about a minute later when he says emphatically, "I did not want to be a missileer, in fact I wanted to fly. At Lackland, the Captain that gave us our assignments stated that we have you slated for missiles because I had taken some college as, in electrical engineering.”

At this point, I made my first replay to make sure I copied the text correctly. The statement is so fraught with basic procedural problems it had to be addressed.7 After listening to the entire interview, and reading Bordne's comments posted on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist web page that contained the article, I realized the story had expanded beyond my initial reading of it some seven or so years ago. I had not heard the part about sending other launch crew members to the adjoining complex to possibly shoot the other launch crew, and had not heard the part about “cracking open” the massive launch bay doors. The first part is preposterous and the second part is impossible. If it had been an actual launch order, an EWO (Emergency War Order), any attempt to prevent a launch would have been considered an enemy action and met with defensive action, including gun fire if necessary, and secondly, the launch bay doors had to be partially open to even start the Mace-B J-33 jet engines as they are “air breathers,” not rockets as mistakenly reported recently by a Japanese news agency. To make the story even more implausible is the thought of raising or lowering the 100 ton launch doors manually.8

While I seriously doubt Bordne's personal intelligence knowledge of any Cuban refugees or of the 50 SAM sites in Cuba9 he mentions, I cannot prove he was not privy to highly sensitive intelligence data not usually disseminated to enlisted, non-related personnel (E-3's) in the field. I documented the "sabotage" event in Germany he wrote about in the comments section of the on-line article in my book as that is part of the official 38th TMW record. He mentioned the sabotage story to me in an e-mail in 2007 while I was writing the book, and the story was resolved when Robert Bolton and I uncovered the documents that showed the “sabotage” proved to be a contractor error at the worst possible time. As far as the3 TM-76B sites that were “sabotaged” from the “Road to nowhere,” we only had two sites at Bitburg for a total of 16 launch bays, and we didn't go operational until 1964. Our first missile test insertion was at Rittersdorf, Site VII, still a raw site, in September, 196210, the month prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis. While Bordne states these were comments made at a pre-shift briefing, the incorrect assertions simply don't lend credibility to the remainder of his story.

On December 6th, I forwarded Bordne's story to Carlo Croce, a former Mace-B Launch Officer who also served at Kadena from May 1965 to Dec 1966, for clarification of procedures and duties. Carlo contributed much to my book from the 313th Air Division history concerning Operation Sunset Lily, the planned launch of an inert Mace-B from Kadena during the Vietnam conflict, and has experience in other missile systems as well.

Carlo responded:

“We never received mid-shift codes (did get altitude potentiometer settings from 5th AF), and only Target Planning had info on the missile targets. The launch crews had no such information. Target coordinates were provided as data settings during count up and could not be changed without shutting the missiles down and counting back up. The alert crew had no control or knowledge of targets. So obviously there was no call-out of targets during launch.

We had no pouches and no launch keys. The launch key concept was a SAC Minuteman ICBM concept. We did have keys to the locked bookcase that contained the launch authenticator cards. These keys were handed over to the LO and Mech 1 during crew changeover.”

While Carlo disputes many of Bordne's comments, specifically about the presence of launch keys, I would recommend contacting Carlo for his full comments and opinions. Croce did not reinforce any of Bordne's assertions, and contradicted many of them.

My research continues on several statements, but the overall accuracy of John Bordne's interview is poor at best, terrible at worst, and therefore, to me, the overall reliability of his interview is in question. I doubt most of Mr. Bordne's comments could have been made to an audience of his peers without serious disapproval or disagreement. All of the facts are important here, not because they have direct bearing on the claim of an incident that could have launched a nuclear attack, but because they show a potential problem with Mr. Bordne homogenizing past memories into a blend he can express with one sentence, unfortunately with little or no accuracy.

SUMMARY

In my opinion, something out of the normal routine may have occurred during A2C John Bordne's duty shift that day in the launch complex at Kadena, however, I have come to the conclusion the event, as described by John Bordne, is undoubtedly enhanced and exaggerated, quite possibly by simply fading memories of fifty-four years ago. I will leave the reasoning for such enhancements to others.

Aaron Tovish has spent exhaustive hours developing his article and taken extreme care to place disclaimers about the validity of the information presented, but I think an intensive program to research all USAF records, specifically WRAMA (Warner Robins Air Material Area) to determine if PAL (Permissive Action Link) was installed on the PACAF systems as they were on USAFE weapons over a month prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, should be undertaken before any organization supports the story as anything more than just an “opinion.”

Finally, and perhaps most important in understanding the combat readiness of all operational Mace tactical missiles, including all TM-76B/CGM13B missiles assigned to the 498th Tactical Missile Group in PACAF, the 71st Tactical Missile Squadron and all TM-76A/MGM13A missiles in the 38th Tactical Missile Wing in USAFE, were continually assigned as QRA, or Quick Response Alert missiles – the equivalent of the Victor Alert status for fighter aircraft with nuclear response assignments, regardless of “DEFCON” status. The DEFCON level had no bearing on missile launch status or readiness condition with QRA responsibilities.

The Mace missile alert launch responsibilities did not change because of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or lessen when the crisis was resolved. John Bordne's contention that PACAF or the 498th TMG status was raised to DEFCON 2 is not only incorrect, but immaterial as well. It only serves to confuse what may have actually happened.

George Mindling
January, 2016
Co-author “U.S Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 – 1969 The Pioneers”
Owner and Webmaster http://www.mace-b.com/38TMW/
Port Charlotte, Florida


4 US Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949-1969 The Pioneers pages 234 and 261

6 My original IC&V (Installation, Checkout and Verification) duties at Bitburg Air Base, Germany, included installing and testing all Flight Controls/Safety and Arming test equipment and support equipment in the Missile Support Area, and later working with cabling crews at both launch sites, 7 at Rittersdorf and site 8 at Idenheim. I worked under the Launch Control Center floor at both complexes at site 7, and pulled cables to both the LCSC and the LAGG consoles. Leonard Estrada and I, along with S/Sgt William Reeves and A1C John Cochran, not only tested and inspected the Flight Controls System, including the Heading Monitor System, in all TM-76B missiles and nose sections in the Missile Support Area, but performed all Safety and Arming checks on each warhead section mounted on each missile at the time of insertion in the launch bays as well. We were responsible for all site dispatches for all Flight Controls/Safety and Arming problems, including the Heading Monitor System. By 1964, our section had grown to seven airmen and two NCOs. Following my four-year assignment at Bitburg, I cross trained to Inertial Guidance system mechanic while assigned to technical school support at Lowry AFB, Colorado, and later served a second tour at Bitburg in both Guidance and Flight Controls. I earned my Master Missileman badge as a Staff Sergeant in 1969 having served solely with the Mace B. I was an Air Force board-certified 7 level technician in Flight Controls and on the AC AChiever inertial guidance system as well.

7 AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test – administered to all military recruits) and AQE (Airmen Qualification Examination) scores – Category and enlistment date was determined by AF Recruiting area quotas. Only certain numbers of recruits for each of the four categories were allowed to enlist each month. The categories were Administration, Mechanical, Electronic, and General. Each recruit's category was decided prior to enlistment.

9 There were 24 identified sites, (2 not operational, as of Oct 20,1962 – CIA Documents of the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962, Editor Mary S. McAuliffe, CIA History Staff, October 1992


Friday, August 31, 2018

Flavors

I drifted away from our monthly writer's group discussion about people hearing things differently than a writer intended. I didn't physically leave, of course, but I may as well have been on Mars. My memory rudely inserted the anxiety I felt once when I impulsively spent eight hundred dollars on stereo equipment that I certainly didn't need. I was as detached from the writer's meeting as if I had fallen asleep. For some odd reason, my muse wasn't interested in the writing being reviewed, and some oral comment or critique I heard during the meeting shut down my normal brain function and I was suddenly in my own world, my mind vividly filled with apprehension from the unexpected - and quite rudely inserted - memory from years ago. My muse had abandoned me.

Memory has a way of being kind, or at least kinder than reality, and the excitement of having two close friends stop by after work to listen to my new, expensive, pride and joy speakers gradually slipped in to displace the anxiety I felt when I spent over a month's salary on a whim. Back then, our stereos were the pinnacle of home entertainment back when direct-drive turntables, cobra-style tonearms and Shure V-15 type 3 cartridges were the mark of excellence in personal taste and audiophile distinction.

The purchase of the stereo components I had dreamed of for years - a pair of JBL Century 100 speakers - didn't come from our meager budget, but from an unexpected financial windfall that was the benefit from a brutal stretch of overtime work that upset our family routine and even affected our relationship. I was rarely home during that miserable period, working sixteen hour days and even once spent twenty-four hours, without interruption – not even for foodon one service call. When I received my first large overtime check, I splurged on the JBL speakers that I still have.  My wife supported my desire to buy the speakers as a just reward for both of us enduring the tumultuous time.

I carefully “balanced” the new speakers per the instructions I saved from Stereo Magazine, measuring the distance between the speakers, taking into consideration the drapes and carpet, and listening to professionally mastered records that carefully reproduced the exotic sounds required to adjust my Marantz 200 watt stereo receiver to the new, space dominating speakers.

Paul stopped by first, parking his custom-turbocharged Datsun 280Z in the driveway. Money was no object to Paul in his quest for perfection, and his taste in stereo sound was impeccable.

Hmm,” he said, standing dead center between the speakers. “Try Allan Parson’s Pyramid. That’s a great one to test with.”

I carefully played the first cut on the “A” side, then waited for Paul’s profound analysis.
They sound really, really good, George, but you need to crank up the bass a little. The sound just isn’t full enough.”

After Paul left, my wife – who thought the settings were perfect – asked if I was going to change the bass settings.

No,” I replied. “I think it sounds great the way it is.”

Not twenty minutes after Paul left, Bob pulled up. Bob was another single friend who was also a renowned audiophile. His LP collection was stunning in its own right. I respected Bob’s opinion as highly as I regarded Paul’s.

Standing in the very same spot Paul had stood an hour earlier, listening to the same Alan Parson’s album, at exactly the same volume and adjustment, Bob quietly pondered the music.
Well, George, they really, really sound great, but there’s way too much bass. They sound ‘boomy’.”

The room slowly came back into focus and I once again heard voices discussing the merits of something or other. Someone’s writing was still being discussed. I carefully glanced around the room. The moderator was telling a new group member to take critiques with a grain of salt as everyone hears things differently. No two people interpret the same thing the same way.

I couldn’t help think how true. And not with just writing.

George







Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dirty Secrets of a Writers Group

I posted a blog for the Sarasota Writers Group back in 2014 that I recently updated and "tuned."  I hadn't posted it on my own blog before, so I decided to post the updated version here.

George



Dirty Secrets of a Writers Group



As George Collias reminds us from Earnest Hemingway: "Write drunk, edit sober,"
Or was it Dylan Thomas? I don't remember.


Thinking of writing that book that has been buzzing in your head, but don't know where to start? Google "Writing your first book" and you'll find around 690,000,000 hits, some of which may even be useful. Helping new writers is big, big business.

You may come across the suggestion to join a writers group. Helping writers of all ages and genres is a basic premise of most writer's groups, many of which are listed in the Arts and Entertainment section of your Sunday newspaper. Internet searches show local writers groups and most public libraries can usually point you to a writers group in your area as well. Writers groups usually welcome new writers with enthusiasm and understanding, they are glad to see you taking that first step.

While you will welcomed by the members of a writers group, do not expect them – almost all of whom have other day jobs – to dedicate their priceless time at a writers group meeting just for you, at least not more than once. Almost everyone in a writers group will help a new writer as best they can, from writing and editing, to proofreading and suggestions about publication. A new member may even find a mentor who will take them under their wing. However, if you are looking for free editing for your book or novel, you're wasting their time and yours as well.

Writers groups vary in their format, with some groups welcoming all writing while others are designed for a specific genre such as poetry or novels or non-fiction narrative. Don't expect in-depth discussion of your historical fiction novel at a poetry writers group. A good writers group will help define the writing process and help develop the mechanical and technical skills that allows new writers express themselves while understanding most writers do not have a bachelor's degree in English or a Masters in Fine Arts.

Writers Groups Are Not A Substitute For English Class


I was once told a writer who doesn't have a grasp of grammar is like a color-blind person trying to paint a portrait. If you are offended when someone points out spelling errors in your manuscript, or your grammar is horrendous, you might want to try something besides writing, Unless, of course, you have a really great friend who likes to edit. A good dictionary will do wonders for your acceptance in a writers group. If you don't bother with spell checking, you're off to a bad start unless you are a really gifted story-teller. You don't have to be a great typist to be a writer. A few writers I know still write in longhand and have someone else transcribe their work. Often that typist is also an editor of some sort.

I’ve found several writers groups that minutely dissect pre-submitted writings. Each group member gives his or her critique, allowing the writer the final few minutes to defend or explain their writing. I’ve found the defense is usually embarrassing or frustrating for the writer, who almost always thanks the group for their honest opinions, then never show up again. I find these meetings offer little in the way of inspiration or encouragement. William K. Zinsser, in the introduction to the 7th edition of his revised and updated "On Writing Well" writes: "My concerns as a teacher have also shifted. I'm more interested in the intangibles that produce good writing – confidence, enjoyment, intention, integrity – and I've written new chapters on those values."

Writers Groups Are Not A Substitute For Professional Counseling


There isn't much sympathy in most writer's groups for personal or political vendettas, e.g., it was all his/her fault and the world needs to know what a bad person he/she really is and you all are going to sit here while I read chapter after chapter of this agonizing diatribe. Many writers get that personal story off their chests and find they don't have a second book in them, which leads to the question; Why do you want to write? Are you telling a story? A personal memoir or an autobiography? Are you planning on making a fortune writing? Well, good luck, I know hundreds of writers but only a few who call it a profession. So, whom are you writing for? Who is your target audience?

If you are writing an autobiography, which is the usual genre for new writers, there are only two scenarios for your looming masterpiece: A; You are already famous and people may actually buy the autobiography, or, B; You are just like the rest of us and nobody cares. If you fall into the first category, you probably don't need a writers group, your book will probably grabbed by a publishing house. If you fall into the second category, however, the writers group probably doesn't want to read it. They’ll help you write it, and they’ll do their best to encourage you, but don’t expect to impress a seasoned group of writers enough to make them want to hear all your details. You may find even your relatives won't read your manuscript. They will tell you they will read it when they get a chance, but they won't, although they may skim through it to see what you wrote about them.

The best advice for new writers is to finish your autobiography and put it on a thumb-drive. Put it away until you're famous and can update it. Now sit down and write for fun, write because you enjoy writing. Write because you have a story to tell, you know, the one you have been thinking about for years. Then bring it to a writers group and read it out loud in front of people you don't know. New writers are often cloaked by intimidation or insecurities as they venture into an unfamiliar world that glaringly exposes their shortcomings and lack of experience. That bravado usually crumbles quickly in front of a writers group. You may want at least a warm, comfortable feeling with the group before exposing your soul, but when you do read in front of a writer’s group read only enough to make them want to hear more.

Many writers will at one time or another inadvertently revert to writing about personal experiences. The memories are often painful and unexpectedly personal. Writing is often cathartic, especially for new writers. While an insensitive writer's group might dampen a new writer's candid honesty, most members understand the self-discovery process. Shared experiences can become part of the camaraderie of a writers group, but don't overdo it. Constant repetition of personal problems is a sure way to shut off a receptive group of listeners anywhere, much less a writers group.

Make Them Beg For More, Not Mercy


I had the pleasure of watching members develop and grow into marvelously entertaining writers during the several years I was the Sarasota Writers Group Leader for the Florida Writers Association. However, I've also watched people attend several meetings, then drop off, either discouraged or disappointed in what they found, or in some cases, what they didn't find.

I have been asked what the difference is between a writer and an author. I've been told that authors have published books. I argue many books by celebrity authors are actually written by ghost writers. To me, an author is the visionary or creator of an idea to be conveyed, while the writer is the conveyor of that vision or concept to print. It follows that most authors are writers. A writer may do journals, blogs, newspaper columns, or magazine articles or any other form of written communication. A writer to me is someone who puts words into print to convey thought.

­You are displaying your descriptive powers, or your wit, to a group of like minded individuals asking for their response. There isn't enough time at any meeting to listen to more than five hundred words or several pages of material from any one writer unless it is a special writing. It only takes several hundred words to appreciate a writing style or the dialog between characters. Listening to someone read page after page of their own work can be like listening to a children’s violin recital.

I have watched people join our writer's group and grow beyond their expectations, and conversely, I've seen talented writers drop by the wayside, discouraged or disappointed with their work. Many new writers take critique of their writing as criticism, and unfortunately, depending on the critiquer, sometimes it is. A new writer must be thick-skinned when submitting work for critiquing, but at the same time be open to change if the criticism is valid. Being poorly critiqued has probably discouraged more aspiring authors than any other single factor. Most critiques I've read are given in good faith, meant to improve the caliber of the work under review. Unfortunately, critiques are a direct reflection of the talents and skills of the critiquer. I've seen great writing attacked because the critiquer was simply repulsed by the subject. It is often hard for those who aren't professional editors to separate the stimulus to an emotional response from the writing that triggered it.

Often religious or political viewpoints become the focus of the critique instead of the writing itself. Novels in the sexual realms tend to be fire-starters. I can only imagine what kind of responses E L James would have gotten with her Fifty Shades of Grey from most writers groups I’m familiar with. The book, in my opinion, could have used the help of a good writers group. Sir Salman Rushdie said about the book: "I've never read anything so badly written that got published." I doubt James would have abandoned her book because of a bad writers group critique, but good critique could have definitely have helped the quality of her writing. The fine line is critiquing the quality of the writing itself as opposed reacting to the emotionally charged nature of the subject.

Critiques are often ego based, or subconsciously prejudiced, and those are deadly to a new writer. I can read anonymous critiques from members of our group and tell who wrote it by the style of the critique. Alan Sherman wrote a parody of Peter and the Wolf, performed by the Boston Pops Symphony Orchestra, and one line from the work has stuck with me since I heard it almost fifty years ago: "A camel is a horse designed by a committee." That's exactly what happens when several critiques vary in their assessment of a given work. The writer being critiqued doesn't know which way to go or which path to follow to improve their writing. I was once critiqued for using too many adjectives in a manuscript while another critiquer in the same group said the writing was bland and needed better descriptions. One friend attends several writers groups, and much to his dismay, can't satisfy any two of them with any one piece of writing. One group felt a narrative he wrote was flippant, distasteful, childish, while the other group thoroughly enjoyed the same piece of work.

Writers Groups Are Basically Mutual Admiration Societies


If you read in front of the group, be polite enough to listen to others who read their material. After all, they were polite enough to listen to you. If you head for the door as soon as you're finished reading, don't expect the welcome mat to be out when you return.

Don't let your speaking style detract from your writing. If you sound like you're reading the telephone book when you are reading Steinbeck out loud, have someone else to read your material to the group. We have a regular member who is in demand to read other people's work. Her interpretation and inflection when reading makes even the aforementioned telephone book a pleasure to listen to. I recently read a member's final proof and was astounded to find I was intrigued by the book as I had a hard time following it during the readings. Every reader embeds their own images and emotions on the material they read, which may be quite different from someone else’s interpretation, even the author’s intent. Don't expect an audience to cheer your first attempt at explaining how you developed nuclear fission if you, like me, read out loud like Elmer Fudd. Get a good speaker, or hand out enough printed copies so your audience can read for themselves.

I've attended writers groups that follow a specific reading and critiquing format almost religiously, often intent on developing writers in a competitive environment such as winning awards for the group members. Other groups tend to mix up the readings with presentations from outside guests, from published authors to publishers and editors while critiquing is done separately from the meetings. Comments are almost always called for after a reading so a writer has immediate feedback on their work. Every group is different in its makeup and purpose and rarely are there any fees associated with writers groups. If the group you visit doesn't offer the education or experiences you are looking for, try another group.

You Can't Please All Readers


I have one piece of advice for new writers: It is your story and you are the one telling it! Write it your way and let your writing reflect your heart and your soul. You are the artist and this is your medium. I like my own writing, I can read it for hours and I'm sure you can read your own writing for hours as well. Bring it to the next writer's group meeting, well, five hundred words of it at least, and see if others hear it as you meant it. Don't be discouraged if the group you meet doesn't like your writing. Take the criticism and find another group and see if they accept your style and content. Arthur Godfrey once famously said, "Some people just don't like ice cream." As long as you please those you are writing for, you are by my standards a successful writer.

My favorite group likes vanilla, pistachio, chocolate, and just about every other flavor of ice cream, but every once in a while, someone brings in a delicious upside-down cake instead.

George

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Wingtips


“Hon, do you have good black dress shoes?” my wife asked as we packed for our trip north for our granddaughter’s chain of social events. 

May has become more than just the climax of the academic season, wrapping up not only the scholastic year, but dance classes, chorus, music lessons, and just about every other after school activity a student can be enrolled in. This year was even more special with our granddaughter’s communion, so it was time to dry-clean suits and dig out the old shoes I haven’t worn in years.

“Sure,” I replied, “I still have my old wingtips from when I left IBM. Let me dig them out, they're in a closet somewhere.” I tossed out my last pair of black loafers, my semi-official footwear for formal events here in Florida, a couple of months ago.

As I pulled out my comfortable old friends from the back of my closet where they had resided under assorted bags and boxes, I suddenly faced my own mortality. No longer the spit-shined, combat boots of corporate America, they were now sadly distressed, forlorn, shockingly aged almost beyond recognition. They were far removed from being the forefront of the uniform of confidence and determination I remembered when I placed them there over twenty years ago. I naively thought they could be pulled out at any time and once again be worn with the distinction and authority they once held in the arena of interpersonal combat in the world of corporate America.

I stared at the faded, cracked shoe leather. Pieces of the polished leather had peeled off, exposing the vulnerable, soft under-skin of the shoes I had worn so many times. I turned the shoes over, the soles were as good as new. I had replaced the soles twice in the wingtip’s lifetime and the soles were still ready. Ready to stride confidently into a customer’s meeting or a region seminar. The uppers however, were like me; no longer ready to stand in front of a crowd from behind a podium or stand toe to toe with a competitor.



I had placed them in the back of my closet, complete with wooden shoe trees in them to keep their shape back when I retired. They were highly polished the last time I saw them, ready to be put into service at a moment’s notice. They had spent the last quarter century in retirement, but they were no longer serviceable. My old standbys, my stalwart support in the face of perils that could not intimidate them, unfortunately could not answer the call to duty. 

I couldn’t help but be nostalgic as I stood there looking at my past, the memories of a quarter of a century ago. I carefully carried them out into the garage and as one last gesture, photographed them. Then they went into the trash.

I walked back into the house. “Hey, Hon, we’ve got to go shopping. I need new black shoes.”

But the new ones won’t be wingtips. They may not even have laces. A pair of nice slip-ons will do nicely.




Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Light is Better



A young boy carrying a fishing rod walked past me as I was photographing a serene lake-shore not far from my campsite on Blue Ridge Lake in Georgia. He was looking for an open spot to fish. He stood among the weeds for a moment, looking at the deep, clear water. He turned and spotted a sandy beach area, free of weeds, at the far end of the cove where the edge of the lake narrowed and merged with the landscape.

He dutifully carried his rod and tackle box through the several hundred yards of underbrush to the clear spot. The water was so shallow there he could have waded out into the lake for twenty feet or so if he had just rolled up his pant legs. He carefully prepared his tackle and cast into the lake with all his might. The bobber splashed into the quiet surface only ten or so feet from where he was standing, his bait immediately sinking to the sandy bottom just below the red and white plastic bobber that rocked only twice, ever so slightly. He was fishing in mere inches of water. There was no room for any fish.

An old joke flashed through my memory:

A drunk, on his hands and knees, is looking for something under a city street light when a good Samaritan walks up and asks if he can help.
Yeah,” replied the drunk slowly,”I dropped my car keys and I can’t find them.”
The good Samaritan gets on his hands and knees and begins searching for the lost car keys. After a few minutes, the good Samaritan asks “We’ve looked everywhere, are you sure you lost your keys here? “
The drunk tries to focus his gaze on the good Samaritan. “Nah,” he says, “I dropped them over there somewhere...”
The good Samaritan sat up. “Then why are we looking for your keys over here?”
Because,”” said the drunk, “The light over here is better.”

The young fisherman had selected a spot that had no weeds to stand in, undeterred by the fact he could see it was far too shallow for any fish. I looked back at him as I turned to leave. He was still standing at the water’s edge, holding his fishing rod with both hands, intently watching his bobber that was magically suspended on the crystal clear surface, just inches over his bait. I couldn’t help but hope he never loses his keys.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Earth is Not Round


The world is not round. I know it isn’t flat, but it definitely isn’t round. To claim it is round would assume there is a symmetry, a total balance of our beloved planet, peacefully and methodically plodding through time and space. If there were a perfect balance, there would be no tides, no ebb and flow, a perfect understanding of beauty and harmony. I know the world is really out of balance, however, because the film “The Shape of Water” has been nominated for 13 – let me spell that – thirteen – Academy Awards. There is definitely something wrong with our slowly spinning, normally predictable planet. It must have one hell of a wobble.

I understand that I may be the one who is out of balance here, because I just spent nine dollars and ninety-five cents – senior discount – to sit through what I consider to be the most ludicrous, offensive, and downright stupid films I have ever seen. I put “Mars Attacks” on a pedestal compared to this awful film that has been elevated to God-like cult status with its prestigious award. At least Mars Attacks was fun to watch. The Shape of Water's dance scene with the creature from the black lagoon - seriously. I’m not joking - doing a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers Felliniesque dream sequence, failed to elevate the film above the murky, tannin-colored realm of despair. They didn't even come close to the aliens bowling on Easter Island. 

The standard Hollywood formula of oil company bad, government agent bad, everybody bad except the maligned hero/heroine and his/her mentor, was spiced with a dash of, believe it or not, a Soviet spy with a heart of gold. The pathetic mentor, according to formula, has to be convinced the hero/heroine can save humanity and together, along with a co-worker – black, of course – and the good Soviet agent – he’s really a doctor – defeat the forces of evil wearing the red, white, and blue. Ad Nauseam.

It wears thin in less time than it takes to get the lid off the popcorn bucket. The acting is well done, as if they know they won’t get paid if the audience laughs out loud during the scenes where the creature plays with the owner’s remaining cats just after it’s eaten the head off one of them. Funny stuff, but even here Mars Attacks did it better.

Like sex scenes? There are several solo episodes by the heroine to establish the fact she’s in dire need of fulfillment, and surprise, surprise, our finned creature rises to the occasion. I can imagine the excitement when they discovered they could wire the old lagoon creature’s costume with LEDs to glow with the enthusiasm required for such an event.

And healing powers? Wow! Another opportunity to fire up the power pack! For a primordial omnivore, even the convoluted Soviet agent bad guy/good guy could have used the “asset” if only his timing had been better. I have a problem with films that portray the old Soviets as the good guys and the Americans as mean-spirited evil doers, regardless of whose aquarium they’re trying to drain.

Time to dig out the old Slim Whitman soundtrack. Indian Love Song never sounded better.

George






Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New Kids In Town - February, 1962

Saturday morning dawned cold and overcast, just like most early February mornings in the Eifel Mountains. Gino Davis had joined the group and was happily leading the way down the hill and past the Air Police guardhouse as we walked along the two lane access road toward the German Bus Stop out on highway B-51. Leonard, who organized the trip along with Mike Ammon, slipped to the rear of the group and let Gino lead the way. Gino was wearing white socks with black pants and a day-glow green sweater. He proudly announced to the world the Americans were coming.

The bus stop was almost half a mile walk from the gate at Bitburg Air Base and by the time we got there I was almost cold enough to abandon the trip. No, not really, I was excited about what lay ahead. Soon one of the big, lumbering yellow Mercedes diesel buses from the Deutsche Bundespost pulled off the busy highway into our bus stop. After someone, I don't know who, communicated to the driver we wanted to go to the Trier train station, we all dug out the right combination of Deutschmarks, and deposited them in the coin box.

"Almost like home" I thought as I fingered the Marks, about the same size and weight as a quarter. Then I looked up at the passengers, most of the men wearing fedora hats, and many of the older women with "babushka" type scarves, all staring at our group boarding the bus and thought, "Oh, no, no it isn't!"

It was apparent we were as much a novelty to curious passengers as they were to us. They saw Americans all the time, some of them even worked on base or in the housing area, but usually only one or two "Amis" would get on the bus at once, and not all carrying duffel bags. We were being whispered about as we lurched toward the rear of the bus, looking for empty seats. There were eight of us, including Hank, one of my friends from the guidance shop, and some others I didn't really know. We ended up scattered around the bus, somehow concerned we would get separated and not make the journey to Luxembourg, wherever that was.

The bus stopped at several more villages on the sixteen-mile trip through the wooded countryside, picking up occasional riders. The ride down the hill overlooking the Mosel Valley and the city of Trier was one I'll always remember. The beauty of the German countryside never fails to impress me. We crossed over the Mosel River and soon swung into the open-air bus station, filled with buses and people. When the bus came to a halt in the busy bus terminal in Trier, everyone else got off, so we did, too.

Someone had a city map of Trier, I think it was Leonard's, and we made a command decision to walk through the Markt Platz and head toward Germany's oldest building, the Roman "Black Gate," the Porta Nigra. We stood at the Porta Nigra and several of us took photos like any tourist. I didn't have a camera, and most of the others couldn't afford color film. A lot of GI photos of Europe back then were shot in black and white. 

Porta Nigra, Trier, Germany

We referred to the priceless map and struck off in what we thought was the direction of the train station. At first it was fun, goofing along and making mental notes about all of our observations of German civilization. It was apparent we weren't going to find any train station when we were almost out of town. Leonard stopped a passerby, who didn't speak English, but by pointing at the map and making simple hand gestures we gathered we had gone the wrong way from the Porta Nigra. We trudged the long walk back to the massive stonework and turned left, walking down a beautiful, tree lined boulevard. By the time we got to another bus station located just this side of the train station, we were no longer kidding around about being lost. One of the buses coming out of the train station had Bitburg lit up as a destination. It may have been the same bus we had ridden into town.

We stood in the huge, tile-floor train station entrance and tried to figure out where to get train information and buy tickets. Leonard and Mike were the ones who knew what they wanted, so while we waited alongside the ticket window, the young clerk, who spoke broken English, collected money from an assortment of hands and passed back eight, small train tickets. We looked at the tickets as if they were a joke. The train tickets were about the size of an American movie ticket, but made out of thick cardboard, like being cut out of a cardboard box. It was green with a red strip through it. I thought it would make a great souvenir someday.

"I'm famished!", exclaimed Gino, "Let's get something to eat before we go out to the platform. We have twenty minutes before the train comes."

We followed Gino into the train station's tile-walled restaurant and ended up all at the same table, pulling empty chairs from nearby tables. We got some strange looks, apparently we were out of order. Everything on the menu looked expensive. My first lesson in not eating at train stations.

Gino said to the standoffish waiter, "I'll have the Tagesuppe" 

The rest of us ordered open face sandwiches, and of course, draught beer. When we asked Gino what "Tagesuppe" was, he informed us he had a bowl of it before and thought it was delicious. When the waiter brought Gino a soup bowl with what appeared to be broth with a raw egg floating in it, we thought his eyes were stuck open.

"Entshuldigung…," Gino said to the waiter, "What is this?"

The waiter never blinked as he turned and said, "That is the “soup of the day,” just as you ordered."

No one said a word as Gino stared at soup bowl, then slowly picked up his spoon, then repeatedly bashed the hell out of the egg.

Our open-faced sandwiches and beer were served and we were getting back into the spirit of our adventure when, needless to say, someone noticed we had a minute to catch the train. We rushed en masse to the pedestrian tunnel that led to the platform to catch our train. It took two minutes to get to the loading platform, and we watched as our train slowly pulled out of the station in front of us.

"Now what?," I asked, "Should we go back to the ticket seller or can we just get on the next train?"

"Let's make sure," said Leonard, "Let's go back and check to be safe."

The ticket agent was less than pleased with us. We were taking up space in his line and he really didn't like the extra aggravation we were causing. He had to go and find the Bahnhof Meister, a figure who turned out to be as imposing as his title.

The Bahnhof Meister was a big, barrel chested man in his early fifties. He wore a full, dark blue dress uniform, complete with a red leather belt across his tunic and an imposing, official looking hat that might have been worn by an old Field Marshall. He was an imposing figure with absolutely no sense of humor.

He had to sign each one of our tickets on the back to show they were still valid. There wasn't enough room on the tickets to write with much flair. He gruffly spoke to us, without a single indication we were all from the same planet. He turned and pointed at the train board, showing us when and where the next train to Luxembourg would arrive. We had about twenty minutes and decided not to screw up again. We walked up to the platform and plopped our bags down and waited.

In exactly nineteen and a half minutes, a passenger train quietly pulled in on the track behind us. We turned around and watched as people boarded, and within a minute it was underway, heading out of the station. There were no indications of any train any where near our track.

The Bahnhof Meister soon strode out to the platform outside his office and bellowed in German loud enough to be heard all the way back in Bitburg. His face was as red as his belt. We knew what he was saying even though we didn't speak a word of German. We had missed the train yet again! We were waiting by the wrong track and we hadn't understood the blaring loudspeaker. We had just stood there like fence posts while the loudspeakers tried to tell us the train was behind us! 

We were marched once again into his tiny office. He made us sit down, not letting any one of us out of his sight. He had finally filled in every open space on the back of the tickets, and he wasn't taking any chances he'd have to issue new tickets. It was like writing your telephone number on a matchbook match after someone else had already written theirs. He was silent as he rocked back and forth in his chair, watching the clock on the wall. It was not a rocking chair. Every once in a while he would scowl at us, then turn back and look at the clock.

Finally, he stood up and said, "Los!" and strode out of the office. We followed along as he marched to the platform. The train pulled in and stopped with a coach door inches from our feet. The Bahnhof Meister stood stiffly and waited while we boarded the train. The train was slowly rolling before he turned on his heel and strode back into his office.

Leonard, leaning back to look out the coach window said, "Want to bet he's headed for a schnapps?"

The train we boarded was headed from Copenhagen to Paris. Like the bus ride earlier, there weren't many empty seats. Most of the sofa-style, leather covered seats had people sprawled out, scattered around the car. The compartments were just like in the movies, except not as plush. These were the "B" coaches and they were mostly filled. Hank and I found a couple of seats together, but I think Leonard was carefully looking for a good-looking seating partner. I decided that was only in the movies, too, looking at the mostly tired, unhappy looking travelers who mostly didn't even bother to look up.

Soon after leaving Trier, the train crossed over the Mosel and headed southwest toward Wasserbillig, just over the Luxembourg border. We stopped not ten minutes out of Trier while the German locomotive dropped off and was replaced by a Luxembourg diesel. After a few moments we were under way again, and before we could really get settled in, we were pulling into the main train station in the city of Luxembourg. The two cities are less than thirty miles apart.

Surprise! You needed your ticket to get off the train! They don't do this in the movies! Luckily we all scrounged up our mutilated tickets and turned them over to the bemused Luxembourg agents who soon start chatting and laughing among themselves. I wondered what the Bahnhof Meister wrote in that small space.