My Father’s Gifts

by Doug Magill

You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love.  You have to deserve your father’s.  Robert Frost

It is Easter, and it is also the 100th anniversary of my Father’s birth.  The juxtaposition of the two is a solemn reminder of what I owe to those that I call Father: God for the birth and death of his Son, and to Dad, for all that he has given me.

It is hard to imagine Dad as 100, both because it is not the memory I have of him, nor the image.  As I grow older, the image seems to loom larger.  My own mortality seems to be growing larger behind me, and I have deeper thoughts these days about what I have been given, and what I have in turn bequeathed to those who follow me.

My oldest son and his wife are recent parents.  It is an amazing thing to become a grandfather, and its place among the hallowed moments of life is a blessing, and a clarion call to look at what has been provided and shared.

My father wasn’t big on gifts, though he did surprise me upon occasion with something special, and thoughtful.  As I write this there is a cabinet in my office he unexpectedly gave me to house the radio and music equipment I was either building or repairing in my nerd days when I was young.  He loved that I could do things with electronics that he couldn’t fathom,.  It reminds me of him every day.

Yet, the most important gifts are those that have no place, but yet an enormous presence in our lives.

Dad grew up poor, in the outlands of Indiana.  One of those places the sneering classes along our coasts fly over regularly without a thought of who those sturdy, hard-working and essential people are.  His parents went broke in the Great Depression and he had to live with relatives.  An embarrassment that stung him till his last days.  If one could guess where his drive, ambition to succeed and pragmatism came from it is that place and that searing shame.

He worked his way through college and then law school.  It is astonishing to think that he believed that a poor man’s son from Indiana could go to, and thrive at Harvard Law School.  Yet, he believed, and though he had to borrow money to make it work he graduated with honors and a belief that he could make a difference.  In those days there were not a lot of young men from Indiana at such places.

My father found employment at a bank and felt that would provide him a secure future. World War II intervened, and he felt the call of duty to his country.  He knew so little about the Navy, having never been in anything larger than a rowboat,  that he went to a recruiter hoping to be a petty officer.  The recruiter was astonished and convinced him that with a law degree the Navy could use him as an officer.  So, without training and little more than the Bluejacket’s Manual he was sent to Hawaii to serve in Naval Intelligence.

He later served in combat as Director of Fighter Operations aboard an aircraft carrier, learning to become Officer of the Deck during sea operations.  Something that amused him greatly given his lack of any previous maritime experience.

His career took him to a bank, then the Treasury department and eventually to General Motors.  He was a liberal then, I suppose, as he wasn’t sure he wanted to work for a corporation and be told what kind of car to drive.  As he rose in the hierarchy of GM he learned about politics and government, and became more conservative as he was exposed to the often corrupt connections between unions, government and the hypocrisy of politicians who espoused sympathy and altruism while mainly benefiting themselves.

Somewhere early in his life  he learned to be objective and steely-eyed about people, and developed an ability to work with those around him, no matter who they might be.  He never made racial jokes and believed, as perhaps only a failed farmer’s son could, that most people wanted to work and thrive, and the rest didn’t matter much.

He was tasked with forming the first organization in any major corporation focused on dealing with the ever -increasing power and regulation of government.  He called it Industry-Government Relations and it is common today, though many companies now follow practices he first established.

As his responsibilities grew, so did his department.  He hired a young executive to manage urban affairs – the relationship between GM and city and local governments. This young man also happened to be black and was one of the first minority executives in the auto industry.

In those days the GM building was across the street from the Fisher Building, and through an underground tunnel most GM execs would walk to lunch at an exclusive club in that building.  They would also hold events there and used it for special meetings.

Unfortunately that club didn’t allow minority members.  My father was astonished, annoyed and then angry.  He went – without authorization – to the board of the club and demanded that they admit his young executive or he would withdraw all GM business from the club.  GM was the majority of its customers, and they knew that they would be out of business if they didn’t have GM members.  They relented, and my father’s protege became the first minority member of that club, and indeed of just about any club in Detroit in those days.

Dad didn’t often talk about his role in things, or why this moment was so important.  He believed with every fiber of his being that a black man trying to make his way in business deserved the same consideration as any other young man.

Attitude and actions, he would tell me, are what really defines you as a man, and as a leader.  He didn’t preach about equality, or about minorities or about any career issues related to race or any of the other identity-politics buzzwords popular today.  His view was simple and direct: if you wanted to work hard, learn and grow, you deserved an opportunity.

My family grew up with that.  It was so much more effective than preaching and histrionics and fake anger that my siblings and I inculcated it without thinking or worrying about it.

That gift of seeing people as they are, without labels and adjectives and the panoply of mystic prisms that we are being told these days to evaluate people by is a gift.  A priceless one, and the source of great pride and honor among friends.

It has always been with me – this ability to see people for who they are.  I learned it well. There are many examples, but I recall one young manager who worked for me being dumbfounded that, after working for me for years, I didn’t realize he was Jewish.

More recently, I was blessed to be on a radio show with several friends: two gifted young men and a young woman.  I was the DOWG – the Designated Old White Guy – who didn’t know much about current musical trends and taste.  My proclamations, questions and confusion made for much hilarity among my partners on air, yet it made for good radio.

I am especially proud that we would occasionally get calls from middle-aged black people talking about that “cool white dude” and how he was the only non-racist Republican they knew.

There are many things that I know and respect about Darvio, one of my on-air partners. He is big, impressive, hard-working, smart, knowledgeable, loyal, bombastic, thoughtful……there are more.  Oh yeah, he’s black.

Andre is charismatic, creative, clever, funny, deep and eloquent – despite the Dali-esque things he does on top of his head with his hair.  Yep, he’s black too.

Friends don’t have labels.  And that is the most important part.

When I think of these two incredible young men I think of them as friends.  Not as black friends.  I suspect they think of me without adjectives too, though they might attach some other interesting labels to me at times.

But I know this – if I needed their help or for them to have my back they would be there instantly, without question, and with the immediate loyalty of long-time friends.  That’s who they are, and it matters a lot more than an adjective that has little meaning other than an indication of appearance.  Not who they are.

We don’t often deserve the gifts that we receive.  Certainly the gift that Christ gave us with his death is beyond comprehension, and we are all humbled by the majesty of that sacrifice.

The gifts that my father gave me are humbling as well.  I am better for them, and I hope that some day, some way, that my children will be blessed by them as well.

Today I honor my father for who he was, and what he has left me.  When I think of my children and their children, I pray that what they feel they have received from me is equally important.  And, what I will be remembered for.

 

Doug Magill is a City Councilman for Solon, Ohio, a voice-over talent, freelance writer, a former IT executive and consultant on organizational change and communications.  You can reach him at doug@magillmedia.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Essayist? Yes, I Make an Attempt

Just as Richard Todd writes in Good Prose, “I awoke one morning to discover I was an essayist.”  Nearly six years after accepting an invitation from Doug Magill to write an occasional “piece” for his online site, Cleveland Business Review, I make the same discovery. I am addicted to crafting essays on business, politics, literature—fearlessly repeating E.M. Forester’s quote “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” After all, insists Todd in the 2013 book he wrote with Tracy Kidder, “Essayists tend to argue with themselves. The inner dialogue that might be suppressed in other writing finds a forum here. Montaigne blessed the form when he said, ‘If I knew my own mind, I would not make essays. I would make decisions.’”
Not only did Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) bless the form but the French writer expressed “subjective reflections on topics such as religion, education, friendship, love, and freedom,” according to the website bio. He called these original works essais—that is, “attempts” in French. And a new literary genre was born, the essay. By the year 1588, Montaigne had a third volume of essays in print, with such tidbits as “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know” and “I quote others only in order the better to express myself.” The popularity of the essay has never waned since.
“Essays are self-authorizing,” write Kidder and Todd in the chapter dedicated solely to essays. “This is the dilemma but also the pleasure of the form. The chances are that nobody asked for your opinion. But if your idea is fresh, it will surprise even someone, perhaps an assigning editor, who did ask.” Moreover, the Kidder-Todd collaboration adds, “just as no word has an exact synonym, no idea can be exactly paraphrased.” And further, the Pulitzer-winning writer of The Soul of a New Machine and his patient longtime editor insist that the “essayist’s relationship with the reader depends, as always, on mutual trust, but trust of a special kind. In the essay, trust in the author and disagreement with the author can coexist.”
That’s what Doug Magill believes too. That’s why he created Cleveland Business Review in 2011 and invited folks like me to write for it. Doug, whom I met when I was adding a bit of business to the culture of Northern Ohio Live magazine in 2005, was an entrepreneur with an impressive business past. At the time, along with Paul DeLuca and Kathleen Haley, he was promoting Cleveland Business Radio on WERE-1300.
With 40 years of reporting experience behind me, I was—and remain—eager to attach my byline to stories, especially about business management. My first CBR article reflected on “talking” with Silent Cal Coolidge’s statue when I was on assignment for Industry Week magazine in the early ‘90s. President Coolidge had a penchant for what I call MBSOOTW—Management By Staying Out Of the Way. It’s a lesser-known corollary to Management By Walking Around. MBSOOTW keeps politicians and policy wonks from tinkering with market economics. If you haven’t already noticed, many pols and wonks resemble 13-year-old Monopoly addicts buying Park Place with brightly colored but wholly worthless money. Decades ago, Calvin Coolidge summed up his economic philosophy with this axiom: “The business of America is business.” He backed up those six words with restraint.
As you can see, classic business lessons are what I have traded in. Classic leadership lessons as well. To Peter Drucker’s way of thinking, the true leader is the exceptional musician who knows how to create great music, but does not delude himself into thinking that he’s the whole band. Further, Drucker argued that exceptional leaders—think those in the category of Lincoln or Churchill—understand “leadership as responsibility rather than as rank and privilege,” offering this illustration: “Effective leaders are rarely ‘permissive.’ But when things go wrong—and they always do—they do not blame others….Harry Truman’s folksy ‘The buck stops here’ is still as good a definition as any.”
And, on occasion, lessons on great messaging—from the classic essayist E.B. White to the contemporary master Arthur Plotnik. “With…readers drawn to ever-new distractions, who can afford a writing-as-usual attitude?” asks the author of the journalistic classic The Elements of Editing. “Not creative writers, not journalists, copywriters, or corporate communicators. Nor can writing students gear up in all the old ways. Even bloggers, even Match.com troubadours, must realize that in today’s forest an undistinguished post falls soundlessly.”
Hallelujah! say I. (Particularly in the last few years I haven’t seen so much settled content since my days as a bulk-buyer of generic mac-n-cheese dinner. My family, friends, and colleagues—savvy media consumers all—share that sentiment, if not my preference for the perfect entree.) With no slight at all to the use of middle-of-the-road grammar, Plotnik constructs a compelling 275-page case to the message-makers “whose composition skills compare with the next writer’s, but who itch for creative ideas, smart locutions, and realistic takes on language for today’s media.”
Whether the topic is writing, business, politics, family, or plain nonsense, E.B. White is right—“Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.” In the contemporary world of words, E.B. White is the gold standard; the rest of us are just filling in the spaces in between. Yet we all know that each of us—including those who craft ideas for Cleveland Business Review—is, to quote White, a “self-liberated man.”
Contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in neighboring Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. whose pointed ears are greatly loved.. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

If it’s Hubris, it Couldn’t be Hillary

By Doug Magill
 
Dang it, I never did get the hang of using these dumbass things.
 
Computers are for little people – I prefer the voice-activated conveniences of power.  When I yell for a minion, someone comes and adjusts whatever thingy I need to change.  Especially TVs, I hate trying to figure out remotes.  After all, that’s what my worshipping followers are here for.  Now, if I could get them to wear those cute yellow outfits with the goggles….
My neurologist – that nitwit – thinks I need to do more mental exercises in case my brain was scrambled with that last stroke so he suggested I write stuff.  Who cares?  My scrambled brain is better than the unbroken ones of the yokels who adore me.  See – yolks – a joke!  I’ve still got it.  Oh, I said yokels and meant yolks.  How do I change that?  Oh hell, Cheryl never seems to be around when I need her.  Someone will fix it for me later.  Someone always does. 
What the heck?  I have to get a new TV.  Who knew a shoe could break one?  My arm is still good.  Ha, lots of practice throwing pottery at Bill.  Too bad he didn’t get brain damage from all the earthenware I’ve bounced off that horny little skull.  The stupid TV kept showing clips of my comments about that basket of deplorables.  What’s the difference?  I thought the basket thing was a nice touch, you know – a place for towels and kittens (disgusting creatures).
Besides, I meant to say basket of deportables.  I mean, Trump Top wants to get rid of all of the illegal aliens – good little future Democrat voters.  Did I say little?  I mean dependable.  Same thing.
Anyway, if he wants to get rid of our little brown brothers (crap, I said little again – must be the medication).  So why can’t I say I want to get rid of those pathetic morons who think that more Democrats is a bad idea?  Put all those Bible-loving gun-carrying freaks in a boxcar and ship them out of here.  Let Mexico deal with them.  Hah, then who’d want to build a wall?
Speaking of walls a couple of my mansions need better fences – mostly to keep the bimbos out if I get elected.  Bubba boy will be partying his little deplorables off and I can’t stand coming home and throwing out lingerie that’s lying about.  If only they knew.  Well, maybe some of the clones at CNN do, they figure they’ll get in on the action if they keep hiding Bill’s bacchanalian blowouts – as if I didn’t know how to hire private eyes. 
Been doing that since Little Rock.
Oohh….alliteration. “Bill’s bacchanalian blowouts.”  Stroke, shmoke.  Love it.  And they say I’m a wooden speaker.  Speaking of wood, haven’t been laying it down for a while.  Gotta get this weight off.  To think, that mousy little writer from Powerline called me a “muffin- top of mendacity.”  Gotta talk to the boys.  What’s power if you can’t use it?  We’ll see how many pieces we can make her pedestrian car explode into.
What was I saying?  Oh yeah, blasted adorables.  That’s what I meant to say.  I mean, aren’t those fanatical, hairy beer bums that like Trump just cute?  Cute like in spiders that need to be squashed.  I know that’s what I meant.  I love everyone, even snakes.
Ooh, gotta go, Huma is coming with those funny green pills she keeps making me take before she puts on those weird Accepting the Koran tapes.  I always fall asleep anyway.  Maybe I can get her to get another keyboard too, this drooling thing gets really messy, especially with the H key in the middle when I want to keep typing all the wonderful things that start with H….
Doug Magill is a communications consultant, city councilman, voice-over talent and freelance writer.  He can be reached at Doug@MagillMedia.net

Complexity-Through-Joy

By J.F. McKenna
That phrase above remains one of the most poignant expressions of one man’s life and work, written by essayist and storyteller E.B. White in 1957 and later shared in Hal Hager’s brief biographical notes at the end of Essays of E.B. White (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1992). To quote Hager, Elwyn Brooks White debuted in the final year of the 19th Century and “found joy in nearly everything he saw,” from brown eggs to Thoreau’s Walden to, as White wrote, “the nature and beauty of brevity.” More important, White shed his singular light on such parts of our world and coaxed a new appreciation for them, insisting that “writing of the small things of the day, the inconsequential but the near things of this living, was the only kind of creative work which I could accomplish with any sanctity or grace.”
In a world in which instant communications try but fail to demonstrate more pull than gravity itself, White’s principles and style endure—even though originally batted out on a standard manual typewriter. To quote William Shawn of The New Yorker, “His literary style…was singular, colloquial, clear, unforced, thoroughly American and utterly beautiful.” Shawn offered that praise as a White eulogy in 1985, but a modest White himself may have rendered the best appraisal of his work in 1977: “Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.”
Though I have no notion of ever sharing work space with E.B. White, Lady Carol took pity on me recently and purchased a copy of Essays for her congenitally self-centered husband. As she knows, I have been a reader of White’s work since my earliest newspapering days. And before that, as a Boomer high schooler, I regularly carried around my paperback copy of The Elements of Style, written by William Strunk Jr. in the early 20th Century, and revised by former student White in 1957.
Today, according to one source, the book remains the most frequently assigned text in U.S. academic syllabi. Writer White, no surprise, deserves the lion’s share of the credit for sales. “Professor Strunk, although one of the most inflexible and choosy of men, was quick to acknowledge the fallacy of inflexibility and the danger of doctrine,” White explains in his late-Fifties’ essay on Professor Strunk. “It is encouraging to see how perfectly a book, even a dusty rulebook, perpetuates and extends the spirit of a man. Will Strunk loved the clear, the brief, the bold, and his book is clear, brief, bold. Boldness is perhaps its chief distinguishing mark.”
Then, too, White’s contributions to children’s literature are nothing less than monumental—fromStuart Little to The Trumpet of the Swan to the publishing blockbuster Charlotte’s Web, whom one librarian recently declared to be found nowhere else but at the peak of children’s books today. Without question, White’s long work as an essayist for his adult audience prepared the stage for his young-reader classics. In his 1947 essay on the death of a pig, The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine writer displays an enviable eloquence about an expected occurrence among Maine farmers:
“I have written this account in penitence and in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig, and to explain my deviation from the classic course of so many raised pigs. The grave in the woods is unmarked, but [White’s dog] Fred can direct the mourner to it unerringly and with immense good will, and I know he and I shall often revisit it, singly and together, in seasons of reflection and despair, on flagless memorial days of our own choosing.”
What has made, and has kept, E.B. White a brilliant essayist all these decades? One can find it in his praise of Henry David Thoreau: “Thoreau said he required of every writer, first and last, a simple and sincere account of his own life.” Then White added, “Having delivered himself of this chesty dictum, he proceeded to ignore it.”
In the introduction to his own essays, White called this form of exercise that of the role of second-class citizen to other writers, and he told the reader to “leave the essayist to ramble about, content with living a living a free life and enjoying the satisfactions of a somewhat undisciplined existence.” But, added White, he “cannot indulge himself in deceit or in concealment, for he will be found out in no time.”
CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com

‘Can You Spare That Twenty?’

By J.F. McKenna

“Men will pursue their interest. It is as easy to change human nature, as to oppose the strong current of the selfish passions. A wise legislator will gently divert the channel, and direct it, if possible, to the public good.” – Alexander Hamilton, 1788

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has announced that former slave and Underground Railroad hero Harriet Tubman will be the new face on the $20 bill by 2020, taking the space now occupied by the face of President Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, a crack-shot duelist of his day, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and the trigger for many late-night “beer and bull sessions” at Kent State dormitories in years past. Secretary Lew also has remodeling plans for the back of the $5 bill to highlight various 20th century folks and events at The Lincoln Memorial.

Whether all this planned money-changing will generate additional public good is a topic for another day, although some public figures are quickly weighing in with comments. The Donald has dismissed this $20 image-transfer as “pure political correctness,” and Dr. Benjamin Carson has joined Mr. Trump in that criticism. After suggesting that Tubman appear on “another denomination,” such as the $2 bill, the retired neurosurgeon gave Secretary Lew’s move a thumbs-down: “Andrew Jackson was the last president who actually balanced the federal budget, where we had no national debt. In honor of that, we kick him off of the money.”

But let’s give the Treasury Secretary some credit for a channel diversion of sorts: he originally planned to displace the image of Alexander Hamilton himself from the $10 bill and then changed course, only to declare a fuss with the back of the bill as a way to honor well-known American women.

To refit a quote from an old KSU history prof of mine: “Partial credit, Mr. Lew—you didn’t completely disrupt this everyday glimpse at historiography. But keep in mind—Hamilton was the first boss of the Treasury.”

Were Hamilton still in charge of the Treasury, interestingly enough, he’d likely not be trying to score political points with the citizenry by retooling the look of its paper money; instead, as historians and economists have long noted, he’d be trying to retool the national economy toward being the world’s leading one again. Probably no finer summary of the Hamiltonian effect on the early Republic is that of Gordon S. Wood’s 2006 book, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (The Penguin Press).

Often in a figurative second row when pictured with Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and Adams, Alexander Hamilton left a bastard childhood in the British West Indies to become, as Wood writes, “celebrated for his nationalism, for his administrative genius, for his financial expertise, and for his hardheaded realism in foreign affairs.”

In 1789 President Washington—anyone can readily find GW on the $1 bill today—appointed Hamilton secretary of the treasury. Wood calls that pick “almost a preordained choice” that brought Washington’s “surrogate son’s brilliance” into the first national administration. “He treated Hamilton very differently [than other department heads],” Wood relates, “partly because he knew little about public finance but also because he believed the Treasury Department was constitutionally different from the other departments.” Ergo, Hamilton aimed to “strengthen central authority and the Union ‘by increasing the number of ligaments between the Government and the interests of Individuals.’”

“The severe criticism of Jefferson’s slaveholding and racial attitudes over the past several decades,” continues Wood, “has offered an opportunity for some positive reappraisals of Hamilton. He was after all opposed to slavery and worked to end it in his home state of New York. Also, in a land of immigrants he was the only one of the leading founders not born in what became the United States. In a major exhibition…at the New York Historical Society, Hamilton was once again celebrated as ‘the man who made modern America.’”

Admittedly, writes Wood, “Hamilton’s plans for an imperial America were out of touch with the realities of his world in 1800. Two centuries later, however, these plans do not seem so bizarre. Hamilton would be right at home in the present-day United States and present-day world.”

As will his image continue to be on the new $10 bill.

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com

Duty and the Well of Fortitude

by Doug Magill

A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.  Winston Churchill

On a moonless Pacific night during World War II, the pilot of a Hellcat fighter returning from a routine patrol desperately searched for the comfort of an aircraft carrier he would never find. My father, directing fighter operations on the ship that was the home of the lost plane, listened in horror to the static-roughened panic in the young man’s voice. His radio direction-finding equipment had failed and fleet orders prevented the carrier crew from illuminating the ship due to nearby Japanese submarines.

Disappearing into the blackness of the sea, terrified and alone, the pilot was not considered a coward by his shipmates. My father first told me this story when I was young, and I asked him how a brave military pilot could panic. With a soft and faraway look in his eyes, he replied, “It’s just that his well of fortitude ran dry. We all never knew how deep it really was for any of us.”

Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I combat pilot once said, “There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” He understood that there is a well of fortitude within that can be drawn upon time and again, under even the most terrifying circumstances.  And yet, military men know that there are occasions when even that is not enough, when fear can overcome even the hardiest soul, when there is no more bravery, no more strength, no more belief. Still they are drawn beyond what can be humanly expected by their sense of duty – to themselves, to their comrades, to their country.

During the war my father was aboard a jeep carrier, the USS Cowpens, which was attacked by kamikaze aircraft, and barely survived the monstrous waves of Halsey’s typhoon (Typhoon Cobra), a ferocious cyclone in the Pacific Ocean that struck the Pacific Fleet with one-hundred twenty mph winds and sank three ships.

Cowpens

USS Cowpens (CVL-25) during Typhoon Cobra
18 December 1944

The Cowpens was also sent as a decoy into the Sea of Japan without escorts.  When I asked Dad if he was scared, he would only say that he was able to draw from his well of fortitude during those times, and hang on. At times he was so frightened that he couldn’t move, but when he saw his shipmates doing their duty he felt he had to do his job and not let them down. He never boasted or showed pride, only relief that he had performed his duty and not failed his shipmates.

Landing on the beaches of Okinawa with the 1st Marine Division, my uncle Tom suffered from migraine headaches which prevented him from seeing. All he could do was hang onto the web belt of the man in front of him. His comrades would tell him where to aim so that he could shoot. Though he didn’t share many details of that bloody island, he told me of times when he was so afraid he couldn’t move, or shoot, and that the chaos of war gave countless opportunities for heroism and panic, often to the same person in the space of moments. He described the jungle and the insects, the heat, and the constant fear. He told me, “I was afraid all the time, and felt suffocated because there was nowhere to hide. It was a relief sometimes to dig leeches out of my legs with my combat knife. The pain was real, and distracted me from the fear.” He drew deeply from his well of fortitude, time and again shaking and panicked. Wanting to do his duty for the men around him he would take that next, halting step which kept him going for one more minute, one more agonizing hour, one more terrifying day.

Proud of their service, both my father and my uncle never described themselves as heroic or deserving of special consideration. They knew that brave men could panic, and cowards could become unexpected heroes. Incredible feats of courage were often not recognized and medals were awarded for trivial things, or for momentary political purposes.

To most veterans, medals and awards are not indicative of the value of one’s service, and do not imply a hierarchy of bravery. They do not judge the value of one’s duty, as they know that even clerks in Washington are important, as are the bases and supply ships manned by tired and overworked soldiers, sailors and airmen – who will never be recognized. They, too, perform their duty and may have had to draw upon their wells of fortitude due to accidents, weather, or other events that required bravery unrelated to combat.

A childhood friend of mine declined a Bronze Star during his service in Vietnam because his sense of honor caused him to feel that others deserved it more. Dan felt it would have been false pride to accept a decoration that he didn’t feel he deserved, though he knew he had performed his duty and saw combat that tested him.

Most veterans understand that medals aren’t scorecards for manliness. Performing their duty was all that mattered. The rest was randomness and fate.  A man performed his duty when required, regardless of acknowledgement or reward, and without complaint. The concept of duty is something that these warriors passed on to their children.  I have many childhood memories of completing required tasks, hoping in vain for recognition from my father. Acting responsibly was not worthy of note.

Most military men would react with disdain to a leader who attempted to take credit for the actions of men at arms when all he did was to make a politically-calculated decision to send them in harm’s way.  Particularly after requiring the overall commander of the operation to sign a document that would place blame on him should the operation fail.

A leader takes responsibility first, and credit last.

Military men know that courage is what is shown, not claimed.  And, that duty is what takes them beyond courage.

To shiver for days on end while being underfed and improperly clothed, waiting as your comrades slink away, knowing that you will soon be asked again to fight a professional enemy vastly better equipped and trained than you are.

To walk in ramrod-straight pride up a hill in sweltering July heat knowing that those you are attacking are entrenched and will soon devastate your comrades in a hail of grapeshot and gunfire.

To endure endless days and nights of rain and snow while your ship becomes coated with ice and knowing that a relentless foe is marshalling submarines and aircraft to send the ships you are bound to protect to searing moments of hell followed by the iciness of the depths.

To be starving and shivering in the relentless snow, surrounded by arrogant troops believing they will crush your dwindling forces as you run out of ammunition, and finding those last moments of pride when your leader responded to a request for your surrender with a single word, “Nuts!”

To be asked that one last measure of energy and strength to defend a wind-blasted hilltop in cold so deep your weapons have frozen and your arms are so heavy it is a burden to place your bayonet on your rifle to repulse one more charge of a fanatical foe.

To find the heat of the jungle dissipate and the sweat on your body chill as you crawl into a tunnel pursuing a mind-numbed enemy who plants traps to maim you and hides behind children and executes women as an example and who will never stand and fight directly.

To step carefully through the blasted remains of buildings knowing that a relentless foe wishes to take your legs or arms without ever having to fight you as you search through the stench and the garbage in deadening heat for men for whom cowardice is a moral code.

And yes, to feel the vibrations of the helicopter engine in your back as you prepare to leap into the night of a foreign country where you don’t know the strength of your enemy and the deviousness of his waiting traps.

Because your country needs you to.

Because you have been ordered to.

Because your comrades depend on you.

Because in all, it needs to be done.

These are the men who have found the meaning of courage, and duty.  Not those who issue commands and boast in comfort and security behind the protection that they and their comrades provide every day.

These are the men we remember today.

As the young Hellcat pilot found in his last moments before entering the silent embrace of the sea, duty doesn’t always involve the risks of combat. His service and death were nonetheless noble and honorable. Military men will forever salute him because of that. Today, it would be fitting for those who profess to lead us, and for those who evaluate them, to humbly remember all of those who have died nobly, regardless of circumstances. They owe the opportunity to do such things in a democracy to those who performed their duty for all of us, even if their well of fortitude ran dry in darkness and solitude, far from home.

Doug Magill is a communications consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net

Warmly Ruthless Holiday Greetings

By J.F. McKenna

As the old year winds down, if not outright unravels, here’s to happy holidays and a warmly ruthless coming year.

Sure, I know such end-of-the-year sentiment won’t make me the No.1 draft pick at American Greetings in 2015. But it’s a sincere wish for the hometown and the nation, even as I review the collective disaster generated by cop-citizen controversies, a generally party-pooped economy, a well-earned wimpy image on the international stage, and a generally lousy national self-image that has replaced self-evident truths and the securing of “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

All that noted, you ask, why stock up on ruthlessness for the new year? A fair question deserving a reasonable response.

What initially triggered my novel holiday greeting was the reading of these lines from speechwriter and author Peggy Noonan’s Character Above All: “Ronald Reagan is always described as genial and easygoing, but [economist] Marty Anderson used to call him ‘warmly ruthless.’ He would do in the nicest possible way what had to be done. He was nice as he could be about it, but he knew where he was going, and if you were in the way you were gone. And you might argue his ruthlessness made everything possible.”

The Reagan legacy of peace and prosperity, of course, has migrated from the pages of contemporary history to the Big Book of Legendary Leadership. As even one of his successors—the current President—acknowledged, “When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his due, even if I never gave him my vote.”

It may be a Paine to admit; but these are most certainly the times that try men’s souls. So a generous dose of so-called Reagan ruthlessness—that vision for the better America, one that must trump the vain and the venal—is my holiday wish for the nation that the 40th President called the “the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.”

Without question, a Reaganesque renewal of American commitment to freedom on the world stage must top the coming year’s agenda. Nothing continues to blur our notion of war’s frontline more clearly than the jihadists’ perversion of the old Disneyland saying “It’s a small world, after all.” Yeah—small, lethal, unmerciful and aimed right at us.

For all those in office now, as well as for all those considering leadership roles in the future, Ronald Reagan’s words from May 1993 remain a guide to future success: “Despite the spread of democracy and capitalism, human nature has not changed. It is still an unpredictable mixture of good and evil. Our enemies may be irrational, even outright insane, driven by nationalism, religion, ethnicity, or ideology. They do not fear the United States for its diplomatic skills or the number of automobiles and software programs it produces. They respect only the firepower of our tanks, planes and helicopter gunships.”

President Reagan likewise recognized that a strong nation requires a strong economy, aka free enterprise. For that chief executive, there was no substitute—especially government. And the former movie star knew first-hand the personal tragedy of a weak economy. In a town of deals and connections, he was a ruthless advocate of the American worker, the man or woman who had to bring home the paycheck.

“To me, there is no greater tragedy than a breadwinner willing to work, with a job skill but unable to find a market for that job skill,” Reagan recalled in a 1976 speech. “Back in those dark Depression days I saw my father on a Christmas Eve open what he thought was a Christmas greeting from his boss. Instead, it was the blue slip telling him he no longer had a job. The memory of him sitting there holding that slip of paper and then saying in a half-whisper, ‘That’s quite a Christmas present,’ it will stay with me as long as I live.”

And undergirding the Reagan Era’s strong nation and robust economy were always the people who cherished the values that guarantee a lasting civilization. As Reagan recalled in his autobiography, “I learned from my father the value of hard work and ambition, and maybe a little something about telling a story. From my mother, I learned the value of prayer, how to have dreams and believe I could make them come true.”

If that be the portrait of the ruthless man, the nation needs many more ruthless folks, this holiday season and beyond.

Former West Park resident J.F. McKenna is a journalist, copywriter and communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh, to which he serves as Cleveland’s unofficial foreign minister. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com  .

 

Cuyahoga County in the Balance

by Doug Magill

When scrutiny is lacking, tyranny, corruption and man’s baser qualities have a better chance of entering into the public business of any government. Jacob K. Javits

All of us who live and work in Cuyahoga County are delighted at the new and exciting things that are happening. From the development of the Shoreway district, the Flats and the lakefront to the Opportunity Corridor we are seeing important investments and significant progress for the Cuyahoga County of the 21st Century.

But what about our political framework? We have just emerged from a decades-long history of corruption and mismanagement, and while more than 60 people have been convicted in the scandal what do we do to insure that the roots of all of these criminal activities have been eliminated?

Corruption on the scale we have seen in Cuyahoga County doesn’t begin with a plan. It is a series of decisions by individuals who feel they can get away with something for their own benefit. Then it becomes a group activity, with self-reinforcing events and discussions and actions that draw more and more people into the web of deceit and lies. It is reinforced by only hiring friends and relatives that will continue to contribute and benefit to the exclusion of those that wish to truly serve the people that pay their salaries.

Above all, it is the political party that filters those willing to forgo public service for self service, to the detriment of all. In Cuyahoga County, as in the notoriously noxious bellwether of corruption – Cook County in Illinois – it is the Democrat Party that has served as the enabler, conduit and source of the corruption.

We know that not all Democrat Party members were part of this. But, when the county has been dominated and controlled by one party for so long, it is not surprising that corruption ensues. It all becomes part of the framework of the government, personnel, policies, supporters, vendors, voters and media which purports to represent the best interests of the electorate.

While we are tired of being the object of attention from the FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney, other than a permanent, ongoing investigation of the county the best remedy to insure integrity in our government is to change the political party of those that lead and represent us. We know that party patronage is still alive and well, even though we have changed the structure of our government. With the new charter form that we have just recently adopted, it is time to begin the long and rigorous process of evaluating the priorities of those in key positions to insure that their commitment is to the citizens of Cuyahoga County.

Not only will Jack Schron bring a business and economic development perspective to the role of County Executive, he will bring in the best people possible to run the county, regardless of political affiliation. That cannot be said of his opponent, who stubbornly prides himself on being a Democrat first and who will undoubtedly continue the long history of patronage that has led us to the recent national embarrassment.

Jack has publicly pledged to serve two full terms, because the work of streamlining county government and attracting and developing the best and the brightest won’t be done in a single term. His focus is on his home, Cuyahoga County, not on using the position of County Executive as a stepping stone to other political jobs.

The people that Jack will hire and develop to make this county an exemplar of local government will in turn be rigorous in their hiring and review policies, a personnel ripple effect that will shake up and revitalize the entire structure of government. It will also serve as a beacon of expertise and government entrepreneurship that will attract our young people to government service, and allow us to implement that vision of a lakefront dynamo that will be the turnaround story of the next decade.

The future of the county is too important to leave to the old, tired, corrupt interlocking framework of corruption and patronage that we have seen. We cannot afford to let the balance of progress we have made swing to lethargy because of a return to old habits. We not only need new leadership, we need a new team of dedicated professionals to insure the excitement we have seen in our county continues and grows.

Jack Schron will swing the balance of Cuyahoga County to the future.

 

Doug Magill is the Communications Director for the Cuyahoga County Republican Party.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net

We Were Boys

Mike-Hawaii copy

(Carl Wilson’s son with Mike)

by Doug Magill

His name was Frank Langstrom III, but to me he was always, and will forever be Mike.  We became friends when we were both five, after my family moved from Bethesda, Maryland to Birmingham, Michigan.  He and I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was safe, all the adults were our parents, and every house was a home.

We were boys, so we liked to make lots of noise, blow things up, shoot things in random directions, build stuff, explore, get dirty, and play.    It is amazing that we survived with all of our limbs and digits, because we liked to play with fireworks that were real explosives, and tried to make them even more powerful.  There were a number of mailboxes and trash cans in our neighborhood that ended up being unsuitable for their original purposes.

Later we took wood and pipes and made homemade cannons that were surprisingly accurate.  Many plastic models were constructed with built-in explosives so we could film them exploding.  From match heads and ballpoint pen rockets to some relatively large and powerful missiles we graduated to some pretty amazing vehicles.  More than a few small creatures had the rides of their short and unconventional lives due to our work.  And, there were a few automobiles that had unexplained dents in them from minor guidance inaccuracies.

We made model trains, small-engine aircraft, and built and listened to ham radios.  We constructed a sound-powered telephone system between our houses.  We learned to shoot BB guns to pellet rifles to guns.  More than once Mike’s father angrily complained about some projectile whizzing by him or his house.  We built the infamous Goodbye-Grackle machine that was a marvel of ad-hoc engineering and complex ostentatiousness.

As we got older we got telescopes to explore the heavens and cameras to film our lives.  We bought motorcycles together and expanded our travels.  But we also loved being home, playing bridge or poker or other games.  He loved to be vague about the rules until he won, or sometimes just cheated.  With a grin.

He and I shared so many interests, but we were different in so many ways, as well.  Mike liked to talk me into doing something while he would hang back, and laughing as I – usually – got into trouble.  I would scheme and he would build; I would talk and he would think; I would lead and he would watch.  I never met a smarter person, or a quicker wit.  His sense of humor never quit, and he could use the saltiest of language but never leave you feeling insulted.  Every time I think of something quirky I see his little smirk, and smile.

But, underneath his dark humor and clever asides, he cared and supported and helped – but never in any way that drew attention to himself.  When I broke my jaw he kept an eye on me at school so I wouldn’t get injured further.  When I broke my leg he was the one that carried my books, got his father to drive me to school, and kept me company wherever I went so I wouldn’t break my other leg.  As our careers took us further apart he was the most supportive when I had to deal with adversity.  And, at unexpected times he would send me or email me something that would make me laugh, and look at life differently.

He got involved with the charities of the Wilson brothers (of Beach Boys fame) and donated significant time and money working judiciously in the background.  Upon hearing of his passing the Carl Wilson Foundation honored him.

And, he made it part of his life to help his family far beyond what could be expected.  Even though sudden cancer claimed him, his final battle was valiant, and he never will finish that article on why kamikaze pilots bothered to wear helmets.

In all, in so many ways he was the best a friend could be.  And through it all, from childhood to the end, we were boys.   Requiescat in Pace, Mike

Doug Magill is a consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent who can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net

Last Competition

by Doug Magill

Edisto Beach lies south of Charleston, and has a reputation for being undeveloped and out-of-the-way.  The locals call the pace there, Edis-slow.  It was a perfect place for my two brothers, my sister and I to gather in late September to connect, spend time together and celebrate our now aging family.

Late in our week together my older brother Bob and I played golf on the Tom Jackson-designed Plantation Course on the island, and my younger brother Tom joined us – though he couldn’t play.  It was especially poignant, as Tom has been an avid – some might say obsessive – golfer since childhood.  He carried a 6 handicap for a while, and had a smooth and powerful swing.  He and I would compete intensely against each other every fall when we got together, just because we were brothers.

The Plantation Course is a lush and winding delight, with water hazards – it seemed – on every hole.  The Par 3 3rd is a gently sloping 142-yard hole, with traps guarding the approach.  Tom asked if he could play this one hole with us, borrowing my rental clubs.  I outdrove him with a nice, arcing 8-iron that happily found the trap in front of the green.  Tom’s swing was awkward, creaky and bouncy, but his ball made it out about 120 yards.

Tom was thin, pale, and had an old man’s gait, due to the rod in his leg from the cancer that had caused part of his femur to be taken.  His hip hurt, he had trouble breathing due to the cancer in his chest and he had scars from chest surgery.  He also recently had surgery on his jaw due to calcification from the radiation treatments for his neck cancer.  His swing was a shadow of what it once was, but he was still in the fairway.

My second shot didn’t clear the trap, and Tom’s looked like one of his normal chip shots onto the green.  His short game was always better than mine, as he had learned long ago that chipping and putting saved his game –  and he worked at it.  When we competed I usually won, as I found that negotiating strokes beat technical skill any day, and Tom would be overconfident and lose angrily.  There’s nothing else like competition between brothers.  But, in the last few years that changed, as he learned to negotiate to how I played and began winning more often.

Three years prior Tom was diagnosed simultaneously with neck and kidney cancer.  His kidney was removed immediately, and he began radiation and chemotherapy for his neck cancer.  It was horrific, and left him weakened, scarred, and without taste or salivary glands.  He endured, with grace and humility.  And, he never complained, or felt sorry for himself.  He later developed jaw problems that required multiple surgeries which left him unable to open his mouth very well.

I finally found the green and two-putted.  My little brother had two putts as well.  His grin was pure Tom, and for that moment there was joy, and we were brothers just playing golf.  And as he laughed he said, “You know, Doug, if this thing gets me you’ll be the youngest, but I’ll always be the favorite.”  And so it is.

Tom died a week later due to complications from the kidney cancer that had invaded his lungs.  Now, the final scorecard reads, Tom 4, Doug 5, in our last competition.  So, for the rest of my life there will be no rematch, but every game of golf I will play from now on I will see Tom’s grin at besting me once more.  Wherever he plays now, may his swing be supple and true, the fairways long, the rough high, the sand fine and the greens fast.  Requiescat in Pace, Tommy.

Tom- Edisto

Tom Magill left a wife and three children and joyful memories. Doug Magill is a communications consultant, writer, and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net