Thursday, December 31, 2015

Day Eighty. Influence: William T. Randol

This is a long story about one of the most important influences in my life. The main photo depicts Bill and Polly Anna Randol visiting our Oakton home on July 1, 1992. The story begins earlier.

Bill Randol, Hill 170, Osan Air Base, Korea, April 1, 1960:

"Let's trick him," said Larry Harry.

"Too easy," said Dick Ristaino.

The "jeep"—the term for a newcomer—was a fine-looking fellow but dour. We did not yet see the gangling, goofy Bill with a unique humor and an artistic flair who would always live life a little off key until he met the magnificent Polly Anna, or P. A., 30 years from now.

To make matters worse, this new guy had studied the Korean language at Yale.

Wusses. Real men went to the Army Language School at Monterey, where weekends meant meaningless shooting on the firing range or cultivating the ice plant around the base commander's residence. Only wusses went to Yale where weekends

Harry, Ristaino and I gave the "jeep" a test of knowledge he was expected to possess working the North Korean tactical air problem. For example, if a pilot said he was lowering flaps to 45 degrees, his regiment was upgrading to the MiG-17 because the flaps on the MiG-15 extended only to 40. But instead of using actual facts like that one, we gave our test subject a fake test about stuff that wasn't real. And we waited for him to squirm. A "jeep"and a Yalie. What a combination. We were lowering ourselves.

After about twenty minutes, the "jeep" admitted being stumped. His wit and humor would become evident later, but this was not that time. We'd planned to reveal our little joke but the moment never arrived. Bill was hostile. Larry, Dick and I were enmeshed in the embarrassment we'd created for ourselves. This would not be our last practical joke together, but it was the last no one enjoyed.

When we performed our real-world duties, nobody was better than Larry, Dick, Bill or I. I'm no fan of the faux patriotism or fawning over veterans that began when we replaced the citizen-soldier with the warrior ethos. In our era the threat was real, very young men went to difficult places to confront it, and I'm proud to have been an American airman—no title means more—with men like Joe Fives, Larry Harry, Martin Doerfler, Dick Ristaino and Bill Randol.

Bill Randol, Tara Thai Restaurant, Vienna, Virginia, April 5, 2004:

Forty-four years later, Colonel Larry Harry is interred at Fort Rosencrans, all honor to his name. Dick is a retired Central Intelligence Agency and Department of State officer living with Marcia in Maryland. I'm a retired Foreign Service officer and author living with Young Soon in Virginia. Bill is a artist, wood-carver and photographer living with Polly Anna in Albuquerque—oh, how they love that hot-air balloon festival!—but for some reason they are visiting Baltimore. Why?

Why Baltimore? For the first time in too long, Bill, Dick and I are able to get together to savor spicy Thai food and get caught up on personal and family news.

The three of us sit in a corner of the restaurant. Bill explains that he and Polly Anna had some tests on him back home. They were pretty sure, then. But certainty meant being tested by the best. Bill had been visiting Johns Hopkins.

The crispy spring rolls arrived.

"I have ALS," said Bill Randol.

It was a total surprise to me but I understood what it meant. My initial reaction will forever haunt me.

Dick apparently didn't recognize the term.

Many Americans don't.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS,  is a disease of the parts of the nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. In ALS, motor neurons (nerve cells that control muscle cells) are gradually lost. As these motor neurons are lost, the muscles they control become weak and then nonfunctional.

The word “amyotrophic” comes from Greek roots that mean “without nourishment to muscles” and refers to the loss of signals nerve cells normally send to muscle cells. “Lateral” means “to the side” and refers to the location of the damage in the spinal cord. “Sclerosis” means “hardened” and refers to the hardened nature of the spinal cord in advanced ALS.

In the United States, ALS also is called Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the Yankees baseball player who died of it in 1941. In the United Kingdom and some other parts of the world, ALS is often called motor neurone disease in reference to the cells that are lost in this disorder. Even in the United States, where there has been some overdue heightening of awareness, the abbreviation is more likely to be recognized than is the link to a ballplayer from a forgotten era.

At Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, Gehrig gave a brave pubic address about "the bad break I got" and yet in spite of it, how, "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Many Americans remember Gary Cooper's version of the speech in the film "The Pride of the Yankees" (1942) even though Gehrig's was the more eloquent.

The main-course Thai chicken-with-basil appeared while Bill explained the disease to Dick. I was envisioning how ALS relentlessly wears down your ability to function. It takes everything from you—ultimately, breath itself.

And my reaction? "It's statistically impossible for more than one of the three people at this table in this Thai restaurant to have ALS. Thank you, thank you."

Because ALS is the worst thing that can happen to you.

Remembered Polly Anna: "We were living in Albuquerque's East Mountains. I retired from the federal government in 2001—we were in Norfolk—and we moved to the East Mountain area then. After years of disturbing symptoms, seeing several doctors of several specialties, Bill received the first ALS diagnosis in February 2004. Then in late March we went to Johns Hopkins where Bill saw Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein and received confirmation of the ALS diagnosis. We moved to Keizer, Oregon in September 2005 because Oregon had always seemed like 'home' to Bill so that's where he wanted to settle for the remainder of his life."

The disease robbed Bill of his ability to use his hands—wood carving, photography—so he struggled for work-arounds. Polly Anna would use Bill's ideas to get the set-up and then it might be her finger on the shutter.

On September 11, 2006, Bill called me to extend birthday greetings. On September 21, 2006, I called Bill who was receiving a visit from Marty Doerfler. "I use a walker most of the time now. We have a manual wheelchair in the back of the car. I have a power chair. We've getting a converted van to carry the chair."

Said PollyAnna: "To the end, he remained engaged and active in things that mattered to him—family and friends (he telephoned dozens of them during his last week), music (his opera recordings were playing during the week he was approaching death), politics (we'd just sent letters to our congressional representatives a week before) and photography (I'd just mailed a calendar proposal to a publisher a week earlier)."

Bill died on March 9, 2008.

Bill Randol, San Francisco, 1962:

Had things gone differently, life might have begun and ended for Bill Randol with fulfillment of the American Dream—especially if looks and money were all that mattered.

He had both. His 1963 wedding to Sue Randol brought with it everything looks and money could buy for you—a suburban bungalow, paid for in cash, the required TR-4 sports car—half a decade before I would own a car of any kind—and the giant, road-hugging station wagon for those Saturday shopping days. The marriage produced two fine children—I was in the hospital when son Jeff was born in 1964 but away in Madagascar by the Jennifer arrived two years later. The marriage produced everything that any American might want although, in those dying years of the one-income household there preexisted a strong presumption that the husband was supposed to have some interest in a profession, or a career—or at least a job.

A job. You know. Nine to five.

Had Bill remained enmeshed it that trap, he would've figuratively died while remaining physically alive. He had the perfect world and it didn't interest him. Hell, Sue didn't even care for opera, one of Bill's dozens of lifelong interests. I'm writing this on Day Eighty since my own diagnosis of a fatal brain tumor: I'm going to spend every minute on the interests I love. Bill was able to do exactly that and to know freedom, even after becoming fatally ill, because he refused to be boxed in.

We'd done what our nation asked. As American airmen we'd made a difference. Today, no terrorist group has any realistic prospect of destroying the United States. In our era, men in Moscow were prepared to and could have. The American citizen-soldier stopped them.

Mustering out at Travis Air Force Base, California in August 1960 a month before my 21st birthday, I received four, one-hundred dollar bills. It was the largest amount I had ever possessed. I spent part of it to see the movie "Ocean's Eleven," with Frank Sinatra.

When Bill followed about a year later—and although he was discreet about it—he was wealthy. Bill's looks and his money were perhaps the worst possible combination for him to make the best start in post-military life. Money, especially, was a burden to the man Bill would become, as described by Martin Doerfler:

"Bill was a renaissance man. wood carver, professional photographer of  great skill, long hall truck driver, auto racer (not as good), a great father to Jeff and Jennifer through all his marriages and girlfriends. He was erudite, a voracious reader, a student of history and politics and too damn pretty for his own good." Bill was wrong for a job or a career. Bill's shared experience with me as an airline agent with Pacific Southwest Airlines in 1963 was one of his last experiments with a job. Bill and I had a running wager afterwards about which of us could avoid holding a job longest.

My wish to support myself writing for magazines collided with my interest in the Foreign Service. I lost the wager with Bill in 1965.

Bill lived briefly in the Baker Acres boarding house in San Francisco where, in 1962 I met Pierre Messerli and Jerome B Curtis. One evening couples were carousing in the street. I looked out and saw Bill passionately kissing the boarding house occupant I thought was my girlfriend.

I think he had a trust fund from his father, source of the Randol surname and by then long deceased. His mother had since married an unpleasant man named Sture-Vasa. They lived in San Barbara. Their relationship with Bill was strained.

A year after Larry Harry and I hitchhiked across the United States in a westerly direction, Bill and I crossed the nation eastbound in his 1962 Corvair. Somewhere, lost now, is a magnificent photo of this great car pausing at Kingman, Arizona. There was some mean-spiritness during this journey with us arguing about trivial issues such as which ashtray to use for our Marlboro Reds. As we grew farther east, it became cold. An awful incident involving a snow tire chain wrapped around the Corvair's axle stranded us in snowy West Virginia mountains for hours. We eventually reached our destination, my parents' home in Maryland. Why did we made this trip? I no longer remember.

After Bill's marriage to Sue—all of these post-Air Force events occurred in San Francisco—came the day when Dick Ristaino dropped by and we organized an evening game of Monopoly, enhanced by heavy alcohol and practical jokes. Dick was on his way to the East West Center in Hawaii for studies toward becoming a Central Intelligence Agency officer. The discovery that Dick could cheat at Monopoly—yes, cheat at Monopoly—may have offered Sue her overdue, final clue that the American dream was not the American dream. Because of the Great Monopoly Cheating Scandal—Bill, Dick and I were all cheating merrily that evening and loving it—Dick and I were never again encouraged to darken Sue's doorstep.

We drank heavily in those days of our youth. For most of us, alcohol did not affect our later lives. For Sue Randol and for Dick Ristaino, it did.

The Randol couple tried purchasing and owning a motel—"Clear Lake Resort," on that great body of water just north of Marin County. This appears to be where the American dream came imploding upon itself. Martin Doerfler arrived for a visit to discover that Sue lived there but Bill no longer did.

Bill Randol on the move, 1962:

I used friends' names and likenesses in men's adventure magazine articles. Bill Randol appeared in the August 1963 issue of STAG magazine in a made-up saga of a B-17 Flying Fortress crew that was "RAMMED OVER BERLIN."

"RAMMED" is scheduled to re-appear in a collection of my stories being released by the brilliant creative team of Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle in January 2016.
Watch for details on the Facebook page devoted to men's adventure magazines.

These magazines were popular, were sold on drugstore newstands, and promoted a mix of virility and fantasy. The articles were a training ground for authors that included Mario Puzo, Stephen King, Bruce Jay Friedman, Lawrence Block, and me. A typical story could bring the author $350.00, which is as well as some magazines pay today. I will always be grateful for what I learned writing in the men's adventure genre.

A 1966 photo, not used here, shows that Bill visited my parents in D.C. that year. I was in Madagascar.

In 1978, Bill was in northern California married to second wife Lelani. If memory serves, Lelani filled one gap for Bill: she shared his taste for opera. My photos of the two of them, not used here, plus the day I spent with them, suggest a marriage meant to last an hour and a half. I have a photo of Bill's third wife Sandra—the only one of his mates I never met. A close association between Sandra's parents and Bill's children helped to builds Bill's ties to Oregon.

Bill Randol and P.A. Randol:

Polly Anna was a Defense Department career training administrator when she and Bill met in April 1990. Bill had just moved from Livermore California to Albuquerque and went out ballooning with the folks Polly Anna, or P.A., had been ballooning with. By June 1990, they were all but living together. They were married on April 20, 1991 in a five-balloon wedding on a mesa just west of Albuquerque. If you've got t have a statistic, she's wife number four.

Bill "wanted someone to love him, warts and all," said P.A. He had finally found that soulmate. "I never had any doubt that Bill and I were meant to be together. I'm not sure what might have transpired if we'd met earlier. We would have been different people then. By the time we met, all of our life experiences had made us who we were. Absent those experiences, good and bad, we might not have been the right fit. I'm just grateful to have had the 18 years we had together. I never, never doubted his love for me or mine for him."

On October 1, 1994, I visited Bill and P. A. Randol and traveled from their Albuquerque home with Bill to the Trinity Site on the White Sands Range where the first nuclear device had been donated (on July 16, 1945), The site is typically open to the public just twice a year. I had previously visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My second photo depicts the Renaissance man Bill at the height of his game: Preparing to photograph the Trinity Site, Bill is a little loose, a little goofy, and as serious about his art as a stroke. He's a hugely-looking guy in a way that no longer matters as it once it did. By this point Bill has spent more or all of his estate but it no matters because it never had mattered: money never mattered to Bill, not ever, not a hoot. Marty and Carol were also visiting the Randol couple that day but chose to go to the Balloon Fiesta instead of the atomic site.

For a time, Bill and P.A. lived in Norfolk. In August 1998, they organized a reunion of the Korea-based "6929th Radio Squadron Mobile 38th years later"—exactly the span since Larry Harry, Dick Ristaino and I had manufactured a mock test for a "jeep." "Bill and I thought up this quiet, low key way of getting you guys together," said P.A. By then, Larry was undergoing cancer treatment and Dick was soon to experience the same.

The black and white photo of airmen in Korea includes, from left, Alex Knoj, Bill Randol, two faces in the background, Dick Ristaino, Martin Doerfler and Larry E. Harry.

A photo of Robert F. Dorr. Joe Fives and Bill Randol, taken in September 1999, marks a large party for the 40th wedding anniversary of Young Soon and me. Because of an issue involving alcohol that evening, there occurred a temporary disrupt of my long friendship with Dick Ristaino. Bill Randol thought I was over-reacting. Bill's smooth voice of reason helped set the way for a reconciliation, which is why Dick and I were together for Bill when he revealed his diagnosis.

William T. Randol (May 22, 1939-March 9, 2008), you influenced my life.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Day Seventy-Five. Influence: Jerome B. Curtis

Everything I know tells me that Jerome B. Curtis lost his life at age forty-five in a crash of a civilian C-46 Commando attempting to land on a road at Mazatlán, Mexico in 1976, probably on November 21. At one time, his mother and girlfriend had copies of the crash report.

He'd taken off from Long Beach alone without informing anyone. It looked like a drug-smuggling flight (presumably on the return leg). None of us wanted to believe it. It had to be some kind of operation for the government, we told ourselves.

Curtis always flew on the right side of the law.

Or did he?

I met Curtis when living in a boarding house called Baker Acres in the Pacific Heights sector of San Francisco in 1962. Here, I also met another lifelong influence, Pierre Messerli. Pierre was a computer programmer for United Airlines, working on an IBM 1401 that filled several rooms.

Curtis was an international adventurer.

A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley in which I had a huge interest in those days, Curtis was one of those Americans always lining up for a civilian job overseas, where income was not taxable and monthly earnings could top $750.00. In the Army (October 2, 1953 to October 31, 1955), Curtis had been a first lieutenant responsible for tug boats in the South Korean port of Inchon (today's Incheon) so his first jobs were in the ship business. But Curtis wanted to fly.

In San Francisco, we hung around in surplus military field jackets—two veterans of post-Armistice Korea looking to find action somewhere.

Hanging around

With his "Terry and the Privates" lust for the exotic East—the women were part of the lure in an era where attitudes were different—Jerome B. Curtis had been born a decade too late — in manner of speaking. He should have been one of the guys we knew like Wally Gayda (my contact in Hong Kong) and Dave Lampard (a roustabout pilot)—who got started in Troop Carrier Command, stayed in China as civilians after the war and flew for the Nationalist Chinese from 1945 to 1950. Theirs were the grand adventures. Dave wrote a book about it,"Last Plane from Peking." The Central Intelligence Agency and its predecessor lay behind nail-biting flying adventures of this post V. J. Day generation.

When we met in 1962, Curtis was rapidly spending every penny he'd saved to go the shortest route from a private pilot rating to a full Air Transport Rating in the Boeing 727, all in just weeks.  He lived across the hall from me in the boarding house and much of our talk was about flying. I made a fictitious character out of him in a men's adventure story in the September 1964 ESCAPE TO ADVENTURE. He's the made-up "Captain Winthrop" named on the cover.

But Curtis's real-life adventures were...well...more adventurous than those in the mag. Maybe Wally Gayda, while in World War II, really had shot down a Japanese Zero from his C-47 using a Browning Automobile Rifle—as Wally claimed all his life and no one believed—but Curtis's generation had Southeast Asia.

Curtis had other jobs included including piloting a DC-4 Skymaster in Libya, But the small, romantic war in Southeast Asia was where were we all wanted to go in the mid-1960s.

Authoring creds

How much did Curtis know about authors? He'd met Robert Crichton and believed that if I could advance beyond the men's adventure magazines I could rise to Crichton's level. No one achieves that, but I tried. Curtis devised a modest scheme where he would lend me a couple of thousand dollars and I would head off to Southeast Asia to cover the war. He came out ahead on this investment.

Curtis's confidence in my potential as a writer led to my January-March 1963, travels to Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei and Hong Kong. By then, Curtis had taken a job in Tokyo—his last non-flying job—so I spent time with him there. My efforts to create a business-magazine article about All Nippon Airways yielded interviews with top officials, but no article resulted. So much for me as a writer about business. In Hong Kong, World War II and post-war pilot Wally Gayda introduced me to people who wanted to encourage a new writer but I never again attempted the Business Week model.

In Hong Kong for almost two months, I received offers that would enable me to continue pounding my Olivetti Lettera-22. There was the offer of a small, script-writing stint on "The Seventh Dawn," then filming on Kuala Lumpur with William Holden and Susannah York. There was Dave's offer to get me to Vientiane in his Byrd and Sons DC-3. But by the time the offers came, I had only a return ticket from Hong Kong, and, men's adventure magazines or not, no money.

I was going to have to return to San Francisco and look for a job. Bill Randol wearing his Pacific Southwest Airlines uniform greeted me on arrival at San Francisco in March 1963. I worked briefly for PSA. Back from Tokyo at abut the same time, Curtis again bade so-long to the Bay Areas as he departed Oakland in his Byrd & Sons DC-3, destination Vientiane. Byrd & Sons, like Air America, was the CIA cover for a new generation of maverick pilots.

I never made it to Southeast Asia.
My international adventures, if you want to call them that, were with the government, my State Department duties beginning in Tananarive, Madagascar from 1965 to 1967. Curtis was amused that in Tananarive (today's Antananarivo) I'd found a more exotic name than those of those where he was flying in Laos. But Madagascar was, alas, a place to miss out on everything—the Free Speech Movement, the draft call-ups, the sexual revolution and the massive Vietnam troop build-ups of two of the most important years in our recent history.

After Madagascar,  I was in Korea from 1967 an 1969. There, before meeting my wife Young Soon, I had a platonic friendship with Wally Gayda's girl friend Kim Kyu Youg (although Wally remained in Hong Kong). A "welcome to Korea" gift from Kyu, a fetching watercolor of sampans at work against a sunset, has been in my possession ever since and is displayed on my bedroom wall today.

During those years—1965 to 1969—Curtis flew for Byrd and Sons, later renamed Continental Air Service, bought by Robert F. Six but always a CIA front just like the very similar Air America.  Six's second wife Audrey Meadows was immensely unpopular with pilots.

Later years

As the 1960s became the 1970s and all romance associated with our nation's adventure in Southeast Asia gave way to harsh reality, Curtis and I remained in touch and met in a couple of odd places. He bought a beachfront condominium in Long Beach. He never mentioned this while alive but he'd placed me in his will. Had his mother pre-deceased him, I would have inherited his estate. I maintained communication with his Mom, Dot Burrell, but did not know his girlfriend when she telephoned with the news that Curtis had been lost in a plane crash. I was then working at the State Department in Washington and received those 1976 tidings in the room where I'm sitting now.

Today is Day Seventy Five of my experience with a primary brain tumor. As I contemplate those who've influenced my life, Jerome B. Curtis (May 19, 1931-November 21, 1976)—first upon my closest friends to have been born and first to die—represents a roads I might have traveled but didn't.There was a hankering in me to become an adventurer-pilot. For me, my outlet instead was to write about it. Throughout our long friendship. Curtis urge me to write, write, write,

It's difficult in my present circumstance, learning to use a keyboard all over again. Be patient with my typos.

Today, I can locate no civil aviation record that corresponds to Curtis's crash. I could have the aircraft type wrong or the date wrong, Maybe someone who follows aircraft mishaps can help.

Jerome, what the hell were you doing out there on that Mazatlán flight?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Day Seventy-One. Influence: Larry E. Harry

Nothing if not rigid in his military bearing—in the slightly puckish way we were before our nation made the error of shifting from the citizen-soldier to the warrior ethos—retired Air Force Colonel Larry E. Harry was dead set on righting a wrong.

Cheated of glory

As enlisted airmen in Korea in 1960, the Air Force had issued Joe Fives and me mimeographed orders for the Good Conduct Medal. That's the one you get for three years of not being caught. At the time of my discharge in August 1960, it was the only gong for which I was eligible, although a couple of later ribbons for service in Korea were made retroactive.

The thing is, they never actually gave us the medal. As a fellow enlisted airman, Larry had had the Good Conduct Medal pinned ceremoniously upon his breast by a commander. The medal is not given to officers from whom good conduct is assumed and goes unrecognized. The government had given orders to Fives and me, but not the actual medal. It was as if the medal never existed,

In a new century, in 2001 Larry purchased two examples of the medal at a base exchange clothing sales outlet. All of us carried a Libertarian streak: If the government wouldn't give it to us, Larry Harry would. Who had better creds?

The location was Joe's home on Ralston Lane in Redondo California. The ceremony began.

"Attention to orders!" Harry commanded. Joe's wife Penny and white sitsu, Sniffy were the audience. We were wearing jeans and tennis shoes.

"I hereby present these medals!" proclaimed Larry in a voice so authoritative it snapped Sniffy into a stiff posture of attention.

Now, that is so small thing, Sniffy was not easily riled but, like Larry, he believed that injustice must be rooted out at all levels.

In Korea

Larry was in K-9-11, the Korean language class behind mine in Monterey (1957-58), but reached Korea before I did. He became a skilled analyst on the North Korean tactical air problem and on what some were calling the Reconnaissance War. On June 1, 1959, we monitored North Korean MiG-17 fighters as they engaged a Navy P4M-1Q Mercator radar reconnaissance aircraft over the Sea of Japan. The crew survived with one wounded. The co-pilot of the P4M-1Q was Vincent Anania, father of a future American political wife, Elizabeth Edwards (July 3, 1949—December 7, 2010).

After my military service and during a break in Larry's, I gave up a  job with the Sherwin Williams Paint Company — $275.00 per month for a five-and-one-half day week‚ mixing paints for retail customers at the the Woodward and Lothrop department store. Larry and I hitch-hiked from Washington to San Francisco. We were near Larry's Boonville, Indiana home when the second man in space, Gherman  Stephanovich Titov, proclaimed Soviet superiority by repeatedly broadcasting, "I am Eagle!" I think they gave him more than a Good Conduct Medal. Larry would later make a mark in the Air Force space community.

Larry had decided to get back into uniform in hope of marrying Lee Un Pa, who worked at the base exchange at Osan. He did. He produced a fine family with one son and two daughters, including Angela Harry, who enjoyed a Hollywood film career appearing alongside Pamela Anderson, among others. The marriage eventually led to divorce.

That summer we saw a lot of America in an era when the nation enjoyed regional differences and altitudes.

We remained best friends not because we'd served together in the past but because we found new experiences at every turn.

When I wrote an opinion column for Air Force Times, Larry always had his fingertips what troops were thinking—not a job at which top officers usually excel.

Big Loss

When Colonel Larry E. Harry died on February 4, 2002, the Air Force  lost a quiet hero. Larry, 63, and already a cancer survivor twice, was on a cruise ship near Noumea, New Caledonia when he succumbed to a heart attack just hours after dancing in the tropical moonlight.

He wore the Air Force uniform for nearly four decades. He never piloted a plane or fought a war. But Larry had an indelible impact on the way the Air Force buys those satellites that swirl after our heads. Near the end of his career, he was praised in a report at "a top acquisitions contracting professional and a superb leader:"

Larry Harry was born in 1938, the year before me. When he enlisted in 1957 as an E-1, he had not been to college for even a day. When he retired in 1987, he was a colonel with a master's decree. There were 6,479 colonels in the Air Force that year, but only 42 percent were neither pilots nor navigators. That was the kind of statistic the ever-precise Harry loved to keep in little notebooks. The aw-shucks Boonville farm boy-look hid a midwestern American tradition of loyalty to country. Larry lost an older brother at Tarawa.

Dick Ristaino spoke of Larry's "very, very smart" mind. "Because of his strong analytical ability, they put him in charge of our unit [in Korea]. He would sit, take notes, and reduce a complete situation."

Larry couldn't get enough of the Air Force. He enlisted again in 1961 and following officer training school he became a second lieutenant in 1967.

I've writing these memories of those who influenced my life on Day Seventy-One of my symptoms of a fatal, primary brain tumor. Watch for typos as I continue learning again how to type. Main photo shows Larry as an airman first class (E-4) in Korea in 1960, which was also my rank at the time. The trio is Robert F, Dorr, Larry E. Harry and Joe Fives following the decades-later ribbon award. Other photos show me with William T. Randol and Angela Harry at Larry's interment on March 15, 2002 at Fort Rosencrans National Cemetery, San Diego.

Who knows what I might have missed on the Sherwin-Williams corporate ladder. Larry E. Harry (October 18, 1938-February 4, 2002), you are an influence on my life.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Day Sixty Nine. Influence: Donald L. Ranard

No one taught me to write for magazines. Beginning in 1955, I taught myself.

No one taught me to write books. Beginning in 1984, I taught myself.

Donald L. Ranard taught  me to write for government.

In 1970, I'd been in the Air Force in Korea (1957-60), had written for magazines (1960-65) and had completed tours of duty as a Foreign Service officer, or junior American diplomat, in Madagascar (1965-67) and Korea (1967-1969). I married Young Soon in 1968. We lived through a perilous era of tensions in Korea.

Now, as I'd requested, I was scheduled for a year in Vietnam. But at the last minute, that changed. I was wanted on the Korean Desk, otherwise called the Office of Korean Affairs (EA/K, in jargon), at the State Department in Washington. I became the junior-most of four desk officers working for Don to help shape U.S. Korea policy.

Too few

I've had few mentors. I've had only one good boss. So senior that it took weeks to get us to shake down to first-name basis, Don was that boss, a strong influence on my life and in every way a mentor and teacher.

In my time with him (1970-72), we shaped new policy and altered our military posture in Korea. But it will be remembered as a time of a witches' brew of tragedy, shaped by a corrupt regime in Seoul and carried out in Washington.

AsNorth Korea watcher,  I worried about hostility not from those in in the north—contrary to myth, quite predictable and sane—but from our allies in the south.

It was an era when Koreans were bribing Congressmen in Washington. Don will be remembered for exposing the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency's role in bribing Congressmen and Nixon officials, partly through businessman Park Tong-Sun, whom I met on occasion. Don tried to get the Justice Department to investigate and ran into resistance at a high level. At least one Nixon official was later found to have accepted $10,000 from Park. While this was going on, and beneath the nose of its staunch ally—the United States—the KCIA kidnapped opposition political figure Kim Tae-Chung from Japan. Don's intervention with this noxious period of the Seoul government of Park Chung Hee may have saved Kim's life.

There is no time clock for a senior official in the State Department. Though Don handled his long hours with apparent aplomb, I thought I observed an impact on his health.

It was the time when we were implementing force reductions in an attempt in the vain hope of helping South Korea to defend itself. Then, as now, a million men confronted each other across six kilometers of ground, Seoul now within artillery reach of the north.

Korea history

Don had been among American diplomats withdrawn from Seoul when the Korean War began June 25, 1950 along with our assistant-secretary boss, Marshall Green, a punster who liked to observe that, "These are the times that try Seoul's men." Don turned to me to follow North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung using both intelligence assets and open-source documents. I read Kim's speeches. It was a breakthrough. As I've observed elsewhere, our bloated intelligence community is good at counting main battle tanks and MiGs but poor at gauging the behavior of political leadership. We continue to fail at that task today.

My first assignment at my desk at 21st and Virginia Avenues was to compose the State Department statement marking the 20th anniversary of the Korean War. Someone else struggled with this and couldn't find the words. The task took me less than an hour. Don, who knew of my magazine writing in the men's adventure field, said something to the effect that, "I'm glad someone around here can write"—although no one was a better writer (or drafter, as we called it) than he, while I had a lot to learn.

Iworked for months on an analysis of Kim Il-Sung. Don't look for a copy at my next book signing event. It will never be declassified.

Following Don's rule never to use "impact" as a verb — he would hate what they've done to the English language today — I wrote about the issue of who would follow Kim. We know how that worked out but don't look for that document, either.

At State, you always revise the other fellow's draft. We struggled once  to decide whether a one-word cable to Ambassador William J. Porter should read "Agree" or "Concur."

Working with Don, I was promoted to the middle ranks. Young Soon and I bought a house in Alexandria, which we still own. Our son Robert Porter Dorr was born April 21, 1971.

Onward with State

My subsequent Foreign Service duties were at Japanese language school in Washington and in Fukuoka, Japan (1973-1974), where our son Jerry was born at Sasebo on February 21, 1974. We were posted in Liberia (1974-75) and I returned to Washington first to work on matters surrounding the fall of Saigon and thereafter to spend four years in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR (1975-1979), again following North Korea's Kim Il Sung.

I was consul in Stockholm, Sweden (1979-82) and in London England (1982-87). I returned to fill a miserable job following Contras in Nicaragua (1987) in INR. There, a fellow airman from three decades ago, Richard E. Ristaino also worked, having changed agencies after years as a CIA officer.

I had an exchange tour with the Defense Intelligence Agency (1988), worked briefly on refugee issues, and retired from the State Department at senior level on my 50th birthday, September 11, 1989.

Today is day sixty nine since symptoms and day sixteen since surgery as I face a fatal, primary brain tumor. I hope to enjoy a little more time to write about influences on my writing, professional and family life. I've already spent more years on this planet than Don. I will never forget the many times he influenced my thinking, improved my writing, and made me a better man,

Photos sent here are dated August 5, 1970. I cannot say how much I owe to Donald L. Ranard (January 13, 1917-July 22, 1990).

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Day Sixty Seven. Influence: Tobias Naegele

No one taught me to write for magazines. Beginning in 1955, I taught myself.

No one taught me to write books. Beginning in 1984, I taught myself.

Tobias Naegele taught me to write for newspapers.

Tobias and his staff at the Army Times Publishing Company, that is. Beginning in 1993.

It's a different skill with steep learning curves.

I remain an author, not a journalist. I've never held a salaried job — you know, like employment — writing. But for 20 years, roughly 1993-2013, I wrote an opinion column in Air Force Times that was unique: No one else has ever done anything like it. Others have published commentary about the Air Force but none with such frequency or visibility.

During that time, I frequently visited the Springfield, Virginia newsroom. I was there the day British-born Sean Naylor, now a premier war correspondent, became a U.S. citizen. I was there the day Bruce Rolfsen polished off a brilliant piece about the state of the Air Force. I worked with Bryant Jordan on a story about the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the "Warthog."

Real paper

Even regular readers don't readily grasp that this is a real newspaper, not a government publication. Tobias's team worked to bring the best military news to young service members and to senior brass, often in an adversarial role with the latter. (Air Force chief of staff General Michael Ryan actually threw me out of his Pentagon office). The full-time staff were newspaper people, not military people, few were veterans and fewer were subject matter experts although Jim Tice knows more about the Army than anybody and Christopher Cavas—the source of my souvenir rubber airplane model—is one of the world's two or three top experts on the Navy.

At a newspaper, ethics is everything. You don't make up quotes. You don't fudge facts. You never borrow the prose of others. That's as different as it gets from my experience making up stuff for the men's adventure magazines.

Accuracy in newspapers is life-and-death. A good newspaperman, Tobias—a strong-minded but fair leader—had no place for factual error. One day, the newspaper floor covered the story of a flyer who accidentally ejected himself in flight from a Navy F-14 Tomahawk fighter. They conducted telephone interviews of witnesses. They found a photo of the plane. They labored over every detail of this unintended bailout, which the victim survived. They included stats on the plane. Finally, after being seen by at least half a dozen preparers, the story went into print. Every one of those six preparers knew perfectly well that the F-14 was named the Tomcat. But no one caught the typo and the plane appeared in print as a Tomahawk. Fury ensued.

Photo of Air Force chief of staff General T. Michael Moseley and me aboard his plane to Paris in 2007 depicts me in "interview" mode.

Tobias wasn't the most difficult boss to work for. Tom Breen was. He hired me, paid from day one $150.00 per column or twice that given to those who offered occasional commentary. When Tom and I argued about the column on the phone, my Young Soon expressed fear the decibels would damage our house. "You're off the column!" Tom would shout. "You're off the column!" But he could make peace more quickly than anybody I know. Tom, a newspaperman to the core, joined me attending the 50th anniversary celebration for the Air Force at Las Vegas in September 1997. Tom was ripped from us too soon,


I paid for my travel during this period, while writing the column and continuing magazine and book work. An exception: Tom sent me on a May 1, 1996 roundtrip accompanying William Perry to a ceremony opening a training facility at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico aboard a VC-9C Skytrain (serial number 73-1682). It was my first chance to interview a sitting Secretary of Defense. Perry looms above those who followed, especially the inept William Cohen, whom I later interviewed in Alaska.

I interviewed the big guys to convey to them what the little guys wanted. Their own base visits were orchestrated and rarely told them what real airmen wanted and needed. My column was for the staff sergeants and the captains—not the very junior-most airmen but the ones doing the work. We have always had better than we deserve and we owe everything to them.

I argued in 1998 that after we identified the American in the Tomb of the Unknowns as A-37 Dragonfly pilot Michael Blassie, he should retain the Medal of Honor we gave him when he was unknown. I lost. I argued in 2001 for better arrangements for deploy airmen to vote, I won. In 1999, I argued against religious proselytizing in the workplace. That battle goes on.

I argued for an award of the Medal of Honor for overlooked Vietnam para-rescue jumper Staff Sergeant William Pitsenbarger (August 8, 1944-April 11, 1966), had help, won, and attended the posthumous award ceremony in 2000.

I argued against torture and other violations on the Law of Armed Conflict and in favor of treating detained terrorists under the 1949 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of war. I lost. I was a strong advocate for a most robust combat search and rescue force, a real need in recent years. I lost. I favored the far superior Airbus A330-MRTT, or KC-45 over the Boeing 767-200, or KC-46, as the new Air Force tanker. I lost but became new best friends with Mobile, Alabama Mayor Sam Jones where the KC-45s would have been assembled.

On September 23  2013, cartoonist Austin May imagined me helping troops think up a name for the new tanker, which became the Pegasus.

Much of the time, I submitted copy to Kathleen Curthoys at Air Force Times; Kathy and her husband Scott became fast family friends. Another influence was Barbara Harrison protector of newspaper style. You can write for magazines without knowing what a style manual is. Not newspapers. In the 1990s, Barbara would brook no reference to "e-mail." The term had to be rendered as "electronic mail." Another editor was Linda Monroe, who could spot a grammatical error in a two-word sentence.


Air Force Times had eight editors — most of that time, the official title was managing editor —during my 20 years as a freelance columnist from 1993 to 2013:

Tom Breen (January 20, 1946-June 22, 2011); Jim Wolffe (March 1, 1956-December 2, 2008), Julie Bird, Lance Bacon, Rob Colenso, Kent Miller, Mel Gray, and Becky Iannotta. In November 2013,  I ended an entirely different, 20-year column writing for a different publication Aerospace America magazine where Becky's husband Ben Iannotta was then the newly arrived editor, only my second at that venue.

The family-owed Army Times Publishing Company was sold to Gannett on June 28, 1996 and was re-named Gannett Government Media Corp on October 20, 2010.

In addition to my Air Force Times opinion column, I wrote a weekly history feature weekly and separately for the four Military Times newspapers, sometimes with a frequent co-author, Fred L. Borch, with whom I also wrote for World War II magazine. A retired Army colonel and judge advocate, Fred is my source on military law issues and a valued friend. I collaborated on one history feature with William T. Randol, one of my six best friends.

Tobias and I devised the history columns partly during our occasional Thai lunch together near the company's Springfield site.

I interviewed Marine Chief Warrant Officer Hershel "Woody" William who fought Japanese troops on Iwo Jima with a flamethrower to become a Medal of Honor recipient. I wrote about Hawaiian musician Don Ho (August 13, 1930-April 1, 2007), who piloted C-97 Stratocruiser transports during the Cold War. I wrote about Tobias's father, an American soldier who worked in U.S. camps for German prisoners of war.

Going out

Final photo is me at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, in 1999 not long after a trip to Ice Station Ruby near the North Pole.

Today is Day Sixty-Seven since symptoms and 15 since surgery for my fatal primary brain tumor. I've glad I got newspaper experience but sad it happened at the end of the newspaper era. I still read real newspapers in real print every day, printers' ink and all. I'll bet you don't, which makes you part of the problem.

The company for which I wrote is now undergoing changes and will no longer offer the traditional newspaper as  its staple. A great American newspaperman, Tobias Naegele, has worked on to broader medium work. The traditional of the American newspaper on its way out.

Other names that touched my life in the newspaper world: Scot Achepohl, Peter Atkinson, John Bray, Lavenia Berryman, C. Mark Brinkley, Dave Brown,Joe Bush, Michelle Butler, John Burlage,
Gina Cavallaro, Joe Chenelly, Angie Clark, Joe Clark, Laura Colarusso, Andrew Compart, Jennifer Correro, Greg Couteau, Jessica Cox Matt Cox, Philip Creed, Kristin Davis, Andrew deGrandpre, Jami Dyer (Nichols), Michelle Early, Brian Everstine, Philip Ewing, Mark Faram, Sam Fellman, Steve Fleshman, Scott Fontaine, Gidget Fuentes, Katie Gill, Keely Goss, Joe Gould, Annette Graham, Nicole Guadiano, Susan Gvozdas, Cecilia Hadley, Markie Harwood, Rod Hafmeister, Dorothy Herman, Matt Hevezi, Matt Hilburn, Robert Hodierne, John Hoellwarth, Michael Hoffman,
Erik Holmes, Kurt Jenson, Jelani Johnson, Kimberly Johnson, Signe Johnson, Brian Kalish, Colin Kelly, Kelly Kennedy, Patricia Kime, Jacqueline Klimas, Paul Koscak, Phil Kuhl, Sam LaGrone, Dan Lamothe, Kamala Lane, David Larter, Jill Laster, Chris Lawson, Tony Lombardo, Steve Losey,
Christian Lowe, Gordon Lubold, Peter Lundquist, Brian MacKeil, Chris Maddaloni, Scott Mahaskey,
Toni Maltagliati, Bill Matthews, Amy McCullough, Brendan McGarry, William H. McMichael, Noel Montrey, Vago Muradian, Alex Neill, Christal Newby, Jean Norman, Seamus O'Connor, Katy O'Hara, Oriana Pawlyk, Donna Peterson, John Pulley, Jenn Rafael, Maureen Rhea, Markeshia Ricks,
Cathy Riddle, Kristina Rogosky, Sheila Ross, Peggy Roth, John Ryan, Richard Sandza, Michele Savage, Jeff Schogol, Seena Simon, Karen Small, Tom Spoth, Joshua Stewart, Philip Thompson, Andrew Tilghman, Gordon Trowbridge, Diane Tsimekles, Melissa Vogt, Jason Watkins, Steven Watkins, Vanessa White, Jack Weible, Grant (Gina) Willis, Jack Wittman, Patrick Winn and Beth Zimmerman. All newspaper people, all.

For two decades, Air Force Times enabled me to write in a different way about American airmen. I'm an author but I'm also an airman. No term means more. This was just part of my life but it was a meaningful part. So I owe much to Tobias Naegele but I owe it all to the staff sergeants and captains out there who are doing it for us. It was my privilege to fly in the F-15E Strike Eagle with them and to conduct flight-line, foreign-object inspection with them.

It a perfect world, we would drop the warrior ethos and return to the citizen-soldier. We still can.
Without any of faux patriotism or the fawning over military members that too Americans practice and without that noxious custom of thanking people for their service, let us remember those staff sergeants and captains every day. 

It is, in the end, about those who fly and fight.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Day Sixty Five. Influence: Joe Fives

Joe Fives was my first friend.

Oh, I knew people in high school (1954-57), the Civil Air Patrol (1954-57), and Air Force basic training (summer 1957), but just as teachers—all but one—failed to reach me, contemporaries viewed little in me worth reaching for.

It was me. Apart from writing and airplanes, I had few interests and may have been seen as dour.

Joe and I met in September 1957, around my 18th birthday, at the old, pre-war barracks at the Army Language School at the Presidio of Monterey, California. We were in Class K-9-10, the middle number referring to the nine-month duration of standard Air Force Korean classes (the Army's were a year). They taught 33 languages at Monterey including Russian but more military members took Korean than any other.

No one told us why were studying a language.

Cold War

We got an idea the following year (September 2, 1968) when four Soviet MiG-17s shot down an RC-130 Hercules reconnaissance aircraft (serial 56-0528, the first C-130 ever lost to any cause) over Armenia killing 17 of our brothers, some Monterey alumni.

Within weeks, we moved to the new (then) Company D Barracks that boasted a fancy indoor orderly room replete with a building-wide P.A. microphone console to announce foot locker inspections, reville and such. We were on an Army post, after all, and how we envied airmen who studied at Yale University where future friend Bill Randol went. Joe had I had begun hanging around in scenic Monterey. Joe had a disdain for authority so one evening he slipped behind the microphone and proclaimed to everyone in the building: "FUCK THE ARMY!" Our tough-as-nails first sergeant, a World War II veteran, spent days trying to figure out who could have done just such a deed.

We pinned on our second stripes, making us Airmen Second Class (E-3). The Army thought we were corporals, which was actually a rank higher, so life improved. We were every bit as irreverent as the citizen-soldiers who'd served our great nation always until then. I took the flak when they issued name tags with the surname and first letter of the language being studied. I  must have been the only soldier or airman at the Presidio who had never before encountered any variation of the word "DORR-K."

As Johnny Mathis kept telling us on the music box at Hermann's coffee shop on Alvarado Street, we were to graduate on the "twelfth of August 1958." No one had ever told us why we were studying a language and we lost one student, Anthony Provitola, during the background investigations going on back home. Tony, who theorized that the world consisted of "the nothing people and the something people" had apparently participated in some unacceptable youthful prank.

Rarely seen Captain Charles Klinestiver, in charge of the small Air Force Presidio detachment, always began audiences with, "I have good news for some and bad news for others."

Class K-9-10 was being broken up. Half of us, including me, slated for Ashiya Air Base, Japan, without previously having been informed, would remain in Monterey perhaps graduating "the twelfth of never" since Ashiya was being shuttered. The other half were off to the Rock, also K-53, the island of Paengnyong-do. Members of Class K-9-11, including Larry Harry and Dick Ristaino also went to the Rock, alias P-Y-do, also, where officers and sergeants made no attempt to prevent them from designing their own uniforms with help from houseboys in the tents and Quonset buildings. These were maybe the least military-looking upstarts ever serve among the citizen-soldiers who made so much of our history before we made the tragic error of switching to the warrior ethos.

The Rock

The Rock was miles north of the Demilitarized Zone in the Korean east coast, facing North Korea's MiG-15 and MiG-17 equipped 3rd Air Division. By the time I arrived at Osan Air Base on February 2, 1959, aboard C-124C Globemaster II (serial 54-138)—the song "Mary Ann" on its loudspeaker; two takeoffs from Tachikawa needed to achieve one landing at Osan—Joe, Larry and Dick had been on the front lines and I was a newbie.

Osan was mostly mud, aluminum and elements. Men had fought here. Later in life, I knew Lewis Lee Millet who led history's last bayonet charge up Hill 180 and received the Medal of Honor.  In my era, that was where base local hires, mostly women, lived. Our 6929th Radio Squadron had an orderly room at surface elevation—where our first sergeant lacked the clearances to know our job—and trailers, soon replaced by antenna-studded buildings atop Hill 170, below which F-100 Super Sabres with Mark 7 tactical nuclear bombs resided.

I was read into my clearances atop Hill 170 and learned that our "take" from North Korea was codeword "TOP SECRET EIDER," soon changed to "DAUNT," and "SECRET FROTH," later "SPOKE." The terms became public decades later. We did the monitoring (alongside Morse operators) at Hill 170 and in the four C-47 Skytrain "BLUE SKY/ROSE BOWL" reconnaissance aircraft. We worked for the National Security Agency, not well known and never permitted to work in the United States. I lived with about twenty others in an open bay T-130 Butler building but most in the squadron were in larger, also open-bay Quonsets.

A 19, I lost my virginity for two dollars one fine summer evening while Joe Fives sat out on the porch, slapping insects and playing the harmonica.

The village outside Osan was the wild west. Out there, you could behave badly or you find a girl friend and live together. Joe Fives met Penny. Penny is a small woman, with inner strength that compensates for petiteness. She is pretty, never more than when tossing a wisecrack back at Joe. I visited their home often. at Osan and in California for fifty-six years to follow (except when Joe later volunteered as a civilian in Vietnam). With her own brand of insouciance, cheekiness and the quickest laugh I've even seen and, for fifty-six years, Penny was the only person who could tell Joe Fives what to do. She remains with us today.

We remained friends after Korea because we shared experiences all the rest of Joe's life. My fiction award from the Ralston Institute emanates from a nonexistent academic facility named for Joe and Penny's street in Redondo Beach and no one has ever questioned it. No family ever created a better home. Joe and Penny have two children, Joseph R. Fives born in 1961 and Joanne Shepherd born in 1962. Joseph R. was later a radar interceptor operator on a Top Gun-style, carrier-based F-14 Tomcat fighter.

Getting hitched

Ah, but first they had to marry. The Air Force spent millions to encourage socializing but wanted no one in our career field to wed a foreigner — a situation I faced with the State Department a decade later. They removed Joe's clearances, stripped one stripe and shunted him to another squadron. He had time to study karate where one of his fellow martial art students was Airman Second Class Chuck Norris. I nodded at Chuck Norris once or twice. With difficulty, Joe and Penny were married May 16, 1960.

Over decades, our families visited, usually from opposite coasts. I made Joe a hero in a men's adventure magazine story. He and Penny attended the weddings of our two sons, Bob and Jerry.

In a not unpleasant way, Joe disliked government and authority and battled both. He was a computer genius when we were doing word searches on Dogpile.

I talked to Joe on the phone October 9, 2005. Having watched me suck up Marlboro Reds for forty-four years — and having never smoked — Joe was having a coughing spell and had cancer that had reached his lungs. He died January 23, 2006.

This is Day Sixty Five of my experience with a fatal brain tumor, I think of the many friends I acquired when I became more mature — but especially of the six men who remained constantly closest throughout of their lives (one is still alive). They are part of me. Color quartet during a 1990s reunion is, left to right, Robert F. Dorr, Joseph H. Fives, William T. Randol and Pierre A Messerli. The T-shirts refer to the 6929th Radio Squadron in Korea. A Swiss immigrant at the time and not then a citizen, Pierre was drafted into the Army in Alaska in the 1950s. We promoted Pierre, sort of.

Other color photo: our house, circa 2002, left to right: Joseph H. Fives, Robert F. Dorr, Lucy T. Dog (1992-2006) and Young Soon Dorr.

The six:

I've had many friends. These are the six who were friends throughout life, in the order in which we met.

Fives, Joseph H. -  (June 19, 1939-January 23, 2006).
Harry, Larry Edward Air Force Colonel - (October 18, 1938-February 4. 2002)
Ristaino, Richard E -  (June 22, 1937-October 1, 2008)
Randol, William T - (May 22, 1939-March 9, 2008)
Messerli, Pierre - (April 21, 1934-
Curtis, Jerome B. - (May 1, 1931-November 21, 1976)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Day Sixty Two. Influence: William J. Porter

"Bob, to succeed in the Foreign Service, you need to learn to operate a movie projector."

William J. Porter, U. S. ambassador to South Korea—a career diplomat and one of the most powerful Americans in Asia—screened a film at the pool in front of his residence for an audience of three—himself, a junior officer (me, age 28) and my 22-year-old graduate-student girl friend, Young Soon. Bill's own wife was out of town.

Never mind that a Foreign Service officer was not supposed to date a foreigner, let alone love or marry one—not in those days. Porter had taken an interest in us and invited us in particular to scrutinize the bride. Not for more than a decade had an American diplomat married a Korean. Months of hurdles lay ahead but because Porter cared we would eventually marry November 2, 1968.

Using a film to entertain harkened to those days in the Levant where Bill had begun as a code clerk in 1937. We'd all served in distant, lonely places where you had to make your amusements.

Other concerns
Not that Bill didn't have other stuff to think about.

I'd been in the Air Force in Korea (1957-60), had written for magazines (1960-65) and served one Foreign Service tour in Madagascar (1965-67), before arriving at our Seoul embassy in 1967.

In the terrible year that followed, the United States almost found itself caught up in a second, massive Asian land war on the scale of the one then occurring in Vietnam.

On January 21, 1968, small arms fire poured over my apartment as thirty-one North Korean commandos launched the Blue House raid in an attempt to kill President Park Chung-Hee. On  January 23, 1968, North Korean naval forces seized the U.S. intelligence ship the USS Pueblo (AGER 2) and held the crew for a year. On April 15, 1969, Kim Il Song's birthday, North Korean MiG-17 fighters—the same ones I'd monitored the previous decade—shot down an EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft and killed thirty-one Americans. There were constant fire fights in the much-mislabeled Demilitarized Zone. For the first time since 1953, American soldiers in Korea were being awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge. Our air build-up following the Pueblo brought hundreds of warplanes in Korea.

All this and more. We changed our immigration law on July 1, 1968, altering forever the demographic of our own country. I was in charge of all immigration visas in Seoul, a duty that occupies seventeen consular officers today.

Porter later worked alongside Henry Kissinger on the Paris peace talks. In the 1970s, I worked with him in our efforts to reduce the U S. military presence by pulling an infantry division off the line (success), ending the U.S. troop presence along the DMZ (success) and cutting our troop strength (failure).

A mentor
It says in the Wikipedia entry about me that William J. Porter (1914-1988) was my mentor. Not exactly. He was more a kind, authority figure who found a little time — stolen from serious duty — to encourage romance in the consular section at a time of conflict and turmoil.

Thanks to a law covering expeditious naturalization, Young Soon became a U.S. citizen in August 1969. This enabled me to hold clearances when I worked as the State Department's North Korean watcher, 1970-72 and 1976-79. For years, I was the only person who read all of Kim Il Sung's speeches, releases and position papers. U.S. intelligence has always been good at counting artillery tubes, main battle tanks and MiGs, but poor at reading North Korea's leaders.

I read them every day.

It has been my privilege to walk among great men. Bill Porter was one.

It is no coincidence that our first son, born in 1971, is Robert Porter Dorr.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Day Sixty One. Influence: Imogene Bingaman

Influence: Imogene Bingaman

I'm twelve.

Priest says animals don't have souls. My dog Pepper who accompanies me on my paper route (I'm buying an Underwood portable typewriter) won't be in heaven when I get there. I'm not smart yet—I think I later became smart as an author, Air Force veteran and diplomat — but I know it won't be heaven if my dog isn't there. My parents were nominally Roman Catholic, and I made it through confirmation before not having religion.

My father Lawrence G, Dorr, Sr, didn't finish tenth grade but may have been the best-read man I ever knew. He loved to read of things he knew he would never see, like the architecture of Leningrad. Born in 1911, thirty years old the day before Pearl Harbor, he worked for the Government Printing Office in Washington all his life. He had a little interest in aviation and sometimes brought home balsa plane models for us to build. He was always careful about his appearance and demeanor, a proud and proper man.


My mother, Blanche Boisvert, was of French-speaking Manchester, New Hampshire stock and among the first women employed by the GPO circa. 1935, although she worked full time only briefly. They were honest, decent, unremarkable parents to me and my brother Larry, (I also had a twin who died at birth). Dad always had a job and a car.

I was a mediocre student, needed a mentor, and didn't have one. No one taught me to write for magazines. I just did. With one exception, teachers at Suitland, Maryland, High School — class of 1957 — failed to reach me. The Civil Air Patrol and the hope of being in the Air Force did.

Now, it's Day Sixty One since symptoms began of my Gliobastoma Multiforme, a fatal brain tumor devoid of discomfort — hey, now everybody wants to take me to lunch —and its time to think of how much Imogene Bingaman made me love the English language.

Large, red-headed, very teacherly, she would diagram a sentence and I got it! Suddenly, I knew about verbs and nouns. I got grammar. I had her in both eighth and eleventh grades and I loved what she showed I could do with words! She made it fun. My stories written in school were widely read. My first paid magazine submission was in the November 1955 Air Force magazine. Maybe I was going to write the great American novel.

Or maybe not.


Miss Bingaman challenged each student to write a letter to his Congressman. Mine drew a reply from Sen J. Glenn Beall, Jr., typical of the mediocre postwar politicians in Maryland in the 1950s. I forget the issue but Beall assured me that he would study every aspect of the matter and would announce his decision at an appropriate time. I was so excited. "He's going to do something!"

"Uh, well, no," said Miss Bingaman.

"Why do you mean?"

"Bob, his letter doesn't say anything."

Welcome to Washington constituent politics.

Today, there is no photo of Miss Bingaman, nor can I find the exact dates of her life. But I owe my interest in language to her. I owe my career as a writer to her. What if I had had several more such influences, much earlier?

High school classmate Steny Hoyer wanted to a journalist and always had a pencil in his ear. Today the second ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, he raises the quality of Maryland politicians.

I wanted to be an author.

My hearing impairment wouldn't enable me to attend the new school the Air Force was building in Colorado. So the day after high school graduation, I enlisted. They, too, saw some penchant for language and sent me to study the Korean language. When I slipped on earphones to monitor North Korea's MiGs, no one ever gave me a hearing test.

There is a character named for Miss Bingaman in "Hitler's Time Machine." I owe her so much.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

News from Bob: second novel

After six decades of non-fiction, my first novel, an alternate history of World War II,  "HITLER'S TIME MACHINE," was published a year ago. Now, I'm seeking to complete my second novel, "CRIME SCENE: FAIRFAX COUNTY," a 1947 murder tale with the same series characters.

I have readers in interesting places. A bevy of Zumba students in Florida is special to  me. Our son Jerry Dorr is a key figure in that world. Our son Bob Dorr has also encouraged interest in my writing locally.

This time, the start is where I teach myself to use a computer keyboard, all over, for the first time. After brain surgery on December 2, I was unable to type "Bob" on the keys.

Some of it is coming back, today, Day Fifty Eight since my initial tumor symptoms.

I can almost type

Now, we'll see if I can write. Skip Dragon. I'm an author, not a typist.

"HITLER" was meant as great fun and has gotten a nice grab of Kindle adherents.

"CRIME SCENE" continues the adventure.

For sixty years in magazines, newspaper columns and books, I did a range of writing — supermarket tabloid fare; women's confessions stories and mens adventure magazine tales. I wrote of civil and commercial aviation.

But for me, from my first paid publication in November 1955, it was always about the Air Force.

Giving me undue flattery for calm amidst my medical issues, my wife Young Soon called me brave. I'm not.

But in the fraternity of Americans who fly and fight, I have walked among the bravest men who ever lived.

Sometimes, bravery can mean taking a difficult position in an office setting. Sometimes, you fly and fight.

It was my privilege to know those, oh-so-young 18-year-olds who climbed into freezing B-17 Flying Fortresses and flew over Nazi Germany,

I was in the Air Force in Korea in the 1950s, The sign read, "Welcome to Osan Air Base. You are at Freedom's Frontier." We were. I looked up at those gnarled hills and waited for the Chinese First Field Route Army to come pouring down at us.

As a correspondent accompanying the Air Force, I invaded Panama (1989), flew into Sarajevo under artillery siege (1990), joined history's greatest airlift for Desert Shield (1990) and was in real fighting up close in Somalia (1992). I've flown many of the great planes and hobnobbed with everyday airmen and great generals. It will always be about special breed of Americans who fly and fight.

In January the creative genius of Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle will release "A HANDFUL OF HELL," a collection of my action stories from the 1960s and 1970s, It will give you a new look at an America that many of us lived in.

My own covers reflect the artistry of Victor Rook.

Look us up on the Facebook page "MEN'S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES."

With a new appreciation of family and friends, and of the beauty  of our world on this bright-lit Tuesday, I'm providing this update containing far too much of "me" and wanting much, much more from you. I'm able to talk on the phone — at (703) 264-8950 — and eager to hear what you're doing.

Oh, and that tumor? This kind doesn't go away.