Memorial Day: They’re All Heroes
I stand in awe of the brave military men and women who have served the nation. The closest I ever got to military service was as a Civil Air Patrol cadet back in the peaceful days of the 1950s.
For me, commemorating Memorial Day always brings to mind an uncle who survived the infamous Bataan Death March. This scurrilous, savage and brutal event was a 70-mile forced march inflicted by the Japanese on captured American GIs and Filipino soldiers. It began on April 12, 1942.
I still find it difficult to watch the historical footage of that World War II event that continues to prove the horrors of war. It’s difficult to even watch the wars our men and women have faced – and still face – around the world from Iraq to Afghanistan and other places.
Back in the fiery era of the 1960s, the draft board listed me 1-A without comment. I took it to mean I was a special specimen. I ended up with a wife and three children. I never heard from the draft board from that day to this. I’m proud to say that one of my prized possessions is my draft card. I treasure it to this day.
My training in the newspaper field began in the late 1950s. Today I look back on the uncle, Frank J. Fenton. He was a good newspaperman in those days and looked, at least to me, like Humphrey Bogart and the bow-tie wearing reporter of the movies. Uncle Fenton was a heckuva reporter; he’d get drunk every now and then, but he always got the story and if he “fell off the wagon" he could still write good stuff. Modern reporters – print and broadcast – could learn a lot from those times.
Once, when he was covering a sensational sexual assault trial in Newport News, VA, my home town, Uncle Fenton was calling in his story on deadline at 12:45 PM. (This was a rape case and in those days they were described as criminal assaults.) He was telephoning from the courthouse a block away. All of 19 years old, I was typing as fast as I could. The city editor stood over my shoulder and as soon as we’d have two paragraphs typed, he’d rip the copy paper from the typewriter and take it to the composing room.
We got the whole story done about 1 o’clock. Unfortunately, there was a terrible gaff. Remember, the story was being sent to the linotype operator in two and three "grafs" with the city editor’s note, "more to come" at the bottom. Press time was crucial.
When the newspaper hit the streets, the front page story was headlined in 72-point type. We were proud until we got to the paragraph describing the woman’s anguished testimony. It read like this, "he was attacking me and I kept screaming…
Ten thousand newspapers hit the streets before the corrected edition was completed.
Obviously, that is sad and funny at the same time. The culprit in this case was executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia for his heinous crime.
Uncle Fenton, until he died, was horrified by that error and although he was invited to witness the execution, he declined.
He was an army private when captured and forced to the Bataan Death March. One day after the sensational court story, the literary editor of The Times-Herald literally tossed a book over to him; my desk was only a few steps away. "Hey, Fenton, here’s a book I need you to review for Sunday’s paper?"
He skimmed through the book. All of a sudden, the newsroom was ablaze with profanities, and “there’s my picture." And there it was; he and two other malnourished soldiers with baskets hanging around their necks. A Japanese soldier was standing beside the GIs with a bayonet ready to chop off their heads. As he waited the beheading, another Japanese officer stopped the proceeding. To this day no one knows why.
The name of the book Uncle Fenton reviewed is "Knights of Bushido". It was written by a British officer, Lord Marshall of Liverpool and republished in July 2002.
If I could wear it, I’d put on my CAP uniform and salute all of our heroes. But, I’ll be standing at attention when I attend ceremonies. You should, too.