The two italicized paragraphs below were written twenty-two years ago after Pat Robertson stepped down as chairman (yeah, sorry: chair man) of the political/evangelical empire he’d founded. Michael Lind, commenting in the New York Times wrote, at that time, the following sourly begrudging commentary about Robertson’s phenomenal political influence over the American Republican Party. This is merely an excerpt: two paragraphs that come near the end. I believe they capture the spirit of Lind’s remarks. I don’t deny his broad claim that Robertson had an outsized and lingering influence over the G.O.P., but take sharp exception to the notion that “hot button” cultural/moral/ scientific issues enumerated in the first line of the first paragraph would not have enjoyed an urgent life of their own even in the secularized universe of American politics — even had Robertson never entered the political arena.

Abortion and homosexuality in particular are defining civilizational (not merely Republican) issues, and our civilization will go on struggling with them and all their multifarous manfestations for the century to come. Robertson and the Religious Right did something of a disservice to cultural conservatives for making them seem solely like fundamentalist religious issues, and therefore easily dismissed.

(I interviewed Pat Robertson during the 1988 Presidential Primary season. I recall being greeted by his pleasant traveling handlers in the middle of one of Boston’s Logan International terminals and being told Pat — who was either coming or going or just on a layover in Boston — had just escaped briefly to the men’s room. He soon came smiling across the bright, broad ticketing area toward us. Can’t recall what I asked him — the usual, no doubt. (Think you can win?) Then I recall arriving to cover the Iowa Caucuses and entering the Hyatt well out into the cold, rolling yellow hills around DesMoines and seeing him — smiling, as usual- making his way across the lobby surrounded by a gaggle of reporters and cameras.

Now, Mr. Lind, wherever he is, has the floor. He wrote:

The obsessions of Christian fundamentalists, like abortion, homosexuality, pornography and evolution, still define today’s Robertsonized Right. And conservative intellectual journals like Commentary, National Review and The Weekly Standard now join Kansas and Tennessee fundamentalists in attacking Darwinian biology….

Pat Robertson enjoyed a remarkable winning streak, despite playing an extremely weak hand. By exploiting the ambition, fear and ignorance of America’s out-of-touch political class, this spokesman for a marginal subculture reshaped American politics and became a kingmaker in one of the two major parties.

Michael Lind, New York Times, December, 2001, linked to Roberto’n’s NYT obituary of June 8, 2023.

Ambition, fear and ignorance. Well, sounds like Lind and the leadership of the modern American Democratic Party might be looking in the mirror as they diagnose their sui generis obsessions.

R.I.P. Pat Robertson (Oh, you should see the commentary thread of the Times. Thirty jugs could not contain the gallons the vitriol.)


So begins a glossy little note inside the latest mailing for someone named Charles Harrison who must have lived at this address once upon a time. He apparently gave money to many causes (as I’ve noted before, though in the past, choosing not to give his name, and now thinking, ‘what harm could it do?’ Perhaps someday he’ll stumble on my blog and see that I’ve been receiving mail for him, all of it solicitations from charities far and wide. This one is from Navajo Nation, of which Chance is a member.

What a great name! Who of us, from time to time, doesn’t feel like our name is Chance?

Chance is a recent college graduate with a degree in Kinesiologya and is an apsiring Doctor of Physiotherapy and a first generation college student. There’s nice color picture of him, smiling, with a beautiful Navajo blanket slung over his shoulder. He looks like a great person.

The appeal is from the American Indian College Fund.

Maybe I should send them a few bucks.

But if I responded and contributed to every solicitation received in absentia (or, sadly maybe even posthumously) by Charles Harrison, I’d go broke.

So be it. Congratulations, Chance. Peace to you, Charles Harrison, wherever you are. I may only be able to stand in for you with prayers – for you and Chance, whose appeal I received — by chance.


In his volume called Tremendous Trifles, G.K. Chesterton writes, “I believe in preaching to the converted; for I have generally found that the converted do not understand their own religion. Thus I have always urged in this paper (the publication for which Chesterson was writing) that democracy has a deeper meaning than democrats understand; that is, that common and popular things, proverbs and ordinary saying always have something in them unrealised by most who repeat them.

That Trifle will have to be continu ed until I have a Tremendous amount of time….


The Left has been used to getting what it wanted by judicial fiat. That no longer happens for them. So, they’ve decided to ruin the Supreme Court — and, by extension, our whole judicial system — by trying to scuttle it, pack it, or somehow make it a rubber stamp for their political objectives.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal last year, democratic-socialist historian David J. Garrow candidly and, I think, admirably observed that “you don’t have to be a Federalist Society member to see that the analytical prowess today’s justices demonstrate in opinion after opinion far eclipses the quality of the Warren or Burger Courts’ work product.”

Yes! Now you have justices who are actually engaged in analysis.

The majority of the current high court justices can be defined as originalists. An originalist reading of the Constitution has its drawbacks and limitations. The same approach taken by different judges can deliver conflicting results. There is not always a clear analogy between the legal challenges and cases of one era and those of another as one weighs precedent. But analyses undertaken according to the scientific method have the same limitations. The Left will tell you that that’s cold-hearted and fails to take “people” and their varied circumstances into account. Right!

But you can only go so far in taking individual grievances and circumstances into account in shaping law suitable for an entire nation. There have to be principles and standards and tests involved. An individual’s grievances belong before a state court or a legislature. State legislatures, under our Constitition, have a right to establish their own standards, if not their own radically different principles, and state courts can ratify them. The Supreme Court gets to referee questions of principle, but states continue to have considerable legal and political latitude. The Dobbs decision has underscored that symbiosis (speaking of science and the the scientific method) in the case of abortion.

Charles C.W. Cooke’s analysis of the Left’s legal program in the current National Review — I admit — prompted this essay and borrows heavily from his urgent and critical analysis. This is simply because I agree with his reasoning and because Cooke’s conclusions bears out what I’ve been saying for years, especially during the era the court was hamstrung by Roe v. Wade. I had said repeatedly that the liberal justices were obviously being required to retool and repurpose that decision in an effort to get it to work for the political sector and, in turn, the general public. It was a case of fashioning and re-framing or simply substituting “princples” in order to achieve a forordained desired result. The Dobbs decision pierced that balloon.

The Left and its legal apologists have been scrambling in terror ever since. They have watched their brand of jurisprudence and “critical studies” analysis go crashing to the ground — like that aforementioned deflating and tumbling balloon.

Cooke concludes that Left/Progressive legal activists no longer have anything to offer. Their creative approach to the text of the Constitution has been exposed as being without basis other than the ever-fluctuating whims of a political/judicial establishment that has been making it up as they went along.

I have a friend who is a fine and reputable legal scholar and law school professor. Some years ago he was challenged by a student who described the U.S. Constitution as a contract, suggesting that that student viewed our foundational document as containing fixed rules subject only to strictly and narrow interpretation or amendment. My professor friend’s retort was, “I didn’t sign it (i.e., the contract or social covanant that is the U.S. Constitution.)

No, he didn’t sign it. Neither did I. That’s why, in agreeing to be bound by it, we have far less leeway than we might imagine. For that kind of leeway, one needs, once again, to go to the legislature. That’s where Constitutional amendments are born.

Of course, should the Left’s political program ever fully succeed, we will be a very different nation. I submit that for such a nation, one no longer needs a high court, or, for that matter, ANY court. We would have a dictatorship of the masses.

God save the Court!

MAY 30th

My father’s anniversary. William Douglas Wayland, only 54, nearly 55. Such a long seige of cancer surprising such a young man. It was, I’m now realizing, so terrible for us, who have now lost our sister and have a brother languishing in a nursing home, the very brother who came out of the house as I was clipping the hedges and said, “I think we’ve had it. They can’t find a pulse.”

It was the day after my triumph, a speech, a big speech. Dad never knew about that, me in front of 2000 people 69 years ago.

This day, this May 30th, a Tuesday, is waning. That was a Friday.

I’ve talked to Doug and Ron today. I’ve been told Bill saw a priest for communion. I saw to that. I’m so glad.

Family thoughts and all manner of thoughts going through my head.

I gave my speech in front of all the city, state and national dignitaries and with the assassinated President’s mother at my elbow as I spoke. Had his tragic death not occurred that November day in Dallas, there would have been no occasion for this speech, and so much in the world might have been different.

But it was, it did happen. I’ve wasted 42 years of my life drifting in a quasi-world of non-marriage marriage, of dissipation, of wasted talent. I’m 76 and can’t quite fathom that. Frozen in life, that must change. No pity, self or otherwise.

The following noon, 24 hours later, the bells were ringing at noon at the Mission Church down the hill from the hospital. My mother heard it. He went to God at noon. So much to think about.

That still, small voice, we must hear it, and those bells.

Dad, we are thinking of you. I’ve thought of you all this mostly idle day of my seventies.

It is 10:34 p.m. in Florida.

You were never here, Dad. But — you are here now….


The Scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.-Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.

So, if you’re driving a Tesla these days, in addition to the likely possibility that you have done materially well in life, you are paying four-wheel, petroleum-free homage to an obviously very wise man who died amid the great mechanized insanity that was World War II. Nikola didn’t invent the electric automobile, but I’ll wager he was both a clear thinker and sane and just didn’t get around to it. Today, the world is full of deep thinkers who are arguably insane. They never fail to get around to making the whole world’s mental current AC/DC insane in their wild finger-in-the-electric-socket image and likeness.


I drove by The Last Mile Lounge the other day. There was a guy standing there, taking a smoke break outside, leaning up against the Perma-Stone exterior, the little window with the Blue Moon neon sign behind him. (How many bars feature Blue Moon, such a neat name, so nice to see those coils of lighted neon in the spring day. Okay, not as nice as as a blooming lilac, but on that sterile corner, it’ll do.) The sunlight was variable, the temperature New England cool. I see this guy from time to time at The Last Mile. I wish he’d stop smoking, but there he was. Maybe it’s just a couple of times a day that he smokes. I don’t know who he is or what he does, but he stops in now and then.

He is, the person himself, just there, in light tan jacket over blue jeans, checkered shirt showing at the neck, hand in pocket. I went by slowly. I waved, why not? He did not hesitate to wave back, though I don’t think he knows me. He looks like the kind of guy that could be a Bruins fan and be sad about their collapse. He could be Celtics fan and plan on being around The Last Mile tonight to see them play the 76s in Game Two of the semifinals and hope they do better than the last time.

Or he might just be a guy with no particular affiliation or distinct interest. I never, when I’ve seen him at the Lounge, spoken with him, found out where he works, why he comes to the Lounge alone, whether he has family. whether he’s married, how old he is, whether he’s ever been to war….just a person before me. A subject, like all of us, of attribution. A singular, unrepeatable mortal.

So imagine my surprise when Deano, the night bartender, told me this guy was a poet. And though he does not drink excessively and might nurse a LaBatt for an hour while reading and scribbling in a notebook, he suddenly swung himself around on the barstool one night (I wasn’t there to see it), and commenced to recite a poem to the perplexed gathering of about a dozen people. He later taped the neatly printed poem up over the sink in the washroom.

I read it as I washed my hands today:

It goes….

Wind made me from carelessly disposed

Ashes stood me

A paragon of flesh and bone where

History wriggles vermin-like behind

The honored stones in distances of sandstone and

Marble and I hear evening laughter falling

Yes I see strands of orange laughter falling out of

Windows high windows those bright strands brush against me, entangle

My feet, yes they brush dead

Against my feet. And I am alive.

No title. If I happened to see him, I think I’ll tell him to call it…


Why not?


I call it a bar more than a lounge. I’m not sure if what’s-his-name, the guy who owns it (I should know that name, just having an intermediate senior lapse) gave it the name, The Last Mile. And I guess from the name you know it’s not primarily a restaurant or sandwich bar or ice cream shop. Maybe a funeral parlor. LOL. The Last Mile — chills.


I stopped by in the daytime. As I told you before, it’s right on the East Boston/Revere line, not a whole lot more then one mile from the airport, 1887 miles from the farthest place visited by any of its patrons in its century existence. ( I just remembered where the name came from: the original owner had once–before his commutation and aquittal based on new evidence in a murder case back in the early 1900s — sat for a while on death row at Sing-Sing, or was it the old state prison at Charlestown? I think it was a New York crime, hence, Sing-Sing. Hence the “Last Mile” name.)

There was an Australian WWII vet who used to be a regular who fought in Borneo in 1945, the last campaign of the Pacific War. They once wrote a tribute to him on the wall: Aussie Phil Wantuck came 1887 miles for a drink at The Last Mile when it was over over there. And, of course, there was a picture of him, a substantial, golden-haired, moustachioed man, smiling and holding a pilsner of Narragansett lager (he drank cheap) in the Last Mile doorway. I think he died in 1992, but his kid used to come in here and when I was still drinking I spent a night chatting with him at the bar right up til closing time. He was a pressman at the Boston Herald. Haven’t seen him in a while. A fun guy to talk to with lots of stories about his father.


This was a rare daytime stop for me, just thinking I’d catch up with regulars like Jackie the Crow and Stickie Sammartino and the daytime bartender Tashtego Silva, a full-blooded Wompanoag Indian. I met Kenny Foy coming out the door, smiled and shook hands with him. Kenny is Chinese American and he’s always having to smile through a session of rabid international political sound and fury from Jimmy “Jibberish” Jamin, a drunk who starts talking politics, loudly, the second he walks in the door. Kenny warned me that the place was unusually busy because the women who attend the dance and aerobics class down the street decided to drop in that day, about seven of them.

Sure enough, I walked in and Tash Silva at the bar is having to try to figure out the exotic drinks they were ordering. He was too proud to have them stand at the bar coaching him with the jigger and shaker, so he had the Mr. Boston barside handbook out, first time I’d seen that in years. (Deano, the night bartender, know how to make all those silly concoctions. Tash looked like a guy sneaking studious glances at his lawbooks while on the job.)

It looked like the a few guys from the book club were there, too. They usually meet up in the evening up the street on Wednesday nights, either at the branch library, under cover at Revere Beach or at one of the guy’s apartments around the corner. But I guess a few of them had evening conflicts, so they met for lunch — and there they were. But a guy I don’t see that often, Bill Kirner, a younger member, told me they’d paused reading some novel they were working on to read a book about mass shootings. “Topical,” said Bill, ” guy’s a lefty who wrote it but he has some good ideas about seeing these things coming, figuring out who the next perpetrator might be, at home or on the block, if you know what I mean.”

That caused me to take a quick look around the room in paranoid fashion. These were regulars, none looking morose or suspect. The women had just been dancing and exercising and showered off and looked clean-smelling and at peace. I’m a firm believer that anybody who dances and showers works off any desire to shoot anybody. But then, I’m an idealist.

I realized there was a guy in the corner, sitting at a table by himself near the old, still-working relic of a phone booth ( that thing’s going to be in a museum someday). I believe his name is Joe. That’s all I know. I’m on good enough terms with Tash Silva, believe it or not, to go behind the bar, pour myself some tonic, spike it with a splash of cranberry juice, drop a lime wedge in it and go find myself a seat. I chose to go join this Joe. But first I said,

“It’s Joe, right? Mind if a join ya?”

(I knew from past experience that he — and nobody — comes to The Last Mile excpecting to sit alone.) Joe, didn’t say a word, just pulled out the seat near the phone booth for me. That’s the best way ever to be affirmed in a request to give somebody company. If they give a weak smile and say, “sure” or “no problem,” I feel less welcomed.

We chatted about stuff for a minute. He works for a sheet metal shop in Lynn. He knows I go around calling myself a writer. Then he told me what was bothering him.

“I just came back from a visit down in the Florida Panhandle. Real peaceful down there, not like Miami or Tampa. Quiet, remote, peaceful.”

“Great, I said. And now you’re back at work and back in the madhouse?”



Joe ( I think his last name is Cassidy) got real thoughtful and, yes, morose.

“It was the kind of peace that makes you hear noises more, out in the world and in your head. Down there, the birds — chickaees, house wrens, cardinals, doves, and this woodpecker — funny as hell, coming back and back for the seed at my friend’s feeder. And you could see out into this little quiet bay and the house was at a point in a little canal among other houses up on stilts to protect them from hurricane surges. I mean there were boats lifted out of the water but ready for the summer, thought you can boat year round down there. You could fish right off the dock, too. I caught a nice redfish, let it go, but snapped a picture. What to see it?”

He pulled the picture out of a breast pocket. I looked at it. Very nice fish, probably fourteen inches.

“How do you know these people?”

“Children — grown children — of a guy I worked with when I first started at the shop. We used to fish together, boat together off Nahant.”

He got quiet again, like he was down there on the Panhandel again in all that peace.

“The only sound was some hammering from people buiding there dream house across the canal. You build solid stuff down there, but there’s always the hurricanes. They can wreck that area. The Gulf was sparkling down the street, but still, there’s that danger.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s a danger.”

Now he was really quiet, didn’t say anything for a fu ll minute. Then:

“There were no storms, not even a cloud. My plane flew into Logan and I look out the window. Okay, the weather is nice here, too. Spring is here, I guess. But it was crowded and ordinary-looking down below.I swear I saw a patch of snow.”

He looked at me. I guess I probably looked ordinary, too.

“You know — your Greg, right?”


“Well, it’s not about geography, Greg. There are lots of peaceful places — the mountains, the seashore, by the Gulf or by a lake. Down the Cape — the parts that aren’t built up which are few and far between — or, at the right time of day, right in the Boston Public Garden. No, it’s how I need peace and right now I have no peace, no matter where I am. I’ve been in a relationship over forty years, never married, kind of feel like we took each other hostage.” He looked at me. “You’re a single guy, right?”


“I’m with somebody, but I’m not with them, if you know what I mean. And suddenly her and me — we’re having a little trouble hearing and we yell at each other even when we’re not mad at each other.”

“Did your…’friend’ go with you to the Panhandle?”

“Yeah. And she’s a good person, don’t get me wrong. In fact she knows these people we were staying with better than me. Much better. Everybody was great. They made food. I tried to help but mainly they just treated me like a king. Treated her like she was a queen. But I felt like a slave just the same. A slave to conditons I made in my life. Only when I got off by myself, or when I was with them but NOT really with them and they let me be quiet and kind of alone, maybe picking up a magazine, or –I don’t drink like you it got to be a problem — but I might have had a glass of water or ice tea or a ginger ale. I was at peace.

“But it was just the birds and me, and the wind chime. And the wind, and the view of the water. And I could imagine being free.”

He smiled, then laughed. “Like the birds.” He laughed some more.

I said what was on my mind after a minute when he was quiet again. “You sound depressed.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Nothing serious. Nothing you medicate. Just that longing for freedom. Peace and freedom, like people feel after a war and that they can’t feel while they’re in the war. I’ll feel better, and maybe feel a little of that freedom when I get back to work tomorrow, get working in the noise and with the sheet metal. Sometimes noise is good, I guess. And maybe I get talking with the other guys and the few women who work there. It’s a good place. We work hard. It keeps my mind and my hands occupied. You don’t like it, though, when the only way you can be at peace and feel free is when you’re isolated by noise.”

He looked out toward the door, which Tash, breaking away from his complicated bartender duties, had just propped open. It wasn’t warm enough for air conditioning, but an open door might let in an April breeze with the car exhaust from the fairly busy street out there. Of course, it’s dark in The Last Mile.

Now I said something that was on my mind.

“Joe, it’s a real nice day out. Spring time. Why do you suppose guys like us or any of the people here come into a dark place like this in the middle of a nice day full of sunshine?”

“Well, I’m not staying long.”

“Neither am I.”

Joe turned thoughtful. “But it’s company I guess. Human voices,” he said. “Close quarters. This place is intimate in its own crazy way.”

“That must be it, I said. And it’s familiar.”

“But I have this vision of peace,” Joe said. “Nature — maybe a place where God can talk to me.”

I took that in.”That’s heavy,” I said. “I suppose it’s a little like a church in here. Or a chapel.”

“Yeah, I guess. Or maybe it’s not heaviness of it, it’s the lightness. And the company, the voices make a kind of — light. Light in the darkness.” He looked at me. ” What are you drinking?”

“Tonic, a little cranberry, bit of lime.”

“Nice. Sounds refreshing. Can I guy you another one? ”

“No. No thanks. I’ve got to be going after this.”

It was then I noticed he was drinking ice water. Tash had given him one of those blue transparent cups. “Just water for you, eh,” I said.

“Life,” Joe said. Water is life.”

We left it at that — and left about the same time.Outside I watched him walk off toward his car. It was noisy. I walked all the way up to Revere Beach, each street a little quieter as I approached the cold April sand and the surf. I felt like I needed to see water. And maybe find some more peace up there, even without human voices. Just the gulls and me. Those gulls, I figured, were distant cousins to all those wild birds down in the Panhandle that became Joe’s friends. I’m sure there are gulls and sandpipers down there.

As you can see, my occasional bar friend Joe had got me to thinking — about everything; mainly about how you hold onto a vision of peace. How to find that peace.

I guess you pray for it.


I’ve salvaged this belatedly from a December 7, 2021 Facebook post regarding Pearl Harbor and a memorable Pearl Vet.


Remembering the man named Ray Walters. He was just one among the handful of Pearl Harbor veteran I met gathered around the flag pole out front of the Seminole, Florida VFW post back on December 7, 1991. These were guys who simply couldn’t make it out to Hawaii for the big 50th anniversary commemoration. I was doing a brief story about them for WTSP-TV, Tampa/St. Petersburg. Ray just happened to mention to me that he’d been at Scofield Barracks with James Jones, the author of From Here to Eternity which famously depicts pre-WWII Army life at Pearl and at Scofield which, to this day, is the Hawaiian Island’s largest U.S. Army installation and home to the 25th Infantry Division. It is 17,000 acres and adjacent to the U.S. Air Force’s Wheeler Field. It suffered collateral death and damage on December 7, 1941. The novel takes us up to that horrible Sunday morning the skies suddenly filled with Zeroes and stunned sailors, soldiers and airmen, some in the middle of breakfast, began dying in droves.

This fact of Ray’s friendship with the late author and my interest in books and authors intrigued me to the point where I decided to do a separate subsequent TV news feature story about Ray. It amounted to a study of the paradoxes and mysteries surrounding one solitary, perceptibly embittered human soul who was quite obviously shaped, or secretly psychically mangled like so many of that generation, by the severe experiences of war. After surviving the attack, Ray went on to fight with the 25th Infantry Division at Guadalcanal where he suffered a serious head wound. I forget how he spent his post-service life but I believe he’d had a good job from which he was now retired.

Ray shared a fascinating document with me (I still have a copy somewhere): an abundently friendly, newsy letter he’d received from James Jones in response to a letter Ray had written him, when the author was in Hollywood acting as a consultant on the movie version of Eternity, which is still considered an early 50s cinema classic. Perhaps you saw it, with Bert Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine, etc.. Jones offers a few generlized, wry, cynical pronouncements on the Hollywood crowd, then goes on to inquire of Ray if he had any information –those ten years after the war’s end — about the fate of any of their fellow Scofield Barracks vets. That included one named ( was it Angelo?) Maggio, whom Jones had heard might have died in the battle over the Pacific island of New Britain.

Yes, to my astonishment, there WAS a real Maggio. In the novel, that’s the name a young Italian-American soldier from the Bronx who is also major figure in the narrative. Did James Jones merely borrow the name and intend no parallel with the real-life Maggio? Fellow barracks mate Ray recalls a very wild, saucy and entertaining figure who bore more than a superficial resemblance to the fictional Maggio. He shared newsclips with me in which this real-life Maggio (who, in fact, survived the war), had subsequently sued Jones in a New York court for defamation in the wake of the novel’s publication and the movie’s release — a sad postscript, given the author’s solicitude for his fellow G.I. evident in that letter., (He certainly should have changed his character’s name; you’ll recall that Frank Sinatra earned his one and only Oscar portrayiang Maggio in the movie.)

Jones’s novel, by the way, does contain the standard disclaimer – all characters are imaginary and any resemblance to actual persons is accidental. It remains a mystery, therefore, why he didn’t work harder to distance the real and imaginary Maggios. Did he somehow intend the portrait as an affectionate tribute to his fellow soldier whom he believed was likely dead from combat? Strange. Perhaps Jones’s biographer deals with this.

Ray said he’d met up with James Jones a number of times in the post-war years. He’d collected, and showed me, all his (probably )first and (probably)signed editions of all Jones’s novels (including The Thin Red Line, which follows Pearl vets into the horrible Guadalcanal battle in which Ray almost died). Yet he had a curious take on his old friend’s literary career — that he didn’t understand why people had to write books in such “flowery language” about factual events that could be told far more simply. Plainly Ray was no lover of fictive literature. (I’d add, though, that Jones’s style in Eternity is on the purple and sausage-fingered side even for my tastes. In Eternity and Red Line, the writing is often downright awkward and peppered with tortured metaphors, e.g., “(B)elow him under the blows of the February Hawaiian sun the quadrangle gasped defenselessly.” But there is also a kind of primitive power and authenticity throughout, especially in descriptions of battle and its aftermath, which ring disturbingly true. Jones was also master of military detail which can be fascinated to the non-military reader, or, conversely, to millions of veterans, especially World War veterans, for whom it recalls a once lived reality. Jones’s 818-page novel ( unlike the movie) also only slightly fudges the darker, profane, libidinous, bibulous and exploitative side of soldiering, especially their ages-old interactions with prostitutes. In 1950 this might all have seemed boldly innovative. Eternity did, after all, win the first-ever National Book Award from critics.

Asked how Scofield Barracks soldiers regarded Jones, the budding author in their midst, Ray said, “to tell you the truth, we all thought he was a fag.” (Not an uncommon intra-personal assessment of the seemingly more delicate among men in the coarse, crude ambiance of barracks life — speaking from experience. It is perhaps notable that Jones offers accounts of homosexual activity in his trilogy of books about the war. He himself married, had children, projected, in on-camera inerviews available on-line, a classic male machismo and also turns up drunk a fair amount of time.)

But it was clear Ray felt a strong bond with Jones whose bonds seemed to grow stronger with literary types. He produced many, mostly forgotten books, enjoyed the praise of the likes of luminaries such as Mary McCarthy and Joan Dideon, lived much of his life in Paris, the darling of that literary crowd, wound up on Long Island with authors for neighbors, and died tragically early in his 50s from heart failure after many hard-drinking years, having more than once written of how the trauma and terror of the Pacific War left men hollowed out and broken, including perhaps, Jones himself. (The film version of The Thin Red Line makes vividly plain the dark Guadalcanal experience for terrified American and starving Japanese soldiers alike).

After doing my story on Ray, we had no contact. I don’t recall if he had children. He told me his wife had left him years before — gone off to “find herself,” he told me bitterly. He was a tall, substantial man, appearing youngere than his years. But no Bay Area vet I ask has any knowledge about him. It is most likely that he is gone, with James Jones and almost all the others.

One of the last things Ray shared with me was both intriguing and disturbing. He said just days before the Japanese attack, one Scofield Barracks soldier, consumed by an anxious premonition, went berserk, screaming that something terrible was going to happen. He was carted off, never heard from again. Then came the bombs and the death.

What on earth was that all about? Ray didn’t know, and went on wondering….He doubted, as do I, that that soldier had any special knowledge. And From Here to Eternity makes plain that well before the Japanese attack, Pearl Harbor soldiers and sailors knew war was coming. They just didn’t know it would come in that way, and directly to them. James records that the trauma of the attack left him and his fellows feeling caught up very intimately in history and civilizational danger and uncertainty.

Ray, wherever you are, thank you for your service and for the chance to tell your story. James, I pray for you and, through Ray’s letter, felt for a moment as if I knew you. I must get a copy into the hands of those who go on preserving your literary legacy.

And God Bless all Pearl Harbor vets, living and dead.


Here’s a story for Easter, the Season of Light. I’ll call it Mom Against Darkness, after my late mother’s uneasy fascination with a famous 1948 magazine article called, “Man Against Darkness.” It was a Princeton scholar’s unsettling thesis that God and religion are illusions, that we’re basically riding a big dirt ball (earth) spinning in the night of space and that it’s time to get used to it and liberate ourselves accordingly. I confess I think that way sometimes. “I’m not the only one,” as the late John Lennon sang. Why else would his “Imagine” be so popular, even at high school graduations? No heaven, hell, or religion, hence, no wars, greed or hunger..yoo-HOO, ooh-ooh. Good luck, grads!

Of course, John L was romping in a dreamy Elysium. Mom was marching into a nihilistic Apocalypse. She was 55 in 1958 and subscribed to The Atlantic Monthly, that once fine journal destined to morph into a glossy monthly repository of trendy “progressive” twaddle. (My opinion.) For their 1957 centenary, Atlantic editors published a hardbound 100-year collection of “reflections on our national life.” In effect, their ‘greatest hits.’ I recently discovered Mom’s battered copy, autographed by the editors, with a penciled notation that she started reading it 1/10/58, doubtless going cover-to-cover. Mom was a reader. James Russell Lowell, Mark Twain, Walter Lippman – they’re all represented in the volume. But only the page number of the September, 1948 “Darkness” article is circled, with mom’s inked addendum, “I enjoyed this,” her note for posterity. What did she find so enjoyable in so dark a vision?

The opening paragraph would have caught her Catholic eye: “The Catholic bishops of America recently issues a statement in which they said that the chaotic and bewildering state of the modern world is due to man’s loss of faith, his abandonment of God and religion.” W.T. Stace, the author, adds, intriguingly, that he “ entirely agree with the bishops,” but for decidedly different reasons. In those cold, dark post-WWII, post Atom Bomb days, he believed our morals and ideals were “our own invention,” and the world around us “nothing but an immense spiritual emptiness.” (I see Mom reading this in her parlor rocking chair while my devout father is off at a Knights of Columbus, my teenage siblings rocking and rolling in those late 50s and me upstairs memorizing Baltimore catechism Lesson 5: Question: What is man? Answer: Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and made in the image and likeness of God….

Mom graduated from Worcester’s Commerce High, 1922 – no Princeton scholar. But she knew about darkness, being Irish-born, suffering bouts of Keltic melancholy, alternately rebellious and, retiscent, given to anti-clerical erruptions while writing light devotional verse for pious Catholic journals, all the time wondering if life really had any meaning, especially after my father died so young. She loved Robert Frost but, but, like him, was “aquainted with the night.” And here she was reading some guy telling us to “put away childish things and adolescent dreams, grasp the real world as it actually is, stark and bleak,“ give up our “romantic, religious illusions” or else “sink back into the savagery and brutality from which we came, taking a humble place once more among the lower animals.” Woe! Sounds like a joke that begins, “Nietzsche and Hobbes walk into a bar….”

So what was Mom thinking, reading this? Well, she loved toying with ideas, all kinds, but remained as skeptical of eggheads as she was of crowned and mitred heads. I believe she always wondered “why do the heathen rage?” (Psalms 1-12) In 1956, she wrote a poem called, “The Search” that ends with her in “His arms outstretched to bless!” Go figure.

“Darkness” author, Professor Stace, checked out of this “chaotic and bewildering” world August, 2 1967. Mom followed,August 5,1986. Maybe they’ve met by now. They’d have a lot to talk about. I’ll bet they know who rolled that big rock away from the tomb on Easter morning.