Saturday, February 14, 2009

A blogger's anniversary and unexpected gifts

This month I am beginning the fifth year of publishing this blog. When I began in 2005, I had no idea who if anyone would ever read the stuff that I write. I also wondered whether there was anything of social value to justify my efforts.

In the past two days, I have been delighted to receive unexpected evidence of the merits of blogging. I regard the evidence as anniversary gifts for the blog.

On April 14, 2005, only two months after I started Octogenarian, I posted a story entitled "Reflections on a 64-year Old Photo." Accompanying the text was a picture taken in the spring of 1944 at a U.S. Army base in India showing nine GIs posing in front of a volley ball net outside their barracks. I was one of the soldiers.

In the text I identified each man and revealed as much personal background of each one that I could still remember. Considering the declining state of my memory as a 84-year old, I am still astonished at what I was able to recall about most of the GIs in the photo.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a woman named Elizabeth Elfring, who identified herself as the daughter of Marlan J. Miller, one of the men pictured. He was one of my closest buddies in our outfit, the 903rd Signal Co., about whom I was able to recall considerable detail. Perhaps that was because we had had a reunion about 30 years ago at his home in Arizona, when my wife and I were on a tour of the Grand Canyon.

"What a great thing to find something about his his life, remembered in such a fond way," Ms. Elfring wrote, commenting on my blog posting. She revealed sadly that her father had died in July, a month shy of turning 85. "He had a rich life, full of music, art and friends," she said.

Then she really made my day, closing her e-mail message: "Thank you for opening a door into the life of my father."

Today, by an odd coincidence, I received an e-mail from Ronni Bennett, who publishes "Time Goes By," a valuable web site devoted to aging. Her site contains a regular feature entitled "Elder Storytelling Place." I had submitted my blog posting about the 64-year old Army photo to her, and she published it last August.

Ronni forwarded a comment that she had just received from a man identified only as John E. He identified himself as a younger brother of Marlan Miller. He said he "had been born the year the photo was taken!" [The photo can be seen on Ronni's web site; it has mysteriously vanished from my own blog archives.]

"Marlan was very reluctant to discuss his Army experiences with his family," John wrote. "So this photo and your brief mention of him is a delight! Thanks for posting it."

I regard the kind comments of Marlan Miller's daughter and brother as gifts to celebrate Octogenarian's fourth anniversary. They demonstrate how worthwhile the blogosphere has become as a social institution.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

MEMOIR: Settling in Washington, D.C.

Shortly after my college graduation in June 1948, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work as an editor and press officer for the U.S. Department of the Interior's Fish & Wildlife Service. I had been hired after the agency's information director, an ex-newspaper man, responded to my "situations wanted" ad in Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry's trade journal. It was a very unconventional way to obtain a Federal civil service job.

I knew no one in Washington. And except for three years in the army, this was the first time that I had ever lived away from my parents in New York. I was 23 years old.

Before I arrived in Washington, I had arranged to stay at the national headquarters of the American Veterans Committee, which was conveniently located in a townhouse on New Hampshire Ave., N.W. The organization maintained temporary sleeping quarters on the building's top floor for visiting members.

AVC has been extinct for about 50 years, but it was a much-publicized new veterans group during its brief but spirited existence. It was founded during World War II as a liberal veterans organization that would be an alternative to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. As a young guy turned off by what I regarded as the Legion's and VFW's support of reactionary political and social causes, I had joined AVC while in college.

Actually, I had briefly been an involuntary member of the VFW while still in military service overseas. My commanding officer, a World War I veteran who had evidently been active as a civilian in the VFW, had the unmitigated gall to sign up all the men in our outfit as new VFW members without our approval.

Among AVC's leaders were such celebrities as Richard Bolling, an influential Kansas City, Mo. Congressman; author-cartoonist Bill Mauldin; Merle Miller, President Harry Truman's biographer; popular radio comedian Henry Morgan; and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., the President's son who became a New York City Congressman.

The organization's idealistic motto was "Citizens First, Veterans Second." Its New York chapter went so far as to oppose a state veterans bonus. That was not the kind of political position likely to attract a mass membership of former servicemen.

AVC broke up about a decade after the war's end, following a bitter struggle between extreme left-wing and and moderate factions. I was saddened by AVC's demise, but I was grateful that the organization helped me quickly find a comfortable new Washington home.

My second day in town, I responded to a notice on a bulletin board in the AVC building, seeking room mates for a two-bedroom apartment. The notice had been placed by two former naval officers, both AVC members, who were sub-leasing an apartment on Adams Mill Road.

I was one of the men selected to replace two occupants who had moved out. The apartment was on the top floor of a five-story, walk-up building. It was modestly but adequately furnished for four young bachelors sharing two bedrooms. One memorable recollection of my stay in the apartment was listening to the nightly roar of the lions at the nearby Washington National Zoo when we kept the windows open during hot weather.

Once I had settled down in regular living quarters during my first few days in Washington, I was now ready to report to my new job with the Fish & Wildlife Service.

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