History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Halsey Hall: ambassador for baseball and for life

I sometimes wonder how Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven can stand it, describing baseball games in such incredible detail day after day. Baseball caters to more of a niche audience than in the old days. In that bygone time, baseball's goal was to try to get everyone at least a little bit interested in their home team. Today, baseball identifies its core base of enthusiasts and markets directly to them. People outside of that universe are welcome to join but they aren't essential.
Halsey Hall was a baseball broadcaster who appealed to everyone. We shouldn't even pigeon-hole him as a baseball announcer or even sports announcer.
Baseball was this grand showcase by which the common citizens could escape their mundane existence. Hall's voice described a universe where "our team" played before many thousands at our own Metropolitan Stadium. The Twins traveled all over the U.S. too. Prior to 1961, Minnesota had nothing like that.
Hall was committed to baseball in Minnesota well before 1961. He loved sports but he loved people even more. It was a no-brainer to have Hall installed right away in the Twins' broadcast crew. He broadcast baseball in a time when fans didn't expect such a detailed analysis of the game. Broadcasters were more superficial. They described the obvious. They told stories. They laughed a lot. Hall had an infectious laugh. The minutiae of the game was something for the players themselves to master, not the fans.
Then, with the onset of ESPN and niche programming, the media people in baseball sensed a new need: the need to really get into the nuts and bolts of the game. Hall's era was long gone. How many of you miss the older approach? Surely anyone my age misses Hall, who died in 1977. This was no nomadic sports professional. He had his feet planted firmly in Minnesota. He nurtured the game of baseball long before the Twins were conceived. It might be hard to imagine that earlier time, a time when baseball was on the fringes here. We were minor league. I have read that the Minneapolis Millers were so good, they could beat a big league team on a given day. Fine. But minor league is still minor league.
Dave Moore pined for those Nicollet Park days long after that facility faded into the mists of memory. Ol' Dave, the iconic WCCO TV news anchor, was in the minority on that. Minnesota embraced the Twins and were barely willing to treat the Millers as an asterisk.
Progress. The construction of Met Stadium was our historic commitment that was needed in order to get big league baseball. We still had to wait for an extended time, even after the Met began functioning. Progress meant that by 1980, we were told we had to leave the sadly obsolete Met and move under a roof. We had to have a dome! Except that of course the dome ended up having a lifespan just like the Met. We answered the call to get baseball outside again. Are we finally satisfied? Halsey would surely like the new facility. I think he would have been happy anywhere, surrounded by interesting people about whom he could tell stories.
Halsey was an immense blessing to have around during a rain delay. He'd even pop in at the booth of announcers for the opposing team. No hyperbole: Hall was an icon in the minds of the first generation of young Twins fans.
 
Histories are wanting
I'm not sure the online-based histories of Hall do total justice to the man. They seem to be written from the perspective of his media compatriots who were amused by his peccadilloes. Surely that brings amusement. But my generation when young couldn't have cared less about that. Maybe we were vaguely aware that Halsey indulged in the sauce once in a while. That is not how we defined him. We defined him as this charming uncle sort of guy, always engaging with his sense of humor and talent as raconteur. He was totally disarming. He helped us forget about our problems. There was nothing like listening to a good Halsey Hall laugh to make the whole day seem right.
Halsey was color analyst for Twins baseball on both radio and TV. He had a trait in common with John Madden: he hated to fly. He spent a lot of time studying train schedules. If he had to fly, he'd approach the ticket counter and request "one chance to Chicago."
Hall came from a really good bloodline. His mother May Hall was a noted Shakespearean actress. His grandfather was a distinguished Missouri judge. But Halsey had little contact with his mother. His parents split up when he was just an infant. His father's side of the family was defined by newspaper work. Thus Halsey was guided into the media universe. He cut his teeth as a newspaperman. His great uncle Harlan Hall was a co-founder of the St. Paul Dispatch.
Halsey got out of the Navy in1919 and plunged into the newspaper field. He wrote popular columns. He wrote about his "Celestial All-Star Team" whenever a baseball great passed away. He reported Babe Ruth joining that heavenly circle in August of 1948.
Hall began developing his broadcasting talents. Like Ronald Reagan, who was fond of telling such stories, Hall would sometimes call a major sports event from a detached location. He helped WCCO Radio establish itself with a national reputation. Remember those bygone times with the likes of Boone and Erickson, Steve Cannon, Maynard Speece and Franklin Hobbs? Halsey shared a half-hour news block with the unforgettable Cedric Adams. It was Halsey who coined the name "Golden Gophers" for the U of M Gophers. He described the action when Bernie Bierman was coach.
He became a fixture at Nicollet Park, home of the AAA Millers. Halsey found time to referee football and basketball games, developing a high-tier reputation. Sometimes he would even combine his roles as referee and reporter. He gained note as a toastmaster.
Finally the year 1961 came along and Minnesota joined the big leagues. With JFK freshly installed in the White House and "Camelot" in full swing, we greeted the Twins and Vikings. Can you now imagine life without them? Hall sat in the booth with Herb Carneal. The 1972 season was Halsey's last in the booth. That was the summer before my senior year in high school. Halsey had been like a companion for me in my growing-up years. I sort of felt he'd be around forever. The invincibility of youth can make us overlook how the toll of advancing years forces us into changes, and ultimately death comes.
A little research shows that Hall had a passion for poetry. His daughter said "he thought words could solve anything." My kind of person for sure.
Halsey had extended hospital stays for heart troubles in 1974 and 1975. In 1989, Halsey was posthumously inducted into the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame.
 
Coming out to the hinterlands
I remember when Halsey came to Morris MN. This was for the celebration honoring our own Jerry Koosman. Koosman was fresh from being a hero in the 1969 World Series. I remember Halsey seated in a position of honor for a program at our public library mall. I might have made eye contact with him for a moment or two. He was obviously happy and relaxed - this was clearly no "chore" for him. He came to the microphone and talked about the key to the city Jerry had just received. In those days when Foster Brooks humor was big, Halsey wondered if the key would open the establishment across the street: the municipal bar and liquor store. It wasn't named "the Met" just yet. It would take on the "Met" name in connection with Koosman's heroics.
Koosman was a starting pitcher with the 1969 World Champion New York Mets.
Halsey was the No. 1 exhibit you could put forth for enjoying life. I'm sure he's still describing baseball and telling stories in connection with those "Celestial All-Stars." Harmon Killebrew is batting cleanup.
Halsey Hall RIP.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 20, 2015

Donald Trump's comments re. John McCain: no big deal

Donald Trump, candidate (image from "The Black Sphere")
Boomers roll their eyes when the topic of the Viet Nam war comes up. It seems like an awful dream: the Viet Nam war. We should be so lucky if it were just a dream. If you need a reminder or a primer on the Viet Nam war, watch the movie "Born on the Fourth of July" starring Tom Cruise.
Donald Trump has waded into Viet Nam memories with his comments on John McCain. Instantly I knew this would lead to an extended session of media masturbation. I'm sure "Morning Joe" on MSNBC salivated over the opportunity to begin its Monday morning show on this topic.
The media are walking a very fine line in addressing the matter. The media must be careful not to pre-suppose that Trump's comments are 1) insulting to all veterans, and 2) objectionable on the face of it. I would assert that it is not unreasonable to assert, as a passing opinion, that being captured in a war and being in a prison do not automatically make you into a hero. You can disagree if you want. But Trump's opinion is not out of bounds, not cause for knee-jerk condemnation.
The media then started reporting that "Trump refuses to apologize." The media are assuming that Trump had some sort of obligation to apologize, and a "refusal to apologize" is thus news. There can be two schools of thought on the matter. You can be a holier-than-thou type and rail at Mr. Trump, or you can realize the issues are at least more nuanced.
By spending so much time in a North Viet Nam prison, McCain at least was spared any risk of being "fragged" or killed. Fragging became commonplace in the Viet Nam war. It has been cited as the reason we absolutely had to get out of Viet Nam at a certain point. We are hearing more about fragging in Viet Nam, than was the case in the years immediately following the war. It is such an unsavory topic. "Fragging" was U.S. servicemen literally killing their superiors.
Should we be surprised this happened? Did anything good come of the Viet Nam war? Were U.S. interests served in any way at all? The U.S. dispensed propaganda about how sub-human the enemy was. This is typical propaganda accompanying any war. Dehumanizing the enemy makes it easier to kill them. "The enemy" won the Viet Nam war and these are the people now running the country and with whom we have relations. Do they seem so sub-human now?
From Wikipedia:
 
The prevalence of fragging was partially based on the ready availability of fragmentation hand grenades. Grenades were untraceable to an owner and did not leave any ballistic evidence. M18 Claymore mines and other explosives were also occasionally used in fragging, as were firearms, although the term, as defined by the military during the Viet Nam war, applied only to the use of explosives to kill fellow soldiers. Most fragging incidents were in the Army and Marine Corps. Fragging was rare among Navy and Air Force personnel who had less access to grenades and weapons than did many soldiers and Marines.
 
This morning (7/20) on the "Morning Joe" program (Joe Scarborough), the panel wondered if anyone had previously criticized John McCain in the manner that Donald Trump did. Someone pointed out Al Franken. I wonder if there will now be calls for Franken to resign from the Senate. So many "patriots" go into such knee-jerk hyperbole on these matters. Why don't you all try to get into the heads of people like the Tom Cruise character in "Born on the Fourth of July."
BTW I personally remember one other public figure who has criticized McCain, Trump-style, and it was Wesley Clark. This happened during McCain's run for president. I'm not even going to bother Googling this because I do in fact remember it: Clark saying that being captured doesn't make you a hero.
Maybe I should sympathize with McCain because by being captured, he ensured his own survival through the end of the war, which was a far better position to be in, than by staying in the field. He'd have to be sure he'd at least survive in prison. I wouldn't blame anyone in Viet Nam for finding any sort of way to simply survive.
More on fragging:
 
Most fragging was perpetrated by enlisted men against leaders. Enlisted men, in the words of one company commander, "feared they would get stuck with a lieutenant or platoon sergeant who would want to carry out all kinds of crazy John Wayne tactics, who would use their lives in an effort to win the war single-handedly, win the big medal, and get his picture in the hometown paper." Harassment of subordinates by a superior was another frequent motive. The stereotypical fragging incident was of "an aggressive career officer being assaulted by disillusioned subordinates."
 
What a wonderful war, eh? The boomer generation was too young and powerless to do anything to try to extricate us. We made noise and the media paid attention. The media became sympathetic to us. We got infused with the message that dissent is a good thing. It was through these reports that I learned the word "dissent."
But dissent of course is not a good or ideal thing. In an ideal world, we'd like to think our leaders, even teachers in school, have wisdom and will lead us in the proper fashion. In the '60s, for some reason, this ideal did not hold. I entered adulthood thinking it was just fine to question authority. To "refuse to conform." In an abstract sort of way, I suppose this attitude is OK. But it can also get you in a lot of trouble. Today we teach our kids to respect authority. That's the way it should be. The boomer generation will never forget the more questioning ways that were instilled in us.
War "heroes?" Maybe we should back off from the term "heroes" completely. "Heroes" suggests a comic book type of template. It's not the real world. Try to be a "hero" in war and you'll end up dead. The smartest soldiers learn to take as few risks as possible. Don't try to be a hero.
Donald Trump's opinions re. John McCain were no big deal. It took him a mere few moments to express them. What followed was a lot of ridiculous hair-pulling by the sanctimonious type, many of whom were following a Pavlov's bell. "Our soldiers are heroes!" A better attitude would be: war is bad and it should always be avoided.
Some final background on fragging in Viet Nam:
 
Only a few fraggers were identified and prosecuted. It was often difficult to distinguish between fragging and enemy action. Was a grenade thrown into a foxhole or tent fragging, or the action of an enemy infiltrator or saboteur? Enlisted men were often close-mouthed in fragging investigations, refusing to inform on their colleagues out of fear or solidarity. Although the sentences prescribed for fragging were severe, the few men convicted often served fairly brief prison sentences. Ten fraggers were convicted of murder and served sentences ranging from ten months to 30 years with a mean prison time of about nine years.
 
Having read this you're probably in no frame of mind to watch the movie "The Green Beret" starring John Wayne, or any John Wayne war movie.
I recently blogged about a friend of our family who was a victim of friendly fire in Viet Nam in 1966. To read that, just type into search the name of this blog, "Morris of Course," and the name of the deceased: "Richard Ungerecht." He was from Brainerd. I still carry bitterness from attending that funeral.
I'm rather indifferent about Donald Trump. He reminds me of George Wallace in the sense that he's a performer as politician, which can in fact be an entertaining talent. Trump's comments about McCain were essentially true. Now let's move on.
Didn't Fox News try to diss John Murtha as a war hero during the burgeoning debate over the Iraq war?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, July 17, 2015

First Minnesota Regiment: the stuff of movies

Here's a twilight profile of the Gettysburg monument (Chris Heisey photo)
My sixth grade class visited the historic Ramsey House as part of our field trip to the Twin Cities. My teacher was Marion Beck. I didn't have enough knowledge to really feel fascinated during the visit. Today I surely would be. To be honest I felt rather bored. I was just a kid.
The late Jack Imholte, UMM chancellor
Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey happened to be in Washington D.C. when the rebels fired on Fort Sumter in 1861. The governor from our fledgling state, considered way in the raw west, immediately offered 1000 men. Those men have been lauded with having so much to do with the Union victory. Tragically they were cannon fodder, being mowed down on a tragic scale. Someone had to do it, I guess. How primitive we were with our combative tendencies. Thousands of men would get shifted around to try to kill other men.
We are emotionally detached from all that now. We can see movies about that and not really internalize the kind of pain and tragedy that were created.
The movies show us the gallant charge. The messy aftermath is avoided. Certain generals get criticized in hindsight for not "going for the kill." So foolish to second-guess like that. Why didn't McClellan pursue the rebs more aggressively in the closing stages at Antietam? Why didn't general Meade close the vise on Lee in the aftermath of Gettysburg? Why? Because we're dealing with human beings who at a certain point cannot simply sacrifice an ever-increasing amount of lives. The troops had to feel as though they at least had a chance to survive. Had generals not followed this wisdom, they risked a breakdown in troop morale that would have given rise to mutiny, which in the Viet Nam war would be called "fragging." Fragging (with fragmentation grenades) has been given as the reason why the U.S. had to get out of Viet Nam.
There really is a limit to the extent which you can simply order these men around. The men have to have a sense of purpose and a sense of having some chance for survival. 
Minnesota had been a state for only three years when Ramsey made his commitment to Lincoln. A cynic might say the governor with his hasty move wanted to impress the East Coast establishment.
Most of the men in the First Minnesota had been born in the U.S., including a number from Maine. Maine! It was Maine troops who were at the forefront in the movie "Gettysburg." We see Joshua Chamberlain leading his Maine men on Day 2 at Gettysburg. We hear they likely "saved the Union" with their bayonet charge on Little Round Top. It is probably hyperbole to suggest that any single micro engagement "turned the tide" or "saved the Union."
 
Breaking bread with Civil War scholar
I remember bumping into Jack Imholte one afternoon at the City Center Mall restaurant, back in the iteration when that restaurant served American food. (Sorry if I sound like Donald Trump on that.) I had a pleasant conversation with the well-known Civil War scholar, author of a definitive book on the First Minnesota. I suppose he as an academic would have opinions carrying more weight than mine.
Our conversation was when the movie "Gettysburg" was fresh. I alluded to the movie. His first comment was that he had heard the First Minnesota was not represented in it. 
The First Minnesota had an engagement in that bloody Pennsylvania place that could be cited as just as important as Chamberlain's charge. Since Chamberlain went on to become a politician and he focused a lot on his Civil War background, his charge came to be high-profile in Civil War history. That's fine. It made for the most dramatic scene in the movie "Gettysburg" (starring Jeff Daniels as Chamberlain).
The First Minnesota's heroics were equally dramatic but tragic. Many of us have heard the story. General Winfield Hancock was surveying the disintegrating Union line from horseback. He came up to the well-ordered Minnesotans and asked Colonel Colvill, "What regiment is this?" I had an elementary school textbook that claimed Colvill answered the question "proudly." I was rather amused by that. Elementary kids are smart enough to see through the pretensions of textbooks. Proudly? I suspect the question was answered in a businesslike way.
Hancock ordered the Minnesotans (many of them lumberjacks) to charge down the slope and take the rebs' colors. Hancock would later say "I would have ordered that regiment in if I had known every man would be killed. It had to be done."
 
Doing their duty
The frontiersmen ran in formation down the slope through the stubble of a wheat field to the dry creek known as Plum Run, where they faced about 1400 rebs from Alabama. I believe there is a monument at Gettysburg that refers to the Alabama men as "Alabamians," not "Alabamans."
General Hancock was trying to buy time. It worked. The Minnesota regiment was nearly demolished before the order came to retreat.
An urn placed by survivors at the cemetery in Gettysburg was the first monument at the battlefield. Today there are more than 1300 monuments, which may puzzle many young people. Why would we want to remember such an awful conflict? There is an impressive Minnesota monument on Cemetery Ridge. The running rifleman statue inspired a statue at our own Summit Cemetery in Morris MN. The Sam Smith statue here is nearly identical, but contrary to popular myth that circulated for many years in Morris, the gallant Sam was not the "model" for the sculpting of the Gettysburg statue.
Having read the book "The Killer Angels," I had to ask Chancellor Imholte whether "Longstreet was right" at Gettysburg. It is Longstreet and not Lee who is the central focus of Shaara's book "The Killer Angels." Longstreet is portrayed as having the sharper mind when contemplating tactics. Lee was instinctively pugnacious. He may not have fully appreciated the awesome power of the advanced Civil War weaponry. Buford's Union cavalry had repeating rifles.
Longstreet insisted on defensive tactics, to get between the Army of the Potomac and Washington D.C., at which point General Meade would "have to attack." It would be the blue-clad troops making a charge like what Pickett in reality orchestrated. It would be the rebels dug in and repulsing the charge. Buford in fact had a great fear of this happening when he first arrived at that little Pennsylvania crossroads town.
The Confederates actually won on Day 1. Porter Alexander, the reb artillery specialist, would later say it might have been prudent for his forces to simply leave after Day 1, to be remembered as the victor. He suggested the reb army could have "held a mountain pass" for 2-3 days on the way home. Instead it was Lee's judgment that prevailed: "attack!" The impulse might have served him well on previous occasions. Not this time.
Jack Imholte said Longstreet's judgment was superior. I agreed. Tom Berenger played Longstreet in the movie.
I am rather surprised there has not been a re-make of "Gettysburg." It has the elements of conflict and drama that movie audiences like. It's troubling, though, to view a movie in which virtual waves of men get cut down by gun and cannon fire. What could possibly inspire such conduct among Americans? Was "forming your own country" so important to Southerners? Why? Any new movies about the Civil War have to try to answer that question before showing all the hellish conflict.
We miss Chancellor Imholte's wisdom in assessing the Civil War. "The Silver Fox" passed away not long ago. His book is definitive for learning about the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment. It's at our Morris Public Library.
My field trip to the Twin Cities and the Ramsey House was at the same time the song "Western Union" was popular. I remember it playing on the radio during the trip. I loved that song. The group "The Five Americans" performed the song live (not lip-synched) on the Steve Allen show. I encourage you to watch the YouTube clip of that performance. I guarantee you, this will transport you back to the 1960s. If only we hadn't fought the Viet Nam War. Here's the link to the clip - please click on it:
 
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Richard Ungerecht, Brainerd, died too soon in Viet Nam

Richard Ungerecht was a victim of friendly fire in Viet Nam. The more the years go by, the more the horrors of Viet Nam come out. Richard was part of a brother tandem, his brother being Lyle. We referred to them as "Dicky and Lyle." I had more contact with Lyle than with Dicky. Lyle was a boss water skier.
The mother of these boys was Gloria, sister of my mother's best high school friend. The town was Brainerd. It was a company town when my mom and her friend Ruth grew up there. The company was the railroad. I wonder if that stately old water tower is still there.
In 1966 we got word of Dicky's death in Viet Nam. I was eleven years old and getting a lesson in mortality. I heard at the time of the funeral that he had communicated back to his family expressing skepticism about his chances.
The funeral itself was a rather wrenching experience for me. Richard was in uniform in the coffin. The preservation process hadn't been very good. His skin was purplish. I remember Gloria sobbing uncontrollably at the cemetery.
You can't escape profound thoughts of one kind or another. Was the Viet Nam war some sort of rite of passage? A rite of passage for the country? Was it a rite of passage in the same way as the Civil War? So much death with so little justification for it. No objective analysis could possibly justify so many men taking up arms against their human brethren.
It wasn't justified for Iraq. God must have some purpose for these things. But He also must have blessed the convulsions of protest movements across the U.S. Some college graduations had to be cancelled, such was the threat of domestic unrest. A couple years ago, one of these colleges held a belated ceremony for grads of about 1970.
The "hard hats" represented the crusty portion of the population that said "America, love it or leave it." How have all those people dealt with their conscience since we all came to realize the Viet Nam war was a mistake? Do they realize that many of the casualties were taken down by their own comrades? In Dicky's case, it seemed to be a legitimate case of friendly fire - in other words it was an accident. But one never knows, of course. "The first casualty of war is the truth."
The overt cases of mutiny came to be called "fragging." The term is derived from "fragmentation grenades" which was the hellish tool for such acts. In Viet Nam the threat of fragging caused many officers and non-commissioned officers to go armed in rear areas and to change their sleeping arrangements, as fragging often consisted of throwing a grenade into a tent where the target was sleeping.
For fear of being fragged, some leaders turned a blind eye to drug use and other indiscipline. The total number of known and suspected fragging cases by explosives in Viet Nam from 1969 to 1972 was nearly 900 with 99 deaths and many injuries. We can assume some cases were not reported. Think about all this the next Memorial Day or Veterans Day. We were a far cry from WWII's sense of purpose. We were a far cry from "The Green Beret" movie starring John Wayne - as pathetic a piece of propaganda as ever existed.
Fortunately we have a pretty detailed account of how "Dicky" met his untimely end in Viet Nam. Reminder: It doesn't sound like anything akin to "fragging," but war's ugly details sometimes seem to exist behind a vail. The account that appears with this post was provided by Michael W. Hastriter. He served as hospital corpsman in India Company, Third Battlion, First Marines in Viet Nam, from January to September of 1966. 
BTW your blog host knew Dicky's grandparents very well: Art and Myrt, the most charming couple you'd ever meet. Art was a lifelong railroad man. I played many "31" card games on the porch of Art and Myrt's wonderful lake place on Pelican Lake near Brainerd. That's the lake where Breezy Point is. Art, Myrt and Gloria have passed on. Lyle has been a very resilient soul, having had several jobs and marital partners! I should be so lucky as to have that kind of adaptability. Lyle avoided Viet Nam.
The remainder of this post will have Michael Hastriter's account of Dicky's last days. I hope it's all very forthright and accurate. Be vigilant with the "fog of war." I'll trust Mr. Hastriter. His primary audience for what he wrote was Dick's family. His account is posted on the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Fund website. That's where I got the photo for this post too.
Drift back in time:

Our unit landed about 40 miles south of Chu Lai during Operation Double Eagle I. I did not know Dick at that time, so he must have joined our unit somewhat later. During the months ahead, we covered much of the geography between where we landed and Chu Lai to the north.
On March 5-7, our company was decimated during Operation Utah. Thereafter we were not an effective combat unit, so we were being "rebuilt" with replacements. Dick was one of those replacements. During our rebuild, our unit was assigned to a small island just a mile or so northeast of Chu Lai on the coast. I remember how beautiful the coconut trees were before we were boated out to the island. It was on the island that I met Dick.
Our mission was to guard the LAM (Land to Air Missile) unit on the island. The entire island was subject to penetrations by Viet Cong forces (three sides to the open South China Sea and a narrow passage between the mainland). Our main mission was to "be friendly" with the local Vietnamese during the day and run patrols during the night to prevent enemy penetrations to the LAM.
As a corpsman, I used to conduct the MedCap program during the daytime and sometimes I would go on night patrols. During the medical civil action program we provided medical care to the needy populace of the island villagers who would come to us. We didn't have a doctor per se, but did the best we could to treat their maladies (yaws, boils, dysentery, malaria, you name it).
As "non-combatants" we always had armed Marines to protect our activities, and Dick and his squad of men would sometimes accompany us for our protection. He would usually position his men, then he would help me hold and doctor the kids when needed. We would walk each day from the high ground at the east end of the island (where the LAM unit was) into the village at the lowland western side of the island. The island was small as I recall. Probably not more than a mile or so wide in any direction. The sand was as white as it gets and coconut trees were everywhere. There was a village on the west side of the island also. The civilians would migrate from the village to receive medical treatment. We could never figure out where so many came from!
We had large tents on the high ground, a fixed mess hall and constant sea breeze, so it was a good place to be (other than the fleas that ate us alive). The east end of the high ground was a high rocky cliff-like area that overlooked the South China Sea. I have pictures (slides) of Dick along those cliffs as we sat on the rocks and talked many times about home and what we would do when the war was over for us. He was a gentle guy with a sweet disposition and always had a smile. I knew of no vices that he had - just an all American kid with a great smile.
Since I had been in country for over three months, they sent me to Taiwan for several days R & R. Shortly after I returned, I received a "Dear John" letter from my first wife, which was quite unexpected and upsetting.
Dick was a great friend when I needed one. It was within a few days, that I got up after a rainy night, went to the chow hall and ate breakfast, and was walking back to my tent to put away my mess gear. Gunney Greer called me over and I could see a body wrapped in a poncho on a "mule" (much like a flat bed on an ATV). He said, "Doc, would you tag CPL Ungerecht?" It blew me away and I told the Gunny I couldn't do it. That was too much to ask and the Gunny knew it. I just retreated to the rocky cliffs and cried.
I only know what some of the men told me about how he died. His squad was on patrol in the bottom area and it was a dark and rainy night. They had got to their outpost and he positioned his men in such a fashion as to protect them all as much as possible. Being the good leader he was, he checked his men's positions later that night and in the rainy, muddy and dark conditions, he tragically misjudged where he was. He had wandered outside of his own protection and was accidentally mistaken for an enemy.
It is so frightening that you can not imagine wondering what is out in the dark. Every thing that moves and makes a noise becomes the potential enemy. It could be a cow wondering around in the rice paddy, some innocent civilian wandering from one place to another in the darkness, or somebody's son from the north doing what you are doing: trying to survive.
Men's nerves are ready to explode and it doesn't take much to trigger the firing of a weapon and understandably everyone follows suit. Once I was left outside our line (of the entire company perimeter). I stayed put for the entire night and didn't move a muscle until it was light enough to be seen by our own men! It was a lucky night for me!
The conditions that are present on a night patrol do not make it conducive for any man to do the right thing, the thing he had been trained to do. "Halt! Who goes there?" It just doesn't happen and didn't happen that night. I am glad I am not any of the men that were in that squad that night on 19 May 1966. His death was untimely, unfair and unwarranted, but I can tell you that he was the best and should be considered a hero for the type of soldier he was. He would have died a hero under any circumstance to which he might have been subjected. I knew him well enough to know that.
Don't ever let anyone tell you that it was all a waste. Innocent Vietnamese people that wanted peace and democracy were robbed, beaten and killed, and their women raped by the VC. We tried to liberate them from such oppression and were successful for a while in some places. The tragedy is that no one in this country understood this for many years, and most still don't. It was an evil war and the politicians that caused it and perpetuated it will forever be marked. I firmly believe that if it wasn't for Richard Milhouse Nixon, that we would still be there! They just wouldn't let us do it right.
I cannot comprehend the loss you all suffered so long ago, but hope that you will know that he was the greatest! Many of our best sons were lost. I hope that I have not opened old wounds, but instead have added some measure of understanding and comfort.
I returned home, went back to the Navy, eventually got out of the Navy, went to college, was commissioned an officer, and retired in 1992
 
Richard Ungerecht, a.k.a. "Charlie Tuna," RIP
 
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, July 3, 2015

The articulate Mr. Jim Kaat, an up-and-down pitcher

Remember the old TV show "Home Run Derby?" I'm guessing you didn't watch it in its original run. The show had a big revival when an ESPN channel re-ran it. We saw many old baseball stars when they were young, in video footage of a quality that was rare for that time. Thus many of us sat wide-eyed as we saw Mark Scott as emcee.
God bless all those individuals but they were all totally wooden and shallow in how they presented themselves. I had a conversation with a friend while these re-runs were getting lots of exposure. My friend attributed all that "safe" behavior and language to "fear of the owners." Quite understandable.
There was a time when all big leaguers signed the same three-page contract, and they had no leverage until after ten years. The players continued as semi-chattels through the 1960s, the time when I as a wide-eyed boy was fascinated with baseball.
 
A way with words
Conformity has its limits in all spheres. Along came Jim Kaat who was articulate and analytical. Had he been a black player, he would have been described as uppity. Our society had a word for people like Kaat at that time: "outspoken." Remember how that word once had a rather derisive ring? It doesn't any more. Had the door opened for people to be freely opinionated and questioning, well my goodness, we might have turned against the Viet Nam war. I mean, to turn against the war wholesale, to give our political leaders no wiggle room to talk about "light at the end of the tunnel."
I'll make a parallel with astronauts of the time. They were quintessential heroes of the time. Because of that, they were guided into cookie cutter conformity, but there was an exception. Like I say, there are always exceptions. In the case of the astronauts it was Wally Schirra. Wally had distinctive ways of looking at things. He wasn't like the athletes who'd say "you have to take games one at a time."
 
Flourish with the language
Eventually the analytical people push through barriers. They win our respect. Kaat had a lengthy playing career that set the table for a glittering broadcasting career. That articulateness became a ticket for him. He called four American League Championship Series for CBS from 1990 to 1993. He was a field reporter for the World Series, working with Lesley Visser and Andrea Joyce. ESPN was opening the door for wider media opportunities. Kaat had the tools to excel perfectly, thus he was the lead analyst on Baseball Tonight for the heady young network. He was nominated for a New York Emmy Award in 1995. His resume kept building.
But let's get back to Kaat's playing career. Let's backtrack to 1967. I was 12 years old. I was mesmerized by the Minnesota Twins and big league baseball, to the point of letting my school life suffer. Major league baseball was the "macro world" which I found so much more interesting than my micro world of Morris MN. I could go to Metropolitan Stadium and hear jets roar overhead. Nothing like that out in West Central Minnesota.
In 1967, the U.S. was mired worse then ever in Viet Nam. My generation was striving to do something about that. Unfortunately, much time and patience would be needed. At 12 years of age I could see the total folly of Viet Nam. So very strange. Our nation was hindered by the kind of conformity that rendered baseball players wooden and one-dimensional when at an interviewer's microphone.
We were told "America, love it or leave it."
The bleak times could be countered by an embrace of baseball. We loved it even though only one team from each league qualified for the post-season. Divisions weren't created until 1969.
In '67 the Twins were continuing with the kind of outstanding sheen they displayed in '65, the year we won the pennant. The Twins were really pretty outstanding throughout the 1960s. In '67 we might have had a better team than in '65. Alas, we were left pondering the "what might have beens." Kaat was at the absolute peak of his powers for a time. In September he was the American League Sandy Koufax. Problem was, we just couldn't tuck away the pennant. And as a result, Kaat reached the point where his arm was over-taxed. So he got hurt, with repercussions that may have lasted a very long time. The exact same type of thing happened two years later with a Twins phenom, name of Dave Boswell. Boswell was forced to overwork his arm in an extra innings game against Baltimore, a game we lost.
Well, Twins fans ended up feeling heartbreak both in '67 and '69. In '67 the pennant slipped away to Boston. Of all the heartbreak us Twins fans were dealt in that period, I think the '67 episode was the worst. Combined with the Viet Nam nightmare, I think I put on some quite skeptical or cynical goggles for a very long time. What's the use?
 
Pennant race for the ages
The American League in '67 might have had the greatest pennant race of all time. Over the last two weeks of the regular season, it's almost impossible that any race could keep as many fans so energized. Four teams grappled for the prize. The Twins were in that scrap with the Tigers, White Sox and Red Sox. Carl Yastrzemski loomed for the Red Sox. With a week left to play, the four teams were all within a game of first. From September 15 until the last day of the season, all remained within two games of each other.
"Yaz" would win the triple crown. He was awesome in September. He garnered considerable fame with all he did in '67. But had his team stopped short, and had the Griffith crew from Minny taken the prize, my, the big hero would have been Jim Kaat, the big lefty who dispensed words so well at the microphone. The previous season had seen him with 25 games. Had the Cy Young Award been given in each league back then, Kaat would have won.
Kaat came out of the starting gate struggling in 1967. He had a 1-7 record and an ERA of 6.00 at the time the beleaguered Twins manager, Sam Mele, got fired. Kaat already had a history of being up and down. He got up off the canvas after Mele left - coincidence? - as he fashioned a complete game win vs. world champion Baltimore, yielding a mere one run. He then shut out the second place Tigers in a matchup vs. Denny McLain. He won five of six starts with an ERA under 2.00. He was a cog as the Twins climbed into second place in early July. They looked for a time like they might separate themselves from the pack - really. However they fell into a pattern of hot/cold.
Kaat got his record to 8-8, then he had a spell of suffering from limited offensive support. Holy cow (as Halsey Hall would say), in a stretch of ten starts, "Kitty" went 1-5 while posting an ERA of 2.54. The Twins under manager Cal Ermer finished August in second, a half-game behind Boston but only a hair's breadth over the Tigers and White Sox. Kaat was going to have to bear down. Bear down he did, or to use the words of a scribe of the time, he went "apeshit." September saw "Kitty" go 7-0 while pitching 65.7 innings, striking out 65 batters and posting a 1.51 ERA. The high number of innings was a harbinger of something bad.
"Kitty" strode to the mound on September 13 to face the Washington Senators. The Twins were tied with "Yaz" and Boston. In his fourth consecutive quality start, Kaat allowed two runs over eight innings while striking out nine. He also gave up his first walk since the first of the month.
Three days later came a game so disastrous, maybe the gods on Mount Olympus were involved. We gave away a game against the White Sox who entered the day 1 1/2 games back. Dean Chance was our starting pitcher. Dean Chance? A pennant in '67 might have given Dean Chance a shot at immortality. At his best he was superlative. In this pivotal game against the White Sox, Chance took a 4-1 lead into the ninth. He let the first four batters reach base. But we led by two runs. There were no outs and the tying run was at second. In came Kaat for an unusual relief appearance. Was this a case of choking like what the Phillies did down the stretch in '64, when manager Gene Mauch "blinked?" Did the Twins depart from usual form with disastrous consequences? A wild pitch and sacrifice fly resulted in the score deadlocked 4-4.
Oh, but here comes Al Worthington, the Greek god of relief pitching. Omigod, Worthington allowed the implosion to reach its ugly conclusion. We fell out of first place.
Kaat wasn't done with his September heroics. Two days later he didn't allow a single batter past second base in a start vs. a young and talented A's team with the likes of Reggie Jackson. Kaat walked no one and got double digits in strikeouts. Catfish Hunter was brilliant for the A's so the game went into overtime. We scored in the tenth and Kaat bore down one more time to get a goose egg. It was probably the finest game of his career. The Twins were tied for first.
 
Coming down the stretch
Kaat faced the Yankees on September 22. He allowed two unearned runs in the Twins' 8-2 win. Over a three-week span he had walked one batter! We had a half-game lead with seven left to play. We dropped two of three before Kaat's next start. Kaat triumphed vs. the Angels, striking out 13, in a complete game win. We had a full game lead and the gods on Olympus seemed approving.
We faced the Red Sox for the final two games - quite the denouement. Kaat started the first of those games. Fenway Park was filled with fans to the brim. Kaat's left arm had been overtaxed. He couldn't finish the game. We lost 6-4. We lost again on the final day, completing a tragedy that looms in the minds of boomer-age Twins fans.
 
A season that belonged to "Yaz"
Kaat's terrific September run would lose its sheen, because of course we all focus on the winners. And in this case it would be "Yaz" and the "impossible dream" Red Sox.
Did Kaat's injury result in a long-term "dead arm?" The theory has been floated. It's not certain, because he did have a rather inexplicable up-and-down history. Amazingly, he came back to post back-to-back 20-win seasons for the Chicago White Sox in 1974-75. He ended his career 17 wins shy of 300.
Kaat's dead arm period came when I was at my height of Twins interest, so I don't have the fondest memories of him. Many of his starts ended up as yawners. But looking back, I have to admire his resiliency, the fact his injured arm did not permanently throw him out of baseball, as would have happened with so many pitchers. The course of a pitcher's professional life can be mysterious.
Had the Twins been able to muster a little more oomph, Kaat's arm could have been preserved, and ditto with Boswell's arm in '69.
I'm happy for all of Kaat's success with the microphone after his playing days. He was active in describing our 1991 World Series triumph. There was "Kitty" with his trademark articulateness, which I'm sure would have made Mark Scott faint.
 
Addendum: I'm amused at how Camilo Pascual, the Twins pitcher for whom English was a second language, referred to Kaat as "cat." Kaat would joke that the "TC" on the Twins caps stood for "twenty Cubans." Oh, us fans loved the Cuban team members.
-Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com