Tuesday, May 26, 2009


In April of this year, my family came down to New Orleans to visit. It was the first time here for most of them. Sometimes it’s easy to take the things in your own backyard for granted, until someone opens your eyes.

We did all the predictable tourist stuff…toured the French Quarter, rode the streetcar, went to Audubon Park, walked on the Moon Walk and looked over the Mississippi, took a swamp tour at Honey Island, drank like fish. I dragged them all over New Orleans. They had no plans and no intentions and were happy following my lead.

The only thing my brother Mike asked is that we visit the National World War II Museum. Since Mike generally asks for very little (at least from me…his wife and kids might disagree), I was happy to oblige. It’s not generally my subject matter of choice, even knowing that my own grandfather had died in World War II. I don’t watch many war movies or documentaries, nor do I read much on the subject.

The National WWII Museum opened in New Orleans on June 6, 2000, 56 years after the invasion of Normandy, thanks to the efforts of author and historian, Dr. Stephen Ambrose (Band of Brothers). That being said, it is truly one of the best and most fascinating museums I’ve ever been to, and I think as a family we spent somewhere between three and four hours perusing the exhibits. I appreciated the small theaters scattered throughout the museum, showing short films that documented the progression of the war. Seeing articles that actually belonged to soldiers fighting the war—rations, weapons, letters, etc.—made it seem more real.

Visiting the museum piqued my interest in World War II, and I soon found myself on Netflix renting the series Band of Brothers, mostly because of my new-found interest in the subject matter, and only a little because I’m recently crushing on Frank John Hughes, one of the stars of the movie. Out of five stars, I’d give the series six. It’s fantastic, overwhelming, enlightening, and heartbreaking.

Soon I was asking my mother for more information on my grandfather, and she pointed me toward the Indiana Military site. My grandfather, a native New Yorker, was a 1st Lieutenant in the 106th Infantry Division, 422nd Regiment, DHQ. His division was activated in 1943 in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and then transferred to Camp Atterbury in Indiana for advanced training before leaving for Europe. According to the 106th Infantry Division Web site created by Carl Wouters, “The 106th was the last of 66 US Infantry Divisions to be activated during WWII. Being one of the more unfortunate higher numbered divisions, the 106th were repeatedly stripped of manpower that was needed elsewhere.”

My mother was able to glean some information from diaries left by my grandfather and from survivors of his regiment, at least one of whom STILL keeps in touch with her to this day.

She wrote on the Web site:

They arrived at the front on December 11-all green troops. Since officers were allowed to ship an additional trunk....my father did. His men thought it wasn't like him to do that. When he got to the front lines, he opened it up. It was filled with long johns and dry socks for his men. That's the kind of man he was.

Around Dec 16, he was on his way (to or from) headquarters when he and other soldiers were captured and taken prisoner. One man escaped-got back to his lines-and told them Lt Krol had been taken prisoner. A rescue party was formed. (with many volunteers).

From his men we heard............There was a group of 11 to 16 GI's being guarded by a Nazi soldier. The soldiers were in the open-forced to lie down in the snow. As the rescue party drew near..........my father saw them and ran in the opposite direction to draw the attention of the Nazi guard. He succeeded. He was killed, the rescue party saved the others. He earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.”

The Indiana Military Web site also includes a scan of the obituary from the New York Times and of the official notification my grandmother received telling her that her husband was killed in action at the Battle of the Bulge.

While the Allies eventually triumphed, the Battle of the Bulge resulted in approximately 81,000 American casualties, many of those fatalities, one of which left my mother without a father when she was little more than a year old.

I wish I would have known my grandfather. My mother tells me that he had a degree in English, and I think he and I would have had a lot to talk about.

My father served in the military as well. He was in the U.S. Navy in the 1960s, stationed on the USS Saratoga. Fortunately, my father left the Navy long before the Saratoga was deployed to Vietnam in the 70s.

My father was a quiet man a rarely spoke of his time in the service. My knowledge comes from what I learned from my mother, what I’ve seen in several books, and the very little he told me, mostly only when plied with a few beers. He traveled to many different places, but I think he preferred home. The only souvenir I have from his travels is a decorative wall hanging that says “Souvenir of Malta — Island of Sunshine and History.”

He may not have spoken much about his time in the service, but he was most certainly proud of it, and often sported a U.S. Navy hat.

Today I am still learning about the wars this country has fought, about my grandfather, about my father, and about the hardships endured by all. It’s a humbling experience, and it has made me feel both grateful and ungrateful at the same time for all the things in this life that I don’t appreciate.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

When crime hits too close to home . . . again

I have so many things that I want to blog about. I want to blog about my trip into the Barataria to go canoeing with the alligators. I want to blog about my family’s first visit to New Orleans and our trip to Honey Island Swamp and to great places like the WWII Museum. I want to blog about the awesome CD release party of Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs.

But once again I find myself caught up in the never-ending cycle of news stories centered around violent crimes. This time the crime was one that my friends were witness to. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, some psycho opened fire on his estranged wife and her friend in the middle of a crowded bar, my FAVORITE bar, the bar in which I feel most safe and most welcome. The woman died, and the friend was severely injured.

According to the news story on NOLA.com, the victims had just gotten off work at a local hotel and were relaxing with a cocktail when the husband, who had been arrested there earlier in the week, stepped through the door and opened fire.

It breaks my heart to realize not only that crime CAN and DOES happen everywhere, but also that my friends were there and could easily have been injured.

I realize that this crime was the product of a domestic dispute and that little could have been done to prevent it. (The husband was arrested earlier this week and a restraining order was filed against him.) But it comes on the heels of so many other violent crimes throughout the city:

On Friday night a 24-year-old man was shot in the face and hip just blocks away from the site where a 35-year-old woman was killed when someone opened fire. On Saturday a bullet-riddled body was found on Airline Highway. (Yes, I know that’s Jefferson Parish, but it’s still close enough to be frightening.) Just the other day, in Marrero, a 14-year-old boy was shot in the head with an assault rifle. A seven-year-old boy was shot when his father stopped to buy drugs with his two kids in the car.

The most telling part of incidents was one line in the initial story posted on NOLA.com concerning the death of the 35-year-old woman. According to the story, a fight began in the parking lot of a gas station, one opponent wielding a baseball mat, the other a machete. The line to which I’m referring: “He said he called police but they did not come.” After the men left, one returned with a gun, firing into a crowd and killing the woman, an innocent bystander.

What’s wrong with this picture? This is not an isolated incident either. In 2007 NOLA.com posted an article concerning an attempted rape on Royal Street. The police were called but never arrived.

On May 1, NOLA.com reported that the NOPD admitted that it had “misreported” recent rape statistics. This on the heels of a story of a young woman who was kidnapped in the Quarter, raped, and dropped off in Gretna. The NOPD is investigating the kidnapping, but neither Orleans Parish nor Jefferson Parish wants to investigate the rape charge. The two parishes are fighting like my brother and I used to over who had to wash the dishes. “I don’t want to! I did it yesterday! It’s his turn!”

“It’s not my job! It’s yours!”

Who’s job is it? Who is to be held accountable? While our illustrious (insert sarcasm here) Mayor Nagin is defending his every suspicious move by claiming that those who would like some accountability are simply politically motivated and are hurting the recovery of New Orleans, the beat goes on.

Where are the crime cameras? Why do the traffic cams work so well as catching speeders and red-light runners, generating income for the city, but none of those crime cameras work?

While Nagin is busy giving non-answers and Police Superintendent Riley is busy cooking the books on crime stats, the city that I love is flailing. Who is going to help?

Yesterday’s sign of the times came in a phone call to my mother, who is very much in love with New Orleans, though she does not live here. I realized how bad things have gotten here and how bad the news looks to others when she said to me: “I think it’s time you moved home.”

The problem is, I already am home.