Posted by: philipfontana | December 27, 2018

1968/Two Books

Saying Farewell to 2018…50 Year Anniversary of 1968!…What a year!…Revisited… “1968/Two Books”! Phil

Excuse Us for Living

1 1968

     And Two Books


Philip Fontana

Dedicated to the 50th Reunion

The Class of 1968, Rutgers College, New Brunswick, New Jersey

1 RU

Rutgers University mascot, “The Scarlet Knights”



     Excuse us for living, but while so many of you remember or have heard of that tumultuous year 1968, we the Class of 1968 put our claim on it. It was our year and, with it, all the misery and anguish that went with living through it, well, we put first claim on it all! Now having fluffed our feathers, we realize that so many of our generation shared in the same agonies from the military draft hanging over our heads to serving and dying or being wounded in Vietnam. – – And what about living through the upheaval of those uncertain times politically, socially, culturally, in an atmosphere of increasing anti-war protests!

2 Time 1968

         The first…

View original post 3,183 more words

Posted by: philipfontana | December 18, 2018



Collecting, Discarding, or e-Books:

What do you say?


Philip Fontana





      Excuse us for living, but throughout our lives both wife Geri and I have loved and collected books. We just love our books and can’t say it enough. All the while, we have seen the change over the years to e-books or “read and discard” books at best. What is your preference? What do you do?

We have never considered the many linear feet of books on our bookshelves as “our library.” Rather, we enjoy every individual title. Some we have read. Others just sit there in case we “get a fancy” to read it. – – College books, a book subscription years ago from The Franklin Library, books from antique shops and consignment shops, and, naturally, bookstore purchases and, oh, that Amazon online! – – Hardcover, paperback, new or used, free shipping?

We talk so about our “too many books” apologetically in this day and age. In an age of the Kindle and other electronic e-book/reading devices, many people see the physical books as “space wasters.” Even people who still appreciate and enjoy the feel and experience of reading a book in their hands, many people discard a book once read. Indeed, libraries are digitizing their collections! And as we, ourselves, look to downsize to a condo or townhouse, with the “For Sale” sign up on our old 1885 Dutch Colonial as I write this, the question arises as to how many books will a new place accommodate? And what about you? Do you have a book collection? Do you discard books after reading them? Do you read e-books?

A Lvg Rm

      This is our living room book case with mostly classics from The Franklin Library from Keats, Poe, Hawthorne, Joyce, Melville, Kipling, Dickens, and so many more. – – The other books here are largely a collection of books on art, music, and religion.

B Porch

        Here is our enclosed porch or family room bookshelves with books most personal to me. There are college books from my BA at Rutgers U. in history and my MA at Drew U. in political science. – – And then the many books on history, biography, and politics, that I have read, mostly. Special to me is my small collection of books on each of these figures in America’s 20th century story; Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bobby Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter. – – Plus the complete works of David McCullough!  Anyone into First Editions?

C Degas

        In one bedroom are books surrounding wife Geri’s desk and laptop. These books reflect Geri’s lifelong passion reading romance novels. Geri’s favorite author? – – Nora Roberts! – – There are more romance novels elsewhere in the house! – – Many more!

D Minnie

        The other bedroom I dominate with our PC and the overflow bookshelves here with TOO MUCH memorabilia crammed in front of the books! – – Everything from more college books to classic titles, biographies and autobiographies from showbiz personalities, and, on the lowest two shelves, left and right, my treasured collection of books handed down to me from my grandfather and namesake, Philip Fontana. – – My favorite is his 1940 copy of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” illustrated by Norman Rockwell! The most precious, rare, valuable book here I found at a flea market bookstore for $2.00 way back when; an 1886 publication of Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow!!! – – Once, a literature professor I met was so in awe of it, he asked if I would permit him to photocopy it, which I did.


     Excuse us for living in one house for 43 years because there are four additional, though less substantial, book cases in the house besides those pictured here and a few other assorted shelves and spots for books! The question remains as to how many books we can take with us to a condo or townhouse. Clearly, we must part with some of these books. And we look to store away some of the books in our new place. We could never reproduce the wonderful bookshelf space we have enjoyed here in our home all these years!  What about you? Where do you stand on collecting books?  Leave a comment below!

Sources: Many volumes of books!

Comments: Please!

Posted by: philipfontana | November 14, 2018





Philip Fontana


     Excuse us for living, but most everyone eventually has a collection of something. We call these precious possessions “collectables.” If you think about it and mentally survey the place in which you live, you might surprise yourself that you have something you collect, maybe more than one collectable! For me, it’s been German beer steins and assorted mugs and pewter tankards. For wife Geri, her number one collectable is Dalton porcelain ladies from the UK. But when we take full-stock of our surroundings, we realize we collect a number of other things. I covet my collection of every CD ever recorded by Michael Feinstein! And Geri has a lovely collection of Carnival glass pieces and a collection of assorted music boxes. I could go on, from books, naturally, to postage stamp album (remember those?), old vinyl records, to paintings, prints, and sculpture. – – And there’s more! – – That Dutch Delft china, white with blue markings! – – Enough! So take a look around your abode and see what collectables you have!

A SteinShelves

         This is the most updated photo of “the mother lode” of German beer steins I have collected. A few more have been added since this photo was taken. There are 116 beer steins in all, mostly German except for one from Belgium & another from Austria. The very first stein I collected is in the top left corner of the photo, the one without a lid! (Close up in a moment!)   I purchased that during my college years. – -More about that later! Then there are, picture coming up also, 24 college mugs & assorted other mugs from the Netherlands to McSorley’s Ale House in New York City. – – Plus add to that 10 pewter tankards & 10 Anheuser Busch-type steins. – – All totaled 160 steins & mugs, pewter, & counting! Geri encouraged me to pursue my interest & collection when we could least afford it in our early years of marriage with infrequent purchases at a flea markets & garage sales. As the years moved on we ventured into antique shops to find steins & mugs & pewter tankards. Even relatives & friends started giving me steins they owned! But the majority of the German beer steins came from “The Stein Man,” as we affectionately dubbed him! – – Allan Brody of Hammonton, New Jersey, about 30 miles west of Atlantic City, NJ. An antique shop proprietor introduced us to Allan almost 20 years ago. Allan sold steins at very reasonable prices. As the years past, Allan became a dear friend of ours, meeting, buying steins, & “doing lunch” during our stays in Atlantic City. The Stein Man’s prices became lower & lower as our friendship became warmer & closer. And so, over the years one lonely German beer stein from my college years grew slowly at first & then more rapidly into a collection!

B Top Shelf.JPG

        This top shelf of large steins is a very recent photo & right up to date. Almost all of them were purchased from Allan Brody, The Stein Man. As you can see, some of these steins are huge. Steins are measured by their liter capacity, marked on the bottom of the stein. As an example, the largest steins hold 3 liters of beer. The bottom of the stein also shows the marked symbol of the manufacturer, some more desirable than others, thus, adding to the value.

C First Stein

       My first stein purchase was made in 1968 while on concert tour with the Rutgers University Glee Club. While it is a German stein, it was purchased in a little shop in the small town of Echternach, Luxembourg, for $7.00 American. Despite the absence of a lid, it is one of the most beautiful steins in the collection, based on the sculpted facade of a hunting scene. It is quite unique among the other tavern-drinking & domestic scenes depicted on most other steins, with graphics accompanied by a written phrase or two in German, naturally.

D More Steins

       These shelves accommodate the “overflow” of steins from the larger wall-unit. – – Too much here to point out to you! The bottom left is the shelf of 10 Anheuser Busch-type steins. And that partially blocked dish, middle right shelf, is very special; it is from & all about Luxembourg. One scene on the plate actually depicts the town hall of Echternach where the Rutgers University Glee Club performed outdoor concerts during both 1966 & 1968 tours!!!

E NewestStein

This stein is unique & special to the collection. I purchased it while on a river cruise down the Rhine in 2015 in a shop in the Black Forest, the Schwarzwald, where it was manufactured. It is the only stein in the collection purchased brand new & in Germany!

F Mugs & Steins

        All the college mugs, assorted other mugs from the Netherlands to McSorley’s Ale House, some pewter, & my early purchases of German beer steins without lids are showcased on the old upright piano!

G PianoTop

      Here’s a close-up of the piano top with mugs & steins. Mostly college mugs are featured in the foreground. (Talk about collectables, that center watercolor portrait is an excellent likeness of my namesake paternal grandfather, Philip Fontana, painted by my professional artist Uncle Joseph Cali. And top right is a poster of the Rutgers University Glee Club from 1967.)

H CloseupMugs

     And here is a “side aerial view” of the piano top to see the depth of the collection here.  –Front right, that’s the mug from McSorley’s Ale House in New York City! –And front center, a Delft mug from the Netherlands! If you look closely, you’ll catch a huge pewter college mug halfway down, photo center…It’s a beauty from Syracuse University!!!


     Excuse us for living in our old 1885 Dutch Colonial for these 43 years. With the house presently hanging a “For Sale” sign out front, the present display of steins, etc., will sadly come to an end. But we plan to keep the collection carefully stored on basement shelves with a rotating display of selected steins in the living room or family room. Even now we have a few steins scattered throughout our rooms. – – Steins! – -My #1 major collectable! I’d be interested to hear from you in the comments section below!  What is your favorite “collectable”?

Sources: 160 steins, mugs, & tankards!

Comments: Please!


Posted by: philipfontana | October 3, 2018

For Sale




Phil & Geri

A For Sale

Finally, the house is on the market!


B Outside Front 2 - Copy

       Our 1885 Dutch Colonial in Montville, New Jersey…For 43 years our first & only home!


C Outside RearVw - Copy

        A neat photo of the rear of the house…It gives you a feel for the 2,150 sq. ft. driveway that wraps around the house to the garage. – – Plus the terraced wall to the large grass area along the Morris Canal.


     Excuse us for living here for 43 years! We always said the funeral home can pick us up here! We raised our three boys in this house. And while the closet space is less than desirable and the basement is not a “finished basement,” we have been very comfortable with the living space. The yard is beautifully landscaped with greens and rock gardens, patio, and a large grass area. A challenging driveway pitched down off the road, wraps around the back of the house to the garage. We always said over the years that once the boys were grown and gone, we already lived in our “retirement condo.”

What we never factored in was our “age” and all the work the old house takes. We always do our own interior painting and decorating. And we do the landscaping and snow removal. It was time to hire some help or move on!

And so after a few years of prepping the house, the “For Sale” realtor’s sign went up four weeks ago. Here is the link to Zillow to take a look at what buyers view online. Any problem with the link, just type on Google, “Zillow,” and then on Zillow type in our address, 203 Main Road, Montville, NJ 07045. Again, here’s the link to Zillow:,-74.297963,40.867379,-74.457093_rect/12_zm/1_fr/?view=public has seen less posting in the past few months, but the house is ready for sale. All we need is a few buyers to take a look! It’s not a house for the average buyer. But if someone comes along looking for a house with a feel of history from built in corner hutches and French doors, fireplace and Franklin stove, etc., along the old Morris Canal with almost a half mile of woods and a brook behind our property, this is their house! Let’s see how it goes! Wish us luck! Just in case, we are out “shopping” for a condo or townhouse in our same neighborhood of Morris County, New Jersey.

Comments: Please!

Posted by: philipfontana | May 16, 2018

9th PastaPost

Ninth PastaPost

Pasta Manfredi


Phil & Geri



     Excuse us for living, but we can’t believe we didn’t share this superb pasta recipe yet! It’s so good and we have it so often on Friday nights! What were we thinking? Here it is! But first there always has to be a backstory that goes along with our recipes. That’s just the way it is! These recipes don’t just pop up into our heads. They evolve for good reason…at least to us!

A Size AlCrop

         Pictured here is Al Manfredi, sixth grade teacher, High Mountain Road, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. Al loved Italian food and bragged and bragged how good arugula was and how much he loved arugula, most likely in salads we guess. We didn’t even know what arugula was until I worked with Al at High Mountain Road School as his principal. It’s a green leafy vegetable similar to fresh spinach leaves and quite pungent in taste. And it was Al’s influence that cause us to order arugula salads at Big Fish restaurant, Dewey Beach, Delaware, many years ago. – – Our first taste! – – Strong stuff! – – Blame it on Al!

B Size HMR

     This is High Mountain Road School (HMR), Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, where Al Manfredi and I worked together in the late 1980’s & early 1990’s. Al spent most of his career at High Mountain Road School teaching sixth grade.  He served under my predecessor principal, George Ruocco and myself. Prior to that, Al taught at Franklin Avenue Middle School across town. He ended his career retiring from Woodside Avenue School in his mid-60’s. – – His entire teaching career in Franklin Lakes in Bergen County, northern New Jersey, where he lived and he and his wife, Sarajane, raised four children. To Al, having been raised in the rough and tough “Hell’s Kitchen” area of New York City, Franklin Lakes was “the countryside.” Hell’s Kitchen is that part of NYC located just on the west edge of the Broadway district. Al was an interesting person, both sophisticated, well-read, and had a slight “tough guy” edge to him as well.  Al told a great story of him and his classmates in a Catholic elementary school being commandeered into a children’s chorus for some performance at the Metropolitan Opera! Al retired in 1996 and we sadly lost him to a terrible illness 6-7 years later. I like to recall the memory when Al invited me to his house for dinner prior to returning to HMR together for an evening program or event.  And there are plenty “Al Manfredi stories” to cherish!!!  

C Size Crazy Photo

        This is what I called a “crazy photo.” I took one every school year at our first faculty meeting the day before the school year opened. – – The idea being it takes a little “craziness” to get through every school year! Al Manfredi, in true spirit of the photo, is pictured second from the right sticking out his tongue! (And that’s me, photo extreme left!) Al was the most respected teacher among this faculty of outstanding teaching talent. He was respected for his years of experience and the wisdom he brought to all we faced as a little elementary school, grades K-6, of 230 some students and 25 teachers.

D Size Class Photo

          This is a combined photo of the two 6th grade classes at High Mountain Road School in 1991. The teachers are standing left and right of the students, Al Manfredi, obviously, photo left, and less obvious, that’s the teacher photo right, Stacey Nolan, looking not much older than the kids. Al taught his specialty, social studies, to both classes separately, while Stacey taught each class science. Al’s greatest expertise and love was teaching the classical period, the Greeks and the Romans. The highlight was the hands-on experience Al gave his students in archaeology. He had the students each make his/her own clay jar and place it in a shoe box. To their shock, students one day entered the classroom to see their jars had been smashed to pieces by guess who. The learning objective of the next lesson for students was to glue their own jars back together, piece by piece. – – The kids never forgot that! – – Nice teaching, Al!


     Al Manfredi not only made a big impression on his students and the faculty, but this principal as well. Along with my great regard for Al, I never forgot about his love for arugula! I told my wife, Geri, my partner-in-crime creating new pasta dishes, wouldn’t it be great to make a pasta recipe using arugula and call it “Pasta Manfredi”! It was one of Al’s favorites that he talked about as a lover of Italian food from his heritage. – – What to include besides arugula in the recipe? – -There had to be garlic. – – And those small cherry tomatoes would liven, sweeten things up! – – Maybe fettuccine! As always, the rest I left to Geri, the mastermind and the real chef behind all my crazy ideas. The result was a DELICIOUS “Pasta Manfredi”! Here it is!

E Size Pasta



…Pasta Manfredi


3/4 cup oil (canola or olive)

1 med. bunch of scallions (sliced 1/4” thick)

8 cloves garlic (sliced long)

1 tsp. black pepper (fresh ground)

3/4 pint grape tomatoes sliced in half

3 cups Arugula loosely packed

1/2 cup grated cheese (preferably Pecorino Romano)

1/2 lb. Fettuccine pasta (or your preferred pasta)

1 tbs. salt

3-4 quarts boiling water


Sauté scallions, garlic & black pepper in the oil in medium sauce pan until tender, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain in colander & reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water. Add scallion mixture, pasta water, tomatoes, Arugula, & cheese, & toss gently.

Makes 2 generous servings! Add ground black pepper to taste.

Note: If you heat up “leftovers,” be sure to add fresh Arugula.

Excuse us for living, but we have Pasta Manfredi as often as our other favorite pasta dishes! Try it! You will see why! – – Delizioso!

Comments: Please, before or after you try this!!!   



Posted by: philipfontana | April 3, 2018

1968/Two Books


1 1968

     And Two Books


Philip Fontana

Dedicated to the 50th Reunion

The Class of 1968, Rutgers College, New Brunswick, New Jersey

1 RU

Rutgers University mascot, “The Scarlet Knights”



     Excuse us for living, but while so many of you remember or have heard of that tumultuous year 1968, we the Class of 1968 put our claim on it. It was our year and, with it, all the misery and anguish that went with living through it, well, we put first claim on it all! Now having fluffed our feathers, we realize that so many of our generation shared in the same agonies from the military draft hanging over our heads to serving and dying or being wounded in Vietnam. – – And what about living through the upheaval of those uncertain times politically, socially, culturally, in an atmosphere of increasing anti-war protests!

2 Time 1968

         The first paragraph of this 1968 Time Magazine cover story dated June 7, 1968! From what is left out, this obviously went to press just before Robert Kennedy’s death on June 6. “THE troubled and troublesome college Class of 1968 tends to have a sober, even tragic view of life. They were high school seniors in the year that John Kennedy, a politician who gained their trust and inspired their ambitions, was shot to death in Dallas. They were college seniors in the year that Martin Luther King, the Negro leader who tapped their idealism and drew them into social protest, was murdered in Memphis. Throughout all of their college careers, the war in Viet Nam has tormented their conscience, forced them to come to personal decisions relating self and society, country and humanity, life and death. With the lifting of most of the graduate-school deferments, the men of ’68 face the war and those existential issues as an immediate, wrenching reality.”




     It is our good fortune that two excellent books have recently been published to help us understand the year 1968, even for those of us having lived through it. Both books were published late in the year 2017 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that year 1968; Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election And The Transformation of American Politics, Penguin Press, 2017, 427 pages, by Lawrence O’Donnell, and Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, Simon & Schuster, 2017, 342 pages, by Chris Matthews. Both books concentrate their topics on that fateful year. Impossible to avoid are the years and events prior and after. Both authors do an admirable job and do justice to their respective stories.


3 LO Size

     You may know Lawrence O’Donnell as the host of “The Last Word,” his nightly TV program on MSNBC. He has led a varied and distinguished career, even as an actor, mostly in and around the political world. He made quite a name for himself as writer and executive producer of the hugely successful TV series, “The West Wing,” winning an Emmy Award for his efforts.

   Lawrence O’Donnell has serious political credentials. He served as legislative aide and then senior advisor to New York’s Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1989 to 1995. And then under Senator Moynihan’s chairmanships, O’Donnell was chief of staff to both the Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works and the Senate Committee on Finance.

     Lawrence O’Donnell authored the 1983 book, Deadly Force, that became a 1986 movie, “A Case of Deadly Force,” in which he had an acting role as well as associate produced. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, among other publications.

     Politically, O’Donnell is a liberal going back to his college days. In the past he has even described himself as a “practical European socialist.” More recently he has said, “I am not a liberal who is so afraid of the word that I had to change my name to ‘progressive.’ ”- – Harvard graduate. – – Boston born.


4 1968 Size

     Lawrence O’Donnell’s Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election And The Transformation of American Politics is a tour de force on the year 1968. In doing so, the author must touch on events prior to that fateful year and spill, though briefly, into the year’s aftermath. He relies on published sources without doing original research, despite the availability of the participants’ papers which have since opened up. That being said, Lawrence O’Donnell’s reflections, analysis, and conclusions are riveting and, some, shocking to read. And he offers one of the most succinct descriptions of that time:


“The counterculture explosion of protest, irreverence, generational mistrust, iconoclasm, rebellion, and all the various forms of radical experimentation – – sexual, musical, communal, psychotropic – -began polarizing the nation on questions of basic American values. That explosion’s flashpoint was Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam.”


The overall thrust of the book, though far from its entire focus, is that Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy was responsible for bringing the Vietnam War to an end – –  ALMOST! There McCarthy stood at the rear of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 17, 1967 to hear Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenback state, in essence, that the President, Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), had unlimited power to conduct the Vietnam War based on the trumped up Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of August 7, 1964. Between 1965 and 1967 the number of American troops had grown from 210,000 to 485,000 with 11,000 casualties. “There is no limit to what he says the President can do,” said Senator McCarthy. There was only one thing to do. “Take it to the country. Someone’s going to have to take them on. If I have to run for president to do it,” said Gene McCarthy, “I’m going to do it.” And so the anti-war protesters of Allard Lowenstein had a leader for their “Dump Johnson” movement. Lowenstein’s efforts to enlist a reluctant Robert F. Kennedy to run had failed up to then, despite the chants of “Run, Bobby, Run” at RFK public appearances.

And so, author O’Donnell leads the reader through the wild ride of 1968. – – The Democratic candidates for president; the incumbent President Lyndon Johnson, Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey. – – The Republican candidates; Richard Nixon, George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, and Ronald Reagan. – – And the Independent segregationist candidate George Wallace. – – And both the monumental and tragic events; Gene McCarthy almost defeating President Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, prompting Robert Kennedy finally to jump into the race, President Johnson announcing that he will not run for re-election, resulting in Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s run, the assassination of Martin Luther King and the resulting riots across the country, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the Republican Convention in Miami nominating Richard Nixon, and the Democratic Convention in Chicago, characterized as a police riot mowing down protesters and even innocent bystanders with tear gas, Mace, and clubs. Oh, Humphrey wins the Democratic nomination in Chicago over McCarthy, 1,760 delegate votes to 601. Humphrey now faces Nixon in the general election.

The book culminates with the irony of ironies in this tragedy of a year. President Johnson announces on Halloween night, October 31, 6 days before the November election, the halting of U.S. bombing of North Vietnam to advance the Paris peace talks with the hope that the end of the war is now in sight. Secretly, President Johnson gets North Vietnam to agree to negotiate with South Vietnam, accept a demilitarized zone, and end attacks on South Vietnam. And South Vietnam President Thieu agrees that his negotiating team could be in Paris overnight. However, through a Chinese intermediary, the Nixon campaign signals South Vietnam President Thieu to “hold on” for a better deal with a Nixon administration! Three days before election day South Vietnam President Thieu refuses to join any peace talks that include the Vietcong communist guerilla fighters in South Vietnam. Nixon wins the election 43.4% to Humphrey’s 42.7%, Wallace 13.5%. Lawrence O’Donnell ends 1968 with the cost of Nixon’s election win; treason, costing another 20,000 American soldiers’ lives over the next five years, added to the 38,000 already dead, until the war’s end. This is the big picture. The juice behind some of these events is mind-boggling!


5 CM Size

     Chris Matthews is known to many people as the nightly host of his program, “Hardball,” on MSNBC. He has led quite a career in and out of politics, in the print media as bureau chief and columnist, TV political commentator and host, and author.

     Matthews started modestly in Washington, D.C., as an officer with the Capitol Police. He then served on the Congressional staffs of four Congressmen including Senators Frank Moss and Edmund Muskie. Chris Matthews ran an unsuccessful bid in a 1974 primary for a Pennsylvania congressional seat in the House. He distinguished himself as a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and especially for six years as Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neal from Massachusetts. He even dallied with the idea of a run for the Senate himself in 2008-2009 that came to nothing.

     Chris Matthews worked as bureau chief for the San Francisco Examiner for thirteen years, 1987-2000, and then as a syndicated columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle for two years. In 1997 he began his weeknight TV talk show, “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” still going strong to this day. And, from 2002 until 2003 he hosted a TV political round-table for journalists.

     Matthews authored eight best-selling books, the most noteworthy to his latest on Robert Kennedy being; Tip and the Gipper, 2013, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, 2011, Kennedy and Nixon, 1996, and Hardball: How Politics is Played, 1988. While Chris Matthews is, undoubtedly, a liberal Democrat, he has claimed along the way that he is more conservative than people think. – – A graduate of the College of the Holy Cross and a masters in economics from the University of North Carolina. – – Holds 34 honorary degrees and recipient of numerous awards. – – A proud member of the Peace Corps, 1968-1970, serving in Swaziland. – – And a die-hard Irishman born in Philadelphia.


     Chris Matthew’s Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit is, no doubt, a labor of love, having myself read his previous books on Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon. He is clearly drawing from those books here, especially with his Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero fresh in his mind from 2011. From this knowledge-based platform, Matthews cites two biographies on Robert F. Kennedy that have stood the test of time and on which he relies; the 2 volume Robert Kennedy and His Times, 1978 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Robert Kennedy: His Life, 2000, by Evan Thomas. To these books and other published sources, Chris Matthews adds his extensive interviews conducted for his previous books and adds new interviews with surviving players of RFK’s story and their younger relatives.

The overall mission of the book is to give the reader a true sense of the man that Robert Kennedy was, more than a survey of his eventful life, though it’s all here. That being said, what the author accomplishes is profoundly more. What emerges is that Bobby’s evolution as a person was not as simple as a pre and post Dallas Bobby with the assassination of his brother the President. It was true that before Dallas Robert Kennedy focused on going after “the villains in life” (e.g., Bobby going after Jimmy Hoffa in those Senate hearings) and after Dallas he turned to advancing the causes of “life’s villains” (e.g., Bobby speaking on behalf of the downtrodden from the poor to civil rights, anti-war protesters, and more). But the seeds to this matured RFK were there going back to childhood on forward. The importance to this picture of Bobby being number seven in the lineup of nine siblings in all and always competing for his strong father Joe, Sr.’s approval cannot be over-emphasized. How else could this least athletic Kennedy be the only one to win a varsity letter playing Harvard football? The “ruthless enforcer” image he gained in his political career developed out of his strivings to prove himself to his father. Yet, the close relationship between this son and his mother Rose, and their deeply shared Catholicism, revealed the softer side of Bobby. She recognized his openness and sweetness that made him vulnerable. He had a large heart and generous spirit of compassion for others, especially the downtrodden. Evidence of this side of Bobby manifest itself early-on, more times than once, in prep school, fighting on behalf of oppressed students. His mother Rose witnessed the complexities of her young son when he called upon Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing and successfully had a Boston priest excommunicated for preaching “no salvation outside the church.” So the seeds were well-planted, shows the author, for these seemingly conflicting qualities and attributes called upon in RFK’s public life.

Chris Matthews’ treatment of RFK’s 43 year life story is admirable. Considering this is a lighter, more popularized version compared to the in-depth studies previously mentioned by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Evan Thomas, Matthews writes a thorough biography. His life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet immediately after his June 4, 1968 California primary victory and speech at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, sometime after midnight June 5. Bobby died just over 24 hours later, lingering until June 6, 1968. His public career spanned but 15 years, 1952-1968, and his historic run for the presidency a mere 82 days.

Bobby’s contributions to JFK’s career are well-known. His role in the 1946 campaign to elect his brother to a congressional seat in the House of Representatives was limited to campaigning in one precinct in Boston. The impression of Bobby “the ruthless enforcer” emerges when Bobby takes over Jack’s run for the U.S. Senate in 1952. A major step for the campaign and Jack was Bobby overcoming their Dad, Joe, Sr., and his dominance and direction of the campaign, despite his continued source as the purse strings of the operation. It was in his role as campaign chairman that Bobby began to be perceived as “ruthless” and earned the reputation as being the “enforcer.” It started with his ability to say “no” to supposed volunteers with their hands out for money to get out the vote. Equally important to Bobby’s role is the writing space Matthews devotes to Bobby’s pal and chum from his Harvard football days, Kenny O’Donnell. It was Kenny who was responsible for convincing Jack to bring Bobby on board in the first place to head the Senate campaign. And it was Kenny O’Donnell who is at their side riding the years of Jack’s career all the way into and during the White House years as a top advisor.

Chris Matthews does a competent job explaining the complex and intimate family relationship between the Kennedy family and Republican Senator Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin. While Joe McCarthy and his permanent Subcommittee on Investigations routed out communists, Bobby’s assignments on that committee, as assistant counsel, then deputy staff director, and finally as Democratic Counsel, stayed clear of Joe’s witch-hunt of communists in the State Department and elsewhere. Bobby is given credit for investigating trade by U.S. allied countries aiding the enemy during the Korean War. Bobby goes on to earn high marks at his Senator brother Jack’s side as Chief Counsel on the Senate Rackets Committee grilling Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa. Here Bobby finally wins the long desired regard and recognition of his father, Joe, Sr.

Now the author moves into Bobby’s role as campaign chairman of Jack’s 1960 successful run for the presidency. We see the evolving animosity between Bobby and Lyndon Johnson, who becomes JFK’s VP, getting worse as the years unfold. The seeds went back to LBJ’s gossip about Joe, Sr. as an “appeaser” while serving as FDR’s Ambassador to the UK prior to WWII. This bad relationship just gets worse over the years even until Bobby’s death. The book goes on to Bobby’s role as chief advisor to President Kennedy as his Attorney General, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the emerging stance and actions taken on behalf of the civil rights movement, and against organized crime & more.

Where the real Bobby Kennedy emerges in the book is when Bobby is elected to the U.S. Senate, after JFK’s death, from the State of New York. Bobby is mentored by the Senator from Massachusetts, his brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, first elected to the Senate in 1962 to fill JFK’s seat and for his first full-term in 1964, the year Bobby is elected. “Not since 1803 had a pair of brothers served simultaneously in the United States Senate.” The brothers are sworn in together, January 1965. Matthews does a priceless job describing Teddy signaling Bobby right on the floor of the Senate how to cast his votes! – – “Edward Kennedy” coming before “Robert Kennedy” in the roll-call votes lets Teddy nod his head to Bobby. – – Even to a misunderstanding of their “nod signals” and Bobby having to change his vote! But it is here in his role as Senator that those childhood seeds of sensitivity and, yet, assertion, come together in Bobby. He is passionate about the plight of the downtrodden in our society; the poor, the cause of the growing anti-Vietnam war protesters, civil rights, Cesar Chavez’s migrant farm workers,  and others in our society in need.

And finally, there is Bobby’s on again-off again hesitation to get into the 1968 race for the presidency; whether to lead the anti-war movement and all the protesters, whether to challenge a sitting President, whether to divide the Democratic Party, whether to run prematurely when his sights were on the 1972 election as his year. His father always counseled not to run too soon, but brother Jack cautioned about getting in too late! As Matthews tells it, that all ends with Senator Eugene McCarthy’s entry into the New Hampshire primary and his “almost” victory over LBJ with 47% to McCarthy’s 42%. Bobby is in! Then LBJ puts himself out of the running for re-election to focus on bringing the war to an end. The pace quickens. Martin Luther King is assassinated in Memphis, April 4, 1968, and Bobby informs the people of the loss while speaking on the campaign trail in Indianapolis, Indiana. There are no riots in Indianapolis attributed to Bobby’s personal words, having known great loss in his family, as riots, burning, and looting spread across the nation. Now come the primaries with McCarthy vs. Kennedy; Indiana, Nebraska, Oregon, and then California. Bobby wins them all decisively but for Oregon. Oregon was Bobby’s first experience with a loss ever as either campaign manager or as a candidate. Just before the California primary, Bobby Kennedy and Gene McCarthy hold a debate. The debate is a draw. But the California primary left no doubt with RFK 46% to McCarthy 42%.

Chris Matthews ends Bobby Kennedy poignantly. “An exhausted Bobby spent primary day, June 4, with his wife and family…By evening, with projections showing Robert Kennedy the winner…he summed up how the moment seemed to him. ‘You know I feel now for the first time that I’ve shaken off the shadow of my brother. I feel I made it on my own.’ ” Bobby was due within the hour to make that fatal victory speech at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Excuse us for living through these tumultuous times with all the turmoil of 1968. Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews have given us pause with their books. My written account here has run on much too long. And yet, I have another entire page of things that impressed or surprised me from these books from which I will spare you.

Comments: Please!


Playing With Fire: The 1968 Elections And The Transformation of American Politics

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit



Posted by: philipfontana | January 31, 2018

On Language


On Language

My Pet Peeves: “Existential” & “Geopolitical”

What’s Yours?


Philip Fontana


Pet peeves.


     Excuse us for living, but no matter our age, we all have our little “pet peeves” along the way of life. It sounds petty to complain about such small things in this uncertain political time in which we live; not to mention the horrific natural disasters around the nation and the world, along with acts of terrorism and gun violence. – – I’m depressing myself just writing this.

That being said, putting all that aside (impossible), there must be things, some smaller things, that bother you. I’d be very interested to hear what your “pet peeve” is in the comments section below! You might, for example, hate bloggers like me who would better spend their time reading instead of writing! – – I’ll vote for that one myself! What I have in mind are a few things regarding language usage largely in the news media which have annoyed me in recent years. I thought the time I spend writing this “Excuse Us…” might be well spent researching them.


Philosophy Department: You are Here...But why?


My number one nomination as something that drives me nuts is the use of the term “existential,” usually “existential threat” or “existential crisis,” but never-the-less “existential…,” with this or that tacked on! – – “Existential problem, existential menace, existential pandemic.” (That last one is a whopper!)  – – You name it! It’s “existential” whatever it may be. And the egregious offenders are the news shows (that used to be called “news programs”) coming out of the mouths of the hosts and their guests, not affectionately referred to as “talking heads.”

The term “existential” is not only misused but overused and complicated by its roots in the philosophical term, “existentialism.” Such phrases as “existential threat” and “existential crisis” are used more as clichés, as intensifiers much like the misuse of the word “literally.” Use of the term “existential,” apparently, came from the German form “Existentialismus” in 1919 and came to the English language in 1941 by dropping the “us.” To oversimplify, existentialism is a 19th-20th century philosophy. It questions “how and whether life has meaning, and why we exist,” stressing the importance of “freedom and will instead of reason in confronting problems.” (Anyone remember their college Philosophy 101 or Political Theory 101 and the name Jean-Paul Satre?)

And so, the adjective “existential” does have its roots in the philosophical “existentialism.” The word “existential” can be defined as “of or relating to existence.” When, for example, the phrase “existential threat” is used in political discourse, it refers to “a threat to a people’s existence or survival.” The best I can do to sum up this discussion is to say that when the word “existential” is used on the political talk shows, it makes reference “to survival or to the meaning of our lives.” – – Personally, I still think they throw it in for flare, emphasis, as a cliché. It’s a phrase that should be used with more discretion, in my opinion, and not for verbal flourish!


C Geo Prof


My second pet peeve, again from the political talk shows, is the use of the term “geopolitical.” Now, as a student and teacher of history and political science, I fully understand what they are talking about. But clearly the term is misused and overused. Their use of the term has nothing to do with any geographic aspects whatsoever.

Strictly speaking, at the risk of oversimplification, “geopolitical” refers to “the study or application of the influence of political and economic geography on politics, national power, foreign policy, etc., of a state… or region.” Despite this meaning, speakers misuse the term to make their statements, adding a global flourish to give more importance to their words.

Used correctly, “geopolitical” as an adjective relates to that which “geographical location – – more than culture, history, or ideas – – influences political developments.” In truth, typical uses of the term “geopolitical” in the news media are most often discussing the impact and implications of something globally, perhaps. That’s as close to geography as they get! – – Considerations of geography being far from what the speakers have in mind. Yet, the term “geopolitical” is thrown around, or thrown in, seemingly, for affectation, as a cliché, here once again as in my first pet peeve!


D Size PetPeeves


Excuse us for living, but that feels better! Now I know my annoyance with the use of these terms is justified. The next time I hear them used by people on the news shows I can yell back at the TV with informed, justified confidence! HOW ABOUT YOU???!!! What is a pet peeve or two of yours? I’d be interested to know!  Let me know in the comments section below!

Comments: What is your pet peeve(s)?

Online Sources:,,,,





Posted by: philipfontana | November 29, 2017

8th PastaPost



Eighth PastaPost

Pasta Piselli


Phil & Geri



Excuse us for living, but we owe a debt of gratitude to our ancestors in so many ways! In my 6th PastaPost, coincidently, I went into considerable detail as to my family’s modest roots from Sicily in southern Italy. (Go to the bottom of the right margin here and click on “Friday Night/Recipe Posts” to read that 6th PastaPost and look at all PastaPost recipes!) It is that background that I call upon to introduce what I call “peasant food”; i.e., those dishes that every ethnic group has as part of their basic traditional cuisine that go back to “the old country.” And these recipes are handed down to us and perpetuated generation after generation and still enjoyed with much delight.

Now what took me all these years of PastaPosts to get around to this one? I guess that’s because it was one of those “peasant food” staples we grew up with and took for granted. Well, over these recent years we have rediscovered our appreciation for it! I’ve fancied up the name for you, calling it Pasta Piselli, translated, “pasta with peas”! We grew up calling it (and still do!) “spaghetti and peas.” – – That’s right, peas! Oh, not just any type of peas. To get that “just the right flavor” you MUST use those “mushy peas,” wife Geri calls them. – – The canned peas!  “And don’t forget to throw in the pea water from that can!” she directs with humor. – – Enough! We will get to the recipe in a moment. Right now I am concerned with the origin of spaghetti and peas, Pasta Piselli, from my Fontana upbringing. And that leads back to those ancestors I mentioned at the outset!

A Fontana

            Pictured here are my paternal grandparents, Philip & Vinnie Fontana, both born in a little village outside Palermo, Sicily. And yet they met in “America”! I know my grandfather, born in 1892, arrived in 1898 at age six & my grandmother, born in 1899, arrived shortly thereafter, not more than 1 or 2 years old, both at Ellis Island, New York. This beautiful photograph was taken around 1947 after they relocated from Saddle Brook, New Jersey, to Miami, Florida, where they lived for 13 years, until they returned to Saddle Brook in 1960.

B Cannizzaro

             Quite a period photograph of my maternal grandparents, Peter & Josephine Cannizzaro, taken in the 1930’s in Brooklyn, New York. Not the typical story of an Italian-American family of that era, both my mother’s parents were born here in the USA in New York City; my grandfather in 1896 & my grandmother in 1901. I don’t know the details, but I do know my grandfather, Peter, traveled to his ancestral Sicily with his parents as a child, perhaps for a short period of years, & returned. And my grandmother, Josephine’s parents immigrated from Sicily as well.



If you are following these captions above, I had a “Sicilian Full House” when it came to grandparents on both sides of the family! So this peasant cuisine, this dish known to us as spaghetti and peas, dubbing it now Pasta Piselli, was very Sicilian. Both my parents enjoyed this dish with my sister and me quite often as we grew up. It could have been handed down from either side of the family or both sides. But if I had to guess, I would say this recipe came from my mother’s side, the Cannizzaro family. My mother seemed to prepare the dish with such familiar frequency.

C Peas


And so, Pasta Piselli is not our own unique recipe. What appears below is exactly as my mother, Anna Fontana, made it. It’s just so good! That’s what this is all about; to get you to try it! How could something so simple be so enjoyable? It’s not fine cuisine or a uniquely fabulous dish. It’s just so darn good you want to have it often, again and again. It has a light red sauce as you will see below. And it’s just as good, believe it or not, with or without the garlic in the recipe! But the grated cheese added “to taste” by you, and not mixed into the recipe, is a must and makes this dish what it is! I can taste it just telling you about it!


                                                              …Pasta Piselli


½ cup oil (canola or olive…We use canola)

1 small onion (sliced thin & cut in half)

4-6 cloves garlic (sliced long) (optional)

1  6 oz. can tomato paste

15 oz. can of peas, drained (save liquid!) (We use Del Monte)

1 tsp. dried basil

salt & pepper to taste

grated cheese for individual use at the table (We recommend Pecorino Romano!)

½ lb. spaghetti pasta of your choice (We like Vermicelli)

1 tbs. salt in 3 quarts boiling water


Sauté onion & garlic (if using) in oil in medium sauce pan until tender, 4-5 minutes. Add tomato paste & fill can twice; use the liquid from the peas for 1 ½ cans & ½ can more water. Add salt, pepper, & basil. Simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Add can of peas & simmer 2-3 minutes more. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain in colander. Toss with sauce mixture.

Serve with grated cheese “to taste” individually.

Makes 2 generous servings!


Excuse us for living, but try this recipe and you will make it again and again! – -Sprinkle more cheese on it! — Mangia! – – More cheese!

Comments: Please, before or after you taste this!!!

Posted by: philipfontana | September 20, 2017

David McCullough, Bk #11

David McCullough

Book No. 11

The American Spirit


Philip Fontana


A Size DMcC

      “One of our Nation’s most distinguished & honored historians, David McCullough has taken his own place in American history…The United States honors David McCullough for his lifelong efforts to document the people, places, & events that have shaped America.” – -From The Presidential Medal of Freedom Citation, December 2006.



     Excuse Us For Living is proud to bring to you David McCullough’s eleventh book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, Simon & Schuster, 2017 (171 pages). David McCullough has put together a collection of some of his speeches over the last three decades. David McCullough makes very clear in the “Introduction” his motivation to publish these speeches at this time of “uncertainty and contention;” “…who we are and what we stand for, of the high aspirations that inspired our founders, of our enduring values, and the importance of history as an aid to navigate in such troubled, uncertain times.”

[You can find discussion of all the other ten books by David McCullough right here on this website. Just go to the right margin and click on “Book Reviews” where you can click again “D. McCullough,” Bks #1-5, #6-9, & #10. It has been my delight to have read all eleven of his books.]

B Size Cover

        Above, David McCullough’s latest book of speeches, published by Simon & Schuster, 2017 (171 pages). In addition to two National Book Awards & two Pulitzer Prizes, David McCullough has also twice won the Frances Parkman Prize. Along the way to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom & fifty-four honorary doctorates, David McCullough is also the recipient of the following honors; the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, & the Gold Medal for Biography from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.


Over the years, David McCullough spoke at historic events at the Capitol and the White House, college commencements, historical societies and other institutions. His speeches were inspiring or informative, and many were both! In broad terms, the speeches are about our nation’s history, the people that were part of our American story, education and its many aspects, the most important being books and reading, and all things cultural from literature to art, music, science, and more.

David McCullough’s overall thrust here is the importance of history as a guide to America’s values and character. He fears that too many Americans are ignorant of the history that can enrich and guide our views for the present and the future. He says that history can inform people’s understanding of contemporary events and remind us of our basic values through the people that made America what it is today. What comes through strongest are decency, truth, good-heartedness, bravery, civility, optimism, hope, and “the drive to reinvent ourselves.” David McCullough seeks through his speeches to reassure people that their present fears and concerns have been felt by others in our past history and overcome!

C Size JointSession

          David McCullough, as he appeared addressing a joint session of Congress, in 1989, for the 200th/Bicentennial of Congress, 1779-1989. Few “private citizens” have had the distinct honor of addressing a joint session of the United States Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.


The Speeches and Their Overall Themes/Content/Messages:

#1. 1989, A joint session of the United States Congress, the Capitol, the House Chamber, Washington, D.C., the 200th/Bicentennial of Congress, 1789-1989; biographies of the great people of the Congress.

#2. 1994, Commencement, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; addressing the problems of America’s cities through studies programs at each city’s university(ies).

#3. 1994, Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, Independence Day Naturalization Ceremony; Thomas Jefferson, all he did and stood for as a model for these new citizens.

#4. 1994, Commencement, Union College, Schenectady, New York; this the first architectural “open plan” campus and first interdenominational college in America.

#5. 1998, Commencement, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Benjamin Rush, founder of Dickinson College in 1773, doctor, educator, and more, ranks among the outstanding Americans of colonial times and of all time.

#6. 1998, Commencement, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts; the lessons of history, “history is philosophy taught with examples,” Harry Truman said, “The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.”

#7. 1999, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; the U.S. Presidents and the Presidency.

#8. 2000, The White House, Washington, D.C., the 200th Anniversary of the first President, John Adams, to occupy the “President’s House” in 1800; the story of our second President, John Adams, arriving from the previous capital of Philadelphia, wife Abigail’s arrival two weeks later, and their brief four months there in the unfinished mansion due to Adams’ defeat for re-election by Thomas Jefferson.

#9. 2001, sometime after the September 11 attack upon the World Trade Center, at a meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Providence, Rhode Island; the intersection of our great historic buildings and the “actors” of their time giving us today a sense of presence of our Founding Fathers.

#10. 2004, Commencement, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio; the story of the University’s founding by the Reverend Manasseh Cutler as an outgrowth of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and how education is the basis of our democracy and “happiness.”

#11. 2005, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan; the importance of history to plan for the future with knowledge of the past and the teaching of history and teacher training.

#12. 2007, 250th Birthday of the Marquis De Lafayette, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania; Lafayette’s contributions to winning the American Revolution, his 1824 yearlong U.S. visit and celebration tour of all 24 states, the unique American-French relationship and alliance over the centuries, and the great Americans in all fields of endeavor studying in Paris in the 1800’s and beyond.

#13. 2008, Commencement, Boston College, Boston , Massachusetts; learning and education are more than facts and information, they are attained through “ardor” or hard work by reading books, leaving the graduates with the charge to, “Read. Read, read!”

#14. 2013, November 22, 50 year commemoration of the loss of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas; J.F.K.’s own words, ideals, and inspiration.

#15. 2016, Meeting of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, the Capitol, Statuary Hall, Washington, D.C.; the building itself, its people from the Congress to the common folk such as the police, barbers, tour guides, etc., the 3-5 million visitors per year, the historic events that took place there, and the architects, engineers, sculptors and artists that contributed to its creation.


Excuse Us For Living cannot sum it all up and say it better than the author himself. In David McCullough’s own words about our History:


“It is a story like no other, our greatest natural resource. It is about people, and they speak to us across the years…Yes, we have much to be seriously concerned about, much that needs to be corrected, improved, or dispensed with. But the vitality and creative energy, the fundamental decency, the tolerance and insistence on truth, and the good-heartedness of the American people are there still plainly.”


Thank you, David McCullough, for your book #11. And may God grant you the years to write a book #12 & more.

Comments: Please!

Sources: David McCullough’s book, The American Spirit, 2017  


Posted by: philipfontana | August 2, 2017

More Vietnam, No. 4



More Vietnam, No. 4

Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

Dogs, Movies, & Carpenters!


Philip Fontana



     Excuse us for living, but having already told my top favorite anecdotes from my military service in Vietnam (in “More Vietnam, No. 2 & 3,” found in the bottom right margin here), does not mean there are not more “gems” humorous and worthy to share. These are shorter vignettes and so I’ll combine a few here that are loosely connected.

As with my posts relating humorous stories that I experienced in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam in 1970, I feel I must give my apology for writing humorously about Vietnam. So Many thousands of G.I.s gave their lives or were severely wounded. (See “My Vietnam, 1970,” for the tragic numbers, also bottom right margin here.)


     These side-by-side photos give a “panoramic view” of our 97th Military Police Battalion Headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam. The photos are marked with designated names of buildings. Of importance to the anecdotes about to be told here are: top right, “Bn Offices: S-1, S-2, S-3,” center “New S-4,” left “HHD Barracks,” and right of center, “Bn Movie and “Mess Hall.” This was the “studio lot” of my Vietnam anecdotes that were more like a M*A*S*H TV series experience for me! 


“They Shoot Dogs, Don’t They?”

B Offices

     It was 1969 when Sydney Pollack adapted the 1935 novel, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” into a film starring Jane Fonda. – -The story of a dance marathon during the Great Depression. So in 1970 Vietnam when the order was given by the Commanding Officer, the CO, a full bird Colonel, to put together a shotgun squad to shoot packs of wild dogs running around Cam Ranh, it was natural for us to adopt the phrase, “They shoot dogs, don’t they?” Army companies had adopted dogs as mascots and when the puppies became too many, they were abandoned and formed packs roaming the sand dunes of Cam Ranh. Any danger these packs of dogs posed was never mentioned. The CO’s Office was located in S-1 in the above photo. And we, the Headquarters Company MP clerks, worked in the various offices pictured here in S-1, S-2, S-3, and S-4, everything from personnel to supply. That’s me sitting on that platform in front of the offices. The shotgun squad, under the direction of a not too bright and not too respected S-2 Sergeant, was made up of clerks pulled temporarily, from time to time, from our office desk jobs, over a period of several weeks, to do this dirty duty. Needless-to-say, we were horrified! Somehow, I was not assigned “dog duty”…at first. In between this duty the Sergeant was subjected to surreptitious “barks” from we the “underground” as he walked about the Battalion area. – -So much so, that the order came down from the CO, “There shall be no more barking in the Headquarters area.”

C Greg Butler

     Pictured here is my “bunk-mate,” Greg Butler from Toledo, Ohio. Greg was the Commanding Officer’s chief clerk in S-1, a position which did carry a good bit of weight and influence. “Bunk-mates” meant we shared a living area or “hooch” with bunk-beds, fan, lockers, refrigerator, frying pan, coffee pot, etc. Pictured here, Greg is standing next to a desk and liquor cabinet we built together out of shipping pallets. In these close quarters, we knew everything there was to know about one-another Through discussions we shared attitudes and viewpoints, including how we felt about shotgun squads shooting dogs. None of us liked what was going on and, as you might guess, I was very vocal about my opposition…in the barracks!


       Look at this seemingly innocent beach photo at the South China Sea for a Battalion Headquarters Company BBQ. – -Two great guys in the foreground, Chick Plummer, left (I actually spoke to him on the telephone just yesterday!), and Mick Kirkeby, right. But if you look closely, you will see, center back, the dude in the Army fatigues and cap. That’s the XO or Executive Officer, second in command to the CO. He was a Major and charged with overseeing the dog shooting detail. He assigned our S-2 Sergeant to go out in the sand dunes and direct our shotgun squad.

E Outside S-4

     That’s me during off-hours in “civvies” outside our S-4 Office. S-4 was in charge of the supply rooms of the Battalion’s five MP Companies and our Headquarters Company needs. Notice that it was a mere 3-4 steps from the BN S-4 door to the rounded green “Quonset hut” on the right. That’s very important…because that Quonset hut led directly to the CO’s Office, the XO’s Office, and my bunkmate Greg Butler’s desk! After a number of safaris killing dogs with shotguns and continued “barking” at our Sergeant, the XO marched up to Butler’s desk and asked, “Butler, do you know if anybody would refuse to shoot dogs if ordered to do so?” Without losing a beat, Butler replied, “Yes, Sir! Specialist Fontana!” – -Now that’s a real buddy for you! – -Butler’s idea of a practical joke!

F Me Polaroid 

     That’s me at my S-4 desk. It’s a “photo of a photo” because this Polaroid photo scans in poorly. But it is so reminiscent of my job and days in Vietnam that 1970 year. The outer door right in front of my desk swung open with a bang. In walked the XO who said to me, “Fontana, I hear that if I order you to shoot dogs, you would refuse.” “No, Sir!” I replied. “I’m not shotgun qualified. And according to USCMJ number [such and such], you must be Army qualified on the shooting range.” – -I was referring to the encyclopedia size set of books across the way in my S-4 Office, the United States Code of Military Justice, that I just happened to read up on doing a little research. “Carry on, Fontana,” said the XO. “Yes, Sir!” said I with a salute.


“Roll Camera, Action!”


G Movie    

     Look closely at this photo. You can’t miss the roof marked “Mess” for mess hall. And if you look very closely to the right you see labelled, “Movie Screen” and “Bleachers & Projection Booth.” We had a new movie EVERY NIGHT, seven days a week! It was a great morale booster and located right across the Headquarters Company area from our HHD Barracks. The problem was that you needed projectionists. And everyone lived in fear of being asked to serve as one due to the “jeers” and “boos” when something went wrong in the middle of a movie like the film breaking!

H Projection

      That’s me in my civvies again sitting on the movie bleacher seats to the right of the projection booth. You can see the blocked front opening window for the projector. Well, as if my luck had run out, my S-4 Office Captain informed me, “Fontana, you’re going to be a projectionist!” “I can’t, Sir,” I responded. “According to USCMJ number [such and such], you must be Army trained and qualified as a projectionist.” – -I was getting pretty good at playing this Army game! The Captain found a training school for projectionists right on Cam Ranh. And so after a long delay with the scheduled classes that took weeks, I was put on the Projectionist Roster…after one more ploy/excuse, to get my laminated projectionist license card! – The guys never forgot that first night I showed a movie. I arrived early and spliced together with Scotch tape all the film cuttings on the projectionist booth floor from films past that had broken off. – -I can still hear all the “boos”! It was great!



Lee and Ho Chi


I Lee Ho Chi

     Ah, Lee and Ho Chi! – -They were our Vietnamese carpenters working out of my S-4 Office for Headquarters Company. – -Lee on the left and Ho Chi to the right. – -Again, a “photo of a photo” due to the Polaroid picture with not enough pixels to scan in well. You can see in the photo from my scrapbook memorabilia including my “dog tags.” Lee was 34 at the time, the Vietnamese looking older than their years. Ho Chi, a grandfather, usually wearing a traditional Vietnamese hat, looked ancient! The G.I.s nicknamed him “Ho Chi” after North Vietnam Chairman Ho Chi Minh. They worked under the supervision of a great guy, SGT Jerry Word from Start, Louisiana. His southern drawl had no effect on Lee and Ho Chi’s English. They managed to speak to us in simple English phrases. But prominent in their speech, as with all Vietnamese working for the military, was military slang like “ti ti” for “small/little” and “beaucoup” for “large/a lot” (from French occupation ending in 1954). And then “number one” for “very good” and “number ten” for “no good.” Of course foul language was a prerequisite for Vietnamese dealing with G.I.s; “God damn” and “huck”! (You can translate that last one!)

     With that backdrop and that photo above showing the white movie screen and bleacher seats next to the mess hall, the stage is set for Lee and Ho Chi. The movie screen was plywood mounted on telephone poles, at least 20 ft. by 8 ft., painted white. – -Just like an old drive-in movie screen. Lee and Ho Chi were assigned to repaint the movie screen a fresh coat of white. Apparently, the division of labor, Vietnamese style, was Ho Chi on the ladder with gallon paint can and brush in hand and Lee on the ground holding the ladder. From the top of the ladder, Ho Chi dropped the gallon of paint which landed on Lee’s big toe. The two of them came directly into our S-4 Office. – -Lee hobbling and shouting, “Ho Chi number ten huckin’ no good!” – – We got the message. Lee’s toe was “chop meat” and he was immediately off to the dispensary. Lee survived with bandaged foot, hobbling around for weeks, struggling to do his carpentry work, mumbling, “Ho Chi number 10 no good!”

J Lee Village       

      A fitting ending to these anecdotes is this photo of our trip to Lee’s village and house. SGT Jerry Word, Lee’s boss, took me there. It was a half hour or more ride from Cam Ranh Bay across the bridge to the mainland and down the main road. It was a Catholic village. And as you see, children came out in droves…so sweet. Some of the children were Lee’s. That’s Lee’s house behind us with Lee in the white shirt, Jerry Word kneeling, and me at Lee’s shoulder. This was very special for us and Lee too, proud and honored.



     Excuse us for living hopes you got some enjoyment reading and “seeing” these anecdotes from my Vietnam experiences. We worked hard there too at our assigned jobs, ten hours a day. And we knew we had it good with air conditioned office jobs, but for the occasional rocket attacks. But we also saw the humor during our time there and maybe that helped us get through it all and come home.

Comments: Please!

Sources: memories, scrapbook photos, & a little Wikipedia!




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