Mike Bo's Blog!
MikeBo’s Blog Monday August 5, 2019 Sunny in Cedar Park, TX 94°F/ 34°C Partly Cloudy in Falmouth, UK 67°F/ 19°C Howdy! Lord knows, I did not set out to write a book about a war story my father told me and my kid brother as we were growing up! But, that’s what I did. And, the reaction was life-changing for me. By the way – it will soon be the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the U-boat attack on my father’s convoy in the Dover Channel during World War Two: August 14, 1944. A quick recap: LSTs 920 and 921 – sister ships, having been built and commissioned in the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in Hingham, Massachusetts, were part of Allied Convoy EBC 72, en route from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England on 14 August 1944, when the convoy was attacked by U 667, commanded by Captain Karl-Heinze Lange. U 667’s first torpedo struck LST 921 toward the stern, breaking the back of the 328 foot-long landing ship. The dazed crew would have less than five minutes to rescue the hapless souls in the stern section. The explosion triggered the alarm for General Quarters aboard the LST 920, and as the crew scrambled to their battle stations, the Captain – Harry N. Schultz and his Exec – Lieutenant (j.g.) Charles Botula, Jr. raced to the bridge. Once there, Lt. Botula closely scanned the waters around his ship through his US Navy-issue 7 by 50 binoculars. His heart must have skipped a beat or two as he spotted the indelible signs of a torpedo’s wake homing in on the middle of his ship! That torpedo was coming straight for us, and there was nothing to do but watch it hit us, he would tell my younger brother and me as he recounted the events of that August day over and over as we grew up. Suddenly, a British escort vessel, LCI(L) 99 raced between the on-coming torpedo and LST 920, and took the torpedo intended to sink LST 920. The resulting explosion blew LCI(L) 99 out of the water. After the blast, I watched as the smoke cleared, said my dad. All I could see was smoke and bits of floating debris. The ship itself had vanished! Don Joost in 1944 On board LST 921, Engineering Officer Don Joost had just left the engine room and had returned to his quarters to lie down for a few minutes before chow, when U 667’s torpedo hit. Below him Motor Machinists John Abrams and Lloyd Meeker were momentarily trapped in the fast-flooding engine room. In another part of the ship, the ship’s cook Seaman Charles Watson found himself trapped under a tangle of shelving in one of the ship’s passageways. And, Seaman Second Class Charles H. Moore would be trapped in the sinking stern section of his ship and go to the bottom of the Dover Channel along with several dozen of his ill-fated shipmates, and two of the LST 921’s officers. Aboard the British escort vessel, LCI(L) 99, Acting Able Seaman William Todd…age 19, the ship’s cook, would be killed by the torpedo’s blast along with most of his shipmates. As I said earlier, I did not intend to write a book about my dad’s wartime experience, but that changed in 2003 after I left a message on the U.S. LST Association’s web site, asking if any association member had served aboard the LST 920 with my father. In a few days my note was answered by Don Reed, the 920’s Communications Officer. He told me in his reply that he had served with him since the ship was commissioned in June 1944 until dad left the ship in November 1945. Since, I was living in Sacramento, I decided to drive with my son, Michael, to Alameda where Don worked as a volunteer aboard the USS Hornet to meet him and hear the story anew. Don Reed was part of the original crew of LST 920, and was aboard for her entire time in service, becoming her last Commanding Officer in 1946, before she joined the “Mothball Fleet” in Suisun Bay. This meeting with Reed led to other meetings, telephone interviews and letters from other members of both LST crews. Instead of a straightforward war story, my father’s tale became a wartime mystery with a lot of unanswered questions: Don Reed in 2003 We were supposed to go to the PACFIC! Reed told me and my son Michael, over dinner in Alameda, when we finally met. We were on our shakedown cruise when we were ordered into the Philadelphia Navy Yard for a new paint job, and to take on a TOP SECRET cargo. Then we received orders to join up with a thousand ship convoy out of New York and head to EUROPE! Later, I would hear similar versions of Reed’s account from officers of both LSTs – the 920 and the 921. A few weeks later, I drove over from Sacramento to Walnut Creek, California to meet with Don Joost, former Engineering Officer of the ill-fated LST 921. Joost shared his pictures with me and talked to me about the secret cargo carried by the two LSTs. There was a lot of speculation about what we were carrying, said Joost. Some of our officers thought it was mine-sweeping technology. But, I was of the opinion that our secret cargo was technology designed to foil the acoustic torpedoes the Germans were just starting to use. Indeed, late in the war, the German Kriegsmarine introduced a new torpedo designed to home in on the sound of the enemy ship’s engines. Is it possible that the Germans knew what your ship and the other LST were carrying? I asked Joost. During the war, the Germans had a highly sophisticated spy network operating on the U.S. East Coast. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, Joost replied. But, the answer to that question probably lies on either the bottom of the Dover Channel in the stern of LST 921, or at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, in the hulk of U 667! The U.S. LST Association required that I join the association before it would share the names and addresses of the former crew members of LSTs 920 and 921 that I sought. But, membership was a small price to pay for the first-person accounts that I would gain. At Don Reed’s suggestion, I obtained the ship’s logs for my dad’s ship for 1944 along with an aerial photo of the LST 920 at sea for the first time – painted in Pacific Theater camouflage colors. Through the contact list provided by the U.S. LST Association, I was able to either arrange telephone interviews or obtain first-person accounts with a dozen survivors of the ordeal. From that little exercise, I was able to craft a short article for The Scuttlebutt, the LST Association’s newsletter. After evaluating the material that simply did not fit into the one thousand word article, I made my decision to do a book. My book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books in August 2016, shortly after I moved to Texas. Almost immediately I began to get emails from the quickly diminishing crew members of the LST 920 or 921, or their friends or family members. I quickly realized that many of the family members of those who lived through the events of 14 August 1944, did not have a father like mine who freely recounted his wartime experiences. And indeed, many of the letters I received containing the first-hand accounts were accompanied by a sentence or two explaining that they were telling these stories for the first time. I got the eerie feeling that they were being given permission from their Executive Officer, through his son, to finally tell their stories. Such was the emotional connection that I developed with these old shipmates. Charles Watson in 1944 By telephone I spoke with Motor Machinist’s Mate John Abrams, who recounted the escape that he and Lloyd Meeker made from the engine room of the LST 921, and their subsequent rescue of the ship’s cook, Charlie Watson. Both Watson and Abrams told me how Abrams took his own life jacket off and gave it to the badly injured Watson. I spoke with Ensign Jerry Gerrard, the Engineering Officer of LST 920 for his account of the attack and Captain Schultz’ disobeying the direct order to proceed onto their port of Falmouth, in order to come about and pick up survivors from their sister ship, LST 921. The rest gave their first-hand accounts in their letters. It soon became obvious from my father’s account of the incident as well as the other first person accounts, that there was not much known about the submarine that carried out the attack. That would come later in my research under Don Reed’s guidance. Reed, who had done extensive research on the attack, knew that U 667 had struck a mine two weeks after the attack on the convoy, and its wreckage now lay on the bottom of the Bay of Biscay near the U 667’s home port of La Pallice, France. Even my own father had not known that when he died in 1965. So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from a French diver named Christophe Moriceau, who not only knew the fate of the U 667 but had actually dived on the wreck site. Moriceau is a member of L’Expedition Scyllias, a French diving organization. He explained that, while the wreck had been located in 1972, it had been mis-identified as the wreckage of another U-boat. Not until 2014 was the wreckage formally identified as that of U 667. Given this new information, I decided to draft a new edition of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! This was done in Spring, 2019. Able Seaman William Todd Perhaps the largest contribution that the book makes is proving information to the families of the two ships. One family member wrote to tell me that up until my book was published, the only information the family had about one of their own who’d been killed in action, was a tattered telegram from the War Department. Looking back on Gillian Whittle’s note about her great-uncle William Todd, the young Able Seaman aboard the British Escort ship who died that day, I am glad that I was able to provide even sketchy details of his last moments. She ended her letter saying, we cannot let the memories of these great people be forgotten! Most of the men who sailed aboard LSTs 920 and 921 are gone now, but a very few are still with us. Seaman Charles Watson, the 921’s cook is a hale and hearty 97, despite losing a leg in his ordeal. A Signalman from the 920, James Dietrich is a healthy 94 years old and walks daily for exercise. Seaman Harold Dunagan, who shared his accounts of helping survivors from LST 921 is now confined to a nursing home. His daughter wrote me: He was very proud of your first book and keeps it on the table beside his chair at all times! As I said earlier. I did not set out to write a book, but I’m glad that I did! Ciao, MikeBo [MIKE BOTULA, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant. His book is available from Amazon Books. You can follow his blog at: mikebotula.blogspot.com, including his Rome Diary series, and learn more about Mike Botula at: www.mikebotula.com ]
DIARIO DI ROMA 5: My Return to the City of Echoes! Mio Ritorno alla Città degli Echi! Sunday, July 21, 2019 Domenica, Iuglio 21, 2019 Mostly Sunny 91°F/ 33°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia Buonagiornata, Happy Again: Lola and MikeBo When my daughter Dana and my grandson Jacob met me at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, it was nearly Midnight in Texas. Between Alitalia and Delta, the two airlines had delivered me back to Texas on the same day that we had left Rome. Fiumicino to Logan International in Boston and then on to Austin, following the sun on its journey westward. I was exhausted, and after a few minutes of conversation, I said Buona notte a mia figlia e mio nipoti, left my suitcase – still unopened in the middle of my living room floor and went to bed. Just as I drifted off to dreamland, I remembered that there was several pounds of formaggio Parmigiano – Parmesan cheese - that Laura’s mom, AnnaMaria had given me to bring home with me still in the unopened suitcase. That realization brought me instantly back to consciousness, because both the TSA baggage inspectors and the U.S. Customs Service frown on contraband of any sort. But, the Parmesan was still in its refrigerator bag, all five pounds of it! I placed the contraband in my fridge and went back to bed! A few hours later, I woke up again. So THAT’S how it’s gonna be? I thought to myself. Different bouts of jet lag, or as I personally prefer to call it – circadian rhythm disfunction – affects me in different ways each time I cross several time zones. I had spent two weeks following my arrival in Rome recovering from an overnight flight of fifteen hours duration. Now, following the sun all the way across the Atlantic to Boston affects me differently with each flight. That is why I usually stay in Italy for at least two months. First because it takes at least that long to get over the long, cramped hours in the Economy Section of the jetliner. And secondly, to recover from jet lag. Then, get to do it all over again on the return trip. BUT, you might ask … is it worth it? My answer will always be a resounding YES! This trip to Rome was, in effect my dress rehearsal for actually living in Italy. The thought of one Amina more move in my retirement has been in the back of my mind at least since my divorce in 2013. That was the first time I had spent longer than a couple of weeks in Italy. I decided to go back to a neighborhood I was familiar with in EUR, where Michael and Laura had rented me my first apartment on Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico. Last year, after spending a month at that apartment, I decided to spend another month in Rome, but my landlady, a Moroccan lady named Amina, had already booked the apartment to another party. I wound up booking another apartment nearby on Viale Cesare Pavese from a retired Tunisian diplomat named Mohamed. Both Amina and Mohamed have become close friends. As luck would have it this time, both of their apartments had been booked, so Michael and Laura booked me through Airbnb at a third apartment on nearby Via Oscar Sinigaglia. All three apartments are within easy walking distance of the stores, restaurants and shops that I need to maintain my existence and be physically close to Michael and Laura. I still haven’t made my final decision yet, but I have done all the necessary research. Now, all I need to do is secure a long-term visa from the Italian government to replace the three month tourist visa that I visit with now. The first week or so, it rained. But, I didn’t mind that too much, because of my jet lag; but then, the weather turned, and a heat wave descended, not just on Rome, but the entire southern region of Europe. Paris saw its high temperatures exceed 114° Fahrenheit (46° Celsius) day after day, with Roma not far behind, nipping at the 100° F, or 38° Celsius day after day. That’s when I said a hearty Thank You to my new landlady, Stefania, when she had the foresight to air condition her apartment when she installed all new appliances prior to listing her apartment with Airbnb. (Air conditioned apartments are at a premium in Rome. Italians apparently put air conditioners in the same category as clothes driers). So, my moving around the city usually was begun at dusk. The primary exception to that was my grocery shopping, which was done early in the morning. Fortunately, there were two Elite Supermercati within several blocks of the apartment. Depending on the need to visit the BancoMat at Banco Popolare or the Tabacchiao for Biglietti for the bus and Metro, I would choose the closest Elite Supermercato. Back in Texas, I would have to take Lola with me and drive for miles to run much the same errands. If Michael and Laura invited me for dinner, one or the other of them would pick me up. Otherwise, I could cook something up in my apartment, or walk down to the end of the block and grab a bite at the Nuri Bar. Or, I could head down in another direction to Ristorante Nuraghe and see what the specials were. Nuraghe has a garden dining area, which made it especially pleasant after dealing with the heat of the day. Roman Moon One evening, Amina invited me over for dinner, partly to apologize for her apartment being booked. On my short walk to her building, I stopped at the little negozio di Fiori and bought an orchid for her collection. Unlike my old apartment on the floor below, my hostess’ place boasts a terrace on the top floor of the building. I explained to her that all I had to do was look out my living room window to catch a glimpse of her building. We dined together on the terrace and were treated to the rise of the largest moon I had seen since Texas. Amina is originally from Morocco and speaks four languages: Arabic, her first language; French, English and, of course, Italian. I related my studies of French in high school; my seemingly never-ending effort to learn Spanish in night school and college; along with my more recent efforts to master Italian. Why are you so frustrated that you don’t speak Italian better, she asked me? I have spent the past three years taking Patrizia’s classes, I told my hostess, and I practice every day on DuoLingo (on-line teaching tool) but, in everyday conversation, I am limited to just a few words. I guess I either didn’t learn the language when I was young, OR, I winked at her, maybe it’s because I don’t have an Italian girlfriend to practice with. (Did I detect the slightest hint of a blush under her tanned skin?) No Funny Stuff! at AUR One of my greatest joys has been band groupie to Michael’s band, No Funny Stuff! Back in Texas, we’d call the ensemble a Jug Band! Definitely country and western, but with a pronounced Italian flavor. Michael and his buddy Beppe Cassa are tireless promoters. No Funny Stuff! has made countless TV and Radio appearances and have been featured in dozens of newspaper and magazine articles. They’ve performed in concerts from Scandinavia to Slovenia. On the first weekend I was in Rome, No Funny Stuff! was getting ready for a weekend of concerts in Switzerland. Their big ambition is to book a tour in the U.S. and perform at the big South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. During my visit, No Funny Stuff! played gigs at Guidonia, just outside Rome, the Independence Day Festa at the American University of Rome and the Taba Café at Campo de Fiori in Rome. I invited Amina to the 4th of July celebration at A.U.R. and another friend of mine – Alba to the N.F.S. performance at the Taba Café. They both agreed that No Funny Stuff! is FUN! There was also the usual sightseeing around Rome. Fortunately, the location of my Airbnb apartment played into my plans. I was able to walk twenty minutes to the Laurentina Metro Station, which whisked me to the Circus Maximus, the Coliseum and other Roman sight-seeing high points. Then, I managed to figure out the schedule of the buses that run along Laurentina and my travels became immensely easier. Near the end of my stay, Michael came to my apartment on his scooter, and we traveled together to the Coliseum, where we spent the next few hours walking through the Forum, the ancient Jewish Ghetto, and the Vittorio Emmanuelle Memorial, where Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is enshrined. It was nearly dusk when Laura arrived to pick us up, and we were off to dinner. Parking the car back at my apartment, the three of us, with Sofia tagging along, headed to Nuraghe and dinner. This will probably not be my last Rome Diary in the current series. I’m certain to conjure up an additional memory or two. But, I would be woefully remiss if I didn’t thank Laura’s mom and dad for Dinner by Starlight! their hospitality. AnnaMaria and Sergio have welcomed me into their family’s life, and for that, I am eternally grateful. A trip to Rome, for me, would be incomplete without a weekend at their second home in Selci, in the neighboring region of Sabina. Michael could stay only for the first night. Since Selci was as hot as Rome, we waited until dusk to fire up the barbecue and work his magic on the grill. He and No Funny Stuff! were off to play at an evening wedding. Laura, Sergio, AnnaMaria and me headed off in the other direction to a neighboring village and a Festa sponsored by the hunting club that Sergio belongs to. Once there, we dined on Cingale, the wild boar that roams the hills around Selci. Already, I’m thinking of other stories about this particular journey that are trying to escape past my fingers as they skip around my computer keyboard. But, I’ll save them for another time. In terms of word count, I have already exceeded my self-imposed limit of 1,500, so I’ll simply sign off with my signature… Ciao, MikeBo [Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant. Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read the entire Rome Diary series and more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com] © By Mike Botula 2019
DIARIO DI ROMA V Sunday July 14, 2019 Sunny 80°F/27°C in Roma, Latium, Italia Buonagiornata, In the grand scheme of life…it was bound to happen, sooner or later! On Thursday, as I waited by the Metro entrance immediately adjacent to the front of the Palazzo Naidi in Piazza della Repubblica waiting for mia amica, Alba, the hotel doorman approached me and asked me something in Italian. Sensing that he was asking why I was waiting, I reached into my shirt pocket for my cell phone and its Google Translator app and asked him for a moment for my answer. When I had composed my answer, I approached him and read my response. Sto aspettando per una amica, I told him. (I am waiting for female friend). As luck would have it, Alba arrived and showered me with hugs and kisses to both my cheeks in that time-honored Italian manner that I have come to know and love. (Especially when a beautiful woman is administering the hugs and kisses). Alba spoke to the doorman in Italian. He answered her in perfect English. I’m sorry, ma’am! But I don’t speak Italian, as I was trying to explain to your friend. Alba, who speaks beautiful English, responded, but my friend here is an AMERICAN. He is just learning Italian! That’s when I came back into the conversation. Where are you from? I asked the doorman, who by this time was sporting a smile as big as Texas. I am from Gambia and we don’t speak Italian in Gambia! I later discovered, after Googling Gambia, that our doorman comes from a small, west African country that is almost surrounded by Senegal. His native language may be Mandinka, but it’s certainly NOT Italian! As if to cement our new friendship, the doorman asked if he could do anything for us. We asked him to hail a taxi for us. I tipped him, and Alba and I were soon headed to Campo dѐ Fiori. Alba works at the gift shop at one of the most popular attractions on one of Michael’s tours, the Michael, Alba, MikeBo Capuchin Crypts. In the ten years since Michael has been bringing literally hundreds of tourists to see her in the gift shop, Alba has never heard No Funny Stuff perform in person. I met her on one of Michael’s tours some years ago. (She refers to me as her American friend, and I, in return refer to Alba as la mia bellissima amica Italiana). Or Mia Cara Alba on Facebook, which is how I stay in touch with all my Italian friends in between my visits to Rome. So, after a short taxi ride to Campo dѐ Fiori, we were at the Taba Café, all ready for a night of No Funny Stuff. No Funny Stuff! No Funny Stuff seems to improve with each performance, and the guys were really on their game at the Taba Café. Hearing all the music coming from the Taba, crowds of people started drifting across the Piazza to get closer to the music. Much to the dismay of the other café owners, who were losing their customers to the Taba and No Funny Stuff! So, about fifteen minutes before the band was supposed to finish, somebody called the cops! La Polizia showed up and the music stopped immediately. Apparently one of the other club managers saw nothing funny about all the attention that No Funny Stuff was drawing. The next evening Michael and Laura called and invited me to join them for dinner at the beach in Ostia. An opportunity for me to dine on the shore of the Mediterranean doesn’t come too frequently in Texas, so I quickly accepted their kind invitation. Of course, they brought along Sofia, their swift, black Volpino, who was more than ready for a romp on the beach. As I’ve said, the Italians bring their dogs everywhere! Michael, Laura, MikeBo at Ostia The Romans called the Mediterranean Mare Nostrum, (Our Sea) and woe betide any interloper (e.g. Carthaginian) who might attempt to wrest control from the mighty Roman Navy. We all went for a walk along the beach before dinner. I love the beach at twilight. The crowds of beachgoers have all left after a day in the sun, and the only people left are strollers like us. And Sofia, who pursued her Frisby into the surf more than a few times. After our stroll and appropriate number of selfies, we walked back to the restaurant and sat down for dinner. There is nothing like a fresh seafood dinner on the shores of Mare Nostrum, unless it’s lunch high above the Eternal City overlooking the Circus Maximus with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Forum and the Coliseum in the distance. I had invited Amina to join me for the July 4th Celebration at the American University of Rome. The MikeBo and Amina on July 4th entertainment was being provided by, surprise, my son Michael and his band, No Funny Stuff. I’ve rented Amina’s apartment several times since I’ve been traipsing back and forth from the U.S. and Rome, and we’ve become friends in the process. She is originally from Morocco and speaks four languages, while I struggle with just my Italian. After the Fourth of July celebration, we had plans to meet for dinner, but because of a communication problem on both our parts, she was leaving for Paris on a trip that would take her out of Rome past my departure date for the states. So, I was surprised to see a text message from her inviting me to come and meet her for lunch where she works. Amina works at FAO, the international food organization of the United Nations. It’s across from the Metro stop at Circo Massimo, the Circus Maximus, where the ancient Romans held their chariot races. (Yes, Charlton Heston fans, THAT Circus Maximus)! What Amina hadn’t fully prepared me for was the intense security shield at her building. I’ve grown accustomed to the increased military and police presence at the landmarks in Rome since my first Circo Massimo from FAO rooftop trip in 2005. The Italian Army seems to be everywhere in Rome, and I had to walk by squad of troops to check in at the visitors’ lobby. As I approached the bullet and blast-proof wall that awaited me, I had the unnerving feeling that I had a thousand unseen eyes focused on me. As I passed through the metal detector, I entered a cylindrical chamber which simultaneously scanned every inch of my body and acted as containment chamber for any explosive I might have concealed. I passed through this area only to face a person behind another wall of steel and glass. Do you have your ID? An anonymous voice asked. I slipped my Passport Card and my Texas drivers license into the slot. Both were returned a moment later. She will have to come down and get you. Now, she is not answering her phone, said the anonymous voice. I was instructed to step to one side and call Amina. A few minutes later, she arrived with a big smile on her face. Have any trouble? she giggled. The view from the top of the building was breathtaking. After a few pictures, we enjoyed our salads on the top floor veranda shaded from the sun beneath an awning. The view and the lunchtime conversation were worth the price of admission. On Saturday, Michael came over on his scooter to my place for another father and son outing. We walked to the bus stop and boarded a bus for the Laurentina Metro Station where we caught a train for the Coliseum. On the way, the skies opened, and it started raining. By the time we got to the Colosseo Metro stop, the terminal was jammed with tourists who had taken refuge from the sudden downpour. We waited for the rain to stop. When it did, my son gave his dad his best tour guide’s personal tour of the Coliseum and the Forum. Later, we met Laura for inner in Rome’s ancient Jewish Ghetto. More on that evening in future Rome Diaries. This is my final blog from Rome, but not my final Diario di Roma Cinque. I’ll post a few more when I get back to Texas. Caio, MikeBo [Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant. Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com] © By Mike Botula 2019
LST 920: Charlie Botula's Long, Slow Target!
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