Page 16 THE VILLADOM TIMES IV • February 25, 2009 tion bombs by parachute over jungles supposedly held by the Japanese. The parachutes were supposed to slow the descent of the bombs until the plane was a safe distance from the explosion. One of the chutes did not open, and the plane’s gas tanks were pierced by fragments from the bombs. The gas tanks bled dry, and the pilot, unwilling to bail out over the jungle and the surviving Japanese bomb recipients, headed for the ocean. John and his buddies bailed out over the Pacific. He was the last man to make it to the life raft before the sharks closed in on the others. Color me sentimental, but I think American owed this guy something. Unfortunately, John was about half bald. When the sides turned gray, he was doomed. Mack fired him. Once again, I descended into the labyrinth to tangle with the publisher. Once again, my sorry tale of how this man has risked his neck to save America. This time, the publisher agreed to give the man a six-month extension so he could sell his house and find a place where he could survive on his pension. John was wounded to the heart by the fact that he lost the job he had held with considerable success since he got out of the service, a job where he was liked and respected by just about everybody he dealt with. I suspect he never got over it. Another guy named John, this one a Vietnam combat support veteran, was forced out about the same time. He had finished college, though the college was Catholic rather than Ivy, and he was a capable writer. Unfortunately, like the best of the Old World Italians, John had a strong sense of integrity and it galled him to see combat veterans and other long-term people fired because of age or a lack of snob appeal. He said so once too often and they got him, too. After being forced out, he had the strength to build a whole new career in a different line of work. He recently retired with honors from a career of helping people. He came through for America twice: as a soldier and as a worthwhile citizen. The toughest case was Bob. This guy was a veteran three times: as an under-aged Marine on Bougainville and Okinawa in World War II, as a gunnery sergeant in the Korean War, and as an armed combat correspondent during Vietnam. Besides fighting in three wars, he was an international journalist who had interviewed Churchill and Gandhi, a college graduate – NYU, I think, though he also took courses at Columbia – and he was a solid writer and editor. However, he was over 50, and the editor above him wanted his job so he could hand it over to his personal favorite. There being no chance of a direct confrontation about his work. He was six-three and weighed 250 (mostly muscle), and the guy who wanted to fire him was a notable coward, besides being an indoor drunk. It was time to doctor the file. Every time Bob made a real or imaginary blunder, it was recorded in his personnel file for the annual review. When they shook the file, bats flew out, metaphorically speaking: Bob showed up late. Bob showed up unshaven. Bob showed up with liquor on his breath. (This from a career alcoholic who kept a brown bag in his desk drawer.) Given a year to work on back-stabbing and to magnify small mistakes and ignore solid achievements, you can make anybody look like a stumblebum. That is what happened to Bob. When they opened his file, he went into shock. Like most Marines, he had a strong authoritarian bent and believed in friendship. He thought the guy who doctored his file had been a friend. He had two kids left behind by a fugitive wife and he married again and did what he could for them until he died a few years later at 54. “I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, but there’s only one thing I really regret,” he told me just before he left. “What was it?” I asked. “The fact that I called so-and-so my friend,” he said he said with a ravaged look on his face. He had survived the Japanese, the Red Chinese, and the North Vietnamese, and and got it in the back from an American he trusted. About this time I made serious plans to leave the place, one step ahead of the axe, and did so. I had one kid and another one the way, so my wife could not cover my economic tracks, but most of the people I respected had long since quit and it would have cost me my self-respect if I had clung to the place through another few months of intrigue. Until then, I had survived because I had three books published while I was employed. The one published by Bantam won a state-level award and sold 248,000 copies. I also had a cover article in “American Heritage” edited by Geoff Ward, now the writer for Ken Burns. People at that point could say they did not like me. I do not think they could say I could not write. Then justice struck like a thunderbolt. The publisher brought in a consultant from Harvard to find out why most of the better staff members had quit, and the consultant told him Mack was the reason. Hangmen die also. People were literally singing and dancing when he stalked off into the darkness. He later got hired at another, bigger newspaper – and fouled up there too. His last job, as I remember, was as a consultant with the consortium of newspapers that massacred all the people at smaller North Jersey newspapers and replaced them with part-timers in an effort to capture the ad base in Paramus. That failed too. In the end, some people abuse their jobs to abuse people who arouse their envy. Others turn hiring and firing into an exercise in interior decorating. Some of us try to do what our consciences tell us is right – even when we learn from experience we may have to suffer for it. Everybody rubbed their hands and cackled with glee when they heard Billy Mack was coming. Mack was the famous editor of a much bigger paper who had been hired to spice up the mid-sized daily where I then worked along with a bunch of people who enjoying being newsmen in the glory days of the profession some quarter-century ago. Mack had a plan. It was like interior decorating. He decided he wanted a “young” city room where people over 30 were not welcome. Above all, what he did not want, were older reporters who, while they knew their jobs and were well liked by the public, might not have been college graduates. “Interior decorating” turned into a purge of World War II combat veterans: the guys who were patriotic in any way, came from traditional American families, and came through for America in her hour of need. This was the “Greatest Generation.” What happened next got very ugly. Mack was a veteran. He left the Marine Corps in the middle of World War II: no combat, no crippling injuries, and not gay. This was a mystery no one solved since most World War II service records burned in the adjunct archives in 1971. Tony was the first to get it. He was a combat veteran of, I believe, the Fourth Infantry Division and had fought what was left of the Wehrmacht for control of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. “Say what you want about the Red Army, I was very glad they were around,” he once observed. “They killed off the best of the Germans before I got there. The ones I got to fight were plenty bad enough.” Tony covered the sector of Bergen County near the Hudson River and Hudson County. He had three defects that got him fired by the new management: He was over 40, he wasn’t Ivy, and his hair was showing traces of gray. With the foolish integrity that got me on the Enemies List, I dropped in to see the publisher and suggested to him that this man had defended America in combat, was well liked by the people he covered, and was worth keeping. He said that it had to be. I wasn’t about to quit because this was the first real job I ever had and the mortgage was not paid off, so I let it slide. Tony left – fighting back tears – and fetched up at a cluster of weeklies near the river where the standards and the salary were a lot lower. He died way ahead of the demographic schedule. Next was John. John was a better writer than Tony, but he never finished college either. He joined the Army Air Force instead, and he found himself at war with my wife’s relatives for control of the Pacific. He flew missions that could have gotten him killed on a routine basis. Once, he was the tail gunner in a B-24 over New Guinea when a Japanese fighter came at the bomber head-on. The two planes passed one another at an aggregate speed of about 600 miles per hour, and John fired his twin .50 caliber machine guns and missed. These were his only shots fired in anger, he said. A few weeks later, the B-24 was dropping fragmenta- Interior decorating: Fire the veterans? A ‘souper’ idea Church school attendees Francesca, Dane, Byron, Alena and Katia from Saint John’s Episcopal Church, located on the corner of Franklin Turnpike and Main Street in Ramsey, pose with the ‘souper sculpture’ of a pyramid made of soup cans. The sculpture was built with cans of soup donated by parishioners during the month of January. Many shopping bags filled with soup cans were donated to the Center for Food Action in Mahwah. ‘Fighting Hunger is Our Mission’ is the theme for this year’s church school outreach project. The church has set a goal of collecting 8,000 food items for donation in 2009. For more information on Saint John’s Church School, worship services, and outreach projects, contact the church office at (201) 327-0703 or