Category Archives: Heroes

The von Dioszeghy Trilogy + 1

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I’ve just finished reading the von Dioszeghy trilogy; The first being “Bridging Two Worlds”.
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The second is “Postcards from Pannonia”.

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And I’ve just finished reading book three of the von Dioszeghy trilogy; “The Bridge Re-Crossed

Click on any of the book covers and it will take you to my reviews of these works. Click on any of the web links above,and you will be taken to where you can purchase them. Adam and Aliz would greatly appreciate that.

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Actually it’s a Quadrilogy, with the fourth being the visit Diana and I made to visit the von Dioszeghys last year in Hungary. You can read more of this visit by clicking on “von Dioszeghy” under CATEGORIES just to the right in this blog.

I’ve shared a great deal here about this man and his wife Aliz, and their remarkable story. Let me do a brief recap:

  • Adam’s story in his first book “Bridging …” tells his story beginning at age 7 in Budapest, as he and his mother hunker down during the Red Army siege of Budapest. Adam’s memories bring to life an epic episode that can only be told by veterans of such a time. He then tells of the communist years, and the tyranny that communism brought to his nation.
  • As a first year university student, Adam becomes involved in the nationwide revolution of 1956 against the tyrannical Soviet sponsored governing  regime of Hungary. He is twice wounded, forcing him and his mother to flee to Austria and then to the US as refugees.
  • The story continues as Adam attains a degree from Stanford University and then joins the US Navy as an officer on a destroyer. That’s where I first met him 50+ years ago. Adam deployed to the Vietnam war zone three times, and served his new nation with gratitude.
  • Following a post Navy Stanford law degree and a long career practicing law in Northern California,  Adam and his wife Aliz retire in 2000 and resettle to Hungary. The book concludes with stories of that resettlement.
  • The second book, “Postcards …” tells the compelling story of two immigrants to a new nation – Hungary. He born and raised there, but absent for many years, and her, a California born and raised woman never having lived anywhere else.  This is a very entertaining and dramatic story, with much humor interspersed.
  • And the third book “The Bridge Re-crossed.” This book takes us back to the place where so many Hungarians fled from communist tyranny to freedom in the West – Adam and his mother among them.  Adam recounts that visit in 2017, so many years later. But that’s not all: many vignettes, stories from his past that Adam brings to life in print. A humorous one is his account of him, as a young man in St. Louis, meeting and having pizza with Bill Haley and the Comets. Remember them?
  • A real highlight of this latest book is a section called Christmas Letters. Here is where Adam and Aliz write of their life in Hungary – year by year, both the Cosmopolitan Budapest, and in the country home several hours away from the city. Beginning in 2000 through 2017, Adam and Aliz let their hair down and speak from the heart. Many of these letters touch my heart, and I share just one with you below:

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CHRISTMAS 2015

FROM ALIZ:

A year that is best forgotten, perhaps. Or not. I’ve been mulling this over and I’ve decided that my initial (usual) feeling that I wouldn’t write a Christmas letter was maybe a little precipitous. My thought was that I would have nothing good to say and it was best to leave Adam to write a nice wrap-up of a dubious year. But…my muse kicked in and-once again–wouldn’t let me sleep. I tried to ignore it, but it simply would not have it… So here goes:

This year has been AWFUL. Sorry, but there is no other word to describe it Awful. Horrible. Not fun. Apart from the weather (dreadful), we have been having an upheaval here in Europe that is tearing things apart. People (and countries) are at each other’s throats and it’s caused a continual level of stress that is horrendous. My reaction was to just run from the whole thing and not write. You know, do yoga and read cozy mysteries. Not a bad idea, but there my Little Voice (a persistent little devil) said, “Yes, but what have you learned?” My answer was, “Yikes! Learned!? Nothing.” And on and on…but finally I just got up out of bed, turned on the light … and here I sit in front of the blasted keyboard…once again. Can I never just write a simple Christmas letter anymore??? How about a nice letter about crickets? Or storks? Storks would be good; why can’t I do that????

I’ve been turned inside-out over this crisis in Europe. I’ve been struggling with the whole situation, but this letter isn’t about that, actually-although it came out of my anguish over it. It’s about how I’ve realized that I’ve been defining myself by labels…by names that describe things that no person could be all the time. Liberal. Conservative. Scared. Compassionate. Practical…. Who are we and what makes us that way? I’ve struggled with this and I’ve come to realize that most of the labels we use to define ourselves are decided by other people: the media, the clergy, the government, our friends…and — God help us- Facebook.

After a while all this input kind of blends together in a sort of frenzy of what we’re supposed to believe and feel. While all of that is sometimes necessary and unavoidable (it makes us human and-to a degree-accountable), ultimately we must decide how we feel and what we believe. This is hard for me, and I’ve realized that I’ve defaulted much of what I think I believe, to simply be whatever I read on the internet and what I see on TV. Unfortunately, this is way too simple. Now I’ve got to sort things out on my own and it’s kind of like uncharted territory. Frankly, it’s somewhat daunting to be thinking for myself (to whatever degree we actually can, as we’re influenced constantly) and I often feel pretty shaky about it. Am I right? Am I deluded? Who knows … and in the end does it really matter? I can’t figure out if it does or not, actually. So here I sit in front of the keyboard, as befuddled as before. You can obviously see why 1 wasn’t sure if I should even write this letter…right?

Anyway, last year I wrote about packing up my problems and fears and putting them on the doorstep. Well, they pretty much stayed outside until about mid-August, when they not only insinuated themselves back inside, they started dancing the cha-cha-cha in the living room. The cheek of it! So I’ve once more roped them up and hustled them out. And now. I’ve not only put them on the doorstep. I’ve actually taken them to the dump; I’m just hoping they don’t know the way back. The bottom line is we all have garbage trying to get back in and we all are struggling with how we view ourselves. Life is awfully complicated. BUT, it occurred to me (and this is why I hauled my sorry ass out of bed to write this) I’ve actually learned a lot this year. I’ve learned I simply have to define myself by my feelings and beliefs and not allow myself to fall into the habit of labeling who I am based on what other people think or expect. And it’s up to me to decide what I believe to be true and how I view myself. I can’t default my self-image to other people I sometimes don’t even know.

So, even though this isn’t what I would call and uplifting Christmas letter, only in a fantasy world is everything always nice and neat Let’s face it: Life is damn messy. And-truth be told-I’m not always good about sorting through messy things as I tend to run and hide. This year has been truly hard for me-and I’ve had to face some unhappy truths about myself” but also I’ve found some really nice things, too, such as a feeling of loyalty and deep love for my new home (well, it’s now been over 15 years, so it’s not so new anymore), and-in spite of not always agreeing with all the decisions made by the government-realizing that I truly am AT HOME. This, in reality, was a wonderful gift. The way it came about was painful-and will no doubt continue to be that way-but hey, nobody ever promised me a @%#*%&@$ rose garden!

Have a wonderful, blessed Christmas! With love and patience (and a bit of booze) we can get through anything! I fully expect to be back next year…and let’s hope I have a cute little story to share-there might even be crickets in it – and no true confessions. God, how I hate true confessions. Oh well, no one’s perfect (see my comments above about rose gardens … ).

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A Football Weekend in March

A Football Weekend in March.

It’s March. The college football champion has been crowned – Alabama as I recall. The Eagles upset the Patriots for the Super Bowl crown. Super Bowl parties — partied and done. What’s left for March?

The Montana Football Hall of Fame, that’s what! (click on the link)

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Sam Jankovich called me in January asking if I had any good “headshots” of him that he could send to the Montana Football Hall of Fame, as he was to be inducted in March. So I sent a few.

When Diana and I came to Helena in March I had no plans to attend the event in Billings. Diana kept telling me that I should go, but I really didn’t have much desire to go – expensive banquet ticket, car rental, hotel, and a long drive that I really didn’t look forward to. But after Diana once more got after me I called Sam’s son  and found he was going along with his wife, a son and a grandson. So I made a hotel reservation and then called  Billings to get a ticket. The fellow I talked to was the Chairman of the HoF committee, and as we talked I explained my interest and that I had edited and published Sam’s memoirs.  Rick asked if I had anything they could use in the program, and I sent him my Forward to the memoir and a few pictures. It turns out that they didn’t have much information on Sam, so Rick scurried around and made some minor edits in the forward and that’s what showed up in the program book, so this was a pleasant surprise for me. This was all at the last minute in terms of the publication of the program book. I met Rick at the event, and he was very appreciative of what I gave them. The punch line in my forward is this:

“How did this young man, a hard rock miner from Butte Montana, rise from the depths of a mine tunnel to one day stand beside two Presidents and among three National Championship college football teams? From a dirty and dangerous mine to stand beside Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testeverde and coaches of the caliber of Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson? How did this young man rise from that dark, cold mine shaft to become Chief executive Officer of the New England patriots? How did this man expand a football stadium in Pullman Washington from 24,000 to 39,000 seats – with no cost to the tax payer?

Sam Jankovich came to the surface of the Leonard mine and rose to the top of his chosen profession of athletics. From state championship teams in Butte — to assistant coaching at universities in Montana and Washington — to Athletic Director at Washington State and the University of Miami – to CEO of the Patriots. All along the way earning induction into the Halls of Fame of these institutions.

As the editor of Sam’s memoirs I learned the answers to these questions. Sentence by sentence – paragraph by paragraph – page by page – place to place. I found myself answering these questions with words like ‘character’, ‘loyalty’, ‘quality’ and ‘consistency’ deftly bubbling up from the pages. I began to see the character of the man as golden threads woven through the fabric of his life and career. Part of the fabric and yet distinctly visible.”

So I went to the event and am so glad I did. Sam has become such a dear friend in recent years and I feel so blessed that he has come into my live.

The event was very well done, and attended by 475 people. It was fun watching the interactions between old teammates and hearing their testimonies . Most of the 8 inductees had careers spanning high school through the NFL, including several who played in Super Bowls.

One particularly interesting story was that of Sam McCullum, the son of an Air force man, raised in segregated Mississippi. He told of that experience, and contrasted it with the good experience of living in Northwest Montana as a young high school student where he was treated with respect. When Sam started playing sports in Montana he had never played any sports at all – and he went on to a long career as an NFL player with the Seahawks and Vikings. In fact, Sam caught the very first touchdown pass for the new Seattle Seahawks team.

Sam Jankovich’s  speech was inspiring. He talked about such interpersonal relational things as honesty, loyalty, integrity and character. Hearing his speech I can see how he was successful in all he set out to do, and how he garnered such love and respect from many, including me.

On Sunday afternoon a group of about 30-40 gathered at the Butte Civic Center to honor Sam in front of many Butte people who have been part of Sam’s life. There were several of his players there from the state championship teams of 1961 and 1964, two of whom I recalled from those days. Again, Sam gave an inspiring speech centered on honoring those that did so much in launching his long professional career.

I was finally able to get pictures of me and Sam together. I didn’t have a copy of the book so I borrowed  one from Wayne, one of Sam’s 61 players.

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You can purchase your own copy of Sam’s story by clicking on the image just above — I hope you do!

So that’s my story of football in March.

  

On Mocking President Trump’s Remarks About Confronting A Shooter

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You may have seen the movie Hacksaw Ridge about this medic who refused to carry a gun into battle. Saved many lives.

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And you recall those firemen who rushed into the threat with no regard for their own safety or lives.

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This rich New Yorker fled the safety of his limo to intervene in a beating on the sidewalk. Recognize him?

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And how will I react?

How Should I React as an Adult In an Active Shooter Situation?

With or without a gun, we may very well find ourselves confronted with someone with a gun and the intent to inflict  much mayhem. Teachers, students and school adults seem to be in the front lines these days, but many of us attend large events such as church, concerts, sporting events and even large block parties. We are not immune to attack.

Maybe we should rehearse in our own mind what we would do in these situations.

What I intend to do if confronted with a shooter is to charge the shooter with as much noise and hollering as possible – with or without a gun. Charge and create a bit of confusion and uncertainty in the shooter and hopefully save lives in the process.

Is this not what our young soldiers , sailors and Marines are trained and expected to do, and in fact do? Reading military award citations, this is what typically happens when a soldier charges an enemy position and often times turns the tide of battle. School shootings are a battle and take place in a war zone – they don’t take place in a gun free area … there is no such thing as a gun-free area.

So that’s my plan – run to the shooter. If I have a gun, shoot him first, but at least cause him to shoot in my direction.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:13

Don Johnson – February 2018

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Have you given any thought on how you might react?



The Greatest Generation: bitter-sweet

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Sweet because I have had the high honor and privilege of knowing some of these men in recent years who have called me friend and shipmate.  Bitter in knowing the friendships would be short-lived.

The young men above are three of the “greatest”:  Bob Allard, Gene Beckstrom and I don’t know the third young man.  In September we lost Bob Allard, and then in mid-November we lost Gene Beckstrom.

I met Bob Allard briefly at a ship reunion in Denver, and that was a sweet experience. Gene and Bob served together on the Porterfield down in the fire-rooms, but hadn’t seen one another since 1946 and the end of the war. When Bob saw Gene, his countenance lit up and he shouted out “Beckstrom – where the hell have you been? I’ve been looking for you for years.” 

I was the mouse in the corner eaves-dropping on this wonderful reunion, and dared not intrude.

Bob gave the picture of the three shipmates to Gene who from that point on treasured it. The next year (2016) at the San Diego, Gene once more proudly brought out that picture. Gene’s son Bruce – also a Navy veteran – has the picture now.

I’ll greatly miss this man!

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What is the legacy these men leave behind?

When these young man (Gene was 16), along with 10’s of thousands of others, entered the service the German war machine had overrun all of Western Europe, much of Northern Africa, were threatening Great Britain and had invaded the Soviet Union to the east. Germany’s ally Italy was part of the axis juggernaut. 

In the far-east, the Japanese military had brutally invaded Korea, China, Southeast Asia, the Philippines and were threatening New Zealand and Australia. 

So the task facing these young men was daunting indeed.

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What sort of world did these young men, and those who followed, leave behind?

A free Western Europe with representative constitutional governments and free market economies.

Communism was stopped with the former slave nations of Eastern Europe now living as part of the free world.  

The Soviet backed North Korean invasion of South Korea was stopped and South Korea is now a strong, free and successful nation.

Japan has been transformed into a modern free industrial nation.

 

October 23, 1956–The Hungarian Revolution. What would you fight for? What would you die for?

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This day, October 23 marks the 61st anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

It’s hard for many of us in the free world to appreciate times such as those. What drove virtually all segments of Hungarian society, including the military and police, to rise up against their government? What drove so many to risk everything, including their life in an attempt to throw off the tyranny and brutality of a Soviet controlled dictatorship?  

The following articles summarize those days quite well:

Excerpts:

“ … In the days that followed, frequent attacks and skirmishes took place across Budapest and the countryside, as village-based freedom fighters strove to hinder Soviet brigades heading toward the capital. Workers nationwide launched strikes in solidarity with the resisters, and more public demonstrations continued demanding radical change in government. In one particularly gruesome incident, ÁVH troops opened fire on a nonviolent crowd of approximately 10,000 demonstrators gathered before the Parliament House on October 25th, a massacre that killed around 100 people and injured hundreds more; bullet holes from that tragedy are preserved to this day on buildings surrounding Kossuth Square. …” (the picture at the top)

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https://welovebudapest.com/en/2015/10/22/the-freedom-fight-a-chronicle-of-hungarys-1956-revolution/

And an eyewitness to the revolution:

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https://welovebudapest.com/en/2014/10/23/hope-and-tragedy-an-eyewitness-recalls-hungarys-1956-revolution/

A dear friend and Navy Shipmate Adam von Dioszeghy was also an eyewitness – indeed a twice wounded freedom fighter in that 1956 Revolution against tyranny. Read his account below:

http://www.blurb.com/b/8243686-budapest-at-war

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Don Johnson – October 2017

Liberty and the Honor of Respecting the Flag

I’ve always stood for the playing of the National Anthem and the presentation of the American flag. Image result for standing for the national anthem
Has it always been a mark of honor and respect? Or had it become somewhat of a rote habit?

The recent dustups in the NFL with professional athletes sitting or kneeling contrary to the custom of standing with an attitude and posture of respect, coupled with an extended stay in Paris have broadened and deepened my appreciation of this long standing flag etiquette. 

Thousands of American, British, Canadian and French soldiers, sailors and airmen died bringing liberty back to captive France in 1944. More than 18,000 French civilians also died in pushing out the evil of Nazism from France and restoring liberty. Many of the civilian deaths were due to the heavy allied bombings of the coastal Norman cities in places like Saint Lo and Caen.

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The reception of the “liberators” was mixed as could be expected – towns and homes were destroyed, and loved ones lost in the carnage.

But what I found some 73 years later were many memorials of much gratitude on the part of the French. And this gratitude seemed to extend from 1944 to the present day. For example, in driving to the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, I looked up at the second floor of an old building and saw three small and tattered flags – French, British and American. These flags, off the beaten tourist path showed me that someone still held a heart of gratitude.

And in researching further,  I found this story:

“ … Franck Maurouard and his family of Normandy, France, have not forgotten the sacrifices made by American soldiers trying to liberate France from German occupation during World War II.

Each Memorial Day for the past 10 years, Franck, his wife, Anne, and their children, Alexandre, 16, and Eloise, 14, have decorated the graves of two American Rangers who died in the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944.

They volunteered to care for the graves in Colleville sur Mer cemetery by applying to Les Fleurs de la Memoire, an organization that encourages French citizens to remember on Memorial Day the graves of Americans who gave their lives to liberate France and who remain forever in French soil. Les Fleurs de la Memoire (lesfleursdelamemoire.com) represents 132 French Fraternal Associations, 70 French towns and villages, and 3,677 French citizens who have adopted, in perpetuity, 10,451 graves.

Maurouard, who served in the French Navy for 17 years and is now a laboratory technician at the school where his wife teaches, requested to be assigned the grave of one Ranger from the 2nd Battalion and another from the 5th Battalion. But he has done far more than decorate the graves of Pvt. Joseph Trainor of Wisconsin and Pvt. Elmo Banning of Sedan, Kan.

He researched the details of their deaths and shortened lives and searched for their surviving relatives. He and his family developed a close relationship with Pvt. Banning’s family, now residing in California. … “    Read more  here and here.

I’ve walked the grounds of Colleville sur Mer, and yes, there are flowers at the foot of the grave markers – in 2017.

There are similar stories to be found from other places of liberation.

Why do so many in France still honor  their liberators from 1944?

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I believe it is because liberty has value. And because liberty has value, there is a cost for its purchase, and a cost for its restoration when lost. I believe the French, having lost and regained liberty, go to great lengths to honor that cost – a cost measured in the many lives lost in achieving liberty once more.   

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Fortunately we here in the United States have not experienced the traumatic loss of liberty as was experienced in France in the 1940s. Many of our military have witnessed that loss of liberty elsewhere, and have fought to purchase or restore liberty in hostile places far from home.  There is a yearning for liberty among the oppressed of the world – always has been and always will be.

Perhaps those professional athletes irreverently sitting before the flag are in ways they, or we,  may not fully understand – perhaps they are sitting in ways reflecting that yeaning for liberty they perceive as having been lost.

I respect that right of expression. In years past, and even today, many say “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” 

My wish is that our younger generations would be taught the lessons of places like 1944 France. My wish is that they would learn these lessons and honor those many who did “ … fight to the death for your right to say it.” 

Martin Luther King Jr. found another way to achieve huge change for the good in this nation. Would that the NFL athletes seek other avenues of change.

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Don Johnson – October 2017




Has it been

Honoring the Flag

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Sports stadiums and sports celebrities are getting top billing these days – but for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps contributing to this is that  a very small percentage – 1 or 2% – of the population are on active duty in the military these days. It’s easy to think that the national anthem is for the entertainment of sports fan and sports celebrities who can manipulate the national anthem and flag honoring as props for current Social Justice agendas.

But military folks – active duty, families and veterans – typically take a very much different view. I’m a Navy vet from the 1960s, so let me recall some of the protocol regarding the flag.

When out walking around base in the early morning hours toward the pier and “colors”  was heard, you stopped, stood at attention, and if in uniform you saluted in the direction of the raising flag. Likewise at the end of the day when the colors were “retired” and lowered, you stopped what you were  doing, turned towards the lowering flag and saluted. When boarding the ship we turned to the flag, saluted it and requested permission to board the ship. This is protocol and what is expected of  our military and civilians when on board a military base. 

Let me tell you about the four young sailors above – David Crabbe, Jim Devin, Dave Lesh and Frankie Paxton.

These four went through the daily protocol I described, and when it really mattered, put their commitment to the ultimate test. Following their deployment to Vietnam on the USS Porterfield, a US Navy destroyer, they were on the way home to San Diego. A typhoon delayed that trip when a shipmate lay badly injured on the deck, unconscious and in danger of  being washed overboard to his death. These four sailors risked their own lives in rescuing their fallen shipmate, with Devin actually being washed overboard in the effort. The event ended well, with injuries but no deaths, and Devin rescued hours later in the midst of that typhoon.

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Then there is this image of the family of a fallen soldier who will be left with memories, pictures and a folded American flag. 

These heroes of real life served, fought and many died believing “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

Yes, you have the right to publicly dishonor the flag and the National Anthem. But you ought not to exercise that right.

Don Johnson – September 2017