Category Archives: Interesting people

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.

  

Yearning for Liberty–A New Book

A Yearning for Publius

Click http://www.blurb.com/b/8546463-yearning-for-liberty to get your copy of this new book.

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In Yearning for Liberty, the author explores various facets of Liberty. Relying heavily on first person accounts, history and some of his own personal experiences and friendships, Johnson examines a broad sweep of time and geography beginning with the Biblical Exodus; through the American Revolution; the American Civil War and the aftermath of the long struggle in gaining liberty for the freed slaves. Then modern-day events and nations are examined such as the Normandy invasion of World War II; the 1956 Hungarian Revolution; the fall of South Vietnam to the communist North, and the subsequent mass evacuation from Saigon. The stunning contrast between the two Koreas is highlighted.

Combining first person accounts with plenty of pictures, Johnson weaves an eye-opening story of what having liberty looks like – its value, as well as the grim reality of what the lack…

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Holocaust survivor: I’m giving $1 million to help wounded American veterans, to express my thanks

At 83 years old, I am one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors – thanks to the American troops who rescued me in what seems like a lifetime ago. Since World War II, I’ve felt a deep connection to American troops for saving my life – a feeling that resurfaces every year on Veterans Day and throughout the holiday giving season.

And so this year I’m saying “thank you” to the American soldiers of the 1940s by donating $1 million to organizations serving wounded American veterans today.

My donation to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Services for Armed Forces program of the American Red Cross is my way of giving back, thanking previous generations of warriors for helping me. I hope this inspires others to give back as well.

Even though more than 70 years have passed since my rescue, it’s not too late to give back. That’s a lesson I hope the next generation recognizes, because it’s all too easy to let procrastination give way to inaction. But action is what brings hope to those who need it.

I have met many American people who I am lucky enough to call my friends. First, Americans saved us. Then decades later, they welcomed us.

As a child, I spent most of World War II hiding from Nazi invaders in my native France, where my parents moved after fleeing the pogroms in Poland. Unfortunately, with the German invasion in 1940, we were again at risk. On July 16, 1942, the French police led a big roundup of Jews in Paris. More than 13,000 Jews were detained before being deported to Nazi death camps.

 The police came to our apartment at 6 a.m. My parents managed to take me to my aunt’s home. She was married to a French soldier and was protected.

A few hours later, my mother was arrested as she and my brother were trying to get information about my father, who was hiding in a nearby grocery store. A concierge had pointed them out to the police. They ran, but my mother was not fast enough. She was detained and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She perished there – probably within three weeks.

I was 7, and for the next two years I lived on borrowed time, shielded by other families on the outskirts of Paris. The same was true for my future wife, who was also a child in hiding. If the war had continued much longer, we would not have survived.

I vividly remember the arrival of the hundreds of thousands of American troops who landed in Normandy to liberate us in June 1944. They were our saviors, doling out packets of sweets to half-starved, war-weary children who had almost given up hope for freedom.

The gratitude I feel to these men is beyond words. They freed our country and they saved our lives. Without American troops, my family and I simply would not have existed. I think of that every time I look at our family photos.

Since the end of the war, life has been good to me. I’ve had a successful career as co-owner of one of Europe’s largest home appliance retailers, working alongside my brothers. I’ve also enjoyed raising my family, celebrating extended family gatherings of 20 people.

My wife and I have a deep sense of gratitude for America. So in the early 1990s, freshly retired, we bought a home in South Florida. I travel with my wife each winter from our home in Paris to the warmth of Miami Beach. We still appreciate our second home there, where we now spend almost a third of our time.

I have met many American people who I am lucky enough to call my friends. First, Americans saved us. Then decades later, they welcomed us.

But as I watched news stories this fall of hurricanes, flooding and wildfires striking America, inflicting suffering among civilians and veterans alike, I realized that I still had an important task left to complete in my life. I had not yet given back to the American soldiers who saved my life nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

That is why I want to help modern American veterans today. They pursue the tradition of the young men who landed on the shores of Normandy in June 1944 and who I will never forget. In giving this donation, I want to thank Americans with all my heart for coming to rescue us in our hour of need.

But I also want to make a public stand in support of America. I hope that my donation can trigger a movement and lead others to take action. My story shows it’s never too late to give back, especially for a cause that’s close to your heart. If it wasn’t too late for this octogenarian, it’s not too late for you.

Bernard Darty is a Paris native and retired co-founder of Darty Group, an electrical retailer operating more than 340 stores in three European countries.

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

Postcards from Pannonia – a book review & trip report

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(From the book)

“A freedom fighter of the 1956 Hungarian revolution, after over 40 years in the US, and his California-born wife, decide to return to his native land to live. What’s more, they decide to purchase a dilapidated country house-with about 7 acres of land-perched atop a hill in the foothills of the Bakony Mountains, nestled in the middle of an ancient area the Romans called Pannonia. The house sits alone, set apart from the neighboring village of 1,200 souls. The couple is idealistic, brave and – some might say – idiotic to undertake such a task. Of course, the house needs to be renovated and made fit for habitation. Craftsmen and workers need to be found. The work needs supervision. As our hero and heroine are “absentee owners” (living mostly in California), they are people who could easily be taken advantage of by unscrupulous and greedy locals. Country folk often focus on strangers as exotic and wealthy – true or not – and this is especially the case when the “strangers” are viewed as “rich Americans”.

The situation calls for caution and careful planning. Fortunately, a local “good Samaritan”, in the form of a native and pillar of the community, befriends them, comes to their aid time and again, and becomes their guardian angel. Amid seeming chaos and very real trepidation, restoration and refurbishment begins. While progress is far from smooth and continuous, no major disasters occur. Local craftsmen are found who are ably kept in check by Anti, the guardian angel. The skirmishes are numerous and colorful, but the locals (who for some reason concoct the story that the house has been bought by a “famous American film producer”), gradually accept the interlopers.

As time passes and the owners spend more and more time on the property, boundaries come down and friendships are forged. There are invitations and counter-invitations issued and accepted. People offer their generous help with problems otherwise unsolvable. The house is completed. With the assistance of these new-found friends, the adventuresome newcomers plant a vineyard, and now spend over seven months a year in their new paradise. Life is good…  “

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My review …

But first meet the authors – Adam and Aliz

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This review will be a bit different than most. First of all, I had previously read Adam’s memoir Bridging Two Worlds in which he chronicles his Hungarian life from age 7 to about age 18 – World War II through the 1956 Revolution — and then his life in the United States as a non-English speaking refugee, US Navy officer, Stanford graduate and attorney for 35 years.

Secondly, and as a result of discovering this old Navy shipmate through his book, Diana and I visited with the von Dioszeghys’ recently (May 2017). And this visit prompted us to read Postcards when we returned home.

After I finished reading “Postcards … .” I had the same reaction as Diana when she finished the book. I was sad. Saddened  at the loss of your dear friend Lajcsi, and saddened that the book ended.

I must say, the book – their life in Hungary – brought out the multiple personality disorder part of me, and of me as well. Let me explain, and I think Diana will agree.

Reading the many stories after having been there with Adam & Aliz and seeing for ourselves, brought memories flooding back. Memories of so many details that we just weren’t able to appreciate at the time. Details that we simply took for granted such as the awnings over the patio – the stairway up to ‘our room’ and more. At the time, these details were noted, but no more so than had we been in anyone else’s nice home. In other words, expected niceties,  but not unusual.

But then these same memories, illuminated by the many captivating stories, took on an entirely wonderful light in recalling sitting on the terrace sipping wine, enjoying each other’s company and good food. Looking out over the countryside and now imagining the many visits to that same home and terrace by many Sur friends and neighbors such as Anti, Hajni, Kalman and others. 

So the one personality of mine has been enriched greatly by both the experience of being there with them, and now knowing ‘The Rest of the Story.’  And yet  another personality wishes that I would have read the stories before going there. But alas … that would have robbed me of the mystery and magic of the sequence as it actually unfolded. And yet another personality hopes it is possible for a return some day.  

A splendid job — congratulations to Adam & Aliz in capturing so much of life and love. The love shared with each other – the love drawn out in those new friends and neighbors – and the love of life itself they both show, in the small things and in the large.

Once more – thank you so much. Thanks for your hospitality, the fine company – and most of all thanks for drawing us into your lives as dear friends.

Love to you both,

don

Before we get to the many pictures below, here are other articles I have posted:

https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/bridging-two-worlds-a-book-review-2/

https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/reunion/

https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/i-first-visited-hungary/

https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/a-navy-reunion-and-more-a-personal-walk-through-history/

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“Szolohegy”  the name of their home:
About 1 1/2 – 2 hour drive West from Budapest sur_map

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And now just a few (well OK … a lot) pictures. There are many pictures here, but to Diana and I they will hopefully help connect; the two books, our trip there, and our feeble memories (well at least mine.)  

 

Not all our time was spent at the country home. Here are some pictures from Budapest. Adam has an incredible memory and knowledge of Budapest and Hungarian history, and showed us much.

We would sure love to go back some day.

 

What’s Become of the American Dream?

American Dream

Peggy Noonan writes a wonderful piece in the Wall Street Journal. Click  “What’s Become of the American Dream?” to read the article.

Much in Noonan’s piece brought me back to the memoirs of Sam Jankovich which I have just finished editing and publishing.

A couple of excerpts from Noonan …

“ … The American dream is the belief, held by generation after generation since our beginning and reanimated over the decades by waves of immigrants, that here you can start from anywhere and become anything. In America you can rise to the heights no matter where and in what circumstances you began. You can go from the bottom to the top.  … “

The picture at the top is the last page of the memoir, and shows one such person who has gone “from the bottom to the top” in the literal sense of from a mile deep mine shaft to presenting a national championship game ball to the President of the United States.

Noonan further writes:

“ … The American dream was about aspiration and the possibility that, with dedication and focus, it could be fulfilled. But the American dream was not about material things—houses, cars, a guarantee of future increase. That’s the construction we put on it now. It’s wrong. A big house could be the product of the dream, if that’s what you wanted, but the house itself was not the dream. You could, acting on your vision of the dream, read, learn, hold a modest job and rent a home, but at town council meetings you could stand, lead with wisdom and knowledge, and become a figure of local respect. Maybe the respect was your dream.  … “

Click on the book cover below and take a look at Sam’s story.

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          (Click on the cover above)

As Noonan further writes:

“ … You can give a dozen examples, and perhaps you are one, of Americans who turned a brilliant system into a lived-out triumph. … “

And I do know of a number other examples.

 

Don Johnson – April 2017