A Real Patriot

Ever met a real patriot? I’ll bet you have one or more in your own family–one who has served our country in the military, in government or as a first responder. My dad was one. Despite having two young children, he volunteered for service in World War II. This Veterans’ Day, when the definition of patriotism is strained to the limit, it might  be of benefit to the public understanding to reconsider what the word really stands for.

Ben’s sense of patriotism was strong — but almost everyone felt that way after the Nazi invasion of Europe and the last straw, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. He was scornful of those who did not share his feelings, especially of well-known celebrities like actor John Hodiak and celebrity toastmaster Ralph Edwards, who widely publicized their willingness to serve, but when Uncle Sam called, their lines were busy.

Dad grew up on the far south side of Chicago, in the Englewood neighborhood. You can get a pretty good picture of his environment in those days in the Studs Lonigan stories, especially the first book, Young Studs Lonigan. In that South Side neighborhood , he would have been called, called a “sheeny,” denoting him as a Jewish kid, and berated for his self-direction and ambition. In that  tough crowd, he had to fight for what he believed in. His father had a job with a land speculator and vendor of dreams. Sometimes he brought in good money — when he was sober. When he was not he beat his wife. Dad never talked about it. He left home at age 17. A cousin of his, only just before her death, revealed to me that he had a huge fight with his father over this abuse of his mother and sisters and was kicked out. He and his friend Julian accordingly quit college and worked their way to Europe as stewards on a steamer.

Back in Chicago Ben Green began a journalism career as go-fer, reporter and then editor for a neighborhood paper. When he got politicians to take a winter dip in frigid Lake Michigan to get their pictures on the front page, he became known as “The Little Dynamo” and the “Napoleon of the Northwest News.” His success with politicians led him to become a Democratic ward heeler and then to a publicist position in City Hall, driving a roadster with the mayor’s seal on it.

Alice with Ben on furlough, in Service Uniform, 1944

In late 1944 he volunteered for the Marine Corps, leaving my mother in charge of the house, the car, payment of the bills and the feeding of a five-year-old and a new baby. After boot camp and a short stint at Mare Island naval base, he was sent overseas to help MacArthur retake the Pacific in his island-hopping campaign. The final push to defeat Japan in the Pacific was expected to take another two or three years,. Since “radio” was in in his civilian job title, he was assigned as a radioman, complete with backpack, transmitter and walkie-talkie, with a mission to maintain communication among troops in the field. When the training company just ahead of him from boot camp returned from Iwo Jima, he awoke to his predicament. One letter reported, “Naturally we have a whole new saga about the campaign and are very pleased not to have been there in time for it.” In Ben’s War with the U. S. Marines I recount this period, as gleaned from  his almost daily letters home:

“By late May, Ben thought he would remain in his radio company. However, a reassessment was made of the qualifications and training of each man in the unit–in this reclassification Ben fell short. He didn’t have the required MOS {Military Occupational Specialty) or training required for the job. It looked as if he would once more be turned loose, with no specific assignment related to his strong capabilities in many areas. He was again in peril of landing in the infantry. He remained concerned about his fate.”

He learned that WXLI, the island’s Armed Forces Radio Station, was run by a Marine captain, who said, “We could use of a guy like you.” The rest—despite several weeks of bureaucratic delay, and thanks to Ben’s dogged determination—is history. That history evolved with Ben’s transfer to WXLI, attached to Isl;and Command, his fortuitous rise to de facto station manager and fulfilment of a newsman’s dream–a scoop direct from the Commander in Chief – Pacific, headquartered just a hillside away from his broadcast studio on Guam. It was the the biggest news of World War II—the war was over, and hte world heard about it first from WXLI.

But  to appreciate Ben’s remarkable, funny and poignant story fully–that of a real patriot–you’ve  really got to read the whole book. Along with its companion volume, Radio: One Woman’s Family in War and Pieces, it will make a light-hearted, historically accurate and entertaining holiday gift for the patriots among you. In honor of veterans everywhere, I’m offering special value and personally autographed copies to your own heroes You can take advantage of this Black Friday sale in my Bookshop.

Until next time, good words to you,

Peter

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