Leaping Into the Abyss

Co-pilot Dick Cole stared down at the 2 x 2 foot hole in the deck of his twin-engine aircraft. While tightening his parachute straps, the throbbing sound of radial engines and the pungent smell of aviation fuel provided small level of comfort and security. His Army Air Corps crew had just flown their B-25 bomber thirteen hours on a mission that oscillated wildly between brief moments of high intensity and hours of complete boredom. It was now a very dark and stormy night outside. The aircraft was 10,000 feet over a strange and hostile land, with fuel running out and no airfield in sight. The boss motioned that it was now his turn to bail out. A feeling of stoic mindfulness engulfed the 26-year old aviator for a moment. Then, he stepped forward – turning control of his body over to gravity and of his soul to God.

While he couldn’t possibly have known it at that moment, Dick and 79 fellow airmen jumped into American legendary status and would forever more be known as Doolittle Raiders.

Crew No. 1 (Plane #40-2344, target Tokyo): 34th Bombardment Squadron, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Crew No. 1 (Plane #40-2344, target Tokyo): 34th Bombardment Squadron, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy wreaked havoc on Pearl Harbor, bringing America into World War II. American citizens were outraged and demanded the U.S. government do something. Emotions were heightened by the fear that Japan would invade Hawaii or the west coast. President Roosevelt was keenly aware he needed to harness this emotion to build a war effort that would help our allies in Europe as well as Asia. He challenged the top military leaders to devise a counter-attack against Tokyo. But he could not afford to order a full scale military strike since our nation was woefully unprepared for major combat operations.

In this case, navy aircraft had a limited flight range, which would jeopardize the aircraft carriers that launched them. The Army, however, had lost its main airfields in the Philippines and had no air base within range of Japan.

Several weeks later, Navy Captains Francis Low and Donald Duncan came up with a creative solution. They crafted a 30-page handwritten plan and briefed Lt. Gen Hap Arnold, the head of the Army Air Forces. He assigned Lt. Col Jimmy Doolittle to improve it and carry out the necessary arrangements. Jimmy Doolittle, a highly respected aviation pioneer, was the perfect man to orchestrate this complex and harrowing mission. He was the boss, a master of calculated risk.

Within weeks, the Navy assigned their newest aircraft carrier, USS Hornet CV-8, to the Top Secret “special aviation project”. The Army requisitioned 24 B-25 Mitchell bombers and their volunteer air crews and sent them to Florida for special training. Naval flight instructor Lt Henry Miller showed the astonished pilots how to launch the aircraft with just 500 feet of runway, instead of the normal 2,500 feet.

On March 31, 1942, the units converged on the Naval Air Station in Alameda. The next day, 16 of the Army bombers were loaded aboard the Hornet, as well as 134 Army air crew and support personnel. On April 2, the Hornet and seven escorts ships steamed under the Golden Gate Bridge on heading 270 degrees – due west. When the commanding officer of the Hornet, Captain Marc Mitscher, announced over the ship’s loud speaker their destination was Tokyo, a huge cheer went up from the navy men. A large sign was painted on the superstructure that simply said “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

Ten days later, the Hornet task force merged with another out of Pearl Harbor headed by the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and overall command of the combined flotilla fell to the fighting admiral, VADM Bull Halsey.

Several days after that, on April 18, 1942, the force was discovered by Japanese picket boats several hundred miles farther from shore than expected. In the midst of a northern Pacific storm, with gale force winds, driving rain and waves cresting over the bow of the Hornet, the Army bombers were launched. The extra distance presented a serious issue for the air crews. It meant they would have to fly over Tokyo in broad daylight and would not be able to reach their intended destinations in China. Even though the mission was now just short of being suicidal, none of the young Army Air Corps volunteers backed out.ALIVE - Hornet B-25 launch USAF92987  (crop)

Four hours later, 64 American bombs rained down on military and industrial targets in several Japanese cities. The actual physical damage was light. But the shock to the Japanese psychological mindset was heavy, as they never expected to be attacked during the entire war, much less at the very beginning. American citizens, and her allies, received a huge morale boost. This carried into building a massive war effort that would defeat all the Axis countries. Pearl Harbor was well avenged!

None of the bombers were shot down. Fifteen struggled to reach China (one detoured to Russia where it landed safely). A couple crash landed, although most crews chose to bail out while the engines still had fuel. 69 of the 80 crewmen returned to active duty status with the Army (and its post-war successor, the US Air Force). Three were killed in the crash landings, and eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of those were executed and one died of starvation in prison but four returned home following Japan’s surrender.

After World War II, the Raiders continued on with their lives, focused on the same things as everyone else – building a career, getting married, having a family, and saving money for retirement. They held reunions almost every year, enjoying the strong bond forged by their amazing shared experience. As time passed, the Raider ranks began to thin.

In 2013, with only a handful of men left, many citizens wanted to publicly recognize them for their courageous service. Based on significant veteran support, the U.S. Congress passed a bill awarding the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal to the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. On May 23, 2014, President Obama signed the bill – with 98-year old Dick Cole standing right behind him!ALIVE - DR-CGM Obama Cole WH signing May 2014

On April 15 of this year, the actual gold medal was presented to the Raiders in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. A few days later, that same medal was presented to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for permanent display. Of course, it was Dick Cole who handed the precious medal and certificate to the museum director. Somewhere nearby in spirit, “the boss” was smiling – his boys had successfully completed one last mission.

To paraphrase another American hero, Dick’s one small step was a giant leap for the preservation of world democracy. He and the other 79 Raiders are highly deserving of this national recognition before they all pass into the realm of history.


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ALIVE - DR-CGM reverse (hi res)





SIDEBAR: One of Life’s Moments

During the April 15 Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave a particularly poignant presentation, noting the raid’s origins were the SF Bay Area. Afterward, I approached her to offer congratulations – and present her with a Hornet Museum challenge coin. Well, in the military culture, when a person hands over a challenge coin, the recipient must either reciprocate with their coin or buy a drink for the offeror. So I said “well, I guess thNancy Pelosi and Bob DR CGM ceremony (crop) copyis means you owe me a drink next time we meet.” Ms. Pelosi didn’t miss a beat – with a sly grin, she said “Not so fast Bob,” and handed me her challenge coin! It was at that moment her aide chose to take this picture – we had a mutual chuckle, although my grin was fading fast as I wondered if she would bring her 434 fellow House Representatives to the bar for a free drink on me. Stay tuned!

Bob Fish is a Trustee of the USS Hornet Museum, which held its own Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on April 25, honoring the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders in the SF Bay Area.

Beware of Hotel Hell

Poor accommodations can ruin a vacation!

With the school year just about over, a lot of us are making summer vacation plans. Regardless if your travel plan is a visit with family and friends, or the itinerary includes an on-the-go sightseeing adventure or a relaxing destination vacation, you’ll undoubtedly need overnight accommodations. It makes no difference if you travel by plane, train or automobile and end up at the beach, desert, big city or the mountains, where you stay is almost as important as where you go.

I have had more than my share of bad hotel, motel, lodge, inn and resort experiences while traveling. I’ve stayed in places where serial killers wouldn’t leave their victims. I’ve slept in rooms where CSI crime scene technicians refused to go. I swam in a pool that was once a septic tank. I’ve eaten my free continental breakfast when the choices were broken waffle cones, decorated Easter eggs (in October) and expired powder milk. I’ve seen a maid using a leaf blower to clean a room, a desk clerk who was outfitted in a Haz-Mat suit, and ironically, I once had a one-legged bellhop. I’ve seen banquet rooms hosting everything from a Scientology recruitment drive to a support group meeting for cross dressing necrophiliac hoarders. Finally, I’ve wondered if those were actually loose Raisinettes left on my pillow and bedspread by the “turn-down” service. Come to think of it, they were a little saltier than most Goober chocolates.

Old Motel SignWhen I once worked for a company that was a little the cheap side, they insisted all of their sales reps stay at national discount motel chain. When I first arrived, the valet parking lot attendant moved my car off-site and rented it out by the hour. The hotel restaurant doubled as a soup kitchen and the bare chested chef made the daily special in the Jacuzzi. The altar in the wedding chapel was equipped with a metal detector. Happy Hour in the hotel bar consisted of passing around a bottle of homemade bathtub wine wrapped in a brown paper bag. The workout room was fully equipped with a bent hula-hoop, chalk drawn Hop Scotch court and a set of Buns of Steele VHS tapes. I did appreciate that I got a complimentary penicillin shot at every third stay, but I hated that check out was done at gunpoint. I heard that the Cave Dwellers Association (“CWA”) rejected the hotel because the accommodations weren’t up to CWA standards. The Chamber of Commerce proudly listed the venue as the only hazardous waste drop-off site in a 230 mile radius with overnight accommodations.

Once a year, my buddies and I do an annual boys road trip to enjoy a weekend of golf and “Hall Pass” merriment. Over the years, we’ve stayed in some pretty sketchy boardinghouses. It’s a guy’s getaway so we’re not looking for couples massages and sunset terraces, but I’m pretty sure a few of the places we’ve stayed were on the verge of being condemned.

As we pulled into the parking lot last year, which resembled a bombed-out Syrian airport runway, the crime scene tape was still up blocking our way into the syringe-littered lobby. We did appreciate that the concierge, who also handled room service, mani/pedi spa treatments and landscape maintenance, asked if we wanted to purchase a MMP card. The phone in our room had the Suicide Prevention Center on speed dial. The pool was a popular pet-washing destination until someone’s lizard died from a bacterial infection. I understand that the check cashing bodega/adult bookstore/coin laundry down the street frequently complained that the motel guests brought down the image of the neighborhood and I’ll admit many of the other patrons could easily have passed for squatters. At least they had Wi-Fi. The password was… SaveMe.

The worst of my hotel stays may have been on my honeymoon. My worries began when I noticed that the sundry shop was stocked with bug bombs and rattraps. It wasn’t so bad that our room had bunk beds, but we were disappointed that another couple had already claimed the bottom bed. Boy, were they noisy. We were hoping we might be upgraded to a room with carpeting or at the very least drapes, but no such luck.

We found the gardener’s severed finger in the ice machine, the vending machines sold ammunition and our wake-up call was the manager’s wife leaning on her car horn. It resembled a youth hostel without all the warmth and amenities. The black-light AP on my phone made it abundantly clear that the room had at one time been used as a porn set. Our first clue should have been the brochure that suggested visitors bring their own soap, shampoo and fly swatter.

Abandoned Motel Sign in USAOften times, bed & breakfast establishments aren’t any better. For our anniversary, we stayed at a B&B near the Delta and the sign at the entrance proudly stated, #1 Destination for Conjugal Visits. The maid was attempting to change the sheets in our room when we arrived, but she had trouble prying them apart. The mini-bar consisted of a glass of tap water and a few opened bags of airline peanuts. The complimentary happy hour offered a choice of either hillbilly moonshine or a nice Bartles & James wine cooler from 1982-84, however the plastic glasses all had lipstick stains. The adult movie selection turned out to be hidden cameras set up in the adjoining rooms. While it was pet-friendly, most of the dogs chose to sleep in the car after seeing the raccoon gang hanging out next to the kitchen dumpsters. The good news was there were plenty of those salty Raisinettes virtually everywhere.

I’m quite certain there are those of you reading this article who are non-believers. Those who think I’m making this all up for the sake of another hilariously funny, laugh out loud/can’t put down humor lifestyle magazine article. To that I say, “What?” Much like the Extended Limited Express security guard said, aka homeless guy who offered to watch ourshi…..stuff while we waited for our handi-capable van ride back to the airport, “I may not have much, but I have my integrity (and a 24 oz. can of Schlitz Malt Liquor in his case).” If you can’t afford to stay at the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons or Fairmont, a word to the wise would be to do your due diligence when it comes to where you’ll be staying. Otherwise, you might just be setting your self up for a visit to Hotel Hell.

Jazz: An American Art Form

Jazz means many things to different people depending on who is talking or writing about this popular form of music. There is no one definition of the word jazz that is universally accepted.

The word jazz first appeared in print in 1917. The origin of the word is obscure at best, however Webster defines jazz as: American music characterized by improvisation, syncopated rhythms and contrapuntal ensemble playing.

The United States Congress passed a bill in 1987 stating: “Jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable National American Treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated.” This is a powerful statement coming from a government body about an art form. It speaks volumes to the importance of jazz in American culture.


trumpet playerJazz morphed out of early American music from minstrel shows. The early brass bands were made up of fiddle, guitar, banjo or mandolin and string bass.

Ragtime was notated (written down). Early jazz was rarely written. Instrumental parts were composed spontaneously by the performer who, more often than not, could not read music.

Scott Joplin, (1868-1917) pianist and composer from Sedalia, Missouri, was one of the leading composers of ragtime music. One of his most famous pieces is The Maple Leaf Rag, composed in 1899.
Ragtime is characterized by persistent syncopation compared to the incidental syncopation found in classical music. For over two decades ragtime was the main music of Broadway musicals and Vaudeville.

In the early 20th Century a precursor and rich element in jazz was the unwritten folk blues. The first published blues music were written by Jelly Roll Morton, Jelly Roll Blues in 1905 and then, W.C. Handy’s, Memphis Blues in 1912 and the famous St. Louis Blues in 1919.

man playing the clarinetThe blues was characterized by the lowering or flatting the third and the seventh degree of the major scale. The pentatonic or five tone scale contributed to the development of the blue notes. When the ragtime bands began to use this style they learned from playing blues, jazz was born.

Jazz is generally identified as having been born around 1900, some say it originated in New Orleans. However, many music historians and musicologists say it happened simultaneously in Kanas City, Chicago, Memphis and New York.

Early jazz was highly improvisational and it depended on the skill, intuition and experience of the performer rather than the written notes. After World War I the development of radio, recorded music and the popularity of dancing ushered in the “Jazz Age” of the 1920s. Trained conservatory musicians who were already equipped with instrumental techniques eagerly joined the jazz movement.

In 1918 Joe “King” Oliver, started his famous Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. The band consisted of a cornet, trombone, clarinet, drums, bass and piano. Eventually this morphed into a big jazz band with other instruments. Around 1930 additional instruments including, another cornet or trumpet, a trombone and saxophones were added. These instruments gave the big band its traditional sound.

In the early forms of jazz the whole band played a refrain based on the melody. In turn each soloists played a refrain. In the concluding “out chorus” the whole band played on the harmonic framework of the composition. By contrast, the big dance band presented the more ridged composition. Many times solo passages were written out and were always played the same way. This was the era when the important position of the band arranger came into being.

The traditional jazz band gave way to the big band era. During this transitional time some of the greatest jazz musicians emerged, among them was Paul Whiteman (1890-1967). Known as the “King of Jazz” he had a large orchestra with expert musicians and great arrangements of jazz music. Whiteman called his music symphonic jazz. He taught his audience to listen rather than dance to the music.

In 1924 Whiteman introduced Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. This was a monumental concert! It put symphonic jazz on the musical map.

Styles of Jazz
New Orleans jazz, often referred to as Traditional or Dixieland Jazz, had some of its roots in African-American communities, where a mixture of both European and Afro chants and songs were mixed with slave or work songs.

The precursor of later styles of jazz dates back to the late 19th and early 20th Century. It was characterized by improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and swing notes.

Chicago style jazz utilized a small group of four to seven musicians. Louis Armstrong (1900-1971), a trumpet player and scat singer, was one of the leaders of this style of jazz. Armstrong was from New Orleans and moved to Chicago in 1922.

In the late 20’s and early 30’s Duke Ellington (1899-1974), created a new style of jazz music. Ellington had a unique ability to blend instruments into a beautiful sound. He was a great stylist and his music was very danceable unlike some bands that came later. A new dance music “swing” had made its appearance.

Some of the great names of swing are: Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and Harry James, among others. Swing dance music was broadcast live, nightly, across America from Chicago, by Earl Hines and his orchestra.

By this time ‘Crooners’ began their careers singing with jazz bands. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Rudy Vallee were some well-known singers that got their start with jazz bands.

Kansas City Jazz was known for hard swinging, bluesy and improvisational style. One of its biggest exponents was Count Basie (1904-1984). This also saw a transition from big bands to the bee-bop influence of the 1940’s.

In 1938 there was a revival of New Orleans style jazz. This was eclipsed by another revolution in the 1940s with Charlie “Bird” Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Art Tatum as leading proponents. Small groups began to replace big bands. Melodies became more complex with strong dissonant harmonies. The tempos were very fast. This was the era of Bop.

Bop eventually developed into progressive jazz. The musical and expressive elements of this form are quite demanding of the players and have made membership in this “club” very exclusive. Some of the principals in this group are: Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck, Jerry Mulligan, John Lewis and Gil Evans. Progressive jazz turned completely away from dancing and developed its own character.

The ongoing revolution of jazz saw some additional permutations in contemporary styles of jazz. Among the most notable was cool jazz in the late 1940s. This style was a calmer, smoother sound with long linear melodic lines.

The 1950s saw the advent of free jazz that sometimes used different scales for the basis of its structure and improvisation. This movement saw the addition of new instruments to the percussion battery. These included gongs, bells, rattles and instruments from African origins.

Fusion, a product of the late 60s, used electronic keyboards and the electric bass. Elements from jazz and rock were used as the basis of fusion music. The jazz oriented rock groups in the 1970s were exemplified by the groups, Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears.

Jazz, through the decades, has had an ever-changing and developing style and form. It is continuing today and probably will continue as long as there are inventive musicians to champion their cause,

Don’t miss the Danville Community Band’s Annual Spring Concert, Sunday, June 14, 2015, 3 p.m. at Community Presbyterian Church, 222 West El Pintado Rd, Danville. Free concert and parking

Mad Maxine! Fury Road puts the Goddess in the Driver’s Seat

In the world of Mad Max, History just became Herstory. George Miller’s brilliant Mad Max Fury Road again posits the future of our survival, but this time, unlike the first three films, our best shot at redemption comes in the form of a fierce female warrior, who grabs the wheel from Max and drives off with his hero narrative in tow. scene-from-mad-max-fury-road_100474074_h

True to the series, we’re in a dystopian future, a wasteland, where water (now more than fuel) has become frighteningly scarce, and what is left of it is horded by a maniacal dictator named Imortan Joe. Furiosa, a high-ranking officer in Joe’s militia, defects while on a gasoline hunt in her armed-to-the-grill “War Rig,” and Joe quickly determines that she is not simply running away—she has indeed stolen his most prized possessions: the “Five Wives,” a group of stunning young women chosen by Joe to be his “breeders,” each the victim of his rape and enslavement. Furiosa’s goal: To evade Joe’s army and deliver the girls to the “green place of many mothers,” a desert-oasis she recalls from her childhood.

The character of Imperator Furiosa, not Max, is the protagonist, until finally Max comes to realize her importance and joins her cause. Fearlessly portrayed by Charlize Theron, Furiosa is a woman with purpose, and it doesn’t have anything to do with men, unless they are unfortunate enough to get in her way. Mad-Max-Fury-Road

While Furiosa has taken charge of her destiny, Max is literally being driven (this is a Mad Max movie, after all) by forces he cannot control. For a third of the film he is shackled and chained to the front of a truck that is racing through one harrowing, life-threatening situation after the next, his face muzzled by an iron mask that would make Hannibal Lecter envious. Max is a prisoner without hope, a victim like everyone else until he makes a partner of Furiosa instead of an enemy. Her story shapes his story. Their partnership leads to his freedom. In the end, his bravery and sacrifice in her honor is what makes him a true hero.

Tom Hardy, in what will be the breakout role of his already impressive career, is pitch-perfect as Mad Max Rockatansky. He is both believably bad-ass and lost little boy (think Ringo with muscles and tats), rugged as a red-rock landscape and yet (according to my gal pals) just dreamy, like Mel used to be. Max on truck

And then there’s Charlize…good golly, Miss Molly…I have always loved her work, but her performance as Furiosa knocked the wind out of me. She is ferocious yet kind, vulnerable but strong. She is made to look androgynous, with her cropped cut and desert leathers, yet she has the face of an angel (it’s true and you know it!); even dripping with grease and caked with dirt, her beauty is inescapable. Who but Theron—with her classic face, serious acting chops, and natural athleticism—could bring all of these elements together? With this role, she not only joins the ranks of Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton as one of the great female action heroes on the screen, she crafts the most fully realized mythic heroine I’ve seen on celluloid.

To my mind, Fury Road makes the first three Max movies look rather quaint in comparison, but quite prescient for their time. They were primarily concerned with fuel/energy scarcity, our major fear at the time of their release. We had just experienced the gas crisis of the late-70s, and were waking up to the fact that we might run out of this stuff. We weren’t worried about water yet…but now we are. With Fury Road, director George Miller is starting to look more like George Orwell than George Lucas.

Images by Warner Bros. Pictures

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