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Ellwood City, Pennsylvania
Eric Poole is a reporter and columnist for the Ellwood City (Pa.) Ledger, a small newspaper nestled near the Ohio state line in the heart of Steelers Country. He has a wife, a son and a daughter (so there will be some daddy stuff on this blog). A former steelworker and retired rugby player, Poole has a wide range of interests, which was reflected in the 2008 Pennsylvania Newspaper Association awards, when Poole won first-prize honors for best columns and best special project. His upcoming book, "Company of Heroes," due out March 17, 2015, from Osprey Publishing, tells the story of Vietnam War hero Leslie Sabo and his comrades. Sabo was awarded the Medal of Honor May 16, 2012, in a White House ceremony.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The simple-mindedness of Bryan Fischer

"Ironically in war, an enterprise more readily associated with killing, Medals of Honor are given more often for saving lives than for taking them."

"... the strongest, most powerful thing a man can do in this world is not to kill or destroy, but to sacrifice."

The first of those two quotes is from page 26 of my book, Forgotten Honor and the second one is the book's closing lines, on page 207.

And they're both directed at Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, who wrote an article titled "The Feminization of the Medal of Honor," last week on the AFA's website.

In the article, he refers to last week's Medal of Honor award to Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who was recognized for his above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty efforts to save the lives of his comrades during an ambush in Afghanistan. Fischer claimed that Medals of Honor were once awarded for rushing the enemy position at places like the "Pointe Do Hoc" during the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II.

A couple of problems with that, Bryan. First, it's Pointe du Hoc. Second, none of the Army Rangers who scaled Pointe du Hoc received the Medal of Honor. Other than that though, you got it completely right.

In the face of criticism both from the media and from the choir of commenters he usually preaches to in his AFA column, Fischer said his words were twisted out of context, that Giunta deserved the Medal of Honor and he was merely pointing out that we no longer honor the kind of "rush the enemy" act that we did once.

OK, then let's use Fischer's words against him: "We rightly honor those who give up their lives to save their comrades. It’s about time we started also honoring those who kill bad guys."

He even revives Gen. George Patton's tired old saw - "You don't win wars by dying for your country. You win wars by making the other bastard die for his."

My response to that, from page 207 of Forgotten Honor, is that "You win wars by preventing you comrades from dying for their (country)."

I know a little bit more about this subject than Mr. Fischer does, primarily from researching my book, a biography of Sgt. Leslie Sabo Jr., who was killed May 10, 1970, in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Sabo was credited with saving the lives of more than 50 of his fellow soldiers and was killed while providing covering fire for a medical evacuation helicopter lifting two wounded soldiers off the battlefield.

And Fischer is wrong. It IS more important to protect your comrades than it is to kill the bad guys - especially today, because this war is no longer an exercise where one group of heavily-armed men attacks an emplacements that are defended by other heavily-armed men.

The current war is marked by engagements where the enemy strikes quickly in ambush then breaks off before they can be routed by the Americans' superior training, firepower and technology.

But even in the wars to which Fischer looks back nostalgically when he talks about the Medal of Honor's "Feminization," heroism isn't about killing the enemy. It's about defending your friends.

Fischer needs to do what I did - crack a history book or two.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sunny Sundays a memory to cherish

(From the Sept. 9, 2010, Ellwood City Ledger)

From the gorge bottom, about 40 or so feet below Breakneck Bridge, the sun doesn’t shine so much as stab golden shafts through the trees, polka-dotting the rocks and stream at our feet.

My son sees those sun-spotted rocks piled atop one another and clambers up while pretending to be a dinosaur, which sends me into a spasm of worry.

He doesn’t read the newspaper yet, so he’s not aware of McConnells Mill State Park’s history as a hazard to the imprudent. A warning on the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website urges hikers in the park to keep to the marked trails.

The words “Your life may depend on it” aren’t part of the warning but including that phrase wouldn’t be alarmist in any way. Every year, a handful of people, either by accident or carelessness, wind up falling over one of the sheer rock faces that lie within feet of the park’s trails.

Last May, a Butler County man fell to his death in the park while trying to rescue another hiker who had stumbled and sustained a severe injury.

My son, enraptured with a sense of wonderment and oblivious to the possible danger, storms across the rocks bellowing a T-rex roar until I reel him in, even while admiring his sense of adventure.

“Come be a dinosaur over here on the path,” I say.

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of what was one of the best days in my life, on the second Sunday of last September. That afternoon, totally on a whim, I decided to blow off the Steelers game and take my son for a walk in the woods.

Well, maybe not totally on a whim. By this time of year, we’re all keenly aware that the number of beautiful weekend days remaining before winter is limited.

And while it’s impossible to say when the brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoons will run out, by this time of year, each one could be the last. So, as much as I like a good football game, I knew there would be another one next week and the week after that.

Even today, walks like this remind me of my own childhood, when I followed my grandfather and cousins through the woods where I picked up small smooth rocks and acorns, and put them in my pocket for a collection that my mom would toss out, just the way my son does today.

My grandfather – a World War I veteran – is long gone now, but I can still remember him taking us into those woods to teach us the virtues of spending sunny days underneath a leafy canopy.

The terrain in McConnells Mill is more rugged than in the woods where I grew up about 60 miles south and east of here. McConnells Mill and nearby Moraine state parks mark the southernmost glacial advance about a million years ago during the last ice age.

Those walls of ice carved out gorges and shoved massive rocks while lurching southward by a few feet every year until they reached the outskirts of present-day Ellwood City, then retreated, leaving behind the formations where my son can pretend to be a dinosaur.

I was probably about the same age then as my son is now, so maybe he’ll remember this himself some day. Maybe then, he’ll understand why that sunny Sunday afternoon last year was one of the best days of my life.

And maybe that memory will make it one of the best days of his life too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The naked politican double standard

When the reports of Scott Brown's naked photos turned up, I heard a few commentators wonder about what would happen if a woman did the same thing.

She'd be dead in the water, was the consensus. Those people were right, and you don't have to wonder about it.

With Brown's victory Tuesday in the Massachusetts special election, I'm wondering what Carmen Kontur-Gronquist thinks.

Kontur-Gronquist is the former small-town mayor from Oregon who was forced into a recall election in 2008 and driven from office when pictures of her in her bra and panties turned up on the Internet.

Disclosure: I don't know what Kontur-Gronquist's party is in or where she stands on the issues, but I can heartily endorse her stance on the running boards of red trucks in her underwear.

Anyway, Kontur-Gronquist is now a former mayor, and only because of the racy pics. Think she wishes she'd posed in the buff? At least she would have gotten her money's worth.

Scott Brown, conversely, is now the junior U.S. Senator-elect from Massachusetts.

Yeah, I think that's a double standard.

And speaking of double standards, it's apparently acceptable for male representatives and senators to be any shape or size. Female ones, conversely, are restricted to a single option - rail thin.

It's almost like someone slapped a "No Fat Chicks" bumper sticker on the Capitol Building.