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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.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Patton's biggest defeat

A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about one of the most important rules of comedy - Always Punch Upward. Basically, that's the reason it's funny when female or black comics can get away with making fun of Old White Guys, but if we Old White Guys return the favor, it's bullying.

We Old White Guys are at the top of the social ladder, so when people make fun of us, they're usually punching upward. If we respond in kind, it's bullying.

Now, you can aim the comedy at yourself - that's the Foxworthy Rule, named for the comic who once said, "You can't make fun of rednecks unless you are one. And I are one."

But when it comes to punching upward, few did it with more panache than cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who got his start while serving in the 45th Infantry Division during World War II. Mauldin, a grunt, presented the war from the foxhole perspective, which often meant exposing the foibles of those guys with stars on their helmets.

One cartoon, perhaps Mauldin's most famous, depicted two officers on a mountainside watching a breathtaking sunset that inspires one to ask the other, "Beautiful view. Is there one for the enlisted men?"

George Patton, Mauldin's commanding general, didn't appreciate Mauldin's cartoons, which shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. Patton, a patrician with a tendency to punch downward - both figuratively and literally - wasn't known for his sense of humor. When I made that Facebook post about the comedy of punching upward, my friend and former co-worker Merle Jantz related a story in which Patton asked why Mauldin didn't do more cartoons about the stupid things privates do.

But there was apparently more to the story than that. Patton apparently tried repeatedly to prevent Mauldin from publishing cartoons. Mauldin's Wikipedia bio has a story about Patton chewing out Mauldin, only to have his own superior officer, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, intervene on the cartoonist's behalf.

In the terrific book, "The Generals," longtime military affairs journalist and author Thomas Ricks tells a story where Patton pressured Mauldin's division commander to drop Mauldin's cartoons from the 45th Division's newspaper. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Troy Middleton, actually liked Mauldin's work because it was good for the grunts' morale and it got them to read the newspaper, which he used to rebut rumors in the unit.

Middleton, aware of Mauldin's popularity among the enlisted men, demanded that Patton put the order in writing. Patton, aware that Mauldin had fans both in the foxholes and in London and Washington, D.C., backed down.

Yeah, Old Blood and Guts might have been the most feared Allied combat general as far as the Germans were concerned. But one man did manage to defeat him during World War II.

And he did it with a pen, not a sword.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Happy 70th, Thomas Magnum

This photo, which appears in "Company of Heroes," shows Rose Sabo Brown, widow of Medal of Honor recipient Leslie Sabo Jr., during the national 2012 Memorial Day observance at the National Vietnam War Memorial. The guy on the right turned 70 Thursday.

Is anyone else who remembers watching "Magnum, P.I." feeling old right about now?

Tom Selleck, who played a Vietnam veteran on "Magnum," has been an active spokesman on fundraising efforts for the National Vietnam War Education Center and was a guest, along with Sabo Brown at the Memorial Day ceremony with President Barack Obama, two weeks after Leslie Sabo received the Medal of Honor.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jan. 28, 1970: A Requiem

(Photo from Jack Brickey: John Shaffer, back to camera, and Frank Madrid confer prior to an operation. Both were killed Jan. 28, 1970.)

In memory: Steven "Hungry" Dile, Chambersburg, Pa.; Peter Guzman, Los Angeles; Frank Madrid, Puerto de Luna, N.M.; and John Shaffer, Syracuse, N.Y., KIA, Jan. 28, 1970.

Steven Dile was known as a soldier's soldier, a leader who carried grenades in what he called his bag of tricks, known for his voracious appetite. Peter Guzman and Frank Madrid took care of the new soldiers, training them in matters of both great and small import. John Shaffer, the platoon leader, was the son of a World War II Army Air Corps pilot nearing the end of his first combat tour.

Forty-five years ago today, all four were killed on Hill 474, a craggy peak on the Central Highlands' easternmost fringe that elements of the North Vietnamese 22nd Regiment had converted, with tunnels and caves both natural and man-made, into a fortress. In the first major firefight depicted in the book "Company of Heroes," Shaffer and the men of Bravo Company's 3rd Platoon were assigned to retrieve the bodies of comrades killed days earlier but were ambushed themselves. A fifth soldier, Jack Brickey, was severely wounded, but survived, thanks in no small part to the work of medic Jerry Nash, who was working for the first time under enemy fire, and Rick Brown, who helped Nash drag Brickey from an exposed position.

It would be nearly 40 years before Brickey would learn that Brown had assisted Nash in heaving him onto a helicopter gunship for evacuation from the combat zone.

Of autographs and authors

The first time I was asked for an autograph, I was on rugby tour in a suburb of Dublin. A little Irish girl - she must have been 7 or 8 then, and nearly 30 now - approached me at the post-match reception for my signature on our tour program.

Now it wasn't like I was a great rugby player - more like a second-rate player on a pretty good team in a third-rate rugby nation - but the girl didn't want my name on a piece of paper because of my athletic prowess, which was limited to having a high pain tolerance at any rate. She wanted our autographs because we were Americans far from the tourist track, which was something far more exotic.

So autographs of those in our team's touring party were in great demand that day among the children on hand. And we had to call them children, not kids. I made that mistake, and got an indignant response from from the little girl.

"I am NOT a goat!!!" Thanks to the Irish lilt in her voice, though, she managed to be angry and adorable at the same time.

Back then, I was mystified that anyone would want my autograph. That's one of the few things that hasn't changed in the last 20-plus years.

With my second book - and first mainstream-published work - due for release in less than eight weeks, I've been getting messages on the "Company of Heroes" Facebook page requesting autographed copies of a book I wrote, but am not selling (that task falls to Osprey Publishing and Random House, the U.S. distributor).

I know me well enough to realize that I'm not all that special. I'm the author of what might be the two most valuable copies of a self-published book, and the worth of those two books stems entirely from the autographs on its title page, none of which are mine. A photo of the title page, signed by President Barack Obama, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh is shown above.

In fact, these two books would be worth less if the author had signed them.

However, I'll do my best to make sure that everyone who wants my autograph in my book gets one, although I'm not quite certain how I'll do that just yet.

But really, readers of "Company of Heroes" should pursue autographs of those in the book instead of the guy who wrote it.

The veterans of Bravo Company are the real men of distinction. All I did was tell their stories.