Monday, July 20, 2009

Researchers Check Sources

I am spending the summer as a Park Ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park, PA where I make presentations to the public and answer questions at the Visitor Center. It’s the best job I ever had and I am loving every minute of it.

But today I almost died of laughter.

Sitting in the Interpretive preparation area of the new Visitor Center with Rangers Dan Welch and Liz Dietzen I was working on my Battle Overview Powerpoint presentation. Dan was reading “Command and Communication Frictions in the Gettysburg Campaign” by Phillip M. Cole. As I walked by him, knowing my background in the Marine Corps, he said, “Whenever two Marines are together, one is in charge.”

Kind of surprised at the comment I agreed and he continued, “Really, it’s right here in this book.” He then started paging through the book looking for the quote and eventually found it on page 9. Then like any good researcher we went to the footnote to find the source. I waited patiently for him to find the footnote, which read, “. . . Glenn B. Knight, editor and compiler, Unofficial Dictionary for Marines [Internet Address: copyright 2002-2005].” Yes, the source was me.

The dictionary got its start as a 12-word glossary for members of my Yahoo group, MyMarine. The group is for parents, relatives and friends of Marine Corps Recruits—we help them to get through the often mysterious 13-week roller-coaster ride that is Marine Corps Boot Camp. It can be found at

The Unofficial Dictionary for Marines is just exactly that. It is FOR Marines and it comes with a warning that the information contained within it is not politically correct, is sometimes obscent and somethimes even borders on the pornographic—but is is the lexicon used by Marines from 1775 to yesterday. Please don’t check it out if you are easilly offended.

Marines love it. Others think it is just in bad taste. I’ve enjoyed collecting it, verifying it and publishing it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How many Hectacres in a Rod?

If you had to remember a series of numbers and your ability to buy groceries, build a house or even talk with your neighbor depended on remembering them, which of the following sets would you choose?



Now consider that in the first set, there is no true universal value for the 1.

In the second set, the 100 represents a fixed length which is a specific fraction of the length of the equator.

The first set of numbers is also only used by you and your family.

The second set is used by everyone else on the planet.

Now, which one would you logically choose? Unfortunately those of us living here in the good old U. S. of A are stuck with and hide bound to the first set of numbers that was invented by the British. Even the British have stopped using it.

Originally, a foot in length was exactly that—the length of the King’s foot. Somebody decided to divide that length up for smaller measures so they used 12. Why? Well, because the length of the King’s thumb from the tip to the first knuckle was what they called an inch and on most Kings it required 12 thumb lengths to measure the King’s foot.

Three of the King’s feet combined to make a measure they called a yard (the distance between the King’s nose and his out-stretched hand) and 5,280 of the King’s feet constituted a mile (it had originally been 5,000 Roman feet but the British wanted their own system after they kicked the Romans out). For property measures they even added in the acre and the hectacre, along with some perches and furlongs just to provide a fudge factor.

The British, not the brightest candles on the international cake, in my opinion, were smart enough to dump that ridiculous and cumbersome system of measure for the much simpler and more logical metric measurement system. In metrics, every measure is ten times the size of the previous measure.

We fought two wars with the British to end their heavy-handed influence over us and we became a sovereign nation. So why do we fight so hard to hold on to a British tradition that even the British realize was terminally flawed?

The biggest reason, I am told, is that it is so difficult to convert from a mile to a kilometer—is it 1.62 kilometers to a mile or 62 or .62?

Who cares? A kilometer is a measure just like a mile is a measure. I know that a mile is about the distance between my house and Route 26. I make no effort to convert that distance—it is just a distance and I have a reference for it.

A kilometer is about the distance from my house to the entrance to Bethay Bay. I don’t need to convert it to or from anything—it is just a distance and I have a reference for it.

Even our own military measures things in metrics and most soldiers know that a “klik” is the difference in distance that an artillery round flies when the elevation is adjusted one click. It is almost exactly a kilometer. Why are we holding on to a confusing, antiquated system that the rest of the world, including the British who invented the system, has already given up?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Selnplig is irlvnelet

My last incarnation in journalism was as a typesetter and proofreader for The Delaware Wave. As such I spent a lot of time looking for typos and misspelled words. No publication is ever free of errors so I guess the job is rather futile, but I have always been convinced that spelling and grammatical errors are bad things and should be avoided.

I was incensed, a couple of years ago, when the latest W.E.B. Griffin book came out and I was one of the first to read it, only to find that it was replete with errors of every kind. There were even factual errors of the type Griffin never makes (a Marine captain was identified throughout the first two chapters as a corporal -- inexcusable). The very worst kinds of errors are errors in fact and this was a big time error in fact.

So upset was I with the unprofessional presentation of this ninth in his series of books about Marines, that I wrote a review for suggesting that he fire his publisher.

Now comes something that has shaken my entire belief system. A computer newsletter called Knowledge News recently included this letter from Rebecca J. Favro.

Daer Hguh,
Tihs is pertty inrettesnig! Aoccdrnig to rseearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are. The olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers are in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses, and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.

George Orwell, in his book 1984, shook my belief system with his explanation of newspeak -- his theory that all unnecessary words will eventually be eliminated so that an entire sentence can be written in one word. Sort of like the German language to the max.

My one course in linguistics at Millersville State College started me to wonder about the future of spelling. But to now find out that spelling is truly irrelevant is a blow to my professional psyche.

I, oddly, find myself sort of without words -- spelled correctly or not.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Ode to the P-38

I had occasion recently to require the immediate use of a Philips screw driver. I later needed to scrape a sticker off a window. Then I ran into a situation in which a paint lid had to be pried up. A box had to have the tape sliced in order to open it and the clay mud on my shoes had to be scraped off. And then there was that can that had to be opened.

In each case I reached into my left pocket, extracted my key ring and applied my well-worn P-38 to the task at hand.

World War II aviators and aviation buffs will recall the P-38 as the “Lightning,” a versatile twin-tailed pursuit (thus the P) aircraft, but that is not what I carry on my key ring.

What I have with me always is another P-38 that can do almost anything—the universal tool. It was originally designed to open the aluminum cans that were boxed inside every C-ration issue. C-rats, as we called them, contained olive drab cans of various combinations of meats and vegetables (the very early models had paper labels which frequently tore off leaving a mystery-meal for the soldier in his foxhole—they eventually learned how to print directly on the can). Also included was an accessory pack containing chiclets, a small package of cigarettes, salt, pepper, sugar, eventually creamer and a napkin—you get points in combat for being neat.

Each case of Cs—another nickname—contained a pack of five P-38s which were doled out to the newbies, thrown out or hoarded by supply sergeants.

In the field my P-38 kept me well nourished with a wide range of high calorie food, including a chocolate disk wrapped in aluminum foil that was made by Wilbur-Suchard back in my home town of Lititz, Pa. The cigarette packs were part of a grand scheme to hook a couple of generations of Americans on smoking. Heck, at the end of every daily version of the Camel Caravan of News, John Cameron Swayse made an announcement that cases of Camel cigarettes were being delivered to a VA hospital for our veterans.

While I was in boot camp at Parris Island, SC in 1963 I was given a box of Cs and the cigarettes in the accessory pack were Lucky Strikes—in green packaging. At the beginning of World War II Lucky Strikes made a big announcement that Lucky Strikes green was going to war. Green paint was in short supply and the cigarettes began to sport a mostly white package for the war effort. That meant that my Cs were at least 20 years old.

Boot camp was where I got my first P-38 and I haven’t been without one since.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Hunt for John Zwiffel

Will the real John Zwiffel please stand up!

Many, many years ago in a land far, far away (actually it was Milwaukee) I made a serious attempt to drink the town dry. In any town but Milwaukee I might have succeeded.

Every night after work we would adjourn to the bar across the street to re-hash the day’s activities and get home in time for a quick nap before heading back to work the next day. It was in Milwaukee that I learned the trick of downing a shot of peppermint schnapps after the first case of beer to settle the bubbles and allow me to imbibe on even more roots, barks and hops. Milwaukee has a bar on every corner and often one in the middle of the block in case you get thirsty crawling from one to the other.

Evening and week end entertainment either centered on a keg of the local brew or involved drinking—like bowling which is a sport lubricated by foam and made more palpable under a hazy stupor.

When, in 1976 I was selected as the most outstanding military noncommissioned officer in Milwaukee I was given a plaque from the Eagles Club and a party each by Miller, Schlitz and whoever-the-heck-the-third-brewery-in-town-was.

Lets just say, I drank a lot.

This is, however, not a tale of drunken debauchery or skidding to the bottom to fight my way up by my own boot straps. At some point in my life I just got tired of the routine “pleasures” and quit.

I remember little of the “good times” and sometimes that really scares me. One day, after an all night party I decided to clean out my wallet and found a piece of paper folded and tucked into the place where the dollar bills had been if I had not spent them all on beer. On that torn corner of a notebook page was the name “John Zwiffel” and a phone number in my own hand writing.

I do not remember ever knowing of meeting anyone named John Zwiffel and while I wanted to know who he is, I never wanted to call and find out. So I carried the piece of paper with me—for two decades—often opening it up and staring at the name and number. Always putting it back into my wallet until one day, about five years ago, when I got bold and threw it out.

John Zwiffel still haunts me, but, thankfully, I don’t have the number so I can’t call to resolve the mystery.

Yesterday, I picked up some papers to put away and the corner of a notebook page fell onto the floor. I picked it up and in my own hand was a telephone number that I didn’t recognize. My wife didn’t recognize it either as we pondered it and then in unison said: “John Zwiffel.” I threw it out immediately.

1957 Chevrolet

1957 Chevy.

If you live in the United States and are not Amish or a member of the Henry Ford family, you know exactly what I am talking about. It may be the closest thing to a universal phrase.

Even when I was in Turkey I ran into the 1957 Chevy—thousands of them. A Turkish company bought the dies from General Motors and makes “new” 1957 Chevys. Your choice for an auto in Turkey is the classic Murat (a Turkish version of the Fiat coupe), a Mercedes or a 1957 Chevy.

While a student at Warwick High School I drove a 1952 Ford. But I still knew what a 1957 Chevy was. And in those days you could tell a 1952 Ford from a 1957 Chevy. 1957 was also the time of the Plymouth fin wars. Fins were in and Plymouth took them to the extreme, particularly in the Sport Fury. That same year, Mercury added a distinctive tail that was highlighted by a gouged out section leading back to the slanted taillights. Sears stopped making the Allstate in 1954 so three years later no one remembered them.

The distinctive Buick portholes were elongated in 1957 and the car still had the image of being the “Doctor’s car”. Cadillac started the fin wars back in 1951 but it was not until 1959 that the shark’s dorsal would dominate the line. Even though they were technically smaller than the Plymouth, the 1957 Dodge Dart fins were the most obvious. The Dart actually looked like a dart. The DeSoto looked a bit like the Plymouth but it still was unique enough to be its own marquee.

The Edsel, with its distinctive “horse-collar” grille and 50-pound speedometer would be introduced in 1958 with unprecedented advertising and fanfare. Ford gave up on the line just a few years later. The 1957 Hudson Hornet would be the last of its breed but many of us will never forget the gaudy grille side swoosh.

The 1957 Lincoln looked like it had a jet air intake just behind the front door, leading back into a fin that could well have been the stabilizer for a “modern” jet airplane. That year the Nash stuck with its poor imitation of an upside-down bathtub. By 1958 they were no longer producing the brand. They did, however, keep making the mini-Nash, the Metropolitan, well into the next decade.

Just say Studebaker and the images of a small, sleek, and totally unique vehicle flash to mind.

So what’s my point? Those of us who lived during the 50s and 60s remember our cars. We remember the distinctiveness of the nameplate. We remember who rode in which car to which dance or which game or whichever. Can someone tell me the difference between a 2001 Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Saturn or even an Oldsmobile for that matter? The most accurate comment that comes to mind is the politically incorrect, “They all look the same to me.”

(Note: This column appeared in the Lititz Record-Express in 2001 but even with the recent changes in the auto industry it rings true today.)


The year was 1956. It began with Tennessee Ernie Ford at number one on the Billboard Top 10 with “Sixteen Tons” and ended with Elvis in the top spot with “Love Me Tender.” It began for me with snow days from Lititz Elementary School and ended with seventh grade in the new Warwick Union High School.

Ike was president and early in the year he survived his second heart attack, then announced that he would seek reelection. Most surprising though was the fact that he was keeping Richard Millhouse Nixon on the ticket with him. But it was no surprise when Ike trounced Adlai Stevenson taking 41 states in the fall election.

Bill Haley and the Comets hit the charts in March with “See You Later, Alligator.” Our parents were still convinced that big band, jazz and pop music would soon regain its popularity and “Rock and Roll” as it was named by Alan Fried, would soon become a passing phase. Harvard had just raised its tuition from $800 to $1,000 per semester and campuses across the country were being plagued with “Panty Raids.”

Actress and Philadelphia native Grace Kelley was making preparations to become royalty and Marilyn Monroe married Arthur Miller. The collision of the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm attracted our attention as did the futile rebellion in Communist controlled Hungary and the collision of two airplanes over the Grand Canyon, killing 128 people.

My home town of Lititz, PA was celebrating 200 years as a community with bowler hats for the gents and bonnets for the ladies, beards and the “Brothers of the Brush.” In addition to the normal Memorial Day and Halloween Parades, Lititz had a Bicentennial Parade and a Fireman’s Parade—the Lancaster County Firemen’s Association annual convention was held in Lititz.

The LITITZ Theater brought “Around the World in Eighty Days” as well as “The King and I” and Ingrid Bergman as “Anastasia” to our fair community. On the new medium of television it was the era of the game shows with the “64 Thousand Dollar Question” leading that movement. An era in entertainment ended when the venerable Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it was retiring its big top and would be holding its spectaculars in stadiums and arenas.

And in Montgomery, Alabama a lady named Rosa Parks decided to sit at the front of the bus and was ejected by police. A local minister led a successful boycott of busses and businesses in that community—his name was Martin Luther King. Warwick High School had no minority students or faculty.

The Lititz Rec (in the old Spacht warehouse at the north end of Spruce Street) was beginning to hold teen dances and its new director, Bill Bell, was doing more to bring in the teenagers. We were listening to WLAN out of Lancaster and WSBA in York was working up to an all rock-and-roll format.

A year of change, of new beginnings and a brand new high school. Such was my 1956.