American Chess Game


In recent weeks, overwhelmed by the gut-wrenching posts of gifted writers, I have written little worthy of sharing. But I spend hours reading what the rest of you write. And I hear you, friends. I share your pain. I understand the disbelief, the anger, the recurring horror following an election that spoke NOT for the majority of voters, but set us up for a nightmare administration that shakes us to our very foundations. We do, indeed, grieve.

Chatting with my thirty-something son yesterday, he shared his disappointment. “I really thought we were better than that, as a nation.”

I thought so, too. I grew up believing that we, as Americans, stood for progress, for humanitarian support around the world. Through our influence and assistance, we could help other people achieve the freedom to speak for themselves, without fear. When I was a child, I felt pride in my country. That is not the case today.

Echoing a dear friend, I say, “I so want us to be the good guys.”

Yet now, it seems even though the majority of us still subscribe to decency, integrity and honesty, it matters less than if you have a lot of wealth and can buy your way into a misleading and dangerous leadership position. This is what happens when there is only one recognized litmus test for success and that test is money. Those with a lot of money control the game. The rest of us are pawns. We’re expendable. It’s a big game of power and apparently it’s been going on for decades.

Two weeks ago, on a long flight returning to the US from abroad, I chose to watch a movie on my seat’s private screen. All the President’s Men was available. Remember that one? It was the true story of two reporters in Washington DC who uncovered the Republican Party’s involvement in and cover-up of highly illegal activities intended to manipulate and influence the election in 1972. I was a high school student then, a member of my school’s Teen-Age Republicans. Watergate became a huge story. As a youth, I had no real idea what it meant, but it ended Nixon’s term early.

Watching the movie in 2017, all I could think was—“Republicans have been manipulating elections through any means available to them for a LONG time.”

To what end? This morning I read a post by Jon Perr, “The simple, sinister reason for the GOP’s never-ending war on Obamacare”. He described how the recent attack on the ACA was not an attempt to promote a better system or better care for millions of American people. There is nothing proposed to replace the contentious health care act. Indeed, the number-one reason Republicans chose to repeal Obamacare was apparently to stifle public approval and support for their opponents, the Democratic Party.

We are indeed pawns in a mega-chess game of power.

No wonder we grieve. We have suffered great loss. No stranger over the years to heart-wrenching farewells and grief of many origins, I recognize that our national reaction to events in Washington DC reflects many facets of loss. What are some things we have lost? Beyond the assurance that our healthcare needs will be answered, we grieve for much more.

We have lost the leadership of a remarkable president who consistently demonstrated his dedication to the welfare of our people and others around the world. Instead, through some political shenanigans, the reigns are handed to a tyrant who seems to care little for the majority of the people.

We’ve lost faith in the ideals and processes of our people-driven government. What might have been and where could we be now if, instead of choosing every action to make the people’s president fail, our senators and representatives had worked together for our common good? What might we have become over the past eight years? We will never know and can only wonder.

We’ve lost our belief in the basic goodness of humanity.

We’ve lost hope for the betterment of our future, for the preservation of a pristine and sacred planet to pass on to our grandchildren.

We’ve lost a dream of a future where each of us is treated with respect and dignity, and all things matter on a healthy and robust planet.  Instead, we have a vision of an Earth such as the one Wall-E was cleaning in the animated movie, because all that matters is money. Who has the most money and how will they use it to manipulate us pawns for their own greedy ends?

It is no wonder that we grieve. Loss of a dream is hard.

As a novelist, I find myself pondering some of the plotting techniques I learned in workshops over the past few years. Consider, for a moment, that we are collectively the protagonist in an edge-of-the-seat thriller story. The poor protagonist experiences set-back after set-back, crisis after crisis, conflict after increasingly intense conflict. Just when you think you’re in the clear, you’re not. (Election of Barack Obama as US president.) Just when you think it can’t possibly get worse, it does. (Inauguration of Trump, and his cabinet choices.)

Collectively, as a character in an on-going drama, we are riddled with internal conflict. The election of November 8, 2016  is one giant plot twist, catapulting us into the final climactic scenario. How will we cope? Can we find the means to pull through this era of consternation as a better nation? Will we even survive?

We pawns must write the ending to this story. Recently a Facebook friend shared a thought about grief. “Grief is really just love with no place to go. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot.”

The way to move ahead is to find new avenues to spend that love, in honor of those people, dreams, or ideas we have lost.

I sometimes have the opportunity to counsel others working through grief. It’s hard. There’s no denying that. The event, the compound losses, have changed our lives. It’s up to us what we do now. We can work through it, and become stronger in the process. Or we can wallow in it and drown.

We can either let our grief make us better people and a better nation, or we can let it break us.

I choose to let it make us—make me—better. I’m not off the board yet. I may have little or no influence in Washington’s big game, but I can influence my home and hometown. The question is, “How?”

I refuse to be overcome by fear and suspicion of neighbors and family members on the other side of issues. I can choose to share love, to smile at strangers, to listen with compassion. I can increase my support of humanitarian causes, here at home. I can be an ambassador of goodwill wherever I may go. I can support the ideals of freedom and equality. I can defend the first constitutional amendment just as adamantly as others have defended the second amendment.

(Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.)

I can march in a near-by Sister March on Saturday morning, a peaceful way to celebrate human rights, diversity, freedom, and equality for all. (

Who knows, if pawns in every hometown opted to spread goodwill, understanding, and justice, maybe the sorry protagonist in this suspenseful story will manage to pull through and save the day after all.

Do you have ideas about ways to resist with love and compassion? If so, please share them in the blog comments. If you’re shopping for more great ideas, check out

A Letter from Alice

3416 Baker St, N.E.

Washington, D.C.

October 15, 1942

Alice, DHS class of 1936
Alice, DHS class of 1936

Dear Lester,

No bad effects from our soaking. I’ll bet you thought we all had double pneumonia and died—not hearing from us sooner. I’m really sorry I haven’t answered sooner. I haven’t written Helen K. yet either, but still intend to, soon, I hope.

Speaking of rain, it’s really pouring down now. What we went thru that Sunday was a sprinkle compared to this. You should know it’s bad because all three of us had intended going out and didn’t.

Worst of all, my only umbrella disappeared at work today. Either someone mistook it for theirs or plain needed an umbrella. I’m hoping it will be back in the morning. Optimist ain’t I?

I have enclosed one of those street pictures of Ann and Irene. It’s complete—wild hair, wrinkles, and umbrella. They really don’t register “dampened spirits.” We all had a grand time—and I’m not jus’ a foolin’.

Too bad the weather couldn’t have been nicer. Maybe you’ll have another chance. Lea’s still planning on getting to D.C.  I hope he makes it.

Got a letter from Floyd, during the week after you were here, telling me their brother Edgar, had the worst kind of a nervous break-down. (Mom said, “violently insane” in her letter.) They took him to Topeka. He’s Marie White’s husband. Too bad.  They blame it on the war situation.

Incidentally, my camera is still at Walter Cobb’s place. I haven’t seen or heard from them since. If and when I get that one picture developed, you’ll get one regardless of how it is, for memory’s sake—‘er somethin’. That’s a promise.

By the way, you were a little late getting back, weren’t you? You must have been about dead from loss of sleep, etc.

You aren’t just ‘a talkin’ when you say it doesn’t seem like we’ve been out of school so long. I don’t suppose very many would have answered this year. I’m sure I wouldn’t have. In fact, from the rumors going around here, it sounds like very slim chances for a civilian getting to travel by train, around Christmas time especially.

I too, have had a lot of fun and new experiences, but I wouldn’t mind trading for some of the times back when – – – -.

Remember, among other things, the constitution of U.S.A. Ha! Ha! Don’t tell me you missed out on that.

Note from Alice in Lester's autograph book
Note from Alice in Lester’s autograph book

“Bing” is now singing “White Christmas” for us (radio). I really love that song.

Got a letter from Ruby today. She’s getting along swell with her school and is having fun between times. She and the “kids” had a picnic last week.

A few of the boys around there have the idea they have to spend their money before going into the armed forces. Ruby seems to be having a good time helping Charles, Vance and others do it.

I know you must already have an enormous mailing list, but I’d enjoy hearing from you from time to time.

Your former classmate and

Very good friend,

Alice D.

Irene, Lester and Alice, Washington, D.C. September 1942
Irene, Lester and Alice, Washington, D.C. September 1942

Visiting Friends from Home in the Nation’s Capital

Lester with his 7-year-old brother Paul.
Lester with his 7-year-old brother Paul.

Tuesday evening   September 29 – 1942

Dear Paul

I enjoyed your letter very much and I can imagine that you had a lot of fun on your train ride and at the fair too.  My train ride to Washington was fun but coming back it was very chilly on the train.  I never did get to see the white house as it rained nearly all the time I was there.  I had quite a time to find a room but another sailor and I finally got a room together.  It is almost impossible to find a place to stay in Washington.

After getting the room I called the girls at Mrs. Eaton’s.  Irene answered the phone but she didn’t know who I was.  Mrs. Miller had told them that I had asked for Anne’s address but they weren’t really expecting me.  I talked to all of the girls for awhile but didn’t go out to see them as it was raining. Irene and Anne were going bowling while Alice was expecting a call from another boy.  Alice had to work on Sunday so Irene, Anne and I planned to see the sights, go to dinner then pick up Alice after work and go out to Cobbs.

The next morning it was still raining so we cancelled the tour.  I went out to the house about two o clock to get the girls. Who should open the door but Alice.  She had gotten off work at noon.  It wasn’t raining right then so Anne took a picture of Irene, Alice and myself.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our way out to Cobbs, it started to rain.  We were riding the street car but got off so that Ann and Irene could buy a couple of umbrellas.  We finally got out to where Cobbs live.  They live about fifteen miles from where the girls stay.  We rode the last ten miles or so on the bus.  Walter lives about half a block from the end of the bus line.

When we got there it was raining cats and dogs so the bus driver let us off right at the gate.  We ran up on the porch but the door was locked.  It was only a small porch and the wind blew the rain right in on us.  I went around to the back and the door was open so I called the girls and we went inside.  Our shoes were wet so we took them off and left them on the kitchen floor.  I forgot to tell you that no one was home.

The bus had already gone and it was half an hour until the next one so we made ourselves at home.  We closed the windows for them then made ourselves at home.  They had some Cappers Weekly and Kansas Farmer papers which we enjoyed.  We missed the first bus but Walter and Mildred came soon after the bus went so we were glad that we missed it.  They were surprised to see us and especially to see me.  Floyd Cobb had been with them but he joined the navy on Wednesday.  We left them about a quarter til seven, went downtown and finally found a place to eat supper, then went to the show “Holiday Inn”.   We saw the Three Little Pigs too.  I think it was the same as you saw in Council Grove.  We got out of the show at midnight so I took the girls home.  It was one o’clock when I started back to the station.  I got on the train to leave at one fifty but it didn’t leave until three.  The train was so cold I couldn’t sleep and it was after six when we got into Philadelphia.  I came on board at a quarter til seven.

Lester and high school classmates. Alice is in the upper right hand corner.
Lester and high school classmates. Alice is in the upper right hand corner.

Mom, you asked what I could use for Christmas.  Well I can buy nearly all my clothes cheaper than you can but I could use a pair of black leather gloves.  We don’t have to conform so closely to regulations now.  Also I could use a thin, small pocket knife to carry in my dress clothes.  My whites fit so tight that I can’t carry a regulation knife.  All of us are supposed to carry sheath knives.  Even the captain carries one on his belt.  I can buy that myself, though.  It looks as though we will be getting winter clothing after all.  We were told we wouldn’t need any woolens but I think we will be getting some.  The woolen sweaters cost two dollars which is less than you would have to pay, I imagine.  I had my shoes half-soled and heels put on for a dollar and a half a pair.  The laundry has finally started to function so I don’t scrub many clothes any more.

Mom, I don’t suppose I’ll get off to get a present for your birthday but I’ll be thinking of you and I wish you many more happy birthdays.

You mentioned that the club intended to send packages to the boys.  May I suggest that they don’t send food unless it is certain to be delivered immediately as it would no doubt be stale by the time the boys would get it.  Probably most of the boys would appreciate cigarettes as much as anything.  There really isn’t much we need.  What do you folks want for Christmas?  You know, I believe I would rather have a shower of letters than any gifts the community might send.  It wouldn’t cost them much and would be a lot of fun for me.

It is getting rather chilly back here but not too cold.  I like it better than when it is so hot.

I forgot to mention the states I went thru over the week-end.  I was in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.  In the buses in Virginia there was a sign directing all negroes to sit in the rear of the bus and whites in front.

I can’t think of anything else right now so will write again later.

Love to all.


P.S. I won’t be able to send you a picture of me in whites as we are wearing blues all the time for liberty now.  Sorry.

Quick Note from the Nation’s Capital in 1942

Lincoln 2

During a weekend liberty in the nation’s capital, Lester jotted a quick note home on a picture postcard of the Lincoln Monument.

September 27, 1942

8 p.m.

Hello folks. Does it always rain in Washington? It was raining when I arrived last night and it is still raining at noon today. I talked to Anne Miller and the Dohring girls last night. We are going out to Walter Cobbs this afternoon if we can. Haven’t been able to do any sightseeing yet except close to the capitol. It is very difficult to find any kind of a room here. Quite a busy place.

Love to all


Lincoln memorial

Commissioning of the Ship

 It was interesting to find photos from the actual commissioning ceremony of the USS Gherardi. I looked to see if I could find Lester among the faces, but wasn’t able to identify him. He does say that the ship is very crowded, so it is likely that only part of the crew is visible in the photos. The ceremony took place September 15, 1942, which was the 17th birthday of Lester’s little brother. No wonder Wallace didn’t hear from him for his birthday.

Gherardi at sea

September 17, 1942

Dear Folks.

I received your letter today and am glad to hear from you.  Thanks for sending the addresses, I will probably go to Washington on my first week-end.  I didn’t know that Alice and Irene were there.  I came out on liberty tonight, partially because I would have had to work if I had stayed on board ship.

Commissioning ceremony 2

We are living on the ship now as we moved on at four this afternoon, immediately after the commissioning ceremonies.  There wasn’t much to that.  We marched on board, the flag was raised, the anthem played, a short speech by an admiral, another speech by our captain, the guard was posted and it was finished.  You have no idea how crowded it is but I guess we will get along okay.

Commissioning ceremony 91542

We had to eat chow at the station as they didn’t have things ready for us in the galley.  I put on a clean suit of whites then got drafted to carry some stores down in the hold so I missed out on chow.  We were supposed to get some sandwiches on board but I didn’t stay for them.  I left as soon as possible as I rated liberty and wasn’t supposed to have duty today.  I wouldn’t have minded the work if I’d had on dungarees but I got my whites all dirty.  I’m wearing my blues tonight and they are pretty warm.

I met a buddy on the street up town so we came over to the “y” for a swim and to write some letters.  My address remains the same for awhile I guess.

I had a nice time over the week-end, or rather on Sunday as I didn’t go out til Sunday.  I went over to Camden, New Jersey as I hadn’t been in NJ yet.  As I was coming back just about noon I saw a friend “Jerry” on the sidewalk so I got off the bus and we ate dinner together.  We were in school together but are on different ships now.  We decided to come back to Philly to go on a tour of the historic places but Jerry had some friends that he wanted to see so he went to see them while I saw some more of the town.

We had agreed to meet at a certain corner and while I was standing there waiting for him, a couple of girls came up, inquired who I was amd invited me to go to their home.  They were in the family that Jerry had gone to see and he offered to eat his hat if they could get me to come back with them.  He didn’t eat his hat but they certainly didn’t let him forget his promise.  We had a very good dinner then the mister took the two girls, Jerry and myself to the War show.  It was supposed to be very good but we were disappointed in it.  After we got back to their house about midnight we had waffles for supper.  Boy were they good.  She was a swell cook. All of them were nice and a lot of fun. We stayed and visited until two o’clock Monday morning!

It was three when I got back to the station. We had a terrible time getting on the bus because of the crowd.  It was more like a bunch of animals than people.  The bus driver had to separate two women who started to fight after one had crowded the other in getting on the bus.  What a time.

Thanks for the clipping, mom.  I had read it somewhere before and I thought it very good.  Wallace, I thought about your birthday though I didn’t get to send you anything but I’ll say best wishes and many more happy birthdays.

Paul why don’t you write and tell me about your train ride?  I’ll bet that it was fun.  Every time I come to town I ride on the street car that wobbles from side to side.  In Camden I rode on an electric bus.  It was on rubber and was steered but got its power from a trolley line.  Mom, there just aren’t any rocks in town back here and I don’t get a chance to go out in the country but I’ll keep trying.

Love to all




Quote printed on lower edge of the USO stationary:  “Idle Gossip Sinks Ships”