No Ordinary Joes

No Ordinary Joes by Larry Colton

Book Review by Maggie Elice Turner

History is getting older and older every day, and we must decide what deserves a place in the records books and what events can be skimmed over.  Americans of the “Greatest Generation” are aging along with history, and fading into it faster than we are able to count.  The importance of preserving their legacy and stories was not lost with Larry Colton and his book No Ordinary Joes.  Colton opens his book with a quote from President Kennedy regarding his pride for having been in the Navy; a sentiment also worn like a badge of honor by those in the submarine service.  Colton chronicled four men, Bob Palmer, Chuck Vervalin, Tim McCoy, and Gordy Cox who served aboard the USS Grenadier submarine during WWII.  Unlike other veteran narratives, he wanted to document a mini-biography of their pre and post war lives.  Colton does a good job of dividing the book into by giving each man a chapter related to the topic and then unifying the story again.  

Prior to the war, each man had been ordinary in terms of being a victim of the Depression Era, struggling to make ends meet, and seeking out a way to improve their home lives.  This motivated them all to join the Navy more so than patriotic duty.  Specifically, joining the Navy could provide them something domestic society couldn’t; a steady income and “three hots and a cot.” After successful completion of sub school, each of the men were assigned to different submarines before coming together on the USS Grenadier.  On the 6th war patrol, 23 April 1943, the sub was attacked by a Japanese aircraft with a torpedo sending them 300 feet to the ocean floor suffering with the bow pointed up at a 20 degree angle; a damaged propeller; a fire in the maneuvering room, water coming in the engine room and a smashed radio.  After 15 hours under water, the sub was able to surface and were eventually taken prisoners.

Many things in life can make a man extraordinary, but none more than becoming an American Hero after coming out of a POW camp alive.  The gruesome details of the torture at the hands of the Japanese bring the realities of war to life and one can’t help but feel their own anger towards the enemy.  Colton’s book continues up to 60 years after the war to a point readers see an ordinary picture of the men- ones that sill wear the badge of POW and Hero, but also an depiction of men facing domestic problems like every other ordinary man does partly from their upbringing and experience during the war.


Eddie- The Life and Times of America’s preeminent bad boy -by Ken Osmond and Christopher J. Lynch

It wasn’t until very recently, last year actually, that I started watching Leave It To Beaver, and since then it has become one of my favorite TV shows.  Growing up in the 80’s it wasn’t a series that seemed very cool or interesting, but now that I’m older, something made me seek out these old black and white, feel good, TV shows.   Who knows, it may have been seeing Wally Cleaver’s dreamy eyes that made me stop channel surfing one day. 

Once I started watching, I got hooked on Eddie Haskell.  No matter how many times, I shook my head and said, “No Beaver don’t listen to him!”  I still liked Eddie Haskell anyway.  

I saw a special All-Star episode of The Family Feud with the cast of Leave It To Beaver was playing against, Your Hit Parade.  At the beginning of the show, during the introduction Ken Osmond was introduced as an LAPD police officer.   I found that to be most interesting, and certainly wondered what it would be like to be given a speeding ticket by Eddie Haskell!  

I don’t recall how I found out that he had also been shot as a police officer, but I wanted to know more about it.  I did some searching online and found out that he had written a book, so I asked for it to be my Christmas present this year (2015).  I was surprised that it was still a relatively new release with it being published in 2014.  

Right off the bat, in Chapter 1, is the story of how Ken was shot 3 times at point blank range by a car thief, and survived.  I found myself having so much respect for Ken Osmond, and I think that can be rare in Hollywood.  Actors can be admired for their roles and memorable characters, but how many can actually be hailed as a hero?  Oftentimes you hear about child stars who become wayward, unable to handle fame and the fall from the lime-light and are then drug addicted or dead.  

Unfortunately, Ken Osmond had been forever typecast as Eddie Haskell and found it difficult to ever get other decent, steady acting rolls after Beaver.  In spite of that, he moved on with his life and joined the army reserves, learned to fly a helicopter, joined the LAPD, reprised his role as Eddie Haskell in the 80’s and of course enjoyed family life as a committed husband and father.  

Even though the story  of Ken’s shooting was in the beginning, and not buried somewhere in the middle, the book still held my interest throughout.  Normally, when I reading a book it can stretch over months before I finish it, but with this one, I wanted to keep reading.  The book, with compact chapters, covers his whole life and tells of how he and his brother got into acting through his career on Beaver and life after.  What is unique is that there are trivia questions at the end of each chapter and you have to read on to the next chapter to find out the answer.  

I admire Ken Osmond as a person, and I probably would have dated him as Eddie Haskell if I attended Mayfield High.  

Yellow Star

yellow star

Yellow Star written by Jennifer Roy is another book that I picked up in the children’s section at the library.  I was interested to see how the Holocaust was going to be presented to a non-adult audience.  I was surprised to see that once I had opened up the book, that it was actually a true story of the author’s aunt.

The author’s aunt was named Syvia (Sylvia) Perlmutter, and like many of the Holocaust survivors, she didn’t talk about her experience very much until later in life.  She was only 4 years old in Poland at the begining of the war and 10 when it ended.What made Syvia’s story so remarkable was that she was one of twelve children to survive in the Lodz ghetto.  Here are a few statistics:

  • Before WWII 233,000 Jews lived in Lodz, Poland
  • This was 1/3 of the total population and the 2nd largest Jewish community in Poland
  • 160,000 Jews were isolated from the rest of the world in the Lodz ghetto
  • Only 800 survived
  • 12 of the survivors were children

In the introduction, the author described her struggle with how to write this story.  She tried in both third and first person accounts, but found that it didn’t flow very well.  She finally settled on transcribing her interviews with Syvia’s the same poetical way it was relayed to her.  Sometimes, she only had a few words describing a memory or situation.   Thus the book is 227 pages of short stanzas of free form poetry.

Here is a small selection from the book that I chose to demonstrate this (page 59)

No Friends

Last night with Itka was so happy
but today is the saddest day ever.

Papa took me on his lap and told me this:
On his way home from work,
he passed the train station
and saw Itka’s face in one of the windows.
She was looking out
as the train pulled away.
Itka’s family had received a summons,
Papa told me.
It had come earlier that week.

I think of Itka
in a train car
packed with people
and Hava
disappearing from the street.
I have to friends anymore.


Eventually the Nazi’s began to thin out the ghetto and many Jews were shipped out of Lodz via train to concentration camps.  Those left behind were tasked with the job of cleaning up the ghetto and sorting out all the possessions left behind.  Syvia’s sister, was technically still a child, but passed herself off as a young adult and got a job so she wouldn’t be separated from her family.

Later on the Nazi’s decided that no more children were allowed in the ghetto and rounded them up.  Syvia and a few other children, including her cousin, were hidden in a basement.  She couldn’t go outside anymore.  One time, when the Nazi’s were doing random checks, Syvia and her father had to escape from the house and try to find a safe place to hid.  I had never heard of this before, but they ran to a nearby cemetary and dug a shallow hole and laid down in it so they were flush with the top of the ground.  I couldn’t imagine how scary that must have been as a 7 year old to have to lay in a grave, completely silent while the Nazis are running all over the city shouting and trying to find you.   That was just one of the times, Syvia was forced to be brave and only one of times that her Papa was a hero for saving his family with this idea.  Syvia always felt that she as insignificant and not brave.  Her time to step up came right before the liberation of Lodz.

Near the end of the war, Lodz was bombed.  Syvia woke up in the middle of the night when she heard things exploding.  She woke up her family.  If she had cowered in the corner no one would have made it out alive.  The slow destruction of the city was a chance for the rest of the Jews to escape.  They had been hiding in a building directly across the street from where the Nazi’s had their headquarters because Papa said, “it would be the last place they would look for us.”  However, the buildings were the targets for the bombs so the Jews had to get out fast.  Most frantically ran around the city without any plan.  Syvia’s Papa gathered everyone he could and herded them to an open field.  He told everyone to lay down in the courtyard and be still.

The bombs continued to fall and destroy all the buildings.  When it finally had stopped everyone stood up and tried to figure out what to do next.  That’s when they heard voices speaking a familiar language.  It wasn’t German shouting, but Polish and Hebrew and Yiddish.  It was the Russians who were bombing Lodz.  Papa found out that the Russian pilot was also a Jew and as he flew his bomber over the city, looking for targets, he noticed the courtyard where everyone was laying down.  It was the numerous cluster of all the yellow stars of David that had been manditorily affixed to the Jews’ clothing that caught his attention when they glowed in the spotlights.  He then called off the bombers and found a place to land in order to rescue the survivors.  What luck !  I could not help but cry when I read that.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was a great story of heroics and survival for sure, but when I read how they were rescued, I couldn’t help but cry.  My emotional person transfers into being an emotional reader too… as you can tell if you read my Wake of the Wahoo review.

 On google books you can preview parts of the book.  Click the link below


Keepsake Crimes

Keepsake Crimes by Laura Childs

I heard about this book on Facebook from a group made for people who want to buy and sell scrapbooking and rubber stamp supplies.  One lady happened to be selling her collection of Scrapbook Mystery books by this author.

I didn’t purchase them but went to library to check out #1 in the series.  

It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting and the book would only rate 2 stars from me.  I don’t read a lot of mystery books, but I at least expected that I might be able to gather some clues from the text that might help me figure out who done it.  This book did not do that.  Toward the end the murderer was revealed and the book wrapped up quickly like a TV show that had run short on time. 

In the book, the main character is named Carmela and she owns a scrapbook store in New Orleans near the hot Mardi Gras happenings. Carmela has regular customers coming in to her shop for classes and tips on scrap booking.  That’s where the craft theme part of the book comes in.  She has an eccentric neighbor who owns a Gothic style/voodoo shop near by.  

Carmela is recently estranged from her wealthy husband, Shamus, who has run off to try and find himself away from the world of banking and the grip of his family.  He is the one who is the murder suspect.  An acquaintance of his had died suddenly on a Mardi Gas parade float that he was riding on.  The last person he was seen arguing with was Shamus.  Since he has run off, every one approaches Carmela for answers so she begins some of her own investigating wile being watched by others herself.

The author goes into detail about Mardi Gras and New Orleans, the French Quarter area and the bayou.  In my opinion it seemed all a little flat.  I’m not really interested in that.  I would have been more engaged if she described a new place, not an existing setting.  One thing I learned in my college creative writing class was that simply by giving characters interesting and off-the-wall names does not make them interesting.  In fact it’s sometimes a put off.  I may be wrong because I have never been to New Orleans, but I don’t think that everyone there has that many unique names.  

Despite this review full of complaints, I would most likely give book #2 a try in the future.   Perhaps the author was just getting into the genre and the next installment might be better.  I read the synopsis and it looks like it contains the same characters in the same setting so at least I’ll know in advance what to expect there.  


Lily’s Crossing

I won’t deny that I like to read young adult books and frequently browse through the Children’s section at the library.  I run my fingers across the spines of all the books until I find on with a sticker on the side that says historical and I know that I have stopped on something that I’m sure to like!!

historical fiction

The book I chose this week was called Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff.

What makes this a historical fiction book is that it takes place in the WWII era around the time of D-Day.  

(I don’t mean for these blogs to be a spoiler, but I will tell the plot details.)

Lily is an only child who lives with her father and her grandmother.  It’s summer vacation and Lily always looks forward to spending the summer away from home at Rockaway beach, where her Gram has a summer cottage on the ocean.  (I always wished as a child that I could have spent my summers somewhere else.)  However, with the war on, this summer would not be the same as those in the past, and nothing was going Lily’s way from the beginning of her vacation.

The story had a lot to do with friendships and relationships and then WWII was a secondary plot which impacted Lily’s young life.

Her best friend Margaret would not be able to spend the summer with her as planned.  Her family was packing up the house the first day Lily got to Rockaway because her father was going to take a job in Detroit at a manufacturing plant.  Also her older brother was in the war and reportedly missing after the Normandy invasion. 

Lily’s 2nd bit of bad news came when her father told her he was going to have to go overseas with the Army because they needed engineers to help rebuilt Europe.  Lily was so angry at her father that she didn’t even bother to say goodbye or see him one last time before he departed.  

Her new friendship came in the form of an immigrant boy named Albert from Budapest.  He had to leave his sister behind in France on his journey to America because she was ill.  The Aunt and Uncle he was staying with said he could be friends with Lily.  

Lily has a wild imagination and thought Albert with his accent was a Nazi spy.  She daydreamed about being a hero in the war and capturing Nazi’s and saving the world.  Her day dreams were helped by the fact that there was a military base nearby where planes were practicing their maneuvers and ships would be coming and going from the port near by.  Sometimes she turned her daydreams into lies and she convinced Albert that they could swim out to the ships one night and stow away on board and go over to Europe themselves.  Eventually Lily had to tell Albert the truth, that it wasn’t going to be possible.  

Though the correspondence with her father, he was able to secretly communicate to her where he was through the titles and plots of books he recommended she read.  Fortunately enough, he was in France and she pleaded with him to look for Albert’s sister. 

The summer ended and she and Gram had to go back home, and Albert would return to Canada.  It was uncertain if she would see him again.  They had grown to be best friends.

In the end, her father had returned home safely and had located Albert’s sister.  As for Margaret’s brother, he remained MIA.



The Wake of the Wahoo



A gentleman on one of my tours suggested that I read this book.  He said since I like re-telling submarine stories that this would be a great choice for me, and it was !  He also told me what happened to the submarine, but promised he wasn’t spoiling it because the dust jacket would say the same thing.  The Wahoo was sunk by the Japanese.

Navy Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, retired,  wrote in the foreword that, “Postwar examination of enemy records reveals a report that, on Oct. 11, 1943, in La Perouse Strait, ‘Our plane found a floating sub and attacked it with three depth charges.’ That may be the epitaph of the Wahoo and 80 American fighting men,”

I started reading the book in late May and finished it a few days prior to this review.  I guess I read it so slow because I didn’t want the men to die.  I liked this book so much because the author, Forest J. Sterling incorporated dialogue into the book as if he were recording the events verbatim as they happened.  It made the book feel more lifelike as opposed to the books that read like a war log or an ultra technical how to manual.  He began writing the book 15 years after WWII ended.  So although he probably didn’t recall word for the word the conversations, he most likely remembered what could have been said.  I don’t dwell too much on the absolute accuracy of the conversations.  I take them for what they are because the enhance the story.

Sterling was the Yeoman of the boat.  Reviews also say this is unique as most sub stories are written by the Officers and their point of view.  In my opinion, who better to write the story than the Yeoman who is so apt at keeping records?  (I may be biased because that would be the job I would want on the submarine).  The majority of the crew stayed the same and Sterling made sure to introduce the crew members to the reader as they appeared by giving their full name, rank and hometown.

The majority of the story tells of the men on the boat, what it was like on the submarine, the intensity involved in being attacked and how scared the brave men actually were, as well as the skill and patience it took to attack and sink the enemy.  He also added details about their shore leaves in Australia, Midway, and Pearl Harbor.  They were given a special commendation party in Australia.

Sterling served on the Wahoo for 5 of the 6 war patrols in the Pacific theater.  That should give you an indication of Sterling’s fate compared to the submarine.

He had applied for Stenography school, and never expected to be accepted, but he was.  In fact, it seemed like he applied to spite and taunt his shipmates who begged him not to go.  Several men on board began to see Sterling as somewhat of a good luck charm.  Sterling was older than the other enlisted men as his Navy career began in 1930 when he was 19 years old.  As Yeoman, sometimes he was assigned to look out duty and would help the Captain and Executive Officer identify enemy ships and planes out of a book thus he had an important part in the sinking of the record number of enemy vessels.  Some men also began to feel that their luck was running out, and felt that the Wahoo minus Sterling would lock in bad luck.  The Captain asked Sterling if he would please serve out the rest of the war patrol before going back to the States.  Because Sterling was so close to the crew, he agreed.   Mid war patrol the Wahoo had to return to Midway to have the defective torpedoes looked at.

For some reason that even Sterling doesn’t know, the Captain changed his mind about how soon Sterling could leave. He let him off on Midway island before the end of the patrol and told him to head out to the school.

I can imagine the amount of survivor’s guilt that Sterling was left to deal with.  In the epilogue he stated, “…Sorry, fellows, I should have been with you. I can never understand why Captain Morton changed his mind and transferred me at the last moment. My spirit has been with you all these years!”

It was really sad for me and I cried when I finished reading the book even though I knew exactly what was going to happen.  Sterling made these submariners real to me and not just a list of names.  That’s what attracts me to history so much is the knowing and feeling that the people we study WERE REAL and that was part of his motivation for writing the book.  He wanted people to see how these men lived and who they were.  It is the way that Sterling wrote this book that the Wahoo has become my second favorite submarine. (Cobia has to be 1st favorite).  

Sterling passed away in 2002 and is buried in Biloxi National Cemetery.


Click on Sterling’s photo to read an extensive article from the website.

As an update, and not included in the book The Wake of the Wahoo:

July 2006, the Wahoo has been found !  Russian divers find the Wahoo sitting upright on the bottom of the La Perouse Strait in 185 feet of water.  You can read about it on the link above.  




The Short Stop by Zane Grey

A friend of mine recommended that I read The Short Stop by Zane Grey.  It was quite unlike any story I had read by Grey before as it was not set in the old west with gunslingers.   As the title implies, it’s a baseball story and set back in the early 1900’s before million dollar contracts and performance enhancing drugs.  But that’s ok because I like baseball just as much as cowboy stories. 

You can feel Grey’s love of the sport with each play by play game he writes.  I imagine as an author he was calling the balls and strikes just as he would have liked to see a perfect game be played.  Published in 1906, the language of the text certainly takes on that era and is much different from what slang ball players would be shouting today, but it is charming none-the-less.  The book isn’t all stats and strategy though.  Grey weaves in the coming of age story with a minor love interest, and the friendships and camaraderie of the team.

Chase, the main character leaves his widowed mother and younger brother at home to seek out a new source of income that will provide for the family better than their current situation.  It seems a bit strange to think that a fellow would have a better chance of making money by becoming a baseball player because of how hard it is to break into the sport…. but that is today’s thinking.  In the beginning of the book, Chase does struggle to find a team that he can stick with.  These are not major league teams, but local  teams.  

One chapter that is strikingly controversial is when the idea of when playing baseball on Sunday becomes an issue.  I like how Zane Grey resolves this issue- I won’t spoil it for you in the event you want to read it (I’ve provided links below).  While the story of The Short Stop is fiction, I’m not certain if this part of the book has ties to reality or not.  It would require some extra research on my part now that I have completed the book.  


You can read the entire book for free here   The Short Stop- text

Or listen to the audio book for free here The Short Stop- audio

Thanks to LibriVox and the Gutenberg project



Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography

Today’s “Bookshelf Sunday” post is about a book that hasn’t been published yet.  It’s a work in progress, near completion, that I wanted to feature today –July 13th — because this is the date of Bob Crane’s birthday back in 1928.

UPDATE – since original post 6/13/14

According to the author,  “The book’s new, official title – BOB CRANE: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY. While we liked the working title “Flipside: The True Story of Bob Crane,” the new title is felt to be more authoritative and classic. The book will refute inaccurate judgments about Bob and provide an in-depth look at his life and major career accomplishments, many of which were unprecedented.
BOB CRANE: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY will be published by Author Mike Ink Publishing and will be available through all major book retailers September 17, 2015. The book’s release also coincides with the 50th anniversary of “Hogan’s Heroes,” which premiered on September 17, 1965. A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to various charities in Bob’s memory.”


I can’t put it into words any better than one of the authors so I implore you to visit the official website for information on the book.

But if I can sum it up for you in a few sentences without deterring you from visiting the website, this book aims to set the record straight and truly depict the man that Bob Crane was through intensive interviews and research of his co-workers, friends, and family.  It’s to belie the horribly false movie of Auto Focus.  

To quote the site directly, the author states, “Time and again, the message from those closest to Bob came across loud and clear. Bob Crane was NOT the depressed, lop-sided “character” portrayed by Greg Kinnear in Auto Focus. He was kind. He was smart. He was talented. He was driven. He was sensitive. He had a “sunny personality.” He was full of life, laughter, and compassion. He was a loving father. He was a “genius in radio.” He was an “actor’s actor.” He was a star but without an inflated ego.”

This biography I’m sure will delight Bob’s fans who want to learn more about his life outside Hogan’s Heroes as well as opening the eyes of the curious who may not know much about him other than his unsolved murder. 

I became so fascinated with this project when I heard about it because it was nice to find kind words written about Bob Crane for a change.  The lies and snide remarks and disreputable associations regarding Bob’s character are hurtful.

Before, all I know about Bob was Hogan’s Heroes.  When I started following the progress of the book, I learned that Bob was a musician, and the drums you hear on the Hogan’s Heroes theme song is him playing.  I learned that he was a hilarious and popular DJ in Los Angeles and interviewed countless movie stars.  

You can hear these interviews on youtube.

Soundcloud has different audio than YouTube where you can hear him playing the drums more.


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