Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SEC on CBS, Verne and Gary: I'm a fan

     This might bring the wrath of civilization on me, but I will declare this: Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson are the best television announcing team in college football.
     Darned right I'm partial -- nothing I like better than watching SEC football on CBS. And nothing is better than the 2:30 p.m. (Central time) game on Saturdays (or the occasional night-game/holiday feature).
Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist: No college football broadcast
team is better than they are, not on my television.
      As I look over Facebook and Twitter and the Internet, I realize that there are many people out there who can't stand Verne and Gary. Frankly, I am surprised ... and dismayed.
      What is wrong with those people?
      I will come back to this, but remember this phrase: lunatic fringe.
       More than a week ago, I happened upon a web site discussing the announcing teams for that week's SEC games, and the CBS feature that Saturday -- with Verne and Gary -- was Florida-at-Alabama. Fine with me.
      Except then I saw a storm of rejoicing from LSU fans (and I use the term loosely) that Lundquist and Danielson were not doing the LSU-Mississippi State game that night. If I saw one comment belittling Verne and Gary, I saw 25 ... or 50.
      Man, I thought LSU fans were smarter than that. I was wrong. They're just as biased and slanted -- and misguided -- as any other school's fans.
      Gosh, I never realized how much Lundquist and Danielson hated LSU, how prejudiced they are toward LSU.
       What a bunch of crap. What they are is ... flat-out honest. Verne Lundquist, who does the play-by-play, is a reporter; Gary Danielson, the analyst, sums up what's happening.
        My view: When LSU (or any team) does well, they say so. When LSU (or any team) deserves criticism, they say so.
        I was willing to let this subject pass until this past Saturday when I watched the Arkansas-Texas A&M game from Cowboys Stadium (that's what I'm going to call the place, thank you), with Verne and Gary at the mikes. That was an old Southwest Conference rivalry -- now in the SEC -- revisited and, just before the second half began, in the weekly SEC feature, the CBS crew did a short tribute to Mr. Lundquist.
        It recapped his career, building on his ties to Texas, the Southwest Conference, and the Dallas-Fort Worth market. It was well done, and Verne was surprised -- and emotional -- as he thanked his co-workers.
        It made me realize how much I appreciate his place in sports announcing, and that I wanted to write this piece.
        I've never met Verne Lundquist, but do have a couple of personal favorites that he was associated with -- Terry Bradshaw and the Dallas Cowboys (yeah, that's a heck of a combination.)
        Through much of the 1970s and through 1983, Verne was the sports anchor at WFAA-TV (Channel 8) in Dallas and -- maybe even more prominently -- the play-by-play announcer for the Dallas Cowboys. Beginning in 1976, he teamed with Brad Sham, who succeeded him as "Voice of the Cowboys" and still holds the job. 
         I spent many a day listening to them doing Cowboys' games on radio, much preferring  their broadcast over whatever TV announcing crew was there. 
         When Bradshaw retired from the NFL after the 1983 season, he began his broadcasting career in '84 doing NFL games on CBS as an analyst alongside the play-by-play guy, Verne Lundquist.
          They became good friends, close enough that -- as someone remembered -- Lundquist was one of the first people at the hospital when Bradshaw's first daughter was born. Close enough that when Terry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 1989, his presenter was not someone tied to the Pittsburgh Steelers; Terry chose Verne.
         I know from my journalism career that discussing TV sports announcers is always a popular -- and controversial -- subject. We could do ratings or take polls, and any story our staff did drew lots of attention. Everyone has their opinion.
         I don't profess to be an expert; I'll leave that to others. I do have my likes and dislikes.
        As I've written previously, I don't watch or listen to pregame, halftime or postgame shows, or any of the talk shows and, more often than not, I will "mute" the sound on live sports events. Just can't, or won't, deal with the announcers any more.
         I do make exceptions. On college football, in addition to Lundquist-Danielson, I like the Chris Fowler-Kirk Herbstreit and Brad Nessler-Todd Blackledge teams on ABC/ESPN. On NFL games, I can take Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (only because I love Aikman's honesty, and how diplomatic he is with criticism on the Cowboys). I think Al Michaels is one of the great play-by-play announcers of our time; his partner, Cris Collinsworth, is sharp, but won't shut up.
         Another who won't shut up: Brent Musberger. He wants to be bigger than the game itself. Enough already.
         On the few times I watch the NBA -- only the Dallas Mavericks -- I like their TV announcing team of Mark Followill and Derek Harper (and the pre- and postgame comments by Coach Bob Ortegel). But my wife is the Mavericks' expert at our place.
          I do listen to Jim Nantz on CBS' golf coverage, partly because Verne Lundquiest is usually part of the announcing team. But the pompous, know-it-all Johnny Miller is a complete turnoff on NBC.
          Miller is right there with -- here we go -- Lou Holtz, Mark May, Lee Corso, Dick Vitale. Cannot listen to any of them. I know they're good people, knowledgeable, and lots of people are entertained by them, but they're not what I want.
          If I happen upon Bradshaw on Fox's NFL coverage, I will listen to what he has to say, crazy as he can be.
          And speaking of crazy ... Charles Barkley. He's wild and unpredictable on NBA coverage -- mostly on TNT -- but he can be so funny, and as "out there" as he is sometimes, he's often correct.
          Back to the original topic: Lundquist and Danielson. In addition to the critical comments from LSU fans, I found criticism of them from other SEC schools and -- in my usual 5 minutes of research for this piece -- I found them linked to web sites entitled awfulannouncing.com and Uncle Verne/Aunt Gary. How stupid.
          Lundquist is a Hall of Fame announcer, several Halls of Fame. He's been doing this for 40-plus years, he's wonderful at football, basketball, golf; he's done figure skating and bowling and the Olympics.
          He does it with accuracy -- sure, he has some bobbles ... who doesn't -- and with humor, with self-deprecation and, as I said before, with honesty. He doesn't scream or go out of control at big moments; with a minimum of words, he knows how to let the moment carry itself (such as Auburn's game-ending return of the short field-goal try against Alabama last year).
          He's been at the mike for some of the great moments in NCAA men's basketball tournament history and at the Masters (Jack Nicklaus, 1986; Tiger Woods several times). Look 'em up on YouTube or elsewhere.
           He's modest about all his honors and his success, and this year he received the Vin Scully Award for lifetime achievement in sports broadcasting. My opinion (and that of many others): Vin Scully is the best ever in the business, for more than 60 years. 
            I keep seeing that people think Verne is too old, has been around too long. That's called age discrimination, and it's not right.   
            Danielson has been Verne's partner on SEC football since 2006. He was a very good quarterback at Purdue and a pro QB -- not a great one, but decent -- for 14 seasons, but he's a much better TV analyst than he was QB.
            He obviously does his homework, he studies the teams he's covering -- the personnel, the formations, the strength and weaknesses, the trends. He's bluntly honest and he's right on top of the game. He spots what's going on almost immediately, often calls penalties before the referee announces them.
            If fans don't like his bluntness, that's their problem.
            And let's revisit the lunatic fringe phrase. I had two Shreveport-media friends use that term Monday -- one in a phone conversation, one on Twitter -- in reference to all these people being critical of anything and everything, on Facebook and Twitter and the Internet.
            It applies to politics -- I don't even want to start on that -- and to sports. There's no reasoning with these people. They believe they're right, and there's no dissuading them. There's no "gray" area for them.
            These are the people who booed LSU sophomore QB Anthony Jennings on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium; it is, in my view, just inappropriate to boo college kids. These are the people criticizing Cowboys' cornerback Morris Claiborne, belittling his play and his career even after his season ended with a knee injury Sunday night. Cheap shots. It's not enough that the young man faces surgery and rehab.
             These are the people who criticize the offensive and defensive coordinators, no matter how successful they've been, and the QBs -- and, of course, the head coach -- for every little thing that goes wrong with their football team.
             I wish they'd go away, or shut up. Or maybe I just should stop doing social media. Not a bad idea. One of these days ...
             Look, I'm not all that happy with CBS Sports. They let an old Shreveport buddy, Tim Brando, go from the host role in the SEC studio desk show after last season, and I thought -- think -- that was a mistake.
             But as long as Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson are doing the SEC games on CBS, I will tune in ... with the sound on. Even if people (LSU fans, too) don't agree or don't understand, those guys know what they're doing.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Criticize Jeter? That's ridiculous

One of the hundred/thousand Derek Jeter "Farewell"
collectibles (from shop.mlb.com)
       Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium is tonight (weather permitting), and it's a bittersweet time for us Yankees fans.
       Of course, it's been a bittersweet season -- a second consecutive year without the Yankees in the playoffs. As I write this, the Yankees officially were eliminated from contention ... but that's been a month-and-a-half in the making.
       Obvious to me, and some of my Yankees friends scolded me for giving up weeks ago. But it seemed as if the season-long Derek Jeter Farewell Tour overshadowed the business of winning baseball games.
       It has been the most miserable of Jeter's 20 years in the big leagues, team-wise and personal, not counting last year when he hardly played as he recuperated and rehabbed from the ankle broken in the 2012 playoffs. He mostly could only watch as another Yankees legend, the magnificent closer Mariano Rivera, preceded him on the Farewell journey.
       One of my longtime friends -- I'd say old friends, but we're all old -- is very much a baseball fan, a Cardinals fan, but each day he checks the Yankees' box score for one reason: How did Jeter do?
       He's not a Yankees fan; he's a Jeter fan. I don't know how you could not be.
       Well, wait. Keith Olbermann -- the blowhard political/sports commentator/analyst/circus clown who is back with ESPN Sports because he's failed, and been fired, in three or four other jobs -- told the world Tuesday how overrated Derek Jeter is.
         If you haven't seen it, it is 6 minutes, 47 seconds of Olbermann shtick -- a ranting, snarling, sarcastic, bombastic attack on Jeter's legacy, full of facts and figures, and opinions, and even laughs (you can hear them in the background).
          This is what Olbermann does, has done for 3 1/2 decades -- tear into people and issues, whether it's sports, politics, entertainment. He needs the attention, and I suppose, the ratings that come with it.
           He got it here, of course. The post of his commentary on Facebook drew thousands of comments/reactions -- most of them defending Jeter, but many also agreeing with Olbermann.
           On July 15, the day of this year's All-Star Game, when the "Re2pect" ad ran and featured everyone tipping their hat to Jeter, I wrote a blog piece -- http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2014/07/whos-on-my-respect-list-whos-on-yours.html -- in which I said he was one of the most respected athletes of anyone's lifetime.
            I must've been wrong. At least Keith Olbermann -- and the hundreds of Yankees/Jeter "haters" who responded to his degradation of the Jeter legacy -- think so.
            Look, I didn't have to watch this video. I hardly ever watch anything Olbermann does -- he's right there with Skip Bayless in the "turnoff" category, even though Olbermann's political views are as slanted as mine. But I watched this because it was on Jeter and I wanted to hear the "other" side.
            My wife often reminds me that "people don't belong on pedestals," be they athletes, world or national leaders, actors/entertainers, even clergymen. So, Jeter, get off that pedestal.
            Actually, Olbermann makes a lot of pertinent arguments.
            Jeter was never one of the great hitting shortstops of all time, not one of the greatest fielders. Some come to mind right away -- Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith, Joe Cronin, Honus Wagner, Lou Boudreau, a young Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Barry Larkin.
           But to suggest he's not one of the top 10 Yankees ever -- and it is a strong group -- is marginal. Who's in charge of the official rankings? It's all just subjective.
           You start with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Rivera, Ford ... and then who? Bill Dickey, Red Ruffing, Allie Reynolds, Rizzuto, Jackson, Maris ... I mean, the list goes on and on. We've got our own rankings, and Jeter does OK in those.
           And Keith did not say that Jeter is not a future Hall of Famer; he's not that ignorant.
              For years, I've heard and read how Jeter's "lack of range" defensively was hurting the Yankees, how the sabermetrics experts had him ranked among the major leagues' worst in the "Wins Above Replacement" category (whatever that is). If you pay attention to that kind of crap, good for you. A guy in the office where I used to work reminded me of it often.
              What I pay attention to, what was always Jeter's priority, is how the Yankees fared in wins and losses, in the standings. And my standard reply: How many losses was Jeter's defense -- or supposed lack thereof -- exactly responsible for? I'll answer it: Very, very few.
               It's a team game, and Derek Jeter above all else was a team player. And a leader beyond compare of any Yankees player I have experienced. For him, it's been all about competing, about playing the game, about winning.
               He cost them so many games they appeared in the playoffs in each of the first 12 years of the fulltime Yankees career and 16 of the first 17 years. They won seven American League pennants, and five World Series, and played in 10 AL Championship Series, and all Jeter did was hit .308 in the postseason (158 games, almost a full season), and .321 in the World Series, and .484 in 27 officdial All-Star Game at-bats.
               Jeter's career batting average -- probably .310 -- is going to compare well with the Hall of Fame shortstops. And it was .313 before these difficult last two seasons.
               Yes, he had great talent around him, the best players money could buy. And they had a great talent and leader to follow.
               So, Olbermann pointed out, they won four World Series in his first five years, and six AL pennants in his first eight, when he was not yet the team leader. That's a slanted argument; he was such a key factor in so many of their big moments.
               And one World Series title in his last 14 years; yes, and how many MLB players never even get to a World Series? Think they even contend for playoff spots without his steady presence at shortstop? You look at his stats, and he was so consistent in almost every way, even nearly 100 strikeouts a season. For instance, through 2012, he hit at least .291 -- often in the .300s -- every year, except .270 in 2010. In 2012, he was fifth in the AL at .316.
                OK, this season has been woeful -- for Derek and for the team. That .253 batting average is so out of whack; a more telling sign of age: only 23 extra base hits. (His career low for doubles -- not even adding triples and home runs -- was 24 in 2011.)
                These Yankees were April's team; they were in first place for much of that month, but never again after May 21. Never got more than seven games above .500, never won more than five in a row (or lost more than five in a row). Their best month was 15-11; their worst 12-15. Still, because the AL East was as weak as it's been in years, they were only 1 1/2 games out of first on June 22, only three out on July 26.
                But when the Baltimore Orioles took off and deservedly ran away with the division title, the Yankees (and everyone else) couldn't keep up.  The Yankees went 5-13 against those Orioles, and were only 34-38 in division play. A 6-7 record against the woeful Astros and Rangers didn't help. Mediocre in every way.
                A lot of injuries -- no excuse for a team with as many resources -- to aging and even young players, four starting pitchers out for almost all or at least a half season; few suitable or capable replacements; a bunch of underachieving or not-up-to-it players; and specifically -- most critically -- , a Yankees offense as impotent as any in the last 20 years. Even the bullpen, a strength many times, lost about 20 games.
               Jeter, at age 40, just wore down. He batted .207 in August and went 0-for-28 at one point in September. Only a late 11-for-29 surge and seven-game hitting streak kept him from sinking more.
               There has been lots of criticism, Olbermann included (of course), of manager Joe Girardi keeping Jeter in the No. 2 spot in the batting order and not dropping him. Girardi pointed out repeatedly -- and I totally agree -- that no one else was doing enough to warrant being moved into that spot.
                But at least Jeter was healthy (unlike his teammate at first base whose chronic right injury and other assorted ailments caused him to miss dozens of games).
                He wanted to prove he could play a full season again, that the 2012 ankle injury wasn't a career killer. As so many suggested, he could have retired over the past winter.
                He had a choice in the spring -- play and have people ask him every day if he was going to retire at the end of the season or announce it before the season began and go through the Farewell Tour. He chose the latter, first announcing it on Facebook.
               Olbermann was critical of the Farewell Tour, of the many Jeter tributes in every fashion (the "days," the going-away gifts at every visiting park, the patches on the uniform sleeves and the caps). I don't think Jeter relished all the attention -- he's always been fairly private -- but on the other hand, I read that he's saving all uniform parts (jerseys, caps, socks, shoes, etc.) and he might profit from the sale of those.
                And, well, there have been dozens, hundreds, of Jeter collectibles -- paintings and souvenirs -- all for sale ... Farewell Captain, indeed. Probably as many of those as his total number of career hits (that's 3,461 regular-season, 200 postseason). That's a lot of collectibles.
                But also, he might donate those profits to his Turn 2 Foundation, which from all accounts, is one of the most successful charitable endeavors for youths) in all athletics.
                A point: Jeter is the modern-day star athlete -- always in the spotlight, scrutinized in every way, a constant presence in endorsements and interviews, a spokesman -- a talisman, if you will --  for the Yankees and baseball in general. A modern-day hero.
                 And while he's regarded much of the time as a bland interview, reluctant to share much of himself, almost always diplomatic, politically correct, not critical of anyone or anything, an upbeat, honest presence on the field, always playing full out, and a clubhouse leader and available interview (win or lose), he's been mostly free of controversy.
               He has dated beautiful women, stars, but he's been able to keep most of his private life private ... unlike the guy who played third base next to him for 10 years (when he wasn't hurt or suspended). That guy was wrapped in controversy; he's the anti-Jeter.
                Jeter has opened up some recently. Here is a link to an "inside" look at his life:   
                I do agree with the final point in Olbermann's rant: Jeter should sit out the season's final three games -- at Boston's Fenway Park, no less. Tonight's game should be it; there's nothing left for him to prove. The games are meaningless for the Yankees ... and that rarely happened in his career.
                But Olbermann's sarcastic ending, his bitter signoff, is disgusting, just unnecessary.
                I feel sure that Jeter won't be fazed. He might have a quick snarky retort, a jab at Olbermann -- he is human and I have seen him show a little disdain at the media's intrusion. But he never elaborates. It's quick, and it's done.
               It's so unlike the things we've read and heard about my other greatest Yankees hero, Mickey Mantle. He was a great teammate, but he could be just downright rude and crude with fans and media.
               The point is, the point of the Farewell Tour and all this acclaim -- Derek Jeter everywhere: This guy is, as I've written often, a total class act. Olbermann ignored that; he had an argument to make, and he made it. Fine, he's entitled.
               Olbermann knows little about class, except for the last three letters of the word, which he is and which he's shown so many times over the years.
                This was his latest petty act, a grandstand play. It's pathetic. It's pitiful. It's sorry television. Go back to your spitting match with your good pal, Bill O'Reilly. Leave Jeter alone.
                No question Jeter is baseball's most celebrated player of our generation, a true role model. Even as a 20-year-old and now, he has character to admire. And we do. We bid him farewell on the field. Watching him play has been one of life's pleasures.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Eli and Oma Rose: They share a grand day

      What a beautiful baby and what a day to arrive.
      Sept. 19 -- my mother's birthdate. Rose ... and now Eli. It must be a good omen.
      Great Oma Rose -- and Great Opa Louis -- would have been so proud.
      We are. This is the fourth grandchild for Beatrice and me, and probably our last. You never know.
      You will understand, I'm sure, that I have been near tears all day. Didn't realize I could still get this nervous. I was more teary this morning that 35 years ago when Bea delivered Rachel.
Rachel and her son, Eli Smith.
       That was our little girl -- now a grown woman -- delivering for the second time. Go Rachel. And she did beautifully; she was so much more prepared and so much more relaxed that when Josephine became our first grandchild almost seven years ago.
       Welcome to our new prince, Eli Russell Smith, who was born at 11:17 a.m. as the latest member of the Van Thyn family.
        He went the distance, the full nine months (Josie was three weeks early). We've been here in Knoxville all week, anxiously waiting and trying to help out and support Rachel and Russell.
        I say unequivocally that he is as beautiful as Josie -- born in this same hospital -- and his cousins Jacob, 5, and Kaden, 3 -- the Key boys, our son Jason's sons.
        Eli is 7 pounds, 1 ounce, 20 inches tall, with what Rachel says is going to be dark hair -- just like Russell's. We got our first look when Rachel posted a Facebook photo, about 15 minutes after he was born. She had been posting almost all during the process -- until the pushing phase -- and, wow, suddenly there he was on my phone.
        A few moments later, we headed down to the hospital room. Here was one of those exciting, thrilling moments you don't ever want to forget. I was practically jumping.
        Russell got a high five, and we would have hugged Rachel, but she was holding the baby, resting him on her right side, and he was cooing, content. He'd already nursed. Russell said he came out screaming, but when they put him under the heat lamp, he got quiet.
        My first observation: Gosh, he looks a lot like Josie did. Rachel agrees.
        He was screaming again a few minutes later when he was given his first bath. But, boy, even then he was so cute. Back under the heat lamp moments later, he was peaceful, stretching and trying out his new surroundings.
        And we were just floating.
        As I write this, it's "lullaby time" for a couple of hours at the hospital. When visiting hours resume, Josie will get her first look at Mr. Eli. Can't wait for that.
        This morning we took Josie -- delightful, busy, brainy and zany -- to school; she was going on a first-grade field trip. She knows a baby brother will be coming to the only home she's known in a day or two. We think she's ready -- she will be out of the spotlight for a while -- but it was funny to see her reaction when people mentioned the baby in the past week.
        "Are you excited about the baby, Josie?"
        Eye roll (learned it from her mother). "Yes," and then, "Why does everyone keep asking me that?" (That scene played out several times.)
        Eli is the fifth great grandchild of my parents. Good chance more will come from my sister Elsa's three kids.
         He is also the latest addition to the extended Shaw family, branched out from Bea's large group of relatives originally based in Jamestown, La. Bea had three siblings, so her parents -- Howard and Laura Alice Shaw -- had 13 grandchildren, and let's see, it's now 19 great grandchildren and one great great grandchild. Hope I got that right.
         Eli is the second grandchild for Dr. Joe and Laughlin Smith. Good chance they'll have more;  Russell has two younger brothers.
         Just last night, Russell -- a radio sports-talk host -- made a guest appearance on one of the local TV sports news shows. Took his mind off what we knew was going to happen this morning.
         Neither Russell nor Rachel have slept well this week; the waiting was difficult, the anxiety great. Granny Bea and Opa haven't rested that well, either.
         But this is the great reward. The process played out much smoother than we had thought it might. Sure, our daughter was a bit apprehensive, thinking the delivery process would be as extended as last time; that was an all-day ordeal. But she did beautifully, and so did Eli.
         "My view. He's perfect! Looks like his sister when he's sleeping," Rachel wrote on a closeup shot of him, one of the 27 photos (so far) she's put on the Eli album on Facebook.
         He's perfect from our view, too. We have such hopes for him; we do for all our grandchildren. It's only natural, isn't it?
         Sure, we wish we lived closer. How many times did my mother express that thought in her final years? But with Facebook and Facetime, we are going to see plenty of our newest little boy.
         Any day would have been good, and good health is such a blessing, but to have him born on Sept. 19, oh, my mother would have been so pleased.
          We are blessed, we are lucky, and we are grateful. And so, so happy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A lot to like ... and not like about football

       Before I take a break from writing blogs -- got an important family matter to attend to, a baby -- one more piece about my football likes and dislikes.
      Let's start with Leonard Fournette, Mr. Heisman Trophy pose. Sorry, but in my opinion, that was not the way to act after his first LSU touchdown run. Maybe some people liked it, but I know two who didn't: Tigers coach Les Miles and me.
      As Fournette came to the sideline, Miles greeted him, and I don't think he was exactly congratulating him. I would say "chewing out" is more like it. My reaction: Good.
      Too soon, Leonard. (Get used to the "too soon" phrase. I'm going to repeat it.)
LSU freshman Leonard Fournette: C'mon, kid, be serious -- you're not
Heisman Trophy material yet, not after one or two TDs. (photo, Getty Images)
      But it got everyone's attention. It wasn't all that long after he scored -- and by this time the game was so one-sided, we needed some diversion -- when nola.com -- the web site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune (with its Baton Rouge branch) -- put a link on Facebook to a story about the touchdown ... and the pose.
     My posted comment: Don't like that, and neither did Les.
     Jim Kleinpeter, the T-P's longtime beat writer on the Tigers, quickly returned a comment to me: "C'mon, Nico, don't turn into an old fart just yet. lol"
      Yeah, lol. As I replied to Jim -- an old buddy from our early Louisiana sportswriting days -- it's way too late for that. I have admitted to old-fartness in several blog pieces, and I'll stick to it.
      I don't like athletes acting out, period. It spoils NFL games for me, same for the NBA, and I especially don't like it in baseball. Every walkoff victory is followed by a silly team-jumping, dump-the-water bucket-on-player and/or shaving creme-in-the-face pie on player ... even if the team is 10 games out and has no hope of making the playoffs. I know, my team is one of those. Can't stand it.
      Of course, the guy who played third base in years past for my team -- when he's not hurt or serving a suspension for PED use -- is one of the most call-attention-to-yourself players in history. If he never plays another game, I'm fine with that.
      I'm getting away from the subject, which today is football.
      I love college football; it's hard not to. There's a joy about it, an enthusiasm, an appeal that goes way back, a loyalty to a school and a program -- or in my case, two schools and two programs.
      In my opinion, college football so far surpasses the NFL these days. It's not even close. At least not on my television. I have some friends in journalism whose jobs are to write about NFL teams, and I'm happy for those guys. But read on.
      What I like about college football: Walking around a campus; the "walk" to the stadium -- Victory Hill at LSU, the Vol Walk at Tennessee, up The Grove at Ole Miss, etc., all are good; the tailgating (but not irresponsible drinking); the bands (can't show the bands enough for me; I like the pregame show, the fight songs, clips and sounds during games ... in fact, I want to see the halftime show on TV).
      I want the halftime show on TV because I refuse to watch any of the pregame, halftime, postgame analysis -- no Lee Corso, no Lou Holtz, no anyone. Really don't want it now that Tim Brando no longer the lead guy on the studio show at CBS.
      Like the fired-up players (except when they make a show of the whole team running down to the end zone).
      Don't like ticket prices. OK, I'm cheap. But I cannot pay $65-70 or a lot more for a game ticket. We will save our money for season tickets to the Pops Series by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at Bass Hall.
      Obviously, a lot of people will pay the price. Many stadiums are full, or mostly full, and I do marvel at full stadiums. And that's why we have 50 bowl games (see below).
      Like close, competitive games between ranked teams -- Southern Cal and Stanford on Saturday, for example. Oregon-Michigan State, Virginia Tech-Ohio State.
      Which brings up this: Don't like the Big Ten, never have. Overrated almost every year now. Let me repeat: overrated. Michigan State lost Saturday, Michigan lost (big-time to Notre Dame). Ohio State lost. Purdue and Northwestern lost to mid-majors. Send the Big Ten champ to the Rose Bowl, and see what happens almost every year.
      Don't like one-sided games -- majors vs. mid-majors. Here are scores from Saturday's Top 25: 37-12, 41-0, 52-7, 59-13, 73-3, 70-6, 56-0 (LSU), 41-3, 58-23, 37-3, 73-7,66-21. Boring.
      I even turned away from the LSU game several times, and on computer watched Louisiana Tech take care -- good care -- of Southwestern Louisiana (not "Louisiana").
      Yeah, those "money" games for the mid-majors often reek. But then you get McNeese State almost beating Nebraska, and that makes the day.
      Speaking of routs: What in the heck, Texas and SMU? Hard to digest what's happened to those great traditional programs so dear to the Lone Star State where I live now. 
      I do not like "sack" dances/celebrations, particularly on routine plays. If it really makes a difference in a game, fine. Don't like receivers giving us a first-down signal or defensive backs waving their arms "incomplete" after a pass breakup. It's ridiculous, showoffs.
      Deplore late hits and tackles with the helmet. Don't have a problem with any rules put in to punish the offenders. Here was a beauty I saw Saturday: After breaking up a pass intended for a La. Tech receiver, a ULL defensive back got in his face and got a 15-yard penalty for taunting. His team was behind by 27 points ... in the fourth quarter. Stupid.
      Love "the play is under review" -- in any sport. As long as the technology is there and the procedure is relatively quick, great. Let's get the calls right. It's one of the best developments in sports in my lifetime. Love it in college football, the NFL, NBA, NHL and baseball (which should expand its system). Soccer, too.
      Here is one of my current major gripes: bowl projections, Heisman Trophy watch, Davey O'Brien QB Award watch, wind-your-watch and scratch-well, your nose watch. And the most important watch of all: What teams are going to make college football's first Final Four playoff?
      Too soon, people. Too soon. All of the items above.
      They were talking about this last week after the first week of games. They're talking about it this week. The season is two weeks old. Too soon.
      Yes, my newspaper friends are writing about it, the sports magazine writers are projecting and predicting and ranking, the talk shows everywhere -- radio, television -- go on and on.
      A lot of these people writing and talking are my friends; my son-in-law is a radio sports talk show host. Sure, it's good fodder ... for them. For me, I refuse to read any of it or listen.
      One more time: Too soon. I will start paying attention about Nov. 1, or maybe Nov. 15. By then, everyone might have a clue.
      If it were up to me, I would not release any national rankings before Oct. 1. But I understand this is what people want, what they can talk about.
      I think the college football playoff is so long overdue, and I think it should be an Elite Eight, not a Final Four, and after some team(s) get a raw deal, it will be. While we are it, let's cut out all but about 20 bowl games. In fact, let's cut it to about 12 -- and really make them count.
      On the playoff selection committee, I think it's a select group -- great diversity and knowledge. And, yes, I think Condeleeza Rice is a darned good choice; she's smarter than most of the guys, and she'll be fair.
      This group will do the best it can be done. They'll be criticized, but any panel doing this would be. In fact, they can do the pairings for the 12 bowl games I've suggested.
      What else? Oh, the NFL.
      I love the history of the NFL, the days when Tom Landry coached the Cowboys and they won pretty consistently. Watching Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman as their QBs. I wasn't as big a fan of Jimmy Johnson as of Landry, but Jimmy's teams were consistently efficient and often dominating. There's never been a better Cowboys player than Emmitt Smith or a more overblown, overpaid one than the current QB.
      Saints? Didn't care then, don't care now. Sorry, Saints fans. I know you're out there, and more power to you. The Saints whip the Cowboys every time they play now. I don't like it.
      What I like about today's NFL: 
       (That's right ... that's a blank space up there.)
       I'm not watching. I'll tape the Cowboys' games. If I feel like reviewing the game, I will, and I'll skip the parts when they show Jerry Jones. How's that for front-running?
       Don't like the violence. Don't like the concussions. Don't like the announcers (well, I could tolerate Troy Aikman ... but I won't watch). Got other things to do on Sundays, Monday nights, Thursday nights. See ya.
       Don't like the players woofing at each other, and celebrating every tackle and every touchdown and every passing of gas (oops, I slipped and got ugly). I'm back to where we started, players acting out.
       Enough football. Now let's talk about Duck Dynasty and the Duck Commander and his family. I'm just kidding. Let's not. I'll let all you people who have nothing to do talk about them. 
       Enough opinions. Let's take a break from this blog. How about that? That I like.
       Oh, Leonard Fournette. Let's win the Heisman before you give us the pose again. This old fart doesn't approve.


Friday, September 5, 2014

End of a life, end of this story

Dad. This was taken during his 1996 USC Shoah Foundation
interview. The way he's smiling, the session must've just ended.
(34th in a series, final chapter)
      Near the end of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute interview my father did on Oct. 9, 1996, he is asked if he has a message for humanity.
      "Oh, that we have peace," he answered. "I pray for that. I still pray a little bit. I pray we have peace, and I hope we see it in our lifetime, maar [but] what's happening in Israel, I don't think I will see it in my lifetime. They're fighting for so many years there already, [even] before Israel."
      Peace remains an elusive goal, so Dad (Louis Van Thyn) would be disappointed in the ongoing Middle East turmoil. But despite so many hardships -- the loss of most of his family of origin, the five years of Nazi Germany's rule of where he lived, three years of work/concentration camp misery -- I believe he was grateful for his journey through life.
      He was especially grateful for the opportunities and assistance he found from 1956 -- when we immigrated to the United States from The Netherlands -- to the end.
      "Life for us after the war was real good," he told the interviewer in 1996. "We were blessed with two children; I had a good job, and made a nice living. We love our life."
      The end came on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008, at about 7:30 in the morning at Willis-Knighton Medical Center South in Shreveport. He had been rushed there the night before after collapsing at home.
      It was a bit of a shock, but not a surprise. His health had declined for several years, especially the last three years after our daughter Rachel got married, and he and my mother traveled to Knoxville, Tenn., for that happy occasion.
     But diabetes had made his life difficult over the past 15 years. The vision in his left eye was all but gone, his (big) heart had weakened, and his kidney functions were very diminished. He was offered  dialysis a year before the end, but -- wisely, we think -- declined.
      He was a month and a half past his 89th birthday.
      For most of his life, especially considering his 2 1/2 years in the concentration/work camps -- some of it in hard labor -- his health was relatively good. He did have a couple of scary blood clots in his legs and three or four very painful episodes with kidney stones. But those were temporary slowdowns.
       He worked until he was 65, and he was still refereeing kids soccer games in his mid-60s, and going to athletic events -- and many other things -- regularly. He (mostly) did what my mother told him to do, puttered around the house and yard, and regularly attended Shriners and Masons functions, and his coffee klatches. When he was 83 and again at 85, he still managed to make trips to Europe.
       Dad loved reading the newspaper daily and books, playing solitaire on the computer (and reading Dutch newspapers), watched a lot of taped television (wrestling, soap operas and soccer games) in his little back room (which was once my bedroom), and working puzzles.
       Near the end, he fell too often -- that was distressing -- but avoided serious injury. But he collapsed at home a couple of times, had to be taken to the hospital after 911 calls, and required too much time as a patient at Willis-Knighton South, where he much preferred to do his regular workouts in the exercise room (more talking than working out, I suspect).
       The final collapse came just four days after our son Jason married Ann in north Fort Worth, a trip my parents couldn't make. Dad had stopped making long driving trips and driving at night for several years, but he was still driving in town some, including taking my mother to her speaking engagements.
       My sister, who had come south for Jason's wedding, was with him when he passed away and had to give us the news by phone. That was tough. We left for Shreveport almost immediately.
       After his death, The Shreveport Times did a nice obit and Jerry Byrd did a wonderful column on "one of my heroes" in the Bossier Press-Tribune.
       Bea and I saw the body, on the day before the funeral -- one of the most difficult five minutes of my life. His lips pursed, his arms battered with large purple bruises from all the IVs, the large number 70726 tattoo on his left forearm more prominent than ever on his very white, thin skin.
       70726. It sticks with you.        
       What also sticks is the great love and respect our family was shown, in so many ways.
        A few hours after we viewed the body, it was prepared in the traditional Jewish manner by the the Chevra Kadisha in Shreveport (from Jewish-funeral-home.com: a sacred society, a group of pious men and women who have taken on the obligation of ritually preparing the deceased).
        The funeral service on that Friday, at the Rose-Neath Marshall Street chapel, was well-attended. Most prominent was the presence of Ruth Nierman and Pauline Murov, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Gilbert -- who took my family in as part of theirs and gave Dad a job for 28 years. Most touching was that Neal Nierman, Ruth's husband, came out of the hospital to attend ... in a wheelchair. A month later, he too died.
Dad and his first great grandchild Josie, fall, 2007
       Ron Nierman, Neal and Ruth's son, was one of the pallbearers and an eloquent eulogist. Adam Wellen, my sister's oldest child then two days short of 26, gave a nice talk. Rabbi Foster Kowaler did a wonderful job conducting the service and summarizing Dad's life and his place in the community. Least eloquent speaker was me. I thought I could do it without notes, so I stumbled and rambled. But at least it was genuine.
       Ron Nierman and Bill Braunig, the two Gilbert family members then running the business and both close to my Dad, were pallbearers, as were the grandsons -- Jason, Adam and Josh (Wellen) -- and Rachel's husband, Russell Smith.
       Someone else at the funeral: 10-month-old Josephine "Josie" Smith, my parents' first great-grandchild. A few months earlier, Opa Louis -- in this case Great Opa Louis -- got to hold the baby Josie.
       Now there are four great-grandchildren ... and one to come any day. There will be more.
       The burial was at the old Greenwood Cemetery on Stoner Avenue; Dad was delighted to have purchased a plot there through the Masons. In fact, the Masons' burial rites were an aside to the Jewish ceremony; this was a cause of concern for the rabbis and my mother, until Mom checked out the details. I insisted it be included because I knew that's what Dad wanted.
       He is buried in the Masons section, but only about 100 yards from the Jewish section -- about 100 yards from the Gilbert family plots and the great Janice Cahn, who did so much for our family and was one of my mother's guardian angels in Shreveport.
         I still see the mourners shoveling the dirt into my dad's grave after the plain white casket was lowered, especially my kids -- Jay in a black suit and sunglasses to hide the tears, Rachel in a black dress, sobbing. Elsa's boys stayed after the ceremony and did most of the shoveling.
         He is buried a long way from Amsterdam and Antwerp, and especially from his family's ashes at places such as Auschwitz and Sobibor.
         Dad is at peace, with a gravestone he'd like. We go by occasionally just to say hello, and remember.     
         As the Shoah Foundation interview wound down, Dad talked about the other Holocaust survivors in Shreveport and the immediate area, and the interviewer asked whether our parents talked to Elsa and me about the Holocaust.
        "Yes, m'am; yes, m'am," Dad answered. "They know exactly what happened. First, my son didn't want to listen, but lately -- the last 5-10 years -- he started asking me some questions. My daughter, from when she was young, listened.
      "We told them they didn't have any grandparents or uncles or aunts; they knew that. And our grandchildren the same way already, we talk to the grandchildren. ..."
     Yes, we always knew. But when we were kids, we didn't talk all that much about it with our friends or in school. It didn't matter; we were just trying to settle in and live our lives. It was long before our mother became a regular public speaker/educator on the Holocaust and a celebrity of sorts in Shreveport-Bossier and North Louisiana.
      Dad's story was more varied and perhaps more interesting than my mother's. But, as I've written before and said often, he didn't speak English well enough to speak long to an audience or class.
Which is one reason this was a motivation to put his story in print. And maybe it was cathartic for me. Honestly, there were lots of times when I did not treat him with respect; in fact, I was downright ugly (I'll spare you the details).
      Oh, how I regret that now. I regretted it then.
      Because he deserved that respect, what he had been through, what he had seen. He was not a disciplinarian -- he was just too good a guy, too gentle, to be harsh to his first-born, his only son. He was my biggest fan; he bragged on me far more than I deserved, or liked.
      His love of sports, in particular, was so great that he passed it on; it was a natural for me. It gave me an avenue ... and a career. His love of family and of friends and of good times was his greatest trait.
      He was generous, especially with us (his family), but also with various charitable causes. Sometimes his contributions were greater -- especially for Jewish-related campaigns -- but he almost always gave to the organizations that sent mailouts (St. Jude Children's Hospital, Easter Seals, Shriners' Hospital for Children in Shreveport, Disabled American Veterans are just a few examples). It might not be much, but it was something he liked doing.
      Plus, he was an active Shriner and Mason, working in the kitchen or helping set up for activities and helping with the cleanup.
      Yes, he had a sense of entitlement, maybe about some benefits he felt he deserved or a sleight he perceived. Can't say I always agreed with him, but my view is that was understandable he could feel that.
      Did he hold a grudge about the camps? Well, he never warmed to the "new" Germany or to any countries or groups that took violent actions. Again, understandable.
      "I pray we have peace," he said, and that was a genuine wish.
      Everywhere he went, people took to him. They could sense his spirit, his benevolence, his appreciation for life and for the twists his journey had taken. He certainly could not have imagined the road from Amsterdam and The Netherlands to a place called Shreveport in the United States of America.
      So, telling his story, writing about his family and his life and his travails in World War II, in the unimaginable concentration/work camps amid the Nazis' cruelty, is something I owed him.
I think, I hope, he would have been proud. I was proud of him.
      For 63 years after Mechelen and Jawischowitz and Janina and especially Auschwitz-Birkenau, Louis Van Thyn was a survivor. His world view was a positive one -- he could always look on the bright side -- and the life he lived was a beautiful example for his fellow man.
       So his story ended, but not really. Because the family goes on, and he would like that.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A return to Auschwitz

The Dutch delegation at the dedication of the international memorial at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp site,
January, 1952: That's my Dad on the left; his close friend, Jacques Furth (third from the right). (photo www.auschwitz.nl)
(33rd in a series)
      One element of Louis Van Thyn's story that fascinated me was that in January 1952, he returned to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp -- some 8 1/2 years after he arrived there as one of the thousands of prisoners.
      Don't know how Dad could do that, but he did. I know I never want to see that place. I know people who have made the visit there and have seen that place of horrors. Not me. No, thank you.
From www.auschwitz.nl: On behalf of the
 Dutch delegation, Bets Roos and Louis van
 Thijn fill an urn with ashes from one of the
 lime pits in the extermination camp.
Photo NAC
    But there was a good purpose for his return: the establishment of an international monument.
Representatives from the many countries affected by the Holocaust came to Auschwitz as part of the monument committee.
      Dad was part of the Dutch delegation. So were his first sister-in-law, Eva Furth, and her husband, Jacques Furth -- both Dad's close friends. In fact, Dad played a significant role.
      From the Dutch web site www.auschwitz.nl: "As part of the ceremony, each delegation --  including the Dutch representatives -- filled an urn with ashes. This ash is the only tangible reminder of the millions of people murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau."
      Dad was one of the two people from The Netherlands to fill the urn (see photo).
      The urn was brought back to Amsterdam and became part of the Auschwitz memorial there. Designed by Dutch artist/writer Jan Wolkers, it is a display of broken mirrors, in which the skies are reflected, day and night.
        In 1993, the memorial was moved from its original location and dedicated in Wertheim Park, just down the street from the Schouwburg, the converted theater which the Germans used as the gathering point for deportation for their Jewish prisoners in Holland.
         We've seen the memorial twice, in 1991 and -- with my wife Bea -- on our trip to The Netherlands a year ago. The message: Broken mirrors, broken lives.
         Each Jan. 27 -- the date of the death camp's liberation -- there is an Auschwitz remembrance service at the Amsterdam memorial.
      There is a back story to this, my sister Elsa reminded me. When our parents applied to immigrate to America, Dad did not disclose the trip on the form. "I think he was told not to, by the people from the organization [the Dutch Auschwitz committee] who sponsored the trip," Elsa said.
      It was suspected by some Dutch government officials that the committee -- of which our aunt, Eva, was a founder and leader -- was a front for Communist Party activities. As I have noted before in this series, Eva -- "Tante Eef," in Dutch -- was a card-carrying Communist. Yes, she was.
      Can't explain it, people. Neither could my mother and father, who had many a philosophical argument with her, especially after we came to the United States.
      Back to the story, from Elsa: "Apparently, the U.S. government knew about [the trip], since Poland was a Communist country, and Daddy was questioned. He was, of course, cleared from Communist activity and allowed to immigrate."
       Thank goodness for that.
         (Next: End of a life, end of this story)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

For Dad, friendship to the end

(32nd in a series)
      One unforgettable remembrance of my Dad, he was a great friend.
      When Louis Van Thyn considered you his friend, you knew it. Two friendships that tied him to Europe after we came to the United States were enduring and endearing.
       Few people were as close to my Dad as Joseph "Joopie" Scholte, his first cousin who lived for decades in Cagnes-sur-Mer, the largest suburb of Nice, heart of the glamorous and beautiful French Riviera, and Jacques Furth, the husband of Dad's sister-in-law of his first marriage.
Joopie Scholte and his wife Judith married in
 1939; that's my Dad in the back on the left.
        Those two men enriched Dad's life -- and ours. Dad outlived them both by at least four years -- Joopie died in 2002, Jacques in 2004 -- and he was loyal to them, and they to him, to the end.
         Like Dad, both were Holocaust survivors who spent time in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and lost their first wives. Unlike Dad, Joopie and Jacques had to survive the infamous "Death Marches" -- the Nazis forcing them to walk for days and days, miles and miles, near the end of World War II.
          As with all Holocaust survivors, they had their own compelling stories, with practically their entire families wiped out. Joopie not only lost his wife Judith -- Dad had been part of their wedding party in 1939 (note the photo) -- but also a 2-year-old daughter, Helene. Jacques lost his wife "Fietje," but their son Dave, 2 when the Nazis sent his father to the camps, was hidden away with a foster family in Limburg, as far south in The Netherlands as possible, and reunited with Jacques after the war.
          And while Dad was an apprentice to become a diamond cutter, Joopie and Jacques were in that business pre- and post-war ... and made comfortable livings.
          It was with Joopie's family -- father, mother (my father's aunt, his mother's sister) and older brother -- that Dad came to live in Antwerp, Belgium, when he left Amsterdam in 1936 at age 17.  But after the Holocaust, only Joopie returned from that family.
          So you can imagine the joy Dad and Joopie -- only survivors of their immediate family -- must have felt when they found each other back in Antwerp in the summer of 1945. They had been through Auschwitz together; it's no wonder that they remained close for all the years thereafter.
          It was a really special bond, as you will see.
          A note here: My father and mother built many strong relationships. There were dozens of people in Shreveport-Bossier and North Louisiana to whom they were close, who were dear friends. And they always remained friends and in contact with couples from Holland who like them had lived through World War II.
          Some were Holocaust survivors: Several who lost spouses and/or children in the gas chambers and then remarried fellow survivors; a few who were married before the war and each survived the camps; and a few in which the man went to the camps and the woman was hidden away.
          I knew some of these people from my early days in Amsterdam.
          As close as my Dad was to Joopie Scholte, another survivor with whom he went way back was Coenraad "Coen" Rood, a kid who lived around the corner from Dad's family in Amsterdam and was best friends with Dad's older brother, Hyman. They were in a youth workers' group (AJC) together.
           Coen, his wife Bep and daughter Marleen -- at my parents' urging -- immigrated from Amsterdam to Shreveport (and joined us in Sunset Acres) in 1960. He eventually settled in White Oak, Texas, with his own tailor shop in Longview, and he was quite the character.
           He, too, remained close to my folks and I wrote a blog piece about him just after his death http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-dutch-connection-part-ii.html.
          Just as Dad found my mother, both Joopie and Jacques remarried after the war. Joopie married a French woman named Francoise and they made their way from Antwerp to the posh Nice area, where my father visited them several times on trips to Europe.
           Dad did not know Jacques Furth before the war, but when Jacques married Eva Halverstad, whose younger sister Estella was my father's first wife --  after the war and settled in Amsterdam, they became my parents' closest friends. And Dave, seven years older than me, was often my babysitter, probably more than he wanted to be.
            The few trips my parents made back to The Netherlands, they stayed with Jacques and Eva -- "Tante Eef" to us. After she died in the mid-1980s and my mother refused to go back to the old country (except for her first cousin's funeral in 1992), it was Jacques who made Dad feel at home during several visits.
            Joopie and Francois never had children. As it turned out, that was important for us.
            Because after Francois died in the mid-1990s, Joopie told my father that if Dad wanted to, he was going to make him the sole executor of his estate. Dad was his closest relative.
Dad and Joopie: This was a late 1990s photo in the
Nice, France, area, perhaps their last visit.
             In the files my parents kept a 2001 letter from Joopie in which he outlines the details of the estate for Dad. It is written in Dutch and I can translate some of it, but not all (the handwriting is difficult to interpret). He lists his assets and the contents of a safe deposit box, and explains that the French government will take about 60 percent of the package.
              In the letter, Joopie says he hasn't been doing well physically, that he just returned from a trip to Antwerp and Amsterdam, and says that's probably his last visit to both places. But he also is hopeful of making a trip to the United States.
              That didn't happen. He died June 27, 2002, and Dad then began the process of dealing with the estate.
              Long story short: It was a big hassle.
              The translation was difficult. The French laws of succession were a maze. The French government was difficult. The taxes kept piling up. French attorneys were vague.
              It took some 2 1/2 years, and dozens of letters and phone calls by Dad and his Shreveport attorney, contacts with the French consulate in New Orleans and a visit there, translation of written material in French by an LSU-Shreveport French professor ... and finally a visit to Cagnes-sur-Mer by Dad. By this time, he was 83 years old. He didn't speak French. It was no easy trip.
               In the end, the French government did get its fair share -- ha! -- and so, we think, did the French attorneys handling business on that end. But what we gained, what Joopie left us, was worth it to Dad and to our family.
              Joopie always treated Dad, my mother, me and my sister as if we were family -- he was "Oome Joopie" to us -- and extended that to Elsa's family and my wife and kids. He was a generous, kind man.
              And so was Jacques. For me, one of the great highlights -- there were a lot -- of my first trip back to The Netherlands in 1991 (after 36 years) was seeing him again and having him as our host and often as our driver.
              Sadly, while Dad was still working on settling Joopie's estate, we lost Jacques in 2004.
              Dad -- also a generous and kind man -- had lost a lot of people, much of his early family, in his lifetime, but losing Joopie and then Jacques two years apart was hard to take.
              I look now at the pictures of Dad with those two men late in their lives, and it's a reminder that those were very special bonds. He loved them, and they loved him.
              (Next: Going back to Auschwitz)