About

Bud Weidenthal was a reporter, columnist and assistant City Editor for The Cleveland Press from 1950 to 1981.
He served as Vice President of Cuyahoga Community College until 1989, and editor of the Urban Report from 1990 until 2005.
He lives in Beachwood, Ohio.

1.27.2017

My Life as a Wolverine with PTSD As Told to Dr. Freud

Frankly Doctor, the end of the war may have solved the world's problems, but not all of mine. Let me explain.
Yes. I was home, alive, a hero of sorts, clutching a four year free ride at the University of Michigan, thanks to the GI Bill.
Yes, the home of the Victors Valiant, where athletes were students, where winning was a tradition. Where campus life is everything that a battle weary soldier might desire. I wanted to become one of them. A victor, a winner.
A man.

But it really didn't work out that simply.

First my girlfriend Rita and I broke up. Once I shed my ribbon draped uniform the glamour was gone. That hurt, Doctor. It really did! Was I less handsome? Less masculine? Inside I felt okay. My hormones were raging. Perhaps hers weren't. You know what they say about Jewish girls.
Dr. Freud looked up at me through his squinting eyes.
"Son, you should know that is a myth," he said with a knowing smile.
("That little old guy was a fount of wisdom," I remember telling myself a couple of years later.)
Rita moved with her family to Waukegan, Illinois and attended the University of Illinois. (More on that later.)

I told myself that campus life in the coveted Ann Arbor, would heal the wounds of my fragile sense of self, as I made the transition into civilian life.

The first psychological blow was my assignment to live in Willow Run Village, a make-shift development built by the government to house laborers in Henry Ford’s Willow Run Bomber Plant, where they built the B-24 Liberator bombers that helped win the war. Now it was empty and the university, desperate for housing, grabbed it.

When I arrived in Ann Arbor I found the town and university swarming with ex Gl's, most on the GI Bill. I was one of them; just another number at the very overcrowded university.





The "village" looked very much like the barracks back at Indiantown Gap where I did my basic training. It was in Ypsilanti, an ugly town, 12 miles from Ann Arbor. 

Can you imagine Doctor, my dream of campus life, relegated to a barracks and riding a school bus to and from campus? Maybe that was it, Doctor. Was that it? There weren't many women at Willow Run Village.

He grunted. Put down his pipe and and picked up his pencil.
"Ya" he said. “Tell me some more."

What I saw of the campus was through the window of a rattling school bus. The high point of the barracks life was listening on my radio to the Cleveland Indians play the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
Even that didn't rock my soul.

I wound up the session by telling the doctor, of my difficult experience with class registration. We gathered in huge, impersonal classrooms (lecture halls) where professors, some well known, read from their so called scholarly books.

For example, our European History class with Professor Reichenbach was held in the lobby of the University museum. There were, perhaps, 500 folding chairs in this cavernous space. Since the bus from Ypsilanti was usually late, I always sat near the back. I could barely understand or hear what he was saying as he read from his book, which I am sure was a great literary document. I rarely took notes. It was uninspiring, to say the least.

I knew that something unsavory was happening. I couldn't concentrate. I was depressed.
Finally, I went to the University Health Service to see a "counselor". There was what he called a “Worry Bird" on his desk.
"Give your problems to the bird. Maybe you will feel better".
I scoffed.
Can you imagine that, Doctor? A worry bird!

Instead I headed back to Cleveland for a serious mid semester rest and visit to a real therapist, who I had known. That, and the change of scenery helped and I soon made it back to Ann Arbor, just in time to finish the semester with acceptable grades.
There was hope.


Next: My major campus achievements in Ann Arbor...

12.14.2016

My Life with PTSD As Told to Dr. Freud (Part One)

“PTSD? Vat in the Vorld is that?,” the old man murmured as I started telling my story.

I understand, Dr. Freud, they hadn't dreamed up the disease in those days, sir, but let me explain.
In the spring of 1944 the 95th Division was wrapping up the war in Europe. We had taken Metz in a brutal battle that had cost us 50% casualties. Our first sergeant, a fine man from Indiana, was dead from a fatal wound to the stomach. Several of my close friends had been killed in an ambush. Our regimental commander was sent back to Paris for psychiatric treatment. Then there was a brush with The Bulge, another trauma.

I was still a callow 19 year old, shaken but not battered by these events. We ended up the war by crossing the Rhine and taking Dortmund, a Cleveland-like steel town on the Ruhr, destroyed by the battering of the final surge of the war.
We were the labeled “Victory Divison.”
On VE day we celebrated with the rest of them.

We took off our steel helmets and simultaneously breathed in the fresh spring air. No guns, no carbines, no M ones. The weight was off our shoulders.
It was like being reborn, Doctor. You understand the feeling. I was alive, I had survived the war!

“Ya, ya,” he murmured, showing absolutely no emotion.

I was ready to become a human being again. I was a young buck ready to come home a hero to my beloved girlfriend, who wrote me almost every day. To my grandmother, Goldie, my twin sister and some adoring friends. I was joyous.
But there was a hitch. There always is, Doctor.
Right?

Word somehow slipped out, perhaps through WikiLeaks, that our unit would soon be moved to the port of Hamburg and shipped back to the states to prepare for the invasion of Japan!
OMG, I screamed to myself...What will I tell my mother?!
Compared to Japan, Europe was a piece of cake, Doctor Freud. I was really anxious.
I tried to pretend this was all a bad dream, Doctor.
Why me? Why the 95th? What did we do to deserve this?!

We tried to kiss it off as just a wild army-type rumor, as we climbed aboard the troop ship in late May for the trip back to Boston and wherever destiny would take us. We were the first combat division to go back.

Dr. Freud, Dr. Freud are you asleep?
You dropped your pencil! I was going to Japan, Doctor. Did you hear me?
lnvade. Japan. A terrible place! I can't even speak the language.

The old man scowled, a bored scowl.
He mumbled, “You're time is up, son. I will write you a prescription for Valium. Take two before you go bed. You'II feel better.”

But Doctor! Japan!  Banzai! Kamikaze!

Unmoved, he murmured, "Stay calm, call my secretary in two weeks. Maybe I can help.”


(To be continued)

11.15.2016

My Life with PTSD As Told to Dr. Freud (Part Two)

Thank you, thank you so much, Doctor for seeing me again! I'm so sorry about not paying you last time, but your wife wouldn't take my MasterCard. She didn't know what it was.
MasterCard is modern day miracle, Doctor. It's a scientific wonder. But I brought dollars this time. They are as good as Deutsche Marks. I promise!

But back to my story.
As we were heading to Boston in the troopship we were told we each would get a 30 day leave at home before regrouping at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, for "jungle training" before heading for the Far East for the invasion that would make Normandy look like child's play. Japan had pledged to defend its country to the death of every man woman and child.
You know what sublimation is, Doctor. I sublimated, big time, all the way home on the train ride from Beantown to Cleveland, as I prepared for my grand entrance back home as a hero.
In Cleveland, you come into the terminal under ground, not like in Europe, Doctor.
So there I was, trudging up those steps (that was before escalators) to the grand hall, one of the grandest terminals in America, with my duffle bag on my shoulder and battle stars and an air medal on my chest. It was the hero's welcome I had envisioned.

My mother was in tears. She rarely cried. Little did she or the rest of them know that I was carrying a lot more baggage than that heavy duffle, but more on that later.
This was a time for joy and celebration. We were among the first back from Europe. When I walked down the street, people saluted. Honest. And sometimes I saluted back. I had been faithful to my girlfriend Rita Barnet, a sweet high school senior who would graduate Heights High in the spring. One of the high points was the day she took me to school to show off to her classmates. (They looked like children to me, Doctor after my year and a half away. And I, of course, was a man! A hero, a warrior.)

At the beginning of our 30 day leave, I hooked up with my friend Lawrence Siegel, a neighbor in Cleveland Heights. He had been assigned to the 104th division which took the brunt of the surprise Nazi attack in the Battle of the Bulge. What was left of the division was pretty much decimated and sent back to the States. He didn't talk about it much. I didn't push. He was one of few survivors of his unit.

So Larry and I did the last dance in Cleveland, you might call it. We took our girlfriends out early, dropping them off about eleven, then headed downtown. It was pretty lively in those days. Nothing much was said about Japan but I felt it, Doctor. It had a doom-like quality finding a special home in my brain... get it Doc?

Baggage…doom…BRAIN…PTSD.

At the end of our month I was shipped down to Mississippi, and Larry went to a military hospital for rehab, whatever that meant in those days.
My trip took me first to Camp Atterbury near Indianapolis for a few days for reassignment work. By some huge coincidence I ran into my first cousin Malcolm Krohngold, who had spent several years in Australia, and was also ticketed for Japan.
On the second day in Indiana I picked up a copy of the lndianapolis Star. It had this huge headline: TRUMAN SAYS WE DROPPED AN AUTOMATIC BOMB ON JAPAN.
OMG I said to myself and then to Malcolm, “What the hell is an automatic bomb!?”
"You're reading it wrong. It's atomic bomb." my cousin said.
I didn't know what the hell it was except it was another weapon to scare and kill a lot of people. We had already carpet bombed Tokyo, killing two hundred thousand human beings in one night...what could be worse?
Little did I know.

There was a lot of talk and speculation, but nothing for certain. As we climbed aboard I the train I noticed something unusual. There were no Negro* troops in our car. They were all sent to the back of the train, to the last two cars.
I wondered why, but I didn't think much more about it. There were no Negroes in my division. Didn't see many in combat. They were mostly in quartermaster units. Maybe that’s why. I’d known of two at Heights High. Both smart. The son and daughter of the custodian of the apartment next door, I remembered.

As we moved along the tracks heading south, we crossed into Kentucky at Cincinnati and into another world, where I was to learn a lot about the disgusting treatment of Negroes in the American south.


Hattiesburg, here I come, where we would prepare for the landing on the southern island of Japan. As the train pulled into to the station I was stunned. I hadn't seen any like this before. Over the entrance to the station there were large signs over two separate doors. One sign said "White," and the other, “Colored”.
Welcome to the land of Dixie, I thought to myself. Aren't we all fighting the same war?!

I turned to Dr. Freud.
“Does this remind you of those signs in the stores and houses in Germany? Big stars of David and the word JUDEN?”
I had seen some in Dortmund.

“Ya, ya,” he said quietly, barely showing emotion.
“Remember to take your Valium, son. See you in two weeks.”


I swallowed hard, gave him the money and turned away. I wonder how long he will put up with me, I said to myself as I turned and walked out down the narrow staircase and out the door...


(to be continued)




* In this essay African Americans are referred to as "Negroes," as this latter terminology is what was used at the time. Usage here is meant to reflect the language of the period and is not intended to be derogatory or disrespectful.

11.14.2016

My Life With PTSD As Told to Dr. Freud (Part Three)

"It's over Doctor, it's over," I gleefully announced as I marched into Dr. Freud's office for my appointment, not even taking time to close the door.
Ah, you're feeling better, son.
No sir, it's not my PTSD. Not the election. It's the war.
Grab a pencil and paper so I can finish the story. You remember how the Japs* suffered after we dropped the first bomb? But the Emperor wouldn't give up.
It turns out we hadn't burned and mutilated enough bodies with the first bomb, so we did it again on another city, probably bigger than Cleveland. Tens of thousands of civilians were horribly destroyed by fire, radiation and explosion.
Remember, Doctor. And the Japs and their Emperor had had enough.
We celebrated. Can you imagine that? We celebrated the end of the war.
We celebrated the bomb.
And all that death.
Truth is, Doctor, we really celebrated because we wouldn't have to die on the beaches of Japan's southern island.

I felt a joyful, self-serving pleasure of the moment. No one, not I nor anyone else, stopped to think about what we had done. The Bomb, the Doomsday bomb, had saved our lives, but created the monstrous weapon that would haunt the world for the rest of our lives. I felt guilt inside the joy.
Joy and guilt. Is that a hint, Doc? Joy and guilt. PTSD?
But there was another hitch, Doctor. Remember in life there always a hitch. This time it was Wikileaks again, telling us that our division, the heroic victors of Metz, were to be re-trained to go to Japan for another perhaps three year stint as the Army of occupation.

"They've got to be kidding," I told Capt. Compton, our company commander, an intelligent guy, a teacher in real life. 
“We've gone though hell and now they want to make us glorified MP’s. Keep us away from home for two or three more years. Good God, haven't we done enough?” attempting to appeal to his spiritual side.
“And,” I added, perhaps thoughtlessly, “I promised my girlfriend I would be home by Christmas.”
He showed no emotion and stared at me.
“You're in the Army, Private Weidenthal. We follow orders here. No romantic bullshit about Christmas and girl friends.”
He must have wondered why a nice Jewish boy like me was so into Christmas.
I had fallen back into depression, Doctor. Orders were orders, and that was that.

But there a few guys in our unit, officers and enlisted men, who were sure that we could turn it around. We would take our appeal to the nation. A 1945 version of a media blitz.
Take the Victory Division out of the army of occupation. We've done enough. Huge casualties. Six months straight of combat without a day of rest. The Bulge. Haven't we done enough!? That would be our theme.

We sent letters to President Truman and his wife Bess at the White House who we thought might be sympathetic and influence the president. We wrote to our senators and representatives, to General Marshall, our military commander in chief. Then we turned our public relations blitz on the media: Walter Winchell, Pearson and Allen, who happened to be broadcasting from nearby New Orleans (we went to their studio while they were broadcasting).
We wrote to The News Orleans Times Picayune and sent letters to our hometown newspapers.
It was an all out assault to get the good guys on our side.
And we waited and waited.

Meantime we moved forward with MP training, learning Japanese customs and language lessons.
There was a lot free time. We spent weekends in the French Quarter on Bourbon Street. It made Soho in London look like Sunday School, Doctor.
But I remained a virgin, doctor and I was proud of that. At 19 I remained pure, Doctor. That's good Doctor, right? I did the right thing? I stayed pure. I know you have some unusual ideas about sex. Would I have been better off exercising my manhood?

Silence. A nod. Nothing more.

One day in late October while were out taking lessons on how to bow and shake hands Japanese style, the word came down. General Marshall had decided that the 95th division should be disbanded, and its members honorably discharged and sent home.
I was ecstatic. I would see Rita by Christmas. My mother would be so happy.
As I headed north to Columbus for official discharge, I had some lingering thoughts about all the uncivilized inhuman restrictions on people of color AND HOW UGLY IT SEEMED. But my thoughts slipped back to Rita and four years of college ahead, and later a career as a journalist.
I did my bit and I felt proud.
No time to be a reformer.
But it wasn't as easy as it might seem, Doctor. There was trouble looming ahead.
Unexpected trouble, Doctor.

"Ya,” he said, "in two weeks. "

(To be continued.) Next: From Warrior to Wolverine and the Worry Bird


*In this essay "Japs" reflects wartime rhetoric of the time. Usage here is meant to reflect the language of the period and no disrespect or offense to contemporary readers is intended.

11.01.2016

My Life As a Hero

This headline says...My Life as a Hero!
Wait a minute. Hold on, guys.
Who wrote that headline?
I'm no hero. Never have been. Never really wanted to be.
How did that word get up there?

Well, it turns out that there is a germ of truth here. I have been reading about this utterly remarkable woman who was born in Africa. I was wandering through her aerial exploits in her single engine monoplane over unsettled unfriendly countryside, taking off and landing on rough, uncharted landing strips, and my mind led me back to another continent, to another time, indeed another century.
It was late Fall 1944, in Europe. There was this moment in the war when I might have had a brush with the heroic...didn't seem so at the time.
We were in this historic battle for that fortress city of Metz, right on
the French-German border, a bastion that had never been captured by
enemy warriors throughout history, and here we were: fighting the Germans who had holed up in the forts of the Maginot Line. (Built by the French, but captured by the Germans during the Blitzkreig.)

Two companies in our 95th division, were attempting an end-around
attack, devised by our bombastic regimental commander, Col. Bacon, a Patton protégé. (come to think of it, he now reminds me of Donald Trump)
By U.S. Signal Corps [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Well the maneuver didn't work, and two companies were trapped on the
other side of the Maginot fortress, running out of food and ammunition and in
desperate need of first aid materials for their wounded comrades.
In the midst of all this mayhem, Captain Compton, our company
commander a decent human being, a high school gym teach from South
Carolina, called me to his quarters.

“Weedenthal,” (he incessantly called me Weedenthal)
“Weedenthal, you ever flown in a plane?”
“No sir, never flown in a plane.”
“Well here's your chance. Show up tomorrow after breakfast. We need you to help in a rescue mission. We picked you and Corporal Spinelli to volunteer for the mission. You're small. You'll fit in the space behind the pilot."

So he had volunteered.  Maybe that explains the “hero” word.

"Hold the headline guys. Maybe we can still use it!”

The next morning, after very little sleep, I showed up and we got in a couple
of jeeps. They took Corporal Spinelli, a little cook from Chicago, and me to a
sprawling cow pasture. It was very uncharted; very uneven. In the distance four
Piper Cubs...looking old and fragile, not unlike the plane that our African
queen had been flying a few chapters back. They we actually artillery
spotter planes connected to the battalion of cannons supporting us. In the
Army they were called L-4's

Well Spinelli, and I and two little guys from another unit, looking as
confused as we were, stumbled across the pasture and we each climbed
aboard our plane.

"Private Weidenthal, climb board aboard." said the pilot. (I was pleased
that he, at least, had pronounced the name properly.)
“There is a box back there you can sit on. We'll put the boxes of supplies and your lap.”

So there I was, cramped in the space behind the pilot, sitting on a box
with three boxes on my lap, and we were ready to take off.
This was not Cleveland Hopkins. It was a cow pasture.

I cannot accurately describe how I felt at the moment the plane started
moving.  No stewardess, no seat belts. As I told my mother in a letter later,
it was "like living history in a movie".

I didn't tell her this: Getting off the ground was harrowing. Worse than
driving through a rutted parking lot in our 38 Plymouth.
From the air we could see a battle ground painted by years of
history. Cults, tribes, nations had fought over this land. It was surreal.
Directly below was the Maginot Line. This was not a sightseeing trip for
Senior scholars. This was war, live.

No sign of the enemy, and down the hill were the remnants of the two stranded companies.
Our guys were waving at us madly. We dropped down to maybe 50 feet
and the pilot dipped his wing.

“Okay Weidenthal, open the door!" he shouted above the din of the engine.

In no time I had thrown out all three boxes. The guys waved. I closed the
door and I said to myself, “Thank God this a round trip.”

We swung around, picked up speed and flew back over the forts at a
higher altitude. By that time the Germans figured out what was going on
and were firing at us. Thankfully, we were too high.
We made three round trips, as did the other planes, without casualties
except for a hole in the wing of one of the other Pipers.
A couple of months later, as I recall, I was called to Capt. Compton's
Quarters. There he was again.

"Weedenthal, l want you to show up tomorrow morning."

“Oh my God not another rescue mission,” I thought to myself.

The next day all eight of the four little non-coms and the four pilots were
lined up on the field and a General from the Third Army decorated each of
us with an Air Medal for valor.
And for that moment I felt like a hero.


The rest is history.

10.31.2016

My Life As A Hero Part 2

It is highly likely that the Allies would have won World War II even had I not volunteered for service in early 1944. But my unanticipated assignment to the 95th Infantry Division, as it prepared to join General George Patton as he marched across Europe, had its memorable moments for me if not for history. Perhaps a few are worth mentioning to my friends and relatives.

By the late spring of 1944, several thousand of us had assembled at Boston's Constitution Pier and boarded the once chic ocean liner USS America, for the trip across the Atlantic. My first cruise.
We were told we would go it alone, no convoy, because we could outrun the feared German subs prowling the north Atlantic. This made me a bit nervous.

Except for endless hours of seasickness, it was uneventful. We landed in Liverpool, a dreadful looking industrial city, boarded a train and headed into the guts of southern England to an air force base in Andover, between Salisbury and Winchester. Two quiet cathedral towns that the war had somehow spared.

But London was another matter. By 1944 it had become a brutally devastated city, in desperate search of survival. Battered by the blitz bombings for several horrible years, it was World War II at its bleakest, at least in the European theater.
 
There were memorable moments for us as we waited our turn to head for the battle grounds of France. The weekends were spent in London only a short train ride away. Much of our time was spent walking around the totally blacked out streets, accosted by whores in Soho, and almost everywhere else. But for one reason or another, I remained a virgin. Honest. I was still a kid of 18, only months out of Heights High, still faithful to my lovely girlfriend, Rita Barnett.

I admired the grit and bravery of the Brits as they fought off the hated Hitler for several years while we had stood by as FDR declared our neutrality. “America Firsters” led by Lindberg and others had insisted successfully that this was not our war.

From our base in Andover, we watched the unmanned B bombs (something like our drones of today) fly over, turn themselves off, and dive toward greater London, almost indefensible, as were the nasty V2 rockets that came later. They dropped silently out of the sky to do their devastation without warning.

One day the word came that we were going to Southampton and then on to Europe to join Patton, who was bogged down in France. He needed help for his weary divisions, as well as gasoline for his tanks.
Our particular unit almost let him down. We missed the boat that was supposed to take us from Southampton across the channel on to the beach at Normandy.
This was not like missing a plane from Cleveland to La Guardia. This was big time. We were headed to war, but our bags did not show up.
Can you imagine the look on our platoon leader Lt Connolly's face when he discovered the luggage was missing?!
"We're not going, guys," he declared.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

He repeated, "We're not going into Omaha Beach without our bags."

I thought half seriously, “What will Gen. Eisenhower say? Will we all be court marshalled for missing the landing of the 95th at Normandy? What will Gen, Patton think of us? Cowards?”

Permit me to digress for a moment and look back to another rather meaningful moment in the lives of Lt. Connelly and Private Weidenthal. Wind the clock back a number of months, to just before we shipped overseas. For some god-awful reason we were moved to the mountains of West Virginia for "mountain maneuvers." Some genius in headquarters dreamed that up. They called it Snake River Canyon. Pretty serious stuff, pretending to be the real thing. As a member of the crucial message center unit, I was assigned to the pigeon patrol. It was a dirty and dangerous job, considering that these birds had no choice but to go the bathroom in the cage on my back.

It was in the name of good communications, since we had no equipment to talk from battalion to battalion over the mountains, we depended on the dirty birds. Somehow they knew instinctively where to go and like magic they got us connected. It really worked. I learned to love those birds. Truth be told, it was a love hate relationship.
One day Lt. Connolly announced that we were going to learn to "rappel".
“What!” I said to myself.
I get dizzy looking off the sides of those cliffs.
Well you know the story...when my turn came up I jumped off the cliff and let myself down a few feet with the rope. Then I flipped upside down, and found myself staring into the abyss below .
"Hang on!" the guys shouted. "Hang on".
At the moment there was very little choice. I felt my life was in the balance and I really did not want to die in West Virginia, of all places.
It was Lt. Connolly who came to the rescue. With two guys hanging on to him, he slid over the edge and grabbed me. The rest is history.

Back to Southampton and the missing duffle bags:
It turned out all right. After a few hours of tension, the duffles finally arrived by truck. We loaded them on to a British ship and headed east to rejoin the 95th on the beach the next day.
I shuddered a bit as we clamored off the ship and on to the beach where so many brave Americans and Brits had died only a month or so earlier.
But there was no time for philosophizing as we marched across the sand and under that historic sign erected just after D day. “Through these gates
march the bravest men In the United States Army".


Brave, perhaps. 

Scared, more like it.

And it was only the beginning.

(to be continued...)

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