From the Author
Although this is to be my story, the story of Thomas Elston Berry, my lucky life, my lucky accidents and my lessons and beliefs, let me first introduce you to my ancestors. I am writing this at age eighty – and one hundred years no longer looks like eternity, as it does when you are fifty years old, or younger.
From the Niece/Typist
I am the niece not by choice, but by birth (but had I had the opportunity to choose, it would have been an excellent decision). I am the typist of Thomas Elston Berry’s autobiography by choice. As many of you who will read this account know, two sisters of Tom Berry, Geneva Janu (Berry) Barnett and Lois Tamson (Berry) Swiderski, have also written accounts of their lives as well as providing information about their previous generations.
I urge each of you reading this account today to take the time to write your own history, as well as the history handed down to you by previous generations (good and/or bad). Without your documentation, much information about you and your predecessors will be lost to future generations. Cousin Chuck Berry, grandson of Elston Berry and I have devoted much time (and more to come) to gathering the history of the various branches of our family. Unfortunately, few documents thus far have been recovered to tell us how they felt or what they experienced during the course of their lives. We may learn the lineage of our family, but we may never know who they really were.
If you do not wish to write your history, find a family member with a camcorder and sit down with them for an interview. I have three lovely hours I spent with Aunt Lois on videotape before she passed away. I will always treasure that time spent with her learning “who” she really was.
Chuck and I have been building databases and spreadsheets as we gather documents so we may track what we have and don’t have. We have become the family “collectors.” We would love to include a copy of your information in our family repository.
Please take the time and please send us a copy!
Table of Contents
To my relatives, friends, and readers of my autobiography, My Lucky Life, My Lucky Accidents, and My Lessons and Beliefs, my concern is that my beliefs – unorthodox religious views will offend my friends and relatives – something I hope it will not do!
Please “judge not, that ye be not judged.”
Life is too short for most of us to think, study, or research the many varieties of faith – most of us, myself included, have not read or studied the many chapters of the Bible. I have spent more time reading scholarly analysis of the Bible. W. C. Fields was once asked “Why do only old people read the Bible?” His humorous reply was “I suppose they are preparing for the final exam.” It certainly applied to me as I was writing this in my mid 80’s. However, the Bible is so voluminous, I have not read it in its entirety; I have relied on other persons who have read the Bible and analyzed its veracity, inconsistency and its values chapter by chapter. For example: The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine written in 1794, 138 years prior to my birth.
United States of America
I put the following work under your protection. It contains my opinions upon Religion. You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.
The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.
Your affectionate friend and fellow-citizen,
Luxembourg, 8th Pluviose,
Second Year of the French Republic, one and indivisible.
January 27, O.S. 1794.
I agree completely. It follows my favorite Biblical verse, “Judge not that ye be not Judged.” Theodore Roosevelt, however, called Paine “a filthy little atheist” to cull conservative Christian voters despite the fact Paine believed in God and life after death.
THE AGE OF REASON
IT HAS BEEN my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion. I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the subject, and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced period of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to my fellow-citizens of all nations, and that at a time when the purity of the motive that induced me to it, could not admit of a question, even by those who might disapprove the work. The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.
As several of my colleagues, and others of my fellow-citizens of France, have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
If Mr. Thomas Paine resides in after live, I am sure he would be totally amazed that the “Age of Reason” some 240 years later has not occurred and appears it make take another three or four hundred years for people to appreciate his fine analysis of every part of the Bible.
Mr. Paine wrote this book late in his life giving more credibility to the old people reading the Bible who are “preparing for the final exam.”
The Bible of the creation is inexhaustible in texts. Every part of science, whether connected with the geometry of the universe, with the properties of inanimate matter, is a text as well for devotion as for philosophy – for gratitude as for human improvement. It will perhaps be said, that if such a revolution in the system of religion takes place, every preacher ought to be a philosopher. Most certainly; and every house of devotion a school of science.
It has been by wandering from the immutable laws of science, and the right use of reason, and setting up an invented thing called revealed religion, that so many wild and blasphemous conceits have been formed of the Almighty. The Jews have made him the assassin of the human species to make room for the religion of the Jews. The Christians have made him the murderer of himself and the founder of a new religion, to supersede and expel the Jewish religion. And to find pretence and admission for these things, they must have supposed his power or his wisdom imperfect, or his will changeable; and the changeableness of the will is imperfection of the judgment. The philosopher knows that the laws of the Creator have never changed with respect to man?
I here close the subject. I have shown in all the foregoing parts of this work, that the Bible and Testament are impositions and forgeries; and I leave the evidence I have produced in proof of it; to be refuted, if any one can do it: and I leave the ideas that are suggested in the conclusion of the work, to rest on the mind of the reader; certain as I am, that when opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail.
The next old man who wrote a good book on religious values was the famous, Mr. Steve Allen. His book, titled “Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion and Morality,” was published in 1990 one year before his death in 1991. His book has strong similarity to Thomas Paine’s book, as he also analyzes ever chapter of the Bible but he does so in alphabetical order. Steve Allen was raised a Catholic, married Jayne Meadows, whose father was an Episcopalian minister and missionary to China. I suspect his original intent was to publish posthumously due to the same fear that Thomas Paine had and I have: the fear of being judged unfairly about our religious interpretation and views. From the back cover review:
In a work reminiscent of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, Allen presents his ideas as a series of alphabetically arranged essays on characters, even and books of the Holy Scriptures, as well as on such controversial topics as abortion, anti-Semitism, capital punishment, death, evolution, flying saucers and original sin. …this book highlights the errors, inconsistencies, self-contradictions, and morally repugnant episodes and characters of the Bible. Mr. Allen argues that Americans can and should critique the Bible as they would any other historical document. This by no means implies, however, that in so doing they must discard their faith.
…a detailed, scholarly (though Steve denies he is a scholar), skillfully reasoned analysis of Scripture.
How many conservatives, who talk constantly about restoring America’s Christian heritage, have you heard mention that Washington, John Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and most of the other founding fathers, as well as Lincoln, were not Christians?
How many conservatives, who talk constantly about restoring America’s Christian heritage, have you heard mention that Washington, John Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and most of the other founding fathers, as well as Lincoln, were not Christians? It was Washington who insisted that no reference to God appear in the Constitution.
Again and again he reminds us that belief in God seems to his “less preposterous” than atheism. His central theme is simply this: The Old Testament’s portrait of Yahweh is too loutish and brutal to be worthy of worship by any theist who accepts the ethics of altruism or who is familiar, even marginally, with modern science and biblical criticism.
Is the God of St. Paul and the early Church much better? In some ways, yes. However, as Allen reminds us, he too is capable of inflicting unimaginable torment – not for a year, not for a century, but forever and ever – on those who are unable to perceive Jesus as God and as man’s savior, and to believe that God raised him from the dead. At least Jesus reserved Hell for the rich and wicked. But Paul’s God requires for salvation only a “rebirth” based on faith. The worst criminals, if they properly alter their beliefs an hour before they die, will go straight to Paradise, while persons of great goodness, if they cannot accept the Gospels, are destined for the flames.
Our political leaders are shameless in their efforts to curry conservative Christian support. Ronald Reagan, although no fundamentalist, nevertheless urged that creationism be taught in public schools.
Read “The Fall of the House of Bush” by Craig Unger to understand how the influence of religion (to true believers of the Bible) can have ????? disaster on foreign policy.
All of us who consider ourselves as “Christian Agnostics” have a long list of intelligent companions:
1. Thomas Paine
2. Thomas Jefferson
3. Steve Allen
4. Albert Einstein
5. Victor Hugo
6. Bishop Shelby Spong author of “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” See Bishop Spong’s Twelve Theses: http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/jsspong/reform.html
Now let’s move forward to another book, The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. A preeminent scientist and the world’s most prominent atheist asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society from the Crusades to 9/11.
Another fascinating examination of the Bible and its influence on the world, as examined by Mr. Dawkins includes “The Roots of Morality: Why We Are Good.”
Do we really need policing, whether by God or by each other – in order to stop us from behaving in a selfish and criminal manner? I dearly want to believe that I do not need such surveillance – and nor, dear reader, do you. On the other hand, just to weaken or confidence, listen to Steven Pinker’s disillusioning experience of a police strike in Montreal, which he describes in The Blank Slate:
As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 A.M. on October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11:20 A.M. the first bank was robbed. By noon most downtown stores had closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that competed with them for airport customers, a rooftop sniper killed a provincial police officer, rioters broke into several hotels and restaurants, and a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home. By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops and been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order. This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters…
Perhaps I, too, am a Pollyanna to believe that people would remain good when unobserved and unpoliced by God. On the hand, the majority of the population of Montreal presumably believed in God. Why didn’t the fear of God restrain them when earthly policemen were temporarily removed from the scene? Wasn’t the Montreal strike a pretty good natural experiment to test the hypothesis that belief in God makes us good? Or did the cynic H. L. Mencken get it right when he tartly observed: “People say we need religion when what they really mean is we need police.”
Obviously, not everybody in Montreal behaved badly as soon as the police were off the scene. It would be interesting to know where there was any statistical tendency, however, slight, for religious believers to loot and destroy less than unbelievers. My uninformed prediction would have been opposite. It is often cynically said that there are no atheists in foxholes. I’m included to suspect (with some evidence, although it may be simplistic to draw conclusions from it) that there are few atheists in prisons. I am not necessarily claiming that atheism increases morality, although humanism – the ethical system that often goes with atheism – probably does. Another good possibility is that atheism is correlated with some third factor, such as higher education, intelligence or reflectiveness, which might counteract criminal impulses. Such research evidence as there is certainly doesn’t support the common view that religiosity is positively correlated with morality. Correlational evidence is never conclusive, but the following data, described by Sam Harris in his Letter to a Christian Nation, are nevertheless striking.
While political party affiliation in the United States is not a perfect indicator of religiosity, it is no secret that the “red [Republican] states” are primarily red due to the overwhelming political influence of conservative Christians. If there were a strong correlation between Christian conservatives and societal health, we might expect to see some sign of it in red-state America. We don’t. Of the twenty-five cities with the lowest rates of violent crime, 62 percent are in “blue [Democratic] states,” and 38 percent are in “red [Republican] states.” Of the twenty-five most dangerous cities, 76 percent are in red states and 24 percent are in blue states. In fact, three of the five most dangerous cities in the U.S. are in the pious state of Texas. The twelve states with the highest rate of burglary are red. Twenty-four of the twenty-nine states with the highest rates of theft are red. Of the twenty-two states with the highest rates of murder, seventeen are red.*
Other quotes of famous people from Dawkins book:
The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal – God is the Omnipotent Father – hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly make delegates.
There is in every village a torch – the teacher: and an extinguisher – the clergyman.
The priests of the different religious sects…dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight, and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subdivision of the duperies on which they live.
A professorship of theology should have no place in our institution.
I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.
And another not included in Dawkins book:
The immense majority of intellectually eminent men disbelieve in Christian religion, but they conceal the fact in public, because they are afraid of losing their incomes.
Victor Hugo’s book, “Les Miserables” is one of my favorite. A true Christian book – Jean Valjean, as a young boy, was sent to a Parisian quarry (stone) as a result of stealing a loaf of bread for his mother and siblings. He was sentenced to 5 years. In his fourth year, he attempted to escape, his sentenced was extended by 3 years. And with each attempt and capture, his sentence was extended. Finally after 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, he was free. Upon release he learned to read, write and cipher. He found employment, but was only paid half as much as the other workers. He took refuge with the church. After eating he witnessed the silver plates and silver ladle being put away in the cupboard. They took possession of him. In the middle of the night he took the silver and fled. The police saw him fleeing and arrested him because he had the silver The next morning the theft was discovered by Madame Magloire who reported it to the Bishop. The police arrived with their captive and the silver. The Bishop told the police the stolen silver plates were a gift and offered that Jean had forgotten the candlesticks. The Bishops actions forever changed Jean Valjean allowing him to forgive and lead a fruitful Christian life.
From "Don't Know Much about the Bible" by Kenneth C. Davis:
"As a historian, I know that 'tampering' with the Bible is a risky business. In one attempt to make the Bible accessible to common folk who didn't understand Hebrew, Latin, or Greek, John Wycliffe, a renegade English priest, produced one of the first English Bible translations before his death in 1384. The authorities were not amused. Denounced as a heretic after his death, Wycliffe couldn't be executed. Church officials did the next best thing; they exhumed his corpse and burned it.
Another English priest, William Tyndale, didn't fare much better. Upset by the corruption he witnessed among his fellow clergymen, Tyndale (c. 1494 -1536) believed the Bible should be read by everyone, not just the few who understood Latin, the language of the church. He set out to translate the Bible into English. Accused of perverting the Scriptures, Tyndale was forced to leave England, and his New Testament was ordered burned as "untrue translations." Arrested and imprisoned as a heretic, Tyndale was executed in Antwerp by strangling. his body was then burned at the state in October 1536 for good measure.
In other words, you go into a job like this with your eyes open. There are plenty of people who feel that the Bible is just fine the way it is, thank you. Whenever a Tyndale comes along with different ideas, the Powers-That-Be usually lash out. Sometimes the Powers-That-Be realize they were wrong. It just takes a while. In the case of Galileo (1564-1642), the Italian physicist and astronomer who said the earth revolves around the sun, it took the Vatican three and a half centuries to admit that he was right. In 1992 - 350 years after Galileo died - the Roman Catholic church reversed its condemnation of Galileo, William Tyndale is now honored as the "Father of the English Bible." Small compensation, perhaps, for having one's neck wrung and being barbecued."
The foregoing brief description of the these books should enlighten the Christian world’s beliefs and its need for the churches to reform the Bible by expunging the various bad examples of Christianity from the Bible.
Dawkins raises a good question on how do we remain moral without a belief in God? The answer in my opinion is “The Age of Reason” – part two – which is probably many centuries away. However, I believe that agnostics and atheists in general have high moral values.
Even Mother Teresa's had a "crisis of faith" writing to her confessors of her agony of not being able to sense God for a half-century. She wrote, "The silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see."
For those who may not know the history of the Bible, it was not written by God or Jesus Christ. The original text was written by various people, mostly not clearly identified, and often many years after the death of Jesus. The various manuscripts were assembled by the Council of Nicea in AD 325 and approved by Emperor Constantine. Subsequent translations from Greek, Hebrew, Latin included many mistranslations.
I have previously thought that the Bible should consist of only The Four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. To my delight I discovered my idea had been implemented by Thomas Jefferson in The Jefferson Bible, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," written 1820 when Jefferson was aged seventy-seven. Jefferson felt the ethical teachings of Jesus were the best in the world, but he wanted to separate the ethical teachings from the religious dogma and supernatural elements [the resurrection] that are entwined in the Bible. Jefferson died in 1826.
There are at least 22 additional versions of the Bible:
1. The Wycliffe Version, approximately 1400
2. The Gutenberg Bible, 1456
3. William Tyndale, 1526
4. Matthew's Bible, 1537
5. The Myles Coverdale Bible, 1539
6. Taverner's Bible, 1539
7. The Cranmer Bible, 1540-41
8. The Geneva Bible, 1553-58
9. The Great Bible, 1569
10. The Bishops' Bible, 1571
11. The Douay-Rheims Bible, 1582
12. The King James Bible, 1604
13. The American Standard, 1901
14. The Holy Scripture According to the Masoretic Text: A New Translation and the Torah, 1914
15. Revised Version, 1946
16. The Amplified Bible, 1954
18. The Jerusalem Bible, 1966
19. The New American Bible, 1970
20. The Living Bible, 1971
21. The New American Standard Bible, 1971
22. The Good News Bible, 1976
As I stated before, we are brought into this world as an accident. We do not chose the color of our skin, eyes, hair, sex, country, parents and likewise the majority of us choose our faith and church affinity based on our parents choice, rather than researching the various forms of religion and deciding which fits our basic beliefs.
What is the difference between Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Unitarians, and the Scientology religion – and the many other diverse religions?
I have in my lifetime been raised in a protestant denomination “The Church of Christ” married into a Catholic family – lived with a Mormon family in Utah with my favorite brother-in-law. My sister, Lola, joined the Mormon Church. I find that there is not a significant difference in their family values and morals regardless of their church affiliation or the beliefs of atheist and agnostic.
While no one person can grasp the truth adequately, we cannot all fail in the attempt. Each thinker makes some statement about nature, and as an individual contributes little or nothing to the inquiry. But the combination of all the conjectures results in something big…It is only fair to be grateful not only to those whose views we can share, but also to those who have gone pretty far wrong in their guesses. They, too, have contributed something.
I fiercely oppose those people who do not want Holy Writ translated into a vernacular to be read by non specialists; whether Christ’s teaching were so involved as to be understood by very few theologians only, or the Christian religion could be protected only if it be ignored.
The Devil can cite scripture for his own purpose.
The Merchant of Venice
The Bible has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood drenched history; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.
Letters from the Earth
I believe that our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey.
Mark Twain, 1906
There are more things in heaven and earth,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
It ain’t necessarily so —
The things that you’re liable
to read in the Bible —
It ain’t necessarily so
“It Ain’t Necessarily So,” 1935
One of the reasons why religion seems irrelevant today is that many of us no longer have the sense that we are surrounded by the unseen.
A History of God
|I leave you with Mathew 7:1 – “Judge not that you be not judged.”|
The earliest know ancestor (my great-great grandfather) was John C. Berry, born 1785, died 1828, less than 100 years earlier than my birth! He was married to Mary “Polly” Grimes, who was the granddaughter of Mary Boone, sister of the famous pioneer, Daniel Boone. John and Mary had, we believe, five children. One, James Grimes Berry (1811-1891) was my great grandfather. Incidentally, the Grimes Mill that still stands in Athens, KY near land once owned by my great-great grandfather, James Grimes, father of Mary “Polly” Grimes, was owned by his brother, Charles Grimes. Both the home of Charles Grimes and his brother, James, can be found nearby the mill.
James Grimes Berry married Lucinda Cravens. James was just six years old when his father died, which probably accounts for the fact that those who knew him say he never discussed his family. Several years after John C. Berry died, Mary “Polly” Grimes Berry married a widower, James Cravens. Lucinda was James Cravens’ daughter by his first wife, Elizabeth Proctor.
James was born in Madison County, Kentucky and was a farmer and a saddle maker in St. Louis prior to the Civil War. We believe he made saddles for the Union Army. We also believe he was a member of the Underground Railroad that help slaves escape to the North. I would like to believe I have an ancestor with these ideals!
Records show he had five sons, William, Uriah, John, Christa and James. My grandfather was Christa (5 Aug 1844 – 11 Dec 1890). Christa married Nancy Jane Carrico on May 13, 1869. They had a large family of nine children, six sons and three daughters. Their son, John Clark Berry (4 June 1879 – 25 May, 1931) was my father. Wiley Elston Berry, John’s older brother, married Lettica Catherine Roady. They would become dominant and important figures in my lucky life.
Christa enlisted as a drummer boy in the Grand Army of the Republic at age seventeen, along with his brother, John Craven Berry.
My Parents and Siblings
My father, John Clark Berry, also a farmer, as were almost all of my forebears, was married twice. His first marriage was to Minnie Belle Stevens. They had two sons, Robert, born in 1902 and Eugene, born in 1903. Minnie Belle died in 1906, leaving my father with two sons, ages three and four.
Subsequently, my father married Clara Burch (1 May 1899 – 23 January 1923). They had eight children, five girls and three boys. Their firstborn was Geneva Janu (23 December 1909 – 12 February 1998), followed by Lois Tamson (28 April 1911 – 11 June 2003). My mother’s brother, Andrew Burch, was homesteading land near Hatton, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1912. At this time free land was being offered by the Canadian government to lure farmers to the area. Thus, on 5 July 1912, my father moved his family to homestead 360 acres on the opposite bank of Bitter Lake from his brother-in-law, Andy. My father and Uncle Andy built a ferry across the lake reducing the trip to Hatton for those on the north side of the lake, who previously were forced to go around the lake. They operated the ferry by using flags to let the other know there were passengers aboard the ferry. The ferry was then pulled across the lake.
Despite poor soil conditions (sandy), frequent droughts and heavy winds, my father built a house (quite small – about the size of a single car garage – still standing at this writing) and aided by a windmill, survived. During this time one son and two daughters were added to their growing family. Russell Laverne (13 June 1914 – 1993), Nancy Jane (28 September 1915 - 26 October 1980), and Dorothy Lucille (09 November 1916 - 01 January 1999) were born in Canada.
Fearing he would be drafted (he had become a Canadian citizen) into service in WWI, my father returned to the United States in 1917. I guess he may have felt leaving his family in Canada, if he were drafted, would have left his wife and children in an intolerable state without family support had they been in the United States, or, perhaps, he only wanted to avoid service.
When my father’s family returned to the United States, they stayed with his father-in-law, Albert and his wife, Tamson [Reddish] Burch, in Fieldon, Illinois. There, their sixth child, Allie Auger was born (12 December 1917 - 02 July 1995). Allie was named after the owner of the Auger Hardware store in Hatton. Obviously, my father had a good relationship and strong feelings for that family. My father remained in Canada with Robert and Eugene to dispose of his possessions and find a renter for the homestead. He was still in Canada when Allie was born. In January 1918, he arrived with his two sons, Robert and Eugene. He rented a house in his old hometown (soon to become mine) in Kane, Illinois. Shortly thereafter, in the spring of 1918, he rented a small farm in Elsah, Illinois.
Farming in Elsah, from Lois and Geneva’s accounts, seems to have been quite successful, growing vegetables and fruits and selling those along with eggs and chickens to the nearby resort of Chautauqua. In addition, he did a very unusual thing – growing sugar cane and setting up a process to make sorghum molasses, that he sold for what was then a fabulous price of $1.00 per gallon. His process included a steam boiler with two long stainless steel vats around two feet deep, four feet wide and ten to fourteen feet long with steam pipes running through to cook the molasses. (When prohibition took effect in January 1920, the system was converted to a still to make alcohol.)
My father’s ninth child, Lola Violet (26 November 1919 – 1973) was born at the farm in Elsah. I was his tenth child – his fifth son from two marriages – and I was born on 28 October 1922, also in Elsah. My mother, Clara Belle, who was not healthy, caught pneumonia and passed away on 23 January 1923. I was only three months old. Fortunately, my two oldest sisters, Geneva and Lois, who were thirteen and eleven at the time, became my mothers. My father was now left with ten children and without a wife and mother for his children. Lois and Geneva, in their books, state that dad’s anger had increased in its intensity. I am sure this did not help.
Despite the modest success he had enjoyed with sugar cane, farming and the manufacture and sale of sorghum molasses, my father, against the advice of his brothers, decided to return to Canada to our homestead there. In the spring of 1923, my father purchased a Dodge truck and built a “house” on the truck bed. I call it the first “Winnebago.”
A photograph was taken just prior to our leaving for Canada. In it, my father is holding me, wrapped in blankets, in his arms. All the children are lined up in front of the truck from tallest to smallest.
Both Geneva and Lois have written about this trip, that I, of course, was much too small to remember. Geneva recorded there was an accident along the way involving two men in a sports car. According to Geneva, they were attempting to pass the truck on a one-lane dirt road and ended up forcing the truck into a ditch, smashing up their fender. No one was hurt, but being an “out of towner,” the police said my father would have to pay for the other car’s damage. My father indicated he had no extra money; only what it would take to get them to Canada. By this time, quite a crow from town had shown up to see the sight. Someone in the crowd said, "This man has eight children. Throw in what you can give and let this man take his children home." As the hat was passed, everyone chipped in and a collection was taken up to pay for the damage.
In Minnesota, dad pulled up in a local park. A woman living nearby, brought out a bowl full of Jello for all the children to eat. Geneva said it was the first time they ever ate Jello. When it began to snow, this woman and her husband invited the family into their home for the night.
The next encounter was not as friendly. We were in need of water, but were told we would have to buy it. When dad agreed to pay for it, the man refused and we were sent on our way to purchase water further down the road.
The family finally arrived in Hatton.
In 1924, the drought had hit Hatton. The crops were so stunted there was nothing to harvest. That fall, the decision was made to relocate the family to Eastend. Dad had found a very nice house to rent there and there was plenty of rain in that area. Lois recalled, in her book, that the yearling colts were not quite ready to make the move and bolted back towards the farm, running through a neighbor’s field. The neighbor bolted the gate and refused to return the horses. The sheriff was called, but the case ended up being taken to court where Lois was required to swear on the Bible to tell the truth. Lois informed the judge she was not allowed to swear, causing much laughter in the court. The horses were returned without further incident.
Along the way, the family stopped at a Reservation along Cypress Lake. Lois’ job was to herd the cows. After resting at the reservation for two days, the family began to move on. Lois recalled a young Indian boy helping her herd the cows along a portion of the trail and racing against her.
Lois recalled upon arriving at Eastend, they came over the bluffs into a beautiful, lush, green valley, where cow met cow and the fight was on.
The summer following the family’s arrival in Eastend, my father, according to Lois, had been working on an invention to separate the wheat from the shaft. Lois recalled our father had taken his design to someone in town to create a model or a diagram for his patent. The idea was stolen by this man, leaving our father very disheartened. He would be gone from the farm for long periods of time according to Geneva and Lois. One day, after being gone for several days, two men drove up, finding the children in rags and the cupboards bare. My father had left me with a neighboring family, who, apparently, had wanted to adopt me, but my father had refused. My father returned that evening and the two men returned the following day, rounding up the children to be taken to an orphanage in Moose Jaw.
Lois and Geneva have recorded their recollections of the trip to Moose Jaw and their time in the orphanage. As I was not at home at the time of this event, my father still had custody of me. After a court hearing, the Canadian authorities released the children to my father upon his providing documentation that the children would live with his siblings when they returned to Illinois. The authorities rode the train with the children and my father to the border, where they departed.
My New Home
My first memory is probably the first day and night I spent with my adoptive parents, Uncle Lum (Christopher) and Aunt Sarah Roady. I was now practically an only child, as their daughter, Bertha, worked for the U S government in St. Louis (or Washington, DC) and did not live at home. I was only three years and three months old when I arrived and was informally adopted in January 1926. Uncle Lum had a son, Harry, who died young - and I was his replacement. This was never discussed with me - someone told me Harry died with a gunshot wound, hunting with Uncle Lum. Steve (Elston) Roady says not true. I will need to research this. Uncle Lum never went hunting when I lived with him!
I was amazed by the size of the house. The house in Canada where I lived with dad and seven brothers and sisters was smaller than the living room in this house. The enormous living room with the large furnace (coal-burning) and the large master bedroom was close to being as big as the entire house in Canada. The bed itself was awesome to me – the luxurious fluffy blankets and pillows. I was put to bed between Uncle Lum and Aunt Sarah under the big blankets (probably filled with chicken feathers). It was cold outside, but I was too warm. I kept taking my hand and arms out from underneath the blankets and they couldn’t understand that. They kept covering me up and finally they let me keep my arms above the blankets and let me go to sleep.
At that young age, my association into my new family structure was what we called a “cake walk.” Besides the first day and first night that I have described, I was left awestruck by some of my early memories.
I had a nice, comfortable, spacious, luxurious (in my mind) home with two caring and loving parents, Uncle Lum [Christopher] and Aunt Sarah [Short] Roady.
Speaking of loving – kisses and hugs – that modern day social advisors believe to be paramount to a loving family relationship, that did not exist in our relationship. It did not happen. But love was there and many provisions of love. Uncle Lum provided me with a rubber tire swing hung to on a tree limb just outside the kitchen door and porch, a large sand pile under a tree in the back yard with children’s size garden tools. Later he built a rabbit hutch and purchased white Chinchilla rabbits to raise. I think he did this for my sex education, since rabbits do enjoy sex and soon produced six or seven offspring that I was able to sell at the County Fair for a dollar each, which probably made me the richest boy at the fair! I met a lovely young girl who was from Cairo, Illinois whose parents were friends of Uncle Wiley. We had a lovely time together. She and I actually exchanged one or two letters but were too far apart for lasting friendship or love.
Another example I recall vividly was that someone, possibly Aunt Bertha, giving me a set of roller-skates without ball bearings. Trying to skate with these had me falling down constantly, giving me bloody knees and torn clothing. When Uncle Lum saw this, he immediately got me in his car, drove to the local hardware store, picked out their most expensive pair of roller bearing skates, paid $3.50 (a lot of money then) and threw the old skates away, so I wouldn’t ever injure myself again.
I remember sitting and swinging on my tree swing in the early spring when three beautiful girls came around the front corner of the house. A gust of wind lifted the skirt of one of the girls and I remember thinking how beautiful that exposed leg was. The sex gene apparently emerges early. They approached and since I didn’t react, the said, “Don’t you remember us? We are your sisters.” Since Geneva and Lois had not been adopted, but were given work assignments, I think the three lovely girls were Nancy, Dorothy and Lola. If one had been Geneva, I think I would have recognized my “Canadian” mothers, but it could have been her, Lois and Nancy.
Uncle Lum was a fastidious farmer. The garden had grapes, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, plus the standard vegetables; lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, and, in addition, he had a small tract of six or seven apple trees. All areas were fenced and kept in excellent shape, as well as the barn, a storage shack, the house and the lawn. And, of course, we had chickens, plenty of eggs; two milk cows, pigs, horses, and a large cornfield (some sweet corn) on the seventeen-acre farm. So the only groceries purchased were probably flour and sugar. Aunt Sarah made the butter and cream. Milk and other items were kept cool in a deep well located at the yard outside the kitchen. So I had a wonderful diet of food, prepared fresh from the garden.
Aunt Sarah was always sitting me down upon her lap and reading comic strips to me, as well as other items from the paper, if she thought they would interest me. She even made me a small eating table at the rear of the house and would bring me delicious meals to eat in my outdoor kingdom. And, of course, there was the regular hygiene (bathing) and clean clothes.
Neither Uncle Lum nor Aunt Sarah were jovial, laughing people. But I do recall getting a good laugh out of Aunt Sarah. My bath was routinely done in a round tin tub in the kitchen. Finally, I don’t know at what age I became embarrassed to be completely undressed in front of Aunt Sarah, I took off my shirt, rolled up my pant legs as high as I could and washed everything exposed with Aunt Sarah in watchful waiting. Finally, she asked when I was going to finish washing. I said, “Aunt Sarah, I’ve washed as far down as possible and as far up as possible.” She instantly, with a smile and loud laughter said, “And when are you going to wash possible?” Then she left the room so I could fully undress and wash possible in private.
There was another incident were Aunt Sarah showed her humor. Aunt Sarah as a great cook and her brother came occasionally. Even though I thought we lived a life of luxury, the Depression did cause Uncle Lum and Aunt Sarah to sell butter and purchase margarine. In those days, to simulate butter, you had to mix a coloring product with the margarine that did not improve the taste, so it was served plain. Her brother complained vigorously when served the plain margarine and how much better actual butter was. This did not please Aunt Sarah.
When Aunt Sarah made butter, she prepared it in a little wooden molding box that left a little flower design on the top of the butter when it was removed from the box. Aunt Sarah told me her brother couldn’t tell the difference between butter and margarine. So she took some margarine mixed it with the coloring ingredient and put it in the molding box and served it on her brother’s next visit.
When he saw it on the table, he told Sarah how pleased he was that she was using real butter again and when he spread it on his bread, he praised its taste as being SO superior to margarine. Aunt Sarah didn’t laugh, but the smile on her face showed the joy she felt in deceiving her brother. She never told him it wasn’t butter.
My good luck in life was in being taken in (adopted unofficially) by Uncle Lum and Aunt Sarah Roady. The Roady and Berry families are intertwined through various Berry/Roady marriages. Uncle Wiley Berry married Lettica (Lettie) Roady, Aunt Emma Louella Berry married Nathaniel Lane Roady and Aunt Winnie Berry married Robert P. Roady. The Roady family was prominent in the small country town of Kane, Illinois. Aunt Lettie [Roady] Berry’s brother, Thomas, was the principal of the local school. Her grandfather was the pastor of the Church of Christ, where we all attended and he was the brother of Uncle Lum, who adopted me.
In addition to the good luck of being adopted into a strongly educated, religious family, I was further blessed by growing up in Kane, a small midwestern rural town with a population of approximately five hundred. It had its own public school, grades one through eleven, three churches (the Church of Christ, a Methodist church and a Baptist church), a grocery store, a hardware store, two barbershops, a garage, a pool hall and a tavern. It had a bank, the King State Savings and Loan that went bankrupt during the 1930’s Depression. Also, Varble’s 5-cent movie theater, that offered a large paper bag of popcorn for a nickel.
My Lucky Accidents
My Lessons and Beliefs
My religion, or my lack of religion – you choose. No, don’t choose. Do not judge. That’s not religious!
I am thankful that I was adopted into a religious family – Christopher “Lum” and Sarah Roady. Their kindness and loving care exemplified Christian life. Every Sunday was church day at the Church of Christ in Kane, Illinois. Uncle Lum’s brother was the Pastor of the church and Uncle “Lum” was designated as a Deacon. My uncle, Wiley Elston Berry, married Leticia Roady and together with her brother, Thomas Roady and his wife, Lelia, were the singing quartet at the church. Thomas Roady was the high school Principal at Kane and his wife, Lelia, taught at the Old Kane School House. I remember sitting in the front row of the church, my legs too short to touch the floor, along with Paul Thomas Berry and, probably, Elston Roady. I remember we were told to memorize short verses from the Bible. I memorized a few, the shortest, I recall, was “Judge not that you be not judged.” That instruction has stayed with me my entire life. If all members of all religions followed that one simple rule, we would be closer to a true religion, as exemplified by the life of Jesus Christ.
However, my doubts and questions about the history of religion, but not its values, began early in life. One Sunday before I was old enough to be in school, Pastor Roady, who I thought of as a grandfather or another uncle, invited Uncle “Lum” and Aunt Sarah to dinner following the church service. During dinner, he recounted the story of the Book of Genesis, when I suddenly interrupted by asking, “But Grandfather, if God made the world, who made God?” I don’t recall the answer, but it didn’t convince me. It was probably the standard, “You must believe, you must have faith.” At any rate, that lack of a definitive response started me on my doubts of religious history, but not of true Christian values as exemplified by the life of Jesus Christ and by the people who surrounded me and raised me in the early years of my life.
My doubts about Biblical history prevailed from that moment on. When I was ten or twelve, I believe, my relatives and church elders decided it was time for me to be baptized – something that I was not enthusiastic about doing, as my doubts of Christian history were still growing. So, one Sunday afternoon, I was taken to Macoupin Creek, where I had fished and swam regularly. Pastor Roady waded into the creek with me, gave the usual religious talk and immersed me completely, finishing the baptism. On the way back to town, the breeze was so refreshing I quickly thought, “Gee, maybe there is something to baptism.” But just as quickly, I remember thinking, “Well, I feel this way all the time, when I go home from swimming.”
Being a doubter of many of the Bible stories promoted as true history has affected my entire life. It makes you different. If makes you silent. It’s something you don’t discuss. If you were to discuss it, you would be afraid you would alienate yourself from friends and family members who profess to be true believers of every word of the Bible. I really believe that many Christians have doubts of Christian history, but would not express their doubts for the same reason.
Not being a true believer of the history of the Bible, in opposition of the vast majority of the Christian world, puts you somewhat in the category of people with a different skin color, a different sexuality, a different religion, a different ethnicity, who, rightfully, feel slighted or prejudiced against by others who do not follow the Christian precept of “Judge not that you be not judged.”
So, while I believe in Christian values of love, humanity, forgiveness, and understanding and I try to practice them and believe I have in my lifetime, there are many items of Biblical history I do not believe:
In Genesis – how the world was created, including the story of Adam and Eve.
In the Virgin Birth
In the Resurrection
In life after death – I don’t know. I hope. I am Agnostic. I’m doubtful.
Was Jesus Christ a great leader who brought many worthy ideals of living through the example of his life and the lives of his disciples? Was he crucified because of his life and his ideals? The answer is yes. Would the world be a better place if we practiced his ideals? The answer is yes!
I think there are many people of Christian faith who share these doubts, but do not express them for the same reason – the fear of being derided, scoffed at and excluded from friendship and family. In a June 21, 2004 Time Magazine exploring the factors of religion and politics regarding the coming Presidential election, it was noted that Thomas Jefferson, a prominent founder of our country, did not believe in the Resurrection. I doubt that this was widely known to others during his lifetime.
Steve Allen, in his book, The Bible, Religion, and Morality wrote, “Thomas Jefferson concluded that certain portions of the scripture are beautiful and inspiring and others shameful and degrading.”
The Reverend Shelby Spong, an Episcopalian Bishop, author of several books, one entitled, Why Christianity Must Change or Die. The book received a host of comments of several readers, one that said, “You should fry in Hell,” or words to that effect. I, too, believe Christianity must change; less dogma, more insight, more truthful examination of the Bible.
Recently, Reverend Thorkild Gros Boell, Pastor of Tharback, Denmark, in a May 2003 interview said, “There is not a heavenly God. There is no eternal life. There is no Resurrection.” He, of course, has been suspended from his duties.
While this expression of doubt goes too far, in my opinion, I think it is an emblematic symbol of changes that will eventually lead to a more open discussion of religious beliefs and values.
Recently (May 25, 2004) William Tarczy quoted in a letter to the Plain Dealer some violent messages from the Koran [Quran], stating, “Kill the infidels,” which, of course, means any person who does not believe as you do, or from a different religion, Christian or Jewish, and wondering how we can ever make peace with a people of these beliefs?
Shortly thereafter, Reverend Mark George of University Heights responded to Plain Dealer, pointing out passages in the Bible as follows:
“Fair Babylon, you destroyer…happy are those who seize your children and smash them against a rock. (Psalms 137:8:9)
“But in the cities of those nations which the Lord, your God is giving you as your heritage, you shall not leave a single soul alive.” (Deuteronomy 20:16)
And there are many such passages. In his letter, he also states, “It is unfair to take the worst aspects of another’s religion and compare them to the best aspects of one’s own. Some Christians have committed atrocities things completely contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Some Muslims have committed atrocities as well. But it’s worth noting that up to and including World War II, the Islamic world as a whole treated Jews much better than the Christian world treated them. So, yes, I think peace is possible with the Islamic world. But we must do our part and not just point fingers.”
So, he also thinks the principle of “Judge not that you be not judged” is a good example of Christian beliefs. I commend him on this and being truthful about the inconsistencies of the Bible.
Speaking of inconsistencies, for example, in the New American Bible, by Thomas Nelson publishers, the quotes cited by Revered Mark George differ slightly from his Bible source, as follows:
“Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord, your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave anything alive that breathes.” (Deuteronomy 21:16)
“But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Cannanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you.” (Deuteronomy 21:17)
“How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” (Psalms 137:9)
And my favorite verse, “Judge not that you be not judged” is as follows:
“Do not judge lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)
Mark 4:24 and Luke 6:38 give parallel statements. However, Deuteronomy 21:16 and 21:17 in its entirety as well as other passages show how little has changed when you consider the present 2004 situation of the war in Iraq and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Steve Allen’s, The Bible, Religion and Morality was published late in his life. Steve was raised a Catholic, ex-communicated because of a divorce. He later married actress Jane Meadows, whose father was a [Protestant] minister! They both pursued their religion establishing churches of their faith in China. Steve died on October 30, 2000 and as of this writing is still survived by his wife. I believe he suffered with his beliefs the same as I stated earlier about my unorthodox beliefs – it makes you different, it makes you silent, it’s something you don’t discuss, if you were to discuss it, you are afraid you would alienate your friends and family members who profess to believe in every word of the Bible. I think, I could be wrong, for these same reasons, Mr. Allen decided to publish this book late in his life. He was a famous figure in the public eye and his career depended on his acceptance by the public. I believe this further enhanced his desire to keep his religious thoughts buried until his public career was virtually over. His book is excellent, well documented, thoughtful, insightful, but too voluminous, like the Bible, to be thoughtfully read in its entirety. His book, however, gave me additional information that enhanced my skepticism of Biblical chapter, especially of the Old Testament. A belief shared by Galileo in a famous quotation, “I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo its use.”
Also, from Steve Allen’s book, he quotes clergyman Paul Hutchinson, as follows:
“Gospels, Epistles, Apocryphia is a product of the church. Little of it was written until there was a flourishing church all over the Roman Empire. It was not gathered into its finally agreed on form until 692 A.D.”
The Bible Readers Companion by Lawrence O. Richards evaluates historical time of the New Testament basically as follows:
Paul –63 A.D.
Mark –73-78 A.D.
Matthew – 88 -108 A.D.
Luke – 93 -113 A.D.
John – 45 A.D. and 100 A.D.
The story of the Virgin birth was written in 90 A.D.
These views of time factors are widely accepted by many other Biblical scholars.
So it is apparent that the authors of these books (and who wrote them is uncertain) did not know Jesus personally and what they attribute to him is the memories of others. While this does not make the scripture totally inaccurate, especially in regard to the works and beliefs of Jesus, some, if not all are probably accurate. Considering the flaws and doubts about present reporting by the media, it is reasonable to view these works, as to their absolute accuracy, with some reservation, especially in view of the time lapse between the events and the time of these writings in an ancient world.
Mr. Allen points out many, many more errors and unchristian statements than I have mentioned above. However, he states that it has not weakened his faith in God, but has lessened his faith in man. A portion of his final conclusions is as follows:
“…something about religious belief itself has a special appeal to the human heart and, indeed, to the mind as well.
What accounts for some of this appeal may be that we generally fell more socially comfortable in the company of others who are clearly attempting to do good and to avoid evil. Few of us would deliberately court the company of murderers, thieves, child-molesters, rapists, compulsive adulterers, embezzlers, or other criminals.
Another reason is that there is a certain hunger of the human heart for virtue and a certain inherent horror of evil. Some of this is inculcated in us as children, whether our parents are atheists or fervent believers. Most – if not all – parents encourage their children to behave in a reasonable manner and attempt to discourage the commission of destructive acts. So perhaps, then, the appeal of religion is partly a matter of wanting, as adults, the same kind of orderly good conduct for which we were rewarded as children.”
The Reverend Bishop Shelby Spong in his book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die expresses similar thoughts.
From the book The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, the author expresses in his novel some facts and cogent thoughts:
“The Bible is a product of man, my dear, not of God. He Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. May created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the Book.
…as many as eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament and the final version was collated by the Pagan Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.”
“The Trouble With Islam: A Muslin’s Call for Reform in Her Faith” by Ishad Munji calls into attention the many contradictions in the Koran [Quran], quite similar to the contradictions that Steve Allen points out in his book of the various contradictions in the Bible.
Nicholas B. Kristof of the New York Times exposes some of these in an article reprinted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“’The virgins are call you,’ Mohamed Atta wrote reassuringly to his fellow hijackers…
It has long been a staple of Islam that Muslim martyrs will go to paradise and marry 72 black-eyed virgins.
But Muslim fundamentalists regard the Quran – every word of it – as God’s own language…
…Islamlic feminists argue for religious interpretations leading to greater gender equality. An Iranian theologian has called for more study of the Quran’s Syriac roots. Tunisian and German scholars are collaborating on a new critical edition of the Quran based on the earliest manuscripts.
The Quran is beautifully written, but often obscure. One reason is that the Arabic language with the Quran, and there’s growing evidence that many of the words were Syriac or Aramaic.
For example, the Quran says martyrs going to heaven with get ‘hur,’ and the word was taken by early commentators to mean ‘virgins,’ hence those 72 consorts. But in Aramaic, hur meant ‘white’ and was commonly used to mean ‘white grapes.’”
The book The DaVini Code by Dan Brown is immensely entertaining and intriguing and has been a best seller in 2004/2005 for many months, had to be in good measure inspired by the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh that was a best seller in 1984, I believe is an exceptionally scholarly investigation. Look at many documents and writings that are in conflict in many ways with orthodox religious beliefs of the Bible as written. For example – Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene? – Did they have a child together? – Are the Gospels real? – Did the early church fathers edit and/or suppress the Gospels as finally written?
Their book goes into extensive investigation on conspiracies such as the “Knights Templar” the hidden world of “opus dei” and the “lost Gospels.”
The authored three films aired by the BBC in London: The Last Treasure of Jerusalem in 1972, The Priest, The Painter and the Devil in 1974, The Shadow of Templars produced in 1979.
Some excerpts from the book follow:
“Most people today speak of Christianity as if it were a single specific things – a coherent, homogeneous, and unified entity. Needless to say Christianity is nothing of the sort. As everyone knows, there are numerous forms of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, for example, or the Church of England created by Henry VIII. There are the various denominations of Protestantism – from the original Lutheranism and Calvinism of the sixteenth century to such relatively recent developments as Unitarianism. There are multitudinous ‘fringe’ or ‘evangelical’ congregations, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. And there are assorted contemporary sects and cults, like the Children of God and the Unification Church of the Reverend Moon. If one surveys this bewildering spectrum of beliefs – from the rigidly dogmatic and conservative to the radical and ecstatic – it is difficult to determine what exactly constitutes Christianity.
If there is a single factor that does permit one to speak of Christianity, a single factor that does link the otherwise diverse and divergent Christian creeds, it is the New Testament and more particularly the unique status ascribed by the New Testament to Jesus, his Crucifixion and Resurrection. Even if one does not subscribe to the literal or historical truth of those events, acceptance of their symbolic significance generally suffices for one to be considered a Christian.
If there is any unity, then, in the diffuse phenomenon called Christianity, it resides in the New Testament – and more specifically, in the accounts of Jesus known as the four Gospels. These accounts are popularly regarded as the most authoritative on record; and for many Christians they are assumed to be both coherent and unimpugnable. From childhood one is led to believe that the story of Jesus as it is preserved in the four Gospels is, if not God-inspired, at least definitive. The four Evangelists, supposed authors of the Gospels, are deemed to be unimpeachable witnesses who reinforce and confirm each other’s testimony. Of the people who today call themselves Christians, relatively few are aware of the fact that the four Gospels not only contradict each other, but at times violently disagree.
So far as popular tradition is concerned, the origin and birth of Jesus are well enough known. But in reality the Gospels, on which that tradition is based, are considerably more vague on the matter. Only two of the Gospels – Matthew and Luke – say anything at all about Jesus’ origins and birth; and they are flagrantly at odds with each other. According to Matthew, for example, Jesus was an aristocrat, if not a rightful and legitimate king – descended from David via Solomon. According to Luke, on the other hand, Jesus’ family although descended from the house of David, was of somewhat less exalted stock; and it is on the basis of Mark’s account that the legend of the ‘poor carpenter’ came into being. The two genealogies, in short, are so strikingly discordant that they might well be referring to two quite different individuals.
The discrepancies between the Gospels are not confined to the question of Jesus’ ancestry and genealogy. According to Luke, Jesus, on his birth, was visited by shepherds. According to Luke, Jesus’ family lived in Nazareth. From here they are said to have journeyed – for a census that history suggests never in fact occurred – to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in the poverty of a manger. But according to Matthew, Jesus’ family had been fairly well-to-do residents of Bethlehem all along, and Jesus himself was born in a house. In Matthew’s version Herod’s persecution of the innocents prompts the family to flee into Egypt, and only other their return do they make their home in Nazareth.
The information in each of these accounts is quite specific and – assuming the census did occur – perfectly plausible. And yet the information itself simply does not agree. This contradiction cannot be rationalized. There is no possible means whereby the two conflicting narratives can both be correct, and there is no means whereby they can be reconciled. Whether one cares to admit it or not, the fact must be recognized that one or both of the Gospels is wrong. In the face of so glaring and inevitable a conclusion, the Gospels cannot be regarded as unimpugnable. How can they be unimpugnable when they impugn each other?”
The authors discuss their reactions to their best selling meticulous detailed book as follows:
“’You can’t prove your conclusions’ was another charge leveled against us by both theological critics and interviewers – as if we might have been expected to produce a sworn personal testimony, signed by Jesus himself and duly witnessed. Of course, we could not ‘prove’ our conclusions – as indeed, we stressed repeatedly in the book. If we could have proved them, there would have been no controversy at all, only a fait accompli. But what, in the present context, would constitute genuine proof? Can such ‘proof’ be found for an issue of consequence in the New Testament? Obviously not. So far as the New Testament is concerned, there is nothing that can be definitively ‘proved.’ If we cannot ‘prove’ our conclusions, neither can it be ‘proved’ that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on water, and rose from the dead. Indeed, it cannot even be ‘proved’ that Jesus ever lived; in fact, numerous writers, past and present, have argued persuasively that he didn’t.
The question of ‘proof’ is ultimately beside the point. Given the scarcity of both documentary and archaeological material, there is very little, if anything, that can be ‘proved’ about Jesus. The most one can honestly do is deal with evidence – which is not the same as ‘proof.’ Evidence, in the context of the New Testament studies, cannot ‘prove’ anything, but it can suggest greater or lesser possibilities, great or lesser plausibility. One must survey the available evidence and draw conclusions from it: for instance, that one sequence of events is more likely to have happened than another. If one employs this criterion, the matter becomes largely one of common sense. It is quite simply more likely that a man would have married, fathered children, and attempted to gain a throne than that he would have been born of a virgin, walked on water, and risen from the dead.
Contrary to the assertions of both theologians and interviewers such a conclusion does not entail ‘an attack on the very core of Christianity and the Christian ethos.’ The core of Christianity and the Christian ethos resides in Jesus’ teachings. Those teachings are in some significant sense unique, for they constitute the ‘new message,’ the ‘good news’ for humankind and are valid in themselves. They do not need miraculous biographical details to support them, especially not the kind of miraculous biographical details that attended rival deities throughout the ancient world. If the teachings do require such details, it suggests one of two things: Either there is something seriously defective in the teachings or, more likely, there is something defective in the believer’s faith. Any thoughtful Christian would concur that Jesus’ primary significance resides in the message he sought to communicate. And that message gains nothing by virtue of Jesus’ having been celibate, nor does it lose anything by virtue of his having been married.
The high-level theologians and ecclesiastics who attacked us were almost all Protestant. In fact, the majority were Anglicans, like the Bishop of Birmingham, while the Roman Catholic Church remained essentially silent on the matter. But an important exfunctionary in the Catholic Church confided to us personally that the upper echelons of his hierarchy (although they would never make a public statement on the matter) privately acknowledged the plausibility, if not the veracity, of our conclusions. During our publicity tour of the United States, in a radio discussion, Dr. Malachi Martin, one of the leading authorities on Vatican affairs and former member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Institute, conceded that there was ultimately no real theological objection to a married Jesus.
Few established historians deigned to accord us their attention. This was not surprising, since egg becomes nobody’s face, and scholars, like politicians, are especially sensitive to such mishaps. To damn us definitively might have entailed the risk of some future embarrassment – some document perhaps coming to light that may support our conclusions. To endorse us could have been even more perilous – a matter of placing one’s professional reputation prominently ‘on the line.’ So far as the historians were concerned it was altogether more prudent to equivocate, to reserve judgment or remain conscientiously silent or, on occasion, to adopt a tone of aloof, ironic, Olympian condescension. These responses implicitly reduced our book to the proverbial storm in a teacup while dexterously circumventing all confrontation with the material.”
So how did I manage fifty plus years of marriage with a Catholic girl whose parents emigrated from Poland? To begin with when I asked Bernice to marry me, her response was that I had to ask her father for permission – I did and he accepted and approved without hesitation. Whether Bernice thought that question was necessary because I was not Catholic, I do not know. Despite not belonging to the same church, my relationship with my father-in-law and my wife, Bernice, was the best anyone could have had. After marriage in the Catholic rectory, not the church – and without any discussion, neither of us attended any church services, until the winter following, when Bernice arranged a three-week vacation to Passe-A-Grille, Florida. I think we went to the Catholic Church there twice – once on Christmas Day. I was very uncomfortable in the church not knowing the many rites and rituals of the Catholic Church. I am sure Bernice sensed my discomfort at being in her church and, thereafter, without a word spoken by either of us, this was the last Catholic or other church service we ever attended in our fifty plus years of marriage.
This mutual understanding between my wife and I without a conversation and without any animosity or difficulty defies the psychological advice on how to get along with your spouse. When the children, my son, Tom, and my daughter, Jacqueline, were ready for school, I never entertained any thought other than a good Catholic school education (with their rigorous discipline) and in accordance with Bernice’s Catholic upbringing.
Tom II had some problems and was troubled at the Catholic Church had some problems so he left the Catholic School and returned to a public school about the seventh grade. The principal of that school figured he must have been a behavior problem to be let out of the Catholic school – and was amazed that he was so exceptionally well behaved. My daughter, Jacqueline, never discussed her life in Catholic grade schools until later in her life when the sexual misbehavior of various priests became public. Sexual mistreatment – the severity of it she has not discussed with me and I haven’t asked.
The War Years
I was a young man of 17 or 18 years, while war was fermenting in 1939-1940 led by Adolph Hitler of Germany. I had a vague knowledge of some of the happenings, but had no in depth knowledge, no concerns and no knowledge of the atrocities being committed. Writing this in 2004, I suspect 17-18 year olds in he USA are as disconnected with events now in Afghanistan and Iraq as I was in my youth. However, with daily television (practically non-existent in 1939-1940), they should be better informed.
I graduated from high school in the spring of 1940, in Carrollton, Illinois. Thanks to my sister, Nancy, who was working in the county office building, she knew and advised me about scholarship grants to the University of Illinois that were available just for taking a test. My score was the second best – so I was granted a scholarship only for agriculture – the best score got to choose his major. So in the fall of 1940, I enrolled at the University of Illinois in the College of Agriculture. Since I knew I would not inherit a farm – I had no interest in agriculture – but I had no choice. Besides the luck of Nancy helping me get a scholarship, I learned from Nancy or Russell that a first cousin, Kenny Berry, was pursuing an agricultural degree at U of I, was captain of the wrestling team, and with his wife had a large house with several bedrooms that he rented. So, I had a nice place to live with a kind relative. Kenny wanted me to go out for wrestling at the lightweight level (I weighed only 134 lbs), but I had not interest in that. He did give me a list of teachers to choose for the mandatory first semester courses. I soon found out these were teachers favorable to athletes, so met football players and basketball players in English, Phys Ed and other courses. Since I had no money, I found a job as a dishwasher at the Alpha Gamma Delta Sorority, for meals, and as a bowling alley pinsetter in the evenings at the U of I recreation hall, I earned spending money.
Summer of 1941
Russell had a job in a small town in Indiana. He suggested I come to Indiana and I found a job at a Montgomery Ward store. I don’t recall what my duties were. I lived with a family of the Christian Science faith. The daughter had a speech impediment due to a birth defect. I was somewhat disturbed they would not visit a regular physician to be examined, but I did not express my thoughts.
Russell had a car and somehow he arranged a date with two beautiful blonde girls. I think we went to a movie and afterwards drove to a wooded area. It was a clear, moonlit night as we sat gazing at the stars. Russell thought it amazing when I told the girl in the back seat with me that we were not seeing the stars in the present time as light travels 186,000 miles per second and the stars could be gone or in another position before the light was visible to our eyes. As we left, Russell backed the car into a tree. The gals were not impressed with this. At least with me, I never saw her again.
December 7, 1941
“A day that will live in infamy,” announced Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I was playing poker with Adrian Powell and others on the second floor of Kenny Berry’s house. It was probably 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. when we received word of the attack. Adrian was in the military program at the University and knew instantly of the impact on his life; that he would soon be on active duty. I was having a good night at the table and he owed me money. He offered me his lovely sport coat for a few bucks plus what he owed me. I accepted. It fit perfectly and is probably the best sport coat I ever owned. I was afraid to admit it, but I had no idea where Pearl Harbor was or why it was attacked until I read the newspaper the following day.
After completing my second year at the University of Illinois, I went back home to Kane, Illinois and found employment harvesting asparagus on a local farm at .35 cents an hour. Shortly, I got a letter from my sister, Lola, who was in Spokane, Washington at the time, telling me that through her husband, “Cookie” Barnes, who was working at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho building a naval base, that I could get a job as a steamfitter for $3.50 per hour. I had some money saved, so I immediately bought a Greyhound Bus ticket and headed for Spokane, Washington. Lola’s husband, “Cookie” took me to a union leader telling him that I had worked for him in Birmingham, Alabama as a steam- fitter, where I had only visited them the Christmas before. The union leader knew it was a lie – and he would buy it – but he couldn’t because he said I looked to young. Consequently, I was paid $1.00 per hour as a laborer, working for my brother-in-law as his assistant.
“Cookie” quickly showed me his management skills. He took me with him on a tour of the various barracks where construction was underway. When we walked in, hardly anyone, if anyone, was working until they saw us. They picked up their tools and sneaked away trying to give the appearance of working. “Cookie” invited them all to meet him at a specified barrack for lunch. When they were all together, he started to tell sex jokes (and he knew many of them). The steamfitters soon joined in telling their own jokes. Toward the end of the lunch hour, “Cookie” said, “Fellas, when I came around today, many of you were not working; picking up your tools only when I showed up. In the future, when I come on the job, you are to lay down your tools and we will sit down and enjoy ourselves and then you can go back to work.” He then interviewed each one to determine their experience and knowledge and assigned them specific duties. On subsequent trips, that’s exactly what happened – tools were laid down only when “Cookie” arrived. They loved “Cookie.”
One day, we were told FDR was arriving at the naval base. The superiors took truckloads of workers off site to nearby wooded sites during FDR’s visit. This may have been done for security reasons, but I think it was to cover up the excess labor force on a cost plus contract.
I was making so much money; working overtime, I was getting $85.00 per week. There were no deductions for taxes. I was due back at school toward the end of summer, so I called the University to determine the last date I could enroll for the following semester. That information, plus an $85.00 flight on United that took one day versus a $35.00 bus ticket that would take two to three days, allowed me to earn two or three paychecks before I had to leave for Illinois.
After returning to U of I, I enlisted in the Army on November 14, 1942. I was now SN 16120102. Those who enlisted were promised we would be allowed to finish the semester. However, that did not happen. On March 20, 1943, we were shipped to Fort Sheridan in northeastern Illinois. As I recall, we went by train. Upon arrival, we were immediately measured and handed uniforms that actually fit! Next we were given the AGCT (Army General Classification Test). I found the test rather amusing, as a large part of the test was to determine the number of cubicles stacked in a pyramid. I remember being thankful at the time for Principle Thomas Roady of Kane, Illinois giving us speed math (addition) training. I scored 120. There was a general discussion between we recruits about the test. A Robert Barry was complaining about how tough the test was, but he scored 144. I asked him how far he had made it through the test and realized I had made it much further through the test than he, yet had received a lower score. Wondering if they had mixed up the results between “Barry” and “Berry,” I audaciously went to the office and suggested they had made an error. They agreed to check and subsequently changed my score to 144. I was correct; they had confused the names. I am sure this test score was instrumental in my securing favorable future assignments in the Army. Fixing that mistake was one luck accident! One of many lucky accidents I had in the Army.
A couple of days later, I was sent to Texas A&M. I was there only long enough to take in Paris, Texas and swim in one of the school’s great indoor pools.
The next stop was Camp Wallace, Texas (Galveston, Texas) for basic training and anti-aircraft training. I spent some free time traveling the short distance (50 miles) to Houston, Texas where I had the opportunity to go bowling and meet two good friends. Addison McClintock was from Champaign, Illinois and the other, whose name I can’t recall, was from Detroit, Michigan. He had a great sense of humor. One night, the three of us went to a movie on base and on the way back to the barracks, several low flying airplanes zoomed by overhead. Several soldiers were sitting outside their barracks on this hot evening and wonder what was happening. We quietly decided on a scam to make them think we were under attack by the Japanese. So as we walked by this barracks and the others beyond it, we spoke loud enough for all to hear, “Did you hear the Lieutenant say these are Japanese airplanes?” We kept up our conversation along this line and soon the word had spread like wildfire throughout the base.
The following day, the base newspaper had the headline, “ Rumor of Japanese Airplanes Not Factual.” We had another good laugh.
Addison McClintock and I were quickly associated, as he was from Champaign where U of I is located. He was completely bald and wore a hairpiece that had to be the worst hairpiece ever manufactured, as it was so obvious. I’m sure this must have bothered him incessantly, as it made him “different.” One night, however, at the movies with the lights on before the movie started, he removed his hairpiece and the audience reaction of sustained awe echoed throughout the room. From that point on, he stopped wearing his hairpiece; that made him fit in better with the rest of the recruits. Although he was apparently in excellent physical health, I wondered, but did not ask, what kind of illness caused his complete loss of hair.
Daily life at Camp Wallace consisted of daily anti-aircraft training. We shot at model airplanes, watching the tracer bullets to see how close we were coming to the target. I don’t believe these were ever effective in the war. Doubt if any German planes flew low enough to make them even minimally effective. The training Sergeant seemed to like me, always kidding me about my protruding ears and frequently pulling on them.
One day they took all of us on bivouac to a beach. They marched us in the hot weather on this long hike with full field infantry equipment, including tents and sleeping bags. The beach was lovely, with a cool refreshing breeze, but when evening came, they sent us into the underbrush and ordered us to set up our pup tents and sleep in this weeded, brush filled area. The mosquitoes were everywhere. Trying to sleep in these small tents with mosquitoes constantly buzzing, biting and tormenting you made sleep impossible. About midnight, I decided to go swimming. So I got up and went outside the tent. I was surprised there was no one else about and headed for the beach. I stripped to the nude and went swimming in the clear, cool, refreshing ocean. I noticed, as waded into the water, there was a huge tree trunk washed up about twenty feet from the shoreline in shallow water, with a large plank of wood, probably a 2”x 12” about eighteen feet long, lodged into the tree in a nice inclined position. Since the wind from the ocean blew the mosquitoes away, I decided I was going to sleep there. After my swim, I went ashore and bundled up my clothes into a pillow, waded out to the tree and reclined on the plank. I feel into a nice sleep immediately. I must have slept peacefully for four or five hours, when a barrage of machine gun fire awakened me. I got up, put my pillow full of clothes on my head and started wading the short distance to shore. A soldier on the shore pointed his rifle at me and hollered, “Halt!” I don’t know what he was thinking. I may have been naked, but my dog tags and pillow full of Army clothing soon convinced him I was not the enemy.
I quickly took in the scene; the recruits were crawling on their elbows in the sand under barbed wire with their rifles, while officers and non-com’s fired machine guns over the heads of the crawling recruits. I went back to my tent to shave and get my gear together. By the time the recruits were finished with their exercise, it was time for breakfast, so I lined up with them. The Sergeant at the head of the line, who was supervising breakfast, spotted me in my clean Army uniform, noticeably free of sand and dirt. He said, “Hey, I didn’t see you at the exercise this morning.” I quickly responded, “Oh, I was there, I just went back to my pup tent and cleaned up.” He smiled. He knew I was lying, but what could he do. He probably admired his big-eared soldier for being so clever to miss the strenuous, scary, dirty exercise.
After completion of basic training at Camp Wallace, I was assigned to Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy to study engineering. My room assignment included 3 roommates, Eugen Kilburne, Ed Langille and Paul Klumb, all better students than I. Paul was also a former U of I student, exceptionally bright and became a life long friend. He also became my architect for single-family homes that my son and I have built in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Another lucky incident in my lucky life.
I was still floating through life with no established goals. I didn’t have any focus toward a career and studied very little, if at all. I did meet a pretty girl by the name of Betty Ruth Johnston, who I really liked, but with whom I was too shy (unfortunately) to hug and kiss. She convinced me to go with her to Juartez, Mexico a couple of times and introduced me to Mexican cuisine that I really liked.
The college had a boxing program and the athletic coach set up weight class boxing tournaments for the recruits. I was assigned to the lightweight group. Fortunately, in my school days in Kane, the Berrys and the Roadys had boxing gloves and practiced boxing. From these previous experiences, I had learned the basics of defense and offense.
I was paired up with a young man from Tennessee named Frank Blue, for three short rounds. He came at me extremely aggressively, but with wild round about swings that I could easily deflect as well as to go inside his wild arms and punch him in the head easily, so easily I actually pulled some of my punches to avoid severely injuring him. Other Army students, who obviously didn’t understand boxing, as they declaimed him the winner, probably because of his aggressive style, judged the contest.
While he and I were showering after the match, he said to me, “They’re crazy, you beat the crap out of me.” The next day I ran into Betty Ruth and she asked me about the match. When I told her I lost to Blue, she said, “What? Have you seen him? He looks butchered and you don’t have a scratch on you.” When I saw him later, his face and eyes were swollen and black and blue – he had lived up to his name.
The only course I enjoyed at Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy was physics – probably because of the down to earth, practical attitude of the professor. The courses I enjoyed the least were algebra and trigonometry. Although I didn’t find them especially difficult, you were never given any information as to their practical use in the world, a defect in education that is still prevalent today.
When I took the final exam, I was struck by what I considered to be its simplicity. I rush through the exam and was the first to leave the room, about 5 minutes after the exam began. I wanted to meet up with Betty Ruth again, and I did.
I soon found out I had flunked the test! I was called to the office of the President where I explained to him that I understood the concepts and in my hurry made simple mistakes, suggesting he ask the professor who had left the room first. Several other military students were there, also. I was given a pass grade of “D” the next day. My Army AGCT score of 140 may have helped. I don’t know about the others.
Shortly after the next semester began, with no warning, the 199 soldiers (according to the 1943-44 Student Handbook) were gathered together in the assembly hall. As soon as we arrived, we were given documents labeled “Medical Tests.” I was immediately fascinated, it was like working a crossword puzzle. There were descriptive diagrams of internal body parts and analysis followed by questions to be answered based on the interpretation of the information given. All answers had to be selected from a multiple-choice list. The test lasted about three hours and I thoroughly enjoyed it as an alternative to regular classroom attendance.
After the test, my associates gathered at the dormitory and complained about the toughness of the test. I was amazed they thought it tough. I told them I enjoyed the test (which I did) and considered it easy.
The following morning, orders were posted on the dormitory walls for the soldiers to learn where they were being shipped. Obviously, we were being disbanded and various soldiers were going to various places according to Army needs and the assessment of the service up to that time.
To my amazement, my name was not on any of the lists. When I went to the Sergeant in charge and asked him why I was not on any of lists, his withering, sarcastic reply was, “Well, Private Berry, you have been such an exemplary soldier, you get to stay here for two weeks to clean up all the barracks.” I don’t think I said anything in reply, but I was actually pleased with the news that I could stay at the college for another two weeks. Cleaning the barracks would be no big deal. I vaguely remember the guys being loaded into trucks and leaving the grounds early in the morning on March 13, 1944.
Shortly after everyone had shipped out, it occurred to me that without the customary military mess hall, I had no place to eat. So, again, I went to the Sergeant and asked him where I was to have dinner. “Oh,” he said, “didn’t I tell you, you are to go to the President’s facility and dine with him at 6:00 p.m. [1800 hours military time]. See you there.” So about six o’clock, I strolled over to the President’s facility and was seated at a large dinning room table with fine linen, beautiful china and probably five or six beautiful young ladies [students], as well as the President and probably four of the remaining officers and non-coms. At the end of the meal, when desert was being served, President Wiggens suddenly said in a loud voice, “ Private Berry, you have to be the luckiest soldier in the U S Army [I let out a loud laugh, thinking, “Oh sure, two weeks of barracks cleaning is a great deal,” as he continued]. You have the highest score on the medical aptitude test, you are going to Stanford University Medical School.” I can’t recall whether I said anything or not. I am sure I was completely stunned.
Following dinner, I went back to my now empty dorm. The Sergeant came by shortly and said he and some others were taking some college girls [probably the girls at dinner] to a local tavern and invited me to come along. Of course, I did.
The gals and I piled into the back of a flat truck bed and rode the short distance north of campus to the tavern. Since I didn’t know any of the girls, other than being impressed with their good looks, I don’t remember much about the short time we spent in the tavern having a couple of drinks. Someone decided we should all return to campus, so we loaded up the truck, the non-coms in the cab and the rest of us in the truck bed. The truck wouldn’t start. The Sergeant looked under the hood, but couldn’t find a problem. Since it was mostly downhill to the campus, I suggested that if we pushed the truck around the corner, we could probably coast to the campus. So with the help of everyone, including the gals, we pushed the truck slowly out on the highway and jumped aboard, coasting toward the campus.
As we approached the boundaries of the campus, a military police jeep pulled in behind us, lights flashing, and ordered us to stop. With the Sergeant (out of military police ears), we made up a story that the gals were a singing group that had been at another school and we were just escorting them back to their dorms. The MP’s knew exactly what was wrong with the truck and fixed it. Good evidence that someone had rigged the breakdown, while we were in the tavern, and called the MP’s; possibly a concerned official from the college.
After getting the girls back to campus, the MP’s took us downtown to an El Paso jail, where we were placed in a holding cell. This cell was the filthiest experience I have had in my entire life, there was a good inch of water saturated with urine on the entire floor, and the smell was like pure urine. There was no place to sit and it was crowded with drunks cursing and banging on the walls and doors. We had to endure this for an hour until one of the Army officers from the campus came down and got us released.
During that night, a plane had crashed nearby in the mountains. The officer drove the Sergeant and me around about an hour trying to find the site. We couldn’t find it, even though radio accounts were advising the location. About 2 or 3 a.m., the officer returned us to campus.
Early the next day, I was picked up in a military jeep and taken to the train station. My trip to Stanford University had begun.
The train arrived at San Francisco or Palo Alto, I don’t recall. I was immediately picked up by a open jeep and driven to the campus. I do recall, vividly, of arriving at Stanford. I was in awe of the spacious large driveway to the campus quad with beautiful palm trees on each side of the road. There was a large church front and center constructed of large stones, making it a beautiful entrance to the campus. I believe I arrived the third week of March, making it the end of quarter.
After being assigned to a dormitory room, I decided to explore the campus quad and quickly stumbled onto an unexpected event – a portion of the quad was assigned to students and others to produce a daily newspaper entitled, “The Stanford Daily.” I was immediately fascinated by this and began a long conversation with a gal who was at the facility. I don’t know if she was a student or an employee of the University, however, she asked me if I would like to write a weekly column for the paper covering the activities of the ASTP [Army Specialized Training Program]. And, of course, I immediately accepted and it became, for me, the most interesting and entertaining event in my approximately eight months at Stanford University.
Through the efforts of my niece, Nancy Dydo-Shanley, most of the ASTP articles that were published in the Stanford Daily have been retrieved. Unfortunately, the one I wanted the most, couldn’t be located.
That story was the Sebastian Bruno Dumb Sergeant story, which evolves as follows:
Being in the Army, even as a college student, we were required each day to clean our rooms, make up our beds and report at a specific time for a military lineup and inspection every morning to make sure we were shaved and our Army uniforms were clean and appropriately worn.
On the hallway, near our door, with our name on a small calling card was inserted into a small holder. On one morning the obese sergeant called out, “Private Sebastian Bruno, your dormitory is a mess and your bed – step forward for your punishment.” No one stepped forward. He repeated his call again. The rest of us began to smile, giggle and laugh, as we knew there was no Sebastian Bruno in the outfit. The little name cards outside our dorms often had cards still in their holders of former students. The soldier in question had put the old card of a Sebastian Bruno in front of his card. I immediately wrote a condemning, sarcastic dumb sergeant story regarding the Sebastian Bruno gaffe. The day after printing, I was summoned to the Captain’s office where, in private, I was politely informed that I should never criticize any officer again in my articles. Of course, I agreed. However, the twinkle in his eye led me to believe that the article exposing the Sergeant was actually somewhat pleasing.
Besides writing for the Stanford Daily, another interesting and enjoyable event that occurred, was the meeting of three Army black students, housed in one dormitory room. I had never been associated with any blacks, but being raised in a Christian family and never hearing any prejudicial talk against any race or religion. I had no problem walking into their dorm and talking to them. One was named Corbin (last name), another had a Japanese name that I can’t recall and the third was named Jim Brown. Jim was extremely likeable and we quickly became friends, going swimming and playing basketball together. Two things I remember vividly about racial discrimination – one night we decided to go to the Palo Alto Theater to see a movie. When we approached the cashier outside the entrance, I was told, “You can go in, but your friend can’t.” That enraged me – a soldier in the U S Army can’t see a movie! We both left. I think I was angrier than Jimmy, probably because the discrimination was not a new event for him.
Another time, I was sitting in the back row of the auditorium, where I always sat, and waiting for a lecture from the professor, when I saw Jimmy come in a go down to the front row to sit in an empty seat next to a soldier from Georgia. The Georgia soldier immediately got up and proceeded elsewhere. This so incensed me that I got up, bumping my way through fellow students and headed for the front row to occupy the seat vacated by the Georgia soldier. I patted Jimmy on the shoulder and talked to him while we waited for the start of the lecture. Later, I advised Jimmy not to hold back his knowledge/wisdom and talents (which I think he was doing) and I hope he became a successful doctor.
A couple of perks came out of my assignment to Stanford. During a semester break, I hitch hiked (with a fellow student) to National City to visit Lois and her children, Beverly and Herbert. They were probably 5 or 6 years old at the time (1944). Somehow I got to San Diego and met up with Lola, who had separated from “Cookie.” I didn’t ask her why and she didn’t offer an explanation, but she seemed quite happy. Later in my life, her daughter, Renee Harris gave me a picture of Lola and me taken on a dock in San Diego. On our way to National City, we arranged to stop at the Hollywood Canteen. I remember a gorgeous girl there in a tight fitting gown acting as a receptionist. But there was nothing going on, it was extremely disappointing, so we only stayed about ten minutes.
I went to a dance or two with Iraleen Sharp while at Stanford – even though I told her I couldn’t dance. She said I could, she would get up so close to me that somehow she could follow all my out of sync steps without me stepping on her feet. When I told her I really liked her, she promptly broke off the relationship.
Just before Christmas, I went to an officer and told him I wanted out – that I didn’t want to be a doctor. I am not sure to this day what actually motivated me. It was probably a host of several influences.
1. Reading about the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge tore at my conscience. Being at a prestigious college, fooling around, not really interested in becoming a doctor and having a good time, made me feel guilty.
2. Possibly the rejection of Iraleen Sharp helped.
3. Lack of preparation for final exams. Lack of study the entire twelve weeks.
At any rate, my offer to quit was quickly accepted and I was soon (a few days before Christmas) on my way to another Texas Basic Training Camp.
I arrived in Texas on Christmas Eve. I was acutely aware of the other soldiers celebrating Christmas. I was despondent, heart broken, realizing that what ever had motivated me to do what I had done was quite stupid!
Other than the feelings of despair, frustration, fear, on Christmas Eve at the empty, except for me, infantry barracks in Texas, I remember nothing about the time spent in Texas (not even the name of the camp). I was in complete mental shutdown. The mental shutdown ended when we were taken to a train to embark on overseas duty. I remember being pleased that the train was headed for New York rather than the West Coast. I had the delusion that it would be better to lose your life in Europe than in Asia.
The train arrived in New York and after being provided with new uniforms, a sleeping bag, a new rifle and other infantry material that loaded a large backpack to the max, we boarded the Queen Mary for departure to Europe. On boarding, everyone was taken to his assigned room. I was assigned to a room that was about eight by ten feet and had three tier bunk beds on at least three or four of the walls able to accommodate nine or twelve soldiers. I immediately decided I wouldn’t sleep in this room. This was the first of a few audacious things during my tour overseas tour. I wandered around the ship and decided to sleep on the deck in my sleeping bag. Quite a few fellow soldiers decided to do the same. The added perk was a large movie screen on deck. I think I slept there every night watching a movie with Ingrid Bergman. I don’t remember the title of the movie, but I was always an admirer of her beauty and acting skills. After two or three nights, I received the surprising news that we were to land at Glasgow, Scotland. The ride to that time had been as smooth as a train ride, but large waves were encountered entering the seaport, so several soldiers became seasick. I remember being in the dinning room (the table was made of steel and had a vertical two inch upright border), everything was sliding back and forth making it impossible for anyone to eat. Ashore we were quickly boarded onto a train to proceed, I believe, to Portsmouth, England. Sitting by a window enjoying my first tour of a European county, I was immediately impressed that it seemed every square foot was immaculately cared for and cultivated; no land left wild and natural as is common in the USA.
On arrival in Portsmouth, we were quickly, if not immediately, put on ferries crossing the English Channel to France. From there, by freight train, we started to southern France. I remember, at some stops, young French girls and boys, maybe 6 – 8 years old or less, cheering us. In response, the soldiers gave out candy bars to the appreciative children. We actually started to learn a few words of French by talking to the children.
Another early experience was stopping at a Hitler Youth Camp and talking to a young German boy who spoke excellent English who still believed vehemently and frequently in a German victory despite the landing at Normandy and our victory at the Battle of the Bulge. Another experience (and I can’t recall when) we took over a house as quarters in southern France. The man of the house, a railroad employee, treated us with his liquor and the use of his car. He had a young daughter and the morning after we slept there, she came down from her upstairs bedroom and announced to all of us, “You guys are in a lot of trouble.” We asked, “Why do you say that.” She said, “I know, I heard it on Radio Berlin.” On the impact of propaganda! All the facts, events of the war, to that date meant nothing compared to the brainwashing propaganda of Radio Berlin.
The next stop was at Battalion Headquarters in Nancy, France. Assigned to 3rd Division, Company K, 274th Division, one of the first things they took was the new rifle I had brought from the states. In exchange, I was given a smaller, antiquated rifle, with several notches on the wood shoulder portion of the rifle. Everyone then took practice at shooting at small paper targets probably only 30 feet away. I failed to hit my target. I was asked why by the person in charge; my answer was, “I have no idea. I was an expert marksman in the states.”
Later that day, I made another audacious decision. We were on the outskirts of the city Nancy, which had a special feeling for me, as I practically gre up with my sister Nancy and I wanted to see at least a portion of the city. I told my fellow soldiers that I was going to walk into the city. They told me I couldn’t do that; I would be AWOL and subject to discipline. My thoughts were, “I’m heading into battle, what could they do?” and started on my hike into town. After a mile or two, I was in apportion of the city and I saw a sign in French easily recognizable – “Restauranti.” So I went in. It must have been lunchtime, as the restaurant was practically full. As soon as I walked in, a young pretty lady hostess immediately directed me to a table. I noticed that the customers had all become silent. The hostess handed me a large beautiful menu to match the beautiful linen, tableware and silver. The menu was quite large and I was trying to decipher the menu from French into English. I couldn’t. And I wondered what could I say with the few French words I had learned in my few days in France. When the hostess/waitress came back, I said in a loud voice, “Beaucoup, monji, tootsweet.” The restaurant roared with laughter! A rough translation is: “A lot to eat in a hurry.” She must have brought me immediately the special of the day: tea, soup and plenty to eat. I don’t remember what it was, but it was delicious. When she came back with the bill, I just laid out my French francs on the table, “gaucher a gestore,” that I meant and she understood, “take what is fair.” I am sure she took very little.
Thanks to Colonel Wallace R. Cheves who complied and edited a historical book of the 274th Infantry Regiment, 20th Division in World War II. I was better able to define where (snow, ridges, pillboxes) and when I was during my brief and lucky experiences on the front line in World War II.
“March 8th, Sgt. Joseph Walsh, of the Regimental Classification
Section, brought up several hundred new replacements to fill the gaps in the ranks left after the losses suffered in the battle of Stiring-Wendel. Most companies were still not up to full strength but they were again strong enough to continue the attack. Most of the new men had arrived overseas only a couple of weeks previously and were receiving their first introduction to combat.
‘If any of you guys think this is going to be easy, you’re sadly mistaken,’ warned 1st Sgt. “Blowhard” Wolz of K Co. ‘Not two hundred yards in front of you men, in the direction you’re looking, are Krauts. Live ones, ready to shoot the first man who sticks his head out.’ The crashing of shells in the background and the croak of screaming meemies made his speech of welcome even more effective. ‘You are members of King Company, 274th Infantry,’ continued Wolz. ‘A few days ago this outfit made an attack on the town you’re now in. It wasn’t easy and we lost over half the company doing it. That’s why you men are here…to fill the shoes of the men we lost. And let me tell you that’s a big job.’”
The records show that from March 3 to March 15, fourteen Company K soldiers were killed in action. Seven more were killed on unknown dates, and this was only Company K. Many more were killed or injured in other Companies of the 274th Division, 272 were killed between 4 Jan 1945 and 26 April 1945.
I’m not sure I was meeting, but I am sure now it was Stiring-Wendel. I remember arriving at nightfall and being awed at the number of tanks positioned along each side of the street. I recall being ensconced with others in a dark basement along the street. As soon as I saw Sgt. Wolz, it was obvious from his appearance (his eyes were swollen and black, clothes dirty, baggy with cloth hanging out of his pockets) that he had been through Hell. After his opening remarks, that I don’t recall, but were probably as described in the book, “Snow, Ridges and Pillboxes,” he started to ask for volunteers for various positions in the infantry. When he came to Lead Scout or 1st Scout, I impudently and stupidly volunteered for that position. My belief is he asked for volunteers so he would feel less responsible for injuries and death that could occur to soldiers under his command, due to his decision.
My next memory was being sent out on an aggressive night patrol into possible enemy territory. With a sergeant running the open-topped jeep, and two others, I was sitting behind the driver with my antiquated notched rifle. I remember thinking, as the jeep traveled at high-speeds over open ground, I hope he can drive this fast, if we encounter anything. Fortunately, nothing happened.
I think (but didn’t at the time) the ride was a prelude for Company K’s walk toward Saarbricken through the “Hurgen” forest. The walk started with me as the Lead Scout of the 1st Platoon. It was a mild day, early in the morning, but quite foggy. It was like walking through a wooded natural park except there were huge fortified walls built over the roadways. How I (and that I) continued to walk calmly toward these fortifications is unbelievable. But the fear of the unknown disappears when you are in actual action. It was obvious, however, if these fortifications were manned with armed soldiers that I and the soldiers close behind me would be prime candidates for the “white cross” or at best WIA (wounded in action).
After going around one or two of these fortifications, I suddenly spotted a man on a bicycle coming toward us through the fog. I immediately and calmly raised my rifle and aimed it at the chest of the rider. I needed an instant decision. Was this an enemy soldier or an innocent civilian? I saw a suspicious object on his hip, and opened fire. Two shots and then my gun jammed. In a nano second, the bike and rider, to my amazement, made a ninety degree turn and disappeared into the fog. Someone called out, “What was that?” I explained I had shot at what I thought was a soldier, missed him, and that he had turned around and headed back. The Sergeant then said, “Why in the Hell didn’t you let him come in?” I did not answer. I knew the obvious answer, however. I was young, dumb inexperienced and untrained in the proper response to the situation. I was, however, completely amazed that my shots, shots fired calmly and directly at his chest in such a shot distance, had missed their target. The Sergeant and I examined the rifle and found the cause – my worn, outdated, abused, old rifle had a front sight probably one-quarter inch off center. My shots probably didn’t even come close. At the time, I thought how stupid of the Battalion to take a new rifle brought by me from the States and substitute and old worn out and beaten rifle to a soldier heading for the front lines of action. After the war, I was glad of the stupid Battalion decision, because it saved a life, whether civilian or soldier. And it saved me from guilty memories.
The rest of the trip through the woods and the fortifications was uneventful and either hat day or the next we arrived at Saarbrucken along the Saar River. I and three or four other soldiers were assigned to a brick building on the banks of the Saar. To get to this building and to conceal us from the Germans on the other bank, we crawled through an adjacent building’s upper floor attic, then out a window to part of the building at a first floor level, then across an asphalt drive that went directly down to the shore of the Saar River (probably a ferry stop) and then into the building. I had been given another rifle, not a new one, but a Springfield sniper rifle and, though I was a rookie replacement, I was put in charge of overseeing and guiding the three or four, who were probably rookie replacements, also. Each day for each meal we had to leave our assigned quarters on the river and return to where he mess hall was situated and then return to our assigned position. We were all aware that we were visible to the Germans, especially when we crossed the asphalt road to the Saar River. At this time, I made another stupid, untrained decision – to go across the road one at a time so if any fire occurred, only one of us would be in danger. The first two got across without fire, the third attracted machine gun fire that tore up holes in the asphalt behind his feet, but fortunately he wasn’t hit. I can’t believe to this day that we all laughed at the incident. Seeing this was like seeing Kramer in the Sienfield series stumbling into a room. Actually, I remember, he looked like Kramer!
Of course, this incident taught me a lesson not received in basic training and the lesson is to make your actions a surprise. On all future crossings, we all went at once and received no gunfire. In another incident, we had an additional soldier on our trip back to the river site and as we were crossing through the upper floor of the adjacent building, I gave my Springfield rifle to the new soldier to carry. As he was crawling through the upstairs window to access the lower level, the rifle fired and the bullet creased his right temple. He immediately fell. The others came quickly back and hauled him away. I’ve always wonder if the shot was fatal, it would have been March 17, 18, or 19 and the records from the Company K book list no one killed on these days so, hopefully, it was not fatal.
On March 18, 1945, I and another soldier were sleeping on the second floor of the assigned building overlooking the Saar. We were suddenly awakened by machine gun fire crashing through the window above my head. I finally was getting smarter, so I restrained the other soldier from rising up immediately and exposing himself to more fire. No more enemy fire came. After our lunch trip and meal, a couple of soldiers from intelligence came to see us and said they had information that the Germans had retreated. We found that hard to believe and told them about the machine gun fire in the morning. We said, “You’re crazy!”
From “Snow, Ridges and Pillboxes,”
“Early in the morning of the 19th at 0210, orders came down from Division that it was of the utmost importance that patrols be sent across the river immediately to find out if the enemy had withdrawn; so Col. Landstrom was ordered to dispatch some patrols from the 3rd Bn without delay. Col Landstrom was hesitant about sending men across without being certain that they would not be caught in friendly artillery fire. Division and Crops may have said there were no Krauts on the other side, but machine gun tracers and artillery were falling all through the 3rd Bn area.
Col. Landstrom balked at urgent regimental orders to get his patrols over immediately. After his persistent refusals to cross without proper artillery clearance Col. Conley called him on the telephone ordering; “Go ahead in the area planned without delay or I’ll get someone else to do it.”
Col. Landstrom still would not go ahead without assurance that artillery would not be fired on his own troops. Col. Conley promised he would take full responsibility to see that no artillery fell on 3d Bn patrols, and told Landstrom to get going fast or he would put someone else in to do the job. The 3d Bn CO would not go ahead with only that information.
“Do it or be relieved of your command,” answered Col. Conley. Landstrom still refused. He was then relieved and Major Durbin, the Executive Officer, was placed in command. Major Durbin arranged to send one patrol and got others ready although he wasn’t enthused over the idea at all.
The first rubber boat loads were made ready. All drew heavy fire from the opposite shore. Durbin reported in that the pillboxes were occupied and were not favorable to an uninvited crossing. In the meantime, Col. Landstrom reported to the Regimental CP and Col. Conley reinstated him as CO of the 3d Bn.
Another patrol was sent across the river at 0500 and got about halfway across when it was stopped by machine gun and artillery fire and was forced to return. Patrols pushed down to the river bank at frequent intervals to draw fire. If the Germans had withdrawn on paper they certainly hadn’t in fact. All day on the 19th, machine guns from the enemy shore tore through the streets of Gersweiler and hammered at the 3rd Bn CP.
The original plan had been for the 276th Infantry to make the initial assault crossing and all anti-tank guns in the area had been placed under that regiment’s control to support the operation; however, plans were being changed now and it looked as though the 274th would spearhead again.
Col. Landstrom asked for permission to fire on the pillboxes across the way with these anti-tank guns. Permission was delayed until 1720 in the afternoon…
After receiving the regimental order, Col. Landstrom announced his 3d Bn plan for crossing as follows:
“Co I to cross first, followed by K and then L at 15 minute intervals. Co M heavy machine guns to cross with the leading companies – and mortars to support from the south bank. H hour to be at 0430, preceded by a 30-minute artillery preparation by 882d FA Bn and reinforcing artillery…
The plan had been formulated and announced, and now it was up to us to execute it. About 0300 someone came around and told us to get ready, that we were moving out. We formed in front of our company CPs to prepare for the march to the river. Involuntarily, we started talking in whispers and low voices. Following our engineer guides, we walked through the towns in total darkness in the direction of the river. Finally we reached a point about 200 yards from the stream, where we were divided into groups of nine to twelve men and assigned to boats. Each group had two engineers who were to take us across the stream. They told us they could get us to the opposite bank in a minute or less, and we felt a lot better about the whole business.
We arrived at the river’s edge a few minutes before the artillery was to begin, and in that period of dark silence we began to wonder again what it would be like. We knew some Germans were still on the other side because they had been throwing machine gun fire into our positions all night long. But would there be enough of them to cut us down as we hit the water? We prayed there wouldn’t be, and yet deep down inside we could build up no conviction that this was to be an easy task.
Promptly at 0400, our artillery let loose. First we heard the familiar “whisper” of the shells as they passed over our heads. It was a nice sound, a reassuring sound. A moment later the whole opposite shore exploded in a mass of light. Brilliant white flashes of the phosphorous shells were popping all along the north bank, lighting up the whole scene. Then the 3-inchers and the AA guns joined the chorus in a beautiful show of destruction. Many of us were standing on the road watching the display when some of our own shell fragments began landing among us. We moved into lower ground nearer the river where we had a little better protection. We were all enthusiastic and thrilled by the heaviest and most concentrated preparation we had ever seen. One of the fellows remarked, ‘Boy this is wonderful!’ Some of the engineers must not have felt as we did for one of them answered, ‘My God! What’s so wonderful about it?’”
Of course, I was in one of those boats and I, too, was completely amazed at the firepower with large shells careening around the insides of masonry buildings. The largest fireworks display I have seen in my lifetime, making large 4th of July celebrations look anemic.
As there was no returning fire from the enemy, I was completely calm (helped, of course, by my ignorance and inexperience). A fellow soldier had somehow accidentally dropped his helmet in the river and was visibly upset and terrified. I couldn’t understand why and offered him my helmet, which the engineer Lieutenant stopped me from doing. I found out later why. He had been in the serious battles of March 3rd/March 8th and had witnessed killing. He had treated the wounded soldiers and was eventually awarded a Silver Star for his actions.
As soon as we reached shore, the artillery firing ceased and we started going through buildings that had been nearly demolished by the artillery fire. I remember finding dishes on tables with uneaten food abandoned by the Germans. I also found one German pistol. There were as many as 14 Germans taken as prisoners.
With the Germans in retreat, my unit and others were quickly reorganized and sent north.
Again from “Snowflakes, Ridges and Pillboxes”:
“At 1230 we pulled up in the deserted streets of Saarbrucken to wait for further orders. While resting, a civilian came up and told us that there were a number of German sympathizers close by. Headquarters platoon received permission to organize a four-man group of volunteers – Pfcs. Boudreaux, Fasso, Jones and Stewart – who went out to pick up all they could find. With the civilian as guide, the men started out, and in half an hour had rounded up 19 persons. They were just ready to move back when five German soldiers came walking up with their hands over their heads.
After a rest, we began marching again. Most of us were well loaded with loot by this time, and as we moved farther and farther we began dropping off various items which somehow kept getting in our way. We passed several towns and tried to locate George Co but had no luck because, as we learned later, that company was far ahead.
George Co was far ahead all right. Already that company was in Bildstock several miles to the front and had made contact there with the leading elements from the Third Army. The story behind this unexpected surge of George Co begins earlier in the day when Col. Conley first learned of Col. Landstrom’s uncontested crossing of the Saar.”
I am not sure exactly where I was this night, probably Bildstock, even with the help of this historical book. I do remember going into a small town and being halted by a fellow soldier and asked for ID. Some guys were really scared of everything. As I recall, several Germans were captured at this location, prior to my and Co K’s arrival.
Finally the section of Company K that I was with, found a place to sleep in a house next to a railroad track. By this time, we were all tired and exhausted – and sleep was welcome.
Early the next morning, in the upper room of the building (a family’s home) we occupied next to a railroad track, a fellow soldier alerted me to the fact that we could see a German soldier in a foxhole on the other side of the tracks behind some bushes. I looked and could see the soldier clearly – probably 40 or 50 feet away. I was immediately struck by his blonde hair, blue eyes (my vision was excellent then) and his apparent youth. He looked to be maybe 15 or 16 years old. I still had the Springfield sniper rifle and if it was as accurate as the 22-caliber rifle the Roadys had given me in my youth, I could have shot him between the eyes in that short distance. However, he didn’t know where we were (or so we believed) and, if we fired from our location, we would disclose our position. We decided to use our phone system to direct artillery fire at the foxhole. Through our phone system, several mortars were fired in his direction and after each fire, we could see where it hit and would advise the mortar crew to move left, right, farther or lesser. But regardless, no hits were made and when there was no return fire, we ceased our firing.
The next morning, the foxhole was vacated and the unit proceeded forward. I remember no further military action. At our next stop, we were located in another small house along railroad tracks – nothing exciting was happening. The Sergeant, I can’t recall his name, was sitting in a chair fooling around with a German hand pistol he had found the night for the Saar River crossing. Suddenly, the pistol fired and the bullet struck him in the knee. Of course, he was immediately evacuated to the hospital. Months later, when I was in Idstein, Germany, I was interviewed by Intelligence questioning whether it was an accident or on purpose. I said I saw nothing but an accident. Even though I knew he had been through rough times, it would be hard for me to believe he would do this to avoid future service – although it was possible.
The next few days were uneventful until one morning with my left jaw swollen, I immediately felt I had contracted the mumps. After showing my condition to the Lieutenant, I was put on a truck to go back to Battalion.
The rough truck ride over brick roads was probably six or seven miles. With my limited knowledge, I was afraid the condition might descend to my testicles. When I finally got to the Battalion, I was taken to a house where the Lt. MD and a Sergeant were playing darts. The doctor took a quick look, felt my jaw, and sent me back (could he have thought I somehow did this to myself to avoid service?). At any rate, the next morning, the right jaw was swollen and I had to take another trip back to the Battalion. The doctor now said, “Well, I guess you’ve got the mumps alright.” I also got another truck ride to a temporary hospital.
After a short stay, I recovered and was shipped to a repo-depot in Namur, Belgian. I spent three or four weeks here (having a good time) mostly playing ping-pong with a soldier who had been employed by Dunn & Bradstreet back in the States. I was then shipped out, along with twenty or twenty-five others, on a freight car, destination unknown (as usual). We, of course, were anxious to find out our destination. I became friendly with another soldier who had brought a book on the trip that had a small map naming the towns in northern France. We kept watching the town signs along the way and after we had passed through three or four towns, we concluded we were on a direct route to Paris. This excited us so that we said to the Lieutenant, “When do we get to Paris?” He laughed, “Where did you get that silly idea?” When we showed him the map and the towns we had passed, he became disturbed and he somehow managed to stop the train. He got off and we saw him and the train engineer talking loudly to each other, waving their arms about. He returned to our car, not saying anything. I don’t know if he changed the direction we were heading or not, but we stopped at Worms, Germany, which was our destination.
8 May 1945 – VE Day – WW II with Germany ends! I don’t remember this event at all! I was probably still in repo-depot in Namur, Belgium.
We arrived in Worms, Germany on or about 5 August 1945. Sometime on 6 August 1945, we found out that the first atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Somehow I knew the enormity of this event. This bomb killed over 100,000 people and virtually eliminated the city. Despite this horrific event to the Japanese people, I was elated. I knew this was the beginning of the end. I asked fellow soldiers to go out with me and celebrate, but they were not impressed. One said, “Crap, its just another bomb.” No one would go out with me to celebrate. Of course, three days later a more powerful atom bomb fell on Nagasaki, and the Emperor of Japan called for peace.
Shortly thereafter, I was taken to Idstein, Germany and reunited with Company K, 274th Infantry. Since I had been only with Company K a month or less (8 March 1944 to possibly 8 April, when I was sent to the hospital with my mumps), I’m not sure how many, if any, of the troops I remember. Regardless, I was quickly assigned a job as the company clerk.
My duties as company clerk included assigning soldiers to probably 8 or 10 outposts (residences where soldiers were stationed at various residences within the city). I probably just kept assigning the soldiers to sites that I was given. When I took over, I started getting complaints about he lack of changes in the schedule, so I decided to vist the sites (by Jeep) to find out why some sites were so desired by other soldiers. I soon found the secret. About the third residence I visited, I found a soldier in bed with two young girls, one on each side. It was afternoon and although in bed, they were fully clothed. I got the picture ad so started making some changes in site scheduling.
Another assignment was writing up war events as told to me by soldiers that would qualify for medals, including the Bronze and Silver Stars. One that caught my attention was a recommendation for a medal for PFC Martin L. Frischmann for actions he took on 3 March 1945. He was awarded he Bronze Star. He was the soldier on the boat with me on 20 March 144 whose helmet fell in the river and I couldn’t understand why he seemed so terrified. Now I understood. Approximately 14 Company K soldiers were killed in action 3 March – 15 March and many more were severely wounded.
While at Idstein, Germany, I became a friend of PFC Gerald Berkowitz, obviously of Jewish ancestry, so he took the name of Jerry Brown to understandably conceal his Jewish heritage. He decided, with top official approval (I assume), to open a GI tavern in a downtown location that the outfit had taken over. I remember going out with him in the company Jeep, and securing from various sources, bottles of cognac, vodka, Champaign, beer, all of which I believe may have been taken without paying. I had the job of evening waiter, taking orders, delivering the drinks, and collecting the fees that were given to Jerry. This was an every night event.
One night two Military Police arrived in a Jeep. As they came in and sat down at a table, I thought, “Boy, we are now in real trouble!” I went over to their table and they asked what we had. I mentioned cognac, vodka, Champaign. When I said, “Champaign,” they said, “Really?” I said, “Yes.” They ordered the Champaign and now I knew my supposed crisis was over.
I usually didn’t drink myself. But one night while cleaning up the bar around midnight, a General brought in a young gorgeous blond into the bar. He then immediately left. She sat down and asked for a drink and as I served her, she asked me to sit down and drink with her. She spoke excellent English and I learned she lived upstairs over the bar. I cannot recall anything we spoke about, but after an hour or so of enjoyable conversation and steady drinking, I decided to go back to my station. Walking back to my station (drunk), I fell into a ditch along side the road and upon climbing out, was met by a couple of my fellow soldiers out on patrol who exclaimed, “Private Berry, we can’t believe that it’s you!”
I think I was in Idstein, Germany about three months – August, September, and October of 1945. Soldiers with longer service were being shipped back to the States on a regular basis. Probably on the last day of Company K at Idstein, I was taken to General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany and was assigned to General Whitten of G-4 as a personal file clerk. This was, I think, about November or December 1945.
My assignment as a file clerk under General Whitten would have been extremely boring except that I could spend most of each day reading top secret files. Many were about scandals and misdeeds, arrests and court marshals. One I remember in particular was a top-secret report documenting how inferior in quality US tanks were compared to German tanks. Most of my time was spent in a back room office with these voluminous files. I would see General Whitten only occasionally when called, during regular office hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. One evening I had locked up all the files shortly before quitting time, when I received a call to go to General Whitten, who handed me some papers to file. I said, “General Whitten, I’ve already locked up all the files. Why can’t we wait until tomorrow?” His female secretary, a Major or Colonel, immediately scolded me, “Private Berry, don’t you realize you are talking to a General of the United States Army?” The General didn’t seem upset, he just said, “Okay, I will lock them in my desk till morning.”
I remember only one other event with General Whitten. He came into the office immensely agitated, angry and stalking around the office. I said, “General, what’s the matter?” He said, “That SOB Eisenhower didn’t give me a promotion, another star.” I think he was a three-star. I said, “So what are you going to do?” He said, “I’m leaving tomorrow by plane for the States.” I thought, “How can he do that?” Well he did. I never saw him again.
Incidentally, during my three or four months at Eisenhower’s headquarters, I saw General Eisenhower only once for a couple of seconds, as he was entering a limo.
There were a couple of nice perks while being assigned to Eisenhower’s headquarters. One was an organized skiing trip to southern France. However, when we arrived in Paris, I decided to go AWOL, as I would rather be in Paris. I was impressed with the Champs-Elysées, the Seine River, the architecture and the subway system, which was so easy to understand as the routes were posted graphically on the subway walls. There were, and probably still is, an area in France known for prostitution. With the simple mapping system, I had no problem getting there. Visiting a bar and having a drink, I immediately got an invitation with a good looking gal to go out to a better place for dinner. We went to a basement nightclub that had live entertainment featuring a sexy female singer and excellent meals. Later, we went to her hotel and when she undressed, I saw she had many little black sores all over her body…probably due to drug injections. However, it scared the Hell out of me and I decided – no sex! Knowing they would steal my money, I took my money out of my wallet and with a rubber band, placed it on top of the toilet float. It was late and we both went to sleep quickly. Sure enough, in the middle of the night, I woke up to see her going through my wallet – finding nothing – and swearing that we Americans were just as bad as the Nazis. After some sleep, I woke up. She was still sound asleep. I retrieved my money, laid some bills on the bed and left the room and the hotel. I hope I left a sufficient amount to at least pay the hotel bill!
Another nice perk was a trip to Switzerland. Our first stop was Geneva on the lovely Lake Leman. We were escorted immediately to a jewelry and watch store. We were told how much money we could spend, and since I had some extra money (by selling my ration of cigarettes), I was nervous until an employee, sensing my nervousness, nudged me and said, “Don’t worry, all these officers have illegal money.” So I bought a watch. I became friends with a fellow soldier and the first night we spent in a nightclub, having a good time with three or four Swiss gals.
The next morning, the tour guide explained the itinerary for the next day or two. That involved, of course, visiting historical and governmental sites. We quickly decided we wanted to go through Switzerland by ourselves and not with the group. So we began to interrogate the tour guide as to where the tour would be traveling throughout the trip. He caught on and said, “I know what you guys are thinking, the tour ends at Lugano, Switzerland on (he gave the date) and the name of the hotel, and if you’re not there, I never told you!”
We went immediately to the train station and headed for Lugano, a resort town in southern Switzerland on Lake Lago di Garda. From this location, you can take a rail partway up the Matter horn mountain, a magnificent mountain with a chisel like face on one side. If I were to ever go back to Switzerland again, Lugano would be my first choice. We spent two or three days there and it was wonderful.
Late March 1946, I was shipped out to LeHarve, France for departure and discharge back to the States. While waiting, I and other soldiers were given the assignment to clean dirty, greasy rifles on a warm, sunny day. Finding this assignment dirty, disgusting and unnecessary, in my opinion, I decided I’d rather take a walk around the area. Shortly thereafter I noticed steel half-round buildings that some soldiers were entering. I decided to go in and find out what was going on.
Upon entering, I found a nice liquor bar. When I sat down, I was asked what I wanted to drink. I ordered something and was served, ordered again and then noticed a Lieutenant sitting at a table with a good-looking gal. My interest attracted the attention of the Lieutenant and he came over and asked me, “Private, who are you driving for?” I said, “No one, sir.” He said, “Private, this is an Officer’s Club and you have to leave.” Oh well, it was better than cleaning dirty rifles.
On 3 April 1946, I boarded a Liberty Ship to return to the States. Compared to the Queen Mary, this ship was trash. I stayed in my bunk, ate K-rations and read several Eugene O’Neil books from the ship’s library for the nine-day trip to New York Harbor.
We arrived in New York on 12 April 1946. The first thing I wanted to do was find a store or restaurant to order milk! The look of stunned amazement on their faces let me know this was an unusually order for a soldier returning to the USA. But, I hadn’t had a glass of milk in the fourteen months I’d been overseas and I enjoyed it more than any other liquid I could have ordered.
On 25 April 1946, I was discharged from Fort Sheridan. My first acts upon being discharged were to dump my Army outfit in a trash bin and buy a new suit. I then found a plastic surgeon to reduce my protruding ears. I took dance lessons at a Fred Astair Studio, but after several days was still not really a dancer.
I found out that Betty Ruth Johnson was living in Hamilton, Ohio. I went to visit her and found she was engaged. I as so disappointed, I only stayed a few minutes. She was probably completely stunned by my visit. If she hadn’t been engaged, I would have asked her to marry me – possibly. But, since I had no job or savings, and there had been a recession, in retrospect, if I had proposed and she had said yes… But it was certainly in my mind.
Eventually, I made it back to the University of Illinois in the fall of 1946. With credits from Texas College of Mines, plus Stanford University, and additional credits from the U of I from the fall semester, the college created a special degree – College of Special Services – and gave me a Bachelor’s Degree in the spring of 1947. During this time Russell finished his Master’s Degree.
After graduating, Russell got a car to drive to California for free and several of us joined him for a trip to California, via Layton, Utah. There we would see our sister and my favorite brother-in-law, Reed Harris. I drove for about 5 minutes, nearly wrecking Russell’s car. I had no driving experience.
In Utah, Lola was able to get me a government job at the Naval Base. I took the civil service exam and qualified for a grade 7 and grade 9 position as a file clerk. I never understood, and was never advised of, the value of this job.
I was fascinated with a petite girl of Japanese ancestry and thought about asking her out. Lola didn’t have a problem with my thinking, but I was afraid of the prejudice of others and never asked her out.
Reed loaned me his car, even though I had never driven a car before I had driven Russell’s, which I had almost wrecked. Lola arranged a date with a beautiful gal, but her Mormon religion and my unorthodox beliefs were not a good match and I decided Utah was not the place for me.
I quit my job and went to Somerville, New Jersey, where I lived free of charge with my sister, Nancy, and her husband, Del Hein for three months. There I met my niece and nephew, Susan and Jim, who were two or three years old at the time. I had a delightful time.
I finally got a call from the US Government regarding my civil service test in Utah. I had to go to Chicago, IL for the interview. The interviewer said, “You must really want this job to come here from New Jersey.” I agreed and he signed me up for a job with the government Rent Control Agency in Cleveland that had started during the war and was in all states.
I was assigned to various cities to evaluate and issue report on whether rent control should be continued or discontinued. I talked to local administrators for their viewpoints, got statistics on the number of rentals vs. private homes, etc. I took plane trips to various cities, including Kalamazoo, MI. Of all the places I visited and in all the reports I filed, I recommended removing rent control. Shortly, I was assigned to the Rent Control Office in Cleveland. There I was put to reviewing petitions for rental increases throughout the city.
I had another lucky accident; I met Mr. Marvin Cook, a lifetime resident of the Cleveland area, who was well informed of the economics of the city. He was especially knowledgeable of real estate values. He quickly became my mentor, as we toured the city inspecting houses and apartments petitioning for rent increases. The knowledge I gained from him on real estate values undoubtedly helped me later on in life when my son and I started T. Berry Construction, building homes. One apartment we visited – a frame structure – was in a deplorable condition. While I was standing in the downstairs entry foyer, a toilet was flushed on the second floor and water poured through the ceiling and hit me on the head. We not only denied the application for a rent increase, but also recommended a rent decrease. The landlord appeared at a review board (a group of citizens not employed by the government). At the hearing, the landlord brought in a box of receipts to verify what he claimed he had spent on the property and how well it was maintained. The board, without examining or questioning the receipts, promptly ruled in the landlord’s favor. This so incensed us; we should have had pictures of the property. I went out and purchased with my own money a nice Kodak camera with a flash attachment. On all future cases, we took pictures and were never over-ruled again. The camera was another lucky accident. I now have pictures of my wife, children, relatives and vacations that we took with this camera, preserving memories of the best years of my life.
WORKING FOR OTHERS
After leaving my government job in rent control in 1954, due to the closing of the agency, my first job was working for Bonnar-Vanter, a manufacturer of business forms. I was assigned to the Production Control Office. Lessons learned: Basic skills developed in machine loading, scheduling using a Cardex system (which would be easily handled on a computer today – but was easily handled then with the interchangeable Cardex system). Meeting scheduled shipping dates was not a problem. A scheduling exception: I was called by a Vice-President to explain why a valuable customer had not received their forms. Before going to his office, I investigated and found the order had been in the planning department 6 weeks, as it was a complicated new design and no one wanted the problem. (There was no schedule mandate in the planning department.) I was angry/infuriated that I was being criticized for a problem over which I had no control. After a short visit with the VP, explaining with anger and vigor the reason for the scheduling mishap, he said to me, “I have always admired righteous indignation” and put me in charge of scheduling the planning department as well as the manufacturing facility. The lesson: That a show of “righteous indignation” when innocent is appropriate has stayed with me throughout life.
Al Schrenk, my co-worker, and my boss came in one morning and suddenly Al announced he had stopped smoking. I asked how he was going to do that and he said, “Well, I’ve told everyone – my parents, my friends, my in-laws. I couldn’t betray that trust by smoking again.” Since I had been thinking about quitting myself, I decided instantly to quit, and, without telling him, threw my last cigarettes in the trash bin. Finally, near quitting time, he suddenly said, “Hey, I haven’t seen you smoke today.” I said, “No, I quit when you did.” He was elated. “Great! With this competition, it will make it easier for me to quit.”
I had started smoking when I arrived in Europe in World War II. Probably, I wanted to appear macho. I never was a heavy smoker. I think it was more of a habit than an addiction. As each day passed, it got easier, though I was constantly reaching for cigarettes in my now empty shirt pocket. Finally, after two weeks of abstinence, I was reaching for cigarettes in my shirt pocket less frequently. At the start of the third week, Al came in on Monday morning and announced, “I started smoking again.” Startled, I asked, “Why, Al?” He said, “Well, I went to a doctor and found out that pain I was having inmy throat isn’t serious and isn’t cancer.” So, he asked me, “What are you going to do?” I said, “Al, I think the worst is over, I’m going to go another two weeks.” At the end of the fourth or fifth week, it was obvious I had quit forever. I am sure that Bernice liked that, as she only smoked a cigarette or two in her lifetime. And the fact that neither of us smoked probably influenced my son, Tom II, and daughter, Jacqueline, to never take up smoking. Another lucky accident in my life! And in their lives!
THE BUILDING YEARS/THE WORKING YEARS
The building years are intertwined with the working years as we started T. Berry Construction in 1972, while I was regularly employed at Gould Ocean Systems.
Prior to my employment at Gould Ocean Systems, I was employed at Cleveland Pneumatic Tool, being employed there from 1958 to 1969. I started working in assembly, then production planning, purchasing and eventually became production control manager. I enjoyed working at Cleveland Pneumatic immensely; every day was a learning experience and the working relationship with fellow employees was excellent. I guess like Will Rogers, I never met a man I didn’t like.
Besides the daily workload of tracking parts and scheduling machines to meet shipping schedules, I was rewarded (in my mind) with various plane trips to out of state concerns using the company’s private plane. One of the most interesting trips via the company’s small private plane was a trip to Rockville, Maryland to pick up and deliver back to Cleveland a missile part being partially sub-contracted to the Rockville sub-contract facility. Tungsten is a Swedish language term meaning “heavy stone.” Oh boy, is that correct! No one could really lift it. I took a couple of two by four lumbers about five feet long, built some kind of platform between the two about two feet wide. Then four of us (one on each end of the two by fours) and in small six-inch steps finally got the part to the airplane. It must have weighed more than 250 pounds! On the way back, I talked and rode with the pilot and he gave me a thrill of flying so low over Pennsylvania forests, we could actually see deer. In addition, as we approached the Cleveland airport, he agreed to fly over my house on the small lake located at 5991 Private Drive, Parma Heights, OH.
On a previous or subsequent trip to Rockville, I took Bernice, Jacqueline and Tommy in my 403 Peugeot. On Sunday, after leaving Rockville, we drove into New York City and arrived at Central Park probably about 6:00 a.m. I was amazed at the quiet atmosphere. I was able to park the car on the street and we walked around the park taking several pictures of the kids. Suddenly, we saw a young couple with a small child probably three years old or younger. As soon as I saw him, I recognized him – movie star James Mason! I could tell by the expression on his face, not only did he know I recognized him, but, please God, don’t bother me. I just smiled and went on my way. I didn’t even tell Bernice until later that we had seen James Mason in Central Park. This was and has been my only trip to the great City of New York.
On another trip, I was sent to Sacramento, California to evaluate and possibly learn some production control techniques. Al Camp, Vice President who previously worked at Aerojet General in Sacramento. My evaluation was their huge machine shop with so little work made scheduling easy when compared to the workload and diversity of machines at Cleveland Pneumatic. I called my sister, Lola, in Layton, Utah to tell her that I couldn’t get a stop over in Salt Lake, but would have a short layover in Reno, Nevada. Lola immediately drove the five hundred mile trip to Reno to meet me at the airport. Unfortunately, when she arrived, we were able to spend only ten or fifteen minutes together. This was the last time I saw my loving, wonderful sister. I regret that I didn’t have the courage (though I thought about it) to miss the flight and spend more time with her after all the time and effort she expended to see me once again! Another dumb decision on my part.
After my tenth year at Cleveland Pneumatic, the upper echelon of Vice-Presidents was changing rapidly and my friend, Ernie Karbo, in purchasing warned me that changes were coming. One of the expeditors also warned me that my job as Production Control Manager was in jeopardy. I was so sure that was wrong I didn’t question him as to what he knew about what was going on that led him to believe that statement. We took our usual Christmas vacation to Florida in December 1968. However, unusually cold weather in Florida prompted me to cut our vacation short. So I returned to work a day or two earlier than expected. As I walked through the main entrance lobby, I stopped to read the bulletin board. On the bulletin board was the announcement that Mr. Garry Strong had been promoted to Production Control Manger, with no mention of my obvious demotion. Garry was an expeditor I had hired, and he told me he wanted my job, which did not bother me at the time. But, he had obviously succeeded. I later learned that somehow he had become a friend of a son of one of the new Vice-Presidents, which was undoubtedly instrumental to his promotion. I immediately called the Vice-President I trusted the most, Bob Wehrenberg, to set up a meeting. When we met, I asked him the reason for my loss of position? He said, “Well, they say you were against computers.” I said, “Bob, I’m not against computers, I never discussed this with anyone, but putting in a computer Production Control System here would be a full time job. You can’t combine that with the job of Production Control Manger.” Of course, having never been criticized for my performance, and the devious method used to take my job while I was on vacation, left me devastated and angry. So with the help of Ernie Karbo, who had left the company for a position with Gould Ocean Systems, I got an interview with Gould and accepted their offer of Production Control Manager on January 9, 1969, approximately 15 days after my surprise demotion.
Things changed quickly after being hired at Gould. The first change was the decision that I would not be the Production Control Manger, but would be in charge of Tool Control. That didn’t bother me; frankly it was a nice cushy job in that my assistant, Mrs. Joan Dodd, did most of the work. We became good friends and my son and I helped her remodel her first home, and adding an addition to their second home in Chesterland, Ohio.
The big event at Gould came after I was assigned to work under the factory manager, who spent most of his time doing computer work, analyzing the budget and constantly asking for additional increases in the budget. I think this eventually led to his dismissal. However, the dismissal may have also been related to a two-month machinist strike.
During the strike, white-collar employees, including myself, were assigned to various machines. I ran a computer driven NC Black and Decker drilling machine during that time. I recall one gal was assigned to a Bridgeport (a small milling machine), getting better production results that the union machinist!
After the Machine Shop Manager was dismissed/quit, I became the defacto manager. I was confidant I would soon get an official promotion and a good salary raise. I immediately initiated changes; I put out a written schedule for each machine, the part number, the operation, and the quantity of parts that should be machined at that operation per shift. The sense of competition among the various shifts ensued and we frequently got higher figures. The other thing I did was to discount small lots or small parts run on the Bridgeports. In fact, I arranged an entire order of say 125 – 150 pieces be run in one lot. Others said, “You can’t do this, you won’t make schedule.” But, running large lots reduces costs as total set up times are reduced dramatically. A lesson I learned from the performance of large Kearney-Trecker mills at Cleveland Pneumatic, who consistently did this to improve their efficiency and sometimes resisted putting in new jobs to insure shipping schedules.
The Production Vice-President, a Mr. Peyson Luce, held bi-monthly meetings to review status reports prepared by statisticians as to the progress against established budgets. As usual, all departments showed over the budget assessments as the weeks and months went by. Except my department was under budget by as much as 10%! The previously deposed manager had argued that the budgeted hours were insufficient. Finally, after one of the meetings, Peyson took me aside and said, “I don’t know what the hell you are doing, but keep doing it.” This is where I should have said, “How about giving me the job officially and a commensurate raise in salary with it?” However, I was still not a man trusting his fellow man!
Not long following Mr. Luce’s remarks, he suffered a heart attack/stroke on a Monday morning, and died at work. I still assumed that I had earned and would get the title and salary of Machine Shop Manager. Not more than a week or two later, I was informed by a Mr. Shumacher, who was not a V-P, that I could not have the position because he owed a “favor” to someone else, but it would not hurt me because I would be assigned somewhere else and would retain my current salary. I should have challenged how he was given the authority to make this decision, but I didn’t. I had yet been shafted again similar to my demotion at Cleveland Pneumatic. I would have probably been more upset with this event, if I had not improved my financial situation immensely by building a business with my son.
Shortly, thereafter, I sent a short note to V-P Bob Wehrenberg at Cleveland Pneumatic stating, “Gould has now done to me essentially what Cleveland Pneumatic did to me. However, I always enjoyed working for Cleveland Pneumatic. If you have any openings, I would like to hear from you.” Almost immediately I received a reply and Cleveland Pneumatic rehired me as Production Control Manager at a commensurate salary and agreed to restore my previous years for pension rights. This was in 1979 or 1980. Before I quit Gould, I made sure that I had been re-employed by Cleveland Pneumatic. I had ten years at Gould, so I would receive a pension and health insurance from Gould. I was only back and Cleveland Pneumatic about 3-4 years before I retired at age 62 in 1984. It was great getting back to Cleveland Pneumatic and seeing old friends again.
Before I left Cleveland Pneumatic to work for Gould, I had informed management of our lack of capacity (resulting in delays and excessive overtime) on our heavy Kearney-Trecker and our Axelson Lathes (with deep throats) capable of turning parts requiring axles at right angles to support arms. Vice-President Jon Brogan had purchased a used smaller mill to address the problem, but after trying to run and unsuccessfully repair it for two or three months, the project was abandoned.
When I walked into the factory again, after a ten-year absence, I was amazed to find new large NC lathes, all with deep throats that could run parts previously only possible on the Axelson. I was also amazed that we had a new crew of heavy mills replacing the old Kearny-Trecker Mills. During my absence, someone else had solved the lack of capacity problems I had recognized during my previous employment. But ten years later, they still did not have a computer production control system. When I returned, this assignment had been given to Vice-President, Mr. Don Schuyler and was still not operational.
Lesson: Job performance and dedication to your employer won’t necessarily be rewarded. If you deserve a promotion, don’t hesitate to ask for a confirmation.
The Building Years
However, my confidence to become a builder of houses was, of course, helped by the experiences I gained in building my first personal residence in 1957, while I was employed at Bonnar-Vanter. My experience in real estate working with the government office of rent control also helped. Although I had been provided housing by a wonderful father-in-law (John Dydo), I wanted to have a house of my own. As I had distaste for small Parma Heights bungalows on 40-foot lots with only 800-900 square feet, selling for $10-12,000, I began looking at available building lots. These houses were too small, considering my memories of living on an expansive farm. Pease Corporation, located near Cincinnati sold panel constructed homes and I liked their plans and their prices.
One evening, there was an ad in the Cleveland Press for a lake front property in Parma Heights for $2,500. I immediately went to inspect the lot that had a curved frontage of 74 feet running on the longer side of the lot, but the lot was behind a house that fronted on Pearl Road. This made the side a, commonly called, butte lot. I knocked on the doors of nearby residences and inquired about existence of sanitary and storm sewers. They informed me they both existed and that the storm sewer drained to the small lake. I immediately purchased the lot for the asking price. The problem now was the Pease panel home. None of their designs would fit on the lot I had just purchased.
I soon became aware of a local Cleveland company called Expan Homes that also manufactured houses in panels, similar to Pease, which were manufactured by the company and then erected on the building site. Bernice and I visited a development in Berea called “No Bottom Estates.” Their model house, called a “Seaway” priced at $25,000 was a ranch type home with a front attached, at a right angle, two-car garage. This design would fit on a 74 foot curved frontage lot. It was a perfect design for the lot I had just purchased and it was a spacious house of 1200 square feet with an attached two-car garage as compared to the small bungalows of Parma Heights.
Next I had to find sub-contractors to build the building. I located the carpenters who were doing the work at the “No Bottom Estates” and other sources by various means. The only one I had difficulty with, was the masonry work for the 12 block high basement and the above grade brickwork required for the garage. My first quote was about $5-6,000 for the labor and material, which I thought was ridiculous! A friend of mine from rent control referred me to a contractor who I visited one warm sunny afternoon. He looked at the blueprints and gave me an estimate of about $4,500, which I still thought was excessive but indicated to him that it was the best quote I had received. He invited me to his front porch and offered me a beer or two. After some cordial friendly conversation (and drinking), he told me he had a good week the previous week, as he had quoted thirty or forty driveways and he was sure he would get the orders because he quoted below the “Association” prices. I asked him, “If the “Association” price assures a fair profit, how are you going to make any money?” He quickly responded with, “Oh, when I get half way done, I’ll tell them I made a little mistake.” As soon as he looked in my eyes after making that statement, he knew he had lost the order. I quickly left. I was keeping all my cost figures on the backside of someone’s business card, including his estimated cost of the masonry. I was also working evenings cashing checks for people at a local federal department store. The one Cardinal rule was only company checks, no personal checks! One evening a well-dressed man approached me saying he wanted to cash a $150 personal check. No wanting to offend him, I asked why he needed to cash a personal check. He said, “I’m a builder and I’m hosting a party at a local restaurant/bar for several employees.” His being a builder, of course, caught my attention. I told him I was building a home for myself and asked him if he was familiar with the Expan “Seaway” home. “Of course,” he said. I said, “Perhaps I can cash your check, if you will review my cost figures. I think I have a problem with one of my estimates. I’ve got them on the back of this card,” I said as I handed it to him. He quickly looked at the list and said, “I think I see your problem is masonry.” I said, “That’s exactly what I think, can you help?” He said, “Yes, you can go see Larry Horstman on Schumer Drive in Strongsville, I am sure he will help you.” He wrote down his name, phone number and address on the back of his business card and gave it to me. So I cashed his check regardless of the company’s rules. I soon called Mr. Horstman and went by his house, a beautiful brick ranch on a spacious lot. Inside, he sat at his desk and quickly page-by-page went through the blueprints. In about one minute, on the top of the page, he wrote, “Masonry work – labor & material - $2,000.” He then signed his name and dated it and then handed the blueprints back to me. I shook his hand and said, “You’ve got the job. Thanks.” This lucky incident saved me a minimum of $2,500 or more. He and his crew did an excellent job. Another lucky accident.
Prior to ordering the Expan home package, I told Bernice she had to go to the bank with me to sign the loan application for the $11,000 loan we needed for construction. She was scared and said, “No way.” This upset me immensely, so I went to her father and explained the situation. His reply was immediate and explicit, “Don’t listen to Bernice.” So with this information, she conceded. Father-in-law, John Dydo, rescued me again!
We had no problem getting the loan, thanks to my wife’s conservative money habits. We had purchased the lot for $2,500, deposited $4,000 to the bank for a loan of $11,000, which got us the projected cost of $17,500. The model house at “No Bottom” was on the market for $22,500.
When I finally had my suppliers lined up and was confident I could build the home for $17,500, I called Expan Homes to order their pre-assembled package plan. They sent out a “Sparky” DiBenidetto. He came to 3903 Biddulph Drive, home of my father-in-law, with a written order for signature, that he handed to me. After reading it, I said, “I want one more stipulation on the order.” Immediately, I caught a distressed, fearful look on his face and eyes and he said, “What is it?” I said I want it to be an exact duplicate of the model house in “No Bottom Estates.” Relieved, he said, “You had me scared, we hate to deal with individuals, they almost never accept designs as is. They always want something different and you are the exception.” He recorded my request on the purchase order and I signed it.
Getting the permit to build from Parma Heights was an interesting event. At a board meeting, after presenting the blueprints and the plot layout, several members expressed concerns about the location of the garage, the set back, etc. Exasperated, frustrated and agitated, I told them this plan was ideal for the lot, “If you don’t believe me, let’s go to the site now so you can better understand the situation!” Of course, no one wanted to work that hard, so they approved it. Just like the rent control board!
After staking out the survey and getting the permit, the next step was excavating. At the site, I met with an Alex DiGioa and we agreed on the depth I wanted for the excavation. On the day of the scheduled excavation, I left work at Bonnar-Vanter and drove to the site. When I arrived, the excavation was nearly complete, but to my dismay, Alex DiGioa was not operating the backhoe and the depth was not the depth we had agreed upon. I yelled at the operator to stop to which he replied, “Who the hell are you?” I said, “I’m the guy paying the bill and the hole isn’t deep enough.” He started complaining that his excavating work was nearly done to which I responded, “I don’t care, it’s not right!” He began refilling the excavation with dirt previously excavated so he could drive the backhoe back into the hole. When he began digging again, I returned to my job in Cleveland.
Things went smoothly after that. In 2 – 3 days, Larry Horstmann, the mason man I luckily found, had the basement up and ready for the framing carpenters. The carpenters arrived soon after and on their second day on the site, I went to the site on my lunch break. I was amazed to see the framing; including the windows and siding were up. The following day, the roof trusses and roofing were completed. Progress swiftly proceeded, as evidenced by the following payments reflected in my bank records at the time:
When I signed the final papers, the knowledgeable banker, experienced in real estate, admired the fact I had built the house at the estimated cost and said, “Well, I guess I’ve made another builder.” I said, “Oh no, I have a good job at Cleveland Pneumatic, I just built the home for myself.” I should have listened. With very little work on my part, I could have easily sold the house at a $5,000 profit, more than doubling my annual salary of $4,200 at Cleveland Pneumatic in 1958. And there were plenty of vacant lots in Parma Heights and the Bay Village area at that time.
Lesson: Listen to older, experienced professionals giving advise based on their knowledge.
When we moved in the new house in the fall of 1958, Bernice was elated, pleased and enthusiastic about the new home. She quickly established friends in the neighborhood; primarily, Lester Levy and his wife, Jean. Also, the Panchak family, John and Lorraine, and their three daughters: Martha, age 3; Kim, age 1; and Cathy, a newborn. At the time Tommy was 4 years old and Jacqueline was 6.
I couldn’t have been happier. A new house I had just built within cost estimates, a loving and happy wife, a new job that I enjoyed at Cleveland Pneumatic, a handsome young son and a beautiful, gorgeous daughter. I loved the location, the house, the neighbors, everything!
Debbie Palmer, a columnist for the Parma Post newspaper wrote an article (Thursday, September 11, 2003) entitled, “A Paradise in Parma Heights.” An excerpt: “The 15 or so families who live there can spend their summer evening fishing, swimming, paddling, boating, canoeing or just watching from the dock on the lake. In the winter, they ice skate or play hockey on their private lake.” This described where we lived quite accurately. However, even though my son had a wooden paddleboat that we purchased in Florida, we were concerned about the quality of the water, as it was somewhat muddy. In conversations with John Panchak, we concluded the murkiness was due to an excessive number of bottom feeding fish, stirring up the dirt on the bottom of the lake. I don’t recall whether it was John or I that concluded we had to get rid of the fish. This conversation was closely held, as all changes had to be approved by everyone in the Lake Association. Tommy and I went to the feed and seed store one day with our plan to slowly eliminate the fish so the water would clear up and we could restock the late with a better selection of fish. At the feed and seed, we were told a chemical called “rotenone,” made from a root in Peru, was highly toxic to fish. We purchased a couple of pounds. One Saturday, Tommy and I put together a sack of the chemical and headed out in the rowboat. To conceal our activity, we let the sack drag behind the boat in the water. The idea was to use just a little of it, so the demise of the fish population would be gradual. However, it was dissolving so slowly, that after a half-hour or so we decided to dump the entire sack in the water.
The following morning, dead fish were floating everywhere on the surface and at the water’s edge. I remember digging a large hole on the shallow end of the lake and burying many large carp. John thought about 60 carp had died. Neighbors pitched in and buried them in the sloping terrain at the shallow end of the lake. One neighbor, Mr. Kirchner, was upset and angry at what we had done to clear the lake. In about four weeks, we had crystal clear clean lake water. Mr. Kirchner finally conceded we were correct and apologized.
We continued our happy and contented life in the paradise of Parma Heights from 1958 to 1971, when another lucky accident in my life occurred.
Bernice liked to shop at the Heinen’s Grocery Store in Bay Village and one day, on the bus trip to the store, she noticed a lot for sale on Wolf Road. She asked me to check it out. Still following real estate, I said, “That will be too expensive.” She said, “Call anyway.” So, I called the agent and learned the price of the lot was $12,000. I said, “That’s too much.” He wanted to know what I would be willing to pay. I told him, $5-6 thousand.” “I’ve got one,” he said and gave me the location and dimensions.
Tommy and I drove out to Bay Village to look at the lot on Bay View Drive. It was a 60-foot lot close to Lake Road. We both agreed it was a better lot than the one on Wolf Road and was half the price. I immediately purchased the lot. Bernice now had no fear of my building a house after the success of building our home on Private Drive in Parma Heights.
Another lucky accident presented by Bernice’s desire for a Bay Village home was that my friendship with Paul Klumb from the Texas College of Mines in El Paso and the University of Illinois was rekindled. Paul designed a French Mansard style bi-level home for me for the lot. I had always admired French architecture, especially the Mansard design.
The construction went well. Tom was now in his final year of high school (1972-73) and had only two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Everyday between his classes, we went to the site to oversee the project. We hired two of his friends from Parma Heights to help with the rough framing. I drew stud-by-stud drawings and these two, with no previous carpentry experience, did a fine job. Construction started in the fall of 1971 and the job was completed late in 1972.
Tom graduated in the spring of 1972 from Valley Forge High School. A couple of weeks after graduation, as we were walking out the door one day, I said, “We have to sit down and decide where you are going to college.” With a quick glance and a steely look in his eyes, he said, “I have no intention of going to college!” With no forethought, my instant reply was, “Okay, but promise not to work for anyone but me?” He laughed and responded, “What will we do?” I said, “We will build houses. We will start looking for a lot tomorrow.” Tom asked, “Will you let me do the heating [installation] that you paid that asshole $12 an hour to do and he didn’t know what he was doing?” I said, “Okay, and learn how to do everything so no one can shit you.” Yes, another lucky event in my life.
Thus, T. Berry Construction was born. On May 30, 1973, we purchased a nice lot on Lansing Drive in North Olmstead for $7,000. Paul Klumb designed another French Mansard bi-level for us and we eventually sold the home for $63,000, receiving a settlement at closing for $28,605.63. This compared to my yearly salary at Gould of $18,000 in 1973, should have and maybe did teach me something…owning your own business is the way to go.
After the success of our first house, we built another 19 homes, most in Bay Village; six were lakefronts in Bay Village and two more lakefronts in Avon Lake. These were the most profitable. We built five more houses in Shaker Heights; and three in Buecksville and one in Hudson, Ohio and one in North Olmstead, Ohio.
My Army/college friend, architect Paul J. Klumb, designed the four houses that Tom, Jr. enjoyed building and liked the most. There are:
1. 30662 Lake Road, Bay Village, Ohio
2. 31636 Lake Road, Avon Lake, Ohio
3. 8300 Wiese Road, Buecksville, Ohio
My favorite is the home at 30662 Lake Road. This house was featured in a full-page real estate article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on September 13, 1981.
Other than this being our favorite project, the purchasers, Dr. Michael Mann and Dr. John Sedor, became good and lasting friends, as well as our dentists. They called us to build a new dental office building in Middleburgh Heights. Unfortunately, due to city officials over-exercising their rules and guidelines, we were unable to do the project. They subsequently purchased an existing unit in the same area. We still do probably all their maintenance work at the present facility.
I sent them a copy of the Plain Dealer article and asked them if this article influenced their decision to purchase the home (they sold it a couple of years ago).
Sorry that it has taken so long in responding to your note about the autobiography. First congratulations…what an exciting adventure. To answer your question, yes, it was the story in the Plain Dealer. We had been looking at lakefront property for, I’d guess a year. From Brahtenall to Vermillion, and just fell in love with your house and the access it provided to the lake. The biggest mistake we have ever made was selling…oh well, that’s life. Again, good luck and we expect an autographed first edition copy when you publish.”
The house is currently for sale with an asking price of $1,450,000; not a terrible price in today’s market.
The house at 31636 Lake Road in Avon Lake was of similar design and was purchased by Richard and Nancy Connor. Richard was Vice-President of American Greetings. They and their family became our friends and still today we do any required updates or maintenance.
The house at 8300 Wiese Road, Brecksville, Ohio was featured in a full-page article in the Plain Dealer on April 24, 1993, written by Bill Luginger.
“’This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,’ boasts Thomas Berry.
The Bay Village builder likes using that phrase to stress how different his latest model home is from the standard fare for Northeast Ohio – the antithesis to the two story colonial.
The brick and cedar rustic contemporary design looks like a one-story ranch home.
The house is rustic, Berry explained, because of the beamed ceilings, a stone fireplace on each level and the abundance of wood.
The contemporary element is defined by angled walls, unusual room arrangements and the lack of formal living and dinning rooms. Angles are a personal favorite of Berry’s.
‘I always figured I’d be buried in a rectangular box,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to live in one.’
But the 3,750 square-foot plan with a four-car garage has two floors – one on the street level and another below. Both levels open along the rear to a sloping, heavily wooded 2.2 acre lot with a stream.
‘We call it a hillside ranch,’ Berry said. ‘It’s the kind of house you see in California.’
Priced at $319,000, the model at 8300 Wiese Road, Brecksville, will be shown from 1 to 6 p.m. today and each Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. by Donald Johnson, an agent with West Shore Realty, Inc. in North Olmstead.
The four bedroom, 3 ½ bath home has a 21x17 foot master suite on the first floor with two large walk in-closets and a heart-shaped corner whirlpool tub for two in the adjoining bathroom.
‘This is the Hugh Hefner bedroom,’ Berry said, ‘and this is Imelda Marcos’ closet. It’ll hold quite a few shoes.’
The eating area of the kitchen opens to a raised wood deck with a trellis. Below it is a patio with a hot tub, which is accessible from a recreation room with a wet bar.
T. Berry Construction, a 20-year old firm, builds one or two custom homes a year. Most have been lakefront houses in Bay Village and neighboring Avon Lake.
‘We’re odd-lot builders,’ Berry said, explaining that the firm keeps from spreading itself too thin financially by buying single lots in older subdivisions instead of several at a time in new developments. ‘I’ve seen a lot of builders go broke that way.’
That last quoted statement was prompted by the fact we had previously purchased two lots in a building development under financial stress and built two houses on Settlers Passage in Brecksville.
Of course, another favorite is my Mansard bi-level at 289 Bay View Road, Bay Village. I still like the plan and tried to convince my daughter, Jacqueline, that with slight changes, it would be perfect for the lakefront lot at Cinnamon Lake, West Salem, Ohio.
What I Would Do Or Not Do, If I Were
The President Of The United States
1. I would not have gone to war against Iraq. The US must stop trying to rule the world. The Romans failed, the British failed, Germany, under Adolph Hitler failed. So-called “pre-emptory” wars should not be allowed. We go to war only when we have been attacked.
2. I would save Social Security by taxing all citizens at the same rate, removing the $90,000 limit. I believe that wealth and business trickles up – not trickles down.
3. To address the energy crisis, I would contact Canada to establish a united effort – with our NASA engineers and their engineers to develop a better or more efficient extractor and refining process to gain access to the rich sand oil reserves in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The oil reserves there are believed to be as abundant as Iraq’s.
4. Also, to address the energy crisis, I would support an inter-state two rail system through major US cities with large loading and unloading areas to lessen the number of trucks on long distance routes, thus conserving oil resources.
5. I would make it illegal to manufacture or own hand guns, or similar hand held concealed weapons. The US should establish a fund to buy them back from individuals at market value, or offer a tax deduction for the return of the handguns to US authorities. Hunting rifles, military guns, or sporting rifles that can’t be concealed would still be legal and accessible to citizens.
6. To address the present and emerging water shortage, I would have NASA and other engineers study and come up with plans to convert national rainfall and existing streams to man made lakes in our mountains, hilly regions and even in our national parks.
 See article in the Addendum
 Copies of the articles written for the Stanford Daily are attached at the end of this document.
 I recall when I was quite young being with Uncle Wiley Berry as we were driving through Alton, Illinois seeing the poor blacks and him remarking with sympathy and compassion for their life and their troubles.
 Gould started January 10, 1969, manufacturer of torpedoes (Mark 48).
 Manufacturer of airplane landing gears (now Goodrich Landing Gears).