One of my all-time favorite authors – a veteran who was a POW and a staunch anti-war advocate – would have celebrated his 100th birthday this month.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who turned me on to science fiction mixed with auto-biographical recalls, was born on Veterans Day in 1921, just three years after Armistice Day, which was the original veterans’ day. It commemorated the end of the European war “Over There” and was called “the war to end all wars.”
Voting has been made easier for many of us in Pennsylvania and the state provides links for checking on your voting status as well as any request seeking a mail-in ballot. I took part in a Zoom connection entitled “MontCoVotes” and learned how to maneuver through the government channels and wanted to share them here.
The world is celebrating the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi today! Francesco di Bernadone, whose real name was actually Giovanni (John), was born some 800 years ago. He came from a wealthy family. But turned his back on his mercantile father and gave up all worldly goods to help the poor as well as the animals.
Before I ever went to a community college, I had to make up several deficits in my learning. I had to take remedial math as well as remedial English. I passed both and was then permitted to take regular classes which include journalism studies and just as important, the school’s extra-curricular activity of working on the college newspaper.
I began as a reporter for The Communitarian. The paper used my by-line on every story I wrote, and by my second year at DCCC, I was named editor. Well, I believe my military training must have kicked in because I started to publish an edition on a weekly basis. You were lucky to have it published once a month until I took over.
Delaware County Community College will always be my favorite school despite the many degrees I obtained elsewhere and the things I learned about myself and my somewhat hidden potential.
I was the first in my family to go to college. My mother, whose own parents came from Hungary, was the first to graduate high school. My father, who immigrated from a Greek island when he was 15, never went beyond sixth grade.
For the life of me, I cannot remember the first time I ever danced.
You know, get out on the floor of somebody’s home, a schoolroom, or even a dance floor and move around to music or some make-believe dance sound. My mind simply can’t dig up that moment that should be among my most precious memories.
I got a new pair of hearing aids, and a new world of sounds has opened to me!
I wore ‘em outdoors during a walk on my 10,000-steps-a-day journey, and the first thing I noticed was the sound of birds chirping merrily in the trees I walked under. They had to have been communicating with each other because as soon as one stopped chirping, another one seemed to follow up in response.
The following is Gabriel’s Message as channeled by my good friend Cyndi Smith:
Your soul does not completely fit inside your body. Some of your soul remains in Heaven in what you call your higher self. Much of it is here inside of you but the part that overflows your body is called your aura.
The authentic human voice is a thing many writers strive to capture. Few can claim to have succeeded. Contos, however, very much has earned that badge of honor. The text is home to an authentic and powerful narration that still, in its honest humanity, grounds itself in the humble approach to one man’s life and what that life means.
I don’t often cry over books. It’s not that I can’t, it’s just something that very rarely happens.
“Potential Spam” is the innocuous term that Verizon classifies as one of several phone calls I get each day on my cell phone.
I immediately delete them but have had an accident or two when I’d click the wrong button and end up dialing that number. I quickly stop any further progress at that number and click on delete. I got a feeling, however, that some “son-of-a-b” got a recording of my mistake and will log it into their account, but I really don’t know.
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated . . .”
This quote from Mark Twain touched my very soul yesterday when I got a message from one of my old colleagues who said that he had read something “disturbing.” The exact quote via Messenger was: “Michael, are you okay? I saw something disturbing for your name.”
My reply: “Disturbing? I haven’t done anything to warrant that since I made an illegal turn into the senior citizen center in Upper Merion Township last week and a cop stopped me.”
I have been honored this Veterans Day through a recorded interview about my book on the Vietnam War for a program called “Good Morning Conshy” where I share the broadcast with two companion pet managers for what is known as PACT. Many of the animals had assisted veterans who could no longer care for their pets and needed help for animals they viewed as their children.
We all had contacts with Conshohocken, a small borough just outside of Philadelphia, and learned that the interview would be recorded and made available on U-Tube. Watching it, I noticed how white-faced I look after recovering from a stomach illness. I am glad I wore my “boonie hat” that I had saved from the Vietnam War. It shows one silver bar that was subdued to prevent the enemy from spotting an officer. I wore it only once before and that was at Omega Institute at a five-day meditation retreat for veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)
One of my favorite jobs was serving as an intern for the Defender Association of Philadelphia. I went to the jails, the courtrooms, and the training rooms to learn how to properly defend persons charged with various crimes. The prison was tough. You never knew if the defendant was telling the truth or not. You simply interviewed him for the basic information and wrote up his story for a trial lawyer to review before speaking to the suspect and going to trial. You never saw the person again and you had no idea how he may have faired.
[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Vietnam War Recall”
Like many other young men of the time, author Michael Contos found himself in the military, headed to a turbulent region of the world to protect democracy. After completing Officer Candidate School, Michael was deployed to Vietnam to lead a platoon of infantrymen on missions while evading the formidable Viet Cong forces. Here, he describes the worst day of his life that led to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a debilitating condition that would threaten to consume his life and linger for decades; a day so jarring that he would not talk about, even with his family.
Upon returning home, his experiences in combat haunt him, so he seeks the help of spiritual leaders to help relieve the symptoms of PTSD. The story is told in the first person through flashbacks, introspect, and excerpts from the author’s blog. Through the narration, readers get a glimpse into the personal turmoil that many of our veterans face after combat.
The best part of this book is the intimate and emotional description of PTSD; a young leader, not afforded time to grieve or debrief from his experiences, lives with the nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety that seem to permeate every facet of his life. These intense feelings are captured clearly by the author. I also love the way the daily humdrum of military life is portrayed, and the descriptions sure bring back memories for this veteran. The cadences, the euphoric feeling when you realize your parachute is perfect, and the anticipation of the return to the United States (DEROS) is very real indeed! A little humor, typical of military camaraderie, is also peppered into the pages of the story; I had to chuckle when I read about some familiar but important advice: never crap alone in the field!
Although the messages are powerful, the book does seem a bit repetitive at times. Other than this, there is nothing negative to say about the story, its purpose and voice are truly a gift to an audience who does not truly understand the realities of war and its crippling effects on our young servicemen, not only the ones who gave their lives but also those who returned bearing unseen scars. I happily give Vietnam Recall: The Best and Worst Days of My Life4 out of 4 stars for these reasons. The book appears professionally edited and is divided into chapters of appropriate length.
I particularly recommend this book to readers who love historical accounts of war and those who seek insight from a primary source about mental illness. Those with family members in the military will appreciate the insightful glimpse into the psyche of those who have chosen to defend our way of life. There is some moderate profanity, along with explicit descriptions of trauma and wartime peril; those sensitive to these topics may not want to read the book. For all others, the book is a penetrating account of one man’s journey towards healing and peace. All who read this story will undoubtedly be moved by the author’s gipping words as he relives the most difficult moments of his life. He speaks for the countless others, who remain silent.
I knelt at the gravesite while bowing my head and closing my eyes to pray yesterday morning. I was visiting Calvary Cemetery of West Conshohocken, the burial site for Father William E Atkinson, an Augustinian priest who passed away in 2006 and is now being considered for canonization by the Catholic Church to be named a saint.
It took me more than 50 years, but I finally published my Vietnam War story and the toll it took on me after leading a combat infantry platoon as a 21-year-old first lieutenant in the US army.
I self-published with the help of editors who wrote the back cover description. They used a mug shot I had taken some ten years ago while attending a PTSD meditation clinic at Omega Institute for veterans and their families. The clinic introduced me to different forms of meditation that allowed me to eventually deal with the trauma and view the war experience in a more benign and compassionate light.
My reality took a major hit when I learned of a book that reveals the famous battle at the Alamo in Texas was not what Walt Disney had broadcasted on TV, but was a nefarious cover up of an expansion of slavery in the Lone Star State.
Santa Anna’s Mexican troops were trying to stamp out slavery in its territory and the 180 persons fighting at the old Spanish mission in San Antonio were trying to not only retain slavery, but make it grow for the production of cotton.
I complained to USAA, the American veterans car insurance company, when I learned that it was advertising on the Tucker Carlson show. As a subscriber of USAA of more than 50 years, I threatened to seek insurance elsewhere after the Fox News host called the joint chief of staff general “stupid” and followed that up by describing him as a “pig.”
“I do think it is important for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and well-read,” he told the House Armed Services Committee. “I want to understand white rage . . . and I’m white. . . I want to understand it. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this (the Capital) and try to overturn the Constitution?”
I salute this military leader, a four star general who is also “airborne infantry,” and can not for the life of me understand how someone who never put on a uniform or faced a single day in combat could say such drivel about such a soldier.
Nor can I understand how USAA could continue spending advertising dollars at the Fox program. I know they want to reach veterans and our families, but the money is also propping up a mouthpiece for white supremacy and anti-democratic conspiracy theories.
Synchronicity is a term I have come to cherish since being introduced to it by my favorite psychologist, Carl Jung. It refers to deeply meaningful coincidences that mysteriously occur in one’s life. Jung proved by the law of probability that they were not mere coincidences but insights into our rich and worthwhile lives.
Walter Mondale, the Minnesota resident and former candidate for president of the United States, was a staunch advocate for providing legal services to poor people charged with crimes and I firmly believe that his legacy will live on.
I look forward every day to reading the news of an indictment against the former president and/or an update on all of the civil lawsuits against him.
You know they’re coming. All the highly experienced lawyers need do is to simply confirm their concrete and rock-solid facts before going to court and contacting the news media for reporters to share the information on the law with the entire world.
Stagger Lee, a song about a murder over a dice game and Stetson hat, was the number one song in America this week in 1959. Listening to it, I was reminded of how I won a jury trial by using its lyrics for my closing argument.
The song, recorded by New Orleans native Lloyd Price, told of two men who “gambled late.” One accused the other of cheating and lead to the shooting death of the other. I represented a client who told me he was shooting dice outside of a Philadelphia bar when he won all the money from a fellow who had gambled late outside the bar.
Having felt sick, I contacted an Urgent Care unit in Conshohocken just outside of Philadelphia. Within minutes, a nurse scheduled an appointment and placed long-stemmed items up both nostrils after confirming my identity with a glance at my drivers’ license and a cell-phone confirmation.
Holidays ain’t what they used to be when you were a kid. Particularly, if you ended up in the military and spent some of your formative years in a war zone like the Vietnam War.
I could not celebrate Thanksgiving Day this year. It was the 50th anniversary of a comrade of mine named Victor Lee Ellinger, a first lieutenant who was shot and killed by an enemy sniper just three days before the holiday. (See Cost of War.)
First Lieutenant Victor Lee Ellinger was no loser, Mr. Trump.
He was shot and killed by an enemy sniper during the Vietnam War and I forced marched my platoon to come to his aid only to find out we got to him too late to help.
He was no “sucker,” having enlisted the same year that you miraculously developed bone spurs on one of your feet, getting your fifth deferment to keep you out of the military and any chance of being in harm’s way. It was the same year I was drafted and later commissioned to lead a bunch of other young men into battle.
What’s it like to be young and wanna go out on a date nowadays?
I mean, there just ain’t a good place to go, no good place to meet someone, no good activity that will allow two mostly young people to get together and see if they can make some sparks to fly. Continue reading →
The Fourth of July is upon us and I wanted to share some independent facts that many Americans may not have learned in history books or in their classrooms.*
The Declaration of Independence was first printed in a German-speaking newspaper and not an English one. The Colony of Pennsylvania had a large German population and when people of what became the Keystone State voted on which language to use, German lost by only one vote. Continue reading →
As a veteran of several military bases, I would vote to change the names of all the facilities named for generals who fought for the Confederate army during our nation’s Civil War.
I offer such action with a heavy heart because of the link I still have with the facilities that helped to create the soldier I had become and the lessons learned in the US Army. Continue reading →
While I am still able to recall in some details highlights of my early life before true adulthood I decided to write them down for future generations and others who may want to commiserate with my adventures and misadventures. Continue reading →
I meditated this morning and realized there were few if any sounds coming from the street outside my home. Traffic usually provides noise from cars and trucks as motorists make their way along the suburban road in Conshohocken, PA, some 14 miles outside of Philadelphia. Continue reading →
An American hero has fallen to the Coronavirus and the world may never see the likes of him ever again.
Ninety-eight-year-old George Shenkle, a card-carrying member of the “Greatest Generation” took part in the invasion of Normandy more than 75 years ago, freeing our universe from the evil of the Nazis. He served as a paratrooper with three combat jumps – including both D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge — and got a purple heart in return for the wounds he received after hitting the ground and running into enemy fire and explosions. Continue reading →
Today is Vietnam Veterans Day and the Year of 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of my deployment in the war zone. I was a 21-year-old second lieutenant placed in charge of a platoon of some 25 men, many of them still in their teenage years and drafted like I had been. Continue reading →
Stress . . .
It is hitting me more and more lately, particularly since I decided to do my own taxes for the first time in my life and not pay out nearly $300 to have a professional do the work. Continue reading →
I exercise daily and try to get enough steps each day to add up to two miles. That’s around 6,250 steps if anyone is counting.
Well, my I-phone is counting ‘em. The steps, that is. And the miles. Continue reading →
I once worked in Pennsylvania State Government, meeting and writing a speech for the governor and broadcasting a news story about a new group of buses being introduced to the Keystone State. Continue reading →
I was kicked out of a courtroom when I raised my voice to a judge who seemed to be favoring an assistant district attorney who wanted my client removed from hospice because he hadn’t died soon enough after I got him out of jail. Continue reading →
It’s been 10 years since I wrote my first post for this Contoveros Blog and looking back I feel a little like Ken Burns, the producer of PBS specials on such things as war, music and other all-American things. Continue reading →
I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant 50 years ago and looking back I see it as one of the greatest achievements of my life. Also, one of the luckiest ones and I’m so glad to still be around to tell about it.
Yes, by an Act of Congress I was made “An Officer & a Gentleman.” I don’t know where that title came from — Great Britain I guess — but I tried to live up to it’s “ideal” while in the army and when discharged and choosing different career paths in my life. Continue reading →
God works in mysterious ways.
Put another way, the Universe will conspire to bring about what you really want and need in life, even though you may not know it when the Divine Intervention takes place.
Or even like it. The intervention that is. And on first blush, it may even seem bad but you realize on reflection it had to have happened for you to progress in life. Continue reading →
“Groundhog Day” is the movie starring Bill Murray who visits Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where he is destined to live each day over and over for what seems like eternity. It’s message is one of Karma and reincarnation, particularly when one realizes that the director and co-screen-writer was a practicing Buddhist named Harold Remis. Continue reading →
I would not have gone to college had it not been for the GI Bill which is marking its 75th anniversary on June 22, 2019.
My father, who was born on a small Greek Island, never went beyond sixth grade. My mother, daughter of Hungarian refugees, was the first in her family to graduate from a high school in New Jersey.
And I had barely made it through Dobbin’s Tech, a trade school, having transferred from a Catholic high school after I got caught playing hooky and ordered to go to summer school for religion. No one – including myself — saw college in my lifetime. Continue reading →
That’s the jury instruction I’d request a judge to provide when a witness at a trial said one thing one time and another thing at another time. Also, when one or more witnesses said something different than what the first witness had sworn to tell the truth about while sitting on the witness stand. Continue reading →
I will never forget my old wooden desk in grade school and the drills we held in order to protect us from a nuclear blast. The nuns from St. Ludwig’s Catholic School ordered us to get out of our seats and to curl up beneath the desks where we practiced the silence of Benedictine monks. Someone had pulled down the shades over the wide windows of the second-floor room and we sat for long minutes that felt like hours. Continue reading →
He doesn’t play with me like he used too. I’d be the first thing he’d grab and put on his head when he went outside and pretend he was Davy Crockett. A coonskin hat was meant for little boys and those wanting to be “king of the wild frontier.” But he has seen me less and less since that white plastic ball entered his life and got him swinging at it. Continue reading →
The first car I ever owned was my all-time favorite one.
It was “surf green” Chevrolet Bel Air made in the year 1957. I paid a whopping $300 for it when my barber offered it to me in 1967. I was working as a printer and had saved up enough money to pay him cash. Continue reading →
Patty Ward, a Specialist 4 with a helicopter gunship, was shot down 50 years ago while flying to the aid of US Army soldiers during the Vietnam War. He was one of four men who died when their helicopter was hit and crashed.
Patty was awarded the Silver Star for bravery in connection with helping to rescue other grunts wounded in another battle. His family in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia received the medal posthumously. Continue reading →
While editorials from dozens of newspapers throughout the country are expected to be offered about the attacks on the First Amendment on August 16, I figured I’d get my two-cents worth in as a former news reporter. Continue reading →
Are there moments in our life when we can see God’s fingerprints or the Will of the Universe directing us along our path? I’m talking about seeing such a Divine event as it is occurring or upon hindsight years later.
Joy filled my soul as I read that the 12 boys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand were thinking of entering a monastery in honor of the former Navy Seal that gave his life in an effort to save them. Continue reading →
“Here lies Ben Franklin — a printer” is the message gracefully displayed at the gravesite of my favorite Founding Father in the City of Philadelphia. He was ambassador to both England and France as well as a signer of the Declaration of Independence and contributor to the US Constitution. He was also an inventor, a philosopher and creator of the first library, the first zoo and the first fire company in the New World. Continue reading →
Padre Pio has a close connection with Philadelphia because of a woman called in a prayer to bring her sick child to see him in 1968 and the blessing he granted that led to her miracle cure just a few weeks before he died. Continue reading →
Memorial Day always brings back memories of the Vietnam War and one of the soldiers I served with who I called a friend and a true “comrade-in-arms.” He was Victor Lee Ellinger, a fellow who lived in Staunton, VA. He was shot and killed by an enemy sniper while leading a platoon some 50 miles outside of Saigon. Continue reading →
Writing has opened me to a world above and beyond my five senses and I feel like an HG Wells whenever I revisit the past and recall what life was like when I was fortunate enough to stop the world for a few brief moments and write about something. Continue reading →
Songs have a way of taking me back to a time of my life that provided milestones for the path leading me to where I am today.
We all have them, those cherished ones that we hold dear. Some of which may cause a tear to flow, a shit-eaten’ grin to form. I recently thought of five of ‘em and simply wanted to share them with “old folks at home” who might also remember them. Continue reading →
The best example of PTSD ever portrayed in a movie was offered by John Goodman in “The Big Lebowski” when the character, a Vietnam veteran, pulls a gun on a fellow bowler and threatens to shoot him for crossing a line and attempting to enter a score in a book. Continue reading →
Father Koenig put the gloves on me when I was ten years old and directed me toward the kid who was my same size but some two years older. That kid – Billy McLaughlin – kicked my butt. But I never cried or gave up as I swung wildly at him in efforts to land my own punches. Continue reading →
She stared at me as I walked from the courtroom and I felt her hate bore into me. Her whole posture seemed to drip with contempt and what I could only feel at that moment was a curse from her whole being. Continue reading →
That was the title of my first job when I was 15 years old. Somebody from the old neighborhood got me hired in downtown Philadelphia and I took the bus to get to work on weekends and after school days.
I remember . . . cutting the back of my hand while running beneath the boardwalk in Atlantic City. It is the earliest memory I can recall. I couldn’t have been any more than three or four and cannot for the life of me remember anything else I had done at that moment in time. Continue reading →
It struck me as I slowly made my way from the floor of the plane and stood in the center of the walkway. There were at least 30 other soldiers on the C-140, a military aircraft that was flying over the field where those of us in jump school would soon be taking our first jump. Continue reading →
I didn’t want to go to Vietnam. Who did back in 1968? I was never a gung-ho type of a guy even though I’d go a little berserk when a buddy of mine got attacked by some bully at home or in school. Continue reading →
My mother hit me upside the head when she caught me drinking beer in the Big Moose bar up the street from where we lived.
I was 16 years old at the time and sipping a Ballantine beer with a friend from Dobbins Technical High School. Someone must have ratted me out as my good friend Joe Walsh and I — both young white guys — drank in the African American bar in a section of Philadelphia called Brewerytown. Continue reading →
Laughter. It’s good to hear in most of life situations. It can be contagious and cause people to drop their serious attitudes and see a more lighter side of things.
You need it. particularly when times get tough. And if you hang out with the type of people who laugh a lot, you might even hear some gallows humor. You’ll find it among soldiers, cops and nurses as well as ditch diggers, new priests and first-aid workers. Continue reading →
I took a leave of absence from my work as a newspaper reporter to serve as a union organizer for The Newspaper Guild years ago. I had helped to negotiate several contracts at the Pottstown Mercury, and only took the job when I was overlooked for being made a copy-editor at the paper. Continue reading →
John Facenda was Philadelphia’s favorite newscaster when I was growing up. He was suave and debonair, kind of like a Cary Grant with a voice that captured your immediate attention whether it be about shenanigans going on in city government or sports actions through NFL replays. Continue reading →
“Wicked cool” is what I thought I’d be when I was 17 and was about to attend a Greek Orthodox wedding for one of my cousins in Queens, NY. I refused to wear a tie to go along with my suit. Instead, I put on “love beads.” You know, the ones that hippies were wearing in 1960s. I was a hippie wannabe. I wanted to protest the institutional requirement to look one way when I wanted to express myself another way. That is, to be in love with everyone and to share that love with all for whom I was going to come into contact with. Continue reading →
I wanted the driver who cut me off to crash and burn.
For a brief moment, I thought of praying that he would immediately die for cutting in front of me as I was doing 60-miles-an-hour on the expressway behind a car just five lengths in front of me. I beeped my horn and flashed my high beams at the driver. I relished in the hatred I felt burning inside of me. I loathed him from the bottom of my heart and wanted a bloody accident to befall ‘em. Continue reading →
A fellow I worked with got a luke-warm endorsement for a man running to be the next district attorney of Philadelphia and I believe it will go a long way in ensuring justice is served in my old home town. Continue reading →
I heard the word “Satsang” yesterday and it reminded me of a journey I started a half a lifetime ago when I had hit rock bottom and sought answers to the meaning of life.
Satsang is a Sanskrit word that means “gathering together for the truth” or, more simply, “being with the truth.” According to sources from India, Truth is what is real, what truly exists. Continue reading →