|Oxonian George J. ("Jerry") Goodman,|
author of The Money Game etc.
A couple of years before he died, Jerry sent me and others an email about his experiences in the Army and Navy. It is a classic story. I just ran across it again. I share it to show what a great life Jerry lived and what a great way he had with words.
There is an obituary in The New York Times for William J. Lederer, who died at 97 [in 2010]. He was an author famous in the 50s and 60s for The Ugly American and other books. I met Lederer in one of my Harvard writing courses, English K. I sat next to him. He was a Nieman Fellow, a one-year fellowship usually for newspapermen to spend a year at Harvard, but also for other special cases like Lederer.
Lederer was a Navy career officer. He was great company. The real reason he was at Harvard was that he had been in command of the cruiser Augusta, at Newport News in Virginia. The squadron commander had told the Augusta to switch berths. No big deal, like getting another parking place. Lederer was asleep in his cabin when he felt a sudden, gentle nudge. The cruiser Augusta had run aground: its bow was in the mud. Lederer raced to the bridge in his underwear. He knew his Navy career was essentially over. Even though someone else had nudged the cruiser into the mud, if you are the captain of a ship, you are responsible for everything, so Lederer's Navy career was capped.
He had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1936, so at that point he needed another four or five years to retire. The Navy let him stay, doing non-line jobs, like going to Harvard and hanging out with Jerry Goodman. Three years later, I was in the Army at the Special Forces Group in Fort Shafter, Hawaii. I was a private. I was walking down a street in Honolulu, when I heard, "Hey, Goodman!" It was Lederer. After we had a cup of coffee, Lederer said, "Boy, could I use you. Why don't you come and work with me?" Lederer was the Special Assistant to Admiral Felix Stump, CINCPAC. That is Commander in Chief, Pacific, a four star admiral.
"Bill, I'm in the Army, not the Navy," I said. Bill said, "When you are CINCPAC you are commander of everything, and that includes the Army." He said, "I am the Special Assistant to the CINCPAC. I can make anything happen from Thailand to San Francisco."
So I went to Makalapa at Pearl Harbor, the big rock with CINCPAC deep inside. It was great. I helped Lederer craft speeches for Felix Stump, and I went to conferences and reported back. Stump chewed on a cigar, and wore a baseball cap, sometimes backwards.
My security clearances went higher and higher: Secret, then Top Secret, then Q. I knew nobody would ever believe I had a Q clearance, so I actually took a duplicate cover sheet that said Q home with me. (I have the Top Secret one around Princeton somewhere).
I had to pass about five check points walking into Makalapa, but I wore this special badge, and the Marines would give me a salute like they were plucking and hurling an eyeball. CINCPAC sent me to a SEATO conference (the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization).
I was very good at discussing the issues with the other colonels. After the first day, I told Lederer everybody in my group was a lieutenant colonel or colonel. Lederer took the insignia from the collar and replaced it with an ordinary, everyday dress one, the American eagle on a brass background. One day, an RAF wing commander said to me, "I say, Goodman, why does your eagle have a circle around it when none of the other colonels do?"
It was one of the best times I had in the Army, because I wasn't really in the Army: nobody saying my rifle wasn't clean, nobody flipping a quarter on my bunk to see if it was so tight the quarter would bounce. And I knew I was doing a good job. What the hell, I had already been four years to Harvard and two to Oxford, and I could certainly expostulate as well as the colonels from Asian countries whose first language was not English.
Eventually the Army squawked so much the Navy sent me back. I knew the Army was pissed off at having the Navy reach in and pull one of its privates, and why were his security clearances going higher and higher (so he could edit Admiral Radford's plan to drop 50 atomic bombs on China)?
I knew the Army would take it out on me, so I asked Lederer to have the Admiral give me a ribbon or something. And he did. So at the Friday parade, the top sergeant had to read out this commendation letter from the CINCPAC.
After the commander said "Dis...missed!" our sergeant said, "Goodman, while you were larking around with the Navy we painted all the barracks. We knew you wouldn't want to miss that, so we saved you some paint, some brushes, and two of the barracks, and you are going to spend the weekend painting them." I did. It was worth it, 100 times over.
Lederer retired on a Navy pension and wrote other books, and after a couple of years, I lost touch with him. The bit about the cruiser Augusta running aground is not in the obituary. But if the Augusta had not run aground, Lederer would not have taken writing courses at Harvard, and he would have been just another Navy officer, and wouldn't have gotten the lead obituary in the The New York Times.