Writing for Facebook

This headline is somewhat misleading. If I were REALLY going to show an example of writing for Facebook (or any social media), I’d post something that would contain links and keywords and other little tidbits that are especially applicable to social media. But I posted this story and picture about my father on a recent Veteran’s Day (November 11, 2016) for a couple of reasons — it told a little about me and my family, and I knew that anything that relates to a holiday or other special day usually gets a good amount of attention. This story got around 75 “likes” and around 25 comments, so it was pretty well received.  This is typical of what I’m writing currently; I’m working on my second novel, writing some PR-related magazine articles and press releases for a Tampa-based agency, and posting a fair amount of social media words and pictures.

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This is a picture of my father with just one leg under him, an observation that has more truth to it than you know. I’ve always been reluctant to share this picture, especially on a day like today. I didn’t want anyone to feel that I was being disrespectful by posting a picture of him in such a comic pose.

But I decided to go ahead and share it. It’s a story that is worth telling.

muleshit-pictureArthur (that was his name, the same as mine) quit high school in his junior year, and then bummed around for a number of years. He worked as a painter and paperhanger in Boston, then moved to Cleveland in pursuit of a woman. He worked there in a hotel kitchen, as assistant to the ice cream chef.

Nothing much happened in his life until he got his draft notice in 1942. He was 25.

He was inducted into the army, and was assigned to an artillery unit. U.S. Army artillery pieces were still being dragged around by mules at that time, and Arthur spent a number of months as a buck private, shoveling mule shit. This was duty that he did not like.

Paper hanger, then assistant ice cream maker, then shoveler of mule shit. He was in his mid-20s, not all that young. I think around this time he finally got the message that some changes had to be made; he applied for Officer Candidate School.

His Army aptitude tests showed he had an IQ of 135, and that’s what got him accepted. He spent the next 90 nights in the latrine, the only place he could study. With only a 10th grade education, he mastered trigonometry while sitting on a toilet.

Now he was a Second Lieutenant, an artillery officer. A year or so later, he landed on Utah Beach, marched across Europe as part of Patton’s Army, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He earned the Bronze Star and the Silver Star. The Boston Globe, his hometown newspaper, wrote a story about him.

He came home and got a good job with Standard Oil on the basis of his military rank and record. He believed that World War II was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

This story does not have a good ending. Arthur’s lifelong addiction to alcohol killed him at 54. He died pretty much alone, having lost his job, his family and friends many years earlier. He was a high school dropout at the beginning of his adult life, and an alcoholic at the end of it.

But in the middle of his life, between those two dark bookends, there was a shining moment. He did the right thing, he contributed something good to others, and he earned some respect. I bet it made him feel good. I believe the picture is of him during his Army training, sometime during his transition from muleshit-shoveler to leader of men.

It’s not easy for me to say anything good about Arthur; my memories of him are not good ones. But today I’m going to try to give him his due.

I guess this Veteran’s Day belongs to him as much as anyone.

 

A story about my old friend Don

Don was a friend of mine, from the early days of my newspaper career. I lost track of him for many years, but then discovered that he had died and was buried at the veterans’ cemetery at Bay Pines, not far from my home. I went there on a recent Memorial Day, found his grave and spent a few minutes with him. I wrote this story and took a few pictures, then posted them on a blog to illustrate the sacrifices that our veterans make.

By BILL FREDERICK

On Memorial Day, I visited my old friend, Don.

I had searched for Don on the Internet a number of times, but I never could find him. The last I heard, he was working as a reporter for the Bradenton Herald, but that was back in the 1970s – so long ago that no one at the newspaper had any memory of him. It was like he had sort of evaporated.

Then one day I tried something different on Google. Instead of searching for “Donald McSheffrey,” I tried a search for “McSheffrey, Donald.” And there he was – buried in Plot 55 45-10 at Bay Pines National Cemetery, right here in Pinellas County.

mcsheffrey headstone pic

Don McSheffrey’s headstone

* * *

On Jan. 6, 1968, I started my first newspaper reporting job at the Holyoke (Mass.) Transcript-Telegram. After getting the tour of the building and meeting the other staff members, I was handed over to Don; he was the Transcript’s police reporter, and I was going to be handling his beat on his days off.

Soon we were walking through the cold January air to the Holyoke police station, where Don introduced me around. He showed me the booking sheet, introduced me to the right people, and explained how to get information from the cops without getting in their way.

I was 21; I never really knew how old Don was. His perennially red eyes and the broken blood vessels in his cheeks made it hard to tell. To me, he was a veteran newsman who knew his way around. To him, I was young and teachable. In spite of the difference in our ages, we became buddies.We drank too much and had a hell of a time.

One day, sparks from a passing freight train set off a grass fire in town, and Don and I went to cover it. The fire had spread up a steep embankment and we couldn’t see whether it was endangering the houses that lined the road above us. We decided to climb the embankment and have a look.

The climb nearly killed us. By the time we got to the top we were so out of breath we couldn’t even speak, so we collapsed in the tall grass, gasping for air. Almost immediately, water started pouring on us, and I picked my head up to see where it was coming from. A woman had come out of her back door and was soaking the tall grass – and us — with a garden hose, and we were too breathless to yell at her to stop. So we just lay in the grass, wet, gasping and laughing our butts off.

*  *  *

As well as I got to know Don, he wouldn’t tell me much about himself. I knew that he had two little girls, and I knew that his wife was dead. Other than that, he said little – he wouldn’t even tell me where he lived.

It wasn’t long before I heard the story from some of our co-workers, but I knew Don for several months before he told me about it himself. We were sitting in a bar one night, half-drunk, when he said, “It’s time I told you about it.”

Don and his wife had befriended a man who worked as a writer for a national news magazine. Don said he looked up to the guy, who was very successful and talented. Don and this man drank a lot of beer together. I knew from my own experience that if you knew Don, you were going to be drinking a lot of beer.

One day the man stopped by the McSheffrey apartment when Don wasn’t home. Don’s wife invited him inside and offered him a glass of iced tea. They went into the kitchen, and Mrs. McSheffrey turned toward the refrigerator. When she did, the man grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and stabbed her repeatedly. She fell to the floor and died.

Don came home that night and found her. The two babies were still in their cribs, unhurt. The police found the man sitting on a doorstep a block away, where he had been sitting since the murder. He told them that he had always wanted to stab a woman to death, but that he had always managed to fend off the urge and figured it would never actually happen.

*  *  *

About a year after I joined the Transcript, Don decided to quit and move to Florida. He got a job at the Bradenton Herald, and he said he was pleased that there was a bar just a few steps from the newspaper’s front door. He had already met the owner/bartender, who he said was a nice guy.

We promised to stay in touch, but we didn’t.

*  *  *

There isn’t much to learn from Don’s gravestone at Bay Pines. He was born in 1934, which solved a small mystery – he was 34 when I met him. He died in 1990, which would have made him 56 years old. I wonder if the alcohol got him, but I guess I’ll never know. I wonder if his daughters live close enough to visit his grave.

The gravestone also noted that he served in the Air Force, and was an Airman 2nd Class. I remember that he talked about that a little. I think he served in Korea as an airplane mechanic, and I seem to remember that he said he liked the military.

Standing by Don’s grave on Memorial Day, small American flags flutter next to each grave stone for as far as you can see.

Besides Don’s, there are 23,952 of them at Bay Pines. Each one of those stones represents a person who lived and breathed and served in the U.S. military. And there is a story to tell about each one of them.