San Antonio, Texas
22 September 2018
W.E.B GRIFFIN – William E. Butterworth III
Delivered by William E. Butterworth IV
I appreciate your willingness to suffer my presence without my father being here. I could try to tell you how genuinely disappointed he is that he couldn’t make it tonight – but I would fail miserably.
He’s always enjoyed these gatherings – the walls of his offices have countless photos from over the years – and he said he wanted not only to attend another but, as those photos show, to have a helluva good time. “If I’m fatigued, though, I’m not going to please anyone.”
I wish, for a number of obvious reasons, that Fred Platt were here. If anyone could get my old man in gear, and laughing and forgetting his fatigue, it’d be good ol’ Magnet Ass.
Since that ain’t happening, what I propose we do now is act as if my old man is more or less here. To do that, I’ve put together, from things he’s written and thing’s I’ve written, something that he would’ve delivered himself.
So, if you’ll imagine that the person here at the mic has a couple more decades on him, a fat Honduran cigar smoldering in one hand, and a fat glass dark with 18-year-old single malt Scotch in the other – wait, hell, no imagining that one – then I will speak as the old man ….
When Ron Burkett and Bill Sparkman conspired last year and asked me if I would like to talk here in San Antone tonight, my first reaction was, “Like? Hell, no!”
For one thing, I’m a writer, not an actor, and—as you are about to find out—I give lousy speeches.
For another, I have given enough bad speeches, or talks, call it what you want, to understand that a group like ours can make a speech-giver more than a little cautious.
You don’t get far in our profession without being able to quickly determine who is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
And who isn’t.
The easiest audience for a speech-giver is a room full of politicians. For one thing, most politicians don’t listen, and the few who do listen don’t expect to hear the truth.
As you well know, at these reunions a lot of stories get told – and re-told –some, no doubt, better with each retelling.
Certainly that’s the case with mine here. So let’s get to it so we can get back to drinking.
I turned 17 a month after I joined the Army, which was shortly after I had been (again) expelled from prep school. I was a bad kid. I never went to jail, but I just didn’t get along with schools—the underlying cause was that I was a bad influence, discipline-wise, on others.
I got my childhood pals, for example, to join the Sea Scouts with me, not to learn knots but to get the Navy uniform rejects that I found out were being issued. We were instructed to replace the Navy insignia with that of the Sea Scouts. But doing that would have meant getting cut off from being served in bars.
So, as far as I know, I think I had a perfectly normal childhood, despite a good deal of it spent drinking, smoking, and chasing girls.
I enlisted in the Army, in Philadelphia, in the recruiting office over the drug store across from the 12th Street Market, and spent my first night as a soldier in the Frankford Arsenal. You had to be 17 to enlist and produce a birth certificate that proved it. So I changed the date on mine. When my parents found out, their response was, “He’ll be begging us to get him out in two weeks.”
They were wrong. The military became my new family.
Let me be clear: my military background is wholly un-distinguished. I was a sergeant. What happened was that I was incredibly lucky in getting to be around some truly distinguished senior officers, sergeants, and spooks. And I embraced it.
When the Army sent me to Germany, for instance, I wound up working as a clerk-typist for a legendary officer named Isaac Davis White. General White was directly descended from Isaac Davis, who fired the shot heard round the world at Concord Green.
And through General White, there in the U.S. Constabulary in Occupied Germany in 1946, I first met Robert R. Williams, West Point Class of ’40. He was then a 26-year-old lieutenant colonel, with two years in grade, and I was a 17-year-old sergeant. Behind our backs, we were known as Hotshot Bobby and The Boy Wonder. More on Bob Williams in a moment.
In the Second World War, Major General White had commanded Hell on Wheels, the 2nd Armored Division, and had the bridges across the Elbe when General Eisenhower ordered him to halt and let the Russians take Berlin.
After the war, White had two jobs. He commanded the Constabulary, which of course policed occupied Germany, and he was charged with the support of what was called Military Advisory Group, Greece. It was almost a clandestine operation. Few Americans even knew the U.S. Army was in Greece at the time.
My job initially involved writing memos for his signature, extremely important things like warning soldiers about social disease and spitting on the sidewalk. I don’t know why, but when I wrote something it sounded like General White had written it. When the general saw this—which obviously proved how brilliant I was—the job quickly evolved into writing more and more important papers for his signature, the absolute necessity, for example, of air-shipping to Greece some weapon or special ammunition, or responding to some Congressman’s letter about the abuse of one of his constituents by a mean sergeant.
If it had to be written, I wrote it, and General White signed it, and I like to think I saved him a lot of time for the more important things he had to do.
I also became General White’s go-fer, which saw me performing all sorts of errands. This resulted in a sleeve full of undeserved chevrons for me, still a teenager.
As General White moved upward, he took me with him, first to Fort Knox and ultimately to Korea, to which he had been ordered as a lieutenant general to straighten out X Corps (Group) which was really an Army. (We had two Korean Corps under us.)
And there he had the responsibility for clandestine warfare, which he called special forces, without the capital letters.
The people who did special ops there for him were Lieutenant Colonels Jay Vanderpool and Arthur “Bull” Simons and Major Charley Merritt. It was known as Task Force Able.
Since I already knew from Greece these players and what kind of support they needed and how to get it, I was given the additional duty of supporting Task Force Able, which was engaged in sneaking into North Korea, blowing up tunnels, and taking out senior North Korean and Chinese officers. My orders were, “Get Bull Simons anything—anything at all—that he asks for.”
Was I part of what they did? Not really. What I was was a kid who could type and, more importantly, write.
Napoleon said an Army travels on its stomach. Well, I can tell you the U.S. Army travels on a road of paper.
Also in Korea, General White announced that he was making me the Public Information Sergeant of X Corps Group. He told me he had relieved the full colonel who had been the PIO and replaced him with a second lieutenant who knew something about public relations.
Understandably, the second lieutenant was having difficulty controlling his thirteen combat correspondents. These were well-educated young PFCs and corporals who had been successful journalists before being drafted.
I was to do two things in my new assignment, General White told me: first, control these wild men and, second, make sure that none of their dispatches—which were distributed around the world as AP, UP and INS stories—mentioned his name.
I knew this was going to be really interesting when I went into the mess tent and saw sitting at a table a tall hawk-featured PFC wearing a Combat Correspondent’s insignia and the Combat Infantry Badge. On his table was a hand scrawled sign reading “4th Grade Thru College.” Across the tent, where the senior sergeants like me dined, was a printed sign reading “First Three Grades Only.”
The PFC was John Sack, fresh from Harvard, where he had not only published the first two of his many books, but also had been the first man to be simultaneously editor of both the “Crimson” and the “Lampoon,” and the first Jewish editor of either.
One day, some months after we met, while sharing a bottle of Haig & Haig that I had purloined from the General’s Mess, I confessed to John that the few stories I had written—when none of the combat correspondents were available at the moment—and then sent out “on the wire” had made me wonder if I too might hope “one day” be a writer. To which John replied, “Damn it, Butterballs, you’re a better writer now than anybody here but me. So have at it, you dumb SOB! Write a damn book.”
As so the first chapters of my first novel, COMFORT ME WITH LOVE, were written in Korea shortly before John and I came home and got out of the Army, and General White left to ultimately become the four-star Commander-in-Chief, Pacific.
I had served nine years when I hung up the uniform. I went home to Philly— and the worst year of my life.
The first job I had—my first job ever—was selling wholesale paper for the J.L.N. Smythe Company. I had a tiny apartment on Cherry Street and walked to work. The Daily News also was on Cherry, and one day I gathered my courage and went in and asked for a job. They didn’t actually laugh at me, but made it plain that they were not at all interested in my professional services as a writer.
Neither, it quickly became apparent, was I destined for a career as a salesman of wholesale paper. With great finesse, Mr. Neville Smythe made it clear that I really would be happier doing something else.
That something else—and I was damned glad to have the job, as I had a wife and young daughter to support—turned out to be selling Karo syrup for the Corn Products Sales Company. In my training period, I was in every damn grocery store in the City of Brotherly Love.
And again I was a terrible salesman. Every time my boss called to say he would be working with me the next day, I was afraid I was going to get the same kind of speech I’d gotten from Mr. Neville Smythe.
And then, one day, I got a wholly unexpected visit from a Charley Merritt, last seen when we left Korea.
Charley was one helluva a guy. He’d landed with the Rangers on D-Day as a technical sergeant, and two weeks later was a captain with two Purple Hearts and a Distinguished Service Cross.
I learned that newly-promoted Colonel Vanderpool and newly-promoted Lieutenant Colonel Merritt had gone home from Korea to Camp Rucker, Alabama, where Vanderpool was placed in charge of combat developments for a soon-to-be greatly expanded program of Army Aviation. Merritt was placed in charge of communications for Army Aviation, and, under the covers, with support of CIA and Special Forces operations.
They were soon stumbling along that paper-paved road, and from what they could see it was going to get worse, not better.
“I wish we had Sergeant Butterworth.”
“Where is he?”
“He got out of the Army to write a goddamn novel.”
And so Charley did.
“Jesus Christ,” he said as I stood beside my Corn Products car, its trunk and back seat jammed full of Point of Purchase signs and sample half-gallon bottles of Liquid Linit Starch. “You really want to spend your life doing that? You used to be a soldier!”
He offered me a deal: If I went to Camp Rucker and worked for him and Vanderpool in the morning, I could write my goddamned novel in the afternoon.
A week later, I was a GS-7—a glorified civilian second lieutenant—at Camp Rucker, Alabama.
When I arrived, I found Bob Williams there. Now a full colonel, he was president of the Army Aviation Board.
The next four years, I worked morning and afternoon and weekends helping Williams and Merritt and Vanderpool get Army Aviation up and running. And of course Williams, who had dragged Army Aviation from the handful of aircraft of the United States Constabulary Flight Detachment to an entirely new functioning concept of air mobility on the battlefield that changed the face of warfare.
But I didn’t get to write my novel in the afternoons. I learned how to fly. Obviously I couldn’t write about aviation if I didn’t know what the hell I was writing about.
Always understanding, they said: “Your goddamned novel will just have to wait.”
Despite the best efforts of Vanderpool and Merritt to fill my day with military duties, I found time to finish my novel. And sold it. And the second and the third.
On my final efficiency report, four years later, on my resignation, it said that I was the “Senior Technical Writer, U.S. Army Aviation Center and School, and Principal Author/Editor of Field Manual FM1 [ DASH ] 1, Army Aviation Operations.”
When I am asked which of my books I’m most proud of, that’s the one.
I then wrote original paperbacks for adults—more than fifty—and another flock of books for high school age kids—more than forty—and then, when it became evident to me that I was not ever going to become a famous hardcover New York Times best-selling novelist, I realized the money was in ghost-writing.
I’d been a ghost-writer all of my adult life. And I took to that, to coin a phrase, like a duck to water. It paid well. And I got to meet very interesting people and go to interesting places. I spent almost a year all over Africa on one assignment, for example.
And I really didn’t mind not getting the writing credit, just as long as they spelled my name right on the check and it didn’t bounce.
Then H. Richard Hornberger, M.D., came into my life.
He was, among many other things, not only the creator of the character of Hawkeye in MASH – he was Hawkeye. He graduated very young from medical school, just in time for the Korean War, where he was a surgeon in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
Because of the sheer volume of his experience in trauma surgery, when he got out of the Army he was taken under the wing of a distinguished British surgeon and quickly became distinguished himself. Dr. Hornberger invented, among other things, the surgical technique of stapling the stomach to fight obesity.
And then he wrote a book called MASH.
He sent it to a Harvard pal named Malcolm Reiss, who happened to be my literary agent in New York. Malcolm was a fascinating guy, and the classic Ivy Leaguer who in War Two found himself in the Office of Strategic Services. As everyone here knows, the OSS, led by General “Wild Bill” Donovan, was the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Malcom’s OSS team got sent to IndoChina to deal with a nationalist you may have heard of, a guy named Ho Chi Minh.
As a literary agent, however, Malcolm had trouble selling MASH. It went to thirty-four publishers before anyone made an offer. I have one of the original ten “agent” copies, on which Malcolm wrote to me, “I don’t have high hopes for this, but I know you went through a MASH, and I thought it might make you chuckle.”
Well, as you know, they published the book, made the movie, started the TV series. And then the publishers wanted more MASH books.
Distinguished vascular surgeons made very good money. Hornberger was not interested in taking the time to write a sequel.
No problem, the publishers said, we will get you a humor ghost-writer.
A large number of successful ones, many of them from the film industry, then made the journey to Waterville, Maine to obtain Dr. Hornberger’s blessing.
Unfortunately, they were all of the long-haired liberal persuasion. I could but won’t repeat—even in your experienced company—the colorful words that Hornberger used to send them away.
The ante kept going up, and so did Dr. Hornberger’s resistance. Finally, they offered him $100,000 to permit someone to write a sequel. They would pay the ghost-writer, and if Hornberger did not approve of the manuscript, it would not be published, and he got to keep the $100,000.
I learned all of this in a surprise telephone conference call from my agent.
“Bill,” Malcolm announced, “say hello to Dr. Hornberger.”
“Call me ‘Horny.’ Our Hah-vard liberal pal here says you’re nearly as much a fascist as I am. True?”
“I am somewhat to the right of Ghengis Khan.”
“Okay. Here’s the deal.”
It was sort of a Catch-22. Hornberger was not going to approve a ghost-written book unless he approved of what it said. And the publisher was not going to publish a book of the sort of which he would approve. So the book would never get published.
Hornberger knew this. But since he would get a hundred grand either way, and they were going to pay the ghost, he thought it was better to have a fellow fascist get money than some long-haired liberal.
It didn’t matter that the fellow fascist had never before written one humorous word on purpose. We Korean War vets have to stick together.
And so I was very generously paid to write MASH GOES TO NEW ORLEANS. I wrote it in just under three weeks, sent it to Hornberger, and forgot about it. I figured no publisher in his right mind would print a book that ridiculed Dan Rather, CBS News, the Knights of Columbus, the Baptist Church, and the Democratic Party—and then said things that would really make people mad.
Three months later, a package arrived at my doorstep. It contained a copy of MASH GOES TO NEW ORLEANS. My name was on the book cover: “By Richard Hooker and W.E. Butterworth.” And there was a certified check. And a revised contract giving me fifty percent of the proceeds of NEW ORLEANS and of any other sequels.
The first sequel sold more than a million copies in just a few weeks. The next eleven did even better.
Yet, all good things come to an end.
I had just told my agent Malcolm Reiss to offer me on the ghost-writer’s slave block again when I read a hardcover New York Times best-seller about the Army—I will not tell you the name—and instantly came to an immodest conclusion:
“Jesus, this is awful. I’ve forgotten more about the Army than this guy ever knew.”
So I wrote the first of the BROTHERHOOD OF WAR books. THE LIEUTENANTS was an original paperback, and sold in hardcover in England before it was published here.
The fourth BROTHERHOOD book was published in hardcover, and it made The New York Times list, my first hardback bestseller.
There was no one more surprised than me.
Then the first few of the Marine Corps series followed, in hardback, and they all made the list.
And that’s when I got a letter from Sergeant Zeb Casey of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Zeb—who’s left us, but was a Marine before he became a cop, and Marines, you know, guard the streets of heaven—Zeb asked if I would be interested in writing about the Philadelphia Police in the same style I write about the Army and the Corps.
I answered that I knew very little about cops, except that they’re a closed brotherhood, and I just wouldn’t have the material to do a decent job.
Zeb, through a combination of highly respected police officers, made the introductions. And I like to believe that I haven’t betrayed any confidences.
Being around cops, and writing about them, has given me the chance to think about the role of the police in society. I’m quickly going to share some of those observations with you, like it or not.
The first thing I really thought was how close the police are to the military, not only in organization but—more importantly—in their dedication to duty, their sense of honor, their willingness to lay their lives on the line, day after day, to protect society.
Once I understood that, I remembered what my late friend James Kern Feibleman had told me about warriors and society.
Jimmy was remarkable. He never finished high school, but he had twenty-seven honorary doctorates—twenty-seven—from the most prestigious universities in the world. Huntingdon Hartford described him as the greatest mind of our time.
He was, when I met him late in his life, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Tulane University and Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Louisiana Medical School and President of the American Philosophical Society. He wrote more than 100 scholarly books on such things as quantum mechanics.
I was able to enter Jimmy’s life because he had outlived all his peers. I quickly learned he was not an egghead in an ivory tower. He devoted one day a week to business, and made enough money at that to ride around in a red Mercedes convertible—the license plate bore his initials—which he would often park in front of New Orleans’ most notorious adult theatre, which greatly annoyed his wife.
Jimmy often invited me to the parties his wife gave for the academics of New Orleans—for the academics of the world, for that matter.
At these parties, where I was somewhat welcomed as a writer, I was reminded that academics, almost to a man, do not like soldiers. They feel intellectually superior to soldiers and go out of their way to demonstrate this superiority.
This annoyed me no end—some of the smartest people I have ever known were soldiers. So, during one of our regular visits to the horse track, I asked Jimmy, “Why?”
His great genius was in making the complicated simple.
He said: “From the time we climbed down from the trees and started walking upright, there have been two kinds of men—the warriors and the others.
“The warriors were from time to time necessary. They went out and kept the saber-toothed tigers from eating the people who were living in caves, and they went out and killed dangerous animals and brought them to the caves for the others to eat.
“As a reward, the warriors were given the places closest to the fire, the best cuts of meat, the most-attractive women. No one complained about the arrangement as long as there were saber-toothed tigers snarling in the darkness, or as long as they brought food home.
“But when crops were abundant and the saber-toothed tigers were hunting someplace else, the non-warriors began to wonder why the useless warriors got the best women and steaks, and began to plot how to get these privileges removed.
“Inevitably, the saber-toothed tigers returned or food became short—and the warriors became everybody’s heroes again.
“Psychologically,” Jimmy added, “other men feel inferior to warriors.”
His parable neatly explains, at least to me, why most criticism of soldiers comes from people who have never heard a shot fired in anger, and why most of the criticism of the police comes from people who have no idea whatever what it’s like to walk a beat. And, more importantly, have absolutely no intention of picking up a rifle or a night stick and finding out.
Another similarity between the police and the military that I’ve noticed is their reaction to the bad apple that from time to time appears. Most soldiers, it seems to me, and most cops regard a bad apple in their barrel as a personal insult.
In my time as a soldier and later—I’ve spent a lot of time outside this country—I watched a lot of foreign cops and soldiers at work. The conclusion I’ve drawn from this experience is that the American people really have no idea how good our military and LEOs are, or how lucky they are to have it.
A final story—I promise—and we can get back to serious drinking.
Another friend—my mentor, really—was William Bradford Huie, who served in the Navy in War Two.
He was already famous when I was a kid and first started reading him.
I wanted to grow up and be another William Bradford Huie. I wanted to be a war hero, like Huie, to go ashore on my beach as he had gone ashore on the Normandy beachhead, with the underwater demolition teams, before the first invasion wave.
I wanted to be a globe-traveling journalist like Huie, flying to wherever the story was, then seeing my name, like his, emblazoned across the covers of Life and the Saturday Evening Post and the other greats . . . Inside, A Special Report By William Bradford Huie!
I wanted to take over the American Mercury magazine from Bill as he had taken it over from H.L. Mencken, which meant that I would be able to write like he did. Clear and clean and precise . . . delightfully.
And I wanted to write significant novels, like Bill, and have them declared best-sellers, and then made into major motion pictures, like his Americanization of Emily, with the biggest stars in Hollywood. And write books about criminality that would move governments to correct injustice and throw the bastards in jail.
And I tried, succeeding only a little by comparison. But, truth being stranger than fiction, Bill and I became friends and he made me a better writer and a better person.
Bill is why, I think, when the first handful of W.E.B. Griffin novels came out in the early 1980s, an interviewer asked how it was possible for those books to become very successful during a time when public appetite for war and the military had been at an all-time low.
I answered that I thought that it may be because I write about people rather than stereotype soldiers. That may sound self-flattering, and I don’t mean to be.
As I’ve said, I was lucky enough to be around some people who were very senior, and some lieutenants who became senior, so I think I know the military mind. I don’t paint myself as, say, a great counterspy, because that is absolutely untrue. But what that security clearance did for me was give me access; I could go in the files and look at things. I read things then and later put it all to use.
In short, I’ve been lucky, there’s just no other way to put it. I’ve lived a fairly interesting life, a rewarding one, being paid, and paid well, for doing something I love to do. That’s as good as it gets.
I thank you for listening to all I’ve had to say. And I thank you most of all for buying my damn books. I hope to see you all soon.
Now, if anyone has any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.