Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"Mission: Impossible - Fallout"

Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday (check out the podcast, "At The Movies with Arch and Ann") always says something along the lines of "judge a movie for what it is and what it is trying to do", or words to that effect.  In other words, you can't really compare "Caddyshack" to "Citizen Kane", but that doesn't mean that "Caddyshack" isn't a good movie given how it presents itself, i.e., a lowbrow comedy that will make you laugh, often uncontrollably.

That brings us to "Mission: Impossible - Fallout".  I went to this because the trailers that I had seen indicated that much of this movie was filmed in Paris, and, having just been to Paris, I wanted to see those gorgeous locations.  To that end, this  movie delivered the goods in spades.  Gorgeous shots of many Paris landmarks.

I also figured that the movie would give the viewer lots of action, exciting and spectacular chases, cartoonish violence, beautiful people, and a convoluted plot so filled with Maguffins that it wouldn't be worth even trying to follow along. Again, these boxes were checked.

On the minus side of the ledger, the movie was two hours and twenty-seven minutes long.  Too long by at least a half hour.  It also featured one of the oldest cliches in the history of the movies - a countdown clock that our heroes had to beat in order to avoid....well, I'm not going to spoil it for you.  You'll have to see for yourselves what the IMF team is up against.  At least the filmmakers didn't include a pretty heroine tied to railroad tracks, or a villain twirling his mustache and saying "Why no, Mr. Cruise, I expect you to die!!!"

Speaking of star Tom Cruise, I have always felt that while he may be a bit of a screwball in real life, I also thought that he was and is a really good actor.  (Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for "Rainman", but Cruise was every bit as good as the brother in that movie.)  This is the seventh, believe it or not, installment of this "Mission: Impossible" series, and Cruise certainly pulls it off, I suppose, but he is also now 56 years old, and I am not sure how much longer he can pull off these movies that require such boyish devil-may-care charm, if that time hasn't passed already.  Still, he does have the right to cash the checks from these blockbusters for as long as movie producers are willing to give them to him.

So, if you are looking for some mindless movie excitement on a summer evening, this movie fits the bill, but at two-and-a-half hours in length, be sure you hit the rest room before it starts and don't drink a large soda while watching.  You will be entertained, but at various points in the film you may also find yourself saying something along the lines of "well, this is just ridiculous".

Two and one-half stars from The Grandstander.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"West Side Story" Thoughts

This past Friday evening we watched the great movie "West Side Story" on TCM.  Now I happen to love "West Side Story". I have seen the movie countless times and have seen at least one professional stage production of this classic and, dare I say, groundbreaking American musical.  However, when watching it the other night, I found that it might be, well, I hesitate to use the word "dated", but a person under the age of thirty who is seeing this for the first time in 2018 might not take to it quite like theater audiences did in 1957 and movie audiences did in 1961.

You all know the story, but if you don't its original source material is William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", which was written and first staged in England back in 1597.  The setting is the west side of New York City and it involves juvenile gangs and delinquency, specifically turf warfare between white American kids (the Jets) and Puerto Rican kids (the Sharks) who have emigrated to America.  Trouble is always percolating between the rival Sharks and Jets, but it comes to a head when Tony, the former leader of the Jets who has left the gang to move onto adult things, falls in love with Maria, the younger sister of Sharks leader, Bernardo.  Trouble and tragedy ensue and are played out to the terrific score of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein and fabulous choreography throughout.

The themes are timeless, but when you think of hard ass gang bangers here in 2018, you don't think of Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris and the rest of the cast doing ballet type movements and rousing dance numbers on the streets and rooftops of New York City.

 Beymer with Natalie Wood

Oscar winner Chakiris (center)

 Rita Moreno, another Oscar winner

 Tamblyn (L) and the Jets

When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way....

What I am leading up to here (finally) is the fact that serious discussions are taking place in Hollywood to do a re-make of "West Side Story". Now I know that this will bring out screams and anguish along the lines of "How could they possibly think that remaking this Oscar winning classic is a good idea?  Why this verges on sacrilege!!!"

I have written on the subject of remakes before, and while I agree that some things just shouldn't be done ("Casablanca", for example), if a remake is done well and is good, and if it has something new to say or a different spin to put on a work, why not?  The names associated with this proposed remake of "West Side Story" are director Stephen Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner.  These are heavy hitters, folks, and their association with the project pretty much guarantees that this will not be a schlocky, fly-by-night production.  No one is talking about changing any of these wonderful songs, either, so I, for one, will look forward to seeing how Spielberg and Kushner will present this classic story.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

Today we took in the new and highly acclaimed documentary about the late Fred Rogers, and what can I say?  It was terrific and timely reminder of what is really needed in the world today.

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Fred Rogers made the caring of children his ministry and he used public television as his "church".  Another minister interviewed for the documentary said that while Fred never wore a collar, he was without doubt the most effective minister that he had ever encountered.  When you see the movie and hear what Mr. Rogers said - and his words are still powerful fifteen years after his death - you become aware that his message means more than just about anything that you see and hear from the influence makers of 2018.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough.  It gets a full Four Stars from The Grandstander.

Those who know me know of Marilyn's and my association with The Highmark Caring Place.  What people may not know is that Fred Rogers was an early advocate and a co-founder of The Caring Place. He served as Honorary Chairman of the Caring Foundation and spokesman from its inception in 1985 until his death in 2003.  Again, those who know me know how I feel about the Caring Place and seeing this movie today makes us doubly proud to be associated, however tangentially, with an institution that was so closely associated with Fred Rogers.  

This quote from Fred Rogers is prominently displayed on the walls of all four Caring Place locations, and it is worth sharing:

"It is only natural that we and our children find many things hard to talk about.
But anything human is mentionable and anything mentionable can be manageable.
The mentioning can be difficult, and the managing too, but both can be done if we're surrounded by love and trust."

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Couple of "Casablanca" Books

Regular readers know of my affinity for the movie "Casablanca", and in the last few weeks, I have read a couple of books about the making of this classic film.  

I recently received this book as a gift...

It was published in 2017 to mark the 75th anniversary of the release of the movie in 1942. 

One of the author Noah Isenberg's sources for his book was this book, that was published in 1992 to mark the 50th anniversary of the movie.  (It was originally titled "Round Up The Usual Suspects", by the way.)

Reading the Isenberg book prompted me to seek out and read Aljean Harnetz's book.

Both books cover much of the same ground, but both are worth reading.  When Warner Bros. bought the rights to an unproduced play called "Everybody Comes To Rick's" in 1941, it was felt that it had the makings of a pretty good melodrama, that it might make some money, and it would serve as product to show in the hundreds of theaters that Warner Bros. owned across the country.  It would be just like the hundreds and hundreds of other movies that Hollywood churned out under what is now referred to as the "studio system".  No one, no one knew that they were making a classic, arguably the greatest American movie of all time.

The "Studio System" (and you learn a lot about the studio system when you read these books) operated like factories that produced widgets....Ford made automobiles, General Electric made light bulbs, Warner Bros., MGM, and Paramount made movies.  Many of the writers and technical people that worked on "Casablanca" got the assignment simply because they were available during the time that the movie started shooting. Seven different writers had a hand in fashioning the script.  Ingrid Bergman didn't really want the part of Ilsa, and never considered it her favorite role. In fact, as her life went on, she never could quite understand why "Casablanca" became the beloved movie that it is.  The actors didn't always get along with the director or with each other.  Humphrey Bogart and Bergman, while they didn't dislike each other, they weren't great pals either, and had virtually no interaction with each other except for the scenes that they filmed.  Paul Henreid and Claude Rains didn't much like each other at all, and Rains never, until the day he died, ever actually sat down and watched "Casablanca".

Yet somehow, all worked together to create a classic.

Some interesting points:
  • We watch this movie today knowing what happened.  The United States and its Allies won the war, and fascism was defeated.  When the movie was being filmed in 1942, these outcomes were not known, nor were they a sure thing.  Think about that the next time you watch the movie.
  • The movie is in large part about refugees fleeing oppression and trying to come to America.  Many of the actors in the movie - Henreid, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall and numerous extras actually WERE people who had fled the tyranny of Germany and Nazi oppression.
  • Contrary to a popular myth, Ronald Reagan was never considered for the part of Rick Blaine.  Knowing the trajectory  Reagan's life was to take, it's a fun thing to talk about, except it wasn't true.  Warner Bros. did plant in item in the papers that a new production of theirs, "Casablanca", would star Reagan and Ann Sheridan.  This was planted for the sole purpose of providing publicity to another movie being released at the time that did star Reagan and Sheridan.  This was common practice in the days of the Studio System.
  • George Raft did want the part and campaigned for it with studio head Jack Warner, but that was quickly nixed by producer Hal Wallis.  He wanted Bogey all along.
If you love the movie - and who doesn't? - I would recommend that you read one or both books.

I will leave with words from the opening paragraph of the Preface to Ms. Harmetz's book:

"Cynicism is a necessary protective cost for those who come close to the film industry's seductively hot center, and I have needed a doubly thick coat.  I grew up on the outskirts of MGM where my mother worked in the wardrobe department, and I later wrote about Hollywood for the New York Times.  But my cynicism dissolves when Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman say goodbye at the airport, and, at least in the dark corner of a movie theater, I am sure that I would be capable of such a sacrifice too."

By the way, the makers of "Casablanca" did toy around with a different ending, a "happy ending" where Victor went off by himself and Ilsa stayed with Rick.  Thank goodness they chose the ending that they did.  Had they gone with the Happy Ending, "Casablanca" would have indeed been just another movie, and would probably be forgotten today.

Here's looking at you, kid.

On Corey Dickerson

One of the pleasant aspects of the Pirates 2018 season has been left fielder Corey Dickerson.  First of all, we were all somewhat surprised when Neal Huntington pulled off the deal that brought Dickerson to Pittsburgh in February. The Bucs did not surrender much for the guy who had been an All-Star for the Rays in 2017, but he came with a red flag attached, which was the precipitous decline in performance from Pre-All Star Break to Post All Star Break in '17.  You can read what I said about it at the time.

Well, as I said, Dickerson has been a pretty good performer, so much so, that some are speculating that he might be traded when Huntington goes into fire sale/salary dump mode later this month.  My friend Dan Bonk says that this would be a mistake since (a) the Pirates have control of his contract through next season, although he will be eligible for salary arbitration this off season, and (b) he has been "the Pirates best player" this year.  Dan also says that the team should overpay him in order to keep him, but, come on now, this is the Pirates we are talking about here.

This leads me to two questions:
  1. Has he, in fact, been the Pirates best player this year?
  2. Will he decline in the second half of the season as he did last year?
You know what that means, don't you? It's Spreadsheet Time!!!!!!

Corey Dickerson - 2018ABHitsBARunsHRRBIOPS

YTD (pre-All Star Break)
Rank on team


Has he been the team's best player? Well, he does lead the team in hits and average, so there is that.  His power production has not been what was hoped.  He hit 27 HR for the Rays last season, and is on pace to hit just 11 this year (over the course of 500 AB).  Also, he has five assists from the outfield this year and has yet to make an error, but I will leave defensive analysis to the SABRmetric seam heads.  He also does things which can't be quantified - at least not by me - like choking up on the bat when he has two strikes and trying to go to the opposite field to get a hit.  The "old schoolers" just love stuff like that!

After a blazing start in April, he tailed off just a bit in May, and  he tailed off a lot in June, but he has picked it up in July, so I don't suppose we can draw any conclusions just yet.  

While I am not ready to say that he has been the Pirates best player, he has been a pretty good one, and he is someone that probably would bring some value at the July 31 trade deadline, certainly more than, say, Jordy Mercer or David Freese or even Josh Harrison would.  My hunch is that Huntington is more likely to deal Dickerson that he is Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco, but in the end, though, who knows what Neal is going to do.  Whatever it is, he will justify it with his usual line of bullshit and obfuscation with the strong implication that he alone knows what is best for the team, and that we fans out there are just a bunch of idiots who have no clue.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

To Absent Friends - Gabe Rivera

Gabe Rivera

Former Pittsburgh Steeler Gabriel Rivera died yesterday at the age of 57.

Steelers fans know his story.  He was a number one draft pick out of Texas Tech in 1983, the guy whom Chuck Noll was going to use as the cornerstone of a revamped and rebuilt defense, much like he did with Joe Greene fourteen years earlier.  Six games into his Steelers career, Rivera, after a night at a bar, had a horrific automobile accident that paralyzed him for the rest of his life.  Not only was a promising football career cut short, but Rivera's life was dramatically changed forever.

Steelers fans also know the other part of the story.  When Noll drafted Rivera, Pitt's quarterback Dan Marino was still available to them in that draft.  It was felt that Terry Bradshaw still had a few good seasons left in him (he didn't, as it turned out). Marino went on to a Hall of Fame career with Miami, and it took the Steelers twenty years to adequately replace Bradshaw.  

None of that, of course, was Rivera's fault, and we will never know what kind of career he would have had as a Steeler.  He may very well have been the linchpin defensive lineman that Noll envisioned, and the course of the Steelers fortunes through the 1980's could have changed for the good, but we will never know that.  It kind of bothered me that the obit for Rivera that appeared in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette focused more on how the Steelers should have drafted Marino than on the tragic circumstances that changed Rivera's life forever.

I can only imagine the thoughts that must have gone through the mind of Gabriel Rivera over the last thirty-five years.  It must have been a living hell for him.  From a personal viewpoint, the story off Gabe Rivera has never left my mind whenever, and more so in my younger days than now, I was out for an evening and having a drink or two.  I always consider what I am doing when I know I have to get in a car and drive.  Maybe I have Gabe Rivera to thank for that, and maybe others do as well.  Again, this is something that we will never know.

I hope that Rivera came to peace with the events of his life, and that he was able to live a fulfilled life.

RIP Gabe Rivera.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sunday Morning Thoughts (Sports, An Absent Friend, and Mr. Rogers)

We are a little more than an hour away from kickoff of the Championship Game of the World Cup....oh, excuse me, the FIFA World Cup....between France and Croatia.  At the outset of the tourney, I predicted that a team from Europe would win the whole shebang, so, I believe I had that.  I also decided that I would place my rooting interest in France due to the fact that (a) the USA failed to qualify, and (b) because of the wonderful time we had in France on our vacation in May.

So, Vive Le France, and I predict that we shall all be doing  a Victor Laszlo impersonation and singing "Le Marseillaise" when France wins it all later this afternoon.

As always, watch, but don't bet.

On his radio show last Sunday, Pirates GM Neal Huntington admitted that the Pirates were not playing well, and that, depending on how it went between then and the All-Star break, he might be forced to reevaluate the team and consider moving assets.  Translation: It will be time to dump high salaried players by any means possible and get younger and cheaper players.  No mention if they would be better players necessarily, but that sure would be a happy by-product of such a purge.

In what has to be NH's worst nightmare, the Bucs then proceeded to win seven of their next eight games, and a win today will mean a five game sweep of the Brewers, who were a first place team when they arrived in Pittsburgh on Thursday (they are now in second place).

Truth is, Huntington has to proceed with the fire sale.  The results of this past eight game sample do not negate the mediocrity that had been the hallmark of the team for the greater part of the season.  Still, NH will face severe criticism if it is perceived that he is trading away pieces from a "winning" team, which the Pirates are not.  He will face criticism if he stands pat as well.  He is almost in a no-win situation, a corner into which he has been painted by his penny-pinching bosses and by his own condescending attitude towards his paying customers.


I would highly recommend the Opinion piece on the late Fred Rogers that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  this morning.  I'll even save you the trouble of looking it up.  Here it is:

Would that there be another Mr. Rogers in our midst today.


To An Absent Friend 

Len Chappell

A wire service obituary for basketball player Len Chappell, who died earlier in the week at the age of 77, appears in the  Post-Gazette this morning.  Chappell was an All-American at Wake Forest, a two time ACC Player of the Year, a first round draft pick if the Syracuse Nationals of the NBA, a one time NBA All-Star, and he had a journeyman ten year NBA career playing with nine different teams.

What that wire service obit didn't mention (or perhaps the PG omitted it in the editing process or the real possibility that no one at the PG had ever heard of Chappell before the death notice came over the wires) was that Chappell was a Western PA guy, hailing form Portage PA in Cambria County.

RIP Len Chappell.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Lone All-Star, and Other Pirates Thoughts

As I do every year at this time, let me salute the Pirates All-Star (it's singular this year - a sad commentary on the state of the Pirates), reliever Felipe Vazquez.

Vazquez is 3-2, 3.38, with 18 saves.  He can be a totally dominant ninth inning guy (witness yesterday's game against the Phillies) so he undoubtedly has earned the spot on the NL squad, but there can also be no doubt that he is also there because, well, every team has to have at least one guy on the team, a rule with which I totally agree, by the way.   I just feel bad that he won't have any teammates there to chat with during the workout sessions in Washington.

The other irony is that with a July 31 Fire Sale pending at PNC Park, there is a very strong likelihood that Vasquez won't be a Pirate much for much longer.  I wonder how many "Vazquez" All-Star jerseys the Pirates will manage to sell before he might be sent to some contending team.

This past December I met Felipe Vazquez (he was Felipe Rivero then) at a charity event for the Caring Place.  He seemed like a nice enough fellow, so I'm happy for this bit of good fortune for him.  I hope that he had a bonus for making the All-Star team written into his contract.


If you follow the fortunes of the Pirates, you know that yesterday's win over Philadelphia snapped a five game losing streak, but it was not just any kind of a losing streak.  It was one that included two games wherein the Bucs gave up 17 runs.  Yep, SEVENTEEN RUNS. Hey, these things happen to  even the best of teams over the course of a 162 game season, but when it happens twice within a span of four games, well, that should get your attention.

I tuned in that Friday evening game in the second inning when the Pirates had a 1-0 lead.  They then fell behind 5-1, got to within 5-4, then the dam burst and the next thing you know, you had a final score of 17-5.  Not only that, the game took 4 hours and 30 minutes to play.  It was a record for both the Pirates and the Phillies for the longest nine inning game in their franchise's history, and it tied the National League record.  Too bad that they couldn't have dragged it out for one more minute so they could hold that NL record all by themselves.

Anyway, amazingly and inexplicably, I stayed up and watched this atrocity of a ballgame until the very end.  As my pal Tim Baker put it, it was like seeing a crowded school bus stuck on a railroad track.  You knew it was going to end horribly, but you just couldn't peel your eyes away from it.

Here are some of the memories I will have of that game....
  • The Pirates trotted out both Doyvadas Neverauskas and Josh Smoker in relief.  Unsurprisingly, both got blasted.  I made a semi-serious vow to never pay another dime for a Pirate ticket as long as these two guys were on the team. The powers that be must have heard me for both of them were sent packing to Indianapolis on Saturday.  May they never darken the door to PNC Park again.
  • I lost track of how many double-switches Clint Hurdle made in that game.  There were at least two, but there might have been a third one, and who remembers and who cares.  It was National League baseball at its finest.
  • The supreme highlight, though, came in the eighth (or maybe it was the ninth) inning when Starling Marte claimed he was hit by a pitch.  The umpire said he was not.  The game was already four hours old, and the Pirates were down twelve or thirteen runs at the time.  The Pirates weren't going to let them get away with it.  Clint Hurdle CHALLENGED the call.  An interminable slog of a baseball game became interminabler and sloggier.  But the Pirate challenge was upheld, and Marte was awarded first base.  Take that you incompetent Men in Blue!  Did I mention that the Pirates lost 17-5?
  • It got funny as even the team's Chief Apologists announcers, Greg Brown and Steve Blass, ran out of things to say and actually were critical of the farce that the team was putting on that night.
  • In retrospect, I just should have turned off the TV and gone to bed as soon as Neverauskas was summoned in from the bullpen.

That game was followed up on Saturday when Hurdle gave a quick hook to Jameson Taillon in the seventh inning.  Taillon was pitching well, and had only thrown 77 pitches.  Now, at that point Taillon had put a couple of guys on base, and he was going through dreaded third-time-through-the-batting-order, but on a team whose bullpen was overused and was stinking up the joint, and when the guy who is your supposed #1 starter is going well, and when you're riding a five game losing streak, maybe, just maybe, you stick with him and if he screws the pooch, then he screws the pooch.  The reliever gave up a hit to his first batter that allowed the eventual winning runs to score (the runs were charged to Taillon), and the streak went to five games.  

Taillon questioned the move to reporters after the game, and you have to wonder if this is a crack in the dam that will lead to Hurdle losing the team and the players adopt a don't-give-a-shit attitude for the rest of the season, if that hasn't happened already.  Also, Neal Huntington defended Hurdle's move on his radio show yesterday in a classic bit of Huntington Bullshit which also contained his patented bit of what-do-you-people-know-about-baseball-anyway condescension.

Also on his radio show, NH said that unless the Pirates really, really turn it around before the All-Star break, the team may be forced to start trading away players.  He also said that before the season began, he and his minions had the Pirates pegged as a team that would win between 78-82 games.  In other words, Huntington felt that he had a mediocre team.  Funny how the front office brain trust never said that back then.

It is going to be interesting to see just who gets dealt by the end of the month.  Very likely that guys like Josh Harrison, Francisco Cervelli, Jordy Mercer, Vazquez, and at least one of the three outfielders (Dickerson, Marte, Polanco) are dealt.  Salaries and contracts will be dumped, "prospects" will be obtained, and the merry-go-round will start all over again.

While I am on this tangent, I have to mention Huntington's comment of a few weeks back when he stated that the Pirates will not be able to improve the team by adding better players who cost more, because of the declining revenues due to the drop in attendance since 2015 when the Pirates failed to build on a 98 win team by, you know, not adding payroll and getting and keeping better players (after a season where they set attendance records). In other words, it is the fault of us, the paying customers, for not buying tickets to an inferior product that keeps the Pirates from obtaining and paying for better players.  Nope, not Nutting's/Coonelly's/Huntington's fault.  My fault.  Your fault.  The complete arrogance and condescension of that statement, not to mention it's tone deafness, is something that will haunt Huntington and the Pirates for as long as they remain in place at 115 Federal Street.


One final comment.  Dan Bonk and I recently did some research on MLB teams' total wins since 1979, the last year in which the Pirates played in and won the World Series.  This covers the seasons from 1980 through 2017, thirty-eight seasons, and does not include the expansionist Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Rays.  You ready for this, Pirates fans?
  • Of those twenty-six major league teams, the Pirates have won the fewest games in that 38 season stretch.  They won 2,828 games. The Royals were the next rung up with 2,864 wins.
  • Not surprisingly, the Yankees were Number One on the list with 3,388 wins.  That's 560 more wins than the Pirates, That's three and one-half season's worth of games. Just think about that.
  • In that 38 season span, twenty-seven teams - yes, even the Marlins, D'Backs, Rockies, and Rays -  have played in the World Series.  Only the Pirates, Mariners, and Expos/Nationals have failed to reach the Fall Classic in that period.
  • In that 38 season span, the Pirates have had ten (10) winning seasons.  That is fewer than any of the other 25 teams on the list.
Yes, my friends, for the last thirty-eight years (and going on thirty-nine), you can make a very strong case that the Pittsburgh Pirates have been THE WORST TEAM IN ALL OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.

Hey, have a great week, Pirates Fans!!

Monday, July 2, 2018

More On PFC James Devine, Courtesy of a Special Guest Blogger

The story of my visit to the grave of PFC James F. DeVine at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France last month struck a chord with many readers, including my niece Kaye Peltier.  Karen (as I know her) did an amazing amount of research on Private DeVine, and I asked if she would be willing to share her findings in a narrative form.  So, take it away, Karen......

Faithful readers of The Grandstander will remember the poignant post from June 6, 2018, in which Bob described Mr. & Mrs. Grandstander’s recent visit to Normandy, France. I was especially taken by the section describing Bob placing a rose on the grave of a young soldier from Pennsylvania. He asked:

Who is James DeVine? Where in Pennsylvania did he live? Did he have a family? Does he have children and grandchildren that have visited this site? Questions about which I shall always wonder.

How could we let these questions stand? Through the miracles of the Internet and crowdsourcing, The Grandstander readership had to wait a mere two hours after the blog was posted to Facebook to see a photo of Private First Class James Francis DeVine Jr.

James Francis DeVine Jr. was born in DuBois, PA, on May 15, 1921. The son of James and Minnie (Nale) DeVine, James Jr. was the eldest of seven children. The family moved from Clearfield County to the Parnassus neighborhood of New Kensington by the time James Jr. was five years old. The family home at 621 Fourth Avenue appears to have been demolished (along with its neighbors) to make way for Citizens General Hospital (now Citizens Ambulatory Care Center).

James was a member of the New Kensington High School Class of 1940. In reviewing the 1937 and 1938 yearbooks, it appears that James was not active in sports or other extracurricular activities, but worked more than 20 hours a week at a market during high school (as noted in the 1940 census). James’ draft card indicates that he was working for Streamline Market at 900 Fifth Avenue in 1942. Looking through the New Kensington 1940 City Directory, it was surprising to find that Streamline was one of 115 retail grocers in New Kensington – a town of only 30,000 people!

James completed his selective service registration on February 16, 1942. It would be interesting to know if James was caught up in the national feelings of patriotism and desire to serve one’s country that developed after the attack on Pearl Harbor just two months earlier, or if he felt trepidation when he presented at the Westmoreland County Draft Board on Fourth Avenue (right on the street where he lived). We may not know his feelings, but we do know the facts: he was a blue-eyed, brown-haired young man, with the exceptional characteristic of being 6’4 ¼” tall at age 20.   

James was called to service in the US Army on August 8, 1942. He served in the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Following the movement of the Division from 1942 – 1944, James may have trained at Fort Benning, GA; Camp Gordon, GA; Fort Dix, NJ; and Camp Gordon Johnston, FL before being shipped overseas in January 1944.

James’ youngest sister, Marilyn, was only 4 years old when he left home to serve.

The 4th Infantry Division arrived in England beginning on January 26, 1944. Soldiers alternated between keeping the equipment ready and doing calisthenics to keep themselves ready. On April 27, 1944, the 4th Infantry participated in a training expedition called Exercise Tiger, in preparation for what would become the D-Day invasion. The training exercise went horribly awry, and 749 soldiers and sailors were killed by the torpedoes of German submarines who were alerted to the training exercise by excessive radio activity.

Nevertheless, the 4th Infantry was selected to lead the charge on Utah Beach on D-Day. James survived the fighting on June 6, but was killed in action in Basse-Normandie, France, on June 11, 1944. His obituary in his parents’ local paper stated:

“Killed somewhere in France,” were the words in a telegram delivered to Mr. and Mrs. James F. DeVine, Sr., 621 Fourth Avenue, yesterday, informing them of the death of their son, Private First Class James DeVine, Jr.

He was awarded the Silver Star medal for gallantry in action and the Purple Heart.

Mr. and Mrs. DeVine lost one son, and then saw their second eldest son, Jack, deployed to Europe the following month (July 23, 1944) with the US Army Air Corps. Jack had been called to serve about six months after James, in February 1943. Their third son, Robert, registered in November 1945 and served as well. James Sr. was himself an Army soldier and served in Europe during WWI, and I can imagine that his own experience must have informed his concern and worry while his sons were overseas.

I confess that I was not familiar with compensation to families who lost soldiers in our various US wars. Mr. and Mrs. DeVine filed paperwork in March 1950 to claim a “Beneficiaries Entitlement” benefit of $250 each for the loss of their son. Five hundred dollars (approximately $5,200 in 2018 dollars) doesn’t seem like adequate compensation for the loss of a son, but I suspect there is no amount that would cover the loss.

Returning to the original questions from The Grandstander post on Omaha Beach, we have a photograph and a little information, but very little insight into who PFC James F. DeVine was when he was killed in action five days after D-Day. It is hard to guess what his life might have been like had he returned from Europe. When Bob found the grave of PFC DeVine at the American Cemetery, he had no idea that he was honoring a young man who grew up less than 13 miles from his own childhood home in Squirrel Hill. We know that there are no children or grandchildren of PFC DeVine to visit the grave site in France, but I suspect that his parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews may have felt and continue to feel his absence among the family plots at Greenwood Memorial Park in Lower Burrell. Perhaps there is some small consolation in knowing that visitors to Normandy, along with the readers of The Grandstander who made a virtual visit, join Bob in thanking James DeVine and his family for their sacrifices.

*Note: in searching for James’ 1940 yearbook, I found a blog created by the daughter of one of James’ classmates who also crossed Utah Beach on D-Day. Jack Clark lived blocks away from the DeVine family on Fourth Avenue in New Kensington and was a member of the New Kensington High School Class of 1940. Jack’s daughter Susan collected her father’s stories from WWII and published them on her blog, No Major Goof-Up (http://majorgoofup.blogspot.com).

Kaye Mushrow Peltier
Our Special Guest Blogger

Many, many thanks to Karen for this exceptionally moving piece.  I am grateful, Karen, that you agreed to write this up for me.

I should also say that in recent weeks (and, again, thanks to Karen's research), I have been able to make contact with one of James DeVine's nieces via Facebook.  At this point, I am choosing not to share her name in this space until and unless she allows me to do so.  Funny thing, when she responded to my inquiry, she mentioned that my name "seemed familiar" to her.  Turns out that back in the late 1980's, she was employed by a then-subsidiary of Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania, so it is possible that our paths may have crossed at one time or another.  Amazing how small the world can be.

And again, all thanks go to James DeVine and his comrades for the sacrifices that they made on our behalf all those years ago.