Monday, May 31, 2010

HBO's Taking Chance, a good film to watch on Memorial Day

Every Memorial Day weekend, in between the barbecues, swimming, and laughing and drinking with friends and family, I try to think of the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country - they gave their lives in America's wars.
I also try to watch a good war movie or two on TV over the Memorial Day weekend, which is my small way to honor those brave men and women.
To kick off this Memorial Day, after my wife, my grown children and grandchild had gone to bed, I watched a midnight showing of Taking Chance.
HBO offered a re-airing of their 2009 film about the true story of a Marine officer who escorted the body of Chance Phelps, an enlisted Marine who died in Iraq in 2004, home to be buried by his family.
Kevin Bacon (seen in the below photo), a native Philadelphian, portrayed Lt Col. Mike Strobel, the officer who escorted Phelps home.
Taking Chance was an intelligent and touching film. The film was a true tribute to our fallen Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen. I urge all to try and see this outstanding film.
You can read about Taking Chance, via the below link:
Below is a photo of retired Lt. Col. Mike Stroble.
Below is a photo of the late Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps.
My late father, Edward M. Davis, served as a chief petty officer with the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) frogmen in World War II, and my older brother, Ed Davis, served in the U.S. Army in South Vietnam. Both of them were fortunate enough to come home from war, as did I, having served aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.
But of course many American servicemen and women did not return home.
We owe our freedom and liberty to those who sacrificed their lives defeating Nazism, Japanese imperialism, communism, Islamic fascism and other enemies of freedom.
Memorial Day is a time to honor them.

Friday, May 28, 2010

My Crime Beat Column: Bean Town Crime, A Collection of Boston Noir Stories

 When I think of Boston, I think of George V. Higgins’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

For more than a dozen years during the time I worked for a Defense Department command in Philadelphia, our regional headquarters was located in Boston. I visited Boston quite often during those years.

Boston has fine bars and restaurants and fine historical and cultural scenes, and I’ve had some fine times there – yet to me Boston will always be first and foremost the home of The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

Picador has released a 40th anniversary edition of the 1970 crime novel about low-level, low-life criminals, and I’m pleased that new readers are discovering this classic crime story.

Higgins (seen in the above photo) was a former reporter and worked as an assistant U.S. attorney when the book was published. He knew criminals and he accurately captured their language, their life-styles and their double-dealing.

The 1973 film adaptation was faithful to Higgins’ novel and the British director, Peter Yates, cast Robert Mitchum as Eddie Coyle and Peter Boyle as his “friend”, a bartender and part-time hit man.

As George Kimball noted in his piece on the 40th anniversary of the novel in the Irish Times, Robert Mitchum befriended James “Whitey”Bulger, a notorious Boston gangster, during the filming in Boston

Higgins, the assistant U.S. attorney, warned Yates about Bulger and suggested that Mitchum stay clear of him. Mitchum, who had a perverse sense of humor and was for many years Hollywood’s bad boy, replied that since he had done “time” for using marijuana some years before, he was the “criminal” that Bulger should be leery of.

I'm not sure if the story is accurate, but its a good story.

Bulger would later gain national attention when it came out that he was an FBI informant. He used his FBI controller to eliminate his Cosa Nostra competition, while at the same time the FBI protected him from prosecution as he committing a wide variety of crimes that included multiple murders.

This great Boston crime story was captured by journalists Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill in their book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob.

Higgins may have been unable to separate Mitchum from Bulger during the filming of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, but he got the last laugh on Bulger in the sense that his last novel was a fictional account of the Bulger story called At End of Day.

Dennis Lehane, author of his own great Boston crime novel, Mystic River (made into an equally great film by director Clint Eastwood) ,wrote the introduction to Picador’s new edition of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. He wrote that The Friends of Eddie Coyle was the game-changing crime novel of the last fifty years. Lehane added that Eddie Coyle cast a long shadow over Boston novels in any genre.

Lehane also wrote the introduction and edited Boston Noir (Akashic Books), a collection of short stories about crime and the dark side of Boston.

“No matter what you may hear to the contrary, noir is not a genre defined by fedoras, silver streams of cigarette smoke, vampy femme fates, huge whitewall tires, mournful jazz playing in the gloomy background, and lots and lots of shadows,’ Lehane wrote in the introduction. “Nor is it simply scuzzy people doing scuzzy things to other scuzzy, a kind of trailer park opera.”

One could argue, Lehane wrote, that what it is, however, is working-class tragedy…

“Eddie Coyle is a good example here because if there’s a more seminal noir novel of the last forty years than The Friends of Eddie Coyle, I don’t know of it,” Lehane wrote.

Lehane goes on to write that Eddie Coyle is more than just a seminal noir; it’s also the quintessential Boston novel.

“It captures the tribalism of the city, the fatalism of it, and the out sized humor of people who believe God likes a good laugh, usually at your expense. Boston is a city that produces guys – or, in the city’s vernacular, knuckleheads – who once stole the replica of a cow that sat in front of a Braintree steak house. The cow weighed what a car weighed, and yet these knuckleheads had the industry to get it onto a pickup truck, drive it back to South Boston, and deposit it in the middle of Broadway. They did this solely so they could then call the Boston Police Department and ask them to respond to a “beef going down on Broadway.”

As Lehane points out in his introduction, Boston has its distinct humor, distinct accent and distinct vocabulary.

Lehane’s contribution to the book is one of three short stories that stand out in my view.

In Animal Rescue, a sad-sack character named Bob tends bar in an old-style crime hang out. Bob rescues an abused dog, which leads to his meeting a pair of unsavory types who could have been friends of Eddie Coyle.

In another good short story, Brendon DuBois offers a post-WWII private eye who takes on a client that simply wants him to retrieve a box of belongings her late-boyfriend left at a military base on a Boston Harbor island. Naturally, nothing is simple in these kinds of stories.
In Turn Speed, Russ Asborn gives us a group of not-so-slick criminals who think they’re slick. The boys rob a mob-connected trucking boss, which leads to a surprise ending.

I enjoyed the stories in Boston Noir, but I wonder why there is no collection of Philly noir stories.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Port Security and Black Water Diving: My Piece On The Philadelphia Police Marine Unit

Counterterrorism Magazine published my piece on the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit.

The unit is made up of Philadelphia police officers who patrol Philadelphia's rivers and respond to crime, safety and homeland security incidents. The unit's members are expert boat handlers and skilled scuba divers.

They often dive in pitch black water with no visibility, which is called black water diving.

I interviewed LT Andrew Napoli, the commander of the unit, and Sgt. Edward Olewn. I also went out on patrol on the Delaware River with the officers on their Munson boat.

You can read my piece on the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit below:

Note: You can click on the above to enlarge.

My Q & A with Gregory Freeman, author of 'Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk'

Counterterrorism magazine published my interview with Gregory Freeman, the author of Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk.

The book is about the 1972 race riot aboard the aircraft carrier as the warship headed to her combat station off the coast of Vietnam.

My Q&A with Gregory Freeman (seen in the below photo) covered the riot aboard the carrier, race relations, command leadership and force protection.

You can read my piece below links:

Note: You can click on the above to enlarge.

Deliberate distortions still obscure understanding of the Vietnam War

Even after all these years the Vietnam War is still a contentious subject. The war remains in the news and public debate today due in part to the story of the Connecticut Attorney General who was caught lying about serving in Vietnam. has posted an interesting piece from a 1989 issue of Vietnam Magazine.

The piece was written by the magazine's then-editor, the late Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr (seen in the below photo), the author of On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War.

Summers' piece covers the deliberate distortions that obscure understanding of the complex war. You can read the piece via the link below:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My On Crime & Security Column: How To Spot And Avoid Travel Scams

The online small business magazine published my On Crime & Security column today.

With Memorial Day coming up, many people are planning vacation trips for the summer months, and business people are planning trips to conventions, seminars and trade shows.

My column covers travel scams committed by unscrupulous travel agents and crooked telemarketers.

I cited two recent cases and passed on some good tips from the Federal Trade Commissionon on how to spot and avoid travel scams and fraud.

You can read my column via the below link:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Crime Beat Column: Ian Fleming and the James Bond Omnibus

I’m not big on graphic novels and I’ve not read comic books or adventure comic strips since I was a kid, but The James Bond Omnibus, Volume I interested me.

I was first introduced to Ian Fleming’s iconic secret agent when I saw Dr No at the Colonial movie theater in South Philadelphia in 1962 when I was 10-years-old. But for many British children and adults, their first visual introduction to James Bond was through a daily comic strip that appeared in the newspaper the Daily Express.

From 1958 to 1984, the Fleming thrillers were serialized in comic strips and syndicated in British newspapers.

The James Bond Omnibus (Titan Books) has pulled together the newspaper comic strip adaptations of eight Fleming novels and three short stories. The novels are Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever, From Russia With Love, Dr No, Goldfinger and Thunderball. The three short stories offered are Risico, From a View to a Kill and For Your Eyes Only.

The stories were adapted from the novels by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge and Peter O’Donnell. O’Donnell, who recently died at age 90, went on from the Bond comic strips to create his own comic strip, Modesty Blaize. The comic strip’s art was drawn by John McLusky.

One of the first thoughts that struck me as I began to read the comic strips was that they were more faithful to Fleming’s novels than the films. My second thought was to wonder what might have been had the film makers stuck more closely to the Fleming novels.

I’ve been an Ian Fleming aficionado since I first saw Sean Connery as James Bond in Dr No. The first nine books in my now extensive library were Ian Fleming’s thrillers and many of my lifelong interests such as travel, crime and espionage were all sparked by Fleming. As a teenager I was fascinated by Fleming’s use of exotic locales, women and villains in his stories.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ian Fleming, you should read John Pearson’s The Life of Ian Fleming, Andrew Lycett’s Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond and Ben Macintyre’s For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond.

You can also read my Crime Beat column on the Ian Fleming and James Bond phenomenon via the below link: 

And of of course you should also read Ian Fleming’s James Bond thrillers and The James Bond Omnibus.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Once A Prince Of The City: Former NYPD Detective And Crime Writer Robert Leuci On Why Good Cops Go Bad

Robert Leuci, a former New York City detective and subject of the book and film, Prince of the City, was interviewed by a local TV news reporter in Rhode Island about police corruption.

Leuci, who became a crime writer after retiring from the NYPD, explained why and how good cops can go bad.

You can watch the video via the below link:

Leuci has written several crime novels, including Odessa Beach and Captain Butterfly, as well as a memoir of his days as a police officer called All of the Centurions.

You can read my interview with Robert Leuci via the below link:


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ben Macintyre, the author of Operation Mincement and other books on espionage, on five great spy books

Ben Macintyre, a London Times columnist and author of several books on espionage, including his latest, Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory, offered his list of five great books on espionage.
You can read the piece via the link below:
Macintyre is a very good writer and he is very knowledgeable of the history of espionage, and although I love the Brit spy thriller writers, especially Ian Fleming, I don't agree with his assessment that American spy thriller writers don't compare to the British.
I offer Charles McCarry's Tears of Autumn and Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate as but two examples of American spy thrillers that can stand along side the great British spy thrillers.
Below is a link to a previous post on Macintyre's Operation Mincemeat:
Below are the links to my interview with Macintyre about his book Agent ZigZag, which is about one of the most daring double agents in World War II, Eddie Chapman:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My On Crime And Security Column: The Times Square Car Bomb Lesson, If You See Something, Say Something

The online small business magazine published my On Crime & Security column today.

The column covers the Times Square car bomb lesson: if you see something, say something.

Thankfully, two street vendors adhered to the crime prevention slogan and flagged a mounted cop when they encountered the suspicious SUV parked near their vendor carts.

You can read my column via the below link:

Since writing my column, the FBI have arrested a suspect, Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan.

Below are some photos of Times Square, the two street vendors, and the NYPD mounted cop:
Above is a photo of Lance Orton, one of the two alert street vendors, and below is a photo of the other vendor, Duane Jackson.

Below is a photo of NYPD officer, Wayne Rhatigan.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

On Yankee Station: A Look Back At The Aircraft Carrier USS Kitty Hawk During The Vietnam War, 1970-1971

My role in the Vietnam War was a minor one.

I served as an 18-year-old seaman on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

The Kitty Hawk performed combat operations on "Yankee Station" off the coast of Vietnam in 1970 and 1971. During the Kitty Hawk's Vietnam deployment, the carrier's aircraft dropped a record 22, 540, 051 tons of ordnance on the enemy.

We brought it to the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong positions, military installations and supply routes in support of American and South Vietnamese troops.

Air combat operations are fast-paced and precarious as the carrier launches and recovers aircraft around the clock. With vast amounts of jet fuel, bombs, missiles and rockets on board, an accident or a fire on a carrier can be a truly deadly affair.

Although we put in hard, long and dangerous hours, we knew our constant pounding of the communists kept our brothers "in-country" alive. And thanks in part to naval air power, we never lost a battle over company strength during the entire course of the war.

Below are some photos of the USS Kitty Hawk's air operations. The pages are from my 1970-1971 cruise book:



I'm proud of the small role I played on this great warship.

The USS Kitty Hawk retired from active duty on January 31, 2009.

You can read my Counterterrorism magazine piece on the Vietnam War via the below link:

Note: You can click on the above photos to enlarge.