Catching Up – Some Views About Some Guys From Queens (NY)

by Hank Boerner

April 21 2020

Alas, dear reader — I seem to have been neglecting my Stay Tuned web commentaries for quite a while. I have been writing and posting many comments in our other platform, G&A Institute’s Sustainability Update. Apologies.  Please do visit the other blog and follow us there as well if you find the content is of interest.

Take a look:  https://ga-institute.com/Sustainability-Update/

Today, I’d like to share some timely thoughts in this essay about two, or three, and maybe a few more (very prominent) guys from Queens, New York — and some background on the fascinating little corner of our wide country from which they come.

OK – I will also talk about some guys from Brooklyn, the (Kings) county neighbor of Queens County.

But first about two of the men in the news every day from Queens.  They are both very aggressive characters, as you can see in their public lives.  It’s forward, pressing on, always, and no backward movement.  They appear to take no prisoners in their business and political and governance activities.

That Queens spirit, you see, is in their blood.

On our TV screens and other viewing devices now each day we are getting news & views and boasts and asides, some nasty and some humorous from the prominent Queens duo:   President Donald J. Trump and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Both men are broadcasting live from New York and Washington out to the millions (the national and perhaps global audience tuning in every day to see what is going on with the virus crisis and government response).

And today (April 21) the two are meeting in the White House to discuss the way forward in the coronavirus crisis. 

Alpha males. Clash of the Titans.  Coronavirus drama. 

They are very different people, as we can readily see — but interestingly, they do have a few things in common that shaped their lives growing up and moving into the business and political spheres.

Being from Queens, I would say, had something to do with that.  I say that as a Queens-born and raised guy myself.  Being from Queens is always part of who we are, we like to say.

You need to know about Queens — it’s in the blood.

About “Queens” – the Homeland – Some Context For Our Story

First, some background to help you understand the origin story:  “Queens” is the official name of the populous county (2.3 million) in New York City where both men now prominent on the national scene were born and grew up and lived — and get this, lived quite near to each other for a time.  Other than that coincidence, of course there is very little in common  that we can see between them.

To provide some context:  Queens is also the name of the boro (or borough), a legal county within the Greater New York City incorporation.  It’s one of five NYC counties- an “outer boro”.

Outer boros, that’s what many people call the parts of the city that are not Manhattan.

What is unusual if you don’t live in these parts, or perhaps you do live here but feel it isn’t worth thinking about, is that four of the five counties/boros of New York City are actually on islands.

These are:  Queens, Manhattan (what most people think of as New York City, with its Wall Street and Times Square), Kings (which everyone calls Brooklyn – 2.5 million – more later about that), and Staten Island — all islands free of connections to mainland U.S.A. – only the Bronx is “attached”.  (And millions commute into the Manhattan Island for work every day.)

Queens and neighbor boro Brooklyn are on Long Island. Two suburban counties are to the east on the island (Nassau and Suffolk – what locals refer to as Long Island).

“Queens” can be just Queens to locals. No boro, no county. “Queens”. You’ve probably been here if you landed at LaGuardia or Kennedy International airports.

Some folks may say their neighborhood name and Queens, like “I live in Jamaica, Queens”.   Not the island of Jamaica.  Or Astoria, Queens.  Like Anthony Dominick Benedetto, who you know as Tony Bennett.  But I digress.

You do see Queens many nights on CBS dramas as many shows (Blue Bloods, FBI, Bull and many more are regularly shot in the county). Queens was the original home of the movie industry long ago and even today there are major film studios here (Silvercup, Kaufman-Astoria).

Oh, and Archie Bunker, the lovable bigot (played by actor Carroll O’Connor) was set in Queens.  That tells you something, I think, about some of the neighborhoods.  The actor was born in Manhattan but grew up in Queens.

It’s a historic American place:  Queens was settled by the Dutch back in 1624 and a bit of it by the English; it was part of New Amsterdam for 40 years until the English fleet sailed in and said “it’s ours.”  (And named the place for the Duke of York, the brother at the time of the English king.)

The Dutch and English settlers displaced the small Native American population (the local Algonquin nation clans) and then came the wave-upon-wave of immigrants from all over the glob — to Queens.  And the newcomers today continue to pick Queens as their new home.  Hundreds of thousands of newcomers.

For example, one of the largest Asian-American settlements is Flushing (near to the national tennis center) – it was named for Vlissingen, The Netherlands — home of the first Dutch immigrants. Now it is home to folks from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, and other Asian centers.

Queens, proudly, is America’s premier melting pot.

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It’s 2020:  The Queens Boys Are in Charge!

And so to the Guys from Queens.  One of the immigrants coming to New York Harbor was a German from Bavaria, Friederich Drumpf (anglicized to “Trump” – when & how is of course debated).  He was an entrepreneur, and through ambition built a small fortune.

His son, Fred Trump, became a very prosperous homebuilder, in Brooklyn and Queens, had five children and his son became…that Donald Trump, also a developer and then, President of the U.S.A.  The Trumps were apparently wealthy from the first generation born here onward..

Nearby to the Trump home but really a world away, lived another set of early 20th Century immigrants – Andrea and Immacolata Cuomo, who sailed to New York from Salerno (near Naples) Italy, and settled on the wrong side of the tracks in South Jamaica.  They opened a small, local grocery store and the couple and their three children lived in back of the store. They were not wealthy at all. The couple struggled to speak English.

Their son, Mario Matthew Cuomo, described his childhood neighborhood as Italian-Black-German-Irish-Polish.  Mario grew to be a man of towering intellect and great ambition, a liberal and progressive recognized early on by the local Roman Catholic clergy, who arranged for him to attend prep school and then to gain a university education. (At St. John’s University, in Queens, established by the Vencentian Brothers. You probably know the school today because of its prominence in March Madness playoffs.)

Mario Cuomo became a greatly admired and respected constitutional law professor at St. John’s University and led a few widely-praised civic campaigns in Queens on behalf of everyday citizens and the working class.  Often going up against powerful forces like the patrician, Mayor John Lindsay of New York City and park and road builder Robert Moses in his crusades for the local residents and business owners.

He and wife Matilda (nee Raffa, classmates at university, she became teacher) moved to a home way above the poor South Jamaica neighborhood that he grew up in and where they raised five children in Jamaica Estates.

In the hills where the well-to-do lived — above the streets of Jamaica and Jamaica South.

Their home was very near to the Trump household in Jamaica Estates.  And from there, both Donald and Mario and his children Andrew and Christopher began their climb to prominence!  (Mario’s daughter Maria would marry designer Kenneth Cole. Another daughter became a doctor.)

The head of the clan, Mario Cuomo became governor of the State of New York and served three terms (1983-1994).  You might remember his thundering cadence at the 1984 Democratic convention (nominating speech) as he took on the Republicans.  Or his Notre Dame speech.  Or many of his progressive-but-pragmatic campaigns while in office.

It is his son – Andrew — who you see now every day on TV.  He today is Governor Cuomo, following dad’s footsteps.  Into politics. (He was his father’s campaign manager and later served as President Clinton’s Secretary of HUD; became attorney general of New York and on to the governor’s office).

As Donald Trump followed his father into the real estate business, Andrew followed his father’s path to become governor. (Andrew Cuomo was married for a time into another powerful political dynasty, to Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and wife, Ethyl. They have three daughters.)

Politics, politics..it’s in the Queens blood, we could say.  Dynasties – it’s also in the blood in Queens. 

And as Governor Andrew Cuomo told us in his updating on the situation in his state..New York is strong, tough and caring.  Strong enough to be caring.

That is in the New York State blood!

Brother Christopher – On Our TVs Every Night!

And another Queens guy we must mention here is Chris Cuomo, the CNN commentator — Governor Andrew’s younger brother — he was an ABC-TV newsman earlier. Now he is the nightly host on CNN, keeping the nation updated.

Often the Cuomo brothers are on TV together trading news & quips and “ranking” each other out, to use a 1950’s Queens phrase.

Father of the Clan Mario Cuomo was brought to public prominence by another Queens kid — journalist and author Jimmy Breslin, who created a media presence for the civic crusader.

Jimmy was a journalist colleague of mine when I was new to the newspaper business.  He started out at the Queens-based newspaper, The Long Island Press and then moved on to national fame at larger papers and magazines.

(A word later on about the Jimmy and Mario relationship.)

When we watch the TV coverage of Washington and national news, i keep thinking that it is all about these hometowns of men and women who by and large rose from modest beginnings to the seats of power in these United States of America.

Of course, there are substantial differences in styles and substances and behavior toward others.

One Queens guy argues with journalists he doesn’t like and insults them and yanks their White House press credentials.  The other today schmoozes New York-style, engages in lively back and forth banter, and has regularly met with journalists over the weeks rather than hiding behind press office staff.  Jousting:  And I really like the appearances of the very-human governor and his brother on the Chris Cuomo CNN program.

As Bill Clinton used to say — they (the Cuomos) can feel our pain.  

One man is the son of a man who throughout his life took the side of the poor, the politically-helpless, those he identified with from his early days south of the LIRR tracks.

The other with his wealth builder father discriminated against people of color that the pair did not want living in their rental apartment houses in Queens and Brooklyn (the federal government brought charges).

Facts:  UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F. # EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, – against – FRED C. TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP and TRUMP MANAGEMENT, INC., – – – X Defendants.

You can check that out at:  https://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/FH-NY-0024-0034.pdf

The New York governor was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development looking after the needs of many low-to-moderate income families.  And on and on.

I mentioned Brooklyn early on.  This is the other New York City boro or county on Long Island’s west end. It was named for the Dutch hometown of farmer-settlers who immigrated from Breucklen back in the early 1600s.

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Brooklyn Today

Today Brooklyn is also populated by a wonderful, rich mix of ethnic and nationality and faith backgrounds.  People here (including my family members) don’t talk of “Kings County” — they only seem to speak of Brooklyn,

Brooklyn at the beginning was a very small farming settlement across from Manhattan Island that grew to a populous city itself, competing with across-the-river Manhattan/New York City.

The Statue of Liberty in the great harbor welcomed immigrants sailing by to “the twin cities” (New York and Brooklyn).  The welcoming message (partly) reads…

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

In the late-1800s a beautiful bridge across the East River – the Brooklyn Bridge! — linked the two cities.

Many Queens kids’ families had moved “out” from Brooklyn (that is, Kings County) over the years — but of course not everyone.  The guys who were born and raised in Brooklyn are very visible to us every day, especially during the coronavirus emergency.

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These days we’re watching Dr. Anthony Fauci, a Brooklyn boy, son of a pharmacist who is head of the National Institutes of Health’s infectious disease center.  And on our TV sets every day with powerful, accurate, comprehensive sharings about the virus.

And another Brooklyn kid — still living there – often jousts with President Trump and his Republican counterparts.  That’s Senate Minority Leader Charles “Chuck” Schumer.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries represents New York’s Eight Congressional District, which takes in Kings and Queens counties (a Democrat, he lives in Brooklyn/Kings on the Queens line).  A respected member of Congress, he was prominent in the Trump impeachment hearings and other Washington political dustups.

Then there’s the presidential candidate with very enthusiastic followers — Senator Bernie Sanders.  Born and raised in Brooklyn, he fled to Vermont and then on to national fame.

We’re from Queens — and some from Brooklyn — for many of us, feeling your pain is in our blood. You see it in our politics. Most of us. 

On a personal note…

For me, a kid born and in early days a kid from Queens, I am fascinated by rise of the people guiding the nation today through the virus crisis, and by the wondrous little piece of land in the Magical City (New York) from whence much of us came.

On a personal note, one of the boys of Queens who rose to prominence who had great influence on my life as a young writer was William J. Casey — attorney, author, publisher — and my first boss in journalism and a friend and early mentor.

You might remember him – he helped Ronald Reagan sail to electoral victory in 1980 and became head of the CIA. (Casey was early in his life a leader of the OSS battling Nazi Germany in WW II!)

And you know a little bit more of this corner of these United States of America and the bright, resilient, influential men and women who are in the news.  Those Queens guys.

For whom some things, and some characteristics, and some crusades…it’s in the blood – they are from Queens. OK, and from Brooklyn,

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P.S.  You can read my remembrances of Governor Mario Cuomo when he passed in January 2015, here: https://www.hankboerner.com/staytuned/tag/queens/

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And if you are not tired of reading yet, here’s some more notes on this magical city:

Great New York City Comes Into Being – Including Queens

Back after the American Civil War and the beginning of the astonishing wave after wave of immigrants coming into New York harbor, there began a movement to create a very large, consolidated city. Manhattan Island would be the city center, with the nearby Bronx, Kings County (Brooklyn), Staten Island, and Queens incorporated in the confederation. This city would come to be the most populous in the country.

The eastern townships of Queens County were then rural farmlands with small villages — and heavily Republican in politics.

So the deal was struck — those areas to the east would become new county ( and Republican!) and the western portion of Queens (more settled and heavily Democrat) would join New York City.

The new county of Nassau was created – President Teddy Roosevelt was the prominent “R” living there.  He was governor of New York – then VP – then President of the United States.

And the political divide lasted close to a century!  (And the divide still exists — we are two nations in so many ways in these parts, just like the rest of America.)

“Nassau” was the Dutch royal house; the Roosevelts are among the prominent Dutch descendants.  This area is all about immigrants – that why it is so magical to me.

Rural Queens exploded in population growth after World War One (100,000 people a year moving in) and again after WWII.  Many newcomers were moving east from Brooklyn, as my family did, and others were newly arrived on our shores from Europe.

Queens today is a totally minority county and one of the most populated counties in the U.S.A.  And that gives it its rich flavor.  Immigrants – the working man and woman – those struggling to make a better life for themselves and their children.

Queens is in the blood that is replenished by those coming from all over the world to this special corner of New York. 

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I mentioned Jimmy Breslin and his connection to Mario Cuomo.  Breslin’s coverage of Mario Cuomo began when Mayor John Lindsay asked Cuomo to help settle a housing dispute tinged with racial overtones.  This was “The Crisis of Low Income Housing” in the Queens area, Forest Hills.  Mario Cuomo was the volunteer mediator working to resolve the issues with local citizens.

At the time, Mario Cuomo was generally unknown to the public, a partner at a Brooklyn law firm, serving as adjunct professor at his alma mater, St. John’s University of Law.

In 1974 Mario Cuomo wrote a book about the classic set off of middle class residents and proponents of low-income housing coming to the neighborhood – “Forest Hills Diary”.  It’s a classic today about mediating (or attempting to) the divide along racial, ethnic and wealth lines. Such as in housing and education.

In the late 1960s, Mario Cuomo was asked by a group of homeowners in Corona, Queens, to help when New York City government planned to build a high school and condemn their homes to make way for construction.  Mario Cuomo defended “the Corona Fighting 69” and stopped the displacement.  Jimmy Breslin and other journalists covered the battle and helped to make Mario a well-known crusader locally and beyond.

And here is what Jimmy Breslin wrote in the preface to Forest Hills Diary:  At a meeting of the residents, a local public official came in and asked who was helping the 69 — a “little local lawyer” someone said.  Cuomo got up and spoke.  Jimmy, covering the meeting for The Long Island Press, was asked who Cuomo was.

He remembers saying: Cuomo.  And then, Breslin remembered the that Congressman Hugh Carey telling him months earlier this:

“I got a genius nobody knows about. He’s a law professor at St. John’s. Brilliant sonofabitch. Nobody knows him. I begged him to run with me (when Carey campaigned to be governor). The first time they ever hear of him, they’ll be right there in his hands…”

Soon, Hugh Carey would appoint the little local lawyer Mario Cuomo to be Secretary of State. Then Cuomo became Lt. Governor.  In 1982 Mario Cuomo was elected Governor of New York State and went on to be re-elected two more times.

Mario Cuomo died in January 2015. Vice President Joe Biden said the governor “…was a forceful voice for civil rights, for equal rights, for economic opportunity and justice.  He had the courage to stand by his convictions even when it was unpopular…”

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Thank you for reading all of this if you got this far in the essay.  Fascinating folks, the Queens and Brooklyn Guys.  And now if you did not know much about them…you do.

 

The 21st Century Company – And You — Iteration / Innovation / Progress! And the Now Very Familiar… Disruption!

Theme-setting Comments at the Skytop Strategies’ “21st Century Company” conference, early-November 2017 in New York City. This was my third time opening the conference to set the theme of the day…

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

There are three words that I think define the concept of these 21st Century Company gatherings. The approach was conceived more than three years ago over lunch with Chris Skroupa, my partner Lou Coppola and I. And the words keep ringing true ever since.

The first word is Iteration — from the ancient Latin: again…and again…and again. Science and Discovery is about iteration — it is the basis of our scientific theory and practical application of scientific advances. We hear these days about “science-based” and “evidence-based” progress being made. At least from most of us.

The second word is Innovation — also from the Old Latin — the new. Something, everything — new. Most of us are interested in the new; some are anxious, others enthusiastic.

The third word is Progress — also from the Latin roots and with us with the same meaning for many centuries — it is the story of humanity — forward! Moving forward.

Interation / Innovation / Progress. Think of the great inventions of the later years of the late 18th and 19th Centuries that made the 20th Century so very different in so many ways in our personal and business lives. In finance — in public and private governance — and other aspects of our lives.

Our lives in Century 20 were very different from the experiences of generations before us. And will be in Century 21 thanks to the great progress of prior decades.

We can see all of this at work in these Inventions.

First, Electricity – the “Dynamo” (as it was called) that harnessed the power and changed nighttime dark to daylight at any time!

Telegraphy, the Wireless and Telephony….over time leading to the broad-bands of our internet and our cell phone. Everything is powered by electricity.

And the internal combustion engine – providing reliable, portable, movable power — today, cars & trucks and airplanes on the move dominate our lives, don’t they? Speaking of the last….

In the early 20th Century, The Great Tinkerer, Henry Ford brought together many scientific advances in glass, metallurgy and development of materials such as plastics, instrumentation, rubber for tires, the internal combustion engine…and more… to mass produce cars & trucks.

Henry Ford invented the efficient modern factory with his idea of bringing the work to the worker. His advances in the innovations related to motor cars brought about great progress. He was also a…farmboy at heart.

And thanks to the farmboy in him — Ford Motor Company has been making certain parts out of soybeans. This is both a 20th Century and 21st Century story.

Founder Henry Ford planted 6,000 acres of soy on the company farms. In the 1930’s he worked with soybeans to develop early versions of plastics, paints, and other products familiar to us today.

He actually made very sturdy car fenders out of soybeans and was photographed banging on such a fender with a sledgehammer — more than 70 years ago. Those old, collectible brown Ford stick gearshift knobs? Oh, yes — they are a soybean extraction!

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Henry-the-Tinkerer pounding away at a fender made of soy — he wanted to make a whole vehicle out of the wondrous plant!

One thing he invented in his laboratory for us to use every summer — the charcoal briquette. This came out of his “Industrialized Barn Concept,” his idea that future farmers might use their barn for production in the cold winter months!

And now to 2017 — in mid-October, Ford Motor Company celebrated the 10-year anniversary of using soybean-based-foam in its car seats. That practice saved 228 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere — equivalent to CO2 consumed by 4 million trees in sequestering carbon emissions.

You can see the soybean seats in Ford Mustangs of the last 10 model years. More than 18 million vehicles produced in North America have soy-derived foam seats, proudly notes Great-Grandson / Ford Chair William Ford – an MIT grad. And he is Great-Grandson as well of Harvey Firestone, the rubber tire innovator. And he drives a Mustang with soy seats. And Firestone tires!

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Photo:  William Ford, Chair of the Ford Motor Company with a Mustang — with soybean seats!  20th Century meet the 21st in technology!
Tinkerin’ away: The Ford Company’s lab tinkers today with such materials as wheat straw; rice hulls; trees; coconut; kenaf; tomato peels; chopped up US dollars; dandelions; algae; agave…you know, the stuff of tequila! The derived materials may be going into tires and gaskets.

That is truly 21st Century Corporate Sustainability in action!

The Spirit of Old Henry-the-Tinkerer & Innovator lives on. As does the Spirit of Thomas Edison. And Alexander Graham Bell. And many other tinkerers.

This is for us clear demonstration of the spirit at the heart of science, of scientific discovery…and of Innovation. And the outcome: the Progress we make!

Another great 19th Century invention I mentioned was the harnessing of Electricity: This new power source drove wired transmissions; think of the telegraph as electrons whizzing through wires to carry dots & dashes. Then telephony evolved with voice-over-wire; then came electrons driving radio waves, then television waves, then wireless telephones. What comes next?

Think about the little and very powerful cell phone, our wire-less telephone that we take for granted — we carry the device around and depend on it for many things every day. The amount of processing power far exceed the capacities available to “tinkerers” like the early space astronauts in their space-borne vehicles.

Speaking of Innovation and Interation…remember Radio Shack? Kids-in-the-garage of Silicon Valley invention fame shopped at Radio Shack for parts — the Steves, Jobs and Wozniak of Apple fame. Radio Shack is gone. Apple thrives. There is great irony here for us…

The fourth word for us to keep in mind for the 21st Century is very important: Disruption.

Iteration, Innovation, Progress…leads to Disruption.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter described the concept of creative destruction almost 80 years ago.

This is the process in our Capitalistic society of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, destroying the old / creating a new structure.

Applying this to Radio Shack: Technology writer Steve Cichon in Huffington Post in March 2014 mused about the February 1991 Radio Shack ad that highlighted electronic items from the ubiquitous storefront – well-known for several generations as “America’s Technology Store.”

This was before the debut of the World Wide Web (in 1994, by tinkerer Tim Berners-Lee), tiny cellular phones and other goodies in our lives that we take for granted today.

To explore the pace of innovation / and the resulting disruption – and the impact on our everyday lives, please do think about right now:

• The pioneering Tandy 1000 personal computer in the 1980s;
• the little “microthin” calculator;
• home telephones (copper wires!);
• stereo player;
• tape recorder;
• CD player;
• phone answering machine;
• earphones;
• microphone;
• speakers;
• photo camera,
• camcorder/video camera;
• weather station;
• AM-FM clock radio.

All that was listed in an ad at about $3,000 in 1991 dollars. That is $5,400 in 2017 dollars.

And all of those electronic miracles of 26 years ago are right here in the 4-oz Apple iPhone! At in one hand, at a fraction of the price, all portable, all in your pocket.

Think about the progress that is made, step-by-step, an iteration or discovery (one at a time), that lead us to miracles in our lifetime. There is such an exciting future ahead for the Millennial Generation, isn’t there.

I’ll leave it here for now. We will be exploring all through our day together the marvels and miracles — and hard work — that leads us to ….

Iteration / Innovation / Progress! And the now very familiar… Disruption!

This is what the 21st Century will be all about.

Mr. V – The Mysterious Pilot – For Your Distraction & Entertainment

March 7, 2017

A story as told to Hank Boerner

The daily news and tweets got you down?  Here’s some light stuff for you.  May or may not be fake news.  Do Stay Tuned – to Mr. V. the Mysterious Pilot…

by Hank Boerner

Back in the day, when I was a young pilot and aviation journalist, I met Mr-V-the-Mysterious-Pilot.

In this era of fake news (2017), which is the taking of tiny facts and factoids and made up stuff and then weaving distortion around these, and sharing with other babbling idiots on the social media networks…well,. you may or may not believe the story I about to tell you.

This was 50 years ago, when all-things-aviation were the grist of hot news stories, print and broadcast features, many columns (like mine that ran in various print media), and most enjoyable, “hangar-flying.”

That’s when the weather was judged to be too risky to fly and so private and even commercial pilots would gather ’round in the hangar and radio shack and swap tales.  Fake news?  Maybe.  Exaggerated experiences?  Par for the course.

In my continuous rounds of large and small airline offices, commercial & private aviation offices, hangars-upon-hangars at airfields-upon-airfields, I met a lot of interesting characters.

Some were world famous: the courageous General Jimmy Doolittle, who led the 1942 raid on Tokyo; Roscoe Turner, the 1930s pilot who flew with a lion cub in the cockpit.

Women who were buddies of disappeared flyer Amelia Earhart; Mrs. Charles Lindbergh (herself a pilot, navigator and great author); astronaut Jim Irwin; the fabulous pilot “Jeeb Halaby, US Navy, former CEO of Pan Am and my partner in aviation business adventures, His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan, who flew me around in his helicopter over the Arabian Peninsula deserts; my flying buddy, Fearless Freddie Feldman, the WOR-Radio ttraffic and news pilot in New York City.

And Victor-the-Mysterious-Pilot. This is his story. Shades of James Turber’s “Walter Mitty” character and his fantasies: Instead of the pocketa-pocketa-pocketa of the tiny engines of the old bi-wing aircraft, this evening at dusk there was the vrooom, vrooom, vrooooom of the single-engine aluminum craft, running up before take-off at the small, out-of-the-way airfield not far from the city-center.

The usual run of 800 feet down the runway or so to lift off in the Piper Cub was now three times that distance. That’s because Mr.-V’s fuel load was several times that of the normal capacity. (He had installed extra gas tanks where seats were previously bolted down, all around him!)

Later tonight he is flying off the radar and long, long way off, he tells me.

The planned flight will head out to the deep blue waters of the North Atlantic Ocean…and then east/southeast a bit aiming towards Bermuda. Refuel there and then on to the Canary Islands. And then…nearby Lisbon, Antwerp, and then…destination secret.

What is this? The fiftieth flight, I’m told, by Mr. V, flying across the Atlantic, and his last in this single-engine small airplane, he says. Too risky. Not as sure-footed, he explains, as the un-marked vintage bombers he’s been flying to distant civil wars, like the one (going on back then) in Angola, Africa. The long-time Portuguese colonizers were battling “freedom fighters,” who seemed to be battling each other.

Mr. V. had a kind of mittle-European accent, claimed to be British, or at least was born in the”British Isles”; had a patch over one eye; was always clad in a flying suit (sort of fancy with trim) with shiny jodhpur boots — or — sometimes he showed up in a dashing blue blazer with flying insignia.

And that traditional, lovely flying silk scarf. Looking somewhat at times like “Flying Jack” or perhaps Terry-and-the-Pirates (remember those comics strip of your youth?).

This particular 1960s flight was to deliver the new (and very very small) single-engine aircraft made in America to some un-named purchaser in Eastern Europe. Or the Caucuses; or the Middle East…or Turkey….or…who knows where.

And the bombers? Mr. V. said these are surplus World War Two aircraft of the U.S. Army Air Corps and later, the successor US Air Force. Painted over (no insignia). Often decked out in gray or desert camouflage paint with darkened windows. Bomb bays still intact.  Radio gear and radar updated.  No machine guns (yet) pointing out of the windows.(They could be installed in Africa.)

Now, most trans-Atlantic flights of the day (this was still in the early years of jet airliners) were out of Idlewild / New York International — renamed Kennedy International (“JFK”) after the assassination of the young President of the United States in 1963. There at JFK were located the weather briefing rooms, FAA offices to log your flights, radars, services, and so on. Mr. V’s flights avoided JFK.  Too much of a chance for his real mission to be detected.

He preferred little, out-of-the-way strips, preferably with unmarked hangars for flight preparation. That’s where I would usually meet him.

He would pilot neat little Mitchell B-25 light bombers (twin engines, vrooom, vroooom); a B-26 every now and then; a C-46 (cargo version of the ubiquitous DC-3 on the 1940s); an aging DC-4 (four engine, very old airliner with piston engines); a more modern DC-6 four engine airliner…and more, many more types of aircraft civil and military. Cargo craft; seaplanes; passenger craft; bombers; fighter aircraft; private aircraft of all types.

An “amphibian” (capable of land or water landings) was taken to Norway. A small airliner flown out to the west coast of Africa. A light bomber winged its way to Formosa (Taiwan) over Pacific Ocean waters, with many island-hopping stops for fuel. Maybe, just maybe, some of the aircraft being readied for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Communist Cuba. Maybe.

Mr. V. claimed he was raised in the USA, joined the U.S. military after Pearl Harbor was bombed in December 1941, and during the war flew “everything” — fighters, bombers, transports. He held the “Air Transport Rating” of the USA — one of the toughest to win as a pilot. He said, anyway.

Who were the clients? These and those. Sometimes they were “airlines,” or ” new aircraft owners in Europe or Latin America” … And others..

Well, to me he always seemed to work in the shadows with periodic appearances in regal gear to swap stories and quietly boast of new adventures.  Real? Dunno.  Fake news?  I don’t think so.

These were mysterious times with mysterious combat going on here and there in the world.  The Cold War was on!

His mission often was down-to-earth (at the end of the flight) — supplying unmarked old bombers to un-named folks in both real and fantasized faraway countries. That were at war internally or with neighbors. Or with colonizers.  Or maybe getting ready to go to war. Or maybe they were very early terrorists.

One of these old bombers, Mr. V. told me when he was preparing it for that ocean flight (and I did see the real aircraft and sat in cockpit!), was stored for a long time at a secluded airport alongside a large factory in upstate New York where military aircraft were manufactured. A long time ago (remember, this was in the 1960s that I met him in hangar-flying bull sessions). How many were still there? A few. Many. Just enough to satisfy customer demand.  Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe they were not really there but somewhere else, like in the Southwest desert.

As I think back: So was Mr-V-the-Mysterious-Pilot “real?” That is, was he “real” in today’s era of fake news? Were his missions real? Dunno.

He shared little “proof” or evidence (beyond me seeing various aircraft about to fly off). And this was long, long before Google searching, when searching out such information would have been difficult.  I did not find anything on Mr. V. today in searching.  Just the facts here in my notebook.

I enjoyed his tall stories until…  One day, there was no more Mr. V. No one seemed to know where he had gone with the un-marked twin engine Mitchell B-25 light bomber with two engines and lots and lots of high-octane fuel — the last flight he prepared to go off to… as far as I know.

Maybe a spark over the deep ocean set off a catastrophe? Maybe he was captured at a jungle landing strip?  Crashed into the Pyrenees between Spain and France?

So there you have the story as I remember it, and from my notes of the day. Shades of Walter Mitty in his imaginary yellow WW I biplane…pocketa, pocketa, pocketa…

CAVU to you, Mr-V-the-Mysterious-Pilot. Clear skies and unlimited visibility, where ever you may be today.

And for you dear friends, I hoped you liked his story, and that it took your mind away from the unhinging and lunacy that’s descended on our capital city.