Interview with Art Buchwald, Washington, D.C., 4/6/04.
This article was distributed by Tribune Media Services.
00: How he enlisted. Ran away from home. Went down south to say goodbye to a girlfriend, with whom he had a torrid relationship that summer. She was not happy to see him; she had a boyfriend. Fixed him up with her roommate. They all went out to eat. He had no money to pay. Filched a bottle of Southern Comfort from the backseat of the car. Stayed at the Y in that town. Decided to join the Marines. Went to sign up, had to have his father's permission, notarized. Walked out and ran into a drunk who asked him for a dime for a drink. Art promised him a pint of Southern Comfort if he would be his father for an hour. Went to a notary, held the drunk's hand while he signed his father's name. Went back to the recruiter and they took him, gave him a ticket to Parris Island.
97: Why the Marines? Had seen The Shores of Tripoli with John Payne. Realized they had the best uniforms, were the toughest, the best-looking. At boot camp, they take you apart and put you together again, and make you a Marine. I had a rough time. It was real interesting. I had a drill instructor named Pete Bernardi, who you remember your entire life. The last day of boot camp, they call out your assignment. I was assigned to the air wing.
134: Training: I say in my book they violated all the Geneva Conventions. Made you use a toothbrush to clean the head, had all sorts of torture for us. By the time it was over, you felt ten feet tall. The last day, my D.I. called out my assignment, and I was furious to be assigned to air. I wanted to be John Payne. I was glad after awhile that I was in the air part instead of on the ground, because all the people I was with were killed in Iwo Jima and other places. I was an ordinance man in a fighter squadron, the VMF 113th. We went to Eniwetok. It was a good life, and I was sent home before my squadron was sent to Iwo Jima. I finally made sergeant...wasn't that hard.
180: I was a lousy ordinance man. I edited the outfit's newspaper. Called the Human Comedy. When I was an ordinance man, I dropped a 500-pound bomb on my foot. I was on the line, and a fighter plane was there. There was a 500-pound bomb you had to put in the center of the plane. There was one thing there, I never knew what did it. So like a dope, I hit it, and the bomb fell on my leg. It missed my foot, but everybody on the line saw what was going on and they all scrambled. I realized I was in a lot of trouble, so I lay on the ground yelling, Oh, my leg, my leg. They sent an ambulance, and I went to the hospital. The doctor said, "There's nothing wrong with your leg." I said, "There will be if you don't keep me here over night." The next day, the squadron commander called me in. Said, I'm putting you in for the Navy Cross. I said, Why? He said, You didn't defuse the bomb, so you saved the lives of 500 Marines...actually, he was mad as hell.
219...We lived on the Island. There were no women. The only woman we ever saw the whole time was Carole Lombard. Bob Hope, they all women with them.
238...There weren't too many Jewish kids in the Marines. Some of them came from places where they'd never even seen a Jew. So I took a lot of abuse. One day someone said to me, you know Art, they are not giving you a bad time because you're Jewish. They are giving you a bad time because you're an asshole. After that, I felt better.
251...You get a little rock happy out there. I was at the north end of the atoll...it was about two or three miles long, two miles wide. There was an Army outfit there, a Seabee outfit, and two Marine outfits. We were rock happy. We did crazy things. One time, Lindbergh came by. That was a big deal. We made kickaboy juice with raisins, yeast. The food was terrible.
273...Talks about crazy things they did. Made phony Japanese flags, sold them. It was a good place to be, in the air wing.
286...The service straightened me out. I was in a lot of trouble. I was 17 years old, I hated school, and all of a sudden, they beat me up, and that part was really, really good. Because of my [current] notoriety, the Marines accept me as a really good flyer. But it's not true. But they accepted that. The commandant of the Marine Corps gave me a parade at 9th and I, about three years ago. And it went through my head, "If my guys could see me now." Because it was the real thing.
319...I wrote a piece once, and I said, "My father was the Marine Corps," and I got a lot of mail on that. I didn't have a father before the Marine Corps. It was everything. I went to Parris Island twenty years ago with my D.I. When I found him, I called him and said, This is Art Buchwald in Platoon 11. He said, Oh, I thought you got killed. His name was Pete Bernardi. We went down to Paris Island, the training, this and that. Several years later, I got a call from a guy who said, "Pete is in the hospital now, and has cancer, and it would be nice if you called him." So I called him, and I sent him a picture of him and me and it said, To Pete Bernardi, who made a man out of me. He was so pleased with it, he put it on the door of his room, and then when he died, he had it buried with him. [He becomes emotional at this point]. So, I never won any medals, but I was there, and I like to talk about it now.
365...After he got back, got himself assigned as a PR guy for a Marines' football team. Tells some stories about partying, etc. Big game in Washington, but the players were partying with women all night long. They lost 34-0. Shortly after, he was discharged.
425...Tells about his early life which was hard and why he ran away to join the Marines. Was in a foster home and finally went to live with his father and older sisters. His father was a Sunday father, his sisters bossed him around. He hated school, and he slept in the kitchen with his father. The whole thing stunk. The war was on. When Pearl Harbor happened, I went down and signed up. They sent to papers to my sister and my father. One of my sisters found the letter, and they stopped me from going. The next time he signed up, he told a sister, Tell them if they try to get me out, I'll only join up again. But when I got to boot camp, there were times when I was tempted to yell, "I was a run-away, I was a run-away!"
455...It's all a roll of the dice. I had no idea I'd be in the air wing. Luck played a part. The guys on the ground were the ones who hit the beach first. They made a lot of errors. They left 4000 guys on Tarawa because they didn't know about the tides. Iwo Jima was terrible. Okinawa was terrible. We were on troop ships going out there. I played chess the whole time I was on the troop ship. I played with this guy every day and never knew his name.
475...Tell me about the D.I., Pete. He was a terrific guy. Great athlete. Sterling Hayden socked another D.I. for making a comment about his wife. Landed in the brig. But the whole purpose of training...was to make you protect the man on your right, you protect the man on your left. You don't think about the Japanese. You think of the Sergeant, and the man on the left, and the man on the right. The Japs were too far away.
490...What about the bombing on the atoll where you were? A bomb hit an ammo dump near us. Scared us silly. I was sitting in a fox hole with this guy. That was the most frightened I've ever been. I buried guys on the next island. I was part of the burial detail. We carried them on stretchers, brought them back, and buried them. Went back, took another. I didn't enjoy that.
508...I was so scared of doing anything wrong. They made you feel that way. Agrees that he not...I was like I am now. A free spirit. The one thing I had was imagination. When I put out the paper, it was fun. I've got copies somewhere. I had a column in High School, but no newspaper experience. After the service, I went to USC. Then I went to Paris and got a job.
533...Like most of the people you'll be interviewing, it was a very big moment in their lives. We remember the guys we were with, their names. Each of us has their own camera, their own video of where they were, what they did. What I did wasn't heroic, but it made me straight. It straightened me out, which I've always been grateful for. I've spoken at several Marine Corps gatherings. [End of interview.]
I've overstayed, and I love it
by Art Buchwald
I am writing this article from a hospice. But being in a hospice didn't work out exactly the way I wanted it to. By all rights I should have finished my time here five or six weeks ago.
This is what happened: I was riding the elevator at the acute care facility next door when I saw a sign that said there was also a hospice in the building. I arranged a tour and everything looked very good to me.
I talked to my doctor, Mike Newman, and he said, "It's your choice. You're the only one who can decide what you want to do." Which was, I thought, a good answer. That's when I decided to discontinue dialysis. One of the reasons for the decision was that I lost a leg at Georgetown Hospital. I miss my leg, but when they told me I would also have to take dialysis for the rest of my life, I decided - too much.
Several things happened. My decision coincided with an appearance on Diane Rehm's radio talk show. She has over a million listeners. I talked with her about my decision not to take dialysis. The response was very much in my favor. I had more than 150 letters, and most of them said I did the right thing. This, of course, made me feel good.
It is one thing to be in a hospice; it's another to get on the air and tell everybody about it.
When I got to the hospice, I was under the impression it would be a two- or three-week stay. But here I still am, six weeks later, and I've gotten so well Medicare won't pay for me anymore.
Now this is what it's like for someone who is in the hospice: I sit in a beautiful living room where I can have anything I want and I can even send out to McDonald's for milkshakes and hamburgers. Most people who are not in hospice have to watch their diets. They can't believe I can eat anything I want. I have a constant flow of visitors. Many of them have famous names, so much so that my family is impressed with who shows up. (I would not be getting the same attention if I were on dialysis.) I hold court in the big living room. We sit here for hours talking about the past, and since it's my show, we talk about anything I want. It's a wonderful place to be, and if for some reason somebody forgets to come see me, there's always television and movies on DVD. I keep checking with the nurses and doctors about when I'm supposed to pull out. No one has an answer. One doctor says, "It's up to you." And I say, "That's a typical doctor's answer."
I receive plates and baskets of delicious food - home-cooked meals from my son and daughter-in-law, treats from the delicatessen and frozen yogurt from Häagen-Dazs.
Everybody wants to please me. Food seems to be very important, not only to my guests, but also to me. If they bring food, they get even better treatment from me. One day I told a friend I wanted a corned beef sandwich. The next day I got 10 corned beef sandwiches. Also, I have received dozens of flower arrangements, something I would never get if I were on dialysis.
I don't know if this is true or not, but I think some people - not many - are starting to wonder why I'm still around. In fact, a few are sending me get-well cards. These are the hard ones to answer. So far things are going my way. I am known in the hospice as The Man Who Wouldn't Die. How long they allow me to stay here is another problem. I don't know where I'd go now, or if people would still want to see me if I wasn't in a hospice. But in case you're wondering, I'm having a swell time - the best time of my life.
The above article was distributed by Tribune Media Services.
WHY ART BUCHWALD IS ON MY SITE
It was an honor and a privilege for me to meet Art Buchwald and his Drill Instructor during their return visit to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. I was a Series Commander in the Second Battalion of the Recruit Training Regiment. It was a pleasure to talk with a famous Marine like Art Buchwald, but his friendliness and genuine interest during all the recruit activities of my series made me feel like I had known him all my life.
Art talks about returning to PI during the interview..."I went to Parris Island twenty years ago with my D.I. When I found him, I called him and said, This is Art Buchwald in Platoon 11. He said, 'Oh, I thought you got killed.' His name was Pete Bernardi. We went down to Parris Island, the training, this and that."
When Art Buchwald and Pete Bernardi came to Parris Island in the spring of 1965, he repeated some of the boot camp training evolutions with a platoon from my series. He wrote a story about the experience for Life Magazine which appeared in the 13 August 1965 issue. He was an interesting guy to talk to, as was his DI. Marine Art Buchwald celebrated his 80th birthday last year. He is currently residing in a hospice. Warrior Art Buchwald lost a leg to amputation on February 16, 2006. He is still one tough Marine!
God Bless and Semper Fi Art, Marine Warrior, Buchwald !
Dirck Praeger sends