Monday, November 20, 2017

Colonel Retread The Best And Worst Memoir I Have Ever Read

The Recollections of Colonel Retread
Carlton Ketchum
Hart Books

I don't know what it tells you about an author when you pick up a personally inscribed first edition of his work for short money in a used book store. This was one of my random acquisitions at the Book Bear in West Brookfield.  I thought it would tie into one of my literary interests and it does.

The book is Carlton Ketchum's World War II memoir and it is really terrible in two ways.  It is just kind of slapped together much of it excerpts from letters.  And Ketchum himself has to be about the most bigoted person I have encountered.  And I really did feel that I had encountered him after reading the book, so maybe there was a method in his organizational madness.

About Ketchum

Carlton Ketchum was a pioneer in fundraising and public relations.  The firm that he founded with his brother is now known as Ketchum Inc, a subsidiary of Omnicom Group

When the memoir was published in 1976 Ketchum was 84 years old.  The term "politically incorrect" was just coming into common use and Ketchum's book could have been used as a manual for how to stay consistently politically incorrect.

I'm thinking the people at the firm must have been having conniptions.  But what could they do.  The old man wanted his memoirs published.  What could they do?  I'm glad it got out.

Being born in 1892, Ketchum was not part of the Greatest Generation.  That would be his son David born in 1920. He was the previous generation that actually led the Greatest Generation in the struggle against fascism. Ketchum was two years younger than Dwight Eisenhower.

Great Content

We'll save the bigotry for later and tell you why this is one of the best memoirs that I have ever read.  It has extremely interesting content.  And it does tie in with my literary interest - James Gould Cozzens - Ketchum ran the program that was responsible for commissioning Cozzens in the Army Air Force, which gave us probably the best World War II novel, the Pulitzer Prize winning Guard of Honor.  It was also a factor in the fictionsl career of the narrator of Cozzens's last novel - Morning Noon and Night.

The fictional Henry Worthington relates how things were in February 1942:
Through a friend of his in the Air Judge Advocates's department Jon found out that right then Air Force recruiters in several cities were busy with an intensive, carefully unpublicized project meant to snap up before the draft could get them experienced professional men of the very various kinds judged likely to be needed to fill a vast number of non-flying, really non-military, administrative positions in the organization now explosively expanding out of the old Air Corps.
Military aviation though no longer in its infancy was hardly an adult in 1942.  There were officers still serving who had learned to fly from the Wright brothers, so there was not much of a pool of retired officers to draw on to fill many non-flying positions.

That was where Calrton Ketchum's program came in.  Ketchum had served in World War I and also was a major player in the business world. One of his friends was Trubee Davison, a brigadier general in 1942. Ketchum got a call from him on January 2, 1942.
General Arnold wants to see you. The Air Forces is going practically everywhere in the World.  We have no reserve officers, being so new a branch, and we are going to need thousands of men who have specific skills - in transportation, communications, various kinds of engineering, intelligence, and all sorts of things.  We can't wait for these twenty-year old candidates to be trained, and they won't know how to do the things that I am talking about when they are trained. We have to find a huge number of men over draft age who are experts in these fields, get them to volunteer, bring them into the Air Force as commissioned officers and put them to work fast.
I'm wondering if this type of thing could have been pulled off now.  America of that day was still largely ruled by a WASPocracy where if everybody didn't know everybody they knew somebody who did.  Never mind six degrees of separation, it was probably more like two.

How To Find Thousands Of Officers - Stat

Ketchum went down to Washington and met with Arnold and Davison and stayed up late typing up a plan.

Then he got a surprise Arnold asked him how soon he could take charge.  Ketchum told Arnold that although he could coach the plan would have to be implemented by an officer with a staff.  Arnold responded that he wanted to know how soon Ketchum could take the physical for his commission.

It was an interesting project.
We had thirty-five categories of service to be filled of which the hardest one to find adequate numbers for was that of weathermen.
And it was successful on a pretty grand scale.
Between the end of January and the end of September 1942, we considered approximately 490,000 applications of which nearly one fifth were approved/  ........ Out of these approximately 18,000 men were commissioned in the Air Force, while the Navy and the Ground Troops commissioned 8,000 or 9,000 on our papers

Ketchum handled some of the special recruiting himself. General Harmon had command of the Gulf Coast Flight Training Command with 20,000 to 30,000 men getting flight training.  He had plenty of money to feed them, but they were practically starving from a lack of competent mess officers and cooks.

He spoke to brothers Vernon and Gordon Stouffer, who would not get into frozen food until 1946, and at that point had a restaurant chain.  Ketchum told them that the Air Force needed one of them right away.  They selected the younger Gordon and he headed straight out to get his physical and then down to Washington.  Six weeks later, Ketchum was greeted as a hero when he visited Texas.

He was also on the lookout for Flying Tigers as they returned for China. He had to fight to bring them in at rank commensurate with experience.

The big push was done by September 1942 and Ketchum was sent overseas.  He went to North Africa, Sicily and then England in a bewildering variety of intelligence assignments.  The only one that he describes in detail in coherent detail is being in charge of a committee that prioritized reconnaissance missions during the summer of 1944.  One particularly tough story was about sending pilots to try to locate the paratroopers around Arnhem knowing that the pilots were unlikely to make it back.

In that job he was nominally under the command of FDR's son Eliot.  He did not like Eliot and it is implied that it was not surprising since he did not think highly of FDR.

Regardless, the book is really worth picking up for the wealth of anecdotes.

About The Bigotry 

Some of the passages struck me the first time through the book.  As I went through to write this,  I realized they were not quite as pervasive.  Here is a pretty complete accounting of them.  Ketchum has lots of people he praises and thinks highly of, but the ones he does not like, he does not like.  I think many of his attitudes would not have been so shocking in 1944, but in 1976 he might have been advised to keep them to himself, but being 84 and all, he didn't give a shit.  So here they are by category.

Regular Army Officers Except The Top Stars

In this way and other transactions of the time, I developed the feeling that the top level of officers in the regular service was so high as to make them utterly invaluable and that most of them were men of the highest character.  On the other hand, the routines of the regular service in peacetime had made a lot of officers almost totally incapable of thinking or doing anything not laid out in detail in "The Book".  That type was really no good under war conditions, and I'm afraid most of that element had lost any real usefulness for later life in whatever capacity.

He was a time-serving, lazy officer, a Lieutenant Colonel like myself at the time, one of the group who continued to draw flying pay because he got into somebody else's airplane and flew or was flown for two hours a month


Washington cannot believe we need privates and second lieutenants and always sends us majors for whom we have no use at all


.....the right number of people to do an eleven-man job is ten, so that each of them will be busy working hard and consequently satisfied with life and operating at his best.

....lesser of two evils -keep all the work in the hands of the ten men doing it, let the other seven sit around...


In handling personnel problems, our professional soldiers are entitled to very scant respect.  What gains in procedure have come about seem always to be initiated by the "amateurs".

Their were too many of the Regulars, however, who of their own motion found it impossible to do anything but "go by the book" -- stodgy, stubborn, petty men who contributed little indeed to their country's cause in return for the excellent preparation that had been given them.

The Sixties

Since then in the Sixties and earliest Seventies, we have seen a disheartening worsening of loyalty, respect for our country's laws and neighborliness.  It is good to note that we are now well into a period in which the voices of treason, and of condoning of criminality and inhuman action on the part of others are fewer and lower in tone.


African Americans

Tomorrow I am going to church; there are four Protestant services and three Masses scheduled, besides a service for the three hundred Negroes aboard

Joshing a British lady

and that as for Colonel Mears' state, California, experiments were being conducted to determine whether white people could live there, in which case we were willing to annex it

Charley Adams told me about the two negro overseas soldiers who were reading their hometown paper.  It told of Wilkie's candidacy - of Dewey's availability - of the Bricker boom, etc.  Said Mose, "What's all dis business about a new president? We's already got us a president" "Shom sho we has" said Sam, "but de white folks wants one too!"



A small minority of ladies on a long voyage with a large number of men look just so-so the first few days out.  They apparently improve in appearance as the voyage continues



....if ever we meet any Italians who really put up a stiff fight, it will be a source of astonishmet


The people of Rome are about the best looking I have seen since I left the USA.  I should think a good many of our GIs would go for the Roman gals.  There are more blondes there than one expects, thought I think some of them have given Nature an assist.

On the standpoint of character, our people think all the Itis rank low.

Their morals are all but non-existent, which seems to me should make an intelligent Catholic wonder, for the Church has completely dominated them for so many centuries .... and yet the soldiers say 'A really moral Iti is a guy that isn't pimping for his own sister.

The French

The attitude toward the French is almost universally that of disgust


An easy worst was the French group.

If those goldbrickers ever accounted for death or injury to anyone, it was by driving mad the officers who had to try to deal with their constant objections and try to get them to do anything but object.  We had been better off if they had joined up with the Germans.

What The Frogs Look Like

A striking characteristic of the people in both Normandy and Brittany is their homeliness.  Scanning a great many faces of all ages, I did not see a handsome man nor a beautiful woman


Next to the people of Brittany and Normandy, to whom I yield the palm, the Aberodnians are the homeliest white people I ever saw.



The Egyptians are, like the Indians, predominately dirty and lazy


He said I ran the greatest chance of being murdered there, that the Arabs were no good at any time


Olive growing is just right for a Berber (the Arabs of North Africa) because it gives him most of his time to catch up with his loafing.


Before I drop the subject of Tunis, it is notable for high prices, everyone doing his best to rook the Anglo-Saxons as hard as possible.  Yet business hours are either from 8 to 12, or from 9 to 12 and 4 to 6.  Those joes do not favor work.

In approximately ten months, during which we saw many thousands of these people, none of us ever witnessed an act of kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity or affection on the part of one them.  The men acted brutally toward the women; the adults toward the children; all of them toward the animals.  Apparently compassion was unknown among them.

If there were any who did not seize every opportunity to steal, we were not blessed with the knowledge of that forbearance; and they were the filthiest people any of us had ever seen.

All in all, the Americans and British who spent part of their participation in the war in Northern Africa unite in the view that these people must surely be the lowest form of animal life.  If I have overlooked mentioning their laziness and incompetence to do anything worthwhile, I will insert it here.


Irish Americans

He is an Irishman, and I'll bet he was brought up in the ward politics school of thought which leads to an unending demand for favors and the feeling that he is entitled to them


Jack Benny

Sat next to Jack Benny at dinner last night, helping to entertain him and his associates all evening. A completely self-centered, crude manipulative boor.


Benny arrived that night half drunk and during cocktails before dinner finished the job.  He came in to the table loud and lewd, telling dirty stories at the top of his lungs and downing drink after drink.

Eliot Rosewater

Colonel Roosevelt was the kind of man who gives President's sons a bad name.

Also like his father, he told the truth or kept his word when it was convenient for him to do so.


Before You Read Ketchum

If you haven't read Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens.  Well, I mean, what is the matter with you? Cozzens was a well established writer when he went in to the Air Force in 1942 and ended up with positions where he got a great picture of the service in all its vastness including things that were kept under wraps to avoid embarrassment.  Cozzens came from the same sort of WASPy privilege that Ketchum did, but his novelists eye could discern the same foibles in his crowd that Ketchum reserved for "the other".

Another great source is A Time of War -James Gould Cozzens diary and Pentagon memos 1943-1945.

Another Fictional Ketchum Recruit

Harvey Slocum the narrator figure in 12 O'Clock High would also have been one of Ketchum's recruits.


Peter J Reilly blogs on taxes for and on whatever he feels like here.

Another View Of Jack Benny

I offer this as a supplement.  It is an anecdote that Jack Benny shared about his time entertaining troops.

"At Abadan I had an unsettling run-in with racial prejudice. I had gone into a canteen to get a sandwich and a ginger ale. There was no air-conditioning in the place. A ceiling fan was lethargically stirring up the hot air. I got my food and sat down. A sergeant sat down beside me and said, 'Hi, Mistuh Benny. Ah'm comin' to see your show t'night. You all got Rochester with you?'
'No,'I said.
'Well, I sho am disappointed. You cain't have much of a show without Rochester. He's just about the funniest damn coon in the world.'
I didn't think it was my place to get into a discussion with him about his racist language, so I merely said, 'Well, I hope we'llput on a nice show even without Rochester.' I was there to bring our men a little time out for laughter--they sure needed any relief.
But this fool wasn't satisfied. 'Seems to me, Mistuh Benny, without Rochester, you ain't got no show.'
'You really love Rochester, don't you?' I said.
'Love him? Why, sir, ah tell you ah'd walk ten miles to see that Rochester.'
'You love him so much, huh? Well, let me ask you something. Would you walk into this canteen and sit down with him at the same table?'
His expression got nasty. 'Well, sir, ah come from a part of the country where we don't sit down with nigras.'
'I thought so, young man, and that's why I didn't bring Rochester on this trip. I didn't want him to be embarrassed and humiliated by ignorant folks like you. You say you love Rochester. You'll walk ten miles to see him perform. But you won't sit down at the same table and drink a coke with him. You make me sick.'
I walked out of the canteen.

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