By Arthur H. Gunther III

Why does war often begin with a parade and end with one? At the first, youthful excitement, naiveté, innocence, natural inclination and lack of experience and judgment as to horror fuel the adrenalin of patriotism as the quick steps of those who would save the world or avenge a wrong rush to enlistment. On the return, slow march, the wounded, the hardened, the ones now in the know, step forward arm in arm with the ghosts of the fallen, accepting the gratitude of a citizenry that can never grasp the horror of conflict for they were not there.

In each parade, organized first by fever and then on return by politicians, there is the constant cadence of background music for “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the 1930 American film based on a book the previous year by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of the First World War.

The novel, the film, describe the extreme mental and physical stress of the battleground and how civilian life is never the same for many, if not most veterans. The book and movie may be about an older war, the frightening technology of which is far surpassed today, but a young, as they now say “warrior,” mind was then as now a heartbeat from the mother’s womb and embrace. It is easily and perhaps irreparably damaged.  Read or see “All Quiet …,” and you know today’s story for post-Iraq and Afghanistan U.S. vets.

The genuine reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, events brought a surge of young people who enlisted for the cause in a parade of honest patriotism for conflicts now recognized as both debatable and mismanaged, war that put us into debt when we need investment for a shrinking middle class, infrastructure and quality of life. And certainly for veterans’ care.

Now, yet another parade is planned in Washington by a president who, like me, never saw war, as a tribute to all who serve and have served. Who can deny these vets their march down Pennsylvania Avenue? Who would not feel pride and a moment of gratefulness for the men and women who went off so willingly and quickly? But the cost alone, perhaps $10 to $30 million, could feed all homeless vetrans for several weeks.

When the parade is over, when our veterans are home alone with their nightmares, thinking of lost comrades; when so many are unable to get or hold a job; when a major national newspaper reports that one U.S. veteran commits suicide almost every hour; when brain-damaged or emotionally disturbed warriors barely exist with seizures and drugs as long waits for woefully underfunded and bureaucracy-laden care never seem to end; when we forget our veterans except to give them a parade, how “quiet”  are we the American people? Too quiet.

Rather than a parade, every American should take a vet to lunch, or buy him or her a coat, or obtain medicine or give a hug. That would be real “thanks”.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at This essay is adapted from an earlier piece..


March 5, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

When someone is asked, “What is your biggest regret?,” perhaps most would recall one particular moment, though for others it surely depends on what year, month, even day (or night) you are referencing.
For example, in the great, immature, developing years of childhood, teenage time too, there are conversations with parents, teachers, friends, even fleeting strangers that, recalled years, decades later, make you cringe. “What was I thinking?” But by then, the only voice you hear is the one in your head, for the others are not there anymore.
Other regrets surely include questions not asked, conversations not made, momentary anger that forever separated you and another, or others, when it would have been better to take a deep breath, walk away in quiet but not let go of the hand you were holding, not sever ties. Again, voices lost, never to be heard again.
In the end, what was it all worth — those silly, pointless arguments, the reasons for them now forgotten? Genuine friendship, even much more, trashed in false pride and ego, a rhythm once a promising tune left as scratched as an old 78rpm record? And it plays again and again.
Yet if you are an optimist, or get yourself busy somehow and believe that anyone’s past is simply that, past, there are new voices to be heard, perhaps listened to this time.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.





February 26, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

In a world often gray, you wish for a spot of color, because that is always there, you know, even in fog or overcast. It’s all in the eye, literally, as color is reflected or light is emitted.
But that is too technical for emotion, since a very gray day, perhaps at other times sought after for quietude and introspection or a long walk, can also be depressing or oft-putting at least. And we all have gray days. Yet color is — truly — always there.
Otherwise, what hope for humanity, for advances in fighting disease, for fewer wars, for more equality, for freedom of expression and expectation of healthy debate, for the triumph of common sense?
Just as Virginia O’Hanlon was reminded in 1897 by Francis Pharcellus Church of The Sun that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” we must tell ourselves there is color, even exquisite hue, in the grayest canvas.
An optimist might say there is more color than gray, a pessimist just the reverse and a politician whatever the lobbyist intones. A child would almost always find color, as might the aging in the reverie of other times.
Color is volunteerism when there is need. Color is people’s humanity to people when inhumanity casts its gray. Color is not just the reflection of light as perceived by the eye and brain but the reflection of decency.

So, people, yes, there is color, always.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


February 19, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

It is said that Lincoln frequently jotted words, phrases, sentences on paper scraps that were thrown in a desk drawer. When he neared writing a speech, he took the jottings and assembled his word thoughts as stitched quilt patches, with the whole the message.
That he could do so was his gift; that he did so was ours. Witness the Gettysburg Address, one of the speeches offered in November 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery at the famous Civil War battle site.
Controversy remains as to which of several copies of the address was given and from where the president mined the gem of the speech, “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The last lines, “… government of the people …,” are Lincoln’s simple but reaffirming nod to America’s founders and the journey they set the nation on, one that was to continue in restatement, commitment, fine-tuning.
How many of those vital, defining words were on paper scraps in the president’s desk, jotted down from memory or the influence of others, we will never know.
Were Lincoln alive today, what would he say about what seems to anyone of any political persuasion a great straying of the nation’s original intent?
The growing oligarchy obscenely supported by hidden, special-interest money and the indifference to the humble greatness of a land now raped by greed, lies and deliberate indifference seemingly have buried Lincoln’s words, along with the war dead of the civil conflict, the wars before and after, the dead of government neglect, the young dead of gunshots in our schools.
No matter where your politics lie, unless you are dressed and fed and tickled by the hidden, even sinister interests, within and from without in this America, you are not even close to protection as a human being with aspiration and hope. Your right to “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” secured by so much sacrifice and once articulated by a gift such as Lincoln, are now empty words.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


‘Anthony’s  Nose,’ Bear Mountain’s brother

February12, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Bear Mountain, N.Y. — I once overheard, in this verdant wonderland of forestation, an earnest fellow say to his four year old: “They call Bear Mountain that because it is bare on top.” Well, it is bare, but that’s not the reason for the moniker. We local hayseeds know that.
This beautiful part of the heavy mountain ranges off the Hudson River, so close to Gotham, is part of the New York State parks system and specifically in the Palisades Interstate Park network. Despite being underfunded for decades (in tougher times, libraries and parks always get the shaft), Bear Mt. State Park, its umbrella the Harriman State Park, and other New York parks in the Hudson Valley region are full of trails, famous stone structures crafted by Depression-era artists, some pools, quite a few lakes and the historic Bear Mountain Inn, itself long-awaiting fuller restoration when the money — perhaps better said, the will— is there. A hotel, cafe, small eating section and trading post are now at the inn.
For decades, at least since the inn’s construction in 1915, we locals have driven to or hiked to or, once upon a time, taken the West Shore Line train to Bear Mountain on weekdays, when the urban crowds were back at work. No complaint about city folk, of course — they help keep the parks going, too, and what a weekend respite, but it’s like when company goes home. You have the house to yourself once again — it is a delight.
Bear Mountain Inn was designed in the Adirondack Great Camps style, and it never goes out of style, literally. Even a poorly done 1970s retrofit with blonde wood, now removed, could not wither the great oaks and other dark woodwork of this monumental building.
My hope is that the Palisades Parks Conservancy, properly formed to aid “the improvement of and activities in the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, and for the purposes of promoting and expanding the preservation of natural, historical, and cultural resources in the Park for the benefit of the public”  will some day be successful in specifically restoring Bear Mountain State Park, its parking lots, its trails, its zoo, its inn, its skating rink and many other features so that the “great masses” will continue to visit — from New York City and beyond and from local communities, too. That is what was intended so long ago in the Teddy Roosevelt-style founding of the parks nationally. May the bears continue to roam at Bear Mt., but humans, too.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. This column is adapted from an earlier piece.


February 5, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Enduring the flu is a cleansing experience, literally and beyond. It is also lucky triumph over what has been a killer this most unusual season as the preventive vaccine has often not worked. It did not for me.
But maybe it was not the flu, though the aches, chills, fever, sore throat, lethargy said “yes.” Maybe it was a cold/flu-like virus, of the adenovirus type. You can get a vaccine for that, but you have to join Uncle Sam’s military machine.
Whatever hit me Wednesday last as I was in usual mode, running here and there, burning one candle at three ends, had me by evening with chills, fever and onstant cough covered with enough blankets to make a polar bear leave the igloo.
The usual concerns, and the stress I bring to appointments, writings, paintings, volunteering, this and that disappeared quickly. Didn’t look at the cell phone, the iPad.
Didn’t eat, either, as appetite left faster than a Yankee fan in Beantown. Even the friend that shakes my hands all the time — arthritis — didn’t call, and for once the finger that needs to relax first thing in the day before it folds again behaved.
In an odd way, perhaps nature’s protection, I slipped into neutral. Yes, lots of aches, feeling 150 years old, disgusted, but it was a blessing not to be concerned about anything.
All I did was drink fluids, especially electrolytes, and watch the fever, which never got to the level and duration requiring a trip to the med people. The complications were few enough, too, so I could stay home.
Meanwhile, back on the treadmill, the volunteering I was supposed to handle was so superbly done by others that I now know how utterly replaceable I am. A rebalancing of the ego, another of nature’s re-tuning.
As the appetite slowly began to return after three days, I found the taste buds rejected salt and sugar as aliens. So why have I courted both so long?
I didn’t touch the cell phone for days, and when I finally looked for it, the phone was in the trash with a gazillion tissues.
Now on the full mend, slowly, I realize flu or adenovirus can be a teacher, however difficult and dangerous the lesson may be. As long as you have a mild case, and that admittedly was my good fortune, you can find peace in simple living, resting, eating minimally and wise, forgoing the constant email checks and appointment worries.
I was blessed to get better quickly, and I do not wish illness of any sort on anyone just so they can have a zen moment, but I found that peace can come in the oddest ways.
Now to maintain the equilibrium.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


January 29, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

I don’t suppose people use keys to lock bathroom doors anymore, but in downtown Nyack, N.Y., one very old mortise set was stirred to life for perhaps the first time in more than 100 years.
As a volunteer at the Edward Hopper House, the birthplace in 1882 of the famed American realist artist, I was tasked by two concerned staffers with securing a door on the original bathroom, no longer used. They need it temporarily for archival space, and the room must be locked.
I was going to add a small, really non-invasive bolt latch that could be removed but was stopped — literally blocked at the bath door — by Carole Perry, the artistic director, and Jill De Vonyer, Hopper House archivist. Since I rarely seek to encounter the wrath of women (that comes anyway, without trying), I stared ahead, awaiting instruction, a long-ago-learned defensive move.
“You are NOT going to make holes in this old door, are you?” were the unspoken words as the eyes of Carole and Jill darted. I think I mumbled something about there already being a thousand pecks and blemishes in the still-unfinished though stained fir door, a standard 1880s building item.
That was when Jill, diminutive though she may be in height, focused on me as a laser would, or perhaps as a cat annoyed because it has not been fed on time. Carole, meanwhile, stood ground in the hallway with no retreat in mind.
“Ah,” I said, again in tactical defense. “I see this door has a mortised key lock.” (A mechanism set inside a hollowed-out section.) “Maybe I can take it out and make it work.” I could already hear the purring from the archivist and the director, so wonderfully protective are they of Hopper House, along with Jennifer Patton, the executive director, Joyce Byrnes and Ursula D’Auria in the office,  the trustees and the many volunteers over more than four decades.
The lock, common on inside doors back in the day, operates with a simple, “skeleton” key, turning a chunk of metal (mortise) that goes into a strike plate and tenon space on the door jamb.

The old mechanism came out easily, and as was also common back in America’s industrial age, the lock was made so that it could be quickly disassembled. I was able to clean the ancient dust from inside and lubricate the lock with the small tube of Vaseline I carry for dry hands, etc.
Back the thing went, a skeleton key was procured, and we had a working lock. All that was needed was Dave Sirois, also on the House & Grounds Committee, to add a strike plate from his collection as a contractor and old-homes restoration expert.
I hear Carole and Jill are pleased. I can relax because I did not incur wrath. Hopper House has been protected. And we can all say cheers for old-style American hardware that endures into its third century.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


By Arthur H. Gunther III

Small diners in my part of the world in lower New York State a few decades back were known for tasty, homemade food served by owners and their staff who seemed like family, especially for the regular customers. They were homes away from home. And they could be small theater for the characters within.
Each diner — Hogan’s, Tiny’s, Sparky’s, etc., often several in every village and town — was small enough — like an old railway dining car — that you were intimate with the other patrons but also, if you buried yourself in your newspaper, you could be by yourself. Not unlike the table at home where your siblings might be jabbering away but quiet you wanted to be, lost in your thoughts.
Our diners, like small-town eateries anywhere and even the intimate ones in cities back when they were simple, too, knew their customers. Regulars would be greeted accordingly, usually with voices loud enough so that the rest of us took notice and either said hello or mentally checked off our list that another member of the “family” was in the “house.” Reassurance, again.
Diners offered further intimacy with staff, including the waitress who knew all about you, who had your order placed even before you sat down, who kept a pencil in her hair and a check pad in her apron pocket, even if she took your order by memory.
And there was the grill cook, the fellow at the “flat top,” who had home fries simmering on low heat in the back left and who used the full surface to griddle pancakes, eggs over easy, burgers, onions, without burning anything, his hands quick to open up the left-side refrigerator where he took out American cheese or reached overhead to pull bread from the Pullman loaves left by the local commercial bakery, Ramapo or Widman’s.
The cook was truly intimate with the customers, some of whom would purposely sit in front of him to watch him work. One advantage was that you could fine-tune the time on your eggs.
Some of these grill cooks, like others in the old diner industry, were itinerant, and they came for a few months in summer and went south in the winter. But they were as regular as a clock in showing up at the right time.
The customers were regular, too, in their often quirky ways, as in any family. One fellow I recall stirred his coffee about 15 times, after loading it up with five spoons of sugar. Then he banged the spoon on the rim of the green java cup as if to wring out the last drop. Finally, with an “ah,” he began to literally slurp the coffee. Did this each and every time. Did that routine for years. And, funny as it was, it was reassuring to the other regulars in the old diner. Reassuring to him, too.
In those days, the police chief came in, the mayor, the auto mechanic, the principal. Everyone knew each other or of one another, often going back generations. So there would be nods and small questions, like “How’s the vegetable patch this year, chief?” Overall, it made for trust, especially with the police. They were your neighbors.
Maybe the world, at least parts of the American world, especially our cities and anonymous suburbs, could use a few of the old diners, their staff, their food, their patrons. They could use reassurance from “family.”

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at This essay was adapted from an earlier version.


January 15, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

It is tea time in America, whether that is your favored beverage or not. The Irish, the English know that troubled moments are best navigated with a spot of the brew, and now is our need.
So, metaphorically, let us sit a spell. It need not be 3 p.m. Indeed, it is already high noon in our nation.
In his last State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said on Jan. 11, 1944, just months before the great invasion of Europe would extinguish the long horror of tyranny, that “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
Ah, yes, and also the mojo for the 2016 presidential election in which too many long-lost Democrats never saw the poverty in West Virginia or how the closing of the local Walmart forced even more into depression when their only place to socialize was gone. Bernie knew that, Clinton did not. The liberal talk of a party of the people had never gone to the walk. People were still jobless, poor, without hope, largely white and so very ripe for the false promises of the Republicans.
Perhaps the GOP’s old moderates could have led the “people who are hungry and out of a job …” to freshly fertilized pasture and its hope, but they are as neutered as liberal Democrats.
In his address, FDR said, “This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty. As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness. We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. …”
The president, in a time when that title was revered, was advocating a Second Bill of Rights to ensure jobs, food, clothing and leisure “with enough income to support them”; farmer’s rights; freedom from monopolies; good housing; medical care; and education.
What FDR did not anticipate was the growth of special-interest money, now legalized to sway elections, nor the inherently anti-democratic military/industrial complex whose profits are fed by war not peace.
So, it is tea time in America, and while the poor, good American from West Virginia or the out-of-work, college-educated businessperson or the 56-year-old laid-off factory worker or the children of promise in urban poverty, or children anywhere in America (for they are all of promise) have a tough day most days while government fiddles and even grossly insults, there is a place at the kitchen table for them.
FDR sought to protect them — all of us — from another Great Depression. He tried to prevent more war and the dictatorships that build on the down and out, but his Second Bill of Rights proposal died with him. No one since has successfully picked up the standard without being knocked down by special interest.
Tea may not prove enough to get through this darkness, but it will make the good people — and they are most of us — feel better as we hope for a national reset.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


Great-grandfather’s old stove

January 8, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

It is one degree in Blauvelt, N.Y., as I write this piece, unusual cold these days in this part of the Northeast not far from New York City but reminiscent of old winters.
In that time, though, cars did not start easily, coal furnaces had to be hand-stoked, hoping that the fire did not dissapear from the embers banked the night before, and my female schoolmates waited for buses wearing required dresses, their poor legs red from the biting cold and wind.
And that was just 50 or so years ago. Imagine back another half century with horses to saddle, wood cooking stoves to refill and a long walk to school.
So, the moment is relative, as it always is, and even without a frame of reference, say the 20 year old who knew not the world in 1968, you can appreciate some of modern technology, at least if you can afford it. Or if you are not homeless, as too many remain in this rich nation.
On this one-degree day, a Sunday in Blauvelt, there was not many errands, so no multiple trips about. Just a cozy day inside, and thanks for that. Thanks that I was not my grandfather putting coal ash on the driveway for a gritty surface. Thankful that I wasn’t my great-grandmother milking her cow at 6 a.m. And grateful that I wasn’t my triple-great-uncle responding to a fire call with a steam-fired pumper.
Yet I was thankful for a bit of nostalgia thrown my way in the cold. When I was five, living in nearby Sloatsburg, the rented house on Seven Lakes Drive had no central heating, just a large grate in the hall off the living room that sat above a hand-fed gravity coal furnace. On very frigid mornings my brother Craig and I would get dressed standing on that grate, hopping from one foot to another since the metal got hot.
Now, in 2018, that memory was reawakened on the one-degree morning when, after rising at 5:30, I brought down clothes, threw them in front of the gas fireplace, started the fire, and when it was putting out heat, got dressed in front of the fireplace. No foot-hopping this time, though.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.