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The Forgotten War

The Forgotten War

Veterans day for me is a time to remember the sacrifices of all those who served in our military throughout our history. I have written about the Civil War, WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam as have many others, but the war that seems always to be forgotten is the Spanish American War.

It was a short war; April 1898 to August 1898. There is a debate (like Vietnam) whether the war was necessary and righteous. It freed Cuba from an oppressive Spanish rule, but it also made the U.S. similar to many European countries because we acquired ownership of the Philippines, Porto Rico and Guam. In all but title, these countries became US colonies.
Right or wrong we asked our people to fight this war and 3,549 men lost their lives. Another 1,600 were wounded. 2,900 of the deaths were caused by disease, not military action. Many, many more fought battles in Cuba, the Philippines, Porto Rico and Guam. We hear a lot about Roosevelt leading his rough riders up San Juan Hill, but not about the common soldiers, marines, and sailors who actually won the war. Over 100 Medal of Honors were awarded.

Four regiments of Buffalo Soldiers (African American Soldiers) were sent to Cuba and the Philippines after spending years fighting in the Indian wars. There were five Medals of Honor awarded to people in these regiments. By the way, they also fought in WW1, WW2, and Korea.

One thing the Spanish American War did was to make Europe take notice of this just over 100 year old country of ours. And they have been dependent on us ever since

Thanksgiving in Kensington Neighborhood in Philadelphia -1944-1961

Thanksgiving in Kensington
Kensington Neighborhood in Philadelphia -1944-1961

It’s odd how we remember the “old days” with reverence and fondness. The truth is never exactly how we remember it, and that’s a good thing. I spent my first 17 years on this earth celebrating Thanksgiving in our Wishart Street two-story row home, where I shared a bedroom with my brother. All of this occurred against the backdrop of several wars, polio epidemics, gang fights and the occasional incarceration of some neighbors, but I cannot remember one bad Thanksgiving.

I do remember funny and heartwarming family gatherings, where all of our cousins, aunts, and uncles laughing and enjoyed a feast. I remember the time a bar of soap accidentally fell into the mash potatoes my grandmother was making. We found that out the hard way. I remember drawing turkeys and pilgrims and hanging them in the classroom at William Cramp Elementary School. I remember my first 8-year-old “crush” Lois, who had no idea I existed. I remember the cold bite of the air as we played half ball or hung out on the corner with Billy Pullman, Georgie McIver, Phil and Bob Gormley, Harry Elliott, Pat Morris and others.

I remember walking down Mascher Street to Wishart and east a block to my house, with the snow swirling around my head. When it snowed my grandfather (Harry Hird) would alter his “pull my finger” joke and say “I hope this keeps up!”. We would all agree with glee, and then he would that say “because that way it won’t come down.” Okay yes, it is silly, but to a 7-year-old it was meaningful because we were hoping to get one more day added to our two days off we got for Thanksgiving. Snow was our friend. It allowed us to be free from the rigors of learning and provided us with a means to sled down Howard Street or McPherson Square Park.

No one who ever attended the Gimbals’ Thanksgiving Day parade ever could forget it. Before television became popular, our Dad would drive my brother Bill and me downtown to attend the parade. I remember the smell of Chestnuts roasting in pushcarts, Santa’s helpers (all dressed like Santa) collecting money, bright multicolored lights, and decorations and I especially remember the real Santa as he was the last to arrive in the parade. He would climb a large ladder, supplied by the Philadelphia Fire department, to his home for the next month on the 4th floor of the store. I never wondered how an old fat man could climb that high. After all, if he could climb down fake chimneys on homes all over the world a four-story climb up a ladder would be a piece of cake.

Speaking of cake, I vividly remember the smell of roasting turkey with stuffing, mince pie, pumpkin pie, and my mother’s favorite pineapple upside down cake. In later years her favorite became Apple cake. Little did I know that 1961 would be my last Thanksgiving Day celebration in Kensington for four years. In 1962 I spent my Thanksgiving at Lackland Airbase in San Antonio Texas in basic training. In 1963 I was in Riverside California and then Saigon for 1964 and 65.

Of all the memories I have, the most powerful are the memories of my family and friends. Those memories have lasted me a lifetime. They sustain me in troubled times. When I’m feeling sad, I simply travel back in time and relive the time with those who have now traveled beyond this world. In this way, we can all be time travelers. Each year I add to those memories as I continue the tradition here in Atlanta, with Duoc, Bill, Nancy, Ava and their friends.

I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving, and sincerely hope you have and will make more fond memories of your own.

The Potato Thief- Coming this Christmas

Currently working on the last 25% of my newest novel The Potato Thief. It’s the story of George Graham who was a character in my first book. I have always wondered how he got to America and entangled himself with Charles Byrne. Now I know.

The Potato Thief- Coming this Christmas

The Potato Thief- Prequel

The Potato Thief- Prequel

I am working on a prequel of sorts for the Mercy Row series. The title is The Potato Thief. It is the story of how George Graham from the first novels ends up in Philadelphia. As young man in Ireland (1881) his father is dead and his brothers, sister and mother are starving farmers. A mini potato blight has hit the region and George decides to steal a sack of potatoes to help his family. He is caught and ends up in prison. Through a series of circumstances he escapes and has to leave Ireland.

He finds himself in the Irish Brigade of the French Foreign Legion and travels to Indochina to help fight rebels. Again through a series of circumstances he then travels to Philadelphia where he meets Charles Byrne and the two embark on a criminal life. Of course there is a lot more to it.

When this is finished I will write the fourth book in the Mercy Row story and continue the exploits of Gerry Amato.

The Potato Thief is taking longer to write than I thought because I have to research three different cultures and exotic locations. That said, I am moving along fairly well with the story.

Did you or someone you know grow up or live in Philly?

  • Makes a great Christmas Gift!

    Did you or someone you know grow up or live in Philly? If so, I know you’re going to love my Mercy Row series of novels. And, they make a great Christmas gift for someone on your list.

    Buy at

    The story takes place in North Philadelphia and begins in the 1920-30s (Book one Mercy Row). It’s the story of an Irish crime family that is both vicious and vengeful, as well as being highly motivated to help the community. While building the familiar Philly red brick row homes the family creates and protects its numinous criminal enterprises.

    The series (three books, Mercy Row, Mercy Row Clann and Mercy Row Retribution) covers a time period from 1920 to 1975. The novels are action packed, as a mob story should be, and offer numerous Philadelphia references that will jog your memories.
    Here’s what some of your fellow Philadelphians say about the series:

    “Mami: Being a Philadelphian, I loved the setting of this story. The characters were fascinating, drawing you quickly into the story. It was so good. I’m starting Book 2 now”

    “Daria: The first book which I read in one day was excellent and it kept my interest. Thanks for a good read. I liked the affiliation of the Irish and Italians when they banded together. The deaths seemed so real. I am starting number 2 tonight.”

    “Margaret: Got them for my husband … who is not a reader by a long shot! He read them all and thoroughly enjoyed that! He grew up on Ontario Street. I shared your post!”

    “Kathleen: Just finished all 3 loved them sorry when they ended.”

    “Mickey: Just finished book 3! Great Stuff ! Looks like opening 4 book 4 ?”

    “Mike: Mercy Row Retribution was the best of the three. It captured my imagination and kept me turning pages. It’s not often that I find a novel that keeps my interest high let alone a whole trilogy. You should read them all. The historical context seemed to be taking pages from my own life. The vivid descriptions made you feel like you were sitting on a chair in the corner of the room. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Mercy Row series…..well done!”

    Buy at
    Available in eBook, Paperback and Audio.

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18 Year Old REAL Hero

18 Year Old REAL Hero

All the negative talk coming from a certain politician about Gold Star families and prisoners of war being losers pisses me off. So I want to relate the story of an 18 year old guy from Philly who took up the call to duty while this certain politician wrangled deferment after deferment.

Recently I was able to visit my home town of Philadelphia and saw lots of family and had a great time. I also had an opportunity to visit with a fellow I haven’t seen in over 20 years. He is the husband of one of my wife’s friend. We always got along, but on this trip we created a special bond, or at least I did. I won’t give his name because I don’t think he would want that. So let’s just call him Sarge.
Sarge never spoke about his military service. I knew he retired from the Army and then spent some years in the Air Force, but other than that I knew nothing. He always remained a quite hero.

When Sarge was 18 he volunteered for the US Army. As I was to learn he became a Green Beret, Ranger and a Paratrooper. He had two terms in Vietnam in the early 70s during some of the fiercest fighting of the War. He was awarded the Silver Star for Valor, the Bronze Star for Valor, several other medals for valor and the Purple Heart. I posted a pic of the medals Sarge accumulated during his military service. They are not all shown in the photo, especially the Silver Star and he would not talk about how he won that medal.

After Vietnam he was sent to South America performing duties for the war against drugs and then he headed up efforts to house and then integrated Cuban refugees into US society. He had 9 MOS’s (jobs) in service including being a Military Police Officer.

When he came home from Vietnam he was called a baby killer, murderer and had no thanks for his service other than the medals he received. He had to leave the service because of illness which turned out to be the effect of Agent Orange. It took years for the Government to admit this, but they finally did. He faced hardship as a civilian, but was able to put three sons through college, one becoming a military officer, one a Doctor and a Lawyer. As he aged he started to suffer from the affects of PSTD, often having nightmares from his combat days.

He doesn’t bitch about it. He copes and moves on with his life. When I told him I was never in combat being an Air Force photo tech, he told me “we all had our jobs to do.”

There are a couple of lessons here. One is you never know what horrors people have experienced unless you take the time to interact with them. The second lesson is you should not keep quite when buffoons belittle the sacrifices of our military men and women and their families. This includes police officers, firemen and EMTs.

Harry Hallman

Are you from or lived in Philly?

Are you from or lived in Philly?

If so you are going to really like my Mercy Row series of novels. There are three books: Mercy Row, Mercy Row Clann and Mercy Row Retribution. It’s the author’s homage to Philly told in an exciting action packed Philly way.

The story takes place in North Philadelphia and starts in the 1920-30s (Book One Mercy Row). It’s the story of an Irish crime family who are both vicious and vengeful, as well as being highly motivated to help the community. While building the familiar Philly red brick row homes the family creates and protects its numinous criminal enterprises.

Book 2 Mercy Row Clann continues the story during World War 2 when the family must fight the Germans and Japanese and also other mobsters in order to preserve their way of life. The children of the Boss find themselves fighting not only in the streets of Philadelphia but also in Africa, Europe and the South Pacific.
Book 3 Mercy Row Retribution starts in 1968 when the grandson of the founder of the crime family fights in Vietnam and at the same time finds ways to smuggle marijuana to enhance the family’s criminal ways. This sets up a dispute with the French mafia which has the family fighting in the streets of Paris. The book has a bonus section of short true stories from when the author was growing up in North Philly.
The dichotomy of good and evil makes for an exciting yet heartwarming read. The author grew up in the neighborhood he writes about and you will find many familiar descriptions of places, things and people.
Available in eBook, Print and Audio on Amazon:…

The Years of Privilege

The Years of Privilege

Growing up in inner city Philly my friends and I enjoyed many benefits. You might even say we were privileged. We never had to cut the grass because we had none. We never had to rake leaves because we had no trees. We could make a buck by taking orders at the local A&P or collecting glass bottles and returning them for a few cents each. In the winter we could shovel snow for 25 or 50 cents. This saved our parents from having to give us large allowances.

The biggest privilege was when school ended in June and we didn’t go back until the day after Labor Day. We lived in a summer wonderland finding joy in tossing our worn out gym sneakers up on the electric wires. While some kids had to have their dad’s pay to go to expensive vacations, we had a fantastic fire hydrant close by and we didn’t have to travel. It provided hours of watery fun. For a couple of years the local garage filled a car pit with water and would let kids jump in. So privileged.

Some of the kids that lived on the Main Line or similar places had to pay to go to a gym where they worked out and then got a steam bath. Our gym was the street and our steam bath was our bedroom that remained 90 degrees all night sucking up the heat reflected from the red bricks, asphalt and concrete. It was FREE.

We never had to worry about being stung by bees, bit by snakes or attacked by angry deer. There were none of these things. We just had to learn to live with roaches and the occasional rat, both of which were much smaller than us.

This is neat. We could lift up the phone and listen to our party line partner’s conversations. Those other kids from the suburbs didn’t have that kind of fun.

Tell me how many kids had this kind of privilege? If we ran low of glass bottles to turn in but still need a few pennies for candy we would go to the bank. Outside of the bank was a large iron grate. Sometimes people would drop coins down the grated hole. We would come along with a long piece of wood with chewing gum attached to one end and extract those pennies. Once it was a nickel. I feel sorry for those millionaire kids who did not have that kind of fun.

When we got our driver’s license our parents gave us the privilege of saving our own money until we could afford a car. You would be surprised what $50 or $200 could by. We had the privilege of learning to fix certain things on the car like adding oil or break fluid every day or replacing fan belts. Just to make it easy on us we had a ready supply of batteries, tires and even gasoline parked on all the streets in the neighborhood.

After we graduated high school we had the privilege of getting a job. If we were lucky it would be in a field we could make a career out of such as tool and die working, electrician or plumber. If not there were plenty of factories around that were willing to pay 75 cents or a dollar an hour. Once we had a job our parents gave us the privilege of paying our own way. The going rate was $15 a week for room and board.

Yes those were the years of privilege and while I would not turn in my Smartphone to go back there, I wouldn’t mind a short visit or two.



51st anniversary of the first B52 aircraft bombing of Vietnam

Next month, June 18th to be exacted, is the 51st anniversary of the first B52 aircraft bombing of Vietnam. A Squadron of B52’s took off from Anderson Air Force base in Guam and headed for the Ben Cat District of South Vietnam not far from Saigon (now Ho Chi Mihn City).  Each of the 30 B52’s carried 24, 750 pound bombs.

I was a month or so into my second tour at Ton Son Knut Airbase in Saigon.  We pretty much worked everyday a minimum of 8 hours.  On my second tour I processed film and photos taken by Tactical Air Command planes, and there was a lot of it. I had to operate 8 film processors and there were two rooms the same as the one I manned. I calculated that during that second year I processed about 5 million feet of film and prints. That was just me on my one shift in one room. We ran 24 hours a day.

Anyway, on the morning of June 18 1965, while I was processing my film I heard a low rumble that quickly got louder and louder. I know almost immediately what was causing the rumble. Prior to going to Vietnam I had worked at a Strategic Air Command base (March Airbase, CA) for two years. I had heard that rumble many times before. It was the distinct sound of a squadron of B52s.

I ran over to my co-workers processing room and asked if he heard the noise. I told him what it was and he said, “Oh Crap (I am using a cleaner word here) The VC are in for it now.”  I agreed. I had seen photos of test bombings back in the states and it was devastating.

We had no Idea where they were going. We just knew wherever it was the landscape was about to change. A day or so later we saw the results. The jungle has trees that can grow as high as 150 feet and an average of 100 feet. When we saw the film our planes brought back we were even more surprised. The craters were enormous with trees collapsed all around on in them. The trees were only half the diameter of the craters. We guessed the craters then were at least 200 feet wide, and there were a lot of them

As I remember they flew in a wedge formation. So imagine being on the ground while each plane dropped there twenty-four 750 pound bombs.

As for the Vietnamese Communists they had left the area before the bombers got there. So the Tigers, Monkeys, Snakes and such were the ones that suffered.  Some people said they were warned by people in the South Vietnamese Army. I had heard that there was a Russian fishing boat stations off of Guam and whenever the B52 took off they radioed the Communists and they just hightailed it.

My first tour in Vietnam was with the Strategic Air Command. Our job was to process film from U@ Spy Planes that flew over North Vietnam and Sothern China. We also processed film from unmanned drones. I didn’t know it then, but the B52 was later modifies to carry two drones.

See the pictures.

Remember what George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This memorial day we please remember the two B52 crews who lost their lives that day when they collided.



An excellent read. The story-line is very fast paced

Just saw this great review on my first novel Mercy Row. So happy people are still gtting a glimps of the history of Philadelphia through the fast paced crime thriller. Here is the review:
“By Tim on May 2, 2016- Five Stars
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An excellent read. The story-line is very fast paced, never lingering on boring filler details so often found in novels.
The author does a great job of portraying an era long gone, while still introducing and developing characters with modern appeal.
This is definitely one for the collection.”