Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Troubled Water now on sale!

I'm excited that my new book is now on sale, and I think my fans are really going to like this one. It's a fascinating true tale, and like all my books, it reads like a fast paced thriller.

TROUBLED WATER is the little known story of a 1972 race riot and attempted mutiny aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, and the astounding drama that ensued when the Navy’s first black executive officer of an aircraft carrier had to put his own life on the line to save the ship.

Wild mobs were running through a ship, tearing innocent young sailors out of their bunks and beating them mercilessly. Marines were eager to stop the violence but reluctant to fire on their fellow American servicemen.

And in the middle of it all – the two senior officers who will determine whether this already tragic episode ends peacefully or spirals down into one of the darkest moments in Navy history. The first is an accomplished white officer who has risen to the pinnacle of his career, the glory assignment for any Naval officer – captain of a United States aircraft carrier. He is a good officer, well meaning and honorable, but like most whites in 1972 he doesn't always understand the struggles faced by the black men who serve under him.

The second is a younger black officer assigned to the ship only recently to serve as the executive officer, second in command of the carrier. An ambitious, highly accomplished officer, he knows the spotlight is on him as one of the first black men in such a high profile position but strongly resents any suggestion he is there because of his skin color. But when the riots break out, he is still too new to the ship for the captain and crew to really know him.

Together – and sometimes separately, sometimes in spite of each other – they must find a way to end the violent race riot that threatens one of the world’s most powerful aircraft carriers.

Buy Troubled Water now at your local book store or click here for easy ordering on Amazon.com.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Congratulations to the winners of the "The Forgotten 500" Book Report Contest!

The book report contest was sponsored by a number of people including Mike Papich of California; Branko Terzic, U.S. Delegate of HRH Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia; and Milana (“Mim”) Bizic of Pennsylvania. It was supported by Aleksandra Rebic, who promoted it at her wonderful web site www.generalmihailovich.com.

I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of the book reports submitted by young people across the country. The winners received cash awards and the first place winners received first edition hardcovers of "The Forgotten 500" signed by the author.

First place is a tie between Michele Popadich, 15 years old, in Chicago, IL, and Jovanka Potkonjak, 11 years old, in Milwaukee, WI.

Second place is a three-way tie between Marica Potkonjak, 15 years old, in Milwaukee, WI; Andjelka Potkonjak, 12 years old, in Milwaukee, WI; and Djuka Potkonjak, 14 years old, in Milwaukee, WI.

Third place goes to Vasilje ("Vaso") Katanic, 10 years old, in Hermitage, PA.

Honorable Mentions go to Dusica Solic, 15 years old, in Hermitage, PA; Natasha Ignatowski, 11 years old, in Franklin, WI; and Peter George Majetich, 12 years old, in Poland, OH.

These are the two winning essays:

First Place
Age 15
Chicago, Illinois

I was first introduced to the Halyard mission by my grandfather who was a Chetnik in WWII. His battalion rescued three American soldiers during the war. I only knew stories of the mission and brief facts about Mihailovich, but I was unaware of the amazing rescue that took place and all of its achievements.

The Forgotten 500 tells a story about a rescue mission that was made possible by General Draza Mihailovich and his troops under the most unfavorable conditions. Americans unexpectedly dropped from the sky in huge numbers in the mountains of Yugoslavia. With Nazi’s surrounding the area and the defense diminishing, Mihailovich made, what seemed to be an impossible mission, possible. With the collaboration of Mihailovich, the villagers of the area, the downed airmen and the few OSS agents that knew Mihailovich didn’t work with the Nazi’s, operation Halyard was a success in many ways, but a failure in others. Five hundred American airmen were rescued even with the overwhelming obstacles they encountered. But the deceit and manipulation of several British agents cost Mihailovich his life and handed over the 15 million people of Yugoslavia to a communist government.

The Forgotten 500 is an important story that should be told for numerous reasons. It was an inspiring, powerful event, which was made possible by brave and strong people. The immense amount of work, determination, and courage that was needed to make the project a success, should be recognized and appreciated. The mission should not be an event that is only known by the Serbian community. The work of the villagers, Chetniks, OSS agents, and Mihailovich should be written in history books. It should be thought of when WWII is mentioned. It should be celebrated in the United States as a triumph made between Yugoslavia and the U.S. in harsh and erratic times. War may often bring new problems, but the bond between countries can result in a powerful and inspirational force.

The Halyard operation is symbol of determination and total bravery. What seemed to be an impossible mission, which included limited resources, few connections, and endless enemies, turned out to be a successful rescue that should never be forgotten. It shows that there are still are people who are willing to risk everything to help one another. In times like WWII and even today when events are unpredictable, successes like the Halyard mission represent more than just a rescue; it represents what a world could be if there was more trust and kindness. It is the epitome of human values. This story inspires hope in the darkest of times.

The Halyard mission is an unforgettable and empowering rescue that should never be forgotten as told in The Forgotten 500. In a remarkable historical event, the weakest part of Yugoslavia performed one of the most amazing rescues in history. It shows that nothing is impossible. WWII was a time when countries would do anything to be victorious. But it was also a time where a small part of Yugoslavia and its collaboration with the OSS and immense amount of bravery, achieved a victory that should never be forgotten.


First Place
Age 11
Milwaukee, WI

Gregory A. Freeman’s “Forgotten 500” is a very important book that should absolutely not be forgotten. This great book contains many historical events that happened in a rescue mission during World War II. It tells how helpful the Serbian people were towards the downed American airmen. This historical book also explains how the OSS helped the airmen escape from German occupied territory and what the Americans did to help.

One of the reasons why it shouldn’t be forgotten is for the benefit of the Serbian people. Serbia has not gotten very much credit for all the good things they have done for the United States of America. When the American airmen parachuted into former Yugoslavia, the Serbians did everything they could to keep the airmen safe. They fed them, housed them, and the Cetnik soldiers kept them safe from the Nazis. Sometimes, the Serbs would not have a meal that night because they gave all of their food to the Americans. In addition to the rest of their sacrifices, innocent Serbian villagers who allianced themselves with the Americans were discovered by the Nazis and they were killed. The Americans told Draza Mihajlovic and the rest of the Cetniks that they would turn themselves in but Mihajlovic said that it was an honor for the Serbians to risk their lives for them. Would you ever risk your own life to protect someone that you don’t even know?

The OSS also played a huge role in Operation Halyard. The OSS set out to recover all 500 downed American airmen. Without their work and effort, the Americans would be trapped behind enemy lines for a much longer time.

Operation Halyard was the mission that the Americans did in Serbia. The Serbians helped the Americans assemble and build a landing strip big enough for C-47 cargo planes to land. Those airmen and Serbs had to do this all with no knowledge of the Serbian or English language, without causing danger to the Serbian villagers, without tools, and without letting the Germans find out. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to do that?

“The Forgotten 500” should never be forgotten. It tells how determined the Serbian people [the Cetniks and the villagers etc.] were to keep the Americans safe and healthy in that tough time. My grandparents, Nikola and Marica Potkonjak, were Cetniks and under the command Vojvoda Djujic. They fought against communism. So this book really means a lot to me and my family because the Cetniks did not get any credit for all the things they did and fought for. Everyone should know about everything this book talks about. This mission had a huge impact on not just those 500 Americans, but their families and friends and many others. Operation Halyard was perhaps the best rescue mission of World War II.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Quest

Tomato season is upon us, and like the parched animals of the African plains rushing out to revel in the first rain drops of the rainy season, those of us without our own gardens are making a dash to the local produce stand in search of a good tomato, a red orb that truly tastes the way God intended, not the way grocery stores have convinced us is good enough.

The quest for a good tomato can be a serious endeavor, and no one was more earnest in the search than my stepfather James, a man who worked outside all day and usually came home stinking of sweat and tobacco juice. The driver’s side door of his car, a brown Chevrolet Vega, was covered inside and out with tobacco juice from his halfhearted attempts at spitting out the window as he drove. He had a square jaw and a stubbly beard, and he was on the short side, which may have explained some of his Napoleonic posturing. I despised him after I got to know him, mostly because he never had a kind word for me and found some way to blame all of his troubles with my mother on me. He was the kind of man who could yell at a 10-year-old boy for not petting the cat right.

While James struck fear in me and made me twitch my foot endlessly in a nervous fit, he struck other adults as amazingly immature and petulant. James had grown up in South Georgia, on a farm, and his country credentials were even more bona fide than anyone else’s in my family. This was a man who had to have fresh vegetables on his plate every day, no matter what, a notion that seemed extreme to those of us who grew up eating Hamburger Helper and salisbury steak TV dinners during the week. He wanted his meals the way “Big Momma,” as she was known to her family, cooked them, and bless her heart, my momma was never going to get it right.

James had a particular obsession with tomatoes, considered the Holy Grail of vegetables by many in the South. Those who have eaten only the bland, mealy pink tomatoes from the grocery store won’t understand what a man like James wanted in a tomato. We grew our own every summer, of course, and they were fine tomatoes. But if our vines hadn’t produced a particularly good crop, or if we were on the fringes of the fresh tomato season, James would often go on his quest. Any time we were driving around, his eyes would be peeled for roadside produce stands with bright red, plump tomatoes, and he wasn’t shy about trying to get tomatoes right out of a man’s garden. I once was in the back seat of the car, listening with some interest as my mother and James discussed whether I could watch “All in the Family” on television that night. I wanted to, and James never gave any thought to what I watched before, but for some reason he was deciding that “All in the Family” was too adult for me. It was actually, and I didn’t get half the jokes. But I still wanted to watch it, and I was about to join in and start whining when James slammed on the brakes and pulled the car over to the side of the road. My mother dropped cigarette ashes on herself and let out a little yell while I was thrown forward into the seat in front of me. My mother and I looked up to see what was wrong, and I thought somehow James had anticipated my whining and had pulled over so he could yell at me more effectively. Then James suddenly exclaimed “Tomatoes!”

We looked off in the direction where he was gazing, his hands still tightly clenching the steering wheel. My mother had just a moment to say, “Oh James, I don’t know...” before he had flung the door open and was striding off toward the vegetable patch in some fellow’s back yard. My mother and I just sat there. We both knew what he was doing. I was mortally embarrassed to be in the car as my stepfather walked up to a perfect stranger and offered to buy tomatoes, but I had seen it many times before. It wasn’t that buying tomatoes from someone’s garden was such an absurd idea; once the vines started producing well, most people were glad if you took a sackful off their hands. But I knew what James was like, with everybody.
We just sat there and watched, my mother smoking her cigarette quietly and me hunkering down in the back seat in case anyone I knew came by. James made his way up a small hill in the front yard and over to where the man was working in his garden. We couldn’t hear any of the interaction, but we could tell exactly what was happening. The man greeted James in a friendly way, but with an expression that asked why this stranger was approaching him with such determination. James asked for some tomatoes, probably in a nice way at first, but then the man shook his head no. I slunk down a little lower in my seat. James reached for his wallet and started to pull out some money, and the man continued to shake his head no and put up his hand to fend off James’s money. That’s where James lost his temper and started shouting at the man, waving his arms frantically and probably calling him lots of names that he wouldn’t repeat at church. James turned sharply and started marching back to us, still swearing at the man and by now turning beet red with fury. The innocent tomato grower stood there looking perplexed and angry, his morning no doubt sullied by this tomato-seeking madman. James jumped in the car and slammed the door, screaming “Damn fool wouldn’t sell me any tomatoes even after I offered him five dollars for just three of ‘em! Can you believe that? I was going to give him five dollars for three damn tomatoes and he wouldn’t do it!”

We frequently went off on tomato-seeking expeditions, with me and my brother in the back seat, bored and hot because James didn’t believe in using the air conditioner. James would tear through the county’s back roads, drinking a succession of Miller beers that came in tiny little bottles he would hold between his legs as he drove. It was typical for him go through a dozen on a single tomato expedition, reaching out and slinging them over the car’s roof and onto the side of the road when he finished each one. His driving would get wilder as the trip progressed until we were racing through the county, James finding offense in the way every other driver got in his way and slingshotting the Chevrolet around them with a curse. I tended to just go into my own world and start daydreaming, occasionally looking up to see what would happen when James went charging up someone’s front yard, beer on his breath and a wildly insincere smile on his face, to inquire about tomatoes. I believe the people who said no were just trying to get him out of their yards and would have gladly given him some tomatoes if only they had known that would get rid of him faster.

But at least it wasn’t as bad as the family of a little girl I knew at school whose mother was always looking for snow. At the first mention of possible snow flurries, Amy’s mother would pile the family into their station wagon and start driving into the North Georgia mountains and on into Tennessee and the Carolinas. The children loved it the first few times, since snow was a wondrous, rare occurrence to us, but then they started getting scared by their mother’s snow obsession. If she were successful in finding snow -- or more likely just ice -- they would end up sliding all over the icy roads in their station wagon, Amy and her brothers unbelted and sloshing around in the big car. Amy would tell me about their snow trips, and I could imagine her and her brothers sliding from side to side in the station wagon, terrified looks on their faces and desperately trying to grab anything to hold onto as the car sashayed to and fro on the icy roads, wheels spinning and Mom up front with a look of glee on her face. Ever since the time they got stuck outside Chattanooga and had to sleep in a Salvation Army shelter, Amy was cautious about getting in the car with her mother when the weather was cold.

James continued swearing at the man as we drove away, the big blue Chevrolet kicking up gravel as we lurched back onto the road. He cursed the man all the way home and was still angry about it when we got there. At dinner, he grumbled the whole time about how his cube steak was no good without tomatoes, and he found a way to yell at me for the way I held my fork. That night, about 9 p.m., after it had gotten dark, James said he had to go to the store and just walked out of the house. The next morning, there were three tomatoes on the kitchen counter. I was sure they didn’t come from the store.

I will eat a fine tomato this evening, and I will take the time to ponder the lengths a man will go to for such a simple pleasure.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Goodbye old friend, and don’t come back

Dear New York Times,

I have to tell you, old friend, that it’s over. I know this is a hard time for you lately and I really don’t want to kick you when your stock is dropping fast and, like most other newspapers, you’re in a panic about losing so many readers. But I still have to tell you that you can’t come back to my house. I’ll miss my old friend every morning, but you’re not someone I want in my life any more. I understand a lot of your old friends are telling you the same thing but you stubbornly refuse to believe that your behavior has anything to do with it.

It pains me that it has come to this. I’m trying to remember how long we’ve been together and I can’t really remember when you weren’t part of my life. For as long as I can remember, you were there for me. At first just occasionally, then as I grew older I had you coming around to my house every day without fail. I started every day with my good friend, and I looked forward to it. I sat down every morning with a cup of coffee and shared some time with the old friend that came to be my most trusted source of information, the old reliable source that I knew I could count on to inform me, enlighten me, educate me. I could have spent that time with others that promised bright colors and gossip about celebrities but no, I wanted something more serious, something with many years of solid reputation behind it, something I knew I could trust. I couldn’t start my day without you.

Sometimes my wife wasn’t so thrilled to see me spending all that time with you. But I explained that you and I went way back, that we had something special, that though I love her dearly, I wasn’t going to give up the relationships I had long before I met her. So she learned to put up with your daily visits, the time you monopolized every morning, the way I tuned out her and the rest of the world while you and I had our morning time.

But it also was my wife who first recognized that something was changing. She was the one who recognized that your visits didn’t always leave me feeling satisfied, comfortable in the knowledge that I could go on with my day informed about the world around me. Oh sure, that was still the result some days, but with increasing regularity you started leaving me agitated, frustrated, saddened even. And the worst was when you just insulted me right to my face, when you talked down to me and mocked me and my values.

It started out small, as I suppose it always does when old friends grow apart. There would be some snide comment that, I guess, you assumed I would agree with. But I didn’t, and more often than not, it was insulting to me personally. It created those awkward moments like when you’re having a chat around the water cooler and someone makes a nasty remark about another group, never even considering that not everyone in earshot feels the same way about them. Or that the other person might be even be part of that group you’re snickering about. You did that a lot, NYT, and I started to wonder why I kept inviting you to my home if you were going to just insult me.

But I also have to ask, is this really something new with you or am I just now recognizing how you have been all along? I’m ashamed to say that perhaps I was more like you when I was younger. I can remember smugly laughing at the way you talked down to everyone you disapproved of, how you mocked middle America and anyone who didn’t toe the line of eastern liberalism. I think I laughed and approved not so much because I was of the same mind set, though I certainly was more liberal back then, but because I wanted to be a part of that elite that looked down on everyone else. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m proud to say that I’m conservative, that I have traditional values, that I am exactly the kind of person you regularly mock as being stupid or oppressive, or frequently both. The same sort of smug superiority that we all had as college sophomores doesn’t sit well with me anymore, and I don’t think you’ve outgrown it.

The elitist, condescending attitude was difficult to take sometimes, but I kept telling myself, hey, we’re old friends. I know it’s just part of who you are, right? But then I started recognizing that... well, it’s difficult to say this outright, but... you were lying to me. There was a time when I trusted you implicitly, a time when I accepted what you told me about world events without question because you were The New York Times, for Pete’s sake! But then there came to be so many sources of information that it was hard not to notice that you weren’t always giving me the straight story. Either you were lying by omission, misleading me intentionally, or spinning it to your own political views.

And hey, you know what? That’s probably my biggest beef with you. Can’t we ever just talk about the news without you putting your political spin on it? We should be able to disagree on politics and still get along, but now it seems like everything you say is skewed by your political leanings. I can accept that you think differently about politics but I have to be able to trust you when you tell me something that is supposedly objective and factual. Sadly, I think I trusted you in that regard far too long and now I realize that you abused that trust to lead me astray over the years. That hurts.

There comes a point where an old friendship, no matter how good it might have been through the years, has run its course. I’m afraid we’re there. It’s not like it used to be. I don’t enjoy our visits anymore. I end up yelling at you, cursing you for lying to me or manipulating news for political gain, and its just not worth it. Many times I’ve finished our visit and wondered why I continue spending time with you if the experience only leaves me upset. It’s hard to say goodbye to an old friend, one I once loved so much, but I just don’t like who you are now. It really does sadden me.

You can continue to blame it on lots of other factors, and I’m sure they play some part in your declining popularity, but your behavior is really the key. If you want to know why more and more people are turning their backs on you, take a hard look at yourself and how you’ve treated those loyal readers.

A little tough love from an old friend. Despite all your failings, I’ll miss you.