Archive for November, 2022

My brother recently completed his first New York City Marathon at the age of 59 in under 5 hours. It the city where we were both born, along with the sister who occupies the position between us in birth order [pictured below, Mary still lives there]. Here is a great article Ned shared with the world, and I want to share it here. You can find his books online; all of us Rozells (five of us) are writers, and he was the first published one with Walking My Dog, Jane. Read it after you dig his writing sample below. The Rozell family is very proud of him , and happy for him. It was never about just the race, it was about living life and enjoying humanity.

Alaska Science Forum

No. 2,619

November 10, 2022

A five-hour tour of the Big Apple

by Ned Rozell

A woman welcomes runners to Brooklyn during the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Ned Rozell.

NEW YORK — A few days ago, along with 50,000 others, I covered 26.2 miles of this city on the worn soles of my running shoes.

Last March, New York City Marathon officials notified me that they had selected me in the random lottery; I should not be alarmed when my credit card was dinged for $295.

That was the steepest marathon fee I have ever paid, especially compared to the lifetime Equinox Marathon bib I purchased in the 1990s for $125 (which is the best investment I’ll ever make).

But, ya know, as I sit here at my sister’s house in Brooklyn with sore legs and a fuzzy head, the New York City Marathon seems worth more than money. When I search for one word, I keep coming back to joyous.

It started at 5 a.m. on Nov. 6, 2022, when my sister Mary volunteered to drive me from Brooklyn to the dock of the Staten Island Ferry in Manhattan. As we left her brownstone in the black of morning, I looked up and saw the Alaska flag in the sky: The Big Dipper pointing to the North Star. Good omen.

I packed onto the boat with hundreds of other people clad in running shoes and frumpy clothes they later would throw in donation boxes on Staten Island (worn to keep warm while waiting hours for their race to start). With no seats left, I stood and looked out the ferry window at the dark sea of New York Bay.

There, lit up and glowing green on her own island, was the Statue of Liberty. I choked up a bit, thinking of my grandmother Mary Liston, who was a friend of mine (we toured Ireland together when I was 22 and she 85). “Nanny” had sailed past Lady Liberty to Ellis Island in her 20s as an immigrant from Ireland. My grandfather Ned, who died a few years before I was named for him, shared that experience.

Maybe Nanny’s story and the recency of that side of my family becoming Americans has made me feel a pull to the big city, which is strange considering my life choices. Maybe that attraction is also due to newborn me belting out my first scream in Manhattan, where I was born before my parents moved to upstate New York.

From there I hightailed it 36 years ago to Alaska, where I have lived ever since. In that time, Nanny and both my parents have died, and my two brothers and two sisters have given me nieces and nephews. Most of those kids have grown up and fledged. It happened so fast.

Enabled by reasonable air travel prices for as long as I have lived in Alaska, I have tried to make it back once or twice a year. On one of those trips, in 2009, my wife Kristen ran the New York City Marathon.

Back then, squinting at the subway maps, our daughter Anna and I popped up in Brooklyn but never caught a glimpse of Kristen until after she finished in Manhattan and was wrapped in a shawl of foil.

In Brooklyn, Anna and I saw crowds yelling as if the Beatles were back in town. Since then, I have tried to enter the race by random lottery, which offers you a 2 percent chance of getting a bib. In 2022, my number got called.

Which is why on a warm November morning I was standing on the upper deck of Verrazano Narrows Bridge with thousands of other people. That suspension bridge at the pinch point between upper and lower New York bays carries 13 lanes of car and truck traffic on two levels between Staten Island and Brooklyn when the race is not happening.

At 10:20 a.m., Frank Sinatra sang “New York, New York.” A cannon stopped everyone’s heart for a second. We shuffled northward.

I imagined I could feel the deck bouncing as we left behind Staten Island, the smallest New York borough by population (about a half million). All those people live in the same space as Alaska’s Douglas Island near Juneau (home to about 5,000 people).

Five thousand is perhaps how many people were moving on the top tier of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge when my feet were on its asphalt Sunday. Not many of us looked alike. People chatted in some languages I could place, some not.

I turned and talked with Anna from Aruba, originally from Venezuela. Anna had braces on her teeth. Her teenage son spoke four languages.

“I am happy it is warm,” she said. “My training runs in Aruba are all at 27 degrees (Celsius, or 80 degrees Fahrenheit), so this feels good.”

“This is like the hottest day of Alaska’s summer,” I told Anna.

Cups that held sports drinks and water pile up on a Brooklyn Street during the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Ned Rozell.

A temperature of 75F was recorded in Central Park on race day, a record for Nov. 6.

Heat is not a friend to most runners. When we overheat, mammals like us get tackled by lions — our cells don’t function well, our muscles cramp and we slow way down. I could feel my face getting red on the bridge, not yet into the second borough of the race and less than two miles into the day.

Approaching Brooklyn, we could hear it before we saw them: A soft, constant roar, like waves crashing the shore on the Lost Coast south of Yakutat.

We jogged off the bridge ramp and into Brooklyn. The din was people, lining the streets four deep behind a strip of blue plastic tape that resembled a thick finish line. They were cheering. Not for the two Kenyans who had passed a few hours earlier on their ways to winning the men’s and women’s races. But us, a multicolored mass oozing in slow motion compared to the elites.

Friends who had run the race told me to wear my name on my shirt, so people in the crowd can call it out. I instead chose a University of Alaska Fairbanks t-shirt where the ALASKA stood out in blue and gold.

And there, as I decelerated for the next few hours, I heard that word, which hit like a shot of electricity each time.

Ned Rozell pauses with his sister Mary in Brooklyn as he runs the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Mary Rozell.

“Go Alaska!”

“You got this, Alaska!”

“I’m lookin’ at you, Alaska!”

I ran on the far right of 4th Avenue in Brooklyn (the shady side), slapping my sweaty hand into the palms of kids and adults of all sizes and races. Each thwack gave me a few free steps, floating on air. One guy almost popped my rotator cuff.

At one point, I turned to a woman next to me whose face was cherry red like mine. She was smiling at the din of cheers, and signs held up, each with a New York flair: I LOVE YOU, RANDOM STRANGER.

“I may pass out from heat stroke, but I’ll die happy,” I said to my new friend.

My aunt Fran — Nanny’s daughter — once pointed out to me that for all the billions of people in the world, no two faces are exactly alike. I saw hundreds of faces that day, making eye contact with kids whose hands I smacked and people who shouted Alaska. But my brain’s facial recognition software pinged with a positive match only once.

There was my sister Mary, standing on the steps of an ornate Baptist church one block from her house in Brooklyn. I stopped and picked her up for a hug. Joy.

On I went, bopping past rock bands playing at gas stations, recorded music blaring at eardrum-damaging volume on every corner, and pods of uniformed police who stood in the middle of cross streets.

I could tell from the increasing weight of my cotton Alaska shirt that the relative humidity was high. Every few kilometers, volunteers held out cups of sports drink and water. The streets around those stations were coated with crushed paper cups, trod to a watery pulp.

Fans of the New York City Marathon hold signs for some of the 50,000 runners who passed them on Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Ned Rozell.

The course featured 400 port-a-potties for each mile, none of which was there the day before, nor the day after.

I sucked down both sports drink and water at every stop, happy for the chance to walk, which helped cool the engine.

Nearing the end of the 11 miles of Brooklyn, we runners moved through Williamsburg, one of the few silent places on the course besides the five bridges. Williamsburg is home to a large population of Hasidic Jews who seemed disinterested in the show. No one stood behind the blue tape.

Losing the cheers and the hand slaps there flipped me back to Alaska running, where most of the trail is covered alone and it helps to groove on the meditative repetition of one foot after another.

That Zen was harder to find in New York, but soon it was back to the cheering crowds and high rises of Queens, then over a bridge to Manhattan, then over another and a one-mile tour of the Bronx before re-entering Manhattan island from the north. Each borough felt a little different — Brooklyn was homey, the Bronx industrial and Manhattan had everything.

The race had its own smells: the musk of the subways beneath wafting from metal grates, clouds of skunky marijuana smoke, Vaseline, and salty sweat, buckets of it.

The last bridge crossing from the Bronx to Manhattan was 21 miles into the race. A good number of people were walking. The scene resembled a parade. The heat index was collecting its toll.

It was around there the male leader of the race, Daniel Do Nascimento of Brazil, had hours before collapsed and left the course after having sped to a two-minute lead for half the race. I jogged past people stopped on the pavement with grimaces on their faces, stretching their cramped legs. A woman I met a day later said she had vomited 12 times. Her finish time was an hour faster than mine.

The Manhattan crowds lined the route all the way to its finish in Central Park. The yelling was somehow louder than ever; my ears rang (and are still ringing).

Many people trotted past me in the last few miles. In Fairbanks’ Equinox, I would feel a burst of adrenaline when that happened. In New York I didn’t care. It was all about that lighthearted post-pandemic-humans-pressing-against-each-other atmosphere, which had enough emotional punch to mist my eyes in the last two miles.

A map shows Ned Rozell’s journey through the five boroughs during the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, 2022. Courtesy of TCS New York City Marathon.

There, I thought of 2020, when my brothers and sisters let me enter their homes when they didn’t know if my breath would kill them. And how this year, 2022, was the first year international runners were allowed back to compete in the New York Marathon since 2019, swelling the ranks from 30,000 to more than 50,000.

All those humans restored what I have always believed, but has wavered at times: Most people are good, and there is something in every human that every other human can relate to.

That day, thousands of our species were out there, standing and smiling and breathing each other in for a few hours.

As the crowd roared like I was Aston Kutcher or one of the other celebrities, I smacked a last few hands before a slight uphill when the finish line appeared. I crossed the mat near Tavern on the Green at the same time as three others. We tied for 26,033th place. Joyous.

Since the late 1970s, the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute has provided this column free in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell ned.rozell@alaska.edu is a science writer for the Geophysical Institute.

Read Full Post »

For Veterans Day.

I did a local talk last week to about 150 local veterans. I spoke about my latest book on the Pacific, the sacrifices, the fact that it was a war that many Americans did not, and do not, know much about, outside of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima.

My friend Ron took out a full page ad on Veterans Day to honor his father, a World War II veteran and survivor of the Bataan Death March. It was a reprint of a 1946 local newspaper article. John is in my first book, which was also on the Pacific.

John Parsons, Local GI, Recounts Jap Tortures
Left for Year’s Hitch; Ended in Manchuria With Gen. Wainwright


“Just a year’s hitch in Uncle Sam’s army.”

That was the outlook March 24, 1941, when John E. Parsons, 22 Everetts Avenue, local hero, left Glens Falls with a quota of 17 draftees. But it was a far cry from just the year’s hitch. Instead, it included nearly three and one-half years as a prisoner under the Imperial Japanese Army, sharing with General Wainwright the rigors and tortures of Jap prison camps.
For Parsons it was just Army routine up until Dec. 8, 1941, when on a Sunday morning at Clark Field in the Philippines he sat on the steps of a barracks with some fellow soldiers watching an approaching flight of 56 planes which a passing officer described as a “Navy formation.” In a few minutes a thunderous crash of bombs began a nightmare of horror for Parsons which was to run from Japanese barbarism in the “Death March” through prison camps in an itinerary though Formosa, the Japanese homeland, Korea and into Manchuria.
On Christmas day in 1941 it became necessary to evacuate Clark field, and parsons, who was with the 803rd Aviation Engineers, tells of wasted energy put forth in the building of two airstrips in the retreat toward the tip of Bataan in the blind hope that American planes would someday come. Up until March the men who were building and trying to keep strip in repair in the day were doing guard duty on beach at night. By early April they were being used as infantry replacements in the line and soon went to line for full duty where they remained until the surrender.
Rations as such did not exist after the middle of February, even the Calvary horses having been eaten. A rice mill was being operated behind the lines and the food consisted almost entirely of plain boiled rice, small portions twice a day. Whole kernels of dried corn were sometimes boiled, but they were so hard as to be almost inedible. Finally malaria, dysentery and fatigue took their toll of troops running out of ammunition in the face of a foe growing stronger daily, and Bataan fell.

The “Death March”
Of the “Death March” Parsons says, “It just can’t be imagined.” The march was a distance of about 75 miles which was covered in around six days. For healthy troops that would not be exceptional, but for the sick and weak, as nearly all were, it was a cruel ordeal. It was not a continuous march, parade fashion, but rather continued over a period of about a week with groups of 500 being sent out each day. Parsons says they were forbidden to help anyone in any manner, even if he fell. To do so was to invite a rifle butt in the back. He saw three men bayoneted in the back at a rest period when they walked a few feet from their group and knelt over a puddle splashing water on their faces.
The Japanese way of feeding the prisoners, on those days when they did, was to place a bag of about 150 pounds of cooked rice at the head of the column and let them scramble for it. Those at the rear usually got nothing. More food was always promised “tomorrow.”
The termination of the march was at Camp O’Donnell where the most sadistic practices were routine. Prisoners were put in groups of ten, a policy which was in effect from then on, and in the event anyone man attempted to escape or made any move which might be construed as such, the other nine were put to death with him. When this did happen the ten condemned were made to dig their own graves the afternoon prior to their deaths. Then four stakes were driven around the pit and the man was tied hand and foot spread-eagle over the hole so he was forced to stare at his own grave all night. In the morning the entire camp was turned out to witness the executions and the condemned were offered a cigarette and a blindfold, the latter of which was usually refused.
A standing rule of the camp was that all prisoners bow to the guards. The guards would amuse themselves by hiding and jumping out unexpectedly when a prisoner came near. He would then be called to attention and slapped for not bowing. In the three years and five months that he was a prisoner Parsons does not know how many times he had been slapped or beaten but he states “30 would be a light guess.”

In a few days Parsons was transferred from Camp McDonnell to Bilibid Prison in Manila as part of a 12 man detail to work on the docks unloading ships. By this time his weight was down to 116 pounds from a normal of around 175 and his joints had begun to swell and sores were breaking out on him. After he was found too weak to carry even small cases he was he was allowed to report to American medical officers who though under close supervision, had a fairly free hand supervision at the prison. The fact that most of the prisoners there were used as laborers, explain this fairly decent treatment, Parsons reasons.
A combination of medical care and a diet supplanted by smuggled purchases from Filipinos did much toward restoring his health and he was considerably stronger when on Sept. 23 he was shipped to Formosa in a group made up largest of high ranking American, British, Australian and Dutch officers.
At Formosa, or Taiwan as the Japanese called it, he was sent to a Camp Korenko where he spent the next nine months. It was here that he met General Jonathan Wainwright and they remained in the same group until just prior to V-J Day. The Japanese wanted General Wainwright to sign a statement to the effect that they had volunteered to work for their captors. The general refused and forbid anyone else to sign such a statement. As a result the food ration was cut from a bowl of rice twice a day with an occasional bowl of seaweed soup.
It was here that their shoes were taken away from them, including General Wainwright. The fact that they refused to sign up for work did not mean that they were not worked. At this camp and Camp Shara Kowa, also on Formosa where the group spent 16 months, duties consisted of working in rice fields, growing sweet potatoes and making rope.

Before going out of work and before returning to the camp formations were held at the Americans were made to count off in Japanese, usually in groups of ten. To hesitate when it came time to see who would have charge of the groups present was more complicated and thus easier muff. In order to supplement the meager diet whenever possible, PW’s stole food. One day Parsons hid some sweet potatoes with the intention of taking them back to camp. A guard observed him and told him not to touch them. At the end of the day when he thought no one was watching him he again tried to pick them up. The same guard appeared from seemingly nowhere, and parsons today carries the scar of the bayonet wound in his right arm as a reminder of this incident.
The Japanese believed that Formosa would be invaded by our force so on Oct. 9, 1944 the group that Parsons was with was put aboard the Oyruko Maru, which was sunk in the Philippines on a later “voyage” 1600 American PWs. Only a few survived. The Oyruko Maru had considerable difficulty getting out of the Formosa harbor, in fact made three attempts but was driven back twice. Even before the first attempt, the harbor was bombed on Oct. 13, 14, and 15 by American planes with a result that it was about a week before any attempt was made to leave. When the bombing raids came the prisoners were locked in their compartment and timbers were wedged against the door, the hatches were all closed and the ventilation was shut off. One bomb struck so close that it killed 17 Jap soldiers on deck. The 286 men in the compartment had a double row of bare boards to sleep on as bunks which afforded everyone a place to lie down, though they would be shoulder to shoulder.
The first attempt to leave the harbor terminated when the Japs apparently detected a submarine the first night out and turned back laying over in the harbor for five more days. On the second attempt the PWs heard a terrific explosion which they later learned was caused by a torpedo missing the ship and exploding on the shoreline to which they were sailing parallel.
The third and successful attempt was made with an escort of two destroyers. The Japanese took a work detail on deck to wash dishes so these men kept the others in the hold informed of events. There was also a talkative interpreter from whom some information could be gained.

The ship successfully reached the seaport of Moji, on Kyushu, southernmost of the Japanese home islands. By this time the Japanese seemed to see the handwriting on the wall and treatment was generally better. At one time they were quartered for a time in a hotel where hot baths were available daily, something unheard of before.
After a comparatively short stay in the Japanese homeland they were transported to Korea where they went by rail to a camp North of Mukden in Manchuria. Later they were moved back to Mukden where they were when the war ended. The first inkling they had that the war was over was when they saw a B-29 flying low near the prison camp and saw 10 objects parachute out. Later they learned that there were four men and six bundles of supplies dropped. The four Americans were given a rough reception, according to Parsons, and thrown in the prison camp. The following day, August 16, they were liberated by the Russians who had arrived in the vicinity the previous day but because of some technicality had not liberated them.

Free At Last

Parson says that there was not a great deal of demonstrating when they at last learned that they were free. One of the first things they did was to put the japs personnel, from colonel down to guards in the stockade and soon a reversal of procedure took place.
Despite his experiences, if Parson had a burring hatred for the Japanese, he conceals it well. He shows a bitterness towards those of the enemy who participated in the “Death March” and for those responsible for one of the practices at a Formosa camp. That was when on rainy days, the camp would be called out and made to sit in a group on the wet ground facing mounted machine guns. They were told that in the event of an allied invasion 0f Formosa, this would be their fate. This took place about once a week, and having no source of news they never knew if it was the real thing or another rehearsal.
For some of his guards he has a good word. Some of them he says even stuck their necks out to help the prisoners. Oddly enough, the Jap who bayoneted him is one of these. He says, “After that, he acted as if he couldn’t do enough for me.” But, he adds, “For every good one, there were 20 that weren’t.”

Wainwright “Great Guy”
Parsons describes General Wainwright as “a great old guy.” He says that he kept up the morale of the men by talking to them. He told Parsons that he was familiar with the Glens Falls area, having at one time been a colonel at Plattsburg Barracks. Asked if the reports were true about the general having been slapped once by guards, Parsons smiles and answers, “Once?” One time the general was said to have cut his hand on a dish, at least that is what he reported when he sought medical aid. But the story got around camp that a guard had pointed a bayonet at him and the spunky general had pushed it aside with his bare hand.
General Sharp, the adjutant under General MacArthur in the Philippines who was also a prisoner, gave John a card in Formosa reading: “My thanks and regards to you Parsons- William F. Sharp, Major General.” Brigadier General Carl H. Seals wrote a letter to Parson’s mother last September from Walter Reid General Hospital reading in part, “For the past three years I have been a `prison mate’ of your son, John. We left the Philippines together on a Jap ship in September, 1942, and have been together in various prison camps ever since. Throughout prison life he has been a big help to me, doing chores that I was little able to do. In fact, he was always most kind and considerate of my wants, which I shall always appreciate.”

Parsons is the son of Mrs. Edward Parsons, 22 Everetts Avenue, is married, and lives with his wife and two children, a daughter, Gail, and a son, Royal, at that address. He held the rank of staff sergeant at the time of his discharge and is entitled to wear the American Defense Service Medal, American Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, with two clusters, Good Conduct Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, World War II Victory Medal. He was discharged at Fort Dix, N.J., last month after having been a patient at Rhoads General Hospital in Utica for a few weeks.


Here is more information from Mr. Parsons’ son.
“The article from the Post Star’s interview of my dad is 100% true. Few of the men received purple hearts, medals for heroism, and had no medical records. It came back to haunt us years later when dad was denied VA benefits time after time.
Even if money were offered us it is a poor substitute. There was no fishing or camping with dad. My mom and I took care of him, he didn’t provide for us. He was destroyed because of it. There was no honor for him because his country abandoned him when he needed it.”

We have to do better.

Ron tracing his dad’s steps in the Philippines.

Read Full Post »