Tag Archives: Tom Feeley

Tom Feeley And Mike Brody’s Memorial Day Tale

As Memorial Day approaches, longtime Westporter Tom Feeley writes:

It was 1945. The war in Germany was almost over. But SFC Mike Brody and the POWs did not know it.

Fast forward to 1973. I moved from San Francisco to Westport. As a Vietnam veteran, I joined VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 VFW. I walked in the Memorial Day parade, attended the solemn Veterans Day ceremony, and made a bunch of new WWII NCO friends with CIBs, even a Silver Star.

My left shoulder had the Third Infantry Division Patch from 1/15 INF CAN DO, so I was real good with the WWII guys. I also led Audie Murphy’s platoon.

Junior Bieling

Westport veteran and Silver Star awardee Junior Bieling usually wore a coat over his uniform to hide his medal, out of modesty. He owned JR’s Hot Dog Stand.

I busted his chops: “You should be very proud. If an enlisted man earns a Silver Star, he really earned it.”

“Not too many officers would say that,” he replied.

On Fridays if I went in for a dog, I left smashed on his vodka screwdrivers. “Tom, the booze is on the house, but ya gotta pay for the dogs!”

There was also a burly Tech SFC Mike Brody, with ribbons and a CIB. He was from Brooklyn. I’m from Queens, with Brooklyn friends, so we became buddies. We ran into each other at the beach occasionally, and chatted.

He was almost 6 feet tall, built like a tanker. He had a contagious smile and a very quick wit.

The three of us hung out in the VFW bar after ceremonies or meetings. Those guys knew everyone.

Fast forward again, to 2000. I owned a boutique real estate firm. I had sold a beautiful modern home in Weston to inventor genius Bob Soloff and his wife Carol, also from Brooklyn. They held a beautiful catered open house for friends after the sale.

To my surprise, SFC Mike Brody showed up. We were a few hours into drinking when I asked Carol, ”Where do you know this guy Mike from?“

“He’s my little Jewish buddy from Brooklyn!” she said.

“What? Mike? Brody is a Jewish name?!”

In Jackson Heights you were Irish Catholic, Italian or Jewish, with a sprinkling of Protestants. We busted the Jews’ yarmulkes on Saturday, and they busted our Sunday ties or knickers.

Mike turned to Carol. “You’ve asked me about the war many times. I’ve had enough to drink that I’ll finally share my story with you and Tom.”

He continued:

“We were laying field radio wire, got encircled, captured and put in a concentration camp. I was a platoon sergeant, so I had some freedom to move about and interact with guards. who randomly asked to see my dog tags.

World War II prisoner of war camp, in Germany.

“Months later a new slender guard showed up. He was quite different, because he didn’t walk his post bored. He was alert and interested in what was going on behind the fence.

“I saw him a lot, and tried to be nice. He asked me where I was from. When I said Brooklyn, his eyes lit up. He called me ‘Brooklyn!’ from then on.

“One day he was looking for me. He pointed to the far corner of the camp, for me to go there. With a corner post and a lamp pole, it was hidden from the guard towers. He put his index finger to his lips and in perfect English said, ‘Not a word! Give me your dog tags. Return here tomorrow after breakfast. Not a word!'”

“I figured with no tags, I was dead. The next day we met. He returned one tag on the long chain — missing the long chain. He said ‘tank treads,’ and disappeared.

Some dog tags identified soldiers as Jewish with an “H,” for “Hebrew.”

“The next day, everyone was lined up for dog tags. ‘Jews over here!’ The tag the guard had returned was badly scuffed and twisted, like it was run over by a tank. The ‘JUD’ in the lower right corner had been mangled off.

“All the Jews were separated, and never seen again.”

Mike later learned that the guard was an American college student. He had been visiting his grandparents when he was conscripted and placed in a concentration camp, where he could spy with his bilingual skills.

Mike freed the guard by telling rescuers that the kid was an American citizen, and that he had saved Mike’s life.

That’s just one out of countless stories that our veterans can tell. As they gather for tomorrow’s Memorial Day parade and ceremony — and meet at places like the VFW, to share memories, socialize and enjoy their lives — let’s not forget every man and woman who has served our country.

All gave some. Some gave all.

Metro-North Scores With Hockey Fans

If you ride Metro-North long enough, you see everything.

But until yesterday, Tom Feeley had never seen the Stanley Cup.

The longtime Westporter — whose own sport at Staples High School was wrestling — was heading home on the 4:11. As the train left Grand Central, the conductor said the National Hockey League’s most famous trophy was along for the ride.

Tom thought he was kidding. But sure enough — in Greenwich — a big white-gloved guy walked through, carrying the cup.

It was headed for Stamford. NBC Sports is headquartered there, and they’re promoting the playoffs.

Let’s go to the video!

Most people seem blase. But look closely at the end.

You’ll see Tom touch the Stanley Cup.

A Beloved Beach Bungalow

In 2001, Tom Feeley noticed a family gathered outside his beautiful Compo Beach bungalow. He introduced himself, and invited them in.

They were Jean McKernan and her family. Jean had lived there — 12 Fairfield Avenue — back in the day. Her father bought the house just before the 1929 crash.

The McKernans owned it for almost 50 years. Today it is owned by Tom and Sandy Feeley.

Now — after many years of living in and loving it — the Feeleys have placed the bungalow on the market.

Tom and Sandy Feeley’s house today.

The website about the property includes fascinating recollections by Bob McKernan — Jean’s brother. Here are a few.

Nelson McKernan — a rising young banker, and Bob and Jean’s father — bought the cottage in 1928, for $5,000. A bit of modernization made the summer of 1929 a fine one.

Fairfield Avenue was not paved. Every few days a spreader rolled through, putting calcium chloride on the dirt road to absorb water and keep dust down. Chemicals got into cuts Bob and his siblings suffered from shells on the rocky beach, and stung worse than acid. But his skin was tough, and he often walked barefoot into town.

That first year there were wooden bathhouses on Westport Avenue. But they burned that winter, and the land was turned into a parking lot. Buses arrived regularly at the corner, dropping off and picking up bathers.

Wooden bathhouses on the beach lasted much longer. Kids climbed to the rooftop porch, looking over the crowd.

The old Compo bathhouses, located between what is now the lifeguard shack and the white pavilion. Note the upper deck, where Bob and his friends scoped out the beach — and which now encircles the current pavilion.

There was always activity on the street. Many Irish families gathered together. At night adults played bridge, or sat on the porch and talked. From Bob’s bedroom he heard Florrie Carroll play the piano, as everyone sang.

The vegetable man came by with his truck. So did the ice man, with his 300-pound blocks.

Bob’s father was president of the Compo Beach Improvement Association. The group sponsored swimming races, and built 2 diving floats offshore. They were the site of huge King of the Hill fights, with plenty of fun (and a few injuries).

These 2 pages in “Westport…A Special Place” show Compo Beach in the 1930s. Note the boats, floats, canoes, men wearing suits — and rocks, where the sand is today.

After sending away for boxes of rockets and firecrackers, kids shot them off, shot them at each other, and blew up Mrs. Rae’s mailbox.

Neighbors vied for the best 4th of July displays. The Lanes — including sons Paul (future Staples football coach) and Chubby (future owner of the beach concession) — had the best, Bob says.

Before more houses were built, a wide, grassy backyard was the site of many croquet, badminton and softball games. Later, when the town tried to solve the problem of high tidal flows by installing pipes and a 1-way valve by the Minuteman statue marsh, water became polluted and tall grasses grew. The soil turned to muck, the yard to uselessness.

One corner of Fairfield and Soundview was owned by Sam Roodner, a Norwalk developer. His castle-like stone house represented money and power. His mailbox was never blown up.

The other corner, owned by the Toomeys, was wooded for years. Kids played war games there — and always got poison ivy.

Without winterization, few of the residents stayed year-round. But long-lasting friendships were common. Bob remembers many — including “the worshipped-from-afar, unapproachable, but so wonderfully named Sauncy Frost.”

Compo Beach, looking toward Schlaet’s Point

There was no jetty at Schlaet’s Point (Hillspoint Road); it came in the 1950s. A rocky spit there was filled with clams. Bob and his friends walked out at low tide with rakes and buckets, picking soft-shells to be steamed at home.

Crabs were a problem when swimming in anything but high tide.

In those days, with the beach varying in sand depth from year to year, tides varied dramatically. Sometimes, high tide reached the seawall. Low tide extended hundreds of yards.

For diversion, kids swam in the big pond at Old Mill. A longer walk was to Saugatuck, across the railroad bridge. It was the perfect height for diving into the river below.

Eventually, Bob’s childhood ended. War came. But 12 Fairfield Avenue, and the beach, united the family and their friends every summer.

“Post-war parties were wilder, romances were deeper,” Bob recalls.

A welcoming sign at 12 Fairfield Avenue.

He and his new wife moved back to the cottage, to await the arrival of Bob Jr. Bob Sr. insulated it, for the winter.

It was almost useless. A 2-burner kerosene heater in the living room provided the only real warmth. But the McKernans stayed.

“Then came more permanent roots, more marriages, more babies,” Bob says.

“Visits replaced living at Compo. From those overnights or longer stays came the memories our children have of their beach days in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Finally — 36 years ago — Bob’s mother put the beloved house up for sale. “It left our hands, but not our hearts,” Bob says.

For years, Tom and Sandy Feeley have loved the bungalow — and the neighborhood — just as the McKernans did.

Let’s hope the new owners continue that wonderful Compo tradition, for decades to come.

(Click here to view the listing — including Bob McKernan’s story about growing up in the house by the beach.)
 

The friendly porch at 12 Fairfield Avenue, today.

Elvira’s Gets What It Deserves

Alert “06880” reader Tom Feeley was in Elvira’s yesterday.

He’s a regular at the Old Mill deli/grocery store/community center.

So are plenty of other Westporters.

But — no matter how often we get our coffee, pizza, a salad or wrap at a regular place — how many of us think to send it a Christmas card?

Plenty, apparently.

This season, Elvira’s is exhibiting dozens of cards from grateful customers.

They even crowd out the school photos of local kids that Niki, Stacy, Nick, Harry and the crew proudly display on the front counter.

Elvira’s is that kind of place.

So — as they say back in Elvira’s homeland — Καλά Χριστούγεννα!