A Soldier Who Remembered

Heading over to France and Belgium next week to update my World War I battlefield guidebook, “The Western Front in a Week: A Beginner’s Guide,” and release it as an ebook in time for the 100th anniversary of the first “war to end all wars.”

Will be sure to stop by the grave of my dearest friend from my days in Brussels, Jacques Garain.

Here’s the piece I wrote for The Wall Street Journal Europe when he died.

It’s fitting that Jacques H. Garain was buried on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day. He would have liked that. It was a day that marked the rebirth of freedom, for him and countless other Europeans.

U.S. Military Cemetery, Hamm, LuxembourgUnfortunately, like the anniversary of the Normandy landing that began the liberation of Europe from the Nazis, Jacques’s death will go largely unnoticed. That’s a shame, because the generations that followed owe so much to him and his contemporaries. Moreover, the number of them who remain is fast dwindling and I fear that without them around to remind us, their deeds will soon be forgotten by many.

Jacques and I shared a special bond before we even met at the American Military Cemetery at Nouville-en-Condroz on Memorial Day 1997. As a boy, I didn’t grow up listening to tales of King Arthur or Huckleberry Finn. I grew up on the knee of my father, an amateur military historian, listening to tales of Gen. George S. Patton Jr. and his Third Army’s historic 1944 drive across Europe.

General Patton played an even more crucial role in Jacques’s life. He was a schoolboy of 16 when the Nazis marched into Brussels in 1940. He fled to France ahead of the Blitzkreig, but quickly returned to risk life and limb as a courier for the Resistance. When the Allies liberated Belgium, Jacques joined the 11th Belgian Fusiliers and fought with Patton’s Third Army in the Battle of the Bulge and on into Germany. His service with Patton was clearly the highlight of his life, something any American would know within minutes of meeting him.

“I am a native of Belgium and a veteran of Patton’s Third Army,”Jacques proudly told a tour guide during a U.S. visit in 1999, the last time my family and I would ever see him.

He would tell you that he didn’t even know who Patton was when he was first assigned to the Third Army. Rather, he struck up a conversation with a wounded soldier and asked him what unit he was with. The soldier said, “I’m with Patton.”

“I thought this strange, such a low-ranking soldier who identifies himself by his commanding officer rather than his unit,” Jacques would often say. “This must be a very great guy, this Patton.”

Indeed, he was. But so too was Jacques Garain. He went on to become an authority on his former commanding officer and the war. Over time, he became a friend to every American he met and one of Belgium’s greatest ambassadors.

But clearly the most fascinating accounts came from Jacques’s own experiences. Hiding in a canal in France as German tanks rolled by during the early days of the war. Making his way without map or compass to a Belgian reorganization camp in the foothills of the Pyrennes. Being stopped and questioned by a Nazi captain while carrying important papers for the Resistance.

Characteristic of his generation, Jacques’s own tales were never imbued with an air of braggadocio, but rather unrelenting pride. As president de la fraternelle General Patton, the society of Belgian soldiers who fought with Patton, Jacques dedicated himself to reminding people of the sacrifices of World War II.

“We must never forget,” he would say about the sacrifice the Americans made for Belgium and the rest of Europe.

When I was preparing to leave Belgium in 1997, I met him for a farewell drink. As we said our goodbyes, I realized how very fortunate I’d been to meet this humble and gentle man who’d seen so much horror in his life. In one of the few emotional moments of our friendship, tears streaming down my face, the full impact of his service weighing upon me, I said, “I’ll make sure we never forget what you did. Thank you.”

“No, thank you, Mark Yost,” he said in his heavily accented English. “For without the American army we would all be slaves.”

George Yost, age 11, standing in front of Patton's grave in Hamm, Luxembourg.

George Yost, age 11, standing in front of Patton’s grave in Hamm, Luxembourg.

I would see Jacques Garain two more times in my life. In 1998 we attended the Patton Staff Reunion in Luxembourg and Belgium. Last summer, he came to the U.S. and spent a month with my family and me. Most importantly, we have pictures of Jacques with my then-one-year-old son, George Patton Yost, named after his grandfather and his favorite general.

Jacques Garain will not be forgotten. He became a touchstone for my family. He put a face and a personality on the grainy images from that bygone era, and in the end gave us a better understanding of the men who made the world free again.

It’s too bad that more Americans and young Europeans don’t get to know their own Jacques Garains. They’re out there. But their numbers are dwindling. So as you embark on your summer vacations, a word of advice. In between rushing to Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, or touring the vineyards, take an hour to visit the local military cemetery. Whom you meet just might enrich your life and forever change your outlook on a fading piece of history.

Mr. Yost, a former editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe, is a Special Writer for Dow Jones Newswires in Detroit.

Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris; George and I will always have baseball

By Mark Yost
Stay Thirsty Media

“When I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn’t communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball.”

That quote from the 1991 buddy movie, City Slickers, resonated with a lot of fathers and sons. But I think it has special meaning for my son, George, and me.

We’ve been going to Major League Baseball games since George was about seven. First in Minnesota, then in Chicago. Mostly to see the visiting New York Yankees, the team I cheered for in my native Brooklyn when I was his age.

They were great times for us.

Day games.

Outdoors.

Eating hot dogs.

I taught George how to keep score.

Stay Thirsty 4But about four years ago, we took our passion for baseball to a whole new level. We began what I like to call The Great American Hajj – the quest to go to every Major League stadium.

Originally, it was pretty easy because we drove every summer from Chicago to New York to see family and friends. So we’d simply plan it out so that we could hit stadiums along the way.

Detroit – a pretty nondescript ballpark in the middle of a decaying city. We saw our Yankees there.

Cleveland – another so-so park in a rust-belt city barely hanging on.

Cincinnati – about as bland as they come, but, again, we saw the Yankees there.

Stay Thirsty 1And Pittsburgh – probably our favorite ballpark outside of New York. Pittsburgh is a city on the rise. It’s remade itself, it has energy again. PNC Park is one of those retro ballparks – like the original, Camden Yards in Baltimore – that works.

It sits on the banks of the Allegheny River.

Just beyond center field is the glorious Sixth Street Bridge, one of a handful of Depression-era brides that make Pittsburgh unique.

Just beyond that is the revitalized Pittsburgh skyline.

But best of all, prices are still reasonable (or, at least they were before they Pirates had their first winning season in 20 years).

Which brings us to Yankee Stadium.

Stay Thirsty 2I grew up a Yankee fan. Some of my best memories with my friends are going to “The Stadium” (yes, to us, it was The Stadium, capital T, capital S). And I’ve long known that the Yankees are all about money. But the new stadium has driven me away.

Thankfully, George was able to go to the old stadium before they tore it down. When we went, I made sure that we took the No. 4 train, because it stops at 155th Street and then goes through the subway tunnel and comes up just before 161st Street and Yankee Stadium. So, like me when I was a kid, George stood on the left side of the car as the train came out of the tunnel and saw the stadium rise up as the train pulled into the station.

We had some great memories at the old Yankee Stadium. Mostly with my friends, Angelo and Nino. I have pictures of George in the centerfield bleachers during batting practice. Him and three other New York kids about his age, living a rite of passage for generations of New York kids, including the moment when a home run came right toward them and a guy about 30 pushed them all out of the way and caught the ball.

George has been to the new Yankee Stadium, too. We went during the inaugural season. It looks a lot like the old stadium, but to me, it’s not.

Again, the Yankees have always been about money. But the $16 mixed drinks in the Hard Rock Café and $45 to park during the playoffs was too much for me. I’ve since become a big Dodger fan, harkening back to a team that once called Brooklyn home (and, yes, I know they now have the highest payroll in baseball at about $250 million).

Stay Thirsty 3I think George and I showed our true commitment to this journey when we went to Fenway Park. We saw the Dodgers play there. I was doing a story for The Wall Street Journal on renovations to the stadium ahead of the 100th anniversary. Because my mom is from Boston, we were able to put our partisanship aside and have a good time. It’s a great old ballpark, and the sausage and peppers on Yawkey Way are some of the best.

The sausage and peppers at Wrigley Field are pretty good, too, but the baseball fans leave a lot to be desired. They’re mostly 20-something hipsters who prove the old adage that Wrigley Field is the biggest bar in Chicago, there just happens to be a baseball game going on there.

George and I were at Wrigley once watching the Pirates (we’re sorta fans since we like PNC Park so much). A.J. Burnett was throwing a no-hitter into the 8th inning. When the Cubs finally got a hit off him, fans applauded – not for Burnett, their noses buried too much in their iPhones to know what was going one, but because the Cubs finally did something. One vapid girl nearby turned to us and asked, “What just happened.” I said, “Robbie Gould [the Bears kicker] just kicked a field goal.” She smiled, said “thanks” and went back to texting.

Last summer, we went to L.A. and hit the Dodgers, Angels and Padres in about four days. It was a great trip. The Dodgers played the Yankees, so George was in his Yankee jersey and I was in my Dodger t-shirt. The Yankees won, and we got to see Mariano Rivera come in and close out the last game of his career in the Chavez Ravine.

I love Dodger Stadium. It’s a bit expensive, but it’s a great old ballpark. And like Wrigley, the fans really don’t know much about baseball. They arrive in the third inning and leave in the sixth.

A few days later, George and I saw the Yankees again in San Diego. That’s a great ballpark.

Fan-friendly.

Inexpensive.

Great atmosphere.

George and I are true baseball nerds; i.e. we keep score. And most other fans look at us like we’re doing math on an abacus. But I was pleasantly surprised when I walked up to a stand in San Diego and asked for a scorecard and the girl behind the counter just handed it to me.

“How much?” I asked.

“No charge,” she said.

George is a sophomore now and we have 11 ballparks left: Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Colorado, Arizona and the Texas Rangers.

I think we’ll make it by the summer after his senior year. I may go broke, but I think the memories will be worth it.

– See more at: http://www.staythirstymedia.com/201404-084/html/201404-yost-baseball.html#sthash.FrDsDJX4.dpuf

Where’s Houston? Somewhere between Kissimmee and Philadelphia

By Mark Yost
The Houston Business Journal

Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country, but according to one 2012 survey by Cvent (GHCVB is a member) Houston is ranked 22nd in terms of best convention cities, just behind Kissimmee, Fla., which sits in the shadow of Orlando and Walt Disney World, and just ahead of Philadelphia, home of “Rocky” and the cheesesteak.
Many of these surveys are merely popularity contests, and in that category, Houston seems to be improving.
Houston“Up and coming,” is how John Rose described Houston’s image in the convention world. He is president of J.C. Rose & Associates Inc., a South Carolina firm that provides exhibits to conventions, and a consultant on USA Today’s rankings of convention cities (Houston is 19th in the 2013 survey).
“Houston has a lot to do within very close proximity to the convention center,” Rose told HBJ.
He said that downtown Houston’s concentration of hotels, restaurants and the three professional sports stadiums are amenities that appeal to convention-goers. Working against Houston is the long commute to downtown from the two airports, he said.
But if Houston is improving in terms of its popularity, it has a long ways to go in terms of budget and economic impact.
In 2012, Osceola County saw a total economic impact from tourism of about $3.1 billion, according to the Experience Kissimmee website. Philadelphia claims tourism contributed about $9.75 billion to its economy in 2012.
GHCVB doesn’t give a total economic impact number, but adding up the figures from one of its rack cards, tourism was about a $500 million business in 2013.
Here’s the breakdown:

$345 million from convention sales
$77.6 million from international sales and tourism
$6 million from event development
$47.1 million in domestic leisure tourism
$18.2 million from the Houston Film Commission

Of course, all of those numbers pale in comparison to the big kahunas of the convention and tourism business. Las Vegas (No. 3 on the Cvent list) has an advertising budget of about $90 million that it uses to draw some 40 million visitors a year with an estimated economic impact of $45 billion. Orlando, No. 1 on Cvent list (and most everyone else’s) spends about $35 million touting itself as a great destination, and generates more than half of Florida’s $51 billion of tourism dollars.
GHCVB? It has just $3.6 million to promote Houston as a great convention and tourism destination.

Opera gala raised $2 million, but HGO has a much bigger figure in mind

By Mark Yost
The Houston Business Journal

The Houston Grand Opera held its annual gala on April 5 at the Wortham Center and raised $2 million from more than 600 of Houston’s most well-heeled guests. That’s up from $1.75 million a year ago.

Your humble correspondent, in black tie.

Your humble correspondent, in black tie.

But the local opera company with a national reputation has a much bigger number in mind: $165 million.
That’s the goal of a comprehensive fundraising campaign, Inspiring Performance, which began in August 2007 and concludes at the end of this year. According to Greg Robertson, HGO’s chief advancement officer, patrons big and small have already donated $151 million.
The opera, which only covers about 23 percent of its operating budget through ticket sales, will use the money raised to fix some long-term, systemic problems. Namely, funding its endowment.
“Arts are chronically under-endowed,” Robertson told Houston Business Journal. “Universities figured this out years ago. Arts are late to the endowment game.”
He noted that San Diego Opera, which recently folded, didn’t have an endowment.
When HGO reaches it’s goal of $165 million — the largest-ever arts fundraising campaign in the history of Houston — it will use the money for a variety of things. Operations will receive $110 million, $21 million will go toward HGO’s endowment, and Robertson hopes to devote $34 million to so-called legacy gifts. That’s when patrons remember HGO in their wills.
While that’s impressive, Robertson is perhaps proudest of the fact that more than 6,500 patrons have contributed to the campaign, in amounts big and small. For instance, before the start of the campaign, HGO had never received a gift of $1 million or more outside of an estate. Since the start of the campaign, HGO has received 25 gifts and pledges of $1 million or more.
“It’s always dangerous to rely too much on a handful of big donors,” said HGO Managing Director Perryn Leech.
He said that instead of going after just the big donors, HGO looks to add 50-60 new patrons every year. And while the opera has 170 donors who have given at the trustee level of $10,000 or above, the opera also has 800-900 contributors at the patron level who give $4,000 or more.
As for that big number — $165 million — that HGO is trying to reach: “We’re very optimistic that we will meet or exceed our campaign,” Robertson told HBJ.

It’s cheaper to watch the Astros lose this year

By Mark Yost
The Houston Business Journal

How much does it cost to see the Astros? Thankfully, less than last year.
Minute MaidAccording to the Fan Cost Index, put out every year by Team Marketing Report of Chicago, this year it will cost the average family of four $215.90 to go to a game at Minute Maid Park. That’s down from last year’s price of $224.33. The Astros are the 13th most expensive franchise this year, according to TMR, down from 10th last year.
The average Major League Baseball ticket increased by just 2 percent this year, according to TMR, while the Fan Cost Index rose 2.6 percent.
The FCI is created by combining four non-premium season tickets, two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking, two programs or scorecards, and two adult-size hats.
The average price for an Astros ticket in 2014 is $27.98, down 13.6 percent from a year ago.
The cheapest place to watch a baseball game is Chase Field in Phoenix, where the Arizona Diamondbacks play, with an FCI of $126.89. The most expensive is Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, where it’ll cost a family of four $350.78.
The Astros added several new food and drink choices this year, including the Texas Smoke House (Section 124) and the Stockyard Bar (Section 156) that features Bayou City craft brews.
The Astros had the worst record in baseball last season, winning just 51 of their 162 games, but are considered one of the most profitable teams because of their low payroll.
Despite that record, local businessman Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale is running a promotion that will offer Gallery Furniture customers who spend $6,300 or more a chance to win back 100 percent of their furniture purchase price. All the Astros have to do is win 63 games in the regular season. Last year, the Astros won 51 games.
As of April 7, the Astros 2014 record was 3-3, good enough for second place in the American League West.

When it comes to opera, these two Louisianans place their bets on Houston

By Mark Yost
The Houston Business Journal

Houston Grand Opera will host its 2014 Grand Opera Ball, Fleurs de l’Opera, at Wortham Hall April 5. It is the group’s most important fundraiser of the year, and will be integral to HGO reaching its current fundraising goal of $165 million.

Jerry Fischer, soprano Nina Stemme, who starred in HGO's production of Tristan and Isolde, and John Turner.

Jerry Fischer, soprano Nina Stemme, who starred in HGO’s production of Tristan and Isolde, and John Turner.

But in many ways, Houston’s opera company, which has a reputation for being one of the best in the country, received the most important fundraising commitment of the season.
John Turner and Jerry Fischer, two opera-loving Louisianans from Baton Rouge, committed $2 million to the Houston Grand Opera. And while no arts company ever wants to rely too heavily on a handful of big donors, Turner and Fischer are symbolic of how arts groups woo patrons.
When it comes to giving, these globe-trotting Louisiana opera lovers put their money in Houston. They’ve agreed to provide $500,000 a year over the next four years as HGO produces one of the hardest operas of any repertoire, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which will cost an estimated $12 million, according to HGO Chief Advancement Officer Greg Robertson.
“It’s a relationship we’ve nurtured over time,” Robertson told Houston Business Journal. “Five years ago, they were modest donors, giving maybe $5,000 a year.”
Robertson and his staff first spotted the pair of Carmen-loving Cajuns when they saw that they purchased tickets to see multiple performances of the same operas.
“It told us they were serious opera goers,” Robertson said.
Fischer and Turner said their first HGO performance was “Tosca” in 2003. Over time, HGO became one of their favorite opera destinations and they became two of HGO’s favorite patrons.
Turner is one of the Turners of Turner Industries Group LLC, an industrial construction and pipe fabrication company that’s headquartered in Louisiana but has offices in Houston, Beaumont, Corpus Christi and Paris, Texas. Turner doesn’t work in the family business anymore. He and his life partner, Fischer, travel the world listening to great opera.
“They nurtured us slowly and brought us into the HGO Family,” Turner said.
They wrote their first check for HGO’s 2009 production of Wagner’s Lohengrin. Since then, the number of zeros on the end of their checks has grown, culminating in their support for Wagner, one of their favorite composers.
“Wagner is not only really beautiful music, but also some of the most difficult to perform,” Fischer said. “It requires a huge orchestra. And while HGO doesn’t need to reaffirm it’s credentials as one of the top opera companies in the country, it says a lot about their ambition and artistic integrity that they’re putting it on.”
For the year ended July 31, 2012, the HGO’s total revenue was $18.7 million. Of that, $10.4 million, or about 56 percent, came from contributions.

I Wish Davey Crockett was Fat

So it’s Opening Day 2014, and I can’t help but think of my good friend, Tony Mattera.

CCWe are both diehard Honeymooners fans. One of our favorite moments is when Ralph overhears Harvey Wohlstetter Sr. talking about how great Alice is. Not knowing that she is picking up babysitting money on the side, Ralph assumes the worst and thinks Alice is cheating with Harvey.

Dressed in his full Raccoon Lodge regalia, Ralph storms over to the Wohlstetter apartment, confronts Alice, and starts screaming into the bedroom for Harvey to come out.

“Come on out Harvey!!!!” he bellows. “I know you’re in there.”

raccoonInstead of Harvey Wohlstetter Sr., a half asleep Harvey Wholstetter Jr. comes out of the bedroom in his pajamas.

“What is that?” Ralph asks.

“Havey Wohlstetter Jr.,” Alice says, disgusted. “Proud of yourself Ralph? You woke him up.”

As Alice picks up Harvey Jr. to put him back in bed, Harvey looks over her shoulder, rubs his eyes, sees Ralph in his coon-skin cap and says, “Gee, I never knew Davey Crockett was so fat.”

So when Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabbathia put on weight, Tony took to calling him Davey Crockett.

Well, I wish Davey Crockett was fat. Because whenever the heafty hurler loses weight, he also loses his best stuff.

In 2013, C.C., scared by the death of a cousin at 45 from heart disease, showed up a svelte version of his former self to spring training. Sabbathia usually tips the scales at more than 300 pounds. He was well under 300 last year and turned in one of his worst sesaons.

Through August of last year, Sabathia had a 4.78 ERA in 152.2 innings over 23 starts, easily the worst season of his career. His average fastball velocity also dipped below 91 MPH for the first time since 2002. The 24 home runs he allowed were a career-high, surpassing the 22 surrendered in 2012.

IN fact, in a Star-Ledger column just before the start of the 2014 season, Sabbathia even blamed his poor performance last year on his weight loss.

“I didn’t know the weight loss was going to affect me that much,” he told the Newark, N.J. paper. “There were just some games that I was short. I didn’t have the stuff, you know. It was frustrating.”

This year, Sabbathia showed up to George Steinbrenner Field tipping the scales at 275 pounds. Tonight, Sabbathia opened the season for the Yanks against the lowly Houston Astros. As of this writing, top of the 8th in Minute Maid Park, the Astros were leading, 6-1.

So, like the headline says: I wish Davey Crockett was fat again.