The Home Front

BOHN, WILLIAM C.

THE HOME FRONT Barbarism on Fifty-first Street By William E. Bohn IT was a Thursday morning during the first week of April. Vic Riesel had had a bite to eat at Lindy's after finishing a radio...

...It was this achievement, of course, which led to Vic's transplanting to the Post and later to his present position as a columnist syndicated to 192 newspapers...
...It is lower-down than hitting a man with your fist or shooting him or running a knife into him...
...This was not the dignified magazine that our readers know today...
...It was in newspaper form, and its stories and headlines were making history in the labor world...
...Many brilliant young men have gone on from the New Leader office, but Vic is the only one of them who has received the acid decoration...
...By night, we would have to wade out of the office through drifts of paper...
...What I am getting at is that, to us in this office, what happened to Vic Riesel is not just something that we read about and discuss over the lunch table...
...But I never got specially excited about the other cases...
...This is one of our boys, a member of our family...
...And the criminal is still abroad...
...though it was after midnight, the street was well lighted and crowds of people were passing...
...Though he was still only a boy, he had connections all over New York and he and Walter Winchell were on good telephonic terms...
...Years ago, his father took me out to his home in the country...
...Though it was witty, personal and sometimes daring to the edge of danger, it was basically serious, sharply slanted against Communists, fascists and criminals...
...He was manager of one of the clothing workers' unions, and at the dinner table we talked about the hoodlums and strong-arm men who were worming their way in...
...Up to now, though thousands of dollars have been offered as a reward for his detection, nobody has the least idea who he was...
...A sturdily-built youth called to him and, when Vic turned, threw a bottle of sulphuric acid into his faceómost of it into his eyes...
...His desk and mine were at right angles and so close that we could pass things back and forth without rising...
...Eager to assert his rights as a journalist, he scorned the wastepaper basket...
...All of our woodpulp waste went on the floor...
...I can see him now with the telephone hunched between shoulder and ear while all ten fingers were busily typing what some informant was passing on to him...
...Vic Riesel had had a bite to eat at Lindy's after finishing a radio broadcast...
...And the action they took was characteristic: They answered accusation and argument with acid...
...According to the law of their world, the racketeers had to take action...
...Its juicy paragraphs were quoted far and wide...
...That was, of course, during the war, and the name made sense back in those days...
...It was not long after our conversation that the elder Riesel was attacked and received the beating which hastened his death...
...This didn't happen far off in some outlandish place, in some slum or waterfront...
...That was the time when Prohibition was coming to an end and the criminals were looking for new places where the pickings would be plentiful...
...Of course, it has happened before to newspapermen, to policemen, to trade-union leaders...
...This horrible thing did not happen to a stranger, to some columnist whose name I had seen at the head of his daily stint...
...Vic, young and cocky, was already a newspaperman to the very core...
...It happened at the corner of Broadway and 51st Street...
...I knew his father and his mother...
...The young columnist had been warned by telephone to lay off his attacks on racketeers, especially those connected with the International Union of Operating Engineers...
...In one of the locals of this union, two men had been fined and suspended because they opposed a conspicuous criminal who had got control of their organization...
...Out of his sedulously and reciprocally cultivated sources, Vic gathered material for his famous column, "Heard on the Left...
...Little Vic listened with wide eyes and didn't miss a point in the conversation...
...Perhaps tonight he will throw acid into someone else's eyes...
...Under the glare of the lights and among all these people, the hired criminal did his deed and lost himself in the crowd...
...They seemed to be no special business of mine...
...It is, after all, the business of the police and the courts...
...And then came this story about Vic Riesel...
...This is not yet a land of law and order and safety...
...Like other people, I am against crime, but I can usually keep calm about it...
...He and they moved in and named names...
...Instead of laying off, Vic arranged a radio broadcast in which these two men were given a chance to state their case...
...I have known Vic since he was a little boy...
...It was Vic, by the way, who gave this column of mine its title, "The Home Front...
...This is about the dirtiest trick one human being can play on another...
...And then, in 1941, I came to The New Leader...
...He is lying up there in the hospital with bandages over his eyes, his sight gravely threatened...
...Vic was Managing Editor...

Vol. 39 • April 1956 • No. 18


 
Developed by
Kanda Sofware
  Kanda Software, Inc.