From World War II to a first-hand look at Virginia’s death row – Daily Press | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

The Casablanca Conference in January 1943 laid out the plans to end World War II in Europe, but it was done without Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in attendance and not without a war of words for nearly two weeks between the British and American military chiefs of staff.

Lawyer turned celebrated author James B. Conroy has masterfully crafted the stories behind and the 10-day conference itself in his new book, “The Devils Will Get No Rest: FDR, Churchill, and the Plan That Won the War” (Simon & Schuster, 432 pgs., $34).

Conroy summed up the whole conference by quoting Winston Churchill’s report to the House of Commons upon his return from Casablanca, saying that the United States and Great Britain, once peaceful countries, were now “warrior nations” and needed to plan accordingly.

Among the many planned attacks, Conroy wrote, the Americans would bomb the Germans by day while the British hit them at night. Together, they would hammer them “round-the-clock, and the devils will get no rest,” Churchill proclaimed. Such a decision, however, took days for the chiefs to reach.

The book is a master class in military strategy and high stakes negotiations. Conroy’s structure relies heavily on the personalities within the two general staffs and how they worked with their respective leaders, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill, to bring some degree of order out of chaos.

On the U.S. team were Army Gens. George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, Mark Clark and Albert Wedemeyer and Navy Adms. Ernest King and William Leahy.

The British chiefs included Sir Harold Alexander, Allied commander in chief for the Middle East; Sir Alan Brooke, chief of the British imperial staff; Sir Hastings “Pug” Ismay, Churchill’s personal liaison to the general staff; and Sir Noble Kennedy, Brooke’s director of military operations.

One person of a personal interest was British Field Marshal Sir John “Jack” Greer Dill, chief of the British Joint Staff Mission in Washington from early 1942 until his death in November 1944. He became a close friend and confidant of Army Chief of Staff Marshall.

During the Casablanca Conference, Conroy said Dill was the “bridge-building man” who worked between the two planning staffs that ultimately presented Roosevelt and Churchill with military strategy for 1943 and cross-channel landing in 1944 that they trusted would ensure victory.

Dill’s efforts earlier in Washington and then in Casablanca have not been given the attention they deserved until Conroy’s narrative. His explanation of Dill’s important work in reaching the compromises is vital in relating the somewhat hostile and often argumentative conflicts between the British and American general staffs.

As an addendum to the Dill story, Marshall was fearful in early 1944 that Churchill, who had no love for Dill, would recall him to London. Marshall sought to have his friend recognized by American universities. William & Mary responded favorably to Marshall and gave Dill an honorary degree at a special April 1944 convocation.

Stalin could not go to Casablanca because this country had its back against the wall with the Nazi attacks on Leningrad and Moscow. So the final plan, stressed by Conroy, reflected Stalin’s known desire for a two-front war in Europe.

Death row chaplain remembers

For 18 years, the Rev. Russ Ford was head chaplain on Virginia’s death row. Along with co-authors Charles Peppers and Todd C. Peppers, he has written an evocative new book, “Crossing the River Styx: The Memoir of a Death Row Chaplain” (University of Virginia Press, 240 pgs., $29.95).

“Crossing the River Styx: The Memoir of a Death Row Chaplain” (University of Virginia Press, 240 pgs., $29.95)

While ministering to those men condemned to die, Ford seethed against the death penalty itself, which has now been banned in Virginia. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, he stood watch with 28 men who were executed.

Now long retired, Ford recounts his experiences on death row and in the death house. “I befriended the public enemy, the outcast, and walked with them through the darkness of the death chamber.

“Like Virgil in Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ I was chosen to guide the despised men condemned to public execution.” He writes, “Having no blueprint of the inferno these men faced, I learned from each experience, extending practical knowledge as well as spiritual and emotional support to them.”

Initially, he writes, spectators watched a criminal “ride the lightning” in Virginia’s ancient electric chair at the old Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond. Later, lethal injection became the mode of execution at the Mecklenburg Correctional Center in Boydton.

Ford writes chapters about a number of inmates he counseled and whose deaths he witnessed. Among the first was Michael Marnell Smith, of James City County. Smith was charged in May 1977 with the rape and murder of a 36-year-old divorcee with two daughters.

Smith admitted to the crimes and signed a confession after showing investigators where he had hidden the knife. “With a stroke of a pen, his life effectively ended,” writes Ford, who lives in Chesterfield County.

As a newspaperman in the area, I covered Smith’s trial and know the procedures were carefully followed because it was the first one in Virginia after the death penalty, suspended by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, had been reinstituted.

The local commonwealth’s attorney prosecuting the Smith case did not want anything involved to be used later to overturn the court’s ultimate action.

The eldest child of a deeply religious family, Smith carried a Bible when he first met with Ford, who writes, “Despite his righteous pretense, Smith was a sexual predator … a man who could quote scripture and hide behind a shield of faith.”

Smith entered death row on Nov. 30, 1977, and was executed Aug. 31, 1986.

Ford fought against the death penalty for years, most fiercely against electrocution as one of the state’s means of execution. “The condemned man is cooked from the inside out,” he stresses.

Was Smith’s death or any one of the others electrocuted cruel and unusual punishment, Ford asks? “No, it was worse. It was premeditated and barbaric, an evil act that cannot be sanitized by a judge signing a piece of paper.”

Ford’s work is something special. It’s hard to read without sensing some emotion. Bill Lohmann, a columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, said the book “features a behind-the-scenes view of the lead-ups to these macabre spectacles — the sights, the sounds and the smells.”

Have a comment or suggestion for Kale? Contact him at [email protected].

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