Washington, DC

Instead of This Day in History, today’s post will take a different historical journey to the past.

I’m very old, almost history myself. I’m old enough to write about two different trips to Washington, DC fifty-five years apart.

I just recently returned from a trip to our nation’s capitol. I had been there before, as a young sailor on liberty. I was stationed on the East Coast, going to school to become a radioman, and I had the weekend off. Traveling alone I hopped on a bus to DC. Lost, uncertain how to proceed, I wandered into a USO. I sat on a couch and thumbed through a LIFE Magazine. Oddly enough there was a pictorial article on a town where I had lived in Minnesota. Glenwood was a hotspot for ice-fishing and there were photos of ice houses scattered across Lake Minnewaska. Fighting off a brief surge of homesickness, I set the magazine aside.

“Hey buddy.” A soldier sitting across the table from me said, “Want to go on one of these tours?” I looked at the pamphlet he shoved to me. It would take us to various memorials, the Smithsonian Institute, Arlington National Cemetery, and ended with a tour of the White House.

He seemed friendly enough so I agreed. Don was his name and he had an outgoing personality. “Cold,” he said, as we stepped outside. He was from somewhere down South, I forget where. It was a gray, drizzly day in January, and being from Minnesota I thought it pretty mild.

At some point during the day, I don’t know when, a photographer, unsolicited, took my picture as I walked alongside the White House. Being very naïve at the time, I imagine I paid too much for it but I’m happy I have it now.

We did the tour, seeing the memorials dedicated to Presidents Lincoln and Jefferson, and we took an elevator up the Washington Monument. Because we basically were still kids, I had barely turned eighteen, we raced down the steps of the monument. At the castle-like Smithsonian museum I saw the Spirit of St. Louis and Alan Shepard’s space capsule. We were at Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard, and it made me uncomfortable. Because we were in uniform instructions were given to Don and I on standing at attention and when to salute. Forced to become part of the pageantry, I felt conspicuous and on display myself.

The last stop was the White House. There was no security, we were simply led in through a side door. I don’t know if the President and Jackie were even in the house at the time. Understandably their living quarters were not part of the tour. About all I remember is peeking into various rooms, looking at ornate furniture, and listening to the guide talk about how Jackie was redecorating the place. That is until Don leaned over and whispered “Hey.” I looked at him. “I just saw Danny Thomas and Rosemary Clooney down that hallway. I bet they’re visiting the President.”

Maybe a lot of people now don’t know who he was but at the time Danny Thomas was one of the biggest stars on television. And Rosemary Clooney was a famous singer. She was also an aunt to current actor George Clooney. I can’t say I was overly excited by Don’s sighting of them. Just a couple of big-time celebrities who lived in a far different world than mine. In fact I was tired of the tour, wanting to go off and do something else. “Let’s wait outside, maybe we’ll get a chance for an autograph.” Don suggested. I said nothing but my internal reaction was somewhere along the lines of “big deal.”

The tour ended and Don and I stood on the sidewalk at the side the White House. A big, black limousine was parked on the street and Don was convinced it was waiting for Thomas and Clooney. He was right. We waited only a few minutes before they came out and headed for the limousine. “Excuse me, can we get your autographs?” Don boldly walked toward them. I reluctantly followed, expecting a rebuff. They stopped and Danny Thomas turned toward us. Rosemary Clooney gave an off center smile in our direction and without making eye contact climbed into the back of the limousine.

I expected the same from him but what happened next totally surprised me. Danny Thomas stood on the sidewalk, in the cold, and talked to us. Not the perfunctory “Where are you boys from and thank you for serving blah blah blah crap.” He actually engaged us, for ten minutes, maybe even longer. He apologized for Miss Clooney, saying she wasn’t feeling well. He asked if we enjoyed the tour, inquired about our duty and where we were stationed, and his interest seemed genuine. That’s the impression I was left with, that he was a genuinely nice man. He gave Don his autograph, and then looked at me. I’ve never collected an autograph in my life, it seemed like a strange pursuit to me. So I just shrugged, and gave him a little, apologetic smile. He looked at me, then a big grin crossed his face, and he clapped me on the shoulder. I took it that he understood.

Fifty-five years later I was in DC again. The world has changed immensely since then. The spot where Don and I stood and talked to Danny Thomas is no longer accessible to the public. Barriers and security personnel keep citizens from meandering that close to the executive mansion. And there’s no signing up for a tour and getting into the White House on the same day. It is necessary to sign up months in advance in order to get security clearance. The Smithsonian has expanded greatly with eleven museums in proximity to the mall. Tourists now flock to DC whereas in 1962 it was not a cottage industry. There are more memorials now with more probably coming. To me the most significant addition has been the Vietnam Memorial.

I hadn’t planned it that way but I was in DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Me, a couple of hundred thousand other tourists, but the cherry blossoms were a no-show. So there were crowds of people, too many people, when I visited the Vietnam Memorial. Nevertheless I found it a sacred place. I read names as I moved at a slow pace along the black granite wall. Anger and sadness engulfed me. It helped to pick out a name and then say it out loud. It felt like a bridge to the spirit of someone, someone I didn’t even know, who had died in that unfortunate war. A name, a person, who for a moment wasn’t forgotten.

But there were too many people there. Kids running and screaming, tourists having their pictures taken in front of the wall, it wasn’t right, it wasn’t the solemn experience I had been seeking. I gained no peace or understanding. Maybe someday I’ll go back, go there at night when it’s quiet. I never did know Don’s last name. My last thought upon leaving was I hoped it wasn’t carved somewhere onto that wall.

Here are two photos, one from each visit, with the White House visible in the background of each shot. I was obviously pretty much a squared-away “boot” in the first photo and would become much “saltier” later.

 

 

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Postscript.

The next day, Sunday, I went to the Capitol. My father said I should introduce myself to the Representative from our district and he’d show me around. Except the only time I could get liberty was the weekend and of course nobody was at the Capitol on a weekend. I rattled the locked door anyway and tried to peer inside. I can’t imagine getting away with that act in today’s world either.

I walked back down the nearly deserted steps of the Capitol. Halfway down there was a family, the father taking a picture of his wife and two kids. I don’t know what mischievous impulse seized me but just as he snapped the photo I jumped into the frame next to his family. He initially frowned but his wife and kids began laughing. They insisted he take a couple of more pictures with me included. So somewhere in Indiana there might  still exist a family photo album with me in it.

This Day in History

April 13th

837 – Haley’s Comet makes its closest approach to earth. The comet’s orbit brings it close to our planet about every 75 years. Its last appearance was in 1986. 2062 is the next scheduled appearance.

I better clean up my act if I intend to see it. But then again I anticipated its last coming in 1986 for decades. And it was a complete bust, nothing could be seen. Heck with it, why bother, think I’ll just go and crack a beer instead.

1556 – Pope threatens to burn at the stake Marranos who convert back to Judaism. “Marranos or Secret Jews were Jews resident in the Iberian peninsula in the late fourteenth through seventeenth centuries who adopted Christianity, either through coercion or for convenience, publicly professing Roman Catholicism but secretly adhering to Judaism. The conversion of these Jews to Christianity soon became suspect, resulting in several waves of severe persecution against them, in which thousands died. The Spanish Inquisition was instituted in the late fifteenth century to expose Marranos whose Christianity was insincere, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 resulted in part from accusations that Jews were tempting the Marranos to sin by reverting to Judaism.” (1)

While godlessness had contributed to much of the horror and savagery in the world, the Nazis and the Killing Fields of Laos two fairly recent prime examples, religions certainly have done more than their share. From the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition to Christianity putting its genocidal stamp on indigenous people to the current wave of bombings and killing in the name of Allah. Not to condemn all religions, I just think that most of them need something akin to a governor on an engine that limits speed. A governor that tells then that killing in the name of God is exceeding the limit.

 1861 – Fort Sumter surrenders. After 34 hours of unequal battle Major Anderson and his force of 85 soldiers surrendered. The first salvos of the Civil War had been fired and the South was victorious.

This wasn’t the start of a religious war but I imagine both North and South thought God was on their side.

 Birthdays:

1743 – Thomas Jefferson. Author of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States. He had an innovative and creative mind and contributed greatly to the founding of our country. He managed to write the words “All men are created equal” while also owning slaves. He once stated that he opposed any tyranny over the mind. (Tyranny over the body apparently was a different matter.) Jefferson also favored the rights of states and opposed a strong centralized government.

There is nothing inherently wrong with States Rights, other then so many in support of it seem to be doing so in defense of a truly bad idea. Even Jefferson who in every other capacity was a great man.

 1930 – Sir Jeremiah Harman. Senior High Court judge in England. Other judges and lawyers nicknamed him “Harman the Horrible.” He was a bully on the bench and was also known as “The Kicking Judge” because he once kicked a taxi driver who he thought was a reporter. “His unpopularity was reflected in being voted as one of the worst judges on the High Court bench in all three surveys of 100 solicitors and barristers by Legal Business magazine. One interviewee said: ‘He has reached unparalleled depths of awfulness. It is nothing short of an uncomfortable adventure to appear before him, and in terms of delivering justice he is nowhere. He is impolite. He is the judge I least want to appear in front of.’” (2)

If he were an American I suspect he would be a candidate for the next Supreme Court vacancy.

 1931 – Jon Stone. An award-winning writer for Sesame Street, a widely popular children show. He is known for helping develop some of the notable characters for that show. Stone died of ALS in 1997.

With the new administration, maybe funding will be cut to the propaganda tool known as PBS and there will be no place in our society for such subversives as the Jon Stones of the world.

 (1) www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Marrano

(2) www.independent.co.uk/…/few-regrets-over-departure-of-harman-the-horrible

Sources

http://www.space.com

newworldencyclopedia.org

http://www.whitehouse.gov

www.independent.co

wikipedia.org

onthisday.com

This Day in History

April 3rd

1043 – Edward the Confessor crowned king. He passed the crown on to his son, Harold, after having promised it to his cousin, William, Duke of Normandy. The cousin, William the Conqueror as he became known, invaded England and at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, took the crown.

I think our leaders should follow in the tradition of more descriptive names. Say Trump the….Nah, that’s too easy, I’ll let it go.

 1860 – The Pony Express begins delivering mail and other communications between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. It was in operation for only 19 months before the telegraph eliminated its need.

Some kids grow up wanting to be a fireman, or doctor, or astronaut, or whatever. Me, all I ever wanted to be was a Pony Express rider. Being born a hundred years too late put a severe crimp in that career goal.

1963 – The movie “Mondo Cane” is released in New York City. A documentary, or shockumentary as some called it, the movie depicted bizarre rituals from around the world. Gross and exploitive, it was an international success, mostly because of hype and not good filmmaking. It featured bad taste rather than political correctness and such a film would more than likely meet with much opposition today.

Spring, 1965. I was living temporarily in the Southern California area after my discharge from the Navy. Saving money for a trip to Europe, I was renting a cheap apartment in North Hollywood. An elderly woman lived in the apartment below mine. She’d dress up in a gown, long gloves and garish makeup, and head out to who knows where. She reminded me of the delusional Gloria Swanson character in “Sunset Boulevard.”

I had read about “Mondo Cane” and one Sunday afternoon I went to it. It was showing at what once had been an elegant opera house in Los Angeles. With two balconies, ornate handrails, box seats on the side, it was of magnificent design. Now it was fading into decay with torn, dirty seats and sticky floors. Turns out it was an appropriate setting to view “Mondo Cane.”

Afterwards, disgusted with myself for having sat through it, I started to drive home. I had a small, red Renault, a tinny French four-door. Suddenly a woman ran out into the street in front of my car, waving her arms frantically. I stopped and she ran up to the car. “My friend, my friend, she needs help!” She was a very large woman and she spoke with a British accent. Thinking medical emergency I indicated I would help and tried to form a mental map of where a hospital might be. She ran off and quickly returned supporting her friend. Both women were tall and while the first was merely husky, the second was massively obese with mounds of flesh threatening to explode from a too tight dress. I also realized, with dismay, that they were drunk, the second woman helplessly so.

They both climbed in the passenger’s side of the car. Now I’m a small man. So with close to five hundred pounds of drunken womanhood on one side and just me on the other, the poor little Renault tilted at rather a pronounced angle. And when I started driving the car had a tendency to pull to the right. Woman #1 gave me directions and I deduced that we probably weren’t going to a hospital. Both women were Brits, and both had about twenty years on me. Woman #1 became giddy, and then to my horror, flirtatious. Woman #2, jammed into the back seat, laughed hysterically for a while before it dissolved into a crying jag. I felt that somehow I had been dropped back into the middle of “Mondo Cane.”

“Here, we’re here,” the first woman said to my relief. She opened her purse and showed me a bottle of Canadian Club and in a coy voice that didn’t work for her at all, asked if I wanted to come up into their apartment. The second woman was still sobbing uncontrollably. I could be adventurous at times but this was way out of my comfort zone and I declined. Now the problem became how to get the crying woman, who showed no inclination of wanting to move, out of the car. It occurred to me that maybe she was stuck. I was to leave for Europe in two weeks and had to sell the car because I wasn’t returning to California. The car wasn’t worth much and I thought about just walking away. Leaving it sit on the street with a large, drunk, crying woman in the backseat and let somebody else deal with it. Eventually however she was persuaded and pried out and I made my escape.

And then when I got home I saw the Gloria Swanson character again. Dressed up in a lacy gown that swept the ground, gloves up to her elbows, lots of makeup, she paraded past me down the dirty, trash-strewn alley as if she were walking on a red carpet to a movie premier. I thought about following her to see where it was she went but then thought it would probably be too sad to know. All in all, it had been a Mondo Cane Sunday afternoon.

 

Birthdays:

1858 – Matthew Ricketts. 1st African-American in Nebraska State Legislature.

1927 – Wesley Brown. 1st African-American graduate of U.S. Naval Academy.

1928 – Earl Lloyd. 1st African-American player in the National Basketball Association.

April 3rd, it seems, was a good birthday date for African-American pioneers. It’s sad that we as a people have to mark these milestones. It is also sad that there are still those in our midst, even in our government, who lament these achievements, and are busy promoting language of exclusion that help some justify their hate.

Note: There will be a short hiatus in this blog as I am going on a trip. The next posting will be around April 12th or 13th.

 

Sources:

http://www.on-this-day.com

http://www.nps.gov

wikipedia.org

This Day in History

March 29th

1461 – Battle of Towton. A bloody, epic battle during the War of Roses, which basically was a civil war over who should be king. Henry VI was king and his cousin, Edward IV, wanted that title. Henry VI was reportedly a bit unhinged and the running of the kingdom was left to his wife. The battle, fought on Palm Sunday in a blizzard, included such weaponry as swords, spears, shields, poleaxes, clubs, archery and cavalry. Estimates range from 50,000 to 100,000 men engaged with 28,000 combatants left dead on the battlefield. The king’s forces were defeated and many of his noblemen fled the field. The king himself was found sitting under a tree, laughing and singing.

The War of Roses was an inspiration of a number of Shakespeare’s plays and I suspect George Martin might have researched it for his “Game of Thrones.”

1959 – “Some Like It Hot” is released. Directed by Billy Wilder and starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, it is high on the list of funny movies. Curtis and Lemmon dress up as women and join an all-women’s band as they try to escape the mob after witnessing the Valentine’s Day Massacre. The movie ended with one of the funniest lines of dialogue of all time. The comedian Joe E. Brown had fallen in love with the “woman” played by Jack Lemmon. When Lemmon informs him they can’t get married because, well, Lemmon is a man, Brown pauses momentarily, then brightens and says, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Hail to Billy Wilder, if there is a better film director, I don’t know who it is.

 1974 – Army of Terra Cotta soldiers found. The first clay figure of a soldier was discovered by farmers digging a well in the Lintong District, not far from the city of Xi’an. The archeological dig continues with thousands of soldiers standing in rows in addition to chariots and horses already uncovered. “The construction of the tomb was described by historian Sima Qian (145–90 BCE) in his most noted work Shiji, written a century after the mausoleum’s completion. Work on the mausoleum began in 246 BCE soon after Emperor Qin (then aged 13) ascended the throne, and the project eventually involved 700,000 workers.”(1)

I spent two weeks in Xi’an, China and while there visited the site of the Terracotta Army. Housed in a hangar-like structure, covering an area that seemed to be several football fields in size, the rows of soldiers could be viewed from elevated walkways. The spectacle left me in awe. There was a list of statistics involving artists, craftsmen, workers, kilns that while impressive, were just interesting. The how and why was less awe-inspiring than the mere fact of its existence. Quite obviously I’m a history buff. For me, history is not only fun-filled facts and knowledge, it can also be textural. Even without physically touching, one can still touch and become part of a period past. People who had lived centuries before me had created this army, and it now connected me to them. Time became compressed and a dimension removed as I existed for a moment in a world not my current one. To me that’s the fascination of history. And for those who don’t share that fascination, it seems to me they are missing out on part of life.

 Birthdays:

1819 – Edwin Drake. First person to drill a successful oil well in the United States at Titusville, Pennsylvania. It was his idea to drill for oil but unfortunately for him, he did not patent his design for the oil well. Ironically he died in poverty after helping to launch the most profitable industry in the world.

Indirectly responsible for curtailing the whaling industry, his invention possibly saved those magnificent creatures from being hunted into extinction.

 1917 – Man ‘o War. American thoroughbred racehorse. Until Secretariat’s Triple Crown run, considered to be the greatest racehorse ever. (I would put Seabiscuit in the running also) Man ‘o War won 20 of 21 races and its loss, oddly enough, was to a horse named Upset. It once won a race by 100 lengths. In 1920 Man ‘o War and Babe Ruth shared the title of Athlete of the Year.

While the Babe was okay with this, Man ‘o War was reported to have been displeased at having to share the award. An anonymous source from the stable area leaked this information.

 1937 – Billy Carter. Younger brother of President Jimmy Carter. Founder of “Billy Beer”, his antics, alcoholism and colorful one-lines kept him in the spotlight. One example: “My mother went into the Peace Corps when she was sixty-eight. My one sister is a motorcycle freak, my other sister is a Holy Roller evangelist and my brother is running for president. I’m the only sane one in the family.”(2)

It can’t be easy being the sibling of a President. Billy made the best, and worst, of it.

 

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army

(2)www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/biography/billy-carter

 

Sources:

www.on-this-day.com

http://www.neatorama.com

wikipedia.org

www.telegraph.co.

www.britannica.com

http://www.pbs.org

This Day in History

March 23rd

1889 – President Harrison opens Oklahoma for “white” colonization. Five Indian tribes from the east, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole, had been relocated to what is now the state of Oklahoma. According to

“In about 1879, Elias Boudinot began a campaign, perhaps at the behest of one of his clients, the M-K-T Railroad, to open the land “unoccupied by any Indian” to settlement by non-Indians. He pointed out in a letter published in 1879 that four of the Five Civilized Tribes, unlike the Cherokee, had extinguished their complete title to the lands ceded following the Civil War and received full payment. He also said: Whatever may have been the desire or intention of the United States Government in 1866 to locate Indians and negroes upon these lands, it is certain that no such desire or intention exists in 1879. The Negro since that date, has become a citizen of the United States, and Congress has recently enacted laws which practically forbid the removal of any more Indians into the Territory. He put forth the view that area was now Public Land and suggested the names “Unassigned Lands” and “Oklahoma” for the district.”(1)

President Rutherford B. Hayes, to his credit, issued a proclamation forbidding encroachment upon that territory. Too late, greed had had its eyes opened and the land grab began ultimately resulting in President Harrison’s act.

Legalese and semantics, or labeling, come into play here. Especially the term “Unassigned Lands”. Clever, justifying the desire, tacitly giving the right to go in and take that land. Similar to now in branding some benefits as “entitlements.” Without any discussion it already sets them up as a target.

 1919 – In Italy Mussolini forms Fascist movement while in Russia a five member Politburo is formed, including Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.

On the same day, same year, 1,500 miles apart, totalitarian banners of a different stripe are being raised. There is a theory that life is channeled through synchronistic events, that nothing is a coincidence. March 23rd, 1919 might be an example. Two movements, destined to clash, and both predicated on a need to dominate, come to life. Each probably had a justification of that need in the mere existence of the other. And that collision would eventually cost over 60 million people their lives.

1987 – Willy Brandt resigns as chairman of the Social Democratic Party. Brandt, born Herbert Frahm in Lubeck, Germany, adopted the pseudonym Willy Brandt during WWII to avoid detection by the Nazis after he fled to Norway and Sweden. Brandt, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 was Mayor of West Berlin from 1957-1966. In 1961 the city was divided by hte building of the Berlin Wall. Later, in addition to being chairman of the SDP, Brandt was also Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I was in West Berlin while Brandt was mayor and because of flaunting rules, came close to ratcheting up his Cold War tensions, albeit on a very small scale. My friend Rick and I crossed through Checkpoint Charlie for an afternoon in East Berlin. We were given stern instructions by the East German authorities on what was not permissible including taking pictures of any military personnel. The threat of arrest was clearly defined. No problem for me in that my camera had been destroyed earlier in the trip. Side note. If you intend to document a summer’s adventure, it is not a good idea to drop the camera down a mountainside in the Alps.

Both of us were twenty-one years old at the time and insufferably cocky, rules were nothing more than, at most, annoying suggestions. We were on a plaza in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Scattered about were soldiers with rifles and sub-machine guns slung over their shoulders. Rick began taking photos of the Gate and then started to frame them so he could include one particular soldier. I knew what he was doing and said, “Get him?” He nodded his reply. Then the soldier turned and looked directly at Rick, and the camera. We froze. As good a friend as Rick was, I was already separating myself from him by formulating an excuse that I didn’t even have a camera. Then the expression of the young soldier began to soften. And across the wide political chasm that divided our societies, three young men shared a conspiratorial smile. And thereby avoided an “incident” which may have even involved Willy Brandt.

 Birthdays:

1905 – Joan Crawford. Hollywood actress who is now probably better known for her public feuds with her own daughter and also fellow actress Bette Davis than her career. Crawford was one of the biggest Hollywood celebrities of her era and starred in many movies.

She was before my time and going back and looking at her work, except for “Mildred Pierce”, I can’t say that I was a fan.

 1929 – Roger Bannister. First man to run a mile under four minutes. On May 6, 1954, in Oxford, England, Bannister achieved that feat.

Big deal, that’s only two minutes faster than my personal best.

 1957 – Jan Marie Jenneke. Her brother was absolutely thrilled when their father gave him the news.

Happy Birthday, sis.

 (1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unassigned_Lands

 Sources

Onthisday.com

wikipedia.org

www.britannica.com

http://www.imdb.com

This Day in History

March 19th

1628 – Massachusetts Bay Colony issued land grant. “A land grant was received from the Council of New England, the successor to the ineffective Virginia Company of Plymouth, providing rights to the area between the Charles and Merrimack rivers and westward to the Pacific Ocean.”(1) Before they even left England for the Colonies, the Puritan businessmen received an okay on the land grant from the King.

All the way to the Pacific Ocean? The arrogance of both the grantor and grantee is, to me, amazing. Regardless of who might live there, the assumption that the land could belong to them. But then again, one was king and the others were Puritans who had been put on earth by God to make things right.

 1882 – Construction of Sagrada Familia begins in Barcelona, Spain

“Describing Sagrada Família, art critic Rainer Zerbst said, “It is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art” and Paul Goldberger describes it as, “The most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages.”(2)

Viewing it only from the outside, the line to enter was long and I don’t do lines well, I found the church to be both magnificent and a little creepy.

 1966 – Texas Western defeats Kentucky for the NCAA basketball title. The starting five for Texas Western was black, the entire Kentucky team was white. The significance of this was not lost on many people. There was an unspoken agreement among southern coaches at the time to start only two black players, play three during the game, and four were allowed at the end if the game was close. But never all five. Coach Don Haskins of Texas Western maintained he wasn’t a social crusader, his goal was to win basketball games. The team was not invited to either the White House or the Ed Sullivan Show after their championship, which was common at the time.

I remember that game and also what seemed like an effort to publicly suppress the significance of the victory.

Birthdays:

1894 – “Moms” Mabley. Stand-up American comedian. Perhaps the first female stand-up comic and certainly the first African-American one. She led the way for other women comedians such as Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. She had a traumatic childhood in North Carolina, losing both parents before she was a teen, and being raped twice, once by a white sheriff. She became pregnant both times and the babies were put up for adoption. She not only survived but out of this trauma she developed the talent to make people laugh. She got the nickname “Moms” from mothering other entertainers on the vaudeville circuit. She also did a cover of “Abraham, Martin and John” that became a top forty hit in 1969.

I watched her on the Smothers Brothers show but I don’t recall the recording. Will have to look it up.

 1939 – Joe Kapp. NFL quarterback, most notably for the Minnesota Vikings in 1969 when he led them to the Super Bowl. Only to lose but as time would prove, the Vikings had a special talent for losing Super Bowls.

Unlike now, I was an avid football fan back in 1969. The game was played outside on dirt and mud and snow-covered frozen fields. And there was considerably less hype and know-it-all announcers. The Vikings were my team and Joe Kapp my favorite player. Not the most talented quarterback, perhaps even the least talented to ever lead a team to the Super Bowl. He threw weak, wounded-duck passes, taunted linebackers, hurdled cornerbacks, doing whatever necessary to win. He made the game fun to watch. Before coming to the Vikings he played in the Canadian Football League. Not too long ago I was watching TV one night and a news clip comes on. An altercation at a banquet honoring old Canadian football stars. Two old men in their seventies, former bitter rivals, get into a fight. After getting whacked with a cane, Joe pops the other guy, knocking him off his chair. Ah Joe, you still got it.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “The Play,” the last play of the California-Stanford football game of 1982. California won the game with quite possibly the wildest football play of all time. And the coach for California…Joe Kapp.

 1944 – Sirhan Sirhan. On June 8th, 1968 Sirhan shot Senator Robert Kennedy four times. Kennedy died the next day. A Palestinian, Sirhan said the reason for the attack was because Kennedy supported Israel.

I was not a fan of Robert Kennedy. I was for Eugene McCarthy, the anti-war senator from Minnesota who first had the courage to challenge a President from his own party. Only after McCarthy showed some success in the primaries did Kennedy join the race. I viewed it too calculatingly political. Yet when Kennedy was assassinated I just shut down. At the time I read nothing about the shooting. I was still troubled by Martin Luther King, Jr. being killed two months earlier and now more violence rupturing the political arena. It was a turbulent era and I truly wondered, as many did, if our nation was coming apart.

 

(1) www.u-s-history.com/pages/h572.html

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Família

 

Sources:

Onthisday.com

www.u-s-history

wikipedia.org

http://www.cbssports.com

www.biography.com

This Day in History

March 14th

1590 – Battle of Ivry. A decisive battle during the French Wars of Religion. A Protestant army (Huguenot) led by Henry IV of France, defeated the forces of the Catholic League.

Another war over religion. Seems like a silly thing to die for. And this one didn’t even have different gods, just a violent disagreement over interpretation of the bible. Or, you don’t think there was more at stake for the leaders, like power and money, and religion was just a guise to inspire their followers? Something akin to fighting over WMD’s rather than oil?

 1923 – President William Harding becomes the first American president to pay taxes. “On March 14, 1923, President Warren G. Harding filed his income tax return for the 1922 year, paying about $17,000 in tax on his presidential salary of $75,000, although further details were not released. The New York Times of February 15, 1921 reports that then-President-elect Harding spoke against a proposed bill that would make the President permanently immune from the income tax, effectively killing it.” (1)

Quite noble on his part. Why do I think such a bill would stand a better chance now?

1933 – CCC begins tree conservation. The Civilian Conservation Corps was a program initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt to address the nation’s massive unemployment problem. Camps were located throughout the country and eventually over half a million young men served in them. As its title would imply, the work was mainly conservation. Besides building roads, bridges and stocking a billion fish in lakes, the men were responsible for the planting of millions of trees.

Another noble act, conserving our planet rather than destroying it. Well, we got that antiquated notion out of our heads. Not to mention that the whole idea sounds more than a little communistic.

 Birthdays:

1854 – Thomas Riley Marshall. 28th Vice President of the United States, he served from 1913 to 1921 under Woodrow Wilson. He hated being VP, thinking it a superfluous position. He also did not get along with Wilson. Coming from Indiana he was considered provincial and was not accepted in Washington. He countered with wit. One of his useless duties was to be on a committee discussing whether to send an expedition to Guatemala to search for pre-historic man. Marshall suggested they save money by just digging in DC because based on what he had seen, pre-historic man could not be far beneath the surface.

A quote by somebody else about Marshall from “An unfriendly fairy godmother presented Marshall with a keen sense of humor. Nothing is more fatal in politics.”(2) And here is an excerpt from a book he wrote about his family. “There was not one of my blood, in or out of the Union Army who was not either serving and sacrificing at home or suffering and dying among the hills and valleys of the southland for the preservation of the Union. And yet, so bitter was the politics of the time that they had to undergo the suspicion of being disloyal to their country because they did not vote the Republican ticket. My grandfather and my father were notified by the Methodist preacher whose church they attended that he would have to strike their names off the roll if they continued to vote the Democratic ticket. My grandfather, as a fiery Virginian, announced that he was willing to take his chance on Hell but never on the Republican party.” (3)

I think I would have liked this guy.

 1914 – Lee Hays. Leftist folksinger and member of the banned singing group The Weavers. Rather than me picking and choosing a few items about him, I suggest you go to the website listed below. Whether you are a fan of folk music or not, it is a fascinating read of a man and a time in American history.

www.oxfordamerican.org/magazine/item/185-the-embattled-lee-hays

1933 – Michael Caine. Academy Award winning British actor. His real name was Maurice Micklewhite and he only recently officially changed it to Michael Caine due to airport security. Security guards would recognize him as Michael Caine and then see a different name on his passport and it became a time-delaying hassle. Caine also served in the British Army with the Royal Fusiliers and saw extensive combat action in Korea.

One of my favorite actors ever since I first saw him in “The Ipcress File” and “Alfie.”

 

(1) https://taxfoundation.org/today-history-president-pays-income-tax-first-time

(2)https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_R._Marshall

(3) https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_R._Marshall

 

Sources:

onthisday.com

wikipedia.com

https://taxfoundation.org

www.history.com/topics/civilian-conservation-corps

www.senate.gov/artandhistory

wikiquote.org

http://www.history.com/news

This Day in History

March 9th

1831 – French Foreign Legion founded. The French Foreign Legion (FFL), heroic and romanticized in lore, provided fertile soil for novels and movies. One of the best was “Beau Geste.” The FFL was originally created to serve French colonial interests in Algeria. And for the most part, French imperialism was the reason for its continued existence.

Commanded by French officers, the Legion was open to foreign nationals. Soldiers served under an assumed name and the FFL became attractive to low-life criminals and those of a mercenary nature. A refuge or an escape for many. It is safe to assume that many ex-Nazis and SS found their way into the FFL after WWII.

I always looked at the FFL as a place to house dangerous riff-raff. And then maybe the world could get lucky and a lot of them would be wiped out in some silly battle. Like at Dien Bien Phu.

1942 – Construction of Alaskan Highway begins. With the advent of WWII the U.S. feared Japan might invade Alaska. It was decided that a supply route should be constructed to aid in Alaska’s defense. Obstacles included the distance, harsh weather conditions and Canada’s initial reluctance to grant access. They weren’t sure the U.S would relinquish control once the war was over. (Our reputation preceded us.)

The Army Corps of Engineers was assigned the task and one notable historical aspect of the project was that a large portion of the work force was engineer regiments made up of black soldiers. Most of these men were from the South yet they worked successfully in blizzards and temperatures that dropped to 70 below zero. The Army was still segregated then but there is an iconic photograph of a black soldier and a white soldier shaking hands as they celebrate success.

I spent 13 miserable months on an island in Alaska and have no great desire to relive that experience, but I must admit there is a lure of driving the Alcan Highway. I always love a good road trip and that might be the ultimate.

 1974 – Lt. Hiro Onoda surrenders in the Philippines. Onoda, a Japanese soldier, continued to fight WWII for 27 years after it was over. He was mostly alone in the jungle after his three men either surrendered or were killed in shootouts with police.

“On February 20, 1974, Onoda met a Japanese man, Norio Suzuki, who was traveling around the world, looking for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman.” (1)

These two guys seem made for each other.

Birthdays:

1454 – Amerigo Vespucci. Italian explorer who figured it out that North and South America were not part of Asia. America is a Latin derivative of Amerigo so thusly our country is named after him.

It’s a good thing we used his first and not last name, otherwise we would be called Vespuccians and instead of the bald eagle, our national symbol might be something more along the lines of a motor scooter.

 1918 – Mickey Spillane. Pulp fiction writer. Famous for writing the hard-boiled Mike Hammer private eye novels. A prolific writer, read internationally, it is estimated that his books sold over 225 million copies. Things I didn’t know about Spillane. He was an acrobat with Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey traveling circus, a fighter pilot in WWII, friends with Ayn Rand, although they often disagreed, and a Jehovah Witness.

Not being a genre that appealed to me, I never read much Mickey Spillane. However he was wildly popular with my crewmates when I was in the service. Private eye paperbacks were second in popularity, closely edging out westerns, or shit-kickers in Navy parlance. The topical favorite was lurid trash otherwise known as fuck books. Kennedy was president at the time and his speed-reading prowess was in the news. One of my shipmates, in complete awe, said “Just imagine how many fuck books he can read in a day!”

 1943 – Bobby Fischer. Troubled genius who became both the youngest, at 14, U.S. chess champion, and international grand master at 15. He became world chess champion in 1972 when he defeated Russian Boris Spassky in a well-publicized match. Fischer’s personal life was not so shining. Anti-Semetic, despite his mother being Jewish, which he denied, he even admired Adolf Hitler. He also celebrated the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. Although he was never officially diagnosed, there was speculation about a mental disorder. Fischer died in 2008 in Iceland.

In the 70’s, because of him, chess gained new players and fans, including myself. I never became a grand master.

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroo_Onoda

 

Sources:

www.britannica.com/topic/French-Foreign-Legion

www.historynet.com/alaska

onthisday.com

wikipedia.org

http://www.biography.com/people/bobby-fischer

This Day in History

March 2nd

1776 – Americans shell British at Boston. Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point had been captured by Colonials led by Benedict Arnold. Over the course of the winter, Col. Henry Knox, using oxen and sleds, managed to transport the captured armaments, including over 50 cannon, to Boston. Once the shelling began the British realized their position was untenable and they evacuated Boston on March 17th.

Way to go Benedict, Henry and George.

 1819 – Steerage Act passed. Signed into law by President James Monroe, this was the U.S.’s first immigration law. Ships captains, for reasons of profit, jammed their holds full of immigrants and many died during the passage. The law was an attempt to limit the number of passengers a ship could carry and its intent was for humanitarian reasons.

I’m sure that must be the real reason for the new travel ban. The person who received the second most votes in the last election must be concerned for the safety of refugees seeking their way to the U.S.

 

1936 – Cricket legend Donald Bradman scores 369 in 253 mins, SA v Tasmania, 46 fours, 4 sixes. Huh?

Hitchhiking in England, I was picked up by a guy who had the broadcast of a cricket match on his radio. While a droll announcer, his voice never once exhibiting a shred of excitement, rolled off indecipherable terminology for over an hour, my mind slowly leaked into alternate realms.

 

Birthdays:

 

1860 – Susanna Salter. Mayor of Argonia, Kansas. The first woman to be a mayor in the state of Kansas, she might have also been the first female mayor in the U.S. Some men, angered over the intrusion of the W.C.T.U. (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) into politics, placed Salter’s name on the ballot as a joke, thinking the WCTU would be humiliated by her low vote total. At that time women had gained the right to vote in local elections in some states, Kansas included. Yes, there was a time when Kansas was progressive.

The joke backfired and Salter was elected. Her term of office was uneventful, other than two draymen being arrested for refusing to buy licenses and some boys warned about throwing rocks at a vacant house.

I wonder if the men in town were uneasy over a woman having to handle crises of such a magnitude.

 

1902 – Moe Berg. Major League baseball player and OSS spy. A graduate of Princeton University, where he encountered social exclusion because he was Jewish, Berg spoke eight languages including Japanese. He played in 15 Major League seasons, mostly as a catcher, compiling a modest lifetime batting average of .243.

In 1934 a team of All-Stars, including such big names as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx toured Japan for an exhibition series against Japanese All-Stars. Nowhere near the caliber of the other players, he was nevertheless invited along on the trip. In addition to his catcher’s mitt, Berg brought along a movie camera. One day, while the rest of the team was playing a game, Berg went to the roof of one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo and filmed the city and the harbor defenses. This footage was later analyzed in the war effort.

During WWII he parachuted into Yugoslavia to evaluate the partisan resistance there. He also interviewed Italian and German physicists to investigate how close the Nazis were to developing an atom bomb. He concluded it was not within their grasp.

Major league baseball player, war hero, spy, what good red-blooded American boy wouldn’t want to grow up to be like Moe Berg. Other than he was a Jew. And what good red-blooded American boy wants to grow up being Jewish.

 

1908 – Fyodor Okhlopkov – A Russian Yakut born in Siberia, he became one of the more deadly snipers of WWII. Wounded a number of times, he still was credited with killing 429 German soldiers. He wasn’t honored by the Soviet Union for his heroics until 1965, many believed because of his indigenous ethnicity. Weakened by his war wounds he died in 1967 at the age of 59.

Use ‘em and lose ‘em. Nice to know we don’t have a monopoly on that practice.

 

Sources:

Wikipedia.com

www.history.com

onthisday.com

www.sunnycv.com

www.kshs.org

wikipedia.org

www.cia.gov

wikivisually.com

This Day in History

February 25th

1941 – February strike in Amsterdam. Appalled by the German occupiers’ persecution of Dutch Jews, first the city’s tram drivers went on strike, followed by other trade union and ultimately the general populace. Of course the strike effort was eventually quelled and many leaders executed or sent to concentration camps.

An honorable, brave and desperate grasp for light in an otherwise dark period.

1947 – State of Prussia is dissolved. In existence since 1525, Prussia became part of Germany after the German Unification Wars of 1866 and 1871. Many inside Germany blamed Prussia for encouraging the militarism and blind obedience that helped the Nazis gain power.

“The formal abolition of Prussia: German Abschaffung von Preußen) occurred on 25 February 1947, by the doing of the Allied Control Council. Control Council Law No. 46: The Prussian State which from early days has been a bearer of militarism and reaction in Germany has de facto ceased to exist.” (1)

About time.

 1964 – Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, defeats Sonny Liston for the tile of Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Darrold and I were buddies, radiomen aboard the USS Jason. Following weeks of pre-fight hype, we became convinced the young challenger was going to defeat Liston. Odds against Clay/Ali were around 10-1, too good to pass up.

Some backstory. In radio school we were warned we would probably not be well liked once out in the fleet. Radiomen were privy to sensitive and secret information that would be desired by our shipmates but could not be shared. Also our communication jobs were considered essential so we were granted special privileges, like being able to go to the front of the chow line, or more relaxed liberty hours. We were told to not abuse those privileges and to stow any cockiness. Those last bits of advice were generally ignored by most radiomen.

When Clay/Ali came onto the scene, Darrold and I immediately embraced him. Emulating our new hero, we became even cockier. Receiving odds anywhere from 5-1 to 10-1 we still found those willing to bet against us. I think some just wanted to shut us up.

This was back when a heavyweight fight was still one of the biggest sporting events of the year. The night of the fight, aboard the Jason, clumps of sailors were gathered around transistor radios throughout the ship. About a dozen of us radiomen were jammed into the radio shack listening to the best radio the defense budget could buy.

Well, you know history. The next day, pockets full of cash, brazenly walking to the head of chow line, we were lucky to escape the same beating Liston had received. Not so oddly, other than Darrold, I have not kept in contact with anyone from the Jason.

I remained an admirer of Muhammad Ali throughout my life and consider him one of the greatest Americans of my lifetime.

 Birthdays:

1591 – Friedrich von Spee. A favorite activity of the 17th century was the burning alive of suspected witches. A German born priest, von Spee was a Jesuit who was among the first to speak out against the witchcraft hysteria. He also argued against torture as a way of obtaining the truth.

A raft of sanity in a turbulent sea of fear. We soon may be in need of another von Spee.

 1919 – Monte Irvin – 1921 – Andy Pafko. One black, one white. Both were Major League baseball players. Pafko, a four-time All Star from the tiny town of Boyceville, Wisconsin, played professional baseball throughout the war years of 1941-45. Irvin, a star in the Negro Leagues, was one of the first black players in the big leagues. During WWII he was with the U.S. Army at the Battle of the Bulge. While Irvin was serving in Europe, the South Carolina legislature passed a WWII resolution that American troops were “fighting for white supremacy.”

A line from a song we sang in grade school was ”And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!” Good little American that I was in third grade, I bought it. I wonder if “America the Beautiful” was ever sung in the South Carolina legislature.

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_Prussia

Sources:

wikipedia.org

www.haaretz.com

www.controverscial.com

www.baseball-reference.com

Glove Stories – Dave Kindred