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Category: History (Page 1 of 2)

Ulysses S. Grant – A Badass to the Very End

General Ulysses S. Grant managed to put Robert E. Lee in such a tight spot it forced him to surrender, thus ending the Civil War. During the signing of the surrender treaty, Grant showed up at Wilmer McLean’s house in Appomattox Court House straight from the field.

He was looking a little rough around the edges, his uniform speckled with dried mud and dirt, while Lee showed up in his best dress uniform. Grant treated his now former foe with the greatest respect and offered generous surrender terms to Lee’s vanquished army.

After the war, he took on the very tenuous task of Reconstruction, which continued into his two-term presidency. In the process, he worked to protect the rights of African American. As president, he ratified the 15th Amendment which prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”.

After a difficult presidency, he went into business with a friend of his son’s. Unknown to him it was a Ponzi scheme and he lost everything. He was essentially broke. Then Grant found out he was dying from throat cancer. With just $189 left in the bank, he set out to write his memoirs in an effort to save his family from ruin after he was gone.

He started writing from the place his family was staying in Manhattan, but that summer of 1885 was so hot it added difficulty to his failing health. His doctor told him to get away from the heat of the city and go out to the country.

He moved his family to a cottage home in upstate New York. He was made offers for his memoirs, but the best one came from his friend Mark Twain, who would give his estate 75% of the royalties with $50,000 up front.

Grant soon lost his ability to speak and was in almost constant pain, but he continued writing his memoirs. The man wrote 10,000 words a day, on paper with pencils he sharpened with a penknife. Let me say that again, and let it sink in. This dying man wrote 10,000 words a day – in pencil! He wrote for five straight weeks.

Three days after completing his 600 page memoir, Ulysses S. Grant died on July 23, 1885, surrounded by his family. He was 63.

His memoirs were an instant hit. His wife Julia received about $450,000 in royalties, which equates to over $11 million dollars in today’s money. Ulysses S. Grant – A total Bad-Ass.

July 4th, 1976

July 4th, 1976 – July 4th, 2016

It’s hard to believe it has been 40 years.

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In 1976 the United States celebrated its Bicentennial Celebration. It’s 200th anniversary of being an independent country. The Vietnam War ended just a year before. Despite the civil unrest that war caused, it seemed patriotism was at a high in 1976. There were so many celebrations and observation for months leading up to the 4th.

In school we re-examined this key time in our history and studied the Declaration of Independence in-depth. All the fire hydrants in town were painted with patriotic colors and some to look like patriot soldiers. There were ‘76’ flags with 13 stars everywhere. For a young teen, this was a special and memorable time for me.

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On this day 40 years ago on July 4th 1976, I was fortunate to be right in the middle of Operation Sail, which is a special occasion featuring “tall ship” sailing vessels from around the world. The Operation Sail for the Bicentennial was especially large.

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My best friend at the time, and next door neighbor was Joe Danaher. His father John served with the Coast Guard for more than 20 years – including during WWII – and rose to officer status. He remained active in the reserves for many years. As such he had considerable clout and had Joe invite me to go with them to Governors Island to watch The Parade of Ships for the Bicentennial Celebration.

Governors Island went into service in 1776 during the American Revolution and became an Army post from 1783 to 1966, when it became an active Coast Guard station until 1996. It sits right at the divergence of the East and Hudson Rivers – across from the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. It affords a commanding presence and view of every ship heading up the Hudson.

We caught a Coast Guard ferry, from Pier 6 in Brooklyn for the short ride to Governor’s Island. Once there, Joe’s father let us roam on our own with directions to meet him at Castle Williams later that afternoon. We explored the 170 acre island from end to end. It was a hot, sunny day, but the ocean breeze kept the temps manageable. In the mess hall, they had set up a veritable smorgasbord of food of all type and ice cream – all you can eat – for free.  We stuffed ourselves and went out to do more exploring.

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Castle Williams where we stood to watch Operation Sail in 1976

When Operation Sail started we were right there at Castle William where the road juts out into the river, and we watched the tall ships, such as the USCGC Eagle, the Amerigo Vespucci (from Italy) and the Gorch Fock (from Germany) among a dozen more tall ships and hundreds of smaller sailing vessels.

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Then the massive aircraft carrier USS Forrestal sailed up and stopped right across from us. On board was President Gerald Ford (a WWII Navy vet), reviewing dozens of mighty modern warships sailing up the Hudson.

USCGC Eagle and the USS FORRESTAL Operation Sail

USS FORRESTAL and the USCGC Eagle Operation Sail

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President Gerald Ford

That night, the fireworks commenced from barges anchored in the river. It remains one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I have ever seen – and I have seen many large events. I remember the colors and the sounds. Most of all I remember the power of the explosions from the mortar rockets was so great I could feel the concussion in my chest as well as my ears.

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The day I spent on Governors Island, July 4th, 1976 is one of my most cherished childhood memories.


Epilogue:

  • President Gerald Ford passed away on December 26, 2006.
  • Governors Island has been open to the public since 2003, as a public park space.
  • In 1967 there wa a massive fire on the USS Forrestal, after a missile misfired and hit a fully fueled fighter jet, which then set off a chain of explosions and fire which claimed the lives of 134 sailors and injured 161.
  • On that ship was Senator John McCain. The missile hit plane right next to his. He was lightly wounded in the event. The pilot of the plane that was hit, Cdr. Fred White, was one of the 134 killed that day.
  • The USS Forrestal was decommissioned in 1993, and was completely scrapped as junk by December 2015.

Of Death During War

This passage was written by Robert Leckie (1920-2001), a Pacific Theater WWII Marine Veteran, after one fight during the Battle of Cape Gloucester, from December 1943 through April 1944. Nothing else I’ve read brings home the gravity of death during war, with more clarity.


I moved among heaps of the dead. They lay crumpled, useless, defunct. The vital force has fled. A bullet or a mortar fragment had torn a hole in these frail vessels and the substance had leaked out. The mystery of the universe had once inhabited these lolling lumps, had given each an identity, a way of walking, perhaps a special habit of address or a way with words or a knack of putting color on canvas. They had been so different, then.

Now they were nothing, heaps of nothing. Can a bullet or a mortar fragment do this? Does this force, this mystery, I mean this soul – does this spill out on the ground along with the blood? No. It is somewhere, I know it.

For this red and yellow lump I look down upon this instant was once a man, and the thing that energized him, the Word that gave “to airy nothing a local habitation and a name,” the Word from a higher Word – this cannot have been obliterated by a quarter-inch of heated metal.

The mystery of the universe has departed him, and it is no good to say the riddle is solved; the mystery is over – because it has changed residences. The thing that shaped the flare of that nostril, that broadened that arm now bleeding, that wrought so fine that limply lying hand – that thing exists still, and has still the power to flare that nostril, to bend that arm, to clench that fist exactly as it did before.

Because it is gone you cannot say it will not return; even though you may say it has never yet returned – you cannot say that it will not. It is blasphemy to say a bit of metal has destroyed life, just as it is presumptuous to say that because life has disappeared it has been destroyed.

I stood among the heaps of the dead and I know – no, I felt that death is only a sound we make to signify the Thing we do not know.

From the book, Helmet for My Pillow – From Paris Island to the Pacific, by Robert Leckie

Going Back In Time In Newport, RI

August 1, 2015 – Newport, Rhode Island

Loly and I took a road trip to Newport, Rhode Island. A place I had always wanted to go.

Since I was a teen, I wanted to tour the mansions of the “Gilded-Age”. They were built during the late Victorian period of America when industries of all types grew at a rapid pace, transforming the country and making some people immensely wealthy.  With that wealth, they built colossal mansions all over the place.

I first learned about the “Gilded Age” mansions when I was a kid growing up on Long Island. I also learned the North Shore of the Island was called the “Gold Coast” during this period. At one time there were as many as 500 mansions along the “Gold Coast”. Today fewer than a dozen survive.

In Newport, Rhode Island, some of the wealthiest magnates and industrialists built summer homes here. They constructed colossal estates with upwards of 70-rooms, to stay for 10-12 weeks a year. These magnificent homes survive now only through the efforts of the Preservation Society of Newport. They saved these places and give tours to raise money to continue preserving these grand mansions from a bygone era.

I was surprised by a few things: 1. How much traffic there was to get onto what I now know is an island and not a peninsula. It took a long while waiting on the bridge before we were able to get into the main town district (see touristy). 2. How crowded and busy a place it is. 3. That you can’t park anywhere for pretty much less than $20, and 4. How attractive the town is.

We crawled through the main tourist district and found our way onto the famed Bellevue Avenue, where most of the mansions are.  We stopped at the first mansion we saw that had a Welcome flag on the fence. It was the Isaac Bell house. A tour was just letting out and we parked in a side yard of the estate. We climbed the steps to the huge wrap-around porch and approached the front Dutch door. The bottom half was closed and at the open top half we were greeted by a kindly older gentleman who filled in these newbies on what to do.

The man let us into the empty house to buy two, 5 House Tour tickets, which never expire until they are used up. I knew right away I wanted to see the biggest and most famous of the mansions first, “The Breaker’s” where the Vanderbilt’s once lived.

But first, since it was on the way, I wanted to go to “The Cliff Walk,” but that wasn’t happening as there was not one available parking spot.

After a short drive up the road and we pulled into The Breaker’s parking area. To enter the grounds you pass through a 30-foot tall iron gate and walk up the white pebble driveway and are presented with a brilliant view of the mansion. Just standing there in awe of the place, the only words that kept playing through my head were, “extraordinary opulence.” That phrase would play through my head again and again during the tour.

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The Breaker’s was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. He was a railroad tycoon, and grandson to Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt – the man who began the empire. Construction began in 1892, and was completed in 1895.

This is how it looked in 1895. Note that spindly little tree in the right front is now huge!

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Breakers tree

The mansion sits on 13 acres of manicured grounds. The mansion itself is a massive 62,000 square feet in size. It boasts 70 rooms, 15 bedrooms for family and guests, 20 bathrooms, and used to have a staff of 40 servants and maids. Mr. Vanderbilt was able to enjoy the fruits of his labor for only one year before he suffered a stroke in 1896, at the age of 52. In 1899, he suffered a brain hemorrhage which killed him. He was just 55.

Cornelius and his wife Alice had seven children together. After her husband died, Alice continued to run the business and raise her children. When Alice died in 1934, their daughter Countess Gladys Széchenyi inherited The Breakers.  As the family fortune began to dwindle, she could no longer afford to staff the mansion to properly care for it.

In 1948, she leased the mansion to the Preservation Society with the stipulation she could maintain an apartment in the house.  With the Society’s help, Gladys opened the mansion to paying tourists to help maintain the building and grounds.

Her daughter Sylvia took over the care and management of the home when Gladys died in 1965. Sylvia was also granted life tenancy until she died in 1998. The life tenancy is still in place. There are Vanderbilt descendants living on the third floor of the mansion – which of course is not open to the public.

First we walked the beautiful grounds of manicured lawns and mature trees. The back of the property is treeless, remaining open to the breathtaking ocean view of the waves breaking against the rocks…

Breakers Namesake

The back of the house is no less impressive than the front. There is a terrace the size of a modern professional basketball court. The space was covered by a large party tent, as it was rented out for a wedding reception.

Breakers Patio

As we walked back toward the house I looked up at the building, feeling completely comfortable, like I belonged there. I wondered if Cornelius walked this same path, looking at the house he and Alice had designed and had built, and marveled at the majesty of how their plans and ideas stood manifest and magnificent.

Loly Terrace

I strolled about with a familiar ease. Along the side of the house was another stepped terrace with a rounded wing jutting out. We were to learn, this was the music conservatory where there were many musical gatherings and parties both in the wing and on the terrace. I could almost hear the classical music playing on a cool New England summer evening, people dressed for the occasion and enjoying themselves.

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music room

We entered grand foyer where we picked up headphones connected to an mp3 player for a self-guided tour.

The first place you enter is the immense Great Room. Here there were soirees and dances, and dinner parties. The room is adorned in all manner of opulence, constructed completely of limestone and Italian marble. There are statues, carvings, tapestries, portraits and even a fountain under the grand staircase.

Grand Staircase

In one of those dinner parties, on September 14, 1962, right at the base of the grand staircase, sat President John F. Kennedy, and his wife Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

Kennedy and Jackie

The grand staircase was even designed with shorter steps to allow women wearing gowns to appear as if they were gliding down the stairs. On those stairs, much to the chagrin of the butler, the young Vanderbilt children would use serving trays to slide down the stairs. Chips in the stone steps bear witness to these trips. They also took many a ride down the stair banister.

From there room after room was an amazing array of exotic woods, imported stone, sculptures, statues, paintings, and gold is everywhere. In one room the custom wallpaper displays the 9 Muses of Greek Mythology spread out in the corners of the room. The wallpaper itself is inlaid with platinum!

Paltinum

Among my other favorite rooms were the Music Room, and the wood paneled Library. Man, I could have spent some time there.

Library

Then there was the Billiard Room, where I could have spent many a long evening with the gents, over cigars, good drink and lively conversation.

billiard room

While all these rooms were beautiful given their era, I thought two of the absolute coolest rooms were the massive Kitchen, and the Butler’s Pantry – the operations center for the entire estate.

The kitchen has a 21 foot long stove and ovens, heated by coal. There is a zinc-topped work table about the same length and there were solid copper pots of every size. Some are big enough for Loly to sit in.

Kitchen

The very cool Butler’s Pantry is a two story affair where the Butler would be on the open air second floor selecting plates for the right occasion, loading them onto the dumbwaiter to the work area below. The silverware was kept in a large safe in the room. This was also the central operation room to which the speaking tubes, and later the intercoms funneled.

Pantry

I thoroughly enjoyed The Breakers and its rich history.

 

We went to the much smaller Chateau-sur-Mer, but I think we were mansioned out. We began the guided tour, but very quickly grew bored. By the third room we were done, and ducked out.

The best part is we know we’ll be back in Newport. This will be a great place to visit in the peak fall season, and then again around Christmas to take in the grandeur of how they dress up the town for the holiday.

We headed back into the main part of town and were able to get into a parking lot for $20. We stopped for a late lunch at the Barking Crab. The food was pretty good, but it didn’t warrant the prices they were asking. I’ll admit their New England clam chowdah is as good as they boast, but I’d never go back. I felt they were way overpriced because of where they are.

We took a long walk along Thames Street, and enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells, but it was evident it was all set up for tourists. There were no stores we were interested in spending any time in. I did, however, guide Loly into a large antiques store. It was one of the largest and best I had ever seen. I could have easily spent a bundle in there with some of the things they had relating to maritime, art, WWII collectibles, and old photographs. I managed to leave empty handed, and my bank account intact.

We left afterward, and took a too long route home. I know the next time we go, we’ll be better prepared. We know someone who grew up in Newport, and he’s going to give us a personal tour. He’ll show us alternate ways to get on the island, and better places to eat, shop and park.

Newport Bridge

We are very much looking forward to that trip!

Mary Rowlandson’s Tragic Story

In 1675, King Philip’s War raged in New England. On February 10th, 1675, Native Americans attacked the town of Lancaster, Massachusetts. As the Indians went from house to house slaughtering or capturing the colonial inhabitants, Mary Rowlandson recounted what she saw and experienced on that day, and her subsequent 11-week captivity, in her narrative, The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

On July 5th, 2014, – almost 340 years later, Loly and I visited the site where Mary Rowlandson’s nightmare journey began.

The site where the garrison house once stood is amazingly and thankfully still pristine. It is a recognized historic site and has never been developed, remaining a pastureland.

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This marker briefly describes the events of that day at this site. As we entered the field, we were taken by how beautiful it was, and on this fantastic summer day it was hard to imagine the savagery and desperate fight to survive which took place here.

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Though not obviously marked, I went by Mary Rowlandson’s description of where the garrison house was located, The house stood upon the edge of a hill…

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Sure enough at the top of a small hill in the field, was the stump of an ancient oak tree which had at one time marked where the garrison house stood. A garrison house was specifically built to protect against Indian attacks and was a central gathering place for several families during such an event. This is what a garrison house from that era would have looked like:

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It was from this spot which Mary witnessed a house across the way being attacked by the Indians, “There were five persons taken in one house; the father, and the mother and a sucking child, they knocked on the head(this is a 17th century way of saying they had their skulls crushed and brains dashed out by a tomahawk or stone hammer); the other two they took and carried away alive. “

She then witnessed this taking place at an adjoining garrison and people trying to escape to their garrison, “There were two others, who being out of their garrison upon some occasion were set upon; one was knocked on the head, the other escaped; another there was who running along was shot and wounded, and fell down; he begged of them his life, promising them money but they would not hearken to him but knocked him in head, and stripped him naked, and split open his bowels. Another, seeing many of the Indians about his barn, ventured and went out, but was quickly shot down. There were three others belonging to the same garrison who were killed; the Indians getting up upon the roof of the barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their fortification.”

Attacked

“…some of the Indians got behind the hill, others into the barn, and others behind anything that could shelter them; from all which places they shot against the house, so that the bullets seemed to fly like hail; and quickly they wounded one man among us, then another, and then a third.”

This is the view from the top of the hill where the garrison house stood; and the vantage point from which Mary Rowlandson saw the Indians begin their attack on their home.

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Fire!

“About two hours they had been about the house before they prevailed to fire it, and there being no defense about the house, only two flankers at two opposite corners; they fired it once and one ventured out and quenched it, but they quickly fired it again, and that took.

The Last Desperate Struggle

“Some in our house were fighting for their lives, others wallowing in their blood, the house on fire over our heads, and the bloody heathen ready to knock us on the head, if we stirred out. Now might we hear mothers and children crying out for themselves, and one another, “Lord, what shall we do?” Then I took my children (and one of my sisters’, hers) to go forth and leave the house: but as soon as we came to the door and appeared, the Indians shot so thick that the bullets rattled against the house, as if one had taken an handful of stones and threw them…”

“But out we must go, the fire increasing, and coming along behind us, roaring, and the Indians gaping before us with their guns, spears, and hatchets to devour us. No sooner were we out of the house, but my brother−in−law (being before wounded, in defending the house, in or near the throat) fell down dead, whereat the Indians scornfully shouted, and hallowed, and were presently upon him, stripping off his clothes, the bullets flying thick, one went through my side, and the same through the bowels and hand of my dear child in my arms.”

“One of my elder sisters’ children, named William, had then his leg broken, which the Indians perceiving, they knocked him on [his] head. Thus were we butchered by those merciless heathen, standing amazed, with the blood running down to our heels. My eldest sister being yet in the house, and seeing those woeful sights, the infidels hauling mothers one way, and children another, and some wallowing in their blood: and her elder son telling her that her son William was dead, and myself was wounded, she said, “And Lord, let me die with them,” which was no sooner said, but she was struck with a bullet, and fell down dead over the threshold.”

“…the Indians laid hold of us, pulling me one way, and the children another, and said, “Come go along with us”; I told them they would kill me: they answered, if I were willing to go along with them, they would not hurt me. Oh the doleful sight that now was to behold at this house! “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he has made in the earth.” Of thirty−seven persons who were in this one house, none escaped either present death, or a bitter captivity, save only one.”

“There were twelve killed, some shot, some stabbed with their spears, some knocked down with their hatchets. When we are in prosperity, Oh the little that we think of such dreadful sights, and to see our dear friends, and relations lie bleeding out their heart−blood upon the ground. There was one who was chopped into the head with a hatchet, and stripped naked, and yet was crawling up and down.”

“It is a solemn sight to see so many Christians lying in their blood, some here, and some there, like a company of sheep torn by wolves, all of them stripped naked by a company of hell−hounds, roaring, singing, ranting, and insulting, as if they would have torn our very hearts out; yet the Lord by His almighty power preserved a number of us from death, for there were twenty−four of us taken alive and carried captive.”

 

 

So this is where is happened…on this beautiful spot and the surrounding area, 12 people from this garrison and another 9 from another house and garrison were slaughtered, stripped and left amidst their burning homes. This is where her nephew William, with a broken leg, had his head bashed in, where her older sister was shot to death on the threshold, and where a wounded man begged for his life and was tomahawked, disemboweled and stripped.

Mary, shot in the side, was taken captive with her gravely wounded six-year-old daughter Sarah, and forced to march into the wilderness toward New Hampshire and the Connecticut River. Little Sarah suffered in agony for 9 days before dying from her wounds. She was buried on a lonely hilltop in the woods.

Mary was with the Indians for 11 weeks before they sold her back to her husband. Her surviving two children were also sold back to them not long after.

After her release Mary met her brother-in-law. He asked where her older sister was. He and a contingency of militia had gone to Lancaster after the attack. There he had helped bury the mutilated and charred bodies, never even knowing his wife had been one of those burned bodies.

As I stood on the site of the garrison, near the stump of the old oak, trying to imagine the house, and the attack, an item in the rotting remains of the stump caught Loly’s attention. It was a brick. She lifted it from the decomposing wood and dirt and held it up.

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It was a hand-made brick, which would have been part of the center chimney of the garrison house. She replaced the brick where she found it and picked up another for inspection. These bricks are all that remain of the garrison house and a tangible reminder of that day. These bricks had been in place when those colonists fought for their lives, and here is where those bricks will remain.

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It was an altogether far different time, one I can hardly fathom no matter how much as I study this era.

I am fully aware the slaughter of Native Americans and Colonists took place on both sides, with the Indians suffering far worse in the end, but this is not that whole story. This is just the story of a Puritan wife and mother, what she saw, and what she experienced. To get a full account of the entire experience just click the link to a PDF copy of Mary’s complete narrative: The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

 

 

100 Years Ago Today Archduke Francis Ferdinand was Assassinated.

One Hundred Years ago today, June 28th 1914, a presumptuous, idealistic young man of 19, Gavrilo Princp shot and killed the Austro-Hungarian  Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and his pregnant wife Sophie, in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. This singular act by a Serbian nationalist would change the world forever. It set events in motion leading to a World War, which in turn eventually precipitated a Second World War. In the end some 100 million people would lose their lives.

Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, shortly before they were assassinated.

The assassination sparked a pointless world war which killed over 16.5 million people and injured another 21 million. The worst part? Nobody knows the real reason why World War I happened. Even well-established historians can’t decide exactly why the war even started in the first place. At the time Europe was a complex network of Imperial alliances. The continent was a powder keg ready to blow and the Archduke’s assassination provided the spark. Here’s how it unfolded:

  • Austria declared war on Serbia.
  • Russia declared war on Austria.
  • Germany declared war on Russia — and immediately invaded France(?)
  • Great Britain declared war on Germany, and Canada, being part of the British Empire, was automatically at war as well.
  • Eventually a total of 25 countries got sucked into this conflict

The U.S. didn’t enter the fray until 1917. We were in it for 18 months – over 117,000 were killed and another 200,000+ injured. Can you imagine those sort of casualties today? Unfortunately The War to End All Wars, didn’t live up to it’s name… Werner

D-Day + 70 Years

June 6th, 2014

During the 70th D-Day Commemoration, I looked upon these old men, these veterans of World War II.

The camera shows their faces softened, rounded, and wrinkled by time. Their hair is white and sparse, and the head and hands of some shake subtly and uncontrollably. They wear medals earned in battle on their tired, sagging frame. None are able to stand for very long, most use hearing aids and almost all have canes. Their eyes, however, their eyes look sharp with remembrance.

I see beyond what the camera shows. I see young men in their teens and twenties, with hard angular faces, and lean, hard bodies standing erect, proud and prepared for battle. They have heads of thick, rich hair, and eyes of stone, quick and ready. The things they experienced and did, formed their character, affected their lives and stayed with them always.

To me these young-old men are heroes. As much as those who gave their all during the war, and the ones who have since passed on. This The Greatest Generation, saved the world from tyranny in the greatest conflict mankind has ever known. With luck, it will remain that way…

 

CNN did a segment on a man named Jim “Pee Wee” Martin. On June 6, 1944 he parachuted into Normandy with the 101st Airborne, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Company G.

PeeWee

His company landed right in the middle of German reinforcements heading for the coast. He said it was a “slaughterhouse”. To commemorate that historic day, at the age of 93, Pee Wee suited up, boarded a C-47 Dakota and jumped out of a plane over Normandy one last time.

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One of the things I took away from that segment was when Pee Wee said after the jump, “I just wanted to show everyone you don’t have to sit and die just because you get old.”

Jim is a Certified Bad Ass!

 

The other thing that stayed with me from the segment was when they were giving Jim a tour of a D-Day museum. In one display they had an American helmet with a hole in it. The correspondent said, “This was the helmet of Don Francis, he was right next to you…” and Jim finished, “When he got shot.”

 

I wanted to know more about the young man who wore that helmet

At 4:30 am, on their way to secure a couple of bridges, Cpl Donald B. Francis and Jim found themselves pinned down in a field near the River Douve. Their only cover was tall grass. In the dim light of the early morning, a German soldier saw the white painted ace on Don’s helmet and used that as an aiming point. The bullet entered the left side of his head and exited through his right forehead. Don Francis never regained consciousness and died in the Fortin Farm Aid Station on June 7th.

helmet

 

Donald Francis grew up in Rochester, New York. When he died he was not married and had no children. He was only 23. This is the house in which he grew up. I imagine that one day he gave his worried mom a hug and a kiss, said goodbye to his family, walked out that front door, across the porch, down the steps and into history – never to return.

FrancisHome

When the telegram about his death arrived a few days later, it’s hard to imagine what the Francis family went through.

Don was the same age as Jim. One got to go home fall in love, raise a family, have a career and live to be an old man. All the hopes and dreams of the other ended on a field in a foreign country, 70 years ago. Don never got to know what it was like to fall in love, and know what it was like to have a family of his own and experience life to the fullest.

Now Corporal Donald B. Francis, G Co 506th PIR, forever lives in Plot E, Row 17, Grave 18, Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer, France

DonFrancis

It’s good to see that someone still remembers young Don Francis.

It’s my hope that we never forget the young men who gave their all to defeat a tyranny we never had to know.

Our Time In The Sun

I was in the Nashua Town Hall on Main Street, waiting for my wife to complete some official business. I stared fascinated at a mural sized picture from the city’s past.

The picture was taken from a high vantage point on a building that no longer exists, next the Main Street Bridge that spans the Nashua River. I figure the picture must have been taken around 1910 or so.

There were work horses on the street walking along side a trolley car that has long since vanished. The weather looked to be warm and sunny. There were lots of people on the sidewalks and street. They were far enough away where their faces were nondescript. The women wore long dark dresses and most of the men were dressed in Sack suits and straw boater hats. Of the things in the picture, it was the people who stayed with me.

After business was concluded in the Town Hall, we walked out onto Main Street. It was a warm, sunny day and we walked down the street toward home. I reveled in the wonderful weather, and thought how good I felt and how much I love and enjoy life.

As we approached the Main Street Bridge, the image of that picture played in my mind. Nobody, not one person from that picture exists here today. None are left on this street where they were all once caught in a photograph going about their lives.

They, like I do now, cannot envision a point in time 100 years from now, where we no longer exist. In a future time where no one remembers you, or cared that you existed, or even has the knowledge about you to give you a passing thought. That you now only exist as an anonymous, nondescript figure in an old photograph.

I thought of all those people I can never know. All those stories lost to history. I tried to imagine their faces. I thought that some of the people in that photograph may have very well felt exactly the way I did at that moment. I wondered about how they lived out their lives. How they lived and loved, laughed and cried and how they inevitably left this world.

I thought how 100 years before, they walked the same place and occupied the same space as I. The same sun had shined upon their faces and cast their shadow onto the sidewalk is it was now doing mine.

Now the sun shines upon them no more. Where do they all lie now? What became of all those souls?

No, try as we might, we just can’t envision a day where the sun will never again shine upon us. A time where we no longer exist – and no one cares that we did.

This is our time in the sun. Live life to its fullest, care about it and enjoy the heck out of it. If your life is important enough to live, it’s important enough to make a record of it. Leave this life completely used up and know that you did exist – and you mattered…

 

The Hobbit – 75th Anniversary

The Hobbit written by J.R.R. (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien was first published 75 years ago today (September 21, 1937). Tolkien created Middle Earth and several languages including Elvish, and has enchanted the minds of millions for generations.

First Edition slip cover of The Hobbit. The cover art was drawn by Tolkien himself.

What’s your favorite scene in The Hobbit?


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“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

115 Years ago today (September 21, 1897) The New York Sun published this famous editorial:

 


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