My annual update of the piece I wrote for Veterans Day and why we shouldn’t forget its original commemoration.
Anyone who went to war will have their own personal sacrifice to live with, if they were fortunate enough to live through it in the first place. One does not have to serve in a front line unit to end up in harm’s way, but only the veterans who served in actual combat know the full measure of such service. And yet, we can all know that such events give good reason to mark the end of wars, lest we forget what happens in them.
That fact has never been more important than right now…
A hard-won trophy and a ticket to the 2024 Olympics
The USA’s Women’s National Team won the CONCACAF Championship trophy yesterday, defeating a tough Canadian squad 1-0 to earn their way to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, in Paris. This will be the USA women’s team’s 8th Olympics!
Golden Ball winner Alex Morgan made good on the all-important penalty kick in the second half to break the exciting and at times gut-wrenching match. It was Morgan’s third goal of the tournament. While the men’s team continues to improve in their efforts to erase the humiliation of missing the last World Cup, there is little doubt that the best soccer team in America is of the opposite sex. Congratulations, ladies!
Pancho Villa and others at the very first Fiesta de la tarro vacía
Rare photo recently discovered
A contemplative Villa (left) and a glum Zapata (2nd from right) face an uncertain future
In Mexico during the time of the Revolution, mayonnaise was a national obsession. More of the condiment was consumed there than anywhere else on earth, with Hong Kong a distant second.
In fact, leaders on both sides of the conflict were crazy for the stuff. But it was Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata who spread the spread among the common people, as it were, so that its popularity soared, circa 1910.
In those days, England was the mayonnaise capital of the world, with Cross & Blackwell’s, and Hellmann’s as the most popular brands, and the largest shipment of all time, some tens of thousands of jars, set out from Southampton by steamship on April 10, 1912, bound for Vera Cruz, by way of Cherbourg, New York, Charleston, and Havana.
But as history showed, the vessel was none other than the ill-fated H.M.S. Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank on April 15th. When news arrived in Mexico twenty days later, the war-torn people were devastated.
Their anguish was so great across the nation that a truce was declared between the Federales and the rebel factions, for one day of mourning. And thus was held the very first Fiesta de la tarro vacía (Feast of the Empty Jar.)
(photo: Museos de México)
It has been observed ever since, on this very day, now known colloquially as Sinko de Mayo.
The New Mid-Fielder Changes Major League Baseball Forever
“Tenth player adds exciting wrinkle to America’s favorite pastime.” – MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred
Major League Baseball hoping the ‘Rover’ position, called a Short-Outfileder by some, will revive interest after COVID-19 and the recent lockout threatens revenues.
It is by no means hyperbole to state in no unequivocal terms that the player’s union agreeing with the MLB commissioner and owners to institute this revolutionary addition of a tenth fielder is nothing less than, to quote MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, “April Fools!”
Beloved childhood comfort food leads to an annual ritual –
Beefaroni on my birthday
The American Dream Come True: The immigrant who made it rich (and meaty.)
Chef Boyardee is a brand of canned pasta products. But once upon a time the real Chef Boyardee was the head chef at the five-star Plaza Hotel, near the corner of 5th Avenue and Central Park South, in New York City. where a room reservation today is $1050 per night. He is personally responsible for Americans associating “Italian food” with pasta and tomato sauce, most particularly spaghetti with meatballs. I only learned of his story quite recently, but the company he started during the Great Depression was a part of my life as long as I can remember.
Ettore Boiardi worked in restaurants in Italy near Bologna, starting at age eight. He his brother to America in the early 1900s, where he is reputed to have worked his way up in the Plaza’s kitchen to Head Chef.
Chef Boiardi oversaw two major dinners for President Woodrow Wilson, his second wedding, and a White House homecoming dinner for 2,000 World War I veterans. At some point he anglicized his name to Hector Boyardee, and opened a restaurant in 1926, at Woodland Avenue and East 9th Street, in Cleveland Ohio.
Il Giardino d’Italia was both popular and influential in popularizing what we now think of as Italian food in America. As demand for his recipes grew, the Boyardee brothers opened a factory in Pennsylvania for their Bolognese-style dishes, which families could prepare at home. Spaghetti and meatballs soon became a national dish of America as well as Italy.
During World War II, the factory made rations for the U.S. Army, and returned to normal but increased production in peacetime, retaining all of its employees. But they had an added advantage: the vacuum-sealed can and the machinery necessary to make it, thanks to the War Department. And that is how just about every canned food you can think of came into being.
The company was eventually swallowed up by corporate giants, as family businesses usually are, but Chef Boyardee remained a figurehead well into the 1970s.
The fondest of my earliest memories concern eatable entities. From Play-Doh, which is rather bland but very salty, to Funny Face, a competitor of Kool-Aid that my mom would add to milk to trick me into drinking that calcium delivery device, I have vivid remembrances attached to many eating and drinking experiences.
My very oldest, dimmest memory is a view from my high chair, looking across some sort of food and out the kitchen to the front door some 40 feet away. It hovers in a corner of my mind; where it’s dark as nighttime and all the lights are off. There is a photo of me in that very seat on my 1st birthday. I assume the remembered event came a bit later.
When it comes to “real food,” there was my mother’s chili. Years later I sought out how she had made it, and was somewhat disappointed to learn it consisted of Campbell’s tomato soup with red beans, browned hamburger and about three pieces of raw onion per person. She didn’t even add the chili powder called for by the recipe on soup can.
Another favorite for me and my sister three years my junior was the macaroni and cheese made by our older sister when she would be babysitting us. Again, it proved a let down to learn it was simply boiled macaroni with a large brick of Velveeta melted throughout.
As my childhood comfort food pillars toppled one by one, only one has remained steadfast and forever satisfying. Chef Boyardee’s Beefaroni, part of this complete birthday feast.
Served in vintage Fiestaware!
2017’s Birthday Carbfest was just as grand.
As was 2019’s.
And 2022’s birthday provisions have been acquired. Bread, butter, and Beefaroni.
I have enjoyed Beefaroni on my birthday for years beyond count, rarely missing the opportunity, whether I have it for lunch, or supper, as we called dinner back in Ohio, or squeezing it in as a late night snack.
I do not now remember when Beefaroni entered my life. But I remember clearly splitting one 15 oz can with my little sister, on many occasions, after walking home from school for lunch. Now I often have two full cans just for me. But I cannot buy the large cans, as the consistency just isn’t the same. And even with the regular cans, I have to put a good dozen of them to my ear and give them a shake to find the two with the least amount of slosh. Otherwise the sauce is too soupy. OK, these days it is always too soupy. Sigh.
An Acquired Taste
A taste of the old country remains in Beefaroni, the humble tickler of the tongue’s carbs, fat, and protein sensors that remains every bit as yummy as it did when I was 8 years old.
I never liked canned pasta products, and still don’t with this one important exception. And when the ingredients consist of hamburger, macaroni and sauce, the sauce matters a great deal. It can be any brand, they all have this same fakey orange color and are far too sugary. While tis true Beefaroni has its share of sugar, or actually corn syrup these days, it has always stood apart, with a tomato sauce that actually tastes (a lot) like the genuine article.
I know some of my preference for Beefaroni is related to a pleasant sense memory from my boyhood. But it really is good. And it is not all that bad for you, with less sugar than many grocery store products that claim to be healthy.
Everyone has their favorite comfort foods from their childhood, and others have certain birthday foods of which they never grow tired. What are yours?
Here is a commercial I still remember clearly from long ago:
Amazing detail created out of Rubber for the D-Day Landings
Utah Beach down the individual house
On June 4th, 1944, the day before the original date set for D-Day, a 27 year-old U.S. naval officer stood before this Top Secret three-dimensional relief map and nervously briefed the top brass of the allied armies, on the upcoming seaboard assault at the Normandy coastal areas code named Utah. His audience included British Field Marshall Montgomery, commander of the entire sea and land assault (Operation Neptune), and American General General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander for the European Theater of Operations.
At that the time it was a brand new technology, created in secrecy and kept that way until after the war had ended. Made at Camp Bradford, Virginia, and completed less than three days before it was flown to England, it was derived from stereo photos taken from reconnaissance planes. The map then went aboard ship after that first briefing, where it was used to instruct of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division that would be making the assault.
That officer was Charles Lee Burwell. He held onto the map and in later years donated it to the Library of Congress. He is quoted as saying he felt it was an important technology, because the 3D aspect of the map allowed soldiers to better know where they were going and what they should expect to see there, in terms of buildings, trees, and hedgerows.
The map consists of two halves, each 4 feet square, made of rubber on top of foam. The numbers on the map correspond with other more traditional maps developed for the invasion. Up close, it reveals tide lines, slope of the beach, buildings beyond the beach, and the location of anti-landing craft hazards known as Czech hedgehogs. The depth of the water is represented by bathymetric tints and the color of the land was approximated from black white photos.
With Extreme Prejudice
This traditional map is code named Bigot, which was the highest level of secrecy possible. Many thousands of lives depended upon the success of the operation – millions in fact, if one considers those suffering and dying under Nazi occupation. Like the rubber map, this tactical map was created in two sections. This one shows the extreme left of the Utah Beach area, but it includes the actual invasion location.
This detail below shows photographic representations of the waterline view of the coast represented on the map. These photos would have been taken from midget submarines with a crew of two, and sometimes four men, at great risk to their lives. These British sailors were among the relatively unknown heroes of D-day.
A Wrong Turn with Destiny
The small inland hamlet of La Madeleine is pictured to the left of the Utah landing areas, code named Uncle Red and Tare Green (designated as Red Beach and Green Beach in the map above.) But the strong tidal currents forced the landing craft more and more eastward, so they actually landed at le Grande Dune on that fateful morning.
Although the First Wave arrived in the wrong place, their commanding officer, Deputy Division Commander, U.S. 4th Division, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., famously decided to start the war from there, and reinforcements were directed to land at his location. This inadvertently saved many lives, as first assault waves would have encountered greater and more deadly resistance had they landed where intended.
Not that they were not subjected to genuine peril. General Roosevelt was put in for the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry on D-Day. He lied about his poor health to insure he would be allowed to lead the First Wave, and then repeatedly led troop concentrations off the beach and toward their various objectives, while often under heavy fire from mortars and small arms. After he suffered a fatal heart attack in July, while still in the field, his decoration was upgraded, and he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously.
Here is an overlay I created, with a strategic map for the 8th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 4th Division, superimposed over the rubber map from 1944.
Time in BDST (British Double Summer Time) and relative to H-Hour
H – 05:42
Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division are dropped inland, around Sainte-Mère-Église. Drops continued 00:48 – 01:40.
H – 04:39
Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division are dropped inland, around Sainte-Mère-Église. Drops continued 01:51 – 02:42. These airborne drops were followed by glider landings with support troops and anti-tank guns.
H – 02:00
A raiding party armed only with knives swims ashore at Îles Saint-Marcouf, 6.5 kilometers off the coast, to silence the anticipated German observation post before it can raise an alarm over the approaching invasion fleet. However, it turned out to be unoccupied.
20 LCVPs, Higgins Boats or standard landing craft, each with a 30-man assault team from the 8th Infantry Regiment.
H + 00:02
32 LCVPs, each with a 30-man assault team. This included some combat engineers and eight naval demolition teams to clear away underwater obstacles.
H + 00:15
8 LCVPs, with tanks bearing bulldozer blades.
H + 00:17
Mostly detachments of the 237th and 299th Engineer Combat Battalions, to clear the obstacles between the low-water and high-water lines.
By early afternoon, elements of the 4th Infantry Division had moved inland and linked up with elements of the 101st Airborne Division. By the end of D-Day, 23,250 troops and 1,700 vehicles had been safely landed on Utah Beach. Casualties were relatively light on Utah Beach. However, this was due in part to the inland actions of the 13,000 Airborne troops who suffered heavy losses. The 101st Airborne Division lost about 40% of its forces on D-Day.
And here is a portion of the rubber map superimposed over a Google map of the same area. Note that just beyond the top of the rubber map is found the location of Brecourt Manner, where elements of the U.S. 101st Airborne destroyed a battery of four 105mm cannon that were firing on the troops at Utah Beach, as made famous in the 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. This shows just how accurate and detailed the rubber map is and how invaluable it must have been to the success of operations on and around Utah Beach on D-Day and afterwards.