Today I commemorate Veterans Day with a documentary made by a young man about the volunteer unit in the 101st Airborne in which his father served during the Viet Nam War.
It also features my cousin, who I have never actually met, as well as other members of the unit, and members of the North Vietnamese who fought them in a battle that changed them all forever.
It is more important than ever that the true and good reason we commemorate this day to all who have served and sacrificed in the combined armed forces, now that the USA has been continually at war for decades with no end in site.
While we dedicate this day to honor all veterans, the reason we do it on this specific day should never be taken for granted. The eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month was when the First World War came to its official close, back in 1918. Ninety-seven years ago today.
The end of a war should be commemorated, with giving thanks and celebration, both. Just as its beginning should never be forgotten, while we mourn all that was lost during the war.
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, as the United States has been at war longer than ever before in its history – even if most Americans hardly notice.
“On Armistice Day the philharmonic will play and the songs that they sing will be sad…”
The Great War of 1914-1918 remains unique in our collective history. Tactics developed during the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War met and were bested by modern weaponry capable of horrors never before visited upon mankind. The results exceed what civilized humans can imagine.
In one battle alone, on the River Somme, there were over one million casualties, with 310,486 killed outright and many more dying in the coming months as a result of their wounds. On a single day in 1916 the British army lost over 57,000 men in one engagement. Such numbers make the American losses on D-Day seem like footnotes. The losses of the French and Germans during the many battles around Verdun are beyond comprehension. And they kept at it; bravely charging into the of face death again and again.
On the whole, the world had never seen anything like it. Unfortunately we cannot say such things were never seen again.
Today the 11th November is referred to as Veterans Day and has been expanded to remember and honor all veterans who served their country ever since, in peacetime and in war. That is a good thing.
For some years, I would choose this day to open a cardboard box with some remnants of my grandfather’s time in the U.S. Navy.
There is a photo of a group of jovial sailors. The penciled script on the back says it is from 1912 and shows “a group of electricians on the Louisiana in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” My grandfather sits smiling among them, and that implies he was involved in at least one of the two actions against rebels in Cuba that year. He later took part in the invasion of Mexico when they occupied Vera Cruz and tried to capture Poncho Villa. His unit went ashore to lay telephone wire in support of the Marines, and did some demolition work.
Then came the Great War. By the time he went overseas he had joined to the 1st Aeronautics Corps, where he operated an in-flight observation camera and machine gun. He qualified as an observer in St. Rafael, France, but spent most of his fighting time based in Italy, first at Lake Bolsena, north of Rome, and then at a base on the western coast at Corsini. From there they attacked the Austrian Empire across the Adriatic sea.
Their aircraft were the large Macchi M8 bomber, a flying boat that took off from the water with a two-man gondola, landing with the help of pontoons sticking down from the lower wing.
An Italian Macchi M5 fighter with US Navy colors circa 1918
My childhood interest in my grandfather’s photos had to do with the planes and the war itself. I found it a thing of awe that they often were engaged in combat against the German Albatross D.III, the same lethal fighter plane piloted by the Red Baron when scoring 24 of his 80 aerial victories. Only in later years did I start to notice the people in the photographs and wonder who they were and what became of them.
There was this particular man who really stood out to me. Man? Many of them seem boys to me, as I look at the photos from the perspective of advancing age. They were much older when seen in my childhood.
He always appeared well-groomed and serious, more mature than the rest. He just looked like a confident leader and someone other people admired.
I kept one photo of this man, because it was the only shot that displayed the officer’s uniform from head to toe. One can see the high boots with those odd bands of tight cloth that go around the leg just below the knee, which was the style of the time. He looks out from the photo with a subtle smile like he is happy someone is snapping his photo.
I had the photos for some years when I began to read the backs, which usually just mentioned where they were taken and sometimes who was in them. But on the back of the photo of the cool looking officer is written in my grandfather’s flowing script, in pencil with that fancy capital F that people no longer use these days,
“Jimmie Goggins, Master Pilot. Bolsena, Italy. Burned to death in his battle plane at the Front, over the Adriatic Sea, September 1918.”
And just like the first time I read that, anyone who has looked through that box has had the same reaction, as our fascination with adventures and daring do in canvas covered biplanes changes to a contemplation of the lives lost in wars and the sorrows visited upon countless families as a result.
In the same box is a larger piece of thick construction paper. On it is a hand-colored drawing, showing patriotic symbols like an eagle, the American flag and a G.I. fighting man of the WWII era. These would have been handed out or sold to servicemen to send home. On the back there is a short note, also written in pencil.
It says, “Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, From a foxhole in France I wish you a very merry Xmas. Love, Walter.”
My mother had no idea who this would have been. She was 15 in 1944. Our only fighting serviceman during that war from my mother’s side was her brother-in-law. By that Christmas he had been on many harrowing missions in action over North Africa and the Mediterranean. He was part of the first American unit to bomb Europe and took part in the Berlin Airlift after the war. Later, he commanded a squadron of KC-135 Stratotankers under the Strategic Air Command. His son fought with the 101st Airborne in the jungles of Viet Nam. In 2017 an extraordinary documentary was made about his rifle platoon, Phantom Force Revisited.
My father was 16 in 1944. His youngest uncle was in the Submarine Service in the Pacific and told REALLY frightful stories at his brother’s funeral. My dad’s own service included air patrols as a navigator and radio man over the Arctic Circle during the 1950s. His colorblindness kept him from being a pilot. That’s him in the backseat of this F-89D Scorpion.
He designed the blue fox insignia used by his squadron. After six years he was discharged and went to law school thanks to the GI Bill. Some years later his favorite pilot went missing in action over North Viet Nam.
Every time I go through this box I think about that. And I wonder what happened to Walter, and to all the Jimmies and Walters.
And it reminds me that November 11th is about much more than discussing who got the day off and which of us had to go to work. It is about other folks, past and present who had to go do a job very different from any I have done. In the UK they call it Remembrance Day.
I like that, as there is much to remember.
My grandfather’s leather flying helmet, goggles, scarf, and identity bracelet.
This map helped win the War in the Pacific, 77 years ago today
(click to enlarge)
The February 1942 issue of National Geographic contained this map entitled the Pacific Theater of War.
It was published less than two months after the coordinated attacks launched by Japan across the Pacific and Western Asia on December 7 – 8, 1941, including the aerial bombardment of Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands.
It is not an exaggeration to say this map actually helped win the Second World War
On the 30th of September, 1942, a B-17 bomber of the United States Air Force left the island of New Caledonia, 912 miles east of Australia. It was heading to Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, some 830 miles over open seas. On board was Admiral Chester Nimitz, the overall commander of the American force that had been engaged in a ferocious battle on Guadalcanal for nearly two months against the Empire of Japan, which would continue until February of the following year.
Due to poor weather and insufficient navigational charts, the plane was in danger of running out of fuel before it found the way to its destination. But the Admiral’s aide, Commander Hal Lamar, happened to have the February issue of National Geographic in his gear. It contained the map displayed above, which the pilot was able to use to navigate successfully, arriving with a scant few gallons of fuel remaining.
The Admiral and his staff touched down in a driving rainstorm on Henderson Field, where he immediately performed an inspection of the front lines, at a time when it was seriously in doubt that the Americans could hold out against a foe that was determined to win at all costs.
Based on his firsthand assessment, Nimitz’ actions over the coming month included replacing high ranking officers involved in the battle, and proved decisive in the Allies’ first significant victory of their “island hopping” strategy in the Pacific Theater.
Without this map, Admiral Chester Nimitz and his staff could very well have ended up among the 78,700+ American service men and women listed as Missing in Action by the war’s end. And the Battle of Guadalcanal and the ensuing War in the Pacific might have gone very differently.
A wonderfully zoomable map made from the original 1942 map can be seen HERE.
Milton’s hand-annotated copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio found in Pennsylvania
Wishful thinking? Or the real deal?
As announced on 9 September in the blog for the Centre for Material Texts at Cambridge (England,) it has been discovered that the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s works housed at the Free Library of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) may have once belonged to John Milton, the other immortal lion of English literature, who was 7 years of age when the Bard of Avon died. If confirmed it is one of the greatest discoveries of its kind.
A paradise of Shakespearean scholarship lost but now found?
This classic British detective story begins with an article written by an American college professor, Claire M. L. Bourne, of Penn State University, which appears in the 2019 volume, Early Modern English Marginalia. CMT Director Jason Scott-Warren was impressed with Bourne’s analysis of “highly unusual” annotations left by a writer of exceptional learning who was obviously familiar with Shakespeare’s literary sources, as well as versions of his plays published individually before and just after his death in 1606. The physical evidence suggests the handwritten notes were added between 1625 and 1660.
But the evidence that made Scott-Warren guess the hand was the same that wrote Paradise Lost was purely palaeographical – it looked like Milton’s handwriting.
He goes on to provide photographic comparisons between writing in the Folio and writing in other books believed to have belonged to Milton.
Scott-Warren is quick to downplay his discovery as possible wishful thinking. But he adds postscripts saying he has received support by various scholars who are convinced he is correct. And he includes additional hi-res photography provided by Associate Professor Bourne in support of his hypothesis.
But I feel the contextual evidence is also compelling. Who other than Milton would have corrected the printer’s spelling of an obscure herb with the spelling found in Milton’s nephew’s book?
“If this book is what I think it is, it’s quite a big deal, …” Jason Scott-Warren allows himself to admit with typical English reserve, “… since Shakespeare was, as we know, a huge influence on Milton. The younger poet paid tribute to his forebear in an epitaph published in the Second Folio of 1632, in which he testified to the ‘wonder and astonishment’ that Shakespeare created in his readers.”
The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Book Department also owns copies of the Second, Third, and Fourth Folios, which were published in later years and include other plays attributed to Shakespeare, although all but one, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, have been disqualified by modern scholarship. The Second Folio even contains a poem now assigned to Milton. The Library’s folios are all in the original bindings and were donated in the 1940s by a philanthropic family who had made similar lavish donations to that same institution since the late 1800s.
Mankind was fortunate that Shakespeare’s fellow actors collected and published the plays of the First Folio seventeen years after his death, as eighteen of these important works might otherwise have been lost to history.
It is also interesting how many of these plays were published previously in smaller volumes, called quartos because the sheets of paper are printed with four pages on each side before being cut to fit into the binding. Some quartos are considered legitimate, and some are counterfeits put out at a time when the playwright’s work was considered exclusive property that one must pay to see performed.
And Milton, if he is the annotator in question, was familiar with some of these texts and includes references or entire passages not printed in the First Folio. Whoever they were, they knew their Shakespeare cold.
After the blog post appeared, many other scholars have come forward in support of this new discovery. From the Guardian:
“Not only does this hand look like Milton’s, but it behaves like Milton’s writing elsewhere does, doing exactly the things Milton does when he annotates books, and using exactly the same marks,” said Dr Will Poole at New College Oxford. “Shakespeare is our most famous writer, and the poet John Milton was his most famous younger contemporary. It was, until a few days ago, simply too much to hope that Milton’s own copy of Shakespeare might have survived — and yet the evidence here so far is persuasive. This may be one of the most important literary discoveries of modern times.”
And that is pretty darn cool.
Read Jason Scott-Warren’s revelatory blog post HERE
American Experience: Woodstock – Three Days That Defined a Generation on PBS
This is an excellent documentary
Last night I watched this documentary on the Apple TV PBS app, which has a lot of free things to watch, as well as many more things to watch if you are a PBS Passport member.
It is being aired on Sunday, August 17 at 3PM on my local PBS station in New York City. Check your own local listings!
This is particularly good for people who do not know that much about the Woodstock music festival, but it is also good for people who think they know a lot about the event.
It makes a wonderful 90 minute primer for anyone who wants to go on to watch thing Oscar-winning documentary from 1970 that focused on the musical performances. This American Experience episode focuses more on how the festival came to be, the many obstacles facing the organizers, the many issues faced by all concerned throughout the event, and many first hand accounts with much previously unseen footage of the people who met as a temporary city, “half a million strong,” and left part of a world that would never be the same.
Given the horrifying trends of selfishness, bigotry, and greed plaguing America today, from the highest office in the land down to its smallest communities, it is refreshing to be reminded that the enlightened spirit love and peace that burst upon our collective society fifty years ago this weekend still lives in many hearts across the land, even if they are currently being shouted down and drowned out by the forces of hatred and violence.
I had tears in my eye at the end of the program, for what once was, and what may yet be, and so much that has been wasted on the way.
And yet how soon we forgot the significance of the Moonwalker
In the late 1990s I was directing a play in New York City with a cast of some six or eight actors, all in their twenties. The action was set across the 1960s and beyond. And part of the plot included a young co-ed having an affair with one of her professors.
I had remarked to the cast that there had come a time when I vowed to myself that I would never date a girl who was born after the Moonwalk.
One of the cast members immediately responded, “Oh I remember that! My mom got me out of bed to watch it.” And a general murmur went around in agreement of the shared experience.
She was referring to Michael Jackson’s backwards stroll in 1983, on some Motown anniversary TV show. And it turned out every actor in the room was thinking of the same performance.
It did not occur to one person that I was referring to what is arguably the most significant achievement in the history of human endeavor since the invention of writing or arithmetic.
And not one of them was aware that Michael Jackson didn’t invent the shuffling dance steps with which he is now and forever associated. Similar versions of it had been captured on film or video from Cab Calloway in the 1930s to James Brown in the 1980s. Names they had heard of but really had no idea who they might refer to.
Even the name “moonwalk” for such a dance move appears to have originated in a 1969 episode of Sid and Marty Kroffts’ Saturday morning children’s TV show H. R. Pufnstuf.
I am glad the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 has brought attention to the magnificent achievement of all involved, and reminded or enlightened people today of the astounding limitations of science and engineering at the time it all took place. But I perceive how it matters much more to those who were alive when it happened than those who were not.
But that is just the way it goes, in this nation at least.
I also remember directing a different play with a different cast, and having to explain significant historical events relating to the Civil Rights Movement to a group of African-American actors who had no idea who Medgar Evers was or even Malcolm X, although these college-educated young adults had heard the name. Dr. King of course they knew, but not with much intimacy.
But then, I had always been saddened and appalled by how ignorant many American actors are about history, even the immediate history of their own era. And they tend to need to know about history for professional reasons more than most other Americans.
It has since become obvious that many Americans are just as appallingly ignorant of history, geography, and so on, and probably more so. Even worse, the complete lack of critical thinking that once upon a time had to be mastered to get anywhere near a Master’s degree, seems to have been purposely removed from university requirements.
How can we expect our citizens to make informed decisions if they are so uninformed, or do not understand the important differences between decisions based upon knowledge acquired through verifiable and empirical evidence, and believing whatever sounds good to one’s prejudiced desires?
How can we expect our citizens to recognize the warning signs of Fascism if they do not even remember what it was, or even understand what the word actually means?
(Fascism has no inherent connection to things like White Supremacy, Racism, or Antisemitism, even if it appeals to many of their practitioners.
According to Giovanni Gentile, the philosophical father of modern Fascism, it is defined as the marriage of corporate and government power, where the industrial corporations have the power to regulate themselves and the rights and wages of their workers, with the government enforcing and protecting corporate power, and profiting from placing the needs of the corporations above all other things.
In practice, this was achieved by replacing the power of democratic majority rule with a political ruling class who do not have to obey laws in the same way as the basic citizen. Sound familiar?)
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈmuːnˌwɔːkə/, U.S. /ˈmunˌwɔkər/, /ˈmunˌwɑkər/
Origin: Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: moon n.1, walker n.1
Etymology: < moon n.1 + walker n.1 In sense 1 after moonwalking n. In senses 2 and 3 after moonwalk n.
A sleepwalker. rare—0.
1950 Webster’s New Internat. Dict. Add. Moonwalking, sleepwalking outdoors in bright moonlight.—Moonwalker.
A person who walks on the moon; an astronaut.
1969 Times 3 June (Suppl.) p. iii/1 The two moon-walkers will be in the lunar module’s upper, or ascent stage.
1994 Guardian 1 July ii. 28/1 If..lunar voyages had become commonplace, the moonwalkers themselves would seem no more exotic now to the rest of us than Concorde pilots.
2007 G. Heiken & E. Jones On Moon 456 All of the moonwalkers adapted to lunar gravity quickly and easily.
A person who performs the moonwalk (see moonwalk n. 2).
1986 Chicago Tribune(Nexis) 23 Feb. vii. 6/1 Singer Michael Jackson and his brothers backed into a neighborhood moonwalker in the 1984 Pepsi commercials.
1988 M. Jackson(title of film) Moonwalker.
1993 Sports Illustr.(Electronic ed.) 27 Sept. Then he tosses an 18-yarder to Michael Jackson—the wideout, not the moonwalker.
1999 Herald (Glasgow)(Electronic ed.) 25 Nov. It will not be the first time the dancing moonwalker has appeared in front of the cameras. Jackson gave film a go in 1978 when he appeared as a scarecrow in The Wiz.
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 any other one place 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 circa 1910, who spread the spread among the common people, as it were, so that its popularity soared.
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 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.
A special birthday edition features an animated map that explores the entire history of Rome, from its earliest days as a kingdom, through the massive expansion during the Roman Republic, and on through Roman Empire, which split in two for its final tumultuous years.
Please expect to want to hit Pause and stop to look at certain moments of the timeline in detail!
I never grow tired of history or maps, and love it when they come together so very well.
The entire bunch were born in but 21 of our 50 States
Fun Facts from the Washington Post
* Ohio is the birthplace of seven presidents, second only to Virginia’s eight. But, Ohio hasn’t elected a president since Warren Harding in 1920. And Harding didn’t even last a full term, dying in 1923. (Random Warren Harding factoid: His size 14 shoes were the largest of any president.)
* Texas’ two native-born presidents may not be who you think they are. Neither George H.W. Bush (Massachusetts) nor George W. Bush (Connecticut) were born in the Lone Star State. The two? Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower. (Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas.)
* Vermont is the smallest state with the biggest presidential punch as the birthplace of both Chester Arthur and Calvin Coolidge.
* California has produced only a single president — and it was Republican Richard Nixon.