Slideshow with Narration – Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944
Created for this solemn and historic occasion
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.
Thank you, I’m here all week … try the guacamole.
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…
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!”
Thank you. I’m here all season. Try the hotdogs.
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.
The above table was found at someone’s personal travel website, https://cromwell-intl.com/travel/france/normandy/utah-beach.html
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.
And that is one man’s word on…
The Amazing Rubber Map of Utah Beach
Aerial photos from that “day of days.”
Memorial Day 2021
Arlington National Cemetery is reserved for members of the armed forces, their families, and other special dignitaries
Lest We Forget
Memorial Day is set aside to commemorate all members of the armed forces who died in the service of their country. Many of those whose remains are interred at Arlington gave their lives in such a manner. Other war dead are buried in private cemeteries, and in military cemeteries around the globe, in the foreign lands and U.S. territories where they fell.
Others who lived beyond their time in the service may find a final resting place at Arlington as well. But the space is limited, so such an honor has required a particular application process since the 1990s.
In the darkest days of the American Civil War, the military cemetery near the nation’s capital was nearly full. The former estate of Robert E. Lee and the ancestral home of his wife Mary Custis was chosen as the first burial ground exclusively used for federal soldiers killed in battle during recent fighting.
This was done partly because the location on a hilltop in Virginia was visible from the Mall in Washington D.C. and partly to insure that the leader of the most high-profile army fighting in rebellion against the U.S.A. could never again live there. The officer in charge made sure to put burials as close to the Custis mansion as possible, including the grave of his own son.
Some twenty years after the war, the cemetery started to gain a special aura as a national shrine, as revered generals and other famous heroes of the conflict began to pass away. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was installed in 1921, and eventually remains from service personnel who perished in every major conflict going back to the American Revolution have been interred in grounds of the cemetery.
Among the few buried there who did not serve in the Armed Forces or were not one of their dependents is William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the only person to have held both offices.
A Day to Remember
Memorial Day has its roots in local commemorations for Civil War dead, often referred to as Decoration Day, when citizens would decorate local graves with spring flowers. After the First World War the idea was expanded to include graves from any conflict and ultimately included those who died while on duty, whether that was related to warfare or not. It was observed on a national level on May 30, beginning in 1868. It became a federal holiday in 1971, officially taking place on the last Monday in May.
Schoolchildren and other less-informed people often confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day. The latter was once called Armistice Day, and still is in other nations, as it was originally its own Memorial Day, honoring those who lost their lives in the First World War. In America, that practice was transferred to Memorial Day, and Veterans Day became a time to salute and pay homage to all who have put on the uniforms of the Armed Forces defending the United States from foreign foes.
Now that so many veterans of World War Two, Korea, and Viet Nam are passing away years after they left the service, the lines between the two days are beginning to blur. But officially, Memorial Day is for those who died while in the service of their country. Veterans Day is for those living or dead who did not give their lives for their country but still served their country with honor.
Here is a link to a PDF to the Arlington National Cemetery Burial Eligibility Act of 1998 that states the specifics of who is allowed to be considered for internment, as well as some historical perspective.
The Railroad that Helped make the USA One Place
One-hundred and fifty-two years ago today
The “Last Spike” connecting the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads took place on May 10, 1869. It took seven years from the time Congress approved the creation of a Transcontinental Railway in 1862. But it was being planned and discussed for decades beforehand.
Construction began in 1863, as the horrendous Civil War tearing the nation apart. But just as the war changed the USA from being a bunch of separate states into nation indivisible, the transcontinental railway unified the nation geographically. According to one university history site, before the railroad’s completion, it cost approximately $20,000 in 2021 money to travel from St. Louis to San Francisco by stagecoach. Afterwards the price was a fraction of that cost, and continued to drop as more rail lines were completed off of the original route.
Talk of such a project goes back at least to 1830, when the first steam engine locomotive arrived on this side of the Atlantic. In 1845, the adventurer and businessman Asa Whitney petitionedCongress to provide land grants necessary to create a railway across the northern swath of America, to Oregon Territory, where he had already made a fortune trading with the Far East. Evoking the spirit Lewis and Clark, Whitney commissioned this map to entice investment in his grand scheme.
Thirty years later, it was other entrepreneurs who realized this long outstanding dream. But there were many competing propositions as to where exactly the route should end up, as seen in this map from the early 1850s.
Underway at Last
Even after the two companies received the go-ahead, work was nearly completed and the eastern Union Pacific Railroad Company and the western Central Pacific Railroad Company still could not agree on where the their routes should meet. Maps from the time show all proposed routes running south of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Eventually the government under President Grant threatened to withhold further funding until the two companies came to terms as to exactly where they would join together to create the single route from east coast to west. And it ended up being Promontory Summit, Utah, north of the lake.
Despite the Central Pacific having to cut their way through the mountains, and the harsh working conditions of their laborers, including many Chinese immigrants, it was the Union Pacific that suffered the greatest loss of life. Many hundreds died on both sides, from accidents, exposure, disease, and attacks from Native American tribes, who couldn’t quell the tied of westward expansion that ultimately led to formation of the lower 48 states as we know them today.
Here is another map, from 1882, of a proposed southern route that didn’t end up being created as envisioned.
And that is one man’s word on…