December 7, 1941 USS Oklahoma

14 Marines and 415 sailors aboard Oklahoma lost their lives immediately, or in the days and weeks to come. Bulkhead markings would later reveal that, at least some of the doomed would live for another seventeen days in the black, upside-down hell. The last mark was drawn by the last survivor, on Christmas Eve.


It was literally “out of the blue” when the first wave of enemy aircraft arrived at 7:48 am local time, December 7, 1941. 353 Imperial Japanese warplanes approached in two waves out of the southeast, fighters, bombers, and torpedo aircraft.  Across Hickam Field and over the still waters of Pearl Harbor. Tied in place and immobile, the eight vessels moored at “Battleship Row” were easy targets.

In the center of the Japanese flight path, sailors and Marines aboard the USS Oklahoma fought back furiously. She didn’t have a chance. Holes as wide as 40-feet were torn into her side in the first ten minutes of the assault. Eight torpedoes smashed into her port side, each striking higher on the hull as the great Battleship began to roll.

_oahu

Bilge inspection plates had been removed for a scheduled inspection the following day, making counter-flooding to prevent capsize, impossible. The ninth torpedo slammed home even as Oklahoma rolled over, and died. Hundreds scrambled out across the rolling hull, jumped overboard into the oil covered, flaming waters of the harbor, or crawled out over mooring lines in the attempt to reach USS Maryland, tied in the next berth.

The damage was catastrophic. Once the pride of the Pacific fleet, all eight battleships were damaged. Four of them sunk. Nine cruisers, destroyers and other craft were damaged, another two sunk. 347 aircraft were damaged, most caught while still on the ground. 159 of those, were destroyed. 2,403 were dead or destined to die from the attack, another 1,178 wounded.

Nine Japanese torpedoes struck USS Oklahoma’s port side, in the first ten minutes.

HT John F DeVirgilio for this graphic
The last moments of USS Oklahoma.  H/T John F DeVirgilio for this graphic

Frantic around the clock rescue efforts began almost immediately, to get at 461 sailors and Marines trapped within the hull of the Oklahoma. Tapping could be heard as holes were drilled to get at those trapped inside. Thirty-two were delivered from certain death.

14 Marines and 415 sailors aboard Oklahoma lost their lives immediately, or in the days and weeks to come. Bulkhead markings would later reveal that, at least some of the doomed would live for another seventeen days in the black, upside-down hell. The last mark was drawn by the last survivor, on Christmas Eve.

Of sixteen ships lost or damaged, thirteen were destined to be repaired, and returned to service. USS Arizona remains on the bottom to this day, a monument to the event and to the 1,102-honored dead who remain entombed within her hull. USS Utah defied salvage efforts. She too is a registered War Grave, 64 honored dead remaining within her hull, lying at the bottom not far from the Arizona.

Of necessity, such repairs were prioritized. For the time being, USS Oklahoma was beyond help. She, and her dead, would have to wait.

Oklahoma Diver

Recovery of the USS Oklahoma was the most complex salvage operation ever attempted, beginning in March, 1943.  With the weight of her hull driving Oklahoma’s superstructure into bottom, salvage divers descended daily to separate the tower, while creating hardpoints from which to attach righting cables.

The work was hellishly dangerous down there in the mud and the oil at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.  Several divers lost their lives and yet, another day would come and each would descend yet again, into that black water.

21 giant A-frames were fixed to the hull of USS Oklahoma, 3-inch cables connecting compound pulleys to 21 electric motors, each capable of pulling 429 tons.

Two pull configurations were used over 74 days, first attached to these massive A-frames, then direct connections once the hull had achieved 70°. In May 1943, her decks once again saw the light of day, for the first time in over two years.

rightng-strategy
USS Oklahoma, righting strategy

Fully righted, the ship was still ten-feet below water. Massive temporary wood and concrete structures called “cofferdams” closed cavernous holes left by torpedoes, so the hull could be pumped out and re-floated. A problem even larger than those torpedo holes were the gaps between hull plates, caused by the initial capsize and righting operations. Divers stuffed kapok into gaps as water was pumped out.

Individual divers spent 2-3 years on the Oklahoma salvage job. Underwater arc welding and hydraulic jet techniques were developed during this period, which remain in use to this day. 1,848 dives were performed for a total of 10,279 man hours under pressure.

9781591147244

CDR Edward Charles Raymer, US Navy Retired, was one of those divers. Raymer tells the story of those men in Descent into Darkness: Pearl Harbor, 1941 – A Navy Diver’s Memoir, if you’re interested in further reading.  Most of those men are gone now, including Raymer himself.  They have earned the right to be remembered.

Ken Hartle died in January 2017 in an Escondido, California Alzheimer’s and dementia center. He was 103, possibly the oldest of those divers. Before the age of SCUBA, Hartle and his fellow divers worked in heavy canvas suits and brass helmets weighing together, over 200 pounds. He regularly risked death, towing away unexploded bombs and torpedoes. He suffered the bends and nearly lost his life one day, when an anchor chain exploded into flying shards of metal. The part he’d never talk about even after all those years, was the hardest part. ‘Bringing up our boys’.

Salvage workers entered the pressurized hull through airlocks wearing masks and protective suits. Bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition by this time and the oil and chemical-soaked interior was toxic to life. Most victims would never be identified.

Divers standing in front of a decompression chamber, while they were working to salvage ships sunk in the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. Note warrant officer standing at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Twenty 10,000 gallon per minute pumps operated for 11 hours straight, re-floating the battleship on November 3, 1943.

Oklahoma entered dry dock the following month, a total loss to the American war effort. She was stripped of guns and superstructure, sold for scrap on December 5, 1946 to the Moore Drydock Company of Oakland, California.

The battered hulk left Pearl Harbor for the last time in May 1947, destined for the indignity of a scrapyard in San Francisco bay. She would never make it.

Taken under tow by the ocean-going tugs Hercules and Monarch, the three vessels entered a storm, 540 miles east of Hawaii. On May 17, disaster struck. Piercing the darkness, Hercules’ spotlight revealed the former battleship to be listing, heavily. Naval base at Pearl Harbor instructed them to turn around, when these two giant tugs suddenly found themselves slowing, to a stop. Despite her massive engines, Hercules began to move backward. She was being dragged astern with no warning, hurtling past Monarch, herself swamped at the stern and being dragged backward at 17 mph.

the-tug-boat-hercules-william-havle
Ocean-going tug Hercules, photograph by William Havle

Fortunately for both tugs, skippers Kelly Sprague of Hercules and George Anderson of Monarch had both loosened the cable drums connecting 1,400-foot tow lines, to Oklahoma. Monarch’s line played out and detached. Hercules’ line didn’t do so until the last possible moment. With tow line straight down and sinking fast, Hercules’ cable drum exploded in a shower of sparks directly over Oklahoma’s final resting place, the 409-ton tug bobbing to the surface like the float on a child’s fishing line.

Postcard image of USS Oklahoma (BB-37) from the service of AMM2c Durrell Wade“. H/T nationalww2museum.org

“Okie” was stabbed in the back, attacked and mortally wounded even before she knew she was at war.  The causes leading to her final descent, remain uncertain.  Most will tell you, her plates couldn’t hold.  The beating of six years earlier, was just too much.   Those who served on her decks, might tell you differently. Maybe she just preferred, to die at sea.

Afterward

Jesus Garcia of Guam died at age 21 on December 7, 1941, a sailor serving aboard the USS Oklahoma. William Eugene Blanchard of Tignall Georgia, was 24.

In 1947, “Okie’s” honored dead were disinterred. Dental records and dog tags were used to identify thirty-five. The other 391 including Blanchard and Garcia were reburied in 61 caskets, in Hawaii’s National Military Cemetery of the Pacific. Their names were known, only to God.

Nearly sixty years later, scientific advances in DNA analysis made further identifications, possible. Veteran Ray Emory was serving aboard the USS Honolulu on that day in 1941 and persuaded the D.o.D., to make the attempt.

Exhumations began in 2015. Mitochondrial DNA was enough for many identifications, but not all. Mitochondrial DNA comes from the maternal side. Shared ancestral lines means that sometimes, that’s not enough. One DNA sequence matched 25 victims.

Further DNA was collected from paternal lines, combining with the mitochondrial to identify many of Oklahoma’s dead. William Blanchard was laid to rest with full military honors on June 7, 2021 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

As I write this it is December 7, 2021. 80 years after the fact some ninety percent of those who gave their lives on board USS Oklahoma once again, have their names.

Jesus Garcia went to his final rest in San Diego on October 6, 2021. Gilbert Nadeau, 95, was the only WW2 veteran able to attend.

December 6, 1240 Mongol

The Celtic warrior Calgacus once said of the Roman conquests, “They make a desert, and they call it peace”. Likewise could be said of the Mongol Empire. A time when “A maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.” A time of peace for those who would submit, and pay tribute. 

The Eurasian Steppe is a vast region of grasslands and savannas, extending thousands of miles east from the mouth of the Danube, nearly to the Pacific Ocean. There is no clearly defined southern boundary, as the land becomes increasingly dry as you move south. To the north are the impenetrable forests of Russia and Siberia.

The 12th century steppe was a land of inter-tribal rivalry, immersed in a poverty so profound that many inhabitants went about clad in the skins of field mice. Ongoing acts of warfare and revenge were carried out between a kaleidoscope of ever-changing tribal confederations, compounded and egged on by the interference of foreign powers such as the Chinese dynasties of the Song and the Jurchen, to the south.

Mongol Golden Horde

Into this land was born the son of the Mongol chieftain Yesügei, born with a blood clot grasped in his fist. It was a sign, they said, that this child was destined to become a great leader. By 1197, the boy would unite the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia into the largest contiguous empire in history, extending from Korea in the east, through Baghdad and Syria all the way into eastern Europe.  One-fifth of the inhabited land area, of the entire planet.

His name was Temujin. He is known to history as the Great Leader of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan.

NatGeo Cover, Afghan girl

The Steppes have long been a genetic crossroad, the physical features of its inhabitants as diverse as any in the world. The word “Rus”, from which we get Russia, was the name given to Viking invaders from earlier centuries. History fails to record what Genghis himself looked like, though he’s often depicted with Asian features.  There is evidence suggesting he had red hair and green eyes. Think of that beautiful young Afghan girl, the one with those killer eyes on that National Geographic cover, a few years back.

The Mongols called themselves “Tata”, while others called them after the people of Tartarus, the Hell of Roman mythology. They were “Tatars” to the people they terrorized: “Demons from Hell”.

tumblr_inline_njkn8eqTh61rea0r5

The two most prominent weapons in the Mongol arsenal can be found in the words, “Horse Archer”.  Imagine an army of circus riders, equipped with composite bows and a minimum of 60 arrows apiece, every man capable of hitting a bird in flight. Stirrups allowed the rider to fire in any direction, including to the rear. Each rider has have no fewer than 3-4 small, fast horses, and is able to transfer mounts in mid-gallop in order to keep his mounts, fresh. 

While medieval armies encumbered with long baggage trains sometimes averaged only single digits and rarely exceeded twelve miles at a time, Mongol riders could cover 100 miles and more, in a day.  Vast hordes of these people could appear outside of city gates often, even before news of their presence.

Horse Archer

The bow, a laminated composite of wood, horn and sinew, combined the compression of the interior horn lamina with the stretching of animal sinews, glued to the exterior.  The weapon was capable of aimed shots at five times the length of an American football field.  High, arching ballistic shots into large groups were common as far as 2½ times that distance. The average draw weight of a first-class English longbow is 70-80 pounds.  The Mongol composite bow ranged from 100 to 160 lbs, depending upon the physical strength of its user.

Following the death of Genghis’ eldest son Jochi, who pre-deceased his father, the Great Khan installed his grandson Batu as Khan (Chief of State) of the Kipchak Khanate to the north. In 1235, the Great Khan Ögedei, who had succeeded his father on Genghis’ death in 1229, ordered his nephew Batu and an army of 130,000 of these circus riders to conquer Europe, beginning with the Rus.

Mongol Invasion of the Rus

13th century Russia was more a collection of principalities than a single nation. One by one these city-states fell to the army of Batu, known as the “Golden Horde”. Ryazan, Kolomna and Moscow. Vladimir, Rostov, Uglich, Yaroslavl, and a dozen others. Some of the names are familiar today, others were extinguished for all time. All fell to the Golden Horde.  Smolensk alone escaped, having agreed to submit and pay tribute. The city of Kitezh, as the story goes, submerged itself into a lake with all its inhabitants, at the approach of the Horde.  On this day, December 6, 1240, Mongols under Batu Khan occupied & destroyed Kiev in modern Ukraine, following several days’ struggle.

By the end of 1241, Mongol armies crushed opposing forces from the Plains of Hungary, to Eastern Persia, to the outskirts of Austria. That December, plans were being laid for the invasion of Germany, Austria and Italy, when news arrived informing the Mongol host of the death of the Great Khan, Ögödei.  Batu wanted to continue, but the Law of Yassa required all Princes of the Blood to return to Karakorum and the Kurultai, the meeting of Mongol Chieftains.

The Abbasid Caliphate of Islam, descended from the uncle of Muhammad Al-Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib and established in 750, was the third Islamic Caliphate since the time of Muhammad. Centered in Baghdad, the Abbasid Caliphate became a center of science, culture, philosophy and invention, in what has come to be known as the Golden Age of Islam.

Since 1241, the Abbassids paid tribute to the Khanate in the form of gold, military support, and, according to rumors, Christian captives of the Crusades. That all came to a halt in 1258, when Caliph Al-Musta’sim refused to continue the practice. The Abbassid Caliphate ceased to exist on February 10, following a twelve-day siege by the Mongol army of Hulagu Khan, brother of the Khagan (great kahn) Möngke.

591db11cb4831eaddd0ec6b0858997b1--baghdad-islam

The Mongols first looted and then destroyed mosques, palaces and hospitals.  The “House of Wisdom”, the grand library of Baghdad, compiled over generations and  comparable in size and scope to the modern-day Library of Congress, the British Library in London or the Nationale Bibliotheque in Paris, was utterly destroyed.  Survivors said the muddy waters of the Tigris ran black with the ink of all those books, and red from the blood of the slain.

Estimates of the number killed in the fall of Baghdad range from 90,000 to an eye-popping one million.  Hulagu needed to move his camp to get upwind, so overwhelming was the stench of the dead.

Believing the earth to be offended by the spilling of royal blood, Mongols rolled Caliph Al-Musta’sim himself up in a carpet and trampled him to death, with their horses.

In 1281, a massive Mongol fleet of some 4,000 ships and 140,000 men set out under Kublai Khan, to invade Japan. This was the second such attempt, the largest naval invasion in history and not to be eclipsed until the 20th century D-Day invasion, of Normandy. As with the previous attempt, a great typhoon came up and destroyed the Mongol fleet. As many as 70,000 men were captured.  The Mongols never again attempted the invasion of Japan. To this day, we know this “Divine Wind”, as “Kamikaze”.

Tamerlane
Tamerlane

Berke, grandson of Ghenghis and brother of Batu, converted to Islam, creating a permanent division among the descendants of the Great Khan.

Timur-i-leng, “Timur the Lame”, or “Tamerlane”, professed to be a good Muslim, but had no qualms about destroying the capitals of Islamic learning of his day.  Damascus, Khiva, Baghdad and more he destroyed.  Many, have never entirely recovered.  Best known for pyramids of skulls left behind, as many as 19 million fell to the murderous regime, of Tamerlane.

The violence of the age was so vast and horrific it’s hard to get your head around. World War 2, the deadliest conflict in human history, was a time of industrialized mass slaughter.  From the battlefields to the death camps, WWII ended the lives of 40 to 72 million souls, killed in a few short years.  Roughly 3% of the inhabitants of earth.  By comparison, the Mongol conquests killed 30 million over 162 years, mostly one-by-one with edged or pointed weapons. When it was over, 17% of the entire world’s population, had vanished.

The Celtic warrior Calgacus once said of the Roman conquests, “They make a desert, and they call it peace”. Likewise could be said of the Mongol Empire. A time when “A maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.” A time of peace for those who would submit, and pay tribute. 

Catalan-Atlas-depicting-Marco-Polo-traveling-to-the-East-during-the-Pax-Mongolica
The Catalan Atlas depicts Marco Polo traveling to the East during the ‘Pax Mongolica’.

This “Pax Mongolica” lasted through the reign of the Great Khan and his several successors, making way for the travels of Marco Polo. The 4,000-mile “Spice Roads”, the overland trade routes between Europe and China, flourished under Mongol control throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.

In the 14th century, the “Black Death” began to change the balance of power on the Eurasian steppe. 100 years later, the fall of Byzantium and marauding bands of Muslim brigands were making the east-west overland trade routes increasingly dangerous. In 1492, the Spanish Crown hired an Italian explorer to find a water route to the east.

Black Death

Mongols ruled over parts of Russia until the time of Ivan IV “Grozny” (The Terrible), but never regained the high ground of December 1241 as chieftains fell to squabbling, over bloodlines.

And yet, the Mongols never went away. Not entirely. Modern DNA testing reveals up to 8 percent of certain populations across the Asian subcontinent, about one-half of one per cent of the world’s population at this time, to descend directly from that baby with the blood clot, grasped in his tiny little fist.  Genghis Khan.

December 1, 2013 The First Full Day of Forever

Something sacred and wonderful happened back in 2013, and few of us heard about it, at the time.

November 11, nineteen short days ago, marked the end of World War One. Before they had numbers. “The Great War”. The “War to end all Wars”. There is barely a piece of 20th century history, you cannot trace back to that conflict.

International Communism was borne of the Great War, without which there would be no cold war, no Korean War, no war in Vietnam. The killing fields of Cambodia would remain in this alternative universe, mere fields. The spiritual descendants of Chiang Kai-shek’s brand of capitalism would today run all of China, and not some communist cabal.

In Flanders Fields

The modern boundaries of the Middle East arose from the Great War. While the region’s tribal alliances and religious strife are nothing new those conditions would exist in a very different form, if not for those boundaries.

World War II, a conflagration which left more dead, wounded or missing than any conflict in human history (WWI ranks only number 5), was little more than the Great War, part II. A Marshall of France, on looking at the Versailles Treaty formally ending WWI, said “This isn’t peace. This is a cease-fire that will last for 20 years”.

He was off, by something like 36 days.

It’s hard to know how any of us can be participating citizens of a self-governing Republic, how we can know where we want the country to go, if we don’t understand where it’s been. It’s a principle reason to study, history. It’s why I believe something wonderful happened back in 2013, and few of us heard about it.

In the summer of 2013, over 1,000 British and Belgian schoolchildren visited seventy battlefields of the Great War. Ypres. Passchendaele. Verdun. The Somme. All over Northern France and Belgium, the region known as “Flanders”. There those children collected samples of the sacred soil from those fields of conflict.

_77985394_020167620-1

The soil was placed in WWI-style burlap sandbags, each stenciled with a red poppy, where it came from, and the dates. 70 sandbags were transported to London and brought to Wellington Barracks, the central London home to some of the most elite regiments in the British military, regiments dating back to the time of the English Civil Wars who gave so many of their own, to the soil of Flanders Fields.

There at Wellington Barracks next to Buckingham Palace a garden was being built. The soil of the Great War would nourish and support that garden, planted to be made ready for the following year, and the solemn 100-years’ remembrance of the War to end all Wars.

_71447576_soil4_getty

That day, December 1, 2013, was for the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden, the first full day of forever.

I cannot think of anything more fitting than that it was children, our own future and posterity, who retrieved the sacred soil of Flanders and brought it to that garden.

It is now for that posterity to keep our shared history alive, and never let it fade into some sepia-toned remnant of a forgotten past.

November 23, 1932 Holodomor

At the height of the famine, Ukrainians starved to death at a rate of 22,000 per day. Almost a third of those were children ten and under.  How many died in total, is anyone’s guess.  Estimates range from two million Ukrainian citizens murdered through deliberate starvation by their own government, to well over ten million.

In 1928, Josef Stalin introduced a program of agricultural collectivization in Ukraine, the “Bread Basket” of the Soviet Union, forcing family farmers off their land and into state-owned collective farms.

Ukrainian “kulaks”, peasant farmers successful enough to hire labor or own farm machinery, refused to join the collectives, regarding them as a return to the serfdom of earlier centuries. Stalin claimed that these factory collectives would not only feed industrial workers in the cities, but would also provide a surplus to be sold abroad, raising money to further his industrialization plans.

Armed dekulakization brigades confiscated land, livestock and other property by force, evicting entire families. Nearly half a million individuals were dragged from their homes in 1930-’31, packed into freight trains and shipped off to remote areas like Siberia and often left without food or shelter. Many of them, especially children, died in transit or soon after arrival.

Holodomor_Novo-Krasne_Odessa_11_1932

Resistance continued, which the Soviet government could not abide. Ukraine’s production quotas were sharply increased in 1932-’33, making it impossible for farmers to meet assignments and feed themselves, at the same time. Starvation became widespread, as the Soviet government decreed that any person, even a child, would be arrested for taking as little as a few stalks of wheat from the fields in which they worked.

Military blockades were erected around villages preventing the transportation of food, while brigades of young activists from other regions were brought in to sweep through villages and confiscate hidden grain.

muss_russland_hungern_15

Eventually all food was confiscated from farmers’ homes, as Stalin determined to “teach a lesson through famine” to the Ukrainian rural population.

At the height of the famine, Ukrainians starved to death at a rate of 22,000 per day. Almost a third of those were children ten and under.  How many died in total, is anyone’s guess.  Estimates range from two million Ukrainian citizens murdered through deliberate starvation by their own government, to well over ten million.

Millions of tons of grain were exported during this time, more than enough to save every man, woman and child.

holodomor-3

2,500 people were arrested and convicted, for eating the flesh of their neighbors. The problem was so widespread the Soviet government put up signs reminding survivors: “To eat your own children is a barbarian act.”

Stalin denied to the world that there was any famine in Ukraine, a position supported by the likes of Louis Fischer reporting for “The Nation”, and Walter Duranty of the New York Times. Duranty went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for such “coverage”, with comments like “any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda”.  Such stories were “mostly bunk,” according to the Times.  Duranty even commented, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

To this day, the New York Times has failed to repudiate Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer.

Like many on the international Left, Canadian journalist Rhea Clyman had great expectations of the “worker’s paradise” built by the Communist state where no one was unemployed, everyone was “equal”, and Everyman had what he needed. Unlike most, Clyman went to the Soviet Union, to see for herself.

Holodomor-Boys

To do so at all was an act of courage: a single Jewish woman who’d lost part of a leg in a childhood streetcar accident, traveling to a place where the Russian empire and its successor state had a long and wretched history, when it came to the treatment of its own Jews.

Virtually all of the international press preferred the comfortable confines of Moscow, cosseted in the heart of the Soviet propaganda machine and ignorant of the world as it really was.

In four years, Clyman not only learned the language, but set out on a 5,000-mile odyssey to discover the Soviet countryside. Duranty’s idea of “good-bye” was the cynical offer to write her obituary.

It is through this “Special Correspondent in Russia of The Toronto Evening Telegram, London Daily Express, and Other Newspapers“, that we know much about the government’s extermination of its own citizens, in Ukraine.

To read what she wrote about abandoned villages, is haunting.  And then the moment of discovery:

“They wanted something of me, but I could not make out what it was. At last someone went off for a little crippled lad of fourteen, and when he came hobbling up, the mystery was explained. This was the Village of Isoomka, the lad told me. I was from Moscow, yes; we were a delegation studying conditions in the Ukraine, yes. Well, they wanted me to take a petition back to the Kremlin, from this village and the one I had just been in. “Tell the Kremlin we are starving; we have no bread!”

18telegram

A tall, bearded peasant was spokesman. His two sons and the rest of the men and women nodded approval at every word. The little crippled boy stood with his right hand on his crutch, translating everything he said into Russian for me, word by word.

“We are good, hard-working peasants, loyal Soviet citizens, but the village Soviet has taken our land from us. We are in the collective farm, but we do not get any grain. Everything, land, cows and horses, have been taken from us, and we have nothing to eat. Our children were eating grass in the spring….”

I must have looked unbelieving at this, for a tall, gaunt woman started to take the children’s clothes off. She undressed them one by one, prodded their sagging bellies, pointed to their spindly legs, ran her hand up and down their tortured, mis-shapen, twisted little bodies to make me understand that this was real famine. I shut my eyes, I could not bear to look at all this horror. “Yes,” the woman insisted, and the boy repeated, “they were down on all fours like animals, eating grass. There was nothing else for them.”

“What have you to eat now?” I asked them, still keeping my eyes averted from those tortured bodies. “Are all the villages round here the same? Who gets the grain?”” – Rhea Clyman, Toronto Telegram, 16 May 1933

22,000 of these poor people were starving to death every day, and they still thought the Kremlin was going to help them.

Today, the province of Alberta is home to about 300,000 Canadians of Ukrainian Heritage. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley once explained “Holodomor is a combination of two Ukrainian words: Holod, meaning hunger, and moryty, meaning a slow, cruel death. That is exactly what Ukrainians suffered during this deliberate starvation of an entire people“.

holodomor (1)
The Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933 was opened in Washington, D.C. on November 7, 2015

Ukrainians around the world recognize November 23 as Holodomor Memorial Day, commemorated by a simple statue in Kiev.  A barefoot little girl, gaunt and hollow eyed, clutches a few stalks of wheat.

Here in the United States, you could line up 100 randomly selected individuals.  I don’t believe that five could tell you what Holodomor means.   We are a self-governing Republic.  All 100 should be conversant with the term.

holodomor_memorial__kiev__ukraine_by_kaitou_ace-d4ia95f

November 19, 1864 The Man who Shot the Man who Shot, Abraham Lincoln

Erethism mercurialis or “Mad hatter’s Disease” goes a long way toward an understanding, of Thomas Corbett.

Thomas Corbett was born in London England in 1832, emigrating with his family at age 7 and settling in Troy, New York. There he apprenticed to a hat maker, a profession he would hold off and on for the rest of his life.

19th century hat makers used an orange colored mercury solution to make felt from the fur of small animals, in a process called “carroting”.  Mercury attacks the nervous system causing drooling, hair loss, a lurching gait, difficulty in speaking, “brain fog” and a convulsive shaking called “hatter’s shakes”.

felt-hat
Felt hat

There were plenty of “Mad hatters,” in Lewis Carroll’s time, long before Alice’s Wonderland.  Danbury Connecticut was once the hat making capital of the world, with 56 factories producing five million hats a year.  By the time of the Civil War, mercury poisoning had reduced countless numbers of factory workers, to physical wrecks.  Everybody knew the “Danbury shakes”.

Erethism mercurialis or “Mad hatter’s Disease” goes a long way toward an understanding, of Thomas Corbett.

Corbett married early in life.  It nearly broke him to lose his young wife in childbirth.  He moved to Boston and continued to work as a hatter, but heavy drinking left him unable to keep a job for long and eventually, homeless.  Corbett was confronted by a street preacher one night and the event, changed his life.

He immediately quit drinking and became fanatically, religious.  He was “the Glory to God man,” growing his hair long to emulate Jesus.  The “local eccentric” who took up his own street ministry and changed his name to “Boston” after the city of his own re-birth.

“God has called on you to preach, my son, about four blocks, that way”.

Corbett was propositioned by two prostitutes in 1858, while walking home from a church meeting. Deeply troubled by his own temptation, he returned to his boardinghouse room and took up the Gospel, according to Matthew: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee….and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake“.  He knew what he needed to do.  He emasculated himself, with a pair of scissors.  Then he ate dinner and he went to a prayer meeting, before seeking medical attention.

boston-c-300x208

In the early months of the Civil War, Boston Corbett enlisted as a private in the 12th Regiment of the New York state militia. Eccentric behavior quickly got him into trouble. He would carry a bible with him at all times, reading passages aloud and holding unauthorized prayer meetings.  He would argue with superior officers, once reprimanding Colonel Daniel Butterfield for using profane language and using the Lord’s name, in vain. That got the man a stay in the guardhouse, where he continued to argue.

Corbett decided an arbitrary date, on which his enlistment would end.  When that day arrived, he laid down his gun at midnight, and walked away.  That got him court-martialled and sentenced to be shot, but the sentence was reduced. He was discharged in August, 1863, and re-enlisted the same month.

Harper’s Weekly of May 13, 1865 described the annoying habit of adding “er” to his words, as in “O Lord-er, hear-er our prayerer.” His shrill, sharp voice would shout out “Amen,” and “Glory to God,” whenever anything pleased him. He was often thrown in the guard-house, with a knapsack full of bricks as punishment. There he would be, Testament in hand, “preaching temperance, and calling upon his wild companions to “seek the Lord.””

Boston Corbett

On June 24, 1864, fifteen members of Corbett’s company were hemmed in and captured, by Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s men in Culpeper Virginia.

They were sent to the notorious prison camp in Andersonville Georgia, where he escaped once, but the bloodhounds put an end to that.  Only two, ever returned.  Starving, skeletal, his body wracked with scurvy, Boston Corbett was paroled on November 19, 1864.

Following the Lincoln assassination, a twelve-day manhunt led to the farm of Richard Henry Garrett near Port Royal, Virginia. The life of John Wilkes Booth came to an end in a burning tobacco barn in the pre-dawn hours of April 26, the bullet fired through a crack in the boards and entering his spine, just below the point where his own bullet had entered the President’s head.

A bullet from the gun, of Boston Corbett.

The paralyzed, dying man was dragged from the barn and onto the porch of the Garrett farmhouse. In his dying moments, Lincoln’s assassin asked that his hands be lifted where he could see them.  John Wilkes Booth gazed at those hands as he uttered his last words. “Useless. Useless”.

In his report to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger recommended that Sergeant Boston Corbett be punished for disobeying orders that Booth be taken alive, stating that Corbett had fired “without order, pretext or excuse.”

800px-Boston_Corbett_-_Brady-Handy
Thomas “Boston” Corbett

Despite Conger’s recommendation, Corbett was treated like a conquering hero.  He returned to making hats after the war, returning first to Boston and then to Danbury and finally, Camden New Jersey.  He could never hold a job for long.  Frequent pauses to pray for co-workers did little to endear him, to supervisors.

Women’s groups, tent meetings and Sunday schools clamored to hear from “Lincoln’s avenger”, but his speeches were wandering and incoherent.  Nobody ever asked to hear the man speak, a second time.

Corbett became increasingly paranoid, convinced that important men in Washington were out to “get him”.  Hate mail directed to Wilkes Booth’s killer, didn’t help.  At a Blue & Gray reunion in 1878, Corbett pulled a gun on several former soldiers during an argument, over whether Booth still lived.  He was hustled off before he could fire, but this was only one of several such episodes.

800px-Dugout_home2
Example of a dugout house, this one in New Mexico

He moved to Kansas in 1878 and built a dugout home, and tried his hand at homesteading.  That didn’t work out, either.

Corbett received an invalid’s pension in 1880. The Grand Army of the Republic appointed him a doorman to the Kansas state legislature, seven years later.  The man’s mental status was questionable even before the war and beyond dispute in 1887 when he entered the legislative chamber, with two loaded revolvers.  Lawmakers dove for the exits and hid behind garbage cans and doors, as Corbett shot up the Kansas House of Representatives.  Two guns, twelve bullets.  It was a miracle no one was hit.

The following day, a judge declared Corbett to be out of his mind and remanded him to the Topeka Asylum, for the Insane.  On May 26, 1888, Corbett was marching along a road with other inmates when he spotted a horse, tied to a post.  Corbett dashed from the line and jumped into the saddle, and rode into history.

Corbett is believed to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire on September 1, 1894, a conflagration which killed more than 400 and destroyed over 200,000 acres of Minnesota pine forest, but there is no proof.  Several men stepped forward in the years that followed claiming, to be Boston Corbett. A Dallas man claimed to be Boston Corbett while an Oklahoma patent medicine salesman, filed for the man’s pension benefits. The first was committed to an insane asylum the second, to prison.

In 1958, Boy Scout Troop 31 from Concordia Kansas erected a small memorial beside a dug hole in which Boston Corbett, had once lived. What became of the man who shot the man who shot Abraham Lincoln, is a mystery.

November 18, 1978 Jonestown

The visit of the 17th was cordial at first, with Jones himself hosting a reception in the central pavilion.  Underlying menace soon came to the surface as a few Temple members expressed the desire, to leave with the delegation.

Those who remember him as a child spoke of a “really weird kid“, obsessed with religion and death.  He’d hold elaborate, pseudo-religious ceremonies at the house, mostly funerals for small animals.  How James Warren Jones got all those dead animals, was a matter for dark speculation.

1536936987137.jpeg

It was depression-era rural Indiana, in the age of racial segregation.  Father and son often clashed over issues of race.  The two didn’t talk to each other for years one time, after the time the elder Jones refused to let one of his son’s black friends, into the house.

Jim Jones was a bright boy, graduating High School with honors, in 1949.  He was a voracious reader, studying the works of Stalin, Marx, Mao, Gandhi and Hitler and carefully noting the strengths and weaknesses, of each.

Jones married Marceline Baldwin in 1949 and moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where he attended Indiana University and later Butler University night school, earning a degree in secondary education.

A long-standing interest in leftist politics heightened during this period, when Jones became a regular at Communist Party-USA meetings.  There he would rail against the McCarthy hearings, and the trials of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Jones recalled he later asked himself, “How can I demonstrate my Marxism? The thought was, infiltrate the church.”

jim-jones-red-robe-ht-jef-180925_hpEmbed_21x16_992.jpg“Reverend” Jim Jones got his start as a student pastor at the Sommerset Southside Methodist Church but soon left, over issues of segregation.  This was the age of Jim Crow and Jones, was a Social Justice Warrior .

636150546188409893-1492665.jpg

The New York Times reported in 1953, “declaring that he was outraged at what he perceived as racial discrimination in his white congregation, Mr. Jones established his own church and pointedly opened it to all ethnic groups. To raise money, he imported monkeys and sold them door to door as pets.”

Jones witnessed a faith-healing service and came to understand the influence to be had, from such an event.  He arranged a massive convention in 1956, inviting the Oral Roberts of his day, as keynote speaker. Reverend William Branham did not disappoint.  Soon, Reverend Jones opened his own mission with an explicit focus on racial integration. 

Thus began the Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ.

Jones’ integrationist politics did little to ingratiate himself in 1950s rural Indiana.  Mayor and commissioners alike asked him to tone it down, while he received wild applause at NAACP and Urban League conventions with speeches rising to a thundering crescendo:  “Let My People GO!!!”

Jones spoke in favor of Kim Il-sung’s invasion of South Korea, branding the conflict a “war of liberation” and calling South Korea “a living example of all that socialism in the north has overcome.

Jim and Marcelline adopted three Korean orphans, beginning what would become a family of nine including their only biological child, Stephan Ghandi.  The couple adopted a black boy in 1961 and called him Jim Jr., the Jones’ “rainbow family” a reflection of the pastor’s congregation.

jim-jones-family-pic-01-ht-jef-180925_hpMain_4x3_992An apocalyptic streak began to show, as Jones preached of nuclear annihilation. He traveled to Brazil for a time, in search of a safe place for the coming holocaust.  He even gave it a date:  July 15, 1967. On returning from Brazil, the “Father” spoke to his flock.  Jones’ “children” would have to move.  To northern California, to a new and perfect, socialist, Eden.

4710360004_3f8f97efbd_o
Jim Jones preaching, 1971

For Jim Jones, religion was never more than a means to an end. ”Off the record” he once said in a recorded conversation, “I don’t believe in any loving God. Our people, I would say, are ninety percent atheist. Uh, we— we think Jesus Christ was a swinger…I must say, I felt somewhat hypocritical for the last years as I became uh, an atheist, uh, I have become uh, you— you feel uh, tainted, uh, by being in the church situation. But of course, everyone knows where I’m at. My bishop knows that I’m an atheist.

Faith healing.  The California days

Jones referred to himself as the reincarnation of Mohandas Gandhi. Father Divine. Jesus, Gautama Buddha and Lenin, all rolled into one. “What you need to believe in is what you can see…. If you see me as your friend, I’ll be your friend. As you see me as your father, I’ll be your father, for those of you that don’t have a father…. If you see me as your savior, I’ll be your savior. If you see me as your God, I’ll be your God.”

The years in California were a time of rapid expansion from Temple Headquarters in San Francisco to locations up and down the “Golden State”.  Jones hobnobbed with the who’s who of Democratic politics, from San Francisco Mayor George Moscone to Presidential candidate Walter Mondale. Even First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

“If you’re born in capitalist America, racist America, fascist America, then you’re born in sin. But if you’re born in socialism, you’re not born in sin.”

Jim Jones

California Assemblyman Willie Brown called Jones a combination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Albert Einstein and Mao Tse Tung.  Harvey Milk wrote to Jones after one visit: “Rev Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave.

Jim_Jones_shakes_hands_with_Cecil_Williams_-_January_1977
“Jones receives a Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian award from Pastor Cecil Williams, 1977” H/T Wikipedia

Meanwhile, Jones was building the perfect socialist utopia in the South American jungles of Guyana, formally known as the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project”.  Most simply called the place, “Jonestown”.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Marshall Kilduff wrote in the summer of 1977, telling a grotesque tale of physical and sexual abuse, of brainwashing and emotional domination. Chronicle editors balked and Kilduff published the piece in the New West Magazine.

That was when Jones and his congregation left town and fled.  To Guyana.

A long standing drug addiction became more pronounced in Jonestown where the preacher spoke of the gospel of “Translation”, a weird crossing over from this life to some other, finer, plane.

Some 68 percent of Jonestown faithful were black at this time, congregants who somehow got something from this place, they couldn’t get at home.  Inclusion.  Fulfillment.  Acceptance.  Whatever it was, the cult of Jonestown was mostly, a world of willing participants.

Mostly, but not entirely.  Those who entered Jonestown were not allowed to leave.  Those who escaped told outlandish tales of abuse:  mental, physical and sexual.

Former members of the Temple formed a “Concerned Relatives” group in the Fall of 1977, to publicize conditions afflicting family members, still in the cult.

1506309501695-jonestown-commune
Jonestown compound, Guyana

Concerned Relatives produced a packet of affidavits in April 1978, entitled “Accusation of Human Rights Violations by Rev. James Warren Jones“.  Jones’ political support began to weaken as members of the press and Congress, took increasing interest.

California Congressman Leo Ryan led a fact-finding mission that November, to see things for himself.  The Congressional Delegation (CoDel) arrived at the Guyanese capital on November 15, with NBC camera crew and newspaper reporters, in tow.

a35dea6f-37bc-473b-977f-b1edb580da9d
Congressman Ryan arrives at Jonestown

The delegation traveled by air and drove the last few miles to Jonestown, by limo. The visit of the 17th was cordial at first, with Jones himself hosting a reception in the central pavilion.  Underlying menace soon came to the surface as a few Temple members expressed the desire, to leave with the delegation. Things went from bad to worse when temple member Don Sly attacked Congressman Ryan with a knife, the following day.

BobBrownKaituma
NBC photographer Bob Brown took this shot, of the shooters

Ryan’s hurried exit with fifteen members of the Temple met with no resistance. At first. The CoDel was boarding at the small strip in Port Kaituma, when Jones’ “Red Brigade” pulled up in a farm tractor, towing a trailer.   The new arrivals opened fire, killing Congressman Ryan and four others.  One of the supposed “defectors” produced a weapon and wounded, several more.

download - 2019-11-18T082734.667.jpg

Back at the compound, Jones lost an already tenuous grasp on reality.

Fearing assault by parachute, lethal doses of cyanide were distributed along with grape “Flavor Aid” for 900-plus members of the People’s Temple, including 304 children.

This wasn’t the first time the Jonestown flock believed they were ingesting poison, for The Cause.  It was about to be the last.

Jones spoke with an odd lisp which seemed to grow more pronounced, at times of excitement. You can hear it in the 45 minute “death tape“ below, his words sometimes forming a perfect “S“ and at other times, lapsing into a soft “TH” or some combination, of the two.

You can hear it clearly, in the recording.  Heads up dear reader.  If you care to listen, it’s 45-minutes of tough sledding.

Jonestown “Death Tape”  November 18, 1978

909 people lost their lives in the murder/suicide of November 18, 1978, at the Jonestown compound, the Kaituma air strip and the Temple-run building in the Guyanese capital city, of Georgetown. It was the largest loss of civilian life in American history, until the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

interesting-historical-events-jonestown.jpg
Jones:  How very much I’ve loved you. How very much I’ve tried, to give you the good life…We are sitting on a powder keg…I don’t think that’s what we wanted to do with our babies…No man takes my life from me, I lay my life down…If we can’t live in peace, then let us die in peace.
Christine [Miller]: Is it too late for Russia?
Jones: Here’s why it’s too late for Russia. They killed. They started to kill. That’s why it makes it too late for Russia. Otherwise I’d said, “Russia, you bet your life.” But it’s too late.
Unidentified Man: Is there any way if I go, that it’ll help?
Jones: No, you’re not going. You’re not going.
Crowd: No! No!
Jones: I haven’t seen anybody yet that didn’t die. And I’d like to choose my own kind of death for a change. I’m tired of being tormented to hell, that’s what I’m tired of.
Crowd: Right, right.
Jones: Tired of it.
Unidentified Man: It’s over, sister, it’s over … we’ve made that day … we made a beautiful day and let’s make it a beautiful day … that’s what I say.
“A lot of people are tired around here, but I’m not sure they’re ready to lie down, stretch out and fall asleep”. Jim Jones

November 15, 1873 Forever Faithful

When it comes to loyalty, it’s hard to beat the love of a dog.

According to National Geographic, “Wolves were the first animal to be domesticated, sometime between 33,000 and 11,000 years ago“. The first wolf may have approached some campfire, looking for a morsel.  Maybe someone took in a sick or injured pup. Wolf packs may have shadowed human hunting parties, the two groups learning to work together for their own mutual benefit. The facts are lost to history, but one thing is certain. When it comes to loyalty, it’s hard to beat the love of a dog.

Miguel Guzmán of Cordoba Argentina, died in 2006. The following day Capitán, the family’s German Shepherd, disappeared. Mrs. Guzmán and the couple’s son searched all day, until the dog arrived at the cemetery. Forty-five minutes away. No one knows how he got there. The family claims they didn’t bring him. Cemetery director Hector Baccega remembers when he first saw the dog: ‘He turned up here one day, all on his own, and started wandering all around the cemetery until he eventually found the tomb of his master”.

434B6A2000000578-0-image-a-116_1502877093313
Capitan. H/T Guardian, for this image

Capitán was brought home but he came back, the following day. Baccega describes what has since become, routine: “During the day he sometimes has a walk around the cemetery, but always rushes back to the grave. And every day, at six o’clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave [and] stays there all night”.

Capitán lived to fifteen or sixteen, old for a large breed, and died in February 2018, in the cemetery in which he had lived. He was crippled and mostly blind by the time he went to join his “Dad”. 

Who knows. I certainly don’t. Maybe they really Are, together again.

“Greyfriar’s Bobby” was a Skye Terrier in 19th-century Edinburgh, who waited 14 years by the grave of his owner, Police night watchman, John Gray.  He died there in 1872 and was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from where his master lay.

Artist William Brodie created a life-sized likeness atop the Greyfriars Bobby Fountain in Edinburgh. Paid for by local aristocrat Baroness Burdett-Coutts, the memorial was formally unveiled on November 15, 1873

200365253-114256-400
Greyfriars Bobby

Hidesaburō Ueno taught agriculture during the interwar years at Tokyo University. Every day, Ueno would take the train to work from Shibuya Station. In the evening, the professor’s golden colored Akita “Hachikō” would always be there waiting, at the station.

Hidesaburō stopped coming home one day in May 1925 after a cerebral hemorrhage took him away, in the middle of a lecture. Every day for nine years, nine months and fifteen days, the Akita appeared at Shibuya Station, precisely on time for that evening train.

Japanese children know the golden colored Akita as chūken Hachikō. “Faithful dog Hachikō”.

Ruswarp was a fourteen-year old Border Collie who went hiking with Graham Nuttall on January 20, 1990 in the Welsh Mountains, near Llandrindod.

On April 7, a hiker discovered Nuttall’s body near a mountain stream. The dog had been standing guard, for eleven weeks.

Feeling Ruswarp Statue
Ruswarp, the Border collie

Ruswarp was so weak he had to be carried off the mountain and died, shortly thereafter. Can there be any doubt the dog would have expired right there by Graham’s side, had he not been discovered.

Today there’s a small monument erected in the memory of this extraordinary animal, on a platform near the Garsdale railway station.

In the early morning hours of August 6, 2011, 30 American military service members including 22 United States Navy SEALs were killed along with eight Afghans, SEAL Team 6 handler John “Jet Li” Douangdara and his Military Working Dog (MWD) “Bart”. The Chinook helicopter in which they were all riding was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in the Kunar Province, of Afghanistan.

To anyone around at that time, the images of “Hawkeye”, together for the last time with slain Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson,  are hard to forget.

Hawkeye-and-Tumilson

In 1936, a sheep dog called “Shep” belonged to a herder whose name is now, lost to history. This was near Fort Benton, in Montana.

The man fell ill and was taken, to a local hospital. For over a week, Shep waited at the hospital, for his master to return. On the 11th day the man died, his casket taken to the local train station and placed in the cargo hold, to be returned home for burial.

Shep was there throughout and watched the train chug away with the body of his “Dad”. He’d return to that hospital door where a kindly nun would feed him a scrap, but every time he heard that train whistle, there was a sheepdog waiting at the station.

In those days, there were four trains a day. For nearly six years, Shep returned to the station, every time he heard that whistle. He even dug a den for himself, near the track.

Passengers took the Havre to Great Falls rail line just to see the dog. Shep received so much fan mail, the Great Northern Railroad assigned a secretary to write responses.

In time, the old boy wasn’t quite as fast as he used to be, his hearing not so good. On January 12, 1942, “Forever Faithful” Shep was struck and killed on the tracks, waiting for a man who could never return.

Stories like these are enough to fill a book, if not a library. I’m not a big one for bumper stickers but, if I were, this would be my first: “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am“.

The CCC lives with his three “Chicas”, Margarita, Roxana and JoJo. They’re all rescues, from Cozumel. Of course, there has to be a margarita.

November 12, 1933 The Loch Ness Monster

Before the age of King George III, readers scoffed at the notion of a venomous, egg-laying mammal with the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver and the webbed feet, of an otter. Until one was discovered, in 1799.


As the story goes, the Irish priest Columba was traveling the Scottish Highlands, teaching Christianity to the Picts. He was walking along the shores of Loch Ness one day, when he came upon some local villagers burying one of their own. The poor unfortunate had swum out to retrieve a boat adrift from its moorings, when he was bitten by a water creature of some sort. The priest sent one of his followers swimming across the loch to get the boat. The monster rose from the depths once again and was just about to eat the man, when Columba commanded the beast to depart.

There’s no telling how it actually happened. The story was written down 100 years, after the fact. The events described took place on August 22nd, 565, meaning that we’ve been talking about the Loch Ness monster for about 1,500 years. At a minimum.

Loch Ness is formed by a 60 mile, active tectonic fault, where the hills are still rising at a rate of a millimeter, per year. It’s made up of 3 lochs; Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness with Loch Ness being by far, the largest. There is more water in Loch Ness than all the other lakes in England, Scotland and Wales, combined. It is 22½ miles long and varies from a mile to 1½ miles wide, with a depth of 754-feet and a bottom “as flat as a bowling green”.

Loch Ness never freezes. There is a thermocline at 100-feet, below which the water remains a uniform 44° Fahrenheit. As the surface water cools in winter, it is replaced by warmer water rising up from below, causing the loch to steam on cold days. The heat energy generated has been compared to burning 2 million tons of coal. With the steam rising off the water and the occasional seismic tremor, Loch Ness can be a very eerie place.

Heron-Allen Image
Loch Ness ‘Monster’ as photographed, by Hugh Gray

The first photographic “evidence” of the Loch Ness monster was taken on the 12th of November 1933, by Hugh Gray. Some said the picture showed an otter, while others believed it was “some kind of giant marine worm”. The UK Daily Mail sent a team to look for evidence, headed by the famous big game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell. There was great media excitement when Wetherell discovered enormous footprints along the shore in December. Researchers from the Natural History Museum examined the tracks, which they determined to have come from a dried hippo’s foot; probably one of the umbrella stands popular at the time. That was the end of that.

Nessie, Robert Wilson
Surgeon’s Photo

A British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson, took what might be the most famous picture of “Nessie” the following year. He didn’t want his name associated with it, so it became “The Surgeon’s Photo”, showing what appears to be a head and neck rising above the waters of the loch.

In one of history’s more interesting death bed confessions, Christian Spurling claimed in 1994 at the age of 93, that the surgeon’s photo had been a hoax.  According to Spurling, his step-father Marmaduke Wetherell, was smarting over his hippo-foot humiliation.  Spurling remembers Wetherell saying “We’ll give them their monster”, and asking his stepson to build a credible model of a marine creature.  And so he did, the photo was taken, and Dr. Wilson became the respectable front man for the hoax.

Crypto

An entire study called “Cryptozoology” (literally, the study of hidden animals) has sprung up around Nessie and other beasts whose existence is never quite proven, and never completely debunked. There is Big Foot, who seems to have made it to stardom with his own series of beef jerky commercials. You have the Chupacabra, the Yeti, Ogopogo, Vermont’s own Lake Champlain monster, “Champ”, and more.

And yet, some of these critters have proven to be, very real. The terrifying ‘Kraken’ of sailor’s lore was likely a colossal squid, now known to gain lengths up to 46-feet. Before the age of King George III, readers scoffed at the notion of a venomous, egg-laying mammal with the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver and the webbed feet, of an otter. Until one was discovered, in 1799. Today we know that little guy, as the duck-billed platypus. The Coelacanth was ‘known’ to be extinct since the late cretaceous, until one of them popped up in a fisherman’s net, in 1938.

Hundreds of images have been taken over the years, purporting to demonstrate that these critters do exist. Some were transparent hoaxes, for others there is less certainty. In the end, people will believe what they want to believe. The existence of these mythical creatures may never be proven, short of one of them washing up on shore somewhere. Even then, someone will take to social media, to argue otherwise.

November 11, 1918 The 11th Hour

In the end, starvation and malnutrition stalked the land at home as well as the front with riots at home and mutiny, in the trenches. The Russian Empire of the Czars had collapsed into a Bolshevik hellhole, never to return.  Nearly every combatant saw the disintegration of its domestic economy, or teetering on the brink.

In an alternate history, the June 1914 assassination of the heir-apparent to the Habsburg Empire may have led to nothing more, than a regional squabble.  Wiser heads could have prevailed, the diplomatic crisis of July resulting in nothing more than a policing action in the Balkans.

As it was, mutual distrust and entangling alliances combined with slavish obedience to mobilization timetables, to draw the Great Powers of Europe into the vortex.  On August 3, the “War to End All Wars” exploded across the European continent.

Many of the soldiers who went off to war in those days, viewed the conflict as some kind of grand adventure. Many of them sang patriotic songs as the young men and boys of Russia, Germany, Austria and France stole last kisses from wives and sweethearts, and boarded their ships and trains.

Believing overwhelming manpower to be the key to victory, British Secretary of State for War Lord Horatio Kitchener recruited friends and neighbors by the tens of thousands into “Pal’s Battalions”, to fight for King and country.

140604153439-19-wwi-main-timeline-0604-restricted-horizontal-large-gallery
The signs could have been written in any number of languages, in the early phase of the war

Over the next four years a generation would be chewed up and spit out, in pieces.

Many single day’s fighting of the great battles of 1916 produced more casualties than every European war of the preceding 100 years, civilian and military, combined.

6,503 Americans lost their lives during the savage, month-long battle for Iwo Jima, in 1945. The first day’s fighting during the 1916 Battle of the Somme killed three times that number on the British and Commonwealth side, alone.

battle_of_the_somme_in_pictures_1
Over 1.5 million shells were fired in the days leading to the battle of the Somme

Over 16 million were killed and another 20 million wounded while vast stretches of the European countryside were literally, torn to pieces. Tens of thousands remain missing, to this day.

Had you found yourself in the mud and the blood, the rats and the lice of the trenches during the New Year of 1917-’18, you could have heard a plaintive refrain drifting across the barbed wire and frozen wastes of no man’s land, sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”.

We’re here, because we’re here,
because we’re here, because we’re here,
we’re here, because we’re here,
because we’re here, because we’re here.

cher-ami
Cher Ami

Those who fought the “Great War”, were not always human.  The carrier pigeon Cher Ami escaped a hail of bullets and returned twenty-five miles to her coop despite a sucking chest wound, the loss of an eye and a leg that hung on, by a single tendon.  The message she’d been given to carry, saved the lives of 190 men.

“Warrior” was the thoroughbred mount to General “Galloper” Jack Seely, arriving in August 1914 and serving four years “over there”. “The horse the Germans can’t kill” survived snipers, poison gas and shellfire to be twice buried alive in great explosions, only to return home to the Isle of Wight, and live to the ripe old age of 33.

18-03-23-thumb
First division Rags

First Division Rags” ran through a torrent of shells, gassed and blinded in one eye, a shell fragment damaging his front paw, yet still, he got his message through.

Jackie the baboon lost a leg during heavy bombardment from German guns while frantically building a protective rock wall to shelter himself from what the German soldier Ernst Jünger later called, the “Storm of Steel”.

Tirpitz the German pig jumped clear of the sinking light cruiser SMS Dresden and would serve out the war not in a frying pan but as mascot to the HMS Glasgow.

Sixteen million animals served on all sides and in all theaters of WW1:  from cats to canaries, to pigeons and mules, camels, donkeys and dogs.  As “dumb animals”, none were given the choice to “volunteer”.  And yet serve they did, some nine million animals making the supreme sacrifice.

WW1-animals
British Army mules in the mud of the western front, 1918

In the end, starvation and malnutrition stalked the land at home as well as the front with riots at home and mutiny, in the trenches. The Russian Empire of the Czars had collapsed into a Bolshevik hellhole, never to return.  Nearly every combatant saw the disintegration of its domestic economy, or teetering on the brink.

A strange bugle call came out of the night of November 7, 1918. French soldiers of the 171st Régiment d’Infanterie, stationed near Haudroy, advanced into the fog and the darkness, expecting that they were about to be attacked. Instead, they were shocked to see the apparitions of three sedans, their sides displaying the German Imperial Eagle.

Imperial Germany, its army disintegrating in the field and threatened with revolution at home had sent a peace delegation, headed by the 43-year-old politician Matthias Erzberger.

The delegation was escorted to the Compiegne Forest near Paris, to a conference room fashioned from a railroad dining car. There they were met by a delegation headed by Ferdinand Foch, Marshall of France.

Adolf Hitler would gleefully accept French surrender in the same rail car, some twenty-two years later.

original-french-postcard-showing-the-wagon-in-which-the-ww1-armistice-M1B0DJ

The German delegation was shocked at the words that came out of Foch’s mouth. ‘Ask these gentlemen what they want,’ he said to his interpreter. Stunned, Erzberger responded. The Germans believed they were there to discuss terms of an armistice. Foch dropped the hammer: “Tell these gentlemen that I have no proposals to make”.

Ferdinand Foch had seen his country destroyed by war. He had vowed “to pursue the Feldgrauen (Field Grays) with a sword at their backs”. He had no intention of letting up.

Marshall Foch now produced a list of thirty-four demands, each one a sledgehammer blow on the German delegation. Germany was to divest herself of all means of self-defense, from her high seas fleet to the last machine gun. She was to withdraw from all lands occupied since 1870. With the German population at home facing starvation, the allies were to confiscate 5,000 locomotives, 150,000 rail cars and 5,000 trucks.

1200px-Waffenstillstand_gr

With 2,250 dying every day on the Western Front, Foch informed Erzberger he had 72 hours in which to respond. “For God’s sake, Monsieur le Marechal”, responded the German, “do not wait for those 72 hours. Stop the hostilities this very day”.  Even so, the plea fell on deaf ears. Fighting would continue until the last minute, of the last day.

The German King, Kaiser Wilhelm, abdicated on the 10th as riots broke out in the streets of Germany. The final surrender was signed at 5:10am on November 11 and back-timed to 5:00am Paris time, scheduled to go into effect later that morning. The 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month.

The order went out to that effect. The war would be over in hours, but there were no other instructions.

Some field commanders ordered their men to stand down. Why fight and die over ground they could walk over in just a few hours?

the-last-soldier-killed-in-wwi-died-one-minute-before-the-war-ended
The last six hours

Many continued the attack, believing that Germany had to be well and truly beaten. Others saw their last chance at glory or promotion. An artillery captain named Harry S Truman, kept his battery firing until only minutes before 11:00.

English teacher turned Major General Charles Summerall had a fondness for the turn of phrase. Ordering his subordinates across the Meuse River in those final hours, Summerall said “We are swinging the door by its hinges. It has got to move…Get into action and get across. I don’t expect to see any of you again…

No fewer than 320 Americans were killed in those final six hours, another 3,240 seriously wounded.

7fe16b6c9f770b107480c9ca6c28e87c

Still smarting from the disastrous defeat at Mons back in 1914, British High Command was determined to take the place back, on the final day of the war. The British Empire lost more than 2,400 in those last 6 hours.

The French 80th Régiment d’Infanterie received two orders that morning – to launch an attack at 9:00, and cease-fire at 11:00. French losses for the final day amounted to 1,170. The already retreating Germans suffered 4,120.

One-hundred-three years ago today all sides suffered over 11,000 dead, wounded, and missing in those final six hours. Some have estimated that more men died per hour after the signing of the armistice, than during the D-Day invasion, 26 years later.

Over in the Meuse-Argonne sector, Henry Gunther was “visibly angry”.   Perhaps this American grandson of German immigrants felt he had something to prove.  Anti-German bias had not reached levels of the next war, when President Roosevelt interned Americans of Japanese descent.  Yet, such bias was very real.  Gunther’s fiancé had already broken up with him. He’d recently been busted in rank, after writing home complaining about conditions at the front.

Bayonet fixed, Gunther charged the enemy machine gun position, as German soldiers frantically waved and yelled for him, to go back. He got off a “shot or two”, before the five round burst tore into his head. Henry Nicholas John Gunther of Baltimore Maryland was the last man to die in combat, in the Great War.  It was 10:59am.  The war would be over, in sixty seconds.

Sargeant-Henry-Gunther

After eight months on the front lines Corporal Joe Rodier of Worcester Massachusetts, was jubilant.   “Another day of days“.   Rodier wrote in his diary.  “Armistice signed with Germany to take effect at 11 a.m. this date. Great manifestations. Town lighted up at night. Everybody drunk, even to the dog. Moonlight, cool night & not a shot heard“.

Matthias Erzberger was assassinated in 1921, for his role in the surrender. The “Stab in the Back” mythology destined to become Nazi propaganda, had already begun.

AEF Commander General John “Black Jack” Pershing believed the armistice to be a grave error. He believed that Germany had been defeated but not beaten, and that failure to smash the German homeland meant that the war would have to be fought, all over again. Ferdinand Foch agreed. On reading the Versailles treaty in 1919, Foch remarked “This isn’t peace! This is a truce that will last for 20 years”.

The man got it wrong, by 36 days.

On a personal note:
Norman Francis Long

PFC Norman F. Long was wounded during the Great War, a member of the United States Army, 33rd Pennsylvania Infantry.  He left us on December 18, 1963, only hours before his namesake, my brother Norm, was born.

My father’s father went to his final rest on Christmas eve of 1963, in Arlington National Cemetery.  Section 41, grave marker 2161.

At 63 I remember still, the pleasures of a little boy fishing with his grandfather. Just as I myself will one day take my granddaughter fishing and a bridge some sixty years in the building, will have been crossed.

Rest in peace, Grampa.  You left us, too soon.

November 9, 2013 A Vintage like No Other

On November 9, 2013, a company of heroes cracked open and enjoyed a 117-year-old bottle of rare and vintage cognac. If there can be a more magnificent act of tribute, I cannot at this moment think of what it might be.

On November 9, 2013, there occurred a gathering of four.  A tribute to fallen heroes. These four were themselves heroes, and worthy of tribute.  This was to be their last such gathering.

This story begins on April 18, 1942, when a flight of sixteen Mitchell B25 medium bombers launched from the deck of the carrier, USS Hornet. It was a retaliatory raid on Imperial Japan, planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle of the United States Army Air Force. The raid was payback for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, four months earlier. A demonstration that the Japanese home islands, were not immune from destruction.

Launching such massive aircraft from the decks of a carrier had never been attempted. There were no means of bringing them back.  With extra gas tanks installed and machine guns removed to save the weight, this was to be a one-way mission, into territory occupied by a savage adversary.

Doolittle Signatures

Fearing that mission security was breached, the bomb run was forced to launch 200 miles before the intended departure spot.  At this range the bombers themselves might not even make it. Fighter escort, impossible.

Japanese Premier Hideki Tojo was inspecting military bases, at the time of the raid. One B-25 came so close he could see the pilot, though the American bomber never fired a shot.

After dropping their bombs, fifteen continued west, toward Japanese occupied China.  Unbeknownst at the time, carburetors bench-marked and calibrated for low level flight had been replaced in flight #8, which now had no chance of making it to the mainland.  Twelve crash landed in the coastal provinces.  Three more, ditched at sea.  Pilot Captain Edward York pointed flight 8 toward Vladivostok, where he hoped to refuel.  The pilot and crew were instead taken into captivity and held, for thirteen months.

aftermath.jpg__800x450_q85_crop_upscale

Crew 3 Engineer-Gunner Corporal Leland Dale Faktor died in the fall after bailing out. Staff Sergeant Bombardier William Dieter and Sergeant Engineer-Gunner Donald Fitzmaurice bailed out of aircraft #6 off the China coast, and drowned.

The heroism of the indigenous people at this point, is a little-known part of this story.  The massive sweep across the eastern coastal provinces, the Zhejiang-Jiangxi campaign, cost the lives of 250,000 Chinese.  A quarter-million murdered by Japanese soldiers, in the hunt for Doolittle’s raiders.  How many were in a position to betray the American flyers and refused, will never be known.

Amazingly, only eight were captured, out of seventy-seven survivors.

First Lieutenant Pilot “Bill” Farrow and Sergeant Engineer-Gunner Harold Spatz, both of Crew 16, and First Lieutenant Pilot Dean Edward Hallmark of Crew 6 were caught by the Japanese and executed by firing squad on October 15, 1942.  Crew 6 Co-Pilot First Lieutenant Robert John Meder died in a Japanese prison camp, on December 11, 1943.  Most of the 80 who began the mission, survived the war.

Jimmy Doolittle and his crew in China, after the raid

Thirteen targets were attacked, including an oil tank farm, a steel mill, and an aircraft carrier then under construction.. Fifty were killed and another 400 injured, but the mission had a decisive psychological effect.  Japan withdrew its powerful aircraft carrier force to protect the home islands. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto attacked Midway, thinking that to have been the jump-off point for the raid. Described by military historian John Keegan as “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare”, the battle of Midway would be a major strategic defeat for Imperial Japan.

s_w07_20418042
Ryozo Asano, left, spokesman for a group of diversified Japanese family enterprises called the Zaibatsu, inspects the wreckage of his Tokyo steel plant

Every year since the late 1940s, the surviving Doolittle raiders have held a reunion.  In 1959, the city of Tucson presented them with 80 silver goblets, each engraved with a name. They are on display at the National Museum of the Air Force, in Dayton Ohio.

With those goblets is a fine bottle of vintage Cognac.  Hennessy VS 1896, the year Jimmy Doolittle was born. For many years there a bargain between the survivors that, one day, the last two would open that bottle, and toast their comrades.

DSC00017

They changed that bargain in 2013.   Just a little. Jimmy Doolittle himself passed away in 1993. Twenty years later, 76 goblets were turned over, each signifying a man who had passed on.  Now, there were only four.

  1. Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Cole* of Dayton Ohio was co-pilot of crew No. 1.  Remained in China after the Tokyo Raid until June 1943, and served in the China-Burma-India Theater from October, 1943 until June, 1944. Relieved from active duty in January, 1947 but returned to active duty in August 1947.
  2. Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Hite* of Odell Texas was co-pilot of crew No. 16. Captured by the Japanese and held prisoner for forty months, he watched his weight drop to eighty pounds.
  3. Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Saylor* of Brusett Montana was engineer-gunner of crew No. 15.   Served throughout the duration of WW2 until March 1945, both Stateside, and overseas.  Accepted a commission in October 1947 and served as Aircraft Maintenance Officer at bases in Iowa, Washington, Labrador and England.
  4. Staff Sergeant David J. Thatcher* of Bridger Montana was engineer-gunner of crew No. 7.  Served in England and Africa after the Tokyo raid until June 1944, and discharged in July 1945.
*H/T, http://www.doolittleraider.com

These four agreed to gather, one last time.  It would be these four men who would finally open that bottle.

doolittle2

Robert Hite, 93, was too frail to travel in 2013.  Wally Hite stood in for his father.

On November 9, 2013, that 117 year-old bottle of rare, vintage cognac was cracked open, and enjoyed among a company of heroes.  If there is a more magnificent act of tribute, I cannot at this moment think of what it might be.

On April 18, 2015, Richard Cole and David Thatcher fulfilled their original bargain, as the last surviving members of the Doolittle raid.  Staff Sergeant Thatcher passed away on June 23, 2016, at the age of 94.  Today, not one of those eighty goblets remains upright.  Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole passed from this life on April 9, 2019, at the age of 103.  There is no living man today who has so earned the right to open that rare and vintage cognac.

%d bloggers like this: