March 31, 2005 Arlington Ladies

The job of the Arlington Ladies is to honor, not to grieve, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  Linda Willey of the Air Force Ladies describes the difficulty of burying Pentagon friends after 9/11, while pieces of debris yet littered the cemetery. Paula McKinley of the Navy Ladies still chokes up, over the hug of a ten-year old girl who had just lost both parents. Margaret Mensch speaks of the heartbreak of burying one of her own young escorts after he was killed in Afghanistan, in 2009.

The first military burial at Arlington National Cemetery was that of Private William Henry Christman, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, interred on May 13, 1864. Two more joined Christman that day, the trickle soon turning into a flood. By the end of the war between the states, that number was 17,000 and rising.

In modern times, an average week will see 80 to 100 burials in the 612 acres of Arlington.

1200px-SMA_Dunway_Burial_at_Arlington_National_Cemetery_2008Fourteen years ago, a news release from the Department of Defense reported “Private First Class Michael A. Arciola, 20, of Elmsford, New York, died February 15, 2005, in Al Ramadi, Iraq, from injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire. Arciola was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503d Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Casey, Korea”.

Private Arciola joined a quarter-million buried in our nation’s most hallowed ground on March 31. Two hundred or more mourners attended his funeral, a tribute befitting the tragedy of the loss of one so young.

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Sixteen others were buried that same Friday. Most were considerably older. Some brought only a dozen or so mourners. Others had no friends or family members whatsoever, on-hand to say goodbye.

Save for a volunteer, from the Arlington Ladies.

In 1948, Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg and the general’s wife Gladys, regularly attended funeral services at Arlington National cemetery.

nn_lho_arlington_ladies_180102_1920x1080.nbcnews-fp-1200-630Sometimes, a military chaplain was the only one present at these services. Both Vandenbergs felt that a member of the Air Force family should be present at these funerals.  Gladys began to invite other officer’s wives. Over time, a group of women from the Officer’s Wives Club were formed for the purpose.

In 1973, General Creighton Abrams’ wife Julia did the same for the Army, forming a group calling themselves “Arlington Ladies”. Groups of Navy and Coast guard wives followed suit, in 1985 and 2006.

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Traditionally, the Marine Corps Commandant sends an official representative of the Corps to all Marine funerals.  The Marine Corps Arlington Ladies were formed in 2016.

Arlington Ladies’ Chairman Margaret Mensch explained “We’ve been accused of being professional mourners, but that isn’t true. I fight that perception all the time. What we’re doing is paying homage to Soldiers who have given their lives for our country.”

arlington_lady_joayn_bahr_at_funeral_es_053011The casual visitor cannot help but being struck with the solemnity of such an occasion. Air Force Ladies’ Chairman Sue Ellen Lansell spoke of one service where the only other guest was “one elderly gentlemen who stood at the curb and would not come to the grave site. He was from the Soldier’s Home in Washington, D. C. One soldier walked up to invite him closer, but he said no, he was not family”.

The organization was traditionally formed of current or former military wives. Today their number includes daughters and even one “Arlington Gentleman”. 46 years ago they came alone, or in pairs. Today, 145 or so volunteers from four military branches are a recognized part of all funeral ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, their motto: “No Soldier will ever be buried alone.”

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The volunteer arrives with a military escort from the Navy or the United States Army 3rd Infantry Regiment, the “Old Guard”. The horse-drawn caisson arrives from the old post chapel, carrying the flag draped casket. Joining the procession, she will quietly walk to the burial site, her arm inside that of her escort. A few words are spoken over the deceased, followed by the three-volley salute. Off in the distance, a solitary bugler sounds Taps.

The folded flag is presented to the grieving widow, or next of kin. Only then will she break her silence, stepping forward with a word of condolence and two cards: one from the service branch Chief of Staff and his wife and a second, from herself.

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Joyce Johnson buried her husband Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Johnson in 2001, a victim of the Islamist terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Johnson remembers the Arlington Ladies’ volunteer as “a touchingly, human presence in a sea of starched uniforms and salutes”. Three years later, Joyce Johnson paid it forward, and became one herself.

Any given funeral may be that of a young military service member killed in service to the nation, or a veteran of Korea or WWII, who spent his last days in the old soldier’s home. It could be a four-star General or a Private. It matters not a whit.

“We’re not professional mourners. We’re here because we’re representing the Air Force family and because, one day, our families are going to be sitting there in that chair”. – Sandra Griffin, Air Force volunteer, Arlington Ladies

Individual volunteers attend about five funerals a day, sometimes as many as eight. As with the Tomb of the Unknown sentinels who hold their vigil heedless of weather, funeral services pay no mind, to weather conditions. The funeral will proceed on the date and time scheduled irrespective of rain, snow or heat. Regardless of weather, an Arlington Lady Will be in attendance.

The job of the Arlington Ladies is to honor, not to grieve, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  Linda Willey of the Air Force Ladies describes the difficulty of burying Pentagon friends after 9/11, while pieces of debris yet littered the cemetery. Paula McKinley of the Navy Ladies still chokes up, over the hug of a ten-year old girl who had just lost both parents. Margaret Mensch speaks of the heartbreak of burying one of her own young escorts after he was killed in Afghanistan, in 2009.

Barbara Benson was herself a soldier, an Army flight nurse during WWII. She is the longest serving Arlington Lady. “I always try to add something personal”, Benson said, “especially for a much older woman. I always ask how long they were married. They like to tell you they were married 50 or 60 years…I don’t know how to say it really, I guess because I identify with Soldiers. That was my life for 31 years, so it just seems like the natural thing to do.”

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Elinore Riedel was chairman of the Air Force Ladies during the War in Vietnam, when none of the other military branches had women representatives. “Most of the funerals were for young men,” she said. “I saw little boys running little airplanes over their father’s coffins. It is a gripping thing, and it makes you realize the awful sacrifices people made. Not only those who died, but those left behind.”

Mrs. Reidel is a minister’s daughter, who grew up watching her father serve those in need. “It doesn’t matter whether you know a person or not”, she said, “whether you will ever see them again. It calls upon the best in all of us to respond to someone in deep despair. I call it grace…I honestly feel we all need more grace in our lives.”

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23-year veteran of the United States Air Force Sandra Griffin, now serves as an Arlington Lady.
This “Today in History” is dedicated to the man for whom I am namesake. United States Army Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Richard B. “Rick” Long, Sr., 2/25/37 – 3/31/18. Rest In Peace, Dad. You left us too soon.

March 30, 1945 We’re All Jews Here

“We’re not doing that.  We’re all turning out”.

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”. – Martin Niemöller

last_great_act_of_defiance1Before the age of the internet meme,  office jokes and bits of folk wisdom were passed around and copied and copied again.  There was one, “The Last great of Defiance“, which will live for all time as my favorite.  The picture speaks for itself.  I had one on the wall, for years.

This is one of those stories.

The last great effort of German arms burst out of the frozen Ardennes forest on December 16, 1944, aiming for the vital port at Antwerp.

Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein“, (“Operation Watch on the Rhine”) was a tactical surprise for the Wehrmacht, as allied forces were driven back through the densely forested regions of France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Wartime news maps showed a great inward “bulge” in the lines, and the name stuck. The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by American forces in World War 2, fought in the harshest winter conditions in recorded history and involving some 610,000 GIs.

malmed1Prisoners were swept up by the thousands, and faced an uncertain future.  In Malmedy, Belgium, seventy-five captured Americans were marched into an open field and machine gunned by members of the 1st SS Panzer Division (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler), a part of 6th Panzer Army.

On December 16, the all-black 333rd Field Artillery Battalion of the racially segregated US Army put up an heroic defense outside the town of Wereth, Belgium, using their 155mm guns to delay the German advance. Desperately outnumbered, the 333rd was overrun the following day, groups of men scattering to escape as best they could. Eleven soldiers made their way to the home of Mathias Langer, the Mayor of Wereth.

To shelter allied troops under German occupation was to risk summary execution. Despite the obvious risk to their own lives, Matthias and his wife Maria took these men in and attempted to hide them, in their home. When German troops arrived, the eleven surrendered rather than risk the lives of their benefactors.

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Movie poster for the 2011 film, “The Wereth Eleven”

The prisoners were marched out of sight and murdered, every one of them. The Wereth 11 were lost in the confusion of the Bulge, their bodies hidden under the snow until Spring melt. Their story was lost to history, for the next fifty years.

Nazi atrocities were not limited to Allied troops.  By some accounts, more civilians were killed during the Battle of the Bulge than the last four years.  When the fighting was over, more than 115 bodies were found in the towns of Ster and Parfondruy, alone.

For Master Sargent Roderick “Roddie” Edmonds, the war ended on December 19, swept up with hundreds of American troops and taken prisoner.  These were the lucky ones, escaping those first white-hot moments of capture to be sent to a German prisoner-of-war camp.  He was later transferred to another camp near Ziegenhain, Germany.  At 24, M/Sgt Roddie Edmonds was the senior non-commissioned officer at Stalag IX-A, responsible for 1,275 American POWs.

The Wehrmacht had harsh anti-Jew policies and kept Jewish POWs in strict segregation.  In the East, Russian Jewish POWs were sent directly to extermination camps.  The future was more uncertain for Jewish POWs, in the west.  Many were worked to death in slave labor camps.

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On January 27, the first day at Stalag IX-A, commandant Siegmann ordered Edmonds: All American Jews were to identify themselves, at the following day’s assembly.  The word went out to all five barracks:  “We’re not doing that.  We’re all turning out“.

The following morning, 1,275 POWs presented themselves.  Every. Single. Man.

Siegmann was perplexed.  “They can’t all be Jews!”  As senior NCO, Edmonds spoke for the group.  “We’re all Jews here“.  The Nazi commandant was apoplectic, pressing a Luger into Edmonds’ forehead.  This is your last chance.

Edmonds gave his name, rank and serial number, and then said:  ‘If you are going to shoot, you are going to have to shoot all of us because we know who you are and you’ll be tried for war crimes when we win this war.'”  Siegmann was incandescent, white with rage, but the moment had passed.  He was beaten.

The 1,275 American POWs held at Stalag IX-A were liberated this day in 1945, including some 200 Jews.

Roddie Edmonds was again recruited for the war in Korea.  He never told his family about any of it.

Chris Edmonds is the Pastor at Piney Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, Tennessee. Following his father’s death in 1985, Chris’ mother gave him his father’s  war diary, where he found a brief mention of this story.  Chris scoured the news for more information, around the time Richard Nixon was looking for his post-Presidential home.  As it happened, Nixon bought his posh, upper-east side home from Lester Tanner, a prominent New York Lawyer who mentioned in passing, he owed his life to Roddie Edmonds.

So it was, this story came to light.  In 2015, Edmonds was honored as “Righteous among the Nations”, the first American soldier, so honored.  It’s the highest honor bestowed by the state of Israel, on non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi death machine.  President Barack Obama recognized Edmonds heroism in a 2016 speech before the Israeli embassy.  The United States Congress bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal in 2017.  As I write this, Pastor Edmonds and the Jewish veterans saved by M/Sgt Edmonds are pushing for the Knoxville, Tennessee native to receive the Medal of Honor.

Pastor Edmonds says he always looked up to his father, the man had always been, his hero.  “I just didn’t know he had a cape in his closet“.

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March 29, 1848 When Niagara Falls Ran Dry

Only once in recorded history did Niagara Falls run dry.  On this day in 1848, roughly 212,000 cubic feet per second dried, to a trickle.

As Athens and Sparta vied for control of the Peloponnese, the earliest tribes settled in the Niagara valley of modern-day Ontario and western New York.  These aboriginal settlers were the Onguiaahra, a farming people growing corn, beans and squash in the rich soil of the Niagara escarpment, hunting deer and elk and fishing the tributary waterways of the Niagara valley.

They were 12,000 in number when French explorer Samuel de Champlain came to the region in 1615.  French explorers called them “Neutrals”, the peace makers between the perpetually warring tribes of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk Nations to the south, and the Huron to the north.  Vying for control of the rich French fur trade, peoples of this “Iroquois Confederacy” systematically destroyed the villages of the neutrals, killing their people or driving them east, toward Albany.  The Onguiaahra ceased to exist as a people by 1653 but their name lives on, in a word translating as “Thunder of Waters”.

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Niagara Falls are three in number, 3,160 tons of water cascading over the precipice every second, hitting the bottom at American and Bridal Veil Falls with 280 tons of force, and an astonishing 2,509 striking the Canadian side, at the famous Horseshoe Falls.

Pictures have been around since the age of photography, purporting to show Niagara Falls “frozen solid”.  That’s not so unusual.  The Washington Post reports:

“Niagara Falls gets cold every year. The average temperature in Niagara Falls in January is between 16 and 32 degrees. Naturally, it being that cold, ice floes and giant icicles form on the falls, and in the Niagara River above and below the falls, every year. The ice at the base of the falls, called the ice bridge, sometimes gets so thick that people used to build concession stands and walk to Canada on it. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. It is not, to put it bluntly, big polar vortex news”.

Niagara “Frozen” in 1906, 1902 and 1936.  Hat Tip Snopes.com

Despite appearances, water flows in abundance under those bridges of ice.  Only once in recorded history did Niagara Falls run dry.  On this day in 1848, roughly 212,000 cubic feet per second dried, to a trickle.  Not dried, really, nor did it freeze.  Strong southwest winds had driven massive amounts of ice to the head of Niagara River, effectively putting a cork in the bottle.

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Fish flopped in the dry riverbed as, upstream, factories ground to a halt.  Souvenir hunters and daredevils walked out on the dry river bed.  Some even drove buggies.   One unit of the United States Army cavalry paraded back and forth, across the river.  Treasure hunters found artifacts from the War of 1812:  muskets, bayonets, even tomahawks.  At the base of the Falls, Maid of the Mist owners took the opportunity to dynamite rocks, which had endangered their boat.

That much water is not to be denied.  The ice dam broke on March 31 and, by that evening, the flow was back to normal.

Lifelong “Stooges” fans will appreciate this classic comedy bit, “Niagara Falls”

The Falls “dried up” once more in 1961 but, this time, on purpose.  Over three days and 1,264 truckloads of fill, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a cofferdam that June, diverting water to the Canadian side.  There was concern that rock falls were going to cause erosion, “shutting down” the Falls.  On inspection, engineers determined that removing the rocks would accelerate erosion.  The idea was abandoned by November and the cofferdam, blown up.  To this day, the waters of Niagara flow unvexed, to the sea.

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A Trivial Matter
In 1901, Schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to go over Niagara Falls, in a barrel.  Sixteen others have followed, at least on purpose.  Five of them died, including the guy who went over in a kayak, and the one on the jet ski.  On Saturday, July 9, 1960, seven-year-old Roger Woodward was accidentally swept over Horsehoe Falls and miraculously survived the 162-foot plunge, wearing only a bathing suit and a life jacket. Sadly, James Honeycutt was killed, attempting his rescue.  90% of fish who go over the Falls, live to tell the tale.

March 28, 1892 Two-Gun Hart, Prohibition Cowboy

By 1930, Richard James Hart was so famous as to receive a letter addressed only to “Hart”, along with the sketch of a brace of pistols.

In 2002, the Martin Scorcese film Gangs of New York told the story of Civil War-era street gangs, the violent underworld of a city run by Tammany Hall “Machine” politician William “Boss” Tweed. The slum tenements of turn-of-the century New York were borne of this earlier period, a vicious, teeming underworld of petty criminals and street gangs including the Five Point, Whyos, Chichester and a score of others.

James Vincenzo was born into this world on this day in 1892, a world of gang violence where rivalries were brutal and fights armed and often, to the death. James ran to the defense of his younger brother Al after one gang-banger slashed the boy across the face, hurling his little brother’s attacker through a plate glass window.

While many of the boys of this day grew into the criminals of another era, James left New York City for the life of a circus roustabout.

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Silent film cowboy star William S Hart

This was the age of the silent film, William S. Hart one of the great “cowboy” stars of the era. Hart was larger than life, the six-gun toting cow-punching gunslinger from a bygone era.

The roustabout so idolized the silent film star he adopted the mannerisms, the low-slung six-shooters, red bandanna and the ten-gallon hat. Not content with merely aping all that cinematic charisma, James went so far as to adopt the man’s name.

Richard James Hart stepped off the freight train in 1919, a walking, talking anachronism. He was a 19th century Wild West gunfighter, from his cowboy boots to his embroidered vest to that broad-brimmed stetson hat. This was Homer Nebraska, a small town of about 500, some seventeen miles from Sioux City Iowa.

He claimed to be a hero of the Great War, personally decorated by General John J. Pershing. Intelligent, ambitious and not afraid of a little hard work, Hart took jobs as paper hanger, house painter, whatever it took.

He was short and powerfully built with the look of a man who carried mixed Indian or Mexican blood, regaling veterans at the local American Legion with tales of his exploits, against the Hun.

The man could fight and he knew how to use those guns, amazing onlookers with feats of marksmanship, behind the Legion post.

Any doubts about Hart’s physical courage were put to rest that May when a flash-flood nearly killed the Winch family of neighboring Emerson Nebraska. Hart dashed across the raging flood time after time to bring the family to safety.  Nineteen-year-old Kathleen was so taken with her savior she married the man that Fall, a marriage which would produce four boys.

1a51f078610f1e077ce9a551f2b1cecaThe small town was enthralled by this new arrival, the town council appointing Hart as Marshall. He was a big fish in a small pond, elected commander of the Legion post and district commissioner for the Boy Scouts of America.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on January 16 of that year, the Volstead Act passed by the United States Congress over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson on October 29. “Prohibition” had descended across the land. It was now illegal to produce, import, transport or sell intoxicating liquor.

Richard Hart became Prohibition Agent in the Summer of 1920 and went immediately to work, destroying stills and arresting area bootleggers.

Hart was loved by Temperance types and hated by the “wets”, and famous across the state of Nebraska. The Homer Star reported their hometown hero was “becoming such a menace in the state that his name alone carries terror to the heart of every criminal.

Officials at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took note and before long, Hart was performing the more difficult (and dangerous) job of liquor suppression on the reservations.

Hart brought his chaps and his six-shooters to South Dakota, where the Yanktown reservation superintendent reported to his superiors in Washington “I wish to commend Mr. Hart in highest terms for his fearless and untiring efforts to bring these liquor peddlers and moonshiners to justice. …This man Hart is a go-getter.”

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Hart became proficient in Lakota and Omaha dialects. Tribal leaders called him “Two Gun”, after the twin revolvers he wore. Some members of the Oglala tribe called him “Soiko”, the name roughly translating as “Big hairy boogey-man”.

By 1927, Two-Guns Hart had achieved such a reputation as to be appointed bodyguard to President Calvin Coolidge, on a trip through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By 1930, Richard James Hart was so famous as to receive a letter addressed only to “Hart”, along with the sketch of a brace of pistols.

181580_maxHart became livestock inspector after repeal of prohibition, and special agent assigned to the Winnebago and Omaha reservations.  He was re-appointed Marshall of his adopted home town but, depression-era Nebraska was tough.  The money was minuscule and the Marshall was caught, stealing cans of food.

The relatives of one bootlegging victim of his earlier days tracked him down and beat him so severely with brass knuckles,  the Prohibition Cowboy lost sight in one eye.

Fellow members of the American Legion had by this time contacted the Army to learn Hart’s WW1 tales, were all fake.  Richard James Hart was never in the Army though his namesake Richard Jr. died fighting for the nation, in World War 2.

Turns out that other parts of the lawman’s story were fraudulent, too.  Like the Italian American actor Espera Oscar de Corti better known as “Iron Eyes Cody”, the “crying Indian” of those commercials had no Native American blood.  Nor did the Italian American Richard James Hart.

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The Lawman had left the slums of Brooklyn to become a Prohibition Cowboy while that little brother slashed across the face, had pursued a life of crime.  Richard James Hart was James Vincenzo Capone, long lost brother of Alphonse “Scarface” Capone.

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A Trivial Matter
James Vincenzo Capone’s strange double-life came to the public eye for the first time in 1951, when defense attorneys subpoenaed Richard Hart to testify on behalf of his brother Ralph Capone. Hart faded into anonymity following a rash of newspaper stories, and died within a year at his adopted home town of Homer, the small Nebraska town where he stepped off that freight train, some 33 years earlier.

March 27, 1794 Quasi War

On this day in 1794, the United States Government established a permanent navy and authorized the building of six frigates..  One of them, USS Constitution, saw its first combat in the Quasi-War and remains in service to this day, the oldest commissioned warship in the United States Navy.

Imagine you consider yourself to be somewhere in the political center.  Maybe a little to the left. Now imagine that, in the space of two years, national politics have shifted to the point you find yourself on the “reactionary right”, subject to execution as such by your government.

And your personal convictions have never so much as wavered.

America’s strongest Revolution-era ally lost its collective mind in 1792, when France descended into a revolution of its own.    17,000 Frenchmen were officially tried and executed during the 1793-’94 “Reign of Terror” alone, including King Louis XVI and Queen consort, Marie Antoinette.  Untold thousands died in prison or without benefit of trial.

OSS-FrenchRevolutionMythsThe monarchical powers of Europe were quick to intervene.  For the 32nd time since the Norman invasion of 1066, England and France once again found themselves in a state of war.

France was the American patriot’s strongest supporter during America’s revolution, yet the US remained neutral in the later conflict, straining relations between the former allies.  Making matters worse, America repudiated its war debt in 1794, arguing that it owed money to “l’ancien régime”, not to the French First Republic which had overthrown it and executed its King.

Both sides in the European conflict seized neutral ships in the act of trading with their adversary.  The “Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation” with Great Britain, better known as the “Jay Treaty”, all but destroyed relations with the French 1st Republic.  France retaliated by stepping up attacks on American merchant shipping, seizing 316 American civilian ships in one eleven-month period, alone.

In 1796, the French Republic formally broke diplomatic relations with the United States, rejecting the credentials of President Washington’s representative Ambassador Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

The following year, President John Adams dispatched a delegation of two.  They were the future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, and future Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, he who lends his name to the term “Gerrymander”.  Their instructions were to join with Pinckney in negotiating a treaty with France, with terms similar to those of the Jay treaty with Great Britain.

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The American commission arrived in Paris in October 1797, requesting a meeting with the French Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.  Talleyrand, unkindly disposed toward the Adams administration to begin with, demanded money before meeting with the American delegation.  The practice was not uncommon in European diplomacy of the time, but the Americans blanched.

Documents later released by the Adams administration describe Nicholas Hubbard, an English banker identified only as “W”.  W introduced “X” (Baron Jean-Conrad Hottinguer) as a “man of honor”, who wished an informal meeting with Pinckney.  Pinckney agreed and Hottinguer reiterated Talleyrand’s demands, specifying the payment of a large “loan” to the French government, and a £50,000 bribe to Talleyrand himself.  Met with flat refusal by the American commission, X then introduced Pierre Bellamy (“Y”) to the Americans, followed by Lucien Hauteval (“Z”), sent by Talleyrand to meet with Elbridge Gerry.  X, Y and Z, each in their turn, reiterated the Foreign Minister’s demand for a loan, and a bribe.

Believing that Adams sought war by exaggerating the French position, Jeffersonian members of Congress joined with the more warlike Federalists in demanding the release of the commissioner’s communications.  It was these dispatches, released in redacted form, which gave the name “X-Y-Z Affair” to the diplomatic and military crisis which followed.

American politics were sharply divided over the European war.  President Adams and his Federalists, always the believers in strong, central government, took the side of the Monarchists.  Thomas Jefferson and his “Democratic-Republicans” found more in common with the “liberté, égalité, fraternité” espoused by revolutionaries.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling class enjoyed the chaos.  One British political cartoon of the time depicted the United States, represented by a woman being groped by five Frenchmen while John Bull, the fictional personification of all England, looks on laughing from a nearby hilltop.

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Adams’ commission left without entering formal negotiations, the failure leading to a political firestorm in the United States.  Congress rescinded all existing treaties with France on July 7, 1798, the date beginning the undeclared “Quasi-War” with France.  Four days later, President John Adams signed “An Act for Establishing and Organizing a Marine Corps,” permanently establishing the United States Marine Corps as an independent service branch, in order to defend the American merchant fleet.

At this point, the United States had no other means of fighting back.  The government had disbanded the Navy along with its Marine contingent at the end of the Revolution, selling the last warship in 1785 and retaining only a handful of “revenue cutters” for purposes of customs enforcement.  On this day in 1794, the United States Government established a permanent navy and authorized the building of six frigates..  One of them, USS Constitution, saw its first combat in the Quasi-War and remains in service to this day, the oldest commissioned warship in the United States Navy.

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American military involvement proved decisive.  Before armed intervention, the conflict with France resulted in the loss of over 2,000 merchant ships captured, with 28 Americans killed and another 42 wounded.   Military escalation with the French First Republic cost the Americans 54 killed and 43 wounded, with only a single ship lost.  That one, was later recaptured.

By the turn of the century, the naval power of the English speaking nations brought about a more agreeable negotiating position with the government of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. The Convention of 1800 ended the Quasi-War, asserting American rights and ending the alliance with France.

The entangling French alliance of 1778, was dead.   The Napoleonic Wars would be fought entirely on European soil.

 

A Trivial Matter
Between 1803 and 1812, the Royal Navy’s manpower needs greatly exceeded voluntary enlistment.  5,000 to 9,000 American sailors were forcibly “impressed” (kidnapped) into service, becoming a major casus belli for the war of 1812.

March 26, 1958 How can they Hate me, when they don’t even Know me

“In a real sense we must all live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools”. – Reverend martin Luther King, Jr.

Daryl Davis is an American R & B musician, a master of Delta & Chicago Blues and the boogie-woogie style, on piano. The man can sing too, well enough to perform with the likes of Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis and BB King.

“Both Pinetop Perkins and Johnnie Johnson, considered to be the greatest Blues & Boogie Woogie and Blues and Rock’n’Roll pianists respectively, both have claimed DARYL as their godson”. – daryldavis.com/musician-biography/

Davis has acted on stage, film and television. He’s a Christian, a writer, an activist and lecturer, who’s spent the last thirty years befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan and. Oh…Did I mention, he’s black?

Daryl Davis was born this day in 1958, the son of a State Department foreign service officer.  His first ten years were spent in the world of foreign diplomats where children of every race and nationality were schooled together.  This was a world of easy integration, not so the world he entered on returning to the United states, at age ten.

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As a member of an all-white Cub Scout troop in the racially backward Boston suburb of Belmont Massachusetts (you thought I was going to say “Selma”), Davis speaks of being struck with rocks and bottles thrown by the crowd, until encircled by members of the troop.

Lest anyone object to my characterizing the “Liberal” bastion of Massachusetts as “racially backward”, the affront to common decency below was photographed in Boston in 1976, nineteen years after President Dwight Eisenhower sent Federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas.

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“The Soiling of Old Glory is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken by Stanley Forman during the Boston busing crisis in 1976” – H/T Wikipedia

Any fool can mistrust and even dislike those unlike himself.  Most fools do.  At ten years old, Daryl Davis understood as much and asked his father about the cub scout incident.  The conversation led to a lifelong impression in Davis’ mind, that it made no sense.  How can they Hate me, when the don’t even Know me.

Davis’ career as an activist began in a “white” bar in Frederick, Maryland, in 1983. Davis was playing Country & Western music when a white man commented, he’d never “heard a black man play as well as Jerry Lee Lewis“. Davis explained “Jerry Lee learned to play from black blues and boogie woogie piano players and he’s a friend of mine.” The patron was skeptical and, over drinks, admitted to being a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Eventually, the pair became friends, a relationship which would guide Daryl to leaders of the KKK.

3258E1E800000578-3499658-image-m-11_1458344520932Years later, Davis decided to write a book, answering the question that had dogged him, all those years: ‘Why do you hate me when you know nothing about me?’ That question had never been answered from my youth.” To satisfy his own curiosity, Davis reached out to Roger Kelly, Imperial Wizard of the KKK in Maryland. Let him tell the story:

“My secretary called him, and I told her, ‘do not tell Roger Kelly I’m black. Just tell him I am writing a book on the Klan.’ I wanted her to call because she’s white. I knew enough about the mentality of the Klan that they would never think a white woman would work for a black man. She called him and he didn’t ask what color I was, so we arranged to meet at a motel”.

The human brain is an awesome thing, the mind a strange and impenetrable place. Weighing in at about 3-pounds, the organ is comprised of some 86 billion neurons, each made of a stoma or cell body, an axon to take information away from the cell, and anywhere between a handful and a hundred thousand dendrites bringing information in. Chemical signals transmit data over minute gaps between neurons called synapses, about 1/25,000th to 1/50,000th the thickness of a sheet of paper.

20170629_daryl_davis_015_custom-b6e5c20f962425b2d795ba585f3cc5e5943ef0f0-s300-c85There are roughly a quadrillion such synapses in any given brain, meaning any given thought could wend its way through more pathways than there are molecules in the known universe.

The possessors of such organs are themselves, strange and impenetrable beings.  Some among us are impervious to new information. We all know the kind. Others are capable of the most gut-wrenching honesty, of challenging even the most deeply held beliefs in the face of new information.

When Confederate Major General Patrick Cleburne, the “Stonewall of the West” made the “Monstrous proposal” of arming slaves in the waning days of the Civil War, General and former Georgia Governor Howell Cobb gave us the faintest glimpse through that keyhole: “You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”

“And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”

Roger Kelly himself was a man, capable of looking through that keyhole.  What he saw didn’t make sense to him either.  Kelly arrived with an armed bodyguard, himself armed and wearing military-style fatigues.  That first meeting must have been as tense as two cats in a wet sack.  In time, the man’s views began to soften.  Later on, Davis invited Kelly to be godfather, to his daughter.  Kelly left the Klan and gave his outfit to Davis, who kept the robes in hopes of one day showing them in a “Museum of the Klan”.

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Davis claims to have befriended over 20 members of the Ku Klux Klan.  He claims direct responsibility for 40 to 60 of them leaving and indirectly, another 200. Davis believes Klansmen hold misconceptions about blacks based on brainwashing and unfamiliarity.  He wrote of one such conversation in his 1998 book, Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan:

One Klansman informed Davis, “All black people have a gene in them that makes them violent “.  Davis responded, ‘You know, it’s a fact that all white people have within them a gene that makes them serial killers. Name me three black serial killers.’ He could not do it. I said ‘you have the gene. It’s just latent.’ He said, ‘Well that’s stupid.’ I said, ‘It’s just as stupid as what you said to me.’ He was very quiet after that and I know it was sinking in.”

The man left the Klan several months later, giving Davis his robes.  They were the first he ever received.

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In an age of political race baiters and racial arsonists, (they’re a dime-a-dozen on TV), Daryl Davis is a man with the strength of character, the intellectual curiosity and the physical courage to challenge long-held stereotypes that many among us, hold about one another.

The man is a living tribute to the idea that if we just ignore the crazies, the rest of us can figure out how to get along.

 

Afterward
The documentary film Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America debuted on the PBS TV series Independent Lens, in 2016. Frank Ancona, Imperial Wizard of the Missouri-based Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was depicted at the opening and close of the documentary. Ancona was shot and killed in his bed on February 11, 2017, two days before the airing of the film.  Ancona’s wife and step-son have been charged in the murder.
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Imperial Wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Frank Ancona
“In a real sense we must all live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools”. – Reverend martin Luther King, Jr.

March 25, 2019 National Medal of Honor Day

Today, March 25, 2019, we honor those recipients of our nation’s highest award for military valor.  Seventy-nine of them are alive, today.  Possibly without exception, these are people who will tell you, they are not the heroes.  They were simply doing a job and those who would not come home alive, are the real heroes.

At the time of the American Revolution, European armies bestowed honors, only on high-ranking officers who achieved victory in battle. There was no such honor for the common soldier.  As General, George Washington wrote the “road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is…open to all”.

There was precedent for such an award in the Colonial military, but only under limited circumstances.  Congressional medals were awarded to Washington himself on March 25, 1776, following the British evacuation of Boston;  to General Horatio Gates in November 1777 in recognition of his victory over British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga;  and to Major-General “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, father of Civil War-era Confederate General Robert E. Lee, in recognition of his 1779 attack on the British position at Paulus Hook, New Jersey.

A “Fidelity Medallion” was awarded to three militia men in 1780, for the capture of John André, the British officer and spy whose capture uncovered the treachery of General Benedict Arnold.

MeritThe future 1st President’s general orders of August 7, 1782 established a “Badge of Military Merit” to recognize those members of the Continental Army who performed “any singular meritorious action”.

In time, Washington’s Badge of Military Merit morphed into what we now know as the Purple Heart, but the precedent had been set.  This was the first such honor available to any U.S. military service member, who had distinguished himself by act of valor.

Congress created the “Meritorious Service Citation Certificate” around the time of the Mexican-American war, recognizing “any private soldier who had distinguished himself by gallantry performed in the presence of the enemy”.  The award would come in and out of use in the decades that followed, later becoming the Distinguished Service Medal, an award available to United States and foreign military service personnel and, in limited circumstances, civilians.

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H/T http://www.worldnationaldays.com/national-medal-of-honor-day-2019/

In the early days of the Civil War, General-in-chief of the army Winfield Scott was against such an award.  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles adopted the idea on behalf of the Navy, following Scott’s retirement in October 1861.  President Abraham Lincoln signed “Public Resolution #82” on December 21, 1861, creating a Navy Medal of Honor.

An Army version of the medal was created the following July, first awarded to six federal soldiers for hijacking the Confederate locomotive, “The General”.  Leader of the raid James Andrews was caught and hanged as a Union spy.  Andrews alone was deemed ineligible for the Medal of Honor, as he was a civilian.

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The Great Locomotive Chase, by Bruce Kay

Medals of Honor are not awarded casually.  The award is reserved only for the bravest of the brave, and for well-documented acts of valor. Permit me to share a few examples, each from his own moment in history.

Few soldiers on the Civil War battlefield had a quicker route to death’s door than the color bearer.  National and regimental flags were all-important sources of inspiration and communication.

Reverend W. Jamison Thomson of Hartford, Connecticut described the importance of the battle flag: “It represents the cause, is the rallying point, while it is aloft proclaims that victory is still intended, is the center of all eyes, is the means of communication between soldiers, officers, and nation,” he said, “and after the engagement, and after many of them, is their marked memento so long as its identity can be preserved.

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Pvt. Joseph E. Brandle served as regimental color bearer, with the 17th Michigan Infantry.  Private Brandle earned the Medal of Honor for his actions of November 16, 1863, near Lenoire, Tennessee…”…[H]aving been twice wounded and the sight of one eye destroyed, [he] still held to the colors until ordered to the rear by his regimental commander.”

During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Chaplain’s assistant and regimental musician Calvin Pearl Titus of Vinton, Iowa, volunteered to scale the 30-ft walls of Peking, raising the American flag over the outer walls of the city.  President Theodore Roosevelt awarded Titus the medal of Honor, for “Gallant and daring conduct in the presence of his colonel and other officers…”  He was “the last color bearer”.

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Sergeant York

On October 8, 1918, Tennessee native Corporal Alvin Cullum York of the 82nd Division lead a group of seventeen against a numerically superior German force, dug in at Chatel-Chehery, France.

Let York’s citation tell the story: “…After his platoon had suffered heavy casualties and three other non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading seven men, he charged with great daring toward a machine gun nest, which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machine gun nest was taken, together with four officers and 128 men and several guns.

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Audie Murphy

Kingston Texas 2nd Lieutenant Audie Murphy found himself senior officer of a company of 18, whittled down from 235 by disease, wounds and casualties.  On January 26, 1945, Murphy’s small force found itself under assault by six German tanks and a large infantry force.

A man the Marine Corps had once turned down for being underweight and underage, Murphy climbed aboard a burning tank destroyer.  Out in the open and exposed to German fire from three sides, the 19-year old single-handedly fought off the entire assault, killing or wounding fifty and causing the German tanks to withdraw.

The Medal at LastFather Emil Kapaun selflessly sacrificed himself on behalf of his fellow prisoners in 1951, in the frozen hell of a North Korean prison camp.  President Barack Obama awarded Kapaun’s family the Medal of Honor during a ceremony in the east wing of the White House, on April 11, 2013.

Chaplain Kapaun’s body lies in an unmarked mass grave, somewhere in Pyoktong county.

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Sammy Lee Davis

PFC Sammy Lee Davis distinguished himself during the small hours of November 18, 1967, when the 4th Artillery of 9th Infantry Division came under heavy attack west of Cai Lay, Republic of Vietnam.

Repeatedly knocked to the ground by enemy mortar fire and suffering multiple injuries, the Cannoneer from Dayton, Ohio fought back first with a heavily damaged, burning howitzer, and then with recoilless rifle and machine gun.

Two Medals of honor were awarded posthumously, to Delta Force snipers Gary Gordon and Randy Shugart, for their hopeless defense of the crash site of a downed UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, against hundreds of fighters loyal to the Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

Corporal Jason Lee Dunham of Scio New York deliberately threw himself on an Iraqi grenade on April 14, 2004, saving the lives of fellow Marines at the sacrifice of his own life.  He was twenty-two.

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Corporal Jason Lee Dunham

Sergeant 1st class Jared Monti of Abington Massachusetts was killed in the mountains of Nuristan Province in Afghanistan, while attempting to rescue a wounded soldier from a hail of small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

Jared Monti
Jared Monti

Monti was the sixth person from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be awarded the Medal of Honor.  The Lee Brice song “I Drive your Truck” voted Song of the Year at the 49th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, is Jared’s story and that of his father Paul Monti, a former science teacher at the Stoughton High School, in Stoughton Massachusetts.

The nation’s highest medal for military valor has been awarded 3,493 times since its inception in 1861, to 3,474 distinct recipients.  621 were awarded posthumously. Jack Lucas became the youngest Medal of Honor recipient of the last century, jumping on not one but Two grenades, in Iwo Jima.

Today, March 25, 2019, we honor those recipients of our nation’s highest award for military valor.  Seventy-nine of them are alive, today.  Possibly without exception, these are people who will tell you, they are not the heroes.  They were simply doing a job and those who would not come home alive, are the real heroes.

If that is not the very definition of heroism, it should be.

 

A Trivial Matter
“The award is not called the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Contrary to popular belief, the official title of the highest U.S. military distinction is simply the Medal of Honor, not the Congressional Medal of Honor. The confusion may have arisen because the president presents the award “in the name of Congress.” There is also a Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which represents recipients of the Medal of Honor, maintains their records and organizes reunion events, among other responsibilities”. H/T History.com