According to mathematicians, the method of losing three leap days out of every 400 ought to hold us for about 10,000 years. By that time we’ll have to add a day, somewhere.
Let me know how that works out, would you?
From its earliest inception, the Roman calendar tracked the cycles of the moon. At least it tried to. The method fell out of phase with the change of seasons and days were randomly added or subtracted in order to compensate. Political campaigns and military conflicts were won or lost, based on the confusion. Things had to change.
In 46BC, Julius Caesar hired Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes to help straighten things out. The astronomer calculated that a proper year was 365¼ days, more accurately tracking the solar and not the lunar year. Ol’ Sosigenes was pretty close. The actual time the earth takes to revolve around the sun is 365.242199 days.The second month had 30 days back then, when Caesar renamed his birth month from Quintilis to “Julius”, in honor of himself. Rank hath its privileges. To this day, it’s why we have “July”. Not to be outdone, Caesar’s successor Caesar Augustus changed Sextilis to Augustus and, you got it, today we have August. The only thing was, that Augustus had only 29 days to Julius’ 31, and we can’t have that.
You see this coming, right?
Augustus swiped two days from the month of the Roman festival of purification. Februarius mensis wouldn’t even miss them.
Adding a day to every fourth February solved the calendar problem, sort of, but not quite. Pope Gregory XIII and his astronomers attempted to fine tune the situation in 1582. No year divisible by 100 would be a leap year, unless that year is also divisible by 400. Ergo, 1600 and 2000 were leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900, were not. According to mathematicians, this method of losing three leap days out of every 400 ought to hold us for about 10,000 years. By that time we’ll have to add a day, somewhere.
Let me know how that works out, would you?There is an old legend that St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick back in the 5th century, that women had to wait too long for beaus to “pop the question”. Other versions of the story date back before English Law recognized the Gregorian calendar, meaning that the extra day had no legal status. Be that as it may, it is customary in many places for a woman to propose marriage on the 29th of February. According to legend, one old Scottish law of 1288 would fine the man who turned down such a proposal.
In June 1503, Christopher Columbus was on his fourth voyage to the west when his two caravels became stranded, in Jamaica. Relations with the natives were cordial at first but, after six months, the newcomers had worn out their welcome. Desperately needing food and provisions, Columbus consulted the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus, where he learned that a lunar eclipse was expected on February 29.
Gathering the native chiefs that evening, Columbus explained that God was about to punish the indigenous people by painting the moon red. The eclipse occurred on schedule to the dismay of the natives, who were eager to promise anything to get the moon back.“With great howling and lamentation” wrote Columbus’ son Ferdinand, “they came running from every direction to the ships, laden with provisions, praying the Admiral to intercede by all means with God on their behalf; that he might not visit his wrath upon them”.
The explorer retired to his cabin, to “pray”. Timing the eclipse with his hourglass, Columbus emerged after 48 minutes to announce. All was forgiven. God had pardoned the People.
188 years later, to the day. February 29, 1692. The first witchcraft warrants went out from a place called Salem Village, calling for the arrest of two social outcasts named Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, and the West Indian slave woman, Tituba.
The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris, Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months.
On this day in 1992, 16-year-old Tiger Woods became the youngest PGA golfer in 35 years, going on to become the first $100 million man on the Professional Tour.
The youngest in thirty-five years that is, but not the youngest ever. Andy Zhang made the US Open in 2012 at the ripe old age of fourteen years, six months, but even he wasn’t the youngest.
The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris, Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months.
Morris withdrew from that year’s tournament, at about the time General Lee met General Grant at a place called Appomattox. Young Tom went on to win the British Open three years later, winning the equivalent of $12 for the feat. Ironically, the victory came at the expense of his father “Old” Tom Morris, Greens Keeper and club pro at the famous ‘Old Course’ at St. Andrews.
Young Tom followed that first Open Championship in 1868 with three more: in 1869, 1870 and 1872. His record stands to this day, the only player ever to win four consecutive Open Golf Championships. (There was no championship in 1871).
The 18th Green of the Old Course at St. Andrews has changed little, since 1891.
Young Tom went on to win three more Open tournaments, the first of only two teenagers in history to win any of the majors. In 1864, Young Tom attended a tournament with his father at the King James VI Golf Club. With days to go before his 13th birthday, he was too young to compete in either the professional or amateur sections. Local organizers set up a two-man tournament between himself and a local youth champion. A large gallery followed the two young golf stars throughout their match. Those who did so were rewarded by seeing young Tom win the match, with a score sufficient to have won the professional tournament.The Father/Son team tee’d off in match against the brothers Willie and Mungo Park on September 11, 1875. With two holes to go, Young Tom received a telegram with upsetting news. His wife Margaret had gone into a difficult labor. The Morrises finished those last two holes winning the match, and hurried home by ship across the Firth of Forth and up the coast. Too late. Tom Morris Jr. got home to find that his young wife and newborn baby, had both died in childbirth.
Weeks later, Young Tom played a marathon tournament in wretched weather, leaving him in a weakened state and bleeding from his lungs. He died at the “Home of Golf” and place of his birth, St. Andrews, a short twenty-four years before. It was Christmas day.
In 2016, the historical drama “Tommy’s Honour” opened the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival, based on “Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son” by Kevin Cook, one of five books voted 2007 “Book of the Year”, by Sports Illustrated.
Journalist and film critic Ross Miller wrote in The National newspaper of Scotland, calling the film “emotional, inspiring and deeply heartfelt. You don’t have to be a golf fan” Miller wrote, ” to be taken in by this engrossing, quietly passionate film that not only brings something new to the sports biopic table but also serves as a poignant, often heartbreaking portrait of paternal love and pursuing your passion with everything you have.”
From Betty Boop to the hula hoop, popular culture is always primed and ready to dive into the latest fad.
Established by act of Congress on July 9, 1918, the Silver Star is the third-highest decoration is the system of military honors, awarded to members of US armed services for valor in combat against an enemy of the United States. A search of public records reveals a long list of recipients of the Silver Star including the name “Ball, Harvey A. HQ, 45th Infantry Division, G.O. No. 281”.
Harvey Ball earned the silver star medal “for Conspicuous Gallantry in Action” in 1945, during the battle for Okinawa. He went on to serve most of his life in the United States Army Reserve, retiring in 1979 with the rank of Colonel.
Harvey Ross Ball worked for a sign painter while attending Worcester South High School, and went on to study fine arts at the Worcester Art Museum School.
After the war, Ball came home to Worcester and worked for a local advertising firm, later opening his own ad agency, Harvey Ball Advertising, in 1959.
In 1963, the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester (now Hanover Insurance) bought out the Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio. Employee morale tanked with the new acquisition. Director of Promotions Joy Young was tasked with solving the problem. Young hired Harvey Ball as a freelance artist to create a visual icon. A pin to be worn as part of the company’s ‘friendship campaign’.
First came the silly grin. That part was easy but the pair soon realized, the button could be inverted. Now we’ve got a “frowny” face and we can’t have that. Ball added eyes, the left drawn just a little smaller than the right, to “humanize” the image.
The work took ten minutes and the artist was paid $45, equivalent to $330 today. Neither Ball nor State Mutual Felt the need to copyright the graphic.
From Betty Boop to the hula hoop, popular culture is always primed and ready to dive into the latest fad. State Mutual ordered 100 buttons. It wasn’t long before manufacturers were taking orders for thousands at a time.
Philadelphia brothers Bernard and Murray Spain seized on the image seven years later and produced millions of coffee mugs, t-shirts, watches and bumper stickers, emblazoned with the happy face and the slogan “Have a happy day”. It was later revised to the ever present, “Have a nice day”.
The image was everywhere, second only to the ubiquitous “Peace Sign”.
Frenchman Franklin Loufrani copyrighted the graphic in France in 1972, using the image in the “good news” section of the newspaper France Soir and developing a line of imprinted novelty items. Loufrani’s son Nicolas took over the family business and launched the Smiley Company, in 1996.
Unsurprisingly, the younger Loufrani is skeptical of Harvey Ball’s claim to have created such a simple design, pointing to cave paintings found in France dated to 2500BC and a similar graphic used in radio ad campaigns, of the early 1960s.
Of course, that didn’t prevent the company from seeking US trademark rights to the image and kicking off a years-long legal battle with retail giant WalMart, which had been using the happy face in its “Rolling Back Prices” campaign.
The Smiley Company is one of the 100 largest licensing corporations in the world with revenues of $167 million in 2012, holding rights to the Smiley Face in over 100 countries. Notably, the United States is not one of them.
As for Harvey Ball, he didn’t seem to mind that he never copyrighted his Smiley Face. The artist is gone now but Ball’s son Charles says his father never was a money driven kind of guy. “Hey”, he would say, “I can only eat one steak at a time. drive one car at a time”.
In the 2009 film “Watchmen” characters fly to Mars, landing in a crater that looks like a Smiley Face. The red planet really does have such a place. It’s called the Galle crater.
In June of 2010, Wal-Mart and the Smiley Company settled their 10-year-old legal dispute in Chicago federal court. The terms of the settlement are confidential and the words of the judge as he lowered his gavel, are unknown to this scribe.
I so want to believe the man told all those lawyers, to “have a nice day”.
There’s a popular story that the 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza was called “American Pie”, but the story is a myth. The single engine airplane bore only the tail number: N3794N.
Jiles Richardson was a Texas DJ in 1958, the year he found recording success of his own with a song called “Chantilly Lace”.
Richie Valenzuela was only 16 when Del-Fi Records producer Bob Keane discovered the singer in California. “Donna”, a song he had written for his high school sweetheart Donna Ludwig, was on the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, right alongside the 45’s “B” side, an old Mexican standard turned Rock & Roll tune called “La Bamba”. By 1958, Valenzuela was one of the hottest young recording artists of his time.
Charles Hardin Holley, “Buddy” to his friends and family, learned guitar, four-string banjo and lap steel guitar from his older brothers, Travis and Larry. The boy took to music at an early age, winning his first talent contest at age five. One music critic would describe the Lubbock Texas native as “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.” Contemporary and later musicians claiming inspiration from Holley’s work include the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello.58 years ago, his name changed as the result of a misspelling in a recording contract, Buddy Holly was headliner of the “The Winter Dance Party Tour”. Richardson, performing as the “Big Bopper” and Valenzuela, professionally known as Ritchie Valens, were on the tour, along with Dion and the Belmonts, Holly’s friend from Lubbock and fellow musician Waylon Jennings, and a young Owasso, Oklahoma Rockabilly musician and former “Crickets” band member, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation named Tommy Allsup.
The musical tour included 24 cities in 3 weeks, a grueling schedule under the best of circumstances. This were anything but the best of circumstances. The tour bus had no heat. A three-week winter bus tour of the upper Midwest is no place to be without heat. It was so cold that Holly’s drummer, Carl Bunch, suffered frostbite in his feet and left the tour in Clear Lake, Iowa.Holly was sick of it, and decided to charter a plane for himself and some of his guys. At least that would give them time to do laundry before the next performance.
Dwyer Flying Service got the charter with a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza, at $36 per person. There’s a popular story that the four-seater aircraft was called “American Pie”, but the story is a myth. The single engine airplane bore only the tail number: N3794N.
Richardson was running a fever at the time, so Waylon Jennings gave up his seat so the Big Bopper could ride in comfort. Allsup and Valens flipped a coin for the last seat, the coin landing heads up. Ritchie Valens had won the coin toss.
On learning that Jennings wasn’t going to fly, Holly said “Well, I hope your old bus freezes up.” Jennings replied “Well, I hope your plane crashes.” It was just a good ribbing between friends. None could know that Jennings’ joke, would come true. The comment haunted Waylon Jennings for the rest of his life.
N3794N left the ground in a snowstorm, shortly after 1:00am on February 3. The pilot, Roger Peterson, may have been inexperienced with the instrumentation. He may have become disoriented in near-whiteout conditions. One wing hit the ground in a cornfield outside of Clear Lake and the aircraft corkscrewed into the ground, throwing the three musicians clear of the plane. There was no fire, barely a sound. Just a small aircraft swallowed whole, by a snow covered cornfield.
The bodies would lie in that field until late in the afternoon.
The show would go on. Needing to fill in at the next stop in Moorhead, Minnesota, they found a 15 year old talent across the state line in Fargo, and so began the musical career of Bobby Vee.
A boy named Don McLean heard about the plane crash while doing his morning paper route. One day, the future singer/songwriter would pen the words “February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver”.
Allsup returned to Odessa, resuming his musical career and opening a club in Dallas, in 1979. He called the place, “Tommy’s Heads Up Saloon”. A nod to the “lost” coin toss that had saved his life.
Distraught, Buddy Holly’s widow miscarried their only child, shortly after the wreck. His last song reached #1 on the UK charts on April 24, 1959, the first posthumous release ever to do so. In the US the song charted at 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be Buddy Holly’s last top 20 hit in the nation.
The name of the song, was “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”
Inscribed on Ritchie Valens’ gravestone are the words, “Come On, Let’s Go.”
The last surviving member of Buddy Holly’s 1959 tour band passed away at the age of 85. Tommy Allsup was a big fan of Western Swing, and member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Tommy’s son Austin is himself a singer/songwriter, that’s him in the picture. Austin received messages of condolence on the passing of his father, including one from Ritchie Valens’ sister. “I told her in my message back“, he said “now my dad and Ritchie can finally finish the tour they started 58 years ago.”
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Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew when he gave away his only hope for survival, Father Washington did not ask for a Catholic. Neither minister Fox nor Poling asked for a Protestant. Each gave his life jacket to the nearest man.
The Troop Transport USAT Dorchester sailed out of New York Harbor on January 23, 1943, carrying 904 service members, merchant seamen and civilian workers. They were headed for the the Army Command Base at Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland, part of a six-ship convoy designated SG-19 together with two merchant ships and escorted by the Coast Guard Cutters Comanche, Escanaba and Tampa.
Built as a coastal liner in 1926, Dorchester was anything but graceful, bouncing and shuddering her way through the rough seas of the North Atlantic.German submarine wolf packs had already sunk several ships in these waters. Late on the night of February 2, one of the Cutters flashed flashed the light signal “we’re being followed”.
Dorchester Captain Hans Danielson ordered his ship on high alert that night. Men were ordered to sleep in their clothes with their life jackets on, but many disregarded the order. It was too hot down there in the holds, and those life jackets were anything but comfortable.
Some of those off-duty tried to sleep that night, while others played cards or threw dice, well into the night. Nerves were understandably on edge, especially among new recruits, as four Army chaplains passed among them with words of encouragement.
They were the Jewish rabbi Alexander David Goode, the Catholic priest John Patrick Washington, the Reformed Church in America (RCA) minister Clark Vandersail Poling, and the Methodist minister George Lansing Fox.
At 12:55am on February 3rd, the German submarine U-223 fired a spread of three torpedoes. One struck Dorchester amidships, deep below the water line. A hundred or more were killed in the blast, or in the clouds of steam and ammonia vapor billowing from ruptured boilers. Suddenly pitched into darkness, untold numbers were trapped below decks. With boiler power lost, there was no longer enough steam to blow the full 6 whistle signal to abandon ship, while loss of power prevented a radio distress signal. For reasons which remain unclear, there never were any signal flares.Those who could escape scrambled onto the deck, injured, disoriented, many still in their underwear as they emerged into the cold and darkness.
The four chaplains must have been a welcome sight, guiding the disoriented and the wounded, offering prayers and words of courage. They opened a storage locker and handed out life preservers, until there were no more. “Padre,” said one young soldier, “I’ve lost my life jacket and I can’t swim!” Witnesses differ as to which of the four it was who gave this man his life jacket, but they all followed suit. One survivor, John Ladd, said “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.” Rabbi Goode gave his gloves to Petty Officer John Mahoney, saying “Never mind. I have two pairs”. It was only later that Mahoney realized. Rabbi Goode intended to stay with the ship.
Dorchester was listing hard to starboard and taking on water fast, with only 20 minutes to live. Port side lifeboats were inoperable due to the ship’s angle. Men jumped across the void into those on the starboard side, overcrowding some to the point of capsize. Only two of fourteen lifeboats launched successfully.
Private William Bednar found himself floating in 34° water, surrounded by dead bodies and debris. “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” he recalled. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”
As the ship upended and went down by the bow, survivors floating nearby could see the four chaplains. With arms linked and leaning against the slanting deck, their voices offered prayers and sang hymns for the dead and for those about to die.Rushing back to the scene, coast guard cutters found themselves in a sea of bobbing red lights, the water-activated emergency strobe lights of individual life jackets. Most marked the location of corpses. Of the 904 on board, the Coast Guard plucked 230 from the water, alive.
The United States Congress attempted to confer the Medal of Honor on the four chaplains for their selfless courage, but strict requirements for “heroism under fire” prevented it from doing so. Congress authorized a one time, posthumous “Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism”, awarded to the next of kin on January 18, 1961 by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Fort Myer, Virginia.John 15:13 teaches us, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew when he gave away his only hope for survival, Father Washington did not ask for a Catholic. Neither minister Fox nor Poling asked for a Protestant. Each gave his life jacket to the nearest man.
Carl Sandburg once said that “Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes.” If I were ever to be so tested, I hope I would prove myself half the man as any of those four chaplains.
Midway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox and well before the first crocus of spring has peered out across the frozen tundra, there is a moment of insanity which helps those of us living in northern climes get through to that brief, blessed moment of warmth when the mosquitoes once again have their way with us.
Here on Sunny Cape Cod™, we have a joke about the four seasons. There’s “Almost Winter”, “Winter”, “Still Winter” and “Bridge Construction”.
Midway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox and well before the first crocus of spring has peered out across the frozen tundra, there is a moment of insanity which helps those of us living in northern climes get through to that brief, blessed season of warmth when the mosquitoes once again have their way with us.
The ancient Romans observed a mid-season festival on February 5, the pagan Irish on February 1. For Christians, it was February 2, Candlemas day, a Christian holiday celebrating the ritual purification of Mary. For reasons not entirely clear, early Christians believed there would be six more weeks of winter if the sun came out on Candlemas Day.
Clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter, their length representing how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on the idea by selecting an animal, a hedgehog, as a means of predicting weather. Once a suitable number of Germans had come to America, they switched over to a more local rodent: Marmota monax. The common Groundhog.Groundhogs hibernate for the winter, an ability some people of my acquaintance, would love to master. During that time, the animal’s heart rate drops from 80 beats per minute to 5 as the slumbering rodent lives off stored body fat. Another ability some of us could learn to appreciate, very much.
The male couldn’t care less about the weather; he comes out of his burrow in February in search of a mate. If uninterrupted, he will fulfill his groundhog mission of love and return to earth, not coming out for good until sometime in March.But then there is the amorous woodchuck’s worst nightmare in a top hat, the groundhog hunter.
Groundhogs are something of a regional delicacy, said to taste like a cross between pork, and chicken. In the 1880s, groundhog hunters hosted annual Groundhog day festivals in addition to summer hunts, followed by picnics featuring steaming dishes like Country-Style Groundhog, Groundhog and Sweet Potatoes and Waco Groundhog in Sour Cream, all of it washed down with “groundhog punch” consisting ofvodka, milk, eggs, orange juice “and other ingredients.” Yumm.
One group of groundhog hunters in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, imaginatively called themselves the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. One of them, a newspaper editor, declared on February 2, 1887, that their groundhog “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary“, was the only true weather forecasting rodent.There are those who would dispute the Gobbler’s Knob crowd and their claims to Punxsutawney Phil’s weather forecasting prowess. Alabama has “Birmingham Bill”, and Canada has Shubenacadie Sam. New York can’t seem to decide between Staten Island Chuck and New York City’s very own official groundhog, “Pothole Pete”.
Today, Phil himself is no longer on the menu. Groundhog punch has given way to a magic elixir said to give Punxatawney’s hundred-year-old rodent, seven more years of life. Since 2010, Punxatawney Faithful can get text message alerts concerning the prognostications of their favorite rodent. (Text “Groundhog” to 247365, if you’re interested).
There is no word for groundhog in Arabic. Accounts of this day in the Arab press translate the word as جرذ الأرض or, “Ground Rat”. If that’s not enough to make us all the life of the party, I don’t know what is.
If anyone were to bend down and ask Mr. Ground Rat his considered opinion on the matter, he would probably cast a pox on all our houses. It’s been a long winter. Mr. Ground Rat’s all dressed up for a date. He has other things on his mind.
Years later the photographer wrote in Time Magazine. ‘The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation.
During WW2, the average infantry soldier saw 40 days of combat, in 4 years. In Vietnam, the average combat infantryman saw 240 days of combat, in a year.
By 1967, the Johnson administration was coming under increasing criticism, for what many of the American public saw as an endless and pointless stalemate in Vietnam.
Opinion polls revealed an increasing percentage believed it was a mistake to send more troops into Vietnam, their number rising from 25% in 1965, to 45% by December, 1967.
The Johnson administration responded with a “success offensive”, emphasizing “kill ratios” and “body counts” of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. Vice President Hubert Humphrey stated on NBC’s Today Show that November, “We are on the offensive. Territory is being gained. We are making steady progress.”
In Communist North Vietnam, the massive battlefield losses of 1966-’67 combined with the economic devastation wrought by US Aerial bombing, causing moderate factions to push for peaceful coexistence with the south. More radical factions favoring military reunification on the Indochina peninsula, needed to throw a “hail Mary” pass. Plans for a winter/spring offensive began, in early 1967. By the New Year, some 80,000 Communist fighters had quietly infiltrated the length and breadth of South Vietnam.One of the largest military operations of the war launched on January 30, 1968, coinciding with the Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year. In the first wave of attacks, North Vietnamese troops and Viet Cong Guerillas struck over 100 cities and towns including Saigon, the South Vietnamese capitol.
Initially taken off-guard, US and South Vietnamese forces regrouped and beat back the attacks, inflicting heavy losses on North Vietnamese forces. The month-long battle for Huế (“Hway”) uncovered the massacre of as many as 6,000 South Vietnamese by Communist forces, 5-10% of the entire city. Fighting continued for over two months at the US combat base at Khe Sanh.While the Tết offensive was a military defeat for the forces of North Vietnam, the political effects on the American public, were profound. Support for the war effort plummeted, leading to demonstrations. Jeers could be heard in the streets. “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency, was finished. The following month, Johnson appeared before the nation in a televised address, saying “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”
In the early morning darkness of February 1, 1968, Nguyễn Văn Lém led a Viet Cong sabotage unit in an assault on the Armor base in Go Vap. After taking control of the camp, Nguyễn arrested Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Tuan with his family, demanding the officer show his guerrillas how to drive tanks. The officer refused and the Viet Cong slit his throat, along with those of his wife, six children and his 80-year-old mother.
The only survivor was a grievously injured, 10-year-old boy.
Nguyễn himself was captured later that morning, near the mass grave of 34 civilians. He said he was “proud” to have carried out orders to kill them.AP photographer Eddie Adams was out on the street with NBC News television cameraman Võ Sửu, looking for something interesting. The pair saw a group of South Vietnamese soldiers dragging what appeared to be an ordinary man into the road, and filmed the event.
Adams “…followed the three of them as they walked towards us, making an occasional picture. When they were close – maybe five feet away – the soldiers stopped and backed away. I saw a man walk into my camera viewfinder from the left. He took a pistol out of his holster and raised it. I had no idea he would shoot. It was common to hold a pistol to the head of prisoners during questioning. So I prepared to make that picture – the threat, the interrogation. But it didn’t happen. The man just pulled a pistol out of his holster, raised it to the VC’s head and shot him in the temple. I made a picture at the same time.”
The man with the pistol was Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, Chief of the National Police. Loan had personally witnessed the murder of one of his own officers, along with the man’s wife and three small children.
Nguyễn Văn Lém was the perpetrator of major war crimes. He was out of uniform and not involved in combat when he murdered the General’s own subordinates and their families. The man was a war criminal and terrorist with no protections under the Geneva Conventions, legally eligible for summary execution.
Loan drew his .38 Special Smith & Wesson “Bodyguard” revolver and fired. The execution was barely a blip on the man’s radar screen.
Loan was a devoted Patriot and South Vietnamese Nationalist. An accomplished pilot who had led an airstrike on Việt Cộng forces at Bo Duc in 1967, Loan was loved and admired by his soldiers.
In February 1968, hard fighting yet remained to retake the capitol. As always, Nguyễn Ngọc Loan was leading from the front when a machine gun burst tore into his leg.
Meanwhile, Adams’ “Saigon Execution” photograph and Võ’s film footage made their way into countless papers and news broadcasts. With events thus stripped of context, General Nguyễn came to be seen as a bloodthirsty, sadistic killer, the Viet Cong terrorist his unarmed, innocent victim.
Adams was well on his way to winning a Pulitzer prize for that photograph, while an already impassioned anti-war movement, lost the faculty of reason.
The political outcry reached all the way to Australia, where General Nguyễn was recuperating from his amputation. Australian hospitals refused the man treatment and he traveled to America, to recover.
The Watergate scandal burst on the scene in 1972 as American politics looked inward. The Nixon administration sought the “Vietnamization” of the war. By January 1973, direct US involvement in the war in Southeast Asia, had come to an end.
Military aid to South Vietnam was $2.8 billion in fiscal year 1973. The United States Congress placed a Billion dollar ceiling on that number the following year, cutting that to $300 million, in 1975. The Republic of Vietnam collapsed, some fifty-five days later.
General Nguyễn had been forced to flee the nation he had served. American immigration authorities sought deportation on his arrival, in part because of Eddie Adams’ picture. The photographer was recruited to testify against the General, but Adams spoke on his behalf.
Nguyễn was permitted to stay. He and his wife opened a pizza shop in the Rolling Valley Mall of Virginia, “Les Trois Continents”. The restaurant thrived for a time, until word got out about the owner’s identity. Knowing nothing about Nguyễn except for that image, locals began to make trouble. Business plummeted as the owner was assaulted in his own restaurant, his life threatened. The last time Adams visited Nguyễn’s pizza shop, the words “We know who you are, fucker“, were scrawled across a toilet wall.The couple was forced to close the restaurant in 1991. Nguyễn Ngọc Loan died of cancer, seven years later.
Eddie Adams won his Pulitzer in 1969 but came to regret that he had ever taken that picture. Years later the photographer wrote in Time Magazine. ‘The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, “What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?”‘
Before Nguyễn died, Adams apologized to the General and his family, for what that image had done to the man’s reputation. “The guy was a hero”, he said, after his death. “America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.”
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