March 29, 1973 National Vietnam War Veterans Day

Begun on November 1, 1955, the conflict lasted 19 years, 5 months and a day. On March 29, 1973, two months after signing the Paris Peace accords, the last US combat troops left South Vietnam as Hanoi freed the remaining POWs held in North Vietnam.

Since the late 19th century, the area now known as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam was governed as a French Colonial territory.  “French Indo-China” came to be occupied by the Imperial Japanese after the fall of France, at the onset of WWII.  There arose a nationalist-communist army during this period, dedicated to throwing out the Japanese occupier.  It called itself the “League for the Independence of Vietnam”, or “Viet Minh”.

images (40)France re-occupied the region following the Japanese defeat which ended World War 2, but soon faced the same opposition from the  army of Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap.

What began as a low level rural insurgency, later became a full-scale modern war when Communist China entered the fray in 1949.

The disastrous defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1953 led to French withdrawal from Vietnam, the Geneva Convention partitioning the country into the communist “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” in the north, and the State of Vietnam in the south led by Emperor Bao Dai and Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.

Communist forces of the north continued to terrorize Vietnamese patriots in north and south alike, with aid and support from communist China and the Soviet Union.

The student of history understands that nothing happens in a vacuum.  US foreign policy is no exception. International Communism had attempted to assert itself since the Paris Commune rebellion of 1871, and found its first major success with the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917.

download (39)US policy makers feared a “domino” effect, and with good cause. The 15 core nations of the Soviet bloc were soon followed by Eastern Europe, as Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia fell each in their turn, into the Soviet sphere of influence. Germany was partitioned into Communist and free-enterprise spheres after WWII, followed by China, North Korea and on across Southeast Asia.

Communism is no benign ideology, morally equivalent to the free market west.  Current estimates of citizens murdered by Communist party ideology in the Soviet Union alone, range from 8 to 61 million during the Stalinist period.

Agree or disagree with policy makers of the time that’s your business, but theirs was a logical thought process. US aid and support for South Vietnam increased as a way to “stem the tide” of international communism, at the same time that French support was pulling back. By the late 1950s, the US was sending technical and financial aid in expectation of social and land reform. By 1960, the “National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam” (“NLF”, or “Viet Cong”) had taken to murdering Diem supported village leaders.  JFK responded by sending 1,364 American advisers into South Vietnam, in 1961.download (38)The war in Vietnam pitted as many as 1.8 million allied forces from South Vietnam, the United States, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, Spain, South Korea and New Zealand, against about a half million from North Vietnam, China, the Soviet Union and North Korea. Begun on November 1, 1955, the conflict lasted 19 years, 5 months and a day. On March 29, 1973, two months after signing the Paris Peace accords, the last US combat troops left South Vietnam as Hanoi freed the remaining POWs held in North Vietnam.

images (38)Even then it wasn’t over. Communist forces violated cease-fire agreements before they were even signed. Some 7,000 US civilian Department of Defense employees stayed behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting an ongoing and ultimately futile war against communist North Vietnam.

The last, humiliating scenes of the war played themselves out on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon on April 29 – 30, 1975, as those able to escape boarded helicopters, while communist forces closed around the South Vietnamese capital.

The “Killing Fields” of Cambodia followed between 1975 – ‘79, when the “Khmer Rouge”, self-described as “The one authentic people capable of building true communism”, murdered or caused the deaths of an estimated 1.4 to 2.2 million of their own people, out of a population of 7 million. All to build the perfect, agrarian, “Worker’s Paradise”.

images (39)Imagine feeling so desperate, so fearful of the alien ideology invading your country, that you convert all your worldly possessions and those of your family into a single diamond, and bite down on that stone so hard it embeds in your shattered teeth.  Forced to flee for your life and those of your young ones, you take to the open ocean in a small boat.  All in the faint and desperate hope, of getting out of that place.

That is but one story among more than three million “boat people”.  Three million from a combined population of 56 million, fleeing the Communist onslaught in hopes of temporary asylum in other countries in Southeast Asia or China.

They were the Sino-Vietnamese Hoa, and Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge.  Ethnic Laotians, Iu Mien, Hmong and other highland peoples of Laos.  The 30 or so Degar (Montagnard) tribes of the Central Highlands, so many of whom had been our steadfast allies in the late war.  Over 2.5 million of them were resettled, more than half to the United States.  The other half went mostly to Canada, Europe and South Pacific nations.

A half-million were repatriated, voluntarily or involuntarily.  Hundreds of thousands vanished in the attempt to flee, never to be seen again.The humanitarian disaster that was the Indochina refugee crisis was particularly acute between 1979 – ’80, but reverberations continued into the 21st century.

Graduating UMass Lowell in 1972 with a degree in nuclear engineering, John Ogonowski joined the United States Air Force. During the war in Vietnam.  The pilot would ferry equipment from Charleston, SC to Southeast Asia, sometimes returning with the bodies of the fallen aboard his C-141 transport aircraft.

Today, we remember him as Senior Captain on American Airlines flight 11, one of thousands murdered by Islamist terrorists, on September 11, 2001.  When he wasn’t flying jumbo jets, John Ogonowski was a farmer.  Until he was killed in his cockpit, John mentored Cambodian refugees turned farmers on his Dracut, Massachusetts “White Gate Farm“, helping them grow familiar crops, in an unfamiliar climate.  Just as those old Yankee farmers had once mentored his Polish immigrant ancestors, generations before.

The wall

Military Working Dogs (MWDs) served with every service branch in Vietnam, mostly German Shepherds and Dobermans but many breeds were accepted into service.

It is estimated that 4,900 dogs served between 1964 and 1975. Detailed records were kept only after 1968, documenting 3,747.

A scant 204 dogs ever left during the ten-year period. Some remained in the Pacific while others returned to the United States. Not one ever returned to civil life. An estimated 350 dogs were killed in action as were 263 handlers.  Many more were wounded. As to the rest, many were euthanized, or left with ARVN units, or simply abandoned, as “surplus equipment”.

There would be no war dog adoption law until 2000 when WWII Marine War Dog Platoon Leader and Veterinarian Dr. William Putney made it happen, with assistance from Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland.

The day it opened in 1982 there were 57,939 names inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall,  Over the years, the names of military personnel who succumbed to wounds sustained in the war, were added to the wall. As of Memorial Day 2015, there are 58,307.

 

Vietnam MemorialIn the end, US public opinion would not sustain what too many saw as an endless war in Vietnam.  We feel the political repercussions, to this day.  I was ten at the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968.  Even then I remember the searing sense of disgrace and humiliation, at the behavior of some of my fellow Americans.

Those EyesIn 2012, President Barack Obama declared a one-time occasion proclaiming March 29 National Vietnam War Veterans Day and calling on “all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

In 2017, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) co-sponsored a measure to declare March 29 Vietnam Veterans Day from that day forward, to honor US service members who served in the war in southeast Asia. The measure passed the United States Senate on February 3 and the House of Representatives on March 21. President Donald Trump signed the measure into law on March 28 designating the following day and every March 29 henceforward, Vietnam Veteran’s Day.

The recognition and gratitude due those who served in an unpopular war, was long overdue

Vietnam Veterans Day Tweet

March 28, 1915 First Blood

For the United States it was First Blood.  The first American to die in the “War to End all Wars”.

One-hundred and five years ago, the “War to end all Wars” had not yet entered the 9th month.  The war of mobility from 1914 was gone now, replaced by the hundreds of miles of trench-works, destined to characterize the remainder of the war.

Off the battlefield, German and British governments sought control over the waters and thus to choke the economic life, each out of the other.

In 1914, both Germany and the United Kingdom were heavily dependent on foreign trade, not only to feed their own war industries but also to feed civil populations, back at home.

After the war, the German Board of Public Health claimed 763,000 civilian deaths due to disease and starvation, specifically brought about by the blockade.  Ten years later, one academic study put the number at 424,000.

In theory, neutral America was happy to trade with any and all comers but in practice, Britannia ruled the waves, her deep-water surface fleet holding all but undisputed superiority over Atlantic trade routes, the English Channel, and the North Sea.

Picture_of_Leon_Chester_Thrasher_who_died_on_the_RMS_Falaba
Leon Thrasher, the 1st American killed in WW1

To the Kaiser’s way of thinking, blockade parity was to come in the shape of a submarine.

Leon Chester Thrasher was an American mining engineer from Hardwick, Massachusetts.  That March, the 31-year-old  was leaving Liverpool, returning to a job on the Gold Coast of British West Africa aboard the cargo-passenger ship RMS Falaba.

The German submarine U-28 stopped Falaba on this day in 1915, later sinking the vessel to the bottom with a single torpedo and killing 104, including Leon Thrasher.

For the United States it was First Blood.  The first American to die in the “War to End all Wars”.

German policy varied over the course of the war, from unrestrained submarine warfare, to strict adherence with international law. U-28 Commander Freiherr Georg-Günther von Forstner claimed to have given Falaba 23 minutes to evacuate, cutting that short and firing his torpedo only in response to Falaba’s distress rockets and wireless pleas for assistance.

British authorities claim Falaba was given only 7 minutes’ warning.  Hardly enough to evacuate 245 passengers and crew.falaba (2)

The death of the first American in the European war set off a diplomatic row which threatened for a time to bring the Americans into the war. American newspapers called it the “Thrasher Incident”, denouncing the sinking as a “massacre”. An act of “piracy”.

Germans claimed that secondary explosions within Falaba’s hull proved her to be anything but neutral, carrying some 13*tons of contraband ammunition, intended to kill German boys on European battlefields. Eyewitness accounts failed to settle the matter, but many tended toward the German view.Falaba (1)President Woodrow Wilson stayed his hand, winning re-election the following year with the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War”.

What remained of Leon Thrasher washed ashore on the coast of Ireland in July 1915, following 106 days in the water. Authorities initially believed him to be a victim of the RMS Lusitania sinking, designating the remains, Body No. 248.causes-of-ww1 (1)

The U-boat U-20 had torpedoed the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland only 40 days earlier killing 1,198, 124 of whom were Americans. The US came close to the brink of war that time too, but the last and final straw would not come for another two years.

The United States entered the war in April 1917 as a result of the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare and a German telegram, to the government of Mexico.

March 27, 1912 “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World”

During World War II, aerial bombardment laid waste to Tokyo and its surrounding suburbs. After the war, cuttings from the cherry trees of Washington were sent back to Japan, to restore the Tokyo collection.

George Hawthorne Scidmore was a career diplomat, serving assignments throughout the Asian Pacific between 1884 and 1922.  Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore was as accomplished as her brother:  American author and socialite, journalist and world traveler.  She was the first female board member of the National Geographic Society.

natgeowllppr03-990x742Frequent visits with her brother led to a passionate interest in all things Japanese, most especially the Japanese cherry, Prunus serrulata, commonly known as the Sakura.  The Japanese blossoming cherry tree.  She called them “the most beautiful thing in the world”.

In January 1900, President William McKinley summoned Federal judge William Howard Taft to Washington, for a meeting.

president-taft-and-first-lady-helen-taft-1909-war-is-hell-store
President and 1st Lady William Howard Taft

Taft hoped to discuss a Supreme Court appointment, but it wasn’t meant to be. One day, judge Taft would get his wish, becoming the only man in United States history to serve both as President, and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

For now, the American war in the Philippines was ongoing.  Judge Taft was bound for the Pacific, to head up a commission to organize civilian self-government in the island nation.

While the future President labored in the Philippines, Helen Herron Taft took up residence in Japan, where she came to appreciate the beauty of the native cherry trees.

Years later, the Japanese Consul in New York learned of the First Lady’s interest in the Sakura and suggested a gift from the city of Tokyo to the government of the United States.  A grove of Japanese cherry trees,

For Eliza Scidmore, it was a dream some 34 years, in the making.  The people and the government of Japan would present this gift to the government and the people, of the United States.  It was Eliza Scidmore who raised the money, to make it all happen.

cherry_blossoms_washington_monument_rizka_commons_7bOn March 27, 1912, the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador to the United States joined First Lady Helen Taft, in planting two Japanese Yoshino cherry trees on the bank of the Potomac River, near the Jefferson memorial.

Those two ladies planted the first two trees, in a formal ceremony.  By the time the workmen were through, there would be thousands of them.

This was the second such effort. 2,000 trees had arrived in January 1910, but these had not survived the journey.  So it was a private Japanese citizen, donated the funds to transport this new batch of trees.

3,020 specimens were taken from the bank of the Arakawa River in the Adachi Ward suburb of Tokyo, to be planted along the Potomac River Basin and White House grounds.

The beautiful March blossoms were overwhelmingly popular with visitors to the Washington Mall. In 1934, city commissioners sponsored a three-day celebration of the blossoming cherry trees, which grew into the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

During World war II, aerial bombardment laid waste to Tokyo and its surrounding suburbs. After the war, cuttings from the cherry trees of Washington were sent back to Japan, to restore the Tokyo collection.

Processed by: Helicon Filter;
Cherry Trees along the Arakawa

It’s not clear to me, if the trees which grace the Arakawa River today are entirely composed from the Potomac collection, or some combination of American and native stock. After the cataclysm of war in the Pacific, I’m not sure it matters.  That might even be the whole point.

Cherry-Blossom-Tree

March 22, 1958 Keep the Change

For the media, the business model depends on renting an audience to a sponsor.  Nothing sells like “controversy” and they were going to squeeze this one, for all it was worth.  Even if they were the ones who started it, in the first place. 

Randall Hank Williams was born May 26, 1949 in Shreveport, Louisiana, son of the country singer/songwriter, Hiram King “Hank” Williams.

The elder Williams has been described as “One of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century”.  Impressive for a man who could neither read nor notate music and died, never having reached the age of 30.

hank-williams-sr-and-jr_thumbDad called the younger Williams “Bocephus” after the ventriloquist’s dummy used by Grand Ole Opry comedian Rod Brasfield.

Hank Williams climbed into the back seat of his powder blue Cadillac on New Years’ Day, 1953.  College student Charles Carr was at the wheel.

A lifelong victim of drug and alcohol abuse, the singer/songwriter was Liquored up as usual and abusing morphine, the pair heading west from a hotel room in West Virginia, to a concert venue in Ohio.

Carr became concerned when things got quiet back there – too quiet – and pulled over at 5:30 in the morning.  Hank Williams was pronounced dead, a short time later.  He was 29.  All  police found in that Cadillac, were empty beer cans and handwritten, unfinished song lyrics.

For little Bocephus, the apple didn’t fall far from the musical tree.  The younger Williams was raised by his mother Audrey, who encouraged the boy to copy his father’s dress and musical style. “Hank Williams Jr.” made his stage debut in Swainsboro Georgia on March 22, 1958.   He was eight years old.

Some of the top musicians, singers and songwriters of the era came to visit the family: Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Earl Scruggs, and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name a few.  Each taught Bocephus a little of their favorite instruments, and musical styles.

BocephusWilliams was nearly killed in 1975, while climbing Ajax Peak in Montana. The snow collapsed beneath him, plunging him near-500 feet to the rocks below. There were multiple skull and facial fractures. Williams required several reconstructive surgeries, and had to learn to talk, and sing, all over again. The signature look of beard, sunglasses and cowboy hat have all become part of his brand, but it all began to hide the dreadful scars of that mountain climbing accident.

Bocephus’ work in the 1960s and ’70s earned him a string of country music hits, but he wanted to be more than just a “Hank Williams impersonator”.

A prodigiously talented musician in his own right, Williams’ repertoire includes guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, steel guitar, banjo, dobro, piano, keyboards, harmonica, fiddle, and drums.

The country music establishment was slow to accept the new sound, but Hank Williams Jr. would not be denied. Sometimes recording and releasing two albums a year, Williams released 21 albums between 1979 and 1990, all certified “gold” by the Recording Industry Association of America. There were 44 Top Ten singles on the Billboard Country charts, including 10 No. 1 singles over the course of his career.

“Directed by John Goodhue, the music video for the song features artists such as George Jones driving a riding mower; Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings playing poker; Little Jimmy Dickens and Paul Williams carrying a keg of beer; Cheech and Chong stumbling out of a smoke-filled limousine; William Lee Golden (of The Oak Ridge Boys) hitchhiking; Duane Allen (The Oak Ridge Boys) as a chauffer; and George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers entertaining other celebrities like Mel Tillis, Kris Kristofferson, Grandpa Jones, Porter Wagoner, Jim Varney, at Hank Jr.’s “party pad out in the woods.” At the end of the video, a ghostly Cadillac flies into the night sky, referencing the fact that his father, Hank Williams, Sr., died while riding in a Cadillac”. – H/T Wikipedia

In 1982, Bocephus had nine albums on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, all at the same time.

For decades, every sports fan knew.  When “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” came over the television, it was time for Monday night Football.

In an October 2011 interview with Fox News’ “Fox & Friends”, Williams described a June golf match between then-President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner as “one of the biggest political mistakes ever”. Asked to explain, Williams said, “Come on. That’d be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu … in the shape this country is in?”

The media outrage machine cranked and sputtered to life.  First Amendment be damned, such language would not do.  First to go was the distinction, between metaphor and literal fact.  ESPN pulled the song three days later.  It was the first Monday night game, of the season.

Williams himself described the analogy as “…extreme – but it was to make a point…I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me – how ludicrous that pairing was. They’re polar opposites, and it made no sense. They don’t see eye-to-eye and never will.

Hank Williams Jr.No matter. ESPN announced that Williams and his song would be pulled from future broadcasts.  ABC and the National Football League, were quick to pile on.

For the media, the business model depends on renting an audience to a sponsor.  Nothing sells like “controversy” and they were going to squeeze this one, for all it was worth.  Even if they were the ones who started it, in the first place.

There would be a heartfelt apology, but no matter.  The “Cancel Culture’ or whatever you want to call it, had done its work.

“I have always been very passionate about politics and sports, and this time it got the best or worst of me. The thought of the leaders of both parties jukin’ and high fivin’ on a golf course, while so many families are struggling to get by, simply made me boil over and make a dumb statement. I am very sorry if it offended anyone. I would like to thank all my supporters. This was not written by some publicist.”- Hank Williams, Jr.

When it was over, Hank Williams, Jr. had the last word.  Bocephus responded with a song of his own, criticizing President Obama, ESPN and Fox & Friends.  He called it, “Keep the Change”.

Over the next two days, the song was downloaded more than 180,000 times.

In the song lyrics, Bocephus and all his rowdy friends were “Outta there”.  Outta there, but not for good.  The song was quietly re-instated, in 2017.

March 19, 1956 The Agony of Defeat, a Sports Story

Don’t talk to me about six Super Bowls.   These were the Losing Years.  Before Brady.  Before Belichik.  The “Patsies” of 1985.  The club hadn’t won a division championship, since the old AFL days of the early 1960s.

A few short days ago, I could enjoy a nice cold brew in my favorite sports bar.  As long as I didn’t mind.  There were no sports.  Every set in the place was running Music videos.

Now we can’t even do that as we stand on the sidewalk, looking in.  Every restaurant & watering hole in the place, is shut down.  So, here we are.  At home, hiding from the Wu Flu, without even the distraction of a good game.  The lights have gone out on every event from the Pros to March Madness to the Kentucky Derby while we who would escape the Great House Arrest of 2020, need a little diversion.  A sports story.EPlUJXbU0AEwa2LAs applied to the Wide World of Sport, the term “Blowout” was first used in 1965 to describe a single 40-minute inning in which the St. Louis Cardinals scored seven unearned runs in a 12-2 romp over the Milwaukee Braves.  Over the years, there have been plenty of other games that deserve such a characterization.

– In 1976, the Russian Olympic basketball team humiliated the Japanese men’s team, 129-63.
– The “Fighting Saints” of St. Francis College ended the 1996 baseball season with a run record of 71-1.
– In 1973, the American Thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat crushed the #2 horse Twice a Prince at the Belmont Stakes, by an unprecedented 31 lengths.

The most lopsided college football game ever was played in 1916, when Georgia Tech rushed for 1,650 yards and didn’t allow a single first down by Cumberland College. Final score, 222-to-zip.GA Tech v Cumberland

In 1927, Kansas City’s Haven High School beat Sylvia High 256-0. In a record-setting season of blowouts, the 1901 Michigan Wolverines football team defeated all opponents by a combined score of 550-0.

In 1940 Washington Redskins’ owner George Preston Marshall called the Chicago Bears “crybabies and quitters” after a 7-3 loss, in regular season.  Bears coach George Halas Really knew how to piss a guy, off.  He showed his players the newspaper.  Chicago went on to trounce Washington 73-0 in post-season, in a game so lopsided it had to be finished with practice balls.  ‘Da Bears’ had kicked all the regulation balls into the stands, kicking extra points.

The Chicago Colts of the National League defeated Louisville 36-7 in 1897. The modern Major League Baseball record for margin of victory was set in 2007, when the Texas Rangers defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 30-3. Those 30 runs are a modern-era run record for a nine-inning Major League Baseball game which stands, to this day.Cavs meme

On this day in 1956, the Minnesota Lakers scored one of the most lopsided round ball victories ever over the St. Louis Hawks, 133-75. The blowout was second only to the 1991 Cleveland Cavaliers trouncing of the Miami Heat, 148-80.

In 2009, Dallas’ Christian Covenant High School girls basketball skunked Dallas Academy, 100-0. The victory was widely condemned: Dallas Academy, a school for students with learning disabilities, had a team of eight out of an entire student body population of 20 girls, yet Covenant continued a full-court press with three-point shots well after taking a halftime lead of 59-0. Covenant’s administration called for a forfeit of its own win, calling it “shameful and an embarrassment.”  The coach was fired after he declined to apologize.

Three players have won PGA Tour matches by 16 strokes: J.D. Edgar at the 1919 Canadian Open; Joe Kirkwood, Sr., at the 1924 Corpus Christi Open; and Bobby Locke at the 1948 Chicago Victory National Championship. Tiger Woods has the largest margin of victory in the modern era, with a 15-stroke win at the 2000 U.S. Open.bjoptfzcmaatl9nThe Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers 15-0 in 1944, but some of the worst sports disasters ever, have been in international hockey. The 2007 Slovakia women’s team defeated Bulgaria 82-0 in a 2010 Winter Olympics qualifying tournament.  At the 1998 Asia-Oceania Junior Championships, South Korea skunked Thailand 92-0. South Korean forward Donghwan Song scored 31 goals, all by himself.

For we few die-hard fans who stuck with the New England Patriots during the losing years, the 1986 Super Bowl XX was the worst moment Evah!

Don’t talk to me about six Super Bowls.   These were the Losing Years.  Before Brady.  Before Belichik.  The “Patsies” of 1985.  The club hadn’t won a division championship, since the old AFL days of the early 1960s.il_794xN.1777630928_efmbThe 1985 Patriots opened with some of the finest talent to ever play the game.  All-pro linebackers Andre Tippett and Steve Nelson.  John “Hog” Hannah at Left guard, voted in 1999 the second greatest offensive lineman, in NFL history.   1983 1st-round draft pick Tony Eason, at QB.  There were no fewer than 9 future pro-bowlers, on both sides of the ball.

Despite all of it, the Patsies tripped out of the gate to  a 2-4 record and then that disastrous game 7, with the Buffalo Bills.  Eason was out with a separated shoulder.  In came the veteran, Steve Grogan.

Grogan was the “old man” at this point and all but put out to pasture, but the man went on to win the next six games.  Grogan went down with a broken leg in game 13 but it was enough.  Eason came back with a near-perfect performance in post-season victories in the Wild Card and Divisional Championships as the 13-5 Patriots turned south to “Squish the Fish”.

Miami fans were beside themselves, with joy.  The high flying Dolphins of Dan Marino would get to smash the lowly Patriots, for the AFC Championship.   Armed with T-shirts and foam fingers the Patriots Faithful knew it wasn’t going to be that way.    “We’re going to take the Orange Bowl apart … brick by brick!’’patsies006-ZXKJ$largeThat they did, the game was a Dolphins Disaster. New England controlled the ball for a full 40 minutes of smashmouth football, running 59 times for a whopping 255 yards and 10 out of 12 pass completions. The Fish was duly Squished in a 31-14 trouncing in their own home field.

Coach Raymond Berry and the Cinderella New England Patriots, were headed to Super Bowl XX.

berry-da-bearsThere we were with our “Berry da Bears” t-shirts.  Delirious with Joy we could do no wrong, as New England took the earliest lead in Super Bowl history with a field goal at 1:19.

After that, the room got quiet. REAL quiet.  New England was held to negative 19 yards in the first half.  Game MVP went to a defensive end with the painfully perfect name of Richard Dent, as “Da Bears” set or tied Super Bowl records for sacks (7), fewest rushing yards allowed (also 7) and final score, a positively humiliating, 46-10.

It was the worst beating in Super Bowl history, until the Denver Broncos took us out of our misery with a 55-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, in Super Bowl XXIV.

March 17, 432 Saint Patrick

Today we know him as “Patrick” but his birth name was Maewyn Succat in his native Brythonic. 

“Celtic languages are traditionally thought to have originated in central Europe and spread across vast areas of Europe, being gradually replaced by Germanic, Romance, or Slavic languages in most areas. The Continental Celtic languages, such as Gaulish, Hispano-Celtic, and Lepontic, are all now long extinct.” – Oxfordbibliographies.com

download - 2020-03-17T203213.007Today, the “insular” Celtic languages are all that’s left, relegated to two sub-groups:  the Goidelic (or Gaelic) spoken by Irish and Scots speakers and once on the Isle of Man, and the Brythonic or Brittonic once spoken in Wales, Brittany and Cornwall.

Today we know him as “Patrick” but his birth name was Maewyn Succat in his native Brythonic.  His father was Calpornius,  a Deacon of the Church and an officer in the Roman Army.  As a boy, Maewyn Succat had little time for religion.

He was a late fifth-century Roman teenager living in Great Britain when he was kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16, and brought to Ireland.  There he found religion during six years as a slave, tending sheep and hogs in county Antrim.  He would escape in time to rejoin his family before traveling to France, to join a Monastery.  In twelve years he returned to the shores of Ireland,  this time as a Bishop, with the blessing of the Pope.

There he came to be known as Patricius in the Latin (“nobleman”) or Pádraig (Gaelic), a simple priest ministering to Irish Christians and converting the pagan, to Christianity.  In time, “Patrick” would go on to become Bishop of all Ireland, and one of its primary Patron Saints.

Saint PatrickInterestingly, Patrick is listed among the 10,000 or so Roman Catholic Saints though it seems he never was actually canonized, by a pope.

Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, the date generally agreed to be the date of his enslavement in 432 and his death in 460.

The date is celebrated in Ireland as both a liturgical and non-liturgical holiday, where in some diocese it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation. Outside of Ireland, the day has become a general celebration of all things Irish.

The legend that St. Patrick banished the snakes likely springs from his work converting the pagans of his day, many of whom wore snake tattoos on their arms. This idea is supported by a Gallic coin of the time, which carries on its face the Druidic snake.

Be that as it may, Ireland has no snakes today, a trait it has in common with Antarctica, New Zealand, Iceland, and Greenland.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAnother legend involves a walking stick of ash, which Patrick carried with him wherever he went. He would thrust this stick into the ground wherever he would preach. At a place now known as Aspatria, (ash of Patrick), the message took so long to get through to the people that the stick took root.

The shamrock which came to symbolize the day was seen as sacred by many in pre-MedievalMonkChristian Ireland, with its green color evoking rebirth and eternal life.

The three leaves symbolize the “triple goddess” of ancient Ireland. Patrick is said to have taught the Irish about the Holy Trinity, using the three leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Most of the rest of Europe would suffer barbarian invasion from the fifth century onward, plunging into what are known today as “The Dark Ages”.  Almost alone, cloistered monks in the monasteries of Ireland, spiritual descendants of St. Patrick, acted as repository for Christian civilization, at a time when such advancement was almost extinguished elsewhere.

It’s been said of this period that the Irish saved civilization. Who knows.  They may have done just that. On this day it’s said that everyone’s Irish.  Here in the US some some 33 million really are according to census data, nearly seven times the population of Ireland itself.

So here we are.  A parade dating back to 1737 here in Boston is canceled, as we all hide from the Wu Flu.   So lift a glass to Saint Patrick, though the streets be empty and the bars be closed.  “May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven, half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead”  Sláinte.l_irish-pub-signs-slainte-metal

March 15, BC44 The Ides of March

Shortly before his assassination in BC 44, Caesar was named dictator perpetuo rei publicae constituendae, (English: “dictator in perpetuity”).  It was the first time such a title had ever been made permanent. Nothing was more repugnant to traditional Roman sensibilities, than the idea of a dictator for life.   Caesar’s days were numbered.

The history of Rome may be drawn in two parts, the Republic and the Imperium. Since the overthrow of the Monarchy in 509BC, the Republic operated based on a separation of powers, checks and balances, and a strong aversion to the concentration of power. Except in times of national emergency, no single individual could wield absolute power over his fellow citizens.

A series of civil wars and other events changed that in the 1st century, BC.  The Republic was dead by the 30s BC, leaving Imperial Rome in its wake, a period best remembered for its long line of Emperors.

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The Proscriptions of Sulla

Gaius Julius Caesar was born into this chaos, a son of the prestigious Julian Clan. In 82BC, the 18-year-old Caesar survived the “proscriptions” of the Dictator Sulla, in which the names of as many as 4,700 “enemies of the state” were nailed to the wall of the Roman Forum. Any man thus proscribed was immediately stripped of citizenship and all its protections. Anyone killing a proscribed man was entitled to keep part of his estate, the rest going to the government.  Rewards were paid for information leading to the death of the proscribed.

 

At the age of 25, Caesar was kidnapped and held for ransom by Cilician pirates, a group which may be described as the ISIS of its time. Caesar laughed on learning that his ransom was set at only 20 talents of silver, and demanded his kidnappers hold out for 50.  He would yell at this band of killers for talking too loud while he was trying to sleep. He’d write poetry and read it to them, calling them “savages” if they were insufficiently appreciative of his work.caesar (1)For 38 days, the young Caesar joined in games and exercises, with these bloodthirsty killers.  As if he were their leader, instead of their prisoner.  All the while, he promised these pirates.  He would come back to crucify them all, and he said it with a smile.

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The pirates thought it uproariously funny, but Caesar was as good as his word. The fifty talents were raised, and the captive was released.  He made good on his promise, raising a force sufficient to enforce his will and bringing his former captors to Rome.

There he had them all crucified, but not without a moment of kindness.  Caesar style.  He slit their throats, ending the ordeal of crucifixion by hours, if not by days.

Caesar lost his hair at an early age, about which he seems to have been self-conscious. It’s probably why we see him depicted with the wreath on his head, but baldness didn’t seem to bother the women in his life.julius-caesarjpg (1)He seems to have been a ladies’ man, fathering a son with none other than Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. One story has him being handed a note while speaking at the Senate. Caesar’s arch rival Cato (the younger) demanded to know the contents of the letter, loudly accusing him of complicity in the “Catiline Conspiracy” to overthrow the government. At last Caesar relented, reading out loud what turned out to be a love letter – a graphic one – written to him by Cato’s own half-sister Servilia Caepionis.

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Servilia’s History, portrayed by Lindsay Duncan

Caesar rose through the ranks, organizing a coalition of three to rule the Republic. It was the first such “Triumvirate”, combining the popular general Pompey “The Great”, Crassus, the wealthiest man in all of Rome, and the rising young general and politician, Julius Caesar himself.

The partnership was doomed to fail, given the egos and animosities of the three. Crassus was killed on campaign in 52BC as Pompey became increasingly hostile to his co-ruler, then on campaign in Gaul.  A string of military successes against Celtic and native Germanic tribes caused Caesar’s popularity to soar, posing a threat to the power of the Senate and to Pompey himself.

The Senate ordered Caesar to resign his command and disband the army, or become an enemy of the state.  Everyone knew what it meant when Caesar crossed the Rubicon River at the head of that army, in 49BC. It meant Civil War.  2,000 years later, to “Cross the Rubicon” still means to take a major step, which cannot be reversed.GW227H209Shortly before his assassination in BC 44, Caesar was named dictator perpetuo rei publicae constituendae, (English: “dictator in perpetuity”).  It was the first time such a title had ever been made permanent. Nothing was more repugnant to traditional Roman sensibilities, than the idea of a dictator for life.   Caesar’s days were numbered.

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“Lupercalia Incident”, February, BC 44.

In BC 44, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) was elected co-consul with Caesar, the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.  During the festival of Lupercalia, Antony twice attempted to place the laurel wreath on Caesar’s head, twice being rejected.  “The people give this to you though me” Antony said, as the stunned crowd stood silent.  Twice, Caesar removed the crown, saying “Jupiter alone of the Romans is King.”

Many believed the episode to have been a “trial balloon”, engineered to assess the public’s reaction.

A month earlier, the soothsayer Spurinna had “predicted the future by examining the internal organs of sacrificial animals.” Spurinna said that Caesar’s life “might come to a bad end,” warning that “his life would be in danger for the next 30 days.”1024px-Museo_del_Teatro_Romano_de_Caesaraugusta.43The Roman calendar tracked the phases of the moon (or tried to), and didn’t count the days from first to last. Instead, Romans counted backward from three fixed points: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

According to Plutarch, Julius Caesar arrived at the Senate on March 15, 44BC. Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition, as Senators crowded around. Cimber grabbed the Emperor’s shoulders and pulled down his tunic. “Ista quidem vis est!” said the Dictator for Life, “Why, this is violence!” Casca pulled a dagger and stabbed at Caesar’s neck. Caesar turned and caught him by the arm. “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?” Frightened, the Senator shouted “Help, brother!” in Greek “adelphe, boethei!” In seconds the entire group was striking at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away but, blinded by his own blood, he tripped and fell. The men continued stabbing at him as he lay defenseless on the steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, 60 men participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times, though only one wound was enough to prove fatal.1024px-vincenzo_camuccini_-_la_morte_di_cesare-1Here’s where the story becomes Really interesting. Like the apocryphal warning to “Beware the Ides of March”, Caesar’s last words, “Et tu Brute” were first introduced by William Shakespeare, 1,643 years after the fact. No eyewitness account of the assassination survives today, though a more contemporary source recorded the Greek words “Kai su, teknon?” as Brutus plunged the dagger in. “And you, my child?”

Marcus Junius Brutus (the younger) was the son of the same Servilia Caepionis, above. Brutus was 41 at the time of the assassination, Caesar 56. It is unlikely though not impossible, that Brutus killed his own father that day. The affair between Brutus’ mother and Caesar, had carried on for years.cropped-Ides_Of_March_by_veraukoion-e1426081847809