April 18, 1945 Hoosier Vagabond

This was no rear-echelon scribe. Ernie Pyle was right out front with the infantry and the tankers, the Marines and the soldiers who fought and bled and died to put the murderous and totalitarian regimes of the 1940’s, on the garbage pile of history.

Earnest “Ernie” Taylor Pyle was born at the turn of the century, the only child of a tenant farmer and his wife, from the Vermilion County of rural Indiana. The boy disliked life on the farm, and looked for a life of adventure. Following high school graduation, Pyle enlisted in the US Naval Reserve, beginning training at the University of Illinois at Champaign–Urbana.

The Great War came to an end before he completed training, and Pyle enrolled at Indiana University.  He  wanted to write, it was in his blood, but IU offered no degree in journalism. He majored in economics and took every journalism course he could find, while writing for the student newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student.

539e30fa4ce853f5a8a0b0bc8beeb765During his junior year, Pyle and a few fraternity brothers dropped out for a year, to follow the IU baseball. The 1922 trip across the Pacific brought the group to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila and Japan, leaving the the young writer with a lifelong love of travel, and exploration.

Ernie Pyle met Geraldine Elizabeth “Jerry” Siebolds at a Halloween party in 1923, the year he moved to Washington to work for the Washington Daily News. Two years later, the couple were wed.

The year before the “Mother Road” became part of the national highway system, Ernie and Jerry Pyle quit their jobs to begin an epic, 9,000 mile trip across the United States.  In a Ford Model T, no less.

Though never himself a pilot, Pyle flew some 100,000 miles as a passenger between 1928-’32, writing one of the earliest and best-known aviation columns, in the nation. No less a figure than Amelia Earhart once said “Any aviator who didn’t know Pyle was a nobody.”

He wrote in an easy, conversational style, the way of the story teller.  Scripps-Howard newspapers editor-in-chief of G.B. (“Deac”) Parker found in his articles “a sort of Mark Twain quality and they knocked my eyes right out.”

Ernie Pyle went to work for himself in 1935, driving from South America to Canada with Jerry, “That Girl who rides with me,” writing human interest stories. His column appeared six days a week in Scripps-Howard newspapers, published under the name “Hoosier Vagabond”.

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The series continued until 1942, two years after Pyle began the most famous part of his career. The part for which he would give his life.

Ernie Pyle initially went to London in 1940 to cover the Battle of Britain, later becoming war correspondent for the Scripps-Howard newspapers.

Pyle’s travels read like a summary of the war itself: from North Africa to Europe, to the Asiatic-Pacific theater. Ernie Pyle traveled with the U.S. military during the North African Campaign, the Italian campaign, and the Sicily landing.  He went where they went, slept where they slept and ate what they ate.

He landed on an LST-353 with American troops on D-Day,  writing from Omaha Beach:

“The best way I can describe this vast armada and the frantic urgency of the traffic is to suggest that you visualize New York city on its busiest day of the year and then just enlarge that scene until it takes in all the ocean the human eye can reach clear around the horizon and over the horizon. There are dozens of times that many”.

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Pyle returned to the United States in the Fall of 1943 and again in 1944, badly in need of rest and recuperation from the stress of combat. This was no rear-echelon scribe. Ernie Pyle was right out front with the infantry and the tankers, the Marines and the soldiers who fought and bled and died to put the murderous and totalitarian regimes of the 1940’s, on the garbage pile of history.

l_if7lf662014101220AMWhat Bill Mauldin was with his cartoon characters “Willy and Joe”, Ernie Pyle was to the written word.  He was free to go anywhere and speak to anyone, from the commander-in-chief to the lowliest private soldier.  Harry Truman himself once said “No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told.  He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen.”

Exhausted, repeatedly hospitalized with “war neurosis” and subject to epic drinking binges, Ernie Pyle reluctantly accepted his final assignment in 1945, to cover the Battle of Okinawa. Somehow, he knew this would be his last. Before landing, Pyle wrote to his friend Paige Cavanaugh, and playwright Robert E. Sherwood, predicting his own death.

pyle1On April 17, 1945, the war correspondent landed with the U.S. Army’s 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th “Liberty Patch” Division on the island of Ie Shima.  The small island northwest of Okinawa had been captured by this time, but was by no means clear of enemy soldiers.

On this day in 1945, Ernie Pyle was killed by a Japanese sniper.  Traveling by jeep with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge and three other officers of the 305th, the vehicle came under fire from a Japanese machine gunner. All five dove for cover, in a ditch. Let Colonel Coolidge take the story from here:

“A little later Pyle and I raised up to look around. Another burst hit the road over our heads … I looked at Ernie and saw he had been hit.”

The bullet entered the left temple, just below his helmet. Ernie Pyle was dead before his body hit the ground.

080203-ernie-pyle-hlg-1p.grid-6x2The best loved reporter of the second World War was buried wearing that helmet, between the remains of an infantry private and a combat engineer.

The men of the 77th Infantry Division erected a monument which stands to this day, inscribed with these words: “At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy, Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945.” Half a world away, General Eisenhower echoed those same sentiments: “The GIs in Europe––and that means all of us––have lost one of our best and most understanding friends.”

 

A Trivial Matter
Ernie Pyle rejected an offer to cover the D-Day landing from General Omar Bradley’s command ship, electing instead to wade ashore with the troops, on Omaha Beach.
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April 14, 1910 7th Inning Stretch

At 6’2″ and well over 300-pounds, the 27th President was a big man, not at all built for those cramped, wooden, stadium chairs.

On this day in 1910, the Washington Senators squared off with the Philadelphia Athletics in the season opener, played at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC.  President William Howard Taft, was there for the game.

At 6’2″ and well over 300-pounds, the 27th President was a big man, not at all built for those cramped, wooden, stadium chairs.  Taft grew increasingly uncomfortable over the course of the game.  By the middle of the seventh inning, he couldn’t take it anymore.  Unable to bear it any longer, the President stood up to stretch his aching legs.

president-william-howard-taft-and-his-wife-helen-at-a-baseball-game-D70KA8.jpgAs the story goes, Taft’s fellow spectators noticed the President rising, and followed his lead.  Most had no idea why, but soon the entire section was standing.

The seventh inning stretch, was born.

President Taft was an avid baseball fan, attending no fewer than fourteen games while in office.  The man arrived late in 1909 and the game had to be delayed, not because of his arrival, but because of the applause.

Taft became the first American President to throw out an opening pitch, also on this day, in 1910.  The “opening pitch” ritual was different then, than it is today.  Taft threw the ball from the stands to the pitcher, who then began the game.  Ace pitcher Walter Johnson, who caught the throw, went on to pitch a one-hitter.

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President William Howard Taft throws the opening pitch from the stands

In addition to being our heaviest Commander-in-Chief, William Howard Taft is the only man to ever serve as President of the United States, and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  He is one of only two Presidents to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

There are other versions of the seventh-inning stretch.   Fact is, no one is certain where it began.   This is only one version of the story, but its plausible and I like it.  I’m sticking with it.

 

A Trivial Matter
William Howard Taft came back to throw the opening pitch in the 1911 opener and had his VP do the same, in 1912. President Woodrow Wilson continued the tradition, as did the next ten Presidents in a row. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt hit a Washington Post camera with his pitch, in 1940. President Harry S Truman threw out two balls in 1950, one left-handed and the other, right. President Jimmy Carter was the first to skip the tradition, though he did toss the opening pitch for game 7, of the 1979 World Series. President Barack Obama threw out the first pitch in 2010 on the 100th anniversary of President Taft’s toss. To date, President Donald Trump has not followed in the tradition. Search on the term “President Trump, opening pitch”, and MSNBC will give you an unflattering story about the Mueller probe. Never one to miss the political cheap shot, that one.  Not even in a baseball story. Insert deep sigh, Here.

April 7, 1933 A Good Time for a Beer

Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate, when Tacitus maligned the bitter brew of Germanic barbarians.  Nevertheless, the letters of Roman cavalry commanders from the Roman Britain period, c. 97-103 AD, include requests for more “cerevisia”, for the legionaries.

Given the right combination of sugars, almost any cereal will undergo simple fermentation, due to the presence of wild yeasts in the air.  It seems likely our cave-dwelling ancestors experienced their first beer, as the result of this process.

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From Wikipedia: “Alulu beer receipt – This records a purchase of “best” beer from a brewer, c. 2050 BC from the Sumerian city of Umma in ancient Iraq”.

Starch dusted stones were found with the remains of doum-palm and chamomile in the 18,000-year old Wadi Kubbaniya in upper Egypt.  While it’s difficult to confirm, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern says, “it’s very likely they were making beer there”.

Chemical analysis of pottery shards date the earliest barley beer to 3400BC, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.

Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate, when Tacitus maligned the bitter brew of Germanic barbarians.  Nevertheless, the letters of Roman cavalry commanders from the Roman Britain period, c. 97-103 AD, include requests for more “cerevisia”, for the legionaries.

In North and South America, native peoples brewed fermented beverages from local ingredients, including agave sap, the first spring tips of the spruce tree, and maize.

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“Ancient cultures used an array of ingredients to make their alcoholic beverages, including emmer wheat, wild yeast, chamomile, thyme and oregano. (Landon Nordeman)” H/T Smithsonian magazine

PilgrimsandbeerclipThe Pilgrims left the Netherlands city of Leiden in 1620, hoping for rich farmland and congenial climate in the New World.  Not the frozen, rocky soil of New England.  Lookouts spotted the wind-swept shores of Cape Cod on November 9, 1620, and may have kept going, had they had enough beer.  One Mayflower passenger wrote in his diary: “We could not now take time for further search… our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…

Prior to the invention of the drum roaster in 1817, malt was typically dried over wood, charcoal, or straw fires, leaving a smoky quality that would seem foreign to the modern beer drinker.  William Harrison wrote in his “Description of England” in 1577, “For the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke”.

Smoky flavor didn’t trouble the true aficionado of the age.  When the Meux Brewery casks let go in 1814 spilling nearly 400,000 gallons onto the street, hundreds of Britons hurried to scoop it up in pots and pans.  Some even lapped it up, doggy-style.

1,389 were trampled to death and another 1,300 injured in a suds stampede, when someone thought the beer had run out at the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, in 1896.

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The 18th amendment, better known as “prohibition”, went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

Portable stills went on sale within a week, and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of rhine” or “blocks of port”. The mayor of New York City sent instructions on wine making, to his constituents.

Smuggling operations became widespread, as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This would lead to competitive car racing, beginning first on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks.  It’s why we have NASCAR, today.

Organized crime became vastly more powerful due to the influx of enormous sums of cash.  The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

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Gaining convictions for breaking a law that everyone hated became increasingly difficult. There were over 7,000 prohibition related arrests in New York alone between 1921 and 1923.  Only 27 resulted in convictions.

Finally, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce his support for repeal.

It’s difficult to compare rates of alcohol consumption before and during prohibition.  If death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption didn’t decrease by more than 10 to 20 per cent.

Beer_bootleggerFDR signed the Cullen–Harrison Act into law on March 22, 1933, commenting “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”  The law went effect on April 7, allowing Americans to buy, sell and drink beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol.

A team of draft horses hauled a wagon up Pennsylvania Avenue, delivering a case of beer to the White House – the first public appearance of the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Clydesdale, Pennsylvania Ave

“Dry” leaders tried to prohibit consumption of alcohol on military bases in 1941, but military authorities claimed it was good for morale. Brewers were required to allocate 15% of total annual production to be used by the armed forces. So essential were beer manufacturers to the war effort, that teamsters were ordered to end a labor strike against Minneapolis breweries.  Near the end of WWII, the army made plans to operate recaptured French breweries, to ensure adequate supplies for the troops.

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18 states continued prohibition at the state level after the national repeal, the last state finally dropping it in 1966. Almost 2/3rds of all states adopted some form of local option, enabling residents of political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition.  Some counties remain dry to this day.  Ironically, Lynchburg County, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniel distillery, is one such dry county.

The night before Roosevelt’s law went into effect, April 6, 1933, beer lovers lined up at the doors of their favorite public houses, waiting for their first legal beer in thirteen years.  A million and a half barrels of the stuff were consumed on April 7, a date remembered to this day as “National Beer Day”.

So it is that, from that day to this, April 6 is celebrated as “New Beer’s Eve”.  Sláinte.

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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.

Hart
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 24, 1921 The Civil War, Laid to Rest

As young men, these two had been mortal enemies, each bent on killing the other.  Now as aging veterans, the pair spent their last years exchanging family photographs and wishing the other, continued good health.

The past met the present that April Friday, seven short years ago.  Re-enactors dressed and equipped for another age, leading the hearse carrying twin gold boxes down roads lined with Patriot Guard riders.  There the blue sack coats and slouch hats of another era met the black berets and service caps, the crisp, midnight blue of the ASU, the modern “dress blues” of the United States Army.   There were uniforms new and old, veterans and historians and children and throngs of the curious, with cell phone cameras.

The last veteran of the Civil War was being laid to rest.  That doesn’t even begin to tell the story.

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Willis Meadows was nineteen in the spring of 1862, joining his brothers and cousins in Company G of the 37th Alabama Volunteer Infantry, assigned to the western front along the Mississippi and defending what he would have described as the “War of Northern Aggression”.

On July 1, 1863, the Union armies of General US Grant made the final drive on the “Gibraltar of the Mississippi”, the fortified strong point of Vicksburg.

Meadows watched the oncoming blue uniforms, the sharpshooter sheltered behind the iron boiler plate, picking off his enemy through a hole in the iron.

Peter Knapp was 21 that day, approaching from the east with three other Union soldiers from Company H of the 5th Iowa Volunteer Infantry.  Their job was to take out Confederate snipers. Knapp spotted Meadows firing from his shelter and took aim, firing at that peephole. Willis Meadows fell over with blood running down his face, the bullet entering through his eye and coming to a rest, near his brain.

The battle moved on leaving Meadows where he lay. There was no question the man was dead, except, he wasn’t. Federal troops picking up the dead afterward discovered this one, still breathing. Union surgeons probed for the bullet with no success before deciding to quit. Such a procedure was far too dangerous. Meadows was placed on a POW ship and later paroled to a Confederate hospital where he spent the rest of the war, first as a patient and later as nurse’s aid.

Knapp was captured a few months after Vicksburg and held in a number of Confederate POW camps, including the dread hell on earth known as Andersonville.

After the war, Meadows returned to the farm in Lanett Alabama, just over the Georgia state line. He later married though the marriage bore no children and may have died in obscurity, except it wasn’t meant to be.

Knapp farmed for a time in Michigan and married in 1887 before moving to Kelso, Washington.

The decades came and went. The assassinations of three Presidents. The panic of 1893. The War to end all wars. Willis Meadows was seventy-eight this day in 1921, when he began to choke. He grasped his throat with both hands as violent spasms wracked his old body.  The fear that this was the end turned to certainty as the lights began to dim, and then the object flew from his mouth and clattered across the floor.  It was that bullet, lodged in his head nigh on sixty years.

The “Coughs Up Bullet” story was national news in 1921.  Eleven years later, the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” cartoon was published in 42 countries and 17 languages.

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Mr. Ripley missed the most surprising part.

The story came and went with the next twenty nine years, until one Henry Kilburn brought a diary to the attention of a Washington state newspaper editor, in 1950.  Seems Kilburn’s family fell on hard times and the Knapp family, childless, adopted Kilburn’s sister, Minnie Mae.

It was Mae Knapp who gave that diary to her brother.  It was Peter Knapp’s diary.

Peter Knapp had seen that story back in 1921 and realized, he had to have been the man who fired that bullet. The pair met months later and compared stories. It was true.  As young men, these two had been mortal enemies, each bent on killing the other.  Now as aging veterans, the pair spent their last years exchanging family photographs and wishing the other, continued good health.

Alice Knapp of Nehalem Oregon was the child of another era, a woman born into the age of DNA who loved to study genealogy.  Alice was investigating her husband’s roots in 2009 when she came upon Peter’s story, now dead some eighty-five years. Inquiring as to where the man had been buried, Alice was stunned to learn that he wasn’t. Even more astonishingly, neither was his wife, Georgianna.  Childless, the cremated ashes of the couple were sitting on a storage shelf, unclaimed and forgotten all those years.

Alice explained, “I felt the ashes had to be buried or at least scattered somewhere.  Not sitting in some storage locker.”

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In April 2012, CBSnews.com reported:

“The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War performed a ritual for the dead based on a Grand Army of the Republic ceremony from 1873. The funeral also included a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” a bugler…performing “Taps,” and the laying of wreaths. Following a musket salute, a folded U.S. flag was presented to Alice Knapp”.

So it is the last known veteran of the Civil War was laid to rest, only seven short years ago. 151 years to the day, following the Confederate victory at Fort Sumter.

 

A Trivial Matter
In October 1861, William Tecumseh Sherman told US Secretary of war Simon Cameron he needed 60,000 men to defend the Kentucky territory, and 200,000 to go on the offensive. Cameron considered the request “insane” and cashiered the commander, very nearly leading to Sherman’s death by his own hand. General Ulysses S Grant, long rumored to have a problem with alcohol, did not see craziness in the disgraced commander, but a unique sort of quiet competence. Later in the war, a civilian ran his mouth at General Grant’s expense. Sherman came to the defense of his friend and commander, saying “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other“.

March 12, 1894  The Real Thing

Over 400,000 calls and letters came into company headquarters, complaining about the change.  One note was addressed to “Chief Dodo, The Coca-Cola Company”. Another letter asked for Goizueta’s autograph, since the signature of “one of the dumbest executives in American business history”

By the 19th century, Europeans had long believed natural mineral waters held medicinal qualities, and favored the beverages over often polluted common drinking water. British chemist Joseph Priestley invented a means of carbonating water in 1772.  Jacob Schweppe’s Geneva, Switzerland company was bottling the stuff by the 1780s. The first soda water manufacturer in the US was Yale University chemist Benjamin Silliman in 1807, though it was Joseph Hawkins of Baltimore who secured the first US patent, in 1809.

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At first sold for their therapeutic value, consumers increasingly bought carbonated beverages for refreshment. By the time of the Civil War, “soft drinks” were flavored with ginger, vanilla, fruits, roots, herbs, and countless other flavorings. The first cola drink appeared in 1881.

In 1865, Confederate Cavalry officer John Stith Pemberton was wounded by a saber slash across his chest at the Battle of Columbus, Georgia. Like many wounded veterans, Pemberton became addicted to the morphine given him, to help ease the pain. A chemist in civil life, Pemberton experimented with painkillers to take the place of opiates, landing on a combination of the coca plant and kola nut in 1886.

Vicksburg, Mississippi pharmacist Joseph Biedenharn installed bottling equipment in the back of his soda fountain and sold the first bottles of Coca Cola on March 12, 1894.

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The most famous rivalry in the soft drink business began in the 1930s, when Pepsi offered a 12oz bottle for the same 5¢ as Coca Cola’s six ounces.

The Coca Cola Company’s flagship brand had a 60% share by the end of WWII, but that declined to less than 24% by the early 80s, most of the difference lost to Pepsi and their “Pepsi challenge” blind taste test promotions of the late 70s.

cola_taste_test_300x352By the 80s, market analysts believed that baby boomers were likely to switch to diet drinks as they aged, and any growth in the full calorie segment was going to come from younger consumers who preferred the sweeter taste of Pepsi.

Roberto Goizueta came on board as Coca Cola Company CEO in 1980, saying that there would be “no sacred cows” among their products. He meant it. The company launched the top secret “Project Kansas”, to test and perfect the flavor for a new version of Coke. The company’s marketing department fanned out holding taste tests, surveys, and focus groups.

Early results were favorable, the newer, sweeter mixture overwhelmingly beating both Pepsi and Coke itself. Most tasters said that they would buy the product, but a small minority of 10–12% were angry and alienated at the very thought of it. This small percentage was adamant. They would stop drinking Coke products altogether, and they frequently swayed other members of their focus groups.

The way things turned out, the company should have listened to this group a little more carefully.

On an April Friday in 1985, Coke let the media know that a major announcement was coming the following Tuesday. Coca Cola officials spent a busy weekend preparing the re-launch, while Pepsi Executives announced a company-wide holiday, taking out a full page New York Times ad crowing “Pepsi had Won the Cola Wars“.

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Skepticism was high on the day of the Big Announcement. Reporters were fed questions by Pepsi officials, and Goizueta fumbled, refusing to state the reason for the change. He certainly wasn’t going to give Pepsi any credit for their performance in taste tests, explaining “[It’s] smoother, uh, uh, rounder yet, uh, yet bolder…a more harmonious flavor“.

The backlash was soon in coming, and closely tracked earlier focus group results. Atlanta based Coca Cola’s southern customers described the change as another surrender to the “Yankees”.  Consumers filled basements with the old Coke.  One man in San Antonio bought $1,000 worth.

“Protesters at a Coca-Cola event in downtown Atlanta in May carried signs with “We want the real thing” and “Our children will never know refreshment.”” – Coca-cola.com

Over 400,000 calls and letters came into company headquarters, complaining about the change.  One note was addressed to “Chief Dodo, The Coca-Cola Company“. Goizueta himself said the worst part, was the letter made it to him!  Another letter asked for Goizueta’s autograph, since the signature of “one of the dumbest executives in American business history” would probably be worth a fortune. Critics proclaimed the “marketing blunder of the century” while frazzled customer service representatives fielded fifteen hundred angry calls, a day.   A psychiatrist hired to listen in on calls, told executives some callers sounded as if they were mourning the death of a family member.

max_headroom_1986Even Max Headroom and his “C-c-c-catch the wave!” couldn’t save the company.

Ads for “New Coke” were booed at the Houston Astrodome, while Pepsi ran ads in which smiling first-time Pepsi drinkers said “Now I know why Coke did it!”

Even Fidel Castro weighed in, calling the change a sign of capitalist decadence.

Company President Donald Keough knew it was over, on a visit to the Mediterranean Principality of Monaco. A small restaurant owner proudly said that he had “the real thing, it’s a real Coke,” offering Keough’s party a bottle of the old stuff.

The 1985 return of the old brand led two network news broadcasts, and hit the front page of nearly every newspaper, in the country.  “New Coke” became “Coke II” and quietly disappeared, from store shelves.  One reporter asked Keough if the whole thing had been a publicity stunt. Keough’s answer was itself, a classic. “We’re not that dumb,” he said, “and we’re not that smart”.

 

A Trivial Matter

Coke makes so many different beverages if you drank one per day, it would take you over 9 years to try them all. Coca-Cola’s $35.1 billion in revenue makes it the 84th largest economy in the world, just ahead of Costa Rica. H/T gkfacts.in