April 8, 1740, War of Jenkin’s Ear

In the smoke and confusion, the Spanish never did figure out how puny the forces were who opposed them

A series of escalating trade disputes had already taken place between British and Spanish forces, when the Spanish patrol boat La Isabela drew alongside the British brig Rebecca in 1731. After boarding, Commander Juan de León Fandiño accused the British commander of smuggling.  The discussion became heated, when Fandiño drew his sword and cut the left ear off of Captain Robert Jenkins.  “Go, and tell your King that I will do the same”, he said, “if he dares to do the same.”jenkins-ear-1

Seven years later, Jenkins was ordered to testify before Parliament where, according to some accounts, he produced the severed ear in a pickling jar, as part of his presentation. This and other incidents of “Spanish Depredations upon the British Subjects” were considered insults to the honor of the British nation and a provocation to war.

A squadron of three 70-gun British third-rates was patrolling off the coast of Cornwall on April 8, 1740, when a mast was sighted to the north.  What at first appeared to be a French vessel was revealed to be the 70 gun ship-of-the-line Princesa, when she struck her French colors and hoist the Spanish flag.  Outnumbered 3-to-1, Princesa put up a good fight, but the issue was never in doubt.  She was brought into Portsmouth for repairs, entering British service as HMS Princess in 1742.  What had once been described as “the finest ship in the Spanish Navy”, would serve Her Britannic Majesty for another 42 years.Princesa

For the future Georgia colony, the War of Jenkins Ear was an existential threat.  Spain had laid claim to Florida, when Ponce de Leon first mapped the territory in 1513.  The territory which later became North & South Carolina joined the British Colonies to the north in 1663, leaving the areas in-between in dispute.  James Oglethorpe founded the 13th colony of Georgia as a buffer to Spanish incursion, two years after Mr. Jenkins lost his ear. Battle of Bloody Marsh (Model)

By 1736, Oglethorpe established Fort Frederica on the barrier island of St. Simon, off the Savannah coast.  The Spanish landing force of 4,500 to 5,000 men arrived on St. Simon’s Island in July of 1742, opposed by only 950 British Rangers, Colonial Militia and Indian Allies.

Oglethorpe’s forces attacked a Spanish reconnaissance in force at the Battle of Gully Hole Creek in the early morning hours of July 7, followed by the ambush of a much larger force that afternoon, in what would be known as the Battle of Bloody Marsh.  In the smoke and confusion, the Spanish never did figure out how puny the forces were who opposed them.  These two victories were as big a boost to British morale as they were a blow to that of their adversary.  The last major Spanish offensive into Georgia ended with a complete withdrawal, a week later.

GullyHoleCreekSign

The conflict which began in 1739 ended in 1748, though major operations ceased in 1742 when the War of Jenkins Ear was subsumed by the greater War of Austrian Succession, involving most of the major powers of Europe at that time. Peace arrived with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

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April 6, 1917 Safe for Democracy

In 1916, German policy vacillated between strict adherence to prize rules and unrestricted submarine warfare. The first put their people and vessels at extreme risk, the second threatened to bring the United States into the war.

woodrow_wilsonIn the early days of WWI, Imperial Germany attempted to comply with standards of maritime warfare, as established by the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.

Desperate to find an effective countermeasure to the German “Unterseeboot”, Great Britain introduced heavily armed merchant ships with concealed weaponry in 1915, phony merchantmen designed to lure submarines into making surface attacks. Britain called these secret countermeasures “Q-ships”, after their home base in Queenstown, in Ireland. German sailors called them U-Boot-Fälle. “U-boat traps”.

The “unprovoked” sinking of noncombatant vessels, including the famous Lusitania, in which 1,198 passengers lost their lives, became a primary justification for war.  The German Empire, for her part, insisted that many of these vessels carried munitions intended to kill Germans on European battlefields.

Underwater, the submarines of WWI were slow and blind, on the surface, vulnerable to attack.  In 1916, German policy vacillated between strict adherence to prize rules and unrestricted submarine warfare.  The first put their people and vessels at extreme risk, the second threatened to bring the United States into the war.q-ship-u-boat

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson won re-election with the slogan “He kept us out of war”, a conflict begun in Europe, two years earlier.

In a January 31, 1917 memorandum from German Ambassador Count Johann von Bernstorff to US Secretary of State Robert Lansing, the Ambassador stated that “sea traffic will be stopped with every available weapon and without further notice”, effective the following day. The German government was about to resume unrestricted submarine warfare.

Anticipating this resumption and expecting the decision to draw the United States into the war, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann delivered a message to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. The telegram instructed Ambassador Eckardt that, if the United States seemed likely to enter the war, he was to approach the Mexican Government with a proposal for military alliance, promising “lost territory” in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in exchange for a Mexican declaration of war against the United States.

Zimmerman noteThe “Zimmermann Telegram” was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence and revealed to the American government on February 24. The contents of the message outraged American public opinion and helped generate support for the United States’ declaration of war.

In the end, the German response to anticipated US action, brought about the very action it was trying to avoid.

President Woodrow Wilson delivered his war message to a joint session of Congress on April 2, saying that a declaration of war on Imperial Germany would make the world “safe for democracy”. Congress voted to support American entry into the war on April 6, 1917. The “Great War”, the “War to end all Wars”, had become a world war.

At the time, a secondary explosion within the hull of the Lusitania, caused many to believe the liner had been struck by a second torpedo.  In 1968, American businessman Gregg Bemis purchased the wreck of the Lusitania for $2,400, from the Liverpool & London War Risks Insurance Association.   In 2007 the Irish government granted Bemis a five-year license to conduct limited excavations at the site.   Lusitania, ammunition

Twelve miles off the Irish coast and 300’ down, a dive was conducted on the wreck in 2008.   Remote submersible operators discovered some 4,000,000 rounds of Remington .303 ammunition in the hold, proof of the German claim that Lusitania was, in fact, a legitimate target under international rules of war.  The UK Daily Mail quoted Bemis:  “There were literally tons and tons of stuff stored in unrefrigerated cargo holds that were dubiously marked cheese, butter and oysters’”.

Jeannette_Rankin
Jeannette Rankin

American historian, author and journalist Wade Hampton Sides accompanied the expedition.  “They are bullets that were expressly manufactured to kill Germans in World War I” he said, “bullets that British officials in Whitehall, and American officials in Washington, have long denied were aboard the Lusitania.'”

Montana Republican Jeannette Pickering Rankin, a life-long pacifist and the first woman elected to the United States Congress, would be one of only fifty votes against entering WWI.  She would be elected to her second (non-contiguous) term in 1940, in time to be the only vote against entering WWII, following the Japanese attack on the United States’ Pacific anchorage at Pearl Harbor.

April 5, 1761 Midnight Ride

The Dutchess County Militia had to be called up. The Colonel had one night to prepare for battle, and this rider was done. The job would have to go to Colonel Ludington’s first-born. His daughter, Sybil.

“Listen my children and you shall hear,
Of the midnight ride of”…Sybil Ludington.

Wait…What?

Midnight RidePaul Revere’s famous “midnight ride” began on the night of April 18, 1775.  Revere was one of two riders, soon joined by a third, fanning out from Boston to warn of an oncoming column of “regulars”, come to destroy the stockpile of gunpowder, ammunition, and cannon in Concord.

Revere himself covered barely 12 miles before being captured, his horse confiscated to replace the tired mount of a British sergeant.  Revere would finish his “ride” on foot, arriving at sunrise on the 19th to witness the last moments of the battle on Lexington Green.

Two years later, Patriot forces maintained a similar supply depot, in the southwest Connecticut town of Danbury.

William Tryon was the Royal Governor of New York, and long-standing advocate for attacks on civilian targets.  In 1777, he was also a major-general of the provincial army.  On April 25th, Tryon set sail for the Connecticut coast of Long Island Sound with a force of 1,800, intending to destroy Danbury.

Burning of DanburyPatriot Colonel Joseph Cooke’s small Danbury garrison was caught and quickly overpowered on the 26th, trying to remove food supplies, uniforms, and equipment.  Facing little if any opposition, Tryon’s forces went on a bender, burning homes, farms and storehouses.  Thousands of barrels of pork, beef, and flour were destroyed, along with 5,000 pairs of shoes, 2,000 bushels of grain, and 1,600 tents.

Colonel Henry Ludington was a farmer and father of 12, with a long military career.  A long-standing and loyal subject of the British crown, Ludington switched sides in 1773, joining the rebel cause and rising to command the 7th Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia, in New York’s Hudson Valley.

In April 1777, Ludington’s militia was disbanded for planting season, and spread across the countryside.  An exhausted rider arrived at the Ludington farm on a blown horse, on the evening of the 26th, asking for help.  15 miles away, British regulars and a force of loyalists were burning Danbury to the ground. Sybil Ludington

The Dutchess County Militia had to be called up.  The Colonel had one night to prepare for battle, and this rider was done.  The job would have to go to Colonel Ludington’s first-born, his daughter, Sybil.

Born April 5, 1761, Sybil Ludington was barely sixteen at the time of her ride.  From Poughkeepsie to what is now Putnam County and back, the “Female Paul Revere” rode across the lower Hudson River Valley, covering 40 miles in the pitch dark of night, alerting her father’s militia to the danger and urging them to come out and fight.  She’d use a stick to knock on doors, even using it once, to fight off a highway bandit.

By the time Sybil returned the next morning, cold, rain-soaked, and exhausted, most of 400 militia were ready to march.

BattleOfRidgefield
Battle of Ridgefield, from Wikipedia A: British movement to the coast B: American movements to pursue and harass the British C: Arnold’s position attempting to block the British return to the beach D: British return to New York

35 miles to the east of Danbury, General Benedict Arnold was gathering a force of 500 regular and irregular Connecticut militia, with Generals David Wooster and Gold Selleck Silliman.

Arnold’s forces arrived too late to save Danbury, but inflicted a nasty surprise on the British rearguard as the column approached nearby Ridgefield.  Never outnumbered by less than three-to-one, Connecticut militia was able to slow the British advance until Ludington’s New York Militia arrived on the following day.  The last phase of the action saw the same type of swarming harassment, as seen on the British retreat from Concord to Boston, early in the war.

Though the British operation was a tactical success, the mauling inflicted by these colonials ensured that this was the last hostile British landing on the Connecticut coast.

The British raid on Danbury destroyed at least 19 houses and 22 stores and barns.  Town officials submitted £16,000 in claims to Congress, for which town selectmen received £500 reimbursement.  Further claims were made to the General Assembly of Connecticut in 1787, for which Danbury was awarded land.  In Ohio.

Keeler_tavern_ridgefield_cannonball_2006
Keeler Tavern

The Keeler Tavern in Ridgefield is now a museum.  The British cannonball fired into the side of the building, remains there to this day.

At the time, Benedict Arnold planned to travel to Philadelphia, to protest the promotion of officers junior to himself, to Major General.  Arnold, who’d had two horses shot out from under him at Ridgefield, was promoted to Major General in recognition for his role in the battle.  Along with that promotion came a horse, “properly caparisoned as a token of … approbation of his gallant conduct … in the late enterprize to Danbury.”  For now, the pride which would one day be his undoing, was assuaged.

Henry Ludington would become Aide-de-Camp to General George Washington, and grandfather to Harrison Ludington, mayor of Milwaukee and 12th Governor of Wisconsin.

Gold Silliman was kidnapped with his son by a first marriage by Tory neighbors, and held for Nearly seven months at a New York farmhouse.  Having no hostage of equal rank with whom to exchange for the General, Patriot forces went out and kidnapped one of their own, in the person of Chief Justice Judge Thomas Jones, of Long Island.

Wooster Square
Archway at Wooster Square

Mary Silliman was left to run the farm, including caring for her own midwife, who was brutally raped by English forces for denying them the use of her home.  The 1993 made-for-TV movie “Mary Silliman’s War” tells the story of non-combatants, pregnant mothers and farm wives during the Revolution, as well as Mary’s own negotiations for her husband’s release from his Loyalist captors.

General David Wooster was mortally wounded at the Battle of Ridgefield, moments after shouting “Come on my boys! Never mind such random shots!”  Today, an archway marks the entrance to Wooster Square, in the East Rock Neighborhood of New Haven.  Sybil_Ludington_stamp

Sybil Ludington received the thanks of family and friends, even George Washington, and then stepped off the pages of history.

Paul Revere’s famous ride would likewise have faded into obscurity, but for the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  86 years later.

April 3, 1946 Bataan Death March

The United States was grotesquely unprepared to fight a World War in 1942, and dedicated itself to beating Adolf Hitler first. General Douglas MacArthur abandoned the “Alamo of the Pacific” on March 11 saying “I shall return”

The game was November 27, 1937.  Late in the 4th quarter, Notre Dame was tied 6-6 with Southern California. The “Fighting Irish” needed a miracle. Notre Dame fullback #58 Mario “Motts” Tonelli took the hand-off deep in Notre Dame territory and ran the ball 70 yards back before being tackled. Seconds later, the 5’11”, 195lb Tonelli, scored the game winning touchdown.Tonelli

In some ways, Mario Tonelli himself was the miracle. Years earlier at the age of 6, he’d been burned over 80% of his body, when a trash compactor toppled over on him. Mario’s immigrant father Celi, a laborer from a northern Italian marble quarry, refused to believe the doctor who said his son would never walk again. Fixing four wheels to a door, the elder Tonelli taught his first American-born son to move about with his arms. By 1935, Mario Tonelli was a football, basketball and track star at Chicago’s DePaul Academy.

After a year coaching at Providence College in 1939 and a year playing professional football for the Chicago Cardinals in 1940, Tonelli joined the Army early in 1941, assigned to the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment in Manila.

Tonelli hoped to fulfill his one years’ commitment and return to the Cardinals for the ’42 season, but it wasn’t meant to be. The radio crackled to life at 2:30am local time on December 7. “Air raid on Pearl Harbor. This is no drill!”

Military forces of Imperial Japan appeared unstoppable in the early months of WWII, attacking first Thailand, then the British possessions of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong, as well as US military bases in Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines.Bataan1

The United States was grotesquely unprepared to fight a World War in 1942, and dedicated itself to beating Adolf Hitler first. General Douglas MacArthur abandoned the “Alamo of the Pacific” on March 11 saying “I shall return”, leaving 90,000 American and Filipino troops without food, supplies or support with which to fight off the Japanese offensive.

On April 9, 75,000 surrendered the Bataan peninsula, beginning a 65 mile, five-day slog into captivity through the heat of the Philippine jungle. Japanese guards were sadistic. They would beat the marchers and bayonet those too weak to walk. Japanese tanks would swerve out of their way to run over anyone who had fallen and was too slow in getting up. Some were burned alive. Already crippled from tropical disease and starving from the long siege of Luzon, thousands perished in what came to be known as the Bataan Death March.

bataanExhausted, sunburned and aching with thirst, Tonelli still refused when a Japanese soldier demanded his Notre Dame class ring. As the guard reached for his sword, a nearby prisoner shouted “Give it to him. It’s not worth dying for”.

Minutes later, a Japanese officer appeared, speaking perfect English. “Did one of my men take something from you?” “Yes”, Tonelli replied. “My school ring”. “Here,” said the officer, pressing the ring into his hand. “Hide it somewhere. You may not get it back next time”. Tonelli was speechless. “I was educated in America”, the officer said. “At the University of Southern California. I know a little about the famous Notre Dame football team. In fact, I watched you beat USC in 1937. I know how much this ring means to you, so I wanted to get it back to you”.

Close to 700 Americans and over 10,000 Filipinos died on the Bataan death march. For the survivors, the ordeal was only beginning. For 2½ years Tonelli suffered starvation, disease and endless beatings in the squalid prison camps known as O’Donnell, Cabanatuan, and Davao. Tonelli kept his ring throughout, buried in a soap dish. He’d take it out from time to time to remind himself:  life used to be better than this. It gave him something to hope for.

tonelli2The hellish 60-day journey aboard the filthy, cramped merchant vessel began in late 1944, destined for slave labor camps in mainland Japan. Tonelli was barely 100 pounds on arrival, his body ravaged by malaria and intestinal parasites. He was barely half the man who once played fullback at Notre Dame Stadium, Soldier Field and Comiskey Park.

Arriving at Nagoya #7 prison camp, Tonelli was handed a piece of paper. Scribbled on it was a 58. He was prisoner number 58, the same number he once wore on his football Jersey. “From that point on,” he said, “I knew I was going to make it”.

An American military tribunal conducted after the war held Lieutenant General Homma Masaharu, commander of the Japanese invasion forces in the Philippines, guilty of war crimes. He was executed by firing squad on April 3, 1946.Mario Tonelli Ring

Mario Tonelli always hoped to meet the officer who’d returned his ring, but it wasn’t meant to be. He probably didn’t survive the war. Tonelli still had that ring when he passed away in 2003.

Two weeks ago, nearly 10,000 gathered in New Mexico, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Bataan death march. 7,200 retired and active duty military personnel and civilians gathered in the 28th annual such event, to run the 26.2 mile “Death March” through the hilly desert terrain of the White Sands Missile Range, near Las Cruces.

Ed Broadnax of El Paso, Texas, runs the course in full uniform, boots and 45-pound backpack. “As a veteran who served 26 years in the US Army and deployed three times to combat and experienced the horrors of war, I feel pain for the men and women who suffered intensely under the deadly Japanese Imperial Forces, as they were marched through the Philippine jungle. This is what drives me to run in their honor.”Ben Skardon

Hundreds of others walked a 14.2 mile course, including Bataan Death March survivor Ben Skardon, who turns 100 in July.  Mr. Skardon walked 8½.  “The word hero doesn’t apply to me, at all”, Skardon said.  “As I said in my talk, ‘no greater love hath any man, than to lay down his life for his friends’.  That’s in the bible”.

Ben Skardon was one of 7 survivors turning out for the March 31 event.   Seven of the last survivors of the Bataan death march, fewer than fifty of whom are left alive. A year ago at last year’s event, there were 26 more.

Bataan, 75th
75th anniversary White Sands “Death March” https://www.facebook.com/Bataan-Memorial-Death-March-112650288784723/

 

March 30, 1282 War of Sicilian Vespers

It was Easter Monday, March 30, 1282. The Church of the Holy Spirit outside Palermo was just letting out after evening vespers (prayers), when a French soldier thought he’d “inspect” a Sicilian woman for weapons.

Since the early 12th century, the southern Italian peninsula and the island of Sicily had been united as the Kingdom of Sicily. Until the invasion of the French King Charles I of Anjou, who ousted Sicilian King Manfred in 1266.

The Anjou King’s rule in Sicily was vicious and repressive, with the French King himself absent for long periods. Charles’ Sicilian subjects could not have hated him more.

The Wonderful Story of France: Massacre of the Sicilian VespersIt was Easter Monday, March 30, 1282. The Church of the Holy Spirit outside Palermo was just letting out after evening vespers (prayers), when a French soldier thought he’d “inspect” a Sicilian woman for weapons.

Accounts vary as to what happened, but there’s a good chance he was just looking for a feel, and that’s what he got. The lady’s modesty thusly offended, someone in the crowd avenged her honor, knifing the French guard.

At first merely agitated, this first taste of blood drove the mob to a frenzy. Spreading across the Capital and into the countryside, Sicilians killed every Frenchman they could get their hands on.

Revolutionaries devised a linguistic test, to see who was authentically Sicilian. Native French speakers can’t pronounce the word “ciciri”, even to save themselves. And that’s the way it worked out.  God help you if you couldn’t say that word. Over four thousand Frenchmen would die over the next six weeks.

Meanwhile in Spain, Peter III King of Aragon, Peter I King of Valencia, and Peter II Count of Barcelona (these three are all the same guy), had a claim to the Sicilian throne through his wife, Constance.

The Italian physician John of Procida had been a loyal subject of Manfred’s, fleeing to Aragon after the Anjou invasion. John proceeded directly to Sicily where he spent several weeks stirring up Sicilian resentment against the French King. Sicily then appealed to the Spanish King to intervene, while John sailed for Constantinople to procure the help of Michael VIII Palaeologus.war_of_the_vespers

History records what followed as the War of Sicilian Vespers. The Angevins were supported by the Papacy and his Italian supporters (Guelphs), while the Aragonese received help from Sicily itself, the Byzantine Emperor, and the Ghibellines, Italian supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Several players changed sides over the course of the next twenty years. In the end, the son of the Spanish King took the Sicilian crown in 1302, becoming King Frederick II, beginning near 400 years of Spanish rule over the island.

And so it was that a French soldier molested an Italian woman, and lost the kingdom of Sicily, to Spain.

March 29, 1973 Vietnam

This is no benign ideology we’re talking about, current estimates of citizens murdered by their own government in the Soviet Union alone, range from 8 to 61 million during the Stalinist period.

French Indo-China, the area now known as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, was governed as a French Colonial territory since the late 19th century. The region 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”.

France re-occupied the region following the Japanese defeat in WWII, 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 dien_bien_phu-resupplyfrom 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 the north and south, 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.

Domino effectUS 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 into the Soviet sphere of influence. Germany was partitioned into Communist and free enterprise spheres after WWII, followed by China, North Korea and so on across Southeast Asia.

This is no benign ideology we’re talking about, current estimates of citizens murdered by their own government in the Soviet Union alone, range from 8 to 61 million during the Stalinist period.Paddy

Agree or disagree with policy makers of the time, that’s your business, but they followed 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 50s, 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.

Vietnam War CiviliansThe 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.

Even then it wasn’t over. Communist forces violated cease-fire agreements before they were 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.Three_soldiers

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

In the end, US public opinion would not sustain what too many saw as an endless war.  We continue to feel the political repercussions, to this day. I was ten at the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968. I remember feeling horrified at the way some of my fellow Americans conducted themselves. I came to feel at that time as I do to this day, that anyone who has a problem with our country’s war policy, needs to take it up with a politician.  Not a member of the military,

.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 their perfect, agrarian, “Worker’s Paradise”.

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 to a single diamond, bite down on that stone until it embedded in your shattered teeth, and fled with your family to 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 the 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.Vietnamese_boat_people

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 in 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 their attempt to flee.

The humanitarian disaster that was the Indochina refugee crisis was particularly acute between 1979-’80, but reverberations continued into the 21st century.  The last boat people were repatriated from Malaysia in 2005.  Thailand deported 4,000 Hmong refugees in 2009.

There were 57,939 names inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the day it opened in 1982. 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.

Things they carried

March 28, 1915 Thrasher Incident

That March, the 31-year-old Hardwick, Massachusetts native was leaving Liverpool, returning to a job on the Gold Coast of British West Africa aboard the cargo-passenger ship RMS Falaba

102 years ago, the Great War was in its 8th month.  The war of mobility of the early months was long gone, replaced by the lines of trench works which would characterize the rest of the war. Off the battlefield, the German and British governments each sought to choke the life out of the other’s economy. Great Britain held the upper hand, with the superior deep-water surface fleet.  To the Kaiser’s way of thinking, parity would come in the form of a submarine.

Picture_of_Leon_Chester_Thrasher_who_died_on_the_RMS_Falaba
Leon Chester Thrasher 1st American killed in WW!

Leon Chester Thrasher was an American mining engineer. That March, the 31-year-old Hardwick, Massachusetts native 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, sinking the ship to the bottom with a single torpedo and killing 104, including Leon Thrasher.  The first American killed 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 messages for help. British authorities claim to have been given only 7 minutes’ warning.

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”.falaba

The Germans claimed that subsequent explosions proved Falaba to be carrying contraband ammunition, intended to kill German boys on European battlefields.  Eyewitness accounts failed to settle the matter, some even tended to support the German view.

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 on July 11, 1915, after 106 days in the water.  Authorities mistakenly believed him to be a victim of the RMS Lusitania sinking, designating him Body No. 248.

The U-boat U-20 had torpedoed the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland 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 wouldn’t come for another two years.  In the form of a German telegram, to the government of Mexico.