January 12, 1968 The Strangest Dogfight

Theirs was a secret war, waged in the mists of the Annamite Mountains. Two months later, North Vietnamese commandos attacked and destroyed Site 85, inflicting the largest loss of US Air Force personnel of the war in Vietnam

To the extent that most of us think about aerial combat, at least the non-pilots among us, I think we envision some variation of the dog fights between Snoopy and the Red Baron. Two aircraft, bobbing and weaving through the sky, each attempting to get the other in his sights.

red-baron
Manfred von Richtofen

In the real world, Manfred von Richthofen, the most prolific ace of WWI with 80 confirmed kills, was killed by a single bullet fired from the ground, while pursuing Canadian pilot Wilfred May behind Allied lines. The Red Baron landed his red Fokker tri-plane in a beet field and died moments later, and was buried with full military honors, by his enemies.

Possibly the strangest dogfight of WWII took place on August 17, 1943, between two German long-range “Condor” maritime patrol bombers, and an American B-24D Liberator bomber in the skies over the Atlantic Ocean.

Twenty-eight ton, four-engine bombers were never meant for diving attacks and multiple-G banking turns. It must have looked like a motocross race between cement mixers.

Stripped of armor to increase range and carrying a full load of depth charges, the American anti-submarine bomber with its 10-man crew dove out of the clouds at 1,000 feet, throttles open and machine guns firing. The first Condor never came out of that diving turn, while machine gun fire from the second tore into the American bomber. Rear-gunners returned fire, as Liberator pilot Hugh Maxwell Jr. crash landed in the water, his aircraft breaking into three pieces.the-ark

Maxwell had named his B-24 “The Ark”, explaining that “it had a lot of strange animals aboard, and I hoped it would bring us through the deluge”. It must have worked, seven out of ten crew members lived to be plucked from the water. The second Condor made it back to Bordeaux, where it crashed and burned on landing.

Surviving Liberator crew members were rescued by the British destroyer Highlander, along with three Germans from that first Condor. It was all the Highlander crew could do, to keep the soaking wet combatants apart on the decks of the destroyer.

On the first night of the Gulf War in 1991, an Iraqi Mirage fighter intercepted an American EF-111, an unarmed F-111 bomber modified for radar-jamming patrol. Flying at 200′ and equipped with sophisticated terrain-following radar, the bomber was able to climb up and over hilltops, while the French-made Mirage fighter had no such systems. The last that was seen of that Iraqi fighter, was when he plowed his aircraft into that same hillside.

f-15eLater in the same conflict, an Iraqi Hughes 500 helicopter was taken out by bombs dropped from an American Air Force F-15E bomber. At least one Iraqi PC-7 Turboprop pilot got spooked, bailing out of a perfectly good aircraft before a shot was fired in his direction.

The strangest dogfight in history took place on January 12, 1968, when four Soviet-made Antonov AN-2 Colt biplanes took off from their base in North Vietnam, headed west toward Laos.

Only 125 nautical miles from Hanoi, Phou Pha Thi mountain had long been used as a staging base for CIA directed Hmong guerilla fighters and Thai security forces. Lima Site 85 was the American radar facility, perched atop the 5,800′ mountain.

CIA-operated “Air America” captain Ted Moore was flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter at the

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Lima site 85, atop 5,800 Phou Pha Thi Mountain

time, carrying a load of ammunition to Phou Pha Thi. Moore arrived to see two North Vietnamese biplanes, dropping 122mm mortar shells through holes in the floor and strafing the mountaintop with 57mm rockets. “It looked like WWI,” he later recalled. Moore gave chase, positioning his helicopter above one biplane, as flight mechanic Glenn Woods fired an AK-47 rifle down from above.

Moore and Woods dropped back to the second biplane, as the first crashed into a ridge west of the North Vietnamese border. Moments later, the second crashed into a mountainside, as the other two slipped back into North Vietnamese air space. The entire chase had taken about 20 minutes.

Theirs was a secret war, waged in the mists of the Annamite Mountains. Two months later, North Vietnamese commandos attacked and destroyed Site 85, inflicting the largest loss of US Air Force personnel of the war in Vietnam.

On July 27, 2007, Air America veterans Marius Burke and Boyd Mesecher presented the CIA with “An Air Combat First”, an oil on canvas painting by Keith Woodcock, depicting the shoot-down. The event was attended by members of the Air America Board, pilot Ted Moore, wife of flight mechanic Glenn Woods Sawang Reed, CIA paramilitary veteran Bill Lair; and the painting’s donors. Presumably, the painting hangs at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. A testament to the only time in the history of the Vietnam war, that an enemy fixed-wing aircraft was shot down, by a helicopter.

January 11, 1935 Amelia Earhart

The US Coast Guard cutter Itasca picked up radio messages that she was lost and low on fuel on July 2, 1937, and then she vanished

Amelia Earhart was born July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas, the first surviving child of Samuel “Edwin” and Amelia “Amy” Otis Earhart. Amy didn’t believe in raising “nice little girls”, she allowed “Meeley” and her younger sister “Pidge” to live an outdoor, rough and tumble “tomboy” kind of childhood.

Edwin seems to have had life-long problems with alcohol, often resulting in an inability to provide for his family. Amelia must have been a disciplined student though, she graduated with her high school class, on time, despite attending six different schools. She was certainly independent, saying in later life that “The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune”.

Amelia saw her first airplane in 1908, at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. It was a rickety old biplane and the girls’ father was trying to interest them in going for a ride.  At the time they preferred the merry-go-round, Earhart later describing the
biplane as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting.”

In 1919, Earhart spent time with her sister in Toronto, working as a nurse’s aid where she met several wounded aviators, just home from WWI. She developed a strong admiration for aviators, spending much of her free time watching the Royal Flying Corps practice at a nearby airfield.

A ten minute ride at a Long Beach California air show in 1920 changed her life, from that time on she knew she wanted to fly.

amelia-earhartEarhart worked at a variety of jobs from photographer to truck driver, earning money to take flying lessons from pioneer female aviator Anita “Neta” Snook. She bought a second hand Kinner Airster in 1921, a bright yellow biplane she called “The Canary”, and flew it to 14,000’ the following year, a world altitude record for female pilots.

Lack of funds grounded her for a time, but she was flying out of the Dennison Airport in Quincy Massachusetts by 1927. She invested in the airport and worked as a salesman for Kinner airplanes in the Boston area, all while writing about flying in the local newspaper, soon becoming a local celebrity.

Charles Lindbergh’s New York to Paris Flight on May 20-21 of that year was the first solo, non-stop transatlantic crossing by airplane. Aviatrix Amy Phipps Guest wanted to be the first woman to make the flight, but later decided it was too dangerous. Instead she would sponsor the trip, provided they found “another girl with the right image”.

Now nicknamed “Lady Lindy”, Earhart became the first woman to make the solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic on May 21, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh.

Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California on this day, January 11, 1935.

Two years later, Earhart and copilot/navigator Frederick J. Noonan attempted to fly around the world. The US Coast Guard cutter Itasca picked up radio messages that she was lost anddaily-news-earhart low on fuel on July 2, 1937, and then she vanished. The four million dollar search and rescue effort which followed was the most expensive in history, but to no avail. Earhart and Noonan were never seen again.

For years, the prevailing theory has been that Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra ran out of fuel and plunged into the Pacific. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has been exploring a 1½ mile long, uninhabited tropical atoll called Nikumaroro, in the southwestern Pacific Republic of Kiribati. After eleven visits to the atoll, TIGHAR sonar images revealed a straight, unbroken anomaly under the sand, remarkably consistent with the fuselage of a Lockheed Electra. nikumaroro-atoll

TIGHAR has re-examined 120 known reports of radio signals which could have been sent from the Earhart aircraft between July 2 and July 18, the day the official search was called off.  They’ve concluded that 47 of them are credible. The remains of a very old campfire has been discovered on the island, along with a 1930s-vintage clothing zipper, bone-handled pocket knife of the type Earhart was known to carry, and a jar of a once-popular anti-freckle cream.  13 human bones have been discovered which may belong to a white female, around the same age and height as Earhart was when she disappeared in 1937.

What was then Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, is no tropical island paradise.  There is no fresh water and daytime temperatures exceed 100° Fahrenheit in July. Its only inhabitants are Birgus latro, commonly known as the coconut crab. Also known as the coconut-crabrobber crab or palm thief, Birgus latro is the largest terrestrial hermit crab in the world, weighing up to 9lbs and measuring over 3′ from leg tip to leg tip.

The adult coconut crab feeds on fruits, nuts, seeds, and the pith of fallen trees, but will eat carrion or just about anything else if given the chance. It’s anyone’s guess how the two aviators spent the last hours of their lives, or who it was who lit that fire or left those bones. Looking at the size of these things, it’s not difficult to imagine why there are only 13.

January 10, 1869 Rasputin

Rumors of sexual trysts between the “Mad Monk” and the Tsarina herself were almost certainly unfounded, but so widespread that postcards depicting these liasons were openly circulated

 

The line of succession to the Imperial Russian throne traditionally followed the male line, as it had for most of its history.  The Tsarina Alexandra had delivered four healthy babies by 1903, each of them a girl.  Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.  In 1904 she labored to deliver her fifth. That August, the country waited and hoped for an heir to the throne.  All of Russia prayed for a boy.

The prayers of the nation were answered on August 12 (July 30 Old Style calendar), with the alexei_nikolaevich_1904birth of a son.  The Tsarevich Alexei Nikolayevich.  The public was informed of the happy news with a 301 gun salute from the cannons of the Peter and Paul Fortress.  Those hopes would be dashed in less than a month, when the infant’s navel began to bleed.  It continued to bleed for two days, and took all the doctors at the Tsar’s disposal to stop it.

The child suffered from hemophilia, a hereditary condition passed down from his Grandmother British Queen Victoria, who had lost a son and a grandson to the disease, both at the age of three.

The early years of any small boy are punctuated by dents and dings and Alexei was notsesarevich-alexei-in-1913 exception.  The bleeding episodes suffered by the Tsarevich were often severe, despite his parents never ending attempts to protect him.   Doctors’ efforts were frequently in vain, and Alexandra turned to a succession of quacks, mystics and “wise men” for a cure.

“We had the good fortune”, Tsar Nicholas wrote to his diary in 1905, “to meet the man of God Grigori from the province of Tobolsk”.  “Grigory” was Grigory Efimovich Rasputin.  Born on this day in 1869, Rasputin was a strange man, a peasant wanderer and self proclaimed “Holy Man”, a seer of the future proclaiming the power to heal.

The scandals seemed never-ending, involving Rasputin’s carryings-on with society ladies and prostitutes alike.  Rumors of sexual trysts between the “Mad Monk” and the Tsarina herself were almost certainly unfounded, but so widespread that postcards depicting these liasons were openly circulated.  What the Tsar and Tsarina saw as a pious and holy man, the Nobility saw as a foul smelling, sex crazed peasant with far too much influence on decisions of State.   Alexandra believed the man had the power to make her boy better.  Many around her openly spoke of this man ruining the Royal Family, and the nation.

rasputinInfluential people approached Nicholas and Alexandra with dire warnings, leaving dismayed by their refusal to listen.  According to the Royal Couple, Rasputin was the only man who could save their young son Alexei.  By 1916 it was clear to many in the nobility.  The only course was to kill Rasputin, before the monarchy was destroyed.

A group of five nobles led by Prince Felix Yusupov lured Rasputin to the Moika Palace on December 16, 1916, using the possibility of a sexual encounter with Yusopov’s beautiful wife, Irina, as bait.  Pretending that she was upstairs with unexpected guests, the five “entertained” Rasputin in a basement dining room, feeding him arsenic laced pastries and washing them down with poisoned wine.  None of it seemed to have any effect.

Panicked, Yusupov pulled a revolver and shot Rasputin, who went down, but soon got up and attacked his tormentors.  Rasputin then tried to run away, only to be shot twice more and have his head beaten bloody with a dumbbell.  At last, his  hands and feet bound, Grigory Efimovich Rasputin was thrown from a bridge into the icy Malaya Nevka River.

Police found the body two days later, with water in the lungs and hands outstretched.  Poisoned, shot in the chest, back and head, with his head stove in, Rasputin was still alive when he hit the water.

In the end, the succession question turned out to be moot.  A letter attributed to Rasputin, which he may or may not have written, contained a prophecy.  “If I am killed by common assassins and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you, Tsar of Russia, have russian_imperial_family_1911nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years in Russia…[I]f it was your relations who have wrought my death…none of your children or relations will remain alive for two years. They will be killed by the Russian people…”

The stresses and economic dislocations of WWI proved too much.  Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne within three months.  Bolshevik forces murdered the Russian Imperial family:  Tsar Nicholas, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and all five children, less than a year later.

January 9, 1492 Mermaid Sighting

Columbus seems not to have been impressed, describing these mermaids as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”

“Pax Romana”, or “Roman Peace”, refers to a period between the 1st and 2nd century AD, when the force of Roman arms subdued most everyone who stood against them.  The conquered peoples described the period differently.  Sometime in 83 or 84AD, Calgacus of the Caledonian Confederacy in Northern Scotland, said  “They make a desert and call it peace”.

The conquests of Genghis Khan and his successors accomplished much the same during mongol-warriorsthe 13th and 14th century.  The “Pax Mongolica” effectively connecting Europe with Asia, making it safe to travel the “Silk Road” from Britain in the west to China in the east.  Great caravans carrying Chinese silks and spices came to the west via transcontinental trade routes.  It was said of the era that “a maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.”

The “Black Death” and the political fragmentation of the Mongol Empire brought that period to an end.  Muslim domination of Middle Eastern trade routes made overland travel to China and India increasingly difficult in the 15th century.  After Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, such travel became next to impossible.   Europe began to look for a water route to the East.

toscanelli-mapIt’s popular to believe that 15th century Europeans thought the world was flat, but that’s a myth.  The fact that the world is round had been understood for over a thousand years, though 15th century mapmakers often got places and distances wrong.  In 1474, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli detailed a scheme for sailing westward to China, India and the Spice Islands.  He believed that Japan, which he called “Cipangu”, was larger than it is, and farther to the east of “Cathay” (China).  Toscanelli vastly overestimated the size of the Eurasian landmass, and the Americas were left out altogether. This is the map that Christopher Columbus took with him in 1492.

Columbus had taken his idea of a westward trade route to the Portuguese King, to Genoa and to Venice, before he came to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1486.  At that time the Spanish monarchs had a Reconquista to tend to, but they were ready in 1492.  The Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria sailed that August.mermaid

By January 9, 1493, the expedition had been at sea for six months.  Sailing off the coast of Hispaniola, what we now call the Dominican Republic, when Columbus spotted three “mermaids”.

They were Manatee, part of the order “Sirenia”.  “Sirens” are the beautiful sisters, half birdlike creatures who live by the sea, according to ancient Greek mythology.  These girls, according to myth, sang a song so beautiful that sailors were hypnotized, crashing their ships into rocks in their efforts to reach them.

mermaid-manateeColumbus seems not to have been impressed, describing these mermaids as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”

Small wonder.  These marine herbivores measure 10’ to 13′ from nose to tail, and weigh in at 800-1,200 lbs.  Not everyone was quite so dismissive.  A hundred years later, the English explorer John Smith reported seeing a mermaid, almost certainly a Manatee. It was “by no means unattractive”, he said, but I’m not so sure.  I think it’s possible that ol’ John Smith needed to get out a little more.manatee

January 8, 1790 State of the Union

In the electronic age, the media business model depends on the ability to rent an audience to a sponsor. The SOTU is usually go-to programming, but not always

Article II, Section 3 of the United Sates Constitution requires of the President that: “He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”. While the language is nonspecific, the President traditionally makes his report sometime in late January or early February.

george_washingtonOn January 8, 1790, a joint session of Congress gathered to receive the first such address. It wasn’t where you might think. A mob of angry soldiers had converged on Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1783, demanding payment for their service in the Revolution. The Congress fled Pennsylvania all the way to New York.  It wouldn’t be until July 6 of 1790 that Congress passed the Residence Act, placing the permanent seat of the Federal Government on the “River Potomack”. For the time being, the government was conducting its business in Federal Hall, built in 1700 as New York City Hall.

President George Washington delivered that first regular annual message before a joint session of Congress, but Thomas Jefferson ended the practice in 1801, considering it “too monarchical”. Instead, he wrote his annual message and sent it to Congress where it was read by a clerk, starting a tradition which would last for over 112 years.

Woodrow Wilson delivered the message himself in 1913, re-establishing the old practice inwoodrow_wilson spite of initial criticism.

Today we call it the “State of the Union”, but that term didn’t come around until Franklin Roosevelt used it in 1934. In prior years, it was “the President’s Annual Message to Congress”.

Most of the Presidents who followed would deliver the message in person, though not all. 1981 was an inauguration year and the last of three when we had two SOTUs: Jimmy Carter’s written address, and the personal State of the Union address from the incoming President, Ronald Reagan. The first two were 1953 with the transition from the Truman Presidency to that of Eisenhower, and the Eisenhower/Kennedy transition of 1961.

Woodrow Wilson was the first sitting President to address the Congress at night, when he asked for the declaration that brought us into WWI. President Roosevelt set a precedent in 1936 when he delivered the SOTU address at night, and it’s been a nighttime event ever since.

harry_trumanCalvin Coolidge’s 1923 address was the first to be broadcast on radio, and Harry S. Truman’s 1947 State of the Union was the first to be broadcast on television. Bill Clinton’s 1997 SOTU was the first to be broadcast live on the internet.

For a time, television networks imposed a time limit on the address. That ended with Lyndon Johnson’s SOTU in 1968, the first address followed by extensive commentary, provided by Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Milton Friedman, among others.

The 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster forced President Reagan to postpone his State of the Union for a week, the first time the address had ever been so postponed.

In the electronic age, the media business model depends on the ability to rent an audience to a sponsor.  The SOTU is usually go-to programming, but not always.  In 1997, Bill Clinton prepared to deliver his State of the Union, as a California jury delivered the verdict in OJ’s civil trial.  Coverage decisions must have made media executives pull their hair out.  Lucky for them, the verdict came in just as Clinton was finishing up.  CBS, ABC and CNN stayed with the President’s address.  NBC did likewise, while its cable affiliate MSNBC switched to the verdict.  At least one CBS affiliate split the screen and showed both.

It’s customary for at least one cabinet member to act as “designated survivor”, remaining away from the address in case some catastrophic event takes out the President along with the first three in line of succession: the Vice President, Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate. Since the Islamist terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, a few members of Congress are asked to stay away as well. These few are relocated to an undisclosed location where they would form the nucleus of a “rump congress”, in case of some unforeseen and catastrophic disaster.

When now-President Elect Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address, he will preside over a fiscal operating debt of $19.95 Trillion, $1.03 Trillion higher than the day Barack Obama delivered his last and $8.9 Trillion higher than his first.  My fellow pachyderms are so fond of talking about fiscal responsibility.  I’d hope this first Republican President in eight years will talk about unplugging the national ATM from our kids’ credit cards, and putting an end to this generational theft.  Or at least slowing it down, but I’m not holding my breath.

us_capitol_building

January 7, 1927 Harlem Globetrotters

Wilt Chamberlain said “Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen. People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me it would be Meadowlark Lemon”.

In 1926, 24 year old Abraham Saperstein organized a basketball team.  He called it the “Savoy Big Five,” after Chicago’s famous Savoy Ballroom.  At least that’s what the official team history says, except the Savoy didn’t open until 1927, so we may have to just go with it.

harlemglobetrotters1927
Harlem Globetrotters, 1927

Saperstein renamed them the “Harlem Globetrotters”, even though they were from Chicago, the team arriving in a Model “T” Ford for their debut game on January 7, 1927.   For two years it had been exhibition games before dances.  Now, the big game in Hinckley, Illinois would be played in front of 300 fans, with a total game payout of $75.

They toured Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, playing almost every night against any and all challengers. Saperstein himself sometimes suited up to fill in for an injured player.  The Globetrotters played their 1000th game in Iron Mountain, Michigan in 1934.

In 1941, Negro League 1st baseman Reece “Goose” Tatum caught Saperstein’s eye.  A goose-tatummulti-sport athlete and teammate of Satchel Paige, Tatum would entertain the crowd with comedic routines whenever he put a runner out.  He was 6’4″ with an 84″ wingspan, able to touch his knees without bending. He’s credited with inventing the hook shot, an early version of the “skyhook” that would make Kareem Abdul-Jabbar famous, 30 years later.

Tatum was the original “Clown Prince” of the Globetrotters, though that title more often goes Meadowlark Lemon and his confetti-in-the-water-bucket routine.  Tatum combined natural athletic ability with a comedic timing that would change the whole direction of the club.  He passed away in 1967 at the age of 45, when sports reporter Lawrence Casey of the Chicago Daily Defender wrote, “Like Joe Louis in boxing, Babe Ruth in baseball, Bobby Jones in golf, Goose Tatum was king of his chosen sport.”

When Goose was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1942, the Globetrotters signed their bob-karstensthird Caucasian, the first-ever white player to be offered a contract, Bob Karstens.  Karstens was the newest showman on the team, creating the signature pregame “Magic Circle,” the behind-the-back backhand shot, the “yo-yo” basketball and the “goofball,” a basketball filled with weights to give it a crazy bounce.  It was the early 1940s and the Harlem Globetrotters were the most famous, and the most profitable, professional basketball franchise in the world.

A near-fatal car accident cost Boid Buie his left arm when he was 13.  Never a great athlete before the crash, he worked so hard on his goals that Buie became the “One Armed Firecracker”.  He signed with the Globetrotters in 1946, playing 9 seasons as a starter and averaging 14 points per game.  Ever since the 2011 Elite Showcase Basketball Classic, the MVP Award is presented in the name of Boid Buie.buie

The Globetrotters were a serious basketball team throughout the early years, winning the World Professional Basketball Tournament as late as 1940.  They gradually worked more comic routines into their game in the late 40s and 50s as the newly founded NBA gained popularity until finally, they were better known for entertainment than for sport.

“Playing the bones” has a musical history going back to ancient China, Egypt, Greece and Rome.  Part of 19th century minstrel shows and traditional to musical genres ranging from Irish, to Bluegrass, to Zydeco. Freeman Davis’ “Brother Bones” recording of the 1925 jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” became the Globetrotters’ theme song in 1952.

Former point guard with the NBA Baltimore Bullets, Louis “Red” Klotz, formed an exhibition team in 1952 to play against the Globetrotters.  In a nod to future President Dwight Eisenhower, he called them the Washington Generals.  The Generals played serious basketball while their opponents juggled balls, spun them on fingertips, and made trick shots.  The two teams played 13,000 games between 1953 and 1995, of which the Generals actually won 6.

Those of us who came of age in the 70s remember Curley Neal and Meadowlark Lemon,

wilt_chamberlain_globetrotter
Wilt Chamberlain, the 1st Globetrotter to have his jersey retired

who joined the club in 1954.  Who remembers that Wilt “the stilt” Chamberlain joined theteam four years later?  Chamberlain would be the first Globetrotter to have his jersey retired.

Chamberlain and the Globetrotters did their part to warm the Cold War, with a nine game series in Moscow, in 1959.  The Generals stayed at home, this time they brought the “Chinese Basketeers”.  An audience of 14,000 sat in stupefied silence, finally warming when they realized that this was more show than sport.  The team was paid the equivalent of $4,000 per game which could only be spent in Moscow, prompting the American press to observe that the Soviets were becoming capitalists.

abe-sapersteinAbe Saperstein passed away in 1966, aged 63.  The owner and founder of the Harlem Globetrotters, he was also founder and first Commissioner of the American Basketball League, and inventor of the three point shot.   Elected to the Basketball of Fame in 1971.  Here’s a great trivia question for you.  At 5’3″, Saperstein is the shortest male member in the place.  In 2005, he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

meadowlark_lemon_with_betty_ford_-_1974_in_the_white_house
Meadowlark Lemon “defends” against Betty Ford, in 1974

Saperstein’s creation went on, signing Olympic Gold Medalist Lynette Woodard their first ever female player in 1985.  Pope John Paul II became an honorary Globetrotter in 1986, in a ceremony in front of 50,000 in Saint Peter’s Square.

The list of official honorary Globetrotters includes Henry Kissinger, Bob Hope, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Whoopi Goldberg, Nelson Mandela, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Jesse Jackson.  Jesse Owens, the track star who stuffed Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin olympics, accompanied the Globetrotters to Berlin in 1951.  Bill Cosby and Magic Johnson are both signed to $1 a year lifetime contracts, though Cosby’s contract was increased to $1.05 in 1986.

Ninety years after their founding, the Harlem Globetrotters show no signs of slowing down.  In 2015, the team drafted 6’6″ 2015 college slam dunk champion LaQuavius Cotton from Mississippi’s Delta State University, and trick shot expert “Dude Perfect” of Mickinney, Texas.  How do you not root for a team with two guys named LaQuavius Cotton and Dude Perfect?

pope-francis
“Flight Time Lang” teaches Pope Francis to spin the ball

Shortly before passing in 1999, Wilt Chamberlain said “Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen.  People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me it would be Meadowlark Lemon.”  Meadowlark Lemon played over 16,000 games with the Harlem Globetrotters.  He passed away on December 27 in Scottsdale, Arizona, aged 83.  Rest in Peace, sir.  You brought a lot of smiles to the little boy in me.

January 6, 1929 A Saint from the Gutter

Mother Teresa was once asked about the overwhelming nature of her work. ‘Never worry about numbers, she said. “Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you”

In the language of Albania, “Gonxhe” means “Rosebud”.   Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born August 26, 1910, in the capital of Macedonia; now Uskup.  Then it was Skopje, part of the Ottoman Empire. Her mother raised the girl in the Roman Catholic faith after her father died in 1919.  By age 12, she was committed to a religious life.  “Agnes” was always fascinated with the lives of missionaries, joining the Sisters of Loreto at the age of 18 to become one.  Though she would live to 87, she would never again see her mother or her sister.

mother-teresa-at-18The Sisters taught English to school children in India, a language which Agnes learned in the Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland.

She arrived in India on January 6, 1929, beginning her novitiate in Darjeeling, near the Himalayas. There she learned to speak Bengali, teaching at St. Teresa’s School, near her convent. She took her first religious vows as a nun in 1931, choosing the name Thérèse de Lisieux, after the patron saint of missionaries. Another nun in the convent had already chosen the name, so Agnes adopted the Spanish spelling, becoming Sister Teresa on May 24.

She would take her solemn vows six years later, while teaching at the Loreto School in Entally, eastern Calcutta, a position she held until 1944.

Today, about 10% of the world’s Muslims live in India, making up close to 15% of the population. It was much higher in 1944, as much as 2/3rds in some regions. The idea of the Muslim population breaking off of India and forming an independent Pakistan had come up as early as 1930, and become a major force with the breakup of British rule over the Indian subcontinent, the “British Raj”, at the end of WWII.

Tensions spilled over in the province of Bengal in August of 1946, as violence between Muslim, Hindu and Sikh mobs left thousands dead. Violence was particularly bad in Calcutta, where the massive riots of August 16-19 left over 4,000 dead and more than 100,000 homeless.

India was partitioned the following year, and Pakistan declared an independent nation in August. For now, the violence of 1946, following on the heels of the Bengal famine of 1943, left Calcutta in a state of despair.

Sister Teresa was looking out from the train that carried her from Darjeeling to Calcutta on September 10, when she heard the call. “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith”. No one knew it at the time, but “Sister Teresa” had become “Mother Teresa”.

She would spend a few months at Holy Family Hospital receiving medical training, calcutta-1
venturing into the slums of Calcutta to begin her missionary work in 1948. A small group of women joined in her ministry to the “poorest among the poor”, as she wrote in her diary of begging for food and supplies. The hardships were severe, as was the near-constant temptation to return to the ease and comfort of the convent.

Teresa received permission from the Vatican on October 7, 1950, to start the diocesan congregation that would become the Missionaries of Charity.  With only 13 members in Calcutta, their mission was caring for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

kalighatAwarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she refused the traditional honor banquet, requesting instead that the $192K cost of the banquet be given to help the poor of India.

With the help of Indian officials, Teresa opened the Kalighat Home for the Dying in an abandoned temple, where dying Muslims were read from the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics were read the Last Rites. “A beautiful death,” she said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted”.

Mother Teresa was once asked about the overwhelming nature of her work. ‘Never worry about numbers, she said. “Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you”.

By the time of her death on September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, and an associated brotherhood of 300 members. They operated 610 missions in 123 countries, including hospices and homes for victims of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. There were soup kitchens, children’s and family counseling programs, personal helpers, orphanages, and schools.

Mother Teresa was canonized on September 4, 2016 in Vatican City, becoming Saint Teresa of Calcutta, the ceremony at St. Peter’s Square attended by over 1,500 homeless people.  Even saints have critics, even a tower of rectitude like Mother Teresa.  In her case, it was usually the warm and well fed likes of Christopher Hitchens, the “New Left Review” and the German magazine Stern.

Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu once said “Spread love everywhere you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier”.  Let that be the answer to her critics.mother-teresa-1