August 19, 1976  Operation Paul Bunyan

American forces in South Korea were moved to DEFCON 3 on August 19.  Two days later, the show of force response called “Operation Paul Bunyan”, descended like a biblical plague, on the North Korean outpost.

The current impasse with North Korea has died down for the time being, but the Korean peninsula is no stranger to conflict.  16th and 17th century Manchu and Japanese invasions brought about a sense of Korean isolationism, leading many to describe the place as a “Hermit Kingdom”.  The tendency became more pronounced in the 19th century, as Koreans witnessed the colonization of China to the north, and its humiliation in two opium wars.

The July 1866 General Sherman incident resulted in the death of all 20 officers and crew and the destruction of an American armed merchant marine side-wheel steamer, leading to the U.S. Navy’s 1871 expedition to the Kingdom of Joseon (Chosŏn), the Shinmiyangyo.  The expedition would result in the death of about 300 Korean soldiers and three Americans.

General Sherman Incident

US-Korean relations soured in 1905 in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War, when the U.S. recognized Korea as falling into the Japanese “sphere of influence”.

Korean nationalists were dismayed in 1910, with the Japanese annexation of the Korean Peninsula.  Woodrow Wilson’s high-sounding principles of national self-determination bypassed the Hermit Kingdom, leaving Koreans with virtually no role in their own internal administration.

Following the Japanese defeat in WWII, the Korean peninsula was divided into two occupied zones:  the north held by the Soviet Union and the south by the United States. The Cairo declaration of 1943 had called for a unified Korea, its division along the 38th parallel intended to be temporary.   It wasn’t meant to be.  Kim Il-sung came to power in North Korea in 1946, nationalizing key industries and collectivizing land, haranguing his countrymen about the “spirit of self-reliance” he called Juche, (JOO-chay).

kim_il-sung
Propaganda poster depicting “Dear Leader”, Kim Il-sung

South Korea declared statehood in May 1948, under the vehemently anti-communist military strongman, Syngman Rhee.

The 1948-49 withdrawal of Soviet and most American forces left the south holding the weaker hand. Escalating border conflicts led to war when the North, with assurances of support from the Soviet Union and Communist China, invaded South Korea in June 1950.

Within days, the United States secured a United Nations resolution, calling for the defense of South Korea against North Korean aggression.  Sixteen countries sent troops to South Korea’s aid.  90% of them were Americans.

American intervention turned the tide.  US and South Korean forces crossed the North Korean border in November 1951, pressing north toward the Chinese border.  Hundreds of thousands of troops from the People’s Republic of China poured across the border in December, mounting heavy assaults against allied forces and converting what had been a war of movement, into a brutal stalemate and war of attrition.

Republican Dwight David Eisenhower won decisively in the 1952 Presidential election, a contest which turned heavily on foreign policy.  It wasn’t long before President Eisenhower’s public hints of nuclear escalation brought all sides to the negotiating table.

33,741 Americans lost their lives in the Korean war.  Total casualties including North and South Korea, China and United Nations forces, military and civilian, number some 2.8 million.

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View from the south side of the Joint Security Area, Korean DMZ

An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, a new border drawn between North and South Korea, giving South Korea additional territory and creating a “demilitarized zone” between the two nations.  WWIII had been averted, though the two sides technically remain at war, to this day.

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North) and the Republic of Korea (South), has been the focal point of cold war tension, ever since.

The Korean DMZ conflict of 1966–69 culminated in the Blue House Raid of 1968, the attempted assassination of ROK President Park Chung-hee by North Korean commandos.  This period saw a series of skirmishes along the DMZ, resulting in the death of 43 Americans, 299 South Koreans and 397 North Koreans.

blue-house
South Korean Executive Mansion – “Blue House”

Some such episodes are borderline comical, such as the “mine is bigger than yours” tit-for-tat known as the “flagpole war” of the 1980s.  The South Korean government built a 323′ flagpole flying a huge, 287lb ROK flag in Daeseong-dong, 350 meters from the line of demarcation. Not to be outdone, DPRK government officials erected a 525′ flagpole in Kijŏng-dong, flying a 595lb flag of North Korea. As of 2014, the DPRK pole remains the 4th tallest flagpole, in the world.

Other episodes are distinctly un-funny, such as the 1976 axe murders of two American Army officers.

The Joint Security Area (JSA) lies within the village of Panmunjom, the only piece of the DMZ where North and South Korean guards stand face-to-face.  There the “Bridge of No Return” crosses the border, the Military Demarcation Line running across its center.  Here, POWs were brought from both sides, and given their final ultimatum.  They could stay in the country of their captivity or cross that bridge and return to their homeland.  They could never come back.

Axe_murder_incident_Lt._Pak_Chul
Lieutenant Pak Chul

The bridge was last used for prisoner exchange in 1968, when the crew of USS Pueblo was released and ordered to cross into South Korea.

Visible only during winter months, command Post #3, near the Bridge of No Return, has been called the “loneliest outpost in the world”.  On numerous occasions, North Korean troops have taken advantage of this isolation, attempting to grab United Nations Command personnel and drag them across the bridge into North Korean territory.

On August 18, 1976, five Korean Service Corps (KSC) personnel entered the JSA, escorted by US Army Captain Arthur Bonifas, his ROK counterpart Captain Kim, area platoon leader First Lieutenant Mark Barrett, and 11 American and South Korean enlisted personnel.

15 North Korean soldiers appeared, commanded by Senior Lieutenant Pak Chul, whom UNC soldiers called “Lt. Bulldog” based on his confrontational history.   Lt. Pak ordered the UNC to cease tree trimming, “because Kim Il-sung personally planted it and nourished it and it’s growing under his supervision.”  Captain Bonifas turned his back on the North Koreans, ordering the detail to continue.  That’s when the stuff hit the fan.

Axe Murder Incident

Another 20 North Korean soldiers crossed the bridge, carrying crowbars and clubs.  Lt. Pak removed his watch, wrapped it in a handkerchief, placed it in his pocket, and shouted, “Kill the bastards!”.

When it was over, Captain Bonifas and First Lieutenant Barrett were dead, hacked to death with axes dropped by the tree-trimmers.  All but one of the UNC guards were injured.  Within hours, Kim Jong-il, son of “Dear Leader” Kim Il-sung, described the incident as an unprovoked incident in which American officers attacked North Korean guards.cpt_bonifas

The CIA believed the whole episode to have been pre-planned.  American forces in South Korea were moved to DEFCON 3 on August 19.  Two days later, the show of force response called “Operation Paul Bunyan”, descended like a biblical plague, on the North Korean outpost.

At 7:00am on August 21, 23 American and South Korean vehicles drove into the JSA with chainsaws, 753 troops escorted by two 30-man security platoons, armed with pistols and axe handles.  This was no tree trimming operation.

64 South Korean Special Forces brandished M16 rifles and M79 grenade launchers. Lethally effective elite soldiers, they taunted the North Koreans, daring them to cross the bridge.  Several had Claymore mines strapped to their chests, firing mechanisms at the ready.Lt._Mark_Barrett

20 utility helicopters and seven Cobra attack choppers circled overhead, behind them F-4 Phantom IIs and nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortresses.

12,000 additional troops were ordered to Korea, including 1,800 Marines from Okinawa.  At Yokota Air Base in Japan, a dozen C-130s stood “nose to tail”, ready to provide back-up.  Air bases from Guam to Idaho were on full alert.  The entire USS Midway carrier task force, stood offshore.

“Minds blown” by this show of force, North Korea responded with 150-200 troops of its own, but did little but look on at the proceedings.

42 minutes later, all that remained of dear leader’s tree was a 20’ stump, deliberately left to aggravate North Korean sensibilities.

DMZ_incident_tree
Korean DMZ ‘Incident Tree’

Captain Bonifas and Lieutenant Barrett were posthumously promoted to the ranks of Major and Captain, respectively.  Today, Camp Bonifas is home to the United Nations Command Security Battalion – Joint Security Area, whose mission it is to monitor and enforce the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953 in the no-man’s land between North and South Korea.

Camp Bonifas is home to a one-hole, “par 3” AstroTurf patch, surrounded on three sides by minefields.  Sports Illustrated has called it “the most dangerous hole in golf”.  There is at least one report of an errant shot exploding a land mine. How nice it is that a sense of humor can survive, even in this wretched place.

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August 18, 1587 Lost Colony of Roanoke

John White returned on August 18, 1590, three years to the day from the birth of his granddaughter. He found the place deserted, only the word “CROATOAN” carved into a fence post, and the letters “CRO” on a nearby tree.

The 16th century was drawing to a close when Queen Elizabeth set out to establish a permanent English settlement in the New World. The charter went to Walter Raleigh, who sent explorers Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to scout out locations for a settlement.

The pair landed on Roanoke Island on July 4, 1584, establishing friendly relations with local natives, the Secotans and Croatans. They returned a year later with glowing reports of what is now the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Two Native Croatans, Manteo and Wanchese, accompanied the pair back to England. All of London was abuzz with the wonders of the New World.

Sir Walter Raleigh (?)
Explorer Sir Walter Raleigh

Queen Elizabeth was so pleased that she knighted Raleigh.  The new land was called “Virginia” in honor of the Virgin Queen.

Raleigh sent a party of 100 soldiers, miners and scientists to Roanoke Island, under the leadership of Captain Ralph Lane. The attempt was doomed from the start. They arrived too late in the season for planting, and Lane alienated the neighboring tribe when he murdered their chief, Wingina. By 1586 they had had enough, and left the island.

Ironically, their supply ship arrived about a week later. Finding the island deserted, that ship left 15 men behind to “hold the fort” before they too, departed.

The now knighted “Sir” Walter Raleigh was not deterred. He recruited 90 men, 17 women and 9 children for a more permanent “Cittie of Raleigh”, appointing John White governor. Among the colonists were White’s pregnant daughter, Eleanor, her husband Ananias Dare, and the Croatans Wanchese and Manteo.

Wanchese, Manteo
Wanchese, Manteo

The caravan stopped at Roanoke Island in July, 1587, to check on the 15 men left behind a year earlier.  Raleigh believed that the Chesapeake afforded better opportunities for his new settlement, but his Portuguese pilot Simon Fernandes had other ideas.

Fernandes was a Privateer, impatient to resume his hunt for Spanish shipping.  He ordered the colonists ashore on Roanoke Island. It could not have lifted the spirits of the small group to learn that the 15 left there by the earlier expedition, had disappeared.

Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter on August 18, 1587, and called her Virginia.  The first English child born to the new world.

Fernandez departed for England ten days later, taking along an anxious John White, who wanted to return to England for supplies. It was the last time Governor White would see his family.

croatoan(2)White found himself trapped in England by the invasion of the Spanish Armada, and the Anglo-Spanish war.  It would be three years before he could return to Roanoke. He arrived on August 18, 1590, three years to the day from the birth of his granddaughter. He found the place deserted, only the word “CROATOAN” carved into a fence post.  The letters “CRO” were carved into a nearby tree.

croatoan(1)White had hopes of finding his family at Croatoan, the home of Chief Manteo’s people to the south, on modern day Hatteras Island.

A hurricane came up before he could explore further, his ships so damaged that he had return to England. Despite several attempts, he was never able to raise the resources to return.

What happened to the lost colonists of Roanoke, remains a mystery. They may have died of disease or starvation, or they may have been killed by hostile natives.

Perhaps they went to live with Chief Manteo’s people, after all. One of the wilder legends has Virginia Dare, now a young woman, transformed into a snow white doe by the evil medicine man, Chico, but that’s a story for another day.  The fate of the first English child born on American soil may never be known.

white-deerSeventeen years later, another group of colonists would apply the lessons learned in Roanoke, founding their own colony a few miles up the coast at a place called Jamestown.

A personal anecdote involves a conversation I had with a woman in High Point, North Carolina, a few years back. She described herself as having Croatan ancestry, her family going back many generations on the outer banks of North Carolina. She described her Great Grandmother, a full blooded Croatan. The woman looked like it, too, except for her crystal blue eyes. She used to smile at the idea of the lost colony of Roanoke. “They’re not lost”, she would say. “They are us”.

August 17, 1917  Black Swallow of Death

French President Charles de Gaulle came to New York City in 1960, surprising media and dignitaries alike when all he wanted to do was to visit with a black elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center.

Eugene James Bullard was born October 9, 1894 in Columbus Georgia, the seventh of 10 children born to William Octave Bullard and an indigenous Creek named Josephine “Yokalee” Thomas.  Bullard’s father had come from Martinique, where his people could trace their lineage back to the Haitian Revolution.

Eugene wanted to leave behind the racial discrimination of his day.  The near-lynching of his father became the catalyst in 1902, when the boy was eight.  He ran away from home, spending the next four years doing odd jobs to survive  The elder Bullard had always told him “in France a man is accepted as a man regardless of the color of his skin”.   In 1906, the boy stowed away on a German ship to Aberdeen.

Bullard worked a number of odd jobs to support himself.  By age 16 he was becoming well known as a boxer, and moved to Paris at the first opportunity.

WWI broke out in August of 1914.  By the end of the year the French nation had suffered over a half million casualties.Ace-Website-Banner-1

Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, an American serving as one of 54 different nationalities serving in the Moroccan Division, Third Marching Regiment.

The Regiment was sent to the Somme front in 1915, where 300,000 Frenchmen were lost by the end of November. One unit of 500 men began the disastrous Champagne offensive of September.    At the end of the battle, 31 responded to the first evening’s roll call.

What remained of Bullard’s unit was disbanded to form the 170th Infantry, and sent to Verdun.  He thought he had arrived in hell, saying, “I thought I had seen fighting in other battles but no one has ever seen anything like Verdun – not ever before or ever since.”

Erich von Falkenhayn had designed his battle plan for Verdun to “bleed France white”, calling Verdun Operation Gericht.  Operation Execution Place.  Over 250,000 died in the 10 months long battle, more than 100,000 were missing and 300,000 gassed or wounded.

Bullard had been wounded four times before.  On March 5th 1916, he received the wounds that took him out of the ground war.  He was 8 months in hospital when the opportunity arose to join the French Flying Corps.  A white American buddy bet him $2,000 that he couldn’t get into aviation and become a pilot, and he took the challenge.  Bullard earned his wings on May 5, 1917, and received his $2,000 soon thereafter.

Bullard and JimmyBullard was assigned to the 93d Spad Squadron on August 17, 1917, flying Spad V11s and Nieuports with a mascot, a pet Rhesus Monkey he called “Jimmy”.  He said, “I was treated with respect and friendship – even by those from America.  Then I knew at last that there are good and bad white men just as there are good and bad black men.”

The first black combat pilot and the only one to serve in the Great War, Bullard painted a bleeding red heart pierced by a knife on the side of his Spad biplane. Below the heart were the words “Tout le Sang qui coule est rouge!” The phrase roughly translates as “All Blood Runs Red”.

Bullard is credited with two kills while flying for the 93rd, though one of the Germans crashed behind enemy lines so it remained unconfirmed.  He tried to join the American squadron when the US entered the war, but the whites only policy of the time prevented him from doing so.

Bullard married in 1923.  The marriage ended in divorce, with Bullard gaining custody of their two surviving daughters (a son had died of pneumonia in infancy).   He became a drummer at the jazz club, “Le Grand Duc”, later buying his own club and calling it “L’Escadrille”.  Bullard made several famous friends during this time, including Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes and the French flying ace Charles Nungesser.

He volunteered with the 51st Infantry when WWII broke out, becoming wounded and escaping to the United States in 1940.Bullard, medals

Bullard spent his last days in obscurity. His daughters had married by the 1950s, and he lived alone in a New York apartment, decorated with pictures of his famous friends and a framed case containing his fifteen French war medals.  He worked as an elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center, where nobody knew anything about his service.

The French government requested his presence in 1954, when he and two white Frenchmen were accorded the honor of relighting the Eternal Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at l’Arc de Triomphe.

France honored Bullard once again in 1959, naming him a Knight of the Légion d’honneur in a lavish ceremony in New York City. Dave Garraway interviewed him on the Today Show, but he remained alone and unknown in his native country.quote-tout-le-sang-qui-coule-rouge-all-blood-is-red-eugene-bullard-71-83-05

French President Charles de Gaulle came to New York City in 1960, surprising media and dignitaries alike when all he wanted to do was to visit the black elevator operator who worked at the Rockefeller Center.

Eugene James “Jacques” Bullard died on October 12, 1961.  He was buried with the tri-color of France draping his coffin, laid to rest with full honors by the Federation of French War Officers at Flushing Cemetery in New York.

The first black fighter pilot, the “Black Swallow of Death”, was honored by the country he had loved and served during two world wars.  On August 23, 1994, 77 years after Bullard’s American flight physical, the USAF posthumously awarded Eugene Bullard a commission as a Lieutenant.

 

  August 16, 1945  The Last Emperor

Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s is estimated to have killed 40 to 70 million Chinese.  You’re really playing in the Big Leagues, when they can’t estimate your death toll to anything closer than the nearest 30 million.

At the age of 2 years and 10 months, Puyi was taken from his parents and installed on the Qing Dynasty throne, in the Chinese Imperial Palace in Beijing.  The year was 1908.

It must have been bewildering for this toddler who was terrified by the sound of the ceremonial drums. Grown men would kowtow and avert their eyes in his presence.  His wet nurse, Wen-Chao Wang, was the only familiar face in the Royal Court.  She was the only one who could console him.  She alone was allowed to accompany him to the Forbidden City.

Puyi’s abdication of the throne four years later marked the end of 1,000 years of dynastic rule in China, earning him the sobriquet “The Last Emperor” of China.

mukden
Japanese experts gathered to inspect the scene of the ‘railway sabotage’ on the railway line.

Today, the Tsingtao beer available in Chinese restaurants the world over, is one of the last cultural vestiges of European colonization of China. In the latter half of the 19th century, China became increasingly subjugated through colonization by British, French and German powers.

American President Millard Filmore dispatched Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in 1852, forcing an opening of that nation’s economy to trade with the West, and commencing a half-century’s period of rapid industrialization in resource-poor Japan. The smaller nation grew in both economic and military power, while China suffered the humiliations of the first and second opium wars, and forced colonization by European interests.

Japan piled on in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, culminating in the massacre of much of Lüshun City (formerly “Port Arthur”), cession of Chinese territories, and the recognition of an independent Korea.

China declared war on Imperial Germany in August 1917, intending to send combat units to the western front, but never getting around to doing so. The move entitled them to a seat at the Paris Peace Conference, but all that got them was a secret list of 21 demands issued by the Japanese Empire.  Japan emerged from this period with greater influence over the Chinese economy, and increased Japanese control over the resource-rich regions of Northern China and Manchuria.

On September 18, 1931, a small quantity of dynamite was detonated by Japanese Lt. Kawamoto Suemori, near a railroad owned by Japan’s South Manchuria Railway near Mukden, in modern Shenyang.  It was a ruse, a bald pretext for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in Northern China, and everyone knew it.Mukden_1931_japan_shenyang

The explosion was so weak that it failed to destroy the line and a train passed minutes later, but the script was already written.  The Imperial Japanese Army accused Chinese dissidents of the “Mukden Incident”, launching a full scale invasion.

Japan installed Puyi as Emporer Kangde of the puppet state of “Manchukuo”, all the while suppressing the native Han Chinese in one of the most brutal and genocidal occupations of the 20th century.

Puyi was kept on a short leash by his Japanese handlers, his life mainly consisting of signing laws prepared by Japan, reciting prayers, consulting oracles, and making formal visits throughout his state.

The Second world war was drawing to a close when the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, beginning its invasion of occupied China two days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the day before Nagasaki.  Puyi was captured at an airfield on this day in 1945, and held in a Soviet gulag in Siberia until Mao Tse-Tung’s Communist party came to power in 1949.

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Japanese occupation of Beijing, 1937 – 1945

Puyi spent ten years in the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre in Liaoning province until he was declared “reformed”, moving to Peking in 1959 and taking up residence as an ordinary citizen.Puyi-Manchukuo

Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s is estimated to have killed 40 to 70 million Chinese.  You’re really playing in the Big Leagues, when they can’t estimate your death toll any closer than the nearest 30 million.

The Last Emperor was an easy target of the “Red Guards”.  He probably wouldn’t have survived the tender ministrations of the communist government, but he died quietly due to complications of Kidney Cancer on October 17, 1967.

The ashes of the last Emperor, a man who had  found himself at the head of over a half-billion people at a time when the world population was only 2 billion, were placed at the Babaoshan Cemetery, the former burial ground of imperial concubines and court eunuchs.

August 15, 1620 Pilgrims

There is a common misconception that the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth in pursuit of religious freedom, but that’s not the way it happened.  They had found their religious liberty in Holland.  What they sought in the New World, was a return to religious discipline.

In 16th century Tudor England, there was widespread belief that authority over the Church belonged with the monarchy, and not with Rome.  England broke with the Catholic Church over the Pope’s refusal to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1533.

Strict conformity with the English, (Anglican) church, was enforced throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, when separatist groups were suppressed. The Puritans were one such group, though they maintained ties with the Anglican. Other separatist groups had irreconcilable differences with the Church of England, believing that worship should be organized independently of the trappings, traditions and organization of the central church.

Tobias Matthew was elected Anglican Archbishop in 1606, and promptly began a campaign to purge the archdiocese of nonconforming influences. Separatists and those wishing to return to the Catholic faith alike were confronted, fined, and imprisoned.  Many “recusants” were driven from the country.

William Bradford, the future 5-time Governor of the Plymouth Colony and signer of the Mayflower Compact, said of this period “[A]fter these things they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted & persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, & hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flie & leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood“.

So it was that the group which came to be known as the Pilgrims left England not for the New World, but for Amsterdam, and later the city of Leiden, in the Netherlands.   There they stayed for 13 years.Pilgrims Voyage

By 1617, Bradford was writing of his concern that the younger members of the group were being “drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses“. He wrote positive terms of the “great hope for the propagating and advancing the gospell of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world.”

They considered moving to Virginia, near the existing settlement of Jamestown, but dismissed the idea out of fear that the political atmosphere might be too much like the one they left in England.

Mayflower and Speedwell in Dartmouth
Mayflower and Speedwell in Dartmouth

A land grant was obtained to the north of the existing Virginia territory, to be called New England. The 60-ton Speedwell departed Delfshaven with the Leiden colonists in July 1620, meeting with Mayflower at Southampton, Hampshire. The two vessels set out on August 15, but soon had to turn back as the Speedwell took on water. Speedwell was abandoned after the second failed attempt, Mayflower setting out alone on September 16, 1620, with 121 on board.

pilgrims65 days at sea brought them up on the outer reaches of Cape Cod in mid-November, near the present site of Provincetown Harbor.   There they stayed long enough to draw up the first written framework of government established in the United States, signing the Mayflower Compact off the shores of Provincetown on November 11, 1620.

A month in that place convinced them of its unsuitability.  By mid-December they had crossed Cape Cod Bay and fetched up at Plymouth Harbor.

More than half of these settlers died that first winter, of malnutrition and exposure.

Tisquantum, (Squanto), the English-speaking Pawtuxet, would mediate between the settlers and the native tribes, including Massasoit, chief of the Pokanoket.  Squanto taught them how to plant corn, as well as where to fish and how to hunt beaver.  The harvest feast of 1621, shared between the Pilgrims and the Pokanokets, is now considered the basis for our own Thanksgiving holiday, but that is a story for another day.Pilgrims Thanksgiving

Bradford and the other Plymouth settlers referred to themselves as “Old Comers.”  A manuscript was later discovered, in which Bradford called the settlers who left Holland “Saints” and “Pilgrimes.” 200 years after the colony’s founding, Daniel Webster referred to “Pilgrim Fathers” in a bicentennial address.  The name stuck.

There is a common misconception that the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth in pursuit of religious freedom, but that’s not the way it happened.  They had found their religious liberty in Holland.  What they sought in the New World, was a return to religious discipline.

August 14, 1945 A Kiss in Times Square

The lit message running around the Times Building read, “VJ, VJ, VJ, VJ” as George Mendonsa grabbed a stranger and kissed her. Two seconds later the moment was gone, but Alfred Eisenstaedt and his camera had been in the right place at the right time.

The most destructive war in history ended this day in 1945, with the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan.

It was morning on the East Coast.  President Harry Truman had not yet received the formal surrender. The White House official announcement was still hours away, but rumors had been flying since the early morning hours.

Born and raised in Austria, Greta Zimmer was 16 in 1939. Seeing the war bearing down on them, Greta’s parents sent her and her two sisters to America, not knowing if they would ever see them again. Six years later she was a dental assistant, working at the Manhattan office of Dr. J. L. Berke.

Greta’s lunch break came just after 1:00 that day.  Patients had been coming into the office all morning with rumors that the war was over. She set out for Times Square, knowing that the lit and moving type on the Times news zipper would give her the latest news.

Mendonsa, Zimmer
George Mendonsa, Greta Zimmer-Friedman

Petty Officer 1st Class George Mendonsa was on his last day of shore leave, spending the day with his new girlfriend, Rita Petry. They had heard the rumors too, but right now they were enjoying their last day together. The war could wait until tomorrow.

The couple went to a movie at Radio City Music Hall, but the film was interrupted by a theater employee who turned on the lights, announcing that the war was over. Leaving the theater, the couple joined the tide of humanity moving toward Times Square. The pair stopped at the Childs Restaurant on 7th Ave & 49th, where bartenders were pouring anything they could get hands on into waiting glasses.  Revelers were scooping them up as fast as the glasses were filled.

Mendonsa’s alcohol-powered walk/run from the restaurant left Rita trailing behind, but neither one seemed to mind. Times Square was going wild.

The sailor from the USS Sullivans had seen bloodshed. He’d been there on May 11, as kamikaze planes smashed into the USS Bunker Hill.  Explosions and fires killed 346 sailors that day.  43 of their bodies would never be found. Mendonsa had helped to pull the survivors, some of them hideously burned, out of the water. He had watched while Navy nurses tended to the injured and the dying.

When the sailor spotted Greta Zimmer, the dental assistant was dressed the same way.  To him, she must have seemed like one of those white-clad angels of mercy from those earlier months.

kiss-in-times-square-leica-2Reporters from the AP, NY Times, NY Daily News and others descended on Times Square to record the spontaneous celebration.

As a German Jew in the 1930s, Alfred Eisenstaedt had photographed the coming storm. He had photographed Benito Mussolini’s first meeting with Adolf Hitler in Venice in 1934. Now he and his Leica Illa rangefinder camera worked for Life Magazine, heading to Times Square in search of “The Picture”.

The lit message running around the Times Building read, “VJ, VJ, VJ, VJ” as George Mendonsa grabbed a stranger and kissed her. Two seconds later the moment was gone, but Eisenstaedt and his camera had been in the right place at the right time.Times Square Kiss

The image of the sailor kissing the nurse would become as famous as Joe Rosenthal’s photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, but not until years later.

The German made camera which took the iconic image recently went to auction at the Westlicht auction house in Vienna, where it was expected to sell for $30,000. The winning bid was almost $150,000.

After the war, Greta Zimmer learned that both of her parents had died in the camps. She later married and made her home in Frederick, Maryland.  Greta Zimmer Friedman never returned to Austria, and passed away last September, at the age of 92.

George Mendonsa and Rita Petry later married. George never saw the famous photograph until 1980.  At first he wasn’t sure he recognized himself.  Today, framed copies of it hang on the wall of their Rhode Island home.

MendonsaThis year, the couple celebrates their 68th wedding anniversary.  Rita says she wasn’t angry that her husband kissed another woman on their first date.  She points out that she can been seen grinning in the background of the famous picture.  She will admit, however, ‘In all these years, George has never kissed me like that.’

August 13, 3114BC  The End of the World

National Geographic explains that 12/21/12 brings to a close not the end of time, but the end of the 12th Bak’tun, an almost 400-year period in the Mayan Long Count calendar.  The world doesn’t end, according to this explanation, it just “rolls over” to the year zero and starts over, kind of like old cars used to do, when they reached 100,000 miles on the odometer.

MayanCalendarOne of the more profoundly silly bits of pop culture nonsense served up in the recent past, may be the world coming to an end on 12/21/12, according to the Mayan calendar. The calendar itself isn’t silly, it’s actually a very sophisticated mathematical construct, but the end of the world part certainly was.

According to linguist, anthropologist and Mayanist scholar Floyd Glenn Lounsbury and his “Lounsbury Correlation”, the Mayan Calendar dates back 5,131 years to August 13, 3114 BC.  This day seems as good as any, though I’m sure there can be little certainty about a date that far in the past.

The Mayans were skilled mathematicians, and it shows in their calendar.  They were the first to recognize the concept of zero, and worked extensively in a base 20 number system.

Long count glyphsThe Mayans used three separate calendars, each period represented by its own glyph. The Long Count was mainly used for historical purposes, able to specify any date within a 2,880,000 day cycle, about 7,885 solar years. The Haab was a civil calendar, consisting of 18 months of 20 days, and one 5-day Uayeb, a nameless period rounding out the 365-day year. The Tzolkin was the “divine” calendar, used mainly for ceremonial and religious purposes.  Consisting of 20 periods of 13 days, the Tzolkin goes through a complete cycle every 260 days. The significance of this cycle is unknown, though it may be connected with the 263 day orbit of Venus. There is no year in the Haab or Tzolkin calendars, though a Haab and Tzolkin date may be combined to specify a particular day within a 52-year cycle.

National Geographic explains that 12/21/12 brings to a close not the end of time, but the end of the 12th Bak’tun, an almost 400-year period in the Mayan Long Count calendar.  The world doesn’t end, according to this explanation, it “rolls over” to the year zero and starts over, kind of like old cars used to do, when the odometer reached 100,000 miles.

MayanCalendar-300x300It doesn’t really roll over to “zero”, either.  The base 20 numerical system means that 12/22/12 begins the next 400 year (actually 394.3 years) period to begin the 13th Bak’tun.  It will reset to zero at the end of the 20th Bak’tun, about 3,000 years from now.  Please let me know how that turns out.

The Mayan calendar system became extinct in most areas after the Spanish conquests of the 16th century, though it continues in use in many modern communities in highland Guatemala and in Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico.

The table of Long Count units below illustrates the Mayan units of measurement.  A day is a K’in, there are 20 K’ins in a Winal, and so on.  Today’s date, according to the Mayan calendar, is Long Count: 13.0.4.12.14, Calendar Round: 8 Ix 12 Yaxk’in, Year Bearer: 6 Ik’, Lord of Night: G2, 13 Bak’tun, 0 K’atun, 4 Tun, 12 Winal, 14 K’in, 8 Ix, G2, 12 Yaxk’in.  Got it?  Me neither.

Table of Long Count units