Operation Homecoming, Stella's Game, and Tideline

The war was over; the last American combat casualties were months before; the POWs were coming home.

It was 1973, and the last negotiations had scheduled the return of some 500-plus American prisoners of war from North Vietnamese, Viet Cong, Laotian, and Chinese captivity. As the men were flown to the Philippines to be debriefed and treated, the medics were surprised at how resilient they were, how mentally healthy despite debilitating injuries and malnutrition.

Burst of Joy

LTC Robert L. Stirm, left, greeted his family at Travis AFB 17 March 1973, after six years of captivity. This photo Burst of Joy by Slava “Sal” Veder, won a Pulitzer Prize, and did more to encapsulate the end of America’s “Vietnam experience” than any other image. The cameras were more than happy to record every heartfelt greeting, every fragile survivor, every dash across the hardstand into the eager arms of fathers barely known; of husbands weak and tired; of sons and brothers who had experienced isolation that few could appreciate…

And not a protester in sight…

And frankly, THAT was weird as I recall. Though most of the protests had sputtered out after 1970 and the Kent State shootings, we seriously expected to see protesters outside the air bases and hospitals…but nothing. Maybe because we were tired, all of us in America were; tired of the division, of the shouting, the screaming, the whiffs of smoke and tear gas for no end other than to protest a draft that sent less than 30% of its inductees to a conflict that would see no victory because it wasn’t supposed to…

And there were those bracelets again…

The POW bracelets that many people wore, starting in 1970, nickel plated or copper, they were engraved with the name of a POW or a missing American; some five million of them were sold by Voices in Vital America (VIVA). They vanished from most wrists for unknown reasons in about ’72, but during Operation Homecoming, out they came again. Those who had bracelets engraved with men who came back celebrated; some sent their bracelets to “their” PWs. Those with bracelets engraved with names that didn’t come back got blue star stickers…and by July those bracelets were back in the drawers.

But there were still more than five hundred men missing…

“Missing” in war means a lot of different things, and in the mid-20th century it could mean burned up in their aircraft; suspended bleeding in a parachute harness until death overtook them and they were consumed by the jungle; blown to smithereens and unidentifiable by any means at the time, or even just took off, making a life elsewhere.

But some were still held captive…

In his book, Henry Kissinger stated that he knew there were still Americans captive in Southeast Asia, but the North Vietnamese could wait; Kissinger, Nixon and the whole Western world needed an end to the carnage. So, he signed the best treaty he could get for himself, Nixon, and the whole Western world…and for Vietnam, for that matter. But as a result of that treaty, the Saigon government almost certainly saw the writing on the proverbial wall. Most sources say that the Saigon regime gave itself no more than three years to live after January 1973. They were right.

Cover of Stella's Game:
Cover of Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, Available Now from fine booksellers everywhere

In Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, watching the POW’s come back is a family matter, hearing the commentators mention that this guy’s mother died while he was in a cage; that one’s family was so excited about his return that they took out a two-page ad in the local paper; that one’s wife didn’t want to wait and divorced him. These were teenagers–high school seniors–glad that the draft was ending but unsure about their own futures. Both the girls and the boys would watch the joyous reunions, be happy for the bracelet-owners whose men came home, and try to feel for those who did not. But it was hard: they had nothing to compare that agony to.

Tideline..Ever Rising

Footprints in the sand along the Tideline

Guess where this beach is for an autographed copy of Tideline: Friendship Abides. The kids grow up, as happens when you keep feeding ’em. But they have lives of their own, and they write letters to friends and loved ones wherever they are.

They write lots of letters…

They write because between 1974 and 1986, the Internet was still called DARPANET, there was no World Wide Web (hypertext wouldn’t come along until a decade later), no cell phones in general use, no blogs (I know; ancient history), so no e-mails. “Social media” was, well, sitting around and shooting the bull. But they still had fun, fell in love, fell out of love, went to war, and worked for success in their chosen professions: three of them in the Army; one in the Navy. And they wrote letters.

Tideline: Friendship Abides is the second part of the Stella’s Game Trilogy, and should be available at you favorite booksellers by mid-April.


My Lai, Stella’s Game, and Tideline

By 1968, the conflict in Vietnam had lost any popular support that it had had in the US…and in Vietnam.

Unidentified women and children just before they were killed
Ronald L. Haeberle photo, Wiki Commons

On 16 March, 1968, soldiers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, and Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry, both of the 23rd Division (also called the Americal Division), killed somewhere between 347 and 504 people in two hamlets called My Lai and My Khe in the Son Tinh district of South Vietnam. An unknown number of women were raped, some as young as 12; children were mutilated. It was the best known of several such atrocities in the entire conflict. It took place during Operation Muscatine, which started in December 1967 and went on until June, 1968, aimed at securing Chu Lai.

Gee…don’t that sound simple?

The first time the American public knew anything about these massacres was September 1969, in a vague press release from Fort Benning about charges of murder being filed against Lieutenant William Calley. In trickles, then in floods, photos, names, dates were revealed as more people came forward with more testimony, more photos. Several reporters and photographers had been there, had seen the aftermath; one even claimed to have stopped some of the killing. There was a Pentagon Vietnam War Crimes Working Group that investigated these and several other massacres, but “war crimes” were never brought against anyone.

Over a year later…

William Calley stood trial for murder on 17 November 1970. It was hard to get eyewitnesses to testify against Calley, but one did, and Calley’s defense team couldn’t shake the testimony. On 29 March 1971, Calley was found guilty of 22 specifications of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

No one else was ever convicted of anything related to these crimes…

Despite the protest marches and the riots and flag-burning in the streets of America, the general reaction over Calley’s conviction was one of mild outrage. Within the US Army, Calley was regarded as a victim of the war’s culture of body count: the higher the better. He and his men–over a hundred would have taken part–were also victims of the nature of the conflict. While most of the victims were women and children, many of these guy’s friends had been victims of women and children bearing satchel charges and grenades, using both their youth and their sex to get close to American targets before setting off their weapons. While the protesters could use the conviction to bolster their arguments of an “unjust” war, the paltry number that Calley was actually convicted of deflated their argument somewhat.

The most common name Calley was given was “scapegoat…”

Calley spent less than two weeks in prison; President Nixon ordered him placed under house arrest at Fort Benning on 1 April 1971. After numerous appeals, Calley was released in September, 1974. The biggest reason for the successful appeals was pre-trial publicity, lack of corroborating witnesses, and the refusal of both the Department of Defense and the US Congress to make available evidence that Calley’s defense team requested. That and the general outrage over the acquittal of Captain Ernest Medina–Calley’s boss–who had planned and ordered the sweep operation that, in part, resulted in the massacres. Despite the unpopularity of the war, there was a great stink of cover-up. I distinctly recall that the popular media at the time of his conviction was nearly schizophrenic.

But by then, US troops had been out of Vietnam for two years, and no one was interested anymore.

Stella’s Game...watch her deal

In Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, the characters react to the conviction of William Calley–and the crimes he was accused of committing–in significantly different ways. While one is outraged, others are resigned; most question why not others. Scapegoat, martyr, example are names Calley is given…but not baby-killer or murderer.

But this was the 70’s, and the characters are fifteen and sixteen, looking forward to a future with a war that does not appear to have an end, and a draft that may not, either. Though Nixon campaigned on an “end the draft” platform in ’68, it was renewed for two years in September ’71–while the Calley appeals were ongoing–though everyone knew it would not be renewed again.

They know all this, but the boy’s future was still a question mark, and the girls were concerned for them.

Tideline is Rising

Where Stella’s Game leaves off, Tideline: Friendship Abides picks up. Join JJ and Mike, Ann and Leigh after they leave school on their life adventures, from 1974 to 1986. Tideline is scheduled for publication by April, 2020.

Join in the adventure!

Khe Sanh ’68 and Stella’s Game

And we woke up on 31 January to learn a new place name: Khe Sanh. That afternoon we learned that Jeff’s there. No longer was Vietnam some abstract.

White bread America was as affected by that conflict as the rest of the country.

The controversial McNamara Line of outposts and electronic monitoring systems along the 17th parallel was built starting in 1967, and was anchored by combat bases like the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB), which was a series of revetments and artillery batteries that was a most impressive sandbag fortification with an air strip and helicopter landing pads enough to maintain a Marine battalion. In January 1968, there were some 6,000 Marines based out of the Combat Base, and an unclear number of South Vietnamese and Royal Lao troops. The struggle for Khe Sanh and the I Corps area started nine days before Tet ’68, but William Westmoreland insisted that Tet was a diversion from Khe Sanh.

Was the tail wagging this dog?

The day after the Tet offensive exploded on the news, the war became very personal for some of us, even at the tender age of 12. With older sisters who had boyfriends of a certain age…yes, two of them were in-country. One mailed a letter to my oldest sister just after Christmas, saying how this Khe Sanh place was just a maze of sandbags.

Every TV newscast about Vietnam became a contest to see who could spot Jeff

While the war raged and every evening people watched at the Marines fought for the hills and villages around the base, there were times when we thought “oh, there he is!” But we never knew for sure. No one heard from Jeff…not even his family…until after the siege was lifted on 6 April by the 1st Cavalry Division. His parents received a note–brief and hurried–saying he was OK and headed for Japan. The next my sister heard was a year later, after he got back Stateside. Yeah, that kind of thing happened, too.

Letters and Friends and Stella’s Game

Cover of Stella's Game:
Cover of Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, Available Now from fine booksellers everywhere

Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships is a story of four kids growing up in these turbulent times, when things like video calls, instant messaging with a device in your pocket were the stuff of science fiction. To communicate they wrote letters, and some letters arrived with odd timing, like Jeff’s to my sister. But the kids worry because their families worry, and that worry spills over to their friends sometimes, and friends offer what comfort they can.

Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships takes place in the Detroit area from 1963 to 1974, following four children trying to fit in, to learn, to love, to laugh and for one–to stay alive. Look for it on Amazon and everywhere else. Learn what it was really like growing up without too much concern about money, but a lot about your future, and about your friend’s futures. Money doesn’t, after all, buy security for everyone.

Tet ’68 and Stella’s Game

On Tuesday, 30 January 1968, many of us awoke to a world different from the one we had slept in.

Marines outside Hue, February 1968
Getty images

There was supposed to be lines, rear areas, clean divisions between combatant and non-combatant…everybody knew that’s what war was supposed to be like. Combat was like, well, Combat and The Gallant Men. Besides, General Westmorland and Vice President Humphrey both said that the US was winning the war in Vietnam. Then…

Nứt trời; Làm rung chuyển trái đất!

Vietnamese for Crack the Sky; Shake the Earth!

But the Tet offensive, like the message above, in ’68 changed all those perceptions. The phrase was the signal sent to North Vietnamese units that the offensive to take over South Vietnam, planned for months, was on. Khe Sanh was suddenly put under siege; the US embassy in Saigon was partially captured; many provincial capitals were attacked, and the old capital of Vietnam’s empire, Hue, was captured by Viet Cong forces, which began a bloody campaign of massacre.

War didn’t have executions like the one in the New York Times for 2 February 1968–the one on top of this blog. Photographer Eddie Adams captured BG Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of South Vietnam’s national police, executing CPT Nguyen Van Lem of the Viet Cong, whose unit had just slaughtered Lem’s friend’s family. Before that photo appeared, Vietnam was just World War II in color with different weapons and uniforms, and the US Department of Defense had treated it just like that..until that day.

And Vietnam became a very different kind of war…

Wounded men, Tet ’68
Washington Post

And there were images of men hurt in the fighting delivered into your very home; in the newspapers, the magazines, on television. I was twelve, living a comfortable white-bread suburb of Detroit…and we saw this war unfold before us in living color. This kind of horror came after the riot of ’67, when the whiffs of smoke and tear gas rising on that wet and angry breeze from downtown, and the imagery of troops marching in formation down Woodward Avenue with bayonets fixed, and the news that our housekeeper was burned out of her home, reached us in the supposedly insulated suburbs that long and hot summer. Sure, I was too young to be drafted, but my older sisters had boyfriends…and one who was drafted in March of ’68; and one was going to West Point in the fall.

That war affected the affluent, too.

Public perceptions of the war changed decidedly after that. Though the battles for the capitals and the countryside ended with the US and South Vietnamese controlling most of the country and the Viet Cong were mostly destroyed, the war for public opinion was lost that winter. By spring, the demands to end the war were becoming overwhelming. Yet, Richard Nixon’s campaign theme was “Law and Order,” while Hubert Humphrey’s was “End the War.” And Nixon won in ’68 mostly, it is thought, because he promised new leadership…and he did get the US out two years before the Saigon government collapsed.

Your Author, 1967

And that damn war affected the characters in Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships. Imagine how a 12-year old–like the guy to the right here–might be affected by the knowledge that a family friend was a Marine stuck in Khe Sanh…and how his friends might be affected by that knowledge. Remember that this is Nixon country for the most part; supporters of the conflict in Vietnam.

But you don’t have to imagine it if you can read about it in Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships on Amazon or at your favorite booksellers.

Fort Stedman and National Vietnam War Veteran’s Day

As March ends we call to mind the joys and laughter of the long winter season in the Great Lakes. We’ll miss the snow, the wind, the brutal cold, the ice, the back-breaking work, the short days…like we miss paper cuts.

Richmond/Petersburg siege lines, 1864-65 (Wiki Commons)

As the long winter of 1864-65 ground to an end in Virginia, spring was in the air, and so was defeat–and victory, depending on which side you were on. The Southern Confederacy lost its last working port, Wilmington, North Carolina, to Union forces in January. The army group that was the Union’s Military Division of the South under William S. Sherman had defeated every Confederate army it had encountered since it started campaigning the year before, taken Atlanta and Savanna, and was marching north into the Carolinas to join the Union forces in Virginia.

The Union forces, overall commanded by Ulysses S. Grant, had held the Confederacy’s premier commander, Robert E. Lee, and its best-known army, the Army of Northern Virginia, in place around the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, for nearly a year. By March, after scores of battles over creeks, roads, redoubts and railroad lines, the Confederates were down to about 50,000 hungry and barefoot men to 125,000 men in George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Edward Ord’s Army of the James.

There was no way that the Confederate army and the citizens of Richmond could be fed, and it was trickling away every day and night by desertion and disease. On 6 March he asked John B. Gordon, a Georgia-born attorney and one of his most trusted commanders, what he should do. In his memoirs, Gordon wrote that he gave Lee three choices, in decreasing order of preference: make peace, escape and join Confederate forces in North Carolina, or attack the Federals around Petersburg immediately. Lee rejected the first out of hand, knew that the second would be difficult if not impossible, but balked at the third. In a subsequent meeting, Lee opted to attack. “To stand still is death,” Lee is said to have lamented.

While Lee’s assessment was correct, he still had faith in the power of the offensive. While a front-wide offensive was impossible, a pinpoint attack was feasible. The target chosen was a place in the Federal lines closest to the Confederate entrenchments (at Colquitt’s and Gracie’s Salients) just east of Petersburg called Fort Steadman, also attractive because just a mile east was a Federal supply depot . Gordon would command nearly half of Lee’s infantry in the attack. Any attack, it was felt, would disrupt Grant’s plans to assault Richmond.

Fort Stedman (Battlefield Preservation Trust)

Gordon planned to penetrate Federal lines, sweep north and south to open a hole and allow follow-on forces to take the Federal supplies. A plan as sound as any, but when outnumbered and hungry, overly ambitious. Defending the area was about 14,000 men from three Federal corps, overall commanded by John Parke, who was in charge while army commander Meade was absent. Gordon’s preparations went undetected, but it hardly mattered. On in the predawn hours of 25 March 1865, he attacked Fort Stedman with his corps and elements of two others, a total of about 10,000 men.

In less than three hours, the Federals had limited the Confederate advance and were counterattacking. As Federal artillery bombarded from a nearby ridge, John F. Hartranft led a charge that reversed the Confederate advance, driving them back into their own lines. The attack not only failed but failed catastrophically. Federal casualties were about a thousand; Confederate casualties over 4,000–40% of the attacking forces, worse than Pickett’s Charge (whose division, ironically, was in reserve). At least a quarter of the Confederate casualties were prisoners; just how many just gave up to get fed is unknowable, but there had to have been some since the desertion figures were so high by then.

The Southern Confederacy’s options by then were so thin that this small-scale attack with grand ambitions was hardly a pinprick to the Union juggernaut. Grant’s reduction of the Petersburg siege had been ordered for 27 March, and Gordon’s attack didn’t put a dent in that plan. Gordon’s second option–breaking out of Richmond–would within a week become Lee’s only option other than surrender.

Vietnam War Veteran’s Day

William Calley, after his 1971 conviction and 2009 (Montage by Smithsonian Magazine)

Friday, 29 March, is Vietnam War Veteran’s Day, so designated by the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 signed by Donald Trump. It recognizes Vietnam-era veterans but is somewhat ironically timed. Yes, on 29 March 1973 the ceasefire took effect, but also on that same day two years earlier, William Calley was convicted of 22 counts of murder during the Mi Lai massacre. Calley was sentenced to life in prison, later commuted to house arrest, then commuted by a federal judge in 1974. He has been free since.

Calley was the only one of many officers and men who were, arguably, culpable for Mi Lai and the aftermath. No one is denying that something awful happened there and in scores of other places that were not well covered by Life Magazine reporters. Unfortunately, many people in the US and abroad have painted the stain of that infamous event on all the millions of men and women who served in Southeast Asia. I served with many of them; I’ve known many more; I’ve eulogized far too many. Now those once-young people are in their sixties and seventies, and no longer deserve to be spat upon as many of us were then. If you are a veteran of that long-ago conflict, hoist one for the rest of us. If you know one, at least acknowledge their service, but for the love of whatever deity you recognize DO NOT THANK US FOR OUR SERVICE. We served because we felt an obligation to the republic, not to be painted a generation later with praise. Just recognize, don’t thank.

Hamburger Hill and Memorial Day 2018

The last week in May in the Great Lakes is met with great fan…fare as the weather heats up to its customary humid burst until mid-September, when it calms down to merely obnoxious until the snow falls, sometimes as early as October. Why I have put up with it for these three score plus years I really don’t know, but I find other weather patterns dull.

But 28 May is known for several momentous events, such as the 585 BC solar eclipse visible in the Eastern Mediterranean; recorded by Herodotus and called the Eclipse of Thales after the Greek philosopher who predicted it; the event is used as a benchmark for other date calculations. On 28 May 1533, the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was voided; the grounds have always been shaky, but the Great Harry usually got his way. On 28 May 1818, steamboat Ontario was launched at Sackett’s Harbor, New York; she was the first steam vessel to work any part of the Great Lakes. And, on 28 May 1923, the United States Attorney General declared that it was legal for women to wear trousers anywhere; talk about your dress code on steroids… Today is also National Hamburger Day, no doubt to commemorate the millions of pounds of beef rendered inedible on Memorial Day grills across the country; and National Brisket Day, ditto. But today we’re talking about useless firefights and the passing of a buddy.

Operation APACHE SNOW in May 1969, a little more than a year after the Tet Offensive had soured most of the United States on the conflict in Southeast Asia, was going to eliminate some of those Base Areas.

On most of the maps, it’s called Ap Bia Mountain, but in 1969 it was officially known as Hill 937. It was situated a little more than a mile from the Laotian border on the western end of the A Shau Valley. This was Screaming Eagle territory, where the US 101st Airborne/Airmobile Divison fought most of its war in Vietnam. It was also very close to North Vietnamese Army Base Areas at an outlet of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Operation APACHE SNOW in May 1969, a little more than a year after the Tet Offensive had soured most of the United States on the conflict in Southeast Asia, was going to eliminate some of those Base Areas.

It was the media that dubbed the prominence “Hamburger Hill,” even though there were less than a hundred Americans killed there, and probably not a lot more NVA.

Nobody thought much of Ap Bia when they moved around it, but the NVA was dug into the elephant grass and bamboo thickets such that their positions could only be seen from directly on top. The Americans, who had been relying on firepower to dislodge and destroy enemies since George Washington’s time, were unaccustomed to having to fight like this in Vietnam, even if their fathers did it time and again a quarter century before against the Japanese. Two battalions, then three, then four were used up in the fighting against barely 800 NVA regulars. It was the media that dubbed the prominence “Hamburger Hill,” even though there were less than a hundred Americans killed there, and probably not a lot more NVA.

The press transposed all Vietnam casualties for a week onto Hamburger Hill. Once again, press distortions were treated as truth.

The hill was secured on 20 May, but it had limited strategic and no tactical value, having been denuded of vegetation in the fifteen-day firefight. On 28 May 1969, after a little less than two weeks of occupation, the decision was made to pull off Hamburger Hill, the withdrawal being completed 6 June. The press, as they were wont to do, somehow transposed all Vietnam casualties for a week onto the Hamburger Hill action, and as the blowhards of Congress denounced the action, that was one of the arguments used. Once again, press distortions were treated as truth.

Today, 28 May 2018, I’ll be memorializing a buddy who passed last October. Bill Crum got to Vietnam at about the time Hamburger Hill was wrapping up and spent a year as an artilleryman with the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One. He got hurt over there, and came home to the protests and the media distortions, went to school, eventually got married, fathered two kids, divorced, got sick, and died alone.

That, regrettably, was the sum of his life. But Bill was my buddy, and that’s all anyone needs to know. We met on Veterans Day in 1982 at the Student Union in the basement of UWM. He was a fellow Army Reservist and veteran of the deeply misunderstood conflict in Southeast Asia. He had a very droll sense of humor, but he at least had one, unlike many others who were hurt in that war and didn’t come back quite whole. Bill did his 20 years in the Active and Reserve and got his small pension and health care benefits at last on his 60th birthday. He used them for eight years. His last four few months were spent tied to a hospital-grade oxygen concentrator because his lungs had nearly stopped working. He was working on getting strong enough for a transplant.

I was out of town when his son called me, saying that his father had passed that morning. I saw Bill on my regular weekly visit just the Saturday before. He seemed like he was gaining weight, but in retrospect, it was as likely he was retaining water, and that’s what killed him. But, I understand his passing wasn’t prolonged. I had been looking forward to having another beer with my buddy on Veteran’s Day last year, but instead, his sister and I were planning his memorial.

RIP, Wild Bill/Floogle Street. This Memorial Day is for you and every other person who gave his health, wealth, welfare and life for our freedom.

Three Moments in 1973 and National Blonde Brownie Day

So, 22 January. The depths of winter.  It’s cold in the Great Lakes, cold and snowy. Wet, icy.  If you’re up to going outside this time of year, more power to ya. Me, I’m staying where there’s central heat. Call me a wuss…see if I care.

But there was a lot of things that went on on this day. The battle of Basing, fought in Hampshire, England on this day in 871, was another in a series of indecisive encounters between the kingdom of Wessex led by Ethelred, and the invading Danes; as long as the English didn’t lose much and their burghs (fortified towns) survived, they would eventually prevail. William Kidd the pirate was born at Greenock on this day in 1645. On this day in 1863 the infamous “Mud March” of the Army of the Potomac began in Virginia, an attempt by Ambrose Burnside to redeem his failure at Fredricksburg that just racked up more casualties. In 1879 the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift both started on this day; the Zulus overwhelmed the unprotected columns on the hill of Isandlwana but were unable to come to terms with the better fortifications at the Drift. 22 January also marks Bloody Sunday in Russia; the first modern revolution started as a general strike in 1905. And, on this day in 1984, the Macintosh personal computer was introduced.  But, today, we’re going to talk about three particularly notable events that all happened on 22 January 1973: strain your brain–those of you old enough–to remember which one you recall reacting to at the time more than the others: my vote’s at the end. And about brownies without chocolate.

As the deciding litmus test for the acceptability of all politicians, public officials, celebrities, or ordinary Joes on the street in America, Roe has very narrow shoulders. 

The first was the one with a lasting, pernicious impact down to this day: the Roe vs. Wade US Supreme Court decision that, depending on who you talk to, either;

  1. Legalized abortion in the US for one and all, or
  2. Only deregulated the procedure for the first two trimesters of pregnancy, or
  3. Started the United States on the road to Perdition.

SInce the 1990s, which of these three you choose has determined how you voted in the last ten national elections, how you feel about the rights of women in general, whether you are currently fit to breathe the same air as someone who chooses another answer, or none of the above. As the deciding litmus test for the acceptability of all politicians, public officials, celebrities, or ordinary Joes on the street in America, Roe has very narrow shoulders.  Few of us can now recall exactly what they were doing when they heard about it, because few people at the time really cared enough to march in the streets in support of or against the ruling, unlike now.

At Johnston’s death, it was the first time in a third of a century that there were no living former American presidents.

Also on this day in 1973, in Johnson City, Texas, Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States, died of congestive heart failure at age 64. A consummate politician whose ascent to the seat of power consumed his entire adult life, LBJ was a controversial figure, and is regarded as the last leader of FDR’s New Deal coalition. Johnson’s legacy is, to this day, mixed. Between his assumption of JFK’s last year in office in 1963, rising with his landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, soaring with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sinking during the civil disturbances and riots across the country in 1967, sinking again during the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the seizure of the USS Pueblo by North Korea, and collapsing after his ignominious showing in the New Hampshire primaries that same year, his policies waxed and waned. LBJ’s star, somehow, was never quite as bright as his martyred predecessor. After Johnston’s death was the first time in a third of a century that there were no living former American presidents.

When the agreement on border definition for Vietnam was announced, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird agreed to suspend the draft in the United States as soon as the peace was signed, five months ahead of schedule.

Finally, on the same day, a bit of irony from Paris that few took note of even at the time.  On 22 January 1973, the United States, the Republic of (South) Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam and the Central Office for South Vietnam (the political wing representing the Viet Cong) agreed on a fixed border between the two Vietnamese republics. This was a vital, final step before the final peace agreement between the four parties could be drafted and signed on 27 January. Vietnam, considered an albatross for the Democrats and a political football for everyone else, had been the most divisive American conflict since the Civil War. When the agreement on border definition for Vietnam was announced, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird agreed to suspend the draft in the United States as soon as the peace was signed, five months ahead of schedule.

So, aging Boomers and others who remember being around in ’73: which do you remember more than the others? The death of LBJ was certainly covered more at the time, as the deaths of presidents always is (except Nixon)and I recall hearing of it, hardly the others; Roe v Wade was something of a footnote at the time (unlike today); the Vietnam border agreement was barely mentioned. But it was still an exciting time, wasn’t it?

OK, blonde brownies.  Why, you ask do these even exist: the whole point of brownies is the chocolate, no? Well, no: the point of brownies is to have a less-crumbly cake to put into a lunch bag than a conventional one. Also, for those of us who can’t eat chocolate, it’s an alternative. But, different strokes for different folks, I guess.  Here’s a recipe for blondies from Allrecipie.com. As good as any…

Anyway, they were probably invented in Sandusky. Ohio. Published recipes date from the 1940s, and likely existed even earlier. The folks at National Day Calendar can’t find who started National Blonde Brownie Day, and neither can anyone else. Ah, well…

As for Why the Samurai Lost, it’s proceeding apace. Remember to check in with us at JDBCOM.COM for more.

Budapest, Dresden, Hal Moore, and National Clean Out Your Computer Day


Mid-February, and even though tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day, we’re talking about WWII because this is the 13th of February.  Oh, there was Galileo before the Inquisition in 1633, and William and Mary of Nassau being proclaimed joint sovereigns of England in 1689, and the beginning of ASCAP in 1914, and the birth of Chuck Yeager in 1923, and Andrey Chernienko was named Premier of the Soviet Union in 1984.  But today we talk about massacres in war, and brave men, and clean computers.

The Germans managed to cobble together some 180,000 men under Karl Pfeffer Wildenbruch, a competent policeman untested in heavy combat against the Soviets.

By late 1945, the German Army was entirely on the defensive.  In an effort to slow the Soviet drives into Germany, and above all to prevent them from linking with the Anglo-Americans, the Germans planned to hold several urban areas in Eastern Europe and to knock the Soviet mobile offensives off-balance.  One of these cities was Budapest, the capital city of Hungary that had been a German ally until October 1944. The Germans managed to cobble together some 180,000 men under Karl Pfeffer Wildenbruch, a competent policeman untested in heavy combat against the Soviets. The Soviets, on the other hand, were to capture Budapest quickly before Stalin met with Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta.  To do this, Rodion Malinovski commanded something over half a million men. The fighting over Budapest started in October, 1944.  The last road out was cut on 26 December. The remnants of the German Luftwaffe could barely support itself, but tried valiantly to supply Budapest until the last airfield fell 27 December.  The Germans tried three separate offensives in January 1945 to break out or relieve the siege, and all failed.  On 11 February a last breakout attempt resulted in tens of thousands of German and Hungarian casualties and the capture of Wildenbruch.  On 13 February, the last of the German garrison in Budapest surrendered about 60,000 or so German and Hungarian troops (with an unknown number of civilians added as padding).  Predictably, while the German/Hungarian casualties amounted to 130,000 in the fifty-day siege, the Soviet/Romanian casualties were somewhat more.

Official German casualty figures for Dresden at the time add up to somewhere between 22,000 and 25,000, but the Germans purposely inflated the numbers to 200,000 for propaganda purposes…

While the siege of Budapest is not well known in the West, the bombing campaign of Dresden is.  Starting on 13 February 1945, the RAF and the USAAF struck the “Florence of the Elbe” three times in three days.  In all over 1,300 heavy bombers dropped some 3,900 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs on the city, destroying 2 and a half square miles of the city (in contrast, the March 9-10 1945 firebombing of Tokyo destroyed a little over 15 square miles in a single raid).  Official German casualty figures for Dresden at the time add up to somewhere between 22,000 and 25,000, but the Germans purposely inflated the numbers to 200,000 for propaganda purposes, and Holocaust-denier David Irving has put them as high as 500,000 in his 1963 book The Destruction of Dresden.  American author Kurt Vonnegut, who was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the bombing and wrote about his experience in his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five, declared that 130,000 casualties were either buried or incinerated. However, a 2010 study commissioned by the Dresden city council found that no more than 25,000 people were killed in the three raids.

Though I never met Moore, I did meet a survivor of the Ia Drang fight who was hurt and had to be evacuated.  As he remembered it, Moore personally carried one leg of his litter.  Sometimes, that’s as close as we can come to greatness.  

Not every general gets to be better known for what he did as a colonel.  Custer was one of that exclusive club; Hal Moore was another.  Moore died last Friday, 10 April 2017 at the age of 94. Moore’s career before and after Ia Drang was notable only for its relative routine: he had no one of influence to help his career, and as a Kentuckian no particular hindrances, either.  He graduated West Point a year early in 1945 because the Army needed replacement officers.  Branched to the Infantry, he served in the 11th Airborne and 82nd Airborne divisions, and the 7th Infantry in Korea.  In 1965, Moore was in command of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. In November of that year, 2/7th Cav was in the Ia Drang valley of the Central Highlands of Vietnam, short-stopping two North Vietnamese Army regiments in a long fight over Pleiku, operating out of a place called Drop Zone X-Ray.  While Moore and his men were credited with “winning” the fight at the time and Moore won a DSC, the fight convinced Ho Chi Minh that he could win. After Ia Drang and a series of career progressions, Moore retired from the Army a Lieutenant General in 1977.  He wrote three books, the best known being We Were Soldiers Once, and Young with Joseph Galloway published in 1992.  The 2002 Mel Gibson film We Were Soldiers was based on the book.  Though I never met Moore, I did meet a survivor of the Ia Drang fight who was hurt and had to be evacuated.  As he remembered it, Moore personally carried one leg of his litter.  Sometimes, that’s as close as we can come to greatness.

Nonetheless, a clean computer is a laudable, if relatively unachievable, goal.  

Then, there’s Clean Your Computer Day, which is the second Monday in February.  The day was originally sponsored in 2000 by the Institute for Business Technology, a for-profit trade school in Santa Clara, California. IBT probably once had some computer training, but at this writing they concentrate on other skilled trades, including HVAC technician, massage therapy, and various medical office jobs.  Nonetheless, a clean computer is a laudable, if relatively unachievable, goal.  I have two computers that I have to keep clean, and all that scrubbing and dusting does get tedious…and that bitbucket…always full.  Does anyone know of a way to keep the RAM from getting so dirty and full of fleas…wait…there it is again…come back here, you ignorant herbivore…there’s no ewes over there…!

Charles I, USS Monitor, FDR and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day

In the name of true eclecticism, we’re talking about beginnings and endings today.  Still, there’s a lot to choose from for 30 January: Maryland ratified the Articles of Confederation in 1781, putting the Articles into effect as a framework of government; Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933; the Lone Ranger began on WXYZ radio in Detroit, also in 1933; and the Tet Offensive of 1968 began in Vietnam, which eventually turned public opinion against the American presence.  But today, we’ll forego National Croissant Day and Seed Swap Day and discuss that vital material, bubble wrap.

As an American I have bent my mind mightily around all the politics involved, but by many commentators it came down to the power of religion, churches, communions, kings, Parliament, guns, and money.

If you ever really want to be confused about English politics, try to study the English Civil Wars (there were three or so) of 1640-1651.  As an American I have bent my mind mightily around all the politics involved, but by many commentators it came down to the power of religion, churches, communions, kings, Parliament, guns, and money.  The House of Stuart became the ruling house of England and Ireland on the death of Elizabeth I in 1604.  The first Stuart, James IV of Scotland and James I of England and Ireland, was at least moderately popular until his death in 1625.  His son, Charles I, was actually the second son of James, the first having died at 12.  Even if Charles was an Anglican, he was married to a Catholic, Henrietta Maria of France, daughter of Louis XIII, which brought him under suspicion.  Pledged to England not to raise the suppression of Catholics but pledged to France to do just that, Charles led something of a double life, favoring his wife’s faith (that he came to share) more than the Anglican. Too, he raised taxes without the benefit of Parliament, which everyone resented.  Open war broke out between Parliament and the Crown in 1642.  By 1646, harried by money trouble and battlefield losses, Charles took refuge in Scotland, but they sold him to Parliament on 23 January 1647. In a squabble you simply can’t make up, the Army kidnapped Charles from Parliament custody in June 1647.  After more exchanges between squabbling interests differing primarily by religion,  Charles signed a secret treaty with Scotland to have him restored to the throne.  His Royalist supporters rose in May of 1648, only to be put down decisively in August.  After more negotiations, bribes, secret treaties and other nonsense Parliament was purged, Charles arrested and put on trial, and was condemned to death on 26 January 1649.  He was beheaded at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, the first anointed king of England to be executed.

Legend has it that the new ship was meant as much a check on Confederate naval ambitions as on an intentions of Great Britain to intervene in the conflict.

Among many other things, the Americans two hundred years later inherited many of the same animosities from the Mother Country that stemmed from religious outlook, but manifested itself in the New World as deep cultural divisions based on political economy: the value of land versus the value of capital.  When the American Civil War broke out in April 1861, the US Navy was not just small, it was microscopic.  A Swedish-born inventor named John Ericsson proposed the construction of an entirely new type of warship, a flush-deck, steam-powered ship not clad in iron but built entirely of metal.  Due largely to his tremendous reputation as an engineer, Ericson’s design was accepted and construction commenced at Continental Iron Works in Brooklyn 25 October 1861.  The new ship slid down the ways on 30 January 1862. The name Monitor, meaning “one who admonishes and corrects wrongdoers,” was proposed by Ericsson on 20 January 1862 and approved by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox. Legend has it that the new ship was meant as much a check on Confederate naval ambitions as on an intentions of Great Britain to intervene in the conflict.  Monitor fought her only major duel with an enemy vessel 8 March 1862 at Hampton Roads in Virginia, and foundered in a storm off Hatteras 30 January 1862.  Few warships have ever had such influence not only on naval architecture, but on naval warfare itself.  Today the word monitor is used for any low freeboard warship dominated by gun turrets.

As a youth, FDR attended all the right schools, benefitted greatly from the inherited wealth of one of the oldest families in New York, and went into politics in 1911, serving a term in the New York State Senate.

It wasn’t long after Monitor began her short career that a future naval enthusiast was born not that far away in Hyde Park, New York. Franklin D. Roosevelt was born to the Hyde Park Branch (the Democrats) of the well-to-do Roosevelt family on 30 January 1888; the Oyster Bay Branch (the Republicans) produced Theodore Roosevelt, President from 1901-1908.   As a youth, FDR attended all the right schools, benefitted greatly from the inherited wealth of one of the oldest families in New York, and went into politics in 1911, serving a term in the New York State Senate. Taking up his cousin Theodore’s  old job as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913, he served there until he ran for vice-president with James Cox in 1920, but was defeated soundly.  Stricken by polio in 1921, Roosevelt recovered enough by 1929 to win election as Governor of New York.  From there, he won cousin Theodore’s old job as President in 1932.  FDR’s tenure of office was the longest of any American, winning reelection three times.  He died in office 12 April 1945, just three weeks before the death of Adolf Hitler.  Criticized and admired, sometimes in the same breath, FDR’s imprint on the Presidency and the power and reach of the Federal government are undeniable.

…bubble wrap is that plastic sheet stuff that some people insist on popping endlessly, I believe primarily to be annoying, but is said to “relieve stress” (with little explosions?)

And finally, Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.  Yes, there is such a thing, which is a thing, for reasons not obscure but that make the decisions to have “National anything” day seem sane.  Now, bubble wrap is a generic trademark that, properly, should be rendered “Bubble Wrap® brand cushioning sheets,” but nobody does. Sealed Air Corporation of New Jersey owns it and, apparently pursues its protection from time to time. Be that as it may, bubble wrap is that plastic sheet stuff that some people insist on popping endlessly, I believe primarily to be annoying, but is said to “relieve stress” (with little explosions?)  But I once again digress from the Appreciation Day, which is the last Monday in January, was started by WNVI-FM 95.1 “Spirit Radio” serving Bloomington, Indiana.  It seems they were unwrapping a load of new microphones on the air and one popped, much to someone’s amusement.  Anyway, the first “appreciation” day was held on Monday, 29 January 2001 with a popping relay, a sculpture contest, and a fashion design contest.  You can’t make this stuff up…oh, wait…somebody did.

Drake, French Indochina, and Tokyo Rose

As September ends and the richness of fall is upon us, we should reflect on events on 26 September that have nearly nothing to do with the season–or not.  But the completion of Drake’s circumnavigation, the Japanese occupation of French Indochina, and the death of Francis Aquino all happened on 26 September, with a half millennia or so separation.

On 26 September 1580, Frances Drake, a career navigator, scoundrel, pirate, politician and seaman sailed his 300 ton galleon Golden Hind into Plymouth harbor in southern England, completing the first circumnavigation of the world as captain, and the second ever (Magellan died on his voyage).  Elizabeth I knighted him soon thereafter.  What was most extraordinary about the voyage wasn’t the three years it took to complete, or the six tons of Spanish gold she captured, but that it was completed with a crew that was half of what he started out with. Drake’s circumnavigation, though mostly a military expedition, was also the first time a English ship had crossed the Pacific Ocean, and may have been the first time that an Englishman saw Indonesia.

What was most extraordinary about the voyage … that it was completed with a crew that was half of what he started out with.

Since the beginning of the “China Incident” in 1937, the Vietnamese port of Haiphong in French Indochina (northern Vietnam) had been one of several ports used by China to receive arms shipments (until 1939, China’s was Germany’s best arms customer), and was an important source of foreign currency for the cash-strapped Vichy French government in Hanoi. After several months of dithering, the Japanese finally got around to moving into French Indochina and, later, what was then Cochinchina (southern Vietnam) on 26 September 1940, after weeks of unsuccessfully negotiating with the Vichy into allowing some sort of “guest” occupation.  The Japanese occupation of French Indochina was the last straw for the Roosevelt administration, which moved to embargo oil, scrap metals, and Japanese funds in American banks.  This embargo was one of the driving forces behind Japan’s attacks on American, British and Dutch holdings in East Asia beginning in December, 1941.

The Japanese occupation of French Indochina was the last straw for the Roosevelt administration

“Tokyo Rose” was the nickname for several female English-language, American-vernacular Japanese propaganda broadcasters during World War II.  The best known announcer was Iva Toguri D’Aquino, a native American caught in Japan at the outset of the war.  Broadcasting her ten to fifteen minute harangue (sometimes accurately naming units, commanders and even enlisted men and their stations) during the Zero Hour program of popular American music, most regarded her broadcasts as harmless, and for the most part useless as an anti-morale weapon.  Though cleared of war crimes in Japan, she was tried and found guilty of treason in 1949 when she returned to the United States.  Released in 1956, she was eventually pardoned in 1977 by Gerald Ford. D’aquino died in Chicago on 26 September, 2006.

 Broadcasting … during the Zero Hour program of popular American music, most regarded her broadcasts as harmless, and … useless as an anti-morale weapon.

From Drake’s epic 16th century expedition to the death of Tokyo Rose in the early 21st, East Asia, Europe and the Pacific have been tied to 26 September, and to many other dates.  Though D’aquino was largely a victim of circumstance, so too was French Indochina, caught as she was in between quarreling giants in a conflict not of her making.  Drake’s ship, one of the first ever to be put on public display, gradually rotted into destruction, and two replicas have also been lost over the years.  Tokyo Rose, too, had copies, like Pyongyang Sally during the 1950-53 war in Korea, and Hanoi Hanna during the American involvement in Vietnam.  The threads of human events are often interwoven in common calendar dates.  We’ll continue to explore this line of thought next week.