Anne Frank’s Diary and National Red Rose Day

Connections? Read and find out.  I find it quaintly coincidental that anyone should declare a day celebrating the flower that symbolizes romance and love on the same day that a young Jewish girl in the Netherlands should get the autograph album that would become her famous diary.  Or, for that matter, the same day Medgar Evers was killed on the same day in 1963, or that Gregory Peck died in 2003.  It’s also the anniversary of the Virginia v Loving decision that legalized interracial marriage in the US in 1963. Just coincidence…I suppose.

Anneliese Marie “Anne” Frank was born in Germany on 12 June 1929, but spent most of her short life in and around Amsterdam. Stateless in 1941 after German Jews were stripped of the citizenship, she and her family hid out in various places in Amsterdam until August 1944, when the family was discovered and they were shipped off to the camps.  Anne and her sister died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen sometime between February and March 1945. All but her father died somewhere in the camps.

But between her thirteenth birthday on 20 June 1942 and 1 August 1944–three days before she was captured–Anne made entries in her diary nearly every day. It described everyday life for Jews in Amsterdam, for just over two years.  Her first –and only–romance with fellow attic refugee Peter van Pels is described, as is her exploration of her own sexuality (in the 1995 edition)–a series of entries her father left out in earlier editions but that some educrats have take exception to.  But she was a teenage girl stuck in an attic with strangers, that included her family.  The internal tensions she described with her family and the others that she was enclosed with in that attic.  The food they ate–especially how much–and their attitudes towards nearly everything were carefully compiled. After the war, and after the Red Cross had confirmed Anne’s death, Anne’s father, Otto, went back to the attic and found the diary hidden away. Since its publication in 1947 the Diary of Anne Frank has gone through numerous editions under different names, translation into sixty languages, and has withstood accusations of hoax, forgery and worse, but has been authenticated by more than one authority.

A rose, according to WIkipedia,  “is a woody perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa, in the family Rosaceae, or the flower it bears.”  According to Gertrude Stein, “a rose is a rose by any other name:” by Shakespeare’s lights “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  All of that aside for the moment, a rose is a flowering ornamental shrub that thrives nearly everywhere, from Africa and Asia to Europe and the Americas.  Most garden roses (and there are over a hundred different varieties) prefer somewhat temperate climates where they can hibernate for a few months between blooming seasons.  My dear wife struggles mightily with the roses in her garden every spring, and they seem to respond in kind, thriving from year to year.

But National Red Rose Day?  OK, I get the romance part (I never gave a woman a red rose who didn’t appreciate it in some way–and there have only been two), but a national day?  Oh, why not? Today’s Peanut Butter Cookie Day too, and Jerky Day…and Loving Day, after the Loving decision.

So a rose for the famous diarist on what would have been her 88th birthday. We wish you might have gotten one from some young admirer at least once in your short life.

Harry Truman and VE Day

The 8th of May has been a very popular day for momentous events.  For one thing, it’s early enough in the traditional Northern Hemisphere’s spring “campaign season” to be able to mark battles like Palo Alto in 1846, and Spotsylvania in 1864, among many others.  But also on this day in 1541 Hernan DeSoto reached the Mississippi River near modern Memphis, Tennessee, and a new celebration for Armistice Day–11 November–was proposed in a London newspaper on this day in 1919.  But today, we’re going to remark on a coincidence too big to miss.

On 8 May 1888, Harry S. Truman was born at Lamar, Missouri (the “S” was chosen to honor both his grandfathers).  Living most of his youth on various farms in central Missouri, he didn’t attend a conventional school until he was eight. Truman worked various non-agricultural jobs around Independence and Kansas City, including haberdasher.  He finished high school in Independence but never finished college.  Even though he was legally blind he joined the Missouri National Guard in 1905.  In WWI he rose to the rank of captain in Battery D, 129th Artillery in the hard-luck 35th Infantry Division.  Even after the war, Truman officially stayed in the Army Reserves until he was retired a Colonel in 1953.

After WWI Truman became active in Missouri politics until 1934, when he won election to the US Senate with the backing of the notorious Pendergast political machine.  Despite the stink of corruption that wafted around him, Truman kept winning elections, freinds, and a reputation for integrity and plain-speaking. While investigating waste and fraud in the War Department during WWII he is thought to have saved billions of taxpayer dollars–and enough notoriety to get him on the cover of Time Magazine. Truman was popular…and electable.

When Truman was approached by party officials at the 1944 Chicago Democratic Convention to stand as FDR’s Vice President, it was realized at the time that Roosevelt’s health was deteriorating, and that a replacement for the sitting VP–the unpopular Henry A. Wallace–had to be found. FDR was elected to a fourth term with Truman as his running mate in November, but less than three months after he was sworn in as VP, Roosevelt died and Truman took the oath as president.

April 1945 was an awkward time for a two-term senator from a rural state to become the Commander in Chief of the most powerful force of military projection the world had yet seen. Nearly four million Americans were in uniform in over a hundred countries, and only fifteen sovereign states worldwide had not gone to war by that fateful spring.

Though the end of the war in Europe was in sight, the war against Japan did not appear to be abating.The Soviets were hammering Berlin from the suburbs while they shook hands and swapped uniforms with the Americans on the Elbe; Vienna was on fire; concentration camps containing stark testimony of the enormity of the Nazi’s crimes were being found daily; Tokyo or some major city in Japan was being razed every fifth night; on a high spot in the ocean called Okinawa nearly 70,000 American soldiers and Marines had begun a campaign that was planned to last a month but was to go on for nearly three.

By the end of April the carnage in Europe reached it’s horrible crescendo.  Hitler killed himself on 30 April; German forces in Italy surrendered effective 2 May; the Berlin surrendered on 3 May.  On the evening of 8 May, 1945–Harry Truman’s 61st birthday–the German authorities signed an Instrument of Surrender at Karlshorst, a Berlin suburb. “The mission of this command was concluded…” Dwight Eisenhower telegraphed his Commander in Chief that evening.  One wonders if Ike knew (or if Truman remembered) that Eisenhower’s older brother Arthur worked and lived with Truman in Kansas City before they both became famous.

When we think of all the coincidences in daily life, this one–VE Day on Truman’s birthday– hangs on for a while.

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…!

Fort Henry, Ronald Reagan, Death of George VI, and National Lame Ducks

There’s a bit of research that goes into these blogs; some weeks more than others.  This week I could have talked about a lot of things maybe more important (to you) than others, like the Franco-American Alliance signed 6 February 1778, the Dalton Gang trying their first (unsucessful) train robbery in 1891, the arrival in New York of someone calling herself Anastasia Romanov in 1928 (whoever she was, she wasn’t the youngest daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra), or the ascension of Elizabeth II to the English throne in 1952. But today we’re talking about the Civil War in the Ohio Country, future presidents, dead kings, and officeholders no longer beholding to the voters known in the vernacular as lame ducks.

Taking 15,000 troops and seven gunboats … under Andrew Foote, Grant actually arrived after the fort had fallen to the Navy after a short bombardment: with the magazine underwater, it was hard to fight for more than a few minutes.

One of the more remarkable things about Fort Henry on the Tennessee River in the winter of 1862 was that Confederacy didn’t want it, and the builders had been warned against putting it there, but their enemy found it a valuable target.  They were there because the Confederacy, against common sense, had violated the neutrality of Kentucky and sent troops as far north as Columbus. Situated on a low, flat shingle that flooded regularly but nonetheless had a clear field of fire for about two miles, Fort Henry was manned by as many as 3,4000 raw flintlock armed Confederate troops commanded by Lloyd Tilghman, an engineer with little military experience.  Fort Henry also a 10 inch Columbiad and a 24-pounder rifle, in addition to a number of 32-pounder smoothbores.  Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal troops in the area, decided on a deep thrust up the Tennessee (the river flowed south to north there) to Fort Henry to avoid having to storm the Columbus bastion. Taking 15,000 troops and seven gunboats (four ironclads and three timberclads) under Andrew Foote, Grant actually arrived after the fort had fallen to the Navy after a short bombardment: with the magazine underwater, it was hard to fight for more than a few minutes. Grant’s and Foote’s relatively bloodless victory on 6 February 1862 (there were less than fifty Union casualties, less than a hundred Confederate) was hailed in the Northern press as a signal victory when there had been very few, and was a surprise to nearly everyone in the North.  It opened the river to the Navy, that raided as far south as Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It also enabled Grant to attack Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, which fell ten days later. The fall of Henry and Donelson completely undermined the Confederate position in Kentucky, and compelled its evacuation, setting the scene for the battle at Pittsburg Landing in April.

Reagan’s political life included two terms as president of SAG, a term as Governor of California, and two as President of the United States.  

A week’s march away and two generations later, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois on 6 February 1911. Growing up in small, hardscrabble towns throughout Illinois, Reagan graduated from Eureka College, a tiny liberal arts school where he studied economics and sociology, receiving a BA with a C average in economics.  A radio announcer and sportscaster early in his career, he traveled to California as an announcer for the Chicago Cubs and got a contract to make movies in 1937, the same year he got a reserve commission in the cavalry branch of the US Army (it could be done by correspondence then). Called to active duty in 1942, Reagan transferred to the Army Air Forces and the First Motion Picture Unit, where he made training and indoctrination films for most of the rest of the war (a personal note: I saw one of his films in basic training in 1973: can’t remember what it was about, but I did remember it was him). After the war his career in labor and politics began with his election as SAG president in 1947.  Reagan’s political life included two terms as president of SAG, a term as Governor of California, and two as President of the United States. Known by intimates as “Dutch” and “the Gipper,” Reagan’s remarkable career ended in 1989 when he left the White House.  He died in Bel Air, California on 5 June, 2004.

Though he publicly supported Neville Chamberlain, privately George VI felt the government’s appeasement of Hitler would only lead to disaster, which it did in 1939.

There was once a king who wasn’t supposed to be, but then became one of the best rulers his country ever knew.  Albert Frederick Arthur George of Windsor was the second son of George V, and wasn’t supposed to be a king at all.  His brother, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, was fourteen months older and indeed became king on the death of their father.  Bertie (his family nickname) had a famous stammer, and was not groomed for the responsibility of being, among other things, Emperor of India, even though he was the heir presumptive before then because Edward would not find a suitable wife.  Then Edward fell hopelessly in love an American…a double divorcee no less, and abdicated because he could not marry Wallis Simpson and remain king. (It’s complicated, but it was legally true.) So Albert became King George VI on 11 December 1936. Though he publicly supported Neville Chamberlain, privately George VI felt the government’s appeasement of Hitler would only lead to disaster, which it did in 1939. Though he sent the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret away briefly, the King and Queen stayed in London during the worst of the Blitz, becoming symbols of national defiance and earning the endearment of many.  After the war he saw the Empire dissolve into constituent Commonwealth states, and was the last Emperor of India.  Ravaged by lung cancer, George VI died on 6 February 1952.

The expression “lame duck” originates not with politicians, but with 18th century English businessmen who couldn’t pay their debts.

And then, of course, 6 February is commemorated as National Lame Duck Day, the day that Amendment XX of the Constitution was ratified and became law in 1933.  The expression “lame duck” originates not with politicians, but with 18th century English businessmen who couldn’t pay their debts. The modern usage, which dates from the 19th century, refers to elected officials who, for whatever reason, are no longer accountable to their constituents because they can’t be reelected, or lost their last election and are still sitting in office.  Until Amendment XX became law, members of Congress who were lame ducks sometimes had over a year (it’s complicated: look it up) to do whatever mischief they wanted to do (mostly paying political debts that were unpopular back home).  After it, they had three months.  It also fixed the presidential inaugural date from 4 March to 20 January, and the swearing in of Congress from 4 March to 3 January.  At least, it was an attempt to survey the swamp.

 

Mount Austen, Papua, Tripoli and National Handwriting Day

Well, there’s a lot to say for 23 January.  The Ming dynasty of China began in 1368; Charles I was sold to the Parliamentarians by the Scots in 1647: Georgetown, Virginia was founded in 1789; Elizabeth Blackwell earned her MD in 1849, the first American woman to do so;  Kim Philby defected in 1962; and USS Pueblo was seized by the North Koreans in 1968.  But today, only 1943 in WWII, and National Handwriting Day…for what that’s worth.

The Japanese had dug in along Mount Austen’s many hills, forming a maze of bunkers, dugouts and caves they dubbed the Gifu.

As mountains go, Mount Austen isn’t much of one.  At 461 meters (1514 feet) it would qualify as a hill in most places, but it really wasn’t even that, but a series of hills and ridges that the Japanese called Bear Height, and the locals called Mount Mambulu.  But for the Solomons Islands, it’s the highest point for thousands of miles.  And in 1943, it was an anchor for the Japanese defensive line on that tropical rock that both Japan and the United States decided had to be fought over.  On their arrival on 7 August 1942, the American forces were resisted by a comparative handful of Japanese troops, which gradually built up into a force of about 20,000 by year’s end commanded by Hyakutake Harukichi.  The American 1st Marine Division was relieved on Guadalcanal at the end of December, and was replaced by two Army infantry divisions, a Marine division, an independent Army infantry regiment and assorted support units, the lot commanded by  Alexander Patch, adding up to about 50,000.  From August through November 1942, the Americans and Japanese fought savage battles over Henderson Field, the Matanikau and Tenaru Rivers, and scores of other places that nearly always ended in Japanese defeat. By the end of December the Japanese had decided to evacuate Guadalcanal, but in the nature of things in the Pacific War that was easier said than done, and wouldn’t be officially transmitted until 15 January 1943, the middle of the fight over the Mount Austen hill mass. The Japanese had dug in along Mount Austen’s many hills, forming a maze of bunkers, dugouts and caves they dubbed the Gifu. Gradually, painfully, the Americans dug the Japanese out of their excellent defensive positions as the Japanese gradually pulled back to the south.  By 23 January 1943, Mount Austen was secure.  After losing some 3,300 men in its defense to the Americans less than 300, it was fairly clear that the Japanese were either losing or giving up Guadalcanal.

After months of fighting … on 23 January 1943 the Papua Peninsula was more or less secured … after scores of company and battalion-sized fights over roadblocks, swamps, individual buildings and other minor terrain features that, in toto, reminds the student of WWII of a  tropical Stalingrad, with less rubble.

In the Southwest Pacific Area, the Domain of Douglas MacArthur (Guadalcanal was in the South Pacific Area, the Domain of Robert Ghormley until William Halsey took over) the Papua peninsula of New Guinea was fought over by American, Australian and other Commonwealth troops beginning in February 1942.  The Japanese were after Port Moresby on the southern coast of the peninsula.  From two different directions they tried to get there.  The first, an amphibious landing, ended with the battle of Coral Sea in May 1942, where the Japanese fleet was turned back.  The second was an overland campaign across the Kokoda Track, which ended in failure in September 1942. As the Australians pushed back along the Kokoda, the Americans and Australians pushed north and west from Milne Bay.  After months of fighting the jungle as well as the Japanese, on 23 January 1943 the Papua Peninsula was more or less secured with the fall of Buna on the north coast, after scores of company and battalion-sized fights over roadblocks, swamps, individual buildings and other minor terrain features that, in toto, reminds the student of WWII of a tropical Stalingrad, with less rubble.

The Torch landings on 8 November 1942 had been anticipated, but when the French defected and Morocco became an Allied base, the Axis position in North Africa was doomed.

On the other side of the world, Commonwealth forces were fighting in a much different climate: the Western Desert.  After Erwin Rommel’s line broke at El Alamein on 4 November 1942, German and Italian forces rolled back as the had before, but this time there was an Anglo-American army on the other end of Africa.  The Torch landings on 8 November 1942 had been anticipated, but when the French defected and Morocco became an Allied base, the Axis position in North Africa was doomed.  By early 1943, the German 90th Light Division was at about half strength but was grimly holding on on the coast road from Egypt west to Tripoli.  Pushing west were the British 51st Division and 7th Armored Division.  Outflanked again and again, the 90th Light left Tripoli on 23 January 1943, a third minor but vital Axis loss on the same day.

The loss of so many men would be nearly impossible for the Nazis to hide, while the samurai leadership could publicly ignore the 25,000 lives that the late 1942-early 1943 campaigns would cost.

After Guadalcanal and Papua, the Allied defense of Australia was fairly secure.  Japan’s big striking force had been decimated, their surface naval force was being frittered away in futile resupply efforts, and their land forces were being bled of leadership and vitality.  At the same time, the Germans in the Mediterranean Basin seemed to be floundering as North Africa was rapidly lost in late 1942 and early 1943.  But more ominously, the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad was nearly finished, as the last flight out of the Cauldron was on 23 January, 1943.  The loss of so many men would be nearly impossible for the Nazis to hide, while the samurai leadership could publicly ignore the 25,000 lives that the late 1942-early 1943 campaigns would cost.

And finally, National Handwriting Day.  Now, you may ask, who in the name of all that’s holy would ever even think of a “handwriting day?”  Well, apparently there’s this outfit called the Writing Instrument Manufacturer’s Association  (I can’t make this stuff up) which, in 1977, declared the anniversary of John Hancock’s birthday (born Braintree, Massachusetts on 23 January 1737) to be National Handwriting Day.  Now, with the current hubbub about schools not teaching cursive anymore, such an observance may be timely.  Frankly, as bad as my handwriting has always been, it’s remarkable that I got as much as I did done as I did (which wasn’t much, but I got by) before the computer could hide my poor penmanship.

 

USS Cairo, USS Panay, SS Normandie, Hovercraft and Keeping Friends after the Election

So today we’re at sea…or at least on the water.  Yes, we know all about Washington DC being established as the US capitol  on 12 December 1800, and the donation of so much swampland in Manhattan for the UN in 1946, even the birth of Stand Watie in 1806 and the Maastricht Treaty in 1991.  Today, we’re afloat.

In June, at Memphis,  Cairo was a part of the largest naval battle fought on the Mississippi.

The lead vessel in the City class ironclad gunboats built on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the Civil War, USS Cairo was built by the Eads firm in Mound City, Illinois. Cairo displaced about 512 tons and was armed with 3 8-inch Dahlgren guns throughout her service, with a number of different rifled smoothbore guns (13 when she was commissioned in January 1862; 12 in November).  Cairo participated in the occupation of Clarksville, Tennessee on the Tennessee river in February 1962, in the occupation of Nashville later in the month, and was on the Mississippi by April, escorting mortar rafts at Fort Pillow. In June, at Memphis,  Cairo was a part of the largest naval battle fought on the Mississippi. In November, Cairo became a part of the Yazoo Pass expedition, an ill-fated attempt to outflank Vicksburg.  On 12 December, 1862, Cairo was sunk by a command-detonated mine, the first warship to ever be sunk by such a device.  Rediscovered in 1956, Cairo was raised in 1965 and is on display at Vicksburg.

In 1937, after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Panay was increasingly called on to evacuate Americans in the path of the oncoming Japanese.

Built on the other side of the world for the US Navy, USS Panay (PR-5) was built at the Kiangnan Dockyard and Engineering Works, Shanghai for Yangtze River service and launched in November 1927.  Panay (named for an island in the Philippines) was armed with a single 3-in main gun and a number of small arms: her only mission was the protection of American citizens, missions and property along the river against the lawless elements that roamed China during her civil war. In 1937, after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Panay was increasingly called on to evacuate Americans in the path of the oncoming Japanese. On 12 December 1937, Panay and a number of other non-Chinese vessels carrying evacuees were attacked by Japanese aircraft above Nanking. Unknown to the Japanese at the time, a number of newsreel photographers on Panay shot the entire incident, right up until the little gunboat sank. The “Panay Incident” became an international sensation, and an embarrassment to the Japanese. Though reparations were paid in the amount of $2.2 million, relations between the US and Japan deteriorated.

A very fast ship that could cross the Atlantic in less than four days carrying more than 1,400 passengers, neither the French nor anyone else wanted Normandie to fall into German hands: the threat of surface raiders alone was compelling enough.

Before 1941, many of the largest European ocean liners had docked in neutral countries.  SS Normandie, an 86,000 ton French liner belonging to the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique out of Le Havre, had been interned in New York on 3 September 1939. A very fast ship that could cross the Atlantic in less than four days carrying more than 1,400 passengers, neither the French nor anyone else wanted Normandie to fall into German hands: the threat of surface raiders alone was compelling enough.  Though her crew stayed aboard and her captain still commanded, she was going nowhere.  On 12 December 1941, five days after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy seized Normandie.  Conversion into a troopship named USS Lafayette commenced almost immediately, but a fire gutted and capsized her at the dockyard.  She was raised and scrapped in 1946.

Though they are considered aircraft by some, the first successful hovercraft (able to travel on water or land) prototype was demonstrated on 12 December 1955 by Christopher Cockerell.

The use of air cushions to make vehicles “float” had its origins in the 1870s, but powerplants were lacking for construction. An “air cushion boat” was built and demonstrated in Austria during WWI, but it died of lack of interest. Though they are considered aircraft by some, the first successful hovercraft (able to travel on water or land) prototype was demonstrated on 12 December 1955 by Christopher Cockerell. At the time the entire concept of a vehicle that traveled on a cushion of air was deemed classified in Britain, so funding had to come from either the Ministry of Defense or nowhere else. But the RAF called it a boat, and the RN called it an airplane, and the British Army simply wasn’t interested.  The idea languished for a short time until MoD realized that if no one in the defense establishment was interested, then it could hardly be a secret.

…there is still reason to find common ground in mutual disgust of the bobbleheads that the political establishment–even those beyond the usual Ds and Rs–seem to be putting up for the sake of friendship.

I have had exchanges with some of my oldest friends (some going back to the days of Nixon) over the consequences of the November election. Though I realize that our politics don’t always align, that doesn’t mean that we can’t find common ground somewhere, at least in shared experience over a lifetime. In all these cases when my interlocutor expresses anguish or anger over the defeat of Clinton,  I found myself condemning all the candidates at being unworthy of our votes as a means of keeping peace: the exercise of a franchise that the world envies, and all too many people either ignore or find to be too tedious to be used.  Putting a pox on all their houses in this way has been surprisingly effective.  None of my more left-leaning friends or even relatives have found any reason to defend either the Greens or the Democrats, other than that, well, they didn’t have Trump on the ticket.  Similarly, no one has any great love for the Republicans, or have considered the Libertarians anything more than a distraction. As much as I believe the American electoral system has been corrupted by both money, favoritism and blatant media biases among other abuses, there is still reason to find common ground in mutual disgust of the bobbleheads that the political establishment–even those beyond the usual Ds and Rs–seem to be putting up for the sake of friendship. Then again, the minute media scrutiny that anyone in the spotlight is subject to is not for everyone.  I do wish that the major media would pay more attention to policy statements than to sound bites; past sins of word, thought and deed; recent gaffes and irrelevant current peccadilloes. Maybe someone, somewhere in some position of influence has never had a speeding ticket, never said anything that would potentially offend a future audience, or changed their minds on any issue, ever. Maybe, but not likely.

Custer and Gall, Jellicoe and Heisenberg and the Monkey Wrench

This week’s musings are a little more esoteric than usual, but there it is.  While we note the birth of Martin Van Buren on 5 December 1782, of Clyde Cessna in 1879, of Walt Disney in 1901, the patenting of nitrocellulose in 1846, and the end of Prohibition in the United States in 1933, today your intrepid researcher chooses some more closely related persons to expound upon…and things like pipe wrenches that your intrepid researcher and consistently failed plumber owns but cannot use.

By the end of the Civil War he was a major general of Volunteers (a strictly wartime rank) and a reputation as one of the boldest cavalry leaders in the Army.

On 5 December 1839 George A. Custer was born in New Rumley, Ohio.  Known variously as Armstrong, Ringlets (for his hair, about which he was quite vain) and Iron Butt (for his stamina in the saddle), Custer graduated at the bottom of his class at West Point (albeit a year earlier than scheduled) and was commissioned a lieutenant in the cavalry in 1861. He distinguished himself with dash and initiative in the Peninsula Campaign in 1862 enough to be brevetted to lieutenant colonel dating from Antietam, and was made a brigadier general of volunteers just before Gettysburg in the summer of 1863, where he led the Michigan cavalry to stop JEB Stuart’s flanking maneuver on 3 July. By the end of the Civil War he was a major general of Volunteers (a strictly wartime rank) and a reputation as one of the boldest cavalry leaders in the Army. After his mustering out, Custer returned to the regular Army at his permanent rank, lieutenant colonel.  For the next decade Custer led the 7th Cavalry on long marches, campaigns and battles primarily with the Sioux in the northern Plains.  His death, with some 200-odd of his troopers at the Little Bighorn on 25 June 1876 has overshadowed the rest of his accomplishments.

After fleeing to Canada for a few years, Gall brought his people back to the United States, surrendered and was sent to the Standing Rock Reservation on the Dakota border.

Very little is known for certain about the early life of Hunkpapa Lakota/Sioux leader known as Chief Gall–who got his name, it is said, after he ate the gall bladder of an animal.  Born around 1840, almost certainly in modern South Dakota, Gall was a war chief by the time he was in his twenties, and was present at the Little Bighorn when Custer met his end.  After fleeing to Canada for a few years, Gall brought his people back to the United States, surrendered and was sent to the Standing Rock Reservation on the Dakota border.  Gall encouraged his people to assimilate to their lot in the white man’s life, and apparently they did for a time. Gall himself converted to Christianity, served as a tribal judge, and died peacefully in his sleep on 5 December, 1894 in Wakpala, South Dakota.  Gall was one of the only Native American chiefs of the Little Bighorn battle to die of natural causes, and ironically on Custer’s birthday.

Jellicoe, called “the only man who could lose a war in an afternoon” because of Jutland, was appointed First Sea Lord after Jutland, and after the war was Governor-General of New Zealand.

On 5 December 1859, John Jellicoe was born in Southhampton, England.  At the age of thirteen Jellicoe entered the Royal Navy, and was in that service for the rest of his adult life.  He was best known as an early advocate of Fisher’s “big gun” battleship and “large cruiser” ideas, resulting in the Dreadnaughts and the Invincible battlecruisers. He was also something of an innovator of naval gunnery, testing early central gun directors. Jellicoe was also the commander of the Grand Fleet, the renamed Home Fleet, at the beginning of World War I and was in charge at the largest naval clash of the Great War, the ambiguous Jutland/Skagerrak battle in late May 1916.  Depending on point of view, Jutland resulted in either a tactical draw, an operational defeat for Britain (who lost more ships), a strategic defeat for Germany (who never sortied the fleet again), and a grand strategic defeat for Tsarist Russia (who was completely cut off from any assistance from her allies).  Jellicoe, called “the only man who could lose a war in an afternoon” because of Jutland, was appointed First Sea Lord after Jutland, and after the war was Governor-General of New Zealand.   Jellicoe died 20 November 1935 in Kensington.

In 1939, Heisenberg was a part of the “Uranium Club,” the German effort to build nuclear weapons.

Werner Heisenberg was born on 5 December 1901 at Wurzburg, which was then a part of Bavaria.  In 1919, though he managed to avoid military service in WWI, he was a member of the Freikorps fighting the Bavarian Socialist Republic. This didn’t seem to have affected his studies: he studied physics in Munich and Gottingen, and met Niels Bohr in June 1922. His work on matrix and quantum mechanics earned him notoriety in the theoretical physics community, earning him a Nobel Prize in physics in 1932. In the early days of the Nazi government, Heisenberg was under examination for his work in “Jewish” (theoretical) physics, but was eventually rehabilitated into the fold of academics on the cutting edge of science. In 1939, Heisenberg was a part of the “Uranium Club,” the German effort to build nuclear weapons. By 1942, Heisenberg told his Nazi masters that 1) nuclear weapons were not possible to produce within the expected timeframe of the war, and 2) they were probably not within Germany’s industrial capacity within that timeframe.  Nuclear research in Germany thereupon switched priorities to energy extraction, which proceeded in fits and starts until the end of the war.  According to postwar interrogations of the leading German nuclear physicists in Allied hands, it seems clear that Heisenberg had miscalculated uranium decay by orders of magnitude, and likely would not have resulted in any practical applications.  Heisenberg died 1 February, 1976, in Munich.  His lasting legacy, it is said, is the “uncertainty principle” which says that a measurement affects the phenomenon.

His 5 December 1876 patent, one of many follow-ons, was for a wrench suitable for both pipe and flat-sided fasteners.  This one wasn’t near as successful, nor near as popular or emulated as his first.  

In the mid-19th century, indoor plumbing was beginning to matter a lot more than it had before.  Cities were growing; the flush toilet made buildings over three stories practical; sanitation was becoming a growing concern.  Threaded pipe, developed sometime between 1850 and 1860, wasn’t easy to tighten and was the only practical way to plumb in tall buildings.  A number of inventors tackled the problem of tightening pipe, but Daniel Stillson, working at the Walworth Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, came up with an innovative idea that took advantage of the relatively soft outside of a steel pipe by gripping it with angled teeth.  Stillson’s first wrench patent, issued 12 October, 1869, shows the familiar outlines of what we have come to call the monkey (for “monkey paw,” an appellation from South African plumbers), pipe, or Stillson wrench ever since.  His 5 December 1876 patent (above), one of many follow-ons, was for a wrench suitable for both pipe and flat-sided fasteners.  This one wasn’t near as successful, nor near as popular or emulated as his first, which made him well-off on royalties.  Stillson was granted a number of other patents over the years, nearly all for something related to pipes or plumbing, including fire apparatus. Stillson died in Somerville, Massachusetts on 21 August 1899. The original Stillson wrench still exists, is said to still work, and its parts are said to be interchangeable with a wrench of similar size manufactured yesterday.  Be that as it may, my wife still won’t let me touch water or gas-carrying pipes with tools, regardless of how much I know about my wrenches. Smart woman.