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Known But to God

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

Tomb-1

The last time I was there — which I am startled to find was 10 years ago — I took a boatload of photos and videos. I like these two pics pretty well.

Tomb-2

Tomb-3

If you’ve been there, you know that seeing Arlington and the Tomb is an emotional experience. God knows, I am a borderline pacifist, with no militaristic tendencies whatsoever. But there’s something about the Tomb — the story behind it, the rituals, the soldiers who guard it — that is genuinely moving.

As you’re probably aware, the Tomb honors fallen American soldiers whose remains were unidentified. How the monument came to be is a fascinating story.

The Unknown Soldier of World War I

The idea originated with a British Army chaplain during World War I. In 1916, he saw a grave with a wooden cross on which was written in pencil “An Unknown British Soldier.”

The chaplain envisioned a monument to honor all British unknowns. His ambition was to inter an unidentified British soldier at Westminster Abbey “amongst the kings” to represent all of the Great War’s unknowns.

He contacted the Dean of Westminster, who gave his full support. In turn, so did the British Prime Minister. The process of selecting a representative unknown soldier began.

In the fall of 1920, four sets of unidentified remains were exhumed from undisclosed battlefields in France. The bodies were placed in identical flag-draped caskets. A ranking general closed his eyes and placed his hand on one of the coffins. The other three coffins were reinterred.

The chosen coffin was transported with great ceremony across France, escorted by French troops and processions of schoolchildren. At the port of Boulogne, the coffin was piped aboard a destroyer and escorted across the Channel by a convoy of battleships.

On November 11, 1920, Armistice Day, the casket was interred inside Westminster Abbey in soil from various French battlefields. One hundred women, each of whom had lost a husband and all of their sons in the war, were the guests of honor.

The grave was capped with black marble, to which was affixed this plate (made of brass melted down from wartime ammunition):

Tomb-4

The United States followed a similar selection process in 1921.

The Army exhumed four sets of remains from American cemeteries in France and placed them in identical caskets.

Sgt. Edward Younger, who had been wounded in battle and earned the Distinguished Service Cross for valor, made the selection by placing a spray of white roses on one of the caskets. (Later, the roses were interred with the casket at Arlington.)

The casket was taken by funeral train through Paris to the port of Le Havre, then by ship to the United States.

On November 9, a procession carried the casket to the Capitol Rotunda, where citizens and dignitaries came to pay their respects.

On November 11, the casket was escorted by five soldiers, two sailors, and a marine to Arlington, where this interment ceremony that took place:

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The Americans chose a simpler inscription for the Tomb than the Brits.

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The Unknown Soldiers of World War II and Korea

In 1958, the remains of several unidentified soldiers who died during World War II were exhumed from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, Hawaii, and The Philippines. From these, two were chosen, one from the European Theater and one from the Pacific Theater, and placed in identical caskets.

Navy Hospitalman William Charette, a Medal of Honor winner, selected the casket that would be interred at Arlington. The second casket was buried at sea with honors.

That same year, four unknowns who died in the Korean War were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for valor, selected the Korean War unknown.

On May 28, the World War II and Korea caskets were taken to Washington, where they lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. On May 30, the caskets were carried by caisson to Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower awarded both unknowns the Medal of Honor, and they were interred beside the World War I unknown.

The Unknown Soldier of Vietnam

The unknown from the Vietnam War was chosen on May 17, 1984, by Marine Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg, a Medal of Honor recipient. On May 28, President Reagan awarded the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam War unknown, and the remains were interred with the others at Arlington.

But a decade later, a glitch surfaced. At one time, the remains of the Vietnam War unknown had been identified tentatively as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie. Because the estimated age and height of the remains did not match Blassie’s, the identification was rescinded.

But by 1998, DNA identification had advanced significantly, and the Blassie family asked the Dept. of Defense to retest the remains. The DoD complied, and testing confirmed that the Vietnam Unknown indeed was Lt. Blassie.

At the family’s request, Blassie’s remains were removed from the Tomb at Arlington and reinterred in Missouri. Further, the decision was made to leave the crypt vacant rather than select another Vietnam Unknown. A marker on the crypt now reads, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”

The Tomb Honor Guard

In 1925, a civilian guard was posted at the Tomb because people were picnicking on the marble slab to take advantage of the view. In 1926, a military guard took over. By 1937, the monument was under 24-hour protection.

Since 1948, the Tomb has been guarded by an elite unit of volunteer Army soldiers. All are members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, which is stationed adjacent to Arlington Cemetery in Fort Myer, Virginia.

Serving as a guard at the Tomb is a high honor. Only 20 percent of volunteers are accepted for training, and only a few ever become Sentinels.

Applicants must be between 5′ 10″ and 6′ 2″ tall, with a waist size no larger than 30″. Guards must commit to two years of service and will live in a barracks under the Tomb. They cannot drink alcohol, on or off duty, or swear in public for the rest of their lives. If they do, or if they disgrace the uniform or the Tomb in any way, they forfeit the coveted Honor Guard lapel pin.

The pin is awarded after a guard has served nine months as a Sentinel. It features an inverted wreath and the figures of Peace, Valor, and Victory.

Fewer than than 675 soldiers have worn the Honor Guard pin; the Astronaut Badge is the only military pin awarded less often.

Tomb-7

The first female Sentinel came on duty in 2001, the fourth in 2017.

For the first six months on duty, a guard cannot talk to anyone or watch TV. Off-duty time is spent studying the lives of the 175 notable Americans buried at Arlington and knowing where they are buried.

The Honor Guard protects the Tomb at all times, 24 hours a day, regardless of weather, following a precise routine. Here are some pertinent facts:

— The soldier on duty marches 21 steps across the front of the Tomb, carrying the rifle on the shoulder away from the Tomb. The gloves are moistened to help grip the rifle.

— On the 21st step, the guard stops and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds. The rifle is switched to the other shoulder, and the guard marches 21 steps in the opposite direction. The 21 is symbolic of a 21-gun salute.

— The Changing of the Guard occurs every 30 minutes during the summer and every hour during the winter.

— The incoming guard is accompanied by the team commander. The outgoing guard reports to the commander that the Tomb is secure, and the new guard takes over.

— The guards wear sunglasses because the white marble reflects the sun.

— They wear shoes with metal plates to accentuate the ritual clicking of heels.

— To protect the marble, the guards march on a 63-foot rubber mat. The mat is replaced twice a year.

— While on duty (the soldiers call it “walking the mat”) the guards remove insignia that identifies their rank. This is so they will not outrank the interred soldiers, whose ranks are unknown.

— A team of guards works 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off duty, for five days. Then they have four days off while another team takes over.

— The guards spend an average of six hours a day preparing their uniforms.

In addition to their ceremonial duties, the guards protect the Tomb, prevent anyone from touching or approaching the monument, and confront tourists who are loud or disrespectful.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/it-is-requested.mp4

So, mind your manners, buster.

 

Tunes o’ the Day

In 1958, the Kingston Trio’s recording of “Tom Dooley” gave the folk music craze a healthy boost.

The song is a solid, musically-pleasing folk ballad, and the subject (murder, hanging) made it stand out from most popular music of the time. Moreover, the tune is tantalizingly simple and only hints at the events in question.

FYI, Tom Dooley met a young woman, allegedly stabbed her to death, was apprehended because of someone named Grayson, and faced the gallows the next day.

The song may be lean, but the story behind it is detailed, lurid, and sensational.

“Tom Dooley” is based on the saga of a former Confederate soldier who was convicted and hanged for the 1866 murder of Laura Foster in Wilkes County, North Carolina. His name was Thomas C. Dula, pronounced “Dooley” in the local dialect.

The tale involved Tom, three women, much hanky-panky, and the fact that all four were being treated for syphilis. Some say the real murderer was one of the women, and Tom went to the gallows out of love for her. Grayson? He was a Tennessean who helped the posse catch Tom.

Not long after Dula’s execution, Thomas Land wrote a poem, “The Murder of Laura Foster,” that seems to be the source of the song. The origin of the music is unknown. You can Google “Tom Dula” for more.

The Kingston Trio version earned accolades aplenty — number one rated, chosen one of the Songs of the Century, and so on. I also like the funkier Steve Earle version from 2002, which added some additional details about the murder from Tom.

Here are both versions.

Kingston Trio

Tom Dooley

By the Kingston Trio, 1958
Based on a poem by Thomas Land

Throughout history, there have been many songs written about the eternal triangle. The next one tells the story of a Mr. Grayson, a beautiful woman, and a condemned man named Tom Dooley. When the sun rises tomorrow, Tom Dooley must hang…

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley,
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley,
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

I met her on the mountain. There I took her life.
Met her on the mountain. Stabbed her with my knife.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

This time tomorrow, reckon where I’ll be.
Hadn’t o’ been for Grayson, I’d o’ been in Tennessee.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

This time tomorrow, reckon where I’ll be.
Down in some lonesome valley, hangin’ from a white oak tree.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.
Poor boy, you’re bound to — die.

Earle Steve

Tom Dooley

By Steve Earle, 2002
Traditional lyrics embellished by Earle

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

I met her on the mountain.
I said she’d be my wife.
I met her on the mountain.
Stabbed her with my knife.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

I drug her to the river,
As God Almighty knows.
The man beside the water
Hid her shoes and clothes.

I dug her grave four foot long.
I dug it three foot deep.
I threw the cold clay on her,
Tramped it with my feet.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound — poor boy you’re bound to die.

By this time tomorrow,
Reckon where I’ll be:
Down there in that hollow
Hangin’ from a tree.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound to die.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.
Poor boy, you’re bound — poor boy, you’re bound to die.

Yeah, that sounds like a phonograph record to me. That one right there.

 

The Toaster

Here is a delightfully eccentric science fiction story that, as far as I can determine, first appeared online about a decade ago. The author is from Yorkshire, England, attended Cambridge University, and aspires to write fiction professionally.

Fiction of the humorous and quirky variety, I assume.

———

Professor Panini

By Matthew Grigg
Published online circa 2010

Before my many years’ service in a restaurant, I attended a top science university. The year was 2023 and I was finishing the project that would win me my professorship. In the end, it resulted in my becoming a kitchen employee.

My forty-second birthday had made a lonely visit the week before, and I was once again by myself in the flat. Like countless other mornings, I ordered a bagel from the toaster.

‘Yes, sir!’ it replied with robotic relish, and I began the day’s work on the project. It was a magnificent machine, the thing I was making — capable of transferring the minds of any two beings into each other’s bodies.

As the toaster began serving my bagel on to a plate, I realised the project was in fact ready for testing. I retrieved the duck and the cat — which I had bought for this purpose — from their containers, and set about calibrating the machine in their direction. Once ready, I leant against the table, holding the bagel I was too excited to eat, and initiated the transfer sequence. As expected, the machine whirred and hummed into action, my nerves tingling at its synthetic sounds.

The machine hushed, extraction and injection nozzles poised, scrutinizing its targets. The cat, though, was suddenly gripped by terrible alarm. The brute leapt into the air, flinging itself onto the machine. I watched in horror as the nozzles swung towards me; and, with a terrible, psychedelic whirl of colours, I felt my mind wrenched from its sockets.

When I awoke, moments later, I noticed first that I was two feet shorter. Then, I realised the lack of my limbs, and finally it occurred to me that I was a toaster. I saw immediately the solution to the situation — the machine could easily reverse the transfer — but was then struck by my utter inability to carry this out.

After some consideration, using what I supposed must be the toaster’s onboard computer, I devised a strategy for rescue. I began to familiarise myself with my new body: the grill, the bread bin, the speaker and the spring mechanism.

Through the device’s rudimentary eye — with which it served its creations — I could see the internal telephone on the wall. Aiming carefully, I began propelling slices of bread at it. The toaster was fed by a large stock of the stuff, yet as more and more bounced lamely off the phone, I began to fear its exhaustion.

Toasting the bread before launch proved a wiser tactic. A slice of crusty wholemeal knocked the receiver off its cradle, and the immovable voice of the reception clerk answered. Resisting the urge to exclaim my unlikely predicament, I called from the table: ‘I’m having a bit of trouble up here, Room 91. Could you lend a hand?’

‘Certainly, sir. There’s a burst water pipe on the floor above, I suppose I’ll kill two birds with one stone and sort you out on the way.’

The clerk arrived promptly, leaving his ‘caution, wet floor’ sign in the corridor. He came in, surveying the room in his usual dry, disapproving fashion. I spoke immediately, saying I was on the intercom, and requested that he simply press the large button on the machine before him. ‘This one, sir?’ he asked, and before I could correct him, the room was filled with a terrible, whirling light, and he fell to the ground.

A minute later he stood up again, uncertainly, and began moving in a manner that can only be described as a waddle. The duck, meanwhile, was scrutinising the flat with an air of wearied distaste. I gazed at the scene with dismay.

Suddenly an idea struck the clerk, and with avian glee he tottered towards the window. I spluttered a horrified warning to no avail. He leapt triumphantly from the balcony, spread his ‘wings’ and disappeared. I would have wept, but managed only to eject a few crumbs.

***

Hours of melancholy calculation and terrible guilt gave no progress, and left me with a woeful regret for the day’s events. Determined not to give up hope, I began to burn clumsy messages into slices of bread, and slung these desperate distress calls through the window. I sought not only my own salvation, but also to account for the bizarre demise of the clerk, who must no doubt have been discovered on the street below. I soon found my bread bin to be empty, and sank again into a morose meditation.

A large movement shocked me from my morbid contemplation. Before me, having clambered up from the floor, stood my own body. It regarded me with dim cheer.

‘I have been upgraded,’ it announced in monotone. The room was silent as I struggled to cope with this information. Then:

‘Would you like some toast?’

The truth dawned on me, and I wasted no time in seeing the utility of this revelation. I informed the toaster, which was now in control of my body, that I wished it to fetch help. It regarded me warily, then asked if I would like that buttered. Maintaining patience, I explained the instruction more thoroughly. I watched with surreal anticipation as my body of forty-two years jerked its way out of the flat. It rounded the corner, and there was a hope-dashing crash. It had tripped up on the ‘caution: wet floor’ sign. To my joyous relief, however, I heard the thing continue on its way down the corridor.

Minutes passed, then hours. I entertained myself flicking wheat-based projectiles at the cat. On the dawn of the third day, I concluded that the toaster had failed in its piloting of my body, and that help was not on its way. Gripped by the despair of one who must solve the puzzle of toaster suicide, I resigned myself to my fate.

Pushed on by a grim fervour, I began igniting the entire stock of bread. As the smoke poured from my casing, and the first hints of deadly flame flickered in my mechanisms, I began the solemn disclosure of my own eulogy.

Suddenly the fire alarm leapt into action, hurling thick jets of water across the flat, desperate to save its occupants. A piercing wail erupted from all sides, and a squabbling mixture of annoyance, relief and curiosity filtered into my mind.

***

Once the firemen had visited and deactivated the alarm, I was identified as the fault, unplugged and hauled away to a repair shop. The staff there, finding nothing to remove but a faulty speech chip, apparently put me up for sale. I only know this because, on being reconnected to the mains, I found myself in a shiny, spacious kitchen.

Missing my electronic voice, I could only listen to the conversation of the staff, discussing the odd conduct of their new cook. The end of their hurried discussion heralded his arrival. I gazed at the door in silent surrender, as my body stepped proudly onto the premises, displaying its newly designed menu. At the top of the list I could discern ‘Buttered bagel.’

Panini

Original illustration for the story by Christine McMullen.

 

War Stories

As I’ve documented often on this blog, my dad was a bomber pilot during World War II. In 1944, his B-24 was shot down after a bombing raid, and he was captured and imprisoned in Bulgaria.

Dad’s two brothers also served, and, by the grace of God, all three survived the war. The night they were reunited in Savannah, they talked into the wee hours about their experiences.

But after that, the subject largely was closed. Except for occasional anecdotes about the good memories, they rarely talked about the war.

The only detailed accounting Dad gave about being a POW came in 1984, when, one evening in Savannah, his sister Betty got him to open up.

It was just the two of them. Dad talked for a long time and in great detail. After he went to bed, Betty stayed up and documented what Dad told her while it was fresh in her mind.

This is her typewritten account.

———

July 21, 1984

As told to me by Walter Anthony Smith, Jr.

Shot down June 23, 1944 — Prisoner of War in Bulgaria

Stationed in Italy — Flying a B-24 Liberator (4 engine bomber)

United States Air Force

Returning from a raid over Ploesti, Romania oil fields, his plane was shot down. After being captured, was imprisoned in Shumen, Bulgaria. (Shumen also called Kolarovgrad)

When he bailed out, he fell several thousand feet before he located the rip-cord, due to the fact that in his haste and excitement, his parachute was upside down and the rip-cord was on the opposite side from where it should have been.

When he landed in the mountains, he hit his head on a rock and was knocked out. When he came to, a peasant woman was looking down at him, probably thinking he was dead. When he opened his eyes, she ran away screaming.

At that time Walter ran, trying to find a place to hide and hoping to contact the underground. The woman must have told the military where she found the American, because about 100 soldiers formed a huge ring around the area.

As they closed in, they kept firing their weapons, trying to make Walter surface. As the circle grew smaller, they stopped firing because they could hit their own men. They continued closing in until they found him hiding in the brush.

The soldiers beat him terribly with their rifle butts in the back, head and all over. When he was down, they all urinated on him and took him to their commander.

The commander placed his pistol on the table and threatened to kill Walter if he did not reveal military information, but Walter refused to talk. He reminded the commander about his rights as a prisoner of war and that he could not be killed after he was captured.

All the men in Walter’s aircrew survived the jump and were captured and brought to Shumen.

Shumen was the only prison in Bulgaria for all Allied prisoners. It held over 300 men from 12 Allied countries. Walter was the highest-ranking officer, being a Major at the time, so he took command.

His first job was the get the men organized and come up with a survival plan. They only had black bread and watery soup to eat and about one glass of water a day for all purposes. They could hear water pouring over a waterfall nearby, but could not have enough to drink, bathe and wash bandages. Walter’s weight went down to 120 pounds while he was in prison.

As the Russians drew closer, Bulgaria was in turmoil. Many wanted to change sides. Some of the guards had deserted their posts. A group of Bulgarians who were Allied sympathizers, mostly educated at the American University in Sofia, slipped guns to Walter and the prisoners. They overpowered the remaining guards and took over the prison.

They commandeered a freight train and held the crew at gunpoint while the 300 prisoners got on board for the trip to Turkey and freedom. (A movie “Von Ryan’s Express” was based on this story.)

Walter turned command over to his deputy, an English officer, and flew with the friendly Bulgarians to Sofia, where he was given papers vital to the war. They included information about the locations of the enemy, all about their supplies, positions and movements, as well as the names of the prisoners and what had been done to them. Walter was told to take the papers to the Allied authorities.

They took Walter to the airport and gave him a plane so he could join his men in Turkey. He flew low because the plane had German markings, and he was afraid he would be shot down if the Allies saw him. He followed the railroad tracks for a long way and his plane was giving out of gas.

He frantically tried to find a button or switch that might turn on an auxiliary gas tank, but everything was written in German. While looking down for a place to land, he noticed a handle under his seat. He turned it, and it was the proper handle to switch to the auxiliary gas tank.

He flew as far as he could and landed in a cornfield near Svilengrad, Bulgaria just short of the Turkish border. He was captured again and locked up by Bulgarians who this time treated him well. They contacted the American consulate in Istanbul, who came the next day. Walter was released and went to Istanbul with the consulate.

When the train carrying the prisoners arrived in Istanbul, Walter and the embassy representative were there to meet them. The men were taken to hospitals and treated, some remaining there. 36 of them were on stretchers.

The Turks prepared fried chicken, fruits and vegetables for the men. Not having eaten in such a long time, they all got sick, but appreciated the efforts.

After receiving wonderful baths and resting, the men continued their train trip through Turkey, then around the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt. After 4 days they were back in Italy.

Gen. Nathan Twining received the intelligence from Walter and ordered bombing of the vital points that really hastened the end of World War II in that area. Gen. Twining recommended Walter for the Legion of Merit, our country’s third highest award. Gen. Ira C. Eaker also awarded Walter the Bronze Star.

Walter broadcast from Rome over the National Broadcasting Company’s news program (Max Hill being the reporter) and told about being a prisoner and now released. Although Mother, Daddy and I always listened to the eleven o’clock news, this night we did not. We did not know anything about Walter except that he was missing, so would have been thrilled to hear him speak.

The next morning, Lillian Mynatt, a distant relative, called and told Mother that she heard this program, and she knew it was Walter because he was described as a Major from Savannah, Ga. and she recognized his voice.

Within a few days we heard that he was freed. The newspapers all over the country and the Stars and Stripes had articles about the story. (See scrapbooks)

After staying in the hospital a month with pneumonia, malnutrition and filth sores, Walter was sent back to Bulgaria with an intelligence team to identify war criminals. Some were sent to Nuremberg, Germany for trial, some were turned over to the Russians and a captured German general hanged himself in jail rather than be tried.

When Walter returned to Bulgaria, the men lived in 2 beautiful homes. Quite a change from the prison. The trip was not without danger. The Americans were fired on many times by snipers who were still Nazis.

After the mission in Bulgaria was completed, Walter came home on leave in January, 1945. Mother and all of us did not open our Christmas gifts until he came home. He went to Macon to get Ann and Rocky, then they came to Savannah.

No need to say how grateful we are not to have lost him, as well as Allan and John who were in the service and have many stories to tell.

———

Tom Brokaw called the generation of my parents “the Greatest Generation.” They were born during the Great Depression, had World War II thrust upon them, and shaped the era of growth and prosperity that followed.

I read an article recently that said four factors created “the greatest generation.”

First, that generation of men and women experienced seismic changes. The world changed radically as they matured. And they coped with and adapted to the Depression, the war, and the good times that followed with dignity and grace.

Second, their experiences instilled in them a strong work ethic.

Third, they learned to be frugal. They found ways to deal with scarcity, to think creatively, to make do.

Fourth, from the men at the front lines to their families back home, they had a strong sense of duty and were willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

It added up to a generation noted for grit and strength of character. All my life, I saw it in my parents and aunts and uncles and their contemporaries.

It’s hard to say whether the generations that followed didn’t measure up, or, never having to face the same level of challenges, simply weren’t called upon to prove themselves.

All I know is, thanks to the Greatest Generation, the rest of us had it easy.

War stories-1

Dad (center front) and the crew of his B-24 at their base in Italy. Taken in early June 1944.

War stories-2

Dad (left) at the Officers Club in Italy after the train ride to freedom.

War stories-3

The Smith brothers, Walter, Allan, and John, back in Savannah in January 1945.

War stories-4

Dad and Betty before the war.

 

Quotes o’ the Day

A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed, I well know. It is a sign that he tried to surpass himself.

Georges Clemenceau

###

Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless. Knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.

— Samuel Johnson

###

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.

— Seneca the Younger

###

Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Clemenceau

Clemenceau

Emerson RW

Emerson

 

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Why does aluminum foil have a dull side and a shiny side? Because the foil is milled two layers at a time, in contact with each other to prevent the sheets from breaking. The dull side is where the two layers were in contact, the shiny side is where they were not. Which side of the foil is facing in or out doesn’t matter; both sides perform the same.

In 1900, John Wesley Haynes founded Shamrock Knitting Mills in Winston, North Carolina. In 1901, his older brother Pleasant Henderson Haynes established P. H. Haynes Knitting Company in the same city. The two companies operated independently until they merged in 1965. Today, its trendy corporate name is HanesBrands, Inc.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1930 by Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose family finally subdued the other Bedouin tribes in the region. Abdulaziz died in 1953, and six of his sons in succession have reigned as king.

Humans have lived in what is now Saudi Arabia for 20,000 years, existing in isolation and obscurity with two exceptions: in the 7th Century, Islam arose there; and in the 20th Century, vast oil deposits were discovered, making the Al Saud family head-spinningly rich and powerful.

The party game Twister, in which people become the playing pieces on a plastic mat, was introduced in 1966. Sales were poor until the Milton Bradley PR people arranged for Johnny Carson to demonstrate Twister on the Tonight Show. The next day, demand skyrocketed.

Twister was named “Game of the Year” in 1967. In 2015, it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

twister

The Hundred Years’ War (England vs. France) began on May 24, 1337, and ended on October 19, 1453 — which is 116 years, four months, three weeks, and four days.

France won. As a result, England had to give up all claims to land on the continent. Civil war erupted in England over who was to blame and, of course, who would control the throne.

That civil war was the War of the Roses, which lasted from May 22, 1455, until June 16, 1487 — which is 32 years, three weeks, and four days.

The last Hollywood movie to be released in VHS format was A History of Violence in 2006.

The breakfast cereal Wheaties dates back to 1921. In 1927, General Mills adopted the slogan “Wheaties — The Breakfast of Champions” to link its marketing to sports figures. The first athlete pictured on a Wheaties box was Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees in 1934.

For years, the photos were printed on the back or a side panel of the box. Not until the 1950s did the photos appear on the front of the carton.

The first cartoon series made specifically for television was Crusader Rabbit in 1950. The program aired for two years in black and white and was revived from 1956 to 1959 in color. One of the creators was Jay Ward, who went on to produce the Rocky and Bullwinkle animated series.

crusaderrabbit

The father of Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” is Homer Groening, usually thought to be the namesake of Homer Simpson. However, Matt claims Homer is named for a character in “The Day of the Locust,” a 1939 novel by Nathanael West. The Homer Simpson in the novel is a slow-witted Iowa accountant who moved to California for health reasons.

The White Sands region in southern New Mexico, 275 square miles of which is protected as White Sands National Monument, is the world’s largest deposit of sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals.

Gypsum is water-soluble, and in most places, it is dissolved by rain and washed downstream to the sea. However, the White Sands formation is located in the Tularosa Basin, which has no outlets. Thus, the rainwater evaporates, perpetually leaving the gypsum deposits behind.

The paint that covers the exterior of the White House in Washington is “Whisper White” exterior paint by Duron. When the White House was renovated in 1992, 32 layers of old paint were removed. The repainting required 570 gallons of Whisper White.

Gene Simmons, co-founder of the rock group Kiss, was born Chaim Witz in 1949 in Haifa, Israel. His parents divorced when he was eight, and his mother took him to New York City, where he changed his name to Eugene Klein, Klein being his mother’s maiden name.

The other original members of Kiss are Paul Stanley (real name Stanley Bert Eisen), Peter Criss (George Peter John Criscuola), and Ace Frehley (Paul Daniel Frehley).

kiss

 

Beebleberries

I’m a big fan of trivia, miscellanea, and minutiae. I enjoy coming across facts that pique my interest and make me think, wow, I didn’t know that, or wow, I forgot about that.

This predilection for random interesting stuff goes way back. A case in point:

During the 1970s, I lived in Fort Lauderdale, and for most of those years, I worked at the Chamber of Commerce in Hollywood, the city next door.

The staff numbered about half a dozen, both sexes, ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-30s. It was a good bunch, except for the boss, who was a petty tyrant and a self-serving jerk.

Being the office wordsmith and a trivia nut, I began the practice of issuing a weekly quiz of trivia questions for my office mates. I would distribute a list of five questions one day and the answers the next. The quizzes were quite a hit.

I drew the questions from the popular culture of the time. Specifically, the trivia reflected the experiences of people my age, who were born in the 1940s and grew up in the 1950s and 1960s.

Being compulsive when it comes to documenting things, and being loath to throw anything away, I kept many of those quizzes. Today, they stand out as dated curiosities, but interesting just the same.

Here is a sampling.

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Questions:

1 – How would Elmer Fudd say “A rabbi from Lubbock”?
2 – What rivals both claim to possess the world’s largest ball of string?
3 – “Don Diego” is the real identity of whom?
4 – Who is Ming the Merciless?
5 – Describe Beany, Cecil, and Dishonest John.

Answers:

1 – Elmer pronounces his Rs and Ls as Ws, so he would say, “A wabbi from Wubbock.”
2 – Scrooge McDuck and his archenemy Flintheart Glomgold.
3 – Zorro.
4 – Flash Gordon’s nemesis.
5 – A little boy wearing a propeller beanie, a green dragon, and a mustachioed villain in black.

beany and cecil

Questions:

6 – In the stories told by Little Lulu, what did The Little Girl gather in the forest?
7 – Who were Corporal Barbella and Private Doberman?
8 – Who was the strong man on “The Big Top”?
9 – On the radio version of “Gunsmoke,” how did Marshall Dillon say the job affected him?
10 – What trio performed often on Ernie Kovaks’ TV show? What poet did Ernie portray?

Answers:

6 – Beebleberries, which are a cross between bananas and Spam.
7 – Soldiers who worked for Sgt. Bilko at the Fort Baxter motor pool.
8 – Dan Lurie, aka “Circus Dan the Muscle Man.”
9 – He said it makes a man watchful, and a little lonely.
10 – The Nairobi Trio and Percy Dovetonsils.

nairobi trio

percy d

Questions:

11 – Who were Tantor and N’kima?
12 – Who was Little Iodine’s father, and who did he work for?
13 – To become as small as her dog Sniffles, Mary Jane called upon “the magic words of ___.”
14 – What was the name of Sky King’s airplane?
15 – How did Commando Cody get around?

Answers:

11 – Tarzan’s favorite elephant and monkey.
12 – Her father was Henry Tremblechin, and he worked for Mr. Bigdome.
13 – “Poof Poof Piffles.”
14 – The Songbird.
15 – Via his rocket-powered flying suit.

commando cody

Questions:

16 – What was Superman’s name on the planet Krypton?
17 – Who were Knobby Walsh and Ann Howe?
18 – Who were Bullet and Buttermilk?
19 – Who was Wild Bill Hickok’s sidekick on TV?
20 – Who used the exclamation “Kowabunga!” on the Howdy Doody Show?

Answers:

16 – Kal-El, son of Jor-El.
17 – The boxing manager and the girlfriend of Joe Palooka.
18 – Roy Rogers’ dog and Dale Evans’ horse.
19 – Jingles P. Jones, played by Andy Devine.
20 – Chief Thunderthud.

chief thunderthud

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Kowabunga, dudes.