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Posts Tagged ‘People’

Eugene Bullard

I didn’t learn about Eugene Bullard in school. You probably didn’t, either.

Eugene James “Jacques” Bullard (1895-1961) was the first African-American combat pilot and the only black pilot who fought in World War I. He flew for the French, not the US, and his story is remarkable.

Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, the son of a Haitian father and a Creek mother. He had an especially troubled childhood. He ran away from home regularly, only to endure beatings by his father when he was caught. In 1906, at age 11, he ran away for good and made his way to Atlanta.

There, he fell in with a band of gypsies and tended their horses as they traveled the South. In 1912, at age 17, he stowed away on a German freighter bound for Aberdeen, Scotland. He went to London, where he worked as a boxer and a slapstick performer in a black entertainment troupe.

Bullard first visited Paris in 1913 for a boxing match. He was captivated by the city and resolved to make Paris his home. He wrote years later, “It seemed to me that French democracy influenced the minds of both black and white Americans there and helped us all act like brothers.”

Bullard was 19 when World War I began. He joined the French Foreign Legion and served as a machinegunner in a regiment that fought in the Battle of Verdun, the longest battle of the war. He was seriously wounded twice and was awarded two medals for bravery, including the Croix de Guerre.

His wounds prevented him from further infantry duty, so he applied for, he was accepted into, the French flying service, the Aéronautique Militaire. He attended flight school, got his wings in 1917, and quickly earned a reputation for his courage and skill. He flew 25-plus combat missions, usually with his pet rhesus monkey Jimmy on his shoulder.

The Germans called Bullard “The Black Swallow of Death.” He had two confirmed kills and earned 15 medals.

When the US entered the war, he and other Americans in the Aéronautique Militaire, applied to transfer to the US military. Most were accepted, but Bullard was not because the US did not allow blacks to serve as pilots or aircraft mechanics.

Specifically, US policy was that black soldiers were not intelligent enough to understand aircraft mechanics or to pilot an aircraft. Seriously.

Moreover, under US pressure, the French removed Bullard from aviation duty.

When the war ended and Bullard was discharged from military service, he became part owner of a Paris nightclub, Le Grand Duc. The club became a popular hangout for the rich and famous, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Pablo Picasso, the Prince of Wales, and Ernest Hemingway.

Soon, he opened a second club, and in 1923, he married Marcelle Straumann, the daughter of a French countess. They had a son, who died in childhood, and two daughters. The Bullards were divorced in 1931.

When the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, Bullard quietly joined the French resistance as a spy. By then, he was fluent in German and was able to eavesdrop on unsuspecting German officers, with whom his nightclubs were popular, and who had no idea Bullard spoke German.

Later in 1940, possibly because his ties to the resistance became known, Bullard fled Paris with his two daughters. On the way to Spain, he joined a group of French soldiers defending Orléans and suffered a severe spinal wound. He and his daughters returned to the US, where he recuperated in a New York hospital.

In France, Bullard had been a national hero; in America, he was just another black man. Using a financial grant from the French government, he bought a small apartment in Harlem. Both of his daughters married, and Bullard lived alone.

He never fully recovered from his back injury, and his mobility was restricted. He supported himself by serving as an occasional French interpreter for Louis Armstrong, working as a security guard, and selling perfume. His final job was as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center.

In 1960, while in New York, French President Charles de Gaulle visited Bullard, named him a Knight of the French Legion of Honor, and called him a “true French hero.” Bullard’s achievements were never recognized by the US.

He died in Harlem of stomach cancer in 1961. He was buried in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in Queens and was given full military honors by the Federation of French War Officers.

In 1994, the US Air Force finally gave Bullard official recognition of sorts by giving him a posthumous commission as a second lieutenant.

Why did the US pressure the French government to ground Eugene Bullard, and why did the US government fail to recognize and honor his achievements?

Racism. What else?


Bullard’s French military decorations from WWI and WWII, as displayed in his Harlem apartment.

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The Questions…

1. According to power companies, what is the most frequent cause of power outages on the electrical grid?

2. Who was the first actor to portray James Bond? (Hint: it was not Sean Connery in “Dr. No” in 1962.)

3. What is a moonbow?

4. What’s the difference between apes and monkeys?

5. What neat trick does the State of Ohio use to identify motorists who have been cited more than once for DUI?

The Answers…

1. Squirrels — soon to be deceased squirrels — chewing through insulation.

2. American actor Barry Nelson played Bond in a live TV drama in 1954. The program was an adaptation of “Casino Real” in which Bond was an American spy, not British.

3. A rainbow that occurs at night, often around a waterfall and in the presence of mist. They are difficult to see unless the moon is bright.

4. Apes and monkeys are primates, like you, but apes (gorillas, chimps, orangutans, and gibbons) are higher on the evolutionary scale and thus more intelligent. Whereas monkeys prefer the safety of the treetops, apes spend as much time on the ground as in trees. Apes are larger than monkeys. Monkeys have tails, and apes do not.

5. Repeat DUI offenders are issued a yellow license plate with red characters instead of the standard Ohio plate, which is red, white, and blue. The special plates are a way for police to identify the offenders and, of course, are a form of public shaming.

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In 1989, guns killed about 35,000 Americans, and the band Concrete Blonde releases a song that called out the plague of gun deaths in the United States.

Not much has changed. In 2020, guns killed 41,000 of us. We probably shouldn’t be considered a civilized country.

Concrete Blonde spoke up about problems in society regularly, and I admire them for it. Sad that “God is a Bullet” is still so topical and powerful.

God is a Bullet

By Concrete Blonde, 1989
Written by Johnette Napolitano and James Mankey

There’s a green plaid jacket on the back of the chair.
It’s like a moment frozen forever there.
Mom and Dad had a lot of big plans for their little man.
So proud.
Mama’s gone crazy ’cause her baby’s cut down
By some teenage car chase, war out of bounds.
It was the wrong place, wrong time, wrong end of a gun.
Sad.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
From the hip, y’all.
Shoot.
Gone forever in a trigger slip.
Well, it could have been,
It could have been your brother.


Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
Shoot to kill, yeah.
Blame each other. Well, blame yourself.
You know, God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

They’re gonna call me sir. They’ll all stop picking on me.
Well, I’m a high school grad. I’m over five-foot-three.
I’ll get a badge and a gun, and I’ll join the P.D.
They’ll see.
He didn’t have to use the gun they put in his hand.
But when the guy came at him, well, he panicked and ran.
And it’s 30 long years ‘fore they’ll give him another chance.
And it’s sad, sad. Yes, sad.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
From the hip, y’all.
Shoot.
It’s all gone in a trigger slip.
Well, it could have been,
It could have been your brother.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
Shoot to kill.
You blame each other. Let’s blame ourselves.
You know, God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

Shoot.
Shoot straight.
Shoot.
From the hip, y’all.
Shoot.
Gone forever in a trigger slip.
Well, it could have been,
It could have been your brother.


Shoot.
John Lennon.
Shoot.
Dr. King, yeah,
And Harvey Milk died, and all for goddamn nothing.
God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

God is a bullet.
Have mercy on us everyone.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/god-is-a-bullet.mp3

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My mother, Ann Horne Smith, was a great lady. She was whip-smart — probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever known. She was pretty, funny, vivacious, generous, and a person of great integrity.

And Mom gave her children a gift that is valuable beyond measure. Without fail, Mom judged others by their behavior and character, never — never, ever, ever — by their race, religion, or nationality. The example she set was profound.

This from a woman born in 1921 in rural south Georgia.

Mom cursed like a sailor, but racist and bigoted language was forbidden in our house. When we spoke about someone, she insisted we do it fairly and respectfully.

“Talk about people as if they were in the room,” she would say.

The same rules applied to the students in the Sunday School classes she taught. She scolded many a young girl for gossiping or being racially insensitive.

Mom addressed everyone in the same courteous manner — family, friends, neighbors, tradesmen, store clerks, strangers — regardless of their race or other factor. Mom believed that everyone is entitled to respect, unless and until they demonstrate it is undeserved.

I like to think I absorbed Mom’s lesson. I consider myself to be — I try to be — a fair and unbiased person. To the extent that’s true, I owe it to Mom’s example. I raised my own kids accordingly, and both boys, as well as their kids, show every sign that the lessons were learned.

How Mom turned out the way she did, considering when and where she was raised, I don’t know. My grandmother Leila is the likeliest influence, although she never seemed as outspoken and uncompromising about personal behavior as Mom was.

But maybe I’m not giving Leila enough credit. when Mom was just a few years old, my grandfather Bill Horne walked out, and Leila suddenly was on her own as a single mom. Still, she had the grit to open a beauty salon and operate it through the Great Depression.

Take it from me, folks, it’s crucial to talk to your elders. Have long conversations with them. Pick their brains.

You need to ask the important questions while people are still around to answer them.


Ann Smith (1921-2005)

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Pix o’ the Day

More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● James Madison, the fourth U.S. President, was 5’ 4” tall and weighed just shy of 100 pounds.

● In American English, the letter sequence “ough” can be pronounced eight different ways — namely, as in the words rough, cough, drought, dough, thought, through, thorough, and (even though this is not a common spelling) hiccough.

● The salivary glands in your mouth produce about three pints of saliva per day. The fluid serves as a lubricant and also contains enzymes that aid the process of digestion.

● Tigers have white spots on the backs of their ears that may have evolved to mimic eyes. One theory is that the spots protect the animal from being attacked from behind; tigers are said to be vulnerable when they lower their heads to get a drink of water. That seems like a stretch to me, but what do I know?

● As a teenager, actor Christopher Walken (real name Ronald Walken) worked in a circus as an assistant lion tamer. He also trained at a Washington, DC dance studio and earned money dancing in local night clubs.

● All the letters of the alphabet have one-syllable names except W.

● In the early 1950s, before he began his music career, Johnny Cash wrote several short stories that were not published in his lifetime. One was “The Holografik Danser,” a science fiction story about life after a nuclear attack in which holographic entertainment is beamed into homes. His daughter Rosanne included the story in an anthology in 2001.

● Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a physical education teacher at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. Naismith wanted to create a vigorous indoor sport to keep his students fit during the winter months. Initially, the game was played with a soccer ball, and the hoops were peach baskets.

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Hot Potato

The House of Windsor, the reigning royal family of the UK and the Commonwealth, dates back to 1901, when the son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became King Edward VII, and the reign of the House of Hanover came to an end.

At the time, no “House of Windsor” existed. Albert and Edward were of the “House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,” a German family (or clan, or tribe, or whatever best describes it).

Anyway, starting in 1901, the British royal family was the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. In 1917, due to the understandable anti-German sentiment resulting from WWI, the royal family dropped the House of S-C & G name like a hot potato and renamed itself the House of Windsor.

The name Windsor was chosen because of family ties to the City of Windsor and, of course, to Windsor Castle, the royal residence.

Plus, Windsor is easier to remember and spell than Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.


Coat of Arms of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Problem, Solution

Last year, my little town of Jefferson declared that we have a speeding problem in school zones. Consequently, speed cameras were installed to catch the culprits.

The new automatic system is impressive. It calculates a vehicle’s speed, snaps a photo of the license plate if the vehicle is speeding, looks up the owner, and mails out a ticket.

I was skeptical, frankly, that the speeding problem is real, inasmuch as a speed camera company, Blue Line Solutions, sold the idea to the City Council. (Jefferson has a history of getting involved in hare-brained schemes in hopes of making money.) Blue Line built and operates the system, collects the money, and splits the take 50-50 with the city. A sweet deal, right?

To be fair, the system is quite generous. It won’t ticket you unless your speed is 10 MPH above the posted limit.

For example, in the school zone in front of the high school, which is a mere six blocks from the town square, the speed limit is 45 MPH. You’d have to be rocketing along at 55 MPH to get fined. People don’t drive that fast in town, right?

Au contraire, mes amis. Blue Line is ticketing some 200 speeders a day — 85 percent of them in front of the high school.

If Blue Line were fudging the numbers, people would be in an uproar, furiously protesting their innocence and suing the city. That hasn’t happened. The perps just pay the fines.

I am skeptical no longer.

The Bodélé Depression

Nothing is simple.

The Bodélé Depression in Chad is a bone-dry region on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, created over the last several thousand years as Lake Chad has slowly dried up. The depression consists of silt and sand that, about 100 days per year, is carried aloft and blown west across the continent in massive dust storms.

Because of the dust, the infant mortality rate in West Africa is especially high. In 2020, a study concluded that a 25 percent decrease in the dust would lower the infant mortality rate by 18 percent. Specifically, if irrigation were used to dampen the dust (as is done to Owens Lake in California), Africa would have 37,000 fewer infant deaths annually.

But there’s a catch. Over the eons, Lake Chad teemed with all kinds of plant and animal life — algae, diatoms, fish, and whatnot — and the Bodélé is rich in their remains. The dust that causes such harm in Africa also blows across the Atlantic Ocean, where it is a major source of nutrients for the Amazon rain forest.

Nothing is simple.

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The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

Alexandre Dumas fils*

###

A wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence.

David Hume

###

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of members are poor and miserable.

Adam Smith

###

I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.

Oscar Wilde

Dumas fils

Wilde

* ‘Fils’ is French for ‘son’ and is the equivalent of ‘Jr.’ in English. ‘Père’ is French for ‘father,’ so Alexandre Dumas, Sr. was known as ‘Alexander Dumas père.’

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The Questions…

1. What breed of dog is the speediest?

2. Which state is the flattest, and which is the most mountainous?

3. The three angles in a triangle always add up to how many degrees?

4. When filmmaker George Lucas was in high school, what career did he plan to pursue?

5. What’s the difference between herbs and spices?

The Answers…

1. The Greyhound. In competitive racing, Greyhounds run at up to 45 mph. From a standing start, they can attain top speed in six strides.

2. Florida is the flattest, followed by Illinois, North Dakota, and Louisiana. West Virginia is, on average, the most mountainous. The mountains of Alaska, California, and Colorado are higher, but the valleys and plains in those states lower the average.

3. 180.

4. Young George was obsessed with motorcycles and fast cars, and he wanted to be a professional race car driver. His mind got changed three days before graduation when he barely survived a car wreck and spent months in a hospital. He went to film school instead.

5. Both come from plants, but herbs are from the fleshy, leafy parts, and spices are from dried, woody parts — root, stalk, seed, etc.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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