Monday, May 30, 2011

Dear Madam.............

This was a letter that allegedly written in the Civil War. Historians as normal have argued over various facts of the letter, to include if it is authentic. However most think it is real, but even if it isn't it still conveys the reality of what Memorial Day is all about.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

Thanks Mac, Thanks A Lot 2011.................

Memorial day has come again and for most Americans, it's a holiday that marks the beginning of summer. A weekend dedicated to cook outs, car races and beer consumption.

I no longer bothered by the fact that most of my fellow citizens don't understand what Memorial Day is all about. I keep the holiday in my own way, and support the proper commemoration of it, in anyway that I can. I show respect for the fallen and gratitude for the living, men and women who wear our countries uniform at all times.

I was trying to think of a way that I could express my gratitude and respect for all of our warriors who have fallen, and realized just how limited and weak my writing skills were. I fear that the debt that I as well as the rest of the country owe these men and women can never be repaid.

Earlier this week, I was reading Starship Troopers and I was struck with the idea of certain "rights" being granted to those who had done federal service. I know that a great deal of people don't agree with that philosophy, they think that it smacks of Fascism. To me, it just seems that it is a very fair trade. You put yourself on the line, you have a vested interest in the outcome of things. Believe it or not, American has had a long tradition of this very concept. It has offered accelerated access to citizenship to any who would serve in the military. I can't but help thinking that it speaks well of our country that people would be willing to risk life and limb to become Americans. I can't think of any other country that so many would make that kind of sacrifice for. Our history is full of many such cases, and I would like to share a few of these stories with you.

With the great famine of the 1840's Ireland was almost depopulated with the great Diaspora. The new world opened it's arms to countless immigrants looking for a better life and better opportunities. America was one of the countries that benefited from this, the army recruited heavily from the emigrants. So much so, that the cliche of the Irish cavalry Sgt. in the many western movies that have been made was more fact than cliche. One of these immigrants was Thomas Sweeney. He came to New York with his mother, and adapted to the new world. He joined a militia company which was transferred into federal service for the Mexican War. Sweeney was badly wounded in his right arm at the battle of Churubusco in 1847 which resulted in it's amputation. Most men would have ended their careers at that point, but Sweeney had just started. After the Mexican War, Sweeney stayed in the regular army fighting the Indians of the Plains and eventually serving as a general in the Civil War. Fighting Tom as he was now know fought in the battles of Wilson's Creek, (where he was wounded in the groin)Ft. Donelson, Shiloh (where he was wounded once more)and in the campaigns around Atlanta. Sweeney's military career came to a end when in 1864 he took on two other Federal Army General in a fistfight. According to reports, Fighting Tom gave a fine account of himself considering he only had one arm.

Another Irishman who chose a slightly different path was Patrick Ronayne Cleburne. Cleburne immigrated to Arkansas joining a local militia company also. When Arkansas seceded from the Union, Cleburne cast his lot with his adopted state. He said he would stand with his new friends and country. Cleburne was eventually made a General in the Confederate service. Like Sweeney, Cleburne was a fighting officer who was called "The Stonewall of the West" Robert E. Lee said of Cleburne he was "a meteor shining from a clouded sky". Cleburne also had a larger world view in that he recommended that slaves should be offered their freedom if they were to take up arms to defend the south. His proposal was turned down and his military career was for all intents ended after this. Cleburne was killed in action at the head of his troops at the battle of Franklin, TN. in 1864.

At this same time, another group was trying to find it's place in society. Both free and enslaved African-Americans saw military service as a path to citizenship. Frederick Douglass put into words the thoughts of these bronze warriors:

“The opportunity is given us to be men, With one courageous resolution we may blot out the hand-writing of ages against us. Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U. S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth…which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.”

In the Civil War these Americans proved their valor in the various "colored" regiments and later on, in the 9th and 10th Calvary and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. These men, the legendary Buffalo Soldiers, served in the campaigns against the Indians of the plains and southwest and they also served in supporting the American assault on San Juan Heights in Cuba during the Spanish American War. They were on the right flank of the famous "Rough Riders" and were mentioned by it's commander Theodore Roosevelt due to their bravery in battle.

There was another group who should have been considered more "American" than most. they also strove to prove themselves a part of the nation that they lived in, even though their people had been here long before the creation of the United States. The Indian or Native Americans. Indians have always been a part of our military, particularly when the country was involved in war. From the Navajo code-talkers who developed a unbreakable code that was used in the battle against the Japanese to a Pima Indian named Ira Hayes who was one of the Marines who helped raise the American flag on a black piece of worthless volcanic sand called Iwo Jima, Native Americans have proved their dedication to our country.

The last group that we will look at are the Japanese-Americans. These men were Americans of Japanese ancestry. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a strong backlash against anything Japanese in America. The U.S. government declared most Japanese-American as being 4C (enemy alien) and not subject to the draft. President Roosevelt also signed Executive Order 9066 which allowed the military to remove certain persons from restricted military areas on the west coast. This order did not specifically mention Japanese-Americans, it was used to place over 110,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration camps. Out of these camps came young men trying to prove themselves as patriotic Americans having to fight to join the military so they could go overseas to fight. I don't know what I would do if faced with that same situation, I would have a great deal of trouble fighting for a country that tossed my family and I, into what was a literally a prison just because of the color of my skin or certain facial characteristics. From all the volunteers for service out of these camps the Army organized the 100th Infantry battalion and later the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This combined unit fought in Italy and France becoming the most decorated unit for it's size in the history of the U.S. Military. It's members were awarded 18,143 awards to include 21 Medals of Honor.

So it's these men who I think about when I reflect on Memorial Day. Men who had little reason to join a military of a government that did not even acknowledge their right to be American. The wonder of it all is that these men believed in the American dream and were willing to make a down payment in flesh and blood to insure that dream, if not for themselves, then for future generations. There is no other country in the world that I know of could motivate men in that way with just that idea.

I just am grateful that I live in such a country.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Happy Birthday!!!!!!!!!!

Today is the 104th anniversary of the birth of Marion Mitchell Morrison better known to the public as John Wayne. One of the better actors that Hollywood has ever produced. Mr. Wayne could out act most of the current crop of so called "actors" as well as keeping his mouth shut and not pontificate on current events.

Lord, I wish there were more like him...........

Friday, May 20, 2011


With all the talk of the possible end of time happening tomorrow, I was reminded of something that was said in a conversation with Nancy R.

"Just remember, that there is NO statute of limitations on blasphemy"

It should be interesting.............

Sybil For President..................

O.K. we had the Light Bringer strutting around like the Terminator when he was taking the credit for the mission to take out O.B.L. then he decided to show what a stud he was by trying to take out Gaddafi and speaking out to help overthrow Mubarak.

On the other hand, he doesn't do much of anything about the ongoing turmoil in Syria and does everything he can to toss one of our most faithful allies, Israel under the bus.

The only thing I can figure is that someone needs to boost their medication.

Israel bought that territory with the blood of their people. After the various Arab nations attacked in 1967, the Israeli defense forces counter attacked taking all the areas in question. If THEY choose to give it back, so be it. But if they want to keep it, it's their call. After all they gave up the Gaza Strip for peace and we see how well that's worked out.

The only equivalent would be if in 1945, Great Britain sided up to us and said "Hey you Yanks need to give back Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Guam and Guadalcanal so that the Japanese will play pretty with us in the future.

Idiocy, economy size...........

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Four British Graves.................

For those of you who have never been here, North Carolina offers some of the most beautiful scenery in America. From it's mountains to it's coast, Carolina offers almost everything that anyone could want.

Off our coast, there lies a chain of barrier islands called the Outer Banks. Looking at a map they thrust out into the Atlantic Ocean as if to catch anything sailing up and down the coastline. That is why when hurricane season starts in the Atlantic, we keep a close eye out, just to make sure that we are ready if one comes ashore. Because the gulf stream goes around this area, it is a major shipping rote and sees quite a bit of ship traffic. With it's shifting sand bars and rough currents it was with good reason that the entire area has been known as "The Graveyard of the Atlantic" since the 1700's.

With the banks being separated from the main land by fairly large sounds, the natives of the area lived in a sort of isolation. Talking to the old timers that are still around you can still hear some traces of that isolation in that their accents are more from coastal Elizabethan England rather than coastal North Carolina. Accents that are quickly disappearing because of the homogenization to our language due to the influence of television, radio, and other methods of modern communication. The names of the people of the banks hearken back to seafaring England too. Names such as Aycock Brown, Jack Willis, Arnold Tolson, Amasa Fulcher, Wahab Howard, Harvey Wahab, James Gaskill, Homer Howard and others that sound as if they had been taken from a list of crewmen serving with Drake, Forbisher, or the other ship's captains sailing against the Spanish Armada.

There was a old saying on the banks, that there was two ways of making a living "Fishin' and Coast Guarding" The Coast Guard has had a long and historic record on the Outer Banks beginning with the old Lifesaving Service and continuing with today's modern Coast Guard. Again you can't read a in-depth history of the Coast Guard without reading the name Midgett, another name common on the Outer Banks.

So you had a hard land with a hard people who were used to resting a living from the sea. They had a understanding of the sea and knew that it would kill you if you underestimated it for a second. Then to add to the difficulties of the day to day living, war eventually came to the Outer Banks. During both the First and Second World Wars, German U-Boats, "The Grey Wolves" came to hunt off the shipping lanes. Many days the signs of these great battles would be apparent, heavy oil, wreckage, trash and sometimes bodies washed ashore to mark the beaches and to be discovered by the bankers.

World War II was a particularly bad time for seafarers off the coast of North Carolina. The German Navy knew that the area off the coast of N.C. was a shipping choke point so Admiral Karl Doenitz laid out a plan for a all out assault that he called Operation Paukenschlag or Operation Drumroll or Drumbeat. It started on January 14th 1942. It led to a literal slaughter of ships crew. It was so successful that German sub crews called the first three month of 1942 "The Happy Times" and the "Great American Hunting Season"

The American Navy and it's merchant fleet were not prepared for the war and didn't have the faintest idea how to combat the U-Boats. No convoys, a lack of radio silence, things as simple as using poor quality fuel and allowing the ship's exhaust to be seen, led to ship sinkings. Even more deadly was the fact that large seacoast cities refused to "black out" their lights for fear of losing the tourist trade. This of course, allowed the U-Boat crews to be able to see the silhouettes of target ships against the glow on shore at night.

Out of this chaos the American Navy asked the British Government for assistance in dealing with the menace. The British Navy loaned the U.S. 24 armed antisubmarine trawlers with crews to patrol the coast until the Americans could get up to speed in building it's defenses. Two of these small ships, the H.M.S. St. Zeno and the H.M.S. Bedfordshire were based out of the port of Morehead City. Both these ships were fishing trawlers that had been converted to armed vessels by mounting a single antique deck gun on her forward deck, a few machine guns, depth charge racks and a A.S.D.I.C. system to detect underwater objects. The A.S.D.I.C system was state of the art for 1942 but it did have a Achilles's heel in that it could not detect things on the surface.

On the night of May 11th at around 10:00 P.M. a German U-Boat U-558 started a surface attack on a "silhouette" it's lookouts had spotted. This was the Bedfordshire At 11:40 P.M. the U-558 fired a single torpedo which struck the ship amidships on the port side. The torpedo's explosion was followed almost immediately by a secondary explosion which could have been caused by either the detonation of stored depth charges or the boilers exploding. The Bedfordshire went down almost immediately. There were no survivors.

On May 14th 1942, Coast Guardsman Arnold Tolson and a shipmate were patrolling the beach on Ocracoke Island when he spotted a body in the heavy surf. He recovered the body and headed back to his station. On the way back, he was flagged down by a island native who had spotted another body floating in the surf. Tolson and his shipmate also recovered this body and delivered them to the Ocracoke Coast Guard station. After checking the bodies for I.D. and other documents, the corpses were identified as Sub-Lieutenant Thomas Cunningham, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, and Ordinary Telegraphist Stanley Craig, Royal Navy. Since the tradition on the Outer Banks (where there were no undertakers) as well as with military policy was for rapid burial, the bodies were enclosed in makeshift coffins and buried in land donated by a local family.

About a week later, the same Coast Guardsman, Arnold Tolson was on sea patrol about 4 to 5 miles northeast of the Ocracoke Inlet when he found two more bodies floating in the ocean. The bodies were in such a decomposed condition that it was necessary to slip a stretcher underneath the bodies to recover them. The bodies were wearing the same types of sweaters that were worn by the Royal Navy and also by the Bedfordshire crew members Cunningham and Craig. There was no other identification found on the bodies and the state of decomposition was such that there was no other way that identification could be made. It was decided that the two unknowns were more than likely off the Bedfordshire and they should be buried with their shipmates on Ocracoke Island.

The story could have ended there, but it didn't. The people living on the Outer Banks have struggled with the sea for all their lives and have and understanding and fellowship with others who go to sea. During the war, large numbers of bankers left the islands for job opportunities and to serve in the military and it touched the locals that men had come so far to fight and die for the safety of seamen from our country. There was a hope that if the men from the Outer banks died in the same way that some kind person in a foreign land would do the same for the bankers. The people of Ocracoke took the little cemetery into their hearts and cared for it as if they were their own family members. This care was supplemented by occasional visits from Royal Navy crew members off of ships visiting the U.S. Naval base in Norfolk as well as men from the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1976 the small cemetery was deeded over to the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Care for the graveyard is provided by the U.S. Coast Guard and since this is sovereign British territory a British flag flies over the graves at all times.

The small graveyard is still there today, just as the remains of H.M.S. Bedfordshire still rest on the bottom of the ocean in 120 feet of water, a tomb for the majority of her crew. Every May 11th there is a memorial service with a firing party provided by the Coast Guard on the site of the graves. So these men, who are so far from home, buried in the sandy loam and shaded by the live oaks and yapon of North Carolina are still remembered.

A small brass plated attached to the fence surrounding the graves has the following engraved on it:

If I should die think only this of me
that there's some corner of a foreign
field that is forever England