In the Fifties actor Audie Murphy achieved stardom, mainly in Westerns. Murphy looked like a typical Hollywood “pretty boy” but he was anything but. From a family of 12 in Texas, Murphy had dropped out of school in the fifth grade to support his dirt poor family after his worthless father ran off. His mother died in 1941. In 1942 he enlisted in the Army at 17, lying about his birthday, partially to support his family and partially because he dreamed of a military career. He served with the Third Infantry Division in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. By the end of the war, before his 21st birthday, (it is possible that he was only 19 at the time as his older sister Corrine may have added two years to his birth certificate in order to help him get in the Army) he was a First Lieutenant and had earned, in hellish combat, a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, a French Legion of Honor, a French Croix de Guerre, a Belgian Croix de Guerre, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts. He was the most decorated soldier of the US Army in World War 2. Here is his Medal of Honor Citation and which helps explain why Murphy entitled his war memoir, To Hell and Back: (more…)
Larry Lynch was born, the first of 12 kids in his family, in the City Line neighborhood of Brooklyn on October 17, 1906. He grew up on some pretty tough streets while also serving as an altar boy at Saint Sylvester’s. He came to greatly admire the Redemptorists, an order of missionary priests founded by Saint Alphonsus Liguori in 1732. In America the order had distinguished itself by its work in some of the roughest slums in the country and thus it was small wonder that a tough street kid would be attracted to them. Larry Lynch was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist Order in 1932.
His initial assignment was as a missionary priest in Brazil, in the parishes of Miranda and Aquidauana in the State of Mato Grosso, quite a change from Brooklyn! In 1937 he served at Old Saint Mary’s in Buffalo, New York with mission assignments to Orangeburg, North Carolina and Ephrata, Pa.
Prior to Pearl Harbor, in September 1941, Father Lynch enlisted in the Army as a chaplain. He served at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, Fort Polk, Lousiana, and in the Mojave Desert in California with the 31rst regiment of the 7th Armored Division. In December 1943 he was sent overseas to New Caledonia in the Southwest Pacific.
Assigned initially to the 42nd Quarter Master Battalion in Noumea, Captain Lynch quickly began making himself unforgettable. The commander of the outfit was Lieutenant Colonel Julius Klein, a remarkable man in his own right who had served as an American spy in Germany during World War I. Klein, to his astonishment, found himself agreeing that he and all the staff officers in the battalion would be at Christmas Mass that evening, although he wondered what a Jew like him would be doing at a Catholic Mass! Father Lynch had that type of effect on people, his enthusiasm tended to overwhelm all opposition. He decided that the chapel was too small for the Mass and it was held in the base amphitheater. The amphitheater filled to capacity, the Christmas carols at the Mass were led by a soldier named Goldstein, a great tenor, who Father Lynch had met on the troop transport. Father Lynch explained the priest’s vestments prior to beginning for the benefit of the non-Catholics present:
“Father Stearns of the Navy will celebrate the Mass. Before he begins, there’s a lot even Catholics should know and I’ll bet a nickel there are some right here who couldn’t explain why a priest wears all those vestments, for example. Well, it’s time we all knew why and it won’t hurt you non-Catholics to know either.”
“Father Stearns will begin to put on his vestments, and while he does, well talk about them a little. First, as to the why. Every one of them is a symbol, a symbol of service to God.”
He picked up the amice and held it high. “This, for example. It’s just a piece of linen, and it is called an amice: A-M-I-C-E. Jesus was blindfolded, and the amice represents that blindfold. Okay, Father.”
He extended the amice to Father Stearns who put it on.
“Herod placed a garment on Jesus to make a fool of Him. You remember that. This white robe white to signify purity is an alb: A-L-B, and the alb is symbolic of that garment. Incidentally there are six colors used by the church and each one of them is significant: white for purity and joy, red for blood and fire, green is the symbol of hope, violet for penance. . . .”
The Mass had a huge impact on everyone present, and Colonel Klein announced that he was glad he came. (more…)
A voice from 115 years ago. The campaign of 1896 was a study in contrasts. William Jennings Bryan, the Democrat candidate for President, was the premier orator of his day, and during the campaign he barnstormed across the nation, giving over 600 speeches. As the video indicates, McKinley was not an orator. McKinley stayed close to home, conducting a front porch campaign, and gave speeches to supporters brought to his home to hear him speak.
Mark Hannah, McKinley’s campaign manager, put together one of the most effective Presidential campaigns in American history, outspending Bryan’s campaign by a stunning 12-1, and flooding the nation with pamphlets, flyers, pro-McKinley parades and surrogate speakers for McKinley. On election day McKinley crushed Bryan, 271-176 in the electoral college, ushering in a period of Republican political dominance, which, with the exception of Wilson’s two terms in the White House, would last until 1932. (more…)
A few weeks after he gave a Fourth of July speech in 1903 in Huntington, New York, during the 250th anniversary year of that town, Colonel Roosevelt (That is the title by which he liked to be addressed, being proud of his service with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. He despised being called Teddy.) addressed the Holy Name Society on August 16, 1903. Note his appeal to men and boys to lead good and moral lives and to give full expression to the masculine virtues of courage and fortitude. Today of course the speech would be denounced as sexist, moralistic, Christianist and you can write the remainder of the list for yourself. Such complaints would be the sheerest rubbish. Men and boys need precisely this type of message if they are going to be a positive force in society and to be good husbands, fathers and sons. Too many churches tend to ignore giving this type of message and society has suffered greatly as a result. Here is the text of the speech: (more…)
The battle of Camden, August 16, 1780, was a humiliating defeat for the Americans. Led by General Horatio Gates, a former British officer, 3700 Americans, more than half of them militia, were defeated by 1500 British regulars and 600 Loyalist militia. 900 Americans were killed and wounded, and a thousand Americans captured, compared to a British loss of 68 killed and 250 wounded. Most of the American militia ran at the opening of the battle and Gates fled with them, riding his horse 60 miles to Charlotte, North Carolina. Gates, thankfully, was never given a field command again. His blundering had thrown away the only major American regular military force remaining in the South. It was a disaster for the Americans and a humiliating one.
The one bright spot in this fiasco was the heroism of General Johann de Kalb and the Maryland and Delaware Continentals he led. Born in 1721 into a family of peasants, de Kalb managed the incredible feat in Eighteenth Century Old Regime France of rising due to sheer ability to the rank of Brigadier General and entered the ranks of the nobility as a baron. He first became familiar with America in 1768: serving as a French spy he traveled throughout the colonies to determine the level of dissatisfaction of the colonists with British rule. He grew to sympathize with the Americans. He came back to America with Lafayette in 1777, becoming a Continental Major General. (more…)
I am sure it will come as little surprise to the faithful readers of this blog to learn that in my spare time I like to play computer wargames. The games that I play tend to be historically accurate grand strategic recreations of wars of the past. One of my favorites is Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States by Matrix Games. Gary Grigsby is near legendary among computer war gamers for his game designs of computer wargames going back into the early eighties. His designs are noted for both their historical accuracy and their complexity and they are not for the faint of heart. However, for those who take the time to master them, his games can not only give an enjoyable gaming experience, but also insights into conflicts, as one learns such lessons as the impact of supplies on military movements, the impact on a War of an able commander, raising troops, keeping up civilian morale, the effect of taking high losses among veteran units, etc. To someone who truly enjoys military history as I do, they can be a real intellectual feast. (more…)
Something for the weekend. Hands down the favorite song of the troops during the Spanish-American War was the ragtime hit There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Time Tonight. This presented something of a generational music gap as most of the older officers were used to the more sedate melodies of the earlier Nineteenth Century, but most of the men in the ranks and the younger officers were more attuned to ragtime and its syncopated style. (more…)
Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.
Pope Leo XIII
American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented. Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:
General Stephen Moylan a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.
Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.
Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.
Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign. Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy. After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787
Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.
Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War.
The list could go on at considerable length. Figures on how many Catholics served in the Continental Army or the American militias is speculative as records of religious affiliations were not normally kept. From anecdotal evidence my guess would be at least five percent, far in exess of the Catholic percentage of the population.
The foreign volunteers who came to fight for our freedom were overwhelmingly Catholic, including LaFayette, de Kalb and Pulaski. Of course the French troops were almost all Catholic, and there were tens of thousands of them who saw service in the US. The first mass in Boston was a funeral mass for a French soldier with members of the Continental Congress in attendance. Washington on occasion attended mass during the War along with other Founding Fathers.
After the War Washington paid tribute to the role Catholics played in the American Revolution:
As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality. And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, sums up Catholic participation in the Revolution:
Their blood flowed as freely (in proportion to their numbers) to cement the fabric of independence as that of any of their fellow-citizens: They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men, in recommending and promoting that government, from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good order and civil and religious liberty.
Ah, if only “talkies” had existed during Theodore Roosevelt’s life. Here we see a silent film of the Fourth of July speech in 1903 given by Roosevelt in Huntington, New York, during the 250th anniversary year of that town. We cannot hear him speak, but the energy and passion which he poured into every speech he gave is clear from the film. Here is the text of the speech: (more…)
A tribute to the continuing fascination of the American public with our Civil War. As an added plus the $23,001.00 will aid Goodwill in its work. I began my personal library as a child and teenager by going to a local goodwill store and buying paperbacks for 20 cents and hardbacks for a quarter. Thus I first made the acquaintance of Plutarch, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Herodotus, Dante and many other authors who set my feet on the path of knowledge. Goodwill will always have a warm place in my heart. (more…)