July 31, 1943: Death of Private Petrarca


Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

It is a trite but true observation that war brings out the very worst and the very best in men.  In the category of very best, sacrificial courage has to be high on the list.  Such was displayed by Private Frank J. Petrarca on three occasions in the bitter fighting on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.  One of ten children he had attended parochial school before following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a carpenter.  In October 1940 he enlisted in the Army.  On July 27, 1943 he began displaying a courage that was rare even in the Pacific theater where, as Admiral Nimitz stated, valor was a common virtue.  Here is his Medal of Honor Citation: (more…)

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Uncle Ralph, the Rosary and the Korean War

I love praying the Rosary.  It always has given me peace whenever I have recited it, and my family prays the Sorrowful Mysteries together each Lent.  However, the person who had the greatest devotion to the Rosary in my family was my Protestant Uncle Ralph.

When I was growing up my family lived next door to Uncle Ralph and his family.  Uncle Ralph was my favorite uncle.  He always had a sense of fun, loved to shoot the breeze with kids and did a hilarious Donald Duck imitation.  My Dad’s family were all Protestant;   my brother and I were Catholic because my Dad had married my Catholic Mom, so I was surprised one day during my teen years when Uncle Ralph pulled out his Rosary and told me how he came to always carry it.

Ralph was a homesick 19 year old in 1951.  His Army National Guard unit had been called up for duty in the Korean War.  He was stationed in California waiting to be shipped out, when, one Sunday, he had dinner with a Catholic family under an Army sponsored program to give troops some home-cooked meals.  Ralph enjoyed himself immensely.  The family treated him like a long lost son and brother, and the meal was superb.  Ralph was relaxing after the meal when the father of the family, a WWI vet, handed him a Rosary.  “Here son, this got me safe back from France and I hope it does the same for you in Korea.”  Ralph wasn’t sure what a Rosary was, but he was touched by the gesture and he took the Rosary. (more…)

Published in: on July 30, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Uncle Ralph, the Rosary and the Korean War  
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Abraham Lincoln Comes to Dwight, Illinois

Would I might rouse the Lincoln in you all,
That which is gendered in the wilderness
From lonely prairies and God’s tenderness.
Imperial soul, star of a weedy stream,
Born where the ghosts of buffaloes still dream,
Whose spirit hoof-beats storm above his grave,
Above that breast of earth and prairie-fire—
Fire that freed the slave.
Vachel Lindsay

Well, I guess this was inevitable, at least I am sure that faithful readers of this blog will think that it was inevitable!  Every year my little town has a festival, Dwight Harvest Days.  We draw tens of thousands of visitors from all around for parades, a flea market, a craft show, rides, a 5k run, and many, many other events.

This year, I have arranged, well I should say the Dwight Rotary Club, of which I have been a member for 28 years, has arranged, for Michael Krebs and Debra Ann Miller to bring their presentations of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln to the Dwight High School Auditorium on September 21, 2013 at 7:00 PM.  The presentation is free and I think we will have a huge turnout, especially among students.

I have long followed the career of Mr. Krebs and I believe he is the king of Lincoln presenters.  Some samples of his work:


Published in: on July 28, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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July 26, 1863: Ending of Morgan’s Raid

The greatest of all cavalry raids in the Civil War was that undertaken by Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan and his 2,462 Confederate troopers from June 11, 1863 – July 26, 1863.  Riding over a thousand miles behind enemy lines, Morgan and his men created panic in several Union states, and caused Union forces of well over 100,000 men to be mobilized against them.  During the raid they captured and paroled approximately 6,000 Union troops and destroyed millions of dollars in Union war supplies, railroads, bridges, etc.  By the time that Morgan and 700 of his men surrendered in Northern Ohio, they had succeeded in spreading chaos wherever they went and diverting Union attention away from Confederate General Bragg’s operations in Tennessee.  Morgan made a daring escape from captivity in November of 1863, but that is a story for another post.

After the War the veterans who had rode with General Morgan formed the Morgan’s Men Association and held annual reunions.  In 1898 they met in Cincinnati, guests of their old adversaries, veterans of the 7th Ohio Calvary.

Published in: on July 26, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 26, 1863: Ending of Morgan’s Raid  
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Tomlinson Our Contemporary

But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.

Revelations 3:16

The twenty-sixth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here and here.  For a man who was not conventionally religious, it is surprising how many of Kipling’s poems deal with religious themes.  Here he deals with the fate of the soul of Tomlinson who floated through life and did almost no good and almost no ill.  He fits to the full T.S. Eliot’s hollow men and CS Lewis’s chestless men.

CS Lewis in his essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast in 1959 tells us how common this type of individual is in the modern world:

Your dreaded Principal has included in a speech full of points something like an apology for the banquet which he has set before us. Well, gentledevils, no one blames him. But it would be in vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skillful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid.

Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you’d got it down.

Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century. Was he not unmistakably a Little Man — a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest platitudes in his public utterances — a grubby little nonentity who had drifted into corruption, only just realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because everyone else did it? Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t. They all tasted to me like undersexed morons who had blundered or trickled into the wrong beds in automatic response to sexy advertisements, or to make themselves feel modern and emancipated, or to reassure themselves about their virility or their “normalcy,” or even because they had nothing else to do. Frankly, to me who have tasted Messalina and Cassanova, they were nauseating. The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty. Yes, in a way. But what a way! He thought of those ultimate objectives so little. Toeing the party line, self-importance, and above all mere routine, were what really dominated his life.

But now comes the point. Gastronomically, all this is deplorable. But I hope none of us puts gastronomy first. Is it not, in another and far more serious way, full of hope and promise?

Consider, first, the mere quantity. The quality may be wretched; but we never had souls (of a sort) in more abundance.

And then the triumph. We are tempted to say that such souls — or such residual puddles of what once was soul — are hardly worth damning. Yes, but the Enemy (for whatever inscrutable and perverse reason) thought them worth trying to save. Believe me, He did. You youngsters who have not yet been on active duty have no idea with what labour, with what delicate skill, each of these miserable creatures was finally captured.

The difficulty lay in their very smallness and flabbiness. Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment, that it was very hard to raise them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which mortal sin becomes possible. To raise them just enough; but not that fatal millimetre of “too much.” For then, of course, all would possibly have been lost. They might have seen; they might have repented. On the other hand, if they had been raised too little, they would very possibly have qualified for Limbo, as creatures suitable neither for Heaven nor for Hell; things that, having failed to make the grade, are allowed to sink into a more or less contented subhumanity forever.

Kipling wrote Tomlinson in 1891 and unfortunately his Tomlinson was a forerunner of a type all too common today.  God did not bring us into this world so we could spend our days in indifference and ennui, wasting both our time and our lives.  The poem has a comedic tone, but I have always regarded it as perhaps Kipling’s most damning indictment of his time and ours.

Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost in his house in Berkeley Square,

And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair —

A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away,

Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way:

Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease,

And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys. (more…)

Published in: on July 25, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Tomlinson Our Contemporary  
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Grunt Padre Honored in Vietnam


As faithful readers of this blog know, I have many times had posts about heroic Catholic Chaplains serving in our military.  A man whose courage beggared description is Servant of God and Medal of Honor recipient Vincent J. Capodanno, known as the Grunt Padre.  I am not ready yet to do a full post on him, wishing to do him justice, but a recent news story in The National Catholic Register caught my eye:

DA NANG, Vietnam — Bishop Joseph Chau Ngoc Tri of Da Nang recently said Mass  in honor of Father Vincent Capodanno, a U.S. chaplain killed during the Vietnam  War, and he encouraged his people to ask the priest’s intercession.

Ted Bronson, a retired Navy Captain, told Catholic News Agency June 26 that  Bishop Tri “is a brave bishop, fostering Capodanno under the umbrella” of  Vietnamese communism.

The Mass, said on June 14, marked the 55th anniversary of Father Capodanno’s  priestly ordination. Father  Capodanno was ordained for the Maryknoll Missionary order, and he later  became a chaplain for the U.S. Navy.

While with Maryknoll, Father Capodanno served in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and  then he requested to be reassigned as a chaplain with the Marines. He was sent  to Vietnam in 1966 and requested an extension to his tour of duty when it was  up.

On Sept. 4, 1967, his unit was in the Que Son Valley near Da Nang, and they  became outnumbered by North Vietnamese forces. As American soldiers were being  gunned down, Father Capodanno went about giving viaticum and anointing  to the dying, as well as medical aid to the wounded.

Shortly after reassuring a wounded Marine, Father Capodanno went to another  soldier who had called out for help. Both he and the solider were shot and died.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1969.

His citation for the Medal of Honor says he “left the relative safety of the  company command post and ran through an open area raked with fire. …  Disregarding the intense enemy small arms, automatic weapons and mortar fire, he  moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the dying and giving  medical aid to the wounded. (more…)

Edward Baker Lincoln


I had always said that the worst thing that could happen to any parent was to have a child die. Until it happened to me recently I really did not comprehend how true that statement was.  Abraham Lincoln would live to see two of his four sons die.  His wife would see three of their four sons die, as well as having her husband murdered before her eyes.  So much unbearable grief for one family.  At the Lincoln Museum that my family and I visited in our annual pilgrimage last week to the Lincoln sites in Springfield, there is an exhibit where Mary Todd Lincoln sits in a room by herself as rain beats on  a window.  This is a representation of her intense grief after the death of Willie, her second son to die.  I have always had a great deal of sympathy for Mrs. Lincoln, thinking that she has been treated unfairly in many historical accounts, but after experiencing myself the grief that she experienced three times, my sympathy for her is now boundless.

The first son of the Lincolns to die was Edward Baker Lincoln at three years on February 1, 1850 of tuberculosis.  Both the Lincolns were devastated by his death.   A poem which was published in the Illinois State Journal the next week reflected their grief.  Wrongly attributed to the Lincolns by some historians, the poem was actually written Ethel Grey in 1849 and was not meant to apply to Eddie Lincoln.  A friend of the Lincolns probably had it published in an attempt to comfort them.


Published in: on July 23, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Oliver Wendell Holmes and Child Bed Fever

If Oliver Wendell Holmes Senior is remembered at all today, it is primarily as a poet and author, and as the father of Supreme Court jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Junior.  This does him an injustice as he was by profession a physician and medical reformer, who, before the discovery of the germ theory, fought consistently for better hygiene in medical treatment.  He helped revolutionize the training of physicians in this country and can be considered as one of the founding fathers of modern medicine in the United States.

In 1843 he wrote a prescient article on puerperal fever, child bed fever, that great killer of mothers who had given birth.  Caused by bacterial infection, it was often spread by physicians from pregnant mother to pregnant mother, due to the failure to follow basic hygiene procedures by the physicians.  Holmes was not the first man to suggest that doctors helped spread the disease, but his was the most extensive look at the problem along with practical suggestions for its remedy:

1. A physician holding himself in readiness to attend cases of midwifery should never take any active part in the post-mortem examination of cases of puerperal fever.    

2. If a physician is present at such autopsies, he should use thorough ablution, change every article of dress, and allow twenty-four hours or more to elapse before attending to any case of midwifery. It may be well to extend the same caution to cases of simple peritonitis.   

  3. Similar precautions should be taken after the autopsy or surgical treatment of cases of erysipelas, if the physician is obliged to unite such offices with his obstetrical duties, which is in the highest degree inexpedient.  

4. On the occurrence of a single case of puerperal fever in his practice, the physician is bound to consider the next female he attends in labor, unless some weeks at least have elapsed, as in danger of being infected by him, and it is his duty to take every precaution to diminish her risk of disease and death. 

5. If within a short period two cases of puerperal fever happen close to each other, in the practice of the same physician, the disease not existing or prevailing in the neighborhood, he would do wisely to relinquish his obstetrical practice for at least one month, and endeavor to free himself by every available means from any noxious influence he may carry about with him. 

6. The occurrence of three or more closely connected cases, in the practice of one individual, no others existing in the neighborhood, and no other sufficient cause being alleged for the coincidence, is primâ facie evidence that he is the vehicle of contagion.  

7. It is the duty of the physician to take every precaution that the disease shall not be introduced by nurses or other assistants, by making proper inquiries concerning them, and giving timely warning of every suspected source of danger.   

  8. Whatever indulgence may be granted to those who have heretofore been the ignorant causes of so much misery, the time has come when the existence of a private pestilence in the sphere of a single physician should be looked upon, not as a misfortune, but a crime; and in the knowledge of such occurrences the duties of the practitioner to his profession should give way to his paramount obligations to society.  (more…)

Published in: on July 22, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (14)  

General John Reynolds and his Catholic Fiancee

Hattip to Matthew Schmitz at First Things.  I have been studying the Civil War since 1964.  It is an immense subject and I still find things about it I never knew.  Major General John Reynolds, commander of the I Corps, helped save the Union by his heroic leadership of his Corps in support of Buford’s cavalry division on the First Day, buying time with blood for other corps of the Army of the Potomac to deploy.  He was a Protestant but Matthew Schmitz tells us why he died with  Catholic religious medals around his neck:

One-hundred and fifty years ago today, Gen. John F. Reynolds made the crucial tactical decisions that would start the Battle of Gettysburg, then became one of its first fatalities.

Reynolds was widely admired for his personal qualities and military skill—we have found no recorded negative comments by his contemporaries—and scholars today generally share the assessment. (Shelby Foote called him perhaps the best general the Army of the Potomac had.) Yet as Edwin C. Bearss records in Fields of Honor, Reynolds’ death revealed that the well-liked man had a secret:

As his aides loosen his collar, they find two Catholic medallions hanging around his neck. This is surprising because he is not Catholic, and none of them knows that he is seriously interested in any woman.

They carry Reynolds’ body to the rear, with instructions to send it to his home in Lancaster after it is laid out in Philadelphia. And as they’re laying him out on July 4, with his sisters there, a lady comes in. She is Katherine “Kate” May Hewitt. Kate has his West Point ring and tells his sisters that they met on a boat from California to New York and that they’re engaged.

Reynolds was a Protestant, she a Catholic. That is why he had not told his family. The two agreed that if he was killed and they couldn’t marry, she would join a convent. After he’s buried, she will travel to Emmitsburg and join the St. Joseph Central House of the Order of the Daughters of Charity.

Reynolds’ last words—meant martially but also capable of being read spiritually—were, “Forward men! For God’s sake forward!”

Go here to read the rest.  Maggie McLean at her first rate blog Civil War Women gives us some more detail: (more…)

Published in: on July 21, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on General John Reynolds and his Catholic Fiancee  
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A Song For Hot Weather

Something for the weekend.  The theme song from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).  A combination of the Colonel Bogey March and the River Kwai March, performed by Mitch Miller.

Yesterday, taking a mini-vacation with the family, we were stuck in traffic for forty-five minutes  due to bridge repairs south of Joliet on I-55.  Temperatures topped 100 and my faithful Transit Connect Wagon decided this would be a splendid time to give me my first mechanical difficulties in three years by overheating.  It was touch and go but we managed to get off the interstate and stopped at a convenience store.  I let the engine cool down and then put coolant in with the able assistance of the store manager, an Indian immigrant who turned down my offer to pay him for his time.  I gave him my card and asked him to call on me if he ever needed legal assistance gratis.  I try to never forget a favor.  We drove home without further incident and I will have the vehicle checked by my mechanic.  I suspect it is a blown fuse on one of the electrical fans cooling the radiator, but we shall see.In any event this heat drenched adventure convinced me to post a song where the setting is quite hot and the theme song from the Kwai film fit the bill.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, it is magnificent.  Alec Guinness plays Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, absolutely indomitable in the face of the most savage treatment from his captors.  Ultimately he wins his war of nerves with his captor, Colonel Saito, over the issue of whether British officers must work in other than an administrative captivity, but fails to understand that by building the bridge he is collaborating with the enemy.  Nicholson is a man of rules and discipline and in many ways he is a heroic figure, willing to die to uphold what he perceives as civilized standards, and is beloved of his men who he also loves.  However, he is a tragic hero in that he fails to see that following what he thinks are the rules in his circumstances will benefit the enemy by building them a strategic rail bridge.   He rectifies his mistake at the cost of his life.  The film is an absolutely riveting character study of both Nicholson and Saito, stunningly portrayed by  Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese immigrant to the United States, who fought with the French Resistance during World War II, helping downed Allied fliers.


Published in: on July 20, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on A Song For Hot Weather  
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