Corpus Christi and Memorial Day

(I am posting this at The American Catholic and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might like to read it.)

When Corpus Christi rolls around I always think of Saint Thomas Aquinas and his great eucharistic hymn Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium written by Saint Thomas at the command of Pope Urban IV to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi instituted by the Pope in 1263.   It says something vastly significant about the Church that perhaps the greatest intellect of all time, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was not only a Doctor of the Church, but also capable of writing this magnificent hymn. 

The last portion of the hymn, Tantum Ergo, has vast significance for my family.  My wife, who is a far better Catholic in my estimation than I am, is a convert.  A Methodist when we married, she converted to the Church a few years later.  She had questions regarding the real presence, and this line from Tantum Ergo resolved them:  Faith tells us that Christ is present,  When our human senses fail.  When our kids came along she would whisper at the Consecration to them:  First it’s bread, now it’s Jesus.  First it’s wine, now it’s Jesus. 

This year Corpus Christi falls on Memorial Day and that strikes me as appropriate when we recall these words of Christ:

Greater love hath no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends.

John 15: 13

Christ took on our flesh, our blood and our mortality.  He sacrificed His flesh and His blood to save us.  He gave us the great Sacrament so that just as He took on our flesh and blood, we might consume His flesh and His blood and draw close to Him through His grace.

On Memorial Day we honor our war dead.  They lost their flesh and blood in our service and to protect us.  Just as we owe Christ a debt that can never be repaid, so too do we owe a debt to those men who have died for us and that debt can never be repaid to them.  Christ gives us His body and blood to give us grace and His teachings to allow us to lead lives that attempt, oh so imperfectly, to follow in His footsteps.  Our war dead allow us to do this in more freedom and security than most of our ancestors possessed. (more…)

Published in: on May 29, 2016 at 3:30 am  Comments Off on Corpus Christi and Memorial Day  
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Remember Them

 

“I never moved into combat without having the feeling of a cold hand reaching into my guts and twisting them both into knots.”

Audie Murphy, most decorated American soldier of World War II

Something for the weekend.  A section of a speech of Ronald Reagan from 1964, known in Reagan lore as The Speech, set to the song Arrival to Earth.  The weather is quite nice around where I live this Memorial Day weekend and it is easy to forget why we have this three day weekend, and, indeed, to forget why we have our freedom.  The video is a nice reminder. (more…)

Published in: on May 28, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Remember Them  
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USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

A film is being released today on the final voyage of the USS Indianapolis.  I will be seeing it on the first weekend in June, to be followed by a review from me.

 

The USS Indianapolis, was immortalized in popular culture by the Jaws video clip above.  The cruiser delivered Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, to Tinian on July 26, 1945.  On July 30, 1945 it was sunk by Japanese sub I-58.  900 of the crew made it into the water.  SOS signals, contrary to the Jaws video clip, were sent off.  Three Navy stations received the SOS signal.  At the first station the commander was drunk.  At the second station the commander had left orders not to be disturbed.    The third station wrote off the SOS signal as a Japanese prank.  The Navy denied that the SOS signals had been received for years, and only the release of declassified material revealed the criminal negligence involved.  When the ship failed to dock at Leyte as expected on July 31, 1945, the port operations director Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson inexplicably failed to report that the Indianapolis had gone missing.

This resulted in the men of the Indianapolis being in the water for 3 and a half days until they were spotted by a routine air patrol.  Heroic efforts were then undertaken to rescue the survivors.  321 men were rescued, four of whom died soon thereafter.  Most of the almost 600 men who escaped the ship and died in the water had been killed by hundreds of sharks who swarmed about the survivors.    Among the dead was Lieutenant Thomas Conway, the ship’s Catholic chaplain.  He spent his time in the water swimming from group to group, praying with the men, encouraging them, and reasoning with men driven to despair.  When Father Conway died on August 2, 1945, he was the last American chaplain killed in World War II.

Captain Charles B. McVay III, the skipper of the Indianapolis, had been wounded in the sinking and was among those who survived to be rescued.  He repeatedly asked why it took so long for the Navy to rescue his men, a question the Navy did not answer.  Instead McVay  was court-martialed, a scapegoat for an episode that had tarnished the image of the Navy.  He was convicted for not zigzagging, which was farcical since he had been told to use his discretion in regard to zigzagging, and with high-speed torpedoes and improved aiming devices aboard subs, zigzagging was not an effective technique for a ship to avoid being torpedoed by the end of World War II.  Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, recognizing the fundamental injustice of the court-martial, restored McVay to duty and he retired as a Rear Admiral in 1949.  Although most of the surviving crewmen of the Indianapolis regarded him as a hero, McVay was eaten away by guilt over the deaths of his crewmen, guilt that was exacerbated by hate mail and hate phone calls he periodically revealed from a few of the families of some of the men who died in the sinking and its aftermath.

After the death of his wife in 1966, McVay took his own life, clutching in his hand a toy sailor given to him by his father.  In 1996 a twelve year old school boy, Hunter Scott, launched a campaign to clear McVay’s name.  The campaign to clear McVay was supported by former Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto who had commanded the I-58 and who noted in a letter that zigzagging would have had no impact on his torpedo attack. (more…)

Published in: on May 27, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage  
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May 25, 1738: Ending of the Conojocular War

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Boundary disputes were quite common between the colonies, but few got as violent as the boundary line war between Pennsylvania and Maryland from 1730-1738.  Pennsylvania’s charter (1681) provided for its southern boundary as follows:  “on the South by a Circle drawne at twelve miles’ distance from New Castle Northward and Westward unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of Northern Latitude, and then by a streight Line Westward”.  Subsequent surveys established that Dover was a full twenty-five miles south of the 40th Parallel.  Maryland insisted on the 40th Parallel which would have made Philadelphia a Maryland town.  Pennsylvania pushed for a boundary at 39 degrees, 36 minutes which would have taken a strip out of what is northern Maryland.  The dispute simmered for decades breaking out into open conflict in the 1730s with the settlement of the Conejohela Valley west of the  Susquehanna River.  Maryland and Pennsylvania settlers in the disputed territory quickly came into conflict with raids and counter raids by the militias of the two colonies.  The leader of the Maryland settlers was Thomas Cresap, a tough and fearless man as the French would later have reason to attest during the French and Indian War.  Cresap was captured by the Pennsylvanians.  Upon being paraded through the streets of Philadelphia prior to being imprisoned, Cresap remarked:   “Damn it, this is one of the prettiest towns in Maryland!”. (more…)

Published in: on May 25, 2016 at 3:25 am  Comments Off on May 25, 1738: Ending of the Conojocular War  
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May 22, 1819: SS Savannah Begins First Trans-Atlantic Trip by a Steam Ship

 

Cutting edge technology is always risky to use.  And therefore it was not certain what would happen when on May 22, 1819 the SS Savannah began a three week journey across the Atlantic, becoming the first steam ship to cross the Atlantic.  The Savannah was equipped with sails and only used its boilers for eighty hours during the crossing.  During its twenty five days stay in Liverpool the ship and crew were celebrities and were visited by thousands including influential members of the British government and Roayl Navy. Upon its return to the US from its journey, the fate of the Savannah was not happy.  Unable to make a profit, the ship was converted to sails only, and was broken up after running aground on Long Island on November 5, 1821.  However, the fact remains that the Savannah blazed a path.  Regular steam ship traffic across the Atlantic would not occur for another twenty years.  Her legacy was remembered in 1959 when the first nuclear powered merchant vessel bore the name Savannah.

Published in: on May 22, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 22, 1819: SS Savannah Begins First Trans-Atlantic Trip by a Steam Ship  
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Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’

 

Something for the weekend.  Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’.  A historical curiosity of 1943.  The only gospel song that I am aware of that praises Joseph Stalin, it was inspired by this remark in a speech by FDR:

The world has never seen greater devotion, determination, and self sacrifice, that have been displayed by the Russian people and their armies under the leadership of Marshall Joseph Stalin.  The song was performed a cappella by the gospel group Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.  The song was a moderate success in 1943 and has mercifully been largely forgotten since that.  A tribute to war time tunnel vision and the delusional view of Stalin firmly embraced by President Roosevelt and many other liberal Americans, inside and outside of his administration, at the time.

Published in: on May 21, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’  
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May 20, 1873: Blue Jeans Patent Granted

 

Blue jeans long predated the granting of the patent on May 20, 1873 to Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, the name being commonly associated with clothes made from denim or dungaree.  Davis, an immigrant Jewish tailor from Russia hit upon the idea of using copper rivets to strengthen the blue jean trousers he made.  He offered a partnership in his idea to the man who supplied fabric to him, Levi Strauss, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, in exchange for Strauss fronting the money for the patent application.  The new blue jeans quickly became popular for their sturdiness among the majority of American men who engaged in manual labor.  Jeans as a fashion statement would not take place until the 1950s.  One wonders what Davis and Strauss would have made of that bizarre turn in events!

Published in: on May 20, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 20, 1873: Blue Jeans Patent Granted  
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Civilization VI Optimism

 

As faithful readers of this blog know, I like to play historically based computer strategy games.  One of my favorite series has been the Civilization games by Sid Meier.  The first one reached my house on Christmas Eve 1991, the first Christmas of my twin sons, and my bride and I quickly became entranced by it.   In between playing with our infants and introducing them to the joys of Christmas, we took turns charting the courses of society through 6,000 years of history.  For a young married couple fascinated by history, it was the ideal Christmas present.

Over the past quarter century we have purchased each new version of it.  I was struck by the optimism of the announcement trailer.  It is a historical optimism I share and it is splendidly set forth in Daniel Webster’s closing argument to the jury of the damned in The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet: (more…)

Published in: on May 17, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Civilization VI Optimism  
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May 16, 1771: Battle of Alamance

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One of the more obscure conflicts in American history, The War of the Regulation in North Carolina, 1765-1771, is considered to be a precursor to the American Revolution. Settlers on the North Carolina frontier took up arms against what they regarded as a corrupt alliance between Royal officials and elite easterners in North Carolina, most of them wealthy planters, to keep taxes on the frontier high and to line their pockets.  The insurgents, called Regulators, would break up courts, drive away tax collectors, and generally brought government to a standstill, while petitioning for lower taxes and honest officials.  The only real battle of the war took place in then Orange, now Alamance county, on May 16, 1771.  About 2000 Regulators were camped south of Great Alamance Creek in the western part of the county.  Their organization left much to be desired, having no officers higher in rank than Captain, and no units larger than companies.  The Regulators did not expect to have to fight, assuming that their numbers would overawe the colonial militia, about 1,000 men under Governor William Tryon.

After some attempt at a peaceful resolution through negotiation, fighting broke out, and the disorganized Regulators, who lacked ammunition, were defeated.  About nine Regulators were killed in the fighting , seven were subsequently executed for treason and an unknown number were wounded.  Sixty-one of the militia were wounded and and estimated nine-twenty-seven killed.  This brought the Regulator movement to a halt, although not the bitter division between the west and east in North Carolina.

Ironically, many members of the militia were Patriots during the Revolution and many of the Regulators became loyalists.

Tryon went on to serve as Royal Governor of New York and fought as a Major General in the British Army during the American Revolution.

Published in: on May 16, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 16, 1771: Battle of Alamance  
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I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier

 

Something for the weekend.  I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier. A hit in the US in 1915, the song reflected the isolationist sympathy of a large segment of the American people.  Former President Theodore Roosevelt detested it, saying that the fools who applauded it presumably would also applaud a song saying “I didn’t raise my girl to be a mother.”  Future President Harry Truman, who would serve in combat in World War I, said that women who liked the song belonged in a harem and not in the United States.  The song tied in with the 1916 slogan, which must have seemed quite ironic in 1917, of the Wilson re-election campaign:  “He kept us out of war.”

Published in: on May 14, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier  
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