Memorial Day and the World War II Generation

Memorial Day is here and the melancholy reflection occurs to me that almost all the many World War II veterans I have known over the years are dead.  My father in law, who served in World War II as a very young Navy cook and spent almost all of the War at sea on combat tours, has been gone now for twenty-four years.  The passage of time is inevitable in this Vale of Tears, but we do not have to like it.  Of course in reference to Memorial Day we have been down this path before.  Started as Decoration Day after the Civil War by troops of that conflict so that their comrades who fell would never be forgotten, parades by veterans were a common feature throughout the country, and the nation thus witnessed as those stalwart young men year by year passed into middle age, old age and then merely passed beyond our ken into eternity.

When this country entered into World War II in 1941, it was eighty years since the beginning of the Civil War, and the veterans of that conflict were sparse on the ground, the few elderly survivors now being driven in parades, their marching days long behind them.  We are of course now eighty years beyond 1941.  At the time of World War II the men fighting that War would occasionally reference the men who had fought in prior wars to safeguard the freedom that they were now fighting and dying for.  By their sacrifice they honored the sacrifice of those who had gone before.  Not a bad reflection, and lesson, as we enjoy Memorial Day this year of grace 2021.

Published in: on May 31, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Memorial Day and the World War II Generation  
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Stars and Stripes Forever

Something for the weekend.  For a Memorial Day weekend Stars and Stripes Forever seems called for.  Beyond a doubt the best known composition of John Philip Sousa, it is the National March of the United States.  Sousa wrote it on Christmas Day 1896 and it proved massively popular, especially when it was played during the Spanish-American War.  My Family and I, visited the Sousa Archives at the University of Illinois in June of 2019, go here to read about the Sousa Archives, which houses the papers of John Philip Sousa.  The grad student on duty gave us a first rate presentation on Sousa and his music, and he brought out for us original sheet music used by Sousa and his band, which sent shivers down my spine.  Writers do what they can, but a truly great composer effortlessly touches hearts and souls long after he is dust.

Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears ‘mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew;
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom’s shield and hope.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation,
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

A “unique”, yes that is what we will call it, muppet rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever, hosted by Sam the American Eagle, who is the answer to the question, “Don, if you were a muppet, which muppet would you be?”

Vladimir Horowitz was one of the greatest pianists of the last century.  He was also a refugee from the Soviet Union.  He became a naturalized American citizen in 1944, and, like many naturalized American citizens of that era, he was intensely patriotic, giving many concerts in support of the war effort.  Here is his immortal rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever from 1945.

Published in: on May 29, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Stars and Stripes Forever  
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Black Jack Logan and the First Memorial Day



Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience — almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

                                                         Pope Benedict, April 16, 2008

John A. Logan is the father of Memorial Day.  Today he is largely forgotten except to Civil War buffs and that is a shame.  He was a fascinating man and he is largely responsible for establishing the tradition of putting aside a day in the calendar to our nation’s war dead.

Logan began the Civil War as a Democrat congressman from southern Illinois.  He was ardently anti-War even after the firing on Fort Sumter, denouncing the Lincoln administration and calling for peace and compromise.  He was attacked as being disloyal to the Union and an almost advocate of the Confederacy.

This perception changed in the twinkling of an eye at the battle of Bull Run.  Like many another congressman he went out to view the Union army launch an attack on the Confederates.  Unlike the other congressmen, Logan picked up a musket and, attaching himself to a Michigan regiment, blazed away at the Confederates with that musket.  This experience transformed Logan into an ardent advocate of the War.

He returned to Southern Illinois and gave a fiery speech in Marion, Illinois for the Union that helped swing that section of the state in support of the War.  Resigning from Congress, he helped raise an infantry regiment from southern Illinois, and was made colonel of the regiment, the 31rst Illinois.

Logan quickly made a name for himself as a fighter.  At the battle of Belmont he led his regiment in a successful charge, and was noted for his exceptional courage.  He would eventually be promoted to major general and was one of the best corp commanders in the Union army, briefly commanding the Army of the Tennessee.  He was wounded three times in the war, one of the wounds being serious enough that he was erroneously reported as killed, a report that might have been proven to be accurate if he had not been nursed back  to health by his wife.

Logan was never beaten in any engagement that he fought in during the War.  He was popular with his men who affectionately called him “Black Jack”, and would often chant his name on the battlefield as he led them from the front.  On May 24th 1865, as a tribute to his brilliant war record, he commanded the Army of the Tennessee during the victory Grand Review of the Union armies in Washington.

After the War, Logan began his political career anew, serving as a congressman from Illinois and a senator.  He was now a radical Republican and fought ardently for civil rights for blacks.  He ran for Vice President in 1884 on the Republican ticket that was defeated by Grover Cleveland.  He was considered the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 1888, and might well have been elected President that year, but for his untimely death in 1886 at the age of sixty.

From 1868 to 1871, Logan served three consecutive terms as commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veteran’s association.  He started the custom of remembering the Union war dead on May 30th when he issued General Order Eleven on May 5, 1868: (more…)

Published in: on May 29, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Black Jack Logan and the First Memorial Day  
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Ronald Reagan on Memorial Day

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

Pope Benedict XVI

My fellow Americans, Memorial Day is a day of ceremonies and speeches. Throughout America today, we honor the dead of our wars. We recall their valor and their sacrifices. We remember they gave their lives so that others might live.

We’re also gathered here for a special event—the national funeral for an unknown soldier who will today join the heroes of three other wars.

When he spoke at a ceremony at Gettysburg in 1863, President Lincoln reminded us that through their deeds, the dead had spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could, and that we living could only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they so willingly gave a last full measure of devotion.

Well, this is especially so today, for in our minds and hearts is the memory of Vietnam and all that that conflict meant for those who sacrificed on the field of battle and for their loved ones who suffered here at home.

Not long ago, when a memorial was dedicated here in Washington to our Vietnam veterans, the events surrounding that dedication were a stirring reminder of America’s resilience, of how our nation could learn and grow and transcend the tragedies of the past.

During the dedication ceremonies, the rolls of those who died and are still missing were read for three days in a candlelight ceremony at the National Cathedral. And the veterans of Vietnam who were never welcomed home with speeches and bands, but who were never defeated in battle and were heroes as surely as any who have ever fought in a noble cause, staged their own parade on Constitution Avenue. As America watched them—some in wheelchairs, all of them proud—there was a feeling that this nation—that as a nation we were coming together again and that we had, at long last, welcomed the boys home.

“A lot of healing went on,” said one combat veteran who helped organize support for the memorial. And then there was this newspaper account that appeared after the ceremonies. I’d like to read it to you. “Yesterday, crowds returned to the Memorial. Among them was Herbie Petit, a machinist and former marine from New Orleans. ‘Last night,’ he said, standing near the wall, ‘I went out to dinner with some other ex-marines. There was also a group of college students in the restaurant. We started talking to each other. And before we left, they stood up and cheered us. The whole week,’ Petit said, his eyes red, ‘it was worth it just for that.'”

It has been worth it. We Americans have learned to listen to each other and to trust each other again. We’ve learned that government owes the people an explanation and needs their support for its actions at home and abroad. And we have learned, and I pray this time for good, the most valuable lesson of all—the preciousness of human freedom. (more…)

Published in: on May 28, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ronald Reagan on Memorial Day  
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May 17, 1981: Reagan at Notre Dame

The Reagan Foundation has a great section in which you can access the personal diary of President Ronald Reagan.  Here is his diary entry from forty years ago:

Change signals on Prince Turki—he left for Saudi Arabia today by commercial plane. An easy morning with the Sunday papers—my exercises and then boarded the chopper & Air Force 1 for South Bend Ind. Had lunch on board with Walter & Lee Annenberg. Father Hesburgh met us at the airport and we drove to Notre Dame. It was commencement for 2000 graduates but there must have been 15,000 all told in the auditorium. Pat O’Brien was there also to get an honorary degree. It really was exciting. Every N.D. student sees the Rockne film and so the greeting for Pat & me was overwhelming. Speech went O.K. and I was made an honorary member of the Monogram Club. When I opened my certificate I thought they’d made 2 copies—they hadn’t, the 2nd was to “The Gipper.” He died before graduation so had never been made a member. Got back to the plane wringing wet—Cap & Gown plus an “iron” vest makes for heat. Discovered a service I hadn’t been aware of—a change of clothing is always carried when I go on a trip. Change in this case meant a welcome dry shirt. Dinner on T.V. in front of “60 Minutes”—oh yes—on the plane called Bob Dole re our tax plan. He’s having breakfst with Rep. Rostenkowski, Sen. Long & Rep. Barber Conable.

The best President of my lifetime.  May he now be enjoying the Beatific Vision.

Published in: on May 27, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 17, 1981: Reagan at Notre Dame  
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Halls of Montezuma

Been playing the game Halls of Montezuma over the weekend.  Coming out on May 20, I purchased an advance copy.  The first computer strategic level simulation of the Mexican War, it gives a good feel for the actual conflict, with the center piece being Scott’s march up county from Veracuz to the war winning seizure of Mexico City.  It struck me as I was playing the game how ill prepared this conflict left the West Pointers who participated in it for the Civil War.  This was the type of War that West Point had trained them for:  short and sharp with the Regular Army leading the way and volunteer regiments playing a distinctly secondary role.  The War ending with the seizure of the capital of  Mexico and the US dictating peace, had a Napoleonic feel to it, and the campaigns of Napoleon were what the West Pointers tended to study during the brief period in their four years when any attention, and it wasn’t much, was paid to how to conduct a military campaign.  The Mexican War would have seemed to West Pointers to confirm what they would have been taught at the Point.

Then thirteen years passed swiftly, as the years of a man’s life tend to pass, and the junior officers of the Mexican War found themselves to be senior officers in a vast new conflict.  They had to unlearn much that they had learned in the Mexican War.  The tiny Regular Army was dwarfed by the volunteer regiments of this conflict, all of which had to be trained in the basics before they would be of any use in the conflict.  The vast armies of this conflict presented logistical problems undreamed of compared to keeping the relatively small armies of the Mexican War supplied.  Mexican War casualties would seem insignificant compared to the casualties of the Civil War, where in the Battle of Shiloh more battle deaths occurred than in all the previous wars of the US combined.  The tactics learned in the Mexican War were all wrong, with rifled muskets making bayonet charges suicidal instead of the decisive instrument they were in the Mexican War, ditto the use of “flying” horse drawn light artillery batteries which had been so effective in the Mexican war and relegating cavalry charges largely to the history books.   Instead of a short and decisive conflict, the Civil War was a bloody war of attrition in which 640,000-750,000 men would perish and leave an indelible impact on the Republic.

The education received by the graduates of West Point left them ill-prepared for the Civil War, and the experiences of the Mexican War taught the wrong lessons to the officers who fought in it for the Civil War.  The combat experience benefited them to be used to a field of battle where men died, but that is about all that can be said for their experiences in a conflict often erroneously described as a crucible for the Civil War.  The great exception to this was Captain Lee, who carried out reconnoitering missions behind enemy lines for General Winfield Scott and who learned how valuable maneuver could be for an army confronting a numerically superior foe.

Published in: on May 26, 2021 at 3:52 am  Comments (2)  
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The Memphis Belle

During World War II one of the most dangerous assignments for any US serviceman was to fly with the Eighth Air Force in the European Theater.  The Eighth sustained 47000 casualties, of which a stunning 26000 were KIAs.  As the War went on, and long range fighter air craft came into service, the missions became somewhat safer.  In 1942-1943, US bomber crews thought that the 25 mission rotation back to the States had been cynically set up because after twenty-five combat runs you were statistically almost certain  to be dead or in captivity.

The Memphis Belle was one of the first B-17 flying fortress bombers to beat the odds and make 25 missions, and the US Army Air Forces made much of it, sending the crew back to the States for a war bond drive.  Other crews began to hope they, too, would survive their tours, something that most of them had feared was not going to be their lot.

Published in: on May 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Memphis Belle  
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Notes on How Not to be a Saint


(I originally posted this at The American Catholic, and I thought the CS Lewis mavens of Almost Chosen People might find it amusing.)



We at The American Catholic often receive unsolicited manuscripts.  What follows is from a lengthy collection of documents, smelling faintly of brimstone, that purport to be the notes of a Mr. Wormwood taken while he was attending a class colorfully entitled Damnation 201.  The documents are dated, but the dates given are gibberish:

Ah, Sleek Sylph looks especially delicious.  Oof, Professor Thornbit is saying this could be on the final.  Concentrate Wormwood!

Thornbit:  After what mortals call death patients who escape our clutches are designated Saints by the Enemy.  The penalty for a tempter allowing a patient to become a Saint is as final as it is terrible, albeit succulent for those of us who gain sustenance from those of you who prove incompetent.  Here are ten simple rules to prevent you from ending up on my table.

1. Encourage your patient to violate those laws the Enemy calls his Ten Commandments.  Emphasize to the patient that these are unmerciful rules that do not allow for the complexity of life.  You will find, at least those of you who are not a waste of Hellfire, that the term “complexity” is ever useful in causing a patient to ignore the clear commands of the Enemy.

2.  Most patients, ludicrously, are proud of their intellects.  Encourage the cretins in this, as one of the few true human sayings is that “pride goeth before a fall.”

3.  If you can, make your patient an atheist;   the shock of such patients when they arrive here is an amusement that is indescribable.  Take care however, some who claim atheism merely hate the Enemy and the Enemy has a way of turning strong hate into strong love in an instant if you are not careful.  Also, make certain that your patient embraces atheism as a substitute religion and not as a proposition that he may rethink given evidence to the contrary.  The Enemy and his agents are too cursed good at argument, and in providing evidence, against the useful absurdity of atheism.

4.  The patient should be taught to regard every mortal he encounters as a potential victim for him to exploit.  Although humans tend to be selfish animals, this isn’t as simple as it sounds.  Honest affection and even love can spring from the most unlikely of mortals if his tempter is not ever vigilant.

5.  Sexual excess, especially if channeled into what the Enemy considers perversions, can be a useful aid to propel a patient along our Downward Path.  However, lazy tempters view this as a foolproof temptation at their peril.  That abomination that the Enemy calls love can spring from the most wonderfully sordid sexual entanglements if the tempter of a patient does not take proper precautions. (more…)

Published in: on May 23, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Notes on How Not to be a Saint  
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Halls of Montezuma

You cannot exaggerate about the Marines. They are convinced, to the point of arrogance, that they are the most ferocious fighters on earth – and the amusing thing about it is that they are…You should see the group about me as I write- dirty, bearded, their clothing food-spattered and filthy- they look like the castoffs of creation. Yet they have a sense of loyalty, generosity, even piety greater than any men I have ever known. These rugged men have the simple piety of children. You can’t help loving them, in spite of their language and their loose sense of private property. Don’t ever feel sorry for a priest in the Marines. The last eight weeks have been the happiest and most contented in my life.

 Father Kevin Kearney, 1st Marine Division Chaplain, Korean War

Something for the weekend.  The Marines’ Hymn.  The music is from an 1867 French tune by Jacques Offenbach, with the lyrics written by that most prolific author Anonymous.  It is the most well-known of the service songs and captures well the spirit of the Marines.

Published in: on May 22, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Halls of Montezuma  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Calvin Coolidge

The immigrant who comes to us from a life of oppression must be made to realize that he assumes an obligation; otherwise, he is not wanted. Either he must live with us in the light of the highest citizenship, or else society will impose upon him the very restrictions he has sought to escape by coming here. It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing who has cast a slur on immigration. There are many who land here who really never get to America. They become Americanized in everything but in heart. To teach the foreigner English is a necessary step; but it is not an end in itself; it is merely one of the implements of Americanization. This may hold divers peoples together for a while, just as economic opportunity and financial reward may cover their isolation. But unless, in their living—rather than in then livelihood—they daily exercise the principles on which the Republic rests, we have among us a shell of citizenship liable to explode at the least upsetting of economic balance, rather than the vital spirit which is at the basis of American life.

Calvin Coolidge

Published in: on May 21, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Calvin Coolidge  
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