American History: Memorial Day Weekend Movies

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”

              Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

A few films to help remember that there is much greater significance to Memorial Day than sun and fun:

 

 

1.  American Sniper (2015)- A grand tribute to the late Chris Kyle and to all the other troops who served in Iraq.

“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Chis Kyle

2.   Hamburger Hill (1987)- A moving film about our troops in Vietnam who served their nation far better than their too often ungrateful nation served them.

3.  Porkchop Hill (1959)-Korea has become to too many Americans The Forgotten War, lost between World War II and Vietnam.  There is nothing forgotten about it by the Americans who served over there,  including my Uncle Ralph McClarey who died a few years ago, and gained a hard won victory for the US in one of the major hot conflicts of the Cold War.  This film tells the story of the small American force on Porkchop Hill, who held it in the face of repeated assaults by superior forces of the Chinese and North Koreans.  As the above clip indicates it also highlights the surreal element that accompanies every war and the grim humor that aspect often brings.

 

4.   Hacksaw Ridge (2016):  Mel Gibson fully redeemed his career as a director with this masterpiece.  A film that goes far beyond mere entertainment and illustrates what a man of faith can accomplish when he stays true to his beliefs and cares so much more about helping others than he does about his own mortal life.  Incredibly, the movie does justice to Desmond Doss, a true American hero.

 5.   Sergeant York (1941)-A film biopic of Sergeant Alvin C. York, who, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive  on October 8,  1918, took 32 German machine guns, killed 28 German soldiers and captured another 132.  Viewers who came to see the movie in 1941 must have been initially puzzled.  With a title like Sergeant York, movie goers could have been forgiven for thinking that Sergeant York’s experiences in World War I would be the focus, but such was not the case.  Most of the film is focused on York’s life in Tennessee from 1916-1917 before American entry into the war.  Like most masterpieces, the film has a strong religious theme as we witness York’s conversion to Christ.  The film is full of big questions:  How are we to live?  Why are we here?  What role should religion play in our lives?  How does someone gain faith?  What should we do if we perceive our duty to God and to Country to be in conflict?  It poses possible answers to these questions with a skillful mixture of humor and drama.  The entertainment value of Sergeant York conceals the fact that it is a very deep film intellectually as it addresses issues as old as Man.

The film was clearly a message film and made no bones about it.  The paper of the film industry Variety noted at the time:  “In Sergeant York the screen has spoken for national defense. Not in propaganda, but in theater.”

The film was a huge success upon release in 1941, the top grossing film of the year.  Gary Cooper justly earned the Oscar for his stellar performance as Alvin C. York.  It was Cooper’s favorite of his pictures.  “Sergeant York and I had quite a few things in common, even before I played him in screen. We both were raised in the mountains – Tennessee for him, Montana for me – and learned to ride and shoot as a natural part of growing up. Sergeant York won me an Academy Award, but that’s not why it’s my favorite film. I liked the role because of the background of the picture, and because I was portraying a good, sound American character.”

The film portrays a devout Christian who had to reconcile the command to “Love thy Neighbor” with fighting for his country in a war.  This is not an easy question and the film does not give easy answers, although I do find the clip above compelling. (more…)

Battle Hymn of the Republic

 

Something for the weekend.  I can think of no finer song for a Memorial Day weekend than the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

 

Published in: on May 27, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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May 26, 1917: Killer Tornado Hits Mattoon and Charleston

 

At the start of my career as an attorney, my bride and I lived in Mattoon, Illinois for just under three years. Charleston was the country seat of Coles County, and I spent a lot of time over there in court. Only twelve miles separate the two towns.

Beginning on May 25, 1917 an eight day sequence of killer tornadoes struck the mid section of the country, wreaking havoc and death in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama, leaving 383 people dead.

The tornado that struck Mattoon and Charleston began in Missouri and tracked a 293 mile course across Illinois, traveling at 40 mph, with the whirling winds that made up the tornado attaining 400 mph. The skies darkened over Mattoon and Charleston around 2:00 PM May 26, 1917 with air sultry and oppressive. At 3:00 PM a black nimbus cloud appeared and produced frequent lightning. A greenish-black cumulo-nimbus cloud appeared from the West around 3: 45 pm. The tornado struck soon thereafter. A contemporary account described what happened:

The greatest destruction was wrought in Coles County, where the tornado
struck the districts occupied by workingmen ‘s homes in the cities of Mattoon
and Charleston, the former with a population of 12,000 and the latter with
6,000. The tornado passed through this county between 3 and 4 p. m., a
time of day in which tornadoes are generally most disastrous. In Mattoon,
at 3 :30 p. m._, sixty people were killed, and ^yq hundred homes demolished
and others seriously damaged. Traveling at about 45 miles per hour the
storm struck Charleston, 11 miles east of Mattoon, at 3:45. Here, thirty-
five persons were killed, over four hundred houses and fifteen industrial
establishments partially or wholly wrecked, the two railway stations de-
molished, and all telegraph and telephone connections destroyed.

In addition to the deaths, some 583 people were injured. Estimates of property damage exceeded 55 million dollars.
The 14th most deadly tornado in US history, the killer tornado was long remembered and was still talked about in the eighties of the last century.

Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 25, 1968: Dedication of the Saint Louis Arch

 

At 6:30 feet the Saint Louis Arch is the tallest arch in the world.  A monument to the westward expansion of the United States, planning for the arch began in 1947 and construction began in 1963.  The arch cost around 15 million to construct (dollars not adjusted for subsequent inflation.)  The dedication speech by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, who was running for President, was uncharacteristically brief, which is just as well as a downpour caused the dedication to be held indoors in an auditorium.  Weighing almost 39,000 tons, the arch sways one inch in a twenty mile wind, and if the wind were blowing at 150 miles per hour the sway would be eighteen inches.  Go here to read more about the arch.

Published in: on May 25, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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May 24, 1935: First Night Game in Major League Baseball

Eighty-two years ago the first major league baseball game was  played under the lights, adding a new dimension to the game of Summer, and making it more accessible to most people who work for a living during the day.  The first baseball game under artificial illumination was played in 1880, the year after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.  However the major league teams did not embrace this innovation for over a half century.  Economic need, as usual, was the driver involved in making major league night ball a reality.  Almost all ball teams struggled during the Great Depression and attendance at games was a matter of life or death for the teams.  Some minor league teams and teams of the Negro League had been playing ball under the lights since 1930.

 

Leland “Larry” MacPhail and Powel Crosley, the general manager and the owner of the Cincinnati Reds, noticed that minor league teams were drawing big crowds playing night games.  The Reds were averaging 2000-3000 fans a game, their loyal followers being simply unable to miss a precious day of work during the hard times in the middle of the Depression.  They took the bold stance of putting in lights at Crosley Field, hang the expense despite the precarious financial condition of the Reds.  The first night game was set for May 24, 1935 against the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Reds won two-one and 20,000 fans witnessed it, as 632 flood lights illumined the field.  Night ball was here to stay. (more…)

Published in: on May 24, 2017 at 4:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Judge Dan Haywood

Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!

Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

Judgment at Nuremberg, (1961)

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), loosely based on the trial of German jurists after World War II, is a powerful film.  Burt Lancaster, an actor of the first calibre, gives the performance of his career as Ernst Janning.  The early portion of the movie makes clear that Ernst Janning is in many ways a good man.  Before the Nazis came to power Janning was a world respected German jurist.  After the Nazis came to power evidence is brought forward by his defense counsel that Janning attempted to help people persecuted by the Nazis, and that he even personally insulted Hitler on one occasion.  Janning obviously despises the Nazis and the other judges who are on trial with him.  At his trial he refuses to say a word in his defense.  He only testifies after being appalled by the tactics of his defense counsel.  His magnificent and unsparing testimony convicts him and all the other Germans who were good men and women, who knew better, and who failed to speak out or to act against the Nazis.  Janning’s testimony tells us that sins of omission can be as damning as sins of commission.  When he reveals that he sentenced a man to death he knew to be innocent because of pressure from the Nazi government, we can only agree with his bleak assessment that he reduced his life to excrement.  Yet we have to respect Janning.  It is a rare man who can so publicly take responsibility for his own evil acts.

Yet even this  respect is taken away from Janning in the final scene of the film where he attempts to justify himself to Judge Haywood, superbly portrayed by Spencer Tracy, by saying that he never believed that it would all come to the millions of  dead in the concentration camps.  Judge Haywood delivers his verdict on this attempt by Janning to save some shred of self-respect:  “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.” (more…)

Powers Boothe: Requiescat In Pace

 

Perhaps the greatest American character actor of his time, Powers Boothe passed away in his sleep at age 68 on Pentecost this year.  An anomaly in Hollywood, he was married to his one and only wife since 1969 and he was a Republican.  He could play anything:  from insane villains like Jim Jones to heroes like Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Tanner in Red Dawn (1984).  Like most great actors and actresses he made it look easy.  The son of a Texas sharecropper, Boothe had a down to earth quality he brought to most roles he was playing.  I will miss him.

 

The Big Red One Goes to France

President Wilson realized it would be many months before the US ground forces could be trained, equipped and shipped across the Atlantic in numbers sufficient to make a difference on the battlefields of France.  However, he also knew that Allied, and American, morale would soar with the news that the Americans had landed in France, no matter how many they were.  Thus on May 19, 1917 Wilson ordered that the First Expeditionary Division be formed, and that units of the Division sail to France as soon as possible.  Thus was born the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One.  By the end of the War the Division would incur casualties of 4,964 killed in action, 17,201 wounded in action, and 1,056 missing or died of wounds.  It would be the first Division to cross the Rhine into occupied Germany.  Five soldiers of the Division earned Medals of Honor during the War, out of a total of 92 earned by the Army.   The Big Red One has been in continuous service with the Army since its creation in 1917. (more…)

Published in: on May 21, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Nearer, My God, To Thee

 

Something for the weekend.  Nearer, My God, to Thee, sung by Mahalia Jackson.  Written in 1841 by Sarah Fuller Flower Adams, it retells the story of Jacob’s Dream.  A hymn of surpassing power in time of grief and loss, it was played by Confederate bands after Pickett’s Charge, and was sounded while the Rough Riders buried their dead.  Its title was the last words said by a dying President McKinley and the band on the Titanic ended their heroic service by playing the hymn as the ship sank beneath the waves. (more…)

Lawrence Charles McClarey: In Memoriam

Larry McClarey

Lawrence Charles McClarey

Birth:  September 5, 1991

(Feast day of Saint Lawrence Justinian)

Death:  May 19, 2013

(Pentecost)

[53] For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality. [54] And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. [55] O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?

1 Corinthians 15: 53-55 (more…)

Published in: on May 19, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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