Tuesday, July 16, 2019

I Was Wrong

I've become so detached from the music scene over the past decade that on first hearing Chris Stapleton last week, I assumed he was some brand new young artist.  Come to find out he's 41, started writing songs in 2001, and emerged as a solo artist in 2015 when his first album reached #1 on Billboard and was recognized by the Country Music Association (CMA) as Album of the Year, a feat he repeated with his second record in 2017.  I guess you can officially consider this a followup on my Am I A Cliche? post.

Country has gone in a way too pop direction in recent years.  Stapleton is a corrective.  The guy has an incredible voice and can write and sing in all sorts of different styles.  A sampling;

I Was Wrong features a soulful vocal with jazz touches, Nobody To Blame is traditional country, while Midnight Train to Memphis is a rocker.  On the last one, the gal singing backup is his wife, Morgane, a songwriter in her own right.  They've got four kids.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Am I A Cliche?

This is getting scary.  I read something yesterday reminding me that in early 1969 I'd seen the first hippie musical, Hair, on Broadway.  That triggered a cascade of memories.  In 1969 I also:
Saw The Who debut Tommy at the Fillmore East.

Went to Woodstock.  We were among the few with tickets.  I still have the program. And I drove my girlfriend's father's VW Van to get there! 

Attended a SDS meeting during freshman orientation at the U of Wisconsin and listened to young people argue over whether it was better to be a Stalinist or a Trotskyite.

That November I was one of 500,000 participants in the Moratorium Against the Vietnam War March in Washington DC.

I also watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.

And viewed Casablanca for the first time.
I report, you decide.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Good News

Sometimes the news can be discouraging as one insanity gets piled atop another.  I thought Nike's recall of the Betsy Ross sneakers at the behest of a former athlete who admires Fidel Castro, the dictator, racist, homophobe, and murderer, was in that category.  Of course, just the prior week Nike dumped its designer of a sneaker for the Chinese market because he tweeted in support of those brave souls in Hong Kong protesting against the proposed extradition law, a law supported by the government in Beijing, which Nike takes pains not to offend so maybe I shouldn't have been shocked.

Below is a corrective.  A story from National Review Online.  Read it:
Fode Bade celebrates his five children being naturalized as American citizens at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia on July 4th (Chris Tremoglie)
Fode Bade did not know he was supposed to feel oppressed in the United States. However, as a native of Guinea, he certainly knew what oppression was. Entrenched poverty and periodic political violence plagued the African nation, and Bade’s survival to the next day was not guaranteed. In 2005, he came to the United States as a political refugee and was granted asylum. Free from the oppression of his native land, Bade prospered in America. And on July 4, he brimmed with pride as his four daughters and son became legal citizens of the United States at a special naturalization ceremony at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia.

On July 1, at the behest of Colin Kaepernick, Nike recalled their special Betsy Ross Flag Air Max 1 USA sneakers after the former quarterback expressed concerns over what “he believed are its associations with an era of slavery.” A billion-dollar corporation and a millionaire ex-athlete declared the patriotic flag as a symbol of racial oppression. Yet, on July 4, an African family, from a country victimized by the transatlantic slave trade, eagerly became citizens of a country under that very flag. Bade proudly stated, “I’m so grateful to this country.”
Children eagerly wait to be sworn in as naturalized U.S. citizens at a special ceremony at the Betsy Ross House on July 4th (Chris Tremoglie)
As part of “Welcome America,” Philadelphia’s annual weeklong July 4 celebration, 13 children became American citizens at a special ceremony at the Betsy Ross House. Thirteen children are selected to commemorate the original 13 colonies, and the venue is chosen in honor of the seamstress of the first United States flag featuring the stars and stripes. The ceremony is in its 15th year and features a swearing-in ceremony, patriotic decorations, colonial reenactors, and the symbolic ringing of a bell — one time by each of the children — to honor the 13 original colonies. “Coming here, being an American citizen is the greatest thing someone can have on this earth,” Bade told National Review.

Another African immigrant, Ahmed, from Morocco, also witnessed his son, also named Ahmed, become naturalized at the ceremony. When asked what he thought the flag symbolized, the elder Ahmed did not hold back: “A better life.” Fresh off his naturalization, Ahmed was beaming with pride and enthusiastically waving the American flag — the Betsy Ross American flag. “America is great,” he told National Review.
Ahmed (center) was one of thirteen children who were naturalized as American citizens at a special ceremony at the Betsy Ross House on July 4th (Chris Tremoglie)
The irony here should not go unnoticed. Leftist American elites peddle a narrative of oppression while those from some of the grimmest places on earth continue to see the United States as a beacon of hope. As a billion-dollar corporation and millionaire athlete sought to delegitimize American exceptionalism, an African father did everything in his power to make sure his children became legal citizens — and specifically did so at the house of the latest American hero that leftists have targeted as offensive. “Americans don’t realize how good this country is,” said Bade.

Chris Tunde, an African-American living in Philadelphia, had a strong opinion on the Nike-Kaepernick flag controversy. “I’m not a Trump supporter but this whole Betsy Ross, Kaepernick, Nike stuff is ridiculous,” Tunde told National Review. “Nike should have stood their ground and told Kap to kick rocks.” When asked what he believed the Betsy Ross flag represented, Tunde replied, “It was the first flag, it represents the birth of America.”

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Big Sleepy Chill

With many thanks to Raymond Chandler and a tip o' the hat to Dashiell Hammett.

This is the time of year when folks like to complain about the heat, how tough it is on them, discuss how to cool off, or discourse on their favorite frozen concoction or confection.

Oh dear! How frightful! Well, as far as I’m concerned, fuggedaboutit. And I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights, and they’re a lot of long cold nights in the story I’m laying out. Some days I feel like playing it smooth. Some days I feel like playing it like a waffle iron. Today's an iron day.

Let’s talk about a really chilly summer, one that would have made sure you complainers didn’t get an AC bill as big as my hangover this morning. Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.

And I’m not even talking about 1816, the Year Without A Summer, after Mt Tambora blew its lid like mine blew when I saw that mug on the street last night. He thought he had the drop on me but even on Central Ave. he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake. Wait, where was I? Oh yeah . . .

I’m talking about real chill; I’m talking about 536 AD.

So quit your yapping, put on your big boy pants, and listen. And remember, there are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. This truth isn’t gonna make you feel toasty, so you better make do with science.

It started on a night with the desert wind blowing. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

Well, it may have not exactly been that type of night. Maybe it was a night when all around was soft and quiet, the white moonlight cold and clear, like the justice we dream of but don’t find. Or, it might not have even been night. Other than that it’s probably how it happened.

It was a volcano that started it. Maybe in Iceland where the land is as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars.

But, before we get to that . . .

We’ve always known something went seriously wrong with the climate in 536. For much of the Northern Hemisphere a strange cloud or “veil of dust” appeared making the sun noticeably dimmer during the day. The Byzantine historian Procopius wrote “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year“. In China, snow fell during the summer causing crops to fail and people to starve. Korean documents record massive storms. Irish chronicles mention “a failure of bread from the years 536–539.” Michael the Syrian recorded “[T]he sun became dark and its darkness lasted for one and a half years […] Each day it shone for about four hours and still this light was only a feeble shadow […] the fruits did not ripen and the wine tasted like sour grapes.” The following winter in Mesopotamia was so brutal a chronicler wrote “from the large and unwonted quantity of snow the birds perished.” Dust fell from the sky. The wet air was as cold as the ashes of love. The streets were dark with something more than night. It was as cool as a cafeteria dinner. Most contemporaneous documentation states these conditions continued for years.

More recently confirmatory evidence of those terrible times has been uncovered. Tree ring studies in the 1990s confirmed the years around 540 were unusually cold and it is now calculated that summer temperatures fell 2.5 to 4 degrees F, beginning the coldest decade in the past 23 centuries. Archaeological evidence from Scandinavia shows that up to 75% of settlements were abandoned during those years.

Some places had it even worse. The Byzantines chose that year to invade Italy, trying to resurrect the glory days of the Roman Empire. Justinian’s general Belisarius landed in Naples that fall and marched into Rome unopposed on December 9. The Ostrogoths, after several years of chaos following the death of long time rule Theodoric, had retreated and the Byzantines thought the war was over. It wasn’t and what followed was two decades of battles, sieges, looting, famine, and devastation across the peninsula, on top of the horrible weather conditions. It was the Gothic War that spelled the real end of the classical city of Rome and of the traditional way of life in Italy. It makes you think maybe we all get like this in the cold half-lit world where always the wrong thing happens and never the right.

Some medieval historians say 536 was the worst year ever to be alive. I say that’s why they’re medieval historians.

For an agricultural society in which most people lived on the edge of survival the events had a terrible impact, shortening growing seasons, causing starvation, and weakening those who survived. After several years of cold, a new terror came to the Middle East, the Eastern Roman Empire, and western Europe with its origin in central Asia or China. Today it is known as the Justinian Plague, after the Byzantine Emperor of the times, the first confirmed outbreak of the bubonic plague. So many died so quickly the bodies were often left where they lay. Killing perhaps a quarter of the population, some believe its arrival and the high death toll are linked to a population already living on the brink of disaster. On the other hand, the problem with putting two and two together is that sometimes you get four, and sometimes you get twenty-two.

Living on the edge reminds me of another mug who complained to me yesterday about how tough things were for him. I told him, “You’re broke, eh? I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.” Some people.

More recently, ice core data from Greenland and other evidence has given clues as to the origin of the deluge of cold. While some thought it lay in a meteor strike, it now appears there was a massive eruption in 536, likely from a volcano in Iceland, and another huge eruption in 540 or 541 though its location is more uncertain.

So while you’re whipping up your favorite frozen concoction, or whatever it is you people do, take a moment to think about all those souls, living on the margins back then and how they chilled out.

As for me, after this, I need a drink, I need a lot of life insurance, I need a vacation, I need a home in the country. What I have is a coat, a hat and a gun. I’m putting them on and getting out of here.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


Equanimity - The quality of being calm and even-tempered; composure.

It was March 7, 161 AD.  Nearing 75 years of age, the ailing Emperor Antoninus Pius, the longest lived emperor since the Principate's second ruler, Tiberius, who died in 37 at the age of 79, retired for the evening, knowing he had not long to live.  Earlier that day he'd summoned his Imperial Council and announced he was transferring power to his adoptive son.  As he lay in bed, his guard asked for the customary password to be used by the night-watch this evening.  Antoninus responded "AEQUANIMITAS" (equanimity in English).  He died in his sleep that night.  The password was an appropriate capstone to his life.

When the Empire in the West ceased to exist more than three centuries later, no ruler would have even reached the age of 70, except for Gordian I, who reigned for all of 21 days in 238 before committing suicide at 78 and Tacitus, who held the throne for nine months in 276.

Antoninus became emperor on July 11, 138.  He is one of five Roman rulers popularly known, following the terminology of Edward Gibbon (author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in the late 18th century), as the Good Emperors who governed from 96 to 180.  Many later historians dispute the terminology, though Cassius Dio writing in the third century would not, characterizing the period afterwards as when "our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust", but the reign of the five emperors undoubtedly represents Rome at its greatest geographical extent and prosperity.
Image result for coin of antoninus pius
The five were very different.  Nerva (96-98) was an elderly senator elevated after the assassination of Domitian.  As part of the deal surrounding his ascension he adopted Trajan as his son and successor.

After Nerva's brief reign, Trajan (born 56, reigned 98-117) became the first foreign born emperor (his Italian family had emigrated to Spain more than a century earlier).  A warrior by temperament, Trajan destroyed and annexed the Dacian Kingdom, ancient enemies of Rome and located north of the Danube in modern day Romania.  And then, dreaming of Alexander the Great, Trajan launched his greatest expedition in 114, annexing Armenia and attacking the Parthian Empire.  Moving down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers he stormed the Parthian winter capital of Ctesiphon (near modern Baghdad) and then became the only Roman Emperor to stand on the shores of the Persian Gulf.  Prevented from fulfilling his aspirations by continuing Parthian raids into Mesopotamia from their homeland base on the Iranian plateau and the need to quell major Jewish revolts in Egypt and Cyrenaica (modern Libya), Trajan returned to Antioch in 116.  Falling ill, he died the next year, his recent conquests left in chaos.

According to Trajan's wife, the deceased emperor had named Hadrian as his successor and who was to vouchsafe her?  Hadrian (born 76, reigned 117-38) was of a much different temperament than his predecessor.  His was a reign of consolidation, not expansion.  The emperor was highly intelligent, a man of culture, arrogant, and petty. Abandoning Trajan's middle east conquests, Hadrian returned to Rome.  After stabilizing the political situation in the capital, he embarked on three lengthy tours of the empire, eight years in all, inspecting fortifications and legions on the frontiers.  His most famous action in that respect was ordering the construction of what we now call Hadrian's Wall in the north of Britain.  Reportedly he personally designed the wall; Hadrian took pride in his self-described architectural skills, also directing the rebuilding and design of the Pantheon in Rome and his astonishing villa in Tivoli.

(Map of Hadrian's travels)
Image result for map of hadrian's travels
Hadrian also took time to be a sightseer, most notably in Egypt and Greece, particularly Athens, where he spent three winters.  It was Hadrian's love of Hellenic culture and his dislike of the Jewish (in the ancient world these were seen very much as opposites by both Hellenes and Jews) that sparked the greatest crisis of his regime.  In 132 he ordered the construction of a Greek Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a site that had laid abandoned since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.  The proposed defilement of the site triggered a massive Jewish revolt, led by Bar Kochba, which took three years and a third of Rome's entire army to subdue.  In the aftermath, Hadrian banned Jews from Judea, placed a garrison on the site along with his temple, and renamed both the city (Aelia Capitolina) and the province (from Judea to Syria Palaestina).  It's why while I enjoy reading about Hadrian I am not an admirer.

Like Trajan and Nerva, Hadrian was childless.  As his health declined after 135 the matter of his planned succession became more important.  His initial appointed successor died in 137 and he next turned to an older (born in 86) and highly regarded Roman senator, who became known as the Emperor Antoninus Pius, after Hadrian's death the following year.  To ensure longer-term stability, as a condition of Hadrian's appointment, Pius, also childless, was required to adopt the sons of two prominent Roman families, the 17 year old Marcus Aurelius and 8 year old Lucius Verus.

Twenty three years later, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus were to succeed Antoninus as co-emperors, with Marcus as the senior partner.  Lucius died in 169 but Marcus soldiered on until 180.  And soldiering is much of what they did.  Lucius spent much of his reign in the east, fighting the Parthians, while Marcus was fully occupied taking on the barbarians who flooded across the Danube, posing the greatest threat to Italy in almost three centuries.  Marcus spent his last years on the Danube, far from Rome, overseeing his legions and writing Meditations, musings based on the Stoic philosophy he followed.  Unlike the prior four emperors, Marcus had a son (Commodus) to whom he unfortunately trusted the empire upon his death (for more on his death and Stocism read At Vindobona).

The reign of Antonius Pius was unlike that of the other four.

Unlike Nerva's two years governing the Principate, the twenty three years of Antoninus was the longest reign between Tiberius (14-37) and Constantine the Great (306-337).

Unlike Trajan he sought no expansion of the empire and did not embark upon wars of conquest.

Unlike Trajan (Trajan's Forum & Market) and Hadrian (Pantheon) he initiated no monumental construction projects in Rome.

Unlike Trajan and Hadrian, Antoninus never faced any violent revolts by the populace.

Unlike the wandering Hadrian, Antoninus never left Italy during his entire reign, preferring to spend his time outside of Rome at his nearby villas.

Unlike Marcus Aurelius he was not forced into desperate wars to protect the empire, and not faced with a financial crisis which reduced Marcus to auctioning furniture from the Imperial Palace to pay for those wars.

Unlike Marcus he faced no open revolts within his army.

And unlike Marcus he did not have to deal with the Antonine Pandemic which swept across the Roman world beginning in 165, a pandemic thought to be smallpox and which killed a significant portion of the empire's population.

His reign was tranquil and the most peaceful of any during the entire history of the Empire (31 BC - 476 AD).  His only military adventure was early in his rule, an advance in Britain from Hadrian's Wall to a line between present day Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland, where an earthen wall was constructed and garrisoned for the next twenty years.  Whether this was provoked by raids from Scottish tribes, or just an effort to garner prestige for the new regime remains unknown.

Within the empire he spent funds on roads and aqueducts but his greatest contribution was probably in the area of legal reforms.  He enacted measurements making the freeing of slaves easier, punished killing of slaves by masters, requiring forcible sale of slaves if they were consistently mistreated and limiting the use of torture when obtaining testimony by slaves.  He endorsed the principle that accused persons are not to be treated as guilty before trial and required that records of interrogations be kept to be available in the event of appeals of verdicts.  Doesn't sound like much by modern standards but not bad for the second century.

His whole life had been quiet so his ruling style was not a surprise.  Son of a Senatorial family from Nemausus (Nimes) in Gaul, and raised at Lanuvium in the Alban Hills outside Rome, he rose to prominence becoming counsel under Hadrian in 120, later one of four proconsuls for Italia, and finally taking the prestigious role of proconsul for Asia (today the western part of Turkey, adjacent to the Aegean, and one of the richest Roman provinces.

(Modern Lanuvium, 20 miles from Rome)

In 141, Antoninus' wife of thirty years, Faustina, died.  By all accounts he was devoted to her and after her death had the Temple of Antoninus & Faustina built in the Roman Forum.  The temple still stands today due to its conversion to a Christian church after the end of the empire - a similar conversion saved the Pantheon.  At some point after his wife's death he began living with Galena Lysistrata, one of Faustina's freedwomen (former slave), and their relationship lasted until his death.

(Temple of Antoninus & Faustina today)
Image result for temple of antoninus and faustina
Amidst the usual tumult of war, conspiracy, murder, and unrest that surrounds most Roman emperors, Antoninus Pius stands out because nothing stands out about his rule other than its lack of exciting events.

And now, it's time to say goodnight to Antoninus, with equanimity.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Who's The Fool?

Mr Trump is said to upset the norms of our political life, but how exactly?  By lying? By engaging in demagoguery?  By making absurd claims?  His real trick has been to be a one-man satire of our politics.  And so far he has yet to find an opponent or critic - whether Mr Biden, or Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney - who doesn't prove his point.

To show what a liar he is, his enemies entangle themselves in lies.  Democrats have turned themselves into a party of Adam Schiffs, who, whatever his previous virtues, now is wholly defined by his promotion of the collusion canard.  It's an amazing psychological feat to squander their advantage over Mr Trump in this way.

Ditto the media.  In their eagerness to traffic in falsehoods about Mr Trump, his media critics lend him strength.  We face the weird prospect now of a world-class scandal involving the FBI and the intelligence community being aired even while much of the press is committed to being part of the coverup.

- Holman Jenkins, Wall St Journal, May 4, 2019

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Recommended Reading

Books I've enjoyed recently reading.

On May 24, 1869, ten men in four boats pushed off from Green River Station in Wyoming.  Ninety eight days later, after battling their way down the Green and Colorado Rivers, six men and two boats emerged from the Grand Canyon.  In Down The Great Unknown (2001), Edward Dolnick tells the story of the voyage of one-armed John Wesley Powell and his expedition as they became the first men known to have traveled by water through the entire Grand Canyon.

The book works as a combination adventure tale, character study, interspersed with clear explanations of geology and the technical aspects of shooting rapids.  Dolnick conveys the audacity of Powell's plan; none of the crew members had significant experience on the water, their boats unsuitable for the task, and no foreknowledge of what they would encounter.  All they knew was the elevation difference between their start and end points was 6,000 feet, but they didn't know if the descent was gradual or whether around a corner in a canyon they would plunge over the equivalent of Niagara Falls.  This book is a page turner.

An expedition three centuries earlier, also in the desert southwest, is the subject of Richard Flint's No Settlement, No Conquest (2013), an account of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado's exploration of 1539 to 1542, which included 500 Spaniards and several thousand Indian allies from Mexico, was not looking for natural resources to exploit, or land for settlement like the English and Scots who came to America's east coast in the 17th and 18th century.

Rather they were looking for already prosperous Indian societies which they could exploit, making their fortunes if the King via his Viceroy in Mexico City were to grant them encomiendas which would allow them to treat Indians as virtual serfs.  The startling wealth found by Spaniards in central Mexico and a few years later in the Inca Empire became their inspiration.  The Coronado expedition wandered through modern Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, and even onto the Staked Plains of west Texas in a vain search for the rumored Seven Cities of Gold.  By far the best, and best written, account I know of.

There's a lot of badly written historical fiction out there which is why, when I discovered Harry Sidebottom's novels of ancient Rome, most set in the third century AD, I devoured them.  His latest, The Lost Ten, is the tale of a team of Roman soldiers and spies sent undercover into the Sassanid Empire to free a captive Persian prince from a castle near the Caspian Sea and bring him to Rome.  It's all in the service of conflicting internal Roman intrigues.  Sidebottom knows how to combine plot, character development, intertwined with accurate settings and historical background into a thrilling ride.

I avoid Gothic tales, particularly those with a hint of the supernatural so I was a bit reluctant to read The Shadow Of The Wind by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon even when it was recommended by a friend.   It took a little while but the book pulled me in and I've now read the second book in his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.  The books, set in Barcelona, in periods from the First World War into the Franco regime, are logically implausible but irresistibly enthralling.

Zafon reminds me of one of my favorite authors who also happens to be Spanish - Arturo Perez-Reverte.  I've read all of his 20 or so novels.  Start with The Queen of the South and then move to The Nautical Chart, The Flanders Panel and The Painter of Battles.  He's also written six historical fiction novels, the Captain Alatriste series set in early 17th century Spain.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Weight Of Love

From The Black Keys.  Has a Pink Floyd vibe at the beginning but evolves into something different.  Catch the dual guitars at the end.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The 4th

Equality, rightly understood, as our Founding Fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism. —Barry Goldwater

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A Timely Reminder

News you can use . . . 

If you are driving in a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lane on the highway and the only other occupant is dead you are not meeting the legal requirement that the vehicle contain at least two passengers.  It also means that if your passenger should tragically die while you are in the HOV lane, you must immediately change lanes.

Always looking for ways to help our readers!!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Two Museums

Yesterday's post referenced my recent visit to two WW2 Museums, the National WW2 Museum in New Orleans and the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.  We spent a day and a half at each and both are worth visiting though they provide very different experiences.

Let's start with the setting; the better known of the two, the National WW2 Museum, is in the tourist mecca of New Orleans, a city I don't care for, while the Pacific War museum is in a small town in the Texas hill country an hour and a half from Austin and San Antonio.  It's no surprise the New Orleans museum has many more visitors.

The focus is broader in New Orleans, covering America's global participation in the war (both museums focus on America's role, with minimal attention to our allies), while Fredericksburg is exclusively about the Pacific Theater.  Frederickburg is the birthplace of Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet in WW2, which explains its location and focus.  The town was founded by German settlers in the 1850s and today the main street is filled with German restaurants, breweries, and wine tasting shops (the surrounding area is covered with vineyards).  And Luckenbach Texas where you can sit in the shade, relax, have a beer, and listen to some country music.

New Orleans is flashier with more active visuals, including movies such as Beyond All Boundaries, narrated by Tom Hanks, which we found to be the only disappointing aspect of either museum.  The Pacific War exhibits are more text heavy and for pure history buffs I thought superior.  Perhaps because of the different nature of the exhibits and fewer visitors I found Fredericksburg more somber.

New Orleans is designed around a narrative of the triumph of democracy and the sacrifices of our soldiers and those on the home front while Fredericksburg is a campaign narrative as we slog through the Pacific on our way to Japan.

Both museums stress the staggering scope of America's industrial ramp up and production during the war though New Orleans does a more comprehensive job.  We simply could not do this much, this quickly, today.  We built a titanic manufacturing complex and created the atomic bomb in three years.  In the 21st century we'd be litigating over environmental impact statements, rights of way, and a multitude of other issues for decades.

Both museums also address the uncomfortable issues of segregation in the armed forces and the detention of American citizens of Japanese ancestry, and do so in a fair manner.  However, there is one puzzling omission in New Orleans, particularly as the museum casts the war as a struggle between democracy and dictatorship - the role of our ally, the Soviet Union, without which Germany might not have been defeated or, if defeated, at a much greater cost to the United States.  While I think we made the right decision in WW2, there is no doubt that having as our ally a murderous dictatorship which ended up occupying half of Europe complicates the simple narrative presented by the museum and visitors would have benefited by having to confront this.  While this aspect was also ignored in Fredericksburg it's understandable since the Soviet Union was neutral in that conflict until its final weeks.  Even with that, the Pacific War museum notes that hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians perished during the Soviet occupation of Manchuria.

Perhaps because of its narrower scope, the Pacific War museum captures some aspects of its theater of war that were absent in New Orleans, emphasizing how Japanese racial supremacy, its ongoing conflict with, and contempt for, China, and America's attempt to intervene on behalf of China, triggered Japan's attack on the U.S. 

The Fredericksburg museum has a unique aspect, an outdoor two acre recreation of Japanese defenses on a Pacific island.  Throughout the year they run special programs at this location.  If we return, we'll coordinate to make sure we are there during one of those programs.

Both museums understate the degree of conflict about strategy among America's military services and, at times, with FDR, during the course of the war (not to mention the disagreements with the British).  The Pacific War museum does touch on Admiral Halsey falling for Japanese deception plans at Leyte Gulf and Admiral Nimitz's decision to proceed with the Pelilieu invasion despite updated intelligence undercutting the value of taking the island, while at New Orleans the terrible decision by General Hodges and Bradley to launch the Hurtgen Forest battle is indirectly criticized, though other major controversies are ignored, such as Mark Clark's inept handling of the Anzio landing and his later decision to seek personal glory by occupying Rome instead of cutting off retreating German forces.

It is a very emotional experience going through both museums, reflecting on the sacrifices and the costs of the war on millions.  The toughest moments for me were at Fredericksburg - reading Mrs Sullivan's letter (of which I wrote yesterday) and listening to the reminiscences of a medic who served at Okinawa about how over the decades he has remembered a Marine sergeant and a sailor who died while he was caring for them.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Saddest Letter

Last week my friend LDC (for his pithy words of wisdom read the right sidebar) and I visited two WW2 Museums.  The better known is the National WW2 Museum in New Orleans, while the lesser known National Museum of the Pacific War is located in the lovely small town of Fredericksburg in the Texas hill country west of Austin.

It was at the Pacific War Museum I found myself in a small alcove reading the letter below, an inquiry from Mrs Alleta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, inquiring about a rumor she'd heard regarding her five sons serving on the light cruiser USS Juneau.  The combination of her humble apologetic inquiry ("I hated to bother you") and my knowledge of the fate of her boys made it very distressing to read.  I barely made it through.  As a child I learned about the Sullivan brothers from seeing the 1944 movie The Fighting Sullivans on TV but had never seen Mrs Sullivan's letter.

Thomas and Alleta Sullivan had six children.  Five boys, George (27), Frank (26), Joe (24), Matt (23) and Al (22), and a daughter, Genevieve.  George and Frank had already served in the navy and been discharged when Genevieve's boyfriend, also a sailor, was killed at Pearl Harbor.  All five brothers enlisted on January 3, 1942.  At their request, they were allowed, despite Navy discouragement of the practice, to serve on the same ship.  Al was married and had a child while Frank and Joe were engaged.
The Sullivan brothers, Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison, and George, are pictured on board USS Juneau (CL 52) at the time of her commissioning at the New York Navy Yard, Feb. 14, 1942. All were lost with the ship following the Nov. 13, 1942, Battle of Guadalcanal.

In November 1942, the five brothers were on the USS Juneau, a new light cruiser, on station in the Solomon Islands.  From August through the end of that year, the US and Japanese navies fought a series of fierce engagements, triggered by the American landing on Guadalcanal, actions in which both services suffered severe losses.

In the early morning hours of November 13 the Juneau was damaged by a torpedo.  Late that morning as it limped back to base a Japanese submarine fired a torpedo which struck the ammunition storage area of the cruiser.  The ensuing explosion was so huge that the Navy determined there could be no survivors and did not even perform a search.  Eight days later a Navy plane spotted ten survivors.  It turned out that perhaps 100 of the 697 man crew may have survived the initial explosion but only the ten rescued eight days later made it.  All of the Sullivan boys were gone; at least one survived for a while after the sinking.

However, because the Navy hoped more survivors would be found, the affected families were not notified for some time.  Which explains Mrs Sullivan's letter.

Thomas and Alleta Sullivan displayed remarkable resilience in the face of this terrible news with Alleta, in particular, making enormous contributions to the war effort.  Alleta, her husband, and daughter spoke to employees at more than 200 plants and shipyards across America and appeared in support of war bond rallies.  By war's end they had spoken to more than 1 million workers in person and millions more through radio broadcasts.

Here's Mrs Sullivan with Marlene Dietrich serving servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen in 1944:
Alleta Sullivan, left, mother of the five Sullivan brothers who lost their lives in the sinking of the cruiser USS Juneau, works alongside actress Marlene Dietrich as they serve servicemen in the USO Hollywood Canteen, Calif., Feb. 9, 1944.

On September 30, 1943 Mrs Sullivan christened a new destroyer, USS The Sullivans, the first American navy ship named for more than one person.  The Sullivans saw heavy action in the Pacific during 1944 and 1945, remaining in service until 1965.  Alleta Sullivan's grandson served on the ship in its last years.  The Sullivans can still be found on station at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen's Park.

In 1997, a new USS The Sullivans was commissioned and present for the event was Alleta Sullivan's great granddaughter, Kelly Sullivan Loughran.  The Sullivans remains in service.  In early 2000, while at port in Yemen, Al Qaeda unsuccessfully tried to attack The Sullivans but its overloaded boat sank.  Later that year, Al Qaeda succeeded in its attack on USS Cole in the same harbor.

According to Kelly:
"the story that sticks with her the most is that long after the war, after the movie, the media and the ceremonies had faded, Alleta would receive house calls from Sailors that either knew her sons or who just wanted to stop by and extend their condolences. Kelly said her great-grandmother would often cook them a hot meal and offer them a place to stay for the evening or the weekend."
Thomas Sullivan passed in 1965, Alleta in 1972.  On March 17, 2018 Paul Allen's exploration team located the wreckage of USS Juneau at a depth of 13,800 feet.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks!

Image result for mel brooks

Mel turns 93 today.  Here he is on why he's still alive and full of energy:
"Look, I really don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive, you got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death.  And, therefore, as I see it, if you're quiet you're not living.  I mean you're just slowly drifting into death.  So you've got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy and colorful and lively.  My liveliness is based on an incredible fear of death.  In order to keep death at bay, I do a lot of "Yah! Yah! Yah!".  And death says, "All right.  He's too noisy and busy.  I'll wait for someone who's sitting quietly, half asleep.  I'll nail him.  Why should I bother with this guy?  I'll have a lot of trouble getting him out the door."  There's a little door they gotta get you through. "This will be a fight", death says. "I ain't got time". "
As a kid I'd heard the 2,000 Year Old Man routines with Carl Reiner (who he met in 1952 and with whom, at least as of a couple of years ago, had dinner with most nights) but it was seeing The Producers in 1968, the first film written and directed by Brooks, that made me a fan.  Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder from one of my favorite scenes:

In a telling commentary on 21st century America, Blazing Saddles, satirizing bigots and racists, would not be made today.  Here's a sample with Brooks as the Yiddish speaking Indian chief:

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Stevie Ray Vaughan at his peak in 1989 on a nameless TV show.  Without his band Double Trouble but backed by a terrific house band playing Crossfire.  What a groove and listen to his guitar tone!
I am stranded, caught in the crossfire

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Medal

On Memorial Day, we published a post on Johnnie D Hutchins, whose actions in the South Pacific saved his crew and ship at the cost of his life, actions for which he posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

Yesterday we visited the National WW2 Museum in New Orleans.  On display was Hutchins' Medal of Honor.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Take On Me

A worldwide hit from 1985 by the Norwegian band A-ha.  Played endlessly on MTV because of its innovative video, which has now accumulated over 900 million views. This is their acoustic version from 2008.  As one of the comments on YouTube says, "Basically every 80s song played slowly becomes the saddest song ever."  And the first time I'd ever listened to the lyrics.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Talking With Pete & Roger

A recent SkyNews interview with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend as The Who prepare to embark on a European tour, 55 years after the band's start.  Fascinating insights into the band, the music business, and their relationship over the years.  At the end Pete talks about the MeToo movement and then the interviewer asks Roger about whether if the UK proceeds with Brexit it will adversely effect tours like their in Europe to which Roger responds:
"As if we didn't tour in Europe before the f***ing EU!  If you want to be run by a mafia you do it!  [The EU is] like being governed by FIFA!"

Monday, June 17, 2019

Old Town Road

It's been the #1 song in the United States for the past ten weeks.  20 year old Lil Nas X created one of the wittiest and catchy songs of recent years, setting a record in April being streamed 143 million times in one week.  Who knows what genre it fits into?  It's been described as country rap, country trap, and Southern hip hop (this song may have been the first of the genre). Who cares?  I hope the kid keeps his head on straight.  He's got some talent.

Lil Nas X (aka Montero Lamar Hill) hails from the Atlanta area.  The song and its associated remixes have a complex history which I won't recount here (if you are interested read this) with the most popular version featuring Billy Ray Cyrus.  The riff is sampled from a haunting Nine Inch Nails song composed by Trent Reznor (the same guy who wrote Hurt, so memorably covered by Johnny Cash).

This is the original.

A modified version.

And finally the full movie-type video featuring Lil Nas, Billy Ray, and Chris Rock.  It's a hoot.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Pig War

On this date in 1859, Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer on San Juan Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (between present-day Bellingham, Washington and Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia), discovered a large pig in his garden, eating his newly planted potatoes.  The annoyed Cutler shot the pig thereby triggering an armed confrontation between Great Britain and the United States.

Cutler, in his mid-twenties, arrived on the island that April after failing to stake a claim during the 1858 gold rush in British Columbia.  According to the Skagit River Journal:
A contemporary described him as "one of the unwashed sovereigns of the United States who did not scare worth a cent".  Another recalled he was "tall, light-haired fine looking, fearless, adventurous and full of fun."  A third said he set up housekeeping with an Indian woman in a structure that was a cross between a tent and a hut.
Belle Vue Sheep Farm photo
(Hudson's Bay sheep farm on San Juan Island)

The pig was owned by Charles Griffin, who'd been hired by the British Hudson's Bay Company to run its sheep ranch on San Juan.  Cutlar offered to pay Griffin $10 as compensation for the pig, but when Griffin demanded $100, Cutlar rescinded the offer.  After British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, the farmer and his American neighbors called for American military protection.
Charles_John_Griffin(Charles Griffin)

Thirteen years to the day before Griffin's pig wandered into Cutlar's garden, the U.S. and Britain signed the Oregon Treaty, settling their conflicting claims in northwestern North America.  America retained the lands that later became the states Oregon, Idaho and Washington while the lands further north, between the Rockies and the Pacific, were confirmed as British possessions.
 (from wikipedia)

For most of the territory in dispute the dividing line became the 49th Parallel but as it reached the Pacific it was described as:
"the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver Island, and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to the Pacific Ocean."
The problem was that neither side had a firm grasp of the geography of the area.  It turns out that there are two channels, one to the west, and one to the east, of San Juan Island which can be considered the middle channel.   The result was both countries claimed sovereignty over the island.
PigWar-boundaries.png(from wikipedia)

In 1856 the two countries agreed to form a Boundary Commission to discuss disputes arising from the treaty, including the status of San Juan Island but by the end of 1857 the commission had failed to reach agreement and adjourned to report back to their respective governments.

It was during this period the Hudson Bay Company established its operation on the island and about 25 to 30 American settlers arrived and tensions were heightened between the two groups.

In response to the American settler request, the military dispatched Company D of the 9th Infantry Regiment stationed in Bellingham, along with its commanding captain, to San Juan Island.  The captain was George S Pickett (the same man who attained immortality in the charge at Gettysburg that bears his name, on July 3, 1863).

Pickett had been transferred to the Washington Territory several years before and oversaw the construction of Fort Bellingham.  While there he married Morning Mist, a member of the Haida tribe, who gave birth to a son before dying in 1858.

After arriving on San Juan on July 27, Pickett and the 60 or so men under his command established camp and began building fortifications to repell any attempted British landing.  In response, three British warships anchored off the island, prompting yet more reinforcements to be sent by the Americans.  Both sides were under orders not to fire first, but to resist if the other initiated combat.

By mid-August 461 American soldiers and 14 cannon were on the island, while offshore over 2,000 British with 70 cannon were aboard five warships.

The governor of Vancouver Island ordered Rear Admiral Robert Baynes to land naval marines on the island, but Baynes, fearing such an act would trigger open conflict, refused to do so.

As the standoff continued the atmosphere grew more relaxed.  According to the National Park Service website San Juan Island National Historical Park:
While the Americans dug in, the British conducted drills with their 52 total guns, alternately hurling solid shot into the bluffs and raised rocks along Griffin Bay. It was all great fun for tourists arriving on excursion boats from Victoria, not to mention the officers from both sides who attended church serves together aboard the Satellite and shared whisky and cigars in Charles Griffin’s tidy home.
When word of the strange and dangerous confrontation reached Washington and London both sides took steps to defuse the crisis.  President Buchanan dispatched General Winfield Scott (commander of the U.S Army) to the northwest to negotiate with the governor of Vancouver Island.  Reaching the area in October, Scott was quickly able to obtain agreement to a joint occupation of San Juan Island until such time as the two nations could reach a final settlement.

Under terms of the joint occupation both sides were limited to no more than 100 military personnel on the island.  The occupation would continue until 1871 when Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Washington, settling all outstanding disputes between the countries, including those arising from the Civil War.  Among its provisions, the boundary dispute was referred to Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany to resolve the dispute by arbitration.  The Emperor referred the matter to a three person arbitration commission in Geneva, Switzerland and in 1872 it awarded San Juan Island to the United States.

The joint occupation forces had an amicable relationship with frequent socializing and athletic competitions.  The Americans invited their British counterparts to an annual July 4th celebration while the Brits hosted the Americans for an annual celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday.

Lyman Cutlar left the island sometime during the late 1860s and died on April 27, 1874.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Selling The Drama

A quintessential 90s tune.  The whole vibe to it, the vocal, the instrumentation.  From Live (the band that is), a bunch of guys hailing from York, Pennsylvania.  It's like R.E.M. and Soundgarden had a child.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Get Well, Big Papi

Shocking news from the Dominican Republic.  David Ortiz shot in the back.  Six hours of surgery and now in stable condition but reportedly part of his intestines and gall bladder removed.   The Red Sox have sent a plane to the DR to take Papi back to Boston where he will be treated at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“David Ortiz is probably the most beloved and one of the most important players in our history, leading us to multiple World Series championships, and an active member in the community," said Red Sox team president Sam Kennedy. "I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone more beloved than David. It’s a very difficult day for the organization.
“I love David Ortiz. We all love David Ortiz. So telling my kids last night what had happened was very difficult. It’s hard to express what David Ortiz means to the Boston Red Sox. When you love someone and they come in harm’s way, it’s jarring. But you have to put those emotions aside and focus on what’s necessary."

Sunday, June 9, 2019


Now this is high energy!  Otis Redding from the Stax All-Stars Europe Tour of 1967.  Song written by Sam Cooke.

Thursday, June 6, 2019


Mrs THC's uncle also jumped that same night in 1944.  I only met him once; he told me it was the scariest moment of his life.  Later that year he fought at Bastogne and in early '45 was wounded in Germany.  The D-Day jump had such an impact that after returning to civilian life he refused to get on a plane for 25 years.  Deciding he needed to get over his fear, he decided to become a pilot, purchased his own plane, and used it to fly from his home in California to see his mother in Nebraska.

D-Day was a great accomplishment achieved at a terrible cost, about 10,000 Allied casualties (primarily American, British, and Canadian) on that day but it was only the start of a grinding two month campaign in Normandy; a slow slog against intense German resistance until the Allied breakout during the first part of August.  The cost was high - 209,000 Allied killed and wounded; along with the ABC forces, the Free Polish and Free French forces played key roles.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A Life

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) painted self portraits from his young adult years until just before his death.  A few years ago someone called LemurHeart created this short video showing all of Rembrandt's self-portraits morphing as the artist grows older.  I found it very moving and thought the artist seems more soulful as he ages, though that may because I'm now an Old Guy myself

Sunday, June 2, 2019


Image result for wade boggsThe Baseball-Reference.com homepage has a feature showing photos of twelve major league ballplayers whose careers took place anytime from 1871 until today and the photos rotate throughout the day.  I occasionally take a look at them, particularly those from the early days of baseball, click on their stats, and often look at their biographies.

Yesterday the photo on the left was featured.  It's of George Gore, major league batting champ in 1880.  The picture immediately reminded me of Wade Boggs (right), five time batting average leader with the Boston Red Sox during the 1980s.

Looks weren't their only similarity.

Both hit left handed and threw right.

George Gore played for three National League teams from 1879 through 1892; the Chicago Cubs for eight seasons, then going to the New York club, the Giants, for 4 1/2 years, and finishing with St Louis.  Wade Boggs played for three American League teams from 1982 through 1999; the Boston Red Sox for eleven seasons, then going to the New York club, the Yankees for five years, and finishing with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Gore played in an era where the seasons were shorter (75 to 130 games) and his career ended four years before Boggs so total career stats look different, but their ratios are very similar.

Gore's best years began in his second season with the Cubs and lasted for seven years (1880-86), while Boggs' best years began in his second season with the Red Sox and lasted for seven years (1983-89).

Over those seven years, Gore had an average OPS+ of 155 and Boggs averaged 153.  Both had three seasons after their peak years with OPS+ above 120.

Both were doubles hitters, Gore with 294 two-baggers, 94 triples, and 46 home runs, while Boggs piled up 578 doubles to go along with 61 triples and 118 homers.  Gore doubled in 4.6% of his plate appearances (PA) and Boggs in 5.4%.

Of Gore's 1612 hits, 25.2% went for extra bases, while 25.0% of Boggs' hits were for extra bases.

Both knew how to work the count.  Over his career Gore walked 717 times while striking out 332 and Boggs walked 1412 times while whiffing on 745 occasions.  If you're keeping score, Gore walked in 11.9% of his PAs while striking out 5.4% of the time, while Boggs strolled to first base in 13.1% of his PAs and striking out in 6.9%.

The biggest differences between the two:

Boggs played third base and rates as a very good defender.  Gore was an outfielder and current analytics say he was average but it's hard to make definitive judgments based on the quality of fielding data in the 1880s.

Gore seems to have been the faster runner.  Based on my own observations Boggs wasn't that slow but he had terrible instincts as a baserunner.

"Piano Legs" Gore had the more colorful nickname.

I can't find anything regarding whether Gore ate chicken before every game.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Stormy Weather

Looks like this week we're returning to normal late May weather in the Sonoran Desert, dry and in the 90s or even low 100s.  It's been abnormally cool and wet since December.  Here are some pictures from the last storm to come through a few days ago.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Billy Buck

Bill Buckner passed away yesterday at the age of 69 (oh, that sounds so young!) from Lewey Body Dementia, a nasty disease for both the sufferer and their loved ones, and one our family has had experience with.

Though Buckner had a 20 year major league career, gathering more than 2700 hits, he is best remembered for a play that went horribly wrong in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, when the Red Sox seemed on the verge of their first World Championship since 1918.  I will always remember that excruciating inning which ended with me on the floor, face down in front of the TV, reaching out to shut the device off (this was before the age of remote controls), and then laying there motionless for some time before dejectedly going off to bed.

Bill Buckner took a lot of blame from Red Sox fans for his miscue in letting that ground ball bounce through his legs, yet the bulk of the blame lay elsewhere, with Sox pitchers Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley who let a sure victory get away and, most of all, in the failure of Sox manager John McNamara.  Buckner was a hurting ballplayer by then, particularly defensively, with damaged ankles limiting his flexibility.  Yet when the left-handed hitting Buckner batted in the top of the 8th against against Mets lefthander Jessie Orosco, a specialist in retiring left handed hitters, McNamara did not pinch hit for him. 

Entering the 1986 World Series, Bill Buckner had only two hits, both singles, in 18 at bats against Orosco in his career.  He'd already faced Orosco twice in the Series, in the 8th inning of Game 2 getting a bloop single to short right field, and in Game 4 hitting a weak bouncer to Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez.  And it wasn't as if Buckner was otherwise hitting well.  So far in the playoffs plus the last five games of the regular season, Bill had only 14 hits in 85 at bats, a .165 average, with one extra base hit, a double, and two walks, one intentional.

Buckner swung at the first pitch and lofted an easy pop fly to center field.

During the season, McNamara had often put the slick fielding Dave Stapleton in as a defensive replacement for Buckner in the late innings but this night he failed to do so even as the Sox entered the bottom of the 10th inning with a 5-3 lead.  Bill was in the wrong place at the wrong time due to his manager's inaction.

What is often lost in the debacle of Game 6 is the key role Bill Buckner played in the most important stretch of the regular season for the Red Sox in 1986.

As of August 30, the Sox were in first place but had played mediocre ball for more than a month going 19-25, including losing 5 of their last 6 games, cutting their lead, which once stood at 8 games, to 3 1/2 over the Toronto Blue Jays and 5 1/2 over the Yankees.  Buckner was having a below average season with ten homers, 79 ribbies, and a slash line of .259/.300/.391.  We all feared another late season collapse.

Starting that day, the Sox turned it around, winning 12 of 13, and by September 12 had a ten game lead and could glide through the rest of the season.  In those thirteen games, Bill Buckner went 21 for 55 with five doubles and six home runs (he hit only 18 the entire season), and walked six times (he had only 40 base on balls in all of 1986), along with driving in 19 runs.  His slash line was .382/.444/.745.

Bill and Red Sox fans slowly made their peace with each other, with Bill returning briefly to close out his career with the Sox in 1990 and making a couple of other appearances, but it was winning the World Series in 2004 that made it easier for everyone.  I'm happy Bill got to enjoy this moment in Fenway, throwing out the first pitch in the 2008 season:

Monday, May 27, 2019

Johnnie D Hutchins

It was the photo that caught my attention.  I'd been looking for something else when coming across it on Reddit.  Struck by its clarity and perspective, seemingly taken from the viewpoint of the chickens in the bare dirt yard; the adult man and woman, along with six children, five girls and a boy, posed in front of a rough wooden unpainted home, far enough away that their features were indistinct, and accompanied by this inscription, I decided to find out more:
"Family of Seaman 1/C Johnnie D Hutchins who was mortally wounded on September 4, 1943 when he turned LST-473 from the path of Japanese torpedo.  He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.  Family home, Lissie, Texas, 1944."
Johnnie D Hutchins was born during 1922 in Weimar, Texas, a town of about 1,000 inhabitants halfway between Houston and Austin, one of eight children (a daughter died in 1941 before this photo was taken).  Soon thereafter the family moved to Lissie, a smaller town, about 40 miles closer to Houston, where Johnnie graduated from Eagle Lake High School.  His father, Johnnie Marion Hutchins, was a farm laborer, his mother Cally Drue Cooper.

Graduating from Eagle Lake, where he played on the football team, Johnnie worked at a shipyard on the Houston Ship Channel before enlisting in the Navy in November 1942. After training he was sent to the Pacific Theater, where on September 4, 1943 Seaman First Class Hutchins found himself on LST (Landing Ship, Tank) - 473 carrying troops of the Australian 9th Division, along with its normal complement of 163 naval officers and crew, as it approached Lae, New Guinea.  His ship was part of a small flotilla of six LSTs, three minesweepers, and two subchasers, which came under heavy attack by Japanese dive bombers and torpedo planes.
LST 473 Pic.jpg
(LST-473 in the South Pacific)

Japanese Val dive bombers scored two direct hits on Johnnie's LST, killing six Americans, wounding 31 (including 18 Australian soldiers) and igniting fires, just as the helmsman and Johnnie spotted a torpedo heading directly towards the craft.  One bomb hit the pilot house, wounding the helmsman and throwing him clear from the structure. Hutchins, also in the pilot house, was badly wounded in his torso and tossed to the deck.  Struggling to his feet, he reached the helm as the torpedo continued to close.  Grasping the wheel he turned it to the right, causing the torpedo to miss the 328 foot vessel with little room to spare, saving countless lives.  By the time his shipmates reached him Johnnie was dead, his hands still tightly gripping the spokes.  The crew were able to extinguish the fires from the two bombs and save the boat.

Along with saving lives, Hutchins' action preserved LST-473 which went on to participate in four more Pacific operations including landings at Leyte (October 1944) and Lingayen Gulf (January 1945).
http://www.navsource.org/archives/10/16/1016047304.jpg(Bomb damage, LST-473)

On May 2, 1944 the U.S. Navy commissioned the destroyer U.S.S. Johnnie D Hutchins, his mother christening the ship with the help of Johnnie's 17-year old fiancee, Ruby Mae Butler.  On September 21, 1944 at a public ceremony at the Houston Coliseum, Admiral AC Bennett presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to Johnnie's family.  The Hutchins family used the death benefit of $475.20 to purchase the home they rented.

After the war, Johnnie's body was returned from New Guinea and reburied at Lakeside Cemetery in Eagle Lake.  He has not been forgotten.  Eagle Lake named a street after him and, in 2000, surviving shipmates from LST-473 gathered at the cemetery for a memorial service.  A building at the Naval Air Station in Dallas is named after him.  In 2017 the Texas Legislature passed a bill designating Alt US-90 within Wharton County as Johnnie David Hutchins Memorial Highway.

In 2001, the family donated his Medal of Honor to the National WW2 Museum in New Orleans, where it is on display.  In 2012, Johnnie's brother Harold, who was only five when Johnnie died, recorded this brief oral history for the National WW2 Museum (the video also shows what an LST looked like as well as Japanese bombers).

In 1947, Johnnie's dad passed away from a heart attack at the age of 51.  I've been unable to find out more about his mother.  Johnnie's fiancee, Ruby Mae, a member of the Texas Cowgirls singing group, worked on bombers during WW2 and learned to fly, married in the late 1940s, became a registered nurse, and died in 2008.

 Ruby Mae <I>Butler</I> Covington(Ruby Mae Butler Covington)