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 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.