Category Archives: History

Iconography

Posted by lex, on September 29, 2010

Courtesy of occasional reader Zane, the iconography of Iwo Jima, with an essay on Joe Rosenthal’s tribulations. His photograph of the second raising of the American flag atop Suribachi guaranteed the existence of the Corps for the next 500 years, according to Navy Secretary James Forrestal.

I’ve walked those beaches and climbed that hill, and was in awe for every moment of it. And I wasn’t carrying a ten pound rifle, nor a forty pound ruck. And no one was shooting down on me.

If that’s a little too distant, these images * from the war in Iraq may evoke memories of a more innocent time, while graphically depicting our gradual loss of innocence over the years.

I don’t know that we come out of Iraq with any guarantees at all.

Two very different fights. Two very different endings.


** 02-15-21 Lex’s original link had the text in the Wayback Machine but not the images. I found another link but sadly it has but one image . Lex has several posts on his time at Iwo Jima. – Ed.

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The Day the Music Died

I was only 8 years old when it happened, so I didn’t remember the anniversary. I was just driving home listening to SiriusXM’s 50s on 5 listening to the host interviewing people who were there.

On a cold, windy and snowy evening on February 3, 1959, 3 young men, whose music is still appreciated 62 years later, died 10 minutes after takeoff, when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza crashed on an Iowa field.

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Hitler’s Would-be Assassin

For those who have even a modicum of WW2 history knowledge, the first thought that came to your mind was most likely Claus von Stauffenberg.

But there was apparently another some years earlier who, but for some fog, would have been successful.

That’s why I enjoy reading the BBC History Magazine. Many of their articles bring out either a revelation of daily life in the ancient times (for example in this issue, Vol 21, Nbr 13, life in the Roman Army for those who were Centurions (who commanded 80 men) and below), to obscure moments and figures in history.  

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The Memphis Belle – Her Final Mission

I’m watching a wonderfully produced program on YouTube on the Memphis Belle. Beautifully made because it goes from the restoration crew at Wright-Patterson doing the restoration, telling you how they refabricated parts, to voices of the now-gone crew talking about certain missions, to general information on her missions first to France, then Germany.

The Belle was famous – became an iconic piece of American history, for finishing 25 missions and boosting the morale of a war-weary American public.

Among the things I learned during her 6 month combat tour was that 10 engines were replaced, major wing parts, and the vertical stabilizer.

That a flight crew had only a 28% chance of surviving though the magic 25 combat missions and the ticket home.

How A-List Hollywood Director William Wyler, in Europe as an Army Major, picked the Belle as the B-17 he would use to document the war.

How every day in the War, the Pentagon sent 297 telegrams to the families of the 8th AAF crewmen giving them the worst news.

When I reviewed the book by Erik Larson on Churchill’s first year as PM, I came to the realization to get those fantastic recollections of family members, they had to have kept diaries.

Apparently many people in the 40s kept diaries, including the co-pilot of the Belle and a waist gunner.

We are the richer for it.

“After 13 years in the restoration hanger, the Memphis Belle was ready for her final mission. She would tell a story of valor and sacrifice for those whose voices are now silent”

It is well worth the hour it takes to view it.

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An Act of Chivalry and Nobility Amid the Carnage

A painting by John Hall commemorating that event.

For those you who have used the Internet awhile, you probably heard the story decades ago. Probably in the early 90s. The interesting thing about this is that when it was revealed it was a mystery solved after 47 years.

In the darkness of a December 20, 1943 morning in an English side Quonset hut, an orderly shined a light into the face of Lt Charles “Charlie” Brown to tell him that it was time to get up and attend the briefing.

Members of the 379th Bomb Group of the mighty 8th Army Air Force were to receive their briefing for that day’s bombing raid.

They were to bomb the Focke-wulf aircraft factory on the Northern German coast at Bremen.

They were told to expect heavy flak and hundreds of fighters in opposition. The CO giving the briefing, Col “Mo” Preston, would be leading the massive formation. He was no commander who led from the desk.

Although LT Brown and his crew had trained together and had 100s of hours stateside in the Flying Fortress, this would be his first bombing mission with that crew. After 100s of hours, the crew became as a family.

At Bremen during that same hour, a German Luftwaffe Leutnant, Franz Stigler, was most likely sleeping. They wouldn’t know about the raid until hours later. The B-17 crews deliberately had no radio communication once they started up on the tarmac.

Because the enemy was listening.

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Georgian backdrop

Posted by lex, on August 26, 2008

Michael Totten walks the dog back to the house. This didn’t start on August 8th, 2008. It’s a long game:

“A key tool that the Soviet Union used to keep its empire together,” Worms said to me, “was pitting ethnic groups against one another. They did this extremely skillfully in the sense that they never generated ethnic wars within their own territory. But when the Soviet Union collapsed it became an essential Russian policy to weaken the states on its periphery by activating the ethnic fuses they planted.

It took almost thirty years for the consequences of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse to be felt in the violent birth of, and violent reaction against the state of Israel.

Things happen faster these days.

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The return of history

Posted by lex, on August 10, 2008

Russia has a very great weight of history. It is a story of encirclement and betrayal, hardship and endurance which comes down to Russian souls from deep antiquity and whose character did much more to shape the Soviet Union than did the communist philosophy which ostensibly underpinned that enterprise.

For those of us in the West who have either never truly studied history or else forgotten its relevance to modern times, it was tempting at first to write-off as something from another century the Russian reaction to Georgia’s ill-conceived adventure in its northern marches: The government attempted military force to reclaim de facto sovereignty to go along with its de jure primacy over the break-away provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

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My Small Moment With Chuck Yeager

Since his retirement from the Air Force in the late 70s, General Yeager lived just “up the hill” in Nevada County, in part of our historic gold rush region.

He certainly was an American Icon. Not only for what he did, being the first person to break the sound barrier, but the way he did it.

Which started the evening before in the desert at Pancho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club. By the way, do you know how this legendary place, long since gone, got its name? I didn’t know for years, and as is my nature kept looking until I found the answer.

Pancho rented horses, horses allegedly so gentle, that the rider was guaranteed a “happy bottom” in riding them!

I’ve had an Internet friend for years, who is a retired Air Force test pilot, who remembered for years seeing the ruins of Pancho’s on the edge of Edwards (called Muroc in its early days).

Anyway, the icon part of the story started the evening before that historic October morning, when Yeager fell off one of those gentle horses and broke some ribs.

And since he didn’t want the mission to be cancelled the next morning and in all probability lose his ride, kept this news from the powers-that-be.

Sidebar: If someone else had taken his place next morning, would he have survived? Yeager encountered extreme buffeting in that Bell, and nearly lost control. One of the reasons they learned later on was because of the conventional elevators on the horizontal stabilizer. The fuselage was shaped like a .50 caliber bullet, but the empennage was like all empennages at the time. With a conventional horizontal stabilizer.

A typical subsonic empennage, with elevators and horizontal stabilizer. Whether on the simplest Cessna or the largest Boeing 747, this is the empennage.

What they learned from this flight, with help from our cousins the British (OK, full disclosure – I think from their own experiments into supersonic flight, they contributed this design for us!) A stabilator made the transition to supersonic flight almost seamless. Unlike the illustration above a stabilator uses the entire horizontal stabilizer as an elevator, and pivots on the fuselage.

Since this site is dedicated to Hizzoner, here is the stabilator from an F/A-18 Hornet:

From Yeager’s flight on an early October morning in 1947 to the Hornet – a stabilator to ease the transition at the sound barrier.

So anyway, back to the making of an icon. Despite the pain of broken ribs (alas, no happy bottom the previous evening!), Yeager shows up at the appointed time and because of the pain, asks his friend to help him by giving him a lever to close the lock on the hatch, which was a broom handle.

On that cold crisp desert morning, those on the ground heard a shock wave, and assumed the worst. And Yeager flew into aviation history.

I remember some passages from his autobiography I read years ago. How many airline pilots of the 50s, in talking on the passenger intercom, wanted to imitate that West Virginia drawl. How in training at Tonopah in an Aircobra, witnessed terrible attrition from new pilots.

How over in Germany, and seeing an overwhelming number of 109s and Focke-Wulfs, would just dive into the melee.

How in one of those melees, he became an ace – shooting down 5 planes- in a matter of minutes.

Part of his secret, he would admit, was his vision which was 20-10.

For a fighter pilot, particularly one before all the electronic days, being able to see enemy planes first could mean the difference between life and death.

Chuck was the epitome of cool.

I would like to think that there is some party at Pancho’s now.

Oh, and about my own small moment? It was so small I think I can say with certainty that Chuck wouldn’t even remember it.

It was probably during the time during the 80s he was associated with AC-Delco.

I was going south down Hwy 99, a rather boring and desolate highway running down the middle of the Central Valley, in my Toyota. And as was my nature at the time, trying to eck out a few MPH over the limit, while hoping not to attract the attention of the Highway Patrol.

Anyway, somewhere below Galt, I saw a metallic blue Corvette just ambling along in the right lane.

Which caught my attention because, well, most Corvette drivers wouldn’t putt along at 55 on the highway.

As I got closer I saw the license plate – “Bell X1A“. I was wondering at that moment if the driver was who I thought it might be.

As I passed, sure enough it was General Yeager, driving with nothing to prove.

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Catch 22

Posted by lex, on July 22, 2008

Jonah Goldberg has a great point in today’s LA Times:

McCain heroically pushed for the surge when the war was at its most unpopular point. Even more impressive, he favored a change in strategy back when the war was popular.

Within months of the invasion, McCain was calling for more troops and the head of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Later, when the Iraqi civil war erupted, Al Qaeda in Iraq metastasized and the Iranians mounted a clandestine surge all their own, McCain doubled-down; he argued that we couldn’t afford to lose and proposed a revised counterinsurgency strategy for victory. That was the same very month that Obama introduced the “Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007.”

That’s all great stuff for McCain’s biographers. But the tragic Catch-22 for the Arizona senator is that the more the surge succeeds, the more politically advantageous it is for Obama.

Being right about the past gets the Arizona senator nothing because it’s retrospective. Past performance is not only no guarantee of future returns in politics, it’s backwards-looking when people are voting for their future. Obama on the other hand is immunized from the effects of his previous wrongheadedness by the diminishing importance of Iraq on the national scene. Iraq is yesterday’s news.

Reagan’s victory in the Cold War made the presidency of foreign policy novice Bill Clinton possible. History repeats itself.

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Armistice Day

With this post time, exactly 102 years ago to the minute, the Armistice took effect ending 4 years of the bloodiest conflict – from 1914 – the world had known. The time was November 11, 1918 at 1100 CET.

11/11/11

The world would forever be changed.

This post details a bit about that War behind that Armistice.


As I have gotten older, I’ve noticed that I frequently reminisce about times years ago. Times that when I was living them, didn’t see any specialness to them.

Vienna fascinated me. And the heart of downtown Vienna is a walk known as “Der Ring” – The Ring – a.k.a. Ringstrasse. It is a beautiful circular walk aligned with parks about 6.5 km – 4 miles. As the name implies, you finish where you started.  I can remember one park with a stand where Johann Strauss used to serenade Viennese on warm spring days. There was the magnificent opera house. And all of those grand old buildings and palaces! With just a bit of imagination, I saw Strauss playing those waltzes in grand ballrooms and chandeliers, with 100s of formally-attired couples dancing.

But something seemed to be missing around them.

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