Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Tomb of the Unknowns

Installation of the Sarcophagus for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (from World War I) is seen hereThe Tomb sarcophagus was dedicated on April 9, 1932.  The marble sarcophagus weighs seventy nine tons and is inscribed, “Here Lies in Honored Glory – An American Soldier – Known But to God”. In 1958, Unknown American soldiers from World War II and the Korean War were interred with the Unknown Soldier of World War I.  On August 3, 1956, President Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the Unknowns of World War II and the Korean War. The selection ceremonies took place in 1958. The World War II Unknown was selected from remains exhumed from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific.  The caskets of the World War II and Korean War Unknowns were interred beside their World War I comrade on May 30, 1958. The designation of the Vietnam Unknown has proven to be difficult. With improvements in DNA testing it is possible that the remains of every soldier killed in the Vietnam War and later conflicts will be identified.

A first person account of the Normandy campaign from D-Day + 1 to the liberation of Paris. 

War from the perspective of the average citizen soldier.

George Washington's Church

Pohick Church was the parish church of George Washington.  Established in 1724 it was the first permanent church in the colony of Virginia. The Reverend Lee Massey, Pohick's second Rector and a close friend of the Washingtons, once wrote: “I never knew so constant an attendant at Church as [Washington]. And his behavior in the house of God was ever so deeply reverential that it produced the happiest effect on my congregation, and greatly assisted me in my pulpit labors. No company ever withheld him from Church. I have been at Mount Vernon on Sabbath morning when his breakfast table was filled with guests; but to him they furnished no pretext for neglecting his God…”

During the Civil War, occupying Union forces stripped the church for souvenirs of “Washington's Church” and used it as a stable.  Lieutenant Charles B. Haydon, from Michigan wrote, “I have long known that Mich 2nd had no fear or reverence as a general thing for God or the places where he is worshiped.... I believe our soldiers would have torn the church down in 2 days.”

Lieutenant Haydon continued, “They were all over it in less than 10 minutes tearing off the ornaments, splitting the woodwork and pews….They wanted pieces to carry away . . . A more absolute set of vandals than our men can not be found on the face of the earth. As true as I am living I believe they would steal Washington's coffin if they could get to it.”  

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Graves of Washington's Slaves

Memorial at Mount Vernon (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Here descendants of Washington’s slaves gather at the memorial dedicated to their ancestors.  When Washington died, there were some 317 slaves living at Mount Vernon.  Under the terms of Washington’s will, his slaves (not including forty who were rented or the 154 slaves belonging to Martha Washington) were to be freed upon the death of his wife.  The terms of the will created an almost immediate problem for Martha Washington. The only thing standing between 123 slaves and their freedom was her life. According to a contemporary letter, Martha Washington “did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their [slaves] Hands”. Nor was this fear groundless. The records of colonial Virginia document the trial of 180 slaves tried for poisoning. Martha freed Washington’s slaves within a year after his death. She never freed her own slaves.

Near George Washington’s tomb are the unmarked graves of some 150 slaves, including William “Billy” Lee, Washington’s personal servant during the Revolutionary War.  William Lee was freed in Washington’s will for, “his faithful services during the Revolutionary War,” and received a substantial pension and the option of remaining at Mount Vernon.  Lee lived on at Mount Vernon until his death in 1828.  Another slave buried here, West Ford, is claimed by some to be George Washington’s illegitimate son.  According to Linda Allen Bryant, a direct descendant of West Ford, there is an oral tradition in the Ford family indicating that West Ford was the child of George Washington and a slave named Venus. At the present development stage of DNA science, no direct link to George Washington can be established.  The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has pledged its cooperation with testing as DNA science progresses.

George Washington's Tomb

The Old Tomb

At ten at night on December 14, 1799, George Washington, fearing premature burial, requested of his doctors to be “decently buried” and to “not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead.” In his last will he expressed the desire to be buried at Mount Vernon. George Washington was entombed in the existing family vault (seen above), now known as the old Vault on December 18, 1799.  Visitors wrote that the tomb was, “A low, obscure, ice house looking brick vault,” which “testifies how well a Nation's gratitude repays the soldier's toils, the statesman's labors, the patriot's virtue, and the father's cares.”  In his last will, George Washington directed the building of a new family burial vault in the following words: "The family Vault at Mount Vernon requiring repairs, and being improperly situated besides, I desire that a new one of Brick, and upon a larger Scale, may be built at the foot of what is commonly called the Vineyard Inclosure.”  In 1831, Washington’s body was transferred to the new tomb.  A French visitor wrote that Mount Vernon had become, “like Jerusalem and Mecca, the resort of the travelers of all nations who come within its vicinity.” Visitors were filled with “veneration and respect,” leading them “to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of patriotism and public worth…” 

The New Tomb

George Washington’s nephew, Bushrod inherited Mount Vernon from his uncle. The marble obelisks in front of the Tomb were erected to the memory of Bushrod Washington and his nephew, John Augustine Washington, who in turn were the masters of Mount Vernon. Both are buried in the inner vault together with many other members of the family. Bushrod Washington was the favorite nephew of President George Washington. In 1802, upon the death of his aunt, Martha Washington, he inherited Mount Vernon.  Bushrod Washington spent thirty one years as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and died in 1829. When Bushrod Washington died he left Mount Vernon to his nephew John Augustine Washington who survived Bushrod by just three years.  In 1850, his widow Jane conveyed Mount Vernon to their son John Augustine Washington, Jr., who was the last private owner of the estate.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Medal for Animal Gallantry

The Dickin Medal

Maria Elisabeth Dickin was a British social reformer and animal welfare pioneer who founded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in 1917 to provide care for the animals of the poor.  During the Second World War, the PDSA established the “Dickin Medal” (1943) to recognize animals that displayed "conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units".  The medal was awarded 54 times between 1943 and 1949 and twelve times since 1949.

Some of the recipients include: (1) Rob, a mongrel who served in North Africa and made over twenty parachute jumps, (2) GI Joe, an American carrier pigeon who flew twenty miles in twenty minutes just in time to prevent a friendly fire incident, (3) Beauty, a terrier who helped dig out sixty-three people from under the rubble of a bombing raid in London, and (4) Simon, a ship’s cat who, although wounded continued to hunt rats and protect the crew’s food supply throughout a siege in 1949 along the Yangtze River in China.

The United States has no medal for animal gallantry.

Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Pets in War

Throughout history animals have been used in warfare.  The Carthaginians used elephants against the Romans as early as 262 BC.  Things have not always gone in accordance with the best laid plans of the military however.

During World War the Soviet Army strapped bombs to dogs and deployed the suicide dogs to destroy German tanks.  The well cared for dogs, however, ran toward their own army which they identified with food and comfort, causing some Red Army units to beat a hasty retreat.

The American Army had similar problems with “Project X-Ray” which involved strapping miniature incendiary charges on thousands of bats which were to be released over Japan.  The plan was scrapped when the bats escaped and destroyed an aircraft hangar and a general’s car in New Mexico.

Supposedly, during World War I, the French army stationed trained parrots atop the Eiffel Tower, from where they were expected to give a twenty minute warning of incoming German aircraft.  The project was abandoned when it was found that the parrots could not discriminate between friendly and enemy planes.

The alleged source of this information is Flight of 7 February 1918:

"Parrots early in the war were tried at the Eiffel Tower with the result that at first they gave warning fully twenty minutes before the aeroplane or airship could be made out by the eye, or heard by the human ear. These birds, however, appear to have grown bored or indifferent, as they could not be kept indefinitely at the work."

Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Oldest Pet Cemeteries in America

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

America’s oldest pet cemetery was established in Hartsdale, New York, in 1896.  A veterinarian converted his apple orchard into a final resting place for dogs.  Today the cemetery, known as “The Peaceable Kingdom” is the final resting place for more than 80,000 pets of every kind.  Some of the pet mausoleums are spectacular, including a fifty ton above-ground mausoleum for two spaniels, the first and largest of its kind in the world. The famous War Dog Memorial, dedicated after World War I, was the first public tribute to honor military canines for their bravery and sacrifice.  The cost of a burial plot, casket and interment runs some $1,800 for small pets.

The Aspin Hill Memorial Park, established in 1921 in Aspen Hill, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C., is believed to be the second-oldest pet cemetery in the nation, and is the final resting place for various animal celebrities, including stars of movies and television, pets of U.S. politicians and heroes of foreign wars, as well as more than 50,000 other beloved pets.  Notable pets buried in the cemetery include seven dogs that belonged to J. Edgar Hoover, and Rags, the mascot of the First Division on World War I, “who risked life and limb in the Meuse-Argonne when he crossed enemy liens to deliver a not to Allied Forces.” President Lyndon Johnson’s dogs were cremated at Aspin Hill and the remains sent to Texas.  There also are 17 horses and hundreds of pet rabbits, monkeys, parrots, turkeys, goats, hamsters, guinea pigs, frogs, goldfish, turtles and snakes buried at Aspin Hill, as well as thirteen humans who chose to be buried close to their pets.

Reality is no respecter of delusions, except perhaps in Del Boca, a model American community, struggling to be heard above the din. The days are fully packed as the good people of Del Boca deal with such problems as elitism, education reform, celebrity culture, political correctness, free speech, science, and politics. A social satire about life in our times.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Margaret Sanger on Preventing a Permanent Criminal Underclass

In her book, The Pivot of Civilization, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood offered this prescription for eliminating the permanent criminal underclass:

There is but one practical and feasible program in handling the great problem of the feeble-minded. That is, as the best authorities are agreed, to prevent the birth of those who would transmit imbecility to their descendants. Feeble-mindedness as investigations and statistics from every country indicate, is invariably associated with an abnormally high rate of fertility. Modern conditions of civilization, as we are continually being reminded, furnish the most favorable breeding-ground for the mental defective, the moron, the imbecile. "We protect the members of a weak strain," says Davenport, "up to the period of reproduction, and then let them free upon the community, and encourage them to leave a large progeny of `feeble-minded': which in turn, protected from mortality and carefully nurtured up to the reproductive period, are again set free to reproduce, and so the stupid work goes on of preserving and increasing our socially unfit strains."

The philosophy of Birth Control points out that as long as civilized communities encourage unrestrained fecundity in the "normal" members of the population—always of course under the cloak of decency and morality—and penalize every attempt to introduce the principle of discrimination and responsibility in parenthood, they will be faced with the ever-increasing problem of feeble-mindedness, that fertile parent of degeneracy, crime, and pauperism. Small as the percentage of the imbecile and half-witted may seem in comparison with the normal members of the community, it should always be remembered that feeble-mindedness is not an unrelated expression of modern civilization. Its roots strike deep into the social fabric. Modern studies indicate that insanity, epilepsy, criminality, prostitution, pauperism, and mental defect, are all organically bound up together and that the least intelligent and the thoroughly degenerate classes in every community are the most prolific. Feeble-mindedness in one generation becomes pauperism or insanity in the next. There is every indication that feeble-mindedness in its protean forms is on the increase, that it has leaped the barriers, and that there is truly, as some of the scientific eugenists have pointed out, a feeble-minded peril to future generations—unless the feeble-minded are prevented from reproducing their kind. To meet this emergency is the immediate and peremptory duty of every State and of all communities. 

We think we know the Victorians, but do we? The same passions, strengths and weaknesses that exist now, existed then, but people organized themselves very differently.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Presidential Anthem: Hail to the Chief

The official presidential anthem, Hail to the Chief , was first played in Boston to commemorate the birthday of George Washington, on February 22, 1815.  The tune did not formally become associated with the presidency until the administration of John Tyler (1841-1845), when the Marine band was instructed to play the air whenever the president appeared. 

The words of the song come from an 1810 poem written by Sir Walter Scott:
       Hail to the Chief who in
     triumph advances!
       Honour’d and bless’d be the
     evergreen pine!        
       Long may the tree in his
     banner that glances
       Flourish, the shelter and grace
     Of our line!

Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, used Hail to the Chief, as his presidential anthem.

     In 1933 the man who subverted American democracy pronounced, “The fact is, the English are soft. Britain is like a frightened, flabby old woman. The whole empire is just rotted through and through. Kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will collapse.” He would soon drag America into a two ocean war, with Canada as the prize.
     Sticking as closely as possible to the real history of the period, making no radical leaps in terms of behavior, logic, or technology, the author paints a stunning picture of how the history of the world could have been radically different.