Reburial of Allied dead begins at Fromelles

The first of 250 unknown British and Australian soldiers whose bodies were buried by their Germans foes in mass graves in northern France during World War I was reburied on Saturday with full military honours.

The soldiers were killed in July 1916 during the Battle of Fromelles, generally considered a significant defeat for the Allies and described as “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history.”

The Battle of Fromelles was fought at the same time as the better-known Battle of the Somme, which raged about 50 miles to the south.

At Fromelles, two divisions of Allied infantry had attacked a strongly fortified German position known as the Sugar Loaf.

The defenders knew the British and the Australians were coming; the terrain favored the Germans. As the British and the newly arrived Australians charged into battle, the Germans opened fire

An estimated 1,780 Australians and 503 British nationals were killed during the Germany victory and initially buried in mass graves. All told, 5,533 Australian soldiers and 1,500 British troops were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

The unidentified bodies were discovered in mass grave sites in 2008 and experts have been working to find out who they are, but the identity of the first to be reburied remained unknown.

The remains were re-interred with British and Australian dignitaries in attendance at the military cemetery of Fromelles.

The British official said reburying the British and Australian soldiers who died in the 1916 Battle of Fromelles was part of an international effort to identify the fallen troops and give them a proper burial in individual coffins with their own headstones, The Times of London reported.

DNA testing is being done to identify as many of the soldiers’ remains as possible.

“It was the wish of both governments to give these brave soldiers a fitting place of rest, honoring the commitment shown to our fallen after the First World War,” British Veterans Minister Kevan Jones said, referring to Britain and Australia.

“Today we have started that process,” according to United Press International. “Work to try and identify them has already begun and I urge again any families who think they may have a relative killed at the Battle of Fromelles to come forward to assist with this.”

Saturday’s ceremony marked the first of the fallen soldiers to be buried with full military honors. The Times said Australian Veteran Affairs Minister Alan Griffin was on hand for the ceremony, along with surviving family members of those killed in the 1916 conflict.

The last reburial ceremony is to take place July 19, the 94th anniversary of the battle.

It is believed that one of the German soldiers involved in the battle was Adolf Hitler, then a 27-year-old corporal and a message runner in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, according to Wikipedia.

Nearly a century after World War I, the bodies of more than 165,000 Commonwealth soldiers are still missing, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

South Financial stock hits new low

The South Financial Group saw its stock hit an all-time low Wednesday, a day after posting its eighth straight quarterly loss.

Shares of the Greenville-based financial services company dipped as low as 44 cents before rebounding slightly later in the day. By day-end, TSFG was trading at 47 cents a share, still off 22 cents from Tuesday.

The company’s previous low had been 53 cents.

Late Tuesday South Financial reported a net loss of $736.9 million for 2009, compared with a net loss of $568.8 million the previous year.

For the fourth quarter, South Financial’s net loss was $193.9 million.

In the past year, South Financial has seen its total assets decline from $13.6 billion to $11.9 billion.

Remembering the Soviet sacrifice

To understand how differently World War II is etched into the collective history of the U.S. and Russia consider:

On the American side, one of the most venerated stories of the war is that of the Bedford Boys. On June 6, 1944, 19 Bedford, Va.-area soldiers were killed in the first wave of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France. Many believe that Bedford lost more men, per capita on that day than any other U.S. locality during the conflict.

The memory of that sacrifice so seared itself into American consciousness that decades later the National D-Day Memorial would be located in Bedford.

Then consider this line from the introduction to former Soviet officer Grigory Baklanov’s classic World War II work Forever Nineteen:

“I was seventeen and finishing high school when the war broke out. We had twenty boys and twenty girls in our class. Almost all the boys went to the front, but I was the only one to return alive.”

The experience of Baklanov, who died last month at age 86, wasn’t uncommon. Some 24 million Soviets were killed during the conflict, or about 14 percent of the country’s total population. The U.S., by comparison, lost 418,000.

To put the Soviet effort in context, while the Allied invasion of Normandy gets big press in the West, approximately 85 percent of Nazi casualties were inflicted by Stalin’s forces.

We in the United States tend to consider World War II “The Good War,” because we largely escaped devastation of our homeland, had relatively light casualties compared to the other major combatants and enjoyed an almost immediate post-war economic boom.

However, the scars of that conflict still run deep through much of Europe and Asia, and will continue to do so for decades to come.

A Comedy of Errors, with your money

To say the S.C. Employment Security Commission has been operating in an unorthodox manner is being charitable, to say the least.

However, you can only put so much lipstick on this pig.

According to an audit released by the Legislative Audit Council Tuesday, and first reported on in detail by The Nerve, the ESC paid more than $171 million in state unemployment benefits during the last three fiscal years to “employees who were terminated for misconduct, illegal acts or other offenses.”

If that weren’t enough, in 2008, the ESC “stopped referring claimants for criminal prosecution who had fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits.” Claimants defrauded the agency out of more than $7 million in Fiscal Year 2008-09 alone, the report says.

Not surprisingly, the agency, which manages the state’s unemployment insurance fund, is struggling. The state’s unemployment insurance fund is more than $700 million in debt to the feds, and climbing. Nearly a decade ago, by comparison, the fund had a surplus of more than $700 million.

Entertaining in a Keystone Cops-sort of way are the examples of people who lost their jobs for some pretty good reasons but collected unemployment anyway, according to the report. They include:

  • “An employee made unauthorized charges on his company’s credit card, which included motel rooms, hardware and Internet dating charges. He was terminated by the company, but ESC still allowed him to collect $3,586 in unemployment benefits.”
  • “An employee was discharged for absenteeism due to his incarceration. The commission allowed him to collect $5,868 in unemployment benefits.”
  • “An employee made a job-related threat and alluded to a weapon in his car. Police found a loaded firearm in the employee’s car. He was terminated for cause, but still collected $2,440 in unemployment benefits.” 

How reassuring: France defends Haiti

Kudos to Waldo Lydecker for highlighting the curiousity of French government officials accusing the U.S. of seeking to occupy Haiti in its efforts to bring relief to those stricken by the recent devastating earthquake.

Waldo includes a bit of Haitian history in which the French didn’t exactly endear themselves to Haitians:

In the 18th century, Haiti was France’s imperial jewel, the Pearl of the Caribbean, the largest sugar exporter in the world. Even by colonial standards, the treatment of slaves working the Haitian plantations was truly vile. They died so fast that, at times, France was importing 50,000 slaves a year to keep up the numbers and the profits.

Inspired by the principles of the French Revolution, in 1791 the slaves rebelled under the leadership of the self-educated slave Toussaint L’Ouverture. After a vicious war, Napoleon’s forces were defeated. Haiti declared independence in 1804.

As Haiti struggles with new misfortune, it is worth remembering that noble achievement — this is the only nation to gain independence by a slave-led rebellion, the first black republic, and the second oldest republic in the western hemisphere. Haiti was founded on a demand for liberty from people whose liberty had been stolen: the country itself is a tribute to human resilience and freedom.

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School districts spend $$$ fighting parents

South Carolina school districts appear more interested in spending tax dollars fighting parents’ attempts to get accommodations for their special-needs children rather than providing focused instruction, according to research by Janet Frazier, a citizen reporter for The Nerve.

State school districts spent more than $33 million on legal fees, claims and settlements between FY 2002 and FY 2007, much of it related to challenges from parents who disagreed with school assessments on how to educate their special-needs children, according to Frazier’s research.

That’s particularly distressing given the financial straits South Carolina finds itself in. Last month, the state Budget and Control Board announced an across-the-board 5 percent cut that will cost schools approximately $100 million.

In September, the board chopped 4 percent, which will reduce money to school districts by $85.4 million. And those reductions come on the heels of a $131 million K-12 budget cut enacted in July.

Four school districts alone racked up more than $1 million apiece in attorneys fees between FY 2002 and FY 2007: Beaufort County, Charleston County, Horry County and Richland School District One.

During the six-year period, Beaufort spent more than $1.85 million on outside lawyers and has since rung up another $1.3 million in legal fees. In addition, Beaufort paid out $4.55 million in claims in FY 2007 alone.

Thanks to federal legislation, public schools have an obligation to provide “Free Appropriate Public Education,” which is defined as an educational program that is individualized to a specific child and designed to meet that child’s unique needs.

Essentially, what that means is that when it comes to children with disabilities, schools must provide students with an education, including specialized instruction and related services, that prepares them for further education, employment and independent living.

The combined legal fees of the four districts during the six years totaled $6.6 million, or 25 percent the all money spent on outside attorney fees by South Carolina school districts, according to information found on the S.C. Department of Education website.

Of the three remaining districts, Horry County School District spent more than $1.9 million on attorney’s fees between FY 2002 and FY 2007, Richland School District One spent more than $1.8 million and Charleston spent a little more than $1 million.

Charleston also paid out a little more than $1 million related to either claims or settlements during that period.

Much of the money paid by school district in legal fees went to three large Columbia law firms: Duff, White & Turner LLC, Childs & Halligan PA, and Tupper, Grimsley & Dean PA.

Interestingly, the South Carolina Teacher of the Year, named annually by the state Department of Education, is partly sponsored by both Duff, White & Turner and Childs & Halligan.

Key TSFG exec departs company

Christopher T. Holmes, South Financial Group’s director of corporate financial services, resigned from the company last Friday.

Holmes earned a salary of $274,375 and total compensation of $647,908 in 2008. He had been the Greenville-based company’s director of retail banking. 

According to information filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Holmes left TSFG to relocate to the Nashville area.

Prior to joining South Financial, Holmes was with Memphis-based National Commerce Financial.

South Financial has posted staggering losses over the past two years. During the quarter ended Sept. 30, it lost $340.8 million.

Since the first quarter of 2008, South Financial has lost $1.1 billion, including more than $540 million in the first three quarters of 2009. The company lost $562.5 million in 2008.

Its stock trades for around 70 cents a share.

The company is schedule to release its fourth quarter 2009 results on Jan. 26.