6th June 1944…D Day

via 6th June 1944…D Day

Advertisements

Bill Buckner was much more than a missed ground ball

With the death of baseball star Bill Buckner Monday there were many remembrances of the former All-Star’s great career – his 2,715 career hits, 1980 batting title and, of course, the ground ball that went through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

The latter event, which came with Buckner playing first base for Boston, happened with the Red Sox up 5-3 in the ninth inning and just one out away from breaking a 68-year World Series drought.

Instead, Mookie Wilson of the Mets was able to reach first base, the Mets scored twice to tie the game and then won in extra innings. New York went on to capture Game 7, and the Series, giving the Boston media another fall guy to focus on.

But labeling Buckner as one of baseball’s great goats was a major injustice.

Even beyond Buckner’s strong baseball credentials – he played for 22 seasons, had a .289 career batting average and knocked in more than 1,200 runs – he was hardly the sole reason the Sox lost the ’86 Series.

There were plenty of Boston miscues to go around in Game 6 as the team’s relief pitching faltered, errors by two other players earlier in the game led to Mets’ runs and the Sox blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7.

Buckner was released by the Red Sox midway through the following season and signed with the California Angels, but he ended his career with a final stint back in Boston in 1990. The thing that I will remember most about his career was watching him hobble around bases on bad legs at Fenway Park a few weeks before he retired, at age 40.

On April 25, 1990, during the fourth inning of a game against the California Angels, he lined a pitch from Kirk McCaskill over the head of right fielder Claudell Washington and took off. Washington turned and sprinted toward the right field corner.

The ball bounced off the fence and bounded away just before Washington got to it, but Washington was unable to slow up in time. He ran into the low fence, which was about three feet high, and flipped over it and into the grandstands.

By the time the ball had been retrieved, Buckner had circled the bases, albeit in excruciatingly slow fashion, likely the most protracted inside-the-park home run in MLB history.

The smile on Buckner’s face after the game lit up the Red Sox locker room. When asked the last time he’d hit an inside-the-park homer, Buckner said he thought it was in high school.

It was not only the lone inside-the-park home run of his professional career, it was the last round-tripper he would ever hit in the big leagues.

Buckner was released by the Red Sox a little more than a month later, ending his Major League career.

Thanks to several Red Sox titles since 1986, any grudge notoriously fickle Sox fans might have held against Buckner for the Game 6 error have been forgiven.

Still, for some that one misplayed ground ball overshadowed a fine career and, to a degree, a fine life, but Buckner never lost his composure or his faith in God. He was able come to terms with his role in baseball history.

I remember him for both the inside-the-park home run, the only one I’ve ever seen in the more than 200 Major League games I’ve attended over the past 45 years, and for his class in handling adversity.

He was a good ballplayer and a better man, and he will be missed.

All the lipstick in the world can’t pretty up the Grant presidency

Historians revise history constantly. That’s a key component of the job: seeking out and assessing new information, considering and reconsidering the motives of participants, and pondering the authenticity of documents and other accounts.

But revising history is different from “rewriting” history, which involves ascribing positive or negative motives to actors based on predetermined outcomes, ignoring information that contradicts those preordained outcomes or faulting historical figures by holding them to modern standards and values incompatible with the past.

This is evident in recent analyses of Ulysses Grant’s presidency. Grant, the Union general who served as president from 1869 to 1877, was graded near the bottom of U.S. presidents just 70 years ago, ranking No. 28 of 30 chief executives in 1948. Conversely, in 2017 Grant was rated No. 22 of 43.

This is curious, given that unlike such presidents as Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Grant’s Administration didn’t have the benefit of classifying secret information for decades. In other words, it’s not like a horde of secret files were released 75 years or a century after Grant left office, giving historians solid reasons to reassess his presidency.

Grant’s eight years in the Oval Office is the subject of Philip Leigh’s last book, U.S. Grant’s Failed Presidency (published by Shotwell Publishing, 2019).

U.S. Grant’s Failed President, by Philip Leigh.

Leigh ascribes Grant’s revival to two factors: Modern historians tendency to focus on the racial aspects of Reconstruction – and to ascribe egalitarian motives to Grant’s decisions when they were almost certainly political in nature – and an inclination to minimize or even overlook the corruption that was a hallmark of his presidency, including concerns that Grant himself was involved in the graft.

Today’s historians, many of whom came of age during or after the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement, too often fail to critically evaluate Grant’s motives for supporting black civil rights, particularly voting rights, during Reconstruction, Leigh writes.

“His policy is commonly portrayed as a noble stand for racial equality. They fail to adequately examine evidence that his prime motive may have been to gain the political power that a routinely obedient voting bloc could provide to Republican candidates,” Leigh states.

Grant was opposed to black suffrage at the end of the War Between the States, but by 1868 he was warbling a different tune. That change, however, did not encompass extending the franchise to other minorities such as Native Americans and Chinese Americans. The Republican Party was less than two decades old when Grant was first elected and securing a compliant voting base to help the party become established was crucial to its long-term survival.

Regarding integrity, the Grant Administration’s ethical lapses rival those of the Harding, Nixon and Clinton administrations.

There were at least 10 major scandals during Grant’s two terms, including a gold speculation ring that resulted in the nation’s economy spiraling into a recession, the Whisky Ring, in which whisky distillers bribed Treasury Department officials who then aided the distillers in evading taxes, and the breach of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, when Grant, seeking a means to get the country out of the Depression of 1873, approved an 1,000-troop expedition into the Black Hills, sacred land of the Lakota Indians where gold had been discovered. Grant appointed a commission to buy mining rights from the Sioux, but the commission reported that force was necessary to begin negotiations. Grant proceeded to launch an illegal war against the Plains Indians, then lied to Congress and the American people about it.

Corruption would be discovered in seven federal departments: including the Navy, Justice, War, Treasury, Interior State and Post Office. Nepotism was prevalent, with more than 40 of Grant’s family members benefiting from government appointments and employment. And several of Grant’s close aides and cabinet officials were indicted.

Grant himself exhibited dubious standards which, were a politician to act similarly today would surely end their career and possibly result in prison time. In 1866, prior to entering public service, Grant accepted a $30,000 home in Washington, D.C., raised through public subscription that netted the general $100,000 in all.

When Grant was ready to move into the White House, he initially agreed to a deal to sell the home for $40,000. Treasury Secretary designee Alexander Stewart led a subscription to purchase the home for $65,000 for Union General William T. Sherman. When the money was raised, Grant turned his back on the agreement with the first buyer and pocketed the $35,000 difference, according to Leigh.

Six months into his first term, Grant accepted a vacation home on the New Jersey coast. The 27-room structure cost $35,000, money raised by seven donors, including a Philadelphia newspaper owner and the owner of the Pullman Co., which manufactured railroad cars, according to Leigh.

A century and a half after Grant became chief executive the office of the president has changed so much that contrasting mid-19th century presidential administrations and those of today is extremely difficult. The manner in which information was recorded and archived (or, as in the past, wasn’t archived), and the present access to public information, inadequate but a far cry from that of the 1860s and ‘70s, make an apples-to-apples comparison impossible, for example.

Still, Grant’s Administration was a marked period of corruption, when speculators and rouges fleeced both the public trust and the public treasury, while the common citizen, whether white or black, worked diligently just to simply keep their heads above water.

U.S. Grant’s Failed Presidency is a well-done, easily understood work. In it, Philip Leigh cuts through the presentism that pervades so much current historical writing and examines the facts of 1869-1877, delivering an appropriately unflattering appraisal of Ulysses Grant’s eight years in office.

(Top: Ulysses S. Grant and his family at 27-room New Jersey beach home given to president by wealthy donors.)

Technology helps US identify Pearl Harbor dead

Among science’s more amazing advances is its ability to identify the long dead.

On Monday, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said in a statement that the remains of Navy Fireman 3rd Class Willard Lawson, killed when the USS Oklahoma was sunk by Japanese torpedoes on Dec. 7, 1941, had been identified.

Lawson will be buried April 27 in Madison, Ind., according to the Defense Department.

Last week the Defense Department announced that military officials had identified the remains of 37-year-old Seaman 1st Class Hale McKissack of Talpa, Texas, and 26-year-old Ensign Charles M. Stern Jr. of Albany, N.Y., both of whom were also Oklahoma crew members. McKissack is scheduled to be buried May 4, in nearby Winters, Texas, while Stern will be buried outside Albany sometime this summer.

Seventy-eight years after the Oklahoma was capsized in Pearl Harbor (aftermath shown in image above), taking the lives of 415 sailors and 15 Marines, identification of its dead is proceeding at relatively dizzying pace.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack through 2003 only 35 of the 429 members of the Oklahoma’s crew who died on Dec. 7 were known. But since 2015 more than 200 Oklahoma crew members have been identified, thanks to technology and a push by officials to account for as many members of the ship’s crew as possible.

USS Oklahoma

The Oklahoma’s story isn’t as well known as that of the USS Arizona, which remains at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, where hundreds of its crew were entombed following its destruction on Dec. 7. The site is marked by the famed USS Arizona Memorial.

The Oklahoma was among the first ships to be hit by Japanese torpedo bombers, which quickly struck the Nevada-class battleship with three torpedoes in the opening moments of the attack. As the Oklahoma began to capsize, she was struck by two more torpedoes and within 12 minutes had rolled over.

Following the disaster of Dec. 7, 1941, the Oklahoma lay capsized in Pearl Harbor for 18 months before being righted. Remains of Oklahoma crew continued to be collected through June 1944, with the Navy interring the dead in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries in Hawaii.

The remains were disinterred by the American Graves Registration Service from the two cemeteries in September 1947, and transferred to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Fewer than 10 percent of the dead had been identified.

The 394 unknowns were buried in plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

In 2015, as part of the USS Oklahoma Project, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, through a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, exhumed all of the unknown remains from the Oklahoma, and began the lengthy identification process.

“It is remarkable for us to reach the 200th identification,” said Sean Patterson, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s DNA Operations Quality Management Section DNA Analyst. “We’ve identified so many people in a short amount of time using new technology such as the next-generation sequencing as well as with conventional technology.”

Since the start of 2019, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced the identities of 35 American service personnel, dead from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. These include 15 from the USS Oklahoma and one from the USS West Virginia, also sunk on Dec. 7 at Pearl Harbor.

In addition, there are likely others that have been identified since the start of the year, but next of kin have not been located as yet.

(Top: USS Oklahoma, capsized in the Pearl Harbor, following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by Japan. Men can be seen atop the ship’s hull and one of her propellers, or screws, can be seen in the foreground. The USS Maryland is next to the Oklahoma.)

Political invective, partisan media have long history in U.S.

There’s much ado about former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson’s new book and whether she takes her former employer to task for its coverage of the Trump Administration.

“Abramson, the veteran journalist who led the newspaper from 2011 to 2014, says the Times has a financial incentive to bash the president and that the imbalance is helping to erode its credibility,” wrote Fox media critic Howard Kurtz about Abramson’s book.

Abramson, who led the paper from 2011 to 2014, claims Kurtz took her words out of context, and said rather that her book is full of praise for the Times and Washington Post and their coverage of Trump.

No matter what the case, there are substantial numbers of U.S. citizens who, whether correct or not, believe the Times and Post have become “the opposition” to the Trump Administration.

What many news consumers don’t realize is that 125 years ago, newspapers were often unabashedly biased in their political coverage. The difference being that there were so many newspapers – more than a dozen in New York City alone – that the republic could afford to have media predisposed to one party or another.

Article in Newberry (S.C.) News and Herald describing then ex-Nebraska Gov. John Milton Thayer’s purported descent into lunacy.

Consider this small blurb which ran in papers across much of the country in January 1891: Under the headline “Ex-Governor Thayer Goes Mad” it was reported from Lincoln, Neb., on April 18, 1891, that “Ex-Governor Thayer, who has been suffering from nervous prostration brought on by the political complication in the Legislature, today became a raving maniac.”

John Milton Thayer was a Republican who had served as a Union general in the War Between the States, seeing action as such noted locales as Shiloh, Vicksburg and Fort Donelson.

He was one of the first two senators from Nebraska after it gained statehood, was appointed territorial governor of Wyoming by Ulysses Grant and was elected to two terms as governor of Nebraska, in 1886 and 1888.

Thayer didn’t run in the 1890 election, which was won by Democrat James Boyd, a native of County Tyrone, Ireland. Boyd was sworn in on January 8, 1891. However, the Farmers Alliance Party candidate, John Powers, who had finished second by 1,144 votes, contested the results, initially citing voting irregularities.

A month after the election, newspapers began reporting that Governor-elect Boyd wasn’t a U.S. citizen because his father, upon arriving in the United States in the 1840s, had failed to follow through on obtaining citizenship, and didn’t actually do so until the month his son was elected, more than 30 years after the family arrived from the Emerald Isle.

John Milton Thayer, governor of Nebraska, territorial governor of Wyoming and one of the two first senators from Nebraska.

Under naturalization laws in place at that time, “if a parent failed to naturalize before the child reached the age of majority, the child could only acquire citizenship through their own naturalization proceeding,” according to Nebraska Law Review.

Thayer also questioned Boyd’s citizenship and refused to relinquish the governor’s quarters. Within a few days, the Nebraska Supreme Court suggested that Thayer hand over the governor’s office while it considered the case.

It was during this period that Thayer was said to have become a “raving maniac,” with the story running from coast to coast in papers big and small, including the Boston Globe, San Francisco Call and Virginia’s Alexandria Gazette.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in May 1891 that Boyd was not a citizen and, therefore, ineligible for election as governor. With this decision, Thayer was reinstalled as governor.

Boyd then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he based his claim for citizenship on three points:

  • Boyd claimed that he was a citizen by having acquired citizenship while he was still a minor through the naturalization of his father;
  • He argued that the circumstances of his life warranted a conclusion that he was a citizen. He believed that he was a citizen. It was his intent to be a citizen. He had voted for many years, held public offices and taken oaths of his allegiance to the United States; and
  • Boyd argued that the principal of collective naturalization operated to make him a citizen when Nebraska was admitted into the Union in 1867. In other words, when Nebraska became a state, everyone living within its borders became citizens, no matter what their intention.

The Supreme Court agreed Boyd was a citizen, and he took office in February 1892.

Thayer retired from politics after his abbreviated third term and lived until 1906.

Despite being referred to as a raving maniac in papers across the country, there is no mention of Thayer’s purported lunacy in the Encyclopedia of Nebraska or the National Governors Association’s biography of Thayer.

A few days after the first article appeared, the Omaha Daily Bee ran a short piece stating that “General Thayer is not a raving maniac, as has been asserted,” but was simply resting in bed after having overtaxed himself.

One imagines General Thayer being somewhat less than thrilled to see his name again linked with the term “raving maniac,” even if in a correction of sorts.

More than likely, many of the publications that printed the initial article were Democratic organs which were only too happy to connect a Republican politician to madness. Were the tables turned, Republican publications no doubt would have done the same thing to a Democrat.

This was during a period when newspapers were much more open about their political allegiances, and the public understood where publications stood on candidates and key issues.

Rest assured that Thayer wasn’t the only politician in the 19th century to be incorrectly labeled as a raving maniac.

(Top: First Nebraska state house, built in 1868 and pulled down in 1883.)

The ‘Man in Black’ stands tall over California capital city

Near the California state capital in downtown Sacramento is a striking 15-story mural of music legend Johnny Cash.

The mural was completed earlier this year by graphic artist Shepard Fairey, who is best known for the “Hope” poster supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

It shows Cash looking toward Folsom State Prison, site of one of his most famous performances, and the subject of one of Cash’s greatest songs, Folsom Prison Blues.

The mural is both a tribute to Cash and recognizes his passion for prison reform.

Cash mural in downtown Sacramento, with more of the surrounding area, for context.

Cash staged close to 30 prison concerts over a 20-year period and two albums were based on those performances: “Live at Folsom Prison” and “Live at San Quentin,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

Fairey is also an advocate for prison reform, and did the mural in the hope that it would “ignite a conversation around the need for incarceration reform,” he told the publication.

The mural is based on a print Fairey produced in 2016. It is Fairey’s largest in California and his most “most technically ambitious mural ever.”

Remembering one of 10 million, 100 hundred years later

One hundred years ago today Capt. Theodore Dubose Ravenel Jr. was killed in fighting on the Western Front. Sadly, he died just one day before the end of the Great War.

Even sadder, given the confusion of war, his family did not find out for some time afterward, so they initially believed he had survived the terrible conflict that claimed 10 million lives.

Ravenel was from a rural community in Sumter County, S.C. He was described as a “brave soldier” and it was noted that he “was highly esteemed by a wide circle of friends.”

That he was brave is indicated by the fact that he was killed on final full day of the war. With German allies Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire already having surrendered, rumors were rampant by early November 1918 that an armistice was imminent. Many soldiers on both sides were understandably content to do their best to just keep out of harm’s way.

Still, high-ranking officers in the rear continued to send men forward, many times only to add to their own personal accolades, resulting in needless deaths in the war’s final hours.

Ravenel, a member of the American Expeditionary Force’s 316th Machine Gun Battalion, was killed near Verdun, France. Verdun had seen some of the worst fighting of the war, and in the history of warfare, in 1916, and the area remained a hot zone throughout the remainder of the conflict.

An after-action report by 2nd Lieutenant Herbert R. Stender, who served under Ravenel, recounted the details regarding latter’s death.

According Stender’s Nov. 14, 1918, report, at about 4 p.m. on Nov. 10 he was ordered to gather a detail of two noncommissioned officers and four privates from his platoon and patrol an area up to the limit of the territory held by the 324th Infantry, then return with his information before dark.

Stender’s detail left a short while later and after about a mile came across the “dead body of Corporal Burgess of ‘B’ Company,” he wrote. “I then realized that something was wrong because Corporal Burgess’ death was caused by machine gun bullets and not by a sniper.”

Stender and his men proceeded cautiously in the same direction and was within 200 yards of Bois de Chabotte when Stender heard “cries of some distress.”

“… to my surprise and sorrow, I found Captain Ravenel of ‘B’ Company. He had been shot through the leg with machine gun bullets and his leg was broken,” Stender wrote.

“He recognized me at once and requested me to take him away before the Boche (Germans) could return and get him,” Stender continued. “I called my patrol to the spot and we fixed the Captain as comfortably as possible.

“The Captain cautioned us to keep down and to get away as soon as possible because the woods in front of us were infested with machine guns and that the Boche would open up on us right away.”

Stender’s patrol then proceeded to bring Ravenel back to the American lines, but Ravenel died en route.

Stender added that the task of recovering Ravenel’s body in was an arduous one: “… we had to go through a swamp covered with shell holes and enemy wire (and the) patrol was under heavy artillery and machine gun fire the whole time while they were returning …”

Ravenel’s body wasn’t returned to the US for nearly three years, when he was interred in the family burial plot at the Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg, SC, in the summer of 1921.

Ravenel was one of several World War I casualties from South Carolina whose remains were returned to the Palmetto State on Aug. 5, 1921, according to a newspaper account.

The others included Private Williams D. Wells, of Greenville, killed on Nov. 11, 1918, the day the armistice was signed; Private Oscar Camp, Gaffney; Private James M. Lynn, Rock Hill; Private Henry K. Brown, Saluda; Private Jesse J. Moore, Westminster; Private Richard Williams, Jefferson; and Private L.T. Dickson, Kings Creek.

It would be nice to be able to write that Ravenel and the tens of thousands of other U.S. troops who gave their lives in World War I died for a worthwhile cause.

Given that World War II, with all its accompanying horrors, would be spawned from the carnage of the Great War, though, it’s hard to believe much good came from the First World War.

And today, the centennial of World War I has largely gone unnoticed in the United States, from the war’s beginnings in Europe to U.S. involvement in 1917 to its last days in November 1918.

We plod merrily along, glutting ourselves with consumer goods, social media minutiae and pointless political squabbling, oblivious to the hardship and sacrifice of 1914-18. Meanwhile,

In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row

As they have for a full century now.

(Top: Gravestone of Capt. Theodore Dubose Ravenel Jr., in Church of the Holy Cross Cemetery, Stateburg, SC.)