Memorial Day: Remembering three men from three wars

George Koon 2 cropped

It’s difficult to walk through any older Southern cemetery and not find gravestones identifying individuals who gave their lives for their country.

Even if one doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of Confederate dead that dot cemeteries from Virginia to Florida, the Carolinas to Texas, there are many, many thousands who died in the line of duty, whether it was during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Indian Wars of the 1830s, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, or the other conflicts the US has been involved in over the past 240 years.

In a small church cemetery in the South Carolina Midlands rest the remains of three men who died during three major conflicts that the United States participated in during roughly the first half of the 20th century,

Each died in very different times under very different circumstances, yet all are buried in Old Lexington Baptist Church Cemetery within about 15 feet of each other.

Milton Wilkins Shirey was a private in Company B, 31st US Infantry Regiment who perished of pneumonia on Dec. 12, 1919, in Siberia, at age 19.

Gravestone for Pvt. Milton W. Shirey.

Gravestone for Pvt. Milton W. Shirey.

US involvement in Siberia is a little-known aspect of the Great War. President Woodrow Wilson sent several thousand troops to Vladivostok in 1918 following the October Revolution for a number of reasons, including aiding in the rescue 40,000 members of the Czechoslovak Legions, who were being held up by Bolshevik forces as they attempted to make their way along the Trans-Siberian Railway to the Pacific, where they hoped they could eventually make their way back around the world to the Western Front.

Also, Wilson wanted to protect large quantities of military supplies and railroad rolling stock that the US had sent to the Russian Far East in support of the prior Russian government’s war efforts on the Eastern Front.

Weather conditions made the Siberian experience a miserable one. There were problems with fuel, ammo, supplies and food, and horses suffered terribly in the sub-zero Russian winter.

Troops struggled, as well. During the American Expeditionary Force’s 19 months in Siberia, 189 soldiers, including Shirey, died.

It took four months for the US government to get Shirey’s body back home to South Carolina, where hundreds attended his funeral in April 1920.

Pvt. Ulysess S.G. Shealy, 23, was killed in action Sept. 27, 1944, in Italy. Details of his service, unit, and where he was killed are sketchy, but online records do show that Shealy’s remains weren’t returned to the US for burial until March 1949.

Gravestone for Pvt. Ulysess S. Shealy.

Gravestone for Pvt. Ulysess S. Shealy.

Given that 73,000 American dead from World War II are still missing in action, though, of course, presumed deceased, just the fact that Shealy’s body was returned to his home state was no small feat.

Finally there is the grave of Sgt. First Class George Walter Koon. Koon, 36, enlisted in the US Army in 1936 and served for nearly 15 years.

He was taken captive by Chinese forces on Dec. 1, 1950, after the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River, a fierce conflict between Chinese and American troops.

Evidence shows he died of neglect, specifically malnutrition, gangrene and dysentery, while being marched from Kunu-ri to a POW camp along the Yalu River, military records show.

Sgt. Koon was one of 11 individuals whose bodies were found in a mass grave by US authorities, assisted by North Korean officials, in 2002. In 2005, Koon’s brother Carl gave a blood sample and the military was eventually able to match it with the remains.

A funeral service for Koon was held in May 2008 at Old Lexington Baptist Church Cemetery, 57 years after his death.

Three men, ranging from a 19-year old just out of high school to a career soldier nearly twice his age. Men whose causes of death ranged from illness, to wounds and neglect, to being killed in action. Men who died thousands of miles from their homes in the rural South. It was scene played out, of course, all across the United States.

Each, sadly, is a story that was repeated tens of thousands of times in the 20th century alone. It continues today.

There are those who believe war is wrong under all circumstances; it certainly is a terribly unfortunate occurrence.

This Memorial Day many in the US will give little more than a glancing thought – if that – to the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for their nation. There are many in other parts of the world, including South Korea and Italy, though, who still remember.

World’s only wild horse appears to be on the rebound


Seventy years ago the world’s only wild horse, called the Przewalski’s horse, was extinct in the wild and down to fewer than three dozen animals in captivity.

Today, that number has not only swollen to some 2,000, but hundreds have been reintroduced into the wild, including six Przewalski’s horses that were recently released into a vast, 40,000-plus-acre unbroken plot of virgin steppe in Russia, near the border with Kazakhstan.

Native to China, the stocky, tan-colored horse once inhabited the Eurasian steppe, including Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

These hardy creatures enjoy rolling around in the snow, scratching their backs on the crusty surface, according to Przewalski’s horse expert Tatjana Zharkikh, who heads the Russian reintroduction project.

“They are not afraid of wind, snow, cold … If the Przewalski’s horse has enough food, it is practically invincible,” she said.

The Przewalski’s horse is considered the world’s only wild horse because it has never been domesticated, unlike some equines found in the western US that, while untamed, are descendants of domesticated animals.

This winter marks the first in the wild for the half dozen Przewalski’s horses introduced into the Orenburg Reserves, a cluster of six strictly protected nature areas, according to Agence France-Presse.

Przewalskis horse.

Przewalski’s horse.

The animals were born at a reserve in the south of France.

Other horses have been released into the wild at locations in Mongolia.

The species was discovered by Russian explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky, who described it in the 19th century. After its discovery, there was a ruthless effort to capture the animals.

“Herds were chased down to exhaustion to capture the young foals,” Zharkikh told Agence France-Press, “but in the end the process secured enough animals to save the species after they had gone extinct in their natural habitat.”

The 2,000 animals alive today are descendants of just 12 wild-caught horses. Breeding a viable population from such a limited gene pool has not been without difficulties.

Also, unlike what happens when a horse and donkey reproduce, Przewalski’s horses can breed with domestic horses and produce fertile hybrids, which are a threat the species’ gene pool.

“Even a few hybrids can cancel out all conservation efforts,” Zharkikh said. “What is the point of protection if they are just cute shaggy-haired horses rather than a species?”

“Our goal is to form a reserve of genetically pure animals,” said Rafilya Bakirova, director of Orenburg Reserves, who would like to expand the project, including working with neighboring Kazakhstan.

A wild population would only work if the protected area is much larger, Zharkikh said, 250,000 acres or more.

(Top: Przewalski’s horses on a snow-covered field in the Orenburg Reserves. Photo credit: Agence France-Press via Tatjana Zharkikh.)

Grandsons of John Tyler – US president born in 1790 – still alive

john tyler

It seems rather remarkable, but two grandsons of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States and a man born less than year after George Washington was first inaugurated as president, are still alive.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., who turned 90 this week, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, who turned 86 last November, continue chugging along, nearly 175 years after their grandfather assumed the nation’s highest office.

John Tyler was born in Virginia in 1790. He was elected vice president in 1841, and ascended to the Oval Office a month later when President William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia and died after making an hour-long inaugural address in cold, rainy weather.

Tyler was the first vice president to become president on the death of sitting chief executive.

Tyler’s first wife Letitia was an invalid at the time he became president and died soon thereafter. He later married Julia, who was 30 years his junior, making him the first president to be married while in office.

Tyler was rather prolific. He fathered 15 children: eight with Letitia and seven more with Julia. Five of his children by his second wife lived into the 20th century and one repeated the pattern of his father.

Tyler’s 13th child, Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853-1935), had three children with his first wife Anne Baker Tucker Tyler and three more with his second wife Sue Ruffin Tyler, whom he wed after Anne’s death. When he wed Sue Ruffin Tyler, Lyon Tyler was 70, twice her age.

While one of the latter three children died in infancy, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. lives in Franklin, Tenn., and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, lives at Sherwood Forest Plantation, the Tyler’s historic family home in Virginia.

Continue reading

Bay Area’s ‘Titanic’ discovered beyond Golden Gate Bridge

rio de janeiro

More than a century after the SS City of Rio de Janeiro slipped beneath the chilly waters off the coast of San Francisco, taking 128 individuals with her, researchers have located the final resting place of the ill-fated vessel.

The steamer, carrying 210 people, struck jagged rocks while traveling through heavy fog near Fort Point, at the southern end of the Golden Gate Strait, near today’s Golden Gate Bridge, and sank within 10 minutes.

The disaster, called the Bay Area’s Titanic, is considered the worst shipwreck in San Francisco history.

New sonar maps show the mud-covered grave of the City of Rio 287 feet below the surface, according to Live Science.

Most of the passengers and nearly all of the crew were Chinese, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The 345-foot ship’s last voyage began in China, with stops in Yokohama, Japan; and Honolulu, Hawaii, before heading for San Francisco Bay. The Chronicle described the ship’s final hours:

Fog obscured the Golden Gate on the night of Feb. 21, 1901, so Capt. William Ward anchored the ship just off the Cliff House, in sight of San Francisco.

But before dawn, the fog seemed to lift, and after consulting with Capt. Frederick Jordan, the bar pilot, Ward weighed anchor and headed for the Golden Gate. The fog closed in again, however, and about 5:30 a.m. Feb. 22, the Rio ran onto the rocks.

There was tremendous confusion, according to accounts at the time. The officers and crew spoke different languages, and the lifeboats were never launched. The ship’s lights went out, and the ship drifted off the rocks and sank.

“Fishermen in the area, hearing the ship’s distress calls, helped rescue 82 survivors, many plucked from makeshift rafts and floating wreckage,” according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which helped located the City of Rio. “The dead included Chinese and Japanese immigrants as well as the US Consul General in Hong Kong, who was returning to the US with his wife and two children. The entire family died in the tragedy.”

Continue reading

As global cotton reserves peak, future prices reach 5-year low

cotton nc

With cotton prices dropping to a five-year low late last month, it’s expected farmers around the globe will cut planting in the coming season, according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee.

The effect of lower prices is already being realized in crop planning in the Southern Hemisphere, the executive director of the committee said during an industry conference in India last week.

With the US government estimating that global production will outstrip production for a fifth straight growing season and inventories at an all-time high, New York cotton futures recently tumbled to their lowest level since September 2009.

Slowing demand from China, the world’s biggest consumer, will shrink exports from the U.S. and India, the world’s largest shippers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, according to AgWeb.

“Everybody is trying to sell and prices are going to go down because supply is higher,” Terry Townsend, a former executive director of the committee, told the conference. “That process of declining prices, farmers losing money, and some farmers going out of business, reducing cotton production is inevitable.”

Cotton futures have slipped below 60 cents a pound, with March 2015 futures closing at 59.18 cents a pound, down more than 70 percent from an all-time high of $2.197 reached in 2011, according to Cotton Market News.

Global reserves are expected to reach an all-time high of 107.36 million bales, each weighing 480 pounds, according to USDA data.

Don’t look for prices on cotton products to reflect the downturn in futures prices, however. There is often a disconnect between the return farmers get for their efforts and what consumers pay for finished products. Saving us from ourselves, one cartoon at a time

tom and jerryMedia outlets are reporting that Amazon Prime Instant Video is warning subscribers who view old Tom and Jerry cartoons that the venerable series may depict scenes of “racial prejudice.”

The cartoons, produced between 1940 and 1957, are being tagged by Amazon for its depiction of a black maid and for the use of blackface in some episodes.

Tom and Jerry: The Complete Second Volume is accompanied by this warning: “Tom and Jerry shorts may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”

Amazon’s warning says such prejudice was once “commonplace” in US society, according to the BBC.

The warning was attacked as “empty-headed” by sociology professor Frank Furedi of the University of Kent, who said it was a form of a “false piousness” and a type of censorship which “seems to be sweeping cultural life.”

“We’re reading history backwards, judging people in the past by our values,” Furedi said.

Tom and Jerry was a longtime mainstay on American and British children’s programming, and can still be seen today.

However, it does seem rather difficult to believe that there’s a need to attach a warning to a children’s cartoon that identifies the stereotyping of blacks as wrong. Blackface is pretty much accepted as verboten in our culture today and has been for several decades.

Continue reading

Famed one-cent stamp sells for nearly $9.5 million

one cent magenta auction

A tiny piece of paper nearly 160 years old reaffirmed its place as the world’s most expensive item by weight and size.

The famous British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp, the only one of its kind, was sold at Sotheby’s in New York earlier this week for $7.9 million – nearly $9.5 million if one includes the buyer’s premium.

It marks the fourth time the stamp has fetched a world-record price over its storied existence and a marked increase from the $935,000 it last sold for, when John duPont purchased it in 1980.

The stamp was produced in a very limited issue in Georgetown, British Guiana, (now Guyana) in 1856, and only one specimen is now known to exist. It features a sailing ship along with the colony’s Latin motto “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We give and expect in return).

The stamp came about after an anticipated delivery of postage stamps by ship did not arrive, forcing the local postmaster to authorize printing of an emergency issue. The postmaster gave some specifications about the design, but the printers, showing an artists’ inclination, chose to add a ship image of their own design to the stamps.

The postmaster was less than pleased with the result and, and as added protection against forgers, ordered that all correspondence bearing the stamps be autographed by a post office clerk. This cursive initials “E.D.W.” seen on the One-Cent Magenta are those of clerk E.D. Wight.

There are several reasons why this stamp reached such stratospheric heights at auction on June 17, according to The Economist:

  • The One-Cent Magenta is the only one of its kind known to exist;
  • It has a fascinating history, having been printed in 1856, just 16 years after the introduction of the first stamps, by a British Guianese newspaper when the colony was in danger of running out of stamps; and
  • There are a growing number of rich people throughout the world, due particularly to China’s turbo-charged economic rise, increasing the premium for collectible items.

Continue reading