Tuesday, August 19, 2014

AUGUST 19 = Augustus Caesar Dies - 2,000 Years Ago

"On the day that he died , Augustus frequently inquired, if whether the rumors of his death were causing any popular disturbance.  He called for a mirror, and had his hair to be combed, and his lower jaw, which had fallen from weakness, propped up.  Presently, he summoned a group of friends  and asked: 'Have I played the my part in the farce of life credibly enough?' adding the theatrical tag: 

 'If I have pleased you, then kindly signify, 
 Appreciation with a warm goodbye.'

Then he dismissed them, but when fresh visitors arrived from Rome, wanted to hear the latest news of the daughter of Drusus the younger who was ill.  Finally he kissed his wife with: 'Goodbye Livia:  never forget our marriage!' and he died almost at once."

This was the way that the writer Suetonius (writing in 96 AD) recorded the death of Augustus Caesar, which occurred on today's date, August 19 in the year 14 AD -- two thousand years ago. Why do I place this as an important day in history by telling you about it in my Blog?  Because so much of our political, technological, and cultural heritage comes to us from Roman times, and it was this man, Romes first "Emperor" who essentially saved it for the years after his death. Augustus created the "Pax Romana" - the "Peace of Rome" which allowed her civilization to solidify and to flourish for the ages hence.

"Caesar" and Augustus' Rise

First of all the title of  "Caesar" was not originally a title, but a family name of the first Caesar, Julius who was murdered in 44 BC by Roman Senators who were angry about the assumption of dictatorial powers by him over the Roman Republic. The death of Julius Caesar was the cause of a great civil war within the Roman Empire. Augustus who went by the name of Octavian before rising to great prominence was
actually the nephew of Julius Caesar, and a rather slight and sickly child at that.  But eventually Julius made him his adopted son and heir.  Civil war broke out in the wake of Julius Caesar's death with the forces of Octavian, and Julius Caesar's friends Marcus Lepidus, and Mark Antony defeating those of Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius.  Then Lepidus attempted to take charge of this triumvirate, but his armies were basically bought out by Octavian.  This left Mark Antony, in charge of the Eastern Half of the Roman Empire. But he fell out with Octavian and the rest of Rome's elite over his affair with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra were defeated by the forces of Octavian at the Battle of Actium (above) on Sept. 2, 31 BC.  This left Octavian in sole possession of the leadership of Rome.

Octavian/Augustus Rebuilds a Shattered Empire

Now Octavian stood as the sole power in an Empire that had been shattered by years of Civil War. First, in order to avoid the mistake of his adoptive father Julius Caesar he sought to appear as if he was not gathering too much power around himself personally.  So he humbly laid down his power, but the Senate simply voted to restore his power and then granted him the title of "Augustus" which means "great" or "venerable", derived from Latin "augere" meaning "to increase".  In public though, he went by the simpler title of "Princeps" or "First
Citizen".  Just as the month of July had been named in honor of Julius Caesar, the month of August was so named in honor of Augustus.  His main accomplishment was in the peace, the Pax Romana which he established which in turn allowed the economy, agriculture, and the Arts to flourish. He established political stability by reducing the number of Senators, streamlining the way that the Senate did business.  He went on a vigorous building campaign in Rome, constructing many temples and public buildings.  He was also a great patron of the arts.  It was during this time that Virgil wrote  his epic poem "The Aeneid". Buildings such as the Marcellus Theater (above) were constructed.  He also firmly set the empire's boundaries in all its areas, such as the north where he considered the Rhine River to be the empire's natural northern border.

The Augustan Legacy

The reign of Augustus Caesar - he continued to use the name Caesar to link himself openly with Julius Caesar, and it wound up being another tradition which stuck -- was most certainly a Golden Age for Rome.  It was his steady hand at the helm of power, carefully and patiently building up Rome's political, economic, cultural and military institutions that enabled those institutions to grow roots and to become ways of life which in tune secured the succession to other rulers long after his death.  And it was in this way that much of that heritage survived to be handed down to successive generations such as our own.

Also... his history included a tumultuous private life in which, while he tried his best to set a good example, there was constant plotting, back-stabbing (literally), and sexual escapades.  If the rumors which abounded then and since are to be believed, much of this was set in motion by his wife Livia, who seemed to be poisoning everyone. Whether or not this was true, it was the picture painted by the poet, novelist and classical historian Robert Graves (1895 - 1985) in his novel "I, Claudius" published in 1934.  This was in turn made into a fascinating Television Series on PBS's "Masterpiece Theater" in 1976 (above, actor Brian Blessed as Augustus in "I, Claudius") which inspired a young man of 16 named Brian T. Bolten to read Suetonius, Graves, and to fall in love with history, as a collection of incredible stories.... http://historysstory.blogspot.com !!


"Suetonius - The Twelve Caesars", Translated  by Robert Graves, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1979.

"I, Claudius" by Robert Graves, Copyright, 1934, Electronic Edition, Rosetta Books, LLC, 2014

"Augustus - the Life of Rome's First Emperor" by Anthony Everitt, Random House, New York, 2006




Friday, August 15, 2014


The Woodstock Music & Art Fair— better known simply as "Woodstock" began on today's date, August 15th in 1969 -- 45 yeas ago.  Billed as "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music", it came to symbolize all that that decade of youth and counterculture had come to symbolize... "peace", "love", or at least "free love" drugs, psychodelia, and all of that young yippie life.  At least that's what I think it was all about... I was only 8 years old at the time, and never quite understood the mindset.  But it certainly was a kind of watershed moment for that generation, so I felt that it definitely should be mentioned here.

It was held at the 600-acre dairy farm in the Catskills belonging to Max Yasgur, near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York.  It lasted from August 15 to 18, 1969.  The weather was pretty rainy through much of the festival, so one sees a lot of muddy hippies in the pictures from these crazy few days. 32 acts performed outdoors in front of 400,000 young people.  And the list of acts reads like a "Who's Who" of 1960's musical popular acts, going from Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie on day one from Santana, to "the Grateful Dead" to "Credence Clearwater Revival" to Janis Joplin on day two and from Crosby, Stills, and Nash to Jimmy Hendrix on day three.

"I felt like 'Alice in Wonderland!'"

Iris Shapiro remembers: "We took our "stuff" (we really hadn't thought about what to bring, just sleeping bags and a change of clothes) and started walking. The only thing I can describe it as would be a "pilgrimage to Mecca." Everyone was heading in the same direction with various items of baggage.

"Finally, we approa- ched the fence of the event itself. At the very point that we reached the fence, I witnessed the enormity of the crowd pushing forward. I saw the multitude actually trample the fence, pushing it over, and proceed through, like a stampede of cattle. Our tickets were no longer of any value. Of course, we followed.

"As the dark settled, the show began. Now my husband will find this abominable, but I don't really remember the music! I was so involved with the enormity and diversity of the audience and the general scene that I felt like Alice in Wonderland." 

"I fell asleep to 'the Grateful Dead'...."

A friend of Ted Kraver's recalls:

" I remember Gabe Pressman, a local NY broadcaster, standing at the edge of the stage telling the camera about the terrible conditions—I wanted to yell “We’re having fun, Gabe” but he wouldn’t have heard me in any case. The festival was an eye-opening experience for a shy kid from the suburbs. I was very na├»ve about drug use going in and much less so going home. I saw more flesh than I ever had, though rarely from the girls I would most have enjoyed watching. But generally, I saw kids on the cusp of adulthood acting more like grown-ups—cooperating, helping each other out, dealing with challenging 
situations—than the grown-ups I knew. Or the grown-ups we turned out to be, I’m sad to say. In the end, Woodstock was still about the music and that was overwhelming. I was a Buffalo Springfield fanatic so I went to see the unknown successor band, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They were charming and sang brilliantly (though their guitars needed tuning). I heard the Band, my other favorite group, who were terrific. I fell asleep to the Grateful Dead and woke up to Sly Stone. The Who, Richie Havens and Santana probably made the strongest impression from the weekend. I heard Hendrix echoing through trees as I left for home. "

Hearing Crosby, Stills and Nash

From Greil Marcus of "Rolling Stone" Magazine:

"The band was very nervous.  Neil Young was stalking around, kissing his wife, trying to tune his guitar off in a corner... Stills and Nash paced back and forth and tested the organ and the mikes... Finally, they went on.  They opened with 'Suite Judy Blue Eyes', stretching it out for a long time, exploring the figures of the song for the crowd.. they strummed and picked their way through other numbers, and then began to shift around, Crosby singing with Stills, then Nash and Crosby, back and forth.  They had the crowd all the way.  They seemed like several bands rather than one.

"Then they hit it. Right into 'Long Time Gone' a song for the season if ever there was one; Stills on organ, shouting out the choruses, Neil snapping out lead, Crosby aiming his electric twelve string out over the edge of the stage, biting off his words and stretching them out - lyrics as strong as any we are likely to hear.  

'There's something, something, something/ Goin' on around here/ That surely, surely, surely/
Won't stand / The light of day/ Ooooooohhh! / And it appears to be a long time...' 

I have never seen a musician so involved in his music.  At one point Crosby nearly fell off the stage in his excitement." 





"The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness History" Edited by Jon E. Lewis, Carroll and Graf Publ. Inc., New York, 1998

Friday, August 8, 2014

AUGUST 8 = President Nixon Resigns - 40 Years Ago

On today's date, August 8 during the long hot summer of 1974 - 40 years ago - President Richard Milhous Nixon (left) announced his intention to resign the office of President of the United States, effective at noon the following day.  He would be succeeded by Vice President Gerald R. Ford.  There is so very much that I could say about Nixon and the scandal which forced his resignation.  There is so much that I would like to say.  Perhaps at some point in the future I will do so on this or some other relevant date. But I haven't had time during the last few days to organize my thoughts into a form which does justice to this momentous event.  So I think that the best thing I can and should do on this, the 40th anniversary of this sad day is to let the man speak for himself.  So here is his resignation speech in its entirety:

Good evening.

This is the 37th time I have spoken to you from this office, where so many decisions have been made that shaped the history of this Nation. Each time I have done so to discuss with you some matter that I believe affected the national interest.

In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the Nation. Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me.

In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future.

But with the disappearance of that base, I now believe that the constitutional purpose has been served, and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged.

I would have preferred to carry through to the finish whatever the personal agony it would have involved, and my family unanimously urged me to do so. But the interest of the Nation must always come before any personal considerations.

From the discussions I have had with Congressional and other leaders, I have concluded that because of the Watergate matter I might not have the support of the Congress that I would consider necessary to back the very difficult decisions and carry out the duties of this office in the way the interests of the Nation would require.

I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford (right) will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.

As I recall the high hopes for America with which we began this second term, I feel a great sadness that I will not be here in this office working on your behalf to achieve those hopes in the next 21/2 years. But in turning over direction of the Government to Vice President Ford, I know, as I told the Nation when I nominated him for that office 10 months ago, that the leadership of America will be in good hands.

In passing this office to the Vice President, I also do so with the profound sense of the weight of responsibility that will fall on his shoulders tomorrow and, therefore, of the understanding, the patience, the cooperation he will need from all Americans.

As he assumes that responsibility, he will deserve the help and the support of all of us. As we look to the future, the first essential is to begin healing the wounds of this Nation, to put the bitterness and divisions of the recent past behind us, and to rediscover those shared ideals that lie at the heart of our strength and unity as a great and as a free people.

By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.

I regret deeply any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision. I would say only that if some of my Judgments were wrong, and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the Nation.

To those who have stood with me during these past difficult months, to my family, my friends, to many others who joined in supporting my cause because they believed it was right, I will be eternally grateful for your support.

And to those who have not felt able to give me your support, let me say I leave with no bitterness toward those who have opposed me, because all of us, in the final analysis, have been concerned with the good of the country, however our judgments might differ.

So, let us all now join together in affirming that common commitment and in helping our new President succeed for the benefit of all Americans.

I shall leave this office with regret at not completing my term, but with gratitude for the privilege of serving as your President for the past 51/2 years. These years have been a momentous time in the history of our Nation and the world. They have been a time of achievement in which we can all be proud, achievements that represent the shared efforts of the Administration, the Congress, and the people.

But the challenges ahead are equally great, and they, too, will require the support and the efforts of the Congress and the people working in cooperation with the new Administration.

We have ended America's longest war, but in the work of securing a lasting peace in the world, the goals ahead are even more far-reaching and more difficult. We must complete a structure of peace so that it will be said of this generation, our generation of Americans, by the people of all nations, not only that we ended one war but that we prevented future wars.

We have unlocked the doors that for a quarter of a century stood between the United States and the People's Republic of China.

We must now ensure that the one quarter of the world's people who live in the People's Republic of China will be and remain not our enemies but our friends.

In the Middle East, 100 million people in the Arab countries, many of whom have considered us their enemy for nearly 20 years, now look on us as their friends. We must continue to build on that friendship so that peace can settle at last over the Middle East and so that the cradle of civilization will not become its grave.

Together with the Soviet Union we have made the crucial breakthroughs that have begun the process of limiting nuclear arms. But we must set as our goal not just limiting but reducing and finally destroying these terrible weapons so that they cannot destroy civilization and so that the threat of nuclear war will no longer hang over the world and the people.

We have opened the new relation with the Soviet Union. We must continue to develop and expand that new relationship so that the two strongest nations of the world will live together in cooperation rather than confrontation.

Around the world, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, in the Middle East, there are millions of people who live in terrible poverty, even starvation. We must keep as our goal turning away from production for war and expanding production for peace so that people everywhere on this earth can at last look forward in their children's time, if not in our own time, to having the necessities for a decent life.

Here in America, we are fortunate that most of our people have not only the blessings of liberty but also the means to live full and good and, by the world's standards, even abundant lives. We must press on, however, toward a goal of not only more and better jobs but of full opportunity for every American and of what we are striving so hard right now to achieve, prosperity without inflation.

For more than a quarter of a century in public life I have shared in the turbulent history of this era. I have fought for what I believed in. I have tried to the best of my ability to discharge those duties and meet those responsibilities that were entrusted to me.

Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, "whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."

I pledge to you tonight that as long as I have a breath of life in my body, I shall continue in that spirit. I shall continue to work for the great causes to which I have been dedicated throughout my years as a Congressman, a Senator, a Vice President, and President, the cause of peace not just for America but among all nations, prosperity, justice, and opportunity for all of our people.

There is one cause above all to which I have been devoted and to which I shall always be devoted for as long as I live.

When I first took the oath of office as President 51/2 years ago, I made this sacred commitment, to "consecrate my office, my energies, and all the wisdom I can summon to the cause of peace among nations."

I have done my very best in all the days since to be true to that pledge. As a result of these efforts, I am confident that the world is a safer place today, not only for the people of America but for the people of all nations, and that all of our children have a better chance than before of living in peace rather than dying in war.

This, more than anything, is what I hoped to achieve when I sought the Presidency. This, more than anything, is what I hope will be my legacy to you, to our country, as I leave the Presidency.

To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American. In leaving it, I do so with this prayer: May God's grace be with you in all the days ahead.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

AUGUST 7 = The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution - 50 Years Ago

"Despite his misgivings, Johnson was not about to forgo the chance to gain bi-partisan support of Capitol Hill for whatever policies he chose to pursue in Southeast Asia.  His aides had broadened the draft of the proposed congressional resolution so that it now authorized him to 'take all necessary measures' to repel attacks against U.S. forces and to 'prevent further aggression' as well as determine when 'peace and security' in the area had been attained.  In short, as Johnson later quipped, the resolution was 'like grandma's nightshirt -- it covered everything.'" 

- Stanley Karnow

On today's date, August 7 in 1964 - 50 years ago - the United States Senate passed Public Law 88-408.  It was signed into law by President Johnson three days later on Aug. 10. This bill, which passed with very much the overwhelming bi-partisan support that Mr. Karnow speaks of above in his history of the Vietnam War (82 -2 in the Senate, 416 - 0 in the House) came to known as "the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution."  It became the classic case of giving the President a kind of "blank check" to do whatever he wants to do with American forces, and has ever since has made Congress very wary of what it authorizes the President to do militarily.

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident(s?)

This title refers to an incident or a pair of them which occurred on August 2 and 4th in the Gulf of Tonkin, which is a body of water off the coast of North Vietnam and Southern (Mainland) China.  The reason for
the question mark above is the fact that the second incident most likely never happened at all but was actually based on faulty radar readings.  The U.S. Navy was conducting intelligence gathering (code-named DESOTO) missions in the Gulf of Tonkin.  While the U.S. was involved at this time in the Vietnam conflict, our involvement was limited, and had not involved any large scale combat with North Vietnam.  The incident occurred when the U.S. Navy Destroyer U.S.S. Maddox, commanded by Captain John J. Herrick engaged in gunfire with three torpedo boats of
the North Vietnamese Navy. On Aug. 2, 1964 the Maddox intercepted radio commands to the torpedo boats to attack the Maddox. When the three gunboats approached at high speed (left) Herrick opened fire on them at just after 3:00 p.m.  Each of the boats launched a torpedo. Two missed and the third was a dud. Aircraft from the nearby U.S. Carrier U.S.S. Ticonderoga arrived and strafed the enemy boats.  The gunfire from the Maddox damaged two of the torpedo boats and sunk a third.  The skirmish lasted twenty minutes.  Four NVN sailors were killed and four were wounded.  There were no U.S. casualties.

The second attack was probably not an attack at all.  The Maddox and another destroyer, the C. Turner Joy were sent to "show the flag" on Aug. 4 after the provocative action on Aug. 2.  During the summer the Gulf of Tonkin's climate is volatile, and subject to atmospheric conditions which can make radar and radio data difficult to read.  At about
8:00 p.m., the Maddox (right) intercepted messages which seemed to indicate that the NVN torpedo boats were preparing to attack again.  The Maddox and the Turner Joy opened fire, as did air support called in from the Ticonderoga, and kept it up for four hours.  But Capt. Herrick reported in the end: "Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and overeager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. No actual visual sightings by Maddox. Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken"

The Political Fallout - LBJ Gets a Blank Check

These two incidents taken by themselves were of no great consequence.  But there was an election going on in the United States.  President Lyndon B. Johnson, filling out the term of John F. Kennedy was running
for election in his own right against the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was a strongly conserv- ative man, and there were charges that LBJ would be soft on communism.  And LBJ was fully determined to blunt any such talk about his stand.  So when the first incident occurred, he was very measured in his response. He elected to return the naval force to the area and "attack anything that attack them."  So with the "second incident",  any doubts about it having occurred were papered over. It gave LBJ the ammo that he needed to go to a Congress which was very willing to back him with a Resolution which essentially gave him carte blanche to handle the military in any way he saw fit in dealing with the Vietnamese conflict. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution paved the way for an enormous escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam,  with heavy bombing raids against North Vietnam itself beginning almost immediately.  As Stanley Karnow concluded:

"So the Senate approved the resolution with only (Senators) Morse and Gruening dissenting while the House passed it unanimously.  Morse predicted that its supporters 'will live to regret it'.... The outcome of the vote pleased nobody more than (LBJ adviser) Walter Rostow, who had originally conceived the idea.  Looking back on the Tonkin Gulf incident and its aftermath, he remarked, 'We didn't know what happened, but it had the desired result.'" 


"Vietnam, A History" by Stanley Karnow, Viking Press, New York, 1983.




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

JULY 29 = Fire Aboard the U.S.S. Forrestal

"I looked out at a rolling fireball as the burning fuel spread cross the deck.  I opened my canopy, raced onto the nose, crawled out onto the refueling probe, and jumped ten feet into the fire.  I rolled through a wall of flames as my flight suit caught fire.  I put the flames out and ran as fast as I could to the starboard side of the deck."

- Senator John McCain

This was how Senator John McCain recalled the start of the blaze.  On today's date, July 29 in 1967, a fire broke out aboard the U.S.S. Forrestal, an aircraft carrier as she steamed off the coast of North Vietnam.  The fire started as the result of the accidental launch of a missile which then set off fires on several planes nearby.  The plane piloted by then Lt. Commander John McCain was one of the jets which was destroyed and his account of the fire provides a unique inside view of this disaster which ultimately killed 131 U.S. Navy seamen.  

The Old Bombs and the Zuni

The conflagration aboard the Forrestal was caused by an electrical malfunction, and the presence on the deck of some very old bombs.  The day before the accident the Forrestal took on a shipment of bombs for her planes to drop during sorties (flights) over North Vietnam with whom the U.S. was then fighting during the Vietnam War (with which the U.S. was involved primarily between 1964 - 1974). The ordinance (explosives) were included some 16 1,000 pound AN-M65A1 "Fat Boy" bombs (a nickname referring to the short, fat shape of the bomb), which had come from the Subic Bay Naval Base and were meant for the second bombing sortie the following day.  These bombs were very old - of World War II vintage, and were highly unstable.  The ordinance handlers and the commanding officer of the Forrestal, Captain John Beling decided to have them placed apart from the other bombs at a spot between the starboard (right hand) rail and the carrier's island (the main structure on the flat- topped carrier) until they were ready for use.   The fire began when at @ 10:50 a.m. in the Gulf of Tonkin a missile, a Mk-32 "Zuni"
rocket on an F-4B Phantom II Jet (No. 410 in the diagram, right) accidentally fired as a result of an electronic malfunction.

The missile from the F-4 shot across the deck and underneath a pair of A-4E Skyhawk jets piloted by Lt. Comm. Fred D. White (No. 405) and Lt. Comm. John McCain (No. 416).  The Zuni itself was kept from detonating by it's safety mechanisms, and went on and off the ship.  Unfortunately, it also ruptured the fuel tank on both jets, causing the jet fuel to spill all over the deck and ignite.  The impact of the Zuni hitting the fuel tanks on the Skyhawks caused the "Fat Boy" bombs to be dislodged from the Skyhawks with which they had been armed, fall to the deck.  And there they lay,  in the pool of burning jet fuel between the jets piloted by White and McCain. This was the factor that turned the situation from a fire which was dangerous, but manageable into a conflagration which put the entire ship in danger, as it was only a matter of seconds before these old and highly unstable 1,000 pound bombs would ignite.

The Explosions and the Fire

Damage Control Team 8 lead by Chief Gerald Farrier immediately
recognized this mortal threat to the safety of the ship and sprung automatically into action.  Chief Farrier rushed forward with a PKP Fire Extinguisher and without any protective gear on attempted to smother the flames around the bomb, at least long enough for the pilots, strapped into their jets to escape.  But the old "Fat Boys" exploded before he could do very much; about 1 minute and 23 seconds after the fire started.  McCain describes:

"Shocked and shaking from adrenaline I saw the pilot from the A-4 next to mine jump from his plane into the fire.  His flight suit burst into flames.  As I went to help him, a few crewmen dragged a hose toward the conflagration.  Chief Petty Officer Gerald Farrier ran ahead off me with a portable fire extinguisher.  He stood in front of the fire and 
aimed the extingui- sher at one of the thousand pound bombs that had been knocked loose from my plane and now were sitting in flames on the burning deck. His heroism cost him his life.  A few seconds later the bomb exploded, blowing me back at least ten feet and killing a great many men, including the burning pilot, the men with the hose, and Chief Farrier."

This explosion in turn caused a chain reaction of explosions which tore holes in the flight deck and killed and injured many of the men below in addition to those pilots who had been strapped in their planes when the original explosion occurred.  McCain (below) saw carnage all around him:

"Sharp pieces of shrapnel from  the exploded bomb tore into my legs and chest.  All around me was mayhem.  Planes were burning.  More bombs cooked off.  Body parts, pieces of the ship, and scraps of planes were dropping on the deck.  Pilots in their seats ejected into the firestorm.  Men trapped by flames jumped overboard.  More Zuni missiles streaked across the deck.  Explosions tore craters in the flight deck and burning fuel fell through the openings into the hangar bay, spreading the fire below."

The Fire is Put Out, But the Price is High

Fire control teams, Marines, and other sailors had the fires on the flight deck under control  by 12:15, and kept on clearing the super-heated steel, and the smoke on the lower decks until the situation was finally brought completely under control by 1:42 p.m. But due to smaller fires, and added flare-ups, the fire was not officially declared out once and for all until 4:00 a.m. the next morning. The crew of the
Forrestal had literally saved their ship.  As McCain concluded:

"The fires were consuming the Forrestal.  I thought she might sink.  But the crew's heroics kept her afloat.  Men sacrificed their lives for one another and for their ship.  Many of them were only eighteen or nineteen years old.  They fought the inferno with a tenacity usually 
reserved for hand-to-hand combat.  They fought it all day and well into the next, and they saved the Forrestal."

The U.S.S. Forrestal (Pictured above one month after the fire) had lost 134 men killed and 161 men injured.  Plus an enormous amount of equipment, jet planes, and ordinance had either been destroyed, or pushed overboard to prevent further explosions.  From September 1967 to April of 1968, she underwent extensive repairs, and by April 15, 1968, she sailed out off the coast of Virginia, to begin her first post-repair trials.


"The Faith of  My Fathers" by Sen. John McCain with Mark Salter, Harper Collins Publiishers, New York, 1999.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

JULY 23 = Ulysses S. Grant Dies

“I have witnessed since my sickness just what I have wished to see since the war: harmony and good feeling between the sections...”

These were the words of Ulysses S. Grant to Simon Bolivar Buckner during a visit to Grant.  President and General Ulysses S. Grant died on today's date, July 23 in 1885.  Grant had always wanted to finish what he saw as the unfinished purpose of the Civil War, which was to reunify the North and South into one country.  He had been unable to achieve that either as a General, or as the President of the United States.  But as his life came to an end, he was grateful to see some signs that his death may have been bringing this about.

General Ulysses S. Grant 

It would be difficult to imagine a more unlikely candidate for the title "Savior of the Union" than Ulysses S. Grant.  He was a man who prior to the Civil War had proven an almost total failure at anything he tried other than war and marriage.  As a boy he had shown himself to have a natural way with horses.  At West Point he was good at math but little else. In the Mexican War he distinguished himself as a brave and resourceful officer.  And after that he married Julia Dent with whom he
would share true love all of his life. But he was miserable in the peace-time army postings to which he was assigned.  He fell into drinking and failed at farming.  He was reduced to the post of clerk at his father's store in Galena, Illinois when the Civil War broke out.  And in warfare he found his stride. When Lincoln looked at Union losses following the Battle of Fredricksburg, he said: "No general yet found can face the arithmetic, but the end of the war will be at hand when he shall be discovered." But in U.S. Grant he at long last found his man: a General who could face the arithmetic that the North's superior numbers in man power gave the Union a decisive edge, and who was willing to press that edge to victory.  As a Commanding General in the field Grant was very efficient and unlike so many of his predecessors he was uncommonly cool-headed under fire.

But as a peace-time leader, he faced different difficulties than those he faced in combat. At a meeting shortly before the war's end Lincoln met with Grant, General Sherman, and Admiral Porter (below) and made it
clear that he wanted to let the South up easily... no treason trials, no retribution.  That Grant strongly favored this was made clear not only by the generous terms he made with General Lee when he surrendered at Appomattox, but also in his reaction to the news of Lincoln's death a few days later:

"It would be impossible for me to describe the feeling that overcame me at the news...I knew of his goodness of heart, his generosity.... and above all his desire to see all the people of the United States enter again upon the full privileges of citizenship with equality among all."

Clearly, Grant had his eye on the future of his country, and winning the war itself was only the first step.  The South need to be brought back into the union, with former slaves enjoying equal rights. But with Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson having no interest in equal rights for African Americans, and the Radical Republicans bent on vengeance on the old Confederacy, it was North -vs- South again as if the war had never ended.

President Ulysses S. Grant 

Grant hoped that as President he would be able to heal this division.  Unfortunately Grant was totally unsuited to the vagaries of the world of politics.  The efficiency and decisiveness that served him so well in the war wherein men had to honestly follow orders simply didn't work in politics where nobody had to follow orders, let alone be honest about it.
While Grant was personally honest, his administration wound up being rife with corruption under the nose of Grant whose loyalty to friends was too often misplaced.  Grant strove mightily to guarantee the equal rights of Blacks. He even sent in Federal Troops to enforce this idea.  But financial crises brought on in part by the corruption in his cabinet weakened the political support necessary for the sending of troops.  Eventually he was obliged to deny a request for such troops in Mississippi. And when he left office after two terms the South was as embittered towards the North as it had ever been over the use of Federal Troops, and African Americans were second class citizens throughout the old Confederacy.

Grant Approaches Death

So it was that as he approached his death he hoped to see some sign of reconciliation between the North and the South.  A lifetime of smoking an average of twenty cigars a day had left Grant with throat cancer.  His investment in the firm of Grant and Ward wherein Ferdinand Ward was bilking investors blind in Pyramid schemes like a 19th Century Bernie
Maadoff, had left him penniless.  So he was furiously trying to finish his memoirs before Cancer killed him, in hope of restoring his family finances (left). His illness was closely followed in newspapers all over the country, including in the South. Grant began to hope that perhaps is death might heal some of the division between the former warring states. Noting the interest in his condition in the South he reached out to Simon Bolivar Buckner, the General whom he defeated in his first major victory at Fort Donelson in 1862.  The two old soldiers spoke about their days in the Mexican War.  Then Buckner told Grant that the South was appreciative to Grant for his magnanimity at the close of the war. And this prompted the reply from Grant that began this posting.

Ulysses Grant died on this date in 1885, just a few days after completing his memoirs.  His dying wish to restore his family fortunes did indeed come true, as his book became a huge best-seller bringing in over $500,000.00 over the years immediately following his death.  And he went a step further in his death towards reconciliation, leaving instructions in his will that his pall bearers were to be Union Generals William T. Sherman and Phillip Sheridan on one side, and Confederate Generals Simon Bolivar Buckner, and Joseph E. Johnston on the other.  Harmony between the sections was gradually restored, but unfortunately, African Americans would have to wait until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's before they began acquiring the equal rights which Grant had hoped to assure for them during his presidency.



"The American Experience: Ulysses S. Grant; Warrior - President" written by Adriana Bosch and Elizabeth Deane, PBS, 2002.

"At Lincoln's Side: John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings" Ed. by Michael Burlingame, Southern Illinois Univ., 2000.

"Personal Memoirs of  U.S. Grant" by Ulysses S. Grant, World Publ. Co., New York, 1952.

Sunday, July 20, 2014



So read the breathless headlines here on earth, as you can see from the Cincinnati Enquirer at left.  Yes on today's date*, July 20 in 1969, 45 years ago, human beings made their first steps onto the surface of another world outside of earth. My purpose here today will not be to fill you in on the details of the moon flight, as you can get better accounts of that elsewhere.  I will attempt to convey some of the excitement of this moment.  I can tell you that the one memory of
this which I personally have is watching the rather stark black and white image of Neil Arm- strong's descent (right) onto the lunar surface. The Enquirer reported it all in detail:

"They got back in.  Both men had returned to the Eagle at 1:11 A.M. (EDT).

"SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) - Two Americans landed and walked on the Moon Sunday, the first human beings on its alien soil.  They planted their nation's flag and talked to their President on earth by radio telephone.

"Millions on their home planet 240,000 miles away watched on television as they saluted the flag, and scouted the lunar surface.

"The first to step on the moon was Neil Armstrong, 38, of Wapokoneta, Ohio.  He stepped into the dusty surface at 10:56 p.m. (EDT).  His first words were, 'That's one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.'

"Twenty minutes later, his companion, Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin Jr., 39, of Montclair, N.J. stepped to the surface (below) His words were, 'Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  A magnificent desolation.'

"They had landed on the moon nearly six hours before, at 4:18 p.m.

"President Nixon's voice came to the ears of the astronauts on the moon from the Oval Room at the White House.
" 'I just can't tell you how proud I am... Because of what you have done the heavens have become part of man's world.'

"Armstrong's steps were cautious at first.  He almost shuffled.  'The surface is fine and powdered, like powdered charcoal to the soles of the foot." he said.  'I can see my footprints of my boots in the fine sandy particles.' Armstrong read from the plaque on the side of Eagle, the spacecraft that had brought them to the surface.  In a steady voice, he said, 'Here man first set foot on the Moon, July, 1969.  We came in peace for all mankind.' "
Later, Armstrong would comment:

"I was really aware, visually aware that the moon was in fact a sphere not a disc.  It seemed almost as if it were showing us its roundness; its similarity to the shape of our earth in a sort of  welcome.  I was sure it would be a hospitable host.  It had been awaiting its first visitors for a very long time..."


"The moon was a very natural and pleasant environment in which to work.  It had many of the advantages of zero gravity, but it was less lonesome than Zero G, where you always have to pay attention to securing attachment points to give you some means of leverage."

Above, the Apollo 11 crew, L to R: Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin

* = I have found authoritative sources that date this event as having occurred on both July 20 AND on July 21.  But as I have in front of me an actual copy of the Enquirer pictured at the top of this posting, and IT is dated "Monday Morning, July 21", then I feel comfortable in assuming that the events it was reporting did in fact happen on July 20, at least in the Eastern Time Zone of the United States.


"The Cincinnati Enquirer" 129th Year No. 103 -- Souvenir Edition, Monday Morning July 21, 1969.


"Eyewitness to History", Edited by John Carey, Avon Books, New York, 1987.