Monday, January 1, 2018

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Remembering World War I: American Troop Ships First Arrive in France

Shortly after the United States entered World War I, the commander of U.S. Convoy Operations was ordered to organize and begin escorting the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) to France. With the threat of enemy submarines, American ships crossing the Atlantic needed protection. Four cruisers, 13 destroyers, two armed yachts, and two fuel tankers gathered in New York Harbor in early June 1917 to serve as escorts. They would convoy 14 steamships and three navy transports to France with cargoes of soldiers, material, draft animals, and supplies. By the end of the war, more than 75 percent of American troops passed through New York Harbor on their way to Europe. 

In little time, the transport ships had been gathered, fitted for carrying troops, equipped with radios, and armed. The United States even utilized German ships that had been interned, or seized after the declaration of war. The American government had to be flexible and efficient in order to get troops and supplies into Europe quickly. By June 14 the ships were deemed ready to sail.

The cruiser USS Seattle, and the destroyers USS Wilkes, Terry, Roe, and later, the Fanning served as heavy escort to the USS Tenadores, Saratoga, Havana, Pastores, and the DeKalb, a captured German armed merchantman. (Merchantman is a name given to a ship, tanker, or freighter whose intended purpose is the transportation of goods and supplies, not military troops). Their orders sent them toward the port of Brest, France. Late at night on June 22, torpedoes coursed through the convoy, narrowly missing several ships.  Lt. T. VanMetre of the destroyer USS Wilkes used early passive sonar to discern the sounds of nearby U-boats. The ships scattered as planned and regrouped the morning of the 23rd.  Marines on the DeKalb were aware of the attack but some soldiers missed the incident.  A soldier of the First Division reported ?Daily rumors spread that submarines were near, but no one saw them.? The Navy later remarked on the incident to Congress. 

On the afternoon of the 24th the convoy rendezvoused with additional American destroyers stationed at Queenstown, Ireland. They escorted the ships toward France, where French aircraft could be seen patrolling for submarines. Because of U-boats off the port of Brest, they headed for Saint-Nazaire instead. The crowded troop ships arrived safely, giving the soldiers, sailors and Marines a great sense of relief.

On June 26th the landing began with Army stevedores going ashore to prepare for unloading. Company K of the 28th Infantry Regiment was the first AEF infantry unit to set foot in France. The rest of the 28th, and the 16th Infantry Regiment also came ashore that day, as did part of the 5th Marine Regiment. It was June 30th before the entire contingent could be brought ashore.  Due to the cramped port, it took stevedores assisted by Marines a few day to bring all animals, materiel and supplies ashore.
  
First Units to Land at St. Nazaire in Order of Arrival:
 
    16th Infantry Regiment            
    18th Infantry Regiment
    26th Infantry Regiment            
    28th Infantry Regiment
    5th Marine Regiment             
    Army Field Hospital No. 13                             Ambulance Company No.13                     Company C 2nd Field Signal Battalion

The first units ashore marched three miles to Camp No. 1, a site hastily constructed by German Prisoners of War. The mayor of Saint-Nazaire welcomed the Americans, who awed the citizens of the small port town.  Local French bands played in honor of the Americans, and American regimental bands returned the compliment. Shortly after arrival, the French requested that Americans march in Paris on July 4 as a symbol of the United States? entry into the war.  The 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment received a rapturous welcome in Paris from French citizens and government officials.

While less than an Army division of Americans had arrived in France by late June 1917, this small installment began the mobilization of several million American men and women. Many French ports were transformed to accommodate the arriving waves of allied support. Many of the new docks, warehouses, roads, and railroads were built by American engineer regiments. The U.S. Navy pioneered modern antisubmarine warfare, convoy escort, and refueling of ships underway. The scale and sophisticated organization of the effort amazed Americans and Europeans alike. These millions of Americans with supplies and material became the keystone of Allied victory in 1918.

Monday, December 25, 2017

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Enjoying a Fun and Safe New Year’s Eve

There can be a lot of pressure and hype around what to do on New Year’s Eve. Everyone wants to have a memorable night and alcohol often plays a big part in the activities, as it does throughout the entire holiday season.

Drunk driving is an issue all year round. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), every minute one person is injured from an alcohol-related crash. But because of all of the parties and socializing during the holidays, many people are indulging in drinking and the chances of being in a drunk-driving accident are higher. Here are some tips for celebrating New Year’s Eve while staying safe.

Don’t drink and drive. This is the most important rule of all for having a safe New Year’s Eve. Driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 is illegal across the country. But the amount of alcohol it takes to get to that number depends on a variety of factors such as how fast you drink, weight, and gender. If you’ve had anything to drink, don’t get behind the wheel no matter what.

Designate a sober driver. Plan ahead and pick someone dependable to be the sober designated driver. This means you can relax and indulge without worrying about driving yourself home.

Take a cab. You don’t even have to remember the number to call a taxi. Just dial #TAXI (#8294) to get connected to your local taxi service. The cost is between $1.25 and $2 depending on your wireless carrier. The service works across all of North America. While you may have to wait for an available cab, it’s better than taking a chance with your life or someone else’s life by drinking and driving.

Have a sleepover. Consider making plans to sleep where you’re celebrating New Year’s Eve. This will keep you safely off the roads and allow you to drink as much as you want without worrying about driving.

Don’t drive. If at all possible, avoid getting behind the wheel of a car even if you haven’t been drinking. Even if you are sober, there’s no way to control other drivers. There will probably be lots of impaired drivers on the streets and the best way to stay safe is to avoid driving all together. If you do have to drive, be sure to wear your seat belt and stay alert for people driving under the influence.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore’s poem, which he was initially hesitant to publish due to the frivolous nature of its subject, is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head! Although some of Moore’s imagery was probably borrowed from other sources, his poem helped popularize the now-familiar image of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve–in “a miniature sleigh” led by eight flying reindeer–leaving presents for deserving children. “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” created a new and immediately popular American icon. In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. It is Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and his wife, Mrs. Claus.
18th-century America’s Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning “Christ child,” Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. English legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children’s stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn’t find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.
Rudolph, “the most famous reindeer of all,” was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.
In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, When Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn’t be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh by the light of his red nose. Rudolph’s message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May’s friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph’s story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences every year since 1964.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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Remember Pearl Harbor
   On December 7, it will have been 76 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, and I still have a dislike for the Japanese people. For more than a decade before the Japanese government made this cowardly surprise attack, the United States had been coping with the Great Depression. The Japanese were well aware that America had very few weapons to fight a war, and the military was too small to defend what we did have.
   During the 1930s, the Japanese prepared for war. They occupied North China to obtain additional resources. While all of this was happening, many nations around the world were asleep at the wheel. We were too busy trying to survive the Great Depression.
   To refresh your memory, this is what happened in Hawaii beginning at 7:55 a.m. (Hawaii Time) on December 7, 1941. I was a teenager at the time.
   A Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appeared out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 380 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.
   Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless: Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to repulse the attack.
   With diplomatic negotiations with Japan breaking down, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the important naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. 
   The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941-a date which will live in infamy-the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.??? After a brief and forceful speech, he asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. The Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I.
   Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. government responded in kind. The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort would span four long years and cost more than 400,000 American lives.
   The Great Depression was over. Those who were in good health and at the right age joined the military. My age was 16. My three older brothers joined the armed forces, each in a different branch, and were on the battlefields after a short period of training. I chose the United States Marine Corps, and became a member of the First Marine Division. We fought Japanese soldiers from island to island and took no prisoners. All four Belew brothers from the Volunteer State of Lawrence County, Tennessee survived.
   World War II was a war we had to win. The United States has not won a major war since.