Presidential Justice…William Howard Taft

Today in History, July 11, 1921:

Former President William Howard Taft is sworn in as the 10th Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, replacing the recently deceased Chief Justice that he himself had appointed when he was President.

It was Taft’s dream job, and he took to it enthusiastically. He would be the only person to be both President and Chief Justice, and therefore the only President to swear in other Presidents.

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling! Skylab, That is…

TODAY IN HISTORY, JULY 11, 1979:

America’s first space station, Skylab, was the brain child of Werner Von Braun, the rocket scientist the U. S. had harvested from the Nazi rocket program.

Skylab had three missions through the seventies, during which the astronauts involved completed numerous experiments which advanced the space program. More missions were planned, utilizing the nascent Space Shuttle Program.

Skylab’s orbit began to deteriorate, and plans were made to boost its trajectory using the Space Shuttle or other options. Delays in the Shuttle Program made the recovery efforts untenable, and on July 11, 1979 the space station re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and broke apart…mostly. NASA managed to guide it away from populated areas…mostly. The debris fell into the Southern Indian Ocean, and onto Western Australia.

The event was a media sensation, due to a great deal of uncertainty regarding where Skylab would come down…onto your house in the mid west? The ocean? New York City? For weeks the impending doom was the subject of television specials, political cartoons, selling gimmicks, you name it. After the demise, the jurisdiction in Australia where some of the debris fell sent NASA a fine of $400 for “littering” as a joke.

Join Us…or Else. Commodore Perry at Edo Harbor…

Today in History, July 8, 1853:

US Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his fleet arrive in Edo Harbor (Tokyo) Japan and by threat of force, demand that the Japanese contemplate relations with the US.

The Japanese had met Europeans before, but for the last 200 years had closed their society to outsiders.

Faced with the threat of bombardment from Perry’s ships, the Japanese accepted a letter from President Millard Fillmore. When Perry returned the next year, the offer of open relations was accepted.

The rest of the story is that Commodore Perry also pioneered steam power in the Navy, served under his famous older brother Oliver Hazard Perry (“We have met the enemy and they are ours!”) during the War of 1812, was a hero in the Mexican-American War, and he and his brother were direct descendants of William Wallace. Wow.

The irony cannot be ignored that America dragged Japan kicking and screaming into the modern industrial world. The Japanese responded with a complete turnaround, embracing the technology of the “modern” world, including battleships and air power. So that less than a century later Western nations…mostly America, would have to fight a thoroughly modern Japanese military in a world war. And then would drop an Atomic bomb on the Japanese homeland to end the conflict.

And the Wars Begin

Today in History, June 28, 1914:

“Don’t die darling, live for our children.'” Crying, shot through the neck, Archduke Franz Ferdinand lays in the lap of his beloved wife Sofie, who had been shot through the abdomen in their car while it traveled through Sarajevo.

A socialist madman (anyone seeing a trend here?) had shot both of them, the second assassination attempt of the day. Their deaths would set off World War I, and, some believe, the continuing wars of the twentieth century.

KANSAS CITY MASSACRE

Today in History, June 17, 1933:

The Kansas City Massacre.

This story is important to FBI history and to Oklahoma history. As a young man, Frank Nash began his criminal career by robbing a Sapulpa, Oklahoma business of $1,000. He then shot his accomplice in the back of the head so he could have the loot all to himself.

Years, several crimes, and two prison sentences later, he had escaped federal custody. Apprehended in Arkansas by an FBI agent and by MacAlester Chief Otto Reed, he was being transported back to Leavenworth when four gunmen attacked the officers at the Kansas City Railroad Station, in an attempt to rescue Nash (maybe…some versions have it as a hit, to keep Nash from talking). Two Kansas City police officers, an FBI agent, and Chief Reed were all killed in the attack…along with Nash. The importance in history for the FBI? Agents went from being unarmed without arrest powers to being armed with pistols, Winchesters and Tommy guns and having arrest powers within the year. And for Oklahoma? Well…an Oklahoma lawman had tracked the bad guy down and his actions resulted in historic changes…not the first time and certainly not the last time.

“A House Divided Cannot Stand”

Today in History, June 16, 1858:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

Unsuccessful Senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln delivers his “house divided” speech when he is nominated as the Republican candidate for the Illinois senatorial seat.

It would be one of his most notable speeches, perhaps only second to the Gettysburg Address.

His message about a house divided…still stands.

Medger Evers

Today in History, June 12, 1963:

“…Law alone cannot make men see right…”. In the early morning hours Civil rights activist Medger Evers is assassinated by a rifle shot in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi home.

Evers was a WWII veteran, having served in the European theater. When he returned home he attended college and in the fifties became involved in the civil rights movement.

Just hours before his death, President John F. Kennedy had given a moving speech calling for civil rights legislation. Whether you grew up in the sixties like my peers and I did, or were an adult then, or are too young to remember, take 6 minutes to watch this video. Be thankful for the rights we all experience now; and for brave men like these. A little 5 months later, JFK would share Medgers fate.

Bruno Peter Gaido & The Battle of Midway

Today in History, June 4, 1942:

The Battle of Midway and Aviation Machinist Mate First Class Bruno Peter Gaido.

In brief, US Pacific forces had been decimated by a Japanese onslaught since Pearl Harbor. The US Navy and USAAF had been fighting back, however, by bombing Japan during the Doolittle Raid, the Battle of the Coral Sea and several raids by Carrier Groups across the Pacific.

During a raid in March, 1942 on the Marshall Islands by a Task Force built around the USS Enterprise (CV 6), the ship was attacked by five twin engine Betty bombers.  Under withering fire, four turn back.  The lead plane however, attempts to crash into the aircraft carrier.  As the bomber grew closer, Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class Bruno Peter Gaido springs from the catwalk surround the flight deck and runs to a nearby SBD Dauntless Diver Bomber.  He climbs into the rear of the plane to use the rear gunner’s machine gun.  He began firing at the enemy plane, maintaining the fire into it’s cockpit even as it’s wing slices the rear of the SBD away mere inches from him.  The Betty crashed into the sea, and Bruno is credited with causing to miss the ship.

Bruno disappeared inside the bowels of the ship, figuring he’d be in trouble for leaving his normal battle station.  Quite the contrary; Admiral William “Bull” Halsey had him brought to the bridge, where he summarily ordered him promoted to Aviation Machinist Mate FIRST Class.

Spring forward to June 4, 1942 and Bruno Gaido was in the rear of Ensign Frank O’Flaherty’s Dauntless as they dove on the IJN Carrier Kaga when Bombing and Scouting 6 from Enterprise sent her to the bottom.  As many know, Akagi, Soryu and Hiryu would also be sunk that day.

Can you imagine what being a rear gunner in a WWII dive bomber must have been like?  During the attack, the aircraft dove at a 70% angle, nearly straight down.  Held tight by safety belts, scanning for any fighters that dared to attempt to follow the dive, the rear gunner may never have known of a crash or a hit by anti-aircraft fire.

After their bombing run Ensign O’Flaherty and AMM Gaido attempted to make it home to Enterprise, but due to a punctured fuel tank and another attack by Japanese Zero fighters, had to ditch at sea.

The pair were picked up, “rescued” by the Japanese destroyer Makigumo.  The officers of the destroyer, angered by the loss they had witnessed of the Japanese carriers, interrogated and tortured the American airmen.  After days of this, on June 15, they ordered weights tied the both men and had them thrown overboard to drown.  The Japanese sailors who survived the war to tell said both men faced their fate with courage and stoicism.  Bruno Gaido’s ship mates had expected no less…he had gained a reputation.

As for the war criminals on the Makigumo? The ship was sunk during the Guadalcanal campaign and none of the officers responsible for the murder survived the war.

Brothers Saved ~ An Army for Tomorrow

Today in History, May 26, 1940:

Operation Dynamo, or the Evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France at Dunkirk, begins.

The BEF had been sent to France after years of appeasement, when Hitler had invaded Poland in September of 1939.

On May 10th Germany invaded France, which, although considered the largest army in Europe, promptly folded like an old lawn chair.

The British, French and Belgian troops retreated to Dunkirk, where they faced certain defeat at the hands of the superior Nazi war machine.

The idea now was the evacuation across the English Channel, but the first day’s effort only saw the evacuation of 9,000 or so men. A call for assistance went out, and every Royal Navy vessel that could sail, every civilian yacht, fishing vessel and others that could sail for Dunkirk, did so. Mind you, they faced the said incredible power the Navy has.

In the end, 9 days later, more than 338,000 soldiers had been rescued; the best and brightest of the British armed forces that would be needed in the years to come.

Hero or Traitor? Curly is Laid to Rest

Today in History, May 23, 1923:

Ashishishe, son of Strong Bear and and Strikes by the Side of the Water, husband to Bird Woman and later Takes a Shield, is laid to rest at the National Cemetery of the Bighorn Battlefield in Montana, alongside the members of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry who had died there on June 25, 1876.

He was known by his US Army contemporaries as Curly.

Curly was a Crow Indian serving the US Army as a scout with the 7th Cavalry leading up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Just before the battle began, as was customary, Custer released his Native American scouts. Curly rode off with the others, stopping on a hill about a mile away. He watched the battle through field glasses.

When it became obvious that the 7th would be defeated, Curly rode for two days until he met an Army supply boat at the confluence of the Big and Little Big Horn rivers, and made his report.

Curly told of how the 7th fought for hours, until they had expended all of their ammunition; by Curly’s estimation taking approximately 600 Sioux warriors with them.

Hailed as a hero for being the “lone survivor” reporters attempted to glorify his actions used poetic license to say that he was actually in the battle and escaped by pretending to be one of the Sioux allies.

Curly’s original and later accounts were that he “did nothing wonderful.” Some reporters “quoted” Curly as saying that he had been in the battle, which angered some of the Sioux that were. But in many accounts Curly repeated that he was not, and that he “did nothing wonderful.”

He served in the Crow Police and was given a military pension only three years before his death from pneumonia.

I find his story interesting as an example of why we must attempt to view history in the context of the times in which our ancestors lived.

Is Curly a traitor to his people because he served the US Army against other Indians? I found while researching this that at that time of the battle, the Sioux and the Crow were dire enemies, so the Crow allied with the US Army.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Did he “desert” the 7th Cavalry? No. It was customary not to keep the Indian scouts in the midst of battle; his leaving was expected of him.